|Jack Blades Jack Blades||Frontiers Records|
Jack Blades is one of my all time favourite artists – and even more importantly, is regarded one of the best songwriters in the game. Night Ranger's albums are all regarded as personal favourites, as is the debut Damn Yankees album.
Then there's the also impressive Shaw/Blades album, the second Damn Yankees and Jack's work with other artists including Alice Cooper, Journey, Aerosmith and Great White. Quite a resume already, but not content with that, Jack thought a solo album was well overdue and this is the result.|
Joining Jack on the album is fellow Night Ranger buddies Kelly Keagy, Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson, along with Tommy Shaw, Neal Schon, Damon Johnson, Michael Lardie, Warren De Martini and of course, son Colin Blades.
Guitarist Sam Eigen is however the backbone of the album. With Sam on guitars and Kelly Keagy on drums throughout most of the album, the remaining players all fill guest roles. Neal Schon plays lead guitar on Sea Of Emotions and To Tough The Sky.
Jack's album is a highly anticipated release for the melodic music community.
In recent years, Jack has varied his style of writing to cover not only classic hard rock and AOR, but also modern and acoustic pop.
So it was with some interest that we all waited on news of what direction this solo album would take.
The answer is the songs on Jack Blades are not restricted to any one style.
Over the course of the 11 tracks, Jack touches on all past styles covered and even adds a couple of new flavors. This makes for a varied and interesting listen and I think the album is compiled quite well – it does have a natural flow. But that doesn't mean fans are going to like each and every track – which for me was the main disappointment of the album. I was anticipating every track being another JB classic and that just isn't the case.
I must say that I have had to work really hard on getting to like this album, which in itself was a surprise. This album is a grower and really does require a lot of listening.
It's more laid back than I anticipated, with several tracks along the Shaw/Blades style.
But then it's also heavier than anticipated in other areas, with 4 tracks leaning towards a modern rock vibe.
The production is sound, but it's not as high-tech as previous releases such as Night Ranger and Damn Yankees. But then again, this album isn't recorded with the budget those major label releases were recorded with.
Track By Track:
Opening the album in the best possible way is the pure melodic rock anthem Sea of Emotions. The track was written by Blades with Neal Schon. The track was originally planned for inclusion on Journey's Arrival album, but is thankfully aired here. The style is such you can easily imagine Steve Augeri signing it. The track is an up-tempo feel good melodic rocker that also features a lead vocal by Kelly Keagy during one bridge.
Shine On and We Are The Ones are the two tracks included on the album that were originally recorded for the ditched third Damn Yankees album.
Shine On features a dual lead vocal between Jack and Tommy Shaw. The song itself is an uptempo modern rocker, with a dark and heavy tone. The track doesn't really match anything Damn Yankees have recorded before, nor Jack for that matter. The verse is something different - a spoken rap of sorts, with a sparse arrangement which leads into a heavy and bombastic chorus filled with tuned down guitars. The chorus hook is relatively short and takes some time to grow on you, but surely does.
We Are The Ones is also moody and heavy and features the same dark guitar tones. The verse has an aggressive edge and is again influenced by modern trends. The song builds to the chorus, which unfortunately is not a highlight of the Blades repertoire.
Many Blades fans might find this track too modern for their tastes and indicates why the third Damn Yankees album would have been so different from the first two.
Don't Want To Be Alone Tonight is a much more melodic friendly track and one that will be a crowd pleaser. The Schon/Blades composition is a direct about face from the tracks before it. This is a stripped back acoustic driven ballad with a memorable chorus and an updated feel to it, but one that suits the vibe of the song. Sometimes You Gotta Have Faith is another acoustic driven track - this one more in a breezy pop vein than the ballad before it. This is another track with a modern Beatlesque vibe, but remains in touch with the style that was the Shaw/Blades album. Add a catchy chorus and the song becomes an album highlight.
To Touch The Sky is another Schon/Blades composition and another track that was earmarked for the Arrival album. And just as with the opening track, this has Journey stamped all over it. The melodic rocker features several layers of vocals and hooks – not to mention an extended bridge and chorus arrangement. It takes a few listens to get to hear everything that is going on, but is a gem of a track. More tracks like this might have been cool.
Who You Want To Be sees the album head back into modern rock territory. Starting out as an acoustic Night Ranger style pop song, the chorus bursts through with that tuned down guitar sound again and a Sunshine Of Your Love style retro vibe. Not a band track, but lacking that hit factor so many of Jack's songs have.
Someday has that Shaw/Blades vibe. It features a strong acoustic sound and layered harmony vocals in the style of that album. Basically it's an enjoyable, breezy pop rocker.
The laid back acoustic driven ballad Breaking It Down has a definite Beatles retro pop vibe and sounds as if it could have been lifted from son Colin's debut album. Funnily enough, the song was a result of the pair writing together.
Time for another complete turn around in style. On Top of The World is a heavy, slow moving modern rocker that features a chorus that sadly isn't very catchy. If anything, you will dig the vibe of the song as a whole, but for me, this is not a track I warmed to.
The most interesting aspect of the track is that the line up also features Kelly Keagy, Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson, but sounds nothing like Night Ranger!
Nature's Way is an acoustic cover of the tune by 70's prog-rock act Spirit, from their 1970 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. It's another laid back Shaw/Blades style track that some fans will love and others won't.
I think its ok, but not an album highlight and a rather soft way to close the album.
The album is solid without doubt, but isn't the anthem packed classic it could have been. On a positive note, the album contains a few real gems that all JB fans will enjoy.
The styles are so varied, on occasions it's obvious the album is taken from different sessions.
But those that appreciate a little variety in their music and prefer something that isn't as predictable, nor safe, will find a lot to like within this set of songs.
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