By George Halas
Vic Ferrari Symphony on The Rocks is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a new CD, “Milestones.” Produced, recorded and mixed by Vic Ferrari keyboards player Aaron Zinsmeister at White Raven Audio in Appleton, the album contains 10 classic rock songs that have been featured in the band’s symphony concerts.
While technically “covering” these classic rock favorites, the orchestral arrangements are all original, written from scratch by Zinsmeister. The superb recording brings the orchestra into prominent focus while retaining the scope and power of the live shows as well as the vocal harmonies and instrumental virtuosity that have distinguished Vic Ferrari. The listener can hear everything.
The album opens with “Fooling Yourself” by Styx. The song begins with building synthesizer-augmented orchestration that gives way to Russ Reiser’s solo acoustic guitar and Ron Kalista’s spot-on vocal before returning to full power. Toto’s “Africa” is next with an intro of understated percussion and tight vocal harmonies framed nicely by the orchestration.
The third cut, Chicago’s “Make Me Smile” – actually the album version that includes “To Be Free” and “Now More Than Ever” from “Ballet For A Girl From Buchanon” – is one of the album’s biggest revelations. While it is one of the outfit’s best songs live, the power of the HD Horns (Kenny Skitch, trombone, Chris Felts, saxophones and flutes, Tyler Jones, trumpet, augmented for this recording by Brett Murphy, trumpet) tends to overpower the symphony; on the CD, Zinsmeister’s masterful mix, blends the horns and orchestra in a most complementary fashion and allows one of his best arrangements a full hearing. Wayne Peter’s lead vocal, Reiser’s guitar solo and Kalista’s drumming are additional highlights.
Kalista has one of the best tenor voices anywhere and Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” provides an excellent showcase; he doesn’t just hit the high notes, he nails them, and the structure of the song allows ample breathing room for the symphony.
Zinsmeister’s mix not only reveals the orchestra, but also Mike Bailey’s stellar bass work on Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” Felt’s tenor sax solo pops, as it does on the next track, Foreigner’s “Urgent,” another fine vocal by Kalista.
One of the strengths of Vic Ferrari is six stellar vocalists capable of handling a lead and Tom Bailey brings his “A” game to Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” The edgy arrangement frames the lyrics in a haunting, yet must-listen manner. The script is flipped to fun with the Bee Gee’s “Jive Talkin,” where the harmonies and symphony combine to surpass the original.
Speaking of Fun, “Carry On” begins with Zinsmeister’s solo keyboard and Kalista’s understated vocal, then gradually builds into an uplifting anthem featuring ear-grabbing guitar work by Reiser.
Zinsmeister’s keys lead the symphony into a powerful arrangement and a superb vocal turn by Mike Bailey – understated at times, but crushing the high notes – on the album’s concluding track, a-ha’s “Take On Me.”
Highly ambitious, this album more than succeeds at both remaining true to the originals and ultimately surpassing them with superb musicianship and impeccable execution. A worthy listen, it will only sound better with headphones or a great sound system.
You can purchase “Milestones,” at any Vic Ferrari show or get it online at: