Wow, what a strong month for melodic rock label AOR Heaven, first comes along the debut Big Life album featuring Steve Newman, then hot on its heels comes the unexpectedly excellent Against The Grain by the reformed UK AOR-sters After Hours. Now I say unexpected because this is a band that have been defunct for just a little under a quarter of a century with their last release coming in the shape of their debut effort Take Off from 1988!
AOR Heaven have also reissued that album and on the strength of Against The Grain, it is an album I’ll be investing in sharpish! The After Hours story goes all the way back to 1987, but after that debut release things started to really build for them, with European tours, appearances on German TV and a sponsorship deal with Adidas. However keyboard player Rick Young soon left the band, being replaced by ex Michael Schenker man Andy Nye, but with record labels dragging the band round the world to record album number two After Hours basically disintegrated, although that second release Afterhours did see the light of day in 1992.
So what makes Against The Grain so special? Well choruses to die for is a good start, then add to that superb interplay between guitarist Tim Payne and keyboard/guitar player Sean McMenemy, and an unfussy but sharp rhythm section in the shape of drummer Chris Pope and bassist Martin Wells. The icing on the cake though is the stunning vocal performance of John Francis who has a lived in, but seductive tone that is amazingly versatile and put simply, is a joy to listen to. Style wise Francis is refreshingly hard to tie down, but at varying times throughout this album everyone from Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep), Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot) and Paul Carrack (Mike + The Mechanics) to Kip Winger, Eric Clapton and even Terence Trent D’Arby are brought to mind. If that sounds like a strange mix, then don’t worry, it works like a dream!
Basically if you have a soft spot for classy AOR and melodic rock, then After Hours are capable of serving you up some delights, with “Stand Up”, “Against The Grain” and “Let It Go” using equal measures of tight riffs, glossy backing vocals and driving keyboards to create some classy, punchy uptempo rock. Francis is immense on all of these tracks and is easily matched by Payne and McMenemy, with the trio also shining on the slower, yet equally memorable “I Need Your Love” and the bluesy “I Want Yesterday”. “Eleventh Hour”, as its title suggests adds a more mystical air to proceedings and is amongst the strongest moments on what is a universally impressive album and the acoustic version of the same song that closes the album is equally as effective.
For a variety of reasons there are many talented AOR acts from the UK that never really got the acclaim they deserved (FM, Dare and Strangeways to name but three) and now we can add After Hours to that list, hopefully Against The Grain will set the record straight!
01. Stand Up
02. Turn On Your Radio
03. Eleventh Hour
04. Against The Grain
06. When You’re Around
07. Hold On
08. Let It Go
09. I Want Yesterday
10. I Need Your Love
11. Eleventh Hour
John Francis – vocals
Tim Payne – lead guitar
Martin Walls – bass
Chris Pope – drums
Sean McMenemy – keys and guitars
After Hours – Against The Grain (2011)
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