BEGGARS & THIEVES – WE ARE THE BROKEN HEARTED

Released 2nd December 2011 on Frontiers Records

I had never given Beggars & Thieves much time before being handed this album to review.May have been a mistake, because I like what I’m hearing.

In order to keep things short and sweet : if you like latter day Journey, you’ll enjoy this.  The melodies, riffs, arrangements… It all owes a debt of gratitude to the godfathers of AOR. But, and this is a but the size of J-Lo’s, B&T aren’t simply copycats. They do manage to inject a healthy dose of identity into the music. Check out “Innocence” or “Beautiful Losers” as an example of what I’m talking about.

A big part of the Journey influence is in the guitar playing. Was guitarist Ronnie Mancuso visited by the Ghost Of Schon Future? Who’s to say…

I was getting burned out on AOR albums, with too much subpar crap and “all star” projects (where the biggest star was probably the kid who empties the dustbin) clamoring for my attention. A well produced, well crafted CD like this restores my faith!

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

BOBBY KIMBALL JIMI JAMISON – KIMBALL JAMISON

Out now on Frontiers Records

Two of the most familiar voices in AOR merge for another Frontiers arranged product.   Yes the voices from Toto and Survivor are here in their pompous commercial glory.  Whilst Jamison was arguably not the best vocalist Survivor had – Dave Bickler was that guy IMO – the guy can still sing.  Kimball has on the other hand has always been a mixed bag, check out some rather dubious live Toto videos to hear the guy ain’t always on the mark.

That said as mentioned earlier this is another “arranged” product from Frontiers i.e. name vocalists picked to sing a selection of material that has been hand picked for the pair to do duets on.  So you can guarantee this sounds authentically 80’s in the hook and melody department with the production sass of the 21st century.  Songs come such songwriters as Richard Page (Mr Mister), Jim Peterik (Survivor), Randy Goodrum (Steve Perry, Toto), John Waite, Erik Martensson (W.E.T.) and Robert Sall (Work of Art), among others so its hard to fault their pedigre, and directed by the expert hands of German producer Mat Sinner it’s a good production.   But there is still something that doesn’t feel right about the music on offer.

Vocally it’s hard to fault the actual performances from a technical perspective but then there is a sense of going through the motions for the most part.  It’s all a little too clinical, too derivative and lacking in any real spark.

Frontiers are marketing this as more than a one-off project, time will tell especially now that Jamison is back in Survivor.  Far from essential its an ok spin for AOR fans but there has been much better product this year in the genre.

Rating – 55%

WHITE WIDDOW – SERENADE

Released 23rd September 2011 on AOR Heaven

I quite enjoyed White Widdow’s debut album. These Australians managed to capture the mid eighties AOR vibe to perfection. Second album “Serenade” delivers more of the same, I’m glad to report.

Opening track “Cry Wolf” delivers a statement of intent not to be ignored. Wouldn’t be out of place on an early Night Ranger album. It’s very hard to pick a weaker track. Whether it’s “Do You Remember”, “How Far I Run” or “Patiently”, they are all basically flawless. If you like White Sister, Icon or the aforementioned Night Ranger, you can’t go wrong with these guys.

Between the big keyboards and excellent guitar work (and I do mean excellent, Enzo Almanzi is a master of his instrument) it’s easy to overlook the other members. But the simple fact is there isn’t a weak link in this band. Everything just slots right into place.

Here is a band with a clear objective : to make classic AOR, with all the trappings that entails. And they succeed magnificently. Everything, from the keyboard tapestries to the guitar tones to the vocals is spot on. Even the big gated snare drum is present and accounted for.

I’ve said this before, but these tracks wouldn’t be out of place in a random Miami Vice episode. Glossy, glamorous (but far removed from Glam!!) and glorious!

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

101 SOUTH – NO U-TURN

Out Now/ Metal Heaven
 
I was particularly taken by 101 South’s last album, the excellent “Roll Of The Dice”.  A great AOR album by anyone’s standards.  It’s safe to say I had quite high expectations for this new one.

First impression is that this album is a lot more mellow than RotD. The pace is quite slow overall. This doesn’t detract from the quality of the songs though. Epic ballad “All In The Game” is as good as anything I’ve heard lately. When the band turns up the heat (a bit) as in “What Are You Gonna Do Anyway”, I can hear distinct traces of Giant’s debut and even some Asia. Is that Pink Floyd I detect in “End Of The Game”? Tracks like the robust “Don’t Tell Me It’s Over” help balance out the album. Another favorite this one.

Sonically, this album is the perfect soundtrack for any random Miami Vice episode. Just add some more reverb to the drums…

Another damn fine effort that may be too soft for those with a penchant for screaming guitars.

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho