Reviews written by Woody - Page 3
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Stan Bush - "Dream The Dream"
|Value for Money:||5.0|
Stan Bush - Dream The Dream
Review By Woody
Dream the Dream is the 11th studio album from AOR legend Stan Bush, and the follow up to his critically acclaimed 2007 album In This Life. The American song writer is probably best known for his contributions to film and TV. He has a cult following for his contributions to the 86 children’s film Transformers, namely “The Touch” & “Dare” and he makes regular appearances at Transformers conventions all over the world. He’s also contributed to films like Jean Claude Van Damme’s “Blood sport” & “Kick boxer”. To those of us who call ourselves AOR anoraks, Stan is more than that though! He is considered one of the most prolific musicians within the genre and is one of the mostly highly regarded songwriters in the biz. Personally there are not many I’d name above him as one the genre’s greatest songwriters.
Stan is joined on this album again by the ultra talented Holger Fath on guitars and keyboards who also produces the album. Matt Bissonette (Bass) and Matt Laug (Drums) provide the rhythm section and the album is mixed and mastered by Michael Blum. Bush has a couple of outside co-write’s on the album including Bobby Barth (Axe/ Blackfoot) & Curt Cuomo (Kiss / Eddie Money).
Dream The Dream is a fantastic album, perhaps not as good as Stan’s previous album “In This Life”. That was always going to be a hard task for me personally as I see “In This Life” as Stan’s greatest collection of songs ever, I know that may make some AOR purists shake their heads as I know many consider his work in the 80’s especially with the Barrage band as his finest work. To be honest I think Stan’s gone from strength to strength over the years, his song writing and his personal style has all matured and improved with every album, I far prefer Bush 2010 style than Bush 86 style. This album isn’t a direct descendent of In This Life, and is perhaps not as deep but not in a major way as his song writing and lyrics hold up just a strongly again here. I think the difference this time is the album is more pointedly aimed at the Melodic Rock fan base and so take’s elements of Bush’s more modern singer songwriter style of his past couple of albums and coupled it with the commercial sound so familiar in the genre’s heyday. A lot of a band’s are doing this nowadays and it’s a good move, it’s not overly retro and has a modern touch without alienating genre fans but also having enough about it to hopefully attract new fans.
The album has everything you need to make a killer melodic rock record, big choruses, hook filled harmonies, catchy melodies and a great upbeat vibe that’ll have you pressing the repeat button! Bush’s distinctive vocals are another strong selling point offering power and emotion whilst carving out some strong vocal melodies. Holger Fath is also very important to the whole album with his excellent keyboard work whether it be subtle or upfront gives this album that touch that to me is essential to music within this genre. Also with this album more so than the last I’ve become a fan of Fath’s guitar work, he creates some really cool memorable riff’s, but a lot of the time it’s the more subtle guitar work which really highlights his talents and brings out some great moments throughout the album. This is an instant album and if it doesn’t grab you by the scruff of the neck on first play, you’ll probably never get it or enjoy it. This isn’t an album you have to work on, spin a few times to “get” or find the hidden strengths, this is an album that’s meant to be enjoyed effortlessly so crack the beers open and clear your throat and ROCK!
The album starts with the brash summery vibe of “Never Hold Back” a sing along tune with a great guitar riff. A great opening track that hit’s the spot instantly. “I’m Still Here” has some wonderful harmonies on the chorus which really bring’s out the best in the song as well as some wonderful guitar work from Holger Fath. A memorable and instant song full of hooks. “Don’t Give Up On Love” has a fantastic smooth chorus coupled with some more great guitar work. Bush’s distinctive vocals are very strong on this one and this is the first song on the album to get unshakeably stuck in my head.
“Two Hearts” has everything it needs to be a classic AOR rocker, hook laden guitars and an awesome chorus. A song that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, this song makes a real impact. Be warned you’ll be pressing repeat on this one. “In My Life” is a big ballad, very reminiscent of 80’s AOR ballads. Rocker “Love Is the Road” is catchy as hell with a driving instant guitar riff and a pounding rhythm section gives the song some real punch. You’ll find yourself singing along to this feel good summer tune - I really like the lyrics on this one.
“If This Is All There Is” has a big chorus with some excellent harmonies, strong vocals from Bush again and some more of that hook filled guitar work. “Dream the Dream” is a mid-tempo ballad which has a really strong chorus. A Song which grabs your attention immediately. I definitely think this will be a winner with established fans. “More Than A Miracle” isn’t the strongest moment on the album for me purely because it’s not as instant as the other songs. That said it’s still a decent song with a solid chorus with good vocals and musicianship.
“Your Time” has a modern slant and is most similar in style to Bush’s recent output. This modern tinge really works and proves Bush is far from a retro act. With some memorable melodies and a big chorus it’s sure to be a fan favourite. “All That I Am” has some great keyboards and strong guitars from Fath again. Bush’s vocals really shine on this chorus and he delivers some great memorable melodies. “Sam’s Theme (The Touch)” was a song Bush had submitted to be included on the recent Transformers 2 soundtrack and is a remixed version of his song “The Touch” which featured prominently in the original animated Transformers movie (back when I was just a wee boy and girl’s were yucky….well except for the ginger ones…. ). The song is barely recognisable and is far removed from the original not just darker and heavier but modern and metallic too. This version is bound to divide opinion.
This is Melodic Rock/AOR fan boy’s wet dream of an album, delivering instant gratification with big sing along choruses. Bush’s distinctive emotion fuelled vocals coupled with excellent musicianship drive this album to the top of the pile, and it stand’s out in the crowd of recent releases in the genre. Excellent song writing and lyrics mixed with some of the greatest songs Bush has ever crafted, will not just have established Bush fan’s (ooo err missus!) salivating but will surely draw new fans to his unique brand of modern AOR. Amongst the PR for this release is a statement that Stan plan’s to tour this album in Europe, here’s hoping for some UK dates (got my fingers crossed for a midlands date!)…..hell I’d travel to see Stan…you’ll not hear me say that very often….THAT’S how good this guy is!
