Barock Project – An Overview

BarockProjectAlbums In My Collection

– Coffee In Neukolin
– Rebus
– Skyline

An Overview

A relatively new band from Italy (they popped onto the scene sometime around 2005), this one playing some rather exciting Neo-Pro and Symphonic Prog-Rock. Each of their releases (some sung in Italian, the most recent sung in English) has some of the usual inspirations creeping into their sound, including Spock’s Beard, Magellan, Gentle Giant, Transatlantic, Jethro Tull, Moon Safari, Unitopia, Yes, etc.

There’s actually nothing new as far as overall content goes, but each song sounds somehow fresh, like a modern, grander, almost forward-thinking take on older styles—the instruments are performed wonderfully with a singer that sounds invigorated, more “this century” than some bands who try to replicate the usual older Peter Gabriel or Fish-type vocals from the previous century. Sure, some of the vocals parts (especially when accompanied by the occasional flute insertions) are slightly reminiscent of Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull, but again, with a more youthful sound, and always highly melodic. And truthfully, the singer has a broader range overall, a more AOR-friendly and enthusiastic delivery, which is always a plus.

In general, in all of their songs on each of their albums, Barock Project seems to magically include an energetic approach, more lively and upbeat than other contemporary bands, with some fascinating arrangements, an indescribable “capturing lightning in a bottle” type of phenomena, that makes one’s ears perk up with curiosity. This is where (to me) the Magellan comparison comes in the most, since that band also had a similar approach when they first appeared on the scene back in the ’90s.

So at first glance (or listen) it may seem as if Barock Project is offering nothing new to the Prog-Rock genre, yet with their spirited approach they are indeed adding their own spicy and robust take on a tried-and-true formula, although sounding as if there is no formula at all, therefore, sounding relatively fresh. And they just keep getting better and better with each new release, with the most recent (Skyline) being a near masterpiece. NICE!!!

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Headpins – An Overview

HeadpinsAlbums In My Collection

– Head Over Heels
– Line Of Fire
– Turn It Loud

An Overview

This Canadian group had an unremarkable career in the early ’80s, which seemed a shame since they featured a lead singer with a spectacular voice. Darby Mills was her name, and kicking major ass with her ballsy vocals was her game.

The band’s first 2 albums, Turn It Loud and Line Of Fire, each contained some hard-rockin’ tracks that showcased just how in-your-face Darby could be when given some fiery material. She fits comfortably into the same category of singers as Janis Joplin, Joanna Dean, Sass Jordan, et al., the sort of raspy female vocalists who were outrageously adept at pouring their emotions into blues-based hard rock music without sacrificing the melodies.

Although many consider the band’s final album, Head Over Heels, a major let-down, I didn’t find it horrible, even though the band altered their style, lightening things up with a more mainstream/AOR approach. Darby is still there kickin’ butt, so it ain’t half as bad as some people claim—it certainly blows to hell just about any other band out there who attempted the same style in the mid-’80s.

Also note, after Darby left the group, the band picked up another terrific singer by the name of Chrissy Steele, but instead of releasing material under the Headpins name with her, the Magnet To Steele album that eventually resulted in 1991 was issued under the name “Chrissy Steele.” Headpins guitarist Brian MacLeod was the only member who lasted into this period before sadly passing away shortly after this new album was released. Be that as it may, the Magnet To Steele album was basically a Headpins album without the actual name and a “return to form” of their previous harder rocking style.

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Curved Air – An Overview

CurvedAirAlbums In My Collection

– Air Conditioning
– Air Cut
– Phantasmagoria
– Second Album

An Overview

For some reason I had put off checking out this band for many decades. Not sure of exactly the reason why, but I suspect it had to do with a trusted someone once telling me that they were nothing but wimpy progressive folk rock and, in my mind, that equaled boring. Despite knowing that Eddie Jobson was once in their line-up, I had always avoided this band based on that original caveat.

But just recently, I chanced to hear their material from the early 70s and, although not completely blown away, I certainly wasn’t bored. Granted their brand of progressive rock isn’t the sort that really gets my blood flowing (nothing like Gentle Giant or IQ, for example) but it’s more than pleasant enough, especially with the talented vocalist named Sonja Kristina at the helm.

Since my recent discovery, I’ve delved into Curved Air’s back catalogue and can now call myself a fan, especially of the albums Phantasmagoria and Air Cut, which are both better than average. When it comes to their softer material, they remind me of Renaissance, yet their liberal use of violin, electric guitar, organ and synthesizers, along with a fondness for bouncier rhythms and some experimental instrumentation on other tracks, sets them apart from the other band. Nevertheless, Sonja’s tone, range, and vocal delivery has a lot in common with Annie Haslam’s, thereby making comparisons between the two bands inevitable.

Regardless, thanks but no thanks to that friend of mine from years ago who gave me bad advice about Curved Air. I’m glad I finally took the chance and judged their early albums for myself, discovering not wimpy progressive folk rock, but a female-led Prog-Rock band that were unique in many respects and quite adventurous upon occasion—just take a listen to the track “Over And Above” from Phantasmagoria, for example, and see what I mean.

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Two of a Kind – Two of a Kind (2007)

TwoOfAKind_14 out of 5 Stars!

As the name of the band implies, there are two of them—female vocalists, that is—Esther Brouns and Anita Craenmehr, both of them talented with decent vocal ranges.

