Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – ‘Dying to Live’ (2015) – Album Review (The Jeff Scott Soto Series)

Joel Hoekstra might be one of the best hired guns in the business. From his time in Night Ranger, to Whitesnake, to Cher, to Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) to now Revolution Saints. And in between he has done several solo albums of instrumental music. This time, he wanted to showcase his songwriting abilities and so he started a new project called Joel Hoekstra’s 13 and he brought along some heavy hitters. Helping on this album were none other than Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, The Firm, Whitesnake) on bass, Vinny Appice (Last in Line, Heaven & Hell, Dio & Black Sabbath) on bass and then on vocals he brought in the great Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, Allen/Lande, TSO) to handle the vocals. But the reason for the post is the final connection with Jeff Scott Soto.

Jeff was brought in to do backing vocals, but Jeff being the powerhouse and force of nature he is, ended up singing about half the songs on the album. Yes, he is that good. Now, Joel wrote all the songs including music and lyrics which is why this has his name stamped on it. He did have help on one song that he did with Russell called “Changes”. This has been treated as a solo project, but really this is something more. Heck, in fact all of these people would be back for second album a few years later (except Jeff would be only backing vocals on that one – and we wont’ review if for this series as a result.

Even with all these major players on the album, there is still some more help brought in. We get the great Derek Sherinian on keyboards, Charlie Zeleny on percussion and Dave Eggar on the cello for the final song on the album “What We Believe”. And that isn’t all. He also wrangled in Toby Hitchcock (Pride of Lions) and Chloe Lowery (TSO) to do some duets with Mr. Soto. This line-up is pretty damn impressive so the music has to be good…right? Ahhh…you are damn straight!! I missed this album when it came out, not realizing Mr. Soto was on it and if I did, I would’ve been all over it. But I am going to say something that surprises even me, my favorite parts of this album aren’t Jeff Scott Soto…no sir. They are Russell Allen. I forget how awesome he is vocally and this stuff really makes him shine. Alright, let’s get to it, shall we.

The album kicks off with a pure metal track that is both intense, dark and almost eerie and when Russell comes in on the vocals, it is all creepy and disturbing. “Say Goodbye to the Sun” is an impressive nightmarish of a song. The drums and bass add a menacing groove while Joel’s guitar lays down riffs and notes and a solo that will frighten Freddie Krueger. But the killer of this song are those vocals by Allen as he feels right at home in the macabre.

Next up is the more melodic “Anymore” with Russell Allen still on vocals. He shows he can sing anything with this one as it is so different than the previous track. Allen’s vocals soar at times and they sound so smooth. This is more an anthemic piece and has some great melodies and listen to those guitars as Joel throws in these great little bits that add so much texture to the song. And I won’t keep saying it, but the solos are fantastic, he’s a shredder and a magician at time with those fingers.

Jeff Scott Soto gets his turn on vocals with “Until I Left You” and it is right in his wheelhouse. It is another upbeat, melodic rock song which is what I love Jeff singing the most and he doesn’t disappoint. The chorus is full of layered vocals that are catchy and will hook you right in. This could’ve been on any W.E.T. or Talisman album and fit perfectly.

“Long for the Days” is our first ballad and no, it is not Jeff on vocals, but Russell Allen. And Russell gives it the emotive vocals that are needed and matches note for note the guitar tones that drip with emotion. A more laid back, relaxing tune yet the vocals give it the drama that is needed. Nice to see the softer side of Russell.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Scream” which has Soto on vocals along with Toby Hitchcock. With a title like “Scream” you’d expect a heavier, more intense song and you’d be right. The song is both intense and high energy with a chorus that is the big payoff. Jeff can rock out as he has done so much in his career and he brings it home on that chorus too. Jeff delivers a dark, dangerous sounding verse that leads right in to what sounds like a keyboard solo and then straight in to a rip-roaring, speed fest of a solo by Hoekstra that slays and will make you scream! 5 songs and in this thing is nothing short of fantastic.

The opening guitar picking of “Never Say Never” leads you to think are we going all flamenco or something, but then the song kicks in and no it is pure rock & roll. Another melodic track for Russell Allen with its darker toned verses and then a more bright, uplifting sounding chorus. I love Allen’s tone and the positive vibes of the song and of course, the players on this one don’t disappoint as musically it as good as Allen’s vocals.

