Heaven And Earth has been around since the 1990s, releasing two albums (a self-titled debut in 1998, and “Windows To The World” in 2001), one EP (Taste Of Heaven in 2006), and a DVD (Making of Heaven And Earth in 2007). The lineup has shifted over the years, but founding member and guitarist Stuart Smith has been around throughout. On “Dig” he’s joined by Joe Retta (formerly of Sweet) on vocals, Chuck Wright (known from Quiet Riot) on bass, Richie Onori on drums, and Arlan Schierbaum on the Hammond organ.
These guys certainly have some serious musical chops, and “Dig” comes loaded with some very well-crafted melodic hard rock, decked out with fine touches of classic rock, and melodic rock as well. A quick look at the list of guest musicians hints at some of the band’s influences, for example, there’s Howard Leese (Heart), David Paich (Toto) and Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi). Several tunes also bring Deep Purple to mind, and not just because of that Hammond organ – there’s just an attractive 1970s sensibility to the music, infusing all that hard rock with a lot of groove and blues.
You get the feel for that 70s-vibe right away on opening track “Victorious”, a rousing rocker that feels like an epic battle hymn, with a melody that swings and grooves with Schierbaum’s terrific organ playing. It’s one of the album’s best tracks, showing off Stuart’s huge and skillful guitar work, the power of the rhythm section, and Retta’s strong and impressive rock’n’roll pipes.
Second track “No Money, No Love” is a great hot and heavy rocker, and the band revs its hard-rocking engine again on the speeding “Man & Machine” with some serious rock’n’roll howls, and beautifully heavy drums.
Other standouts include the passionately bluesy “House of Blues” with excellent vocals and dazzling guitar work; and the riffy and groovy “Back In Anger”, touching on some of the doomsday news currently making headlines. My favorite tune on the album is probably the dark and evocative “Sexual Insanity” which switches easily and effectively between slow and smoldering heat, and hard-driving, hard-rocking passion.
While I prefer Heaven And Earth’s heavier tunes, there are some good ballads here too. The best of the bunch is “I Don’t Know What Love Is” – the kind of tune that tugs at your heartstrings with a gorgeous acoustic intro, and tender vocals. “Waiting For The End Of The World” is a keeper as well – it has a folk-rock tone, starting out with some softer vocals before the band fires up and reveals the tunes heavy rocking heart.
A couple of the ballads towards the end are a bit too soft for my liking, but this is still a solid and inspired album. Fans of melodic hard rock and classic rock will definitely find lots to love here.
|About Heaven and Earth:|
| Taking up from where iconic bands like Deep Purple and Bad Company have left off, Heaven & Earth is on a mission to resurrect the sanctity of classic rock to its purist, most accessible form. Heaven & Earth fuses elements of hard rock, blues, even bits of classical, to create a potent blend of high-powered anthems, melodic rockers and introspective ballads that evoke the spirit of a magical era.
Tapping into the methodology and madness of old-school rock with a new-school attitude, Heaven & Earth are shaking their classic rock roots down to the very core on their newest effort, Dig (Quarto Valley Records). The album, produced by Dave Jenkins — who’s turned the knobs for everyone from Metallica to Tower of Power — and scheduled for an April 2013 release, features guitarist Stuart Smith, singer Joe Retta, bassist Chuck Wright, drummer Richie Onori and keyboardist Arlan Schierbaum, along with special guests Howard Leese (Heart, Paul Rodgers) and David Paich (Toto) and Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi).
As the band’s founder and visionary, Smith says Dig is “the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
The origins of Heaven & Earth align the guitarist with a rich lineage of rock’s most celebrated musicians. Kelly Hansen (Foreigner), Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow) and Kelly Keeling (King Kobra) all fronted the band at various junctures. Guitarist Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), singer and bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Country Communion), and drummer Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge) have each contributed their extraordinary talents to the music of Heaven & Earth.
Early in his career, Smith distinguished himself by making the acquaintance of Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, who mentored the up-and-coming musician. “I’m probably one of the few people in the world who grew up with a poster of someone on their wall, ended up meeting them, becoming friends with them, and getting mentored by them,” Smith notes. “I feel I owe everything I do to Ritchie. He taught me a lot about the guitar.”
Heeding Blackmore’s advice, he migrated to New York and after three years jamming around Manhattan and Long Island, headed west to Los Angeles, where he’s been ever since. Smith established himself as an in-demand guitarist in L.A., playing countless sessions and joining up with other British expats like Keith Emerson and Sweet. Around the same time, Heaven & Earth was conceived as a side project, something to cultivate Smith’s creative juices between stints working with others.
