Master Men – Through the Window (2015)

MasterMen_ThruWindow3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Poland’s Master Men, although typically lumped into the Progressive Rock category at many music-related websites, seems more an AOR/Hard Rock outfit with moderate Prog-Rock leanings, thanks mainly to the prominent use of keyboards.

But the music overall is much more straightforward than most Prog bands, with relatively short tracks (all between three and six minutes) and featuring nearly nothing in the way of complex musical arrangements, only a few modest solos throughout, which seems comparable to groups such as Alias Eye or latter-day Saga.

Generally speaking, the group’s style is rather pleasant, occasionally mellow with some power-bursts, due to the crunchy guitar sound and leads, and includes a recognizable lead singer with a mid-level range.

On Through the Window, there’s nothing to set the world on fire, but the band certainly has potential and the synth-heavy material should appeal to Prog-Rock fans seeking an undemanding listening experience.

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Mott – Shouting & Pointing (1976)

Mott_Shouting5 out of 5 Stars!

After legendary Mott The Hoople lost Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, then found a replacement vocalist in Nigel Benjamin and a keen guitarist in Ray Majors, the revised lineup shortened its name to simply Mott and released the album Drive On to mixed reviews. I, for one, thought the album rather disjointed, with some truly brilliant fare mixed with way too many hackneyed moments, but nevertheless showing the quintet’s potential.

The following year, however, after finding its “musical legs” with the new band members, Mott returned with Shouting & Pointing. Not only did that potential displayed on the debut album come to fruition, but far exceeded all of my initial expectations.

In my eyes, Shouting & Pointing is a lost and (mostly) forgotten gem, 5 Stars all the way!

The A Side is a perfect collection of tunes, from the bombastic “Shouting and Pointing,” to the rocking “Collision Course” and “Storm,” to the outstanding ballad “Career (No Such Thing as Rock ‘n’ Roll).” On these four tracks alone, Nigel Benjamin shows his true talent, his vocals sassy and sneering and soaring, while Ray Major also displays his chops with some expert riffs, fills, and power chords. Morgan Fisher’s piano excursions were never more awesome, while the long-standing rhythm team of bassist Overend Watts and drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin kicked butt in the same tight and driving tradition as they did in “Hoople.”

And the B Side is pretty damned good also, and a bit more diverse. With Overend Watts taking control of the microphone, “Hold On, You’re Crazy” kicks off the proceedings, reminding me of the tune “Born Late ’58,” which he wrote and also sung on MTH’s The Hoople album. “See You Again” is a sparse and catchy rocker with wonderfully tasty and countrified guitar fills likening back to Major’s previous group Hackensack, whereas the rip-roaring “Too Short Arms (I Don’t Care)” is pure Mott The Hoople, with a slightly out-of-tune piano tinkling throughout, giving the impression of the band performing in a smoky pub in some hidden corner of London. “Broadside Outcasts” is the strangest song, a tune that, thanks to the chord patterns during the bridge and the overall instrumentation, partially seemed destined to become another teenage-rebel anthem similar to those written by David Bowie for Mott The Hoople such as “All The Young Dudes” or “Drive-In Saturday” (the latter was offered to MTH, but the band oddly turned it down), but the chorus kicks in with tongue-in-cheek vocal silliness and turns the song completely topsy-turvy. And finally, the band recorded a rousing version of Vanda/Young’s “Good Times” to close out the album, which easily blows the original version by The Easybeats to smithereens.

It’s a crying shame that Mott broke up shortly after releasing this album (or rather, it lost Nigel Benjamin and replaced him with John Fiddler, ultimately becoming British Lions). With Shouting & Pointing proving exactly what this lineup could accomplish, I had prayed Mott would stay together forever.

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Macroscream – Macroscream (2016)

Macroscream_24.5 out of 5 Stars!

Macroscream is a “newish” Italian Prog-Rock band with a strong vintage flavor. Although I have not heard the band’s debut album (Sisyphus) from 2012, this sophomore release is quite stunning.

