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Review of the Week
   


Into The Night - Shooting Star

 

Yes, THAT Shooting Star.

 

I'm sure many of you are scratching your heads trying to think of how you know the name. Maybe it was "Hollywood" from the band's popular second record from 1981, Hang On For Your Life. Maybe it was that album's violin-tinged "Flesh And Blood" or the angst-ridden title track. Maybe it was "Breakout". Chances are you're trying to recall a song called "Last Chance," a track from the self-titled debut that landed at #1 back in 1980. It's a masterpiece that runs almost seven minutes, and it's the band's signature song. You might even remember heading to your local record store to buy it, only to find out that there were no copies of the album being distributed because of record company squabbling. This kind of political nonsense followed the band for years to come and ultimately prevented Shooting Star from becoming a household name. You might be a fan from those days and one of those that wasn't aware that the band still exists. Don't worry, there are many of you out there, but guitarist and band leader Van Mclain seeks to change all that with Into The Night. He's put together a pleasantly produced full length album of classic Shooting Star rock songs, and he's put a pretty nice price tag on it as well. I think FREE was the word he used. With so many veteran musicians fed up with file sharing and music subscription services killing hard copy sales, Mclain has decided to take a different approach. In my recent interview with Mclain, he expressed his desire to simply have this new music heard and to let fans know that the band is still going strong.

 

Often misconceived as a Kansas protege or a "mini Kansas," the band has established its own identity numerous times over its 35 year existence, and it continues to do so on this release as well. With new singer Todd Pettygrove in tow, this new material is the closest the band has gotten to their original sound since the departure of original vocalist Gary West. Pettygrove is a young and hungry rock singer with the rare ability to convincingly channel a tender side. He has more rasp than West had, but the small lilting nuances on the ends of some phrasings are eerily similar to the original singer's style. The song that made me reminisce most was "She Gives Me Chills." This a track that has a very similar mood to "Heartache" from the band's third album, III Wishes. Arguably, you could mistake Pettygrove for West on this one, but with that said, Pettygrove successfully establishes his own identity throughout these songs.

 

Longtime member Dennis Laffoon continues his legacy of expertise on keyboards on Into The Night. When his instrument isn't the dominant force, he fills in heavy rock songs like "Don't Waste My Time" with a great background strain that has a lot to do with driving those songs home. His greatest work on this album comes by way of "Eye Of The Needle," though. This is a song in which he incorporates a few different keyboard sounds and effects. After he lays down the opening riff that drives the rhythm of the track, we find Laffoon going to a traditional piano sound to a synth, and later in the song he delves into a solo that has almost a Keith Emerson-type of Moog sound. All of this combined with an excellent performance from the rest of the group, this definitely makes "Eye Of The Needle" a standout offering. The other standout for Laffoon comes in a sneaky way. Take a listen to the heavy rock tune "Bring Down The House." He's laying down such a cool, funky keyboard sound behind all the bombast that I just want to isolate his instrumental track to hear every detail. One of my favorite tracks on the album because of its sheer "kick your ass" quality, it has what may be the best keyboard run on the record. Laffoon also takes on bass guitar duties on the album, and his performance on that end is quite impressive as well, especially on "Bring Down The House."




With original members Van Mclain and Steve Thomas handling guitar and drumming duties respectively, this 2015 Shooting Star captures the spirit of the 80's lineup extremely well. McLain is still the primary songwriter here, and his songs are as vibrant and well thought out as ever. You get 10 legitimate songs on Into The Night, with no filler to be found. I think the great thing about Mclain's writing is its versatility. He writes great hard rock songs ("This Is Our Town," "Bring Down The House"), but he also writes a great pop hook ("Never Giving Up On Your Love") and a killer ballad ("She Gives Me Chills"). I can't help but think that "Never Giving Up On Your Love" would be a huge hit in the appropriate hands.

Mclain's guitar playing has always been impressive, and that doesn't change here. He is definitely one of the most underrated guitarists out there. Like his songwriting skill, he has the same skill set in his guitar playing. He plays like a rabid junkyard dog on "Bring Down The House" and then he nails a more lyrical, David Gilmour-type of emotion on songs like "Time Never Surrenders" and "She Gives Me Chills," with each performance being memorable.

Steve Thomas hasn't lost a step with his ability on the skins over the years, either. He's very sharp here, even though we don't get big drum breaks or anything that showcases his talents quite like "Last Chance" did, he remains excellent throughout these songs, providing a rock solid foundation in which everything else rests upon.

 

I have no trouble saying that this is the band's strongest effort in 30 years or more. I think they've really captured the traditional Shooting Star sound that was all over the first two or three albums. If you are a long time fan of Shooting Star you should love this material and consider it one of their finest. If you are new to Shooting Star music, you'll soon find that this band is a sparkling gem that got buried by all the soot and grime of the music business early on. But with any gem, it continues to sparkle underneath all the dirt, and when you rinse it off and polish it up, it just might shine brighter than ever before. 
 


Visit Shooting Star online at www.shootingstarmaniacs.com and download Into The Night FREE (download code: 1980)
   





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