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

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