Album review: HEAVEN & EARTH – Hard To Kill

HEAVEN & EARTH - Hard To Kill

Quarto Valley Records [Release date 13.10.17]

It would be cruel to say that ‘Heaven & Earth’ is Rainbow-by-numbers but, cripes, bandleader – UK-born Stuart Smith -  looks like Ritchie (check the CD booklet!!) and apparently was mentored by him.

The opener, and title track, steals the ‘Burn’ riff which doesn’t really help matters but it lays down the band’s DNA.  Blackmore-esque guitaring, powerhouse drumming legend Kenny Aronoff (who sadly isn’t a member of the touring band), vocalist Joe Retta (who has worked with Gregg Rolie, Dio Disciples and the Steve Priest version of The Sweet where he met Smith) bassist Lynn Sorensen (who we’ve seen with Paul Rodgers) and keyboard player Ty Baillie (who again is absent from the touring band).

‘Walk Away’ is another highlight, and we’re only two tracks in, with a great riff punctuated by Baillie’s Hammond fills.  Elsewhere the band’s bluesy credentials are evident in ‘Till It’s Over’, ‘L.A. Blues’ and ‘Hellfire’.  ‘Bleed Me Dry’ on the other hand might be a natural choice for a radio-friendly single and has all the right hallmarks including acoustic guitar stylings and catchy hooks.

The great riffage continues on ‘Monster’ and ‘Beautiful Monsters’ which again highlight Retta’s great vocal contribution throughout.  Given that the likes of Kelly Keeling, Paul Shortino, Foreigner’s Kelly Hansen and even Joe Lynn Turner have passed through the H&E ranks this continues (and upholds) a grand tradition.

You’ll see all this on the accompanying DVD which showcases each track, together with a download code for the digital version plus bonus video content makes this one of the best new release packages I’ve come across and from a band who are hardly household names.

Originally released in October 2017 this would have certainly registered in some GRTR! reviewer ‘Best of’ year selections, but we never received it, and it appears to be getting a welcome boost belatedly in the UK.

‘Hard To Kill’ is an excellent album which contains some killer tracks that lift it above the ordinary or the purely derivative.  Whilst no track out-stays its welcome you do get the feeling especially on the final salvo – ‘Bad Man’ – that here is a band who were born to jam and should be given that opportunity.

Rather than Rainbow-lite, Heaven & Earth emerge as Rainbow with knobs on and, moreover, with an American AOR sheen.  It should have punters seeking out the previous album, 2013′s well-received  ‘Dig’.  The band toured here in summer of 2014, let’s hope they return soon.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

Archive interview (2014)

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.

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