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Bonnet, Graham: Reel To Real : The Archives 1987-1992

With their third studio album, Dangerous Games, being received in lukewarm fashion by fans and critics alike, Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz found themselves at a crossroads. Hence it’s no real surprise that when offered the chance to jump ship by Eddie Van Halen and join a band he was producing called Private Life, guitarist Danny Johnson was keen to jump ship; taking studio backing vocalist Jay Davis with him. However, Private Life never went public, leaving the departing duo at a loose end, and with Bonnet and Alcatrazz drummer Jan Uvena still equally at a loss as to their next move, the foursome reconvened in 1987 and began work on what they hoped would be the next Alcatrazz album. Completing three tracks, the quartet (although no drummer is credited in the booklet of this boxset and there’s a decided drum machine feel about things) shopped their new material around numerous labels, but with no one biting, the decision was taken that Alcatrazz was finally dead in the water.

With no income to pay the bills, Bonnet, once of Rainbow, the Michael Schenker Group and Impelliteri, moved to Australia and set about joining the Zep Boys, who, as their name suggested, were a Led Zeppelin tribute band. Playing a handful of low key gigs in social clubs and hotels around the area early in 1989, the singer and band (who doubtless couldn’t believe their luck) started shaping up a set of Alcatrazz, Rainbow and Schenker covers, alongside some other tracks that had previously been hits for Bonnet in Australia. While two new cover version were also trotted out, Ike & Tina Turner’s “Mountain Deep, River High” and The Loovin Spoonful’s “Summer In The City”. With his new bandmates in tow, Bonnet would also record studio versions of these two cuts along with another four songs that were written around the time. Often seen as a lost era in Graham Bonnet’s long career, Reel To Real shines a light on that time by offering a studio disc bringing together the three ‘Alcatrazz’ cuts and the six songs he recorded in Australia, along with three other slightly later recordings. Also included in this box are two shows recorded in Australia as Bonnet performed his catalogue with the Zep Boys; the three disc set coming in a nicely presented clam-shell box and with liner notes from Cherry Red’s resident scribe, Malcolm Dome, with Bonnet’s input.

For many the Alcatrazz recordings will be where the real interest lies here, Bonnet, Johnson and Davis (the latter on bass) possibly too aware of the criticisms of Dangerous Game. Resulting in the trio of “Tonite I Fly”, “Reel To Real” and “The Dancer” (not the MSG song of similar name) feeling a little too much like they were chasing the sound of the band’s debut, although there’s still something to be said for all three.

Alongside guitarist Robert Pippan. bassist Warwick Cheadle, keyboard player Sean Timms and drummer John Zak, Bonnet’s Aussie recordings actually fare a little better, “Whiplash” and it’s metallic whip effects feeling like it should have belonged on the Highlander OST side of Queen’s Kind Of Magic album, and as such is the strongest track of this collection. “Long Time Gone” is a little more pop-rock in its approach but Bonnet is in cracking form, which can also be said about his vocals on the studio versions of “River Deep...” and “Summer...”, even if they both have a slightly alarming cabaret feel about their arrangements.

“Midnight Crossing” and “Rider”, from the same period, are obviously from a different session and it has to be said that the sound quality here isn’t good, with tape drop-out and the sound panning from speaker to speaker on occasion. Something which is a shame, because both are strong attempts to move Bonnet back into a more hard rock setting, “Midnight...” being especially potent. The three closing tracks get scant mention in the liner notes and as such the 1992 pair of “Double Cross My Heart” and “Hearts Under Fire” are given no context, or detail as to who else is performing on them. The former is, however, a clever piece of melodic hard rock that would have been perfect for Whitesnake, while the latter isn’t far behind.

Last up is a 2008 version of “Dead Man Walking”, which was written by Bonnet and Dario Mollo and which later appeared on Bonnet’s 2016 album The Book in an updated guise. And this early take is a biting slice of metallic hard rock that strongly highlights the often underrated tougher edge in Bonnet’s voice.

