In an age where there are a billion singer songwriters out there and a little of Nashville rubs off onto so many of them infusing the rock and the pop with country (seemingly the only way some feel they can make the big time), it’s surprising to discover a performer from Nashville who isn’t quite so beholden to America’s core musical style. Step forward Hannah Fairlight, a woman who not only mixes 80s rock and 90s singer-songwriter styles on her 2015 release, but also revels in unfashionable 80s AOR moods that are quite unexpected. Wrapped up in a knowing title, ‘Bright Future’ cares not for fashion and in some ways should be all the better for that. However, it doesn’t care for consistency or honesty either.
Mixing prog, pop and AOR, the first album by World Trade is somewhat of a cult classic. Showcasing Billy Sherwood’s multi-layered sound, the record is essential listening for fans of ‘Images of Forever’ by Cannata, ‘90125’ era Yes and ‘Hold Your Fire’ era Rush. Given it’s technical approach and sophisticated choruses, it’s no wonder Billy became a member of the Yes family tree a short time later. Six years on, a second World Trade album appeared, but ‘Euphoria’ seemed to not quite match expectations. Maybe it’s because both Guy Allison and Bruce Gowdy had founded AOR band Unruly Child with Marcie Free in the interim and had other interests; maybe it was just a difficult second record. The record, while enjoyable, lacked the focus of the debut and re-used tracks that Sherwood had previously demoed with Chris Squire alongside other material.
With Sherwood having other projects taking his time and also taking on the unenviable position of full time bassist with the ever-touring Yes in 2015, and with Gowdy and Allison having commitments with Unruly Child, it seemed we’d heard the last of World Trade…and then a third album appeared somewhat unexpectedly on Frontiers Records in 2017.
The first Styx album (self-titled, 1972) is an overlooked slab of pomp rock. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but any band wishing to open their debut long player with a thirteen minute epic fusing hard rock with flourishes of Aaron Copland and what sounds like a conversation with a New York cabbie must have something, right? With that track, ‘Movement For The Common Man’, Styx announced their arrival in a typically grand style. The rest of the album, while nowhere near as complete sounding as 1977’s ‘Grand Illusion’ or as obviously song oriented as any of the albums from then onward, still makes for interesting listening decades after its original release. 1973’s ‘Styx II’, by contrast, is a more sedate affair – sedate in the world of early Styx means still very much still pompous and overblown – but, naturally, a bigger input from vocalist/pianist Dennis DeYoung, brought with it a much stronger element of musical theatre.
With these two records as a solid grounding, the band went all out for their next long player ‘The Serpent Is Rising’. Released in October 1973 – the third Styx LP to hit the shelves in just eighteen months – it has to be said, it has less of a focus than its predecessors. It doesn’t sound as if Styx had been tempted to use up leftover material though, rather more that this time out, the gloves were truly off. Coming from the days when bands were allowed to spend record company money (no matter how meagre a budget) while still very much on a learning curve, it sounds as if Styx intended to throw everything at this recording bar the kitchen sink to find out, once and for all, what styles worked for them…and which ones really didn’t.
Jim Peterik is a legend. His work on various Survivor albums cements his place in the melodic rock history books, regardless of anything he has written or recorded since the 80s. Tracks like ‘American Heartbeat’, ‘Jackie Don’t Go’, ‘I Can’t Hold Back’ and ‘Poor Man’s Son’ are stone cold classics…and of course, it would take a hard heart not to be amused by the ‘Eye of The Tiger’ video with Survivor attempting to look tough whilst stomping through a warehouse.
Peterik’s post-Survivor projects have, understandably, been less high profile. After all, how can you follow a million selling rock band, radio play and worldwide number one singles?
2016 has been an interesting year. We’ve heard hundreds of albums and we’ve heard lots of good ones, but in comparison to the previous couple of years there has been a paucity of great ones. Nevertheless, there’s always gold to be mined and here are Real Gone’s top ten albums of the year.
[As always, in the interest of fairness, the choices are limited to those actually reviewed on the website]