James LaBrie's MullMuzzler began to take shape in the summer of 1998, after the last leg of Dream Theater's extensive Touring Into Infinity World Tour. James started the project by collaborating with some of the most talented songwriters in the progressive rock genre: Trent Gardner (Magellan, Explorer's Club), Matt Guillory (Dali's Dilemma), Gary Sloyer, and Carl Cadden-James, Brendt Allman, and Gary Wehrkamp (all from Shadow Gallery). Working together, the musicians began to craft the songs for MullMuzzler's first CD.
As the tunes began to take shape, it became clear that a crack team of virtuoso players would need to be assembled to bring the music to life in the studio. This elite squad would eventually include Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Beer For Dolphins) on guitars, Mike Mangini (Extreme, Steve Vai) on drums, Matt Guillory (the brilliant keys man already helping James compose the songs for the disc) on keyboards, and Bryan Beller (Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai, Beer for Dolphins) on bass. In the studio, James would call upon the talents of incomparable Rush producer Terry Brown to lend his special kind of magic to the sonic festivites.
Due to the hectic schedules of all involved, it was nearly impossible for all of the musicians involved with the MullMuzzler project to meet in person to compose and create the tracks for MullMuzzler's debut release, "Keep it to Yourself". As a result, the crew began the daunting task of writing (and later recording) a complex prog/hard rock CD almost completely via email, snail mail, and telephone conversations. This unorthodox method of creating music inspired James to dub the project MullMuzzler, a hybrid word of his own creation. As he explains, "I was sitting down and thinking about how absurd this whole process was with this album, the long distances, the variety of human interaction, so I thought 'what can best describe what the songs are saying to me, what is really affecting my social stance right now, my whole environment?' So I was thinking about how so many people in the world today are suppressed or oppressed when they want to say something. So many people hold back what they are truly thinking. So I thought what could best describe that process? And there was no word out there. So I put two words together, 'mull', which means to ponder thought, 'muzzler', or 'muzzle', which means to gag. So 'mullmuzzler' means to gag or silence an individual's thought before it can be expressed in any manner. It's as simple as that."
The result of this consolidated effort is nothing short of fabulous. "Keep it to Yourself" boasts 9 incredible tracks, each distinctly forged by the composers that penned them. Matt Guillory joined James in the composition of His Voice, Statued, and Lace; Carl Cadden-James, Brendt Allman, and Gary Wehrkamp lent their talents to Shores Of Avalon, Sacrifice, Slow Burn, and Guardian Angel; and Trent Gardner's inimitable talent shines through on the unique tracks Beelzebubba and As a Man Thinks. Containing a plethora of musical styles from intricate progressive rockers to driving classic rock tunes and beautifully emotional ballads, "Keep it to Yourself" is a musical tour de force that provides an aural experience both satisfying and, at times, surprising. Focusing supremely on the "needs" of each individual song, the album offers the listener just the right amount of musicianship, melody, and groove. Vocally, James' voice soars above all else, powerful and provocative.
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Shortly after the release of "Keep it to Yourself", James began thinking about releasing another MullMuzzler record. To create the songs for this second disc, "MullMuzzler 2", James reconvened with Matt, Trent, and Carl Cadden-James, as well as Carl's Shadow Gallery bandmate Gary Wehrkamp. Although creating the tunes for "MullMuzzler 2" again involved the coordination of many individual schedules, this time the composers had a bit more time to work face-to-face with one another. As a result, the songs on MullMuzzler's second offering contain even more layering, depth and attention to detail than even the expertly crafted "Keep it to Yourself". Once written, the tracks were then recorded by "Keep It To Yourself"'s talented team of players, with the addition of Mike Borkosky (solo artist and Alannah Myles guitarist) on guitars and Trent lending Matt a hand on keyboards.
Containing 10 fantastic tracks of melodic progressive rock, "MullMuzzler 2" is both similar to and a departure from "Keep it to Yourself". Powerful vocals, consummate musicianship, and elegantly constructed songs are as abundant as before, as are the emotionally provocative lyrics and solid grooves found on MullMuzzler's debut release. But, "MullMuzzler 2" is far from a static copy of it's predecessor. Experimental arrangements, unique orchestrations, and inventive vocal effects are a testament to James' desire to push the creative envelope even further on MullMuzzler's second album. Musically, the addition of Mike Borkosky on guitars infuses the album with a mellow, "feel-oriented" vibe reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour, creating an interesting counterpoint to Mike Keneally's stun-gun guitar work and Matt Guillory's blistering key solos. In a perfect complement to the album's edgier musical fare, "MullMuzzler 2" features darker, poignant lyrics addressing a variety of subjects ranging from spiritual reflection (Afterlife), betrayal (Confronting the Devil), loss of innocence (Venice Burning), the potential horrors of technology and societal tension (Tell Me), love's labors lost (Falling), and even an oddly touching narrative about a vampire's search for spiritual peace within his macabre world (A Simple Man). Throughout the album, James shines as always, endowing his vocals with a passion and intensity that elevate an already powerful collection of songs to an even higher level.
Ensconcing technical prowess and avant garde sonic ideas within the framework of solid songs, "MullMuzzler 2" completes the task that "Keep it to Yourself" began: forging a distinct "MullMuzzler sound" that the project can uniquely call it's own. In this way, MullMuzzler is a true collaborative effort: many talented musicians coming together to create not just a conglomeration of carbon-copy sounds from each of their "other" bands, but a unique entity that stands (and thrives) on it's own.
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James LaBrie's MullMuzzler is a musical endeavor that succeeds where similar projects have failed. Strongly infused with the technical wizardry, musicianship, and eclecticism of progressive rock, MullMuzzler also manages to capture the listener with solid hard rock grooves, deeply emotional lyrics, and inspiring melodies. All too often, a project with a foundation of such phenomonal musicianship is in danger of losing it's "soul" to the sheer wonder of the performance. Conversely, an album with considerable emotion and heart may lack the musical depth necessary to fully convey it's ideas to the listener. The ultimate challenge then is to create a balance between the mind and the heart, the technical and the touching, musicianship and melody, and to do it all in the context of a well-crafted song. It is in this that MullMuzzler triumphs and, in an ironic contradiction to it's name, absolutely nothing is suppressed and every thought is crystal clear.
Rob & Jenn