Monday, October 12, 2015

Album Review: Joel Hoekstra's 13 - Dying To Live

Just because someone is in a band, that doesn't mean we actually know anything about them. Often, they are players who get recruited, and spend large chunks of their careers playing other people's music, often wrongfully being thought to be synonymous with music they had nothing to do with. Depending on the band in question, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. For Joel Hoekstra, this is the scenario we're confronted with. Known for his time in Night Ranger, and now the newest member of Whitesnake, we really don't know anything about who he is as a musician. Until now, that is. He's stepping out with an album of his own, propelled by songs that are entirely his. So what do we end up with?

First thing to note is that we have a murderer's row of talent on display. In addition to Hoekstra, we get the rhythm section of Tony Franklin and Vinny Appice, and the vocal talents of Jeff Scott Soto and Russell Allen. That's a heck of a roster, even before getting to the guest stars.

"Say Gooodbye To The Sun" kicks things off with a heavy groove, a modern metal song that rides the right edge of Allen's clean and gritty voice, far better than he can muster on his own in Adrenaline Mob. It's a solid song to start things off, giving everyone involved just enough room to showcase their skills without it sounding like an exhibition. "Anymore" changes things up, sounding like a Symphony X song through the verses, before the chorus turns it around into a poppier sound. This approach is right in my wheelhouse, so the song is a real winner.

One of the things I appreciate about the record is that for being the project of a guitar player, there is restraint shown through these songs, with layers of acoustic guitars popping up, and little playing that stands out as being flashy for the sake of it. In fact, the only thing that holds this back from sounding like a real band effort is the dual vocalists. If one had been chosen over the other, this could easily avoid the 'project' label that will inevitably arise.

We get songs that range from the very 80s sounding "Long For The Days" to the more modern and heavy "Scream", but Hoekstra doesn't fall for the belief that heavy songs don't need to have hooks. He does his best to give every song a strong chorus, and usually comes through. There are the songs that don't work quite as well, specifically the title track, but that's to be expected.

What's clear is that Hoekstra loves 80s rock in all forms, which is on abundant display. There are moments that bring Journey to mind, and then there's a song like "Never Say Never" which is straight out of the Dio playbook. Russell Allen does a convincing job of recalling Dio's snarl, and it's one of those songs that reminds me that we make music so much more complicated than it needs to be. A riff, a melody, and a bit of fun. That's all we need.

Overall, "Dying To Live" is a solid album of melodic rock/metal, and gives us a glimpse into who Joel Hoekstra is as a musician. It's an enjoyable listen, and shows that Hoekstra can definitely be more than a hired gun if he finds the right situation.

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