Review Summary: Jacko’s guitarist knows HER way around 6 strings… And SHE can sing too.
It is difficult to look at the C.V. of Australian-born Orianthi Panagaris and not believe it has been grossly exaggerated for promotional purposes. A 24 year-old blonde woman who has played with Vai and Santana, she has predominantly served as a backing musician for the likes of Prince and Carrie Underwood. She is best known however, for holding the lead guitar position for Michael Jackson at the time of his death. And now the publicity machine wants you to believe she can also sing! Come on, it has to be an opportunistic, cash-grabbing publicity stunt. Surprisingly, it is not. On her second full-length release ‘Believe’, Orianthi is the real deal… She seriously knows her way around six strings, and has a sufficiently strong voice as an added bonus.
No matter what her previous achievements, alarm bells may begin to ring for many listeners upon initially hearing album opener and lead single ‘According To You’. The lyrical content and poppy hooks scream out Miley Cyrus, yet the vocal delivery is more akin to Kelly Clarkson. Furthermore, the hard-rocking music not only casts both singers aside, it puts most radio-rock bands to shame. The catchiness involved should only serve as the cherry on top. Subsequent tracks actually drop the poppy nature and concentrate on the rock aspect, as everything from 80’s hair-metal, 90’s mainstream rock and country-leaning pop-rock are explored.
Orianthi knows her niche sound and for the most part ploughs it over & over again. This results in the two-edged sword of consistency vs. repetition. Songs too often approach Nickelback territory until an obligatory Van Halen-like guitar solo predictably enters the fray. It is no surprise then, that those cuts which differentiate themselves are the LP’s highlights. Apart from the aforementioned poppier opener, the rollicking ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ benefits from a more sustained guitar presence and an impressive rhythm section. Meanwhile, the penultimate ‘Highly Strung’ is a fun, old-school duelling instrumental with none other than Steve Vai. It is just a shame that there are a few missed opportunities, such as on ‘Untogether’, where she cannot fully capitalize on the Santana influenced playing.
For all its deficiencies, ‘Believe’ is a pleasant surprise that should be viewed favorably. It is a good, solid listen that serves up something a little different, without being overly original. In a sense, it is fun… Yet, not entirely in a gimmicky way. There is some substance to be found here, even if it is not necessarily going to blow your mind. The potential could be there though since Orianthi is still relatively young and shows enough promise on both guitar and vocals to suggest she has a bright future. More than that, with the correct guidance and work ethic, she could be something truly special!
Recommended Tracks: According To You, Highly Strung & What’s It Gonna Be"