Reviews

REVIEW: Marillion – Crash Course – An Introduction to Marillion (2001 first edition)

MARILLION –  Crash Course – An Introduction to Marillion (2001 Racket Records, first edition)

Here is an interesting gimmick.  Starting in 2001, Marillion began compiling “Crash Course” CDs, offering them for minimal cost on their website.  The idea was that you could buy this CD for next to nothing, and send it off with to someone else with the intention of getting them into Marillion.  After the original discs were gone, they revamped the tracklisting in 2002, and again in 2006, 2008 and 2017 with new songs.  Let’s have a listen and see what Marillion thought their most immediately appealing material was 20 years ago!

Since their new album was the crowd-funded Anoraknophobia (a new idea at the time), one of those songs leads the pack.  They chose “This is the 21st Century” which I recall them really pushing at the time.  I still am not sure why that was one of the songs chosen to push.  It’s 11 minutes long and not very commercial.  It’s also quite slow and mellow and takes some time to absorb.  You’d think they would have gone with one of the singles — “Map of the World” is the track I personally put on my mix tapes when trying to get someone into this band.  That’s not to say “This is the 21st Century” is an inferior track.  It’s complex and demonstrates Marillion’s recent fascination with loops.  Instead of making them cheesy, Marillion made them trippy.  This one song is a lot to digest and new fans might be baffled by lyrics like “A wise man once said a flower is only a sexual organ, beauty is cruelty and evolution.”  And some macho dude in camo pants is absolutely going to be triggered by the line “He had denied his feminine side,” but I don’t think that guy was ever going to be into Marillion anyway.

The far more obvious song “Rich” from marillion.com is an underrated gem.  “Dot Com” as they call it is an overlooked album.  Marillion really dove into a commercial deep end with some songs, while going full acid trip on others.  “Rich” is pure pop, with a bangin’ chorus.  “No tears, no lies, no pain, no doubt, no darkness, no confusion!”  That’s how modern Marillion makes me feel.  “Rich” is an uplifting song.  “So talk about failing, to fall is not to fail.”  Get rich right now, says Marillion.  Mark Kelly has a hefty keyboard hook that anchors the song, while the verses slowly sway with a 2000s groove.

The oldest track is “Afraid of Sunlight” from 1995.  They were trying to stay away from things that sounded too dated.  No worries of that with “Afraid of Sunlight”, a timeless song if Marillion ever had one.  It is so basic, with one little melody that runs through, but then it absolutely explodes on the dramatic chorus.  If this track doesn’t win ’em over, nothing will.

Back to Dot Com and “A Legacy”, the song that opened the album.  Once you get past the slow opening, this song punches hard.  The distorted vocals are so 90s, but that’s nothing…wait until you hear “Under the Sun” from 1998’s Radiation.  That album was all about noise; everything banging and cranked up loud.  It’s also my favourite song on this disc.  From the haunting keys to the crashing chords, “Under the Sun” kicks all the asses.

Would this disc have appealed to newbies in 2001?  Some, certainly.  But like anyone, I think I could have done better!  There is no point rating a CD like this so we’ll just call it:

5/5 Barrys 

 

REVIEW: Gordon Lightfoot – Complete Greatest Hits (2002)

GORDON LIGHTFOOT – Complete Greatest Hits (2002 Rhino)

You just have to laugh when you see something called “CompleteGreatest Hits.  Complete?  Says who?

I don’t see “Ribbon of Darkness” on Complete Greatest Hits, and where is “Bobby McGee”?  I do see 20 terrific songs that you shouldn’t live your life without.  Gord’s Gold is the benchmark, but because it’s missing Gordon Lightfoot’s best known song — “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” — it isn’t enough.  (Gord’s Gold also featured two sides of re-recordings because Lightfoot supposedly couldn’t listen to his early work.)  The best way to get “Edmund Fitzgerald” and Lightfoot’s other best known songs in one purchase is to go for Rhino’s Complete CD.

The experience starts with “Early Morning Rain” from Gord’s first LP Lightfoot! (1966).  Gord’s calling cards are two:  his baritone voice, and his songwriting.  “Early Morning Rain” shows of the perfection of both.  You’ll get chills.  “In the early morning raaaaaaain…”  Undoubtedly, Gordon Lightfoot is one of Canada’s greatest songwriters of all time, and “Early Morning Rain” is all the evidence you need.  If that’s not enough, there are fortunately 19 more incredible tracks.

