Friday, December 28, 2018

Reloaded Norway Breaks The Mold On Their Sophomore Effort

Reloaded Norway - My Longest Mile

Reloaded Norway is: Heidi Kvalholm (Vocals, Diva, fun and campy lyrics)
Tony Caddle (Bass, bottom end and rhythm maker)
Hans Trasti Isakesen
(lead guitar, super fluent and memorable)
Jarle Borresen (keyboards, especially the Hammond B3)
Lars Ove Fjelldahl (funky drum beats and fills)

Guitarist Hans Trasti Isakesen drops a riff that finds you somewhere between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ted Nugent on the lyrically cheeky "Up Yours". Lead singer Heidi Blasmo has you convinced that she is a martial artist and will plant her boot where the sun don't shine. Right away the listening experience is not your typical paint by numbers blues...

Welcome to Reloaded Norway. A legitimate blues rock band from Norway. Yes I said Norway. It's in their name! How legit are they? Currently they are all over the American Roots Music Charts. Bands from Norway aren't supposed to do that. But the more you listen the more you are convinced that this unlikely band are the real deal.

Their sophomore album, The Longest Mile is making cross continental waves and breaking down all kinds of musical boundaries in the process. What makes this album so good are the greasy vocals of Blasmo combined with a smart contemporary gloss that permeates these grooves. A great example of this is on "Saturday Night Diva". A funky little guitar riff and some well thought out melodic changes. Heidi Blasmo tells the tale of a woman (likely her) who drank too much the night before and woke up next to someone she didn't know. The melody is way too catchy for traditional blues enthusiasts, but at the same time that's what makes it so endearing.

Another one of these gems is called "Bigger Balls". The band fully embraces American idioms and this song has a great contemporary rock feel and some very fluent guitar work. This is not the typical boring, repetitive blues stuff. It's bluesy but not bogged down. The band does attempt more traditional blues like on the album's title track which slowly builds as it engages the listener in more great storytelling.

"Devil's Kiss" kicks the pace up again with some great southern rock sounding harmonies and a Hammond B-3 that won't quit. "Majority's Mask" is another greasy smooth track that will fill both channels with entertaining instrumentation. In fact at one point lead vocalist Heidi Blasmo breaks into a brief rap. The groove is infectious. If that was too jarring for the traditionalist the band comes back with "Listen Now" which is more in the realm of Gary Moore or Sass Jordan.

"Definitely Maybe Baby" brings the band back to it's tongue and cheek fun with more infectious guitar work and campy lyrics. "Born Without Rhythm" keeps the party going and sets out to prove that this band has plenty of rhythm. The album closes with "I Pray For You", a very convincing spiritual old school slow tempo blues number.

In summary, once you get over the shock and awe of a band from Norway sounding like this, you accept the fact that they are an amazing group, and then you finally embrace them with your whole being. These are the three stages of acceptance. All it takes is 10 songs to bring you to a place of blues rock bliss. And in this case, that place is Norway.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Top Ten Melodic Rock Albums of 2018

At Number 10 is Peter H. Nilsson's Little American Dream. This Swedish guitarist recruited a vocalist from Nashville and the marriage is one made in AOR heaven! The songs are haunting and fresh. It's on the lighter side of things but has some intricate guitar work throughout. A real surprise of an album!

At Number 9 is Sunstorm's The Road To Hell Featuring Joe Lynn Turner. The album rocks from start to finish and Joe is in fine form. These songs are all well crafted and expertly sung and produced. There are many fine twists and turns that will entice Rainbow fans as well as fans of Swedish melodic rock. Note - this is my favorite album cover of 2018.

At Number 8 is Perfect View's Timeless. The Italian band's third effort is their most complete work showing better songwriting and clean production. There is a bit of an 80's feel to these songs but an element of progressive hard rock too. The vocals of Marco Ciancio are a thing to behold.

At Number 7 is Palace's Binary Music. This record has a certain swing vibe to it melding hard rock with 80's pomp for a big, bold and beautiful sound. The material is a mix of influences ranging from Wang Chung to Asia. This is the kind of music which should find a home on the radio.

At Number 6 is Tony Lewis's Out of The Darkness. An unbelievable comeback album that contains huge hooks, great guitar lines and the time travel vocals of this former Outfield lead singer. It's a mystery how radio has largely ignored this record.

At Number 5 is Perfect Plan's All Rise. A stunning mix of melodic rock and progressive elements. Vocalist Kent Hilli is a star and has a bright future. The band has a grasp on how to make music that is American sounding while not compromising on the great melodic scene of their home country, Sweden.

