Tuesday, May 31, 2011

STAGE DOLLS "Always"



(c) 2010 Sony Music

  1. Always
  2. Rainin' On A Sunny Day
  3. Rollin'
  4. Highway's Open
  5. Eye Of My Heart
  6. Better Off Pretty
  7. Taillights
  8. Saturday Night
  9. Where The Blacktop Ends
  10. My Strangest Friend
Torstein Flakne--Vocals & Guitar
Terje Storli--Bass
Morten Skogstad--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Ronny Wilmark--Keyboards

Perhaps because they hail from Norway, or more likely because they don't have an American distribution deal, very few people that I know have actually heard of the Stage Dolls despite the fact that they have released 7 studio albums, a live album, two compilations, and a solo album from lead singer Flakne.  That is unfortunate because the Stage Dolls are one of the few bands who, if you listen to them now, have not changed their sound significantly just to keep up with the times; the band that used to open for the likes of TNT in 1985 is still the same band that released Always in 2010.  The Stage Dolls know what brought them to the dance and they stick with it, even after more than 25 years of making music together (Flakne and Storli have been together since 1983...Skogstad joined in 1993). 

The Stage Dolls' sound has been described by many, including myself, as Bryan Adams meets Goo Goo Dolls and Bon Jovi, although some of their earliest material bordered on glam at times.  I know that sounds like an odd combination, but it really is fitting.  Never do they rock much harder than the hardest material from Goo Goo Dolls, with a lot of their stuff sounding very similar to Adams in terms of style and delivery.  The Bon Jovi comparison comes in on the band's ballads, as they do an excellent job of pouring emotion into their songs regardless of if they are going for a power ballad sound or more of a stripped down, sparse arrangement. 

The latest album from the Stage Dolls finds the band in fine form, doing what they do so well:  performing middle-of-the-road hard rock intermixed with a handful of ballads.  When they are rocking, such as on opener, "Always", "Better Off Pretty", "Saturday Night", or the bottom-heavy "Rollin'", the Stage Dolls are masters of the hook and catchy chorus mixture, with Flakne's smooth Adams-esque delivery perfectly suited to this material.  "Highway's Open" is another great track that finds the band steering itself into Def Leppard-ish territory and doing it better than Leppard has in years!  This is quite possibly my favorite track on the album, although, in all honesty, there are no bad tracks to be found on Always, especially through the first eight cuts.

The band takes a couple of quirky twists on the last two tracks of the disc.  "Where The Blacktop Ends" has a definite Mutt Lange-countrified sound to it, a la Lange's ex-wife, Shania Twain.  The song is an uptempo number, still firmly rocking along, but also incorporating a fiddle and a country-tuned guitar solo.  It's still a good song, but not something Stage Dolls fans are accustomed to hearing, and not something first time listeners should expect to hear on their older material.  I have a feeling the band was just looking for a fun song to incorporate some new ideas into, and it does work well.  Album closer, "My Strangest Friend", which is really a Flakne solo track, is just the singer and his guitar on an airy acoustic number that has something of a folksy feel to it.   

The Stage Dolls offer up a couple of ballads here, of course, with "Rainin' On A Sunny Day" being the strongest, although "Eye Of My Heart" is a nice song, also.

If this is your first exposure to the band, understand that this is not their "heaviest" album by any stretch, but it is representative of where about 60% of their catalog lies.  That being said, there are some excellent tracks here that work very well and serve as a great introduction to new fans.  My guess is that most older fans, myself included, are very happy to hear the Stage Dolls doing what they do so well, with Flakne and Company still in fine form vocally and musically.

Rating:  Crank this to 7.5.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

GREAT WHITE "Rising"





(c) 2009 Frontiers Records

  1. Situation
  2. All or Nothin'
  3. I Don't Mind
  4. Shine
  5. Loveless
  6. Is It Enough
  7. Last Chance
  8. Danger Zone
  9. Down On The Level
  10. Only You Can Do
  11. My Sanctuary
  12. Let's Spend The Night Together (bonus track)
Jack Russell--Vocals
Mark Kendall--Guitar, Background Vocals
Audie Desbrow--Drums
Michael Lardie--Guitar, Keyboards, Mandolin, Sitar, Harmonica, Percussion, Background Vocals
Scott Snyder--Bass and Background Vocals

Anyone who knows me is going to say that it is impossible for me to be open-minded in my reviews of anything that Great White puts out, as they have long been my favorite band.  In fact, I probably own more Great White music and memorabilia than most of the band members do!  To say it is a passion would be an understatement to most people; most of my friends call it a sickness.  Still, favorite band or not, I don't rate all of Great White's releases as absolute hits, nor do I even rank them all in my top 40 all-time favorite albums.  In that regard, Rising isn't even close...

Rising is something of a misnomer of a title, in my opinion, as the band seems to be taking a step backward in its material, rather than a step forward.  This album does not rock nearly as hard as the previous two albums following the reunion of Russell, Kendall, Lardie, and Desbrow.  It's not a horrible album at all, but it is just kind of "there" if you know what I mean.  There are no songs that scream hit single, although there are several good, if not great, songs.  "Shine" is probably the hardest rocker on the disc, and album opener, "Situation" is another of the few hard tracks here, as is "Danger Zone" (not the Kenny Loggins song, which might actually rock harder!).  "All Or Nothing" has a bit of a toe-tapping rhythm to it and some nice harmonizing on the backing vocals, but it never breaks out of the mid-tempo rut that so much of this album seems to be tracking in.  Even the bonus cover of the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend The Night Together" is a laid-back rocker complete with some nice piano work from Lardie but no real punch.

"I Don't Mind" sounds like it could have been included on the Sail Away album, as does "Is It Enough", another mid-tempo track that would be right at home on Sail Away.  In fact, as a way of comparison with the rest of the Great White catalog, Rising almost feels like it falls somewhere between Sail Away and Let It Rock, stylistically, but without the former's laid-back intent or the later's occasional edge.

Of course, for a lot of die-hard fans, Great White is at their peak with Russell's vocals soaring over a ballad, and there are only a couple of tracks that even attempt to fit that bill.  "Only You Can Do" is a bit more upbeat than a lot of Great White's ballad material, but its still a pretty good song.  "My Sanctuary" is more of the bluesy style of ballad that Great White is typically associated with, but even this song doesn't have that "pouring out my broken heart in a smokey barroom" feel that make songs like "Old Rose Motel", "House Of Broken Love", and so many classics so powerful.      

Again, I want to state that this is not a terrible record, it just never finds its own way out of the mid-tempo groove it spends much of the album in, never really rocking out and never really hitting that heart-wrenching ballad territory.  The musicianship is top-notch here, and Russell sounds in very good form, and the mix is very solid, also.  The songs just kind of go nowhere fast, making this the kind of album you put on shuffle with a couple of your other all-time favorites just to shake things up.  Here's hoping the next Great White record finds itself back on both extreme ends of the band's spectrum with less time treading water in the middle.

Rating:  Rock this one at 6. 

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

RUBICON CROSS "Limited Edition EP"



(c) 2011 Snare/Green

  1. Movin' On
  2. Next Worst Enemy
  3. R U Angry
  4. Shine
CJ Snare and Chris Green

Rubicon Cross is the new "band", if you will, of Firehouse frontman, CJ Snare and his new musical partner, Chris Green.  There are ZERO credits in the liner notes, but I am going to assume that Green plays pretty much all of the instruments here, and I am almost 100% positive he is the man behind the guitars because if CJ could play guitar like this, well, we may not have heard of Bill Leverty!  To be fair, there is not much in the way of comparison between Green and Leverty as they play somewhat different styles.

This four song EP is an interesting combination of styles, with all songs co-written by Snare and Green.  On the one hand, it should shock no one that Rubicon Cross bears at least a glancing similarity to Firehouse, as CJ's voice is incredibly distinctive.  Nothing has changed, as he sings just like he does with his primary band, not changing his style or altering his delivery at all.  Personally, I think that is a great thing because I do not like when a singer goes to another band and then completely changes who he is; it's like selling me a new band under false pretenses, teasing me that it might sound like something and then not even being close.

Rubicron Cross combines that Firehouse vocal sound with a bit more modern musical approach, especially on the opening track, "Movin On".  To me, this sounds a lot like what I would expect Zakk Wylde's band, Black Label Society, to sound like if CJ sang for them.  The guitars are big, they are angry, and they bear a striking resemblence to Zakk's playing.  While still retaining CJ's vocal sound, the only way this could be mistaken for Firehouse music is if you caught that ENTIRE band on a day when they were in really bad moods!  This is an angry sounding song musically and has much more modern-sounding production than anything Firehouse has done.

"Next Worst Enemy" is not much closer to Firehouse in sound than "Movin On", although it is not quite as dark sounding in the music.  That being said, the lyrics come off as rather angry, as Snare declares "sometimes love is just one big charade" and that he has "been a victim of hit and run, serial monogamy".  I hope this is not written from a personal perspective because it is not a happy song by any means.

