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Merlin
Merlin
10 used & new from $11.48

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Once upon a time, January 13, 2002
This review is from: Merlin (Audio CD)
Dutch torchbearers Kayak are currently back in the limelight after releasing an excellent comeback album entitled "Close to the fire". Influenced by some of the most distinguished, mainly British (prog)rock bands of the period such as Yes, Camel, Queen, Genesis and E.L.P., they were at their artistic best and most popular in the late 70's and early 80's. Although they have had their share of hit singles, they were more commonly known for making great albums. After "Starlight dancer" had earned them the title of most promising band of 1978 (according to Record World, a leading music magazine) and single success in the U.S. charts, there were some significant changes in Kayak's lineup. While the awesome Edward Reekers "replaced" lead singer Max Werner (who chose to play drums instead), they were joined by two female backing vocalists, Irene Linders and Katherine Lapthorn. Subsequently they released two of the best albums ever recorded by a Dutch rock ensemble, namely "Phantom of the night" (1979) and "Merlin"(1981). The former is most famous for its monumental rock ballad "Ruthless queen", which was the band's greatest hit.
"Merlin" is a semi-concept album. Its first five tracks are part of Kayak's masterful musical interpretation of the Arthurian legend. All of the songs were composed by keyboarder Ton Scherpenzeel, co-founder and principal genius behind the group. The exceptional, unusually poetic lyrics he wrote together with Irene Linders. (In flawless English, i feel obliged to add, which should never be taken for granted with (European) bands for whom English is not their mother tongue.) The early medieval atmosphere is captured perfectly, partly due to the use of additional stringed and brass instruments - such as flute and banjo. On the whole the balance tips over decisively in favor of ballad oriented material, giving Edward Reekers and Ton Scherpenzeel every chance to show off their preeminence on vocals and piano.
Still there is many a moment when Kayak prove they are very much a (high calibre) rock outfit, who know how to cut loose. Check out epic opener "Merlin" for instance, the dramatic buildup to its chorus featuring a plenitude of soaring guitars and pompous keyboards, rockers like "The sword in the stone" and "Can't afford to lose" or the gorgeous guitar solo toward the end of the infinitely delicate ballad "Niniane (Lady of the lake)". "Seagull" was a single release and, deservedly, a hit in the Netherlands. "Now that we've come this far" is another fantastic track, the lead vocals to this heartbreaking ballad are delivered with great pathos (in the best sense of the word). On "Love's aglow" Edward Reekers yielded his place behind the mike to Kayak's helmsman Ton Scherpenzeel, resulting in a rather long-winded, dreamy song extemely reminiscent of Camel circa "The snow goose". Odd one out is the cheerful "Boogie heart", a fair composition not lacking in merit, but not quite able to hold its own in this company of excessive overachievers.
In "recent" years a number of titles from the Kayak back catalogue have been (re)released on CD by Pseudonym Records in a digitally remastered version. Of these albums "Merlin" is their best and brightest. Two decades after its initial release, this rare gem sounds far from dated and has lost none of its impact. If you're looking for a classic rock album, which showcases superior artistry, dazzling skill, awardwinning melodies, intelligent lyrics and unforgettable songs this is the one to buy. It should be noted that on their new album "Close to the fire" vocal duties have been reclaimed by Max Werner (also known for his solo hit "Rain in May"). Although he is a very accomplished singer, he is not as good as Edward Reekers, who has contributed as guest vocalist to recent releases by Ayreon and Erik Norlander. I can also unreservedly recommend Edward Reekers' 1992 solo effort "Stages", a fine poprock/AOR album.


Oblivion Days (+2 Bonus Tracks)
Oblivion Days (+2 Bonus Tracks)
3 used & new from $25.95

