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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Pink Fairies – Never Never Land (1971)

PinkFairies_NeverNeverLand3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Whenever I’m in the mood for some rather underground, “semi-hippy/trippy” Psychedelic Hard Rock, especially music with an “attitude,” I find myself turning often to Pink Fairies.

The three albums this U.K. band released in the early ’70s are spirited collections of Heavy Psych Rock—bringing to mind the often-exotic and creative Krautrock from the same period—and always reminding me of days gone by when I hungrily searched high and low for new music to devour during my early teens and to spring on my buddies as we (hush-hush) passed around the pipe.

Ha! Oooh, the memories…

Anyway, Never Never Land, including stellar tracks such as the powerful punk-like opener “Do It,” “Teenage Rebel,” “Say You Love Me,” and the wonderfully named “Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout,” as well as lighter moments in a wide variety of musical styles, proved a fascinating and solid debut album from this underappreciated act.

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Pat Travers – Putting It Straight (1977)

PatTravers_PuttingStraight3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Why Canadian guitarist Pat Travers never made a bigger impact on the music-buying public is a question I’ve often wondered. I mean, in the mid-’70s when he emerged on the scene, his playing was well above average, comparable to other “axe-slinger heroes” in the same genre and during the same era, he surrounded himself with other top-class musicians (Tommy Aldridge and Pat Thrall immediately spring to mind), and his material (Hard/Blues Rock with a hint of both Jazz and Southern Rock) was certainly as rocking and as well-produced as bands such as the similar Montrose.

To me, it likely boiled down to the fact that Pat didn’t have an outstanding lead vocalist who might have given the sound of his group a more identifiable stamp. Instead, Pat sang his own material, and although his vocals are more than acceptable, they also seemed rather “generic” to me, not very recognizable. Or perhaps the record company just didn’t give a damn enough to promote his band the way it deserved.

Putting It Straight, Travers’s third album, is a prime example of what I’ve mentioned. While tunes such as the rockin’ opener “Life in London” as well as “Speakeasy,” “Gettin’ Betta,” “It Ain’t What It Seems,” and the two-part “Dedication,” are all top-class, energetic boogie tracks with strong guitar riffs and solos, with the occasional keyboard accompaniment and solid rhythmic background, I can’t help thinking that perhaps a stronger vocalist might have really set the tracks on fire.

Anyway, regardless of why this talented gent never made a bigger impact, Pat Travers is still a rather obscure name to many record-buyers in the world, and it’s a crying shame.

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Patrick Moraz – The Story Of I (1976)

PatrickMoraz_StoryI4 out of 5 Stars!

During Patrick Moraz’s all-too-brief period as keyboardist with Yes, and just after the band’s extraordinary album Relayer, the band members took time to each record/release their own solo albums. Out of all of them, I enjoyed Patrick’s the most.

The Story Of I, while not sounding anything like Yes (or, for that matter, Moraz’s previous groups, Refugee and Mainhorse), still offered some great Progressive Rock with a Jazz-Fusion flair, and included more of (what I believed) was Patrick’s unique synth sounds amidst songs with complex arrangements, scads of Latin-inspired percussion, a detailed storyline, some poppy vocal melodies, etc.

Unfortunately, Moraz’s subsequent releases were not as impressive or as energetic, and sadly, he soon joined The Moody Blues, where (in my opinion) his extreme talents were completely wasted, with his contributions being relegated more or less to the background.

Regardless, The Story Of I, Moraz’s debut solo effort, should appeal to a lot of Prog-Rock fans, especially those who crave creative keyboard instrumentation and solos.

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Paice Ashton Lord – Malice in Wonderland (1977)

PaiceAshtonLord_Malice4 out of 5 Stars!

Not long after the Mark III version of Deep Purple fell apart back in the mid-’70s, drummer Ian Paice and keyboardist Jon Lord teamed with vocalist/keyboardist Tony Ashton (Family), guitarist/vocalist Bernie Marsden (Babe Ruth), and bassist Paul Martinez (Stretch) for a one-off album.

