Friday, October 23, 2015

SEVENTH DAY SLUMBER "Redline"

(c) 2015 VSR Music Group

  1. Bring It On
  2. Gone
  3. Hunger Strike
  4. I'll Bleed
  5. Lost In The Lights
Joseph Rojas--Vocals
Jeremy Holderfield--Guitars, Piano, Programming, Backing Vocals
Ken Reed--Bass
Blaise--Drums

Additional Musicians
Kevin Young--Duet Vocals on "Hunger Strike"
Josiah Prince--Vocals
Lester Estelle, Jr.--Drums, Programming
Brent Milligan--Bass Guitar

While not as well known as many of their cross-over contemporaries, Seventh Day Slumber has one of the larger catalogs of material among the Octane-friendly Christian modern rock crowd.  With Redline, the band has now released 11 CDs/EPs in the past 20 years, not counting a reissued album and a repackaged compilation of their early material.  Coupled with almost non-stop touring, its sometimes hard for me to understand why so few people seem to have heard of these rockers outside of the Christian arena.  At the same time, we are also talking about a band that makes no bones about the fact that they are not out to be rockstars and do not seek glory for themselves, so perhaps it is by design that 7DS tends to fly under the radar of so many people.

With Redline, it is obvious to this longtime fan that the band has definitely spent a LOT of time with fellow Christian rockers, Disciple, both out on the road and in the studio, as Kevin Young (lead vocalist of Disciple) makes his presence felt both directly and indirectly all across this EP.  Its interesting because the two bands seem to be going in opposite directions, stylistically.  Disciple was formerly known as a rap-metal outfit, before going more mainstream with their sound and finding a good deal of success, I might add, with a more modern hard rock sound.  7DS, on the other hand, starts off this mini-album with a straight-up rap-rock track that would make P.O.D. stand up and take notice.  In fact, the insanely catchy "Bring It On" sounds so much like P.O.D. during the verses that I actually thought I may have put that band's new album in by mistake.  The song is very well written and executed, and as I said, catchy as all get-out, and is sure to be a concert anthem for many tours to come, with it's scream along chorus of "Bring it on if you wanna; Bring it on, I can take your best shot!  Bring it on, I'm a fighter; I can take anything that you've got!"

The EPs gears shift decidedly downward for the next track, the much more subdued "Gone", which features a fair amount of programming and electronic drums, but which also really allows Rojas to showcase his singing ability.  This song reminds me a lot of the material 7DS was releasing 5-7 years ago when the band went in a much more praise and worship direction, albeit in a still fairly amped up manner.  Not bad, but not nearly as powerful or as effective as the opener.

The real shock on this EP is the inclusion of "Hunger Strike" from the grunge supergroup, Temple Of The Dog.  Written by Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, and featuring Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder on co-lead vocals,"Hunger Strike" is, in my estimation, a grunge classic, and one that I would have NEVER in a million years expected to show up on a Christian album.  It's not that the material is anti-Christian by ANY stretch of the imagination, it's just that grunge and Christian don't really seem to meld, if you understand my angle here.  All this being said, 7DS take this classic and alter it just enough to not sound like a cookie-cutter clone of the original....which also takes the edge out of the song, unfortunately.  My wife actually told me she thinks it sounds "countrified" with the cleaner guitars and Kevin Young's vocal approach on the verses performed by Cornell on the original.  Young does add some edge and rasp to his vocals in the pre-chorus section, which energizes the track a bit, and  Rojas does a decent enough job with Vedder's lines, but the song just...well, it's not "grungy" now, and the rawness that made the song so powerful in its original form is gone.  Kudos for the attempt, but I think the angst needed turned up a notch musically to really pull this off.  

The last two tracks, "I'll Bleed" and "Lost In The Lights" are both up-tempo rockers that steer the band back into the direction that I am most comfortable with them working in, which is the modern hard rock arena.  I'm not a big fan of the way Rojas utilizes an almost spoken-word approach in parts of "I'll Bleed", but for people who have ever seen 7DS in concert, they will know that this is who Joseph Rojas is; he is a speaker, even a preacher, from the stage who uses music to get his words and thoughts across, so this song is not far removed from who he is.  "Lost In The Lights" has some odd synthesizer/programming effects thrown into the mix, but they aren't so much a detraction as they are used to enhance the song, especially during and around the chorus.

The liner notes, despite being an EP, are rather extensive, with full lyrics, including the lyrics to "Hunger Strike", which is often not the case with cover songs.  There is a single band photo under the CD tray, as well as the usual thank-you's, credits, etc.  The production is solid, which is especially amazing when you take into account A) the band is on a tiny label that I have never heard of, B) the album was produced by their guitar player, and C) the band is giving away 100% of the proceeds from the album to charities that feed starving children in underdeveloped parts of the world.  As such, you have to believe the band did everything they could to keep costs low, yet they still manage to pull off a professional sounding recording, which is impressive.

One thing that hurts a bit is the overall length.  At just over 16 minutes, there is really no time for the band to make up on any weak areas of the album, and with just 5 songs, any misses are amplified all the more.  Had this album featured even two or three more full-throttle rockers, I think the softer moments would have held their own a bit better.

Overall, this is a decent, if not spectacular EP, that I am sure fans of the band will gobble up, and with good reason...and with a good cause being supported, to boot.  I'm not as impressed with the musical direction of this effort as I was with their previous album, We Are The Broken, but as I stated before, I do think "Bring It On" is an instant anthem for the band and truly deserves to be heard on Octane...or at the very least on The Message Amped on Sirius/XM's Christian channel, The Message.  I guarantee that my son...and his father...will be pumping their fists in the air to this song the next time they come into our area, and in all honesty, I hope they perform "Hunger Strike" live as well, so I can hear if they pull off a bit more edge, with a bit less polish, in the live setting.

