Lana Lane – Neptune Blue

It has been a decade since the previous release by the queen of prog rock Lana Lane, and to say that the wait was worth it is far from being cliche. Lana’s always robustly stunning vocals have not lost anything as is evident from the first potent but melodic strains of “Far From Home.” Lana displays even more depth to her vocal capabilities, ranging from the intense bluesy croon of “Someone Like You” to the power rocking grit of “Remember Me” and the luscious pop sensibilities of “Under The Big Sky.” The vocal control and searing emotive output on the ballad “Come Lift Me Up” will drive right into your soul. With a greater diversity of styles present here, the fans of Lana’s more rocking side will not be disappointed either. You will definitely want to crank up tracks like “Bring It On Home” and “Miss California”. The lyrics have a knack for riding the fence between simple and intellectual, driving home interesting stories and points without getting overly flowery. The musical backdrop has many ear-opening solo efforts without distracting from Lana’s vocal work, being far more complementary and increasing the fine-tuned intrigue of the songs. As usual, husband and music compatriot Erik Norlander adds his phenomenal keyboard work to the songs. Many of Lana’s and Erik’s previous musical partners add serious flavor to the stew including guitarists Jeff Kollman and Mark McCrite; NS stick player Don Schiff; drummer Greg Ellis; and backing vocalist John Payne. Styles as diverse as prog, blues, pop rock, folk, and grunge fuel the mosaic creating songs that range from deep-track sensibilities to radio-friendly hooks. While Lana has often been hailed as the “prog rock diva”, and although I am sure that is complimentary moniker, it also somewhat pigeon-holes her. Lana Lane’s vocals can stack up to anyone – male or female in prog, classic, metal or any other type of music. Her performance on “Neptune Blue” is one of her finest yet. – MW

Kate MacLeod – Uranium Maiden

Folk music has been around for a very long time; yet Kate MacLeod seems to find a way to make it fresh and provocative. Possessing an angelic voice with a subtle operatic timbre, the long-time Utah resident at times does seem to channel some of the classics of the genre – Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Emmy Lou Harris come to mind. But those influences are also subtleties as she carves out her own unique and intoxicating musical personality. She hooks you right out of the gate with the hypnotic western groove of “Now Is The Time To Be Alive” and backs that title up by grasping your musical soul for the next sixteen tracks. The stunning depth of her vocal talents is on display on many tracks, particularly in the ethereal Native American tinted “U-235.” “Pick Pick Apples” turns up the country twang a notch, while “Lightning Man Dreaming” channels dustbowl blues. Kate is also adept at instrumentals, and “The Train Across The Great Salt Lake” is a wonderful example of her talents in this direction, showcasing her prowess on the fiddle as well as the prodigious capabilities of her bandmates. Intriguing falls woefully short as a description of her lyric writing, as her stories born from the mountains and valleys of the Beehive state will enrapture you throughout this album. Kate MacLeod obviously puts every fiber of her heart and soul into her music creation and that will entice you to deeply commit your music appreciation intellect into every second of this incredible album. – MW

Stash – Walk The Walk

Stash – Walk The Walk
Picture Tom Petty and Tom Waits hanging out at a Southern Culture on the Skids concert during a storm on a beach in Southern California. That is the kind of music maelstrom you have here with the actual meeting of veteran songwriters and performers Ted Russell Kamp, Rich McCulley and Joey Peters. Heartland rock, red dirt country, 50’s oldies, and Memphis blues blend with subtle touches of surf pop and New York glam punk for a glorious result. Foot stomping grooves drive songs like “You’re The One” and “One Track Mind,” while the retro pulse of “Talk The Talk” will have you searching for your old bobby socks and that dusty leather jacket. “By Your Side” is a ballad that would be comfortable at a west Texas wedding dance, where “What I Need” has the gritty feel of a wild night out in the Bowery. Ted in particular always loved to display his various root influences in his previous solo efforts and his friends obviously have the same music tastes and similar talents. The lyrics have a bare-bones intelligence – sometimes slapping your soul awake with tough love while also throwing its arms around you with tender emotions. If you love music that can take several decades of nostalgia and weave them into something that sounds fresh and entertaining, this is definitely for you. – MW

