90% CATS IN SPACE – Too Many Gods (Harmony Factory/Cargo Records)
What a fun album. The whole album could have been released anytime in the mid-late 70s and you wouldn’t have known any different. Listening to this is like walking into a drive-in diner in 1978 and hitting random selections on the jukebox.
The album is consistently strong, but quite varied also.
There’s ELO (Too Many Gods, Mr Heartache); Queen (Stop); Styx/ELO/Queen (Last Man Standing – easily the most memorable song); Elton John meets The Who meets Queen (Unfinished Symphony) and even 70s Meatloaf (Only In Vegas); The Who (Five Minute Celebrity).
It is really quite an impressive and very accomplished piece of work - especially for a debut album. I can’t imagine 70s rock fans hearing anything better than this in 2015.
87% C.O.P – State Of Rock (AOR Heaven)
This has the obvious musical comparisons to Grand Illusion and the glorious, over the top, high pitched pomp that band delivered. Why? Vocalist Peter Sundell is front and center here along with his brother Christian Sundell. For those missing the pomp/AOR of Grand Illusion and Peter’s unbelievably high vocals, then jump on this!
It’s like Grand Illusion, but it also has its own personality and delivers some outstanding Scandi-AOR material, while the production is top notch (thanks to Ola af Trampe).
Another memorable, high quality release.
93% ANBERLIN – Never Take A Friendship Personal & Cities – Live In New York City (Tooth & Nail)
I absolute love these two Anberlin albums – easily the best of their career and here they are, faithfully reproduced in their entirety in a farewell live performance. Both albums are stacked with great tunes, but these versions are even more electric, as the atmosphere captured here is truly compelling. Great recordings – live, raw and honest, and overflowing with emotion and energy.
90% MR. BIG – Raw Like Suchi 113 – Sendai Japan 2014 (Wowow Entertainment)
Another month, another Mr. Big release! Cashing in on their legendary status in Japan and their anniversary year, this new live album is every bit as essential as any of the band’s other live releases. Packed with songs from the last two studio albums and various other classics, the recording is overdub free and live as on the night – which is the usual engaging, high energy excellence these great musicians deliver every time they hit the stage.
Definitely recommended for Mr. Big fans.
88% DARYL HALL & JOHN OATES – Live In Dublin (Eagle Rock)
The unquestionable brilliance of Hall & Oates is captured on this double live concert, recorded in July 2014. As expected it is a hits rich set that covers many of the bands’ hit singles, but at 15 tracks over 2 discs, it feels a little underdone and I have heard so many great live sets from these guys that this one just doesn’t have the same wow factor for me as other have. It may be down to the actual set list – there’s at least 4 tracks I’d sub out in favor of others (Do What You Want, Las Vegas Turnaround, Back Together Again & It’s Uncanny). It makes for a pretty laid back mid-concert run of tracks. But the rest – magnificent as always.
Thankfully the glorious Out Of Touch, plus mega-hits Family Man, Maneater, Say It Isn’t So, Kiss On My List and Private Eyes are all included. And what can you say about a 15 minute version of I Can’t Go For That?!
The DVD is certainly more engaging and I’ve always loved the way the guys interact with the crowd (who are very enthusiastic on this occasion). And the band is incredible of course, as are the harmonies.
And man…it has to be said – Daryl Hall’s voice is beyond unbelievable. He hasn’t lost anything over the years, he sounds freeking crazy good. What a voice!
85% NEAL SCHON – Vertex (Mascot)
Not to be restricted by any conventions over how much music one should record or be limited by any one style, guitar legend Neal Schon delivers 90 minutes of whatever he wants…in this case, inspired and diverse instrumental music. 18 songs over two discs, with tracks ranging from 2 to 7 minutes in length, Vortex is Neal in his favourite setting – just letting go.
And what’s even better – he’s backed by Steve Smith on drums, providing the intelligent, musically complex drum and percussion needed for such a bold musical statement such as this.
