Tuesday, December 23, 2014

JUPITER VI "Moveable Walls"

(c) 2014 Roxx Productions

  1. Sleepless End Pt. I-IV
  2. Wasting Away
  3. Running
  4. Face In The Sky
  5. A Message From Home Pt. 1
Jimmy P. Brown II--Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keyboards
Jeff Ceyba--Electric Lead, Slide, Baritone, and Clean Guitars

If you are looking for a new Deliverance record:  STOP RIGHT HERE.  While Jimmy P. Brown II is the mastermind behind both projects, any and all similarities stop at that point.  There is no confusing the Christian thrash legends with this side project, as the styles and sounds have nothing in common other than Brown's vocals and some heavy-yet-melodic guitar parts (a la the last few Deliverance records).  Rather, what Jupiter VI and Moveable Walls offer is heavy progressive rock not dissimilar from Pink Floyd's heavier moments. 

The Floydian comparisons are going to happen, there is simply no getting away from it.  This is especially true on the epic opener, "Sleepless End Pt. I-IV", although prog fans are going to point to Neal Morse as an obvious influence here as well, particularly in the way the song is constructed.  Clocking in at a massive 19+ minutes, "Sleepless End..." takes the listener through four different "movements".  The first one is largely made up of an instrumental piece, introduced by sounds of a thunderstorm all but drowning out Brown's early vocals, some rather bluesy guitar, and some ethereal keyboard work for the first 5 minutes or so.  Part II is my favorite of this lengthy musical piece, as the real heft of the track kicks in, as Jimmy's rhythm guitar, and even more blues-drenched leads, take over the track.  This is a true musical feast for those who have come with open minds and ears, as Jimmy's (and Jeff's) guitar sensibilities are allowed to stretch themselves here in a complicated interplay that is shockingly blistered by...dare I say...heavy melodic shred guitar near the end of the movement.  This is truly amazing guitar work here that I find myself almost hypnotically drawn to despite the rather plodding pace the bass and drums keep.  Part III is more about Jimmy's vocals than anything else, and, much like Part II, the melodic feel and the pulsing drive of the track entrances the listener.  The final movement, Part IV, is something of a replay of the first movement, with the music being drowned under crashing waves interspersed with guitar and keyboard (organ?) work.  The thing is, the song is so seamlessly put together, it's difficult to tell where one part begins and one part ends, so the breakdown here is the way I hear it, as my digital review copy does not have any movement breaks such as may be found on a CD version.  (To be fair, I don't know if the CD breaks them down, either...)

"Wasting Away" reminds me a bit of some of the more progressive moments of Deliverance's catalog, particularly the Camelot In Smithereens-era material, although it is still darker and more melancholy than even that album's darkest material.  Once again, once you make it through the subdued acoustic intro, you are treated to simply amazing guitar work sears its way into the listener's head and dares you to divert your attention elsewhere.  Jimmy's emotive vocals are haunting here and meld themselves perfectly to the rest of the music, with the chorus...if you can really call it that...utterly breathtaking.

"Running" is up next and while shorter than all but one other track here, it packs a musical wallop!   The organ at the beginning feels like it is taking us to church before an acoustic guitar glides across the top of the track, leading the drums, and shortly an electric guitar into the mix.  Again, Jimmy's powerful vocals, both at the forefront and in the background, are layered perfectly and add a depth of emotion to the track that can only be described as beautiful.  Ceyba's slide guitar solo is beautifully played before tugging Jimmy's vocals back to the front of the song.  Truly amazing work here that I am not even remotely adequately describing.

"Face In The Sky" is my least favorite track, and the shortest, largely because it is so much more uptempo than the rest of the album and it breaks the musical trance that I find myself in through the first 32 minutes of this album.  It is not at all a bad track, but it lacks some of the musicality and progressive qualities of the rest of the effort, coming across like a pop-prog piece that I can imagine might not be all that out of line with something Bowie might do today.  Oddly, Jimmy would probably take that as a compliment (and it is not meant to be a complaint, by the way), as Jimmy's love for Bowie has been well documented in the past.

Things return to a more melancholy, emotive state for the album's twelve minute closer, "Message From Home, Pt. 1".  Once again, bluesy (yet at times, angry) guitars, airy keyboard interludes, droning bass, and keyboard sound effects rule the musical soundscape, giving a foundation to Jimmy's vocals and some killer solo work scattered throughout.  It is here, as well as in "Wasting Away" and parts of "Sleepless End", that fans of the post-Learn era Deliverance will find things to love.  

