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CD review: Vandenberg's MoonKings shine on eponymous debut album

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Vandenberg's Moonkings

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Some 35 years ago, Dutch guitarist and songwriter Adrian Vandenberg broke onto the music scene with his band Teaser. A couple short years later he released his first album under the name Vandenberg, in the midst of the NWOBHM phenomenon. While the album went largely overlooked, he scored a hit with the early power ballad, “Burning Heart”. This brought him to the attention of Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale, who worked hard to lure Adrian into his band. It took several years, but Coverdale succeeded and Vandenberg was central to the explosion of popularity Whitesnake enjoyed during the late 80s. Vandenberg contributed the solo to the massive hit, “Here I Go Again” when he debuted on the band’s 1987 eponymous release, and he co-wrote all but one song on the follow-up, Slip of the Tongue in 1990.

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Eventually, Adrian left the band in 1998 to enjoy fatherhood and focus on other artistic endeavors, but music remained close to his heart. Fifteen years later the unsung guitar virtuoso returned to the studio to record the debut, self-titled album for Vandenberg’s MoonKings. Joining Adrian in the endeavor are three young musicians who the guitarist had crossed paths with over the years, and who had impressed him with their talents; vocalist Jan Hoving, bassist Sem Christoffel, and drummer Mart Nijen Es.

Vandenberg’s MoonKings offers everything you’d hope to find an a great rock and roll record; strong melodies, outstanding performances, and plenty of moments that stick with you after the last track has played. Throughout the 13 song album, which Adrian produced, you’ll hear nuances of the legendary inspirations we grew up listening to, from Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith to classic blues icons, and of course, Whitesnake. In fact, the album closes out with a newly recorded version of Whitesnake’s “Sailing Ships” complete with Coverdale on vocals. Bringing it all full circle, the band even recorded the album at Wisseloord Studios in The Netherlands where he recorded his debut album with Teaser in 1978. Vandenberg also created the album artwork as he did for two of the Vandenberg albums in the 80s.

The record leads off with Christoffel’s rumbling bass on the heady rocker, “Lust and Lies”, and you can instantly feel the impact of a band recording in analog on vintage equipment. Hoving’s vocals notably recall a young Robert Plant. Adrian immediately reminds fans of his fret prowess and his ability to craft catchy songs.

The sound that helped seal the Whitesnake signature in the 80s can be heard at full tilt on the blues-traipsing “Close To You”. That feeling carries on through the smoky, winding vibe of “Good Thing”, delivered with a Gospel style chorus and feel good melody.

On the delightful and emotive track, “Breathing”, Hoving’s voice touches the heart, before the band shifts from a minor to major key for the uplifting chorus. It is easily one of the album’s highlights.

“Line of Fire” has an almost Cult-ish quality to it, and you are swept away by the atmospheric Hammond touches and the inspired background vocals of the Barking MoonQueens. We are reminded of the depth of Vandenberg’s impassioned fret abilities here, and throughout.

Vandenberg’s MoonKings marks a long overdue and decidedly inspirational return of one of rock’s great guitarists and songsmiths. Vandenberg and company deliver without overt swagger or tedious gimmickry. The entire album revels in the classic rock of our childhood memories while flourishing with a fresh and modern tone. In all, this is one of the year’s best hard rock records and fans would be remiss not to sink their ears into it with gusto.

Rating: 8.7/10

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