Los Angeles – Neverland

 

 

Los Angeles features singer Michele Luppi and bass player/producer Fabrizio Grossi. Michele sang with Italian Progressive Metal band Vision Divine and Melodic Metal band Killing Touch. Los Angeles was created as an outlet for his AOR/Melodic Rock interests. The band released a self titled album in 2007. On this  second album the reliance on outside songerwriters has been cut back with Luppi & Grossi collaborating on a number of the tracks with contributions from some of the other musicians such as guitarists Joey Sykes and Robero Priori and keyboard player Eric Ragno. Completing the lineup we have got Tommy Denander on guitars and Tony Morra on drums.

 

The main reason for this album and the star of the show are the enthusiastic vocals of Michele, even though he ‘over eggs’ it occasionally. For example, on the opening and title track you are left with the impression that he is trying just too hard to make an immediate impression. As the album goes on I must get used it as I don’t notice it as much. With the musicians involved the playing is excellent, as expected.

 

This is one of the those albums that sounds good when you are listening to it, and has you wondering why you don’t listen to it that often. The songs on here, which include a cover of Richard Marx’s “Nothing To Hide”, are all decent, and reading my review notes I don’t have any negative comments. It just lacks that couple of really killer tracks to stick in your mind so that the album grabs a regular slot on your playlist.

Jeff Scott Soto

 

Jeff Scott Soto is capitalising on his tenure with Journey. Last month I was reviewing the excellent W.E.T. release and this month we have a live CD of a concert in Madrid (a DVD is also available). JSS has been in the music business for more than 25 years. In that time he has fronted bands such as Eyes, Talisman, Yngwie’s Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Journey & W.E.T. He has also released 4 solo albums – Love Parade, Prism, Lost In Translation and Beautiful Mess.

Great as the recent W.E.T. release is, listening to this album has reminded me that what I miss from that album is the funky edge that Talisman had to much of their material. On this live CD that side of JSS gets a welcome airing, especially on the Funky Medley at the end end of the second CD with the medley including We Will Rock You/I Love Rock & Roll/Play That Funky Music/Jungle Boogie/The Roof Is On Fire/Brick House/Shake Your Booty/Kung Fu Fighting/Yo Baby Yo/Macho Man/The Right Stuff/Ice Ice Baby/Stayin’ Alive/Another One Bites The Dust/Walk This Way.

Before we get to that track, JSS takes us through an energetic performance of highlights from his career. What comes across is that JSS just loves to sing. This isn’t about turning in reproductions of the studio recordings. It isn’t even about perfect vocals – occasionally JSS’s passion triumphs over vocal control. It is about engaging and entertaining the crowd.

The first CD has highlights such as “Our Song”, “Testify” (complete with Iron Maiden ending!) and “Broken Man”, but it is the second CD where the JSS & the band seem to have warmed up and really flourish. It starts off with the catchy “Hey” and the culminates with that funky medley mentioned earlier. I’ve talked about the funk and the rock, on the pop side we get covers of Seal’s “Crazy” and Madonna’s “Frozen”. Talisman’s version of “Crazy” from their “Life” album is a favourite of mine, but JSS over stretches himself in when he tackles the decidedly average to start with Madonna song. However, it is a very minor blip in a hugely entertaining album. Just listen to the crowd singing along to “I’ll Be Waiting” to hear how much the they enjoyed the evening.

Dare – Arc Of The Dawn

 

Dare’s Out Of Silence is one of my favourite CDs of all time. It was really landmark album when it was released. The last time I checked out the band on “Calm Before The Storm” the product didn’t quite match my expectations, which admittedly were quite high. I skipped “Belief” & “Beneath The Shining Water”. After a break for a few years Darren Wharton is back with Richie Dews on guitars and Kevin Whitehead on drums for “Dawn Of The Arc”.

 

The album opens with the soft Celtic rock of “Dublin” where you are immediately struck by Darren’s vocals which always seem to have a stirring emotive quality. “Shelter From The Storm” and “Follow The River” continue with a little more pace.

 

After a break of number of years it is surprising that at this point, instead of new material, we get re-recordings of “King Of Spades” and “I Will Return” from the debut album, “Out Of The Silence”. Both seem a little restrainted and I prefer the originals. Darren revisits his past again with a cover of the Thin Lizzy song “Emerald”, giving it the Dare treatment and transforming it into a semi-acoustic Celtic rock song. It takes a bit of getting used to after the “Live and Dangerous” version. A less dramatic transformation occurs when the band turn their attentions of Cheap Trick’s “The Flame”.

 

That leaves a couple of ballads in the form of “Still Waiting” and “Remember”. The latter being a slow ballad that I imagine the video for would feature Darren singing standing by a campfire interspersed with pictures of bleak Irish hills. Sandwiched between these is the catchy “Kiss The Rain” which is my favourite song of the album. The album closes with a semi-ballad that reminds me of Magnum crossing the Irish Sea.

 

Judge this as an AOR or a rock album and you will come away saying it is playing things too safe and that is too single paced, with not enough to distinguish individual tracks. That will happen if you look back and compare it to “Out Of The Silence”, which is the frame of mind I was in whilst writing the majority of this review. However, if you look at the way Dare have developed over the years, and treat this as relaxing background, even new age, music, then you will have a much more positive view.

Blackwood Creek – Blackwood Creek

 

Blackwood Creek date back to 1969 when a then 7 year old Kip Winger joined up with his brother Nate and Peter Fletcher to form a band. Between then and 1980 the band played a mixture of covers (Grand Funk, Sabbath, Skynyrd & Zeppelin) and original material in high schools and clubs. Kip went on to play with Alice Cooper and then form Winger. Nate played with a variety of LA bands including Ratt & Kix, plus Europe. Peter Fletcher formed Pigmy Love Circus, which included the drummer from Tool. Fast forward to 2007 when the band got back together to record these new songs.

 

The band were together during the 70’s and this album has shades of this era mixed in with elements from the 80’s, plus I guess inevitably modern day Winger, giving it a retro vibe.

 

Getting the Winger influence out the way first, I’ll mention opener “Out in Outer Space” and “Dead Stung”. From the 70’s we’ve got tracks like “Nothing But The Sun”, the 70’s American hard rock of “Your Revolution” and closing lightweight number “Wooden Shoe”. Also in the lighter weight division are the acoustic “After You Heart” and “Albatross”, the latter having electric guitars chiming in to add more meat and a more modern feel. Clustered together we have “Jimmy & Georgia”, which has almost a Thin Lizzy vibe, the metal of “Rack of Greed” and the Kiss-like “Love Inspector” representing the 80’s. The variety inevitably means some tracks work better than others.

 

After I had listened to this a few times I found my curiosity aroused about the latest Winger and I’ve just started listening to “Karma”. I have to admit that it feels a more natural fit to my personal tastes than Blackwood Creek. However, Blackwood Creek is an interesting and worthwhile project.

Randy Smith – Bittersweet

 

 

Randy Smith was previously a member of the band 8084 who where an AOR/melodic rock band whose style echoed bands such as Nightranger, Journey & Honeymoon Suite. In 2006 Randy left the group and started working on material for this first solo album with Hirsh Gardner (ex New England drummer) and Alan Maquera.

 

I guess you would expect Randy’s solo album to not be too much of a departure from 8084. However, Randy has decided to put 8084 to one side, and explore a more organic musical route.

 

The album opener, “Learning 2 Live”, reminds me of the John Taglieri album that I reviewed a while back. Maybe that is just because that was another example of an AOR act updating their sound. After the uptempo start, Randy drops down a gear for “Bleed” which is one of the tracks that reminds me of latter day Bon Jovi. In fact, although the sound has a rawer edge than Bon Jovi and  adopts a more contemporary stance, I often thought about BJ and the way they have matured their sound as I listened to this album.  “Broken” is a mixture of old and new, where a few AOR tricks are in evidence when delivering the chorus. Similar comments apply to both “Can’t Stop” and “Yesterday”.

 

In one of my recent reviews I was talking about PC69 doing a cover of a Police song, and Sting & Co crop up again here as a reference point for “Somebody”.”All My Life” is a gentle, but effective, slice of Americana that had me thinking of acts like Sister Hazel, but actually just as I was writing that I started to hear Journey during the chorus.”Cold Outside” has a singer/songwriter rock meets pop vibe with perhaps a little Jayhawks thrown in. The guitars get turned up again for “Shelter Me”. As you might expect from the title, “Cowboys”, has a Bon Jovi meets Lynyrd Skynyrd playing a chilled out Neil Young country track feel. The title track is a mid-tempo track that also throws Tom Petty into the mixture I mentioned for the previous track.The album’s closing track is a sparse ballad written for one of his children. It is steeped in emotion – you almost feel like an intruder on a private moment when listening. There is a bonus track, which unusually doesn’t feature Randy, but features Keeghan Nolan doing her version of “Yesterday” on which the track takes on a definite country vibe.

