The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#1-#10)

We finally made it to the Top 10!

Something you may have noticed by now is that some of my favorite bands are missing from the countdown so far…..guess where they are?

2009 was another great year for new Hard Rock and Heavy Metal albums and I was lucky to have heard a great many of them. There were hundreds of new albums released by hundreds of bands over a wide range of Metal genres, it was very hard to keep up especially when I’m spending my hard-earned cash! Unfortunately, I can’t buy every new album so there are more than a few that I have missed. I am still very lucky to have many labels, PR firms, and bands sending in their CDs for review, to all of them I would like to extend a very grateful THANK YOU! Without these promotions I would have never heard some great releases and discovered some new bands. I have totalled up the CDs and there were 125 albums up for this year’s honors!

The only criteria I followed for my Top 40 was that the album had to be a studio album, not a live record, best of, or covers collection AND the album had to be released in 2009. In the beginning of the year I decided that an album that was released in 2008, but was released in 2009 for the U.S., qualified as a 2009 album…..basically I went by the date on the back of the CD! There are plenty of albums that got late U.S. releases and there may be a few in this countdown. 

The ranking of the Top 40 is based solely on my enjoyment of the album and not some scientific formula. Bottom Line: I had to like it! There were so many releases this year that I more than doubled the list this year so I will be splitting it into three posts. Be sure to check out the links to the album reviews. So here is part 3, my Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#1 – #10):

#10

Wolf – Ravenous (2009): I completely missed 2006’s BLACK FLAME so I really didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this latest album from Wolf. Needless to say, I was blown away and I immeadiately knew that this was going to be one of the best albums of the year. Wolf has this classic retro Metal sound with major influences from Iron Maiden, Helloween and Judas Priest so I ate this up immeadiately! The songs are all excellent and the twin lead guitars really make this album what it is, especially at the solos. I have been singing along, headbanging and playing air guitar to RAVENOUS since March and it definitely set the bar high to get into this year’s Top 10.

#9

Cheap Trick – The Latest (2009): THE LATEST album from Cheap Trick turned out to be the biggest comeback of the year from a band that never really went away! Cheap Trick has always been one of the most underrated Classic Rock bands coming out of the mid-’70s/early ’80s and I always make the huge mistake about waiting to buy their new records until a few weeks after they are released. This year was no different and I waited until I caught part of their opening performance on Def Leppard’s summer tour before I picked it up. The odds were against the band when they basically started the album off with a Slade cover (‘When The Lights Are Out’) but it turned out to be one of the best songs of the year for me! Cheap Trick has always been a band with excellent musicianship and songwriting skills and THE LATEST is just another example of how great this band is. If I could describe this album in one word: Beautiful. After I gave this album a full listen, I played it again to make sure my ears didn’t deceive me…..I knew immeadiately that this was one of the best records of the year.

#8

Sunstorm – House Of Dreams (2009): The Joe Lynn Turner factor! There is no doubt in my mind that JLT could sing me the menu at a McDonald’s and I would absolutely worship it! This is the best AOR/Melodic Rock album of the year without a shred of doubt…..it’s like it came straight from 1985. Now a lot of people are going to say that the album sounds too retro, too ’80s, too keyboard friendly but that is exactly what it’s supposed to be. Add in some awesome songwriter like Jim Peterik and Desmond Child lending a hand and you’ve got AOR gold, I swear if this record came out 25 years ago then it would have been a Top 10, multi-platinum album. The sound is Joe Lynn Turner meets Survivor meets Journey meets Pride Of Lions…..just plain old feel food melodic music that has great overall songwriting and musicianship (the guitars and keyboards complimenting each other perfectly) to go along with one of the greatest singing voices in all of Rock.

#7

Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know (2009): One of my most highly anticipated albums of 2009, Heaven & Hell (or Black Sabbath if you want) did not disappoint with their first true full-length album since 1992’s DEHUMANIZER. As many of you know, my favorite incarnation of Black Sabbath is the Ronnie James Dio era and it’s safe to say that Black Sabbath as a whole is one of my favorite bands of all-time. When I gave THE DEVIL YOU KNOW it’s inaugural couple of listens I was a little disappointed by the lack of fast and furious Metal songs like previous classic ‘Neon Knights’ and ‘The Mob Rules’ but I kept listening and it turned out that this is one heavy Doom record with a few well-placed fast numbers (‘Double The Pain’, ‘Eating The Cannibals’) to break the heaviness up a bit. Tony Iommi continues to write the best Metal riffs and Dio continues to sing better than vocalists half, even two-thirds, his age! The rhythm section of Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice are still as high-powered and brutal as ever and hearing them in concert proved to be a thunderous experience. Say what you want about this album not being HEAVEN & HELL (1980) or MOB RULES (1981), THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is definitely a great Black Sabbath Heaven & Hell album that can easily sit alongside those classics.

#6

UFO – The Visitor (2009): Another one of my favorite bands…..one of Top 5 in fact! There is now way I could have a Best of 2009 countdown without putting in THE VISITOR because it was easily in the running for my favorite record of the year since I got it. You have to give UFO credit, they have been doing it longer than most of their peers (40 years and counting!) and they consistently put out solid records. Since the band reunited in 1995 with the classic lineup, there have been many lineup changes but the mainstay is founder and singer Phil Mogg who puts in a brilliant performance vocally and as a songwriter…..no one writes or turns a clever phrase quite like Phil. The lineup still isn’t stable with founding bassist Pete Way out again due to health reasons and founding drummer Andy Parker coming back again to replace Jason Bonham when he left for Foreigner. Vinnie Moore proves that hes is more than capable of handling the guitar duties and holding back the Michael Schenker legend while Paul Raymond continues to be an integral part of the UFO sound on keybords, guitars and harmonies. Not a bad song on the album and well worth checking out.

