ALBUM REVIEW: James LaBrie – Beautiful Shade of Grey

Having amassed a discography of over twenty albums as the lead vocalist (of which this is the fifth solely under his own name), and nearly two dozen guest appearances across a thirty year professional recording career, you could have forgiven James LaBrie for taking some overdue and well-earned time off when the 2020 Dream Theater  world tour was halted. Instead, he and Eden’s Curse (whose Trinity album was adorned by his distinctive a glorious pipes) guitarist Paul Logue began trading the musical ideas that would grow into Beautiful Shade of Gray (InsideOut Music).

Inspired by the heroes in his music collection who were famed for their eclectic approach and who celebrated versatility, LaBrie has taken the opportunity to move away from the metal heart that pulsed through his last two solo albums in particular. The first of his solo releases not to be co-written with Matt Guillory, Beautiful Shade of Grey is brought to life in a (predominantly) acoustic, though with a full band, format – this isn’t acoustic in the stripped-back Dashboard Confessional style, with the exception of the diaphanous smile of ‘Am I Right’,  but in the traditional “rock band” of the sixties and seventies approach, with a touch of folk and americana (‘Wildflower’) and, of course, splashes of prog and soft rock. 

That isn’t to say things don’t get the mix-it up treatment, and when long-term LaBrie contributor Marco Sfogli straps on his electric six strings, the mood lends itself to a shoulder-jerking, organ-swirling Deep Purple vibe, any fule no dat, most clearly on the electric reprise of opener / closer ‘Devil In Drag’, or ‘Hit Me Like A Brick’. ‘Supernova Girl’ is a quirky, summer breeze that flicks from Chris Cornell melodies in the verse, playing with Beatles chords and strumming, before a traditional LaBrie vocal melody as the song eases from chorus with Sfolgi’s glassy solo. ‘Give and Take’ and ‘What I Missed’ are mature, well-crafted, and ‘Sunset Ruin’ – a tribute to LaBrie’s brother who passed from cancer – is a reflective and earnest piece that carefully uses synths and embellishments to support the mood. 

Whether you’ve followed LaBrie’s non-Dream Theater offerings or not, the music on Beautiful Shade of Grey, both in terms of the quality and style, is probably going to be something different (and better) to what you were expecting. LaBrie’s voice and song-writing entwines exceptionally well with Logue in a way that sounds natural and like they’ve been writing together for years. Adding to the chemistry is LaBrie’s son, Chance, who pulls an exemplary stint behind the kit.  

Cheese warnings and the need to order in barrels of red wine to accompany are wide of the mark, and this is no stop-gap, nor is it twee prog b-sides, a progressive melodeath offshoot, or Dream Theater with the plug pulled on the guitars. Instead, what we have here is a well-crafted coherent and versatile collection of songs that constitute the best music released under the LaBrie banner and a worthwhile album in anyone’s collection. 

Buy the album here:


8 / 10