Forcefield – Let The Wild Run Free (1990)

Forcefield_WildRunFree4 out of 5 Stars!

This is probably the best album by Forcefield, the side project masterminded by (I suspect) the trio of Ray Fenwick (formerly guitarist of the Ian Gillan Band), Cozy Powell (drum god, formerly of thousands of bands…RIP), and Graham Bonnet (one-time vocalist with Rainbow, Alcatrazz, and The Michael Schenker Group, to name but a few).

Overall, the fourth Forcefield album is less pop-oriented then the previous three releases, although a few of the tracks (the Russ Ballard-penned opener “Let The Wild Run Free” as well as Forcefield’s rendition of Denny Laine’s “Money Talks” being two of them) still make an appearance. Yet, the album is also heavier than the previous releases. Indeed, included within are some rather blistering tracks, with stunning guitar work courtesy of Mario Parga (notably on the tracks “I Will Not Go Quietly,” “Women On Wings,” and “Living By Numbers”), Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake/Babe Ruth) on several tracks, as well as Ray Fenwick himself (although he contributes the majority of the keyboard work or rhythm guitar work, for the most part, while allowing the guest guitarists to “steal the show.”)

As on the band’s previous albums, this release is made up of a few original compositions, while the remainder are cover-tunes, some well known, some obscure. For this release, the band recorded “Can’t Get Enough” (Bad Company), which is a rather lame attempt and one of the album’s lower points. On the other hand, the rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” isn’t all that shabby, being one of the better tracks on offer here.

The standout tunes, however, are a Don Henley song and two original compositions: Henley’s “I Will Not Go Quietly,” the original “Living By Numbers,” (both featuring some ripping guitar lines) and, my favorite, the bluesier “Women On Wings,” where Graham Bonnet completely shreds his tonsils. Apart from the keyboard backdrop, contributed by former Colosseum II and Rainbow/current Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey, this track reminds me of Bonnet’s limited time in MSG, on the underrated and killer Assault Attack release).

If anyone dares to delve into the Forcefield output, I recommend this album as the starting (and perhaps ending) point.

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Forcefield_WildRunFree

Eyesberg – Blue (2014)

Eyesberg_Blue4 out of 5 Stars!

This German band was supposedly formed back in 1980, yet have released only a single album in 2014. Seriously? 34 years after its formation? What took them so long?

Regardless, the band offers some terrific music in a style quite similar to classic Genesis and Marillion, only with some strong AOR (even poppy) sensibility tossed in, and includes a singer heavily influenced by Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins. Highly melodic overall, the tracks vary from soft to heavy, mellow to energetic, sparse to grand, with some of the arrangements being complex. The inclusion of the occasional flute and what sounds like Mellotron are also pluses in my book. So imagine a band such as Genesis wedded to a band such as Styx and that may give you a good idea of what’s on offer here.

Now, with so much going for them, I can only wish it doesn’t take Eyesberg another 34 years to release more material.

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Echoes Landing – Closer To You (2006)

EchoesLanding_CloserToYou4 out of 5 Stars!

This short-lived California band eventually became, with some personnel changes, the excellent (and current) Progressive Rock/Metal group named Scarlet Hollow. Like the current band, Echoes Landing also featured Allison VonBülow as its lead vocalist and her partner in musical crime (and in life, as it happens), guitarist Gregg Olson, but instead of Progressive Rock/Metal, the band’s sole album is sort of like Scarlet Hollow Lite…acoustic-driven Rock, AOR oriented, with only the merest whispers of Progressive Rock on a few songs, and in many respects seems a combination between the groups Saraya and Heart with perhaps a modicum of both Alannah Myles and Lana Lane added to the blend.

Overall, 2006’s Closer To You contains some beautiful and catchy material, with Allison’s instantly recognizable voice always at the forefront. Additionally, the tracks are all relatively short and succinct, without the extra fluff or lengthy instrumental excursions, thus allowing the vocal melodies to reign supreme without major distractions.

