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 1 Archive page 3 Archive page 4

ROB DAIKER- "Extract" (Self-financed, 1995)

As far as I know this guy's got no previous track record, but the presence of Dan Reed singing lead vocals on one track and producing another grabs the attention pretty quickly!

"Talk You" is the first of the eight songs featured and is, only slightly, funky rock that gives you the same goose-pimples you got the first time you heard the Dan Reed Network! "The Hardest Part" is cut number two and is interesting different sounding sort of Mellencamp-ish with its acoustic basis, but with much more melodic, clean vocals.

"Back to Love" - the track with Dan Reed singing - builds into something quite awesome almost like a more inventive, more varied version of his own work. All the other tracks are highly enjoyable with "G.M.I.", "Midnight Blue", and "Hold Back" being funk-rock/westcoast crossovers.

Variety is obviously high on Rob's agenda as closer "Burn" really rocks out and gets closer to be a more refined, less earthy version of Living Colour! I'm most impressed with the songs displayed and the top notch production which belies its self-financed status - spread the word on this one, its variety and integrity is refreshing and it doesn't deserve to be overlooked anymore.
click here to e-mail Rob for more details

DAKOTA- "The Last Standing Man" (Escape Music ESM023, 1997)

This fourth studio outing for Dakota marks a crucial change in the band’s line-up. Gone is co-founder Tom Kelly with Jerry Hludzik taking over all vocals. He’s also now joined by ex- Synch/Jimmy Harnen guitarist Jon Lorance, son Eli on drums, and long-time keyboard comrade Rick Manwiller. Kelly and Hludzik seem to have been a durable team since the mid-1970s, so I was left wondering if Dakota might have lost something without him. Other sources had suggested that this release would mark a new start for Dakota, but I wasn’t really sure what that meant.

Opening song is "Hot Nights" which some of you might be familiar with from the Magnum (from Pennsylvania, not the British band) "Hot Nights" EP (Allentown International, 1983) which just so happened to be produced by Hludzik and Kelly. The arrangement is a little different from the original but is still archetypal AOR and cool in the extreme. I’m struck by how much more organic than "Mr. Lucky/Lost Tracks" this sounds and how it sounds like a true band rather than a accumulation of individuals.

Once you move on to "Somebody’s Hero" you really notice that Jon Lorance’s guitar playing is fairly virtuoso-like: a heady mixture of sharp, melodic edges and scintillating melody. However, with some genuine aplomb, his playing keeps itself in a true supporting role and always contributes in the context of the whole song, rather than dominating the whole affair needlessly. To me this is not exactly a new start for the band, but it certainly does sound like fresh life has been breathed into the sound and the cobwebs have been brushed away. On "Mama Teach" the vocals sound very late 1970s or early 1980s and the song wouldn’t sound out of place on their first album. In many ways this sounds like a much more logical progression to the first Dakota album than either "Runaway" or "Mr. Lucky" and reaffirms their base musical values. To me this defines the term "radio rock", but it’s miles away from anything you would ever hear on the radio now!

The production and mix is effective enough, it really emphasises midrange and the bass is also satisfyingly deep and resolute. The kick drum is lacking in ultimate weight and the drums sound a little lacking in scale here and there, however, that seems to add to a slight raw edge which makes it sound more like a live band than any other Dakota release.

With just the one vocalist, the band seems more assiduous and cohesive. A great collection of songs - one of the best recent "old school" AOR albums that isn’t repackaged old material.
Contact: Hah Daddy Productions, P.O. Box #72, Dalton, PA. 19414, USA.

DAKOTA- "Mr. Lucky" (Escape Music ESM005, 1996)

The Pennsylvanian duo of Jerry Hludzik and Bill Kelly have continually popped up at irregular intervals both as musicians, songwriters, and producers. Previously they've released two LPs as Dakota: the self-titled album (Columbia, 1980) and "Runaway" (MCA, 1984) - both of which are excellent. There was also an earlier album - "Somebody Else's Dream" (Columbia, 1978) - which was released under the name of "Jerry Kelly".

"Mr. Lucky" is essentially an expanded version of their highly obscure late 1980s third Dakota album "Lost Tracks". The sound is just as you'd expect if you're familiar with any of the previous releases, except there's a bit more emphasis on guitar than I remember. It's a very AOR sound, almost like a supercharged version of Peter Cetera and similar in many ways to bands like Le Roux and Duke Jupiter.

All the songs are of a uniformly high standard and have the absolute refinement of widely experienced songwriters. The only nagging doubt I have is the way that the programmed drums have, surprisingly, dated the sound to the mid/late 1980s, but the sheer quality of the songs makes up for this. If you missed out on Dakota first time around, make up for lost time and start right here!
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

DIVISION STREET- "Harbour in the Static" (Plaid Cat PC 1003, 1997)

I’ve only picked up on this band very recently - this is their second release, following up 1995’s "Standing on Ceremony" which also came out on the magnificently named Plaid Cat label.