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shooting for the moon, June 7, 2001
The Rocket Scientists are one of two trendsetting bands at the forefront of the progressive rock movement, founded by and centered around creative mastermind Erik Norlander, keyboard player par excellence and allround musical genius. A glance at the line-up of both groups suggests that saying they are closely linked would be an understatement: each of the four regular band members and most of the musicians who put in a guest appearance are also part of or contribute to the prolific, up and coming female fronted band Lana Lane (see my review of "Queen of the ocean"). What sets the two apart is not so easy to determine, save for the eyecatching fact that Mark McCrite, one half of a notorious guitar tandem (that also includes Neil Citron) and backing vocalist on all but the most recent of Lana Lane's releases, is the Rocket Scientists' lead singer. In view of the zeal and conviction with which he performs his vocal duty, one might wonder why he does not sing lead vox with Lana Lane more often, were it not for the fact that since the Queen of Progrock is such a tremendous vocalist herself they are spoiled for riches and he is simply not needed in this capacity.
Besides Norlander and McCrite, the core of the Rocket Scientists is made up of drummer/percussionist Tommy Amato and bass player Don Schiff, who also wields the so-called Chapman Stick and NS/Stick (which is "kind of like a bass and guitar that are played simultaneously", as Mr. McCrite himself has been kind enough to inform me). No fewer than three guitarists co-star on "Oblivion days". Mark McCrite on mainly acoustic guitar is (re)joined by Neil Citron on electric guitar and Dutchman Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon/Ambeon/ex-Vengeance) on heavy rhythm guitars. On several songs Amato is relieved on drums and percussion by Greg Ellis, while former The Firm and Blue Murder bass player Tony Franklin (also an able drummer, guitarist and backing vocalist) can be heard on two tracks. Lana Lane in person sings harmony vocals on three tracks and (on the Euro-version) joined lead vocals on one ("Stardust"). (While Franklin and Amato are permanent band members of Lana Lane, Schiff and Ellis are essential on/off contributors and Lucassen one of two guitarists who replaced McCrite and Citron on Lana Lane's latest album, "Secrets of astrology".)
"Oblivion days", a 1999 release, is the Rocket Scientists' fourth album. It doesn't take a member of this California based group to figure out that they owe their unusual name to the apparent complexity of their music and instruments of choice, as well as their love of science fiction. From whatever articles i've read, i gather that their 1993 debut "Eartbound" tried and tested their novel, stylistically varied sound, a blend of pop music and progressive rock. After which they felt secure in exploring a slightly more experimental, yet commercially viable brand of prog/artrock on the 1995 "Brutal architecture", its pop influences shining through primarily in McCrite's (at times Beatle-esque) vocal delivery. "Earth below and sky above", their third album, is a live recording of a concert during their 1997 European tour. Their lyrical style seems somewhat pretentious; featured themes on this occasion include water, conflict and change. Like with most Lana Lane albums, the surrealistic cover art was provided by a Jacek Yerka painting. (This one is entitled "On the edge".)
The number of Lana Lane cd's gracing my collection (8 so far and counting) has grown rapidly in recent years. "Oblivion days" however is only my first encounter with the music of the Rocket Scientists, which impedes my voicing an informed opinion of the similarities and distinctions between the two bands, who are related to such a degree that they almost seem joined at the hip, like Siamese twins. On the basis of this one cd and my "expertise" of Her Majesty's work, it's safe to say that where Lana Lane's type of symphonic rock branches out into AOR territory, the Rocket Scientists' ever developing progressive music tends more towards heavy melodic rock, with a more adventurous, unconventional sound encapsulating a greater diversity of influences. Within a framework of well-crafted songs of limited length (not exactly a given in this genre), Erik Norlander is allowed more room to solo to his heart's content and amply display his virtuosity on any keyboard ranging from (grand) piano to state-of-the-art synths. Taking care not to indulge in long-drawn-out epics that go on endlessly and aimlessly (like this review !) or only serve to create a mood/evoke a certain atmosphere, as is the case with a number of prog acts i could mention.
The 11 songs on offer (running time: over 73 minutes) include 2 bonus tracks. The European version on Transmission Records features "Wake me up" (live in Tokyo) and "Stardust" (new mix), which follow a 10 minute interval. The Japanese version features a track entitled "Compass variation" instead of "Stardust". 4 tracks are instrumentals: "Dark water" Parts III and IV are a reprise of Parts I and II (from "Brutal architecture") along the lines of Arena's "Crying for help", while "Archimedes" is more or less a continuation of "Copernicus" ("Brutal architecture") and "Pythagoras" ("Earthbound"). The majority of songs are impressively orchestrated, alternating subtle, deft instrumental themes and overblown heavy rock passages, flowing effortlessly into each other. Norlander's soaring, spacious keyboard sound during his frequent soloing conjures shades of Camel, Arena or UK at one moment, ELP, Rainbow or Marillion the next. Guitar melodies reminiscent of Pink Floyd feature on tracks like "Archimedes" and "Break the silence". From the brief, mysterious "Dark water III" through the anthemic, Omega-like title track (originally intended to be recorded by Emerson, Lake & Palmer) to the mighty "Escape" (my personal favorite), this album is a joy to listen to.
To cut a long story short, fans of contemporary progressive rock bands combining those rare qualities that define the great symphonic acts of yesteryear and the best of today's prog scene need look no further than "Oblivion days". Sterling stuff !!!


