Album Review: Roth Brock Project – “Roth Brock Project”

This is a strange album to talk about on one level, because I honestly can’t say I had heard of John Roth or Terry Brock (the two main men behind this project) at all before this arrived in my inbox and, after my attempts to research them resulted in far less information than I’d been expecting about Terry Brock (seriously, all I know for definite about him is in the promo for this album), I still feel rather underprepared to review it.

Still, I have a deadline to meet, I think it’s better to save Graham Bonnet for next week (it’s going to be a VERY long review, as I’m covering two different discs in detail!) and I don’t have another appropriate album to cover, so I can’t exactly give this one a miss.

Ah well, to fill everyone in quickly on just who the guys are, John Roth is probably best known nowadays for being a member of Winger since they toured for their third album, 1993’s Pull (he didn’t actually play on the record, though: he was specifically a touring member during that period of time, although he became a full member when they reunited in 2001 and has been part of the band since then), as well as being part of Giant since their fourth album, 2010’s Promised Land (not to be confused with the Queensryche record of the same name), and Starship featuring Micky Thomas since 2012 (which means that he was part of their fourth record, Loveless Fascination) while Terry Brock (to my limited knowledge) can claim to have provided vocals on Kansas’ 1983 record Drastic Measures (which people might recognise “Fight Fire With Fire” from if they’ve heard of the record at all and don’t confuse it for the Metallica song of the same name) and…erm, that’s about where my knowledge of his career ends.

…Yeah, that’s not really a very helpful introduction, is it?

Anyway, this project basically sprung out of the Giant album I mentioned earlier, as it was the first time either had worked together and they must have enjoyed working together, because…well, if they hadn’t, then this record wouldn’t exist, would it? Joining them on this record is drummer Scott Trammell, who has apparently performed for quite a few well known bands, although I can’t say how true this is (very limited information came up when I searched for him: I literally had to refer to his LinkedIn profile just to find out who he was!).

All of this leads to one question: how does Roth Brock Project work out? Well…I’m not impressed, if I’m completely honest. It is pretty good on the performance front, but the material badly lets it down, with the end result that my overall opinion on it basically boils down to “I wouldn’t turn it off if it was put on, but I wouldn’t actively put it on myself”.

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The band’s sound is very much in the melodic rock vein of things, but with a hint more technicality than the average band in the genre (which makes sense when you consider that Winger, Roth’s main band, were always known for combining glam metal with progressive metal). As lazy as this statement will sound, there’s not really a lot that needs to be added onto that summing up of their sound. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate, but, considering glam metal and progressive metal don’t usually tend to overlap much (certainly, Winger are the only band I can think of who would fit such a description and, even after some research, the closest I’ve found is Angel, who were more progressive glam rock than anything else), I’d argue that there’s little to complain about here, unless you’re so worn out on glam in general that you want something which avoids the glam cliches.

The songwriting on the record is where the biggest problems occur with the record, unfortunately. Now, I’ll be fair, there aren’t any tracks which strike me as outright awful, but the problem is that the vast majority of the tracks fall into the “listenable, but unremarkable” category to really make the record all that worth listening to. Seriously, even after several listens to the record, the only song that really stands out to me is “Young Gun” (although “Young Again” isn’t actually that bad and “If That’s What It Takes” and “My City” have pretty good choruses), and I honestly think that even this highlight would be a song that most would pass over if it was on a better record. Again, I will be fair for a second and say that this isn’t the most boring record I’ve heard in my life (that honour would belong to Whyzdom’s Symphony for a Hopeless God, a record that was so boring that I gave up on it before I even finished the first track and which checking out how the other songs started didn’t make me change my mind at all) and I’ll take an unremarkable record over an outright dull one any day of the week (after all, an unremarkable record can still be fun: how else do you explain Reckless Love’s discography?), but it’s hard to really give this record any real praise because the material just doesn’t impress me enough to warrant any praise beyond “passes the time adequately”, which isn’t exactly high praise when you think about it.

