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SOLEDRIVER “Return Me To Light” Album Review by Banyon G.

When I first heard of this collaboration between Michael Sweet (Stryper, Sweet & Lynch, Iconic, Sunbomb) and Alessandro Del Vecchio (Edge of Forever, Hardline, Revolution Saints, Jorn), I was mildly curious but not overly so.  While bands like Stryper, Iconic, Revolution Saints, EOF, etc. have produced some great material, they are just not bands that I listen to often.   However, after hearing Soledriver’s pre-release singles “Rise Again” and “Spinning Wheel,” I was impressed and eager to hear more.  And after listening to this new album a few times, I have come to really enjoy it.  This is well-crafted, well-produced melodic rock / AOR that harkens back to a time when the 80’s-era sounds of Journey, Survivor, Loverboy, Toto, Starship, Foreigner, Whitesnake and others ruled the airwaves.  Soledriver pays homage to the rock sounds of this era while putting both a modern stamp on them as well as a more personal stamp, one that reflects the unique sounds and stylings of Sweet and Del Vecchio.

As with most classic AOR and melodic rock, Soledriver’s music has a strong sense of dynamics, drama, atmosphere, and mood.  I’ve noticed a tendency among some more recent bands in this genre to go straight for the jugular with loud gang choruses, lots of riffs, and a lot of fast shredding and multiple background melodies.  Technically impressive, but that approach can feel cluttered at times and more focused on impact.  Soledriver brings everything back to the basics of emphasizing the song.  The music hits hard but all the instruments, voice, and melodies have a chance to shine, breathe and soar without a lot of extra flash.  Del Vecchio – who expertly handles all guitars, bass, and keyboards here – pulls out some fiery Neal Schon-style guitar solos, but they never feel overly splashy and always serve the song instead of being just a vehicle for long technical runs.  And like Mr. Schon, he has mastered the art of soulful, melodic playing – with plenty of dramatic arcs and a “singing” quality vibrato that often plays slightly behind the beat instead of on the beat, so that the notes soar and sing while the chords and drums hit.  

Despite the overall quality of the music, it is also fair to say that how much you like this album will be partly dependent on how much you like Michael Sweet’s vocals.  His vocals are largely front and center.  Del Vecchio also contributes some background vocals, but this is not a project that uses the kind of multiple harmony vocals that are the hallmark of other popular melodic rock bands, like Streetlight, Jaded Heart, Pride of Lions, or Unruly Child.  

This album does deliver more than I would have expected.  One of the best aspects of this album is its consistency.  With 11 tracks – one of which is a ballad – I expected some skip tracks.  But even though some tracks had to grow on me, I had no desire to employ the skip button – although I came close with the closing track (the ballad) – but only after hearing it a few times.

Despite the album’s overall consistency, there are highlights.   To my ears, the best track is “Spinning Wheel” (no, not a cover of the Blood, Sweat & Tears song!), a power ballad with a slow-build verse melody and a chorus that has the kind of yearning, expansive melody that a band like Journey does so well.

Other highlights include “Rise Again,” which is the kind of punchy opening track that “Separate Ways” was for Journey’s “Frontiers” album.  Title track “Return Me To Light” is possibly the heaviest song here, with some crunchy riffs, a catchy chorus, and Michael’s only high scream on the album (and it is a glorious one!).  “Out of The Dark” is another strong song with some great mid-paced riffing that reminds me of a cross between Japan’s Vow Wow and heavier Toto. “To Be Saved” is another favorite, like a marriage between early-period Eclipse and Marc Free-era King Kobra.  “Hope’s Holding You” is an anthemic tune that harkens the heaviest moments of Journey and Survivor.  “Soul Inside” is built upon some simple guitar and keyboard riffing, but it’s catchy.    Then there is “Eternal Flame” – a bouncy sing-along that fits squarely in Survivor or even Stryper territory, helped by a great solo by Alessandro Del Vecchio.  The closing ballad “Wounded” is probably the weakest song here, but again, lifted by another great guitar solo.

Some songs take a while to grow on you because the hooks are not as immediate. And to my ears, the stronger songs are in the latter half of the album.  Still, the album flows well from song to song and should please anyone who appreciated 80’s melodic rock and AOR from the likes of Journey, Survivor, Toto, 707, Europe, King Kobra, Bon Jovi, and the lighter side of Whitesnake, Loverboy, and Foreigner.   And yes, Stryper to a degree.  The influences are there but the production and approach are unique to Michael Sweet and Alessandro Del Vecchio.  

High marks must also be given to the noteworthy performance by Michele Sanna on the drums.  I do not think this album would have worked as well as it does without a really good drummer, but it does, and he is.

I could not find lyrics for any songs except “Rise Again,” but from what I could gather the lyrics focus on hope, holding on during adversity, questions about relationships, wrestling with doubt and fear, and living in light VS. darkness.  

So far this is my favorite work that Michael Sweet has been involved in outside of Stryper.  While I appreciated the shred-fests of his solo albums Ten and One Sided War, they are not albums I return to often.  I appreciate this album’s more song-oriented approach, a throwback to a time when we bought an album to listen to it all the way through.  The album works well as a collective body. The material is engaging, tasteful, emotive, and thoughtful and I hope this is not the last we have heard from this collaboration of musicians.

Rating: 9/10

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Tracklisting:

  1. Rise Again
  2. Anymore
  3. Pieces Of Forever
  4. Hope’s Holding You
  5. Spinning Wheel
  6. Out Of The Dark
  7. Eternal Flame
  8. To Be Saved
  9. Return Me To Light
  10. Soul Inside
  11. Wounded

Time: 0.46.06

Line-up:

Michael Sweet – vocals

Alessandro Del Vecchio – guitars, bass, keyboards, backing vocals

Michele Sanna – drums

Return Me To Light” Set For Release On November 17 Through Frontiers Music Srl

SOCIAL MEDIA
Michael Sweet – InstagramFacebook
Alessandro Del Vecchio – InstagramFacebook

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