This is a third album for Dorothy Martin, the Hungarian-born American singer who dominates this sound without her huge voice. I say her rather than the band that carries her name, because she's so obviously the focal point that it feels more like a solo project. What's more, I don't know who's in the band right now; while Wikipedia lists a current line-up, one including a guitarist who joined after their previous release, I can't find confirmation that they're on this record. The names that I see in the press release, like Jason Hook of Five Finger Death Punch and Keith Wallen of Breaking Benjamin, may be writers or producers or guests or... well, I don't know.
What I know is that whoever's playing instruments here is mostly supporting that voice. There are strong riffs everywhere and some decent solos too, but it's oddly difficult to focus on anything but the voice. Occasionally, a bluesy slide guitar grabs my attention but it's not long before it's back in the background and I'm back following the vocals. In fact, there are songs here that feel as if they were designed to be showcases on a TV talent show. Rest in Peace and Close to Me Always both do that and it's almost weird to not hear the studio audience's response to being wowed.
What's odd is that, as much as it's all about the voice, the music behind Dorothy trawls in quite the range of influences. A Beautiful Life opens up sounding like it has a lot in common with the British New Wave of Classic Rock, but with a tinge of southern rock. Big Guns, on the other hand, is clearly a pop song in rock clothing, very contemporary in outlook. There are pop moments everywhere, an unexpected Phil Collins keyboard moment late in Top of the World hinting at the electronic drums that take over for Hurricane, a song whose drive ends up feeling rather like Robert Palmer with a guest vocal from Pat Benatar.
And everything here has a drive. Every one of the ten songs is urgent and Dorothy often wants us to try to sing along with her, all the more as the album runs on. The most anthemic song here may be Black Sheep, one of three tracks released as singles thus far. Not unusually for this album, it's a glam rock-inspired anthem with a spiritual mindset. It's followed by Touched by Fire, with a couple of chant-along sections and a hand clapping "hey hey" part, the most overt audience participation bit in an album with plenty of them. The title track that closes out the album is a singalong too.
I should add that much of this makes sense, given certain behind the scenes details that flavour it all. The poppier songs, not just the ones that feel like diva showcases but the ones with their very contemporary, more artificial backings too, make sense when we realise that Dorothy is signed to Roc Nation, which is owned by Jay-Z. The spiritual flavour isn't surprising when we discover that a guitar tech overdosed on heroin on her tour bus three years ago and Dorothy watched him die. By her account, he was gone but he returned to his body when she prayed for that to happen and the experience was quite the spiritual awakening for her.
She's certainly full of life here but I wonder where the invisible band is going to go from here. It's worth remembering here that Alice Cooper used to be the name of a band too, and a damn good one, but it soon became the name of its lead showman and the stage behind him quickly became full of a revolving door of musicians. I can see Dorothy going the same way, if not the full distance to a Gwen Stefani reinvention from lead singer and face of a band to solo diva, with the musicians and songwriters hired as needed and every other release featuring someone or other. Only time will tell.