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Sunday, August 10, 2014

KIX "Rock Your Face Off"

(c) 2014 Loud & Proud Records

  1. Wheels In Motion
  2. You're Gone
  3. Can't Stop The Show
  4. Rollin' In Honey
  5. Rock Your Face Off
  6. All The Right Things
  7. Dirty Girls
  8. Inside Outside Inn
  9. Mean Misadventure
  10. Love Me With Your Top Down
  11. Tail On The Wag
  12. Rock N Roll Showdown
Steve Whiteman--Vocals, Harmonica
Ronnie "10/10" Younkins--Guitars
Bryan "Damage" Forsythe--Guitars
Mark Schenker--Bass
Jimmy Chalfant--Drums, Vocals

Nineteen years.  That's how long it has been since Kix released a studio album.  Heck, there are people who weren't even born yet that can vote now...that's how long 19 years is!  But, you had to wonder if the top dog of the B-level hair bands wasn't going to take a stab at a new record at some point, especially with the release of their live record a couple years ago.  And, now in 2014, we find that Kix did have (at least) one more trick up their sleeve, as they have released Rock Your Face Off to their surprisingly large fan base.

A couple of weeks ago, the band teased the album's release with a lyrics video of the lead single, "Love Me With Your Top Down", and judging by the internet chatter I observed on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, the initial impression was mixed, at best.  While I certainly didn't think the song was a world changer, it was still a Kix song, without question, from the vocals of Whiteman to the catchy-yet-cheesy lyrical approach and the AC/DC-meets-a-barroom-hair band musical approach.  I had hope, but I wasn't going to let that hope turn into hype at that point.  But, once I actually received the disc and popped it in, a smile spread across my face and I was sold.  Kix was back.

True, founding member Donnie Purnell is gone from his position as bass player and chief songwriter, and that meant the band was already behind the 8-Ball to a degree, at least in terms of carrying on the musical tradition of the band.  It's one thing to go out and play all the songs you have been playing for years, and still pull it off.  But its quite another thing to write new material that still sounds like your band, especially if one of the key songwriting ingredients is gone.  For the most part, Kix manages to capture the essence of who and what they have always been on this new record.

Right from the start, the album is front-loaded with the best material on the record.  "Wheels In Motion" jumps out of the speakers with an urgent tempo and rhythm that immediately throws the listener back about 23 years, as this song is very reminiscent of the approach used on the Hot Wire album.  "You're Gone" keeps things going, but this time with a more mid-tempo track that features a throbbing bass line throughout and Whiteman's instantly recognizable sneering snarl slinking along, snagging the listener's attention, especially on the chorus.  "Can't Stop The Show" is another great track, this time taking a more simplified approach during the verses, using an out front drum-and-bass delivery to support Whiteman before the guitars come ringing in.  Three-for-three is a great way to start things off, to be sure!

"Rollin' In Honey" slips off the mark just a bit.  Lyrically and thematically it is everything Kix has always been, but the music is missing something.  It's just doesn't grab my attention all that well for some reason.  Not a skipper, but a weaker point in an otherwise great first half of the record.  The same can be said of the title track, "Rock Your Face Off", which seems like a statement kind of song from a band who has no reason to make a statement.  Yeah, we get it...you're in your 50's and you still rock.  Got it.  No need to state it or put it to music.  Honestly, if there was one song I was going to completely remove from the album, it would probably be this one, and this is as close to skip material as there is on the record.

"All The Right Things" quickly rights the ship, however, and is probably my favorite track here.  Starting off with a dark, bluesy guitar riff, this song reminds me a lot of vintage 70's era AC/DC in the way it starts, before the jangly Kix approach to music slips in and takes over in an insanely catchy song that comes so very close to capturing the magic of the band in their Midnite Dynamite-Blow My Fuse-Hot Wire span.  Just a great, great song.  

"Dirty Girls" is a simplistic, yet fun, song that really needs no explanation, as the title  pretty much says everything that can be said about this uptempo rocker that, again, really has that 70's ear AC/DC thumbprint on the music.  Again, this is one of the better songs here and really finds the band at least touching, if not fully grasping, that Kix musical magic from the late 80's/early 90's efforts.  The same can be said for album closer, "Rock & Roll Showdown", which wraps things up perfectly and gives the listener the hope that perhaps there is one more great album left in this underappreciated band that I still contend was one of the most entertaining and consistent bands of the 80's.

There are a couple of entries in the complaint department here.  One, the "big" ballad isn't present here, which is a bummer. No, I didn't expect "Don't Close Your Eyes II" or anything like that, but "Inside Outside Inn" just doesn't really hold my attention all that well.  It's not horrible, but I doubt anyone will rush right out to download this as a single, either.  The other real issue I have here is that some of the songs seem thin, like there are instruments missing.  You know what I'm talking about...when a song just doesn't feel "full".  Sometimes this happens with albums on small, independent labels that have no real production budget to speak of, and I'm wondering if that isn't the case here.  "Mean Misadventure", for example, is a solid Kix track, it just doesn't have any "beef" to it.  "Tail On The Wag" is another good track that kind of feels flat, for lack of a better term.  I don't know if this is the absence of Purnell showing through, if its a production thing, or if it was an intentional stripping of the sound, but for me it takes a couple of pretty good songs and leaves them below the par of the rest of the album.

In the end, Kix's return is a very good, very solid one, if not career re-defining.  Not as good as Blow My Fuse, Midnight Dynamite, or Hot Wire, but certainly better than their first two records and $how Bu$ine$$, this record will keep Kix fans more than happy for a long time, I suspect, and will be given consideration for many Top 20 lists by fans of the genre in general.

Rating:  Crank this to 8 and let the good times roll once again!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

VALERIE "Dangerous"

(c) 2014 Independent Release

  1. Night After Night
  2. Hearts On The Line
  3. Dangerous
BT Valerie--Guitars, Lead Vocals
Augustus Clark--Bass, Vocals
Erlend Omdal--Drums, Vocals
Magnus Christiansen--Guitars, Vocals

Norway's Valerie returns with a self-released EP called Dangerous.  One look at the track-listing and you have to know I was frustrated, as only three songs make their way onto this limited edition release (only 500 CD's were printed).  THREE SONGS!  Let's be honest here...if you are only going to put out three songs and still call in an EP, it better be good.

It is.

Leading things off is the "single" from this release, "Night After Night".  Showcasing a somewhat AOR approach to their melodic hard rock, Valerie kicks things off right here, as "Night After Night" is a solid song that does exactly what it is intended to do: it gets the listener primed and ready for the band's second album, which is being financed in part through sales of this EP.  Ahhh...now I get it!  Anyway, "Night After Night" starts off with an acapella intro, followed up with slick, 80's-influenced guitars that are reminiscent of those used by acts such as John Parr, Survivor, and the like back when AOR and melodic rock could still get airplay in the States.  For those who have the band's first, self-titled release, this song is very much in the same vein and is likely to keep that fan base happy.

The next two tracks are exclusive to this EP and will not be featured on the new full-length record (at least that's the plan for now).  "Hearts On The Line" is very reminiscent of the style of rock played by fellow countrymen, Stage Dolls.  Starting off with an "Unskinny Bop" styled bass line, this song could actually be slipped onto a Stage Dolls record and a lot of people may not even notice.  There is some excellent guitar work here, especially on the scorching solo, and the tight vocal harmonies and locked-in rhythm section really drive this track, which is my favorite of the three here (although all are good).  "Dangerous" rocks a bit harder than the previous two tracks, shedding the slickness of the guitars from the opening track, and adding a bit of grit to the backing vocals.

The packaging, as you would guess, is EXTREMELY simple, with the front cover artwork (pictured above) being the only adornment on the cardboard sleeve the disc arrived in.  The back is nothing but the band's logo, tracklisting, writing credits, and band line-up.  Short and too the point.  It is obvious the band spent as little in the packaging as they possibly could, again largely because they are using money from this effort to finance the second full-length record.

If you haven't checked out the band before, I would probably suggest you go for their debut record, Valerie, as it is 8 songs long and offers a bit more bang for your buck.  However, if you are already a fan and would like to snag a limited edition collectible, Dangerous is a fine, if extremely short listen.

