TOBY HITCHCOCK – Reckoning

Toby Hitchcock first came to prominence in the early 2000s as frontman with Pride of Lions, a melodic rock band masterminded by Survivor legend Jim Peterik. With a combination of big performances and old style AOR hooks, the band found an instant fan base within the AOR community, despite treading a very familiar musical path. Outside of that band, Hitchcock has also achieved cult success with an on/off solo career and, if anything, his 2011 solo debut ‘Mercury’s Down’ featured performances that were even more bombastic.

His second solo album – 2019’s ‘Reckoning’ – offers fans exactly what they want, in that its eleven tracks couple some huge melodic rock sounds with an even bigger vocal. For those who love Toby, the album is probably everything they could ever wish for…and more. For the many who find his approach too big, it might be another album that fails to convince at first, but it’s worth persevering with since most of the material knocks spots off 2011’s ‘Mercury’s Down’.

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GIOELI-CASTRONOVO – Set The World On Fire

Take two two key members of the original Hardline, the guitarist from Italian melodic rock band Hungryheart and a bunch of strong chorus driven songs and you have a more than reasonable recipe for AOR success. Johnny Gioeli’s delivery can sometimes err on the side of being too bombastic, but in comparison to some of his peers, he still possesses a voice that holds up and when teamed with Hardline/Journey drummer Deen Castronovo, he sounds better than ever. It’s that sense of drive that gives this release most of its strength. After just one full listen, it’s obvious ‘Set The World On Fire’ has no real filler material; it’s dozen rockers so often play like a greatest hits of the best bits from the Frontiers Records catalogue from 2011-2016 and for that alone, so many AOR buffs will consider it an essential addition to their ever growing collections. It’s unlikely to be at all far reaching beyond those whom already consider themselves fans of the musicians involved, but in many ways, to expect more would be kind of beside the point. For what it does – at least in terms of songwriting and performance – this is a great record.

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RED DAWN – Never Say Surrender

After leaving Rainbow in the mid-80s, keyboard player David Rosenthal began writing songs with a budding AOR singer named Mitch Malloy. The sessions produced some fantastic material, but circumstances changed and recording sessions for a proposed album were abandoned. Malloy subsequently recorded a solo album (a self-titled release, it was soon considered a melodic rock essential) and Rosenthal set about forming a permanent band. The new band, Red Dawn, saw David drafting in a familiar face in drummer Chuck Burgi – a trusted friend from his Rainbow days – and ex-USA vocalist Larry Baud. For those who heard it, their one and only album, 1993’s ‘Never Say Surrender’ would ultimately change the landscape of 90s melodic rock forever.

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Second REO Speedwagon box set, ‘Classic Years’, due in February 2019

Following the HNE Recordings box set containing the albums from REO Speedwagon’s ‘Early Years’ in the summer of 2018 [full review here], the band’s legacy will be celebrated further in the new year with a second box set, appropriately titled ‘Classic Years: 1978-1990.

That twelve year stretch bore most of the band’s massive hits – including ‘Keep On Lovin’ You’, ‘Don’t Let Him Go’ and ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ – and their run of albums from 1978’s ‘You Can Tune A Piano…’ through to 1986’s ‘Wheels Are Turning’ found REO perfecting the AOR sound for which they’re best known.

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REO SPEEDWAGON – The Early Years 1971-1977

During the first half of the 80s, REO Speedwagon were one of the bands who really helped define the sounds of the decade’s melodic rock. Along with Journey and Survivor, the band became US radio staples and their ‘Hi Infidelity’ and ‘Good Trouble’ albums sold in huge numbers. The REO story started much earlier, however, and before arriving at their signature sound on 1978’s ‘You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish’, the band honed their craft across a series of albums that dabble in different styles of rock, featuring a succession of different vocalists. This comprehensive box set tells the formative REO story, presenting each of the early albums with a smattering of bonus tracks.

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