Review: Neal Schon – Vortex (2015)


Legendary guitarist goes on new personal Journey into the Vortex.


In Schon’s own words “My guitar is my voice. When you play from the heart, you discover your voice”. One would have thought that 40 years into his career he would have found his voice by now. The fact is that he has found his voice several times over, be it on his solo work or his spells in Santana, Hardline, Bad English or Journey. This new album is just a new voice. And a powerful one it is.

To say the guitar playing is second to none is tantamount to stating the bleeding obvious, that said it does bear repeating and should not be taken for granted. Just because he can play the guitar doesn’t mean he can compose great music. Although in this case is very much does mean that.

The album’s sound moves from rock to bluesy jazz to world music without breaking rhythm, purpose or consistency. There is a sense of wonder and anticipation in Schon’s “voice”. It feels like you are entering something or somewhere for the very first time and you have no idea what is around the corner. This trick does repeat itself at times but not to the point of becoming over familiar.

The eastern vibe of opener “Miles Beyond” sets the tone. It’s a rumblin’ unsteady track that manages to balance a hard drivin’ riff with light fly-away emotion. The build-up of tension and then release of so many of Schon’s work is again evident here.

“Cuban Fly Zone” has Satriani-like ethereal tendencies and like Satch he knows exactly when to serve the song and let the moments flow without unnecessary interruption or showmanship. After all this man is an educated composer and not a showpony. Satch’s much praised ear for melody is also a compliment that could be sent Schon’s way.

Away from comparisons with celebrated peers Schon’s own dynamic and sound can be felt on tracks like “El Matador”, the deeply personal and emotive “Lady M”, “White Light” and “Tortured Souls” inparticular.

Contributors to the album include Czech composer Jan Hammer, drummer Steve Smith and pianist Igor Len. Each of them get their own moments to shine also but it’s Schon’s album and his voice that is shouting out loud. As with any double length album there are always sections or maybe tracks that seem superfluous and can easily be cast aside to create a leaner more aerodynamic album, but that’s not really the case here. Perhaps if a couple of the tracks were not on the album it would not have affected the overall feel or shape of the album but when Schon is in this creative flow why stop him?

The second half of the album has a more experimental feel to it, as “Twilight – Spellbound” and “Triumph of Love” but the solid structures and foundations of the first half are still in evidence but a little more loosely applied.

One of the great things about Schon is that all of his solo work is completely different from his day job in Journey. It might seem obvious but considering the amount of artists who want time out from their main band to indulge in personal projects that ended up sounding exactly the same as their band are too numerous to mention.

The hope is that Schon, inbetween the usual hectic touring schedule with Journey, will find some time in the near future to support the record by doing some live shows. If that happens you would be a fool to miss it, and the same can be said if you do not purchase a copy of Vortex to hear a truly creative visionary at his peak.

Donnie’s Rating: 9.5/10

The album is released today, 22nd June, via Mascot Label Group.


Miles Beyond
Cuban Fly Zone
El Matador
Eternal Love
In A Cloud
Irish Cream
Lady M (Our Love Remains)
Airliner NS910
Tortured Souls
Schon & Hammer Now
NS Vortex
Unspoken Faith
Twilight – Spellbound
Triumph Of Love
Talk To Me
White Light

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