Thursday, April 12, 2018

PERFECT PLAN - "ALL RISE"






RATING: RRRRr

LABEL: FRONTIERS

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY


My catch up of Frontiers new and forthcoming releases continues with this debut offering from Sweden's Perfect Plan. Formed in 2014, the band have been working their way towards the debut with care and attention and it certainly shows in what they've come up with.

As the first chords of the ridiculously catchy and upbeat "Bad City Woman" belt out from the speakers it's clear that Perfect Plan have something special here. As a song it's nothing groundbreaking, but as a piece of AOR it sits right at the top of the pile, with melody spilling out of every pore, bouncy keyboards shining through and classic melodic rock vocals from Kent Hilli. Seriously, people, this man can wail with the best and I'm sure he's going to be a big name in AOR circles for some time. Opening with such a perfect example of your music is always a good move, and even if Perfect Plan struggle to better it (and any band would) it really sets the mood perfectly and will bring a big smile to any melodic rock fan's face.

Although the pace slows with 'In And Out of Love' it's still a great song with a nice, catchy chorus, even if it's a bit of a come down after the frenetic pace of the opener. That said, 'Stone Cold Lover' brings the energy levels straight back up. It's a track that I can see being much loved by fans of H.E.A.T when they rock out, with Hilli's vocals showing a nice tinge of Joe Lynn Turner as a bonus. Fourth track 'Gone Too Far' has a Turner-era Rainbow feel about it, with Hammond-ish keyboards and a nice funky rhythm both proving effective. It's hard to dislike, a description that fits the entire album. When Perfect Plan turn it on and allow themselves a bit of pace and bounce they are as good as any band I've ever heard, with slick guitar solos, perfect AOR vocals and an innate sense of what makes a song enjoyable. Unusually, there's no ballads to be found, and the majority of the eleven tracks are well paced. The album in no way outstays it's welcome, and is one of those that you can happily put on repeat three or four times without getting at all tired of it.

Perfect Plan are a real surprise, delivering a debut that nails the whole AOR thing perfectly. A heady mix of W.E.T, Eclipse, H.E.A.T and the likes of One Desire and Work Of Art, this album can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of them. It's not deep and it's not meaningful, but 'All Rise' will have you tapping your feet and smiling away throughout the duration, and sometimes that's all you need from an album. 

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

VEGA - "ONLY HUMAN"


RATING: RRRRR

LABEL: FRONTIERS

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY


Back in the late Nineties I was a fan of a band called Kick, featuring a pair of twins and vocalist Nick Workman, who made ridiculously enjoyable melodic rock. Fast forward to 2010, and after a few middling bands Workman finds himself hooked up with another set of twins and making ridiculously enjoyable melodic rock once more. The twins are Tom and James Martin and the band is Vega. Eight years of hard work later they're still fighting to bring high energy melodic rock to the masses, and I'm happy to reveal that album number five carries on the good work admirably. It seems maximum ratings are like buses for me. No, not that they smell of piss - I mean you wait for ages and two come along!

With most albums I get it's easy after a few spins to identify a favourite track or two and maybe pick out a weaker one that will probably end up deleted once the review is done. With 'Only Human', Vega have come up with their stroingest album yet, and if you've heard the other four you'll know that's quite a feat. The Martin twins are well known as powerful songwriters in their own right (see Issa and Ted Poley albums for evidence), but when Nick Workman joins in it's such a holy trinity Don McLean should have been singing about them at the end of 'American Pie' (google it, it's a cool reference, dammit!). Add to that live performances full of fire and fun and you get a band to be reckoned with.

'Only Human' is a real all killer no filler affair, perfectly encapsulated by the first four tracks. 'Let's Have Fun Tonight' is a traditional upbeat Vega album opener that will no doubt kick off the live shows on the upcoming tour (see you at the bar, boozers), followed by the album's advance single 'Worth Dying For'. This is a track that is like a stick of rock (sorry - ROCK!) with VEGA stamped through it, so perfectly typical is it of their sound. 'Last man Standing' follows, introduced by Planet Rock DJ Darren Reddick, and it's an upbeat, catchy song about getting rat arsed. Remember, kids, what happens in Vega stays in Vega. Lastly, we have 'Come Back Again', the album's first slower paced song. There's just something about this one that keeps me coming back (again, natch) - it's a smooth, majestic sounding tune that has a chorus that sticks in your head.

