Friday, May 23, 2014

OUTLOUD "More Catastrophe"

(c) 2012 AOR Heaven

  1. Saints On Fire
  2. Cross The Line
  3. Mr. Long Gone
  4. Last Days of December
  5. Falling Rain (Flamenco Version)
  6. We Run (for Piano and Vocals)
Chandler Mogel--Vocals
Bob Katsionis--Guitars, Keys
Tony Kash--Guitars
Sven T. Soth--Bass
Mark Cross--Drums

This little EP was released in 2012 following the release of the band's full-length gem, Love Catastrophe...but I didn't find out about it until very recently.  Having loved that first album so much, I immediately tracked this EP down to see what it was all about.

 This EP consists of three new songs, a Christmas song (which is technically a new song, I guess), and two alternate versions of songs from Love Catastrophe.  The remakes are decent, but nothing overly spectacular, but I will admit the Flamenco version of "Falling Rain" is pretty catchy in this state (although I am generally NOT a fan of whistling in my rock!), though I can say with confidence that I prefer the original.   "We Run" was also previously found on Love Catastrophe, but as the title implies, this version is strictly piano and vocals.  I will say this, Katsionis is a GREAT piano/keyboard player and the format here really gives the song a different feel than the full band version on the album.  Again, I probably prefer the original, but this is definitely not a skipper by any means.

"Last Days of December" is a Christmas song that had previously been released as an internet single, and is a nice piano-based song with a big hook.  Not a religious Christmas song, this is more a song about having that special someone to love during the holidays.  Nicely written and featuring some nicely layered vocals, a solid rhythm guitar riff, and an effective, if simple solo, this song will definitely find its way onto my Christmas mix CD(s) that I make each holiday season to carry around with me.

As far as the all new material, these three songs pick up exactly where Love Catastrophe left off.  "Saints On Fire" features a galloping rhythm, screaming guitars, subtle keys to support the musical structure of the track, and Mogel's impressive vocals.  Bordering on power metal, this melodic rocker is a great song and but is better served here on this EP as it would have likely overpowered much of the previous album.  "Cross The Line" reigns things in just a bit, coming more back in line with traditional melodic metal and backing off the power just a bit.  That doesn't make this a lesser track, however, as the band sounds completely at home with this sound and style.  "Mr. Long Gone" is my favorite of the three new songs and is, once again, a driving melodic hard rock number with a great hook and a searing guitar solo. 

This band is one of the better European melodic rock bands I have heard, and I am glad I found out about this little "tide me over" EP, even if it was found AFTER the album it was supposed to tide me over until (Let's Get Serious).  I now need to track down their debut album, We'll Rock You To Hell And Back so I can complete my collection!

Rating:  Very solid and respectable.  Crank it to 8.

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MADMAN'S LULLABY "Unhinged"

(c) 2014 Kivel Records

  1. What If
  2. Everything's Wasted
  3. Time To Time
  4. Gasoline
  5. Gimme Shelter
  6. How Can I
  7. You Never Mattered
  8. Standards So High
  9. Out Go Your Lights
  10. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
  11. That One Thing
Dave Friday--Vocals, Acoustic Guitar on 6
Mr. Brett--Lead, Acoustic Guitars
Mike Tersigni--Bass
Eric Arbizu--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians:
Aaron Leigh--Piano on 11

While Frontiers Records is in the business of resurrecting the careers of notable 80's/early 90's melodic rockers like Stryper, Night Ranger, Winger, and others, Kivel Records is in the business of seeking out and developing NEW melodic rock stars, such as LaValle, Tango Down, and the label's newest project, Madman's Lullaby.

While certainly not a new band (they have been around since 2007), Madman's Lullaby has released the best album of their career thus far with the solid melodic rocker, Unhinged.  While no one comparison will pin the band down, think of the bluesy approach utilized to such great effect by Badlands, then mix in the melodic sensibilities of a Lynch Mob, the bottom-ended riffing of Black Label Society, and a vocal approach that reminds me so much of what Robin Kyle Basauri did with Red Sea and Die Happy that I actually did a quick double-take when I first popped this record in to make sure I hadn't missed something somewhere.  Top it off with top-notch production and mixing that brings alive each of the instruments in a band and you have an album that would have fit in well in the late 80's....and should be getting more airplay and respect in the 2000-teens!

The album kicks off with a dirty guitar intro from Mr. Brett, slinking into Friday's bluesy yowl, then settling into an uptempo groove that drives the song, and the rest of the album home.  More of the same follows, with a couple of the standout cuts being "Everything's Wasted" and "Gasoline", although nothing here is weak or throw away material.  "Gimme Shelter" is another powerful rocker, with some crushing guitars and drums, a bass line that drops right into the pocket, and the most powerful, emotive vocals on the record.  Do not mistake this for a cover of the Rolling Stones classic, as there is NOTHING in common between this song and the Stones except the title of the song.  "How Can I" shows that the band can handle a soulful ballad, before "You Never Mattered" steers the band back into aggressive, angry rocking territory that will leave your neck snapping and you hands pounding!

The last two tracks on this album somewhat set themselves apart from the rest of the album, as both take on a darker musical tone than the rest of the disc.  "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" is very reminiscent of what Tesla has been doing on their past couple of studio releases: mid-tempo and rocking, slightly down-tuned, with thunderous drums and a soulful solo.  But for me, the last track is where the gem of the album lies.  Album closer, "That One Thing" has a definite Tesla-meets-Alice In Chains vibe to the music (tell me you can't hear AIC's "Rooster" in this track...I dare you!), and, for my money, really showcases the best this band has to offer.  While the entire album is very good, this song, to me, is borderline perfection, as the band seems to hold nothing back.  Bottom heavy, sludgy guitars feed the bluesy mood of the song that contains one of the coolest lines I have heard from a song in a LONG time:  "Well I got a cemetery of years of broken love haunting my past...".  Talk about painting a picture and setting a tone!  A killer guitar solo from Mr. Brett just scorches its way through the middle of the song before the heavy, dare I say grungy riffage kicks back in and Friday unleashes his powerful, emotion soaked vocals to carry things through to the haunting, echoing fade away at the end.  Truly powerful stuff from a band who plays their music their way without compromise.

