A regular feature highlighting some of the best album releases each month. I don’t do album “reviews” – this is simply a personal recommendation to check out an album - just a few words about the albums that appeal to me and about the artists releasing them. These will also be albums from which I’ll have been playing tracks on the Friday NI Rocks Shows recently. This month it includes albums from Buckcherry, Jelly Roll, Extreme, Shakra, Gardner James, Agora, Kickhunter, Fifth Angel,  Joel Hoekstra's 13, Vypera and Sergeant Steel.


BUCKCHERRY – “Vol 10” – Earache 2nd June

“Vol 10”, as might be guessed, is the tenth studio album from Buckcherry and it was released on 2nd June through Earache Records. I had pre-ordered the clear vinyl version that came with a signed cover. There was a promo feature on the new album on the Friday NI Rocks Show on 2nd June that included the tracks “Shine Your Light”, “Let’s Get Wild” and “Good Time”. The latter track had also been included on the Show in March, whilst “Shine Your Light” had also featured on 14th May.


Buckcherry formed in California in 1995 and released two albums before splitting in 2002. They reformed in 2005 and the following year released their most recognised album, “15”, which included the hits “Crazy Bitch”, “Next 2 You” and “Sorry”. Another six studio albums followed between 2008 and 2021.


Singer Josh Todd is the only remaining original member of the band, although guitarist Stevie D. has been there since the band reformed in 2005. Guitarist Keith Nelson who had been part of the original line-up left the band in 2017 – he and Josh had been the only members of the initial line-up to remain when “15” had been released. The 2005 line-up also featured bass player Jimmy Ashhurst, who left in 2013 and was replaced by current member Kelly LeMieux, and drummer Xavier Muriel who left in 2017. The other members of the current line-up are guitarist Billy Rowe and drummer Francis Ruiz.


Website - https://buckcherry.com/



JELLY ROLL – “Whitsitt Chapel” – BMG 2nd June

I hadn’t heard of singer Jelly Roll until AC Promotions sent me the single “Need A Favor” in May. I liked it so much that I went and pre-ordered “Whitsitt Chapel” on lava vinyl from his website. The album itself was released by BBR Music Group, which is part of BMG, on 2nd June. There was a promo feature for the new album on the Friday NI Rocks Show on 9th June which included the tracks “She” and “Save Me”. The single “Need A Favor” was featured on 12th May.


Jelly Roll (real name, Jason Bradley DeFord) is from Tennessee and between 2002 and 2020 he had a career as a hip hop artist. In 2021 he released his first album with a major label and this marked a cross into rock / country music. The single “Dead Man Walking” was number one in the US rock charts whilst “Son of a Sinner” topped the US country charts and entered the Billboard top 40. It also won him three awards at the CMT Music Awards in 2023. Those successes led to the development of that rock / country mix on the latest album “Whitsitt Chapel”.


The album includes collaborations with country singers Brantley Gilbert and Lainey Wilson and rappers Struggle Jennings and Yelawolf.


Website - https://jellyroll615.com/




EXTREME – “Six” – earMusic 9th June

“Six” is (not surprisingly, probably) the sixth studio album from Extreme, and it was released on 9th June by earMusic on 9th June; some fifteen years on from their last studio album. I had pre-ordered the red and black marbled vinyl version from the label’s website. There was a promo feature for the new album on the Friday NI Rocks Show on 2nd June, alongside the tracks “Rise” and “#Rebel”. The latter track had already featured on 21st April whilst “Bashee” was included on 28th April and “The Mask” on 16th June.


Extreme formed in 1985 and released their self-titled debut album in 1989, but it was their second album, “Extreme II : Pornograffitti”, the following year that brought the band worldwide recognition, largely due to the tracks “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted”. A third album was released in 1992 and another in 1995 before Extreme disbanded. The band reformed in 2007 and released their fifth album, “Saudades de Rock” the following year. The subsequent tour dates included a show in Belfast in November 2008. Writing for the sixth album was being discussed as far back as 2010, but it would another 13 years before the next album materialised.


Singer Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt were founding members of the band in 1985, whilst bass player Pat Badger joined the following year. There have been three different drummers, with Paul Geary playing on the first three albums and Mike Mangini playing on the fourth album, but Kevin Figueiredo had been with the band since 2007.


