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First Signal - 'First Signal' http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/b1/f5/33/583_firstsignalfirstsignal_1284855283.jpg Hot

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For lovers of quality Hard Rock everywhere.

Every now and then I get a CD to review that reminds me why I love doing this so much. I get some CD’s that later down the line I will listen to occasionally, and some that to be honest will probably never see the light of day again. And then there are the odd few that take me completely by surprise and become very regular visitors to my CD player. It’s also great when it’s somebody you have never heard of before, and who may have passed you by. It happened with UK rockers Draven, with Sweden gothsters Plan Three, and also with Grand Design (Firefest 2010 is in for a treat!) And now it’s the turn of the latest Frontiers project First Signal. This is another one that may have passed me by, as in all honesty I am not the biggest fan of the bands that the two main protagonists involved in First Signal earned their reputation, namely Harem Scarem’s Harry Hess and Pink Cream 69’s Dennis Ward. However, I am truly glad to have been given the chance to hear it, as it’s absolutely brilliant!

There are those that will say that this is a blatant attempt to re-create the classic Harem Scarem sound without getting the band back together, but to be honest, is there really a ‘classic’ Harem Scarem sound? Harem varied their style so much it’s hard to pinpoint a truly classic sound, but I guess that most people will hark back to the ‘Mood Swings’ album. Although I can’t recall Harry Hess ever sounding quite as gruff as how he does on this CD, it may be due to the fact he has not sang for a few years, but he absolutely nails the high notes, and sounds fantastic. Dennis Ward supplies bass and some guitar, and also handles production duties, and as with all things Ward is involved with the sound quality is top-notch. As for the other musicians, Hess’s Scarem band-mate Darren Smith supplies the backing vocals, and journeyman keyboardist Eric Ragno can always be relied upon to deliver, but the contributions of the two relative unknowns are no less impressive; drummer Chris Schmidt punctuates his precise rhythms with some neat fills, while Michael Klein’s guitar work is a revelation, his punchy riffs and spiralling solos dominate the album, but he knows when to ease back and be subtle and classy on the slower songs. And those songs are what makes this album so good. Some of the hottest writers around have been called upon to contribute, and the material quite honestly couldn’t be bettered. Just check out the list; Erik Martensson (Eclipse, W.E.T.), Robert Sall (Work Of Art, W.E.T.), Tom and James Martin (Kymera, Sunstorm, House Of Lords), Mark Baker (House Of Lords) for starters, while there are also a couple of tracks lifted from Richard Marx’s excellent Emotional Remains album (reviewed last issue) that are co-written by Marx and Vertical Horizon leader Matt Scannell, namely the moody ‘Part Of Me’ and the laid-back but uplifting ‘When November Falls.’

Elsewhere, there are plenty of soaring melodic anthems like the opening ‘This City’, ‘Into The Night’, ‘Yesterday’s Rain’ and the Journey sounding ‘When You Believe’, while the bass-driven ‘Goodbye To The Good Times’ has a slightly funky feel, the sort of song Jeff Scott Soto excels at – in fact Hess’s voice even sounds like Soto’s at times. And as for the slower numbers, ‘Crazy’ is a piano-driven heartfelt power ballad with a huge chorus, the sing-along ‘Feels Like Love’ is a mid-tempo stomper that is at times reminiscent of Bryan Adams and is currently my favourite song on the album, and the closing ‘Naked Desire’ with it’s multi-tracked backing vocal has a great blend of Eighties Stadium Rock and the modern feel of bands like Matchbox Twenty. As projects go, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better one than this. It’s just a shame that as it’s just a project we probably won’t get to hear these songs performed in a live situation, which would really be the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned. For lovers of quality Hard Rock everywhere.

Ant Heeks

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First Signal - First Signal

(Frontiers Records)

Review By Woody

First Signal is a project put together by Frontiers Records head honcho Serafino Perugino, to showcase Harem Scarem vocalist Harry Hess. The idea of the album is to collect a bunch of songs which showcase Hess’s vocals in a more straight ahead AOR/Melodic Rock style akin to the debut Harem Scarem album from back in the day. All The songs are from outside writers including AOR song writing geniuses Tom & James Martin (Vega), Richard Marx, Bob Marlette, James Christian (House Of Lords), Robert Sall (Work Of Art) & Erik Martensson (Eclipse). Hess did have some say on what songs he wanted to do or not, although he had no real input on the song writing. The album is produced by Frontiers favourite Dennis Ward who gives the album a really rich, clean and crisp sound.

