That's right, two words.
Sure, it's great music done by a fine musician, but first I need to explain something that transcends all of that. I need to explain how beyond ordinary this music is.
I try to picture Tom Sharpe in the studio recording this record and that picture never comes into focus for me. The sounds that have been captured on this recording seem to emanate from the Earth and from the emotions themselves rather than from any human hands. Now I know this all sounds a little overwhelming and deep, and that is the intention. This is a piece of art, a piece of gripping music that is large, illustrious, and sometimes overwhelming. I once said, if dirt could sing it would sound like Johnny Cash. I'd now say, if the Earth itself could speak to us, Lifting The World is what it would say.
Tom Sharpe is primarily known as being the drummer for Mannheim Steamroller and Dennis DeYoung (formerly of Styx), but on this solo release we find Sharpe reaching far beyond standard drums. He is also a formally trained classical pianist, and those keyboard skills are a prominent feature throughout Lifting The World. Sharpe's ability to blend his piano with so many types of drums and percussion instruments is superb, but it is the pristine joining of those sounds with the sweeping orchestration and choir voices that makes this something truly epic.
Think of this as a precision cut diamond. It's beautiful to look at from afar, but when you look deep into it you can see what really makes it attractive. Every facet of a fine cut gem reflects light in a different way. You can see bright yellows and lighter green colors of joy and happiness, while other cuts leave streaks of blood red and solemn hues of purple. Lifting The World has all of these moods and shades, even the small black surfaces that seem to blink on and off as the diamond moves about. As this symphonic journey spins from piece to piece, all of these emotions get flung from the eye of that musical tornado.
The opening "World Speak" has an urgent tribal drum sound which moves into "The Truth In The Light," which is an uplifting piano-based song (the yellow light in the diamond). All of this culminates on the title track, Lifting The World, Part I" which features a choir doing a stirring part reminiscent of a modern day "Carmina Burana: O Fortuna". The dark piano tone and the low hum of a cello are sure to give a chill. If you don't grip your seat a little tighter with this playing you should check your pulse. As the ominous title track slides eloquently into "Three Stories," you get another piece of music that makes your emotions dance and stir. Again, it's the underlying tension of the humming cello that lays out the canvas, but it's the bit of upbeat Asian flair that colors the mid-section of this one before Sharpe's drum march and cymbal splashes carry it to a new level. "Counting Crosses" finds Sharpe returning to tribal drumming, which serves as a vehicle to the dark and brooding "Bloodline". The waves of emotion that flow through this piece are nothing short of spectacular. Every instrument (including the outstanding choir), every emotion, and every element that makes this record work is firing away on this piece. This just might be the pinnacle of the entire record for me.As this symphony starts heading toward its final note, the mood of the music seems to shift toward enlightenment. "The Cathedral Is Where You Are" features a soaring violin that sings over Sharpe's steady piano rhythm until full orchestration lifts the piece to a higher place. If I could fly I would want this piece to surround me in my flight. The final tracks, "The World Remains, Still" and "The Light In The Truth," are, arguably, the most uplifting pieces on the record. They seem to land you in a personal Eden. If you've listened to this record correctly, you'll say you've seen Heaven when you're through with it.
Not only is this something extra ordinary, it truly is something extraordinary.
For more information you can visit Tom Sharpe on the web at:
Photos above by Lisa Sharpe and John Bonk.
A Sharp Sharpe Sharpens His Focus - The Tom Sharpe Interview
Dennis DeYoung / Mannheim Steamroller drummer Tom Sharpe talks with Dr. Music about his high profile jobs, his favorite drummer, and his upcoming solo release, Lifting The World.
Sporting a Master's degree in music performance from DePaul University, Tom Sharpe is an intelligent and confident musician that seems to be driven by a powerful belief system. Aside from an obvious belief in a higher power, he believes in himself. That confidence, paired with tremendous talent, has afforded him work as a drummer and percussionist with two national touring acts, Mannheim Steamroller and Dennis DeYoung (ex-Styx).
When I first spoke with Sharpe he was busy balancing the touring schedules of his two employers, while preparing for a charity fundraiser in his local community. His incessant work schedule really didn't leave him time to spare, but that didn't stop him from taking two full hours to talk with me. Whether it's a class of middle schoolers, a local charity, or an irritating music journalist, Tom Sharpe is someone that finds time (and a smile) for everyone.
