This originally started out as a selection from some of the reviews I've written or prepared for other publications in recent years. I'm also adding more material as I get round to it - check it out regularly for further updates... Like on the other pages, CD catalogue numbers are listed along with contact details for the more "off the beaten track" items.
Hansson is a discriminating Swedish guitarist who is well cosmopolitan and has also spent an extended period in California. His three song mini-album is inventive stuff and is all instrumental rather like a surprising mix of Steve Morse, meets Eric Johnson while listening to Tommy Denander’s "Less is More" project.
"Starfall" especially has a bit of a Toto/westcoast feel to it with a fusion slant. "Hurdy Gurdgy" also has similar elements to it but is more a straight ahead workout with a heavy dose of Joe Satriani or Marty Friedman thrown in.
There’s a lot to like here and Hansson’s playing is fluid,
proficient and obviously talented without being needlessly "in your
face" flamboyant. My only complaint would be that three tracks certainly
don’t qualify as too much and I’d really like to hear a full album. Should
be a talent to watch out for.
Contact: Trebor Records Inc., Oluff Nilssons väg 10, S-433 36 Partille, Sweden. Telephone/Telefax (46)-31-3365297.
click here to e-mail Robert for more details
These ex Fortune guys spent so long in the wilderness that I’m somewhat surprised that they’ve been able to follow up their MTM debut relatively quickly as much of the material on it had been in the can, as it were, for a long time. And, I don’t know why I’m surprised that this album is as consistently remarkable as the first.
Opener "Blow wind Blow" is in a very similar vein to the first album. If anything it’s slightly more direct with the guitars a little more barbed. That first song wasn’t quite enough to convince me of the quality of this album on its own. "Halfway Home" is second and very like "Bad Blood" from the Fortune album - but I can let them off with that! This is just the treatment for the illness of the current mainstream and what a dose of keyboards it gives you! To make sure you’re completely inoculated, "Lola’s in Love" then sounds like Balance meets Journey! Almost a defining moment of AOR and who cares if it’s nothing amazing original.
"Solitary Dance" moves at a different pace with more lazy power moving close to Survivor or Jimi Jamison and is among some of the other standouts. Tasty keyboards also feature on "My Mama Said" (despite its rubbish title, which also infects the cheesy hook of "Lights out for Losers") and on the re-recorded Fortune song "Dearborn Station" which sounds more ethereal yet more potent than the original.
My only gripe is that I would like to hear more "room" in the production/mix. The mix is also a little aggressive and hirsute, though maybe it’s the way MTM masters its disks or something as several of its releases have this slightly harsh edge.
You can’t consider yourself an AOR fan without this
album..., they might not be doing anything radically different from their first
album, but when the first album was so good they don’t have to. I still don’t
think we’ve heard the best of Harlan Cage - get them in the studio with a big
name producer and a big budget and you could just have the greatest album of all
Harlan Cage are the doublet of singer L. A. Greene and Keyboard player Roger Scott Craig. These two were the core of the band Fortune (who's 1985 album under that name for Camel/MCA was an all-time classic) and later also recorded demos as "Big City".
Ten plus years is a long-time between albums, I wonder if the musical standpoint has changed? Certainly not - the first song "Pay the Devil his Due" takes up right where Fortune left off - wow! it's every true AOR fan's wildest dream. It's a little hard to describe the Harlan Cage sound, of course it's very similar to Fortune, but Fortune is usually a reference point I compare other bands to. I guess it's like a cross between Journey and the first White Sister album with progressive/pomp influences - lush and complex, yet direct and melodic. I'm not sure if that really does their sound justice though.... Fortune's "98 in the Shade" is also reworked here, but I think I prefer the original, although here it is more powerful and also symphonious (and the brief keyboard solo is fantastic!).
So often on AOR albums, keyboards are only used to add texture - that's not the case here: the guitars are more of a texture to the huge keyboards - the interplay between the two is fantastic. A couple of tracks from the thirteen on offer lose their focus a little, but you can forgive those barely perceptible weakness when you hear the pomp strut of a song like "Three Nights Running" which is like the most over-the-top version of Journey you ever heard, and refreshes your soul no matter how baffled you are by the current music scene.
To sum up, if I ever had to pick one album to effectively
describe the term "AOR" to someone who'd never heard any, I could
easily pick this album. If you consider the recent albums by The Storm and Tour
de Force to be two of the best albums of the last year, then you'll find this
one right up their on a similar par. A reference album by which others should be
Contact: Major MTM Music, Upplandsgatan 17C, 1 tr, S-11360 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel 46-8-338270 fax 46-8-328602.
click here to jump to the MTM homepage
HEARTLAND- "Bridge of Fools" (Escape Music ESM011, 1997)
This is the fourth Heartland release, but like the last (the exceedingly ingeniously titled "III") it’s really a partnership between ex- Virginia Wolf singer Chris Ousey and ex- Export, Gillan guitarist Steve Morris. This time around they do have more of a integral sound with less of a "two guys’ home demos with programmed bass and drums feel".
Apart from Chris Ousey’s excellent, as always, vocals the opening "Tomorrow Won’t Wait" is a bit uninteresting. "Castles in the Send" is much better and shouldn’t have been made the second song, it’s very pomp with its slightly frenetic guitar and keyboards interplay - grade A stuff all the way held back by a far too flat mix.
As the other tracks progress I find myself convinced that this is the best set of pure-bred songs that either Ousey or Morris has ever been involved with. Songs like "Only a Heartbeat Away" and "Hardworking Man" are real AOR songs that many supposedly melodic rock saviours could only daydream about writing. The quality is high and seems effortless.
I do have a major qualm about this release, however - it’s painfully under
produced. Songs of this quality need to be allowed to sparkle and the lack of
delineation here holds them back. It just ends up with a "work in
progress" feel - more time and effort, and I guess money, would have
produced an even better result. Still the songs are there but the production
holds it back to being merely a good release rather than a great one....
Contact: Escape Music, 4 Cavendish Court, Dean Bank, Ferryhill, Co. Durham, DL17 8PY, Great Britain. Tel/fax. 44-1740-655675
click here to e-mail Escape Music for more details
Swedish quintet Higher Ground have already featured on the demo page of this site with a review of their five song CD-R. Now they’re signed to new UK independent ProActive and are the label’s maiden release.
The five songs from the preliminary demo are still present and are now allied by a sixth - "The Big Lie". It’s the same basic versions of the other five songs, but with ProActive involved there seems to have been a slightly sharpening of the songs and I noticed also that some extra guitars had been added here and there. In particular, the vocals seem to have more presence than before and "Make it Right" fairly belts out with some serious conviction. Overall I still find the approach very similar to Michael Ruff on his "Talking through Melodies" release. And, while the band, don’t quite have the awesome production from Sheffield Labs Ruff had behind him, the production is still nicely non-complicated and you get a clear feel of the environment the instruments are being played in.
Here and there I still find that some of the lyrics need a little more definition - at times the vocals end up sounding like an additional music instrument rather than a communication device. Vocalist Peter Lindberg also sounds increasingly like David Forbes from the Canadian band Blvd particularly on the new cut. "The Big Lie" is probably the most westcoast in approach of all their songs and has an excellent feel.
A good effort which is both well played and well presented and a good start
from a new label....
Contact: ProActive, 8 Arnold Mansions, Queen’s Club Gardens, London, W14 9RD, Great Britain. Telephone/Telefax 44-(0)-181-567-3952
Jump to the Proactive homepage
click here to e-mail the label for more details
Click here to jump to the ProActive Records homepage
I'm not very fond of the word "awesome", people use it so often that the true weight of its meaning is often lost. But, with that in mind, I have to say that Saga's Ian Crichton is an awesome guitarist!
This is essentially a solo album from him though he's joined by singer Paul MacAusland and drummer Paul DeLong (both from Canadian rockers Haywire) and bassist Pat Kilbride (whose brother's in Haywire too). Vocals feature on seven of the thirteen tracks. Believe me if you ever wanted to know what it would be like if Crichton's guitar work was totally unleashed and he was left to his own devices then this album is for you.
Looking at the vocal tracks first. The opener is the old Ian Thomas song "Harmony" though the original never sounded like this with its huge guitar breaks belting out! I'm vaguely reminded of Coney Hatch with the addition of over-the-top, all guns blazing guitar work! "Toy Town" is the next one with vocals and starts to rock at a fairly furious pace before abruptly halting for a quite outrageous guitar solo. "This Time"'s got a bit more of a commercial hook but it's still the guitar work that's stealing the show, and the cover of Spirit's "Mr. Skin" is also given an outrageous, almost unbelievable make-over.
The majority of the instrumentals are very much in the style of Joe Satriani's "Flying in a Blue Dream". I've always loved fusion stuff, so I really dig it and "Touch 'n' Go" even has a bit of the Dixie Dregs/Steve Morse about it. In general Crichton's playing is even more colourful than Satriani's - now that is really saying something! I mean the jazzy "Shades of Blue" has a definite Satriani feel but then Crichton suddenly pulls stunning tricks I've never heard any other guitarist do! "Do It" is the most obviously like Saga (pre- "Generation 13" I hasten to add) and is therefore a good reference point too.