Track Listing: Never Hold Back / I’m Still Here / Don’t Give Up on Love / Two Hearts / In My Life / Love Is The Road / If This Is All There Is / Dream The Dream / More Than A Miracle / Your Time / All That I Am / Sam’s Theme (The Touch)
Album Rating: 5/5
Woody's Essential Track: Love Is The Road
Mark Sweeney - "All In"
|Value for Money:||4.0|
Mark Sweeney - All In
Review By Woody
Crystal Ball singer Mark Sweeney returns with his second solo album “All In” his follow up to his critically acclaimed 2007 debut album “Slow Food”. There are not many bands (except for the mighty Gotthard!) regardless of style I could say oh and there from Switzerland, but Mark Sweeney (and indeed Crystal Ball) hails from that part of the world. Mark’s obviously made many music scene friends over the years as he not only has rock legend Michael Voss producing the album, and fantastic job he does too, he also has guest appearances from the likes of Bruce Kulick, Robin Beck, Pearl, Stefan Kaufmann & Jorg Michael.
This album is technically a pop/rock record in its sound, style and structure but it is extremely friendly to AOR fan boy ears! Given some of the names involved with the record I think this album was written and recorded to be a modern sounding AOR album. Obviously for AOR to have any longevity it does need to evolve and with more artists and bands recording albums in an updated way like this it could see the genre’s fan base grow again.
Mark’s first solo album, which was also a pop rock AOR friendly affair quickly made me a fan of the man as a songwriter and vocalist, but “All In” blows it completely out of the water, with a fantastic production job from Michael Voss and some of the most memorable songs you’ll ever hear. I’m a big fan of his vocals, I think having had classical vocal training has helped him to develop a strong vocal style and ease with crafting memorable vocal melodies. This is a great collection of pop/rock tunes with a modern slant and some amazing ballads.
Lead single and opening cut “Line Of Fire” is a quirky, memorable slice of American style pop/rock. This modern AOR track has a strong chorus and an insistent guitar riff which makes it a memorable and impressive kick-off to the album - I really like the short and sweet guitar solo on this one. “Why Do You Hate Me” is a mid-tempo rocker which captures the pop/rock sound so prevalent in the US. It has plenty of gritty, punky guitars and they hook it up with a sing along chorus, to make it another classy song. “Still Alive” is an atmospheric and emotive ballad, quite sparse and simplistic musically but amazingly effective in creating the desired mood. A top notch chorus is accompanied by some of Mark’s strongest and impressive vocals on the album.
“Gimme A Sign” is inspired by the 80’s pop sound in it’s melodies and style, but coupled with some fantastic guitar licks give’s it the desired rock edge and it contains a BIG memorable chorus. “Leave It All Behind” is a melancholic ballad and is a duet with Pearl, who blows me away with her amazingly beautiful vocals on the chorus. “Sinner” is very poppy, I sense a bit of a retro brit pop feel to this song, it has a strong chorus too. This is the sort of song you’d expect to pop up in a rom-com film.
“Another Day” is an atmospheric and powerful ballad, with some fantastic vocals from Mark again and some great memorable guitar work - this is a real head sticker! “Stare At The Sun” is the second ballad on the bounce and is nowhere near as impressive and a bit dull, very laid back. There is some noteworthy guitar work worth listening out for though. “Too Late” features a Bruce Kulick guitar solo, but the song’s a bit of a let down though and at this point you feel the album is going off its boil. Another mid paced ballad it’s not as dynamic as a lot of the songs on here, and seems a little plodding in comparison, still worth a listen though.
Robin Beck, whom I’m unashamedly a total fan boy of duets on the next song, the ballad “Moments”. Be warned anyone who says the following in front of me “ain’t she the bird who sung that 80’s coke advert song?’ as this will be quickly answered with an almighty bitch slap, followed by been tied to a chair and having the amazing “Trouble or Nothing” album played on a loop (It may go something like the Steelers Wheel scene in Reservoir Dogs - If your lucky!). The song is probably the most traditional sounding AOR on the entire album and it has an insanely catchy chorus - Robin of course is vocally outstanding and impressive as you’d expect from one of the best female rock vocalist’s about! “Chance” is a very dark and moody rocker with a dirty riff and low vocals building to dark but melodic chorus. “Demons” is by far the heaviest track on offer and the most similar to Mark’s band Crystal Ball. The thumping drum and bass line and symphonic metal - esque guitar playing not only make it the heaviest track but also far more metal and less akin to the rest of the album. Not a big fan of Mark’s vocals on this song but they are more in suiting with the style of the music.
I can’t recommend this album enough, and AOR anoraks (like myself) are going to really take to this album even with its modern slant. Also for fans of American style pop/rock, you’ll probably go nuts for this melodic gem, which is jam packed with memorable melodies and emotionally charged ballads.
Track Listing: Line Of Fire / Why Do You Hate Me / Still Alive / Gimme A Sign / Leave It All Behind / Sinner / Another Day / Stare At The Sun / Too Late / Moments / Chance / Demons
Album Rating: 4/5
Woody’s Essential Track: Another Day
Asia - "Omega"
|Value for Money:||4.0|
Asia - Omega
Review by Woody
The Original line-up of Asia reunited in 2006 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the band. This lead to a highly successful world tour, Live CD/DVD and an all new studio album, which itself was met with mixed reactions, ‘08’s “Phoenix”. That original line-up of John Wetton (Lead Vocals / Bass), Steve Howe (Guitars), Geoff Downes (keyboards) & Carl Palmer (Drums) are still together for the follow up album “Omega”. This is also the first time since their debut album that they have worked with an outside producer, Mike Paxman (Uriah Heep, Status Quo) takes up the producer reigns for this one.
“Phoenix” divided opinion, I personally thought it was an ok album and it did have its moments, but “Omega” is a far more rounded and complete album and a definite improvement on the previous album. Asia were always touted as the first ever AOR super group, but with their prog edge and their music’s atmospheric overtones they have always retained a unique sound and a broader fan base than a straight ahead prog or AOR band would have. What we get here is a continuation of their distinctive brand of atmospheric AOR, I’m sure Asia fans will love this but the band haven’t tried to reinvent themselves or radically change their style to fit in with current trends, stylistically what you get here is what you’d usually expect from them.
