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.