The packaging is top-notch, as tends to be the case with Kivel releases.  A 12 page booklet includes all lyrics, thank you's, credits, band pictures, and additional album artwork.  The production is smooth and flawless, but not so polished that all the feeling is lost in the slickness.  The mix is solid with every member of the band given the chance to contribute in their respective manner (kudos to Jerry Osokie who recorded and mixed the project).

Rating:  An excellent introduction to the band for those who may be experiencing them for the first time, and a must-have release from 2014.  Crank this to 8!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

EYES N LIPS "Pornstar For President"

; Eyes 'n' Lips - Pornstar for President
(c) 2014 Street Symphonies


  1. Jack N' Daniel
  2. F**kin' Obsessive
  3. Pornstar For President
  4. Soldier Of Love
  5. With You
  6. Bring Me To Your Paradise
  7. Come Away, Come Away With Me
  8. Desire And Curiosity
  9. Rock Your Love
  10. Day After Day
Mr. Skorpion--Vocals
Gypsy--Guitars
Swiff--Bass, Backing Vocals
Vik--Drums, Backing Vocals

Eyes N Lips are the latest European sleaze band to come across my desk, with this particular band hailing from Milan, Italy.  From what I can gather, the band has been together in one fashion or another since 2011, with Vik and Gypsy being the only original members (they have also added a second guitar player, Chris, since the recording of this album).  Listing bands such as Guns N Roses, Faster Pussycat, and Airbourne as influences, then titling your album Pornstar For President, it is pretty obvious what these guys are going for as far as a sound and style goes.  But do they pull it off?

This is something of a yes and no answer, to be honest.  They are pure sleaze, to be sure.  There is no doubt of that fact.  They also have some definite musical ability, especially Gypsy, who rips out some really nice guitar solos.  Vik is more than competent as a drummer, and Swiff stays nice and tight with the drums, falling into the pocket on each of these tracks and never really straying from there; there are no huge bass intros or solos anywhere on this record, but he is solid enough for this style of music.  

And then there's Mr. Skorpion...

To say that his vocals are going to be an acquired taste is kind of like saying, "Well, at least the poison tasted good before it nearly killed me!"  Mr. Skorpion squawks and squeals all over the place, sounding rather nasal in places, and using a falsetto approach about 70% of the time.  Think of the lead singer of The Darkness...but worse (and for me, The Darkness is ruined by their singer).  In all honesty, Mr. Skorpion's vocals just about make this unlistenable for me, which is too bad because a few of these songs have some pretty decent potential.  "Soldier Of Love" is an okay song with a nice guitar solo, a crunchy little breakdown in the middle, and very basic, shouted backing vocals that are pretty catchy, but MAN...those lead vocals KILL ME!    "Rock Your Love" has a heavy, dirty groove to it that I really liked when it kicked the song off, but then those squeals and falsetto vocals just start trying to claw at my brain...through my ears!...and the song is nearly destroyed.  

On those occasions when Mr. Skorpion brings his vocals back into a normal range that won't drive dogs insane, he actually isn't a horrible singer and the songs are pretty good, if relatively simple.  Yes, his Italian accent is pretty thick, but I can deal with that without trying to find a set of earplugs!  A prime example of this is "With You", which I think is actually a pretty solid ballad with a nice bass line and good guitar work (I could do without the whistling at the outset of the song, but it isn't a song-killer for me).  "Bring Me To Your Paradise" has a Poison-esqe guitar tone and a Faster Pussycat-styled hook that makes for a really catchy song, and Mr. Skorpion manages to keep his vocals under control on what I think is the best song here.  "Desire And Curiosity" has a GnR kind of rhythm guitar line, and Mr. Skorpion only loses control of his vocals a couple of times, spending most of his time in a lower range than anywhere else on the album.  Album closer "Day After Day" sounds like the band may have found some sheet music Poison lost during the recording of Look What The Cat Dragged In, as it has that same kind of catchy guitar solo approach that C.C. DeVille used so frequently back in the day, and a pop-punk pace that I'm sure is a crowd favorite that will have people bouncing all over the place in a live setting.  Mr. Skorpion once again stays in vocal control here, so this song makes the cut as far as stand outs here.           

I get it, this is sleazy, punky, glammy rock n roll, and it isn't supposed to be perfect or necessarily beautiful all the time.  Trust me...I get it.  But when one part of a band can almost single-handedly dismantle an album, it may be time to look for a solution for the next record.  Whether that solution is a new singer or some vocal lessons for the current yowler, that is for the band to decide.  As it stands, Eyes N Lips is definitely not the worst band I have heard even this month, and I think they have a lot of potential as they mature in their songwriting.  But damn...something has to be done vocally or I can't even guarantee I will survive reviewing the follow-up record.

Rating:  Rock this at a 5, but don't sit in a room full of windows or mirrors, as the glass is bound to shatter...just like your eardrums may do!

STEVEN PATRICK "Guns & Gold"

(c) 2013 Steven Patrick Publishing

  1. Ain't Got To (I Get To)
  2. Mississippi Wine
  3. Guns & Gold
  4. George Jones & Jack Daniels
  5. Lisa Marie (Don't Cry For Me)
  6. Daddy's Girl
  7. Gale
  8. The Music Of Life
  9. Singlesville
  10. Hell's Half Acre
Steven Patrick--Vocals, Trumpet
Dan Needham--Drums
Steve Brewster--Drums
Dave Cleveland--Guitars
Scotty Sanders--Steel Guitar/Dobro
David Russell--Mandolin
Mark Hill--Bass
Jacob Lowrey--Bass
Gary Lunn--Bass
Darrell Mansfield--Harmonica
Glenn Duncan--Fiddle/Bazooki
Jason Webb--Piano/Organ
Blair Masters--Piano/Organ
Tim Akers--Piano/Organ
Barry Green--Trombone
Mark Douthit--Saxophone
Beth Beeson--French Horn

In the late 1980's, Steven Patrick was the lead singer of one of the top Christian hair metal outfits going, Holy Soldier.  In my opinion, Holy Soldier rivaled Stryper as the best of the Christian sub-genre, and lacked only the marketing and label support that I think would have put them over the top in a big way.  They were that good. (see reviews of Holy Solder's albums Holy Soldier and Last Train)  After leaving the band, Steven also released a solo album called Red Reign that featured several tracks that would likely have comprised his third Holy Soldier release. While not quite as strong as the two band albums. Red Reign was still very solid with a couple of excellent songs, and it is a highly sought after (and sometimes bootlegged) album if you care to spend between $35 and $60 for it.

