Sunday, November 25, 2012


(c) 2012 R.W.A. Music Company
  1. My Resistance
  2. Rock 'N Roll To You
  3. On My Needle
  4. Neon Light Resurrection
  5. Nervous Breakdown
  6. Jane Is Insane
  7. Jaded Heart
  8. Fellin' fine
  9. Can't Wait
  10. (I Don't Care) You're Nothing
Tom Spice--Lead and Backing Vocals
D. McKay--Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Henning N Nielsen--Guitars, Backing Vocals (touring)
Andrey "Zvon" Zvonkov--Guitars (recording)

Additional Musicians:

Daniel Izmaylov--Guitars, Backing Vocals on "Feelin' Fine"
Nikolay Stravinsky--Backing Vocals
Karnina Nazarova--Backing Vocals on "Rock N Roll To You" and "Feelin' Fine"
Tatiana Shishkova--Female Vocals on "On My Needle:
Igor Bardashev--Percussion
V. Kozhekin--Harmonica on "Jane Is Insane"

Addiction For Destruction is the latest Russian sleaze band to cross my desk in the past year, following John Galt and Shit Rave.  Unlike those two bands, however, Addiction For Destruction has released a full-length physical CD and has received distribution support from Demon Doll Records and Atomic Stuff, which should help to get their music out to the people who may want to hear it.  The question is, of course, SHOULD people want to hear it? 

If all that mattered was appearance, style, and attitude, Addiction For Destruction would have it made before you even pushed play on your CD player.  Obviously the band borrowed their name from the Guns N Roses classic Appetite For Destruction, which is not an uncommon tactic of bands trying to make a name for themselves, so I guess you could give them some style points for at least having a good idea of who they want to emulate.  Then, simply judging them by their photos, they have the tattoos and long hair (well, 3 out of 4 do...) to go with the denim and leather, so that is in their favor as well.  But there have been a lot of bands that looked the part but simply couldn't play the part...or even play their instruments, for that matter...through the years, which was what I feared from this band, to be honest.

Of particular strength here is the guitar playing of Andrey "Zvon" Zvonkov.  Zvon has a firm grasp on the 80's sleaze sound, but he adds enough of a modern touch to keep  Neon Light Resurrection from sounding like a clone of something from that decade. In fact, Zvon seems to almost seamlessly blend the 80's sleaze sound with the more modern sound that I so often refer to here as the New Wave Of European Glam and Sleaze.  Think Guns N Roses or Faster Pussycat meets Crashdiet and Nasty Idols and you will have a good idea of Zvon's sound.  It's too bad that he is either no longer in the band or, perhaps, is only a studio member of the band, because he is the strongest part of the band overall and the main reason I was able to get through the first few cuts of less-than-stellar English translations, cookie cutter drum patterns, and derivative sounding songs.

The opener isn't horrible, and once you get adjusted to the lower-range sneer of Spice's vocals, it is actually a decent rocker and not a bad way to start off.  However, things go downhill from there, especially on the extremely cliche "Rock N Roll To You" or the unfocused pomp of "On My Needle."  To be honest, by the time these two tracks had rolled out, I was starting to wonder what it would take to get through the rest of the album.

I'm glad I stuck around for the second half of the album as it is by far stronger than the first five tracks.  Starting with "Nervous Breakdown", the band seems to find a groove and settles into a nice, aggressive, sleazy rhythm that I wish the entire album contained.  I kind of wonder if these later songs aren't older songs that the band is more comfortable with and that the first few tracks were put together so that the band had an entire album worth of material.  "Jane Is Insane" is a very catchy song that I like quite a bit, even if the lyrics are a bit odd.  One line that I think is actually pretty cool is when Spice sings, "Devil in her eyes and a smile like a stain".  That's some imagry I can honestly say I have never heard used before.  "Jane Is Insane" and "Feelin' Fine" fight over the rights as the best song on the album, with "Feelin' Fine" being a pretty cool, aggressive rock track that would serve the band well as a single and possible video, as I think it is the song most likely to attract the rock crowd these Moscow natives appear to be angling for.  The other two songs of note on this album also show up on this latter half of the disc, and both in the form of acoustic numbers.  "Jaded Heart" has some pretty nice guitar work, although Spice's vocals are a bit strained in spots.  Album closer, "(I Don't Care) You're Nothin'" is a bit cliched once again, but Spice's vocals work better here and, again, the song structure is solid and the track itself is above average.