#5

Saxon – Into The Labyrinth (2009): I received the promo for INTO THE LABYRINTH in December 2008 and I reviewed it mid-January…..I almost declared this the album of the year right there! Saxon has been one of the most consistent bands from the early days of the NWOBHM movement and, since 1997, have released some great albums that combine pure Power Metal with that classic NWOBHM style. Take the first two songs from the album, ‘Battalions Of Steel’ and ‘Live To Rock': the first is Traditional/Power Metal and the latter is pure NWOBHM as if it was 1981. What Saxon is doing is what I keep emphasizing throughout this year’s countdown…..they are expanding/enhancing their trademark sound. You have to evolve and Saxon is showing a lot of the younger Metal bands out there just how to do it. Any other year and this would be my favorite album but there was stiff competition this year and a Top 5 showing is not bad at all.

#4

Johnny Lima – Livin’ Out Loud (2009): I had been reading all about Johnny Lima and this album for a couple of months before i actually broke down and ordered it from Johnny’s website. First, let me give Johnny a ton of credit for emailing me within 10 minutes of my order and personally thanking me and then sending the CD out same day including an autograph. Then he emails me a couple days later to make sure the album arrived! Keeping a connection with the fans is what it’s about and Johnny Lima gained an instant fan. And the music is good too! After spinning this once I knew this would be the best Glam/Hard Rock album of the year. If you like Poison, Def Leppard, early Bon Jovi, Dokken, Ratt, Cinderella and Motley Crue then you are definitely going to find a song on LIVIN’ OUT LOUD that could easily fit into any of the bands’ catalog. That’s not to say that the album is a carbon copy of what these big bands have done in the past rather it’s a statement that revisiting and reinterpreting the classic ’80s Hard Rock style is OK. That’s something that these bigger bands are afraid to do! Every song is catchy with a ton of hooks, big harmonies and great guitar…..this is the kind of record that is so infectious that you can’t help but sing along and have a great time. This was a major contender for the top spot for 2009.

#3

Sacred Oath – s/t (2009): Early in the year I started to read more and more about Sacred Oath and their forthcoming new album being an iTunes exclusive…..I don’t download, I buy CDs, so I didn’t pay much attention to the press releases. Then I read that the band was releasing the album on CD on their own label so I emailed the band for the release date. I received a promo copy in late May/early June and was completely blown away! Like I said in the review, if you took Metallica, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Judas Priest, Armored Saint, Diamond Head and Metal Church and rolled them all into one, you would get Sacred Oath. The band takes influences from all the great bands and blends them together for an American Metal feast that goes from Heavy Metal to Power Metal to Progressive Metal and then the NWOBHM. It’s a huge sound to live up to and the album does just that. Searing riffs, pounding rhythm section and soaring vocals added to great songwriting…..it’s a wonder why the band broke up 20 years ago, I’d bet they would have been huge. Well, they are huge this year because this was my #1 album hands down until the next two in the countdown showed up. This record is still in my weekly playlist, I don’t see it leaving anytime soon, and ‘High And Mighty’ is one of my favorite songs of the year.

#2

Ace Frehley – Anomaly (2009): Ace Frehley has always been my favorite member of KISS and, with KISS being my favorite band, anything a current of former member of KISS does is a big deal. The last time Ace released a solo album was TROUBLE WALKIN’ in 1989…..20 years later ANOMALY has finally arrived! I have followed Ace’s career in and out of KISS since I was a little kid and he has talked about a new record since the early ’90s but nothing has ever come of it. Then there was the KISS reunion that lasted 6+ years and Ace started talking about a new solo record after he left the band in 2002 but nothing was released again. The only time I believed that Ace was releasing anything was when the album cover was released in June…..but would an actual record come out? September 15, 2009…..I was outside Best Buy before the store opened to get my hands on ANOMALY. One listen was all it took to hear that Ace Frehley had made a huge comeback with his solo career, ANOMALY is a well-written Hard Rock album and Ace sounds as focused as ever. Of all the albums he’s released as a solo artist or in Frehley’s Comet, ANOMALY ranks just below his KISS solo album. ‘Foxy & Free’, ‘Outer Space’, ‘Pain In The Neck’ and even the cover of Sweet’s ‘Fox On The Run’ are all solid Hard Rock songs that are catchy and full of that signature Ace guitar tone. The surprises here are the acoutically driven ballads like ‘Change The World’ & ‘A Little Below The Angels’ that show Ace’s diversity. This whole album is top notch from the music, to the album cover Ace designed to the special digipak packaging that tuens into a pyramid. I gave this album a ton of listening time and I still haven’t taken it out of my daily rotation! When I started to make this year end best of list I installed ANOMALY near the top because I enjoyed it so much. The bottom line on this list is that I enjoy the album and, between the excellent songs and my KISS worship, Ace Frehley has gained the #2 spot for 2009.

One album to go everyone! The #1 album is next but before I get to it let me say again how great this year was for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal…..my Best of 2009 list, along with the other websites’ lists, will attest to that. I’ve listened to more new releases this year than any other year that I can remember and this year’s list was a hard one to make, there were so many really good albums that got left out of the countdown so maybe next year I will expand again to a Top 50. Let’s move on though to my pick for the Top Album of 2009…..

#1

KISS – Sonic Boom (2009)

