Zen Rock and Roll

Zen Rock and Roll is Jonathan Saunders from Memphis, Tennessee, who plays all instruments and sings. I picked up both Zen Rock and Roll albums on a Christmas sale from ProgRock Records, and though I had never heard of them, the ProgRock description sounded interesting. This was one of the best accidental discoveries I ever made … both of Zen Rock and Roll‘s albums End of the Age (02) and The Birthright Circle (04) are excellent.

The albums are heavy on keyboards, including the obligatory synths, organ and Mellotron, but there’s also very good guitar and bass work here, and though the drums sound like they’re samples, they are arranged artfully and carefully enough that you won’t even notice at first they’re not real drums. Looking at reviews on other web sites, one of them mentioned that this is instrumental music, which is not true. Saunders‘ vocals abound, and are quite good both vocally and lyrically. The lyrics seem to have some vague Christian leanings (the first song on End of the Age, in fact, is sung in Latin, and may be liturgical, though I’m not sure of that), though they’re not preachy, so the subject matter didn’t bother me in the least.

Musically, I’ve seen comparisons in other reviews to early Yes, which isn’t a bad jumping-off point for a description, though this isn’t nearly as similar as, say, Starcastle or even Glass Hammer. I’d rather just say it’s upbeat symphonic prog, not “challenging” in style at all, at least to my ears. This would have been popular in the ’70’s. In fact, there’s a bit of “pop” edge to the music, like a more pastoral Styx, a less metallic Queen or a less Beatlesish Klaatu. Don’t take these “pop” comparisons as a negative … these two albums can only be categorized as symphonic prog, and a very good example at that. I thoroughly enjoyed them and would highly recommend them to anyone who doesn’t need their prog to be “difficult”.

Zen Rock and Roll‘s web site has vanished, though Saunders still maintains a presence on the web via his MySpace page. Even this is getting pretty stale, so I suspect that Saunders has moved on to other pursuits and doesn’t seem to be terribly active musically at the moment, at least not with this musical persona. ProgRock still lists both albums as available for only $9.95 each, or you can download them from Mindawn (see and links above). If you’re a symphonic prog fan, give Zen Rock and Roll a try, I found both albums to be highly enjoyable. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Zen Rock and Roll‘s MySpace page
Click here to order End of the Age or The Birthright Circle from ProgRock Records

One Response to “Zen Rock and Roll”

  1. gibraltarepr Says:

    I don’t understand the nature of this comment. Isn’t this verbatim what’s in the post?

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