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Marco Sfogli — ReMarcoble
Marco Sfogli — ReMarcoble
Genre:
Instrumental Rock/Shred
Bottom
Line:

Shredtastic release from one of Europe’s hottest players.

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars4.0

You know those players who make highly technical instrumental guitar work seem downright effortless? Yeah, Marco Sfogli is one of those guys you’d swear is from somewhere in Scandinavia, but this incredible talent hails from Italy. And like the exotic pinnacles of automotive performance and precision built by Lamborghini and Ferrari, this Italian export makes us jump for joy and want to give up playing guitar all at the same time.

His name should be familiar to many of our readers—he played guitar on the latest James LaBrie solo record, but we were first blown away by his talent on the fusion/rock instrumental CD from Italian keyboard virtuoso, Alex Argento (who guest appears on this release, naturally).

Like the other players who have joined the ranks of the instrumental greats today (Timmons, Aswani, etc.), Sfogli kicks ass because he writes killer songs that are rich in melodies and hooks, and he draws from a wide range of styles as well as guitar tones.

We love his approach to layering acoustic guitar parts and clean electric parts with heavy rock, and he wisely brings in a jazz/fusion vibe on some of the songs to really mix things up. But then he always brings the music back to a place of hard rock goodness.

Style-wise, this shredder sounds like the bastard love child of Yngwie Malmsteen and Kee Marcello when soloing, deftly blending neoclassical metal, fusion, and blues. He does this without imitation, and his Ibanez/Mesa-Boogie tone is fantastic. He’s joined by a who’s who of great musicians, including drummer Virgil Donati and the aforementioned Argento, among many other super-talented players.

There’s not a bad track in the bunch, and our only advice is that if you love great instrumental guitar rock, buy this CD at once and then go check out some of Marco’s amazing videos. We’ll have an in-depth interview with the master later shortly.

— SK

 
Orianthi — Heaven in This Hell
Orianthi — Heaven in This Hell
Genre:
Rock/Pop
Bottom
Line:

Proof positive that Orianthi is a real musician.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars3.25

We first heard Orianthi when someone showed us the video for her song, “Highly Strung,” a duet instrumental performed with Steve Vai. Shortly thereafter, she was all over the pop charts with the hit single, “According to You,” and her album, Believe, was huge pop hit. But Believe was a slick, studio-polished production with a typical pop mastering job that sucked away the dynamics.

Finally we have the follow-up, Heaven in This Hell, and wow, what a difference! Orianthi ditched the major label and went the indie route. The trajectory change shows, as this is definitely not a slick, high-gloss production. Instead, it’s an eclectic collection of songs from a talented player trying to show everyone that she’s not just the chick who landed a dream gig playing in Michael Jackson’s final band. She covers a few different bases in this collection of eleven songs—rock, pop, blues, and some country, mostly co-written with producer and former Eurhythmics co-founder, Dave Stewart.

Orianthi’s love of Hendrix is obvious on tracks like the opener, “Heaven in This Hell,” with its sub-octave fuzz, wah, and sparse, Strat-sounding melody lines. “Fire” continues her Hendrix love-fest as well, with both a lyrical tribute as well as her use of classic fuzz tones. Songs like “If U Think U Know Me” show that she hasn’t forgotten her pop heritage, and this one could just as easily have been a Bonnie Raitt hit. In general, the sound of the album evolves from raw and classic to more finely produced as it runs from the start to the end.

As much as we commend her for throwing down the gauntlet and saying, “Listen up dudes. I’m a rock chick,” we do think that overall, this collection is a mixed bag in that it’s just a touch too long and more than a touch disjointed style-wise. Fans of her first album will probably find this one a bit boring (and they’ll need musician friends to explain that this is what real, raw guitar sounds like), but our musician audience will probably find this release the more enjoyable listening experience.

We hope that the next release shows a bit more focus and perhaps straddles the songwriting and production line a bit more between her first release and this sophomore effort. Of course, she’s off on tour playing guitar for legendary rocker Alice Cooper before she’ll even get to support this new record, so it may take some time before we hear another release, but have no fear… we have no doubt there is a lot more to come from this great guitar player.

