Things have calmed down since the last blog. Maybe some of the rubbish cluttering up my life was my fault or just excess emotional baggage. No sooner had I said I wasn't listening to metal than I hit Tytan with Kal Swan again- one of the heaviest acts of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal who are also one of the best. Still, Tytan are melodic heavy metal for most of their album whilst the more frantic stuff sticks to the tried and tested Sabbath influenced tastiness.
-Painter: Revolutionaries Purveying The Original 1st Pomp/AOR-
My really good friend Doran Beattie said I left him and Painter out of the last blog! Not so!
So here it is in brief, but in as full as I can make it Dorn- you and Painter start things off!
Painter formed in Calgary Alberta Canada in the early 70s from the ashes of the garage/poppsych group 49th Parallel, but unlike the Parallel this band wasn't gonna be any run of the mill just-another-decent-band-from-Canada. No, with a lineup comprising Doran (Lead vocals), Danny Lowe (Lead guitar/vocals), Wayne Morice (Bass guitar/vocals), Barry Allen (Rhythm guitar), and amazing drummer Bob Ego Painter created Pomp/AOR as we know it or think we know it!!!!! Forget Boston- they ripped Painter's album in full on their masterful debut. Forget Styx- they were a floundering hard rock band and Dennis Deyoung had hardly found himself when Painter came out. Forget Reo Speedwagon- a band who I can't place anywhere near Painter when REO were seriously floundering in 1973 almost as bad as Styx. Painter got there first. Painter started a chain reaction and the great music known as AOR/Pomp Rock was done by them first and possibly by them best.
For starters these guys were one of the few Canadian bands wise enough to sign out of America and not Canada thus avoiding instantaneous commercial death. They signed with Elektra in 1973 and although things wouldn't go quite as they hoped with the label their foresight was good enough for them to enter the charts with "West Coast Woman-" a song that reverberates with its power and energy today. Their album is quite a shock if you hear it for the first time and don't know quite what year it is. Very much so Painter were playing 1976-1978 Pomp Rock/AOR before any of the above mentioned bands were doing anything of note. For starters Boston didn't even exist yet! Painter's soaring vocals, gritty slashing guitars, killer riffs, and great melodies all bear a striking resemblance to everything we've come to associate with the best American AOR from much later on. They also had a lot of tricks up their sleeve like the closing track "Going Down The Road" running for over 8 minutes and showing a true progressive side more Pomp or actual prog than AOR. Doran Beattie's good looks were just the beginning of the assets he had. He could sing better than about a million other vocalists at that time or later and his passionate yet oftentimes understatedly charismatic voice is matched by some very impressive lyric writing. Take this for instance: on songs like "Crazy Feeling," "Going Home To Rock 'N Roll" (which Steely Dan ripped off note for note on "Do It Again"), "Song For Sunshine, "Space Truck," and "Kites And Gliders" Painter had already perfected the kind of classy melodic harmonies, strong lead vocals, and brilliant musicianship which later bands like the very similar sounding Stingray from South Africa, Boston, Journey et all would take forever to get around to. I don't know how Painter developed their sound, how it came about, but this is damned impressive music! Doran complains the production isn't good enough and I'd say I'd meet him about halfway there as I think it sounds pretty good, but the vocal sound is made a little bit less full than it probably sounded in concert. That hardly matters when music was in a vast wasteland in the States and with more push Painter would have, to my mind at least, been even bigger than Styx or Boston would succeed quite a few years later.
Danny Lowe is a very creative guitar player. He came up with his own sound and style of playing that is both instantly recognizable and enthusiastic without turning suffocating. The whole band indeed are very together- everybody fits their own thing into the group sound and there are no slippages into self-indulgence or showing off. Painter are a very melodic kind of heavy band. They don't come right up to you and smack you over the head with a lot of bombastic riffs and screaming vocals so it isn't at all what most hard rock was at that time. AOR is hard to define and it's even harder to say just what makes it click. Painter define it, but I don't know how exactly to say what AOR is. It stands for Album Oriented Rock which is enigmatic sounding enough, but it has come to be associated with bands that aren't quite heavy metal, aren't quite hard rock, and aren't quite soft rock. The best description I can give is a melting pot of the best aspects of all of the above and an emphasis placed on airbrushed shine and catchy great melodies when it's done properly. Painter sum all of this up and got there before anyone else got to it or even had a clue. A great band who deserve much more credit than they have.
