Angel – Angel (1975)

Angel_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the mid-’70s, several friends eagerly told me about an extraordinary new band that played a combination of straightforward and melodic Pomp/Hard Rock mixed with intricate, fantasy-tinged Progressive Rock that sounded as if a group such as Yes or Starcastle had suddenly gone really heavy. “Oh, and by the way,” they added, “the band members look kinda like chicks and wear all white.”

Okay, so intrigued by the description of both music and band image, I purchased Angel’s self-titled debut platter, turned up the volume as my buddies had also recommended, and found myself facing an onslaught of wild synthesizers blasting from my stereo speakers as a killer track called “Tower” began. Talk about an “in-your-face” introduction to a band.

Anyway, “Tower” did indeed seem a perfect blend of keyboard-heavy Pomp/Hard Rock mixed with Prog, and I adored it. The merging of genres continued on through glorious tracks such as “Long Time,” “Broken Dreams,” “Mariner,” and “Sunday Morning,” whereas “Rock and Rollers” and “On and On” seemed less Prog-oriented, more commercial (a foreshadowing of Angel’s overall change in style for its third album) yet just as impressive and gratifying. And of course, let’s not forget that the album closes with a short instrumental burst of utterly perfect Pomp Rock entitled “Angel (Theme)” that instantly had me blaring the album from start to finish yet again, and again, and again. (And how can you not love a band that has its own “theme song,” huh?)

Regardless, not only did the genres blend perfectly, but so did the pianos, organs, synths, and Mellotron of Greg Giuffria mix deliciously with the metalized guitar fury of Punky Meadows. And with a highly capable and often-creative rhythm section of bassist Mickey Jones and drummer Barry Brandt maintaining a solid backbone, Frank DiMino’s powerful, wide-ranging, and multi-tracked voice soared over the lush proceedings—dare I say it?—like an angel, giving the band a majestic, bombastic, and distinctive sound.

Even to this day, Angel’s 1975 debut stands as one of the finest, most unique Pomp/Prog Rock albums in history, introducing me to the talents of Giuffria and DiMino—who became instant heroes and future influences for my own work—and I still love it to death.

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DiMino – Old Habits Die Hard (2015)

Dimino_OldHabits4 out of 5 Stars!

Finally, it happened! After endless decades of false rumors and grapevine gossip, inklings of possible reunions that eventually fizzled, tidings of potential solo releases by a member or members of the legendary band Angel that frustratingly never happened, the seemingly impossible finally, in 2015, came to pass. Aside from the momentarily thrilling announcement in Kerrang! Magazine that Angel had actually reformed back in 1984 (it turned out to be the group that quickly rechristened itself Giuffria), no original member of Angel (aside from keyboardist Gregg Giuffria) had popped onto the music scene with an actual album since the band’s untimely demise in 1980.

But after more than three decades, singer Frank DiMino released a solo album in 2015, and it seemed the gods of rock ‘n’ roll had blessed the universe—or at least the legions of Angel fans long-starved for more music from any of the band’s members. (Update: After originally writing this review in 2015, guitarist Punky Meadows also released a new album in 2016…another “blessing” for Angel fans.)

To me, Frank DiMino was one of the most gifted, most underappreciated vocalists from the ’70s, a singer whom I believe should have gone on to “hugeness” instead of being relegated to only a mention in the rock ‘n’ roll history books. But the world is not perfect, and for whatever the reasons (whether his personal situation or merely Fate), the man had unfortunately disappeared from the music scene. I had long ago surrendered to the sad notion that I and the other Angel fans would likely never hear the man’s voice on any new material, or see his name grace an album sleeve, ever again.

But as I said, it actually happened, and it was probably one of the most pleasant surprises I’d experienced in the recent past. And I could only wonder, what sort of music would the singer release? Music in the spirit of Angel itself, or something completely different? The answer is actually somewhere in between.

First, let me say that DiMino’s voice is as powerful today as it was when I last heard it, with his wide range readily on display and his distinct vibrato fully intact. His voice, however, has also evolved a bit, and on several tracks I almost don’t recognize him. Still, there are enough of the old DiMino trademarks to make this release a welcome treat.

In general, the album contains a slew of rather straightforward, ’70s-inspired rockers, with many of the heaviest—”Never Again,” “Rockin’ In The City,” “The Rain’s About to Fall,” and “Mad as Hell”—being where DiMino is probably the least recognizable, where his voice sounds a tad meatier, yet where his delivery displays an almost youthful exuberance.

Other tracks, however—such as the mid-tempo “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” or the powerful and melodic ballad “Even Now”—are where DiMino is at his most recognizable, where all his formidable gifts as a singer come to the fore. These are also the tracks where comparisons to Angel are most likely to occur. Although the rollicking party song “Tonight’s the Night” comes off as if it might have been an outtake from Angel’s White Hot album, and “The Quest” (probably due to the more prominent keyboards and the frantic pace) is another track I could imagine being included somewhere in Angel’s back catalogue.

As far as overall instrumentation, the album is definitely guitar-heavy, with keyboards relegated to the background for the most part. Had the keys been a bit more dominant (or the album featured more than a single synth solo) then the album might have sounded closer to DiMino’s former band. Still, there are enough keys included that the occasional “ghost of Angel” makes an appearance, as mentioned above. And a special note to Angel fans: no, there are no songs here that mimic early Angel (the period where the band included its Prog-Rock inspirations) but instead, when Angel comparisons are most appropriate, the music is more a cross between the albums On Earth as It Is in Heaven and White Hot.

Regardless, most of the eleven tracks here are quite memorable, although a few of them do lean toward “filler territory.” Though things are never boring. Indeed, DiMino’s debut album is upbeat in mood, highly energetic, and enormous fun, nothing short of exciting for an Angel fan like myself, and I’m sure it will be the same for other fans of the legendary act.

Yes, folks, the voice of Angel finally returned to the scene, and let’s pray Frank DiMino gains the recognition and success he deserves, and sticks around for a long, long while.


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