At Number 4 is Creye's debut full length album. This
is well crafted melodic rock steeped in the Swedish tradition with a real 80's feel. The songwriting is stellar. The guitar solos are all executed perfectly. Big keyboard riffs. Expectations were met on this first attempt.

At Number 3 is The Dukes of The Orient's eponymous debut album. This music wins on so many levels. The material, the playing, the recording process. It takes the Asia legacy and moves it forward. John Payne is the worthy heir apparent to this music's legacy. One of the most anticipated releases of the year and it did not disappoint.

At Number 2 is Jerome Mazza's Outlaw Son. An album produced and written with the help of guitar slinger Tommy Denander. A great mix of classic rock and progressive melodic rock. There are no bad tracks and the production is clean and bright and Mazza proves he is a singer for the current melodic rock age.

At Number 1 is State of Salazar's Superhero. The lead vocals are absolutely passionate and gritty. The songs are all stellar with no filler. The production will take you back to a time when organic instrumentation was the norm. The nods to Toto and Work of Art are indeed there but this band takes this sound to a whole new level. A rockier west coast flavor and the best record in this genre for sure and my number one album for 2018!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Superhero By State of Salazar Is The Best Album of 2018

State of Salazar Is:

Marcus Nygren-Vocals
Kevin Hosford-Keyboards and Vocals
Johan Thurasson-Guitar
Johannas Hansson-Bass
Kristian Brun-Drums

Frontiers is a busy Italian record label that is now ground zero for the melodic rock world. They throw a lot of stuff at the wall and some of it sticks. A few weeks ago a band from their label caught my attention. This happens often. But this time with much more force. The song that grabbed my ears was "My Heart Is At War". What made this song different was the classy adult rock vibe coupled with a complete melodic concept from beginning to end. The problem with a lot of today's new melodic rock is it's melodic content is lacking. You often hear the same hook over and over again. Or the hooks are so small it just runs in a straight line. It's like driving a road with small curves instead of large twists and turns.

This "new" band is now on their second major label album. (The band did have an EP prior to their 2014 album for Frontiers) They are known as State of Salazar. And they are from Sweden. A lot of the new music I am enjoying is from places like Sweden, Denmark, The Czech Republic and Italy. It seems they take older American music seriously and use it as a jump off point for the new stuff they are creating.

Superhero is the title of SOS's new album and it's a brilliant, classy undertaking. The lead off track, "If You Wait For Me" was one of the early singles and is as strong as the aforementioned "My Heart Is At War". Another thing that sets this material apart is the stellar, precise musicianship. Lead singer Marcus Nygren might remind you of Toto's Joseph Williams. In fact the whole project has a Toto on steroids vibe. Nygren carries notes high into the upper atmosphere. He pours himself into the songs and possesses a voice that is clean, powerful and rich.

The third single, "Hold On Tonight" captures a fresh take on 1985, even employing some syn-drums along with real ones. Kristian Brun is behind the drum kit and his style recalls a time when precision was in vogue as opposed to just flashiness. The production on "Superhero" should be a blueprint for more bands. The sound is crisp and clear and free from compression and gimmickry. Keyboardist Kevin Hosford does a great job on this record. His work on "Masquerade", a song which comprises a lot of the more sophisticated west coast keyboard sounds, is just a joy to listen to.

Hosford shares vocal duties on "She's A Loaded Gun". The mix of the two singers recalls the way Bobby Kimball and Steve Lukather used to duel it out in Toto. Toto would be the most obvious band to compare these guys to. But there are also elements of Survivor, Alias and Pride of Lions. "Lie To Me" is a piano based duet with an unknown female singer. It sounds like something Journey might attempt  without the wonderful lady's vocals. The concept hearkens back to the days of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. Ballads like this have mostly become a thing of the past and this one is a welcome throwback for this reviewer. In addition to the fact that it's a bit of a tear jerker.

"Joanne" recalls an early 80's vocal purity and some very catchy answer back vocals. A nice hunk of ear candy complete with a dreamy melodic guitar solo. "Someone I Know" is another fine song with a complete hook and both feet planted in the Toto tradition. The guitar solo, again, is a work of art. "To The Wire" has Kevin Hosford singing and playing a funky keyboard riff along with some fine soloing to create a fusion of Survivor and Earth Wind and Fire. Hosford actually sounds a bit like a young Dave Bickler. Check the box for west coast rock gem on that one.

