Who: Iconic American songwriter Mark Spiro
Where: Seattle born Southern California based.
What: A highly melodic energetic singer songwriter
When: Recording debut 1986
Sounds like: West Coast driven AOR at its best
Despite a relatively low internet profile as well as outside of the Melodic Rock hallways, Mark Spiro is not a particularly prominently well-known household name. However, within the hallways of the Melodic Rock circles his name is hallowed. And even those of you that may not be so familiar with Mark, there is a close to guarantee that some of his music might just live in your household if you have albums by artists such as Julian Lennon, Cheap Trick, Bad English, John Waite, Heart, Giant and House Of Lords to name a few. And if you have missed out on his solo material well now is the perfect time to correct that oversight with the purchase of the 3 CD set 2 + 2 = 5: Best Of + Rarities.
While Spiro was busy writing for others, he always found time to release his own solo albums dating as far back as 1986 with the extremely hard to find In Stereo. Unfortunately, we had to wait eight years for the 1994 sophomore follow up effort Care Of My Soul. Although the soon to be released compilation does not included tracks from these albums (sort of on the latter), we are given the joy of several tracks from Spiro’s hard to find 1996 recording Now Is Then, Then Is Now which is way overdue being re-released. From there on disc 1 and disc two attempt to give us a great snapshot of top shelf tracks from Devotion, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, King Of The Crows, Mighty Blue Ocean, It’s A Beautiful Life, Care Of My Soul Vol 1 and Vol 2. And if that is not enough to satisfy your Spiro cravings, spiral into disc 3 that is packed with what appears to be 13 unreleased songs.
So, if you missed the hard to find Mark Spiro’s solo material first time around and you want a great way to springboard into this criminally overlooked artist, then 2 + 2 = 5: Best Of + Rarities is a great place to correct that oversight. Also, according to the press release, Spiro is in the process of recording a brand-new album. Now if we can just get around to reissuing all of his titles then that would truly be the stuff that dreams are made of.
All signs suggest that Subsignal are way overdue complete recognition beyond being critic darlings!!!
Who: progressive band born as a side project from the band Sieges Even
Where: German based roots
When: recording debut 2009
Sounds like: highly accessible progressive music with a sense of melody and structure
Subsignal is by no means a brand-new band but have actually been in existence since 2007. Born original with the intent of being a side project of another progressive band Sieges Even, vocalist Arno Menses and guitarist Markus Steffen felt it was appropriate to completely spread their wings and fly away. With former Dreamscape bass player Ralf Schwager also joining Mense and Stefffen, the core of this original side project had been formed and metaphorized into their own full-fledged band Subsignal. These three members to this day remain the nucleus of Subsignal.
It only took one year for the band to begin recording their impressive 2008 debut Beautiful & Monstrous that did not see a worldwide release until the following year. With a solid all-around recording the most noticeable are the opening track “Where Angels Fear To Tread” and the glorious more reflective titles “The Sea” and closer “The Last Light Of Summer”. Followed up with their slightly more aggressive 2011 recording Tombstone, it was clear this band did not wish to limit their creative exploration. However, it was their 2013 album Paraiso whose special edition included a 3D album cover and bonus live disc Live In Mannheim 2012 that captured this writer’s attention. Clearly the band were not just musicians limited to their studio gimmickry but one’s fully capable of reproducing they’re at times complex music live. This particular impressive album also garnered attention Stateside and as a result found them enjoying their first US concert dates.
With some of the band members struggling with unknown personal issues, it appeared that their lives were somewhat reflecting in their art with their 2015 recording The Beacons Of Somewhere Sometime. It is certainly their moodiest and probably most experimental album to date. The title track, though broken into 4 movements clocks in at over 20 minutes long. Though three years later the band has managed to counter their prior recording with clearly their most accessible album to date in the form of 2018’s title La Muerta. With exception of the toe tapping title track and the uplifting piano and acoustic driven 7-minute composition “The Passage”, the remaining tracks clock in at around 5 minutes or less. Along with no tied in concepts, La Muerta is their most accessible to date yet with no sell out date attached to it. From the melodic driven “Even Though The Stars Don’t Shine One” to one of the most vulnerable recordings to date found on stripped down instrumental “Teardrops Will Dry In Source Of Origin”, these particular tracks reflect how reachable La Muerta is to a wider audience.
