Let’s Play Ball!!!

Here it is late Winter 2017 and I am thinking about baseball. The Super Bowl is over and the NBA season is slowly grinding to completion. Spring Training has begun and my thoughts are turning to baseball.  I am sure that Chicago Cubs fans are still basking in the afterglow of winning The World Series. I am happy for them, it is a great feeling

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My team, the New York Yankees, has not won The World Series since 2009.  Overall the team has played just okay baseball over the last few seasons. Despite that I miss baseball. I miss baseball talk on sports talk radio. I miss checking box scores and team standings every day. I miss watching the day’s highlights and top ten plays. I miss baseball period, it is the one sport that I love.

I must confess. I really did not follow the Yankees very much last season. After Derek Jeter retired in 2014 the team felt so very different. It did not feel like my team anymore. There were still a lot of familiar names and faces. But there also seemed to be as many new names and faces. And for the first time in a long time I could not always put the name to a face. My struggling team were strangers to me.

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As the new season approaches I am finding myself getting excited for my team again. I do not know a lot of the names and faces, but I am excited to get to know them. I am eager to see what this new and mostly young team can do this year and the next year and so on.

As Winter 2017 prepares to turn into Spring I grow more and more excited. The early goings of Spring Training bring new hopes and new opportunities.  The start of the 2017 season is weeks away. Regardless of what teams win this year, except for the hated Boston Red Sox, I know that it will be a good season. It will be even better if my team is in the heat of a pennant race in September.  What an exciting time for a baseball fan.  Let’s Play Ball!!!!!

MLB: JUN 17 Tigers at Rockies

Troy T.

The Music of Valensia, A Queen Fan’s Dream

Valensia is an ultra talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  Unfortunately he has spent most of his music career in relative obscurity.  Musically he combines the influence of 1970’s Queen, Kate Bush, The Beatles and 1980’s pop music; i.e. Duran Duran, The Police, and Culture Club. Vocally he sounds like an amalgam of Freddie Mercury and Kate Bush with a touch of Michael Jackson. With all of that his biggest influences are clearly Queen and Freddie Mercury. All of these influences meld within Valensia’s lushly produced and intelligent pop/rock compositions.  His influences are displayed loud and proud, but ultimately the musical vision is uniquely Valensia’s.

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He has spent the bulk of his under the radar career paying homage to the great music of Queen. For me his music is the ultimate love letter to Queen and Freddie Mercury. At times Valensia sounds so much like Freddie Mercury it is uncanny. Listening to his music it is quite clear that Valensia is first and foremost a passionate  fan of Queen. His desire to produce music that is heavily influenced by Queen is only natural.

Overall most of his albums are worthwhile listening.  Obviously some are better than others, but there is great music to be found on all of his releases.

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His first album Gaia, released in 1993, established the basic musical template that he has worked with for his career.  Elaborately produced pop/rock music combining the quirky over the top artfulness and huge vocals of Queen, the unique weirdness of Kate Bush with 1980’s pop rock.

On Valensia II – K.O.S.M.O.S. (1996), Valensia refines the formula that he established on his debut album.  The songwriting is more mature and the arrangements are fuller.  I also feel that his vocals are stronger as well. Overall there is a focus on more mid tempo songs and ballads on K.O.S.M.O.S.

His third album, Valensia III – Millennium  (1998), is hampered by record company interference. Apparently he was instructed to write songs similar to a than current popular artist.  The result is an album, apart from three tracks, that sounds nothing like his prior albums.

Next up is Gaia II, released in 2000.  A decent album that is a bit slick and overproduced.  Overall it is a good, solid batch of typical Valensia songs, but the songwriting is somewhat lacking.  Gaia II does contain the mini epic Phantom Of The Opera, which is essentially Valensia’s reworking of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

As great as some of his prior albums were, they were all leading up to his magnum opus.  Valensia’s  absolute masterpiece is The Blue Album, released in 2002. The Blue Album is so over the top, in a good way. Valenaia beats Queen at their own game musically and vocally. There are so many multitracked vocals at times it is dizzying.  Over the course of The Blue Album Valensia takes the listener on a wild musical roller coaster ride. I could go on and on about each track. Instead I will highlight a few songs.

