Reviews time…

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FIRST SIGNAL featuring HARRY HESS ‘S/T’ Frontiers (2010) www.frontiers.it  

Nothing much from the former members of the much missed Harem Scarem then they come along like buses! First two appear on the excellent new album by Jon Fellane and now the vocalist of the band, Harry Hess makes his return. Former drummer Darren Smith pops up on backing vocals and Dennis Ward handles the production, so you can rest assured the sound will be spot on.

All the songs for this album have been collected mostly from the current top writers of the melodic rock genre, like the Martin brothers (writers for Khymera/Sunstorm/House of Lords), Erik Martensson (W.E.T./Eclipse), Ronny Milianowicz (Saint Deamon/Place Vendome) and Robert Sall (W.E.T./Work of Art). Some of the songs have been recorded by other artists including Richard Marx.

The idea was to recreate the classic AOR sound of Harem Scarem so you’re talking the ‘Mood Swings’ era. For the most part this album does this and ‘When You Believe’ is as good as any Harem Scarem classic.

The ballads are top notch with ‘Feels Like Love This Time’ and ‘Crazy’ both blowing Bon Jovi’s recent paltry efforts out of the water. Harry Hess is on good vocal form backed by those trademark Harem Scarem harmony vocals.

The good thing about this album are the variety in music al styles from the funky vibe of ‘Goodbye To Good Times’ and the title track that is one of the heaviest songs on offer. Don’t worry though Harry Hess hasn’t gone all melodic metal on us despite the presence of Dennis Ward!

A real treat for melodic rock fans and especially Harem Scarem fans who have been hankering after an album like the classic ‘Mood Swings’ album. Hopefully this won’t just be a one-off as it is too good just to have one album to its name.

****1/2

JON MULLANE ‘Shift’ Escape Music (2010) www.escape-music.com  

Jon Mullane has already had success in his native Canada as well as the US most notably with his song ‘Make Your Move’ (included on this album). He is joined by two members of Harem Scarem, namely drummer Creighton Doane (who also produced and co-wrote all bar one of the songs on the album) and guitarist Pete Lesperance.

Bizarrely the album really hits its stride by track four, the synth pop rock flavoured ‘Missing Time’ which is swiftly followed by another 80’s flavoured tune ‘You Get What You Get’. These two songs are like Harem Scarem meets Duran Duran! The ballad ‘One That Got Away’ will delight Coldplay fans if they got to hear it. There is a very strong melody on this song. ‘Go The Distance’ could be Harem Scarem in their pop rock mode and listen carefully to the guitar riff midway through as it sounds like the distinctive riff of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’.

For some foot stomping, sing-a-long-a-Def-Leppard ‘Here We Go’ deserves to be a hit single as it is just so damn catchy. The album closes with a danced up mix of ‘Make You Move’ and I have to be honest I prefer this version to the original one that starts this album off.

A thoroughly rewarding listen and the only downside is the album only lasts just over thirty minutes! Whether you like pop rock or 80’s synth pop you will find something to enjoy on here.

****

Tony Harnell & The Mercury Train ‘Round Trip’ Frontiers (2010) www.frontiers.it  

Former TNT vocalist Tony Harnell on this release decided to revisit his past not only in TNT but Westworld as well and reinvent the songs, most of which are done acoustically. The album certainly produces some interesting twists on old favourates and it works better as well using musicians who on the whole are not familiar with the songs previously and are not from a rock/metal musical background.

TNT’s ’10,000 Lovers’ takes a jazz/Doo Wop route, not normally something I’d personally like but with Harnell’s voice and the fact it is a TNT song it works for me. Staying with the TNT songs ‘Northern Lights’ becomes a gentle ballad with a suitably lush, atmospheric musical backdrop. ‘Lonely Nights’ still sounds like TNT on the chorus but the rest of the song is done in an enjoyable acoustic mode.

Two Westworld songs actually beat their originals! ‘Shame’ is helped by the fact Sandi Saraya is guest vocalist whilst the Alanis Morrisette cover ‘Uninvited’ is simply jaw dropping. Tony Harnell’s impassioned vocal and the sparse musical backdrop make for a winning combination that beats the original version, which is no mean feat as that was one of best songs to come out of the Westworld albums.

There is one new song ‘Anywhere But Here’, a bright and breezy number that fits nicely into the album’s musical mix.

This was never meant to be a rehash of Tony Harnell’s back catalogue, so those expecting newer versions of the TNT and Westworld songs will be disappointed. But for fans of Harnell’s voice this album is a must have and hopefully it can bring in some new listeners. An album of the year contender with ease.