I recall hearing the tracks “Remember the Good Times” and “Arabella (Oh Tell Me)” being played on an “underground” Chicago radio station and picked up the album shortly thereafter, only to find myself obsessed with it, and for weeks the platter rarely left my turntable.

Although sounding nothing like Deep Purple, the music on Malice in Wonderland is an intriguing union of styles, from Blues to Jazz to Funk to R&B blended with Hard Rock, with added horns, woodwinds, and female background harmonies. Additionally, Ashton’s gruff and lower-register voice is generally unique and may take some listeners by surprise, with him occasionally employing a “talk/singing” style that can be both bizarre and humorous at times, while periodically also taking on an almost demented aspect.

On fun and diverse tunes such as “I’m Gonna Stop Drinking,” “Silas & Jerome,” “On the Road Again, Again,” “Ghost Story,” and “Sneaky Private Lee,” plus those aforementioned tracks that “hooked me” on the group in the first place, it was almost as if Paice and Lord were itching to experiment with other styles after so many years creating slamming music with Deep Purple, and teaming up with the versatile Ashton (and the other main musical contributors to this collection) proved a way for them to do so, at least for a short while.

Although I recall my disappointment when learning the band broke up during the midst of recording tracks for its second album—these tracks can be found on the “Collector’s Edition” of this album—I was at least thankful that Marsden resurfaced months later as part of the original twin-guitar team in David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, with both Lord and Paice also joining up shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, PAL’s Malice in Wonderland remains a laudable effort and (when it comes to most rock fans) an undiscovered gem, one I continue to regularly enjoy all these many decades since its release.

(RIP Jon Lord and Tony Ashton.)

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Axel Rudi Pell – Magic (1997)

AxelRudiPell_Magic4 out of 5 Stars!

To me, German guitarist Axel Rudi Pell always seemed almost a cross between Yngwie Malmsteen and Uli Jon Roth, especially since his band produces music in a comparable vein as the other esteemed guitarists. On this album, which also features seasoned vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (Malmsteem/Talisman/W.E.T.), the comparisons between Malmsteen and Pell seem even more appropriate.

Regardless, Magic—Pell’s sixth studio release—is one of my favorite offerings from, what I believe, is his most creative, most exciting period, the later half of the ’90s and into the new century.

With terrific songs such as the epic title track and “The Clown is Dead,” along with driving Power Metal tunes such as “Light in the Sky,” “Nightmare,” “Turned to Stone,” and “Prisoners of the Sea” all showing the band’s high-energy prowess, I find myself playing this album more often than many of his more recent releases, with Magic easily falling into my “Top 5” favorites of Pell’s seventeen studio albums since 1989.

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Power of Zeus – The Gospel According to Zeus (1970)

PowerZeus_GospelZeus4.5 out of 5 Stars!

A long-forgotten Detroit band, Power of Zeus released its one and only album back in 1970, and it’s another “near-masterpiece collection” from a Motor City band, although perhaps more influenced by U.K. acts of the same era.

Loaded with Hard Rock with Heavy Psych guitar and keyboard tones, along with a hint of Progressive Rock, Power of Zeus reminded me of a cross between varied groups such as Steppenwolf, Bloodrock, Argent, Birth Control, and early Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, only with somewhat of a “garage band” atmosphere, and featuring one hell of a powerful vocalist to boot.

Basically speaking, Power of Zeus is another horribly obscure band that, in a perfect world, should have continued on for many years (and many more albums) in which to experiment and further develop its sound.

Ah, yes, for me, nothing beats a Hammond-enriched band with that early-’70s vibe I miss so damned much, especially a band with the obvious chops to perhaps go on to even grander and greater achievements if only given a chance.

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Panzerpappa – Pestrottedans (2016)

Panzerpappa_Pestrottedans3.5 out of 5 Stars!

From Norway, Panzerpappa is a highly talented instrumental band that’s been around since the late ’90s, playing some occasionally adventurous and well-performed Progressive Rock with frequent forays into Avant-Prog territory.

In truth, some of the music seems reminiscent of groups such as Dixie Dregs, King Crimson, or even Gentle Giant, only with an updated sound. Furthermore, some jazzy Canterbury Prog influences pop in from time to time, hinting at both Caravan and Hatfield And The North.

