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 2 Archive page 3

STEINHARDT-MOON- Same (SM Productions #SM 1795)

I wasn't sure how to react when I heard that former Kansas (ex- Kansas members seem to be hogging this page at the moment!) violin player Robby Steinhardt had a new band. I just didn't know what to expect at all....

I shouldn't have worried - this is fine pomp rock with a strong Kansas influence. If anything, it reminds me more of some of the Kansas tinged bands from the early '80s like "Shooting Star" (who of course are still around) and "Spy" (who were also on Don Kirschner's label). All seven songs on this self-financed released take the 1970s pomp sound of bands like Kansas, Styx, and Roadmaster and give it a swift injection of modern musical values. Most of the tracks have quirky extended intros that work well and at some points the band can also display a more progressive edge to their sound. For me, the haunting "Forever" is the best track but they're all evenly good.

To sum up, an interesting release that's worth checking out - my most abiding impression of this release is that it's surprisingly good, yet I still don't know why I'm surprised. The only negative point I could find is that when Rick Moon is singing (three of the six band members share lead vocals) he reminds me of Lesley West whom I never really appreciated to any significant degree, but that's just a minor point..
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VAN STEPHENSON- "Righteous Anger" & "Suspicious Heart" (High Vaultage HV-1003 & HV-1004, 1996)

High Vaultage of Germany releasing these two albums (from 1984 and 1986 respectively) on CD for the first time is certainly a good move.

I’ve often felt that "Righteous Anger" was an album that has been all too often harshly disregarded. It was also the first album to really make me aware of the burgeoning talent of session guitar supremo, and later founder of the band Giant, Dann Huff. "Intense AOR" would be an apt description of this album. The songs are great and have very commercial hooks and Huff really lets fly with some astounding pop-metal guitar hero breaks. "Modern Day Delilah" (which was a minor hit at the time), "What the Big Girls Do", "You’ve been Lied to Before" and "All American Boy" (earlier recorded by Stan Bush on his debut album) are just some of the essential tracks on offer, though it’s probably the more startling and atmospheric "I Know Who you Are (and I saw what you did)" which is my favourite.

I remember being a bit disappointed by the follow-up "Suspicious Heart" when it came out. It just doesn’t quite have the vigour of "Righteous Anger" and is a bit colder and more restrained. Reacquainting myself with it for this review suggests that that opinion might have been a little harsh - but it still dosen’t have the depth of its progenitor and Dann Huff is keep in check much more. Richard Landis’ production also doesn’t seem quite as well defined, although he produced both albums. The songs are still good however and viewed in isolation it’s still a fine effort without matching the high standard set by the 1984 album.

Since then Van has had songs covered by numerous other artists ("Wake up you Little Fool" by Signal being one example), but he now plays in Henry Paul’s (who himself did some great AOR albums way back) country and western outfit Blackhawk. However, rumours are circulating of Van having another AOR solo album up his sleeve - that would certainly be worth watching for...
Contact: High Vaultage Records, Seegasse 8, 64546 Mörfelden/Walldorf, Germany. Tel +49 (0) 6105-23539 fax +49 (0) 6105-23198

THE STORM- "Eye of the Storm" (Music for Nations #CDMFN 196)

I readily admit to being a little frustrated by the first album by The Storm (which was released by Interscope Records in 1991). Sure some of the songs were good and the musicianship flawless, but on too many tracks the harder side of the band was emphasised and songs like "Gimme Love" and the "In the Raw" sounded rather labored and almost crass! At the time I felt it was the record label's doing as the original demos for the project (when they were still called "The View" and Greg Rolie hadn't joined) were far superior.

It's another sad aspersion on the current music scene in the USA that The Storm's second album has to be released by a UK independent label, and that it is not even physically released in the USA as yet, though I understand that the band are working on concluding deals for the Pacific Rim and the USA very soon. I believe that the recordings took place some time ago while the band still had some major label support. Strangely the band's line-up isn't listed - after consulting with "sources close to the scene" I can tell you the line-up is basically the same as the first album though Steve Smith has been replaced by Ron Wikso on drums. But he's a very able replacement and the characteristic Journey rhythm section sound is very much maintained. Production is directed by the band plus Nigel Green (Mutt Lange's old assistant), and the too often underrated Bob Marlette.

But what of the music? Well watch out this CD takes over where Journey left off on "Frontiers"! The first track "Don't Give Up" sounds like a Journey out-take and is just perfect AOR. And from then on it's just sublime track after sublime track! The Journey influence is gargantuan but the band do mix it up a little with "I want to be the One" (which is musically closer to Eddie Money), "Livin' It Up" which is vaguely like Loverboy's "Lovin' every Minute of It", "Give me Tonight" is excellent keyboard driven AOR like Greg Rolie was doing on his "Gringo" LP, while "What ya Doing Tonight" passes a knowing glance to Richard Marx.

However, it's when the band bring their Journey connections to the fore that the songs become really stunning..., check out "Fight for the Right" to see what I mean - it's like "Stone in Love" twisted into a more complex construction but with all the passion and commitment of the aforementioned track from "Escape". Ex-707 singer Kevin Chalfant seems to be sounding more and more like Steve Perry these days, no more so than on "What ya Doing Tonight" where you would swear blind it was Steve Perry in disguise. Greg Rolie's vocals are also well integrated into proceedings overall and on "Love Isn't Easy" it's like he and Kevin are trying to out do each other with each line.

If you ever forget why you got into AOR in the first place this album will remind you why in no uncertain terms in very quick fashion. This album has a huge amount of depth, just the right amount of variety, and enough aplomb to win anyone over. If you were only to buy one AOR album in the whole of 1996 it should be this one!
Contact: Music For Nations, 333 Latimer Road, London, W10 6RA, Great Britain.

STORMING HEAVEN- "Life in Paradise" (MTM Music 199610, 1996)

Storming Heaven are essentially an earlier version of Thread and this project was recorded back in 1992. DiCola and Perry (ex- Jethro Tull and Maxus) are joined by Canadian singer Rick Livingstone (ex- Agent, Eclipse and supergroup Best), former Yes live keyboard player Casey Young, and Lou Gramm touring guitarist Curt Taylor.

The instant impression you get is that Storming Heaven are much more direct and up front that Thread. There’s still a symphonic element and if you remember the Toto song "Change of Heart" from the Isolation album you’ll have a fair idea of what they sound like. Overall they produce some very powerful AOR that at times is quite like GTR or "Cow" period Marc Jordan (particularly on "Time Machine" which is worth listening to just for the keyboard solo alone!).

A good album that is bracing in its quality. I only have one niggling complaint though: Rick Livingstone is undoubtedly an excellent singer, but at times his vocals sound well, just too perfect (!) - he just sounds a little cold and clinical at times. But the songs are strong and it’s a fine AOR experience.
Contact: Major MTM Music, Upplandsgatan 17C, 1 tr, S-11360 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel 46-8-338270 fax 46-8-328602.
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STUN LEER- "Once" (MTM 995.648, 1998)

Stun Leer seem to have been around forever and I can’t understand why it’s taken them so long to actually get an album released. This is even more surprising when you consider that their lead vocalist is Doug Howard of Mark Mangold’s Touch - he might not have been the featured vocalist in Touch, but he does have a great rock voice. None of the other names in the band are familiar though Derek Blevens from the Jon Butcher Axis does appear on a couple of tracks.

The opening salvo of "Love is a Liar" and "Go Don’t Go" certainly hit the spot and sound like Touch on overdrive! I’m stunned that this material hasn’t been released before: this is incredible melodic rock like Drive She Said and Eyes should have sounded but seldom did. The mix is nice too, presenting drums, guitars and vocals just as they should be. "Go Don’t Go" is almost like an American version of Zeno with its crisp guitars, melodic hooks and expansive keyboards.

"Eye to Eye" is a song that could be the very definition of AOR, like the very best bits of Jeff Paris’ first two albums. "Come to Me" and "Hungry Eyes" also particularly remind me of Mark Free’s Signal, and confirm what a great set of songs Stun Leer have to offer. In a couple of places I though the drum sound might be lacking a little, but playing loud resolves that.

There isn’t much point in trying to wax on further - this album re-affirms the guiding principles behind hard AOR. MTM will be hard pushed to top this release this year..., like stable-mates Tower City taken to another stage of development!

SURE CONVICTION- "Get Ready" (Giant/Benson #84418-4241-2)

I guess this instantly has some of the components of a great Christian album: it's recorded at Pakaderm Studios and it's got a ghastly sleeve! The title track gets us off to a flying start and is like a very melodic version of Stryper, or even Icon on "Night of the Crime". "He" follows in a very similar style and also had me making comparisons to fellow Christian rockers Chase and the latter-day material from Liaison.

Things seem to be going along fine with "Voices" and "Forevermore" keeping up the high standard, but then things suddenly start to go a bit awry. "The Rock" just doesn't fit in with the rest of the album and sounds more like Richard Marx - it's not a bad song but it's just so different from the ones preceding it..., "One Person or Two" is the obligatory rhetorical, effusive ballad which goes nowhere and "The Dream" is far too ponderous.

If these guys had stuck to the guitar dominated style of the early tracks then I know I would be giving this a very hearty recommendation. A little more consistency and it would have been essential..., as it stands it's still worth checking out but you'll still wish they stuck to their guns a little more and kept the tempo up right the way through.
Contact: Sure Conviction, P.O. Box 6826, San Jose, CA. 95150,USA.
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LARRY TAGG- "Rover" (PSYCHOactive/MTM 995.541, 1997)

I’ll make no bones about it, I thought Larry Tagg’s first solo album - "With a Skeleton Crew" - was a tremendous album, with the best set of songs I’d heard in a long time. It’s taken him a fair while to get a follow up together, but if he could maintain the quality then the wait would certainly be understandable.

"Come Back, Marie" is first up and while it’s similar to the Skeleton material it has a slightly darker studio sound. Like before, it’s just a pure song, masterfully poppy yet detailed enough to stimulate the most jaded palette. "Chain Letter" has plenty of elements of "Hollyanna" from the first album, and some nice deep bass giving riser to a much wider sound spectrum than the first album. The production is slightly spartan with nothing overdone but in a way that makes for an big open playground for the music to play in (similar in many respects to Mr. Mister’s hugely under-rated "Go On" album).

Tagg seems to find it easy to keep the great tracks coming as the hypnotic, mesmerising and gloriously enticing "Drive Away" proves. It’s a perfect point for developing a listener’s taste, and it’s kind of like everything you’ve listened to before is an education process to allow you to appreciate Larry’s art. "We go way Back" is another pure listening experience and is simple, provoking and yet introspective all at once. The quirky and clever "You make me Hate my Morning Coffee" is even better....

"After this Love is Gone" is reused from the American version of Skeleton Crew, and "If you make your Train" is very close to the first album’s "This Blue House". "Next Big Thing" shows that he can follow a harder style when he wants to and its deep bass line is sumptuous.

Tagg’s first solo album was one of those releases that left you panting for more and "Rover" certainly provides that. However, it does progress from the first release and is not just a simple reworking of successful themes. A word I’ve used several times through this review is "pure" and pure songs is what Tagg is all about - stimulating in multifarious ways!
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LARRY TAGG- "With a Skeleton Crew" (Damian Music #DMN 5001)

Larry used to be with Bourgeois Tagg who were always an interesting band, though I always felt that, while they hinted at greatness, they just tended to stop just short of the killer punch. Brent Bourgeois seems to have gone downhill since that band split up so it's intriguing to see how the Tagg half of the name is faring with his debut solo release.

Tagg definitely wins hands down! And all I can say is "Help! I just can't stop listening to this CD - the songs have got control of me and it's all I can do to break free long enough to write this review!" What an incredible set of songs we have here, and all are well-nigh perfectly executed. It's just a superb set of finely crafted songs that seem to sit you down and speak directly to both your heart and mind.

The sound is very refined and Larry's vocals have a haunting, breathy quality that make the music feel really intimate, almost as if he's singing to you alone. I have only one complaint though: for me the best song is the awesomely catchy "Christopher Columbus" which is down at number 9 in the running order - it should be closer to the start! It's a truly unimaginably clever slice of intelligent AOR - the chorus is brilliant - I'd tell you the lyrics but you just wouldn't believe them, however they work brilliantly. Also instantly huge is "We are Home" where Lyle Workman lets loose with some fine Frankie Sullivan (Survivor) style guitar breaks to create a sound like an ultra-refined Asia, "½ Yes, ½ No" also drives in a similar vein but ends up closer to the material on Peter Wolf's excellent, and rather neglected, Vienna album (which is arguably one of session guitarist hotshot Dan Huff's most interesting works).

Other songs you need to be checking out straight away are the cool (as in relaxed) "After this Love is Gone" (already covered by Eddie Money), "With my Eyes Closed" which seems to smother you in its subtlety, "Make a Map of You" which is prime westcoast AOR which beats Jay Graydon at his own game, and "This is how you make a Fire" which somehow sounds like an AOR version of the Talking Heads(!).

Look, I think I've ranted on enough here. This is a highly addictive narcotic which many of you will find essential - this is one time that the government warning should be "just say yes kids"!
Contact: Aldy Damian, Damian Music, 8033 Sunset Blvd., Suite #980, Hollywood, Ca. 90046, USA.

TAKARA- "Blind in Paradise" (Zero Corporation XRCN-2029, 1998)

Californians Takara have been around for a while and "Blind in Paradise" is already their third release. I won’t bore you with the stories about how Jeff Scott Soto took Takara under his wing, but he’s back singing on this release and in a production/mixing capacity too.