I have to say I really enjoy this album, its nothing big or clever and it’s not going to change the world BUT it is a really enjoyable and pleasurable collection of summery feel good melodic rock. Hess’s vocals throughout are very strong and perfect for each song as he belts out some killer vocal melodies. I was unsure what to expect as I had gotten use to Hess’s vocals on a more contemporary harder edged style of rock especially on latter day Harem Scarem, which I felt suited his gruff vocal style. On this collection of songs though he just shows how versatile he is and that he can do music in this vein excellently. This is the closest you’ll ever get to early Harem Scarem but having said that I would say this album isn’t a copy of that era, just similar in style and only the odd moments of similarity mostly down to Hess’s vocals obviously. Hopefully we’ll hear more of Hess in this style, unfortunately with this been a project it’s highly unlikely any of these songs will get aired live. Not something I think will bother Hess as he openly admits playing live isn’t his favourite part of the music biz, just a necessary promotional evil!

I do think this is a very strong album all round but for me the standout tracks are the 3 songs donated by English songwriters Tom & James Martin (we are not worthy!). These are the lead track “This City” which you can see the video of here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSaNiJjTVRk , “First Signal” which gave the band it’s name & the pure AOR goodness that is “Into the Night”. Over the years the Martin brothers have provided the melodic rock community with some amazing and well loved songs, whether it be with Khymera, Ted Poley, House Of Lords, Danny Vaughn (From the Inside) or Joe Lynn Turner (Sunstorm) amongst others. I really hope the ever so fickle melodic rock community welcome these guys with open arms when their return to AOR band VEGA arrives, which also features the excellent vocalist Nick Workman, regardless of the fact they weren’t big back in the day (unless you would have been happy watching two toddlers rocking’ away on stage that was never going to happen). I just know Vega is going to have all those labels that didn’t snap these guys up back in Sugartown (The greatest AOR band that never was) in the late 90’s really regretting it now.

Opening with “This City”, obviously with this been a martin brother’s song it has plenty of excellent subtle and upfront keyboard work, which brings out the best in Hess’s vocals and the strong guitar work. The lead track from the album, instant and catchy and a good choice to kick start the album. “When You believe” is hook filled, catchy, with great vocal harmonies provided by ex-Harem Scarem drummer Darren Smith and has a big AOR chorus. “Part Of Me” is a mid tempo tune with a slightly darker edge and a grittier guitar style which suits Hess’s vocals perfectly, worth noting this is a Richard Marx tune.

The ballad “Crazy” has lots of memorable melodies and is a good showcase for Hess’s vocal style - Some really cool intricate guitar work on this one. “Goodbye To The Good Times” is a harder rocking tune, a little bit funky with a great swagger to it - oh and it has the obligatory BIG chorus. “First Signal” is another Martin brother’s classic containing some great guitar work, insanely infectious keyboards, killer melodies and a huge sweeping chorus.

“Feels Like Love This Time” reminds me I think of Bon Jovi’s “Stick to your Guns” if it’s not that it’s definitely a Bon Jovi song. A decent song but that familiarity will drive you nuts till you figure out what song it reminds you of! “Into the Night” is an instant, catchy as hell slice of perfect soaring AOR which will have you dancing and singing along! Also has some of the best keyboard parts on the album, *sigh* they just don’t make them like this anymore - Oh hang on, they do this is another martin brothers song!!!!

“When November Falls” another Richard Marx song, again it has a slightly more contemporary vibe, which does suit Hess’s vocals. A strong memorable chorus will make this ballad popular with genre fans. “Yesterdays Rain” sounds like a W.E.T cast off, I can imagine it been sung by Jeff Scott Soto, strong melodies and memorable. “Naked Desire” another harder rocking song with a big sing along chorus. It’s a great song to finish the album.

The album was obviously designed to appeal to a certain market, so some may dismiss this as AOR by numbers. Personally I think it’s a strong collection of straight ahead melodic rock that is catchy as hell and delivers instant gratification. Melodic Rock & AOR fans should love this fun record and does it have to be modern or forward thinking to be a good album? Or does the fact I keep pressing repeat make it a good album? You decide! So if you’re looking for an easy, instant collection of melodic rock with strong vocals look no further - check out First Signal!

Track Listing: This City / When You Believe / Part of Me / Crazy / Goodbye To the Good Time / First Signal / Feels Like Love This Time / Into The Night / When November Falls / Yesterdays Rain / Naked Desire

Album Rating: 4/5

Woody's Essential Track: Into The Night
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Production Quality 
 
4.0
Music Quality 
 
4.0
Artwork  
 
4.0
Value for Money 
 
4.0
Reviewed by Woody September 30, 2010
Top 10 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (31)

First Signal - "First Signal"

First Signal - First Signal

(Frontiers Records)

Review By Woody

First Signal is a project put together by Frontiers Records head honcho Serafino Perugino, to showcase Harem Scarem vocalist Harry Hess. The idea of the album is to collect a bunch of songs which showcase Hess’s vocals in a more straight ahead AOR/Melodic Rock style akin to the debut Harem Scarem album from back in the day. All The songs are from outside writers including AOR song writing geniuses Tom & James Martin (Vega), Richard Marx, Bob Marlette, James Christian (House Of Lords), Robert Sall (Work Of Art) & Erik Martensson (Eclipse). Hess did have some say on what songs he wanted to do or not, although he had no real input on the song writing. The album is produced by Frontiers favourite Dennis Ward who gives the album a really rich, clean and crisp sound.

