Thursday, August 07, 2008

Something Old, New, Borrowed...Something Night Ranger!

You can still Rock in America with Night Ranger. You can't get cheap gas or balance the California budget but Rock? Yeah, you can still do that.

American fans of Night Ranger have had a long wait between albums, the previous disc of these Bay Area rockers was Seven in 1998. Ten years ago! I think I had a mustache the last time new Night Ranger was released (I don't have one now). Last year there were a lot of happenings in the Night Ranger universe, a new CD called Hole in the Sun was released just about everywhere but here quickly followed by the dismissal of long time guitarist Jeff Watson. Meaning the last recordings of Watson with the band couldn't be heard here. Until now.

The band has finally gotten enough support to get the new CD out here in the States. And being a longtime Night Ranger fan, I had to hear it. And I'm happy to say the hallmarks of classic Night Ranger are there, all the burning twin guitar solos, fired up vocals and hard riffing attitude you could handle. Minus one original member when recording (keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald was replaced by Michael Lardie at this point) the lineup of bassist / vocalist Jack Blades, drummer / vocalist Kelly Keagy, whammy bar guitarist Brad Gillis and guitarist Jeff Watson crank out their jams 80s style with fire and skill. The raging title track and "Wrap It Up" rocks like the Night Ranger of old with frantic guitars squalling all over. The ballad "There Is Life" sways like an old bic lighter in the wind. And the guitar soloing in "Tell Your Vision"? 80's Rock nirvana.

Yet the band is not happy with just rehashing their known sound, they want to be contemporary so they've infused a modern edge into much of the disc. A lot of the main guitar parts to the songs are low (what's the technical term? down tuned?) in tone and a little ragged at times. There are rubbery bass lines and drum looped employed in spots as well. But a lot of it has to do with mix of verse and chorus, the pattern being either a modern verse with an 80's chorus or vice versa. The best example is "Whatever Happened" that has a Weezerish offhand verse section followed by strident pure 80's Arena Rock anthem chorus. It's a great song. Some of that acoustic Shaw / Blades feel comes into play too, with pleasant strumming guitars on "Fool in Me" and "Being".

To hedge their bets, the album ends with two acoustic versions of their classic hits "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" and "Sister Christian". Both versions are fine additions to their catalog but detract from the statement their album is making. Night Ranger make a case for relevance, they fall short, but still display a strong showing. They'll never match their AOR trilogy of Dawn Patrol / Midnight Madness / 7 Wishes and some of the fan reaction on Hole's initial release said they changed too much, but I think the changes have kept them vital enough to stay interesting. All in all, Hole in the Sun is pretty good.

Though apparently not everyone in the band was happy as Jeff Watson either quit or was fired in '07 leading to a revolving door of guitarists in his place. I couldn't find much of their new material online for this post, you can hear "Tell Your Vision" and "There is Life" at Night Ranger's My Space page. But I don't want to send you good people home empty handed, so here's something I swear I never thought I'd see: A group of dancing teenagers in Iowa performing a Night Ranger medley. They're Motorin'!

Linn Mar "Night Ranger medley"

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