NEH Records: Crest of the Next Melodic Wave

(Appeared on May 7, 1998)

"I have to believe that the Melodic Rock genre is alive and well... It just can't go unnoticed - good music will always get attention." --Mike McPherson, NEH Records

Ever since grunge, songs on modern rock radio haven't had the crisp power chord production, commercial feel, sweet balladry, and lush vocal harmonies that they used to. These features define the hard-rocking genre called "Melodic Rock" -- associated with bands like Journey, Boston, Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, and all of L.A. circa 1980 -- but they aren't in rock anymore, now relegated to Country, Adult Contemporary and Christian Rock music. It may seem that Melodic Rock is extinct, but this currently vogue rock rejection will not endure. Europe and Asia have thriving Melodic Rock markets, and it has a future in the USA, too, no matter what Rolling Stone thinks. (Give it 10 years, tops.)

Colorado-based NEH Records and its founders, Bobby Barth and Mike McPherson, are ready for the future. McPherson got ready by keeping his musical side-career active while he worked as an aerospace engineer (even designing systems for the Hubble Space Telescope), and gaining experience in high-tech engineering and business management. Barth got ready for the future of music by helping to create it: As a founding member of hard rock heroes Axe and a one-time Blackfoot member, Barth has penned, performed, and produced great Melodic Rock since the 1970s. They met while working together on a recording of McPherson's and decided to become partners, forming NEH Records to promote Melodic Rock in America.

Barth's connection to Europe's premier Melodic Rock label, MTM Records, brought a wealth of music to NEH Records for US distribution. Despite the unsurpassed commercial songcraft of NEH/MTM music, major labels seem to think it would sink in the marketplace. Don't believe the complete lack of hype. Someday, it will do more than merely swim, it will fly. NEH is one of the sunniest lights ever to reach the windows of the Big Room, for reasons like these:

Axe -- _20 Years From Home_ (NEH/MTM, 1997)

Axe is again livin' on the edge with this offering, a nemesis of hard rock complacency consisting of classic tunes from their five previous albums, called "20 Years From Home." It is a guitar-fueled log of 14 cuts, many re-recorded especially for this album, showcasing the vocal harmonies, heavy guitar, and extraordinarily expressive instrumental arrangements of this tragically underappreciated band. Everything here flat-out rocks, from their catchy hit shout-along, "Rock And Roll Party (In The Streets)" to the slightly artsy metal of "Running The Gauntlet," the flowing hard pop of "Now Or Never," and the chugging blast of "Heat In The Street." Every track is a melodic winner in a style unlike any other band on this outstanding compilation for Classic Rock and Metal fans. Axe is a band with serious chops, and they seem poised to carve their niche in today's rock scene.

CITA -- _Relapse Of Reason_ (NEH, 1995)

Leaders of the New Melodic Wave, CITA practically defines Melodic Rock. "Relapse of Reason" is their consistently solid and sporadically spectacular debut, meshing hard rock with commercial shine on the catchy midtempo opener "Everytime (I Close My Eyes)," the solid riffing and cool key change of the title track, and the heavy pomp of "These Eyes." The performances are outstanding, Danny Martinez' vocals are in a league with anyone's, and highlight "Two Hearts" is a magnificent power ballad inexcusably ignored by radio.

In places, the album may be a bit too '80s sounding; for something less familiar sounding, you can ask for acts like Axe (those last five words sound good if someone from New York City says them) or Storming Heaven (see the accompanying sidebox). It remains a good reason to relapse, however, deserving the worldwide accolades it receives and establishing CITA as standard-bearers by which other Melodic Rock acts are now measured.

*****

As with other specialized labels, NEH/MTM has sampler CDs to introduce listeners to their artists. (Vol. 1 got me hooked.) NEH also has sound samples from almost *every song on the label* on their very informative website, ready to lead what McPherson calls "the musical revolution that is occurring as a direct result of the internet." Information awaits at http://www.nehrecords.com , by email at nehstaff@nehrecords.com, or by phone at (303) 652-0199.

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Eric Aaron actually fit a complete Axe discography in the first sentence of the review up there. He assures us that the people for whom MTM Records was named have nothing at all to do with Mary Tyler Moore. (NEH actually is named in honor of Bobby Barth's wife, in appreciation for all her patience and support -- the Big Room thanks you, too!)


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