I have to say I really enjoy this album, its nothing big or clever and it’s not going to change the world BUT it is a really enjoyable and pleasurable collection of summery feel good melodic rock. Hess’s vocals throughout are very strong and perfect for each song as he belts out some killer vocal melodies. I was unsure what to expect as I had gotten use to Hess’s vocals on a more contemporary harder edged style of rock especially on latter day Harem Scarem, which I felt suited his gruff vocal style. On this collection of songs though he just shows how versatile he is and that he can do music in this vein excellently. This is the closest you’ll ever get to early Harem Scarem but having said that I would say this album isn’t a copy of that era, just similar in style and only the odd moments of similarity mostly down to Hess’s vocals obviously. Hopefully we’ll hear more of Hess in this style, unfortunately with this been a project it’s highly unlikely any of these songs will get aired live. Not something I think will bother Hess as he openly admits playing live isn’t his favourite part of the music biz, just a necessary promotional evil!

I do think this is a very strong album all round but for me the standout tracks are the 3 songs donated by English songwriters Tom & James Martin (we are not worthy!). These are the lead track “This City” which you can see the video of here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSaNiJjTVRk , “First Signal” which gave the band it’s name & the pure AOR goodness that is “Into the Night”. Over the years the Martin brothers have provided the melodic rock community with some amazing and well loved songs, whether it be with Khymera, Ted Poley, House Of Lords, Danny Vaughn (From the Inside) or Joe Lynn Turner (Sunstorm) amongst others. I really hope the ever so fickle melodic rock community welcome these guys with open arms when their return to AOR band VEGA arrives, which also features the excellent vocalist Nick Workman, regardless of the fact they weren’t big back in the day (unless you would have been happy watching two toddlers rocking’ away on stage that was never going to happen). I just know Vega is going to have all those labels that didn’t snap these guys up back in Sugartown (The greatest AOR band that never was) in the late 90’s really regretting it now.

Opening with “This City”, obviously with this been a martin brother’s song it has plenty of excellent subtle and upfront keyboard work, which brings out the best in Hess’s vocals and the strong guitar work. The lead track from the album, instant and catchy and a good choice to kick start the album. “When You believe” is hook filled, catchy, with great vocal harmonies provided by ex-Harem Scarem drummer Darren Smith and has a big AOR chorus. “Part Of Me” is a mid tempo tune with a slightly darker edge and a grittier guitar style which suits Hess’s vocals perfectly, worth noting this is a Richard Marx tune.

The ballad “Crazy” has lots of memorable melodies and is a good showcase for Hess’s vocal style - Some really cool intricate guitar work on this one. “Goodbye To The Good Times” is a harder rocking tune, a little bit funky with a great swagger to it - oh and it has the obligatory BIG chorus. “First Signal” is another Martin brother’s classic containing some great guitar work, insanely infectious keyboards, killer melodies and a huge sweeping chorus.

“Feels Like Love This Time” reminds me I think of Bon Jovi’s “Stick to your Guns” if it’s not that it’s definitely a Bon Jovi song. A decent song but that familiarity will drive you nuts till you figure out what song it reminds you of! “Into the Night” is an instant, catchy as hell slice of perfect soaring AOR which will have you dancing and singing along! Also has some of the best keyboard parts on the album, *sigh* they just don’t make them like this anymore - Oh hang on, they do this is another martin brothers song!!!!

“When November Falls” another Richard Marx song, again it has a slightly more contemporary vibe, which does suit Hess’s vocals. A strong memorable chorus will make this ballad popular with genre fans. “Yesterdays Rain” sounds like a W.E.T cast off, I can imagine it been sung by Jeff Scott Soto, strong melodies and memorable. “Naked Desire” another harder rocking song with a big sing along chorus. It’s a great song to finish the album.

The album was obviously designed to appeal to a certain market, so some may dismiss this as AOR by numbers. Personally I think it’s a strong collection of straight ahead melodic rock that is catchy as hell and delivers instant gratification. Melodic Rock & AOR fans should love this fun record and does it have to be modern or forward thinking to be a good album? Or does the fact I keep pressing repeat make it a good album? You decide! So if you’re looking for an easy, instant collection of melodic rock with strong vocals look no further - check out First Signal!

Track Listing: This City / When You Believe / Part of Me / Crazy / Goodbye To the Good Time / First Signal / Feels Like Love This Time / Into The Night / When November Falls / Yesterdays Rain / Naked Desire

Album Rating: 4/5

Woody's Essential Track: Into The Night

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