I have to mention the production and excellent mix (by Shay Baby - excellent as always), as sometimes such fusion-tinged projects can sound a little over sterile and premeditated, but here the sound is very immediate and up front. It's just like one of the world's best guitarists walked into your front living room and started ripping out his greatest licks ever!
I must admit the last album from Philadelphia's Hooters - "Zig Zag" - gave the impression of a band stone dead! However, with a change of label and producer (to Joe Hardy) they are right back and right back on form.... On "Out of Body" they really sound like a band with something to prove - and prove it they surely do!
The songs are uniformly excellent throughout with interesting instrumentation, clever production and a fine sense of dynamics adding up to a very enjoyable package which positively oozes class from its every pore. While it hardly seems fair to single out any one song for particularly praise, as they're all so fine, "Boys will be Boys" (which also features Cyndi Lauper) would prove a particularly suitable introduction and is particularly indicative of the band's revitalised approach. A very strong release which will still satisfy older Hooters fans whilst winning them many more - one listen and you'll be addicted....
This looks like an interesting combination. Ken Greer and Myles Hunter have some serious Canadian musical pedigree behind them: Greer spent many years playing with Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, while Hunter has been solo and fronted the bands Avalon, Michael Fury, and the excellent Refugee.
Hitting the play button you find yourself, not surprisingly, presented with a definite amalgam of the aforementioned Red Rider and Refugee. The emphasis is really on songwriting and the closest thing I can liken it to is the live sound of Red Rider (which was always more direct) on the superb "Symphony Sessions" album. The new release also has a bit of a raw edge to it which kind of lends to this "live in the studio" intimate feel. Myles Hunter has always been an excellent lyric writer and this is the perfect vehicle for his considerable talents.
The songwriting is consistently good throughout and it is
possibly the most mature release either of the two main men have been involved
with. If you liked any of the previous releases these two have been involved
with then you'll dig this straight away. I hope it's not too long until there's
a follow up release.
Contact: Flood Ross Entertainment Inc., 2181 Dunwin Drive, Mississauga, Ontario, L5L 3S3, Canada.
OK, I’d admit it, quite often Scandinavian bands leave me hypothermic. Too many of them do nothing more than follow a "painting by numbers" approach to melodic rock, and the band members seem (and frequently are) interchangeable. Hush are Norwegian and initially had this, their debut, album released only in Japan though it is now available throughout Europe. The name also has to be confusing in the context of Robert Berry’s old band.
With only lesser preconceptions in my mind I gave the first track "Talk to Me" a chance. Almost surprisingly (!) they sound extremely like the better side of their Norwegian compatriots the Stage Dolls (around the "Commandos" album) and have some hints of TNT and DaVinci too. Very much a guitar-drive power AOR sound, with the production reasonable and big hooks. Overall the mix emphasizes a big (and at times make that very big!) guitar sound, the drums could be a bit more up front and the vocals feel slightly dry. This has got all the qualities of some of the best Scandinavian AOR of the late 1980s, and to a degree it feels like Hush have either mastered time-travel or have been in a minor Nordic microcosm and its still 1987 or 1988 to them.
"Babe" and "Believe" are up next and are not even slightly original. The lyrics are also the sort of trifling jabber that only Scandinavian bands can come up with. But, somehow they get away it! "Piece of the Action", although it’s still close to TNT, sees the guitar sounds varied in a more complex song structure and is significantly more fresh and original. The original moments are few and far between overall, and a truely wearisome song like "Big Times" is a real abject point.
Overall, despite how derivative the band’s song writing is, somehow they
get away with it, and the album is actually enjoyable if you embrace its ground
rules. Put a copyright date of 1988 and change the band name to Stage Dolls and
you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference, but fans of that period and
bands of that ilk will find a good deal of pleasure here.
Anybody who has ever even briefly enjoyed any of Donnie Iris' previous efforts will love this new release. True to form a rousing selection of tongue-in-cheek rocky AOR anthems are on offer which instantly make the hairs on the back of one's neck stand to attention.
From the opening "Kamikaze" the cards are set on the table with Marty Lee's driving guitar and Mark Avsec's brooding keyboards quickly winning you over and the topsy turvy lyrics quickly make you feel you're talking to an old friend with a wicked sense of humour! Sarcasm (always my favourite form of wit!) is also well evident on the acerbic "Sensible Prudent Person" which could easily apply to several people I know!
A great release with a superb sound and a superb set of songs.
Intermixed with the rabble rousing rockers are a few more keyboard driven tracks
which are more akin to the material on Mark Avsec's first, and better, "Cellarful
of Noise" project which are also highly enjoyable.
Contact: Seathru Records, 44 North Main, Chagrin Falls, Ohio 44022, USA. Telephone (216) 247-2722
Small label this release might be, but its produced by the well respected Keith Olsen - quite a coup for a young band from LA.
On the first song, the title track, they present a quite modern guitar drive sound. Something like a very superior version of The Wallflowers or even the Gin Blossoms. Quite a good crossover in fact between the current mainstream and a classic rock sound. Second track "A Little Piece" has more of a mid-west feel and is well played all round. The melodic and sharp "Tonight we Run" and "Long Break" follow with their sharp hooks and modern radio rock sound.
The rest of the tracks are rather like Big Wreck or Cry of Love, but as the album goes on a little more variety of pace would be nice, and a couple sound a little too modern for their own good.
This sound s like a young band striving to make AOR viable in the current US
market. For the most part, they do it well. The potential for spicing up the
mainstream with something much more substantial and worthy is clear - it will
now be interesting to see how they develop.
After lying low for a few years after her excellent "Tell Somebody" debut on Canada's Aquarius Records, Sass Jordan is back with a new release produced by Rick Neigher (formerly of semi-legendary Avalon, and producer of Alias and at times Prince, among others). However, musically this is a million miles away from her debut and follows a completely different road from the pompy AOR of "Tell Somebody." From the first track "Make you a Believer" it's obvious that Sass is looking to be the female version of John Cougar Mellencamp (but without the social commentary).
All the songs are good, though when viewed as a whole the three co-written with Stevie Salas are probably a little weak. Sass' vocals are always impressive and the production lends an almost live in the studio feel to some of the tracks which is refreshing. While probably not to everyone's taste, and probably disappointing anyone who expected a re-run of "Tell Somebody," this is still a record that will easily win a lot of fans especially with anyone that appreciates the down to earth, gritty style of John Mellencamp.
With a name like Kingdom of Desire I was almost expecting a Toto tribute show from this Dutch band with their self-financed, seven song debut release.
I really like the opening song - "Someone's Calling" - with its original sound, clever keyboards, and varied guitar work. Maybe it's a little like a thinking man's version of Danish band Skagerack. The rest of the CD doesn't quite do so much for me being more standard Euro melodic rock. That's only a personal preference, mind, if you dig bands like Talisman and Bonfire, or even Europe you'll lap it up.... It's a little predictable, but well delivered and the well constructed "Who's Sorry Now" stands out and moves closer to Zeno or Fair Warning.
While this one doesn't quite hit the peaks for me, I know many
of you out there will really like it - give it a chance.....
click here to Jump to the band's home page
click here to e-mail the band for more details
I have to admit right now I was a little disgruntled with King of Hearts debut album (put out by Westcoast in 1994), sure it had some good songs on it and the playing and singing was impeccable, but it just seemed to be too much of a miss-mash of styles.
As well as new songs Bruce Gaitsch and Tommy Funderburk also now present some of the tracks from the original first King of Hearts of album which was recorded for Chrysalis but never got released. "In so Many Words" is one of these earlier songs and gets the second effort underway. I like this a lot - super-duper AOR not unlike Timothy B. Schmidt’s "Tell the Truth" album (which Gaitsch also did some excellent work on) - Funderburk’s vocals are spot on and no self-respecting AOR fan should be without it.
"Closer to the Edge" is next up and is much more candidly westcoast and is consummated with a guitar solo from Jay Graydon. Again its a very good song, but I don’t think the mix does it full justice. As the tracks flow on there’s still lots of the variety presented but it’s applied much more consistently than the first album and it serves to enhance.
Great song after great song hits home like the westcoast shuffle of "I Surrender All", the lazy power of "Dancing with the Light", the oh so cool AOR of "Remember When" (rather like Funderburk’s earlier "What If" project), and "Was it Good for You" where they really let go and rock out in an effortless fashion that Richard Marx would be proud of.
Second time around and King of Hearts come up trumps!
For some reason I didn’t have high expectations for this album. It’s not that Jaime’s David Cole-produced debut - "The Passionate Kind" (Atco, 1992) - was shabby, far from it, it’s just that this release has been so long "in the making" and the release so repeatedly anticipated, that frustration had set in.
But we all make mistakes, and not expecting too much from Jaime Kyle’s second album was a huge blunder! After just a couple of listens I find myself grouping "Back from Hollywood" is the same astral company as such model female-fronted melodic rock/AOR albums as Heart’s 1985 self-titled album, Lisa Hartman’s sadly neglected "’Til my Heart Stops Beating", Scandal’s "The Warrior", and Patty Smyth’s "Never Enough" - it’s that good with effortlessness….