There’s fast, slow, rock, jazz, electric, acoustic….you name it. Guitar instrumental fans will love, no question about it.
75% GUN – Frantic (Caroline)
Gun seem to have made the transition from the angst driven melodic rock/hard rock of their past with original vocalist Mark Rankin, to the new lineup with Dante Gizzi now up front. The sound change is vast – the guys are now a power/pop outfit with a feel-good uptempo vibe. This is the second album in this format. The songs are pretty consistently good once again, but the style is hard to accept after such brilliance previously.
There are some very catchy tunes here, some more guitar driven than others, but overall not as many highlights as the last album for me. I miss the old days but don’t see Mark returning to singing. What a waste.
90% PAT BENATAR & NEIL GERALDO – 35th Anniversary Tour Live (Indie)
Now this is a ‘greatest hits’ set I can live with. The talented duo of Pat and Neil shred through some of their most iconic hits in a (all) fired up, live raw setting.
The rocked up set includes the brilliant Shadows of the Night, Invincible, Sex As A Weapon, Promises in The Dark, We Belong, Love is A Battlefield (8 minutes in length) and an even longer Heartbreaker to close the set.
The only thing that bugs me is Pat’s slightly tweaked chorus vocal in the mega-anthem All Fired Up. Doesn’t work. Whatever though….the rest is brilliant and a great tribute to the songs included. Boy can that Neil guy play guitar…
84% ELEMENTS OF FRICTIONS – Pride Music Sampler
Great way to introduce your new label to the world – gather some of the best melodic rock artists around and compile a bunch of unreleased tracks. Kicking off with one of the best rock anthems you’ll ever hear – a new Marcello Vestry track When You Grow Up. Elsewhere it’s a little hit and miss, but the highlights are Area 51 (Matti Alfozetti), Don’t Leave Me Lonely (Matti again), Make You Mine (Larry Baud, written by, yes…Matti), Without Your Love from Snakes In Paradise, the Matti written Only My Heart (sung by Mats Levin), Another Me (Paul Laine) and Somebody Up There (Tommy LaVerdi), which rocks pretty hard.
86% MARK SLAUGHTER – Reflections In A Rear View Mirror (Thunder Spirit Records)
Slaughter frontman Mark delivers his debut solo album here – which rocks seriously and surprisingly hard. Not sure what I was expecting, but it’s heavier than I figured. It’s also more diverse. Some of the songs are screaming rockers (Away I Go, Miss Elainious); some are more reflective (Carry Me Back Home, Baby Wants).
Others are closer to the anthemic rock of Slaughter (Never Giving Up, The Real Thing, Somewhere Isn’t Here) and some are just something new altogether (Don’t Turn Away, In Circle Flight, Velcro Jesus).
Some of it works – some of it doesn’t. I’ll let the listener decide, but this is an interesting journey and does what a solo album does – offer the artist and excuse to try different things.
85% CAGE – Ancient Evil (The Metal Masses)
Traditional American metal at its loudest, fastest, intensest (no, that’s not a word…). San Diego based Cage have been doing the metal circuit for a long while now and they don’t let up with age. This is the heaviest thing I’ve reviewed here in a long while. You know what to expect. Fast, furious, screaming high pitch vocals and some of the most brutal double kick drumming this side of thrash metal. Did I mention the ear blasting guitar demotion?
All you need to know is that it’s well produced, features a balanced mix and sounds huge.
84% 7TH HEAVEN – Next (NTD Records)
The hardest working band in Chicago America never fails to deliver quality music. On their new album Next they introduce new vocalist Adam Heisler after Keith Semple left to chase bigger dreams. Adam changes the tone a little bit – his vocal is a little deeper than the very AOR-friendly Semple.
Song wise the band continue to pursue the modern pop direction set up by the last album, moving further away from AOR/melodic rock into dance/pop with a commercial power pop base.