Take, for instance, the tune “Reach Out II,” a mid-tempo rocker that acts as almost a “style template” for many of the other compositions on this release. Here, with a seemingly perfect blend of acoustic and electric guitars, and Allison belting out the lyrics on two separate tracks (both a lead and an “answer back” track) with an occasional emotional twang in her voice (one that wouldn’t be out of place on any album by Shania Twain or Faith Hill), the song could actually fall into what is being coined the “Heartland Rock” genre, where elements of Contemporary Rock, Folk, R&B, and Country blend with Pop Rock melodies in the style of various artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, Bob Seger, etc. And the album’s title track is certainly of a similar nature, only this time with a dynamic and gutsy guitar lead, piano touches, and light and swirling synths that add dreamy Prog-Rock atmospherics to the background (actually quite similar in nature to Scarlet Hollow’s future signature style).

The mellower and jazzy “Timing,” with the unexpected inclusion of trumpet, offers even more instrumental diversity, and is nothing short of a showcase for Allison’s terrific abilities, her vocals expertly weaving through the track in a serpentine fashion and setting her apart from other singers in the genre. Moreover, one of my favorite tunes, the beautiful “Echoes Landing,” (yes, the group had its very own theme song, it seems) is a heavily acoustic composition that features Allison performing multiple background harmonies, again drawing attention to her vocal gifts and almost making me fleetingly wonder if this is what the group America might have sounded like had it been comprised of females.

Anyway, with other catchy and periodically moody tracks such as “Shine My Way,” “Side by Side,” “Real Life,” and even a melodic little ditty entitled “I” (the lyrics comprised solely of that single word, believe it or not), Echoes Landing acted as a playful platform on which the VonBülow/Olson musical partnership could experiment, laying a solid groundwork for the duo’s next major venture, Scarlet Hollow.

Fans of the female-led groups or individual artists I mentioned at the top of the review will likely enjoy this release as much as I do.

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EchoesLanding_CloserToYou

The Dust Connection – Trails (2009)

DustConnection_Trails4 out of 5 Stars!

First, let me begin by saying that I feel this band has a ton of potential. A TON!

But…

The problem for not receiving a higher rating, mainly (in my mind, at least), lies in the quality of production. The tracks don’t have a cohesive sound quality—almost as if the album had been pieced together from different recording sessions with various engineers/producers. Sometimes the drums are muffled, sometimes they’re “in your face.” Sometimes the keyboards are diluted, sometimes bright. Etc., etc., etc. You get the drift. The variety is enough to leave you wondering how many months/years between recording sessions this album got recorded. The musicians and singer, more than capable, and at times stellar, are certainly not the problem. It always falls down to the mix on certain tracks, again, as if the album had not been recorded in the same studio(s) or period(s) of time—you can definitely tell which tracks received greater care when it came to the mix, or time, (or finances, more likely) available.

Still, please don’t get me wrong—nothing here is what I would consider “horrible.” Nothing at all. In fact, the overall package is still quite good when it comes to the Progressive Metal label. The band certainly shows an ability for writing some interesting tracks, and the singer (who reminds me of Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden fame) is definitely no slouch. With a bit of “loving care,” this band, in my opinion, could certainly excel into becoming a tremendous force in the Prog-Metal genre. They have the chops, and the instinct for melody when it comes to their arrangements, so hopefully they will glom onto some producer who has the same level of dedication to his/her trade as these boys obviously have.

I’d love to rate this release higher (since it has the potential to be KILLER) but not for the inconsistent production. Sorry, but “them’s the breaks.” Nevertheless, I’m a “hopeful yet reluctant” fan when it comes to the overall group.

For specifics regarding the music and atmosphere, there’s a bit of the usual Dream Theater influences, with also a touch of Shadow Gallery and Pain Of Salvation tossed into the mix, although I generally believe the band is closer in sound and style to Power Of Balance. A nice direction, overall, so again, allow me to reemphasize my opening declaration, that this band has a TON of potential. Whether it is ever realized, however, is the question. Prog-Metal fans should proceed with caution, yet please keep an open mind when it comes to sound quality, especially if you enjoy the bands mentioned above.

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Division by Zero – Independent Harmony (2010)

DivisionByZero_IndependentHarmony3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Not bad, when the band is playing the traditional progressive metal (ie. a band with actual vocals and not the STUPID growl crap!!!) I HATE growl garbage, which ruins everything it encounters. So, for the actual metal music and “real” vocals, I give this album a 4 stars. For the growl bullcrap, I deduct a half-star. Why the hell do bands feel the growl-garbage enhances their appeal??? It’s a mystery, and one I wish would freaking end!

Deep Thought – The Tunnel (2013)

DeepThought_Tunnel4 out of 5 Stars!

I thought long and hard about how to rate this album. I reluctantly decided on 4 Stars.