Vol. 3-Union
Vol. 3-Union
8 used & new from $7.86

5.0 out of 5 stars A who's who of the current melodic heavy rock scene (DISC 1), November 15, 2000
This review is from: Vol. 3-Union (Audio CD)
"Union III" is the third in a series of compilation albums introducing recent output and upcoming releases by a number of leading AOR/melodic rock acts signed to European labels Now & Then and Frontiers (a joined venture, so to speak). This double album contains no fewer than 31 songs by 30 different acts, some of which - tracks 6-16 on CD 2 to be exact - are included here in a rough mix or demo version, resulting in a sound quality which varies per track.
Two Fires start things off on a high note. Due to lead vocalist Kevin Chalfant's Steve Perry-like voice and the fact that he and guitarist Josh Ramos are also members of The Storm, the excellent "Rivers of destiny" is a song reminiscent of both The Storm and early 80's Journey. The same can be said for "Anyone in love" by Hugo (former Valentine and Open Skyz singer), a wonderfully understated semiballad taken from his second solo record. Ted Poley of Danger Danger fame performs adequately on Melodica's "Hardest part of love", a good song off of an otherwise rather ordinary album. I am told his singing sounds a little strained on "Long way from home" and is not up to his usual level. Canadian rockers Emerald Rain, who are often compared to fellow Canucks Harem Scarem, deliver the only live recording on this 2CD and do so convincingly. "Holding on" by UK melodic rock act Lost Weekend perfectly balances strong vocals, lush keyboards and heavy guitars, proving they have come a long way since their self-titled 1996 first outing. Of the two Night Ranger members represented on "Union III", guitarist Jeff Watson's "Around the sun" - a CD rerelease of a 1993 album featuring lead singers Steve Walsh and Aaron Hagar - beats drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy's "Time passes" hands down, or so it would seem on the basis of the two tracks on offer. Walsh's classy as ever guest appearance on "Life goes on" and some deft guitar work add up to a great track reminding me of some of the uptempo cuts on "In the spirit of things" by Kansas. Seasoned veterans Good Rats provide a solid hard rock song entitled "Cover of night", while Norwegians Street Legal come up with an above-average melodic rock tune similar to latter-day Blue Murder. Smoother and more AOR oriented are Fair Warning's cracking "I fight" (with Tommy Heart at his stunning best) and Norway's "Heaven in your arms", a respectable song illustrating this New Jersey outfit's typical 80's style. On "Arrival", a more mature sounding follow-up to their "Night dreams" debut, they seem to have made considerable progress (a superior production, better compositions). Fair Warning's fourth studio effort, aptly titled "IV", is not quite as good and by no means as original as "Rainmaker" (their 2nd), but will unequivocally ensure their continued reign as Germany's no. 1 band in the genre. Although Jimi Jamison's Survivor are still going strong after losing one of the world's most gifted songwriting duos, made up of Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan, one wonders just how good "Empires" could have been had they still been on board. "First day of love" showcases Jamison's towering vocals and a guitar sound at least as heavy as on their 1988 album "Too hot to sleep". Taken from his third solo album ("Defying gravity"), "The stream" is another superb track by former Kansas/Mastedon vocalist John Elefante. Nowadays a highly successful Christian artist and producer, his trademark brand of lightweight AOR/poprock will in all likelihood appeal to those who appreciate musical finesse and an exceptional, soulful voice. After a period of artistic drought, Shotgun Symphony have returned to Now & Then and the same type of music that gained their debut album such critical acclaim and fairly widespread recognition. "Believe in me" is a terrific slice of pompous AOR off of a ditto album. Next we arrive at what is arguably the outstanding track on disc 1. Bob Catley's "The light", taken from "Legends", is a bombastic 8 and a half minute epic, which can easily be identified as being written by Gary Hughes. Ten's lead singer is his regular composer on both of Catley's solo albums, which are certainly equal to "Wings of heaven", and surpass anything else he's ever done with Magnum. As on Hugo's "Time on earth" CD, Ten's Vinny Burns (ex-Dare) can be heard on guitar. Kane Roberts' new band Phoenix Down bring the first half of these proceedings to a disappointing close with a mediocre cut called "Reckless".
[DISC 2 is reviewed elsewhere]


