For those unfamiliar, Shadowman presents the union of four musicians already very well known on the UK rock circuit. The band combines the talents of FM vocalist Steve Overland and Heartland guitarist Steve Morris with the Thunder rhythm section – Chris Childs and Gary ‘Harry’ James on bass and drums respectively. Their fourth album, ‘Watching Over You’ sounds exactly as you’d expect for an album featuring those musicians, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The album begins with ‘Across The Universe’, which is a decent mid paced rocker. Its opening bars centre around a powerful drum arrangement from James, before settling into a punchy groove. Surprisingly, it’s not especially reliant on guitar riffs (though Morris throws in fills wherever he can); the main groove of the number is provided by a clavichord funkiness, which naturally gives things a 70s edge. An organ solo paves the way for Morris to deliver an understated guitar solo full of multi-tracked qualities. It’s a strong opening track, certainly. ‘Renegades’ swiftly follows and here Shadowman adopt a more straight ahead hard rock approach, where Morris gets to play the kind of riffs and solos he’d denied himself during the opener. Even though Overland’s vocals are strong and some other elements are enjoyable, it’s a noticeably weaker number in terms of song writing.
The first of the album’s truly standout moments is ‘Cry’, a huge bluesy power ballad. The vocals are strong, presenting Overland in good form, but it’s the other musicians whom really stand out, especially Steve Morris, whose guitar work is top-notch throughout, particularly both guitar solos which have a great tone. The second of these, coming at the close of the number is very subtle, as Morris lays down vibrato-edged notes sparingly over some excellent clean rhythms work. On the quiet moments, it’s also worth listening out for a few great bass runs from Childs – though due to the production values, he’s far too low in the mix.
With a shift away from hard rock towards the more AOR sound of the early FM albums, the semi-acoustic ‘Whatever It Takes’ has all the hallmarks of radio-friendly rock. The chorus is one of the album’s strongest despite having a very much by numbers quality and the use of backing vocals is effective. For the last chorus, Overland’s voice sings a lead over his own harmony vocals to predictable – yet still pleasing effect. ‘Whatever It Takes’ follows suit and even though it doesn’t offer any great musical difference, it’s a great example of melodic rock being played well with all of the necessary ingredients firmly in place. The pairing of FM’s Steve Overland and Heartland’s Steve Morris rarely sounds stronger than it does on these numbers. More semi-acoustic vibes provide the heart of ‘Heaven Waits’, but this time there’s a slightly darker tone which occasionally leans towards an eastern musical motif without embracing it fully. By the time Morris breaks into an almost Brian May inspired solo that’s full of chorus pedals, it’s obvious this number is a winner.
‘Are You Ready’ is a great mid-paced rocker, full of harmonies on its chorus. While the band sound great on this style of Bad Company inspired hard rock, there’s a gut feeling that says no matter how good Steve Overland’s delivery is here, Thunder’s Danny Bowes would absolutely wipe the floor with him vocally. A Thunder-esque vibe also runs through the swaggering rocker ‘Waiting For a Miracle’, a number which features a solid performance from Overland, a strong chorus and an another old fashioned organ solo.
While most of ‘Watching Over You’s twelve melodic rock songs are of a good quality – and certainly feature the musicians playing to their strengths – the album is let down somewhat by a thin, extremely trebly production sound. Throughout most of the disc, especially on the rockier numbers, most of Chris Childs’s bass playing barely registers, being drowned out by loud rhythm guitars and Overland’s equally loud vocal. However, if you’ve picked up the previous Shadowman albums prior to this one, you’ll certainly want this one too, although first time listeners may be wise to check out 2008’s slightly fuller sounding ‘Ghost in the Mirror’ first.
[You can catch Gary and Chris performing with Thunder at their one-off reunion at the High Voltage festival, Victoria Park, London – July 24th 2011]