Singular tracks don’t matter too much here, they’re
uniformly excellent and the selection nicely assorted and paced. To generalise
the sound is very similar to the aforementioned Scandal and Patty Smyth albums
and is proper melodic rock without any of the dressing of country rock often
demanded to survive in the current music business. A landmark album of essential
Contact: Now and Then Records, Unit 23, Empress Industrial Estate, Anderton Street, Wigan, Lancs., WN2 2BG, Great Britain. Tel/Fax 44-1942-866099
click here to jump to the Now & Then Records homepage
You know I can think of great AOR bands from numerous countries all around the world, but I’ve never before had Spain on the list, and these guys are, surprisingly, very good. The first song on the CD says it all with its superb Balance style keyboards and its resourceful mix of Journey and early FM (UK version) songwriting. It’s well played, well produced and a great AOR sound all around.
The band do have one major restricting factor though, they sing in their indigenous language. With some non-English singing bands its not that much of a complication, but with Spanish pronunciations and inflections it takes a little bit of getting used to. Overall though it does work and the very high quality of the music makes up for it with ease.
The quality of the tracks is very consistent throughout with the Strangeways meets Dare like "Aire" particularly sharp, "Obsesion" very like "Frontiers" period Journey, and "Angel" would sound perfectly at home on the first Aldo Nova album! On the later handful of tracks a clear Saga influence is also mixed in and the complex guitar and keyboard passages in "Solo Tu" are fine evidence of this.
A surprisingly high quality release that will startle many -
La Fase deserve to be more well know outside of their homeland, though how far
they can go without singing in English is undetermined.
Contact: Q Records, C/ San Roque 1, 28.004 Madrid, Spain.
Click here to visit the Rock Shop in Spain for ordering details
Regular readers of these pages will already know how Lana’s last album "Curious Goods" got me in full hyperbole mode, and it’s gratifying to have a follow-up to review without an disproportionate delay. So no preamble, let’s get to the music.
After the moody opening instrumental "River of Stars" you’re launched into, the patently X-files approved, "Destination Roswell". First impressions are of a more direct and guitar-orientated approach than seen on "Curious Goods", closer to the material on her debut album "Love is an Illusion". In some ways it reaches you more on an emotional level rather then the cerebral design of the last album. The vocals are also intimate and eerie in the verses which makes an interesting contrast, and overall I find myself wanting to describe it as "impressionistic melodic hard rock" painting a musical picture around you rather than shouting "look at what I just drew"!
Fabulous class-encrusted rock then follows with "Seasons" which is not unlike Legs Diamond around the time of their "Out on Bail" album. A lot of fine qualities are combined, but the overall impression is about restrained power, rather like driving a super car around city streets (or even better, through a tunnel!) at moderate speeds, just to feel power available at a second’s notice. The lyrics are still thought-provoking, but the music makes a more categorical statement.
"Evolution Revolution" rocks with some real venom, but nothing is ever that straight-forward with Lana as it has a shimmering, introspective mid-section - probably just as well, as your average drummer would expire maintaining the opening pace through a seven minute song.... "Eternal Waters" almost sounds like classic late 1970s UFO with a vague progressive edge, but "Under the Olive Tree" and "Dream of the Dragonfly" are much more complex and resourceful along the lines of "Curious Goods".
The production from Erik Norlander is even better than on "Curious Goods" and doesn’t suffer from even the merest hint of compression. It’s a wide-angle lens on the music and particularly has a sharper, more developed drum sound. This Japanese version also a bonus track in the shape of a live version of "Symphony of Angels" recorded in Germany with Norlander’s band The Rocket Scientists, which is cool and almost more complex than the original studio version.
As a third release, this avoids the dangers of being a reworking of either of
the previous efforts, while still combining elements of both. In many ways it
winds up being more of an AOR album rather than the more overtly progressive
second album. Initially it feels more emotional but then the lyrics draw you
into interesting visions - stimulating in many ways. There are whole levels of
different musical dimensions displayed on many manifold plains that you’ll
pleasure in finding and reaching. An album that lives and breaths its best
qualities with the listener.
I think this is one of the most baffling reviews I've ever written in my life! Sometimes, no matter how ostentatious one's words and how complex an image one strives to create for the reader, they just can't convey the sheer scale and magnitude of some music. This is one of those albums. All I can do is try and describe some of the tracks as best I can, and hopefully you'll see how truly moved I am by this album's contents.
"Curious Goods Part One" is certainly an interesting intro: going from technical and atmospheric to vaguely progressive and rocky, and then it winds up like something from Billy Sherwood's first World Trade album! Then we segue into "Emerald City" which is pompy but with that hard, direct edge that only the best American bands can inject it with. Soothing vocals run through the atmospheric verses, before the barely-muzzled attack of melodic heavy rock guitars slam in with mellatrons in the background as well. Sort of Pallas meets Saga in a heavy rock mood. The production (from keyboard wizard Erik Norlander) is interesting, clear, and layered yet spatially aware with a nicely live drum sound. "Truly symphonic" would make a good two word description. It's a veritable quality rock tour de force, not so much a finger in the eye of the current alternative/disposable mainstream, more of a damn good thrashing out in the car park leaving it bruised and pulverised. As unbelievable as it may sound, a song to restore your faith in the world and the ability of great melodic rock to beat all adversities.
Hmmn, it'll be interesting to see if this standard is maintained. "Escher's Staircase" (now there's a cliched song title!) is next and there's definitely a progressive influence, but it's not that sort of look back to the '70s with khaftans thing, is much more vague - more just the feeling of sheer musical quality and depth genuine talent can impart. Progressive and fresh and individual aren't usually terms that go together, but here they do, and how. Musically you could even see elements of early Angel (on something like "The Tower") - it's that huge a sound.
After another short instrumental interlude, "Take a Breath" sounds, even more like World Trade, hugely commercial and those keyboard sounds are fabulous like "Slow Down" from the first Prophet album, in fact the first Prophet album is a good reference point - they still had a definite progressive influence then but in a much more rocky and commercially aware context.
And the quality continues to flow. On "Reverie" Lana's voice isn't unlike a more mystical version of Patty Smyth. There's also a very interesting time change in the mid section which gives it an always jazzy feel..., like a commercial and direct version of an Allan Holdsworth album! Now we're more than half through the album and we come to "Symphony of Angels (Arias and Fables)", and in true "the engine's canna take it Captain" this one rocks with an intro that would do Iron Maiden proud, but then swirling keyboards (god that's a cliché I should have avoided) kick in and the song totally changes. There are so many different textures that I could write dissertations on each of its different sections. Maybe it's like Thread with a massive injection of hard rock guitars and a drum clinic demonstration. While risking defining the term hyperbole, this one track has more sophistication and endeavour than I've heard some bands produce on three or more albums! Here my frustration is at its highest - whatever I write will never do it justice!
This is an album that no self respecting rock fan should miss
out on. Grab a copy and prepare to have your mind expanded! Albums with this
level of integrity are very sparse and if you don't get on the case as soon as
possible, you'll definitely regret it later. Lana's first album "Love is an
Illusion" (Think Tank Media, 1995), with appearances from Paul Sabu and
Steve Plunkett, is just as awesome... and just as a symphonic musical statement
with maybe a slight more emphasis on the hard rock element...
click here to jump to the Think Tank Media homepage
Progressive rock really seems to have a strong following these days, but it remains totally "underground". The Light are definitely a progressive band, but they have enough of a rock slant that many AOR, and especially pomp rock, fans will find a lot to enjoy in them. Their approach is a little more straight forward than the term "progressive" sometimes implies, making the songs very accessible.
The first two tracks - "Under the Midnight Sun" and "Rise to Freedom" are very indicative of their sound: all lush and richly textured. The sound could almost be a mix of Kansas (in fact the vocalist sound a little like Steve Walsh at times) mixed with old style Yes, but with modern instrumentation and production values. The Yes influence almost brings them into World Trade territory particularly on "I'm on the Outside" and "The Pleasure Field" which has swirling guitar work and very pompy keyboards.
Very refined and very interesting would be my overall
description. At a couple of points they maybe sound a little cold and precise,
but that might be more to do with the tightly controlled arrangements which
never dare to wander like is the norm with some progressive bands.
Contact: Aquarian Records, 7405 Florence Avenue, #222, Downey, CA. 90240, USA.
click here to e-mail the band for more details
The start of this album really restores my faith! Hypnotic keyboards usher in the start of "Something Changes" and then it’s all pomp bass and stabbing guitars rather like the excellent, and hard to track down these days, album by fellow Canadians Prototype. In a similar fashion to ex- Stonebolt man Ray Roper’s solo album there’s elements of classic Canadian pomp bands like Zon, Everest, Lynx and Cinema Face, yet in a modern context.
"Bring Back the Fire" has a real lazy power to it, almost like a progressive influenced version of Honeymoon Suite. Third track "Never too Late" is one of the standouts on the album for me and moves into early Saga territory - it’s very short at under two and half minutes, but a lot is crammed into that short time - one listen to that one and you’ll be instantly convinced of the thought and precision behind this band.
At times a progressive influence is in evidence, but it’s very sharply focused and Lightspeed are much more interesting and direct than that term can sometimes suggest.
