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Album Review : Mark Spiro – Traveling Cowboys

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Review by Andy Hawes for MPM

Any fan of late 80s/early 90s melodic rock/AOR will probably know about Mark Spiro. He’s written for/with a number of the greatest artists of the genre including Bad English, John Waite, Giant, Cheap Trick, Heart, Kansas, REO Speedwagon and Mr Big.

He has also written with/for Julian Lennon, Anne Murray and Country artist Lila McCann amongst others. He has also released eleven solo albums including this latest offering ‘Traveling Cowboys’.

There is no denying that Spiro is a very talented songwriter; just one look at the list above will confirm that. As well as all the co-writes noted above, his solo albums also contain some excellent material.

He has always had a way with a lyric that has made his songs stand out above others on the AOR/melodic Rock genre. On previous solo albums he has also enlisted A-grade session guitarists such as Tim Pierce and Michael Thompson who have lent his solo material world-class instrumental quality.

However, fans of Spiro’s AOR-tastic earlier work (such as the brilliant ‘Now is Then, Then is Now’) may want to try this one before they buy. It’s not that the songwriting is poor – far from it: Spiro doesn’t write poor songs, but the production and arrangements are very different from his early material, despite Tim Pierce’s involvement on guitar on this album.

Spiro’s albums have always had programmed drums on them and this one is no different, with drum machines and loops setting the beat for the tracks.

There is also a reliance on acoustic and clean electric guitars and keyboards, with some quite sparse production on some tracks. Overdriven rock electric guitars are in evidence here and there, but they are not the driving force that they used to be.

There are some great songs on here: Title track ‘Traveling Cowboys’ is a delightful pop song full of clever arrangement ideas. ‘Rolls Royce’ has some wonderful lead guitar courtesy of Tim Pierce and is probably the closest to the style fans will be familiar with from the early solo albums, despite being a very slow-paced ballad.

Vanderpump’ is a powerhouse rocker with huge slabs of almost grungy rhythm guitars driving the choruses in contrast to the acoustic-led verses. ‘7 Billion People’ is a duet with Julian Lennon and is a cool piece of pop-rock with interesting lyrics. ‘Kingdom Come’ is a cool pop-rock track that has an absolutely monstrous chorus with masses of multi-layered vocals.

‘I Ain’t Leaving’ is more of the same (albeit with the addition of a rather lovely guitar solo) and that’s the problem: Although taken individually, all these songs are very well-written and well produced, and are an undeniably lovely listen, taken as a whole, the album can feel a little bit samey.

You do get the odd curve-ball – ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ has a more uptempo groove with a little more bite to the guitars – but generally it’s slow or mid-paced ballads most of the way

If you’re already a fan of Spiro’s songwriting, it’s definitely worth giving this album a chance. Just don’t expect the same sort of AOR/Melodic Rock he used to do on his early solo albums. It’s much more of a late night listen, ideal for those laid-back and relaxed moments where you just want to chill out.

Tracklist:

  1. Traveling Cowboys
  2. Rolls Royce
  3. Vanderpump
  4. Going
  5. 7 Billion People (Featuring Julian Lennon)
  6. Someone Else
  7. Kingdom Come
  8. I Ain’t Leaving
  9. Between The Raindrops (Revisited)
  10. Dance
  11. Feel Like Me
  12. Let The Wind Decide
  13. Nothing In Between Us
  14. The Fisherman 3 2020
  15. Still

Line-up:
Mark Spiro
Tim Pierce
Gia Sky

Buy or Stream: https://orcd.co/markspiro

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