Fast forward to 2013, and we find that Steven Patrick has released a new solo album...but things are WAY different folks.  All you have to do is look at the list of instruments and players to know right away that this is NOT Holy Soldier or anything close.  No, Steven Patrick has...gulp....gone country!

Now, it's not all that uncommon for 80's rockers to dabble in country here and there.  Most notably, and also most successfully, Ron Keel has made the crossover, but he did it without abandoning his hard rock and southern rock roots, releasing an album that covers all the bases in remarkably well-done fashion.  Jeff Keith of Tesla, on the other hand, ditched the rock completely and went for old school acoustic country on his solo EP.  Fortunately, Patrick chose to lean more toward what Keel did than what Keith chose to attempt, and it really isn't that bad in spots...if you are into country.  As I have stated before, I grew up on during the Outlaw Movement of the 1970's country world, and even worked in country radio for several years in the 90's, so I am not as closed-off to rocking country as some people are.  As such, I have to say that a couple of the tracks here are actually pretty good, and could probably see radio airplay if Patrick had label support and financial backing...kind of like the situation Holy Soldier was in back in the 1980's.

The fact that this is a straight up country rock record has lost about half of the people who started reading this review, I'm sure, so I'm not going to go into a track-by-track breakdown.  I will say that the title track, "Guns & Gold", is a very good song with a rocking edge and a great guitar solo.  "Mississippi Wine" is a pretty good track as well, and "Gale" is a decent story song with a bit of a rocking edge.  "The Music Of Life" makes a stab at modern country and does a pretty good job of coming across like something Keith Urban might record, complete with some good banjo work.  I could see "The Music Of Life" charting today with little problem if, once again, Patrick had the label and financial backing to get the song out to the "hit makers".  But for me the real gem here is "Hell's Half Acre", a haunting country rock tune in the style of the great story-songs of Johnny Cash, David Alan Coe, Kris Kristofferson, and others of that ilk.  I'm glad I stuck around to give this track a spin because it is a really, really good song, and the one place where you can hear the "old" Steven Patrick shine through a bit vocally.  It actually reminds me a bit of the Holy Soldier song, "Last Train", at least in his vocal approach.

There are a couple of real bombs here, too.  "Lisa Marie (Don't Cry For Me)" uses actual Elvis vocals in the song (it's kind of creepy), and is just a weird song that is just...wow...WEIRD.  Patrick says its based on a dream he had about "Elvis in Heaven", so perhaps he was still in the dream state when he put this together, but even if I was a hardcore country fan, I have to think I would skip this every time!  "Daddy's Girl", while poignant in its lyrical approach, is the kind of material that started to swamp country radio in the late 90's when everyone started to sound the same (much like what happened with hair metal in the late 80's/early 90's).    "Singlesville" is just one big 90's country cliche and sounds dated, even if it isn't executed poorly, while "George Jones & Jack Daniels" is equally straight out of the 90's radio-friendly country, a la Alan Jackson and Clint Black, complete with piano, fiddle, and a name-dropping title that I am certain would've been a hit about 15-20 years ago.   There is also an unlisted bonus track that is actually an alternate version of "The Music Of Life", but it is far inferior to the credited track I mentioned previously.

The packaging is extremely simple, with a simple single-fold insert that features a couple of pictures, credits, and thank-yous.  Interestingly, none of Patrick's Holy Soldier mates made the thank you list, but a couple of other names from the 80's Christian rock scene did, as both Darrell Mansfield and David Zaffiro (ex-Bloodgood) are both mentioned.  My copy is also autographed by Steven, which is cool enough, I guess.

All in all, am I ever going to listen to this album in its entirety again?  Probably not, no.  I did rip "Hell's Half Acre" because I think it's a killer tune, but other than that, I'm just not going to sit through a country record these days unless it's one of the VERY small handful of artists that I would admit to liking.  Unless you are willing to accept this as a country record or are a DIE HARD collector of all things Holy Soldier, I really don't see any reason to hunt this CD down, but if you would like to order it, you can get it from Patrick's website:  www.stevenpatrick.com  

Rating:  Since most readers of G2G are not all that interested in country, I have to rate this album at 3.5 at best, and that's really because of "Hell's Half Acre" and "Guns & Gold".  Take the album for what it is, and it really isn't that bad, and I would rock it at a 5. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

HEART "Fanatic Live"

(c) 2014 Frontiers Records

  1. Fanatic
  2. Heartless
  3. What About Love
  4. Mashallah!
  5. Even It Up
  6. 59 Crunch
  7. Straight On
  8. Dog and Butterfly
  9. Walking Good
  10. These Dreams
  11. Alone
  12. Dear Old America
  13. Crazy On You
  14. Barracuda
Ann Wilson--Vocals, Guitar, Flute
Nancy Wilson--Guitar, Vocals, Mandolin
Craig Bartock--Guitar, Vocals
Debbie Shair--Keyboards, Vocals, Percussion
Ben Smith--Drums, Percussion
Dan Rothchild--Bass

String Section:
Ben Mink--Violin, String Arrangements
Svetlana Mondrusov--Violin
Molly Hughes--Violin
Roman Kosarev--Viola
Lusine Petrosyan--Cello

Ann and Nancy Wilson have been pursuing their musical dreams as Heart for more than three decades now, having released their debut album, Dreamboat Annie,over 37 years ago!  During that time, the sisters have amassed a more-than-respectable catalog of albums, a good-sized handful of recognizable classic rock hits, reinvented themselves into a quasi-hair band in the 80's, and continued on through the 90's and 2000's, even releasing a Top 20 rock record just four years ago with Red Velvet Car.  Refusing to go quietly and gracefully into the rock n roll night, the band still straps on their guitars and rock out when the mood strikes.  The band took the opportunity to record just such a show for this CD/DVD release from Frontiers Records, Fanatic Live from Caesar's Colosseum.  