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The Blue Album begins with the epic track Mayte. The song opens with Valensia sounding like Freddie Mercury circa 1974, singing, “Murder I think you are a murder!” The glorious Queen like choral vocals throughout the song are marvelous. The song weaves a tale of friendship and betrayal. It is six minutes and thirty nine seconds of Queen II inspired musical bliss.

Inshallah revisits the  sounds of Queen II as well. Multitracked Valensias abound throughout this track.  This song showcases Valensia utilizing the perfect mix of Freddie Mercury and Kate Bush style vocals.  As strange as that may sound, it works quite well.

Valensia’s vocals on the track Alyssa are absolutely gorgeous. The song sounds like Queen meets old time Disney. Keyboards and piano abound to create an air of mystery and wonder.  There is a nice mix of the sounds of the Queen albums Queen II and A Day At The Races.

Throughout The Flying Dutchfan Valensia sounds so much like Freddie Mercury it is incredible! This is an upbeat rocker with some of the biggest choral vocals on the album. The song also features a killer guitar solo by Valensia.

Valensia tosses so much into The Amatuer.  There are huge Queen II like vocals, Kate Bush like vocals, reggae and rock flavored guitar all mixed into one deliriously over the top song.

The Line features the musical sounds of the 1980’s. Imagine Queen collaborating with  Duran Duran. To top it off Valensia adds in a shred guitar solo.

A Night In Spain has an exotic feel to it.  More Freddie Mercury/ Kate Bush style vocals abound.  Valensia displays a killer falsetto throughout. The music would fit right into  a James Bond movie.

Burying Heather is my least favorite song on the album. It is an enjoyable track, it just is not as well written as the others.  However it is a fascinating track because it sounds like Freddie Mercury fronting the Beatles circa 1966.

The album ends with the absolutely beautiful song Valsenian Jazz where Valensia sings the bulk of the song in falsetto.  Jazzy piano chords, walking bass lines and  orchestral keyboards help to give the song a slow waltz, jazz feel.  This easy going track is a perfect ending to the over the top musical mayhem that ensued prior.

After The Blue Album Valensia recorded Queen Tribute in 2003. Based on the title one can pretty much surmise the album’s content. Much more than a simple tribute album. Valensia opted to mostly record lesser known Queen sings; i.e. You Take My Breath Away, My Fairy King, Dear Friends. He also added in a few hits, putting his own spin on songs like We Will Rock You and Killer Queen. Going much deeper he recorded a song by Smile, the band that was the precursor to Queen.  Only a true Queen fan would record the song Polar Bear. This is a tribute album worth hearing.

After the Queen Tribute album Valensia remained somewhat active with various projects.  One of those projects was Metal Majesty. This was an opportunity for Valensia to try his hand at hard rock/heavy metal. However any hopes of new solo music faded further away with each passing year.  For a long time it seemed as if The Blue Album would be the last solo album of original music by Valensia. That all changed in 2014 when Valensia released the many titled album Valensia VI – Gaia III – Aglaea – Legacy. According to Valensia this was to be his farewell album. This album was a most welcomed surprise.  Overall it is a solid, if slightly inconsistent album.  But as a fan anything new by Valensia was an extreme treat.

As I mentioned earlier there is great music on all of Valensia’s releases. He also released three EPs that are worthwhile listening as well, The White Album (1994), Luna Luna (2001) and Non Plugged (2004).

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There is talk of another Valensia album, but at this point it is just talk.  I would love a new album from Valensia.  But if nothing new is released I will be satisfied. The Blue Album alone is such a treasure trove of music. It is an album that is enough to satisfy for years to come.

