REO Speedwagon to release ‘Early Years’ box set in September

For melodic rock fans, REO Speedwagon are a much-loved band. Their massive 80s hits ‘Keep On Loving You’, ‘Take It On The Run’ and ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ are genre classics…and for good reason. As bigger fans know, there’s always been more to the band than the 80s sheen of their career peak.

In the 70s, the band released a string of albums containing rockier material which, despite shifting band line ups, is every bit as entertaining as their better known material. Those earlier albums were host to more than their share of REO classics and tracks like ‘Ridin’ The Storm Out’ and ‘Time For Me To Fly’ have remained part of the live set for decades.

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3.2 – The Rules Have Changed

Shortly after the demise of the short-lived Emerson Lake & Powell, keyboard maestro Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer teamed up with ex-Hush multi-instrumentalist Robert Berry to form the melodic rock outfit 3. Their sole album, 1988’s ‘To The Power of Three’ presented a great selection of melodic tunes with occasional progressive flourishes, but despite yielding a US hit single, the album itself wasn’t a commercial success on either side of the Atlantic.

By the early nineties, Keith and Carl had reunited with their old bandmate Greg Lake, whilst Berry embarked on what was to be a very prolific decade of recording. He recorded albums with AOR band Alliance, contributed to several progressive rock tribute albums and even re-booted his solo career. His 1992 release ‘Pilgrimage To A Point’ is a melodic rock/accessible prog classic and in ‘Last Ride Into The Sun’ (an unreleased leftover from the 3 days) even gave prog rock fans something infinitely more proggy than the commercially driven 3 album had allowed.

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SUNSTORM – The Road To Hell

Between 2006 and 2012, legendary rock vocalist Joe Lynn Turner lent his talents to three great albums by Sunstorm; releases which celebrated his many years on the melodic rock scene as well as added to his impressive catalogue. 2012’s ‘Emotional Fire’ was especially interesting as it revisited Joe’s 80s legacy, presenting covers of songs on which he’d originally contributed backing vocals. In the hands of Sunstorm, Michael Bolton’s ‘Gina’ and ‘You Wouldn’t Know Love’ (a big hit for Cher, and old a final voyage into rock for “old two haircuts” himself) sounded as good as ever. Although 2016’s ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ was an enjoyable record and a worthy addition to the Sunstorm catalogue, it gained more of a mixed response for a couple of reasons: firstly, it had a rockier feel and furthermore, it was effectively Sunstorm in name only – Turner was now fronting a completely different band.

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SHELTER – First Stop

For a legion of AOR fans, Joe Lamont’s 1985 LP ‘Secrets You Keep’ is heralded as a classic. A solid melodic rock affair, the album featured contributions from Vinnie Colaiuta and future Giant men Dann Huff and Alan Pasqua. It’d taken vocalist Joe Lamont a few years to break through; as Joe Lament, he recorded a soft rock album with Steeplechase in 1981 (a brilliant but now hard to find gem), before jumping ship and joining melodic rock/AOR band Shelter the following year. Signed to major label Polydor, Shelter only recorded the one album, but 1983’s ‘First Stop’ is a vinyl era rock classic.

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PRAYING MANTIS – Gravity

In 2015, Praying Mantis broke a six year silence with their tenth album ‘Legacy’. A welcome surprise, the album was not only their first with new vocalist John ‘JayCee’ Cuijpers, a man with a big presence and someone who appeared to be a perfect fit for the band, but also the strongest Mantis offering for a very long time. For the most part, the album featured memorable rockers that allowed the band’s trademark twin lead guitars to shine and also presented some very melodic hooks showing the band could still truly hit the mark. 2018’s ‘Gravity’ – obviously – follows a very similar path lyrically, musically and stylistically. After all, it’s not so much that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but with an album as good as ‘Legacy’, Praying Mantis would have been foolish to mess too much with a winning formula. However, although this second album with JayCee offers a few tracks that are a little less inspiring, on the whole, it’s a great return.

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