Everyone should know how the band got to this place. It was certainly one of the more publicized selections of a new frontman in memory.|
The 5 original members of Inxs chose new frontman Canadian singer JD Fortune on their reality TV series RockStar: Inxs.
As someone who watched the show from the outset, JD stood out as the candidate who wanted it most of all. He was the most driven of all the singers gathered and despite a rocky and 'unstable' beginning; he grew in promise and emerged as the person that would be a bold choice for the band.
I was always worried Inxs would choose a safer route, but the band clearly recognized that the rock edge and clear vulnerability of JD was the more interesting option.
After a failed start with Noiseworks vocalist Jon Stevens provided only one very average single, I was worried the songwriting prowess of the band might have seen better days.
Even the last couple of Michael Hutchence fronted albums were patchy. Could the guys come together and find new life?
It seems as if they have, with this album carrying certain energy and some solid songs.
Inxs are responsible for some very fine pop rock (or dance rock) tunes, but their early career was firmly planted in pub rock. With JD in the fold, I had high hopes that the band would return with more of a rock edge.
This is partially true I would have liked to have heard more of a harder edge, but as many bands with long and varied careers do, the guys hedge their bets somewhat with an album of tracks that draw influences from across their career.
What is surprising though is how much the band has evolved into something new and how modern this album sounds in places.
Switch is an apt title, as the band switches vocalists and approach, moving more into a U2 inspired modern rock style, while still drawing influences from their classic rock style and the more high-tech pop style that brought them their biggest international success.
This album mixes early influences from the likes of The Swing, through their breakthrough US hit album Kick and then on again in a more modern direction.
At times one can hear Hutchence channeling his distinctive vocal style through JD, but he is no clone. What elevates him beyond a mere copycat singer is his unquestionable passion and rock n roll attitude.
On a critical note, I would have liked the album to rock just a little harder and I would also have liked to seen more writing input from JD, as it's clear he has a lot to offer.
I hope the band don't see this as a one album/one tour deal as the next Inxs album should be even better with JD firmly entrenched as frontman.
Track By Track:
Devil's Party is typical Inxs. A little brass, a big groove and a smoldering moody vocal. JD proves to be the perfect fit within 30 seconds of the album opening. I like what he brings to this party and I'm even more pleased to see his name in the writing credits.
The chorus is subtle, as is most of the song, but it has a certain intensity, which is JD's trademark. At times he sounds uncannily like the late, great Michael Hutchence.
Everyone should know the lead single Pretty Vegas. I love this rocking tune. The lyrics were written by JD with two of the other contestants from RockStar, but the song is JD's. He owns this track and its story. Incredibly catchy, the song is one of my favourite tunes of 2005.
Afterglow is the first hint of something new for Inxs. This soft, modern rock ballad sounds like something from U2's The Joshua Tree, updated for 2005. JD proves to be a vocalist with versatility as he explores an intense, moody musical landscape which builds into an emotional climax. The track has every chance at being a hit should radio programmers (and fans) want to accept Inxs sounding this way. It's a gamble by the band and the similarities to U2 are plain to see, yet it is still a winner. Interestingly, the track is co-written by Andrew Farriss and Desmond Child.
The moody, modern and sometimes uptempo pop/rocker Hot Girls is co-written by Andrew Farriss, producer Guy Chambers (Robie Williams) and The Matrix (Avril Lavigne). Once again there is a definite intensity here and I was surprised to learn that JD had no hand in writing it, as it just seemed to be a song perfectly suited to his personality.
The song features some funny lyrics and is somewhat suggestive without being direct, which was a Hutchence/Inxs trademark.
Perfect Stranger is another strong Inxs classic, turning back to their 80s vibe, with the modern production of the new album. Hutchence again comes to mind with the vocals of JD and the uptempo chorus is another highlight of the album.
The album takes a left turn for Remember Who's Your Man. This is a different side of the band and of JD as a vocalist. Can't say I'm into this track which is an example of the band hedging their bets stylistically speaking. Suddenly I feel that I'm listing to a Richie Kotzen album! Mix in a little Lenny Kravitz and you get an interesting soul/pop song, but it is a little out of place with the rest of the material.
Next up is Hungry possibly my favourite track of the album. This is a super intense brooding modern rocker that builds to an explosive chorus. The song is drenched in keyboards and is another song that defines the new Inxs and given a chance, could be a radio hit.
Never Let You Go is another track that steps away from the general sound of the album, but fits for some reason. I don't love it, but I won't skip it either, just because the funky pop groove is interesting and JD gets another chance to do something different.
Like It or Not is a layered, effects filled uptempo pop rocker with a strong chorus and a good beat. A mix of the old and the new, there is something very familiar about the drum sound for old fans of the band.
Us is another slightly funky number with that Richie Kotzen comparisons again in place. A very pop verse leads to a strong uptempo chorus.
The album closes with the very interesting mellow modern rock track God's Top Ten. Alongside JD, the song features a female lead vocal from fellow RockStar contestant Suzie McNeil. She suits the song, which is a tribute to Michael Hutchence.
Thickly layered instrumentation and some authorative lead vocals support strong (if not varied) material, which together forms a very good album. This isn't going to appeal to everyone, as it is a little diverse and not entirely aimed at the band's original core audience.
It really could and should have rocked even more, but there is a lot to like about the album. A dozen listens in, I am convinced it is as good an album as we could expect and probably the best album since Kick.
They got the vocalist spot on and the material just about right.
|Night Ranger Hits, Acoustic & Rarities||iRock Records|
Why would any band want to re-record the most treasured songs of a long, illustrious career?|
Many have done it over the years and you will only see it happen more and more as classic rock artists discover there is still a strong market for their music after all this time, but their back catalogue is tied up in draconian label deals that don't give access to the artists themselves.
Re-recording your own hits without the original label taking all the money is a great way to sell records and get instant rewards through the songwriters publishing returns.
It is also an easy way to get new music to fans without having to write a full album of new music.
In the case of Night Ranger a new US record label approached them with the idea, which the guys loved. It was also a way to get new music to fans while we wait for the all new studio album due out in the first half of 2006.
A new US release in stores increases a band's touring prospects as promoters like the fact a band has a new release to promote.
The downside is the fact that any band doing an album such as this is messing with a long established musical legacy and the fact that it is nearly impossible to add to that legacy.
These much loved tracks that have been with fans for years. In fact, some tracks here are now 23 years old. Has it really been that long?
Some artists change style formats, some strip things back with an acoustic album, but in Night Ranger's case, the guys have decided for the full band approach, reprising the originals faithfully.
So what is the point? Well, for long time fans, it is something cool to check out and it in this instance it shows how the band have matured and how years of touring has given these songs a slightly different shape.
And for the first time, we get to hear new keyboard player Michael Lardie at work. The former Great White member replaces original keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald, who is busy working on the Bruce Springsteen tour as keyboard tech (he's formerly toured with Van Halen also).
On Hits, Acoustic & Rarities the band treats their songs with faithful renditions, with a little newly added flair here and there.
The production is good, albeit much less polished than the originals and has a live-in-the-studio organic feel, but the harmony vocals are still layers deep. Talking of the tracks recorded, Don't Tell Me You Love Me features a harder hitting drum sound with some extra fills and also a harder edge guitar riff.
Sentimental Street is a little heavier, with a nice update on the guitar solo and Lardie's piano tone is slightly different to that of Alan Fitzgerald's. The guys change the end of the song just a little to be more in line with what they do live which I love.
Four In The Morning features a rawer and more laid back vocal from Jack Blades, who has changed the phrasing of certain words a little.
And Rumors in the Air sounds pretty fresh too. Lardie's keyboards make their presence felt and the guys add a little grunt to the song with some extra guitar fills.
Goodbye closes out the full band re-recordings. I like this new version a lot. Kelly's voice sounds great and has a raw emotional quality.
I also like the way the song closes, with some additional parts added as the song is done live.
On a less positive note, the band's signature hit Sister Christian doesn't sound that great. Here Kelly Keagy is missing that raspy quality to his voice and to be honest it doesn't even sound like him in a couple of places. Sing Me Away is similar although a little better. I'm not sure what vocal effects were used, or whatever reasons the vocal is what it is, but I expect long time fans to complain about this as the result isn't too pleasing to these ears.
The acoustic version of Sister Christian actually features a better, grittier vocal.
The 7 minute plus Don't Tell Me You Love Me is from the band's 2003 Japanese tour and is part of an entire live album and DVD which remains unreleased. Time to get moving on that boys!
The vocal harmonies throughout the album are terrific as they should be. But some of the lead vocals don't have the power of the originals. Some rawer, more emotional performances counter balance that negative.
Two small complaints to close with - the title really isn't the best - I doubt it would mean much to any potential buyer that wasn't already aware of the information behind it fan or otherwise. I also really would have loved some more tracks than just the 9 full band tracks featured. a 15 track release featuring something from the all too often ignored Big Life and Man In Motion releases would have been better value.
One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back
There is an element of The Darkness' fanbase which proclaims the band as the all conquering saviours of rock n roll. Then there is the opposing side, which thinks the band is nothing but an over hyped one-trick pony.|
The truth lies somewhere in between. No one can argue the fact that the band are putting melodic rock n roll back into the charts, but little flow on effect for other artists can be expected due to the gimmicky nature of their style.
That gimmick the falsetto vocals of frontman Justin Hawkins has seen them sell a truck load of records in the UK and even achieve success in the difficult to penetrate US market.
But the vocal controversy alone has not sold the band to the masses. That aspect merely opened doors for them in attracting media attention and the support of a record label. At the heart of the matter, the band writes very catchy rock songs.
But they do tend to overplay the importance of the vocal gimmick, making this album impossible to appreciate for those that just can't get past Justin Hawkins' unique style.
The breakthrough debut Permission To Land was ok it contained a few great songs, a few which were overrun with falsetto vocals and a few fillers.
This is an important album for the band as they have to prove to everyone they are capable of living up to the hype a second time around.
Teaming up with legendary producer Roy Thomas Baker was the band's best move. I think the combination of some strong material and a slight change in approach has made this a better and more enjoyable album. It follows the formula of the debut, but impresses more so as I for one have had a lot of time to live with that album and better understand the band.
Baker is best known for his work with Queen and as we all know, Freddy Mercury was the king of camp over the top vocals, although it certainly wasn't his only trick. Freddy had it all.
But in this case, Baker has helped Justin Hawkins to better focus his talents and has helped add extra flair to the songs. He goes more over the top than ever, but in most cases when it is needed rather than all the time.
And in some parts, he actually tones down the falsetto to deliver a great regular vocal.
While the debut album played up to an AC/DC style of riffing hard rock, One Way Ticket To Hell And Back cashes in on Roy Thomas Baker's experience with Queen.
There are so many Queen-isms within this album which will no doubt fire up debate further. Which ever side of the fence you are on - not too many British rock bands in this day and age get a worldwide simultaneous CD release.
Track By Track:
In typical piss-taking fashion the grand intro of the album features a short panpipe solo, before getting underway with the lead single One Way Ticket. You couldn't ask for much more from a lead single. Solid riff big chorus those vocals!
Knockers is one of the examples of Justin reigning in his voice for the benefit of the song. The chorus vocal is totally over the top and features a fully fledged wail, but the verse is subtle and melodic to great effect.
Is It Just Me mirrors the style of Growing On Me from the debut a big swaggering rocker with a tight groove and one of those over the top falsetto filled choruses. It's all good fun and the guitar soloing has a certain Brian May flair.
Dinner Lady Arms is another example of restraint and is possibly the band's most melodic track to date. I think I actually prefer the verse, which sees Justin singing quite soulfully, over the more dramatic chorus but in any regard, the song should rate highly with fans.
Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time is the first of two big ballads and is the first where the famous Roy Thomas Baker / Queen orchestration comes into play.
Flamboyant vocals throughout, the song features lush orchestral moments and should be the next single from the album. Another hit I have no doubt. Hazel Eyes probably represents everything that some people hate about this band. Subtlety be dammed! Add over the top vocals, bagpipes, guitar solos and marching drums please sir! Funny catchy, but not a song that can be played all the time.
Bald is one of the band's darker and more aggressive songs to date and again plays down the vocals (just a little). It makes a nice balancing track between two quite insane tracks.
Girlfriend on the other hand is totally the opposite, with those vocals all over the track, not to mention horns and a very pop style.
This is where the album starts to loose me just as happened with the debut, as there is only so much over the top falsetto vocalling one can take.
English Country Garden continues this trend, but of interest is the massive Queen styled harmony vocals and musical arrangement the track has.
The album closes with the second big ballad. Blind Man is even more over the top than the first ballad and once again features a huge Queen styled vocal harmony. It's musically interesting even if thoroughly ripped off from Queen, but is more over the top for the sake of it than actually being a heartfelt ballad and has a lackluster ending.
The band delivers a strong sequel to the debut, but don't really take on the challenges of moving out of the pigeon hole they have been painted into. Those that loved the debut will love this and those that didn't get the band first time around still won't get them now.
I suspect the debut will continue with neither side giving any ground!
I must add that any album that clocks in at 35 minutes walks a very fine line. Of the tracks featured, should 1 or 2 be fillers for any reason to a particular listener, which leaves a mere 29 or so minutes of music, which is very hard to pass off as value for money.
|91 Suite Times They Change||Vicious Records|
This, quite simply, is an instant classic. I'm a big fan of albums that grow on you as you get to know them, but sometimes you need one to jump right out of the speakers the very first spin smack you one. I can see a lot of melodic rock fans getting very excited over this album.|
Spain's 91 Suite made their mark with a very strong debut album, but blow it out of the water with this even more impressive affair.
The guys have toughened their sound just a touch and moved away from the Journey-esque comparisons of their debut to a bigger stadium friendly sound more in line with the type of melodic Bon Jovi style hard rock perfected by Johnny Lima and Jaded Heart.
And it gets even better. For fans awaiting Harem Scarem to return to the sound of their first two albums don't worry, 91 Suite do it for you. There is a strong dose of classic Harem Scarem in the guitar parts on this album.
And for those who have discovered the very melodic but rocking UK band Pride - 91 Suite's sound will definitely have a familiarity to it.
There is so much for fans of classic melodic rock and AOR to love about this release. The songs are well written and equally balanced between moodier melodic numbers and the more guitar driven uptempo tracks.
The album sequence is such that there isn't a single weak moment and the album flows beautifully from track to track.
Track By Track:
The guys open up with the rocker Seal It With A Kiss, which showcases the new direction. The angst ridden track has all the passion one could hope for and reminds me of the layered melodies of Pride.
I Wanna Be In Love is even better. With a touch of Harem Scarem in the guitar parts and more complex melodies, the song soars through the chorus.
Tell Me Why is a more aggressive uptempo rocker, with a heavier guitar role throughout.
Far Away is the first ballad of the album and is everything melodic rock fans could hope for especially those Johnny Lima and Michael Bormann fans out there.
Times They Change is utterly brilliant. It features a classic chorus, Pete Lesperance guitar riffs and is nice and moody.
Every Day Goes By follows on seamlessly and is another memorable song, but it is Hopes And Dreams that like the title track, blows me away. Beautiful soaring vocals, a strong guitar riff and a killer chorus. Again this reminds me of UK rockers Pride, but regardless is brilliant and is in line for song of the year.
Another Reason is perhaps the most Harem Scarem like track of the album and is a definite nod to the Mood Swings album just check out the soloing!
Wings Of Fire sounds like a Johnny Lima anthem another classy song with a great chorus.
Stand Beside You is a slow and passionate power ballad that AOR fans will love.
Hard To Forget is a straight ahead guitar fuelled rocker that will again please Lima/Jovi fans, and what a vocal performance.
Will You Ever is another uptempo, but moody melodic rocker with a very catchy, very memorable AOR chorus.
Remember The Good Times closes the album just as you would hope a breezy uptempo rocker with plenty of keyboards and another strong chorus.
You will of course notice a lot of comparisons drawn while reviewing the album. Times May Change is an apt title, times may change indeed, but there is not need to change a winning formula when it is done this well. Classic style melodic rock dished up in a very classy package.
|Tony Martin Scream||MTM Music|
Former Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin has spent the last few years drifting between various projects, but in 2005 he is finally releasing his second solo album.|
It has been some 13 years since his solo debut, the rather marvelous and surprisingly mellow and melodic Back Where I Belong.
On the new album Scream, Tony does just that he has returned back to the sound that made him famous.
There are only 9 new songs on offer here - a couple of tracks short of what should be - but the style is a fan pleasing mix of his time with Black Sabbath and that classic British metal sound.
Former Sabbath member Geoff Nicholls contributes some song co-writing duties and Martin's youngest son Joe Harford provides most of the Sabbath-heavy guitar riffs. The late, great Cozy Powell appears via an old drum track on Raising Hell.
Highlights include the organ drenched Rainbow style hard rocker Raising Hell, which opens the album in style; the slow and heavy Sabbath styled Bitter Sweet and Scream, which features a short, but catchy chorus, a strong vocal and what appears to be a violin solo - definitely worth a listen!
Stepping outside the comfort zone, Martin slows things right down for the Zeppelinesque acoustic ballad Wherever You Go and closes the album with the epic Field Of Lies.
I don't think it has the best sound quality achievable, but some varied instrumentation makes it an interesting listen. The quirky The Kids Of Today is a good example of more engaging songwriting.
|Bad Habit Hear-say||Frontiers Records|
This is another album which required a fair bit of listening to in order to best appreciate. |
I feel that this album is almost split into two styles with the less favorable of the two dominating the track list.
The guys of Bad Habit have toughened up their sound here and as always they deliver some high-tech European AOR, but on Hear-say that sound is peppered with a stronger guitar presence and some heavy programmed beats.
The sound makes for some interesting listening.
I think this is a good album, but in some ways old fans of the band might find the change in sound not to their liking, while fans of heavier European melodic rock might miss this release due to the preconceived idea that the band are normally softer than what they are here.
The album kicks off with one of the stronger tracks of the album. To Love You features a thumping beat and a strong chorus and a bass heavy beat, not to mention noticeably heavier guitars.
The sonic bombardment continues through I Swear, Walk Of Life and Reason.
The trouble is I'm finding the almost relentless heavy beats to be a bit of a turn off.
On the flip side, the more melodic and commercial All That I Want is a more comfortable number for traditional Bad Habit fans as is the very good ballad I Want To Know, which is another lush fan-friendly track.
I'll Be The One is another track where the beats let up and the melodic vocals and keyboards are given more of a chance to shine.
The band closes the album on a high note with the feel good uptempo anthem The Air That I Breathe. This is only the fourth track of the album that features the more AOR friendly style and I must say that these four tracks stand out as the definite highlights.
If only there album was more styled around these four tracks rather than the techno-heavy rhythm of the heavier tracks.
The four lush AOR tracks are brilliant, but what fans make of the rest will depend on personal taste. Overall a strong performance, but I think the album could have been even better with a slight change of approach.
|Legs Diamond Diamonds Are Forever||AOR Heaven|
This album took longer to digest than I anticipated. I'm not one to rush a review if I can't get an accurate feel for an album. This record is quite varied in style and I have been trying to figure out how Legs Diamond should sound in 2005, albeit with a different line-up than when we last heard from them.|
I think in some ways the band is trying to figure this out as well, as the contrast between tracks is quite stark and at the end of the day, I think this works against the band.
The songwriting is great in places, but a little bland in other areas. Where the guys sound at best is when they are being true to their classic sound and style, whereas at other times they just sound like they are trying to be something they aren't.
This is a different band than they were on Town Bad Girl or Out On Bail. Most obviously, there is a new frontman in former Wild Horses frontman John Levesque.
I really like what John brings to the band. I haven't always been a fan of his, but his performance at Firefest this year was dead on (as was all the band) and having seen him live with the band, I knew he was a great fit and I have looked forward to this album ever since.
John varies his vocal delivery as much as the songs vary in style and his energy is a key element in the likeability of this record. His role should not be understated and I remain a converted fan of his.
Diamonds Are Forever is a long record. There's an hour of music here, comprised of songs ranging from three minutesto nearly 8 minutes in length .
It is thoroughly hard rocking affair so much so that it surprised me just how heavy it is in places.
The style moves from an updated classic Legs Diamond pomp rock influenced sound where the guys sound most at home, to a more straight ahead riff driven AC/DC sound and occasionally to a more heavy and contemporary sound both of which don't quite sound as comfortable a fit. Like I said, it is a quite varied record.
For me the two best tracks open the album, but there are more goodies inside.
Don't Turn Away is a angst filled modern heavy rocker with a pounding beat and a pleading chorus and introduces the new Legs Diamond to all. John Levesque's powerful vocals make the song.
Time Will Never Change is my pick of the whole album, with a classic keyboard intro that builds tempo with the rest of the band and subtly rises in intensity to a great chorus. Over the course of six minutes the song get a little more complex and features another great lead vocal from Levesque and some complex keyboard patterns from Michael Prince.
The haunting and more melodic Loneliness is another strong track for me, which I think captures the essence on Diamond's moodier rock personality.
The epic 8 minute plus Will You Remember is another track long time fans should appreciate.
The mid-tempo rock ballad This Time Around has a similar vibe, swathed in organ and a darker Gary Barden style vocal.
As noted, the band also have a stripped down, raw AC/DC streak to their sound on this record and that is best demonstrated on the growling Good Time, Let It Go and even the darker and heavier Trouble, which itself is musically interesting, but could have used a better chorus.
Funny to hear Michael Prince describe King Of Speed as a tribute to Deep Purple, as that is what I thought immediately upon hearing it for the first time. I think the classic organ and bluesy swagger gives that away still a cool song.
The remaining tracks offer good support, but could be considered fillers for some. They certainly aren't the essential tracks on the album, nor the ones which show the band in their best light.
One would hope a few more live shows and a quick return to the studio will deliver the classic I know they are capable of.
|Flagship Maiden Voyage||Metal Heaven|
There is quite a favorable word following these guys around and I must echo that sentiment. While I think this is a very good record, I must also stipulate that it is not a record that will appeal to everyone.|
To be precise, its style is such that it is only going to appeal to a very set segment of the melodic rock community.
Who is Flagship? The band comprises two main individuals Narnia's Linus Kεse & Christian Rivel (yes, the Tommy Denander of the prog/metal world) and several guests none bigger than Kansas' own Kerry Livgren, who plays the guitar solo on his own composition Ground Zero (originally from 1980), in a new arrangement written by Linus.
This is a musically adventurous and complex record that mirrors the pomp glory days of the 70s and such masters of the game as Kansas, Queen and even early Magnum and Styx.
I could type for a week and still not describe everything that is going on within this pomp-tastic release.
Only 7 tracks are on offer, but the album runs some 47 minutes, so there is plenty of music on offer.
Christian Rivel revels in his role as vocalist, delivering something a little different, even for him and on occasion some fine falsetto vocals. He is certainly an outstanding vocalist, not to mention versatile.
|Terra Nova Best Of + 5||Frontiers Records|
Terra Nova close out a comeback year with a compilation gathering their 12 'best' tracks coupled with 5 previously unreleased tunes.|
While this release is clearly aimed at established fans, there is quite a lot on offer here for those less familiar with the European pomp/AOR outfit. The benefit of a compilation is that it trims the fat and present here is the very best the band has to offer.
I have previously commented that each album from the band features a few fillers and that the guys in general play it very safe with their songwriting. There is nothing here that changes my mind in that regard, but you can't argue the fact that these are some of the bands finest songs and that makes a perfect entry point for curious melodic rock fans.
The five bonus tracks are all culled from the band's 1997 recording sessions for what was to become their debut album Break Away. The band has mellowed over the years and this look back in time has unearthed a harder edge now lost.
The first bonus track I Wanna Know actually opens the album and does it in fine bombastic melodic rock style. Hard to imagine why that has been left behind until now.
Normally tracks remain unreleased for a reason, but these tunes hold up pretty well with the exception of Reminiscing, which does nothing for me. The unpolished Holy Water features an organ and has a nice organic feel to it.
This is a pretty straight forward compilation with 5 unreleased tracks to please long time fans and a solid collection of songs to interest newcomers.
|Line Of Fire Line Of Fire||Tribunal Records|
It's difficult to put an original spin on traditional AOR, especially when your sound finds influences from one of AOR's biggest ever acts Journey, as do so many other acts.|
But somehow Line Of Fire manage to bring the best elements of familiarity into their music and mix it with a uniqueness that allows the band to stand out in the crowd.
There are some straight ahead commercial friendly numbers featured on the band's debut, but just around the corner from those are some more intricate and complex tracks which form a nice balance across the album.
The contrasts are stark, but the consistency of the album means they are not out of place.
For example Faith In Fire is melodic, progressive and even features a little pomp glory.
Live & Let Go is a simply fabulous commercial AOR number in the vein of Shotgun Symphony meets Journey while Fade is a dark and brooding track which requires several listens to get to know.
Then you have Paradise, which builds out of the darkness of Fade into a more commercial AOR track with a glorious chorus, but still featuring a melancholy soul. The song also features some great vocals and a definite nod to Steve Perry and Neal Schon within the song.
Remind Me moves away from the Journey influences, showing further diversity within the record, with the band using a more acoustic driven approach, as they also do on the big ballad Can't You See and the moodier Salvation's Edge a few tracks later.
Thing get a little more technical and certainly move away from the AOR of some of the earlier tracks on Falling Down, which is a well thought out harder rocking track.
And to show the depth of musical understanding these guys have, the closing rock ballad Time To Say Goodbye.
The diversity of the tracks is held together by a balanced production and some fine performances, not least of which are the very AOR friendly and powerful vocals of Shawn Petula.
|Mark Spiro Mighty Blue Ocean||Atenzia Records|
I had no idea that Mark Spiro has spent the best part of the last couple of years battling cancer. As he says himself within the lyrics of Band Of Angels he is one of the lucky ones. I love albums which deal with personal topics and show the raw angst and emotion that is life.|
Artists such as John Waite and Rick Springfield are masters of wrapping their emotions at the time in music and taking the listener on that journey with them.
Add Mark Spiro to that list. It seems a contradiction in terms that anyone should benefit from any other persons misfortune, but Spiro turns the life altering challenge of battling a potentially fatal illness into one of his best albums to date and gives fans a record to treasure.
All songs and all the music within was crafted and recorded by Spiro in a frank and honest setting both lyrically and musically.
The album has that one man band feel to it, but under the circumstances that matches the mood and vibe perfectly.
Spiro's lyrics have always told a story, but the 11 tracks of Mighty Blue Ocean depict a man battling the odds and coming out the other side. It's an emotional journey at times joyous and uplifting, at other times more introspective as Spiro reflects over his life.
You just don't get better than the uplifting pop anthem Mighty Blue Ocean, or the guitar and piano driven melodic rock of the reflective When She Cries.
Another highlight is the moody Band Of Angels, which deals both with the time of being diagnosed as well as the time of the all-clear.
The acoustic The Beautiful One is as good a ballad as Spiro can write and the uptempo Bits And Pieces is classic AOR.
Perfect Wave may be a little soft, but is sonically perfect and is a little more lush than the often musically sparse record.
The feel good uptempo pop of My Velocity and The Life That I Live closes the album perfectly.
But what it lacks sonically it makes up for ten fold in heart and soul. This is how you write lyrics folks. Credit to Spiro for being so open and forthcoming, He may be one of the lucky ones, but with this record now available, so are his fans.
|Divinefire Hero||Metal Heaven|
Divinefire are perhaps a little outside the scope normally covered on this site and are not something I would normally listen to if I didn't have to.
Divinefire is a power metal trio comprising the ever versatile singer extraordinaire Christian Rivel teaming with another member of his Narnia project, this time bassist Andreas Olsson with wiz guitarist Patrik Gardberg.|
I think the guys tread the fine line between delivering something amazing and going right over the top and becoming a parody of themselves. I say that, as at times it does get a bit much on here there are only two speeds used to deliver these 10 tunes flat out and faster!
Divinefire have that whole symphonic speed metal thing down pat, with some furious flaying of guitars, constant double kick-drums and wailing high pitched vocals mixed with gruff death metal style growling added almost it seems to act as a counter balance.
It's an interesting album and if you love everything turned up to 11 and delivered at super sonic speeds, this album should appeal.
Of notable interest is the last track, which is a cover of the Queen classic The Show Must Go On. This track is also delivered at almost top speed and features Swedish pop singer Maria Radsen on duet vocals alongside Thomas Vikstrom.
|Green Of Love And Soul||Ivory Gates / Frontiers|
To remind folks, Green is an Italian progressive hard rock outfit that released their debut album Life in 2003.|
Two years later they are back with a new bassist, a second guitarist and a different, updated sound for the sophomore release Of Love And Soul.
To be honest, the debut was ok, but largely forgettable among the vast competition in the market place especially looking back 2 years later.
But I'm definitely more impressed with this release and think the guys have chosen a better style for themselves.
Life was far too scattered and featured too many styles, where as this album is far more focused. Of Love And Soul sees the band toughening up their sound. It is heavier, less progressive and features a strong modern rock edge. The guys have their own style, but you can hear a little Nickelback mixing with some Queen-esque pomp/prog elements, which is an interesting mix.
Check out the potential radio hit Fight For Truth and the orchest backed Do It Now.
he guys don't give up totally on their prog base, with some songs like There's No Wind featuring some good musical twists and there is no escaping the near 10 minute epic title track Of Love Or Soul which closes the album.
But elsewhere, it is more or less straight ahead modern rock with melodies playing a vital role.
I still think they will appeal more to European fans over American fans, as the guys do have a certain European style and some strongly accented vocals that will appeal more to people within that region.
|Rox Diamond Powerdrive||Rockjock Music|
I wasn't at all taken with this first listen, but third time in and I'm converted. There are some glorious melodic pomp rock moments here that will definitely find some fans out there.|
However, there are some areas where the album could have been even better, but one can be forgiving knowing that there were challenges for the band in getting this album completed.
Vocalist Paul Daniels sounds at times like Karo frontman and solo artist Dan Lucas and at other times a little like Survivor's Jimi Jamison.
