Review: Lionheart – Second Nature
AOR Heaven (July 2017)
Reviewer: Peter Scallan
I was intrigued to see Lionheart reform for Rockingham last year and disappointed not to get to see them. The intrigued part was to see how they would sound without Chad Brown and his stratospheric range. The band on show consists of three original members namely, Dennis Stratton (lead guitar/backing vocals, ex-Iron Maiden), Steve Mann (lead guitar/backing vocals, ex-Liar and currently part of Michael Schenker Fest band) and Rocky Newton (bass guitar/backing vocals, ex-Wildfire and also of Airrace currently). They are joined by Clive Edwards who has played with anybody who is anybody from Screaming Lord Sutch to UFO, his only blip being involved in a band with yours truly! Finally, filling the huge shoes of Chad Brown is Lee Small who has quite a list of ex-bands too! So what does this reinvigorated Lionheart sound like then? Let’s find out!
‘Prelude‘ is a short keyboard intro lasting less than a minute and sets the scene nicely for ‘Give Me The Light‘. And in an instant I am transported back to the early to mid-80s when I was discovering melodic rock and AOR. This song could very easily sit on the Hot Tonight album from 1984. Although, Lee Small doesn’t quite have the range that Chad Brown had (who did?), in my opinion the shear quality of what he does do and the tonal quality of his voice makes up for that. In fact in terms of the other albums I have heard him sing on, for me this is by far his best performance.
The level of performance continues into ‘Don’t Pay The Ferryman‘, which sounds vaguely familiar. And then it dawns on me it is a Chris de Burgh song. An excellent version with backing vox which makes it reminiscent of the kind of stuff Uriah Heep was doing on the albums with Pete Goalby. Pacey and melodic it rocks along. Moving to ‘Angels with Dirty Faces‘ (no it’s not a Sham 69 cover) we get a classic melodic rocker which straddles that transatlantic sound combing the best of the US and the UK. Next up is ‘30 Years‘ which I guess is autobiographic for Dennis Stratton based on the ‘maiden’ references. It some great twin guitar work and an almost NWOBHM feel. ‘On Our Way‘ opens with a string-sounding keyboard part and a Dave Gilmourish lead guitar part. It’s no surprise that it develops into an instrumental track that could easily fit into an early UFO/MSG album. It transitions between the Schenker and Gilmour styles quite seamlessly. While I am not a fan of instrumentals (whadaya expect for singer?), this seemed over very quickly and certainly added value to the proceedings.
Title track ‘Second Nature‘ continues where 30 Years left off but with a great half-time verse and more great backing vocals. It was inevitable really for an 80s melodic rock act that there would be ‘dut-dut’ keyboard riff somewhere. ‘Prisoner‘ is that song but consist of some great musical passages and changes! ‘Every Boy In Town‘ takes is a classic power ballad with all the trademarks in evidence and a great vocal performance to boot. In places, the vocals almost remind of Doogie White at his best. We are taken back up with Time Is Watching opening with a great guitar riff and then dropping into a low key verse. It then lifts into a huge chorus. ‘Heartbeat Radio‘ is exactly what you would expect of song with this title – a pacey rocker with the obligatory heartbeats and radio effect vocals. The penultimate track is entitled Lionheart and is very melodic NWOBHM and rocks along nicely. I expected the last song ‘Reprise‘ to be another short instrumental to close the album. However, it was a short symphonic power ballad with showcasing Small’s vocal and closing the album dramatically. The vocals again reminded me a little of Doogie White.
Having loved Hot Tonight all those years ago on the basis of Chad Brown’s vocals, I thought this would be a bit of a damp squib. However, it a superb collection of well-crafted songs with great lead and backing vocals. There won’t be many albums, if any at all, that will be as consistent as this in terms of songs and production. My only gripe, and it is a small one, is that the drums sound like they are programmed. As a young singer having stood in a room while Clive Edwards does his thing, I would have liked to her him swing and swagger through this set of songs as I know he can!
Thankfully, I will get the opportunity to do so when I see these guys later in the year on their tour. You will struggle to find an album in this genre as good as this coming out this year, unless of course Airrace top it! Me? I am going to get my coat now, walk off into the distance head drooped and muttering the word ‘Gits’ to myself as it comes out the same week as our album.