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Updated 28th January 2003

Giant - On The Rise - Crush 40 - Departure - VV.AA. "Rock The Bones" - Talisman - Takara - Ulysses - Neil Henderson - Next Big Something - Farpoint - Neural Mass - Bodragaz - Coastline

All reviews by Andrea Bertamino except where noted

 

GIANT

"Live And Acoustic: The Official Bootleg" (Frontiers Records)

Rating: 90

13 songs captured in several live recordings between 1989 and 1992 including some acoustic tracks from the London’s Borderline show in 1992, so all stuff from the first two Giant’s album that stand perfectly the test of time.

Larry Hall (keyb) and Mark Oakley (gt) are credited playing beside leaders Dann Huff, David Huff and Mike Brignardello for a majestic performances of great melodic rock played and lived on stage.

The ‘usual’ stunning Dann’s solo starts the show and the band offers four unforgettable tracks like "I’m A Believer", "Shake Me Up", "Innocent Days" and "I Can’t Get Close Enough" that fans will surely know. In the tracklist is also included the cover of "Because We Ended As Lovers" (Stevie Wonder) approached in the same instrumental way that Jeff Beck released in "Blow By Blow" (1975) and maybe Dann is a little heavier than the track’s needs.

Then on again with some classics like "I’ll See You In My Dreams", "Chained", "Thunder And Lightning" and "The Big Pitch".

Now it’s the time of the acoustic set recorded just before "Time To Burn" album arrived in the shops: "Lay It On The Line" and "Stay" (different version than the one on recent ep "Don’t Leave Me In Love") are very good, "Chained" holds its dignity while "I’m A Believer" is better in the electric version we all know and love.

The quality of sound is raw and live (unlike some albums just recorded again in the studio – "Live Evil" by Black Sabbath docet) and allows to taste performances that I tkink had no hands over in post-production, so it’s a great official live album consisting of great songs and great musicians.


ON THE RISE

"On the Rise" (Frontiers)

Rating: 85

OTR come from Norway and represent a very nice surprise for the beginning of the new year, thanks to a bunch of AOR songs well written, arranged and performed, with refreshing vocal melodies courtesy of Bennech Lyngboe and Terje Eide alternating on vocals, but the promo in my hands says nothing about which one sings on every tune.

This album contains fourteen tracks that have very little to envy in terms of melody to acts such as Bad English, Departure, Unruly Child, Toto and Heart and if you think I’m exaggerating, please listen just to the first song called "Beat Of Your Heart" and you’ll be conquered by its charming harmonies and a very catchy/killer refrain, then go on with "Lift You Up" (change of vocalist) to find a good mix of Bad Habit and Bad English with warm and catchy melodies and its refined arrangemets are even more waved in "The World Of Change" smelling of Boulevard and Toto.

"Memories Forever" offers some minutes of passionate and romantic music topped by a strong solo leading to the ending that (as tradition requires) is more emphatic and after the less brilliant (but not ugly) "Pride" and "Leaps Of Bounds" we reach "Running In The Night" similar to Nelson. "Keep Our Love Alive" is the second slow and also here Lyngboe and Eide don’t miss the goal of a quite moment loaded with passion and romantic feelings, getting back to melodic class rock with "Sadness Hits Like A Stone" and the simple as catchy AOR song "Two Young Hearts" recalling again of Nelson.

The delicate and refined semi ballad "Could Have Been The Last Time" is very US rock influenced and on "Stranded" OTR make the sound tougher getting closer to post- RJ Dio Rainbow, but the last word is for another ballad, "The Moment", rich of vocal parts, keyboards and graceful waving of acoustic guitar leaving a very good taste in your heart and let me see a bright future for this duo that doesn’t create anything really knew, but elaborates with skill and class sounds and songwriting belonging to the classic AOR history.

It’s only melodic rock, but I like it!


CRUSH 40

"Crush 40" (Frontiers Records)

Rating: 80

Because of the reunion of Norwegian band Sons Of Angels, Jun Senoue (gt) and Johnny Gioeli (vc – Hardline, Axel Rudi Pell) had to change their previous name into Crush 40 in occasion of the European print of some of the songs included in "Thrill Of The Feel" published few years ago only in Japan just under the monicker Sons Of Angels.

The strong melodic hard rocker "Live & Learn", not included in the mentioned album as two more songs I’m writing about below, opens this cd recalling of Hardline and features a catchy refrain that some of you may have already hear as main theme of the game "Sonic Adventure 2 Battle". On the faster and more melodic "Revvin’ Up" Senoue offers dynamic guitar wavings that give more fuel to the song and "Into The Wind" offers a very personal and kicking version of Def Leppard, then you can hear a load of catchy melodic hard rock in "In The Lead".