Those that enjoyed Dan's 2000 CD will find some comforting vocal similarities here.
The opening track Powerdrive sounds just as it should powerful, big and over the top and gets the album off to a powerful start. The best tracks I think run from the guitar driven Heartbeat Away through Innocence Of Yesterday. Here the listener gets treated to some fine 80s style melodic pomp rock songs. Just Can't Wait sounds like Jimi Jamison meets Magnum and is a superfine piece of songwriting.
Joann is filled with layers of 80s keyboards and AOR vocals that will delight traditional fans.
Innocence Of Yesterday is one of the finer keyboard ballads I have heard this year and sees vocalist Paul Daniels stretched to breaking point (to great effect). The House Of Lords style keyboards and children's vocal choir further adds to the mood.
Unfortunately for the listener, this is where the album stops to impress. Where the first 6 tracks were all brand new studio recordings, the last 4 tracks are polished demos included to fill the album. Like I said earlier, there were numerous record label hassles involved in getting the 6 tracks completed. So much so the band ended up walking away from the label and releasing this themselves.
So the last 4 tracks will appeal to die-hard fans only.
The Click Five
Greetings From Imrie House
Without sighting them, I would have classed The Click Five as just another nu-breed act with some classy songs, looking to break into a market that just doesn't appear to be developing in size in relation to the number of bands in the market place.|
But check them out they have a great look and they are actually very young a definite chance of breaking through to the youth market and perhaps the fickle MTV audience (if anyone actually watches that channel for music anymore ).
Of note to those reading this review these guys have killer songs. This is one of the catchiest power pop album's I have heard in a long long time. They are almost the power pop equivalent to Waltham.
Their harmonies are lush and even better - their choruses glorious! Mixing the sweet harmonies of BB Mak, Nelson and the modern pop attitude of Taxiride, plus the slick retro pop of The Cars and Rick Springfield's Working Class Dog opus, these guys have a great attitude and you can't help but get caught up in the free flowing album.
This has a definite 80s pop vibe, although the production and setting is very contemporary. The Cars guitarist Elliot Easton even pops up for a cameo guest role.
I also love the pure pop keyboards that just fit into the background. This is not for all nu-breed fans regardless, but rather those that love it pink and fluffy, but still with a little firepower. The sound is a little thin inplaces, but as stated, this is a power pop record, as in p-o-p!
|Urs Somebody New||Contante & Sonate|
Swiss songwriter and producer Urs Wiesendanger has gathered some of the best names of the Westcoast scene to present a high-class album to those who love it soft, mellow and sentimental.|
This album is the very definition of Westcoast, mixed with elements of pop, jazz and R&B, not to mention a little orchestral support.
The vocals for the album are handled by an array of guests such as Thierry Condor, Frank Εdahl, Michael Sembello, Warren Wiebe and Urs himself on a few tracks.
Musical guests include Robbie Buchanan, John Robinson, Jay Graydon, James Harrah and more.
The album is super smooth and very much set in an adult contemporary zone. While some Westcoast albums border on, or include a taste of AOR, this does not.
This is strictly soft soulful jazzy pop and for that reason is recommended only for those whose tastes fit the theme.
I am an AOR fan first and foremost, but I do appreciate some Westcoast and softer pop. Jay Miles and David Pack have already delivered fine albums for this genre in 2005.
I think this is a superbly written, recorded and performed album there is not a single note out of place and the production is flawless.
However it is just that little bit too soft and nice for my ears. There is no grit here whatsoever. In fact, it is so nice it makes Peter Cetera sound like Dave Mustaine.
This is a limited edition release of only 1000 copies, so if it does sound like you, be sure to order quickly.
|Pleasure Maker Love On The Rocks||Indie|
Everything about Pleasure Maker shouts old school attitude. The band was created in 2001 out of the ashes of a Bon Jovi covers band.|
Just as they were originally paying tribute to one of the great hard rock acts ever, now they pay tribute to the genre as a whole, with some flashy good time rock songs promoting girls, fast cars and bad boys.
The band is Brazilian, fronted by C. Marshall, who has a great voice for the material a mix of Firehouse's CJ Snare, Robert Plant and Bonham's Daniel MacMaster.
My biggest compliment would be for the guitar work from Alex Meister, which is filled with old school riffs, tricks and blazing solos.
Those riffs are mixed with 80s keyboards akin to early Bon Jovi and the rock n roll attitude matches that of Ted Poley era Danger Danger.
The uptempo feel good Just Thinkin' About U is the lead single and to my ears stands out as an obvious choice.
But there is more to the album, with plenty of great hairspray inspired rockers such as Bad Reputation, Out Of Control and the 80s-radio friendly Only A Dream all highlights.
For slower ballads you might want to look elsewhere as these guys rock!
The band offers the classy Stay With Me as the only ballad, with the majority of the songs all uptempo guitar driven rockers.
The sound is pretty good for an indie release. While it won't match the quality of the bigger boys, the band has managed the capture the essence of the times without sounding too dated.
|XYZ Forbidden Demos 1985-1991||XYZ Music|
Earlier this year a CD titled Rainy Days under the XYZ moniker was released. It was put together by former XYZ guitarist Bobby Pieper, who was with the band in the very early days before their Enigma debut.|
The Rainy Days release featured original demos from before that debut and even a couple of early versions of songs that made that album.
Sadly, the sound quality of the release reduced its appeal. Not only that, but the release wasn't sanctioned by the band, or its frontman Terry Ilous.
To counter that release which really didn't add any value to the XYZ name, Ilous searched his own vaults for better quality versions of those released and turned up a whole lot more.
Forbidden Demos is the result and overall is a much more impressive release. The sound quality is infinitely better, but must still be treated with the understanding that they are archived demos and not regular sonic quality.
The contents are also far more impressive, with 17 tracks spanning from 1985 to 1991 including several with Pieper.
There are a few more of the original demos that would make the band's debut and a few never previously heard tracks.
|Shannon Noll Lift||SonyBMG Australia|
Shannon Noll will forever be linked with Australian Idol he was the runner up for the show's first year here. I said of Shannon's debut that it was very good, but very slick and wasn't necessarily a reflection of who he wanted to be as a performer. He only wrote one song for the album and the biggest hit from the release was written by and sounded like Bryan Adams.|
Noll's back with album number 2, which to his credit features him as co-writer on all but one track. To my surprise, the album follows straight on from the super slick modern pop/rock of his debut. So this is his sound it seems .but I can't help but think that it is not an overly original sound, nor one that can't be found on a number of other releases.
It is however, a very engaging sound which a number of people will find appealing.
Noll doesn't have the strongest voice, but it seems to be getting better and he certainly has charisma. And there is no doubting the quality of the songs on offer here. The title track Lift is quite superb and the lyrical depth of Now I Run (about his father) is a credit to his growth as an artist.
From the Matthew Gerrard (Von Groove) written lead single Shine; to the other feel good anthem of the album All I Want Is More; to the grittier Let It All Fall Down and the super-slick ballads, this is a very smooth modern melodic rock record.
The sound utilizes all the modern production techniques and tricks and surrounds Noll's voice in a very lush musically dense sound. Style wise it's a mix of modern pop and grittier melodic rock.
For those that like it slick, polished and flawless .backed with enjoyable and memorable pop/rock songs Noll has a surprise winner here.
|Paul Black's LA Guns Black Lies||Black City Records|
Archive releases are really only ever aimed at a band's established fans base and in the case of LA Guns, there are a lot of fans spread over some 20 years in the business.|
As with many bands before the big breakthrough there was an original line-up, or original demos - such as the (also reviewed) XYZ release.
Pre-fame LA Guns was fronted not by Phil Lewis, but by Paul Black. Paul's vocals aren't a world away from Phil's, perhaps a little grittier, with a little Richard Black (Shark Island) mixed in.
Making up the band was guitarist Tracii Guns, Mick Cripps, Robert Stoddard and Nickey Alexander.
Black List is an 18 track compilation of original demos and alternative originals to tracks that would later find their way to LA Guns official releases.
Check out such original demos as One More Reason To Die, Show No Mercy and Love & Hate (later turned into Sex Action) a great insight to where these tracks came from and funnily enough, the lyrical content is a lot darker and more revealing than they way they ended up.
The remaining songs all fit into the vibe of the band's debut, if not a little rawer and certainly darker.
The sound quality is akin to other releases of its ilk those featuring unreleased demos and archived material, but is easy enough on the ears for die-hard fans to truly appreciate.
|VTR Cinema||VTR Music|
VTR is none other than Ross Valory, Stevie Roseman and George Tickner. The trio started work on this album in the mid-80s, but it wasn't completed until this year.|
Only timeless music can last such a journey (no pun intended) and this instrumental album is worth the wait for fans.
The album is a short 9 tracks and 39 minutes, but during that time it takes the listener on a voyage not unsimilar to such a path a cinematographer would take a viewer on with a vast landscape documentary.
In fact, this music is everything a movie soundtrack normally is. Its haunting passages tell a story, even without lyrics and as you wind through the various tracks the moods and surrounding change, yet the basic message remains the same.
This is a very laid back instrumental release, yet it remains engaging to the listener and above all else, features some very fine musical performances by the frontline trio and many equally accredited guests.
|MTM Music Rock Ballads Volume 6||MTM Music|
There are some fine ballads compiled for this new release the 6th in the MTM series, culling the softest tracks from their recent releases.|
I still can't say I'm a huge fan of TNT's What A Wonderful World, which kicks off this release, but Harnell sounds great.
What I do really like from this set of songs are the tracks from Radioactive, Dare, Martie Peters, Heartplay, Novak and Edge Of Forever.
It's a nice compilation for sitting back and relaxing to and if you can pick it up cheaply, then do so, as it does feature some great songs.
If you already own the albums featured on this compilation, sadly only 1 track featured here is otherwise unreleased the Chris Antblad track - and I couldn't say that was worth the price alone.
|Gary Schutt Dramatically Acoustic||Indie|
I'm a long time fan of Gary Schutt the musician and the person. He is one of the good guys in this business and deserves as much success as possible.|
Musically speaking, he has a unique sound while still remaining true to the classic melodic rock genre. Gary also has an amazing knack of lyric writing. He writes from the heart and his inner most thoughts often get cast into his songs, albeit in a unique twisted way. It makes listening to his records ever more enjoyable, as they are lyrically deeper than most.
Gary has served up two new releases both a little left of center.
Dramatically Acoustic is exactly that dark, melancholy, brooding and lyrically twisted as expected. It serves up some of his best songs in a stripped back format - just Gary and a guitar. But this acoustic release doesn't stick to the one tempo throughout. There are some raw, honest and totally acoustic tracks (She's Letting Go, Psycho Bitch) and there are others that benefit from extra instrumentation (Enemy Lines and Stranded feature extra percussion and bongos), while others such as the cover of the Queen classic I'm In Love With My Car have Gary singing with a more aggressive, angst ridden vocal.
It makes for a very satisfying listen and is one for both Gary Schutt fans and those taken with passionate songs and acoustic performances.
|Gary Schutt B-Sides Myself||Indie|
On B-Sides Myself Gary delivers some tracks that didn't make any of his previous studio releases. A fully electric release, this album sees Gary work without the confines of set album limitations and deliver some experimental tracks which showcase another side of the rocker.|
A couple of alternative versions and a couple of original demos are added to another Queen cover (Death On Two Legs) and 5 other unreleased tracks.
At times these tracks are heavier and feature a more contemporary modern rock sound which definitely pushes some alternative rock boundaries.
One special mention of the track Without You, which is a modern hard rock version of the Air Supply ballad. Not for all ears, but something which highlights Gary's unique take on the world and his ability to deliver something original.
|Toyz House Of Cards||Escape Music|
French rockers Toys released this album late last year
I got the CD very late and didn't review it at the time, but it is worth a mention now.|
I don't rate the opening track at all, but there is promise elsewhere on the disc. The high-pitch vocals aren't as strong as they could be, but the music will appeal to fans of European 80s AOR mixed with a Hammond friendly Deep Purple sound. Plenty of pleasant melodies can be found throughout the album with the best tracks She's A Star and the heavier Anything To Prove.
A healthy dose of Hammond comes into play during That's My Heart for example.
The guys have most things in order, but lacking is perhaps some better choruses and a harder hitting lead vocal.
I'd be interested to see where they go from here and don't doubt that a second record will be much stronger. A lot of promise that's for sure.
|Black Majesty Silent Company||Limb Music|
Black Majesty is one of Australia's finest melodic metal acts and offers plenty for fans of the genre to enjoy with their new album.|
The band have turned in a truly impressive album for all fans of metal, especially Iron Maiden and Bruce Dickinson fans, who I think will particularly appreciate Black Majesty's style and sound.
Not one weak track and a supersonic sound place these guys among the forefront of band in the melodic metal scene.
Of particular enjoyment on Silent Company were the tracks Silent Company, New Horizons and Never Surrender.
Special mention for the brilliant cover of the classic Aussie 70s pop ballad Six Ribbons (Jon English), which is intensified and metallized here.
One to definitely check out for metal fans!
|Vulpine Channels||Brutal One Records|
Vulpine have the potential to be everything to some and nothing to others. They are incredibly good at what they do which is deliver commercial American modern heavy rock. For an indie act the guys have recorded a very good sounding record with everything for an assault on modern rock radio in place.|
If Nickleback and 3 Doors Down can dominate the airwaves, then Vulpine have a shot.
The modern rock ballad Persona is probably the band's most commercial number and best shot at breaking through.
For AOR or traditional melodic rock fans, nothing here for you move along please!
A little heavier than the likes of Anberlin and Ra, but very much in the same vein and recommended to fans of those two bands.
A short review, but definitely an album well worth of investigation for fans of commercial modern rock.
|No Nation Illumine||Illumine Records|
No Nation is one ambitious recording. The band features the basic line up of Stevie Roseman (keyboards), Ed Ulibarri (vocals), Ross Valory (bass), Stef Burns (guitars) and John Hernandez (drums). |
This 7 track, 46 minute release is a rock opera honoring religions from all over the world. It is an epic piece of music that has been finely crafted and written and deftly performed.
Both subtle and grandiose, Illumine runs the gauntlet from Styx like pomp to long passages of percussion and synthesizers, from acoustic passages to heavier Kansas inspired classic rock.
While most of the album features a reflective soulful tone, there are times where it bursts into something a little heavier.
The sound is sharp and the performances flawless. If progressive pop/pomp appeals, this is a record that will challenge listeners.
|Shakra Fall||AFM Records|
All Shakra's albums have impressed, even if the band aren't offering anything new or original. The Swiss rockers have their sound down to a fine art and know how to deliver a no bullshit melodic hard rock. |
The guys have moved to a new record label for their new album Fall.
For whatever reason, this move has coincided with a fall in quality. No pun on the album title intended. I can hear the guys trying something new here, toughening up the vocals to a more metal direction, with some contemporary overtones thrown in.
Although on a bigger label, I think the sound quality on this album is worse than their previous efforts. I don't like the change in the guitar tone and I hate the way Mark Fox's vocals are delivered.
Mid-album tracks All Or Nothing and How It Feels show promise of old, but the sound still sounds too hollow.
I've really been a fan of their earlier work, but I'm not sold on this at all. They may have changed their sound to step aside from being compared to others, but they haven't provided strong enough songs to go with such a move.
|Bright Horizon Oneiric Reality||Indie|
Italy's Bright Horizon have a lot of musical promise. This 9 track progressive melodic rock album features a lot of music packed into a 43 minute release.|
The guys clearly have a lot of ideas and do not hold back when trying to fit all those ideas into each and every song. There's a lot of music to digest here and fans of European progressive rock will find some interesting songs here.
The album features tracks running from under three minutes to over 9 minutes. What would make these a little easier to listen to is more structured arrangements at times I think there is a little too much going on.
Secondly, the production doesn't give the music the powerful backing deserves. It doesn't quite come together, especially with the rhythm section.
But as I said, the guys have a lot of ideas and a label might be wise to pay them some attention and help get the best out of them.
|Teenage Casket Co. Dial It Up||Trash Pit Records|
Teenage Casket Company are a British rock outfit that are part nu-breed, part punk and part glam. Their debut album is an independent affair, but has a decent sound for the budget and is a lot of fun to listen to.|
The style of music is such that it won't appeal to all, but those into the modern movement and variations on the more predictable 80s sound will find something interesting here.
Down On Luck contains a nice melodic chorus as does the more punk fueled Mirrors & Wires. The other track that really needs mentioning is the anthem ballad Beautiful, which is a layered melodic track with a great hook.
I imagine these guys put on an energetic concert I hope they can break out of the underground scene and catch the attention of bigger fish. They definitely have something to offer.
|Daize Shayne Live Your Dreams||New Game Media|
Daize is a world champion surfer by day and a guitar playing rock chic by night. She's a champion at one thing and she's trying hard at the other.|
This is a varied album, from straight up Go Go's style melodic pop/rock to sample filled modern rock, all with a nice pleasant vocal and some tasteful guitar playing.
The album sounds great thanks to the nob twiddling of Ken Tamplin, and the songs themselves are very good.
Everything I have said here is a compliment, but ultimately the album lacks a knockout punch. It's competent and enjoyable, but doesn't contain anything that constitutes a wow-factor, which is a definite drawn back in this very competitive scene.
On the plus side, tracks like Movin' On, Reach and So Addicting are great little commercial rockers that could find themselves at home on radio.
Enjoyable melodic rock with a modern pop twist, but best recommended to those with a taste for female lead vocals and modern melodic pop/rock music.
|Radioactive Taken||MTM Music|
Tommy Denander surely the busiest man in melodic rock is back with his third Radioactive release and his third full album release of 2005, following his production and musical work on the Philip Bardowell and Sha-Boom albums.|
As is the case with all Tommy's work, Taken features that very distinct production sound and the expected mixed of guitar chops and AOR keyboards.
You know what to except with a Denander release and established fans won't be disappointed or surprised with this release.
One does not need to talk a lot about the sound, as stated, no surprises here a pleasant mix of Toto-esque guitars and lush keyboards in a setting that traditional fans of the AOR genre will love.
While the AOR scene has its roots in the 80s, Tommy's updated production techniques help avoid any claims of a dated sound, but at the same time his style appeals to fans of that classic era.
The biggest differences in Tommy's work is the actual songs themselves and the vocalists used to deliver the message.
As is always the case with Radioactive, an all-star cast of melodic rock singers has been used to great effect.
The songs this time around are a little more melodic than the last album Yeah and I will state that Tommy has definitely achieved his desire to make a classic AOR sounding record. The choruses of Taken are some of the best to appear to date on any Denander release.
Track By Track:
The album opens with C.O.W, a snappy little guitar solo which falls away before the first full length track Taken bursts to life.
That distinct, unmistakable guitar/keyboard blend that is Tommy Denander's sound floods the speakers and we are away.
Taken features the great Bobby Kimball at the helm - belting out a loud, aggressive vocal. The vocal suits the urgency of the song, which is one that gets better as time goes on. I love the vocal and the track itself, while perhaps a little busy, is still a winner.
Stronger Than Yesterday is quite the opposite. Sung by Andreas Carlsson, this is a super smooth AOR track with a more restrained sound and a rather excellent verse melody and a very catchy prominent chorus which has all the hallmarks of the Denander sound. Toto alumni Steve Porcaro and Greg Phillinganes guest on keyboards and the late, great Jeff Porcaro supplies the drumming from a session recorded before his untimely death.
Hit Her Where It Hurts is a curious track indeed as it is a pure AOR anthem featuring Gary Barden on lead vocals. I say curious, as Gary is not normally noted for his AOR work more bluesy and hard rock, yet he sounds right at home here and the song is further boosted by one of the strongest choruses of the album.
Next is another coup for Denander. Easy's Getting Harder features the very first duet between husband and wife duo James Christian and Robin Beck. The songs itself is a very smooth, easy going Westcoast/AOR number and is perfectly suited to the guys, who put in great performances. Why haven't they done this before?!
The greatest Swedish vocalist Mikael Erlandsson makes his first appearance for the big sentimental ballad This I Promise You. His raspy, passionate vocals are made for power ballads and he doesn't disappoint here.
Forgiveness is a very Westcoast/AOR track with a high-tech Rick Springfield/Richard Marx/King Of Hearts feel. Norwegian vocalist Christian Ingebrigtsen takes the lead vocal for this mid-tempo ballad which also features Bruce Gaitsch on acoustic guitars. Now you know why the song has a strong Marx/King Of Hearts feel.
2005 saw Tommy team with Unruly Child vocalist Philip Bardowell for an album and Bardowell reprises that role here.
It is good to hear the album take a slightly tougher, heavier feel at this point, after three relatively soft tracks. The song Shattered features a nice long instrumental break and a typically furious Yngwie Malmsteen solo.
Tommy also spent time in 2005 working on his upcoming album with Fergie Frederiksen. Fergie guests on a lead vocal here, as he has done on all three Radioactive albums. Thomas Vikstrφm also joins with a lead & backing vocal appearance. The guys sound pretty good together and I like the musical direction of this uptempo melodic rocker. Premonition is a musically intense rocker, which features some cool programming and a good strong chorus.
Following on, Carry On is a much more relaxed AOR tune, but featuring an equally intense chorus. It was advertised that Kelly Keagy was the featured lead vocalist, but rather it is Mikael Erlandsson, with Keagy providing a few lead vocals lines during the song and chorus.
The line-up of guests on this track includes Tom Keane (keyboards), Neal Schon (talk box intro) and Michael Landau, Michael Thompson and Frederic Slama (guitars). Although, with so much going on here, it is a little hard to deterine individual parts
Love Is On Your Mind features some cool guitar riffs and a sound reminiscent of Denander's early work. The uptempo melodic rocker features Thomas Vikstrφm on lead & backing vocals and one of the album's best choruses.
The song was written with the Spin Gallery project in mind and does remind me of that, although it is that little bit heavier.
Sinner features a lead vocal by Jaded Heart's new boy Johan Fahlberg. It's an ok track, but perhaps it doesn't stand out enough next to some of the other tracks.
Never Gonna Let Her Go is a soft and slow Westcoast instrumental to close the album. The track features a dream-team Westcoast line up of Michael Landau, Steve Lukather and Peter Friestedt (guitars) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), plus David Diggs (keyboards) and a little Sax from Tom Saviano.
All three Radioactive albums have a slightly different feel and preferences may depend on personal tastes and day to day moods. Either way, it is a very fine AOR album and yet another notch on Denander's belt. Together with the Philip Bardowell album, Tommy has delivered two highlights for 2005.
|Khymera A New Promise||Frontiers Records|
Italian musician Daniele Liverani is back with his second Khymera opus. As with the first release, a selection of obscure AOR songs has been gathered to be recorded under a new moniker.|
But there are a few changes here since the first Steve Walsh lead project. Gone is the grumpy lead singer, to be replaced with the much acclaimed Pink Cream 69 bass player Dennis Ward.
The previously unheard of Tommy Ermolli comes in on guitars and provides some very tasteful AOR friendly licks and Liverani covers keyboards and bass. Liverani's musician partner Dario Ciccioni continues his role as drummer.
Ward is a much better fit for this kind of material than Walsh and really does his reputation no harm with his vocal debut. His raspy and determined tones remind me a little of Jeff Scott Soto, but with that European edge. He further enhances the record by contributing some fine harmony vocals, which are mixed perfectly into the album (by the man himself).
The songs are gathered from various sources, the most unusual being a cover of the Unruly Child track Damage Is Done, with several others supplied by the ex-Sugartown duo of Tom and James Martin.
Track By Track:
A short, bombastic instrumental opens proceedings, but being that it doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the album as such, could perhaps have been left off.
Alone is the first vocal track and our first taste of Dennis Ward the vocalist! Where has he been all this time? He sounds great and his voice has a warm familiarity that suits this genre of uptempo AOR. The feel good vibe of this anthemic melodic rocker is the perfect start to the album, mixing plenty of keyboards with Tommy Ermolli's guitar riffs.
The material that comprises A New Promise is largely collected from the archives and the 80s vibe of the opening track and the uptempo Let It Burn shines through. A fresh production and strong lead vocal updates things, but 80s AOR fans will be the ones getting the most from this album.
Looking For You is a brilliant song. Some may be familiar with it, as part of the unreleased, but leaked Don Barnes solo album from the early 90s. It's nice to hear it done again here and the roots of the song shine through, the keyboard parts and Dennis' vocal have 38 Special written all over them.
The rock ballad All That I Have is enjoyable, giving Dennis Ward a chance to change his delivery a little, showcasing a grittier side of his voice.
Unruly Child's The Damage Is Done is an interesting choice of song. I love the song itself and this is a pretty strong version, but I can't say that it totally fits the album as easily as some of the other tracks. The song has a tougher vibe than the other material featured here and stylistically doesn't quite fit.
After The Way is another track from the Don Barnes solo album and again sounds just like it was intended (by Barnes). It's an ok track, but certainly isn't a highlight.
You Can't Take Me (Away From You) is an unreleased Jeff Scott Soto track and his signature is all over this track. Dennis' own vocal style, with its raspy edge, isn't too far removed from Jeff and as stated, you will hear comparisons to him throughout the album. This is a classic Soto AOR tune and sounds great here.
The classy rock ballad Tomorrow Never Comes is another Soto sounding tune and follows on from the last track perfectly. A well timed chance of pace.
Fields of Fire sees the album back to the rocking style of the first couple of tracks and features a good strong chorus. One of the better tracks on the album in my mind and another strong track giving the second half of the album a lead over the first half.
If You Dare To Dream is a Judith Randall song and one can imagine Mark Free's vocals at home here. Dennis struggles a little with the range required by the song I think, but otherwise enjoyable.
Give In To The World is a moody, keyboard heavy mid-tempo track, but not one of the stronger tracks featured. It does feature some nice guitar work in the background.
All Is Gone follows on from the mood set from the previous track, but works a little better due to some increased intensity.
It is not a track that will be loved by all and one that requires a little more listening to than some of the other more instant tracks on the album.
I do think that after a run of strong tracks, the album closes on a slightly less positive note, but it is all still very good.
There are plenty of modern rock and metal releases to keep fans of those genre's happy this one is for fans of old school, feel good melodic rock and AOR.
I Remember When I Was Young
John Farnam is one of Australia's greatest ever vocalists. He has a stunning range and had he broke out of local fame, could have been a world-renowned vocalist.|
He's also one of the good guys of the Australian industry everybody likes him as he is just so genuine. Now in his mid-50s, he still posses a voice that will send shivers up your spine.
So why do his records bore the absolute shit out of me?
As a live performer, his stage presence, charisma and vocal abilities keep you glues to his every move. On record he is everything he is not on stage. Flaccid, dull, boring and for the majority of the tunes, he struggles to get the pace out of first gear.
I Remember When I Was Young - Songs From The Great Australian Songbook is a copy of the format used by Rod Stewart and his Great American Songbook series.
This is what looks like a starting point for more volumes to follow, but all involved will have to liven the pace up if they are to warrant any future interest. Why turn these rock classics into pop ballads? Where is has his passion gone?
The blame must squarely fall on long time producer Ross Fraser and manager Glenn Weatley. They are content on selling Farnham to the blue-rinse brigade, the half-senile older generation that still remembers him fondly as little Johnny Farnham back in the early 70s.
Commercial radio may have abandoned him, but fuck them .they have abandoned most good artists and continue to concentrate on manufactured dross.
John Farnham the performer could still teach the kids of today a few tricks take a look at the lifeless contestants on Australian Idol. Forget about a hammed up Elvis night how about a John Farnham night where he participates and teaches these kids a little about how it is really done.
So on this new album John Farnham dips into Australian rock folklore, to re-run some tried and true classics. Farnham has long used the songs of others, but this time, rather than borrowing more obscure tracks, he has honed in on some of the best known Aussie songs available.
It may be cleaver ploy to regain radio interest, or it might just be an attempt to target his perceived audience, but either way, there is just no life within this record.
The songs chosen are an interesting and lively lot and one had great hopes that John would finally get back to what he does best. It was also stated that much of the record was played and record in just one take that is even more reason for this record to be crackling along. But it doesn't.
For whatever reason, the life is just sucked out of these tunes even the uptempo ones are stripped down and the pace softened to a crawl.
One Perfect Day a very fine pop ballad by Little Heroes should be perfect for John, but here is perhaps half the tempo of the original.
The legendary coming of age soft rock classic by Mondo Rock Come Said The Boy is reduced to a withered reggae style pop tune enough to make you want to cry.
Downhearted, the Australian Crawl, feel-good summer anthem and equally legendary classic has several moments of vocal glory, not to mention a snappy pace, but here Farnham avoids that aspect and slows it right down. Why stifle such an amazing voice into utter blandness?
Men At Work's political statement Overkill is made to sound like a happy go lucky jazz number and Cold Chisel's gutsy Forever Now has none of the original passion. The frustration continues through every track.
The days of LRB and You're The Voice are sadly and obviously long, long gone.
I am so utterly disappointed at this release I will state that it will be the last I ever buy from him. He has a truly kick as band that includes Brett Garsed (Nelson), Angus Birchill and Stuart Fraser (Noiseworks) where are they on this record!
Farnham turns a selection of Aussie rock classics into laid back jazzy pop ballads and to be honest, it doesn't get any drearier than this. Coming to a department store elevator near you
|Soul Doctor For A Fistful Of Dollars||Frontiers Records|
I reviewed this a little while back for the Japanese release, but now it's on wider European release, I thought I would expand my thoughts a little.
I like Tommy Heart's voice and I think Fair Warning have released some fine albums. I have previously been somewhat less that enamored with Tommy's side project Soul Doctor.|
With little fanfare the guys are now up to album number 3 with For A Fistful Of Dollars and I think they have finally hit upon the right songwriting formula. Soul Doctor has a more straight ahead hard rock sound than the more flamboyant Fair Warning.
Drawing on influences from AC/DC to Aerosmith, Soul Doctor present their blusey brand of melodic hard rock with a kick-ass in your face guitar driven sound.
