HUNGRYHEART – One Ticket To Paradise

booklet completoFollowing line-up changes after the release of their 2008 debut, it took Italian melodic rockers Hungryheart three years to return with their second release. While the gap between releases was a bit longer than ideal, the Tanzan Records label stood by them and the band, in turn, clearly spent their time wisely. For those who like their melodic rock with a slightly Euro bent, ‘One Ticket To Paradise’ is more than worth a listen.

The confident hard rock groove that drives ‘Let’s Keep On Tryin’’ has an unashamed European slant; Mario Percudani’s guitar tone is dirty; his riffs huge, the grubby blues-infused solo showing him to be a very strong player and a very important part of the Hungryheart sound. While vocalist Josh Zighetti isn’t quite up there with Matti Alfonzetti, there are hints of Jagged Edge here, the tough sound very complimentary to his slightly raspy vocal delivery. The natural drum sound carries just enough echo to make the listener get a feeling for how the band might sound in the live setting. On a few other tracks, the drum sound is much flatter; this is rather unfortunate, as that helps give the impression of the album recording being done on a smaller budget than most of Hungryheart’s material really deserves.

Taking a chuggy melodic rock riff and lacing it with a nominally funky edge, ‘Angela’ comes across as a tune that tries hard to be different – and mostly succeeds. While Zighotti’s gruff voice doesn’t always command total presence, the bounce in the groove makes him sound confident in his chosen role. While Hungryheart’s main gift is in the chorus depot, the verses also have much to give, their style of hard rock pulling many great influences from melodic rock’s past. While many before have delivered this kind of funk-driven style in a far superior way, this is in no way a failed experiment. Much better, ‘Just a Little Closer’ is a brilliant mixed bag of melodic rock; a pop sheen sits at the heart of the verses, the guitars taking an almost Michael Landau-esque jazzy tone, while the chorus rocks things up with the kind of sugar-filled brilliance that would make Nelson very proud. Filling the spaces in the chorus, you’ll find some great harmonies, while in the quieter moments of the verse, Steve Lozzi’s bass playing is superb. In terms of “the full package”, this is definitely Hungryheart at their best. Those looking for fist-pumping, good time cheesiness will find plenty of excitement during ‘Get Lost’, where the band tap into late 80s hard rock a la Trixter, allowing Paolo Botteschi ample room for attacking his drumkit. The riffs have ’tude aplenty and the featured solo contains an impressive technical style without lapsing into unnecessary showboating. Yeah, sure, in melodic rock terms you’ve heard it all before…but if you dig it, it’ll still impress.

The sappy ballad ‘You Won’t Be Alone’ is easily the album’s weakest number. While its gentle semi-acoustic vibes are well played, with a warmth worthy of the likes of Player, the vocals aren’t very strong – in fact, they’re almost non-existent. While Zighetti’s scratchy style fits with the band’s hard rock side, here, he has little to no presence at all, almost whispering against the guitar leads. Those guitar leads – tapping into similar blues edged motifs as heard on ‘Let’s Keep On Tryin’’ – prevent this tune from losing all hope. It’s not that the band can’t do soft…far from it. With a more spacious arrangement on the verses ‘A Million Miles Away’ does a great job of showing off the band’s range. Botteschi’s drum prowess is heard, as he rattles off a backbeat with a slightly jazzy tilt, the interplay between the rhythms and crisp guitar leads giving the nod to later-era Toto. Better still are the flourishes on piano and bass (again, both quite jazzy), filling a few more gaps. The chorus, meanwhile, is slightly at odds with the rest of the track, in that its pure AOR. The Def Leppard-esque vocals lift it to the necessary heights, but the fudgier end of the sound mix means that the guitars are nowhere near as crisp as they really could have been. Despite the compression, the jazzier parts of this number ensure it is one of the album’s highlights.

Just as the band’s debut took Michael Bolton’s ‘Gina’ and removed the eighties sheen and toughened it up considerably, ‘One Ticket To Paradise’ also includes a rather fun cover. Not having enough credit to tackle one of Eddie Money’s signature hits, the band plump for Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’. One of Jackson’s better tunes – having the benefit of a fine balance between actual singing and yelping – it’s melodic pop seems tailor made for rocking up a couple of notches. …And so, the verses are fleshed out by some absolutely classic sounding AOR traits: the guitar riffs evoke any of the many rock ballads named ‘Don’t Walk Away’, while the stretched out lead vocal pushes things as far away from Jackson’s preferred style and into retro 80s rock territory with enjoyable results. Take the already memorable chorus and beef it up with a bunch of AOR harmonies and throw in a sweeping guitar break and the ingredients are all there for a top rock cover. Sadly, Zighetti isn’t tempted to pepper any of his own performance with use of “shamone!” [that famous made up word associated with Jackson, but originated by Mavis Staples]; maybe he thought that would be pushing it!

Despite minor issues with a slightly fudgy end mix and an intermittently flat drum sound, ‘One Ticket To Paradise’ is a very solid melodic rock affair, with the perfect balance between meaty Euro-rock and more US influenced AOR. While never reaching its full potential, the songs are generally strong enough to catch the ear of many a melodic rock fan – particularly the more purist listener. If you’re looking for something rocky, tuneful and – most importantly – very familiar, ‘One Ticket’ should tick all the right boxes.

December 2013/January 2014