Reviews Archive

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.

Reviews index Archive page 2 Archive page 3 Archive page 4

THE AFFAIR- "Solid Ground" (Main Stage Productions MSP1296, 1996)

When I come across releases from American bands like this I find myself heartened. With the current mainstream things can seem pretty melancholy from a quality rock fan’s point of view, but when you still have grass-roots releases like this one there is definitely hope for the American music market.

The Affair are made up of three multi-instrument playing guys from Ohio and they actually have another couple of independent releases that preceded this one. Everything about their music shouts "AOR" in a way that’s blatantly refreshing. No hiding behind alternative sounding mixes or anything crossover ready this guys know what they want to sound like and go for it!

"Weight of the World" is good melodic rock start with a slightly Robert Berry prog influence and just one aspect of the band. Second song "Take no Prisoners" is more indicative of their approach with the muscle of a more melodic Giant and the tight song structure of Stan Bush. The Affair also know how to vary tempos well on these twelve songs as the Night Ranger-ish power ballad "Just to be with you" proves on one side, and the Axe meets Journey meets Survivor harder rocking "Miranda" points out from the other extreme.

There is a clear Journey influence on "No Goodbyes" and also on, one of the standout tracks to these battle weary ears, "You Belong to Me" which also has elements of House of Lords and Le Roux as well!

While I might be comparing The Affair with lots of other bands it’s just because I feel they are of sufficient quality to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the bands that define the finer moments of AOR. For an independent release this stands up very well, and if we can have more bands emerging from the USA with a similar sound and attitude then there is real hope for the world after all!
Jump to the Rubicon Entertainment home page
Jump to the band’s home page

AGENT- Same (Escape Music ESM009, 1996)

Agent are a very fine AOR/melodic rock outfit that were the first signings to the then newly founded Virgin Canada label in the mid-1980s and released their Jeff Baxter produced, debut in 1986. Virgin Canada proved to be less than the best label in the world and in spite of offering and promising the band much, failed to deliver in abject fashion and even at the time of the original release it was not easy to ferret out copies. Tracks for a second album were commenced with Jim Vallance producing but Virgin fell apart and singer Rick Livingstone jumped ship and has since appeared with The Best, Eclipse, and Storming Heaven.

But now it’s a decade later and Escape Music have "sort of" re-released the album with a bonus track ("Just between the Two of us"). When I say "sort of" I mean that the tracks from the original debut have been re-recorded and now feature the vocals of Troy Reid.

Without wanting to start a conspiracy theory debate, musically it sounds exactly like the original release! It sounds more like a very slight remix to me that a complete re-record. Even new boy Troy’s vocals sound spookily like Rick Livingstone and it’s only on synchronised listening between the CD and the original vinyl that the differences are noticeable. Maybe the similarity in vocals is just because the singer is having to walk in Livingstone’s footsteps exactly, on the bonus track he sounds different and, perhaps, even better that Livingstone.

But don’t this distract you - this is one great AOR album that never got the level of attention it fully deserved at the time. Tracks like "I can’t Hold Back" (like a hyper refined version of Honeymoon Suite), the urgent pumping guitars and sweeping wash of keyboards on "Can’t Stop" and the vigorous Loverboy/Streetheart cross-over of "Surrender" are nothing short of superb. Agent actually featured in the very first paper version of AOR Basement in 1986 (a dubious distinction if ever I heard one!) where I managed to describe them as a "glorious mixture of people like Aldo Nova, Surgin’, and prime-time Foreigner" while also describing the album as "a treasure throve". That’s still very true, so check it out now..., and look out for a full new album which is just around the corner.
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

ALIEN- "Best & Rare" (Virgin/Intercord ALIENCD 1, 1997)

Isn't it interesting how time can change your perception? This was brought home to me vividly when I received a copy of the double compilation CD "Best and Rare" from these Swedish melodic rockers. At the time Alien emerged on the scene in 1987 with their first demo I was vaguely impressed, but by the time their debut album came out in 1988 I really could find nothing particularly interesting about them, and the remix the album got for the American market seemed to make it even worse, even more faceless despite the average domestic hi-fi system being able to better to make sense of it thanks to a more restricted dynamic range. Sure half the world was proclaiming them as the perfect AOR band and a holy grail waiting to be found, but everything I heard from them was painfully average and lacking in any real identity of its own (not unlike many of the other Swedish bands from around the same period, bar Easy Action), and even their name was a cliché. If that wasn't enough they covered a Bee Gees song which gave it a cabaret feel!

OK, you're probably wondering where this long winded ramble through a Scotsman's hazy memory is leading, but with the release of the Alien compilation I have discovered that there was something genuine and worthwhile there after all. Maybe my perception has been changed by the excruciatingly painful state of the mainstream these days, or maybe its just because the Alien compilation presents a lot of their stronger songs from their demo days which got ditched in favour of tracks from first album producer Chris Minto for some strange reason. The tracks with original singer Jim Jidhead are definitely the pick of the bunch, but later cuts from the more recent albums have admirable facets too.

Anyway, I can recommend the Alien compilation with my hand on my heart - there's some very fine melodic rock here, if you're already a fan of the band you'll find plenty of rare and unreleased tracks, and if you've never heard them before it's an excellent place to start. They should be a staple element of most melodic fans' diets..... If they'd only managed to dump the pointless cover versions they could have been really been something as the delivery of their own numbers shows significantly more conviction and commitment.

ALLIANCE- Same (Escape Music ESM012, 1997)

Robert Berry seems to have turned rather prolific over the last three or four years and has released more than his fair share of excellent albums in that time. This particular release is the European version of the, previously, Japanese only "Bond of Union" album which sees Berry joined by former Sammy Hagar and Boston guitarist Gary Phil, ex- Sammy Hagar, Montrose, and Night Ranger keyboard man Alan Fitzgerald, and another ex- Hagar band player, drummer David Lauser.

Straight away it must be emphasised that this European release features the original versions of some of the songs on Japan's "Bond of Union", while others are only available for the Euro release. Apparently these have much more keyboards, as the Japanese label made them heavy up the sound for the release over there.

The quality of songwriting throughout is universally very high, and while it's very obviously still Robert Berry, he seems to have curbed his progressive side to produce a release that is much more intrinsically AOR than anything he has done previously. Fitzgerald certainly does contribute a lot of keyboards and this helps produce a big sound like a very finely honed and refined version of Night Ranger. Robert Berry's done lots of cool stuff in the past not least of which has been the 3 and the Hush "Hot Tonite" albums, but this sounds like some of his best work from an AOR point of view. By Berry's standards its pretty straight ahead stuff, but there's a lushness to the sound from Fitz's keyboards and its a truly beautiful presentation of melodic rock/AOR.

Maybe the approach might not be anything drastically new, but is has all the feel of Night Ranger's first album and the same sense of the ability to mix keyboards and guitars in equally melodic measures to produce a firm overall image.

A sharper mix might have helped here and there but that might be a function of budget more than anything else. For the patient, there's also a load of "hidden" tracks after the twelve listed if you wait long enough, which are just as good as the "proper" tracks, one of which has a great keyboard solo too.