A story of loneliness, greed, desperation, darkness, and, eventually, redemption, Moveable Walls may be a lot to swallow in one setting for many people, but if you have the time, do yourself a favor and absorb it.  Moveable Walls is musical brilliance, in my opinion, and, in all honesty, completely floored and shocked me.  I was in no way prepared to enjoy this record to this level.  This is coming from a truly NON-Floyd fan and a person who generally does not fall into the prog camp.  In fairness, a couple of the slower moments, particularly at the beginning of the record, almost teased me to jump forward, but I am glad I did not, for chances are I would have missed something truly great, as this record is filled with such moments.  

The production is stellar and the mix, thankfully, keeps the keyboards in a place where they are used as supporting instruments, and not boosted to the forefront (which I guarantee would have lost me).   Hold no doubts that this is a guitar-driven effort, because it surely is.  It is just not a thrash...or even metal...album as much as it is a melodic progressive rock record with elements of blues, jazz, hard rock, and even some modern touches.  Since that is far too long to fit into a genre title, just settle for calling Jupiter VI's Moveable Walls GREAT!

Rating:  Crankable to the progressive extreme.  9.5 out of 10 here!

7EVENTH TIME DOWN "Just Say Jesus"

(c) 2013 BEC Recordings

  1. Wait For You
  2. The One I'm Running To
  3. Just Say Jesus
  4. Good Life
  5. Hurricanes
  6. Nothing To Give
  7. Shadow
  8. Religious And Famous
  9. Free (Featuring KJ-52)
  10. Renegade
Mikey Howard--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Eric VanZant--Lead Guitars
Cliff Williams--Bass
Austin Miller--Drums

A little over two years ago, I reviewed the debut album, Alive In You, from this band and, while I wasn't overly blown away, if you go back and check I told readers to keep an eye out for their follow-up, as I felt they likely had something to offer and would "take a step forward".  Those words, while not exactly prophetic, certainly seem to ring true as these Kentucky rockers return with their second collection of modern Christian rockers, a couple of ballads, and an overall improved album.

I'm not sure how I missed the release of this record, as I am generally pretty well tuned-in to the Christian hard rock and metal scene.  Apparently, I'm not as tuned-in as I had thought, however, as this album has been out for more than a year now and this is the first I have heard of it.  

Once again, the band makes no bones about who they are in their sound, their approach, or their faith, as this is an album of faith-based modern rock tunes similar in sound and structure to other Christian rockers such as Thousand Foot Krutch, Seventh Day Slumber, or possibly recent efforts from Disciple, as well as their secular counterparts Nickelback, Shinedown, Emphatic, although the most obvious parallel can probably be drawn between 7eventh Time Down and Daughtry on a couple of songs on this record.

Speaking of that comparison, the album's lead single and title track, "Just Say Jesus", has a solid, mid-tempo Daughtry sound with an acoustic intro and melodic approach that will likely appeal to a rather wide listening audience.  "The One I'm Running To" also falls into this vein, featuring a poppy, cross-over modern rock sound that could find its way into either modern rock or Top 40 playlists on stations that are open-minded about their song choice.  While both are good songs, they represent only about half of the approach of this record, as the other half features a darker, more guitar-driven sound that falls more in line with the approach of TFK, as an example.  Album opener, "Wait For You" is a prime example as this track is very reminiscent of a band like Emphatic, with raspy vocals, hard-charging guitars, and a simple, yet forceful rhythm section that keeps the track driving along, with some programming elements mixed in to keep the modern edge.  "Good Life" sounds like it could have been written for a TFK album as it features that chugga-chugga tempo and style that TFK has utilized so effectively on their last two highly popular albums.  "Religious And Famous" does much the same thing in a catchy track that sounds rather autobiographic for the band and their mission, stating that it is Jesus' name that they want to see in lights as they stay in the background.  "Shadow" is yet another rocker, short and to the point, and definitely a track that will have fists thrust into the air during live performances.  The same can be said for the last two tracks on this album as well, with "Free", a dark-sounding, guitar-driven rocker that features a rap breakdown from well-known Christian rapper, KJ-52, and "Renegade", a hard-charging Nickelback-inspired number that will leave many listeners catching their breath briefly before hitting the play button to start the rock party all over again.  

There are a couple of weaker moments here, but neither is horrifically bad by any stretch.  "Hurricanes" has some nice lyrics, but it is a bit too poppy and laid back for me, while "Nothing To Give" pushes the band toward a more modern praise and worship sound.  The biggest issue here is that these songs are situated back-to-back on the record, causing a seven-and-a-half minute lag in the momentum that had been building throughout the album.  Perhaps moving "Nothing..." down a couple of songs would have served the record better.