The production is solid, which is a bonus, and there are not any major problems with the mix on the record, with the guitars sounding clean in the right spots and nice and grimy where it matters.  Additionally, the vocals are not buried in the mix or blaring so far out in front that the instruments get drowned out.  One thing that I will say about the vocals, however, is it sounds like numerous layers of vocals were used in a lot of spots, even on the lead vocals, which gives them an odd sound in places.  This is especially noticable on "My Resistance", for example, where it almost sounds like gang vocals are being used even for the verses.  It's odd, to say the least.

The packaging is top notch on this effort, so it's obvious some thought went into the project as a whole.  All of the lyrics are included in the full-color, 12-page booklet that also includes multiple band photos, credits, and thank-yous.  A very nice touch to this overall product.

Musically, Addiction For Destruction is better than Shit Rave but not as solid as John Galt, as far as the Russian rockers of this past year go.  As far as the overall entire product, however, Addiction For Destruction is MILES ahead of their peers.

Rating:  An above average first effort from a band that will only improve with more time to gel...and a better translation dictionary so the lyrics don't come across as so cliche.  Rock this at a decent 6 and keep an eye out for Addiction For Destruction in the future.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

BLUSH, STEVEN "American Hair Metal" (Book Review)

(c) 2006 Feral House
With "American Hair Metal", author Steven Blush has created a glossy look at the Hollywood Sunset Strip scene of the mid-to-late 1980's, when big hair, makeup, and spandex ruled the scene for both guys and gals.  At a fairly substantial 176 pages, the book has a lot of room to share a wealth of information about the scene, the bands, the groupies, and the music, especially since this is a coffee table format book that is nearly 8 inches tall and almost 10.5 inches wide.  Sadly, at least for me, most of the book is given to sharing photos of the bands, many of which could be found in other magazines or books, and not a lot of time or page space was devoted to actual content.  Oh, sure, there are a lot of cool quotes from various band members, and there is a brief glimpse into the earliest incarnations of the hair metal movement, a la the glam bands of the late 1970s' such as KISS and New York Dolls, the more classic 70's rockers like Van Halen, Aerosmith, and even Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC, and the label feeding frenzy that took place when everyone was trying to sign the next Poison or Warrant, but really, that is about all for substance, and even that is slim pickings, covering only about half the book's pages (and even less than half of the book's content area).
I was really disappointed that more attention wasn't given to the lesser known or unsigned bands of the "American Hair Metal" scene as I think this would have been the perfect format for that.   Where is Tryx, for example?  Or Wildside?  Or Wildboys?  Or Masque?  Notice the book doesn't call itself "Hollywood Hair Metal", so why are none of the east coast bands really talked about all that much?  What about the European bands (a few are given some metion, but not much) of the scene?
Also, I really took issue with the chapter (perhaps glossary is a better term) that the book calls "The Hair Bands", making it appear as if this is going to be some sort of definitive list of some sort.  Trust me when I say it is not.  For all of the Glitter2Gutter readers, I ask you, is it even possible to have a true "list" of the hair metal bands that only starts with Black N Blue and then ends with Winger?  Seems to me we are missing several bands there....  Also, another list called "More Essential Hair Cuts" lists such classic hits as "I Want My Heavy Metal" by Adam Bomb, "American Kix" by Candy, "Drop The Bomb" by London, and "Under The Influence" by Sven Gali, to name but a few.  Now, I don't dispute that these are good songs, but "essential"?  NONE of the bands I just listed made the book's "The Hair Bands" list, but they have essential songs?  Interesting...
At the end of the day, this is nothing more than a picture book with a bit of dialog, a lot of artist ramblings about various topics, and little else of any kind of substance...but perhaps that is as it should be.  After all, no one believes anything of any substance came out of the 80's or the hair metal scene anyway, right?  So why should this book be any different?  
Rating:  "American Hair Metal" is a decent "flip-through book" that owners may casually thumb through once or twice, but otherwise it is likely to gather dust on a bookshelf.  There are better, more informative books out there. 

RICK SPRINGFIELD "Songs For The End Of The World"

(c) 2012 Universal Music

  1. Wide Awake
  2. Our Ship's Sinking
  3. I Hate Myself
  4. You & Me
  5. Gabriel
  6. A Sign Of Life
  7. My Last Heartbreak
  8. Joshua
  9. Love Screws Me Up
  10. I Found You
  11. Depravity
  12. One Way Street

Rick Springfield--Lead Vocals, Guitars
George Bernhardt--Guitars
Matt Bissonette--Bass, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Rodger Carter--Drums