So what album did you all expect? Of course my top album for 2009 is the new KISS record! I’m a KISS diehard after all! Seriously though, of all the 2009 albums I listened to this year, SONIC BOOM was the one I wanted the most, listened to the most, and enjoyed the most. Any year that your favorite band releases a new album is a good year but I had no hopes that KISS would actually follow through with releasing an album of all new material. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have been saying that they weren’t interested in releasing a new album for the last 7 years and I had no reason to doubt their conviction. Who knows why they did now? Maybe Paul Stanley liked working on his solo album a couple years ago? Maybe the Wal-Mart deal was in place ahead of time? Maybe they were just bored? Who cares! The bottom line is that KISS has released an album that is their very best since REVENGE (1992) and it completely blows away the reunion album PSYCHO CIRCUS (1998). I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much from SONIC BOOM because most KISS albums are half good songs and half filler. If the band was dead set against releasing a new record, why should they release a quality one? First thing the band did right was give Paul Stanley full control in the studio…..he’s the one that guided the band from 1983 to 1992 and his track record as a producer, performer and songwriter are proof enough. Ever notice that all the singles in the ’80s were Paul’s songs? After Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley is my favorite and I have always told people the he is the talent in KISS. The second thing the band did right was actually write. Paul & Gene actually wrote songs, and performed them, together for the first time in a long time in addition to what they brought in individually. The songs are high quality, catchy and there is an element of true ’70s KISS mixed with the KISS of today. Third thing the band did correctly was to involve Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer in the writing and in the singing to make it a true band effort. Nothing beats a band unit, compare SONIC BOOM and the sham that is PSYCHO CIRCUS and the winner is clear. I bought this album at my local Wal-Mart on October 6 (day of release) and I have played it everyday, many times more than once. I have been a diehard KISS fan since 1978, I’ve lived and died with this band and I am actually proud of them for releasing such a great record. I haven’t felt this good about KISS’ future since REVENGE and the 1996/1997 Reunion Tour…..SONIC BOOM is my favorite album of 2009!

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Please check out The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#11-#25) and The Top 40 Albums of 2009 (#26-#40) for the rest of this year’s countdown.

Sunstorm – House Of Dreams (2009)

Sunstorm – House Of Dreams (2009, Frontiers Records)

  1. Divided
  2. Don’t Give Up
  3. The Spirit Inside
  4. I Found Love
  5. Say You Will
  6. Gutters Of Gold
  7. Save A Place (In Your Heart)
  8. Forever Now
  9. Tears On The Pages
  10. House Of Dreams
  11. Walk On

Musicians:
Joe Lynn Turner – Vocals
Dennis Ward – Bass, Guitars, Backing Vocals
Uwe Reitenauer – Guitars
Thorsten Koehne – Solo Guitars
Gunther Werno – Keyboards
Chris Schmidt – Drums
Marco Bayati – additional Solo Guitar on ‘I Found Love’

Producer: Dennis Ward

Total Time = 49:15

Joe Lynn Turner
Frontiers Records

“Joe Lynn Turner has one of the best voices in the Rock world. Doesn’t matter who you put him up against, JLT has one of the smoothest voices and it keeps getting better album after album.”

I stole that line from my December 2007 review of the last Joe Lynn Turner solo album, SECOND HAND LIFE. That album was so good that it threatened the Scorpions’ excellent HUMANITY HOUR 1 for my top album of 2007. The bottom line is this: no matter what Joe Lynn Turner puts his voice to (Fandango, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Yngwie, solo or voiceover work), it’s always going to be a great performance. Sunstorm is not a band but more of an album project. The original idea came from Frontiers Records president Serafino Perugino to have JLT complete unfinished demos from his shelved mid-’80s solo album, the follow-up to the excellent solo debut RESCUE YOU (1985). The self-titled Sunstorm debut was released in 2006 and it was one of the best Melodic Rock albums of the year full of melodic hooks, guitar and keyboard driven songs and solid ballads all delivered with the smooth as silk Joe Lynn Turner vocals. The first release was a great album so a follow-up was a no brainer. JLT is always at his best doing early ’80s AOR/Melodic Rock and the latest Sunstorm release, HOUSE OF DREAMS, is another high quality album in the extensive JLT discography. Joining JLT in the songwriting department are some notable names in the AOR world: Paul Sabu, Jim Peterik from Survivor, Russ Ballard and Desmond Child among others. With songwriting partners like that, you know the songs are high quality and extremely melodic.

Kicking the record off is ‘Divided’, a melodic rock song that blends the guitars and keyboards perfectly for that true ’80s AOR sound. ‘Divided’ is uptempo and shows some muscle but it sounds so smooth with JLT’s vocals…..put this on the radio in 1985 and you’ve got a hit! Same with ‘Don’t Give Up’, pure melodic rock that has perfect production and vocals and an uptempo hook that keeps me singing right along. Slowing things down a bit, JLT and company go into a mid-tempo AOR feast with ‘The Spirit Inside’. This could almost be a revved up power ballad at times with it’s lush layered sound, JLT crooning as only he can with the smoothest delivery. Definitely a song for the lighters (or cell phones)! The pace picks up again with the fastest rocker on the album, ‘I Found Love’. Now this is a retro ’80s track if I ever heard one! The keyboards are layered all over while the guitars weave in and out around a fat bassline, all very melodic, fast and full of life. The chorus is infectious and fun…..the whole point of good Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The first true ballad arrives with the Jim Peterik penned ‘Say You Will’. This is a pure AOR ballad based on the piano and JLT’s vocals, this could easily be a Survivor song with Jimi Jamison singing., one of the best ballads I’ve heard all year! If you really want to hear how well Joe Lynn Turner can sing, play this song , he is fantastic! Another Jim Peterik written song is next, the fast rocker ‘Gutters Of Gold’. When I first saw the tracklisting for HOUSE OF DREAMS, I wondered if this was the same song as the one Peterik’s World Stage project recorded back in 1999. That song remains unreleased as far as I knw and the only way I heard it was when it was included on Melodicrock.com’s first CD. This version of ‘Gutters Of Gold’ is re-recorded and the vocals re-done by JLT so it sounds a little more aggressive than the original World Stage version. It’s a barnstormer of a song and probably the best and most memorable of the album, it’s so infectious that you can’t help singing along right away and it really sticks in your memory. The Paul Sabu co-written ‘Save A Place (In Your Heart)’ treads the mid-tempo/uptempo line carefully and is lined with piano and keyboards around plenty of guitar flourishes. It’s a cool song and has a very familiar sound, upon further investigation I found that it’s a song originally recorded in 1988 for the self-titled debut album Sabu’s Hard Rock band Only Child. Technically it’s a cover, as is ‘Gutters Of Gold’, but this is a project not a band so I’m giving a pass to Sunstorm & JLT because these songs aren’t well known and the quality of the updated performances are excellent. Either that or I’m starting to soften my position against cover songs!

