Most people know Howard Leese from his days with Heart, but what a lot of fans don’t realize is that he has a deep and rich career that extends beyond that. This summer, Leese released his first solo album, Secret Weapon on Frontiers Records. With guest stars galore, this album showed promise for fans of rock music.
Secret Weapon opens with the strong “Alive Again”, an acoustic/electric blend with Joe Lynn Turner (Yngwie Malsteen, Rainbow) handling the vocals. A slow build up starts the song off with the anticipation that something magical is about to happen. “Alive Again” has a great southern rock feel to it that seems to capture the essence of the Deep South in the form of music.
“Heal The Broken Hearted” comes up next with guest vocals from Paul Rodgers. This is the best Bad Company song I’ve heard in years. I realize that Howard was not in Bad Company, but he did play live with Paul Rodgers, and this song reminds me so much of Bad Company that it had me yearning for a reunion with Howard on lead guitar. With a classic Bad Company sound and groove, “Heal The Broken Hearted” is a great track and is in contention for best on the album.
“Hot To Cold” has a strong, mesmerizing blues beat to it and feels like it would be right at home on the Chicago strip of blues clubs. With guest vocals from Deanna Johnston and Joe Lynn Turner leading the way, “Hot To Cold” is a nice blues song with solid rhythm and a steady beat. Leese shows off his guitar skills with strong leads and a great solo in the middle of the track. A longer solo would have made this the best song on the disc, which is a testament to Leese’s ability with the axe in his hand.
“Rada’s Theme” is a mellow acoustic/electric instrumental that has a relaxing motif to it. This song shows a new direction for Leese, with a beautiful saxophone harmony washing over the acoustic and electric guitar strings. Blending synthesizer, saxophone, and guitar seamlessly, Rada’s Theme would fit nicely on any movie score, especially a romance film.
The instrumentals (and there are several) on the disc are a different style than expected from a rock guitarist. While touching on jazz and blues influences, there is a strong classical style on all of the instrumental melodies. Leese combined his guitar work with strings, piano, wind instruments, and light percussion to create the classical sound that was a nice surprise, but may turn off some fans. If you’re seeking a hard rock record from top to bottom, Secret Weapon does not deliver that. It does provide a nice blend of different styles that make for a decent album.
The biggest problem with Secret Weapon is how all of the songs (especially the instrumentals) sound eerily similar to one another. At certain points in the disc, it was hard to know where one song ended and the next began. While the compositions are pretty, there is a lack of definition in most tracks. It appears as if the instrumentals are still trying to find their voice (no pun intended).
Overall Secret Weapon is a decent solo album from a great guitarist. While not the rip roaring rock record that was expected, one should applaud Howard Leese for trying new styles and showing off his different tastes in music. Blending classical, blues, jazz, and rock, Secret Weapon is a solid disc for fans looking to move beyond just rock and roll. For those that are seeking just the rock, download “Alive Again” and “Heal The Broken Hearted”.
Rating: Out of 10
- Alive Again (w/ guest vocals from Joe Lynn Turner)
- Heal The Broken Hearted (w/ guest vocals from Paul Rodgers)
- Hot To Cold (w/ guest vocals from Deanna Johnston and Joe Lynn Turner)
- French Quarter (Instrumental)
- 33 West Street (Instrumental)
- The South Summit (w/ guest vocals from Duke Fame)
- Rada’s Theme
- The Vine (w/ guest vocals from Jimi Jamison)
- In These Eyes (w/ guest vocals from Keith St. John)
- Vermilion Border
- I’ve Been Leavin’ You (w/ guest vocals from Andrew Black)
- Somewhere (Theme from West Side Story)