Keep it to Yourself is the debut solo album of Mullmuzzler, which is Dream Theater vocalist James Labrie’s solo project. Labrie decided put this disc out in 1999 when he was approached by the Magna Carta label executives. Supporting him on the instrumentation (and songwriting) were Shadow Gallery and Magellan members as well as many others. Don’t be fouled by the “solo album” tag since there is plenty of room for each musician to display their skilled musicianship and add their creative input in the songs.
Labrie’s biggest songwriting partner is without doubt Dali’s Dilemma keyboardist Matt Guillory (who plays even a bigger role on the second Mullmuzzler disc). Guillory is an extremely accomplished musician; not only does he play his instrument perfectly, but he is also a terrific composer who brings each song a new dimension. Feel free to check out the debut Zero Hour record if you want to hear him cut loose and shred his heart out. Guillory co-wrote three songs on Keep it to Yourself, namely the first two songs “His Voice” and “Statued”, plus the experimental “Lace”. The first two tracks are easily my favourite numbers on this disc, and I believe it’s because of the undeniable Guillory influence. Both songs are relatively heavier and more dynamic than the others and filled with meticulous orchestration, sparse piano and keyboard work with calculated bass by Bryan Beller and excellent guitar runs by Mike Keneally (Zappa, Vai, Beer for Dolphins). James Labrie’s vocals on this album are significantly different than his stuff with Dream Theater. This is understandable, since Mullmuzzler gives him the chance to do things he can’t do in DT and experiment with new musical ideas. “Statued” picks up where “His Voice” leaves off and delves into a thunderous drum attack by one of the world’s greatest drummers, Mike Mangini (Extreme, Steve Vai, Annihilator), and showcases more liberate bass lines from guitarist Mike Keneally’s bandmate. The song has several stop-and-start sections with mood and tempo shifts. I really enjoy the sense of contrast exhibited in this tune.
Each song has something different to offer. “Shores of Avalon” may be one of the more accessible tracks. It begins with nice Egyptian riffing and gives way to a beautifully composed, warm guitar solo played by Mike Keneally. No wonder why Frank Zappa called him “his best student ever”. Check this guy’s solo albums out as well. It’s not just chops like Steve Vai; this guy writes MUSIC. Needless to say, this being a solo effort, there is a strong emphasis on vocal arrangements, and since it’s Terry Brown of Rush and Fates Warning fame who handles the crisp production here, lots of subtleties shine through. Besides “Shores of Avalon”, “Guardian Angel”, “Sacrifice”, and “Slow Burn” were also co-written by Shadow Gallery members. Their input is easily recognisable, especially Carl-Cadden James’. Give a listen to the mathematic guitar run on “Guardian Angel” (sounds like Gary Wehrkamp loves that) or the dense acoustics on the ballads “Sacrifice” and “Slow Burn”, the latter which features a poignant guitar solo.
“Beelzebubba” is the strangest (but also one of the most progressive) songs on the record. It eerily reminds me of Devin Townsend’s “Bad Devil” on his Infinity record. The song portrays all aspects of jazz, prog rock and post-pop without getting too serious. Lyrically it’s a satire on Clinton and his ‘affair’ at the White House. Like I said, the chorus sounds like Devin Townsend, which I like, since Devin is a godly musician as well. Not all songs are fun though; actually it’s just “Beelzebubba” that has a joky tone to it. The song “His Voice”, for example, is about finding out that a close friend was in need of help, yet, unfortunately being unable to notice that. I read somewhere that Labrie actually wrote it for a friend of his who committed suicide. Trent Gardner from Magellan lends his talents to the two most bizarre compositions on the album, one of them being “Beelzebubba” and the other one being the longest song “As a Man Thinks”. Unfortunately I’m not a big fan of that one, as it seems a bit odd in structure, except its closing with that static keyboard work by Guillory. I also have to mention Matt Guillory’s somewhat unexpected intro on “Lace” where he dabbles with electronic elements. In short, Keep it to Yourself expands upon creative songwriting and a plethora of interesting instruments including trumpet, saxophone, trombone and horn. Since most of the album was written via exchanging ideas through emails, long-distance phone calls, etc., this was merely a taste of what’s to come. Labrie explored with deeper ideas on the second Mullmuzzler CD, which is also highly recommended.