More incestuous songwriting and re-recording is delivered with the JLT original ‘Forever Now’, a feel good uptempo rock song that originally appeared on Terry Brock’s 2001 album BACK TO EDEN. Technically not a cover because JLT wrote it and it’s a great song with a very uplifting chorus and harmonies. It’s a little on the “light” side for me but a lot of Melodic Rock and AOR sounds like this no matter the years so it’s still a quality song and has plenty of guitars. Proper ballad #2 is ‘Tears On the Page’ and it is another perfect Turner vocal accompanied by a piano and subtle guitars. The song is a Jim Peterik/Russ Ballard co-write so it’s extremely melodic and it has that signature Survivor style to it, again I could easily hear Jimi Jamison singing this and have it on any Survivor album. I like this ballad better than ‘Say You Will’ and both are really great. The title track picks the momentum back up again with another solid guitar and keyboard mix but it kind of sounds too similar to other songs on the album. The chorus is the highpoint and JLT puts in yet another great vocal but I’m not really getting into it. Hearing it separate from the other album tracks makes it standout more, maybe the song holds too much to the specific pattern of the album? Ending the album is ‘Walk On’, another keyboard heavy ballad that is pure AOR. No coincidence that one of the most notable songwriters of the ’80s, Desmond Child, is credited with JLT as the writers. This is another song that has made an appearance before, this time on the 1987 album FREIGHT TRAIN HEART by Jimmy Barnes. I don’t have that record (but I will look for it now!) so the song is new to me but it ends the albums on a soft note and it’s kind of a letdown, not the song but the sequence.

Bottom Line:
If you have ever heard a Joe Lynn Turner sung album then you have an idea of what the new Sunstorm album will sound like. It’s a great melodic Rock album with flawless production, great music and, of course, perfect vocals. The sound is a little dated, a little too rooted in the early to mid ’80s, but if you grew up at that time with that music then you will like this record. All the songs are well written, the list of songwriters is a testament to that, and the performances are high quality, I couldn’t find one song that I didn’t like or could be called a “filler” track. I admit that at the end ‘House Of Dreams’ and ‘Walk On’ seemed to follow the same patterns as the rest of the tracks but they are still good solid songs that could easily be a single if either the radio industry got it’s collective heads together or we turn the calendar back 20 years. This is another great album from Joe Lynn Turner and it is definitely one of the best I have heard this year.

Favorite Songs:
I like every song on the album but if I had to pick a few that stand out above the rest they would be: ‘Gutters Of Gold’, ‘I Found Love’, ‘Tears On The Pages’ and ”Divided’.

Current Playlist

I’m trying to catch up on a lot of listening to some of the newer releases that I haven’t gotten to yet but having the collection organized has been a challenge. Everytime I grab an album to put into the Collectorz cataloging software or iTunes, I find another that I haven’t heard in a long time! Then I find a band I forgot about and I pull out all of their albums! Will it ever end?

UFO – The Visitor (2009): This hasn’t left my rotation since I got the advance from SPV a few weeks ago and I don’t think it’s going to leave anytime soon. One of the best albums of the year for me.

Saxon – Into The Labyrinth (2009): I had the advance in December and I haven’t put it down yet…..album of the year for me but UFO is challenging!

Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens – Play My Game (2009): A great comeback for the Ripper, its good to hear him doing his own thing and not being a hired hand. I like the Iced Earth and Malmsteen albums but I think Ripper has to make a mark with his solo career or Beyond Fear.

Beyond Fear – s/t (2006): More of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens doing his own thing instead of being a hired frontman. I listened to the album and realized that this was easily one of the best pieces of work Owens has produced. It hasn’t grown stale since it’s release, it still sounds feash and I think that’s because Ripper had the control.

Chickenfoot – s/t (2009): Sammy Hagar & Michael Anthony…..that’s enough to sell me on this album but then you add Joe Satriani and Chad Smith. This isn’t Van Halen, solo Hagar or a Red Hot Chili Pepper thing, this is an actual new band with some good Hard Rocks songs from solid performers. So far it’s better than I thought.

As Cities Burn – Hell Or High Water (2009): One of the worst albums I’ve heard so far this year! The album cover screams Metal but As Cities Burn is a Christian Rock/Indie/Progressive/Modern Rock band and there is just nothing heavy or hard to the music. It sounds too much like what is already clogging Rock radio: mainstream modern Rock with no substance. I wanted to give this another chance but it was a tough listen.

Joe Lynn Turner – Rescue You (1985): JLT’s first solo album after Ritchie Blackmore ended Rainbow. I haven’t listened to this in years and I just got the CD in from a nice seller on Ebay.

Iron Maiden – (various albums): Basically I pulled out all my Maiden albums and started spinning them on the stereo. At work, I put the iPod on “shuffle” and listened to Maiden out of order and had some cool playlists. The new DVD documentary and live CD, FLIGHT 666, come out Tuesday and I want to be ready!

AC/DC – Back In Black (1980): I never pull out BACK IN BLACK because I can tune in to any Rock radio station in my local area and I guarantee I will hear the whole album by the end of the day! There’s nothing wrong with BACK IN BLACK, it’s just that I know it all by heart and it’s completely overplayed. So why is it in my current playlist? My 10 year old daughter loves the album and she absolutley begs me to play it! At least she knows about good music!

The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed (1969): I’ve always been a Stones fan and LET IT BLEED has been my favorite Stones record for a long time. I heard ‘Monkey Man’ on one of the radio stations as a “deep track” and I pulled the album out as soon as I got home!

CD Scavenger Hunt – Catching up edition

It’s been over a month since I posted an update on what I’ve picked up for music. I’m happy to say that I’ve been picking up some solid used gems and some great new releases between the record shops, Ebay, and band websites. Of course, I’m adding new discs quicker than I can listen and I have more on the way!

Band Websites

Don Dokken - Solitary (2008)Don Dokken – Solitary (2008) – $25: I’m not going to lie, I’m a big time Dokken fan and I also like Don’s solo album UP FROM THE ASHES (1990). I read a quick note online that Don was selling his new solo record exclusively on tour and at his website…..for a limited time. The download was $10 so I figured the actual disc would be around $15. I was wrong! $20 plus $5 shipping all through Don’s website & Paypal.