I think the band has a little more energy on this record compared to the first two and it's plain to see the songwriting quality is far better. Classic rock meets a modern edge with a Bon Jovi twist on Eatin' On Me and Best Way To Fade is simply a great hard rock song.
The bluesy rock ballad Remember adds some cool piano parts and Ten Seconds Of Love adds an interesting twist with a brass section. The swagger of She's Mine adds further variety and the album closes with an acoustic Aerosmith style blues number Cheap, Down N Nasty.
Vocalist Tommy Heart sounds in great form, with his voice dominating this record.
The album still holds up strong some 2 months after it's Japanese release - that's a great sign.
|Paganini Resurrection||PazouZou Records|
Vocalist Marco Paganini fronted Viva and Paganini and recorded 5 albums between 1980 and 1990. The European melodic metal / hard rock outfits made a small splash on the scene, with Paganini's debut still much sought after today.|
Resurrection is another case of 'let's re-record the best songs of the past', with the album an equal mix of Viva and Paganini classics.
But bloody hell... I don't recall Paganini ever sounding like this. No wonder this is an indie release, as no record label in their right mind would sign up for this release.
Marco's voice has certainly seen better days he is a gruff, tough and as rough as hell here. On the ballads he sings low and hides a lack of passion with vocal filters and on the metal tunes he just shouts.
But that's not the worst of it the songs are basically updated with a bass heavy modern punk friendly style that does absolutely nothing for me and I dare say the majority of old school metal fans.
If further insult to the ears is needed, the production is raw and messy and is at times is difficult to listen to. Stick to the originals unless you really are desperate for something different to listen to. 47 minutes of noise.
|Cherone Need I Say More||Indie|
One of the great challenges any artist faces, is moving in a new direction and convincing fans to follow. Gary Cherone is best known for his energetic fronting of two great American bands Extreme and a short lived stint with Van Halen.|
But he is so much more than just a rock frontman, having worked extensively in theater and also carries a very diverse personal taste for all forms of music.
This brand new 4 track EP demonstrates those tastes very clearly. To get the most from this release, fans will need to adopt a similar broad range in taste as this is as far from rock n roll as it gets.
The EP features 3 jazzy pop tracks and a more subtle ballad. The ballad is the title track Need I Say More, which I have to say, is a thoroughly impressive and haunting pop ballad with a soulful vocal and great hook.
The other three tracks feature instruments such as flute, sax, organ and trumpet, as well as the usual bass, guitar and drums. They flesh out a new direction for Gary, which some fans will find hard to accept, but there is no doubting the musical integrity or quality.
Whether Gary will continue down this path remains to be seen. Those that have an ear for the jazzier side of pop should find this quite a revelation, but it won't be for everyone.
|Aerosmith Rockin' The Joint||Sony|
There is no denying Aerosmith's greatness. Their most recent body of work may not be as strong as their past, but few bands get to experience what Aerosmith have that is two defined career hotspots, both in the 70's and then again in the late 80s-early 90s.|
In recent times they have come off the boil somewhat, but in concert they are still a force to be reckoned with.
This new live release was recorded on the band's 2002 US tour. It is not the quality of the release that is in question here, nor the strength of the songs included although the track list isn't the most obvious selection.
It is more a question of why? What really is the point of this release? Clearly only an edited highlights release after all the set included here is only about half of what was played each night and the songs that made the cut don't really define a specific theme in the band's evolution.
So one must sadly conclude this is a mere record label cash-in to remind fans the band is still alive and contrary to their under-performing blues covers album, they really do still rock. Yes, they rock, but this is 3 years old already.
Classic band, great performers, but this is a mostly pointless and rather crappy excuse for a release.
|Bruce Turgon Outside Looking In||Frontiers Records|
In 1991 an album featuring Lou Gramm, Kevin Valentine, Vivian Campbell and Bruce Turgon was released. Shadow King would become a cult favourite loved by many, but sadly ignored by the record label and under-promoted.|
Still years later the band become the subject of regular conversations on message boards and debate over the merits of the release would start anew.
The one-off release was originally slated to be the third Lou Gramm solo album, but the heavier sound of the project coupled with the band feel between the members led it to be released as a new band.
Bruce Turgon was a long time collaborator with Lou Gramm so much so that he would follow Lou back into the Foreigner line up a couple of years later. I've long regretted that there wasn't a second album, but during the middle-to-late 90's, Bruce Turgon demoed a selection of tunes for himself.
It is now finally in 2005 that some of those songs finally see the light of day on Bruce's debut solo album. Outside Looking In features several of those original songs and several new ones, all recorded especially for this album.
The Shadow King project was possibly the toughest rocking affair Gramm had ever been involved in. It's not until now that one realizes just how much influence Turgon had over the band's sound.
To my great surprise, this album is essentially the long awaited sequel to the debut Shadow King album!
Bruce Turgon not only sings and sounds like Lou Gramm, but he also adds most of the bass, guitar and keyboard parts.
Helping Bruce out on this epic record is a powerful line up of Denny Carmassi on drums and Lou Gramm, Ricky Phillips, Tom Gimbel and Diana Mills on backing vocals, plus guitar solos by Rocket Ritchitte, Scott McKinstry and Ronnie Montrose!
Shadow King featured a complex set of songs which some still don't get today. Outside Looking In is much the same. This isn't melodic rock or AOR by numbers it's intense, moody and powerful and takes several spins to get to know.
This is American melodic hard rock with a sound perfect for stadiums.
The album opens with the moody and attitude filled uptempo rocker Living A Lie. Turgon has a fine voice, which is a style similar to Lou Gramm, but grittier and raspier. The Shadow King comparisons are evident from the start, but this song and the album in general isn't as polished as the super-tight SK material was.
Any Other Time tempers the tempo a little, showcasing a moodier side of the album. But the chorus kicks things up a couple of notches and is one of the best on the album.
Outside Looking In has a very distinct Lou Gramm style vocal. Although memorable, I rate it as one of the weaker album tracks, which is proof of the overall quality of the album.
I love the moody intensity of the bombastic rocker Walk Thru Fire, which is followed perfectly by the slower, but equally emotional Faith.
Pleasure Dome and Weapons Of Love both just flat out rock, but it is These Tears Must Fall which really captures my attention. This is an amazing, powerful and emotional melodic rocker with a monster chorus. A definite contender for song of the year.
On A Wing And A Prayer has a similar vibe and this is one of the few times I have heard anyone come close to the brilliance of Lou Gramm as far as capturing raw emotion within a song.
Heart So Strong continues a mid-album emotional burst.
The Last Time turns back to rocking and makes a nice tempo change from the moodier tracks surrounding it.
Just as the Shadow King album closed with an emotional and moody rock track, so does Outside Looking In. Where Do We Go From Here is subtle, but effective and a perfect finish to a very enjoyable album.
I might add that it's nice to see the record label president listed as the album's executive producer. Hands on involvement at the highest level.
The sound is not as polished or as big budget as the debut Shadow King album. This is a pretty raw and honest affair, but still sounds great.
It is the strength of the songs and the intensity in which they are delivered, plus those great lead vocals and in your face guitars that makes this record great. That, plus the fact that just about every track has an instantly memorable hook.
So many albums are released and reviewed, yet this one stands out as something a little different and something a little special. 2005 has been a year for the lesser known names and the surprise releases. Add this to that list.
A mix of Shadow King, the style of Foreigner's Mr. Moonlight and classic moody melodic rock.
|The Mob The Mob||Frontiers Records|
This is a difficult title to review. I envisage more than your average fan debate on this.|
Just 40 seconds into the debut album it will become plain and clear why this release will find some melodic rock fans raving about the marvels within and others struggling to accept why this release isn't what it could have been.
What's all the fuss? Vocalist Doug Pinnick. Let's come back to that.
This is an album of contrasts. Different styles, an interrupted flow, and some less than perfect vocals mix with some cracking performances and some truly memorable songs.
The Mob is a project featuring a rather impressive line-up of talent. Winger and Whitesnake guitarist Reb Beach; Night Ranger drummer and vocalist Kelly Keagy; Whitesnake's Timothy Drury and Kip Winger on bass, backing vocals and production duties.
Kings X frontman Doug Pinnick lends his distinctive vocals to the whole affair, aside from one track where Kelly Keagy takes the reins.
The Mob is a very groovy release. It features some amazing performances and the songs for the most part are very good examples of challenging, intelligent and original melodic hard rock. Winger meets Kings X? Sure but there's more to it than that.
There are so many positives, but the driving force behind any commercial melodic rock album is the vocals. And Doug Pinnick's vocals are not the easiest to absorb.
While his appearance will draw in many fans, it might also drive some away. But I do hope that people will give this album time to mature, as it is far from instant and gets better the more time you invest in it.
The album opens with a couple of groove filled rockers and the third track features Kelly Keagy on a very fine commercial rock ballad The Magic. Fans of Night Ranger and Kelly solo will love this track, but it does stand out as being quite different from the rest of the material. It sounds like it has been brought in from the writing sessions for Kelly's next solo album. Buying the album on the strength of this great track might not be wise.
The highlight for me is the mid-album run of Never Get Enough through No Reason Why. These are some of the best melodic rock tunes currently being aired.
Pinnick's vocals are best when surrounded by the harmonies of the rest of the band and for those that aren't partial to his delivery; there are plenty of harmonies to help.
This album is drenched in harmonies, both during the chorus and the verse. Perhaps that was an intentional move to help the album's appeal.
As stated earlier, the album has a distinct groove and takes some listening to in order to appreciate what's going on.
Guitar Solo only runs one minute, but it still seems a little odd to include this track when there is already another full length instrumental. That track - Spaghetti Western - is a snappy (and groovy) song, but on an album where 3 lead vocalists appear in the line-up, is there really a need for an instrumental?
Highlights for me are the moody melodic groove of I Will Follow and from Never Get Enough onwards the album gets stronger and more consistent.
Looking over the album, a big issue for me - that ultimately knocks a few points off - is the track running order. The flow of the album is a little disjointed, with 2 instrumental breaks and a change of lead vocalist for track 3.
A revised running order with the instrumentals grouped together and Kelly Keagy's lead vocal closing the album might have given the material a better flow.
That said, Pinnick was a bold choice and there is no doubt that Kings X have a large fan base which should be drawn to this release by their vocalists' involvement.
I have no doubt that some would have preferred to hear Kip Winger on lead vocals or perhaps more from Kelly Keagy. I'm probably one of those people, but that doesn't change the fact there are some really fine songs featured on this release.
If anything, it stands out in the cluster of melodic rock releases in 2005 for having its own identity. But not everything falls into place perfectly.
|Change Of Heart Truth Or Dare||Escape Music|
British AOR group Change Of Heart don't do anything we haven't already heard before, but it has been sometime since I have heard an album of really good British styled AOR such as this and that fact, coupled with some strong songwriting makes this an album well worth owning.|
This is pure British AOR in the vein of Heartland and FM. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than a slice of old school 80's melodic rock and I think fans of this genre will welcome such a release in a year dominated by metal.
Although driven by a retro 80s sound, the production is in keeping with what we expect of today's releases.
For me the album really kicks into gear with the third track of the album, which funnily enough, is a super ballad. That's not to take anything away from the heavier than usual sound of the opening rocker Burned, or the urgent tempo of Farlands. I just think that everything the sound and song quality falls into place perfectly for the big ballad Desperate Heart. A tighter sound, a huge chorus and an emotional punch that really connects greets the listener and from here on, it only gets better.
The uptempo feel good rocker Hold On is one of the band's best tracks to date; Truth Or Dare has a further touch of urgency in its delivery; Taking My Time is reminiscent of Chris Ousey and Keep On Believing is a very pleasant melodic rocker with a prominent piano role.
The album closes with an uptempo rock ballad, helped by a passionate delivery and some classy guitar and piano passages.
At least, I thought the album closed with that last track! One final unlisted track (Higher Than Love) stands out as an album highlight and will I imagine be a favourite among fans.
On occasion a repetitive symbol sound raises its head, but that is only a small complaint.
The addition of FM's Pete Jupp on drums and Steve Overland on backing vocals is a winning formula that can only place this release further up the must purchase lists.
The harmonies throughout are superb and the equal mix of keyboards and guitars, coupled with some passionate vocals make this album a winner for lovers of traditional AOR.
|Johnny Lima Version 1.2||Escape Music|
Johnny Lima is one of the good guys of melodic rock. He's also a portrayer of one of the very purest forms of the genre. Johnny is melodic rock and his Jovi-esque style has won him a lot of fans.|
With a new album only coming every couple of years or so, one could understand some frustration from fans that Johnny's new album is a re-recording of his out of print 1996 self-titled debut.
But Version 1.2 is quite an improvement on the original (to say the least) and having heard the result I can understand Johnny's perfectionist tendencies nagging at him to correct the errors he saw in that original album.
The hair might be a lot shorter now, but the attitude and the energy is every bit as good as the 1996 release. Sonically speaking, Version 1.2 is miles ahead of the original.
The clarity is much clearer, the vocals are more powerful, and the sound of the instruments is so crisp and clear compared with the sometimes muddy debut.
Johnny has not updated the style in any way; this is still an album of classic anthemic melodic rock n roll in that trademark Lima / classic Bon Jovi vibe. The guitars have a better tone, the vocals are stronger and the mix is more even.
There are a couple of differences here the track listing is slightly altered and track Speak Of The Devil has been removed and two brand new tracks Drift Away and Fire Of Love have been included.
Drift Away is an acoustic driven melodic rocker that comes alive with a huge chorus hook that all fans of Lima will love. Classic!
Fire Of Love is another anthemic rocker with some nice guitar licks and a Slippery When Wet Jovi vibe.
Both tracks stay true to the sentiment and style of the original album and are a welcome addition.
For those Lima fans not familiar with the debut, or at least only familiar with its cult status, this is an essential purchase.
You just can't go past the melodic rock bliss of tracks like Little Runaway, Never Gonna Let U Go and the magnificent Into Your Arms. Fans of power ballads are catered for with the extended Here For You and Another Lonely Day.
Few artists get the chance to go back and correct or update their past and I can understand both sides of the argument for doing it or alternatively, leaving history as is. Generally I would side with letting it be, but this album remains very faithful to the original tracks and vibe. The sentiment may be a little dated in places, but it just sounds 100% better now!
Metal Mania Stripped Vol. 2 - The Anthems
The concept behind Metal Mania is strong everyone loves to hear their old favourites re-arranged and the unplugged style is certainly something that lends itself favourably to this genre.|
However, the first Mania release was a little lazy, culling the majority of tracks from already released titles. It also left a lot to desire as far as the arrangement.
Mania 2 The Anthems is a far better and more enjoyable release, but it still has a couple of flaws.
On the positives this compilation features a few more exclusive new tracks a total of 8 brand new versions. Those 8 new tracks are the shining lights within the compilation - most obviously because they haven't previously been heard.
That brings us to the main negative with the release. The remaining tracks are from live titles released by the bands themselves. Again, that is ok, but the arrangement of these songs on this compilation (like the first) is relatively poor.
Swapping from a live atmosphere to a new studio performance kills the flow of the record and in a couple of places the live tracks are poorly edited. For example, Bret Michaels' rap to the crowd at the end of Talk Dirty To Me has no relevance in this setting.
A little more care is needed there and it would have benefited the record a great deal to have the live tracks grouped together on the second half of the album, allowing the new tracks to have their rightful place at the front and center of this release.
I'm going to talk about the new tracks on here. Those not mentioned are from other past releases.
The first of the new tracks is possibly the best especially for myself a long time Night Ranger fan.
Don't Tell Me You Love Me was the bands launch song and one that has since embedded itself in melodic rock folklore. This is an extremely cool version, stripped back to the basics but still in a full band mode with a new bluesy swagger to it, but still featuring all the energy of the original. The guys add a killer acoustic solo mid-way through and Jack Blades sounds fantastic.
It's always great to hear any new from Tom Keifer and this new version of their big hit Shake Me is very laid back bluesy version and features only vocal, guitar and a little percussion from Fred Coury.
Jani Lane reprises the Warrant breakthrough hit Cherry Pie with acoustic guitar and percussion. Its ok, but I do think the new lead vocal is somewhat rougher and gruffer than the vocal quality Jani used to posses.
Round And Round the Ratt classic is performed by band vocalist Stephen Pearcy. This is another ok version, stripped right back to one acoustic guitar, but with a little venom injected and like Jani, a raspier vocal.
Madalaine was always a pretty cool anthem from Winger and Kip Winger handles this new version in the same manner as Night Ranger. Punchy, lush with guitars and energetic. Kip Winger surely is the king of acoustic performances.
Smooth Up In Ya by Bullet Boys is very rough, but so was the band. I'm not sure the lead vocals of Marq have held up that well, but it's an attitude filled song.
Nelson has turned in a few acoustic versions of classics already all quite sensational, so it's no surprise to hear (Can't Live Without Your) Love And Affection handled perfectly. Of some surprise is a lack of duel harmonies I did expect that and missed them a little bit.
The new line-up of L.A. Guns rounds out the new tracks with a ripping version of Sex Action. Time hasn't dulled this tune and the new version sounds fresh and enjoyable.
|Seventh Key Live In Atlanta||Frontiers Records|
For me the involvement of the fabulous Mike Slamer is the biggest draw card for this release and also my biggest worry.|
Slamer is a perfectionist, so it was a concern that the high-tech style of the studio albums would be translated into a live performance that required after-the-fact overdubs to satisfy sound requirements. That in turn delivers a release lacking the energy and rawer vibe a live performance would normally feature. I can't tell if overdubs have been added to this - perhaps not - but the performances here are flawless. I look forward to viewing the event on the accompanying DVD when it arrives.
I think the guys are fine musicians and have the knowledge of how to set up their equipment in a way that would ensure an error free performance. It sounds like nothing here has been left to chance and the recording itself sounds a million bucks.
But in some ways, that dangerous edge is not present as I cannot hear a single duff note or fluffed intro. Sometimes that is nice to hear in a live recording. It proves legends are human.
Billy Greer is in fine voice here and the extra harmonies from Terry Brock are a perfect fit for the band.
The audience gathered is minimal, so the intensity of a regular live show is not there this is a special showcase for the band and it works in the way that it highlights some great melodic rock songs, but not in the usual live show format.
Standout tracks include the acoustic ballad Forsaken, where the band is joined by Robby Steinhardt on violins and vocals and Johnny Greer on mandolin and vocals. The lush harmonies are fabulous and the raw emotion of the track shines through.
The Sun Will Rise sounds note for note perfect and one can't help but love that pounding rhythm. The 6 minute plus You Cross The Line is also quite tasty, with some extra guitar licks and an extended solo included.
And the moody It Should Have Been You is a stand out track in any configuration.
The album adds three bonus studio cuts, two of which were previously Japanese bonus tracks for the bands first two albums (Love Train and The Storm Rages On).
Remember You Well is previously unreleased and to be honest should have remained that way. The song itself is fine, but the sound quality is well below the other two bonus tracks and the live concert.
|Primal Fear Seven Seals||Nuclear Blast|
Primal Fear has often taken a back seat to Mat Sinner's main project Sinner. But they have always produced memorable records this is already studio album number six!|
Their last album Devil's Ground was good, but this is great. For me, Seven Seals is the best record from the band to date.
It is the combination of a superior sound, some great songs and as always - great performances. All the necessary elements have aligned to make this another must buy for fans of European melodic metal. What a year it has been for metal fans.
Seven Seals features a monster sound produced by the band themselves, but mixed to perfection by the legendary Mike Fraser. He actually commenced mixing this the day after completing work on Journey's Generations record.
The band seems more energized than ever and backed with some very strong songs have made a record that will sit high upon the best of the year metal charts.
Demons & Angels is a furiously paced introduction to the album, with a menacing vocal driven by that unmistakable double kick drum fury.
But it gets better Rollercoaster is even more gritty, with a huge crunching guitar riff Masterplan fans will love.
The speed and mood changes for the super intense mid-tempo Seven Seals which features one of the best lead vocals and best choruses I have heard from the guys.
Other highlights include the epic and somewhat progressive Diabolus; the anthemic hard rocker All For One and the metal brilliance of Question Of Honour.
Another highlight is the closing track, with sees the band slow it down a little, but up the intensity with added orchestration for a mid-tempo metal ballad In Memory.
|Majestic Vanguard Beyond The Moon||Metal Heaven|
This is another very solid title for fans of melodic metal and/or power hard rock.|
These Swedish lads have a lot of talent and this album is a showcase for that and also their Christian beliefs. That side of things is not too in your face, but the guitars certainly are. There are enough rips and shreds here to please most fans of Yngwie Malmsteen and a pounding rhythm section to rival Metallica.
This is a seriously heavy, yet melodic release, with a very clear lead vocal making it extremely accessible.
Comparisons can be made to Narnia, Balance Of Power and perhaps at times Royal Hunt. This is European melodic metal with a twist of neo classical and progressive influences.
The Great Eternity is only 4 and a half minutes long but seems to have the twists and turns of an epic.
Don't Want To Be An Actor is an outstanding slice of melodic metal, complete with crushing riff and swirling keyboards. A definite highlight!
Take Me Home is one of two 8 minute tracks and features some tasteful acoustic passages before turning bombastic and the closer Mystic Eye is something Dream Theater would be proud of.
|Dogpound A Night In The Gutter||Lion Music|
Dogpound's 2003 debut album established the band as another new band to watch in the Swedish rock music scene. A Night In The Gutter might see the band widen their fan base internationally.|
The debut was solid, but this new release is better in several areas, most importantly in the song writing department.
Basically this is a kick ass melodic hard rock release with a strong Scandi sound and some major vocal harmonies.
The twist is that the band have a truly hard rocking base, driven by an almost metallic guitar onslaught, but angelic Steve Perry like AOR vocals.
Vocalist Henrik 'Hea' Andersson really puts in a great performance here, adding his melodic twist to the powerhouse backing provided by the rest of the guys.
This is a melodic hard rock album with a twist of Journey thanks to the vocals of Andersson and the chorus hooks, yet at others times I got the vibe of the type of approach Rush use strong melodies, but more technical arrangements.
The opening track Captain Hook & Jesus is a great example of this. One the other side is the more straight forward melodic bliss of 5 Seconds Away and Still My Heart is another very strong song.
More strong melodic hooks shine through on Not By Choice and In Another Lifetime, both which up the power and the intensity of the album, yet contain brilliant choruses.
The band slows it down slightly in a couple of places. The hard rock ballad Sail On is glorious and Worries Of Yesterday sees the band strip it back for an acoustic ballad.
One has to mention the guitar sound it's dark, heavy and has a hollow tone and wouldn't normally be the suspected partner of some very melodic vocals. But these guys have their own style and the overall sound of the album is great and it certainly rocks from start to finish.
|Charlie Sexton Cruel And Gentle Things||Back Porch Records|
This is a very classy release and on several levels it is a profound collection of intelligent songs, performed by someone who knows his craft inside and out.|
But at the same time I knew in some ways going into this that I would be disappointed. I grew up with Charlie Sexton's first two releases. I lived on Pictures For Pleasure and Charlie Sexton. You won't find two finer high-tech melodic rock albums that to this day they are still years ahead of their time.
Charlie was 17 at the time of his debut and it is no surprise to see him grow up and move on from what those two albums represented. That's where my disappointment stems from. We are never going to hear another album like those two. I have to accept that!
It has been more than 10 years since Charlie's last album Under The Wishing Tree. Since that time he cut his teeth as guitarist for David Bowie and Bob Dylan amongst other things.
Begrudging the ticking of time aside, any record from Charlie is welcomed and I did fear that this album would be extremely laid back and set in middle of the road territory. The opening track suggested I was right, but the tempo does pick up in various places throughout the album and it is a little more varied than I anticipated.
Sexton is a stunning songwriter. The warmth of his subtle vocals and the rich orchestration of the songs are perfect partners and given the chance, the music carries the listener away on a journey.
Highlights on the album include the Dylan-esque soul laid bare of Gospel; the Arc Angels styled southern rock of Burn; the country tinged I Do The Same For You and the haunting orchestration of the title track Cruel And Gentle Things and Just Like Love.
I'm also very partial to the uptempo Keith Urban like Bring It Home Again and Regular Grind.
All songs are written by Charlie alone, with the exception of Dillingham Lane, where fellow southern rocker Steve Earl joins Charlie to co-write and brother Will Sexton helps out on Regular Grind.
I'm still having trouble accepting that times have changed and Charlie doesn't want to make records like he did when he was 20, but many reading this site prefer to live in a time bubble. Admit it!
Everybody Hates You...
This is a pretty interesting release from France's Bad Reputation label. These guys feature a rather an updated retro vibe that bands like Jet have cashed in on.|
The guys have a dirty attitude driven rock n roll sound that reminds me of a whole array of artists. Think Guns N Roses / early LA Guns meets The Damned, Demolition 23 and Neurotic Outsiders. Add in a little Rolling Stones and even a little of The Almighty.
It is a wildly varied record with 11 tracks fitting into a mere 36 minutes.
It's hard rock with attitude a ton of attitude. It's loose, raw and gets the feet tapping with definite ease.
The band's debut album is very consistent throughout, yet on the down side a little same-ish at the same time and I'm not sold on the vocalist. Worth investigation for fans of old school attitude with an updated style.
|Mother Superior Mother Superior||Bad Reputation|
French rock label Bad Reputation continue to alternate between some classic re-issues and a range of new singings that lean towards a more contemporary sound.|
Mother Superior remind me a little of Kings X a retro rock sound mixed with a contemporary groove and some distinct raspy vocals.
The guys have a bluesy edge and funky swagger, so are not something I would recommend to AOR fans.
More so they might appeal to fans of Kings X or The Black Crowes. At one stage the guys backed Henry Rollins, so you know this is not your standard melodic rock release.
There is no formula in place here or a predestined structure to many of the songs.
The guys have their own style and a distinct sound. It is going to appeal to some out there, but not others. It is a love it or hate it release. For what it is, I have no complaints quality wise the guys can write a good tune, but it's not something I would listen to with any regularity.
This is easily one of the worst releases I have heard in recent times and perhaps in the time I have been running this site.|
It is released by a Russian rock label called Mals. I'm not one who derives pleasure in delivering bad news, but I can't in any good conscience recommend this release to anyone.
This is a somewhat experimental rock release, from a French act featuring a little pop and a little Toto styled jazz mixed with some progressive elements. I have no idea where any of the songs are going. Some tracks run 3 mins, others run 8 and 10. But none of them go anywhere or have a musical point. The album sounds like it was recorded in a garden shed and the lead vocals are some of the worst I have heard.
I really can't add anything more.
Jeremy & Progressor
The Pearl Of Great Price
I have no idea why one of these dudes calls himself Progressor, but he does. His partner is Jeremy (who would have guessed?) and together the guy shave recorded an album of experimental instrumental synth rock.|
This is another release on the rather 'interesting' Mals label. The songs are limited only 7, but the album runs near 70 minutes in length.
Not for the fainthearted, this is basically 70 minutes of synth programmed doodles and atmospheric new wave beats.
It just unfortunately sounds so out of date, like a 1982 Vangelis demo and moves far too slowly. Sadly it rarely gets to any point. The performances become more interesting when an occasional guitar or bass part actually gets to fit in. It is far too dominated by bloated synth passages and overall I would have to say it is a mostly boring and far too convoluted affair.
|Flight 09 Human Nature||Mals|
Flight 09 is a Russian outfit and the third release reviewed here for the Mals label. I hope they get some domestic sales, as this label is not going to compete with any other European rock label on the basis of their output featured here.|
Flight 09 are at least a little closer to what a rock music fan might be interested in, but the music on offer is at least 10 years behind everyone else and even rates behind the awful stuff Long Island Records issued in their short lifespan during the 90s.
These guys have a bad case of the plods everything here is slow to mid-tempo. It's also pretty poor sound in comparison to what else is on the market and their gruff Alice Cooper like vocalist is doing them no favours at all.
They also need to get some advice on how to arrange a song. A few tracks here needlessly fly all over the place.
Better than the other two Mals releases, but still so far behind the 8-ball as far as this scene is concerned.
|TNT All The Way To The Sun||MTM Music|
I loved TNT's last album My Religion from the word go and it only got better. I still rate it as an absolute classic. But in some ways I have really struggled with All The Way To The Sun. It has taken a lot more time to really appreciate this album and while I still rate it as another great TNT release, for me it doesn't quite match the warmth or the brilliance of My Religion.|
After much thought and contemplation I must put my reservations down to the songs themselves, as the style is not far removed from the last album.
All The Way To The Sun is a little more contemporary than My Religion, but it does carry the sound and production style of that record over especially in the guitar sound, which is emphasized further.
The songs of this album are definitely harder to digest on initial playback. It's not until you really get to know the record that they fully reveal themselves and even then, I think a few choruses are a little weak. What I really loved about My Religion was being hammered over the head with classic chorus after classic chorus, with each track really driven by a big hook.
All The Way To The Sun features songs that are more complex without being overly intricate. The album is also a little more aggressive in nature, which some will definitely find appealing.
That said this album still features some classic songs and I'm sure TNT fans will all walk away happy with the result. It was always going to be near impossible to follow up the classic My Religion and please everyone, so I think all in all, the guys have done a very credible job.
TNT has moved on without abandoning the style and culture of My Religion, but has managed to avoid repeating themselves or standing still.
The guitars and vocals are the most prominent element of the album's sound with the rhythm section featuring a little lower in the mix. It has to be said that Tony's vocal performance is among his best ever and caps a year that included the amazing Starbreaker release.
Track By Track:
All The Way To The Sun kicks off in a more aggressive fashion than My Religion with the rocker A Fix. Double kick drum fuels the track which features a commanding lead vocal, but a less domineering guitar riff. The chorus is very simple and for most of the song features only the lead vocal. A prominent feature of this album is simpler choruses.
Too Late features a stronger guitar riff and a smoother more restrained vocal. The chorus is fairly simple again, maintaining the even flow of the song. Ronnie let's fly with a nice solo mid-song.
