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get ready to ROCK! Best of 2004
It's that time of the year again...our intrepid reviewers listen to the good, the bad and the ugly, so you don't have to...and report their best of 2004...

Jason Ritchie

TNT 'My Religion' (MTM)

Superb comeback album and how melodic rock should be - lots of guitar; harmonies and catchy songs.

JEFF SCOTT SOTO 'Lost In The Translation' (Frontiers)

His best solo album so far and a must for any rock fan. Contains some of the heaviest tracks he's done and more hooks than a fishing shop!


1) What are you doing musically at the moment?

Next on the agenda is the release & touring of Soul SirkUS with Neal Schon, Deen Castronovo & Marco Mendoza. Things are underway already & an official tour schedule should be posted soon.

2) What were your main achievement(s) in 2004?

Releasing another acclaimed solo album, touring the world including countries never visited, starting a new band with musical heroes & overall turning my career up another notch, it's been a great way to turn the 20th anniversary of my professional career over.

3) Any disappointments?

Lost In The Translation hasn't gone Gold yet!

4) What were your own favourite albums, films and/or books of 2004 and why?

Fahrenheit 9/11, the most important film of the year, KISS & Tell, u gotta love Gene!!, & Maroon 5, most listened 2 new album/band.

5) What are you planning musically in 2005?

After the Soul SirkUS run, Neal & Deen will tour with Journey again, I'm hoping to either record a new album or maybe tour some festivals in Europe with my solo band again.

AYREON 'The Human Equation' (Inside Out)

If you've never tried an Ayreon album get this one as it features his strongest work to date and an impressive guest list including the mighty Devon Townsend, Ken Hensley and Mostly Autumn's Heather Findlay. Stunning concept album and the musicianship is first class.

IQ 'Dark Matter' (GEP)

Classic prog fans will love this as it has keyboard solos, stunning guitar passages and most importantly strong songs and lyrics. Sheer aural bliss...


1) What are you doing musically at the moment?

We've got a few gigs in the UK this autumn with IQ, and it's all going really well so far with the band in good form and the audience numbers extremely encouraging. I also have a gig at London Astoria with Jadis at the Progeny festival in a week or two.

Recordings-wise we've just brought out the new IQ 20th anniversary DVD, and I hope to do some more work soon on my next solo album if ever my record company workload dies down a bit!

2) What were your main achievement(s) in 2004?

A studio CD that most people think is our best-ever release and an excellent live DVD is a pretty good return on 2004. Many full-time bands don't achieve that in a year and we are only part-timers that do this at weekends.

3) Any disappointments?

I didn't enjoy the European tour in May very much. IQ's profile was not very high when we booked the tour and we couldn't get most of the gigs we wanted. There was a lot of travelling involved, some of the gigs got cancelled and it was generally quite an unhappy time.

However since the release of Dark Matter the band's profile has risen dramatically, and we could probably get a much better tour together now.

4) What were your own favourite albums, films and/or books of 2004 and why?

Don't have any time for leisure activities like that - far toomuch other stuff to do!
5) What are you planning musically in 2005?

I would like to get the next solo album underway and maybe start to get some material together for a new IQ album. I'm also doing a couple of "unplugged" gigs with Annie Haslam of Renaissance in February.

THRESHOLD 'Sunsurface' (Inside Out)

This band get better every release and the riffing on this album is wonderful! If you've yet to try a progressive metal album then start here - satisfaction guaranteed. Don't quite know how they will better this release though...


1) What are you doing musically at the moment?

Just finished the new Arena album and will be starting work on some new Power Quest material next week.

2) What were your main achievement(s) in 2004?

Had a fantastic time touring this year. The whole band enjoyed the Subsurface dates. Also released an album.

3) Any disappointments?

Arsenal getting knocked out of the Champions League.

4) What were your own favourite albums, films and/or books of 2004 and why?

Favourite album was Killswitch Engage (was it this year or last?) I don't like the cinema (too many distractions and people with big heads obscuring my view) and I tend save my tv time for sport and the West Wing. However, I did enjoy Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which was highly original.    
5) What are you planning musically in 2005?

Threshold should be doing some more dates and festivals if it gets sorted out. Also most of the year is booked in the studio for production work.

AYREON 'The Human Equation' (Inside Out)

If you've never tried an Ayreon album get this one as it features his strongest work to date and an impressive guest list including the mighty Devon Townsend, Ken Hensley and Mostly Autumn's Heather Findlay. Stunning concept album and the musicianship is first class.

