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Circle of Friends – The Garden Award winner

Circle of Friends
The Garden
by Mark Machlay at 24 May 2022, 4:29 AM

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS is the name given to the project put together by the editor of Firefest magazine – Bruce Mee – with what may be the only album from the assemblage, “The Garden” which was released in late March of 2022. The title of the group comes from the friendship shared between the majority of the singers on the album with Mee and the producer of the album, Khalil Turk, of Escape Music as the album is meant as a tribute to Mee’s late mother. Mee is most known as the editor of Firefest magazine but also has had a great love for melodic rock and an organizer of live shows several years. Mee grew up in the 70s and 80s and was taken to his first live show by his mother to see Alvin Stardust in 1974. By 1978 his love turned to heaver pursuits when his brother gave him RAINBOW’S “Rising” album and he began to turn away from bands like ABBA and instead taking in the likes of DIO, SURVIVOR, and NIGHT RANGER.

His love of ABBA remains, however with a cover of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” on the CIRCLE OF FRIENDS album. Though four of the thirteen tracks are covers, the other nine are original tracks written by Sweden’s Mikael Rosengren and his co-writers – who has been part of HEARTWIND, CONSTANCIA – while Jaime Kyle – the “Goddess of Hard Rock - brings her own song “Take My Love to Heart” . The plethora of other singers on the album are too many to name but a few notable voices are those of Jeff Scott Soto, Darby Mills, Karen Fell of TAO, and Robin McAuley from MSG. Several members of HEARTWIND join such as Steve Morris on guitar and keys with Martin Hall and Göran Engvall on guitar. Special guest Joel Hoekstra on WHITESNAKE also joins on guitar with a rhythm section provided by drummer Josh Devine of LEVARA and bassist Wayne Banks of SAXON. All this has been meticulously put together by producer Khalil Turk of Escape Music with mixing done by Fredrik Folkare of NORDIC UNION who also provided some guitar for the album.

As a love letter to the 80s melodic hard rock and heavy metal of yesteryear, CIRCLE OF FRIENDS certainly delivers. I must say, from the outset, given the plethora of guest artists and a change in vocalist for every song, you may assume there is no cohesion to the album, but surprisingly, there seems a greater vision than even belies the fluidity and ease the listener is taken through the tracklist. With DORO PESCH’s slow but powerful “Little Piece of Heaven”, there are plenty of 80’s metal lead guitar lines flirting with the singer throughout, exploding into a sublime solo three quarters of the way in. It acts as a perfect opener for what is to come. Just two tracks later we’re treated to another power ballad-like number with “Never Gonna Make Me Cry” but this time sung by a male James Christian in gender changing version of the little-known HEART banger. Most of the cover tracks are just the same, less known, but surprisingly powerful with Robin Fleck’s version of ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You”. The compositions by Rosengren slot well and work easily alongside the covers. Except for the closing cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by BLUE OYSTER CULT, this millennial would hardly have noticed a difference of a cover from an original.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Little Piece of Heaven
2. Take my Love to Heart
3. Never Gonna Make Me Cry
4. Bad Blood
5. Knowing me, Knowing you
6. Truth or Dare
7. Alone
8. Trick or Treat
9. 11:59
10. Time has Come
11. When He’s Gone
12. Love is Tough
13. Don’t Fear the Reaper
Lineup:
Vocalists are:

Doro
Robin Beck
Darby Mills (solo/ex-HEADPINS)
Jaime Kyle
Robin McAuley (MSG/BLACK SWAN)
Jeff Scott Soto (solo/TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCESTRA/WET/SONS OF APOLLO/TALISMAN/YNGWIE MALMSTEEN)
James Christian (HOUSE OF LORDS)
Tanya Rizkala (EPIC)
Karen Fell (TAO)
Ellinor Asp (HELLINOR)
Cheri Lyn
Gabrielle De Val (THE VAL)

Also on backing vocals:

Mick Devine (SEVEN)
Gary Hughes (TEN)
Kevin Chalfant (STORM)

Musicians are:

Joel Hoekstra - Guitars  (WHITESNAKE/TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA)
Steve Mann - Keys / Lead guitar (MSG/LIONHEART)
Steve Morris - Guitars / Keys (LONERIDER/IAN GILLAN BAND/SHADOWMAN/HEARTLAND)
Fredrik Folkare - Guitars  (NORDIC UNION/X ECLIPSE)
Martin Hall - Guitar (HEARTWIND)
Göran Engvall - Guitars (HEARTWIND)
Peter Östros - Guitars (JADED HEART)
Tommy Denander - Guitars / Keys (RADIOACTIVE)
Mikael Rosengren - Keyboards (HEARTWIND)
Josh Devine - Drums (ONE DIRECTION/LEVARA)
Wayne Banks - Bass (BRAZEN ABBOT/SAXON/ROBIN GIBBS)
Eric Ragno - Keys/B3
Record Label: Escape Music
     


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