A good band with a lot of the best elements of late 1970s
and 1980s Canadian pomp bands, yet a sound that’s clearly their own:
atmospheric yet crisp, complex yet still commercial. Their first album "So
Exactly where are We?" is just as good and a third is due later this year -
keep an eye on this lot!
Contact: Lightspeed Productions, P.O. Box 66632, Stoney Creek P.O., Stoney Creek, Ontario, L8G 5E5, Canada.
click here to e-mail the band for more details
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Lionel’s Dad is the recording name of Mark T. Williams brother of former Toto singer Joseph with whom he closely collaborated on Joseph’s excellent "3" solo album last year. This is the second Lionel’s Dad release (the first featured a reworked version of Toto’s "A Thousand Years" which Mark co-wrote incidently) and work on another two is already underway as I write this. Mark is most known as a drummer, but on his solo releases he plays absolutely everything with the odd guest helping out here and there.
"Looking for an Answer" is the first track on offer and the vocals sound vaguely like Joseph Williams, though Mark doesn’t quite have the same gumption behind his delivery. However you approach it, this is excellent westcoast flavoured AOR and is quite like Joseph’s "3" album (which is still only available in Japan), a nice mixture of Toto’s outlook, Jay Gruska-style songwriting depth and commerciality, and even a little R&B piquancy thrown in too. "I’m falling for You" keeps the vibe going and exudes quality and breeding. It might not have the huge budget production of many westcoast classics, but the effect is still clear and the connections with the work of Jay Graydon in Planet 3 and even Airplay are there.
Quality and great songs are everywhere on this album. "Let me be the one" moves into the territory of Ned Doheny’s, relatively, recent Japanese releases, while "Can’t Keep Up" sounds like a LA meeting of Kim Mitchell and Glen Burtnik. "R.T.H.D." mixes hard and soft sounds together nicely, while "Our Love’s too Strong" is quite like Peter Cetera. "She’s Gone" which was recorded on the aforementioned "3" album by Joseph is also recalled to action and is just as good as it’s previous recording even if it is less burnished.
An excellent effort by a clearly underestimated talent. Much more convincing
than the first album which suffered from a real "box of demos" feel
despite some fine songs. Well worthy of your attention.
Sometimes bands do stupid things! In Little Yankees’ case their culpable crime is putting their absolutely worst song "Go to America" first on their debut CD! As an opening song it’s so cheesy that it’s like drowning in a dairy and is best skipped over.
So forgetting that aberration, "The Power" is damn good AOR. Although the rest of the band is Swedish, singer Paul Dexter is British and the sound is very like a better produced version of the first two FM albums and not dissimilar to other quality UK bands like After Hours, GTS and Heartland. "Famous" also seems very maturely written, well influenced and well implemented and Dexter’s vocals are brawny enough to hold the whole sound together.
There’s lots of good "proper AOR" songs here particularly in the
nicely assertive "Give it to me" and the very FM-like "Don’t
Leave Me". My only grumble would be that the keyboards sounds could
occasionally do with a little more variety and the use of "parping"
horn sounds is somewhat dated at times. However, a good start that fans of
distinctly British AOR will lap up.
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I know this seems to be flying in the face of popular opinion (I think that's what AOR Basement is all about anyway), but I was a tad disappointed with Kansas' recent "Freaks of Nature" release. Sure it was nice to have another Kansas album on the streets but the production was leaden and dated plus, almost unthinkably for one of the greatest rock voices ever, Steve Walsh really seemed to be struggling at times. Kerry Livgren was the driving force behind Kansas in the late '70s and '80s so it's interesting to see how the two releases compare. Kerry's previous solo and "AD" releases have all been a little inconsistent with 1986's "Reconstructions" being far and away the best.
First off, the production on "When things get Electric" is very good and is obvious straight away that a lot of time, care and thought has gone into it along with some very clever instrumentation. Whereas Kansas seem to have resurrected their late mid-'70s sound, Kerry seems to be maintaining the direction of 1984's "Drastic Measures" (the last Kansas album on which he featured) to very fine effect. In the same way Kerry did with his earlier "AD" solo projects, the new release features two vocalists (Darren Rogers and Jason Beddoe). I'm not sure which is which, but one sounds like a deeper voiced John Elefante and the other really reminds me of Styx's Dennis DeYoung, which is no bad thing.
If, like me, your favourite Kansas albums were the "Drastic Measures" and "Vinyl Confessions" releases then you'll appreciate some of the songs presented here - check out the title track, "Two Thousand Down", "A Hero's Canticle" and "Racing Away" (co-written with Ambrosia's David Pack) for instant examples. Another song well worth skipping to straight away is "Turn out the Lights" which absolutely reeks of Styx style pomp with keyboards swirling in from all over the place. The only track I don't really like is "Like a Whisper" which is a nice idea, but seems to drag and wander a little too much.
Despite the fact that the recordings for this release took
place over an extended period of time, there is a definite "band
sound" to all the material and a strong consistency is maintained
throughout. This is a very good "comeback" release (at least I think
it qualifies as a comeback release) and I feel, strangely, reassured that
material of this quality can still get released even if it is on a very small
Contact- Numavox Records, P.O. Box 44, Berryton, Kansas 66409, USA.
click here to e-mail the record label for mail order details
click here to visit the unofficial Kerry Livgren web page
What a sensational find from a Kansas City band that was originally taken under the wing of Shooting Star guitarist Van McLain. This is an extended version of the band's 1992 release - "The Forthcoming Album" - and by extended I mean really extended: 9 songs have been added bringing the total track count up to 18!
With that many tracks you might expect the quality to be a bit variable - certainly not! All 18 tracks make you forget about the sorry state of the mainstream of the US music scene, and remind you of much better times. "Round Trip World" puts their collective cards on the table and is resplendent sounding pomp rock/hard-ish AOR with purposeful keyboards and stabbing, rippling guitars. The sound is a little late '80s and this first track is like a combination of the very different approaches of Shooting Star and Honeymoon Suite.
The quality really doesn't let up. Particularly noteworthy tracks include: "Turnin' the Wheels" and "Line of Fire" which are easily as hot as Tour de Force's new/old album; "Rain" which is very Journey-ish and very cool; "It Couldn't Happen to Me" - incredible pomp rock like Roadmaster or Touch; and "Hit and Run" which is unbelievably good and had me making comparisons to Le Roux and Streets.
This one really has the feel of an undiscovered classic - it'd be stupid not
to pick one up as soon as possible!
Contact: London Drive, P.O. Box 28743, Kansas City, MO. 64188, USA.
click here to e-mail the band for more details
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Bit of a surprise to see these guys emerging again. Those of you with long memories will remember a fine release in 1986 on A&M under the name of the "Bricklin" - the core of that band - the brothers Brian and Scott Bricklin and Jake Meyer - make up Martin's Dam. What they've been up to in the intervening years isn't clear.... Bricklin's debut was never easy to locate as A&M seemed to bury it on release and never got behind it at all.
Bricklin always had a poppy edge to their music - but on this new release the poppy edge runs riot! As a result, not everybody's going to dig this release - but, if you like bands like Nelson and The Rembrandts then you'll probably appreciate it. There are well written songs a plenty on offer which display sincere songwriting and are well textured, and played with genuine conviction. Standouts are the Tom Petty-ish "You Must Come" and the tracks were they get a little harder edge to their sound: "Selfish Breed" and "The Big One".
Overall, from an AOR fans' point of view, its not as
coherent a release as the Bricklin album, though if you're feeling in a poppy
mode it's well worth a listen, I'll warn you now though - some of the tracks are
incredibly catchy and re-emerge from your subconscious with alarming regularity.
Contact- Redemption Records, P.O. Box 3244, Omaha, NE. 68103-0244, USA or Martin's Dam, P.O. Box 209, Bridgeport, PA. 19405, USA.
The Max are a three piece outfit from middle America that play some pretty congenial, highly melodic, guitar based AOR/radio rock, or at least what would have been radio rock just a couple of years ago. This is their second independent album release.
The first track - "Underneath it All" - lets you know exactly where these guys are coming from as the display a sound that fans of Farrenheit (remember their excellent album on Warner Brothers?) and early material from The Outfield will hear much that they like. As the album advances, you can see components of the band Little America and even the long lost Riggs emerging, particularly when they turn it up a gear on "Take you Back".
If I had to rate this release I could only really say that its
fair to middling - It's very nearly first rate it just needs a little more spark
to push it on to that next stage. AOR bands like this used to be a dime a dozen,
but with most of them now disappearing The Max's valuation could well increase.
Contact: The Max, P.O. Box 3074, Missoula, MT. 59806, USA.
What’s going on here, Dave Mendenhall is a studio producer type who’s appeared at irregular intervals over the years - how come he’s suddenly doing a solo album? Whatever the reason he’s brought in some entertaining free-agents to strengthen his team including Camel and Keats’ Pete Bardens, Dane Spencer from Sojourn and Spencer/Bullock, Neale Heywood from Lindsey Buckingham’s band, guitarist Seymour Duncan (doesn’t he manufacture pick-ups, strings and stuff?), and also Michael Dowdle who’s done two excellent instrumental guitar albums in his time.