This is an album which was created to have a positive feel to it, and it does have an overall upbeat feel to it. Lyrically, John Wetton say’s the lyrics he’s used are autobiographical, hmmmm I’ll leave that one to each individual listener’s opinions. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Asia lyrics at the best of times but the bands appeal to me is in the music they have crafted some very powerful and emotive songs and melodies over the years. As you’d expect from four of the most respected musicians in rock, the musicianship on display here is excellent and shows the band may be almost 30 years old, but they still have what it takes.
The band gives us those atmospheric keyboards, huge harmonies and lush encompassing walls of melodies the band are famous for creating again. I really like John Wetton’s vocals, his smooth melodic vocals are perfect for this style of music and Geoff Downes is a master keyboard god, his talent shines brightly throughout this album.
The album kicks off with the storming upbeat rocker “Finger On The Trigger”, which has a great guitar riff, a catchy chorus and those ever-present and distinctive keyboards! “Through My Veins” is very atmospheric with some very effective harmonies adding to it. A mid-tempo tune containing some really good smooth melodies and a great guitar lick from Steve Howe. “Holy War” is out and out old school Asia, atmospheric, huge harmonies and a smooth memorable chorus.
Ballad “Ever Yours” has some atmospheric keyboards and some great guitar work. It’s a song that builds and builds, altogether a very powerful song. For those about to rock with keyboards I give you “Listen, Children” which opens majestically with some killer keys hell I love all the keyboards on this tune, they really stick in your head! There is a pretty decent melodic chorus but it’s the keyboards that shine through on this number, Geoff Downes we salute you. Wetton’s vocals really shine on “End Of The World” which has some big prog keyboards!
Rocker “Light The Way” is up next with a driving guitar and keyboard sound, Catchy as hell with some top draw guitar licks. Ballad “Emily” bizarrely puts me in in mind of Madness, not really fussed on this tune myself, which is included as a European bonus track. “I’m Still The Same” is a pretty standard mid-tempo rocker, not as memorable as the rest of the songs.
Atmospheric ballad “There Was A Time” is very effective and emotive, with lush melodies that wrap themselves around you. “I Believe” has a great riff, big pompous keyboards and big soaring harmonies on the chorus. “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now” is a meandering ballad with a slight edge of melancholy to it, contains some great use of harmonies and is a really memorable close to the album.
I’m sure “Omega” will keep die hard Asia fans beyond happy! A pretty decent, solid album which harks back to their hey-day. If you like you’re AOR atmospheric or your Prog more accessible than this album is for you.
Track Listing: Finger On The Trigger / Through My Veins / Holy War / Ever Yours / Listen Children / End Of The World / Light The Way / Emily / I’m Still the Same / There Was A Time / I Believe / Don’t Wanna Lose You Now
Album Rating: 4/5
Woody’s Essential Track: There Was A Time
Chris Laney - "Only Come Out At Night"
|Value for Money:||4.0|
Chris Laney - Only Come Out At Night
Review By Woody
Chris Laney is a name that I’ve been hearing more and more of in recent years and whilst his name is new to me it seems the Swedish musician has been involved in music one way or another since he was 13. “Only Come Out At Night” is Chris’s second album following on from the critically acclaimed debut album “Pure” – an album I really need to track down and give a spin. Chris is a multi-instrumentalist but he’s also making a name for himself as a producer working with bands like Candlemass, H.E.A.T, Crazy Lixx & Steevi Jaimz to much acclaim. Whilst Chris performs most of the instruments on the album, and also sings he has also drafted in Ian Haugland On Drums and Nalle Pahlsson on bass(who seems to be everywhere at the moment – Treat / Last Autumns Dream). Chris is very quickly making friends in the Biz and his new album features Bruce Kulick as a guest writer and guest performances from Brian Robertson & Conny Bloom.
I was far more impressed with this album than I thought I would be, I’d never gotten my hands on “Pure” because I thought it was going to be a guitar virtuoso type record full of fastest finger twiddling nonsense and artistic snore fest type songs. Obviously what we get here is far from what I thought it was going to be, the album is a real melodic gem full of hooks and catchy as hell stadium rock. Chris is obviously a fan of the likes of Def Leppard as the album is littered with comparisons especially in the multi layered vocal harmony styles on many of the songs. The album has stadium rock stamped all over it, but the songs do have a darker, moodier edge than you would expect from say someone like Def Leppard. There is a load of big melodic sing along choruses and there is a great energy and vibe to the album as a whole which makes many of these songs perfect rock dance floor fillers. Chris is obviously a talented Guitar player creating many memorable and infectious riff’s and licks throughout the album. He also has a decent voice, which is not always the case with multi instrumentalists who want to do it all, he doesn’t try to strain his voice he works within his capabilities and creates some fantastic moments on the album. One of his great strengths is in the song writing department as he has a real ear for killer hooks and melodies which will grab your attention and turn songs from good to fooking awesome in a heartbeat!
The album opens with the dark & brooding “Only Comes Out At Night” which wears its Def Leppard influences to the front in the harmonies through out the song and a killer crunching Led Zeppelin style guitar riff. “Love So Bad” has a great vibe and a kick ass riff, an infectious beat and instant chorus make it a real rock dance floor filler – There’s also a killer guitar solo in there too! Another dance floor filler is “Rockstar” which has a chanting mob style chorus another heavy dose of Def Leppard style rock n roll.
“B4 Its 2Late” builds to an instant smooth chorus and has a killer keyboard part throughout which enhances the song immensely. The song features some great hook filled guitar work and a fantastic melodic solo. “Eye’s Out Poppin” would be an old school choice for lead single with it’s no nonsense catchy as hell sing along rock n roll stance. An infectious hook filled rocker with a stomping chant along chorus which will embed itself on your sub conscious – One of those songs you can’t help dancing too with its infectious energy. “One Kiss Tonight” is pure melodic bliss, full of hooks and instant, infectious guitar licks and a killer chorus most bands would sell there grannies for to have written! A sure-fire hit for melodic rock fans!
“Gotta Run” opens with a full on in your face guitar riff, a driving guitar driven rocker full of energy and guitar licks. “Playing With Fire” is another smooth melodic rock classic in the making with a great energy that’ll have you dancing and screeching along. Another big catchy sing along chorus with some more of his hook filled guitar licks. This song also shows off Laney’s ear for hooks and how to use them most effectively, catchy? No! That doesn’t do these hooks justice! “Crush” is a crunching guitar driven rocker with a punchy chorus.
