Melodic Rock Update - Featuring Bridge of Sighs, Believe, and Ivory Tower Project

Writing about one of my favorite bands of the late -70's, Axe, whet my appetite to see what was happening today in the world of melodic rock.  Now, like some waveriders, that whole concept of "melodic rock," makes my skin crawl, conjuring up ear-wincing images of Europe or Bad English.  But that's just one end of the spectrum.  Melodic Rock, when done well, can be powerful and dynamic, emotive and moving, while at the same time, pop smart and smooth.

As with any genre, there are tons of talented musicians, creating and performing music that's passionate and intense, full of their life's energy and passion.  So today, we're gonna turn the spotlight on three of these like-minded bands.

Angry CloudsBridge of Sighs - Angry Clouds

What began as a Robin Trower revival band, took on a life of its own when the power trio of bassist/vocalist Trent Stroh, drummer Mike Taylor, and electric-fingered guitarist Tom Neely left the Trower fold to create their own music.  And man, I for one am glad they did!  Bridge of Sighs is that rarest of bands, one that sets itself so firmly in its own day and space that it turns a completely blind eye to the musical world around it, allowing this dynamite power-trio to explore their heavy rocking muse in total freedom.

Now to say they turned a blind eye to the world of Trower is a massive misstatement.  Trower still lives and breathes in this album, in every searing, intensely sustained guitar note.  I hear tons of Bridge of Sighs to In City Dreams-era Trower, with open, expansive compositions, all given plenty of room to breathe and to rock.  And believe me, that comment isn't a criticism.  It's a handy compliment.  Very few bands are making music like this any more, breathy and airy, yet completely sizzling hard rock.  Trent Stroh is a damn fine vocalist, his tenor stunningly expressive, weighted with enough passion to carry the weight of the album while Neely simply looses his mind on guitar.  Notes bend and soar, snake and slither, fire and flare across the album, all with perfect intent.  There's no mindless noodling here, no proggy-guitarabation, just purely focused, soulful, definitely Trower-esque guitar, and it's a thing of beauty.

"Sweet Thing," encapsulates everything that awaits you with this disc in just the first few moments.  The opening guitar is so sultry it positively sweats.  From that moment, the beat breaks down leading us into Stroh's perfect voice while the guitar twists and wails subtlety in and out of the melody.   Taylor doesn't overplay the drums, adding enough touch and finesse to move the song along, power when it needs it, and restraint when it serves the song best.  There's also a serious melody here, a big seventies rock melody that should've been belted out of every coliseum rock festival to a happily stoned crowd.

And in no way is "Sweet Thing," the only strong cut on the album.  In fact, I can't find a weak one.  "Crucified," ups the metallic intensity with it's piledriving bass and riff madness.  "Freedom's Stain," brings some gentle acoustics into the mix, without ever losing its power or drive or metallic menace all the way to its big, lighter-waving, crowd-pleaser of a chorus.   "Angry Clouds," jaunts along with a vague "western from hell" vibe, riding over a twisted Outlaws-minded riff through its freaking infectious melody.  "Mojito" tosses some impeccable Spanish flair into the mix, rocking out like an outtake from a Jeff Beck gets lost in Mexico recoding session, and the big kahuna himself, Trower, makes his presence felt in the excellent cover of the simply rocking "Day of the Eagle."

In truth, this disc took me by surprise, becoming more addicting with each listen.  Fans of Trower don't want to miss this. Or fans of fine 70's-inspired rock, for that matter.  Or simply fans of good music.

 buy here: Angry Clouds

This Bread Is Mine (Ltd. Digipak)Believe - This Bread is Mine

A bitterly cold wind whips down a darkened and desolate street, shimmering reflections in the near-frozen puddles in the concrete.  Chilled to the bone, a lone man flips the collar of his raincoat up against his neck, trying to block out the wind.  His breath escapes in frosty plumes as he digs his hands deeper into his pockets, shrugs his shoulders against the cold and walks on.

