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Heaven & Earth - 'Hard To Kill' http://rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/64/22/6c/heaven-and-earth-hard-to-kill-19-1520363596.jpg Hot

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Heaven & Earth are, quite possibly, the finest non-heritage band on the planet right now.

Had Heaven & Earth's 'Dig' (arguably 2013's Best Hard Rock Album) matched its critical plaudits and glowing reviews in deserved sales, then guitarist/band leader Stuart Smith and company would no doubt be travelling the globe conducting press duties for 'Hard To Kill' in their very own "Starship" (the name given to Led Zeppelin's infamous private jet). 'Dig' felt like the work of a brand-new band, as opposed to the two preceding Heaven & Earth albums (and one EP) which came across very much like Smith's singular vision with a host of guest musicians onboard.

Now formed around a nucleus of Smith, vocalist Joe Retta and bassist Lynn Sorenson (with drummer Kenny Aronoff and keys/Hammond player Ty Baillie giving way to Steve Wilson and Mike Mangan respectively during the recording process), the title track erupts with the brio of Deep Purple (MkIII) at their virtuosic prime and channels more than a touch of 'Burn' in its swirling guitar/organ interplay. Smith's opening riff to 'Walk Away' is a lesson in simple perfection and I instinctively reached for my air bass when the rest of the band kicked in on this mid-tempo stunner; "So you're a real badass" purrs Retta – sorry but this killer song's going to put a swagger into any listener's stride! The acoustic 'Bleed Me Dry' brings to mind the splendid W.E.T., before the punch of Sorenson's fresh bass strings introduces the loose groove of 'The Game Has Changed', a track which blends elements of Purple with Stevie Wonder at his seventies Funkiest.

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No, that's not Brian Johnson lending his guest vocals on 'Anthem', though Retta certainly has the affable Geordie's growl nailed on the opening verses, whereas 'Monster' opens with a unique sounding The Who-like synth. 'L.A. Blues' shows off Retta's Soul chops superbly, while Heaven & Earth prove their ability to play the "spaces" and not just the notes when it's to the song's benefit. 'Hellfire', I must confess, passed me by despite several listens, though 'Beautiful Monsters' did grab my attention – Glenn Hughes' too I suspect, when he hears it he'll surely wish he penned this groover. Closer 'Bad Man' is pure seventies Bad Company and serves to reinforce just what a versatile and magnificent singer Retta is.

Real Rock 'n' Roll done for love, not money, Heaven & Earth are, quite possibly, the finest non-heritage band on the planet right now.

Caesar Barton

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