Driving comes to life with a more intricate and melodic guitar riff, with Tony's vocals matching the mood. The chorus is upon you before you realize and is gone just as quickly. It is a catchy and intelligent little number with a definite pop vibe. I love the guitar riff and the chorus becomes easier to like each listen.
Me and I is a very cool track. Something a little different is on offer from TNT here. A moody vocal is backed by a heard edged guitar riff and the chorus is huge. All the while the tempo stays pretty relaxed. It features a nice guitar solo and a great lead vocal and takes some listening to, but is one of the album's gems.
Sometimes is the lead single and a clear pick at that. Another gem from the album, with another great chorus - this is one of TNT's most commercial and catchy songs in a long time and given the chance could fit into radio playlists. But what are the chances of that happening?
All The Way To The Sun is a heavier, darker and more aggressive song that follows the lighter more melodic tones of the last two tracks perfectly. This track has a monster guitar riff and a groove to match. Tony's vocals are right in your face and very aggressive. Great to hear more guitar solos in music and Ronnie again lays it on. The song's chorus is short, but memorable and matches the style of the album as a whole.
Next up a somewhat bizarre selection. A cover of the Louis Armstrong classic What A Wonderful World. While the song features what is an amazing vocal - smooth, soulful and controlled it remains out of place amongst the more aggressive material here.
The Letter returns to the style and sound of the opening two tracks. Short sharp guitar riffs and a prominent vocal. The song misses a bigger chorus though. The simple change in flow to accommodate a brief chorus could have been more pronounced. I will say that Tony's vocal on this track is incredible.
Mastic Pines is a short instrumental piece which for me ends a mid-album run of tracks that could have been stronger.
The short, but effective Black Butterfly gets things back on track. This is an aggressive and hard hitting little rocker that features some cool guitar work but again could have been even better with a bigger chorus.
Save Your Love is a little more relaxed and more melodic, even with a forceful vocal. The chorus is definitely a more instant hook and the song balances the aggression of the past few tracks.
Closing the new album is Ready to Fly a highlight for the album and once again, something a little different for the band. The song features a strong chorus, without being immediate and has a contemporary feel but remains true to the overall TNT sound.
The album is a change from My Religion and I think the nature of it will see some fans claiming it to be an even better release than the last album, with other fans possibly disappointed in the end result.
It takes time to get to know and appreciate, so give it that time before casting judgment. I think it is another great TNT album, but in my opinion not quite the classic My Religion was.
|Deep Purple Rapture Of The Deep||Edel|
Purple without Blackmore really are chugging along aren't they? This is their 4th album with Steve Morse at the helm and second in relatively quick time, following 2003's Bananas. The band has also constantly toured, keeping the legacy alive, even without a couple of original members.|
I loved their first album with Morse Perpendicular it was a unique album and a slight change in sound. The following two left me disappointed or somewhat nonchalant. I'm not sure I can pinpoint the reason it has to be the songs I guess but Rapture Of The Deep has me excited again.
This album follows the sound established by this line up and does require several listens to really get into the groove, but it does reward listeners. I found that Bananas didn't.
This is a really loose and groovy record! It has a little attitude and as stated, takes some time to get to know.
But I think the songs gathered make for a great listen. Money Talks and Girls Like That form a great one-two punch to get the album rolling along and for the most part are classic Purple rockers.
This is a long record for 10 tracks at least. A true groove filled record. There is a lot of music going on here and a lot of different musical parts to get to know.
Take the title track Rapture Of The Deep drenched in Hammond, with Gillan's authorative vocals guiding it, while Morse adds a quirky guitar riff to hook the listener. Through the song is at least 3 different changes in flow. It makes for an interesting song.
A personal favourite is the subtle mood of the ballad Clearly Quite Absurd. I love the lead vocal here and this was the first track I went back to after playing the album for the first time.
Other highlights are the swagger and boogie of Don't Let Go, the uptempo rocker Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and the 6 minute plus closer Before Time Began.
|LA Guns Tales From The Strip||Shrapnel|
LA Guns' output in recent years has been mixed, with the pendulum swinging back in favor of the band with their excellent last album Waking The Dead release.|
Sadly since then the revolving door line-up saw guitarist Tracii Guns leave and with him went some of the band's momentum.
Tales From The Strip is an attempt by vocalist Phil Lewis to take the band back to their early roots with new guitarist Stacey Blades reflecting on the band's golden era as one of LA's Sunset Strip bands an era that saw Motley Crue, Shark Island and Guns N Roses also at their peak.
In its own way, this album has a retro vibe that mirrors the sound of the band's first three records, primarily mixing the vibe of the self-titled debut and Hollywood Vampires.
However, just has been the case with other bands attempting a similar step backwards, the guys have taken a step backwards with production quality. This is one of LA Guns roughest and rawest efforts to date and it is a long way from their hard hitting best displayed on Waking The Dead and my personal favourite, 1994's Vicious Circle.
I say it time and time again - you don't have to sacrifice a decent sound to achieve a retro vibe. Andy Johns is producer again here, as he was for Waking The Dead, but sonically the two have little in common. I'm really surprised at the quality of Johns' recent production work.
On the upside, the songs of Tales From The Strip for the most part are pretty memorable and have that classic LA Guns attitude.
I like the dirty rock n roll of the opening track It Don't Mean Nothing and the Hollywood Vampires vibe of Electric Neon Sunset.
And the autobiographical Vampire is a moody walk through the past with a cool chorus and is perhaps the album's highlight.
But on the other side of the coin you have Hollywood's Burning a track that is just too rough and raw and doesn't sonically match the better sounding numbers.
And there simply is no point to 6.9 Earthshaker a forgettable mid-album drum solo instrumental.
The punk rock of Crazy Motorcycle and the heavy rock of Skin almost work, but neither track has the venom produced on the Vicious Circle album.
And the album closes with a double disappointment - another instrumental in the form of Amanecer leads into the closing track (Can't Give You) Anything Better Than Love which is just sonically messy.
The drum and guitar sound on this album is really sub-par and isn't close to the major label quality of Waking The Dead.
Kudos to new guitarist Stacey Blades, who does a great job replacing the big personality that is Tracii Guns. The Lewis/Guns chemistry is probably impossible to replicate, but Blades does put his own stamp on these proceedings.
Yes, the production should have been better and the album doesn't close as strongly as it opens, but the album is strong enough to see the band continue on.
|Brides Of Destruction Runaway Brides||Shrapnel Records|
There is definitely something wrong when the 1 minute album intro is one of the best tracks of the album.|
I wasn't sold on the band's debut album, but even this follow up is a long way from that. My biggest bugbear is the quality of the recording this is simply not good enough for a band claiming to be one of the frontrunner's in rock n roll.
This is a very rough quality sound and while it may not be as bad as some indie rock releases - nor it should be. The guys have a sizable budget behind them but it just does not show here.
The mix is muddy and the tone is murky. On this point alone the album would fail to make a passable grade. All the more surprising that mega-producer Andy Johns is behind the wheel here. This is a long long way from his best. With the average sound of LA Guns album still fresh in my mind I must question his otherwise unblemished record.
Production aside, it gets worse when you take a look at the songs.
This is a more alternative sound - more garage punk and further removed from the melodic hard rock legacy guitarist Tracii Guns has left behind.
Sure Tracii can play that's never been disputed, he is a guitar wizard, but these songs just don't go anywhere and there remains a very evident lack of decent hook or memorable riff to wrap your ears around.
The song quality is simply bad. I can't find any redeeming features about this album. I struggled to find positives with the band's debut, but I know they won a lot of fans with their attitude. Attitude may be one thing, but you have to back it up with songs.
I don't hear a lot on offer here for readers of this site. I was never a fan of lead singer London Legrand. This album only confirms and reinforces that, but alongside that fact is the musical path the band has chosen.
Deadman's Ruin is the album's best track it a modern foot stomping punk rocker.
White Trash shows some promise, as does Never Say Never and perhaps Porcelain Queen. But elsewhere it is a mess. The opening track Lords of the Mind so long a cornerstone of any release is nothing short of awful and I just imagine that the modern alternative of Criminal is far from what fans of the debut album want to hear.
Tracii describes this as the album the band always wanted to make. I wonder how many fans of the debut will agree?
|Beautiful Creatures Deuce|| Spitfire Records|
The wait for this album to be released got longer when guitarist Alex Grossi had to be replaced and his parts re-recorded by new guy Mark Simpson. The Japanese got the original release, but the rest of the world, gets this slightly altered version.|
Joe Leste and Anthony Focx the backbone of both Beautiful Creatures and Bang Tango have put a lot of energy into this release and the result should please fans of the band.
Deuce is even more aggressive, more contemporary and heavier than their debut album. And it is more focused and consistent than last year's Bang Tango release.
Heavier and more enshrined in modern rock than Bang Tango, Beautiful Creatures run through 12 tracks (and one short instrumental passage) which seriously rock.
You can't fault the energy, the big in your face production, or the band's conviction.
One thing to note for some though the album isn't overly melodic. The vocals are gruff and the guitars are more riff than solo driven.
Highlights are definitely Superfly, Freedom and the rather short Anyone.
I wouldn't describe this as a modern rock album by any means, but as far as American heavy rock goes, it has that very contemporary guitar sound and production which tunes down the guitars to achieve a more hard hitting sound.
Another highlight is the moody Empty, which slows the tempo a little, but not the intensity.
The opening onslaught of the first five tracks is hard to fault, but I think the album falls away towards the end, suffering from a slight lack of variation. With Deuce, Beautiful Creatures are now more comparable to Stone Temple Pilots or Black Label Society.
|Ric Ocasek Nexterday||Sanctuary Records|
It happens more or less out of the blue. I can't explain it, but for whatever reason, sometimes an artist just hooks onto a winning combination of songs and album concept and without prior expectation, a classic is born.|
Ric Ocasek has an amazing legacy as a performer both with The Cars and as a solo performer and indeed, even as an industry player. Perhaps you could expect his best to be behind him, as it is with so many veteran performers. Not so!
His solo career is in the spotlight again with the release of his 6th solo album Nexterday. I still rate his second album This Side Of Paradise as a personal favourite and think this album now sits alongside that as his second best release.
Nexterday is classic Ocasek. It is an album that captures that Ocasek sound and mixes past influences with his love of modern technology and production effects.
Where some solo albums have taken a heavier path, Nexterday returns to the experimental/new wave pop of The Cars.
It is an album heavily influenced by electronic pop, mixed with the more traditional sound of guitars, drums and bass, all wrapped up in some very melodic and memorable songs.
It is a formula that made The Cars superstars and I think any fan of the band and of Ocasek as a solo performer are going to love this release.
This record has a real retro feel, touching on the early experimental work by The Cars as well as the later, more power pop of Ocasek's solo career. The record is largely mid-to-up tempo, and keeps things interesting throughout with some varied styles.
The uptempo feel good pop/rock of Bottom Dollar is pure genius, while the more guitar driven rocker Don't Lose Me is typical of mid-80's Cars.
The moody synth styled In A Little Bit is more typical of Ocasek's solo sound, showcasing the varied influences drawn into the record.
Come On is pure pop and another classic Cars sounding track. Mood comes into play with the mellower I'm Thinking and the 80's retro of It Gets Crazy.
|Cornerstone In Concert||Massacre Records|
Cornerstone is one of the classiest melodic hard rock bands in Europe right now and I don't think they can be far behind breaking out into a wider sphere.|
Featuring British vocalist Doogie White and former Royal Hunt bassist Steen Mogensen, the band has managed to get 3 studio albums out and is working on their 4th.
In Concert is a CD and DVD release, although this review will concentrate on the CD/Audio as I have not yet seen the DVD.
This release features a 'greatest hits' set recorded on tour in January and February 2005. 17 tracks (incl. a guitar solo and an intro track) are included, plus a video clip of highlights set to the music of Scream.
The songs featured are of course, some of the band's best, including Unchosen One, Welcome To Forever, Some People Fly and Wounded Land.
Also featured is a track from Doogie's time with Rainbow Black Masquerade.
The performances are flawless and the music wholly enjoyable for any fan of the band. The sound quality and overall mix is crisp, sharp and clear. The only criticism of the album could be the flipside to the compliments just handed out.
Being that the album sounds so flawless, the edge has been taken off the raw, rock n roll attitude of the band and the fact it is a live show where some flaws should naturally be expected.
There is little interaction between the band and the crowd, which could be a product of the album being recorded over the tour, rather than on just one night.
|Tramps White Lion Rocking The USA||Frontiers Records|
Tramps White Lion was formed by White Lion vocalist Mike Tramp to give him an outlet to perform White Lion material outside his solo career.|
Increasingly moving in a different direction as a solo artist, Mike was somewhat frustrated at having to include White Lion tracks in his set list and then hearing complaints when he altered them to fit his solo style.
With a White Lion re-union all but grounded due to guitarist Vito Bratta's lack of enthusiasm for returning to the music industry, a line up of unknown, but professional musicians was put together and Tramps White Lion was born.
Rocking The USA is a double live album recorded over various nights on the group's first tour.
This release mirror's Mike's own double solo live release of not too long ago. Some of the tracks are repeated, but obviously this is all White Lion material and a new line-up.
But the vibe is the same the raw, no fuss live recording is perfect quality without sounding polished and has been expertly mixed by Michael Wagener. This isn't recorded from one gig (a personal preference), but doesn't sound disjointed either.
The band puts in a solid performance, but this remains Mike Tramp's show. His voice is in perfect form throughout.
A couple of small criticisms though no matter who emulates him, there is only one Vito Bratta and at times this is glaringly obvious, no matter how good his replacement.
The other thing is despite a promise to perform the songs as honest renditions of the originals some of Tramp's solo influences can't help but creep in.
For the most part these versions are great, but two personal favourites from the utterly essential Mane Attraction album Love Don't Come Easy and You're All That I Need are well short of their original grandeur.
A couple of other tracks are similar Wait and Broken Heart for example but I refer back to the fact no one can emulate the great Vito Bratta.
The rest of the album is very enjoyable and it's great to hear these classic songs performed with some passion.
Hungry, Little Fighter, Lonely Nights, Tell Me and a monster 12 minute plus Radar Love all go down a storm with the crowd.
I don't think any fan of Tramp or White Lion will be disappointed with this release and one is only left wishing for a new studio album with the original band.
|S.I.N. Equilibrium||Metal Heaven|
It seems S.I.N. have received a kick in the ass. Their debut was solid, but the new album is a major step forward and should see them make further strides into being an important player in the European hard rock / melodic metal scene.|
Two major improvements for the band are immediate the song quality is better and the production quality is superb.
You need great songs, but you also need a great sound to do those songs justice and Equilibrium features both elements. This is a very energetic album that features some melodic, yet ass kicking heavy rock and a couple of strong ballads.
The band has refined their sound to align themselves more with the likes of Cornerstone and fellow label-mates and countrymen Saidian.
The band is German, but features a British singer Jason Marks. No accented vocals here, but all the power of European hard rock. Marks has a voice that stays in the higher register for a lot of the time and can at times get a little much.
Nail It To The Wall, One Small Voice are a couple of pounding rockers to open the album and It's Forever is a more melodic rocker, with Walk Away being a lush ballad with an orchestral touch.
The Reason is heavy, but melodic again and Johnny's Running is another big hard rocker. For Getting Over Us changes the pace again, stripping things back with a mainly acoustic driven ballad.
Winding Road finishes the album on a high, being the heaviest and hardest hitting song of the album.
The band have done what all should improve on various areas of the debut and grow with fan expectation. Anyone who owns the debut must check this out and I would think the band will pick up further new fans too.
|Hotshot Hotshot||Split Finger Records|
The backbone of Hotshot is vocalist, songwriter and producer Mike Pont. Bad luck and bad timing prevented talk of Hotshot becoming the next big thing becoming a reality, but with the underground hard rock scene as it is, there is always room for another archival release should it feature quality music.|
And for fans of early 90's American melodic hard rock, there's definitely some good music on offer here.
Vocally, Pont compares with Shark Island's Richard Black and has that same raspy American hard rock delivery.
There are 14 tracks and a spoken word intro (a phone message from Nikki Sixx), so there are a couple of fillers among the tracks and also a little variation in the sound quality.
Recorded between 1986 and 1990, the material holds up pretty well more so if you are a die-hard fan of the Jersey scene that featured bands like Danger Danger and Arti Tisi.
I'm sure I don't have to describe the style here guitar driven melodic hard rock in the vein of the bands just mentioned and drenched in layers of harmony vocals and some fist in the air choruses.
In fact, this fits the musical scope of the unreleased but classic Arti Tisi album so if you liked that there is plenty more here to enjoy.
The album featuring songs written by Pont with Al Pitrelli and Danger Danger's Steve West and Bruno Ravel; and performed by Pont with guests such as Pitrelli, West and Ravel, plus George Cintron, Chuck Bonfonte and Al Greenwood.
Highlights include the melodic rock anthems Always In My Heart, I Can't Turn Back and Feels Like The First Time; hard rockers Love Don't Come Easy, Too Much Is Never Enough and Sweet Little Lucy, plus a couple of great ballads in Hold On and Bring On The Night.
But those that like to take a nostalgic view and consider it never too late for some good music from the golden era will find some real enjoyment here.
There is so much to like with this record, but also a couple of little things holding it back.|
This is a very nice album it features some great songs, solid performances and a very tidy production. At the end of the day it comes back to being all very nice when it could have been just a little grittier.
RocKarma is the brainchild of frontman and songwriter Damon Kelly. He also contributes the lead and rhythm guitars for the album which for me are the highlight here.
Helping out Damon is Firehouse's Michael Foster (drums) and Allen McKenzie (bass), with Firehouse mainman Bill Leverty in charge of the production side of things.
Recorded at Bill's studio, this album has a super sound and sonically is on par with the excellent Firehouse Prime Time release.
RocKarma's sound is driven by some nice hard edged lead and rhythm guitar work, with most of the songs supported by a catchy lead riff.
For the most part, it's a big crunchy guitar sound that Firehouse fans will definitely appreciate.
Style wise we are talking a mix of Firehouse and old-school Motley Crue riffing, but the vocals add a musical twist. Damon's voice is quite lite and while the music has a harder edge approach, the vocals are softer and more melodic and I think at times the two don't quite match in balance.
With a raspier or grittier vocal, the album would have been harder hitting and a little more in your face.
That said, the vocals are very pleasant and can't be faulted as far as performance and work best on the AOR tunes.
There is also a nice assortment of harmony vocals and layered choruses.
Where it works best is where the song presents more opportunity for those harmonies such as the very melodic rock/AOR of Rock All Night, That's All, The Other Side and the anthemic ballad Feels Like I'm Falling.
Feels Like I'm Falling is one of the picks of the album with a sweet chorus and memorable riff.
Where it doesn't quite work is on a couple of tracks which miss that hard edge riff to drive it such as Honestly and Our Love Is Here To Stay. The mid-tempo rocker Fool Inside has a nice riff, but lacks a better chorus.
|Schoolboy Crush Good Times, Bad Boys||Suncity Records|
New Australian label Suncity Records strike with their second release a first time CD release for LA rockers Schoolboy Crush. This is their never officially released second album, following the 1989 debut Electric Playground.|
Stylistically the band offer their take on the American hard rock style, including a little melodic hard rock, a little sleaze and a little metal for good measure. Remastered by Blue Tears' Gregg Fulkerson, the sound holds up as well as possible, but the quality is varied across the record.
Grouping the tracks to match in the sense of sonic quality would have given the album a better flow and perhaps better consistency, as some of the heavier tracks also sound better, but the arrangement of the tracks creates ups and downs during the album.
For example, Reap The Whirlwind is clearly metal, bordering on Metallica, but shortly thereafter At The Alter is seemingly celebrating cock rock.
Best tracks are the more straight forward Calling Out; the bluesy hard rock of I Pledge My Allegiance and the opening track Such A Waste.
Not great is the sleazy and lyrically daft Bad Bitch; the go nowhere At The Alter and the sub-par production quality of To Your Knees.
Aussie modern rockers Taxiride are back with a slightly revised line-up and are now an indie act after requesting out with their record label.|
I liked the band's debut, but loved the last album Garage Mahal. It was one of 2002's best releases certainly in the modern genre.
Axiomatic is an about face for the band. While Garage Mahal turned up the guitars and the energy, Axiomatic strips them back and increases the synth workload.
Taxiride are now a more atmospheric modern pop outfit with more emphasis on keyboards and a retro guitar sound mixed with various high-tech production effects and samples.
They remain highly original and a style unto themselves, but for me, a big part of the joy is gone and I think that overall, this is a rather dull album.
The guys are still capable of writing great songs. The atmospheric rock ballad Everything & Nothing will suit the ears of old fans and while the lead single Oh Yeah disappointed at first, it does grow on you. Stone is an interesting track and The Nation is more akin to the band's traditional breezy rock sound.
However, tracks like The Fatal And The Fragile and San Francisco take forever to go nowhere. Even worse, the guys wrap the album around the two worst songs. The opening track Finally Falling is painfully slow and non-conclusive and the closer Tripper Red is equally as dull.
Creating a mood is one thing putting listeners to sleep is another.
Style aside, the band definitely does themselves no favors with a few tracks, and the due to some super slow tracks, the general flow and momentum of the album is hard to appreciate.
|Rebellion Sagas Of Iceland Vol. 1||Massacre Records|
Rebellion are about as heavy as they get for this site. Their album is quite a concept The History Of The Vikings no less, with this Volume 1 (of 3) titled Sagas Of Iceland.|
So yeah, it takes some concentration to follow the story, but if you care to abandon that, some solid metal riffing is on offer.
Musically speaking these guys deliver a traditional brand of European metal, with a sonically impressive rhythm section and some thick and heavy riffing. The vocals run the gamut from restrained to Bruce Dickinson high pitched screaming, to GWAR style gruffness.
Definitely not for everyone and don't expect any chorus-verse-chorus-verse arrangements!
At times the tempo is frenzied and drowning in distorted vocals and at other times it isn't much heavier than Iron Maiden. It's a Massacre Records release in any regard and fits that label's style perfectly.
The album is well recorded and produced, which is all anyone could ask for. I do think the delivery and the subject matter limit their audience, but personal tastes will dictate how enjoyable this concept album is.
|Jack Wagner Dancing In The Moonlight||Indie|
I just happened to stumble upon this CD, so I may as well rate it. I'm still not sure why I'm bothering
.perhaps just to warn others.|
Jack Wagner is a hybrid between an actor and a singer, the reverse of Rick Springfield (a singer who acted). He used to be a cult AOR favourite and perhaps his first few records will retain that status.
But right now he has moved on into middle age and this record is stuck very firmly in soul/pop middle of the road territory. This album is very sweet, very pop, and so lite that it makes Air Supply sound like Morbid Death.
The song titles say it all - Shoo Be Doo Dah, Soul Reason and Give It To Me. Indeed. I'm sure those middle ages housewives would still like to, but the rest of us should avoid.
|Various Hollywood Hairspray Vol. 4||Perris Records|
Perris Records' series of glam compilations reaches number 4. Another 14 tracks spread over nearly an hour showcases the best the genre currently has on offer.|
Featured on this volume are the likes of Zan Clan, Tigertailz, Vains Of Jenna, Teenage Casket Company, Midnight Circus and more.
The production quality over the tracks featured is extremely varied a few are crisp and clear, but the majority of others are muddy and below average. Highlights as far as I'm concerned are Zan Clan's excellent Go Go Go; United Enemies' energetic punk of Love Kills; the Vains Of Jenna track (even though the production is average) and Enemies SWE's Too Much.
Lowlights the very muddy The New Romantics track; the overall average production qualities and I was kind of disappointed in the Tigertailz track Dirty Needles. For glam die-hards only.
|Various Back Against The Wall||Purple Pyramid|
I am not a Pink Floyd fan, but can appreciate a big project when I see it. Only a line-up this big could pay proper tribute to one of the most influential rock albums of all time.|
This 2CD set covers the entire Floyd classic The Wall faithfully rendered and performed by some of rock and progressive music's best names.
Tommy Shaw, Glenn Hughes, Fee Waybill, Ronnie Montrose, Dweezil Zappa, Jason Scheff, Rick Wakeman, Steve Lukather, Steve Morse, Jay Schellan, Alan White, Adrian Belew, Keith Emerson, Mike Porcaro, John Wetton, David Glen Eisley, Geoff Downes and still more
Tommy Shaw contributes lead vocals on three tracks and John Wetton two.
The main man behind this project though who contributes production duties and handles lead and backing vocals and keyboards is Billy Sherwood. This really is his baby and he should be very proud, as it sounds fabulous.
Strictly for Floyd fans and perhaps die-hards of some of the participating vocalists, this is an ambitious project that works party due to the undeniable strength of the material, but also due to the professional manner it has been assembled and performed.
Queen + Paul Rodgers
Return Of The Champions
Queen had to get back on the road it was inevitable. What was surprising was their choice of singer. Paul Rodgers is an amazing talent and of the same generation as Queen, but I didn't see them two as a perfect fit and still don't.|
However, the number of people at the band's shows is a testament to the legacy Freddy Mercury left behind.
No one can ever replace Freddy and I don't think Paul Rodgers is trying. He does an ok job, leaving the stage during different points of the performance, handing the mike to Brian and Roger.
I think the performance of the songs is ok, but the vocal fit is average. It's no surprise to see Rodgers sounding most at home on his own songs thrown into the set.
I'm completely biased to the point of view the guys should enlist the talents of Jeff Scott Soto as vocalist and perhaps that is still a chance one day.
The inclusion of Paul Rodgers was more a marquee value to the guys who are attempting to re-establish themselves as a touring band again, especially in the US, where Rodgers is a successful touring act.
It has worked and for now it continues. I do expect Rodgers to return to his solo ways at some point and it will be then that things get interesting!
The sound quality of this set is ok; it seems there aren't too many overdubs, which is nice to hear.
This is a die-hard fan only set. I don't see it as anything more than a cash-in on the current tour and another way for the band to re-assert themselves in the market place. The coming DVD will be more entertaining I have no doubt.
|Jizzy Pearl Vegas Must Die||Shrapnel Records|
This isn't an easy album to listen to but in some sense, that's probably a compliment for Jizzy. This album deals with some personal issues and the music has a really aggressive slant to it.|
Vegas Must Die is a hard rocking album, but the style isn't something everyone is going to appreciate. It's not too far removed from the Jizzy Pearl and Love/Hate well all know, but it does have a contemporary slant and it is recorded in a very raw and honest, back to basics way.
Tracks like Hit & Miss and Lies sound pretty familiar, as does True Love.
The albums offers a little punk attitude and then the acoustic driven ballad How'd I Get So Loney and the Zeppelinesque You Don't Own Me offer something new for longtime fans.
This moves on a little from the debut solo release, but will again suit fans of that album.
|Tourist The Relevance Of Motion||Indie|
The modern rock genre is certainly having a better year in 2005 than it did in 2004. A few major releases have made an impact and it seems everyone is pleased with the new Nickelback. But there is also a number of other strong releases in the genre with substantially less exposure, but equally deserving of some attention.|
Tourist is one such band. This US act has released their new album independently, sadly ensuring that they won't get the media coverage they deserve.
Their brand of guitar driven modern rock is every bit as good as their counterparts such as Foo Fighters, Hoobastank, Shinedown, or even Anberlin.
These guys are on the heavier side of things and the sonic bombardment from a duel guitar attack and an intense lead vocal is unrelenting.
Jacob's Ladder, Stay and the very anthemic rocker Everytime We Touch all would sound at home on modern rock radio.
LRT and New Radio slow it down a little, but keep the aggressive undertone of the album.
Only the closing track It Just Doesn't Matter doesn't quite work the acoustic ballad seems a little out of place. Enhancing the quality of the songwriting is a monster production, all tied together by a super crisp mix from the great Mike Fraser.
|Bon Jovi Have A Nice Day||Island Records|
UICL-9027 (Japanese Release)
At this point in their career, Bon Jovi need a great album. Bon Jovi fans want a great album. Both Crush and Bounce were solid records with highlights, but individual downfalls and each sold a less than the albums before them.|
Bon Jovi are still the biggest band in this genre and one of the few that continue to have record company support and worldwide press exposure on demand.
This is a big release the promotional efforts behind it suggest that the label are happy with what they have been delivered and they intend to make sure fans know about the new album. If only they put such effort into many other equally deserving acts.
Such was the band and labels desire to deliver a great album, the original album turned in 12 months ago was reconsidered as the band went back into the studio to record new tracks.
The biggest question I had over this album is whether the band would once again misjudge the balance of the album and relegate better tracks to B-Sides and Bonus Tracks.
Both Bounce and Crush would have benefited substantially from substituting B-Sides for some of the included tracks. Alas they weren't and thanks to modern technology, fans re-sequenced and rearranged the album themselves.
The good news Have A Nice Day is easily the band's best album in sometime, but it is international fans that are getting the better album. The US version omits a couple of vital rock tracks that add strength to the overall release found in other territories.
Of most interest on Have A Nice Day is the band's updated sound. I expect this point to be heavily debated. On Bounce, Bon Jovi tuned down the guitars on the rock tracks and it just didn't work.
On Have A Nice Day the style is kept mostly consistent throughout and the whole band's sound has been updated not just the guitar sound, or not just the rockers.
This is easily the band's most contemporary release ever, but curiously the band seems intent on chasing the most popular sound of the day rather than forging new territory of their own, such as they did when they released Keep The Faith.
Have A Nice Day producer John Shanks is the man driving the band's sound here. He co-writes several tracks which help bring the band into a new era. The band co-produces with Shanks, which shows this album has been a real team effort and I believe that shows. Long time collaborator Desmond Child, who appears on 2 co-writes here is listed as the album's executive producer another sign of 'all hands on deck'.
Some fans aren't going to like the new sound and may not be as willing to step into the contemporary arena with the band. But the fact is that it suits the guys.
Shanks has worked with the likes of Ashlee Simpson; Anastacia; Kelly Clarkson; Alanis Morissette; Lindsay Lohan and Diana DeGarmo in recent times. He is a Grammy Award winning producer and worked with Bon Jovi to update their sound and approach.
