Unruly Child – When Worlds Collide

 

 

Well, this is reunion that I wasn’t expecting. Unruly Child disbanded 16 years ago, but the original line up featuring Marcie Michelle Free (vocalist – King Kobra, Signal), Bruce Gowdy (guitarist – Stone Fury, World Trade),  Guy Allison (keyboardist – Lodgic, World Trade, Doobie Brothers) , plus drummer – Jay Schellen (Hurricane, World Trade, Asia), and bassist – Larry Antonino (Pablo Cruise), who recorded the debut album are back together again.  That debut was released back in 1992. They went on to release a further two albums with Kelly Hansen (Waiting For The Sun) and then Philip Bardowell  (III) on vocals, but it is the debut that most people will remember. Mark Free later released “Long Way From Home” in 1993 and then in 1996 Marcie Free released “Tormented”.  The rest of the band have been actively involved in the music scene on various projects.

 

That Unruly Child debut is one of my favourite melodic rock albums, so I was very interested in hearing what this new album sounded like. The good news is that the magic chemistry that created the debut is still there. The album kicks off with “Show Me The Money” which is similar to the debut’s “On The Rise”. “Insane” is also uptempo to make sure the band have grabbed your attention.

 

However, it is when “When We Were Young” kicks in that you realise that the chemistry that created the debut is still there and that you are in for a treat when listening to the album. “Tell Another Lie” is a semi-ballad that just seems to flow effortlessly. “Love Is Blind” picks up the pace again and reminds me that I like this band because the don’t just concentrate on ballads. The title track is another great track. A ballad crops up in the form of the “Talk To Me”, which delivers in a no nonsense fashion. Things go a little askew on the moody “Life Death” which is in danger of becoming a mindless rocker as the band add Aerosmith and Led Zep to the mix.

 

 “Read My Mind” on the other hand gets the band back on the rails with a track that just glides from the speakers Richard Marx style. “Neverland” is a big pulsating track with a good chorus designed to fill stadiums. There are a couple of tracks that justify the price of admission on their own. I have already mentioned “Read My Mind”. The other is the AORtastic “Very First Time”.  At the start of “You Don’t Understand” you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to a progressive rock track and then the semi-acoustic section kicks in on this emotional and intelligent song where Marcie delivers some deeply personal lyrics.

 

Unruly Child have delivered an album that consistently delivers great songs and performances all round.  Welcome back Unruly Child.

 

Rating: 4 stars

Strangeways – Perfect World

 

Those of you with long memories will know that Strangeways were an UK AOR band that got very positive responses to their “Native Sons” and “Walk In The Fire” albums way back about 20 years ago. In a surprise move they have reunited with their American singer Terry Brock (most recently heard filling the shoes of Dann Huff for the Giant album).

 

Before I start this review I  should say that I loaded up my MP3 player with this and the Unruly Child album and when I plugged it into the car stereo I was expecting Unruly Child to come through the speakers. Instead I got this and whilst the Unruly Child album is a fairly bright and breezy affair, this one is a more laid back affair and I’m not sure that the my initial impression hasn’t coloured my judgement.

 

After listening to this a few times, I dug out my Strangeways Greatest Bits CD and had a listen. Mainly because although I haven’t listened to it in quite a while, I always had Strangeways up there on a pedestal as one of the great UK AOR bands, but listening to this latest album had me starting to wonder.  

 

Of course, it has to be remembered that Terry Brock was only the lead vocalist for a couple of Strangeways albums. Tony Liddel did vocals on the debut, Terry was there for “Native Sons” & “Walk In The Fire”, before main songwriter Ian Stewart took over for the final three albums which saw to band head off in a more laid back direction.  The Strangeways that I want to hear is the one that created the AORtastic “Walk In The Fire” & “Native Sons”.

 

Instead I have to keep in mind those three albums after Terry Brock’s departure. This album brings the band closer to AOR, but the band stick to their guns creating an album that is in keeping with the path they had previously been following.

