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Classic albums

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Classic: Signal, Loud & Clear, 1989

signal - loud and clearNot entirely sure, but I think that this album was my first encounter with the mighty vocals of Mark (now Marcie) Free (King Cobra, Unruly Child). And even if this album is a one off from the band, the trademark melodic rock with huge choruses and a great balance between guitars and keyboards would feature heavily in his/her subsequent career.

Opening with a gem like The Arms Of A Stranger, the mood is set. Great energy, great chorus, and after a interesting break a nice little solo.  Next song Does It Feel Like Love is another belter. Keyboards and guitar open and after the half time verse the song is lifted high when the chorus breaks. And a mighty fine one it is!
But of course every song on offer is aiming to nest itself in your brain and refuse to let go. One of my personal favourites being My Mistake, with it’s tongue in cheek lyric and powerful riff. This Love This Time is a medium tempo power ballad, carried by another expert delivery of Free, using melody to the fullest extend. I could go on, but trust me when I say this serves 10 Songs and 42 minutes of bliss, all killer no filler.

I cannot remember how often I have played the album, but it never tires me. A genre classic if ever there was one.

Classic: Enchant, Wounded, 1996

enchant - woundedMy first album from Enchant was actually their second release. But ever since, I have been buying all their output without a second thought. Something about this must feel right to my ears 😉

And looking back, I think it is safe to say that anyone into melodic prog rock will fall for the opening sequence of Below Zero. Great guitar playing from main writer Douglas Ott and the voice of Ted Leonard does the rest. I can fully understand why Spock’s Beard asked him to join, although many moons later than this. But I do not want to forget to mention the rest of the band, Ed Platt on bass sometimes added a bit of funkiness, Paul Craddick on drums, keeping time whatever the signature and Mike Geimer tickling the ivories, played an equal part in impressing me. Over time the band improved on recording quality, and always delivered the goods. But as often is the case, nothing feels like the first time. So whether it is the melancholy of Fade 2 Grey, the almost singer songwriter opening to Pure, the tasty Broken or the a little influenced by Marillion sounds of Hostile World, this album is a perfect time machine. And more songs to follow of course.

The riffing, the melodic phrasing, flashy guitar interludes, the high vocals soaring, Enchant do just that.

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Classic: House Of Shakira, Lint, 1997

house of shakira - lintListening to the recent House Of Shakira album Sour Grapes, my thoughts automatically drifted back to their 1997 debut Lint. So I decided to dig it out and gave it another play. And man, what a great album this still is. So here goes another “Classic” post.

The album opens with somewhat mysterious Middle-East sounding singing, and it does not take long before the song Morning Over Morocco kicks in. And kick it does! I seem to remember that their singer at the time, Andreas Eklund, had been living in Africa for a while, so that might explain the Eastern flavours that pop up throughout the album. Giving it a bit of extra sizzle, like the title song Lint so aptly proves. Great energy and stunning harmony vocals if you ask me.
Method Of Madness opens with some beefy guitar and melodic singing. When the band kicks in, those harmony vocals again take centre stage and seduce you. Nobody sings Hi Hi Hi as good as they do! But don’t think this is all fluffy, far from it. The guitars and solos are top notch as well, no rest for the wicked here. Song number 4, named No: 8, is a beautiful semi ballad. An organ supports the guitars well, and Eklund delivers a heartfelt lyric. Who’s Lying Now would make Journey jealous, such is its melodic appeal. Elephant Gun is another face melter, great groove and that chorus is another one to die for. Did I mention they do stunning harmony vocals? Anyway, only half way through, but you will get the message.

Anybody who claims to love melodic rock needs to give this a home!

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Classic: Black Sabbath, Headless Cross, 1989

black sabbath - headless crossWell, I guess some will be frowning and considering how on earth I got this one so wrong. But I really don’t care. Yeah I know that the die hard fans look away from anything Sabbath did without Ozzy. Okay, some may add Dio to that, but the albums they made with Tony Martin are often overlooked. And that is a damn shame as the man has a magnificent voice. And on this album one Cozy Powell is beating the skins, so for me this is an all star line up.