Have A Nice Day has a sound that is more comparable to Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty than Slippery When Wet or New Jersey. Added orchestration, production effects and strings on two tracks add many different dimensions to the band's new sound.
Best news for fans is that the rockers outweigh the ballads, even on the US version. On the international version that ratio is further extended.
In fact, with the last 3 tracks of the basic album plus 2 UK and Japanese bonus tracks, we get 5 rockers in a row. When was the last time that happened on any Bon Jovi album?
Track By Track:
You won't find many better tracks than the ultra catchy Have A Nice Day. However, once again, Bon Jovi kicks off with a lead single and lead track which doesn't accurately represent the sound of the rest of the album. This track has a close relative in It's My Life, but is still a foot stamping, fist pumping hard rock anthem that will ensure the band remains at the forefront of radio airplay worldwide. Yet another massive hit for the band! The track was actually re-written and recorded from its original form. These lyrics are better for sure, but the band did leave something out of the original that would have been cool here. A 15 second interlude where JBJ whispers the chorus about two thirds of the way through the song was a great change in pace and would have made this song even better.
I Wanna Be Loved is a perfect follow on from the high energy of the opening track. This is a dark and moody mid-tempo rocker with a distinct lead guitar break. It mixes some of those Living On A Prayer Jovi sound effects with an ultra modern production. I love the dark vibe of the song, the deep personal lyrics and the big chorus, which borders on modern rock.
The album dips a little with two very safe tracks. The rock ballad Welcome To Wherever You Are and the breezy uptempo Who Says You Can't Go Home? Are both very safe and predictable Jovi staples. These Days, Bounce and Crush all have similar tracks. These are very enjoyable especially the feel good melodic rock of Who Says You Can't Go Home, but we have heard it all before.
The band recovers some lost ground with one of the highlights of the album. Last Man Standing is a remake of an older song, showcased on the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong box set. This is a more aggressive and urgent version, with an increased tempo and an updated sound in line with the album's production style. All in all, a great rocker.
One is never too far from a Bon Jovi ballad and Bells Of Freedom is the big acoustic driven ballad for this album. Co-written by Desmond Child, this track has all the hallmarks of being the third single from the album, but one hopes the band will chose a more bold statement to make, by choosing one of the edgier tracks.
We are at the halfway point more or less and for me, this is where things get more interesting. The slow to mid-tempo Wildflowers isn't an ideal fit at position 7 as I think the album's pace lags a bit, but nevertheless, this piano rock ballad has an interesting sound. It's part Jersey, part Matchbox Twenty and has a certain Eddie & The Cruisers vibe to it.
Now, it's time to rock. Last Cigarette is another album highlight for me. This is a great uptempo feel good rocker with some great lyrics and some very nice guitar soloing. The chorus features one of the better singalong hooks from the album and I pick this as being a fan favourite in months to come.
The tempo dips again, which might have been a problem if not for I Am being a classic track. This is another dark and moody mid-tempo rocker, with a definite Goo Goo Dolls style production. Possibly the most modern rock sounding track the band has yet recorded, this could be a monster at radio if given the chance. You just can't help but love the chorus.
The rocker Complicated is another very modern sounding track. Modern to the point where some fans may not like the sound, it rocks bigtime and has another very catchy bridge and chorus arrangement and matches the darker tones of the previous track.
Things keep rocking along in fine style with Novocaine. Another dark and moody lyric drives this modern rock track with a chorus that isn't as instant as the previous tracks, but is solid nevertheless.
Another rocker makes it three uptempo numbers in a row. Finally the band is getting the message from fans. Story Of My Life features the same updated sound prevalent throughout the album, but is a bit more old-school Jovi in direction. Another good uptempo chorus will have fans singing along and is another highlight.
That concludes the regular portion of the album. Different territories now get some bonus tracks, but the Japanese release which gets all three.
The US version adds a duet version of Who Says You Can't Go Home a song they originally recorded with Keith Urban! It was re-recorded with Jennifer Nettles of country outfit Sugarland obviously a better option for the record label, looking to promote both artists.
Back to the bonus tracks on hand - It's hard to conclude why Dirty Little Secret and Unbreakable would not appear on every version of the release. These are both uptempo rockers of the highest quality and easily surpass tracks like Bells Of Freedom, Welcome To Wherever You Are and Wildflowers.
Why does the band think US fans won't be able to handle more rockers on their albums?
Both tracks appear on the UK release, so fans there will have an album that concludes with 5 rockers in a row! That should have been the case for all territories.
Dirty Little Secret is a mid-to-up tempo track that rolls along at a reasonable pace and features a great chorus and is something different for the band hence why it is so enjoyable.
Unbreakable is even better. Featuring a very processed pop intro, a thick heavy guitar riff breaks through and drives this song.
This is possibly the second or third best track of the whole album! The chorus is super heavy and features a real groove and like the opening track, would be right at home on modern rock radio, with the guarantee of getting feet stamping along.
The Japanese release closes with something all Bon Jovi fans are familiar with a big sentimental ballad. These Open Arms is not unlike several other ballads previously released and for that reason isn't essential.
However, it is a classy ballad nevertheless and major dose of string orchestration makes it a very lush ballad with a Goo Goo Dolls style finish.
However, they are chasing a sound that already exists with other artists, so it will be interesting to see how longtime fans react. The song quality is great this is easily the most consistent and enjoyable record since These Days and perhaps even Keep The Faith.
It's great to hear the band rocking more regularly again, but definitely points removed for the selection of the bonus tracks and taking the safe option for the US release. Wildflower and Welcome To Wherever You Are would have been better bonus tracks and Dirty Little Secret and Unbreakable would have been bolder choices to fill the album.
If speaking only of the US release, the rating would be 86%
This album could have been an even bolder statement, but I'm happy with the result and the overall balance. I think fans will find it hold up well over the coming months and will have longer legs than both Crush and Bounce.
The memory of This Left Feels Right is all but extinguished.
|Place Vendome Place Vendome||Frontiers Records|
Place Vendome is easily the surprise package of the month. Fronted by former Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske, this project sees him step well and truly into melodic hard rock territory, albeit, with the immense and indeed intense vocal power he is famed for.|
Equal credit must go to the brains trust behind the music. Pink Cream 69's Dennis Ward wrote all the songs in collaboration with bandmates David Readman and Alfred Koffler, with contributions also from Gunther Werno of Vandenplas.
Ward produced this tight affair and plays bass, with Kosta Zafiriou on drums, Gunther Werno on keyboards, Uwe Reitenauer on guitars.
The question when can you get a new PC69 album that isn't PC69? Right here, as Place Vendome delivers an amazing collection of songs for fans of European melodic hard rock.
Kiske transforms perfectly for this more melodic affair but the power of Helloween isn't far from his mind. I love melodic rock with passion and fire and this album has both.
The album features some songs that border on melodic metal, just as the case was on Allen/Lande's monster album. Then just around the corner are some perfect melodic gems.
The mix of both styles works a treat and the album is perfectly balanced between the two, meaning it will appeal to both metal fans and melodic hard rock fans.
Looking at the rockers - Cross The Line is a great opener and showcases the harder edge to Place Vendome's sound. The swirling keyboard is something new for both participants, definitively a touch of Vandenplas there.
I Will Be Gone has a definite Helloween vibe to it, especially with the vocal delivery. I can hear a little Strabreaker/Tony Harnell also.
Place Vendome is simply a fabulous happy-go-lucky rocker with a great anthem chorus.
Right Here mimics the crossover appeal of the opening track and Magic Carpet is another very commercial, breezy uptempo melodic AOR track with a powerful chorus.
The album's closing track Sign Of The Times turns slightly more intense and ends the album as it started in strong rocking form.
A far as slower tracks the moody and intense The Setting Sun impresses and has a dark vibe. Heavens Door is totally different it's a sweet, acoustic driven AOR ballad with a feel good chorus. It's quite a revelation for fans of Kiske!
I've saved the best for last. Amongst the great melodic hard rock here, this album also offers two of the great AOR anthems of the year. Of any year. I Will Be Waiting and Too Late are both so utterly perfect, it's hard to believe your ears.
There is nothing better than melodic rock/AOR delivered with power and these two tracks rip the roof right off.
The brilliant moody I Will Be There reminds me of my other favourite release of 2005 the Oliver Hartmann release. Moody, powerful, intense, but thoroughly melodic. Bliss!
If that isn't perfect enough, it's followed by another gem in Too Late.
This is one of the great heavy AOR anthems of recent years. Kiske sounds brilliant, but overall, the whole song is just wonderfully delivered, with a moody verse which explodes into melodic bliss. The chorus is just perfect I mean perfect. This is the blueprint for bliss with a soaring feel good chorus and some amazing harmony vocals.
Place Vendome may be a slightly daft band name, but the contents within are as surprising as they are brilliant. Another album that comes from a metal background and crosses over into melodic rock, bringing fans of both together.
|Jaded Heart Helluva Time||Frontiers Records|
The most challenging task any band could be faced with is replacing a member. Never an easy thing to do, that task becomes exponentially harder when the member is a key aspect of the band's sound. It's even harder again when that member is the vocalist and one of the principle songwriters.|
Jaded Heart was faced with just this dilemma when they parted with long time vocalist and frontman Michael Bormann. This is where things get interesting.
In his replacement, they have opted for Swedish vocalist Johan Fahlberg. It is a bold move away from the vocal style that Bormann brought to the band Fahlberg is no vocal clone and a change from the bands past trademark sound.
Jaded Heart 2005 is something different and that is where the band will both benefit and struggle as the fan base is bound to be torn.
Yes, perhaps some of the band's magic and uniqueness has been lost, but what still remains is a fine melodic hard rock outfit.
The bands new sound is far more international there's a definite touch of Scandinavian rock thanks to Fahlberg's strong writing contributions and there is a smoother edge to the album. What is still present is the band's big guitar delivery and production style.
Also present is several great passages of huge vocal harmonies. The band has kept its soul in tact, while being driven by a new heart.
Bormann is a great vocalist and credit to the band, Fahlberg is an inspired replacement.
But Bormann I also a proven winner as far as songwriting goes and his track record is impressive. The band had a major gap to fill with his departure. Credit to them, as they have almost done that with Helluva Time featuring a few classic new Jaded Heart cuts.
But at the same time, it also falls short in a few other places, with a few songs that don't make the grade and could be classed as fillers.
Sonically, the album as a whole sounds fantastic. The production and mix is world class and compares favorably to any major label release. Thankfully the mastering problems that saw the volume of Trust all too loud have also been addressed and the CD volume here is perfect.
Track By Track:
The opening song Tomorrow Comes certainly does everything in its power to erase any doubts from the minds of fans and prove the band is on a strong footing.
This is one of my favourite Jaded Heart tracks in recent memory and almost raises the roof with its massive sound and huge chorus.
The moody intro of Hole In My Heart suggests a perfect follow up song is in order. The vibe is classic Jaded Heart but the song turns darker and more aggressive than expected. I like the vibe of the track and harmonies surround the chorus, but it isn't quite strong enough to follow up the monster opener.
And that kind of sums up the album. There are some absolute monsters here, but several tracks that don't reach as big a climax.
Somewhere is somewhere in between the stadium rock of Tomorrow Comes and the mood of Hole In My Heart. It has a chorus that passes without fanfare, but gets better each listen.
Dreams You Will Never See is utterly brilliant from the word go. This is a monster melodic rocker with a chorus as big as any JH fan could wish for. Superb production with an orchestral arrangement and layers of guitar fuel this anthem.
Who's Foolin' is another example of the new band. Thankfully it is another winner, which was quite important to follow up the monster that preceded it. The band takes a little Jovi, a little Leppard and a little Scandi rock to create a great uptempo rocker with a dark edge.
Paid My Dues is a curious inclusion. The band is no strangers to covers, having already provided one of the best hard rock covers in memory with Easy Lover. This cover of the Anastasia hit is a perfect fit for the band and the album.
Without You is the big ballad of the album and sees the band covering familiar territory. A strong chorus saves the song from being a heard it all before affair.
This point of the album sees things slip away a little. I'm not particularly fond of the hard rocking swagger of Love & Desire, despite a strong vocal and Shores Of Paradise sounds like a cut that didn't make Trust. Frozen Heart also misses a good chorus despite having a sonically impressive guitar sound.
Two songs save the second half of the album. The big rock anthem No One again proves the band can come up with trademark anthems and this one mixes a little of the old with the new elements Johan brings to the band.
And Love To Live closes the album in fine form. This fast paced rocker sums up the new sound and features a solid chorus.
It bodes well for the future of the band this release won't blow everyone away, but it puts the guys in a position to keep on rocking into the future. Watch for lessons to be learnt from this release and for the next one to be a classic.
|Alien Dark Eyes||Frontiers Records|
I must confess to being a little disappointed with the return of Alien. I guess it all comes down to what you personally expect from this release.|
Their debut album was a little AOR gem and although they recorded after that without singer Jim Jidhed, they still managed to impress.
Then there is Jim's own solo album from a year or so back, which was another classic old school AOR record.
So the idea of the Alien powerbase of Borg and Jidhed reuniting certainly gave rise to some big expectations.
I was expecting and hoping for a return to that classic AOR sound.
Dark Eyes fulfills some expectations, but doesn't deliver an entire album of what I hoped for. This album features some fine AOR tracks, but at it's heart is a more straight ahead rock sound that has some 70's influences.
At times I find myself being annoyed by Jim's vocals, which is very peculiar indeed. And in the same way, some of Tony Borg's guitar riffs similarly grate my ears, when each riff should be melodic bliss.
The biggest problem for me is the album's switching between the two chosen styles. And for me, the album opens with two of the worst tracks. While both are tidy little songs with easily recognizable choruses and guitar riffs both fail to win me over, with choruses that I just can't warm to and guitar riffs I just don't like.
Third time lucky with the first gem of the album. Oh Sarah is much friendlier on the ears and Jim's vocals finally sound rich and lush. Perhaps of note is the fact there is no major in your face riff during this song.
Fallen Angel is a little tougher and a little more urgent in its delivery. No major hands in the air hooks here, but a solid chorus and a well-placed change of attitude.
Sadly Lethal Weapon returns to the bland style of the opening two numbers and again leaves me cold.
Wild One changes the tempo and delivery again somewhat. It has some appeal for its uptempo boogie vibe, but doesn't have enough gas in the tank to really drive it home.
Don't Fight It sees a welcome return to the more urgent and passionate AOR that made Oh Sarah and Fallen Eagle winners.
Riding With The Wind highlights my frustration with this album. Just when things seem back on track with a classic AOR track, along comes another annoying song it just doesn't gel with me and I find the guitar parts and the chorus hard to appreciate.
Are You Ready is a little better, but still not the band at their best. The chorus is average.
Alien finish their comeback album with their two best tracks. Fire and Sherylee both have outstanding choruses and are every bit the classic AOR that they are known for and what fans were craving for.
Sherylee in particular is a wonderful AOR song with true heart, a passionate lead vocal and outstanding chorus. Why where more tracks like this not possible?
|Silver Gold||MTM Music|
Silver have now raced to 5 albums. Amazing in this day and age especially when some of the very acts who released an album at the time Silver released their debut have yet to come up with a follow-up.|
Once again featuring the raspy rock voice of Gary Barden and the musical muscle of the great Michael Voss, Gold is an album that sees the band re-energized and more focused after a couple of average releases.
Silver's music has varied from dark and gothic influenced rock to Rainbow-esque hard rock.
I find Gold to be infinitely better than the last couple of albums and perhaps as good as the band's debut, albeit with a slightly altered sound than before.
While this band is never going to be straight ahead anything, this collection of songs is definitely their most accessible bunch and for that reason I think the guys might find some new fans with this album.
There remains some dark and gothic tones, especially when Andi Broon and Mike Bar (Sisters Of Mercy) participates.
But there remain some straight ahead out and out rockers on here, such as the opening track Creep. A super tight production and in your face guitar delivery are bound to impress. Joshua is another example of the new approach, with some menacing vocals in play and a hard edged guitar sound also present on the band's solid cover of Bowie's China Girl.
The addition of some female lead vocals (courtesy of Michaela Schober) seemed odd at first, but after getting to know the album, seem well placed. The dark and symphonic All That I Wanted best highlight this and draw further Sisters Of Mercy comparisons.
The mid-tempo Setting It Up is another moody winner as is the closing track Daydream Believers.
The guys include a couple of great melodic ballads with Wouldn't You Agree being the very best. A very smooth chorus and memorable hook make it an album standout.
There are some modern production tricks used to good effect on Gold, touches which help give the album a contemporary feel.
Guitar wiz Tommy Denander guests on three tracks to add extra muscle to the release.
|Vivian Campbell Two Sides Of If||Sanctuary Records|
This is an interesting release. My general dislike of covers albums is well known and the other release most closely aligned with this Aerosmith's Honkin' On Bobo got a review it deserved. |
So why might this be any better? I'm not sure what exactly appeals, but it is a good release should the desire to boogie down with some blues arise. I can't recall ever hearing a Vivian lead vocal before, but for some reason I hear exactly what I expected.
Vivian has a rough and raspy singing voice, yet it retains some warmth that makes this album that more enjoyable.
This is pure blues no sign of melodic rock nor Riverdogs or Leppard style layers here.
The guitar playing is obviously impeccable, but also enjoyable are the occasional piano and smoking harmonica parts.
I'm reminded constantly of Charlie Sexton throughout this record. Charlie was the king of high-tech melodic rock just like Viv is with Def Leppard. But Charlie had a soft spot for the blues as showcased on the Arc Angels release. Vivian's vocals match those of Charlie's on several songs, but the style and delivery is also very similar to southern rock styling of Arc Angels in places.
I'm not sure any songs stand out as absolute favorites, although I do favor some of the uptempo numbers such as Messin' With the Kid, Hunter and I'm Ready.
Perhaps my favourite of all is the pacey 32/20 Blues, which features some outstanding riffing. Best of the slow tracks is Come on in My Kitchen and Reconsider Baby. From a production stand point, the sound is pretty rough, but that done to suit the music. This is a very rough, raw and live feeling record.
This will sit nicely alongside my Gary Moore Still Got The Blues CD.
Wetton Downes (Icon)
Heat Of The Moment 05
The definition of an impossible task is to recreate the magic and inspiration behind a past megahit. Yet plenty try it. John Wetton and Geoff Downes have at least come close.|
Heat Of The Moment was where it all began for the guys at the start of the 80s, so it seems fitting they return to their roots, now that they are united again in a fresh partnership.
I like what they have done with this track, adding a slightly darker tone to parts, while keeping the chorus as poppy as ever.
Celebrating the recent success of their Icon project, this EP also adds two new remixes from that album and another remake The Smile Has Left Your Eyes 05. Not as immediate as the title track, this track certainly has a haunting and orchestral feel that matches the duo's new music.
Rounding out the release is a previously unreleased track There In Your Bed. This is a short 2 and a half minute piano ballad. Not bad, but easy to see why it didn't fit the Icon album.
The Ultimate Andersson Collection
Fans of European progressive metal will find something interesting on offer with this album. Not a compilation as such, it is in fact, a selection of 10 Andersson "classics", re-recorded entirely for this album. |
This is my first introduction to the Swede and I will guess the first introduction for many others out there despite the fact he has been involved in 8 releases in 6 years.
The most notable fact is that on this album, all vocals are handled by the great Goran Edman. All keyboards, production and mixing is by Andersson himself.
This is symphonic progressive metal at its grandest, which means it will go totally over the heads of some, but for those more attuned to the genre, there is plenty on offer.
Goran Edman makes the record interesting for me. Without him, there wouldn't be as much to get excited about. Those that enjoyed his recent work on Xsavior will most likely like what they hear here.
At nearly an hour and over 10 tracks of music, things do get a little same-ish in places and the pace is almost entirely the same - uptempo and fuelled by double kickdrums.
At times that drum sound is more like machine gun fire it does becomes very repetitious at times, especially on the opening 9 minute epic.
The constant and continuous keyboard solos are also a little annoying, but the guitar soloing is pretty outstanding. Confusicus is one of the highlights and is a simpler track, as is Black Moon Rising. Above And Beyond is the best epic on an album where several are featured.
All in all, it's a solid release for what it is. But the very nature of the over the top sound means that it has a very definite appeal to a select audience.
|Midnight Circus Money Shot||Perris Records|
Midnight Circus plays a brand of old-school American hard rock. Part sleaze, part Hollywood and part Funny Money style no-BS rock n roll, this album covers it all.|
Dokken, Poison and Motley Crue says the bio .close call. Psychedelic Trippin' definitely takes on a little Poison meets old school Dokken vibe. Only One touches on a mellower Motley Crue, and Dirty Rhythm reminds me a little of LA Guns/Bulletboys.
I'm not sure the songs are as good as they could be Tonight is an example of clichι' filled 80's hard rock. I think you get the gist of what's on offer from the comparisons. Overall the album sounds pretty well produced, although the drum sound can be a little hollow at times.
Consistent and always enjoyable, this is a good party rock album with a couple of darker numbers. It's those darker elements I like best.
|Nasty Kixx Hometown Blues||Shotgun Generation|
Nasty Kixx are an attitude driven punk/hard rock outfit that play it fast and furious. They remind me of bands like Neurotic Outsiders, LA Guns (when they do punk) and also Duff McKagen (such as on his punk fueled solo album). Most of all I'm think they sound like the punk outfit from Hanoi Rocks vocalist Michael Monroe Demolition 23.|
10 tracks at 31 minutes total suggest that these guys get down to business and get it done without any padding and without a single extra note.
Bands like Green Day are presenting punk in a more contemporary setting, but these guys hail more to the original sound preached by The Damned. A cover of the Hanoi Rocks classic Tragedy reflects the band's influences.
Definitely worth a list for punk fans.
|David Pack The Secret Of Holdin' On||OGL 82028|
Former Ambrosia vocalist David Pack has been attracting a lot of attention for his new solo release quite sometime in the making.|
Most of the publicity has come from the fact former Journey vocalist, the great Steve Perry, joined David for a duet on one track. Perhaps duet is an overstatement, but he is on there.
The album also features a couple of other guests. Timothy B Schmidt appears on the acoustic driven Where We Started From and Heart's Ann Wilson features on the very smooth opening track the very AOR friendly and enjoyable title track The Secret Of Moving On.
Ann sounds great, David sounds great and the evenly mixed record sounds a million bucks.
But, track 5 is the big draw card for those reading this. A Brand New Start is another very smooth pop/AOR ballad with a nice hook, but bringing the song alive is some backing vocals and an occasional lead fill by Perry. Even better is the inclusion of some trademark Perry harmonies last heard on the For The Love Of Strange Medicine album.
Wonderful stuff indeed, right down to the Journey keyboard riff post chorus. However, any appearance from Perry only increases the desire to hear more of him, so with that in mind, this is a very brief tease. Who knows how long it will be until we hear those fine dulcet tones again.
Elsewhere on the album you will find some very fine Westcoast pop. Perfectly mixed and performed but ultimately very slow and very soft indeed. For that reason, this album will only appeal to a select audience, but I expect that audience will be very pleased.
|Balance II Balance II||Balance II Records|
Quality shouldn't be hard to promote or to sell, but sometimes you stumble upon a challenge. To be upfront, I am promoting these guys and trying to help bring their original spin on progressive AOR to the masses. To be sure my words accurately describe the musical feast on offer here, please check out the soundbytes in the band's CD Showcase and look out for some other industry reviews, which I will feature when published.|
I believe in these guys and I believe in this album, hence my desire to help work with them. AOR is often accused of being stale and not original, yet when it does not adhere to a set formula; it can be hard to promote. People love pigeon holes, but you will find it hard to pigeon hole this!
Balance II is an original spin on radio friendly AOR, with a progressive twist, mixed with a big dose of 70's pomp.
Balance II has a little bit of everything, but most of all it contains some amazing individual performances and some extraordinary song arrangements. The band is the brain child of Brian Moritz (Guitar, Keys, Backing Vocals) with long time collaborator Vince Claps in the vocalist hot seat.
Rounding out a band of seasoned veterans is Dave LaRue (Bass)(Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band); Rod Morgenstein (Drums)(Winger, Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band) and Joel Kaplan (Keyboards).
As you can see, the rhythm section here is second to none and really adds a dynamic influence to the overall sound.
So what is the sound? First of all, the production is brilliant. It features a clear, crisp sound, while showcasing the band's classic rock influences. What is most impressive is the mix, which allows all involved a chance to shine, which at times is quite a challenge, given that so many things are happening musically.
As described earlier, the band mixes classic era American AOR with progressive and pomp twists. Musical comparisons can be drawn to Toto, Chicago, Trillion and more recently, Mecca.
The band also quotes influences from Yes to Queen to The Eagles.
Guitarist Moritz describes the album as "a cross between the Eagles and Trevor Rabin-era Yes, with less gloss and a lot more notes."
If that doesn't describe the sound on Balance II, then nothing will. Perhaps a look at the songs featured is in order.
The album opens in simple fashion with How Many, featuring a piano solo, which quickly turns jazzy, with a layer of funky bass running over the top before a harder edge guitar riff finishes the intro off. That is what Balance II is all about - diversity and taking musical chances.
The vocal is fairly soft and becomes several layers thick during the chorus. If the chorus sounds a little like Mecca, you would be correct. Mecca's Thom Griffin supplies backing vocals throughout the album. Did I mention there's a brass section thrown in for good measure?
You Asked is possibly the most easy listening and commercial track on the album. The largely acoustic driven track has a Midwestern heart with a Westcoast feel.
Reptilian Crawl has a very Toto-ish intro which gives way to a heavy pomp orientated guitar riff. Vocals are filtered with effects and the song is given a further Toto comparison with the keyboard placement. An extended musical interlude mid-song again shows that these guys aren't afraid to experiment. The song closes with a Queen-like serve of pomp vocals. It's quite a ride!
When Love Comes is yet another change of pace, this time opening with a traditional Indian feel, complete with chant! That gives way to a smooth ballad-esque Westcoast pomp number which is one highlight of the album. Perfect for fans of Toto, Chicago and Jay Graydon.
The Way We Do continues the pomp and the Toto comparisons. Not mega-hit Toto though real early Toto, as in their first 3 records. A rich, earthy sound is driven by the guitar in the background and the piano and vocal up front.
Towards the end of the song things pick up a notch or three with a guitar duel between Moritz and Tommy Denander, who appears in this cameo role. When I Fall Down is an updated version of a demo sung by Thom Griffin that appeared on the first MelodicRock CD. Another great retro style pomp rock tune, this features Thom in a prominent vocal role alongside lead vocalist Vince Claps.
Carry Me Home is another complex number featuring an uptempo guitar driven verse, but a mellower chorus, which features some rich layered vocals. This will appeal to fans of Trillion and 70's AOR.
A nice little drum fill kicks off Burn, which again sounds like something straight out of 1975. This is a strong little tune with a diverse arrangement. Both tender and aggressive in nature, the song defies nature.
Miracles is one of the album's more straight forward and commercial melodic rock numbers, which a feel good hook and emotional lyrics.
Let Us Pray almost sounds like classic Bob Seger, especially with the honky-tonk piano and the funky bass. It's a smooth, but rocking little classic rock number that has a definite swagger to it.
There is a lot here to like and I'm hoping fans that are looking for something different will check this out. I think this album has the potential to please a lot of people especially given that there are very few albums like this released. Most suited to Westcoast and AOR fans that love a good twist in their music.
|The Jones Gang Any Day Now||AAO Music|
The Jones Gang are receiving quite a push in the US and I hope that translates to some well deserve accolades. The guys that make the band are the less known members of some very famous bands. Drummer Kenney Jones was a member of The Small Faces and The Who, Bassist Rick Wills is a man many will know from his long time with Foreigner as well as with Peter Frampton and The Small Faces and vocalist Robert Hart has had a semi-successful solo career, but has also fronted Bad Company.|
A range of guitarists provide the rest of the album's instrumentation, such as keyboards and guitars, including Ronnie Wood.
So the trio teamed up and has recorded their debut album. Mainly using the songs of Robert Hart, with a few band co-writes, the guys have recorded an album that sees them sitting in a very safe middle of the road rock territory.
The band kicks off with a brash uptempo rock track in The Time Of Your Life, which features an updated sound, but after that, things step back a notch.
Robert Hart sounds in classic form during the melodic chorus, but I'm not sure the verse does anything for me.
Mr. Brown is more representative of the album's sound safer, acoustic driven adult contemporary mid-tempo rock, with a hint of brass thrown into the mix.
At times they compare to fellow Adult Contemporary rockers The Rembrandts.
The big single of the album is Angel, which deserves much attention, as it is a fabulous song. However, Hart fans will recognize the song as the single from his self titled 1992 release. I prefer the original, but it is still a classic ballad. With You is another very good ballad and a highlight of the album.
Elsewhere on the album the band varies things a little with the retro pop of She'll Never Know; the classic mid-tempo pop/rock of Lucy; the Rod Stewart rockabilly of Six To Midnight and the breezy Henry Lee Summer influenced Hole In My Soul.
Interestingly, things get a little jab in the arm towards the end of the album, with a couple of great closing tracks. It's here also that the band's past is reflected in their current sound. The very enjoyable rocker Where Are You sounds like The Who and Red Hot is a good uptempo album closer that has a definite Bad Company vibe.
More tracks in this style would have made a more challenging and enjoyable album.
Still, the songs themselves are catchy enough to draw the listener back in for more and Robert Hart's voice is a definite diamond in the rough.
|Zan Clan Who The F**k Are You?||Bad Reputation|
Who they fuck are you indeed? Only a band with this much attitude would be allowed to ask. Zan Clan is yet another hard rocking outfit out of Sweden and these guys take no prisoners. This is their second album, the first being some 10 years back.|
Zan Clan is of course vocalist Zinny J Zan of Shotgun Messiah fame and Pontus Norgren on guitar (Great King Rat, Humanimal, Jeckyl & Hyde). Joining those guys are Chris Laney guitars, backing vocals, Pontus Egberg bass, and Johan Koleberg drums.
