From Glam to Sleaze and ALL HAIR in between!

Glitter2Gutter is a review site of all things hard rock! Whether your thing is glam, sleaze, hair metal, arena rock, AOR, or modern hard rock acts, we have them all! Old classics, hot new bands, and relative unknowns alike can all be found here...

Monday, April 14, 2014

LIBERTY N JUSTICE "The Vow"

(c) 2014 LnJ Records

  1. Forever Starts Tonight (featuring Gunnar Nelson of NELSON)
  2. For Sure Thing (featuring Kelly Keeling of BATON ROUGE)
  3. Honeymoon Is Over (featuring Richard Kendrick)
  4. That's Gonna Leave A Mark
  5. Gone
  6. Every Night She Cries
  7. Promises To God (featuring Fergie Ferguson of TOTO)
  8. Pucker Up (featuring Richard Kendrick)
  9. Sting Of Her Kiss (featuring Louis St. August of MASS)
  10. Two Or More
  11. Another Goodbye
  12. Prince Charming In Disguise (featuring Gunnar Nelson)
Justin Murr--Bass
JK Northrup--Guitars
David Cagle--Vocals
Eric Ragno--Keyboards
Michael Feighan--Drums

This is it...the final curtain call for the melodic hard rock band, Liberty N Justice.  Band founder, bass player, and song writer, Justin Murr, has stated that he is closing this chapter of his musical life, which he as spent more than 20 years wrigint.  In doing so, he is taking Liberty N Justice back to where it came from, as a band, and not an all-star project, which is how the band gained its 15 minutes of fame.  Sure, there are still some guest appearances, but the singers are there to add background vocals, not to be lead singers.  Additionally, JK Northrup handles all of the guitars this time around, with Murr, Eric Ragno, and Michael Feighan also contributing all of their own individual instrumental performances, with no guest "rock stars" to fill in.  This is the band, folks, and they are for real.

The album kicks things off firing on all cylinders with "Forever Starts Tonight", featuring some AMAZING acapella layered vocals to intro the song and then powerful harmonies courtesy of Gunnar Nelson.  If this opener is any indication of what's to come, ts apparent that the band plans to go down swinging with this record.  "For Sure Thing" backs off only slightly, with David Cagle's bluesier approach getting some vocal assistance from Baton Rouge's Kelly Keeling in the background, before the real power of this record kicks in at track three.  That's right...we are two for two with winning songs...and then they are topped!

For those who maybe were unaware, this album is a concept record of sorts, about the struggles of a relationship/marriage.  There are serious ups and downs explored here, and at times real pain and grief can be heard in the writing, along with anger, resentment, frustration, humility, and a whole host of human emotions.  Throughout, however, even when not being expressly driven by names like "Jesus", "Christ", or "God", there is a definite underlying faith and hope that links these songs together.  Yes, sometimes the songs include anger at, or frustration with, God, which all people of faith have felt at times.  But it is this real quality, this human angle, that makes the writing on this record so strong.  When I was chatting with Justin about the record, he told me, "I don't know if I/we did it, but we really wanted a story record and to tell a story of falling in and out of love then seeking restoration through Jesus."  The band got what they were after...

As has always been the case, the focus is on the songwriting and the message with Liberty N Justice, and The Vow features some of the best material to ever come out of the LnJ camp.  Nowhere is that more evident than on the almost painful to listen to "Honeymoon Is Over" which just screams personal agony over a love lost and the regret that goes with realizing you are largely to blame.  With lyrics such as "haven't you heard, its everyone's fault but mine, haven't you heard, the honeymoon is over" and "with these words, I break this vow, with this ring, my happiness is in doubt", you can just feel the angst and doubt and second-guessing that is flowing through Cagle's vocals on this monster of a ballad.  Following this up is the the angry, edgy, slightly modern rock sounding "That's Gonna Leave A Mark" which has Northrup threatening to melt the strings from his guitar.  The more melodic, uptempo rockers "Gone" and "Every Night She Cries" reel things back into happier-sounding territory before the plaintive "Promises To God", which features some nice keyboard work from Ragno to compliment the emotive tenor of Cagle, rounds out this amazing five song arc.  This song, like "Honeymoon..." features lyrics that I think nearly everyone can relate to: "I'm broken and battered, my dreams have been shattered, all I have left is making promises to God".  While this block would have been a nearly perfect EP all by themselves, but I'm happy to say there is more to dig into here as well.

Don't think that all is serious here, as the trademark Murr humor is still intact, and you need look no further than the next track, "Pucker Up".  I know when he reads this Justin is going to know EXACTLY what my first statement about this track is:  GET RID OF THE CORNY INTRO!!!  (he knows I hate those things)  Aside from that, this is a great, smile-inducing track, where Murr name-drops his guitarist, JK Northrup, who also rips through a killer solo here.  "Sting Of Her Kiss" is another aggressive rocker, again featuring some absolutely incredible work from Northrup, and some nice vocal support from Louis St. August of MASS fame.  As far as the rockers go, this is quite possibly the stand-out on the record, at least musically.  Why don't bands rock like this any longer?  This is hard rock music, man!  Cathcy, hook-laden, guitar-driven, steering wheel-smacking hard rock music.

I'm not huge on acoustic ballads, so while "Two Or More" isn't my favorite track here, I was surprised at how much I find myself liking it.  The lyrics are powerful and given a solid push by Cagle.  "Two Or More" pulls some Biblical references into a strong love song about faith, forgiveness, and redemption, with out getting preachy or sappy.

"Another Goodbye" has a Newsboys-styled pop-rock feel to it with a guitar line I SWEAR I have heard before, along with a nice Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End line dropped in the chorus, a la Captain Jack Sparrow (Justin loves his movie references!), before "Prince Charming In Disguise" closes things out with a somewhat trippy, poppy track that sounds musically like something Enuff Z'Nuff might have tried during their career.

As far as the musicianship goes, things are in top-notch form throughout.  One thing that is especially noticeable on this album is the vocal strength of David Cagle, who was a relatively unknown session singer until Murr tapped him for several songs on the past couple of LnJ records (including ALL of the lead vocals on The Vow.)  For fans of Guardian and Adrian Gale, I dare say that there is a definite Jamie Rowe quality to the sound and style of Cagle, yet he is nowhere near to being a rip-off artist here.  Perhaps its the phrasing and the gritty edge that Cagle utilizes to push the emotional envelope that does this for me.  Regardless, having Cagle at the top of his game here, and then giving him the chance to harmonize with Gunnar Nelson in a couple of spots, and Kelly Keeling and Louis St. August in others, really brings the vocals to life on this record in a way that I didn't notice was missing before with the all-star approach.  And maybe it WASN'T missing on previous records, as the writing on those records wasn't taken to the concept/story album level that The Vow goes to.  Who knows.  All I know is I am duly impressed by what Cagle brings to the table here and I will be tracking him down wherever he goes from here.Northrup is at the top of his game throughout this record, and I again state without any reservation that he is one of the most under-appreciated guitar players in the hard rock genre.  If you haven't heard his solo stuff or his other projects, finish reading this review and then start surfing the 'Net to find anything that JK plays on! That's an order!  Feighan and Murr supply a solid and competent rhythm section that really should be given more credit than they likely will be.  The standard for performance on this record is set pretty high, and both men do more than just pull their own weight here, although neither breaks into any extended solos or breaks to demand, "hey, look at me!" The same can be said for the uber-talented Ragno, who expertly uses his keyboards as complimentary instruments, rather than trying to dominate any single track.  Yes, there are some great piano moments ("Promises To God") and keyboard elements to be found scattered throughout, but they don't bury any other instrument or detract from Cagle's vocals.  This is a BAND now, folks, and they work together, not against each other, to great effect.

If this is indeed the final chapter in the Liberty N Justice book, it is a good way to close, with no gimmicks, no all-star sessions.  Excellent songwriting, which has long been an LnJ trademark, abounds here, with solid performances all the way around, especially from Northrup and vocalist, Cagle, who is quite possibly a star in the making if he finds the right vehicle.  Like a favorite athlete, you don't want them to leave the game, but if they have to leave, you want your last memory to be a good one.  The Vow does that for Liberty N Justice, leaving you with one last shot of band that went down swinging.