Vol. 3-Union
Vol. 3-Union
8 used & new from $7.86

5.0 out of 5 stars A who's who of the current melodic heavy rock scene (DISC 2), November 15, 2000
This review is from: Vol. 3-Union (Audio CD)
[DISC 1 is reviewed elsewhere]
However well his collaboration with Ten works out for Bob Catley, Gary Hughes & Co have a way of repeating themselves over and over again. Their musical abilities may not be in question, if you own some of their earlier work (like i do), their latest effort entitled "Babylon" may seem a somewhat superfluous product. The VU's "Phoenix rising" (no, they don't sound like the polar opposite of Phoenix Down...) is a recording which dates back almost 15 years and is finally about to be released on CD. I've never had the pleasure of hearing it, but supposedly it is an AOR masterpiece of the superlative kind, starring the likes of Kevin Chalfant (Two Fires/The Storm), Ross Valory (Journey) and lesser known members of Y & T, The Tubes and The Who. "Keys to the city" is a fantastic AOR track (recorded in 1990 by Starship) with a chorus which, though slightly simplistic, is likely to take up permanent residence in your brain, as it did in mine from the first time i played it. Canadian three piece band Heaven's Fire serve up a straight forward heavy rock anthem memorable only for its guitar work. Having enlisted the services of Tony Martin (Black Sabbath) for his Mollo/Martin project, Italian six string hero Dario Mollo on this occasion has joined forces with none other than "the voice of rock", a.k.a. Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath's "Seventh sign", Hughes & Thrall). As Voodoo Hill they have released a self-titled album, off of which comes a fast moving track that would not have been out of place on Hughes' brightest studio effort, "From now on". Having heard the "Signs of life" album by The Sign in its entirety, i must admit they do not quite live up to my expectations. Instantly labeled a "supergroup", made up of Terry Brock (Strangeways), Mark Mangold (Touch, Drive She Said), Randy Jackson (Zebra), Billy Greer (Kansas, Streets) and Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow), they explore a variety of musical styles, ranging from traditional hard rock to elaborate progressive rock. Even in a rough mix, "Aryon" is one of the most compelling tracks off of the album (as well as the misspelled name of probably the finest Dutch act of the moment). But all that glitters is not gold on this compilation album, as is evident from the following four tracks. While "Romeo" by Teer barely makes the grade, Talon's "Paradise" and "Politician" by Heaven & Earth (Stuart Smith's latest outing featuring Baton Rouge frontman Kelly Keeling) are just run-of-the-mill melodic rock songs seemingly destined for oblivion. Kelly Keagy's hard edged "Anything goes" with its almost thrashmetal-like opening qualifies as my least favorite offering on "Union III". Despite being represented in a demo version or a rough mix, the sheer class of some of the songs on disc 2 comes shining through loud and clear. Aided by a star-studded cast, ex-Giuffria singer David Glen Eisley's "Don't turn away" still falls a bit short in emulating his former outfit's glorious sound. Nevertheless, both he and his recent album release ("Stranger from the past", not to be confused with his concept CD "Wardogs") deserve the benefit of the doubt in my opinion. The Sign vocalist Terry Brock summons the heyday of British AOR monuments Strangeways on the exquisite "Your man again", taken from an album scheduled for release in early 2001. Displaying an amazing vocal ability, The Sign cohort & bass player Billy Greer is likely to stun the melodic rock minded community with his Seventh Key project around the same time. Ample proof of the (signal) man's hidden talent can be found on "Missy", which is nothing short of AOR perfection. Guest starring (among others) fellow Kansas and/or Streets members Steve Walsh, Mike Slamer, Richard Williams and Deep Purple's Steve Morse, Seventh Key's upcoming album should be something to look forward to. Danish/Dutch combination Prime Time (comprised of members of Royal Hunt, Elegy and Narita) promise to make an impact with their third album, entitled "Free the dream". "Hanging on" features an extremely accessible sound driven by massive keyboards and sterling melodic guitars. Millenium (formerly Eyewitness) are the only band who are represented twice. Their recruitment of ace vocalist Jorn Lande (ex-Vagabond, The Snakes) has deservedly propelled them into the upper echelons of the AOR/melodic rock hierarchy, evidence of which can be heard on both cuts. The title track off of Jorn's diverse "Starfire" album has all the makings of a classic AOR song, a status which has long been achieved by Rainbow's "I surrender". On Millenium's cover version (off of a soon to come "tribute" album) Lande manages to sound like Joe Lynn Turner's vocal twin, although he is most often compared to David Coverdale circa Whitesnake's "1987". Kansas' "Three pretenders" comes to mind during some recurring passages of "Chasing time", due to an equally impressive imitation of Steve Walsh on this particular track. Jorn Lande's magnificent performance alone prompted me to order both his solo album and Millenium's "Hourglass".
"Union III" indicates that the AOR/melodic rock scene does not revolve solely around high-profile European labels MTM and Escape. There is a lot more talent out there. It is a useful, if not indispensable "tool" (and not just for the financially challenged, like myself) in trying to determine what to buy and what to pass up as a perpetual flood of new releases washes over us. Or it can be regarded as an awesome album in its own right, loaded to the rim with many a brilliant tune worth checking out. As far as anthologies go, this is one of the best and most comprehensive i've come across thus far.


Blind
Blind

5.0 out of 5 stars Another notch on Denander's guitar, November 7, 2000
This review is from: Blind (Audio CD)
For such a thinly populated country, Sweden have produced an incredible array of melodic heavy rock bands and artists, alongside a host of beautiful women (in entertainment) and gifted (table) tennis players. One of the most recent acts to carry on this glorious tradition goes by the name of Prisoner, which recently released this stunning album on the Z Records label. Getting straight to the point, this quartet headed by ubiquitous master guitarist Tommy Denander (Rainmaker, Talk Of The Town, Radioactive, SayIt) made a big impression on me with this tremendous debut effort, which is flawless in every respect (incl. the lyrics). There is not a hint of a filler among the ten tracks, which are an amalgam of the finest characteristics of compatriots like Talisman (their self-titled first album), Eyes ("Windows of the soul"), Brazen Abbot ("Live and learn") and fellow newcomers Kharma ("Wonderland"). Prisoner consist of the same group of musicians responsible for SayIt's self-titled 1999 release, including contributing artists like Bruce Gaitsch, Thomas Vikström and several members of House of Shakira. But whereas the latter was a Toto-like AOR/westcoast outfit, Prisoner are much more melodic rock oriented.
"Blind" was composed, produced and engineered by the tandem of Tommy Denander and keyboardist Ricky B. Delin and features two excellent lead singers, Norwegian native Geir Rönning (who has the deeper voice) and one Piere Wensberg. Rönning takes center stage with a vocal style not unlike Jeff Scott Soto and is undoubtedly in the same league, boasting a strong, soulful delivery and great fervour. He is also lead vocalist on Denander's Rainmaker "project", under which monicker an apparently brilliant album has just been released on the same label. Recently he declined an invitation to join Toto. (Should this guy appear in an infomercial on "Amazing Discoveries" sometime soon, i would not be surprised.) Staying with the Swedish angle, i am further reminded of Goran Edman's contributions to John Norum's "Total control" and Yngwie J. Malmsteen's "Eclipse", as well as Cleopatra vocalist Kristian Hermanson. Need i say more ?
Apart from being a showcase for their obvious songwriting talents and Rönning/Wensberg's singing, Prisoner's maiden outing serves to prove that it was both premature and unjust on my part to write off Tommy Denander beforehand as another dime-a-dozen guitarist with an oversized ego. Instead of giving him credit for being the highly prolific, versatile musician, composer & producer that he really is. His performance on this album, highlighted in songs like "Stop playing games" (some gratuitous sound effects are woven into its intro, like a dog barking and the sound of falling rain and rolling thunder), standout AOR offering "Give my heart a home" and closing non-vocal track "End of the millennium" is such that i've become curious about his solo career. (Thus far he has three, largely instrumental albums to his name, "Less is more" ('95), "Skeleton" ('95) and "Limited access" ('97), none of which i've heard.) The latter two songs feature some well-dosed keyboard support for Denander's guitar antics. "Starry eyes" nicely illustrates Prisoner's use of multilayered backing vocals during its catchy chorus, as does "Italian girl (Rome is still there)", which also contains delicate synths early on. At their "worst" ("Don't wanna waste another minute", "Where is the fire" - a question i ask myself whenever my smoke detector malfunctions...) Prisoner are merely very good, at their best ("Starry eyes", "Give my heart a home", "Hear me heaven") they are downright terrific.
The only "negative" thing i could say about this band is that their album could have done with a ballad or two. As it is, they're pretty much going full throttle all the way. Only briefly during "Italian girl" they ease up on the pedal to allow for a bluesy guitar interlude, while the acoustically oriented "Hear me heaven" (reminiscent of Mr. Big/Eric Martin) is the only slower-paced track. And yes, their sound lacks originality, but who cares when the music is this captivating. Prisoner's "Blind" is a no brainer for all rockers who enjoyed any of the albums i referred to. It's one of the best CD's i've heard this year.


