Jono Moulds checks out the new album from Graham Bonnet Band for The Rock & Roll Circus. The new studio album, "Day Out In Nowhere" was released on May 13, 2022.Via Frontiers
Graham is joined by long-time bandmates Beth-Ami Heavenstone (bass) and Conrado Pesinato (guitar) on this new opus, as well as keyboardist Alessandro Bertoni and drummer Shane Gaalaas (Michael Schenker, B’z). "Day Out in Nowhere" also sees guest appearances from Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, Nevermore), John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie), Mike Tempesta (Powerman 5000), Roy Z (Halford, Bruce Dickinson), and Graham's former bandmate, legendary keyboardist Don Airey (Deep Purple, Rainbow).
Explains Bonnet of the new album, “Similar to the first two albums, it will reflect different eras of my career, but with a contemporary twist. I’m also delighted to be playing with original members of the Graham Bonnet Band, Beth-Ami Heavenstone who has been my constant partner (on and off stage) since meeting back in 2012 and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, who’s innate musical style elicits some of my best songwriting.” Conrado and Beth-Ami also serve as the album’s producers.
Graham Bonnet is a hard rock legend with a pedigree to back that statement up. His stints with Rainbow, MSG, Alcatrazz, and Impellitteri prove he is one of the finest rock vocalists of his generation. In his late 60s into his 70s, Graham has made fully three of the best albums he’s ever done, namely a reunion album with Alcatrazz called "Born Innocent" in 2020, along with two regals, rocking and yet irresistibly sophisticated records with his cherished Graham Bonnet Band, "The Book", which arrived in 2016 and was followed by "Meanwhile, back in the Garage" in 2018. Both albums represent more accurately the vision Graham had for a reunited Alcatrazz, so to speak, with less emphasis on guitar pyrotechnics and more on quality song construction, all topped with lyrics that force us to consider the world around us, both the good and the bad, with Graham addressing a myriad of themes few others in his position care to address.
It is with this elegant late-career outfit, The Graham Bonnet Band, that this consummate powerhouse of a vocalist and charmer of a front man will be focusing moving forward. With "Day Out in Nowhere" set to be released through Frontiers, expect Graham to hit the tour trail (conditions permitting), proving that his recent command of the stage through Michael Schenker reunion shows the world over was in no way some sort of lucky streak but an unexpected late period burst of energy.
"Day Out in Nowhere" will be the Graham Bonnet Band's third release with Frontiers Music Srl, following the well-received and critically praised "The Book" and "Meanwhile, Back in The Garage".
Right from the off, there’s almost a kind of mystical, eastern influence coming at you, as the guitar riff opens ‘Imposter’. A chord sequence that sounds like it’s moving up half a tone to begin with and then deviates into another chord, is accompanied by striking beats on the drums, and suddenly, we are on our way. By the time we ‘glide’ through the further enhanced ‘mystical’ sounding riff (some lovely keyboard runs in there too), ‘Bonnet’ as opened his account, and the first thing to note is that this guy still has some amazing power within that classic and long-standing vocal. Verse drives into pre-chorus and through into the sublime and instantly likeable chorus, all exuding superb execution, both musically and vocally. This is a seriously good opening song that has so many of the hallmarks that you’d come to expect from the band, leaning on years of creating and writing with some world renown bands and artists. A nicely constructed bridge section leads into the songs solo section, which is complete with technique and great lines. What a start!!!!
‘Twelve Steps to Heaven’ starts with, what could be construed, as one of those stereotypical American evangelists, preaching about the path to salvation, which is backed by some light synth and piano. The intro is quickly usurped by a ‘speedy’ drum roll and an equally timed guitar riff, with some well-placed keys runs added. As ‘Bonnet’ arrives with the initial lines, the song has settled into a mid-paced tempo, where that ‘slick’ guitar riff jumps ‘in and out’ between the spaces afforded. The pace quickens during the tracks next phase, as we get acquainted to more of the band’s authority, and in no short measure to ‘Bonnet’s’ incredible vocal, which is no more evident than when we get back to the next ‘stripped back’ section of the song. The bridge is pushed by ‘Pesinato’ picking on a series of guitar chords throughout, and which culminates with ‘Bonnet’ letting out an almighty ‘scream’!!! What follows, is some further impressive technical work on the guitar by ‘Pesinato’, that is a mixture of ‘Malmsteen and Blackmore’ all rolled into one. This is a beauty of the track.
From a run of opening guitar chords, next up, is an enticing guitar riff that introduces ‘Brave New World’. So, what’s this tune all about then?? Well, within the first line ‘Bonnet’ is telling the tale of ‘latex rubber suits’ and ‘trying something new’ (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination), as we get a strong presence of bass (Heavenstone)/drums (Gaalaas), as the guitar ‘drops in’ another batch of chords, which seems to follow the vocal melody line (or is it the other way around??). The pre-chorus ‘rises’ a step or two above the verse section, which feature some great support vocals, with an almost ‘choir style layering’ added, that gives it plenty of depth. The chorus opens with ‘Come into, Brave New World – see what you have missed’, which has a ‘Night Games’ sort of vibe going on. After the completion of the first, understated, but melodious, guitar solo, the second is back to what has come before, that being, some crazy technique and tricks.