 

Randy is to be commended for stepping out of his comfort zone and letting us tag along for the ride as he journeys from the sounds of the 80s to the present day. This is modern melodic rock music that builds upon the AOR of Randy’s past.

W.E.T. – W.E.T.

 

For those of you don’t know, W.E.T. is made up of Robert Sall from Work Of Art, Erik Martensson from Eclipse and Jeff Scott Soto from Talisman (& of course, more recently, Journey). Their record label, Frontiers, had the idea of combining the talent of the two songwriters together with one of the genre’s best singers. Also, helping out in the songwriting department is Miqael Persson and Magnus Henriksson. Robban Back handles drumming duties.

 

Style wise this is a combination of the AOR of Work Of Art, the hard rock of Eclipse and the melodic rock of Talisman. JSS describes it as the “Journey album that could have been had I continued with them!”. In fact, although this music has a few Journey-ism, it is harder edged than recent Journey.

 

Opening track, “Invincible”, is a powerful opener that is a good combination of guitar riffs and melody. This transforms into the catchy Talisman meets Journey of “One Love”. And talking of Talisman, “Brothers In Arms” may well be a tribute to JSS’s Talisman late partner Marcel Jacob. By this stage it is time for a big power ballad in the form of “Comes Down Like Rain” which comes across as Whitesnake meets Journey. “Running From The Heartache” is a mid-tempo AOR style rocker that reminds me of early Winger.

 

The next track, “I’ll Be There”, and one of the later tracks, “My Everything”, are like twin brothers with their uptempo melodic hard rock. Things get heavier for “Damage Is Done” and “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” which aren’t as immediate as some of the other tracks on the album. It’s great to hear a melodic rock band singing about something other than love and partying etc on the latter.

 

“One Day At A Time” is another big power ballad that incorporates elements of Whitesnake and Def Leppard into the W.E.T. sound. Then “Just Go” picks up the pace again like Talisman meets Fair Warning. On the final track, “If I Fall”, JSS gets a chance to show the guys in Journey just what they are missing as the album closes with a track that could have been taken from a Journey Greatest Hits album.

 

I’ve been a fan of JSS ever since I first heard the opening bars of “Calling All Girls” from the Eyes S/T album. On this W.E.T. album he has been given the opportunity to shine on a great set of songs. This is near perfection in every department – songwriting, musicianship, vocals and production. My initial reaction was that things were too perfect and that the album lacked character, but as I’ve listened to it more and I’ve detected the craftsmanship that has gone into this & I really appreciate what a great album this is.

 

 

Pink Cream 69 – Live in Karlsruhe 2009

 

This live CD has been released to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary. A DVD of the concert has also been released. I always thought these guys were German, but in fact it more correct to say that they are based in Germany. Their lead vocalist, David Readman, is, in fact, English and the drummer Greek. Over the years they have been on my list of bands to check out on a few occasions, but they never made it off the list into my CD player.

 

A live CD isn’t always the best introduction to a band. However, after 20 years they sure know how to cut it live and everyone turns in good performances. With live albums the options are to either go for a raw sound with no doubt about the presence of the crowd or to go for better sound quality allowing the band to demonstrate how close the shows come to the studio sound. PC69 have opted for the second, with crowd not very noticeable on the recording.

 

As a double CD there is plenty of music on offer, too much for me to go into in detail. The first CD is good, but if I was asked to pick out highlights then the second CD seems to have the band hitting the high spots with tracks like ‘The Spirit’, ‘Livin My Life For You’ and ‘No Way Out’. Hard Rock and Reggae aren’t usually compatible bedfellows but, surprisingly, the band manage to come through the other side of mixing The Police’s So Lonely with Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry with their reputation intact, perhaps even enhanced!

 

Congratulations to the band on reaching the 20 year landmark. This CD is a fitting record of the celebrations. 

Jaded Heart – Perfect Insanity

 

Jaded Heart have been around since 1990 when  the band was formed by Michael Bormann (ex-Bonfire) and his brother Dirk. The band released 5 albums before Michael Bormann decided to leave. He was replaced for the 2005 album, ‘Hellva Time’ by Johan Fahlberg (ex-Scudiero).

The last time I checked out Jaded Heart was back in 1999 for their fourth album. Back then they were playing melodic hard rock and when, not being aware of the changes, other than that Michael Bormann had departed, I first listened to this latest album, it seemed that I was listening to a different band.

