||TONY CONLEY'S BEST OF 2016
It's that time of year again and what a year it has been, and now it's time to start publishing the Best Of 2016s from our key people and on 31st December we'll be announcing the end result, one winner from each category. Here's Tony's Best Of 2016s...
BEST BAND: DIAMOND HEAD
Diamond Head returned in 2016 with a self titled album that may be the best of their forty year career, fantastic live shows and much promise for the future. New vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen brings not just a great voice, but also excellent writing, production, and arrangements to the band and is a great partner for Brian Tatler's outstanding compositional skills and guitar riffing. They simply got it all right in 2016 and set the stage to become a much more consistent force in the world of rock for the future.
Ghost continue to almost casually continue to take over the world with another strong album in 'Meliora', which debuted at number eight on the notoriously pop oriented Billboard charts, and an equally strong EP of unexpected covers, 'Popestar', which presaged yet another assault of America in the late fall. Categorization continues to be difficult as the Nameless Ghouls sift their way through doom, trad Metal, classic hard rock and even some sublime pop moments. Given the shit shape of the world in 2016, a Satanic band of ghouls may be the way to go in 2017 and beyond.
3. MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST
Michael Schenker Fest may or may not be considered a true band, but by bringing together the three vocalists from the German six stringer's classic line-ups (Gary John Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley), Mr Schenker has thrilled his fans across the globe. Schenker has been on the rise for most of this decade, and he's brought back his finest rhythm section (bassist Chris Glen and drummer Ted McKenna, both ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band) along with guitarist/keyboardist Steve Mann for a line-up that somehow sounds more natural than any situation the once mercurial guitarist has worked with in ages. Let's hope this outfit continues and perhaps even finds its way into a recording studio. A live DVD, recorded in Tokyo this past summer will be out early in 2017.
BEST GIG: GLENN HUGHES: SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
Glenn Hughes made his first full fledged solo tour of the States in 2016, and his gig in San José, California was what I would best describe as a religious experience. Coming back from dual knee replacement surgeries, it was amazing to watch Hughes command the stage from side to side, and his out front presence has never been greater, nor has his vocal chops and thunderous bass work. Joined by guitarist Soren Anderson, his musical right hand man of more than a decade, and drummer Pontus Engborg, Hughes does a remarkable job of presenting nearly fifty years of recording without it ever sounding disjointed or inconsistent. From Trapeze to Deep Purple, Hughes/Thrall to Black Country Communion, the tunes combined with an scorching hot ensemble to create a night that reminded the sold out audience why they loved rock'n'roll, and why they love Glenn Hughes.
2. UFO: THE INDEPENDENT, SAN FRANCISCO
UFO sold out their US tour in the spring, and their sold out show at The Independent in San Francisco was a celebration of one of rock's grandest traditions. Phil Mogg remains amongst the classiest frontmen in hard rock history, and he sang brilliantly and lead his band of merry men through a stunning setlist that had the audience singing along with every chorus. Not a single moment for anyone to visit the stalls, UFO continues to be one of the most consistent ships on the ocean. A concert experience not to be missed, as we can never be sure when one day Mogg will ride off into the sunset without a single word. This as also the night in which one Paul Raymond poured me the biggest brandy I've ever seen on the bus after the gig, the last of their US tour. A fantastic send off for a great tour.
3. DIAMOND HEAD: SLIM'S, SAN FRANCISCO
Diamond Head's first show of their first US tour in entirely too long proved well worth the wait. Ras Andersen is a brilliant addition on vocals, and guitarist and founder Brian Tatler continues to be one of the best/worst kept secrets in the world of Metal with riff after riff and tremendously effective soloing throughout the set. New material lives seamlessly next to classics such as the venerated 'Am I Evil' and a week night turnout turned into a night of joyous celebration. Tatler has never played better, and Karl Wilcox proves the adage the ever great band has a great drummer. If this band shows up anywhere near you, you'll want to be on board.
