Frontiers / Now & Then FRCD 110
Produced by: Jim Peterik & Larry Millas

Released: APRIL 22 / Website
Relatives: Survivor, Mr. Mister, Toto

  1. Velocitized
  2. Without You
  3. Can't Stop Love
  4. Silence Of The Heart
  5. You Still Shock Me
  6. Mecca
  7. Wishing Well
  8. Close That Gap
  9. Blinded By Emotion
  10. Falling Down

Ah, long last I get to review one of my favourite records in the past several years.
I had never intended to mark/score this album, as I was doing PR for them in the early days, before a label stepped in and a release was secured.
But time moves on and I feel only more and more passionate about this record, so why the hell not feature it as it deserves.
Now to deliver a balance to my words, beneath this review I will include links to other reviews so far online and in conjunction with the soundbytes, I urge you to sample it and make up your own minds.
But as I see it - this is the perfect AOR release.
I have previously assigned a perfect score to 3 hard rock, or melodic rock releases. All three releases (Danger Danger x2 and Harem Scarem) featured a sound and songs that moved the genre forward.
This album is a little different. What is does is capture the classic sound of the softer side of this genre of music and present it in a fresh, exciting and totally absorbing manner.
What catapults this album to the top of the heap is the unique blend of the years of songwriting experience from the pen of Jim Peterik and Fergie Frederiksen, with the youthful freshness of new comer Joe Vana.
It's the years of outstanding session work from Toto's David Hungate (bass) and Reba McEntyre's Jimmy Nichols (keyboards) mixed with the relatively news kids on the block - Shannon Forrest (drums) and Mike Aquino (guitar).
And special mention to the magnificent Thom Griffin (Trillion), who's backing vocals are simply some of the best heard since the classic era.
The album's main parts were recorded in Nashville's Big Boy Room, with overdubs and a mix down taking an additional 6 months to complete. It's those extra attention to details that gives real life to this album.
I say that, as after nearly 12 months of having this album, I can still play it now and discover new musical parts, new harmonies and new hooks within old songs.

Musically, Mecca is not hard rock. Mecca is mature, AOR at it's best. A mixture of Mr. Mister at their complex and moody best, Survivor at their stadium filling, lighters-in-the-air heyday and Toto at their vocally smoothest.
Track By Track:
Velocitized is a Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan written song that was going to be for the Survivor album after Too Hot Too Sleep. It never happened, but thankfully this song has seen the light of day here.
Fergie sings on this instantly likeable track that features a heavy guitar riff and is closest of all the songs to the classic sound of Survivor.
A big chorus, some strong harmonies and a sing along the whole family can enjoy. Perfect driving song!
The Vana/Peterik written Without You is one of several tunes that takes multiple listening to get to know. It's moody and almost opposite to the joyous opening song, yet remains an album favourite. Several layers of harmony vocals support the chorus, but it's the verse that gets me in, with Joe Vana's vocals raw, emotional and utterly convincing.
Mr. Mister meets Survivor maybe, but this song is pure Mecca.
Can't Stop Love starts soft and features the duel lead vocals of Fergie and Joe together, swapping lines throughout the song. This track is uptempo, uplifting and basically the ultimate feel good song. Another classic driving track, but don't blame me for the speeding tickets.
It's funny how well the two singers vocals come together, despite having totally different approaches on their own individual tracks.
Silence Of The Heart is Joe Vana's true time to shine. This is one hell of a ballad in perfect moody Mr. Mister-ish fashion. If you like that band's Go On album, take a listen to this.
The guitar and keyboard parts are perfect, adding real mood to the song that just oozes emotion. Joe wrote the track again with Jim Peterik, but this is his song - his stripped back vocal is haunting to say the least. A thoughtful, intelligent and passionate ballad, with layers and layers of harmonies and melodies.
You Still Shock Me features Fergie back up front and is more uptempo rock song, but retains the moody edge that the album encompasses. A smouldering Survivor style rocker.
Mecca is another gem that takes time to absorb. Joe and Jim wrote this again together and Joe is the featured vocalist. This isn't a ballad, but is a moody and very lyrically personal track that pays tribute to Toto in a major way. One of the most Toto-ish tracks of the album.
Wishing Well is a Fergie song, co-written with Jim and Joe. This is pure Toto!
The song matches the vocal style and sound of Toto's Isolation album and is another one of the album's highlights. The chorus is made just that much bigger thanks to some great harmonies.
Close That Gap is another Joe Vana track, co-written with Peterik & Deroche. This is the album's big sentimental power ballad. Once again, Joe's raw and honest vocals provide the extra emotional ammunition that makes good songs great. This is a great song. The version that made the album was a last minute re-mix by Joe that proves to highlight the last section of the song, giving extra power and that knockout punch great ballads are remembered for.
Blinded By Emotion is a Fergie sung Peterik written number that brings a lighter tone to the album at a perfect time. After 2 or 3 moodier songs, this song continues that tone, but with a uplifting, harmony filled, feel good approach. It's the perfect balance at the right time.
Joe singing Falling Down continues what the last song started with Fergie. This is maybe the best song of the album for those that love the moody melodic rock of bands like Mr. Mister. Joe Vana's vocal on this track is perfect - again it's passionate and emotional and lays the platform for a wonderfully uplifting song with harmony vocals that are among the best I have heard in years. The Temptations would be proud. Survivor meets Mr. Mister meets Hall & Oates. The backing vocals and concluding minutes of the song have to be heard to be believed!

That wraps up the album for most. The Japanese bonus track is Miss-Chevious. This Fergie sung track features the Ides Of March brass section and is a funky uptempo feel good track that is closest to the opening track in style, but far from most of the rest of the album. Unlike many other recent albums, the bonus track isn't essential, but will hopefully be features elsewhere soon, as it's well worth having.
BOTTOM LINE: Of course I am biased, but I can objectively rate an album I am passionate about. Please note Rick Springfield didn't even get a 100% rating...(to the surprise of many!!).
But Mecca has something special to offer fans of AOR in it's pure and finest form. Immaculate and passionate vocals, melodies and harmonies on top of prefect songs.
When I look back over previously marked great albums, I see House Of Shakira at 98%, Mike Tramp at 99% and Kharma at 95%, there is no real reason not to award 100% here.
This is the best example of classic 80's inspired AOR that I have seen in the years that I have reviewed albums here and I am proud to have been able to help bring it to the attention of like minded fans.
Fergie puts in his best vocal performance since Isolation and Joe makes a debut few others could match.
The musicianship is first rate and the production by Jim Peterik and Larry Millas proves that AOR releases can compete on a world stage and alongside major label releases.
Mecca 2 please....
ESSENTIAL FOR: All fans of high-tech AOR and classy, moody melodic rock. Most fans of Survivor and some Toto and Mr. Mister fans.

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