Not being familiar with Believe's prior two albums, I carry none of the resistance that some reviewers seem to feel over the arrival of new vocalist Karol Wroblewski, nor do I have any comparisons to make to the harder edge of Believe's earlier work.  Instead, what I'm left with is a profoundly evocative, deeply melancholic, densely atmospheric unfolding of songs of loss and emptiness.  Rich in melody, and deep in texture and tone, This Bread is Mine finds a comfortable place in the developing world of neo-prog, falling into place alongside the work of their Polish countrymen, Riverside or the mellower moments of Porcupine Tree.  Karol's voice is understated, cooly impassioned, nearly whispered even as it breaks into an emotive register.  Adding to the overall density of the album, the guitars are muted, seemingly hushed, as if playing them too loud would disrupt the solitude of that wind-blown street.

The opening track, "The Years," sets the tone with its flickering acoustic guitars, atmospheric keys, and Karol's whispered lyrics.  Contrary to what many might think, you don't have to yell or scream to convey emotion, and the emptiness and isolation in Karol's delivery make this abundantly clear.  Despondency reigns in the depth of his baritone.  Pain resides in the space of his whisper.  "Tales from Under the Tree," takes that pain and ramps it up another degree, adding in an intro of distant echoing guitar before the rock rains down.  "Mirek Gil brings on some of his more fierce guitar work, driving the song forward on an initial frenzy while Karol wails in the background, providing his most impassioned singing on the album.    This song also marks the first true appearance of Satomi's violin, used to profound effect in creating mood and texture.  "Mother" is simply a song of intense melodic beauty, while "And All the Roads," manages to be breathy and dense at the same moment.  Dynamics reign through these songs, through the time changes, the impeccable playing and the gorgeously dark melody.

This Bread is Mine, is an album of understated beauty and ambiance.  A weighty album of soaring guitars and melodies, yet burdened with the pain of a devastated heart and a life devoid of hope.  An album that manages to find the beauty in the darkest of times, the lightness in the heaviest of hearts.   An intensely evocative album, deep in atmosphere.  An album that completely brings to mind a certain place, and time.

And still, that cold wind blows . . . 

Buy here: This Bread Is Mine (Ltd. Digipak)

Ivory Tower Project - Red Hot

Like stepping back in the professor's Way Back Machine, the Ivory Tower Project bring a love for all that was big and poppy from the eighties rock world to their debut disc, Red Hot.  Listening to this album immediately brings to mind such classic melodic rock bands as Journey, gobs of Survivor, and yes, even a little bit of Axe.  If the mention of those bands gets your salivary glands to start working then read on, because what Ivory Tower Project does with their influences places this disc handsomely right next door.  Clearly infused with a love of classic, immaculately produced and performed rock, Ivory Tower Project bring a passion to their craft of big, glossy hooks, soaring vocals, and massive, massive melodies.

The name Ivory Tower Projects refers to a safe place where one is mentally withdrawn from reality, and that seems to capture these guys mindset perfectly.  Forget the tsunami ravaging the music industry, rock is a place where these cats go to escape from the doldrums of their everyday world.  And in the Ivory Tower universe, that escape means jumping on the mothership Jefferson Starship to the planet Toto and rocking out to their fullest intent.  While this disc may not appeal to all hard rockers out there, the boys sell it rather effortlessly with stellar performances of oceans of synths, pulsating bass lines, and Mark Regula's effortless vocals.  "My Name," is the number one standout track here and encapsulates everything the cats represent.  Churning keys bring us in gently in a Supertramp-like surrey.  Percolating bass punctuates the action while Regula takes over with his soaring, Marty Balin-esqe tenor.  Cool melodies and a driving beat make this one a winner.

"Burning" brings on the Survivor in every sense of the word, rocking out as if the nineties had never happened with it's layered guitars, shimmery bright production and huge, soaring chorus.   Actually, I never cared for Survivor much, but find this song to be a melodic rock gem.  "Gotcha," loses itself in an ever-expanding universe of synths, reminding me of such '80's bands as Real Life, before "Way To Late," stampedes out next, sounding like the designated theme song to some Rocky movie not yet made.  Again, a passionate vocal and crisp production make this song vibrate with energy.

The second half of the album slows down a bit in my view, dropping in a few too many ballads to keep the energy free flowing, and mixing up styles more than the boys should, but nevertheless, Ivory Tower Project have created a nice debut that any fans of Frontier Records or addicts of classic, melodic rock should suck down like water after a trip through the desert.

Buy here: Red Hot

Believe - This Bread is Mine