DENNIS DEYOUNG – 96 East: Volume 2

When Dennis DeYoung decided to retire, he hit upon the idea of one final, grand release that would recount his fifty years in the business with an autobiographical slant. Since Dennis rarely thought on a small scale and had always been blessed with a very theatrical voice, the idea of him taking his last curtain call with something resembling a musical about his life didn’t seem that silly. In fact, a big idea got even bigger with Jim Peterik’s help, and the planned final album had to be split into two volumes.

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ROBIN McAULEY – Standing On The Edge

For a lot of melodic rock fans, Robin McAuley is a man who’ll need no introduction. He first came to fame as a member of Grand Prix during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the early 80s, before scoring a sizeable UK and US chart hit as a member of Far Corporation. In more recent years, he’s recorded solo works and emerged as frontman with Black Swan, a supergroup featuring ex-Whitesnake/Winger guitarist Reb Beach and Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson. Most people, of course, will know Robin through his long association with Michael Schenker. The German guitarist was so taken with the vocalist’s abilities, the Michael Schenker Group was rebranded the McAuley-Schenker Group for two excellent albums in the late 80s/early 90s, and when Schenker needed a roll-call of famous friends for his Michael Schenker Fest in the twenty first century, Robin was there, front and centre.

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FM – Tough It Out Live

As one of Britain’s best loved AOR bands, FM have always had a strong live presence. Whether headlining their own show, or playing halfway down the bill at a classic rock festival, fans are almost guaranteed a great performance. Part of the greatness comes from Steve Overland still being in possession of a great voice, but their back catalogue is also incredibly strong. Unlike some classic rock acts who clearly go through the motions on record and have their best days behind them, FM’s 2020 release ‘Synchronized’ was one of their best to date. Almost thirty five years after the release of their debut, they still sounded like a band with lots to give.

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ISSA – Queen Of Broken Hearts

When Issa Oversveen made her big breakthrough on the AOR scene with her debut solo record ‘Sign of Angels’ in 2010, melodic rock fans were practically falling over themselves to praise the release. Although often likened to “a female fronted Journey”, the album had far closer connections to a European rock sound, and although an enjoyable listen in its own way, it wasn’t quite the classic that some proclaimed. The following year’s ‘The Storm’ showed a huge amount of growth and a more distinctive sound, but it wasn’t until 2012’s ‘Can’t Stop’ that Issa gave the world something unmissable. That album was a marketing master stroke from Frontiers Records: it took one of their rising stars – somebody already beloved by the core of their target market – and coupled her to a bunch of old AOR songs the record buyers already knew. This wasn’t a case of having Issa wheel out covers of old Journey and Survivor hits, either – that would be too easy. For ‘Can’t Stop’, the dustier corners of melodic rock’s history were explored, and the singer revived overlooked tunes by Aviator, Mystic Healer, Boulevard and Tower City, alongside many other great, truly cult melodic rock acts.

After a prolific three years, it would take Issa another three years to release her fourth album and three more again until her fifth release hit the shelves, but both ‘Crossfire’ (2015) and ‘Run With The Pack’ (2018) cemented her popularity with keen AOR fans. It would be a further three years until she released her sixth album, but 2021’s ‘Queen of Broken Hearts’ was more than worth the wait.

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CHEZ KANE – Chez Kane

On her debut disc for Frontiers Records, British singer Chez Kane is absolutely unafraid of delivering some very retro material. With the help of Crazy Lixx guitarist Danny Rexon, she reawakens the classic sounds of 80s AOR, drawing influence from songwriters like Jeff Paris and Diane Warren, along with the sounds of Vixen, Lita Ford and Robin Beck to create a brilliant album that seems absolutely loaded with nostalgia without being lumbered with a bunch of easy cover tunes. There’s plenty about the album’s crisp sound and relentless stabbing keys that might even make you believe you’d stumbled across a lost recording from 1989. If you’re a fan of classic AOR, this is obviously a very good thing indeed.

Although Frontiers Records are very clearly pushing Kane with equally retro sleeve art and marketing her as “singing eye candy” much in the way Lita Ford and Fiona had been back in ’88, she deserves so much better, especially during the more enlightened climate at the time of release in 2021. It’s best to ignore the cheap looking sleeve as much as possible and head straight into the tunes. …And armed with ten chorus driven bangers across a vinyl friendly forty five minutes, Kane really doesn’t disappoint.

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