Thursday, July 21, 2016

3D IN YOUR FACE "Lost In The Volume"

(c) 2016 Retrospect Records

  1. 2 Miles Down
  2. Moscow Queen
  3. Loud
  4. Memphis Mile
  5. Sound of Recklessness
  6. This Isn't Goodbye
  7. Ringing In My Ear
  8. Baptized By The Radio
  9. Static Renegade
  10. Show Me How To Love Again
  11. The Unknown Frequency
Alan "Hot Rod" King--Vocals, Keys
Chris "Sniper" Hineline--Lead Guitars
Sam "Spade" Morris--Bass
John "The Hammer" Lovings--Drums

I love the underdog.  I really do.  I love the fact that there are small bands out there that are busting their guts to keep the style of music that they love alive.  I salute all those bands out there slogging it out in small, sweaty bars, playing county fairs, and doing whatever they have to do to keep the fires stoked for the music they have a passion for.  As such, I have a soft spot for 3D In Your Face, a four piece hard rock./hair metal outfit from my home state of Nebraska.  

These Omaha natives have been around for many years now, and if you have caught their live show, you know that they are a full-scale entertainment package, with a big sound and light show, true-to-the-era costumes, and, yes, the "hair" of the time...albeit in wig fashion.  However, don't think that 3D In Your Face is a farce cover band, as that is not the case.  Yes, they do play some excellent covers of music from all of the biggest bands of the 80's and early 90's, but they are also serious musicians and artists with their own material as well.  This new release, Lost In The Volume is their fifth studio album of all new material, in fact, and their follow-up to 2014's well-received Midnight Devils.  

The album kicks off with some thick, heavy guitar riffing of the angry variety, before the drums come thumping in and King's lower-register snarl claws its way into the mix.  There's a nice, heavy guitar solo from Sniper on this track, and while the backing vocals could use a bit of a boost from an additional couple of layers, the song is catchy enough and likely one of the new songs to find their way into the live show as it is one that fans could easily catch hold of and sing along.

"Moscow Queen" is not my favorite track on the record by any stretch, and is really one of the few filler tracks on this disc, in my opinion.  I just don't care for the happy-yet-punky vibe on this track, although there are still some nice 80's-influenced guitar flashes here and there.  Be that as it may, I'm not going to lie...I skip this track every time.

"Loud" quickly makes up for the misstep of "Moscow Queen", and is one of the two or three best songs here.  An urgent, George Lynch-esque guitar riff (think the first couple of Dokken albums as far as style goes) opens things, and King's snarl is in its most comfortable range zone here, as he neither plumbs the depths of his range, nor does he try to reach the upper stratosphere with screams or falsetto.  This is a really, really good hair metal track with a nice, aggressive guitar line running throughout, and Spade's bass work is in top form, as well.  Sniper scorches a killer solo at about the 2:10 mark here, before giving way to the lone King scream of the track, and then the final verse kicks in.  Again, this track is pure early Dokken-worship musically, but vocally it reminds me more of the aggressive approach used by bands like Loudness, for example.  Truly love this track.

"Memphis Mile" keeps the pace rocking as they name-drop their hometown on this rollicking track that has a bit of a Poison feel to it.  Sniper has a couple of more blues-inspired drops under the verses in this track before again smoking his way through a high-speed shredder of a solo.  One of the fastest pure rockers here, this is again a song that I think fans will instantly gravitate toward in a live setting, as it is catchy, upbeat, and easy to follow.

"Sound Of Recklessness" is another track that really challenges "Loud" for best song on the album.  Again, we have a strong, churning rhythm guitar to get things started, with a heavy backbeat from Spade and The Hammer plowing the way forward so that King can come blasting through with a confident, snarled tenor that suits him well.  Sniper tears up the fret board once again on his solo as The Hammer churns away on a machine-gun styled snare march tempo, before the band backs way off, allowing Spade to set the stage for King to moan and wail for a moment before Sniper rips back into another blistering run.  Awesome stuff to hear!