Rating:  At only three songs, I hesitated to give it an official rating, but if forced, I would say this is crankable to the 7.5 range.  Nothing overly spectacular, but very solid and a fun listen.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

LOVERBOY "Unfinished Business"

(c) 2014 Loverboy Music

  1. Fire Me Up
  2. Counting The Nights
  3. Ain't Such A Bad Thing
  4. Come Undone
  5. Slave
  6. What Makes You So Special
  7. War Bride
  8. Doin' It The Hard Way
  9. You Play The Star
  10.  Crack Of The Whip
Mike Reno--Vocals
Paul Dean--Guitar, Vocals
Doug Johnson--Keyboards
Ken "Spider" Sinneave--Bass
Matt Frenette--Drums

Everywhere you look today, classic 80's bands are reuniting to record new albums, join festivals, or go on tour.  There seems to be no limit to which bands are going to attempt some form of comeback or another, whether taking a serious run at rejuvenating a career or simply going back to doing what they love, these bands have met with varying degrees of success.

Loverboy is no stranger to the reunion thing, having released a new studio album, Just Getting Started, as recently as 2007, in addition to their combination re-recordings/new recordings album, Rock N Roll Revival, from 2012.  With Unfinished Business, Loverboy gives its fans an album of new "old" material, with some of these songs having been written almost 40 years ago, with others scattered throughout writing sessions from the past couple of decades.  Many of these songs were partially recorded from sessions for the band's first few albums, some to a larger extent than others, so in some instances you get songs that are half 1980's/half 2014 as far as performance goes.  

4/5 of the original line-up remains intact (long-time bass player, Scott Smith, died in a freak boating accident in 2000), and it is obvious from the band was intent on giving the fans and album that is still 100% Loverboy, for the good or the bad.  Not attempting to sound modern, making no excuses for their past (or for Reno's infamous headbands!), and pouring themselves completely into the music that they love and are known for, Loverboy actually pulls off one of the more surprisingly enjoyable reunion discs I have listened to in some time, even if it isn't made up of new material.  I say "surprisingly enjoyable" because I really lost touch with Loverboy after the first four classic records, Loverboy, Get Lucky, Keep It Up, and Lovin' Every Minute Of It.  After that, starting with Wildside, I just felt the band lost a lot of it's edge, became too poppy and too concerned with Top 40 hits, and I just never really bothered going back.

Unfinished Business intrigue me because of its different approach.  From the opening notes of "Fire Me Up", I just sensed that the band felt like they had bullets left in the classic era's guns, and set out to deliver on unfinished promise with a couple of these tunes.  A few sound like they were possibly even radio-worthy back in the day, while a couple probably should have been left in the Loverboy vault or mixed into a Loverboy boxed set if such a thing ever surfaced.  

On the good end, we have songs like the previously mentioned "Fire Me Up', which is a great example of a song that has pretty much everything going for it, as far as Loverboy fans would be concerned, and I really don't know how this song didn't make an album.  Reno sounds great, Dean works some nice guitar magic, and the keys are nicely placed between the guitars and the solid rhythm section, giving it a truly classic 80's feel.  I'm even more surprised that the following track, "Countin' The Nights" didn't make it to the radio, or at least to a movie soundtrack, because it really is that good to these ears, with crisp production and some great guitar tones.  "What Makes You So Special" is another solid 80's rocker with the classic guitar tone of that era, and is easily one of my favorites here, and again I have to wonder why this track missed the cut for Get Lucky or possibly Keep It Up, which are the albums I'm guessing this was likely recorded for.  "Doin' It The Hard Way" is a song that is pure Loverboy all the way, and again, is one of the stronger songs here, and album closer "Crack Of The Whip" sounds like something from the Lovin' Every Minute Of It sessions, with a solid mid-80's sound that works pretty well here, especially when juxtaposed with "You Play The Star" which sounds like it came straight off the first record.

A couple of songs don't work as well as the best material here.  For instance, I really am not a fan of the ballad, "Come Undone".  First of all, it sounds like it is still in demo form, which is an instant annoyance for me.  Secondly, there are just some weird keyboard effects here that remind me of so many bad 80's songs (and laser sound effects!) that I somewhat cringe when I hear them.  "War Bride" has a lot of potential, but this is an example of one of the tracks that I think the band just didn't really ever finish, and finds the band trying to get too deep lyrically and totally missing the mark of what Loverboy is best known for.  Reno sounds very strong, and the keyboards have an electric piano, rather than cheesy 80's synth sound to them, and even the bass line has a cool throb to it, but it just kind of goes nowhere and is really about two minutes too long (it clocks in over 6 minutes total).   Some judicious editing would have helped "War Bride" a lot, in my opinion.  "Slave", which features some great guitar work from Dean, sounds like an odd "Hot For Teacher"-meets-spaghetti-western-guitar combination that I just don't get.  For his part, Franette pulls off some slick double-time drummin here, but it can't save this odd track.

The main problem I have with this album is in the production.  At times you can hear static in the tracks, and the mix is just a tad muddy in places.  For example, "Ain't Such A Bad Thing" is a pretty good rocker with a catchy chorus and nice guitar work, but you can hear hiss and crackle throughout the song.  Now, I don't know if this was an intentional attempt to give the album an 80's feel, as this is definitely not crystal clear, crisp 2014 production at all, but if it was intentional, it was not a good idea.  It definitely doesn't make the record unlistenable by any means, but to deny that there are some production issues would be dishonest.

The band, and especially Reno and Dean, are in mostly excellent form here.  Mike Reno's vocals are spot on, sounding like not a year has passed since he was singing about "Lovin' Every Minute Of It", or "The Kid Is Hot Tonight", and the guitar work on the best tracks here is excellent.  I have long thought that Dean didn't get the amount of respect as a guitar player that he deserved, largely because he was overshadowed by Reno and because videos of the band's songs just never really showcased Dean (check out his solo album if you can find it...you will hear his talent in full force).  Due to th old-plus-new format of the tracks it is a bit difficult to know what is recently recorded and what is original instrumentation, but it doesn't matter much because nothing is glaringly bad, although the keys do really date the sound of some of these tracks.

I think with a bit bigger budget (this record was apparently all self-compiled and released on Loverboy Music) and perhaps a bit more care in cleaning up the production on the older portions of the songs that the band chose to leave intact, this album could have been even better.  As it stands, it is a solid listen, especially for long-time fans of the band.  It won't likely convert a lot of people to join the church of Loverboy, but it's not likely there are a lot of 18-25 year olds out there seeking what a band like Loverboy has to offer, either.

Rating:  Crank this solid effort to a very respectable 7.0, but I hope the band is done combing through the leftovers for material, because I'm betting this is the cream of the crop.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

GUARDIAN "Almost Home"

(c) 2014 G-Man Records

  1. Boom She Said
  2. The Real Me
  3. Little Things
  4. Wonderful
  5. California Rain
  6. Show Us What You Got (Interlude)
  7. King Of Fools
  8. The Calling (Interlude)
  9. Paranoia Kills
  10. Price We Pay
  11. Free
  12. Requiem Calavera (Interlude)
  13. Almost Home
Jamie Rowe--Vocals
Tony Palacios--Gutars
David Bach--Bass
Karl Ney--Drums
Jamey Perrenot--Guitar

Guardian returns with their first full-length album in SEVENTEEN YEARS, with the Kickstarter-funded Almost Home.  There have been teaser releases prior to this, most notably Three To Get Ready, a three-song EP that came out in 2011, but little to nothing had come from the Guardian camp in so long that most people had assumed the band was dead and buried, especially with front man Rowe now reunited with his other band, AdrianGale.  

Dead and buried, they are not. Guardian is definitely alive, and mostly well.

I say "mostly well" because while there are things to like about Almost Home, there are things that I think will frustrate all but the most ardent supporters of the band. 

Let me start off by saying that for anyone who is looking for another Fire & Love or Miracle Mile, there is very little here that is going to satisfy your palette.  In fact, nothing here has the "hair" feel to it, although there are a few melodic rock moments.  Instead what we are given with Almost Home is a collection of songs that range from the modern hard rock feel of "Boom She Said" to the bluesy-yet-still-modern lead single, "The Real Me" to the straight up acoustic ballad, "Almost Home"...and a bit of everything in between.  I'm not sure "eclectic" really covers the overall feel of this album, as I felt somewhat jerked all over the place as I listened to this record the first several times, never really given a chance to find a groove to set my attention into.  For some that's a great thing; for some a distraction.  For me, it was mildly annoying at first, mostly because I spent so much time searching for the Guardian of my youth, but never really found it (though it does come close in spots).  That irritation dissipated after a time once I figured out where the best tracks were located and filtered out those elements that really do nothing for me.  

