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Joel Hoekstra Releases Lively Melodic Rock Album
"Crash of Life" has a new vocalist, but still has all the hallmarks of previous Joel Hoekstra's 13 albums.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. I’ve found that if I’m patient enough, sometimes an artist I’ve been wanting to talk to for years becomes available, and that was the case with Joel Hoekstra. The guitarist for Whitesnake since 2014, and also a member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Revolution Saints, and Iconic, Hoekstra caught my attention when he replaced Jeff Watson’s replacement, Reb Beach, in Night Ranger.
Hoekstra can shred toe-to-toe with the best guitarists but he can also play with feeling, which is a rare combination. It’s what drew me to his music, and his own solo project, Joel Hoekstra’s 13, is about to release its third album, Crash of Life, on June 16. This gave me the opportunity to talk to Joel about as many topics as I could cram into about half an hour — a little more, actually, as we had some connectivity hiccups on our Zoom call.
Let’s get to that story.
Joel Hoekstra has been in some huge bands, toured with some of the biggest names in music (including Cher), and has recorded with the best of the best. However, the guitarist doesn’t only want to be remembered for the various jobs he’s managed to land in the music industry. Hoekstra also wanted to leave behind a musical legacy of his own that goes beyond the music he’s played live and the albums he’s recorded with the likes of Whitesnake, Night Ranger, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
So, despite the fact that he stays as busy as virtually any musician on the planet, he started his own project, Joel Hoekstra’s 13, to showcase his own songs.
“I put this stuff out mainly as an artistic statement, like part of my legacy if you will, not to be too self-important,” Hoekstra said of the music he makes with JH13. “It would be nice to be known as a guy who had more than some cool gigs. It’s good to have your own music out and have your own artistic statements out there. So, that’s what the albums are for me.”
The sound of the band starts with the songs Joel writes, but then come out of the musicians he chose to work with. The project started at a time when he felt ready to pursue his longstanding goal of creating the kind of music that got him interested in rock music to begin with.
“(The sound is) kind of based around the personnel,” he said. “I mean, the idea of doing a rock record was because my instrumental albums were kind of before things took off for me in the 80s resurgence, so I was kind of making what I guess you could call rock fusion instrumental albums, and then an acoustic album that was all instrumental — almost what you could describe as easy listening. And then, when everything started to take off — joining Night Ranger, having (Broadway show) Rock of Ages, TSO, Whitesnake — all the fans who researched the solo albums were like, ‘What gives? How come you don’t have any rock records out?’
“I was like, ‘I guess it’s time for me to start doing that,’ because I’d always wanted to. I gave it a project name, because I wanted it to sound like a band more than like a guitar album. I wanted albums that were about the songs and the stuff that got me into that style of music.”
Hoekstra writes the lyrics, vocal melodies, and music, then records everything on demos that he distributes to the band. The other musicians come up with their ideas that fit what the songs need.
“The guys get to play whatever they want on it in terms of how they interpret things,” Hoekstra said. “But if you’re going to call a band a band, you’ve got to write with people, and I kind of wanted an opportunity to just have it be my stuff. And that’s what these albums are.”
The band, or project (or whatever you choose to call it), is set to release its third album on June 16. Stylistically, it follows logically from the first two Joel Hoekstra’s 13 albums — Dying to Live (2015) and Running Games (2021) — but there’s a key difference. The band has a new lead vocalist on Crash of Life.
As one would expect from the incredible array of talent Joel has worked with and become friends with over the years, Joel Hoekstra’s 13 has a monster lineup, including:
Joel Hoekstra - guitar, backing vocals
Vinny Appice (ex-Dio, ex-Heaven & Hell, ex-Black Sabbath) — drums
Tony Franklin (ex-Blue Murder, ex-The Firm, ex-Whitesnake) — bass
Derek Sherinian (Sons of Apollo, Black Country Communion, Planet X, ex-Dream Theater) — keyboards
Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, W.E.T., ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) — backing vocals
As for the lead singer, there’s a new voice on the microphone. Replacing the incredible Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, Allen-Lande, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) is Girish Pradhan, who also fronts his own excellent up-and-coming band, Girish and the Chronicles.