Like the sound you’d hear opening the lid to a musical box, ‘Uncle John’ is next up. However, this ‘quaint’ start is short-lived, as the off-beat rhythm/time signature, created by the excellent drumming of ‘Gaalaas’, lays the foundation for the riff to follow suit. Moving swiftly into verse 1 and the pattern/rhythm changes once again, where it becomes less flamboyant, and locks itself in to allow for the vocal to take centre stage. Listening to the first batch of lyrics, what we have here is a harrowing and disturbing story line relating to paedophilia – “A stranger in town, strutting around, he's so impeccably dressed, suited up to succeed” - Asked if I knew where he'd find work teaching kids, His twisted smile gave me the creeps as he said that, was it the work or a child that he needs”
The songs musical composition adds to the troubled feel of the lyrics – ‘hard, heavy, and brooding’. As we move from chorus to bridge, the full extent of this conceptual story really hits home – “Say have you met “Uncle John?” That's what the kids lovingly called him, save them before they are gone, Down the dark path to the predator's sanctuary – “His persona divine, disturbingly sweet, He's perfected his craft, hiding lust and deceit, And the innocents suffer, as he has his way” – A difficult subject, encased in rock and performed with delicacy and style.
The album title track ‘Day Out in Nowhere’ arrives with a ‘sweet’ lead guitar hook, that is instantly catchy, which makes this most commercial sounding tune so far. If the last track was dark and deep, then this tune already has a refreshing ‘lightness’ to it from the off. There is almost an audible ‘bounce’ about the tune’s tempo, as it feels like we are ‘floating’ through the song. I’m not sure if this is to do with the fact that heavy guitar doesn’t feature so prominently (when it does, it’s just a series of lines that are more in the background than up front), as the keyboards appear to take centre stage, but all in all, this has been quite the upturn. One thing is for sure, ‘Bonnet’ still manages to ‘crank’ out some ferocious vocal, regardless of the style of the track (this is no more obvious than during the bridge, where he really goes up a few notches!!). Something a little different (with that unexpected piano piece rounding things up), but without ‘drifting’ too far away from the albums centre-point.
‘The Sky Is Alive’ arrives with a mixture of organ and synth, as guitar quickly takes over, with another riff that certainly has that ‘eastern/mystical’ suggestion to it, but this is not where the songs heart lies, as the whole pattern shifts into a different plane, as soon as the first verse unveils itself. From here, the pace evolves as ‘Gaalaas’ let’s loose with a steady, but single-minded beat, like he’s on mission. And it’s from this point that the tune really takes off, as that unwavering drum pattern almost ‘drags’ the rest of the band into shape, as the verse simply flies by, with an enticing vocal hook and some great guitar riffs chugging away. In no time, we get to the chorus, as the track is turned on its head, as it slows down to a ‘march’ (akin to that ‘mystical’ opening vibe). As the chorus fades, a quick ‘outbreak’ on the guitar and we are gathering up some serious pace once again. There’s a gorgeous piano bridge tucked away within this bombastic song, that brings a surprising subtlety to proceedings, but even this serener section cannot ‘ensnare’ ‘Bonnet’s’ vocal prowess, as his voice ‘bristles’ with energy, which comes to its zenith at the end of the piece. A stunning guitar solo from ‘Pesinato’ is a stand-out feature of the song, where another chorus does the job as the track slowly runs its course. Superb song, that simple.
The strange and intriguingly titled ‘David’s Mom’ is next on the list, as a short sharp drum introduction and a descending piano slide welcomes us in. Between this point and the opening verse, the track is predominantly set around a guitar chord progression, followed closely by an organ support (giving the intro some depth). ‘Bonnet’ let’s us in on the track’s gist, as we quickly move through verse 1, as he sings ‘her touch caressed me, like her sweet perfume’ – schoolboy fantasies at play here, and why not!!! The chorus is ‘speedy and spikey’, all at the same time, and that guitar hook, which featured pre-opening verse, is used as the melody line to great effect. A long bridge section further enhances the storyline and sets your mind racing as to whether this storyline is indeed factual (hope so). But truthful or not, it’s a great basis on which to write ‘R&R’ song. The solo quickly follows, which is surprisingly under played and at a slower pace, but is ‘choral and tasteful’, in its harmonious simplicity, well until its end piece, that is, where it seems to meander between guitar and synth with a great deal of technical proficiency. Something unexpected and very different, but still, quintessential ‘Bonnet’.