Music then: "Take U Down" has me writing down just one word - "wow"! Great keyboards to open, then it rocks down harder: melodic hard rock with insistent guitars and heaped-up keyboards. "Your love 2 Night" continues the feel of hard LA AOR at its finest, sort of like the classiness of Legs Diamond with modern attitude and bravado. Suddenly you find yourself already at track three - "Fly 2 your Arms"- which is a slow burner and could easily be classed as a fire hazard and hosed down by a passing fire engine every hour.

The production is more impassioned rather than precise, and new member Eric Ragno’s keyboards really lift the whole band sound. And, it is real band integrated sound, rather than guitars and keyboards fighting to support each other..., no where is this more evident than on the title track which is essentially standard hard rock that’s twisted into something much more interesting by some almost progressive sounding keyboards. Jeff Scott Soto’s performance is excellent too. Strangely, he’s always struck me as a bit of a squandered talent. Sure he’s got a great voice, but he seems to have flitted about from band to band too much, and never hung around in one place long enough to be associated with a landmark album than matches his notoriety.

Many of the tracks have the same warm feel that you get from all time favourite album. Takara also seem to have a universal quality to their sound on tracks like "Time Waits 4 No One" and "What do U Want from Me" as they seem able to combine both European and US styles with gritty, restrained power, melody and adrenaline displayed in equal proportions. Additionally on this Japanese version, you get a cover (don’t the Japanese just love cover versions !?!) of Van Halen’s "Dance the Night Away". The cover works really well and effectively gives away one of the starting points to the Takara sound - it’s the guitar sass and attitude of Van Halen spiced up with keyboards and held on a more clear, stun-gun direction, without the meanderings of Van Halen’s whim and fancy.

If you’re looking for hook-laden melodic rockers with clever structures, then this is absolutely the place for you. Takara could be the standard-bearers of modern heavy AOR!

B.E. TAYLOR- "Try Love" (Chrishae Records CR9703, 1997)

Bill Taylor was the voice behind the BE Taylor Group and has been pretty quiet on the release front since their classic "Our World" release in 1986, though he did release a surprisingly cool Christmas CD a couple of years back (which Donnie Iris guested on).

On "Try Love" the BE Taylor Group connections are still strong as long-time cohort, guitarist and producer Rick Witkowski is heavily involved, as it keyboard player Nat Kerr. Opening song "This Time" is obviously still BE Taylor but the approach has much more of an R&B feel to it and comes out the other side sounding liking a deeper and more mature version of Ritchie Sambora’s current solo album or even Delbert McClinton’s more rounded moments. "Be There" keeps the connection with the BE Taylor Group sound going, but updates it in a way that’s wholly appropriate. To me, Bill is one of those singers that has such a great voice that he could sing almost anything and it would sound special and even a plaintive ballad like "Love you all over Again" is given scale and sincerity by his delivery.

"You’ve Got to Learn to Live" moves in the same R&B/AOR crossover circles as Steve Perry’s "Street Talk" release and is luxurious!

Fans of the BE Taylor Group will also be interested to hear some of the old band tracks redone on this release in a more bluesy format. "Vitamin L" (the band’s biggest hit) works particularly well and is more involving than the original with horns fitting in perfectly. It’s surprisingly to hear it redone though, as Bill didn’t even sing the original, rather it was drummer Joey D’Amico. The new version of "Never Hold Back" (from the Donnie Iris/Mark Avsec produced debut "Innermission") is particularly effective and I think I like it more than the first version. Imagine Jeff Golub’s Avenue Blue playing AOR and you’ve got the depth and translucence of the approach of this album spot on. "You’re Gonna Work it Out" moves more into Don Henley territory and has a great atmosphere, with BE practically sounding like he’s singing for each listener individually.

Huge depth seems to be the main point of this release. Bill’s vocals are as awesome as always and the songs both interesting, skillfully written and presented, and fresh while also being understated.
Contact: Chrishae Records, P.O. Box 6915, Wheeling, WV. 26993, USA.

TEN- Same (Now and Then #NTHEN 27, 1996)

The much anticipated, and rather hyped..., debut from the band that is essentially the twosome of ex-solo man Gary Hughes and former Dare guitarist Vinny Burns. Near mythical producer Mike Stone (Journey, Asia, New England, and Tommy Shaw) is also involved.

"The Crusades" is an instrumental opening, though it seems to be a little self indulgent, leading into "It's all about Love" which is a bit like Giant. The production is very good for the limited budget, but I think the arrangement could have been a little more penetrating and better defined.

"After the Love has Gone" rushes up to bat next and promptly apes the guitar part from Journey's "Separate Ways". It's so brazenfaced it is practically impossible to handle and I couldn't initially get into the song at all as a result. However, on repeated listenings (especially at high volumes!) I'm beginning to appreciate it more.

"Yesterday Lies in the Flames" is much, much better and both more original and understated. "The Torch" ups the tempo slightly and sounds like "Too Hot to Sleep" period Survivor but with very English (note I said English, not British!) sounding vocals which have some real John Waite-isms about them.

The best of the rest are the Giant/Dare crossover of "Can't Slow Down" and the really excellent "Eyes of a Child" which is just superb, and the obligatory power ballad "Close your Eyes and Dream" that works well and is surprisingly adroit.

I like these guys best on their more poppy, vocally-orientated tracks, when they rock a little harder then the sound becomes a bit derivative and don't do that much for me, but fans of Giant-style guitar driven rock will love it. Giant in themselves weren't exactly original so maybe that's not a problem! A nice start anyway..., my girlfiend (a singer herself) loves them and she's a very critical audience to win over!
Contact: Now and Then Records, Unit 23, Empress Industrial Estate, Anderton Street, Wigan, Lancs., WN2 2BG, Great Britain. Tel/Fax 44-1942-866099

THINK OUT LOUD- "Shelf Life" (MTM 199629, 1997)

Think out Loud was a collaboration project between westcoast heroes Peter Beckett and Steve Kipner that issued a self titled album for A&M in 1988. Think out Loud’s first album was a bright and breezy jaunt through some clever westcoast AOR, showing a mature intelligence while still being hook laden. Now MTM has convinced them to produce a follow-up....

"Shelf Life" sounds like a direct continuation from the first album and first song, "Castles on Quicksand", is refined, commercially sensitive AOR. Ten years ago, or more, you used to have a album like this released every couple of weeks but now you tend to just get the odd, random such release in Japan so its arrival is most welcome - high tech westcoast AOR with a real "no guts, no glory" approach. It’s enough to bring a lump to the throat to hear an album with real songs and a fervor to convey such clear ideas with not a trace of muddy vibes or rough recording techniques that the current mainstream loves so much.