With the inclusion of violin, sax, and the prominent retro keys, along with some jazz and folk influences, fun time shifts and the intricate arrangements both vocally and instrumentally on tracks such as “Mr. Why,” “Goliath,” “Unquiet,” “Impenetrable Oak Bark,” and “The Flying Gianpy,” the band often reminds me of classic acts such as Gentle Giant or PFM mixed with the occasional touch of Supertramp, or more modern Prog-Rock groups such as Seven Steps to the Green Door, Black Bonzo, and Presto Ballet.

This is one exciting band to watch!

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Melissa Etheridge – Brave And Crazy (1989)

MelissaEtheridge_BraveCrazy3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Before achieving her big breakthrough with 1993’s Yes I Am album, Kansas-born singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge released three collections of tracks in a genre now being coined “Heartland Rock,” basically a mixture of Hard Rock/Folk Rock with perhaps a hint of Country and R&B tossed in.

Well, whatever the silly and trendy “genre du jour” moniker being used within the industry at any given time to describe a musical style, Etheridge’s second release, Brave And Crazy, is crammed with no-frills and well-performed melodic songs such as “No Souvenirs,” “You Used to Love to Dance,” “Testify,” “Skin Deep,” “The Angels,” “Let Me Go,” and my favorite, “Royal Station 4/16.”

Overall, the collection contains a pleasant balance of Hard and Soft Rock, with Etheridge’s 12-string acoustic guitar at the forefront in the mix and the emotionally charged lyrics delivered in her raspy, recognizable, and soul-stirring voice, which I adore.

Plus, even this early in Etheridge’s professional career, her songwriting capabilities are already impressive, with most of the tunes on this release being highly memorable, adding to the album’s replay value.

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Millenium – Exist (2008)

Millenium_Exist4 out of 5 Stars!

Millenium, a Prog-Rock band from Poland (not to be confused with the Jorn Lande Hard Rock/Heavy Metal outfit that bore the same name), released its debut album back in 1998, and to this day continues onward, always creating enjoyable, highly melodic and moody, above-average music of the Neo-Prog variety on a fairly regular basis, for which I am eternally thankful.

Exist, the band’s 2008 release (its seventh studio album) is probably one of my favorites, with each of its four lengthy tracks (from eleven to fifteen minutes each) often mesmerizing, containing a perfect balance of heavier and lighter moments, solid melodies, and top-notch musicianship.

Fans of Galleon, Airbag, Pink Floyd, Big Big Train, and similar acts will likely enjoy Millenium’s material as much as I’ve come to appreciate it.

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May Blitz – The 2nd of May (1971)

MayBlitz_2ndMay4 out of 5 Stars!

May Blitz, a hard-rockin’ and creative trio made up of two Canadians (guitarist/vocalist Jamie Black and bassist Reid Hudson) and a Brit (drummer Tony Newman, formerly of Jeff Beck Group who eventually joined Boxer and T-Rex) sadly released only two albums before disbanding.

Both albums are crammed with grooving and occasionally funky Hard/Blues Rock, Heavy Psychedelic Rock, and even a touch of Prog-Rock, with rather dark (proto-Metal) atmospheres overall. On this particular platter, the group’s second release, the driving opening track, “For Mad Men Only,” is a perfect example of that more metalized sound, with the band barreling out of the gate in the finest tradition of rock ‘n’ roll power trios—thundering and unrelenting rhythms and blazing guitar leads. A similar style also appears on “8 Mad Grim Nits,” the first track on the flip side, an instrumental where Hudson and Newman maintain a riotous beat behind Black’s often-explosive six-string antics.

Meanwhile, the other half-dozen tracks are less in-your-face, with “The 25th of December 1969,” “Honey-Coloured Time,” and “Snakes and Ladders” offering up mid-tempo fare loaded with both acoustic and electric guitar riffs, intriguing and varied percussion, highly melodic and jazz-inspired bass runs, and—especially on the latter track—hypnotic atmospheres galore. And one of my favorite tunes, the laid-back “High Beech,” with its beautiful acoustic guitar background and psychedelic vibes, could almost be a lost track from Ten Years After’s A Space in Time album.

The two lengthier side-closers seem almost text-book examples for bands on how to create captivating and almost free-form Heavy Psych material. The rollicking and flute-enhanced “In Part” even features a lengthy drum solo, a definite rarity for studio albums in any genre or in any era, while the luscious and dreamy “Just Thinking” allows the listener to float away on a sea of psychedelia—ideal for any listener who occasionally enjoys indulging in a certain type of…hmm…”cigarette.”