After a somewhat drawn out keyboard intro, the album starts off with the "Fanatic", the title track to both this and their latest studio album.  Despite the fact that this is a newer song, the band shows they can still bring it, especially with the huge riffs provided by Nancy and the always powerful vocals of Ann.  Maybe a little bit more crunchy and heavy than most casual fans will associate with the band, the song is a clear indicator of the attitude the sisters still bring when making music, and it is a good opener for this live package.  "Heartless" follows up nicely and shows the band is not going to shy away from their past in this performance, as this track goes clear back the 1978 record, Magazine.  Executed nearly perfectly, this is the Heart that I was hoping to hear more of on this record, but I will get to more of that in a bit.

Things get really comfortable for a good portion of the crowd with the massive 80's hit, "What About Love", which features a tastefully done string section and Ann's spot-on vocal performance.  The band then channels their inner-Led Zeppelin on "Mashallah!", which again allows Nancy to flex her guitar prowess in a way that I don't think was ever fully appreciated, even in the band's heyday.  "Even It Up" is a sassy number that is likely the only tune from the Bebe Is Strange album that most people even remember, but it still rocks 34 years after it's 1980 release.  "59 Crunch" is another great hard rocker, but not a song a lot of people will be familiar with outside of the Heart fanbase, as it also came from Fanatic.  "Straight On" takes the band back into familiar, classic territory.  The album closes with "Crazy On You" and "Barracuda" both of which never fail to disappoint as the sisters rip through these songs like they haven't been performing them for 30 plus years and are still out to prove the worthiness of these major hits.

Not everything is clicking on all levels here, at least for me.  I don't understand why they felt the need to include a song with a FLUTE for crying out loud!  While I understand want to let Nancy get  a chance to showcase her under-appreciated vocals, "Walking Good", was not a good song in studio fashion (check it out if you dare, but be warned...Sarah McLachlan AND a banjo show up on the studio version!!!), and its just as bad here with a flute.  "Dear Old America" is just not a great song, in my opinion, and could have easily been left off in favor of something else.  I also cringe at the inclusion of "Dog And Butterfly", which is a song that has ALWAYS annoyed me and I loathe that it is included here!  Seriously, I could go forever without hearing that song again and I skip it no matter where I come to it.  Heck, it barely even cracked the Top 40 back in the day, so I really don't get the attraction to this song, especially at the cost of so many other songs the band regularly skips over in concert.   Speaking of which, several of the band's more prominent hits are missing, such as "Nothing At All", "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You", "Who Will You Run To", and most surprisingly the top five hit, "Never" and the classic "Magic Man", most of which the band ALWAYS seems to ignore live.  I guess I just had hopes that they would finally get around to including a couple of these songs rather than some of the lesser-known material.  "These Dreams" and "Alone" are performed well, but they sound a bit tired, as if the band is just going through the motions.  
   
The packaging is what you can generally expect from a Frontiers release: a quality booklet with a nice selection of photos, thank you's, credits, etc., although there are no lyrics, which is to be expected on a "best of...live" collection.  This is also a DVD release, so we have a tri-fold digipack here, but at least it is the type that has the solid plastic trays to help hold the discs in place.  The mix is pretty good throughout, although there are times when I wish the guitar was a bit more out front, and the bottom end is a bit muddy in spots, but not distractingly so.  It actually sounds like a live show and not a studio-retouched record, so kudos for the authenticity.  

All in all, a solid live performance, but one that doesn't do a lot to distinguish itself from previous live efforts except to include a couple of new songs.  Too many classics are still skipped, especially from the late 80's/early 90's, and I think one or two of the songs here could have been dropped to include those missing tunes.  For this reason, I think Alive In Seattle, the band's 2005 live effort, is a superior, 2-disc package as it includes a couple of covers, a new song, and "Magic Man".  

Rating:  Not bad, but not amazing, either, mostly because of the song choice and the fact that its hard for a live record to do much for me.  Rock this to a 5.5, although I suspect only hard-core fans are going to spend much time with this record.

BOSTON "Life, Love & Hope"

(c) 2013 Frontiers Records
  1. Heaven On Earth
  2. Didn't Mean To Fall In Love
  3. Last Day of School
  4. Sail Away
  5. Life, Love & Hope
  6. If You Were In Love
  7. Someday
  8. Love Got Away
  9. Someone (2.0)
  10. You Gave Up On Love (2.0)
  11. The Way You Look Tonight

Tom Scholz--All Instruments on Tracks 1-4, 6, 8, 9, 11
Gary Pihl--Lead Guitar on 5
Curly Smith--Harmonica on 9
Kimberly Dahme--Flute on 10

Lead Vocals:

Brad Delp on 2, 4, 9
Tommy DeCarlo on 5, 7, 10, 11
Kimberly Dahme on 4, 6, 10
David Victor on 1
Tom Scholz on 8, 9, 10

Guest Vocals
Louis St. Augus (MASS) on 1
Jude Nejmanowski on 7
Jeff Neal on 5

It has been 11 years since one of the truly classic American hard rock bands cranked out an album, and that disc, Corporate America, met with mixed results, to be kind.  In the years since that record, lead singer, Brad Delp, committed suicide, the band disbanded...then reformed with Stryper's Michael Sweet on vocals...and then essentially disbanded again before releasing this, their 6th studio album in 38 years.  I say "essentially disbanded" because, despite the name on the record, this is a Tom Scholz solo album for all intents and purposes, and you need look no further than the musical credits I listed above to understand why.

Like so many other great bands of the 70's and 80's, Boston has always struggled to live up to their initial success.  Few people in the hard rock world will deny the absolute greatness of the first two Boston albums, and that shadow of success has been a long, dark one that Scholz has never fully emerged from.  Sure, there have been hits here and there, but they came largely at the expense of the classic sound, as tracks like "Amanda" sound nothing like the classic rockers "Don't Look Back",  "Smokin'", "Rock N Roll Band", and "More Than A Feeling".  