Lots of tracks are worth a quick mention here: the Joseph Williams like "From where I Stand"; the guitary, but still squeaky clean and melodic "Answer to the Why"; "Let’s talk About Love" with production values and soundstaging too good to be true; and the groovy "Moonlight on Water" which was earlier covered by ex- Michael Stanley Band man Kevin Raleigh on his excellent "Delusions of Grandeaur" (Atlantic, 1989) album which was in a similar style. "Dancing on a High Wire" is co-written with Average White Band member Hamish Stuart (hey, he’s Scottish too!) and it has a R&B edge to it that’s prevalent in much of AWB’s releases.

Great playing, sparkling production, superb songs and a "to hell with the mainstream" attitude - a perfect contemporary AOR album - go get it!
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MICHAEL THOMPSON- "The World According to M.T." (Cocoa-Butt Music, 1996)

There's been rumours of instrumental solo album from session guitarist whiz-kid Michael Thompson doing the rounds for a number of years, with Now and Then in the UK all set to release it at one time. Finally something has emerged, though three of the twelve tracks do have vocals added. Up front I have to admit I've been an enormous fan of Thompson's style for more than ten years, he's always struck me as a more versatile version of Steve Lukather (!) - which I realise is an incredibly audacious proclamation to make.

That versatility is radiated all across this album though Thompson's style and phrasing is unmistakable right from the plaintive "Intro". "Sarabelle" is second in the order and still sounds like the Michael Thompson Band album "How Long" (Geffen, 1989) but with a flavour of Craig Chaquico's albums for Higher Octave thrown in. The playing borders on the unbelievable and the open, crystalline production is nigh on perfect with the imaging of the drums and bass (fundamental to all good rock music) being particularly superb.

Another side of Thompson's essence that us much more perspicuous than before is an R&B influence. This is particularly apparent on the interesting "A Change is Gonna Come" (with Bobby Womack singing) and the R&B/jazz rock fusion of "Chocolate-White" which has a production to die for!

"Miracles" is the closest to the "How Long" material with Jennelle Sadler sounding like a female version of Moon Calhoun. An excellent song with a guitar sound that's more than crystal clear and the feel of the "room" is great too. Long-time Thompson cohort Mark Spiro also appears on a version of "Midwestern Sky" (already recorded by Spiro himself), and I think I like this even more soul bared version more than Spiro's.

Other particular points of interest include the mellow Peppino D'Agostino-like "Diamonds", the very cool "Dark" where he explores a more Eric Johnson or Allan Holdsworth direction, and the blues guitar edge of "Zoobie-Dee".

Throughout Thompson shows true versatility without undue flash and indulgence making every note count. Lie back and wallow in the true talent - essential!
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MARK THOMPSON-SMITH- "A Far cry from New Jersey" (Mainframe MF101, 1998)

On face value there’s a real juxtaposition of people and places on this release: one-time Praying Mantis British singer Mark, Red Dawn keyboard guy David Rosenthal, recordings at a variety of New Jersey studios, and assorted, old track copyright dates.

Absolutely none of that matters as soon as "Personality" flies out of the voice-coils - this is cool, hard-edged melodic rock with sharp guitars and purposeful keyboards. The production is also excellent with just the right amount of rawness. It’s definitely British sounding, but with a sheen and gloss many UK bands could only dream about. Maybe like a bigger and more alive FM, taking more chances and being much more convincing than many an overly civil UK band.

"Old Fashioned Love" makes the same point - this is AOR with UK breeding (from the likes of Bad Company) but with the in-your-face, brash attitude of US bands like Tyketto. Sharpness and enjoyment also flows out of "Good Day" which reminds me heavily of the first album by UK band After Hours (a great release that’s far too frequently overlooked). "Lay down Your Guns" keeps up the stun-gun effect of mixing British and US qualities, and is surely the best of both worlds. Another highlight is the very Giant-like "Yours Truely".

The only track I’m lukewarm about is "Boys are Missing Out" which doesn’t seem to go anywhere, despite its combative vocal delivery. The instrumental "Joyride" has quality dynamics, but I can’t figure out why a singer’s solo album would have an instrumental on it!

Get ready to like this one, because this melodic rock/hard AOR which is going to have a lot of people smiling all around the world.

THREAD- Same (Laughing Gull Records PHD8-96, 1996)

Basically Thread is a follow on from Storming Heaven and sees keyboard player Vince DiCola and drummer Doane Perry joined by singer Ellis Hall - guitars are supplied by various guests. So without any preconceptions I pushed the play button and found myself overwhelmed by an incredibly pomp/prog rock crossover from the opening cut "Live at the Scene" The sound is downright symphonic and DiCola’s keyboard talents are given full rein. Comparisons aren’t easy, but if pushed I might describe it like a corpulent version of World Trade or a intersection between modern Yes and some of Trevor Rabin’s solo stuff. I also found similarities to some of Billy Thorpe’s like on the "East if Eden’s Gate" album, if anyone remembers him.

"Hands of Kindness" is next and at just under five minutes is described as an "excerpt" - apparently it started off at closer to the 15 minute mark! It’s a bit more AOR than the first track and is rather like the Robert Berry, Keith Emerson, and Carl Palmer project 3. Throughout the keyboard parts are seriously complex and are as elaborate as Saga was getting on the "Heads or Tales" album. There’s not a duff song on offer and even the 14 minute "Rainbow Suite" holds the attention throughout. DiCola’s playing is quite monumental, and Ellis Hall’s vocals are excellent too coming across rather like Glenn Hughes at times.

It would be easy to listen to this album all day and yet still find something new in it on each and every listening - there’s just so much going on. Lush yet fervent, courtly yet musical, demanding yet not inflated: the depth displayed here is quite jolting. A challenging musical statement that is sure to become a future classic, not to be missed at any cost!
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TOTO- "Tambu" (Sony/Columbia #481202 2)

Ahh, one of my favourite bands ever is Toto. But, even as a huge fan of theirs I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the last studio album "Kingdom of Desire" - of course, there were some good tracks on it, but the others where they explored a much heavier direction really didn't do anything for me.

So is anything different this time around? - Absolutely. I'm looking through some of the notes I made while listening to "Tambu" and I seem to have noted down phrases like "this is really what Toto is about" a number of times: the songs hark back directly to the quality, and cultivation of the band's past classics like "Toto IV", "Fahrenheit", and "The Seventh One".

Consummately skilled musicianship is displayed throughout albeit always carefully applied within the context of each particular track rather than being just displayed for its own sake. You just get a huge feeling of maturity from the songs and find lots of subtleties hiding within the overall framework of each song wherever you look. To highlight a few of the tracks at random: opener "Gift of Faith" is like a classier version of the material on guitarist Steve Lukather's excellent "Candyman" solo release; the sheer refinement of "If you belong to me" is quite stunning and reminds me of "If it's the Last Night" from the "Turn Back" album; "I will Remember" has tinges of "Africa" and "Mushanga"; "The other end of Time" is your archetypal Toto "I'll be over you"/"I won't hold you back" ballad; and while "Baby he's your Man" has very modern drum loops but with a very Toto approach that works well. There just isn't a poor song or a filler on display anywhere!