Despite Pradhan stepping in for Allen, the changes aren’t overwhelming, which can sometimes happen when a lead singer is replaced. Although Pradhan has a higher range than Allen, he can also deliver a soulful or gritty lead vocal in a lower register, which he does often throughout Crash of Life. The transition from Allen to Pradhan is far less jarring than I expected it to be.
“Girish is definitely world class, and so is Russ,” Hoekstra said. “As long as the album quality is there for me, and (the singing) fits in the vein of the style, I didn’t want to have a total departure and have the record come out completely different than Running Games.”
Hoekstra describes the music as “Ronnie James Dio on the heavy side and Lou Gramm/Paul Rodgers on the mellower side.” That’s a fair description, but it doesn’t cover everything. There are a ton of influences melded together on Joel Hoekstra 13 records, and that didn’t change on the new one.
The group created a dozen new songs for Crash of Life, clocking in at just under an hour’s worth of new music. Hoekstra’s songs are full of influences from other bands, giving them a familiar feel but without copying anything. Instead of hearing a riff and thinking it was something lifted from one particular song, I hear things that are fused together, such as a guitar part that sounds like Queensryche and Scorpions collided.
The album takes off right away with the uptempo “Everybody Knows Everything,” and closes with a stylistic left turn on “Through the Night,” which is a departure from most of the previous 11 tracks. There are a couple of ballads thrown in but these are also not typical of the style, in that they take some turns along the way. Mainly, it’s a good melodic rock album.
Crash of Life contains a mashup of influences in the rock genre, but consists mainly of a hybrid mixture of classic rock, AOR, and metal. Hoekstra and Sherinian play well off of each other, providing tasteful solos, and the arrangements are tight and well-crafted. Appice and Franklin make a formidable rhythm section that should be the envy of just about any rock band working today.
Pradhan does a superb job of picking up where Allen left off as lead vocalist, but his own personality and style are obvious, even if he tries to stay stylistically close to what Allen put down on previous Joel Hoekstra’s 13 albums and to the vocals Hoekstra put down on the demos. To top it all off, having someone of Jeff Scott Soto’s caliber on backing vocals is, as Hoekstra says, “a luxury.” His contributions add a lot of polish and depth to the songs.
There are no bad tracks on Crash of Life, but some stand out more than others. The first two singles, “Far Too Deep,” and “Torn Into Lies,” are worthy choices, and the latter is a favorite of mine from this release. I also gravitated toward “Not Tonight” and the title track.
In any given song you might hear a splash of Dokken or a hint of Whitesnake, or possibly some Black Sabbath creeping through, and that’s good. That’s what Hoekstra was going for.
“I like that on this record a lot of my influences are present,” Joel said. “I can almost go riff by riff or moment to moment in a solo and tell you ‘thats’s where this comes from.’ It’s fun for me to have the record reflect a lot of that rather than have 11 or 12 songs that sound the same.”
This release is certainly something I’d recommend to fans of melodic rock. It’s available to preorder at the Frontiers web shop and Amazon, and the two singles are up on all the streaming sites.
Everybody Knows Everything
Crash Of Life
Torn Into Lies
Far Too Deep
I Would Cry For Love
Don't Have Words
Find A Way
You're Right For Me
Through The Night
Learn more about Joel Hoekstra, his music, and the amazing list of people he’s recorded or toured with at joelhoekstra.com.
To see my complete interview with Joel, minus a few small bits that were chopped because of the quality of the stream, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 109 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. Joel talked a bit about his musical beginnings, how he became a member of Night Rangers, TSO, Whitesnake, Revolution Saints, and Iconic, what it was like playing on Broadway in Rock of Ages (and making a cameo in the motion picture), touring as Cher’s guitarist, his approach to the music of Joel Hoekstra’s 13, and more. Big thanks to Joel for putting up with our connectivity issues, which were the worst I’ve experienced in quite some time, but it was worth putting up with them to have this discussion.
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