The production is again crisp and tight and the album has several solid musical performances with improved song-writing and an impassioned performance.  Howard is a more-than-competent vocalist with a delivery style that would fit in well on Octane.  VanZant is a strong performer, and while I wish his guitar was given longer stretches in which to shine, he flashes some nice, short solos and interludes into several of these songs.  Williams and Miller lock themselves in tight, especially on the harder rocking tracks, and deliver a solid punch at the bottom end.  I would love to see these guys catch on with a big-name tour, Christian or otherwise, to give them a chance to get their name and their message even more exposure, as I think they have a lot of potential to go places in the modern rock industry.  

As I predicted, Just Say Jesus is a solid step forward and an enjoyable modern rock record.  

Rating:  Crank this to 7.0 and we will see if things continue to climb for these up-and-comers.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

ENUFF Z'NUFF "Covered In Gold"

(c) 2014 Deadline Records/Stoney Records

  1. Everything Works If You Let It
  2. Stone Cold Crazy
  3. She Sells Sanctuary
  4. All Apologies
  5. Believe It Or Not
  6. The Jean Genie
  7. Run For Your Life
  8. When Doves Cry
  9. Tears Of A Clown
  10. The Stroke
  11. Yankee Rose
  12. Jealous Guy
  13. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Live on Howard Stern)
  14. New Thing (Live, Unglugged in London)
Chip Z'Nuff--Vocals, Bass, Guitar
Donnie Vie--Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Johnny Monaco--Lead Guitar, Vocals
Eric Donner--Drums

The ever-morphing saga of Enuff Z'Nuff seems to be continuing with their latest release, the covers offering, Covered In Gold.  I say ever-morphing because it seems that, depending on the date, the band line-up is in a constant state of flux.  Donnie is in, Donnie is out.  Johnny is the lead vocalist, Johnny is the lead guitarist.  The band is a three-piece, the band is a four-piece.  Yeesh!  It could become a full-time job keeping up with this band...and I already have a full-time job, a part-time job, and this hobby!

Anyway, Covered In Gold is exactly what you might expect, and NOTHING like what you might expect at the same time.  Why?  Because, love them or hate them, Enuff Z'Nuff has always lived on the fringes of the hair genre they are always lumped in with, right or wrong.  Forever wearing their 60's influences on their sleeves and in their songs, the band also incorporated elements of the 70's, and later bits and pieces of the alternative sounds of the 90's, into their sound that can only be described as the Enuff Z'Nuff sound.  Face it, this band has NEVER sounded like anyone else, and likely never will.  As such, it should probably not come as a surprise that when the band decided to do a covers album, the covers they chose are not your typical hair metal/hard rock cover fare.  So, I am going to break this review down into two sections: No-Brainers and Surprises, as there are a handful of both on this covers effort.

No-Brainers

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the obvious material here, as no one is likely shocked the band chose to cover both the Beatles and John Lennon, or that both tracks came off pretty well.  I like the beefier sound Lennon's "Jealous Guy" gets on this record, which is saying something since I am NOT a Lennon fan.  Matter of fact, I'm not really a Beatles fan, either, with the exception of their early 60's output and a very small smattering of later material.  That being said...

"Run For Your Life", while not the most likely cover choice if I go through a list of Beatles songs, is not shocking.  The band does a solid job of working this song up in a more rock fashion while staying true to the original sound.

The band tackling Nirvana's "All Apologies" isn't as big of a shock as it probably should have been, as Cobain had that tragic-Lennon kind of sound to a lot of his writing, but I would be lying if I told you I thought Nirvana was an obvious selection for this band.  However, anyone familiar with this song would likely agree that if there was one Nirvana tune that Enuff Z'Nuff could pull off, it would be "All Apologies", and they would be correct.  Very well done here.

"Believe It Or Not" is actually the theme song from the 1980's sorta-super hero television show, The Greatest American Hero.  Aside from some HORRIBLE production on this track, I really like what the band does here, and Monaco has some very nice lead guitar work here.  Why is this not a surprise?  For anyone who knows the song (and most of you will the second you hear it), come on...who else could have/would have covered this song so effectively?  No, I'm not surprised that a band as eclectic and out there as Enuff Z'Nuff chose this quirky classic to cover.

"Tears Of A Clown", which is a cover of Smokey Robinson, is also not a real stretch of the imagination, as the performance here is one that I think the listener could easily imagine the band pulling off in concert.