—SK

 
Marillion — Radiation 2013
Marillion — Radiation 2013
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Bottom
Line:

A complete remix of essential Marillion music.

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.75

Radiation was arguably one of Marillion’s finest or worst albums depending on whom you asked and which side of the pond you lived on. The European release had issues with the mastering that made the release abrasive to listen to, while the subsequent US release took care of that problem. But it’s hard to debate the quality of the songwriting: some of Marillion’s greatest songs are featured on this release.

From the decade-before-the-world-cared protest against global warming, “Radiation” to the poignant single, “Three Minute Boy,” to the prog epic ballad, “A Few Words for the Dead,” there is superb songwriting and performance at work here.

Of course the whole point of this release is that current Marillion mix engineer and producer Mike Hunter went back to the original masters from 1998 and started over with the songs. If you have every one of Steve Rothery’s guitar parts committed to memory as I do, you’ll hear that Mike discovered a few little things in the session files that weren’t heard on the original release. Overall, he did a fantastic job, and made the album sound noticeably better than the original release. My only gripe: I think he turned the tambourine track a bit too loud on “Radiation.”

The reissue contains expanded artwork based on the original, by the original designer! And the original mix is included as well—the release is actually a two CD set. Bottom line: killer songs sounding better than on the original release. Classic Marillion music for both new fans and old. Get it.

— SK

 
Renaiszance — Renaiszance
Renaiszance — Renaiszance
Genre:
Pop
Bottom
Line:

One of those guilty listening pleasures, even if you’re a rock dude.

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

After all the rock, prog, and metal, sometimes I like to change gears and embrace pop music. Yes, I get in touch with my inner Katie Perry and Lady Gaga, and it helps to keep me in touch with contemporary pop.
I’m not sure what inspired me to open this particular press release, or further to give the band a listen, but holy shit is this great pop! Extremely catchy stuff with a nice ‘80s and ‘90s pop vibe. The band is comprised of brother-sister duo Radha Mehta (vocals) and Ravé Mehta (producer), and it was inspired by Ravé’s graphic novel, The Inventor, which dealt with the story of Nikola Tesla vs. Thomas Edison in the historic invention of electricity.

Radha has a beautiful voice that delivers melodies both smooth and soaring in the vein of artists like Cher, Nelly Furtado, Tracy Thorn (Everything But the Girl), and Céline Dion. The keyboard-dominant music production was well done, delivering easily danceable pop that manages to keep your interest with strong songwriting, and real singing that doesn’t rely on gimmicky production and senseless auto-tuning.

Given the pop genre and most listeners’ singles mentality, twelve songs is a bit much to take in all at once, but really, there’s nothing here we would specifically cull from the herd. But next time around, we’d love the musical palette to expand a bit to incorporate some guitar as well as some big orchestration. Radha’s voice deserves it.

I don’t know if the release will find commercial success outside of the dance floor crowd as it doesn’t fit today’s bland pop mold of same-as-everything-else, but if you’re looking for some inspiration for your next synth pop or keyboard heavy musical release, Renaiszance is an album you’ll want to listen to. And, if you freely admit to enjoying pop music, then definitely pick this one up. You’ll enjoy it for sure.

— SK

 


 
Steven Wilson — The Raven That Refused To Sing and other stories
Steven Wilson — The Raven That Refused To Sing and other stories
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Bottom
Line:

Vintage ‘70s-inspired classic prog rock from the ‘90s and ‘00s prog master.

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.75

Like so many great love stories, this one began on tour in support of Wilson’s second solo album, Grace for Drowning. Backed by an exceptional band of new players  (none from Porcupine Tree), Wilson set to writing his next album, The Raven That Refused To Sing and other stories, planning to have his new live band record all of it with him. As he was trying to capture a classic vibe, he enlisted legendary producer and engineer Alan Parsons strictly to engineer, and to help him record an album the way they used to do things “back in the day.” Almost the entire album was recorded with the band together, live in the studio, and you can feel the chemistry leap from the recording.

This collection of six songs is filled with cute little pop singles. Well, that’s if you think pop singles start at five minutes and run to roughly twelve. Ha! This is epic, classic prog rock, complete with loads of Mellotron, flute, and orchestra (courtesy of the London Session Orchestra). The band is in top form and features at its core guitar whiz Guthrie Govan, bassist/stick player Nick Beggs, keyboardist Adam Holzman, and Marco Minnemann on drums.

