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.
It took four years for Moratti to return. Was that time spent writing and honing a selection of top quality original material? Based on Rob’s comeback disc, it would seem not, for what we have here is a covers disc – and one of the most unimaginative variety. Moratti has taken the task of re-recording a selection of Journey hits in tribute to his heroes. It is a task that finds him already on the losing wicket – there are whole groups of fans out there who won’t even accept the actual Journey’s existence without Steve Perry, so are unlikely to accept the efforts of someone else singing these songs almost verbatim in the name of entertainment. In this case, who is the target audience? Presumably those who purchased ‘Victory’, but even then, they’ll likely spin this once and then reach for Journey’s ‘Greatest Hits’ disc and enjoy the songs done just right.
Interestingly, unlike ‘Victory’, it’s not always Moratti’s helium-inflicted pipes that cause the potential upset. After all, he’s got the range to tackle most of Steve Perry’s old refrains – even Perry himself sounds like he’s sucked on a helium balloon during parts of their 1981 genre-defining ‘Escape’; the problem here is the actual music. These songs have been recorded on such a thin budget and in poor circumstances, most of it sounds like a karaoke disc.
Things start out well enough with a reasonably spirited take on ‘Separate Ways’, with Rob tapping into a performance that closely mirrors the original, while the rest of his band – a bunch of largely unknown hired hands – tackle the material with a reasonable amount of gusto. Guitarists Graham Fillier and Danish shredder Torben Enevoldsen give one of Journey’s heavier riffs their best shot at the outset, before everything settles into the more melodic body; the soaring notes at the end are as confident as you’d hope. A couple of extra keyboard squiggles are perhaps unnecessary, but in all, a solid effort. The power ballad ‘Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever’ (one of Journey’s lesser-known tunes) captures everyone in best form throughout: Moratti absolutely nails every Perry-ism throughout; a hard struck piano part provides a solid backbone, while soaring guitar leads – although never quite in the same league as Neal Schon – are faultlessly played.
The rest of the really disc doesn’t include anything worth recommending. The rousing ‘Be Good To Yourself’ sounds like the work of a cut-price covers band, with a flat drum sound, overly loud keyboards and a backing vocal lost somewhere in the swamp. The should-be wonderful ‘Stone In Love’ is chockfull of harmonies and a few impressive guitar licks, but a couple of adlibs, rough mix and bad drumming let the side down somewhat, while ‘Only The Young’ just sounds thin and uninspired. a fact not helped by drummer Stu Reid has all the impact of a drum machine – mechanical doesn’t even begin to describe his lack of presence behind the kit. Worse still, ‘Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’’ is an absolute turkey of the worst kind. Journey’s swagger reduced to casio-tone ugliness – Moratti really could be singing over a particularly bad karaoke disc here and it’s practically unlistenable. If this is how Moratti treats his heroes, you’d have to wonder how a hatchet job on music he doesn’t like might sound. …And those big guns, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and ‘Faithfully’? We should be thankful that they’ve both been treated far more respectfully than some of these tunes, but they’re straight note for note copies; the sound of a session recording designed for royalty-free play at your local discount supermarket.
As his time with Saga and his old 90s band has already proven, Rob is a gifted vocalist with a wide range. His voice is often fine, but an uninspired band and even more uninspiring budget ensures ‘Rob Moratti’s Tribute To Journey’ isn’t really a fitting tribute at all. In fact, most of it sounds like one of those budget discs that filled Woolies in the 1970s by unnamed session musicians and knocked out at below budget price. The only real difference here being, the artist is named and so, presumably, wants full credit for his efforts and the record company are (foolishly and perhaps even arrogantly) attempting to charge full price. If Moratti really wanted to pay tribute to his heroes for an undying influence, perhaps he ought not have recorded these tracks at all – a few live performances would have been far more appropriate.