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Music Reviews: Rival Sons, Mark Spiro, Grand Design, Issa, Yes, and Beggars and Thieves

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As promised, I spent some of my two week holiday listening to music to review. I had quite a bit of it to get through. If you are looking for something truly ethereal and mellow for relaxing this season check out Candice Night’s Reflections. The album makes Blackmore’s Night seem heavy and frantic.

Live Reviews

Rival Sons, Electrowerks Islington, London, 9 Dec. 2011

This performance was part of the Earache Christmas Gig for industry types. The venue for their bands was an intimate room, not some enormodome. Rival Sons were the headliners, so the audience was well and truly in good spirits. Rival Sons had done a Christmas gig the night before for the normal punters. I hope they were as good as they were for us on the 9th. The lead singer of the band has an amusing quirk of never looking at the audience, which adds a bit of mystique to the gig. He never turns his back on the audience either, preferring to pace back and forth looking to his left and his right.

Rival Sons are from LA but somehow managed to secure a deal with a UK based label called Earache. The UK has taken the band to their bosom, hence the headline slot. It’s not hard to see why their combination of Led Zeppelin and Bad Company goes down so well in the UK. In the tight set the band played songs from both of their albums and thrilled the crowd. It was great to see that Rival Sons deliver the goods live as well as on record. You had damn well better catch these lads before they hit the stadiums or you are gonna be kicking yourself. They are one of the best bands of the new century for sure.

CD reviews

Mark Spiro: It’s a Beautiful Life

AOR hunk and disgusting talent Mark Spiro is out with a solo album. His accomplishments are impressive as a musician, producer and songwriter. A rough estimate is that he has appeared on albums that add up to 100 million in record sales worldwide. This is a guy with absolutely nothing to prove. He has written and performed everything on this disc, his sixth studio album.  It just oozes quality.

What is most interesting is that this album is far from AOR. In fact, with a few fiddles tossed in, any track on here would be a hit on U.S. country radio. It is all very twangy and country–not that this is a bad thing. I think we can expect country artists to try to cover some of these tracks for their next releases if they haven’t already. Not that this would be a shock; Spiro has written for country artists in the past. This is a quite a mellow affair, but one that never gets bogged down on twee sentimentality or turgid crooning.

If you like Mark Spiro or his songwriting, then this would be a good purchase. If you are a fan of mellow country-suggestive AOR then you could do far worse than pick this up.

Grand Design: Idolizer

The truly cynical lazy journalist would call this band a clone of Def Leppard and leave it at that. Anyone familiar with the Def Lep back catalogue, especially in their prime, can probably pick out the songs that influenced the tracks on this disc. In some cases there are hints of several Def Lep songs on various Grand Design tracks.  To dismiss the band in such a way would be a travesty and waste of the written word. Yes this bunch wear their influence(s) on their sleeves for all to see. However, they have managed to do it in a way that makes it endearing after several listens. It is quite amusing that anyone would see the need outside of a Def Lep cover band to mimic Joe Elliot’s vocal style; however, Pelle Seather has done just that.

Ultimately this is a release that you should not think about too much. It is a great driving album that reminds you of the reason you liked the big production 80s sound in the first place. The songs on here have that instant catchy effect that has you singing along by the second chorus whether or not you want to do so. The band can’t take themselves that seriously when they call the album and a track “Idolizer.”  If you want something original and edgy this is isn’t the release for you. If you want something fun that is the best Def Lep album they never released then give it a go. It would be good if GD actually got out of the shadow and morphed into something with a bit more originality on their next effort.

Issa: The Storm

Extremely attractive young Scandinavian woman gets a record contract : what a shocker. Well actually it is a shocker because unlike most of what is peddled these days by Cowell and company, she can actually sing. In fact she can belt ‘em out until Odin returns, and this is her second solo collection. Frontiers Records offered her a contract (the Italians do have an eye for the ladies), got her a bunch of songs and this is the result. Needless to say Frontiers opted for a bunch of their high quality roster, eschewin her homegrown band. Quite a bit of this reminds me of Fiona (who has a new album out too) and bands like Romeo’s Daughter. There is a touch of Kelly Clarkson as well on tracks like “Take a Stand.”  If there is any criticism of this album, it is that it’s a tiny bit too poppy at the expense of the more AOR elements. If you are in need of a hot heavier rock belter who is a good looker too, then the new one from Trillium might be a better bet.

I suspect this album with be many a bloke’s “guilty secret” for quite a while. There is no denying the catchy nature of the tracks on here and her voice. I suspect that Frontiers  is maybe seeing if they might get some crossover love with Issa. Maybe get a few mainstream hit records under the belt to take the label to the next level. Considering all that Frontiers has done for the AOR/hard rock scene, you would have to be a complete bastard to begrudge them their success. Is Issa the leading edge of the new wave of melodic female-led pop rock for 2012? Who knows, but this sure beats most of the crap that parades as chart music these days.

Yes: In the Present-Live from Lyon

This is a bloody odd live release from Yes. One has to ask: do we need yet another live album from Yes, a two-CD one at that? Granted this is one with their new singer Benoit David on vocals and with Oliver “son of erstwhile Yes keyboard player Rick” Wakeman on keyboards. Do we really need a new live album from Yes every time their lineup changes? It seems that someone in their midst believes we do. Those who are irked that Jon Anderson, their singer for most of their career, has been dumped in favour of a Canadian from a cover band certainly won’t be rushing out to buy this one. You could presume that most Yes fans are that group or is the band right and all Yes fans care about is that their fave band keeps going.

This lineup managed to record an album Fly from Here (produced by Trevor Horn, who was part of the Drama line-up) before Wakeman was punted to make way for the return of Geoff Downes. But enough of the saga: how about the music? Well this is a Yes live album and the Yes machine continues to do what it does best. It’s a greatest hits package, with songs from all their eras including “Owner of a Lonely Heart” with some new songs mixed in for good measure. This set is also available as a DVD to show off the new line-up of the band. There is nothing wrong with this release, and if you want a live example of the new guy on vocals then this might be a release for you.

Beggars and Thieves: We are the Brokenhearted

I have no idea why but I have always liked this lot since their debut album. There is something about the combination of the lead singer’s voice and the music that just works for me. Their take on AOR has always come across to me as quite original and unique. In the sea of AOR they always rose to the top. This has been quite a while coming but it marks a welcome return for the band. The band released an EP last year after an 11 year hiatus. Well received, they released this solid album in 2011. It’s not too unreasonable to suggest this band was one of the most underrated of the 90s; they were completely subsumed by the grunge monstrosity that killed melodic music for almost an entire decade.

There is something quite mellow and melancoly about most of the tracks on this album. “Innocence” has some pace and gets quite rocking. This is certainly not an upbeat, party hearty AOR or hard rock album. It’s introspective and reflective with an intensive undertone. Louie Merlino, who sings with Brent Muscat’s Las Vegas-based band Sin City Sinners, has a tinge to his voice that just drips sincerity. When he belts out the chorus on “Oil & Water” you feel it inside. If you picked this album up and don’t know the band, I can highly recommend their debut. Let’s hope quality rock fans pick this up so it won’t be so damn long before their next release.

Next week will see a return to the heavier side of things will some cracking power metal for your pleasure. Have a safe and rocking holiday season whatever you celebrate.

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About Marty Dodge

  • Mark Spiro

    Thanks so much for the kind words Marty……bless you…Mark