"Love Will Find A Way" is another terrific power ballad in the tradition of REO Speedwagon or Chicago and even has a great sax part. The album ends with "Superhero", the title track. Another duet between Marcus and Kevin. Lyrically it might be the sequel to Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero". The song itself is more of a rocker with some keyboard flourishes and great tempo changes.

A truly satisfying journey from start to finish. There are no bad tracks. No filler. In fact this could be the best AOR record I've heard in years. This is a sound many bands try, but there is always something lacking. It's usually the material or the production. I would take a chance and guess that these boys worked long and hard on this project. Their last record was in 2014. Hopefully they won't wait four more years before following this one up. Five stars. Best album of 2018 in this category. Not even close.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Peter H. Nilsson Puts Together An AOR Classic With Little American Dream

Peter H. Nilsson is a guitarist and keyboard player from Gothenburg Sweden which is technically on the country's west coast. So maybe he's naturally inclined to understand and produce this old staple of American music.

His new album "Little American Dream" is produced to near perfection. The sound is a mix of west coast California style rock and what I like to call night time driving AOR. This is the stuff you crank as you make your way down the highway at 2 AM. The first track "You Better Run" is a hypnotic 7 minute guitar manifesto. Right away you get the sense that Nilsson is not the least bit concerned about playing it safe.

The next song is slightly more conventional. A mid tempo straight forward moody rocker called "Me And You" with a big "hey" chorus tucked into the storytelling. "Am I Dreaming" is another one of those late night driving songs. The lyrics are snapshots of places inside the dreams of a man seeking to find his destination.

Nilsson handles guitars and keyboards and has Chris Biano, a Nashville based singer, handling all the vocals. Chris has a pleasant sounding voice and Peter's guitar is prone to great solos. Rounding out the band are session drummer Jason Meekins from Austin Texas and bass player Patrik Andiels from Gothnurg Sweden. The album was mixed and mastered at Grammy award-winning studio, "The Panic Room" located in Skovde Sweden.

"Timeless" is the perfect next song as the same mood is kept alive with more dreamy lyrics about being lost in love. The song clocks in at over 5 minutes and contains a beautiful guitar solo. The title track to the album opens with a catchy keyboard riff which segues into a light funky groove infused with some great "oh-oh" choruses. The song's topic is an ode to the struggle for the "little American dream".

 "Haunted" perpetuates the night time driving groove with the perfect mix of guitars and keyboards. The hook in this track has a large payoff that will stick in your musical consciousness long after the song ends. A touch of Russ Ballard perhaps? Yes. "Love Is Worth Fighting For" opens with some large clean guitar and keyboard riffs. The song then settles into another hypnotic groove as the track builds musical momentum. This is another 6 plus minute dose of ear candy. "Rumours" is a slightly uptempo tune with more clean guitars and vocals. The hook is large enough to drive a truck through. There are touches of Corey Hart and Glass Tiger here.

The album's closing track, "Magic" completes 9 perfect innings of music. A tad more underground 80's rock sounding a la Charlie Sexton. But with a much more convincing hook and some fine guitar playing. Few albums have 9 songs that could all be released as singles. And the songs get better and better with repeat listens. You owe yourself to download this one. 5 out of 5 stars. Truly one of the finest releases of 2018.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Perfect View Hits A Perfect Melodic Note On "Timeless"

As the melodic rock industry here in the United States marches toward extinction, Europe continues to be the go-to region for this genre. Modena Italy is a place known for their Opera and their Lamborghinis. It's not the first place you'd look for a rock band. But this is the home of Perfect View. A group that has been together for close to a decade.

Their latest album is called "Timeless" and it is their best release of the three albums they've created so far. The quality of songwriting and production on this record is a step above their previous two albums on the now defunct Avenue of Allies record label. Lion's Pride Music is their new home and the new label has obviously inspired these Italians to reach deep into the melodic universe. The result is one of the strongest AOR records of 2018. The influences are numerous but are guiding forces rather than direct steering currents. There are bits and pieces of bands like Asia, Steelheart, Rush, Boston, Journey and Survivor. But the bulk of this work carves out it's own niche. Lead vocalist Marco Ciancio is an Olympic quality tenor whose voice effortlessly soars into the stratosphere.

The collection's first song "Stop Me, Kill Me, Leave Me" is a first class rocker with guitars and keyboards intertwining and creating a clean wall of sound for Ciancio to sing over. The lyrics are quick to draw your attention. "Can't Stop The Fire" showcases the smooth fret work of Francesco Cataldo. His guitar playing recalls Frankie Sullivan or Dan Huff. The song itself is a thing of beauty with it's memorable melody and chorus. "Shades of Us" is a choppy guitar riff rocker with a few twists and turns. Luca Ferraresi makes the drum kit look easy as he adds the right amount of power and precision to a very well oiled machine. Bassist Frank Paulis nicely compliments Ferraresi as the two make a fine rhythm section.