To be fair, this is a band that has morphed (some say matured) with every release since Rowe replaced Paul Cawley after the oft-forgotten debut record, First Watch.  Guardian has gone from the hair metal of Fire & Love to the more melodic hard rock of Miracle Mile, to the largely acoustic Swing, Swang, Swung, to the modern rock of both Buzz and Bottle Rocket, so for the band to shape-shift once again didn't come as a huge surprise to me.  However, to find the band trying to cover SO MANY bases all in one record was a bit of a shock to the system.  

"Boom She Said" kicks things off with a funky little bluegrass-styled guitar intro and NASA control tower recordings before punching you in the face with a massive modern rock guitar riff and thundering drums, pulling Rowe's raspy vocals into the fray in a frantic rocker that had me nodding my head and grinning from ear-to-ear.  No, this wasn't hair metal, but dangit, these guys still HAVE IT!  

The next track, "The Real Me" still rocks to a degree, but it is more in a bluesy-yet-still-uptempo style that I wasn't prepared for following "Boom...".  To be completely honest, I don't particularly care for this song and generally skip it, largely because of the way the song is structured and Jamie's use of the "aahh" sound that drives me nuts.  Petty?  Probably, but I really just don't like this song and would NOT have used it as the lead single because I don't think it really reflects the rest of the album that well.

"Little Things" starts quietly, building volume, if not intensity, as it follows a simple drum and bass line placed just below an equally simple acoustic guitar riff.  Rowe's vocals are powerful and emotive here, taking us through the first chorus before a slide guitar shimmies in for a brief appearance, then disappears just as quickly.  The song is nearly half-over before the "electricity" is added to the song and the track comes alive.  With its somewhat 90's alternative meets 80's ballad approach, this is easily one of my favorite tracks, as it really shows the musical skill of this band when it is firing on all cylinders.

"Wonderful" continues the alt-rock sound, especially in the tone of the guitars, reminding me of the Newsboys to a degree.  Rowe's vocals are spot-on once again, and the music, while not full of screaming guitars, rocks enough to satisfy the melodic rock crowd, yet maintains enough pop sensibility in its richly layered vocals and a song structure that borders on modern praise-and-worship, to keep the mellower crowd engaged.  Again, a top five track for me.  

(If you are keeping score, three of my personal favorites are found in the first four tracks...)

"California Rain" is next up and it sounds like a Santana song to me, complete with Spanish guitar and a 1970's flavor that is unmistakable.  While musically on target, this is a style that does nothing for me, and I honestly skip it now.  

"Show Us What You Got" is an all-too-short little shred fest from Mr. Palacios that leads nicely into the other true rocker on this album, "King Of Fools".  This track is as close to "old" Guardian as the record ever gets and it is a great track.  Palacios goes off on a great solo run after the second chorus, and Ney and Bach are amazingly solid in the rhythm department on this song.  Edging slightly past "Boom She Said", this, for me, is the pinnacle of the album, and, as I said before, I would have been perfectly happy with an entire album full of this 90's-era Aerosmith-inspired guitar rock.  

Another interlude follows, but it is a complete waste of time for me, as it consists entirely of a phone call on an answering machine.  Auto-skip would be a great invention for me at this point, as I would program that sucker to blitz right past this every single time.

"Paranoia Kills" is the last of the big rock numbers on the record, and it is another decent modern rocker with a snappy beat and distorted guitars and vocals, with some effects thrown into the mix for good measure.  This track reminds me a lot of the sound the band was chasing on Bottle Rocket, mixing guitar rock with modern instrumentation and production.  An excellent song that I would say is probably my third favorite here, just behind "Boom..." and just ahead of "Little Things".

"Price We Pay" is another great song that also slots in with the best of the songs here.  More of a mid-tempo melodic rocker, this song and it's successor, "Free", finish off the best of the record for me.  In fact the six songs I've indicated as my personal favorites would have made for a KILLER EP, with the interlude "Show Us What You Got" being tossed in to take up space.

The final interlude here is another total waste of time and disc space for me, and once again, I immediately skip it.

Album closer, and title track, "Almost Home" is a great acoustic track that finds the band in contemplative mode, reminding me a lot of Extreme's "Hole Hearted" in some ways, and is an excellent way to round out the record.

As a Kickstarter backer of the project, I have the digital download version AND the CD version of this album, so I am able to comment on packaging as well.  We have a digipack here (the norm now), with a 12 page booklet filled with band member photos, lyrics, and credits.  The production is top notch, with Perrenot (who has been a band member since 2008) doing an excellent job of keeping the record fresh and crisp sounding with no muddiness or loss of voice for any of the instruments.  Kudos, Jamey...

As I said way back at the beginning of this review, the record is mostly good.  If I could, I would drop "The Real Me", "California Rain", and two of the three interludes, which I think would leave me with a neat-and-tidy 8 song record with everything being very good to great.  As it is, the record isn't horrible by any means, but it is likely not what Guardian fans of old thought they were going to get.  I like it, but I honestly prefer the recent AdrianGale album, Sucker Punch, to this one.  Given more time, and some subtle use of the skip button, Almost Home may grow on me further.  As it stands, it is a top 5 Guardian disc for me, ahead of both Bottle Rocket and Buzz, but in no way threatening Fire & Love or Miracle Mile for catalog supremacy.

Rating:  Crank this to a 7 and let's hope this isn't the last we have heard from this talented band that can still bring it when they want to.


Friday, July 11, 2014

RONNY MUNROE "Electric Wake"

(c) 2014 Rat Pak Records

  1. Burning Time
  2. Ghosts (featuring George Lynch)
  3. Electric Wake
  4. Turn To Stone
  5. My Shadow
  6. Not You Not Me
  7. Pray
  8. Ritual Damage
  9. Sleepless Mountain
  10. The Others (featuring Dave Rude and Pamela Moore)
  11. United
Ronny Munroe--Lead Vocals
Stu Marshall--Guitars
Jeff Baker--Bass
Rick Ward--Drums

George Lynch--Guitar on 2
Pamela Moore--Vocals on 10
Dave Rude--Guitars on 10

Current Metal Church frontman, Ronny Munroe, has released another solo CD upon the metal masses, this time bring along with him fellow Rat Pak Records alums George Lynch, Dave Rude, and Pamela Moore for added effect.  Using a straight forward metal approach, similar to what recent Metal Church releases have employed, Munroe really doesn't stray too far out of his comfort zone for the majority of this record, instead choosing to tread familiar waters.  The problem with treading water is that while you manage to stay afloat, you don't really go anywhere.  Electric Wake struggles with this, just like a swimmer in the deep end does.

The album starts off well enough, with "Burning Time" being a strong opener that really focuses the listener's attention on the powerful, throaty range of Munroe, who truly has one of those "metal" voices.  Never sing-songy, never whiny, yet never lacking in emotion, Munroe spits and snarls his way through this very Metal Church feeling track.  In fact, were the song to feature a stronger guitar solo and a bit chunkier rhythm section, I would have guessed this to be a Metal Church song that would have fit along with anything that has been released in the band's Munroe years.  

"Ghosts" was teased in several places on the internet, largely because of the inclusion of Mr. Scary, George Lynch, putting his signature on the guitar solo for this track.  Oddly, this song's main guitar riff sounds so much like Kreator's "Golden Age" that I nearly checked to see if it was given credit somewhere in the album notes!  We are talking almost note-for-note riff lifting here!  Again, the song is solid and Lynch does what Lynch does best, making "Ghosts" one of the two or three really good songs here, even if it isn't overly original.  As far as Munroe's contribution here, he sounds a LOT like David Wayne (another previous Metal Church singer, for the uninitiated) here, and the song is better for it!   

"Turn To Stone" is another solid metal number that doesn't take any real risks, but it will satisfy the metalhead that just wants to thrash around and throw his fist into the air.  Decent guitar work and a solid rhythm section here, as well, and "Pray" is another strong effort that really shows Munroe's range not only in pitch, but also his range in handling different vocal approaches.  Within this song he goes from high pitched screaming to singing in almost a whisper at times.  This track also has one of the strongest guitar solos (outside of Lynch's work), and it is a fairly well crafted song all the way through.  I could hear Metal Church grabbing hold of this track and beefing the sound up a bit and making it something that old school fans of the band would really enjoy.