With Life, Love & Hope. it seems that Scholz tried very hard to please fans of all incarnations and eras of the band, bringing together a wide array of lead singers, song styles, and structures.  When it works, it works very well, but when it misses, it is often hard to listen to.

First, the hits....

Surprisingly, the most classic-sounding tracks on this new batch of songs are songs NOT sung by Brad Delp.  These are the album opener, and lead single, "Heaven on Earth", which features Tommy DeCarlo on lead vocals and Louis St. August of MASS on backing vocals, along with Scholz, and "Life, Love & Hope".  I say surprisingly because with the presence of Delp on a few of these tracks, it would seem that those might be the most "Boston-like" songs, but I'm telling you, the moment that classic Boston guitar tone cranks through the speakers on "Heaven on Earth", I was immediately taken back to those first two records, and for the most part, the song lives up to those feelings of nostalgia, albeit in a bit cleaner, slicker produced package.  This is a Boston song, no doubt, and I am sure many fans were very excited to hear this song when it was released if they are fortunate enough to have a local rock station that still plays classic bands.  The same can be said for the title track, which has that great tone, some Hammond organ, and a dual guitar solo that just screams 70's arena rock!  The Delp-fronted "Didn't Mean To Fall In Love" is also a throwback to those classic days, feeling like the tamer little brother of "More Than A Feeling".  "Sail Away" is a pretty good song, mixing some classic song structures with more modern instrumentation and effects to mixed results, but once that big chorus hits, it feels like Boston's mid-80's output.  So, if you are keeping track, that's the first 4 songs on the record all receiving very good to great ratings. (I don't count the instrumental, "Last Day of School", which is okay, but come on...it's an instrumental!)   Not a bad start, huh?



Sadly, the wheels start coming off at this point...

"If I Were Love" is a dark, moody song with Kimberly Dahme on lead vocals.  This is, plain and simple, NOT a Boston song in the classic style; not at all.  The song is boring with no hook, no snarl, and little in the way of anything that resembles what we have come to expect from Boston.  "Someday" tries to recover the record, but this song feels like the Boston truck ran into a pop band's minivan, leaving a musical mixture spilled out on the road where passers-by honk and wave, and occasionally flip the bird, screaming for someone to clean up the mess!  Seriously, I think this COULD HAVE BEEN a great song, but it sounds incomplete, like its a demo or a garage recording that got stuck on the album to take up space.  It is all over the place, stylistically, and the inclusion of a misplaced harmonica solo does nothing to help decipher the musical direction of the song. "Love Got Away" finds Scholz taking the lead microphone position with less than amazing results.  He's not a horrible singer, but his range is severely limited, giving the song a flat quality that is not assisted by the relative blandness of the organ-heavy, oddly mixed music that has the drums basically buried at points and most of the guitars choked almost completely off, while the bass and a computerized-sounding high hat are the prevalent instruments in spots. 

"Someone (2.0)" is a reworking of the song "Someone" from the Corporate America album.  With Delp on vocals, the classic Boston sound manages to rear its head for one final howl on this record, but on a track that would rate as 5th best on the record.  I will say this; this version is FAR superior to the version that showed up on Corporate America, so I'm glad Scholz resurrected it.  The other retread is the next song, "You Gave Up On Love", which was also on Corporate America...and which should have been allowed to die on that record.  Not a good version of a not particularly good song, and just not Boston to my ears.  I mean, come on...a flute solo?  Is this Jethro Tull?!  Ugh!  The album's closer is the piano-based semi-ballad, "The Way You Look Tonight" which tries very hard to capture classic Boston, but falls short, allowing the album to go out on a whimper rather than a snarl.  The song is too saccharine and bloated, with too many things going on OTHER than classic rock guitar to keep my interest at all.  

As far as packaging goes, this is one of the high points (how sad is that?!), as Scholz includes all the credits, lyrics, and even the meaning behind each of the songs.  There is a picture of Scholz at the mixing board, along with an explanation of the meaning of the album (and an indictment of the music industry and the internet).  The cover art has that classic Boston feel, and various shots of the band in concert...along with some odd shots of space...fill the pages of the 16 page booklet.  This is a Frontiers release, so yes, its a cardboard package, and the worst kind: a slipcase that I am afraid will end up scratching the CD over time.  WHY?!

I want to like this record, as I have so many great feelings tied to the first two records, and even to a couple of songs on Third Stage.  But, like the band themselves say, this is about more than a feeling, and in the end, even those feelings of nostalgia and longing for a once-great band cannot overcome the fact that this new album is a disappointment for me.  I am sure there are some who will love the record, but I am not one of them.  

Rating:  Turn this down to a 4.  Four good songs (1,2,4 and 5) and one okay track (9) simply can't overcome the rest of this album, which leaves me bored and a little sad, to be honest.


Monday, May 19, 2014

WINGER "Better Days Comin'"

(c) 2014 Frontiers Records

  1. Midnight Driver of a Love Machine
  2. Queen Babylon
  3. Rat Race
  4. Better Days Comin'
  5. Tin Soldier
  6. Ever Wonder
  7. So Long China
  8. Storm In Me
  9. Be Who You Are, Now
  10. Another Beautiful Day (Bonus)
  11. Out Of This World
Kip Winger--Lead Vocals, Bass
Reb Beach--Lead Guitar
Rod Morgenstein--Drums
John Roth--Guitars

Winger is a band of multiple personalities and dimensions.  On the one hand you have a band that many consider to be the epitome of 80's/early 90's ridiculousness and cheesiness, all because of one song: "Seventeen".  Endlessly bagged on by MTV and, in particular, Beavis And Butthead, its a wonder the band survived to make a second album!  Add in the fact that they had the gall (some say balls) to re-record the classic Hendrix tune, "Purple Haze", and a video featuring Kip DOING BALLET!!! of all things, and you had the makings of a one-release disaster!  But the band was loved by enough people that they definitely made that next record...and kept right on going.

