Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley (1970)

RodStewart_GasolineAlley4 out of 5 Stars!

In the early ’70s, when it came to either Rod Stewart or Faces, all the albums were fairly interchangeable, seeing as how Faces played numerous Stewart “solo” tracks during its concerts, and all the original Faces musicians (Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones—all, unquestionably, Rock ‘N’ Roll royalty) contributed in varying degrees to Stewart’s first handful of solo albums, with Gasoline Alley being his sophomore effort.

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, Gasoline Alley is just another Faces album, and it’s a damned corker for sure, including several of my favorite Stewart/Faces tracks, including “Cut Across Shortly,” “It’s All Over Now,” “Country Comforts,” and the title tune. A true classic!

(Also, a final side note: I can honestly say, despite the album cover’s fairly accurate depiction of the down ‘n’ dirty atmosphere on a few tracks, it’s probably one of the least appealing covers to have ever existed. No wonder several alternate versions were created for various formats or for some reissues throughout the years, or for different regions of the world, but in truth, none of these covers were very attractive. Anyway, just had to mention it since unappealing cover art is one of my major pet peeves.)

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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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Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure (1973)

RoxyMusic_ForPleasure5 out of 5 Stars!

In my eyes, For Your Pleasure, the second release from Roxy Music, is one of the finest Art Rock albums ever made, and is certainly my favorite by this unique band itself.

Sure, Roxy Music’s self-titled debut from the previous year contained a slew of exciting material and aural oddities, the songs being simultaneously both catchy and bizarre, but Peter Sinfield’s production quality lacked. The vocals or instruments ended up either too forceful or too buried in the mix so the listener couldn’t fully appreciate all the delicate nuances Roxy Music offered regarding the fascinating woodwind blasts, keyboard and synth effects, and luscious guitar and bass melody lines.

On For Your Pleasure, however, the overall production (the band self-producing this release) took a giant leap forward, with the collection possessing a sleek and sensual atmosphere, and all of those instrumental idiosyncrasies, those peculiarities that set this band apart from all of its contemporaries, stood on full and wacky display.

Bryan Ferry’s songwriting had grown seemingly by leaps and bounds, his lyrics being especially quirky, clever, and wry, and the musicians had perfected the art of spiraling off on individual whims, occasionally jamming wildly over and around each other within the confines of each song, yet the band still sounded remarkably cohesive and tight.

With classic tracks such as “Do The Strand,” “Editions of You,” The Bogus Man,” “Beauty Queen,” “For Your Pleasure,” and the unforgettable and rather creepy “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” the album contained a wealth of Art Rock experimentation with a touch of Glam, including strange and kooky arrangements, eerie and mind-bending synths and sound effects, all dripping in top-notch elegance and pizzazz, with the end product becoming nothing short of a 5-Star masterpiece.

Unfortunately, this would also be the last album to include Brian Eno, and his genius-like contributions to the Roxy Music sound would be sorely missed on future releases.

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Ring Of Fire – Battle of Leningrad (2014)

RingFire_BattleLeningrad4 out of 5 Stars!

After ten long years of complete silence, “supergroup” Ring Of Fire slammed back onto the scene with a brand new album in 2014.

Like the band’s previous four studio releases, Battle of Leningrad features music in the style of artists such as Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Artension, Royal Hunt, and other symphonic Neoclassical Metal, with top-notch performances by vocalist Mark Boals (Royal Hunt/Yngwie Malmsteen), guitarist Tony MacAlpine (Planet X), keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij (Artension), bassist Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius), and drummer Jami Huovinen (Allen/Lande).

Overall, despite some thin production and “cheesier” and hackneyed ingredients that occasionally make me roll my eyes, the album is generally better than average for this genre. And with enough riff-filled and energetic tracks such as “Firewind,” “Rain,” “They’re Calling Your Name,” along with the title track and the grand and furious opener “Mother Russia” included, Battle of Leningrad ends up a rock-solid effort!

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Mick Ronson – Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974)

MickRonson_Slaughter3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Basically, guitarist/vocalist Mick Ronson’s debut solo effort Slaughter on 10th Avenue includes all the musicians from Bowie’s “Spider From Mars” group but without Bowie himself.

Here, Ronson showed off his own voice, which had many of Bowie’s same quirky qualities, as shown on tracks such as “Only After Dark” and “Music is Lethal,” and he recorded this album just prior to briefly hooking up with Mott The Hoople until he and Ian Hunter went off doing their own “duo thing.”

In my eyes, Ronson was a unique and sorely underrated musician, more than simply a “sidekick” to Bowie, and although not perfect, Slaughter on 10th Avenue was nevertheless a classic of the glam-rock universe, displaying some impressive fretwork, songwriting mastery and orchestrations (such as on the grandly scored title track), and deserves many more accolades than it actually received at the time of its release.