"This Isn't Goodbye" is more of a mid-tempo rocker, and while not my favorite number here, it is not a bad track.  I'm just not a fan of this tempo.  Think GnR's "Sweet Child of Mine".  A LOT of people love it, but I never did, as it has a tempo that just never resonated with me.  Same with "This Isn't Goodbye".  It just lacks the aggression and punch that the band incorporates into its best material.  A lot of great 80's albums had tracks that fit this sonic style, and it is performed well overall, although again, the backing vocals could use some beefing up here.

"Ringing In My Ear" kicks the pace back up with a high-octane pace that keeps the album from bogging down at this point.  A churchy keyboard intro leads the band into "Baptized By The Radio" which is a decent track, but comes off as a bit bloated at nearly six and a half minutes.  

"Static Renegade" is a nice, fast rocker that opens with...what else...static, as the subject of the song fiddles with a radio dial, trying to find something to listen to, before a roaring guitar comes ripping out of the speaker.  Released as a video by the band, you can get an idea of what 3D In Your Face brings to the table below:

"Show Me How To Love Again" is the album's ballad, and it is executed pretty well.  A piano is the only instrument at the outset of the track, accompanying King's more upper-range vocals through the first verse, before the entire band kicks in to back the chorus and the following verses.  Something about this song sounds familiar, but I'm not certain what it is.  Anyway, it is a nice ballad in the power ballad style of the 80's, and while it's not "Is This Love", "Something To Believe In", or the epicness of "November Rain", it is definitely better than a lot of what passes for balladry these days.

"The Unknown Frequency" closes the record in fine fashion, returning to the driving hard rock that I feel is 3D's strong suit.  Sniper's guitars lead the track in, and the solid backline of Spade and The Hammer (sounds like a hardware store chain...), keeps the song thumping along in a song that, in places, has a "Gypsy Road" feel to the guitar stylings, although it is in no way a rip-off or sound-alike song.

If there's one real complaint here it would be one that the production, especially on the drums, is a bit thin in places.  I'm not sure if it was a microphone set-up issue, or perhaps this is the sound they were going for and I'm just missing the point.  It just feels like the drums could be a bit bigger in spots, especially the toms and the kick.  Also, as I mentioned in a couple of places, the backing vocals could utilize a few extra layers of "oomph" here and there, but these are relatively minor issues, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that this is an independent project likely put together on a relatively small budget.  I am more than willing to bet the best songs here sound even better live, as I have seen 3D In Your Face live on several occasions and, as I mentioned before, they bring a huge sound and show with them in whatever venue they are playing, as well as an energy that compliments their material even further.  

3D In Your Face is not the best band you have ever heard, but they are also not a group of clowns that are out there making fools of themselves with parody songs and running jokes filled with juvenile locker room humor.  Yeah, they are a bit tongue-in-cheek in places, but they have a passion for what they do and it shows in the work they put into both their live show covers and their original material. 

The liner notes come with full lyrics, band photos, thank-you's and writing credits, for those interested in such things...such as myself.

To get a copy of this album, or the equally well-done Midnight Devils, head to the band's website, and check out the band's store.

Rating:  I can't help but crank this record, as I love the effort, the style, and the majority of the songs here.  Crank it to 7, and be sure to track this band down in a live setting!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

STEVEN TYLER "We're All Somebody From Somewhere"

(c) 2016 Dot Records

  1. My Own Worst Enemy
  2. We're All Somebody From Somewhere
  3. Hold On (Won't let Go)
  4. It Ain't Easy
  5. Love Is Your Name
  6. I Make My Own Sunshine
  7. Gypsy Girl
  8. Somebody New
  9. Only Heaven
  10. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me
  11. Red, White & You
  12. Sweet Louisiana
  13. What Am I Doin' Right?
  14. Janie's Got A Gun
  15. Piece Of My Heart (with the Loving Mary Band)
Steven Tyler--Vocals, Harmonica, Bass, Synth, Tamborine

...and a whole bunch of other folks!  (Seriously, this list would be incredibly long!)

