Review: Joel Hoekstra's 13 – Dying To Live

For his latest solo album, current Whitesnake (and former Trans Siberian Orchestra) guitarist Joel Hoekstra, made a detour away from the instrumental approach of his three previous albums, instead opting to put together a hard-hitting band to showcase his songwriting talents.’Dying To Live’ is the end result, and perhaps one of the best Melodic Rock albums that I’ve heard this year so far.

Recruiting two well known and respected vocalists was a smart move, as both Russell Allen and Jeff Scott Soto bring two entirely different styles with them. Symphony X and Adrenaline Mob vocalist, Russell Allen appears on most of the album’s heavier tracks, and delivers a vocal performance that echoes the master himself, Ronnie James Dio. In fact, if it’s true that Ritchie Blackmore has passed on Joe Lynn Turner for the much mooted Rainbow reunion, then perhaps he should look at Allen’s body of work, as he would be perfect for the job. Jeff Scott Soto is one of the finest AOR vocalists around today. His range is incredible, and he should feel aggrieved how his time with Journey ended. Strangely enough, he would be perfect for the latter day Rainbow material. Someone needs to send The Man In Black this album, pronto!.

It’s Allen that kicks off the album with ‘Say Goodbye To The Sun’, a monster track that tips it’s hat to classic Dio, which is not a surprise really  as Vinny Appice is the man behind the drum kit. Hoekstra is happy to stay in the background laying down some heavy riffs until mid-song, where he unleashes a blistering guitar solo, not just simply shredding. Allen also features on the next track ‘Anymore’. Lighter than the opening track, and with one hell of a catchy chorus… modern day melodic rock at it’s best.

Soto is up next, and ‘Until I left You’ has some real shades of classic Foreigner flowing through it. Very melody driven, with Soto showing yet again why he is so highly regarded by his peers. Some heartfelt lyrics from Hoekstra “Nothing seemed to go my way….Until I left you…“. ‘Long For The Days’ could have featured on the iconic Whitesnake album ‘1987’, with Russell Allen delivering an impassioned softer performance. MTV would have had a field day with this one, back in the day. ‘Scream’ is the current single, and features some sublime vocals from Soto over some Jon Lord tinged keyboards in the background C.lassi Rock with a modern tinge, especially the mid song howl from Soto, which leads into an almost Middle Eastern sounding solo from Hoekstra, before it starts to melt some faces.

‘Never Say Never’ begins with a short acoustic intro from Hoekstra, before landing on more familiar ground with another catchy chorus. ‘Changes’ is classic AOR, with Russell Allen this time showing that he has a varied range and delivery This c.old easily have featured on an episode of Miami Vice, as Crockett and Tubbs look forlornly out over the ocean…

‘The Only Way To Go’ and ‘Dying To Live’ are heavier, with the latter especially impressing. Almost Dio era Sabbath sounding, with both Appice and legendary bassist Tony Franklin bringing the beef. ‘Start Again’ is another stand out track on an album of many highlights. Any self-respecting fan of AOR will lap this up, but for me Hoekstra saved the best until last. ‘What We Believe’ is a beautiful duet, with Hoekstra bringing in his ex Trans Siberian Orchestra bandmate Chloe Lowery to trade vocals with Sot. Call it a ballad if you want, but this is way much more than those ten-a-penny, schmaltzy, male/female duet that were massive in the late 80’s/early 90’s.  A soaring track with vocals to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up, Lowery could sing the fucking phone book and make it sound passionate.

‘Dying To Live’ is a gem of an album. Don’t dismiss it as merely guitar masturbation, like many other solo albums from guitarists. Sure, there are enough riffs and solos to keep the plank-spankers happy, but this is all about the songs, dude, and trust me, they shine, big time.

‘Dying To Live’ is released 16th October through Frontiers Records, and will be available from the usual outlets.

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