Tuesday, August 29, 2023

ROCK BLOG #22 - recent releases round-up

 In this entry, I’ll take a long overdue look at some of the recent releases, in no particular order.

One of last week’s releases was SKAGARACK’s comeback album ”Heart And Soul”. The band has stayed somewhat true to their original sound, but if you’re expecting hook-filled, glossy AOR in the vein of their ”Hungry For A Game” album, you might be bitterly disappointed. In fact, this album reminds me more of Brian Howe-era Bad Company than 80’s Skagarack: I hadn’t realized before that Torben Schmidt has a rather similar sound to that of Howe, and the slightly bluesier edge of the new songs points towards Bad Co’s ”Dangerous Age” and ”Holy Water” albums. The songs are not on the same level though, there are no massive hits among these 12 songs. RRR

DAVID FORBES is the vocalist of Canadian AOR band BOULEVARD, and ”Tales Of The Past” is his first solo album. With Steve Newman of the band NEWMAN heavily involved, this album is more in the vein of European AOR/Melodic hard rock, with a harder edge than BLVD. I had high hopes for this album, thanks to some pre-release hype from trusted sources, but in the end I was slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid album and the songs are good, but I was hoping them to be great! RRRr

FIFTH ANGEL’s fourth album ”When Angels Kill” is their second after the band’s reformation a few years ago. The previous one didn’t leave much of an impression on me, but I loved their two eighties’ albums. ”When Angels Kill” is slightly better than its’ predecessor, but the hooks of their classic material are mostly missing. And to be honest, I don’t really care for the rough vocal style of their new vocalist Steve Carlson. RRR

STREETLIGHT are a new Swedish band, but you’d be forgiven to think that their debut ”Ignition” was an unearthed gem from 1981! When I saw the artwork, I thought that for sure this is a reissue or something, it’s such a flashback to the early eighties. And when I heard the album, my thoughts didn’t change that much. Some of the songs are more in the vein of modern Swedish AOR, but some of them are very vintage sounding, retro-AOR. For example, listen to ”Caught Up In A Dream” - early Toto maybe? Or ”Overjoyed”…this jumps a few years to 1986 and Survivor’s ”When Seconds Count” sound. And the list goes on, you’ll find subtle traces of Kansas, Chicago, Elton John, Journey… you name it. But everything’s done with style. RRRR

When it comes to songs, ”STEEL BARS - A ROCK TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL BOLTON” is quite close to perfection - 11 songs from Michael Bolton’s classic 80’s AOR solo albums! This album was put together by Frontiers records, and naturally it features vocalists from their roster covering songs from Bolton’s rock years: there’s Ronnie Romero, Girish Pradhan, Robbie LeBlanc, Steve Overland and a few lesser known names too, like Dave Mikulskis and Santiago Ramonda. It’s an interesting concept and you can’t really go wrong with these songs, but then again, you can’t really improve them either. Every singer does a decent job and the arrangements are quite faithful, so there’s nothing to complain about, but… none of the artists really make these songs their own, they’re just good cover versions. The biggest deviation from the original is ”Wait On Love”, which features female vocals from the Big Thrill ladies Ana Nikolic and Nevena Brankovic. ”Desperate Heart” is given a heavier treatment than the original, which is something that I have been hoping for, and this version, sung by Robledo, is one of the highlights of this album. Others include Santiago Ramodna’s ”Save Our Love” and ”Fool’s Game” by Steve Overland. RRRR

In related news… MICHAEL BOLTON released a new album ”Spark Of Light” recently. There’s nothing that could be called ”rock” on it, but that doesn’t come as a surprise, does it? This is adult contemporary pop album with the emphasis on ballads. It’s sounds less over-produced that Bolton’s previous studio album of original material (”One World One Love” 2009), but that one had a few rather good songs. ”Spark Of Light” has a few nice tracks, but that’s about it. Still a great voice, but unremarkable songs. RRr

TANNA released their previous album ”Storm In Paradise” in 2020. Now the band is back with a new album called ”Kohtalon Tuulet”, and they’ve changed the language back to Finnish. As you might know, they started with Finnish-language songs in 1985, became quite successful and released 3 studio albums and one live album before disbanding in 1993. The band’s main man Tapani ”Tanna” Tikkanen put together PRAYER who released three albums between 2005 and 2018. I don’t know whether Tikkanen is hoping to reconnect with his 80’s fans with these new songs or maybe he’s just grown tired of writing in English, but some of his international listeners might have a hard time getting into these songs. Still, some of the songs ”Kohtalon Tuulet” are among the best ones Tanna has written, so it’s worth the effort to check them out. The musical style hasn’t really changed from that of ”Storm…” or Prayer’s albums, it’s still catchy AOR. Maybe he’s got English versions hidden in his drawer. RRRR

Thursday, August 17, 2023

ROCK BLOG #21 - Goodbye Summer?

