As a crucial member of two progressive rock supergroups—Flying Colors and The Sea Within, alongside icons such as Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt, and Marco Minnemann collectively—singer/songwriter Casey McPherson is well established as a major voice within the genre. That said, his own exceptional project, Alpha Rev, predates both of those outlets (so McPherson soared as a solo artist long before triumphing as part of a team). Sadly yet understandably, Alpha Rev has been silent for the better part of a decade (since 2013’s Bloom), but with his latest outing, Alpha Rev presents Cas.e Sessions, Volume 1, he returns in top form. A gathering of tunes “written over the course of the last two years as part of [his] monthly fan-subscription service, The Cas.e Sessions,” the LP is as heartfelt and catchy as it is technically impressive, making it a great new addition to McPherson’s catalog.
McPherson started the Cas.e Sessions as a means to channel “a more in-depth artistic look into life.” Each month, members are treated to “a new song, a short documentary around the song, and an online live show” based on “a relevant topic or experience.” To his own surprise, he was able to play everything on the album, and he initially only planned to release the sequence to supporters (which ended up being a benefit since it allowed him to not focus as much on “how it would be received”). As a result, Alpha Rev presents Cas.e Sessions, Volume 1 finds McPherson at his most personal, ambitious, dexterous, and assured to ultimately yield an accomplished yet uninhibited gem.
The record impresses from the jump with opener “Changeling,” whose morose opening strings establish poetic isolation before his trademark cadence and candor lend themselves beautifully to his vulnerable confessions. It then evolves exquisitely via digital rhythms and backing vocals (a la Lunatic Soul) until intertwining collages of instruments and singing merge the organic and robotic with overwhelming emotion. It’s a miraculous start, to say the least, and fortunately, he employs similar techniques (in vastly different ways, of course) to make subsequent selections like the urgent yet danceable “I’m a Refugee” and the heartrendingly fragmented “Song of Aleppo” glisten with aural intrigue and affective imperativeness.
Elsewhere, more traditional timbres achieve even more powerful sentiments and invigorating hooks. Take, for instance, the silk liveliness of “White Matter Recess” (whose infectious tethers of transcendence conjure fellow singer/songwriters like David Gray, Gary Jules, Sarah McLachlan, and Greg Laswell). In contrast, the sobering “Everyone’s Charade” is downright heavenly thanks to his poignant falsettos and orchestration, whereas “You are the Peacemakers” is especially eclectic as it delivers its encouraging cry for unity, compassion, and overarching social progress. Near the end of the disc, “Write Your Name” ever so slightly evokes ‘90s Radiohead in its airy production and acoustic center before the penultimate “Help Me” more or less ends it all with a modest piano that finds McPherson pouring his heart out as he’s literally “reaching out” for connection. It’s a sublime example of how the barest arrangements are often the most piercing. (The proper last entry, “Stillness for Humans,” cements the grand theme of the LP as a nearly fifteen-minute mantra in the guise of Jolly’s Audio Guide to Happiness duology.)
In and of itself, Alpha Rev presents Cas.e Sessions, Volume 1 is a captivating series of pieces that further establish McPherson as a praiseworthy musical artist in every sense. However, its greatest significance comes not in its tie to him alone but rather in its place as a prodigiously necessary clarion call for inner and outer empathy and poise in the modern world. In other words, McPherson’s messages would be vital by default, so the fact that he expresses them with such masterful variety and appeal only enhances the core of what makes Alpha Rev presents Cas.e Sessions, Volume 1 succeed.