****1/2

UFO ‘Best Of A Decade’ SPV (2010) www.spv.de

A useful taster for those who may not be familiar with the recent UFO output, who have been revitalised with the addition of guitarist Vinnie Moore. In amongst the songs from the band’s recent albums you have some live classics to tempt in those who may not know the newer songs…you can’t go wrong with bona fide classics like ‘Doctor, Doctor, ‘Let It Roll’ and ‘Lights Out’.

Good sprinkling of songs from the band’s past decade including ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Hard Being Me’, two shining examples that vocalist Phil Mogg is still on top of his game. Aside from Mogg and Moore, the current line-up includes a couple of members from their glory days in the 70’s – Paul Raymond and Andy Parker – something other bands from that era often lack!

At a budget price it is a perfect CD for those lapsed UFO fans who haven’t bought anything since the ‘Headstone’ compilation/live album back in the 80’s.

****

SPOCK’S BEARD ‘X’ Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Records (2010) www.spocksbeard.com  

Spock’s Beard return with their tenth album, hence the title and the first part-funded by fan contributions, something Marillion have been doing sucessfully for many years now. They are also on a new label, Music Theories Recordings, a prog rock off shoot of Mascot (they have also signed up Pallas another band like Spock’s Beard who were on Inside Out). Thankfully though the line-up stays intact.

Former member Neal Morse pops-up co-writing opener ‘Edge Of The In-Between’. This one, not surprisingly has a distinct early Spock’s Beard feel to it mainly in the harmonies (very similar to Neal Morse’s solo output) and some amazing instrumental duelling between Alan Morse and Ryo Okumoto (surely one of prog’s most underated keyboard players). Ryo Okumoto gets a showcase on the next song in, ‘Kamakaze’ mixing classic Keith Emerson styled Hammond organ runs mixed with some spacey synths. An exhausting but very enjoyable air keyboard workout!

The one song that really threw me is ‘The Quiet House’, whose heavier passages reminded me so much of Threshold. Again some stunning guitar/keys interplay and a water tight rhythm section. The other song worthy of note (although all seven songs are worthy!) is the closing sixteen minutes of ‘Jaws Of Heaven’. This one shows the band’s symphonic and epic side with more emphasis on building soundscapes with keyboards and acoustic guitar.

When Neal Morse quit the band many thought Spock’s Beard would be a former shadow of themsleves, but they have gone on from strength to strength and this latest album is one of their best. It may take a few plays to fuly appreciate but when music is this good it is well worth the effort.

****1/2

Joe Elliot’s Down ’N’ Outz ‘My Regeneration’ Mailboat Records (2010)

Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot has been a lifelong fan of all things Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter related. After supporting Mott the Hoople on their 40th anniversary gigs last year an album made-up of Mott, Ian Hunter and British Lion covers comes next. The Down ‘N’ Outz looks set to be a long term project for Joe Elliot who in recent interviews ahs already stated that he will be doing an album of Mott the Hoople covers next and then after that perhaps an album of original songs in a Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter vein.

Joining Joe Elliot are most of the Quireboys, less vocalist Spike obviously and the band’s bass player. Ronnie Garrity handles bass on the album. Now these side projects can often turn out to be not very good at all but I am happy to report this album is very good. Be it the simple rock refrain of ‘England Rocks’ or ‘Overnight Angels’, which starts slowly before building to a hook-tastic chorus. Special mention to keyboards player Keith Weir who really gets to strut his stuff on the intro to ‘Golden Opportunity’ and the Mott song ‘Shouting And Pointing’.

The songs prove instant hits and have you wanting to track down the originals, surely one the main reasons behind this album? It sounds as though Joe Elliot had great fun recording this album and taken as a whole it certainly beats Def Leppard’s last few albums. Great fun and crank it up!

****1/2

JIMI JAMISON & JIM PETERIK ‘Extra Moments’ Melodic Rock Records (2010) www.melodicrockrecords.com  

Andrew McNeice, the man behind MelodicRock.Com and spin-off festivals/compilation CD’s, now turns his hand to launching a record label. As well as featuring established names the label plans releases from newer bands.

The labels inaugural release features two giants of the melodic rock genre, former Survivor members Jimi Jamison and Jim Peterik and a collection of unreleased songs, some in demo form. Some didn’t make the final cut of Jimi Jamison’s ‘Crossroads Moment’ album and others include the song that Jimi Jamison sang at his Survivor audition, ‘Cry Of The Wild Heart’.

