Michael Schenker/Michael Schenker Group: Gary Barden (vocals); Don Airy (keyboards); Neil Murray (bass guitar); Simon Phillips (drums).
Personnel: Michael Schenker (guitar); Don Airey (keyboards).
Audio Mixers: Siggi Schwarz; Romi Schickle.
Recording information: Phantom Recordings, Sherman Oaks, CA; Studio Neu-Ulm, Germany.
Few rock guitarists are as talented Michael Schenker, yet he hasn't enjoyed the mainstream success he richly deserves. Maddening personal and business problems have weighed him down for most of his career. He joined Scorpions as a teenager before serving a turbulent stint in UFO that still managed to produce a handful of classic '70s hard rock albums -- all of which should have been big hits. The Michael Schenker Group and then the McAuley Schenker Group/MSG with vocalist Robin McAuley became slicker-sounding solo vehicles for the German axe slinger, but widespread fame remained just out of reach. A few reunions with UFO were short-lived. In 2008, Schenker and original Michael Schenker Group vocalist Gary Barden revived the band and released In the Midst of Beauty under the moniker MSG Schenker-Barden. They are joined on the album by three highly respected veterans: keyboardist Don Airey (Rainbow, Deep Purple), bass guitarist Neil Murray (Whitesnake), and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto). Make no mistake, they are literally supporting players and this is Schenker and Barden's show. In the Midst of Beauty is a no-frills hard rock album made by musicians who helped define and refine the genre. The in-your-face production showcases Schenker's jaw-dropping guitar work and Barden's throaty, lived-in voice. Schenker is revered by guitar fanatics for his rich tone and fast, fluidly precise attack, and on In the Midst of Beauty the tone is grittier and a little more distorted than his earlier work. This gives the songs a more modern edge. "City Lights" and "I Want You" are straight-up rockers. The fast and furious "Competition" rumbles with punk-like energy. "The Cross of Crosses" thunders along as Barden's ambitious lyrics bubble with religious imagery. "Na Na" relies on a midtempo groove and a catchy chorus. "Summerdays" is the most complex and nuanced song on the album as Schenker weaves sweet acoustic lines with his signature electric style. The arrangement of "Ride on My Way" changes throughout while showing flashes of pop that hint at Schenker's radio-aimed '80s and early-'90s efforts. In the Midst of Beauty isn't revolutionary, but it does enjoyably spotlight the incredible talents of old pros who still have fire in their bellies. ~ Bret Adams