High energy dance floor rocker “I Had Enuff” is up next with a loud fist punching chorus and chock full of great vocal harmonies throughout. “Daydream” is a bit of an oddball song for me and has a real psychedelic 60’s pop rock influence to it - a really quirky way to close the album in style.
“Only Come Out At Night” was not what I expected and is far more commercial than I thought it’s a real Melodic Rock gem – I really need to track down a copy of “Pure”! An album full of dance floor fillers with its infectious beat and old school stadium rock influences. If you like no nonsense stomping stadium rock with big choruses and killer guitar riffs, grab your dancing shoes, grab this album and get ready to ROCK!
Track Listing: Only Come Out At Night / Love So Bad / Rockstar / B4 It’s 2late / Eye’s Out Poppin’ / One Kiss Tonight / Gotta Run / Playing With Fire / Crush / I Had Enuff / Daydream
Album Rating: 4/5
Woody’s Essential Track: One Kiss Tonight
Shylock - "Rockbuster"
|Value for Money:||4.0|
Shylock - Rockbuster
Review By Woody
German melodic hard rockers Shylock have been around for quite sometime, with their debut emerging in 2000 - now a decade later they deliver their fifth album “Rock Buster”. I have to admit I didn’t really know much about the band prior to their rather excellent last album “Devotion”, so was really looking forward to hearing what the band would serve up this time!
The production on this album is far superior to “Devotion”, which I believe is down to Ondrej Hurbanic the producer for this album. This album is not as instant as its predecessor, in fact after my first spin of the album I felt a little let down. Although after a few more spins the album started to grab me, especially after I played it while I was pre-occupied with something else and caught myself singing along to “Rose of Cairo”! Shylock have managed to deliver a classy melodic hard rock album, full of pounding drums and bass, coupled with some big ass riffs and some killer melodies! Based on what’s on offer here, I’d love to catch these guys live!
Opening cut “Damn Good” is a fantastic way to start, and has a really bittersweet feel to it. Whilst the lyrics are positive the music and melodies have a very sombre tone, which I’m sure most would think wouldn’t work, but here it does immensely well. There's some really catchy guitar work present as well, especially during the pre-chorus - and that big chorus has a really memorable melody! The band cover Timex Social Club’s “Rumours” and I don’t know about you but I hadn’t a clue about the original song and had to do some mooching on the ol’ t’internet to discover it, only to wish I hadn’t! The band actually do a good job on it, obviously they rock it the fook up, but it is undeniably catchy and perhaps the most instant song on the album.
“Sunshine vs. Rain” is the solitary ballad, and it has some great intricate guitar playing on it which really stands out and makes the song more memorable. What the album delivers in huge dollops is songs with big driving riffs, thundering rhythm sections and in-your-face choruses such as with tracks like “Much”, “Strong”, “We Are” & “Just for U” a song that puts me in mind of Shylock’s fellow countrymen The Scorpions!
“Rose of Cairo” has an unbelievable catchy chorus; seriously this one will embed itself in your mind! “Somebody Else” has a catchy-as-hell guitar riff, a punchy sing-a-long chorus and a great energy which would make the song a real dance floor filler! “The Moment” has a catchy chorus, but the guitar work is the reason I love this song, opening with a soaring melodic solo and featuring some great melodic licks. These three songs are the most reminiscent of Shylock’s previous album “Devotion” and are by far the more immediate of the songs on “Rock Buster”!
If you like your melodic rock with a harder edge, this is definitely worth checking out. It has huge driving riffs, but also offers some cool guitar licks and melodic solos. It’s full of memorable songs and will without a doubt appeal to all fans of melodic rock.
Track Listing: Damn Good / Dawn / Rumours / Sunshine vs. Rain / Just For U / Much / Rose of Cairo / Strong / Somebody Else / The Moment / We Are / Wrong Planet
Album Rating: 4/5
Woody’s Essential Track: Somebody Else
N.O.W - "Force Of Nature"
|Value for Money:||4.0|
N.O.W - Force Of Nature
Review By Woody
N.O.W are a new Brazilian band built around driving force and principal songwriter Alec Mendonca, with the rather excellent American Philip Bardowell (whom you may have heard recently on the killer Places of Power album). As Alec was putting the band together, the one thing they were struggling to find was a quality lead vocalist, so Alec contacted Mr Bardowell and sent him the raw demos. Suitably impressed, he agreed to sing the songs and promised Alec “I’ll pour my heart into your songs” and, judging by his vocal performance here, he sure as shit did!
Brazil isn’t what you would usually think of as a hotbed for Melodic Rock/AOR talent, but just of late there seems to be a real spurt in talent in Latin America with Highest Dream, Auras & Watchmen to name just a few emerging over the past few years.
N.O.W delivers a quality pure AOR album, which is heavily influenced by the American AOR bands of the early and mid-80s - but the album never sounds dated! A lot of the band’s melodies and harmonies put me in mind of REO Speedwagon - but you can hear the Journey and Asia influences in there too. As you’d expect from an album in this style it’s packed with huge choruses and lush in-your-face harmonies. I was really impressed with the keyboard work of Jean Barros, who helps give the band that pure AOR sound, and this is without a doubt one of Bardowell’s best and most consistent performances on record. If you like Bardowell’s vocals you really have to check out last years Places Of Power “Now Is The Hour” album, an insanely good melodic rock album, but very different in style. Martin Kronlund works his magic again for Escape Music, mixing the album and giving it a quality production, as per usual!
The album opens with the driving pure AOR of “Can’t Make It (How Can I?)” which has some fabulous harmonies and some excellent keyboards. It’s a pretty good sign of what to expect from the rest of the album. “Listen to Your Heart” would be the most obvious choice for the band to use as a single with its sing-a-long catchy chorus - love the big keyboards on this one!
The band obviously like to change the style and tempo of their songs, they show that on “Lonely Soul” which starts very ballad-like with a keyboard intro and slow tempo, but builds steadily over the course of the song and once the guitars kick in the song takes on a lot of energy! Although “You” which follows a similar structure is even better, which starts as keyboard lead ballad and that’s how we get the first verse and chorus, then wham bang, the guitars kick in and the tempo rises and it takes the song to a whole new level with the melodies sounding even better! Caio de Carvalho (Guitars) delivers some really cool guitar licks on this one as well.
