|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By: Lou Gramm & The Lou Gramm Band|
|Record Label: Frontiers||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website: Lou Gramm|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 43:09|
Lou Gramm, obviously, needs no introduction. Best known for his work in Foreigner, in which he acted as lead vocalist and co-songwriter on multi-platinum albums such as Foreigner, Double Vision, Head Games, 4 and Agent Provocateur, Gramm’s accomplishments include eight Top 5 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and five Top 5 albums on the Billboard Top Album chart while driving the sale of nearly 80 million albums worldwide. He has carves his niche as a solo artist as well. Debuting in 1987 with his first solo release Ready Or Not, which included the Top 5 hit “Midnight Blue”, Gramm followed up two years later with Long Hard Look and another Top 5 hit in “Just Between You And Me”.
The mid-nineties found Gramm record his final album with Foreigner, Mr. Moonlight from 1995, prior to being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1996. The tumor, fortunately, was benign (non-cancerous) and, after 19 hours of surgery to remove the tumor, resumed touring with Foreigner following a six month recuperative period. Still, the condition had taken a long term toll on Gramm’s health. In the artists words: “It has been a daily struggle getting back to normal, but my faith in Jesus Christ is strong, and in the end, it got me through those tough times and continues to do so.”
In 2002 Gramm’s desire to explore musical directions that would allow him to perform more than just his Foreigner hits caused him to leave the group. Subsequently putting together a new band with his brothers Richard (guitars & bass) and Ben (drums) along with guitarist Don Mancuso and keyboardist Andy Knoll, the recently formed five piece unit began performing in early 2004 and soon started work on an album covering spiritual classics of the past. Upon entering the studio, however, it became clear the group had material in its possession that more accurately represented its sound; hence, work commenced on the project that would turn into Gramm’s third solo album, the 2009 release The Lou Gramm Band.
Musically, The Lou Gramm Band is not that far removed from the artists work in Foreigner or his eighties solo material in bringing a joining of AOR and melodic rock, 70’s tinged classic rock and hard rock.
I find the album to work best when it flexes its muscles, such as on hard rockers “Made To Be Broken” and “Rattle Yer Bones” in addition to the commercial but near equally heavy “Baptized By Fire” and “So Great”. Three customary ballads are also delivered, including two which are very good – “Willing To Forgive” and “You Saved Me” - and one that falls a bit short of the mark in “Single Vision”. Rounding things out is a gritty blues rocker “(I Wanna) Testify” and two classic melodic rock pieces, “Redeemer” and “It’s Not Too Late”.
The lyrics to The Lou Gramm Band prove forthright and upfront in reflecting the artists faith.
While the passage of time has caused Gramm to lose some of the edge to his vocal delivery, he still sounds very good in bringing a recognizable style I might describe as equal parts grit, guts and raw passion. The heart and soul he imbues “(I Just Wanna) Testify” and his commanding presence on “Rattle Your Bones” prove he has not lost his touch.
Backing Gramm is a capable band in which guitarist Don Mancuso, who performed with the artist in the 70’s band Black Sheep, shines. No, you will not find a great deal of instrumental proclivity here but “Baptized By Fire” and “Made To Be Broken” both feature stretches of tastefully done lead guitar. The albums clean production, at the same time, allows the rhythm section of Ben Gramm (drums) and Richard Gramm (bass) to stand out.
The only complaint regarding the project is that it includes a few too many ballads for my taste (I might have gone with two as opposed to three) while I would have liked to hear a few more hard rockers along the lines of “Rattle Yer Bones” and “So Great”. There are also a couple of songs I struggle with, including the previously mentioned “Single Vision” and the Billy Preston/D & K cover “That’s The Way God Planned It”.
“Baptized By Fire” gets things going with a bang. Bringing hard rocking guitars mixed with a piano, pumping bass lines and a huge commercial hook, the song represents melodic hard rock at its finest. This one deserves to be heard on FM radio. “Baptized By Fire” focuses on faith in times of trial:
All the things I cannot see, when no one is watching me
I caught site Heaven, and the streets of gold
It’s gonna take some time, it won’t happen over night
But the hearts of darkness, will appear in plain sight, plain sight
Baptized by fire, caught up on this high wire
Now feel my blood run cold, oh Lord heal my wounded soul
“Made To Be Broken” heads in the heavier direction. With a muscular guitar riff commanding the forefront of the mix, the song delivers a big touch of groove as it maneuvers its heavy duty verses on the way to a lively – almost mirthful – chorus. Great start to the album with two very strong compositions.
