Joel Hoekstra\’s 13: Dying To Live review

Guitarist Joel Hoekstra has come on hard and heavy as of late. In just the past few years, Hoekstra has played on four Night Ranger albums, contributed to the latest Trans-Siberian Orchestra album as well as the Immortal Randy Rhoads tribute compilation and worked with Amy Lee of Evanescence on her solo album Aftermath. Not to mention his 3 solo albums and new gig as guitarist for Whitesnake, playing and touring behind their tribute to David Coverdale’s time with Deep Purple, The Purple Album. Never one to rest on his laurels, Hoekstra has just unleashed his fourth studio album and first for new label Frontiers Records Dying To Live under the moniker Joel Hoekstra’s 13. The number 13 has a special place in Hoekstra’s heart for several reasons and Dying To Live is an musical expression of that number’s significance. The album is a breathtaking tour de force jam packed with melodic hooks, soaring vocals and alluring rhythmic intensity. On top of his own phenomenal chops, Hoekstra has surrounded himself with some of the best musicians and singers the industry has to offer. People like drummer Vinny Appice, bassist Tony Franklin, keyboardist Derek Sherinian and vocalists Russell Allen and Jeff Scott Soto. Soto, who has lent his considerable talents to more bands and side projects than you can count sounds better than ever and tracks like “Until I Left You” and “Start Again,” which recall Soto’s time with the W.E.T., are some of the album’s true highlights. Meanwhile, killer cuts like “Scream,” which was the obvious choice for lead single and video and “The Only Way To Go” could have come right from Soto’s Damage Control or Inside The Vertigo albums. Then there are the stunning performances of Russell Allen. If you are a fan of Allen’s work with Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, Allen/Lande or his Chapter 10 project form earlier in 2015, then you’re going to love songs like “Say Goodbye To The Sun” and “Never Say Never” and if you like Lynch Mob, then you’re going really dig the tasty guitar grooves and Allen’s vocal delivery on “Anymore.” Elsewhere, “Long for the Days” and “Changes” are prime examples of why Hoekstra was chosen to fill the spot vacated by Doug Aldrich in Whitesnake, as they could have been on any of the albums in Whitesnake’s illustrious catalog. Saving the very best for last, “What We Believe” is a monster power ballad that contains a powerhouse duet with Jeff Scott Soto and Trans-Siberian orchestra vocalist Chloe Lowery to close the album in that epic T.S.O. tradition. Here’s the bottom line. If you are a fan of any of the aforementioned bands or hook laden melodic rock in general, Dying To Live is essential listening. Rating: 8.5 out of 10 -Eric Hunker