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Rare Album Reviews

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In this section I post short reviews of some of the more obscure AOR and melodic rock albums that I've come across, mostly small label or private releases. Click on the link to hear a sample track from each album.

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EARL VALENTINE - Night Blindness (1987/EMV Records) 90 / 100

 

Another really obscure US band that seems to have slipped totally under the radar. Why I have no idea, because this is almost as close to an undiscovered AOR classic as you can get and based on this album alone it is really a crime that these guys are not more well known. "Night Blindness" was the band's second album (with the debut "Mantis" being released in 1980) and featured 9 tracks of keyboard heavy melodic hard rock/AOR, not unsimilar to bands like ZAC MASTER or THE CAUZE, with the overall sound keeping very much with the spirit of the times while at the same time displaying a level of originality not often heard in the genre.

Without a doubt, the strength of this album lies in the consistently strong songwriting, coupled with the powerful lead vocals (coming off as sort of Paul Stanley meets B.E. Taylor) and the rather huge sounding production of Earl Cohen.

A highly recommended album, and anyone who knows more about this band may contact me at any time.

 

TRACKS: 1. These Kids Today 2. Rock & Roll Star 3. You're The One I'm Dreaming Of 4. See The Man He's On The Run Again 5. Night Blindness 6. Looking Out My Window 7. Stop 8. Can't Keep A Good Man Down 9. Power Surge

 

 

 

 

GANGSTER - s/t (1988/Balistidge Records) 80 / 100

 

Very obscure female fronted AOR band out of Michigan, USA - the same state that brought us great bands such as MARINER and THE AUTOMATIX. This is really as obscure as it gets, and further information is pretty much nonexistent, but the important thing here is the music and if you love the typical female fronted pop-rock/AOR sound of the early to mid 80's this album is a real keeper, with high repeat value. Only the production leaves a bit to be desired, but if you love stuff like SCANDAL, SPIDER, LIVINGSTON FURY, CROSSFIRE, LEGAL LIMITS...and so on, you could certainly do worse than checking this album out. Even a female fronted CINEMA comes to mind on a track like "My Side", which you can listen to below.

 

BAND MEMBERS : Devin Fox - Vocals, Debi Lint - Bass, Vocals, Wayne Lint - Drums, Percussion, Chris Moore - Guitar

 

TRACKS: 1. Remember 2. My Side 3. Never 4. I'll Stop Loving You 5. Imagine 6. See Me Through 7. Wondering Why 8. Over And Over

 

 

 

 

GERARD - s/t (1984/CGR Productions) 95 / 100

 

Rare and obscure Mini-LP out of Milwaukee, WI. Based around siblings Chris and Greg Gerard, the band released this one-off record in 1984 on their own label CGR Productions and toured the area with many sold out shows, building a strong local following. The record itself received a fair amount of airplay on local Midwest radio stations but due to lack of promotion and interest from bigger labels never broke nationally.

Often wrongly described as "synth pop" or "new wave" on music and auction sites, Gerard's one and only album is one of those lost AOR gems from the 80's featuring some of the best 80's AOR you are ever likely to hear and with a production to match. The style is somewhat similar to other female fronted classics of the same period, like DELTA or LIVINGSTON FURY, featuring strong songwriting and fantastic lead vocals courtesy of Chris Gerard.

Take a listen to opener "Stand Up (Take It Like A Lover)", the heartbreaking "Sorry" or the mega catchy "Let Her Run" and I'm sure you'll agree this is vintage classic AOR from the absolute top shelf. A record worth searching.

 

TRACKS: 1. Stand Up (Take It Like A Lover) 2. Sorry 3. No Limit 4. Hypnotized 5. Let Her Run 6. Stare Into The Darkness

 

 

 

 

HEARTFIRE - Open Your Eyes (1984/Autobahn Productions) 80 / 100 NEW!

 

Judging from the album sleeve, this Christian trio seemed to hail from Dallas, TX; home of some great AOR bands, of which HEARTFIRE has to be the most obscure I've come across yet. The band was made up of Billy Nunez, Carla Coley and Carrie Bowman who share lead vocals, with the music being played by studio musicians. Musically it's a bit all over the place, with styles ranging from AOR and westcoast to gospel funk, soft rock and even pomp rock. My favorite is opener "Build The House", a straight AOR rocker that perfectly captures that magical 1984 feeling not unlike Roby Duke´s "Come Let Us Reason". A record worth searching for.

