TOBY HITCHCOCK – Changes

A much-loved figure on the AOR/melodic rock scene, Toby Hitchcock has previously applied his talents to some very theatrical releases by Pride of Lions, where he is a huge vocal foil to Jim Peterik’s overwhelming desire to be rock’s answer to a hybrid of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Greg Wells. The relentless bombast of those albums can be an acquired taste, but the critical responses to their work has often been positive. Toby’s first solo album (2011’s ‘Mercury’s Down’) carried a similarly huge love it or hate it sound but, thankfully, by the time of 2019’s ‘Reckoning’, his on/off solo career had found itself in a more melodic place. By pulling back some of the vocal histrionics and focusing on more of an AOR-centric sound, Hitchcock had finally released an album that could appeal to a broader cross section of a rock loving audience.

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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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SUNSTORM – Afterlife

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?

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