|Ambition Ambition||Frontiers Records|
It's probably a source of amazement to some that Ambition is finally being released! The much hyped project was first announced some 4 years ago now, as a comeback vehicle for the fabulous, but under appreciated AOR vocal God, Thom Griffin.|
Over the last year or two, Ambition has been revised to first feature Mecca vocalist Joe Vana and then both the guys in a duet format, before reverting back to a Griffin only release.
However, a couple of strange quirks within this album mean that it is not solely a Thom Griffin project.
Following a familiar path set down previously by the record label, Ambition features a talent vocalist, a collection of obscure, classic era AOR tracks and musical input and production from Fabrizio V.Zee Grossi.
The first Ambition twist is the inclusion of a different guitarist than that on Grossi's usual team. Instead we have the guitar playing talents of Tommy Denander on board.
Yes, there is that name again. Tommy is a brilliant guitarist and has a definite ear for classic AOR, but I'm wondering if he may be spreading his talents to thinly.
His very distinct sound is everything AOR fans appreciate, but I would hate to see such a talent burn himself out. In the last few months we have had a new Radioactive release, the great Philip Bardowell album and in this month alone we have Tommy dominating tis project, plus the release of the Speedy Gonzales project and Frederik Slama's new AOR album (which also features Philip Bardowell!). That's three albums for three labels in the one month and there is still the new Stan Bush and Frederiken/Denander albums plus guest spots on the new Paul Stanley and Liberty & Justice albums to come in the first half of 2006!
That all said – Tommy's work on Ambition is for me his best in recent memory and I have enjoyed it more than the Radioactive and AOR releases and as much as the Bardowell album. He is right on song here and the material featured suits his delivery to a tee. The fact his work is produced by someone other than himself has I think given it even greater impact and I make the suggestion to Tommy that he try such a tactic again.
The other twist within the album is the inclusion of one time Toto vocalist Jean Michel Byron. He performs two duets with Griffin (which provide minimal disruption to the enjoyment of Griffin's vocals) and gets his own time to shine when he sings lead vocals on the track Hunger.
I personally think Jean Michel Byron offers no value to this album. I can understand him guesting as he does on a couple of tracks, but to include a track where he features as lead vocalist is an insult to Thom Griffin – who is without doubt the absolute star of this album. With 11 other songs on offer, leaving the Byron lead vocal track off altogether would have been a better decision.
So to Thom Griffin – the man is a vocal God. His voice on this album is true ear candy.
Without his presence, this album could have been written off as a showcase for a bygone era, being that it is so obviously set in a mid-80s timeframe stylistically.
The songs are all so classically old-school in their delivery and listening to this is like forgetting that the 90s ever happened.
So what about the songs? As usual the sources vary, but two tracks are sourced from Joey Carbone, longtime Joseph Williams songwriting partner (No Wasted Moments and Together); while Swedish songwriter Christian Wolff supplies several great tracks - Hold On, Hypocrites, All I Need, Make it Alright, Too Much, Hunger and also featured is Brian LaBlanc of Blanc Faces.
The common thread between these songs is the quality. Yes, they are dated in style, but I didn't think I have heard a more suited collection of songs gathered for one of these projects.
Stated issues aside, this is a very fine record. If you are a fan of 80s AOR, then you won't find anything better than this release anytime soon.
Griffin sings his ass off and simply floats his glorious warm and passionate vocals over the songs provided which, despite their age, suit the project and the style perfectly.
This is so 80s in style, Grossi even adds in simple keyboard parts which add to the overall experience, but make the record even more user friendly for fans of the glory days of AOR.
The opening lines of the album give one reason to pause and wonder why Griffin isn't a bigger star and why he hasn't made more records. He has the perfect melodic rock voice and I hope it isn't 20 years until we hear him again!
I wouldn't describe this album as instant – besides the immediate impact of the lead vocals. But it doesn't take long to grow and develop into a firm favourite.
Both Hold On and Hypocrites get the album off to a flyer and feature some glorious melodies. Byron's input on the bridge during Hypocrites is ok, but he is simply out sung by Griffin.
The softer and smoother Alone I Cry tempers the pace for a moment, allowing the chance for Griffin to deliver some seriously smooth vocals and great harmonies.
Shaping Fate & Destiny is one of the most blatantly 80s style songs here, but it features one of the best choruses for the album.
The Carbone supplied double header of No Wasted Moments and Together are like chalk and cheese. The former is a smooth Toto-like ballad, while the latter is one of the harder rocking tracks for the album and adds some much appreciated fire.
Closing the album is the first track ever recorded for the album – the Vana/Griffin duet on the unreleased Mr Mister track Waiting In My Dreams.
The class of the song is such that I would have liked to hear more of the duo together, but I'm still more than satisfied with the album as it is.
The album drops a little in intensity towards the end, but the first 8 or 9 tracks are all perfect old-school AOR and any album with such fine lead vocals deserves such attention. Especially by those looking for high quality examples of classic 80s AOR
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