Every now and then, a CD shows up in my mailbox that is just completely out of left field, or at least seemingly so.  I get everything from the deepest, darkest death metal to some stuff that I'm not entirely sure is even music.  So, when Rick Springfield's latest CD showed up a few weeks back, I wasn't necessarily surprised, but I wasn't really expecting much out of it, either.  Hey, I'm not gonna deny that Springfield was one of my guilty pop-rock pleasures of the 80's, as he had just enough guitar edge to his rocking stuff to satisfy my hard rock ear...and just enough pop to interest the girls that I was interested in!  Seriously, if most people here are honest with themselves (and I'm not asking you to say it out loud, just don't lie to yourself...), we've all cranked "Jessie's Girl", "Love Somebody", "Everything For You", and possibly "Celebrate Youth" more than a few times.  That being said, I had pretty much written the guy off since I had last heard him on his 2004 album Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance as it just didn't do anything for me and he came across as an angry, bitter mid-50's rocker (he was 55 at the time) that was trying to sound relevant.  And to be completely candid, I expected the same thing here.
On Songs For The End Of The World, the listener finds Springfield not turning his back on his power pop past (say that five times fast!), but instead embracing it and then pulling it forward.  Every rocker here sounds like something Springfield could have done in the 80's but with more modern production, harder edged guitars (at least in places), and a bit of a modern rock sneer mixed in with numerous arena-rock anthems and a smattering of ballads.  In places this album reminds me a lot of the latest efforts from Night Ranger and Journey as far as the melodic approach and how "hard" the album is, but the lyrical content tends to be much darker, more introspective, and not at all tied to the 80's attitude that so many retro acts seem to be desperately holding onto.

Take for example the opening track on this album, "Wide Awake".  A tight drumroll and a fuzzed-up modern guitar lick start the track off, and the verse lyrics are spit out in a snarling, almost angry style before colliding with a very poppish, sing-along chorus, with Springfield seeking "what it is to be a kid again".  The follow-up track, "Our Ship's Sinking" has a big hook from the outset, a bit of a modern radio rock approach to the guitar tones, and a huge, bright sound with a positive attitude to the lyrics that belies the song's title.  The album's lead single, "I Hate Myself", has a much more retro-rock approach to it, especially in the guitar tone, but the attitude is youthful and powerfully delivered, the guitar hook is fresh, and the song is not dated or tired sounding at all.  "A Sign Of Life" is another song that sounds like it could have been taken from a mid-80's writing session but then given new life with some beefed up production and just a hint of modern guitar tuning, producing a strong mid-tempo rocker that will likely keep the listener's head nodding and toes tapping.  "My Last Heartbeat" is another aggressive rocker with some interesting effects and some of Springfield's angriest vocals on the disc. 

Never forgetting where he came from, yet refusing to be contained by the past, Springfield moves effortlessly from a track like "Love Screws Me Up", which finds Springfield dropping the F*BOMB of all things (gasp!) in a cool, jangly number that has a definite retro feel, then moving on to the much darker sounding "I Found You" which carries a far more modern vibe musically and production-wise. 

Every song here checks in at under four minutes long, so Springfield knows how to keep things short and to the point, which I think is to his benefit, as the songs don't come across as bloated or pompous at all.  Instead, a strong focus on melody, catchy hooks, and interesting-if-not-complicated rhythms keep the album moving along nicely, even on the slower moments such as the fantastic "Gabriel" or the previously mentioned "I Found You". 

This is not the Rick Springfield that those of us who survived the 80's are likely to recall when his name is mentioned.  Rather than imploring us to "Love Somebody", Springfield now tells us that "Love Screws Me Up", and instead of "Jessie's Girl" we get "Joshua", but that's okay.  Springfield has expanded his musical voice, expressing angst and aggression and frustration that would never have found their way into his hits of 25 or 30 years ago.  While his voice doesn't sound like it has aged at all, there is no way the Springfield of old would have even considered approaching an edgy track like "Depravity", with it's screeching guitar and plaintive lyrcs. 

It's too bad that Top 40 radio is going to ignore this effort, and modern rock radio doesn't have the guts to play music from a 63 year-old heartthrob from the 80's because, all in all, this is one of the best releases of 2012, regardless of genre.  Chock full of hooks and harmonies, Songs For The End Of The World is the biggest surprise of the year for me so far, and we're running out of time for that to change since it is November already.

The packaging is top notch, complete with credits and lyrics, which frequent readers will know is always a plus for me.  Additionally, this is a digitally enhanced CD, so there is a lot of bonus material that can be accessed with your computer, which is always cool. There are also supposed to be four different versions of the cover art floating around, although I have only seen two; I am not sure if the variant covers mean certain discs have bonus tracks, or if some covers are in more limited quantities than others and, thus, more collectible.

