‘Origins’ is a collection consisting of compositions and recordings from keyboard player Lisa LaRue from as long ago as 1992, up to 2016. stemming from 1992 through 2016. It is incredibly varied, as it includes pieces such as a spoken word/keyboard collaboration with Gilli Smyth of Gong, some she composed and recorded for modern ballet, selections with John Payne (Asia Featuring John Payne, GPS, Dukes of the Orient), Michael Sadler (Saga), Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard), a collaboration with Italian composer/keyboardist Federico Fantacone, and solo pieces. Other musicians involved include Mitch Perry (Talas, Aerosmith), Don Schiff (Rocket Scientists, Kracked Earth), John Baker (Forever Twelve, Mars Hollow) as well as Steve Adams, Brenda K, Michael Wheeler, Merrill Hale, Svetlan Raket (Par Lindh Project), John “Yafke” Timothy, Michael Alvarez.
It is a wonderful collection of work, containing so many styles that one never knows what is going to happen next. “256 Leagues Above New Orleans” combines jazz-style electric piano with shimmering synths and wonderful flute to bring together thoughts (at least in my mind) of Native Americans riding over the plains, and then there are others where Steve Adams provides incredibly fluid electric guitar, while it is always a pleasure to hear Don Schiff in the mix. There is so much going on that the album could have become disjointed, spread over two discs it is nearly two hours in length, yet there is always the desire to know what ideas are going to come through next, how it is going to come together.
LaRue isn’t a flashy “look at me” extravagant player in the realm of Wakeman or Emerson, but instead has a strong understanding of arrangements and what is needed where. There are a few numbers that drift into delicate New Age territory, but there are many others which are far harder, with real presence. The album ebbs and flows, and the result is that listeners such as myself, who haven’t previously heard much from LaRue, will feel inspired to search out more of her back catalog Now that she is with MRR, I am sure we will all be hearing quite a bit more of her activities, and I for one am very pleased about that.
8/10 – Kev Rowland
Well, the artwork is interesting, but after that, it all goes a little awry. Italian band Kormak is a new folk metal act, led by singer Zaira de Candia, and one has to wonder who was in charge of quality control. Zaira has obviously been professionally trained, but there are far too many times when she goes off key. Now, this may be just about acceptable at a gig (although not really to be honest), but in a studio recording, there is really no excuse. When she tries to sing rough and gruff then it doesn’t carry enough weight or power, while musically the band doesn’t seem to be too convinced if they are a folk band or a power metal band and consequently make a mess of all of it.
But, and it is a fairly small “but”, there is the impression that there is a band with some good ideas that just need to be properly pushed into shape. There are bits and pieces here and there that really are good, and it is often when they are playing acoustically that they shine. What both this album and band need are a strong editor, a producer who can point them in the right direction, but until that happens I can’t see myself returning to this very often, if at all.
5/10 Kev Rowland
Although in many ways Heartwind is a project, it is also the story of two old friends, with a common love for classical melodic hard rock and AOR, that after fifteen years of friendship started to write the album they always had wanted to listen to themselves. Over a meal one night in Stockholm, guitar player and songwriter Goran Engvall (former with Hitworks) and progressive/melodic keyboard player and fellow songwriter Mikael Rosengren (Constancia, Token, Scudiero), discussed what they wanted to do together. A year later, with songs written, it was time for the band to be put together and they knew that they wanted to get the mix of people right, so started asking other friends. Drummer Peter TrumPeter Svensson (Constancia, Faith) and singer Germán Pascual (Narnia, Dj Mendez, Essence of Sorrow) were first onboard, and then Germán invited his old friends, and former bandmates, guitarist Martin Hall (Germán Pascual band) and bass wizard Germain Leth (The Poodles, Watchmen) to join and they were nearly ready to go. The final element came into play when Fredrik Folkare (Unleashed, Firespawn, Eclipse, Scudiero a.o.), agreed to produce and mix the album (as well as also providing guitar and bass).
They state that their inspirations are ‘Hysteria’ (Def Leppard), ‘1987’ (Whitesnake) and ‘Escape’ (Journey), and once the listener knows that they can sit back, nod their head happily and agree that it all makes sense. This hits everything that I personally want from a melodic hard rock album with great musicianship, strong vocals, hooks, variety and a real sense of fun throughout. This is the type of album that can be put on at the beginning of the day and just set on repeat: by the end of the day, you’ll be singing along to each and every song. With this album, Heartwind have made a real statement in the scene, and one they need to get out there and prove that they are more than just a studio effort. I look forward to the next album very much indeed. If you are a fan of the genre, you need to hear this.