A few false starts and random gigs in, he recruited Richie Onori and singer Kelly Hansen to record the first album, Heaven & Earth Featuring Stuart Smith. He also invited along a few heavy friends like Richie Sambora, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes, Carmine Appice, Howard Leese, Chuck Wright, Arlan Schierbaum, Robbie Wykoff and many more to appear on the record.
Windows to the World, produced by Howard Leese, followed in 2000 and featured Onori, Wright, Schierbaum and singer Kelly Keeling. Four years later, when Smith and Onori started their own label, Black Star Records, to reissue the first Heaven & Earth CD, they recorded a four-song EP called A Taste of Heaven with Paul Shortino handling the vocals.
Joe Retta entered the picture when he joined Sweet in 2008. “I wanted to write and record new music and so did Stuart,” the singer recalls. “We discovered eventually that Sweet did not.” Smith adds, “After touring with him in Sweet and recording with him in the studio, there was no other choice. Everyone else was second best.”
In the summer of 2012, the guitarist tendered his resignation to Sweet bassist Steve Priest and set out to mold Heaven & Earth into a world-class recording and touring band. Having Retta, Onori, Wright and Schierbaum committed and on board, Smith says Heaven & Earth is now a “real band,” ready to unleash its unique brand of classic rock upon an unsuspecting public.
Dig is very much a collaborative effort. Quarto Valley Records has been integral in allowing the band to develop and nurture the album without pressure.
“We are incredibly lucky to have Quarto Valley Records president, Bruce Quarto behind this project,” Smith says. “He told us from the very beginning that he didn’t care how long it took or how much it cost. If we come out of the studio and feel we could have done better, he wants us to go back in and do it again. We’ve been able to take our time crafting the songs. It’s very rare to have that kind of support and belief in what you’re doing.”
A good portion of the music on Dig was brought to the band by Smith. He came up with riffs and the band worked up songs as Retta wrote vocal melodies and lyrics. On one occasion, Smith and Retta went on a hike and discussed the idea of putting together a song in the vein of a Rainbow classic co-written by their friend Ronnie James Dio.
“We both played at his memorial service,” Smith recalls. “I thought we needed a song like ‘Long Live Rock N’ Roll.’ But instead of saying society hasn’t saved me, the church hasn’t saved me, school hasn’t saved me, religion and politics haven’t saved me… rock and roll has. So we wrote a song called ‘Rock ‘n Roll Does.’ That was a turning point of the album.”
The music just kept coming. Smith might throw out a title or a concept for Retta to run with, or the singer might have an idea to develop on his own. Or they may turn to the other band members for input — especially Wright, whom Smith describes as a “great part writer.” The bassist known for working with rock music icons, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Greg Allman, Gene Simmons and Slash concurs, “Stuart brought in a riff that had a real Middle Eastern flavor, and I jumped right in with a lot of parts that basically rounded out the song.”
That song is “Victorious,” one of the more intense and heavier tracks on Dig — mightily driven by a surly, dominant guitar line, magnificently sustained by Schierbaum’s inimitable swipes at the keys. “He’s the most amazing Hammond player I’ve ever seen in my life,” Smith raves. Quite an impressive endorsement from someone who was in a band with Keith Emerson.
Where does the inspiration come for such an epic piece? Retta says “Victorious” was originally called “Arabia.” He and Smith decided the lyrics should appeal to a wider audience, so they went back to the drawing board and recast the song. “The music feels violent to me,” the singer explains. “The ‘Arabia’ version gave me visions of men at war on horseback in the desert. It was already about battle. So a transition to the pre-battle scenario that you hear now is more natural.”
According to Smith, when work began on Dig, he had just gone through a nasty breakup, which set a dark tone for the first few tunes. “Back In Anger,” “No Money No Love” and “I Don’t Know What Love Is Anymore” all reflect the emotions the guitarist was experiencing.
As work progressed, Smith’s mood started to lighten, which affected the direction of the music. For the final number, the uplifting “Live As One,” a choir was added to sweeten the melody, ending the record on an extremely high and positive note.
Dark to light, hair-raising rockers to intense ballads and all things in between — Smith believes the diversity of material on Dig is inherent even in the Heaven & Earth moniker. “I think it sums up the music,” he says.
“Dig is very different from the first album I was involved with,” Wright adds. “That first album was more of a Stuart Smith solo record. This one is truly a band effort.”
All the backing tracks on Dig were recorded at Ocean Studios in Burbank, California, and all the overdubs were done at the band’s own Wine Cellar Studios in Woodland Hills, California. To further refine the record’s sonic reach, Jenkins used a Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor (CLASP), a device that integrates real analog tape recording into digital tools like Pro Tools to create a warm and vintage sound. Both Van Halen and Aerosmith enlisted a CLASP on their most recent albums.
