GARY HUGHES – Waterside

Although he’d already released a solo album in 1989, it wasn’t until a follow up disc appeared three years later that Gary Hughes first gained major attention from the melodic rock world. 1992’s ‘Gary Hughes’ helped kick start the short lived (and much loved) Now & Then label and marked Hughes as a man with a great voice. Whether tackling rockers or ballads, he displayed a very natural talent, but it was when he later became frontman for bombastic rockers Ten – a band whom always aimed for a big sound and then made it bigger – his true range as a vocalist could really be heard. Whether a musical partner for Vinny Burns (on the band’s classic ‘Name of The Rose’) or Chris Francis (on 2004’s underrated ‘Return To Evermore’), Hughes has always put in a great performance.

‘Waterside’ comes some fourteen years after his previous solo recording and marks a return to the more sedate side of his work that fans have come to expect outside of Ten. Its collection of melodic tracks come loaded with big choruses and a few smart lead guitar breaks (all courtesy of Dann Rosingana) and that alone will be enough to win fans over. Unfortunately – as has been the case with several Frontiers Records releases throughout the years – it sounds…unbelievably cheap. Hughes offers some great vocal performances throughout and the guitars are crisp, but some great material is often let down by a general lack of warmth, some absolutely abysmal keyboard playing and a non-existent drum sound. With Darrel Treece-Birch credited as playing both keys and drums, a lot of things point towards the use of a drum program. Even if some of the drums are live, a really thin sound really comes at the expense of what, for Hughes – something of a British AOR legend – should have been a triumphant return. With that in mind, huge chunks of ‘Waterside’ sound almost like polished demos; songs awaiting their final bells and whistles. Hughes’s work deserves better than such an obvious “that’ll do” approach.

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SUNSTORM – Afterlife

The first three Sunstorm albums are classic melodic rock discs. Between a set of great songs and the strong vocal presence of the legendary Joe Lynn Turner, ‘Sunstorm’, ‘House of Dreams’ and ‘Emotional Fire’ (issued between 2006 and 2012) gave AOR fans a trilogy of unmissable releases, each one providing a great showcase for Turner, a man whose voice sounded pretty much as good as it did back in 1981. While the next two releases took on a slightly heavier direction – moving away somewhat from Sunstorm’s original remit – some well written songs and strong vocal performances ensured they were still enjoyable listens.

At the end of 2020, it was announced that Turner had parted ways with the band. This would be a massive blow for his many fans who’d primarily stuck with Sunstorm due to his involvement. More importantly, his absence means that 2021’s ‘Afterlife’ showcases a Sunstorm with absolutely no original members. The core of the band have only been in place since 2018’s ‘Road To Hell’, and the only link with anything further back comes via keyboard player Alessandro Del Vecchio – and he doesn’t really count, as he’s the record label’s hired hand who’ll basically play on absolutely anything for a few quid. With ‘Afterlife’ being Sunstotm in name only, maybe it was time to throw in the towel?

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UK AOR legend Gary Hughes to release double disc solo anthology in March

Since the early 90s, vocalist Gary Hughes has been one of the most important figures on the British melodic rock scene.  His second solo album helped launch the much missed Now & Then record label and his subsequent work as frontman with pomp rockers Ten has taken his big voice around the world.

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DURBIN – The Beast Awakens

Rock vocalist James Durbin first came to public attention when he participated in the tenth season of American Idol in 2011. A genuine wildcard amongst pop wannabes, his love of rock music eventually made him stand out, and although not a winner, he gained a respectful top five placing. That relative success later allowed him to perform alongside his heroes Judas Priest on the show. His career took a more credible path later when he became the lead singer for Quiet Riot in 2017, subsequently recording two albums with them for the Frontiers Records label. Despite leaving Quiet Riot after a relatively short time, his association with Frontiers continued and the label released his first solo record in 2021.

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3.2 – Third Impression

Back in 2015, Keith Emerson and Robert Berry hatched a plan to follow up their album ‘To The Power of Three’. That album (released in 1988 under the band name 3) became a cult classic, beloved by prog rock devotees and AOR fans alike, so the mere idea of a second record (no matter how belated) seemed to be cause for celebration. Various musical ideas were set in place for the new record over the next few months. Unfortunately, any future plans for the reborn 3 were put on hold in 2016 after Emerson’s untimely death.

Berry eventually paid tribute in the best way possible by ensuring all of Keith’s final musical ideas finally came to light. The resulting album ‘The Rules Have Changed’ (released under the 3.2 moniker) captured so much of the spirit of the original 3 with it’s melodic rock/prog crossover sound, but despite some great press, some of the fans seemed less enthusiastic. Those who viewed the album negatively insisted there couldn’t be a 3 album without Emerson, completely ignoring the fact that Berry had painstakingly structured a whole new work from Keith’s ideas. As always in prog circles, those who would never be pleased – no matter how good the outcome – made far too much noise and showed themselves to be wholly un-progressive in their attitudes. Those fans who seemed absolutely appalled by the idea of Berry releasing a second album based on Emerson’s ideas will surely explode with anger at the audacity of a third release, this time created solely from Berry’s own compositions.

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