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aor

Mecca, III, 2016

mecca - IIIYou do not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this is the third album by American AOR / melodic rock band Mecca. Led by Joe Vana, this collective features some people with a Toto pedigree, like David Hungate and drummer / producer Shannon Forrest. But there are more ace guests here: I mean, names like Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto should also ring a bell or?

Anyway, 3 years in the making, recorded 100% analogue, this seems something special. And for lovers of the smooth side of bands like Giant, Toto or Journey, it is. Every note is spot on and while all songs are good, some are off the scale. And even when I do realise that this opinion is personal, I am sure that only very few people will be able to resist songs like Take My Hand or Let It Go. Vana comments that he only needed 8 songs to say what he had to say. And yes, I agree the album flows. But man, I would have loved to have a couple more tracks on this.

Anyway, better just under 34 minutes of musical heaven, than 50 minutes of crap. So I do hope it will become the classic that Andrew from Melodic Rock Records claims it already is. We will know over time. For now, I just know it is DAMN good!

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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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Classic: Boulevard, Into The Street, 1990

Boulevard - Into The StreetIn my humble  opinion this is one of the most overlooked bands from that time frame. While they became very popular with the in-crowd, success was never big enough. And this album is proof why that is a criminal mistake. It is quite a challenge to find an AOR or melodic rock album that has the same quality and drive. Must have been a momentum thing as grunge was hitting the shores already. And hitting hard.

But this album is awesome in so many aspects: from the warm voice of lead singer David Forbes, the instrumentation from Randy Gould on guitars, Mark Holden on sax, Andrew John on keyboards, Tom Christiansen on bass and Randal Stoll on drums, to the crisp production of John Punter. Massive backing vocals, enough bite and power, and most important: songs that nest themselves in your system and lever let go.
Opener Talk To Me is a perfect example of what the band is capable of. Up tempo and uplifting, with great melodies and musicianship to be able to attract even the most spoiled listener. Song Where Is The Love is moodier, but has a gorgeous chorus and again some very fitting soloing.  Next is Lead Me On, with a great drive and a chorus on par with the rest. Even so early in the record it is obvious how special this CD is.  And let me tell you, the other songs are just as good. No wonder that it was re-released last year. Original copies were selling for big bucks over the internet, and that is understandable (while selling your copy is hard to fathom actually). So take that opportunity if you missed it first time around and add it to your collection! Classic in every sense.

Classic: Alias, same, 1990

Alias - sameThis album has been playing it’s rounds in my car past week. The great thing about it is the feel good vibe it spreads. Whether you like it or not, this stuff is so uplifting, you will find yourself smiling and humming all day long after being exposed to it.

Singer Freddy Curci made name before with the band Sheriff (remember When I’m With You?). Made me wonder if that is where the star on the front cover originates from…

Opener Say What I Wanna Say, immediately sets the mood. A guitar solo over a rocking riff, followed by the  spell binding vocals of Curci and a chorus that is as catchy as the flu in autumn. Haunted Heart takes over and kicks back a little. Just to hit back with another great chorus. Waiting For Love is a mid tempo rock ballad in the vein of Whitesnake’s Is It Love. Yet the chorus is more AOR with big harmony vocals.
Next track The Power is one of my favourites. Larded with slide guitar solo´s, it rocks but keeps the melodies alive and breathing. Ahh, to be able to write and sing such lines… Heroes is the first really slow song that builds to another chorus that grabs you. What To Do picks up the pace again and is a rocker of the same level as the album openers.
About half way through you will get the picture. A lovely melodic rock album with great songs and players and the under appreciated vocals of mister Curci. Very well worth the money and time!

Legs Diamond, Diamonds Are Forever, 2005

legs diamond - diamonds are foreverLegs Diamond have a long history, starting in the seventies, but the band remains active on and off. In 2005 they released this album, which is their twelfth studio album if I am not mistaking.

Releasing a string of albums through the 70’s and 80’s means the band are obviously firmly rooted in the rock sound of that era. And tracks like opener Don´t Turn Away or Good Time clearly prove that. But other tracks show a more versatile approach. Time Will Never Change has some very nice keyboard touches, giving it a more progressive feel, albeit with a lot of AOR power. King Of Speed has a great riff that is underlined with a Hammond to give it even more drive. Trouble is again a firm rocker and following track This Time Around is a fantastic cross of AOR inspired rock with progressive overtones. The opening section is haunting and the song is one of the best on the record, together with the beautiful anthem Will You Remember Me. The rest of the album continues with this changing of styles and moods.

While the above descriptions may suggest that the album is rather patchy, listening to it does not feel that way. The band is way to competent to let things slip away. No, in fact, the changes feel like several faces of 1 monster and flow really well together. Convince yourself that this band is still relevant and pick it up.

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Auras, New Generation, 2010

Auras - New GenerationBrazilian band Auras released their début New Generation upon the hungry AOR crowd in 2010. Constructed around the talents of singer Gui Oliver, guitarist Ferpa Lacerda en drummer Edu Sallum, the band are operating in the field of bands like Journey or Toto.

And like fellow countrymen Tempestt, they deliver a stunning album.  The reason being they proof able to avoid all too obvious song structures and melodies and still achieve instant attraction. There is a lot of detail in the arrangements, the album has a grandiose sound (we expect nothing less when Dennis Ward is involved), and the playing is impeccable.

As you would expect from a melodic rock / AOR record, you get songs ranging from driving rockers like Reach Out or Beauty Of Dreams, mid-tempo rockers like Forever In Your Eyes, to heartfelt ballads like In My Arms. And while Gui’s voice is not unlike that of Steve Perry, the band are no Journey clone. In this style it is always hard to realize an unique sound, but I think they did the best they could at constructing this addictive CD. And given enough time, who knows how they will develop. I wish them lots of success and for now enjoy this surprising album a little more.

Personal play tips: Forgive And Forget, New Generation, Hungry Hearts.

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Roger Daltrey, Under A Raging Moon, 1985

Roger Daltrey - Under A Raging MoonTogether with the McVicar record (bought it for the utterly fantastic songs Without Your Love and McVicar) I got this one. Just because I read somewhere it was a really rocking record.

And is it? In a eighties AOR kinda way, yes it is. Songs are penned by several legends in the genre (including Who band mate Pete Townsend) and played by some big studio names. And with all that class writing and playing, together with Roger´s still forceful voice you can´t really go wrong now can you? And adventurous in places as well. The title track being a prime example of that (more drums anyone?).

So it actually proved a pleasant listen. Maybe a little light for my normal taste (at the time that is) but nevertheless worthwhile. It seems there is a 2008 reissue, but this is the original I bought second hand.

Personal play tips: After The Fire, Fallen Angel, Under A Raging Moon.

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