Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Australian singer/guitarist/songwriter Orianthi Panagaris has had an interesting and varied career that has seen her share a stage with all-time greats and superstars such as Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson, Santana and Carrie Underwood.
She had guitar legend Steve Vai appear with her on her 2009 album Believe, which amply demonstrates how highly her guitar skills are regarded in the industry. Now she returns to her solo career with Rock Candy, her second album for the Frontiers label, following on from the release of O in 2020.
Orianthi’s music has developed over the 13 years since the release of her debut album Believe, with recent releases seeing her develop her penchant for more riff-heavy Hard Rock alongside the Pop-Rock sounds that characterised much of Believe and her latest offering, Rock Candy effectively combines those approaches in what is clearly her strongest overall release to date.
Rock Candy is produced by the multi-talented Jacob Bunton who also plays guitar, bass violin and keyboards on the album as well as providing backing vocals. His fine ear for detail has given this album a huge and multi-layered sound that really works, showcasing the best that Orianthi has to offer vocally, as a guitarist and as a songwriter.
The album is bookended by instrumental tracks ‘Illuminate (part 1)’ and ‘Illuminate (part 2)’ which more than adequately demonstrate Orianthi’s impressive guitar chops.
The former is a lush, atmospheric piece cleverly combining melody and shred licks over a delicate keyboard backing, with the latter demonstrating fiery wah-drenched wailing over a mid-paced full band backing and including some rather cool and unexpected violin. Both instrumental tracks are fairly short and as such, bookending the album with them works very well.
The remaining nine tracks kick off with the riff-heavy Hard Rock of ‘Light It Up’. This is a hook-laden monster with massive layers of guitar driving the track relentlessly. Subtle vocal effects add power to the vocal delivery and the inevitable guitar solo is impressive without being too much of a showboat. It’s a powerful way to kick in the vocal part of the album and combines riffs and melody to perfection.
‘Fire Together’ keeps the melody quotient high and adds a more Pop-Rock vibe to proceedings, but the massed layers of rocking guitars are never far away in a hooky barnstormer which sounds like a more mature version of what she was doing on her debut album. It is an excellent song and is followed by the truly excellent Pop-Rock of ‘Where Did Your Heart Go’ which uses dynamics and a very modern Pop melodic approach to great effect. There is some lovely guitar playing on this, probably my favourite track on the album.
‘Red Light’ kicks in at a storming pace; massively up-tempo with a huge opening riff. Historically, some of Orianthi’s more riff-heavy tracks have lacked a little on the melody front but not so here. Also, Jacob Bunton’s production shines here as he manages to give the track colossal power but still enable the melodies to shine through. Once again, the guitar solo is killer without being over the top. Impressive stuff!
‘Void’ follows and is a bit of a change of vibe. It retains the heavy riffs and the clever dynamics but the verses are more melodic than the chorus which sees the vocal drenched in distortion over a massive pounding riff. Coming where it does in the running order, it does work well enough, with a grinding mid-paced tempo being rather different and altering the album’s flow rather well.
‘Burning’ returns us to the heavy Pop-Rock themes with some almost Industrial guitar/keys combos in parts of the song. Once again, despite the massed guitar layers that explode out of the speakers, the melodies are strong enough to take centre-stage.
Orianthi then goes all acoustic on us with the Pop styled ballad ‘Living Is Like Dying Without You’. It’s a very good song with plenty of hooks and comes in the perfect place in the running order as it gives us a break from the big Hard Rock sounds before they kick back in with a vengeance on ‘Witches_The Devil’, which is a monstrous piece of thunderous mid-tempo Hard Rock and leads us into the closing vocal track ‘Getting To Me’ which continues the theme of massive hook-laden Rock in no uncertain terms.
Well, this album has been a very pleasant surprise. To my ears it’s by far the most consistent and the highest quality album of Orianthi’s solo career thus far. The combination of her songwriting, vocals and guitar with producer Jacob Bunton’s production skills is an excellent one and is one that she should probably consider revisiting for future albums, as he has made it sound absolutely fantastic and ensures that there is the perfect balance between the huge riffs and power chords and melody throughout.
If you are familiar with Orianthi’s previous work, this should be high up there on your ‘must hear’ list as it’s the best thing she’s ever done! If you’ve never heard Orianthi before, give this album a whirl: you’ll be very glad you did. It’s out now on Frontiers Music s.r.l.
1 Illuminate (Part I)
2 Light It Up
3 Fire Together
4 Where Did Your Heart Go
5 Red Light
8 Living Is Like Dying Without You
9 Witches & The Devil
10 Getting to Me
11. Illuminate (Part II)
Produced, Engineered & Mixed by Jacob Bunton
Orianthi – vocals, guitar
Jacob Bunton – bass, guitar, keyboards, piano, violin, backing vocals
Kyle Cunningham – drums