Alan Reed – First in a Field of One (2012)

AlanReed_FirstFieldOne4 out of 5 Stars!

After leaving his long-time band Pallas in 2010, lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Alan Reed (also formerly of Abel Ganz and Strangers on a Train) released his first solo album shortly thereafter, a collection of melodic and accessible tracks in the Symphonic Prog/Neo-Prog variety.

Aiding Reed on this release is an all-star cast of gifted musicians, including guitarists Jeff Green (Jeff Green Project) and Kelle Wallner (RPWL), keyboardist Mike Stobbie (Pallas), percussionist Scott Higham (Pendragon), and the always wonderful Christina Booth (Magenta) on background vocals, so that fact alone says a ton regarding not only the high quality level of this release, but also the style of material included here.

Pallas fans (and lovers of similar groups such as IQ and early Marillion) will certainly enjoy First in a Field of One as much as I do. Tunes such as “Kingdom of the Blind,” “The Usual Suspects,” “The Real Me,” “Teardrops in the Rain,” “Begin Again,” and the highly dramatic, Pallas-like track “Darkness Has Spoken” are simply awash in delightful and often-dreamy melodies, not to mention dazzling musicianship (as one might expect, considering the panoply of talent). The wide range of instrumentation on display, with a seemingly flawless balance of both electric and acoustic guitars, plus an endless array of keyboard sounds to provide lush and symphonic textures, adds even more to the diversity of the eight tracks. And of course, Reed’s recognizable voice shines throughout, his delivery spot-on and loaded with emotion.

Although perhaps unfair to state, yet in many ways, this solo debut by Reed, a former singer of a successful Neo-Prog band, reminds me of the solo debut by Fish, another former singer from a successful Neo-Prog group. Coincidence, no doubt. But still, I couldn’t help notice how the well-produced material on offer here, being similar to Reed’s former group yet not a direct copy, as well as the atmosphere and generally passionate performances, provided me with the same feelings as I had when listening to Fish’s solo debut, which shared those same traits. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, listening to Reed’s debut (and Fish’s) left me hungering for more.

So thankfully, as the album title implies, First in a Field of One wasn’t simply a one-off project, as Reed subsequently delivered a second solo collection (Honey On The Razor’s Edge) featuring most of the same guest-star musicians, plus the legendary Steve Hackett, and is also supposedly working on material for yet a third release. Therefore, it seems as if First in a Field of One was indeed the first in a field of numerous albums to follow, and happily so.

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Riverdogs – Riverdogs (1990)

Riverdogs_14 out of 5 Stars!

Just prior to hooking up with Shadow King (and, soon thereafter, Def Leppard), guitarist Vivian Campbell (ex-Dio) popped up on the underrated debut album by Riverdogs, a Blues-based Hard Rock band from L.A.

Besides Campbell’s often-terrific guitar contributions, singer Rob Lamothe is perhaps the biggest reason I keep coming back to this album time and again year after year. To my ears, Lamothe falls into the “Paul Rodgers/David Coverdale/James Dewar” category of singers, and I adore his soaring, passionate, and distinguishable voice, the way he delivers his lines with such emotional angst, and often wonder why he didn’t become the “next big thing” in rock music.

Regardless, the album is crammed with catchy material, with sing-along fare such as “Whisper,” “I Believe,” “Toy Soldier,” “Water From the Moon,” and my favorites, the mid-tempo and more dramatic vocal showcases “America” and “Baby Blue.” In many cases, the music often reminds me of the style of albums generated by artists such as Bad Company, Cry of Love, Robin Trower, Badlands, Whitesnake, Trapeze, or Hydra, mostly Bluesy Hard Rock with a hint of Southern Rock as well…basically any group that features those vocalists I mentioned above, where Lamothe’s style really seems so darned appropriate.

