Frontiers [Release Date 26.04.19]
Michael Thompson is one of the most respected session guitarists in rock – alongside Steve Lukather and Bruce Gaitsch he is probably the go-to man, particularly for the so-called West Coast sound where soft rock and AOR come together.
With clients on his CV such as Madonna, Cher and Michael Jackson it is hardly surprising that his own career has taken a back seat but his eponymous band has now released only a third album in 25 years.
It is a little different from the norm in this genre, as you would expect from a band bearing the guitarist’s name, sitting midway between conventional AOR and a guitar showcase. While the focus is on the songs, his own fluid, melodic, economic and slightly bluesy tones are given greater reign than they otherwise might be. This manifests itself in the fact that seven of the 18 tracks are instrumental interludes, but are thankfully short and do not break up the flow too much.
The songs are also growers in that they often start at a gentle, almost bland pace and gradually build to a crescendo and the title track is a prime example, with the delivery of a strong chorus showing that Michael has made a real discovery in Larry Antonino, better known as a bassist for Unruly Child among others but the featured lead singer on the majority of the numbers. His smooth, pleasant tones even have a touch of Don Henley or John Waite to them.
The production is classy and the involvement of Unruly Child and Doobie Brothers keyboardist Guy Allison adds a further veneer of quality.
‘Save Yourself’ gives Michael quite a lot of scope for solos but both that and ‘Passengers’ have strong chorus hooks. ‘Supersonic’- featuring Mark Spiro on lead vocals and another great solo late song – the very Californian-sounding ‘Don’t Look Down’, and ‘Far Away’ are more laid back.
My favourite songs are saved to the last half of the album: ‘Love Was Never Blind’ blends perhaps Michael’s toughest riff of the album with super smooth vocals. Then the second song co-written and sung by Spiro, ‘Flying Without Wings’, is exemplary AOR, bearing all the quality hallmarks you would expect of a man whose credits include the likes of Bad English and Giant. It won’t be, but it deserves to be picked up by one of the modern country or pop stars and given a wider audience.
Larry King, who was lead vocalist on MTB’s previous ‘Future Past’ album, then makes a reappearance on the last two vocal numbers, the country-ish ‘What Will I Be Without You’ and ‘Starting Over’. Further examples of the slow burning nature of many of these songs, his still melodic voice also has a grittier tone to it compared to the other two singers, which works as a refreshing contrast .
If you don’t need an instant fix, are drawn to the mellower side of the melodic rock spectrum, and appreciate quality playing and singing, here is your album of the year. ****1/2
Review by Andy Nathan
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
Featured Albums w/c 6 January (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 JESSE DAMON Damon’s Rage (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 STORMFORCE Age Of Fear (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 GARY FLETCHER Rivers Keep Flowing (indie)
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