Neal Schon’s Latest LP Is A “Universal” Success

Courtesy: Neal Schon Music, Inc.

It goes without saying that guitarist Neal Schon is one of the most well-known and respected figures in the music industry today.  A founding member of legendary rock band Journey, Schon has also worked with fellow rock legend Carlos Santana, and is also a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee.  The band he helped found has sold millions of records the world over, too, thanks in part to his own performances on said records.  Schon added yet another proverbial notch in his belt this month when he released his new solo album Universe.  The 15-song record is a surprisingly enjoyable presentation that will appeal equally to fans of Journey, Schon and to real rock musicianship in general.  This is proven in no small part to the musical arrangements that make up the body of the 70-minute record.  They will be discussed shortly.  The arrangements’ sequencing builds on the foundation built by the songs themselves and will be discussed a little later.  The record’s production rounds out its most important elements.  It will also be examined later.  All three elements noted here are important in their own way to the whole of the album.  All things considered, they make Universe more proof of why Neal Schon is in fact one of the most respected and well-known figures in the entire musical universe.  Yes, that awful pun was intended.

Neal Schon’s new solo album Universe is a strong new musical statement from a musician who has already so many laurels over the course of his career.  It is a presentation that will appeal widely not only to his fans, but to those of Journey and of real pure guitar rock, too.  That is proven continuously throughout the course of the album’s hour-plus run time in large part because of its featured musical arrangements.  The arrangements are wide spread in terms of their influences and comparison.  The record opens with a decidedly Joe Satriani style composition in ‘Something in the Heart.’  The song finds Schon playing so subtly against an orchestral backing and slow, steady drum beat to open the song.  The picture that it paints is like something that belongs in the end credits of some blockbuster drama on the big screen (E.g. the sun setting on the lead characters, their silhouettes the only part of them visible following the events of the story).  The subtlety in Schon’s performance alongside that of the song’s orchestral element is such a powerful presentation.  On a distinctly different note, Schon takes listeners in a completely different direction in ‘She’s For Real.’  The use of the strings in this song’s arrangement pairs with the piano arrangement to create something of a vintage disco type of style approach.  The aforementioned Joe Satriani-esque guitar work and the solid time keeping that accompany the strings and piano come into play here to enhance the arrangement even more, and make it that much more engaging and entertaining.   Not only that, but it also adds to the discussion on the diversity of the album’s musical arrangements.  It strengthens that discussion and in turn the importance of that element.  Showing even more, the diversity in the record’s musical arrangements is the frantic ‘Be Happy,’ which comes late in the album’s run.  The high-energy composition clocks in at just under three-and-a-half minutes, and makes full use of that time, too.  Schon’s fingers run their way all over his guitar’s fret board while the bass line and time keeping add an extra layer to the work.  The ghost notes and cymbal crashes from the percussion give just the right accent along with the bass drum.  The repetition of the almost walking bass line makes for a solid counterpoint to Schon’s fiery guitar work.  The addition of the strings to the mix adds its own unique touch to the whole, too.  By the time the song ends, listeners themselves will be left feeling breathless just from hearing the whole of the noted elements.  The composition is that intense, but in the best way possible.  It is just one more way in which the diversity in the album’s musical arrangements come through so clearly.  Between this work, the others addressed here, the likes of others, such as the slow jam style ‘Silent Voyage,’ the powerhouse cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain,’ and the bluesy, almost Pink Floyd-esque ‘Caruso,’ that diversity becomes even clearer.  When all of this is considered along with the rest of the album’s works, that diversity shines through even more, leaving zero doubt as to its importance.  It is of course just one of the key elements that makes Universe such a surprisingly successful album.  The sequencing of the album’s featured musical arrangements adds even more impact to the album’s presentation.