Anyway, starting off with the suspension of instrumental opening The Gates Of Hell, we are soon awakened by the powerful drumming of Powell and the mighty riffs of Iommi as they launch into the title track. And what a monster it is. Makes my day every time I hear it!  Next up is Devil & Daughter, another tasty song, in a more upbeat vein. No one quite writes chord riffs like Iommi, as he so energetically proves here once more.
When Death Calls is next, opening in quiet mode. Keyboards (Geoff Nichols) play a supportive role throughout the album, and really add colour to it. But not for too long, Iommi takes over with more riffage. Very impressive track, as it should be. Kill In The Spirit World is next, and we are back in more upbeat territory. And another song that takes no prisoners, nice Oriental feel to it too! The last 3 songs are also very good, trust me!

So if you are not familiar with this album, track it down and give it a listen, it will not disappoint.

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Classic: Saga, Silent Knight, 1980

saga - silent knightWhen a number of songs out of 8 are kind of obligatory in a live set, even after over 30 years, you know you have done something special. And Saga sure did something special with Silent Knight. And no, I am not referring to the obvious play with words here.

On this classic album, those 3 songs are Don’t Be Late (Chapter Two), What’s It Gonna Be, and Careful Where You Step. But then I am leaving out personal favourite Compromise, and one of the other chapters: Too Much To Lose (Chapter 7). I will not be delving into the story behind the chapters here, that is something for another day.
The sound of Saga really come into fruition with this album and it’s successor Heads Or Tales (which some regard as their trademark album). For me Saga are that gentleman voice and melodies of Michael Sadler, the flashy and instant recognisable guitar playing of Ian Crighton and the fast fingers of keyboard player Jim Gilmour. But all based on the framework often laid out by Jim Crighton and held together by the steady drums of Steve Negus. Always melodic so for a progressive band they are very accessible. And yet, with the prowess within the band, some stunning work is never far away.

I cannot imagine anyone into prog not knowing these guys. But if that is you, start with this one and the mentioned Heads Or Tales and then move back and forth in their discography. You will not regret it.

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Classic: Giant, Last Of The Runaways, 1989

Giant - Last_Of_The_RunawaysTalking about bursting unto the scene! The opening guitar of I’m A Believer shook many a home at the day, believe me! Well at least, I used to play it loud in order to feel that monster tone and guitar wizardry… Of course Dann Huff already had made a name for himself, playing with for instance White Heart. The others in this quarters were seasoned players as well: Alan Pasqua  on keyboards, brother David on drums and Mike Brignardello on bass. Together with producer Terry Thomas they cooked up this monster of a melodic hard rock album.

Because that first track might have been big, when you can follow that up with songs like Innocent Days (more face melting guitar), I can’t Get Close Enough (more guitar) or the very tasty ballad I’ll See You In My Dreams, you know things are going the right way. But every song of the eleven on offer counts, we are talking about a classic!
And while Huff was a genius guitar player, he was a very convincing singer too. And the experience of the band made sure they were not treading on all too familiar grounds. All songs have a good hook, strong melodies, backed with clever vocal harmonies and not only provided a solid base for Huff to excel on with the guitar, there were also enough turns left or right to make the songs withstand the test of time. In fact, to this day it sounds fresh!

So there you go, a shame they came alive in what might have been the worst period for rock music. Still I cherish their albums, brilliant stuff!

Classic: Extreme, Pornograffitti, 1990

Extreme-II-PornograffittiReleased in 1990, so 25 years ago, this was the second album by American rock band Extreme and quite a step up from their first effort. Which was by no means a bad album. Having never heard of them at the time, I think Get The Funk Out passed by on the radio and I found myself impressed by the funky rock groove, the riffs and the melodies, so decided to pick it up. I still remember listening to this album with the headphones on and hardly believing what I was hearing. The combination of groove from Paul Geary on drums and Pat Badger on bass, the versatile, funky, yet hard rocking riffs from Nuno Bettencourt (and shredding solos) and the powerful melodic singing of Gary Cherone accompanied by the vocal harmonies of the others, made a huge impact at the time.

And I kid you not, after hearing More Than Words for the first time, I started telling everybody that did not shut me up that this song would become a huge hit. Which of course it did. Mhm, makes me wish I had that talent more often 🙂 The third single Hole Hearted did not reach the same heights as the other two, but still made more people aware of them.
But it is not these singles that carry the album, it is the whole of the 13 songs on offer. They are varied, with sometimes very surprising arrangements including horns, fantastic playing and singing all around.