IQ 'Dark Matter' (GEP)

Classic prog fans will love this as it has keyboard solos, stunning guitar passages and most importantly strong songs and lyrics. Sheer aural bliss...

POWER QUEST 'Neverworld' (Now & Then/Frontiers)

Second album by the international power metallers and if you love banks of keyboards, pummelling drums and super fast guitar solos then you can't best this album. The secret for this banmd is that they appeal not only to speed/power metal fans but their songs are highly melodic so fans of say Magnum or Marillion can enjoy the album as well. For me the best power metal band out there today bar none.


1) What are you doing musically at the moment? (gigs, writing, recording etc)

At the moment we are getting ready for the show with Dream Evil and Labyrinth on November 13th, which I expect will be the last PQ show of 2004, and then we are heading into the studio on November 22nd to demo 3 new tracks from the next PQ album. The new album is written and ready to go!

2) What were your main achievement(s) in 2004?

Probably finally seeing the European release of Neverworld. We are all very happy with the feedback we have received from press and fans alike. Really inspiring stuff....thanks to GRTR! as well. You guys have been awesome!

Playing a couple of shows with Threshold in September was also one of the highlights of the year for us, along with the Summer of Metal tour in June.

3) Any disappointments?

The way things didn't work out with Now and Then productions! Say no more on that I think!

4) What were your own favourite albums, films and/or books of 2004 and why?

Favourite albums of the year include Threshold "Subsurface", Sonata Arctica "Reckoning Night", Nightwish "Once". These three are classic examples of the best of their respective genres. It was particularly cool to see the Subsurface material performed live.

I've been a bit slack on the reading front this year for some reason and my memory for films is atrocious! I've seen a few but can't remember any of them off hand! haha!

5) What are you planning musically in 2005?

Well. we'll be returning to Thin Ice studios on January 24th to begin recording the 3rd Power Quest album, tentatively titled "Magic Never Dies", and we should complete that by the end of February. The Japanese label anticipate an early Summer release. We are still talking to various labels in Europe so nothing is decided as yet on that front. Hopefully then we can get out on the road and play some shows in Europe and beyond during the course of 2005, perhaps even some festivals.

Thanks to all the fans who have bought our albums, come to the shows etc and generally made 2004 another cool year for the band! Cheerz!

Jason is our resident "A&R" man who has spotted the early promise of bands like The Darkness (securing one of the first online interviews with Justin Hawkins) Here's his "Top 5 newcomers" for 2004:

BLACK #5 'Last Few Hours' (Headroom Records)

Modern rock how it should be done - killer riffs, quality songwriting and tunes that stick in your head for weeks.

INTENSE 'Second Sight' (Underground Synphony)

Classic metal meets modern power metal - for fans of Iron Maiden and Metallica.

TOYZ 'House of Cards' (Escape Music)

One of the better melodic rock/AOR albums released this year and for fans of good, rocking anthems.

PANIK 'A Page Torn...' (Escape Music)

Modern rockers who pen a mighty fine tune and even do justice to a cover of the Judas Priest classic 'You've Got Another Thing Coming'.

SACRED HEART 'Lay It On The Line'

Top quality UK based melodic rock a la FM, Lost Weekend, Shy etc.

David Randall

NATASCHA SOHL 'Strange Fascination' (Granite Music)

A wonderful debut from a really promising singer-songwriter. Catchy, angsty, jangly guitars and great production give the major players like Avril, Alanis and Sheryl a new contender...


1) What are you doing musically at the moment?

At the moment I'm really concentrating on gigging and doing some promotional work for my soon-to-be-released Album and second Single! I've got a mini arena tour coming up in a couple of weeks and throughout December for The Young Voices Concerts. They'll be in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Belfast & Dublin so I'm really looking forward to those - should be great! I've also got a couple of gigs coming up in London soon so I've got to do a bit of rehearsing with my band too - cant wait!

2) What were your main achievement(s) in 2004?

I seem to have done quite a lot in 2004! I think the main achievements for me would be appearing at The Radio Academy award show and launching my debut Single and Album - it was pretty exciting for me going into Virgin and seeing my own CD! Also New York was pretty cool, a definite high point!

3) Any disappointments?

Not achieving world domination just yet!!! No, not really, there's been a fair amount of hard work but I'm lucky that I have some great people rooting for me so I'm pretty happy about everything really!

4) What were your own favourite albums, films and/or books of 2004 and why?

Thats too hard to answer - I like a lot of stuff!! I dont think I can narrow it down but these were some of my favs: The Scissor Sisters, Jamie Cullum - Twenty Something, Keane - Hopes & Fears, Snow Patrol - Final Straw and The Killers - Hot Fuse.