"Watch Me Fly..." has a slower pace and cools the engines also thanks to keyboards and piano for a pleasant listen, but then the short "Fuel Me" and "Dangerous Ground" recover the right level of hard rock led by untamed guitar of Jun, even if we already heard this kind of songs from Joe Lynn Turner and "All The Way" follows this law.

We get closer to the end with "Open Your Heart", a nice class rock track that was the first song written by Gioeli and Senoue, and the two new tunes not included on "Thrill Of The Feel" featuring Tony Harnell (TNT, Westworld, Morning Wood) and Ted Poley (Danger Danger, Bone Machine, Melodica) on lead vocals. The former marks with his talent "It Doesn’t Matter", nice melodic hard rock song and one of the best song of the album, while Ted sings "Escape From The City", short as fast track with thunderous drumming by Hirotsugu Homma.

"Crush 40" is better than the average Hardline’s second album and will please fans of hard rock performed with fun and fresh verve.


DEPARTURE

"Corporate Wheel" (Escape Music)

Rating: 80

Third cd for Mike Walsh’s (gt, keyb) band that seals the exit of singer Dave Baldwin and the official debut of Timothy Lewis of whom I reviewed on FLASH magazine his very good demo album of 2000 and his warm voice recalls those of Hugo and Steve Perry.

Departure play a very classic AOR, sometimes really impressive frequently reminding of Journey that in the first three songs "Listen To What I Say" (taken from the solo songs of Lewis), "Corporate Wheel" and "Sacrifice" reaches very good levels, but they also represents the best you can find in this cd with lovely and catchy vocal melodies, a bright instrumentation in pure ‘80s style.

I cannot say that the remaining tracks are weak or badly performed, but they lack the spontaneity of the three openers and offer a more traditional and predictable that don’t compensate the average quality of sounds, even if you better listen with attention the guitar and keyboards tables of nice "Giving Me A Reason".

A positive point is surely the chance given to Lewis to show his talent pulling him out of the independent artist status, and Timothy gratefully hits the target with great singings that bring higher the final rating of "Corporate Wheel", an album that adds nothing to what we already know and love in AOR music.

http://www.escape-music.com


VV. AA.

"Rock The Bones" (Frontiers Records)

Rating: SV

Double cd, a bridge across recent past and next future of Frontiers’ rooster for thirtyfour songs, twentytwo out of which (the whole first cd and a part of the second one) you already know and I’m not talking about here. Actually, you can find reviews of "Beat Of Your Heart" by On The Rise and of "Into The Wind" by Crush 40 above, so the previews are only ten

Let’s start with "What’s It Gonna Take" from the forthcoming "Real Life" by Drive, She Said that sees Mark Mangold and Al Fritsch together again for an AOR tune in the usual DS,S mood. The devasting "Outta My Way" will appear on the next Talisman come back called "Cats & Dogs" with remarkable portions of neoclassic passages, a nice duel guitar (Fredrik Akesson) and bass (Marcel Jacobs), melodies from the ‘70s and a refrain inspired more by Rainbow than by Malmsteen well sung by Jeff Scott Soto.

The de-luxe Khymera project by Steve Walsh (Kansas, Streets) is introduced by the charming "Who’s Gonna Love You Tonight" with David Foster as co-writer, graced by majestic atmosphere, a really interesting appetizer waiting for the whole album. Another welcome return is the one of singer Thom Griffin (Trillion) leading the band Ambition helped by Joe Vana (Mecca), of which we can hear "Waiting In My Dreams" originally written by Richard Page and Steve George for the never released "Pull" album by Mr Mister, a song rich of class and melody.

Talking of come-backs, here’s another one: Michael Sembello (famous for "Maniac" from "Flashdance" ost) releases a new album titled (as the name of the project) "Heavy Weather" from which the demo version of "Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore", typical ‘80s AOR song, is taken. Mystrell by Torben Lysholm (Pangea) reveal with the catchy "Don’t Ever Stop" their love for ‘80s melodic rock, then you can hear songs from the forthcoming album by Ramos (led by guitarist Josh Ramos), by Italian group Green, by Mickey Thomas (Starship) and by Freddy Curci’s (Sheriff, Alias) Zion.