I decided to approach this review in a completely different way.  Instead of telling you everything that this album is, I'm going to instead tell you everything it is NOT.  So, as a primer, the four "NOT's" we are going to cover here are:  

It is NOT an Aerosmith (or ANY band) project.
It is NOT a country record...seriously...
It is NOT horrible...
But is is NOT great, either.

First, it is NOT an Aerosmith (or ANY band) project should be simple enough to understand.  Outside of Tyler, I cannot find a single instance in any of these 15 tracks where another Aero-member made an appearance, a co-writing credit, or was even thanked.  So if you were going into this with some sort of hope for at least a partial Aero-reunion, forget it.  This is a Steven Tyler solo record done in the purist Nashville sense, meaning that there isn't even a cohesive band used on the record.  Instead, what Tyler does is what the vast majority of country artists do, which is assemble a massive collection of studio and session talent to put together the best sounding record possible.  Does it work?  Largely, I'd have to say yes, as the performances here are musically solid...even very is generally the case in the Nashville music scene, as that town is seemingly chock full of top-of-their-game pickers, pluckers, fiddlers, and drummers who have their craft down to an absolute art form.  For that reason, I do think Tyler should get at least a nod of appreciation, because he didn't do the easy thing and just grab a couple guitar players and build a band.  He went for the best and it generally shows through in the performances.  Now, he did pull in some pretty big names for production help, and that's not a bad thing.  Anytime you get Dann Huff to work with you on an album, you have managed to get one of the best, period.  T Bone Burnett helps out on half of the album, with Jaren Johnston from the Cadillac Three and Marti Frederiksen lending assistance on a few tracks as well.  So, while NOT an Aerosmith record, it is also NOT lacking in musicality or top-notch performances. is NOT a country record....seriously.  For those who may not know, I grew up in rural Nebraska where you would hear Hank Williams, Jr., Alabama, Johnny Cash, Chris LeDoux, and Waylon Jennings mixed in with AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Poison, and Ratt, and think nothing of it.  I also spent many years working in country radio, so it is not like I don't know a thing or two about country music.  In fact, while it is definitely not my main go-to musically, I still enjoy several country artists from time to time, mostly older "Outlaws", newer "Red Dirt" artists, and a few neo-traditional artists.  What I don't like at all is what passes for about 90% of Top 40 Country Radio these days; the music that people attempt to pass off as country these days is downright stomach-churning most of the time.  Bro-country, hip-hop-country, pop-country...I can't stand the vast majority of it.  So, with that understanding, what Tyler does here really isn't country.  Sure, it was done with Nashville session artists, and yes, you can hear a lot of country music instrumentation, but the record, as a whole, is not a country record.  Yeah, he gets a bit "bro-ish" on one of the dumbest songs on the album, the lame radio grab, "Red, White & You", and the equally desperate "Sweet Louisiana".  Same with "Love Is Your Name", which, again, just begs late 90's/early 2000's country fans to request it on their favorite radio station.  And the instrumentation of "It Ain't Easy", which features not only pedal steel and fiddle, but also a mandolin, is definitely country-tinged.  But when you are looking at those four songs...and another one or two that come readily to mind, especially "I Make My Own Sunshine"...through the scope of 15 total tracks, you can't truly call this a country record.  Maybe a label more along the lines of an Americana album would be more fitting and appropriate.  Now, country fans aren't going to be offended by anything they hear on this record, by any stretch.  In fact, I think several of them will throw this Tyler record in their disc changer right next to Eric Church (who kicks serious tail, by the way), Turnpike Troubadours (again, ass-kickers...), Little Big Town (who does NOT kick serious tail), and Thomas Rhtett ( thank you...).  And maybe that ownership of Tyler will lead them over to explore more Aerosmith, and maybe some similar artists, which can only be a good thing, right?

