CATALOG CRAWL: ANGEL, Part 3 (2015-2019, Including Solo Albums)

Angel’s classic run of albums didn’t reap commercial rewards during its original era but it managed to linger in the minds of hard rock and AOR devotees, who passed down their passion for the group’s sound to subsequent generations who  became similarly enchanted by the mixture of prog rock, heavy stylings and forward-thinking AOR found in the group’s catalog. Frontman Frank DiMino reteamed with drummer Barry Brandt in the late ’90s for a new version of the band: it produced an album (In The Beginning, not covered here because it’s impossible to find) but didn’t get far enough to bring on a full-scale comeback.

However, the groundwork was laid for such a comeback in the latter half of the 2010’s when DiMino produced an impressive solo album, followed quickly by the long-awaited return of Punky Meadows with his own solo effort. The two reteamed with a new band of strong modern-day players, producing the kind of all-stops-out Angel reunion that fans have dreamed of for decades. Listening to these three albums in chronological sequence is a rewarding experience for anyone who loves old-school hard rock and AOR, offering a landscape of tunes that combine a variety of classic rock styles in ways that feel inspired and vital.  

DIMINO – OLD HABITS DIE HARD (2015): nobody expected a solo album from Angel’s lead singer in 2015, much less one this inspired. DiMino assembled a killer band of vets for this album, including players from acts as diverse as Blackfoot, Twisted Sister and Stryper (Oz Fox from the latter, who also co-wrote several songs with DiMino). It’s a ‘classic hard rock’ proposition to the core, its songs creating a carefully tailored tour through the genre’s glories of the ’70s, like the Zep homage of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and the ’80s, like the snappily-riffed party rocker “Tonight’s The Night.”  There are also crafty hybrids like “The Quest,” which mixes almost Iron Maiden-style verses with beautiful harmonies and a pomp keyboard solo of the Angel variety, and “Tears Will Fall,” which brings Zep-style Eastern atmosphere into a brooding Dio-esque melody and lyric. DiMino’s vocal range has been tempered by age but remains strong and richly melodic, holding the diverse styles together alongside Meat Loaf vet Paul Crook’s gutsy production. Just a classy, old-school hard rock album.

PUNKY MEADOWS – FALLEN ANGEL (2016): Meadows picks up where he left off with disarming ease on his solo debut. It revives the hooky AOR Angel fans remember from White Hot and Sinful, updated to encompass ’80s glam (“Shadow Man,” with its sing-song melody, stomp beat and handclaps) and power ballads with country rock acoustic textures a la “Patience”/”Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (the elegant “Leaving Tonight,” with an epic instrumental guitar closing section). Meadows co-wrote and co-produced everything with 2nd guitarist Danny Farrow Anniello, achieving a plush, classic sound with a bit of modern oomph that focuses on melodic craft: everything is rife with posh synth textures, delicate acoustic riffs that flesh out the electric leads and layered call-and-response backing vocals. Favorites here include synth-AOR gems “Home Wrecker” and “Shake Shake” plus “I Wanna Be Your Drug,” which filters power pop through an ’80s glam lens. Lead vocals by Chandler Mogel and Farrow are strong throughout, with a full-throated power that reflects the album’s classical approach.  Added bonus for Angel fans: Felix Robinson providing bass and backing vocals throughout.

ANGEL – RISEN (2019): DiMino and Meadows teamed up for this ambitious classic rock opus that includes 2nd guitar Anniello and keyboardist Charlie Calv, both clutch players on Meadows’ Fallen Angel.  It combines ’80s metallic elements of the DiMino album, like tautly-riffed speedster “Our Revolution” and the swaggering, cowbell-accented “Slow Down,” with the hooky, plush AOR of the Meadows album, via songs like ethereal power ballad “I.O.U.” and synthy sing-along “Over My Head.” The album’s musical terrain is broad enough to include “Tell Me Why,” which plays like a ’60s Merseybeat pop-rocker with an ’80s glam-metal arrangement, a respectable revisit of 1st album prog-metal fave “The Tower” and the surprise power-pop bridge (complete with handclaps) that unexpectedly pops up in hard-rocker “Desire.” That said, the album’s finest achievement is “1975,” an epic that pays homage to the classic rock era that spawned Angel with a lavish arrangement that even includes a prog keyboard intro. Like the rest of the album, it’s a heartfelt valentine to fans who have kept the faith.