Valensia is a true artist with a great passion for music.  I truly believe that his music should be heard by a wider audience. It is my hope that many will read this blog, listen to the included songs and seek out Valensia’s music.

Troy T.

Song Spotlight: All God’s People, By Queen

I love the adventurous guitar driven music that Queen made in the 1970’s. They explored so many diverse music genres including opera, vaudeville, progressive rock, classical, jazz, pop, heavy metal, blues and gospel, among others. I also love the commercial, keyboard assisted music the band made in the 1980’s. The music may have been more mainstream, but Queen’s adventurous spirit was still present.

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The band’s album Innuendo, released in 1991, perfectly balances the guitar rock of the 1970’s with the more keyboard and synthesizer heavy music of the 1980’s. Everything came together to help Queen produce an all time classic. Innuendo is the best album that the band released since their 1976 masterpiece, A Day At The Races. From the slow, heavy opening song Innuendo to the reflective closer The Show Must Go On, Queen displayed absolute brilliance one last time. As we know Freddie Mercury passed away nine months after the album was released.

Right in the middle of the album is my favorite song from Innuendo, the rock gospel track All God’s People. From the onset of their career Queen were a band that opened songs with big vocal tracks. Songs like Son And Daughter, Somebody To Love, Bohemian Rhapsody, It’s A Hard Life and Princes Of The Universe are prime examples. The beginning of All God’s People is one of my favorite Queen song openers. Since 1991 I have listened to the opening chorus countless times, it never gets old. This is the classic Queen sound in full force.

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Freddie Mercury absolutely shines on All God’s People. There are vocal overdubs in abundance throughout. I can not tell you how many voices are on this track, but in typical Queen style there are a lot! There is so much vocal depth and richness in the opening chorus alone. All these years later it still amazes me how full and rich the choruses sound.

Of course many will be reminded of Somebody  To Love, one of Queen’s earlier journeys  into gospel music. There are some similarities between the songs, but overall they are two very distinct takes on gospel inspired rock music. At times the big chorale vocals on All God’s People also recall the vocal sounds of Queen songs like March Of The Black Queen and Flash.

Brian May really flourishes here as well. This is clearly a huge vocal song, but he finds room to play a great deal of tasteful, well placed guitar licks. His trademark guitar orchestrations, long a hallmark of Queen’s classic sound, are present as well. Although he plays a great deal in the song none of the varied guitar work gets in the way of the vocals.

The piano, bass, drums and drum machine help to lay the musical framework for All God’s People. But it’s the keyboards that really are the dominant instrument. Brian May plays lead guitar throughout the song, so the keyboards supply the bulk of the music for the track. The keyboards on this track are wonderful. They really help to fill out an already vocally dense track. There is an orchestral feel to the keyboard playing that adds to the song’s sense of drama.

I love the gospel breakdown in the middle of the song. Roger Taylor’s drums kick in, The Queen Choir takes a short respite and a singular Freddie Mecury takes over. During this moment it feels as if Freddie Mercury and Brian May are on stage in a church. Both are testifying, Freddie on vocals and Brian on guitar. After this brief moment the choral vocals return for one last grand and majestic chorus.

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For a long time I have felt that this song would have been a better single than Headlong. I can understand why Headlong was released as a single. Headlong is a fun, upbeat rocker, but it is the weakest song on the album. All God’s People really has that classic Queen sound.  I feel that it would have had more of an impact than Headlong.   We’ll never know, but I do believe that the public would have responded better to the classic Queen sound displayed on All God’s People.

Troy T.

Is It Time For Steve Hackett To Stop Revisiting Genesis?

I love the music of Genesis immensely, they have been one of my favorite bands since the early 1980’s. Their music was my introduction to progressive rock. To this day they remain my favorite progressive rock band.

I also love the music of former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. He has established himself as a forward thinking solo artist since leaving Genesis in 1977. During his career he has put together  a discography that is quite impressive. He has explored various genres including progressive rock, classical guitar, world music, blues, pop, hard rock and classical music.