“For Loving Me” from the same LP boasts some intricate acoustic picking and more of that voice.  The vibrato, the control, the expression…nobody could touch Gordon Lightfoot.  In recent years his voice has been reduced to a powerful whisper, but nothing on this CD dates past 1986.  His voice is double-tracked on “Go Go Girl”, another unforgettable song from 1967’s The Way I Feel.  His storytelling lyrics always make you wonder who and what inspired the songs.  “Only a go-go girl, in love with someone who didn’t care.  Only 21, she was a young girl, just in from somewhere.”  There’s so much there between the lines, while the acoustics pluck away in dense patterns.

After three succinct beauties, here comes Gordon’s epic:  “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”.  The Canadian Pacific Railway was built on hardship and dreams, and Gord captures that and more in a multi-textured composition.   “An iron road runnin’ from the sea to the sea.”  Not only is this song his greatest lyric, but the diverse vocal parts could be his strongest work.  Hard to imagine that that he was only on his second album.

1968 brought the brooding ballad “Pussywillows, Cat-tails”.  Backed by strings, the dream-like song paints a picture rather than spelling out a story.  “Naked limbs and wheat bins, hazy afternoons.”  Then “Bitter Green” is brighter, though with similar countryside imagery and a story about lost love with a twist ending.  Moving on to 1970, “If You Could Read My Mind” is one of Lightfoot’s most renowned songs.  It went to #1 in Canada, and in 1997 it hit the dance charts in a cover version by Stars On 54.  Gord’s version is one of the most passionate laid to tape.  Written about a divorce, the feelings were raw.

1971 brought the bright “Cotton Jenny” and the uplifting “Summer Side of Life” from the album of the same name.  The latter features subtle organ and rich backing vocals, broadening the palette.  “Beautiful”, a soft and romantic ballad, came from 1972’s Don Quixote, and hit the Billboard Hot 100.  This CD then skips past the #1 album Old Dan’s Records (Complete Greatest Hits, huh?) and goes straight to “Sundown” from the album of the same name.  I always loved the front cover of Sundown, with Gord in sandals smoking a cigarette in a barn.  For the first time, there’s an electric guitar solo, but the song is most notable for the strong chorus.  “Carefree Highway”, also from Sundown, has lush strings and another chorus that is impossible to forget.  I highly recommend playing this one while driving down country roads on a Sunday afternoon.  “Rainy Day People” from 1975 (the same year he did the Gord’s Gold re-recordings) features more backing instrumentation than earlier material.  The lush, countrified music didn’t do him any harm when the track went Top 10 in Canada (and #1 on the adult contemporary charts).

All this leads to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, probably the greatest songs about a sea tragedy ever written.  With a big electric guitar as the main hook, the song is completely unlike all the Lightfoot hits that came before.  There is even a soft synthesizer part.  It went to #1 on every applicable chart in Canada, and #2 in the US.  Though simpler in structure, “Edmund Fitzgerald” is the only song to rival “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” as his greatest epic.  It’s also one of Gordon’s most chill-inducing lyrics, with a vocal part to match.

Everything after this can only seem anticlimactic.  “Race Among the Ruins” is the strongest track post-“Edmund”, as Gordon included country slide guitars and other accoutrements.  The final five (“Daylight Katy”, “The Circle is Small”, “Baby Step Back”, “Stay Loose” and “Restless”) are not slouches, but simply not as striking as the earlier songs.  Though the recordings are more sophisticated, it’s hard to top your earliest hits.

The liner notes to this CD point out that your first exposure to Gordon Lightfoot was probably via a cover.  Perhaps Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, or the Tragically Hip.  I suggest making “Edmund Fitzgerald” your first Gordon Lightfoot if you haven’t heard one of his classics already.  This CD is the best way to get it.

5/5 stars

 

* Deke, have you ever listened to the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald while sitting on the shore of lake gichi-gami?  That’s on my bucket list.  

11 More Tunes! (Happy Canada Day)

Because 11 wasn’t enough!