Rating:  As always, crankable.  Give the knob a spin to 9 on The Vow.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

RON KEEL "Even Keel" (BOOK REVIEW)

(c) 2014 Wild West Media Productions



When I had the chance to talk to Ron Keel last summer, he told me he was in the process of putting the final touches on his autobiography.  I told him to be sure to let me know when it was done, as his was a story I was interested in reading, as KEEL has long been a band that I have enjoyed and always felt was just a break or two away from becoming full-fledged stars.  About three or four months after that conversation, I again had the chance to talk with Ron when he came to Skull Fest.  He told me at that time that he thought he probably had enough material for two or three books, and that some editing had been done to the autobiography he had been working on, but that it was basically done.  Fast forward just a couple of short months more, and Even Keel arrived in my mailbox, along with Ron's solo album, Metal Cowboy, and a couple of guitar picks.  Needless to say, I dove right into the book, reading it from cover to cover in a matter of just a couple of days.

The book covers pretty much every band that Ron has ever been a part of, from his very early days in the Arixona music scene, to his trip to the Sunset Strip of Hollywood, first with Steeler, then with his own band, Keel, to the southern rock stylings of Iron Horse, the country rock of the Rat'lers, and the metallic approach of Japanese band Sabre Tiger...along with various other side projects, tribute acts, and other musical ventures, from rock to country, along the way.  

Ron takes the reader on his musical journey, giving his insights into the lifestyle of the dang-close-to-rich-and-famous.  He doesn't pull any punches about his involvement with alcohol, drugs, willing groupies and multiple wives, yet he also doesn't go out of his way to push an agenda, hurt anybody, or throw anyone under the bus.  He discusses the ups and downs of his relationships with guitar heroes Yngwie Malmsteen, Marc Ferrari, Bryan Jay, and Japan's own guitar god, Akihito Kinoshita.  Ron talks about his brief flash of potential fame at the helm of Black Sabbath, his encounters with Gene Simmons, and how he found himself in the world of professional impersonators as part of a Brooks & Dunn tribute show.   

Throughout it all, Ron Keel manages to show humility and humanity, never coming across as bitter, even when it seems he probably could have.  Instead, Keel comes across as thankful for the multiple opportunities he has been given (or made for himself), and positions himself for his story to be one of inspiration and determination rather than failure and letdown.

There are not a lot of pictures in this book, and those that are here are black and white.  Keel uses lyrical snippets to introduce chapters throughout the book, giving the reader a look at where Ron's head was when he wrote these songs or where he drew his inspiration from.  There is also an extensive discography at the end of the book, giving the reader plenty of material to seek out for their own collection.  

There are a couple of spots in the book where, to me, it seems obvious that he edited material out, possibly for another book, as there are some minor stop-start jumps, but these are only minor distractions, and perhaps others won't even notice them.  Additionally, I do with there was a hardback version of this book, as I far prefer hardback to paperback, even when the paperback version is full-sized.  These minor issues don't take away from the readability of the book, however, and Keel's is an interesting story to be given the chance to be a part of.  Written entirely by Keel himself, with no ghost-writer or co-writer mentioned, I strongly recommend the book and look forward to any follow-ups that Ron may come up with.

Wild West Media Productions
Paperback

KICKIN' VALENTINA "Kickin' Valentina"

(c) 2013 Highway 9 Records

  1. Get Ready
  2. Dirty Girl
  3. Alone
  4. Anita
  5. Eat And Run


Joe Edwards--Vocals
Heber Pampillon--Guitar
Chris Taylor--Bass
Jimmy Berdine--Drums

Atlanta, Georgia has been keeping a secret...a nasty, sleazy, dirty little secret!  Kickin' Valentina is that secret, and now that it has been exposed, everyone should be on board to find out what a select few of us already knew...KICKIN' VALENTINA ROCKS!

On this little tease of an EP, Kickin' Valentina cranks up the volume and turns up the attitude, mixing an old school approach with some modern production sensibilities.  I can imagine this EP as the soundtrack to more than one strip joint down south, especially with raunch-n-roll tracks like the sleaze-soaked "Dirty Girl" and "Eat And Run", or the quasi-ballad, "Alone", which, you know, shows the softer side of the girl spinning around the pole!  

Joe Edwards' voice carries a gargled-with-razor blades raspiness that delivers the sleazy approach to these songs.  Think Taime Downe's snarling approach from the first Faster Pussycat record, but tuned down a notch or two in pitch, mixed with those of Brad Sinsel from War Babies, or, more accurately, the vocals of Crank County Daredevil's Scotty P.  Edwards comes screaming in at the beginning of the album's opening track, "Get Ready", and he never backs off, even when "Alone" slows things down a bit.  Pampillon is more than capable on guitar, especially on the screeching solo of "Dirty Girl" or on the sleazier southern rock approach of  "Anita", and he handles both lead and rhythm guitar sections without missing a beat.  Taylor supplies a thick groove to each of these tracks, while his rhythm section partner, Berdine, showcases a solid, steady, if not flashy style that supplies the foundation for each of these rockers to be constructed upon.  

If I had one complaint about any of these songs it would be the somewhat silly chorus on "Anita".  The song itself isn't bad, not at all, but the inclusion of the "boom, boom, boom" section of the chorus leaves me wondering if the band was all sitting around going, "Man, we have a kick-ass song here, but what the hell are we going to do for a chorus?!  Well, I guess we have to have one, so how about 'boom, boom, boom'?"  Obviously, this is tongue-in-cheek, but seriously, this single chorus outtake is about the only flaw I can find on this EP...other than the all-too-short nature of the disc (just under 23 minutes).

The production is solid, with a no fuss/no muss approach taken throughout the EP.  The CD packaging is very basic, with a single, two-sided insert that has individual pictures of each of the band members, and then a group shot on the jewel case tray inlay.  There are no lyrics included, and only a short thank-you section, but as I have stated in other reviews, this is pretty much to be expected on most independent releases where the vast majority of the money is (and should be) spent on the recording and production of a solid musical product.  That is evident in spades here, as Kickin' Valentina have put together an incredibly solid five-track span of songs.  Can they carry that across on a nine, ten, or eleven cut, full-length effort?  My guess is yes, and I am anxious to find out, as the band is already in the beginning stages of putting together their debut full-length record.  For those of you who want to get in on the ground floor and help the band out, they have set up a Pledge Music account which you can access HERE.   

This is an excellent debut effort and one that is definitely worth seeking out.  The band will be taking their raunchy circus on the road this year as well, with a stop at Skull Fest scheduled for October 11!  

Rating:  Just a couple of "boom, boom, booms" away from perfection, crank this piece of sleazy heaven to 9, and be prepared to hit repeat about 23 minutes later!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

RUSS DWARF "Wireless"

(c) 2013 Smoothline Entertainment

  1. Keep The Spirit Alive
  2. Stand Tall
  3. I'm Alive
  4. Startin' To Shine
  5. Doesn't Matter
  6. Comin' Through
  7. Dirty Weapons
  8. Look Around
  9. Four Seasons
  10. Driftin' Back
Russ Dwarf--Vocals
Glenn Belcher--Guitars, Sitar, Banjo, Wood
Rob "Zaks" Zakojc--Bass, All Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians:
Kevin Simpson--Guitar
Dan Lear--Guitar
Kevin Reid--Guitar
Cosimo Crupi--Keyboards
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thor--Guitar
Glen Drover--Guitar

I'm not sure why this "stripped" trend started (Tesla's Five Man Acoustic Jam is the accepted starting point), but it appears to be here to stay, and Russ Dwarf is the latest 80's rocker to tackle his back catalog in an acoustic fashion.  The arrangements on most of these songs have been completely reworked, as would seem to be obviously required, and several of the songs are almost not recognizable as the tracks that they originate from.  That being said, there are some excellent performances here, most notably from the lone "Dwarf" on the album, Russ Dwarf, whose vocals take on a gritty quality rather than the high, soaring tone used on the majority of the band's output.  