As I've said, all the songs are good, and on first listen this strong sense of consistency can wash over you. But there's enough depth there to keep you coming back for more, and finding it, on repeated listenings.
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

ARCARA- Same (Escape Music ESM010, 1996)

Russell Arcara has a fine genealogy having previously been in such indispensable bands as Surgin' and Prophet. While he perhaps doesn't have the quintessential AOR voice he sings well and has a distinctive style. His first solo album is a collaboration with guitarist Karl Cochran, though plenty of ex-Prophet members also appear in a guest capacity.

While some of the tracks on offer sound a bit like late period Prophet, in general it's a guitar directed affair of straight ahead hard rock more like Tyketto rather than the sumptuousness of Prophet. It's still good though, with the poppy hook of "Marie" and the melodic guitar romp of "Shake Me, Shake Me" being particularly effective. "Hang On" and "Rock my Soul" could also almost be "Crazy Nights"-period Kiss!

My favourites though are the more composed "All that I Need" with its subtle, yet up and at 'em, guitar work, and the very Prophet like "Wait for your Love" which sounds like it is from a different set of sessions than the rest of the album.

Certainly a very competent slice of late '80s melodic hard rock, which is of high quality though a little workmanlike. A little more variety could have also helped as tracks like "Why Me" and "My Turn" end up being a little boring - check it out though....
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

ARTICA- "As it should be" (AMS Records #4224365819)

The guys in this band look a little grungy, but the music is good AOR with lots and lots of keyboards that give it quite a pomp incisiveness. On the first track, "Take me all the Way" they basically sound like White Sister or the hard-rock side of Open Skyz, but by the second track "It's Over" they take a elephantine step forward and produce an interesting approach which sort of sees Journey meeting Robert Berry and then sitting down and debating his progressive influences.

The rest of the CD is in-line with the second track and mixes quick-witted, hard edged guitar work with elaborate keyboard passages and well constructed melodies. If you want some other reference points think of the long-lost Fortune or Aldo Nova (before he fell apart with his "Blood on the Bricks" release) with Asia also through into the mix for good measure. On a couple of tracks ("Hold On" and "Let it Show") the approach gets significantly heavier, but then corpulent doses of keyboards manage to keep the proceedings appealing.

This release does have some limitations though. The tracks sound like scarcely much more than demos and it would be really intriguing to hear what heights the band could have reached if more finances had been available for better production. I also think that John David Martin's vocals are a little one dimensional, but those could easily be down to the mix making them sound more "dry" than they really are. Could be a band to watch if they get the right support and backing.
Contact: Artica, P.O. Box 15455, North Hollywood, CA. 91615-5455, USA, or AMS Records, 886 North Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena, CA. 91103, USA.
click here to e-mail the band for more details

AUTOGRAPH-"Missing Pieces" (USG Records 37651-422, 1997)

Most of this release is actually made up of demos of material for the fourth Autograph album. Unfortunately RCA/BMG let the band go without proceeding further with it and they fell apart though vocalist Steve Plunkett has since resurfaced as a solo artist (with one CD to his credit) and as producer of a number of other projects (including Autograph soundalikes Sic Vikki). Now don't jump to any inferences all the tracks presented here might be eyed as demos but they still sound more accomplished than many of the indie albums being released at the moment. I guess that's a function of the days when major labels were fairly supporting melodic rock.

all right, so what's on offer: "All Night Long" seems to be basic guitar rock with sharp production and a huge drum sound. No keyboards, and I guess you can see that the band were trying to reconcile their sound, at least just a little, in an effort to hang on to their record deal. It's not bad but it's a little different from their previous albums. "Heartattack" is well and truely heavy, somehow it ends up sounding like an AOR version of AC/DC (!) mixed with commercial Mr. Big - it's a rip-roaring song that's invigorating and very 1980s sounding.

"When I'm Gone" and "I've got You" bring keyboards back into the sound and would be perfectly at home on either of the first two Autograph albums. There's a hint of the more inventive moments of Def Leppard running through both tracks as well - two excellent AOR or radio rock songs made for halcyon days!

Considering that this is mostly various unreleased tracks the quality is very high. "Sanctuary" is another of those "AOR AC/DC" outings injected with Autograph's commercial, and even poppy at times, instincts. But this isn't just about the band heaving up their approach - "Love Comes Easy" - is probably the most yielding track Autograph ever cut and is not unlike Stone Fury's "Life is too Lonely". Only "Sweet Temptation" sounds a little inert and sounds a little underdeveloped, even if its potential is obvious.

Also thrown in to round things off is the original demo version of "Turn up the Radio" - yes it's much rawer and much less polished than the version on "Sign in Please", but it's still a melodic rock classic. I'm glad they changed the chorus using "tape machine" rather than "radio" in one of the lines is very cumbersome and the use of the phrase "you know what I mean" is one of the biggest clichés of all time.

At the time Autograph seemed to have the reputation of one-hit wonders trying to recapture the same success, but in retrospect that is hugely unfair. This collection of demos shows genuine depth and consistency. I think it's this consistency and strength that stops this release from being an exercise in '80s nostalgia and a valid current release in its own right.
Contact: USG Records, Hasstrasse 7a, D-90431 Nuernberg, Germany. Tel 49 (0)-911-9937813, fax 49 (0)-911-9937816.

AXE- "Five" (MTM Music 199617, 1997)

Axe reforming? It sounds a neat idea, but when I first heard that, I really was left wondering what an 1990s version of the band that originally started out as Babyface would sound like. But any project with Bobby Barth’s name on it usually turns out to be commendable so I wasn’t disproportionate worried or anything. "Magic (In our Eyes)" follows the brief intro and is transcendently melodic while exuberant with restrained power. I can see elements of the first two Axe albums (for MCA) here mixed with the approach of CITA (whom Barth produces), but with a little more keyboards.

"Heroes and Legends" follows on and has a real classic melodic rock sound that has been lacking since the mid-1980s. "Sting in the Rain" and "Life in the Furnace" are more of the same and are carefully constructed with late ‘70s values yet a modern enunciation that outright challenges the disposability of the contemporary mainstream! I must emphasise that those comments doesn’t mean that it’s dated, just efficiently, and appropriately, influenced. "Anyplace on this Highway" is probably the best of the songs on offer and is an excellent slice of composite hard rock.

Barth also reuses both "Burn me Once" from his "Two Hearts, One Beat" solo album along with "Battles" from the first Axe release. Both are given a surprisingly ethereal interpretations and work well, in particularly I’d forgotten what a fine, and candidly poignant, song "Battles" is.

A strong workman like effort that will have a lot of value to fans of melodic hard rock whose diet has been meagre of late. Barth’s influence on CITA also shines clear from this release and the 1990s version of Axe doesn’t sound too unlike a seasoned and matured of that fine band.
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 NEH Records home page
click here to jump to the MTM homepage

BAD BOY- "Best of" (Surgeland Records 401553, 1998)

To be honest, I’d normally be totally against reviewing a "Best of" release from anyone, it’s always much better to track down the artist’s individual albums. However, in the case of Bad Boy I’ll make an exception: hardly anyone outside of Milwaukee will have heard of them and the tracks are taken from their three independent releases which were not that easy to find even at the time of release. They did have two earlier major label releases in the late 1970s on United Artists - 1978’s "The Band Milwaukee Made Famous" and the far superior "Back to Back".