 

13. The Glorious Sons – “White Noise”

14. Anvil – “Metal On Metal”

15. Kick Axe – “On the Road to Rock”

16. Lee Aaron – “Shake It Up”

17. Gord Downie – “The Stranger”

18. Triumph – “Follow Your Heart”

19. Dayna Manning – “My Addiction”

20. Wild ‘T’ and the Spirit – “Loveland”

21. Saga – “On the Loose”

22. Sloan – “Losing California”

23. Stompin’ Tom Connors – “Canada Day Up Canada Way”

REVIEW: Scorpions – “Sign of Hope” (2020)

SCORPIONS – “Sign of Hope” (2020 single)

The Scorpions, in the midst of writing their next album, are the latest band to release a lockdown single in 2020.  It will come as no surprise that it’s a ballad.  “Sign of Hope” is a reassuring song from the guys who know how to write ballads (and reaaaally know how to paaartaaaaaaay!).  Of course a ballad is appropriate for these sombre times.  “Sign of Hope” sounds like Scorpions circa 1996, the Pure Instinct album.  It’s gentle and peaceful.  For accompaniment, it’s primarily acoustic guitars, with slight electric guitar accents that pop in and out.  It’s actually quite a good ballad, short and to the point.  The sparse arrangement really lets us hear the nuances of guitar, and Klaus Meine’s voice.  It’s well written and memorable enough.

One could ask, “Why do we need another Scorpions ballad?”  Perhaps the simplest answer is because the Scorpions are still around making music.  So why not?  Will they ever top “Still Loving You” or “In Trance”?  It doesn’t matter, because they are in their 55th year and are still creating.

“I see empty places, empty roads,” sings Klaus, and though the streets are fuller now it’s hard to forget the sight of a deserted world.  It also strangely seems like such a long time ago that this all began.  But the Scorpions reassure us that “it’s gonna be alright,” and eventually it will be.  We are getting there.  We are indeed seeing signs of hope, but everybody needs to treat themselves well.  So treat yourself to some music and grab the new Scorpions on iTunes.

3/5 stars

I also really like the single artwork, I think it’s striking and has several layers of meaning.  It’s also nice to see the word CANADA so prominently!

REVIEW: Nita Strauss – Controlled Chaos (2018)

NITA STRAUSS – Controlled Chaos (2018 Sumerian Records)

Nita Strauss became a household name touring the world and playing lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  Her natural ability and charisma ensured that the next question would be “when is she putting out a solo album?”  In 2018 Strauss released her entirely instrumental debut Controlled Chaos, playing everything except drums and keyboards.

Her choppy rhythm on “Alegria” soon gives way to extremely melodic (and fast) lead work.  Strauss’ talent seems to be taking a melody and making it as exciting as possible with only six strings.  There are shades of Yngwie, Joe and other assorted big-namer instrumentalists without sounding like any specific one.  The weakness is unfortunately the drums (by Josh Villalta) which are robotic and flat.  “Our Most Desperate Hour” sports blurry fast drum blitzes that should be exciting but instead sound artificial.  Worst track:  “Mariana Trench” due to long stretches of bland double bass.  Fortunately this album is more about the guitar.  Lots and lots of guitar.

Track after track, Nita blazes a tapestry of technique.  Her guitar creates moods — tension is in the air.  But she also does excellent ballads.  “Here With You” is the first.  Guitar instrumental ballads are a thing unto themselves.  She creates a powerful presence on “Here With You” with layers of guitars working together.

“The Stillness at the End” is a an examination of one of Nita’s techniques: densely layered guitars in harmony.  Here she mostly forgoes speed in favour of building up the melodies.  Keyboards are used sparingly, such as the intro to “The Quest” which goes full Yngwie in dragon-hunting mode.  But ballads like “Hope Grows” might give us a better look at Nita’s inner workings.  The sparse arrangement lets you really hear the feeling in her playing.  She has an excellent sense of composition, knowing exactly when to throw on some emphasis.  Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the ballads are the best tracks.

“Lion Among Wolves”, “Pandemonium 2.0” and “The Show Must Go On” all have their own guitar thrills to enjoy.  “Pandemonium” stands out due to an excellent outro guitar melody.  And if you’re wondering, “Hey, is ‘The Show Must Go On'” the old Queen song?  Indeed it is, featuring Nita sharing the stage with a cello (Tina Guo).  Great choice on which to end the album.  The cello solo is freaky.

