Wednesday 14 September 2022

White Spirit - Right or Wrong (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Hard and Heavy
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 29 Jul 2022
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Here's something special for NWOBHM fans that you probably never thought you'd get to hear. If you remember those days, you probably remember White Spirit, a band from Hartlepool up there in the northeast of England, who impressed enough with a single on Neat to land a deal with MCA but vanished after their one and only album. That album is well worth your time, by the way, with plenty of biting NWOBHM guitarwork from Janick Gers, now of Iron Maiden, but also an incessant chug and heavy organ reminiscent of seventies Deep Purple. They even added some prog in there for good measure; just check out the epic closer, Fool for the Gods.

Everything was very promising indeed. But then Gers left to replace Bernie Tormé in Gillan, Toby Sadler replaced Phil Brady on bass and singer Bruce Ruff left, to be replaced by an unknown called Brian Howe. The new White Spirit recorded most of a new album under producer Colin Towns, also of Gillan fame, but they split up before it was done and everyone went their separate ways. While some joined bands as varied as Tank, Airrace and the Sweet, that unknown new singer made good on the other side of the pond, fronting Ted Nugent's band and then replacing Paul Rodgers in Bad Company, hardly the easiest challenge a singer's ever been given.

Fast forward almost forty years to 2020 and the death of Brian Howe of a heart attack. A day later, Mick Tucker, who had replaced Gers on guitar, and Malcolm Pearson, keyboard player all along, did the expected reminiscing about old times and remembered that second never finished album. The expectation was that the master tapes were long gone, but then Pearson started organising for a move to France and found them in storage. And so began the process of restoration, because four decades in a bedside cabinet is hardly the ideal place to keep master tapes.

Restoration went well, but not everything was salvagable. Tucker and Pearson therefore decided to re-record all the music and to replace the vocals where Howe's original work from 1982 couldn't be saved . They performed their own parts, of course, but brought in drummer Russell Gilbrook, of Uriah Heep, as original White Spirit drummer Crash Crallan had died in 2008, and bass player Neil Murray, who's played with everyone. Howe's voice remains intact on five tracks, making this a cool posthumous gem in his discography, with Jeff Scott Soto stepping in on two, Lee Small on two and FM's Steve Overland on the fifth. Towns finished up his production four decades on, while the mix was done by Pontus Norgen of Hammerfall.

So, these are old songs, written and originally recorded in 1981, but largely re-recorded by two of the original members, two new ones and a mix of original vocals with new ones by diverse hands. As a result, it sounds both old and new at the same time, as if White Spirit had done most of their job, but then magically hopped through a portal in time to finish up with 21st century technology. The Deep Purple sound of the first album carries through to this one, but the songs do change just a little depending on who's singing them.

Soto sang for Journey for a year, so it's hardly shocking to find that his two tracks, Right or Wrong, which is a stormer of an opener, and Better Watch Out, with a more prominent keyboard line, have a notable Journey feel to the vocals, but they're more like Heep and Purple behind him. Lee Small currently sings for Lionheart, Shy and the Sweet, so he has plenty of flexibility; he's a higher, more emotional version of Soto here, especially on The Dice Rolls On. Steve Overland helps Holy Water to sound exactly like Bad Company, a fitting tribute to Howe, who sang for them for eight years.

And that leaves Howe's half of the album. He does sound a little thinner than the others, but that has to come from his recordings are forty years old. Runaway sounds like it could have been on Van Halen's 1984 album, if Sammy Hagar had joined by that point. Lady of the Night and Gotta Get Out are keyboard heavy too, but in a different way, as if White Spirit was moving a little away from the NWOBHM sound and more into mainstream hard rock but in an interesting way, as Diamond Head did with Canterbury.

That said, the riff in Gotta Get Out feels like it could have been on White Spirit's debut album, and I actually went back to see if Wait a Little Longer actually was. It wasn't, but it's my favourite song here, happy to just barrel along. There are hard rock songs here that rock hard, but none of them harder than that one. Finally, there's Rock and Roll (Is Good for You) to close out, which is the most obvious single material here, completely unlike the closer of the debut except for the keyboard bit in the middle and a carnival version of Greensleeves to fade out at the end.

These are all fantastic songs to hear but the obvious response is that it's a real shame that such a promising band ceased to be so quickly. After all, they didn't record a third album before they split up that someone's going to find next week. However, Tucker and Pearson have apparently hired an all new rhythm section and a second guitarist to record and tour with. So White Spirit are back and I couldn't be happier.

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