Fab Box – Two Review

 

Back in 2009 when I last reviewed Fab Box (their debut album ‘Music from the Fab Box’) it was summer and I remember the CD being the album of choice as its mood perfectly matched the good weather we had been experiencing. Fast forward to 2015 and this time I’m reviewing the album over the Christmas holidays when we seem to have been battered by a series of storms, albeit it is exceptionally mild for this time of year.

 

My first time experience of this album is whilst driving in the rain with the regular swishing of the windscreen wipers and the sound of rain as the back drop. Against this backdrop opening track, ‘Unconditional’, starts playing. An up-tempo track with stabbing guitars whose catchy chorus will have you singing along on the second chorus. A talking of the catchy choruses, by the time ‘Something is Coming Your Way’ arrives, the guitars are cranked up to to 10 (on a Fab Box scale), the band have hit their stride and we have another catchy chorus in play.

 

These guys share my love of all things 80s with tracks like ‘Test of Time’, which evokes thoughts of Journey, Survivor, Bad English and host of other bands, ‘Freedom’, a slow ballad and perhaps my favourite track from the album, ‘Heaven on Earth’, which reminds me of anther song, whose name escapes me.

 

The other style I associate with Fab Box is Westcoast and tracks such as the boppy ‘Down to You’ and the smooth ballad, ‘Kathy’, reminding me of bands such as Chicago, helping to reinforce that link.

 

If ever a title hinted at the content of a song ‘Starting Up A Fire’ does it for me because, as anticipated, it has a strong hint of Bryan Adams running through it. And of course, then we have the ironic title ‘It’s Not The End’ fading out the album, whereas I wanted the band leave me aching for more. A minor glitch for me, but I guess those of you who like more sedate closing tracks, will beg to differ.

So fab box have continued where the debut left off. Another enjoyable album of breezy pop influenced rock. Well done guys.

 

Rating: 4 stars

Mystery – Delusional Rain Review

 
Mystery are a band that I have reviewed a few times in the past, but as activity at my webpage has been sparse to say the least for most of 2015, I didn’t pay that much attention when a press release came in saying Mystery were about the release a new album.Then I happened to be surfing over at Dangerdog and noticed that Craig had given the album a 5 star review. As the Christmas holidays were coming up and I would have some time to available to to listen to music, I decided to download the album and hear what it was like.

 

Since I last reviewed the band, Benoit David has been replaced by Jean Pageau on vocal duties, but to be honest, their styles are so similar, that I wouldn’t have noticed with doing some research. And this same theme holds for the band in general. This album doesn’t deviate too much from my memories of their previous work.

 

Opening track,’Delusional Rain’, fades into being and slowly you get sucked into Mystery’s world. It gradually wraps a blanket of music around you until a few tracks down the line you realise you are sitting very comfortably and enjoying the listening experience. ‘The Last Glass of Wine’ has hints of Dream Theater at their most commercial on this slower track.

 

At almost 20 minutes long, ‘The Willow Tree’, is the centre piece of the album. In my head I’ve always had the band in the 5 to 7 minutes AOR meets progressive territory, with the progressive elements being the secondary consideration. However, checking back to previous reviews I see that longer tracks are feature of their albums. As you would expect with a track this length, it takes a few twists and turns, but as is Mystery’s way, this is more of a cruise down meandering roads, rather than a bumpy roller coaster ride with violent changes of direction. Somewhere in the the middle, things do get heavier when I began thinking of Rush meets King Crimson with potentially a bit of Dream Theater thrown in the mix as well. You get the idea, even when they are rocking out a little, the band still have their sights firmly focused on melody. That more intense guitar work is also featured on ‘Wall Street King’ which follows.

 

I have always associated these guys with Yes due their chosen style of vocalist and on this track we head back to the Seventies with the organ pumping out the intro to this final track. A pomp affair that mixes Yes with the pomp meets AOR of Magnum.

