The stage is set, alone I stand
This is the best I have to offer
Say you'll take me as I am
Just let me leave you with one melody
The world can sing when I am gone
Music's the best I have to offer
Share with me this gift of song"
One Word Review: Soulful
Over the past decade and a half, I have found myself expanding my musical horizons in several directions. None have been more satisfying than my AOR love affair. Over the course of this relationship, Jim Peterik has has become something of a legend to me, and now stands proud among my favorite songwriters. What he brings to the mix, is an always recognizable sense of emotion, a feeling of vulnerability and honesty in his lyrics, which I find instantly identifiable and unique. This element of empathy, is something that makes me hold Survivor and Jimi Jamison solo albums close, but it comes to full fruition on his Pride of Lions albums, where he found perhaps the ultimate voice to express it, in the form of Toby Hitchcock.
My relationship with Pride Of Lions was not exactly love at first sight. Watching the music video for Sound of Home with a friend back in 2003, left me without any intention to check out the band further.
Fast forward a few years, it was only when "The Roaring of Dreams" was released in 2007, that I discovered the majesty of the band and AOR in general, and on the back of that, and Alanna's glowing review, I unearthed "The Destiny Stone". It has since become my favorite Pride of Lions album, and I remain amazed, that the magic of their music did not capture me the first time around.
The Destiny Stone is the Pride Of Lions album with the most realized atmosphere, and I find it spellbinding. The whole album has a special vibe and the songs feel connected, making the album feel like a journey in itself.
I see The Courage to Love Somebody as a metaphor for my late love affair with the whole AOR genre. This genre and the bands within, are things that, in my youth and having just gotten into Heavy Metal, I would have never dreamed that I would be partial to. Though now, it is clear to me, that this genre has so much depth and flavor of character, that I am feel somewhat embarrassed to admit that I never saw it earlier. But then again, I guess it is called A.O.R. for a reason.
Anyway, The Courage To Love Somebody comes rocking out of the gates and won me over with its special drive and true-to-the-heart lyrics.
The special atmosphere I mentioned earlier, is blown wide open on Back To Camelot. Carried by Toby's incredibly powerful singing, especially as his voice rises in strength just before the chorus, the song is lifted into the stratosphere and doesn't come back down for its duration. Voice, strings and instruments unite in a very special way.
One of the things that set Pride Of Lions apart, is the harmonies between Toby and Jim. Both guys sing, and often their harmonies lift the songs to new heights. A prime example of this is the song Gone, from the debut, but here, there are several passages, where the harmonies make me smile ,and just sit back and enjoy the magic of hearing these two voices melt together. Usually, Jim leads the verse and sets things up for Toby to take over and soar through the chorus. This approach works wonders and to me, it is simply, magic.
Highlights include the fast paced Born To Believe In you, the unforgettable kitchy (is that a word?) keyboard melody roaming the chorus of Parallel Lines, Toby's magnificent singing on Light From A Distant Shore, the atmosphere of the title track and the feeling of Falling Back To Then, going in and out of phase, during its middle section. At first I though something was wrong with my ears, but it seems to be intentional and gives the song a special vibe.
What Kind Of Fool is another personal favorite in the form of a stunning ballad.
Last but certainly not least, The Gift Of Song ends the album, on an absolutely triumphant note. From the moment Toby sings the opening line, a special mood is set, and as the song rises and falls, that mood intensifies into an explosive ball of controlled emotion. The song has a sweeping melody that just feels right. Everything is released in the last part of the song, where the atmosphere rises to joyous triumph, in aural fireworks of chilling brilliance. No words can capture the emotional release of this last section, and I find it one of the wonders of music, that it can make me feel something as fulfilling as this.
This emotional release is all due to Toby's stunning singing. He is the vessel that brings the song to life, and he owns it in a way that brings extra depth to Jim's music and lyrics, as his voice reaches note-perfect highs, it feel like he is superhumanly and joyously celebrating life itself. Everything just gels here, and there is no doubt in my mind, that every participant performs with utmost sincerity and joy.
On a more technical note, was it really necessary to add that echo effect on his last note? I will wonder this to all eternity, though I guess that it was deemed necessary to bring extra power in the final moment. What I wouldn't give to hear a demo version of the song, or have witnessed the recording session.
When it comes down to it, The Gift Of Song is a timeless song and among the finest ever written. Simply because it clearly comes from the heart, and it is executed to complete perfection, bringing out all the emotion the song can offer. It has everything, and I will always listen to it with a huge smile on my face, waiting for that last section, where everything comes together. It always makes my blood boil and feeds the notion that anything is possible if you keep an open mind, and trust in yourself.
Ok, I guess I got a little carried away here, but The Destiny Stone really is true emotion and spirit, captured in music. It is no small feat to create an album that evokes as many emotions as this. Special mention goes to the booklet, which has interesting notes by Jim on each song. If you have missed this album, or have yet to discover AOR in general, then this is a place to begin your journey.
Written By Steen
Online: Wednesday, May 6, 2020
What Kind Of Fool