Heartbreakers – L.A.M.F. (1977)

Heartbreakers_LAMF4 out of 5 Stars!

Featuring both guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan from New York Dolls, along with bassist Billy Rath and guitarist Walter Lure, Heartbreakers (also known as Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers) released only one album, but what a killer platter it was.

Punchy and energetic tracks such as “I Wanna Be Loved,” “Baby Talk,” “Do You Love Me,” “Goin’ Steady,” “Chinese Rocks,” and the blazing opener “Born to Lose” barrel from the speakers “Like A M*ther F*cker,” hence the album’s abbreviated title. Similar to Sex Pistols, the guitars sound frenzied and full on the majority of the fourteen tunes, yet almost like New York Dolls, also wonderfully sloppy and slovenly. And the always defiant and typically off-key lead vocals match the fury of both aforementioned groups, which gives the down-‘n’-dirty music extra debauched charm and garage-band character.

Therefore, crammed with both punkish attitude and youthful exuberance, a cacophony of pounding rhythms and singalong choruses, the band had enough snarl and swagger to give the mighty Sex Pistols a run for the sleazy moolah. But alas, also like the Pistols, narcotics and personal mayhem took a toll on the band members, and Heartbreakers splintered apart after releasing this one full-length studio album, which ended up being a classic of the genre, and a ferocious, disobedient, and long-lasting sockdolager to the musical jaw.

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Toby Hitchcock – Mercury’s Down (2011)

TobyHitchcock_MercurysDown4.5 out of 5 Stars!

As far as musicians go, Chicago’s Jim Peterik easily falls into the “legend” category for me. As I’ve stated countless times in the past, I’ve been a longtime fan of the man’s talents, not only because he’s a “local son” of my area, but also since his past groups, The Ides of March and Survivor, always appealed to me. Plus, having not only been a member of various groups that opened for Survivor, and also having been part of Peterik’s “Pictionary Team” at a local party we both attended many years ago—when we kicked major ass against the competition that night, I might add, thank you very much!—I have a tendency to follow his career with a keen eye and no small degree of anticipation for any new project in which he’s involved. 🙂

Seriously, however, as many people may not realize, one of Peterik’s unlauded talents that I learned to respect long ago is the ability to (like Deep Purple’s/Rainbow’s Ritchie Blackmore) select the best vocalists who can successfully perform his hit-single-destined material, and for his latest band, Pride of Lions, Peterik once again delivered in spades by “discovering” and presenting to the world a chap from nearby Indiana by the name of Toby Hitchcock. And on each Pride of Lions’s album from 2003 to the present day, Hitchcock belts his ever-lovin’ heart out, with his style, range, and timbre occasionally reminiscent of Survivor’s Jimi Jamison, but unique enough to often stun and amaze. Not too damned shabby, to say the least.

Therefore, in 2011, when I learned that Hitchcock had released a solo album, it was a “no-brainer” to immediately snatch up a copy. And what Hitchcock delivered (and no great surprise) was a classy collection of Melodic Hard Rock and AOR bordering on Pomp Rock, sort of a cross between the material delivered by acts such as Magnum, Bob Catley, Rage of Angels, Serpentine, Perfect View, Brother Firetribe, Drive She Said, Sunstorm, and (of course) Pride of Lions.

But unlike his “anchor” band, Hitchcock elected to create this particular collection with a different set of musicians and songwriters, specifically the team of (mainly) Erik Martensson and Miqael Persson, who worked and/or performed with artists such as Eclipse (Sweden), W.E.T., Giant, and the aforementioned Jimi Jamison, etc. In fact, Martensson not only produced the collection, but also performed everything from rhythm guitar and keyboards, to bass and drums and the kitchen sink, with several additional musicians from his band Eclipse lending a hand.

And of course, on this twelve-track collection, Hitchcock handles all the lead vocals, spectacularly so. Indeed, the man was apparently born to sing in this genre, and on glorious tracks such as “Summer Nights in Cabo,” “This is the Moment,” “I Should Have Said,” “Tear Down the Barricades,” “Strong Enough,” and the emotional ballad “One Day I’ll Stop Loving You,” he displays raw vocal talent that leaves me practically drooling and oh-so-damned envious. Indeed, Toby Hitchcock is a gifted vocalist not yet lauded worldwide for his striking set of pipes and his ear for melody and emotional delivery. How can he not be famous already? Where is the justice? Were he to have appeared on one of those brainless, banal, and commercially driven reality “talent shows” that crop up like zombie cockroaches across the TV screen, he would have effortlessly blown away all of those “supposed” competitor-singers within not even a full chorus, but a single line. So again, I ask, where is the justice?