With a heavy emphasis on atmospheric and yet not overwrought progressive music somewhat in the vernacular of the Flower Kings and Marillion, Subsignal’s latest recording continues to reflect a band that brings their own image to the table. Nevertheless, the more accessible melodic sensibilities found on their 2018 recording La Muerta brings in the elements of their more melodic progressive brethren Spock’s Beard and Saga yet never at the expense of losing their own identity. And with a live recording pending a release date, this a good time to get caught up on a way overlooked progressive band.
Who: Jazz guitarist Reza Khan
Where: the roots of Bangladesh combined with the heart of NYC
When: recording debut 2008
Sounds like: smorgasbord of east meets west smooth and world jazz
Born in Bangladesh and raised in the metropolitan of New York City not only effectively sums up Reza Khan’s cross-cultural influences and upbringing but essentially extends to his art as this jazz guitarist presents a unique accessible hybrid world jazz musical exploration. Able to execute and perform on both the electrical and acoustic guitar, Reza Khan has shown exponential growth as an artist resulting in the Next Train Home being his strongest recording to date.
Khan has been recording for over a decade when he released his independent self-produced and composed 2008 debut Painted Diaries all the way to his game changing 2016 melodic commercial effort Wind Dance. Featuring the likes of Acoustic Alchemy’s guitarist Miles Gilderdale, Pat Metheny Group’s bass player Mark Egan (also featured on his latest album), Mark Antoine on guitar and Nelson Rangell on flute, it was a whirlwind of a recording. So, it has been 3 years since Wind Dance breezed through our ear canals but now what? Essentially, his latest release Next Train Home has expanded his musical palate and returned with another top notch recording that resulted in the continued appearance of Mark Egan with the addition of The Rippingtons’ saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, Chuck Loeb’s former musical director Matt King and the ever-present keyboard player Philippe Saisse. Needless to say, Khan is once again in great company. Add his anchors in the form of drummer Graham Hawthorne and horn player Andy Snitzer who have been with him since his recording debut as part of the original Painted Diaries band, there is no doubt that that the performances were going to be top shelf material.
Despite the possible distractions of the above name-dropping, Khan’s latest and greatest Next Train Home is still all about his diverse musicianship and compositions. In fact, with the exception of the gorgeous opening commercial track “Drop Of Faith” where he is assisted by guitar producer Nil’s, the remaining portion of the album production is all Reza. The opening track is followed up with another very accessible toe tapping “Gathering” where the big three Khan, Kashiwa and Saisse are seamlessly integrated with their performances. Add the delightful optimistic warm musical breezes of “Clear Skies” as a listener you are now fully engaged realizing you are hearing a very special album evolve right before your ears.
Just when you think it is safe to engage in the commercial accessible waters, Khan throws you a curve ball with the progressive swing of “Club 368” followed by the adventurous toe tapping of “Plutonik”. Equal to the task is the slow builder “The Way” that will take you by surprise during its 5 minute plus musical ride. And almost intentionally Khan bookends the album somewhat the way he started with the more commercial leanings of collaborating with David Mann on “Under The Moon” and the glorious title track “Next Train Home” featuring Mark Egan. Needless to say, some of the effects and ideas on the latter will be compared with the sublime Pat Metheny hit “Last Train Home”, however, this is very clearly a wonderful Khan composition whose music tempo comes to a tender slow stop bringing this album home to its final destination.