Perhaps not-surprisingly, "R U Angry" is not much happier, but it does wade a bit further into the Firehouse sound than the previous two songs.  Again, the lyrics take a very dark slant, asking if "all's fair in love and war, what are we fighting for?" and "How did it get to this, hatred with every kiss."  Musically, this is another very strong effort with a nice lead and some excellent solo work in the middle.

EP closer "Shine" sounds like it could have been taken off of just about any Firehouse record.  This is a far more upbeat track lyrically, encouraging the listener to "let your star shine, keep it burning bright" and that "now's the time to start following your heart and lighting up the dark".  An acoustic-based ballad, this is a very good song that I could see slipping into a graduation ceremony or maybe even a slow dance at a prom or something.  Green adds in a killer solo at about the 2:20 mark of this song that kicks the energy up a notch, really giving the song that big, power ballad feel, and Snare's vocals know exactly what to do with a song like this.  While not a clone song at all, I can hear Snare's vocals trying to sneak over to "Love Of A Lifetime" or similar Firehouse ballad.

Snare and Green handle the production, and Snare co-engineered the record as well, with excellent results.  The mix is absolutely perfect to these ears, nice and crisp with just a touch of modern production to keep it from sounding like a totally retro project.  The packaging is very basic with no photos or thank yous, but all lyrics are included.  Since this is a limited edition EP, I have to wonder if we are going to see a full-blown project in the very near future.  I sincerely hope so, as this is a great little EP to tide fans over until Firehouse does something new OR until Rubicon Cross comes fully into being with a full-length disc.  Let it be known, however, that Rubicon Cross is its own entity and a very entertaining listen on its own, and outside of the last track, there are more contrasts than comparisons between this band and Firehouse, with each band warranting a listen on its own merits.      

Rating:  Crank this interesting and enjoyable project to 8.5!

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LIPSTIXX N' BULLETZ "Bang Your Head"



(c) 2010 Sleazy Rider Records

  1. Bang Your Head
  2. Rock Me
  3. Liptstixx N Bulletz
  4. Do Or Die
  5. Scream It Hard
  6. My Heart Belongs To You
  7. Wild At Heart
  8. You Poison Me
  9. Be Mine Tonight
  10. Love In A Needle
Andy Lipstixx--Vocals, Guitar
Mickey Sweet--Drums
Jaimee Teaze--Bass
Rikki Bullet--Drums

I know the first thing you may be thinking when you see this album cover:  Who stole Nitro's hair?!  Seriously...when was the last time you saw big hair that was THAT big?!  Anyway....

Lipstixx N' Bulletz is another NWoEGS (New Wave of European Glam and Sleaze) band that has improved leaps and bounds over the atrocious demo that I heard a year or two back.  That demos was so bad, in fact, I did something I almost NEVER do...I got rid of it!  Seriously, it was that bad, and it nearly deterred me from even giving this full-length album a shot.  Kind of makes me wonder if that crappy demo was the reason the band had to go to Greece to find a label like Sleazy Rider Records to put out this album.  But I digress...

Lipstixx N' Bulletz has settled into a nice groove of doing what they do best, which is putting out 80's sounding sleaze with a modern production twist.  It's very hard to say that LnB sounds like any one particular band, and that may because they sound like ALL of your favorite bands were dumped into a blender, but it wasn't necessarily the best parts that came out in the mix.  The big, gang-shout choruses are here, especially on the album opener, "Bang Your Head" (NOT a Quiet Riot cover), and follow-up track, "Rock Me" (NOT a Great White cover), although both choruses are so simplistic it makes you wonder why it took a gang to shout them.  Andy's vocals have a nice gravelly quality to them, but they lack huge amounts of range, so he settles into a lower register for most of the album, and comes off like a washed-up punk screamer when he tries to really cut loose, such as on album closer "Love In A Needle".  There are no ballads on the album, which is either a positive thing (because I'm not sure Andy could sing one) or a negative thing (because the album really starts to sound samey after about 5 songs which all have the same tempo).  The guitars are big and up front and are definitely the high point of the album, as Rikki has some very good solos and Andy's rhythm playing keeps the songs moving along well.  In fact, as a unit, the band PLAYS their music very well...it just isn't delivered very well vocally most of the time, and as a result, the listener can become rather bored fairly quickly. 

So does it all suck?  No, not at all.  Personal favorites include their namesake song, "Lipstixx N' Bulletz" which has a definite Crashdiet feel to it musically.  "Wild At Heart" is where Andy's voice probably works the best and is the closest the band comes to even mid-tempo material, so there is some changeup there.  "You Poison Me" works pretty well, also, but is also the most modern-sounding track on the record, losing a lot of its 80's feel in the process.

To say that this is a terrible record is unfair, because it is not.  There are FAR worse albums out there...trust me, I hear most of them doing this review blog!  I think this band has a lot of potential, but they just are not that unique sounding and are a bit of a disappointment, perhaps because they are unfairly compared to bands like Crashdiet, Hardcore Superstar, Bullet,  Black Rain, and some of the other great bands in this glam/sleaze resurgence.  Compared to those bands, Lipstixx N' Bulletz comes off as pretty predictable and almost boring after a full album.  If the previously mentioned bands are the headliners, Lipstixx N' Bulletz are definitely the openers, albeit promisingly talented openers that perhaps just need a bit more seasoning in their songwriting.  Considering how much they have improved since that shudder-inducing demo, it is not hard to imagine that these guys will continue to improve and become that much better.

Rating:  Rock this at 5.           

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

SLEDGEHAMMER LEDGE "Sledgehammer Ledge"



(c) 1994 Boomtown Records

  1. Wake The Dead
  2. It Ain't Pretty
  3. On And On
  4. Billy
  5. Fire In The Hole
  6. The Window
  7. Psycho City
  8. Lock Your Door
  9. No Heart At All
  10. Crazy Mary
  11. Salute The Trash
  12. You Got Nuthin
Chris Childs--Lead and Background Vocals
Jade--All guitars, Background Vocals
J.P.--Bass, Background Vocals
Raychill Bitch--Drums, Background Vocals

A friend of mine gave me the four song indy release/demo from this band called Legs Up several years ago, and I was immediately hooked!  I had to find out if there was something else out there that I could get ahold of because I hadn't heard anything like this come out of the grunge-infested mid-nineties and I needed more!!!  Needless to say, I was very happy to find that the band had changed their name to Sledgehammer Ledge and had just released their full-length debut.

To describe the sound of Ohio's own Sledgehammer Ledge, I always tell people to take a blender, put equal musical parts W.A.S.P. and Lizzie Borden in, add a splash of insanely pissed-off Sebastian Bach, and then garnish with the shouted gang vocals of Warrant.  I really can't think of a better way to describe these guys.  The band never managed to find a major label that was willing to package the angry, sleazy swill that Sledgehammer Ledge was offering up, and it is their loss, as this is easily one of the best independent releases I have ever stumbled across.

There is literally no sense in breaking this album down track-by-track, as each song is delivered with a blistering, in-your-face approach by Childs, regardless of if it is the anthemic opening track "Wake The Dead", the pulse-pounding "Salute The Trash", or personal favorite, the scorching, angst-drenched "On And On", with its chorus of "Lie, Steal, Cheat, Rape!"  Even when the band decides to slow down, such as on "Billy", there is no let-up in the anger that Childs unleashes on this disc.  Don't let the angry descriptions steer you away from this band, however, especially if you are a die-hard sleaze fan, because this album drips with spit and snot and sleaze throughout.

I never got the chance to see Legs Up live, but I have been told that "Lock Your Door" is a song that followed the band through both incarnations, and it is a solid track.  "No Heart At All" is another slower moment, but don't take that to mean plodding power ballad, because that simply isn't Sledgehammer Ledge's style at all.  As I said before, even the slower numbers pummel the listener with huge, angry guitars, Childs' incessant snarl, and a thunderous rhythm section that just never relents.

People are going to love this CD or they are going to hate it, in my opinion, as the band really leaves no room for luekwarm sentiments.  You either get where they are coming from or you don't.  However, if you are a fan of W.A.S.P. or the heavier underbelly of Skid Row, I can't fathom how you wouldn't love this disc!

Rating:  Crank this slab of molten anger to 8.5!

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BLONZ "Blonz"



(c) 1990 Imagine/Epic

  1. Miracles
  2. Hands Of Love
  3. It's The Same
  4. Trouble Child
  5. What's On Your Mind
  6. One And Only
  7. Rainbow
  8. Skintight
  9. Sexy Ride
  10. Last Call (For Alcohol)
Dennis Ogle--Guitars, Keyboards, and Background Vocals
Steve Taylor--Lead Guitar, Background Vocals
Nathan Utz--Lead Vocals
Aaron Tate--Drums and Percussion
Michael Fandino--Bass and Background Vocals

Steve Walsh--Additional Keyboards, Jew's Harp, and Background Vocals

Georgia-based hair metallers Blonz never hit the big time, but they did manage to squeeze out one very solid debut album before going the way of so many one-shot-and-gone bands.  It really is odd how some bands made it and others didn't, especially since it would seem that Blonz had plenty of reason to succed:  major label backing, big name producers (Phil Ehart and Steve Walsh of Kansas fame), a better-than-average collection of songs, above average musicianship, and the typical MTV hair-band look. 

