Taï Phong – Windows (1976)

TaiPhong_Windows3.5 out of 5 Stars!

France’s Taï Phong (supposedly meaning “great wind” in Vietnamese) appeared on the scene in the mid-’70s to release three albums, then disappeared, only to resurface in 2000 with another album, and then again in 2013 with one more.

Although I’m unfamiliar with both “modern” versions of the band, the ’70s’ version played often beautiful, occasionally dreamy music that seemed heavily influenced by Yes and Flash, Le Orme, Strawbs, and Camel, with a touch of Supertramp and Pink Floyd, and featured a vocalist similar in style and range to Yes’s Jon Anderson (although, during the music’s more energetic moments, he can be a tad shrill when delivering his melody lines too forcefully at higher pitches).

Nevertheless, Windows (the band’s second album) and the self-titled debut platter from the previous year are both highly recommended for fans of Symphonic Prog. On Windows, tracks such as “When It’s the Season,” “Circle,” “The Gulf of Knowledge,” and “St. John’s Avenue” brim over with creativity when it comes to melodies, as well as song arrangements and instrumentation, highly varied in nature, with a nice balance of guitar (both acoustic and electric) and keyboards, while the musicianship is always at a high level.

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Pink Cream 69 – Thunderdome (2004)

PinkCream_Thunderdome4 out of 5 Stars!

Although Pink Cream 69—this hard-edged yet melodic act from Germany—released its first album back in 1989, the group has (oddly) yet to achieve the worldwide acclaim it so richly deserves.

On Thunderdome, the band’s ninth studio album, tuneful barnstormers such as “Retro Lullaby,” “Gods Come Together,” “Shelter,” “Another Wrong Makes Right,” a slamming version of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” and the (yes, I had to say it) thundering title track provide a wealth of sing-along choruses, memorable riffs, hang-banging’ beats, and sparkling guitar solos. And with magnetic vocalist David Readman (Adagio/Voodoo Circle/Missa Mercuria) behind the mic since the mid-’90s, the band’s vocals are also instantly recognizable, both on the aforementioned tracks as well on the mid-tempo rockers “See Your Face,” “Carnaby Road,” and “As Deep As I Am,” and on the enchanting power ballad “That Was Yesterday.”

Therefore, how this group never achieved “household name” status in America is a mystery to me, considering that Pink Cream 69 produces music in a similar realm as, for example, Whitesnake and Winger, bands with a similar style that broke in the States. Instead, the band suffered the same fate as other talented groups in the same genre such as Gotthard, Harem Scarem, Sunstorm, and Jaded Heart, never quite garnering American accolades, despite their consistently enjoyable output. Perhaps timing had something to do with the low name recognition, considering Pink Cream 69 popped up just as the Grunge obsession began in America, or possibly a general lack of promotion, or even the band’s land of origin, likely making it difficult for touring. As I said, a mystery.

Well, whatever the answer, Pink Cream 69 continues to deliver some of the finest, well-produced, and well-performed music one album after the other, and 2004’s Thunderdome (to me) is one of the best of the batch.

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Giuntini Project – III (2006)

GiuntiniProject_34 out of 5 Stars!

Giuntini Project is an “occasional” band that releases albums every six or seven years (1993, 1999, 2006, 2013), with virtually unknown Italian guitarist Aldo Giuntini and Black Sabbath’s former vocalist Tony Martin.

The music, as one might expect, falls mainly into the Black Sabbath school of Heavy Metal/Hard Rock, with more than a touch of Dio and Rainbow, or Yngwie Malmsteen or Impellitteri, especially when it comes to the shredding guitars and (of course) Martin’s powerful, top-notch vocal performances. Indeed, on this release, the band covers the song “Anno Mundi (The Vision)” from Sabbath’s Tyr album, so the style of music is comparable. Other tracks such as “Disfunctional Kid,” “Que Es La Vida,” “Gold Digger,” “Fool’s Paradise,” “Mourning Star,” and “Tarot Warrior” offer more of the same “Sabbathy” goodness, while the instrumentals “Tutmosis IV – Tarantula” and “Memories in the Sand” commendably showcase Giuntini’s guitar prowess.

Therefore, Giuntini Project is an excellent “occasional” band, yet remain shamefully obscure. Fans of Tony Martin and his previous groups (Black Sabbath/Rondinelli/Empire/etc.) will certainly find much here to enjoy.

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Gomorrha – I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was (1972)

Gomorrha_ITurned4 out of 5 Stars!

Gomorrha was yet another German group that kept getting better and better with each new album, yet sadly disappeared from the music scene way too soon for my liking.