Surprises

"Everything Works If You Let It" is on this list because I am surprised at how poorly the band does covering Cheap Trick.  I honestly thought Cheap Trick would be a slam dunk for Enuff Z'Nuff to cover, but I really don't like the effort here, and the production is not particularly good, which only adds to some of the problems.

Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy" is a shocker that I did not see coming by a country mile!  I had no way to prepare myself for the level of musical angst incorporated by the trippy-dippy, happy-go-lucky band.  Metallica it is not, but it is definitely given an edge that is not traditionally applied to Enuff Z'Nuff.  The tight vocal harmonies on the chorus are a given, but the strong guitar work here was a pleasant surprise.

"She Sells Sanctuary" falls onto the surprises list because nothing about Enuff Z'Nuff and The Cult come together in my mind...ever.  I realize both have always had a retro sound, but EZN is more 60's based than the 70's classic rock roots of The Cult, so I didn't anticipate this cover at all.  Not great, but not horrible, either.

"The Jean Genie" is a song by David Bowie that I will admit I was not overly familiar with.  Not being a Bowie fan in the slightest, this isn't really shocking for me, however.  What is shocking, or more appropriately, surprising, is that the band doesn't do a particularly good job with this song.  Much like I said with the Cheap Trick cover, I would've thought Enuff Z'Nuff would have done more with a song by such an out-there character as Bowie.

"When Doves Cry"   Anyone who knows me will tell you that Prince is one of my big guilty pleasures.  Not going to deny thinking Prince is a musical genius or that his live performances are among the best live shows I have ever seen.  That being said, the band does a fair amount of rearranging on this track, totally changing the intro, and really the vibe of the song in general, making it a different animal all together.  I'm still not sold on this version, as I do love the original, but at least they took a risk on a song that few others would have even considered.

"The Stroke" by Billy Squier is one of those hard-rock songs that EVERYONE knows, but oddly no one seems to cover for some reason.  Perhaps everyone is still trying to distance themselves from the disaster that was the later output from Mr. Squier.  Regardless, Enuff Z'Nuff does a solid job musically on this one, although Monaco's vocals are a bit tough to take at first.  Repeated listens have taken the edge off this track for me, but I won't be surprised if some people don't give this song enough time to allow the vocal approach to work for them.

"Yankee Rose".  This song is a mixed bag for me.  On the down side, Monaco is NOT Steve Vai, so he really should have tried something other than the talking guitar effects utilized on this post-Van Halen Roth track.  Vocally, however, and really for the rest of the music on the track, the band does a solid job here.  It does come off like a bar-band cover rather than a professional, big-time cover by a band of the level of Enuff Z'Nuff, but it's not horrible by any means.

The last two tracks are live songs.  The first is a live in-studio rendition of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" from the Howard Stern Show, and it is a pretty faithful rendition, tastefully done, but unfortunately interrupted by Howard's annoying banter.  The other live cut is an unplugged version of "New Thing".  Eh, not great, not horrible.  The recording limitations here don't help, either.

I have to assume (and we all know how dangerous assumptions are) that this album was recorded in different stages over a stretch of some time.  I say this for a couple of reasons.  First, the production is very uneven, with some songs sounding like demos and others sounding as if they were given at least a decent studio effort, production-wise.  The other reason is that the last I had heard/read, Chip and Donnie weren't even on speaking terms.  We shall see, I guess, as a new album of originals is slated for 2015, but how many "originals" from the band remains to be seen.

Would I rush right out and get this?  Nope.  Am I going to throw it away?  Also, nope.  I like the quirk-factor to the song selection, and a couple of these covers are very, very well done.  The previously mentioned production issues in spots keep it from possibly getting a better final rating.

Rating:  I'm not a fan of covers albums in general, but this one surprised me a bit.  Rock it at 6.

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TANGO DOWN "Charming Devil"

(c) 2014 Kivel Records

  1. Bad Reputation
  2. Charming Devil
  3. Tunnel Vision
  4. Too Many Roads
  5. Change My World
  6. Heaven's Falling
  7. New Addiction
  8. Tomorrow Never Comes
  9. I'm Done Lovin' You
  10. Nothing But Rain
David Reece--Vocals
Scott Miller--Guitars
Ronnie Parkes--Bass
Keith Michaels--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Jace Pawlak--Piano
Erik Johnson--Keyboards

Tango Down returns with their brand new release, Charming Devil, and in one fell swoop have upset the rankings for album of the year...at least as it stands in mid-September.  I can say with all honesty that THIS is the record I have been hoping to hear from this band since the very first time I put one of their CD's on.  THIS is the record Tango Down was always supposed to make...

