R.E.O. (1976)

1. Keep Pushin' 2. Any Kind of Love 3. (Only a) Summer Love 4. (I Believe) Our Time is Gonna Come 5. Breakaway 6. Flying Turkey Trot 7. Tonight 8. Lightnin


Not to be confused with R.E.O. Speedwagon, which was their very first record. This album, I'm guessing, has a simple name with the first portion of the band's name in an attempt to re-brand the band. And re-branding was badly needed. These guys had essentially been going nowhere throughout the early part of their career, and things really had only gone from bad to worse in terms of quality. After having three different lead singers during this early phase of their career, they probably all looked at one another and came to the realization that their second singer, Kevin Cronin, was the best of the lot, and even though tempers flared a bit uncontrollably during that phase, it was decided to let bygones by bygones and bring him back in the fold.

And that was probably the best decision ever made by this band. They finally sound strong, determined, and Cronin not only had a bit of a unique signature sound to his voice, but his songwriting abilities were able to distinguish these guys from the muck of commonality that was out there in the mid seventies, and they now were able to stand out more. That's not to say that they were an overnight sensation by any means, but they were developing a reputation of a strong live act, and they would always be known by the mainstream even though the hits were still quite a few years away.

Back to Kevin Cronin. Witness the opening track Keep Pushin'. This was the first song by this band that didn't sound dated, always sounded fresh, and sounded like the version of the band that everyone would be familiar with in a few years. Proving the song was no one-hit abnormality of greatness, they follow with another track that's not as well known, but Any Kind of Love really is almost as strong, and listening to these two songs back to back make the listener realize that, yes, these guys have finally arrived.

Highlights on side 2 include the awesome Breakaway which probably could have climbed up the charts had the stars been aligned slightly differently, and Flying Turkey Trot is a nice little instrumental that allows Gary Richrath not to be out-shined too much by the new guy at the mike. The closing track, Lightning, pays homage in a weird way to the now most popular Ridin' the Storm Out, filled with analogies of wind, storms, and perseverance. There's enough differences, though, to make the track stand out on its own.

If there's any drawback on this record, it's that Neal Doughty seems to have fallen in love, or maybe just discovered, the synthesizer. It's really not needed here, and although, he never breaks into an embarrassing solo, the tracks are littered with this instrument providing fills all over the place, and you really wish that he would have just left it unplugged. Fortunately, when he plays the regular old piano, he sounds great just as always. The group still had some climbing to do, but it was nice to see them finally on the right track.

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