And over the course of these ten memorable tracks, Campbell shows the full depth of his talent, his layered rhythm guitars, both acoustic and electric, sounding full and rich, while his six-string leads always melodic and emotive, and also technically stunning and occasionally shredding. Obviously, given his background with Dio, I purchased this album upon its release and originally expected Riverdogs to have a Heavy Metal edge, so it left me pleasantly surprised to hear Campbell do something so completely different, and do it so well.

Anyway, after this debut, Campbell unfortunately left the group for pastures anew, but Riverdogs soldiered on with another guitarist and released a fairly enjoyable second studio album in 1993 before calling it quits…for nearly two decades, that is. Although I have no firsthand knowledge as to their content, two more albums appeared, one in 2011 and the other in mid-2017, with Campbell returning to the fold for each while working simultaneously with both Def Leppard and (most recently) Last in Line. One of these days I hope to investigate both releases and see if either comes close to the high standards set by this debut with its mature songwriting, the exceptional performances, and the polished production quality.

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Reece – Universal Language (2009)

Reece_Universal4 out of 5 Stars!

To me, singer David Reece (Accept/Bangalore Choir/PowerWorld/Etc.) has a fierce, gruff, and emotionally charged voice just perfect for hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll, therefore, he ranks high on my list of favorite vocalists, and not only do albums on which he appears make it to my “auto-buy” list, but I typically find them better than average.

Therefore, when he released an album with his own group back in 2009, I instantly purchased a copy. And with the band also including guitarist Andy Susemihl and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann (both from U.D.O.) and bassist Jochen Fünders (Holy Moses), Universal Language is what one might expect from such a talented group of musicians (three of them related in some fashion to Accept or its offshoot groups).

Although the overall style of music is not quite as heavy as Accept, more melodic along the lines of Bangalore Choir, for example, the album does contain enough power chords, heavy riffs, and solid rhythms to keep me satisfied. And with Reece’s recognizable vocals dominating catchy and diverse fare such as “Flying Close to the Flame,” “Before I Die,” “Flesh and Blood,” “Rescue Me,” “Yellow,” and “Fantasy Man,” it only solidifies his reputation as a versatile powerhouse.

Fans of this grievously underrated vocalist will undoubtedly enjoy Universal Language as much as I do. Unfortunately, Reece (the band) released only one more album before disappearing, with Reece (the man) moving onto other projects, now admirably fronting both Bonfire and Tango Down. I wonder if the man ever sleeps…

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Royal Hunt – X (2010)

RoyalHunt_X4 out of 5 Stars!

Since the early ’90s, Denmark’s Royal Hunt has been a fairly consistent and recognizable band when it comes to its signature sound/style—Heavy Prog-Metal with rich and layered Pomp/Symphonic keyboards and a touch of Neoclassical Metal thrown in.

Despite several changes in vocalists and other chief players through the years, that sound hasn’t altered too much, undoubtedly thanks to keyboardist André Anderson, group founder and sole original member, who seemingly provides the “musical Super Glue” when it comes to keeping the band’s style relatively intact.

And on this album, with vocal powerhouse Mark Boals (Yngwie Malmsteen/Ring of Fire/Mattsson/Etc.) behind the microphone, the group once again delivers some melodic, grand, and driving Metal with a glorious symphonic approach. Tracks such as “End of the Line,” “Army of Slaves,” “Blood Red Stars,” “King for a Day,” and “Shadowman,” with their often-complex instrumentation, are occasionally bombastic and explosive, filled with blasts of keyboards and guitars, rumbling bass and thundering drums, along with undoubtedly one of the finest singers in the genre belting out his heart.

Unfortunately, this would end up being Boals’s final release with the group, and for the next album, singer D.C. Cooper would return to the fold after a thirteen-year absence. But again, despite the change in personnel, the band’s sound would remain consistent, thanks once again to that aforementioned “musical Super Glue” provided by André Anderson.