This is first rate, high energy Swedish hard rock with hints of glam and sleaze, a la Hanoi Rocks and of course, Shotgun Messiah. It's probably Zan's best work since the debut Messiah record and should appeal to all fans of early Motley Crue and Swedish hard rock.
The only ballad featured is a 90 second outro, which is topped off by a bonus track a sleaze cover of Cheap Trick's classic Surrender.
|Vain On The Line||Indie / Jackie Rainbow Records|
Another album of note for glam/sleaze fans is Vain's newie On The Line. It's the first album for these guys in a long time. I think fans that have been with the band since the start will appreciate this, but I din't think it offers enough to gain any new listeners.|
The album has that old school, rocking glam sound and Davy Vain sounds as if he has never been away.
Song quality is good, with some solid hooks to wrap your ears around. The guys certainly retain the energy and attitude they have always had, best demonstrated on tracks like Running On Empty, Keep Shining On and On The Line.
The album is perhaps a little mellow, with slower numbers outnumbering the rockers. The guys mellow out fairly regularly such as on Drag Me, Last Sin, Turn To Sand and Cover Me.
The sound quality however is very rough and for me doesn't impress. I don't think any new fans will be converted with this release, but old ones should be happy to see the band back. Not an amazing release, but a solid enough one.
|Power Quest Magic Never Dies||Majestic Rock Records|
UK melodic metal outfit Power Quest storm back with album number two.|
With a new label behind them, one hopes they will reach a big audience one which is currently lapping up material such as this from a range of other bands.
Power Quest play a brand of melodic power hard rock. I'm hesitant to label it metal, as it is so melodic in its approach. But the speed and power of some songs and a double-kick drum onslaught certainly will appeal to metal fans.
Swirling keyboards and higher pitch vocals will see fans of Stratovarius, Royal Hunt and Last Tribe appreciate what's on offer here.
The band has a certain pomp delivery that reminds me of Magnum's approach, yet the power is more in line with Royal Hunt.
Take Soulfire for example it is as melodic as could be, yet has the rhythm section of Slayer! Ok, so I exaggerate a little there I think the rhythm section of Power Quest are on high protein milkshakes, as their delivery is frantic throughout.
From the opening bars of Find My Heaven to the closing beats of Magic Never Dies, these guys rock.
The pace may not vary much, but the lush keyboards and powerhouse vocals of Italian Alessio Garavello make sure things stay interesting.
This album has more hooks and melodies than Journey, but their power might just scare some of those lighter AOR fans away.
The higher pitch vocals aren't for everyone either, but they vary a hell of a lot more than say Shy's Tony Mills, who regularly gets high praise.
The album's big ballad The Message is an outstanding example of powerful melodic hard rock, sounding like Magnum meeting the power of Asia is the lush production delivery.
Thanks to an amazing production and a brilliant vocal performance, not to mention some extremely memorable songs, Magic Never Dies is a first rate power-album.
|Ra Duality||Universal Records|
Modern rockers Ra return with their sophomore release, following up the success of their 2002 debut From One.|
Good news for fans, as Duality is a better album in every department. Initial response seems to be very positive, with some fans of modern rock swearing by this.
The album has some truly memorable moments and is driven by a sonically near-perfect production and mix, driven by a layer of guitars and an extensive series of vocal overdubs that at times would impress even Def Leppard.
Impressive that some of the production and mix of the album was handled by the band's lead vocalist. Other parts were handled by the also impressive Bob Marlette.
Ra can be as hard hitting and sonically intense as any modern rock outfit best showcased with the opening track Fallen Angels, The Only One and Got Me Going.
The trick to Ra's likeability is good choruses even when they are rocking hard. Definitely something other modern rock outfits could learn from.
The guys also tackle mid-tempo tracks with ease best demonstrated on Take Me Away and Say You Will.
At times the band soars into melodic rock bliss, with the tracks Tell Me and I Lost Everything Today two of the best rock anthems of the year. A complex mix of electric and acoustic guitars with layers of harmonies takes these tracks in particular to another level.
The band throws in a neat cover of The Police classic Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, updated in style, but not straying far from the original. Funny thing is, after playing this track you realize how close vocalist Sahaj Ticotin's voice is to that of Sting's.
These guys are so much better than the over hyped Nickleback and Hoobastank and tougher than the bland Maroon 5. Universal have stuck with them for a second album, so here is hoping they get the push they deserve.
Modern rock fans will hail it as one of the year's best releases if no the best and that title will be well deserved. But don't forget to check out these other two bands too!
|Matrex I'll Always Remember||Renegade Sounds|
Matrex is a band featuring several of the guys from Renegade and is an indie release that comes courtesy of the Renegade Sounds label.|
The two Renedage albums were great examples of 80's melodic rock with a distinct Canadian feel. This even more so! Matrex's album was recorded in the mid-80s and remained unreleased until now.
How unlucky where these guys not to be huge in the day?
I actually like I'll Always Remember even better than the Renegade albums. Probably because this doesn't sound as dated and thanks to a very simple production, still sounds pretty fresh despite the obvious 80's style. The mix here gives everything some breathing room and both keyboards and guitars get equal billing.
Some of the songs are credited to producer Keith Scott (he of Bryan Adams fame?) And mixed by the great Mike Fraser no wonder this album sounds good for it's time.
Riding over that is the very smooth and likeable voice of Tony Dominelli.
The opening track I Don't Want Anybody is as catchy as it comes and will appeal to old-school melodic rock and AOR fans.
The simple pop/rock of You Won't See Tears reminds me a little of John Kilzer and even Brian Spence a little. It's that whole commercial 80's rock sound, without the obvious American overtones.
Long Distance Kiss is a great example of early 80's moody AOR a la Taxxi.
Not every track holds up to the re-mastering as well as others. Move To Fast and Looking At Number one suffer from obviously damaged original source.
However, the album closes with a good one Nothing Is Real is a pleasant mid-tempo song.
Comparisons can be made to early Honeymoon Suite and Aldo Nova and of course Renegade themselves.
|Tantrum Tantrum Re-Issues||Escape Music|
The subject of the latest Anthology style re-issue from Escape Music is Chicago area rockers Tantrum. This seven piece melodic rock outfit boasts no less than three female lead vocalists, ensuring this is a lush vocal experience.|
The beautifully packaged 2CD set features the band's two officially released albums on Disc1 and a previously unreleased album Breaking Away on Disc 2.
The band's original two albums hail from the late 70's and features a sound reminiscent of the era somewhat dated compared to even those releases from the mid-80s, but perfect for the time frame originally released.
The unreleased album is going to be a real treat for fans of the band and their first two albums. Recorded and readied for release back in the day, with full artwork even prepared, it never saw the light of day until now.
The songs within match the quality of the band's official output and is a valuable addition to this package.
The set features a digipack format used in previous Escape re-issues and includes a booklet with all the lyrics, liner notes and all original accompanying artwork.
Definitely one for collectors of early AOR and especially those that follow the rich musical history of the Chicago area.
|Jimmy Barnes Double Happiness||Liberation Music|
Throughout his career, Jimmy Barnes has been through several image changes. More recently those changes have been more pronounced as he tries to vary his trademark style.|
But Jimmy Barnes' legacy is 'Jimmy the rocker' and I wonder why he sometimes tries to distance himself from this caricature! In recent years there has been the blues release, the two soul / covers releases, the acoustic release not to mention the live and greatest hits releases.
So when you still don't want to rock, what's the last possible option open that hasn't yet been covered? Oh yeah a duets album!
So Jimmy teams up with a bunch of his mates and duets his way through a range of covers and originals.
I used to love Jimmy .Bodyswerve, For The Working Class Man and Freight Train Heart are all time classics. From that point it onwards saw a slow but sure decline in album quality, to the point where the most recent albums have been uninspired and struggling for direction.
Last year we saw the excellent Living Loud project released - that's what Jimmy should be concentrating on. But, this year is a different story this has to be the bottom rung surely?
Two major problems with this album the 9 covers and 7 originals are almost entirely limp, uninspired, boring or all of the above.
The other problem is the people Jimmy has chosen to duet with. Talk about unimaginative. 5 of the duets are actually with his kids and 4 others are with R&B artists. A mere 3 of the tracks are with rock artists, leaving Jimmy's traditional fanbase high and dry.
UK soul singer Roachford is featured on one track, Aussie country star Troy Cassar-Daley is here, as are old pals Diesel and John Swan.
But even the track with rocker Swanee is a slow bluesy number. Diesel's isn't any livelier. This album couldn't be brought to life if it has 200,000 volts put through it.
The tracks with his kids are self indulgent at best. It was bad enough when they were forced on the public 10 years ago as The Tin Lids, but who really wants to hear them duet with their dad?
Only the tracks with rockers Dallas Crane and The Living End show any signs of life and to be blunt, only the Dallas Crane track shows anything memorable even then it's already a track they had a hit single with on their own.
Old school rocker Billy Thorpe should be utterly ashamed of himself for turning the rock classic Shout into an acapela do-wop singalong. Holy mother of God
The package comes with an extra CD of punishment a 8 track compilation of tracks Jimmy has duetted on in the past (see, even this isn't an original idea). This includes a couple of good tunes such as Simply The Best with Tina Turner and Good Times with Inxs.
|Simple Minds Black & White 050505||Sanctuary Records|
Welcome back Simple Minds
I happily admit to being a major fan of these guys. Once Upon A Time, Street Fighting Years and Live In The City Of Light were part of my life for several years and remain close to my heart.|
I have followed them ever since then and also really enjoy Real Life and Good News From The Next World, but have found their output in recent years to be more miss than hit, with the last two official albums Neon Lights and Cry bordering on disastrous.
All press hype leading up to the release of Black & White boasts that this is a return to the band's best sound and style.
It certainly seemed promising as band stalwarts Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill were once again joined by former drummer Mel Gaynor.
I think I'm getting to know this album better and better as I go and do like it better a little each listen, but I can't help but feel somewhat disappointed overall, as this is not a return to the chart topping style of their best known work and my personal favourite era but rather their very earliest style from the early 80's atmospheric British new wave pop.
Black & White is in some ways a return to better form, and it's nice to see the album is somewhat uptempo more precisely mid-tempo.
But the songs are still not quite there. There is a certain atmosphere and moody vibe through the album, which is trademark Simple Minds. But in these songs is a distinct lack of good choruses.
The band's biggest and best songs even their album tracks were all based on a killer chorus. This band had some of the best ever pop choruses that I can remember.
They still need to work on that angle. This album sounds good the production is layered and rich with keyboard and guitar parts, but the underlying melodies are not there to hold everything together.
The other problem is the songs only 9 of them mind you all have a familiar tempo and Jim Kerr struggles to bring his past authority to the vocals.
Opening track Stay Visible is one example of where things go right for the band, with a snappy bass line and a haunting guitar riff guided by a strong lead vocal.
Lead single Home is a pretty good effects-filled pop single with further hints of the band's earliest sound. The atmospheric pop of Different World confirms this.
So four ok tracks in, things are at least looking solid. But this is where the album loses me and the remaining 5 tracks mix experimental pop with early Simple Minds, albeit, in the same tempo and without any major hooks or obvious choruses.
|MSG Heavy Hitters||Cleopatra Records|
[Review edited. All details remain accurate and the same apart from the reference to this album being the 25th Anniversary release Michael has been working on with various singers. That release is still pending - this is a tribute release from Cleopatra, with Michael playing the key role in the release].|
A few Schenker fans give me a bit of crap regarding my last couple of reviews for the famed Axe-slinger even vocalist Chris Logan joined in on the last review!
Still, that's their right, the very reason I provide the Interactive Reviews is for fans to post their views. But for me I remained unimpressed with Schenker's recent offerings.
I remain an ardent fan of the days with Robin McAuley and even some of the Gary Barden material. Not to mention UFO. Walk On Water remains an all-time favourite.
Back to the present Schenker's personal affairs appear in as much disarray as ever and in between dealing with those issues, quite publicly at times, he recorded a new album.
This is a tribute album of sorts, put together by Cleopatra Records. They have gathered up a range of musicians to pay tribute to some classic rock songs, with Michael Schenker suuplying the guitar parts. What is confusing for the consumer is the fact this is released under the MSG moniker. It really has little to do with past MSG releases - aside from Schenker handling guitar duties.
Sadly Cleopatra is one of the crummiest labels in America. They wouldn't know promotion if it was a 30-foot billboard sitting on top of their office building. The only reason I am reviewing this is because I sourced it myself.
The line-up featured here is pretty impressive, with the roles of all musicians shared, with Schenker the only constant.
Close behind Schenker however, is famed producer Bob Kulick, who plays most of the album's rhythm guitars and produces, ensuring that this at least sounds pretty tight musically.
Schenker contributes some amazing guitar parts here and some inspired solos to my ear some of his best and certainly better than the last couple of studio albums.
That said, not all of the covers included hit the spot and some of the individual vocal performances will appeal to some, but not others.
Heavy blues rock gets a solid workout on Heavy Hitters, a style Schenker plays with consummate ease.
Joe Lynn Turner delivers the first hit with a mid-tempo All Shook Up - an absolute no-brainer for blues veteran Turner.
Leslie West appears to reprise his role singing the original Mountain track Blood Of The Sun. Another does of bluesy rock, it's an ok track, but lacks punch.
Doctor Doctor covers Schenker's own past and features the ever professional Jeff Scott Soto up front and is easy an album favourite due to this singer's appeal.
A 7 minute plus cover of Sabbath's War Pigs features Tim Ripper Owens on vocals and doesn't stray too far from the original. A rhythm section comprising of Mike Inez and Aynsley Dunbar adds punch and Schenker plays all over the track.
I'm Not Talking features Mark Slaughter a vocalist I have never warmed to. Slaughter fans might dig the track an uptempo blues romp, but for me it's skippable.
Pink Floyd's Money is covered without adding much variation to the original. Styx's Tommy Shaw joins the album line-up, as does Edgar Winter (Sax), Tony Levin (Bass) and the long lost Mike Baird (Drums). Interesting track and cool line-up.
I Don't Live Today is a Jimi Hendrix cover and features some inspired lead guitar work. The always energetic Sebastian Back joins in on vocals and the track also features Eric Singer and Tony Franklin as the rhythm section.
Hair Of The Dog features the very distinct Paul Di'Anno on vocals. I have never liked his voice and it sounds as rough as ever here.
Out In The Fields features Gary Barden replacing Phil Lynott and Gary Moore as the single vocalist for this Moore cover. Nowhere near as good as the original and disappointing.
Cream's Politician features bass and vocals from Jeff Pilson. He suits the song, but this isn't a stand out and ends the album on slow note, despite a solid lead guitar display.
|Loud N Nasty Too Much Ain't Enough||Perris Records|
I read just one review for this album, with wording suggesting that the band's name was very appropriate. I did laugh at that
I wouldn't go as far to say that, but I will instead refer to the title of the album. Too Much Ain't Enough is hardly appropriate here, as the band has delivered barely enough to support an EP.|
6 original tracks with 2 bonus extras, with a total running time of 32 minutes is not something that immediately suggests 'bargain'.
Musically speaking Loud N Nasty are ok not great and not terrible, but in a competitive marketplace, they don't make the grade.
This is guitar fuelled American hard rock, recorded originally in 2002, but stylistically from the late 80s/early 90s.
Mixing a little LA Guns with Wildside and Motley Crue, plus perhaps some Johnny Crash; the guys have a few good songs to their name - Me And The Boys and You Better Run are the best but then tracks like Little Miss Pretty are just too rough and could have been better with more polished performances.
Production is average, with the band suffering from an average guitar sound and that vocalist could really use a drink of water.
|Micki Free Experience||Cargo Records|
Former Crown Of Thorns guitarist Micki Free offers up his new solo album for fans curious to see what he has been doing with his time since his time in Crown Of Thorns and his most popular solo release Gypsy Cowboy.|
Having played this new album several times, I'm not really sure what to say. I have always tried to remain on the positive side of things where possible, but I have no clue as to what audience Free is trying to reach with this album. I don't think it will appeal to fans of the more melodic friendly Crown Of Thorns sound.
This largely modern sounding outing is not a good representation of Free's talent as a singer and guitarist. He is not an award winning musician for nothing!
The sound here is muddy at best, demo quality at worst and his vocals border on unlistenable on several tracks. The solos are few and far between, instead replaced by a tuned down, distorted guitar sound.
The slow, darker pop rock of Euphoria Blue shows Free in a much better light as does the acoustic driven Calling An Angel.
But when this album tries to rock or get experimental, it really gets hard to listen to. Make than near impossible. Just check out the murky Anxiety or the experimentation of Karma Sutra. Not great.
Liberation Music Australia
Acoustic Blue Series
Liberation Music Australia commissioned this series of releases to showcase some of this countries best performers/songwriters in a new light. The Liberation Blue Acoustic Series features performances by some 8 artists to date, all retracing their careers by stripping back some classics and lesser known album tracks into acoustic format.|
Each album features a dozen or more tracks, some entirely acoustic, and some with the backing of a full band albeit in an unplugged setting.
For fans of these artists, this series delivers a unique twist to some already familiar material and as hoped, does offer a rarely seen insight into an alternative side of each performer.
4 albums from the series are previewed here. These are the 4 performers that would be better known in a world and melodic rock context. At home in Australia, they are all genuine stars.
1. Nick Barker C-Sides - Nick runs through 13 of his own tracks and a neat all-acoustic cover of Van Halen's Jump. Taking my first listen to this album in the car, it wasn't until the chorus hit that I recognized the song!
Barker is an underrated star he has a true stage presence, is a master guitarist and delivers his lyrically poignant songs with a passionate bluesy rasp. Any fans of Barker should have this as it showcases the songwriter before the performer. Some of his harder rocking moments are mixed in with heartfelt ballads, which sound equally at home when all delivered acoustically.
2. James Reyne And The Horse You Rode In On Reyne is the most familiar name in this series. As frontman of Australian Crawl he and the band became legends and as a solo artist, he very nearly broke worldwide on the back of some great material.
Once again the stripped back nature of the songs fits the material beautifully. When covering Aussie Crawl (Errol, Reckless, Oh No Not You Again and Downhearted), Reyne sounds a million bucks. Then there are some of his best solo tracks (One More River, Slave, Any Day Above Ground and Hammerhead) delivered with unparalleled passion.
As with all Reyne releases, there are a few quirky tracks and here is no exception. Mr Froggy Went A Courtin' and The Euphonious Whale are examples of where the album loses me curious and hilarious, but passable.
3. Mark Seymour Daytime And The Dark Seymour is best known as frontman for Hunters & Collectors, an amazing band that were never overly commercial and sometimes underground in their following. He remains on of this countries best ever songwriters. Covered here are some solo tracks and some H&C hits. Again, the songs all probably originated on acoustic guitar, so they sound fresh and comfortable in this setting. Possibly the hardest of the 4 sets to get into due to the complexity and style of the material, it still features a few winners with the H&C anthem Holy Grail an outstanding track. One of this countries best ever ballads Throw Your Arms Around Me is another gem as is the radio hit When The River Runs Dry.
4. Diesel Singled Out Diesel, aka Johnny Diesel aka Mark Lizzotte runs through 14 tracks from both his days in The Injectors and as an independent solo artist.
Injectors tracks Don't Need Love and Soul Revival are the most recognizable the latter and several other tracks from this release recorded live in an intimate pub setting.
For that reason it is not as polished as the other sets, but solo hits Tip Of My Tongue, Come To Me and Cry In Shame all work well.
Not as appealing as Barker and Reyne, but definitely worthwhile checking out for his fans.
|Supergroupies Supergroupies||JVC Records Japan|
Swedish glam could there be anything better for fans of that genre? These guys are everything old school glam fans could ask for a band dolled up to the nine's, with make up and hair poised as if ready for a 1987 revival.|
This album is only released in Japan so far but I am hopeful other territories will follow.
The band has a sound that is well produced and so retro it could almost be contemporary.
Production credit goes to Kee Marcello (yes, he of Europe fame). It is a very simple set up, with an uncluttered feel to the music - even though it is most definitely fueled by a high energy guitar attack.
The high pitch vocals of Kim Simon are a perfect for the up-tempo happy go lucky heavy pop that is the majority of the album. The retro feel takes in some psychedelic influences, not to mention the world's first power pop band The Beatles.
Give It All You Got, Bouncin' and the infectious Low Blue Flame are perfect melodic pop songs and the moodier ballad Say Goodbye acts as a good tempo change mid-album.
Moving into the album a little, tracks like What A Day and Scream Shout Adore take a little more time to grow into, but deliver rewards.
The more contemporary Hot In Paris is one song that unfortunately doesn't work for me.
|Waltham Awesome EP||Rykodisc|
I see no need to profess my love for these guys yet again and I'm glad to see word slowly spreading among rock music fans as to how good they are.
The Awesome EP is being offered to fans in the local region where the band hail from to counteract the fact the new album features many tracks from their indie released album of 2003.|
The 4 new tracks and 1 cover prove that the band haven't lost their knack of writing killer melodic rock tunes in a style that brings the 80's melodic rock genre screaming into the present.
Vocalist Pino still has that Rick Springfield drawl going on, but perhaps just a little less noticeable than on the older album material.
As for what's featured here - The Fix is so melodically glorious, yet wrapped up in a modern sonic delivery and will bring joy to all fans of the band. Holiday is a little more intense again and features a great riff and chorus.
Where I Wanna Be is a little rougher, but still features a hook filled chorus. Love N Stuff is a little more pop, but is still delivered with a wall of guitars.
Fast Times At Waltham High is an almost faithful cover of the Sammy Hagar cult Classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High. A great tongue in cheek salute to their home city, this track rocks!
Essential for all fans of the band and fans of modern melodic rock all around. Now, all we need is a live album so we can hear their version of Springfield's Love Is Alright Tonight.
|The Duke My Kung Fu Is Good||Spitfire Records|
The Duke is none other than Rich Ward from Stuck Mojo and Fozzy. On this album he handles guitars and vocals, but in a collaborative effort, There is a base band and a dozen other musicians all guesting here, not to mention some 4 other vocalists adding texture to Rich's own lead vocal.|
I didn't think I was going to get into this album the opening track I Give To You is a hybrid between a retro pop ballad and a modern, effects filled rocker. I couldn't be sure where this album was going to lead the listener.
But second track Immune is a bit of a modern rock gem, with a beautifully melodic intro and a more rocking verse.
Following that a pattern began to immerge. The album is a mix of commercial modern rock and some slower, more introspective personal moments. I hear a little Live in this, as well as being commercial enough to fit into the format of modern rock radio.
It's a very good album for what it is plenty to listen to and not half as heavy as I anticipated it would be. A lot of effort and intelligence has gone into the performance, the production and the songwriting itself.
But it remains most suited to fans of current modern rock and not so much fans of melodic rock.
|Roxie 77 Peace, Love & Armageddon||Wax Tone Records|
Roxie 77 is of course Ryan Roxie, current Alice Cooper guitarist and also handy vocalist. This is his debut solo album and one can only hope there will be more to follow. This is a thoroughly enjoyable album that features some great rocking songs with a raw, in your face delivery.|
Ryan's voice is very melodic, rather raspy and even a little glam-ish at times.
The music featured here is mixed a little straight ahead melodic rock, a little glam, a little sleaze rock and a little psychedelic pop a la Enuff Z Nuff. Throw in influences like Alice Cooper, The Beatles, Enuff Z Nuff and Cheap Trick and I think you can get the picture.
While the majority of the album features uptempo good-time rock n roll, Ryan also slows it down for a few great ballads none better than the very commercial Second Chance and the psychedelic Love Is War.
This is a self financed indie release and even then I think this album sounds way better sonically than the last Cooper album.
Production is by Gilby Clarke for all but 3 of the albums tracks and of interest is Mike Fasano on drums. Highly recommended for fans of glammy melodic rock and the likes of Poison, Cheap Trick and Alice Cooper.
|Green Dollar Colour Green Dollar Colour||Bad Reputation|
I'm sure they could have come up with a better name, but never mind. This lot is old-school hard rock all the way. Think Rose Tattoo, AC/DC and more recently Hair Of The Dog. A few Aussie references there no surprise then that these guys are the nucleus of French guitarist Anthony De Lemos, a Parisian who migrated to Australia in April 2002 and young Australian rock singer Lex Koritni.|
Vocalist Koritni sounds like Jimmy Barnes in places - especially the mid-tempo blues rock of Emotional Audit. The band plays a brand of tough, no bullshit Australian pub rock, which will definitely find a few fans here.
The production, while raw and stripped back in approach, is first rate and the sound mix nice and balanced.
The one negative is that the pace of the album is a little slow mostly mid-tempo and slower blues based hard rock numbers here it could have done with a couple more uptempo stompers like the excellent Mess With Love.
|Sofia Lifetraveller||BTM Records|
This is a very good album for its style. Sofia is a Swedish singer, but her voice and style is contemporary American and extremely commercial.
Sofia is comparable to Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne and perhaps even Ashlee Simpson (except with credibility, talent and a voice).|
Of note in the songwriting department is the participation of Cliff Magness, who also helped Lavigne on her debut album and Butch Walker on the track Betcha, who helped Lavigne on her current release!
The label involved is behind her in a big way and I expect you'll be hearing more of this in future months.
The album features 10 tracks of guitar driven modern pop/rock angst, with a strong lead vocal guiding some pretty catchy material.
Of interest is a bonus track a pop/rock cover of the classic Skid Row ballad Wasted Time. All in all, a very good album for fans of female sung modern pop/rock.
|Eric Johnson Bloom||Favored Nations|
You won't find too many guitarists more talented than Eric Johnson. For much of his career he has flown under the radar, touring quietly and recording a series of critically acclaimed albums without ever gaining the stature of shredders such as Vai, Satriani and rockers like Slash.|
I put Johnson in with Rik Emmett and Neal Schon as a guitarist that could do anything and generally does what he does his way.
Bloom is a 16 track album in three separate parts that features several vocal tracks, with the remaining all instrumental.
It is a super tight album filled with simply stated songs, yet featuring complex guitar arrangements, delivered in a light and breezy manner that makes for a perfect easy-listening back drop.
Sometimes pop, sometimes jazzy always quality as long as instrumental guitar suits your taste. If you enjoyed the last Schon solo release or any of Rik Emmett or some of Steve Lukather's side-projects, check this out.
|Danielle McKee Twelve||Lava Sound|
Another solid female fronted melodic pop/rock album. Danielle has a great set of pipes, perfect for contemporary pop music. With an album of strong and catchy songs behind her, the rest will be down to fate.|
Behind the album's music is guitarist and producer Mike K (a big part of Nelly Furtado's success) and Canadian drummer Randy Cooke.
Style wise Danielle touches on the same sort of territory covered by new Swedish pop singer Sofia (also reviewed here today) and perhaps a little Alanis Morissette. Vocally - see above, but also add Carol Decker from T'Pau.
I think Danielle's delivery is more pop than rock and that might hold her in good stead for mainstream breakthrough.
Some good moody melodic rock moments such as Not Today add that little bit of muscle. Recommended to check out for fans of the style.
|We Smugglers||Bad Reputation|
I'm not so into this release and I'm not sure how many Melodicrock readers will be either.|
From the French melodic rock label Bad Reputation, We are a Norwegian retro hard rock outfit and this is actually their 6th album.
The band offers up this big rock album with a strong 70s retro vibe, guided in principle by a thick and heavy guitar sound. I can hear part Led Zeppelin, part Punk and part psychedelic Americana. Not your average fare for the majority of those logging in here.
So in being honest, I don't like this album at all I just don't have any time for the style, which is overtly bombastic and heavy, but void of anything melodic that would draw me back in for any future playback.
The album has its merits as it clearly is well produced and well written for the audience intended. Just not sure what it is doing on this label and I'm certain its appeal won't be debated too much on this site.
|Russell Allen / Jorn Lande The Battle||Frontiers Records|
Jorn vs Jorn for album of the year? It might just be. Jorn Lande kicked our asses with the second Masterplan album, which was released officially in January. For me that's been one of the major highlights of the year to date and now, with the last quarter of 2005 closing in, Jorn is back to plant another large boot into my nether-regions.|
Joining Jorn on this album is Symphony X vocalist Russell Allen. Providing the musical muscle is Magnus Karlsson last seen guiding the Starbreaker release to fame and of course remaining in charge of his main gig Last Tribe.
Responsible for the bombastic guitars, bass and keyboards, Magnus plays his absolute ass off here and helps producer Anders Theander carefully mix all these parts together.
That the album sounds utterly fabulous should not be under appreciated. The production and mix would have been extremely challenging, given that one individual played three main instruments and then two different lead vocals were required to be blended together.
First impressions led me to believe this was Jorn's show. His voice seemed everywhere and it's hard for any singer compete with the number 1 metal vocalist in the world.
Once you recover from the melodic metal onslaught and get over the fact that every single song has a killer chorus (and finish singing those choruses), you get the chance to better understand the album and really sit and pay attention to its individual parts.
It is then that you realize that Russell Allen's contribution is equal to Jorn's and just as important. While Jorn takes the higher register and some of the more noticeable soaring melodies, Russell's deeper and grittier vocals provide the foundation of the songs and the necessary bass tone to make these all high-impact songs.
Aside from the insane vocals, the shining highlight of this album are the songs themselves. Written entirely by Karlsson, the Swede must surely now rate as one of this scene's most inspired individuals.
The Battle contains some of the best metal choruses ever gathered on one single album. They are so utterly catchy and memorable in a real melodic sense that you can't help but love this album.
While the impact of the powerhouse vocals and the pounding and at times bombastic instrumentation can not be undersold, the songs themselves are so catchy you will find fans of softer melodic rock and even AOR drifting towards purchasing this album.
If I did a track by track, this review would take a week to write. Suffice to say that each and every track on this album has merits and there are no fillers. A definite contender for album of the year, but for different reasons than the Masterplan opus.
There is a certain familiarity between some of the tracks featured, a point also raised on the Starbreaker release but there variety in delivery here is much stronger.