"Ritual Damage" isn't bad, as it features some solid chugga-chugga rhythms and aggressive guitar work throughout, with another nice, if short, solo thrown in the mix.  Again, this feels like it might be left-over Metal Church material that didn't make the cut on a band album.  It's not bad at all, it just seems to be missing "something".  

"Sleepless Mountain" feels like a lesser Iron Maiden track, with the galloping 80's sounding guitar riff that opens the song and carries on throughout.  Not great, but not horrible.  The same can be said of "The Others", which also has that Maiden feel to it with its guitar tone and musical phrasing.  Pamela Moore adds her vocal talent to the effort here, but the effort is largely wasted as the lyrics are pretty lame, to be honest, sounding like something Manowar penned...and later rejected.  As I stated, Moore is musically very talented, but this isn't the type of song her skill set works best on.  This is more a Doro Pesch type of song than a Pamela Moore song, and I doubt even Doro would throw in with this song.  Rude is given a good chance to show off his skills with the guitar, and he impresses, but, like Moore, can do little to save this song.

"United" closes out the album in pure Metal Church fashion and it is probably my favorite track from the record.  It's just too bad it is buried at the end of the record because I question how many people will actually get all the way to this song before giving up on the record as nothing more than background noise, or just turning it off altogether and moving on to something else.  That's too bad because metalheads, and especially Metal Church fans, will likely really enjoy this driving, metallic track and Ronny puts his all into the vocal performance on this song.

My version of the CD does not include the two bonus tracks, "Tainted Nation", and the Iron Maiden cover "Total Eclipse", so I can't speak to the quality of those songs.  

As for the remaining tracks, they are simply filler material to my ears.  Not horrible, but really not memorable at all.  "My Shadow", "Electric Wake", and "Not You Not Me" are all given fair shots by Munroe, but the music falls short of the effort he puts into each song, and, quite frankly, the songs just fall flat.  

The problem on the record isn't Munroe's vocal performance, as that is strong throughout.  I think a pretty solid EP could have been crafted out of this record, with "Ghosts", "Pray", "United", "Ritual Damage", "Burning Time", and "Turn To Stone" all being solid, if sometimes not overly amazing, songs.  But if you do the math, that's only 6 out of 11 tracks included on this record, meaning barely half of the disc lives up to what I had hoped Munroe would deliver on this, his third solo outing.  As such, the final rating is going to reflect that percentage.  

Rating:  Rock this at a 5.5, or, better yet, carve out the weakest material and make a decent little mini-album on your iPod or mp3 player that would probably rock considerably harder for you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

QUIET RIOT "Ten"

(c) 2014 RSM Records

  1. Rock In Peace
  2. Bang For Your Buck
  3. Backside Of Water
  4. Back On You
  5. Band Down
  6. Dogbone Alley
  7. Put Up Or Shut Up (live)
  8. Free (live)
  9. South Of Heaven (live)
  10. Rock N Roll Medley (live)
Jizzy Pearl--Lead Vocals 1-6
Kevin DuBrow--Lead Vocals 7-10
Alex Grossi--Guitars
Frankie Banali--Drums
Chuck Wright--Bass

Additional Musicians
Tony Franklin--Bass
Rudy Sarzo--Bass

10 is the first album to be released by the legendary Quiet Riot since founding member, Kevin DuBrow, passed away in 2007 (has it seriously been 7 years already?).  Taking the microphone stand, apparently on a permanent basis, is former Love/Hate frontman (and Ratt fill-in), Jizzy Pearl.  I say "apparently", as Pearl is now the fourth singer to front the ever-revolving carousel of band members since DuBrow died.  However, Pearl is the first to actually record anything with Banali and the current line-up, so it seems this is the line-up that will be moving forward...but you never know.  After all, there have been more than 20 different versions of the band since it first appeared in 1975, and more than 15 versions since the band broke big with Metal Health way back in 1982.

Things start off in great fashion, as "Rock In Peace" (R.I.P, anyone???) is a true Quiet Riot rocker of the highest level, and Pearl even has the feel of DuBrow as far as his delivery goes, and if you pay attention, you can even catch a few Metal Health lyrics in this album opener.  Grossi rips through a nice solo, and Banali's thundering drum style is evident throughout.  The mix is a bit muddy and subdued, but the sound actually gives the song even more of a throw-back quality to it.  

"Bang For Your Buck" is a pretty solid rocker, complete with a cool slide guitar and some great shouted vocals on the chorus, but the production is getting harder to listen to, especially with the guitar solo sounding like it is set a bit too far back in the mix, which is disappointing because Grossi does some very solid work here.  Pearl's vocals step back just a bit from the previous track in terms of sounding like DuBrow, but his snarling delivery fits the music very well.  Banali and Wright are in perfect sync here, and the band sounds like it is hitting on all cylinders at this point.  

"Backside Of Water" is another formidable rocker and is one of my two or three favorites on the disc.  Once again, Grossi tears through an absolutely scorching solo and the band is in great form throughout, with Pearl charging out front like a mad-metal-man possessed!  Color me impressed, at this point.

"Back On You" sounds more like something from the Condition Critical era of the band, or perhaps even QRIII, than Metal Health, but it is definitely a Quiet Riot rocker and is possibly the best song here.  I really, really like this song and Pearl does great service to the band with his efforts here.  Oh...and did I mention what a great guitar player Grossi is on this disc?  No?  Well, he is...

"Band Down" finds the band struggling a bit, in my opinion.  To be honest, this track would have been cool if the previous singer had been in charge, but not with Pearl out front.  Oh...and by the way, I don't mean DuBrow, either, when I mention previous singers.  "Band Down" is a song that Paul Shortino would have NAILED on the love-it-or-hate-it Quiet Riot album from 1988.  Grossi lays down some inspired, bluesy guitars, and the harmony vocals are excellent here.  To give him credit, Pearl sings his heart out here, but this is material that Shortino would've just owned with little to no effort.  Not a skipper, but not the top of the heap as far as overall execution goes. (Musically, it might be my favorite track, however.)

"Dogbone Alley" finds Pearl once again channeling his inner DuBrow, as the band recovers from it's minor slip on the previous track, and the band easily handles this QRIII-styled effort.  Again, not the absolute best track out of the new material, but definitely a Quiet Riot track.

At this point, the album switches to live material recorded with DuBrow out front.  Honestly, I wish the band would have just released a 6 track EP or found another couple of songs to record, because the live section leaves a lot to be desired.  While it's cool to hear the lesser-known "Put Up or Shut Up" in a live setting, DuBrow's vocal performance is certainly not of the highest quality, with numerous spots where his vocals break noticeably.  "Free" and "South Of Heaven" are both songs taken from the little-known Rehab albbum (no, this isn't Slayer's "South Of Heaven" done QR style...), and few but the true Quiet Riot die-hards probably even know what these two songs are.  The performances on these heavier, more bottom-ended songs are solid, but don't add a lot to the legacy of the deceased front man.  The medley, for me, is nearly ten minutes of wasted time, as none of the band's most well-known songs are included.  In fact, my gut said that Banali simply included this medley as the album closer since DuBrow brags on the drummer a bit at the beginning of the track.  In all honesty, after completing my review, I plan to cut out all the live material from my iPod, keeping only the new material.

The production and mix leave quite a bit to be desired in places, but overall, the new material is honestly some of the best Quiet Riot material to be put out since the Shortino-fronted disc, in my opinion.  Nothing here would have made it onto Metal Health or Condition Critical, most likely, but all the new songs are better than anything found on Down To The Bone, Guilty Pleasures, or Alive And Well.         

As to the live material, look...I get that DuBrow was a band founder and the leader of the band through the highest points in a storied career.  But why tack sub-par live material onto an album that features a NEW singer that you hope will lead you into the future?  Just like there shouldn't be two or three live Randy Rhodes cuts put on every album that Quiet Riot releases, there is no need to put DuBrow on new Quiet Riot albums, either, especially if he is used as a marketing tool or as an afterthought.  The record would have stood up just fine on it's own without the DuBrow tracks.  In fact, it would have stood up BETTER for this listener.  

