HardReviews 4
by Martin Popoff

Shooting Star - Circles
(Cowtown Digital/Frontiers)

Back for their eighth studio album, and first in six years, this quite successful Kansas area band also have in hand a new front-man in Kevin Chalfant, even if it is guitarist and cancer survivor Van McLain who still leads the band (as well, drummer Steve Thomas returns). Chalfant is a perfect fit for the band, who continue along a rootsy but hard AOR axis, somewhere between Brian Howe-era Bad Company, today's Styx, Night Ranger, Triumph and nu-Journey. McLain produces the album, and the sounds are fat, bold, pretty much what you want to bolster the band's Midwest sound. And speaking of that, still part of the brew is Kansas-style violin and synths, in fact much of Circles sounding like a cross between Steve Walsh's Streets project and Morse-era Kansas - the violin actually sounds a little odd and unnecessary, but it's still an ear-perking nice touch. There's a bit of Styx to all this as well, as the band bounce along with nice reminders of the sound that almost broke them big in the early '80s.
Rating 7

Mike Martin - 2 Of 5
(Serpa)

Mike Martin is a blast of a guitar treasure, as anyone who has seen Fozzy could attest heartily. So it's no surprise that he's created a gorgeous instrumental guitar album at a level arguably reached only by John 5 and Steve Vai, the latter - along with the fluid, new agey side of Eddie Van Halen - of which is felt all over this plush, tone-rich disc. The title of the album refers to Mike being the second of five children (and also to Stark Trek character 7 of 9), and that is gleaned from the note on the opening track. Mike goes on to write elucidating bits on all the songs. As the album progresses, Satriani comes to mind as well, sort of in the joyous, sinewy quality to the soloing, as well as the hummability (check out Living The Good Life). With Epiphany you're also in that yearning Satriani/Vai place, the expansive drum groove helping drive the piece home. What's great testimony to Martin as an artist is that he doesn't shred on this record, despite (well, this is my opinion) being pretty much the most explosive, fastest, musical, and intelligent of structure shred king I've ever seen. Grade-wise, there's a hard ceiling to a minimally utilitarian record like this for me, and Mike hits that... See www.mikemartin.net for more, 'cos, unfortunately, Fozzy's looking a little hiatus-y.
Rating 7

Hard Reviews Page 5