Calm Before the Storm
Calm Before the Storm
9 used & new from $43.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rising to the challenge, October 28, 2000
This review is from: Calm Before the Storm (Audio CD)
Sometimes i may seem excessively cavalier in my use of superlatives, but in this case there is no getting around it. This follow-up album to "Blood from stone" (a 1991 effort generally thought of as a disappointing mishap) by former and current Thin Lizzy keyboard player Darren Dean Wharton and associates has been 7 years in the making, but most definitely worth the wait. It is a triumphant return to form in a style similar to that of their wonderful debut release "Out of the silence" (1988). Seldom have i heard such a perfect combination of artistic genius and awe-inspiring skill, captured for posterity in 10 (11 for those who can afford the Japanese version) killer melodic rock tracks of epic proportions. Wharton has seen fit to make some drastic changes in Dare's line-up. Not only has second keyboardist Brian Cox (not to be confused with the British actor renowned for his sinister portrayal of pre-"Silence of the lambs" Hannibal Lecter) been ousted, but Wharton's entire supporting cast have been replaced and left by the wayside. One would think that especially the loss of their lead guitarist has been a severe blow to Dare's aspirations. Successor Andrew Moore however - whom i had never heard of - makes Vinny Burns pale by comparison with his fantastic guitar work, which will unavoidably cause the listener to draw parallels with vintage Pink Floyd. (Some passages also remind me of the magnificent 1989 album "How long" by the Michael Thompson Band.) Dare's novel rhythm section is made up of little known bass player Martin Wilding and one Julien Gardner on drums, who both perform at peak efficiency.
MTM frontrunner Dare have matured a great deal in the past decade and sound more American than ever, infusing their recovered AOR heritage with a newfound creative energy and uncommon zeal. Hearing Darren Wharton sing on this CD (imagine a low-key variant of Bryan Adams, or a mix between Australians Daryl Braithwaite and "Freight train heart" era Jimmy Barnes), i am once again amazed at how he could have been content in playing a subservient role in the old Thin Lizzy, while being a far better vocalist than Phil Lynott ever was. The length of the songs allow Andrew Moore ample opportunity to work his six-string magic in long, lingering solos invested with feeling and a subtle, bluesy touch. Since the brilliance of this recording doesn't let up for the duration of the album, distinguishing the best of the best is almost a mission impossible, even for one as overrated as Tom Cruise. Each song is an expertly crafted gem, that is superbly executed by four band members who operate like elements of a well-oiled piece of machinery. (Trust me, it's not nearly as bad as i make it sound !) By which i merely mean to say that they appear a cohesive unit, rather than a group of talented individuals who have seemingly joined forces, but are secretly off doing their own thing. Were i to choose on pain of death, i would say that opener "Walk on the water" is one of the most exciting tracks, along with other rockers like "Someday", "Rising sun" and "Crown of thorns" (Jean Beauvoir will love this one !). I am also quite partial to the album's epic 8 minute title track, in addition to the slightly more balladesque "Silence of your head".
To some extent i can relate to those people who would consider this album so polished and overproduced (by Darren Wharton himself) that it has lost much of its edge, appearing somewhat bland, but i believe that the band have stopped just short of overdoing it. Besides, the sheer class of this offering more than offsets this minor drawback. Wharton's quest for AOR perfection seems to have attained its ultimate objective at a surprisingly early stage, leaving Dare with a mountain to climb in trying to equal this achievement on their next release. With the exception of Thin Lizzy cover "Still in love with you", a mellow track which develops at a leisurely pace but still runs rings around its original, nearly all of the songs are midtempo. If i could wish for a small change on their upcoming disc (entitled "Belief"), it would be that it contained a greater diversity of slower and fast-paced cuts, although i would be happy to "settle" for more of the same. Let's hope that Dare will once again live up to its name, and yet fulfil the prophecy that the title of their third album entails. I am eagerly awaiting their next move.