It's August and the holidays are over, so I'll get back to writing these blog entries too. I haven't been totally idle during the holidays, we did visit Smugglerrok festival and there's a big report of that on the website. 

The flood of new releases didn't really slow down during summer, and I haven't been able to check out all of them. I've also bought quite a few albums, old and new. I'm going through them as I write this, so I thought I'll share my thoughts about them with you.

LINMAN - Heaven Calls: Here's a cult album, a bit of a Holy Grail when it comes to Finnish AOR. No, I haven't found a copy of the original 1992 release, in fact I have never even seen one, and I live in Finland! MelodicRockClassics label have re-issued the album, and it's a good value-for-money package: the album remastered and a another disc of bonustracks. But who is Linman, you ask? Well, he's a Finnish singer/songwriter, father of Andre Linman (One Desire/Sturm Und Drang singer/guitarist) and a former member of the pop-rock duo Place-2-Go. In 1992 he was playing a kind of a mixture of Scandi-AOR and more American sounding classic rock. "Heaven Calls" might not be a classic as such, but it's a good album. The bonustracks are all co-written and produced by Mats "MP" Persson (of Roxette fame), less rock-oriented mostly, but not too bad. RRRR

GOLDEN FARM - Angel's Tears: there are reviews of this in our archives, but I am not sure whether I have heard this album entirely before now. This Spanish band has one of the worst names I've heard, but at least I remembered it when I saw the CD in Disco Loco, a fine record store in Palma De Mallorca. It's strange, I forget a lot of important things yet I remember a review from 2001?!!! Anyway, Golden Farm played AOR/Melodic Hard Rock, nothing revolutionary and they borrowed a lot of ideas from here and there, but somehow they had a fresh approach. I could describe them as combination of Survivor, Van Hagar and 80's Scandi-AOR, lots of keys and excellent vocals. RRRR

SILENT FORCE - Infatuator: another one I picked from Disco Loco. Bought it because of vocalist D.C. Cooper, the mighty voice of Royal Hunt. This is the band's second album from 2001, they've got five in total. First four feature Cooper, Michael Bormann sings on the last one, released in 2013. I am not sure whether this is a keeper, because as much as I like Cooper's singing, the songs are a bit average, standard power metal stuff, Judas Priest meets Helloween but not as good. RRR

GABRIELLE DE VAL - Kiss In A Dragon Night: This one's a rather new release which I picked up from Pride And Joy's sale. Released by Escape Music, this is a bit of an all-star affair, featuring some noteworthy quests sharing vocals with Gabrielle De Val: Mark Boals, Robin McAuley, Mick Devine, Steve Overland and Terry Brock. The tracklisting includes a few covers (Mike Oldfield, Magnum, James Christian), some re-worked versions of Gabrielle's own band The Val's songs and a few songs penned by Steve Overland and Tommy Denander for this project. Solid stuff, definitely a keeper. RRRR

SINOPOLI - The Eyes Never Lie: a Disco Loco pick again, for 3 euros I took a gamble. Another early 2000's release, but actually a compilation of late eighties' stuff. I remembered that they had something to do with songwriter/producer Jack Ponti, and indeed I found his name as producer on one of the tracks. No songwriting credits though, even though some of the songs sound a bit like poor man's Baton Rouge or Surgin'. Then again, some songs have a bit of a 70's glam rock vibe, and there's even one Bowie cover here. All in all, a bit of a mishmash, some of the songs are of demo quality...the midtempo or semi-ballad tracks "It's Too Late" and "Be My Lover" are the best ones. RRR

BILLY HARVEY - Moonlight Theatre: a 1997 release from the MTM label. They released quite a few brilliant AOR and melodic hard rock albums in their time, but this one isn't one of those. This is singer/songwriter stuff along the likes of Danny Wilde, John Mellencamp or the latest Bon Jovi album. Harvey writes good stories but the music side of these songs is just downright boring. RR

To be continued...