More than most, this is a band where the music should be allowed to do the talking. "Carry the Blame" is a cool opener, it might be midwest in sound but it has much more musical and lyrical depth than that genre can often suggest. Not unlike Larry Tagg’s solo work in fact, which is some sort of huge eulogy. "Follow me there" and "No Mercy" have the same Tagg-esque feel and really allows the fine production to shine.

"Confessions of Truth" starts acoustically, but moves more into the territory of Faith and Desire in a more midwest style, a great song with truely broad appeal, while "Never Enough" is like a more diversely influenced Hooters. "Losing my Mind" helps me to formulate the point, this is the sort of music that can rise above fashions and be good in its own right anytime. It has so many good qualities it can appeal to lots of different rock audiences yet still remain contemporary.

For an independent release the production and mix also really know where they’re going as can be seen on "Let it Flow" with its up front drums and hugely absorbing bass.

Without deliberately bringing up Larry Tagg again, this album has the same qualities as his solo work of great songs and overall creation of a sound image rather than needlessly finding inconsequential elements to emphasis for little reason. A shining midwest jewel waiting to be discovered.

DOGS OF PEACE- "Speak" (Sparrow #SPD1517)

Hmmm, not exactly an obvious combination here: ex- Whiteheart guitarist Gordon Kennedy and ex- RPM bass player and Christian producer Jimmie Lee Sloas. Both handle vocals on this project which I found, initially, rather difficult to describe.

Don't get me wrong, I really like this album and find the music most involving - it's just the sound is somewhat unique. Let me see if I can create an intimation of the sound for you: if you can imagine a combination of "Great Wide Open" period Tom Petty and The Rembrandts mixed with the quirkiness of Larry Tagg and a hypnotic version of Whiteheart, then you might be close to the sound of this 10 song album. It's a little like some of David Zaffiro's solo work, but just can't be pidgeon-holed.

It's all very interesting and Kennedy's guitar work is both clever and original throughout. As I listen to it more I find myself wanting to compare it more and more to Larry Tagg though that still wouldn't be a strickly accurate comparison - what is definitely similar is the way the emphasis is purely on songs and presenting them to the listener in an open, honest fashion.

There's no point singling out individual tracks on this one as they're all uniformly excellent! Definitely not run of the mill and as invigorating as a bath in ice-cold water!

DROWNING NOT WAVING- "...look at it this way..." (Big Chill Music, 1997)

A British band that seems intent on letting their music do the talking. Fair enough, "Panic Stations" starts the conversation with its controlled melodic rock pedal-to-the-metal style and is well written, well played: although a lot of programming has been used (for bass and drums), I guess due to lack of budget, it doesn't sound too synthetic. The singer sounds like a less soulful version of FM's Steve Overland - maybe there isn't a lot of budget behind it (the dryness of some of the vocals belay this), but what there is has plainly been carefully spent and it's clear that a good deal of prudence has been taken overall.

The title track is second and not unlike a UK version of Cannata - quite clever and better than you'd expect from most UK bands. "I used to be" is progressive and lugubrious in a similar vein and emphasises that the lyrics are a cut above most. In fact, the lyrics seem to be on a different mental plain than most European bands and verge on the cerebral. Even on the instrumental "Caution: Abnormal Geometry" intelligence is clearly evident, and while its progressive in instrumental body the guitars are pure melodic rock.

None of this would be effective without variety, and the Diving for Pearls like "Backwards in the Fast Lane" and the early FM influenced "The dark side of your Smile" prove they can raise adrenaline levels as well as eyebrows.

On tracks like "Waiting for the Rain" although it's still nice poppy AOR with lots of keys in the style of Device, the programming does get a little too intrusive. And, on some tracks a little more variety in the vocal delivery might be more effective. But these are only really suggestions for a follow-up rather than criticisms.
Contact: Drowning Not Waving, 156 Loxley Road, Malin Bridge, Sheffield, S6 4TE, Great Britain.

TIMOTHY DRURY- Same (Westcoast #WESTCD 8, 1996)

Can't say I've heard of the stubbly-chinned Timothy Drury before, but he sounds like a toughened veteran on this wondrously good debut release (at least I presuppose it's his debut).

Musically he reminds me rather alot of the band New Frontier, and material along the lines of the best bits of Don Henley and Jimmy Ryser. Vocally he's more like a cross between Westcoast labelmate Tim Feehan and Jeff Paris.

The majority of songs are acoustically based but they are far from lugubrious, as they're built up in some excellent tumescent layers to produce an excellent AOR sound. There's also the odd slight intimation of westcoast and country in the sound sometimes, but overall it's an AOR show all the way.