Controlled Chaos is a good debut.  The drums are a sonic stumbling block.  As far as playing, composition and entertainment, Nita delivers the goods.  The songs could use a little more variety to give them album some texture, but there is plenty of room for Strauss to grow as her career is just going to get bigger.

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits (1974)

ALICE COOPER – Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits (1974 Warner)

Picture this:  a kid, just turned 17.  An older uncle named Don Don.  Recording tapes off each other in the summertime.  I didn’t know much of Alice Cooper.  “Teenage Frankenstein”, “The Man Behind the Mask”, and “I Got A Line On You” were the songs I knew best.  I heard a bit of a live version of “I’m Eighteen”, and a Krokus cover of “School’s Out”.  That’s all I knew.  But my uncle had Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits in his tape collection, and I had a blank tape.

I recorded Greatest Hits on one side of a 90 minute cassette.  (Eventually I taped Trash on the other side.)  My impressions at that young age were mixed.  The music sounded old fashioned.  Not at all like his 80s stuff.  While some songs (“Desperado”) flat out lost me, after a couple listens, other tunes started to jump out.

Some of the elements that appealed to me were the lyrics.  “She asked me why the singer’s name was Alice, I said ‘listen baby, you really wouldn’t understand.'” (“Be My Lover”.)  “The Reverend Smith he recognized me and punched me in the nose.”  (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”.)   Of course, “Elected” too — that goes without saying.  Simple, comedic and effective lyrics.

The huge orchestration behind “Hello Hooray” hit me where it counts too.  I grew up on soundtracks and orchestras, so anytime a band used a big bombastic arrangement like that in rock song, it immediately appealed to me.  Even then I was aware of Bob Ezrin from his work with Kiss.

My favourite song on the whole thing was “Teenage Lament ’74”.  What is it about that song?  The old-fashioned jangly rock and roll?  The unforgettable “What are you gonna do?” chorus?  Although it’s fallen by the wayside since, “Teenage Lament” is still an Alice Cooper triumph of triumphs.  On the cassette version, it had a place of honour — second song, side one, right after “I’m Eighteen”.  I couldn’t figure out all the words but I got the jist.  I still love what I perceive to be its old-fashioned sound.  Alice Cooper didn’t need to be heavy to be awesome.  I was learning this.  None of Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits would be considered “heavy” by the standards of the time when I first heard it (1989).

“Is It My Body”, “Under My Wheels”, and “Billion Dollar Babies” were the next songs to slowly reveal themselves to me.  “Muscle of Love” and “Desperado” were the last ones to enter into this new Alice love affair.  Before long, they were all memorized.  Then it was time to start collecting the albums!  Billion Dollar Babies seemed like a wise choice, since I liked so many of its songs on Greatest Hits.  And that’s how a greatest hits album is supposed to work.  It is meant to whet the appetite and make you want more.

Today Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits has been supplanted by more recent, more complete greatest hits discs, remastered for the modern age.  That’s fine and well, but Greatest Hits works better as a first Alice.  The track order, the more concise running time (41 minutes), and of course the classic cover art made this something special.  It’s historic as it was the very last product released by the original Alice Cooper group before Vincent Furnier went solo.  Also worth noting:  all tracks were remixed by Jack Richardson, but you probably won’t even notice.  Completionists, pay attention.

Want an awesome first experience with Alice Cooper?  Follow my lead and check out Greatest Hits.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: cameo.com (Father’s Day gift idea)

cameo.com

Have you heard of Cameo?  Services like Cameo have become popular during Covid, when we can’t just reach out and hug each other.  I have used it twice this year (more on that below) when I couldn’t be with my family directly.

Cameo is a website where celebrities will record a brief personal message for a fee.  My first reaction was, “As if celebrities need more money,” but some of the fees are quite reasonable.  Gary Holt from Exodus is only asking $25 for a personal video greeting.  That’s a steal, considering the video is yours forever.  Mike Portnoy?  Only $50.  Bruce Kulick is $100.  Work your way up to Caitlyn Jenner and you’ll be dropping $2500.  The range for your budget is huge, and you can choose form thousands of people in sports, movies, music, wrestling, and TV (reality and otherwise).

Each celebrity has a time frame during which they will make your video.  If you forgot your dad’s birthday today, it is too late to get Chevy Chase ($250) to record a video for him.  But if it’s not until next week, Danny Trejo ($100) can have a video to you in five days.