Even with that in mind I still didn’t know what to think when I went to start listening to it. As soon as Pete Barden’s "On the Air Tonight" started however, my eye-brows were unwittingly rising - I wasn’t expecting it to sound like a more American version of Asia! Very cool AOR which is well produced and tightly played. As you get into track two - "What Happened to Me" - my eye-brows are now totally out of control - pomp rock like Sugarcreek or Stonebolt! Great keyboards, great guitars, great intercommunication between the two, superb 1970s influences, but it’s not dated and totally refreshing.
As I listen to this album, and I guess the title confirms this, it must have been recorded over a very extended period of time as some of the tracks pursue very different directions. "It’s All Over Now" has more of a new wave feel and is not unlike the Canadian bands Darkroom and Eight Seconds, and "One More Night" is almost like Billy Idol, though Mendenhall doesn’t appear to have the curled lip! Add to that eclectic mix the blues in hyperdrive form of "King Tone Blues" and you’ve a lot of variety to deal with.
I can’t quite figure out the point of including a cover of Bob Dylan’s "All along the Watchtower" and also throwing in "When a Man loves a Woman" seems a bit unnecessary - if I never heard that song again in my life it would be too much! You also get two different versions of "Turn your Heart Around" previously recorded by Pete Bardens when he was in Keats. The first sounds like an early version of the song with Billy Idol singing (!), and to be honest Mendenhall’s vocals struggle a little on it, while the second sounds like the sort of version Motley Crue would come up with! The final track is also a cover, but very surprisingly is "Lookin’ for More" from the first Sojourn album. It’s given a more belligerent, in your face treatment than the Sojourn version, good as it is, it still seems like a weird choice of song to cover.
The diversity does not detract from the overall interest and effect of the
project. An album that has high quality influences from the best of melodic rock
through the 1970s and 1980s. When it’s at its best then it’s superb - well
worth spending some time with.
MIDNIGHT SUN- "Another World" (Massive Music/RoastingHouse MASS513, 1997)
Midnight Sun is the latest band to feature much travelled ex- Alien and Von Rosen singer Pete Sandberg. After listening to this debut release a few times they actually seem to be a little schizophrenic trying to follow two different directions.
On one hand tracks like "Moneymaker", "No Way Out", and "Black Night" are typical Scandinavian hard/heavy rock with a ‘70s influence much in the vein of Brazen Abbott, early Europe or even Malmsteen. Those songs seem a bit average and one dimensional to me, but when they restrain their power suddenly everything becomes much more inventive and all the musicians sound much more at ease. "Over and Over" is a prime example sounding like a mixture of Shadow King and early Alien. "On n’ On" is similar and even better while "Power of Greed" is the exact opposite of their heavy material and is more like Don Henley than anything else. Sandberg’s vocals sound a little tight and dry on the heavy material but on something like "Power of Greed" he sounds positively unshackled and expressive. This freer vocal style is also applied on the much rockier "Front-page News" to make it the most effective of the harder tracks.
While I’m sure the Japanese market will lap up the early Europe style
material, when these guys pursue their slightly softer side the material comes
alive and shines with conviction. Worth checking out and seeing how they
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This is not your usual AOR fare, but readers with a broad musical taste (and after all "AOR" does imply a wide range of styles) will find this an interesting project. Rick Morrison is a Canadian saxophone player and his album is definitely jazz fusion although guitars are provided by ex Simon Chase and current Blood Red Flower man Silvio Simone, and drummer Mark Kelso's name is familiar even if I can't remember which bands he used to be in.
Right from the opening short "Invitation" you know this is real jazz fusion with saxophones used extensively, and like many jazz projects the mix (courtesy of the hugely experienced Terry Brown) is incredible. "The Way of the Flame" is the first full track and is vaguely like Gamalon's album with Ernie Watts (but way more jazzy) mixed with the eastern flavour of Al Di Meola. Very cool and intellectually stimulating. The songs drag you further and further into Rick's world and by "Journey" you're revelling, albeit quite surprisingly, in how cool his sax playing is.
Think my favourite track is possibly "Doobop"
where you'll marvel in the sheer range of sounds a sax can produce. This is
modern jazz with a real point to it. Overall I'm reminded of Avenue Blue (but
without Jeff Golub's soulful guitar) and fellow Canadians Five After Four. For
listeners with an open mind and a desire to have their horizons expanded....
Contact: Jam Time Music, 1565 Jane Street, P.O. Box 34603, Toronto, Ontario, M9N1R0, Canada.
This is a release that I wasn’t expecting. "1978" is ten songs that New England recorded when they first formed in that year and is essentially the demo that helped get them their record deal. If that wasn’t interesting enough, three of the ten included here weren’t released on their three studio albums.
First two tracks are "Alone Tonight" and "Nothing to Fear" which will be familiar to the band’s fans. In composition terms they’re little different from the versions on the first album, though they are, obviously, slightly more unrefined, which is actually quite cool as the debut album is a bit over produced in places. "Hello Hello Hello" doesn’t real sound any different from the first album version, though it’s keyboards sound a little more prominent here. The slight raw edge seems to give them a more powerful, whole band sound, and it’s interesting to see that even though the band had only been together a short while, their sound was already fully developed.
First unreleased track is "Candy" which is typically New England and more close to some of the "Explorer Suite" material, some of the ideas from the track (in particular the guitar piece) seem to have been later reused in the "Walking Wild" sessions. It’s a strange feeling to suddenly hear a "new" New England song with their classic sound. The chorus is a little under-developed, which would probably explain why it didn’t make the first album. "I Will be there" is also unreleased and has the lazy, cool power of New England written all over it. The other unreleased cut is "Even When I’m Away" which is actually surprisingly dated. Much of the themes from it were later used in the far superior "You’re already there" on the aformentioned "Walking Wild".
"Shoot" is often highlighted as one of the great tracks from the first album, though it’s never really done that much for me. But, this demo version actually seems to work much better, as it sounds much more like having New England playing right in front of your nose! "Searchin’" was later reworked on "Explorer Suite", and the version presented here is very raw indeed. "Turn out the Light" with its cultured chorus is still one of my favourite New England songs. This really reminds you of the first time John Fannon’s vocals caught your attention and dragged you into a chair to listen to the band in great detail.
It’s also reassuring to see that an all-time great like "Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya" is a classic no matter what form it’s recorded in. The tape-hiss between the opening guitar phrasing has been "hidden" which I thought was taking something away from the experience. Yes there’s some minor differences from the first album version, but they’re minor: some of the vocal lines aren’t perfectly recorded and the backing vocals aren’t as outrageously stacked up. But a great song is a great song, and this version only serves to hike its reputation even further.
A thoroughly enthralling release that sounds like much more than your average
1970s demo. It’s not often I feel the need to mention ever track on any
release, and that’s a true indication of the quality of these songs as any! GB
Music also seems to be creating its own little treasure throve as it’s
additionally released both "Explorer Suite" and "Walking
Wild" (my favourite New England album) on CD for the first time. If that
wasn’t enough the band are also talking about doing some completely new
material as well. Better hope that’s not just a tease and that’ll come to
NIGHT RANGER- "Neverland" (Zero Corporation XRCN-1297, 1997)
In retrospect I have to feel disappointed with Night Ranger's "Feeding off the Mojo" "comeback" album - the flash that made the original band so dear just wasn't there for me The, so far, Japanese-only. "Neverland" however sees the original line-up back together, and before listening I felt a little nervous as Japanese releases seem to be pushing several AOR bands to the heaviest end of their sound constricting and limiting their sound.
But, track one "New York Time" certainly sounds an awful lot more like Night Ranger than anything on the aforementioned Mojo. Sure, this is an the more rocky side of Night Ranger's sound, but just like their original out and out rockers like "Man in Motion".
"As Always I Remain" has acoustic textures that sound very like older Night Ranger, and already I'm feeling like this is a assuring return to form, as it were. This is the high quality material that the name Night Ranger should be associated with - and you can close your eyes and forget that the alternative/grunge sound ever stagnated the US mainstream with crassness.
By track five, "Someday I Will", you find the most AOR track on offer - back in the days when radio played proper rock this would have doubtless had a fine shot at being a hit. "Sunday Morning" starts all introspective and thoughtful but then gets lots of substance from muzzled stun guitar, but individual tracks begin not to matter as this is fine melodic rock all the way, not totally original or drastically new but Night Ranger's presentation is always distinctive and involving.
I know the Japanese market loves cover versions, but I can't see the point in re-recording "You can still Rock in America" from the "Midnight Madness" album. Of course, its still an excellent exercise in melodic hard rock, but the sentiments of the song are decidedly dodgy in 1997 - I'm sure many of the US-based fans reading this will agree "You can barely Still Rock in America" might have been a more appropriate title!
This is so obviously the same band that recorded "Dawn Patrol" and
this is a much more of a logical follow-up to albums like "Big Life"
and "Man in Motion" than "Feeding off the Mojo" could ever
be. Some original line-ups shouldn't be messed with - these five bring out the
best in each other and the end result is definitely much more than a sum of its
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I was highly surprised to see the name of '80s AOR champions Night Ranger being resurrected. However, the band is back as a three piece with original members Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy (who now has a silly little beard) and former Jeff Paris bass player Gary Moon. Keyboards are played by various guest musicians on this David Prater produced comeback release.