Rating:  Rock this to a 6.5.  The new material is crankable if the mix were better, but the inclusion of the live material really damages an otherwise solid effort.  

ROCKSTARS ON MARS "Rockstars On Mars"

(c) 2014 Dirty Slut Records

  1. Tequila N Gin
  2. Road Of Freedom
  3. Fancy Panoucha
  4. Bleeding Heart
  5. 2 Kool For Skool
  6. I Want You
  7. Headbone
  8. Shelter
London LeGrand--Vocals
Johnny--Guitars
Dave--Bass
Caesar--Drums

Apparently, all it took for London LeGrand to be able to shake the moderate disaster that befell him after the Brides Of Destruction fiasco was to move...to another country....on another continent.  After all, it was LeGrand, not crappy songwriting or big egos, that tore Brides of Destruction apart, right?  To hear and read what some in the media had to say, it would certainly seem so.  I, on the other hand, found LeGrand's vocals to be one of the better things about Brides of Destruction, and I always wondered if the former hairdresser would land on his feet somewhere.

Well, the answer is, yes, he did land on his feet.  In Sweden.  After heading across the ocean with a batch of songs, LeGrand found himself in Gothenburg, Sweded where he assembled a new band in Rockstars On Mars, a talented and snarling group of sleaze merchants (in)conveniently located in the death metal capitol of the world!  While it may not seem to be the ideal place for LeGrand to find a group of like-minded musicians, from the moment LeGrand's vocals come screeching out of your speakers (or headphones), it is evident he found kindred musical spirits with the same sound and style in mind.  Equally obvious is the fact that this band, and this album immediately blows either one of the Brides of Destruction albums straight outta the water!  Seriously.  There is no comparison other than the inclusion of one member: LeGrand.

Rockstars On Mars, the album, is a punishing sleazefest filled with screaming vocals, equally screaming guitars, rumbling bass lines, and thunderous drums.  While the songwriting may not be overly inventive in places (there is a fair amount of repetition when it comes to the choruses of most of these tracks), there is a sincere hunger and urgency in the music that cannot be missed, whether you are listening to the album for the first time or the fiftieth.  

To be fair, five of these songs come from the band's previously offered Demo 1, but they have been repackaged and professionally released here, along with three new tracks.  Of the older material three songs really stand out for me.  "Tequila N Gin" teases you with an acoustic guitar opener before LeGrand threatens to blow your speakers up with a mighty howl as the now-amplified band explodes into a full-fledged headbanger, and it is a GREAT way to kick things off here.  "2 Kool For Skool" (not the Roxx Gang song of the same name), is a truly 80's-inspired rocker that is performed to sleaze perfection, and "I Want You" has a hint of pop to the songwriting, with LeGrand restraining his vocals just enough to maybe garner the band some airplay in a nation that still plays great hard rock.  

As far as the new material goes, there is no doubt for me that "Bleeding Heart" is the cream of the crop, and you can just feel the pain in LeGrand's vocals dripping off of each screeched word.  A dark, emotive ballad, this song, above all others, showcases a band that knows how to craft a song!  "Headbone" is catchy and humorous ("she broke my heart, so I broke her headbone") with a guitar vibe that reminds me a lot of the 70's arena rockers that I grew up with in my youth.  I have no idea what "Fancy Panoucha" means, but this is the third new track to be included here, and it is my least favorite, although it does give LeGrand a platform to showcase the full range of his vocals, starting off on the bottom end before swelling up into that high pitched screech he utilizes so well throughout the rest of the album.  The rhythm guitars on this track are pretty simple and fairly repetitive, but there is a pretty solid solo in the middle that shows Johnny's skill in ripping through a lead.  

The mix is rough, but not in a bad way, rather serving to capture the band in a live-sounding, urgent state.  Martin Sweet of Crashdiet does a great job of  not overly producing or heavily mixing this record, instead letting the instruments each carry their own vibe and life on this album.  I'm willing to bet that what you hear on this disc is very similar to what you will hear if you are able to catch the band live.  

Rating:  I love the raw energy and emotion of this album, and hope that a disc full of all-new material comes quickly on the heels of this effort!  Crank this "official" debut release to 8, and forget all about Brides of Destruction!

Monday, June 30, 2014

HOUSE OF LORDS "Precious Metal"

(c) 2014 Frontiers Records

  1. Battle
  2. I'm Breaking Free
  3. Epic
  4. Live Every Day (Like Its The Last)
  5. Permission To Die
  6. Precious Metal
  7. Swimmin' With The Sharks
  8. Raw
  9. Enemy Mine (duet with Robin Beck)
  10. Action
  11. Turn Back The Tide
  12. You Might Just Save My Life
James Christian--Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar
Jimi Bell--Guitar
B.J. Zampa--Drums, Backing Vocals
Chris McCarvill--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jeff Kent--Keyboards, Bass, Backing Vocals

House Of Lords is one of those bands that has always seemed to fly just below the radar of the hard rock world, both its fans and the media.  Sure, people know "Can't Find My Way Home", but most would be hard-pressed to come up with the name of even four albums (and they have release nine now), let alone four or five more song titles.  And the thing is, I'm not sure why they don't get the respect they deserve, as HoL has been one of the most consistently good bands in the genre since the debut album came out 26 years ago, in 1988.

When I say "consistently good bands", a lot of people are going to take issue with that statement, as only singer James Christian has been a member since the band's inception.  However, the current line-up...which also features the amazing guitar skills of Jimi Bell, along with B.J. Zampa, Chris McCarvill, and Jeff Kent...has been together for 10 years and five albums now, which shows more band stability than many current or classic acts.  It has also been during this stretch that I feel the band has enjoyed the most consistent sound in its history, as well, with each album building and transitioning from one to the next. 

Precious Metal is the latest album from the current line-up, and it will not throw many curve balls at its fan base.  The material here is pretty much exactly what fans have come to expect:  solid, melodic hard rock with top-notched songwriting, big hooks, catchy melodies, and powerhouse vocals from Mr. Christian.  However, the band sounds as if it decided to make a few minor tweaks to the classic sound, beefing up the "heaviness" on this record and scaling back the keyboards to a supporting role, rather than allowing them to take center stage at any real point in this record.  The results are slightly mixed, although, for the most part, I think the outcome is a very good, very strong record with a couple of tracks that are definitely worthy of inclusion on any "best of" compilation that Frontiers Records may decide to release somewhere down the line (and, yes, I know Cleopatra Records did an Anthology release a few years back.).

The album kicks off with "Battle", which is everything House Of Lords fans have come to expect from the current line-up, with a big guitar hook, complimentary keyboards, and some of Christian's most powerful vocals on the record.  It's a perfect song to set the stage for this album because it eases the listener into the subtle changes I mentioned previously, as the band reigns the keys in a bit and pushes the guitars further out front.  An example of this can be found on the very next track, as the heavier side of the band can be found on "I'm Breakin' Free".  This kick-the-loser-to-the-curb anthem finds Christian snarling about "losing your ass", while Bell supplies some snarl of is own on guitar. "Permission To Die" is full of sass and swagger, kicking off with a bit of a boogie feel to the guitar approach, before the "hey, heys" kick in, and Christian takes over.  "Swimmin' With The Sharks" is another prime example of the band shifting completely into guitar rock mode, as the keyboards are nothing more than a supporting instrument, giving way to the harder-edged rhythm guitars and some excellent drumming and solid bass work.  "Raw" takes a similar stance, as Bell rips through some classic-sounding guitar lines in this pulsating rocker, complete with layered vocals and just enough keyboard work to satisfy those who expect a bit more A.O.R. from this band.

Slower material is also included, as is to be expected, but it is found in a couple of odd places.  I will be the first to admit I had ZERO clue that the title track would be a ballad.  I mean, come on..."Precious METAL"?  But, make no mistake, this is definitely a ballad of the first order.  Acoustic guitar leads things in, with a slow, subtle keyboard build that takes the song to the first chorus which showcases Christian's ability to still climb the vocal scale to reach some higher-ranged notes.  The other "ballad" on this record is more of a slower-tempo rock number, as "Live Every Day (Like Its The Last)" really doesn't slow to the point of a traditional ballad.  No matter, as the message is a solid one and Christian's mastery of his vocals is really put on display here, as he once again effortlessly runs from one end of his vocal range to the other.  Bell supplies a very good guitar solo here, and the keyboards are all but undetectable here, with the rhythm section being all the support the song really requires.