For starters, David Reece sings like a man possessed.  This is, hands-down, the best he has sounded to my ears since the ill-fated Accept album, Eat The Heat.  In fact, it sounds to me like a hybrid of the Bangalore Choir, On Target album and that Accept record, but with better production than either, and stronger, meatier guitars.  David's voice is edgy and powerful, but you can still hear the fun he is having with each of these tracks right from the get-go.  A great example of this is on the title track. You can almost hear the smirk that Reece likely had plastered on his face as he delivers the "I'm a charming devil..." chorus.  Juxtapose that with the power and emotion packed into the ballad, "Too Many Roads"...which isn't even the best ballad on the record...and you are left with the feeling that Reece was really after something specific here, and that specific thing was the album of his career.

Secondly, as I briefly mentioned above, the guitar work here is just spot-on perfect.  The solos are never stretched out to the point of becoming masturbatory wankery, with solid leads and even more solid rhythms driving each of the ten tracks here.  Case in point would be the guitar work done on "Change My World".  I was discussing this album...and this track in particular...with label owner, John Kivel, and I told him I thought this song was the perfect mix of heft and melodic sensibility, with an absolutely insane guitar solo that I only wish was a bit longer.  But in retrospect, it's that wishing the solo was longer that makes you try to hold onto it when you hear it, because you know it is going to be over all too quickly, and won't be there to drone on and on forever, eventually becoming a lesson in expert-technical-guitar-skill-meets-please-get-on-with-the-song.  We've all heard songs like that at times, and I am exceedingly glad that Miller never lets his desire to be the new guitar hero of the ages interfere with the song structures or the band concept.

Even the rhythm section nails things here, as Parkes and Michaels are in lock-step throughout the album, never dominating things, but always being equal contributors to the tracks here.  Again, this goes back to what I said about Miller understanding the "band concept" here.  This isn't a singer and his guitar slinging sidekick with a couple of average Joes thrown into the mix.  This is a band and a band's project, which I think serves to contribute greatly to the overall sound.

People have asked me to put my finger on my favorite tracks here, and that's a tall task.  I find the title track, complete with its voice box guitar intro (eat your heart out, Sambora...), stuck in my head for hours on end after I hear it.  "Tunnel Vision" is a pure melodic rocker, through and through with some of the best backing vocals on the record.  "New Addiction", a song in which the internet takes the narrative role and talks to the listener, has some killer guitar work, especially coming out of the chorus, that has Miller running the frets in a way that I haven't heard done in some time.  "Nothing But Rain" is such a strong ballad I had to put my lighter away before I could even get around to typing this, and Reece's vocals are a perfect match for this truly power-ballad-structured track.  "Tomorrow Never Comes" is an excellent melodic rocker, and "Change My World" has so much raw power packed into its bottom end and the dirty, chugga-chugga rhythm of the guitars that I find myself going back to this track over and over again.  "Heaven's Falling" has a great 80's throwback vibe in the songwriting approach with a pulsating bass line driving throughout and arena-styled chorus.

Ty Sims (Bombay Black) does an absolutely incredible job in producing this album, never over polishing the songs, always allowing the instruments their own voice (and David his own voice, as well), and keeping things dirty and gritty when necessary.  Not sure if he had a hand in the tracking of the album, but the flow of the songs from one to another is also done exceptionally well, giving the disc a special kind of life when being listened to.

At this point, I only have a digital review release, so I cannot speak to the packaging yet, but I have no doubts it will live up to the reputation of all of the Kivel Records releases I have reviewed in the past.  (I will update this to reflect what I discover when my copy arrives.)

I know it sounds like I have some sort of bizarre obsession with this album, and perhaps I do.  It's such a rare thing when you get an album and everything about it clicks in such a solid way from that first "push play" moment.  Charming Devil just happens to be one of those rare albums that hits on all points for me.  Here's hoping it doesn't wear down at all over time, because I can't help but smile the entire time this album spins.

The band is taking their new album and their live show on the road this fall, so be sure to check them out if they are even REMOTELY near you!  Melodic Rock Fest 4, Wolf Fest, and Skull Fest are just three of the festivals they will be playing, so if you still haven't headed over to Kivel Records to snag a copy by the time the band is in your neck of the woods, be sure to stop and get your copy directly from the band.  I've been told they have a couple of special surprises in store for their live show, and I can only hope "Angel In Black" from Bangalore Choir, and "Generation Clash" from Accept are among those surprises!