The lead vocals are shared between the three of them, though I really think its the ones sung by Kelly that really sound alive, and have the most spirit. The best tracks for me are the more mid-paced "Precious Time", "The Night has a Way", and "Music Box" (which for some reason reminds me of Legs Diamond - but I'm not sure why) where the songs are well structured and nicely commercial. The title track and "Try (for Good reason)" are late 80s heavy radio rock and sound very like Night Ranger, but at the same time somehow slightly forced. "Last Chance" (co-written with Jeff Paris) and "Longest Days" sound surprisingly like Def Leppard, so that'll give you an idea of where the more rocky tracks are heading.
Not a perfect release by any stretch of the imagination, and
not quite scaling the fine heights of the majority of their previous releases,
but a pleasant enough reintroduction to the band.
Contact- Night Ranger Network, 5443 Beethoven Street, Los Angeles, CA. 90066, USA.
click here to e-mail Drive Entertainment for more details
Norlander has already been highly praised at this site for his work with Lana Lane, and he’s behind multiform other projects and producer of even more. He’s obviously a fecund sort of guy as he’s now gone and done a full solo album as well. It’s completely instrumental and concentrates on his keyboard forte - absolutely no guitars are featured. Apart from the intro no track is under five minutes and "Waltz of the Biots" is over 11 minutes, so it’s obviously some heavyweight stuff.
"Neurosaur" is the first proper track and its like a modern progressive version of ELP. The superb keyboard riff reminds me of the engaging Rudess/Morgenstein project which is similar in many respects. Norlander’s effort is just as bombastic and just as cool. The sheer mixture of different keyboard sounds is stunning, and Norlander’s production is excellent as always - somewhat lusher than normal but creating a complex sound tapestry without gratuitous indulgence.
One difference between this and the Rudess/Morgenstein release is real bass is used here (from Don Schiff) and fine bass is it is too.... But the big difference that Norlander brings to the fusion keyboard rock sound is his progressive influences. At times it even gets quite spacey and tenderly reminds me of Eloy. But Norlander doesn’t fall into traps of repetition and varies the songs nicely: "Neuro Boogie" in particular is like a more adventurous version of Billy Sheehan’s "Niacin"; while the aforementioned "Waltz of the Biots" is mystical and has some keyboard sounds that could easily be prescribed for removing ear wax!
This is an pleasantly puzzling project that is well executed. It’s quite
classical in its construction as themes are returned to and developed further
and further. The occasional listen will definitely not be enough as you’ll
want to listen to it over and over again to pick up on all its subtleties and
fine details. This Japanese version also has a bonus track
("Hyperspace") which is worth the admission fee alone!
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A New Jersey band with a very 1980s approach. Considering the sheer large number of great AOR bands that have come out of that state in the last decade, it’s surprising more haven’t kept plugging away, ignoring the mainstream and releasing their own product. Norway is that sort of band, however.
I don’t know if I really need to mention individual tracks in this review – this is quintessential New Jersey melodic rock with elements of Prophet, early Danger Danger, Tour de Force, and a whole host of others. There were so many great bands from the Garden State and Norway builds on their tradition. What is a little different is that the vocals somehow have a slight European edge to them like Torben Schmidt from Skagarack.
This was obviously recorded on a fairly constrained budget, and it is definitely under produced in places. Not all the guitars and keyboards quite have the dander they should have. More money would add more glow. "Love on the Line" is a good track to check out first as it would sound perfectly at home on either of the first two Aldo Nova albums.
Overall the lack of top-notch production makes it sound a slightly
workman-like effort, but investigate the songs and you find real quality –
like a mix of Stan Bush, White Sister and a very melodic Night Ranger.
Contact: Pier-San Productions, P.O. Box 262, Sparta, NJ. 07871, USA.
Click here to visit band’s home page
What can I say they're Italian - I really don't think I've ever detected a consequential Italian AOR band before! Moreover, it's kind of important to note up front that they do sing in their native language, I've pretty cosmopolitan tastes (and I love Italian cars) so I can handle that!
"Vivo per..." is a strange opener as it's kinda broody and builds into a powerful west coast sound rather like the Swedish band "Time Gallery". The other features you notice straight away are the excellent vocals and, perhaps surprisingly, the very fine production. Track two - "La Vuoi, lo Vuoi" - is where the really significant actions starts - wow, what a song, it's superb AOR that mixes elements of New Jersey's Prophet and Native Sons period Strangeways, with a slight flavour of Toto also thrown in, particularly on the guitar solo where 99% of listeners would swear blind it was Steve Lukather! It's such a good song that you just know the band are going to have a hard time matching it with any of the other tracks.
They do make some audacious efforts though particularly on the Survivor like "L'Amore è", the luscious, laid-back "Amicamore", "La Rabbia" which is almost like Eyes, and the superb instrumental "Amico F" which is incredibly like Toto, but none the worse for it! The band are obviously influenced by Toto, but never to the stage of cloning, you just notice the odd tinge of Toto here and there and it's more of a compliment than anythingelse.
Overall the CD maybe could have done with one of the ballads
being swapped out with a more rocky track just to extend the pace a bit in the
middle of the running order, but that's just a minor bleat: it's a fine debut
release, and provided you can handle lyrics sung in a language other than
English you'll love, now me and my schoolboy Latin are off to try and figure out
what the lyrics are!
Contact: Insieme Srl., Via Quintiliano 40, 20138 Milano, Italy.
If you've sitting ardently awaiting a new Player album since their last effort, "Spies of Life", then you've been holding your breath for 13 years now! But presently they have returned with a comeback CD that's only available in Japan. Peter Beckett and Ronn Moss are the main men behind the project though they are also joined by session players like Bob Marlette, Doug Macaskill (from The Arrows), Tim Pierce , and Burleigh Drummond (Ambrosia and Tin Drum). Moss seems to have been quiet since Player first split up, but Beckett has reappeared at regular intervals as a songwriter and producer, and as well as releasing an excellent solo album for Curb Records in 1991 was also behind the "Think Out Loud" project with Steve Kipner which A&M released in 1988.
But Player is the subject of the moment. The sound on this CD is very "westcoast" indeed, and the production is finely honed and almost delicate in places, while being quite a bit softer than Peter Beckett's projects since the first version of Player. Fans of Jay Graydon, Jay Gruska, and Peter Cetera will love it. It's the sort of release that caresses you after a hard day and refreshes your soul, with its clever songs and restraint. It might not be particularly distinctive, but it is beautifully presented and executed. One thing that I also kept on noticing was that I'd forgotten just what a smooth voice Peter Beckett has and his superb singing sounds almost effortless.
It's just a classic westcoast sound all the way - tracks
range from the flawless "After all this time", to the harder, almost
Planet P-ish "No more rain", and the ultra-wimpy "Something
Good". Just in case you couldn't remember Player's 15 minutes of fame, they
also rework their big 1970s hit "Baby Come Back", but the 1995 version
has a modern, dance drum track which I'm not sure if I like, even if it is a
fine song. A welcome return though especially for fans of the most highly of
polished westcoast sounds.
Contact: Diamond & Wilson, 12304 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite #300, Los Angeles, CA. 90025, USA.
PRIME- Same (Prime Records PRCDS 001, 1996)
These guys are a youthful Swedish three-piece who sound rather different from most of their Scandinavian counterparts. All four songs on this mini-album are very zestful but the band’s influences are very evident: "The Tears of Lea" and "She Ate Her Heart Out" are incredibly like It Bites, who in turn always sounded like a poppy version of Saga to these ears.
While this might not be totally originative, it is very well produced and delivered with a real fervour. The sound is precise and unpolluted, which is kind of refreshing in these grunge blighted days. "Sleep Tonight", the third track, sees the band bring in a more poppy slant and a Saga feel. The closing "I Know" still has a definite hint of It Bites but in a more World Trade/modern Yes tone and ends up sounding more individual that the other songs.
OK, so the It Bites influence is obvious but when I thought about it more
maybe that doesn’t matter - it’s not like any of Francis Dunnery’s solo
work since the split up of It Bites has had much value so Prime can fill a gap
there. It will now be intriguing to see how they take this influence and build
it into a more individual sound - the influences they have are great starting
points. Overall this is a good outset but now they need to prove their ability
to progress, and with confidence in themselves they could develop into something
with genuine and complete worth.
click here to e-mail the band for more details
A Swedish outfit with an interesting (and maybe confusing in the long term) name that were introduced to me as having a very westcoast sound. While some tracks do include horns I wouldn't say that they were all that westcoast, more like sharp, true AOR at the opposite end of the spectrum from melodic hard rock.
"One in a Million" is rather like Tommy Nilsson's "It" and "Follow that Road" CDs - nice, unsullied AOR with high vocals, supporting guitars and a clear sound. The dynamic counterpoints through the song are interesting and while westcoast in quality, Promotion are a little more beefy than that term can always suggest. "Wanted Dead of Alive" and "After All" are more westcoast in the territory of Joseph Williams' solo work or Peter Cetera's first couple of post-Chicago efforts. However, it has a real Swedish slant. "Higher Love" proves the Swedish point as this is what Swedish AOR should sound like, not some substandard Rainbow or Whitesnake derision that many bands pass off. "Higher Love" and "Rollercoaster Ride" are their more powerful tracks (though still carefully restrained) with rock solid bass and a sound like the most melodic side of the Stage Dolls (yes I know they're Norwegian!). In fact, for obscurists, it's not unlike long-lost Danish Toto-soundalikes DE5.