One Night Only: Live 1999
One Night Only: Live 1999
12 used & new from $11.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The boys are back in town (but they're not staying), October 26, 2000
On the rave recommendation of a close personal acquaintance (copyright: Rowan Atkinson) i picked up a copy of this "One night only" CD, Thin Lizzy's third official live album release after "Live and dangerous" (1978) and farewell offering "Life" (1983). Being neither an avid Thin Lizzy fan nor a great lover of live recordings (which might in fact have been helpful in regarding this item from an objective point of view), my expectations were not that high, in spite of several word of mouth endorsements. Although my take on both aspects has not changed as a result, i must admit that i quite enjoyed listening to this album. It is not the registration of a single, unique concert, as its title would perhaps indicate, but the culmination of a European tour which they absolved in 1999. For this purpose, three ex-Thin Lizzy alumni reunited and were joined by bass player Marco Mendoza and drummer Tommy Aldridge, who to the best of my knowledge have never been part of this legendary outfit's line-up. (Feel free to correct me if i'm mistaken.) Taking into account its members' obligations with other employers, i would suspect that Thin Lizzy (the next generation) is currently more of a project on the side than a newly formed band that is likely to persist for a long while.
At the risk of offending those for whom the late, great Phil Lynott is an object of worship, i must say that the man's vocal chords have not suffered profoundly from the experience of being six feet under since 1986 :-). Singer and lead guitarist John Sykes (Tygers of Pan Tang, Blue Murder, Sykes) does a wonderful impersonation job here. His voice bears such a striking resemblance to that of his rolemodel that he would be a prime candidate for any soundmix or karaoke show. The musicianship is excellent throughout the album, lending power and conviction to Thin Lizzy's all-time classic tracks as well as those songs that have passed their sell-by date in their original studio versions. There's lots of heavy guitars on offer for the discerning hard rock fanatic. (Who needs Gary Moore and Snowy White ?) Dare main man Darren Wharton's dexterous keyboard work is sublime as ever, as in his own way are Scott Gorham's understated six-string feats, while Mendoza (colleague of John Sykes in Blue Murder, where he replaced Lana Lane's Tony Franklin) holds his own on bass. The resident drum kit ends up on the wrong end of a severe beating at the capable hands of Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne, M.A.R.S., Whitesnake). All dignitaries in other words perform above and beyond the call of mere duty. The atmosphere at times is electric, helping to make this an unusually gripping live document.
However tempting it may be to minutely compare "One night only" to its illustrious predecessors, i will refrain from doing so at great length. All i will say is that my personal preference goes out to "Life", contrary to a tendency among rock purists to consider "Live and dangerous" the superior album. Also, since "Life" was a double album, it offers a more extensive selection of songs than "One night only". Frankly i never understood the lure of "The boys are back in town", while in my humble opinion tracks like "Cowboy song", "Rosalie" and "Black rose" cannot belie that they are painfully average by today's standards, despite the fact that they benefit greatly from the harder-edged make-over they receive on this album. "What would you like to hear next ?", is a question i heard pose repeatedly. Well, if it had been up to me i would have dished out another serving of anthems like "The rocker", "Emerald", "Killer on the loose", "Mexican blood" and, especially, a larger number of songs off of their finest (and still latest) studio release, "Thunder and lightning". Such as "Holy war", "This is the one", "Baby please don't go" and its outstanding title track. But on the whole, "One night only" contains a solid arsenal of songs & plenty of variety, ranging from fierce, uptempo cuts ("Are you ready", "Cold sweat", "Suicide", "Bad reputation") to delightful, passionate ballads ("Still in love with you", their no. 1 masterpiece "The sun goes down"). Generally speaking, i feel Thin Lizzy have managed to breathe new life into most of their material, with the possible exception of those two songs from their "Thunder and lightning" album, which i'd rather hear in their virgin state, i.e. as studio tracks.
Cutting to the chase, i would have to acknowledge that this is a quality recording differing sufficiently from its two forerunners to warrant its release. It is a commendable effort deserving of large scale attention and well worth spending your hard-earned money on. Go to it !