The first three cuts are from the "Private Party" album which came out in 1981. Actually it’s my least favourite of all their releases as it is really quite forced hard rock and the title track even sounds like a mixture of Cheap Trick and The Godz! But wait to you get to track four - "Something Ain’t Right" from 1984’s "Electric Eyes" - and you’ll find a band that had developed by a considerable measure and expanded there sound in a very systematic way and taken melody much more to heart. To me it’s the best song they ever recorded, intensely melodic, yet spiky and hook-laden: thinking man’s hard rock, with AOR overtones and a sound clearly defined as their own. "Cheat on Me" from the same album is almost as good and constructed with real precision.

By the time you reach track seven you’ve reached 1986 and the "Girl on the Run" EP which is initially represented by "She Can (Drive you Crazy)". All the tracks on that EP were fine old-school US melodic rock. Start listening to Montrose in 1973, but in the oven until the mid-1980s and this is what you get! Saxophones are also used a couple of tracks from the EP which then bring the direction closer to the US band Adrenalin.

Another four new recordings are also included. "Gotcha!" and "Sex Thang" are much better produced than the other two. The later in particular is studious melodic rock, while the former might have some old-fashioned tendencies but is still cool.

If you’ve never heard Bad Boy this is clearly a good place to start, yet if you’re an established fan there’s enough new material and the kudos of getting some of the older songs on CD to make it a very worthwhile additional to a collection. Oh, and don’t worry prolonged exposure does not turn you into one of those cheese-head people!
Contact: Sergeland Records, P. O. Box 672216, Marietta, GA. 30006-0037, USA.

DAVE BALDWIN- "Time" (Duke-n-Music DB1030, 1997)

Baldwin’s got to be quite a pillar of the northern New Jersey AOR scene over the years through his work with Tradia and Voices and before that Aerrage. While a new Tradia album is also on the way, in the interim Baldwin has done a solo album with heavy Tradia involvement - using its rhythm section and producer Don Sternecker (who also is closely connected with The Brandos who continue to release interesting albums in Germany).

Baldwin’s vocals have always reminded me of someone. However, until this solo album I never realised who. "Open up", the first song gives it away as you can see that he sings like a less sugary sweet Dennis DeYoung. The song itself is rather similar to DeYoung’s work on his "Boomchild" solo album and is mature and clever at the same time. It’s actually quite a surprising direction, judging by his work with Voices I was expecting an all guns blazing approach - but this is even better and gets close to a more Styx influenced version of Tradia.

The similarity to DeYoung also appears in the lyrics which have a thoughtful retrospectiveness about them and are presented directly and efficiently. It’s certainly not cloning or anything like that, it’s just that Baldwin is displaying the same impressive qualities as the Styx mainman. Baldwin also seems to have been previously keeping his keyboard abilities displayed here are excellent, particularly on "You are There" where they are opulently layered.

Baldwin also seems to be a master of writing slower songs and ballads and embodies them with real scale and majesty. Even when he’s at his most balladic, like on "I Don't know" his songs have real impact.

I was expecting something good from this release but, to be honest, I wasn’t quite prepared for it to be this good! Maybe the overall pace could have a little more variety, but the high quality of each individual musical moment makes up for that instantly. A quality, true AOR project all round with fine songs, good production and qualities like refinement and decorum wherever it turns.
click here to jump to the Dave Baldwin homepage

SHERWOOD BALL 'N CHAIN- "Folis Paradyce" (Quintessential 08.30.30, 1996)

Sherwood Ball obviously likes striking while the iron is hot as it doesn't seem to have been long since his first album - "White Light" - came out.

Overall the sound is similar to White Light but the approach is a bit more eclectic. In particular a little more R&B influence is brought in which tends to bring the sound quite close to a superior version of some of Jimmy Barnes' work, in other places it's like a more beefy version of Bill Champlin.

On the whole, the songwriting is much more mature than on "White Light" and also much more consistent, rather than trying to cover several different bases. The listener gets a definite impression that this is what Sherwood wants to do, and the songs really do sparkle for it, particularly the Ian Thomas/Daryl Braithwaite like "Living the Moment". Sherwood's vocals are also more consistent throughout and generally sound a little like Stan Bush but with more depth.

A very impressive progression and an album that will quickly win your affection. Good work all round.
Contact: Quintessential Records, Box, 1055, Studio City, CA. 91614, USA.
click here to jump to the Sherwood Ball home page

SHERWOOD BALL N' CHAIN- "White Light" (Ball Records #6.7.93)

This caught me a bit by surprise: Sherwood Ball is the singer that emerged on a couple of tracks on Jay Graydon's "Airplay for the Planet" release to fine effect. On this his debut solo release, he effectively reciprocates the compliment by covering Jay's "Insincere" from the splendid Planet 3 album, without which virtually no collection is complete! And covering a song of that high quality is always going to be good start.

Sherwood's own songs are pretty good too and there's some intriguing musicians guesting also. AOR Basement favourite Michael Thompson appears on one track, while Toto guitarist Steve Lukather pops up playing keyboards (yes, REALLY!!! - maybe he forgot to take his 6-string with him...), and former Toto keyboard man Steve Porcaro also shows up. Sherwood has an interesting, and adaptable voice being able to sound like Michael Bolton (back before he became the housewives' darling) one minute, and then Sammy Hagar, and even Peter Gabriel at other points!

There's some finely crafted AOR on offer here with a couple of tracks reminiscent of "Fahrenheit" period Toto (particularly the fusion tinged "Can't Get Enough"). The only thing that's a little disappointing is the cover of "Piece of My Heart" which seems to be drawn-out and, well, effectively pointless.

Overall it's a genuinely worthy, high quality release: rocky enough to please mainstream rock fans yet with smoother elements and subtle construction which will appeal to fans of more westcoast music. A nice effort - here's hoping for more!
Contact: Ball Records, Box #1055, Studio City, CA. 91614, USA.
click here to jump to the Sherwood Ball home page

ROBERT BERRY- "Takin' it Back" (Long Island Records #LIR 00090)

Robert Berry obviously has some serious backbone: his career's been through all sorts of ups and downs, yet he's stuck to his musical sentiments and continues to produce superior music at frequent intervals. To refresh your memory, or introduce you to him, Berry was the driving force between the early 1980s band "Hush" before going solo and then hooking up with legends Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson, in the "3" project which released a superb album on Geffen Records. Since the demise of 3, Berry released a wieldy solo album last year under the title of "Pilgrimage to a Point" which is a very worthy addition to anyone's collection.

There's no real change of direction on "Takin' it Back" - it's all very Robert Berry. He's like a one-man progressive rock guru but with a modern approach and none of the pathetic self-indulgence the term "progressive" can sometimes suggest. You can see his 70s influences from bands like Yes (particularly on "Somebody's Watchin'"), ELP, and their ilk for sure, but he totally rejuvenates it with a very modern, focused approach and hard rock sound while still presenting intricate arrangements. Alot of the time I feel that so-called progressive outfits tread water within the context of their songs and almost meander to a finish, however with Berry's stuff you're always going somewhere with a genuine conviction. The end result is a sound like a more confident version of the Steve Howe/Steve Hackett "GTR" project.