Overall, however, The 2nd of May is not without its flaws. Like on the band’s debut platter, Black’s lead vocals are indeed the weakest link. His delivery is often frail and perfunctory, lacking in all emotion, and his precision is not always meticulous. Yet May Blitz was never about vocal prowess, never about luring in listeners who demand a recognizable crooner churning out catchy and singalong lyrics, but instead, a raw celebration of tasty and mesmerizing fret-work. Therefore, Black’s generic vocals are in no way an aural affront to the ear drums, just a bit of a disappointment for those of us who can imagine what might have become of May Blitz had it also possessed a frontman as powerful and as sterling as its musicians.

And speaking of which, the fantastic musicianship on display here often reminded me of the excellent U.K. power trio Three Man Army (which—highly coincidental—also featured Tony Newman), another band that also never received the fame it so justifiably deserved. So fans of groups such as the aforementioned Three Man Army and Ten Years After, plus outfits such as Captain Beyond, Blues Creation, Groundhogs, Flower Travellin’ Band, Dust, and even Jimi Hendrix, will likely enjoy May Blitz, a band that disappeared way before its time.

 

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Mott The Hoople – Brain Capers (1971)

Mott_BrainCapers4.5 out of 5 Stars!

On Brain Capers, a musical time-capsule, we bear witness to a band on death’s doorstep (well, not actually, but the band members thought so anyway). Here we see Mott The Hoople, made up of five talented yet underappreciated musicians, rebellious to the point that they symbolically screamed, “Screw the record company, we’re creating the type of album we f*cking want to release!” and in the process, producing a borderline masterpiece, thus making enough of a “statement” to draw the attention of David Bowie, who went on to “resurrect” Mott The Hoople and ushered the band into several years of success.

This is undoubtedly one of my favorite Mott The Hoople releases of all time—it’s rebellious and sleazy, beautiful and raw, not to mention gaudy and jarring as all hell, especially since it came only eight months after the wimpy and countrified “tang” of Wildlife, an album I truly detested. And Brain Capers is certainly the best of the four pre-Bowie albums, even though it also contains several actual flubs—such as the rhythm section making a noticeable goof in the middle of the otherwise wonderful “Sweet Angeline”—left fully intact and uncorrected, the musicians prioritizing the “feel” of the song over perfected performances. This further shows a band that didn’t give a damn at this point in their “failing” career, which somehow adds to the album’s everlasting charm.

On the frantic opening track “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”—a track originally recorded as “How Long?” but revised and played in a different key—you can almost feel the venomous blades being hurled by Ian Hunter’s forceful vocals, a man lashing out at an unfair music industry. The same can be said for the raging “The Moon Upstairs,” where I can imagine the band members smashing their instruments the moment they’d finished laying down the tracks.

But the album is not all riotous in its intensity. “Darkness, Darkness,” a cover of a tune by The Youngbloods with Mick Ralphs on lead vocals, is one of the less caustic songs on offer and has a similar flavor to the following album’s “Ready For Love,” while “Your Own Backyard” could have easily been an excerpt from MTH’s debut album, with Ian Hunter doing his best Bob Dylan impersonation.

But for me, the highlight of the album is “The Journey,” a lengthy semi-ballad written by Ian Hunter (who typically excels at these piano-driven pieces). Indeed, Hunter’s emotional delivery (with his voice cracking on numerous occasions—certainly no polished performance here) gives the track a “live in the studio” feel, while the chord patterns of the verses, Hunter’s beautiful piano with Verden Allen’s haunting “Procol Harum-like” organ in the background, and the pompous arrangement all bring to mind another of my favorite Hunter ballads—”Rose”—only on a much grander and furious scale. Simply marvelous!

Too bad Mott The Hoople didn’t last forever, but at least the world has several musical time-capsules like Brain Capers and the subsequent post-Bowie albums to help us remember all the rock ‘n’ roll fun this group brought to the table.

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The Michael Schenker Group – Assault Attack (1982)

MSG_AssaultAttack4.5 out of 5 Stars!

