by Michael Popke
Italy’s Frontiers Records used to be known, almost exclusively, for AOR and melodic hard rock. The label’s roster over the years has included Giant, House of Lords, Honeymoon Suite, Survivor and Talisman. Eventually, Frontiers expanded into prog and metal, although some of those releases were issued at a time when Frontiers CDs weren’t so readily available in the United States.
Times have changed, thanks to quality mail-order companies such as The Laser’s Edge and NEH Records, and now the label has reissued limited editions of three titles that at least deserve to be heard by progressive-rock fans, if not owned and slotted next to their Asia and Kansas CDs.
Wetton/Downes: Icon (2005)
The first true collaboration between vocalist/bassist John Wetton and keyboardist Geoff Downes since 1990 sounded a lot like Alpha– and Astra-era Asia – meaning it boasted plenty of those commercial hooks, layered vocals and dense synthesizers that made Asia one of progressive music’s most-loved and most-loathed bands. Wetton recruited longtime collaborators and prog vets John Mitchell (Arena, Kino) and Steve Christey (Jadis) to play guitar and drums on Icon, and guests included flutist Ian McDonald (Foreigner, King Crimson), cellist Hugh McDowell (Electric Light Orchestra) and vocalist Annie Haslam (Renaissance). Many of the songs on Icon were written on the same piano the duo used to compose Asia’s biggest hits. Back then, the problem was (and still is, quite frankly) that Wetton and Downes relied too much on keys for Icon. Regardless of the low-key material, it’s nice to hear them putting aside their differences (musical and otherwise) to make music together again. We all know what happened next, and fortunately the latest Asia album featuring the band’s origjnal lineup, Omega, is significantly better than Icon and its two successors. But this is where Asia’s second coming began, and for that it is a noteworthy release. This edition includes five bonus tracks.
Seventh Key: Seventh Key/The Raging Fire (2001/2004)
The magical musical partnership between Kansas bassist/vocalist Billy Greer and guitarist Mike Slamer has been quiet for too long. But back at the turn of the century, Greer and his old bandmate in Streets (Steve Walsh’s first post-Kansas project) unleashed a familiar sound in Seventh Key that recalled Kansas, Foreigner, Streets and Steelhouse Lane (another Slamer band). The self-titled debut included songs that were originally demoed for Kansas’ Power album and featured performances from Kansas members Steve Morse, Phil Ehart, Rich Williams and Walsh. This reissue adds two bonus tracks, while The Raging Fire – which saw Seventh Key evolve into a more stable unit with backing vocals from the stellar Terry Brock (Strangeways, The Sign) – includes one bonus track. Both releases are not as essential as Kansas’ material, but because Greer’s singing voice sounds a lot like Walsh’s, Seventh Key can be considered Kansas’ more mainstream little brother. After these two albums, Greer and company released Live in Atlanta and haven’t been heard from since. But according to Greer’s website, Seventh Key 3 is in the works.