The only slight down points are the slow ballad
"Make a Turn" that meanders a little and the loops on "Pack of
Lies" strike me as pointless. But then the closing "Tomorrow" is
pure westcoast in the style of Robbie Dupree or Bobby Caldwell and makes up for
those less consistent moments. A good overall effort that is a good deal more
distinctive than many of the current crop of Scandinavian releases.
No you’re right, this definitely isn’t an AOR or westcoast album at all. Rather it’s Jay Graydon’s tribute to 1960s surf music which he and so many other Californians grew up with. In true westcoast fashion he’s enlisted some real heavyweight assistance, like Joseph Williams, Steve Lukather, David Hungate, Jason Scheff, Dean Parks, Sherwood Ball and his brother Sterling, Dan Huff, and Josh Leo (who just produced the excellent new Bad Company album).
It feels a bit ironic to be listening to surf music in Scotland when you just spent ten minutes scrapping frost off your car windscreen and before I pushed the play button I really didn’t expect to enjoy the experience at all. But I do, it’s just a very fun album which can easily put a smile on your face. It’s not exactly serious and it is a real pick-me-up after the frustrations of the modern world.
A load of the sixteen tracks are instrumental but the ones
with Joseph Williams singing are rather cool in particular. Not something you’re
going to listen to everyday or anything, but great fun nonetheless - I’m sure
that’s Leslie Nielsen from The Naked Gun singing on "My Woodie"…
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click here to e-mail Westcoast for more details
There’s still a lot of great AOR being produced in the USA - you just have to look hard to uncover it! Rokbox have been masking their light down in Louisiana, but their debut CD should be spreading their sphere of influence swiftly. Jim Odom from Le Roux (who are planing a new album in early 1999) mixed the album and is a good friend of the band, which is a bit of an instant testimonial.
Right from the opening "Going nowhere", you can tell that these guys are influenced by the very best of 1980s AOR and melodic rock. Certainly very American, with a real sheen of North American class, good instrumentation and vocals, plus high production values. A strong Journey influence is obvious (particularly in the end guitar solo), but it’s mixed with a more rollicking/dangerous-to-know approach like you might encounter from a band like Riggs.
"Too Young" is second, and again the lyrical phrasing is very Journey-esque. Vocalist and guitarist Marc Engeran seems able to be both Steve Perry and Neal Schon at the same time! I must emphasize that, although I’ve mentioned the influence several times, this is certainly not a Journey doppelganger band - it’s just that Rokbox display many of the qualities of your most favourite Journey moments, but with a firmer hand behind it. In fact, "It’s time to Get Back" actually has more of a Canadian feel along the lines of Honeymoon Suite or Idle Eyes, even if its chorus is a little busy, and "How many Roses" throws in traces of Stan Bush and Prophet.
Overall the production is a little understated and workaday, but it does
allow the keyboards and guitars to intermix well. For an independent release the
quality is incredibly high, and blows away many of the bands currently being
touted around as the saviours of AOR! If you want a cleverly varied tapestry of
melodic rock, then look inside the Rokbox!
Contact: Blue World Records, P.O. Box 277, Hammond, LA. 70404-277, USA.
I think Long Island Records needs to seriously contemplate employing a proof reader for their sleeves sometimes! I mean it's all very well having such a high yield of new material but when the sleeve notes have multifarious, obvious spelling mistakes wherever you look and the sleeve illustration has absolutely no affiliation with the contents you begin to feel its a bit slapdash and that little care has been spent on it. Which is a real shame because this is an excellent CD and probably the best release the label has been involved with! Ray Roper used to be the singer with the Canadian band Stonebolt whose last album was "Juvenile American Princess" (RCA, 1982), their 1980 album "New Set of Changes" is also widely, and rightly, ferreted after by collectors.
The sound of this release is modern but the approach is definitely old-fashioned, however that does not mean it is "dated" in any way. Eleven of the twelve songs are written by Ray, the other, the title track, is written by Jimi Jamison of Survivor and one-time Asia guitarist Mandy Meyer - it's very rocky and sounds quite like the material on the Cobra "First Strike" album Jamison and Meyer were involved with. However, it's "Hang On" really makes the hairs on my neck stand up on end with its classic power pomp bass line which wouldn't sound out of place on a Roadmaster or Angel album. The song itself it typical Canadian pomp/AOR rather like Prism or Blvd, and I somehow felt a little hint of Boston in there too. "Pull out My Heart", meanwhile, is a glorious amalgam of Coney Hatch and Kim Mitchell meets Bill Champlin (!). While the brooding "Expectations" also has more of this pompy bass work and works just as well, and made me feel like listening to the first Prophet album so I could get a complete pomp overdose!
"Read Between the Lines" is also very congenial and sounds quite like a modern rendering of Sheriff or the Canadian band Urgent (who released the album "Timing" and aren't to be confused with the American band of the same name). "Colours", "Under the Gun" and "Victims of the Fast Lane" sound quite like the Stonebolt at their peak, but also give you the same feeling you get when you listen to a band like Le Roux.
This album really does have the feel of an undiscovered
classic, so it's great that it's widely available - just avoid reading the
sleeve notes as you'll just find them irritating! If you're a fan of quality
AOR, pomp. or melodic rock from almost era you'll find something to like here.
Contact- Long Island Records, Kirchstr. 16, 86438 Kissing, Germany. Tel. 49-8233-7904-10 fax 49-8233-2863
Rory Kunkle is the alter ego of time-served southern New Jersey musician Fran Smith who currently plays bass with The Hooters. There's some pretty interesting people involved in this project: as well as roping in some buddies from The Hooters, also appearing is guitarist Keith Mack who did some excellent work with Patty Smyth's Scandal and has also played with Joe Cocker and Paul Young, and Wayne Watson.
Surprisingly there's actually very few resemblances with The Hooters and the sound is quite raw and down to earth in its approach. Only the closing track, "Have a Good Life", sounds anything like Eric Bazilian's mob. All the songs have a slight bittersweet edge to them and many sound like the duskier side of Tom Petty, or "The Rembrandts" on a tight budget.
It has some nice moments though with "Beat a Path"
(complete with sitar) like "Long After Dark" period Tom Petty and the
particularly catchy "Thunder Ride" being perhaps the best moments.
Overall I was slightly disappointed that the songs weren't as crisp as I might
have expected and a couple of the arrangements could have been tauter. Not
exactly an essential release, but interesting nonetheless and a good starting
point for Fran Smith to develop his songs further.
Contact: Moskeeto Productions Inc., 1521 Eagle Lane, El Cajon, CA. 92020, USA, tel. (619) 449-0030, fax (619) 449-6861.
click here to jump to the Rory Kunkle home page for mail order details
This guy’s been about a lot of over the years - those with ultra-long memories, and extensive collections, will remember him from the excellent band Speedway Blvd who released a solitary album in 1980. Since then he’s played with all sorts of people - but let’s localise ourselves to Jordan’s solo work enclosed herewith.
It only takes a few seconds to form an instant impression of this album - total keyboard overload! "Listen to the Voice", which is the opening song, is rather like Saga gone wild with different keyboard sounds flying in from every corner. "Inspiration" follows on quickly and has a great intermix of keyboards, again rather like Saga ("Worlds Apart" period). Generally though, guitars are really just a supporting player to the keyboards here. We’re also not talking about cheap, weedy programmed keyboard sound reproductions - this is the real thing, huge slabs of texture that have a life of their own.
It’s complexly constructed and very detailed, I also found myself being reminded of the Christian band Crümbacher who used keyboards to a similarly devastating effect and also used a similar amalgamation of male and female vocals. In many ways it’s rather like a modern version of late 70s pomp bands like Aviary and Starcastle with the odd flavour of ELP as well. I guess what I’m trying to say, rather poorly, is that Jordan’s sound is unique!
There’s also a clear classical influence as well which just
adds to the scale of the music. That’s not to say that the music is
self-indulgent or anything - rather it sees exquisite musicianship within the
context of each song. I have to say that Jordan’s not a truly great singer,
but his lyrics are different, and rather cerebral, which kind of makes up for
it. A veritable tour de force for any fan of pomp rock!
Contact: Invincible Recording, 2632 South 24th Street, Ste. B, Phoenix, Arizona 85034, USA.
click here to jump to Jordan’s home page
A good young band from California – it’s not often I get to say that at the moment! There’s only five tracks on this self-financed debut release – but you do get a whole load of attractive multimedia stuff as well.
"Isn’t Love Enough" is really interesting – some how mixing Toto with "90125" period Yes and the sort of material The Outfield produced on their "Diamond Days" album. Superior vocals and clever guitars, all I’ve written as further notes is "wow"! Second song "Carrie" is a ballad but has some real quality and intelligence behind it.
