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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Heaven + Earth ‘Dig’ album review

Heaven + Earth ‘Dig’ album review
Released on: Quarto Valley Records. Release date: April 23rd, 2013

Yes, here we have another of my favorite ‘artist’s’ projects and I hate to say ‘projects’ over ‘band’ but I have to say that until now - and this latest album from Heaven + Earth. - more or less, that’s exactly what Stuart Smith’s Heaven + Earth has been prior to the gathering of band members who recorded this here album!

That said, you cannot stray from the fact that alongside Stuart the whole time that H+E has existed, has been one Richie Onori, who put simply is a great drummer and solid to a fault!

Also, Stuart has had guest players from the initial Heaven + Earth album, return to play or participate on subsequent releases as well, take Howard Leese (Heart, Bad Company, Paul Rodgers), who guested on the first release and then produced the second release ‘Windows to the World,’ he also shows up once again on this new release, simply titled ‘Dig.’
Incidentally, it may be an odd album title but check out the detail of the albums fantastic detailed artwork, it's spectacular!

Also onboard is Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) once again as special guest and David Paich (Toto), alongside the very talented vocals of Joe Retta, who played alongside both Smith and Onori in Steve Priest’s US version of The Sweet from 2008 through until last year where Smith quit the band after a gig right here in Detroit, to get focused on this new H+E album. He's done a great job too!