If anything, for this release he's adopted a slightly harder presentation, though maybe more direct is what I mean. Throughout the intelligence and vision of the man behind the music is obvious. He's cleerly dedicated to his approach to music and on "Takin' it Back" it works very well.
Contact- Long Island Records, Kirchstr. 16, 86438 Kissing, Germany. Tel. 49-8233-7904-10 fax 49-8233-2863

BE SHARP- "Play This!" (Pointed Records PR CD 003, 1995)

Despite having a name that reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons, British AOR outfit Be Sharp are a bit of a revelation.

"Dreamworld" is the first song on this CD and is a great place from which to start describing their sound. The song has a fine sense of melody, great production, and an excellent guitar sound. From the point of view of sound it's like a potpourri of The Outfield and the AOR side of Bad Company with the occasional smattering of Rick Springfield mixed in too.

The rest of the CD continues is a similar fashion though some tracks are a bit more poppy and get closer to John Waite and Rick Springfield. All the band are seasoned musicians (though I can't say that I've encountered them before) and that experience is obvious and clear particularly through the strong songwriting and arrangements.

The songs are simple and crisply delivered and Be Sharp are similar to The Outfield in the way they travel a well worn path, yet still manage to create their own sound. Here and there a couple of the songs are a little on the polite side, but viewed as a whole it's a sterling effort!
Contact: Be Sharp, 72 Cromwell Avenue, Cheshunt, Herts., EN7 5DW, Great Britain. Tel (44)-1992-624961
click here to e-mail the band for more details

BLITZ DYNETTE- "Stuck on Standby" (Blitz Dynette, 1995)

Straight away I have to tell you this isn’t an atypical CD for AOR Basement to review! Pennsylvania-based Blitz Dynette are more of an R&B band than anything else, with a horn section to boot, but are still worthy of some serious attention from AOR fans. The term "AOR" implies a huge musical spectrum anyway and a wide appreciation of different musical styles is always to be admired.

The first track is always a good place to start (!), and the Dan Hartman written "You’re my No.1" has that honour here. This is good stuff, more like westcoast-tinged R&B than pure R&B not unlike some of Bill Champlin and Jay Graydon’s solo work. The production is also right up there, not overly so, just like a killer live sound where you hear everything right up front. Take away the horns and this is actually a very westcoast AOR song. And I’ve yet to mention the best aspect of the band: Amy Simpson’s vocals are just superb - damn sassy in fact!

I think that if you like people like Bobby Caldwell, Steely Dan or even Chicago you’ll understand why this is an admirable album. All the songs are interesting but "Last Time I’ll Ask", sung by guitarist Forrest Brown, is the most AOR (not surprisingly enough it’s the track with the least horns on it), and the closing "Too Much Time" wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Toto or Joseph Williams album. An interesting project that’s worth at least hearing, Amy Simpson is a real find and work on a second album is already underway.
Contact: Blitz Dynette, P.O. Box 897, Carlisle, PA. 17013, USA. Tel. (717) 249-6325
click here to e-mail the band for more details

BLOOD RED FLOWER- "Last Link to the World" (Unplugged & Wired Music UPWMCD-0069, 1997)

Blood Red Flower is a new band led by the urbane Canadians Phil Naro (ex- Talas and Chain Reaction) and ex Simon Chase guitarist and sometime Triumph collaborator Silvio Simone. Both therefore have a fine lineage in the tradition of Canadian melodic rock.

"Cautionary Tale", the opening track, is therefore a mild shock as it sounds much more topical than I'd expected. Somehow, it mixes melodic rock in a contemporary almost psych/alternative format. What stops it from sounding too alternative is Phil Naro's proper rock voice. There's some clever use of strings, but the oh so modern snare drum sound borders on the absurd.

By "Stand inside you Mind" and "Celestial" I'm finding my feet with the material a bit better. Brawny guitars and vocals begin to remind me of what Von Groove was trying to achieve on its second album "Rainmaker" (Koch, 1995). Hints of a more heavy Open Skyz are also apparent, but I'm still not too sure about the drum sound which begins to feel quite claustrophobic. "Yes it Pays" grabs my attention as well with its nice groove - maybe an accurate comparison would be a wild mix of It Bites and Dream Theatre! The closing "Break Free" probably does the most for me as it is far and away the most atmospheric cut on offer.

Overall it's a little one-tempoed. It clearly should be a stepping stone between the modern mainstream and proper (!) melodic rock. But I suspect it will do more to draw current alternative fans to harder rock rather than the other way round. Not a perfect album but a gallant effort to keep melodic rock commercially viable in the current music arena. I’m not sure if I’d like a follow-up in a similar vein though….
Contract: Unplugged & Wired Music, Davisville Postal Outlet, 1881 Yonge Street, P.O. Box 48025, Toronto, Ontario, M4S 3C6, Canada.
Click here to jump to the bands homepage

BONFIRE- "Rebel Soul" (LZ Records 800017, 1997)

Can’t say that I’m a fan of this Germany band, who’ve been around since the late 1980s, in any shape or form. Like many other German bands of the same era they were too derivative for their own good and were as about exciting as an evening with an insurance salesman. But listening to this new release, I obviously missed them coming of age as suddenly they sound pretty good….

Almost with this in mind, the first cut is called "Wake up"! Their previous efforts are quickly forgotten thanks to some imaginative hard rock which gets closer to the approach of Autograph or Firehouse than any of their own German contemporaries who never break away from sounding European. "Just to say we Did" follows like a heavier version of "Too Hot to Sleep" period Survivor. By fourth song "Lay your Heart on the Line" they’re practically glowing with maturity – showing that they can mix being heavy with clever and thoughtful arrangements. "Good or Bad" is as heavy as they get, which is close to Von Groove’s first album even if it seems to be lacking a proper chorus.

"Rebel Soul" is not a perfect effort, however, as a couple of tracks verge on the boring and tedious and the "Dixie/Wild Dixie" partnership is truly pointless. Overall though, a surprisingly good effort from a band I’ve obviously been severely underrating.
Contact: LZ Records, Postfach 101050, D-85010 Ingolstadt, Germany

COLIE BRICE- "New age Blues" (Tanglewood Court, 1996)

Coleman Brice is the singer from southern New Jersey melodic rockers Phantom’s Opera - he himself told me that his solo album was a bit "out there" so who knew what to expect!

Colie’s first presentation is "Empowerment" which is sort of spacey and reminded me of Billy Thorpe’s "Children of the Sun" project. But it really just serves to usher in "Beyond" which is..., interesting! After some initial stupefaction I can describe it as challenging melodic rock, exploring a direction I’ve heard very few go in before - somewhere between Prophet, Jan Hammer, Frozen Ghost and Billy Idol! Quite a bold statement in fact. The songs that follow all twist in ever more directions: "Evil Ways" has a dark and deep soundstage; "Fear!" is nothing short of avant garde melodic rock; and "(Awakening)" is a cool instrumental.

