Demo Reviews

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  1. The Bridge- 3 song tape
  2. Column A- 6 song tape
  3. Cry Havoc- 6 song CD-R 
  4. Happenstance- 4 song tape
  5. Higher Ground- 5 song CD-R
  6. The Revolvers- 10 song tape
  7. Secret Smile- 3 song tape
  8. Blake Thompson- 15 song tape
  9. Uforia- 3 song tape
  10. Velocity- 3 song tape

THE BRIDGE- 3 song demo

The Bridge is essentially a twosome: Ex-Lillian Axe vocalist Ron Taylor and guitar/keyboard player Drew Smith. I was never really sure if I liked Lillian Axe or not, though the "Poetic Justice" album had some very fine moments. So I did my best to approach The Bridge with an open-mind - and came away very pleasantly surprised!

I was totally caught off guard by the first song, "What She Said", this isn't the direction I expected from an ex- Lillian Axe member at all..., it's so melodic rather like laid-back "Nelson" and downright poppy. Taylor's vocals are a bit of a surprise also, displaying a new sincerity and sensitively never allowed to surface with Lillian Axe. "Standing" and "Can't Pretend" follow in a similar direction with hints of the style of Danny Wilde/The Rembrandts and maybe even Don Henley (!) though any comparison really doesn't do The Bridge justice as the sound is very unique and a thoroughly interesting diversion. While somehow poppy and melodic it also washed over you in layers of atmospheric, soothing waves. A good introduction to a very promising new project with a different musical outlook - more would be most welcome!
Contact: The Bridge, P.O. Box 2695, Tempe, AZ. 85280-2695, USA.
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COLUMN A- 6 song US Demo

Hailing from Staten Island these guys have caught my attention in very snappy fashion. Even after just a couple of quick listens to this tape I found myself uncommonly enthusiastic about the material it contained. All six songs are uniformly excellent and they've already got plans in hand to make this a commercial release, albeit only on tape.

To highlight three of the best tracks: "Inherit the Earth" is a good place to start seeing as it's the first song on the tape! It displays some very cultivated songwriting and some interesting lyrics and primarily sounds a little like the Canadian band "Blvd." mixed with the songwriting dexterity of Tom Kimmel. One of the things that is most noticeable straight away is the high caliber of Phil Balzano's vocals - he's a real diamond in the rough and sounds like a youthful Mark/Marcie Free! Another of the songs that really sets my pulse racing is "Once and For All" which really sounds like it would have been perfectly at home on King Kobra's "Thrill of a Lifetime" album, or Mark Free's first solo album - high quality stuff indeed. "Carried Away", meanwhile, almost hints at Survivor with its bristling guitar chops from Jim Agnello.

The band have quite a distinctive side to their sound which isn't always easy to pull off effectively. Check this out and I'm sure you'll be as enthusiastic as I am about the future of this project....
Contact: Jim Agnello,
23412 Pacific Park #40d, Aliso Viejo, CA. 92656, USA.
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CRY HAVOC- 6 song CD-R

Cry Havoc are a young Scottish band, that have already signed an album deal with Now and Then Records. While they will start recording their debut album in the fourth quarter of 1998, in the meantime they have, rather unusually, released a CD-R of some of their demo tracks.

"Cry for Help" is an overture to the proper tracks and is quite interesting, before the gritty hard rock of "I’ll be there". This first full track is a little like label-mates The Promise, though the vocals don’t seem to be making a huge contribution to the overall sound, and come away sounding a little boring. In the second half of the 1980s there used to be a huge amount of UK-based bands playing in this style, but very few of them managed to find record deals. A lot of the bands at that time were just jumping on a bandwagon, but Cry Havoc are obviously following this direction just because they want to - which is admirable. There is more than a little irony that when there’s only a few UK bands still in this style, that they can find deals!

"Rescue Me" is the second full track and surprises me with its great AOR songwriting. Now they sound like a more refined version of The Promise with hints of Strangeways, and the layering of different sounds reminds me very much of another great Scottish band - Zero Zero - which probably no-one-else can remember! This is definitely the approach I’d like to hear concentrated on in the long-term. "I Need You" is in a similar direction and it is when they band are stretching their songwriting with these two that they really shine.

Of the other tracks, "Holding on to your Dreams" and "Heart on my Sleeve" are OK melodic rock, very British and quite heavy, maybe even a little like Max Bacon’s early band Bronz and the better moments of the much-maligned Heavy Pettin’. The somewhat ponderous "All too much at Once" is described as a "bonus track", and although having some virtue, is so badly produced as to not be worth talking about at all!

