Track By Track : Mike Ian - The Learning Tree

By John A. Wilcox

Prog Prog Prog. I love Prog as you well know! Multi-instrumentalist Mike Ian has served up a fine slab of Prog with his album The Learning Tree. Progsheet caught up with Ian & his lyricist Troy Raleigh and they graciously took us through the album track-by-track. No verbs were harmed in the making of this piece!

Track 1: A Pirate’s Dream
MI: This was one of my many songs utilizing the open-string, B major voicings on guitar. It’s a feel-good 6/8, swash-buckling kind of vibe, thus the nautical, pirate reference. Adding orchestration to this tune helped bring it to a sea-faring life.
TR: Mike’s vision for this song had a nautical element to it. So I wrote about a person having a dream that they were a pirate experiencing all the thrills of the high seas. But then the dream ends. And the person is so moved by it, it causes them to do some soul searching.

Track 2: Happily Ever After
MI: This song gave me a David Gilmour/Pink Floyd kind of vibe. The orchestration and use of mellotron continues. I couldn’t help but introduce the theme from Gustav Holst’s Jupiter theme at the end!

TR: Sitting in the quiet dawn of the morning, the person reflects on past mistakes. But now inspired by the pirate’s dream, a new course for exploration and discovery is in the works.

Track 3: Cast In Stone
MI: Musically this was based off of a simple I-IV progression we’re all so familiar with but with some harmonic ear lifts.

TR: Sometimes in an effort to plan the future, a person must reflect back to their past, returning to their roots to help them identify their evolving maturity.

Track 4: Hereafter
MI: The chord progression in this song gave me a very early ‘British’ kind of vibe. Introducing pedal-steel, dominant 7th based orchestration, 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, and leslie-guitar helped create this retro vision.

TR: The soul searching has led the person back to the course of adventure. Wiser now from past missteps, it’s time to make a change.

Track 5: Next Stop Anywhere
MI: This is another of the feel-good 6/8 vibes. Again, a pretty simple chord progression with use of open string acoustics. Leslie guitar and orchestration continues.

TR: The road is open now. And accompanied by a sage. An inner voice. Breathing in the air of freedom. And fueling the person’s hunger for knowledge and who they are to be.

Track 6: Saved
MI: This again gave me an early british vibe with it’s open-string DADGAD tuning on acoustic. Again it’s really based off of a simple I-IV progression. Pedal-steel, leslie-guitars, mellotrons continue throughout. The song climaxes to a cacophony of sound with sounds swirling throughout.

TR: After being bound for years in a self imposed psychological prison, the urban streets, rural countryside, the sand, and the ocean serve as the person’s church. And the root to their spiritual awakening.

Track 7: Letter To Home
MI: You can tell by now I’m a fan of open string guitar usage. This was fun with Emaj7/C#m9 etc. Then shifting to a minor based chorus. Was going for a more modern production approach for this tune.

TR: In a time of peace a sudden epiphany occurs. Home is calling this person. But they do not wish to return. Through heartfelt letters, Love’s latitude rises high upon the wings of a sparrow. To carry messages of reconciliation homeward.

Track 8: Something More Nothing Less
MI: This again gave me a David Gilmour/Floyd vibe. Made use of the #11 a lot for that musical tension. Recreated a string quartet at the end of this one.

TR: Wallowing in a vortex of emotions, the experience of love has always eluded this person. What is it? It did not come hand in hand with the spiritual awakening. It is something that must be earned and fought for to have its rightful presence.

Track 9: Shine On
MI: I knew this tune would be last on some project of mine, and this cd was certainly the one for it. This song utilized the most progressive musical elements I love encapsulated into one epic ending- orchestration, some odd time signatures, big guitar solo, soaring, repetitive outro, and the only fade out of the cd.

TR: The person’s years are in their purest form now. An inspirational dream gave this person means for reflection. Then salvation. Then reconciliation. Expressing and embracing affection. Found themselves, down through the fields of gold. They are home…


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