Colie spirals in even more directions by the time he gets to "Crooning in the Afterglow" and "Dolphin Suite" which move into New Age territory Yanni and Tim Timmermans would be proud of. "Why?" even sounds like Jonathan Cain’s Higher Octave releases in that its not unlike the soundtrack music for the Red Shoes Diaries! "Against the Grain" is one of my favourites as it sounds similar to Glen Burtnik’s recent work. The only real disappointment is "Life’s Journey" which is just too modern sounding and gets too close to being alternative.

You know I’m not sure how many people could get away with presenting such a varied package as this and pull it off without sounding pretentious - but Colie some how does it. He proves he’s a talented multi-instrumentalist and as someone prepared to move in challenging directions. Some parallels with Kip Winger’s recent studio work strike me as they’re both prepared to be artistic and create textures of colours and feelings after a hard rock background.
Contact: Colie Brice, 1710 Tanglewood Court, Helmetta, NJ. 08828, USA Telefax (908) 251-4561
click here to e-mail the Colie for more details
Click here to jump to the Colie's homepage

BROKEN VOICES- Same (Thoughtscape Sounds TSS0010, 1997)

Broken Voices seems to be a side project from Little River Band leader Graham Goble. But it appears to start from a reference point of LRB’s best albums "Playing to Win" and "No Reins" (i.e. the two with John Farnham singing) and not some of its poorer more recent albums.

In "Lessons of Love" the LRB connection from the "No Reins" period is clear but there’s something more to it as well. While being vaguely poppy it’s more overtly AOR than LRB. The production also reeks of quality and sounds big budget while also being layered in the same way that Trevor Rabin’s solo work is. Every sound is big, but there’s still lots of space around the individual instruments. "Halls of Justice" shows you what that somethingelse is, as it gets closer to Rick Springfield rather than LRB. These qualities of being poppy yet powerful, and direct yet engaging continue throughout the whole album and it’s very hard to find a poor song anywhere

Vocalist Susie Ahern is a real find and has superb range to the point where she sounds like a genetically engineered combination of John Farnhan and Pat Benatar! Overall luscious textured, very melodic, dynamic, enthralling and completely uplifting with its huge depth...
Contact: Thoughtscape Sounds, 115 North 10th Street, #3A, Fort Smith, AR. 72901, USA. Telephone (501) 783-6868, Telefax (501) 646-6217
click here to jump to the Thoughtscape web site .

THE BURNPOOL- Same (I/O Records, 1995)

These Californians look real rough and tough on their sleeve picture, not laid back at all. Having ex-Balance guitarist Bob Kulick producing is a good start so I was anxious to hear the silver disc's contents.

First up in the running order is "Titan" which has both good and bad points. The lyrics are very unusual and clever, almost progressive, and the guitar work, while fierce is very melodic. It's almost like listening to Dream Theatre without the thrash influences, or a metally version of Kansas, believe it or not. Track two is "Snowblind" and continues the trend of fierce guitar work with good keyboards, but by then I'm really beginning to feel a little frustrated by the vocals: Rayne Johnson isn't a bad singer, but if he sang in a more melodic style it would make the music so much more effective. When he does sing more melodically, as on the track "Once Around", things gel much more positively and the band sound is much more defined.

At other times they move in a more complex, atmospheric direction and don't sound unlike German outfit Zeno: operatic hard rock. They have some superb intros and then like to attack the listener with huge slabs of guitar work! Could be an interesting band to watch in the future, but I still think they need to work on the vocals some.
Contact: The Burnpool, 4313 Valley Fair Street, Simi Valley, CA. 93063, USA.
click here to e-mail the band for more details
click here to e-mail the band's publicist

GLEN BURTNICK- "Retrospectacle" (MTM 199613, 1996)

Glen Burtnick albums are like buses - you patiently await one’s arrival and then two turn up at once! This is a collection of demos Glen recorded between the "Heroes and Zeroes" album for A&M and his recent "Palookaville" project. Like the buses question, another imponderable that suddenly strikes me is if he’s ever going to decide how to spell his surname, it varies between included or excluded a "c" on an variegated basis!

But that’s all by the by, the more CDs Glen releases the better and enriches any collection. When you bear in mind that this is a collection of demos you’ll understand that they must have shopped around on numerous occasions and several of the tracks have been covered elsewhere - but here you have the originals. Three tracks have appeared before: "Love is the Ritual" also surfaced on the superb Styx "Edge of the Century" with which Glen was involved and is virtually identical to the version Styx did; "Everyday of my Life" was covered by Open Skyz and is surprisingly hard rocking and a little more interesting than the version recorded by Hugo and co.; and "River of Fire" has been recorded by both the Robertson Brothers and Stan Meissner (with whom it was co-written) and here sounds more like The Hooters than the ultra-polished, but still excellent, version Meissner produced on his "Undertow" album.

The other nine songs are diligent efforts and display the same variety that appeared on "Heroes and Zeroes" particularly on "Woman’s Point of View" which could easily be an out-take from that second album. From the Tom Cochrane-esque "Roar", through the poignant mid-paced AOR of "Don’t give Up on Me", the Beatles influenced "Local Hero", and "Love (and Love Alone)" with its eclectic chorus the talent of a great songwriter is evident. The only downside is that "There’s a Hero in Every Heart" sounds a little cheesy. The fact that these are demos recorded over a period of time rather than all at once gives you the feel that you’re sitting observing in a craftsman workshop and its an enriching experience.
Contact: Major MTM Music, Upplandsgatan 17C, 1 tr, S-11360 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel 46-8-338270 fax 46-8-328602.
click here to e-mail Glen for more details
click here to jump to the MTM homepage

GLEN BURTNIK- "Palookaville" (DEKO Music 1006, 1996)

Glen has been a particular favourite songwriter of mine for a long time. I think it's got alot to do with his lyrics: serious, but not in your face, and frequently acerbic - something I'm frequently accused of being myself!

On this new one you get eleven "proper" songs and a further seven brief musical interludes as well. "Learning to Crawl" gets the affair underway and while it's very Glen, there's a new rootsy element to his sound and a definite openness letting you look into the heart of the song, and the songwriter. There's plenty of other songs that instantly grab the attention including the intense and original "My Crowning Achievement" which kinda reminds me of "Into the Great Wide Open" period Tom Petty, the modern sounding AOR/Beatles crossover of "Doesn't Mean I Love You", the great and rather hard to classify "Hold that Thought", the plaintive and honest "Watching the World Go By", "The Liars' Club" with its rather Don Henley-esque outlook on life, and the undeniable songwriting strength of "Never Mind Me".

The highly vitriolic "Johnny Comes Home" (co-written with Kasim Sulton) is probably my personal favourite - the instrumentation is a bit unusual but it's a helluva song! Overall this is quite a challenging musical statement from Glen, he's really stretched his songwriting here and found a sound all his own. If you know what a good song is, you'll be right at home in Palookaville.
Contact: DEKO Music, 2 Engle Street, Tenafly, NJ. 07670, USA or Warbride Music, P.O. Box 296, Milltown, NJ. 08850-0296, USA.
click here to e-mail for more details

GLEN BURTNICK- "Heroes & Zeros" (Limited Edition CD Reissue)

I guess this release will already be very well known to many of you, but I don't think that many people realise Glen has reissued it on CD himself with the addition of two extra tracks.