“Once That Feeling Comes Again” is a hook-filled song and has a killer keyboard riff in the bridge, a song that really harks back to the 80’s. De Carvalho chucks a great charged and energetic guitar riff at us on “Idol’s Grace”, to accompany its instant and memorable chorus. “Peace of Mind” is also a good showcase of what the band does with fantastic harmonies, hook-filled melodies and a HUGE chorus.
The only song that Alec Mendonca co-writes on this album is “The Long Hard Way” which he wrote with childhood friend McCoy. It’s a really smooth upbeat Summery AOR rocker with great harmonies. “Hail Mary” starts with a cool guitar solo before buiding into a driving riff, and unleashing another big chorus with a really smooth melody. The closest thing to a ballad on Force of Nature is “I’m Free (But Not Ready to Go)”.
“Midnight Call” has some killer keys, big harmonies and a catchy chorus, although the band put a little bit of a Latin stamp on this one. They place some Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar solos within the song which are really effective! The album closes with “No Time for Goodbyes” which has a really cool guitar lick and of course a big chorus and even bigger harmonies! (I sense a theme of big choruses and harmonies here! - Ed.)
If you’re a fan of pure AOR, then you have to check this out, I’m sure most will go bananas over it! A solid album from a band which wears its influences like a badge of honour, although a slightly harder guitar sound helps to give them a fresher, more contemporary sound.
Track Listing: Can’t Make It (How Can I?) / Listen To Your Heart / Lonely Soul / Once That Feeling Comes Again / You / Idol’s Grace / Peace Of Mind / The Long Hard Way / Hail Mary / I’m Free (But Not Ready To Go) / Midnight Call / No Time For Goodbyes
Album Rating: 4/5
Woody’s Essential Track: You
Newman - The Art Of Balance
|Value for Money:||5.0|
This is the 7th proper studio album from Newman, not including the “Best Of” - Decade. Newman, which until recently was basically Steve Newman singer, songwriter, multi -instrumentalist and in recent times producer/mixer.
After ‘Decade’ was released Steve decided to assemble a full time band in order to make playing live more possible and hopefully more frequently. You could say “The Art Of Balance” is the first album by the full Newman band, although other than Drums (provided by Rob McEwen) Steve performed everything you hear on the album but I think having a full band around him has been good for Steve and it shows on this album.
Completing the Newman line-up is Neil Richardson (Guitars), Terry Horne (Bass), Paul Boyle (Keyboards) & Nic Liposome (Drums). Chrome Dome Music is Steve’s own independent label and the album was recorded at Steve’s own studio “The Blue Room” where he also produced and engineered the album. Don’t let the Indie aspect of this album put you off; this probably has the best sound of all the Newman albums to date.
I’ve been a big fan of Newman ever since I heard “Let Your Heart Rule” on a Point Music sampler way back when! He has always produced consistently good quality melodic rock albums so has gathered a loyal following and I’m surprised he isn’t more well known and respected even just within the melodic rock underground scene.
However, I was bitterly disappointed with the last album “Primitive Soul”, which saw a darker, rawer sound which went whizzing straight over my head! I think given the stance of that album it would be one that Steve likes the most and is proud of from an artistic point of view and the massive critical acclaim he received at the time must justify the artistic credibility of the album. As for me, I was left missing the huge melodies & the hooks so prevalent in Steve’s previous work. So whilst I was really looking forward to another album from Newman, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping it was a return to the vibe of his older work and not a continuation of his previous album.
After listening through a couple of times it became quickly apparent to me that this is by far the best thing Steve’s ever done! I never thought he’d better “Heaven Knows”, but he has hands down! The album does have elements from “Primitive Soul” but it is far more reminiscent of his earlier works. I think this album is heavier and ballsier than most of what we’ve had from Steve in the past, but he hasn’t sacrificed those big melodies and harmonies in order to create that heavier edge. He truly has maintained “The Art Of Balance” on this one, keeping the art critics and the fans happy at the same time!
One thing that has always drawn me to Newman is the lyrics, Steve is always very good at creating relatable lyrics whilst avoiding clichés as much as possible - a problem which haunts many melodic rock / AOR bands as far as critics are concerned.
There are always one or two songs from Steve’s albums that hit a chord with me and many Newman songs have deep personal meanings for me or have come to have great sentimental value. Steve has delivered again! He has an uncanny knack of been able make lyrics more powerful and as meaningful as possible by wrapping it in the right melody or hook to grab and demand your attention.
“Hero To Zero” is a full on rocker, which has a “Primitive Soul” vibe to, but a thousand times better. It has a heavy guitar riff and some thunderous bass and drums, giving the song a great rock n roll swagger. It opens the album with a bang, with plenty of hooks and an instant melodic chorus.
“Edge Of The World” - if you add some big pomp keyboards to the chorus, you’d think you were listening to a Magnum or a Bob Catley solo album! Fantastic epic sounding rocker, with a huge chorus and a killer guitar solo and hell who doesn’t like a song with plenty of woooahh a woooahh’s in it!
I think the band are currently filming a video for all out melodic rock hit “Endless”, which is Newman at his finest, full of hooks, melodies to kill for and a huge sing-a-long chorus with fantastic lyrics. Combined with some of Steve’s finest guitar playing and musicianship gives this song a real power and this is destined to be a live classic.
“The Miracle” has a strong “Heaven Knows” feel to it albeit a little ballsier, a driving big riff rocker with some great keyboards!
Mid-tempo ballad “Stay With Me” is an instant hit, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this live when Newman played Z Rock @ JB’s last May and it comes across just as powerfully in the live arena. It has an extremely smooth commercial AOR sound, great lyrics again and an infectiously instant melody on the chorus which makes this one of the stand out tracks on the album.
There are some extremely effective use of keyboards on “Tumble Down” - another big riff rocker with an instant fist pumping rocking chorus. There is a great build up in the verses which gives the chorus even more punch!
Hook filled “Wish You Well” has a fantastic keyboard riff, which I absolutely adore and gives the song a real old school Newman vibe! It has a really memorable chorus and some great guitar licks that make the song a instant hit.
