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MISHA CALVIN ‘Evolution/Evolution II/Riffman reissues’ Majestic Rock (2004)

These three albums were recorded between 1995 and 1998, and I don't recall them getting much attention at the time. Let's hope they do now because there's some decent music here. Very solid, the first album Evolution opens with the commercial `Strangers' while `Ready Or Not' features some neat but very twiddly guitar from Calvin.

The rest of the band feature bassist Steve Dunning, pianist Martin `Wedge' Lister and drummer Peter Barnacle. The latter is formerly of Gillan. On the first CD the vocal duties are split between Tony Martin (Black Sabbath et al) and Ian Parry.

Martin's vocals are superb throughout, and the playing is exceptional too, but it is largely typical of the mid 80s FM orientated AOR, with the production and polished sounds improved by 10 years. Strong, melodic and powerful but often stops short of what you'd hope for, with the usual blend of piano intros and ballads in amongst the harder material. When the band do let rip, it really is a joy, there are some great metal moments, but the album as a whole isn't that consistent. (Majestic Rock MAJCD042) **

Evolution II sees the vocal duties split between Parry and Dave Twose, and the opener `Die For Love' kicks things off in much more metal fashion. There are plenty of retro moments but several tracks are real rockers - it's more metal rather than Calvin just being flash in the AOR setup. (Majestic Rock MAJCD043)**½

With vocalist Marthy Smith now on board, Riffman is probably the strongest overall release. Not quite so metal but not quite the return to AOR-ville either. It's the most modern and professional sounding, with more of an obvious direction too. Most solid, if you had to buy one out of the three, I would choose this. Still some great solos, powerful vocals and interesting rhythms. And in `Say My Name' there's an almost progressive keyboard/guitar interplay. (Majestic Rock MAJCD044)***½

A group of such seasoned players shouldn't take so long to settle down, but it's worth listening to the journey, and as all CDs have several bonus cuts they're worth checking out.

< Review by Joe Geesin

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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