My Favourite film was Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind - I LOVED it! It was a really interesting concept and it just made me feel really happy for the rest of the day! My favourite book was The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold. It's amazing and really well written, READ IT!

5) What are you planning musically in 2005?

I can't believe it's nearly 2005 already! I'm going to start doing some stuff for the next Album, I really want to get lots more material written so am trying to gather inspiration on a daily basis! I'm hoping to go back out to New York to do some co-writing so that should be amazing. Also I want to be gigging a lot more, head up to Scotland and organise a tour. Anyone need any support?!!

BUDDAHEAD 'Crossing The Invisible Line' (Sanctuary)

Another strong debut with just the right amount of grit to counter Raman's essentially acoustic approach. Air-fisting with a vengeance starts here and a great soundtrack to summer 2004...

TODD RUNDGREN 'Liars' (Sanctuary)

A superb return-to-form from the cult superstar. A return to UK stages in 2004 also made it a good year for Runt watchers.

MARILLION 'Marbles' (Intack)

Daring, expansive, single-minded, Marillion stick to their guns and release another prog epic with just the right measure of catchy tunes to stop this being too over-indulgent.

BLONDIE 'Live By Request' DVD (Warner Music Vision)

Regenerated, matter, this 2004 TV gig does justice to the new Blondie. All the hits and more.

John Stefanis is our mainman for all-things-metal and he has interviewed some of the top names in the genre this year.

John says: "The already difficult task of having to choose your favourite albums of the year, has become even more difficult due to the large numbers of good albums that have been released in 2004.

Yes, 2004 has been a great year for both Hard Rock and Metal music, and let's hope that things will only get better in the years to come!

After plenty of thinking, these are my personal favourites (click here for John's metal selection)

John Stefanis

FATES WARNING 'X' (Metal Blade)

It is really nice to know that you can feel safe with some bands. I was sure that I would like "X" even before I listened to it, but after I did, I realised that there is no limit to the creativity of this amazing band! One of the best albums that I have listened to in years, and definitely the best album (regardless of the genre) for 2004!

DEAD SOUL TRIBE 'The January Tree' (Inside Out)

The next "logical" step after the amazing "A Murder of Crows" , and another unique trip in the "Strange Mind of Buddy Lackey" - excuse me...I meant Devon Graves!

SAXON 'Lionheart' (SPV)

The English "warlords" have been going through a second youth for quite a while now, and "Lionheart" is the living proof that where there's a will, there's a way! Make way ladies and gentlemen - the eagle is about to land!

THE FLOWER KINGS 'Adam & Eve' (Inside Out)

What started as one man's vision, has become an "all star" band. "Adam & Eve" is a powerful progressive orgasm that will cast you out of heaven once and for all!

EVERGREY 'The Inner Circle' (Inside Out)

The members of this band have dedicated themselves to creating good emotional music, and "The Inner Circle" is the vehicle that will bring every "passenger" to that destination.

Joe Geesin

1) Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Live 1976 (MLP)

Classic live set showing the master of presentation at his best. A damn fine performance, top recording quality and a better set than the ‘SAHB Live’ album. Outlandish, outrageous, superb.

2) Saxon - Lionheart (SPV)

Classic British Metal. Saxon continue to record some of the best metal around in their unique and distinct yet traditional NWoBHM style with class, finess and Biff Byford. Almighty. Anyone who witnessed the recent tour will know how seamlessly the material sits alongside classics from 20 years ago.

3) Danny Joe Brown - Same

Long overdue CD reissue of the sole solo album from 1981. Danny made his name as the whiskey soaked voice of Molly Hatchet, and the classic ‘Fall Of The Peacemakes’ is still played by the band today. One of the best Southern-hard rock albums - EVER.

4) Foghat - Decades Live

Double CD of live material from the Boogie Maesters, this set from the reformed lineup on the mid 90s eclipses the original live album featuring the entire set and several extended blues/rock work outs. Other live tracks fill the compilation but after the original slit and reformation 10 years later, they could blow most bands off stage.

5) Rhapsody - Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II - The Dark Secret

European melodic speed metal with strings and operatic vocals and a guest from the legendary Christopher Lee. Clichéd yet a lot of fun, with original arrangements taking Manowar in a ‘Lord Of The Rings’ direction. With added choir and orchestra. Most enjoyable.

