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In the Jukebox: Man on Fire

A review of the latest disc from Jeff Hodges and company

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Man on Fire
Chrysalis
(10T Records)

It might be wrongheaded to criticize a progressive rock album for being over-the-top in its production or experimentation. After all, four-part opuses and meandering instrumental interludes are par for the course in the genre.

But where classic prog-rock albums like Kansas' Leftoverture won listeners over with their quirks and esoteric lyrics, Man on Fire's Chrysalis sometimes steps over the line between charming tweakery and trying too hard. For diehard fans of the style, the Charleston-based band's latest full-length album may provide a refreshing flashback to the '70s, but taken as an album released in 2011, it feels a bit dated.

Songwriter-keyboardist-lead-vocalist Jeff Hodges handled the production on the album at his Mt. Pleasant studio, Charleston Sound, and he pulled out all the stops. It is hard to find a rough edge on the recordings. The lyrics range from grandiose ("A stain, a star, a fleeting shape, it holds the key/To all my endless yesterdays") to the vaguely political ("Outside the war machine, it's a lonely place/For your human race"), sometimes pushing the limits of cheesiness, even for prog rock.

All that being said, though, there are moments of brilliance to be found on Chrysalis: Eric Sands provides some tasty fretless bass lines, and Jenny Hugh's stabs of violin on "In a Sense" are a memorable head-rocking touch. Ten-minute album closer "Gravity" effectively blends metal guitar riffs, organ trills, and a broad spectrum of samples for a melange that shows off a knack for heavily layered arrangements on Hodges' part.

An impressive roster of local guests make appearances, too, including vocalist Elise Testone, drummer Quentin Ravenel, trumpeter Cameron Harder-Handle, and guitarists Dan Wright and Vitaly Popeloff, among others.

For all its complexity, Chrysalis could stand to have a few more touches of unprocessed, unlayered simplicity — moments like the final ones on "Gravity," with the calm sampled voice of an astronaut announcing over a few bars of piano, "One hour away now from entering into the earth's atmosphere." Even virtuosos need to come down to earth every once in a while. (10trecords.com)

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