Reviewed: April 2021
Released: February 2021, Frontiers Music
Reviewer: Buddy H
There’s nothing like sitting down with a new album of good old-fashioned guitar driven melodic hard rock. It gets the blood and fists pumping and supplies the perfect highway soundtrack for any road trip! Joel Hoekstra, the criminally underrated Whitesnake and Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist, returns with the sophomore effort from his side project, Joel Hoekstra’s 13. One would expect the guitars to be the focus on any album with the guitarist’s name in the name of the band itself (Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force anyone?). That would be a foolish assumption here as there is so much more to RUNNING GAMES.
Joining Joel on this wonderfully indulgent slab of melodic hard rock goodness is an absolute all-star cast: Russell Allen from Symphony X on vocals, Derek Sherinian from Sons of Apollo and Dream Theater on keys, Tony Franklin from Blue Murder and The Firm on bass, Vinnie Appice from Dio on drums, and the smooth voiced Jeff Scott Soto from Sons of Apollo and W.E.T. on backing vocals. Wow, what an ensemble! The musical chemistry between these gentlemen is immediately on full display. It is evident that this is a true band effort and not just a mere side project to showcase Joel’s amazing guitar prowess.
The production is crystal clear, and each instrument sits exactly where it should in the final mix. The performances by all musicians are nothing short of virtuosic and everyone shines on every tune. The riffs, hooks and solos are masterfully crafted and dominate this album from start to finish. What really stands out is that this band has a sound all it’s own and doesn’t sound like any of the other acts that each member comes from. That in and of itself speaks to the mind-blowing talent assembled here for us. Allen and Soto’s vocals blend exquisitely, Franklin and Appice’s rhythm section is powerful and driving, and the interplay between Hoekstra’s guitar and Sherinian’s keys is breathtaking.
There is not a single weak song on this entire collection. My favorite tunes change each and every time I listen to RUNNING GAMES. Currently, “Take What’s Mine”, “Finish Line”, “I’m Gonna Lose It” and “Heart Attack” seem to be getting my attention the most. The solo work from Hoekstra and Sherinian on those particular songs is absolutely astonishing!
With RUNNING GAMES, Joel Hoekstra and company have gifted us superb melodic hard rock compositions with stellar vocals and musicianship throughout. I sincerely hope this release gets the recognition and accolades it deserves. We HAVE to do our part in supporting musicians like this. Check this out and spread the word!
1. Finish Line
2. I’m Gonna Lose It
3. Hard To Say Goodbye
4. How Do You
5. Heart Attack
7. Lonely Days
8. Reach The Sky
9. Cried Enough For You
10. Take What’s Mine
11. Running Games
Russell Allen – Lead Vocals
Joel Hoekstra – Lead and Rhythm Guitar
Derek Sherinian – Keys
Tony Franklin – Bass Guitar
Vinnie Appice – Drums
Jeff Scott Soto – Backing Vocals