Dr. Music: Tell me about your original music, and how you came to do world music.
Tom Sharpe: I never set out and said, “I think I’m going to write ‘world’ music.” What I did was, I sat down and I just started to write, and that's the way it kind of came out. It’s almost more that once some of the music was created, people would listen to it and say “this sounds like world music.” With my background in orchestral percussion, obviously it’s very percussion based. I’ll branch that out into a lot of ethnic percussion and a lot of hand drums, so it does lend itself to that cross between Middle Eastern, African, Asian. It’s very Eastern influenced in that way because of the instrumentation; but there’s also big rock influence to it, big orchestral influence to it. So, one of the things I really feel is one of my strengths, my biggest strength, is the blending of all of these genres. It really doesn’t fit into a category of I’m doing Middle Eastern music, or I’m doing orchestral music. It’s a blending of that. I have influences all across the board, but I can't necessarily say “I’m doing it the same way this person is doing it.” I don’t know where it comes from, which leads me more to realizing that I’m doing the right thing. I’m not thinking about it in a calculated sense first – this is just something that’s in me. When I look back at some of the work I’ve created, I’m not even sure how it got created. That’s how I know I’m doing the right thing.
If you have teenage boys that are into metal or whatever, I’m still confident they’re going to like what I do. They might not know it to begin with, and that’s why I don’t necessarily like to put it into a category of “world music.” One of the things about world music is, people don’t relate to it. They could be listening to it and go, “This might be good, this might not, I don’t know! This doesn’t speak to me.” My music is very relatable, and it doesn’t matter what your tastes are. I just opened for Dennis [DeYoung] with my own music.
Dr. Music: What was the reception like?
Tom Sharpe: It was great, and I was confident it would be. It didn’t really matter they were there for a classic rock show and I was doing something completely different. I feel like I’m going to draw you in. So really, what I say, is put some people in front of me. You don’t have to do anything else – I’ll do the rest. It will sell itself. One thing that I want people to take away from my concerts and use in their own lives is this idea of believing in yourself, and letting things flow through you. Instead of always trying to control, control, control, allow yourself to let it flow. I like to make sure my audience leaves inspired and motivated.
"When I look back at some of the
work I've created, I'm not even sure
how it got created. That's how I know
I'm doing the right thing."
Dr. Music: Do you ever feel like you aren’t expressing enough of yourself when you perform someone else’s material, as you do with Dennis DeYoung?
Tom Sharpe: That’s why I have my own show, because my own show is about me. So I can go, and I can be what Dennis wants me to be, and I’m not necessarily trying to always get my ideas in there and force attention upon myself. I am a natural showman and I am going to get some attention no matter what, but if Dennis tells me “don’t do that, do this,” I say okay, and that’s fine. He is a visionary of his own work, and I have my own work, and anything that I can’t seem to make work with one of my bands always goes to my own music, and that’s an outlet. I think that’s important for everybody. Always have more than one creative outlet so that you can come to things where you’re not necessarily the focus, or part of the creative process as much, and you can allow that to happen.
Dr. Music: With all capital gain aside, if you HAD to choose between doing your own music, doing music with Dennis DeYoung, or performing with Mannheim Steamroller, which would you choose?
Tom Sharpe: You know, I was put on Earth to do my own work, and that’s all there is to it. But, it is almost like which of your kids do you like the best. Just pray you’re never put in that position where you have to choose. I’m a very fortunate guy to have Dennis and Mannheim. How many people are in two famous touring bands at once? For me to be 7 years into these groups, and to have worked it out, is very fortunate. I’m very fortunate. And every year when I’m looking at these schedules, and I’m in my head going “How am I going to do this,” I just have faith because it has worked out. I’ve made it work, and I will continue to make it work. So, what do I like better? I can’t say. They’re just so different, and I enjoy them all so very much. Actually, all of them have a real connection, in that the audience does leave inspired in all of these shows. There’s a caring that happens on stage. In all of these groups there’s a desire to connect with the audience. There’s a desire to give joy. There’s a desire to have the audience leave happy.