-From Canada's Avalon To Ohio's Alliance: Pomp/AOR All The Way-
Ain't it kind of a pity how overlooked Canada is for all kinds of things. There have probably been more good bands of all types from Canada than any other former British Commonwealth country and they certainly must have had as many winners as the States. Avalon were a quintet who appeared with two different album covers and two different versions of their one official album VOICE OF LIFE in 1977. The first version which features the song "Voice Of Life" and a black background pink lettering front cover with a lyric insert is the best to get. A very intelligent and sophisticated band they were led by the very talented Myles Hunter who composed most of their material, sang nearly all the lead vocals, and played keyboards. His voice is somewhat unlike most other Pomp voices as he sounds very honest and upfront and his at times Dennis Deyoung like delivery betrays a strongly human emotional spiritually charged side to his voice. He actually can get out there enough to sound like 60s band Earth Opera's Peter Rowan if he had better pitch. He's real. He isn't an imitator or a pretender. The rest of the band are Tulio Grannata and Brian Sims on lead guitars/vocals, Manfred Neidecker on Bass, and Robert Holtz on drums/percussion/vocals. Avalon get close to metal occasionally, but are really closer to full on progressive rock. Songs like "Lady Of My Dreams, "Mother Russia," and the epic over 10 minute long closing track "Maranatha" are almost a hybrid of heavy Queen influences with also the influence of The Beatles and the best of British progressive rock. "Lady Of My Dreams" is one of the ultimate ballads- a perfect honest and heartfelt ode to romance with striking harmonies. "Mother Russia" as I love Russia (but I've never been) is a very sympathetic and moving song to a country in distress that could just as well if it were written now be about America. It's on this track and "Maranatha" that Hunter sounds quite bit like the best of Peter Gabriel's vocals crossed with the aforementioned Peter Rowan. It's a very dramatic kind of singing, but tastefully dramatic. I can hear Queen influences for the whole album and that's always a good sign. Avalon are pretty heavy overall with only one ballad and a lot of stellar guitar work and soaring synthesizers. This record is a masterpiece. There is not one note I would change on it or one song that I would say is below the highest rating I can give a song. Avalon's pure and heartfelt music is always welcome in my life. When I feel like I live in a world of liars this makes me feel better. They probably are the furthest from AOR that I've included here, but that doesn't really mean anything. The closest- the definition after Painter of AOR must be the next 2 bands which share many similarities Alliance and Lionheart.
-From Alliance To Lionheart Vocal Perfection and Musical Magic-Working-
Poor Alliance. I bet they were really, really angry after signing a record deal with a label as smarmy as their name of Handshake Records and who put this AOR masterpiece out in one of the most unfitting, stupid, and ugly album covers I have ever had the displeasure to look at every time I pull it out. What the fuck did Handshake think they were doing when they put out a serious AOR band in a cover of children's scribble scrabble, a pissed off (rightfully) looking band, and on the back cover the band hugging/grabbing/holding a bunch of really little kids? It smacks almost of a pedophile label or at least pedophile designer and looks hideous. It probably ended their career before they could even really begin it, but thank God they were allowed the brilliant production of Ron and Howard Albert at Criteria Studios in Miami Florida which is an amazing job done on the sound.
Fans of Journey I have news for you. I'm a big fan of Journey, Survivor, and Foreigner myself but Alliance put all of the above to shame. The worst AOR band and singer to be influenced by such great bands would be both Frankie And The Knockouts and Strangeways with Frankie Previte in the former and the despicable Terry Brock in the latter. The best AOR band to be heavily influenced by Journey, Foreigner, and also Toto would have to be a toss up between Alliance and Lionheart. Alliance possessed an angelic, strong, powerful, smooth, and beautiful voice to die for in Mark Bucharre. A very similarly passionate voice to Lionheart's Chad Brown he sings in a very high register, but never crosses the pain threshold. He's about as high as Steve Perry, but less Sam Cooke influenced.