Website -  https://extreme-band.com/



SHAKRA – “Invincible” - AFM Records 9th June

Personally, I think Swiss band Shakra are one of the most criminally under-rated bands around - or perhaps unrecognised is a better term, as so few people seem to be aware of them outside of Switzerland or Germany where they seem to focus their touring.  “Invincible” is the band’s thirteenth studio album since 1998 and it was released on 9th June through AFM Records. I have the blue double-vinyl pre-ordered. The first single from the album, “The Way It Is” was featured on the Friday NI Rocks Show back in September and it was followed by “Invincible” in January, “Tell Her That I’m Sorry” in March and “Old Irish Song” on 9th June.


Shakra formed in 1997 and released three albums between 1998 and 2001 with singer Pete Wiedmer who had to leave on health grounds. He was replaced by Mark Fox for the album “Rising” in 2003 and three subsequent albums. Fox left after the release of “Everest” in 2009 and the following two albums, “Back on Track” in 2011 and “Powerplay” in 2013 featured John Prakesh on vocals. Fox then returned for “High Noon” in 2016 and he has sang on the three albums since then.


Lead guitarist Thom Blunier, rhythm guitarist Thomas Muster and drummer Roger Tanner are founding members of the band, whilst it is only the second album for bass player Cyril Montavon.


Website - https://www.shakra.ch/



GARDNER/JAMES – “No Strings” – Frontiers 9th June

“No Strings" is the second album to be released by former Vixen singer Janet Gardner and her husband Justin James under the title Gardner/James, but it is actually their fourth album together as the pair also released two ‘solo’ Janet Gardner albums. The latest album was released by Frontiers Music on 9th June. The track “Don’t Turn Me Away” was featured on the Friday NI Rocks Show in March followed by “I’m Living Free” on 9th June.


I was fortunate enough to record an interview with Janet in 2017 when she released her first solo album - http://www.rockradioni.co.uk/interviews/3171-ni-rocks-interview-with-janet-gardner-vixen


Janet Gardner rose to fame as the frontwoman for Vixen from 1983-1992, releasing two successful albums. She was then involved in several different line-ups of the band – including one which released a third album in 1998, another with guitarist Jan Kuehnemund in 2001 and one branded JSRG in 2012.


When I interviewed Janet in July 2017 she was just about to release her first, self-titled, solo album. She and her husband, guitarist, songwriter and producer, Justin James had recorded the album together and played all the instruments. Janet announced her departure from Vixen in January 2019 and released her second solo album, “Your Place in the Sun” later that year. This was followed by the first Gardner/James album, “Synergy” in 2020.


Website - https://www.janetgardnermusic.com/



AGORA – “Empire” – Crusader Records 9th June

“Empire” is the sixth studio album from Mexican metal band Agora and it was released on 9th June by Crusader Records. The album is actually an English language version of the band’s fifth album “Imperio” that was released in 2020. It is Agora’s first English language album and their first with Crusader Records / Golden Robot Records. The track “In The Name of Destruction” was featured on the Friday NI Rocks Show in March, followed by “Infinity” on 26th May.


Agora formed in 1996 and are labelled as a progressive metal band. That is a genre that I can struggle with, but “Empire” definitely ticks a lot of boxes for me and is full of great tracks. The band released four albums between 2001 and 2011, but there was a nine year gap before the release of “Imperio” in 2020. That album saw them work with keyboard maestro Derek Sherinian on two tracks.


Agora are Eduardo Contreras on vocals, Manuel Vazquez and Sergio Aguilar on guitars, Eduardo Carrillo on drums and Daniel Villarreal on bass.


Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/agorametal



KICKHUNTER – “Now or Never” - Metalapolis Records 9th June

German band Kickhunter return from a nine year hiatus with the release of their fifth album, “Now or Never”, by Metalapolis Records on 9th June. So far, three tracks from the album have featured on the Friday NI Rocks Show – “I Want It” in March, “Motherload” on 19th May and “King of Rock n Roll” on 2nd June.


Kickhunter formed in Hamburg in 2000 and released their debut album, “Hearts and Bones” in 2003. That was followed by further albums in 2007, 2010 and 2014. Helloween bass player Marcus Grosskopf has been linked to the band from the outset and he features as a guest artist on the latest album.


Most of the band have been there from the outset, including vocalist JC Wesenberg, guitarists Stefan Aurel and Rollie Feldman, drummer Karsten Kreppert, keyboard player Ansas Strehlow and backing vocalist Melanie Kirschke. The other band members are bass player Tim Schwarz and guitarist Gerd Lehmkuhl. The album features additional backing vocals from Angie Campbell.


Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/kickhuntermusic



FIFTH ANGEL – “When Angels Kill” – Nuclear Blast 16th June

“When Angels Kill” is the fourth album from American band Fifth Angel and their second since reforming in 2017. It was released on 16th June by Nuclear Blast Records. The album’s title track was included on the Friday NI Rocks Show on 16th June, followed by “Resist the Tyrant” on 30th June.


Fifth Angel emerged from the Seattle area in 1983 and released their self-titled debut album in 1986. This album was then re-released by Epic Records in 1988. A second album called “Time Will Tell” was released in 1989, but the band split up later that year. There was a brief reunion of some of the original band members in 2009-10, but it was short-lived.


A second reunion in 2017 was more successful and saw the return of founding members, Ken Mary on drums and Ed Archer on guitar as well as bass player John Macko who had been with the band since 1986. It initially also included guitarist Kendall Bechtel who had been with the band since 1987, but he departed in 2019 after providing lead vocals for the album “The Third Secret” which was released by Nuclear Blast in 2018.


The vocalist on “When Angels Kill” is Steve Carlson, who joined the band in 2019; around the same time as guitarist Ethan Brosh. The newest member of the band is lead guitarist Jim Dofka. Those three join Mary, Archer and Macko to complete the band line-up.


Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/fifthangelofficial



JOEL HOEKSTRA’s 13 – “Crash of Life” – Frontiers 16th June

“Crash of Life” is the third album from Joel Hoekstra’s 13 and it was released on 16th June by Frontiers Records. We’d chatted about the album during an interview with Joel (and Brandon Gibbs) in February, but I’ve been a bit remiss with getting tracks onto the Friday NI Rock Show – partly due to changes in the promotion of Frontiers releases! The track “Far Too Deep” was included on the Show on 16th June and more will feature now that the album has been released.


Guitarist Joel Hoekstra is, of course, best known for his involvement with Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Trans Siberian Orchestra and many more projects. He has been a guest on the Friday NI Rocks Show twice discussing his career – once in February 2021 when the previous Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album “Running Games” was released -  http://www.rockradioni.co.uk/interviews/3798-ni-rocks-interview-with-joel-hoekstra - and again in February 2023 when he and Brandon Gibbs were promoting their upcoming tour - http://www.rockradioni.co.uk/interviews/3868-ni-rocks-interview-with-brandon-gibbs-joel-hoekstra


The first Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album was “Dying To Live”, which was released in 2015. The second album, “Running Games”, was released in 2021. Both featured the same line-up with Russell Allen on vocals, Tony Franklin on bass, Vinny Appice on drums and Derek Sherinian on keyboards. Jeff Scott Soto also appears on both – providing lead and backing vocals on the first album, but only backing vocals on the second. The latest album features Girish Pradhan on lead vocals in place of Russell Allen and Jeff Scott Soto provides the backing vocals again. The rest of the line-up is unchanged.


Website - http://joelhoekstra.com/


VYPERA – “Race of Time” – Frontiers 16th June

Swedish band Vypera released their second album, “Race of Time”, through Frontiers Records on 16th June. The track “Rock n Roll” was included on the Friday NI Rocks Show in January and “Speedin’” on 26th May.


Vypera formed in 2016 and were originally known as Madhouse. Their debut album “Eat Your Heart Out” was released in 2022.


The band features Andreas Wallström on vocals, Christoffer Thelin and Cederick Forsberg on guitar, Andreas Andersson on bass and Johan Pettersson on drums.


Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/Vyperaofficial



SERGEANT STEEL – “Mister Sippi” – Metalapolis Records – 30th June

Austrian band Sergeant Steel released their fifth studio album, “Mister Sippi”, through Metalapolis Records on 30th June. The track “Please Me Tease Me” featured on the Friday NI Rocks Show in March, followed by “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool” in April and “Alive” in May.


Sergeant Steel formed in 2007 and released their debut album “Lovers & Maniacs” in 2009. That album was re-released in 2010 and was followed by “Men on a Mission” in 2013 and then “Riders of the Worm” in 2015. Tracks from that album were the first Sergeant Steel tunes to appear on the NI Rocks Shows. The band’s fourth album, “Truck Tales”, didn’t appear until 2020 and “Mister Sippi” is their first release with Metalapolis.


The Sergeant Steel line-up has remained largely unchanged since 2007, with the original members being singer Phil Vanderkill, guitarists Jack Power and Chuck Boom, drummer Cøsy Cøxx and keyboard player Ben Bateman. Cøxx had originally been the bass player in the band, but he left in 2010 and was replaced by Ronny Roxx. When original drummer Kenny King left around 2015, Cøxx returned to the band as the drummer.


Website - https://www.sergeant-steel.com/