Monday, 27 September 2010
TWO FIRES - Burning Bright
Kevin Chalfant is no stranger to the AOR community. He first came to prominence with the band 707, contributing vocals to their classic third album ‘Megaforce’. His vocal similarities to Journey’s Steve Perry later bought him to the attention of Josh Ramos, who invited him to be the vocalist in his band The Storm (featuring sometime Journey men Ross Valory, Steve Smith and Gregg Rolie – who by coincidence had also been a member of 707). Chalfant cut two albums with The Storm, before landing the job as Steve Perry’s replacement in Journey.
The Journey job was only temporary, as Perry decided to return (at least for the time being). At the beginning of the 21st Century, Kevin Chalfant re-united with Ramos, releasing two albums under the band name Two Fires. Both albums were met with acclaim from the melodic rock press, but by 2004 Two Fires had called it a day. The ever restless Chalfant formed another band – Shadows Fade – with whom he recorded one album, before briefly becoming the vocalist with AOR legends Shooting Star. He also found time to record two solo albums in the middle part of the decade – one containing hymns and gospels, while the other (playing to his strengths and to the demands of his audience) was a Journey covers album.
At the end of a fragmented – but invariably busy – decade, Chalfant resurrected the name Two Fires, this time without the help of his previous musical partner Josh Ramos. The resulting album, ‘Burning Bright’, features a collection of songs which attempt to re-create the magic of the previous Two Fires releases.
The opening track, ‘Is It Any Wonder’ sounds a little strange at first, in that there’s something about the production which makes Kevin Chalfant’s vocal sound a bit squishy. Also, instead of soaring guitars and an unavoidable Journey influence, it’s slightly punchier – though not in an especially good way. Michael Gardner’s guitar work is very choppy and rhythmic in a style which recalls Josh Ramos’s playing on ‘I See Red’ from the previous Two Fires album, ‘Ignition’. In fact, the track’s only truly high point is a stupidly overblown guitar solo, played by guest musician Super Rex Carroll. It gets better after a few plays, especially once the chorus has had time to set in - but I’m unconvinced that ‘Is It Any Wonder’ is a winner. ‘Lost In the Song’ is better – Gardner’s guitar work still favours a rhythmic, almost mechanical edge, but there are more hallmarks of traditional melodic rock on show here. The featured solos are solid and the chorus is very strong, despite Chalfant over-singing a tad (sadly, his over-singing eventually works towards the album’s detriment, particularly on the ballads).
The album’s first power ballad ‘Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid’ opens with a pleasing guitar lead from Gardner, before descending into a predictable trudge through something which you’ll find done much better on any of your Survivor albums. Gardner’s guitar leads remain decent throughout this number, but his good work is spoilt by Chalfant – who, not content with delivering a shameless Steve Perry impersonation, insists on over-singing nearly every note. In an attempt to impress, he squeezes every drop of emotion from each line, only damaging his performance in the process. And while I’m here, what’s with that drum sound?! The drums sound like they were recorded in a corridor.
The opening riff of the title track gives the impression that it will be one of the album’s heavier numbers. However, once everything kicks in, it becomes clear the heavy vibe was caused by the collision of a muddy guitar tone and slightly muddy production. As it turns out, the song is a fine piece of melodic rock with excellent playing and a well arranged vocal – particularly on the chorus. ‘Still In Love’ is a respectable soft rocker featuring a simple arrangement, based largely around acoustic rhythm guitar and electric piano for the first verse, before going full electric for the chorus and beyond. There’s nothing particularly striking about it, but strangely that’s where its strength lies. A thoughtful harmony backs one of Chalfont’s most understated vocal lines.
‘Follow Your Dream’ features another great harmony-filled arrangement, a great guitar solo, pretty much great everything...and by the end I found myself wondering why the rest of ‘Burning Bright’ couldn’t have been this good. There’s a really feel-good factor running through the track which seems to be lacking on some of the other songs. It comes a little late in the proceedings, but it certainly goes a long way towards making ‘Burning Bright’ a better album. In terms of melodic rock pushing all the right buttons, ‘Answer My Prayer’ is another high point. On this mid-paced stomper, Kevin Chalfant keeps his vocal line this side of tasteful. He’s accompanied on a good chorus by well-placed backing vocals – the kind you hope for with all great AOR (there’s no big key change for the last chorus though, so a proper missed opportunity there!); the drums, once again, are a little wimpy sounding, but that doesn’t spoil an otherwise enjoyable number. I’d be lying if I said it was as good as ‘Follow Your Dream’, but there are more than enough great elements to for it to pass muster.
The closing number ‘All For One’ begins as a big piano based ballad, and naturally, Chalfant milks his Journey fixation for all it is worth. For the quieter moments his voice is powerful, but once the rest of the band joins, he steps things up - and by the track’s end, he’s over-singing again. Interestingly, there are backing vocals, but they’re really understated. This track has the kind of grandiose arrangement where only a huge choir will do. Too bad they couldn’t afford one...
This third album from Two Fires has its moments (‘Follow Your Dream’ and ‘Answer My Prayer’, mainly), but it has a few numbers which leave me feeling indifferent. it’s certainly not up there with Chalfant’s classic work (step forward The Storm’s ‘Eye of the Storm’). Although the second half of this album is far stronger than the first, I’d be hard pushed to say that this release is one of the best AOR albums released in 2010 – that honour would go to Terry Brock’s ‘Diamond Blue’.