Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
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My Ron Keel Band review raised a few eyebrows as Keel is one of those names that so many know but haven't heard in a long time. So here's another: Paul Shortino. He also seemed to be everywhere in the eighties, not just as the singer of Rough Cutt, but as Kevin Dubrow's replacement in Quiet Riot and as one of the singers on the Hear 'n Aid single. Since I last heard the name, I see that he had a stint in the reformed King Kobra, singing on two albums, and a slew of solo or collaborative albums. This is his first solo effort in just over a decade, preceded by the Shortino album Chasing My Dream in 2009.
While it's only Shortino in the band name this time too, this seems to be a collaboration with Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai, who's best known for his power metal band Destinia. If I'm reading it correctly, he's the only actual member of Destinia, so he solicits the help of guests like Ronnie Romero of Rainbow, Marco Mendoza of Thin Lizzy and Tommy Aldridge of pretty much every rock and metal band ever. Shortino and Wakai took the same approach here, as everyone but them here is a guest.
The guests here are also major names. For instance, the opening cover of the old Stephen Sondheim standard, Send in the Clowns, features Mendoza on bass and Pantera's Vinnie Paul on drums, the song recorded shortly before he died in 2018. It's a tricky song because of the metre and it's hardly a hard rock song to begin with but this works really well, not least through Shortino's memorable vocal fry. This is a great way to remind us of what he can do.
Shout and Pride is also a great way to escalate from that into a blistering heavy rock song. This is a hard rock album but it dabbles in heavy metal at points and this is one of the most overt, featuring some serious shred from Wakai. This time, the bass comes courtesy of Uriah Duffy, ex of Whitesnake, and Ryuichi Nishida of Loudness provides the lively drums. This is powerful stuff, very eighties in style but with a neat 21st century production job.
Nishida does a fantastic job here, though he's not the only drummer. I love Feeling Lucky CU in LV too, for many of the same reasons as Shout and Pride, and that's another of his. The bass player there is Peter Baltes of Accept and they make for such a killer rhythm section that I found myself following them instead of Shortino's vocals. It doesn't hurt that Baltes is given many opportunities to shine and the mix helps him to no small degree too.
Another solid rhythm section here is the combination of Phil Soussan on bass and Jay Schellen on drums, which shows up on three songs; the former used to play for Ozzy and the latter plays for Yes live. They're a good pairing too, even if my least favourite song here is surely one of theirs; it's the power ballad of a title track and, while it's not sickly sweet, it's still plenty sugary and it feels out of place amongst heavy rock numbers and almost power metal songs.
One wild factor is how the guests affect the style of the songs and I wonder how much of it was deliberate. Schellen's involvement doesn't make any song here sound remotely like Yes but Baltes carries an Accept vibe with him to Feeling Lucky CU in LV and it isn't just Rowan Robertson's presence on Eyes of the Wizard that makes it sound like a Dio song. Even the title advertises that; were you to look at the track listing and guess at which was the Dio-esque song, you'd pick that one without hesitation. When Doug Aldrich, who used to be in Whitesnake, shows up to play guitar on Beat of My Heart, even Shortino himself starts to sound like David Coverdale.
On one hand, this makes some of these songs interesting and diverse but, on the other, it threatens to change this from a coherent rock album to a game in which we shuffle musicians around in our minds and wonder how they might sound in different combinations. How would Baltes have worked with Schellen? How would Rise Up and Be Strong and Beat of My Heart have changed if they'd swapped guitarists, so Carlos Cavazo took on the Whitesnake song but Aldrich the more straightforward heavy rock number?
And, to my mind, that distracts from the music. This tells me that Shortino still sounds great and he has a lot of talented friends, but he isn't quite sure what he wants to do musically right now. I like this album and it's at least predominantly new music, unlike the Ron Keel Band album, but it seems to me that Shortino ought to figure out who he wants in his band along with Wakai and sit down with them to write a new album. For all the great touches here from varied musicians, I'd wish for Baltes and Nishida.