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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

J.R. Blackmore

& Friends – Voices Part 1

Review by Larry Toering

This is a fantastic concept album, released on import in October 2011. It features a line-up of various male and female vocalists to build the concept around, hence the title. A very clever combination unfolds in this first part of what appears to be a continuing story of sorts. J.R.Blackmore, the son of well known guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, comes full circle in his career on this amazing disc. Joining him are an assortment of singers that include female vocalists Ela and Catherine Jauer, along with male singers in the shape of Mark Engelstadter / Oliver Hartmann / Dave Esser and Michael Bormann. Together they all create some great musical and vocal arrangements that ooze a playful 80s melodic rock vibe underneath all of the welcoming seriousness.

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Track by Track Review
This opens the proceedings with Mark Engelstadter shining with some sheer amazing vocals leading the way through a killer arrangement. A stellar mixture of operatic singing and strong metal feelings makes for some thrilling combustion. It's also amazing how all of this isn't rushed, as it bubbles along at a smooth pace. It still manages to intensify at the same time. It sets the whole concept up with much anticipation as to what follows. This is simply epic, with some brilliant guitar work from Blackmore. His guitar might be the main commodity, but it's very apparent that he is only part of this whole concept.
Guardian Angel
This starts off with some tasty licks from Blackmore, and also features Engfelstadter on vocals again. The entire track rings of long lost 80s metal such as Iron Maiden and others. This mostly comes through in the vocal arrangement. Some more excellent searing guitar work is on offer here as Blackmore begins to come alive with great breaks leading into a tone perfect solo. That solo comes complete with classical applications that instantly ring of has father’s stylings.
It isn't hard to figure this composer into the Blackmore equation, after all, it obviously runs in their blood, just as the guitar does. The complex intro leads into another fine metal-ish number, as vocalist Michael Bormann carries on about the composer with some great lyrics to describe him in his popular image. The fact that this is all applied to rock 'n roll begins to take its shape in the concept here, as bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin are mentioned to spice it up all the more. Ultimately, this is a track about the father of rock who started it all hundreds of years ago. This is super fantastic stuff, all wrapped up in that clever 70s and 80s vibe found throughout. There is even a slight Queen element and some lovely piano displayed here to top it all off. This is simply outstanding!
Destructive Mania
This begins with some ebbing tide sounds into a nice piano motif that sets up Blackmore's lyrical guitar lines. Then, things get quite different with a Hammond organ that leads into a chugging rhythm that makes way for Catherine Jauer on vocals for a sheer change in the proceedings. The tune is quite like the rest on offer, but her voice adds a stark contrast at this point. This could even be sung by the likes of Pat Benatar and actually reminds me somehow of Canadian singer Karen Single. There is more magic on display here at every turn, as once again Blackmore shines on another crazy solo. That solo leads into a classical interlude before heading back to the vocals to take things out. By now there is no letting this disc get away. It's pretty much a sure thing this will more than impress the rest of the way.
This one features Oliver Hartmann on vocals, and it's a change in the pace as an absolute killer of a ballad. Blackmore's guitar takes on that massively infectious tonal quality that tends to dominate most of his work here, and when it does there is no denying how awesome he is. There is a searing keyboard solo to add all the more to this track.
Devil In Disguise
A symphonic intro sets this tune up nicely with Blackmore coming in at full command with some interesting chords. He actually takes the guitar role here a little farther with inflection fills throughout the arrangement. Once again Hartmann appears on vocals with a lesser role than on the previous track, as this features a wild bridge that Blackmore follows with some artistically different vibes. The vocals do blend perfectly by the time it's over, but musically this has a lot more potential than meets the ear.
Jeckyll & Hyde
More piano gets this one underway, and vocalist Dave Esser puts in a stellar performance on yet another ballad. This one does pick up a little toward the end with some more amazing guitar work full of colorful effects. I would have to say it's more of an intermediate tempo, as it's no full on ballad but is carried by that element. This is probably the most moody of them all here.
This features Engelstadter on vocals as well. The keyboard into guitar solo here is yet again remarkable as he gets that soothing tone across once again. It’s another fine tune, if one of the less enjoyable.
This is a rather spooky tune that features Blackmore's occasional working singer Ela, from Germany, along with the aforementioned Dave Esser. This is where the entire concept enters the undeniable zone, and the prog factor is completely established over and above any rock impact to be found here. One of the album’s focal points come unleashed here, and all of its beauty and brash unite. Straight to hell is is where this character being sung about is headed. This is as dramatically interesting as the disc gets.
We Are Rock 'n Roll
This track also features Essen on vocals, and there is more talk of retro rock factors in the lyrics, as he preaches to bring the 80s back, plain and simple. It’s very cools how this goes so well with the track “Beethoven” and helps the entire concept of Voices along. It’s very descriptive in its preaching here about bringing that sound back to life. This tune really goes a long way in establishing this record.s enjoyment. It's that cool of a piece of the conceptual puzzle. Metalheads unite here in such a universal way. It’s to be continued, as Essen puts it.
This is a bonus track instrumental from the Between Darkness & Light album. Featured on display is a lovely, if also slightly menacing guitar backed by a pretty string arrangement and some killer acoustic thrown into the mix. That acoustic sounds so crisp and clean that it had to be included, or so I believe. This only adds to the already awesome sounds of Voices Part 1.
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