“Changes” is up next which was co-written by Joel and Russell. Another slower track, with a little country guitar picking vibe to it and even a little blues too. The chorus has a ton of backing vocals in the bridge/chorus that accentuate Allen’s vocals. A nice song but not sure if as good as the other ballad, but doesn’t mean I don’t like it.

Next up we get a little funky with “The Only Way to Go”. It then goes heavy and dark and Soto matches that intensity. It reminds me of Jeff’s more recent stuff with his metal project SOTO. With that being said, he does nail it vocally. I do like it when they get harder on here as Joel really goes above and beyond with his playing. The heavier riffs are brutal and Vinny’s drumming as powerful. More great heavy rock.

The title track, “Dying to Live” sees Russell and Jeff share the vocals and the song is so good you understand why they named the album after it. It opens with some of Soto’s sweeping, almost angelic vocals and then it goes heavy, dark and demented with Russell’s vocals. Then straight in to an almost speed metal feel as the music speeds up and so do the vocals. Then it slows down again with Soto’s sweeping vocals again. The back and forth add the drama and and intensity plus that Joel solo will rip you a new one. An intense thrill ride of a track and one of the most interesting ones on the album. Might be my other favorite on the album.

“Start Again” sounds happy in comparison. This bright and sunny melodic tune is in direct contradiction to “Dying to Live”. Soto on vocals delivers a happy-go-lucky vocal and compared to everything else on the album this feels out of place as it is too cheerful. Joel even puts a sunny disposition on his playing as it is as bright as the sun too. Weirdly enough, I still kind of dig it.

The final track on the CD is “What We Believe”. This one sees Jeff and Chloe Lowery both from TSO. The song is overly dramatic and done in the styling of TSO which is my hesitancy with the song as I’m not a real fan of the TSO sound. The songs are sung in more broadway, dramatic feel and it is a little over-the-top for me. I don’t think this fits Jeff vocally, but damn, Chloe has a stunning voice and she feels right at home in this genre. It isn’t a bad song, just not really for this album, IMO.

Track Listing:

  1. Say Goodbye to the Sun – Keeper
  2. Anymore – Keeper
  3. Until I Left You – Keeper
  4. Long for the Days – Keeper
  5. Scream – Keeper
  6. Never Say Never – Keeper
  7. Changes – Keeper
  8. The Only Way to Go – Keeper
  9. Dying to Live – Keeper
  10. Start Again – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  11. What We Believe – Delete

The Track Score is 9.5 out of 11 Tracks or 86%.  Man, I hate I didn’t spend time with this when it came out and still not sure how I didn’t realize Soto was on this one.  But glad I have it now. This was way better than I was expecting and it reminded me on how great Russell Allen is as a singer. And of course, it showcases the super talent of Joel Hoekstra.  The songs are great, you get metal, you get melodic rock, you get ballads, it is all there and then some.  If you didn’t listen to this one, spend some time with it as it gets better with each listen.  This is a Soto series, so Jeff is fantastic on this as well.  He sounds amazing as usual and I have no complaints at all with him. I just thought Russell’s songs on here were better,  but I really have negative to say about this album.  My Overall Score is a 4.0 out 5.0 Stars. Worth a listen if you have time.  You won’t be disappointed.

UP NEXT: SOTO – ‘DIVAK’ (2016)


