Roger Hodgson – In the Eye of the Storm (1984)

RogerHodgson_EyeStorm4 out of 5 Stars!

Like many fans of Supertramp, learning of Roger Hodgson’s departure from the band to begin a solo career in 1983 came as a shock. I sensed the group would never be quite the same without the stylistic “give and take” between Hodgson and Rick Davies, each with their own unique musical approach, songwriting skills, and ears for melody, and I was right…the band just wasn’t the same afterward. And to be perfectly truthful, I had always preferred Roger Hodgson’s quirkier and more Prog-oriented vocal style over Rick Davies’s grittier and less-precise delivery, therefore subsequent Supertramp albums just didn’t have the same “magical balance.”

Anyway, when Hodgson released his 1984 solo debut In the Eye of the Storm that included the instant Progressive-Pop hit “Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy),” I immediately snatched it up, and frankly, with other equally impressive songs such as “In Jeopardy,” “Only Because of You,” “Hooked on a Problem,” “I’m Not Afraid,” and “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” also on tap, the seven-track collection sounded more like a Supertramp album than the band’s own Brother Where You Bound platter that dropped a year later.

With Hodgson performing all the instruments himself—a true “solo” effort—and also producing the entire shebang, it clearly showed just how much he had previously contributed to the classic Supertramp sound, making me appreciate his talents even more.

Unfortunately, after this album, Hodgson released only one more album before disappearing for more than a decade and finally issuing his last studio platter in 2000, just a few years before his former band also fell apart (at least when it came to creating new studio material).

Regardless, fans of Supertramp’s music from the “glory period” (Crime of the Century through Breakfast in America) who don’t already own this album should definitely consider adding it to their collections.

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The Magnificent – The Magnificent (2011)

TheMagnificent_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Knowing this lone album by The Magnificent was created by the team of Michael Eriksen (vocalist from Circus Maximus) and Torsti Spoof (guitarist from Leverage), I purchased it without doing any additional research, simply assuming (based on the talents of the individual members and their previous releases from their associated groups) it would be another high-quality release from a new Prog-Metal band.

But it’s not—it’s actually a high-quality release from a Hard Rock/AOR band that ultimately blew me away!

The Magnificent is, indeed, magnificent, with the band creating some of the finest, catchiest material released in the past decade. Indeed, the chorus to the opening track “Holding On to Your Love” kept ringing through my head for days, as did the melody lines from numerous other tunes on this album. With sizzling guitars, layered keyboards, driving rhythms, and spectacular vocal harmonies, fans of other modern-day Hard Rock/AOR groups with a strong dose of Pomp Rock such as Magnum, Work Of Art, Overland, Find Me, Sunstorm, and Brother Firetribe will undoubtedly enjoy this highly polished release.

I’d love to hear more material from this particular team of individuals, although I suspect this album was simply a one-off project.

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Tygers Of Pan Tang – Spellbound (1981)

Tygers_Spellbound4.5 out of 5 Stars!

How I wish things had gone differently for Tygers of Pan Tang, a band with such great promise…

The group emerged in time for the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” period in the U.K., and after one “okay” album in 1980, line-up changes occurred, yet Tygers bounced back better than ever with Spellbound, an outstanding album featuring a brand new vocalist named Jon Deverill and, better still, an unknown, young guitar-hero by the name of John Sykes.

Spellbound, frankly, was nothing short of a metal classic from the NWOBHM era, making Tygers of Pan Tang the “darlings” of Kerrang! Magazine, and an album I still savor (and crank to 10) on a regular basis. Tracks such as “Gangland,” “Tyger Bay,” “Hellbound,” “The Story So Far,” “Take It,” and beautiful semi-ballad and semi-barnstormer “Mirror” simply BLAZE with Sykes’s guitar leads and with Deverill’s smashing vocals shining through, which I expected would catapult the band to international fame.

After this album, however, the same line-up recorded Crazy Nights (more decent material, but unfortunately, a “dead” production quality that did nothing for the songs). And then, Sykes got snatched up by Thin Lizzy and, truth be told, the event crippled Tygers beyond saving. The band quickly succumbed to greedy record company pressure and completely wimped out, losing almost all its metal edge for the next over-produced and lame album The Cage, becoming a band I hardly recognized and quickly abandoned. So much for the NWOBHM movement, at least when it came to Tygers.

Sykes, of course, went on to fame with Thin Lizzy, then Whitesnake and Blue Murder, but Tygers continued on (indeed, still exists) with, frankly, only the two Sykes-featured albums giving them anything more than a footnote in history books. A shame.

Regardless, Spellbound is simply KILLER and shows more than a hint of “what might have been” for the band.

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Marillion – Market Square Heroes (1982)

Marillion_MarketSquare5 out of 5 Stars!

This is the EP that not only introduced Marillion to the world and added a major boost to the “New Wave of British Progressive Rock” movement, but got me instantly hooked on the band.

