Heaven and Earth
2013 / Quarto Valley Records
Review by Michael Debbage
Guitarist Stuart Smith’s recording debut under the name Heaven & Earth was released over 15 years ago and was a very impressive self titled debut featuring an all star line up. Since then the recording output has been spotty at best but never questionable on quality. From the overlooked Windows To The World featuring former Baton Rouge vocalist Kelly Keeling, to the false start EP A Taste Of Heaven featuring vocalist Paul Shortino, almost one decade later Stuart Smith attempted to resurrect Heaven & Earth courtesy of their latest release Dig. This time the microphone is manned by the largely unknown Joe Retta but do not let that stop you from excavating for Dig as this is without a doubt Heaven & Earth’s most impressive and cohesive recording to date.
Despite the lapse in Heaven & Earth recordings, guitarist Stuart Smith has kept himself busy playing with Steve Priest’s Sweet line up but it was clear that any new studio recording was out of the question. Thus feeling stagnant, Smith felt compelled to revive Heaven & Earth and departed Sweet and borrowed his long time drummer Richie Onori as well as vocalist Joe Retta from the previously mentioned group. The Heaven & Earth lineup was rounded out with bassist Chuck Wright (formerly of Quiet Riot and House Of Lords) as well as Arlan Schierbaum on keyboards who was heavily featured on Window To The World. This is further emphasized here on Dig with Schierbaum focusing heavily on the Hammond organ much in the style of the late Jon Lord only to bring an even deeper shade of Purple to their musical style.
Dig pounces on you immediately with the impressive opener “Victorious” with a wonderful Middle Eastern mystical motif of orchestration, keyboards and guitars that then explode into a mid tempo riff with the rhythm section driving this blazer. This does not stop the double time mid section with Smith shredding his guitar only to return to the original mid tempo rhythm. What sweet transitions and mood changers. If you like your rock and roll a little more direct and faster check out the driving “Man & Machine” that also features the world famous talk box and slide work of former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. If this suits you then skip forward to “Back In Anger” where there is some classic Smith-Schierbaum guitar and keyboard bantering.
The above tracks are complimented throughout the album with the more reflective material such as the Foreigner influenced mid tempo ballad “I Don’t Know What Love Is” or the more unusual “A Day Like Today” that even features Retta on flute. This is followed up with the compelling percussion driven “Good Times” that should be a great live track only to close the album out with the reflective and inspiring “Live As One” that even features a choir.
While Heaven & Earth proudly fly high the Classic Rock flag and create music that is very familiar, they are also willing to take some calculated risks that results in a very convincing recording that is impeccably produced and well arranged. Fans of Classic Rock will certainly dig Heaven & Earth’s latest triumph that is without a doubt their best recording to date.
September 8, 2013