The sequencing of Universe is important to examine because it plays directly into listeners’ engagement and entertainment.  As already noted, the album opens on a somewhat somber note in ‘Something in the Heart.’  From there, the album’s energy only barely picks up as it progresses through ‘The Eye of God’ and ‘The Universe.’  From there, ‘Caruso’ pulls things back again before finally really letting loose in the cover of ‘Voodoo Child.’  The energy in that song carries through to ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ before really pulling back again in Schon’s cover of ‘Purple Rain.’  Listeners will be glad to know that things do not stay reserved for too long, as the album starts to pick back up again immediately after in ‘She’s For Real.’  The rises and falls in the album’s energy continues from here with full stability, ensuring just as much, that noted engagement and entertainment for audiences.  The bigger picture, looking back, is that of sequencing that took into full account, the songs’ energies and impact thereof.  The result of that attention to detail makes an album that listeners will find just as enjoyable to hear for this aspect as for the songs themselves.  Keeping all of this in mind, now it is even clearer why Universe is such a successful new offering from Schon.  It still is just one more aspect of the album that listeners will appreciate.  The production of Schon’s new album puts the finishing touch to the presentation.

As has already been noted more than once here, there is a lot going on in many of the songs featured in Universe.  This means that a lot of attention had to be paid to detail in each song.  That is so that the sound is balanced to the best degree possible in each work.  Those efforts paid off, too.  Schon takes center stage throughout the album, and with good cause.  At the same time though, Schon’s fellow musicians each get their own attention in each song.  The string arrangements are balanced so well each time they are incorporated into the songs.  The bass line, which far too often is under used by bands across the board, gets its own time in the light throughout the album, too.  Even the drums sound so rich, but never overpowering at any point. Simply put, throughout the course of Universe’s one hour, 10-minute presentation, each instrument and performance is expertly balanced in each song.  The result is that the album sounds that much more appealing.  When this is considered along with the appeal just from the diversity in the album’s musical arrangements and the effect of the arrangements’ sequencing, the album in whole becomes a presentation that is another presentation from Schon that will appeal just as much to his fans as to those of Journey and guitar rock.

Neal Schon’s newly released solo album Universe is a positive new offering from the guitarist, whose accolades are already numerous.  Its diverse musical arrangements in themselves are certain to appeal to the noted wide range of listeners, along with the sequencing of those arrangements.  The production of the arrangements puts the finishing touch to the album’s presentation, giving them the aesthetic that makes their sound just as appealing as their general content.  It puts the final touch to the album’s whole.  When it is considered with the songs and their sequencing, that whole makes the album a presentation that will appeal just as much to Schon’s fans as to those of journey and pure guitar rock.  Universe is available now.  More information on the album is available along with all of Schon’s latest news at:



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Concert For Ronnie Montrose Is As Good As Any Major Label’s Live Recordings

Courtesy:  RoMoCo

Courtesy: RoMoCo

2013 has seen quite the surplus of live concert recordings.  Bands the likes of Jane’s Addiction, The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and so many others have been released to the masses.  Each of those live recordings has proven to be exceptional in its own way.  These recordings will be seen by countless audiences thanks to being released via some of the music industry’s biggest labels. It doesn’t mean that they’re the only live recordings to hit the market this year.  One independently recorded and released live concert event that deserves just as much coverage as those aforementioned recordings is the Concert for Ronnie Montrose.  Recorded April 27th, 2012 at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, California, this live concert event will impress anyone that is a fan of true, pure, guitar-driven rock and roll.  This applies to even those that might not be so familiar with the work of Ronnie Montrose.  There is much to like about this new live recording.  The most obvious of factors is the concert’s audio and video mix.  For a show that was independently recorded and released, it looks and sounds surprisingly good.  The show’s set list and guest lineup collectively make up another of the reasons to check out this concert.  And while it is something relatively subtle, those charged with finalizing the concert included names and titles for each artist on each song.  For those that might be unfamiliar with the artists, this inclusion will help to introduce the artists to said new audiences when they look up each name.  In turn, it could open audiences’ eyes and ears to a whole new world of music.  Together with the aforementioned factors, the Concert For Ronnie Montrose proves to be just as enjoyable as any live recording released by the industry’s major labels.