Some hugely catchy tunes here, but a few others that I don’t feel have the spark of the last 2-3 albums. Not sure if it’s the songs or the singer to be honest. Maybe a little of both.
Still, you won’t find a better example of the genre should modern pop be of appeal. These guys are an industry unto themselves and if you don’t like this album (or any other), then you know they’ll always be back next year with more!
86% HUNGRYHEART – Dirty Italian Job (Tanzan Music)
Italian rockers Hungryheart deliver their third studio album and continue to grow as songwriters and performers, not to mention also in the production stakes.
Each album has improved upon the last, which is all you can ask of any band. This album features some catchy melodic hard rock songs with a strong European flavor. There are some hard rockers and a nice variety of moodier melodic tunes too and just the one ballad – Nothing But You.
Tracks like You Can Run, There Is A Reason For Everything and Time For Letting Go show real promise and give hope that the guys might be able to cut through the plethora of releases out there to find some new fans. Well worth checking out.
89% DENNIS DRIES – I (AOR Heaven)
White Sister’s Dennis Dries finally delivers a long awaited solo album and it doesn’t disappoint. He’s joined by the great Paul Sabu to create a very likable pomptastic classic rock release that’s quite diverse, yet very focused at the same time.
Diversity comes in the shape of the pomptastic Heard It On The Radio; to the sentimental AOR of “I”; to the acoustic lead Home; and back to the melodic hard rock of Unbroken.
Focus comes in the form of the precision and thought put into the music and the production. A lot of time and energy has gone into this record, no doubt.
This may not be for everyone, but White Sister and classic pomp/rock fans will surely delight in Dennis’ unique vocals and writing style.
Best thing about this album is how it stands out from the pack by being different than most other titles out there, yet familiar at the same time.
50% LIPSTICK – Lipstick (Indie)
At lot of great releases about this year, this is not one of them. Unless you are into really average mid-80s glam, cowbell and all. There’s 16 tracks and 65 minutes of music to get through here, all featuring the unremarkable vocals of Greg Troyan.
These tunes are apparently “Super Demos”. I’d agree with the ‘demos’ part if not the ‘super’, but otherwise I’d use the old analogy, some albums/songs remain unreleased for a reason.
It will take a very dedicated glam rock/Poison groupie to appreciate the contents of this disc.
80% KICKIN VALENTINA – Super Atomic (Target Records)
American sleaze/hard rockers Kickin Valentina released their debut album earlier this year. You’ve got a strong Guns N Roses/LA Guns/Ratt type vibe going on here, with heavy, dirty blues riffs, a driving rhythm and raspy, gravelly vocals all combining to form a pretty credible, high energy rock outfit.
Musically this is all in your face hard rock with bar room swagger and some impressive guitar soloing to match the screams of vocalist Joe. Not an album for fans of big hooks or big harmonies, this one is better suited for fans of the bands mentioned and the whole LA late 80s LA sleaze scene.
92% ROMEOS DAUGHTER – Spin (RD Records)
A long overdue review here for this new gem from one of the UK’s premiere female fronted AOR bands.
Once again Leigh Matty delivers a silky smooth vocal over a very tight performance form the band and guitarist/producer Craig Joiner.
Anyone who picked up and enjoyed the band’s comeback album Rapture will be able to slide this album right alongside.
Perhaps a little lighter/more laid back than the 2012 album and moving a little more into modern pop style, it doesn’t matter in the end. It’s just filled with beautiful songs and warm, inviting melodies such as the born for radio Already Gone and Love Will Come To Those That Wait, plus the moody Enemy and the haunting acoustic beauty of Didn’t See You Coming.
The driving All Because Of You and the closing Tall Buildings add a little fire at the end of the album.
77% POWERPLAY – All Those Years (Target Records)
The debut album from Danish pop/rockers Powerplay ranges from Alien style Euro-AOR through to Chicago/State Cows styled Westcoast pop.