Another ballad “Find My Heart” is up next and it has a really powerful chorus, some great guitar licks on here especially during the chorus. “Your Surrender” is a bit of moody number, it has a pre-chorus that really grabs you and delivers you up to a wonderfully melodic chorus.
“Break It Again” has a fantastic chorus and great song structure which again makes the chorus that more instant, and after you’ve finished singing along to the chorus you can enjoy another top draw guitar solo!
Newman has a tradition of creating some great memorable ballads and here we get three with “Forever” been the last of the trio on here. It has a really powerful and memorable chorus and some excellent guitar work brings out the best in the vocal melodies. “Stronger” has a killer melodic pre-chorus and a big typical Newman chorus. Some kick ass hook filled and infectious guitar parts make it a hit and a fantastic upbeat way to close the album.
The debut Newman album came out 13 years ago and Steve has definitely honed his craft to create his best work to date. Hopefully this album will garner him the respect and the wider fan base that he and the music truly deserve. If you like you’re Melodic Rock with its own approach and a fresh modern sound; I highly recommend checking this out! Its British melodic Rock at its finest, full of hooks, huge melodies and some killer musicianship! If you’re already a fan prepare to wet yourself with joy! Either way I suggest cracking open a beer, cranking it up to 11, and singing along til the meat wagon arrives to drag you away!
Track Listing: Hero To Zero / Edge Of The World / Endless / The Miracle / Stay With Me / Tumble Down / Wish You Well / Find My Heart / Your Surrender / Break It Again / Forever / Stronger
Album Rating: 5/5
Woody’s Essential Track: Endless
Serpentine - A Touch of Heaven
|Value for Money:||5.0|
"A Touch Of Heaven" is the debut album from new British AOR band Serpentine, formed by founder members Gareth David Noon (Keyboards), Gareth Vanstone (Bass) & Chris Gould (Guitars). The drummer on the album is Charlie Skeggs but he has recently been replaced by Roy Millward and he joins fellow midlanders John Clews (Guitars) and experienced AOR veteran Tony Mills on Vocals. The album was recorded at Tony (Magnum) Clarkin’s Mad Hat / M2 studio in Wolverhampton, mixed and mastered by the capable hands of Mark Stuart and Sheena Sear.
It’s a fantastic slice of pure AOR but it does have a modern flavour, it doesn’t sound dated in the slightest and sounds quite fresh compared to many bands within the genre. The band's influences are obvious but they have carved out their own identity and sound. I think one of the most obvious influences especially in the keyboards is Asia, and obviously Shy - with Tony’s distinctive vocals and AOR song writing. Having said that, although you can hear the influences, this is not an album you’d hear created by either band.
Although there are a lot of keyboards, this is far from being a lightweight album with extremely noteworthy guitar work from Chris Gould and John Clews. Although I have to admit it's Noon’s killer keyboards that hit me, all the songs are riddled with hook-laden keyboard riffs and licks, his tendency to use very atmospheric keyboard parts gives a lot of the songs an extreme depth and increases the emotional drive of many of the songs.
The band have obviously benefited from Tony’s wealth of song writing experience, I really think the next album will be undoubtly better as the band will have been together longer and have some serious live experience with them seeing what works well not only live but on the album too as fans voice their opinions. Although I do think the music presented to Tony has brought out the best in his song writing, creating some amazing vocal melodies and some really enjoyable and relatable lyrics. Tony’s vocals are fantastic here and his emotion-drenched vocal delivery makes the album stand out amongst the crowd. Without a doubt this is the best thing I’ve liked from Tony since Shy’s “Unfinished Business”. Please note I’m a massive AOR fan so I’m probably biased towards Tony’s performances in that field rather than his extensive body of work in various styles and sounds - anyone heard his opera stuff?
Opening song “A Touch Of Heaven” has an atmospheric keyboard intro and the song is littered with infectious keys throughout and also has a cool guitar solo. With it's really powerful chorus, featuring emotion filled vocals from Tony, I agree with Gaz Noon that this rocker will indeed smoke live! “Whatever Heartache” is the obvious choice for lead song, instant and memorable, a great slice of bright pure AOR, well worth checking the video out too. Some fantastic harmonies as well as some catchy as hell hard to shake melodies. I also like the bridge which leads to a keyboard solo (yes it did put a smile on my face) which in turn leads to a killer melodic guitar solo!
“Lonely Nights” also has an atmospheric keyboard opening, and is a traditional smooth AOR mid tempo song. “For The Love Of It All” has some wonderful hook-filled guitar parts, great keys and a soaring memorable chorus. The lyrics are about being a musician, and Tony’s passionate vocal delivery bring out the best in the lyrics and really make this song shine! I particularly like the line in the chorus “And when the nights are long, you break your heart on every song, but you soldier on for the love of it all”. I think this songs speaks for a lot of musicians in the underground AOR/Melodic Rock scene. Next up is the rocking AOR anthem “Let Love Rain Down”, the guitarists let rip on this one. A great upbeat song with a sing along chorus.
I know musicians think an album's track order is very important, but it’s not something I usually hear or think about, but here I hear definitive proof that track order can make a good album a killer album. Whoever chose to put the next three songs in this order is a genius and deserves a pint! It was on my first spin after I heard these three songs I knew anything less than a five out of five rating would be an injustice to these quality songs.
“In My Blood” is just a killer song, near perfect AOR. Fantastic keyboard intro, a bridge that builds strongly to an emotional chorus - instantly catchy, you’ll not get this one outta your head for weeks! Great melodies, lyrics and some top notch keyboards complimented well by some cool guitar. “Fashion” has a great energy and bounce - destined to be a live favourite methinks! Another song that benefits from some atmospheric keys, especially in the intro. An instant bouncy melodic chorus with some catchy keyboards from Mr Noon again. “We Belong” has a fantastic anthemic sing along chorus, some great melodic guitar work here too complimented by some uplifting keyboards.