While 2016’s Wind Dance was without a doubt Reza Khan’s best recording at that time it would appear that despite the challenges of having to outdo himself, Next Train Home is a musical treat that clearly meets that challenge. With two exceptional recordings back to back there is very clear evidence that Reza Khan, slightly over a decade since his recording debut, has presented very strong arguments to consider him a candidate as a major player in the world of jazz eager to be fully discovered.
Who: Peter Friestedt
What: versatile guitarist capable of being an acoustic saint to an electric warrior
Sounds Like: the West Coast AOR blueprint
If you were to play the impressive self titled 2015 Champlin William Friestedt the most obvious names that would jump out at you would be the former Chicago keyboard/vocalist Bill Champlin and Toto’s lead vocalist Joseph Williams. But actually it is the way overlooked versatile guitarist Peter Friestedt who is the creative engine who has slowly driven the formation of this sensational group close to a two decade era.
However, we need to step back in time all the way to the late 90’s when at the age of 26 Peter Friestedt migrated to Los Angeles to continue his musical studies at the Los Angeles Music Academy. It was then he began to be recognized as a significant talent and also made great musical connections including the above mentioned Champlin and Williams who were an integrate part of Friestedt’s solo debut recording LA Project released in 2002. The album also featured two wonderful instrumentals “All Alone” and “Storyteller”. Six years later the even more confident Friestedt released the equally impressive LA Project II which also included the free flowing instrumental “Closer To Home” and the utterly stripped down reflective “Waiting For You”. A few of the songs on his sophomore effort were revisited on the 2011 self titled Williams Friestedt including the outstanding Toto-ish “Where To Touch You” as well as the simply sublime “Going Home” drenched in David Foster influences.
With Bill Champlin finally formally boarding the superstar-ship, the band released the “Live In Concert” DVD in 2012 followed 3 years later by the previously mentioned self titled Champlin William Friestedt. Featuring a free flowing Friestedt electric guitar work on the gorgeous “Aria” and his once again impeccable production and songwriting capabilities, Friestedt is frankly the original architect of this outstanding group.
With the EP 10 Miles released last year as a stop gap and we patiently await their brand new full length release. Nevertheless, the work of Peter Friestedt over the decades has been somewhat undiscovered in the mainstream musical world. But in the specialized world of West Coast AOR Soft Rock the guitarist, songwriter and producer Peter Friestedt is somewhat of a quiet legend, well revered to those that appreciate this brand of music. One can only hope that perhaps one day Friestedt will find the time to dedicate a recording to spotlight his instrumental guitar work that is so understated and underrated.
Who: Mark Williamson
What: blue eyed soul meets West Coast/AOR
If you were to complete an internet search on Mark Williamson you would get a lot of hits with this common name. But what you would not get is a lot of hits on the uncommonly talented English born vocalist Mark Williamson. Sadly even the All Music Guide website gives very limited information and this borders on being criminal. With his initial solo recording So Far So Good being released back in 1979, his breakthrough came under the band name the Mark Williamson Band. Throughout his career it is without a doubt that Mr. Williamson’s faith is deeply rooted within his music.
As one of the UK grandfather’s of Christian Contemporary Music courtesy of the impressive Get The Drift? recording also featuring Chris Eaton, this outstanding artist was capable of creating cutting edge music of that particular day. Essentially the same album was released Stateside under the band name Lyrix and album title Songs From The Earth with the addition of “Susanne” from his initial solo effort. Otherwise the Mark Williamson Band followed up their debut with the equally impressive 1984 Missing In Action also limited to the UK that despite its high quality, commercially it lived up to its title.
Since then, Mark Williamson sightings have been infrequent but when he does appear the recordings are typically exceptional uncompromising songs matching his magnificent voice. Check out the 1989 commercial collaboration of the self titled Bridges 2 Far with the top notch studio session drummer John Robinson. Oozing in the West Coast/AOR genre Williamson followed up this effort 5 years later with his phenomenal second solo effort Time Slipping By. It was also the debut release on Russ Freeman’s new record label Peak Records. Needless to say it had all the trimmings of a big budget recording that is simply a gorgeous inspiring album with an all star cast supporting his huge voice. From the underlying smoky jazz feel on the opening track “Got To Be A Better Way" all the way to concluding a cappella track “We’d Be Together” shows Williamson in the upper stratospheres of inspiration.
