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Jimmy Barnes is a singer who has a devoted following in his home country of Australia but is little known elsewhere. Barnes attained stardom in Australia in the late '70's and early '80's as the lead singer of Cold Chisel, a hard rock band who were enormously popular in their homeland but rarely heard elsewhere. Cold Chisel's popularity in Australia had more to do with their localized lyrical references than it did with any inherent musical greatness; one listen to the wearisome Australian compilation album Chisel: The Best of Cold Chisel will prove that point. Cold Chisel disbanded in the early '80's (although they recorded a reunion album in 1998); since then, Barnes has recorded numerous solo albums, but only two were released in the U.S. and both are now out of print. Barnes is probably best known in the U.S. for his guest vocal on INXS's version of the Easybeats classic "Good Time" which appeared on the 1987 soundtrack for The Lost Boys. Shortly after that, two of Barnes' solo albums were released (each on a different subsidiary of Warner Bros.) in a failed attempt to make him a star in the States.

The first of these was 1988's Freight Train Heart, a generally entertaining collection of slick mainstream rock songs. Barnes' voice resembles that of Sammy Hagar, and the music on this record isn't exactly subtle. Most of the songs were co-produced by ex-Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain with Mike Stone; Cain and some of his usual cohorts (Neal Schon, Randy Jackson) provide backing on those songs, and most were co-written by them and Barnes. If this leads you to believe that the record sounds highly commercial, well, it does, but Barnes' commanding voice makes the record enjoyable more often than not. He is usually able to sound emotional without being overwrought, even on "Waitin' For The Heartache" and "Walk On", two sappy tracks produced and co-written by Desmond Child. INXS fans may want to note that Barnes' cover of Bob Dylan's "Seven Days" features INXS drummer Jon Farriss on drums and is produced by sometime INXS producer Mark Opitz. Other notable guests include Huey Lewis (playing harmonica on "I Wanna Get Started With You") and David Lindley (playing steel guitar on "Driving Wheels" and "I'm Still On Your Side"). Fans of mainstream '80's rock could do a lot worse than Freight Train Heart.

Track Listing:

1. Driving Wheels
2. Seven Days
3. Too Much Ain't Enough Love
4. Lessons In Love
5. Waitin' For The Heartache
6. Last Frontier
7. I'm Still On Your Side
8. Do Or Die
9. I Wanna Get Started With You
10. Walk On

Two Fires is in the same basic vein as Freight Train Heart, but the production (by Don Gehman) is not as slick and Barnes' voice shows a bit more grit. Once again, the enjoyable songs outnumber the duds. The hard-nosed attack of "Hardline" and "One Of A Kind" is most effective. On the downside, Barnes again collaborates with notorious songwriters-for-hire: he co-wrote "Let's Make It Last All Night" with Desmond Child and Diane Warren, and "Between Two Fires" with Holly Knight; only his strong voice keeps the sap from boiling over on those songs. Still, Two Fires is a decent pop rock album on the whole. (Note: both of these CDs are available as Australian imports).

Track Listing:

1. Lay Down Your Guns
2. Let's Make It Last All Night
3. Little Darling
4. Love Is Enough
5. Hardline
6. One Of A Kind
7. Sister Mercy
8. When Your Love Is Gone
9. Between Two Fires
10. Fade To Black
11. Hold On (CD Bonus Track)

See also Michael Hutchence , INXS