 

Listening to this in the car driving both too and from work just after Christmas, it struck me that I always arrived at my destination feeling chilled out and relaxed. Mystery just seem to have that effect upon.

 

Rating: 4 stars

Harem Scarem – Thirteen Review

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Can’t say that I am big fan of live videos, but when Harem Scarem decided to call it quits a few years ago, I bought a video of one of their last shows at Firefest. I don’t know what it is about that video, but I watch it and I feel really sad. Maybe it is just me and nothing like what the guys felt at the time, but I just get a sense of frustration and disillusionment from the video. Nothing wrong with the performance, but I can’t work up any enthusiasm and haven’t watched it that often.

Well after a trial separation Harry and Pete couldn’t get along apart and got back together again. I was a little disappointed when their first output was what seemed like a pointless re-recording of Mood Swings, especially when, although I they were decent, the new tracks didn’t really fit in the earlier material. But well, I guess that album was more to do with the band getting back the rights to those songs than anything else. So now the guys are back with their first proper album after the reunion.

I actually bought this album through a Pledge Music campaign. It was the first time I had ever done that and I gotta say the experience was little underwhelming. There were a few videos (13, I think, which makes sense) which gave some insights into the recording process and I ended up with a signed copy of the CD. In addition to the physical copy I also got access the download version. I not sure why, because there was no promise when I signed up, but I always thought the first listen to the album would be from my downloaded version, knowing that the physical copy would be arriving later. In fact, the album was on Spotify a few days before the official release date, with download availability coinciding with the official release date. And people wonder why streaming services are on the up and downloads are on the decrease!

Putting that all to one side, for those of us that follow the band, the question I was most interested in was the musical style of the new album. I wondered if the band would take the opportunity to maybe revert back to the power-pop which they seemed to favour around the middle of their pre-split output, or if they would go for the full retro sound ala Mood Swings which many fans have been calling for. In fact, this time out I think the guys just decided to make an album to suit themselves. What does that mean? Well, the general sound is the slightly rockier style that was present for the couple of albums pre-split, but this time out in the vocals I hear lots of Queen and musically the guitars have a swagger that reminds me of Van Halen and on a couple of tracks a marginally darker heavier sound.

For me, Harry’s voice has just the right amount of rasp to it to give the vocals character and make them distinctive and Pete’s guitar initially sounds simple, but with the revelation of complexity being the prize for repeated listens. Generally speaking the lyrics have an upbeat vibe to them, even if during one of the songs the band do state that ‘every other cliché applies’. Sounds like they enjoyed making the album and this transfers to the listening experience.

As with other albums, it’s a tad on the short side and I can’t help wondering if the time spent recording the bonus acoustic versions of a couple tracks couldn’t have been better spent writing and recording additional material. But, hey maybe it a case of never mind the length, which is equivalent to that of old fashioned vinyl, hear the quality.

The album starts off decently with Garden of Eden, but when “Live It” swaggers onto the speakers it is clear boys are back and on top form. The lyrics are cheesy as hell, but oddly inspiring and uplifting – “Life’s a shot and you get one, so live it free, live it hard”. That swagger stays for “Early Warning Sign” with it’s power pop meets hard rock – essentially the type of music at which the band excel. Do I detect a little bit of Van Halen-esque groove going one – maybe? Harry is the star on the next couple of tracks – the mid-tempo catchy “The Midnight Hours” and the good, but perhaps predictable balladry of “Whatever It Takes”.

Things get a little heavier for “Saints and Sinners” but the chorus still still very catchy. And talking of catchy, “All I Need” is arguably the catchiest track on offer. The amount of care these guys put into the recording process pays when the harmonies are this good. “Troubled Times” like, “Saints and Sinners”, typifies the type of music they band seem to be happiest playing these days. “Never Say Never” is a slower track where the vocals harmonies are to the fore. The heartfelt lyrics perhaps reflect the band’s struggle to keep going, but like they say in the song “every other cliché applies”. “Stardust” is a strong close to the album.

