Frontiers Music [Release date: 07.12.18]
Mike Slamer has been a respected rock session musician, writer and producer for decades, although his profile is still relatively low. He is perhaps best known for forming bands with Kansas members, firstly Steve Walsh in Streets and then Billy Greer in Seventh Key. Interestingly, he also hammered out the lead guitar fireworks on Warrant’s first two albums in the late 80’s/early 90’s, a contribution that was not publicised at the time.
This latest project sees him hook up with powerful vocalist Andrew Freeman from Last In Line to deliver a melodic rock tour de force, packed with quality compositions, variations and fine performances.
The album announces its bonafide AOR credentials early, with the keyboard-loading of ‘We Come Alive’ billowing under Freeman’s largely restrained vocals. This one is a bit of a grower, and not that typical of the whole album.
‘Falling In’ is more immediate and again sees keyboards vying with guitar to nail the melody, and features a much more urgent, attacking delivery from Freeman. Equally compelling is ‘Find Another Way To Fly’ which swells on lush keyboards into a rousing Freeman chorus, giving way to a screaming Slamer solo. The track maintains the freshness and energy right through the finish line.
‘Drive Away’ is a hard rock thoroughbred, both in the assurance of the composition and the quality of the delivery. Probably the fastest track on view, it is the first time that drummer Chet Wynd stamps his authority on proceedings.
Wynd is the only other musician to appear on the album. Slamer plays everything bar the tubs and Freeman sings everything bar a few backing lines. Both have co-written all the songs, sometimes with others; and Slamer of course produces and engineers the whole shooting match. This gives the album a coherence and integrity. And on the evidence before us, it would seem that the two mainmen gelled very well indeed.
Changes of pace are provided by ‘One More Time’ which borrows a bit of cowboy country steel guitar in pleasant enough style; and ‘Justified’, a quiet and largely innocuous ballad. Better is ‘Unified’, featuring a couple of dramatic change-ups and a small John Bon Jovi sound-a-like on the acoustic segments.
The most convincing material remains the rockier melodic constructions such as ‘Rise Above It All’ and title track ‘Devil’s Hand’ where Slamer finds some emotion alongside the technique to match Freeman’s full-throttle lung busters. ‘Push Comes To Shove’ closes out the album in uncompromising fashion with a high octane workout blending guitar, keys and vocals in an insistent cocktail somehow reminiscent of Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow.
This unexpected alliance has paid off handsomely with well-crafted and exuberant melodic rock. The collection is only a couple of killer tracks away from the full fistful of stars. Here’s hoping it is more than a one-off. ****½
Review by Dave Atkinson
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