Legs Diamond – Legs Diamond (1977)

LegsDiamond_LegsDiamond4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This is one band I followed since its debut album and still cannot figure out how it remains so damned obscure—only a fierce “cult following” to this day.

San Francisco’s Legs Diamond had a unique sound, with singer Rick Sanford’s immediately recognizable voice, Roger Romeo’s wicked guitars, Michael Prince’s sterling keyboards, and the tight rhythm section of bassist Michael “Diamond” Gargano and drummer Jeff Poole delivering well-above-average material.

Be that as it may, those unfamiliar with Legs Diamond should certainly investigate this 1977 debut, which includes some electrifying tunes such as “It’s Not the Music,” “Deadly Dancer,” “Satin Peacock,” “Rat Race,” and “Stage Fright.” Each of the album’s seven tracks is a winner, quite memorable and often breathtaking, and I guarantee that most listeners, after hearing this release, will crave to savor even more from the group’s back catalogue.

The bottom line is that Legs Diamond should have been GIGANTIC, and in a perfect world, fate would have made it happen. Indeed, the band’s first two releases were simply outstanding. Granted, the third album Fire Power, although containing some extraordinary tracks, did fall a bit short overall, and Legs Diamond splintered soon after recording an unreleased fourth album (that finally appeared on the market as Uncut Diamond in 1999, a raw bundle of energy that nearly matched the sheer songwriting power of the band’s first two albums). Anyway, Legs Diamond thankfully reformed in the mid-’80s, bursting back with revitalized energy and several new band members.

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La Bocca della Verità – Avenoth (2016)

LaBoccaDellaVerita_Avenoth4.5 out of 5 Stars!

From Italy, La Bocca della Verità has released only a single album in 2016, a Sci-Fi themed concept album, and what a corker it is.

This impressive collection of Symphonic and Neo-Prog seems to take all the best elements from groups such as Spock’s Beard, Nemo, PFM, Marillion, Yes, Transatlantic, Unitopia, Galahad, The Flower Kings—hell, you name it—and blend everything together into a Prog-Rock heaven.

Even though the band features a dynamic rhythm section (including a Rickenbacker bass—my favorite) and some wonderfully adept guitar gymnastics, it is undoubtedly the synths, organs, pianos, and Mellotrons that reign supreme, and with the band including two keyboardists in its lineup, that comes as no surprise.

Although the lead vocals, sung in Italian, are generally pleasant enough, it’s the band’s creative instrumentation, the ever-changing tempos, atmospheres, and highly varied keyboard orchestrations that truly steal the show, especially on tracks such as the nearly eighteen minute “La Suite Dei Tre Planeti” and the lesser epics “La Rivolta, II Massacro Dei Terrstri,” “Reprise (Speranze Distorte),” “La Deportazione Degli Avenothiani,” and the title tune, with each song seemingly crammed with tons of Prog excitement and magical moments.

Avenoth might not be quite the perfect 5-Star masterpiece, but it comes damned close, making me yearn for much more material from this talented band…and soon!

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The Michael Schenker Group – MSG (1981)

MSG_24 out of 5 Stars!

Although I much preferred Assault Attack, MSG’s third release (featuring Graham Bonnet on vocals), the band’s second album also had a ton going for it—some great tracks in the style of (no shock) UFO, along with the enviable rhythm section of bassist Chris Glen (The Sensational Alex Harvey Band) and drummer Cozy Powell (Rainbow/Black Sabbath/ELP), Paul Raymond (UFO/SavoyBrown) on keys/rhythm guitar, and (of course) Michael Schenker’s shredding UFO/Scorpions-styled guitar leads.

I’ll admit, I was never a huge fan of vocalist Gary Barden, which is why I preferred the group’s subsequent release, but this album nevertheless had a rather impressive collection of tracks and still remains an enjoyable listen. “Ready to Rock” and “Attack of the Mad Axeman,” “Let Sleeping Dogs Like,” “I Want More,” “Looking for Love,” and (perhaps my favorite) “On and On” all contain enough catchy melodies and guitar hooks to keep things interesting.