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As a solo artist he has always been one to be in touch with his past. Genesis music has always had a presence in his live shows. For many years Horizons, and sections of Firth Of Fifth, Los Endos and In That Quiet Earth have been pretty constant in his live set lists. Over various tours other Genesis songs have been included as well. Songs such as I Know What I Like, Hairless Heart, Carpet Crawlers, Watcher of the Skies, Fly On A Windshield and Blood On The Rooftops. The latter song was a treat because it was never performed live by Genesis. Steve Hackett’s touring drummer Gary O’Toole does a fantastic job putting his own spin on the lead vocals. From tour to tour there was a nice balance of Genesis songs intermingled with his solo material.

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In 2013 Steve Hackett began his highly successful Genesis Revisited tour. This was a tour that featured a set list that was 99% – 100% Genesis songs. Some shows featured the Steve Hackett song Shadow Of The Hierophant. I believe that the popularity of this tour surprised all involved. What was initially intended to be a one off tour has spilled over two tours later. I understand the reason for the show and I understand it’s popularity. However, I now feel that the music of Genesis Is taking up far too much room in his setlist.

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His last tour was titled Acolyte to Wolflight With Genesis Revisited. It was a tour meant to celebrate the forty year anniversary of his first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte. He also had an incredible new album out to promote, Wolflight. He played about five songs from each album and a few highlights from the earlier part of his career. This tour could have been an incredible retrospective of his solo career. Unfortunately the Genesis Revisited section of the show ate up half the set list. Do not misunderstand me, the Genesis Revisited set was absolutely great. The opportunity to hear his incredible band expertly play songs like Get ‘Em Out By Friday, The Cinema Show and Can-Utility And The Coastliners was quite an experience. But as great as it was part of me was imaging a two and a half hour set list spanning Steve Hackett’s solo career.

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His recent tour just started and the timing seems a little odd. He has a new album set for release in March, so I am curious as to why the tour started now. That said, I had the great privilege of seeing one the early shows of the new tour. Steve Hackett and his touring band were incredible as always. But I must say that I left the show slightly disappointed. This was a first for me. I have seen Steve Hackett live several times over the years. I know what a full live set of his solo material sounds like. This most recent show featured too much Genesis! Once again please do not misunderstand me, I love the music of Genesis a great deal. But I also love Steve Hackett’s solo music and I wanted to hear more of it.

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At this point it may be time to leave some of the Genesis songs in the past. This new tour is billed as celebrating the forty year anniversary of the Genesis album Wind And Wuthering. So I was aware of that going in. Hearing a few songs from that classic album was great, along with the song Inside And Out. Inside And Out was recorded during the Wind And Wuthering sessions but it was not released on the album. It was later released on the Spot The Pigeon EP in 1977. I was pleased with the Wind and Wuthering set list, especially Inside And Out. When that portion of the show was over I thought for sure that he would return to playing his solo material. To my surprise the set continued with Dance On A Volcano, The Musical Box, Firth Of Fifth, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight and Los Endos. The band did play sections of Steve Hackett’s songs Myopia and Slogans during Los Endos, but that was it.

I know that there are many fans who will strongly disagree with me. I feel that it is time for Steve Hackett to leave Genesis Revisited in the rearview mirror. This Steve Hackett fan wants to hear more Steve Hackett songs on the next Steve Hackett tour. He left Genesis in 1977 and he has not looked back musically. He has proven himself to be a vital artist who continually pushes himself and his music forward. He proves that with each new album that he releases.  I do not have an issue with Genesis songs in his set list, just the amount. Going forward I would love less Genesis and more Steve Hackett.

Troy T.

Tony Banks And Marillion’s Fish

What a classic pairing of two progressive rock greats. Over the course of two albums Tony Banks collaborated with one time Marillion singer Fish on three songs. Those albums were Tony Banks’ solo albums Soundtracks (1986) and Still (1991). It is said that Fish auditioned for Genesis after Phil Collins departed in 1996. True or not, these three songs give a little insight into what a Fish led Genesis may have sounded like.