An encouraging start, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of their full album. The building blocks for an excellent band are there - it just needs to be polished into one coherent object. "Gritty" is a word I want to apply to them more and more, and that’s more indicative of a determination behind the music....
Contact: Cry Havoc, 30 Geldstane Road, Bishopton, Renfrewshire, PA7 5AU, Great Britain.
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HAPPENSTANCE- 4 song US demo

This is a little different from the material prevalently covered in AOR Basement, but "AOR" is a very broad-minded term and many of you will be attracted to this band from Pennsylvania.

All four tracks on this tape are in an fascinating style which sounds something like a more progressive version of It Bites, or even modern day Marillion. The It Bites influence is particularly noticeable on "Things are as they are", though on some of the other cuts I also found myself reminded of the Christian band Crumbacher. "The Big Picture" which opens the tape is beautifully elaborate and has some excellent guitar work as it develops.

It's certainly clever stuff and with a more sympathetic production, the demo seems to slightly shut-in the band's obviously scopious sound, it would be even more effective. There is such a strong underground these days for progressive music that I am sure they will be quickly embraced by fans of that musical genre, however, the music has enough genuine depth for them to cross over to much bigger audiences rather than being restricted by the "prog" tag as has happened to plenty of bands in the past. Well worth checking out!
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HIGHER GROUND- Swedish 5 track CD-R, 1996

It kind of says a lot about a band when they send you their demo on a CD-R rather than some tenth generation of a dodgy tape. Obviously these guys are real serious about their music and how is should sound. Before I'd even received their package, I'd been primed with some comments about how these Swedes had a glorious westcoast sound.

The first of the five tracks currently on offer is "Make it Right" and yes I can see that there is a westcoast slant to the band's approach and feel but they're no clone band. Sure there are elements of Toto and similarities to the Swedish band Time Gallery, but there's lots of original ideas too. I like the song a lot, but on this one, and a couple of the others too, while the singer Peter Lindberg has a more than capable voice (perhaps even like a soulful version of Tommy Nilsson or David Forbes from the Canadian band Blvd), the lyrics could do with a little more definition. Maybe the vocals are just a little under-produced, whatever it is it just makes the lyrics a little hard to make out.

They might be westcoast influenced, but there is absolutely none of the insipidness that sometimes comes with that categorisation, its just the feel and assured attitude one finds with that music. This attitude is even more accentuated by the fact that most of the songs are recorded live-in-the -studio and quite a few of the songs remind me of Michael Ruff's excellent Sheffield Labs' audiophile live-in-the-studio "Speaking in Melodies" release. It's got that same sort of lazy virtuosity about it, while stripping the elements of a song wide open so you can still see right into its structure.

Probably the best song on offer is "Keep Walking" which is simply great and has a fair degree of individuality, and an overall sound that's also got a mid-west flavour as well: sort of Brett Walker and the Railbirds playing Toto! To sum up, a nice effort that sounds both meaningful right now while shinning with potential for the future.
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THE REVOLVERS- 10 song demo

These guys come from South Carolina and are following a sturdy pop rock direction. They sound rather like the Gin Blossoms and The Loveless (though not as good, or as immediate, as the later) though I could also see elements of Brother Cane, The Rembrandts, Toby Redd (if anyone remembers them) and even REM in their sound.

Pop rock in this mode isn't always my cup of tea, but this material works pretty well. My favourite cuts are: "Out of School" which has Tom Petty and, perhaps, Nelson influences; and "Hampton Avenue" which is a bit more atmospheric and interesting and isn't that far removed from The Hooters. Overall they're more rock than pop and though the production is a bit on the basic side on some of the songs, the delivery is strong and the playing well above average.

Overall more of a workmanlike start than anything else, it will be interesting to see how they develop - a little more sharpness to some of they arrangements then they could well develop into something very interesting.
Contact: William Bates, 5 Townes Square Lane, Greenville, SC. 29609, USA. Tel/fax (864) 235-7346.
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SECRET SMILE- 3 song US tape

One way to get your demo some instant attention is have a significant "name" (no mater how obscure!) involved in your project. Secret Smile have just that as this demo from Connecticut is engineered by ex- Arc Angel and solo man Jeff Cannata. Secret Smile is a two man project of Ken Barberio and T.J. Gabriele helped out by a load of Cannata's mates.

First of the three songs presented is "Come in from the Rain" which is vaguely like a poppy version of Cannata's solo work though taken in a less technical direction and mixed with the likes of Glen Burtnik and Mr. Reality or even Nelson. The band's sound is precise and heartfelt - the vocals aren't that smooth, but the odd hint of strain seems to add to their conviction. "Stop and Go (Follow your Heart)" is next up to bat and has a heavy dose of meaty guitars. However, it remains very melodic, almost poppy, and very accessible - the nearest comparison I could find was a hybrid of The Cars and hard progressive rock. A spunky edge of attitude continues through the last song "Tell me Why?" which reminded me of a new-wave influenced version of New England!

