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HARTMANN - Hands On The Wheel

Release date May 18/18 (Pride & Joy)

The walls at The Mighty Decibel central shake more often than not from endless hours of hard rock and heavy metal abuse. Therefore, every once-in-a-while this ol' coot needs some wimphem to heal the bleeding-ear-syndrome. Whenever the urge for such light-weight fare arises, there are only a few albums created in the 2000's that will scratch that itch. There's Neil Diamond's 12 Songs (seriously - give this Rick Rubin-produced masterpiece a chance) and Hartmann's Out In The Cold opus (both from 2005).

The latter was Oliver Hartmann's (ex-At Vance vocalist) solo debut and was an immaculate mix of melodic hard rock and ballads, where uber-catchy choruses and emotional depth were driven by the lusty pipes of Hartmann himself. An eye-popping release to be sure.

Unfortunately, the four studio albums that followed (Home, 3, Balance and Shadows & Silhouettes) failed to live up to the resulting lofty expectations, the hard-rocking base replaced by a clean AOR sheen. So, with some trepidation I approached this sixth full length.

Happy to report that Hands On The Wheel finds the band heading back in the right direction. Opener 'Won't Back Down' sets things up well, building to a memorable sing-along chorus, while the upbeat 'Last Plane Out' and 'Your Best Excuse' announces a return to the heavier sounds of the debut. There are also two well-crafted melancholic ballads ('The Sky Is Falling' and 'Soulmates'), the latter being the best wimphem these ears have heard in years. A tearjerker of the highest order.

Buried within the album are slight references to AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Beatles and The Eagles (you find 'em), but really, this is simply some mighty-fine, wimpy ear candy. It doesn't reach the majesty of Out In The Cold, but, damn pleased to report this return to form. Already looking forward to the next one.

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