Metalheads will want to avoid this disc at all costs (as if I needed to tell you that), but for readers of this site that appreciate good, catchy, melodic rock that hits hard at times and also knows when to back off a bit, I would imagine that Songs For The End Of The World is going to be something that you will find yourself returning to again and again. 

Rating:  I am as shocked as anyone, but I would say crank this to a surprising 8.5...but you have to be willing to be open-minded and not just write this off as soon as you see it's Springfield!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SCOTT STAPP "Sinner's Creed: A Memoir" (Book Review)

(c) 2012 Tyndale Books

Love them or hate them, it is impossible to deny that Creed is one of the biggest rock acts of the past twenty years, selling more than 40 million copies of their four multiplatinum studio albums.  As such, the band's lead singer, Scott Stapp, who has also sold more than two million copies of his solo album, The Great Divide, is one of the most beloved...and most loathed...singers of that same time frame.  Never one to shy away from a fight (which he talks about in this memoir), Stapp steps up to the plate to deliver, along with co-author David Ritz, a solid, extremely readable account of the triumphs and struggles of this not-yet 40-year-old megastar.

Without giving away too much detail, Stapp tells of his abandonment by his biological father, the abusive relationship with his step-father, the rise, fall, and disbanding of Creed, the semi-suicidal accident that nearly claimed his life...and how a rapper saved his life!  From the band's early days as Naked Toddler ("The name didn't go over well..." p. 98), to Brian Marshall's departure, to the creation of Alter Bridge (which Stapp never mentions by name), the various stages of the band's career are discussed from Stapp's unique point of view as the man out front...and then out of the band.  The singer also discusses the meanings behind numerous Creed songs, his frustration with the band being labelled  a "Christian band" ("we didn't want to be Stryper..." p. 136) despite the fact that he is a profound Christian who writes deeply spiritual, often prayerful lyrics, and how his wife and children have saved his life on multiple occasions.  He also discusses in candid detail his struggles with drugs and alcohol, multiple rehab stints, and how he finally surrendered everything to God in order to salvage his life, career, and family.

Included at the end of the book are the lyrics to all of the songs that Stapp has written for Creed throughout the years.  Oddly, however, the lyrics to his solo album are NOT included.  I am not sure why; perhaps this was simply an oversight.  It is a nice inclusion for people who are following along as he writes the book and wants to get further reference to the lyrics he frequently quotes throughout.

Another little unique twist to this book is the inclusion of a free download of a previously unreleased Stapp song, the title track to this book, "Sinner's Creed".  Not sure if this will be a part of the next Stapp solo release (which he mentions here) or the next Creed studio album (also hinted at), but it is a solid track that will be loved by Creed/Stapp fans...and just as equally hated by those who can't stand the band or the man.

Again, a very solidly written book that brings to light Stapp's side of some of the controversy that has surrounded him and Creed through the years.  More than that, though, this is a book about a Christian man's struggle to reconcile the rock n' roll lifestyle he admittedly lived (and abused) with the faith that he claims he always carried with him, and his ultimate understanding that he could not have it both ways and that something would have to be sacrificed if he was to survive.

Definitely not a tell-all, not a slanderous account, and not a sordid details type of book, but a compelling page-turner that I finished in just a few days time.  Recommended reading for fans of Stapp or Creed, or for anyone looking for a positive, faith-based book about overcoming personal struggles and demons.  

(294 pages, hardcover)

Monday, November 19, 2012

JEFF KEITH "Country Music Friends EP"