Overall, Pestrottedans, the band’s sixth and most recent studio album, is a pleasant and entertaining experience.

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The Pointer Sisters – The Pointer Sisters (1973)

PointerSisters_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

I’m sure many folks like myself who were “music conscious” from the early ’70s and into the ’80s likely couldn’t go more than a day or two without hearing music on the radio created by these talented gals. I, however, being more into Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, and Progressive Rock during my teen years in the ’70s, didn’t pay much attention, though. Sure, I’d heard the act’s first single “Yes We Can Can” and admired the amazing vocal prowess of the four sisters, but it wasn’t until many years later at a party when someone slipped on an album called Priority and I heard the girls performing an energetic version of Ian Hunter’s “Who Do You Love?” when I decided to investigate the group’s back catalogue.

One thing that struck me when initially hearing this debut album is the wide variety of material on display. In the early days of the group, the singers (dressed in vintage clothing from the ’30s and ’40s, replete with boas, extravagant hats, and handkerchiefs) performed a combination of wildly intricate Jazz, Blues, Soul, Funk, and Rock tunes, and their jaw-dropping vocal harmonies, something more akin to a bygone era (ie. The Andrews Sisters), sent chills up my spine. Especially breathtaking were periodic forays into scat vocals, with each sister imitating a brass instrument most closely associated with their individual vocal range. Amazing stuff!

The diverse range of material on this debut includes numerous highlights, such as the band’s famous rocking/funk version of Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” several ’40s-like jazz tunes with mile-a-minute four-part harmonies such as “Pains And Tears” and “Cloudburst,” a few slinky pieces such as “Naked Foot” and “Jada,” a tribute to the songs of yesteryear entitled (appropriately) “Old Songs,” an experimental scat-vocal excursion “That’s How I Feel,” and a rousing bluesy/funky version of Willie Dixon’s classic “Wang Dang Doodle,” with the gals trading off lead vocals and ad-libbing up a storm. Again, awe-inspiring vocal performances abound on each and every track, and whether or not you’re into the particular musical styles covered on this album, there’s no denying the magnificent talent on display.

The band continued in this vein for several more albums before one of the sisters (Bonnie) left for a solo career, whereas the remaining trio took a path toward more rocking territory, then eventually moved into the electronic pop genre that made them enormously famous in the ’80s. Frankly, after growing familiar with this album and the two immediate follow-ups (That’s A Plenty and Steppin’) I can’t help but wish the group had continued as a four-piece, creating more of the stunning material that graced these initial albums. Simply brilliant.

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Planet X – MoonBabies (2002)

planetx_moonbabies3.5 out of 5 Stars!

This second album from all-instrumental band Planet X should be quite the treat for anyone into frenetic Prog-Metal with the occasional jazzy and funky touches.

Impressive drummer Virgil Donati and the three guest bassists form both solid rhythms or tinker with odd-metered passages, while guitarist Tony MacAlphine and keyboardist Derek Sherinian especially shine throughout. The wild orchestrations are rich and diverse, and added with the intriguing keyboard sounds and guitar tones (both in the plush backgrounds, the frantic fills, and during the many spectacular solos) makes the whole package rather unique in my eyes.

Please note: The reason I didn’t rate this album higher overall is that, in general, I’m not an avid fan of all-instrumental albums. Without vocals, with no sing-along melodies to follow, I typically find little to remember on these types of releases, so instead I rated this particular album based on the general mood I felt after numerous hearings. And although the musicianship is first-class, there is little for me to actually remember days (or even hours) later…ie. no hummable parts that repeat in my head, nothing that would induce me to come back time and time again, but only when I’m in the mood for the occasional “instrumental fix.” Unfortunately, that’s the “nature of the beast” when it comes to purely instrumental groups, no matter how skillful the musicians involved.

Be that as it may, the band is enormously talented, there’s no denying that, and for the type of music on display here, the album is enjoyable. To me, Planet X is to today’s instrumental Prog-Metal music what Brand X was to the instrumental Prog-Rock music of the ’70s. Hmmm…Planet X? Brand X? It might be the “Xs” in the names that make both bands so special to their particular eras, huh? 🙂

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