Ebay

Wasp - Dominator (2007)W.A.S.P. – Dominator (2007) – $11: I finally picked this album up after much debate. I’ve been listening to W.A.S.P. since the debut back in ’84 but the last two albums (Neon God Pts. 1 & 2) didn’t really excite me. Actually, I thought they were horrible. The price was right on the auction and the $11 I spent includes the shipping charge. The problem? It’s a Russian pressing. I’ll make it quick on Russian pressings: they are official releases for sale in that area only, they are usually sold cheaper due to the country’s economics and many Ebay dealers buy up the Russian pressings and sell them for double profit on Ebay. The Russian subsidiary was listed in the auction but I didn’t realize it until the auction ended. Everything looks good and the CD sounds fine but I would prefer to stay away from these pressings as they are bootlegged often and easily.

Akira Kajiyama & Joe Lynn Turner - Fire Without Flame (2006)Akira Kajiyama & Joe Lynn Turner – Fire Without Flame (2006) – $7: Joe Lynn Turner always gets involved in excellent projects and taking over the vocals for a collaboration with Japanese guitarist Akira Kajiyama was a no brainer. They had worked with each other previously on many JLT solo projects. This was rated really high on many Best of 2006 lists and it’s Joe Lynn Turner, one of the best Rock singers ever. The price was a true bargain at $7 from the same seller that I got the W.A.S.P. CD from, problem is it was another Russian pressing. Same situation as the other auction, buyer beware, but the CD seems perfectly fine.

Sunstorm - s/t (2006)Sunstorm (featuring Joe Lynn Turner) – s/t (2006) – $11: One of the top Melodic Rock albums of 2006 featuring “Mr. Smooth” himself on lead vocals, Joe Lynn Turner. I’m in a JLT zone right now because I can’t get enough of his last solo record, SECOND HAND LIFE (2007), and Rainbow. This album has been on my Want List for a couple years and I finally found a copy at a decent price. The problem? Another Russian pressing. Again, my fault because the subsidiary label was listed in the auction…..but it was hard to find.

Lillian Axe - Fields Of Yesterday (1999)Lillian Axe – Fields Of Yesterday (1999) – $8.50: I picked this up because I needed to finish off my Lillian Axe collection. This is the original 1999 pressing, it has been reissued recently by the same label, Z Records, with a couple of bonus tracks. I went for the original release because I read that the reissue is also remastered, I wanted to hear it like I should have in ’99. The price was also half what I could find the reissue for.

Heavy Load - Death Or Glory (1982)Heavy Load – Death Or Glory (1982) – $17.75: This is one of those rarities I had to have. Heavy Load is from Sweden and plays an early ’80s style of Power Metal that is very good. The vinyl usually goes for big money and the CDs are hard to come by. I happened to get this Japanese pressing from a seller in the U.S. and I was the only bidder! The last time I saw a Heavy Load disc was back around ’98 in a record store import section for $30.

Night Sun - Mournin’ (1972)Night Sun – Mournin’ (1972) – $33.75: This is a rare piece of early ’70s forgotten Metal. I’ve been getting into a lot of early to mid ’70s obscure Metal and Night Sun has been on my list for a long time. This is the lost CD and I still haven’t found it. Hopefully it will turn up at some point but I’ve checked the house, garage, cars and trash…..nothing.

Record Convention

Star Star - The Love Drag Years (1992)Star Star – The Love Drag Years (1992) – $6: I went to my firs record/music convention last month and I was hoping to pick up some obscure Metal. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to choose from but I did find this Sleaze/Glam/Punk album by Star Star. Brand new sealed for $9, I offered $5, compromised at $6.

Newbury Comics

Airtime - Liberty Manifesto (2008)Airtime – Liberty Manifesto (2007) – $18: Rik Emmett decided to Rock out once again and has released this new project with Mike Shotton (Von Groove). Unfortunately, the Triumph reunion details have kept this release under the radar but I heard the previews and it’s solid Melodic Hard Rock. Paid a little bit more at the store than online but I wanted it right away.

Nightwish - Dark Passion Play (2007)Nightwish – Dark Passion Play (2007) – $15: Nightwish have always been one of those bands that I always wanted to check out but I never really gave them the time. I dig female fronted bands like Tristania, Lacuna Coil, Lana Lane, The Gathering, Benedictum and Epica so I figured that I should try some Nightwish now that they have a new singer. I re-listened to WISHMASTER (2000) the other day and I remembered why I keep wanting to dive deeper into the band’s discography.

Lou Gramm - Ready Or Not (1987)Lou Gramm – Ready Or Not (1987) – $5 used: I dig me some Foreigner and I like AOR so this Lou Gramm solo album was a nice find for five bucks. The single ‘Midnight Blue’ is worth the fiver alone! I hadn’t seen this album in a long time and, all of a sudden, there were about 6 copies in the used bin. If you can get by the lighter fare from latter day Foreigner, then you can appreciate Lou Gramm solo.

Raging Slab - s/t (1989)Raging Slab – s/t (1989) – $6 used: I saw this collecting dust in the used bin and I wasn’t sure I had it. I remember having the cassette way back when but I wasn’t sure if I had replaced it on CD. Called the wife from the record store and had her check upstairs in the music room. Nope, not there! I hadn’t heard ‘Don’t Dog Me’ in a long time and I like Southern Hard Rock. Kind of the same situation as Lou Gramm: old disc, good price, good single.

Fair Warning - Live And More (1998)Fair Warning – Live And More (1998) – $7 used: I got into Fair Warning in 2000 when they released FOUR but I haven’t really paid much attention since. FOUR is a good Melodic Rock album but it’s a little lite, maybe that’s why I haven’t explored more Fair Warning albums. This one was cheap for a 2 disc set and I figured it was a good way to check out some of the back catalog.