(c) 2012 Jeff Keith Country Recordings
  1. Same Ol' Cowboy
  2. Life Is Just A Roller Coaster Ride
  3. I Can't Let Go
  4. Life On The Road
  5. Oklahoma Bound
  6. Oh Hell
  7. CMF Interviews
CMF is:  Jeff Keith, Kent Goodson, Pat Boone
Additional musicians:  Penn Pennington, Herb Shucher, Billy Contreras, Ray Von Rotz
Backing Vocals:  Jeff Keith, Penn Pennington, Sheila Fowler
For people who may be inclined to pick up this little EP from Tesla frontman, Jeff Keith, be warned:  THIS IS NOT A ROCK RECORD AT ALL.  I know, I know, people will say, "Well, duh, it says 'country music friends' on the cover", but I cannot overstate this fact: THIS IS NOT A ROCK RECORD AT ALL.  It is not Keith and some current country superstars doing Tesla songs, or Keith covering songs of some of todays country acts.  This is Jeff Keith doing straight-up, OLD-SCHOOL country music.  The music on this EP owes more to old George Jones or even Hank Williams, Sr. than it does to anything on country music radio today, as there is not a single hint of rock in the country music contained here.  This is country music that is rooted more in the acoustic country sounds of the 50's and 60's, and which many people would have labeled "country western music" prior to the Outlaw Country movement (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., etc.), the Urban Cowboy movement (Dan Seals, Conway Twitty, Mickey Gilley, etc.) of the late-70's/early 80's, or the New Hat movement (Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, etc.) of the late 80's/early 90's.
While not bad for what it is, I highly doubt more than 10% or 15% of Glitter2Gutter readers will find much to take away from this effort.  Sure, Keith still sounds much the same, although he has added a "country twang" to his vocal approach, and he does a humorous job of name-dropping numerous Tesla songs in the humrous "Same Ol' Cowboy" (if you hear this song, see how many Tesla titles you come up with...), but nothing here is going to intrigue people who are looking for anything even remotely Tesla in nature.  Likewise, fans of the current rock-infused country sound of Eric Church, Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean, Zane Lewis, or Big & Rich, for example, will also find very little to like on this effort, as there is none of the drive, pomp, or power of the music these acts possess. 
As someone who grew up with Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Conway Twitty, and CW McCall, among numerous others, blaring off the turn table in my parents' home of the early 1970's, I can appreciate a bit of old school country from time to time (love Haggard and Cash to this day).  And as someone who was a country radio DJ for several years, I can also appreciate a good deal of the more rock-edged country of the 90's and today, even if I am not what I would ever call a fan (though I do dig Eric Church's music).  However, it is unlikely I will ever pull this EP out again, instead filing it away, slipping it in alongside the Tesla discs that I still repeatedly pull out and will continue to play for many more years.   
The packaging is of virtually no quality at all, as it comes in a simple cardboard slip-case with no liner notes to speak of and zero lyrics.  The information doesn't even tell you who is playing what instrument.  Also included on the CD is the last track, the "CMF Interviews" which is Keith and others explaining how the project came together.  I had to laugh because Keith's "aw, shucks, I'm just an Oklahoma good-ole-boy" schtick wore pretty thin on the very first listen and I haven't played it again....and neither will anyone else who picks this up, most likely.

For any who are curious, mine was one of the first batch ordered, so it came autographed.  I believe these have all been sold out, but you can check his country music site store; perhaps more will be sold eventually.  If you are open-minded to all kinds of music, or if you are a Tesla completist who has to have everything any band member has ever done, you can get the CD at for just $10, and digital downloads are also available, I believe.
Rating:  It's almost unfair to put this on the standard Glitter2Gutter rating scale, as it really has nothing in common with anything else here, but to be fair and honest to the rockers here, turn this down to a 2, giving it just a spin or two to play "name that Tesla title" on the opening track.  After that, I'd just turn it off.
(Disclaimer:  if you are open-minded musically, and can appreciate old-school country, I would be willing to bet there are more than a few people who would "rock this" at a 6 or so...)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LIBERTY N JUSTICE "The Cigar Chronicles: Volume 1-The Covers"

(c)2012 Liberty N Justice Productions

  1. "Ice Ice Baby" featuring Seann Nichols (Adler's Appetite/Tarsha) and Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister)  Originally recorded by Vanilla Ice
  2. "I Can't Dance" featuring Stevie Rachelle (Tuff) Originally recorded by Genesis
  3. "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" featuring CJ Snare (Firehouse/Rubicon Cross), George Lynch (Dokken/Lynch Mob/T&N), and Jeff Pilson (Dokken/T&N/Foreigner)  Originally recorded by U2
  4. "Stayin' Alive" featuring Kip Winger (Winger)  Originally recorded by the Bee Gees
  5. "YMCA" featuring Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge/Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Chris Dickens (Mission Of One), and Neil Zaza  Originally recorded by The Village People
  6. "Iris" featuring Tony Harnell (TNT/Westworld), and Alex Grossi (Quiet Riot/Hotel Diablo) Originally recorded by The Goo Goo Dolls
  7. "You're So Vain" featuring Phil Lewis (L.A. Guns), and Chris Green (Rubicon Cross/Furyon)  Originally recorded by Carley Simon
  8. "Queen Of The Night" featuring Selena McVey and Brooke St. James (Tyketto)  Originally recorded by Whitney Houston
  9. "Blame It On The Rain" featuring Andrew Freeman (Hurricane/Offspring/30 Stones), Pete Fry (FarCry), and Eric Rango (Liberty N Justice)  Originally recorded by Milli Vanilli
  10. "Bye Bye Bye" featuring Chaz West (Bonham) and Jeff LaBar (Cinderella)  Originally recorded by N'Sync
  11. "Dancing On The Ceiling" featuring James Christian (House of Lords)  Originally recorded by Lionel Richie
  12. "Stuck In The Middle With You" featuring Larry Worley (Fear Not), Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (Guns N Roses), Andy Robbins (Holy Soldier/Joe Lynn Turner), and Anthony Gravely (Wind-up Rocket)  Originally recorded by Stealer's Wheel
  13. "Mmm Bop" featuring Jamie Rowe (Guardian/Adrian Gale), Anthony Gravely (Wind-up Rocket), and Roxx Hunter  Originally recorded by Hanson