I remember at the time of the original release "Heroes & Zeroes" created quite a bit of debate in AOR circles, some people seemed to be put off by the variety and the poppy overtones of some of the tracks. But' I've always liked it very much and think it's stood the test of time pretty well.

The new cuts are of the most instant interest, "Palm of My Hand" is very powerful and atmospheric while having that trademark Burtnick sound all over it. And, if I'm not mistaken, it sounds like Jan Hammer is playing on it too, with a fine keyboard solo. "Brooklyn Lullabye", meanwhile, kicks down fairly hard and is quite like Glen's harder work on Styx's "Edge of the Century" release, it's an OK song, but without Glen's fine vocals and lyrics it would be a bit average.

To highlight a few of the original album's tracks: "Follow You" is still the perfect song to be driving a convertible to on a beautiful summer's day; "Spinning my Wheels" is a dynamic songwriting performance with astounding depth; and "Walls Come Down" is New Jersey storytelling at its best. My favourite track however, is the hook-ladden "Abalene" to which Neal Schon (he pops up on a good few of the tracks) contributes one of his classic solos.

I guess another thing I can add is a little anecdote about the recordings that not many of people realise. The tracks that feature Anton Fig on drums were actually recorded in various rooms in Glen's home. He wasn't happy with the sound he was getting in the studio, so he promptly took a full live album style mobile studio to his house!

I can't imagine that there are many AOR fans that won't find something to like here, refreshing my memory of its contents has left me hungry for new material from Glen....
Contact: Warbride Music, P.O. Box 296, Milltown, N.J. 08850, USA.

BYSTANDER- "Stranger Things Have Happened" (Long Island Records #LIR 00050)

Bystander come from New Jersey and are long-time AOR Basement heroes. This is the band's second full album and it is nothing short of superb! From the start of the panoramic opening "Change of Heart" you know you're in for something special. This opening cut even features guest appearances from the well respected Glen Burtnick (check out his two solo albums and work on Styx's "Edge of the Century" for reference) and Ken Dubman, guitarist from the much missed Prophet. The production is also excellent - even more so when you consider that the recordings were self-financed.

Bystander always feature a lot of variety in the material - the same sort of variety that made an album like Journey's "Escape" so special. But despite that no matter what they are playing they are still always identifiable as Bystander. With that in mind, on this new release you've got everything from the arrogant stomp of "In-between Dreams" and the biting guitar work of "Falling Down" (sort of Mr. Big plays Journey!), and the almost Saga-esque quirk and provocativeness of "Broken Bodies" and "Animal Heads" where the band really stretch both their songwriting and playing. But the band's bread and butter is crisp, hard radio rock which sometimes reminds me of a superior, super-charged version of The Hooters - check out "Angeline" and "I'll be over You" for examples. Also featured is a very much reworked version of "Trail of Broken Hearts" which appeared on AOR Basement's FM-Revolver released compilation album.

I think "this is an essential purchase" is a very much overused phrase - so let's put it another way - if you're a fan of quality AOR and melodic rock and you don't have a copy of "Stranger Things have Happened" you'll be missing out to a serious degree.... Germany'sLong Island Records have also released the band's first "Not So Innocent" album on CD with the addition of 3 extra tracks, so watch out for that one also.
Contact- Bystander, 67 Greenwich Drive, Jackson, NJ. 08527, USA. Telephone (732) 833-2178 Fax (732) 833-2178.
click here to e-mail the band for more details

CAPTIVE HEART- "Home of the Brave" (MTM Music 199614, 1996)

I don’t know too much about Captive Heart, but I do know that this CD is well worth hearing, and Survivor man Jim Peterik is involved on the production side too. They don’t really do anything new, but what they do do we have far too little of in the prevailing mainstream….

Captive Heart produce a great melodic rock sound with excellent vocals and a sassy sense of style. Maybe a little like Stan Bush, maybe a little like Paul Sabu on a really good day (come to think of it his good days have been a bit limited in recent years!). "It’s too Late" could easily be Signal and "Ride of your Life", where they rock at their hardest, could easily be Legs Diamond, meets CITA, meets Survivor!

If crisp, well balanced AOR with fine use of sharp guitars and crystalline keyboards are up your street, then you’ll feel right at home in this neighbourhood.
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

BILL CHAMPLIN- "Live - Mayday" (Champlin Records/Intercord CR001, 1997)

While all of Bill Champlin’s solo albums have had some excellent moments, they’ve always left me vaguely unfulfilled. Sure there’s always some great songs, but they never seem totally consistent and the odd weaker track lessen the effect of the good for me. Maybe he just tries to cover too many bases on his albums....

But this live album really crystallises his not inconsiderable talent in sharper fashion. Before I go any further I have to mention the production - this is probably the best live sounding album I have ever heard! It’s an audiophile treat, if you want to hear how real live music should sound then this a premium reference point, and some of the playing is arresting. It’s very intimate as well, the crowd sounds like a very small, select group of friends and their reaction, and indeed comments, add to this feel - this is as close to having a concert in your front room as you’ll ever get, while also testing the resolve of your hi-fi system.

To me this is just how westcoast AOR should be heard, in it’s most real, vital form with genuine presence rather than being over produced and ending up overly polymerised and the subject of some Japanese only release. There’s quite a spread of songs from Bill’s solo albums and other sources too (such as "After the Love is Gone" from the seminal Airplay album), plus some that also feature his wife Tamara on lead vocals too. Bass, drum and organ solos are also included, and while my instant reaction to their inclusion would normally be over self indulgence, they do actually work well and add to the overall effect decorously.

I give this a very high testimonial - certainly good for what ails you!
Contact: Champlin Records, 19528 Ventura Blvd., Box 170, Tarzana, CA. 91356, USA.
click here to jump to Champlin homepage

CINEMA FACE- "Face Card" (Pacemaker PACE-024, 1996)

If this second album from Toronto based Cinema Face was a library book it would easily be enough to bankrupt your average third world country so long is it overdue! Their first album was "sort of" released is 1983 but more recently was re-released on CD by Pacemaker. That first album could easily define the term "undiscovered classic" with its brand of theatrical pomp rock that was just as good as contemporaries like Saga and Zon.

Just like their first album, the opening cut here is a little weak - bit of a sloppy Saga meets a mellow Kim Mitchell! "Face Card" instantly repairs the damage with its very pompy, early Saga sound and has distinct similarities to much of the material from the first album. "Only World" is just as good and is probably the sort of sound that classic Canadian pomp bands like Zon, Everest, or Lynx would have, given time, eventually developed into. "Count on Me" has the archetypal pomp bass line (a la Roadmaster) and a great keyboard solo too.

