White Sister - 'White Sister' (landmark album review)

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White Sister - 'White Sister' (landmark album review)

Still remains in my Top Ten Albums Of All-Time and has to be considered as one of the greatest debut AOR albums ever.

This is a Rocktopia™ landmark review (album review no. 4974, pls. click HERE for more information)

The list of albums that hold "A Place In The Heart" for me is quite long, from Rainbow's 'Down To Earth' (the album that first got me into Rock music) to my all-time favourites, Journey's 'Escape' and Def Leppard's 'Pyromania'. However, when I was asked to choose just one, as Highlander said, "There can only be one", and that one is the sensational debut from Burbank California's finest White Sister.

Think of all-time classic debut AOR albums and Boston, FM, Dare, Night Ranger, Harem Scarem, Toto and Foreigner immediately spring to mind; for me, White Sister must be added to that illustrious list.

I remember hearing the opening track 'Don't Say That You're Mine' late one Thursday night on the radio back in 1984 and I literally stopped what I was doing. I have to say that there were, and still are to this day, very few songs that ever have that effect on me. The following week, another song did exactly the same thing; that song was 'Promises'. These both became "must" songs for any mix-tapes (remember them?) that I regularly produced back in the eighties.

As the debut album was only available on import I had to wait until the following July when, one of my best friends, now sadly departed, bought it for my 18th birthday. The day after, I went to see Bruce Springsteen in Leeds but, to be honest, I was more interested in returning home to spin my new record. Two years later, the follow-up 'Fashion By Passion' was accompanied by a support tour with the mighty FM. All their live shows have been memorable from the two back in 1987, at Scunthorpe Baths and Nottingham Rock City, where support came from the legendary White Sister. They were the reason that I went twice on that tour, and I even had Dennis Churchill-Dries thrust the microphone in my face to sing on 'Love Don't Make It Right' (not the most pleasant of sounds!). I still have the t-shirt from that tour and can still "just" about fit in it and still wear it with pride to this day. I have to admit that I have had more people come up to me over the years, at gigs, whilst wearing that t-shirt than any other that I own. Several fans wanted to let me know that they had also seen White Sister but many more were just green with envy and wanted to know if they were as good as their cult status, to which I always responded in the affirmative. The band reformed for the emotional and sensational performances at Firefest in 2008 and 2009; I attended both, now legendary, shows. There are very few bands that could return a year later and put on, arguably, an even better performance, proving that occasionally lightning does strike twice. It was very sad that Richard Wright was not with us for either of those shows and just as tragic when Rick Chadock passed away in 2012, the latter being a few days before Firefest that year. Even though many of us never met him in person, that weekend there was a genuine feeling of loss of one of "our" family.

So why does this album resonate so much with yours truly? From the opening frenzy of Gary Brandon's keyboard, leading to the heavy, melodic guitars of Chadock and the drums of Wright, you know you are about to listen to something very special – then the vocals of Churchill-Dries kick in. The chorus of 'Don't Say That You're Mine', indicative of the powerful whole album, is huge and immediately has the listener captivated. Second song in 'Straight From The Heart' continues in the same vein; however, this tracks sees Brandon taking on lead vocal duties. Similar to another of my favourite bands, Night Ranger, White Sister possessed not one but two excellent lead singers, both with similar tones. Personally, I think Churchill-Dries has the slightly stronger of the two voices, with a sound not too dissimilar to Y&T's Dave Meniketti, but there's little to choose between the two. 'Love Don't Make It Right' (Brandon vocals) makes it three in a row of huge Melodic Pomp Rock standards. 'Breakin' All The Rules', in my humble opinion, is the weakest of the five tracks on side one, but it is by no means a throwaway track. Many a band would love to be able to write and record a song as good as this and of its stature.

The album was produced by the legendary Gregg Giuffria (Guiffria and House of Lords) and therefore, as you can imagine, the keyboards feature prominently. White Sister met Giuffria (of the band Angel) at a gas station one evening and the rest, as you say, is history. The album was eventually released in 1984 on EMI America Records. The awesome 'Whips' was an unreleased Angel track gifted to the band by Giuffria and concludes side one; it soon became a fan favourite and a staple song in their live sets.

Despite Guiffria's involvement, the only (minor) fault with this album was the production; not assisted by the fact that some songs were recorded at different sessions. When I stopped buying vinyl at the end of the eighties and switched to CD's, I kept a look out for the White Sister debut and eventually purchased the Japanese import for approximately £25.00 ($37.50) which is, still to this day, the most I have ever paid for a single CD. A few years ago I purchased the album again, the Rock Candy re-issued edition for the more modest price of £10.00 ($15.00) and listening to it over the last few weeks has brought back memories of my teenage years. If you don't own this album (?) then the Rock Candy edition is the one to get; it gives the album a fresh and vibrant sound,

Side two kicks off with the phenomenal one-two of the Churchill-Dries sung 'Can't Say No' and 'Promises'; two of the finest Melodic Pomp-Rock songs ever recorded. The last three tracks, 'Walk Away', 'One More Night' and 'Just For You' never quite scaled the heights of the songs which went before; however, over the years I have got to appreciate them more. Still, to this day, I never skip any of them.

From the cover of the album you would probably think that White Sister were the archetypal "Hair Metal" band from the eighties. They never quite got the plaudits that this album deserved compared, to arguably, less talented bands that did hit the big time. The dagger topped with the rose through the White Sister logo perfectly sums up this album; razor sharp licks mixed with gloriously smooth harmonies – Pomp Rock/AOR at its finest. As we all know, life is not fair, as if it was, then the debut White Sister album would have been a multi-platinum selling album leading to arena and stadium shows the world over. The fact that the White Sister took their name from the song title of one of my all-time favourite groups Toto, only added to my love for the band.

In a fan-boy moment, a couple of years ago, I actually contacted Churchill-Dries to tell him what effect his music had on me and, in particular, the fantastic debut. What was even more amazing was that I had a reply from him within the hour!

The follow-up album 'Fashion By Fashion' boasted a better production than the debut and had its moments, but ultimately never quite had the same impact as the sensational debut.

The album never went multi-platinum like so many released at that time, but to those who own it, the debut White Sister will always be a certified classic – and, to me, a timeless masterpiece which, without fail, always brings a smile to my face and has me foot-tapping, head-nodding, singing and reaching for the air-guitar. White Sister still remains in my Top Ten Albums Of All-Time and has to be considered as one of the greatest debut AOR albums ever.

Mark Donnelly

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