Listening to the introduction had me checking I had put on the right album, as the first minute of this 109-minute-long epic had me convinced I was listening to a news release by Clive Nolan. In recent years Clive has moved away from his more overtly progressive releases into musical theatre, and now Neal has followed the same trend. I grew up in a Christian household, one of my favorite albums as a child was ‘ Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’, the first musical I ever saw was ‘Godspell’, and still enjoy ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to this day (I thought the recent all-star cast was excellent, Alice Cooper as King Herod? Inspired). So, this is a musical and lyrical style I am comfortable with, and I was intrigued to see how Neal would approach this. The first thing which struck me was just how little we hear from the man himself, in that he has given himself a few minor parts but that is all. In the two main roles of Jesus and Judas we have his fellow Spock’s Beard lead vocalists Ted Leonard and Nick D’Virgilio respectively, and as one would expect they do a mighty fine job indeed, but the biggest change for me is the writing style, which is not what I would expect from Neal at all. Although there are bits and pieces such as the acoustic “Gather The People” and the dramatic “The Madman of the Gadarenes” which does remind listeners of his roots and normal approach, overall there has been a dramatic change in how Neal approaches things. Literally.
This is an album that is designed to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally know who Neal is, and instead, this is a rock musical to be viewed as a logical updated version of ‘Superstar’. Consequently, we have music which flows and ebbs, taking the listener with them. Songs such as “Get Behind Me Satan” are out and out rockers, while others are designed to get the audience clapping in time, others more prosaic and gentler in style. By now Neal has become a dab hand at producing the odd concept album, and this isn’t the first time he has approached a Christian story either, but here he has moved further in both directions. This is bound to be listened to by progheads and White Metal fans alike, but really this is aimed at a new audience altogether, namely Broadway as opposed to the Garden.
In 2002 Morse was responsible for what is undoubtedly one of the finest concept albums of all time, ‘Snow’. He followed it up the next year with his first solo release since leaving the Beard, with ‘Testimony’, which is still my favorite solo album. That told his personal story, and I don’t think anyone who saw him performs it in London and hears him talk about his daughter Jayda could fail to be moved. She is referenced again in this album, just briefly, but it shows again just how personal this for him and just what it means. Regarding the idea behind the musical, Neal explains, “Sometimes providence comes with a whisper; sometimes it comes with an unexpected phone call. A friend of mine who works in the music business called me from New York one day in 2008 and said, “Hey man, a friend and I were listening to Jesus Christ Superstar last night and were saying, ‘Man, somebody ought to do a new rock opera based on the Jesus story’. I told my friend, ‘I know the guy!’ He went on to tell me I ought to write an epic prog piece based on the gospels. With a New York accent, he said, ‘Ya gotta do it!’ I laughed and said, ‘Well, I’m busy right now, but I’ll think about it.’ Over the next couple of months, I began to feel that “yes” inside and spent a few months writing the first draft. The strong sense that I was onto something continued to grow and the people that sang on the original version were really into it.” For me, this is an interesting idea, and there are undoubtedly some good songs on it. But there are times when it feels clunky, something I never expected from him. The story is pushed very hard, as one would expect, but sometimes this is to the detriment of the music. On a personal level, I have always enjoyed his vocals, but here he is asking to be judged as a songwriter and arranger as
opposed to a performer. The result is something which is probably going to gain him a much wider audience than normal for his work and is a very good album indeed, but from a personal perspective I think I’m just going to go back to ‘Testimony’ and pass on this for now. 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.
This is the debut album from a band who were actually formed as long ago as 1983. They managed to secure some good tours and even signed a record deal in the Eighties, but by 1990 they had broken up and that was the end of it, at least until September 2013 when they reformed for a one-off gig. That has led to them supporting Aerosmith, Foreigner, UFO and Scorpions along the way and touring the UK with FM and Romeo’s Daughter. They have also performed at major festivals such as Hard Rock Hell AOR, Download, London Calling, Ramblin’ Man, Steelhouse, Rockingham and the Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan. They have now finally released their debut album, but what should be a totally joyous occasion has been dampened somewhat due to founding member, bass player and close friend Paul Boyd losing his battle with cancer in 2017. Paul appears on the album and the band is respectfully dedicating its release to his memory.