Rating:  So dang close to perfect in places, it is painful!  Crank this sucker to 8!  Just a truly great album!

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

TALKIN' TRASH WITH... Jesse Andrews from Emperors & Elephants!




Following the positive response to our review of Devil In The Lake, and after several emails asking me questions about the band, I thought we would take a few minutes to get to know a bit more about Emperors & Elephants by going straight to the source.  So, put your headphones down for a minute, grab something cool to drink, and read along as we talk a little trash with Emperors & Elephants' lead singer, Jesse Andrews...


G2G: Jesse, thanks for taking the time to Talk Some Trash with us…  I have to be honest, when I was sent your album for review, I almost said, “umm, thanks…pass” all because of the name.  Where did the name come from?

Jesse:  It’s a combination of two things that deal with a similar topic.. The story, “The Emperor’s new clothes” and the saying “The Elephant in the room”...we just kinda put them together.

G2G: I realize that’s not really fair to judge based on the name…and I’m glad I gave you guys a spin… but I get sent a LOT of stuff that doesn’t fit the style and sound of our site, so I thought you guys were probably just another alt-rock band, but that’s not the case at all, is it?

J:  No, there is a lot of influences in the music and we try to draw on them , yet keep it relevant..

When I listen to you guys, I hear a lot of grunge mixed with modern hard radio rock and even a bit of a metallic edge, especially in some of the guitar solos.  There is a definite old-school Alice In Chains vibe to a lot of what you do.  Would you say that’s a fair summation of your sound?

J:  Yes

G2G:  You came to the band pretty late, correct?  I mean, some of these guys had been playing together for many years already, right?

J:  Yes. Jeff and Jason have been playing for almost 20 years.

G2G:  Do you ever just step outside your role in the band and go, “Damn, these guys are good!”?  Because, in all fairness, E&E does, in fact, have some really good musicians in the band.  I’m especially impressed with some of the guitar work.

J:  Yeah, every night...and I say that on stage , that I’m lucky to play with these guys ..

G2G:  I’m sure you hear all the time that you have a Layne Staley quality to your vocal approach, possibly mixed with some Chris Cornell….is that something conscious on your part, especially based on the sort of sound the band comes across with, or is this just who you sound like?

J:  I made a conscious effort to sing in the same vein as Layne, I liked how he did things... 

G2G:  You do a lot of the lyrics for the band, correct?

J:  Yes, I do all the lyrics ..

G2G:  Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’d have to say you must spend a lot of time being depressed!  (Laughing)  Seriously, there is a lot of heavy emotion and anger and misery in some of these songs, right?  Or am I missing the point of a lot of this?  I’m old, remember….

J: Well, I’ve never been one to write a song about tits and getting drunk, so...you know..

G2G:  A couple of songs really stand out for me when listening to Devil In The Lake.  First, can you tell me about one of the more laid-back songs, musically, but one of the more intense songs, lyrically…”Hit Of Red”….

J: During the recording of the album my best friend Tony was killed  by a drunk guy at a party with a gun.. My way of therapy was writing that song.

G2G:  I also love the “ballad” of the album, “You And I”.   It’s kind of an odd song, really….there’s no chorus to it, right?  You just go right through it, kind of like a poem over music, with no repeated theme or lyrical segment….

J: We did a demo with those lyrics and it just made sense to keep it that way and not add or change anything . It says what it needs to say.


G2G: I’ve heard people say that “Man Of God” is an anti-religion song, but I don’t take that away from the song at all.  Am I missing something again, or is this people reading things into a song that just aren’t there?

J: M.o.G. is about your relationship with whatever you believe in and being a man of faith in that regard. Be a man of your OWN faith. Don’t let a single person in the world tell you different.



G2G: Is that personal interpretation on the part of the listener part of the beauty of music?  Regardless of the style, I think people can take away from a song what they want to…and sometimes they do just that, coming up with some VERY out of left field interpretations of songs….
  
J: That’s the beauty of music… and how you connect with the listener..

G2G: Before I move completely away from “Man Of God”,  I was curious about the remix at the end of the album.  To me, it has a very Nine Inch Nails kind of feel to it.  Why a remix?

J: Some of our favorite bands are from the 90’s where they did remixes a lot , so we decided to bring it back.

G2G:  Okay, you knew it was coming.  Where in the world did Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” come from?! 

J:  That was one of the songs the guys knew and played during the auditions.. it was fun so we kept it around.  