Yeah, it’s a good one!

Category: 4 stars, Reviews, Year 2015 | Comments Off on Harem Scarem – Thirteen Review

Huis – Despite Guardian Angels

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Huis is started life in 2009 after Pascal Lapierre (keyboards) and Michel Joncas (bass & keyboards) had visited Holland. They named the project "Huis" which means "house" in Dutch and "home doors" in French. Gradually the other members – Sylvain Descôteaux (vocals), Michel St-Père (guitars) and William Régnier (drums) – were added to this French Canadian Progressive Rock band.

I haven’t written any reviews in a long time and it is therefore quite ironic I should pick a release from Canadian Prog Rock label Unicorn Records to kick start the Mood Swings website revival. Some of Unicorn’s releases in the past have proved to be a challenging listen as they venture off into the depths of jazz fusion or get a little too progressive for my tastes.

Thankfully "Despite Guardian Angels" is a relatively straightforward progressive rock release with a traditional neo-progressive or even symphonic feel. For me this evokes acts such as Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Pallas. I’m sure there are other more recent examples. In fact, inspired by listening to these guys, I have also been listening to Sound Of Contact, featuring Simon Collins, who have a traditional progressive vibe.

Overall the sound is quite keyboard driven, but the guitar work, in which I detected a distinct David Gilmour sound, also manages to make itself heard. Sometimes the objective of progressive rock can be to simply highlight the skills of musicians with over indulgent playing and highly complex arrangements. In the case of Huis it seems the guys are team players, with the objective to create progressive music that is very listenable, even, for example, the two instrumental pieces, Oude Kirk 1 & 2.

The songs are consistently good, making it difficult to pick out highlights. For me, the mid album tracks seems to be the most rewarding – "Light & Bridges" featuring some good synth work, "Little Anne" which reminds me of Stationary Traveller era Camel and "If By Morning" which has a melody line that reminds me of the opening to Dream Theater’s "Pull Me Under". Maybe I just prefer longer tracks when listening to progressive rock.

This has been a pleasant re-introduction to the world of reviewing for me.

More info: www.huisband.com, www.unicorndigital.com

Lana Lane – El Dorado Hotel

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I remember buying  Lana Lane’s "Garden Of The Moon" album, her third, quite a while ago. I was very impressed and played it quite bit. Over the years I guess it gradually moved its way to back of the shelf and I haven’t played it for ages. So hearing Lana’s new album is a welcome re-introduction to her work, which is her new album after a 4 year hiatus.

Opening track, "A Dream Full Of Fire", I had labelled as a surprisingly calm affair which felt more like a mid-album track. In fact, listening back to it whilst writing this review, it has a bit more life than my initial impression would indicate, but I guess it just takes the 8 min song a while to get going. "We’ll Meet Again" is where the album seems to kick into gear with a track that shows the ‘progressive Heart" description that I remember from "Garden Of The Moon".

Not unsurprisingly the title track starts off with some Spanish guitar. This track has a brooding undertone which contributes to the feeling that the album is building a sense of anticipation. "Darkness Falls" has shades of light and dark with heavier guitars giving the ominous feel. "Hotels" is a ballad in which Lana dwells upon the life of travellers who spend a great deal of their time alone in hotels. Musically everything is fine, but I have to admit that my reaction to the lyrics is a desire to shout at the speakers "Oh stop moaning and get on with your life!".

The sense of anticipation that I mentioned earlier feels like it has reached a climax with the majestic "Believe". It chugs along very nicely and comes to life when Lana’s voice box enhanced vocals add an extra dimension. The retro sounding keyboards also contribute to this being a really great track. After this I guess there was no other choice but to have a change of pace with the up-tempo "Life Of The Party". In one sense I think this change of pace is necessary, but I just don’t think Lana suits this style, the result being a rather average sounding track. "Gone Are The Days" keeps things moving along thankfully raising the standard of the album back up again, with "Moon God", featuring a reappearance of the voice box, continuing to maintain things on a even keel.