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On the surface Fish leading Genesis sounds like a very intriguing idea.  It is quite apparent that the music of Genesis was a huge influence on Marillion.  As a big fan of both bands I am sure that I would have enjoyed this pairing a great deal. At the time Fish possessed a unique voice that sounded like an amalgam of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. Realistically I do not believe that it would have worked. New material by this pairing would most likely have been fantastic. But could Fish have handled singing Genesis’ back catalog? I really can not imagine Fish effectively singing songs like Mama or Tonight, Tonight, Tonight. Over time would he really want to?

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Personally I would have loved to have seen Wang Chung singer Jack Hues front post Collins Genesis. Hues recorded an exceptional album with Tony Banks in 1995, Strictly Inc. And I do believe that he had a voice that could tackle the band’s back catalog successfully. In hindsight the best solution may have been to go the route that Mike and the Mechanics went down. Utilizing two different singers may have been the best solution.

Let’s get back to Fish and Tony Banks. Their first collaboration was the song Shortcut To Somewhere, written by Tony Banks and Fish. Of the three songs this is the only one  to be recorded while Fish was still a member of Marillion. It is an upbeat synth rocker that would have fit right in on the Genesis album Abacab. Overall it is a good song, but far from either party’s best work.

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The next two songs appear on Tony Bank’s album Still.  Angel Face is a slow, moody song written solely by Tony Banks. Vocally it shows Fish in a slightly different light since he did not write the lyrics.  This is an excellent track

Written by Tony Banks and Fish, Another Murder Of A Day clocks in at just over nine minutes.  It is a dramatic, piano driven rock track. The song features a passionate vocal from Fish, one of Tony Banks’ flashier keyboard solos and some great guitar from Daryl Stuermer.

Tony Banks and Fish worked quite well together, more collaborations would have been welcome. Based on these songs would Fish have worked out fronting Genesis? Perhaps, but only if they focused on new material and select Genesis tracks in a concert setting. Listening to the song Something In The Air, from Fish’s second solo album Internal Exile (1991), may give further insight. It is a cover song, but Fish’s rendition sure sounds a lot like it could have been a mid to late 80’s Genesis song. Maybe it could have worked out well. We’ll never know, but it is fun to imagine the possibilities.

Troy T.

Steve Hackett, A Birthday Appreciation

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I want to acknowledge the 67th birthday of one of my biggest musical heroes, Steve Hackett. His music has been such a huge part of my life for over thirty five years. I first became aware of him in 1981 after hearing the Genesis album A Trick Of The Tail. After fully exploring the music of Genesis it was only logical to look into the solo albums of the band members. Highly Strung was the first Steve Hackett solo album that I purchased. 1981 started a musical journey with the music of Genesis and it’s members that has continued to present day.

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Steve Hackett’s unique approach to the guitar and to songwriting have had a profound impact on me. I would consider myself to be an amateur musician and songwriter. His work with Genesis, and more so his long solo career, have influenced me a great deal. I absolutely love his musical contributions with Genesis, but it was as a solo musician that he truly blossomed as an artist. Over the years he has established a musician vision that is uniquely his own.

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I applaud Steve Hackett for truly being a progressive artist. He has not been content to repeat the past or rest on his laurels. Four decades into his solo career and he continues to take risks as he pushes himself as a singer, songwriter and musician. It is astonishing how much music is inside of this one man. With each new album he continues to delight me. Just when you think that you have heard it all from Steve Hackett he puts out an album like his last one, Wolflight. Released in 2015 Wolflight features Steve Hackett taking his songwriting and guitar playing to new levels.