The highlight for me is the fourth track "Kiss you like This" with its ardent hook and excellent variance of light and shade - that one is essential listening. A good introduction to a new talent.
Contact: Westcoast Records, Eriksbergsgatan 1B, 1 tr., S-11430 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel/fax +46-8-6119901

LES DUDEK- "Deeper Shades of Blue" (GeoSynchronous Records #GSR-00172)

I guess it's probably fair to call Les Dudek "semi-legendary" - he's been around along time and been involved with alot of different projects. From an AOR point of view his finest moment was back in 1980 when he teamed up with Cher to record the "Black Rose" album that was produced by James Newton Howard.

I'm not exactly sure when this 1994 release was recorded as it features Toto's Jeff Porcaro on drums on all tracks and he died two years earlier. Moreover, the Toto connection dosen't stop there as David Paich plays keyboards on all tracks also. Now you're probably saying to yourself, "Judging by the title this should be a fairly boring blues album" - far from it! Overall the best reference point is Steve Lukather's "Candyman" release as the approach is very comparable.

For sure there are still blues elements present but they are very controlled and the songs for the most part are very direct. Opener "Leavin' my Blues Behind" is quite like the best bits of Pat Travers (which come to think of it was a heck of a long time ago!) or Eric Johnson when he wants to rock out, and sets a good tone for the album. "Maybe Forever" and "Moulin Rouge" also slap you about the face pretty quickly with their big guitar breaks to make sure you're paying attention - those tracks are excellent and are actually not that far removed from "Mr. Big" - very nice indeed!

But it is the fushion-tinged instrumental "Assault and Battery" that is my favourite track. Jeff Porcaro puts in a breath taking performance on this one and the end result is not a million miles away from the "Dixie Dregs" with a very slight bluesy tinge. Fans of long lost AOR classics might also be interested to note that Jerry Riggs, of the modestly titles "Riggs" and later of the aforementioned Pat Travers band, also appears on "Your Love" though this is a more bluesy workout.

To sum up, a very pleasing release that's been, so far, surprisingly overlooked that shouldn't be pigeon-holed as just another blues album.
Contact: GeoSynchronous Records, Box 540962, Merrit Island, FL. 32954-0962, USA.
Click here to e-mail the record label for more details

ECHO PARK- "Pretty Lies" (SPV Records #084-62402)

What a divergent group of musicians this lot are! Singer Michael Flexig used to be with Zeno (pretty good) and Electric Sun (yuk!), while guitarist Herman Frank used to be with Victory (pretty bad) and Accept (even worse!), and bass and keyboard player Klaus-Peter Matziol is a member of Eloy. Strangely enough is the Eloy affiliation that I've heard most people react most detrimentally to, people forget that Eloy aren't just about regressive prog rock they have also produced some fine contemporary rock albums check out "Performance" and, particularly, "Metromania" to see what I mean.

But what of Echo Park? They are very, very high tech in their approach and present a very technical, polished sound that is instantly recognisable as German. It is highly enjoyable though, I found myself making comparisons to the approach Saga were taking on their "Wildest Dreams" and "Heads or Tails" releases, but with even more keyboard elements! Other resemblances that come to mind are the fellow German band Balanx and Rupert Hine's Thinkman. However, Echo Park have a real edge in Michael Flexig as his, almost operatic at times, vocals really shine here.

Somehow Echo Park pull off a practically unattainable task, they manage to be musically complex and mentally stimulating, yet they still retain a poppy edge with commercial melodies that results in a superbly tumescent sound which has many, many layers of appreciation to it. They even throw in the odd little atmospheric and spacey interlude between tracks. Highly recommended....
Contact: Melle-Music, Rothenberger Str. 22, 31655 Stadthagen, Germany.

ECLIPSE- Same (MHS #CD-137)

First impressions are important aren't they? Well my first perception of this release was "what tacky and cheap looking artwork" suggesting that the music within would be something more akin to inspiring hippies to say "far out" in a mystical fashion while rubbernecking up at the sky! The information sheet within also seems to provide more questions than answers, like who the hell is in this band? Canadian Rick Livingstone is credited for lead vocals (he also sang on the excellent "Agent" album on Virgin in 1986, which is now being re-issued on CD by Long Island Records in Germany), but if I read this right he is only a guest performer! Chang Kim and Martin Samuel could be the guys behind it all - they write and produce all the music, but they are not listed as playing anything, I better listen to it to find out what's going on....

Hmmn..., this isn't easy to evaluate..., we do appear to have some fine AOR on offer here with a reasonably incisive production. At times it motors along like something from Jimmy Barnes' "Freight Train heart" album, at other times it rocks out like Autograph, and at other times it just plain meanders. On closer examination things aren't quite what they seem.

While the songs have good elements, are well played, and seem to be well constructed it just doesn't quite gel together as it should. Somehow the vocals give the impression of being isolated from the music and you just don't feel particularly involved with what's going on. Give it a try you might like it, but for me its sort of appetising but unsatisfying.
Contact: Eclipse, P.O. Box 485, Woodbridge, NJ. 07095-0485, USA.