Now it’s up to you the decision to wait for the official release of these albums of buy this compilation.

http://www.frontiers.it


TALISMAN

"Live At Sweden Rock" (Empire)

Rating: 85

Here I am in front of this live album recorded on the June 9th 2001 at Sweden Rock Festival captured with a very good sound (how many studio albums would die for such a sound!) that brings us the great verve and professionality on stage by JS Soto (vc), Marcel Jacobs (bs), Jamie Borger (dr) and Pontus Norgren (gt).

There are fifteen songs including some cover (such as Seal’s "Crazy" now part of the band’s tracklist!) and two minutes for the solo duel between guitar and bass. All in all it’s a nice kind of best of and the concert flows with all the musicians and fans showing fun to be there.

One minute of keyboard salute the jump on stage by Talisman that fire at once the show with the hard and raw "Colour My XTC" with its verse stolen to Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the refrain of pure class rock and I have to mentionate the great work on bass by Jacobs who stops rushing along his instruments only at the last note of "I Am A Viking" (guess who wrote it?), with Norgren as a perfect pard.

The tracklist includes also "All Or Nothing" and "Tie Your Mother Down", the AOR of "I’ll Be Waiting" and the hard rock between Malmsteen and Rainbow of "Here 2day, Gone 2day". A very nice live cd waiting for the brand new album that should be titled "Cats & Dogs".


TAKARA

"Blind in Paradise" (Lion Music)

Rating: 80

With "Blind In Paradise" (originally released in 1998) Lion Music completes the re-issued of the albums published by the band of guitarist Neal Grusky (and the last one with Jeff Scott Soto on vocals) and it was an album that found critics on different sides of consensus, but noone ever thought it was a weak one.

"BIP" features a nice selection of trakcs dealing with hard rock (as the anthemic "Take U Down"), AOR ("Time Waits 4 No One", "No Love’s Enough"), dreaming slow tunes ("Don’t Wanna Be Alone") and finishing with the instrumental "Awake And Dreaming" (the Japanese version saw it replaced with Van Halen’s cover "Dance The Night Away" and a ‘a cappella’ versione of "Always Be Mine") totally performed by keyboardist Eric Ragno.

The musicians involved work to obtain the best result even if every now and then some unexpected traces of artists also far from Takara emerge (listen to the second part, excluding refrain, of "Fly 2 Your Arms": those who are more than 30 y.o. will understand at once my words), but all in all "BIP" is a timeless album (and someone with a certain reason may also mark it as a repetitive or not innovative cd) and also five years later its first release is quite a pleasure to listen again it some of the featured songs.

http://www.lionmusic.com


ULYSSES

"Eclectic" (Self Produced)

Rating: 90

Ulysses is a Dutch five piece formed in 1998 by brothers Raymond (dr) and Ron (keyb) Mozer who called among them Sylvester Vogelenzang de Jong (gt), known when he was in a band called Near Dark, Marcel Dingemanse (bs) and singer Raymond Jansen. From 2000 to 2001 the band had to replace Raymond Mozer and Dingemanse with René van Haaren and Réne Schippers, releasing the five songs featured on debut cd "Eclectic" that’s used to promote itself among some labels (shortly we might hear interesting developements), a product from the music to the artwork aspetcs.

These Dutch musicians offer a powerful and refined symphonic progressive metal, rich of keyboards, melodies, changes of tempo and atmospheres, great solistic and rhythm parts thanks to which they should reach a wide audience in the crowded music scene of today.

Citing Dream Theater (that "Disbeliever" recalls strongly) as one and only reference would be so easy as wrong and injust for the songs revealing that also Kansas, Enchant, Marillion and Rush have had their part in the artistic background of Ron Mozer & Co.

Jansen’s voice, sort of mix between David Surkamp (Pavlov’s Dog), Geddy Lee (Rush) and early David DeFeis (Virgin Steele), has taken a lot of time to be accepted by myself, but all in all it doesn’t disturb the mighty musical visions of Ulysses that prefer the mid/long distances (two songs are more than six minutes long, two more than seven and only the delicate ballad for piano and voice "Watching Over You" is under the three and a half minutes), always keeping high the attention with spectacular instrumental passages, fine vocal harmonies, a great instrumental skill showed also in "Once In A Lifetime" recorded live.

This democd contains also two (well) recorded videos captured live to confirm also to our eyes their ability, but there’s a lot to as ‘stage presence’.

A band to absolutely watch in its next moves.