With thirteen tracks on offer the quality varies a little, but even where the songwriting is weaker, the sound of the band is still great! In places the production is also a bit sober, but somehow this just leaves the band to do the impressing all by themselves. While not as totally special as their first album this is still a very fine release and a definite worthy addition to any pomp rock fan's collection.
Contact: Pacemaker Entertainment Ltd., Box 65065, Nepean, Ontario, K2G 5Y3, Canada, or Escape Music, 4 Cavendish Court, Dean Bank, Ferryhill, Co. Durham, DL17 8PY, Great Britain. Tel/fax. 44-1740-655675
click here to e-mail Pacemaker for more details
click here to jump to the Pacemaker Entertainment homepage
click here to e-mail Escape Music for more details

CITA- "Heat of Emotion" (MTM Music 19968, 1996)

CITA evidently aren’t ones to be caught in the act (sic) by resting on their laurels as they’ve issued a follow up to their debut ("Relapse of Reason") in double quick time…. While the period of time between the two releases is relatively short, the further development of the band’s music is clear.

Overall the sound is more intrinsically melodic than the first album, though the same dramatic use of light and shade is still there going strong. The songs are all potent, and an album with no real fillers is level of consistency few reach even after much more experience.

This is hard AOR as it should be: firm, stabbing guitars, layered vocal hooks, and textured keyboards. This is also definitely hard rock for the thinking man, the guitars might be well heavy but the song always remains in control and there are surprises all over the place. Just as you think a track’s going to be a standard hard rock anthem it twists in a direction you don’t expect. Comparisons are never easy with these guys but imagine Lou Gramm’s Shadow King crossed with Zebra (without the ultra-high vocals) and you might be getting there.

The bonus track of "Cold Sweat" tripped me up as it’s a cover of the old Thin Lizzy song which I wasn’t expecting at all - it works well though and fits in perfectly with the rest of the album. Bobby Barth has to get some big marks for his production efforts too - he seems to have really captured the power of the band without diluting it at all or letting it inundate everything in its path. It looks increasingly like CITA could have the future of hard AOR in their collective hands!
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 CITA home page
Available in US on NEH label, click here for more details
click here to jump to the MTM homepage

C.I.T.A.- "Act 1 - Relapse of Reason" (A2Z Records)

CITA (which is short for "Caught in the Act") are from Colorado and are like a breath of truely fresh mountain air! I'm not always one to dig the more rugged side of AOR, but this is really different. CITA's music is committed and powerful yet intensely melodic at the same time. Colossal slabs of sub-metal guitar corral you into a dark room and the massive keyboards and clever melodies caress you before you get wiped out by the next (barely) restrained guitar onslaught.

Opener "Everytime (I close my Eyes)", kicks in like Loverboy on steroids, and from then on its just great song after great song. Descriptions are a little hard to pull together on this one but, if you can imagine Mr Big with huge amounts of keyboards and the best of Honeymoon Suite and the original moments of Autograph you might get a flavour of the sound, but you still wouldn't believe how good this is! If House of Lords or even White Lion (two alleged champions of modern melodic rock) had ever sounded like this then perhaps the world would be a better place and American radio would still be playing quality rock music.

Former Axe mainman Bobby Barth produces the album (and is also the band's manager) and they also cover his song "Steel another Fantasy" from the Axe album "Offering".

It's not often this happens but I find myself inspired by their use of light and shade, the sheer depth of the music, and the refreshingly original approach CITA bring to their music. This band could become all things to all men, there's something here for fans of Dream Theatre and Toto alike!
Contact: C.I.T.A., P.O. Box 470964, Aurora, CO. 80047-0964, USA.

ASHLEY CLEVELAND- "Bus Named Desire" (RCA/Reunion #07863 66215-2)

Female singer/songwriter Ashley Cleveland is back with a second effort after being rather rudely dropped by Atlantic after her debut. And its all good stuff that's on offer....

Ashley's forte appears to be atmospheric AOR rather like the material on the criminally overlooked Animal Logic project (of Stewart Copeland, Stanley Clarke, and Michael Thompson). The vocals are refined throughout and the odd country influence adds a hue which moves the sound closer to the first Stealin' Horses album.

Not content with that, there are also a few real big riff rockers throw in which, surprisingly, don't sound a million miles away from the much missed Witness. Tom Kimmel's "Skin Tight" is also given a cover treatment which is an added bonus. Interesting the production is quite understated, but crystal clear allowing you to feel that you're right inside the music. A good release overall that you'll quickly warm too.

TOM COCHRANE- "Ragged Ass Road" (EMI #7243 8 36057 2 9)

Tom Cochrane's a survivor - he's regularly been releasing albums since the late 1970s both on a solo basis and under the name of "Red Rider" and has carefully adapted and evolved his songwriting style throughout all that time, from the overblown classical rock of "Neruda" to the hybrid pop of "Tom Cochrane and Red Rider".

"Ragged Ass Road" has got to be one of his most consistent releases ever and is absolutely one of his most direct. The album's produced by Tom and long-time keyboard cohort John Webster in sympathic fashion so this is obviously the direction he wants to go in. And whiz-bang stuff it is too - the introduction of new lead guitarist Bill Bell seems to have filled Tom full of adrenaline to come up with his best set of songs in years - they positively sparkle! Another refreshing point is that it doesn't matter which of the tracks your listen to, you can just instantly feel that everyone was really enjoying themselves when the recordings were taking place - good spirits percolate forth...

It's always hard to describe the Tom Cochrane sound. Maybe its like a more complex, less hard-boiled John Mellancamp, with an ardent, committed, and distinctive vocal delivery along with clever lyrics. The big difference this time around though is that things are much more guitar driven and a bit more "rootsy" at times. A quality release from an enduring talent that should be more widely recognised outside his homeland of Canada.
click here to jump to Tom Cochrane's home page

JUDE COLE- "I Don't Know Why I act this Way" (Island #314-524 148-2)

Former Moon Martin guitarist Jude Cole is back with his fourth solo album, which is his first for Island Records. I really enjoyed his last opus "Start the Car" which had some distinguished moments and was handsomely varied. With "I don't Know why I act this Way" (short, snappy title, huh?) he's taking a bit more of a rootsy approach, but it's still his fine songs and haunting vocals that domineer the proceedings.

Jude's new set of songs are much more acoustically based and much more organic (as in earthy) than his previous releases but they still work well. It might take a little bit to get into but once you're inducted you'll want to come back to it when ever you're tired or frustrated and just want to hear some good, honest songs for their own sake. Best tracks are the opening "Speed of Life", "Madison" with its cleverly paced lyrics, the plaintive "Believe in You", and the grooving "Move if you're Goin'". Also watch out for Kiefer Sutherland's guest vocals on the melancholic "Joe"! For some reason I found myself wanting to compare this to Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road" release..., it's not that they sound particularly similar (make that barely a little) or anything, it's just something about the instrumentation....

RON COLLINS- "Simple Man" (Giant Records #GRCD-21592)

Ron Collins' 1992 solo album is well worth searching out. Ron was previously the singer with, what is easily my favourite Christian band ever (!), "Twenty Twenty" (both their albums should be mainstays in every AOR fans' collection) and he produced this solo album in close collaboration with David Huff from David and the Giants.

The first track, "Run this Race", really grabs the attention straight away, sounding like a more elaborate, and superior, version of Whiteheart with extra keyboards and sassier ideas. There's just a huge amount of good stuff going on in this song that means you just can't leave it alone - you just want to listen to it more and more! Track two - "All I Know" - continues the theme and is almost perfect AOR with a flawless mix of keyboards and guitars. Things get a little more varied after that, but its still a fine album when viewed as a whole. The ballad "There is a Place" sees Ron giving what could be his finest vocal performance ever, "Nothing but the Best" sounds like "Street Talk" period Steve Perry, and "Sing for Freedom" nods at the scale of Twenty Twenty with its huge keyboards and thrusting guitars.