BEST ALBUM: GLENN HUGHES: 'RESONATE'
Glenn Hughes' 'Resonate' is the best, hardest rocking album of this rock'n'roll hall of famer's career. The writing, singing, playing, and production are all equally magnificent from beginning to end on this adventurous ride through rock. As we've come to expect from Hughes, the record is full of melody, sophisticated song craft, rhythmic brilliance in the form of funk, but also this is Hughes' heaviest rock record ever. Guitarist Soren Anderson graduates to co-producer, and his performances are letter perfect. He's a master of all the necessary forms, and his playing is sublime as he manages to stand shoulder to shoulder with every guitar great Hughes has worked with, but he is solidly his own man with his own sound. Pontus Engborg's propulsive stick work is a consistent joy (the album also features longtime Hughes collaborator Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on two tracks), and the secret weapon of the record is Australian keyboard wiz Lachy Doley, whose is a perfect fit with the rest of the band.
Being a US based writer, all I contribute here is a brief diatribe on the lack of rock festivals in my home country. Maybe I should just relocate to the UK for the summers? I know that every year there are loads of events in the UK and Europe that simply do not exist for the most part in the colonies. Damn my luck.
BEST NEW BAND: INGLORIOUS
Inglorious are the best thing that's happened to hard rock in some time. Nathan James is the first talent show artist that has gotten my attention, and he's progressed from there to fronting Uli Jon Roth's bands in some regions of the world, to now fronting a top line band of his own. Inglorious' first album saw the light of day in 2016, and their anthemic approach to classic British hard rock is a most welcome addition to the tradition. Let's hope they keep the ball rolling in 2017, a year in which their first job is to replace guitarist Will Taylor who left the band just this month.
68-75 have been around for a few years, but for all intents and purposes I think they easily fit in the new band category. Vocalist Suzanne Sledge and guitarist Andrew Cylar have been working together in various bands for over a decade, but they have found their sound in the blustery, bluesy hard rock of their latest release, 'Consequences', a record that sounds as if it were conceived an unholy communion of Zep and Janis. The tunes are consistently hard hitting, and a relentless rhythm section insures that this will be a band to watch in 2017.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2017
Bernie Tormé will be releasing a triple album in 2017, and I can say that based on the live album that will be part of the package that I've already heard, this will be one of the best of the coming year. Tormé has been on a grand resurgence for the last few years with smartly executed crowdfunded records (2014s 'Flowers & Dirt' and 2015s 'Blackheart'), and successful tours that seem to be getting better with each passing year. As I said, the live disc to be included in this package is a stunner - Tormé is an equally proficient writer, singer and of course he's a certified guitar legend, but I feel that it's time the world realized that he stands right next to Gallagher and Moore as the best the Irish have given us in singing six stringers. As we tried to say in the US, Feel The Bern in 2017.
Death Dealer/Ross The Boss Band - Ross Friedman (The Dictators NYC, Manowar) has been at the forefront of the guitar world for a great many decades and he is nowhere near slowing down in 2017. Death Dealer is the power Metal band cobbled together from stellar Metal man Stu Marshall's fertile mind and the band is close to finishing up their third album in as many years. Their second album, 'Hallowed Ground', made many Metal best of lists in 2014 and I'm quite anxious to hear what they dream up with this release. If you're not hip to Stu Marshall's catalogue, you're missing one of the finest writers and guitar players on the Metal scene. Friedman is also unleashing a new version of his Ross The Boss Band with Metal legends Rhino on the drums, bassist Mike LePond (Symphony X), and new vocalist Marc Lopes. They expect to have their first album out in 2017 and promise to tour extensively. This upcoming year may be Ross Friedman's finest hours.
Black Country Communion make their return in 2017. After three excellent albums, and sporadic touring left hard rock audiences wanting more, the band broke up for a few years, but the fates have willed a reunion, and I cannot wait to see what Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, and Derek Sherinian come up with this time around. Nothing is promised past a new album, but I'd be shocked if the band doesn't hit the boards for what could be the tour of 2017. Let's keep our fingers crossed, and hope these guys are able to make this an ongoing concern, as it is a brilliant component for the careers of both Hughes and Bonamassa.