Thirdly, it is NOT horrible.  Not at all.  In fact, there are a few songs I really, really like here.  The opening track actually sounds like something that Aerosmith could tackle at any given time, and Tyler's ability to cheekily coin a lyric is in full effect from the get go, as he proclaims, "I could blame Jesus, I could blame Momma, I could blame Brahma for all the bull that's in my head...".  Pure Tyler right there, folks. The chorus part sounds a lot like "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" from "Armageddon".  I really, really like the Jeff Beck-inspired "Hold On (Don't Let Go)", which features an excellent blues-soaked harmonica solo (which is oddly enough NOT performed by Tyler), and a great clap-clap-stomp pattern that just hooks you from the get-go and doesn't release you at all.  Of course, everyone knows that "Janie's Got A Gun" is an Aero-tune, but this version is even darker and more desperate sounding in its slower, sparser acoustic presentation here which relies heavily on the vocal prowess of Tyler and far less on the strength of Aerosmith as a band.  I know some purist fans are going to disparage his effort here, but for my money, I actually think I prefer this version.  And, Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart" is given yet another send-up here, with Tyler doing a pretty good job of letting country fans know that the pop-country version Faith Hill released on her debut album 20+ years ago is NOT how this track is supposed to sound.

Finally, this is also NOT a great album, either.  Largely, this is a product of Tyler not being given a chance to really shine in his areas of strength, which are his lyrics and his grasp of bluesy, soulful songs.  The material Tyler works with here just doesn't have that sexy swagger that you expect from something with his name attached to it, and a lot of the lyrics are hokey as opposed to cheeky.  For example, from "It Ain't Easy", we are given this great lyrical drama: "Lookin' for the hand that holds the smokin' gun/It's like tryin' to squeeze a drop of rain out of the sun"?  What the?  Or how about these charged up lyrics from "I Make My Own Sunshine":  Everything is woderful, everything is great/And I'm as free as a bird outside my window pane"?  Sheesh!  And when he isn't being corny, he's being so dang serious!  Fun is definitely something that is lacking in great doses on this record for the most part.  And with the record being bloated with 15 songs, when most of them aren't fun, it makes it hard to get through on repeated listens.    

In the end, if I'm asked to sum up We're All Somebody From Somewhere in one simple paragraph, I would state the following:  

This record, despite being a Steven Tyler solo record, lacks the things that make Steven Tyler who he is, and has always been.  There is no sex, there is little humor, and there is very little in the way of fun.  When mixed into a 15 track album that really only contains 4 or 5 memorable of which is an Aerosmith cover, and another is a tired Janis Joplin cover...not even the sound of Tyler's voice can salvage an album that, for all intents and purposes, lacks anything else that is truly Tyler.  This is a mix-in album at best, and realistically, I'd only mix in about 5 of these songs.

Rating:  Rock this at a relatively disappointing 5.5, knowing that even trimming the fat of the absolute worst tracks here wouldn't bump it past 6, however.                

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

**RETRO REVIEW** TRIUMPH "Surveillance"

(c) 1987 MCA Records

  1. Prologue: Into The Forever
  2. Never Say Never
  3. Headed For Nowhere
  4. All The King's Horses
  5. Carry On The Flame
  6. Let The Light (Shine On Me)
  7. Long Time Gone
  8. Rock You Down
  9. Prelude: The Waking Dream
  10. On And On 
  11. All Over Again
  12. Running In The Night
Rik Emmett--Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizers
Gil Moore--Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Michael Levine--Bass, Keyboards, Synthesizers

Additional Musicians
Steve Morse--Acoustic Guitar on 4, Electric Guitar on 3

Every now and then I like to dig deep into my collection to pull out an artist or album that I feel is shamefully overlooked.  With this review, I cover both aspects, as I think Triumph should receive much more acclaim than they are afforded, and I feel this album is not even recognized by far too many hard rock/classic rock fans.

