The legendarily picky guitarist Tom Scholz is back with that rarest of things — new music from Boston. Life, Love and Hope even includes reworked songs from the group’s most recent studio effort — one of which includes late founding frontman Brad Delp. In fact, the forthcoming studio album (due December 3, 2013 in North America and on December 6 in Europe via Frontiers Records) features a total of three vocals from Delp, moments that are sure to be hotly anticipated by long-time fans after his untimely death in 2007.
Elsewhere, Life, Love and Hope finds current members Kimberley Dahme and Tommy DeCarlo sharing duties at the mic. Scholz even sings a few tunes himself. But, like so many, we were particularly interested in an early sampling of the songs featuring Delp, who powered every one of Boston’s biggest hits over the decade between 1976′s “More Than a Feeling” and “Foreplay/Long Time” through to 1986′s “Amanda.”
“Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love,” which arrives after the album-opening David Victor-sung “Heaven on Earth,” sets a ruminative mood with an unanswered ring tone — recalling, for a split second, the lonely opening of the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Line” — before the track accelerates into a surprisingly modern cadence. That provides this crunchy friction against Delp’s heartfelt approach to the lyric. What follows is a moment that’s as expected as it is gratifying for anyone who favored air guitar hero moves at the turn of the 1980s: Scholz rushes in for an ever-so-brief, but thrillingly uplifting aside, intertwining once more with Delp’s impossibly stratospheric wail.
Then, the intriguingly episodic song powers back down to an almost confidential whisper, with Scholz turning to a plucky acoustic. In the end, it works as a canny update of the familiar sound of Boston’s hitmaking years, as Delp and Scholz navigate with ease between the contemplative and these anthem-like vistas in a gleamingly contemporary context.
Dahme, a member of Boston since 2002, provides a turbulent counterweight for the opening of “Sail Away,” before Delp’s emotionally fragile entrance. They tangle and untangle throughout a song whose theme — dealing with the isolation of feelings that go unspoken — takes on additional resonance, considering Delp’s awful 2007 suicide. (His note reportedly read: “J’ai une ame solitaire,” or “I am a lonely soul.”) “Sail Away” is one of Dahme’s three vocal showcases on Life, Love and Hope.
Finally, the project also includes a reworked version of “Someone,” which originally found a home on Boston’s 2002 release Corporate America. (That album marked both the debut of Dahme, and the last Boston effort before Delp’s passing.) Of the Delp tracks on Life, Love and Hope, “Someone” — which boasts a smart lyrical twist on heartbreak — most closely mimics Boston’s classic structure and sound.
Why Scholz chose to re-release it is, otherwise, something of a mystery: In the intervening years of tinkering, he appears to have moved the rhythm track further up in the mix, and seemingly rerecorded the churning background guitars that have long been his signature. Everything else, however, is unrecognizably altered, though Scholz must have heard something he felt he could improve.
Whatever the reason, it provides one more chance — welcome indeed but maybe, alas, the last — to hear him work with Delp again.