 

As expected a few tracks remind you that around the time of NS & WTF, they sounded pretty close the Journey.  This time out the tracks that I enjoyed the most had a hint of the Eagles about them such as “Borderline” & “Too Far Gone”.  However, I actually found some tracks such as their “Kashmir” inspired “Bushfire” annoying.

 

I respect the guys for staying true to their existing direction and not trying to recreate NS or WTF. This is the sort of album that needs plenty of listens to get the most out of, but I’ve got to say that so far it leaves me cold.

 

Rating: 3 stars

Kiske Somerville – Kiske Somerville

 

Kiske of this duo is Michael Kiske who was the Helloween singer back when they recorded the “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” album. Amanda Somerville is a singer and vocal coach who’s resume includes Avantasia, Epica and Kamelot. She has also released a solo album. On the songwriting front we have Mat Sinner (Primal Fear) and Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Starbreaker), plus Amanda also contributes. In charge of production was Mat Sinner.

 

Given Amanda’s connection with Avantasia and to be honest not being that familiar with Helloween,  I was expecting some sort of power metal meets symphonic metal big production. Instead we have an album that is firmly rooted in the Melodic Rock genre, albeit occasionally giving a nod to grander themes.  The vital cue I had missed as I glanced through the press releases was that Michael was the singer of Place Vendome who are a melodic hard rock band that I have only recently stumbled upon via Spotify and I’ve been very impressed by both their albums.

 

At first a whole album full of duets took quite a while to get used to. A single duet stuck around track 6 or 7 on a album is one thing, but a whole album full seemed a bit strange. As the duo work their way through an album is fairly well balanced in terms of pace and mood. It is more that just a series of ballads.

 

Standout tracks for me are the dramatic power ballad “Silence”, the uptempo rocker  “If I Had A Wish”,  the symphonic “End Of The Road”, straight forward rocker “Rain” and the ballad “Second Change”. Elsewhere I found the tracks fell in the ordinary category. I think it is due to a combination of the songwriting and on some tracks I didn’t think the vocals combined quite as successfully as on others. Overall the impression I’m left with is of a solid album that will be of interest to melodic hard rock fans.

Rating: 3 stars

ISSA – Sign OF Angels

 

ISSA is Norwegian singer  Isabell Oversveen. She is helped out here by Ronny Milianowicz (Saint Deamon) on production and musicians such as Peter Huss on guitar, Uli Kusch (ex Masterplan, Helloween) on drums, Nobby Noberg on bass and Tim Larsson (Nick Lachey) on keyboards.  In the songwriting department she has  contributions from the likes of Joacim Cans (Hammerfall), Thomas Vickstrom (Candlemass), Daniel Flores (TMOMS) and Soren Kronkvist (Crash the System). Issa is 26 years old, but her career started as a demo singer at 17. During that period she been working with various Norwegian acts.

 

Not sure why, but I was expecting this album to sound along the lines of Nightwish, but instead with have an album that is best described as modern pop rock, but thankfully with more rock than pop. The press release talks about Brother Firetribe meets Treat, and I can see where it is coming from in terms of the big melodic rock sound and great harmonies.  A little digging around suggests that the overall sound is closer to Crash The System who include Soren Kronkvist & with Daniel Flores handling production .

 

ISSA is the star of the show delivering an impressive note perfect performance. This is backed up by a suitably big production job to give an overall polished feel to the album. ISSA puts a lot of effort into each song making even the couple of potential fillers very listenable. If someone like Kelly Clarkson or Anastasia were to release a track like “Unbelievable”, their profile would make it huge.

 

This is an impressive debut that I think I be listening to long after this review has been posted online.

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

 

Rites of Ash – Like Venon

 

As if Voices Of Extreme wasn’t enough of a challenge to my melodic rock brain, along comes Rites Of Ash. This lot, comprising of 80-two on vocals, Lazzo on guitars/keyborads, Lumer on percussion and Berry on bass, describe themselves electronic pop/hard rock. “Live Venom” is their second album.

