Many bands these days, or in any generation, come and go as fast as the three-minute one-hit single they just released last week. Some bands stick around for a long time though, some longer than that. For four friends that formed their band way back in 1985-86, (regrouped in 2015 as a trio) longevity and friendship has been in their favor. The Gulf Breeze Florida trio known as UFO Messiah, released their follow up album UFO Messiah II last November. Consisting of Chris Phipps on keys, vocals, acoustic and the 12-string, Marcus Leahy on lead guitar, bass and vocals and Mike Morobitto on drums, this powerhouse group has an extensive biography on Facebook and their influences range from The Beatles and Badfinger to Pink Floyd, and one of my all time favorites – David Bowie.
To start off, “What. Where. Why” has an acoustic rhythm going on and a bright, clean lead mixed with some haunting background guitar. “California Dreamin’” is yep, you guessed it, the song that perhaps made the ‘60s supergroup The Mamas and the Papas famous. It’s always refreshing to hear new takes on old songs and the way UFO Messiah does it is pretty darn good. A lap steel (I think I got my instruments correct) is featured and their take has tenderness to it, not flashy like the original. The drums on “Hey Hey Bye Bye” are loud and boisterous and the lyrics and progression have that ‘old school’ classic anthem vibe to it. Quite melancholic too, as the song’s lyrics are about saying goodbye and according to the band’s bio, it’s about alcoholism and depression.
“Feels So Far Away” is a slow ballad with great vocal harmonies. To me, it’s kind of in the same vein as the hair band ballads of the ‘80s and ‘90s, minus the over-the-top, ear bleeding screaming. Moving on to “Animal Grace,” there are plenty of wah-wah effects done on the guitar and a forceful, solid beat to the drums. On “California” keys start right in as well as the singing. This one’s has more of a pop-rock flavor and has good harmonies too and fades out with a hushed ending. The next number “Runaway” was my favorite. It features heavy keys where parts sounded very progressive a la late Led Zeppelin (I’m thinking “In The Light”) or something from the Edgar Winter Group. I was expecting more singing but I didn’t mind either way, “Runaway” was musically well written.
“Television Truth” has a very live sound with its ‘trashy’ drums and all players sounding like they were recorded live in one large room. Strangely, this one reminded me of Alice Cooper or Spinal Tap, maybe it was the humorous lyrics. “Mr. Jones” was another favorite simply because as I mentioned before, I’m a Bowie fan. This lovely ode to the ‘Starman’ which features references to Bowie’s history and characters from various albums, made me stop and think to remind myself, that yes – this mammoth, groundbreaking artist left us a little over two years ago and there won’t be another one like him. “Mr. Jones” progresses nicely with acoustic guitar, tambourine and a saxophone, I think, or keys made to sound like a sax. Nicely done, fellows.
“If You See Me” is a classic love song of heartache and breakup. Here again, the trio has great harmonies accompanied with a screaming guitar solo. The last tune “Somewhere On The Mountain” starts off with a UFO Messiah sound and to me, feels like a ‘50s pop song that you’d play on your car radio during a hot summer night. Something within the melody reminded me of “Oh Donna” by Richie Valens or another song during that time period. All in all, UFO Messiah II has a little bit of everything, which reaches in to the band’s arsenal of styles both past and present. Even though they branched out for a time doing other projects and gigs with other bands, UFO Messiah’s latest effort is a testament to the band’s long, abiding friendship – here’s to wondering where their spaceship will land next among the stars.
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