Thursday, February 20, 2014

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

(c) 2014 

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

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

Nope...

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

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

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

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

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Monday, February 17, 2014

3D IN YOUR FACE "Midnight Devils"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

RON KEEL "Metal Cowboy"



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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