Wally – Valley Gardens (1974)

Wally_ValleyGardens4 out of 5 Stars!

To me, this U.K. band’s debut album sounded like what may have happened had a group such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young merged with a band such as The Strawbs or a “lite” version of Kansas, mixing Progressive Folk and Symphonic Prog with a trace of Country Rock, thanks to the inclusion of pedal steel guitar, violin, and mandolin.

But on Valley Gardens, Wally’s sophomore release, not only does the band continue with the pleasing blend of styles on the four tracks included, but by adding even more musical influences to its overall soundscape, improves on the mixture.

During the lengthier title track, for instance, one vocal section strongly reminds me of Nektar’s Remember the Future, while several instrumental segments within the complex introduction and ending passages, especially the synth tones and accompaniment, bring to mind both Camel and Flash. The mellow, piano-driven “Nez Perce,” however, is more reminiscent of the band’s debut album, where the spot-perfect harmonies and the violin are once again at the forefront.

From there, “The Mood I’m In” is a laid-back and dreamy tune with the inclusion of a jazzy sax solo in its ending section, while the final track, the eighteen-minute “The Reason Why”—the obvious centerpiece of Valley Gardens—is where the band includes all of its strengths, from the flawless harmony vocals, instrumental passages that employ both acoustic and electric guitar, luscious keyboard orchestrations that make captivating use of the Mellotron, and the violin adding extra symphonic touches in various sections of the intricate song arrangement. Additionally, the steel guitar makes an appearance here, leading into a segment that has obvious Yes influences, including an all-too-brief Wakeman-style synth solo, then a hypnotic “Space Rock” segment that brings to mind early Pink Floyd, before the band returns to more CSN&Y-styled vocals with a flavor of Country Rock, more violin insertions, and a Strawbs-like atmosphere. In short, the track is a beaut—a splendid achievement.

So with “The Reason Why” being undoubtedly the grandest (and longest) composition Wally ever recorded, Valley Gardens was an improvement on the 1974 self-titled debut and an obvious step forward in the band’s development, hinting at even more exciting creativity to come, which makes the fact that Wally completely evaporated shortly after this release (not taking into account a reunion album that popped up thirty-five years later, in 2010) all the more disappointing.

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Wigwam – Dark Album (1978)

Wigwam_DarkAlbum3 out of 5 Stars!

In the early ’70s, Finland’s obscure yet legendary Wigwam released several “must have” albums for Prog-Rock fans—Fairport (1971), Being (1974), and Nuclear Nightclub (1975)—then altered its sound to include a bit more Pop Rock into the mixture of styles, no doubt seeking a wider audience.

For the most part, the experiment worked marginally well, at least for some fans, and 1977’s Dark Album (the band’s seventh and final album before disappearing until the ’90s) falls into this “for the most part” category.

The music on offer here is a hybrid, coming somewhere between commercial AOR/Pop Rock material (the album opener “Oh Marlene!” or “Helsinki Nights” and “The Silver Jubilee,” for example) and Prog-Rock, with many of the hybrid tracks (“The Item is the Totem,” “Horace’s Aborted Rip-Off Scheme,” “The Vegetable Rumble,” and “Cheap Evening Return”) being occasionally reminiscent of groups such as Kayak, City Boy, Supertramp, and other more Art Rock acts that successfully balanced the two genres, only with gruffer vocals and no reliance on the vocal harmony gymnastics that instantly identified the aforementioned bands.

Although Dark Album is not my favorite within Wigwam’s catalogue of releases—I prefer the earlier Prog-Rock platters—it’s fairly intriguing and enjoyable nevertheless.

And one final note (hint) to Prog fans: If investigating this release for purchase, seek out the version with the two bonus tracks (“Grass for Blades” and “Daemon Duncetan’s Request”) and you’ll find even more to enjoy.

Why these two more Prog-oriented/keyboard-featured tracks were left off the original release is just one of those annoying music-history mysteries…well, probably not such a mystery, since everyone knows that pushing a band to become “more commercial” to greedy, insatiable record company executives always means “more sales to line their greedy, insatiable pockets.” 🙂

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White Heart – Tales of Wonder (1992)

WhiteHeart_Tales4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although being an atheist, I’m not a fan of Christian lyrics, yet the band White Heart grabbed my attention back in the late ’80s when it came to the often-stunning AOR/Hard Rock material on the album Freedom.

And thankfully, unlike several other groups of this nature, White Heart never attempted to cram the “worshipful lyrics” down the throats of the average listener, therefore allowing the beautiful melodies, the creative musicianship, and the absolutely awesome vocal harmonies to really shine through without distraction.