I definitely prefer the AOR flavored tunes, of which there are several fine examples (City Of Love, Climb A Mountain, All Those Years). There’s a little Work Of Art/Toto in the mix also, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sold on the vocalist and sometimes the album crosses over into ‘too pink and fluffy’ territory. Worth a listen, but more work needed to bring themselves into the wider fan base this music has.
69% ST. PROSTITUTE – Glorified (Target Records)
Another big sleazy hard rocking album on show here – this time from Denmark’s answer to Hanoi Rocks. Well maybe not, but you get the idea. It’s all guitars and all gravelly, sleaze drenched vocals. This one isn’t as memorable as a couple of other reviewed, but it probably packs a more powerful guitar punch and there’s certainly isn’t any issue with the monster sound.
90% DIEMONDS – Never Wanna Die (Napalm Records)
These guys are being compared to Halestorm and the immediate reaction to the female lead vocalist and the classic-meets-modern hard rock approach seems to match.
But this is a different type of album to Halestorm. More traditional hard rock and definitely a step heavier than Halestorm. Vocals are great, riffs are fast, furious and frequent and the production is huge.
This deserves a longer review, but time is of the essence. It’s a really strong album that gets better and better. Highly recommended for fans of powerful female fronted hard rock and metal.
78% PRETTY WILD – Pretty Wild (Dead End Exit)
Pretty Wild are, well…pretty decent! Take the old school melodic hard rock approach, add in some Scandi sleaze, mix it up with Bon Jovi, Johnny Lima and Reckless Love and you will get a pretty fair idea of the sound of this album. Not quite as immediate or as essential as those named, but still pretty worthwhile.
85% REACH – Reach Out To Rock (Sunhill Productions)
Reach are… yes! Swedish! And they produce solid, high quality melodic rock. Who would’ve thought? These guys lag behind the front runners of the genre though. They feature a more guitar heavy sound with less keyboards. Plus the vocalist isn’t quite as engaging as some of the others in the Swedish melodic rock gang.
There’s a moody feel to this album, a darker undertone than the likes of BFT, Art Nation or Wigelius. Not bad by any means and one for fans of guitar driven melodic hard rock with a Scandi-accent. Well produced and packing a decent punch – just not as immediate or as hook driven as their compatriots.
Still some good choruses here though – especially You Called My Name, We Are and Fortune & Fame.
55% ROB MORATTI – Tribute To Journey (Escape Music)
I’m a big Rob Moratti fan. I’ve featured him here many times across the years and his various projects and he’s a terrific guy. Which is why this is hard to say – but I simply don’t see any point to this release at all. In fairness, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and no one is expecting it to match the impact of an original studio album. Rob has a fantastic high pitch voice well suited for paying tribute to the great band Journey and vocalist Steve Perry. Nothing wrong with that!
However, I just don’t see any point in compiling 12 very very over-played, over-covered, over-done Journey classics and doing absolutely nothing different to them. This is a note for note tribute, which is always going to come off second best to the originals.
That’s a brave move by Rob as he’s only going to draw comparisons with Steve MF Perry afterall!
Perhaps there would have been some greater point to doing this if the songs were deep cuts or less recognizable hits. Or perhaps changed them up a little; make them heavier or acoustic in places….anything! Sorry Rob – I’ll hang out for the all-new studio album mate.
83% SHADES & PETERS – Let The Record Spin (Indie)
This album came out late in 2014 and has a similar musical play to the recent Tom Cochrane album.
Two rockers – you know them well – Rene Shades and Martie Peters, changing things up and creating something new – an acoustic driven, fairly laid back album touching on country, pop, blues as well as a little rock for good measure.
Despite my not so favourable verdict on the Cochrane album, Shades & Peters come out better off for delivering better quality songs.
Not everyone that has followed Push or MPG is going to be into this. And some that weren’t into those groups might indeed prefer this. It’s different that’s for sure.