G2G:  Please tell me you play it live…I really want to hear it live….
  
J:  Yes, absolutely...

G2G: Alright, let’s change gears completely for a minute.  In the pictures I’ve seen of you on-line, in press kits, and in some video footage, it appears you have assembled quite the body art collection.  How long have you been inking yourself?
  
J:  Since I was 16 with a fake I.D. and 20 dollars in my pocket

G2G:  Any particularly odd pieces?
  
J: A light saber on my finger.

G2G: Ever have one that you said, “yep, gotta go back and get that covered up!”

J:  I’ve contemplated covering up one of my first tattoos only because it look shitty, but I haven’t done it.. it’s a badge of honor of my first tattoo. Plus its an A.I.C. tattoo...

G2G: Without naming names or burning bridges, have you worked with anyone on a musical level yet who just made you stop and go, “man, what a bunch of ego-maniacal pricks!”

J: I plead the Fifth

G2G: On the flipside, anyone who has really taken you guys under their wings and said, “hey, how can we help you?”
  
J: We just got done doing a run with Tantric and the guys we’re incredibly supportive and great to get along with.

G2g: Every band gets asked this question, so I have to ask you now…have you had your Spinal Tap moment yet?  Gotten totally lost backstage, had a major equipment malfunction…maybe couldn’t get out of the alien pod on-stage…something truly Tap-esque yet?

J:  Oh, yeah...I dropped my wireless mic jumping over a barricade on a concrete floor and that was the end of it.

G2G: If you couldn’t be doing this what would you be doing?  What’s your dream job…or are those two different questions?

J:  Owning a record store...it’s all about the vinyl!!

G2G; Ever thought of throwing in the towel?
  
J: No..

G2G: Realistically, how far can E&E go? 
  
J: As far as it can.. as long as we keep plugging away, we will progress...

G2G:  Do people even buy music any longer?  My wife and I were just talking about this and I argue that with Pandora and Slacker Radio and iHeartRadio, and even YouTube, people can narrow their listening preferences so much that they don’t even have to purchase music now and can still listen to pretty much whatever they want whenever they want.

J:  Yes, people still do buy stuff.  Jack White just broke a record sales for vinyl for the last 30 years...

G2G: How do you even make a living?  Something has to change somewhere, right?
  
J: Laughter...

G2G:  Alright, outta left field random “this or that” kind of questions for you….ready?

Van Halen with David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?  (We all pretend Gary Charone wasn’t ever in the band and VH3 doesn’t exist)

J: Neither.. not a Van Halen fan. (Laughing)

G2G:  Ouch!  Okay...Ozzy or Dio in Black Sabbath?

J: Ozzy..

G2G: Bush BEFORE Gavin Rossdale was with Gwen Stefani, Bush AFTER Rossdale was with Stefani, or Bush BECAUSE Rossdale is with Stefani?

J: Before… I loved Bush from the beginning  

G2G: Nickelback…why all the hate?

J: Because they make a bunch of money and sell out arenas, so every one’s jealous..


G2G: Pearl Jam’s “Ten” or Nirvana’s “Nevermind”?

J: PJ Ten ..

G2G:  Demon Hunter or Five Finger Death Punch?

J: 5FDP..

G2G: Journey or Foreigner?

J: Don’t stop believin !!!

G2G: Prince….musical genius or one weird dude?

J: Musical genius

G2G:  What is your biggest guilty pleasure, musically?  Who would people NEVER guess you are into?

J: Maroon 5

G2G: When people come to see you live…which I get the chance to see you and hang with you guys in a couple of weeks when you play with Emphatic…what do you hope they take away from and Emperors & Elephants show?

J:  That what they just saw was genuine..

G2G: How do fans stay in touch with you?  I’m sure you guys are all social media savvy, correct

J: Facebook, Instagram… we’re all over social media...  We have a website up now, too, at http://emperorsandelephants.com/

Well, there you have it, folk...not a lotta trash-talking going on, but a pretty cool, to-the-point, little interview with Jesse.  If you haven't done so, make sure you check out Devil In The Lake and get out and support Emperors & Elephants when they are out on the road this summer and fall.  