"Your Love Is Gone" is a classic power ballad with another truly convincing hook and chorus. The keyboards are manned by Marco Tedeschi who employs a rich, full palette of sounds. His presence on this album certainly helps deliver an 80's vibe.

"Timeless" has no filler tracks. Some of the other standouts include "No Regrets", "Fallin'", the keyboard laced "Promises", "Outlaw" and "Lorelai" (not the Styx tune). "Timeless" (the title track) is an amazing song which showcases the incredible vocal range of Ciancio.

All of these tracks have a hard rocking template and are infused with Ciancio's vocal gymnastics and Cataldo's masterful guitar work. There are 12 songs on this album and they are all worth listening to.

Typically I have to spend time with an album to understand it and really get into it. Not with this one. These are instant classics. Clearly there was a lot of work put into this. This band would have made waves here in the states years ago back when a support system existed. Nowadays we have to use articles like this one and our own curiosity to find the music we used to hear on the radio. Perfect View has created the perfect melodic rock release. 5 Stars.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Jerome Mazza's Outlaw Son Is Melodic Rock Perfection

Band Lineup

Jerome Mazza – Lead & Background vocals
Tommy Denander – Guitars / Keyboards
Steve Overland – Backing vocals
Brian Anthony – Bass
Chris Metzger  – Drums / percussion

Courtesy of Escape Music

About eighteen months ago I was fortunate enough to stumble on to Pinnacle Point's brilliant debut album Winds of Change. This collection represented some of the great music of my past. The comparisons to Kansas and the vocal skills of Jerome Mazza instantly set the underground melodic world on fire. 

He was then asked to be a part of Steve Walsh's final solo album Black Butterfly. Again Mazza's voice shined, seamlessly weaving itself around Walsh's in the lead off single Born In Fire. Jerome actually got to sing three solo tracks which garnered him more international airplay and recognition. 

This would all set the stage for Outlaw Son, Jerome's first solo album for The Escape Music record label. The production on Outlaw Son rivals the music on Black Butterfly. More importantly the material itself continues Mazza's upward trajectory. It doesn't hurt to have guitar ace Tommy Denander laying down tasty riffs and exquisite solos to push the music to the next level.

The album starts with "Neverland" a track that opens with a catchy guitar salvo that Neal Schon would approve of. Lyrically the world is too much for the song's character and a fantasy land of self actualization takes hold. Denander puts his icing on this cake with a fine guitar solo. "Immortal" opens with a big keyboard riff followed by Mazza's soaring tenor. If Kansas were recording modern AOR it might sound like this track. "The Dark Side" begins and ends with Mazza's voice acapella. The melody is grittier, progressive and a tad dark, which makes sense since the song is about the dark side. 

Mazza is helped along in places by legendary vocalist Steve Overland. But this reviewer prefers Mazza's voice which to me has more texture at both the low and high ends of the spectrum. "Streets of Fire" might be the closest relative to a song from Black Butterfly. Overland is heard on background via a monster chorus. The story of a world in turmoil stops you in your tracks as you absorb the melody. A killer song from every angle. 

Another standout track is the instantly catchy "Undercover Love" fueled by both Mazza and Denander who seem to be playing off one another. This is more great songwriting, and Jerome's voice, again is in the clouds. "Song For The People" has a raucous guitar string bending intro followed by a very smooth, yet progressive melody. Another track that could stand nicely on Black Butterfly

"Calm Before The Storm" intros with a rapid fire guitar jam but then levels off into a big hook melodic masterpiece. Each song has equal parts melodic and progressive which will make fans of Kansas and Journey celebrate. The title track borrows a little from Night Ranger's "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" but eventually finds it's own original groove. "Unfinished Business" has a hard rocking, raw bluesy vibe through most of it, a bit of a departure from a lot of the rest of the material on Outlaw Son yet one of the strongest songs on the album!

"Crossfire" is another convincing melodic rock original that borrows some from Toto or Work of Art. It showcases Mazza's ability to go from soft to soaring. "Save The Best Til Last" is another fine melodic rock composition featuring a very optimistic story line. The bridge and guitar solo definitely find a higher level of greatness. "The Last Goodbye" might be the most progressive track on the album. Denander's opening riffs set the stage for another terrific vocal performance from Mazza, whose clarity and rich delivery are present on every track.