Perhaps part of the problem is some fickle listeners didn't even make it past the opening keyboards of "Miracles".  I'll be honest, I almost didn't either!  When I first heard those New Wave sounding keys and ambiant noises, I thought I either had the wrong CD or the wrong band with a similar name, because this certainly didn't sound like the band I was looking for!  However, once I was past that intro, "Miracles" turned into a solid uptempo rocker with the popular gang vocals and a rather catchy chorus.  "Hands Of Love" is another nice little rocker that was on par with just about anything the "big" bands were putting out.

Blonz throw the listener a curve with "It's The Same", a backwater-downhome-countrified rocker complete with a Jew's Harp and some crickets in the background.  The song reminds me of the "Blaze Of Glory" sound that Bon Jovi made popular with his Young Guns soundtrack, and Blonz does it very well.  A very catchy song that is one of my two favorites here.

"Trouble Child" starts off with a full minute-long intro that reminds me a bit of something Tesla might do, but then shifts into full-on rocker mode, while mandatory power ballad, "What's On Your Mind", treads similar waters to Winger on their slower, keyboard-infused moments. 

Things crank right back up again with another nice rocker in "One And Only" before heading back into slower acoustic territory with "Rainbow" which again mines that Bon Jovi territory I mentioned previously.  By the time I got to this track, I think I had stumbled upon another potential problem for Blonz and this record:  nearly every song has some sort of intro to get through before getting to the heart and soul of the song.  "Rainbow" has a thunderstorm intro and the long acoustic section before the rest of the band kicks in, and I have mentioned some of the other intros already.  While they might be interesting the first time through, they become tedious and, in some instances, annoying upon multiple listenings.  With so much other similar material from dozens and dozens of bands, I think things like long intros and such actually serve as a hinderance rather than an attraction to the casual listener who can be easily swayed to grab the next "hot new band" that comes along.

"Skintight" is one of the better tracks here and was co-written by Larry Elkins of the equally good and equally forgotten band Fierce Heart.  This is the most rocking tune on the disc and showcases a nice guitar solo in the middle that makes me wonder why the band didn't stay with this style throughout.  "Sexy Ride" is another big rocker with a great guitar lead-in that once again really showcases the strong points of this band.  Album closer "Last Call (For Alcohol)" has, you guessed it, another intro, this time of an engine firing up, before the band kicks in with another really solid rocker that sports a surprsing, and very strong, anti-drinking and driving message.  Honestly, it was refreshing to hear a band not extolling the party-til-you-puke mentality that was, quite honestly, the mantra of 95% of all hairbands of the time.

Diversity is a great thing, and I am not saying that Blonz couldn't have found an outlet for their different styles on a follow-up album or two, but with a debut album such as this, I think they would have been better served to focus on one style and stick with it.  I also think the track arrangement is a bit off, as the strongest songs are actually last on the CD and would have been on the backside at the end of the album or cassette, and some listeners may have already turned the music off by that point, especially if they tired of hearing the intros to each song.  Walsh and Erhart do a nice job of producing the record, which is very clean sounding and not so overly polished that it comes off like a pop record, but a few less keys and a bit more guitar would have served the album well.  A solid listen and an enjoyable disc overall, but make sure you give it a chance to play through before deciding that there just isn't enough rock here for your tastes.

Rating:  Rock this at 6.5.   

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

ELECTRIC BOYS "Freewheelin'"



(c) 2004 Universal Music

  1. Ready To Believe
  2. Straight No Chaser
  3. The Groover
  4. Mountains and Sunsets
  5. Sad Day
  6. Nothing For Nothing
  7. Sleeping In The World's Smallest Bed
  8. My Knuckles Your Face
  9. Not My Cross To Bea
  10. Sharpshooter
  11. Some Kind Of Voodoo (Bonus)
  12. Freewheelin' (Bonus)
  13. Mountains and Sunsets (Demo)
  14. Messin' With Voodoo (Demo)
  15. The Groover (Tony Taylor Sessions)
  16. Down At The Bottom (Tony Taylor Sessions)
Conny Bloom--Laed Vocals and Guitar
Andy Christell--Bass and Backing Vocals
"Slim" Martin Thomander--Guitar and Vocals
Thomas Broman--Drums
Tony Taylor--Drums on tracks 15 and 16

By the time 2004 rolled around, only two of the original four members of Electric Boys remained, but most would say they were the heart and soul of the funk-o-metal machine, anyway.  Lead vocalist and guitar player Conny Bloom and his longtime sidekick, bassist Andy Christell have returned with another set of heavy groove-laden material featuring a fat bottom end, swaggering rhythms, and what the band has often referred to as "funk-o-delic" songs.   

More powerful and more focused, while also less-spit-shined than the band's second album, Groovus Maximus, the new Freewheelin' album finds the band hitting on all cylinders right from the start, although the sound might be a bit foreign to longtime fans.  "Ready To Believe" and "Straight No Chaser" both sound like they could have been on the band's debut album and feature the kind of stripper-inspired rhythms and sing-along choruses that the band was known for before record labels tried to polish up their sound.  "Mountains and Sunsets" falls into a similar style and groove, as well, but aside from these three tracks, however, the band finds themselves sliding into more of a 1970's inspired hard bluesy rock sound, something akin to old Whitesnake (musically...not vocally).  What surprised me was that they made it work so well.

"The Groover" is a prime example of the band's new sound...not overly heavy and pretty much funk-less, but a solid mid-tempo rocker with a nice hook and a definite 1970's vibe.  "Sad Day" slows things down with a typical 70's stoner ballad sound which has a feel similar to Alice In Chains' "Rooster" to my ears, then "Nothing For Nothing" revs the album right back up to the slightly up-tempo groove that much of the records spends its time at.   "Sleeping In The World's Smallest Bed" is one of the more bizarre songs on the disc, featuring a piano, a banjo, and then the rest of the band, and has an odd swing-styled breakdown near the end of the song.  "My Knuckles Your Face" is probably the heaviest track here, featuring a scorching solo and some pretty angry lyrics.  "Not My Cross To Bear" is self-described by Conny as being "groove rock meets James Bond", which is a pretty accurate description of the sound.  "Sharpshooter" has some interesting bass-riffing at the outset followed by a very heavy, almost-Sabbath inspired riff that breaks down into another 70's groove track.

The expanded version of this album features six additional tracks not found on the standard version.  "Some Kind Of Voodoo" continues in the Sabbath-meets-Mountain sound that "Sharpshooter" left off with, and the title track, which oddly enough is a bonus song, sounds like the Beatles may have had a hand in writing the song.  (Incidentally, the album was recorded at Abbey Road, so maybe....).  The next two tracks are demos of "Mountains And Sunsets" and "Messin' With Voodoo", which I am guessing is what "Some Kind Of Voodoo" morphed out of.  The second version of "The Groover" was recorded with a different drummer but doesn't have an overly different feel than the album version.  Final track, "Down At The Bottom" features a harmonica over another 70's inspired rocker, but don't think Stones...think something like "Free For All" Nugent when all of a sudden some guy with a harmonica decides to start jamming.  I know, weird description, but its the best I can come up with.

I think the addition of the bonus and demo tracks actually makes this disc drag out too long, especially since two of these tracks are sub-par versions of cuts that made the album.  The quality is decent, which helps, but I really don't see the need for the additional material.

While I prefer the more "funk-o-metal" sounds of the debut, or even the slightly watered down version of that sound on Groovus Maximus, Electric Boys do a very good job of pulling off their new 70's inspired sound.  I kind of wish they hadn't teased me with their old sound on the first handful of songs, however, as I was in that groove when they decided to shift gears.  Overall, a good listen that I think a lot of people will like if they give it a chance.  No real need to shell out anything extra for the extended version of this release, however.

Rating:  Rock this at a 6.5.

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FASTER PUSSYCAT "Faster Pussycat"




(c)1987 Elektra/Asylum Records

  1. Don't Change That Song
  2. Bathroom Wall
  3. No Room For Emotion
  4. Cathouse
  5. Babylon
  6. Smash Alley
  7. Shooting You Down
  8. City Has No Heart
  9. Ship Rolls In
  10. Bottle In Front Of Me
Taime Downe--Vocals
Brent Muscat--Guitars, Background Vocals
Greg Steele--Guitars, Background Vocals
Eric Stacy--Bass, Background Vocals
Mark Michaels--Drums

While it may not be the first album to pop into a person's head, it would be hard to find an album that more perfectly embodied the sleaze sound, attitude, and mentality than this debut from Faster Pussycat.  From the gritty, sleazy sound of Muscat and Steele's guitars to the yowled-like-a-Marlboro-cat vocals of Taime Downe, this album just sort of oozed out of the speakers leaving a sludgy trail behind. 