Other noteworthy points are the excellent production from Elliot Scheiner which sets every instrument and vocal in a crystal clear soundstage which makes you feel like you're almost listening from "within" the music. Ex- Tom Petty drummer Stan Lynch is involved as co-writter on most of the tracks while "Time is the Enemy" is, very obviously, co-written with Fee Waybill from the Tubes and has his quirky trademark all over it.

As far as I can tell this release is only currently available in Europe at the moment which is a shocking impeachment of the current music scene. I mean can you imagine Toto not being able to sell their releases in significant numbers in the USA? It doesn't make any sense. For new and old fans of Toto alike this is an essential release which will remind them exactly why they got into the band in the first place.

TOUR DE FORCE- "World on Fire" (Long Island #LIR00122)

Yes we have quite a little enigma here! Tour de Force's second album released in Germany is actually a collection of their demos from before their first album was recorded. Tour de Force's earlier album was a grave disappointment compared to their original demos and the material they recorded while they had a "development contract" with Geffen. They really heavied up their approach on the first release and lost their specialness, so it's very fitting that these demos should finally see the light of day and, in essence, restore the band's reputation.

Sixteen tracks are included spanning several years of the band's early existence. If you never heard the original demos, then the first track - "Back to You" - shows you exactly what you missed out on with its Journey-like swagger than actually comes out sounding more like The Storm, though it predates the later by a couple of years. There's hooks and keyboards flying about all over the place and it's a mini-AOR nirvana! "World on Fire" follows in a similar fashion but has so much adrenaline that your average Journey fan would probably have to run for cover under their Steve Perry bedspread! The next four tracks all follow in a haze of supreme quality that makes you shiver. Songs like these really bring it home just how long it's been since prime AOR like this has been available in significant quantities. I found myself scribbling comparisons to such classic bands as Sugarcreek, Beau Coup, Prophet, Eyes/LA Rocks, White Sister, and Surgin - but that's hardly the point..., you should hear this for yourself!

On the remainder of the tracks things are a little more capricious, as some tracks see the band moving in a slightly heavier direction (but still with a strong AOR backbone). The poorest remind me of Tattoo Rodeo, and the best ("Rough Boy") reminds of Strangeways, there's also a strong element of Journey's "Mother, Father" in "Forgotten Heroes" which is a little too obvious, but now I'm getting ultra-picky!

However, the best moments certainly make up for the slighter weaker tracks - when this album its hot, it practically spontaneously combusts!
Contact- Long Island Records, Kirchstr. 16, 86438 Kissing, Germany. Tel. 49-8233-7904-10 fax 49-8233-2863

TOWER CITY- "A Little Bit of Fire" (MTM Music 19966, 1996)

These guys look a little grungy but the fact that they're on the MTM label dispels any such thoughts instantly, as does their music! First track "Talking to Sarah" displays a great melodic rock sound with distinguished use of both guitars and keyboards and strong production. A suitable reference point would be a more direct version of Tour de Force giving in to their most melodic tendencies!

As the album progresses you notice that the band generally split their songs between two related camps. The title track, "I'll Sleep Tonight", and "Surrender" are rather like a mix of Bob Halligan, Stan Meissner, Brett Walker, Rick Springfield and a superior version of Stan Bush. Then there are "Moonlight", "Closer to the Heart", and "When it all Falls Down" which have a harder edge to them, but thanks to the clever, and interesting, use of different guitar sounds remind me strongly of Icon's essential "Night of the Crime" album - very tasty indeed! They can also sound like a super melodic version of Def Leppard like on "Something about You" and "Down all Night" where I also thought I detected some influences of The Tubes as well.

To sum up, a great melodic rock album with bags of variety and inventiveness that everyone can find a place in their hearts for. MTM has scored a perfect 2 out of 2 with its debut releases and is in danger of setting itself an impossibly high standard to maintain!
Contact: Major MTM Music, Upplandsgatan 17C, 1 tr, S-11360 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel 46-8-338270 fax 46-8-328602.
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TRADIA- "Welcome to Paradise" (FM-Revolver #WKFM XD 195)

A very superior band from New Jersey whose initial demos actually featured in the very first printed version of AOR Basement back in 1987. This is their second album ("Trade Winds" was the first) and was recorded over a rather extended period of time. Because of this I have to concede straight away that it does not sound particularly cohesive as the recordings are spread over too long a period and two different singers are used. However, if you view the ten songs as individual entities rather than en masse you'll discover some excellent AOR with lots of pompy keyboards.

The band have always been influenced by Journey and you can see hints of Steve Perry and co on the first song "Never Fell in Love Before" which is probably the most mature song keyboard player, and band driving force, Scott Madsen has written so far, it's just a shame the record label got confused and didn't put the final mix on the CD! "Hard Time" is up next and is distinctive AOR with an excellent keyboard/guitar interplay while also benefiting nicely from Dave Baldwin's direct vocal delivery. "Sweet 16" follows and although it's a fine song, I'm not particularly fond of it: I loathe the Bon Jovi-isms on the guitar parts! My credence is swiftly restored by "Just Hold On" which sounds like an overblown Styx with sonorous keyboards jumping out at you from all directions. The title track is probably my favourite cut on the album with its gargantuan hook and perfect playing - it's just perfect AOR with a definite feel-good factor that would be at home in anyone's collection! The guitar-driven "Gonna Make you Mine" rocks down in a more direct form and sounds like the direction House of Lords were striving to reach, but never quite made....

All of the above feature Dave Baldwin on vocals (who also appeared on the recent "Anything can Happen" CD by the band Voices), but there are also three songs included which feature his antecedent Johnny Lindsey (who sang on all of "Trade Winds"). Anything with Johnny singing on it always reminds me of the long-lost Balance (who were another big influence on Tradia in general). "All of My Life" is a superb ballad which wouldn't be out of place on a Dennis DeYoung record or the first Balance album, though Mark Durgett also gets to luxuriate in his finest Neal Schon impressions as well - beautiful stuff. "Locked in Love", meanwhile, sees the guys prospecting a very interesting, and different, jazzy direction which is rather cool, almost hypnotic, and has hints of Toto too! Somehow it gels together well into a refreshingly unique song. Closing song "In your Eyes" proves just what fine songs Tradia can come up with at the drop of a hat and reminds me just what a fine album "Trade Winds" was.