 

Describing themselves as electronic pop/hard rock doesn’t cover the full range of influences on here. We’ve got everything from Lady Gaga pop to death metal.

 

The first couple of tracks feature voice box vocals, but otherwise are uptempo modern rock. Toxic is strange mixture of a new romantic electronic style with a more edgy chorus. The next track, “Burn”, has Death Metal style vocals mixed in with more standard vocals. An eclectic mixture for sure which is repeated on “Breathless” and “Hand Grenade Heart”. Tracks like “The Sleeper” & “Disaffected” come across as Bowie goes metal. There certainly is plenty of variety.

 

The whole thing is a bit of sonic overload, especially when the death metal growls start. If Rob Zombie went pop this is what it would sound like. 

 

Rating: 3 stars

Voices Of Extreme – Break The Silence

 

Voices Of Extreme (V.O.X.), which features musicians who have been involved with the likes of Doro, TNT, Ark & Mr Malmsteen, are a New York and Massachusetts based act who released their debut album, ‘Hypocrite’ in 2005. Stage appearances followed as the band opened for Disturbed, AIC and Godsmack. A couple of personnel changes later and the band are back with their new album and with Nicko McBain (Iron Maiden) trying his hand at management.

 

As you could probably guess from the bands that they have shared a stage with, these guys are into modern sounding heavy rock. However, that is only part of the story of this album. In fact, it is a bit of a melting pot of styles where I heard everything from the heavy “Blown Away” to the funky “Did It Again” to almost rap of “Numb” to the rock balladry of “Made Of Stone” and “Tell Me What It Takes” which reminds me of Bon Jovi’s “Mother Father”.

 

Perhaps a challenging album for your average melodic rock fan, but one to check out for the more modern minded.

 

Rating: 3 stars

Terry Brock – Diamond Blue

 

The First Signal album proved that Frontiers are very good at putting together successful collaborations. This time they have paired together Terry Brock, who recently did lead vocal on the Giant album and is getting together with his old mates for a new Strangeways album, with Mike Slamer (City Boy, Steelhouse Lane, Slamer etc). The duo conjure up an album that hits all the spots a AOR album should. Just listen to the first two or three tracks for proof. Having established the quality of what is on offer, the duo continue to deliver throughout the rest of the album, with only minor blips here and there. About the only thing the album doesn’t deliver is surprises. It is all a little predictable and safe, but when was the last time an AOR style album surprised you?

 

Frontiers are fast becoming the Stock, Aitken and Waterman of the Melodic Rock world. Their hit factory is a slick operation and this is another high quality piece of merchandise.

Rating: 4 stars

First Signal

 

The demise of Harem Scarem was a sad, but not unexpected day. The band seemed to have run their course with the guys not really sure what type of musical direction to pursue and still keep the fans onboard. When I first heard about this CD I imagined that First Signal were a band that Harry Hess was mentoring. Instead, it turns out that First Signal is more of a project which teams up Harry Hess with Dennis Ward and a bunch of 80s style songwriters. The objective being to recreate the sound of the early Harem Scarem albums – namely S/T and Mood Swings. I have to say from the start that I’m a bit surprised that Harry Hess’s first endeavor since then demise of Harem Scarem is what seems to be a backward step. I always figured that once freed from the shackles of Harem Scarem the guys would do something different, maybe in the power pop field which I always thought was where they wanted Harem Scarem to be accepted.

 

Putting my preconceived ideas to one side for the moment, upon listening to this album it is hard for me not to be very impressed. What we have is the promised set of catchy melodic rock and AOR songs which pay homage to the style of the early Harem Scarem albums. Without the input of the rest of the guys in Harem Scarem (apart from Darren Smith), it isn’t quite the genuine article. But it is damned close and it is hard to find fault. If you were to force me to be pedantic, then it verges on the side of being too polite and polished. It feels like the album has been put together according to a mathematical equation carefully constructed to hit the heartstrings of its intended audience.