“Love Suicide” is a mid tempo driving song with some great memorable keyboard licks. I never thought a band like this would ever consider covering “Unbreak My Heart” made famous by R’n’B warbler Toni Braxton but written by well respected song writing genius Diane Warren. Although I hate Braxton’s version with venomous bile, I know it’s a hard song to be covered by anyone regardless of genre - and no matter what it will inevitably be compared to the original. Obviously I think the cover blows the original out the water but my tastes are biased, given my distaste of the warble heavy version. Kudos to the band for taking the risk, as it could have very easily fallen flat on its face. I think they do a great job with it, obviously they rock it up a bit musically and Tony tames the vocals and gives the melodies more justice - probably as Diane Warren originally intended. This is the only out-and-out ballad on the album and I think it closes the album well.
A great start for the band that I see as becoming a driving force in the underground AOR scene for many years to come and further experience is only going to improve every element of the band. A top notch anthemic modern AOR album for 2010 and I can’t wait to catch these guys live! In short this album is the dog’s bollocks! (It’s a million times better than the disappointing new FM album and you know it!).
Track Listing: A Touch Of Heaven / Whatever Heartache / Lonely Nights / For The Love Of It All / Let Love Rain Down / In My Blood / Fashion / We Belong / Love Suicide / Unbreak My Heart
Album Rating: 5/5
Woody’s Essential Track: In My Blood
Tara's Secret - Vertigo
|Value for Money:||5.0|
Midlands based rockers Tara’s Secret formed in 2003, and have had a few line-up changes in the rhythm section, but the core of the band founder member Craig Chapman (Guitar), Johnny Trowbridge (Vocals) & Richie Beardsley (Guitar) has remained constant. Now having survived drummer issues of Spinal Tap proportions and a split in 2007, Tara’s Secret are BACK! Joining TS for their 3rd album is Dave Deaville (Bass/Keys) & John JT Thomas (Drums). Although the band were on the look out for a label, the band decided to take full control and release the album through their own label Black Cat Music. The band has taken some stick over the years, a lot due to the band evolving and improving in the public eye, but they have constantly looked to improve aspects of their musicianship based on the criticisms. We shall leave their 2004 debut “Spectrum Wheel” firmly in the past as a band testing the water and to be honest not making much of a splash, it’s not a body of work that I care for. With the release of “Tomorrow the World” in 2006, which was a far superior effort in the song quality and performance, they started to wake a few people up to the Secret. The band had come on leaps and bounds, but an album which was very mixed in style may have left a few people cold but showed the potential and talent within.
As 2009 came to a close we got their third album, Vertigo. This see’s the band finally mature and find their “sound” with a far more cohesive collection of songs. Everything about TS has improved, from the lyrics to the singing to the playing and it all shows on the best British rock album of 2009! If you weren’t a fan before, you should give the band a chance as Vertigo is a very different album to what we’ve heard before.
Stylistically TS has shown everything from Prog to Blues Rock in the past - this time around we get a fantastic raw and dirty Melodic Hard Rock album with massive Classic rock tendencies. The band has always been able to deliver big choruses and hook’s galore and they deliver abundantly again. This is definitely the heaviest set of songs the band have given us, but without sacrificing killer melodies and still managing to retain their AOR tendencies to create songs with power and melody. This time they use keyboards and harmonies in a far more subtle way than in the past, and it works tremendously well, without distracting from the rawer sound of the music.
Although the heavier stance of TS mark 3 does at times have a darker edge, you still get the fun time rock n roll on tracks like “She’s My Baby”, “Wildest Dreams” & “Shake What Your Mama Gave Ya!” which features a guest vocal performance by cult Black Country singer Adrian Marx (Plain Jane) - all will leave you singing along with huge smiles on your faces!
Probably my favourite song on the album is the classic rock fused and inspired “Promises”, which links a great set of lyrics with a great riff groove and an instant ‘in your face’ chorus. Imagine the bastard lovechild of late 70’s early 80’s UFO & Rainbow - only better!
The band also show real quality when mixing classic rock riffs and AOR melodies with big choruses - especially on album opener “Rock N Roll Beauty Queen”, “Vertigo” & “Natural High (Rain Of Love)”. They all have instant sing-along choruses with music full of swagger and will surround you in wave of harmonies, they are sure to impress even the most miserable music cynic!
Sue Willets of Dante Fox duets with Johnny on heartfelt ballad “Last To Know”, which takes the song to a whole new level and it’s a real coup for the band to get someone as talented as Sue to guest on their album. It takes what would have been a decent ballad and turns into a far more powerful and instant song, some great subtle use of cello on this tune as well. I’m a total Sue Willets fan boy and I don’t care!
“Homeland” another ballad has been with the band a long time and is Johnny’s tribute to his “Homeland” of Australia. It is obviously a song with personal meaning for Johnny and his performance on this song is one of his strongest. I heard the song live back in early 2007, and was totally under whelmed at the time, but the song has evolved and now has a very atmospheric feel and sound to it. Definitely a song for those who yearn for “Home” wherever that may be….
Runner for potential LIVE favourite has to be the infectious & quirky “My Reward”, it has a great up-tempo riff and a great swagger that’ll will have you raising your hands and nodding your heads. I know you won’t believe me, but you’ll definitely find yourself singing the following line (especially in a live setting!) - “I’ve been a damn good dog, so baby, where’s my reward?” Seriously you’ve been warned as this song has probably one of the most instant choruses!
I saw TS support Danny Vaughn (Tyketto) last December and I was totally blown away by their performance of probably the most powerful ballad the band have ever done, “One Last Chance”. Whilst the song is musically sparse, it’s a very raw and emotional song which uses subtlety to full advantage to create a very intense song. Although it is just Dave’s piano and Johnny’s vocal’s, there is great use of harmonies and a fantastic cello refrain. If this doesn’t touch you, you’ve got a heart of stone as this is the sort of ballad most bands would kill to be able to write! IF the guys sold this to Simon Cowell it’s got number 1 slapped all over it!
This is probably the best British Melodic Hard Rock Album that has been released in the past decade; it has everything with killer groove laden riffs and infectiously catchy melodies and choruses. Do your ears’ a favour and get VERTIGO! Britain’s best kept Secret is here, are you ready?
