By the end of 2019, few people would have suggested we’d live through a year any more devastating than 2016. That year, famous musicians seemed to be dying on a weekly basis. 2020 had even more of a drastic effect on the music industry with a global pandemic putting a halt on gigs and forcing various small, grass roots venues to close their doors forever.
On the plus side – and you always have to look for a positive, even in the most dire of circumstances – a dramatic change in circumstances has forced musicians to change their way of working. For those with home studios, it’s meant we’ve seen an increase in output. We’ve even been given unexpected albums – right at the end of the year, there were surprise releases from Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift and various other interesting albums were put together remotely. …And as we take stock on a terrible year, it seems that the gift of recorded music has been one of our only constants: 2020 may have been an absolute bastard in so many ways, but we’ve all found new music to love.
With their last studio album (‘Curse of The Hidden Mirror’) a distant memory, Blue Öyster Cult had become – to all intents and purposes – a nostalgia act by the middle of the 2010’s, tirelessly gigging up and down the United States playing their back-catalogue to the faithful. Since BÖC were always a brilliant live act and a couple of their latter day studio albums (‘Heaven Forbid’ and ‘Cult Classic’) hadn’t quite hit the mark, their desire to concentrate on playing to the masses made perfect sense. Despite never ending live shows in the US, they didn’t always venture across the Atlantic as often as you would hope, but festival appearances at the UK’s Ramblin’ Man Fair in 2015 and Germany’s Rock of Ages Festival the following year allowed European fans a couple of opportunities to get re-acquainted with their heroes.
If there’s one word that best describes singer Jeff Scott Soto, it’s “prolific”. He made his first major breakthrough in the mid 80s when he appeared as a singer for hire with Yngwie Malmsteen, a job that doubtlessly helped him score similar work with virtuoso guitarists Alex Masi and Axel Rudi Pell. From that point on, he never stopped working. Throughout the nineties, he fronted hard rock bands Eyes, Talisman and Takara (sometimes simultaneously) and in the twenty first century, he’s fronted his own band SOTO – taking a heavier direction – and been a member of AOR supergroup, W.E.T. In between all of that, he’s found time for an on/off solo career. Take one look at his discography on Wikipedia detailing all of his major works alongside dozens of guest appearances and you’ll find yourself wondering if he ever sleeps.
Angelica Rylin’s solo debut ‘Thrive’ (Frontiers Records, 2013) was a decent AOR record. The core of its material took its influence from Robin Beck and other female stars from the late 80s and despite a very predictable approach to the material, Rylin gave strong vocal performances throughout. Its dozen well-written, chorus driven rockers opted for big hooks and bigger melodies at almost every turn and by going for a less bombastic approach than her band The Murder of My Sweet, it certainly made Rylin far more of an appealing musical prospect.
When Stardust appeared on the melodic rock scene in 2016, they managed to build a fanbase fairly quickly. Their self-released EP captured a likeable sound and by securing the legendary Michael Wagener – producer of classic albums by Skid Row, Warrant and White Lion – to bring the songs to life, the Hungarian band’s career seemed to get off to a better start than most. Fan enthusiasm brought them to the attention those long time champions of AOR/melodic rock, Frontiers Records, who quickly signed up Stardust for their full length debut.