The two live discs, recorded on February 24th 1989 and March 26th the same year are both bootleg, crowd recordings and as such, you can pretty much guess the sound quality. Of the two, the former is a stronger aural experience, but as such it also picks up much more (disinterested) crowd chatter, with one particularly loud twonk complaining about, well, pretty much everything from the songs and Bonnet himself, to the band and anything else that comes to his mind. You wonder why people like this go gigs in the first place, other than to talk up their own self importance. These people are bad enough when you are actually standing at a concert, but having this pathetic negativity spill from your speakers is a bit of a stretch to be honest and as such ruins much of what’s going on. Putting that to one side, or at least trying to, the show itself is pretty decent, Aussie hits, “It’s All Over Baby Blue” and the Bee Gees penned “Warm Ride” trotted out to good effect, while the more expected classics such as “All Night Long”, “SOS”, “Lost In Hollywood” and “Desert Song” all go down well. Bonnet is, again, in good voice, but even with that in mind, the two songs that were obviously his inspiration at the time, “River Deep, Mountain Hugh” and “Summer In The City”, bring little to the party. Obviously important to the man singing them, why established artists think that their audience want to hear them singing other people’s songs has long baffled me and this is a prime example. Still, this is an entertaining if frustrating set but not one I can see me coming back to.

The second set, even bearing in mind that Bonnet asked for song suggestions for future shows during the first, is a carbon copy of that on disc two, minus the dropped “Dancer”, but frustratingly still including a workmanlike drum solo. The only other difference being that the second show features an “Intro” giving the illusion that both contain fifteen songs, when the latter clearly doesn’t. The audio isn’t as strong here, but the crowd noise is (in general) reduced because of that, although the general malaise of the audience (something confirmed in one of the press clippings added to the booklet) makes it all feel a little futile in places.

This box is a strange collection where the studio odds and sods do hold some value, with some of them adding to the Bonnet canon. The live discs, however, while charting a time long overlooked in Graham Bonnet’s career, are ropey at best and downright irksome in places. The man himself is in fine fettle and his Aussie band are just about good enough, but as a listening experience, neither is likely to keep you that interested, or to visit your CD player all that often. One for Bonnet completists then, but in fairness, that’s exactly where this box-set was aimed at in the first place.


Track Listing
DISC ONE: REEL TO REAL
1. TONITE I FLY (1987)
2. REEL TO REAL (1987)
3. THE DANCER (1987)
4. WHIPLASH (1989)
5. LONG TIME GONE (1989)
6. SUMMER IN THE CITY (1989)
7. RIVER DEEP, MOUNTAIN HIGH (1989)
8. MIDNIGHT CROSSING (1989)
9. RIDER (1989)
10. DOUBLE CROSS MY HEART (1992)
11. HEARTS UNDER FIRE (1992)
12. DEAD MAN WALKING (2008)


DISC TWO: MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (THE PALACE) FEB 24 1989
1. GOD BLESSED VIDEO
2. ISLAND IN THE SUN
3. S.O.S.
4. WILL YOU BE HOME TONIGHT
5. IT’S ALL OVER NOW BABY BLUE
6. ONLY ONE WOMAN
7. DESERT SONG
8. RIVER DEEP, MOUNTAIN HIGH
9. SUMMER IN THE CITY
10. SINCE YOU BEEN GONE
11. DRUM SOLO
12. LOST IN HOLLYWOOD
13. DANCER
14. ALL NIGHT LONG
15. WARM RIDE


DISC THREE: ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA (BRIDGEWAY HOTEL) MARCH 26 1989
1. INTRO: NIGHT OF A SHOOTING STAR
2. GOD BLESSED VIDEO
3. ISLAND IN THE SUN
4. S.O.S.
5. WILL YOU BE HOME TONIGHT
6. IT’S ALL OVER NOW, BABY BLUE
7. ONLY ONE WOMAN
8. DESERT SONG
9. RIVER DEEP, MOUNTAIN HIGH
10. SUMMER IN THE CITY
11. SINCE YOU BEEN GONE
12. DRUM SOLO
13. LOST IN HOLLYWOOD
14. ALL NIGHT LONG
15. WARM RIDE

Added: June 30th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Reel To Real @ Cherry Red
Hits: 433
Language: english

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