Most of you will already know of the great American rock guitarist that is Joel Hoekstra be it as a solo artist or with Night Ranger, Whitesnake, Trans-Siberian Orchestra or even the Broadway show, Rock Of Ages. He released three mainly instrumental solo albums between 2000 and 2007 but he upped the stakes considerably in 2016 by releasing the hard and heavy Dying To Live under the Joel Hoekstra’s 13 banner which featured a host of quality guests and achieved great acclaim and should be in any self respecting rock fans collection. You can be certain that you have built up a solid reputation when you can bring in a stellar cast of Jeff Scott Soto, Russell Allen, Derek Sherinian, Vinny Appice and Tony Franklin and if that doesn’t scream “supergroup” then I’m not sure what does.
So, some five years later we come to the second album under the 13 banner and, rather remarkably, he has managed to retain the services of all those who served so admirably on the first release. This time Russell Allen handles all of the lead vocals with Jeff Scott Soto supplying backing vocals and a remarkable team they make too with Allen showing exactly why he is regarded as one of the true premier voices in metal. Of course, Joel Hoekstra’s skills as a guitarist are legendary as he provides huge riffs and incredible solos but, again, this is more of a band affair than a record designed to show just how fast he can play or how long he can make his solos.
Indeed, the timings of the songs is worthy of note as Hoekstra and his song writing team have settled on the 5-minute mark as the most potent so nothing is over blown or over stays its welcome. This is hard hitting classic rock designed to thrill and to showcase that the art of the epic, anthemic rocker is alive and well. The sublime guitar work combines perfectly with the supreme keyboards of Derek Sherinian and these two work together with the same sort of harmony that Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord did. On top of this, you have an engine room comprising Tony Franklin and Vinnie Appice and any young pretenders out there just need to listen to this masterclass in rock. Running Games is an album that takes all of the ’70s and ’80s hard rock quality hallmarks and brings them up to date with a modern edge and vibe that leaves many other rock albums standing in the shade and I thought that Dying To Live was exceptional but the music on this album even eclipses that magnificent opus. I think this is mainly due to the artists all having fully bought into the concept and slotting comfortably back into place like true band mates reconvening for the next stage in the band’s life. Hoekstra stamps his mark all over the production of the material but the actual playing of the music is a work of love from the musicians and you can tell that they are all thoroughly enjoying the process of producing such a fine album together.
There are plenty of influences in the music not least of which is Whitesnake but there is plenty of Ronnie James Dio too as well as Toto and Foreigner but the overall effect is 100% the Joel Hoekstra 13. This is another must have album and one that you will return to again and again as the band powers through eleven tracks of perfect hard rock. It would be unfair to pick any out for special favour as all are superbly written and brilliantly played tracks but if you want a flavour of what the band has to offer then sample to brilliant Take What’s Mine with the great interplay between Sherinian and Hoekstra. Awesome.
Running Games track list
- Finish Line (4:55)
- I’m Gonna Lose It (4:57)
- Hard To Say Goodbye (4:44)
- How Do You (4:44)
- Heart Attack (4:41)
- Fantasy (4:49)
- Lonely Days (4:42)
- Reach The Sky (4:43)
- Cried Enough For You (4:43)
- Take What’s Mine (5:48)
- Running Games (4:07)
Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake/Trans-Siberian Orchestra) – guitars.
Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) – lead vocals, backing vocals.
Vinny Appice (ex-Black Sabbath, Dio) – drums.
Tony Franklin (ex-The Firm, Blue Murder) – bass.
Derek Sherinian (Sons Of Apollo, Dream Theater, Black Country Communion) – keyboards.
Jeff Scott Soto (Sons Of Apollo, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) – backing vocals.
Lenny Castro (Toto) – percussion.
Chloe Lowery (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) – backing vocals.
Dave Eggar (Evanescence, Coldplay) – cello.
Katie Kresek (Adele, Five For Fighting) – violin, viola.