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.
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.
Issa Oversveen made her first notable appearance on the melodic rock scene back in 2010. Her debut release ‘Sign of Angels’ quickly got attention from the AOR die-hards, with some proclaiming the album “a female fronted Journey”. An odd claim, since the songs neither had a particularly 80s shine and it had a distinctly European flair. That of course seemed only fitting with Issa hailing from Norway and her hired help all being European; it was a little better than most of the second division melodic rock being released at the time, but was still quite workmanlike. A follow up, ‘The Storm’ appeared surprisingly quickly in 2011 which, on the surface, promised more of the same but upon closer inspection boasted a better production and bigger and better songs. It may have accentuated the Euro slant a little more, but the results were enjoyable.
Keen to promote Issa as the new queen of a purer AOR sound, Frontiers Records pulled a master stroke in 2012 when ‘Can’t Stop’ presented the vocalist with a selection of melodic rock covers from the 80s and 90s. Obviously the big hitters like Journey and Survivor weren’t accounted for, but the choice of second division material made the album all the more interesting. For melodic rock buffs, it was fun to hear cult material originally recorded by the likes of Aviator, Tower City and Mystic Healer re-interpreted by new hands. It also was a welcome reminder of a golden period when now defunct labels like MTM Music were cranking out interesting albums on a monthly basis. Following a three year hiatus, 2015’s ‘Crossfire’ was well received by the faithful but, predictably, didn’t make any kind of impact beyond the melodic rock fraternity. As melodic rock albums go, it was a reasonable listen – the upbeat style of ‘Long Time Coming’ harked back to 1990 and was very much a highlight – but after the covers album, it never felt like it deserved as much stereo time.
This evening at Shepherds Bush Empire has been billed as a double headline show between Night Ranger and Skid Row. However, it isn’t long after Night Ranger take the stage, it becomes clear that the event is nothing of the sort. Night Ranger’s set design is limited to a few extra Marshall amplifiers which are placed in the middle of the stage, rather than at the back. Kelly Keagy’s drumkit looks awkward, placed on stage left (audience right) and facing towards the middle rather than facing the audience. The band, in turn, are only given about three quarters of the stage to work with. Somewhere behind the amps, Skid Row’s drum kit sits in wait. So much for “double headliner”: Night Ranger have been given a support band’s set up – and that’s before we get to the massive issues with the sound.
Not to be confused with European symphonic metal outfit Epica, Epic are a multi-national hard rock band comprising members from the US, Canada and The Lebanon. Their debut album, ‘Like a Phoenix’ released on Escape Music – home of Saracen, Impera, Chris Ousey (often the label’s only true saving grace) and many more – is a somewhat patchy affair, but three melodic belters make it worth hearing. In many ways, the inspirations behind those songs and the styles are very well worn, but looking chiefly at their target audience – a bunch of middle-aged, stuck in a rut men who’ll blindly purchase everything the label puts out – Epic work hard at giving those listeners exactly what they want. Early comparisons to Heart and Saraya might just be a bit of a stretch, though. It’s a brave or hugely optimistic person who even thinks comparing frontwoman Tanya Rizkala to the almost peerless Ann Wilson is a sensible idea. Tanya has a big voice, it’s true enough, but in terms of range, it is a far cry from Wilson’s impressive style.