JOHN ELEFANTE- "Windows of Heaven" (Word #7014236628)

Ex- Kansas man John Elefante is back with his first fully fledged solo album. Since leaving Kansas, John and his brother Dino have become one of the most successful Christian rock producers while also recording albums under the name of "Mastedon".

I never really figured out the point behind Mastedon - the albums tended to be directionless and almost schizophrenic due to different singers seeming to be singing each song. And, if you've got a singer of John Elefante's quality in your camp - why not get him to sing everything? So is this solo album worth listening to? - I can categorically say "yes". Overall its quite wimpy AOR sort of Peter Cetera or Mr. Mister territory (on their "Go On" album) and Elefante's vocals are superb.

Each song is carefully crafted song-orientated, sophisticated, soft rock with the fine production one has come to expect from the Elefante brothers. There really are times on this CD when John's vocals seem to be in another dimension. It's taken ten years (since his last appearance with Kansas) to see the best of John Elefante again - let's hope it doesn't take so long again!

JOHN ENTWISTLE- "The Rock" (Griffin Music GCD-615-2, 1996)

Don’t be fooled by this being released as a John Entwistle solo album: he might have played bass for The Who but in the mid 1980s he formed a superb AOR outfit called "The Rock" and this is their album. The Rock actually grew out of an alliance John had with a superb New Jersey band called Rat Race Choir - I saw that association together in a club in New York once and they were excellent…. The other main elements of The Rock recording band are ex-Prism singer Henry Small, much travelled guitarist Gene Bloch/Black (ex- Device among a host of others), well respected guitarist Devin Powers and drummer Zak Starkey (yep, Ringo’s son who also featured in the band Lost City). It should also be noted that the touring band includes keyboard player Tim Gorman who was in The View with Ross Valory which later became essential AOR outfit The Storm.

All that pedigree wouldn’t stand for anything if The Rock couldn’t deliver musically - and deliver they surely do. I think most AOR fans will be familiar with the first song "Stranger in a Strange Land" as it was earlier recorded by Eddie Money on his "Can’t Hold Back" album. And the rest of the album is great rocky AOR too. Henry Small’s excellent vocals are instantly recognisable and several of the tracks (like "Love Doesn’t Last" and "Bridges under the Water") sound rather like Prism or fellow Canadians Streetheart, in fact the superb "Last Song" is like a best of Prism experience all in one song! Elsewhere the tracks are rather like some of the material on Paul Rodger’s short-lived "The Law" project, sort of Bad Company tinged AOR. Gene Bloch’s playing is as original as ever and he injects a real variety of guitar sounds throughout.

Basically this is excellent mid-1980s AOR, sure it’s like many others, but it’s well delivered and very much missed these days. Give it a chance you’ll love it….
click here to jump to the Griffin Music home page

ERIKA- "Lady Luck" (Lionheart Records #LHCD 103)

This third release from the Swedish vocalist sees little change in approach. While the sleeve portrays an image that suggests the music within will be some form of "cleavage rock," Erika is still following a poppy AOR stance. The poppy (at times very poppy!) overtones of all the songs on this release lends the music a more original edge than many of the current Scandinavian AOR hopefuls, and comes across as an invigorating change. As with the first two releases the same Almqvist/Ljunggren production team is involved.

While not quite scaling the heights of her debut "Cold Winter Night," where the mix of guitar and keyboards had slightly more emphasis on guitar, this is still well worth checking out. Anyone that enjoys the best bits of Tone Norum will be well impressed. Despite a couple of duff tracks where the poppy side is, practically, rammed down the listener's throat the overall package is still interesting and well worth a listen.
Contact: Erika Fan Club, P.O. Box 9100, S-10272 Stockholm, Sweden.

FAITH NATION- Same (Nightworks FN01, 1997)

I'm not exactly sure why but I didn't really put the debut from this new Christian band on with much in the way of anticipation. Even the Christian rock mainstream is getting alternative and a new band with a name like "Faith Nation" had me prepared for a grundgy onslot. What do I know, the first song stunned me in mid stride with firm guitars, a melodic intent and a sound not unlike old (like "Powerhouse" period) Whiteheart with a strong hint of Survivor also! The production is nicely rounded without being too polished or too rough either.

Obviously this is no fluke as the second song "We Shall Stand" is in a similar style and hints also at Petra too. I really like the vocal phrasing on this one too as it's very melodic and smooth - the singer, Chris Gilberston, does not fall into the trap of over extending himself for no reason and the pace of his delivery is very like Jimi Jamison.