Despite international chart success, Canada's Triumph was, in my opinion, a criminally overlooked act, as I feel they were one of the best outfits of the 70's and 80's classic rock era.  A hard-rocking power trio, the band was sometimes kiddingly referred to as "the poor man's Rush", a moniker which I have always felt unjust and cruel, as I would take the best of Triumph over 99% of Rush's catalog any day.  Classic rock staples such as "Lay It On The Line", "Hold On", "Fight The Good Fight", and "Magic Power", as well as powerful albums such as Allied Forces and Never Surrender, are still considered to be among the best material to come out of that late 70's/early 80's hard rock scene. 

The mid-80s found Triumph attempting to go in a more pop-oriented direction as they tried to garner more radio airplay to bolster their career after parting ways with RCA Records in 1984 and signing on with MCA Records.

Surveillance is the final album recorded by the band with all three founding members on board, as Emmett would become frustrated with the direction of the band and embark upon a solo career.  As such, bassist Levine actually referred to Surveillance as nothing more than a "contractual obligation" album.  Personally, I think this Surveillance is one of the top three albums the band ever put together and showcases some of the most aggressive, hardest-rocking guitar work from Emmett since the Allied Forces record.  I have no proof, but the record really feels like Emmett decided to make HIS Triumph record with Surveillance, especially following the frustration he has stated he felt with the band's previous album, the spotty, hit-and-miss effort, The Sport Of Kings. 

It's hard to argue with the screaming solo in "Never Say Never", the hard-charging riffage found in "Headed For Nowhere", or the absolutely soaring guitar solo in "Long Time Gone".  Emmett, who I have long felt was among the most underrated guitar greats of his era, really flexes his muscle throughout the record, even on tracks like "Rock You Down", where lyrical cliches and cheese-filled choruses threaten to choke the life out of parts of the record.  Emmett's vocals, as well as his guitar, soar in "On And On", and the Kansas-tinged "Carry On The Flame", with its keyboard/synth flourishes and solid rhythm guitar riffing, is a strong example of the band working together at it's best.

Unfortunately, this album is two tracks too long, in my opinion, as "All Over Again" and "Running In The Night" both are too slow, too AOR for my tastes, although "Running In The Night" does feature a pretty solid...if too short...guitar solo from Emmett.  If these two tracks were carved off, I truly feel that Surveillance may be looked upon by hard rock/classic rock fans as the second best in the full band's nine album catalog (a tenth album, Edge Of Excess, was made with out Emmett in '93), behind only Allied Forces.

To the best of my knowledge, this album has never been reissued, but it is still fairly easy to come by at a good price.  I would strongly encourage fans of the band's best-known material, or fans of classic rock in general, to seek out Surveillance, if only for the chance to hear Emmett's guitar scream to life one final time in the band he helped found more than 40 years ago.

Rating:  Two weaker tracks to end the album...and a lame intro...are all that keep this from hitting 8 on the scale.  Crank this to 7.5!

THADEUS GONZALEZ "Thadeus Gonzalez"

(c) 2016 Independent Release

  1. Diamond High
  2. The Surgeons
  3. A Murder When I Sing
  4. Bite It
  5. Silver Inside
  6. Bat Snake Tiger
  7. It's A Sure Thing
  8. A Real Class Act
  9. Stand On Ceremony
Thadeus Gonzalez--Vocals, Guitar
Scott Reategui Richards--Bass, Guitar

Additional Musicians
Dennis Hill--Guitar, Bass
Nathan Walker--Drums

Even in the hard rock world, Thadeus Gonzalez is not a household name by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, exactly NONE of my friends had even heard of this singer/guitar player until I introduced them to his album, Utopian Society, a couple of years back.  To be honest, even I lost track of Gonzalez after that album because I had not heard a single new note from him in that time.

Gonzalez remedies that issue with his new, self-titled album, Thadeus Gonzalez.  Self-released and available through his website,, this new album finds Gonzalez in fine form with an album of eight new hard rock numbers and a lone ballad ("Stand On Ceremony"), each crafted with solid rhythm guitars, Dave Grohl-esque vocals (provided by Gonzalez), and a punchy rhythm section that really lays a bedrock foundation for each of these numbers to be built upon.