Tales of Wonder, the band’s eighth studio album, is one of my favorites. The album includes some fantastic material, with rollicking and catchy tunes such as “His Heart Was Always in It,” “Vendetta,” “Raging of the Moon,” and “Where the Thunder Roars” each having choruses that repeat in your head.

But as good as those tracks are, the true “stars” of the show are the mid-tempo AOR/Pomp Rock tunes and ballads. These are where the band really showcases its strengths in melody and instrumentation, especially when it comes to the keyboards, intriguing guitars and rhythms, and the glorious background vocals, with song arrangements also including some Prog-Rock influences. “Unchained,” “Say the Word,” “Silhouette,” “Who Owns You,” “Gabriela,” and especially the slow-building and stunning “Light a Candle” are top-quality tunes, easily matching the power and grandeur of any material delivered by groups such as Toto, Journey, Styx, LRB, and Strangeways.

Although the band disappeared before the new century, it left behind a score of fantastic music, and the well-produced Tales of Wonder is part of a string of above-average collections White Heart delivered in the early ’90s, each of them highly recommended.

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W.A.S.P. – Helldorado (1999)

Wasp_Helldorado4 out of 5 Stars!

The often-maligned yet ever-determined L.A. glam rockers W.A.S.P. closed out the last century with a “back to basics” album—meaning no dark or introspective conceptual themes, no linked or orchestrated or experimental tracks, just raucous and rowdy and rebellious tunes with Blackie Lawless shrieking his lungs raw, blazing guitars, and thundering rhythms.

And let’s not forget the other band trademark from the early days of its existence—rude and raunchy (ie. juvenile) lyrics about (you guessed it) sex, sex, and, oh yes, more sex. (Or S.E.X. in grand W.A.S.P. tradition.)

In my eyes, nothing will ever beat the band’s self-titled debut from 1984, a brutal and blistering 5-Star affair through and through, but Helldorado—with slamming tracks such as “Cocaine Cowboys,” “Saturday Night Cockfight,” “Dirty Balls,” “Don’t Cry (Just Suck),” “Hot Rods to Hell (Helldorado Reprise),” and the title track itself—is at least a decent attempt at revisiting that album’s overall “take no prisoners” style.

And one final note—play it L.O.U.D!

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Wrabit – Wrough & Wready (1981)

Wrabit_Wrough4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1981, I heard the debut album by Canadian band Wrabit and found myself catapulted into AOR heaven.

Featuring Lou Nadeau, whose excellent, crystal clear, wide-ranging voice is perfect for the genre, along with underrated guitarist John Albani, who would eventually go on to work with Lee “Metal Queen” Aaron, the album Wrough & Wready offered up ten tracks of ultra-catchy, hook-laden material.

Heavy guitar riffs and Pomp Rock keyboards, along with a tight rhythm section, lay a sturdy foundation on tunes such as “Pushin’ On,” “How Does She Do It,” “Just Go Away,” “Here I’ll Stay,” Anyway, Anytime,” and “Don’t Say Goodnite to Rock and Roll,” while Nadeau’s voice soars over the top and the grand, layered background vocals bring to mind the greatness of other “stadium rock” bands of the era such as Boston, Styx, Loverboy, and Journey.

This band should have been HUGE, but alas, fate had other ideas, and after the following two albums (1982’s Tracks and 1983’s West Side Kid) each slightly lower in songwriting quality than the debut) failed to gain attention, Wrabit disappeared.

Regardless, Wrough & Wready is a gem!

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The Watch – Vacuum (2004)

Watch_Vacuum5 out of 5 Stars!

From Italy, The Watch creates a nearly perfect replica of the classic Genesis (Peter Gabriel-era) sound on each of its albums. No other band in the world, in the galaxy, in the entire universe, comes as close. Indeed, with vocalist Simone Rosetti eerily replicating Gabriel in timbre and delivery (apart from a slight Italian accent), and the musicians duplicating the same playing styles and tones as Banks, Rutherford, Hackett, and Collins, it’s as if the classic Genesis line-up had hibernated since 1974 and, reanimated and energized, reappeared in the new century completely intact to continue where they left off, only with modern studio production techniques to aid them.

To me, Vacuum, The Watch’s second collection of tunes (and basically an extension of the band’s 2001 debut Ghost) is far better than anything Genesis ever released during the post-Gabriel years, and devotees of albums such as Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme, and Selling England by the Pound will certainly enjoy The Watch, especially after hearing this album—which I played repeatedly for weeks and weeks after purchasing it a decade ago, and still yearn to hear on a regular basis.

With compositions such as “Damage Mode,” “Shining Bald Heads,” “Out of the Land,” “Wonderland,” and the fantastic “The Vacuum,” this album is nothing short of a 5-Star masterpiece, with all of the band’s other releases (including the lone album from a “prequel band” featuring Rosetti called The Night Watch) nearly as inventive and stunning.