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

ARSON CITY "Not Coming Home"

(c) 2014 Independent Release

  1. City Of Fire
  2. Frankenstein
  3. Not Coming Home
  4. Stop Us Now
  5. Too Close
  6. Not Coming Home (acoustic)
Patrick Michael Wilson--Lead Vocals
Mark Beckenahauer--Guitar, Programming
Eric Whitney--Guitar
Matt Oliver--Bass
Matt Denker--Drums

Omaha's Arson City return with their second EP in a year with their brand new release, Not Coming Home.  For the uninitiated, Arson City is Patrick Michael Wilson, the former lead singer of Emphatic, with the rest of the band (Mark, Eric, Matt, and Matt) all being members of The Wreckage.  (To make things a bit more confusing, if you really want to, The Wreckage's former lead singer, Grant Kendrick, is now the lead singer of Emphatic...).  I'm really not 100% sure of the dynamics of why who isn't in what band now, and I really don't care, because the result is a pretty good band, Emphatic...and DAMN GREAT BAND in Arson City!

 Things kick off on the new EP by jumping straight into the music this time, with no odd little intros to set the stage.  "City of Fire" is a blistering, high voltage rocker with plenty of distorted guitar and thunderous drums, courtesy of Matt Denker who is a monster behind the kit, to get your head banging right from the start.  Wilson comes snarling in with his vocals firmly shifted into the lower register as the band pretty well sets up who they are and paints for listeners a portrait of what it is to be a citizen of Arson City.  "Frankenstein" keeps the monster rolling (yes, pun INTENDED), with more chunky, crunchy metallic guitar, Wilson's angst-driven vocals, and a solid bottom end on this song about a relationship that "cuts me into pieces, and every piece of me is yours", eventually changing the person into a "darker creature" and "another Frankenstein".

The band shifts directions a bit with the decidedly more radio-friendly "Not Coming Home".  Two versions of this song are featured on the EP of the same name, with this first version being the full-band version (the latter version is a fully acoustic rendering).  Written by guitarist Eric Whitney, with lyrics by Wilson, the song has a story-teller quality to it that so many truly great songs do.  Wilson allows his vocals to take on a more emotional, less angry, quality on this acoustic based ballad about leaving one's past behind, both literally and figuratively.  The song features one of the catchiest lyrical turns I have heard in some time with the chorus's "two black boots and one suitcase" line.  Emphatic fans are going to try to draw a parallel between this song and Emphatic's "Put Down The Drink" as far as style and musical approach, but "Not Coming Home" is the superior song in nearly every way, no matter how good or how popular "...Drink" was.  Good, good stuff here that should be all over modern rock radio and should dominate Octane's Big Uns Countdown show.

"Stop Us Now" returns the band to their chugga-chugga-start-stop-start again style of modern metallic rock goes, taking the listener back inside the walls of the post-apocalyptic world Arson City has created with their image and their music.  Oliver really shines here as the bass is prevalent throughout the track, rumbling through the seams where the guitars and Wilson's vocals allow other sounds to leak through.

The big shock of the album for many people will be the band's decision to cover "Too Close".  Originally performed by Alex Clare, "Too Close" is given the Arson City treatment here, with the gravel in Wilson's vocals adding the perfect edge to a much heavier version of the top 10 pop hit.  I was skeptical at first, but once I got a chance to actually listen to the song, I have to admit I was wrong in my initial apprehension.  Arson City makes the song their own and it flows perfectly here, especially leading into the album closer, which is an acoustic version of the title track.

I do wish that we had about three or four more songs here, but in this day and age, EP's seem to be the way a lot of bands go...if they bother to release physical CDs at all...so I am glad to have this one.  As you can see, my copy was signed by the band when I got the chance to see them open recently for Boba Flex.  Do yourself a favor and seek this band out in the live setting, not only so you can also get your disc signed, but because this band puts on the BEST live performance I have seen from a smaller/regional act, and they actually out-perform the majority of the nationals I have seen in a club setting.  Wilson and Bechekhauer dominate the stage with their presence, and once they bring out the Arson City Horror Squad drum corps (dressed in riot gear and gas masks), the SHOW IS ON!  It is not to be missed, folks, seriously.

The packaging is simple, as you would expect from a small indie production, but that takes very little away from the greatness of the overall product.  Get your copy NOW...you won't be disappointed.  You can follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/arsoncity or check out the music at http://www.reverbnation.com/arsoncity .

It is going to be a steep climb if anyone is going to knock Arson City and Not Coming Home off the top of the heap as far as true independent releases go for 2014!

Rating:  Flat out crankable!  Great music from some of the best guys I have met in the industry on any level, with a killer live show to top it all off.  Crank this to 9.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

KIX "Rock Your Face Off"

(c) 2014 Loud & Proud Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:  Crank this to 7 and let the good times roll once again!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

VALERIE "Dangerous"

(c) 2014 Independent Release

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

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

It is.

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

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

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

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

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

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