Goblin – Roller (1976)

Goblin_Roller4 out of 5 Stars!

Although this Italian group was known for creating soundtracks throughout its extensive career, it did release several “normal” albums along the way, and this was the first.

At times, the music on Roller seems perhaps an all-instrumental cross between Gentle Giant, Brand X, Colosseum II, Pink Floyd, and PFM, but with some heavy funk influences popping up on occasion, such as on the track “Snip-Snap,” the band added its own unique stamp on the savory music.

The instrumental prowess Goblin displays is often stunning, and it’s truly a shame the group never achieved wider acclaim. Perhaps Goblin simply didn’t want to complete in the crazy “rock world” and preferred instead to conjure up magnificent film soundtracks. Whatever the case, it’s a shame the band didn’t release more “normal” material over the years like Roller.

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Gong – You (1974)

Gong_You4 out of 5 Stars!

I’ll admit, I’ve always had a bit of a Love/Hate relationship with Gong, loving much of the French group’s excursions into Canterbury Prog and Jazz-Rock territory, but hating (or rather, “not fully embracing,” since “hate” is too strong a word) much of the silliness that appears on some of its albums, like the hippy-dippy-trippy Psychedelic ingredients that occasionally seem to go on too long, and the spacier, free-form elements that sometimes seem more “endless, boring noise” than actual “engaging music.”

Yet the one factor that has me continually revisiting this band’s early albums is undeniable—the masterful guitar work of Steve Hillage. I adore the man’s talent and his guitar tones, the way he creates a unique sound for himself and, thus, the band in general. And on You, the band’s sixth studio release, Hillage provides some wonderfully tasty solos and fills, especially on tracks such as “The Isle of Everywhere,” “Master Builder,” and “A Sprinkling of Clouds.” I also savor the group’s use of woodwinds and various percussion instruments, often bringing some of Frank Zappa’s best work to mind.

Therefore, I can usually put up with the aforementioned hippy-dippy-trippy Psych and Space Rock experimentation as long as Hillage’s enjoyable guitar contributions, the creative woodwinds, and the exciting percussion remains at a higher percentage of an album’s overall content such as it does on this particular release, one of my favorites by the band.

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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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Girlschool – Screaming Blue Murder (1982)

Girlschool_BlueMurder3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Before Vixen became the supposedly “first” all-female Hard Rock band for many MTV listeners/watchers (those silly, silly “uninformed and naive” folks) in the late ’80s, Girlschool had actually ruled the freaking roost for nearly a decade. Indeed, Girlschool instantly got lumped into England’s “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” movement and quickly earned a reputation for being one of the more promising groups to have emerged during the movement’s early days, despite the gender of its band members.

Although Screaming Blue Murder, Girlschool’s third studio album, is not quite as stripped-down and driving as the band’s previous two releases, it’s the album where the girls started adding extra touches of commercialism to the overall sound, reaching for a wider market, and their efforts proved moderately successful, although they did lose some of the die-hard Metal fans in the process, those who preferred the band’s more straightforward sound.

Regardless, this is the album that introduced me to the band, and with tracks such as “Hellrazor,” “Wildlife,” “Flesh and Blood,” a cover of the Rolling Stones’s “Live With Me,” and the title track that opens the album, Screaming Blue Murder remains one of my favorites within Girlschool’s extensive catalogue of releases.

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Germinale – E Il Suo Respiro Ancora Agita Le Onde (1996)

Germinale_EIlSuoRespiro4 out of 5 Stars!

Italian group Germinale released only a trio of albums from 1994 through 2001—along with a compilation album with some unreleased tracks appearing in 2005—with this one, the band’s second offering, being my favorite.

When it comes to the sometimes-pastoral and Mellotron-enhanced atmospheres or the occasional jazzy rhythms and more-complex song arrangements, along with the varied acoustic and electronic instrumentation, the music has the flavor of groups such as PFM and Osanna along with (thanks to the inclusion of the flute) Jethro Tull or Focus.

Additionally, on this release, the band offers a heavily condensed yet commendable bonus track in the form of Van Der Graaf Generator’s “Meurglys III (The Songwriters Guild)” (from the World Record album), so expect to hear some darker-sounding VDGG influences throughout the entire album as well, although without Peter Hammill’s often-manic vocal style.

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Gotthard – Firebirth (2012)

Gotthard_Firebirth4 out of 5 Stars!

After the tragic death of long-time, talented singer Steve Lee in 2010, this band from Switzerland decided to soldier onward, eventually hiring a replacement vocalist named Nic Maeder and releasing Firebirth in 2012, three years after the band’s previous Need To Believe album.

Thankfully, the hiring of Maeder did nothing to alter the band’s varied Hard Rock sound, and I can’t help thinking that Steve Lee is somehow smiling down in approval at his former bandmates since Firebirth continues in the same highly melodic tradition as the group’s previous releases.