In the same tradition, Heaven & Earth brought in photographer/creative director Glen Wexler to create the cover art for Dig. Wexler has shot and designed over 300 album covers, including records by Van Halen, Black Sabbath and ZZ Top. He’s also directing the music videos for Dig, planned for release in January 2013.
The future has never looked brighter for Heaven & Earth. After years of stopping and starting, adjusting and shifting, Smith feels his time has come. “Everything sort of fell into place for this — the songs, the players, even the old-school approach to recording. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Heaven & Earth brought home the ‘Best In Rock’ Award at this year’s Hollywood Music In Media Awards
Heaven & Earth have been nominated for two awards at the “Hollywood Music in Media Awards Show” at the Fonda Theater on Thursday, November 21st. One is for “No Money, No Love” and the other is for “I Don’t Know What Love Is”. Heaven & Earth will also be performing a live song the night of the show.
Tickets are available to the public from the event’s website at: http://www.hmmawards.org
On a typical end-of-summer warm evening in the San Fernando Valley, I went to check out a band I’d never seen before, playing in a venue I’d never visited. Walking into The Canyon Club in Agoura was like entering a cavernous den from yesteryear. With its dark wood beams and paneling, the floors swaddled in Persian rugs, it felt as if I were stepping into a time machine that took me back to the ’70s of Led Zeppelin. It seemed like the perfect place to see this band Heaven & Earth for the first time.
The five-piece ensemble took the stage with a strong commanding artistry, opening with the Arabic-influenced “Victorious.” I was standing further from the stage when they first began and initially thought there were two guitars playing in unison. As I got closer, I found it was actually the sound of the Stuart Smith’s guitar meshed with keyboards by Arlan Schierbaum. This was a great opening song—very powerful and intricate, almost classical sounding, but melodic and hooky which seemed to promise the audience they were in for an epic, eventful show.
The first thing I observed about the musicians was their stage presence and obvious comfort in their realm. Singer Joe Retta pranced around like a proud, scarf-wearing rooster. His strong, unfaltering vocals projected into the space like a 30-year-old David Coverdale. Smith’s stance and ease in precision of his guitar playing brought me back to memories of a young Brian May playing Wembley Stadium back in the day. On bass, the creative Tony Franklin held down a very tight rhythm section along with drummer Richie Onori. The awesome, gum- chewing Onori played the obligatory drum solo in the middle of the set, but kept it fresh and entertaining. Throughout the show, Schierbaum’s Deep Purplesque keyboards added a dark, but lovely, sonic element to the entire vibe of the band.
Early into the set, Heaven & Earth kept the energy up on “Back in Anger,” another fast paced, classically influenced song meshed with hard rock riffs. On “No Money, No Love,” they held a more straightforward groove, once again utilizing catchy guitar hooks through the duration of the song.
Retta picked up a rhythm guitar on “Man & Machine,” a song with a great vocal melody and chorus. This was the first instrument the multi-talented vocalist would take advantage of during their set. Smith also added a talk box while playing his guitar to great effect. From that point on, Retta had many tricks up his sleeve, capably playing slide on rhythm guitar, bongos and a bluesy harmonica. At one point, Franklin used effects and tuning techniques to showcase a unique bass solo, which made his instrument sound almost hornlike.
The multitude of instruments from various band members created an interesting variety all through the show.
In a more low-key moment, Smith picked up an acoustic guitar for the romantic “I Don’t Know What Love Is.” The band then introduced four back-up singers from the acclaimed Agape International Choir. This was a smart and powerful choice, as their rich voices added a soulful depth and angelic clarity to the music.
From start to finish, the venue was about half full, but felt ripe with very enthusiastic fans. Mostly stocked with middle-aged rockers, there were plenty of long blonde weaves and skinny jeans rockin’ the room. People were dancing, drinking, snapping photos and generally having a great time taking in and swaying to the music.
Closing the show, the Agape International Choir joined Heaven & Earth once again for a fun rendition of the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” and Deep Purple’s first big hit “Hush.” With Schierbaum’s keys in the forefront, it was clear how much influence Deep Purple had on the band.
There is something to be said for skillful, experienced performers who make playing very intricate music look as effortless as drinking water… Or whiskey in a Persian-rug-filled venue in The Valley, as the case may be.
Stuart Smith with Agape Choir
Heaven & Earth was founded in the ’90s by Smith, and longtime bassist Chuck Wright joined the band in the 2000s. Wright recently left the band, saying, “It was a mutual split. Breaking a new band is also very discouraging. This business has changed so much. No one cares, no one buys CDs anymore, no matter how great all the reviews are or having a million views on YouTube. It’s sad really.”