However it’s the third cut – "Cool Down" – that begins to blow me away even more. This is refined rock of the highest quality with direct vocals and a huge AOR/pomp chorus with all the scale and splendour of prime time Styx. This one needs to be heard, and quickly! If any of you have the AOR Basement "Hot Night in the City" compilation album (FM-Revolver, 1989 – it’s not often I plug my own work!) and remember the band Freelance, you’ll know exactly how these guys sound.
Sacred Ground seem to have a lot of different ideas and some great influences, as "Two Worlds and "Calm Before the Storm" both have westcoast elements about them. Not unlike some of Bruce Gaitsch’s collaborations on Richard Marx’s first few albums. "Calm Before the Storm" sounds a little underdeveloped compared to the four others, but is obliging nonetheless.
One of the best young bands to come out of the United States for some time.
Fresh ideas and masters of their own destiny. Should be moving on to a more
widespread audience very soon.
Schechtman Management, 1582 West Deere Avenue Ste. #c, Irvine, CA. 92606, USA. Telephone (714) 752-1802 Telefax (714) 474-6044.
Click here to e-mail the band for further details
To these ears Shotgun Symphony lost any semblance of direction on their second album "Forget the Rain" and seemed like a lost cause for the melodic rock world. Now they’re back with a third album and, I’m very surprised to say it, they’ve thrown out any insinuation of modern grunge and are right back on the right track.
"Generation Clash" proves this in a instant. This is what they should be like, a heavier version of Prophet playing modern melodic hard rock for the 1990s with conviction and self belief. The production this time around also has real range and begs to be played real loud so you can see just how good it is.
Other tracks you won’t want to miss include: the shiver-inducing "Tell me Why" with its monolithic guitars and garnishing keyboards mixing Prophet and White Sister together; the beautifully paced "Hard to Hold Onto" which straddles both hard rock and AOR; the Byzantine hard pomp construction of "This I Know"; and the hard AOR kaleidoscope of "Still the Same".
This is sure to be a landmark album for Shotgun Symphony and solidify their
direction and place in the melodic rock market. If you like your AOR hard, yet
melodic and combative you’ll have your thirst quenched here....
click here to jump to the Bluestone Music homepage
According to their bio, these guys formed just a couple of years ago, but I was sure that there was a band of the same name in the mid-1980s that was produced by ex- New England drummer Hirsh Gardner. Anyway this album is produced by Hirsh too, but maybe my memory’s playing tricks on me....
"Have a little Pity" is a strange title for an opening song and comes on like big, barreling hard rock in the style of Autograph or Cry Wolf. The production is obviously by Hirsh Gardner as his projects always have a distinctive, taut drum sound... It’s far from being anything new, but its well delivered and well produced...
But this seems to be just one side of the band as "Good Girls" adds a significantly larger amount of keyboards and is not that different from a heavier, more modern New England - very nice indeed! "All in the Name of Love" and "Goin’ Down" are then nice melodic rock in the style of the first song. They do seem keen on variety as "Fire" is acoustically driven and not unlike Velocity.
"Desperate" is probably the best of the songs on offer from its delicate opening through its power ballad form, though "Two of a Kind" and "Losin’ You" are very melodic and very well crafted.
As a real bonus for New England fans a live, acoustic version of "Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya" is also included with Hirsh Gardner and John Fannon guesting. It’s kinda weird to hear it sung in a more rough, tough voice (or at least more rough and tough than John Fannon’s delivery), but it works well.
Overall it’s maybe a little workaday, but if you give it
some attention it will repay you with some fine moments.
Amy is the wife of Marc Jordan and her debut has been along time in the making. She was originally signed to Capital Records and recorded an album with Kim Bullard and Dann Huff for release in 1990, but the project got canned after a management reshuffle at the label…. She also recorded a load of material with David Hungate and some of the other guys from Toto in the mid-80s. But, to use a rather clichéd phrase, better late than never.
This is certainly not a particularly easy album to categorise - who needs pigeonholes anyway! There’s some real variety in the material displayed here, but it’s all drawn together well by Amy’s excellent vocals. "Don’t Leave me Alone" (co-written with Bruce Gaitsch who turns up all over the place and is heavily involved in a lot of the tracks here) is the first track up and is sort of acoustic and mellow, yet so heartfelt and sincere that it’s instantly involving, "Til you Love Somebody", is one of my personnel favourites, is much more upbeat and almost like some of Stevie Nicks’ solo work.
There’s no need to list others as if you’re looking for
great songs then this is the place for you. Most of the tracks are simply
constructed and acoustically driven, but the delivery is devastating earnest and
absorbing and you can’t help becoming deeply involved in each song. Very
Contact: Iron Music Group, P.O. Box 591, Thornhill, Ontario, L3T 4A2, Canada.
click here to jump to the Iron Music home page
Dane Spencer and Kevin Bullock were/are one half of the bang-up 1980s Utah pomp rock band Sojourn, and while Sojourn are working on an all new album for release in early 1999, Kevin and Dane have also put together an poignant album of their own.
"Tell me What Angels Do" isn’t obviously allied to Sojourn with its more cultivated, slightly midwest sound, but anyone familiar with Sojourn will recognize Kevin’s vocals and Dane’s seismographic bass playing. It is not an easy sound to partition, but it expands the rock horizons nicely while still being commercial and making melodic rock viable in the modern world. The title track is second and it makes it easier to nail down their main sound: while being acoustically driven it’s more overtly rock than midwest, yet is more exacting musically than a lot of such releases while still retaining an intrinsic commerciality. "Just like You" in particularly is effectively an acoustically driven rock song, yet it reminds me of Boston, and "Peace of Mind" mixes together both electric and acoustic guitars to similar effect.
But Spencer/Bullock are not just about making an intellectual point - "Standing in the Shadow of Steve" hits home harder with power and melody, "Two Strikes" also has the torpid power characteristics of a band like Signal. Fine melodic rock with excellent playing all round.
Spencer/Bullock seem keen on instilling plenty of variety into their material, and the sincere and open "Don’t Cry Now" makes a strong point and shows off one of Bullock’s finest vocal performances, and there’s also a couple of instrumentals too ("Vandy’s Voyage" and "For Claire"). Sojourn’s "Healing Wings" is given a reworking, and while nothing could beat the original for these ears, it’s interesting to hear it in a more modern format and with a more aerated outlook.
Song quality is clearly at a premium here and the overall effect is good,
with its variety making the effects more pronounced.... Also there is a clear
positive message on some of the tracks which is a bit alien to the current
mainstream - lord forgive that anyone should have a positive view of life!
Gifted songwriter Mark Spiro is back with his fourth solo album for his fourth different label. All his releases have displayed all the hallmarks of high quality AOR with great songs and memorable hooks.
This time around the sound is a little harder and more undeviating. Long time associate Michael Thompson is heavily involved again and "My Devotion", "Valdez" and "Sunset City" are particularly like Thompson’s "How Long" album. "Love and War" and "Kiss the World Away" are also quite like Giant but without high quality production behind them.
Just like his last album "Now is then, then is Now" you get the
feel that you’re being presented with a collection of songwriter demos. As a
result, the production/mix is shaggy, and at times even brusque, and some of the
programmed drums are less than absorbing. I’m not sure if another album in the
same vein would be that welcome as I would really like to hear songs of this
quality with a big sound, and I guess a big studio, behind him. However, the
songs (and after all that’s what really counts) are the epitome of classic AOR
and rise above any budgetary constraints to strike home with prestige and
click here to jump to the MTM homepage
Mr Spiro has certainly been involved in his fair quota of fine songwriting over the years but has never really set the world aglow performing on his own. However, this new release could easily change that. Mark handles all instruments here apart from guitar where he ropes in Tim Pierce and Michael Thompson - two fine choices! He's also got some serious help on the writing side with John Waite, the all too quiet recently Chas Sanford, Steve Kipner, Dan Huff, plus the aforementioned Pierce and Thompson all chipping in.
"All the Love we Kill" gets things off to a good start with is very refined sound and deft arrangement. The sound is upbeat soft AOR which is a bit like the Michael Thompson band (how many times can I mention his name in this review?) or Canadian singer/songwriter Gary O'Connor, and never as soft, or as generic, as the term "westcoast pop" can sometimes imply and is probably most aptly applied to Jay Graydon's last solo effort. "All the Love..." is indicative of a great deal of the songs featured here: talented songwriting, an emphasis on songs and an underlying power.
Some of the standouts are, "Through my Eyes" which is co-written with Dan Huff, is the most guitar-driven of the tracks and does indeed sound like Dan's band Giant, moreover "In the Dark" hints at Marc Jordan with is building power and is the sort of song I can easily listen to all day without the slightest sign of fatigue! "Around You", "London is Burning" and "Light in the Darkness" could easily be compared with the best bits of Stan Meissner and Paul Janz, while "Dancing with Einstein" is like "Living in Oz"-period Rick Springfield.
Great songs, a nice urbane approach, talented musicians, and
bags of melody - this album has all the elements of a near perfect AOR album
ideal for listening to in any mood. It's definitely high time Mark became better
know as a performer rather than just a songwriter. Most definitely recommended!
Contact: Westcoast Records, Eriksbergsgatan 1B, 1 tr, S-11430 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel/Fax +46-8-611-9901
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Most recent revision Monday February 22, 2010 - originally created November 1995.