8/10 Kev Rowland
L.A. Guns were originally formed by guitarist Tracii Guns in 1983, and soon after he had a singer in the band called Axl who went on to form Hollywood Rose. Eventually, a new band was formed from both, and given a name combining words from both, and the rest, as they say, is history. Except the two main protagonists had a falling out and by the end of 1985 Tracii was back with his own band. By the time the debut album was recorded they had a new singer onboard, Phil Lewis, who had previously been in Girl with Phil Collen. Although there have been quite a few musicians in the band over the years, it has always been these two who have been deemed to be the most important, and strangely enough, there was quite a lengthy period of time when both Phil and Tracii were touring with different bands, both under the L.A. Guns moniker. But, in 2016 they finally got back together, and this is a live recording (and DVD) taken from the tour to promote the reunion album ‘The Missing Peace’.
Phil has never been the best singer in the world, but there is something about his voice that totally suits rock music in a similar way to Steve Tyler while Tracii is also not the best guitarist in the world, but he does know how to write hooks and create solid melodic hard rock. I could do without the bow solo at the beginning of “Over The Edge” (only one guitarist in the world is allowed to do that, James Patrick) but apart from that, this is a solid workout through material both old and new. The crowd enjoys the singalong of “The Ballad of Jayne”, probably their biggest hit single, which shows that they had a lot of fans in the audience. Overall, this is an album that fans of the band will have to get, and fans of bands such as Guns ‘n’ Roses and Dokken will say that it is okay, but probably not much more than that. But after 35 years the band are still going, so all credit to them for that.
7/10 – Kev Rowland
While playing this I kept thinking back to the recent release on Cadbra Records, Thomas Ligotti’s ‘The Bungalow House’. Not so much the music on the audiobook itself, but more the descriptions of the sounds within the story. There is a delicacy, a hidden emotion, an agenda that is far deeper than the few notes played can convey. This has an incredibly stripped-down approach to haunting and shadowy soundscapes, early mornings with piano and a distant trumpet, all with the fog swirling around. This is music that is incredibly visual, instantly compelling, mysterious and fragile, all at the same time. This is something ethereal, whether there are vocals involved or not as if Kate Bush has been taken to her most experimental and distant edge.
Offers Abdul-Rauf of the new record, “By way of a desolate trainyard at night, forgotten objects in an abandoned room, and other near empty spaces past and present, I bring my third offering, ‘Diminution’: the diminishing value of art forms and processes, individual expression, and even human life itself to almost nothing in this 21st Century world, is like a fading out, or death on a large scale. In spite of this, a grounded psychic core remains in the void: a sense of freedom in the renunciation of all that is concrete. Some would say this is dark and lonely music, with urban overtones, while others feel a sense of light ethereality and calm in its shimmering moods. All interpretations are valid and true.” I’m not sure I’ve come across anything quite like this before, as it is almost as of Art Zoyd have become New Age and then combined that with some of the works of both Brian and Roger Eno (I know Roger’s older brother is more well-known, but search out ‘Fragile’ to see what I mean). I honestly don’t have the words as I’m not sure what it all means to me either, but I know that my musical world is a much better place for having come across it. Possibly yours will too. Have a listen yourself and see what I mean, https://leilaabdulrauf.bandcamp.com
9/10 – Kev Rowland
The Dutch band is back with their fourth album, with artwork that perfectly states what the listener is going to come across, as it is atmospheric, beguiling and with beauty, but one is never quite sure what is happening between the calm surface of the water. I don’t think I’ve come across these guys before this, but they must have been doing something right as they managed to get both Jorn Cornfield (Muse) and Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) to act as producers, which has given the band a mighty sound indeed, with obvious nods to both of those bands.
Maartje Meessen (vocals, flute, piano), Ingo Dassen (guitars), Eleen Bartholomeus (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Ingo Jetten (bass) and Bob Van Heumen (drums) go from delicate and almost ethereal to menacing, symphonic and powerful almost at whim, which makes for an album that is full of surprises as one is never quite sure where the music is going to go. There is a real feeling of a soundscape, of carefully layered good intentions that come together to create something that at times is really quite special indeed. They sometimes veer into the more experimental electronic, but always with strong female vocals, and even if there is a section where the listener may not be too comfortable, it soon moves into something else. It is probably fair to also call out Riverside as an influence, and while the album may not be the total success they wish it to be, it is certainly something that is intriguing and shows promise. Having not heard the previous albums I can’t say how this compares, but it will certainly be interesting to see where they go from here.
7/10 – Kev Rowland