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Rush – Rush (1974)

Rush_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although showing only a marginal hint of the influential Prog-Rock/Metal band Rush would quickly become, this hard-kicking debut album nevertheless had me racing to purchase it only a few days after hearing it for the first time.

Okay, a mini-survey: What die-hard Rush fan did NOT defiantly and joyously shriek “Yea, oh, yea” along with Geddy Lee during the introduction of “Finding My Way” every single time the opening track blasted out of the speakers?

If anyone says, “Not me,” they are lying!

Regardless, this album of mostly Hard Rock tracks is still enjoyable after all these many decades, with Alex Lifeson’s inspired guitar solos and riffs leading the way, and further reminding me why I preferred Geddy’s higher and rather unique “wicked witch” vocal delivery to his latter day “normal” singing.

Although this album also includes original drummer John Rutsey (RIP), I have absolutely no problems with his solid performance on this collection, even though he would prove to be no competition for the exceptional Neil Peart (and, let’s face it, not many drummers are, right?). By the time of the next album, Fly by Night, Neil Peart would be firmly ensconced in the drummer’s seat, and penning many fanciful lyrics, and his influence on the trio when it came to expanding its musical scope into Progressive Rock would be profound.

Anyway, with the release of this hard-rockin’ collection back in 1974, Rush seemed the Canadian equivalent to the mighty Led Zeppelin, especially with riff-heavy tracks such as “What You’re Doing” and “In The Mood,” the bluesy “Here Again,” the classic “Working Man,” and the aforementioned “Finding My Way” all included, and my friends and I defiantly rejoiced…”Yea, oh, yea!”

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Rough Diamond – Rough Diamond (1977)

RoughDiamond_14 out of 5 Stars!

Rough Diamond was a group that formed shortly after legendary vocalist Dave Byron got handed his walking papers from Uriah Heep. But sadly, the band, also including the accomplished Clem Clempson (Humble Pie/Colosseum) and Geoff Britton (Wings/East of Eden), released only one album before disappearing.

Certainly, seeing as the group was fairly straightforward in its overall Hard Rock/AOR style and not Heavy Metal/Heavy Prog, the somewhat-diverse and moody nine-track collection didn’t bring to mind any Heep “magic,” as many people expected, and it ended up selling rather poorly (or rather, was generally ignored by both Uriah Heep fans and the conservative and lame record company executives).

Regardless, this debut album is still an enjoyable release. Dave Byron’s performance is both up to par with his work with Uriah Heep and instantly identifiable, and the album features numerous tunes that showcased the band’s overall creativity and had true potential to become singles/classics, especially the rockers “Lock & Key,” “By the Horn,” and “Lookin’ For You,” the wonderfully melodic and dreamy “Seasong,” the mid-tempo and bluesy “Scared,” the more intricately arranged “The Link/End of the Line,” and the ultra-tasty “Hobo” with its memorable main riff.

Horribly obscure!

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Robin Trower – Victims of the Fury (1980)

Trower_VictimsFury4 out of 5 Stars!

When it comes to Robin Trower’s many releases, in my opinion, there’s never been a better album than Bridge of Sighs. But many of Trower’s numerous releases come a very close second, therefore, if interrogated by another Trower fan, it’s always difficult for me to select another specific favorite since the answer usually changes from day to day, depending on which album I yearn to hear.

Recently, that album has been 1980’s Victims of the Fury, Trower’s seventh studio release, which also features long-standing collaborator, the exceptional singer/bassist James Dewar (RIP), and rock-steady drummer Bill Lordan, and of course, Trower’s outstanding guitar solos and riffs.

Again, the material on offer here is similar to the sound/style of the Bridge of Sighs masterpiece, with bluesy, often funky, and mesmerizing tracks such as “Mad House,” “Roads to Freedom,” “The Shout,” “Jack and Jill,” “Only Time,” and the title tune. In fact, all of the tracks as a whole seemed a step up from the more lackluster fare found on the previous release, Caravan to Midnight, which wasn’t a horrible album by any means, just somewhat mellower and less impactful.