Scorpions - Animal Magnetism (1980)Scorpions – Animal Magnetism (1980) – $7 used: Finally! After waiting and waiting, I finally found ANIMAL MAGNETISM at a price I was willing to pay. $7 isn’t bad at all for a classic record and an original pressing. This also takes another off my WANTED list. The only problem with this album is that I’ll have to skip ‘The Zoo’ even though it’s a classic tune, it just gets overplayed so much!

Quiet Riot - The Randy Rhoads Years (1993)Quiet Riot – The Randy Rhoads Years (1993) – $6 used: I already have QUIET RIOT I (1977) and QUIET RIOT II (1978) so I’ve got the pre-METAL HEALTH era covered. This album has a few unreleased tracks and some remastered songs from the first two albums so it’s essential to completing the band’s discography. This is the only missing piece to my QR puzzle and I got it for a really great price.

Epica - The Divine Conspiracy (2007)Epica – The Divine Conspiracy (2007) – $7 used: Like I mentioned before, I like female fronted bands like Lacuna Coil, Lana Lane, and Nightwish so picking up Epica’s latest album for a mere seven bucks was an easy purchase. I was actually going to pick this up brand new for $15 but I happened to notice that the used Metal section being re-stocked at the same time…..and there was the used copy! Someone had just traded it in!

U.D.O. - Mastercutor (2007)U.D.O. – Mastercutor (2007) – $7 used: I’ve always been a huge Accept/U.D.O. fan and I have almost every release by both bands, there’s a couple that have eluded me. Anyway, I wanted the European limited edition with the two extra songs but I never found it. The limited edition is on Ebay for $25 but I’ve been putting it off. I couldn’t pass up the U.S. release at such a great price and I finally get to enjoy an album that has been out almost a year.

Fight - K5 The War Of Words DemosFight K5 – The War Of Words Demos – $14: I’ve been putting this CD off for a while, mostly because I had missed the initial sale price of $9.99 when it first came out. I kept my eye on this disc over the last few weeks and it actually came down in price from $16.99! I figured I wouldn’t find it for less and I was sick of waiting. The original Fight release was brilliant, any doubts I had about Rob Halford continuing Metal life after leaving Judas Priest were erased.

Tarja - My Winter Storm (2008)Tarja – My Winter Storm (CD + DVD) (2008) – $15: I’m not sure why I wanted this album so badly but I did. Same thing with the latest Nightwish, I think it was just time to give in and try this music out. I’d read a lot of reviews and they were all very good, I heard some online samples and liked what I heard so the decision to buy was made. A couple of weeks before the U.S. release, I saw this album at the store as an import for $30…..I passed. When it was released officially in the States, I compared the European import to the U.S. version: there was no difference at all. Both were an oversized digipak, both has the CD and DVD, both had the same tracklisting. Not sure what was so special about the Euro version 2 weeks prior but I was glad to get this at a more reasonable price.

The Top 15 Albums of 2007

It’s been another solid year for new releases, hundreds of bands released new albums in 2007 and it’s been very hard to keep up. I missed out on many new releases in many different genres because I spend my hard earned money. That money I put aside for my music fix has to be spent wisely and some bands/albums just fall through the cracks. I’ve started to get the attention of some labels and distributors so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to review more new releases in 2008.

Another factor is availability. Today anything can be bought online but the prices can be too high, sometimes it’s better to save a few dollars by holding off on a European or Japanese import and waiting for the U.S. release. In a few of those cases, some albums released around the world in 2007 won’t be released properly in the U.S. until early 2008 (Night Ranger, Airbourne, Primal Fear).

Looking back on 2007, I noticed that some bands got more of my attention than others and I picked up a lot of new releases from 2006 that I had missed. I only expect more of the same as my Want List grows and my musical tastes expand. The only criteria I followed for my Top 15 was that the album had to be a studio album, not a live record, best of, or covers collection. So here it is, my Top 15 Albums of 2007:

#1

Scorpions - Humanity Hour 1 (2007)Scorpions – Humanity Hour 1

The surprise of the year! The Scorpions experimented enough over the last few years but they planted the seeds with 2004’s UNBREAKABLE for a major comeback, not that they ever went away. I admit that I was apprehensive when I found out Pop Rock guru Desmond Child was aboard but the relationship produced a solid Hard Rock album full of melody, emotion, and attitude. This album has remained in my playlist rotation since it’s release and I haven’t tired of it yet, that’s the mark of a great album. I missed the band when they came to Boston this past Fall but their is a rumored tour with Judas Priest in 2008, that will make HUMANITY HOUR 1 even better. Another surprise was the advertised price ($7.99 at Best Buy) and the exclusive bonus track ‘Cold’. A great album AND value!

#2

Joe Lynn Turner - Second Hand Life (2007)Joe Lynn Turner – Second Hand Life

Very close to being my #1 album of 2007. So close in fact that I’ve had to listen to this and the Scorpions more in the last week to make the final decision. All the songs are strong and the music is a pure blend of classic AOR and Melodic Hard Rock. The songwriting is intelligent and emotional and the vocals are the best I’ve heard in 2007, JLT is in fine voice, probably the strongest of his career…..he just sounds so smooth, so effortless in his delivery. There were also a couple of Rainbow influences that gave the album a classic sound without sounding dated. Like the Scorpions album, there was a lot of value: the U.S. release on Friday Music was $12.99 and included an exclusive track (‘Freedom’s Wings’) and all the European and Japanese bonus tracks.

#3

Saxon - The Inner SanctumSaxon – The Inner Sanctum

THE INNER SANCTUM was the album of the year for me until the Scorpions and JLT released their albums. Saxon are one of my favorite bands and they have consistently produced great albums since the late ’90s, this record is no exception. Saxon blends their current approach of blazing fast Power Metal with their NWOBHM roots and creates an album of ten really great songs. Saxon are elder statesmen in the realm of Heavy Metal but they do things better than many of the younger bands. The focus is on the songwriting and then translating it to the live show. Every one of these songs could be played alongside the classics, that’s how strong they are. Add the bonus DVD to the studio album and it turns into a great package, also one of my favorite album covers of the year.

