Howard Leese is best known for his 22 year stint with the Wilson sisters in Heart, however more recently he has played in Paul Rodgers solo band and also toured with Rodgers as a member of Bad Company. After such a long and distinguished career in music it's a little surprising that Secret Weapon is Leese's first solo release, less surprising is his ability to tempt some top notch rock legends to guest on his album. Any new release that can boast Joe Lynn Turner, Paul Rodgers, Jimi Jamieson and Keith Emerson among it's cast list is guaranteed to create some interest, unfortunately it could be argued that the names involved on the album are the most impressive thing about it.
Opening track "Alive Again", which has the first of two appearances from Joe Lynn Turner behind the mic, starts things off extremely well. A nice understated slow burner it sees both Leese and Turner put in great performances which make it the strongest track on offer. Rodgers handles the vocals on "Heal The Broken Hearted" and it's easy to see why he was asked to work his magic on this track as it's the sort of slow bluesy semi acoustic fare that he has wrapped his golden voice round time and time again. That's the problem, you've heard Rodgers sing this type of stuff countless times, however there's no real spark that lifts it above average. Rodgers vocal is as good as you would expect, but once the song is done you want to dig out some Free or Bad Company to hear him do it on some songs with more purpose.
Unfortunately that's the feeling that you get all through the album, each of the tracks are steady and well crafted, but there's little new and not even the guests help raise the level of interest. Turner appears again this time alongside Deanna Johnston on "Hot To Cold" which is lukewarm at best; Jimi Jamieson sings on the lacklustre power ballad "The Vine" and Keith Emerson's contribution on instrumental "French Quarter" borders on stale lounge music and does the album no favours at all.
Two of the better tracks feature lesser known vocalists, "The South Summit" starts off with gentle atmospheric synths before kicking into a Hendrix inspired bluesy workout. It's Leese's best work on the album and Duke Fame adds a short, but very effective Coverdale like vocal. More of the same would have been very welcome. The same can be said for "I've Been Leavin' You" which leans heavily on the rich vocal tones of Andrew Black to elevate a simple blues guitar and organ lick into an intense emotional swagger.
Including the afore mentioned "French Quarter" there are also five instrumental tracks, which create a real stop start nature to the disc. Closing track "Somewhere (Theme From West Side Story)", is a real damp squib of a way to end an album, but really all the instrumatals add little in focus or interest to the disc and only serve to break up what little momentum is built up by the better vocal tracks. In truth apart from "33 West Street" which is a Satriani like rocker, the vocalless tracks could all be used as the type of nerve jangling ditty you are subjected to when you are put on hold to your nearest call centre. Nice enough, but a bit of a relief when you finally hear a voice!
may all sound a bit harsh, however with Leese's pedigree and the stellar cast assembled I find it hard to believe that not a single song sticks in the mind even after many listens.
1. Alive Again
2. Heal The Broken Hearted
3. Hot To Cold
4. French Quarter
5. 33 West Street
6. The South Summit
7. Rada's Theme
8. The Vine
9. In These Eyes
10. Vermilion Border
11. I've Been Leavin' You
12. Somewhere(Theme From West Side Story)