Well, it is pretty much a full “One Eighty” from what they performed on their first two albums. On this recording the four core members added another keyboardist (original keys-player Chris North had limited involvement with the last recording, but makes a more pronounced appearance here) and a percussionist/vocalist, making them now a six piece playing less intricate music nonetheless! This is similar in tone to the previously released Life Beyond LA, though LBLA still kept more outright prog rock credentials.
“Ready” opens the CD with a rocking feel that immediately recalls the wonderful title track from their last recording. It has a bit more of an R&B/Soul feel (especially with the background vocals), but then a sweet Mini Moog solo from new member David Cutler Lewis comes in reminding you that this is still a prog band. “Shape I’m In” follows and features new vocalist Royce Jones, who lends more R&B to the album than I’m ready to accept. It has a powerful hook that has me thinking of the hard rock/R&B band from the early 70s, Rare Earth.
I keep thinking that “What? Three singers in this band weren’t already enough?” But then I realized what they were trying to get to. If you remember in the early 80’s, everybody was trying to sound like Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers? This is what Royce lends to the album. Songs like “”You’re the Only Woman” and “Biggest Part of Me” were big hits for Ambrosia and definitely have that stamp of high falsetto background vocals that made Mr. Mike McDonald famous, most assuredly supplied by Royce. Of the two most played (and R&B based) songs from this album, “Biggest Part of Me” is the most preferred. It has a more interesting Steely Dan-like arrangement and some really sweet harmonies that (I’m sorry) keep reminding me of The Jacksons’ late 70s hit “Blame It On the Boogie.”
“Kamikaze” is the most out-there song on One Eighty with dissonant guitars and Asian bell percussion. “Rock N’ A Hard Place” is a convincing showcase for Joe Puerta’s considerable vocal abilities. He never sang any of Ambrosia’s hits, but his voice is an integral part of Ambrosia. This song also has an outstanding solo section that features guest Daniel Kobialka’s violin and David Pack’s guitar warring against each other in staccato rhythms, sometimes playing off against one another, sometimes in tandem.
I have a soft spot for the beauty of “Livin’ On My Own.” It recalls Steely Dan with a sweet bass line and incredible vocal harmonies. The vocal break in the middle is, without a doubt, the best contribution of new vocalist Royce Jones on the album. It soars! “Cryin’ In the Rain” is one of the few songs in Ambrosia’s catalog where we are treated to a lead vocal from drummer Burleigh Drummond. Unfortunately it is the weakest track on the album, but it’s nice to hear him take a lead all the same. The most convincing rocker that Ambrosia ever recorded is “No Big Deal” by David Pack. The riff is pure Ted Nugent and the vocal is all David. I would put this on a compilation against any other hard rock song of the period.
So, I guess it really depends on what your definition of progressive rock is. If you can include bands like Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers or Chicago in that definition then this is right up your alley.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on August 31st, 2010