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.
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.
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.
Although he’d already released a solo album in 1989, it wasn’t until a follow up disc appeared three years later that Gary Hughes first gained major attention from the melodic rock world. 1992’s ‘Gary Hughes’ helped kick start the short lived (and much loved) Now & Then label and marked Hughes as a man with a great voice. Whether tackling rockers or ballads, he displayed a very natural talent, but it was when he later became frontman for bombastic rockers Ten – a band whom always aimed for a big sound and then made it bigger – his true range as a vocalist could really be heard. Whether a musical partner for Vinny Burns (on the band’s classic ‘Name of The Rose’) or Chris Francis (on 2004’s underrated ‘Return To Evermore’), Hughes has always put in a great performance.
‘Waterside’ comes some fourteen years after his previous solo recording and marks a return to the more sedate side of his work that fans have come to expect outside of Ten. Its collection of melodic tracks come loaded with big choruses and a few smart lead guitar breaks (all courtesy of Dann Rosingana) and that alone will be enough to win fans over. Unfortunately – as has been the case with several Frontiers Records releases throughout the years – it sounds…unbelievably cheap. Hughes offers some great vocal performances throughout and the guitars are crisp, but some great material is often let down by a general lack of warmth, some absolutely abysmal keyboard playing and a non-existent drum sound. With Darrel Treece-Birch credited as playing both keys and drums, a lot of things point towards the use of a drum program. Even if some of the drums are live, a really thin sound really comes at the expense of what, for Hughes – something of a British AOR legend – should have been a triumphant return. With that in mind, huge chunks of ‘Waterside’ sound almost like polished demos; songs awaiting their final bells and whistles. Hughes’s work deserves better than such an obvious “that’ll do” approach.
The first three Sunstorm albums are classic melodic rock discs. Between a set of great songs and the strong vocal presence of the legendary Joe Lynn Turner, ‘Sunstorm’, ‘House of Dreams’ and ‘Emotional Fire’ (issued between 2006 and 2012) gave AOR fans a trilogy of unmissable releases, each one providing a great showcase for Turner, a man whose voice sounded pretty much as good as it did back in 1981. While the next two releases took on a slightly heavier direction – moving away somewhat from Sunstorm’s original remit – some well written songs and strong vocal performances ensured they were still enjoyable listens.
At the end of 2020, it was announced that Turner had parted ways with the band. This would be a massive blow for his many fans who’d primarily stuck with Sunstorm due to his involvement. More importantly, his absence means that 2021’s ‘Afterlife’ showcases a Sunstorm with absolutely no original members. The core of the band have only been in place since 2018’s ‘Road To Hell’, and the only link with anything further back comes via keyboard player Alessandro Del Vecchio – and he doesn’t really count, as he’s the record label’s hired hand who’ll basically play on absolutely anything for a few quid. With ‘Afterlife’ being Sunstotm in name only, maybe it was time to throw in the towel?