Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Fortune are one of those cult Pomp AOR bands who released one absolutely spellbinding album back in the mid 1980s only to disappear without trace.
The album was long regarded as a classic but was not even officially released on CD until 2004. Vocalist Larry Greene and keyboardist Roger Scott Craig later formed Harlan Cage who released several albums during the late 1990s/early 2000s and re-recorded several tracks from the classic 1985 Fortune record across these albums.
Most AOR fans assumed that Fortune had long since been consigned to the great rock n roll graveyard but then in 2016, word came that the band would be reuniting for the Rockingham festival in Nottingham, England. Following this, a second album, Fortune II was released to some critical acclaim in 2019 followed by an excellent live DVD in 2020.
Now, in 2022, Fortune have released a third album, Level Ground. Longtime fans of the band will readily attest that the album retains all the hallmarks that have made Fortune’s music so compelling over the years.
Although Roger Scott Craig is no longer involved with the band, the level of song writing remains extremely high. Original members Richard and Mick Fortune (guitars and drums respectively) and Larry Greene (vocals) remain, aided and abetted by keyboardist Bob Emmett and bass player Ricky Rat.
Fortune have clearly understood exactly what their fanbase requires and they have delivered big time! Level Ground is chock full of very well-written AOR with that classic 1980s vibe very much evident, yet not dating the sound in any way.
The guitars scythe their mighty way through all the tracks with huge slabs of majestic power chording and highly melodic soloing. The keyboards, always an integral part of the Fortune sound, provide the perfect supporting role. Delicate and superbly arranged, they never dominate, but provide the perfect foil for the guitars.
Larry Greene’s majestic and expressive vocals stamp their very considerable authority across all tracks on the album. He has a powerful mid-range and the perfect AOR tone. He still sounds as good now as he did all those years ago; when listening to him, you really feel that he adds a storytelling element to every song. In short, you believe him. He sounds honest and real, as if he feels every lyric in the depths of his soul.
If you’re already a fan of Fortune or indeed Harlan Cage, then this album will feel like the embrace of an old friend: warm, familiar and always welcome. If you haven’t heard the band before but like powerful guitar-driven AOR, then this will be right up your alley!
Highlights are many and in fact there isn’t a weak track on the entire album. Opener ‘Silence of the Heart’ is a huge slab of power Pomp AOR that makes a very bold statement of intent. ‘Judgement Day’ starts with a guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an NWOBHM album from the early 80s before settling into a huge piece of pompous guitar driven AOR.
Dangerous Things’ continues the theme with a very classic sound and driving chorus. ‘I Will Hold You Up’ starts off all subtle and quiet with Survivor-esque keys and delicate guitar before Greene’s delightful vocal melodies kick in on a mid-paced belter.
‘Riot in the Heartland’ sounds like it could have been on the classic debut and any of the Harlan Cage albums, as the chords move hypnotically against the pumping pedalled bass in the style of Fortune of old. ‘Orphaned In The Storm’ is a monster AOR rocker with a cool key modulation from verses to choruses and some well-placed harmony vocals to accentuate the plentiful vocal hooks.
Classic AOR piano/keyboards (very much in the Survivor vein) moving against that pedal bass introduce the driving mid-paced AOR of ‘I Should Have Known You’d Be Trouble’ and by now you’re aware that you’re listening to a band who are confidently at the top of their game.
Want a classy AOR ballad in the vein of early Survivor? Excellent! Look no further than the rather lovely ‘Hand in Hand’. Unlike a lot of similar tracks by a million other AOR bands, this one keeps up the guitar power behind the plinky pianos and the sentimental lyrics. Classy stuff indeed!
Title track ‘Level Ground’ tears the roof off with huge guitars and massive vocal hooks. Greene’s vocals are particularly fine on this one while the lead guitars wail and shred with considerable authority before the coolly titled ‘Lunacy of Love’ ends the album on an appropriate high.
In a rather crowded AOR/Melodic Rock marketplace in 2022, you might be forgiven for being surprised that a bunch of ageing American rockers could produce an album of such high quality when one would perhaps expect their glory days to be well behind them.
However the simple fact is that the Fortune brothers and Larry Greene are quite simply masters of the craft of producing classic sounding Pomp AOR. If you’re already a fan, there is a delightful familiarity to it as it has their own very unique stamp on the genre shining out clear as day.
They sound very different to many of the other acts on Frontiers’ roster and that’s a very good thing, as they aren’t really competing against the plethora of young Scandinavian bands all peddling their modern take on AOR. No, Level Ground’ is quite simply a classic-sounding album of Pomp AOR the way it should be played.
It’s an absolutely brilliantly consistent piece of work and deserves your attention. With heavyweight acts like Journey producing new music soon, there is a chance that albums like this might get a bit lost. This is too good a record to suffer that fate. Buy, stream or download it now! You’ll be glad you did!
Level Ground” Tracklisting:
- Silence Of The Heart
- Judgement Day
- Dangerous Things
- I Will Hold You Up
- Riot In The Heartland
- Orphaned In The Storm
- I Should Have Known You’d Be Trouble
- Hand In Hand
- Level Ground
- Lunacy Of Love
Larry Greene – Lead vocals, guitar
Richard Fortune – Lead guitar, vocals, additional keys
Mick Fortune – Drums
Ricky Rat – Bass, vocals
Bob Emmett – keyboards*
*EXCEPT for “I Will Hold You Up” – Steve Porcaro – Piano & all keyboards