This disc is chock full of sleaze-classics, whether cranking album opener "Don't Change That Song", sex-driven "Bathroom Wall" and "Cathouse", or the over-the-top fun of "Babylon".  But if you never gave the rest of the album a chance, or if all you own is  the greatest hits package, you are missing some of the true gems of this release.  "Smash Alley" is a gritty rocker that, in my opinion, is possibly the best song on the disc, and the last three tracks, "City Has No Heart", "Ship Rolls In", and "Bottle In Front Of Me" are criminally overlooked by most people and, despite being non-single album tracks, show more heart than the vast majority of the schlock that was managing to find its way onto MTV and rock radio at the time. 

The only place this album lets me down is on "No Room For Emotion", which I have never been able to get into, and 24 years of repeated listens have not changed that stance.  Something about the song just doesn't flow with the rest of the album for me, and while I don't skip it when it comes on, I am certainly not singing along.  However, if you can only find one or two songs on an album that don't work for you, especially in today's "three singles and a bunch of crap" recording world, then you have stumbled upon a high quality release.

It's really too bad that Muscat and Downe are not even on speaking terms any longer, as there is a lot of ground that I think these two could still cover as Faster Pussycat.  Of course, Taime has decided to go in the industrial direction with his Newlydeads project despite the fact that he won the legal rights to use the Faster Pussycat name.  Muscat has struggled with his health over the past few years, and most of the rest of the band has slipped into quiet obscurity.  Guitar Hero picked up "Bathroom Wall" for one of their game releases, so hopefully this album doesn't go the way of most of the band, as even after all these years its still deserves repeated spins and exposure to the next generation of gutterpunks and sleaze addicts.

Rating:  Crank this one to 8

To find out what is happening in Taime Downe's version of Faster Pussycat, CLICK HERE

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DIRTY RHYTHM "Never Cleaned Up"



(c) 2006 Suncity Records

  1. Funky Little Sister
  2. Addicted To Ya
  3. Bad Blood
  4. Top Fuel
  5. What's Your Problem
  6. Wild Child
  7. Feel The Fire (Video Track)
Jeffrey Michael Bonds--Vocals
Brian Harrison--Guitars & Keyboards
Anthony Brian Greenham--Bass
Troy Miller--Drums

Dirty Rhythm is one of those fringe bands from the hair metal scene that should have been much bigger.  They had the look and sound that MTV and rock radio were looking for in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and they had an appreciable fanbase at one time.  Their music is hook-laden with a sometimes funky style that kept them fresh sounding, yet they also reeked of the same attitude that pushed bands like Skid Row over the top into the big time.  In fact, if you close your eyes and just listen, you can hear Skid Row bleeding through the music of Dirty Rhythm, and the latter is frequently compared to the former when looking for a musical equivalent.  Sweet FA is another band that Dirty Rhythm is sometimes compared to, but, of course, a lot of people don't know who that quickly forgotten band was either, so you see the problem in describing Dirty Rhythm.

Never Cleaned Up is essentially the left-overs of a career that never went anywhere.  The band had released one full-blown album in 1991, the critically well-received but airplay and sales neglected Hard As A Rock.  Of course, the fact that the band never had a major label to support them didn't help, and the band recorded these 7 tracks (6 songs and a video) for what was reportedly going to be the follow-up album that would be shopped to some of the bigger labels.  Of course grunge took off at about the same time and the hair metal era was dead, so Dirty Rhythm was dead on arrival as well. 

The honest truth is that I actually prefer four or five of these songs to anything on that debut, and I think this could have been a killer album had the scene not just totally evaporated.  "Funky Little Sister" has tons of swagger and attitude about it and just oozes out of your speakers with a sensual groove that has you hooked from the outset.  Album closer, "Wild Child" is an equally catchy, albeit more straight-ahead and aggressive, rocker with a solid hook and chorus.  "Bad Blood" is another interesting track.  With a title like that, you would think this was a balls-out rocker, but actually it is more of a mid-tempo romp featuring shouted gang vocals,  a catchy rhythm, and a very nice lead solo that inexplicably slips in and out of power ballad chorus territory, only to jump back out and pick up the pace once again.  I'm not really sure what the band was trying to do here, but it is definitely a unique track that is neither excellent or terrible...it's just kind of there.

The inclusion of the video is a cool little touch.  "Feel The Fire" is easily one of the top two or three songs this band ever recorded and the video intermixes "live" band performances with a leggy model-type (although she is, *GASP* a brunette and not a blonde!!!) strutting her way off a train to a Dirty Rhythm show while teasing as many guys as possible.  Okay, it's not high drama, but what video really is?  However, judging by the performance and style of the band in this video, I can tell you that Dirty Rhythm is one of the unknowns that I wish I had gotten a chance to see back in the day.  Really good song here...I just wish it was a little easier to access on this disc, and I wish the song had been included as an audio-only track as well.

The packaging is absolutely top-notch, as most Suncity Records releases are.  Full lyrics are included and the back story of who and what Dirty Rhythm was and where they are now.  It is a bit short, but I think this disc is well worth the few bucks you will have to shell out.  In fact, if you had to choose between this collection and the band's debut, I would take this one every time.

Look, the earth isn't going to shatter when you pop this in your CD player or your computer, but you are going to get six (or seven) really solid tracks from a band that was just unlucky enough to arrive on the scene as the hair metal bus was leaving the station.  Track it down and give it a chance.

Rating:  Rock this at a very solid 7.5

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BANGALORE CHOIR "On Target"






(c) 1992 Giant Records

  1. Angel In Black
  2. Loaded Gun
  3. If The Good Die Young (We'll Live Forever)
  4. Doin' The Dance
  5. Hold On To You
  6. All Or Nothin'
  7. Slippin' Away
  8. She Can't Stop
  9. Freight Train Rollin'
  10. Just One Night
David Reece--Lead Vocals
Curt Mitchell--Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Background Vocals
John Kirk--Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Background Vocals
Ian Mayo--Bass, Background Vocals
Jackie Ramos--Drums--Background Vocals

Several years before anyone would accuse him of almost single-handedly destroying the band Accept, David Reece fronted this solid, yet unhearalded band.  Firmly entrenched in the hair metal genre during the birth of the grunge explosion, Bangalore Choir stood virtually no chance of surviving the Seattle onslaught that was soon going to wipe out all of the Sunset Strip bands and those of a similar ilk.  That is unfortunate, because this album features a few really good songs, above average musicianship, and one of the better lower-range vocalists of the genre. 

"Angel In Black" was the lead single from this album and is a good indicator of what Bangalore Choir brought to the table when they were clicking on all cylinders.  A wailing guitar intro over heavy, out-front drums, and Reece's powerful vocals greet the listener in fine melodic-yet-hairy form, albeit in a bit of a cliched manner with a chorus of "Angel, angel in black, she took me down to hell and back...".  Musically, this is one of the heaviest tracks on the album and is a great example of what this band had to offer.  Follow up track "Loaded Gun" is the kind of mid-tempo rocker that MTV had a love affair with in the late 80's but quickly turned its back on by about 1991.   "If The Good Die Young" is your typical "we're so bad hell don't want us and Heaven can't contain us" type of rebellion anthem that was typical of a lot of bands of the time, but this one is done in ballad fashion, which made it a bit unique.

One thing that likely hurt this band was the absence of a true lighter-in-the-air power ballad.  "Hold On To You" was a decent, if somewhat plodding ballad that could have benefitted from a beefed up guitar solo a the removal of  the ridiculous keyboard-mimicking-a-triangle sound effects that are scattered throughout.  Other than that, the previously mentioned "If The Good Die Young" is the only real attempt to slow things down, which is fine by me, but not a good way to get the attention of radio and MTV at the time, especially with hair metal quickly being smothered and strangled of its last gasps of airplay.

Stand out tracks would include "She Can't Stop", which is something of an indicator of the sound that Reece would bring to Accept on the Eat The Heat album.  "Freight Train Rollin'" is a solid effort but doesn't pack the energy that the title might seem to imply.  Album closer, "Just One Night" is one of my favorite tracks and showcased the guitar chops of Mitchell and Kirk as well as anything else on this album, and "All Or Nothin'" is another high-energy rocker with some great rhythm guitar and a catchy hook and solo.  "Doin' The Dance" is a funky little number that has a fat bottom line to it and a quirky groove that gives Reece a chance to alter his typical straight-forward power delivery to great effect.  This song, co-written by Jon Bon Jovi and Aldo Nova would have been a great MTV video had it come out about 3 or 4 years earlier, but by 1992 it was just another good song on a soon-forgotten release.

Bangalore Choir was a band that had everything going for it except the decade.  They had the formula down:  blonde lead singer with a brunette band all dressed in black leather, a hot, scantily clad chick on the cover, a band photo in front of a vintage World War II bomber, a couple of catchy tracks, and big-time co-writing contributions.  What they lacked was that one killer ballad that record executives thought could save the hair metal world from implosion, and of course the ability to go back in time to 1988.  A solid, if unspectacular album that is worth the $4 or $5 it typically commands in the cut-out or used CD bin.  Snag it if you find it...

