Dick Wagner was a real-deal guitar hero, a Michigan-born rock & roller who first made a name for himself with Grande Ballroom regulars the Frost, and later went on to play with Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, Lita Ford, Hall & Oates, and many more. Given that Wagner was an impressive talent on the six-string and a sideman of choice with a handful of rock legends, Wagner's first solo album, 1978's Richard Wagner, is something of a surprise -- there are few out and out rock & roll tunes on the album, with the set list dominated by a wealth of heart-on-the-sleeve power ballads like "Don't Stop the Music," "Oceans," and "Hand Me Down Heartache," and bluesy numbers like "Nightwork." And even the livelier numbers don't sound like the work of an A-list guitar picker, such as the Caribbean-flavored "Small Town Boy" and the grandiose "Motor City Showdown," which recalls something Jim Steinman might have cooked up for Meat Loaf. If Wagner's goal was to show off his abilities as a songwriter and vocalist, then Richard Wagner certainly proves he was more than just a red hot soloist; Wagner is a fine singer with a keen sense of drama on these nine songs, and the tunes cover much more stylistic ground than one might imagine, but if you bought this on the basis of Wagner's epic-scale guitar soloing on Frost Music, Rock N' Roll Animal, or Welcome to My Nightmare, you might wonder if this is the work of the same guy. (A different sort of confusion greeted the album on its original release; it was credited to Richard Wagner rather than his usual handle of Dick Wagner, and some stores filed it in the classical section, imaging it was a collection of pieces by the noted German composer of the 19th century. When the album was reissued in 2014, the title was changed to Dick Wagner to avoid such misunderstanding.) Adjust your expectations properly and Wagner's solo debut is a glossy set of well-constructed, grand-scale rock anthems, though a little more soloing certainly wouldn't have put off any of his fans.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming