[Release date: 01.09.18] available at bandcamp.com
Anyone remember Breathing Space, featuring ex-Mostly Autumn’s Iain Jennings and Olivia Sparnenn? The band produced a clutch of excellent melodic semi ‘prog’ albums in the ‘noughties’, including Coming Up For Air (2007) and Under The Radar (2009).
And what about another ‘shooting satellite’ – the short lived, but equally outstanding Stolen Earth, whose one and only album – A Far Cry From Home – was named in the GRTR! Reviewer’s Best Of 2012 feature?
Well, guitarist Mark Rowen, who played on the Coming Up For Air and co-composed four songs on Below The Radar, has recruited the Stolen Earth rhythm section and ex Breathing Space bandmates Paul Teasdale (bass) and Barry Cassells (drums) to record his debut ‘solo’ album.
Being a non-professional musician with a day job, the project has taken him a while (around five years!) but it’s been of a labour of love. And while Teasdale and Cassells were a natural, and ready-made fit, finding the other parts of his jigsaw were more challenging.
Keyboard player Leigh Perkins (a keen horticulturalist and microlighter) was recruited via the ‘old school’ classified ad route, while vocalist Lisa Box (a Mum of two working for the NHS!) – a real ‘find’ – was discovered on YouTube.
Now as you might expect from a man with a ‘prog’ background it would be remiss for Radiance not to include a short prologue – ‘Opening Move’ with Genesis / Hackett undertones, an epic 10 minute centrepiece – ‘Lure Of The Siren’ with all manner of guests, and, of course some spoken narrative – in this case Somerset Maughan from The Razor’s Edge setting the scene for the rather beautiful closing number ‘Shine’.
But Radiance is not a prog album. Far from it. At least one of Rowen’s feet is planted firmly across the pond and steeped in eighties, adult orientated pop/rock, and it’s the spellbinding performance of Box that lends real credibility to Rowen’s song’ writing. She takes Radiance to another level.
With her as the radiant jewel in the crown, Rowen exploits her performance with hooks, delicate piano parts, and some glorious melodies. ‘My Shadow Walks Alone’, with its chunky guitar riffs has a whiff of Benatar and Boston, the irresistibly toe tapping ‘Feel Like Letting Go’ adds an element of funk and soul a la Journey meets Irene Cara, and ‘The Reason Why’ is a six minute highlight with some lovely vocals and guitar work that wouldn’t be out of place in the company of Propaganda, Alan Parsons Project, or Rob Reed’s Chimpan A.
‘Carousel’ and ‘Shine’ are lovely, Judie Tzuke/Beverley Craven/ Julia Fordham style piano led ballads, the latter with some exquisite guitar work, ‘Love Is Like A Rock’ starts off in what could easily be Roxette territory and then morphs into something altogether darker and heavier with a proggy instrumental middle section, and ‘Trick Of The Light’ has distant Fleetwood Mac undertones and a wonderful hook.
It all adds up to a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable listen, and something difficult to achieve – an album that successfully bridges [adult orientated] pop and rock. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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