Graham Bonnet is what I like to call a camp-divider. Many are the voices that has been raised about this man throughout the years. This is, after all, the unexpected and somewhat unlikely choice Ritchie Blackmore had as a replacement for the mighty Ronnie James Dio and his short stint in the band has always been highly discussed – just like his voice. His voice is one of the ones that is loved by many but hated by just as many as well – it sure raises emotions. Bonnet started his career as a singer for the pop band The Marbles who had a hit back in 1968 with “Only One Woman”, a band he quit later on to sing on advert jingles. A solo album was released in 1977 before he got the call from Blackmore and he joined Rainbow for one album, Down To Earth (1979), an album that only on a few places sounded remotely like the band that had released three epic albums prior to it. But Bonnet’s look, attitude and voice didn’t really fit Rainbow (even though the line.up had a major hit with the Russ Ballard-written “Since You’ve Been Gone”). One much spoken of incident that proved that he really wasn’t fit for fronting Rainbow was when he asked the audience: “Do you like rock and roll?” and when the audience screamed “YEEEEAAH!” back to him, he just replied: “I don’t!”. Also his look, short hair and Hawaii shirts, didn’t sit well among the Rainbow fan-base. Another solo album (Line Up, 1981) followed before he was asked to replace Gary Barden in MSG and the band released the brilliant Assault Attack in 1982, but that didn’t work for long either as him and Michael Schenker fought like cat and dog. Bonnet then formed Alcatrazz with Swedish up-coming guitar hero Yngwie Malmsteen which only lasted for one album, the now classic No Parole For Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983), before Malmsteen realised that he was the star of the band and quit.
There would be two more Alcatrazz records, Disturbing The Peace (1985, featuring an unknown Steve Vai as Yngwie’s replacement) and Dangerous Games (1986, featuring Danny Johnson as Vai’s replacement, a guy who got lost in anonymity) before the ride was over. After that, Bonnet got stuck in a whirlwind of solo records and band constellations (Blackthorne, Impellitteri, Anthem and Taz Taylor Band). But in the last ten years or so, Bonnet has been touring around the globe as a solo artist, performing songs of his past, something that has been working pretty well for the guy even though he hasn’t exactly been headlining festivals. This year, Bonnet played Sweden Rock Festival and the crowd was surprisingly large and he was also involved in the Michael Schenker Fest at the same festival where he performed two of their songs, together with other voices such as Robin McAuley and Gary Barden and I have to admit, it sounded really damn good. Me, I have never been a fan of Bonnet’s voice and I have always thought that Down To Earth and Assault Attack would have been better with some other singer. But I had must admit, I have had a change of heart in that department lately, much due to the fact that I – accidentally – walked in on his solo gig at SRF and found myself watching as the thin 68-year old sang like a motherf**ker! Don’t get me wrong, I love the albums he did with Rainbow and MSG, but his solo gig put them in a completely different light and today, I truly believe that neither of those records would have sounded better with another singer – Graham Bonnet’s voice do belong on them.
When it was announced that Graham Bonnet and his band – Conrado Pesinato on guitars, Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass, Mark Zonder (ex- Fates Warning) on drums and his old Alcatrazz buddy Jimmy Waldo on keyboards – would release a new album it came as a surprise for me as I didn’t think that Bonnet was the kind of artist who wrote and record anything new, but was mostly a nostalgia act. However, after my new-found interest in the singer and his activities, I have worked up a pretty big interest in how this album – and Bonnet himself – would sound. Bonnet and his gang opens the album with “Into The Night”, a melodic hard rocker in a faster pace, a perfect mix of Down To Earth and Assault Attack with some Alcatrazz on top and it rocks pretty damn well. It’s a really good song and the melody catches on brilliantly. It’s pretty much what fans would expect from the guy, I guess. “Welcome To My Home” is even better. It’s a driven melodic hard rocker that comes with a twitch of AOR where some arrangements reminds me of his days with Rainbow. The chorus is amazingly catchy, the kind they should use to sell this album with because I can’t see any melodic rock fans not liking this. “Earth’s Child (I Am Your Son)” is a 70’s based, slightly neo-classical melodic rocker that leans toward Alcatrazz, but more the Vai version than the Malmsteen one. The refrain is real intense and gets under my skin right away, very impressive. As a fan of MSG’s “Dancer”, I fell instantly in love with “Rider”, a sister-song to said tune. This is a catchy as Hell melodic rocker with a ferocious pop feel that grabs a hold of the listener and never lets go. It’s a brilliant song and it deserves to be a smash hit! Assault Attack comes along kicking and screaming in “Dead Man Walking”. It’s an uptempo, faster and rougher hard rocker but it still holds a really catchy melody in the same vein as that old MSG record – a killer!
