Frontiers Records
Release date: August 14, 2006

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Although the roots of the band can be traced way back to 1960 when Van McLain and Ron Verlin met as 5-year olds in a Kansas, USA suburb, Shooting Star’s recording history began in 1980 with the release of their self-titled album. With a sound combining intricate Progressive elements with a commercially accessible edge leading to comparisons with Kansas, the band toured extensively with the likes of Robin Trower, Cheap Trick, and Journey. By the release of their 5th album, the excellent Ron Nevison produced Silent Scream, complete with a slick new AOR approach and big hits in waiting, the big time beckoned. Unfortunately, the highly deserved break into the big league never came and the band called it a day.

In 1991, the band resurfaced with It’s Not Over, a fine slice of AOR released to much critical acclaim, further adding to their highly rated back catalogue, and Leap of Faith followed in 2000. Although not exactly prolific when it came to releasing albums, Shooting Star did manage to ensure that quality control was maintained at all times. Throughout the 90s and afterwards, Shooting Star toured sporadically to small but enthusiastic audiences, and released a live DVD in 2002 entitled Tonight.

Since then, things have been pretty quiet on the Shooting Star front … until now. The release of Circles sees big changes in the Shooting Star camp, and none more so than in the vocalist department with the addition of AOR singer extraordinaire, Kevin Chalfant (707, The Storm, Two Fires, and The VU) joining original members, McLain and Verlin. The recruitment of Chalfant, who was in contention for the vacant singers spot in Journey before Steve Augeri landed the role, is a major coup for the band.

“Everybody’s Crazy” kicks off proceedings in fist-pumping fashion. Imagine a hybrid of the Easybeats “Gonna Have A Good Time” and Aerosmith’s “Lightning Strikes,” with a touch of Zeppelins “Rock and Roll” chucked in for good measure, and you should get the picture. McLain riffs harder than ever, and Chalfant is quick to stamp his class throughout as he soars effortlessly over the music, while Dennis Laffoon adds in some solid block chords to flesh out the sound before adding a sprinkling of Honky Tonk piano over the chorus. To top things off, a smoking solo from McLain and some glorious interplay with Lafoon creates as impressive of an opener as you’re likely to hear all year.

What is immediately noticeable about this release is the sound of the album. Some have commented rather critically of the raw nature of the music, and the more sonically abrasive sound generated by the band. To put things simply, yes, the sound is more on the raw side, but this is no Slayer or Nu-Metal approach. This is raw in the same way as say Escape by Journey was less polished and more guitar-orientated than the subsequent Frontiers or Raised on Radio, and in some respects, there are similarities between Circles and Escape in the quality and delivery of material.

Melodic Rock bands constantly receive criticism for being too polished or too slick, yet, when they do try something different, they get it in the neck for not being slick enough … they just can’t win! The sound is spot on, the drums have an organic, “real” feel to them, being stripped of any reverb or echo so prevalent in the 80s. The music is harder, but retains a wonderful melodic streak throughout, with the production giving ample space for all the instruments to fit perfectly into the mix.

“Temptation” slows the tempo down a touch with some fine violin work from Shane Michaels, bringing the Kansas comparisons to the fore. It is also the first point where both McLain and Chalfant share vocals producing a similar effect as Chalfant did with Gregg Rolie in his The Storm days. Both vocalists complement each other perfectly, adding a depth of variety to the material.

The real winner on the album is the driving “I’m A Survivor.” The bubbling keyboard intro soon paves way for a thumping riff and another excellent Chalfant vocal performance. The chorus is an absolute stormer and is guaranteed to stay lodged in your mind for a long time. This is AOR of the finest pedigree, and shows that there is still life in the genre.

The quality of the songs and the performance is maintained at a high standard throughout with both the ballads (“George’s Song,” a tribute to George Harrison, and “Without Love”) and the rockers (“Borrowed Time,” “Trouble in Paradise”) hitting the mark. McLain has succeeded in making probably the best Shooting Star album so far, and his selection of Chalfant as lead vocalist is simply inspired. Chalfant shows throughout why he is regarded as one of the best singers in Melodic Rock, and his performance along with McLain’s guitar work and songwriting talents have resulted in what may, come the end of the year, be the best Melodic release of 2006.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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