Musicians have seen a drastic change in how music is marketed and how the music business runs. It’s just frustrating to see such a talented, ambitious group struggle to find their way to the masses when everyone should know them. Seek out Heaven & Earth, if you can.
Tickets are available for all 3 days now at: www.melodicrockfest.com
Heaven & Earth will be playing The Canyon Club in Agoura on Saturday, September 21st.
Opening act is The Shoemaker Brothers who go on at 8.30. Heaven & Earth take the stage at 9.30.
Tickets are $19.95 but we will have a $5.00 discount ticket list. To get on this list please drop an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Look forward to seeing you all there on what we hope will be an amazing night.
Heaven & Earth’s new album, Dig, celebrates the sound of iconic ’70s rock music, a time when rock was at what some consider its purist, most accessible form.
Originally an all-star project for guitarist Stuart Smith, Heaven & Earth has since evolved into a full band that includes Joe Retta (vocals), Chuck Wright (bass), Richie Onori (drums) and Arlan Schierbaum (keyboards).
Picking up where iconic bands like Deep Purple and Bad Company left off, Heaven & Earth are on a mission to resurrect the sanctity — or lat least the sound — of classic rock.
I recently spoke with Smith and Wright about the new album, their gear and more.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this album come together?
WRIGHT: Stuart called me and told me he was doing a new Heaven & Earth record and asked if I wanted to take part. I had played on the other Heaven & Earth albums, but those were more like solo records for Stuart, with a lot of guest stars on them. For this one, he wanted us all to get together in a room and hash things out. Get a real band sound going and do it for real. So we partnered up and came together as a band.
SMITH: Joe Retta [vocals] and I have been playing in Sweet for a while. He has such an amazing voice and reminds me of a young Paul Rodgers. Chuck is such a great bassist and also an amazing writer.
How would you describe the sound of Dig?
SMITH: It’s a very ’70s-sounding album; it’s a period we all came from and can relate to. We really spent a lot of time crafting the songs to bring some of the “new” classic rock sound back to the forefront. It’s become our mission statement. Chuck was the one who said it best: “It’s something that has been buried for far too long!”
Let’s discuss the origin of the song “No Money, No Love.”
SMITH: I had just gone through a breakup in a relationship and remember having all of these emotions when I came up with the title and riff. It was from personal experience.
How did you come up with the concept for the video?
WRIGHT: We all got together with our creative director, Glen Wexler (Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Black Sabbath). He’s known for creating situations that are both unusual and wonderful. That’s how we came up with the album cover and the idea of a Stratocaster being pulled out of the ground. It really represented bringing back rock and roll to us.
For the video, Glen brought in the idea after we had discussed a few others. It takes place in a Victorian bordello where the female character has to choose between love and money. In the end, she chooses money and winds up being suffocated by it. It’s a storyline we’ll be keeping throughout our videos; a couple that can never connect, through time.
When did you both start playing?
SMITH: My father was a jet fighter pilot who lived on the base. When I was 7, someone he knew was being transferred overseas and had a Spanish guitar hanging on their wall. He asked my dad if he thought I’d like it. So my father got me the guitar and gave me classical lessons. I played for several years, never really having any interest in rock music.
Then one night, I got dragged by some friends of my parents to a Deep Purple concert. Suddenly, I saw this guy all dressed in black come running up to the end of the stage and start tearing up these incredible classical runs with such emotion and volume that it just blew me away. I instantly became a huge fan, and that was what turned me on to rock music and bands like Free and Black Sabbath. Years later, I met Ritchie [Blackmore], and we became friends and he mentored me. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. He’s the best in the world.
WRIGHT: I started when I was 14. I was in military school for almost nine years, and my first gig was at a fraternity party. I made $75 that night, drank my first beer and remember all the girls said I was cute. That was when I told my mom, “I think I want to do this instead of military school!” [laughs].
Stuart, what’s your current setup like?
SMITH I like to use old ’70s Strats with the big headstocks. I modify them quite a bit including having the necks slightly scalped, which is Richie’s idea. I’ve also been using a Marshall Major, which is one of Richie’s old amps he gave me.
What satisfies you the most about Dig and Heaven & Earth?
SMITH: The biggest satisfaction for me is that it’s a band, and I’m really looking forward to getting this group out on the road and touring.
WRIGHT: We tried to go for a very analog, ’70s rock sound with polish. It’s definitely an old-school record. I like to say it’s one of those albums you’d discover deep within the vaults at Atlantic Records. One that was recorded way back then that no one had ever had a chance to listen to, until now!
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website,GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.