Rating:  Rock this at 6.5, but don't hesitate to pick it up and support a worthy cause.


Friday, October 9, 2015

COLLECTIVE SOUL "See What You Started By Continuing"

(c) 2015 Vanguard Records

  1. This
  2. Hurricane
  3. Exposed
  4. Confession
  5. AYTA
  6. Contagious
  7. Life
  8. Am I Getting Through
  9. Memoirs of 2005
  10. Tradition
  11. Without Me
DISC 2
  1. Shine
  2. Better Now
  3. December
  4. Counting The Days
  5. The World I Know
  6. Hollywood
  7. Heavy
  8. How Do You Love
  9. All That I Know
  10. Run
Ed Roland--Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Piano
Dean Roland--Rhythm Guitar
Will Turpin--Bass
Jesse Triplett--Lead & Rhythm Guitar
Johnny Rabb--Drums & Percussion

Additional Musicians

Rudy Vaughn--Saxaphone on "Am I Getting Through"
Eric Frampton--Organ
Mama Jan Smith and Ebony Childs--Backing Vocals on "This", "Am I Getting Through", and "Without Me"

While definitely not a "comeback" album, per se, See What You Started By Continuing is the first new studio record from Collective Soul since their self-titled release from 2009.  The Roland brothers, Ed and Dean, along with bassist Will Turpin, continue to push forward with much the same style and approach that they used when they were dominating the rock charts in the 1990's, producing platinum albums and number one hits with regularity.  This album is much more raw and organic in its approach than the last couple of albums, seemingly picking up where the last really good Collective Soul album, Blender, left off in 2000.

See What You Started... is the first album for the band's newest members,  Rabb and Triplett, who joined Collective Soul in 2012 and 2014, respectively.  Both are more than competent throughout the record, with Triplett in particular showing that he has a mastery for the sound the band has refined and honed throughout the years, as well as showcasing his ability to move the band's sound forward a bit.  Such is the case with possibly the LEAST Collective Soul sounding track on the album, which was ironically released as a single, as "This" sounds a bit like the band may be trying for more of a modern radio rock sound, especially with the distortion of the opening guitars and the production style, but the vocals...and especially the harmonies...remind you just whose album you have spinning in the player.  The follow-up, "Hurricane", changes things up in a more familiar direction, however, as it has a definite throwback sound, but doesn't come across as a clone of anything the band has done before, although it's bouncy rhythm and catchy harmonies make it feel instantly recognizable despite being a new song.  The same can be said of the next track, "Exposed", which starts off with some interesting acoustic guitar work before the Collective Soul crunch kicks in.  The chorus is insanely catchy here...and pretty humorous, as well...as Ed sings to the antagonist of the song, "You took all of my money, you took all of my clothes...".  Much the same follows for most of the album, with mid-tempo rockers that have a familiar style and sound to the biggest hits the band has ever produced, but still managing to sound re-energized from the last couple of records the band released.  "Confession", for example, manages to squeeze in a guitar riff that could have come straight out of the recording session for either of the first two records, despite the fact that this is a totally different guitar player.  The band is that in sync, and that comfortable, with who they are and what the Collective Soul sound is at this point in their career. "AYTA", another radio single, throws a nice acoustic guitar into the mix and again combines a familiar feel with a new vibe.

My only real issue with this album is the album's closer.  "Without Me" completely messes with the formula of where this record seems to be headed, which is towards a new set of potentially great Collective Soul songs, by throwing in this bloated gospel-flavored track with "hallelujah-esque" backing vocals, horns, and an organ that just really make me ask myself, "why?"  The band really sounded to me like they were attempting to go fully into embracing who they have been when they were at their best, and then they get, I don't know...weird...on me.  This song doesn''t kill the record, but it ends up making the record one song too long for me.

Disc 2 (which I'm told is available exclusively as a Wal-Mart bonus disc), is called a "Greatest Hits" disc, but it's seriously lacking, if you are actually after a hits package.  There are some obvious songs missing from this collection, with the huge hits "Gel" "Where The River Flows", "Smashing Young Man", "Precious Declaration", "Listen" and "Why, Pt. 2", all being left off despite all cracking the Billboard charts as Top 5 songs.  Purely a marketing ploy, but hey, perhaps some new fans will be made of some random kid picking up this album on a whim and then discovering just how good Collective Soul is and has been throughout their career,   Nowhere in the notes that I can see does it state that these are re-recorded songs, but I am about 95% sure that they are, as the most familiar tracks sound just slightly off from their originals to my ears.  Maybe my sonic receptors have changed a bit in the 20 years since these songs came out originally, but something doesn't sound like the original thing here, which is still okay, as it does show that the newest version of this band still has the chops to pull off these songs.  Again, a LOT is missing for this to be a best of, but its worthspinning from time to time.

The packaging is insanely simplistic, with a single band photo, no lyrics, and a small thank you section to go along with the usual credits and legal information.

Overall, this is not the best album Collective Soul has released, but it is a very solid record with some definitely good moments.  The band is obviously comfortable with who they are and the place they hold in the industry now, and are free to make Collective Soul music without seeking any sort of real radio success, which I don't think they will find in today's modern rock scene.

Rating:  Crank this at 7, regardless of the version you purchase, because the "hits" disc really is just extra icing on an already relatively sweet cake.

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