Melodic Rock Roundup: Thierry Condor + Guru + John Nickoloff + Dead Daisies + Little Caesar + Jon Oliva

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Reviews by Brian McGowan

Reports of Melodic Rock music’s demise have been greatly exaggerated over the years. It’s been in and out of Intensive Care a few times, but it endures, in one form or another, like these new releases:

  • Thierry Condor – Stuff Like That
  • Guru – White
  • John Nickoloff – Get Out Of My Way EP
  • Dead Daisies – Man Overboard EP
  • Little Caesar – American Dream
  • Jon Oliva – Raise The Curtain

 

Thierry Condor – Stuff Like That

originally written and performed by giants of soul, R&B, Jazz and AOR such as James Ingram, the Temptations, Steve Lukather, Rod Temperton, Donald Fagen, Bill Champlin and many, many others, Stuff Like That comprises twelve covers. Some may be obscure in terms of public perception, but they are all closely related songs of impeccable provenance and unquestionable class, all meeting on the blurry border between musical genres, swapping ideas, doing a bit of genre mashing, checking out life on the other side, and all percolated through a wispy Westcoast style.Veteran Swiss musician, Thierry Condor takes it all in his stride, wrapping his sweetly soulful baritone around the slickly romantic ‘Lucky Man’; the bittersweet ‘Memories’ graced by a particularly elegant, unhurried solo from guest guitarist, Jay Graydon, and ‘If I Could Hold On To Love’, a heartstring tugging ballad, originally written by Steve Lukather for Country legend, Kenny Rogers. Urs Wiesendanger’s restrained, sparingly polished production focuses on the melodies, firmly grounding material that, if unchecked, could drift off like mist, burning up in the thin air and hazy sunlight. A beach, a beer and Stuff Like That. The perfect summer combination.

Thierry Condor - Stuff Like That7 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Blue Looks Good On You
  2. Lucky Man (Feat. Chris Camozzi)
  3. Lazy Nina
  4. Memories (Feat. Jay Graydon)
  5. Where Is the Love (Feat. Mya Audrey)
  6. Lonely Weekend (Feat. G-Sax)
  7. If I Could Hold On to Love
  8. All I Know
  9. Lite Me Up
  10. We Will Dance (Feat. Russell Ferrante)
  11. Is It You
  12. Malibu

 

Guru – White

Two things you can’t fail to learn from Guru’s self-conscious CD booklet for White:

  1. This is the band’s second album, and,
  2. It’s much better than the début.

Well, they’re bound to say that, aren’t they? And when bands do so in that manner, it’s usually a sign of either desperation or over-confidence. But before we rush to judgement, let’s listen. Mainman, guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter, producer and arranger, David Palau has indeed ratcheted things up a notch or two with White. Impressive sound separation and dynamic sonics together provide the vehicle for outstanding musicianship and performances. Swinging between Toto like Westcoast Rock, Journey-esque Melodic Rock and Middle Of The Road ballads, with a bit of hard rock levered into the mix, what the album doesn’t have is a clear direction, Still, it’s a pretty sophisticated piece of retro music-making.  And although the band nails down the sounds with enviable precision, their technical expertise can be lacking in emotion. Yet when they cherry pick the best elements of all three, as in the high stepping ‘Straight To Your Heart’ or opt for a complete departure as in the grittier, heavily harmonised ‘In My Life’, it works. White’s not groundbreaking, it won’t change the face of contemporary rock, but it might put a smile on it, and more importantly perhaps, it genuinely sounds like a band shaping their own future.

Guru - White6 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. White
  2. Straight To Your Heart
  3. It’s All Different Now
  4. If You Go
  5. In My Life
  6. Break The Spell
  7. Won’t B 2gether
  8. Angry Song
  9. My Rocker Ass
  10. Ray Of Light
  11. The Voice Inside
  12. I Don’t Give a Damn

John Nickoloff – Get Out Of My Way

Floridian vocalist John Nickoloff raised the money for the recording of this 5 track EP via Kickstarter, a fan-funded method that is clearly becoming a major component of the DIY ethic prevalent among today’s aspiring music makers. He was also in the fortunate position of having Billy Chapin and Matt McKeown on hand to help with the song writing, production and mixing. Both have worked very successfully with Stan Lynch (Heartbreakers), the Backstreet Boys and Sister Hazel in the same capacities. In the event however, the production occasionally sounds rushed, the arrangements are heavy handed in places and there are question marks against the song writing quality. But Get Out Of My Way yields two humungous rock songs (and performances from Nickoloff).

John Nickoloff EP

‘Not Giving Up’ is a towering edifice of a track, an authentic eighties’ throwback blessed with a beautifully crafted melody and a vertiginous bridge, a lightning bolt of brilliance with a hard kick, knocking out a relentless hook. The other, ‘Movin’ On’, is more pop than rock, but has an adult urbanity and a faintly Beatles-ish undertone, pop music for grown-ups. The other three songs are solid and serviceable but perhaps no more than that. Full album to come?

