Some three years on from ‘Retribution’, his last solo , accomplished American rock vocalist Jeff Scott Soto returned at the tail end of 2020 with the highly polished long player ‘Wide Awake (In My Dreamland)’ on Italian label Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Within this release Brooklynite Soto demonstrates a broad spectrum of his vocal talents; a veritable multifaceted flawless hard rocking diamond. ‘Wide Awake’ is a mirror upon his varied career of 35 plus years and, at last count, some 85 albums blending melodic rock, AOR and hard rock.
From emerging on to the scene providing the vocals for Yngwie Malmsteen’s first two albums ‘Rising Force’ and ‘Marching Out’ through to supergroups Sons of Apollo and Trans-Siberian Orchestra via a brief tenure with Journey and session work with Lita Ford, Stryper and Saigon Kick amongst others Soto has certainly chalked up an impressive and varied career to date.
This release, his seventh solo, sees Soto collaborate with Frontiers’ renown in-house producer Alessandro Del Vecchio who along with recording the material also contributed heavily to the song-writing and much of the instrumentation throughout.
There is much on offer here with outright rockers to powerful ballads; virtuoso melodies and soaring choruses abound.
“Everybody needs some sanctuary” proclaims Soto at the very offset of album opener ‘Someone To Love’; an absolute hard rocking firecracker to get matters off to a stunning start.
Sanctuary is indeed found right here within; this is consummate driven rock that conjures up hitting the open freeway with a healthy amount of horses under the bonnet. Rolling seamlessly into ‘Mystified’ with an opening salvo terrific drumming followed by a screeching six-string entry ensures the hard rocking lode continues to be worked in spectacular fashion.
Following on ‘Love’s Blind’ continues the rocking start but somehow demonstrates a gentler side to Soto; this is no bad thing either with the pace, much like the tide, ebbing and flowing in a perfect manner this is an AOR anthem that the likes of Toto, at their peak, could have recorded. ‘Without You’
is an atmospheric ballad with Soto baring his inner soul with stunning crystal clear vocals melded together with searing six-strings that could have easily been recorded Brian May.
The pace is inched upwards with ‘Lesson of Love’ a polished AOR gem redolent of Toto, Boston and Foreigner. This is radio-friendly rock ideal for cruising with the roof rolled down.
Returning to the hard rock end of the spectrum ‘Paper Wings’ has a slightly darker edge to it but without dispensing with the melodic theme; an infectious rocker that will burrow it’s way into your conscious.
A strangely muted guitar opening quickly steps into a swaggering riff (think Extreme combined with Poison) before Soto powers in to take ‘Love Will Find A Way’ in the direction of power ballads. This sets matters up neatly to fall into ‘Between The Lines’ a serene ballad that harks to the softer side of such luminaries as Bon Jovi and Guns n’ Roses.
‘Living In A Dream’ is, in contrast to what it follows, a rapidly moving rock workout that has the ability to hook the listener catching them unawares.
Title track ‘Wide Awake (In My Dreamland)’ is up next and with it’s ear-catching slide-guitar intro that slips effortlessly into a blues-edged brooding outing this is, for me personally, the standout track on a standout album. Album closing track ‘Desperate’ neatly bookends proceedings encapsulating Soto’s broad talents with a wide-ranging sound.
As if 11 terrific new songs from Soto wasn’t sufficient Frontiers have packaged
this album together with a second disc that delivers Soto’s performance at 2019’s Frontier Rock Festival in Milan.
This is a hard rocking set with a neat twist at the end as the band winds up the anthemic Talisman number ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ Soto spots vocalist Dino Jelusick (Animal Drive/Trans-Siberian Orchestra) getting the talented Croatian up on stage to close the set with ‘Stand Up’ from the soundtrack of the movie ‘Rock Star’. All in all a great pairing.
Review by Gary Spiller for MPM