A good set of songs, but like I mentioned at the outset not quite a cohesive unit. I know this band real well and know that they have even better material still to come. The good news on that front is that a complete new album is intended to be recorded this summer, I just know that's going to be pretty special - "Trade Winds" and "Welcome to Paradise" will make fine additions to any collection and should never be overlooked.
Contact: FM-Revolver Records, 152 Goldthorn Hill, Penn, Wolverhampton, WV2 3JA, Great Britain. Tel (0)1902-345345 fax (0)1902-345155

TRANSIT- "End of the Line" (Transit Productions, 1997)

Can’t say I know much about Transit, except they appear to be from the Boston area and are a four piece. All I can do is listen to it then! "Until the Day that I’m Still" despite, or because of, its long-winded title is progressive and pompy at the same time, though the vocals are far superior to those you would hear in your fair progressive band. An excellent mix and interplay of keyboards and guitars plus a slightly quirky edge too - an interesting approach I was not expecting!

"Silent Movies" again has dense layers of keyboards that would normally make it sound progressive, but the directness of the other instruments and the arrangement brings in much closer to ‘70s pomp bands like MPG and Morning Star. Despite those sort of reference points it also manages to escape sounding dated which is no mean feat. As the songs go on things become clearly to me, Transit are like Saga in that they draw together some very diverse influences to produce a sound that’s a very complex magma of accomplished rock. Nowhere is this clearly than on "End of the Line" which has a superb intro and even a strong early Saga intonation, which is also shown on the instrumental "12:48 at the Border".

"Hottest Show" blows me away with its superb intro, and is then full of Z-bends and quirky hairpins, yet "Together Forever" is much more direct, tidy and commercial. To finish off they throw in another instrumental - "Nuthin’ 2 It" - which, if anything, is like the Dixie Dregs meets Bruce Hornsby!

I’ve seen this many times before, a US band takes a barrel load of progressive influences and adds some directness to the sound to superb effect. Perhaps as a complete piece of work this album lacks an overall killer punch that really drives home all the points that are being made, but its still very good indeed and is a clear avowal of intent.

TREASON- Same (Treason Productions, 1997)

Looks like quite an engaging one when you notice Yes/World Trade/The Key man Billy Sherwood guesting (and also handling the mix) along with Yes drummer Alan White, though the fact they are from Seattle is a concern!

After the initial instrumental opening, "Bus Stop Door" is first up to bat and is clearly progressive swayed (complete with Chris Squire style bass playing) and sounds like a more complex World Trade. The strange thing is that the vocals are very gruff and aren’t what you’d expect from a progressive influenced outfit at all. There is a harder edge to sections of the song which almost take it closer to World Trade. But overall the wailing vocals seem to be holding it back and the lyrics are hard to understand. Once "Too Late" comes along I’m beginning to cogitate that the tight vocals don’t quite fit with the band’s hard-edged prog sound and that the singer would be more at home in a much heavier band.

Musically though, there’s a heck of a lot of good ideas being displayed on tracks like "Collecting Hearts" and "Mantra" where I even thought I heard imprints of Eloy! They produce a succession of great intros to their songs which maintain the listener’s interest and the sonic imagery of a track like "Devil’s Den" is invigorating, it’s just a shame that the vocals sound like an addendum.

I may be doing the singer an injustice and it’s just that his tracks are under produced, as on "Push" (which sounds like Saga gone progressive), the vocals are much better pitched. Could be a band to watch in the long-term, but some short-term tweaking of the sounds is still required.

VELOCITY- "Impact" (Rockhard Music Media 003A, 1997)

Velocity’s demos have already received very favourable reviews from this publication, but now they’ve gone the whole hog and released a full CD. While the demo songs reappear, they have been redone and drums on the CD are provided by ex Mr.Big and Jeff Paris man Pat Torpey.

The version of "You Don’t Amaze me Anymore" that starts off the CD positively muscles it’s way from the speakers and is even more powerful and cutting than the demo version. While it’s obviously more polished than the demo, it still has a slight raw edge and a up in your face attitude. Most importantly, the song still has all the controlled aggression of the demo version. New song "Riot Goin’ On" is very like Night Ranger but with a hungry attitude. The guitars are sturdy and huge without being needlessly flashy at every turn, this is what the term "melodic hard rock" was made for!

"Supernatural Lover" generates enough power to light up most large city’s suburbs, while still retaining an AOR point of view that concentrates the song and emphasises its commercial sensibilities. "She’s Been Around" still reminds me of Loverboy, but Loverboy on steroids. It’s like a bruising American football full back (like Mike Alstott) of melodic rock, running over everything in its path with a grin. This is why people get into rock in the first place and it captures that exuberance musical discovery gave you when you first encountered it in your youth...

One of my favourites however, is "More than Tonight" which successfully mixes Honeymoon Suite and Styx. Vocalist David Victor is right on top form here with a stellar vocal performance. "One Minute to Midnight is a bristling tradition US hard rock song which was originally featured on Victor’s (so far tape only) solo album "Truth through the Night" which deserves a CD release as soon as possible. The closing "Open Road" is, surprisingly, an instrumental that revs up lots of different influences and ends up close to Andy Timmons’ "Ear-X-tasy" projects.

An excellent effort - maybe a couple of tracks could do with a slightly better mix, but the power and conviction of the songs makes up for any budget deficiencies. If you’re looking for a band to spark up a more widespread interest in melodic rock then Velocity could be the guys....
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JACK WAGNER- "Alone in a Crowd" (BFE Records/BMG #73333 35853-2)

Jack Wagner's three previous release have all contained some pretty interesting AOR punctuated by Jack's excellent vocals which at time sound like Richard Marx. This new release has been a long time in the making and it seems that in that time he has somewhat lost his way.

Perhaps it's not all Jack's fault. The eight tracks produced by Jeffrey Pescetto and Steven Dubin are the offending material coming across like some ineffectual, diluted, harmonised, corporate slush with little musical commitment or desire. However, the other two tracks - "Stay Where you are" and "Keeper of your Name" produced by Planet 3 men Glen Ballard and Clif Magness, and Jack with Denny Diante respectively are rather better.

With only two songs of real interest its hardly an essential purchase unless you're a real die-hard Jack Wagner fan. But, on the plus side it has to be admitted that his singing is excellent throughout even when the songs just don't cut it!


Brett Walker made a great beginning with his "Nevertheless" album and I was most interested to hear how he was fairing subsequent time around, especially as he’d actually managed to pick up a US deal too (where the album is released as just "The Railbirds").

The opening "Look a Little Closer" caught me on the hop a little with a much more vital sound that the corpulent, burnished AOR of his debut. It’s still obviously Brett but much more to the point, less exalted yet highly involving. The Nick Gilder influence is still pretty public but now it’s as if it has been assimilated with prime-time Tom Petty.

It’s a very "mid-west" sound, not unlike Jude Cole’s fine "Start the Car" album. Brett also seems to present a wider sweep of emotions here than on the squeaky clean "Nevertheless", the dark and capricious "Yesterday has Gone" being a case in point. "Everything I Want" has been reworked from his debut and it’s inclusion here shows how it was virtually a archetype for the direction here.

