Saturday, May 12, 2012

Grand Prix-Samurai (2012 Remastered Re-release)

Rock Candy Records

Grand Prix was an English AOR/Pomp Rock group that has come to be associated with the NWOBHM scene. Besides the fact that they were active during the movement, and were therefor lumped in with the genre by default, the band did have some hard rock/progressive leanings. According to Malc Macmillan's excellent resource guide "The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia" (a book that I simply cannot live without!) the band's roots can be traced back to sometime in 1978. "Samurai", which was released in 1983, was actually the band's third and final album. Produced by John Eden (who had worked with Status Quo) "Samurai" is actually my first taste of Grand Prix and in all honestly I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Before this CD even arrived in my mail I had little knowledge of this group outside of the fact that it featured Robin McAuley and Phil Lanzon. I know now that vocalist Robin McAuley (who would later join Michael Schenker and Survivor which is how I knew the name) was in a local band by the name of Raw Deal alongside Grand Prix guitarist/vocalist Michael O'Donoghue. If I'm not mistaken (and please forgive me if I am) guitarist Michael O'Donoghue wound also play with Bronz on the "Carried by the Storm" album. Back to Robin though and he was not the original vocalist for Grand Prix as that was Bernie Shaw. He might not have been the first, but on this album he sounds simply fabulous. I'd argue that on "Samurai" he sounds better than when he joined up with Michael Schenker. Joining him is the great Phil Lanzon (keyboards/vocals) who would go on to play with Uriah Heap. Phil's keyboard playing gives the album a lush feel even as the band is trying to gorge itself on hard rock riffs. Rounding out the line-up is bassist Ralph Hood (another ex-Raw Deal member) and drummer Andy Beirne (ex-Dirty Tricks). These two make for a formidable rhythm section and help make "Samurai" a top-notch British rock album. From what I've read this was the only album at the time by Grand Prix to get a U.S. release. From reading up on this album then it certainly does seem as if it was well-received by the American public. Given the time period, when band's like Kansas, Boston and Journey were doing well, it's not all that much of a surprise. Now, as far as the band's two previous albums, which also feature bits and pieces of AOR/pomp rock and melodic rock, it was their second album, "There For None To See", that had helped make Grand Prix a bit of a sensation in the UK. On album number two the band seemed more willing to incorporate some of the better aspects of melodic NWOBHM acts like Praying Mantis. While it was still mostly American style rock it showed that the band was at least trying to compete with the heavier outfits of the day. Of course that brings us back to "Samurai". Sure, the album is still sort of mixed bag when it comes to what, if any, material would appeal to your Iron Maiden or Saxon style NWOBHM fans. Opener "Give Me What's Mine" is more along the lines of Styx, but the next cut, "Shout" is a nice hard rock number. I'm not sure what to make of "50/50", which has a bit of a Journey meets Dire Straits vibe going for it, so thankfully there are tracks like "Countdown To Zero" and "Somewhere Tonight". I especially love the April Wine like feel of "Somewhere Tonight", "Freedom" is another great cut as is the classic title cut. The two tacked on (bonus) live numbers, "Keep On Believing" and "Feels Good" allow the listener an extended peek at Grand Prix. These two tracks show Grand Prix in a natural setting and that, in and of itself, is fine. The real beauty though is in the new sound. Since it has been digitally remastered "Samurai" comes off as better than ever. While it still isn't perfect (this still sounds like an eighties album no matter how you slice it) it does the old album justice. Thanks to Rock Candy this album has more of a shine to it. The nice booklet that comes with the 2012 version is icing on the cake. Grand Prix were a band that truly excelled at playing melodic rock and this re-release is a nice tribute to the band. Fans of Asia, Journey, Boston, Angel, Styx, Uriah Heep, April Wine, Praying Mantis and MSG should really enjoy Grand Prix.

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