Album review: MICHAEL THOMPSON BAND – High Times, Live In Italy

MICHAEL THOMPSON BAND - High Times, Live In Italy

Frontiers [Release date 24.01.20]

Michael Thompson’s reputation as the rock world’s original “go to guitarist” is unassailable. Though none is needed, he provides ample proof of his skill and virtuosity here. And understandably cashing in his cultural stock in the melodic rock marketplace, he’s released 2 albums on Frontiers Records in the space of a year. “Love And Beyond” (2019), his first MTB band album for the label, contributes 3 of the 9 song set on “High Times, Live In Italy”. And the much lauded debut, “How Long” (1989) kicks in another 4.

“High Times” saw the band treading the boards at the Live Music Club in Milan, Italy. It’s often difficult to find a distinctive band identity in MTB’s recorded material. Only 3 full albums in 30 years provides little evidence to sift through. But putting all the “identity” questions to one side, this is one hell of a melodic rock album. His band is Larry Antonino and Guy Allison, both of Unruly Child, on bass and keys; Sergio Gonzalez on drums, and Larry (Soleil Moon) King on vocals. King works hard, filling the stage, continually nodding postively in appreciation of the band, especially Thompson, as you would expect.

As one, they lock onto a comfortable sense of equilibrium that mellows out on the balladic stuff (Starting Over, Give Love A Chance), both sounding a lot like Foreigner … compositionally strong, echoing that band’s classy, high calibre twists on stadium rock. And it rings true on the hooky, upbeat stuff too. On ‘Can’t Miss’ and ‘Secret Information’ the perfomances are exhilarating, with Thompson’s white light frills and fills, and King’s achingly eloquent vocals digging deep into their chosen genre’s illustrious past.

But it’s the title track from their “Love And Beyond” album that stands out from the others. Gonzalez and Antonino’s Toto-like funky rhythmic undercurrent combines perfectly with Thompson’s solidly weighted axework and King’s mature, full bodied delivery.

And while they’re not exactly reinventing the wheel here, they close the set with a blistering, ten minute cover of Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’, putting a welcome new spin on a dyed in the 70s’ AOR classic.

As live recordings go this one is up there. It sounds precision engineered…it has clarity, clout and depth… the big 3. Kudos to the audio tech. ****

Review by Brian McGowan

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