The band plays a brand of hard rock with heavy AOR influences and many of the songs on their lone album are catchy and fairly memorable, and all feature some great harmonies.

The one criticism I have is that, when having two lead vocalists, it might have been better had they not sounded exactly alike. Indeed, it’s difficult to tell when either one of them takes the lead since their voices are basically identical. The one thing that made a band such as Tantrum unique is that each of the three singers had such distinguishable voices that happened to blend together perfectly when doing harmonies, yet could easily be identified when singing solo.

Nevertheless, Two Of A Kind are a better-than-average act and I hope they eventually release some more material.

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Toss ‘N’ Turn – Freestyle (1994)

TossNTurn_Freestyle3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Toss ‘N’ Turn is a German band I discovered just within the past decade, a female-fronted group that apparently created only a single album released back in the mid-’90s.

Fronted by singer Jaqueline Cipriano, the band played Blues-inspired Hard Rock with a touch of AOR, funk, etc. on several tracks, and for the most part, Freestyle contains fairly enjoyable material.

On rollicking and straightforward tunes such as “Torture, Torture,” “How Do You Feel,” “One Night & A Heartache,” “In My Blood,” and “Confession,” I liken Toss ‘N’ Turn to bands such as Tesla or Bad Company, with the guitars front and center, and a touch of keyboards included for added spice. Meanwhile, Cipriano’s voice, raw and throaty and raspy, is perfect for the fourteen songs on offer here, especially on the rock shuffle “Back To The Wall” and the punching “Hungry,” two of my favorite tracks, and on lighter, acoustic guitar-driven moments such as “Life (The Ups & Downs)” and a cover of The Bangles’ tune “Eternal Flame.”

Although Freestyle contains virtually no major surprises, nothing truly innovative to set the music world ablaze, the level of musicianship is relatively high, with Cipriano being the unquestionable “star” of the show. Moreover, the guest appearance of Michael Sadler (Saga) on keyboards and background vocals (and acting as the album’s co-producer with the band) might shock a few people since the material on Freestyle is about as far from the music of Saga as one can get.

Regardless, fans of female vocalists such as Alannah Myles, Sass Jordan, or Lorraine Lewis (Femme Fatale) might find interest in Toss ‘N’ Turn, since much of the band’s music is of a similar nature.

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Ten Wheel Drive – Construction #1 (1969)

TenWheelDrive_Construction4 out of 5 Stars!

Construction #1 is the debut album from yet another female-led Brass-Rock/Jazz-Rock band, similar in style to both Cold Blood and Janis Joplin’s I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! album, all popping up in 1969.

Ten Wheel Drive is fronted by a terrific vocalist named Genya Ravan, whose voice and delivery is similar to both Janis Joplin and Lydia Pense (from Cold Blood). To be more precise, imagine Janis Joplin fronting Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago, and that’s what you’ll get with Ten Wheel Drive.

Several tracks (such as “Tightrope,” “I Am A Want Ad,” or “Polar Bear Rug”) feature slamming rock riffs that rival the best Blues-Rock bands of the era, while a few tracks (such as “Lapidary,” “House In Central Park,” and, especially, “Candy Man Blues”), or some sections of tracks such as the lengthy, wildly diverse, and ever-shifting “Eye Of The Needle,” are a bit lighter and offer a jazzy feel. The guitars generally sizzle, and the occasional piano offers beautiful accompaniment, while the rhythm section pounds and drives where necessary. And of course, what sets this band apart from most, is the solid brass section, playing exciting arrangements that match the jaw-dropping complexity and surprising maturity of early Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Indeed, the brass sounds clean and crisp throughout, creating a perfect backdrop for a vocalist with Ravan’s powerful style.

Overall, for both brass enthusiasts like myself as well as fellow devotees of female singers, Construction #1 offers up fascinating material, and is probably the most innovative of the band’s four studio releases. Too bad Ten Wheel Drive (and Ravan herself, who went on to have a lengthy solo career) never achieved the enduring fame it so greatly deserved.

 

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Harlow – Harlow (1990)

Harlow_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Here’s another fine example of a promising band that, in a perfect world, should have stayed together past only a single album and become hugely popular, but did not.

Released back in 1990, Harlow’s well-produced debut (and only) album had a splendid mixture of both Hard Rock (such as “Chain Reaction,” “Beyond Control,” or “Empty”) and AOR material (such as “Silence,” “The Edge Of Love,” or “No Escape”), all sung by Theresa Straley, a singer with a rich, husky, and sometimes raspy voice with an impressive range.

When Straley hits the high notes, such as the ending passage of the aforementioned song “Silence” or the final choruses of the exceptional “Cry Murder,” you can get shivers down your spine. Her voice is not only suitable for the harder-rocking tracks, but the ballads as well since she’s able to belt out the lyrics when necessary and load her voice with passionate emotion where suitable.

Another thing about Straley, although her general style and delivery isn’t that different from some other great female singers in the Hard Rock genre (Joanna Dean, Alannah Myles, Sass Jordan, etc.), her tonal quality (to me, at least) sounds completely unique, a definite plus since she’s instantly recognizable.

Additionally, besides Straley, Harlow also most notably featured Black ‘N’ Blue/Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer.

To sum up, for fans of female-fronted Hard Rock/AOR bands, this is a damned decent album to grab, if you can locate a copy, from a damned decent band.

 

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