By now I'm convinced I'm on to something and the Survivor-like balladic "Then Love Came In" delivers right on cue. The sound is so clean, and the keyboard string sounds are phenomenally well integrated - the song builds and builds and is a superb example of what proper AOR with a real US flavour should be. "Book of Life" is next and I find myself wondering about the age of the band: they sound like they're real young and if they are it's an encouraging sign for a new wave of melodic rock. Either that or they're just really influenced by the mid-1980s sounds of Whiteheart and Idle Cure.

"The Raven and the Dove" might be a slightly bizarre title for a song, but it's one of favourites! There's almost a Styx and Journey influence and a real pompy bass and drum stomp that I'm always a sucker for - bit of a late 1970s vibe but with modern guitar and keyboard sounds. A great song with elements of Twenty Twenty's (always one of my favourite Christian bands) keyboard/guitar interaction. Other worthy mentions are "Grace Me" with its chunky guitars, and the rocky closer "Give me More" which is not unlike Dann Huff's Giant with keyboards.

A sturdy and strong effort without ever being brash. The band have a superb sound that's familiar, though not that familiar in new material that's available at the moment. Short in number of songs at nine, but not in quality - I can't really find many faults here at all. Turns back the clock a bit and is full of the depth of quality that the US scene used to be filled with.
Contact: Nightworks, 3414 Upton Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN. 55412, USA.
click here to e-mail the label for more details

MARC FERRARI & FRIENDS- "Guest List" (Red Engine Music #012762, 1995)

What a gratifying surprise! I wasn't exactly sure what to expect on this solo album from the former Keel guitarist, I guess standard LA hard rock, but it's certainly not standard.

"Cardshark" caught me off guard with its blend of thinking man's guitar rock. Sure it's hard and melodic, but somehow it's never brash or inelegant, it's more like a 1990s version of old-style US melodic rock specialists like Montrose, Starz or Legs Diamond, or even a more focused version of Van Halen in it's slower sections. I was hungry for more, and "Long Gone" gave it to me with its mature Mr. Big style hard rock sound.

I almost forgot to mention that Marc's roped in lots of friends to help out here, as the title suggests. Included are former Autograph singer Steve Plunkett, Balance guitarist Bob Kulick, Coney Hatch frontman Carl Dixon, Ex- MSG, Grand Prix singer Robin McAuley, and Todd Jensen from Hardline. And that's just to name a few of them! The track with Plunkett - "She Don't Wanna See Me" is particularly fine and brought back balmy memories of Autograph in their heyday, "Blind Faith" with Carl Dixon is also an extremely praiseworthy effort. The only one that doesn't do anything for me is "Money Hungry" just because I've never been too enamoured with Robin McAuley's vocal style. "Run for the Border" also has a worrying Bon Jovi "Cowboy" period edge to it, but it does its best to shake free from it!

My overall impression is that this is supremely melodic hard rock with clever and subtle writing to back it up. Songs are very much the centre of attention rather than a guitar hero trip. Heavier stuff doesn't always cut it with me, as it frequently can sound so "by numbers" but there's no hint of that here. You really can tell there's a genuine belief behind the music and Marc obviously has a strong conviction for what he wants his musical direction to be, and that gets the listener much more involved in the music.
Contact: Red Engine Music, 13903 Sherman Way, #14, Van Nuys, CA. 91405, USA.
click here to e-mail Marc for more details

58K- "Circles" (Amhas Records 1025, 1996)

This New Jersey quartet have a rather unusual sound. It's not at all easy to describe - something like Bon Jovu mixed with Steeley Dan. Every song is highly melodic and maybe a little old fashioned in approach in that the band don't employ and "shock tactics" and work on the songs above all else.

Of the eleven songs offered, "Tell Me" really is the standout when it rocks in a more obvious New Jersey style.

Maybe the band are struggling for an overall direction: the potential is definitely there and given a little more bite they could easily be a band to watch. Give them your support and watch them develop....
Contact: Amhas Records, 28 Kensington Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07304, USA. Tel (201) 938-1632
click here to e-mail the band for more details

JAYE FOUCHER- "Infectious Licks" (Fuism Records, 67676-2, 1997)

I’ll happy admit I’ve a soft spot for all sorts of guitar fusion and guitar driven jazz projects, and this debut from female guitarist Jaye Foucher looks like a labour of love.

"Killer Clows" is a little disappointing as its like a fusion version of Dream Theater and a little phlegmatic, but "Truth" (which does have vocals) is much more enigmatic and closer to an Eric Johnson with modern influences. "September" gets my attention in earnest as its like Michael Dowdle or Dave Uhrich, two of my favourite fusion guitarists.

Satriani is plainly also an influence on Jaye as "Stompin’ the Bug" and "Pandemonium" are like some of the more diverse tracks on "Flying in a Blue Dream". The double bass drum effects on "Epic" leave me a little cold but even in this heavier Marty Friendman/Greg Howe style workout, Jaye injects her playing with smoothness and melody than many lack. In many ways that brings her playing closer to someone like Andy Timmons as can be seen on "The Real Thing" which features her most absorbing guitar work.