Some of the standout tracks include the highly AOR structured "It’s a Good Thing" and the closing "American Dreamer" with its strong commercial attributes. In places the vague rootsy element gives the approach a slight early Bad Company feel which has huge crossover ability - maybe a US radio station will even play it!

A good effort that is essentially AOR for the modern world: still very AOR but with enough acumen for the current mainstream to cross over to a bigger audience, while still pleasing fans of both mediums.
click here to jump to Brett’s homepage
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BRETT WALKER- "Nevertheless" (Empire Records #ERCD-1003)

Brett previously operated under band name of "Person to Person" and released some high quality demos at the end of the 1980s which I now regret not getting more into at the time. Not content with just being an very talented singer, guitarist and songwriter, Brett has also called in some pretty heavyweight help for this his debut LP.

I mean former Survivor main-man Jim Peterik doesn't just help anybody does he? Jim co-writes two songs here: the obviously Survivor influenced "Take me Home", and the surprisingly un-Survivor influenced "Didn't mean to Say Goodbye"; Journey's Jonathan Cain also co-writes and produces "Bad Time for Goodbye" which actually sounds more like his earlier work with The Babys; "Everything I want to Do" is co-written with Nick Gilder; "Hard to find an Easy Way" is co-written with Stan Bush; and "More than a Memory" is co-written with former Coney Hatch man Carl Dixon.

With that sort of help, you just know it's going to be a special album - and special it is.... Brett's overall approach is reminiscent of the finely layered guitar AOR Michael Thompson produced on his "How Long" album, and other times he sort of reminds me of a modern version of The Babys crossed with the aforementioned Nick Gilder. If there's a standout track it's probably "Lecia" - a tremendous slice of melodic rock that's like Journey hybridized with Rick Springfield! Don't let this one pass you buy because there's some superior songs here that will put a huge, satisfied grin on your face.
Contact: Empire Records, Vintergaran 2, S-172 30 Sundbyberg, Sweden.

FEE WAYBILL- "Don’t Be Scared by These Hands" (Westcoast WESTCD 11, 1996)

I will always readily admit that former Tubes singer Fee Waybill’s first solo album "Read my Lips" (from 1984) is one of my all time favourite albums - it is one of the finest albums Steve Lukather has ever been involved with and no real AOR fan should miss out on songs like "Saved my Life" and "Nobody’s Perfect". And, it was just superb to hear a David Foster production on an out and out rock record.

Lukather is back on this well overdue follow up as well co-writing and playing on two tracks (the surprisingly acoustic "I Know You" and the "Surprise Yourself" where the Toto correlation is quite obvious). The other eight tracks are all close collaborations with Richard Marx and the always dependable Bruce Gaitsch. The songs seem much closer to The Tubes than his first solo effort, but that’s still no bad thing - The Tubes produced some excellent AOR albums, with a real quirky edge, "Outside Inside" and "The Completion Backwards Principle" being particularly fine examples.

Standouts include "Shut up and Love Me" which has such a melange of guitar sounds that it could only feature Bruce Gaitsch, the panoramic and powerful "Fools Cry", and the detailed "Dying of Delight" with Swedish hot-shot Tommy Denander on guitar. "What’s Wrong with That" is the closest to his "Read My Lips" material and features some superb interplay between Gaitsch and Randy Jackson on bass.

If you, like me, like The Tubes or Fee, or both, you’ll like this a lot. One thing that it is really noticeable from this release is just what a clear influence Fee has on Richard Marx’s material, with "The Swing of Things" in particular being very close to one of Marx’s tracks.
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WILFRED N & THE GROWN MEN- "Day Off" (Zonik Records #ZNKCD9501)

This is the fifth CD by the these guys, but the first time I've ever come across them. All five CDs have been recorded in the own basement studio in Edmonton and are self-financed; the band have been compared elsewhere to a wild amalgam of Marillion, the Beatles, and Ultravox!

There's alot of diversity on this release and it twists and turns in all sorts of disparate directions. I mean the opening cut is a bit like something "The Pursuit of Happiness" might do and the then the second track - "When You're 18" - is pure Max Webster/Kim Mitchell and is quirky in the extreme! It's strange how only Canadian bands can produce that sort of quirky sound - "Wireless" were another fine band in that breed in the late '70s/early '80s.

From there on in there's still lots of changes in direction from the very poppy "Ocean of Love" through to the almost operatic approach of the title track. There is so much variety that it almost seems self-indulgent, because they band really are just pursuing whatever direction they feel like at that precise moment. However, there is more Max Webster-style material in the shape of "Need you Bad", "I'm Satisfied" (which is so eclectic that "weird" doesn't even begin to describe it!), and "Heaven is the Nearest Star" which pleased me - a full album in that style alone would be very interesting.

Oh and if that wasn't quirky enough for you - if you fancy it, you can send extra money to the band so that you can convert your CD into a useful wall clock!
Contact: Zönik Music Productions, Box 246, Edmonton, Alberta, T5J 2J1, Canada, tel. (403) 432-0430, fax (403) 433-1115
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JOSEPH WILLIAMS- "I Am Alive" (Kitty #KTCR-1803)

The former Toto vocalist has lain fairly low since he parted company with Lukather and co back in 1989, but now has re-emerged with an all new solo album released in Japan. Also reappearing from, seemingly, nowhere is producer Joey Carbone (of Teri de Sario, John O'Banion, the All Sports Band, and many others, fame). If that wasn't enough also involved are the ideal cast for your slick perfect westcoast tinged AOR album including Michael Landau, Jay Gruska, Jay Graydon, Michael Thompson, James Harrah, all three Porcaro brothers, Bobby Kimball, and Bill Champlin.

For some reason I didn't expect this album to have too much depth, but it has depth in abundance and that, seemingly, eternal classy AOR sound that only LA's best can produce! Opener "Perfectly Clear" sets the tone perfectly (sic) with its classy hard edged westcoast sound and great hook which makes it sound rather like "IV" period Toto. "Heroes" is more like the best bits of Peter Cetera, and suits Joseph's wimpy vocal delivery just perfectly, though the music itself is not particularly soft, just adroit and involving. There's tingles of Toto on many tracks particularly on the title track and "Unarm your Heart". "Out of Harms Way" is the most guitar-orientated of all but is still nicely tempered and a sparkling bit of AOR. "Dirty Little War" is unmistakably a Jay Gruska song - poppy, but excellent - it's a shame Gruska's output these days is so spasmodic.

One thing that particularly stuck me from this album is that Joseph is a much more versatile singer than he often appeared in Toto, where at times he would sound very like George Michael, at least to me anyway. Overall a very high quality release which I am pleased to recommend without hesitation.