To highlight just a few tracks
The opening anthem Another Battle is everything you could ask of an opening track big, bombastic and anthemic. A moody verse gives way to a monster chorus with both vocalists given room to shine.
Reach A Little Longer is a haunting and moody metal ballad with another monster chorus and some truly outstanding vocals from both gents, but Jorn Lande especially.
Come Alive sees the quality of the album lift even further. The song features a pounding melodic metal riff, which gives way to a surprisingly melodic vocal during the verse followed by a sensational fits-in-the-air chorus, all fuelled by a double kick drum rhythm.
Truth Of Our Time features yet another brilliant bridge / chorus and offers something different again for listeners.
My Own Way is another highlight, with more brain damaging riffs accompanied by thoroughly melodic vocals and a great chorus.
Where Have The Angels Gone continues the brilliance, with a slight slow down in intensity to allow the listener some time regain control of your senses!
The album's very finest moments are probably through the middle section, but it remains consistent throughout.
Essential for all fans of Lande and Allen, but also for anyone that just loves powerful hard rock with a big fat melodic edge. Magnus Karlsson's finest hour to date.
As for the album in general comparison to Aeronautics there are similarities and differences - the recent Masterplan album was more intense and the overall production tighter. It was an album that grew and really made it's mark. It was also a little more geared towards a contemporary metal sound. The Battle is more commercial and a touch more melodic and has some more instantly recognizable choruses. Either way, both are fabulous releases!
|Stryper Reborn||MTM Music / Big 3 Records|
Stryper's first studio album in some 15 years reveals a different band that we last heard on Against The Law.|
That album itself was a lot different than their earliest work and proved the band were willing and able to move with the times.
Here's that ever present problem again how does a band reform after such a long period of time and remain relevant, yet still deliver something fans that have waited patiently for will appreciate without sounding like dinosaurs?!The answer is as hard to find as the number of bands that have successfully revived themselves, but in this case, Stryper might have just pulled it off.
Reborn sees the band supporting vastly updated sound heavier than ever and darker and more contemporary too giving them every chance of appealing to a new audience, but familiar enough to keep the old.
I compare this album very closely to Europe's comeback album from last year Start From The Dark. The album features the same production sound, updated for the new millennium and noticeably heavier and darker than before just as Europe did.
But Europe fell short by including a few filler songs and not featuring quite enough of their past in their current work.
Stryper have carried over a little more of their past personality into this record especially on the choruses, with layered harmonies and the knack of remembering an all important hook to hang the song on.
Not being a general fan of the band I only own the very good Against The Law album I was not depending on anything other than some catchy songs and the guys deliver that. In fact, I'm surprised how much l like most of the tracks on the album, which I guess is a very positive sign for the quality of the material.
Opening with a bang and tough rocking approach, Open Your Eyes shows a new intensified sound that gives way to a great chorus.
Reborn is a lot darker again and features some of the heaviest riffs I have heard from the band. But another strong chorus helps the appeal of the song.
The mid-tempo rock ballad Make You Mine has great emotion and features another strong chorus over riding a very contemporary sound.
Passion is another ballad-esque number with intensity and appeal.
Other highlights include the modern rock anthem If I Die and the old-meets-new ballad Rain.
|Philip Bardowell In The Cut||Frontiers Records|
Let's cut straight to the point. This is a mighty fine album filled with glorious AOR that will appeal to both fans of the old-school traditional sound of this genre and fans of more current releases.|
This release is old-school in style, but thanks to a snappy delivery and smooth production, never sounds dated or stuck in an 80's time warp even though the heart of the material is from that period.
Philip Bardowell takes time out from his role as the current Unruly Child vocalist and joins AOR journeyman Tommy Denander, who controls much of the instrumentation for the record.
Drummer of the moment Daniel Flores (Novak, Xsavior) handles all percussion, ensuring the album doesn't feature that dreaded mechanical programmed drum sound. Thank God!
Denander puts in an inspired performance on guitars, bass and keyboards. The axeslinging is some of his best yet and as per his musical history, sounds like a cross between Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, Dann Huff and Frankie Sullivan.
Some appreciation for Denander's trademark sound is required to get the most out of this release, but it's not an essential prerequisite. Perhaps more than any other of his projects, this has its own feel. Fans of the Radioactive releases will definitely enjoy this as will those that purchased the recent Jim Jidhed solo release.
Denander and Bardowell rip through a few rockers such as the delightful opening track In The Cut which really shreds and the glorious AOR of the Curt Cuomo penned Never Too Late For Love (which has also been tracked by Stan Bush).
The majority of the album is a little more laid back and while it is both slow, mid and uptempo, is very firmly set in classic AOR territory.
There are only two originals in this set, with the remaining songs culled from some of the genre's best writers. This proves to be another master stroke, as the songs picked are perfect for Bardowell's voice and he at times acts as a chameleon, wrapping his own voice around the style the track might have originally been intended for.
The passionate and emotional Mark Spiro track Through My Eyes is a nice counter to the frenzy of the opening Toto inspired rocker.
Then a double dose of Stan Bush brilliance with Heart Of A Hero and the even better soaring power ballad I Gotta Believe sets the whole album up. Both tracks are sung true to form.
The moody She Will Never Know is a Bardowell original and fits the album well, at this point of the album allowing a break in intensity.
The Bobby Barth penned It's A Long Road is another great slice of moody uptempo AOR.
One Day In January and the closing Voices Of The Heart match the vibe of She Will Never Know (written by Jim Peterik), giving the album a little variation and some moody, laid back texture.
The pick of the album for me though is the utterly glorious AOR masterpiece Dreamin' With My Eyes Wide Open. It's hard to reason why this gem of a track written by Jim Peterik has remained buried for over 15 years! Philip Bardowell does the song proud.
Just as Denander at times takes on the musical persona of his peers, so does Bardowell as a vocalist. He is somewhat of a chameleon throughout the record and the only negative one could come up with is that it would be nice to hear more of his own personality in play.
In The Cut at times sounds a little like Lou Gramm lead Foreigner, at others like a nice dose of Giant with some Unruly Child and Toto thrown in for good measure. This is one of Denander's finer moments and is up there with Oliver Hartman's album as two of the best pure AOR albums for 2005.
|Gypsy Rose Gypsy Rose||Escape Music|
Side stepping his main project Dogface, Swedish guitarist Martin Kronlund returns to his past to resurrect a band originally formed in the 80's. The guys have taken the original premise of the band and even some of their original demos and recorded them fresh this year, presenting the extremely overdue debut Gypsy Rose album.|
The name may be familiar but this is not the RCA signed American act of the late 80's/early 90s.
These guys are all Swedish and although they laid first claim on the name, a release at that time never eventuated.
What I am most impressed with here is the strength of the tracks. The debut Dogface album was nothing short of brilliant, but the follow up was short on songs. This sees Martin back to peak forum albeit in a slightly different style, with each track offering something to the album and no fillers in sight.
Style wise, we are talking Swedish melodic hard rock at its best. There is a definite 80s vibe to the material, but a very solid production and some big similarities to classic 80s Scorpions.
Singer Hakan Gustafsson has a raspy and gritty voice in a style I haven't heard much of in recent times.
Highlights amongst the rockers include the catchy and commercial You Drive Me Crazy, the anthemic Promise To Stay (featured in demo form on the last MelodicRock compilation), the frantic rocker You Are The One and similarly tempo'd Fender '59.
Pick of the album for me is an old favourite! Queen Of The Night is a great melodic rock anthem with a catchy as hell chorus. The song was originally demoed for the debut Dogface album and it's great to finally see it featured on an album.
Hakan adds his raspy growl to the song giving it a different feel than the Mats Levin demo and it fits this album perfectly. Mats makes an appearance here on backing vocals.
The ballad Moonlight is very reminiscent of classic Scorpions (as is much of the album thanks to Hakan) and traces of Winds Of Change can be heard here.
The other big ballad is the brilliant December Night. It features a nice uptempo rhythm and a great melodic chorus.
It's a little more commercial again, so this may appeal to a different demographic too as well as fans of The Scorpions and Swedish melodic rock with an 80's twist.
|Blue Tears Mad, Bad & Dangerous||Suncity Records|
Suncity Records is the new kid on the block as far as record labels go, but what a way to make an impact with your first release!|
Blue Tears won over a lot of fans with their cult classic debut, but in what can only be deemed bad luck, never broke through for mainstream success. The band worked on material for a second album, but sadly it was never finished or released.
Frontman and band principle Gregg Fulkerson has kept busy over the years, most recently presenting the more contemporary sounding Attraction 65 project which to my ears retained the classic moody Blue Tears sound, just updating it for a modern rock market.
The legend that was Blue Tears however would not die and the trading circuit was alive with bad quality and mislabeled demos from the band, most recently appearing on E-Bay.
It was this development that prompted Gregg Fulkerson into action and a well timed call from Suncity put the two into partnership.
Mad Bad And Dangerous is the first of two volumes of classic unreleased Blue Tears material. When I say classic, I mean classic these tracks all hail from a time frame that surrounds the release of the debut album. Some tracks were recorded for that release, but later left off, others were part of session that would have evolved into the band's second release and some even pre-date the debut.
To best appreciate these tunes one must put oneself into a late 80s/early 90s mindset - a time where songs were big, fun and not to be taken too seriously unless the song was a hard hitting, emotion filled power ballad.
This album contains some fine examples of each. Granted they are a little dated in places, but considering their age and the various sources, as a compilation of unreleased tracks, you will not hear better.
Blue Tears fans especially will be thoroughly impressed, I have no doubt.
Highlights of the release for me would be the opening track Long Way Home, an energetic hands-in-the-air rock anthem which surely would have been a hit had it been released when recorded in 1992. Stylistically it matches the best tracks from the debut album.
The moody anthem Kisses In The Dark is another real gem and is everything Blue Tears fans will love, with a great sound to match.
The title track is something that Def Leppard could have released in the early 90s and is again reminiscent of the sound of the debut.
Follow Your Heart matches the big uptempo rock of the opening track, with a nice Bon Jovi feel to it.
Ballads are well represented on Mad Bad & Dangerous - With You Tonight is a killer track Bon Jovi never recorded; Evidence Of Love is a dark and moody Def Leppard styled track and Russia Tonight is a heartfelt acoustic driven track with poignant lyrics still relevant today.
Best of them all is the haunting and emotion filled Misty Blue another track from the never recorded second album. What an opus that would have been!
Not quiet working for me is Girl Crazy and Love Machine both tracks not quite competing sonically and certainly not lyrically no offence intended.
A live track Live It Up closes the album perfectly with hands in the air and feet tapping along.
This is big, multi-layered, keyboard friendly 80's melodic rock and I think the target audience will eat this up and anticipate Volume 2. A perfect snapshot of the glory days of pomp melodic rock.
|Xcarnation Grounded||Frontiers Records|
Well, it's just not possible to be blown away by every release, even though Frontiers came close this month. AOR brilliance from Philip Bardowell and metal perfection from Mr. Lande and Mr. Allen.|
Xcarnation is something different entirely driven artistically by Turk Cenk Eroglu and joined by a range of special guests this is a curious release which traditional melodic rock fans will find hard to appreciate.
I think some that check this one out and like what they hear on this album will love it it will find a certain market, but I think that market will be small.
I also think that coming from Frontiers Records people will expect it to adhere to a certain style and that it certainly does not. Granted it is being released via a license from MuseWrapped Records, who are more used to promoting this kind of product.
This is a very noisy record one I find at times, is extremely hard to listen to. Grounded is a heavy, experimental record that relies heavily on industrial effects wrapped up in a progressive and sometimes modern rock approach.
Vocals are largely sampled and filtered and the album is filled with production effects, programming and changes in tempo and delivery. That goes for individual tracks within the album and even within each track.
There is a hell of a lot of music to absorb here and it takes some time to really take it all in. Sadly at times I find it hard to maintain focus.
The main melodic draw card is the appearance of Kip Winger, Reb Beach and Rod Morgenstein from Winger. All appear on the album, with Kip Winger playing bass and duetting on the track Reason To Believe.
The mainly acoustic ballad Without You is one album highlight with Cenk sounding very influenced by Kip's vocal style - as he does throughout the record.
Pat Mastellotto (Mr. Mister) also guests on drums and a range of Cenk's fellow countrymen provide such interesting and unusual ethnic Turkish instruments as Ney Flute, Turkish Strings, and a Kawala.
Programming plays a big role in the album's sound, shaping the industrial beats and heavy modern rock synth delivery.
If Winger turned modern industrial after Pull, they might have ended up here. But I think most Winger fans would rather stick with something closer to that ultra cool Pull album.
I recommend anyone check out the soundbytes before venturing further. The Winger connection is definitely one appeal, but this will only appeal to a certain few. fans of Nine Inch Nails might be better suited to this release.
|Dream Theater Octavarium||Atlantic Records|
Review By: Mick Ward|
I wasn't one to shy away from Train of Thought. It was about time for Dream Theater to shake things up and Train of Thought took a dramatic push toward heavy and a number of fans were left wondering what had happened. And considering Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence wasn't brilliant, a return to form and something special was quite rightly expected. But were we prepared for something as special as say Metropolis Part II? Cause that my friends, is what we have here. Another bonafide classic Dream Theater album.
Having said that mind, on a small note - if you are looking to be mentally challenged be prepared for a little disappointment. There is nothing that truly pushes the envelope here. Though not unlike previous DT albums there's nothing too difficult about Octavarium. It stands fast in the progressive genre but for the most part the force feeding of previous outings is absent.
Funnily enough the production is big but the music isn't. No one song towers over the rest of the album and as a whole the songs aren't conceptual but do travel the same road.
The Root of all Evil kicks Octavarium into a mid gear akin to New Millennium and thrives on its simplicity. There's no stop start as such but the typical change for the hell of it is definitely working well here. But check out the 5 minute mark where they guys briefly copy themselves with the 'I can feel my body shaking' music and all (from first track off Train of Thought if I remember right!?). Obviously there's good reason for this but I found it strange.
Sounds awesome but 'Answers required please!' Regardless, 8 minutes plus is over well before you know it and what a ride this tune turned out to be. Following track The Answer Lies Within kind of stinks for being so slow so soon on the album, a ballad that on one hand annoys me for that very reason whilst keeping me damn interested on the other cause to be honest these lyrics are sharp and the song is flat out good.
Track three, These Walls is smooth sailing playing with both rock and calm, its bridge very Images and Words, piano and guitar sharing the spotlight 'pending on what section you refer to. There's no meddling with time here, These Walls being strong enough to stand on its own merits much like I Walk Beside You which follows in similarly structured manner. I Walk Beside You is annoyingly pop much like U2, but at the same time wonderful. Brilliant even. DT have done this kinda thing before but perhaps not so overtly. I Walk Beside You is embarrassingly good!
Panic Attack brings back the Train of Thought approach but has one difference. It's better than anything of that album. Being the metal head I am Panic Attacks' thundering for want of a better word 'attack' was very refreshing. This is my album favorite due simply to its no holds bared approach. Everything I could want from heavy Dream Theater is here, dark nasty and fast as lightening, love the bass intro! The sheer joy of this song never fails me regardless of the mass volume of air time it's had at my home! Perfect!
Wanting to leave a few surprises, all I'll say regarding the remaining three songs is that they're mostly up to speed with the earlier part of the album, a tad slow on a few occasions and not my favorite side if I were referring to the good old days of vinyl, but still balances the album well enough. There's even a direct stab at the whole 9/11 thing which is interesting and entertaining enough considering its delicate subject matter has so many varying emotions it's sure to work for some whilst not others. Good work!
|Audiovision The Calling||Metal Heaven / Rivel Records|
Review By: Mick Ward|
Kinda contemporary old school styled metal, bulky and superbly executed, Audiovision hold nothing back in delivery nor do they choose to camouflage their lyrical convictions.
A Christian band leaving nothing to the imagination lyric wise, yet overwhelm the senses regardless, due to their unforgiving delivery.
Regardless of your religious belief the music on offer is hook laden enough to draw you in. A number of these songs do well enough however it is lead throat and Audiovision mastermind Rivel that ensures The Calling is considered an effective release.
Taking chapters out of the Judas Priest performing school of arts (wouldn't that be a thing!?), Rivel has at times the rasp strength and sound of Halford (check out Evil or Divine!) yet delivers a softer and more accessible vocal more in tune with our melodicrock for a good part of The Calling. For some avoidable, for others very inviting, The Calling has its moments of glory in songs such as openers The Calling and The King is Alive, and favorite part ballad part thumper Read Between the Lines. Also of note is The Rock of my Soul.
Overall The Calling proves an enjoyable listen but with the strong competition of a flooded market I can't help wonder how this will gather enough interest to see it receive the big push.
Great production and incredible performances reek of conviction but aren't quite enough to lift this album above average. Case in point; I'm not one for covers but when Audiovision's cover of Sweet's Love is Like Oxygen causes me excitement equal to anything else on offer here, well that's a concern 'cause for me it's unheard of!
|Manticora 8 Deadly Sins||Nightmare Records|
Review By: Mick Ward|
Manticora is very full on anthem filled European power metal, progressive and intense with volume speed and performance turned to maximum for full effect.
Lyrically Manticora could be found a tad offensive to some (track titles such as Playing God, Creator of Failure and It Feels Like The End, should give you the right idea and yes if you hadn't guessed already we're are dealing with a concept album) but it's not too shocking. Because really who really cares 'cause under this wall of noise there is some real talent and it's not too hard to enjoy!
The instrumental intro sounds very cool and opening track Ring of the Absurd contains some of the better chord progressions I've heard from this genre of music. Seriously, at about the 30 second point I was hooked. A wonderful blend of progression and riffs that pretty much continues throughout the album. Of particular note are the cuts Ring of the Absurd, best rifer on offer Enigma, and Fall from Grace.
Musically this reminds me of say Vanishing Point, if they were to add a thrash element to their sound, or maybe completely flooded their sound with too much of, ah, everything!? Vocally things are very serious, lead throat Lars F. Larsen - whilst not thrash scream or too high in tone - does lean toward a heavier style (controlled aggression perhaps) and this can at times be a bit overwhelming due to a 'too much too often' syndrome. The power of his voice however cannot be disputed and when used in moderation can sound wonderful, case in point being Fall from Grace.
This kind of muscle metal can leave the listener a tad battered and bruised with its reluctance to slow the hell down on a more regular basis, which is where Enigma and Fall from Grace work better. Both tracks ooze class and make good sense due to their less than usual overblown attack.
Hell I enjoyed this although it did take a number of listens to get past the initial bombardment!
Me? I'm not quite decided yet but I could well purchase this thing given my impression of it so far. The more extreme power metal fans and thrashers should buy this by the bucket load.
|Rick Springfield The Day After Yesterday||Gomer/DKE|
I wrote the majority of this review last week but decided to give the album a little extra time. I am glad I did. While the flaws within the album didn't vanish, the extra playback time did allow some of the positives to shine more clearly.|
In the end, the major decider with this album comes not from anything Rick Springfield could have done better, but rather with the listener's willingness to accept the music within. That's the way it goes with covers albums.
Those that have been with this site since the early days know my passion for Rick's music. There has only been a few albums released by Rick in the 8 years I have run this site, but all have received favorable reviews Sahara Snow (85%), Karma (98%) and Shock Denial Anger & Acceptance (93%).
The key to liking this record is gauging what you really want out of it. If you want a pleasant, laid back album you can play in the background without asking too much of it - or perhaps an early morning album that doesn't attack the senses - then this fits the bill.
I'm not a huge fan of covers albums. In recent times there have been a bunch of them and few have really impressed. I do believe the main point of a covers album is to try and do something a little different with the material.
The best covers album I have ever heard is Andy Taylor's Dangerous album, which takes some classic rock tunes and rocks them to within an inch of their life.
This album has a different vibe altogether. After the rock and shock of the last album possibly Rick's heaviest ever - The Day After Yesterday strips things right back and delivers a sentimental selection of soulful pop classics.
Rick has gathered some interesting songs, leaving them largely intact, with versions not far removed from the originals.
That brings us to the two main problems with this release. First of all the album contains 14 tracks which are all basically slow or mid-tempo tracks at best. The album is crying out for a change in pace and something a little more uptempo. The last half of the album really struggles for pace and is calling out for a Living In Oz style guitar rip.
This is also a very long album. 40-50 minutes would be plenty of time to pay tribute to these songs, but at nearly 70 minutes, the pacing problem is only exaggerated.
The other problem as far as I see things, is the choice of songs. While Rick's unique identity is showcased brilliantly on a few tracks, it is equally lost on others. His trademark vocals and delivery style are scaled back in order to fit the format of the original songs, which sees some tracks not working out. A dozen or so listens into this album and I am left with nothing new to discover. There is little variation to the original songs. I'm normally left analyzing Rick's songs months after the release of a new album, but I feel I know everything about this record already.
The negatives out of the way, there are also several positives. The most obvious and important is Rick's own performance. His vocals on this album are warm, inviting and engaging. On a few songs in particular we get a glimpse of the true, raw, emotional vocals that were at times abandoned on SDAA. This album is a return to the vocal style of Karma.
The quality of the overall production is also first rate. The sound is amazing. The majority of Rick's records have sounded a million bucks and he proves here that he is ever more at home in his own studio. The production and arrangements are lush and the subtle layers of synth, keyboards and additional guitar overdubs are perfectly and evenly mixed in.
Harmony vocals are also well placed and executed throughout, adding texture when needed and adding to the atmosphere of the record.
That comment draws me into the songs themselves. To be honest there are several here I never cared for when originally released, which obviously impairs my enjoyment of the album. Rick of course, makes them ever more listenable, but there are some tunes here I would be happy to never hear again ever.
I'm Not In Love (10CC), Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty), Life In A Northern Town (Dream Academy) and Let's Go Out Tonite (Blue Nile) are all routinely flogged to death to this day on FM stations around the world and are not my pick of the best on here.
To kick off any album with a song as limp as I'm Not In Love is in my opinion, not a wise move. It is just too slow.
However, things make a major improvement on track two Rick's extremely good take on the highly underrated gem by Australian alternative-pop outfit The Church. The moody and slightly haunting early 80's Aussie mega-hit Under The Milky Way fits Rick's voice perfectly and his warm smokey vocals are a joy here.
Life In A Northern Town features another warm and raspy vocal, but being that the song doesn't deviate from the original, there is not a lot to draw me back in.
Broken Wings is a long time favourite from Mr. Mister a band who had a similar high-tech melodic rock style and reached their commercial peak just as Rick was coming off his.
Richard Page has one of the best voices in the business and in appearing with Rick here showcases the obvious difference in their voices. I prefer Rick's rock n roll edge, but on his own material. What I really like about this track is the extended musical passage and classy guitar soloing towards the end of the track. Some very tasteful guitar playing is featured here, which I would love to have heard even more of on some other songs.
Another highlight from the album is Human (Human League). This is a great ballad and this one fits Rick's voice probably better than any other track featured. It's also perfect for the theme of the album. In fact, this is the best track for allowing Rick's natural voice and style to shine through. This track could almost find itself as part of the Sahara Snow or Karma records.
I think the 1975 era pop-funk of Holding On To Yesterday (Ambrosia) doesn't suit Rick. Yes, it's something different, but it's just not that interesting to these ears.
Waiting For A Girl Like You (Foreigner) is another long time favourite. Who could forget the passionate delivery from Lou Gramm that made the song an all-time classic.
Again staying true to the original, this version is enjoyable and rates as one of the better songs of the album and features a nice passionate vocal from Rick.
Let's Go Out Tonight is sadly just too slow and further hurts the overall pacing of the album.
For No One (Beatles) sees Rick delve back into his earliest inspirations and reminds me of his early 70's Beginnings and Comic Book Heroes sound influences which on those records were largely drawn from The Beatles.
It's at this point we really need a tempo lift, but it doesn't come. Instead Miss You Nights (Cliff Richard) is a slow, soft acoustic ballad. It's a beautiful song truly and Rick delivers another great soulful vocal. This song suits him to a tee and it is one of the better songs here - but it's placement within the album means some impact is lost.
Yet another slow ballad follows with Blue Rose (Lizz Wright). The pulse of this record is under major pressure at this point.
A curious addition to this covers affair is an original composition titled Cry. I'm not sure what era this was written in, but the song itself is something different for Rick. Probably why I can't put a finger on its origin. It suits this release and it is always cool to get a new Rick original. The classy piano playing on this song is something cool also.
Having said that, I can see why it has to this date remained unreleased. Not due to being a bad song at all more so because I can't see where it would fit on any previous album.
You can't do any wrong to a classic like Imagine (John Lennon) and Rick's vocal does the song justice. I also like the orchestration within the track. However, the song ends the album as it started very slowly.
Rick Springfield is such an amazing writer; I can't imagine too many fans that would pick the option of a covers album over that of new material. By and large, his awesome catalogue of songs outweighs the quality of the songs featured here.
Dare I ask the question? With the lack of any solid airplay from the SDAA album, was this record conceived as a possible route back into AC radio playlists?
The man is a songwriting genius with more depth and passion to his music than 99% of all other artists out there.
This release has some enjoyable moments and features some great vocals. But I do think that The Day After Yesterday does not do the man's legacy justice.
|Emerald Rain Sleepwalk||Escape Music|
Emerald Rain's fifth album comes as something of a revelation for me. I think the guys have delivered some solid and impressive albums, but for the first time, I think they have truly nailed what is best for themselves and for fans.|
This album is ok on first listen, but gets better and better each rotation and contains more melodies and hooks than ever once you get to know the record.
The guys have previously been seen as an alternative to Harem Scarem, as their sound, style and delivery is not far removed from their Canadian neighbours.
The guys then toughened things up and turned a little more contemporary in order to be different, but lost some of their magic.
On Sleepwalk the guys harness the best of what's gone before them in the past while also moving forward. This is as Harem Scarem friendly as ever, yet features some contemporary and more aggressive and darker moments, which are mixed together perfectly to create a very well balanced album.
The band showcases the more updated sound with both rockers and slower numbers and does the same for the more traditional melodic rock sounds. A little bit for everyone it seems, but sounding very consistent thanks to some high quality songs.
The aggressive sound is delivered through the uptempo anthem rocker Can't Stop Bleeding; the dark and moody title track Sleepwalk and to a lesser degree the mid-to-uptempo rockers Torn In Two and Can't Recognize A Thing.
The band's more traditional Harem Scarem compared sound is alive and well on the feel good rocker Face In The Mirror, It Ain't Over, See It In Your Eyes and the rock ballad Everything Is Broken.
Special mention to I Never Knew for delivering a contemporary sound, but with a killer hook and layers of harmony vocals which stick in ones head for hours and hours!
And the album closes with a semi-acoustic ballad Miracle, which is ok, but perhaps a little slow.
|Forty Deuce Nothing To Lose||Frontiers Records|
Forty Deuce is a new LA band with Richie Kotzen front and center. The four piece band features Kotzen on vocals and guitar alongside three very 'punk' looking dudes. The band have been making waves in the LA music scene with their catchy brand of modern rock.|
Kotzen has always been a diverse individual and this it seems, is his best hope of reaching a youth audience, as these guys have a very contemporary look and sound.
While this album is primarily modern rock with a uptempo, angst filled, guitar driven delivery the overall style really won't be too foreign for established Kotzen fans.
That distinct voice of Kozten's is in fine form here - stretched a little on the more aggressive numbers, but sounding as raspy as ever.
This isn't going to be for all those that liked Kotzen's last couple of solo albums but it will appeal to those that have followed him throughout his career. Forty Deuce is a world away from Mr. Big and Poison, but it still has a strong melodic currant best showcased on Oh My God, Start It Up and Next To Me.
Complicated is another great track, but this one sees the sound tuned right down into the very dark modern depths some melodic rock fans tend to avoid.
There are no ballads here, however the last three tracks of the album Standing In The Rain, Wanted and Nothing To Lose all mellow somewhat and have a slightly different approach than the rest of the album's sonic onslaught. Perhaps these three tracks came from Richie's unreleased music catalogue?
Finally, I have to pose the question what use is a 19 second intro-track? This should have been tacked onto the start of the first track, or better still, deleted altogether.
|Nightvision Nightvision||MTM Music|
Sweden delivers another new talent in Nightvision. This is an interesting album from an interesting band. Signed by MTM Music for a three album deal, the label clearly sees potential in the band and I have to agree.|
I think this album is a good start, but it's not a killer. The best is still to come, but this album still delivers some enjoyable music.
Nightvision are a European hard rock outfit that sometimes touches on the bluesy side of things. The band's influences are the likes of Badlands, Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple.
Vocalist Peter Hφgberg at times sounds like his #1 influence Ray Gillen, which suits the band. On occasion the higher notes can be a little much and the overall tone of his vocals could perhaps be a little more user friendly. However, once you get to know the album this becomes less of an issue and the voice does become more familiar.
While the album rocks, it does contain a nice mix of keyboard/organ too.
I really like the tempo of the album. The majority is uptempo without being too fast and the bluesier numbers are not too slow as is sometimes the case. Most importantly, the songs are very enjoyable.
Highlights for me are the rockers Fight and Soldier Of A Dark Land, plus the very classy mid-tempo Gillen-esque rocker Dragonfire.
Also deserving of a special mention is the soulful ballad Stand Tall, which features a great lead vocal from Hogberg.
|Broke N Blue The Waiting||MTM Music|
Very pleasant. Is that the kiss of death for AOR fans, or a compliment? Well, it's a compliment this record is very pleasant. It isn't challenging, nor does it break any new ground, but AOR fans love to hear classy AOR music and Broke N Blue deliver an album filled with classy tunes.|
Broke N Blue are another band that has taken the blueprint of their debut and taken it to the next level meaning those that enjoyed that album will certainly find another memorable collection of songs here.
Most noteworthy is the improvement in production The Waiting features a fuller sound, with an even mix allowing the rhythm section to improve impact. The bands two vocalists take it in turn for the first few tracks. Peter Gustavsson has a slightly raspy delivery and female lead Eva Eggesjo Abrahamsson has a much smoother voice which compares favorably to that of a European version of Robin Beck.