  1. Panther – ‘Panther’ (1986) – recorded in 1984
  2. Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force – ‘Rising Force’ (1984)
  3. Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force – ‘Marching Out’ (1985)
  4. Kuni – ‘Lookin’ For Action’ (1988)
  5. Kryst the Conqueror – ‘Deliver Us From Evil’ (1989) / ‘Soldiers of Light: The Complete Recordings (2019)
  6. Eyes – ‘Eyes’ (1990)
  7. Eyes – “Nobody Said It Was Easy” (1990) – 7″ Single – Bonus Edition
  8. Talisman – ‘Talisman’ (1990)
  9. Talisman – “I’ll Be Waiting” (1990) – 7″ Single – Bonus Edition
  10. Skrapp Mettle – ‘Sensitive’ (1991)
  11. Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Eternal Prisoner’ (1992)
  12. Bakteria – ‘Deficate! Suffocate! Mutilate! Masturbate!’ (1992 / 2009)
  13. Eyes – ‘Windows of the Soul’ (1993)
  14. Talisman – ‘Genesis’ (1993)
  15. Axel Rudi Pell – ‘The Ballads’ (1993)
  16. Biker Mice From Mars – ‘Biker Mice From Mars (Soundtrack)’ (1993)
  17. Takara – ‘Eternal Faith’ (1993)
  18. Talisman – ‘5 Out Of 5 (Live in Japan)’ (1994)
  19. Talisman – ‘Humanimal’ (1994)
  20. Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Between the Walls’ (1994)
  21. Gary Schutt – ‘Sentimetal’ (1994)
  22. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Love Parade’ (1994)
  23. Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Made in Germany (Live)’ (1995)
  24. Takara – ‘Taste of Heaven’ (1995)
  25. Talisman – ‘Life’ (1995)
  26. Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Black Moon Pyramid’ (1996)
  27. Human Clay – ‘Human Clay’ (1996)
  28. Talisman – ‘Best of’ (1996)
  29. Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Magic’ (1997)
  30. Human Clay – ‘U4IA’ (1997)
  31. Boogie Knights – ‘Welcome to the Jungle Boogie’ (1997)
  32. Takara – ‘Blind in Paradise’ (1998)
  33. Talisman – ‘Truth’ (1998)
  34. ‘Rock Star: Music from the Motion Picture (Soundtrack)’ – Various Artists (2001)
  35. Humanimal – ‘Humanimal’ (2002)
  36. Humanimal – Find My Way Home: Limited Edition E.P. (2002)
  37. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Holding On E.P.’ (2002)
  38. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Prism’ (2002)
  39. Talisman – ‘Live at Sweden Rock Festival’ (2002)
  40. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘JSS Live at the Gods 2002’ (2003)
  41. Talisman – ‘Cats & Dogs’ (2003)
  42. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Believe in Me E.P.’ (2004
  43. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Lost in the Translation’ (2004)
  44. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Live at the Queen Convention 2003’ (2004)
  45. Soul SirkUS – ‘World Play’ (2004/2005)
  46. Talisman – ‘Five Men Live’ (2005)
  47. Talisman – ‘World’s Best Kept Secret DVD (2005)
  48. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Essential Ballads’ (2006)
  49. Journey – ‘Live from Atlanta (Bootleg)’ (2006)
  50. Talisman – ‘7’ (2006)
  51. Talisman – The Albums Ranked Worst to First
  52. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘B-Sides’ (2006)
  53. Redlist – ‘Ignorance’ (2007)
  54. Jeff Scott Soto – LA Rocks Demo / Vinnie Vincent Demo 1988 (2008)
  55. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Beautiful Mess’ (2009)
  56. Jeff Scott Soto – “21st Century” / “Gin & Tonic Sky” CD Single (2009) – Bonus Edition
  57. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘One Night in Madrid’ (2009)
  58. Trans-Siberian Orchestra – ‘Night Castle’ (2009)
  59. W.E.T. – ‘W.E.T.’ (2009)
  60. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Live at Firefest 2008’ (2010)
  61. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Damage Control’ (2012)
  62. W.E.T. – ‘Rise Up’ (2013)
  63. W.E.T. – ‘One Live in Stockholm’ (2014)
  64. Jeff Scott Soto – The Authorized Biography (2014)
  65. SOTO – ‘Inside the Vertigo’ (2015)
  66. Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – Dying to Live (2015)
  67. SOTO – ‘Divak’ (2016)
  68. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Retribution’ (2017)
  69. Sons of Apollo – ‘Psychotic Symphony’ (2017)
  70. W.E.T. – ‘Earthrage’ (2018)
  71. SOTO – ‘Origami’ (2019)
  72. Sons of Apollo – ‘Live With the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony’ (2019)
  73. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Wide Awake (In My Dreamland)’ (2020)
  74. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Live and Loud in Milan 2019’ (2020)
  75. Sons of Apollo – ‘MMXX’ (2020)
  76. SOTO – ‘Revision’ (2020)
  77. Talisman – “Never Say Die (A Song For Marcel)” – 7″ Single (2020)
  78. W.E.T. – ‘Retransmission’ (2021)
  79. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘The Duets Collection, Vol. 1’ (2021)
  80. Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Complicated’ (2022)
  81. Ellefson/Soto – ‘Vacation in the Underground’ (2022)
  82. Jeff Scott Soto / Jason Bieler – Live In Concert (2022) – Bonus Edition

12 thoughts on “Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – ‘Dying to Live’ (2015) – Album Review (The Jeff Scott Soto Series)

  1. Say Goodbye to the sun. We are overcast here in Tbay with 25 cm of snow coming lol. Good tune and your right John, Joel brought in some heavy hitters and this dude can play.. Great wtiteup

    Liked by 1 person

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