Of the three albums Gomorrha produced during its short duration in the early ’70s, I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was—the final collection—is probably my favorite. The ten-minute opener, “Dance on a Volcano,” immediately showcases the band’s strengths in a rather funky Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych style, and with the fuzz-guitar, and Hammond-drenched arrangement, occasionally reminds me of Gomorrha’s fellow countrymen Birth Control, Night Sun, Lucifer’s Friend, or early Eloy, as well as non-German acts such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Bloodrock. For the most part, this style and appropriate comparisons continue through the remaining five tracks, being especially captivating and effective on “Dead Life,” “I Try To Change This World,” and the oddly named “Tititsh Child.” Only on the title track does the band break from the norm with acoustic guitar driving the proceedings, along with extra percussion instruments, to create a mesmerizing Psychedelic atmosphere.

Overall, I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was is where the band seemed to have discovered the perfect balance of genres to encompass its overall sound, showing the group at its creative peak, which is why it’s such a royal shame Gomorrha disbanded so soon after this collection came out.

(And have I mentioned recently how much I loved Germany’s Brain Records label?)

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Pownd – Circle of Power (2006)

Pownd_CirclePower3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Pound vs. Pownd…however it’s spelled, the name perfectly describes the music offered by this Kentucky Heavy Metal group.

Loud and brash with a full and robust sound, with a style that often reminded me of a mixture of Fight and Black Sabbath (especially since the vocalist seems a cross between Ozzy Osbourne when singing in his normal register but Rob Halford when belting out the high notes), Pownd released this sole album before disappearing.

Too bad, since the band showed great promise, especially on blaring tracks with rip-roaring solos and “pownding” rhythms such as “Slowly Drowning,” “Still I Bleed,” “Swatting Flies,” “Monster,” “Ellie,” and “Divided,” each meant to be played loud!

The only track that doesn’t quite work for me, or at least partially, is the lengthier “Never Means Forever,” where the band veers off from its standard Heavy Metal route into a piano-laced ballad—and actually includes some borderline off-key vocals. Only the blazing guitar solo in the second half saves the tune from being completely abysmal.

Regardless, out of eleven total tracks, ten enjoyable tunes (one handful about average, and the other handful simply killer) ain’t too shabby.

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Savoy Brown – Looking In (1970)

SavoyBrown_LookinIn3.5 out of 5 Stars!

I rather enjoyed this particular line-up of Savoy Brown—one that unfortunately made only a single album—which was basically the future band Foghat with a different lead guitarist (longtime Savoy Brown leader/founder Kim Simmonds, of course). Indeed, several of the bluesy and riffing vocal tunes such as “Poor Girl,” “Take It Easy,” “Looking In,” the lengthy and jamming “Leavin’ Again,” and the laid-back, piano- and congas-enhanced “Money Can’t Save Your Soul” (my favorite on the album) could have easily popped up on Foghat’s debut in 1972 since the musical style between the groups is so often similar.

Anyway, shortly after recording this album, “Lonesome” Dave Peverett (Guitar/Vocals), Roger Earl (Drums), and Tony Stevens (Bass) left the band to create the hugely popular Foghat, and for the next release, Simmonds obviously had to hire a whole new group of musicians, this one featuring Dave Walker on lead vocals (which, in my opinion, ended up being the best, most consistent Savoy Brown line-up of all time).

But as far as Looking In, I like to fondly refer to this particular album as being recorded by “Kimhat,” which contained some of Simmonds’s most tasty fretwork, not only on the aforementioned tracks, but also on the instrumentals “Sitting an’ Thinking” and the funkier “Sunday Night.” It’s not the band’s masterpiece collection—which (to me) would come on the next album Street Corner Talking—but it’s certainly better than average regarding its enjoyability factor, not to mention how it hinted at things to come regarding Foghat. (Plus, it has cool cover art.)

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Advent – Cantus Firmus (2006)

Advent_CantusFirmus4 out of 5 Stars!

OMG! Gentle Giant lives…err, well, not exactly, but Advent comes darned close in recreating that unique sound and style, albeit an updated version.

Indeed, New Jersey’s Advent is probably one of the finest Gentle Giant imitators to have ever existed—just listen to the opening track “GK Contramundum” on the band’s Cantus Firmus album and you may think you’ve discovered a missing track off GG’s Octopus or Free Hand albums. The a cappella vocal arrangements are breathtakingly similar to GG’s, both in complexity and sound, and the guitars and keyboards throughout the rest of the album have GG tones as well, yet with modernized synths and grander production qualities adding extra flavor, such as on the complex instrumental “Awaiting the Call.”

Moreover, on the ethereal “Parenting Parents,” the lead singer even does a stunning impression of GG’s Kerry Minnear’s mellow voice, while some of those intricate background vocals again pop up, along with a few minstrel-esque instrumental bits GG was so fond of using, but again, all wrapped up in modern-day synth washes.

The remaining tracks on Cantus Firmus include mostly similar fare, but with the occasional mandolins, recorders, violins, etc. also making brief appearances. And “Ramblin’ Sailor,” the album’s pièce de résistance, is more than eighteen full minutes of complex, Giant-like madness and often breathtakingly beautiful.

A few years ago, just when I thought it was too bad that Advent seemed to have disappeared since releasing Cantus Firmus, the band’s second album, in 2006, Advent suddenly popped up again in 2015 with a brand new album called Silent Sentinel. For nearly a decade I’d desperately hoped for more material from Advent, so miracles do indeed happen!

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Trillion – Trillion (1979)

Trillion_14 out of 5 Stars!

Trillion was a promising band from my small corner of the globe, and actually included some guys from my high school—and nearby rival schools as well. And on the band’s debut album, Trillion also featured the fantastic lead vocals of Dennis “Fergie” Fredericksen (eventually a member of Toto, LeRoux, Mecca, and even Angel…RIP, Fergie).

Trillion (originally known as Whisper) got signed to a recording contract at the same time as what seems like zillions of other bands in Chicago got signed (when Chi-Town was the “happening” place for record companies to hunt for talent, prior to the days of grunge-band-crazed Seattle). Yet unfortunately, when this album came out in the late ’70s, it was somewhat of a disappointment for fans of the group, considering that, when in the clubs as Whisper, the band was way more Prog-Rock oriented and the album was not, featuring mostly shorter, more commercialized tracks and less experimentation when it came to song arrangements, which many Whisper fans had hoped would be included.

Nevertheless, the album blasts forth with two enjoyable songs, the excellent opener “Hold Out,” which leads into “Big Boy,” both tunes displaying grand vocal harmonies and some exceptional keyboard work, thanks to Patrick Leonard (a graduate of my high school, and future musician with Toy Matinee/3rd Matinee, future producer for Madonna, etc.). “Child Upon the Earth” is probably the most Progressive track, closer to the band’s early style when playing in the clubs as Whisper, but “May as Well Go,” “Bright Night Lights,” “Never Had it So Good,” and “Fancy Action” all have instrumentation comparable to any Prog-Rock group of the era, but crammed into condensed tracks with the AOR vocal melodies reigning supreme.

Therefore, despite the band’s name change and its honed musical style, this debut remains a favorite album of mine, probably due to my fleeting connection with members of Trillion, some of their family members and mutual friends, and because one of my former bands opened for Whisper on numerous occasions back in the Chicago-area clubs during those good ol’ days.

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Pretty Maids – Future World (1987)

PrettyMaids_FutureWorld4.5 out of 5 Stars!

From Denmark, Pretty Maids appeared on the scene in the mid-’80s with a better-than-average collection of hot and heavy tunes that, although not overly special, still showed a band with great promise. Happily enough, Pretty Maids quickly developed its rather unique, identifiable style, and the second effort, Future World (with its eye-catching cover art), blasted out of the gate several years later and clearly displayed a marked improvement over the debut.

Not only did the album’s title track immediately generate a buzz for the band throughout major world markets (with the accompanying video also getting aired on MTV), but Pretty Maids proved it could create an album absolutely crammed with high-quality material, catchy yet storming tracks such as “Love Games,” “Loud ‘n’ Proud,” “Long Way to Go,” “Needles in the Dark,” “Eye of the Storm,” and “Yellow Rain,” that liberally skimmed the borders between the Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, and AOR genres, a style the band continues to employ to this very day.

On Future World, the guitar riffs could be outtakes from albums by Metal groups such as Accept and Iron Maiden, while the often pompish keyboards could come straight off of albums by Magnum and House of Lords, and Ronnie Atkins’s lead vocals, either clean or gruff wherever appropriate, perfectly match the group’s “dual” personalities when it comes to its style.

Unfortunately Pretty Maids never quite “broke” America, but thankfully the band still keeps trying, releasing album after album of top-notch material on a semi-regular basis.

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Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley (1970)

RodStewart_GasolineAlley4 out of 5 Stars!

In the early ’70s, when it came to either Rod Stewart or Faces, all the albums were fairly interchangeable, seeing as how Faces played numerous Stewart “solo” tracks during its concerts, and all the original Faces musicians (Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones—all, unquestionably, Rock ‘N’ Roll royalty) contributed in varying degrees to Stewart’s first handful of solo albums, with Gasoline Alley being his sophomore effort.

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, Gasoline Alley is just another Faces album, and it’s a damned corker for sure, including several of my favorite Stewart/Faces tracks, including “Cut Across Shortly,” “It’s All Over Now,” “Country Comforts,” and the title tune. A true classic!

(Also, a final side note: I can honestly say, despite the album cover’s fairly accurate depiction of the down ‘n’ dirty atmosphere on a few tracks, it’s probably one of the least appealing covers to have ever existed. No wonder several alternate versions were created for various formats or for some reissues throughout the years, or for different regions of the world, but in truth, none of these covers were very attractive. Anyway, just had to mention it since unappealing cover art is one of my major pet peeves.)

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