You also have one of the very few bands of the 1980's that survived that era largely intact, with Winger, Beach, and Morgenstein all still carrying on from the original line-up.  Paul Taylor, also an original, played on the album but has since left the band for other projects, to be replaced by Roth who has been on board since 1993.  That is a kind of continuity not often found among the hair bands that are still relevant today.

To that end, you also have one of the most musically talented bands to come out of that era and genre, hands down.  To deny Kip Winger's vocal power is ridiculous, and Reb Beach is the guitar god that somehow got lost in the shuffle of the Van Halens, Malmsteens, Lynches, DeMartinis, and all the rest.  While not as commercially successful as the first two albums, the band's Pull record is one of the best pieces of melodic hard rock to be released, in my opinion, and the band has continued in that direction, for the most part, since re-forming in 2001.  Sure, there was the less-than-great IV album, but Karma was a great record that showed this band still has a lot of good music left in them.

Which brings us to the new album, the aptly titled Better Days Comin'.  I say aptly titled because it is apparent with this record that Winger is far from done and continue to mature as songwriters, musicians, and performers, as this album, is at-or-near the peak of their catalog.  (More on that in a minute).

The album starts off with the somewhat silly sounding "Midnight Driver of a Love Machine", but it is only the title that is even remotely silly, as what we are treated to instantly is a solid melodic rocker that features everything people have come to expect from Winger: tight harmonies, a catchy hook, strong vocals, a killer riff and ripping guitar solo.  The perfect mix to start off any record, to be sure.  Yeah, lyrically this isn't the deepest cut on the record, but it's fun and catchy, so no harm-no foul.

From there, we get into the real meat of the record (on track 2?!), with "Queen Babylon", which is a song that embodies the sound that people have come to expect from Winger pretty much since the Pull record.  A big, melodic track that pushes at the boundaries of progressive rock, this upper-mid-tempo number features a bit of a darker tone to the music and lyrics, along with a crunchy riff, throbbing bass, and just a hint of keys for effect.  Kip adds an edge to his vocals here to go along with the angst of the lyrics, similar to what he did on "Spell I'm Under" on Pull, or more recently the work he did on Wrapped Around My Middle Finger, Donnie Vie's solo record from last year.  Once again, a blistering guitar solo sears through the middle of this song, leaving no doubt as to the skill levels of Beach and Roth.

"Rat Race" revs things back up to full speed, bringing a decidedly metallic sound to the album, completed by Morgensteins thunderous playing and a hard-charging rhythm guitar line.  The speed is soon forgone, however, as a...dare I say it...grungy guitar line comes oozing out of the speakers as soon as the title track hits.  "Better Days Comin'" is not what you would likely expect, especially after healthy doses of prime Winger on the first three tracks, but this song works on multiple levels.  As I stated, there is an undeniable grunge factor on this track, but it is balanced by an hyper-melodic and ultra-catchy chorus, which despite its simplicity, is nearly impossible to forget, all layered over the top of a danceable groove that will set many toes tapping.  It's this progressive mindset that keeps Winger fresh and relevant in spite of the fact that the band has been doing this music thing for nearly 30 years now.

"Tin Soldier" keeps the progressive element alive, with a trippy keyboard line laced throughout the track, a jazz-influenced undercurrent placed beneath the guitar solo, and more of the angry, biting vocal approach from Kip.  This leads directly into the album's first real ballad, "Ever Wonder", which doesn't carry the same pomp as the big-haired power ballad, but will likely still induce more than a few lighter (or cell phone) waving hands if the band chooses to perform this song live.  

"So Long China" returns the band to more straight-forward hard rock territory with a song that would have served as a great album cut even in the band's 80's heyday.  A solid number, this track does lack a bit of the hook that most of the others tracks here do, and the guitar solo is far more subdued than what many fans may be looking for, but this is a solid track nonetheless.  

"Storm In Me" is a sassy, gritty, blues-infused track that finds the band locked into a Zeppelin-ish groove with a nasty hook and some angry effects played across Kip's vocals during the chorus of the song.  "Be Who You Are, Now" touches Beatles territory in an airy, ethereal ballad that, honestly, is one of the low points on the record for me, while the album closing epic, "Out Of This World" returns the band to the progressive feel of the middle of this record.  Checking in at nearly 7 minutes in length, this is a great way to end a great disc and gives Beach one more chance to shine on an absolutely scorching solo which runs for nearly a minute and a half before Kip and the rest of the band crashes back in with the chorus of this band's "November Rain" moment...only to go back into a SECOND blistering guitar solo that takes that album to fade out.  Again, just an absolutely great way to end the record as far as quality of the music goes.

On the deluxe version of the album, there is also a bonus track called "Another Beautiful Day", which, for my money, is one of the top three songs on the album and should have been included on ALL versions.  An aggressive rocker with a bottom-heavy buzzsaw guitar riff running throughout, this song is another example of Winger reaching back to the Pull days to combine heft with melody in a straight forward way, avoiding the progressiveness that is prevalent throughout much of this disc.  A short, sweet, powerful guitar solo and more of Kip's anger-infused vocals complete a track that I would have liked to have seen placed a bit differently on this record, but it is definitely worth shelling out a couple of extra bucks for, at least to me.  

The bonus track, of course, leads me to the package.  As is typical of Frontiers Records, the digipack is the format of choice, which I do not like at all, but I am learning to live with it.  A DVD of the making of the record is included (yawn), and the videos for "Rat Race" and "Better Days Comin'" are also included, which is an okay touch, but come on, I'm not going to pop this DVD in for 8 minutes of videos after wading through all sorts of boredom.  Why people like this "making of the record" stuff I will never understand...

Is this the best Winger record ever?  For my money, no...but it is a great record.  Pull still sits atop the musical mountain that Winger has amassed over the years, and I will be the first to admit that may be at least partially due to sentimentality on my part.  That being said, this is a stellar album with mostly excellent songs and top-notch performances all over the place.  And if there truly are "better days comin'", I am going to be anxiously awaiting what's in store, because topping this album is going to be tough.