Although hard to pick stand-out tracks, “The Holy Drinker” will no doubt be regarded as one of Wilson’s finest prog rock masterpieces, as is the concluding title track, featuring another one of his most haunting melodies. The album’s gothic, ghost story theme suits the often melancholy tone, and listening to the 5.1 surround mix of the album transports the listening experience to an entirely other dimension. I’m listening to the title track again while writing this and feel like having a good cry. It’s just so emotional and moving that it really takes you back to another era, when artists were artists and music wasn’t disposable. Hand me another tissue, please!

Check out our recent interview with Steven Wilson to hear more about this album, Porcupine Tree, and more!

—SK

 
Kingdom Come — Outlier
Kingdom Come — Outlier
Genre:
Hard Rock
Bottom
Line:

Solid hard rock with that unique Kingdom Come sound.

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3 Stars3.25

We were surprised to learn that Kingdom Come were still making records, and after the very first listen to Outlier, we were certainly glad to have learned the news! Led by guitarist/songwriter/vocalist Lenny Wolf, he recorded almost all of the instrumentation on the album personally, and is now backed on tour by an entirely German band (earlier iterations of the lineup included a variety of American players).

Let’s get this out of the way: this is not a Led Zeppelin album. In fact, most Kingdom Come albums do not pay homage the way early critics of the band lambasted them for the band’s first release. It bore such striking similarities to Zeppelin that some listeners thought it was in fact a Led Zeppelin reunion album. But actual fans of the band know that their sound and style quickly evolved in a new direction.

Outlier is a very modern hard rock album, with some very cool electronic loops and pads supporting the high-gain guitars. “Rough Ride Rallye” is a great example that features very industrial sounding keyboards that almost lend an Indian vibe to the chorus, while the verse features cool dubstep loops that weave in and out of the acoustic drums and bass.

“Let The Silence Talk” opens with the vibe of a classic Kingdom Come song, “Stay,” and even has a little Page-meets-Slash riff in it, but coupled with Wolf’s distinct vocal style, there’s no confusing what band this is. And ok, “Such a Shame” might have a touch of that Zepp vibe, but really, no more than any other hard rock band worth listening to.

Overall, the album is a kick-back-and-listen experience, with slower tempo hard rock songs more than anything else. We love Wolf’s songwriting, with interesting song arrangements that don’t follow the same old routine. The album closer, “When Colors Break the Grey” was another favorite, with its very progressive arrangement, cool synth textures, and modern heavy guitar grooves. Overall, nothing we disliked in this collection. Old fans and new should give this one a spin for sure.

—SK

 
Amplifier — Echo Street
Amplifier — Echo Street
Genre:
Progressive/Alt Rock
Bottom
Line:

Sublime, genre-crossing, and moody.

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.63

We never heard of Amplifier before, but are relieved to know that this isn’t their first release—because it’s so good! According to the band’s bio, there were some personnel changes and a shift in their musical style, so we won’t dwell on their past sonic adventures. But with this release, we hear everything from modern progressive rock a la Porcupine Tree to vintage Pink Floyd to... alternative and grunge, with some definite classic Seattle and Portland flavors added. Throw in a touch of Radiohead some nice multi-part vocal harmonies and you’ve got a very interesting listening album. (There was even a lyrical reference to a Mercedes-Benz. Coincidence?)

Definitely not full of singles, Echo Street is a listening odyssey that sets a mood and paints a picture like a classic Pink Floyd record. Guitarist/vocalist Sel Balamir is obviously influenced by Steven Wilson when it comes to songwriting and vocal arranging. Nothing to, um, single out here, but the album is full of epic moments, layers of crushing guitars, dark bass lines, light and airy diversions, and Sel’s voice is just the right amount of soothing and brooding, like a cross between Thom Yorke, Steven Wilson, and Roger Waters. We love Echo Street, and have it stuck in active rotation. Prog fans will love it, while fans of the Seattle sound may also be drawn into it… and then their minds will expand like a blooming flower, and before you know it, the world will have another progressive rock fan. Kudos.

— SK

 
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