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Warpig – Warpig (1970)

Warpig_14 out of 5 Stars!

This is a damned decent one-off album from a hard-rocking Canadian band with Heavy-Prog and Psych elements, which was remastered and re-released in 2006 by Relapse Records.

Fans of groups such as Captain Beyond, Warhorse, Deep Purple, Birth Control, and Uriah Heep might appreciate this one, as well as those who might be interested to hear what an evil Black Sabbath-esque guitar riff might sound like with a harpsichord accompaniment.

Seriously, that’s exactly what happens on the track “Tough Nuts,” so the band was nothing if not inventive with its instrumentation.

And since the track “Rock Star” has a similar rhythm and vibe, chord pattern, and guitar fills as Deep Purple’s “Speed King” from the In Rock album, I seriously have to wonder if either band heard the other’s demo tapes prior to their own recording sessions, since both albums came out in 1970.

Regardless, it’s a crying shame Warpig didn’t release more material in the ’70s since the band would have certainly and easily fit in with the aforementioned groups and—perhaps?—taken a magical ride to stardom. With so much creativity on display here, it would have been interesting to see how the band might’ve honed its skills and developed on subsequent albums.

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Wayne – Metal Church (2001)

Wayne_MetalChurch3.5 out of 5 Stars!

When being sluggish in the morning, a non-coffee drinker like myself will occasionally crave a slamming wake-up call, and on those days, this album comes in handy.

Seeing as how the vocalist, David Wayne, was an on-again/off-again singer for the legendary band Metal Church, it’s a no-brainer that this lone release by Wayne (and ironically named Metal Church) is an album that would certainly appeal to the same fan-base. Joining David Wayne on this album, adding a lethal dose of musical caffeine, is the shrieking guitar duo of Craig Wells (Metal Church) and Jimi Bell (House of Lords), and the formidable rhythm section of bassist Mark Franco and drummer B.J. Zampa (House of Lords).

Yes, generally speaking, any of the ten tracks on offer here, from “The Choice,” “Nightmare, Part 2,” and “Soos Creek Cemetery” through to “Burning at the Stake,” “Vlad,” and a blazing cover of Mountain’s legendary “Mississippi Queen” are nothing short of a Heavy Metal Alarm Clock for those sluggish non-coffee drinkers like myself who need that extra mental kick-start.

By the way, the cover art is just too perfect for an album of this nature.

(And RIP David Wayne…you are sorely missed.)

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Whitesnake – Lovehunter (1979)

Whitesnake_Lovehunter4 out of 5 Stars!

Aside from the eye-catching and wickedly naughty (and, yes, probably considered sexist) cover art (which I still find amusingly delightful, so sue me!), this is Whitesnake in the midst of its glorious (and original) heyday, before the hairspray and stylized clothing and video imagery got too much in the way of the actual music.

Although the occasional duff track popped up on several early Whitesnake albums, the fantastic David Coverdale and company nevertheless went about the business of producing some catchy blues-based Hard Rock, especially once the mighty Jon Lord (RIP) had joined up for keyboard duties and Ian Paice’s recruitment was in the works (3/5 of Deep Purple…how cool is that?).

Anyway, Lovehunter, the third “official” Whitesnake album, is just another fine example of why I loved the band so much in its infancy. Coverdale, and each of his fellow musicians (the guitar team of Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody, bassist Neil Murray, and drummer Dave Dowle, along with the aforementioned Jon Lord), performs his heart out on tracks such as “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues,” “Medicine Man,” “Love Hunter,” and “Long Way From Home,” displaying seasoned professionalism at every turn without surrendering his sense of humor, despite the blatant sexism of the lyrics.

Hey, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, right?

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Warhorse – Red Sea (1972)

Warhorse_RedSea4 out of 5 Stars!

With Warhorse including Nick Simper, Deep Purple’s original bassist, it’s no great shock that the band sounds similar (eerily so) to Purple itself. Indeed, Warhorse seems almost a cross between Purple’s MK1 and MK3 line-ups—MK1 because the music is a melding of Bluesy Hard Rock and Heavy Prog and has a production quality that reminds me of DP’s self-titled third album, and MK3 since the vocalist, Ashley Holt, has a gruff tone akin to David Coverdale.

Regardless, fans of early Deep Purple will probably enjoy either Warhorse’s self-titled debut, or Red Sea, the sophomore (and final) release, which sounds a tad more progressive to my ears.

Additionally, fans of Bloodrock and Birth Control will also find much to savor, thanks to the Hammond-rich arrangements, the overall guitar style, and Ashley Holt’s forceful vocals.

Note: If hunting for this album, be certain to locate a copy of the “remastered” version, which contains six enjoyable bonus tracks of unreleased material.

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