Not quite consistent enough to gain an ardent recommendation, but when it’s good it’s very good. A nice starting point.

BRUCE GAITSCH- "Aphasia" (Thoughtscape Sounds TSS0001, 1997)

Bruce Gaitsch is one fructiferous guy - if he's not busy putting out King of Hearts albums with Tommy Funderburk, he's writing, playing on, and/or producing many, many other projects - they might be varied but they're all of high quality. And now he's got a second solo album too - he certainly seems to have jammed a lot into a recording career that started with the "Don't fight the Feeling" album from the Jim Peterik Band in 1976 - Peterik, as you all know, went on to form Survivor.

His first solo album "A Lyre in a Windstorm" (1985) maybe wasn't what everyone might have expected bringing out a more loose, jazzy, and at times mellow, vibe closer to Richy Kicklighter, Craig Chaquico and even Randy Goodrum than some of his more well known work with Richard Marx and Timothy B. Schmidt. But it still had lots of depth and a shroud you in atmosphere sound that was quite addictive.

The first two tracks on this new effort are in a very similar vein with oodles of depth and a truly relaxing, genuinely westcoast sound proffered by a opulent production that has a lot of jazz values about it with lots of "space" around all the instruments. Track three, which just happens to be the title, sees Bill Champlin guesting on vocals (as he did on one track on the first album too). It's a very adult contemporary/jazz crossover not unlike a more overtly jazzy version of Richard Marx's current stuff. Richard Marx also co-wrote the plaintive ballad "If I Could Only" and I'm real surprised he didn't use it on one of his own albums as it's excellent.

Just like on "Lyre", Bruce drafts in some heavyweight friends to help him out - particularly in the vocal department: Marc Jordan (in fact we have a sort of laid back, acoustic version of Jordan's "In my Piano" presented here), Karla Bonoff, Tamara Champlin, Jason Scheff and Cy Curnin. Someone called Donna DeLory also guests on "Diane" which has a Don Henley-ish intro - why I haven't heard more of this girl is beyond me as she has a superb voice. "Letting Go" with Jason Scheff is also more than worthy of a mention. It's probably the most straight forward of all the songs and Scheff actually sounds surprisingly like Joseph Williams here, the song could easily be at home on either of Joseph's recent solo albums - which is a fairly high recommendation as I really rate both of those

To sum up certainly a more rounded, complete and organic album that "Lyre" which was maybe too diverse for its own good. You can really wallow in the high calibre of talent on offer and revel in the pure guitar sounds presented. Indulge yourself in a very westcoast experience.
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
It's also worth mentioning here that Thoughtscape also has an excellent sampler track out with unreleased, exclusive tracks from from both Bruce Gaitsch and Bill Champlin...

GHOST- "The Other Side" (Now & Then #NTHEN 20)

I've always felt that British AOR bands have a been a bit up and down gallivanting from the superb (like Airrace, and The Outfield) down to others that were derivative and rueful at best (I won't name names right now!). However, over the last couple of years British outfits have been emerging with a much higher level of constancy and quality. Ghost are one of the latest UK candidates, though their singer is actually from Gibraltar (!).

"Can't Stop" is a good opening cut with soupcons of Journey right up front, but then it progresses into a fine workmanlike melodic rocker very much in the mode of late '80s Bad Company, Foreigner or The Law. "Brand New Start" follows in similar fashion though I can also see elements of FM's (UK version) best bits in it too, which is to say that it's very British sounding AOR.

Those tracks essentially set the tone for the whole album. There's also a hard to delineate, or explain, nostalgic or sentimental edge to the sound which seems to go hand and hand with the bluesy/Bad Company edge (particularly on "Should have Been Me" and "Rescue Me"). A couple of tracks let the side down a little (like the overly clinging and coy ballad "Send Me Somebody") but on the whole the album is very accessible and pleasant. While not quite earthshattering, this is a very pleasing debut which proves that UK bands do not have to be poor relations at all.
Contact: Now & Then Records, Unit 23, Empress Mill, Ince, Lancs., WN2 2BG, Great Britain. Tel/fax 44-1942-866099

THE GHOST POETS- Same (Razor & Tie Music #RT 2812)

The debut from the Ghost Poets marks a comeback from Michael Stanley who has spent the last few years as a successful, television presenter in Cleveland. For this new project he's roped in the services of one time Michael Stanley Band, Breathless, and Bandaloo Doctors man Johan Koslen, along with long time MSB cohort Bob Pelander. These three form the core of the band though other note worthy people helping out include much travelled drummer Kevin Valentine and Rodney Psyka (ex- Breathless and the Innocent).