 

TRACKS: 1. Build The House 2. We Are His Hands 3. Open Your Eyes 4. In His Name 5. Who Can Stand 6. My Soul Desire 7. He Chose To Live In Me 8. I Want To Be Your Light 9. Lonely Hearts Need Love 10. He Watches Out For Me

 

 

 

 

HEART BREAK - s/t (1989/Private) 75 / 100

 

Heart Break, a quintet out of Quebec, Canada, was a typical late 80's melodic rock band that released this extremely rare 3-track piece of vinyl back in 1989. Best described as a poor man's BON JOVI, the songs on this EP are all enjoyable listens, featuring good solid vocals, nice typical AOR keys and good guitar work.

"Escape" and "We Must Go On" are all-out rockers while "Tonight" is a good typical 80's ballad with a really nice chorus.

As to be expected with this type of private releases the production is a bit thin and not the best, giving the songs a more genuine, down to earth feel.

A nice, if not stellar, album, that is certainly worth a listen or two for the average 80's rocker or those into Bon Jovi-styled melodic rock.

 

BAND MEMBERS : Eric Rousseau - Vocals, Claude Levesque - Bass, Stephane Desbiens - Keyboards, guitars, Christian Proulx - Guitars, Stephane Bernier - Drums

 

TRACKS: 1. We Must Go On (And Party On) 2. Tonight 3. Escape

 

 

 

 

NORTH STAR - s/t (1987/R.S.V.P Records) 95 / 100

 

NORTHSTAR were a five piece band out of Long Island, NY, that released this 4-track EP back in 1987 on R.S.V.P Records and quickly fell into obscurity. In fact, not much else is known about this band but what they left us with, was an absolutely fantastic AOR/Pomp EP that should appeal to any melodic rocker with a love for bands such as WHITE SISTER, BEAU COUP, DAKOTA, URGENT or SHY.

In fact, singer Rick Steele had a very distinct voice very similar to that of Tony Mills of SHY and some of the material here sounds like something straight out of a mid 80’s SHY album. You could also draw comparisations to other classic small label gems from the same time period like ZOID, HOLLYWOOD BEARS, MATINEE or CRYSTAL (“The One For You”).

Basically you could divide this EP into two sides, with one being more hard edged melodic (pomp) rock and the other one leaning more towards the classic AOR end of the spectrum. In the first category we have “Break Out” and “Lay It Down”, two fantastic songs that incorporates pretty much everything that made the genre so great - fantastic high-pitched vocals, smoking guitar leads and big pompous keyboards, the latter of course being the most important ingredient in a standard melodic rock recipe.

“Always Lovin’ Me”, on the other hand, is a stellar classic AOR tune recalling the very best of BEAU COUP, DAKOTA and LE ROUX, with a chorus made in the heavens and some utterly tasty guitar leads courtesy of Marco Piazza. “Dream Girl” is more of the same, again very much in the DAKOTA/URGENT vein, sporting a great catchy chorus and classic AOR keys everywhere.

Mario Salvati did a very good job with the production on this EP and musically these guys were flawless, or at the very least way above average.

It is unclear whether the band ever released anything else besides this EP, but I highly doubt it. A real shame, because all 4 tracks are of a very high quality and showed a band with huge potential. If you love classic AOR/Pomp or any of the bands mentioned above, search out this gem at any cost.

 

BAND MEMBERS: Rick Steele - Vocals, Marco Piazza - Guitars, Don Francis - Keyboards, Joe Manno - Drums, Vincent J. Natoli - Bass Guitar

 

TRACKS: 1. Break Out 2. Dream Girl 3. Always Lovin' Me 4. Lay It Down

 

 

 

 

 

RUSHING WIND - s/t (1985/Eleventh Hour) 100 / 100

 

Out of Portland, Oregon comes this 6 piece CCM group called RUSHING WIND. This full length 1985 album was, as far as I have been able to tell, their only release, with the band having toured the West Coast in late 1984, prior to the album being recorded. The band members all had backgrounds within different bands and at the time of recording, a majority of them were still in college and only in their early 20's.

Unquestionably one of the rarest records of the genre (only released on LP and cassette tape in limited quantaties), the music of RUSHING WIND was prime time West Coast AOR in the tradition of WHITE HEART and TOTO, defined by flawless musicianship, rock solid songwriting and fantastic vocals, all topped of by a stellar production courtesy of Paul Clark.

From the bombastic, IDLE CURE like AOR of opener "Don't Be Like The World", to the closing west coast balladry of "Take My Heart", the album offers a variety of different styles and sounds, with the focus always on memorable melodies and catchy choruses, always firmly placed within the confines of a classic AOR and westcoast framework.

A seldom heard gem, and certainly one worthy of a re-issue, this is an album that desperately needs to be sought out by all West Coast and AOR aficionados, even if you have to pay a good penny. You won't find another review of the album online, so I'm very happy to now be able to present it here on my website.