So in my opinion, even though Victims of the Fury doesn’t quite hit that lofty “5-Star” benchmark set by Bridge of Sighs, it sure comes damned close.

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The Ragged Saints – The Sound of Breaking Free (2013)

RaggedSaints_BreakingFree4 out of 5 Stars!

From Finland, The Ragged Saints released its one and only album (thus far) in 2013, a surprisingly strong collection of driving yet melodic Hard Rock tracks that seem almost a clever combination of diverse groups such as Whitesnake, House of Lords, The Magnificent, Rage of Angels, Brother Firetribe, Riverdogs, Lionville, and even a song (the opening title track) that, because of one particular chord progression, momentarily reminded me of a grander version of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.”

Fans of the aforementioned bands will likely find quite a bit to enjoy here. On tunes such as “I’ll Never Give Up on Love,” “Before Time Goes By,” “While the World is Burning,” “The End,” “A Place Where I Belong,” and “New Beginnings,” the catchy choruses, rousing guitars, subtle keyboards, and pounding rhythms gel perfectly to create some infectious, high-quality material. And with each of the tunes falling between the three-to-four-minute range, “hit single” length material, the band obviously relies on direct and punchy blasts of melody, with thankfully no song overstaying its welcome.

Additionally, the powerful lead vocals are supplied by Markku Kuikka, whose work I thoroughly enjoyed on the two Status Minor albums as well as the most recent release by Kenziner, so that’s another plus when it comes to The Sound of Breaking Free.

Now I’m hoping the band issues another full-length album in the near future (and according to the band’s website, that day could be coming soon).


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Red Jasper – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1993)

RedJasper_MidsummerDream4 out of 5 Stars!

Red Jasper is an interesting band from the U.K. that has much more in common with Progressive Folk-related acts such as Jethro Tull, Gryphon, and Strawbs rather than Symphonic Prog or Neo-Prog acts such as Genesis or Marillion, although there are occasions when those latter bands’ influences can be heard, especially when it comes to some of the keyboard sounds.

Generally, the music on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a nice blending of both acoustic and electric instruments. And with the inclusion of mandolins and whistles, much of Red Jasper’s material feels as if it would be right at home on an album such as Jethro Tull’s Songs From The Wood.

On tracks such as “Dreamscape (Part I & II),” “Treasure Hunt,” “Berkana,” and “Invitation to a Dance,” the melodies and backgrounds are often “medieval” in atmosphere, and the vocalist often delivers his lines like a wandering minstrel or troubadour dramatically addressing the “lords and ladies of the manor.”

Overall, the music contained on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is quality material played in a style Red Jasper continues to develop even into the present day.

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Renaissance – Ashes Are Burning (1973)

Renaissance _AshesBurning4 out of 5 Stars!

For several years in the ’70s, Annie Haslam and company released a series of top-quality albums, with Ashes Are Burning being among the best of them.

Although perhaps not quite as stunning as the U.K. band’s 1975 magnum opus Scheherazade and Other Stories, Ashes Are Burning still contains plenty of luscious, haunting, and mesmerizing Symphonic Prog material thanks to songs such as “Can You Understand,” “At The Harbour,” “Let It Grow,” and the sweeping eleven-minute title track, with harpsichord and the rare appearance of organ, some particularly melodic and punchy bass riffs and frantic drums, and also featuring guest star Andy Powell (Wishbone Ash) on electric guitar.

Annie’s magnificent and wide-ranging voice, whether delivering either a tricky and progressive melody line or one of a poppier nature, typically sends chills of excitement up my spine, while John Tout’s wonderfully tasteful and beautiful grand piano passages never fail to astound me.

Simply beautiful! Ashes Are Burning would be a great place to start for anyone who’s unfamiliar with this unique band yet is yearning to investigate.

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