Despite gaining reasonable accolades from the melodic rock community for their previous releases, in terms of stability, Californian rockers Talon had far from settled beginnings.  2011’s ‘III’ is a third attempt in more ways than one: not only is it their third album, but also begins an association between the band and a third record label.  Three record labels for three releases isn’t very good odds. Not only that, but this release also marks the arrival of another new lead vocalist (also their third over the course of three releases).  If nothing else, they get full marks for believing in themselves and not throwing in the towel at a time when other bands would have just given up.

On their strongest cuts, Talon is a band which delivers good, fist-pumping 80s rock. One of the album’s best numbers ‘You Don’t Know Me’ pitches Shawn Palata’s reasonably decent vocal against a backing harmony to achieve a result guaranteed to thrill a proportion of retro-rock fans.  Its riff, too, is of the simple chugging kind – and it’s often with such musical simplicity Talon excel.  Even better is the big sweeping solo, played with a great clarity by Jim Kee.  The keyboards are very low in the mix; sometime Takara man Eric Ragno deserves to be heard much more clearly here, even though his contributions are purely for colour.  The driving rock of ‘Walk Away’ ups the ante with the choppy riffs providing a decent basis for Pelata’s voice which, too, turns up a notch in an attempt to not be outdone by the general riffage.  If you imagine the most melodic end of Yngwie Malmsteen’s work with Mark Boals on the ‘Trilogy’ album crossed with the Heaven’s Edge debut, you’ll get a hint of what this track sounds like.  The chorus is relatively strong, but it’s not as strong as the guitar fills.  Before too long, it should be obvious to most that Jim Kee is Talon’s real star.

Eric Ragno gets time in the spotlight on the mid-paced ‘When Will I’, a track frontloaded with a pompy keyboard intro.  Beyond that, it’s business as usual with meaty mid-paced guitar riffs, of course, but it’s another example of Talon’s strongest side.  Pelata is in particularly good voice throughout, the solo is short but of a good standard and there’s also a rare example of bassist Phil Keller being high in the end mix.  It’s another solid, more than commendable effort, which is more than can be said for a couple of ballady efforts.  ‘Brothers’ offers too much schmaltz and treads the well worn path of a soldier’s tale of loss while remaining musically mediocre and ‘Maybe One Day’ is a predictable “contractual obligation” style acoustic sap.  Yes, it could be said that Pelata is in good voice on these numbers, but they’re both blandness personified.

‘Take You All The Way’ features a lead vocal by special guest Jeff Scott Soto.  As any self-respecting melodic rock fan knows, JSS is a legend.  Almost everything he’s lent his voice to – at least since his post-Malmsteen days – has been of a superb standard.  Sadly, he doesn’t appear in such great voice here, but the material isn’t that great either.  Since the song is written in Talon’s style – and possibly in the right key for Pelata – Soto’s performance is a little too waily.  It’s nowhere near awful, of course, but he is capable of far better.  Jim Kee more than makes up for the song’s weak points by offering at least two fantastic solos.  With ‘The Last Time’, you won’t get any great surprises from Talon: the key-changes are text-book, the featured solo is more than suitable for its purpose and the vocal harmonies are quite strong.  Despite their best efforts, though, there’s nothing which sticks out here in the long-term.  Like a good chunk of the album, it achieves those goals it sets out to achieve, but there’s a sense that Talon’s core audience are made up from those narrow-minded folks who listen to AOR/melodic rock…and enjoy nothing else.

The disc closes with a cover of the Jefferson Starship classic ‘Jane’.  Naturally, Pilata is no vocal match for Mickey Thomas, but looking beyond that, it’s a rather fun cover.  The riffs are obviously meatier than those ever delivered by any of Starship’s incarnations, while those riffs are topped by a great set of stabbing keys, which obviously are essential if anyone is to cover this tune properly.  It manages to bring a tiny amount of Talon’s melodic metal edge to the table without ever being disrespectful to Jefferson’s 1979 hit.  And, once again, it’s nice to hear Ragno out front and not buried beneath the guitars.

Overall, Talon volume three is a solid but undemanding record.  There are more than reasonable choruses and riffs scattered throughout the album and the band are all more than competent players, particularly guitarist Jim Kee.  Talon’s ‘III’ might just have enough charm to attract a reasonable amount of fans with it’s over familiarity.  For others, though, that just might not be enough to set Talon apart from the hundreds of other second division melodic rock bands releasing albums via the Escape Music and Frontiers Records stables.

December 2011