 

TRACKS: 1. Don't Be Like The World 2. Distinctions 3. Shadow Of Your Doubt 4. Giver Of A Bad Report 5. You're The One 6. Just This Once 7. Give It Away 8. True Love 9. We Wait In Hope 10. Take My Heart

 

 

 

 

SECRETS - s/t (1984/Confidential Records) 85 / 100

 

Here is another short lived band with only one EP to their credit. SECRETS, a five piece out of the San Fransisco Bay Area, was originally formed in 1983 by Duane Van Dieman, John Crane and David Fredericks as a vocal group, playing the local club circuit while trying to build a following. They soon earned the attention of HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS member Johnny Colla and legendary Huey Lewis engineer Jim Gaines who in 1984 helped to produce the band's EP.

The result was a solid set of 80's melodic pop rock, not surprisingly very much in the Huey Lewis tradition, featuring killer vocal harmonies and excellent musicianship. Check out the excellent "Welcome To The Night", sounding kind of like BEAU COUP meets HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS, or the mega catchy pop-rocker "Rear View Mirror" reminding of DONNIE IRIS & THE CRUISERS at their best.

A seldom seen EP that's worth throwing some money at if you would be lucky enough to find one.

 

TRACKS: 1. Girls Will Be Girls 2. Rear View Mirror 3. Welcome To The Night 4. Lucky Star 5. Foreign Exchange

 

 

 

 

THE EVIDENCE - s/t (1986/Midnight Records) 90 / 100

 

THE EVIDENCE formed out of the ashes of another Cleveland, Ohio band called BAD HABITS. Based around guitarists/lead singers Gary Willard and Paul Silvestro, the band enjoyed some success opening concerts for the likes of Cheap Trick, Henry Lee Summer and Belinda Carlisle. In 1986 came the band's one and only album, a self titled mini-LP privately released on the small Midnight Records.

What could very well be described as the textbook 80's AOR band, THE EVIDENCE´s music was a typical blend of the popular sounds of the day, mixing pure AOR ala JOURNEY, PREVIEW and BEAU COUP with a more pop-rockish sound ala THE RAVYNS, all wrapped up in tight and solid production making for a really pleasant listening experience.

Opening track "Oceans Apart" is the definitive highlight, a total unsung AOR classic that in a perfect world should have been a national radio staple, sending the thoughts to basically every classic AOR band of the era.But the whole LP is worth your attention, and if you enjoy any of the bands mentioned above this gem should be on the top of your wantlist.

 

TRACKS: 1. Oceans Apart 2. You Punish Me 3. Punch the Clock 4. Actions Speak Louder 5. City of Sin

 

 

 

 

TURNABOUT - s/t (1983/Summerhill Records) 90 / 100

 

Very rare AOR e.p out of Dallas, TX. The band was formed in 1981 as a five piece rhythm and blues/rock and roll group and toured throughout Texas as an opening act for bands like BLUE OYSTER CULT, STEPPENWOLF, THIN LIZZY and POINT BLANK, the latter of which TURNABOUT founder and main man Karl Berkebile was also once a member, having played on the "Hard Way" LP in 1980.

The band's one and only EP, released in 1983 on Summerhill Records, had a sound far removed from the band's beginnings and more in common with bands like LE ROUX, JOURNEY and HYTS; polished, melodic AOR with pomp leanings and lot's of keys. All 4 tracks are very good and well worthy of your attention. Listen to the excellent melodic gem "Cindy", penned by bassist Randal Walls, below.

 

 

TRACKS: 1. Light The Light 2. Cindy 3. Night Shadow 4. It's Too Late For The West Coast

 

 

 

 

THE CLUB - s/t (198x/Roaring Rabbitt) 55 / 100

 

Retrospect Records are the undisputed masters amongst AOR re-issue labels at digging up and releasing those real obscurities from the past. This 4-track EP from a California-based 80's band called "The Club" is another example of that. I have virtually no info on this band - the only remotely interesting info I could find was that their producer Walter Stewart has also worked with pomp rockers Stonebolt and furthermore handled the knob-twiddling on Jim Foster's mighty "Power Lines" LP (recently re-issued on Yesterrock records).

While not earth-shattering, this self-titled EP is a decent attempt at 80's radio rock, with a sound somewhere between HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS, A.P.B. and "Break of Dawn"-era FIREFALL. Certainly not your typical 80's AOR, but if you have a weak spot for any of the mentioned artists or just harmless 80's rock with some really good vocal harmonies, then The Club might be worth a listen.

 

TRACKS: 1. FACE ME 2. LEAVIN' TODAY 3. SNEAK ATTACK 4. LAST RIDE

Miss Behaviour

Ghost Play

(2016)

Bob Wheeler - s/t

(1986/2016)

Fury - s/t

(1985/2016)

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