The first track "I Don't Want To Leave You This Way" is a jazzy shuffle with many echoes of Toto and Daryl Hall/John Oates, but Bucharre takes it to the next level by wailing his heart out in remorse over a relationship gone bad. The harmonies are so smooth, so tight, so perfect that even the best black harmony bands would give these 5 Ohio white boys a big standing ovation. If you're racist then get off my blog right away. All great white music stems from great black music as its foundation with Alliance and Lionheart no exception. Mark Bucharre and Chad Brown of Lionheart studied black singers and adapted their style into their own vocals. Not only do we have Bucharre we have a tight and talented band here who don't make one error on the whole record. Guitarist Pat Hand isn't too far from Neil Schon, but less showy and more tasty. Keyboard player Mark Heckert is an excellent musician who is adept at the piano and the synthesizers way more so than most. On bass is Bradley Davidson and on drums David Pridemore- a fantastic soulful rhythm section.
You can't get better music than this. Even the one song they didn't write the second track "Don't Tell Me About" has me in ecstasies when I hear it. The sound is greatly enhanced by the great production and a very period feel that actually sounds miles ahead of anything that's come out in the past 21 years. "How Does It Feel" is the third track on the album and features another soul influenced kind of AOR sound. There's even a trace of a high pitched answer to Otis Redding and that is really hard to pull off without falling flat on your ass. My guess is Alliance liked their rock influences, but just like Lionheart they had some experimental ideas that included jazz, soul, and R&B. There are more straightforward no nonsense AOR songs such as "Heaven Can Wait," "I Need You Now," (which reminds me A LOT of Canadian classy AOR act Alias and their song "More Than Words Can Say" which features the title of the Alliance song repeated a million times in the chorus) "Stop," "Sweet Devotion," and "Make It Right" and these are as good as the more obviously original ones. In fact "Heaven Can Wait" leaves me feeling like I'm already there- AOR paradise for sure! Recently reissued on CD and now a collector's item I have but one complaint- somebody's gotta reissue this on vinyl and in a completely different cover. I don't laugh when I look at the horrible front and even worse back I just feel miserable- almost as miserable as I'm sure the boys in the band felt. Give Alliance a buy and don't pass it up. You won't find a better melodic masterpiece from the golden age of American AOR than this.
Lionheart are a band where I've appreciated them through an awful period in my life where I was in the insane asylum the first of two times 3 years ago when I was a violent, stupid maniac who pulled himself off his medications right to now where I am still trying to come to terms with horrific memories. That I have remained hugely attached to their album HOT TONIGHT from the time it came when I was in hospital to the present time where I am fully in control is a real testament to how powerfully moving, impressive, and soothing this record is.
Lionheart were another band with dreadful luck. They began life in 1982 as the first supergroup of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal with former Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton and a star-studded line up. The problem was this supergroup hardly sounded like one. The problem didn't lie in the musicians (Stratton, guitarist/keyboard player Steve Mann, bassist Rocky Newton, and drummer Frank Noon from the original Def Leppard), but in inappropriate vocalist Jess Cox of Tygers Of Pan Tang fame. Cox only lasted one gig and the vocalist front changed 4 times before the band could settle on a good one. Lionheart went from some metal leanings in their beginning I'm sure to an avoidance of metal for the most part when they sacked one of the worst singers of all time John Farnham of Little River Band fame for ex Sabre unknown Chad Brown. They still were plenty heavy, but Brown's (real first name Robert) exuberant romantic vocals and a heavy emphasis on guitar and vocal harmonies made them much like another former metal purveyors turned smooth band Airrace.
Smoothness is a great thing in music. You really have to be gifted to be slick without being bland and still maintain some kind of an edge and boy did this band do it. I'm a really good guitar player and a good singer, but I'm sloppy. When I listen to Lionheart I know I could never pull this kind of perfection off myself. Steve Mann is a superb keyboard player and an amazing guitar player, but let's also give full marks to great Dennis Stratton who horrible Iron Maiden didn't deserve, brilliant bass player Rocky Newton, and of all people Leo Sayer's Bob Jenkins as the unseen 5th member on drums.