In my opinion, Assault Attack is the most enjoyable album The Michael Schenker Group ever released, and coincidentally, it’s the only one to feature Graham Bonnet (Rainbow/Alcatrazz/Forcefield) on lead vocals. In truth, I was never a huge fan of previous (and future) singer Gary Barden, so Bonnet’s appearance on Assault Attack renewed my waning interest in MSG, and what a dent he made.

On the band’s third studio album, Bonnet’s performance is simply terrific, gruff and beefy throughout, while Schenker’s memorable guitar riffs and wicked solos spatter out of the speakers like a series of deadly sonic bullets, continually hitting their mark. Tracks such as “Rock You to the Ground,” “Samurai,” “Desert Song,” “Broken Promises,” and “Assault Attack” simply shred, while “Dancer,” although seemingly hated by many fans of the group, is nevertheless my favorite, a song I adored because of the catchy chorus, Bonnet’s punchy delivery, and Schenker’s magnificent solo, chord patterns, and riff he delivers to support the punchy verses.

Meanwhile, constructing a solid rhythmic foundation, the formidable duo of bassist Chris Glen and drummer Ted McKenna employ the same tight and thundering teamwork as they utilized during their years together in both Tear Gas and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, as demonstrated from start to finish. And with Tommy Eyre (also from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band) providing rich keyboard accompaniment along the way, the album packs a mighty wallop…an assault attack indeed!

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Rob Moratti – Victory (2011)

RobMoratti_Victory4 out of 5 Stars!

Talk about killer vocalists…

I first “discovered” Rob Moratti when he stepped in to fill the void left by vocalist Michael Sadler in the legendary Canadian Prog-Rock band Saga for 2009’s The Human Condition album. Sure, the band sounded different without Sadler’s distinctive timbre at the forefront, but nevertheless produced a highly enjoyable album, and more importantly, introduced much of the world (or at least, me) to a singer who possessed a bright, robust, and (more importantly) recognizable voice.

Therefore, when Moratti left Saga after that single album, I prayed it wouldn’t be the last I heard from him, and thankfully, it wasn’t. Indeed, this talented frontman didn’t stay dormant for long, but with the help of musicians such as Reb Beach (Winger/Whitesnake), Tony Franklin (The Firm/Blue Murder), and Christian Wolff (Sub7even), he delivered a damned-impressive album, which he justifiably christened Victory.

Unlike the Saga album, Moratti’s solo debut featured a collection of highly melodic Hard Rock/AOR tracks that easily matched the “catchiness level” of music produced by bands such as Brother Firetribe, Blanc Faces, Find Me, Place Vendome, Bad Habit, Elevener, Giant, or any group that included either the legendary Fergie Fredericksen or Steve Overland on lead vocals.

For fans of the aforementioned bands, as well as those who savor lead vocalists that have the passion and range to send chills of excitement down your shine, then Victory could be right up your alley.

Victory is a well-produced beauty!

(Final note: And do yourself a favor and not only investigate this album and Moratti’s other solo efforts, along with releases by his former band Final Frontier, but also the group Rage of Angels, which luckily now includes Moratti as its “lead voice.”)

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Metal Church – XI (2016)

MetalChurch_XI4 out of 5 Stars!

Despite the seemingly revolving door of powerful lead singers who disappear unexpectedly only to suddenly reappear years later, Metal Church is probably one of the most consistent Heavy Metal bands of all time, never straying too far from its original thick, dark, and driving sound, and typically delivering the head-banging goods on every single release.

Therefore, regardless of vocalist, this California-based group has remained one of my favorite Heavy Metal powerhouses since its debut album appeared back in 1984, and the band’s eleventh studio release—titled simply XI—is pure thundering and screeching mayhem as I expected, with the band yet again (and no shock) firing on all cylinders.

Incidentally, referring back to that “revolving door” comment I made earlier, it’s vocalist Mike Howe who is once again wielding the microphone. For those unfamiliar with Howe’s work with Metal Church, he’s the band’s second singer, the one who appeared on a trio of albums—1989’s Blessing in Disguise, 1991’s The Human Factor, and 1993’s Hanging in the Balance—before apparently falling off the radar in all these intervening years.

Regardless, he’s now back and fronting one of the finest Heavy Metal acts to have ever existed. May this band continue forever, regardless of whichever singer is in the fold at any given moment in time.

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