(RIP, sadly, to both Mick Ronson and bassist Trevor Bolder!)

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Rondinelli – Our Cross, Our Sins (2002)

Rondinelli_OurCross4.5 out of 5 Stars!

With drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow) at the helm, it’s no surprise his band does indeed deliver music in a similar style as his previous group with Ritchie Blackmore. Yet with both bassist Neil Murray (Whitesnake/Black Sabbath) and vocalist Tony Martin (Black Sabbath/Giuntini Project) also part of this album’s stellar line-up, the ’70s Metal sound is further enhanced with Black Sabbath influences, and again, considering the men involved, it’s not unexpected.

Each of the tunes on Our Cross, Our Sins, including “The Meaning of Evil,” “It’s a Lie,” “Time,” “Naughty Dragon,” “Dawn,” “Find the One,” “Midnight Hour,” and the title track, are killers, featuring ultra-heavy guitar riffs and solos (thanks to Teddy Rondinelli), occasionally embellished with some light keyboard touches (supplied by Dorothy Rondinelli), making for a “family affair” of sorts, and seemed a commendable merging of Black Sabbath with Rainbow.

Overall, this is a highly professional and enjoyable release that should certainly appeal to fans of (no great shock) Rainbow, Black Sabbath, or many of their offshoot groups!

So…”Black Rainbow” anyone?

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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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Roger Hodgson – In the Eye of the Storm (1984)

RogerHodgson_EyeStorm4 out of 5 Stars!

Like many fans of Supertramp, learning of Roger Hodgson’s departure from the band to begin a solo career in 1983 came as a shock. I sensed the group would never be quite the same without the stylistic “give and take” between Hodgson and Rick Davies, each with their own unique musical approach, songwriting skills, and ears for melody, and I was right…the band just wasn’t the same afterward. And to be perfectly truthful, I had always preferred Roger Hodgson’s quirkier and more Prog-oriented vocal style over Rick Davies’s grittier and less-precise delivery, therefore subsequent Supertramp albums just didn’t have the same “magical balance.”

Anyway, when Hodgson released his 1984 solo debut In the Eye of the Storm that included the instant Progressive-Pop hit “Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy),” I immediately snatched it up, and frankly, with other equally impressive songs such as “In Jeopardy,” “Only Because of You,” “Hooked on a Problem,” “I’m Not Afraid,” and “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” also on tap, the seven-track collection sounded more like a Supertramp album than the band’s own Brother Where You Bound platter that dropped a year later.

With Hodgson performing all the instruments himself—a true “solo” effort—and also producing the entire shebang, it clearly showed just how much he had previously contributed to the classic Supertramp sound, making me appreciate his talents even more.

Unfortunately, after this album, Hodgson released only one more album before disappearing for more than a decade and finally issuing his last studio platter in 2000, just a few years before his former band also fell apart (at least when it came to creating new studio material).

Regardless, fans of Supertramp’s music from the “glory period” (Crime of the Century through Breakfast in America) who don’t already own this album should definitely consider adding it to their collections.

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Riff Raff – Riff Raff (1973)

RiffRaff_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the U.K., Riff Raff produced two albums (or three, if you count the “archival” album released decades later) of Progressive Rock, mostly with either a folk or jazzy flavor on many of the tracks.

On this particular self-titled debut, in the lighter moments, the band occasionally reminded me of groups such as Strawbs or Mark-Almond when it came to both instrumentation and atmosphere, with beautiful acoustic guitar, flute, sax, and grand piano passages.

And during the heavier sections, the wah-wah guitars, sizzling saxes, keyboard leads, and jazzy tempos almost seem a merging of the bands such as Return To Forever, Baker Gurvitz Army, and Paice Ashton Lord.

Finally, of special note is the appearance here of stellar keyboardist Tommy Eyre, who would eventually go on to join Zzebra and, later, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

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The Rods – Wild Dogs (1982)

Rods_WildDogs4 out of 5 Stars!

Led by David “Rock” Feinstein (Elf/Feinstein) on guitar/vocals, The Rods emerged in the early ’80s, yet didn’t seem to gain much press coverage in America, despite the trio being from New York State. Instead, the band achieved notoriety in U.K. magazines such as Kerrang!, thus getting lumped into the “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” category, despite the band’s origins, and quickly came to my attention.

Wild Dogs, the group’s third album, is perhaps my favorite, a solid collection of hard-hitting and soul-blistering Hard Rock/Heavy Metal tracks, seeming at times almost the American equivalent to Germany’s Accept, yet imbued with catchier pop sensibilities that occasionally reminded me of a metal version of Starz or Slade with a slew of anthemic choruses and underrated guitar gymnastics galore.

Wild Dogs indeed…a rabid album meant to be played f*cking loud!

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