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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Heaven & Earth

Dig

Review by Larry Toering

Heaven & Earth are finally back with a solid line-up and a great follow up to their last release. This time Stuart Smith has brought together drummer Richie Onori with the usual guests Howard Leese and Richie Sambora; but with the core musicians along with vocalist extraordinaire Joe Retta, everything seems to be in place, for once, as a unit. And they deliver a first class set of songs that harken back to the early 80s metal and AOR, combined with absolute killer songwriting, exotic instrumental textures, and a cutting edge modern production. It all comes out to be more progressive rock than not, leaning in the AOR direction, with a hard rock finish. This band is too versatile not to be at least that progressive, considering the ensemble of fine musicians and various styles of music within this masterwork.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Victorious
The intro is enticing without being huge or anything. It's just a nice little bit of Indian spice; but as the vocals kick in on this opener, singer Joe Retta comes on strong, almost like a Ronnie James Dio. This is a very heavy trackone of the heaviest on the disc — but I didn't expect the vocals to be so strong. This is a killer way to start the fun, with Stuart Smith also pulling some great lead guitar work and a hot solo. Then everything comes back to a proper ending with more Indian flavor, which seals the deal. This is awesome!
No Money, No Love
This has a short but sweet intro as well, before going into what is essentially the album's first single, for which they have done a great video shoot. It covers a harsh subject, depending on who you are. The keyboard flurries hold down a lot of bottom end, complete with clever swipes in the style of Jon Lord and other great players. I love the way they slow it down, and Joe Retta gives a hundred percent and shows why he is a premier rock singer on the scene these days. This is a classic rock gem of the AOR variety with all the trimmings, so much that it leans heavily in the prog direction as well, but as I mentioned, AOR style.
I Don't Know What Love Is
Beginning with a fabulous bass line, this gigantic ballad grows and continues to grow with each listen. I expected a ballad to come on early, but not this good. This is easily one of the most well crafted tunes on offer. Great stuff all the way here, this song is perfect.
Man & Machine
Now this is something completely different, with excellent blues guitar slide parts and more fat riffs and keyboard fills to make it everything it can be. I love how the keys and cool slide bits take it out at the end. This is a very Nashville sounding track, with its southern vibe.
House Of Blues
This is a fantastic track with a blend of the slower and more frantic grooves, making it more of a ballad than not, with an intermediate speed but undeniable blues/love twist. It serves as yet another killer piece of action, so far. Stuart Smith really takes the reins here and begins to shine at this point on the disc. Still, the keyboard solo also gets a spotlight.
Back In Anger
A nice little be-bop sort of glam percussion opens this, and I'm instantly reminded of glam bands like Sweet and others; but it goes with a much heavier punch to back it up. There is almost a bubble gum meets heavy metal vibe on this. There is lots of fun to be had so far, and this was the first track I pressed the repeat button on. This is just good in both a fluffy and gusty way at the same time.
Waiting For The End Of The World
This has the biggest sound so far, with a very mainstream AOR essence, but also a cool storytelling lyric. I would have to classify this as majestic, as Stuart Smith plays some extremely sublime guitar parts. I would rate this up there with the best tracks on the entire disc. I love that guitar solo!
Sexual Insanity
Let's face it, this album is very social, political and sexually oriented, and this is no exception to that rule. But it starts off deceiving as what sounds like it's going to be a ballad. It goes on to have both very slow and very fast parts. This doesn't make it into the top tracks on the disc but it doesn't disappoint, either. It's hard not to like anything Smith and Retta have come up with here.
Rock & Roll Does
This is a stomper, complete with a swampy harmonica. But don't forget the fact that it simply does rock, and at this point proves how awesome this band is. The guitars, the keyboards, the vocal chorus, this has it all.
A Day Like Today
This is a sublime ballad, and probably the surprise sleeper of the disc. The acoustic guitar lines are fantastic, and the vocals majestic. I like everything about this classic piece.
Good Times
This kicks everything back up into high gear for another one of the surprise tracks. It has a real live ambiance to it, and a very Ritchie Blackmore style guitar solo. I think this is another track that has it all.
Live As One
There are a few ballads on offer here, and this is the biggest one, and a perfect way to take this awesome album out. The vocal performance from Joe Retta is a premier delivery, and goes to show that he has finally arrived. And on this closing track, the background vocals are the icing on the entire cake.

 

 
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