Some super, serious, high gain guitar riffage sets the razor like beginning to ‘When We’re Asleep’ (ft. Mike Tempesta & John Tempesta). This opening gambit is then promptly joined by a simplistic WAH guitar line, as ‘Tempesta’ brings his drumming wares to this R&R party!! The opening riff is played, as a constant, through the first verse, but it never seems to cross paths with the vocal melody at any point. There is a steady and purposeful movement about the pre-chorus, as an intricate guitar line eventually comes into the picture, that can just be picked out and seems to transcend the pre-chorus and into the chorus as the first line sets the scene for the tracks meaning ‘When we’re asleep, we get on so well – never a bad word is spoken’ – I suppose this can be said for many a relationship. There is an almightily strong bridge to look forward to, as sporadic, but well-timed beats, meet with a series of varying guitar riffs as ‘Bonnet’ completes things with more top-level vocal. Immediately after this, a super effective guitar piece by ‘Tempesta’ illuminates the song to another level, full of style, panache, and great technical skill. Another chorus and then things build things up to a fervent crescendo.
Another unusual title, as we make way, for what is ‘It’s just a frickin’ Song’. A quick drum ‘spree’ starts things rolling, as the immediate impact of ‘Airey’s’ organ playing comes through ‘loud ‘n clear’, instantly taking you back the halcyon days when both ‘Bonnet & Airey’ featured within and on ‘Rainbow’s - Down to Earth’ album. Drifting at pace through the songs initial section, there is further evidence of this ‘blast from the past’ as between the vocal lines, there are some delicate, yet oh so familiar organ fills, that hark back to that classic album/sound. However, this is the ‘here and now’, and this song stands out on it’s on merit, as the solid and fast paced launch is soon intercepted by a pre-chorus that lyrically ‘jumps’ back and forth and ascends straight into the mouth of the chorus itself, as ‘Bonnet’ re-emphasises ‘You know it should be easy, It’s just a frickin’ Song’.
The tune is all about the difficult/frustrating process of selecting an interesting topic/theme when writing lyrics for a tune, and then ……… well……. giving up on that process to proceed in writing about how difficult it is to do that very thing (a bit confusing, but true) – Clever, especially if you’re that stuck for ideas!!! This tune really does rattle along, with some great guitar work betwixt the key sections, but for me, this is all about ‘Airey’s’ contribution, which, in all fairness, is given a lot of quality time throughout. Top tune, with a ‘wily’ lyrical content.
A mightily impressive ‘set’ of differing guitar riffs, that are equally well supported by some solid drum and bass, make the way for ‘Jester’. The song starts off about as heavy and domineering as any so far on the album, with an exhausting ambition, all set-up by that opening guitar riff and drumming, which seem to be ‘battling’ one another for musical supremacy. The pre-chorus has a certain ‘haunting’ feel to it, as a keyboard run is layered over the already ‘compressed and thick’ sound that the tune possess. Even though the chorus appears to be of a slower stride, there is some brutal playing taking shape, that ensures that the track never loses any of the already garnered intensity. As the solo arrives, which must be said, is full of speed, melody and outstanding skill, the battle between guitar and drums continues at pace, where none want to relinquish command. However, the power and force of the drums subside, albeit, for a small while, as the remainder of the piece is backed by a relatively ‘passive’ beat, compared to what has come before, but this is only a short respite, as drums re-discovers that lost rumble as a short synth piece is added. Fast, heavy, and awesome. Simple.
And the final song the album is titled ‘Suzy’, which is about as far into the left side of the field as you could possibly get, well, compared to anything else featured on this release. The tune is full of orchestration from the beginning, with strings ringing out and the occasional harp being strummed. ‘Bonnet’ sings over this beautifully arranged piece, that could easily be classed as a ‘ballad’, but not in the conventional style for a Rock band, as this song goes way past that and then some. What we have here is a superb orchestral score, where ‘Bonnet’ masterfully runs riot over, with his vocal ‘soaring’ at every given opportunity. This tune (is that the correct word for it? Doesn’t do it justice) is quite something to behold, full of raw/pure emotion, that is so rarely given by up any artist and a fitting, yet ‘extraordinary’ way in which to complete what, has been a great listen.
I’ve had the absolute pleasure of seeing Graham Bonnet live on four separate occasions. The first two occasions are when he was fronting Rainbow. This was in 1980 on their ‘Down to Earth’ tour, which culminated in the inaugural ‘Monsters of Rock’ event at Castle Donnington. Both these shows were simply magnificent. The last two occasions he played at a very small venue, no less than 2-miles from where I live. This would now be close to nearly 40 years later and I recall being gobsmacked at how he had maintained his vocal ability and stage presence.
This album has come as no surprise to me, in many terms. Firstly, and based on what has been revealed above, I had no doubt that he could still vocally deliver (boy, can he still deliver). Secondly, the band that he surrounded himself with have done an exceptional job on all the tunes on this album (barring the last track, which is full of orchestration). And lastly, the songs are outstanding and form a perfect platform for this legendary singer to show his wares. I hope I get the chance to see him live for a fifth occasion and the set-list features many of these songs that fully deserve to be aired. Bloody brilliant!!!
Review by Jono Moulds