"Mullmuzzler 2" (Magna Carta; 2000)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

James La Brie's got a great set of pipes - La Brie can sing his ass off no matter what style he chooses to sing. It doesn't hurt that La Brie surrounds himself with musicians who play in (or have played with) Dali's Dilemma, Shadow Gallery, Magellan, Yogi, Extreme, and the Frank Zappa band. 

The usual progressive influences are in abundance on "Mullmuzzler 2," but La Brie and company add elements of funk, groove, fusion, and post-prog. It's an eclectic mix, for sure, but it never strays too far as to leave each song's center.

"Afterlife" marries prog-rock with a funky groove for an immediate appeal. The heavily emotional "Venice Burning" has great vocals and "Confronting The Devil" ends the two-piece tragedy with a challenging mediation on what happens when you don't consider the consequences of your actions. "Falling" is a simple song with an urban flavor to the vocals. And that's the first four songs - believe me when I tell you the remaining six songs are equal to the task. Hard rock, prog, and ballads round out the ten-song CD with grounded reality, heartfelt emotion, and emphatic imagination.

La Brie stretches his vocals enough on "Mullmuzzler 2" to avoid the easy comparison to his work in Dream Theater. Only on "Stranger" does it seem like La Brie utilized the vocal tone he is so famous for in Dream Theater. Also, La Brie's vocals are largely untreated giving the performance a naked yet powerful edge.

Given my indifference to Mullmuzzler's first effort, "Keep It To Yourself" (see review below) I approached this second offering with guarded anticipation. It's such a reward to know that "Mullmuzzler 2" is a remarkable step forward for La Brie. I thoroughly enjoyed "Mullmuzzler 2" from beginning to end.

"Mullmuzzler 2 " was produced by James La Brie and mixed by Vic Florencia. The superb production and mixing makes every aspect of "Mullmuzzler 2" shine.

Mullmuzzler is James LaBrie on vocals, Matt Guillory on keyboards and piano, Trent Gardner on keyboards and piano, Mike Mangini on drums, Mike Keneally on guitar, Mike Borkosky on guitars, and Brian Beller on bass.

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"Keep It To Yourself" (Magna Carta; 1999)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Mullmuzzler is really a James LaBrie solo project. For the uninitiated, LaBrie is the full-time vocalist in Dream Theater. LaBrie has enlisted the gifted service of Matt Guillory (Dali's Dilemma) on keyboards and piano, Mike Mangini (Extreme) on drums, Mike Keneally (Steve Vai, Frank Zappa) on guitars, and Bryan Beller on bass - that's a lot of talent!

As in any case where the end justifies the means Mullmuzzler ends up being quite solid without resorting to smarmy tactics. "Keep It To Yourself" is not entirely a progressive effort as classic rock influences creep in; think Led Zeppelin and Kansas with progressive metal influences. The classic hard rock of "Guardian Angel," the emotionally draining and progressive flair of "Shores Of Avalon," the hindsight of "His Voice," and the chaotic "Beelzebubba" are highlights.  

As with any solo project guided primarily by a single voice, LaBrie's lyrics are deeply personal; yet the lyrics are also very heartfelt.  However, there are a lot of diversions from the type of lyrics that you'd find on a Dream Theater disc so this is quite interesting to follow - escapism, memories of the loss of a friend, communication problems, political double-talk, and the philosophy of living in the moment permeate LaBrie's lyrics.  

LaBrie's voice is so distinctive and so attached to Dream Theater that I had to keep reminding myself that "Keep It To Yourself" is not Dream Theater. LaBrie takes a lot more liberties in how the vocals were recorded - the multi-tracking of the vocals gives the vocal melodies a pleasing layered effect. 

Fans of the progressive rock genre will like Mullmuzzler's effort.  However, it is best to consider the past null-and-void and approach this CD with virgin ears (even though I'd have to pick Dream Theater's "Awake" as what this CD sounds most like). 

"Mullmuzzler" was produced by James LaBrie and mixed by Terry Brown (Rush, Fates Warning, Crowbar, Jimi Hendrix). 

LaBrie collaborated in the writing of "Keep It To Yourself" with the aforementioned Matt Guillory; Trent Gardner (Magellan); as well as Carl Cadden-James, Brendt Allman, and Gary Wehrkamp (all three are in Shadow Gallery). 

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright 2002 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
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