#4

Great White - Back To The Rhythm (2007)Great White – Back To The Rhythm

A successful comeback by a band no one expected to do anything. After all that has happened, did anyone think that Great White would actually make an album? They did and they made a great Blues based Hard Rock record. Getting the classic lineup back together rejuvenated the writing and getting singer Jack Russell sober made all the difference as he put in probably the best vocal performance of his career.

#5

Icarus Witch - Songs For The Lost (2007)Icarus Witch – Songs For The Lost

One of the best new bands out there playing a cross between NWOBHM and Traditional Metal. This is their second album and it doesn’t suffer from the “sophomore jinx”, this is a solid slab of straight up Heavy Metal. I even like the cover of Def Leppard’s ‘Mirror Mirror’! A band worth watching for the future.

#6

Primal Fear - New Religion (2007)Primal Fear – New Religion

Primal Fear just make good Heavy Metal records…..period. NEW RELIGION has a bit more melody and harmony within the power of their Metal assault, making the album more accessible and diverse. Everytime I hear a new Primal Fear record, I always wonder how vocalist Ralf Scheepers lost the Judas Priest gig to Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. Ralf has grown from being complete Halford clone to being one of the best Metal singers alive. Had to pick this up on import in September, the U.S. release is January 2008.

#7

Airbourne - Runnin’ Wild (2007)Airbourne – Runnin’ Wild

I bought into all the hype and rave reviews and I picked this up very late in the year. I was skeptical because I had heard only two songs and I wondered if AC/DC clones could produce a strong album. Everyone likes AC/DC, and with them out of the picture for now, Airbourne has picked up where Angus & company left off. It’s simple bluesy Hard Rock like AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, and The Angels but with a youthful energy built for party Rock. Had to get this one on import late in the year also because their U.S. distribution starts in January 2008.

#8

3 Inches Of Blood - Fire Up The Blades (2007)3 Inches Of Blood – Fire Up The Blades

A big thanks to a loyal reader, and devout Metalhead, Rene for pushing me to check out this band. Good thing I listened because 3 Inches Of Blood is a great young band that blends many different styles of Metal into their overall sound. Cam Pipes is one of the better Metal vocalists that can incorporate clean/traditional singing with growls. grunts, and groans. Another young band making their mark.

#9

Ted Nugent - Love Grenade (2007)Ted Nugent – Love Grenade

Terrible Ted came roaring from the woods to deliver his best album in years. Continuing with his gonzo attitude and hunter instinct, Ted took his love of the Blues, added his Hard Rock blend and tongue-in-cheek humor, and built the LOVE GRENADE. Jack Blades’ (Night Ranger/Damn Yankees) produces and co-writes here and does a spectacular job at getting the best from the Nuge. One listen to ‘Girl Scout Cookies’ and ‘Funk U’ and you’ll understand.

#10

Kamelot - Ghost Opera (2007)Kamelot – Ghost Opera

Another end of the year addition and it’s a shame I waited so long, it’s a good album. A little more Progressive and Symphonic than their past Power Metal style but still good. Kamelot proves that heavy music can be intricate and diverse while retaining the power…..I really dig the orchestration and strings and the lush backgrounds. Is Roy Khan one of the most underrated singers in Metal or what? Added value to this one is the bonus DVD on the limited edition.

#11

Megadeth - United Abominations (2007)Megadeth – United Abominations

At first, I wasn’t excited or impressed, Megadeth hadn’t regained my trust from 1999’s RISK debacle even though there had been two decent studio releases since. It wasn’t until mid-May when I saw Megadeth open for Heaven & Hell that I stood up and took notice. It’s having classic Megadeth back with Dave Mustaine more focused than ever.

#12

Helloween - Gambling With The Devil (2007)Helloween – Gambling With The Devil

Helloween were kind of put in the same category as Megadeth because I just couldn’t get into their last two albums: RABBIT DON’T COME EASY (2003) & KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS – THE LEGACY (2005). There was too much experimentation and enhancements on those records while the band tried to regain their signature sound and promised fans such. This album was more straight ahead Power Metal that Helloween is known for. Andi Deris puts in a spectacular performance and the band has shown that all the lineup changes of recent years hasn’t disrupted their core.

#13

Iced Earth - Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Pt.1) (2007)Iced Earth – Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Pt.1)

Hard to believe that this is only Iced Earth’s third album since 1998’s masterpiece SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. It’s also hard to believe that after releasing two very spotty concept records, the band would come roaring back to form with another concept album based on the SOMETHING WICKED theme. Unfortunately, recent lineup changes (Owens out, Barlow back in) and some late year additions to my collection have pushed this album down the list, I had it Top 10 easily up until the last couple of weeks.

#14

Endeverafter - Kiss Or Kill (2007)Endeverafter – Kiss Or Kill

Endeverafter came out of nowhere to deliver solid party time Hard Rock. A blend of classic L.A. Hard Rock with today’s edge, I couldn’t find a bad song. I’d like to hear how the do on their next record.

#15

Masterplan - MK II (2007)Masterplan – MK II

I’ve had this CD since early April and I’m still enjoying it. Unfortunately, it ranks a little lower due to my getting used to Mike DiMeo replacing Jorn Lande at the mic and the fact that many top bands released excellent albums later in the year. Really good Power/Progressive Metal here, hopefully the lineup stays stable.

