Cary Clouser may be better known as a member of the Jethro Tull tribute act Oracle, however his first solo album Finger Paintings is more influenced by other 70's rockers than Ian Anderson and friends. The short keyboard intro to the album is a pleasant if slightly misleading blast that sounds like something Geoff Downes would have pulled out for a live solo spot, however when the first song proper kicks in, the vibe is far more reminiscent of Uriah Heep at their laid back melodic best. As the album moves on, that Heep comparison continues to pop up, however it is interspersed with shots of Yes and the merest dash of Genesis. There is also a poppier sensibility to Finger Paintings, but more in an early Asia way, although there is also the merest hint of the smooth rock Gerry Rafferty specializes in.
The songs are all fairly mellow in approach, however the impressive musicianship displayed by Clouser means that you don't really hanker for a harder edged, or more complex delivery, as his mulit-instrument playing is of the highest order. Cary plays and programmes nearly all the sounds on this collection, although he is assisted by Brett Kull, Damon Shulman and Dylan Howe on the odd occasion and his production is remarkably sharp, which allows the crystal clear guitars to become real focal points in the songs, but it is actually Clouser's piano and keyboard layers that really drive this disc along.
Balancing prog and the more (almost) AOR friendly vibe present here is a rare skill and one that Clouser handles with an ease that is impressive. The likes of "Ship Of Pride" and "Precious" manage to combine complex arrangements and sweeping atmospheres to an easily accessible melody line and while the songs are very involving, they are also pleasant and cheery little numbers. The rock and roll of "Shine... The Pretentious One" is an excellent aside that changes the mood with its busy piano chords and wonderful flute solo, however it really is the more overtly prog moments where Finger Paintings really comes to life. The start-stop riff of "Don't Know", with its Hammond organ and the Steve Howe influenced "It's Time" are wonderful sweeping songs that add a little more breadth to proceedings.
Initially released independently Clouser has now teamed up with Melodic Revolutions Records to hopefully bring this extremely enjoyable album to a larger audience and with the intention of helping that to happen, the final three tracks have been added to this version of the disc. Of the three "Bright Morning Sun" is a bright piano led Yes like romp, while "Life Lessons" adds a more Genesis feel to the keyboards and is one of the best inclusions on the entire disc, before it segues into the equally impressive, if short closer "Home Again".
Although it maybe wears its influences a little too blatantly, there's no doubting the skill of either the song writing or musicianship here, making Finger Paintings immensely interesting and damn good fun.