After a 13 year absence, 2007 proved to be a high profile year for Williamson. Featured in the band TRW, (an acronym for Michael Thompson, John Robinson and Mark Williamson), River Of Paradise was released in the earlier part of the year. Distributed by the Italian record label Frontiers Records, we get to hear Mark Williamson deliver a more bluesy rock performance. Later the same year the rockier TRW recording would be totally countered by his more restrained yet soulfully smooth vocal renditions on the worship based project Daily Worship.
Sadly since 2007 all has been very quiet on the Mark Williamson front. Whether or not there will be another recording from this way overlooked vocalist, composer, and producer is yet to be determined. However do yourself a favor and at minimum search him out on You Tube and check out some of the tracks on the above mentioned recordings. It is highly likely that you will come to the same conclusion that this “Undiscovered Artist” needs be recovered and honored in the light of his majestic talent.
Who: King Of Hearts
What: elements of Richard Marx, Peter Cetera and all things West Coast
Sounds Like: your flagship West Coast AOR band
Considering the year of origin was 1989 and the long term tremendous reputation that King Of Hearts has in the West Coast-Soft Rock AOR genre it would be silly to consider this band an undiscovered artist. However the brilliant artistic chemistry of the emotive vocalist Tommy Funderburk and deft touch of guitarist Bruce Gaitsch was a royal artistic marriage made in heaven. Yet despite the brilliant musical partnership created by this merger it did not translate into a long recording career at least under King Of Heart. With the debut recording of 1989 apparently there were nightmares behind the scenes only for this spectacular debut to be given the delayed royal treatment twenty two years later.
With the King Of Hearts debut disappearing into thin air like a bad nightmare in the Bermuda Triangle, despite including a magical line-up that included Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy, Chicago’s Bill Champlin and bass vocalist George Hawkins Jr plus David Cole behind the production board, all these ingredients for a spectacular debut just did not come to fruition. Six years later the duo managed to follow up this managerial short fall with the Japanese only release Joy Will Come that was recording in 1995 and released the following year that also included Bill Champlin and guitarist Jay Graydon famous for his collaborations with the now famous producer David Foster and their also severely overlooked collaboration Airplay. But once again the second King Of Hearts recording resulted in the same overlooked results.
Since then King Of Hearts have officially and unofficially released a banality of compilations that partially cover their first two cruelly overlooked recordings, including but not limited to Thoughtscape Sounds No Matter What that also includes the previously unreleased “Broken World” and the live in Tokyo track “Lovin’ Arms” from the debut.
But better yet the latest news on the block is that Funderburk and Graitsch AKA King Of Hearts have managed to get into the studio and record a batch of brand new material. In fact I can quote that Bruce Gaitsch has advised me that “We now have 17 new songs and are in the process of raising money to cut the new record. Stay tuned!” And while the line up remains unannounced it does include the infamous duo with only the financing and production that is in the way of making this dream a reality. Hopefully this time around they will get the royal treatment that King Of Hearts fully deserves.
PS: King of Hearts 1989 is available domestically via Perris Records at the below link:
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Who: Buffalo Ruckus
Where: Denton TX
What: a countrified folk persona of the Black Crowes and the Allman Brothers
Sounds Like: Americana fortified folk Southern Rock driven hybrid band
So what is the entire rumpus over the Ruckus? Their self description of the music is that it is “a compendium of roots, Americana, southern soul, psychedelic postmodern avant-garde and experimental country-fried rock”. Not only is this quite a mouthful it is also a marketing nightmare, but whether in the recorded or live environment Buffalo Ruckus will draw and hook you in ready to rock and roam with them “plain” and simple.