Rating:  Rock this one at a solid 6.5.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

JOURNEY "ECL1P53"




(c) 2011 Frontiers Records

  1. City Of Hope
  2. Edge Of The Moment
  3. Chain Of Love
  4. Tantra
  5. Anything Is Possible
  6. Resonate
  7. She's A Mystery
  8. Human Feel
  9. Ritual
  10. To Whom It May Concern
  11. Someone
  12. Venus
Arnel Pineda--Lead and backing vocals
Neal Schon--lead & rhythm guitars, backing vocals
Ross Valory--bass, backing vocals
Jonathan Cain--keyboards, rhythm guitars, backing vocals
Deen Castronovo--drums, percussion, backing vocals


Not gonna lie...I had totally written Journey off.  Having grown up in the 1970's and 1980's, it was impossible to avoid Journey on the radio, junior high and high school dances, on MTV, and pretty much anywhere that music was played.  While they never ventured into the full-blown hard rock/hair metal sound I always preferred, no one did melodic hard rock, arena rock, AOR, whatever you want to call it, like Journey.  As such, it would be a bold lie to tell you I did not really like, if not love, most of what Journey did.  But when Steve Perry left, I truly feel a large portion of the band's spirit left as well.  I know Perry was never the main songwriter, but it is impossible for a true Journey fan to deny that despite his obvious talents, Steve Augeri never managed to capture the presence that Perry had.  Sure, Arrival and Generations had brief moments of quality creativity, but to me Journey sounded like it was on cruise control.  Then, on the exceptionally boring Revelation, it sounded to me like the band had not only taken off the cruise control, they had slipped the Journey machine into neutral and were just trying to get to the finish line with new singer Arnel Pineda.  (And don't even get me started on the abysmal Pineda-fronted re-recordings of Journey classics that was included as a "bonus" disc in the Revelation set! You call that crap a bonus?!)

Forget everything post-Trial By Fire, folks, because the real Journey has been resurrected, at least musically, because Eclipse (or ECL1P53 if you want to use the cool text version of the album's name...) is easily the best post-Perry album and, in my opinion, the best album this band has released since 1983's Frontiers!  This is a MONSTER of an album that finds Neal Schon suddenly remembering what it means to play huge riffs, memorable solos, and insanely catchy hooks! 

From the very first note of "City Of Hope", Journey fans will have to be smiling, because this is what everyone hoped the band could someday pull off again.  Neal Schon sounds like a man on a mission out to disprove all those who criticized him and wrote off his once dominant guitar playing as dead.  The solo in this song alone should put all doubters on notice that this is not the Schon that came across as bored and unchallenged on the last handful of records, as he definitely plays like a man possessed here.  In fact, all twelve of these tracks are vehicles designed to show that Schon, and to a lesser degree Cain and Valory, are still at the top of their game and ready to once again dominate a music scene that, quite frankly, could use some of what Journey has always offered. 

Powerful words?  You bet, but this album simply refuses to let the listener down, even if that listener is as jaded with Journey as I had found myself to be.  Castronova practically crushes his kit on songs like "Edge Of The Moment", and combines with Valory to provide the structure that is required for the layers and layers of guitars that Schon attacks each track with.  Cain proves himself equally adept on keys, but they are not as out front or overpowering as they have been on the last couple of snoozers that Journey has released, giving this disc far more of an urgent, driven feel.  However, when Cain is allowed to shine, and not simply provide layering support to Schon, such as on the intro to "Chain Of Love" or on the piano-based ballad "Tantra", it is evident that he is a very talented player in his own right.

And what about Pineda?  Well, to say he is not a Perry-clone would be a denial of fact.  It is very obvious that, first with Augeri and now with Pineda, Schon and Company have sought out a singer who can pull off the classics and also keep the band moving forward with material that would flow seamlessly into a live set.  Pineda has a very powerful tenor, full of emotion and energy; that much cannot be denied.  He does not have quite the range that Perry displayed, but that's okay...this is Arnel Pineda, not Steve Perry v. 2.0.  To me, that was the crime of that very poorly conceived re-recording effort in the Revelation release; Pineda was totally set up to fail by being truly presented as a Perry replacement.  If I can be brutally honest, I would have been downright furious with the band for hanging me out there like that had I been Pineda.  Fortunately, Pineda survived the multitude of arrows, rocks, garbage, and anything else thrown at him after that nightmarish experiment, because his voice is a vital part of what makes Eclipse so great.  He is comfortable, confident, and exudes an energy that has been missing since the best parts of Trial By Fire, which was, of course, Perry's last album.

Despite all the glowing things I can write about Cain and Valory and Pineda and Castronova, this album is all about the resurrection of Neal Schon and the re-elevation of him to at least guitar demi-god status.  There are moments where Schon absolutely shreds, such as at the end of "Anything Is Possible", that make the listener seriously wonder where this band has been for the past 15 years.  The passionate feel for the song is on display in the mid-tempo rocker "Resonate", and after laying low for the first five minutes of "She's A Mystery", Schon explodes with 90 seconds of gritty riffage and piercing solos, completely taking over what had been a fairly airy, almost etheral feeling song.  Even on the closing instrumental track, "Venus", Schon steals the show with a blistering shredfest that borders on the experimental style of a Satriani.  Incidentally, Castronova sounds like he has a personal issue with his drum kit on this track, as he abuses his instrument in an aggressive fashion that I am not sure has ever been displayed on a Journey song before!

Is it mere coincidence that as soon as the band jumps to the Frontiers Records label they release their best album since the classic Frontiers record?  I don't know, and frankly, I don't care.  If this is where Journey plans to spend the twilight of their career, I am all for it, because this is a band that has fully resurrected themselves to the sound of their glory days and they have released one of the best albums of 2011 with Eclipse!  This is an absolute must-have for hard rock/melodic rock/AOR fans.

UPDATE (2/3/12):  After having several months with this album, I have to state that my initial feelings about the musical quality of this album still stand.  I don't believe Schon has ever sounded stronger, at least not since Frontiers, and that the band is tighter and more cohesive than they have been since Perry left the final time.  That being said, I find myself struggling to remember the hooks of most of these songs.  Where are the memorable choruses that ring through your head for days on end once you hear them?  There are no "Don't Stop Believin'", "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)", or "Wheel In The Sky" to be found here, no "Stone In Love", "I'll Be Alright Without You", or "Message Of Love".  I still think this is a great, GREAT album musically, but just not as catchy as classic Journey.  As such, I have slightly downgraded my original rating from a 9 to a 7.5.  Still a definite must-have disc from 2011 and one that I do still listen to frequently.  Perhaps more time will increase the memorable-factor for some of these beautiful pieces of music.


Rating:  A nearly flawless musical gem, but an album that lacks the memorable songs of classic Journey.  Crank it to 7.5!

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

MR. BIG "What If..."



(c) 2011 Frontiers Records

  1. Undertow
  2. American Beauty
  3. Stranger In My Life
  4. Nobody Left To Blame
  5. Still Ain't Enough For Me
  6. Once Upon A Time
  7. As Far As I Can See
  8. All The Way Up
  9. I Won't Get In My Way
  10. Around The World
  11. I Get The Feeling
  12. Kill Me With A Kiss
Eric Martin--Vocals
Paul Gilbert--Guitars
Billy Sheehan--Bass
Pat Torpey--Drums

This has to be one of the more unlikely full reunions of bands from the 1980's and 1990's.  First Paul Gilbert left so he could do some solo work, and Ritchie Kotzen replaced him in the band.  Reportedly, this did not sit well with Sheehan and, depending upon who you ask or what you read, there was said to be a LARGE amount of bad blood between Sheehan and the rest of the group by the time the band shut things down in 2002.  The band denies this, however, and they insisted the break-up was a friendly one with the members simply deciding to call it a day.  Regardless, Mr. Big, who never received the respect they were due in America, appeared to be a dead issue for all involved, not matter who you ask.

Apparently all they needed was a seven year break to recharge, because with their brand new album, What If..., Mr. Big comes back with a vengeance, releasing what is arguably their hardest hitting album ever.  From the very first note of "Undertow" to the very last resonation on "Kill Me With A Kiss", this is a band that shows that not only are they still at the top of their game as a band, the individual players are still at the top of the heap in their respective instrumental fields.  This is, quite simply put, a masterful release from what has long been regarded by may as one of the most talented bands of their era, regardless of genre.

I have read some reviews that state that Eric Martin has lost some of his range, but I honestly don't hear it; Martin's pipes are strong and distinct, with no obvious signs of wear and tear that I can detect.  He sticks mostly to his lower register here, but I think that is as much a product of the songs as anything.  Martin's bandmates are equally adept on the microphone when they get together to harmonize as Mr. Big has always been excellent at doing.  Gilbert and Sheehan each disply the type of prowess on their individual instruments that has been each man's trademark for many years, with Gilbert ripping off solo after solo in these songs, and Sheehan seemingly wishing he had a regular six-string rather than his bass, as he plays the snot out of the thing in a way very few of his peers can.  Even Torpey, who is often overlooked for his skill behind the kit, comes off as sharp, yet polished, lending a solid backbone to each of these tracks.  To my ears, What If... is the most complete Mr. Big album ever, at least from a musical standpoint.  But how about the songs themselves?