This album, combined with the 2 follow ups are a hard to beat trio in my book and show a band on top of their game. Classic in every sense!

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Classic: Kate Bush, Hounds Of Love, 1985

kate bush - hounds of loveJust realised I haven’t done a classic in quite a while, so here we go again. Guess it is pretty obvious that most people know at least 2 songs from this album:  Running Up That Hill (covered many times) and Cloudbusting. Heck, a lot of people from around my age will even remember the videos for those, as this album was released at a time when music TV actually meant something… That is, if you were a teen in the eighties. And I am still not tired of hearing them.

Well for me this album was the start of my admiration of Kate. In all honesty I don’t care much for the dancing, but to me her voice and song writing has magic to it. Well okay, she is pretty as well 😉
Not just for those two hits, this album has a lot more to offer. The lyrics have a bit of mysticism surrounding them, and often this is transferred to the music. Under Ice and Waking The Witch still give me the creeps! But a song like Mother Stands For Comfort is so beautiful it almost hurts.  Originally released on vinyl of course, the album has 2 distinct sides: Hounds Of Love with the singles and the more warm and upbeat stuff. And The Ninth Wave is in essence a 7 song suite depicting the story of someone who is in the water and is visited by past present and future to keep them awake to avoid drowning. Strong imagery here!

For many her best ever, and even more impressive when you realise she wrote and produced it herself, at the age of 27. Still recording and releasing music, even if not very regularly, Kate Bush remains an exceptional talent.

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Classic: Spock’s Beard, The Kindness Of Strangers, 1997

spocks beard - the kindness of strangersWhile listening to Songs From November by Neal Morse the past week, I realised how much I love his brand of progressive rock. So I decided to feature the album that got me into his music as a classic. And for that we have to go a little back into history until we reach 1997, the year that his former band Spock’s Beard released The Kindness Of Strangers.

And for me it is pretty easy to tell what got me into this music. Just put the disc in the player and hit play. The first song is The Good Don’t Last and this sums the band up perfectly: lush harmonies, various parts sowed seamlessly and effortlessly together, sometimes heavy, sometimes almost classical, sometimes soft. But always rich in ideas and full of vocal and instrumental melodies. And let’s not forget hammond organ and mellotron and guitar solos. And grooves!
But above everything else there is to love about the band is that song that steals your heart and will stay forever: June. Any band or person that can write a song as beautiful as that deserves to be a world wide star as far as I am concerned. The vocal harmonies here are nothing short of stunning and get me in a good mood every time I hear it.
Other songs on here proved future set list classics as well, like In The Mouth Of Madness and Harm’s Way.

To me, anyone that claims to be serious about the genre cannot ignore this masterpiece. As it is a must for anyone serious about quality music.

WebsiteNeal Morse

Classic: Ambrosia, Road Island, 1982

ambrosia - road islandAmbrosia, the seventies prog band that turned Westcoast AOR. But damn, they were good at both! Still, since my love for them started with this, their fifth album, it is only fair to talk a little about this ditty. Should you need references, think Toto, Player and a dash of Steely Dan. Because one of the good things of the album is them combining their strengths old and new on this album.

Opening with For Openers (Welcome Home), that shows traces of their roots with extended soloing, great hammond organ (throughout the album by the way) and of course the expert melodic vocals of David Pack. Still Not Satisfied would feel at home on any early Toto album, including a powerful groove and more great guitar playing. Kid No More is a shorter track that strangely keeps reminding me a bit of Gentle Giant, but that may be because of the quirky rhythm, the brass and the keyboard sounds. Feeling Alive Again is a ballad that about anyone would wish to have written, such is its power and delivery. Vocals harmonies galore! How Can You Love me is another melodic rock hit that never was to be. A bit of Christopher Cross here, but a great song it is, and should have been as big as Toto’s Hold The Line. Another special mention goes to Ice Age, with over 7 minutes the longest track on offer and a clear proof of how they were able to combine melody with intricate musical arrangements and intelligent song ideas.

While a lot of their albums were impossible to find, the great people of Rock Candy have made at least part of their catalogue available again and in impeccable remastering, so grab one!

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