Angel - 'Angel' / 'Helluva Band' / 'On Earth As It Is In Heaven'

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Angel - 'Angel' / 'Helluva Band' / 'On Earth As It Is In Heaven'

Three of the most eagerly awaited releases from Rock Candy.

I should imagine these are three of the most eagerly awaited releases from Rock Candy, and as always they are presented with a lavish 16-page booklet, including photos and new interviews with the band.

Both Edwin Lionel ‘Punky’ Meadows’ guitar and Mickie Jones bass guitar had been in the short lived ‘Bux’ before teaming up with child prodigy Gregg Guiffria on keyboards, who had begun his career in a number of bands in the sixties. Together they set about putting together a hard rock outfit with a difference, recruiting fellow Washington DC native Barry Brandt for the drum stool - all that was required was a singer. Enter one Frank DiMino a vocalist that was to truly give the band that special touch. Next, a name was required and believe it or not Angel was taken from Greg Guiffria’s first wife’s poodle: not exactly a rock n roll anecdote!

The first album Angel released in 1975 is regarded as one of the greatest debut albums in the rock arena, alongside debut masterpieces from Montrose and Boston. Who can argue with the majestic opening track ‘Tower’, where Frank Dimino takes complete command and unleashes his soaring vocals while the rest of the band whip up a storm of pomp and progressive rock? So few bands manage to do this today. ‘Long Time’ has elements akin to that of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and is a song with an overwhelming sense of epic tragedy, clocking in at nearly ten minutes! That aside, it is held together by some truly sweeping keyboards.

I always felt that the image of the band betrayed them in a time of buckskin and cowboy boots, and they were often passed over as nothing more than a glam rock outfit, not unlike Casablanca label mates Kiss. Yet, if more people had given such gems as ‘Rock N Rollers’ and ‘Broken Dreams’, two great slabs of hard rock, a chance, they would have been pleasantly surprised. The lyrics offered in ‘Mariner’ evoke thoughts of ships negatioting the stormy waves of long ago, the song itself is none too dissimilar to some the earlier recordings of Supertramp in structure, and for a band in its infancy, it’s an ambitious piece of music. The glorious ‘On and On’ belts out an infectious chorus before the instrumental ‘Angel (Theme)’ brings proceedings to a close’ Listening to this again now actually reminds me of the intro to Ozzy Osbournes ‘Mr.Crowley’.

The dreaded second album syndrome certainly affected ‘Helluva Band’ released in 1976. It has a less vibrant delivery that of their the debut, and some of the songs did sound a little thrown together, no doubt due to much of their album being written on tour.

That said, there are glorious moments such as ‘The Fortune’ whereupon Greg Guiffia almost creates a landscape of other worlds with his gigantic keyboard work. The song is worth the price of the album alone, as the tale of a condemned man sung by Frank Dimino in a vocal of impeccable delivery. The guitar style of ‘Dr.Ice’ and ‘Mirrors’ reminds us how underrated ‘Punky’ Meadows is as a guitar player, and it’s a pity we hear so little from him these days. The influence of Richie Blackmore in ‘Pressure Point’ is clear, and sounds like a lost song from a Deep Purple or Rainbow session!

By the release of the third album ‘On Earth…’ the band had left behind some of their more progressive ideas and embraced a commercial style, more in keeping with the top bands of 1977 including Journey and Boston. Bringing famed producer Eddie Kramer in was thought to be the right man for the job at this point in their career (most fans are quite divided on this you will find). I was this album that was my original introduction to the band. I had picked up this record in a bargain bin and thinking they had that that ‘special something’ not unlike Kiss, I eagerly took the record home, fell in love with it, and proudly displayed the enclosed poster on my wall! The cover art on this third release depicted a truly angelic looking band among the heavens and unveiled a clever new logo design by Robert Petrick (that could be read the same upside down).

Unlike the Universal Music issue of this album from 2008, this is a rare Japanese mix and in its original track sequence, which makes this release a little more special. The Japanese mix sounds a lot crisper to my ears and some of the finer moments are given a new lease of life. For example, ‘Cast Of Stone’ sounds less of a muddle and the keyboards sound more dominant than before. Clearly ‘Can You Feel It’ is a more polished attempt at the market but it still hits you between the eyes - the band have lost none of their fire in the delivery. It is not until we reach ‘Magic Touch’, a sugar sweet stab at the singles market, that it’s clear the band had changed direction, leaving their more epic moments in the past, and embracing the AOR sound that was filling the airwaves. If that was a little too much of a departure for some, then ‘White Lightning’ proved the band had a groove that Jimmy Page would have been proud to have written. One of my personnel favourites is ‘Telephone Exchange’ a song that has moments that remind me of Boston. Frank DiMino owns this song and the whole band just sound perfect as ‘Punky’ Meadows tears up his guitar and fires off some lightning guitar work.

If any of these albums happens to be your introduction to Angel then you are in for the musical treat of a lifetime, for they are wonderful!

Ray Paul

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