Hard Reviews 3
by Martin Popoff

Tim Donahue - Into The Light

Tim Donahue is a Japanese-based Westerner (moved 15 years ago) who has recorded four previous albums, mostly instrumental jazz, with his last featuring none other than Paul Rodgers. Most pertinently, he is probably the most famous purveyor of the fretless guitar, although novices like me might not notice the distinction, at least on this first full-on melodic rock album, which finds the man teamed with vocalist Kelly Hansen of Hurricane fame. Fifteen years away now, the man has built quite the career, and Into The Light should push him further into new fields, i.e. rock. Man, and what a rush this album is, delightful, I'm sure for its origins outside of a rock formula, Donahue's writing style wayward and organic like Van Halen, his riffs rough and his solos also actually quite aggressive and noisy. Hansen, however, being the vocalist, steals the show (sorry, but he does), mixed way out front, dripping with personality, and so suited to this sound, which is hard to describe, sort of like overflowing Extreme, live and lively yet somehow soft and fuzzy, Donahue's riffing a cross between Nuno, Zakk and George Lynch, but creatively whacked like prog metal and then cooked red, hot, and ready. And man, I shouldn't even tell you this (because it's usually something that really bugs me), but the drums are programmed, or "sampled", in any event, somehow computerized, and dig this: they somehow contribute more to the magical concert experience live sound than the tangible guitar tones and Hansen's stellar vocals. Quite a success. Very unconventional and for the life of me, I can't tell why. Interesting note from press materials: "Into The Light is a Tim Donahue solo album, but Kelly Hansen's name was mistakenly put on the cover. Please call the album Tim Donahue / Into The Light."
Rating 8

Heaven And Earth - Windows To The World

Stuart Smith's first album (confusingly Stuart Smith - Heaven And Earth) saw him tap a bounty of esteemed traditional metal friends for an album of Rainbow-like power metal, no surprise the major influence being Ritchie, given that the Man In Black is a friend and one-time guitar teacher. Album two finds Stuart forming more of a band, main point of distinction being Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge, Blue Murder, MSG) on vocals. But this one's not as good for a couple of reasons. The production, courtesy Heart's Howard Leese, drops the ball on the drum and general power fronts, and the performances feel looser because of it, whether they actually are or not. The center does not hold, Windows To The World being Stuart's Difficult To Cure versus the first one that sat betwixt Down To Earth and Straight Between The Eyes, due to Pat Regan's tight '80s metal mix. Still, it's a joy to hear a much different sliver along the power metal spectrum, this miasma of Rainbow signals (there's even a Ritchie Blackmore co-write, Prisoner; basically Bent Out Of Shape meets - predictably - Abominog). Hot damn though if Away From Harm ain't the coolest song since... well, it would have to be Makin' Love, wouldn't it? I dunno, maybe I also find it a little mellow and keyboardy and acoustic too (see Glenn Hughes or dark years MSG), but really, it's that trashy drum sound that bothers me the most. And I mean, they didn't have a designated bass player, and it often sounds like they didn't use anybody at all. Still, there are about 50 joyful melodies on here, the kind you don't hear every day, castle rock creativity to the fore, axe work elegantly performed for all the right reasons. And maybe they were going for organic, because that's certainly the feel here. See www.frontiers.it for more info.
Rating 7.5

Hard Reviews Page 4