April 18, 2022

Keyboard wizard Darren Wharton was only 17 years old when drafted in as a guest musician on Thin Lizzy’s 1980 album Chinatown. Speed guitar legend Gary Moore had departed after only one album, 1980’s Black Rose, and had surprisingly been replaced by reflective blues merchant Snowy White, about as different from Moore as could be found. It was seen as something of a change in the band’s direction when Phil Lynott also hired the youthful Wharton on keyboards, as Lizzy had not had a keyboard player since Eric Wrixon left after their debut single in 1970. Nevertheless, Wharton impressed enough to be promoted to full band member for their final two studio albums, Renegade and Thunder And Lightning, as well as playing on Lynott’s second solo album. After Lizzy split in 1983, and following Lynott’s demise in 1986, he went on to front his own band, DARE (in upper case, if you please).

The Lancashire lad has retained links with his Thin Lizzy compadres, participating in various Lizzy reformation gigs and tributes, but when the remaining members became Black Star Riders in 2012, Wharton declined to join, electing instead to concentrate on his own band. This April sees the release of DARE’s tenth album, Road To Eden, which features Vinny Burns on guitar, Nigel Clutterbuck on bass, drummer Kev Whitehead, and Marc Roberts providing additional keyboards.

Wharton has a tuneful and pleasant voice, built for balladeering rather than power metal, and Burns’ tasteful lead guitar tone, under Wharton’s production, melds in perfectly with the ambience of the album. The set opens with some muted thunder, the precursor to leading single Born In A Storm, which is a rock song to be sure, with a driving, almost AC/DC beat – but Wharton’s voice, and the calming tone of Burns’ guitar work, give it atmosphere rather than aggression. Second number, the emotional Cradle To The Grave, drifts more towards chart-friendliness, the opening having more than a touch of U2 about it, an observation which probably won’t go down well in the notoriously partisan Thin Lizzy circles! A touch of the Celtic is present throughout the album, which is no surprise, given Wharton’s early influences in an Irish rock band, and his home relocation to the Welsh mountains. The sustained guitar notes in the background do a passable impression of some type of bagpipe, a sound which recurs at intervals throughout.

The intro to Fire Never Fades is a dead ringer for Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out), until the guitars come crashing with a riff more akin to Rainbow’s All Night Long – but then the track reverts to rock ballad territory, with hints of Journey’s Who’s Crying Now. Title track Road To Eden, an ode to living and working for your dreams, is the first of three main album highlights, presenting the first really catchy hook. There’s more U2 influence in there too, although the next track, Lovers And Friends, seems influenced more by Boston in the backing guitars. The next highlight piece is the wonderful Only The Good Die Young, which would be a dead ringer for Springsteen’s Born To Run, were it not for the difference in voice. It also features the first real guitar solo, and it’s a surprise to realise that up till now, although Burns’ guitar has been evident throughout, it has stayed in the background.

Grace is a rim-shot ballad, more like These Dreams by Heart perhaps, and the Gaelic pipe-guitars return for the country-tinged I Always Will. The guitar is given a somewhat harder-rocking outing in The Devil Rides Tonight – think of Chris de Burgh’s Don’t Pay The Ferryman, and you’d be in the right area. Probably the deepest cut on the album is saved until last; Thy Kingdom Come is musically more ambitious, a lament about conflict and war, and veering towards the symphonic. Burns’ axe is given a decent outing at the end of the song, before a sudden conclusion brings the whole album to a juddering halt.

Ten records is a creditable back catalogue, and this is an excellent album. It’s melodic rock, but never twee or corny; the production is as clear as a bell and the musicianship is tight without ever being flashy. I love Burns’ guitar work; smooth and tasteful, while maintaining a rocky edge. The fine mix of driving rhythms and thoughtful lyricism give the set shape and colour, and at 41 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. I was expecting some flashier keyboards, given Wharton’s impressive output in the Thin Lizzy days, but no, the style of music doesn’t require Rick Wakeman workouts, so they aren’t there – in fact there is no evidence of ego impinging on the fine craftwork in any place. I had always thought it a shame that more of the old firm didn’t stay together to bolster the Black Star Riders project, but on reflection, Wharton made the right decision, and DARE has been worth the effort.