Marty Paris – Genesis

Over several decades of performing and recording, North Carolina-based-former-New Yorker Marty Paris has amassed a wonderful collection of songs running several facets of both the emotions and talents of his songwriting capabilities. Highly regarded for his work in both the Christian and secular music avenues, Marty has never been afraid to show what is on his mind and in his heart with his music, both lyrically and musically. The 2-disc release contains several songs that are re-workings of songs done on his previous recordings, including the Paris Keeling and Permanent Reverse projects which featured former TSO vocalists Kelly Keeling and the late Maxx Mann. These songs particularly “Life” and “Fly Away” sparkle with intense vocal harmonies and instrumentation passages. “Alive” is one of the more subtly rocking songs with an acoustic guitar base throttled up with incendiary guitar work from another TSO alumni Al Pitrelli as well as delectable passages from keyboard wizard Erik Norlander. “To Be Saved” is a wonderful Christian anthem that can fit right in with the likes of Chris Tomlin and Stephen Curtis Chapman. The second CD is all instrumental, launched by the powerful “Bucket List” displaying stunning work from Marty and his often collaborator Parker Sipes. “1974” is culled from one of Marty’s earliest ventures and shows an amazing sense of songwriting and instrumentation subtleties. Another Paris Keeling gem “I Learned From The Inside” roars from the speakers like a race car and feels like a great action movie backdrop. “Mission Critical” shows another facet of Marty’s songwriting with a modern but life-like industrial rock throb. Overall, Marty’s talents, tastes and passions have taken several twists and turns throughout his career, and this is the kind of musical road that is an absolute joy to take a trip on. -MW

John Masino – Thunder Bolt

John Masino has scored a hat-trick! No, John is not a hockey player, but if his guitar was a hockey stick he would be Wayne Gretzky. The Madison, WI native has produced his third “covid” CD – once again doing all the instrumentation, vocals and production himself. With his previous CDs, John explored a plethora of his songwriting personalities, while with “Thunder Bolt” he sticks more to rock, but finds his own songwriting quirks within rock and roll. The title track is just that – a powerful rocker that still has pop hook sensibilities as does the more tempered “Heavens Above” which has a subtle kiss of NYC glam. “Elements” is a funk/R&B-laced instrumental with one of numerous “oh, wow!” guitar solo moments on this CD. John even strays a bit into country-rock with the Eagles-esque “Falling Stars.” “Transcend” has an ethnic feel to it with a touch of Satriani, before “Not The One” melts your ears with a raging guitar riff. John finishes the CD off with a tribute to one of his favorite bands, a masterful but tasteful cover of the Beatles “Day Tripper.” John Masino has given us incredible musical gifts to enjoy during the pandemic and while we are all hoping for multiple reasons that this pandemic is over with, we also hope that John will continue to produce incredible music, and that we will also have more chances to see them performed live down the road. – MW

Hilary Scott – Kaleidoscope

Hilary Scott – Kaleidoscope
Nashville singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Hilary Scott packs quite the punch into this five song EP. A retooling of songs previously written and produced with several Music City talents, Hilary again proves to be capable of standing up against any musicians out there these days in several facets. The most notable facet is her incredibly versatile voice, which can range from ethereal croon to bluesy rock power and country-edged twang. Her stunning vocal control and fantastic range alone make for highly listenable music, but there is much more to be heard. The subtly intricate but noticeably highly talented musical parts are the perfect compliment to her voice with neither overwhelming the other. The songwriting is as interesting a mosaic as Hilary’s voice itself with the often lush vibes sprinkled in with just the right doses of edginess and sporadic forays into R&Bish throbs. The lyrics are heartfelt and often topical, completing this delicious feast. Yes, there are many talented musicians in Nashville, but Hilary Scott continually proves that she should be head and shoulders above many of them. – MW

John Masino -Phase Into Change

John Masino -Phase Into Change
To say that Midwest guitar maestro has stayed busy during the pandemic’s void of live performing is an understatement…a glorious understatement. For the second time in just a short period the Madison, Wisconsin native has released a CD of songs penned and produced by him with John also handling all the instruments and vocals. John’s songwriting personalities have such a wide variance that this is nowhere near a rehashing of the previous release. There is plenty of intriguing and inventive music here. After waking you up with the Robin Trower-ish instrumental title track, “Those Days of Rock N Roll” has a hooky Brit-glam-pop feel especially with the vocal work that could make Ian Hunter blush. “Remember” is an emotive quasi-ballad with a lush groove and poignant, timely lyrics. “The Last Time” wonderfully blends subtleties of blues and new age into a track that is mesmerizing and comforting, followed by the spacey funk pulse of “Drop The Chop.” John turns up the heat on the closing tracks with the seething power of the instrumental “Kinetikos,” and an avant garde take on the classic “Voodoo Child” that made me imagine I could hear Jimi whispering, “Whoah.” John Masino proves again that he can give you both the unexpected and the expected. Unexpected is the ear pleasing surprises around many turn in this CD. The expected is that he will pour every ounce of his talents and passions into every song he creates. Listening to music like that is great therapy for any pandemic. – MW