Rating:  Crank this all the way to 9!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I LOVE RICH "Respect The Rich"

(c) 2014 Independent Release

  1. Respect The Rich (Intro)
  2. (You're So Hot) I'm Gonna F**k You With The Lights On
  3. Wake Up, Let Me Rock You
  4. We're Here To Save Rock And Roll
  5. Fight The Fire
  6. If You Don't Take Your Clothes Off, Tonight's Gonna Suck
  7. (You're So Hot) I'm Gonna F**k You With The Lights On (Spanish version)
  8. (You're So Hot) I'm Gonna F**k You With The Lights On (clean radio version)
Rich--Lead Vocals, Bass
Chuck E. Sleaze--Guitars, Vocals
Drewblood--Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Full Throttle--Guitars, Drums

Chicago's I LOVE RICH are NOT what they appear at first glance, at least if the first glance is a look at the song titles.  I mean, come on...with songs like "(You're So Hot) I'm Gonna F**k You With The Lights On" and "If You Don't Take Your Clothes Off, Tonight's Gonna Suck", who isn't instantly thinking Respect The Rich is a punk rock record?  Anybody?  Anybody at all?  Exactly.  I was the same way.  In fact, I planned to dismiss this CD the second I gave it that first cursory listen that I give to EVERY CD that crosses my review stack.  Yep, pop it in, give it a spin, hit skip a couple of times, eject, and file away.  That was the plan.

Except it didn't happen that way...

Now, I'm not going to tell you that this CD is a constant spinner in my CD player, because that would be a lie.  I'm not going to tell you that I LOVE RICH are the saviors of rock n roll, because that would also be a lie.  But it would also be a lie if I told you that there wasn't something catchy and dang-near likable about this CD as well.  No, I'm not a fan of the "(You're So Hot)"'s full song title, and the chorus is every bit as repetitive and borderline moronic as you would probably guess it to be, but dang it, this band goes out of it's way to DARE YOU to not pump your fist a bit at their brand of anthemic, 70's KISS inspired, sleaze-dipped raunch n' roll!

No, I wouldn't really call I LOVE RICH a punk band, at least not in the Sex Pistols, Black Flag sense.  I guess you could draw some comparisons to the Circle Jerks and their 1985 album, Wonderful, as that album, much like Respect The Rich, contains several elements of hard rock and metal combined with rather inane lyrics and sophomoric humor.  However, unlike the Jerks, I LOVE RICH focuses a lot more on the 1970's classic rock-guitar-driven rock here, and less on the 80's hair metal-meets-punk, giving this mini-album a more sleazy feel than a punkish one.

The album's opener is a kind of surf-punk instrumental that I have to admit is pretty catchy and nicely played.  I'm not a huge fan of instrumentals as openers, but there's really no harm here.  But as soon as "(You're So Hot)" kicks in, it is obvious that I am in for a different type of ride than I had anticipated.  As I stated earlier, it is extremely obvious that these guys were raised on a heavy dose of 70's era KISS, with Rich even sounding quite a bit like Gene Simmons on several tracks.  Yeah, the lyrics are stupid, but man, this is a catchy song with a really nice classic rock guitar solo thrown in for good measure.  "Wake Up, Let Me Rock You" follows things up with another "Dr. Love" inspired rocker, complete with that simple drum line, throbbing bass, and tandem buzz-saw guitars.  Same thing for "We're Here To Save Rock And Roll", and, while I won't go so far as to say the song achieves what it's title claims, it is again a surprisingly effective, full throttle rocker that I would imagine is a crowd favorite at whatever dive bar I LOVE RICH happens to be frequenting on any particular weekend!  "Fight The Fire" has more of an AC/DC feel to it, especially in the way the guitars lead into the song, reminding me a lot of "For Those About To Rock".  The KISS influence kicks back in once the singing starts on this mid-tempo rocker that is my favorite track on this disc.  "If You Don't Take Your Clothes Off..." is the last original song on this effort, and it wraps things up in fine fashion musically, although once again the lyrics are so ridiculous that they are only a rung or two up the ladder from the childish potty-mouthed humor spewed by the likes of Steel Panther.  

The final two tracks here are simply alternate versions of "(You're So Hot)", one in Spanish of all things, and the other being a "clean" version that replaces the F*bomb with the word "love".  Classy!  Total skippers to be sure, if for not other reason than I have already heard this song once, I don't need to hear it twice more in alternate fashion.

The packaging is about as simple as it gets, with no band photos, no lyrics (honestly, you don't need them), and, well, pretty much nothing inside the digi-pack's front cover.  The cover artwork is actually a pretty accurate portrayal of what I imagine the band looks like in concert, so I guess there isn't much need for expensive photography on a purely independent effort such as this.

Look, I'm not going to say this is for everyone, because it's not.  Heck, I'm not even sure it's for ME, to be honest, but I can't say that I hate it, because I don't. In fact, I can go so far as to say I would love to hear more from this band, especially if they ever decided to write a couple of at least semi-serious songs while still maintaining this 70's-classic rock approach.  I don't want to admit I like this CD, but I would be lying if I said I didn't, yet I also don't play it with any kind of regularity.  So, where does that leave me?

Rating:  Rock this to a surprising 6.5.  I'm not gonna give it that CRANK IT spin of the dial, but I'm definitely not going to turn it down...or off...  Kudos to I LOVE RICH for playing things their own...and KISS's...way, even if it isn't overly original or especially intelligent.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

FRAMING HANLEY "The Sum Of Who We Are"

(c) 2014 Imagen Records

  1. Criminal
  2. Twisted Halos
  3. Collide
  4. Crooked Smiles
  5. Simple Life
  6. Rollercoaster (featuring Lindsey Stamey)
  7. No Saving Me
  8. Unbreakable
  9. Science
  10. Streetlights And Silhouettes
  11. Crash & Burn
  12. Forever Till The End
  13. Castaway
Nixon--Vocals, Guitar
Ryan--Guitar, Vocals
Brandon--Guitars, Vocals
Chris--Drums, Vocals

Additional Musicians:
Eric Bass--Bass on 1 and 2
Luke McDuffee--Bass on 3-13
Rob Venable--Additional Vocals on 4, 8, 9

Framing Hanley returns after a hiatus of nearly four years with a new, Kickstarter-funded album of modern melodic hard rock.  Enlisting the aid of multiple producers, two different bass players, and four studio engineers, the band sought to break away from the cookie cutter sound of much of today's music scene without losing their own identity.  After all, this is not a new band we are talking about, as The Sum Of Who We Are is the band's third release now, but first for Imagen Records, and the title is an appropriate one considering how many people...including hundreds of fan-backers...were involved in getting this album released.  

