MR. BIG
"…The Stories We Could Tell"

(Frontiers)

01. Gotta Love the Ride
02. I Forget to Breathe
03. Fragile
04. Satisfied
05. The Man Who Has Everything
06. The Monster in Me
07. What If We Were New
08. Eastwest
09. The Light of Day
10. Just Let Your Heart Decide
11. It's Always About That Girl
12. Cinderella Smile
13. The Stories We Could Tell

RATING: 8/10

MR. BIG fans have been rejoicing by the group's steady output of albums since the 2008 one-off reunion featuring Paul Gilbert and his band mates including one-time guitarist Richie Kotzen. MR. BIG is only blowing up the charts in Japan and other ports overseas, but that doesn't stop them from releasing quality albums as if their standing in the American music market depends on it.

Pat Torpey was unable to perform on "…The Stories We Could Tell" due to a recent diagnosis of Parkinson's, though he reportedly worked with a programmer for the album. Meanwhile, Ace Frehley's former drummer Matt Starr has been recruited to take over for Torpey on tour.

MR. BIG works here with producer Pat Regan who last helmed their 1999 album, "Get Over It". Like most hang-about hard rock bands of their generation, MR. BIG's latest album, "…The Stories We Could Tell", is unapologetically rooted in the Eighties, but its conveyance into the now is undeniably appealing. Eric Martin gently vexes "Every song playing on the radio never did tell me something I should know" on "It's Always About That Girl", and it's a shared Gen X sentiment to be coddled and nurtured by the feel good vibe of "…The Stories We Could Tell".

"Gotta Love the Ride" is a poke-along anthem that stands tall with Paul Gilbert's blaring guitar pulls and Billy Sheehan's trotting bass lines. The intro is pushed big and loud like the clock has been turned back, while there's a sage caution to the song that gives Eric Martin the room to vocally elbow his way in. There's a slight shaking off of some rust to his delivery on this track, but there's no questioning the desire behind it. His screech out of Paul Gilbert's guitar solo is on-the-dime and ardent. For that matter, Gilbert's solo hits an apex where it's safe to assume MR. BIG's recording studio suffered at least a hairline crack in the plaster.

The energetic and funky "I Forget to Breathe" is a killer cut where everyone pumps from their stations behind the slamming rhythm. Eric Martin huffs with glee while Sheehan and Gilbert hit superb riffs to punctuate the pounding groove of the song. "Fragile" then slinks along as a moderated pop rock number on the verses, leading up to sentimental choruses which Eric Martin fields with sensitivity. Opting for a shucking blues groove on "Satisfied", Sheehan and Gilbert bellow a stout intro as the song slips into a mid-tempo bang, giving Eric Martin a hefty playground to frolic his pipes over. He sounds like he's having a blast on this cut (along with the countrified rawk blaster "What If We Were New"), letting himself hang loose in spots while tightening up in others.

The acoustic ballad "The Man Who Has Everything" is a sweet bit of ear candy as Eric Martin and Paul Gilbert seem to be singing to each other amidst the synths and Billy Sheehan's laidback gullies digging behind them. Another acoustic-led ditty, "Eastwest", carries a nod back to hard rock heaven of yesteryear, coming off like a roundup of everything from Eighties HEART to TESLA. Some dreamy backing vocals fortifies Eric Martin's wayback wanderlust. Another ballad, "Just Let Your Heart Decide", is self-explanatory in title.

If you're coming to "…The Stories We Could Tell" with the hopes of hearing some Billy Sheehan outbursts, you finally get one on the pimp striding "The Monster in Me" as Sheehan and Gilbertdance together, note-for-note amidst a tough beat. Gilbert's wah-kissed solo is as groovy as the hammered-down riffs he and Sheehan dump into the cut, as are their condensed volume jacked into the title track. You'll also hear Sheehan panting like horny lion behind Gilbert on "The Light of Day" and, of course, he drops a few rumbling bass scales during transitions on a few tracks.

Otherwise, you might as well veer back to the first couple MR. BIG albums if you're in dire need of a Sheehan fix, "Addicted to that Rush" specifically. Or you can trip on TALAS, NIACIN, Sheehan's fantastic solo records or the David Lee Roth days. On this album, Eric Martin and Paul Gilbert are the showcases while Sheehan modestly plugs his fills and keeps the album humming. At the end of the day in 2014, that's all anybody should expect from MR. BIG.

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