GIOELI-CASTRONOVO – Set The World On Fire

For the first time in a long, long time, Frontiers have put together a project that beforehand sounded like something to really look forward to. Not that I find all their projects uninteresting, it’s just that there are so many of them and it’s easy to think “oh-oh, here’s another one..” with a sigh. What made this combo so interesting isn’t only because both Johnny Gioeli and Deen Castronovo are brilliant singers (Castronovo is also an amazing drummer) but because this is the closest we have gotten to a Hardline reunion ever. Sure, Hardline still exists, but are today really Gioeli’s solo project but both him and Castronovo played on Hardline’s now classic Double Eclipse (1992) together with guitarist Neal Schon (Journey), Johnny’s brother Joey on guitar and bass player Ted Jensen and we are many that still crosses our fingers, hoping that a full-blown reunion some time will take place.

Now, that reunion is unlikely to happen but this project is at least one step closer to that. But sure, with almost all Frontiers’ projects, it is the record company that is in charge for pretty much everything from song writing to production and these two gentlemen are only brought in to sing, but I have a feeling that Deen and Johnny wouldn’t agree to sing over whatever music that’s being brought to them, that they actually had a say in the process and that they wouldn’t just give any outcome their thumbs up. These are only speculations, of course and I don’t have any song writing credits at hand so I haven’t got a clue if they were part of that process at all. Well, be that as it may, while Gioeli is hired as Axel Rudi Pell’s singer and runs his own Hardline and Deen is out with The Dead Daisies (he is also in Revolution Saints and was once in both Journey and Bad English), this album is an intermission that hopefully will lead to something Hardline oriented in the future – or at least a part two of this project.

Second single and the album’s title track opens the album. It’s a faster paced AOR rocker that lands somewhere between Journey and Revolution Saints. To hear Gioeli and Castronovo duet is nothing but mesmerizing as their voices and their phrasings are so different to each other but both are amazing and the contrast helps make a tune like this a winner. It’s a pretty smooth yet rocking AOR tune with a refrain that deserves to be a huge hit. Magnificent! First single “Through” is a mid-tempo pop-rocker that borders to power balladry with AOR vibes. The chorus is extremely catchy and stick immediately. The voice contrasts, the pretty mellow verse vs. the big refrain makes this tune a real winner and in a time when people still paid for music, this song would have shipped this record millions – awesome!

Third single “Who I Am” is slow – a Pop/AOR ballad, very slick, silky and smooth with memorable melodies and a sticky refrain. Plus a great guitar solo from Mario Percudani. Very good! “Fall Like An Angel” is clearly one of the highlights of the album. It’s more of a rocker with the guitars more upfront even though it’s a pure AOR track. The tune’s got edge and the crunchy guitar work and punchy drums gives it a live feel as well. This is a brilliant tune, I hope they make it a single at some point. “It’s All About You is a full-on power ballad, big on piano and acoustic guitars but also bombastic and slick – with an amazingly catchy refrain. I’d like to say it lands somewhere between Hardline and Revolution Saints style wise.

The first time I heard “Need You Now” I wondered where the hell I had heard that one before. Then the coin fell down – it’s a Lady Antebellum cover. I can’t say I have listen a helluva lot to Lady Antebellum but I do have a soft spot for them and in the hands of this duo, this tune is a winner. It’s a Pop/AOR half-ballad, a bit groovy and with a floating vibe but the chorus is total mid 80’s chart pop-rock – you’re gonna hum this refrain whether you like it or not but me personally find the tune brilliant! Should be a single! “Ride Of Your Life” is an uptempo AOR-rocker with a huge Journey influence, shitloads of hooks and an infectious refrain that you’ll need surgery to remove from your brain – great stuff! “Mother” is slow on the ballad side but groovy, a bit jazzy, a bit melancholic and laid-back but it’s still powerful and the refrain is – as always on this album – very catchy and sticks after first listen. Very good.

“Walk With Me” is an intense ballad, very soulful and it reminds me of late 80’s Bon Jovi at times. It’s a big power ballad that would probably had been a big hit back in the day. Great! “Run For Your Life” is more of a Pop song in an uptempo way. It’s got a memorable main melody and an equally memorable refrain but it feels kinda standard to me. It’s ok but it fails to floor me. Also in uptempo, “Remember Me” is more in the Melodic Rock vein with the guitars are on the rougher side and higher in the mix. It holds a big AOR refrain and an 80’s sounding synth-sound. It is a good song but it’s just good – not great. The album closes with a stripped, acoustic guitar ballad called “Let Me Out”. It’s a very earthy, authentic and dynamic number that really shows the singers’ vocal skills when it comes to ballads. Synth-strings comes in after a while, making the song a bit thicker. It’s a great tune and a great closer.

First of all, this album is vocal heaven. Two singers in their fifties that hasn’t lost one iota when it comes to range, depth and feel. Also, the fact that the contrasts in their voices makes the album even more dynamic – Gioeli’s more raspy voice and Castronovo’s cleaner, Steve Perry (Journey) like voice is a marriage made in heaven. Fact is, it’s very much due to their voices that this album turned out so great because sound-wise, this is pure AOR and a lot more slick and smooth than any of their day jobs. Alessandro Del Vecchio is a really good song-writer but he’s been writing for so many of Frontiers’ projects now and after a while things can turn out a bit samey – you kind of know how the songs will sound. But on here, Johnny and Deen has made their own interpretations and I’m sure they have had a hand in the vocal arrangements which makes these songs stand out. Production wise, I find it a bit too slick and silky – I wish the guitars were rougher and higher in the mix and with a drummer like Deen, well, punchier drums, please! But still, the songs here are so damn good that I can let that slide. I sure hope for a follow-up – or better yet, a full-blown Hardline reunion!

8/10

Tracklist:

1. Set The World On Fire
2. Through
3. Who I Am
4. Fall Like An Angel
5. It’s All About You
6. Need You Now
7. Ride Of Your Life
8. Mother
9. Walk With Me
10. Run For Your Life
11. Remember Me
12. Let Me Out

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