STEPH HONDE – Empire of Ashes (2020)
Steph Honde, the awesome singer/guitarist from France who has worked with Paul Di’Anno, Don Airey, Jim Crean, the Appice brothers and many more, is a man of varied musical tastes. You might recognize the names “Hollywood Monsters” or “Now Or Never”? In 2019 he recorded an acoustic album called Empire of Ashes that featured as its claim to fame, a full 23 minute version of “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis. It is a truly excellent album, intricately arranged and recorded with lots of space between the instruments. Honde made the album for himself, but in doing so, he created music for anyone.
Opener “Big Trouble” has a tropical acoustic vibe with breezy percussion. Honde’s baritone voice is inviting but his guitar playing is really impressive come solo time. You’ve heard him rip on electric before, but this is something completely different. Yet as good as “Big Trouble” is, the second track “The Only Way” is only better. It’s a passionate ballad based around a delicate piano line. Honde deserves credit for his vocals on this song. His French accent only adds to the aura.
Third, a different course is charted on “Gentle Shore”, which is a duet with Janita Jenny Haan from the band Babe Ruth. The contrast between the two voices is really sweet and effective. There’s a laid back, early Zeppelin vibe whether intentional or not.
One of the most inventive songs on the album is the acoustic cover of Deep Purple’s “Sail Away”, a complere 180 degree turn from the dark funky groove of the original. The rich voice of Honde is complemented by Jim Crean’s rasp. The two duet on a slowed down “Sail Away” in a completely different way from Coverdale/Hughes. Crean just kills it, singing Glenn Hughes’ lines but in his own instantly recognizable style.
“Sail Away” was a side closer for Deep Purple on Burn, and it feels like it holds that same role, even though Empire of Ashes is a digital release. That would make the title track “Empire of Ashes” the side two opener. It is another brilliant song, with a glint of piano offering some brightness. The chorus and solo are wonderful. There’s something warmly familiar about the chorus. Then, “Hearts Grown Cold” goes in a different direction. Musically soft but with powerful vocals. “You’re the one whose heart’s grown cold!” shouts Honde and it sounds like he means it. Soulful backing vocals join him partway through. The penultimate track “King For a Day” is a gentle climax (with a detour into Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse”)…before things get really crazy.
Faithfully covering all 23 minutes of “Supper’s Ready”? That is crazy! The electric guitars come out to play on this insane cover. Honde did the whole song, every little twist and turn, and every rhythmic challenge and labyrinthine lyric. The pure love of doing it comes through. It’s simply one of the most impressive cover tunes you’ll have the opportunity to hear, hands down!
Artist like Honde, who do it for the music and not the money on albums like Empire of Ashes, deserve the 52 minutes in your ears. If you consider yourself a fan of bands like Purple, Genesis and Floyd, then you owe it to yourself to check out Empire of Ashes.