Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog) (last update 5/23/2017)

July 23, 2012

Northern Light Orchestra ~ The Spirit Of Christmas

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: holiday, heavy metal
Label: VSR Music Group
Year: 2009
Home: n/a

Members: Lanny Cordola ~ rhythm guitars
Chuck Wright ~ bass
Ken Mary ~ drums/b. vocals
Phillip Bardowell ~ vocals

Guests: Dave Ellefson, Krys Van Slyke ~ bass
George Lynch, Bruce Kulick, Doug Aldrich, Chris Sanders, Bill Leverty,
Elliot Randall, Steve Conley, Jason Hook, John Davis ~ lead guitar
Shane Gibson, Kendall Bechtel ~ guitars
Dizzy Reed, Brian Stewart ~ keyboards
Kip Winger, Alan Gregson ~ strings
Rose Stone, Jon Gibson, Robin McAuley ~ vocals
Danny Vaughn ~ b. vocals
Debbie Sledge, Eddie James, Bob Carlisle ~ lead vocals

They've named themeselves an orchestra, only tour at Christmas, have a rotating door of guest musicians & a modifed line-up appearing on stage, have an album of Christmas songs which are all rocked up versions of Christian hymns ... no, it's not Trans-Siberian Orchestra, it's the NLO. It's hard not to call NLO an imitation. It's hard not to figure that the creators of the group saw the success of TSO & with their own careers stuttering in obscurity along wanted to do something bigger. Certainly, the array of guest musicians on NLO's one album is a step to get noticed. The big difference between the two bands is that there's no instrumental classical songs getting a rock treatment here, which TSO often likes to do to the point of nauseum. There's also no story, while all but two songs of the seventeen (i.e. "Celebrate Christmas", "I Feel The Warmth") have to do with the baby Jesus. One might say this is a super safe TSO for the Christian crowd, great to play at holiday worship services. TSO has always walked a fine line of discussing Christian morals, angels included, but without directly touching on anything Christian. The other difference is where TSO is operatic, over-the-top, classically influenced & with an array of musical styles, this is primarily a guitar riffing affair. There's not much soul or world beat or jazz, no violin solos or piano only ballads & certainly no childrens choirs. It's a rock'n'roll Christmas party. No one can deny that TSO has pushed what can be done with rock & Christmas music to new levels, while bands like Glenn Kaiser & Rez Band, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill & countless others have pushed rock & Christian music in wide & varied directions, thus Christian songs with lots of guitar solos is ultimately less than exciting. Individually there's some fun upbeat songs, but rock musicians release every year countless Christmas albums doing the same thing. However good the individuals, the big picture suffers from a lack of inspiration. Actually, the Kings Of Christmas debut release in 2012, featuring former members of TSO, sounds nothing like TSO & shows just how far one can go away from that dominating influence. I commend NLO for taking a overtly Christian approach, which opens the door to criticism by anti-Christians. Youth oriented worship groups everywhere will greatly enjoy this album. While, it doesn't rock harder than any other Christian group, like Rez Band, so its not lacking in drive. As for the creativity of the project ... personally, I'll go to TSO. Even where they are maudlin they are the litmus test. While I get tired of TSO's classically influenced songs, I also like my Christian music a little less direct than Jesus this & Jesus that ... think Larry Norman. Though, "Child Of Abraham" is a standout with Bruce Kulick of Kiss & Grand Funk Railroad & vocalist Phillip Bardowell at his best. A great voice you've probably never heard. What truly makes this project stand out is the names involved in it, most prominently bassist Dave Ellefson of Megadeth, on hiatus from Megadeth at the time, who became a spokesman for the group & performed live with them. Sadly, on the five tracks he's on, of course, the bass is just another instrument in the mix, lost behind the guitars. The core band is actually all of the supergroup Magdallan, with drummer Ken Mary & guitarist Larry Cordola appearing on all the tracks & bassist Chuck Wright & singer Bardowell on most in either lead or backing roles. It should be mentioned that all but Bardowell are also former members of House Of Lords. Bardowell & Cordola are also Beach Boys alum. Bassist Wright is mostly known for his work with Quiet Riot, while drummer Mary has been a part of the Alice Cooper band & Impellitteri. As for the rest of the album, the big selling point no doubt, the guests include: guitarists Chris Sanders of Knight Fury & Lizzy Borden, Jason Hook of Alice Cooper & Five Finger Death Punch, Bill Leverty of Firehouse, Doug Aldrich of Whitesnake, Steve Conley of F5 with Dave Ellefson, Kendall Bechtel of Fifth Angel, Shane Gibson of Korn, John Davis of Superdrag, session man Elliot Randall of Asia & Steely Dan, George Lynch of Lynch Mob & Dokken, Kip Winger of Winger; keyboardists Dizzy Reed of Guns N Roses, Brian Stewart of Backstreet Boys & Evermore; vocalists Danny Vaughn of Tyketto, Rose Stone of Sly & the Family Stone, Debbie Sledge of Sister Sledge, Eddie James of London/D'Priest, Robin McAuley of Survivor & McAuley Schenker Group; Christian singers Bob Carlisle & Jon Gibson; producer Alan Gregson.

(featured on The World Of Trans-Siberian Orchestra podcast: episode 47 "Interview: Chris Sanders - Northern Light Orchestra", November 2011, click here to listen)

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