With their origins beginning back in 2013 in the brewing music town of Denton, Texas, the Buffalo Ruckus has come a long way in their five years of existence. The dual cornerstone of the band is vocalist/guitarist Jason Lovell, sounding like a reserved Geddy Lee with a great Rod Stewart rasp along with Brad Haefner’s understated lead guitar work and magical mandolin playing. Rounding out the band with bass mainstay Michael Burgess and a few more guests the band was ready to record within one year of their birth resulting in their impressive self titled debut. Bringing in Grammy Nominee producer Chris Bell who had previously worked with the Eagles, U2 and Kenny Wayne Shepherd indicated that the band were very serious at their first attempt. Add the compositional highlights of “High Again”, Moonlight Rebels” closed out by the rollicking “Black Hearted Woman”, Buffalo Ruckus’s first attempt was highly remarkable.
Continuing to gig heavily in the local area over the next two years, Buffalo Ruckus developed a loyal band of followers and as that crowd grew so did their desire to record again. Bringing in prominent fellow musician and producer Jonathan Tyler, along with the outstanding opening track “Hills And Valleys” showed not only the growth in the bands compositional skills but also an album that displayed greater production qualities and clarity over its still impressive debut. Add the driving “High In The Garden”, the toe tapping “Mountain Honey”, the soulful “Lay Your Love On Me” closing out with the mesmerizing “Don’t Think We Were Fooled” Peace & Cornbread showed absolutely no sophomore slump. Frankly even between the highlights there is a blitzkrieg of impressive song after song.
Heavy gigging has continued all the way to this present day with the backbone of drummer Jerrod Ford added to the fold further improving their live sound. Not only is this a hard working band that deserve the very loyal following they have created, their live prowess has now extended beyond the realm of the immediate Denton/DFW metropolitan area but now to the neighboring states. From their work ethic to their very unique musical hybrid engine, Buffalo Ruckus deserves nationwide attention and that is all just a matter of time for this unique and endearing band.
What: elements of mellow Steve Perry, Richard Marx and Restless Heart
Sounds Like: all things West Coast AOR
Once again the little label from Spain Contante & Sonante has orchestrated another brilliant move by managing to bring Randy Goodrum, Dave Innis and Bruce Gaitsch together as a band aptly titled the acronym GIG. Pooling their songwriting talents along with Goodrum’s vocal and lyrical capabilities meshed with Dave Innis’ subtle piano work and harmonic vocals only to add the sublime guitar work of Bruce Gaitsch represent our passports into a Brave New World.
GIG band members have been associated with top musicians such as Steve Perry, Chicago, Peter Cetera, Richard Marx and Restless Heart which is a plethora of world class artists and bands. Needless to say there are elements of these artists that weave themselves into the DNA of GIG. Willing to put their reputations and musical egos aside GIG have managed to host a heavenly 48 minutes of astronomical acetate recording that will leave you hoping and praying this is not a one off event.
To pick any preferred moments from this eleven track recording would be a tremendous challenge. That said it does not hurt to start off with the delightful “Private O’Toole” where all the elements of GIG are on display from lyrical content along with Innis' piano merging with Gaitsch' restrained guitar work. Framed with harmonic vocals to die for, the song is about as subtle and sexy as a luscious lady’s long closely shaved legs with beautiful lines, tone and absolutely no edges.
A Brave New World is full of recording wonders that includes the even more reflective “Peddler, Pete” which is in somewhat contrast to the lightly rhythmic island sway of “Isle Of Pigs”. Contrary to the title it pays homage to the gorgeous peaceful island of Exuma that sits gently in the turquoise blue crystal clear oceans of the Bahamas. Needless to say Gaitsch and Innis’ guitar-piano interplay is gorgeous with George Hawkins Jr adding to the exotic element courtesy of his restrained but magical fretless bass work. GIG only manage to top that moment with the egoless move of closing the album out with “All I Ever Need” that features the golden vocals of the wonderful late Warren Wiebe courtesy of songwriter Michael Haddad.