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His newest album, The Night Siren, is slated to be released in March of 2017. I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to plunge into  his newest collection of songs. For some time Steve Hackett has been one of the few music artists that I trust. Whatever musical journey that he opts to go on I am right there along for the ride. Over the course of this long journey I can honestly say that he has disappointed me only twice. I was extremely underwhelmed by the albums Tribute (2008) and Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2012). The albums are not  bad, they are just not up to his usual standards. I would definitely rank them as my least favorite albums in his catalog.  On the flip side his 1993 release Guitar Noir is my favorite of his solo albums.  I would also rank it as my favorite album by any artist.

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I will now proceed to wrap this up by listing my favorite songs by Steve Hackett. With over twenty studio albums to his credit picking favorites could be a difficult task. After some very deep thought, here are my top twelve favorite songs by Steve Hackett.  Of course this list is subject to change over time.

Walking Away From Rainbows
Spectral Mornings
The Steppes
Overnight Sleeper
Little America
Valley Of The Kings
The Virgin And The Gypsy
Hoping Love Will Last
Icarus Ascending
Take These Pearls
This World
Every Day

Troy T.

Song Spotlight: I Am, By Michael Sweet

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I can not say enough about the very talented Michael Sweet. The man can seemingly do it all. Over the last few years he has successfully lead Stryper while simultaneously working on his solo career. At 53 years old he seems to have found a new gear. He is a singer extraordinaire, a criminally underrated guitarist, a gifted songwriter and a solid record producer.

Michael Sweet has been a very vocal Christian for a long time. He would be the first to tell you that he is far from perfect and is no saint. But his beliefs have helped him to avoid many of pitfalls of the rock and roll lifestyle that have tripped up and even killed some in the metal scene. His lifestyle choices have helped to not just maintain his vocal abilities , but to refine them. In his early fifties he possesses a voice that would make singers half of age envious.

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The song I Am, from his most recent solo album One Sided War (2016), is a vocal tour de force. I have been a Stryper fan for over twenty years. What he has done vocally over the last several years with Stryper and as a solo artist continues to surprise and amaze me. The man is singing with so much passion and power. Currently far too many veteran hard rock and metal singers are struggling vocally. Michael Sweet is laying down some of the best vocals of his career. And he is still delivering the goods live.

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I Am features a stellar vocal from Michael Sweet. The song begins instrumentally with an 80’s metal style guitar riff. At the 0:29 mark when Sweet bellows “Oooohhhhhhhh!!!!!!”, as a listener you know that you are in for a treat. Musically the song shifts to a heavy, mid tempo guitar riff. Michael Sweet begins to deliver an absolute powerhouse vocal. As the chorus begins he triumphantly sings “I Ammmmmm!!!!!!! The beginning and the end!!!!!!” What an absolutely amazing vocal performance .

The backing band is phenomenal on this track. Playing along with Michael Sweet are Ethan Brosh on guitar, Will Hunt on drums and John O’Bolye on bass. During the guitar solo the tempo picks up and Ethan Brosh lays down a blistering guitar solo. He burns up the fretboard playing a melodic and bluesy shred filled solo. Prior to hearing this album I was unfamiliar with Ethan Brosh. He sure got my attention after hearing his fantastic playing on several songs on One Sided War.

As a big fan of Stryper it is exciting to see Michael Sweet explore heavy metal outside of the band. On his early solo albums he explored guitar driven pop, rock and hard rock. This may have disappointed some Stryper fans, but I feel that all of his solo albums are worth seeking out. Each album showcases different aspects of Michael Sweet’s abilities as a singer, songwriter and guitar player. My personal favorite is his album Truth, released in 2000. This diverse collection includes classic rock, hard rock, heavy metal and one of the best ballads of his career. It’s an album that I highly recommend.

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With One Sided War Michael Sweet, the solo artist, fully embraces heavy metal. I love the music that he has created with Stryper. As the band’s singer, co-guitarist and main songwriter his imprint is all over the band. Hearing him write metal in a different vein and record with different musicians is refreshing. Overall there is a distinction between these songs and his work with Stryper. Of the twelve songs on One Sided War, I Am is definitely my favorite and arguably the best song on the album.

Troy T.