Axel Rudi Pell – “The Ballads V” (Steamhammer / SPV)
With 36 years under his belt, guitar wizard and melodic rock god Axel Rudi Pell takes his place in the annals of hard rock heavy metal history. Owing much of his early inspiration to Ritchie Blackmore, Pell’s monumental 25-year anniversary show in Balingen in July 2014 included Doogie White (ex-Rainbow, MSG) on vocals and erstwhile Rainbow keyboard legend Tony Carey, not to mention that his current drummer is none other than Bobby Rondinelli! That said, Pell’s own style of melodic hard rock metal is very much his own, although his musical journey has seen him record and tour with some of the finest rock vocalists: Charlie Huhn (Ted Nugent, Gary Moore, Victory, Humble Pie, Foghat), Rob Rock (Impelliteri, Driver, Joshua, Avantasia), Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Soul Sirkus, Talisman, Journey, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and now, Johnny Gioeli (Hardline, a project started by Journey guitar legend Neal Schon). Continuing ‘The Ballads…’ series with this 5th release, Pell has brought in yet another icon, and one synonymous with the power ballad: Bonnie Tyler! Wasting no time, she makes her presence felt on the opening number, ‘Love’s Holding On’, dueting fabulously with Gioeli on an aptly composed number that is typically heart felt, yet uplifting and inspirational especially when Pell’s own guitar comes in, adding even more soul, yet being the maestro that he is, not overshadowing his partners. In a complete departure, Pell ambitiously takes on Ed Sheeran’s ‘I See Fire’ (from ‘The Hobbit’), in a sterling rock interpretation but using a moving piano instead of the acoustic guitar while adding his own emotional guitar solo towards the end – something that I’d normally consider trepidatious in lesser hands than ARP’s. Of course, Gioeli is there once more, his presence hard to ignore not because of this obvious power, but rather his touching tones that truly reach the soul. Not to disappoint fans, ‘On The Edge Of Our Time’ is a new number, but also a ballad in classic ARP style with a moving sailing away chorus graced once again by Pell and Gioeli with plenty of atmosphere from Ferdy Doernberg’s keyboards. With the remaining numbers culled from recent releases, I particularly liked his take on Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey My My’, inspired by the legendary TV series ‘Sons Of Anarchy’. Renowned for his live performance, Pell also includes 2 live tracks, a previously unreleased live recording of his own ballad ‘The Line‘ from last year’s Rock Of Ages Festival, which incidentally has an awesome guitar sound, so you can imagine it reaching out to the crowd, its wailing solos touching their souls as it has done mine on many occasions. Closing off and returning to the aforementioned 25-year anniversary show is the Purple classic ‘Mistreated’ and while Blackmore’s name shall remain hallowed to humble folk like me, Pell’s interpretation once again sent my heart fluttering in adding his own credible version, going well beyond a cover and certainly not detracting from the original. Again with plenty of soul with Carey’s and Doernberg’s church organs prominent in the mix, the vocal trade off between Gioeli and White makes this the ’14-minute emotional ride for everybody involved on that stage that night’ as Pell himself says – and I’m sure that was equally so for the crowd offstage!!!