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ART OF ILLUSION – X Marks The Spot (2021)

I absolutely love this album. It has everything I love about the two principles behind it and a added freshness that has been missing in some recent AOR releases.

Art is Work Of Art – that is, vocalist Lars Safsund, who is his usual blindingly good self, delivering a classic vocal that gives me the best of WOA, but more so, I hear him stretching out with some of the more adventurous material on offer and he knocks it out of the park.

Illusion is one of my favourite pomp songwriters, Grand Illusion’s songwriter/producer Anders Rydholm. Fans of Grand Illusion can hear Anders’ trademark pomp AOR all over this record and there are a few tracks which could easily be Grand Illusion tracks.

But there’s so much more on offer here. There are a few tracks that are completely bananas. It’s part classic rock opera and part falsetto overture and it sounds so good. Lars is extraordinary in his varied vocal delivery. There’s Queen, ELO and Styx influences throughout.

But it isn’t every track – its mixed in and around some traditional WOA style keyboard-AOR mixed in with some typical Grand Illusion pomp. There is a good dose of piano and some sentimental ballads, but also a few driving guitar tracks.

All in all it is quite the mix, but the superb quality of the songs and the performances make it work cohesively.

I won’t make a point of highlighting any particular songs as id like the listener to hear it fresh start to finish. Just be assured that this is a quality piece of work.

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WIG WAM – Never Say Die (2021)

Wig Wam in 2021 is exactly what I pictured after announcing their welcomed return. At times delivering mixed results in the last few years of their first run at fame.

Older, more mature and pretty much perfectly aware of what the name means to fans and what is expected of them, Wig Wam deliver on Never Say Die.

A little heavier, a little more contemporary (darker) and a little more straight ahead, this album is chock full of big anthems, big guitars and big attitude.

I hate 90 second intros and I’m still not completely sold on the second full track Hypnotized, nor the late in the album instrumental Northbound, but everywhere else I’m hypnotized!

The band have seldom sounded so good – the powerhouse approach works, and the big budget sound certainly ensures all songs are presented in their best light.

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HOUSE OF SHAKIRA – On The Verge (1998)

House Of Shakira provided one of the best and most promising debut album’s in many years with their album ‘Lint’. It’s been a couple of years down the road and finally we have the new album ‘On The Verge’. The guys have formed their own distinct sound and with heavy influences from Journey, Styx and a little Night Ranger created a great first album.

Now the guys have had a chance to develop a little and grow and ‘On The Verge’ is the result. Well I am happy to report it is good news all round. This is a great album.

The guys have certainly developed and there is less of the obvious Journey influence on this record.

In fact the guys are probably closer to a Tommy Shaw lead Styx than anyone else.

The songs on ‘On The Verge’ take a few listens to get to know and to hear all the hooks and layers of instruments. Much more so than the fairly instantly likeable Lint.

This is because the guys have more obviously matured into their own sound and style to the point where now the influences play the back seat role.

The playing is tighter, heavier and groovier, the song writing is even better and there is no point on this album where the album fails to keep the listener totally involved.

But fans of the first album need not panic! There is still a strong mix of the best of Night Ranger, Styx and Journey to enjoy, just less obvious than before.

The opening track The Song Remains is tough and heavy but still features those unmistakable backing vocals and again features a less than conventional intro. Nice to hear an Australian Digeridoo in there.

Best Of Times reminds me of Styx. This is an acoustic driven mid-tempo rocker with a big big House Of Shakira chorus. Grows more with every listen.

Time Bomb is a funky sort of number. Heavy bass and guitars and a rapping vocal. another big chorus. Good but not a favorite.

Ghost In Town on the other hand is. This is a tough rocker with moody vocals and a chorus that isn’t as big as some others but is none the less effective.

Yesterday’s Gone is different! Starting as a solo acoustic track complete with camping sound effects and that ‘outdoorsy’ feel, it builds into a ful band mid-tempo ballad. Some good vocals.

Four Reasons is another half funky tune with the big guitars returning. An AOR chorus that comes from nowhere and stays lodged in your brain for days.

Mbaloumouna is great! A minute and a bit trop fest that momentarily transports the listener to an Hawaiian island. Should have been longer, but I guess it doesn’t really fit in here!

The Chance starts slowish and builds to an anthem chorus and plenty of big soaring vocals. One of the best tracks. Lots of acoustic guitars.

Free Your Mind is a harder edge track with a tougher vocal and a heavy chorus.

After The Fall is a big acoustic ballad that ends with an orchestra arrangement. Good ballad.

Warp heads back into that murkier heavier side of the band. A modern track that switches from electric to acoustic. The chorus switches again to a mix of both. Big melodic moodiness!

Enemy is again heavy and more modern and takes a few listens to like as much as the rest of the album. But you will.

And as an added bonus there is alive version of the Journey classic Separate Ways. Not much I can say about this. Classic!

A great listen and along with Change Of Heart and Goo Goo Dolls, it has been a very good month for me. This should pick up a legion of new fans and will hopefully strengthen their reputation as one of the 90’s best melodic rock bands.

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