Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Mecca is the AOR band formed by vocalist Joe Vana. They first appeared on the scene in 2002 with their incredible debut album that effortlessly combined Survivor and Toto influences into a stunning AOR melting pot, with Vana’s vocals supported by the late great Fergie Frederiksen (ex-Le Roux and Toto) and with a backing band that had appeared on much of Survivor’s Jim Peterik’s Pride of Lions project.
It’s a stunning debut for sure and is a true classic of AOR’s more recent past. Subsequent albums (2011’s Undeniable, and 2016’s III) lost the Survivor influences and added slightly more progressive elements into the mix, and introduced a wider range of incredible session musicians into the line-up but through it all Joe Vana’s excellent lead vocals and keen ear for melody kept the quality consistently high.
Now in 2023, Mecca return with their fourth album, Undeniable. With instrumental duties handled by guitarist extraordinaire Sven Larsson (Street Talk), bass player Mitia Maccaferri, keyboard player Alessandro Del Vecchio (who also produced the album) and drummer Mirko De Maoi plus a host of session players including amongst others, guitar legend Tommy Denander and Stefano Lionetti from AOR band Lionville, we should clearly be expecting an AOR tour-de-force. In addition, Joe Vana is supported on vocals by his son Joey, a young man blessed with the sort of pipes tailor made for soaring AOR.
And indeed that is exactly what we get. Joe Vana and his buddies know their way around an AOR song for sure and the material here is very well-written, beautifully sung and immaculately performed. The production is also clear and full, yet at the same time allowing the songs to breathe in all the right places.
Opener ‘And Now The Magic Is Gone’ is the sort of intelligent AOR that lovers of the genre can’t get enough of. Effortlessly combining guitars and keyboards with colossal vocal hooks, ‘And Now The Magic Is Gone’ hooks you in immediately, with Joe and Joey Vana’s voices blending beautifully on the soaring melodies. What is immediately noticeable on this track is that although the melodies and the structures feel warmly familiar, they don’t simply follow the same old chord sequence blueprints that you often find with this kind of music. Wise move, Mecca!
‘The Rules Of The Heart’ opens with some delightful twin harmony guitars before kicking into a delightfully uptempo AOR romp that reminds me a little of West-Coast AOR legends Street Talk, although that may be partly down to Sven Larsson’s guitar style. What is certain is that this is melodic AOR overload of the highest order, with the sort of chorus that should come with a health warning such is its infectiousness.
The tempo remains high for ‘I Won’t Walk Away’ which is another classy AOR rocker with another of those absolutely massive choruses that are so vitally important in this genre. This is followed by first single, ‘The Mistakes we Make’ which gallops along at a fair old rate of knots – something slightly unusual in the modern AOR genre, which often favours mid-tempo tracks.
This, however, is a fabulous rip-roaring uptempo AOR rollercoaster-ride that quite simply lifts an already great sounding album one step higher. Built on chugging guitars and stabbing keyboards, it has a sound not dissimilar to what you’d get if you crossed Seventh One era Toto with some of the modern Scandi AOR acts and that is no bad thing! Once again, the vocals absolutely slay and the hooks are utterly gargantuan. Swirling keyboard and guitar solos top the whole thing off perfectly. Utterly majestic!
‘These Times (Are For Heroes)’ is next and follows the blueprint already established by ‘The Mistakes We Make’ in that it is a gloriously uptempo piece of AOR that rocks hard, yet politely enough to keep the pink and fluffy crowd more than happy.
‘Your Walls Are Crumbling Down’ follows and is a much more mid-tempo stomper with more keyboard presence in the mix, but true to the form of the rest of the album, the guitars crunch and bite in all the right places. The hooks on this one are a little more subtle but are no less effective for that and the vocal harmonies continue to be a highlight in a track where subtle key modulations add interest to the melodic structure.
Title track ‘Everlasting’ is next and is the first track that could reasonably be described as a ballad. Opening with a quite delightful rolling piano motif, it has a delicate and subtle groove and plenty of power as both Joe and Joey share lead vocals and come together with astonishing power and beauty in the utterly enormous chorus. Once again, the melodies are warmly familiar, yet not derivative and this simply adds to the song’s appeal. Joey Vana’s vocals on this track remind me of Mr Mister’s Richard Page and that is a very good thing indeed! Add the inevitable soaring guitar solo and what we have here is an AOR ballad extraordinaire, warmly emotive and beautifully melodic, it’s absolutely fabulous!
Second single ‘Falling’ is next up and is another quite delicious slice of melodic and uptempo AOR which reminds me of some of the tracks off the debut from over 20 years ago! The hookline in this track is absolutely stunning and stands out even among the gargantuan hooks on the rest of the album, with Joey Vana’s voice hitting almost Steve Perry-esque heights, although tonally he still sounds more like Richard Page on a song that has elements of Toto, Survivor and even mid-80s Journey amongst its influences. A superb choice for a single, it’s the perfect statement and summary of everything that makes Mecca so good.
‘Endless days’ has a wicked keyboard introduction that leads us into another uptempo rocker with the perfect blend of guitar and keyboards and a quite majestic Toto-esque chorus. This sounds like it could almost have come off Toto’s wonderful Isolation album, as it effortlessly combines AOR melody with chugging guitars, frantic solos and clever melodic modulations among the instrumentation. This is no ‘AOR by numbers’ that’s for sure!
‘Living In Fear’ is another track that starts with a colossal keyboard introduction that could almost be mid-80s Toto. I don’t have access to who plays what where on this review copy, but it sounds rather like Tommy Denander doing his thing on guitar here, and indeed as well as Toto, the debut Radioactive album also springs to mind when listening to this stunning piece of West-Coast influenced uptempo AOR. It’s absolutely fabulous and is another highlight in an album full of highlights!
‘Your Way’ is the final track on the album and opens with atmospheric analogue keyboard washes and soaring guitar before everything kicks in on yet another uptempo AOR anthem. I’m so glad that Mecca chose to end this album with another banger rather than taking the ‘end it on a ballad’ route. The album has been gloriously uptempo throughout so ending it like this makes total sense and you really feel that you’re ending this on a high and still wanting more!
Wow…that was quite something! With Everlasting, Mecca have added an exceptionally high-quality album to their already excellent repertoire. Joe and Joey Vana’s vocals are true highlights of this release which is blessed with absolutely fabulous AOR songwriting and stellar performances from all involved, including Alessandro Del Vecchio’s stunningly clear production.
As always, there is a lot of AOR being released at the moment. For the AOR fanatic , this will be one of the highlights of the year for sure, as it’s a true gem and stands out from a lot of the other AOR around at the moment. For me, it’s almost up there with Mecca’s awesome debut which has thus far been by far my favourite of their albums: however, this one truly is not far behind it and on repeat listens is rapidly catching up!
If uptempo, rocking , high-quality AOR with a warmly classic feel is your thing, then this is a MUST HAVE album! For the more casual AOR fan it is also a must listen, as it has a depth and quality that makes it stand out from the crowd. Absolutely essential AOR. It rarely gets better than this!
- And Now The Magic Is Gone
- The Rules Of The Heart
- I Won’t Walk Away
- The Mistakes We Make
- These Times Are For Heroes
- Your Walls Are Crumbling Down
- Endless Days
- Living In Fear
- Your Way
Joe Vana – Lead Vocals
Joey Vana – Lead Vocals
Sven Larsson – Guitars
Mitia Maccaferri – Bass
Alessandro Del Vecchio – Keyboards
Mirko De Maio – Drums