So we have an opening quartet that beautifully demonstrate the Vega sound in all it's guises. So far so good, as they say. The thing is, the quality doesn't dip at any point, so we get another eight tracks that keep the bar raised with as much passion as Eddie Hall picking up a car. There's the aggressive 'Gravity', the high melody of 'Fade Away' and the emotional ballad 'Turning Pages', where Nick Workman get to show there's more to him than a nice haircut and a deep, natural love of Joe Elliott. Seriously, though, Workman is on stellar form throughout, deserving of a place amongst the melodic rock greats for his soaring range and vocal gymnastics. When he's given a good tune to belt out he still makes me smile like he did almost twenty years ago (feeling old now, Nick?). Just when you think they must be tired by now, the album closes with the brilliant upbeat track 'Go To War', and the compulsion to just listen to the twelve tracks all over again is hard to resist.

I've always banged on about Vega in the past, and it's true that they are right up my alley as far as melodic rock is concerned. They can handle speed when needed, but also put a lot of soul into a passionate ballad too. Keyboards are mixed in very well, and whenever Marcus Thurston gets a chance to let loose on guitar he always gives it serious welly (let him do an instrumental, guys).Consistently impressive, always fun and sometimes sober, Vega are a band who should be palling around with the big boys on the big stage, but part of me still loves the fact I can see them in small venues. If you haven't discovered them yet you really need to get the album and a ticket for the tour, because to be this good takes Vega...

Officia lWebsite





JAMES CHRISTIAN - "CRAVING"


RATING: RRRr

LABEL: FRONTIERS

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

Jamea Christian has a long, distinguished history in melodic rock, for his tenure with House of Lords, his songwriting and also for his three solo albums released over the last quarter century, now joined by this, the fourth to come out under his name. Whilst Christian is a known songwriter himself, on "Craving" he has been helped out by Tommy Denander, Chris Pelcer, Jimi Bell, Clif Magness, Alessandro Del Vecchio, Richard Hymas, Charlie Mason and Jeff Kent, so I was expecting a bit of a mixed bag.

A quick peruse of the tracklisting reveals a distinctly, um, Christian slant, and by that I mean the religion rather than the man. I mean, obviously there's a Christian (the man) slant, as it's his bleedin' album! 'Heaven Is A Place In Hell', 'Jesus Wept', 'If There's A God' and 'Pray' make me double check this isn't the new Stryper album, but when the music starts it's definitely of a wimpier nature so everything is OK. 'Heaven Is A Place In Hell' kicks things off in a nice, lively manner, aggressively melodic and making good use of Chritian's raspy, tuneful vocals. Follow up 'Wild Boys' is a bouncy affair that's pretty good but really loses out by leaving the guitars at the back of the mix, whilst the title track is an acoustic affair that is a pretty nice tune. A mixed bag? Definitely. 'Jesus Wept' is a mid paced melodic track that really hits the spot with a smooth refrain, 'World of Possibility' is a rather stale acoustic number, whilst 'Sidewinder' is another upbeat guitar fuelled aggressive melodic number and it certainly looks like a pattern has formed, and it contunues til the end, where the album limps home with the dull as ditchwater 'Pray'. Before that, however, we do get possibly the best track, the in your face 'Black Wan't Black', featuring some sweet guitar widdling from Jimi Bell.

So with 'Cracing' James Christian has delivered a package that mixes acoustic tracks, mid range smoothies and hard hitting melodic rockers in equal measure. The heavier tracks all work very well, as do the mid paced ones for the most part, but a couple of the acousticnumbers are so damn syrupy and devoid of charm that they totally disrupt the flow of the album. Despite this, there's a lot of good music here, and Christian's vocals are as good as ever, but too mahy cooks make this broth less sweet than it could have been.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

WHITECROSS & GUARDIAN - "REVIVAL"


RATING: N/A

LABEL: INDEPENDANT

REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY


Some of you may be aware of Whitecross and Guardian, two Christian rock bands from a while back. What we have here is a merging of members from both bands to form a new unit playing songs from the collective back catalogue. It's not a terrible idea and I can see them going down well on the live circuit. Neither bands have split, by the way, it's just that these guys are the ones who want to tour more than the others.