Anyway, yes, as you can no-doubt decipher, I have become an avid fan of this talented gent, the same as I’ve been a longtime fan of Peterik’s. And despite the latter not performing on or contributing to this particular album as he would on any Pride of Lions album, I still rank Mercury’s Down highly on my rating scale, now being happily content that Hitchcock can deliver the goods even outside his “anchor” group. And, of course, I once again thank my former “Pictionary teammate” Jim Peterik for having repeatedly used his unheralded talents by introducing to the world yet another Hard Rock/AOR vocalist that has the ability to utterly captivate.

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Hugo – Hugo (1997)

Hugo_Hugo4 out of 5 Stars!

In 1990, an album by a new band from New York called Valentine suddenly appeared on the AOR scene, and after hearing only snippets of a few tracks, I swiftly realized the material being offered was an almost perfect replica of Journey during its most popular “Steve Perry era.” This was mostly due to the general high quality of the stadium-rock tunes, as well as the lead vocalist, a gent going by the simple moniker of Hugo (full name Hugo Valenti), with a timbre, range, and delivery style eerily reminiscent of Perry’s (prior to the latter singer getting raspy on the Frontiers album, that is). But after Valentine’s debut sadly failed to gain any significant attention, the group seemingly disappeared (in truth, it mysteriously and temporarily altered its name to Open Skyz for a single album in 1993 before thankfully popping up once more as Valentine in 2008 with an “official” sophomore release). Yet during those many intervening years of inactivity and ineffective name-changing, Hugo delivered his first solo release, with (no shock) music in a similar realm.

Indeed, the singer’s 1997 self-titled debut contains numerous tracks that could have easily appeared on either Valentine release, not to mention many albums by Journey (those including either Steve Perry or its current vocalist Arnel Pineda), with the majority of tunes featuring catchy choruses, grand background harmonies, top-notch guitar riffs and solos courtesy of Vinnie Burns (Ten/Bob Catley/Asia), lush keyboard instrumentation occasionally of the Pomp-Rock variety, and a solid rhythm section. Oh, and of course, Hugo’s powerful and wide-ranging lead vocals soar majestically on songs such as “Desire,” “Crazy,” “If You’re Ever Lonely,” “Standing Alone,” and the magnificent power ballads “So Many Tears Ago” and “A Tear in L.A.”

Therefore, for AOR fans, specifically devotees of Journey and several of its “off-shoot” groups such as The Vu and The Storm, or any acts of a similar variety, Hugo’s debut—as well as the singer’s subsequent solo releases—is an album you’ll likely enjoy as much as I do.

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Heart of Cygnus – Over Mountain, Under Hill (2009)

HeartCygnus_OverMountain4 out of 5 Stars!

From Los Angeles, Heart of Cygnus released four albums between 2007 and 2012. Over Mountain, Under Hill, the band’s second collection, contains energetic Progressive Rock with both Metal and Symphonic touches throughout. I couldn’t help but imagine a merging of groups such as Iron Maiden and early Rush with more modern Prog-Rock and Prog-Metal bands.

The singer has a wide range (occasionally reminding me of Geddy Lee without the shrillness) and tracks such as “Over Mountain,” “Under Hill,” “Lost at Sea,” “Revelations,” and “The Mountain King,” feature often jaw-dropping musicianship, thrilling guitar solos, and wildly diverse tempos, with creative musical arrangements galore.

Were this a perfect world, Heart of Cygnus would have received greater attention from lovers of the genre. Now, since the band’s most recent album came out back in 2012, I’m praying the band is still active and creating new material.

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Hard Stuff – Bulletproof (1972)

HardStuff_Bulletproof4 out of 5 Stars!

Because of its power-trio line-up and the era of its brief existence, not to mention the occasional hard-driving and often funky rhythms showcased on its debut album, this U.K. band always reminded me of the legendary Trapeze, only with a more “metal” edge.

Featuring underappreciated guitarist John Cann (Atomic Rooster), lauded bassist (RIP) Johnny Gustafson (Ian Gillan Band/Roxy Music/Quatermass), and drummer Paul Hammond (Atomic Rooster), Hard Stuff started in 1970 (along with vocalist Al Shaw) under the name Daemon, then (for whatever the reason) dropped Shaw to forge onward as a threesome.

And that’s what I originally viewed as a detriment—the fact that Trapeze possessed an extraordinary and recognizable vocalist in bassist Glenn Hughes, whereas Hard Stuff did not. So, to be perfectly frank, I originally never embraced this album due to its “only average” vocals.