The performances on the record (aside from Trammell’s drumming and a few guest performances: specifically, Kary Baddour provides piano on “Distant Voices”, Phil Bennet provides keyboards on “Never Givin’ Up”, Jimmy Fulp provides drums on “Fighter” and Jeff Adams and Kory Myers provide backing vocals on “We Are”) are pretty much all done by John Roth, who provides *deep breath* keyboards, bass guitar, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, co-lead vocals, backing vocals, engineered the record and produced it (and, presumably, mastered it as well, although I haven’t been provided with that information myself, so I’m guessing there). Irrespective of my thoughts on the record as a whole, I really do have to give the guy props for doing all of that, at least, because that is A LOT to do and shows the guy is a very capable multi instrumentalist. It’s pretty obvious, though, that the guy is at his best on the guitar, because his performance on that instrument results in some pretty lead guitar work and some solo rhythm guitar work (for melodic rock standards, at least: don’t expect anything like on a Dream Theater record here!) while the bass guitar tends to feel kind of there as a support for the rest of the material than anything else and the keyboards, despite having some interesting moments, don’t really do anything that shows off any real skill on them, again more playing a supportive role to the rest of the music than anything else. The drumming is decent enough, though. Nothing all that special overall (although, being realistic, most melodic rock material is focusing more on the vocals and the melodies, so this isn’t entirely the fault of the musician behind the kit so much as a typical feature of the genre), but they’re competently played, serve to support the music well and there’s nothing that strikes me as an obvious mistake in their playing, so I can’t really complain that much beyond a personal wish for a more distinctive drum performance (although I HAVE been listening to decent amounts of African and Latin-American music over the last month or two, so maybe I’m approaching things from the wrong viewpoint here…).

The vocal performance on the record is reasonably fine. Brock definitely has a reasonable enough vocal range and he has a decent vocal tone (with a tiny bit of additional influences, like blues rock, to keep him from sounding too much like a typical melodic rock vocalist), though I can’t help noticing that his voice sounds more than a little bit like another vocalist (although the actual name of that vocalist escapes me at the time of writing). He’s not going to go down as one of the best vocalists out there, but he is hardly a bad vocalist and, for a guy who has been a musician for over 30 years, he definitely doesn’t SOUND that old (I honestly thought he was a newer vocalist when I first heard his voice!). Not really a lot to say here beyond that, if I’m honest: it’s a decent vocal performance and it fits the music well, so let’s move on.

The production is basically your standard modern day digital production, so longtime readers could probably say exactly what I think of this production without needed to read the rest of this paragraph. Still, for those who haven’t, I think that the record could have done with a bit more of a bass presence (although it’s not really necessary to do so, since the bass isn’t really doing anything of note here) and the mastering, while not taken to extremes, could still do with being turned down a tiny bit. It’s clearly a digital production, but there is definitely a professionalism to it which shines through and keeps it from being a major flaw with the record like what happens with records released on bigger name records. The rest of the mixing is fine and suits what the music is doing fine. There’s not really a lot wrong with this type of production and it works for this record fine, but it’s pretty much just a competent job rather than an actively brilliant one. Still, I’ll take a competent job over a bad one and I can’t help being impressed that Roth handled so much of the record on his own, so I can’t really complain too much about this.

So, overall, there’s nothing that’s really BAD about Roth Brock Project as an album: it’s a competent release and it doesn’t really do anyone any injustices to anyone’s reputations, but it’s not really strong enough to be worth recommending either. If you’re a huge fan of Winger, liked Giant’s last album and want to hear something that is like a combination of both of them, then this might be worth a look into, but, if you’re not one of those people, you’re probably not going to be sold on this record enough to make it worth picking up. It’s not awful, but it’s not good enough to convert anyone who isn’t already on board with the project.

Roth Brock Project will be released on the 4th of November by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.