Why reluctantly? Well, the music is quite good, sometimes near perfect, incorporating a variety of styles and moods (at times reminiscent of Marillion and IQ, or additional progressive rock bands), which makes for an enjoyable listen overall.

The vocals, however…oh dear, let’s just say they could be of higher quality (ie. more precise) when it comes to key and tunefulness. To me, the singer doesn’t seem as if he belongs in a band of this nature, but seems better-suited for an “alternative rock” or “punk” type of band, where an “attitude” is often more important than perfect pitch and the ability for the singer to make appropriate mood shifts in his delivery and tone. Now, had the band possessed a versatile, more gifted singer such as Jon Anderson (Yes), or Peter Nicholls (IQ), or Alan Reed (Pallas), or hell, even Fish (Marillion), I would have rated this album higher since, as I mentioned, the music is enjoyable. Instead, there are some cringe-worthy vocal moments and one can’t help thinking that the band “settled” for the first available singer as opposed to waiting for one who actually fits the style of music.

Nevertheless, despite my misgivings, I couldn’t help but rate this album at least 4 Stars since the band shows promise and the music is, generally, impressive.

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Deep Purple – Burn (1974)

DeepPurple_Burn4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Damn, I recall (as if yesterday) the moment this album came out. I picked it up and hesitated, wondering whether I should shell out my money for an album by a band that had recently went through major line-up changes. I mean, come on…replacing a singer (my favorite in the history of rock) named Ian Gillan with a totally unknown singer by the name of David Coverdale? What the hell???

But I did make the purchase, based on the Blackmore/Lord/Paice reputation, and hell, I have NEVER regretted that decision. Sure, the band had a different sound overall, but it wasn’t so horrifically different from the MKII era that I didn’t appreciate its greatness. And in truth, I loved Coverdale instantly, and Glenn Hughes…damn it, that guy not only added some thumping rhythms with his bass guitar, but vocally replaced the Gillan “screams” part of the band. In fact, there is something to be said for the vocal interplay between Coverdale/Hughes…perfection! It’s something that made this band even more outrageously wonderful then it was with Gillan solely fronting the band. Don’t get me wrong…to this day, Ian Gillan is still what I consider to be the ultra-best metal-vocalist on the planet, but the Coverdale/Hughes swapping-vocals extravaganza was something equally as wonderful. These guys truly worked as a pair, sounding superb as a duo, and their particular unison-sound has never been duplicated in history. Brilliance! One thing for which I have always blessed Ritchie Blackmore is his talent in hearing and hiring the most gifted vocalists, whether in Deep Purple or in Rainbow…all of them have ended up (basically) legends. The guy was a genius when it came to snapping up the “iconic vocalists of the future.”

Anyway, from the title track “Burn” to the ending track “Mistreated” (the final instrumental track not included in my review until below), this album ranks amongst the most inspired and enjoyable releases in metal history. “Might Just Take Your Life, “Sail Away,” “You Fool No One,” etc. all have a special enjoyment factor, a place in my heart (nostalgia-wise) and I will not fault this release (for those tracks). But one thing…

Come on…with two BRILLIANT singers in the band’s “revival,” why Deep Purple would decide to include a rather bland piece of instrumental garbage by the name of “A-200” to close out this terrific album of a mere eight total tracks is far beyond my understanding. It’s a complete mystery to me, and one I find myself unable to forgive even after all these decades. Hitting the world with another Coverdale/Hughes blast would have been so much more preferable.

Nevertheless, this album is as near to perfect as possible, and almost as close to perfection as any of the Purple Mark II releases. Too bad the momentum couldn’t last past this one final powerhouse of a release.

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Deep Purple – Who Do We Think We Are (1973)

DeepPurple_WhoDoWeThink4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This is probably—and sadly—one of Deep Purple’s most underrated albums, often dismissed by the critics and usually rated poorly by fans of the group. Then again, after the previous releases of Made In Japan and Machine Head, just about anything this talented group of individuals had produced would have likely been less-than-enthusiastically received. After all, without another brilliant and memorable (and forever-classic) opening riff for a track such as Machine Head’s “Smoke On The Water” included on this album, most people wrote this off as a bunch of “filler tracks” with perhaps one or two decent songs tossed in for good measure.

