Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns & What If (Double CD)

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Review by Brian McGowan

BGO Records

Girls With Guns

It’s fair to say that upon his departure from Styx, back in 1984, Tommy Shaw left a trail of emotional turmoil in his wake, and as a result the band, er…disbanded, awaiting his return. He was quick to record his first solo album, Girls With Guns, produced by Mike Stone, who’d already had success with emerging rock bands, Asia, Journey and April Wine. Stone did the right thing, giving Shaw’s sleek, aerodynamic rock songs plenty of room to take off and land, with ample maneuvering space in between. Freed from the Styx straitjacket and the need to comply with songwriting formula, Shaw’s writing arguably sounds like the first real blossoming of a huge talent.

Openers ‘Girls With Guns’ and ‘Come In And Explain’ immediately advertise his ability to write classic pop melodies and serve them up in a melodic rock style. They also indicate what his songwriting contributed to his previous band, with two middle-eights that come straight out of the Styx songbook. Coming from the era of the cliched, chest beating ballad, Shaw’s ‘Lonely School’ and ‘Kiss Me Hello’ show considerable restraint and musical dexterity. Like Styx without the theatrics – no histrionics, just high calibre tunes and neat lyrical gearshifts. Sentiment without sentimentality.

The recording may not have the depth of field and sonic density that we expect today…this was 1984 after all, but it’s still an impressive piece of remastering, one that thankfully resists the temptation overly to compress the sound, in order to gain volume at the expense of clarity and balance.

6 out of 10

What If

Shaw produced the follow up, What If, assisted by the late, legendary Greg (Kansas/Toto/Don Henley) Ladanyi. And no question, What If is a in different league, bigger, better, converting the burgeoning promise of the debut into achievement. It is much more expansive, much more musical and much more personal, often painfully so. Shaw’s usually well hidden bluesy guitar licks underline the anguished confessions of ‘Reach For The Bottle’, a song of savage introspection. They are cleverly reinforced by a jazzy saxophone, closing out the track in a trail of tuneful turbulence, adding weight to the song’s bruised lyricism. But clearly, Shaw looked outward as well as inward. The elegance and urbanity of Toto’s music was duly noted and the provocative, mature rock sound of the title track is the proof – ‘What If’ is an ambitious – and very satisfying – foray deep into adult rock territory.

By now, Shaw’s grasp was unquestionably the equal of his reach, and although he drops the ball with the incredibly dated musical trickery of ‘Friendly Advice’, he comes back out fighting on ‘This is not A Test’, a beautifully choreographed collision of protest song and melodic rock anthem. Add to that the barroom pop – boogie of ‘True Confessions’ and ‘Count On You’, a sweet, subtle ballad of aching remorse (now we know where Richard Hawley gets his retro styling from), and we have an album with enough genuine highs to forgive the occasional flaw.

7.5 out of 10

It’s a fine 2 CD package, a worthy investment from anyone calling themself a Melodic Rock fan.

Together: 8 out of 10

Tommy Shaw 2013Track Listing:

Girls With Guns

  1. Girls With Guns
  2. Come In And Explain
  3. Lonely School
  4. Heads Up
  5. Kiss Me Hello
  6. Fading Away
  7. Little Girl World
  8. Outside In The Rain
  9. Free To Love You
  10. The Race Is On

 

What If

  1. Jealousy
  2. What If
  3. Reach For The Bottle
  4. Friendly Advice
  5. This Is Not A Test
  6. See Me Now
  7. True Confessions
  8. Count On You
  9. Nature Of The Beast
  10. Bad Times

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Never got round to getting the follow-up. Don’t think I’ve even heard it. Must rectify that, after reading this. Cheers.

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