I struggled with a way to treat my mom right on Mother’s Day. I happened to be scrolling Facebook when I noticed a friend had received a Cameo video as a birthday gift.  It was Michael Rapaport ($175) and I thought it was a cool idea in a time when we couldn’t just give somebody a gift.  I started searching and came upon Jann Arden.  My mom loves Jann Arden.  She’s seen her live at least twice (only once for me).  Jann was asking only $65 with a three day turnaround.  I was just in time so I booked her.  Best of all, 100% of her proceeds went to various animal charities.  No celebrity greed there!

In two days (one less than expected!) I received a personal video from Jann Arden to my mom.  Jann sang “Good Mother” and I think my mom must have just about fallen out of her chair!  It was everything I hoped for and more.

Two weeks later I had another quandary.  My dad’s birthday.  He hates it when I spend money on him, but I don’t pay any attention to that!  I decided that I would do another Cameo.  But who?  My dad knows so very few celebrities.  It’s not like John Wayne is around to make videos.  Then I thought, “Star Trek”!  Who’s available?  A small number of people.  Marina Sirtis (The Next Generation), Garrett Wang (Voyager), Mary Chieffo (Discovery) and Evan Evagora (Picard) were some of the notable names, but I needed someone really special to him personally.  Then I found him:  Number One!  Jonathan Frakes!  Riker himself.  My dad is a huge fan of Captain William Riker.  Within three days, and $200 later, my dad received a personal message from Number One.

Dad was over the moon. He still thinks I shouldn’t have spent the money, but who cares?  I think it’s the best birthday gift I’ve ever given him.  And I’ve given him a Lego Sopwith Camel.  (Added bonus:  Frakes was wearing a Picard Season 2 jacket, confirming his involvement in the second season.)

The only drawback to Cameo is that you only have 250 characters to communicate what you want from the celebrity.  It’s enough to tell them who it’s for, who it’s from, and a little bit about the occasion.  Not much else.  Celebrities don’t need to read an essay, but what harm could another 100 characters do?

Whether Cameo still remains popular when the world returns to a semblance of normal, I cannot say.  Most of these actors, sportsmen and musicians will be back at work.  I’ll be able to go and gift my dad a real Father’s Day gift.  And some of these people are asking way, way, way too much money for a short video.  Is Tommy Lee worth $400 when you can get Mike Portnoy for $50?  I’d go with Portnoy, on Cameo or in a drum battle.

Consider a Cameo for your next socially distant gift.

Cameo 4/5 stars
Jonathan Frakes 5/5 stars
Jann Arden 5/5 stars

REVIEW: Trapper – “Illégal” / “Bye bye mon cowboy” (2020 single)

It’s a LeBrain/Superdekes two-fer! Check out his Trapper review by clicking here.

TRAPPER – “Illégal” / “Bye bye mon cowboy” (2020 iTunes single)

Trapper are a Canadian supergroup who gained a bit of extra attention when they got to open for Def Leppard.  Sean Kelly (guitar), Emm Gryner (vocals/bass), Frank Gryner (bass/guitar) and Tim Timleck (drums) impressed everyone with their version of “Illégal” by Corbeau on the concert stage.  Their only EP sold out long ago, but now Trapper are back with a studio version of “Illégal”.  The two-track iTunes single is backed by a surprising cover:  “Bye bye mon cowboy” by Mitsou.  Two Canadian covers, both in French…ballsy move for a single!

“Illégal” has a beautifully chunky riff, and Kelly captures that with a nice crunchy guitar tone.  Emm Gryner’s lead vocal is to die for, squealing in all the right parts, shouting it out loud, and delivering the goods.  She has depth, grit, power — the whole package.  The drums are huge.  When you hear it you’ll be wondering where this song has been your whole life.  And that’s all before you hit the guitar solo, a treat in itself, like something from a classic Bon Jovi track that you never heard before.

Now I’ll be honest about something here.  As a snobbish rock fan in the 1980s, I hated “Bye bye mon cowboy”.  It was on MuchMusic all the time and I grew weary of Mitsou.  But I like Trapper’s version!  I am pretty sure Mitsou didn’t have this much guitar.  Transformed into a rock song, “Bye bye mon cowboy” works!  The groove is perfect and Emm’s delivery is just right.  Big rock hooks, while still retaining everything important about the original.

