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Any time I hear terms like “supergroup” or “dream team” I become a little wary. In the past, musicians and sports teams have made the mistake of thinking that getting all the best players is guaranteed success. History tells us that that is not necessarily the case. Music, like sports, requires a certain relationship and chemistry between the players involved. Music is also dependent upon songs. You can have the greatest players in each position, but if the songs aren’t well written or don’t fit the overall vibe of the group, you can count on total collapse. Black Swan is a “supergroup.” With ex- Michael Schenker vocalist Robin McAuley fronting the band, ex-Dokken and Foreigner bassist Jeff Pilson, ex-Winger and Whitesnake guitarist Reb Beach, and ex-Ace Frehley drummer Matt Starr rounding out the band, there is no shortage of talent. But let me tell you, I think of Black Swan as more of a super group than a “supergroup.”

I think the title represents the feel of this record perfectly. It seems to jump out at you. Without trying too hard, the music sounds sharp and raw. I’ve always loved Robin McAuley’s abilities as a vocalist. He has always had great range and strength, but I always felt like his hunger and angst was stripped down on those Michael Schenker records. There was always great production and polish on those records, but maybe more than I wanted given to McAuley’s vocal tracks. This Black Swan release doesn’t smooth over the vocals. Even on the softer ballad, “Make It There,” McAuley’s voice cuts through the fluffy clouds of pretty music and delivers the perfect amount of bite to an otherwise typical ballad structure. You can also look for an insane solo from guitarist Reb Beach in this song as well. A song that was written as a run-of-the-mill ballad is made great by the band’s ability to play within the parameters of the song. Even though Beach’s solo is insane and over-the-top, it fits within the song and makes it better. This group of guys does that over and over again on this record.

Seeing this album on the Frontiers label should tell you a couple of things. It’s probably music of the highest quality, and it’s probably in the melodic hard rock genre. Frontiers is the best label out there for consistently putting out quality music in the genre, and this album fits perfectly in the label’s fine catalog.

This whole band has extreme talent, but it does feel as if Beach and McAuley steal the show. There are so many excellent guitar solos to be heard here, as well as exceptional vocal moments. I think it’s this kind of sacrifice and patience that’s needed for these “supergroups” to work. If Starr was to add all kinds of drum fills and complex sequences, it would just be too much for these songs. He recognizes that and plays his parts perfectly. Pilson and Starr are as rock solid as it gets, laying down a foundation for Beach to build his massive guitar attack. Aside from the aforementioned solo in “Make It There,” take a listen to “The Rock That Rolled Away,” “Unless We Change,” or “Johnny Came Marching” to be blown away. But, perhaps the greatest moment on the record comes by way of “Sacred Place.” The sweet guitar tone and melody in this song is something I can’t get enough of. McAuley’s vocal phrasing on the track is something that gives me goosebumps. I truly feel that this track has the best guitar solo, the best vocal performance, and the best rhythm parts on the record. It’s just an extraordinary song.

I’m trying to think of things that I might improve upon with this, and I honestly can’t come up with anything. I ask myself, “Is this the perfect record?” I don’t know about that, but I will say it’s damn close. Some songs may feel a bit familiar, like I’ve heard them a few times before, but even those are so expertly played that you have to appreciate them. With that said, “Unless We Change” and the album closer “Divided/United” have a fairly unique structure. On “Divided/United,” the front half is very ballad-like and the last half turns to a heavy rocker. But, is this a unique or groundbreaking album? I don’t think so, but I also don’t think that was the point here. This is a set of great rock and roll songs, it’s really that simple. Turn on the title cut and sing along. Enjoy the great harmonies. Marvel at the urgency of McAuley’s voice and Beach’s guitar. Just accept this for what it is, a great melodic rock record plain and simple, and you’ll have a smile on your face throughout the entire thing.


A Robin and the Swan:
The Robin McAuley Interview

Robin McAuley means so many things to so many people. Most people know him as the singer of “Anytime,” the hit song by the McAuley Schenker Group. Others know McAuley from his tenure as part of the long running, star-studded Las Vegas show Raiding The Rock Vault. Then you have folks familiar with his work with Far Corporation or Grand Prix. However you might know Robin McAuley in the past, prepare yourself to know him as the singer for Black Swan from now on.

In this conversation, Robin and I spend a lot of time talking about the debut Black Swan record, Shake The World. Enjoy Robin as he takes us on a songwriting journey through the record, and talks about the chemistry between members as well as the production of the album. Robin McAuley is one of the good guys. Listening to him reminisce of his childhood in Ireland and his excitement about making new music at 67 years of age is inspiring.

After you listen to the Shake The World album from beginning to end a few times, push the play button below, sit back, and enjoy the stories and genuine spirit of Robin McAuley.

00:00-03:52     Robin says hello and talks about his homeland of Ireland, and seeing Thin Lizzy when he was 12 years old.

03:53-16:43     Robin talks about the new Black Swan release, Shake The World. Listen to him tell how it all came together, the production process, and the excitement of having his son in the studio. Robin also speaks out about what was expected of McAuley Schenker in the late 80’s era.

16:44-18:56     Robin talks about the night Jeff Pilson sent him a song idea after seeing the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

18:57-20:23     Robin tells the story behind the song “Immortal Souls”.

20:24-22:23     Robin gives us an emotional explanation and personal attachment to the song “Johnny Came Marching”.

22:24-24:57     If you had to drop one song from the Shake The World record, which song would it be?

24:58-26:14     Robin talks about how the title cut, “Shake The World,” came together.

26:15-30:25     If I was to introduce your voice to someone that has never heard you before, what song should I play for them?

30:26-31:05     Will we see a tour and perhaps another Black Swan record in the future?

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