Italian-American duo Johnny Gioeli and Deen Castronovo first performed together in Neal Schon’s Journey offshoot, Hardline, in the nineteen nineties.
Since then, Castronovo has become something of a go-to drummer/backing vocalist, most notably with Schon again in Bad English and Journey; Gioeli has meanwhile carved a comfortable niche for himself as the resident throat with German legend Axel Rudi Pell. Now, a quarter of a century after their first meeting the pair have reunited for a doubly-eponymous Frontiers project – and very nice it is too.
To be cruel, the career trajectories of the pair give some indication as to the relative talent of these two hard-working musicians. Castronovo is a mercurial but unquestionably huge presence, Gioeli a more workaday journeyman. Not only a superb drummer, Castronovo is a singer of no little repute; in simple terms he is the natural successor to AOR titan Steve Perry (also a Journey alumnus of course), and every time the man opens his mouth on this album time stands still.
Even on the cod-heavy metal of the title track – which you’d expect Gioeli to claim as his own – Castronovo’s golden tonsils hit paydirt, but it’s on semi-balladic material such as Mother and the quite superb rocker Through where he’s at his most effective, proving again his capability to bring grown men to their knees with his sublime delivery. The latter track in particular is quite hair-raising. One listen to the man’s opening vocal gambit will transport the listener to AOR’s halcyon early eighties days, and that’s no mean feat at some thirty five years remove from the fact.
All this seems a bit unfair to Gioeli, which is a shame because the man really doesn’t do anything wrong. His reading of the Lady Antebellum hit Need You Know is measured nicely, resisting the temptation to over sing, and the same could be said for his excellent work on closing track Let Me Out, but for most of the rest of the time he is content to play second fiddle. The pair’s voices mesh well together when required, and the quality of the songwriting here means that every track has plenty going for it, but in real terms this album might well have been called The Deen Castronovo Show.
That said, if you are a fan of any of the bands this pair have been involved with over the years, this is a must-have album. Make sure you don’t miss out.
Gioeli-Castronovo will be released by Frontiers Music on July 13th.