about%20-%20jpg.jpg reviews%20-%20jpg.jpg interviews%20-%20jpg.jpg gigs%20-%20jpg.jpg cd_review_joelhoekstras13_dyingtolive001006.jpg
There's been a steady influx of intriguing and successful collectives in recent years where various musical luminaries from the rock, metal and prog worlds have united to create critically lauded works that have rarely failed to live up to the expectations of what these unions would be capable of delivering. So, to various degrees of ephemera and longevity, we've had Chickenfoot, Black Country Communion, Flying Colors, Bloodbath, Transatlantic, Fantômas, The Winery Dogs, Avantasia, Lock Up etc. This list goes on and on. Just this year, new alliances have emerged with albums from Metal Allegiance, The Gentle Storm, and Lindemann, to name but three. Joel Hoekstra's 13 is yet another for the list, with the rather tasty lineup of the man himself on guitar (who replaced Doug Aldrich in Whitesnake last year); vocalists Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Jeff Scott Soto (whose singing CV is ridiculously extensive); legendary drummer Vinny Appice and Tony Franklin on bass, who performed in The Firm years ago (yet another 'supergroup') alongside Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers and Chris Slade. And, if that doesn't whet the appetite enough, there are various guest musicians who also feature on the album, including keys man Derek Sherinian, formerly of Dream Theater and Black Country Communion.

This has been billed as a 'side project' rather than a 'supergroup' (it seems so few musicians actually favour the latter term). I guess 'side project' is apposite within the context of what we have here, as Hoekstra has been something of a musical auteur, by producing, arranging and writing all music and lyrics for this release. As such, and despite a degree of compositional variance, there's a discernible artistic unity that binds each of the ten songs together. It has the overarching feeling of a well-rounded album within the melodic hard rock aesthetic that Hoekstra's exercising all aspects of his multi-faceted creativity, and his music has been brought to life wonderfully by some top musicians. I say melodic hard rock, for that's how it's been described in press blurb, although a sporadicity of heavier detours lend certain songs and passages more of a metal-biased impetus. Notably, opening track 'Say Goodbye to the Sun' sways far more towards metal than hard rock through both Allen's beefed-up vocal delivery and some meaty riffage infused with a few palm-muted root-fifths. And what an opener this is! Metallic heaviness rears its head throughout although, at core, the album's probably best regarded as sitting at the heaviest end of the melodic hard rock spectrum. There's not a single snippet of weedy, sell-out, AOR nonsense to be heard. Alongside his assemblage of eminent players, Hoekstra has crafted the real deal; this album rocks in such a big way. And, although the melodies are plentiful, infectious and prominent, they never dominate the compositions; rather, they're just a constituent part of the wider picture. This is songcraft at its finest. Each and every composition and arrangement is a winner.

Of course, the album's loaded with Hoekstra's incredible fretboard skills. Again, like the songs' melodies, his guitar work never dominates. There are solo spots throughout, where he truly lets rip, but it always feels like it contextually belongs; there's no mindless widdle. And his fretboard vocabulary is impressive throughout, and surprisingly varied, both in subtle nuances of playing, and more evident contrasts of stylistic variance. On the surface, of course, it's all about the songs themselves, and this is why the album works so well, but if you opt to focus your listening attention on individual guitar parts, there's a lot more going on here than a mere casual listen would otherwise reveal. I reiterate - this is masterful songcraft at work and, more importantly, the reification of such through not only Hoekstra's performance, but everyone else's contribution. And the album closes with 'What We Believe', a down-tempo, passion-fuelled, melodically epic slice of sonic sublimity that sees Soto duet with Chloe Lowery (a touring member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra since 2010). Such is its epic feeling, it sounds like the climactic number of a rock opera, with Soto and Lowery's voices complementing each other to perfection. A strong climax to a strong album. Let's hope Hoekstra finds more time away from Whitesnake in the future for a second outing of his side project.
Frontiers Records
Review by Mark Holmes
16th Oct 2015
1) Say Goodbye to the Sun
2) Anymore
3) Until I Left You
4) Long for the Days
5) Scream
6) Changes
7) The Only Way to Go
8) Dying to Live
9) Start Again
10) What We Believe
"This is songcraft at its finest. Each and every composition and arrangement is a winner."