A very worthy release that didn't get the attention it deserved at the time - dig out a copy if you can...
Contact: Giant Records, Route 2, Box 593, Forest, MS. 39074, USA.
Contact: Ron Collins, P.O. Box 6051, Shreveport, LA. 71136, USA.

TERRY CRAWFORD- "Circadian Rhythm" (Blue Slash BSPR0196, 1996)

Terry Crawford is the drummer with the excellent Canadian pomp rock band Lightspeed whom I really should get round to reviewing very soon. But he’s obviously much more than a drummer and plays most of the instruments here as well as showing off a fine larynx not unlike the direct delivery of Dave Baldwin from New Jersey’s Tradia. Lending moral and musical support are several of his Lightspeed buddies and also Jim Gilmour from Saga - now that’s the way to get my attention!

After the short instrumental opening "Too Little, Too Late" is the first "proper" song and is much lighter than the splendour of Lightspeed. It’s still in a pomp/progressive style but there’s also a poppy bent which makes it refreshing and rather like Frozen Ghost. "You Don’t Listen" confirms these observations and almost sounds like Camel on "Stationary Traveller" with its hybrid progressive style and commercial awareness - an excellent track all round!

There’s lots of fine moments throughout this album - sure it might get poppy at times but its still complex without being overburdening. "No Anchovies" (nice title!) has some pretty insistent guitar work, "Neon Lights" is excellent guitary radio rock, and "Through the Years" has very Saga-ish keyboards to name three of the high points.

Overall it is indeed a very hybridised approach, but it really grows on the listener and is well worth tracking down….
Contact: Blue Slash Production, Box 66632, Stoney Creek P.O., Stoney Creek, Ontario, L8G 5E5, Canada. Tel (905) 664-2832 fax (905) 664-8970.
click here to e-mail Terry for more details
click here to jump to Terry's home page

STEPHEN CHRISTIAN- "Self Titled" (Epilogue Entertainment 012052-2, 1998)

Stephen Christian is a young guitarist from Arizona, but on his debut release there are a couple of accustomed names. Cosmopolitan bass player Greg Chaisson plays on all tracks as well as acting as producer, and Dan Wexler from Icon also makes some guest appearances.

The first two tracks leave me somewhat grumpy. "Got to find a Way" doesn’t seem sure what direction it’s going in. Yes, it does use an interesting sort of bluesy guitar sound, but the song lacks real solidity and is let down by less than plausible vocals. "Dreaming" is inflicted with the same problems as the vocals really don’t cut it and are not helped out by overly bustling lyrics.

No need to abandon all hope yet though, as "Got to Choose" is much better, musically: quite AOR, but with a strong late 1970s midwest rock influence, almost like early Legs Diamond or Angel without the keyboards. "Slave to the Rhythm" isn’t bad either but follows a different direction and comes away feeling like an under-funded version Warren Haynes’ Gov’t Mule.

The rest of the tracks tend to meander rather like the plot of a 1970s American road movie. I also find that the lyrical content holds back many of the songs, as they just don’t get you sufficiently involved.

More positively though, Christian does prove himself to be a tractable guitarist, but he needs to develop in a more consistent direction and explore his songwriting much more. On this release his limitations as a singer and lyric writer are rather obvious, but if he can rein in his more creative moments and mold himself around those he could go on to better things.


CROWN OF THORNS- "Lost Cathedral" (Frontiers Records FR CD003, 1998)

Crown of Thorns second album "Breakthrough" seemed to lose the pace their debut release created in Europe. I thought both were decent releases though both were much more straightforward than I expected from a band featuring Jean Beavoir.

Starting off with the title track here, I’ve never heard these guys sound so interesting before and there seems a renewed emphasis on melody and a real rounded power. "Live and Die" adds embellishing keyboards and is very AOR, and easily personable as a result. This is pure and simple melodic rock with a slightly dark feel and a stomp-athon of a drum sound, even if the mix is a little imprecise in places.

"Motorcycle Loretta" is more down and dirty and is much more like what I associate with Crown of Thorns, sort of like a heavy Autograph mixed with Kiss. Even with a simple backbone it’s given a clever structure as "Creed of Love" further points out: this is old school melodic rock that wants to make its point in an overall context rather than making a quick surface effect and then leaving you hollow. The definitely not-PC "Cold Blooded Bitch" could easily have covered well worn ground, but navigates its own course and has a deep quality.

Favourites to me are "End of the Road" and, particularly, "Wasted Prime" where keyboards are again injected more prominently to bring the sound much more into a pure AOR sphere.

Crown of Thorns seem to have renewed depth and fresh quality. I don’t always go much for the relatively heavy stuff, but this is so well and cleverly presented that it really gets under your skin much more than most. An album of uniform quality rather than just being a couple of great tracks and a few fillers.

In the US a different version is available from the band direct which also includes the bonus tracks from the Japanese version and an exclusive track too.

CRYSTAL MAZE- "Lost in Crystal Maze" (Racoon Records RAC 005, 1996)

Some of my European peers have given me luminescent reports on this German three piece in the past, but this is the first time I've been exposed to them. "On the Way back Home" is the opener I was really startled by the quality of the keyboard and guitar linkage. Fine memories of some excellent German bands like Tokyo, Balanx, Dominoe and early Craaft came to mind instantaneously. Musically it's superb, but the vocals (which are also rather high in the mix) are shabby and very wearying.

It seems to have been a feature of many German bands over the years that they just can't cut it in the vocal department - and Crystal Maze are heeled by the same block. For instance, on "Don't Say Never" the vocals are hugely over stretched and sound so European and, well, naff! It's a real shame as well as with a singer like Michael Flexig (Zeno and Echo Park) Crystal Park would be a rip-roaring melodic rock band with sturdy guitars and lots of varied keyboard sounds. Think of Skagerack or Treat with the added bonus of Saga keyboard textures and you get quite close to the band's sound. Out of the twelve songs offered only two are poor: the chocolate-box like "Hold Me" and the woefully plagiarised "Here's Lookin' at You". Though the thoughtful "It makes me Understand", the well structured "Just 'Not Married'" (despite its terrible title) and the excellent "Good Old Friend" make up for the low points.

I think this is still well worth investigating further, they might get away with the poor vocals in their domestic market - but to be taken seriously elsewhere they will have to be bettered in the long-term.
click here to e-mail the band for more details
Click here to jump to the Crystal Maze homepage

Reviews index Archive page 2 Archive page 3 Archive page 4

Turn to the current reviews page

Jump to the AOR Basement news page

Turn to the "Recommended Retailers" page

Turn to the demo tape reviews page

Click here to see the AOR Basement contents page

Jump to the AOR Basement Links Page

Back to the AOR Basement Home Page

Ian McIntosh

Copyright © 2004 Ian McIntosh, AOR Basement, all rights reserved
Most recent revision Monday February 22, 2010 - originally created November 1995.