Track Listing: - Rock ‘N Roll Beauty Queen / She’s My Baby / Natural High (Rain of Love) / The Last to Know (feat. Sue Willets) / Promises / Vertigo / One More Chance / My Reward / Shake What Your Mama Gave Ya! (feat. Adrian Marx) / Homeland / GTBR / Wildest Dreams
Album Rating: - 5/5
Woody’s Essential Track: - Promises
Treat - Coup De Grace
|Value for Money:||5.0|
Sweden’s AOR legends Treat return with their first original studio album in 13 years. Treat are a band that have been recommended to me many times given my musical preferences and given their loyal fan base and the respect they garner form their peers they have always been a band I’ve meant to check out but never seemed to get 'round too. When the band reformed in 2006 and released a best of “Weapons Of Choice” it was an ideal chance for me to check the band out, with what I believed would be a career spanning highlight album therefore giving me a good idea of the band. I have to say I was very unimpressed and instantly wondered what all the fuss was about. In fact there was only one track that I liked “I Burn For You”, which was a new song written specifically for the best of collection. When I got my hands on the promo for this, I really didn’t want to give it a spin. Given my previous thoughts on the band, I felt that this wouldn’t appeal to me and left me with no desire to purchase the album.
I’m so glad I did give it a spin; to say I was totally blown away by it would be an understatement. Coup De Grace is virtually melodic rock perfection, all killer no filler as the saying goes. A high quality album which will hit you instantly, in fact there were several times on the first spin I near shit meself with joy as I was bombarded with catchy as hell melodies and fist pumping melodic rocking anthems! There's a good mixture of tempos and styles on the album, and I’m sure most fans will have different opinions on what their favourites are - a testament to just how insanely good this album is!
Anders Wicksrom’s guitar playing is fantastic, from guitar widdle god to melody master in moments - it's presented to us all over this album. Robert Ernlund is fast becoming a favourite vocalist of mine, full of power when needed but his melodic sensibility make him a pleasure to listen to and give the band an outlet to create full-on rockers as well as melodic monsters! The rhythm section are two of my favourites from fellow Swedish rockers Last Autumn's Dream, Jamie Borger (Drums) and Nalle Phalsson (Bass) who both just let rip - and once you hear the album you’ll agree, these two must have had a whale of time recording these songs! Oh and not forgetting Patrick Appelgren on Keys, who delivers some great bombastic moments on the album giving some songs even more power - anyone who thinks keys soften and make albums lighter should check this album out to be proved undeniably wrong!
The album opens with “Prelude - Coup de Grace” which is basically an atmospheric intro to build for the album opener. “The War Is Over” has a massive riff and a hugely melodic chorus, Wickstrom’s guitar work is phenomenal throughout. “All In” is a fist raising full on rocker with a fantastic sing along chorus. The song has a great energy, rhythm and drives which makes this a great head banging dance floor filler! “Paper Tiger” has a great opening guitar riff accompanied by some big hook filled bombastic key’s that drags you in from the opening second! It has a killer melodic chorus which I’m sure is going to hit all the right spots with melodic rock fans all over the world. This is surely destined to become a live classic; I can see the hair flying already!
“Roar” is the bastard lovechild of “I Burn For You” from the best of album and follows a similar song structure. Just like that song “Roar” is a real fist pumping melodic anthem with HUGE sing along chorus and some outstanding guitar parts! They quieten things down a little bit for the beautiful heartfelt atmospheric ballad “A Life To Die For”, if this song was released by a mainstream act it would dominate the singles charts for endless weeks, unfortunately melodic rock ain’t trendy so it won’t happen for Treat sadly! “Tangled Up” returns to the band to full on rock territory with a big bad loud riff, some infectiously likable guitar licks and a full on rockin’ chorus sustain the high quality of the songs on the album.
“Skies of Mongolia” and don’t let the title put you off, surely I’m not the only one who thought of parody rockers Bad News’s “Warriors Of Genghis Khan” after reading that title, No? Just me? Bugger! It has real epic feel to it although its only 4 minutes long, the opening atmospheric vocals a la the film Gladiator obviously help that feeling! It’s probably the heaviest track on the album with some heavy guitar work massive bombastic key’s and one big ass melodic chorus make this a sure-fire hit with me! This has to be a cert for live shows given its instant power, energy and urgency!
Hook filled “Heaven Can Wait” has an insistent guitar riff and a fantastic harmonic chorus. “I’m Not Runnin” is a mid tempo driving number with a chorus that will whether you like it or not, and believe me resistance is futile will embed itself on your sub conscious. Gotthard front man Steve Lee had a hand in the song writing on next song “No Way Without You” and there are some Gotthard-isms in there! It has an instant killer sing along melodic chorus, which you will find yourself sing along too on the first listen a fantastic melodic monster of a song, I know I’ll be singing along to this one into the small hours beer in hand - ‘til the neighbours phone the pork that is!
“We Own The Night” is a perfect melodic monster of a song, this song left me slack jawed and twitching after an onslaught of ball tickling good melodies and infectious guitars and a wonderful, beautiful melodic sing along chorus. WARNING! This song may cause multiple eargasm’s, please note plastic pants are not included with this album (sold separately) - Thankfully my Tara’s Secret plastic pants haven’t gone moldy yet so they came in handy!
“All For Love” has a great opening guitar before building up to another sing along melodic chorus, some top notch vocals on this one. I really like the vocal mid section - post chorus of this tune! Album closer “Breathless” returns to the full on rock shown earlier to finish the album with a bang, big riff, and big chorus with haunting melodies.
I personally think this is the best album the band have ever done, and whilst I’m sure hardcore Treat fans may beg to differ, even they have to admit this album even surpassed their expectations! A Full on melodic rock album, no messin’, they just deliver the hook-filled goodies straight to your eardrums - with no apologies! An album which grabs you from the onset and doesn’t let go for the duration, hook filled songs, thunderous guitars, excellent vocals, a powerful rhythm section and melodies and songs most bands would sell their granny’s for! Are you a Melodic Rock fan? Yes? Well what you waiting for go buy - this is Melodic Rock at its finest!
This album shows there is still life in the melodic rock scene, without having to ditch keyboards, melodies and harmonies in favour of raw aggression and down-tuned guitars. This album proves there are still high standard quality albums available, hopefully this will be a standard others will reach for and not only keep the scene ticking over but give it LIFE! As more albums of this quality will only ensure the music's survival against the mainstream odds!
Album Rating: 5/5
Woody’s Essential Track: We Own The Night
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