GERMAN virtuoso guitarist Axel Rudi Pell has been plying his trade for over 30 years now. Originally in German metal outfit Steeler in 1989 he decided to go solo, producing no less than 23 studio albums in the process, including several compilations.
Fans of ARP will know his albums follow a standard formula. Fast paced rockers where he can show off his shredding ability, sweeping epic tracks, the odd cover version and ballads, and it’s the ballads that have proven popular amongst fans.
To that extent he released the first compilation Ballads in 1993.
In 1997 Pell hired ex (and now current) Hardline vocalist Johnny Gioelli who has one of the best voices in rock and the band have gone from strength to strength.
2017 sees the release of “Ballads V” on April 21st. Again these albums follow a standard formula, previously released tracks mixed with some new ones. Ballads V, weighing in at a whopping 73 minutes has three brand new songs and seven songs available on other albums (listed below) including a previously unreleased live version of one of them.
The album opens with the three new tunes starting with first single ‘Love’s Holding On’, featuring Bonnie Tyler on guest vocals. It’s a duet with Johnny Gioeli, and it works really well. Tyler not being quite as raspy as in her youth and Gioelli blending nicely without overshadowing her. As usual Pell’s subtle guitar playing and tone shines brightly. As duets go it’s a pretty good song and start to the album.
Second song is a cover version of Ed Sheehan’s ‘I See Fire’. Yes, you read that correctly....Ed bloody Sheeran! Probably best known by fans of the film The Hobbit the band replaces the acoustic guitar with a nice piano part and add a sublime solo to the end. Gioelli’s passionate delivery and the always reliable rhythm section of Volker Krawczak on bass and Bobby Rondinelli on drums give the song the ARP treatment and really adds to the song.
The third new song is ‘On The Edge of Time’ which quite frankly is a classic already. A slow tempo start with a slightly Eastern feel to it builds into a searing ballad with Gioelli sounding as good as he ever has. Pell has been compared at times to Ritchie Blackmore and the solo on this has Blackmore’s stamp all over it, melodic and mesmerising in equal measures.
The next five songs are all from previous albums and are ‘Hey Hey My My’, ‘Lived Our Lives Before’, ‘When Truth Hurts’, ‘Forever Free’ and ‘ Lost in Love’.
‘Hey Hey, My My’ is a great new take of the Neil Young’s original and this version was apparently inspired by TV show Sons of Anarchy.
‘Lived our Lives Before’ is a powerful ballad with the whole band on top form, melodic with a sweet guitar tone from Pell, great hooks and Gioelli again showing his prowess as a singer.
‘’When Truth Hurts’ opens with Gioelli’s vocals layered over a nice piano intro. A slow tempo song with some majestic, melodic playing by Pell: a song about a love lost conveyed perfectly by the vocal and guitar arrangements.
Track seven ‘Forever Free’ continues in the same vein but with a grittier guitar sound and haunting keyboards in the background. A slightly heavier sound almost takes it out of the ballad category, but not quite. Great solo on it too.
‘Lost in Love’ is up next. Another slow haunting opening focusing on Gioelli, it seems to be about being in love but the line “But the truth really lies” suggests a darker, one-sided affair with an element of pain to it. A beautifully written and performed song.
The final two tracks also feature on other albums but the penultimate track ‘The Line’ is a previously unreleased live version recorded at ARP’s co-headlining Rock Of Ages festival in 2016. It’s a great live version of the original 17 year old song with a heavier guitar sound and sublime solo from Pell.
Last track ‘Mistreated’ is a cover of the Deep Purple classic featuring Doogie White (Michael Schenker’s Temple of Doom) on lead vocals and erstwhile Rainbow keyboardist Toney Carey. There’s been many versions of this song but few will match this as Pell’s Blackmore comparison is never more evident than it is on here, he totally nails it!
There is a bit more emphasis on the new tunes as fans of ARP will already know the other ones but if you are relatively new to the band then ‘Ballads V’ is a good a place as any to start as its one of the best of the series and guaranteed to have you delving into his back catalogue.
Review by Andy Gillen
Axel Rudi Pell – Guitars
Johnny Gioelli – vocals
Volker Krawczak – bass
Ferdy Doernberg – keyboards/piano
Bobby Rondinelli – drums
Track listing :
Love’s Holding On ( feat. Bonnie Tyler)
I See The Fire (Ed Sheeran cover)
On The Edge of Time
Hey Hey My My (Into The Storm 2014)
Lived our Lives Before (Circle of The Oath 2012)
When Truth Hurts (Into The Storm 2014)
Forever Free (Games of Sins 2016)
Lost in Love (Games of Sins 2016)
The Line (The Masquerade Ball 2000)
10.Mistreated (25th Anniversary Special show)