Contacts: http://www.ulysses-online.nl/ , info@ulysses-online.nl


NEIL HENDERSON

"Big Buildings" (Saqqara Records)

Rating: 80

Polistrumentalis Neil Henderson comes from The States. He worked with famous producer Neil Kernon non on an early version of this project who sees him involved with ten songs within which we find influeces ranging from a more classic AOR to Saga, passing thru’ Rush (those of the ‘80s most rich of keyboards).

Althought the drum machine sound is often disturbing, the overall result is really good for lovers of Melodic Rock performed with an experimental verve as above stated, and tracks like "Big Buildings", "So Strong The Wind", the delicious "The Voyage Of Magellan" and "On To Avalon" (with reflections of the Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe project alternating with likes of Foreigner and Van Halen circa "OU812") are tasteful songs realized with taste and skill by Neil who know very well keyboards, guitars and voice.

His ability compells him not to note the absence of electric guitars (they appear only in the solo portion) in "Last Night In Hollywood", but lean your ears also to the istrumentals "DNA" and "Courage" to understand how much passion and skill Henderson has put in preparing "Big Buildings", an album enjoying a sound quality not good as the songwriting, above all for the bad patterns chosen for drums and basses.

Let’s support Neil for he might release asap a great album helped by a real backing band (or at least by a human rhythm section!).

Contacts: http://www.saqqararecords.com , http://www.cdbaby.com


NEXT BIG SOMETHING

"NBS" – "3-tracks demo" (Self Produced)

Rating: 85

NBS comes from Corpus Christi, Texas, and features Christopher Pierce (vc, gt), John Gomez (dr) and Jesse Elam (bs). As a band these three guys offer a living and powerful modern rock that enabled them to go on stage with The Toadies, Tesla, Cowboy Mouth, Jason Bonham, Stroke 9, Modern English, Econoline Crush, Black Sheep, Gary Hoey, Caroline's Spine, Pushmonkey, Yes and Kansas, plus a sponsorship by Jagermeister.

Now to the music, first of all with the five tracks ep including the hit "Every Little Thing", a song born to please the nowadays listeners thanks for an easy to remember n refrain and to the nice instrumental architecture in the verse.

But the first approach is with "I Will Follow" that must be very good above all when played live and is a very good start for this trio whose quality standard is quite homogenous all through the remaining three songs, that are "Believe" (with a refrain not so far from the late Honeymoon Suite), the tougher "Help Myself" and final "Don’t Want You Around Me" that closes a more than satisfying mini-cd for lovers of more modern sounds, with a look at Goo Goo Dolls, Kings X and Creed.

The second cd contains three brand new tracks produced by Tom Morris (Warrant) and make more secure the sign of a good deal. I like particurarly "Best I Can" and "Save Me", songs that (as "Every Little Thing") wuold work really fine on MTV heavy rotation!

If Miss Luck will be on their side, we might soon hear more from these promising boys.

Contacts: http://www.2generations.com , http://www.mp3.com/nextbigsomething


FARPOINT

"First Light" (SCM)

Rating: 85

Formed in 1997 in the USA, Farpoint are composed by Clark Boone (vc, gt), Kevin Jarvis (gt, bs, keyb), Dana Oxendine (vc, fl, keyb), Frank Tyson (bs) and Johnathan Rodriguez (dr) who, thanks to the peculiar combination of rock instruments with more unusual ones like flute and mandolin, the wide vocal partecipation and the different artistic souls, offer a diversified and particular musical spectrum that can be generically called rock.

Actually, within the nine songs (almost an hour of music) we can find progressive, folk and symphonic passages, but suddenly may appear a new age interlude! All of these elements are mixed with expertise and a lot, a lot of love for the music that allows them not to be selfindulgent (and therefore boring), letting song flow leaving something in your soul.

Under this perspective I found very interesting tracks like "Long Slow Journey", "Circles" (with hints of Kansas, Enya, Yes and Renaissance), the 15 minutes of "The River", suite subdivided into three gracious and intense movements, and the delicious instrumental "Tartans".

Fans of ‘fast food music’ shouldn’t consider this release, but those who have a more mature and wide-opened-ears will find comfort in the Farpoint’s music whose only fault is a sound quality closer to the ‘70s releases than to those of nowadays, but maybe also this aspect is a part of their project.

Contacts: http://www.farpointband.com


NEURAL MASS

"Descent Into The Lower World" - "The Unbreakable Aqua-Mask Of Europa"

Rating: 90 - 70

Neural Mass comes from Montréal (Canada) and today it’s a duo living on the shoulders of Gary Floyd (keyb, bs) and Sylvain Rodrigue (dr, vc) who recently have released their second album "The Unbreakable Aqua-Mask Of Europa".