HOT TONIGHT is a solid record start to finish. In fact in spite of it's commercial sheen it is a very adventurous record with many influences from soul music, progressive rock, and hard rock all thrown together brilliantly. Forget about worthless competitors like FM, Brighton Rock, Fate, and the lot of bad wimp wet noodle hard rock bands this is real. Opening track "Wait For The Night" takes you by force and comes on really, really strong with soaring keyboards, reflective verses full of great vocals and a cello, and Chad Brown soaring, screaming, howling, wailing, emoting operatically in the choruses. Definitely the real deal Brown is a fantastic vocalist whose soul influences are a perfect yin to his hard rocking Lou Gramm-ish Yang. He may remind you of Airrace singer Keith Murrell at times or more likely Max Bacon, but he is every bit an equal to the amazing Murrell and also is his own man right next to Max Bacon. Max gets put down a lot and that is really sad. He is such a great singer and such a special voice that it just isn't fair at all for him to get so much bad press. Chad Brown however must honestly be described as even more shocking. He can wail like a banshee. He can swoon you like Valentino, this guy can do anything! He comes on really strong screaming his head off Stonehouse style sometimes, but even when he screams the cat has got soul! Kevin Beamish thankfully had learned from his mistakes producing Charlie and to work with such a professional singer as Chad Brown after Charlie's disastrously bad pick of soulless personality void Terry Slesser (also known as Terry Wilson Slesser) must have been a huge relief. I love the raw rock tracks like the title track and "Dangerous Game" which closes the album with some of the best vocals and guitar interplay ever, but it's the melodic Pomp Rock material on which this album makes it to a near number one masterpiece. In fact, it is a number one masterpiece. "Die For Love" was an outside-written song picked as the single and the video made for some good laughs, but this song is no joke. Despite not being written by a band member it sounds made for Lionheart. Chad Brown again excels with his over the top dramatic soaring voice and the keyboard/guitar sound is brilliant. This is music of love and passion and romance. There isn't any hate to be found here. No trace of metal hostility. The only metal element is the clearly NWOBHM influenced guitar work and I must say the guitars of Stratton and Mann are perfect throughout- tough yet harmonious. Pick songs along with "Wait For The Night" are the brilliant melodic majestic Pomp splendor of "Towers Of Silver," the pissed off ultimate wronged lover gets revenge anthem "Don't Look Back In Anger" and the heavily lush aching sad ballad "Living In A Dream" where Brown sounds close to tears for this whole mournful song of lost love. Only one song could be classed as heavy metal- their cover of the horrible Ian Gillan's hit "Nightmare." "Nightmare" is a lot better when sung by Chad Brown than Gillan, but it doesn't really belong on the album and sounds a bit out of place. It's a little too ferocious and screeching even though it's a pretty good song. "Dangerous Game" is much, much better and also bears some semblance of melodic New Wave Of British Heavy Metal with soaring guitars and wailing lead vocals. "Another Crazy Dream" on the other hand borrows heavily from Motown influences and Chad Brown doing his best high pitched version of Levi Stubbs while the rest of the band are his white Four Tops! There's even a cool funky jazz sax solo that's almost even better than the one in "Waiting For The Night." This record is awesome. I love the entire sound and the entire album and after so much misery I could associate with it for it to be a healing experience and a life-force for me means that it transcends all negative to come out fully an album made for love made from love. Music should be about love and Lionheart's music is.
AOR/Pomp Rock is love and romance music and it is pure love that creates it-a love of music and a love of melody. Desire also is a key component, but the sexuality of much psychedelic rock is more hidden here- it comes out more in Canadian masters Haywire and Glass Tiger or Denmark's masterful Skagarack who in a later blog I will deal with in full. Here there is a really heavy meets really melodic sound that dispenses with metal mostly for a much more harmoniously oriented sound. It's smooth, but it has a definite toughness to it too. Listen to these bands, learn to love them as I have done. Throw prejudice out the window and have an open minded view of life and other people. Give love and get love.