But thankfully, with hindsight being 20/20, I reexamined Bulletproof in the past decade, paying closer attention to the stellar musicianship involved, and have since grown quite fond of it. Indeed, it’s heavy as hell, with occasionally Blues-influenced tracks such as “Sinister Minister,” “Taken Alive,” “Millionaire,” “Mr. Longevity,” “Time Gambler (Rodney)”,” “The Provider,” and “No Witch at All,” blaring out of the speakers. One other track in particular, “Monster in Paradise”—which I vividly remembered through the many years before once again revisiting this release—was a collaboration between Gustafson and Ian Gillan/Roger Glover of Deep Purple fame, and (to me) sounds as if it could have easily fit into the other band’s repertoire—or at least, I can easily imagine Gillan singing it.

Regardless, before finally disbanding, Hard Stuff went on to create a second platter (Bolex Dementia), but also altered its style a bit, thus leaving Bulletproof as the group’s unrivaled masterpiece. Therefore, fans of other Proto-Metal groups of the era such as Dust, May Blitz, Sir Lord Baltimore, Three Man Army, etc. who are unfamiliar with this group would likely find this debut album of interest.

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Humble Pie – On to Victory (1980)

HumblePie_OnToVictory3.5 out of 5 Stars!

I’m not sure why this particular Humble Pie “comeback” album typically receives generally low ratings on many music-related websites. Perhaps it’s because the band at this time featured only two original members—drummer Jerry Shirley and the outstanding vocalist/guitarist Steve Marriott with his raspy, powerful, soulful delivery, undoubtedly the star of the show. For this album, Humble Pie also added Bobby Tench (Jeff Beck Group) on guitar, keys, and second vocals along with Anthony “Sooty” Jones on bass, yet perhaps because the album didn’t feature Clem Clempson’s tasteful lead guitar work, that may be part of the problem for some listeners.

And yes, this ten-track album may not contain the same overall raw and hungry atmosphere as many of the band’s releases from the early ’70s—Rock On, Thunderbox, or Smokin’, for example—but it’s nevertheless a definite step upward from the group’s previous (and poorly produced) ’75 release Street Rats. Plus, On to Victory does contain a gem of an opening track called “Fool for a Pretty Face,” along with the raucous and upbeat “Further Down the Road” and “Get It in the End,” the sleazy grind of “Take It from Here,” the bluesy and gut-wrenching “My Lover’s Prayer,” and the sax-enhanced “Infatuation.” And as always when it comes to a Humble Pie album, numerous tracks feature the gospel-tinged female background singers and an appropriate amount of organ and piano accents. Therefore, although On to Victory certainly isn’t a perfect album, not entirely “victorious” as the band no doubt had wished, it definitely ain’t half as bad as some listeners might have one believe either.

And hey, any album that includes an ass-kickin’ rocker with a silly title such as “You Soppy Pratt” can’t be too dismal, right?

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Houston – Houston (2010)

Houston_14 out of 5 Stars!

The year 2010 saw the debut album from a superb AOR band called Houston. And guess from where Houston originated…come on, give a guess…

Now, if you answered Houston, Texas, you would be dead wrong! Actually, the band hails from Stockholm, Sweden. Go figure, huh?

Anyway, Houston (the album itself, not the band or the city) is rich in melodic tunes such as “Truth Slips,” “She’s A Mystery,” “1000 Songs,” “Give Me Back My Heart,” “Pride,” and “I’m Alive.” And each song (with no ballads anywhere in sight, by the way) is heavy in multi-layered vocal harmonies and keyboards, infused with AOR magic, and blessed with a singer who often sounds like the late/great Fergie Frederiksen (Toto/Trillion/Mecca) when he hits the high notes.

Therefore, fans of the AOR genre, especially those who fancy more material in the same realm as FM, Shy, Alliance, Urban Tale, Find Me, Bad Habit, and Survivor should investigate this band posthaste. Additionally, if you can grab the version of the album with the two catchy bonus tracks (“Under Your Skin” and “Chasing The Dream”), all the better.

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House Of Lords – Saint of the Lost Souls (2017)

HouseLords_SaintLostSouls4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Apart from perhaps one so-so album in the early part of this century, and despite seemingly endless changes within its lineup since its debut in the late ’80s, House Of Lords is probably one of the most consistent bands in the genre regarding its overall sound and style, delivering albums every few years with catchy material, outstanding musicianship and vocals, and full and rich production.