To be honest, I was pretty worried about this album when I first put it in, because Killer Dwarfs was always a power-chord band for me, and I wasn't really sure how the lack of electric amplification would affect my enjoyment of some of these songs.  And, not surprisingly to me, my fears were somewhat fulfilled with the first couple of tracks here.  I'm definitely not fond of how "Keep The Spirit Alive" comes across, as the song is rather sad-sounding and contemplative to me, which is not what I think of when I hear the original.  "Stand Tall" is not much better, and "I'm Alive" has such a country flavor to it that I barely recognized the song.  It reminded me of the music that Robert Plant has been doing lately with bluegrass musician/singer Alissn Krauss (which, perhaps not coincidentally, I simply can't stomach).  

Things start to progress from there, however, and I'm glad I powered through those first few tracks, because there is some solid material to be found starting with "Doesn't Matter".  I wonder if perhaps the fact that the songs are performed here in chronological fashion based upon their original album releases has something to do with how well these songs lend themselves to this acoustic format, because the later songs definitely hold up better than the earlier material.  The groups progression as songwriters probably has something to so with this, I would guess, as the last 6 tracks, taken from Dirty Weapons and the underappreciated Method To Madness albums, are definitely the best on this collection.


Stand outs for me are definitely "Doesn't Matter", the surprisingly effective "Dirty Weapons", and "Four Seasons", which has some pre-recorded effects thrown into the mix.  I say "Dirty Weapons" is surprising because this rocker is one of my favorites from the band but it is morphed into a bluesy ballad that really works well here, which I wasn't anticipating at all.  The same can be said for "Look Around", and album closer, "Driftin' Back" which receives and extra boost from the talent of Bumblefoot on guitar as well as some accompanying piano work courtesy of Mr. Crupi.  However, for me, the pinnacle of the album is "Comin' Through" has some pretty cool sitar work that give the song something of an dark, Middle Eastern flavor, rather than Great White Northern, feel of the Canadian band's original.  When the music is coupled with a rather angry vocal take by Dwarf, this song is pretty much as good as it gets, as far as these electric-to-acoustic interpretations go, and I'm glad it was included here.

The packaging is a digi-pack with no lyrics and only the bare bones as far as credits and thank you's go.  There are, however, a LOT of black and white photos of Russ Dwarf and the session musicians, which are pretty cool to see, even if they are a bit smallish and sometimes rather odd (a single shoe?  A fortune cookie message?).  

All in all, this is literally a 60/40 album for me, and not one that I am likely to play a lot unless the mood strikes.  That being said, Killer Dwarfs fans would do themselves a favor to give this record a spin, especially to hear the last 6 tracks which really showcase just how good the band became with their songwriting skills. 

Rating: "Rock" this acoustic effort to a 6, making sure to keep an open mind to allow yourself to experience the greatness of several of the performances here. 


DORYDRIVE "Here's To You"

(c) 2014 First Launch Records

  1. Radiate
  2. Paramour
  3. Here's To You
  4. Tattooed
  5. Perfect Chemical
  6. When The Lights Burn Out
  7. Take Me
  8. Better Part Of me
  9. Never Easy
  10. Dance Baby Dance
  11. All The Same
  12. Your Gravity
Mathieu Nevittt--Vocals
Joey Zak--Drums
Tom LaBrosse--Guitar
Henry Koller--Guitar
Nicholas Mendini--Bass

Dorydrive is a band that is new to me, but apparently not the modern rock scene.  This is understandable because I fear that satellite radio is starting to become what we all hated about terrestrial radio--a corporate-controlled outlet for flavor-of-the-month bands and not bands that have real talent and would interest music fans.  But, I digress...

This Nashville, TN based 5-piece band is actually on their second record now, although, in all fairness, this new effort, Here's To You, actually includes seven songs from their out-of-print debut.  Again, that's not an issue for me, as I had never heard the band or debut record, and there are still five new tracks here for those who may have been following the band for a while now.  

Upon first listen, there are immediate lines of similarity that can be drawn between Dorydrive and Daughtry, at least to my ears.  The Midwestern-rock style that both bands incorporate is used to great effect here.  Nevitt's vocals have that same impassioned quality to them that Daughtry's do, however Nevitt sings in a slightly higher tenor range that Daughtry, but the approach and delivery is similar without sounding like an intentional rip-off.  But power and emotion are not things that can be copied, and Nevitt has plenty of both, especially when you hear him tackle a mid-tempo rocker like "Paramour", which I challenge anyone to explain to me why it isn't a hit already!  

The feel of this entire record is generally positive and upbeat without the typical whining sentiments so many rock bands seem to incorporate these days.  Never treading into metal territory, this record is chock full of very solidly written modern hard rock, occasionally incorporating production tricks to keep the sound radio ready, such as in the stop-start-stop-start vocal effects used on the record's lead single, "Here's To You", a nice rocker that I imagine the ladies will be dancing along to while holding a beer high in one hand, low-cut jeans swiveling back and forth while the guys stand back and nod approvingly.   

One thing that really helps Dorydrive with their sound and approach is a GREAT guitar tandem in LaBrosse and Koller that drives each of these tracks.  Feeding off of each other, whether playing acoustic, rhythm, or lead guitars, these two set the tone for how each of these songs is going to be interpreted by the listener. Case in point is the chugging guitar of "Paramour" which provides the perfect backdrop for Nevitt's vocals, never overpowering them, but rather enhancing them and giving them more backbone.  The driving rhythm guitar of "Tattooed" moves the song along perfectly, stopping only briefly after the choruses and then leading into a great little guitar solo break that offers a glimpse of the skill that I am willing to bet is put on display in a live setting.  The drum and bass work here is also excellent, with "Dance Baby Dance", "Perfect Chemical", and several other songs incorporating a danceable rhythm to the band's rock stance, again in a vein akin to what Daughtry has used so effectively.  The same can be said of the title track, "Here's To You", which took my brain to Nickelback's "S.E.X.", when I first heard it, incorporating a dance beat, some chug-a-chug riffing, and an electronic current running underneath the track throughout its entirety.    

For the ladies, a couple of nice ballads are thrown into the mix, with the piano-based "When The Lights Burn Out" being the strongest of the two, really allowing Nevitt's voice to take center stage.  "All The Same" is a good song as well, replacing the piano with acoustic guitar, but lacking a bit of the originality of "...Burn Out", as "All The Same" feels, honestly, the same a as a lot of other radio rock ballads, leaving the listener with the inkling that they have heard this exact song before.  

"Never Easy" has a kind of post-grunge feel to the feel of the song, like a lot of the late 90's/early 2000's bands like Three Doors Down and Daughtry became famous with.  Perhaps this should come as no surprise, as the band has toured with bands of this style, such as The Calling, Default, and Our Lady Peace, which offer similar takes to their musical approach.  And you know what, it works for these guys.  "Take Me As I Am" is another one of these styled tracks; a solidly-written mid-tempo guitar rocker that rock stations should be gobbling up, while it is likely that edgier satellite stations like Octane will find too tame to program on a regular basis.  Album closer "Your Gravity" has a similar approach and feel, combining both electric and acoustic guitar to great effect on this U2-ish track which wraps up a very likable record in nice fashion.

The packaging is a pretty basic tri-fold insert, complete with lyrics, credits, and thank-you's, and a single group photo.  Of course, the only photo anyone is likely to be looking at is the back cover featuring some deliberately torn jeans and a well-placed tattoo of the band's logo!  

If you like your personal soundtrack to include some real, raw, Midwestern rock to its sound, Dorydrive is one of the better bands I have heard in some time.  Again, there won't be any headbanging going on, but there will be a lot of toe-tapping and steering-wheel drumming when Here's To You is given a spin.  Unafraid to play what they like and what they are skilled at, even if it isn't what corporate radio thinks you want to hear, Dorydrive needs to stay the course, in my opinion, as they will gain a solid fanbase by being who they are and not who others think they should be.  

Rating:  Rock this to a very listenable, very summer-ready 6.5.  


Saturday, March 22, 2014

MADYSIN HATTER "Pretty Little Fool"

(c) 2012 Independent Release

  1. Lightning Strikes Twice
  2. Rocky Road
  3. Pretty Little Fool
  4. Gypsy Rock
Madisyn Hatter--Vocals
Bob Lanzetti--Guitars
Brad Williams--Guitars
Michael League--Bass
Justin Stanton--Keys
Cooper Heffley--Drums

Madysin Hatter is one of those names that kind of popped up thanks to social media; she became a follower on Twitter, in fact, and contacted me about reviewing this, her latest EP.  Never being one to say no to new music, I told her to send it to me and I would give it a listen.  Honestly, not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised with this 4-track release almost immediately upon popping it in and pushing play.

Kicking off with some distorted guitars, "Lightning Strikes Twice" delivers a thick, heavy 70's classic rock groove that resonates throughout the track.  As soon as Hatter's higher end vocals slither in, the package is completed, with this song reminding me a bit of Stevie Nicks in both phrasing and tone, especially when the vocals are delivered in layers, mixed with a bit of Joan Jett as far as sass goes.    

"Rocky Road" continues in it's retro-rock stylings, with the Nicks reference being equally as strong here on this slower number.  Haunting vocally, the music remains solidly in a bottom-end heavy 70's groove with a really strong guitar section leading into the second chorus, although I am unsure whether it is Lanzetti or Williams who pulls off this section (or both).  

The title track finds Hatter picking the pace back up and also adding a bit of 80's sweetness to her vocals, but the 70's vibe continues in the music, with the keys finding themselves a bit more prevalent here.  The powerful bass work of League leads the way here (as it does on all 4 tracks), and the production is obviously designed to place an emphasis on this retro quality that the band pulls off remarkably well.  

The EP's closer, "Gypsy Rock", is my favorite track, as Hatter slips back into her Nicks tone vocally, and the band adds a bit of edge and attitude to the music.  Of course, the "gypsy" reference lends itself to the Nicks comparison, but the comparison doesn't end there, as the entire band has a strong handle on this type of sound.  I dare say that Fleetwood Mac, along with several other 70's classic rockers from Foreigner to Frampton to The Runaways to The Stones, could be found on the iPods or in the CD players of all the band's members.  I say with no reservations that Hatter and her band have a considerable amount of talent for this style of music, and this closing rocker leaves the listener a bit off-put that 16 minutes has passed and things are already at a close!  Give me just one more like this, please!

Packaging is simple, but at least its in an ACTUAL JEWEL CASE, which is a bonus for me!  There are three photos of Hatter, along with band and writing credits, but little else, which is to be expected on an independent release.  The music is what matters for most of the acts (and rightly so), so if an extra few dollars can be spent in the studio rather than at the printer, its hard to fault an artist for going the music route.

While not Earth-shattering, this is a solid independent release, and I would definitely be interested to hear what the talented Ms. Hatter comes up with next.  I really appreciate the 70's classic rock feel that has been cultivated here, as it is refreshing to hear a band just be who they are without trying to fit the flavor of the day.  I have a feeling this would be a cool act to catch live, as I imagine the entire band has a good time doing this type of music, which they obviously love.  I will tracking down her previous EP release as well.

Rating:  If you are into the arena rock classics of the 70's, I suspect you are going to find a LOT to like on this all-too-short EP.  Rock this at a solid 6.5, with the short length of the project being the main detractor here.  



KILLER DWARFS "Start @ One"


(c) 2013 Smoothline Entertainment Group

  1. Lonely Road
  2. Solid Ground
  3. Sky Is Falling
  4. Adalina
  5. Psycho Circus
  6. Start @ One
  7. Down In Hollywood
  8. Walk On By
  9. The Crowd
Darrell "Dwarf" Millar--Drums, Vocals
Gerry "Cod Dwarf" Finn--Guitars, Vocals
Ronald "Bad Ronbo Dwarf" Mayer--Bass, Vocals
Russ "Dwarf" Graham--Vocals

Additional Musicians
John "Skully" Macintosh--Keys
Fred Duvall--Vocals
Cosimo Corpi--Keys, Vocals

The Killer Dwarfs return with a brand new, 20 year-old album!  Yes, in what would seem to be an "everything gets to Canada several years late" joke, Canadian rockers, Killer Dwarfs have regrouped to release an album that was originally slated to be put out in 1993, but was shelved when the hard rock/hair metal scene was victimized by the mighty grunge machine (remember, the same thing happened with Tora Tora's Revolution Day album...).  It should come as no surprise, then, that this album sounds like it could be played right alongside Dirty Weapons or Stand Tall, as it was SUPPOSED to be released in that same time frame.

Despite the lag in time, the band did not lag in the technology department, as the master tapes were digitized and given some updating in the production department, so the album has a crisp sound and has been re-mixed to meet the same sonic qualities of releases of today.  

Again, not surprisingly, the band sounds very much like they did back in the day, with Russ's instantly recognizable, high-end tenor layered over the top of a solid rhythm section and understated, polished-yet-never-flash guitar work.  The songs are solid and flow well from one to the next and are obviously not left-overs or B-sides from previous albums, as nothing here is throw away.  "Lonely Road" is a nice, uptempo rocker, as is "Solid Ground", both incorporating a relatively smooth guitar sound with little in the way of an edge.  Had the entire album been in this vein it would have been a nice record, but nothing overly remarkable.  However, there are several cuts that have more bite to them, such as "Psycho Circus" (not the KISS tune of the same name) which is a an edgy rocker with a simple, yet catchy riff and chorus, while the title track, "Start @ One" slows things down just a notch to mid-tempo range, but really showcasing the bass work of Ronald "Bad Ronbo Dwarf" Mayer.  Again, solid songs, but neither of these tracks, however, hold a candle to the two real show-stealers on this album:  

"Sky Is Falling" has a grittier edge to the guitars with an undeniably infectious riff that runs throughout the track, giving it a melodic sensibility that, coupled with the stellar layered vocals, will likely draw comparisons to a band like older King's X.  "Down In Hollywood" is a sassy number that allows Russ to work more of a vocal range than his normal, just-short-of-Geddy Lee-high tenor, and again features some excellent guitar work from Gerry Finn.  From the rollicking opening riff to the locked-in-step bass and drum work, this is the type of song that drove the album Dirty Weapons to cult status, if not huge commercial success.  If and when the Dwarfs decide to record an album of all new material, I hope that two or three more songs of this style and caliber are included, as this the Killer Dwarfs style that I love so much!

"The Crowd" is a nice rock ballad with some strong vocal harmonies, especially on the bridge and chorus, and I really enjoy the haunting vocal approach Russ employs on "Adalina", especially during the chorus and bridge.  This mid-tempo track is another of the top three or four songs on this album, and  musically the song has a Dokken-ish quality to it.  "Walk On By" is a decent song, but drags just a bit and may be a tad long at over 5 minutes.

The packaging is extremely generic: a one fold digipack with no lyrics or pictures, and only minimal information and credits, but at least it's not a slipcase!  This has become something of the norm for small label and independent releases, so it's getting to the point that I don't even really notice these things any longer, or at least I don't get as offended by them.

All in all, this is a solid record and a nice return for a band that I had been missing for quite some time.  To be honest, I think this disc will do more for the band NOW that it would have 20 years ago, as it isn't quite up to the level of their biggest two albums, Dirty Weapons and Stand Tall, but it is a great "comeback" record...without truly being one.

The band will be hitting the road for select dates throughout North America this year, so if you get the chance to catch them live, I would highly encourage you to do so.  The band will be one of the featured acts at Skull Fest 2 in October.

Rating:  Crank this at a 7 and let's hope the band continues to move forward, because there is a lot to like here, even if it isn't the best the band has released in their long history.



Friday, March 14, 2014

SKULL FEST 2 SETS INITIAL LINE-UP!



October 10 and 11 is going to ROCK in North Platte, NE, all you Glitter2Gutter fans!

Friday, October 10 will be headlined by the legendary Lizzy Borden, with House Of Lords, Loveblast, Bang Tango, Maxx Explosion, and Kickin' Valentina in support...and more acts to be announced!

Saturday, October 11 features a full day of some of the best to come out of the 80's, with LA Guns headlining, along with Canadian rockers, Killer Dwarfs, as well as  Jetboy, London, and Banshee, as well as melodic rockers Line Of Fire, guitar virtuoso, Xander Demos, and the powerful metal of the female-fronted Benedictum!

For more information, to purchase tickets, and to stay up to date on everything Skull Fest 2 related, follow www.skullfest.net!  Tickets start as low as $25, with multiple VIP packages to choose from...



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ROYAL BLISS "Chasing The Sun"

(c) 2014 Air Castle Records

  1. Welcome
  2. Cry Sister
  3. Rock You All Night Long
  4. Dreamer
  5. It Haunts Me
  6. Drink My Stupid Away
  7. Alive To See
  8. Impossible
  9. Turn Me On
  10. Home
Neal Middleton--Lead Vocals
Taylor Richards--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Dwayne Crawford--Bass Guitar
Jake Smith--Drums
Additional Musicians
Matt Winegar--Guitars, Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Synth, Programming, Bass Guitar on "Home"

Salt Lake City-based Royal Bliss returns with their first new album in two years with the much anticipated...at least by me...Chasing The Sun.  This album musically and lyrically is a direct follow-up to their amazing record Waiting Out The Storm.  Heck, even the title is a follow-up on this Kickstarter-funded project, so things are definitely headed in the right direction.

From the very first note to the very last, it is evident that Royal Bliss has found the sound and style that suits them best, and it works in every way on this record as much as it did the last.  Kicking off with the scorching rocker, "Welcome", the band finds themselves in top form.  Middleton's vocals, as is always the case, really set the band apart from a lot of the radio schlock rock that abounds today, and he is in complete control of this track from the second he cuts loose.  However, it is on the second track and lead single, "Cry Sister" that the band really nails things.  Building momentum from the lead-in bass line from now-permanent member Dwayne Crawford, "Cry Sister" is an incredibly addictive slice of modern hard rock with an infectious chorus and a powerful rhythm section that I think is one of the understated strengths of the band.  Were it not for another song, which I will get to in a moment, this would be my favorite track on the album and one that should be lighting up request lines and filling up rock radio playlists across the country. 

Two more solid numbers follow in the sparse rocker, "Rock You All Night Long", and the more experimental sounding, quasi-ballad, "Dreamer" which features some keyboard/synth work that accentuates, but never dominates, the song.  "It Haunts Me" kicks things back up a notch, before my personal favorite track, "Drink My Stupid Away" steals the record.  Don't let the title of the song fool you, as this is not some rollicking party anthem...not at all.  "Drink..." is an insightful ballad that to me feels like the lyrical follow-up to "Crazy" from Waiting Out The Storm, with Middleton contemplating his loneliness.  Featuring some very nice piano work, a great melody, and truly emotional lyrics, "Drink..." may be the best song this band has ever done, and that is saying a lot, as their catalog is chock-full of great tunes.  This song, alone, is worth seeking out this album.  Shell out the $1.29 or whatever on iTunes to download it if you need further proof of the greatness of this song.

From here, "Alive To See" rips things wide open again with a huge guitar riff and the most aggressive music on the disc. The U2-ish, "Impossible" follows up, and while not my favorite track, it is certainly an interesting one that has never tempted me to hit the skip button.  It is definitely different from the majority of the work here, but I am betting that it is a great mood-setter in a live setting that could lead into either a rocker or a ballad.  "Turn Me On" is another up-tempo rocker with a bit of a nasty side and, although it never gets filthy or raunchy as far as lyrics go, the title alone leaves little doubt as to the subject matter here.  There is a particularly tasty guitar solo on this track, as well as some good-time piano rocking along, adding more proof that this is a band of musical depth not common in the modern rock world.

The album closes with the insightful, personal "Home", which, if you read the words, really feels like it completes a sort of lyrical trilogy along with "Crazy" and "Drink My Stupid Away", as it again talks about loneliness and being away from loved ones and the reason why the band does what it does.  The track also doesn't shy away from taking a swipe at the music industry and name-dropping Johnny Cash all at the same time, which is always a good thing in my book!  With lyrics such as "Yeah, so many people seem so fake, and the reason why they play, it ain't the same, cause they don't write their songs, just hit the tracks and play along...", can there be any doubt that Middleton disapproves of the current music scene?  No, I don't think so...

I'm not sure what the packaging is like on the market version of the album, as I actually received a promo copy with a plain white cover and all of the lyrics in a fold-out digipack.  (I snagged the actual album cover photo from the Internet for the picture above).  If this is how the package is left for the regular release, it is not my favorite format, but it is certainly better than the slip-covers a lot of bands seem to be going to, and the inclusion of the lyrics and song-writing credits is always a bonus for me.

It's too early to tell if this album will surpass Waiting Out The Storm for me, but I can guarantee you that I will give it every chance to supplant that album which has not left my CD changer in close to a year!  That being said, Chasing The Sun is an amazing piece of hard rock MUSIC with a soulful singer, actual guitar solos, great melodies, and some insanely catchy hooks.  Check back with me in a year and I'm willing to bet that this album will still be in rotation for me, right alongside its predecessor!  Oh, and if you get the chance, you really should check these guys out live, as Royal Bliss put on an energetic show that is hard to beat, especially in a smaller, more personal setting.

Rating:  Every bit the crankable 9 the previous album was!  Just a great, great record that I find myself liking more with each listen.

Monday, March 3, 2014

JOHNNY LIMA "My Revolution"

(c) 2014 Independent Release


  1. My Revolution
  2. Happily Ever After You
  3. You're The Drug I Wanna Get High On
  4. Fill You Up
  5. Blame It On Love
  6. I Can't Love You Anymore
  7. Couldn't Be The One
  8. Tell Me Lies
  9. Nowhere Left To Go
  10. Dirty Girls
  11. Show Them Who You Are 
  12. Into The Light
  13. Deeper Into You
  14. Maybe You're Right, Maybe It's Wrong
  15. Naturally Beautiful

Johnny Lima--All instruments

Guest appearances:
Julian Angel--Lead Guitar on 3
Christian Wolff--Lead Guitar on 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 15
Craig Launer--Lead guitar on 1, 4, 5, 9, 10

If you wanna play a quick game, do this.  Put on a pair of headphones...and a blindfold...and then have a friend cue up a couple of tracks from My Revolution.  Now...give it a minute.  Yep, you hear it, right?  This is a new Def Leppard record, right?  Wait!  No!  Its new Bon Jovi music from the New Jersey or Keep The Faith era, right?  Nope and nope...but close!  Well, kinda...  

To say that Johnny Lima channels his inner Jon Bon Jovi on this, his first album in five years, would be an understatement, but there is a bit more here than just Bon Jovi.  At times you get the feeling that Def Leppard's Hysteria album was playing in the background when Lima was writing some of this material, as that band's influence is all over this record as well, whether intentional or not.  Heck, the backing vocals at times sound IDENTICAL to the layering and style Leppard was using 25 years ago!  This combination is both a good thing and a bad thing because, at least for my money, it is these Bon Jovi-meets-Def Leppard moments that Lima is at his best; when he steps outside his comfort zone, the results are a bit less satisfying.  I will get to those moments in a bit.

First the good.  Lima knows how to write and pull-off a big arena song filled with hooks!  There can be no doubt of that.  Starting from the very first track, Lima proves he is at his best when he is backed by some big, layered guitars, pounding drums, and powerful backing vocals.  Add in a touch of keyboard for effect and layering, and a track like "My Revolution", along with the vocal approach Lima uses on this song really lends itself to the Def Leppard comparison, and the song works well.  "Happily Ever After You" is another uptempo rocker that focuses more completely on the guitar parts and uses the keyboards much more sparingly.  

Then things start to take a turn for the worse...but not because of the music.  In fact, I really like the music on the next song, "You're The Drug I Wanna Get High On".  The anthemic approach remains solidly in place, the complimentary keyboards return, and the Def Leppard approach to backing vocals is in HIGH gear here...but the lyrics get a bit dumbed-down, which is a bummer.  Sorry, but talking about how much weed you've smoked and comparing that high to the high of being with a woman is pretty uninspired.  "Fill You Up" got me really worried, as its another track that leaves me wanting as far as the lyrics go, but I was also not liking what I was hearing musically, especially with the weird electronic sounds utilized on this number.  What the hell?  If I sounded like I was complaining about the Bon Jovi/Def Leppard influences, I wasn't!  I promise!  Bring them back, please!!!

Thankfully, Lima doesn't stay in that experimental range very long and returns with probably the best Bon Jovi vocal impersonation I have ever heard on "Blame It On Love"!  The music is an mid-tempo, poppy-rocker with a big, sing along chorus that is just as catchy and infectious as the best material the New Jersey boys have put out in a couple of decades!  Lima stays right there in that Bon Jovi-styled pocket with the big ballad "I Can't Love You Anymore".  Lighters will be in the air and people will be swaying back and forth if Lima performs this track live as it is a monster of a power ballad that would have been Top Ten material 20 years ago!  Easily one of the best ballads I have heard in a long time, with a great guitar solo, emotional lyrical content, and a musical quality not heard in the rock world these days.  Excellent work here!

"Couldn't Be The One" comes back down to earth a bit, but it is still a solid Bon Jovi-flavored mid-tempo number in the vein of a lot of that band's album tracks from the 90's.  To be honest, however, I'd take an album full of songs like this over half the crap that gets recorded today, so while not the best song on the album, its definitely not a skipper.

The album takes a kind of weird turn on "Nowhere Left To Go", as this rocker starts off with a keyboard intro that sounds to me like it was lifted almost note-for-note from Yngwie Malmsteen's track "Judas".  That keyboard piece is featured throughout the song and is a constant distraction for me despite the fact that this is, again, a very good song with an excellent guitar solo, nice vocal phrasing, and solid lyrics.  Were it not for that quirky keyboard thing, I think this may be one of my favorite tracks on the album, and who knows...maybe I'll get over it in time.  

"Dirty Girls" is a song that really doesn't click for me at all and is the first song that I would label as blatant filler material since the just lyrically bad "You're The Drug...", although I still wouldn't necessarily reach for the skip button.  Fortunately this is just a blip on the musical radar, as Lima returns to form with "Nowhere Left To Go", another JBJ-esque rocker.  

Ballad number two follows in the form of "Maybe You're Right, Maybe It's Wrong" which is a fine example of what I hate about most of the recent Bon Jovi ballads.  Bloated, boring, plodding, piano-heavy tracks do absolutely nothing for me, and I have an image of Lima sitting at his piano...crying...on a cold, rainy day...after the love of his life left him....and writing this song.  Ugh...SKIP!!!!

"Into The Light" is more mid-tempo, keyboard infused melodic rock, and is not a bad number, but not one of the sparkling moments of the record, either.  "Deeper Into You" picks up the pace musically, but, again, it still isn't on par with the best songs on this album.  

"Show Them Who You Are" swoops in and saves the last quarter of this album with a huge, fist-in-the-air attitude-infused rock anthem that restores my faith in this disc.  "Naturally Beautiful" closes things out with a decent melodic rocker that is once again heavy on the late-90's/early 2000's Bon Jovi influence. 

Now, I've seen about three different track listings for this album, so I am not 100% certain that my track listing is the "correct" one, although mine did come from Lima's press agent, so I'm guessing it's right.  I have read that this 15 track version is the Limited Edition version that features 4 songs not on the standard 11-song pressing.  If that is the case, I am hoping that songs like "Maybe You're Right" and "Dirty Girls" are among the songs left off, because if so, this is a borderline great hard-rock record!  It's just a few songs too long, which I have found is frequently the case with fan-funded projects; the artist records everything he has because he isn't sure if/when he will be able to get back into the studio.  My guess is that was the case here with Lima because a couple of these songs just don't live up to the standards of the rest of the album.

Rating:  Excellent in several spots, and above average for a lot of  the record.  A couple of songs really needed to find the cutting room floor, but overall, I would recommend cranking this to a solid 7.5.  Hopefully Lima doesn't wait 5 more years to release another album!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

H.E.A.T. "A Shot At Redemption" EP

(c) 2014 

  1. Shot At Redemption
  2. Under Your Skin (previously unreleased)
  3. In And Out Of Trouble (acoustic version)
  4. She's Like The Wind
Erik Gronwall--Vocals
Eric Rivers--Guitars
Jimmy Jay--Bass
Jona Tee--Keyboards
Crash--Drums

H.E.A.T. are one of those bands that you either love or hate, it seems.  The melodic rockers love the band's take on hard rock, while the sleaze fans/hair metal fans generally seem to have some issues with how...well...melodic the band is with their music.  And, truth be told, H.E.A.T. is one of those bands that stomps all over the semi-visible line between AOR/melodic music and flat out hard rock music.  Being a person who likes both sub-genres to varying degrees, I have never had any major issues with H.E.A.T., but they have never been at the top of my favorites list, either.  Will this new EP change my mind?  

Nope...

This EP is a teaser of the band's new album that is set for an April, 2014 release.  As such, we are treated to a new song from the album. a previously unreleased track, an acoustic version of an older tune, and a cover song.  Nice mix there.  "Shot At Redemption" is definitely the only real rocker here, and it is a solid one.  The guitar work is especially strong, and if the full album contains another three or four in this vein, it will possibly be the best album of H.E.A.T.'s career thus far.  Gronwall's vocals are smooth throughout the EP as he effortlessly allows his upper-range tenor slide over the top of the guitars and rhythm section.  However, sometimes, both on this effort and in the past, I feel that Gronwall can sing so effortlessly that the vocals lack any real punch or any raw emotion.  Perhaps just a hint of snarl, just a smidgen of sneer, would help to take some of the sweetness out of his vocals and add a bit more attitude to a standout rocker like the title track here.  "Under Your Skin" is another uptempo track, although this one falls much more into H.E.A.T.'s typical melodic style than the harder rocking "Shot...".  Longtime fans of the band are going to be able to appreciate this track, and I suspect the acoustic version of "In And Out Of Trouble", will delight fans as well.

The kicker here is going to be the cover of Patrick Swayze's "She's Like The Wind" from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.  Yes, it's THAT "She's Like The Wind".  I'm not going to lie; I kinda dig Swayze's vocals on that classic AOR track, and, as such, Gronwall's much higher vocal range was a bit off-putting the first couple of times through the song.  I have grown to like H.E.A.T.'s version, however, and I think it is every bit as good musically, and has superior, more modern production.  Vocally...well, I still prefer Swayze's original vocals, but these aren't bad.  Folks are gonna like that the band tried to tackle something rather out of the ordinary, or they are gonna scream bloody murder about the song choice.  I think it's a gutsy call and it is handled relatively well, so kudos for the effort.

All in all, a nice little sampler/teaser package that will whet the appetites of H.E.A.T. fans and leave them chomping at the bit for April to hurry up and get here.  These Swedes know what their fans like and they haven't strayed too far from the tried and true, but they also don't come off as a bored and disinterested band simply going through the motions, either.  If you can find it cheap, grab it, but I think the imports of this EP may be a bit pricey for some, especially with just 4 tracks.

Rating:  Nobody puts Baby in a corner...or H.E.A.T. for that matter!  Crank this to 7.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

3D IN YOUR FACE "Midnight Devils"

3D In Your Face Midnight Devils
(c) 2013 3D In Your Face

  1. Forbidden City
  2. Generation Durt
  3. In Your Face
  4. Midnight Devils
  5. Always Brings Me Back
  6. Sleeping In Omaha
  7. Bleed Betty Bleed
  8. Underneath The Stairs
  9. Time We Had Our Fun
  10. Radar Guided Love Bomb
  11. Squeeze Me Dry
  12. I Still Believe In Rock N Roll
Alan "Hot Rod" King--Lead Vocals
Chris "Sniper" Hineline--Guitars, Vocals
Jeremy "The Playboy" Deans--Bass
Sam "Spade" Morris--Drums

Since the late 1990's or early 2000's, I have watched 3D In Your Face perform at least half a dozen times, but I honestly don't think I was aware that the band regularly recorded.  Sure, I knew they had a CD or two at their shows, but I always assumed they were cover albums, so I never bothered to pick one up.  Now I realize I need to go back and get those CD's, because it turns out 3D In Your Face actually records their own music...and they do it surprisingly well!

The album kicks off with the rollicking "Forbidden City" which has a slightly modern feel to the band's take on the 80's rock scene, sounding like it was fashioned a bit after the sound coming out of Sweden and the rest of Europe.  Not that this is a bad thing by any stretch, as some of the best "80's" hard rock has actually come out of Europe in the 2000's, but I think you get what I am saying.  The rest of the album, however, is pure throwback sounds, from the big guitars to the layered, often gang-shouted vocals, and thumping drums.

A prime example of this 80's worship can be found on the follow-up track, "Generation Durt".  From the cowbell intro to the backing vocal "aahhhs", this is a song that fans of the genre will feel like they may have heard before, but without being able to identify why.  There is a nice guitar solo in this song followed by a bit of a distracting kick drum fill before the vocal bridge of "hey, hey, hey, we won't go away" kicks in, with the regular chorus layered over the top.

Even better is the next track, "In Your Face", which is something of a signature song for the band, and one of the very best songs on this album.  Heavier on the bottom end than most of the tracks here, the guitars have something of a Jake E. Lee quality to them, and the bass and drums are locked in throughout.  Lyrically, the song is rather tongue-in-cheek, as are several of the songs here, always a bit raunchy but never outright filthy or packed with vulgarity or swearing.  Again, the listener is given a nice guitar solo that could possibly have benefited from just a touch of distortion, and a nice bass line as well.  This is a really good song that showcases the talent of the band musically.

Not overlooked is the power ballad, as "Always Brings Me Back:" covers this territory nicely, if rather non-originally.  The keyboard intro is almost a note-for-note rip-off of Kix's "Don't Close Your Eyes", although the arrangement is a bit different (you will understand the second you hear it).  Also included is the sentimental piano interlude/intro, featured here as the lead-in for "Underneath The Stairs", a chuckler of a song about "going down to Hell, under the stairs".  A definite head-banger as far as the music goes, once again, 3D manages to pull off a humorous song without having to revert to toilet humor, a la Steel Panther, which is greatly appreciated.  "Squeeze Me Dry" is about as raunchy as the band gets, and even here it isn't straight from the gutter.

Of course, what would an 80's inspired album be without the big anthem?  Album closer, "I Still Believe In Rock N Roll" is exactly what the doctor ordered if "God Gave Rock N Roll To You" is your kind of song.  Not a rip-off at all, but definitely that fist-pumping, everyone on their feet and banging their head kind of song that should be how 3D closes every one of their shows!  Had this come out in 1988, there is a chance that this could have actually garnered some airplay, as it is a very nicely structured song, performed in great fashion with some excellent guitar work scattered throughout.  A very nice close to a surprisingly strong album.

In the end, maybe that, as much as anything, is what I appreciate about 3D In Your Face; they can make fun of themselves and have fun with a great musical genre without turning it into some kind of triple-x show.  Again, having seen the band live on multiple occasions, I can say that I wouldn't have any problems taking a tween or teen to one of the band's shows to introduce them to the music and the show.  (The band does about 90% covers in their live show, which range from very good to EXCELLENT, and are well worth catching.)

Yeah, the wigs aren't really all that great...and the costumes are kinda corny...but make no mistake, Omaha, Nebraska's 3D In Your Face is a real band, regardless of if their hair is or not!  There are no massive vocal ranges here, but plenty of gang shouting and mid-to-upper tenor singing that will get your air guitar and air drums rocking in several places.  The guitars are very good and the rhythm section is especially tight throughout.  A nice pick-up, especially if you are looking for something a bit lighter in lyrical intent without leaving you feeling shortchanged musically.  

Rating:  Rock this to a fun 6.5 and don't take things so seriously!

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

RON KEEL "Metal Cowboy"



(c) 2014 Wild West Media Productions
 
  1. Long Gone Bad
  2. Wild Forever
  3. My Bad
  4. What Would Skynyrd Do?
  5. Just Like Tennessee
  6. The Last Ride
  7. When Love Goes Down
  8. Singers, Hookers & Thieves (duet with Paul Shortino)
  9. Evil, Wicked, Meand & Nasty
  10. The Cowboy Road
  11. 3 Chord Drinkin' Song (featuring the Sin City Sinners)
  12. My Bad (radio version)*
  13. Just Like Tennessee (unplugged)*
  14. Singers, Hookers & Thieves (solo acoustic version)*
 
*CD Bonus Tracks
 
Ron Keel--Lead and Backing Vocals, Guitars, Banjo (3), Bass (3, 6)
Mike Vanderhule--Drums
Ronnie Mancuso--Bass, Keyboards on 1-3, 7, 12
Frank Hannon--Lead Guitar on 2, 4 & 10; dobro on 4
Brent Muscat--Lead Guitar on 9, 11
Keith Robert--Lead Guitar on 1, 3, 5, 12
Travis Toy--Dobro on 1, 5, 6, 8, 13
Joe Spraker--Piano on 4 & 8
Kenn Tonn--Bass on 4
Geno Arce--Bass on 5, 8, 9, 10
Zach Throne--Bass on 11
Rob Cournoyer--Percussion, Vocals on 11
Ditch Kurtz--Pedal Steel Guitar on 5
 
Backing Vocals:  Louie Merlino, Kyle Kruger, Janea Chadwick-Ebs, Geno Arce, Stacey Blades, Rob Valentine, Carol Lyn Liddle, Renee Keel
 
 
Ron Keel is a man who has seen and done many things.  Most famous for his hard rocking band, KEEL, Ron was also in the acclaimed band Steeler with Yngwie Malmsteen, as well as other, less famous bands such as his southern rock project, Iron Horse.  Additionally there was work with the metal group Sabre Tiger, his Fair Game side project, a couple of country releases under the moniker Ronnie Lee Keel, and several other creative outlets.  But never had he been able to release an album as just himself, Ron Keel, combining his many ideas and influences to create an album that was all about him and who he is as an individual.  That all changes now that Metal Cowboy has been released.

Metal Cowboy takes a bit of all of the previously mentioned aspects of Ron's career and folds them nicely together, creating a cohesive, yet diverse project, that gives the listener a wide range of styles and sounds that somehow all manage to not come across as disjointed or mismatched.  Don't let the instrumentation on this record fool you; this is NOT a purely country record, despite the use of banjo, dobro, pedal steel guitar, etc.  Nor is it a southern rock album.  And, well, it's not a metal album, either.  It is, for lack of a better description, EXACTLY what the title implies; it is metal cowboy music.  Clear as mud?  Let me try to help you out.  Take for example the following three songs:  "Evil, Wicked, Mean, & Nasty", "Just Like Tennessee", and "What Would Skynyrd Do".  In these three you have a metallic KEEL song (originally on the Larger Than Live album) that has been given a bit of a southern rock treatment, a ballad that were it not for Ron's gritty, hard rock vocals, would likely end up all over country radio, and, well, as song about THE classic southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Different worlds all brought onto one album and fit together in such a way that it works with no muss and no fuss.  No fan base is offended, and all fans of Keel's various projects will find something to like...in just those three tracks!

For me, the beauty of this project is that it is, pure and simple, a record from Ron's heart.  It's Ron doing what he wants to do, bringing in several big name friends to help out, and creating the kind of music that he obviously wants to play.  "Singers, Hookers & Thieves", for example, is a great song that is one of the high points on this CD, but also one that Ron could NEVER put on a KEEL album.  Mix in the fact that Paul Shortino (King Kobra/Rough Cutt) lends his powerful vocals to the song, and you have one incredible piece of music that would otherwise likely just end up on a hard drive of recorded-yet-never-released songs.  Same thing with "3 Chord Drinkin' Song", which finds Ron enlisting the help of the Sin City Sinners (featuring Brent Muscat of Faster Pussycat fame).  Again, not a song you would ever hear KEEL perform, but a great, fun song that you will swear you have heard pouring out of a jukebox in some pool hall or honky tonk somewhere.

Make no mistake, Ron still rocks on this record as well.  "Long Gone Bad" finds Ron
(Ron and I at Skull Fest, Oct. 2013)
snarling his way through a powerful hard rocker, as does "My Bad", which is the closest in feel to a KEEL song on this solo effort.  "The Cowboy Road" is one of the harder songs on the album, with Ron and Frank Hannon (Tesla) tearing things up on guitar, despite the title giving some the impression of a country song, and "Evil, Wicked, Mean & Nasty" still retains most of the KEEL punch of the original, but also incorporates harmonica and a southern rock attitude on this send-up.

The CD has three bonus tracks not available on the digital download version.  "Just Like Tennessee" and "Singers, Hookers & Thieves" just get even more country in their unplugged and acoustic versions, respectively.  "My Bad" removes an F*bomb to keep it radio friendly, but nothing else is changed.

Packaging is the dreaded slipcase, which we all know I am not a fan of, and lyrics are not included in the packaging (the can be found at www.RonKeel.com), although there is a full list of musicians, songwriting credits, and endorsements enclosed.  My version, as you can see in the photo, is autographed in gold pen, which was one of the perks of supporting the project through Pledge Music.  Also included is Ron's autobiography "Even Keel" (review coming shortly), a jacket patch, sticker, and guitar pick.  A really nice package (which also included an advance digital download) for just $40. 

In the end, this is not a metal album, nor is it a country album.  It is a METAL COWBOY album that fans of good songs and solid musicianship should appreciate.  If you are a southern rock fan, you are most likely going to love this album, as well.  The narrow-minded need not apply, however, as it is guaranteed they are going to have more complaints than positive comments, which is unfortunate, as they will not only be missing out on a very good record, they will be missing the point of Metal Cowboy altogether.

Far superior to the country effort that Hannon's Tesla bandmate, Jeff Keith released, Metal Cowboy finds Ron Keel and his bandmates playing Ron's music the way Ron wants it to be played, plain and simple.  And that's enough for this reviewer.

For more information about the CD, the book, the lyrics, or other Ron Keel merchandise, be sure to check his website at www.RonKeel.com .

Rating:  Crank this to an 8!  Great music from a great guy!   


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Sunday, January 26, 2014

EMPERORS AND ELEPHANTS "Devil In The Lake"

(c) 2014 Pavement Music
 
  1. Bring It Down
  2. Who You Are
  3. Your Will
  4. Man Of God
  5. Locust
  6. Hit Of Red
  7. Deep Sleep
  8. Change
  9. Wicked Game
  10. Ghost In The Mirror
  11. You And I
  12. Man Of God--Dupermang Remix
Jesse Andrews--Vocals
Jason Meudt--Drums
Jeph Stiph--Guitars
Randy "The Arsonist" Cooper--Guitars
Ron "Stoppable" Vanders--Bass
 
Emperors And Elephants is a new-to-the-scene modern hard rock group that obviously grew up in the Sevendust school of rock, as the stop/start crunch of that band is evident in the stylings of many of the songs here.  Not surprisingly, a bit of Randy Cooper's old band, Texas Hippie Coalition, can also be heard in the aggressive nature of these songs, with his axe work particularly strong in tracks such as "Man Of God", "Locust", and "Bring It Down", although he shines in various spots throughout.  "Deep Sleep" is another powerful rocker that will be a contender for satellite radio airplay, I would suspect.  But there is more here than the standard modern rock fare, with a definite post-grunge feel to a few songs, such as "Ghost In The Mirror".  Equally intriguing is the remake of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" which has some really heavy bottom end to it to keep things pulsing along nicely while the buzzsaw guitars of Cooper and Stiph go to work throughout the rest of the track which is not really all that recognizable if you don't catch the lyrics and the hook of the 80's original.
 
While much of the record has that really heavy vibe to it, every now and then a song will jump up and surprise you.  "Hit Of Red" is just such a track, incorporating a much smoother, mellower vibe that reminds me of Soundgarden to a degree.  However, I will go on the record and state that I will take Andrews' vocals over Chris Cornell's any day of the week, as I think Andrews has an amazingly powerful delivery that more bands would be well-served to listen to.  He doesn't have to bark every song or scream his vocal chords into bloody masses to get his feelings across.  "Change" is another more laid back track that gets this point across very nicely, and "You And I" is a piano-based acoustic number which showcases the band's depth as well as serving to give the listener a break from the otherwise punishing riffage that is found throughout this record.
 
One thing I do have to mark the album down for a bit is the fact that a lot of the music here, while nicely executed, has a definite "heard this before" quality that prevents a few of the songs from really distinguishing themselves.  Case in point is the previously mentioned, "Locust".  This is easily one of my favorite songs here, but if the vocals were being handled by Lajon Witherspoon instead of Jesse Andrews, I think the average listener...and even many seasoned listeners...would have a hard time distinguishing the rest of the band from Sevendust in spots. This is the case in a couple of other spots, but it doesn't destroy the album, although I wish a bit more originality could have leaked through in a place or two.   
 
That is not to say the band's members are lacking in talent, because they are definitely not.  Of particular note here is the exceptionally strong backline of Vanders and Meudt, who deliver some crushing rhythms upon which the band builds their brand of hard-but-still-radio-friendly rock.  Definitely one of the more talented and interesting bands I have heard in this style, I am impressed enough with this debut to keep it spinning for the past week and a half, and I suspect that it will survive my unofficial "three month test" for whether or not an album has the strength to become a long-term listener.
 
Rating:  So much better than most of the Sirius-XM Octane crowd, Emperors and Elephants gets a crankable 8 on their debut.  Let's hope they keep progressing and let their originality shine through even more on the follow-up!
 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

PAMELA MOORE "Resurrect Me"



(c) 2013 Rat Pak Records

  1. Acquiescent
  2. Melt Into You
  3. Paranoia
  4. We Are Damaged
  5. Resurrect Me
  6. The Sky Is Falling
  7. Awakening
  8. Breaking Down
  9. Desperate By Design
  10. Wide Awake (Phoenix Rising)
Pamela Moore--All female lead vocals, backing vocals
Michael Posch--Guitars, Bass, Keys, Orchestration
Brooke Lizotte--Piano, Orchestration ("Breaking Down")
Jeff Loomis--Guitar solo on "Awakening"
Chuck Macak--Drums

Additional Vocals:  Ralph Scheepers ("Sky Is Falling") 

Backing Vocals: Ralph Scheepers, Aury Moore, Patrick Moore, Brenda Kashmir, Randy Piper, Scott Bowen

For those who put this CD in without knowing who they are listening to, they are likely going to say to themselves, "Man, I KNOW this voice!"  Of course, that is going to be a definite possibility if that fan is even a casual fan of metal, as Moore is most famously known as the voice of Sister Mary on the epic Queensryche album, "Operation: Mindcrime", and its less-than-epic follow-up, "Operation: Mindcrime II". Moore has also seemingly cast her lot with the Tod LaTorre-fronted version of the fractured group, as she can be heard singing on that Queensryche's new, self-titled album on the song "A World Without".  

Her involvement with Queensryche aside, Moore is notable because she does, in fact, possess an incredible voice.  Additionally, she is no stranger to recording, as this is actually her fourth solo record (not counting 2004's release, A Retrospective), and she has also fronted other bands and performed on numerous other albums, so it is very likely that you have heard her voice in numerous places and simply not realized who it was you were listening to.

2013 saw Moore move her talent to Rat Pak Records, which is also the home of George Lynch, John Corabi, Dave Rude (Tesla), Metal Church, and several other name acts.  For this album, Moore enlisted the musical aid of Michael Posch, who performs nearly every instrument on the album except for drums, which are handled by Chuck Macak.  Additionally, several friends are called in for support, including Ralph Scheepers, Jeff Loomis, Randy Piper, and Scott Bowen, to name a few.  

The music on this album is not overly far-removed from that of her work with Queensryche, as it tends to be in the heavy-progressive vein, with heavy guitars, sweeping orchestration, and some keyboards added in for filler effects.  

The main problem I have with this album is NOT the talent level, the production, the mix, or anything like that, as all are really and truly top notch.  The guest list is impressive, as well.  No, the problem I have is the songs themselves are not that memorable.  I'm not saying they are terrible, because they aren't.  They just don't jump out and grab hold of me, with the exception of "Awakening", which sounds very reminiscent of a Queensryche song, and the album's closer, "Wide Awake", which I think is a truly amazing piece of music.  Other than that, while there is nothing horrible at all on this disc, there is just nothing that sticks with me for an extended period of time.  It's a disc of 90% background music and a couple of songs that will suddenly grab your attention, only to be lost again a song or two later.

The production is top-notch, the musicians are of excellent caliber, and Moore's vocals are clean and powerful and very emotive...the songs just lack that hook that snags you and keeps you hanging around for more.  Not a trash bin album, but also not one that will find its way into my player with any great frequence.

Rating:  Rock this at a 5, simply because the musicianship is so good I really WANT to like it!

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