Live at Sturgis
Live at Sturgis
26 used & new from $1.26

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good old southern boys (...with guns), October 2, 2000
This review is from: Live at Sturgis (Audio CD)
I have no particular fondness for live albums, but once in a blue moon
i happen upon a non-studio release that sends the old ticker into
overdrive. You've probably seen this coming, but yeah, .38 Special's
"Live at Sturgis" is one of those albums. The town of
Sturgis i would presume is either the location of a rock festival
frequented by motorcyclists, the site of the "Easy rider"
fan club's annual venue or a retirement resort for wayward Hell's
Angels in their twilight years, judging from the booklet's back
cover. When considering the type of crowd these guys attract, it
shouldn't be too difficult to guess what they are made of, even for
those who can't tell a .38 Special from a .357 Magnum. They have a
well-deserved reputation for being a great live band, as i have been
able to ascertain on several occasions (via my TV set). With their
exciting blend of AOR and southern rock, .38 Special in my opinion
belong to a rare breed whose songs sound more energetic, forceful and
emotionally driven on stage than on any of their studio
albums. Generally i prefer it when audience participation is kept down
to a minimum and welcome studio editing/overdubs meant to achieve a
more flawless outcome ("Greatest hits live" by Journey and
"AOR live" by Le Roux are good examples of this kind of
radical doctoring). In this case however the band's interaction with
their fans only enhances the disc's dynamic atmosphere, while the
crowd singing along to some of the choruses bothers me less than
usual, if at all. "Live at Sturgis" (recorded at the Buffalo
Chip campground in Sturgis, South Dakota) captures the raw essence of
R & R in a fervent rendition of 12 classic .38 Special
tracks.
The tracklisting reads very much like a "Best of"
compilation. There are as always a few tracks that i would like to
have seen included on this album (i.e. "Back to paradise",
"Rough housin", "Stone cold believer" and so on),
but with this line-up of songs and a total playing time of nearly 67
minutes i have little reason to lodge a formal complaint or write to
my local congressman. On which note i arrive at the cold, hard
facts. Lead off track "Rockin' into the night" was taken
from the 1979 album of the same name, "Wild-eyed southern
boys" (1981) is represented by "Fantasy girl", encore
"Hold on loosely" and its title track, while "Caught up
in you" and "Take 'em out" are tracks off of their
"Special forces" LP (1982). Their best ever studio album
"Tour de force" (1983) supplies the more AOR oriented
"Back where you belong", "If i'd been the one" and
the cunningly titled "Twentieth century fox", tracks
selected from "Resolution" (1997) being "Fade to
blue" and "Deja voodoo". Absolute highlight on
"Live at Sturgis" is the awesome "Rebel to rebel",
originally on "Bone against steel" (1991), which is
dedicated to vocalist Donnie van Zant's late brother Ronnie of Lynyrd
Skynyrd. Starting off as a ballad, it quickly transforms into a
stirring rock anthem featuring a brilliant guitar solo by lead
guitarist Danny Chauncey. Like 7 of the other songs, the new studio
recording "Just one girl" (a decent track, but not as good
as the rest) was co-written by Survivor's Jim Peterik. Don Barnes and
Donnie van Zant are in excellent voice on this self-produced album, on
which .38 Special's regular foursome are joined by keyboard player
Bobby Capps and drummer Gary Moffatt, both listed as additional
musicians on their most recent studio outing
("Resolution").
I would recommend this album to any fan of
melodic heavy rock music who would like to see the south rise again,
Yankee, Confederate or otherwise. It's one of the best live recordings
currently available. (Full marks also to the girl with the bike !)


In the Hot Seat
In the Hot Seat
11 used & new from $12.23

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outrageously underrated, October 1, 2000
This review is from: In the Hot Seat (Audio CD)
For the life of me i can't understand what some people (elsewhere on this page) find so objectionable about this album. Sure, ELP (formed in 1970) were no spring chickens anymore at the time of release, but on the evidence of this product they were far from over the hill, let alone pronounced d.o.a. before they ever set foot in a recording studio, as these reviewers would have you believe. I guess this rapidly dwindling group of long-time fans are only content if ELP keep repeating themselves over and over again and become a musical anachronism forever stuck in the 70's, rather than see them incorporate some contemporary influences. If it is done right, and it most definitely is, i am quite happy to see any progressive rock band spread its wings into AOR or melodic rock territory. Producer Keith Olsen has never been involved in the making of a substandard album and this one is no exception. It would perhaps be advisable to refrain from comparing this effort to ELP's past works and to judge it on its own intrinsic qualities. Their change in style by the way is nowhere near as drastic as that of post-Phil Collins Genesis on their "Calling all stations..." album, to draw an obvious parallel. It's been a gradual change at that, "Black moon" already showed clear signs of the direction they were going. Being an AOR fan i may be a little biased myself, but anyone who would deny this album's merits while pretending to be objective is in dire need of a reality check. I have liked it from the moment i bought it (at a rock bottom price, thank God for small favors) and my opinion of it has only improved since.
When listening to "In the hot seat" i can't help but be reminded of Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson's 3, a 1988 project with one great album to its credit entitled "To the power of three", which featured the vocal talents of Robert Berry. Berry's solo album "Pilgrimage to a point" can also claim more than a passing resemblance to this 1994 ELP release, in particular when referring to songs like "Change", "Street war" or "One by one". Lake remains a powerhouse vocalist, whose voice (despite its limited range) is perfectly suited to perform this type of AOR influenced symphonic rock. Except for bonus track "Pictures at an exhibition", the tracks on offer are no meandering, intricately orchestrated, overtly experimental epics with classical arrangements. Nor do they teem with long-winded solos, frequent gear shifting and numerous instrumental breaks. They are concise songs with a well-defined buildup and memorable choruses that you'll be able to sing along to (if you are so inclined) after hearing them a couple of times. Which does not mean to say that they are simplistic in any way. Throughout the album Lake's guitars play second fiddle to Emerson's rampant keyboards, which cater to piano, organ and synthesizer freaks alike without indulging in excessive posturing.
Opening cut "Hand of truth" and third in line "One by one" may be closest to ELP's original style, but still sound accessible to the untrained ear. They are fabulous songs in the vein of recent albums by Kerry Livgren (ex-Kansas) and another illustrious trio who go by the name of Thread. "Thin line" to me is the CD's least convincing track, due to its poprock approach and flawed drum computer sound. Both "Daddy" and Bob Dylan cover "Man in the long black coat" (newly arranged by Keith Emerson) summon an eerie mood that reflects their unsettling lyrics. The former deals with a little girl who goes missing on her way back from school and ends up dead in the woods somewhere (cheerful stuff !), while the latter is more cryptic and harder to interpret. "Heart on ice" and "Give me a reason to stay" are two good ballads that derive their main strength from Greg Lake's vocal delivery, "Gone too soon" a fast-paced, AOR oriented track propelled by another delectable keyboard theme. My copy is not the Japanese version and to the best of my knowledge contains "only" 11 tracks, which add up to over an hour of music. (Unless they've got the hidden track so well hidden that i just haven't found it yet !) Closing song on my disc is a classy, "hi-tech" recording of the about 15 minute long "Pictures at an exhibition" (named after their third album, released Dec. 1971), which takes up track 11 through 16. Not being the world's leading authority on Emerson, Lake & Palmer, i was surprised to discover how familiar this opus sounded to me. (Must have heard it before, go figure !)
People who are willing to keep an open mind and give this album a fair shake may find that they could do a lot worse than these "aging rockers". It would of course be helpful if one's perspective on what constitutes good music is not impaired by a severe case of tunnel vision. Since 4,5 stars is not an option, i have no choice but to go with a 4 star recommendation, feeling that there is still room for improvement. A lone star might do for the state of Texas, but in this case it's a travesty of justice ! Mark my words.