Where to begin...  As readers of this site know, I am NOT a fan of covers albums.  First, the same dozen songs have been re-recorded and re-made so many times that I don't even like the original any longer!  Second, I get tired of hearing bands just go through the motions, adding zero in the way of creativity or original approach.  All we end up getting is a tired version of a song that sounds pretty darn close to the original but with a different lead singer and maybe a different guitar solo.  And third...well, honestly, covers albums have just been done to death.  So, when Justin Murr told me that Liberty N Justice was going to tackle a covers album as half of the massive Cigar Chronicles effort, I can't tell you I was overly enthused.

And then I played it...

Now, I'm not going to tell you I was immediately made a convert from covers-album-skeptic into rabid-must-have fan, but there are a few things about this particular project that puts it head and shoulders above any other covers project I have heard in YEARS!  First, the song selection is completely...and I mean COMPLETELY...unmatched by anything I have ever come across.  Never have I found a hard rock project that so unashamedly tackled everyone from U2 to Whitney Houston to the Bee Gees and Village People to HANSON, for crying out loud!  HANSON?!  But you know what, it all works.  To hear Kip Winger not only absolutely own  a KILLER acoustic version of "Stayin' Alive" vocally, but to also hear it turned into something that was nearly unrecognizable until the chorus kicked in is truly amazing to hear.  Hands down the best track on this collection and one that I have hit repeat on multiple times...

I would also challenge just about anyone to identify what Seann Nichols and Eddie Ojeda warped "Ice Ice Baby" into (hint...there's no Queen rip-off on this version!). For that matter, Stevie Rachelle brings an angry, sleazy edge to "I Can't Dance" that I don't think Genesis probably EVER considered, and he pulls off another of the top tracks on the disc as a result!  CJ Snare of Firehouse rips into a killer modern take on of U2's monster hit "Pride", and Lionel Richie only wishes he had the pipes of James Christian (House of Lords) who simply transforms the slick 80's pop of "Dancing On The Ceiling" into a surprisingly fun melodic hard rock track with a nice groove.  "Iris", which was already a decent crossover rock hit for the Goo Goo Dolls, is reworked and buzzed-up a bit on the guitars and Tony Harnell's vocals bring a power to the track that was not as evident in the original.  Is it better?  Depends on your personal choice, but this version is definitely a harder rocker with less top 40 aspirations and more of a rock attitude.  Likewise, Phil Lewis and Chris Green turn in a nice effort on "You're So Vain", going in a definitely more Faster Pussycat-than-Carly Simon version on this classic tune.  This version is more modern feeling than Pussycat's version, and Green's guitar has a fuzzed-up tone that definitely alters the feel of the track a bit, but not in a bad way, and Lewis' vocals slither all over this number oh-so-snidely, really giving it a grimey, sleazy feel, which is nice.  I'm not a big fan of the programmed drums, but this is pretty easily overlooked on this number.

One of the more surprising moments for me was the cover of Whitney Houston's "Queen Of The Night".  First, I am not a fan of Houston at all, so I'm not sure I could have told you that she did this song originally, although I know I have heard it.  But the "tough chick" vocal approach of Selena McVey really dominate this song which also features some tasty guitar work from Brooke St. James of Tyketto fame.  The programming in this track also works pretty well to give some depth to the track which I think may have come across as pretty sparse sounding without it.  Like I said, I was surprised by how much I like this track and even more surprised when I found out it was a Houston track.

Likewise, the power ballad take on Milli Vanilli's "Blame It On The Rain" is a DEFINITE upgrade, with a very nice vocal performance from former Offspring touring guitar player and Hurricane lead vocalist, Andrew Freeman.  There is a nice piano line in this track and Pete Fry from FarCry does an excellent job of not overshadowing the track with his understated-yet-capable guitar playing.  New permanent Liberty N Justice drummer Eric Rango also contributes his formidible skills to this track which I think is among the top three or four moments on this effort.