Not all super groups are successful in harnessing their talents and producing a cohesive recording that would reflect the pooling of the aptitudes involved. But this delightful debut recording that hits the streets on April 30th 2018 is all about the music and not the egos. One can only hope that this is not a one off event and that GIG will be willing to continue to live in this Brave New World and that their spectacular super smooth debut album will lead to other recordings.
Who: Contante & Sonante
What: music steeped in the West Coast AOR genre
Sounds Like: all things West Coast AOR
Although this website is dedicated to undiscovered artists or rediscovered artists that we missed first time around why not about a record label too? That said Contante & Sonante based out of Madrid, Spain appears to be the perfect candidate of the little record label that can.
Directed by A&R executive Gabriel Raya the label is entering into its 14th year of exist focused not on quantity but rather creating and releasing limited editions of otherwise unavailable adult contemporary music. In fact one such artist who did not get his due prior to his untimely passing was David Foster’s (among others) demo singer Warren Wiebe who has always been a central inspiration driver for this label. The limited editions releases have always included at least one if not more tracks featuring this sorely overlooked golden voice or in the case of Tom Snow’s Original Demos release every single track,
The label has also included other Original Demos limited numbered edition series that has included the likes of Steve Dorff, Gardner & Fuller and most recently Burt Bacharach however the pivotal moment was the Tomi Malm produced and arranged tribute to David Foster. How the small intimate label Contante & Sonante managed to bring this all together with several pivotal artists is unclear. What is crystal clear is that despite the challenge of interpreting someone else’s craft and also via the complexity of multiple voices in a seamless fashion, Fly Away is not only a tribute to the great David Foster but also sets the standard of how a tribute album should be done.
Since then the label has upped their game with two albums of extreme high caliber. One of them again featuring Tomi Malm, this time his 2017 solo debut Walkin’ On Air. With the same high level execution found on Fly Away reappearing here throughout, but this time Malm's own compositions are the focal point. From cover, production, arrangements and songs all the way to the top performances, his solo debut is simply a stylistic startling stellar debut.
Apparently the above healthy trend continues with a new super group called the GIG featuring Randy Goodrum, Dave Innis and Bruce Gaitsch who are about to unleash their debut album Brave New World which will hit the streets on April 30th 2018. And the preliminary word on the street is that this is another superb delivery from the little label that can and does. Yes Contante & Sonante are living in a brave new world of their own taking the risk of quality versus quantity where less is certainly much much more.
Where: Atlanta, Georgia
What: the spirit of the early 70’s British Glitter Rock with a heavy influence of power pop punk.
Sounds Like: T.Rex, Slade and Sweet hyperlinked with the power pop punk of All American Rejects along with their own injections of attitude adrenaline.
Though the band is clearly born out of Atlanta Georgia, once the needle hits the vinyl (or whatever turntable you are using) all bets are off. Soaked in the spirits of the English 70’s the Biters sound far from being American. Just listen to the opening chords and multi layered harmonies to hear influences of The Sweet. And after the anthem of “Let It Roll” fades let the T.Rex reincarnated fat chords of “Stone Cold Love” vibrate and roll throughout your body.
But enough of some the band’s influence as while their sound has a great throwback feel to it there is no doubting their own injections of attitude adrenaline that gives the band a sense of urgency as they celebrate their brash punkish power pop sounds. If you manage to get through the toe tapping “Gypsy Rose” without moving then please call 911…you just might be dead. That said the Biters are more that capable of showing their soft underside of their musical belly. Check out the gorgeous “Hollywood” or for that matter the reflective acoustic closer “Goin’ Back To Georgia”.
Only their second full length recording, The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be clocks in fewer than 35 minutes with 10 concise no filler tracks all under 4 minutes or less. With this kind of music it could be strongly suggested that the Biters are the antithesis of their album title as the future is very bright for this band.
New Artists coming at you all the time.