Corridor Of Windows
Corridor Of Windows

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent "newcomer" spinning a ripping yarn, September 28, 2000
This review is from: Corridor Of Windows (Audio CD)
Gee, i'll bet these guys had to rack their brains in order to come up
with a suitable name for their band. Formed by singer Jerome Story and
drummer Stephen Teller some ten years ago, Storyteller is responsible
for one of the best MTM releases i have heard in recent months. It is
one that is sure to feature prominently in my Top 10 ranking of
favorite albums at the end of the year. Unlike some Swedish
co-reviewer i could mention, i ordered this CD deliberately and with
malice aforethought. Considering the quality of their music, i am
anything but remorseful. Unless i am much mistaken, this ensemble was
the main reason for Billy Trudel & company having to rename
themselves Public Domain (which released a 1998 album entitled
"Radio nights"): after all, two Storytellers on one and the
same label is one narrator too many. Apparently there is also a Nordic
metal band operating under a similar guise, so any prospective buyer
should be careful not to get the two mixed up.
Returning to the
question at hand, i must say that i was mightily impressed with this
AOR/melodic rock outfit from the Golden State. "Corridor of
windows" showcases a delightful dozen of high-powered tracks,
combining unrelenting energy and capital melodies. This album features
strong lead vocals, an abundance of heavy guitars (for which purpose
Storyteller were reinforced by "guest star" Bruce Young) and
enough keyboards to send even the most jaded listener into a pompous
frenzy. Synthesizer credits must go to Stephen Teller, who also played
the 12 string. The remainder of piano and keyboard duties were
performed by Craig Campbell, one of the band's two regular guitarists,
the other one hiding behind the initials JP. Bass player is one John
Fagen. Teller shared production honors with Jeff Glixman, who produced
and mixed a third of the songs. Storyteller's music will appeal to
fans of bands like Steelhouse Lane, Balance of Power and Stun Leer,
while also reminding me of Tour de Force and Phantom's Opera circa
their debut.
There is little in the way of ballad oriented material
here. "Where is Daniel" is an acoustic based track with a
beautifully orchestrated intro and one of the brightest tunes on
offer. "Hello heaven" also has a balladesque structure, with
overblown keys that give it a progrock feel, but an uninspired,
somewhat clichéd chorus lets the song down a bit. No such complaints
are warranted though as far as the uptempo cuts are concerned, which
constitute the vast majority of tracks on this album. Each of these
have choruses that will put you on a natural high, with lots of
massive backing vocals. "In your arms" hints at the good
things that await in no uncertain terms. Starting with "Why
cry", the highlights follow thick and fast. This is an extremely
catchy song which, like "She Sherea", kicks off with a
wonderful piano/keyboard intro. "Like it or not" and
relative speed demon "Private eye" are no slouches either in
the keyboard department, as is manifested from their opening (synth)
chords through to their dying seconds. Title track "Corridor of
windows" opens with the onset of a breathtaking guitar solo. The
album's foremost claim to fame however is the epic "Wait till you
find me", which is over 7 minutes long.
Without implying that
they have reinvented the wheel, i would say that this is the kind of
album release that i wish i would come across more often. Not as good
as Dare or Harlan Cage (MTM's pride and joy), but a terrific first
effort nonetheless. If you want to blow your speakers with R & R,
and have it done Kenny Everett style (= in the best possible taste),
Storyteller are your band. Let's hope the story of their career is one
of the neverending variety.


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