Hugo’s Voyage claim – and who am I to dispute this? – to be America’s leading Journey tribute act. They’ve been touring the highways and byways of that great land for a long, long time, loving, touching and squeezing audiences up and down the nation. And now, well, they’ve decided to bring out an album of their own for our listening pleasure. Will it sound like you-know-who?
Of course it does. Hugo’s Voyage are fronted by Hugo Valenti, a man who’s voice has been likened to Journey’s Steve Perry since the dawn of time thanks to his incendiary work with eponymously-named solo project Hugo, Open Skyz and Valentine. Here, on tracks like woozy ballad A Friend Like You he pulls out more ‘whoa-oh-oh-oh’s than you can shake a stick at, effortlessly reminiscent of the great man and, well, so good you wonder why Neal Schon didn’t snap him up years ago for the real thing.
To these ears, though, it’s not really the balladry that captures the imagination as much as the more uptempo material. Crazy What Love Can Do comes stamped with a Raised On Radio-styled sheen and top notch performances from all concerned, and if Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love leans a bit too heavily on Don’t Stop Believin’ you’ll find yourself singing along too eagerly to really care too much.
The multi-layered harmonies of How Many Times are a swoonsome delight to the ears, as is the solo pulled out by guitarist Robby Hoffman, who is convincing throughout in his role as ‘Neal Schon’. Former Nuge/Blue Öyster Cult/Alice Cooper (amongst others) bassist Greg Smith adds his own four string magic to proceedings, locking in with Dana Spellman in the engine room, whilst Lance Millard tops the whol thing off with glittering keyboard embellishments. When all five fire on all six, as they do on standout cut I’ll Be Around, they create a sound that transcends the ‘tribute act’ tag to rival anything Arnel-era Journey has come up with. This is, of it’s kind, seriously good stuff. And if you aren’t weeping openly as you wave your lighter in the air whilst the band belt out uber-ballad In My Heart well… I fear for your soul, I really do…
But seriously, if classic, unapologetically backwards-looking AOR still gets you hot under the collar, you’ll not be hearing anything this year that comes close to rivalling Inception for sheer, goosebump-inducing mayhem. Ten out of ten guys!
Inception releases on November 10th.