 

I have to admit that at various stages I bemoaned Harem Scarem’s power pop dabbling, but in the end I realised that they were actually doing something a little different in a steadfastly uninventive genre of music. I actually assumed that the band disbanded because the fans wanted to trap them in the past. I guess I was wrong about that one. Harry has revisited the early days of Harem Scarem in a very successful manner.

 

Rating: 5 stars

Mystery – One Among The Living

 

Canadian act Mystery began life in 1986 as the brain child of Michel St-Pere who later formed Unicorn Records as an outlet for their music. Around 2000 the first era of the band came to a close with the departure of vocalist Gary Savole and the release of the “At The Dawn Of The New Millennium” album. As Unicorn Records took off, it wasn’t until 2007 that the band released “Beneath The Veil Of Winter’s Face” with new vocalist David Benoit. That album was well received and in fact gained top spot in Dr Music annual top 10 list ahead of acts like Dream Theater.

 

It is now 2010 and David Benoit is also a member of Yes, replacing Jon Anderson on vocals. In fact, this album was recorded just prior to recording of new Yes material. Back in 2007 activity at Mood Swings was minimal as I finished off some part time study and Mystery’s album got bunched in with the other Unicorn releases and didn’t really get the attention it deserved. One characteristic of the album I do remember was that the album took a while to grow on me and this new album also took quite few listens for the understated presentation to work its magic.

 

Mystery play neo-progressive rock with pomp and melodic rock overtones. On the slow to mid-tempo tracks the band really excel. That means that for me the the menacing “The Falling Man” and the uptempo “Kameleon Man” are the low spots on the album, although they do provide the album with the some necessary variations in style. The centerpiece of the album in the 22 min epic torch song “Through Different Eyes” which yields its best when you let go, don’t do anything else and immerse yourself in the music.

 

This is one of those albums which isn’t an instant proposition, but does have sufficient substance to keep you onboard while each listen reveals at little more of the layers of work put in by the band. Maybe it is just my imagination, but I think this album edges on the progressive side, whereas “Beneath The Veil Of Winter’s Face” has a bit more of a melodic rock influence coming through which just about keeps it a fraction ahead in my personal preferences. However, either or both albums would be good additions to your collection.

Rating: 4 stars

Tony Harnell & The Mercury Train – Round Trip

 

Tony Harnell is best known as the front man for TNT and for latter day projects such as Westworld and Starbreaker. I’m familiar with some TNT material with the “Intuition” album being in my collection. For some reason Westworld seem to have passed me by which is surprising given the presence of Danger Danger’s Bruno Ravel. More recently I have found both Starbreaker albums to be impressive affairs. For this album Tony is giving us new interpretations of TNT and Westworld material. So some of the original tracks I’m familiar with, others I’m hearing for the first time.

 

I very carefully described this as new interpretations rather than simply calling this an acoustic or unplugged album because Tony has taken the time to disassemble, strip back and reassemble these tracks giving us some interesting new music rather than simply ‘pulling the plug’ and playing acoustic versions of the tracks. The first bunch of tracks, which includes a nifty “Intuition”,  have a sort of mid-West vibe, not a million miles away from the type of material on Joey Tempest’s solo albums.

 

The 50s jazz meets country of Satellite signals that Tony has a few tricks up his sleeve. Next track, TNT’s “10K Lovers” gets transformed into a lilting South American jazzy number which is pretty far removed from type of music I normally listen to, but in the context of the album seems perfectly acceptable. Packed into this second half of the album we also get a sombre rendition of Alanis Morrisette’s “Uninvited”, a Beach Boy type version of “When I’m Away”, Blackmore’s Night meets The Corrs on the Celtic “Song For Dianne” and the Beatle-esque “Anywhere But Here”.

 

This is a well executed album and Tony has gone to some lengths to step outside his normal sphere of music. The tracks that I enjoyed most were the ones that I was already familiar with, so whilst the album does have appeal as a standalone album, maximum enjoyment will be gained by those pretty au fait with Tony’s other work.

 

Rating: 3 stars