Not an issue at all.  This collection of songs finds the band treading very comfortable water, although as I previously mentioned, I think they come across as harder and more aggressive than ever.  "Undertow" is a scorching rocker that sets the tone for the rest of the disc, and is followed up in fine fashion another finger-blistering effort on "American Beauty".  There are only two ballads on the disc, and neither one slows things down to the level of "To Be With You", "Wild World", or "Just Take My Heart" from past releases.  In fact, "Stranger In My Life" is much more in line with a true "power ballad" than anything I can remember Mr. Big doing in the past, and "All The Way Up" is more mid-tempo than pure ballad and has quite a bit more oomph to it than the stripped down "To Be With You".  Outside of these two songs, however, it is pretty much full speed ahead for the guys, and they close things out as powerfully as they opened up, as "I Get The Feeling" and "Kill Me With A Kiss" both feature some tasty soloing from Gilbert and powerful bottom lines laid down by Sheehan and Torpey.  Nothing on What If... falls into that dreaded filler category in my opinion, and the flow of the album is smooth from one track to the next.

There is pretty much nothing to dislike about this return from Mr. Big, in my opinion.  The band sounds like they are having fun with each other and the performances are top-notch.  My guess is that those who have ripped on this album were never really fans of this uber-talented band to begin with.  There is no doubt that this is Mr. Big when you hear them and I predict that this album will do exceptionally well in Japan, where the band has always had a massive following, and will go largely ignored in the United States, which is truly a pity.  Make the effort to track this album down, folks, if you have ever been a fan of the band, because this is one reunion album that picks up where the band left off and actually improves upon past strengths.

Rating:  Crank this one to 9, folks...       

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

LIBERTY N JUSTICE "Chasing A Cure L.P."







(c) 2011 Roxx Productions

1.  Say Uncle (Paul Shortino of Quiet Riot/Rough Cutt/King Kobra, Ron Keel of Keel, Eddie Ojeda of Twisted Sister)
2.  Throwing Stones (Donnie Vie of Enuff Z Nuff, JK Northrup of King Kobra)
3.  Paige's Song (Philip Bardowell of Magdalen/Unruly Child/CRISS and Tony Palacios of Guardian)
4.  Playing God (Terry Ilous of XYZ, Jeff Paris, and Richard Kendrick of Near Life Experience)
5.  Chasing A Cure (Benny Mardones, John Pine, and Bill Leverty of Firehouse)
6.  Black Or White (Terry Ilous, Alton Hood of D.O.C., JK Northrup)
7.  Quicksand Jesus (Kelly Keeling of Baton Rouge)
8.  Snake Eat Snake [electric version] (David Raymond Reeves and Don Webster of Neon Cross)
9.  Butterface (Mark Allen Lanoue of Biloxi, Joshua Parahia of Joshua)
10. When Mullets Ruled The World (Philip Bardowell, JK Northrup)
11. Ground Zero (Kelly Keeling, Kerry Livgren of Kansas, Carmine Appice)
12. Eve [demo] (Tommy Denander on guitars)
13. Damascus Road [demo] (Tommy Denander on guitars)

As usual, Liberty N Justice is Justin Murr and a bunch of folks who are a lot more famous than him!

A few months ago, Justin Murr released the Chasing A Cure EP to raise awareness and monetary funds for The Epilepsy Foundation, as Murr's 12 year old daughter, Trinity Page Murr, has been fighting the disease for several years and has even undergone brain surgery in an attempt to free her from the seizures associated with the disease.  All of the artists on that original EP donated their time and efforts to the cause, and in an attempt to maximize profits for the foundation the album was released in digital-only form.  Around this time I spoke with Justin on the phone and suggested he get in touch with another friend of mine, Bill Bafford at Roxx Productions, to see about putting the album out as a CD to help raise even more money and to increase its availability.  Just a few months later I hold the finished, expanded, limited-edition results in my hands!  (For the record, I take ZERO CREDIT for having anything to do with this project other than putting a bug in Justin's ear...Bill and Justin did all the work here....)   

The first five tracks are exactly as they appeard on the digital EP.  Paul Shortino and Ron Keel lend their massive voices to the lead track "Say Uncle", a song about finally giving in, letting go, and letting God take over by "saying uncle".  This track also features a very nice solo and outro from Twisted Sister guitarist, Eddie Ojeda.

When I first spoke to Justin about this project, he told me that he thought Enuff Z Nuff's Donnie Vie may have been the "M.V.P. of the project", and Justin may have been right. Donnie is in excellent form on the track "Throwing Stones", which also features King Kobra guitar-slinger, JK Northrup. This is a nice mid-tempo rocker, again featuring smoking little solo in the middle and an incredibly catchy chorus. While probably a bit blusier and more modern than anything most Enuff Z' Nuff fans will recall Vie working on in the past, I think this is a style that suits him extremely well. This song is as radio-ready as it gets, and I would love to hear this get some airplay somewhere.    

"Paige's Song", was written it tribute to Justin's daughter, and is a big piano-driven ballad featuring the talents of Philip Bardowell on vocals and Tony Palacios of Guardian on guitar. I love Bardowell’s voice, and I think this song really showcases his power. This is a moving track, and you can tell that Justin was pouring his heart out on this track, talking about fearing that he would lose his “angel”.   He also writes about that special feeling a father gets the first time he holds his child and how we, as fathers, always promise nothing will hurt our kids, even though deep down we know that there are often things which we hold no control over. As a father myself, I found this track particularly touching, especially when looking at my own son.

“Playing God” features Terry Ilous of XYZ on vocals, along with Jeff Paris and Richard Kendrick of Near Life Experience. I’ll be honest, the very first thing that pops into my head when I hear the opening chords of this song is Bob Seger! Something about the piano and the guitar sound just makes me think of Seger…but once Ilous’ vocals kick in on this melodic rocker, the comparisons come to an end. After talking with Justin about this song, I really like where this song is coming from lyrically, as  I think so many of us will admit that we have struggled with our faith from time to time and attempted to do things on our own and make our own miracles happen. A very open, honest song that I think we can all relate to on some level.

The final original EP track is the title cut, "Chasing A Cure“.  Benny Mardones turns in a powerful vocal performance and Firehouse's Bill Leverty adds a nice solo to this ballad.  Again, I think there are many ways to interpret the lyrics here, whether speaking simply of chasing a cure for epilipsy, or seeking a cure for all of mankind's "ills", and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to this track when they give it a listen.

On this newly expanded LP version of the album, Justin teases his fanbase by giving them hints of the upcoming LnJ double disc release.  Two cover songs are included here, one which seems logical, one which seems completely out of place.  Skid Row's "Quicksand Jesus" is handled very well by Kelly Keeling on vocals and is a nearly dead-on performance of my favorite Skid Row ballad.  On the flip-side, the inclusion of Michael Jackson's "Black Or White" will set a lot of people to scratching their heads, but it works surprisingly well...up until Justin gets hip-hop-happy one more time and includes a rap from D.O.C.'s Alton Hood.  Apparently he didn't learn from his previous rap-disaster on an earlier LnJ album!  Nowhere near my favorite moment of the album, but Ilous handles the non-rap portion of the vocals and Northrup rips off a nice little solo and handles the poppy guitar riff perfectly.

Also teasing the listeners is the track "Butterface", which is a sampling of the more modern rock-sounding original tracks that will also be included in the upcoming LnJ double disc release.  I'm not going to give away the meaning of the title, but I will tell you that Justin manages to snag a MONSTER of a guitar player here in Joshua Perahia.  Again, it is not what you are used to hearing from the generally straight-80's sounding LnJ, but listen to it with an open mind and I think most people will be pleasantly surprised.

Probably the most unique song on this album is "Ground Zero", a huge, progressive track featuring none other than Kerry Livgren of Kansas fame, Carmen Appice on drums, and Kelly Keeling on vocals.  This is, not surprisingly, a very Kansas-esque prog-rocker that simply has to be heard to be appreciated.  Initially, I was not a fan of this track, but the more I listen to it, the more I can appreciate the intricacy of the material and the beauty of the performances here.  Livgren is in excellent form here, tearing through a HUGE, minute-long solo, and I don't know that I have heard Keeling sound this powerful before.  Just an excellent, multi-layered and textured track that adds an entirely different dimension to this album.

"Snake Eat Snake" is a plugged-in version of a song that Reeves and Webster, both of Neon Cross, had contributed to the Independence Day release a couple of years ago, and "Eve" and "Damascus Road" are demos of material that had not made previous releases, with "Eve" being a modern-sounding up-tempo rocker and "Damascus Road" being a piano-driven power ballad.   

And while it is not the last track on the disc, it is the last one I will mention..."When Mullets Ruled The World" is a smirk-laden ballad about the hairy excesses of the 1980's and early 1990's.  Check out the video link below to be time-warped back to the days of Aqua Net, spandex, leather, hot chicks, and guys who tried to look like hotter chicks!

When Mullets Ruled The World

I’m unsure who did all of the bass and drums for the album (I’m assuming Justin did the bass), but the backbone of the songs is solid throughout. The same can be said for the places where keyboards are added in.  Vic Rivera of AdrianGale/Crunch contributes heavily to the songwriting to this album (his name is actually featured alongside Liberty N Justice on the cover), and I believe he also supplies the vocals to both "Eve" and "Damascus Road".  Line Of Fire’s Shawn Pelata also getting writing credits on the title cut of the album. While perhaps a bit more commercial than some of the songs previously offered up by Liberty N Justice, and predictably disjointed with the inclusion of multiple styles of rock on one album, there are really no weak songs here at all, and certainly nothing that would deter any fan of the project or any of its contributors from picking up this album. 

My few issues with this album are minor.  As I have repeatedly noted, I hate digipacks, which this album is released in.  There are no lyrics included, which is always a bit of a bummer for me, and there are no photos of the contributing artists.  Also, the track listing on the back of the cover is incorrect, as "Throwing Stones" is actually track 2, not track 4 as it is labelled, which then throws off the order of the first three songs when you are listening to them.

My version is the pre-order version which came with a cool collector's guitar pick that I think my son has wandered off with!  People wanting a copy of this album need to hurry, as there are only 500 copies of the CD being pressed, and they are sure to go quickly, not only to fans of Justin's work with LnJ, but also to fans of the contributing artists. 

Rating:  Crank this at a very solid 8.5!

For more information about Epilepsy, or to make a contribution, please visit Epilepsy Foundation.

For more information about Liberty N Justice, go HERE or visit Roxx Productions to order this limited edition LP!

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SIXX A.M. "This Is Gonna Hurt"



(c) 2011 Eleven Seven Music

  1. This Is Gonna Hurt
  2. Lies Of The Beautiful People
  3. Are You With Me
  4. Live Forever
  5. Sure Feels Right
  6. Deadlihood
  7. Smile
  8. Help Is On The Way
  9. Oh My God
  10. Goodbye, My Friends
  11. Skin
James Michael--Vocals, Keyboards, Drums, Strings, Guitars
DJ Ashba--Guitars
Nikki Sixx--Bass

Okay, okay...the new Sixx A.M. is NOT glam, it is NOT sleaze, it is NOT hair metal, hard rock, mullet rock, bubblegum metal, whatever you want to call it.  But it IS Nikki Sixx, and that makes it worth a listen for me.

This Is Gonna Hurt is the follow-up to the wildly popular and critically acclaimed Heroin Diaries Soundtrack which featured the hit single "Life Is Beautiful", and was, as the title suggests, the soundtrack to the book of the same name.  Well, if it works once, try it again, right?  That is what Sixx and Company do here, with a new album that is the soundtrack to Nikki's new book of twisted, bizarre, dark photography which shares the same name.  The lead single, "Lies Of The Beautiful People" is also a hit single.  So has history completely repeated itself?

Pretty much...

There are differences between this album and the band's first effort, but they are not major and they are improvements rather than steps backward.  I think this is largely because it is apparent that this is a full-fledged band now, not just a side project used by Nikki to pimp a book or to fill his time while Motley is on the shelf.  The band is obviously comfortable with each other, they feed off of each other's energy, and it works well. 

What we have this time around is a bit more of a retro-sounding effort, but one that is still dark and introspective on Nikki's part.  Yes, I know the credits read that all of the band members contributed to the songs here, I think there is little doubt that Nikki is behind the vast majority of the material here, as the guy flat out knows how to write catchy chords and rhythms, regardless of the style he chooses to create those sounds with.  When I say retro-sounding, however, people shouldn't get the idea that they are going to hear a pure 1970's sounding album or an updated version of Too Fast For Love.    That's not what I mean at all.  There is no doubt, however, that Nikki, DJ, and James dug into their collective musical backgrounds and influences to come up with this modern-yet-still-heavy sounding album that is simply chock full of catchy choruses and mind-numbingly throbbing energy pulsing throughout.  Case in point, the very first track, "This Is Gonna Hurt" just burrows its way into your brain with an urgent, almost electronic beat and a painfully memorable chorus that I can't force out of my brain for hours once I have heard it!  There is also a very tasty guitar solos courtesy of Mr. Ashba, who has all sorts of talent on the fretboard that he displays throughout this record.   Lead single, "Lies Of The Beautiful People" is Nikki's anthem of rebellion against People Magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People list, of all things, and there is definitely a seething anger in the lyrics despite the uptempo musical delivery.  On the band's website, Nikki goes so far as to say, "I was just ashamed that there's even such a list out there," when discussing the basis of the song.   "Are You With Me Now" comes across like a mid-tempo Daughtry rocker as far as tempo goes, but takes the listener to "places that scare you" and beckons you to "come back from the dead", although it is not nearly as ghastly as it may seem from those lyrical snapshots.   "Live Forever" is one of the faster songs on this album, and "Deadlihood" is another angry rocker with a big drum sound and chugging rhythm that rails agains the lure of the Hollywood lights that, ironically, also beckoned to him and pals Vince, Tommy, and Mick not all that long ago.  "Goodbye My Friends" teases at ballad material with a 30 second long piano intro, but rips into full-blown rocker territory and then never looks back. 

Not all of the songs are full-steam ahead rockers, as "Smile" is an acoustic guitar, piano, and strings ballad that is a real shocker when your ears first stumble across it, but it is a great song of love and redemption.  On a similar note, "Oh My God" is an almost U2-ish sounding track, which works very well here, keeping the record from slipping into some of the extremely black-souled material of the first album, which by its sheer nature was supposed to be almost painful to listen to at times.  And album closer, "Skin" is another piano-based track about being who you are and ignoring what other people say about you or label you as.  Deep and poignant, this song probably connects to the photography of the book (and the samples in the liner notes) as well as any on this album.   

There are no interludes here like there are on the first album, which is a definite plus for me.  Also, with the exception of just one song, "Help Is On The Way", there is really nothing here that I would say I could do without, and even this song isn't all that bad...I just HATE the intro to it to the point that my skin crawls with the little "do-do doo de doo" that James intones over the opening notes and then intermittently throughout the track. 

Sixx A.M. is for real and I think they are here to stay.  In fact, I think that there is a very real possibility that this band outlasts Motley Crue, who I think may have one more album in them if we are lucky.  If you liked Heroin Diaries, I think you will love this album.  If you had no use for Heroin Diaries and will never give a chance to anything Nikki does outside of the Crue, well, it is your loss, as this is a darkly attractive album of extremely well-crafted songs that showcases a band hitting on all cylinders.

Rating:  Crank this to 8 and ignore your friends who call you a poser for liking it!

For lyrics, check the band's site:  www.SixxAMmusic.com    

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

LIBERTY N JUSTICE "Light It Up"





(c) 2010 Retroactive Records

  1. Light It Up (Phil Lewis of LA Guns, JK Northrup)
  2. The Other Thief (Dale and Troy Thompson of Bride)
  3. Blink (Lynn Louise Lowrey of Vixen, Eddie Ojeda of Twisted Sister)
  4. Do What You Believe (CJ Snare and Bill Leverty of Firehouse)
  5. Man vs. Mother Nature (Ted Poley of Danger Danger, Vic Rivera of Crunch)
  6. Treading On Serpents (Les Carlsen of Bloodgood, Oz Fox of Stryper/Bloodgood)
  7. Uncle Sam (Sheldon Tarsha of Tarsha/Adler's Appetite, Jeff Pilson of Dokken/Foreigner)
  8. Every Reason To Believe (Kelly Keeling of Baton Rouge/TSO, Kerri Kelli of Alice Cooper)
  9. Wrestling With God (Pete Loran, Steve Brown of Trixter, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal of GN'R/Lita Ford)
  10. Best Time You Never Had (Chris Jericho WWE Wrestler/Fozzy, Phil Collen of Def Leppard)
  11. Beautiful Decision (Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance of Harem Scarem)
  12. Drunk Dead Gorgeous (Marq Torien of BulletBoys, Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P.)
  13. Greed (Robert Mason of Warrant/Lynch Mob, Jerry Dixon of Warrant)
  14. For Better Or Worse (Shawn Pelata of Line Of Fire, Stephen Chesney of Frontiers)
Justin Murr--Bass
...and a WHOLE BUNCH of real rockstars on vocals, guitars, and drums!!!

In 2010 Liberty N Justice returned with their fourth all-star line-up album (fifth if you count the Best Of release) and put forth some of their best work yet. While there are several returning guests tackling Justin Murr’s writing on this newest LnJ disc, it is the newcomers that particularly grabbed my attention right from the start. The title track is supremely snarled by LA Guns’ Phil Lewis, and drips with the attitude and swagger that fans of that band will recognize immediately. The sleaze drips from the guitar tracks laid down by JK Northrup of King Kobra and XYZ fame, and Lewis puts forth possibly his best vocal performance since the band’s Hollywood Vampires days, which says a lot coming from an LA Guns fan!

Lynn Louise Lowry, the current vocalist for Vixen, is another newcomer to the LnJ fold, and she does not disappoint with her contribution to “Blink”, a slick, up-tempo number, reminiscent of Vixen’s earlier, poppier, hair-metal sound, not the darker sound they returned with a few years ago. While certainly not as edgy as Lewis’ contribution, Lowry does an excellent job as the lone female voice on this disc. Twisted Sister’s Eddie Ojeda adds some killer chops to the latter half of the track, showing off his ability outside the classic Twisted sound, similar to some of the songs he played on his solo disc.

Quite possibly the stand-out cut on this record is the contribution from CJ Snare and Bill Leverty, both of Firehouse. “Do What You Believe” sounds like it could have come straight from one of the band’s first three albums, and is exactly what Firehouse fans wish the band still sounded like! Excellent, excellent performance, writing, and production make this mid-tempo number an absolute standout here, and Snare’s vocals are spot on.

If “Do What You Believe” is the top track on the disc, “Uncle Sam” is an extremely close second! Featuring Sheldon Tarsha (Adler's Appetite) and Jeff Pilson (Dokken/Foreigner), this patriotic song is the most introspective look into the songwriter’s mind about the state of our beloved United States. Not necessarily coming off as “politically preachy”, this track certainly gives the listener something to ponder while also soaking in a truly killer vocal performance from a man I will have to seek out. I would love to hear an acoustic version of this track, as I think it would fit in very well with several of the other songs on the acoustic Independence Day record.

Also new to the Liberty N Justice family are Fozzy frontman and WCW/WWE wrestler Chris Jericho and Def Leppard axeman Phil Collen on the song "Best Time You Never Had". Collen gets to showcase his style a bit more here than on the last handful of Leppard discs, and this is one of the sleeper tracks of the disc.

Marq Torien of Bulletboys NAILS his shot on this disc with “Drunk Dead Gorgeous”. The anti-drinking and driving song showcases one of the most recognizable voices in the glam/sleaze scene of the 80’s and 90’s, and is a better song than nearly anything off the Bulletboys disappointing latest offering. Chris Holmes, formerly of W.A.S.P. lends a surprisingly tame, understated solo to the track, which I think accentuates the power of Torien that much more.  Meanwhile, Robert Mason, the latest Warrant vocalist pairs up with his new Warrant bandmate, Jerry Dixon, on “Greed”.  The uptempo rocker is not as heavy as some of the Lynch Mob material Mason worked with, but is still a solid number that teased listeners with what Warrant would eventually sound like with Mason at the mic.

The Poley/Rivera team of Ted and Vic give a killer performance on “Man Vs. Mother Nature”. Great song, great hook, excellent vocals…but the song with the most annoying intro on the disc!  (Give it a listen...I think you will agree....).  Kelly Keeling of Baton Rouge also returns to join up with Kerri Kelly on “Every Reason To Believe”, one of just two full-on ballads on the disc.  The other is album closer “For Better Or Worse” from Shawn Pelata (Oracle/Line Of Fire) and Stephen Chesney (Frontiers). This song brings a definite Bad English/Journey-like sound to it, and is an excellent piece of writing.

There are a couple of minor misses on this disc for me, but they are not terrible songs at all.  Pete Loran and Steve Brown of Trixter contribute, “Wrestling With God” (should Jericho have done this track???) which, to me,  is a good song with a great message, but there just seems to be something lacking.  Returning LnJ contributors Troy and Dale Thompson of Bride just don't seem to fit the overall flow of this disc, although their track “The Other Theif”  shows that Dale still has those famous screaming pipes and Troy’s guitars leave no question that this is a Bride-brothers effort.  And, as I said, there is that intro to "Man Vs. Mother Nature"...!  I also wish the lyrics to the songs had been included as the message is every bit as important as the music on any LnJ album.  While clearly written from a Christian perspective, this disc is never preachy or pushy, and I hope that the fact that Justin Murr’s writing takes a Christian stance does not deter anyone from giving this disc the well-deserved attention it should receive.

On top of all the talent listed, even more artists contributed to the making of this disc. At the risk of missing someone, the additional musicians include Chris Dickens (Mission Of One), John Pine, Eric Rango, Terry llous (XYZ), Marc Danzeisen (BulletBoys andLittle Caesar), Doug Odell (Crunch/TNA). All of this talent is brought even more into focus with the excellent work of the various producers on the project. Vic Rivera (AdrianGale/Crunch/Poley-Rivera) turned knobs and dials for half of the record, Mike Layne and Steven Brown (Trixter) each produced two tracks, and CJ Snare (Firehouse) and Stephen Chesney (Frontiers) contributed a track each. Snare also pre-mastered the disc, with Cliffy (Main Line Riders) doing all the final mastering work. As a project, the mix is stellar, with no one being buried anywhere, which is important in allowing the message of the songs to come through. The guitar tones are bright and polished, without coming off as overly sugary or drifting into mainstream pop tones.

Rating:  Crank this one at 8.5!

For more information on the band and its various projects, go HERE!

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

WHITESNAKE "Forevermore"




(c)2011 Frontiers Records

  1. Steal Your Heart Away
  2. All Out Of Luck
  3. Love Will Set You Free
  4. Easier Said Than Done
  5. Tell Me How
  6. I Need You (Shine A Light)
  7. One Of These Days
  8. Love & Treat Me Right
  9. Dogs In The Street
  10. Fare Thee Well
  11. Whipping Boy Blues
  12. My Evil Ways
  13. Forevermore
  14. Love Will Set You Free (Alt Mix)
  15. Forevermore (Acoustic Version)
  16. My Evil Ways (Evil Drums Mix)
DVD Tracks
  1. Making of Forevermore
  2. Forevermore: Track By Track
  3. Love Will Set You Free (music video)
  4. Making Of Love Will Set You Free
David Coverdale--Vocals
Doug Aldrich--Guitars
Reb Beach--Guitars
Machael Devin--Bass
Brian Tichy--Drums

When Whitesnake announced they were releasing new material a couple of years ago, I was one of the many skeptics.  Slip Of The Tongue, the last Whitesnake studio album, had been out for quite a few years, and was really not all that spectacular.  I wasn't all that sure what to expect.  However, like nearly everyone who heard Good To Be Bad, it was obvious that Whitesnake was back, Coverdale was still in killer vocal shape, and the new guitar tandem of Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach was a powerful force to be reckoned with and possibly as good as any guitar team Whitesnake had ever had.  Not only had Coverdale managed to recapture much of the magic of the self-titled 1987 album, in some aspects it appeared he may have surpassed that legendary disc.

Then Coverdale blew out his voice...  Once again, it appeared Whitesnake was dead.

When I heard that Coverdale had recovered and had once again relaunched Whitesnake, I was not going to be left standing in line to hear what he had to offer.  If the new album, Forevermore, was anything even close to what Good To Be Bad was in 2008, then it was going to be a treat.

After reading numerous reviews on-line, I am in the minority with Forevermore, it appears.  I think this disc is amazing, capturing not only that 1987 sound once again, but also blending in a bit more of the classic, bluesy, pre-Slide It In sound.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that I prefer Forevermore over Good To Be Bad, which seems to shock some people when I say that.  People tell me they think Coverdale has lost a chunk of his range, that Aldrich sounds bored on this album, or that the disc lacks focus and direction.  Huh?

To my ears, Coverdale sounds as powerful as ever.  Has he lost a bit of range?  It is possible that he has to work a bit harder to hit the really high end of his vocals, but I would not say he sounds strained or weak; I think his voice has simply matured and comes across as smoother, smokier, and less-commercial sounding now, which could also be attributed to the production, I suppose.  Aldrich and Reb Beach simply smoke on this disc, with the two feeding off of each other to rip through some killer leads and some of the most soulful riffs I have heard in quite some time.  Whitesnake, for me, was always at their best when they allowed their bluesy side to enter into the mix, and that is definitely evident on Forevermore.   I think part of that can also be attributed to the addition of former Lynch Mob members Devin and Tichy, who round out the band in typical Whitesnake musical perfection fashion.

I don't think I would have led off with "Love Will Set You Free" as the first single, as I think the chorus is a bit generic and predictable, but it is still a very good song.  Personally, I am more drawn to "Steal Your Heart Away", or even the title track, although I find I am not overly impressed with the acoustic version of "Forevermore".   Old school Whitesnake fans will find themselves instantly drawn to "Whipping Boy Blues" and "Love & Treat Me Right", while those who worshipped the 1987 gem will drool all over "Dogs In The Street", "All Out Of Luck", "Tell Me How", or the big-time ballad, "All Out Of Luck".  "My Evil Ways" is another great song that will likely have fans of either era of Whitesnake smiling. 

I do think that the album runs into problems with the amount of material that is here, especially since three of the songs are remixes.  I wish that they would have put these mixes on the bonus disc, along with all the video material which I watched once and will likely never play again.  Additionally, I know I am going to have to learn to live with them, but I hate digipacks, and this album is not only a digipack, it is a DOUBLE digipack, which just means more joints to wear thin and more trays to crack.  Oh well...

Overall, this is yet another incredible release from Coverdale & Co., and if they choose to release another album somewhere down the road, I may not be the first guy in line to buy it, but I won't be far behind.

Rating:  Crank this to 8.5!

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