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Release date March 2/18 (Nuclear Blast)

Some background first. Michael Schenker completed a tour of Japan under the Michael Schenker Fest moniker last year bringing three vocalists in tow who had previously recorded with him. I guess things went so well that he determined it appropriate to record an album with the same lineup (adding a fourth vocalist), along with doing a North American tour leg.

Let's break this release down by vocalist. Original MSG vocalist Gary Barden comes across as relatively weak lunged compared to the competition, but he never was a powerful singer. Rather, his unique warble was a perfect compliment to Schenker's clean guitar work. Hell, the fun lovin', upbeat 'Messin' Around' is actually one of the better tracks here.

Wide mouthed, big lunged Graham Bonnet (he of the faulty zipper) is up next. Gotta say that my initial thoughts of his tracks weren't positive. Disappointment would be a good word, but over time his radio-friendly 'Night Moves' and pseudo-exotic 'Everest' have both grown on me. (Not sure why Bonnet wasn't included in the creation of the lyrics in these cases, a third party was brought in to do so.)

Never was a McAuley Schenker Group fan, so Robin McAuley's performance here and on the Japanese leg of the tour acted as a coming out party for me. Impressive range, power and stage presence, his two tracks ('Heart and Soul' and 'Time Knows When It's Time') are amongst the best on offer here.

However, winning the day is Doogie White, his 'Take Me To The Church' stomping its way to the heavy weight title, complete with Blackmore's Night-inspired choral keyboards, while 'Anchors Away' has a chorus that sticks in the cranium like memories of your first sexual encounter.

Which leads us to Schenker himself. Applause all around for the temperamental German, who was able to manage the myriad of egos at play here, while delivering a coherent package that doesn't sound contrived or forced. The music was entirely written by Schenker and his guitar solos are pristine and memorable as always.

So, altogether a surprising triumph that ends up being the best MSG release since Built To Destroy way back in 1983. The North American tour should be a roaring success given the quality of this album.


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