So although this album doesn’t beat 1982’s Assault Attack, it does come mighty close.

(RIP Cozy Powell)

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Back Street Crawler – The Band Plays On (1975)

BackStreetCrawler_BandPlaysOn4 out of 5 Stars!

I always had a special place in my hard-rockin’ heart for Back Street Crawler, a band with such promise, such talent, such passion…and such rotten, rotten luck.

Created out of the instinct and drive to continue onward after the demise of the band Free, guitarist (and tragic soul) Paul Kossoff fought to kick his nasty drug habit and return to the rock ‘n’ roll world, going back into the studio to complete a side project he’d started in better—ie. more lucid—days. Thankfully, he soon joined with some skillful musicians who shared his vision, and the group Back Street Crawler burst onto the scene with a rollicking album of mostly blues-based/slightly funk-based Hard Rock that occasionally shared much of the same vibe, style, and attitude as Free and Mott The Hoople (and, ultimately, Bad Company), and also groups such as Rolling Stones, Spooky Tooth, Humble Pie, and Faces.

Happily, Paul’s recognizable guitar tones, riffs, and solos steered the band’s direction, and BSC offered up material that seemed to guarantee a bright future. Tracks such as the rockin’ title tune, “Stealing My Way,” “Rock & Roll Junkie,” “All The Girls are Crazy,” “Train Song,” and “Survivor,” along with the laid-back “It’s A Long Way Down To The Top” and “Jason Blue,” plus the funkified yet Free-ish opener “Hoo Doo Woman,” all display Kossoff’s underestimated brilliance, not to mention the admirable chops of his fellow band members, and made for a pleasurable collection.

But the damned drugs once again crept onto the scene to blacken the rosy picture for Paul, and after releasing another enjoyable album with the band the following year, he shockingly passed away at the young age of 26. The remainder of the group members, not letting the tragedy completely destroy them, soon recruited a new guitarist and continued on with the shortened name of Crawler, releasing two funkier albums in the subsequent years.

Regardless, since The Band Plays On displays Kossoff’s six-string talent, it’s a “must-have” album for all fans of blues-inspired Hard Rock.

 

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Starbreaker – Starbreaker (2005)

Starbreaker_14 out of 5 Stars!

When it comes to a band featuring the crisp, clear, recognizable, and wide-ranging singer Tony Harnell (TNT/Westworld) behind the microphone, one would likely expect Starbreaker’s debut album to include some engaging melodies, along with stellar harmonies, and they would be correct.

And with Swedish guitarist/keyboardist Magnus Karlsson (Allen/Lande) wielding the six-string axe and layering the keys in the background (providing nearly an identical soundscape as he did on the enjoyable Allen/Lande albums), the majority of tracks are indeed powerful slices of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, with impressive solos galore and an overall production quality that is ultra-professional.

I wish the band had lasted for more than just two albums before calling it a day.

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Badlands – Badlands (1989)

Badlands_Badlands4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Even after all these years, I continue to savor the debut release from Badlands, the straightforward, kick-ass, blues-based “super group” featuring guitarist Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne/Rough Cutt), drummer Eric Singer (Black Sabbath/Kiss), bassist Greg Chaisson (Steeler/Legs Diamond), and the magnificent and sorely missed vocalist Ray Gillen, who sadly passed away a few years after the band’s sophomore album Voodoo Highway was released.

Anyway, both albums are truly special, near-perfect masterpieces of the Hard Rock genre, and it’s immediately clear on this debut that the band showed great promise. From the sizzling “High Wire” and the catchy single “Dreams in the Dark,” to the powerful “Streets Cry Freedom” and “Devil’s Stomp,” along with the Zeppelinesque tracks “Seasons” and “Winter’s Call,” the album simply does not let up for a single moment, with the musicianship acting as a one-two punch to the jawline while the vocals deliver the knockout blow in this ten-track bout of musical fisticuffs.