Although listed as a lead vocalist, Peter only takes lead on 4 tracks, with the majority sung by Eva on her own. I'd like to hear Peter sing more actually, I enjoyed his tracks.
But Eva has a strong voice and there is a market for fans of female fronted AOR albums.
And the fact is that the band has some very pleasant (there is that word again) and catchy AOR songs at the band's disposal.
How Does It Feel, Perfect Match and Endlessly are an opening trio of songs that get better with every listen and will hold definite appeal with fans of pure AOR with a softer Westcoast vibe.
The tempo remains pretty much the same throughout, so the record needs several listens to get to know the songs. Some more variation in pace and style would make the album even better. That's why the tougher rock sound of Rivers Are Calling and Let Me Out are most welcomed.
|Eden Lost Road Of Desire||AOR Heaven|
I think AOR Heaven have a great ear for cool releases. I think this may be the very first time I haven't been won over by one of their releases from both the AOR and Metal side of things.|
Eden Lost hail from Madrid, Spain and this is their debut album.
Road To Paradise is a hard rocking affair, with the band supporting a strong European rock sound, influenced also by their Spanish roots.
I think the production is ok, but at times sounds a little hollow. The guitar sound is in most need of some attention. That's ok however, as long as the songs offer something cool for listeners.
Lost In Paradise certainly does it's an uptempo rocker with a good chorus hook; You has a certain Bon Jovi vibe to it and although very rough vocally, Only Girls shows further promise.
Elsewhere the vocals are a little too rough and there isn't the necessary chorus hooks to draw you back in. I'm a vocal fan if I don't like the leads vocals, it is hard to get into anything and that's the trouble I'm having here.
The album's closing track is the only ballad of the album and sees something different from vocalist Ignacio Prieto.
|Secret Smile Hurry Up And Wait||Metal Mayhem|
Back for album number two, Secret Smile has done exactly what they should following the release of their debut. They have learnt from that experience and have worked hard on the new album, improving on just about every level.|
Hurry Up And Wait features better songs, a tighter sound and better performances than the debut itself an album that had a lot to offer.
On the new album the band continues to deliver their brand of commercial American melodic rock, which has one foot firmly planted in the 80s.
The opening track Tears In The Sky sets the album up perfectly. This is a great little anthem, with a killer chorus and electric and acoustic guitars providing the necessary musical muscle. The raspy vocals of TJ Gabriele sound familiar, yet he is his own man.
Runaway is the prefect follow up and provides another high quality uptempo melodic rock track to hang our hats on.
The uptempo pace continues through until another solid melodic rocker Talking To A Stranger, then slows a little for the moody Sorry It Didn't Work Out, which has another great vocal hook.
Another highlight is You Said Goodbye a track which is mainly mid-tempo and has a great little chorus hook.
The band's cover of Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way is great to start with, but is truly brought to life by some well-placed Ted Poley harmony vocals. A nice energetic cover tune.
|Bitter Suite Crime Of Love||Metal Mayhem|
This is a pretty solid record. It has a nice tough melodic hard rock sound, with guitars at the forefront and vocals not far behind. |
At times one wonders just how many records were recorded in the heyday of this scene, yet never released, as this is yet another archive release originally written in 1991/92.
I will presume it was also recorded in that timeframe, with no indication in the liner notes to the contrary.
That said, I am not hung up on any album's origins, so long as it sounds great and offers fans of today something worthwhile.
That's definitely the case here as Bitter Suite features some good songs. As I have said before of others, band principle David J Petovar could count himself unlucky not to score a breakthrough with this material back in the day.
The only thing going against the record is the use of some six lead vocalists across the album's 13 tracks.
The positive is that those vocalists all do a pretty good job. None better than former Kick Axe vocalist George Christon, who sings lead on the opening two tracks. Crime Of Love and Prayin' For The Rain both rock with good choruses and offer something cool for both Kick Axe fans and melodic hard rock fans in general.
Don Wilk former White Wolf vocalist takes up the next three tracks, which don't hold as much power, although My Lucky Day has a good hook.
Petovar takes over lead for the majority of the remaining tracks. He fits the material, but could have used the extra impact of a more powerful singer. Look Into My Heart is the best of his vocal tracks.
Closing track Bad Boy is a female sung pop/rock/dance track which does the album no favors whatsoever. That one should have been left out.
|Cry Holy AlieNation||Metal Mayhem|
Another interesting release from Metal Mayhem. Cry Holy are a Christian rock outfit from the USA. The guys play a commercial style of 80's inspired melodic rock with a strong emphasis on good choruses and passionate delivery of their message.|
The guys wear their beliefs on their sleeve, with all songs openly containing positive Christian messages. I mention that as I know this is not for everyone. I have to admit though; the guys write a catchy tune and know how to craft a good song melody.
Whether it be uptempo melodic rock such as Alienation, 80's pop rock on My Lord and Everlasting Love, or even pomp balladry such as on Strangers To This World these guys pull you in with some great tunes.
On the slightly negative, I'm not sure the production sound of the album does them too many favors. The overall sound is a little hollow and certainly doesn't match the quality of some other releases on the market right now. It's a little dated in places, but those are the only down points.
However, the quality of the melodies is just too infectious to ignore and the style of the album classic melodic rock mixed with pomp and 80's AOR will certainly insure these guys get some well deserved attention.
|Trixie Life You Up||Metal Mayhem|
The bio says "Def Leppard meets Motley Crue". I don't often take much notice of such blurbs, but in this case it appears pretty accurate.|
The band has that driving guitar punch that Motley Crue is famous for and lead vocalist Ronnie Borchert has a distinct Vince Neil style high pitched drawl.
Def Leppard comparisons come from some of the chorus arrangements and the layered harmony vocals that Leppard are famous for.
The album swaps back and forth from uptempo rockers to fluffier pop/rock numbers.
After a couple of ok Motley-ish rockers that open the album, the band slips into a more comfortable Def Leppard production style.
The mid-tempo moody rock track Escape in particular sounds like early Def Leppard with Vince Neil singing.
The uptempo Crazy and slower and moodier Not That Easy sound like more recent Leppard and I think will find appeal with melodic rock fans thanks to some strong choruses.
Tuff Girl is a little more modern, with a slight nu-breed feel and the acoustic Lift You Up sounds a little like Poison. Another high-octane Motley-esque track Goodbye closes the album.
The album's guitar sound is a little fuzzy in places obviously a style attribute chosen by the band, but that may not appeal to everyone.
|Tsar Band Girls Money||TVT|
If you like juvenile radio-fed punk rock, then this album is for you. However, if you were a fan of the attitude and style of Tsar's debut album, which delivered some tasteful nu-breed melodic rock, then avoid this album like the plague.|
The band were obviously not happy with the success of their debut so in a vain attempt to sound even more relevant to a youth audience, the guys have upped the attitude and upped the 'punk street cred' hype, but in the process have ditched all sense of memorable or melodically friendly music.
And not only that, but the production is second rate demo at best.
Sounding more like The Damned circa 1979, Tsar have ditched all that loved their debut and are unlikely to pick up any news fans with this heard it all before sound.
The Damned were a super cool band in their time, but I don't need to be reminded of them by these guys. Play the original, not the pretenders. Only the catchy pop/punk of The Love Explosion warrants any further playback for me. The rest is just badly recorded second rate punk rock. RIP Tsar.
|Jay Parmar Strange Day||Indie |
I believe this is the first release for UK native Jay Parmar. His guitar playing skills are put under the spotlight on this 40 minute instrumental album that features a full band recording, minus (obviously) the singer.|
To the credit of the performer, that full band is in fact Jay himself, credited on this album for all instrumentation. I would hazard a guess and say the drums were programmed, but the album features a thumping bass rhythm.
Obviously a talented lad, he plays guitar with the passion that is needed to turn heads.
Fans of instrumental guitar albums would be wise to check this out. I'd like to hear Jay hook up with a singer/band and expand on his writing and playing skills. I have heard far worse signed to established labels, so expect to hear more from Jay.
|Sixty-10 So No To Thugs (EP)||Indie|
Sixty-10 released their debut album a year or two back now to a good response from press and fans. The band has this certain fuzz-pop sound crafted by the likes of Enuff Z Nuff and Cheap Trick.|
The band is back in 2005 with a new 3 track EP and has taken the base of their debut and moved just that little bit forward.
There remains a definite Enuff Z Nuff vibe, which I think is mixed in with a modern rock/nu-breed pop/rock sound that suits the band.
Miss You is about as happy go lucky as pop/rock songs come, while Everything is suitably moodier. Ever Since is a little grittier and features a solid hard edged guitar lick.
Good tracks featured here a sign of even better to come I am sure. Let's hope the wait isn't too long.
|Prayer Wrong Address||Escape Music|
Finland has had strong musical growth in recent years - more so in the metal genre, where bands like Nightwish and Stratovarius have been making names for themselves worldwide. But the country has a good AOR scene also and Escape Music seem to have tapped into it. In recent months Myon and House Of Mirrors have been released and now it's Prayer's turn.|
If you have found some delight in the releases from Myon and HOM, then changes are Prayer will suit perfectly.
In fact, I rate Prayer above both of those releases and think fans of keyboard driven 80's AOR will find a lot to like about this release.
Prayer has that European AOR sound and style about their music, but it isn't their sole influence. This is a varied and diverse release, but one constant remains - strong vocals throughout plus a swag of keyboards on every track.
The guys have written some great songs for Wrong Address. There are a couple of tracks towards the back end of the album which aren't as strong as those stacked towards the start, but generally speaking, the quality remains high.
Sound quality is pretty strong. That is of course, if you are into that whole 80's keyboard sound where the rhythm section plays second fiddle in a mix more dominated by louder vocals, guitars and keyboards.
It's hard to lock these guys into an exact comparison, as they really mix it up.
Secrets Of The Night and I Have Been Loving You are both glorious examples of pomp AOR that compares to classic John Wetton fronted Asia as does the mellower Back On The Road which features some lush keyboards and harmony vocals.
Running Wild doesn't get any more 80's and is an ideal precursor to the album's best track - Any One With Broken Heart. Believe me when I say that this is uptempo and anthemic pure Boston and beats anything off Boston's last couple of albums!
He Never Gave It All is another highlight; this uptempo pomp rocker has a great display of keyboard playing.
I Want You, Main Attraction and End Of Time are for me the weaker tracks on the album, but the closer Crossfire sees the band go out on a high note, with another great keyboard driven AOR track.
Very lite, very easy going and certainly very nice stuff metal fans hate, but stuff classic AOR fans love and this comes recommended to those fans, who I believe will find a lot to like here.
|Journey Generations||Frontiers Records|
It's amazing how different Journey's approach to their new album has been compared to their approach to the release of Arrival. Yet at the same time, there are some major similarities. |
Journey's return to the studio is anticipated like few other artists covered by this site. It's almost a case of trying to fulfill impossible expectations. The events surrounding Arrival's release some four years ago left a bad taste in the band's mouth. A pre-release leak and an early release in Japan saw a market flooded with import copies and internet downloads - which killed off label support for the US release and in the end, helped bring the band to their decision to break away from their longtime label Sony Music.
After two extra tracks were added, the US version of Arrival was a very fine album indeed.
For the new album Generations, the band has decided to give away copies to concert goers in the US, while licensing it to a smaller label for Europe - Frontiers Records. The label's name itself was a tribute to an earlier Journey album and they were only too proud to be the label involved. For once Journey in Europe is a priority. I hope the band can follow this up with some live appearances there.
The similarities to Arrival start here the album was the subject of a major licensing deal for one territory, while copies are becoming available substantially earlier in another territory.
And already guitarist Neal Schon is talking of ways to achieve a US domestic deal later this year for the album.
Also, this has not yet been said which I find surprising but, production quality aside, the main difference between Arrival and Generations is simply the number of tracks on offer. Arrival was labeled a little soft which it was, but more so because the slow and mid-tempo tracks outweighed the uptempo ones. On Generations, the mix is much better and the uptempo tracks are in the majority. Take 2 ballads off Arrival and you get an album which is of similar pace to that of Generations.
This time around however, the uptempo tracks are a little heavier and definitely have an edgier approach. The rawer production also adds extra punch and Neal Schon's guitar dominates the record.
Kevin Elson has managed to capture the band in a live environment, with less overdubs and a substantially less polished sound than Arrival, but better overall quality than the band achieved on their own when recording the Red 13 EP.
The production is stripped back and that helps the album appear more in your face.
Arrival was a super-slick album though and did sound a million bucks. So some fans may prefer that style over this.
Personally I don't mind that kind of difference in sound or approach for me it's the song quality which is the most important factor.
Generations features some great songs and I love the fact it's a bit heavier and touches on some new ground. But I think a few tracks could use some bigger choruses.
The songs and choruses of Generations are not as immediate as past Journey music and require more listening to get to know.
I think the band has rocked things up a little more here, but I think the choruses from Arrival were better overall.
The use of multi-vocalists is something else that some will love and others will find issue with. Generally speaking, I think the band have matched vocalists with songs pretty well, with everyone giving strong performances. The odd spot is Ross Valory's track, but read the song descriptions for more thoughts on that.
Switching vocalists can harm the flow and consistency of any record and that is certainly a small issue here. However, as a band, if you decided to do this, Generations certainly sees it done with the most minimal disruption.
Steve Augeri is featured in the writer credits on several songs coincidently the same number as he co-wrote on Arrival. But this time the difference is he gets two writing credits outside the band and his own individual style is more clearly evident. One can definitely hear some Tall Stories moments throughout the album.
Most prominent throughout is guitarist Neal Schon and drummer Deen Castronovo. They are both all over this record. Ross and Jon seemingly take a backseat here, but once you get to know the record, their important roles become more obvious.
Track By Track:
Following a suitably tasteful building intro, the opening track Faith In The Heartland bursts to life with a classic Neal Schon riff and a soaring melody line. The more urgent, stripped back production is evident immediately and Steve Augeri's lead vocals have a comfortable intensity to them. Upon first listen, the chorus comes and goes with a flash, which is probably the biggest surprise of all. We are used to Journey choruses pounding us over the head, but this and others within the album are more subtle and it's not until you are on your third listen does the listener properly acknowledge this.
As subtle as they are, the song does feature a bridge, chorus and even a guitar driven tempo change mid-song. The beauty of this typical uptempo Journey anthem is its length. Clocking at just under 7 minutes, it has room to breathe and the last minute of the song features a moody instrumental passage where both Neal and drummer Deen Castronovo get to shine with a little more prominence than you would normally see on a Journey record. I would have liked to have heard more like this.
The Place In Your Heart is without doubt the perfect follow-on from the opening anthem. This track is a little darker and a little moodier, but is more straight forward than its predecessor. On Arrival the band killed the momentum of the opening anthem with a ballad at position two this time they get it right with an uptempo rocker with a classic Frontiers/Escape feel.
The track itself features an instantly recognizable chorus and some cool harmony vocals. Curiously I favor the darker feel of the verse over the less intense chorus. Steve's voice sounds great in this lower octave and just that little bit tougher.
Continuing the mood of the last track, but not the vocalist, is A Better Life, the world's first look at Deen Castronovo the vocalist. And what a revelation! Deen's voice resembles that of both Steve's - Perry and Augeri - in a way that has more of the soul attributed to Perry, but the rougher edge of Augeri. And credit to Deen, he's his own man. If you listen closely to his vocals, he has his own style of delivery.
The song itself is an ultra smooth mid-tempo ballad of hope and emotion. Style wise I don't think it's far from the songs of Arrival, especially Signs Of Life.
The band keeps the tempo rolling with the lyrically brilliant Every Generation. Penned solely by Jonathan Cain and sung by the man himself, the song could easily have been lifted from his solo album Back To The Innocence.
Layered in rock n roll piano and backed by a solid drum rhythm and lead guitar riff, the mid-tempo, Midwestern rocker would have been the best track on Jon's solo album and remains one of his best numbers in recent memory. It doesn't perfectly fit within the album, but thanks to some Schon acrobatics towards the end, it does match the tempo and vibe of Generations.
Butterfly is one of two Steve Augeri self-penned tracks to make the album. He co-wrote on a few others, but for the first time, he gets a solo writing credit here. This is a 6 minute ballad, but not in the traditional sense of the word. This rather, is an intense and moody track which builds from a slow start to grand finish. It's a long song and I have to be honest and say that it's made even longer by the lack of a memorable chorus. There really isn't anything to sink your teeth into here.
I don't think it's one of the album's stronger songs. Nor is Believe. This is another track without a traditional chorus and at nearly 6 minutes is just too long. The song is carried by a strong keyboard melody and a nice uptempo rhythm, but the lack of a strong hook is detriment to the song as a whole. I prefer it over Butterfly though and my comments should not negate the lyrical depth and maturity both tracks have.
It had to happen and track seven sees the first big traditional Journey ballad of the album. Knowing That You Love Me is another Cain penned track that is typical of the band's much loved ballads All The Way, Loved By You, When You Love A Woman and Open Arms. It's nice, but for me is part of a mid-album run of tracks that fail to blow me away.
On the other hand Out Of Harms Way is the absolute business! Now, this is what we need more of and having heard it, leaves me wishing the guys went a little further outside their comfort zone to rock it up more like this.
With a slight Soul SirkUS feel to it, this hard edged rocker features a mean lead guitar from Schon and subtle keyboards from Cain, and most pleasing, a menacing vocal from Augeri. Two minutes into the track you begin to wonder if this isn't another number without a big chorus then bang it's there. Subtle, but layered, the chorus is a perfect match for the song and Augeri's vocal just gets better.
The intense drum-fill with the song, the wailing guitar solo and the experimental feel of the track shows that Journey can rock with the best of them and are capable of new tricks even after all this time. If only there was more like this!
A slow paced mid-section is truly consigned to the past with an ultra-rocking remake of the Neal Schon sung Schon & Hammer track Self-Defense. This time it's renamed In Self Defense and features an even bigger guitar onslaught and some great harmony vocals courtesy of Deen. Hearing Neal sing lead on a Journey album is different, but in some ways he sounds more at home than the others and this track is well placed within the album.
The big rock sound continues with the hard edged groover Better Together. Steve Augeri again sounds ruthless with a menacing vocal and Neal's guitar parts team with Deen's drumming to hammer the point home. Not the most memorable chorus I have ever heard, but the uptempo nature of this rocker remains infectious.
If Jon or Neal's vocals seemed like an oddity on a Journey album, you haven't heard anything until Ross Valory takes lead on Gone Crazy. This is totally out of character for Journey, yet might have sounded right at home on Soul SirkUS. Ross' vocals are best compared with that of James Young from Styx gruff, raw and bluesy.
I love the frantic rockabilly tempo of this blues rocker and in its own special way; it suits Ross down to the ground. I also don't mind the fact it deviates from the album's path, as sometimes an odd track at some point helps create character for the overall album.
The jury remains undecided on this track I will leave it to fans to decide what they think of it. At the same time, it's not bad at all, but I don't think it actually enhances the album in any way.
Beyond The Clouds closes the album for US fans. This is another big Journey ballad, but definitely leaves its mark upon the listener. Steve's vocals are perfect and a soaring chorus really drives this ballad over the top. Very soulful and featuring a memorable performance by all, this is one of the bands best ballads in Journey's post-Perry history.
Closing the European version of the album is another track featuring Deen Castronovo on lead vocals.
It's Never Too Late is what you would call a cracking rock anthem. Why this song was not included on the US version is anyone's guess! Deen's voice owns this track and crackles with emotion as he builds to a chorus which for me is the absolute best of the entire album. Written by Schon, Cain and Jack Blades, it's another big anthem in the tradition of Higher Place (also written with Blades). It without doubt ends the album on an absolute high.
This album has some definite advantages over the previous album, but as discussed, also has a couple of detracting points, which I believe will split fans - with some preferring Arrival and others favoring Generations. Personally I prefer the US version of Arrival and the European release of Soul SirkUS' World Play overall.
Rougher, tougher and more diverse than Arrival, Generations is an album that still rates as a must-buy for melodic rock fans, but it isn't a classic.
It could perhaps use an extra big chorus or two and is a little slow through the middle, but even with some criticism, the band have decisively moved away from the Perry fronted era and the songs within are still better than a lot of the competition out there. A definite highlight for 2005, but not the highlight.
|Alice Cooper Dirty Diamonds||Spitfire / Eagle Rock|
I saw Alice Cooper live last week
what a great show. And what a kick-ass band! Damon Johnson and Ryan Roxie on guitar...you don't get better than that. Drums are provided by Tommy Cluffetos. So why does this album sound like crap then?|
Well, Alice decided to make this album a raw, rock n roll record in the best tradition of classic Rolling Stones records. It certainly features a change of pace and direction for the singer, but will fans move with him?
Alice played a few tracks off this album live - Woman Of Mass Distraction, Sunset Babies and Dirty Diamonds. They kicked ass as they should - and gave me cause to reconsider my initial opinion of the album. But no, the album does sound like crap.
While the band are as tight as a goldfish's ass live, in the studio Alice has taken a different route. This is a stripped back almost garage band sound. The style chosen this time around is more rhythm and blues and retro. But it sounds like it was recorded in an outhouse without monitors. The title track is among the worst offenders. You don't have to forgo sonic quality to make a quick, live sounding, rock n roll record.
As for the songs as a whole, I quite like the first half of the album. Dirty Diamonds, Sunset Babies and Woman Of Mass Distraction all have hallmarks of the classic Cooper sound. Also of interest is the Beatle-esque pop of Perfect.
But elsewhere there are a several duff tracks. The middle of the album bottoms out to a real slow pace. The acoustic Pretty Balerina and the psychedelic Zombie Dance get voted worst tracks of the album. And what is The Saga Of Jesse Jane? Sounds like a tribute to Johnny Cash! Definitely not for all Alice fans.
It's not until the rocking Steal That Car that things pick up again briefly.
And the bonus track Stand should have been left where it came from. A rap song is one way for Alice to appeal cool to a new demographic, but those folk will not be buying this album, so leave it off.
I'm sure there will be someone that questions my understanding of the album, but I understood Brutal Planet and Eyes Of... just fine. This just doesn't come close to those two albums.
It sounds terrible and features some songs too diverse for the traditional Cooper audience and certainly not in keeping with the quality output of his last few records.
|Terra Nova Escape||Frontiers Records|
I can't say I've warmed to Terra Nova's sound on previous efforts, but this one is a little better. The band took a detour in recent years, recording under the name Aquila, who had a more contemporary sound.|
But now they are back to their easy going, European 80's AOR feel. I think established fans will enjoy this release, but I'm not sure how many new fans they will convert.
This is a very happy, uptempo, keyboard friendly AOR release, with a strong European feel and some breezy lead vocals and sing-along harmonies. Escape is not an immediate record it has taken me several listens to warm to it.
The song titles reflect just about every clichι this genre has to offer and the album's title is pretty obvious.
What the band does here is adhere to their classic sound, with a definite 80's vibe.
I think the album starts off with one of the worst tracks on offer. Long Live Rock N Roll is just too cheesy and is ultimately a pop song with a thin drum sound. Not very rock n roll.
Rock Bottom and Hold The Line are far stronger tracks. These define the band's sound European pomp AOR. Escape continues the high quality pomp.
The band battles to avoid straying into overly cheesy territory, and fails on a few tracks especially the ultra syrupy You Are The One, which is just all too familiar.
A better ballad is the track Heaven Knows.
The album contains a couple of other duff tracks including War On War and the closing ballad Yesterday.
There are some highlights however, towards the end of the album. Soul Survivor sees the band get a little tougher as does the catchy Part Of The Game and Back In The Eighties gets my nod as the album's best track (again with a grittier guitar driven approach).
The mid-tempo ballad Lonely Is The Night is also superior to the other ballads on the album.
While it's not a knockout there are some memorable tracks on offer and it's certainly better than Eye To Eye a few years back and more AOR than Aquila.
|Urgent Out Of Time||Brennus Music|
French melodic hard rock outfit Urgent are not top be confused with the Canadian band of the same name from the 80's, or the American band of the same name with the cult album Thinking Out Loud to their credit. |
These guys have a debut album here featuring a mix of melodic rock and hard rock songs, in that unmistakable European rock style.
The biggest problem the guys have is the fact there are so many albums to choose from on the market right now and an abundance of high quality melodic rock.
These guys have written some memorable tunes Running Out Of Time and Give Me No Warning and even The Wild & The Young offer some good ear candy.
The guys obviously produced this themselves and I'm sure the budget was limited. They have done an admiral job, but varied sound quality is the album's weakness.
A few pointers the song Rock N Roll Heroes is too heavy in the context of the rest of the album and needed a better chorus. The production quality varies too much when listening to Hold On compared with earlier tracks and RNR Heroes.
What Love Is All About is another highlight for melodic rock fans and this is perhaps an area the band could concentrate more on. It has more atmosphere and some nice layered melodies and is a truly memorable track.
Out Of Time is a good start for the guys and one hopes it gains them some much deserved attention. The album is in need of a bigger production budget and a more focused approach with song styles.
There is definite potential here though, so one looks forward to future efforts.
|Xsavior Caleidoscope||Atenzia Records|
Xsaviour features the talents of the great vocalist and always popular Goran Edman and the very talented Daniel Flores on drums and vocals himself a busy guy of late with Moonstone, Philip Bardowell, Novak etc.|
This is one for progressive fans. Serious progressive fans. This is one over the top record and is definitely not for those that live for 3 minute songs.
For a progressive outfit, these songs aren't that long they however, don't contain a lot of changing structure and I think fans will either love it or hate it. I know what side of the fence I am on, but that does not take away from the fact it is very finely produced, sounds great and contains a very complex set of songs. The performances are also top notch. How could any performance from Goran Edman not be great?
Despite some pleasant harmonies and chord structures, I have a hard time focusing on the music as those hooks are ever so brief and a 5 minute song with 5 different changes in tempo is a hard thing to follow.
Queen fans might find some of the arrangements and layered over the top harmonies appealing, but generally speaking, this is one for progressive pop fans and those prepared to spend a lot of time on this release.
Waltham have been favorites of mine since they burst onto the scene with their indie release Permission To Build a couple of years back.|
The rise to much deserved fame has been slow for these guys, but this release will surely see them gain that rightful national and international exposure.
The guys have signed to Ryko for an American and European release and one hopes the label will back them to the hilt. These tunes are just too good they should be on radio playlists worldwide and the band's energetic and somewhat legendary live shows need to be taken to the masses!
Their new self titled album is basically a re-recording of the Permission To Build album, with some new tracks.
I remain an ardent supporter and fan of that album. Ryko obviously believed in it also - so strongly that they wanted to get those tunes out there hence this re-recording.
There is good and bad about this release firstly the songs are still utterly fabulous and this band has such a unique sound. They are as contemporary and as modern as they need to be in order to appeal to a wide demographic, including the all important teenage/youth market.
They are also as melodic and retro as you could get, with an uncanny knack for killer hooks, great melodies and feel good songs. And of course, it doesn't hurt that the singer sounds like Rick Springfield! This album is Working Class Dog for the new millennium perfect power pop/rock.
The downside is that for fans of the debut, the sound recording here isn't too far removed from the original indie release and 8 of these 12 tracks are from Permission To Build itself a re-recording of the band's first ever release The First Album. Move on already guys! We want more new tunes!
On this version there are a few altered arrangements and even more backing vocals in some places, plus a range of subtle changes that come from any re-recording and also from having played the tracks live so many times.
On the upside, fans do get 4 brand new tracks and local Boston area fans also get a new 5 track EP with the album, which is a very cool thing for the band to offer.
But for the majority one hell of a cool album with 4 brand new tracks as part of the mix. For a review of the original release please read: Permission To Build.
The new tracks prove that the songs written for the debut were no fluke and these songs are every bit as instantly catchy and memorable and fit alongside the older tracks perfectly.
Joanne is another great anthem of unrequited love and is an uptempo power pop anthem with some tasteful harmony vocals.
Call Me Back is another example of why this album is Working Class Dog for a new generation catchy rock music with great pop hooks.
You Gotta Let Me In is a little darker and moodier and at 3 minutes in length gets to the point straight away.
Be With Me is a new track, but sounds so familiar I could have sworn it was part of the last album! You can see why this fits into the mould of the older material and features a really strong chorus hook.
I just love this band's constant sonic bombardment thanks to a duel guitar attack.
Also included is the band's DVD Permission To Film, with a bunch of goofy backstage and on tour footage. Great for fans and an extra added value for this neat package.
Don't worry about songs, talk of an indie release, whatever just rush to get this bloody great album of catchy, hook filled power pop/rock. A little bit of the 80s, wrapped up in modern rock format, but as melodic as it comes and dare I say it a perfect example of mixing the old with the new and a great album to try and pull old-school fans into the present. I still prefer the original Permission To Build, release - but just by an edge.
|Steve Walsh Shadowman||Frontiers Records|
Best known for his role of the frontman of Kansas, Steve Walsh has also had a substantial career with his side projects and solo albums.
This is his first solo release since 2000's Glossolalia.|
Besides the voice fronting the music, the material here and Steve's solo outings in general don't have a lot in common with Kansas besides a natural tendency to be pompish.
Steve has always been one to experiment and incorporate new sounds into his solo work and this is no different.
In fact, this is one of his most diverse releases to date. The musical integrity of the release is unquestioned it will just come down to whether it is something Walsh and Kansas fans want to hear.
Overall this is quite a guitar driven record. One could listen to the first track Rise and be scared off a high-tech pop verse diving into an almost prog-thrash chorus riff is not for the fainthearted!
But tracks like Shadowman and Davey And The Stone That Rolled Away are more consistent and have that dramatic flair associated with Walsh.
The acoustic flavored Pages Of Old could be lifted from the solo pages of Robert Plant.
Hell Is For Heroes features drum machines and an almost techno rhythm and sounds a little out of place here.
After, which features amazing orchestration from Symphony X's mastermind Michael Romeo, runs some nine minutes in length and is a true example of symphonic hard rock, with more time changes than a Dream Theater epic. Probably one of the better tracks on the album.