6 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Get Out Of My Way
  2. Not Giving Up
  3. Forgive/Forget
  4. Movin On
  5. Friends Like These

Little Caesar – American Dream

Back in 1987, before the dreams turned to dust, Little Caesar looked like contenders. They also looked liked bikers, which clashed with the androgynous image cultivated by the hair bands of the time. Add to that an overly familiar scenario of label problems, and this is very much a “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before” tale. A just-completed European Tour by the band (culminating this month at Download) is an apt reminder of last year’s overlooked and under reviewed release, American Dream. Five albums in, they’ve reached the stage where they just make the music they want – the dying art of classic rock. Intuitive producer, Bruce Witkin has captured this sense of flaring embers, of a music glowing brightest even as it burns itself up. Ron Young’s edgy, hard hitting lyrics sift through the fragments of life and living, poems rather than polemics, the world weary philosophising of someone who’s been sold a false dream one too many times. They still find room for humour though, even at their own expense. ’Hard Rock Hell’ is the short story version of their career, told with a wry smile. Otherwise it’s Classic Rock with a huge melodic heart. Emotional songs like ‘Only A Memory Away’, ’Prisoner Of Love’ and ‘In My Mirror’ are gilded with sinuous hooks that snake under your radar, targeting the route of least resistance with laser guided accuracy.

Little Caesar - American Dream

It’s never too late. Buy this album now.

9 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Holy Roller
  2. American Dream
  3. Hard Rock Hell
  4. Prisoner Of Love
  5. In My Mirror
  6. Only A Memory Away
  7. The Girl’s Rockin’
  8. Is Your Crazy Gettin’ Lazy
  9. Drama Queen
  10. Dirty Water

The Dead Daisies – Man Overboard EP

The Dead Daisies are a new Australian rock band headed up by ex-Noiseworks, ex-INXS front man Jon Stevens and counting in its number such impressive names as Richard Fortus, currently holding down guitar duties in Guns’n’Roses; Charlie Drayton (Cold Chisel) on drums; Dave Lowy (Angels) also on guitar; and Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders) on bass. Clearly a supergroup of sorts, and with the music to match. The songs were written by Stevens and Lowy and their experience, musically and lyrically, underpins a major refit, with past glories updated without recourse to fad or fashion. ‘Washington’ is a deceptively simple and sparing opener, passionate and articulate, laid back yet totally engaging. The eclectic ’Man Overboard’ shifts gears gracefully, suggesting myriad musical directions and a penchant for old Beatles’ albums. The EP closes out with ‘Yesterday’ (not that one), a haunting lament gliding on a gorgeously elliptical melody, with piano, guitar and a restrained gospel choir bubbling up through the mix.

The Dead Daisies

The early impact of the band’s music led to a support slot on Aerosmith’s recent Oz tour, and they head off to the USA in August to appear with Jane’s Addiction and Alice In Chains. In anticipation of a full album, they’ve written and recorded ’Lock’n’Load’ with Slash – Guns, Roses’n’Daisies – now released as a digital single. The future looks rosy for the band.

8 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Washington
  2. Man Overboard
  3. It’s Gonna Take Time
  4. Yesterday

 

Jon Oliva – Raise The Curtain

Something of a departure from Savatage – and that’s an observation, not a criticism – Raise The Curtain allows a solo Oliva to explore Progressive Rock and its past without the handicap or hindrance of expectation. Those with an open mind will see this for what it is (the title is a huge clue), an absolutely superb piece of musical theatre, using a mix of freshly minted stuff and material inherited from his late brother, Criss. The title track and, er…curtain raiser sets out Oliva’s stall with a flourish, balancing the unflinching toughness of repetitive Nice-like motifs with the classic heartland progrock of Kansas. It gets comfortably close to the classic feel of Finland’s Progrock metallers the Von Hertzen Brothers. Juxtaposing Memphis-style horns with stinging guitars on ‘Ten Years’ suggests that while you could go on cross-checking Oliva’s music with that of Theatrical/Pomp Rock acts like ELP and Styx, much of Raise The Curtain remains unclassifiable, and comparisons get to be more and more of a stretch.

What you can say with certainty is this: his sparkling orchestrations and marvellous melodies give the music, often pulsating with kinetic energy, a wonderful shine. And anyway, someone who begins his first solo album sounding like the greats of progrock circa 1974 and ends the album sounding like John Lennon (on ‘Can’t Get Away’) from exactly the same year has to be something close to genius. Highly Recommended.

Oliva 20139 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Raise The Curtain
  2. Soul Chaser
  3. Ten Years
  4. Father Time
  5. I Know
  6. Big Brother
  7. Armageddon
  8. Soldier
  9. Stalker
  10. The Witch
  11. Can’t Get Away
  12. The Truth (bonus track)