One song that really sticks out is "Enemy Mine", which features Christian dueting with his wife, Robin Beck.  To say this is a quirky song would be an understatement.  There are all sorts of weird electronic elements going on here, including what sounds to be the use of an auto-tuner on some of the electronic vocals.  Beck's vocals are equally as powerful as Christian's, and the interplay between the two is solid.  I like the song, I just don't know if it's a House Of Lords song as much as it is a James Christian or Robin Beck solo album song.  It definitely stands out here, but I think it actually disrupts the flow of the album to some degree.  I don't skip it, but I will admit that it throws me for a loop whenever it first kicks in.

"Action" gets things back on the hard rock track after that little oddity, and really the band never slows again.  "Turn Back The Tide" starts off mid-tempo but builds quickly into a classic House Of Lords song before the album closes with what I think may be the best track on the disc, "You Might Just Save My Life".  A solid arena rocker, this track has a powerful, catchy chorus, some cool vocal tricks, and a driving rhythm that will have your head banging and your fists pounding on the steering wheel as you cruise along, anticipating the big guitar solo which absolutely does not disappoint.  A killer closer to a more-than-solid effort from a great band that I wish would get more recognition.

Don't miss your chance to see House Of Lords on a few select dates this year, including this year's Skull Fest.  It is not often the band plays out, and getting to hear and meet the guys is something you may not get many chances at doing.

Precious Metal continues the tradition of solid melodic hard rock albums to come out from the current version  House Of Lords over the past ten or so years.  Fans of the band are going to be very comfortable with what they hear, and many are likely to include this in their Top 4 or 5 of all time from this great band.  Newcomers to HoL will find themselves encouraged to seek out the back catalog after a stellar intro to the band with this latest effort.  A frequent player for me, and one that I am sure will continue to gain spins for years to come.  

Rating:  Crankable, as is the case with all House Of Lords releases.  Crank this one to a 7.5.


Monday, June 23, 2014

PROPHETS OF ADDICTION "Babylon Boulevard"

(c) 2012 Cargo Records

  1. Hang Me Up
  2. Kick It In
  3. Altar Of Altercation
  4. Self Portrait
  5. Babylon Boulevard
  6. Mistress Addiction
  7. Rejection
  8. Still Alive
  9. Trigger
  10. Where R U Now
Lesli Sanders--Lead Vocals, Bass
Amit Lee Ron--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Shawn Smash--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Jimmy Mess--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Rev.--Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals
Terry Bratsch--Mandolin, Lap Steel
Rick King--Theramin, Persussion
Julia Harms--Backing Vocals
Rebecca Terry--Backing Vocals

Prophets Of Addiction is the brainchild of former Pretty Boy Floyd bassist Lesli Sanders, but you can stop reading right now if you are looking for music in the same vein as PBF.  Sanders, who also handles the vocals on this raucous debut record, is not here to chase chicks or to have little lighters-in-the-air party.  Nope, he and the boys are here to kick in the door, smash the television, set the couch on fire, drink all your booze, and then leave your house a bottle-and-needle-polluted shell of the home it once was, scaring off the neighbors in the process.  This is not a pretty record, but it is a good one, recalling the seedier side of the Sunset Strip while also incorporating the 70's glam and street rock sound of the New York Dolls and the London sleaze-punk of Tyla-era Dogs D'Amour.  

By giving a listen to just four tracks, the listener is treated to four varying degrees of styles that meld together to encompass the Prophets Of Addiction sound.  The opening track, "Hang Me Up" features a very cool 70's guitar vibe throughout the track that screeches its way across the thumping rhythm section in a way that woul dmake T. Rex proud!  Sanders snarls his way through the lyrics in a Taime Downe meets Rach Rose (Erotic Suicide) and Michael Monroe manner. while the twin guitars of Ron and Smash blister their way into your ears!  "Altar Of Altercation" skillfully mixes punk and sleaze in a violent display of angst and attitude, sounding like the Sex Pistols partying with Faster Pussycat, with Mess sounding especially in his element here with his raw, primal drum attack on display throughout.  The title track, "Babylon Boulevard" sounds a LOT like the Dogs D'Amour did in the late 80's, with hints of WASP in the guitars, while album closer, "Where Are You" showcases a band that knows how to deliver a somewhat more melodic, slower song that still manages to grind, rather than glide, across your eardrums in spite of the piano that slips just below the sonic wall of distorted guitars and crashing cymbals.

There are other equally solid songs here, to be sure.  "Trigger" instantly comes to mind, with it's one-take sounding drums and wickedly cool guitar lick setting the pace for Sanders to sneer, "I shot the devil, I took him prisoner, I smoked the devil, now I watch him disappear..." before leading into a dirty guitar solo and some funky bass work.  Also impressive is "Mistress Addiction" with its bluesy, almost jangly musical approach and a GnR-ish solo (the whole song reminds me of the Lies album) that sets it apart from anything else on the record.  This track alone proves that this is not a one-trick pony of a band and that Sanders and Company are more than capable of writing a song that can shift gears on an album without sounding like they are attempting to sell-out to corporate radio.       

Originally self-released in 2010, this 2012 re-packaging for Cargo Records has the same track-listing and instrumentation, with only a change in cover artwork, at least as far as I can tell.  The packaging cannot get any simpler, as the Cargo Records version is a single sheet insert with a band photo, album credits, and extremely basic thank-you's from the band.  No lyrics are included here, or on the band's site, for that matter, but Sanders' vocals, while snotty and sneering, are easily enough understood that printed words aren't really necessary.  Besides, this is from-the-gut sleaze mixed with snarling punk and street rock, not some deeply introspective prog rock album, so the delivery and the performance get the point across as well as any words could.  

Mixed by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist, Phil Soussan, the record sounds live and dirty, edgy throughout, and not overly rehearsed.  The mix is a bit muddy in spots, but it is hard to tell if that is intentional or not, as the sound fits the image of the band.  I would have liked to have just a bit more bottom end in places, and there isn't a ton of dynamic range here as far as the separation of highs and lows, but with the grit and scum that is liberally applied to so much of this album, it is quite likely that what you hear through your speakers is exactly what you are going to hear live, as well.

Aggressive, angry, filthy, and dirty, Prophets Of Addiction are not the kind of band you are going to pick up on the street and bring home for mother to meet.  In fact, they are the kind of band you are likely going to mistake for a gang and swerve to the other side of the street to avoid!  But after giving a listen to Babylon Boulevard, it is easy to determine that this is exactly how the band wants to be perceived: dangerous but worth the risk, to steal a phrase from Ratt.  

Touring across North America in 2014, Prophets Of Addiction is a band well-worth checking out!  

Rating:  Not for the feint of heart, but still crank-worthy.  I give this one a 7.5.

JIMI JAMISON "Eye Of The Tiger 2014"

(c) 2014 TopNotch Records

  1. Eye Of The Tiger (Rocky III Anniversary Mix)  
  2. Eye Of The Tiger (Rocky III Anniversary Edit)
  3. Eye Of The Tiger ("Sing Along" Instrumental Mix)
Jimi Jamison--Lead Vocals
Bob Babbitt--Bass
Dave Cleveland--Lead Guitar

In 1982, there were few songs bigger than "Eye Of The Tiger" (actually, there was only ONE bigger song), and few movies bigger than Rocky III.  The combination of film franchise and arena rock was pure gold, as this single really launched Survivor into the stratosphere of the hard rock world.  "Eye Of The Tiger" was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 straight weeks, stayed in the Top 40 for 18 straight weeks, went number one in multiple countries, and earned Survivor a Grammy Award.  (Oh, and as to that one bigger song, only Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" was a bigger hit in all of 1982.)  However, many people don't realize that it was NOT Jamison who was the voice for this massive Survivor hit.  Jamison would have his shot at movie theme song glory later ("Moment Of Truth" for Karate Kid and "The Burning Heart" for Rocky IV), but it was actually Dave Bickler who was the lead singer for the band's biggest hit.