Rounding off the band here is Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot, Giuffria, House of Lords) on bass and session wizard on keys, Arlan Schierbaum.
I have to say for me, the kind of unknown quantity here was vocalist Joe Retta, who I’ve seen twice with Sweet, but who’s also played in Queen, Led Zeppelin and other tribute bands that have showcased his talents and while he can totally do those artists justice with his great range, I had never heard him do anything original. So I wondered just how his ‘natural’ voice would be … I needn’t have been concerned of course, it’s just fine!
At times he seems to remind me of Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) and at others, Joe Lynn Turner (Fandango, Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Deep Purple), so not bad at all.
Stuart Smith for those of you that don’t know – Shame on you indeed, you don’t know what you’ve missed! – is a guy who way back in his younger years had a little one on one personal guitar direction from a certain Mr. Ritchie Blackmore.
There is absolutely no question in my mind as to the influence that Ritchie had on inspiring Stuart Smith in his teenage years.
Clearly through Stuart Smith's style of playing, choice of guitar, appearance, ‘throwing shapes’ when onstage and lot’s more, the influence is clearly there that is, of Blackmore’s rock ‘n’ roll styling’s, sadly something that Mr. Blackmore put behind himself a long, long time ago.
If you miss that, then look no further than Stuart Smith’s Heaven + Earth band!
I certainly thought this of the very first album from Stuart Smith, entitled ‘Heaven and Earth.’
The incredible lineup of musical talent that Stuart pulled into that first release is almost endless!
Released back in 2004, he managed to pull in the talents of vocalists Joe Lynn Turner and Kelly Hansen (Hurricane, Foreigner) to sing a few tracks each, not to mention singers such as Bobby Kimball (Toto), Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Country Communion), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt) and more, as well as muso’s such as Carmine Appice, Steve Priest and also those players that are now on here as band members in Chuck Wright and Arlan Schierbaum and guest Howard Leese.
Ironically also involved here, in fact the main man twiddling the knobs on ‘Dig’ is none other than co-producer of that first release, Dave Jenkins.
I think Stuart has done well in his choice of Dave Jenkins, as the production here is great!
‘Victorious’ is an interesting opener, starting with a mystical intro, it soon rocks out in a very Rainbow / Deep Purple fashion.
It’s reminiscent of early Rainbow, most certainly the Ronnie James Dio (RIP) period musically.
I also think there’s a hint of (Led) Zeppelin about it too - For good measure! - in its vibe at times. Not too bad at all!
Next up is the song that seems to be the lead off ‘tune’ that is being plugged through its cheeky promo video. – See Link below.
Certainly ‘No Money, No Love’ is an immensely strong track in terms of hook lines and a really great vocal performance from Joe Retta and is the second of six complete band compositions, which really captures the unity that the H+E band have here.
Stuart did the right thing for sure in bringing Joe onboard from The Sweet. Very strong indeed!
'No Money, No Love' video link:
“I Don’t Know What Love Is (Anymore)’ is seriously a monster ballad!
It’s beautiful, great layering, great balance, seriously … If only radio was what it used to be, everyone would be downloading this in the same fashion as when you heard Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You,’ Toto ‘I Won’t Hold You Back,’ or Journey’s ‘Faithfully,’ in terms of monster sound.
This track also features the biggest artist / player input on the album, where David Paich adds some strings, Howard Leese a little acoustic guitar, Armand Melnbardis – Violin, a number of additional guest background singers and producer Dave Jenkins, as well as a choir in the shape of the Agape Love Ensemble.
The song is one of three great co-writes from Joe Retta and Smith, the other two being ‘Man and Machine’ and ‘House of Blues.’
There’s no doubt they form a great writing combination, its great AOR indeed, very much power ballad territory.
It’s back to the rock, with a little help from Richie Sambora’s slide guitar and voice box on ‘Man and Machine’ and I’m sorry if you folks don’t like comparisons, but maybe you do?
I think there’s very much a feel for Rainbow’s Joe Lynn Turner commercial period here, certainly in the verse I keep thinking of ‘Can’t Happen Here’ from time to time. That said Stuart makes the solo his own, as he does all over with some fine playing indeed!
I love this track! It’s rocking and fun, oh and very cool!
I’m really overlooking something’s that really shouldn’t be and that is how much of an impact the other players contribute here.
Arlan’s keys are great! He really has a complete grasp for the Hammond organ and on tracks like ‘No Money, No Love,’ ‘Man and Machine’ and many more here he certainly makes his mark in rockin’ out. But then his input alongside David Paich’s work on ‘I Don’t Know What Love Is (Anymore),’ could all too easily be overlooked, yet it’s wonderful!
Richie Onori’s I’ve already praised as I’ve seen Richie first hand twice live and Chuck Wright I must say totally compliments Richie though in a fine rhythm section.
‘House of Blues’ really captures what the song suggests, a smooth Hammond driven blues tune of the finest quality.
Hammond fans should love Arlan’s ‘go for it’ style playing here and throughout the album too!
Now the Paul Rodgers influence on Joe Retta stands out clearly here, as it does elsewhere for sure..
The guy has a truly fine voice, which as I mentioned previously does tend to be a little like Joe Lynn Turner and Rodgers, but you know there’s another vocal that he’s a little close to at times, which should suit the band’s other material well and that is Kelly Hansen.
Great work from Joe throughout the album indeed!
Now we’re up to track six and do get the impression I like this album yet?!
‘Back In Anger’ next and this is another monster rocker, loaded with hooks and I especially like the interplay between Smith and Schierbaum, between guitar and synth accordingly.
From great drum intro through strong verses and stronger choruses, killer guitar and keyboard solo work here indeed!
It’s very like classic Rainbow indeed, but much more on top, love this!
Possibly my favourite track on the album!
With ‘Waiting For The End of the World,’ there’s a little more layering of light and dark to the track.
It’s very strong once again and very much a favourite again for me, it also reminds me a little of the sound modern day Uriah Heep have, which is right there alongside the Rainbow and Deep Purple feel.
It is a monster track, loads to it indeed.
An almost melancholy start brings us ‘Sexual Insanity’ which then picks up here and there and proceeds to rock out.
I think at times Joe Retta even sounds a little like Steven Tyler, which almost gives the song a bit of an Aerosmith type vibe at times too.
It also has a lot more intricacies to it as well, some wonderful passages here and there. Yes, another winner indeed!
Oh people, you’re going to just love ‘Rock & Roll Does’ with Joe throwing in some harmonica here and there, but the overall vibe here is very, very Purple like indeed, but with perhaps with so many of the hooks that Rainbow often had.
The short interplay between the Strat guitar and Hammond organ, just expands on that some more, at around the three quarters of the way in mark. It’s literally only a few seconds, but it’s right there!
A different direction again, introduces ‘A Day Like Today’ which is a co-write between former H+E singer Kelly Keeling, Howard Leese, Richie Onori and Stuart Smith.
It’s like Stuart and the band were possibly inspired by Ritchie Blackmore’s renaissance direction, on this one, with Joe Retta even adding a little flute, alongside acoustic guitars, some piano and strings, as well.
A tune I could imagine Morris dancers doing a jig to!
Certainly breaks up the album a little. Nice touch!
‘Good Times’ starts a little like Simon and Garfunkels ‘Cecilia’ and then gets into its groove, quite an up tempo number, in a style of its own, with a fine blend between the guitar and keys, wonderful stuff! Nice guitar solo, if a little brief and some wonderful flurries from Arlan.
Album closer ‘Live As One’ is a wonderfully big power ballad, really kind of gospel like actually, with the Agape Love Ensemble getting in on the act again chorally and once more, producer Dave Jenkins gets in on the background vocals with Joe Retta.
It’s funny, over the past year I had spoken to Stuart on and off, as well as the interviews I’d done last year with Joe Retta, Howard Leese and David Paich, touching base on the album’s progression and very often your hear a lot of talk from people before an album is released and you hope all the great stuff your told is fulfilled … Well I’m delighted to say, it most certainly has!
I know that a hell of a lot of time and money has gone into this and the performances throughout are great, the production from Dave Jenkins, really well done, the balance, the mix, I love it!
Folks, if you loved the Rainbow material, really from the era of Joe Lynn Turner although it still captures similar passages to early Rainbow too, you really should enjoy this greatly.
It’s so full of melody, yet still rocks out plenty, hooks galore, it’s just totally enjoyable classic melodic rock of best variety!
Nice work by the whole Heaven + Earth team, I know for a fact Stuart is very proud of this!
Catch them on tour, when those dates are announced, it’ll be a great show for sure!
Rating: 4.75 out of 5