Musically the Ghost Poets carry on right where the Michael Stanley Band left off way back in 1983 with the "Can't Fight Fashion" release. There's quiet a lot of variety throughout the thirteen tracks on offer, from the out and out pomp of "Everything" with huge slabs of keyboards and stabbing guitars herding the listener between the speakers to the plaintive ballad of "Two Hearts." Several of the songs, where Johan Koslen takes on the lead vocals, sound like the could have been at home on the first Breathless release which is also a very pleasant surprise.

Overall excellent, sincere middle-American AOR with a refreshing, very layered production also a big plus point. Hopefully the Ghost Poets won't disappear into thin air!
Contact: Razor & Tie Music, P.O. Box 585, Cooper Station, New York, NY. 10276, USA.

THE GOOD RATS- "Tasty Seconds" (Uncle Rat GRTS0001, 1996)

Been rather a long time since there's been a new Good Rats project, so I was rather surprised when this new one appeared. Original singer and main songwriter Peppi Marchello (who you might also remember produced the first Fiona album) is still there along with his sons Gene on guitars and Stefan on drums along with bass player Dean Giuffrida. Guests include Joe Franco, Bruce Kulick, Schuyler Deale, and David Rosenthal.

So I was little unsure what to expected when I pushed the remote's play button: now "Cover of Night" is a stupendous slice of pop metal/hard rock more akin to Gene Marchello's 1989 album "Destiny". "Evil Little Boy" follows and sounds much more like the original Good Rats with its quirky edge, but with a thoroughly more modern guitar sound. Now my interest is really galvanized - "Major Minor Chords" is next up and is positively bizarre and is undeniably the Good Rats - a couple of listens and you'll be addicted to its twists and turns and tongue-in-check lyrics.

A lot of the balance of the album is very close to the clever, melodic hard rock of the aforementioned Marchello - "Destiny" album and often reminds me of Harem Scarem, which is a huge recommendation in itself. And, don't overlook "Feelin' Good Again" which is a hugely expansive power ballad burner.

Some of the guitar work is positively arrogant and makes you remember the fine old days when alternative hadn't turned the mainstream insipid. Highly recommended!
Contact: Good Rats, P.O. Box 585, St. James, NY. 11780, USA. 24-hour telephone hotline (516) 696-0707
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LAWRENCE GOWAN- "The Good Catches Up" (Gowan Productions #GPCD-1100)

I've always had a soft spot for Canadian based Larry Gowan, and not just because he's an exiled Scotsman (although that does help)! Like the album before it, "But you can call me Larry" it's a close collaboration with the respected songwriter Eddie Schwartz. It's kinda interesting that away from an major record label (he was previously with Columbia and Atlantic), Larry seems to be exploring some directions he's hinted at on his previous (all high quality) releases and explore them with more depth.

The overall direction is still similar to his "Lost Brotherhood" album, though the instrumentation has become more acoustic. Larry also continues his tradition of writing some very interesting, and thought provoking lyrics, which are given even more meaning through his fine vocal delivery which always hides slightly folksy inflections and accents: "Laura" and "Pigeon" are prime examples of how interesting his lyrics can be.

On the title track and "I'll be there in a Minute" it's Larry's piano playing that really drive these dynamic songs in grand fashion - sort of like an AOR version of Billy Joel pumped full of adrenaline. "Get it while You Can" and "Put it where the love Don't Shine" are more what you expect from Gowan, and "You'll be with Me" is one of those emotional ballads similar to those employed to such fine effect on the "Great Dirty World" album (probably my favourite of his releases), though here he gives it an almost jazzy feel.

A strong release from a talented musician and songwriter confident and secure in his own abilities.
Contact: The Bob Roper Company, P.O. Box 43147, 325 Central Parkway West, Mississauga, Ontario, L5B 3X0, Canada.

STEVE GRIMM BAND- "Heaven’s in Your Heart" (Legend MC 256963, 1996)

Steve Grimm used to be leader of the interesting Milwaukee hard rock band Bad Boy who did five excellent albums from the late 1970s through to the mid 1980s. This is actually his third solo release, though the second was a cassette only EP.

One of the things that really slaps me in the face about this release is that it conspicuous sounds like a series of demos pressed up on to CD, some of the tracks are obviously from different recording sessions and this gives the album a slightly disjointed feel. However, if you concentrate on viewing each song individually it’s worth it.

"Be Somebody" is the opener and is a little more poppy than I expected but in a hard 1970s way like Nick Gilder or even Cheap Trick. "Running out of Tomorrow" also hints at the tempered AOR of Bad Boy with a poppy slant like The Producers (for anyone who can remember them!). There’s lots of other hidden gems here with the mildly dated, yet classically AOR structured "How Many Times", the Survivor-ish "Change of Heart", the ‘70s hard rock of the title track and the Bad Boy trademark power rock of "Flames" all worth getting to know a little better.

