The Fringe

The Fringe

Reingold Records, 2016

http://www.thefringetrio.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/25/2016

The progressive rock supergroup has become such a trope that it’s increasingly hard to imagine a new twist on it. With technology making it possible to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, the 21st century prog renaissance has fueled multiple albums by the likes of Transatlantic, the Prog Collective, and Levin Minnemann Rudess, not to mention “Voice of Yes” Jon Anderson’s recent team-ups with Jean-Luc Ponty, Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings, and now former bandmates Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.

The Fringe stand out in one key way almost immediately: this sounds like a band. Not a one-off side project, not a “meeting of the prog genius minds” full of flash and thunder, but an actual band, a team of three who seem genuinely jazzed by the opportunity to play with and off of one another, performing right-sized music that is neither overblown nor lacking in ambition.

Certainly one of the things they did right was to gather the principals in this hard-hitting trio—Randy McStine (Lo-Fi Resistance), Jonas Reingold (Flower Kings), and Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, Spock’s Beard)—live in the studio to make music together in real time. The results, featuring McStine on guitar and vocals, Reingold on bass and backing vocals, and D’Virgilio on drums and vocals, are alternately tight and punchy and gleefully exploratory, displaying both a taste for melodic, riff-centric rock and a flair for prog dynamics.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opening track “You” sets the tone, with McStine laying down a heavy barrage as Reingold leaps up and down the frets and D’Virgilio surrounds them both with a skittering, precise attack behind the kit. The heavy riffing leads to a big, sunny chorus featuring both McStine and D’Virgilio’s vocals, and a rangy, agile bridge. “Opening Day” and “A Second Or Two” offer similar pleasures—tight, riff-driven tunes that are nonetheless virtuosic and inventive. It’s worth noting that “You” is the third-longest track here at 4:54; The Fringe focuses on delivering songs rather than extended suites.

That said, there are two longer tunes here, the first being the ten-minute “Flare.” A churning opening riff sets off atmospheric vocal sections and a long, dreamy middle sequence spotlighting Reingold’s nimble, expressive bass work, leading into a brooding, blues-tinged solo from the chameleonic McStine. The closing segment dials up the riffage again, again featuring McStine and D’Virgilio on dual lead vocals, before cycling back around for a reprise of the opening. Tasty.

Moving on, the playful mid-tempo number “Go” feels like a tone showcase until things go wild and wonky at the bridge. “My Greatest Invention” rides a fat riff through a fast-paced 3:44 rocker that feels more like classic Montrose than any of this trio’s other bands. The similarly big-boned “Snake Eyes” alternately stutter-steps and thunders through some occasionally goofy rhymes, the one tune here that feels maybe a little bit by the numbers.

The album closes with its second long-player and the only solo composition found here, McStine’s “Yours To Steal.” Essentially an eight-minute love song, it sometimes ranges into Jimmy Eat World territory, featuring a sort of ringing, elegiac tone up until the moment 5:30 in when avowed Floyd fan McStine erupts into a Gilmour-worthy Big-Ass Guitar Solo that runs all the way to the fade.

Working out of co-producer D’Virgilio’s Sweetwater Studios home base, with Reingold issuing the album on his own label, and McStine serving as the band’s guitar-slinger and primary lead vocalist, The Fringe is a genuine collaboration that feels like a labor of love for all three players. Putting three world-class musicians in a room together is no guarantee of memorable results, but this trio does an awful lot of things right here, delivering an album that’s simultaneously tight and unpredictable, smart but playful, virtuosic yet unpretentious. Life is good out on The Fringe.

Rating: B+

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