In case my list wasn’t enough, or you simply don’t agree, some other great Music blogs have listed their Top Albums of 2007:

Axeman

Bring Back Glam

Hard Rock Hideout

Heavy Metal Time Machine

Imagine Echoes

Layla’s Classic Rock Faves

The Metal Minute

Raise Your Fists

Rock & Roll And Meandering Nonsense

Rock Of Ages (Dave’s Best of 2007)

Rock Of Ages (Bill’s Best of 2007)

Joe Lynn Turner – Second Hand Life (2007)

Joe Lynn Turner - Second Hand Life (2007)

Joe Lynn Turner – Second Hand Life (2007, Friday Music)

  1. Your Love Is Life
  2. Got Me Where You Want Me
  3. Second Hand Life
  4. In Your Eyes
  5. Blood Red Sky
  6. Stroke Of Midnight
  7. Off The Hook
  8. Over The Top
  9. Cruel
  10. Sweet Obsession
  11. Love Is On Our Side
  12. Two Lights
  13. Freedom’s Wings

Joe Lynn Turner

Musicians:
Joe Lynn Turner – Lead & Background Vocals
Karl Cochran – Guitars, Bass, & Background Vocals
Bob Held – Bass
Michael Cartellone – Drums
Gary Corbett – Keyboards

Producers: Bob Held & Joe Lynn Turner

Total Time – 58:50

Joe Lynn Turner official website
Joe Lynn Turner on MySpace
Friday Music

Joe Lynn Turner has one of the best voices in the Rock world. Doesn’t matter who you put him up against, JLT has one of the smoothest voices and it keeps getting better album after album. Look at the pedigree: Fandango, Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, and solo…..JLT is as versatile as he is gifted at the mic, everything the guy sings on is professional and very good. Solo album #10, SECOND HAND LIFE, is no exception.

‘Your Love Is Life’ starts the album out on a high note with a melodic rock masterpiece. First, Karl Cochran shines on guitar. He has this great tone that just screams ’80s Melodic Rock. The add Joe’s vocals and it’s a song that could have easily been a huge hit back in the day. It doesn’t sound dated but it has the old school flavor. The harmonies are superb.

Things slow down for ‘Got Me Where You Want Me’ to a bluesy ballad that has excellent vocals by JLT again. You expect the vocals to be top notch from a JLT record but it’s obvious by this song that the musicianship from the backing band is superb. Cartellone adds some meat here with the crashing cymbals and Cochran adds some good subdued lines in. The title track is another good example of Hard Rock done extremely well. The pace is quicker than the previous song and it has more of the same: great vocals and guitars. See a theme here? One has to wonder if Turner just walked into the studio, cranked out the vocal, and walked out. The guy has a golden throat that doesn’t age.

Ballad #2 is ‘In Your Eyes’, one of my favorite songs on the album. Perfect ballad, the best I’ve heard all year. Definitely Rainbow influenced, you can imagine this being on BENT OUT OF SHAPE (1983), and heavy on the vocals. This is a showcase for JLT as the guitar is gently placed in the mix and Gary Corbett plays subtle keyboard lines in and out. This song reminds me of Rock ballads of the early ’80s but, again, the song itself doesn’t come off as dated. Another Rainbow fueled song, ‘Blood Red Sky’, picks up the pace and starts out with a Cochran guitar solo that evokes both Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen…..both crowning collaboration achivements of JLT’s career. I swear I hear parts of Dio-era Rainbow ‘Gates Of Babylon’ in the main guitar riff sometimes but ‘Blood Red Sky’ turns out to be a serious melodic rocker. I think the keyboards give it that Eastern flavor. More huge harmonies here around the chorus. Those who want a reunion of JLT & Ritchie Blackmore need to hear this song.

I like the strut and swagger of ‘Stroke Of Midnight’, it’s another blues based song with a nice main guitar riff and accompanying organ. Karl Cochran really spreads out a bit, doesn’t overplay, and keeps everything tight. There’s a reason why JLT keeps bringing Karl aboard for solo releases, the guy is smooth as silk on guitar and plays well within the song. If you want some faster paced Hard Rock/Metal, bonus track ‘Off The Hook’ delivers. It’s a lot faster than even opener ‘Your Love is Life’ and has a serious main riff and solo that you can imagine Malmsteen shredding. Even with the faster pace, Joe makes it sound effortless, even when he hits the highs. Imagine a faster ‘Death Alley Driver’. This song is from the Japanese version of the album that was released earlier then the U.S., Friday Music added in for the North American release along with two more that we will see at the end of the album.

‘Over The Top’ keeps the faster pace but is a notch below ‘Off The Hook’ speed wise. The guitar tone is heavier and a little slower to fit into the melodic structure and solid backline. The melody and harmony really get you singing right along just like the rest of the songs so far, it’s infectious.

‘Cruel’ is superb! Another example of how a melodic track that leans toward the ’80s style can hold it’s own in 2007. ‘Cruel’ is mid-paced with an almost funky main riff and tons of melody. It’s commercial, it’s radio friendly, it’s solid. Reminds my of the Rainbow classic ‘Street Of Dreams’ a bit. Another ’80s sounding song, ‘Sweet Obsession’, is pure AOR. Kind of like Journey I’d say, maybe even Foreigner, but smoother. I could imagine this all over the radio because it has that hook and melody that defines good AOR. Staying in the same AOR vein, ‘Love Is On Our Side’ has that classic power ballad sound with the big electric guitar intro and underlying riff. Of course there is the big harmony chorus and subtle keyboards that suck you in. The vocal is top notch with JLT putting in the one of the best performances of the album…..that’s a statement because he has been flawless on every song. Great solo by Cochran here as well.

I have the U.S. version on Friday Music so there are two more bunus tracks besides ‘Off The Hook’ – ‘Two Lights’ (European version on Frontiers Records) and ‘Freedom’s Wings’ (recorded specifically for the U.S. release). ‘Two Lights’ is mid-tempo and radio friendly, another AOR release that fits in with the rest of the album tracks. It has that hook that gets you singing along. ‘Freedom’s Wings’ sounds like something the Black Crowes or John Mellencamp would do. It’s bluesy and it has that Crowes vibe but it’s got the signature JLT melody and sound. The harmonies on the chorus could easily be enhanced by a choir, it just all sounds so smooth and easy while rocking out.

Bottom Line:
An excellent album, no surprise there. Everytime Joe Lynn Turner puts his name on an album, it’s good. I can’t find a weak song on this album, that’s a testament to the quality of the material and the musicians involved. The album is full of top notch Melodic Hard Rock and AOR songs that have a clear link to the glory days of the ’80s without sounding dated. Definitely an album I will consider for Album of the Year and one of the best albums of JLT’s career.