“Starlight,” the album’s catchy opening tune, indicated immediately that the band was still in tip-top form. Additional energetic tracks such as “I Can,” “Fight,” “Right On,” “Give Me Real,” and “Yippie Aye Yay,” mixed with mid-tempo ditties such as “The Story’s Over” and “Take It All Back,” as well as the emotional ballads “Tell Me,” “Remember It’s Me,” “Shine,” and the beautiful closer “Where Are You?” make an enjoyable package. Indeed, Firebirth rivals some of Gotthard’s classic albums from the early ’90s as well as a few of the albums that appeared during the latter half of the previous decade.

Gotthard always reminded me of an updated version of groups such as Bad Company and Thunder, but with far less acclaim then I felt it truly deserved. Let’s hope this new era of the band changes that.

Firebirth is rock solid!

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Grand Prix – Samurai (1983)

GrandPrix_Samurai4 out of 5 Stars!

After releasing two albums that went nowhere, this U.K. band created one final album, which, in my opinion, was its best.

With Robin McAuley (future McAuley Schenker Group) behind the microphone and occasionally sounding like Yes’s Jon Anderson, Grand Prix delivered this collection of ultra-catchy “stadium rock” that, in a perfect world, should have thrust the group into the big time.

Many of the tracks that feature keyboardist Phil Lanzon (future Uriah Heep), have an American, AOR-like flavor, such as “Give Me What’s Mine,” “Somewhere Tonight,” “Shout,” “Freedom,” “50-50,” and “High Time,” and might have seemed perfectly appropriate on albums by Styx, Foreigner, or Survivor, whereas several other tracks such as “Countdown To Zero” and especially the album’s title track—a masterpiece in its own right—took on a semi-progressive style.

All in all, Samurai is terrific, with every song, regardless of style, being memorable and making me wish the band had stayed around a while longer.

By the way, not sure how this album always gets labeled with the “Heavy Metal” or “NWOBHM” tags, but those genres are horribly misleading, so fans of those genres who take a chance on this album will be sorely disappointed.

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Gamma – Gamma 2 (1980)

Gamma_25 out of 5 Stars!

This is a fantastic album from Gamma, the band ace guitarist Ronnie Montrose (RIP) formed after leaving the Edgar Winter Group and Montrose.

Although the first three albums by the band are all commendable (and although Gamma altered its style a tad, the fourth one that came many years later isn’t too shabby either, despite various counter-opinions), this second album is nothing short of a masterpiece in my eyes, Hard Rock touched with the perfect amount of AOR.

On Gamma 2, every single song is a winner, from the sizzling opener “Mean Streak” through to the manic closer “Mayday.” But the tracks “Four Horsemen” and, especially, “Voyager” (two songs I had to perform when one of my previous bands—at my suggestion—happily covered them in its set list) are quite exceptional, with the latter being breathtaking, especially when it comes to the dramatic and raging guitar solo, Davey Pattison’s emotional vocals, and the “windy atmosphere.”

Moreover, not only did bassist Glenn Letsch and drummer Denny Carmassi lay down a solid foundation to each of the eight tracks, but Ronnie Montrose and keyboardist Jim Alcivar (and his synthesized “voices”) injected their unique instrumental flair to the entire proceedings, over which impressive vocalist Davey Pattison delivered his robust and memorable melodies. Indeed, the band had a unique sound/style that made it instantly recognizable, and that sound/style remained thoroughly consistent over the course of the first three albums, with Gamma 2 (thanks to the songwriting) showing the band and producer Gary Lyons capturing that proverbial lightning in a bottle.

Anyway, Gamma was a terrific band, and this album is a “must own” for all fans of Hard Rock. Nuff said! 🙂

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Rory Gallagher – Tattoo (1973)

RoryGallagher_Tattoo4 out of 5 Stars!

I always had a special place in my heart for the late Rory Gallagher. Although I was never a huge fan of his characteristic “talk/singing” vocals, I could easily tolerate them since I greatly admired his guitar skills. Plus his songwriting talent and the often-superb instrumentation on his songs made for some truly enjoyable albums.

For some reason, when it came to his solo releases such as Tattoo, his bluesy yet occasionally jazzy guitar playing usually reminded me of a cross between Kim Simmonds (Savoy Brown) and Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple/James Gang), although with his own special sound, almost a marriage between the styles of the other two guitarists.

And it’s a crying shame that, like the other guitarists, he also never got the recognition he deserved, never became a household name. So when it comes to Rory’s work, it’s good stuff overall, especially this album, with tracks such as “Sleep on a Clothes-Line,” “Tattoo’d Lady,” “Livin’ Like A Trucker,” “20:20 Vision,” “Admit It,” and “Cradle Rock” all showcasing Gallagher’s flavorful guitar in a wide variety of styles, and is perhaps my favorite of his many releases during the ’70s!

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