A pretty good effort that I can find a lot to like about. The approach of the band is, admirably, a little hard to pigeon-hole - which will probably make it hard for the modern labels to deal with. Definitely worth some attention....
Contract: Secret Smile, c/o Envision Entertainment, 110 Lenox Avenue, Stamford, CT 06906, USA. ATTN.: Carol Gerard Tel. (203) 888-2467

BLAKE THOMPSON- 15 song US Demo

Delaware doesn't exactly strike me as a bright gleaming light on the musical map, but that's where talented guitarist, songwriter and singer Blake Thompson is from. Prior to this demo he has also released a five track CD in 1990 (which is still available) which featured some crisp, clever AOR and saw capable assistance from David Uosikkinen and Fran Smith from The Hooters plus Brian Bricklin (of Bricklin and Martin's Dam).

On this demo trove he explores several distinct viewpoints, some of which are downright excellent and some of which are a little more fair to moderate. My favourites on this tape are "Something to Believe In", "When the Rain Comes Down", "Sister Blue", "You're not a Kid Anymore", and "I Wanna Woman" where he comes across like a mixture of Henry Lee Summer and "American Fool" period John Cougar Mellencamp. These songs are definitely his best work, at least to this ears, and sound fresh and vibrant. The vocals have that same procacious delivery as John Cougar and some of the guitar work is first-rate too.

On the rest of the cuts things are a little more divergent. "Problems, Problems" almost sounds like Montrose (!); "Don't Ever let your Baby Go" has an R+B edge like Jimmy Barnes and works well; "What's Left of Me" is like REM gone AOR; and "Love's What You Give" is plaintive in the manner of Tom Petty's most recent work. On the other handful of songs things aren't of so much interest to the AOR fan as more poppy elements are brought into play.

I'm all for diversity, but a little more focus here would sharpen things up tremendously. He's got some great songs but he isn't making the most of them, however Blake should still be a name to watch for in the future. The earlier CD is still also well worth checking out particularly for "Burning up Inside" and "Pretend" which are very fine radio rock songs.
Contact: TC Entertainment, P.O. Box 7931, Newark, DE. 19714-7931, USA.
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UFORIA- 3 song US tape

Can't say I've ever heard of any members of this Pennsylvania based outfit before but they have a very late 1980s look. Pressing play, "Home" is melodic rock of reasonable quality, but it's a little disjointed and the vocals are a little over exuberant in places!

After that I wasn't sure what else to expect, but "In my Dreams (you're never Crying)" is much more clever and a little like the Canadian band "Faith and Desire" - with some real money behind them this could mature into something very noteworthy. "Cry Baby" finishes things off and rocks more like Firehouse or other bands in that vein. Not an original approach by any means but Uforia gives it a strong sense of melody and a more imaginative arrangement than most.

There is bags of potential here for a very fine melodic rock band to emerge, on reflection they do actually sound a little British at times - the same way that Heartland and FM produce AOR with a British slant.
Contact: Uforia, 1 Schuylkill Parkway, Bridgeport, PA. 19405, USA.

VELOCITY- 3 song US Demo

The core of this band is vocalist/guitarist/songwriter David Victor, ex- Heist bass player John Prock, and Josh Ramos - the guitar hot shot from The Storm. While this three song demo was only recorded on a home 8-track studio, the quality and commitment of the songs shines through.

"You Don't Amaze me Anymore" is a very tasty recipe of Tall Stores, Jeff Paris and Honeymoon Suite with big Night Ranger-style guitar breaks thrown in for good measure. The hook's catchy and the song is a perfect example of how to use controlled-aggression to maximum effect. David Victor's vocals are somewhere between a cross of Jack Blades and Eric Martin and pull the whole song together very well. "Janine" is much more melodic and gives Victor a chance to show off his fine vocal range. It's anthemic AOR like a rough and ready version of Journey. On the third cut I found myself wanting to compare them with the best bits of Loverboy thanks to the song's twisting guitar work and punched out hook.

The only disappointment is that there are only three tracks currently available. A full album of this, with a decent budget, would be something special. Don't despair, the band already have plans in hand to release a full album on CD later this year. Don't let this demo pass you by, give the band your support now and let the songs restore your faith that high quality melodic hard rock can still be produced. Five years ago (or perhaps even less) I'm sure they would have picked up a major record deal in the US at the drop of a hat!
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Ian McIntosh

Copyright 2004 Ian McIntosh, AOR Basement, all rights reserved
Most recent revision Monday February 22, 2010 - originally created March 1996.