“Strangest Day” is total winner as well. Again, it takes a more uptempo pace with guitars that goes `chugga-chugga-chugga´, a steady beat and a heavenly keyboard arrangement that builds a gushing atmosphere. “The Dance” is a mid-tempo pop / rock song with a ballad-like rhythm. It’s a smooth song that has a kind of levitating mood. It also has a sticky melody that will keep you humming for quite the while – great! Bonnet and band gets a little heavier with “Where Were You”, a somewhat progressive tune with some eastern undertones in some of the melodies and arrangements. A slow-paced middle section brings with some cool variation as well which makes an already good song even better. The title track is a classic hard rocker, very much in style of Down To Earth, much because of the keyboard sound that gyrates around the sound Don Airey had on that album – this is really damn good, folks. Bonnet takes a trip back to Alcatrazz with “Everybody Wants To Go There”, but this one sounds more like a standard hard rocker, like they’re trying too hard to catch the Alcatrazz vibe and by that the actual song writing suffers a bit. It’s not bad, but not nearly as good as the rest of the songs. The closing track “California Air” is a straight forward melodic rocker with an early 80’s vibe where it’s quite easy to catch the vibes of both Rainbow and MSG and it works splendidly.
As a bonus disc, the band has re-recorded a whole bunch – 16 of them actually – of Bonnet classics. The band go through Rainbow, MSG, Alcatrazz, his solo stuff and Impellitteri and it sounds really good even though these versions really couldn’t hold a candle to the originals, maybe the Impellitteri tune “Stand In Line” as the exception. Since I haven’t heard the original version of Bonnet’s solo track “Here Comes The Night”, I can’t be the judge of which version is the best one. There’s not much more to say about the bonus disc – if you have heard the tunes (which you should have) you know what the sound like and since the band has stayed true to all the original arrangements, there’s really not much to add rather than the disc is fun to have if you’re a big Bonnet fan but otherwise the disc might be somewhat redundant.
As a dude who hasn’t always been a Bonnet-fan, I must say that this album took me by surprise. Not that I had suspected it to suck, but I can honestly say that didn’t expect it to be this good. Also, as a man in his late 60’s (he’s 68 to be precise), Bonnet’s voice is very much intact still and his range and depth has been preserved impressible well. Also, Bonnet, band, song writers and producer has made a damn fine job in visiting Bonnet’s past without going on a full-blast repeat, which is the risk when you’re making such big attempt on giving the fans what they – supposedly – want. For fans of Bonnet’s past, this album is a no-brainer, but I believe this album will work like a charm for the average melodic hard rock fan as well. If you’re one of those who thinks that Bonnet’s voice stinks, I guess this album will not change that, but if you pit the voice aside and concentrate on the actual songs, this album might be a very nice surprise.
1. Into The Night
2. Welcome To My Home
3. Earth’s Child (I Am Your Son)
5. Dead Man Walking
6. Strangest Day
7. The Dance
8. Where Were You?
9. The Book
10. Everybody Wants To Go There
11. California Air (Better Here Than There)
1. Eyes Of The World
2. All Night Long
3. Lost In Hollywood
4. Since You’ve Been Gone
5. Night Games
7. Assault Attack
9. Desert Song
10. Island In The Sun
11. Hiroshima Mon Amour
12. God Blessed Video
13. Will You Be Home Tonight
15. Stand In Line
16. Here Comes The Night (Down Without A Fight)