The production is a little limp in places and some of the vocals could have been mixed with a bit more projection, but there’s some good songs here. Overall the sound might be a little nostalgic, but there’s nothing wrong with hearkening back to better days!
Contact: The Music Label Connection, P.O. Box 672216, Marietta, Georgia 30006-0037, USA. Telephone 1-(770)-850-9560, Telefax 1-(770)-850-9646.
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GTS- "Time Stood Still" (GT Records GTR 02, 1996)

This must be a bit of first for the members of GTS, all have been involved with many different bands over the years, but this is the first time I think any of them have been involved in a second release!

As soon as the title track gets underway you see an approach similar to their first album but with a more complete sound, that is much more confident and self-assured than on the debut. The production is well above average and the keyboard sounds in particular are very well handled - the short keyboard solo on "Innocence" is very cool. The sound is very typically mid-pocket "British AOR" rather like Airrace mixed with vaguely progressive tinges of Asia - slightly courteous maybe, but the songs are well structured and exactly delivered.

Songs to watch out for include the aforementioned "Innocence" which is rather like the material on Wildlife’s (later to become FM) album for Swan Song, the very John Wetton-ish "I Know what you’re Searching for", "Here I Am" where they turn into an ultra melodic version of Giant (!), and the keyboard dominated, hypnotic "Deeper in Love". Airrace’s "Caught in the Game" is also covered to fine effect and is just as good as the original, I’ve always thought Airrace’s "Shaft of Light" album was possibly one of the best AOR albums the UK has ever produced, and it’s a big plus to hear one of the tracks from it reworked.

Overall the band’s sound has developed well and is a logical follow up to "Tracks from the Dustshelf", my only niggle would be that it is a little too one-paced. A consistently strong release - maybe we’ll even see a third album from these guys!
Contact: GT Records, 3 Beechwood Close, Church Crookham, Fleet, Hampshire, GU13 0PT, Great Britain. Telephone/Telefax 44-(0)-1252-620919
click here to e-mail GT Records for more details

GTS- "Tracks from the Dustshelf" (GT Records GTR 001, 1995)

These guys are veterans of the British AOR scene. Essentially they are a three piece based around guitarist Greg Hart (ex- If Only, Moritz and writer of several tracks for Asia on the "Aqua" album), keyboard player Toby Sadler (ex- Airrace, Lionheart, etc), and respected singer Sam Blue (ex- Emerson, Cyrka and frequent session man).

On the CD’s booklet they set out a very simple (for want of a better term) mission statement: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the return of the Song". And even after one listen I couldn’t contradict that!

The band are certainly very song orientated and, as a result, come across as much more cultivated that many of the current UK AOR hopefuls, and as such show a good deal more integrity. In many ways they’re direction reminds me of where FM started out from before they heavied up their approach and, arguable, lost any semblance of credibility - sorry if that seemed harsh! In many ways the album is quite redolent of John Wetton’s solo work.

All the tracks are very well structured, particularly on the nicely understated "You" and "Dream On" which comes across like a superior version of Heartland. A good debut effort that puts many others to shame.
Contact: GT Records, 3 Beechwood Close, Church Crookham, Fleet, Hampshire, GU13 0PT, Great Britain. Tel/fax 44-1252-620919.
click here to e-mail GT Records for more details

THE GUESS WHO- "Lonely One" (Intersound #9158)

I've never really paid much heed to The Guess Who - I heard some of their early material once (and they have been around for an confoundedly long period of time!) and thought it sounded like sub-BTO boring Canadian hard rock that lumberjacks listened to while ironing their checked shirts. So I didn't really expect much from this brand new album - big mistake.... A quick look at some of the songwriters involved told me I better throw away my preconceptions pretty quickly: Gerald O'Brien, Dean McTaggart (from The Arrows), Gerry Mosby, Alfie Zappacosta, Charlie Midnight, Eddie Schwartz, and Bob Halligan!

The best track on offer is Alfie Zappacosta's "Sweet Liberty", and we're talking proper old-style Surrender/Zappacosta material, it's definitely nothing like his current lounge singer meanderings! That one really blows me away. Elsewhere the tracks are generally like a much more refined version of Loverboy and other mid/late 1980s Canadian AOR bands of that ilk (with the perfectly wimpy "Haunted Heart" being a fine example). A couple of tracks (such as the title track) move in a slightly superior, keyboard driven westcoast direction but are still good, the only negative moments I could find were the, frankly, pointless "Rock 'n' Roll Classic" and the far too nice and comfortable "I Feel your Pain".

Apparently the singer on this album, Terry Hatty, is new to the band and I have to say he puts in a sterling performance sounding like a cross between Mark Free, John Farnham, and Lou Gramm. The production is also excellent and crystal clear - this is a damn fine AOR record from a most unexpected source!
(Note- this review is of the US version of the album, the Canadian version has the same tracks but is titled "Liberty")

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Ian McIntosh

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