Dr. Music: Listening to your first solo record, it sounds very spiritual. Would you call yourself a spiritual guy?
Tom Sharpe: Oh yeah. (pauses) I’m not real sure how to elaborate on that. (laughs)
Dr. Music: No need. Like a political standpoint, spirituality is a personal matter that I would never ask you to talk about. But if you would like to elaborate, please feel free.
Tom Sharpe: Okay, thanks.
Dr. Music: Now, because I have so many Styx fans that check in to the Dr. Music website, I'd like to talk a little bit about your gig with Dennis DeYoung. With Dennis and the Styx catalog, how much do you prepare for? Do you just prepare the set, or do you know “The Grove Of Eglantine”?
Tom Sharpe: The Grove of what? (laughs)
Dr. Music: Okay! That answers my question! (laughs)
Tom Sharpe: We have what we do, and we have songs that we don’t do but we’ll pull in, but there wouldn’t be anything like that. If he wanted to do something like that, then he would let us know. He’d say, “Work this out for the next show.” I’m pretty good with the catalog, but I’m not “Wooden Nickel years” good. In sound check, if he wants to go through “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned” or something, we can do that. And we do a lot of that too – let’s mess around with this, let’s mess around with that – just for fun. And then things happen, like all of a sudden we’re playing “Born For Adventure” in the set, and it’s like “where did that come from?!”
Dr. Music: Do you have a favorite song to play with Dennis?
Tom Sharpe: Oh, it’s “The Best Of Times”. Absolutely. I get chills every time we play it.
Dr. Music: Do you have any input on the setlist? I know you rehearse a basic setlist, but would you go to Dennis and say, “I’d love to play whatever tonight, whadda ya think?”
Tom Sharpe: Well, here’s the thing. He has so many hits, and it’s different now with the venues. Most of them are contracted for a set amount of time, where you’re curfewed at the end of the night. What are you going to take out? That’s the thing. In the band, everyone has their “I’d love to play this, and I’d love to play that,” and it’s like “That would be cool, but what are we going to take out to do this piece?”
Dr. Music: But you would ask Dennis if you really wanted to play, say, “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned”?
Tom Sharpe: Oh yeah. And he’d say, “That’s because you love ‘Paradise Theater’.” (laughs) The point is…. it would be great to appeal to fans that come to show after show after show, but it’s more about what does the audience want as a whole.
Dr. Music: When you play the Styx material, do you like to play the songs in your style and add some things or do you try to reproduce John Panozzo’s style and sound and play it true to form?
Tom Sharpe: I don’t play it true to form of any one drummer that Dennis has worked with. There is a big nod to the way John [Panozzo] approached it, absolutely. This is the same thing with Mannheim Steamroller because Chip Davis, who created Mannheim Steamroller, is the drummer. When I listen to this stuff and I’m studying how to approach it, I know there are signature things I know that I want to do, that they did. So I always approach it from the sense of, I know there are things that I want to keep absolutely true to form, and then there is opportunity to modernize it as well.
"There’s a caring that happens on stage. In all of these groups there’s a desire to connect with the audience.
There’s a desire to give joy."
Dr. Music: Who’s your favorite drummer? If you wanted someone to hear drums, who would you turn them on to?
Tom Sharpe: I grew up as a progressive guy, so Rush, Yes, those bands - Bill Bruford, Alan White, Neil Peart, those guys. It’s so hard to say who a favorite is. I love the fusion guys, too – Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta. I love how “in the pocket“ Jeff Porcaro was in Toto; and then Simon Phillips, who’s in Toto now, and with Pete Townshend. I mean, man, it’s so hard to say.
Dr. Music: Now I know you almost have the new record ready to go. Do you have a title yet?
Tom Sharpe: Lifting The World
Dr. Music : I thought at one point you were thinking about self-titling the album - Tom Sharpe?
Tom Sharpe: The more I finish it up, the more obvious it is to me that's what the title is. It named itself. It's not as much a statement, as it is an offering.
Dr. Music: Well Amen, brother. Amen.
All photos for the CD review by Lisa Sharpe and John Bonk.
All photos for the interview piece by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter.