At their best, on tracks like the sleek AOR/hard rock hybrids One In a Million Men and Nothing To Me, LA classic rock collective Heaven & Earth really hit hard rock paydirt.
Unfortunately these moments are spaced a little too far apart over the course of an album that runs to a dozen songs in length to make this a truly essential release, with a lot of the material coming off like something another rocker of similar vintage, Germany’s Axel Rudi Pell, would put out on one of his albums. However H&E are too long in the tooth and well, just too good to make an actively rotten record, so it’s best probably to take the rough with the smooth and just go along for the ride.
Band mainstay Stuart Smith is of course at the centre of things here with his Blackmore-inspired six string shenanigans; however it’s the absence of a couple of former members that sees the band falling in to a bit of strife. Gone is vocalist Joe Retta; a poor man’s Joe Lynn Turner or Kelly Hansen for some, there’s actually no doubt his vocal prowess was the perfect fit for this band. By contrast his replacement Gianluca Petralia offers a more workmanlike take on the classic rock frontman position. He doesn’t do anything wrong in particular, but his singing is definitely more in the ‘faceless’ category in comparison to Retta’s more classy stylings. Similarly, former Dio man Simon Wright, here replacing the mercurial, world-class talent of Kenny Aranoff behind the drum kit, gets the job done whilst never offering the flair and punch of his predecessor. A small matter maybe, but it does have an impact on the album in the final washup.
On the other hand Smith has unearthed something of a star in new keyboard addition George Barnabas, who adds colour and style beautifully whenever it’s his turn to take the spotlight. His solo on closer At The End of the Day lifts the track immeasurably, and he plays the part of Jon Lord to Smith’s Ritchie Blackmore with a great deal of aplomb.
A bit of a curate’s egg, overall then, but worth a listen nonetheless if you love rock n’roll rooted in the seventies.
V is out now.