As you might have read in our “About Us” page, I am a classically trained violist/violinist. I went to college at a music conservatory, where one of my teachers advised his students to listen to Puccini operas. He told us that one of our goals is to make our instruments sing like a human voice, since the voice is the most natural instrument of all. It was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received. I began to listen closely not only to opera, but also to great singers from all different genres. As part of my contribution to the Contrapuntist blog, I am going to do a series on some outstanding musical voices. I hope that you’ll enjoy these artists as much as I do.
Without a doubt, my favorite vocalist of all time is progressive rock/metal singer James LaBrie. He’s the lead singer for Dream Theater, and I’m a HUGE Dream Theater fan. Back when Contrapuntist and I were dating during grad school, he often played Dream Theater albums in his car. I’d always ask, “Who’s that singer? I love his voice.” Contrapuntist would tell me the name of the singer and the band. I would always forget, because I have a terrible memory for that sort of thing. Finally, we went to a Dream Theater concert in 2001. It was amazing, and it converted me into a fan. In the days following the concert, I devoured all of their albums, and I was mesmerized by James’s voice.
What is it that I love so much about his voice? It’s something about the tone color, and the nuances that he uses to express his emotions. He’s able to sing everything from a tender ballad to hard-core metal songs. His voice is powerful and soaring. In a world of cookie-cutter bands and singers, James stands out. Here are some of some of the different musical colors of his voice.
The High Side
James LaBrie is probably best known for the higher end of his vocal range. “Learning to Live” is off of James’s first album with Dream Theater in 1992, Images and Words. Check out the part of the song between six minutes and 55 seconds and seven minutes and 10 seconds. He sings all the way up to the high F-sharp on the top of the staff if you are reading in treble clef. That’s incredibly high for a male voice.
“Innocence Faded” is on Dream Theater’s 1994 album, Awake. Listen closely around the two minute and forty second mark, where he sings all the way up to high F.
The Low Side
Another example is “Finally Free ” from Dream Theater’s 1999 album, Scenes from a Memory. James begins to sing about two minutes into the song.
The Tender Side
James has a wonderfully expressive voice. Here is “Through Her Eyes”, also from Scenes from a Memory. You’ll hear guest artist Theresa Thomason singing at the beginning, and then you’ll hear James around the one minute and 45 second mark. The entire song is gorgeous, and at the end, you’ll hear a vocal improvisation that James does over John Petrucci’s guitar melody.
Here is “Believe” off of his 2001 solo album, Mullmuzzler 2. This is one of the only romantic songs that he sings.
The Heavy Side
A controversial topic among Dream Theater fans is the effectiveness of James’s voice in heavier songs. Many people prefer a lower-pitched voice, such as Symphony X’s Russell Allen or Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt. I can see where they are coming from, but I still think he sounds great.
Here is “Honor Thy Father” from Dream Theater’s 2003 album, Train of Thought. Initially, you will hear drummer Mike Portnoy adding some spoken vocals at the beginning. Then you will hear James singing, and a little bit later, he even does some rapping.
My final example is “Crucify”, off of James’s 2005 solo album, Elements of Persuasion. This song exemplifies James’s powerful voice.
If you would like to hear more of James LaBrie’s voice, there are two albums that I would recommend. The first one is Frameshift’s Unweaving the Rainbow, from which you’ve already heard an example. The album lasts almost an hour and 10 minutes, and it explores every facet of James’s voice. The second album I would recommend is Dream Theater’s 2005 album, Octavarium. Although this is not my favorite Dream Theater album, it has the largest range of different types of songs.
Photo Source: Zruda