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Newman - Under Southern Skies

posted 13 Feb 2012, 16:26 by Paul Woodward   [ updated 22 Feb 2012, 02:58 ]
(AOR Heaven)
 
Review By Woody

Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed The Art Of Balance Newman waste no time and release their 8th studio album Under Southern Skies. Although the band now has a firm live line up of Steve Newman (Vocals), Paul Boyle (Keyboards), Shaun Bessant (Guitar), Dave Bartlett (Bass) and Nic Lipscombe (Drums), Steve continues to compose and record the entire album himself with drums provided by the ever present Rob McEwan. Steve also mixes and produces the album at his own home studio ‘The Blue Room’.

I have to admit when I initially heard about this album I was concerned it was been fast tracked and it could hinder the quality of the album. Steve has always been very prolific and productive but I had alarm bells ringing about two Newman albums in the space of a year. These initial doubts were not only relieved upon hearing the album through once but left my jaw smashing through the floor. I couldn’t rave about Art of Balance enough and still do but Under Southern Skies to me is bar far his most accomplished collection of songs.

This album feels far more commercial, with more emphasis on the choruses whilst maintaining the distinctive Newman flavour we have all come to love. Steve has never stood still and each and every Newman album has its own feel or style, the promotion behind this album proclaimed a return to his earlier sound and whilst there is flourishes of things that hark back to other albums I see this album very much as an evolution. He takes elements of all his previous albums and has crafted a fine collection of slickly produced melodic rock gems, but at no point do I feel this album is a retrospective or devolution of the bands style.

Steve always delivers fine musical performances on his albums and although he has never neglected the keyboards on any of his albums, his keyboard compositions on this album are outstanding and make you really think Steve is an un-sung keyboard hero! Some songs bring the keys to the forefront to amazing and magical effect, but Steve also knows the importance of the background use of key’s and has given some songs a fuller, richer and warm sound.

This is not to say he neglects other aspects in favour of a prominent keyboard sound, I think some of his guitar riffs and solo’s are some of the most hook laden and melodic he has ever crafted with some truly outstanding and shining moments. I should also point out that Shaun Bessant makes a guest appearance performance on the solo for ‘If He Loves You’. Vocally I’ve always been a fan of Steve and he doesn’t let us down here and on a couple of songs goes above and beyond and delivers some really raw and emotive performances on the likes of ‘Wish You Were Here’ & ‘Strength To Carry On’.

For me one of Steve’s strengths is his lyric writing and there is some really deep stuff on here which is unsurprising given the rollercoaster ride Steve has had in his personal life over the past couple of years. This isn’t a dark album in the least it’s actually quite positive and bright in the main, but I’m sure some of these songs were very cathartic for the man.

Opening cut the driving rocker ‘Killing Me’ is the perfect choice to kick off the album with its forceful and unforgettable chorus. There is  guitar and keyboard hooks in abundance all over this song, I’d say this will be popular live. ‘If He Loves You’ sees Newman go into all out commercial melodic rock territory complete with a sumptuous melody on the chorus. I love the keyboard intro, the fluttering keyboards throughout are infectious and the key’s on the chorus are simply beautiful. Newman in commercial form gives us a near perfect example of melodic rock, prominent keys, strong guitar riffs, powerful vocals and most importantly of all a sing-along chorus.

Get your air guitars out ready for ‘Under Southern Skies’ and its crunching guitars. There is some nice tinkly keyboard work here too. It has a punchy moody chorus with a warm smooth vocal melody. It’s a cool mid-tempo rocker which is very much typical Newman. The emotionally charged ballad ‘Strength To Carry On’ has some powerful lyrics and Steve provides them with a suitably emotion drenched vocal performance. It has an instant and powerful chorus that will really stick with you. I have to say the song also has a strong positive vibe to it.

‘Ghost In The Night’ is a co-write with long time friend Nick Workman (Vega). It has powerful driving guitar riffs, is instant and catchy, filled with plenty of hooks and a bouncy sing out loud chorus. This song does have a dark edge but is a fabulous slice of melody driven rock. ‘Without Warning’ is smooth and catchy as hell. It’s a warm and beautiful song with and outstanding AOR chorus. It contains some fantastic keyboard work too, which is extremely effective without been overpowering and gives this song a great warmth and charm.

‘She’s Gone’ is AOR perfection an instant, catchy sing along goodie. The killer guitar and keyboard riffs really hit you in the face and is simply breath taking. Combine this with a harmony drenched and powerful chorus and you have pure AOR magic! ‘Fire With Fire’ is a laid back rocker with a nice sway to it and a catchy chorus. There’s a great rhythm to this song which makes it lodge itself in your head with ease. ‘Save No Prisoners’ has a wonderful chorus which features some great vocals from Steve. I really like how the song builds and builds its momentum throughout the song and the mid section and guitar solo are just pure genius. Listen out for some more understated but effective keyboards on this one.

The first time I heard ‘Wish You Were Here’ it brought a tear to my eye knowing Steve had lost both his parents in 2009 gave the lyrics so much more power as it is so obvious this song is for them. It is an intensely powerful ballad with equally powerful and emotive lyrics and Steve delivers his best vocal performance on the album been very raw and emotional. The song is a proper heart wrenching tear jerker and the atmosphere it provokes is melancholic but reflective. It’s a touching song about loss and remembrance, one of Steve’s finest moments in his entire career, I’m sure his parents love this song and the sentiment it carries warms them. The final track on the album sees Steve flexing his ‘I’m an artist’ muscles with the epic ‘Montserrat’. Steve has always liked storytelling lyrics and going off the beaten track with his lyrics to give us something different and long standing Newman fans will love this track.

It’s very easy for me to say this is a must for Melodic Rock fans but the fact is if you like melody driven rock this is essential, seriously what you waiting for get on the net and order it now! This album proves without a doubt the talent within this genre in the UK and with killer albums like this we can compete with any band the Scandinavians and Americans can throw at us. This is Newman’s finest album to date and I’m sure even better is still yet to come, but in the meantime get Under Southern Skies and crank it UP!

Track Listing: Killing Me / If He Loves You / Under Southern Skies / Strength To Carry On / Ghost In The Night / Without Warning / She’s Gone / Fire With Fire / Save No Prisoners / Wish You Were Here / Montserrat

Album Rating: 10/10

Woody’s Essential Track: She’s Gone

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