1992 saw the launch of Now & Then Records, a small independent label specialising in melodic rock. Although the UK label’s time was brief, over the course of their lifespan, the label released the best AOR of the era. Gaining the rights to a few tapes that had otherwise sat gathering dust in record company vaults, they released records by Jeff Cannata, Mark Free and Takara, a band fronted by the now legendary Jeff Scott Soto. Among the label’s other early releases was the Crown of Thorns debut, a band uniting singer-songwriter Jean Beauvoir previously of Voodoo X and the Plasmatics with guitarist/songwriter Micki Free, previously of the rather more unlikely Shalamar. One of the all-time great debuts of rock, the record brought killer melodic rock track after killer melodic rock track in a way that few had managed since 1987, and choruses that represent the finest AOR melodies. Decades on, ‘Crown of Thorns’ is a recording that never pales in its appeal.
Taking in a range of influences on her debut EP ‘Loop’, singer-songwriter Ella Squirrell creates four tracks which are heavily rooted in the electronic with some hefty beats, but always retain elements of the human spirit. The core of the music borrows heavily from late 90s trip-hop and electronica, while her open and sometimes biting lyrical approach owes more to the candid singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon from decades earlier. In this respect, her work should appeal to devotees of Sarah McLachlan, especially those who have a liking for her work with electro act Delirium. Ms Squirrell, of course, doesn’t just recycle these influences – as with any singer-songwriter dealing with the more personal, huge chunks of her own emotion and spirit make up the heart of the material.
Running a second poll for Genesis covering their more commercially sucessful (and arguably more radio friendly) years was always going to divide opinion. Naturally, as Real Gone’s last poll shows, there are many people very keen on the 70s prog side of the band who just never took to the more commercial Genesis. Likewise, the band picked up fans throughout the 80s who just never quite understood the earlier work.
Rob Moratti’s first solo album ‘Victory’ (released via Escape Music in 2011) featured a very strong set of AOR numbers. Musically accomplished, session bassist Tony Franklin and Winger guitarist Reb Beach gave the arrangements a great punch, but the extensive use of vocal filters made the release hard to listen to in long doses. However, given the quality of the songwriting, it was a record that showed off Moratti’s talents well and gave hope that a follow up might just be of a similar standard…and hopefully, with a slightly more natural vocal sound, as such material surely deserves.
In the early 80s, the Midlands was home to a few reggae and ska bands with a disheartened view of life under the burgeoning Tory government. While the messages from those bands may seem to some to be relevant only to the times in which they were created, the political messages have endured the passing decades and – frighteningly, by the summer of 2015 – some seem as relevant as ever. The bulk of UB40’s first two albums are filled with biting political and social commentary, their ‘Madame Medusa’ arguably the most savage anti-Thatcher song ever. The Beat, meanwhile, mixed old ska classics with more of the same levels of anger – their ‘Stand Down Margaret’ choosing a more obvious message over UB40’s dystopian horror tale, but their upset regarded the same issues as the bulk of the young left in Britain at the time. Over the years, many other bands mixed reggae with punk politics and anger – usually citing either the 2-Tone scene or The Clash as a vital influence.