Yet in truth, the riffs for tracks such as “Woman From Toyko” or “Rat Bat Blue” are equally as brilliant and memorable (and were not as annoyingly overplayed by US radio) as the riff to “Smoke On The Water”—or at least they are to these ears.

Of course, I’m prejudiced in the fact that this is one of the very first albums I ever purchased. Nostalgia plays a big part in my feelings toward this album, so forgive me for that. Nevertheless, to me, Ian Gillan is nothing short of a vocal god, and his trademark screams on “Rat Bat Blue,” “Place In Line,” “Woman From Tokyo,” and the urgency he employs with his voice on “Smooth Dancer,” not to mention the sarcasm that slices through his smooth vibrato on “Mary Long,” all conspired to influence me to pursue a musical career as a lead vocalist. Indeed, this album will forever remain one of my all-time favorites because of his performance and what it personally inspired me to achieve in my own life.

Also note: The studio outtake track “Painted Horse” is, I see, finally included in the remastered versions of this album. I have owned this track for a long while, what with it being included on the Powerhouse album (just another of the gazillions of compilations issued only for greed) and have long admired it. Why was it not included on the original album’s release, considering the album itself was so damned short? Well, truth be told, it definitely WAS an outtake in the sense that the style of music doesn’t “jive” with the other material on this last MK. II album. But damn it, I do love this song, a rather swaying, laid-back bluesy track featuring Gillan’s harmonica and some interesting Blackmore solos. Nope, it’s definitely not a “fit” with the other tracks that eventually made up this album, but a track worth seeking, if for nothing else but fun.

Deep Purple, Mark II—probably one of the finest groups in history. I can certainly live with a few “naff tracks,” as some people feel are included on this album, since they are, without a doubt, better than the majority of garbage being produced these days. Give me the classics any ol’ day!

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Joanna Dean – Misbehavin’ (1988)

JoannaDean_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

I’ve always been a sucker for a female singer with a raspy, whiskey-soaked voice. Of course, Janis Joplin was the prime example of this in-your-face vocal style, but few, if any, female rock vocalist could match the power of Ms. Joplin.

Then I saw a video for the song “Kiss This” and just about had a heart attack! Not only did the singer have a killer voice, but a raspy one as well…one that also seemed to hit multiple notes at the same time, ala Ms. Joplin. Needless to say, I eagerly welcomed Joanna Dean’s one and only album (as a solo artist) into my collection.

Without a doubt, she is the closest thing to a Janis Joplin-type of singer I have ever discovered. Her musical style is also laced with the blues, but with a heavy, no-frills, rock and roll approach. (Kinda like a female-led version of a band like Cinderella or Aerosmith.) Not only does this album include the driving single “Kiss This,” but the highlight of the album has got to be Joanna’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” When she goes for those high notes, her raspy voice making the notes almost sizzle with simultaneous harmonics, you can almost imagine Janis Joplin smiling down on her from rock ‘n’ roll heaven, giving Joanna a big “thumbs up.”

If you like your rock and roll straight forward and stomping, if you like female singers who can belt out a tune with a gut-wrenching vocal delivery, you won’t find much better than this album…an undiscovered gem. Dean deserved worldwide fame and legendary status, but, sadly, she never got it.

NOTE: Don’t miss Code Of Honor by the band Bad Romance, which also features Joanna on lead vocals. She recorded that band’s lone album several years after this solo release. Since it’s an identical style of music, I basically consider it her second solo album.

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Cyan – Pictures From The Other Side (1994)

Cyan_Pictures4 out of 5 Stars!

The comparisons between Cyan and Magenta are all too apparent. Not surprising, considering the musicians involved here. And as with any Cyan album, I can’t help wondering how it would have sounded had it been released under the Magenta banner and Christina Booth had sung lead on all the tracks.

As with Magenta, the musicianship is high quality, the Genesis/Yes/etc. influences are intact, the songs are all top notch, the production is excellent, but the vocals (although often interesting and commendable) just don’t have that “something special,” which only Christina could provide. It’s especially frustrating when you can clearly distinguish her voice in the background on such tracks as “Pictures From The Other Side,” “Broken Man,” “All Around The World,” and “Tomorrow’s Here Today”….darn, I wish she had sung lead, since Magenta just can’t release enough material to suit my craving.

Anyway, fans of Magenta will definitely love this and other Cyan releases, while people who enjoy keyboard-dominated neo-progressive rock with engaging melodies will certainly not be too disappointed with this album.

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