There are a couple of songs that don't quite hit the mark for me, but even these are at least given an honest effort and not just dialed in for a paycheck.  As an example, N'Sync's megahit "Bye Bye Bye" has a semi-industrial feel to it that I have a hard time wrapping my head around, although Cinderella's Jeff LaBar does have an interesting guitar tone and approach here, and Chaz West's angrier vocal style definitely changes the boy band's pop tone.  I'm also not 100% sold on this version of "YMCA", to be honest.  Yeah, the original is cheesy, but its CLASSIC CHEESE and is such a fun sing-along that it is nearly impossible to improve upon.  This is a viable effort to update it and turn it into a hard rocking number, but without the campy approach of the original, I think the effort is lost in translation despite my love for just about anything that Kelly Keeling does vocally.

One other thing that really brings this project together for me is the overall feel of the production.  JK Northrup handled the production on this project, with CJ Snare twisting the knobs and doing the mixing.  Each of these songs is crisp and clear with solid, clean production that doesn't vary in sound quality, volume level, or clarity from track to track.  That is one of the most annoying things for me with a lot of covers or tribute albums; the production just sucks!  Not the case here, as Mr. Northrup and Mr. Snare prove they are more than capable behind the production board.  Hats off to JK, CJ, (sounds like an alphabet!) and all who helped bring this body  of work to life in the editing room and on and mixing boards.

Overall, while I still prefer the originals disc of this two disc package, this is a very nice contribution from yet another incredible cast of performers and musicians.  People who are looking for tired sounding reproductions of their all-time favorites need to look elsewhere as nothing here is left untouched or unaltered in an attempt to pump new life and new feel into these tracks.  You may have cringed at some of the originals, but I challenge you to give these rejuvinated versions a fair chance and say that you don't have at least an improved perspective on the N'Syncs and Hansons of the world!

Rating:  This is a very crankable disc filled with fantastic performances and some awesome re-writes on a decidedly unusual collection of covers.  Solidly performed and produced, this should turn some heads once people catch the lyrics looping through their brains!  Crank this to 8.5!

For more on the Cigar Chronicles Volume 2--The Originals disc, click here!

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

T&N "Slave To The Empire"

(c) 2012 RatPak Records
  1. Slave To The Empire
  2. Sweet Unknown
  3. Tooth & Nail (featuring Dug Pinnick of King's X)
  4. It's Not Love (featuring Robert Mason of Warrant)
  5. Rhythm Of The Soul
  6. When Eagles Die
  7. Into The Fire
  8. Alone Again (featuring Sebastian Bach)
  9. Mind Control
  10. Kiss Of Death (featuring Ripper Owens)
  11. Jesus Train
  12. Access Denied
George Lynch--Guitars
Jeff Pilson--Bass, Lead and Backing Vocals
"Wild" Mick Brown--Drums on tracks 3, 4, 7, 8, and 10
Brian Tichy--Drums
"Don't think of this as Dokken without Don...that's misleading."  That is a direct quote from long-time Dokken bassist, and current T&N bottom-end banger and vocalist, Jeff Pilson.  That quote says way more than people may think about this project, as I, and many others I would have to guess, were not really sure what we would be getting when we popped Slave To The Empire into the CD player for the first time.  And how could people not be a bit confused...even put off?  I mean, seriously, we have three members of classic-era Dokken performing five classic Dokken tracks alongside seven new compositions.  Add in the fact that the joking-running title of this album was Dump The Chump in reference to Lynch's bad-blood relationship with Don Dokken, and there is bound to be some confusion and possible concern.

Musically, this album is at it's best when it focuses on new, original material.  Case in point is the excellent album opener and title track, "Slave To The Empire".  (By the way, does anyone else find it odd that the opening track here is "Slave To The Empire" and the opener on the new Dokken is "Empire"?!  Hmmmm....  Anyway...moving on.)  I was planning on an album very similar in style to the Lynch/Pilson project from a couple of years ago, but that is not the case, at least at the outset.  The band sounds like it has rewound to about 1988 on this number with the writing style and approach, yet this uptempo rocker remains fresh with modern production techniques.  Lynch is in fine form here, Tichy is excellent on drums, and Pilson sounds eerily similar to lower-range Don Dokken on vocals.  I love this track and love the direction this song seemingly had the album headed.  Other tracks have a bit more of a Lynch/Pilson feel to them, mixing a more down-tuned modern feel with that still classic-era Dokken writing style.  The more mid-tempo number "Sweet Unknown" is such a number, utilizing a somewhat alternative-yet-still-melodic vibe that reminds me of Lynch/Pilson mixed with Dysfunctional era Dokken.  Some effects are used on Pilson's vocals in a few places here, which I don't particularly care for, and George is a bit more subdued in his solo approach here, but all-in-all, it's a decent song with some very strong vocal harmonies.  I suspect it will throw a few listeners for a loop as it doesn't necessarily fit all that well with the re-makes or the more classic-sounding material contained in a couple of the new songs.  "Jesus Train" leaves me kind of flat, to be honest, and is my least favorite track on the album. Decidedly uptempo with a really good drum sound and a bit of a boogie-woogie feel to the rhythm guitars, I just don't get anything from the song emotionally, and this is where I think Pilson's vocals are at their worst. This is the only song I consider skipping, although I rarely do that simply because there is only one song left, and that is "Access Denied".  "Access Denied" wraps up the disc with the most modern sounding of all the tracks here.  It is good that it is at the end of the disc, not because it needs to be skipped or buried, but simply because I think the listener may be more open to hearing something this un-Dokken sounding by the time they have gotten through the rest of the album.  Much like my comments about "Sweet Unknown", Dokken purists are probably not really going to know what to make of this song, but if given a chance it will likely grown on at least half of the people who hear it and accept it for what it is. 

