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Album Review

STEPHEN J. PRESTON
A Different Landscape

Stephen Preston is the perfect combination of rock vocalist and balladeer and A Different Landscape proves it. Straddling the fence of seventies and eighties purveyors of big sound love songs (Journey, REO, Whitesnake) and semi-symphonic vocal portraits, Preston is close to if not at the top of his game, flowing freely from one to the other without a glitch. One might say that if the album is nothing else it is smooth, except for the fact that there is a lot more to it than that.

That 'lot more' is the combination of talents Preston brings to the table. As a songwriter he excels, having an innate ability to match music to lyrics with an uncanny touch. Throughout the album, lyrics float through layers of rock and orchestral background to grab you when you don't realize you've been grabbed, the melodies solid and the hooks obvious though sometimes stealthy (is that even a word?). Arrangements? He did them and did them well, while producing and even mastering the CD (with help from one Martin Condon).

Add to these talents a voice which combines the appeal of, say, a hybrid of a Michael Buble and a Roger Whittaker with that of a Steve Perry (Journey) or a David Coverdale (Whitesnake), maybe leaning a bit toward the former, and you have the apex of the old record industry: crossover potential. While those days are gone, I can see the older among us enjoying the rock sensitivities of Long Gone, I Dream, You Really Really Know How To Love, and Not Her Style as well as the slightly more middle of the road The Words We Didn't Say, Goodbye, Beverley, and Palo Cedro. Actually, belay that “older among us” clause. Since the still uncertain demise of corporate music and radio industries, the young too have begun tossing aside the conventional for the good and this qualifies for those not locked into genres beyond Preston's scope. After all, a good song is a good song and Preston gives us a lot of them here.

Undoubtedly, my favorite is the capper, Just As Long As I'm With You. As impressive as anything Foreigner or Journey ever produced, it has that anthemic hook on the chorus that won't let go (as well as romantic lyrics which could make this a “forgive me” track for guys who majorly screw up, not to mention a Valentine's Day present which says it all). It doesn't hurt that Preston overlaid melodic soaring guitar over the top at just the right moments (thank you, Gerwyn Howley) and added a background chorus which has me hearing The James Gang's White Man, Black Man in my head--- every time (Sorry. Pavlov's dog...).

There are two anomalies on the album: So Dorky I'm Cool, written for Jillybean, Preston's much loved niece and a nice change of pace (I hope you know how cool this is, Jillybean) and Another Minute With You, a humorous and upbeat backslap at love gone bad (and a humorous attempt by a Brit to emulate the Southern accent--- I mean, he mangles it, but he mangles it with love).

Hey, I'm a rocker, though I have been known to dally in a bit of the odd genres. I shouldn't be liking this this much, but I am. A Different Landcsape proves to me something I have been learning since I was a child--- that when the music is good (and I mean really good), genre does not matter. In the light of what has happened with music this past decade, it becomes more evident with each passing day that what really matters is the music. Stephen J. Preston has laid it down. And very well, indeed.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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