Sunday, March 19, 2006

CD Review - Starbreaker. Happy Birthday Scott Gorham.

Putting politics aside for the moment, it is my pleasure to post a review of the CD Starbreaker. This band, of the same name, is the latest project to involve vocalist Tony Harnell, one of the finest, and most underrated hard rock singers around.

Harnell, who first appeared with the band TNT, and who has been a driving force behind the excellent Morning Wood and Westworld projects, showcases his soaring voice throughout this tight collection of songs. He is joined by bassist/producer Fabrizio Grossi, drummer John Macaluso and guitarist/keyboardist Magnus Karlsson.

Here's the song-by-song rundown:

1. Die For You – Starts off with a muffled techno shuffle before slamming into a solid hard rock groove. Harnell's voice soars over Karlsson's riffs as the Grossi/Macaluso rhythm section pound the point across.

2. Lies – The first single, and the standout track on this CD, it features an epic melody that gives Harnell's lyrics (which seem awfully critical of the Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy administration) plenty of punch. A quick sample: "Godless...though they claim to be...blessed in their quest for security / Not so different me from you, they try to tell us it's not true...Justify the madness, make us hate each other..." Karlsson throws out a quick, punchy solo as Macaluso and Grossi provide the feel with intensity. A true winner.

3. Break My Bones – A slamming rocker that features a more aggressive feel to Harnell's vocals. Karlsson fires away with a wah-wah driven solo as Macaluso and Grossi keep things tight on drums and bass.

4. Crushed – A midtempo rocker that shows Harnell going from gentle to forceful over Karlsson's piano playing. Karlsson later fires off another wah-wah tinged solo over Macaluso's fiery drumming and Grossi's stomping bass.

5. Days of Confusion – Probably the closest thing to a ballad on this CD. The beginning features some slow piano from Karlsson before the band kicks the volume back into gear. Harnell soars again with real emotion. Karlsson's guitar solo mirrors the main melody as the rhythm section stays in the pocket before the song ends with Karlsson's quiet piano work.

6. Transparent – A crunchy rocker with a soaring keyboard background over which Karlsson provides some crunchy riffs to accompany Harnell's lyrics about the dangers of being a phony. The middle section features some of Karlsson's nimble guitar work over Macaluso's jazz-like drumming and Grossi's pounding bass.

7. Light at the End of the World – Another song with a ballad-like feel. A quiet opening gives way to a harder, midtempo groove. Harnell gives it his all, especially on the choruses where his multi-tracked vocals shine with emotion. Karlsson lights it up with a brief solo that ends with a little flurry before the main melody re-asserts itself.

8. Cradle to the Grave – A heavy, grinding song that features Karlsson’s crunchy riffs and Grossi’s growling bass lines. Harnell adopts a more aggressive tone as the band slams away. Karlsson’s solo starts off quickly but falls into a funky groove with Grossi’s bass doubling up while Macaluso pounds away on the drum kit.

9. Underneath a Falling Sky – One of my favorite tracks, it features some of Harnell's finest singing. He manages to go from a low, almost whispering style to soaring urgency, especially on the choruses. Karlsson's solo is bright and melodic, probably his finest guitar work of the CD. Macaluso and Grossi manage the tempo changes.

10. Turn It Off – An uptempo rocker that showcases the entire band hitting on all cylinders. Harnell delivers his high-end vocals that work well in this aggressive groove. Karlsson delivers an effect-tinged solo over Macaluso's drums, which are all over the place as Grossi plants a firm foundation with his bass.

11. Dragonfly – A funky, spacey instrumental. Karlsson is showcased here. He throws out flurries of notes, crunchy riffs and muffled runs and a crazy solo. Grossi's bass work is prominent throughout, both as a rhythm and harmony device. Karlsson's two guitar solos are screaming sheets of sound over Macaluso's machine-gun drums.

12. Save Yourself – This one is an uptempo rocker that features some tight work from the rhythm section. Macaluso hits the kit hard and Grossi holds the point on bass with the tempo chmulti that guide the song before Karlsson's mulit-tracked solo. Harnell does the rest with his voice, which builds from mid-register to wailing as the song progresses to its sudden slam-bang ending.

13. Days of Confusion – This is a bonus track, and is the acoustic version of Track 5. This version works well with Karlsson's lilting acoustic guitar providing a nice counterpoint to Harnell's emotional vocals.

To sum it up, this is a solid hard rock CD. The songs are of a very high standard, so to hear standout tracks such as Lies, Days of Confusion, Light at the End of the World and Underneath a Falling Sky makes me wonder when the hell Harnell is going to get his due. He is a huge star in Europe and Japan, but is somewhat of a cult figure here in his home country. If you are a Tony Harnell fan, you will definitely enjoy his work on this outing. Veterans Macaluso and Grossi proved to be a steady, yet fiery team. Karlsson is definitely a guitar player to watch. His solos are short, but are full of fire, and he seems equally comfortable playing within the main melody or swerving off into a tempo change.

And speaking of guitar players, a belated Happy Birthday shout out to Scott Gorham, the man who dueled with Brian Robertson, Gary Moore, Snowy White, Midge Ure and John Sykes as the "Constant Guitarist" in Thin Lizzy. Scott's birthday fell on Saint Patrick's Day, which is quite the irony seeing that he played in an Irish band and was the lone American. Gorham was an underrated guitarist, but he was invaluable to Philip Lynott as he provided a bit of stability in a band that was filled with stormy personalities. Happy Birthday Scott!

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