The band was born in 1992 and, after the 4 tracks single "Innocents From Earth", in 2000 it releases its real full lenght debut called "Descent Into The Lower World" recorded with Marcel Babin (gt) and PP Dorè (bs), a rich and enjoyable collection of prog rock with hints of Genesis, IQ, ELP, Camel, plus a slice of psychedelic rock like The Doors used with a great taste making even more intriguing the listening.

Thanks to the perfect instrumental alchemy, Neural Mass adventure into changes of tempo and atmpospheres maintaining their own identity even when the sound grows heavier("Antropophagus" or "More Suffering To Follow"), and the titletrack explain best (also as sound quality) wnat above written.

Today it's time of "The Unbreakable Aqua-Mask Of Europa" that in the first songs widens the auditory spectrum to Yes, Kansas, Magellan and Cairo. Fans of classic '70s prog rock will recognize the baroque plan that lead the ten minutes of the titletrack and those majestic, elegiac sounds of "Out There".

From now on we have a total change of atmosphere and it seems to be in front of a brand new band. Cold electronic walls of "Innocents From Earth" (recovered from the first single?) and "The Jupiter" (piano, drums, acoustic bass and voice) frightened me, but got me ready for the hallucinated "The Lamp" and "Aqua-mallet" (more melodious, but difficult and tough to listen to anyway.

Also final "Evaporology" is a tour-de-force for my ears which were so finely used by the lovely harmonies of "Descent Into The Lower World", but fans of experiments in music may be interested in it.

Lovers of progressive rock must absolutely secure themselves a copy of "Descent Into The Lower World" that's a really great prog album, while if you want to approach "The Unbreakable..." you'd better download the most difficult songs to have an idea of how they are.

Contatti: http://www.mp3.com/neuralmass


BODRAGAZ

"Solid Sound" (Fox St. Records)

Rating: 85

Here we are again with American band (from Denver) Bodragaz arriving at their fourth album containing eleven songs of strong and melodic progressive hard rock, showing (compared to "Somewhere In Switzerland" I reviewed for FLASH only a couple of years ago) a sharp and consistent growth in songwriting and performing.

Infacts today the songs are more mature, complete, well crafted in arrangements and harmonies, a mix of factors that makes really incredible the lack of a 'solid' deal with a label that help them spred their word in Europe, where I think their music has the greater chances to be accepted with success.

Just from opener "The Energy" the five musicians disclose their game made of prog and hard rock devoted to catchy choruses, elegant arrangements that don't detract anything to the strong expressive impact, neither where there's a greater exposure to catchy melodies like in "I Remember It All" and "Send Me A Sign".

Some instrumental passages or choruses recall Shotgun Symphony, particurarly in the fine "Sailing On" and "Reaching Out" rich of voices and a very good harmonic building, while melodic mid tempo "Somewhere" wuold have appeared proudly on S2's "Sea Of Desire" album.

These boys know what to do and I do wish them to have soon the deserved satisfaction.

Contacts: http://www.bodragaz.com


COASTLINE "Restless Heart, Restless Mind" (Self Produced) Rating: 85

Swedish lands keep offering interesting artists in the AOR/Melodic Rock field and today it's up to five piece Coastline formed by Helena Rosendahl (vc), Lars Melin (keyb), Jan Hedlund (dr), Thomas Hansson (gt) and Tomas Munters (bs) who kindly sent me their four tracks demo cd to start letting the word go 'round. And here the word is the classic and catchy AOR very well recorded and produced.

There is no particular innovation in style, but quality is very high and will please fans of Heart, Pat Benatar, Witness, Black[N]Blue and Alyson Avenue, thanks to lovely and warm vocal harmonies supported by a solid and competent base where guitar and keyboards (but also drums and bass!) know how to play with class.

Four songs are really too few to express a complete judgement about Coastline, but what we hear is of great quality with only AOR semi ballad "Love's Not For Everyone" a little under the average, but the rest of tracks will stay for a long time to come in my car-tapes while I'm driving for job.

"Restless Heart, Restless Mind" opens this demo with a very good and ultra-catchy refrain, midtempo "I'll Get Over You" recalls of the best Heart of mid-lat '80s and also here chorus is very contagiuos. The faster "Miracle" (the verse is opened to Abba-like melodies but the soul is always melodic rock!) closes the tracklist, but opens the path for a shining future to Coastline. I said!

Contacts: Lars Melin, Albacksgatan 26, 782 33 Malung, Sweden; totteh@hotmail.com