On their previous album with this current lineup, ‘Sinister Mind”, and this new one, the band have switched to melodic power metal and are sporting a heavier sound. I assume that this can be traced to the arrival of Peter Ostros on guitar in the period between ‘Hellva Time’ and ‘Sinister Mind’. The first proper track, ‘Love is the Killer’, is an uptempo track that is designed to get the blood pumpin’ early on and it does so, but this romp is a bit of a shock if like me you are expecting something more melodic. Maybe song titles such as ‘Blood Stained Lies’, ‘Hell Just Arrived’, ‘Psycho Kiss’ and ‘Exterminated’ should have given me a clue!

The next track, ‘Fly Away’, is thankfully more typical of what is on offer here. A strong feature of this track, and indeed most of the other tracks, is a good chorus and background vocals. The music on this album is well executed by these seasoned musicians and the production is toP notch. The main issue I have is that on some tracks, ‘Freedom Call’ and ‘Rising’ being prime examples, the main body of the songs are a bit non-descript.

Proving that the shift in musical direction isn’t an issue for me, ‘Blood Stained Lies’ which reminded me of Stratovarius, proved to be one the highlights. While I’m trying to describe the style, tracks like closer ‘Exterminated’  make it clear why a tour with Primal Fear is in progress at the moment. Unlike their previous album, a ballad in the form of ‘One Life One Death’, is included.

The band have clearly adjusted their style to match the desires of the new personnel and in doing so have continued the trend of their last couple of albums and produced an album of well executed melodic power metal that will satisfy existing fans. However, next time out I would like to see them pay more attention in the song writing department to help them expand their fan base.

Blanc Faces – Falling From The Moon

 

I’m not sure how I managed to miss these guys first time around with their debut self-titled album back in 2005, but this album, their second, is my introduction to the band. The band consists of brothers Robbie and Brian La Blanc (lead vocal/rhythm guitars and bass respectively), plus Kyle Woodring on drums, Jeff Batter on keyboards and Butch Taylor & Michael Patzig on lead guitars, which is the same as the debut. Sadly Kyle Woodring (Denis De Young/Styx, Survivor & John Mellencamp) passed away soon after the recording was completed and the entire album is dedicated to his memory.

Immediately upon hearing the opening bars of first track, ‘I Come Alive’, I am transported back to the 80s and even early 90s when AOR and Melodic Rock were in their heyday. The second and title track has almost a Westcoast feel – Richard Marx meets 101 South. ‘I Swear to You’ highlights that this band are all about catchy AOR style melodic rock. ‘Everything’ is an excellent big ballad. Survivor/Pride Of Lions are an influence that crops up in a few tracks such as ‘It’s All About The Love’ and closer ‘Fly’, teamed with Foreigner in the first of these tracks and “The Storm” in the other. The next couple of tracks, ‘Goodbye Summer’ & ‘Deep In The Heart’, are mid-tempo tracks that keep album ticking along nicely. There is attitude on display on ‘Don’t Take It Away’ and the band step up the pace on ‘Like A Believer’ which features some controlled rockin’. ‘Light of the World’ and ‘I Will’ are both mid-tempo AOR gems that evoke memories of The Storm.

This gelled with me very quickly as this is precisely type of music that is at the centre of what Mood Swings is all about. These guys feel comfortable and seem to be having fun playing this type of music and they do it well. Yes, this is retro rocking, but when it is done so well, it is time to sit back and enjoy the experience.

Third Light – Leaders & Followers

 


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Third Light, from Kingston-upon-Thames, have been performing around the London area since 2005. In 2007 they recorded an EP which got quite a bit of play on LastFM. This self-produced single, “Leaders & Followers”, is their first proper release and it is available on iTunes. The band are currently working on their debut album, “Built By Machines”.

 

The band list influences such as Feeder and Smashing Pumpkins, Idlewild and Jimmy Eats World. I have to put my hands up and say that my record collection isn’t exactly overflowing with this type of post-grunge alternative rock, but it the type of stuff I have been known to listen on internet radio and Spotify.

 

“Leaders and Followers” is a catchy blast of power-pop that is consistent with the list of influenced mentioned above. The other track, “Garden”, is a slower affair which takes are more stealthy approach to working its way into your good books. These tracks, together with a few listens to their next single, “Time To Shine”, all indicate that the debut album is one to watch out for if you are looking for some bright and breezy power pop-rock.