Now normally demo/unreleased song collections are firmly meant for the hardcore fan base of bands but this album is a good place as any to start for those new to the music of Jim Peterik and the vocal talents of Jimi Jamison. We have the Survivor like ‘Cry Of The Wild Heart’ and ‘Chiselled In Stone’ (the riff reminds me of Jefferson Starship’s ‘Jane’), a co-write with Tommy Denander on the album highlight for me ‘Life #9’ (on here twice with a Jamison vocal and a demo version with Peterik on vocals). ‘Dream Higher’ is a very tasty rocker and another co-write this time with Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy. The cheeky ‘I Wanna Touch You There’ you could easily picture Shania Twain having a hit with.

Well if this is a taste of things to come on the Melodic Rock Records label then it is going to be a winner. Needless to say fans of Survivor, Pride Of Lions and Jimi Jamison should grab a copy pronto and anyone whose not sampled the joys of these two melodic rock legends make up for lost time by getting this.

****1/2

KENS DOJO ‘Reincarnation’ AOR Heaven (2010) www.aorheaven.com

The main man behind this album is guitarist Ken Ingwersen. Maybe not a name you’d recognise but he produced TNT’s ‘Transitor’ album and has toured with many artists including Dan Reed, Ken Hensley (who guests on the album) and Rick Springfield to name but a few.

The album is a mix of songs and instrumentals, none of which are fillers and in the case of ‘Soundcheck Bonanaza’ (a bizarre yet enjoybale mix and match of guitar solos) and ‘Momentos A Solas’, these are stand outs on the album. Glenn Hughes lends his quiter side to the ballad ‘I Surrender’ whilst 80’s pop hero Chesney Hawkes proves he can rock out on the title track (well it’s a damn sight more rock than his solo stuff!). ‘Keeping The Flame Alive’ is very strange with a traditional hard rock start before adding all manner of vocal samples and backing. It just about works but may put some listeners off.

Overall not a bad little album and a good choice of guest vocalists make for plenty of variety.

****

MYSTERY ‘One Among The Living’ Unicorn Records (2010) www.unicornrecords.com  

Mystery’s last album was a real ‘must have’ and included one of my all time favourate songs in ‘As I Am’, a simply stunning mix of vocals and music. Since that album vocalist Benoît David has replaced Jon Anderson in Yes (fellow Yes member Oliver Wakeman guests on this album), a move that will divide fans of the band like any vocalist change (see Queen, Van Halen, Journey et al). With the increased exposure of David’s vocals interest is bound to pick-up in Mystery and about time too!

This new album sees a slight reigning in of the previous symphonic prog rock and a bigger focus on melody, with a real rocker in ‘Kameleon Man’. This one brings to mind Rush in parts whilst Styx come to mind on ‘Wolf’ and ‘Till The Truth Comes Out’. David has hints of Geddy Lee, Dennis De Young plus his own melodic style (I don’t hear much Jon Anderson though to be honest!).

‘Through Different Eyes’ allows the band to release their creative selves as it is a multi-part song clocking in at over twenty two minutes. This song has everything really – pomp rock, stunning guitar solos (including guest Daryl Stuermer), vocal harmonies, quiet musical passages. This band know how to press the old prog rock buttons with their listeners that’s for sure.

Yet again I am pleased to report this is another ‘must have’ album. What I like about this band is that they play very accessibale and melodic progressive music. If you like Styx, Pendragon, Rush and Yes then add this CD to your shopping list pronto.

****1/2

ED KOWALCZYK ‘Alive’ Era Music/Edsel (2010)

Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk releases his first solo album, although many music fans may not even know much by his ‘day’ band Live (I’d highly recommend tracking down a copy of their double CD best of released a few years ago). Live have called it a day after the rest of the band had a dispute with Kowakczyk, so a solo album seems very timely.

The music is very simialr to Live at times, mainly due to the vocals and the uplifting nature of the lyrics, which have a strong spiritual edge to them like ‘Just in Time’ and the superb ‘Drive’ (that is also the lead single of the album). But the songs are mellower and lack the real post-grunge bite some of Live’s songs had like ‘Alone’. The ballad ‘Drink (Everlasting Love)’ hits the spot nicely showcasing Kowalczyk’s vocal talents and proving he can do the slower moments just as well as the more rock and passion fuelled songs. Top noytch production allowing the musical arrangements equal billing with the vocals – a pefect balance.

Definately a ‘grower’ of an album as only ‘Drive’ hits the spot after one play of the album but hang in there as it is a real treat. If Live are over as it seems, then the solo career of Kowalczyk will nicely fill that musical void.

****

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