So we get Jamie Rowe (vocals) and David Bach (bass) from Guardian, paired with Michael Feighan (drums) and Rex Carroll (guitars) from Whitecross, and as they are lovely, cuddly Christain pals they go very well together. The 'Revival' EP is really a taster for their prospective audience to show that the whole thing works, and unsurprisingly it has a decent selection of tracks, given the back catalogue they had to choose from. 'Enough Is Enough' from Whitecross is a jaunty, crunchy opener, nicely matched by Guardian's 'The Rain'. There are also two versiions of Guardian's powerful ballad 'Never Say Goodbye' in English and Spanish (I assume because they have fans south of the border) and a cover of Hendix's 'Spanish Castle Magic'. Whitecross tracks 'In The Kingdom' and 'Top Of The World' flesh out the playlist nicely, and the end result is a tidy collection of God-centric rock tunes. Jamie Rowe does a fine job with the Whitecross material, and all four members come accross as tight.

There's only 1000 CDs and 300 red vinyl records available of this EP, so it you like the idea then pick one up fast. Good songs well played is always a nice draw, and even this old Atheist enjoyed it so those blessed with faith keep your eyes peeled for this holy team up.

Official Website

ROMEO RIOT - "SING IT LOUD"



RATING: RRRRR

LABEL: KIVEL RECORDS

REVIEW BY:ALAN HOLLOWAY

Romeo Riot are a sort of supergroup, mainly if you're a big fan of Kivel records. For me, the real draw was the inclusion in the band of one Jace Pawlak, noted songwriter and keyboard player (as well as a nifty vocalist in his own right), and I've been waiting to get my ears wrapped round a copy. As you can see from the rating I was not disaapointed, and if you like quality AOR neither will you be.

What you have  here are ten knock-it-out-of-the-park upbeat melodic rock winners, and whilst I don't have an inlay or album credits the songs are very comparable to those on Pawlak's last solo album but with lower register vocals. Those vocals belong to Mark Giovi, late of Farcry, and he has one of those voices that is hugely melodic but with a slight edge to it that works beautifully. One of Pawlak's songs 'Every Now & Then' appears on both albums, with the different vocalist turning it into quite a different experience, despite the very similar arrangement. It's one of two ballads unwisely both on the latter half of the album (makes it unbalanced), but with that said they both, along with every single other track, hit the aural sweet spot. It's so hard to pick out favourites as they all qualify - there's more fun and bounce here than a trampoline factory. You've got the high enegry opening duo of 'Room To Run'and 'Streets Of  Babylon', or the more crunchy 'Same' and finish off with the upbeat glory of album closer 'Twist of Fate' (very Night Ranger), and there's still six other tracks to choose from, all with their own claims to being the best one. Well bugger it I really can't decide so I guess I'll just have to listen to 'em all again.... and again.

'Sing It Loud' is one of those AOR records that makes you remember why you got into this type of music in the first place. It's so hard to fault that I've given up trying, and can't reccommend it highly enough. It's very rare that I give a full five out of five to an album, but I can't see any reason to drop any marks here. Melodic rock perfectoon can be yours, so go out and get some.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

ISSA - "RUN WITH THE PACK"


RATING: RRRr

LABEL: FRONTIERS

REVEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY

It's hard to believe that Issa released her first albumway back in 2010, pushed as the new femme fatale of the melodic rock world, with sexy photo shoots taking prominence over the music. Of course, it helped that the music was solid as you like, and it's been great to see her contiunue to release high quality albums. 'Run With The Pack' is album number five, and although not as good as 2015s 'Crossfire' it still keeps Issa's name at the higher end of any connoisseurs' lists.

As usual, Issa's vocal skills are prominent from the beginning as she breathes life into every song here, aided on 'Sacrifice Me' by Deen Castronovo. the two main differences from 'Crossfire' are the songwriters and the main guitarist. Gone are James and Tom Martin (of VEGA fame) as songwriters and band members, and in comes a smorgasbord of new writers, including Bob Mitchell, Glenn Ballard and the ever present Alessandro Del Vecchio. The guitars have been handed to Simon Mularoni, and to be fair his widdling is a constant standout throughout the album. The songs themselves are all prefectly acceptable, but if I'm honest they just aren't as exciting as the ones on 'Crossfire'. That said, none of them could be described as poor in any way, it's just that I'm nodding my head and tapping my feet rather than punching the air. Unusually for me my favourite track is a slow(ish) one, 'The Sound Of Yesterday', where Issa gets to show real passion and strength. She's one of those vocalists who is a ballad writer's dream, and soars when allowed to get her teeth into a tune.

'Run With The Pack' slots nicely into Issa's repertoire, but treads water rather than breaking new ground. It's well produced (by Del Vecchio) and will certainly be welcomed by fans, but the feeling that there's something missing, however small, still haunts me every time I listen to it. If you like fun melodic rock with great vocals then you really can't go wrong here, so give Issa a try if you haven't already.

Issa's Official facebook