2017’s Saint of the Lost Souls is another out-and-out scorcher, grand and glistening and glorious, perhaps even matching the supremacy of 2006’s near-perfect World Upside Down, with (sole original member) James Christian’s powerful vocals leading the way, and the band’s trademarked Pomp-Rock keyboards (originally supplied by the great Gregg Giuffria of Angel fame until his retirement, and performed on this album by Christian himself) adding to the majesty of the band’s overall style. Also featured on this album is the wonderfully tasty and blazing six-string fretwork from seasoned guitarist Jimi Bell, as well as the tight-as-heck rhythm section of new bassist Chris Tristram and long-time House of Lords’s drummer B.J. Zampa.

With tracks such as the keyboard-rich opener “Harlequin,” as well as other melodious rockers like “Art of Letting Go,” “Concussion,” “The Other Option,” “Reign of Fire,” “New Day Breakin’,” and the outstanding title tune, along with the lush ballad “The Sun Will Never Set Again,” Saint of the Lost Souls proves once again that House Of Lords is truly a top-class act, and this album is simply Pomp-tastic!


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Humble Pie – Smokin’ (1972)

HumblePie_Smokin4 out of 5 Stars!

Give me a dose of Steve Marriott’s raspy and raucous and rampaging vocals soaring over slamming Hard “Boogie” Rock and I’ll always be happy.

On the band’s fifth release, Humble Pie was at the top of its game, offering up some classic and (yes, I have to say it) smokin’ tracks, such as “Hot ‘n’ Nasty,” “C’mon Everybody,” “The Fixer,” “Road Runner,” and “30 Days in the Hole,” with the diminutive Marriott flexing his gigantic “vocal muscles” and belting out a storm over Clem Clempson’s heavy and sizzling guitar riffs, and the formidable team of bassist Gregg Ridley and drummer Jerry Shirley never sounding tighter or more thundering.

Smokin’ was a perfect example of a hungry band unafraid to add elements of Folk, Soul, and Funk into its overall solid Blues-Rock foundation to add tasty variety and further expand its sound.

Humble Pie is one band I wish could have lasted forever and ever and ever with this line-up of musicians, who really jived as a cohesive team…but alas, it ended all too soon.

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Hanoi Rocks – Two Steps From the Move (1984)

HanoiRocks_TwoSteps4.5 out of 5 Stars!

To me, when New York Dolls disbanded after only two albums, the band left a musical vacuum of “glam meets punk.” Thankfully, Finland’s Hanoi Rocks finally filled that vacuum when it appeared on the scene in the early ’80s. But unfortunately, Hanoi Rocks also got lumped in with all the other “hair bands” such as Poison, Cinderella, Ratt, and any other one of the zillions of groups that emerged with truckloads of Aqua Net in tow.

But Hanoi Rocks was so much more, especially since the group possessed that raw sound and punk attitude other “hair bands” sorely lacked. I loved them, and especially Two Steps From the Move, the band’s Bob Ezrin-produced fifth studio album, which showed the group at its rowdy, rollicking, and raucous peak, on the verge of worldwide fame, with the songwriting and performances never better.

A slamming cover of CCR’s “Up Around the Bend” opens up the album, probably the best version of the song I’ve ever heard recorded. And from there, things just get even better with the loud and rebellious “High School,” which leads into the punky and pouting “I Can’t Get It,” both tracks easily matching muscle with any of the band’s previous classics. “Underwater World,” “Futurama,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “Boiler (Me Boiler ‘n’ Me)” all deliver pounding and killer riffs, some of Andy McCoy’s most inspired songwriting (with a little help on several tracks from Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter), while “Cutting Corners” and “Million Miles Away” both offer something a bit different, with Mike Monroe’s blazing sax included. Moreover, the band delivers a superior version of McCoy’s “Don’t You Ever Leave Me,” making mincemeat of the original (which appeared on the band’s debut album as “Don’t Never Leave Me”). Yes, Two Steps From the Move featured a collection of amazing tracks, a nearly perfect album from a band that finally seemed to have its act together and luck on its side.

But sadly, the ever-growing momentum ended shockingly and tragically when drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley was killed in an automobile driven by Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, and Hanoi Rocks had to cancel the remainder of its first U.S. tour supporting the album and fell apart soon afterward. Although the band eventually reemerged in 2001 with a revised line-up to release three enjoyable albums in the following years, the “big moment” for Hanoi Rocks had passed, and this was the album that nearly catapulted the band to the top of the charts. Glam-Punk at its best!

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