Pete Whalley

Best re-release

Deep Purple - Burn (30th anniversary edition) (EMI)

From the opening bars of Burn the sound virtually rips your speakers apart. It’s a bit like meeting an old flame 30 years down the line, to discover that she’s had a face lift, is hotter than hell and can still get your rocks off.

Best live DVD

Sheryl Crow - C’mon America 2003

Plenty of contenders for this award, notably Fleetwood Mac Live in Boston and Meat Loaf Live with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. But Sheryl takes the prize with a superb performance from the C’mon C’mon tour. This DVD is so hot your player is likely to go into meltdown. Not only do the band rock like demons, but Sheryl is foxy as hell. And it doesn’t get any better than the encore - an absolutely orgasmic rendition of Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll. Watch and worship.

Best new album release

Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose

A tricky category. For those late night listening moments, Norah Jones’s Feels Like Home and Eleanor McEvoy’s Early Hours are particularly fine. If you like you rock mixed with a smattering of pop Borrowed Heaven by The Corrs is their best since Talk On Corners, and Anastacia’s eponymous third album her most consistent to date.

As for newcomers, Natascha Sohl and The Zutons both look to have promising futures.

But the prize must go to a grandmother in her 70s - Loretta Lynn - deconstructed by Jack White and reassembled as the front person for Zeppelin at their peak. It shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s brave, wonderful and seriously excellent. So whisper it quietly, Loretta Lynn rocks! .

Best live artist

Eleanor McEvoy

The lesser spotted Irish songstress who doesn’t fit neatly into rock and pop, folk, jazz, or Irish, but who should simply be filed under ‘class acts’. Despite widespread critical acclaim, Eleanor remains relatively unknown. Live she delivers a mainly acoustic set but her songs are so strong and vocals so mesmerising that frankly, you don’t need much else. Sightings so far this year - five.


1) What are you doing musically at the moment?

I've just come back from a 9 day tour in Britain, and right before that I did 7 gigs in and around the New York area. I'm now back in Wexford and I'm writing. I'm going to do as much writing as I can up to Christmas.

2) What were your main achievement(s) in 2004?

Well, I'm really pleased that the solo show is getting such great feed back. I'm really enjoying it. When you're entirely on your own on stage you have great freedom. It's just you and the audience, you can alter songs as you go along and really tap into the mood of the audience. I'm loving it.

3) Any disappointments?

The results of the American election...

4) What were your own favourite albums, films and/or books of 2004 and why?

The new Mundy album is great (Mundy is an Irish artist, singer songwriter style).

I really enjoyed an album called "Something Ilk" - it's by a new artist called Cathy Davey, she's Irish, and her Dad is the composer Shaun Davey.

I really liked it because it's not like any of the other albums that are coming out of Ireland at the minute. The percussion and instrumentation in general is used in a very interesting way, and I really like her lyrics too.

It's been a really busy year, so I haven't been to see a film all year! When I do go out it tends to be to gigs rather than films.

Two gigs stand out for me - the first was 'Smile' the Brian Wilson concert in the Royal Festival Hall in London last February. It was the first performance of the lost 'Smile' album.

His band were fantastic. Really energetic, but beautifully musical. Lovely to hear those lovely close harmonies too, you don't hear much of that anymore. The atmosphere in the r.f.h. was absolutely electric.

The second gig that made a big impression on me was Christy Moore in the Philharmonic Hall in liverpool last month (October '04). He was really, really great. He was accompanied by Declan Sinnott and Donal Lunny, and it was fantastic. At no stage did I feel like I was missing a bass or drums...It was such a complete musical sound.

Christy is so incredible with the audience, I can't think of another performer that gets that kind of connection with an audience. He is a master of the art of audience communication.

As to the books, I've just finished reading "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Now, I know it's not a 2004 publication but it's such a wonderful book. I think I might have to get some of his other work now.

5) What are you planning musically in 2005?

I'm starting off the year by doing a special guest slot with 'Homespun' (a new band featuring Sam Brown and Dave Rotheray, the songwriter with 'The Beautiful South') in January. That's in Britain and Ireland. In the middle of this I'm doing a date in Scotland on Celtic Connections.

I know that there's another UK tour planed for March / April 2005. There's a bunch of Irish dates too, but I'm not sure when.

Best rockumentary

Fleetwood Mac - Destiny Rules

The tensions within the Mac are the stuff of legend. This warts and all DVD follows the making of Say You Will. And it’s a completely absorbing journey - better than any soap. Quite how the album made it to the shops, and without blood being spilt is a mystery. A passionate and insightful ‘must watch’.


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