Artists with long careers will inevitably find themselves with their best days behind them. With the passing of time and fading inspiration to contend with, this is only natural. It’s not something that seems to have affected Jeff Scott Soto. In 2020, thirty six years after his breakthrough with Yngwie Malmsteen, he released ‘Wide Awake (In My Dreamland’), one of his finest works to date. He could often be relied upon for a decent record – whether tackling pure melodic rock (2002’s ‘Prism’), unleashing his funky side and inner Prince (1995’s ‘Love Parade’) or fronting something heavier (some great metal albums with Sons of Apollo) – but ‘…Dreamland’ was a cut above.
Given how great that record was, it was a travesty that a global pandemic stopped Jeff taking the songs on the road, but despite the world slowing down, he didn’t stop working. He refocused his attentions and decided to bring the past into the present by re-recording selected tracks from his vast back catalogue with a clutch of the present’s other melodic rock talents. Sometimes reworking the past is a bad idea, especially if the artist isn’t particularly open about allowing other creative souls any real input (Kate Bush, we’re looking at you), but fans need not worry about Jeff tarnishing his already great legacy here. His choice of material is good; his roll-call of friends adds a variety of voices that are complimentary to his own and, regarding a couple of the older songs on the table, there might even be an improvement.
After returning from a four year break, Hardline managed to hit upon a rich vein of melodic hard rock with their 2016 album ‘Human Nature’. Although the band’s sound had toughened up a little since their early days, in Johnny Gioeli – at this point the only original member – they still possessed a first rate vocalist – and the record demonstrated a very consistent approach to song writing. 2018’s follow-up ‘Life’ offered more of the same – even a little tougher in places – and was well received by the fans, and even though it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as its predecessor – or Gioeli’s side project with Deen Castronovo – there was plenty to suggest more musical mileage in Hardline yet.
For many melodic rock fans, guitarist Josh Ramos is a man who’ll need no introduction. In the 90s, he was a member of The Storm, a fine AOR band that featured ex-Journey men Gregg Rolie and Ross Valory. He later achieved success as driving force behind Frontiers Records signings Two Fires, an act much-loved by genre fans the world over. At other times, he’s been a member of Hardline, a melodic rock outfit who’ve battled on against changing fashions and changing line ups, but could often be relied upon for a decent end product. Yup, Josh has always kept himself busy, and while his approach to things might make him seem like a “man for hire” rather than a genuine star in his own right, he’s often made some smart career choices.
2018 was a very busy year for Johnny Gioeli. He released two well received discs in both his solo album and a collaboration with Deen Castronovo, but also found time to work on a new Hardline record. At a time where the respected rock singer appeared to be in strong voice, he was perhaps wise to take advantage of this burst of creativity, but has releasing three albums in a little under a year spread those talents a little too thinly?
Back in the early 90s, the Gioeli Brothers (vocalist Johnny and guitarist Joey) attracted the attention of Journey guitarist Neal Schon. After drafting in Bad English drummer Deen Castronovo and forming Hardline, the band’s debut album ‘Double Eclipse’ was well received by the melodic rock community. It took a full decade until a follow up belatedly appeared and another eight years for the third Hardline album to materialise. You could say that Hardline make Metallica and Guns N’ Roses appear rather prolific. 2016’s ‘Human Nature’ – the band’s fifth studio album – reinstates guitarist Josh Ramos, absent for 2012 offering ‘Danger Zone’. This is something that will undoubtedly please fans, but it does mean that Hardline have featured a different line up on each release. There are some that have long thought that, in this repect, the band are basically Johnny Gioli and whomever he can find at the time of recording – and they’d probably be right – but if Johnny says it’s Hardline, then Hardline it is.