The album opens with a big-time, hook-driven rocker in lead single, "Criminal", which finds Nixon in fine vocal form.  Keeping things relatively restrained on the opening chorus, Nixon lets things rip on the chorus as the crunch of the guitars hits hard, layered over the punch of the drum and bass line.  One thing that is unique about this band in the current rock scene is the incorporation of three guitar players, which is definitely not the norm today.  This can be heard in the fullness of a song such as "Criminal" which just feels like it has been packed with enough notes for two or three songs, yet doesn't sound like a guitar wank-fest in the slightest.  There is a nice little guitar solo here, but most of the real work is in the rhythm guitars throughout the track.

"Twisted Halos" follows things up and is one of my favorite tracks of the album.  Taking almost an opposite approach to "Criminal", "...Halos" starts off hard before backing off just a bit, then rebuilding at the chorus.  Lyrically, this is one of the catchiest tracks as well, with the killer chorus line, "You know we are all a little wicked, Heaven sent and halos twisted."  Once again, a nice (but short) guitar solo is dropped into this track before the chorus punches its way back in.  

"Collide" is a frantic sounding song with some killer bass work courtesy of former band member, Luke McDuffee.  I have no idea why the guy is no longer in the band (and I'm not going to sift through the internet dirt to find out), but his bass work here is excellent and I hope the band is able to find a full-time touring bass player that can pull this line off, because this is another of my favorite tracks here and one of the definite hits on the record.  

If "Crooked Smiles" sounds familiar to fans, that is likely because it is.  The track was released as an album teaser...TWO YEARS AGO...and is presented here in the same form as the single.  Again, Nixon's vocals take center stage, starting off a bit on the more mellow, emotional side, before ripping into full-fledged screaming, blasting their way over the top of layers of distorted, crunchy guitars.  This seems to be something of a pattern for the band on this record, and it is used to great effect throughout.  

There are a couple of tracks that are kind of the "odd man out" on this album, with "Simple Life" being the main culprit as it incorporates dub-step of all things.  While not the dominant sound on the track, there are trace elements of the electronic style found throughout the song, and while not horrible, this is simply not my thing.  "Science" also ventures into this electronic territory, and frankly, I don't get the current fascination/obsession with dub step.  Maybe my age is showing, but I could do without these two tracks, and I think the album would be a bit more solid without their inclusion, although they do, I suppose, show that the band is not above experimenting and not about to settle into a predicable pattern.      

"Rollercoaster" gets this ship righted and headed into positive territory again, and the addition of the guest female vocals of Lindsey Stamey are a nice touch here.  Her vocals approach reminds me a bit of the style incorporated by Skillet, but without the auto-tuning effect.  Her trade-off with Nixon plays well and doesn't come across as forced in sound.  A simple, poppy, yet catchy, upbeat song, this is surely to gain a lot of spins from the band's younger fans and female fans alike.

"No Saving Me" brings the album back into a bit harder rock territory, incorporating some different effects on the vocals here in parts of the verses, but not to the point of distraction.  A ringing guitar tone resonates throughout the track, and once again, solid rhythm playing and a pounding drum line drive this uptempo rocker.

"Unbreakable" slows things down, dipping slightly into ballad territory.  It's not a terrible song, and Nixon's vocals work well here, but this is one time where the band sounds an awful lot like just about everyone else on the radio, and is one of the tracks that I could do without if I was given the opportunity to edit one or two out.  Not necessarily a skipper, it is definitely a track I have to be in the right mood to want to listen to, and that mood doesn't really come around all that often.  For my money, "Streetlights & Silhouettes" is a far superior, deeper, more emotional song, even if it doesn't fall 100% into ballad territory.  I really like Nixon's vocal approach here, and I imagine this is a song that will go over well in the middle of a live set, with more than a few lighters topping swaying arms in the crows (they do still do that, right?).  

"Crash & Burn" is a solid, if unspectacular rocker, and "Forever Till The End" is the last hard-charging track near the end of the album.  Album closer, "Castaway", is a nice closer, giving the band a nice opportunity to put their melodic sensibilities on full display in a song that alternates between simple vocal-and-guitar-only moments, to more complex, driving rock aspects.  Not my favorite track, but certainly not the bottom of the barrel, either, it is a good way to bring to a close a solid, slightly diverse album that should have old fans smiling at the return of a familiar friend, and leave new listeners pleased with their purchase.

The packaging is a tri-fold digipack (ugh), but the cool part is the insert.  Framing Hanley gave their Kickstarter supporters name mentions inside the insert, and, for a large enough contribution, some fans actually had their picture included!  Maybe a bit cheesy to some folks, but to someone like me who has contributed to multiple Kickstarter projects, I think its a pretty cool, personal idea that I am imagining more bands will use in the future.  The insert does not contain any lyrics, but there is a large, fold-out picture of the band.  The digipack itself contains writing and recording credits along with individual band member thank-yous, as well as an additional band picture.

All in all, this is a solid effort that I am sure will put the band back on the modern rock scene in a big way, as multiple tracks here have break-out potential in the Octane rock world.  Definitely not looking to clone anyone that is currently on the radio, the band finds itself retaining their previous identity while managing to mature musically and lyrically, making The Sum Of Who We Are the best release of this relatively young band's career.  Hopefully they are able to take their show on the road this summer, in which case I would strongly suggest seeking the band out, as I have been told they put on an incredible live performance as well.

Rating:  Crank this to a very solid 7.5, with the best tracks here really pushing to make this effort an 8!