|Ramos / Hugo The Dream||Frontiers Records|
This is another highly anticipated release for the AOR community and once again I don't think it will disappoint – depending on what you expected from the record in the first place.|
Hugo is of course the Hugo – solo vocalist and also frontman for Valentine and Open Skies, and well known for his uncanny comparison to legendary vocalist Steve Perry.
Ramos is none other than guitarist Josh Ramos from The Storm and Two Fires, who is generally regarded as an understudy to Journey's Neal Schon.
So two strong Journey-esque musicians teaming up for an AOR album? Sounds like a winner. For the most part it is.
What surprised me a little though is the fact the album took several listens to get to know. I kinda figured this would be an instant hit, but the songs took more time to learn and the chorus melodies weren't as in your face as I anticipated. And generally speaking, the direction of the album itself is very safe. There are no surprises on here.
But now I'm 20 or so listens in I can better appreciate everything the album has to offer.
The smooth Perryesque sound of Hugo and the rush of Ramos' guitar solos are just part of what makes The Dream an enjoyable ride.
This is quite a long album – there's 53 minutes over 10 tracks here, so it does take some time to learn.
I was alarmed a little to see Fabrizio Grossi at the helm, as I grew very tired of his production techniques and the way he captures guitar and drum sounds generally.
Yes, there is a little of his influence here, but clearly it is well above the quality of some more recent projects. That said…there is still room for improvement here. The album is largely uptempo and slows quite effortlessly between tracks. It is very smooth and filled with melodies and harmonies.
I would have liked some more distinctive lifts when it came to the choruses, but after repeated listens those choruses are clearly present.
You're Not Alone and All That I Dream both kick the album into high gear from the get-go, while The Dream heads into a more lush AOR mode.
In fact, The Dream has a distinct Don't Stop Believing vibe to it.
I'm not so much into Fools Game, I think that song runs far too long and is without a great chorus.
Bring Back This Love is better and returns to the uptempo style of the opening two numbers.
I Don't Want To Say Goodbye is another track that drags a little, but again, the following track when You Get Lonely is better focused and has a stronger chorus.
Strangely, for an album of AOR songs, In The City is the only real ballad and this one is filled to the brim with Perry and Journey trademark references.
Tomorrow is a fired up rocker with one of the best choruses of the album. I might have opened the album with this had I been making the decisions.
The 8 minute closer I Can Take You is slower in tempo, but not really a ballad. It's more a pop song. It could use a better chorus, but the last 2 minutes of guitar soloing from Ramos is worth the admission price.
Josh Ramos is all over this record – his guitar playing a definite highlight and there are more solos on here in and around the songs than I think any Ramos record to date. Keyboards courtesy of Eric Ragno also flow effortlessly from start to finish and have a very natural sound.
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