“Willing To Forgive” mellows things out but in a good way. The song begins to a gentle melding of acoustic guitar and piano, gradually building initiative until exploding for a heartfelt chorus interwoven with a choppy rhythm guitar. Polished backing vocals add the perfect touch. God’s forgiveness is the subject at hand:
Call me out from my darkness
To learn the secrets of my soul
Uncertain of my first step
I’ve gotta search until I know
In my desperation
It’s the life that I have lived
I can feel my vindication
But You’re willing to forgive
The last time I heard a cover of Billy Preston’s “That’s The Way God Planned It” it was 1983 and DeGarmo & Key’s Mission Of Mercy album. The song failed to impress back then – perhaps it was the overly slick CCM feel (a trademark of D & K) – and still falls a bit flat. Yes, the approach taken is a bit more hard rocking this time around – and you certainly cannot fault the effort – but the laid back execution leaves me with the feeling of wanting more. I tend to past.
I find “(I Wanna) Testify” to be the much better cover. Originally recorded by The Parliments in 1967, the song is now a gritty hard rocker given the full blues treatment: razor edged guitars are mixed with soulful female backing vocals, spicy lead work and Gramm’s perfect blues drenched vocal delivery.
“So Great” is by far the albums finest. Four minutes of worship filled hard rock, the song brings a powerful ambience as near metal laced guitars drive a captivating chorus - “So great, so great is our Lord” – and a run of flashy lead guitar an energetic instrumental stretch. This one would sound right at home on any of the metal praise releases that have come out over the years. Again, this is a worship hard rock anthem:
The fire in my heart, is already kindled and burning
I take hold of His words, that God sends me, His truth and His mercy
When there is no way to satisfy the longing of my soul
Well, it’s then that I pray to my Lord, my rock and my fortress
I particularly enjoy the organ that makes its presence felt on “Redeemer”. Mid-paced melodic hard rock, the song stands out with a relaxed – almost easy going – feel with its luxurious chorus and occasional traces of acoustic guitar. No, not the albums heaviest but a notable effort nonetheless.
“Single Vision”, the albums second ballad, fails to impress. Laced acoustically but with traces of rhythm guitar, the song does not quite deliver that extra element of inspiration or catchiness that might allow it too hold up under repeated play- at least in my opinion. I find the spoken word portion just past the halfway point to be particularly cheesy. The message here, otherwise, is quite good:
Turn my eyes from the darkness, and those that seek my soul
Let my Lord’s might truth shine like molten gold
In my desperation, at the end of my pride
Even if it’s painful, He’s always on my side
And I know You’ll be there
“Rattle Yer Bones” will do just that. An energetic rocker that, similar to “Made To Be Broken”, places the rhythm guitar at the front of the mix, the song serves up quite the wallop with its assertive chorus (highlighted by airy keyboards) and guttural milieu. I wish there were a few more like this one here.
“You Saved Me” is the better of the albums three ballads. This one actually reflects a slight symphonic touch, almost bringing to mind Kansas or something that Kerry Livgren might put together for one of his various solo projects. Keyboards, as one would expect, play a leading but complementary role while an emotional guitar solo adds the fitting touch. Big choir-like backing vocals effectively close things out. “You Saved Me” finds the artist making a statement of faith:
You saved me, I was all alone and the time was right
You saved me, shine the light of day in the darkest night
Free ourselves from who we are, I can’t do it alone
I’ll let you know how I feel, when I get my grieving done
I never loose heart, I pray for my Lord to give me hope
Cause dark days and winding roads it’s all I’ve known
The European bonus track “It’s Not Too Late” closes things out in up-tempo fashion. Bringing a positive feel in terms of its musical and lyrical direction, the song takes a terrific hard rocking riff and joins it with a smoothly flowing chorus that gradually slows in momentum. The message here revolves around faith and forgiveness:
Now, my heart is faint, my eyes are dim
I know I’m forgiven for all my sins
Another step in my walk of faith
Trouble and anguish like a sear on my face
Out of my darkness and into His Light
With a heart of compassion He just lit up the night
Nothing is secret that won’t be made known
I humble my soul
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Baptized By Fire” (3:56), “Made To Be Broken” (3:32), “Willing To Forgive” (3:30), “That’s The Way God Planned It” (4:06), “(I Wanna) Testify” (3:26), “So Great” (4:03), “Redeemer” (4:17), “Single Vision” (4:01), “Rattle Yer Bones” (3:53), “You Saved Me” (4:43), “It’s Not Too Late” (3:40)
Lou Gramm – Lead Vocals & Percussions
Don Mancuso – Guitars
Richard Gramm – Guitars & Bass
Andy Knoll – Keyboards & Guitars
Ben Gramm – Drums & Percussions