Outlaw Son is one of the most meticulous melodic rock records recorded in recent memory. So many attempts at this genre these days are mired in mediocrity. At times I've listened to things and forced myself to like it when in my heart I knew it was substandard. The bar has been reset on this collection of fine songs. The quality of playing and singing is truly in it's own league here. Jerome Mazza is one of the most talented and soon to be sought after vocalists on the scene today. Furthermore he's surrounded himself with great musicians who have only shed a brighter spotlight on his considerable vocal talents. As it stands, Outlaw Son will be my favorite melodic rock record of 2018.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Real Music Observer Top 10 For Weekending 10/19/18

Link To The Top 10

At number one again this week is Ice Age by Fire Tiger. The song is the catchiest thing I've heard in years. A combination of Taylor Dayne, Miami Sound Machine and Wilson Phillips.

At number two is Borrowed Time from State Cows. A Swedish band that has tapped into the Steely Dan west coast vibe better than anyone. Michael Landau guest stars on the guitar solo.

At number three is 10 Miles by Champlin, Williams and Friestedt (CWF). This trio makes music I wish Toto made. This sounds so vintage but is a brand new song and is instantaneously a hit.

At number 4 is the brand new single from Paul Carrack called Amazing. This almost sounds like it was stolen from the Stax music vaults. A wonderful, breezy slice of R&B and Paul nails the vocals. Destined for #1 on this chart.

At number 5 is a classic power ballad by Clif Magness called Unbroken. The song would be a perfect track for Jason Scheff to record. Such a great melody.

At number 6 is Easy To Love by Steve Perry. My favorite tune from his new album Traces. A complete R&B hook and melody and it gets better with each spin.

At number 7 is All Alone by former Outfield lead vocalist Tony Lewis. Tony sounds exactly like he did in 1986. This has all of the mojo of anything his former band ever recorded. This should be on the radio.

At number 8 is a blues artist by the name of Hamish Anderson with his song No Good. A combination of contemporary blues and retro rock. A great guitar line and some terrific playing throughout.

At number 9 is former Survivor lead singer Dave Bickler and his song Hope. Dave's voice has held up remarkably well and this is his first solo album. The track itself is a call for a better day and the hook is perfect for classic rock stations.

At number 10 is the brand new song by guitarist Colin James. His song is called 40 light years. It features of all things, a harmonica. The playing is reserved by effective. Very catchy song.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Robbie Dupree's Ordinary Day is Extraordinary

Robbie Dupree writes an amazing tale about how we all seem to have gotten used to the violence and craziness in the world. Dupree is best known for his two mainstream hits from his first album. But here he makes an amazing musical statement. Both the lyrics and the atmospherics of the track itself are stellar. For fans of west coast California style rock this is how you do it. The track clocks in at over seven minutes and has both acoustic guitar and piano but an electric lead guitar comes in to really give the song more passion and meaning. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Buckingham and Nicks Are At It Again

We learned in recent days that Stevie Nicks decided to boot Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac over his alleged bad behavior at a benefit concert earlier this year. That behavior amounted to smirking when Nicks began to ramble during her speech and not approving of the song "Rhiannon" being played as Stevie's entrance music. Originally we were told that the break-up was centered around Buckingham who according to the original narrative, wanted to record and tour and then join his former band mates on the road.

None of this is surprising for a band that has gone through drama before. But what is different now is the age and maturity (or lack thereof) of these now 70 somethings as they tour the states via Live Nation. Both Mac and Buckingham are touring and so far it appears that the split is hurting ticket sales for Fleetwood Mac and possibly helping Buckingham who just filed a lawsuit seeking 12 million dollars in lost wages. This is the kind of drama that doesn't result in creativity.

Fans seem to be on Lindsey's side and if one were to examine the evidence on a cursory level they would have to implicate Stevie Nicks as not being the team player. Strangely enough though, Nicks has been nominated to the rock and roll hall of fame at precisely the same moment Buckingham filed paperwork in a Los Angeles County court.

Monopoly board master Irv Azoff was the one who broke the news to Buckingham that he was no longer welcome on stage with Stevie Nicks. It was an ultimatum and she won at least in the short run. Azoff is banking on the curiosity car wreck theory, where people want to show up and support their favorite team as each side tries to gin up sympathy both fake and real to lure fans to their side.

People who have watched this band for decades are at a loss to explain the speed at which Mick Fleetwood and Irving Azoff moved to upend Lindsey Buckingham. The venues were likely already booked. And the show must go on. But for now, it's a show long and drama and short on substance for a band that at this stage of their existence needs Lindsey Buckingham more than he needs them.