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Night Ranger – ATBPO Award winner

Night Ranger
by kenn staub at 20 August 2021, 1:03 PM

Since emerging from San Francisco, California in 1979, NIGHT RANGER have shown that powerful songs, alongside talented musicians are the perfect formula for success. Don’t take their publicist’s word for it, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Since their debut platter, 1982’s “Dawn Patrol,” NIGHT RANGER have sold 17 million albums worldwide, including two the Recording Industry of America awarded platinum status, “Midnight Madness” (1983) and “7 Wishes” (1985), and another that achieved gold, “Big Life” (1987). Add to this nine singles that reached the Top 20 on Billboard’s US Mainstream Rock Chart; most notably “Sister Christian” (#2 in 1984), “Sentimental Street” (#3 in 1985), and “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” (#4 in 1982). Not content to rest on their laurels, NIGHT RANGER have released three albums in the past decade; “Somewhere In California” (2011), “High Road” (2014), and “Don’t Let Up” (2017). Now comes “ATBPO” (which stands for And The Band Played On), an ode to making music during the COVID-era, which dropped earlier this month (August 6).

ATBPO” has everything I expected of a contemporary NIGHT RANGER album. Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy remain a formidable vocal tandem, demonstrating no drop off over the course of their 39-year recording careers. Their somewhat contrasting vocal styles are on full display throughout “ATBPO” and used to excellent effect during “Tomorrow,” where both share lead duties. The rest of the band can also sing, performing solid group harmonies on the choruses of many tracks (such as “Cold As December” and “Monkey”). And those choruses; NIGHT RANGER definitely know how to spin a phrase or throw in a hook so that refrains become sing-a-long earworms.

Not only are Blades and Keagy gifted vocally, but instrumentally they provide a solid rhythm foundation upon which NIGHT RANGER’s often multi-layered songs are built. The tracks on “ATBPO” are not structurally simple, showing a degree of thought and complexity in their assemblage (“Cold As December” and “The Hardest Road”). Six string stalwart Brad Gillis and more recently added guitarist Keri Kelli (2012) play well together (their interplay on “Breakout” and “Monkey” for example). Rhythmically the duo is solid and as soloist each can race up and down the fretboard, knowing where the line is between “wild” and “out of control.” And of course, it wouldn’t be a NIGHT RANGER album without some of Gillis’s trademark whammy bar contortions and distortions. If ever a hard rock band knew how to effectively work a keyboardist into the mix, it’s NIGHT RANGER. Eric Levy (a member since 2011) is adept at adding accents (“Breakout”), carrying a tune (“Hard To Make It Easy”), or blending in and adding to the aural density (“A Lucky Man”)

ATBPO” opens strong with “Coming For You,” an uptempo, poppy rocker highlighted by singing that has a funky edge and a brief hook serving as an homage to the STONES’s “Brown Sugar.” “Bring It All Home To Me,” a personal favorite, is based on a solid riff, with a clever hook leading into the chorus. About halfway through, the track becomes a bit downtempo, the guitars a tad more bluesy before a fretboard traversing solo is unleashed. “Breakout” harkens back to the earlier days of the band, when their sound was just a little rougher.

Hard To Make It Easy” has a bluesy, honky-tonk feel, all while maintaining a sort of funkiness. The call-and-response vocal are a highlight, as is Levy’s work on the keyboards (previously mentioned). “Can’t Afford A Hero” is the album’s first ballad, a blues-tinted tune with all the makings of a slow dance staple. “Cold As December,” a solid rock song with a dense, rhythmic melody, starts a three track run that includes some of my favorite songs on the album. “Dance,” with its strong beat, might prove to be the hard rock hit off the album.  The run concludes with “The Hardest Road,” another ballad. I prefer this soulful track to “Can’t Afford A Hero,” considering it cleaner and more instrumentally well-structured.

Blades’s and Keagy’s playing propel the rocker “Monkey,” a track whose melody transitions neatly into a funky hook. The guitar interplay is aces and the solos solid, the one constituting the outro having an appealingly wild streak. “A Lucky Man” has a contemporary country music sensibility (which, in my opinion, borders on hard rock anyway), brought home all the more so by the manner in which the chorus is sung. “Tomorrow” closes out the album in style, a mid-tempo rock song that is NIGHT RANGER in a nutshell.

ATBPO” is solid from start to finish, with nary a misstep. It is the product of a mature band that has refined their chops as they’ve become increasingly comfortable playing their style of music. The album ticks all the boxes on the today’s classic hard rock AOR musical checklist, while at the same time being fun to listen to and sing along with.

Musicianship: 10
Songwriting: 8
Memorability: 8
Production: 10

4 Star Rating

1. Coming For You
2. Bring It All Home To Me
3. Breakout
4. Hard To Make It Easy
5. Can’t Afford A Hero
6. Cold As December
7. Dance
8. The Hardest Road
9. Monkey
10. A Lucky Man
11. Tomorrow
Jack Blades – Bass and Vocals
Kelly Keagy – Drums and Vocals
Brad Gillis – Guitars
Keri Kelli – Guitars
Eric Levy – Keyboards
Record Label: Frontiers Music Srl


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Edited 02 October 2022

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