AOR Heaven (Release Date 27.11.20)
East Temple Avenue sees Australian songwriter Darren Phillips, whose project under his own name featured a star studded cast, join forces for a whole album with Robbie Le Blanc, the Blanc Faces singer whose combination of smoothness and grit has over the past few years made him the go to voice for AOR projects.
In contrast to the overly keyboard heavy approach of the best known of those in Find Me, there is more of a balance this time as a great anthemic opener in ‘Mountain’ is more guitar heavy including some fine solos from another current unsung hero of AOR in Philip Lindstrand. The keys are still present, but in a supporting role.
‘Don’t Make Believe’ sounds great and while the songwriting is not as tightly focused there is a lot to admire including some spot on harmonies to close. A couple of mid-tempo songs then follow- ‘Fool for Love’, despite its Journey-esque piano intro is not a ballad as such but a vehicle for Robbie’s voice which in a couple of places draws comparisons with the great Mickey Thomas, and ‘Take My Last Breath’ feature more passionate vocals and a quality guitar solo.
‘Everything’, with shades of Honeymoon Suite, is a little generic but it is easy to see the guitar heavy ‘Forever Yours’ working well as a live track should this collaboration ever get to this stage.
The latter part of the album has an unusual pacing to it. Two of the best and certainly most straightforward rockers are back to back in ‘Fly High’ (with its lyric ‘live to win, fuelled by adrenalin’) and ‘When I’m With You’- both have an optimistic, good time vibe and you can imagine Robbie’s face muscles contracting as he belts them out with real gusto.
Yet it closes with a pair of admittedly contrasting ballads in ‘The End of Me and You’ and ‘Where Love Is’, the former rather melodramatic and the latter featuring Robbie singing over an acoustic backing with a very Lou Gramm- ish tinge to his voice.
I initially found the album a little bland, but after three plays it is still growing on me which is a good sign in a genre that often only offers an instant fix. It’s a beautifully constructed album of old school AOR with a set of songs that show Robbie Le Blanc at his finest. **** 1/4
Review by Andy Nathan
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