By John Hayhurst
The return of Steve Perry has been greeted like something of a second coming, it has been a long wait of 24 years since his last solo record For the Love of Strange Medicine and even I thought that we wouldn’t hear anything more from the former Journey frontman. For me, he still holds the title of soft rock’s ‘voice of the 80’s’, a unique vocal sound, those high notes on all of the great Journey songs cannot be replicated by another.
Yet here we stand with Open Arms greeting a brand new 10 songs album called Traces – released at a time when he is approaching his 70thbirthday. How can we possibly expect the voice to still be intact, after such a long break and the aging process already setting in. However, short of it becoming a little Rod Stewart raspy, it is still there, although he doesn’t burst it out rock and roll style like he used to, this is a more mature, relaxed and emotionally quivering vocal from the balladeer.
The ten tracks on Traces chronicle Steve’s recent(ish) life experiences, which in the main are about loving and sadly losing his girlfriend Kelly Nash to cancer in 2012. Nash made him promise to make music again, and so he started to make the record in 2015 born from that memory. Therefore, you won’t be surprised to hear that around 80% of this album is an emotional ballad filled record. However, it is all there, the voice, the style, emotion and all the trademark vocal nuances, the tone and delivery remain distinctively Steve Perry.
There are two upbeat rockers on the record and ‘No Erasin’ starts us off with unrealistic expectations of what is to come. It is like a blast from the past and memories of Journey songs long forgotten. We’re Still Here is the second track and a ballad as expected. It’s very smooth, very moody and features a more direct and unfiltered lead vocal. Textured with modern production effects and soulful harmonies, the chorus isn’t big, but it’s cool. Compared to the rest of the album’s ballads, it almost feels ‘up’, especially with the chorus.
‘Most Of All’ is a co-write with the great Randy Goodrum. It features a wonderful heartfelt vocal; slower and very sparse and smooth, this time lead primarily by Steve’s voice and a grand piano. The chorus lifts tempo slightly as does Steve’s voice. I picked it as a favourite from the first listen and that’s stayed true. Not unlike Strange Medicine’s slower moments, plus a nice guitar solo and plenty of soul.‘No More Cryin’ is yet another ballad, but each track has its own vibe, making the album far more enjoyable overall. This track has a touch of the Memphis blues about it and the chorus lifts the tempo with some great guitar riffs.
‘In The Rain’ is something very special. This is a very personal, very emotional piano ballad, formed with just a warm, soulful vocal, the piano and some lush orchestration. The vocal is amazing – very raw and haunting and Steve’s most ambitious high notes on the album. I can’t praise that enough and the vocal-melody makes the song. ‘Sun Shines Grey’ is co-written with John 5 and producer Thom Flowers. We’ve found the album’s other rocker, and it reminds me of modern day Rick Springfield mixed with Journey‘s ‘Can’t Tame The Lion’.
‘You Belong To Me’ is another soft piano ballad with accompanying string orchestration and an ultra-smooth and soulful vocal. There’s some rasp in that voice its aged, but it’s still driven by those classic Perry nuances. ‘Easy To Love’ is another stand out ballad. This one is characterised by some percussion and organ accompanying a slow, steady Motown style vocal. The chorus jumps in tempo with some classic Perry soul harmonies. ‘I Need You’ is a cover of the Beatles tune, a mere 2.59 in length, this ballad features the most familiar Perry vocal sound yet! Soft, slow, soulful…it’s the theme of the record.
Closing out the album ‘We Fly’ is another unique ballad. The first minute features just Steve’s vocal. Talk about putting yourself out there! It’s an intense song that builds as it goes with atmospheric keyboards in the background. A very quick 40 minutes flies by as you immerse yourself in the music and lyrics of the man. It’s a very fine record, there’s no doubt. Immaculately produced and constructed, with equally impressive musical performances by the band assembled and also the orchestral parts. The soulful harmonies are classic Perry and lush in texture.
What I do like about this album is each ballad has its own style, its own emotion and its own unique energy. Overall, this is a very contemporary record. The two rockers are both very commercial and the ballads could be lifted from any era. It’s a mood album…but perfect for when you’re in that mood – welcome back Steve Perry, don’t leave it too long for the next one.