When I said earlier that the album has the feel of building up to a climax and I mentioned "Believe", I got it wrong because the albums reaches its peak with the sublime "In Exile". The progressive/pomp elements which have only been hinted at so far are let fly on the intricate 11 minutes album closer. Lana’s voice is beautiful and clear, plus the play out which seems to go on forever never quite seems long enough.

More info at: http://www.lanalane.com/ & http://www.thetank.com/

John Taglieri – Lucky #9

After many years of not hearing from John, it seems that I am reviewing new material from him on a regular basis over the past couple of years. Last time out John teamed up with some of his regular collaborators for the TAG band project and a full length album. This time we are back to the EP format listed under his own name.

With the TAG album I had bit of a revelation in that I finally got the fact that John has moved AOR to modern melodic pop rock. In tune with this the opening track, Losing Me, is a slice of said genre that will be familiar with those who checked out the TAG album. The majority of songs on the EP are acoustic modern rock songs within which John successfully conveys a range of emotion. On “Without You’ we have a sound that could best be described as countrified Nickelback. Whereas Sister Hazel are probably a useful reference point for closer “Not Gonna Be My Life”. However, the reference points are just that and John’s own identity shines throughout.

Single “Make Me Believe” has been doing well in Amazon’s Adult Contemporary Charts and interestingly I actually think it is one of the weaker tracks on the album where the verses don’t quite match the quality of the catchy chorus. I guess that is testimony enough to the strength of the material on offer here.

Human Zoo – Eyes Of A Stranger

 

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"Eyes Of A Stranger" is the third album from German band Human Zoo. The band’s unique selling point in the overcrowded market of melodic Euro heavy metal is the presence of a saxophone player. So let’s see if this unique selling point does in fact give them an advantage in the marketplace.

After a short intro, first proper song, "The Answer", proves be to a good up-tempo track, somewhat in the style of other Euro metal acts such as Treat, where the saxophone fits in seamlessly and lifts the song. Whilst listening to second track, "Gimme Your Time", I start wondering would I like this as much if the saxophone was there and the answer yes. Therein lies the secret of Human Zoo’s success. They a none too shabby melodic hard rock band without the saxophone player. And on some of the tracks, such as the title track, he doesn’t make an appearance. These tracks still work well.

On "Everything Changes" the deliver some effortless sounding top quality AOR that is made even sweeter when the sax solo kicks in. By the time we get of "Fall In Love" I’m getting into the groove of the album. On this track and "Want It-Love It-Like It" the guitar player proves that he can shine too. In fact, "Want It….." gets the album back up to full flight after coasting on a couple of tracks. "Welcome To Paradise" and "10,000 Year Ago" close out the album with a melodic heavy metal rocker and a commercial rocker ala Brother Firetribe in fine style.

"Eyes Of A Stranger" is a successful third album for Human Zoo where the inclusion of saxophone in a melodic hard rock band continues to work well for them.

If Only – No Bed Of Roses

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The band kick off the bombastic "Loaded Gun" which has a raw metal feel that reminds me of Chrissy Steel in the vocal department. The next track, "Tumblin’ Dice" has a little bit if a rock and roll feel to it. A decent start to the album, but when "If Love Could Last Forever" starts the band move into a different league. It owes a lot to Cher’s "Turn Back Time", but I’m inclined to forgive because it just sounds so good. Cher gets mixed with Alannah Miles for the power ballad "I’m No Angel" which is a little predictable, but then I guess all power ballads are.

Def Leppard and Bon Jovi get visited for the effective title track "No Bed Of Roses". Aerosmith are a possible influence for "Easy Lay" but the song doesn’t quite have the class of Tyler, Perry and co. Still, "Rock And A Hard Place" gets them back on track with a big rocker which manages to still how to a sense of melody and the following "Red Hot Heaven" also has a good groove.