Dukes of the Orient – Freakshow

Dukes of the Orient – Freakshow Frontiers Records – FR CD 1051
When a musical “project” provides excellent music, the listener hopes that particular project is not a one-time effort. Thankfully for fans of Dukes of the Orient, the brainchild of bassist/vocalist John Payne and keyboardist Erik Norlander, the former cohorts from Asia featuring John Payne have produced another masterful collection of songs,  While still primarily a blend of prog and pop, John and Erik further expand on their prodigious songwriting talents to produce ear-opening twists and turns throughout the ten tracks. “The Dukes Return” launches the disc with a hooky power that rivals anything on radio, even with its retro vibe. “The Ice Is Thin” has a subtle Supertramp feel, perhaps because of the delectable sax blowing of Eric Tewalt, who lends his chops to several songs. There is plenty of musical intricacy for prog aficionados on songs like “Man of Machine,” “The Last Time Traveler,” and “The Great Brass Steam Engine,” the later being an amazing instrumental brimming with Erik’s passion and talents on classic synths. The avant-garde pulse of the title track is perhaps a microcosm of what is happening here; a duo of very talented song-smiths and musicians with a massive tank of capabilities and ideas to pull from to create incredible music. “Freakshow” definitely exemplifies the hope that there will be more to come from this project of music royalty in the future. – MW

7 Miles to Pittsburgh – Revolution On Hold

7 Miles to Pittsburgh – Revolution On Hold
A67 Records – B0845NL9CD
If you ever run into a road sign reading “7 Miles to Pittsburgh,” you may want to strap in for an intense ride. Hyperbole aside, this band with a very American sounding name hails from the Netherlands, but their sonic brand of rock and roll can easily reverberate across the “Big Pond” and beyond. The brainchild of former Sleeze Beez vocalist Andrew Elt and Elegy bassist Martin Helmantel, their second CD “Revolution On Hold” further fleshes out their sound, fusing straight ahead hard rock with subtle doses of prog and grunge. The inventive song craftsmanship is both ear opening and soul clutching. The lead track “Bad Enough” is a perfect launchpad, with power riffs and thundering rhythms weaved with passages that are both hooky and edgy. “I Feel Your Pain” could be a new definition of “power ballad” as melodic verses morph into explosive choruses that drive the point of the song home like a nuclear sledgehammer. “God Only Knows” has the most pop feel to it, with a snappy, acoustic fueled vibe juxtaposing the provocative lyrics. “Think” is pretty much a straight ahead rocker with a sly edginess. There is some brilliant work done here, with the overall hard rock vibe drawing you in but your songwriter appreciation psyche kicking into high gear with the intricate little twists and turns popping up around many corners. The words are well thought out and topical and Andrew’s voice is in amazing form as he smoothly rolls from sonic rocker to bluesy crooning, driving the point of the lyrics home in fervent fashion. The solo interplay between guitarist Joris Linder and keyboardist Remco van Zandvoort is often incredible, and drummer Dirk Bruinenberg is a perfect foil for Martin driving the rhythms. 7 Miles to Pittsburgh may seem like simply a “project” but in reality this is an amazing band with prodigious talents who are unafraid to push the songwriting envelope while still creating ear friendly songs. It makes one feel and hope that they are nowhere near done creating music that can surely be enjoyed by rockers of all generations. – MW

John Masino – In For The Night

John Masino – In For The Night
If one good thing is happening in this year of craziness for the music biz, it is that musicians and songwriters are producing music, often times organically and/or on their own. John Masino is well known and respected throughout the Midwest and beyond for his prowess on electric guitar, electric live performances, songwriting chops, and vocal work. The Madison, Wisconsin native has taken to his home studio to produce his latest gift to the music world, “In For The Night.” Performing all the instruments and vocal work on the CD, John showcases the many facets of his musical capabilities, particularly his songwriting talents. With both instrumental and vocal songs, there is a plethora of subtle genre influences here, weaved masterfully together into a signature sound that is both ear-catching and intriguing. John’s always-stunning guitar work invokes names like “Hendrix” and “Satriani,” while retaining a personality that is distinctly his own. His performances with other instruments goes beyond just background work with solid chops adding extra flavor to the songs. Some of the standout tracks include the ethereal yet hooky “Don’t Wake Me,” the mesmerizing prog-tinted instrumental “Space Walk,” the radio ready pop rock powerhouse “Love Lights”, and poignant ballad “It’s Just A Matter of Time.” John’s lyrics are intelligent without being pretentious, enticing the listener to experience the story or ideal he is portraying. This music is highly enjoyable to anyone, and for those still having it rough right now, John Masino has created an excellent repast that will cut through the darkness and brighten your day. – MW