Fans of groups such as Whitesnake, Tesla, Humble Pie, Montrose, Thunder, and the aforementioned Led Zeppelin (as well as Coverdale/Page) will likely find much to enjoy here.

Final note: For those who may not be aware, the group’s third album Dusk—released posthumously with little fanfare and well under the radar in 1999, years after Gillen’s passing—is also worth seeking out, although the tracks seem a tad “raw,” as if the songs might have been unfinished demos.

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Wobbler – Hinterland (2005)

Wobbler_Hinterland4 out of 5 Stars!

From Norway, Wobbler popped onto the scene a little more than a decade ago, playing a “retro” style of Progressive Rock similar to the bands Magic Pie, D’Accord, and Black Bonzo, and with a focus on mainly replicating the styles of Yes and ELP, with more than a smidgen of Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Gentle Giant tossed in for good measure. Depending on which of the band’s three albums one might be hearing at any given time, those influences vary in level of dominance, but generally speaking, Wobbler provided a fairly nice balance of those aforesaid influences on each release, with a slew of vintage keyboards in its arsenal that certainly added to the band’s “retro” feel.

On Wobbler’s 2005 debut Hinterland, apart from a short opening track, a trio of lengthy compositions remain, including the epic title track, extended to nearly twenty-eight minutes, and crammed with numerous tempo and mood shifts, both electric and acoustic segments, some creative vocal harmonies, and often-fascinating orchestrations that featured plenty of flutes and Mellotrons and Moogs (oh my!).

In other words, there’s never a dull moment to be found here, and with the overall production values also mimicking the sound of the early ’70s, not to mention cover art that wouldn’t seem out of place had it appeared during that era, listening to Wobbler is like taking a sonic jaunt back in time.

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Dust – Hard Attack (1972)

Dust_HardAttack4 out of 5 Stars!

From New York state, this power trio from the early ’70s released only two albums of blue-based and “acidy” Hard Rock with Psychedelic and Prog-Rock leanings before calling it a day.

Hard Attack, the band’s second and final release, shows Dust continuing on in the same fashion as its debut, with underrated guitarist/vocalist Richie Wise offering up both tasty acoustic guitar and proto-metal electric riffs, and bassist Kenny Aaronson (Derringer/HSAS/New York Dolls/etc.) and drummer Marky Ramone (Ramones/Wayne County) thundering along for the diverse and occasionally dramatic wild ride.

Sadly, Dust ended up becoming another promising band that never got its due before fading into obscurity, joining the ranks of May Blitz, Blue Cheer, Ursa Major, Sir Lord Baltimore, and a host of other forgotten groups of a similar nature.

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Ram Jam – Ram Jam (1977)

RamJam_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

Ram Jam is a generally forgotten band with a strong underlying Southern Rock influence…odd, especially since the band originated in New York City, about as far away from Dixieland in sight and sound and style as one can get.

Regardless, I had purchased the band’s debut album when it originally came out in ’77, thanks to the fun hit single “Black Betty,” but throughout the past decades had forgotten much of the album’s remaining content. After listening to the album recently, however, I realized just how underrated the album (and band) truly was, with both Southern Rock and Blues Rock (Boogie Rock) influences shining through.

Now, in retrospect, this album seems almost a merging of groups such as heavier versions of Rolling Stones with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foghat, along with the style of more modern acts such as The Black Crowes and The Quireboys rounding out the overall sound.

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Bakerloo – Bakerloo (1969)

Bakerloo_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

The sole album by Bakerloo, a Hard Rock/Blues Rock trio from the U.K. with some Heavy Psych influences and a hint of Jazz.

On guitar is Dave “Clem” Clempson (who would join Colosseum shortly after this album’s release and, eventually, leap aboard the Humble Pie bandwagon), along with Terry Poole on bass and Keith Baker on drums (destined to become the rhythm section for the fantastic May Blitz, which would release its debut album in 1970).

This album features some fairly standard, straightforward Blues Rock, but it’s generally well-performed and, for the most part, almost seems a cross between the styles of Cream and early Jethro Tull.

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