The Concert for Ronnie Montrose is an independently recorded and released live concert event.  The automatic thought that might be raised in some audiences’ minds upon reading this is that it probably doesn’t match up with the live recordings released by the record industry’s major labels.  That belief could not be any more wrong.  The reality of this concert recording is that it looks and sounds just as good as any of the countless other live recordings released on said labels already in 2013. The camera crews charged with capturing the concert expertly carried out their duties.  Home viewers get the best seat in the house.  They are taken right on stage with the musicians and even above the crowd to see the full extent of the audience in attendance.  Seeing how packed the house was on the night of April 27th, 2012 just goes to show that while Ronnie Montrose might never have been one of the biggest names in the industry, he was and still is one of the most respected individuals to pick up a guitar. It is truly a telling statement, and one that any Ronnie Montrose fan will appreciate when they watch this concert for themselves.

The Concert for Ronnie Montrose was captured just as expertly on video as any live recording released via the industry’s major labels.  It is crystal clear.  And the camera work itself is just as impressive.  Having examined the recording’s high-quality video, the next logical step is to examine its audio mix.  Having been recorded in the semi-intimate setting of San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom, it goes without saying that it was extremely important that the audio be perfect.  Those that are more familiar with the science of acoustics will appreciate the painstaking efforts taken to ensure that the concert’s sound was on par with any major live recording.     Not one of the guitarists overpowered the other at any point throughout the evening.  And none of the musicians overpowered their fellow guest vocalists, either.  That set alongside the equally top notch camera work and video editing serve as the foundation for a concert recording that proves in the long run to be just as good as any of the year’s major concert recordings.

The audio and video mixes in the Concert for Ronnie Montrose collectively make for a solid foundation for this recording.  Having examined both, the next logical step in examining the presentation is to look at the collective set list and the guest lineup.  The set list that comprises this tribute concert spans the late guitarist’s rich career before his passing.  From his days with the Edgar Winter Group to his work with the band that bore his name to his solo career, this concert is front loaded with more than its share of great music.  Even audiences that might perhaps be less familiar with Montrose’s work will likely recognize the Edgar Winter Group’s hit songs ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Free Ride’ and the cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Connection.’  What’s more, those that might be fans of Dream Theater will hear quite the similarity between the concert’s opener, ‘Overture’ and certain work by Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci on the first of Liquid Tension Experiment’s two records.  Petrucci wasn’t one of the artists on hand at the Concert for Ronnie Montrose.  However, some equally big names were in attendance. And their presence is sure to impress audiences just as much as the show’s set list.

The lineup of artists on hand to pay tribute to Ronnie Montrose is just as eye-opening as the show’s set list.  Classic rock fans will recognize former Journey band mates Steve Smith and Neal Schon and Tesla front man Jeff Keith.  Also on hand were two equally big names in the form of Montrose’s former band mate and friend Sammy Hagar (Montrose, Van Halen, Chickenfoot) and world renowned guitarist Joe Satriani (Chickenfoot).  Hagar and Montrose’s fellow former band mates were on hand for the concert, too.  Anyone that was a fan of the band in its heyday will appreciate seeing its members back together if only for a one off show.  If the set list that makes up the show isn’t enough for audiences, then this megastar lineup of artists is certain to convince audiences to check out this recording.

So much has already been noted as to what makes the Concert for Ronnie Montrose such a joy of a live recording, even having been recorded and released independently.  There is still one factor in the recording to examine.  It is a subtle, yet important factor to examine.  It is the inclusion of what is called “supers” (or superimposed images) highlighting the names and titles of each musician to take the stage throughout the concert.  Their inclusion is important for those that might happen to be new to each musician.  The names and titles are placed right in front of each musician.  This allows audiences to directly link a name with a face.  Audiences that are less familiar with said artists can in turn link the names and faces when looking up information on each one online or otherwise.  The latent effect of all of this is the potential introduction of a whole new world of music to new audiences.  For that alone, those charged with making sure the supers matched with each artist deserve their own round of applause.  And together with the camera crews, sound editors, and performers themselves, it all comes together to make the Concert for Ronnie Montrose a concert that any purist rock and roll fan will appreciate no less with each watch.  It is available now and can be ordered online at  More information on this and all things Ronnie Montrose is available via the official Ronnie Montrose website,  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at