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Ambrosia - 'One Eighty' / 'Road Island' http://rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/21/9a/66/ambrosia-one-eighty-11-1411158535.jpg Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     September 19, 2014    
 
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Both these albums are very strong indeed and sound great with Jon Astley’s re-master.

Californian West Coast/AOR quartet Ambrosia first entered the U.S. charts in the mid 1970s with a self-titled album of masterful Progressive Rock, topping it a year later with the brilliant Alan Parsons-produced ‘Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled’. At the suggestion of their record label they started to introduce more Pop, Soul and R&B influences into 1978’s ‘Life Beyond L.A.’, which got them back into the singles chart but lost them their disgruntled keyboard player Christopher North. Guitarist/singer David Pack, bassist/singer Joe Puerta and drummer/singer Burleigh Drummond carried on as a trio and this seemed to still be the case when those three were pictured on the cover of 1980’s ‘One Eighty’, but flip the record over and there’s a different three guys on the back, keyboard player David Cutler-Lewis, vocalist Royce Jones and the returning North.

‘...Eighty’ is an eclectic album that still had the amazing musicianship and clever arrangements that the band were known for, but also contains a few simpler, Poppier songs, the soulful ‘You’re The Only Woman’ and the sublime ‘Biggest Part Of Me’ both successfully crashing into the Disco-saturated U.S. Top Ten. Superb opener ‘Ready’, the Royce Jones-sung ‘Shape I’m In’ and the lively shuffle of ‘Rock ‘N’ A Hard Place’ had enough guitar/keyboard interplay in them to satisfy the AOR faithful. But as a band that’s impossible to pigeonhole, they would always come up with left-field choices like the Funky ‘Livin’ On My Own’ (what a bass line!), the Honky-Tonk Rock ‘n’ Roller ‘No Big Deal’ and ‘Kamikaze’s quirky instrumentation and vocal harmonies. Pack was the strongest of the four vocalists and sang and wrote most of their big songs, but the strong lead vocals of Puerta, Drummond and Jones made for some great harmonies, which were showcased by band manager Freddie Piro’s excellent production.

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Considering the success of ‘...Eighty’, Warner Brothers curiously suggested they take some steps back towards their Progressive roots for its 1982 follow-up ‘Road Island’, which they eagerly agreed to, even bringing in former Pink Floyd producer James Guthrie to provide his special brand of stereo imagery. ‘For Openers (Welcome Home)’ was a killer intro, fading in amongst the sound effects and kicking into an organic slow burner based around Pack’s awesome vocal and guitar, Drummond’s thundering drums and North’s Hammond Organ. Similarly, the thumping ‘Ice Age’ was the longest and most diverse tune they’d attempted in many years, whilst ‘Endings’ was a hypnotic ethereal anthem to close the original album with. Elsewhere it was business as usual with the soulful Pop tunes ‘Feelin’ Alive Again’, ‘How Can You Love Me’ and ‘Fool Like Me’, and the more upbeat ‘Kid No More’ and ‘Still Not Satisfied’; the latter with another of Puerta’s amazing bass grooves. Rather oddly this disc ends with the edited single version of ‘How Can You Love Me’, which isn’t mentioned anywhere in the packaging and actually spoils the mood that the prophetic ‘Endings’ creates. ‘Road Island’ was an artistic success but sadly not a commercial one and just over a year after its release, President Bill Clinton’s favourite band (he even guested with them on saxophone once!) had faded away, as a recording band at least.

Both these albums are very strong indeed and sound great with Jon Astley’s re-master although, personally, I would have preferred the radically different first couple of albums. My only very minor complaint is that Dave Reynolds’ sleeve interview with Drummond has the drummer glossing over the split with Pack and revealing very little. However, the good news is that Puerta, Drummond and the latest line-up of Ambrosia are finally working on their first new studio album since ‘Road Island’, which I await with bated breath.

Phil Ashcroft

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