It’s a shame when talented bands get the shaft from record companies and fade into obscurity without ever really getting the credit they deserve for creating quality music. Such was the case with Aviary, one of the more talented of the “pomp” progressive rock bands of the late 70’s alongside Angel, Trillion and Ambrosia. Their self-titled major label release from 1979 is a collection of majestic rock songs, littered with symphonic and intricate arrangements, soaring vocal harmonies, and great pop hooks. The band wears their references on their sleeves, as you can hear bits of Queen, ELO, the Beatles, Yes, Todd Rundgren, Gentle Giant, early Journey, and even Kansas, on these nine strong tunes.
The opening track is called “Soaring” and its name is perfectly representative of how it sounds, soft, yet powerful, with lots of orchestrations and complex, multi-layered vocal harmonies. ”Anthem for the USA” was the album’s lone single, and is a quirky pop song in the ELO tradition with dense musical accompaniment and the amazing vocals of singer Brad Love. Love’s voice is like a cross between Freddie Mercury, Jeff Lynne, John Lennon, and Todd Rundgren, and it’s a wonder he never became a big star, regardless of whether this band ever made it or not. It’s Queen meets ELO on the wonderful “Puddles”, a sprightly rocker with Gentle Giant styled keyboards from Love and Paul Madden, and fantastic, sing-along vocal harmonies. The Freddie Mercury comparisons are actually quite striking, as Love was able to croon with the same pomp as the master, most notable on the complex prog of “As Close as You Can Get.” Here, jagged, melodic shards of synthesizers meets muscular guitar lines, with Love’s majestic vocals soaring like an eagle. “Mystic Sharon” has a strong Beatles flair, while “Feel the Heart” is a raging, Hammond driven tune, and one of the heaviest on the album. Guitarist Toby Bowen gets to strut his stuff, laying down some meaty riffs and fills, which add a hard rock punch to the dueling Hammond and synthesizers work from Love and Madden. “Average Boy” is like a marriage between Yes and Supertramp, with bubbly vocal harmonies, piano, and Steve Howe inspired guitar solos. The grand “I Will Hear” is another throwback to classic Queen, featuring melodic piano lines, and the rich voice of Love, perfectly backed by the rest of the band, providing one of the fullest vocal performances since “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Unfortunately it ends at just over two minutes, but it segues into the driving rocker “Maple Hall”, a more straightforward piece highlighted by nimble bass lines from Ken Steimonts and aggressive guitar licks from Bowen. The lyrics throughout are quirky and fun, not at all riddled with images of fantasy and horror that many bands of the 70’s were prone to.
Does it sound like I am in favor of this CD? Absolutely. This debut from Aviary ranks up there with the first releases from Angel, Ambrosia, and Trillion, and perhaps even surpasses them. There’s definitely more going on here musically, and the vocal harmonies are just plain mesmerizing. Yeah, there’s a certain air of pomp and arrogance permeating here, but it’s so well done that you can easily overlook it, as it adds a healthy dose of theatricality to the proceedings. Too bad their record label let them fall by the wayside almost 25 years ago, as there was major potential here. Singer Brad Love is still recording, as a solo artist, so if you like this give him a try as well.