I vividly recall the first time I heard this EP, of having chills of excitement race along my spine, and of battling the urge to leap for joy because a new group had actually adopted a style so eerily reminiscent of Gabriel-era Genesis.

Both A-Side songs “Market Square Heroes” and “Three Boats Down From the Candy” featured Fish’s quirky lead vocals and creative lyrics, along with plenty of Tony Banks-inspired keyboard runs with fantasy-tinged atmospheres, more than enough to make me sit up and take notice.

But it was hearing the creepy, highly dramatic, seventeen-plus minute “Grendel” that encompassed the whole B Side when I cautiously wondered if I might have been catapulted to Prog-Rock heaven. Here was a band that created an epic tune reminiscent of the Genesis classic “Supper’s Ready,” with various sections, eerie atmospheres, and odd tempos. Brilliant!

Thankfully, the band’s Script for a Jester’s Tear album appeared about six months later, finally verifying that Prog-Rock heaven truly DID exist, and I loved every single minute of that “New Wave of British Progressive Rock” period in musical history.

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Marillion_MarketSquare

Whitesnake – Lovehunter (1979)

Whitesnake_Lovehunter4 out of 5 Stars!

Aside from the eye-catching and wickedly naughty (and, yes, probably considered sexist) cover art (which I still find amusingly delightful, so sue me!), this is Whitesnake in the midst of its glorious (and original) heyday, before the hairspray and stylized clothing and video imagery got too much in the way of the actual music.

Although the occasional duff track popped up on several early Whitesnake albums, the fantastic David Coverdale and company nevertheless went about the business of producing some catchy blues-based Hard Rock, especially once the mighty Jon Lord (RIP) had joined up for keyboard duties and Ian Paice’s recruitment was in the works (3/5 of Deep Purple…how cool is that?).

Anyway, Lovehunter, the third “official” Whitesnake album, is just another fine example of why I loved the band so much in its infancy. Coverdale, and each of his fellow musicians (the guitar team of Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody, bassist Neil Murray, and drummer Dave Dowle, along with the aforementioned Jon Lord), performs his heart out on tracks such as “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues,” “Medicine Man,” “Love Hunter,” and “Long Way From Home,” displaying seasoned professionalism at every turn without surrendering his sense of humor, despite the blatant sexism of the lyrics.

Hey, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, right?

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Savoy Brown – Rock ‘n’ Roll Warriors (1981)

SavoyBrown_RNRWarriors4 out of 5 Stars!

The U.K.’s legendary Blues-Rock band Savoy Brown entered the ’80s with a new vocalist by the name of Ralph Mormon (fresh from recording with The Joe Perry Project) and seemed to have gained some much-needed rejuvenation in the process, delivering one of its hardest-rocking collections of tracks (albeit, less Blues-Rock oriented than previous albums).

As always, band leader (and only original member) Kim Simmonds shines on lead guitar, and this line-up of musicians did a commendable job with the high-octane material. Tunes such as the rocking opener “Cold Hearted Woman” and the bouncing subsequent track “Georgie” immediately showed that Savoy Brown had shifted into slightly different territory, had actually progressed as a group, and it left me wanting more.

That came in the form of additional rockin’ and stompin’ tracks such as “Bad Girls (Make Me Feel Good),” “Dont Tell Me I Told You,” “Bad Breaks,” “Shot Down by Love,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” and “This Could Be The Night.” While many of these tunes, and even the mid-tempo songs “Got Love if You Want It” and “Lay Back in the Arms of Someone,” still often included that “older/classic” Savoy Brown style, the harder-edged delivery (very Aerosmith/Humble Pie in its sound and attitude) truly suited this particular quintet.

Therefore, it’s a shame this line-up recorded only one studio album, since Mormon’s gruff ‘n’ gritty vocals were a perfect fit for the band, and I would have loved to hear more material, despite Savoy Brown’s slight change in direction. Instead, the band fell apart shortly after this release and a live album, and it took many years before Kim returned with yet another revamped line-up of the group.

Meanwhile, Rock ‘n’ Roll Warriors remains a unique collection within the vast Savoy Brown catalogue.

(RIP Ralph Mormon, who never got the recognition he so richly deserved.)

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Alannah Myles – Rockinghorse (1992)

AlannahMyles_RockingHorse4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I love this woman! Alannah’s first four albums were all top-notch regarding her vocal performances and the production quality, and her material was generally a nice mixture of Hard Rock and AOR with hints of Blues Rock and Country Rock influences.

Rockinghorse, Alannah’s second album, is one of her most diverse, showcasing her pure melodic vocal prowess along with raspier “kick-butt-rocker” belting. Although this platter did not contain any huge hit along the lines of “Black Velvet,” the break-out single that appeared on Alannah’s debut album, there are indeed plenty of songs on Rockinghorse that could have been just as massively popular had Atlantic Records done better promotion.