As soon as I heard this I was taken back to the Nineties, and particularly to a magazine called Frontiers. Unlike the other fanzines around at the time these guys had gone glossy and it was much more like a “proper” magazine. One of the real delights was the cover CD that came with each issue which introduced me to bands I would have never have heard of otherwise (this was pre-internet and the media hated melodic rock nearly as much as they hated prog). As soon as I started playing this I had to turn to my library as this was reminding just so much of bands like The Loveless and Be Sharp, both of whom featured on the second cover CD before the now-famous Frontiers label had emerged. NHA is melodic rockers with strong hints of Bad Company, some Foreigner, a tad of classic Journey, the melodic side of UFO and possibly even some later Whitesnake. What it doesn’t sound like at all is a band releasing their debut in 2018, but if this had come out thirty years or more ago then I am sure that we would have been hearing a great deal about it.
It is great that the guys finally seem to be getting some real recognition, and we can only hope that it keeps going in the way that it has to date. As it is, this is a melodic hard rock album that has that edge that removes it from AOR yet will still be appreciated by fans of that slightly softer genre. Strong harmonies, hooks, and a great production, this is well worth looking out for.
House of Lords frontman James Christian is back with his fourth solo album, and he has brought some of his old mates such as Tommy Denander and Jimi Bell to come and help him out. The result is an album that feels incredibly together, warm, relaxed while also kicking some serious butt! Christian’s vocal skills are well-known, with power, breadth, depth and range, and when in front of a rocking band with great songs he knows exactly how to put his talents to best use. He can bring it down on ballads, with a slight rasp to his voice to bring the listener in, or he is able to ride the rock horse when he needs to, always in total control.
The result is an album that will immediately appeal to fans of House Of Lords, Robin Beck, Night Ranger, Ted Poley, Revolution Saints, Eclipse, Sunstorm, Hardline and Mr Big. Big guitars, great vocals, strong hooks, it is almost as if grunge never happened as this takes us back to the melodic rock heydays of the Seventies and Eighties, but with more up to date production and guitars. It has taken nearly twenty five years for Christian to release four solo albums, as he is a little busy with HoL, let’s hope that it’s not too long until the next one.
Formed in late 2014 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, these guys came to the attention of Frontiers Music in 2017 who immediately signed them up, and now here they are with their debut album. The band features singer Kent Hilli together with Rolf Nordström on guitar, P-O Sedin on bass, Fredrik Forsberg on drums and Leif Ehlin on keyboards, and what makes them so very interesting is the way that they are combining classic Scandinavian AOR (such Work of Art, Treat, early Europe) with nods to legends like Giant, Foreigner, and Journey. In many ways, it feels as if we have been taken back to the classic days of AOR, yet it also feels very now, polished but not with too much sweetness. It is a given that Jeff Scott Soto has had a major impact on their sound, and there are a few times when it could almost be a modern Talisman strutting their stuff. That at times they also use a good old fashioned organ also gives their music depth and passion. I know that everyone had to be having a blast in the studio when this was being put together, as it shines through in the final product.
Everyone thought that grunge would kill this style of music forever, but Perfect Plan demonstrates that it is very much alive and kicking nearly 30 years after ‘Bleach’ made such an impact on the world. There are times when they do veer a little too close to Michael Bolton-style power ballads, but when they get it right these guys are a force to be reckoned with. Their more up-tempo songs such as “Stone Cold Lover” gives Kent a real chance to shine, and the eighties-style synth bubbling away in the background definitely provides additional charm. These guys are going to have a quite a future in the melodic rock genre, and this is well worth hearing.
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