On the other hand, "When Eagles Die" captures the band seeming to reach back into more classic-era Dokken as far as it's approach goes, utilizing that sparse-yet-powerful approach that Dokken used on such hits as "Alone Again", for example.  Once again, Pilson proves he is no slouch on lead vocals (and shows why his backing vox are sorely missed in Dokken now), and George lets loose with one of the more signature solos on this album.  "Rhythm Of The Soul" is neck-and-neck with the title track as far as the best new song on this album, as this groove-laden number is extremely catchy and really has a Back For The Attack feel to the guitars but is a bit darker vocally, reminding me of the angrier tone used on Shadowlife or Dysfunctional.  Pilson is especially impressive here, and once again the vocal harmonies are top-notch.  George pulls off yet another impressive solo on this number, and Pilson and Tichy lock in on a nice driving groove that propels this song throughout the five plus minutes of this excellent track.  This is EXACTLY what I would love to hear an album full of!

What I don't want...or hear are the cover versions of classic Dokken songs found on the other five tracks here.  I really don't get the point, first of all.  If you are going to position yourself as a new, totally separate band from Dokken, why go to the trouble of reminding people of who you USED to be?  Then, to top it off, to bring in singers from the classic Dokken era to record the vocals for four of the five re-recordings really just rubs me wrong.  Is this the band saying, "see, we could have done these songs without you" or what?  Well,  Bas does a great job, Ripper sounds very strong, and Mason and Pinnick are passable in their takes on classic tracks, but they are NOT classic-era Dokken (although Bas is close), and once again, I just don't see the point.  Are Lynch, Pilson, and Brown just trying to prove they can still play these songs?  If so, save it for the concert venues, please.  As it is, the best of the re-recorded songs/covers/whatever you want to call them is easily Bach's take on "Alone Again".  This is the best his voice has sounded in quite some time as there is no apparent strain even when he reaches up for the highest notes here, and it does make me wonder what this band would sound like with Bas as the full-time vocalist.  Ripper makes "Kiss Of Death" into a weird Priest-meets-Dio-meets-Dokken song that, much to my surprise, works pretty well...but it does take a few listens to truly appreciate.  Pilson takes the microphone for "Into The Fire", which is probably the most "damn, this IS Dokken!" sounding of all the remakes (although, once again, Bas' take is dang close also...).  It is scary to hear how much Jeff sounds like Don when he wants to/needs to, and I'm betting T&N could do an entire live set of Dokken songs, both catalog and classic, and casual fans would not know the difference...  George changes the solo on this track quite a bit, even adding in a few different little tricks and nuances in an altered last third of the song, but it still works well and actually breathes a bit of fresh air into the lungs of this 25 year old track.

That being said...

T&N is NOT Dokken. That is the best...and worst....thing I can think of to say about this record. I have no problems with the band recording new material together, and I really like it for the most part.  And, if they want to record Dokken material, I am sure they don't give a hoot about my objections, and a lot of Dokken fans might not care, either.  I personally think the guys would have been better served dusting off lesser-known Dokken songs than some of the biggest songs of their career.  However, to be legit, these guys have to make it on their own, not on a legacy that Jeff and George don't apparently want to be a part of, and which Mick has never left (he's still Dokken's drummer, as of the last album and only plays on the re-recordings on this disc).

In the end, I'm not totally disappointed, but I'm not totally satisified, either.
Rating:  Rock this at 6 for what it is as a package.  If they would have left the "not a Dokken tribute band" greatest hits cuts off, we would likely be cranking this at a 7.5 or so.

How does this compare to the new Dokken?  Check that review here....

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