"Ghost Of You" is well executed 80s style hard rock with a hint of Chrissy Steel on display again. "Forever My Love" is also well executed but this time in the ballad department. "Long Way From Home" sees the acoustic guitars come out and this time I’ve written down Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp and Tesla as reference points. Curiously, the original album seems to end with the piano led "Man Against The World" which reminds me of something that Freddy Mercury would do with Queen. IT is done well, but somehow seems out of place with the rest of the album.

Then we go into the bonus tracks on this reissue. The first 4 of these feature Jackie Bodmead on vocals. "All Over" is a muscular track that is pretty good and the pick of the bunch. The others a decent, but perhaps a little more workmanlike. Live track "Tight Jeans" beings proceedings to a close.

Overall a good album that is worthy of a re-release.

More info: http://www.avenue-of-allies.com/

Alyson Avenue – Changes

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This band were on my radar at one stage, but I never seemed to find out much about them. In fact, the bands history goes back to 1989 and they released their first self-financed album, "Presence Of Mind", in 2000. They followed up in 2004 with "Omega".  After this the band went on hold for a period until interest picked up when singer Anette Olzon became a member of Nightwish. The band re-released their earlier albums in 2009 and started looking for a new singer. Arabella Vitanc got the gig and band set about the long process of recording this album.

On first track, "Liar", I was expecting something resembling Heart, but there is a bit more of an edge to the sound – maybe a little bit of Romeo’s Daughter in the mix as well. This is followed by a duet with Michael Bormann on which the voices work well together, but perhaps it is little too early in the album this this type of track.

Around the middle of the album on tracks like "Amazing Days", "Don’t Know Love Is Alive" and later on with "Somewhere", I’m hearing lots of Robin Beck in the sound and it sounds good. A couple of tracks, "Fallen" and "Into The Fire", prove that the band can cut it on slightly heavier material. I mentioned Romeo’s Daughter before and they are again a reference point for these tracks.

Elsewhere the other tracks are of similarly high quality, making this a very consistent album. Chris Laney does a good job on production. The net result is a great album of female fronted rock.

Shadowman – Watching Over You

A student is framed by shadows as the sun shines through the windows of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. Feb. 15-21 is National Engineers Week. Armstrong Hall, which opened in fall 2007, provides educational and research facilities dedicated to teamwork, hands-on learning, community-service learning and interdisciplinary connections. It houses the dean's office; the Schools of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Materials Engineering and Engineering Education; Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), Women in Engineering and Minority Engineering programs; and the Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory. (Purdue News Service photo/Andrew Hancock)

Shadowman is a bit of a cult AOR supergroup featuring Steve Overland (Wildlife, FM & The Ladder), Steve Morris (Gillan, Heartland), Chris Childs (various recording and touring gigs including Thunder, Go West & Andy Taylor) and Harry James (Thunder, Magnum).

I remember the Wildlife album I had being impressive stuff and since then Steve has been a favourite vocalist of mine, especially when FM where hitting their high spot. Heartland are another great UK melodic rock/AOR band where Steve Morris hooks up with another good vocalist, Chris Ousey). Thunder are another band that feature in my record collection. Therefore my expectations for this album we pretty high. In fact, I’m pretty surprised that this is my first encounter with Shadowman.

Well, as you would expect from musicians of this calibre, this album bops along quite nicely. The Led Zep influence on "Heaven Waits", "Whatever It Takes" has hints of the Eagles and little keyboard flourishes on tracks like "Waiting For A Miracle" (Gillan influence?) are the other things that kind of surprised me, but otherwise everything is as expected.  Fans of UK melodic rock as performed by FM & Heartland will be very happy with it. It has been a while since I listened to any material featuring Steve Overland, and this is an excellent reminder of what I’ve been missing. Of course, for Steve to shine the rest of the guys need to play their part and this they do so in style.

When the band hit a groove the music seems to flow effortlessly, such as on tracks "Watching Over You", "Waiting For A Miracle",  "Stop Breaking This Heart of Mine" and "Party Is Over".