“Livin’ on a Memory,” “Love in the Big Town,” “Lies and Rumours,” “Tumbleweed,” “Our World Our Times,” and “Make Me Happy” are all examples of Alannah at her rockin’ best, while “Song Instead of a Kiss,” “The Last Time I Saw William,” and “Sonny Say You Will” showcase Alannah’s mastery of the ballad, with each song (including the acoustic guitar-driven title track itself that closes out the album) making it clear that Alannah had something truly special to offer in the Hard Rock/AOR genre.

The fact that she could have broken into the big time in the same high fashion as Melissa Etheridge is without question. Indeed, Alannah—along with fellow Canadian vocalist Sass Jordan, who also hit the apex of her popularity during the same period—is among the best yet sorely underrated female Hard Rock singers of all time and seriously deserved higher, longer-lasting recognition.

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Alannah Myles – Black Velvet (2007)

AlannahMyles_BlackVelvet2 out of 5 Stars!

Being a die-hard fans of Alannah Myles’s first four albums, I had been looking forward to hearing this “comeback” release after her ten-year absence. Unfortunately, although a few of the tracks contain some decent melodies, and Alannah’s voice is still in fine shape, the modernized production simply ruins most of the songs.

Indeed, the horribly overproduced remake of “Black Velvet” is nowhere near as engaging or as moody as the original version on Alannah’s splendid debut, and not even close to being rock ‘n’ roll, but pure Pop. In the ’90s, Alannah’s albums contained some decent Hard Rock with AOR mixed in, with a touch of Blues and Country Rock as additional spices. Now, however, it sounds as if some “brainiac” got it into their head that Alannah should reinvent herself as a Pop diva, and to tell the truth, I believe the music world has already suffered more than enough with generic dime-a-dozen singers such as Katy Perry or Britney Spears or whoever is the Pop diva of the moment, with all the electronic percussion, computerized musicianship, and overproduced synth Pop/Dance crap. Seriously, the song “Trouble” (at its core) is certainly reminiscent of some of Alannah’s former “blues-based” Hard Rock—such as the track “Rocking Horse” from her second album—but here, the studio filters on her vocals, and the overall electronic sound effects of crickets and white noise overlaying the instrumentation truly decimate the bluegrass-inspired song. What the heck was the producer of this mess thinking?

Therefore I ask, where is the “Hard Rock band” sound that Alannah’s previous albums possessed? Long gone and certainly not present on this album, that’s for sure. If I wanted to listen to some god-awful stylized Pop music by whichever diva is reigning over the Pop charts nowadays, I would have purchased one of their albums. As I said, Alannah obviously still has the vocal prowess—the only reason I grudgingly gave the album 2 Stars—but the horribly cold and calculating, modernized and sinfully sterile Pop ambience destroys any semblance of entertainment. A crying shame.

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Aerosmith – Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

Aerosmith_RockHardPlace4 out of 5 Stars!

Although for reasons I can’t quite fathom, many Aerosmith fans detest this particular album, the only one to feature the underrated guitar team of Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay, but I never had any problems with it. Indeed, I enjoy Rock in a Hard Place a hell of a lot more than anything the band produced during its “drug-free” (and “commercial sell-out”) era from Permanent Vacation onward. In other words, I always preferred “Boston’s Bad Boys” before the band cleaned up its act, during the days when Aerosmith still delivered no-frills, raunchy, and sleazy rock ‘n’ roll prior to releasing the string of overproduced, ballad-heavy, mostly mundane, and way-too-generic albums from the late ’80s and into the modern age.

I’m sure many fans will disagree with me, but then again, I don’t care a flying fig. Give me the slamming and rowdy concoction of tracks such as “Bitch’s Brew,” “Jailbait,” and “Lightning Strikes” that appear on this album any ol’ day of the week over the slick and orchestrated fare such as “Angel,” “Janie’s Got A Gun,” or “Cryin'” that would become Aerosmith’s future.

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Patrick Moraz – The Story Of I (1976)

PatrickMoraz_StoryI4 out of 5 Stars!

During Patrick Moraz’s all-too-brief period as keyboardist with Yes, and just after the band’s extraordinary album Relayer, the band members took time to each record/release their own solo albums. Out of all of them, I enjoyed Patrick’s the most.

The Story Of I, while not sounding anything like Yes (or, for that matter, Moraz’s previous groups, Refugee and Mainhorse), still offered some great Progressive Rock with a Jazz-Fusion flair, and included more of (what I believed) was Patrick’s unique synth sounds amidst songs with complex arrangements, scads of Latin-inspired percussion, a detailed storyline, some poppy vocal melodies, etc.

Unfortunately, Moraz’s subsequent releases were not as impressive or as energetic, and sadly, he soon joined The Moody Blues, where (in my opinion) his extreme talents were completely wasted, with his contributions being relegated more or less to the background.

Regardless, The Story Of I, Moraz’s debut solo effort, should appeal to a lot of Prog-Rock fans, especially those who crave creative keyboard instrumentation and solos.

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