In 2014, Jamison decided to cut his own version of the iconic song and, to be quite honest, it is vocally very similar to Bickler's take on the trrack, although I have long preferred Jamison's slightly gruffer vocals to those of Bickler, and the same holds true here.  Musically, there was a good deal of re-arrangement of the track by Babbitt and Cleveland, who are both members of  the Whitney Wolanin Band (yeah, I don't know who that is, either...).  It is still very identifiable as "Eye Of The Tiger", but the music was updated a bit to keep the song from sounding as dated as you might anticipate, and to give it new life.  In my opinion, this was done successfully, as Jamison's vocals are strong and the music is very nicely done, with a great guitar solo from Cleveland.   The regular Anniversary Mix is nearly 45 seconds longer than the edit and features an extended guitar solo, while the "Sing Along" version is little more than a karaoke track that serves no purpose for me.  I wouldn't even own it except for the fact that I could get all three tracks for $1.99 from iTunes, or just a single version of the song for $1.29, so, for review purposes, I went all the way!  That's what I do for you folks!

Seriously, there is not going to be a huge demand for this digital-only release unless you are a massive Survivor/Jamison fan, a rabid Rocky fan, or someone who is into collecting movie soundtracks.  Whatever floats your boat.  For under $2, it's a decent pick-up to throw into a gym workout mix or something, but it's not going to change your world and I would be willing to bet more than half of the people who hear this version are going to cling to the original for nostalgic reasons.  As for me, I honestly think I prefer this version, but I think that may have ANTI-nostalgia reasons, as the song in it's original form, has been simply played to death...at least for me.

You can download the song from iTunes here.

Rating:  I don't typically rate singles, but I guess if pushed into it I would crank this to a 7.5, largely because of the fresh update to the music.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

TESLA "Simplicity"

(c) 2014 Frontiers Records

  1. MP3
  2. Ricochet
  3. Rise And Fall
  4. So Divine...
  5. Cross My Heart
  6. Honestly
  7. Flip Side!
  8. Other Than Me
  9. Break Of Dawn
  10. Burnout To Fade
  11. Life Is A River
  12. Sympathy
  13. Time Bomb
  14. 'Til That Day
  15. Burnout To Fade (writing demo) BONUS TRACK
  16. Honestly (writing demo) BONUS TRACK

Jeff Keith--Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Brian Wheat--Bass, Backing Vocals, Piano
Frank Hannon--Lead Guitar, Piano, Backing Vocals, Bass
Dave Rude--Guitars, Backing Vocals, Bass
Troy Luccketta--Drums, Percussion


From the second the needle drops on the new Tesla record...and yes, the first sound you hear will be a needle caressing vinyl...the band comes out with their trademark "normal guys rocking out" vibe that fans have come to expect.  Twenty five years after the band first burst on the scene with Mechanical Resonance, the band still sounds like Tesla, which says something about the continuity of the band, as well as the comfort level these guys have with who they are.  Tesla is, and always has been, a blue collar hard rock band, and the new record, aptly titled Simplicity, finds the guys continuing in that vein with a large degree of success.

The disc starts off with four straight solid rockers of various tempos.  As mentioned, opening track "MP3" starts things off with the sound of a needle dropping on a vinyl album, with Jeff Keith lamenting the current digital age as far as music and personal communication goes.  While I probably would have dropped this track back down in the tracklisting a bit (it just doesn't come out rocking as hard as others here), this mid-tempo number is a good track that is unmistakably Tesla through and through.  I do have to wonder if the band is allowing this album to be sold on iTunes or Amazon, as it would seem to be a tad bit hypocritical in light of the lyrics...but I digress.

The next track would have been my choice to open the album, as "Ricochet" is one of the catchiest tracks on this record.  With it's Nugent name-dropping chorus ("like Uncle Ted said, a 'Free For All'..."), sassy delivery, and smooth guitar work, this track is one that is destined to be a standard in Tesla set-lists for years to come.  "Rise And Fall" features a smooth bass and drum intro, accompanied by a chugging guitar riff, and Keith's easily recognizable vocals.  Aerosmith fans will likely find themselves drooling over this one!  "So Divine..." starts off a bit on the slow side but rapidly builds into one of those unquestionably Tesla rockers built around a sparser sounding verse and then pounding things home during the chorus and the solo break.  This one could have come straight off the Mechanical Resonance album as far as sound and approach goes, and is my favorite overall track on Simplicity.  I absolutely love this song.

Speaking of sounding like classic Tesla, "Sympathy" has a bass line that sounds so much like the into to "Hang Tough" that it's almost like art imitating art.  Again, this harder-edged number is pure Tesla, edged out only by "So Divine..." and the next track, "Time Bomb" for my favorites on the album.  "Time Bomb" has a dirty, gritty guitar tone, and takes on a subtle modern vibe to the track, but there is no question as to who is delivering the goods here, as snarl of Keith and the swagger of the song keep this solidly in Tesla territory.  "Break Of Dawn" is the other real rocker here, and once again, classic Tesla in its approach and execution.  These five songs alone would have made for a killer EP that I would have slapped my $9.99 to buy in an instant; they are that good and that Tesla in their sound.

"Flipside!" is an interesting track, throwing some harmonica into the bluesy mix to great effect.  I love the way the chorus is phrased, also, and Keith's delivery of the lines just nails this song for me.  I would imagine this song will find itself being pushed as a single at some point, although we all know there are few radio stations that will play it.  "Honestly" floats somewhere between balland and mid-tempo rocker, especially once the simple yet harder-edged chorus snags your ear and pulls your attention around.  The strongest slow number, at least for me, however, would be "Other Than Me", which reminds me of a lot of the band's Great Radio Controversy album stylistically.  Good, good stuff on these three songs as well.

A couple of songs push the boundaries of Tesla's sound just a bit.  "Burnout To Fade" reminds me a lot of the smooth, contemporary approach utilized by the Eagles back in the 70's, and album closer "'Til That Day" treads very closely to the crossover country sound utilized by bands like Restless Heart and Little Texas in the 90's.  Both are solidly crafted, with "Til That Day" being a particularly good song that comes across as contemplative and reflective, featuring slide guitar, some simple piano work, and acoustic moments that really combine for a nice closer to a very good record.

At 14 tracks (16 if you have the deluxe version, which I have), the record does get a bit long, and some subtle whittling here and there would serve the disc well.  Personally, I would probably drop "Cross My Heart", which is just a bit too honky tonk and dredges a bit too deeply into the Skynyrd-meets-Black Crowes vibe for my tastes.  Not a horrible song, just not one of the stronger tracks here.  I also think "Life Is A River" is the weakest of the slower material here and doesn't really add much to the record.  To my ear, it sounds like the band tried to come up with another "Love Song" and just fell short.  And the Keith's attempt to imitate a dog barking, humorous or not, makes me cringe each time I hear it.  Additionally, if I were to buy the record again, I would just get the standard version, as the two bonus tracks really add nothing for me.

On a side note, I was surprised that 2013's digital single "Taste My Pain" wasn't included here...bummed, to be quite honest...as I think that is a great song that would have fit extremely well here, especially in lieu of one or two of the weaker songs.  Not sure why it was omitted, but I can only hope it is because we are getting closer to the oft hinted at Tesla boxed set, and that it will be included there as an added incentive to snag that set.  Who knows...

The packaging?  Hey, it's Frontiers Records, so you get the great with the not-so-great, as is typical.  Yes, its a digipack, but I'm getting to the point that the complaining isn't even worth the typing because it's obvious these aren't going away.  That being said, the rest of the packaging is what we have come to expect from this excellent record label that knows what its fans want and delivers upon nearly 100% of the time.

Simplicity is not Mechanical Resonance or Great Radio Controversy, but it is also better than Into The Now or Forever More.  A solid, solid record that is on the must-have list for 2014, for sure.

Rating:  This is pure Tesla, and a dang fine record.  Crank this to 8!

Friday, June 13, 2014

THE LAST VEGAS "Sweet Salvation"

(c) 2014 ILS Group
  1. Touch The Sky
  2. Come With Me
  3. Invincible Summer
  4. Lucky 13
  5. Miss You
  6. Face In The Crowd 
  7. You & Me (You Never Know)
  8. Death Style
  9. Sweet Salvation
Chad Cherry--Lead Vocals
Johnny Wator--Guitars
Adam Arling--Guitars
Bryan Wilkinson--Guitars
Nate Arling--Drums
Danny Smash--Bass

Chicago's The Last Vegas return with their first album since 2012's excellent, but under-publicized, Bad Decisions album.  On the new album, which was fan-financed through Pledge Music, the band takes a bit of a step backward musically.  That is not to say they underperformed, for that is not what I mean.  The skill level and the performances are still there.  When I say they take a step back, I mean back to the 1970's and very early 1980's, as there is a lot of early Aerosmith-meets-Kix influence intermixed with the band's  take on 1980's styled sleaze, a la Motley Crue. LA Guns, and GnR...all seasoned with a bit of Jane's Addiction in places, believe it or not!...which gives the album a bit of a different feel than the last record, but with equally strong results.

One thing that definitely adds to the sound of the band would be the fact that the band has bolstered its roster, now sporting THREE guitar players, instead of the two they had employed since their introduction to the mainstream while on tour with Motley Crue.  I have not yet had a chance to catch this three axe show live, but the results on the record are strong.  I am not sure who plays what solos or if someone is relegated entirely to rhythm playing, but I like the guitar approach taken here and am impressed with the early musical returns.  Welcome to the fold, Bryan Wilkinson!

Chad Cherry seems to be channeling his inner Steve Whitman of Kix throughout much of this record, and does a great job of it at that!  His voice is in excellent shape throughout and he is able to sustain his notes in any range he chooses to sing in.  Since the first time I saw them live, I have thought Cherry had that "it" factor to be one of the great frontmen of this generation, and his vocal performance, both on Bad Decisions and now Sweet Salvation, shows that his singing has caught up to his showmanship, at least for me.  

"Come With Me" is the lead single from the record (and second track), and serves to really showcase the direction of most of this disc.  Nate Arling uses some tribal rhythms with his drumming, and I was INSTANTLY thrown to the sound of early Jane's Addiction as soon as Cherry hit the chorus of this record, as all the instruments stop except for a single guitar and some simple cymbal work ringing under his vocals.  After the second chorus, a raucous guitar section powers the track forward, with solid bass work from Mr. Smash pummeling the bottom end of this song.  Just a very cool track that worms its way into my head more and more with each listen.  Definitely a top 3 or 4 track for me here.

"Invincible Summer" is another hard rocking number that finds Cherry using a bit of an Axl Rose approach to his vocals during the vocals, very similar to the style employed on "Sweet Child Of Mine" or "Mr. Brownstone", then kicking them back up into a higher range on the bridge and during the chorus.  With lyrics borrowed from Guns N Roses ("...it was the best time I can remember..."), and Ella Fitzgerald!!! ("...summer time and the livin's easy..."), this isn't your typical rock track, which is part of what makes it so cool.  If you are like me, you will swear you have heard this song before because of the lyrical snippets used here, but the song doesn't come across as a rip-off of anyone nor does it sound dated...all while also being a completely new and original song!  Now that is not an easy feat to pull-off with someone like me who has heard tens-of-thousands of songs from thousands of albums!    

"Face In The Crowd" is the lone song on this record that doesn't really have at least one foot firmly set in the 70's groove of the rest of the record.  In fact, "Face..." is easily the most modern sounding track on this record, and a lot of that has to do with the effects used on some of Cherry's vocals.  That being said, a scorching Appetite-era, Slash-inspired guitar solo and sparse-but-solid rhythm playing still drive this hard rocker forward to great effect.

"You & Me (You Never Know)" feels a lot like an early Kix song and maintains a gritty, cutting edge with barked backing vocals and a catchy hook similar to those employed by the Baltimore rockers on their first couple of albums, up through Midnite Dynamite.  In fact, this song seems somewhat modeled after a track like "Sex", with only the harmonica missing!  Not a rip-off at all, but definitely in that same vein, this would be my second favorite track here if I had to put numbers to them.   

"Miss You" has a funky sound to it with some 70's styled Hammond organ thrown into the mix, this is an updated take on the classic Get Your Wings Aerosmith sound.  

And, if forced to rate them individually, what would be my favorite track?  No questions for me.  "Death Style" is a snotty, sassy track that really epitomizes what I think of when I think of The Last Vegas.  Full of piss and vinegar, the band's attitude on this track is that of a gang, declaring themselves "Apocalyptic, destroyer of towns, I'm always turning the world upside-down!"  This is THE anthem for this band, and I pray it is performed at every show these guys play!  Again, some excellent (and underrated) guitar work serves the song extremely well here, and I imagine this nasty rocker will come off even sleazier and grittier live!  Awesome stuff here!

"Sweet Salvation" brings things back a bit to the smoother sound of Bad Decisions as far as the style goes, but that retro-rock sound is still firmly in place, especially in the tone of the guitars and the simplicity of the drum line.  A great closer for an outstanding album.

With Roy Z overseeing the production, the album has a great feel to it throughout, with nice separation of the instruments, giving each their own voice and room to breathe.  He resists the overproduction that so many records seem to be subjected to these days, allowing the sound of the band to take center stage here, not his idea of what he believes the band should sound like.  With a pedigree of heavier acts such as Judas Priest, Sepultura, and Helloween (to name a few), Roy Z handles a less metallic band quite well here, giving the band the ability to showcase their own style.  Having had the chance to catch these guys live three times, I think this is the most "live" feeling record they have released, and it comes off as legitimate and honest, full of sass and swagger and ready to kick your ass live!  

A sleeper hit for 2014, I anticipate a lot of people are going to overlook this band once again, which will be their loss, as this album is easily going to find it's way onto my Top 15 list of the year!  

Rating:  Love it, love it, love it.  Crank this to 9!


Friday, June 6, 2014

BABYLON AD "Lost Sessions/Fresno, CA 93"

(c) 2014 Perris Records

  1. Love Blind
  2. While America Sleeps
  3. Love Is A Mystery
  4. Bang Go The Bells (re-recording)
Derek Davis--Vocals
Ron Freschi--Guitars
Dan De La Rosa--Guitars
Robb Reid--Bass
John Pacheco--Drums

Believe it or not, 24 years have passed since Babylon A.D. unleashed their self-titled, debut EP upon the hard rock world, and the band has decided that now is as good a time as any to reunite and give it another spin, with several live dates scheduled for 2014.  In preparation for that, the band has released this little EP from 1993, simply called Lost Sessions/Fresno, CA 93.  From what I understand, Davis had actually held onto these session tapes for quite some time...only to forget he had them...and then find them again.  They were cleaned up a bit, put on CD, and voila, here you go!  New Babylon A.D....sorta....

What we have here are three new songs and a re-worked version of "Bang Go The Bells" from the debut album.  I can state without hesitation that all three of the new songs sound a LOT more like what people had come to expect from Babylon A.D. than anything that actually appeared on the band's follow-up album, which I had a hard time swallowing outside of a couple of tracks.   

The opening track sounds to me like it was possibly a song that had been written for the debut, but just didn't make the final cut for whatever reason.  Solid guitar work and Davis' vocals carry this song which features a simple, yet catchy chorus and a tasty little guitar solo.  "While America Sleeps" is another solid rocker that, again, has that same feel as the debut disc, finding Davis reaching up into the higher reaches of his vocal range on a couple of screams, while plumbing the lower ranges for much of the verse work here.  Good stuff, to be sure!

"Love Is A Mystery" finds that band slipping into lighter-raising ballad territory.  Definitely a track in the "power ballad" style, "Love Is A Mystery" is a solid, if not overly original song with a soulful guitar solo and nicely emotive vocals.  There is also a teased false ending that leads into some more great tandem guitar work, which I love.  Nice touch!  This is a decent song, but as far as Babylon A.D. ballads go, I far prefer "Desperate" off the debut record.  For me, though, Babylon A.D. was always better when they were cranked up full-throttle, so perhaps I am a bit biased on this track.

I am not really sure why the band had decided to re-record "Bang Go The Bells" just three short years after the original was out, but I will say that I prefer the original.   Not to say this is a bad version, but I would say 99% of the time I am going to choose the original over a re-recording, and this is no exception.  If you have never heard the original, then you may end up liking this version better; I'm guessing it is going to be whichever version you attach nostalgia to that is going to end up being your favorite.

This was limited to just a couple thousand CD pressings, so it may be out of print already.  You can check www.perrisrecords.com to see if any are still available.  If so, I'd definitely recommend snagging this little gem to round out your Babylon A.D. collection and to get it signed as the band is out and about this summer.

Rating:  While short, this EP is still crank-worthy.  Crank it to 7, held back by the duration (about 20 minutes) and the fact that only three of these songs are new.