Neal Schon, ‘Journey Through Time': Album Review
There's no question Journey fans still love the band. Just look at attendances for shows this past year as proof that they still connect a quarter century after parting ways with Steve Perry. It's the songs, not the singer, that make the music move along in this case. But there are a lot of Journey songs that have been left behind over time, especially in concert, which is the reason to be excited about guitarist Neal Schon's Journey Through Time.
An ad-hoc quintet was put together to play a 2018 benefit in San Francisco for North Bay Fire Relief, with Schon recruiting former Santana bandmate and fellow Journey originator Gregg Rolie and then former drummer Deen Castronovo, along with bassist Marco Mendoza and second keyboardist John Varn. The group played live dates during 2019 as well, but Journey Through Time comes from that first show, which has an agreeably rough-and-tumble quality and a looseness that hasn't been part of
the Journey universe since the band's earliest days. Everybody onstage here is in good shape and a player, allowing the group to extend and vamp like a jam band in the grand Bay Area tradition. That's not meant to slight the more polished act Journey has become, but it's nice to hear the music treated with a more expansive touch.
And there's a lot of it. Journey Through Time offers up the whole show - nearly two hours and 45 minutes - and digs generously into the catalog, all the way back to the ferocious "Of a Lifetime," the first song from the first album, and the instrumental "Kohutek," hard-hitters such as "I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Mystery Mountain," and a late-show triumvirate of "You're On Your Own," "Hustler" and "Nickel and Dime."
With Schon on board, and in fine form, the quintet also resurrects a healthy portion of post-Perry deep digs such as the "Feelin' That Way"/"Anytime" diptych from Infinity, "Line of Fire," "Lady Luck," "Lovin' You is Easy," "People and Places" and "Just the Same Way." "Daydream" is extended with a bass solo by Mendoza and a quick quote from the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," while "La Do Da" ends with Mendoza and Castronovo bouncing on each other. And "Walks Like a Lady" becomes a psychedelic blues opus with Schon tearing through a muscular intro. You can find a guitar moment just about anywhere on the album, but the real standout here is Castronovo, and not only as a drummer.
As he's demonstrated throughout his two tenures in Journey, Castronovo is a strong singer with a convincing similarity to Perry, which is deployed to good effect throughout Journey Through Time - up to and including the big hits such as "Don't Stop Believin'," "Separate Ways," "Lights" and "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'." He's a not-so-secret weapon whose skills help Journey Through Time broaden its reach. The show and album finish going back to Santana with renditions of "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." Journey Through Time may not be for the Escape and Frontiers crowd, but it's a pleasing blast back to a past that hasn't been overplayed and is more than appropriate to resurrect for Journey's 50th anniversary in 2023.