As for that guitar crunch?  Sean Kelly says “Can’t beat a Les Paul and a Marshall!  (Actually the Headrush Plexi amp simulator.)”  There you have it, players!

I wholeheartedly endorse Trapper’s “Illégal” and “Bye bye mon cowboy” for your patio this summer.  I knew this was going to be good, but I didn’t expect to like “Bye bye mon cowboy” as much as I do.  They rocked it up, put it in my ballpark, and I’m pumping my fists to Mitsou!  Grab ’em on iTunes today, and cross your fingers and hope Trapper have more music coming in the future.

5/5 stars

GAME REVIEW: Exploding Kittens (2015)

This week, Ontario heads into “Phase 2” of re-opening.  With gatherings of up to 10 people permitted, it’s about time to release this review I’ve been sitting on for three months!

EXPLODING KITTENS (2015 card game)

Quick and simple card games are great for work lunch hours.  Here’s one that you can play a round of in 10 to 20 minutes.  Although the game states it’s for 2 to 5 players, it works best with 4 to 5.

Exploding Kittens is very simple.  There is a deck of cards with different kinds of kittens on them.  You don’t want the exploding kind.  If you draw an exploding kitten, the only way to survive is with a defuser card.  Once you run out of those, you better watch out.

There are all sorts of cards to help you stay alive.  The “See the Future” card will allow you to view the next three cards in the deck.  If you don’t like what’s next for you to draw, you could play a “Shuffle”,  “Skip” or “Attack” card, forcing somebody else to pick it up.  If you don’t want to be forced, you can play a “Nope” card to cancel it.  But it’s just as easy for somebody else to “Nope” your “Nope” card!  We had a chain of four “Nopes” in a row.

The simplicity of the game is what makes it enjoyable, although the amusing cat artwork on the cards is also worthwhile.  There are certain cat cards that you can collect to put together combo moves.  Stealing cards from an opponent can be a killer move (literally!) if you can get their defusers.

For added fun (and players) you can pick up an expansion pack with even more kittens, though we have a blast with just the basic game.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Dennis DeYoung – 26 East Vol 1 (2020)

DENNIS DeYOUNG – 26 East Vol 1 (2020 Frontiers)

It wasn’t that long ago that Styx re-emerged with their best new album in decades.  Now their original singer Dennis DeYoung has done the same on his own.  They say 26 East (to be released in two separate volumes) is to be his retirement album.  If so, Dennis has gone out on an exceptionally high note.

It’s clear from this release that DeYoung is reclaiming his throne. The final track “2020 A.D.” is a essentially another part of Styx’s “A.D. 1928”, a cornerstone of their progressive monuments.  The three trains on the front cover, with the words “Trade Winds” and the year 1962 refers to the origins of Styx.  The trio is Dennis, Chuck & John Panozza — the founding members.

With 26 East, Dennis has turned up the rock side significantly more, to a vintage Styx-like balance of guitar thrills and concrete keyboards.  His voice has lost very little over the years.  His depth and expressiveness cannot be touched, nor can his sense of melody.  Hooks!  Styx albums were always loaded with hooks.  Dennis has not forgotten how to write them.  Not at all.

The epic tracks contain sentiment, humour, anger and the whole gamut of human emotions.  There are rare political slants to songs like “With All Due Respect”:  “Fake fun, fake facts, hey look new tax!”  DeYoung’s patriotic pride comes out on “The Promise of This Land”, and he incorporates influences from coast to coast.  From church choirs to stage productions, all elements are included.

All the tracks are special, but one of the most chill-inducing is “To the Good Old Days”, a collaboration with Julian Lennon.  And to say the least, it has clear shades of John.  Picking other favourites is more difficult, but it’s hard to ignore the bombast of the opener “East of Midnight”.  For something a little different, “A Kingdom Ablaze” has Floydian guitar twangs that really feed the soul.  “Run For the Roses” is a pure epic Styx high-water mark, which when chased by rocker “Damn the Dream” is only that much sweeter.  “Unbroken” offers upbeat feelings that would have fit in on Styx’s 1990 album Edge of the Century.  There are no weak tracks and nothing to skip.  Dennis and co-writer Jim Peterik have really put together an incredible album worthy of its place in the catalogue.

One of the best albums of 2020 in any genre.

5/5 stars