KIP WINGER- "This Conversation Seems like a Dream" (Domo Records 71015-2, 1996)

I’d be lying if I said I was a Winger fan, they had some OK moments I guess but their brand of hard rock always struck me as rather unoriginal and tedious. Initial reports that reached me regarding Kip’s solo album was that it was "boring" so I didn’t have high hopes of liking this at all. Which goes some way to explain just how stunned I am by the quality of this album - it’s very "different", but excellent….

Starting at the beginning, "Kiss of Life" commences the huge surprise process with subtle writing and a fresh, clever and stimulating delivery. Reference points are a bizarre mixture of Marc Jordan, Toto and Sting! Kip suddenly seems bold enough to define his own musical direction and that convinction shines through.

"Monster" follows in a similar fashion and I’m finding it hard to believe that anyone could find such a refreshing musical experience "boring". It’s still structured like a hard rock song but the instrumentation is much more colourful, rather like Toto at their wimpy best playing a Kiss song! Now I find myself engrossed: "Endless Circles" comes next and would be way over the head of your average Winger fan, it’s positively cerebral and I could see westcoast elements there too, rather like Bill LaBounty or Bobby Caldwell (when he’s not feeling totally R&B).

As the tracks progress I find myself thinking of this as just a very original rock record - the music can stimulate you on many different levels. It’s also very involving, you couldn’t treat it as background music - it makes you want to sit down and discover all its subtleties. In some places I thought it was similar to the hybridised rock of Charlie Sexton’s self-titled album, but then a track like "Daniel" has some awesome strings on it and any known reference point is gone! Kip’s vocals are also very varied, he steers away from chest-beating histrionics and at times sounds introspective and introverted as if he was just singing for himself and the listener is getting an private, impromptu rendition.

If you like music that’s easily pigeonholed and undemanding then look elsewhere, however if you like something a bit more challenging and with real long term worth then check this out. This is such a strongly different statement Kip’s only problem will be knowing where to go next….
click here to jump to the Domo Records home page

AMY WOLTER- "Hit me in the Heart" (WAL/Word #7011514023)

Amy used to be in the excellent Christian band Fighter where she only got to sing about half the material, so it's interesting to see how her solo project fairs when she's propelled into the spotlight full-time.

"There won't be a Next Time" is first in line and sounds rather like Henry Lee Summer or Eddie Money and is pretty nice. The next three tracks follow in a similar guitar driven AOR direction with "Oils on this Canvas" being particularly noteworthy with its eccentric lyrics. Things then seem to be going rather downhill with the stodgy ballad "We All Need" and I was beginning to think the album was going to fade away, but watch out because "Break My Fall" will really catch you out as it genuinely bites down hard and earnestly rocks in the style of the first Tyketto album! The timbre of the album then changes rapidly with "New Start", "The Promise" and "Be that Child" seeing loads more up front guitar work and good vocals producing a sound now far away from the excellent, and rather neglected, album by the band Witness or something Jamie Kyle would do.

Don't let the one poor track throw you off the scent (as it did for me, briefly) this is an excellent album and a laudable example of female fronted melodic rock/AOR at its best.

XENON- "Simple" (Vision-America #512003-2)

This is the second album from the New Jersey based Xenon and is the follow-up to 1989's "America's New Design". Cutting straight to the music "Am I the One?" starts out like it's going to be out and out metal, but gets progressively more melodic and isn't that different from C.I.T.A. or Harem Scarem mixed with White Lion or Joshua. "The Day you Let Go" starts with a bizarre tribal interlude and then proves itself to be an excellent song in the style of the heavier side of Open Skyz, Unruly Child, or Signal.

"One Look" is quite AOR with its restrained guitars and supporting keyboards and is probably my favourite song on offer, though "China Sky" comes a close second with its up-front guitar work and Jeff Paris-quality songwriting. "Feels Like Home" and "Lay me Down" have some fairly hard, frenetic guitar riffing in them but melody is never far away and they work well. The expansive "Overnight Sensation" sees the band employing light and shade to maximum effect and is very involving.

Overall it's clear the band are committed to their own direction and are very much in control of their own musical destiny. Too many bands are too willing to adapt to short lived fashions in search of that elusive big record deal, but here Xenon's belief in themselves is obvious and shines through the music which is very, very interesting. Well worth investigating further....
Contact: Xenon, P.O. Box 1573, Cranford, N.J. 07016, USA.
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YA-MEN-JA- "Stand Alone" (Farren Hill, 1995)

OK I don't know what the band's name is about before anyone asks. The most instantly interesting thing about this album is that the much travelled Paul Sabu produces and plays guitar on it. Alot of things that Sabu has been involved with very much have his sound and style stamped all over them (like Silent Rage for example), but no so here, in fact I am really struggling to give you an accurate description of the band's approach.

"Tiger Sky", the first song, actually reminds me of the classic Touch with its interesting vocal arrangement, but the music is very original, sort of cultured and unhackneyed.

If you can maybe imagine the sound of Marc Jordan's overblown "Talking Through Pictures" album crossed with Device or even the Dan Reed Network or Darling Cruel you might reach the starting point for how this sounds. At other times it twists into material a little like Terri Nunn's excellent solo album crossed with Animotion. The diversity of those juxtapositions I think is a reflection of how original this sounds. That makes the album quite difficult to evaluate as a whole, but the originality is sure to guarantee many a future listen.
Contact: Farren Hill Publishing, 3919 Sierra Drive, Austin, TX. 78731, USA. Tel (800)-4-YAMENJA.

YELLOWSTONE- "Situation on Planet Earth" (Emond Publishing ERYS001-2, 1996)

Don’t listen to this album unless you’ve got some "quality time" to spend with it - if you put it on as background music or just dip into track introductions here and there you’ll miss how each song develops and a glorious amount of detail. These Canadians produce an interesting mix of styles and are rather inventive. The production is also highly refined and capacious and would put many major label releases to shame.

It’s hard to make comparisons with such variety on show, but I guess it’s a bit like a poppy, more discriminating version of Blvd/Boulevard and musically close to some of Gowan’s material on "Great Dirty World" and "Lost Brotherhood". If all the positives I’ve mentioned so far weren’t enough, Yellowstone have a super singer in Marc La Roc who has a truly educated voice.

All the tracks have lots of depth within their composition and very intelligent arrangements. Light and shade is used particularly effectively on "Something to Believe In" with its punchy chorus, and "Hello, I love You" is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in years! The orchestration on "In My House" is interesting and well done, quite like some of the material on Alannah Myles’ overlooked and under-rated "Rockinghorse" album, and the title track is both panoramic and a gripping musical experience.

A fantastic debut album that flat outright challenges the disposability and unoriginality of the current mainstream. Spend a little time with Yellowstone and rediscover what real musical depth is all about….
Contact: Pierre Emond, Emond Records Inc., 100 Ronson Drive, Rexdale, Ontario, Canada, Tel (416) 246-0562 fax (416) 246-9651.

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Ian McIntosh

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Most recent revision Monday February 22, 2010 - originally created November 1995.