GARY HUGHES – Waterside

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.

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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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THE CHEAP CASSETTES – See Her In Action! EP

Everything about The Cheap Cassettes’ first full length album ‘All Anxious, All The Time’ did, indeed, scream “cheap”. It’s ten songs sounded like old demos and the choice of artwork – complete with basic Microsoft Word style font – really didn’t give the strongest first impression. However, if you were able to make it past those cosmetic flaws, some of the songs suggested a retro band with a big heart and an even bigger gift for delivering a hook.

Their ‘Kiss The Ass of My Heart’ EP – delivered some four years later, via the Rum Bar Records label – presented a marked improvement. The core of the material came with a much better audio quality and in the case of the title track, it almost felt as if you were eavesdropping on a long lost demo from The Knack. From such rough beginnings, it was more than clear that The Cheap Cassettes were a band with great promise…and indeed, the EP gained some really positive – and well deserved – press from various power pop blogs around the globe.

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Watch the new semi-apocalyptic video from Broken links

Their name might not be instantly familiar, but Broken Links have built a loyal following over the past few years. From the back of three self-released EPs and a pair of albums, a pre-pandemic world saw them sharing stages with My Vitriol and The Boxer Rebellion. Their music has been likened to a mix of Depeche Mode and Manic Street Preachers, and while that might not be entirely accurate, it definitely takes a little influence from both in places and then boosts that with a massive dose of riffs that fall somewhere between the more basic elements of Biffy Clyro and the best 90s emo.

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