The album kicks off with "Diamond High", which comes charging out of the gate, bass, and drums all pummeling the listener before Gonzalez crashes in with his angry, snarled-not-screamed vocals.  There is an interesting tempo change near the end of the track, throwing the listener for a bit of a loop, before the pace picks back up and finishes in hard-charging fashion.

"The Surgeons" is one of my favorite songs here, as it really showcases Gonzalez's ability to meld a more melodic rock style with the aggressive-sounding rhythm guitars that his music incorporates throughout the majority of this record.  The chorus is particularly strong as Gonzalez sings about "everybody takes something until there's nothing left inside".  The churning guitars are solid throughout, although I do wish there was a rocking solo thrown into the mix after the second chorus. 

Hand claps and a bouncing bass line intro the next track, which I find to be rather humorous.  Seriously...any singer that dares to title a song of his "A Murder When I Sing" has to be able to plant his tongue firmly in cheek.  Now, obviously, the song isn't about his singing being so bad that people die when he steps to the mic, but c' gotta see the humor here, right?  Again, this is a cool, aggressive hard rocker that is definitely in the upper-half of the material on the record and it is catchy as all get out.  I would imagine live crowds are going to eat this track up!

"Bite It" is an extremely aggressive modern rocker, with some absolute breakneck rhythms and jackhammer drums coursing throughout the angry track that constantly grinds away with buzzsaw rhythm guitars and a rumbling bass, while "Silver Inside" backs off the aggression and tempo just a bit, utilizing more of a classic rock guitar tone, especially at the beginning, to establish the attitude and approach of this song.  

"Bat Snake Tiger" is another favorite of mine here, with its stripped down approach, relying almost exclusively on the drums and bass underneath each of the verses, with the guitars snarling their way in to help fill up the chorus before backing off a bit once the chorus ends, and then completely disappearing again once the next verse starts.  I really, really dig the structure and design of this song and it is with this type of experimental approach that I think Gonzalez shines.  Again, I think a nice, screamer of a solo would add to the overall feel of the song, I still enjoy it for what it is and find myself returning to this song again and again.

"It's A Sure Thing" starts off rather quietly, just a lone guitar and Gonzalez working through the first verse, only to be joined by a bass drum for the second lyrical pass, then allowing the entirety of the band to come crashing in for the chorus and the rest of the track.  Again, not a traditional rock arrangement, especially in the modern rock world, but effective nonetheless.  This track, along with "Bat Snake Tiger", really reminds me of some of the stuff that Bobaflex does so well, which is perhaps why I like them so much. 

"A Real Class Act", co-penned by Gonzalez and Richards, is another nice rocker before the album closes with its lone down-tempo track, "Stand On Ceremony".  Gonzalez says in his press release that this track is "about not following tradition.  Times change, views change; you have to adapt and believe in yourself."  Gonzalez and his guitar stand alone for the first 70 seconds or so before the rest of the band joins in on a track that is structured a lot like the ballads that Foo Fighters have utilized to such great effect.  This is also the one track on the album with an absolutely true guitar solo, and it is pulled off in excellent fashion with a lot of emotion poured into its execution.  Very nicely done and an interesting way to close an otherwise balls-to-the-wall rocker of an album.

The band is very tight throughout the record, with only a change in bass players from the first record.  Nathan Walker of the band Lit again joins Gonzalez on drums, and new bassist/guitar player, Scott Raetegui Richards, really helps to round out the overall sound of the record.  Despite the indie nature of the record, the production is top notch, with Dennis Hill (Hagar/Satriani, Lit, Good Charlotte) producing, as well as contributing some lead guitar and additional bass, as he did on Gonzalez's previous Utopian Society record.

I have a promo copy, so I am not 100% sure of the packaging for this record.  Mine is just a simple cardboard sleeve with the album cover on the front and a skeletal outline of information on the back.  No lyrics are included, but Gonzalez is easy to understand throughout the record, so with a couple of spins through you will likely be singing along, especially to the catchiest tracks here.

Edgy, aggressive, fast (for the most part), and yet still experimental in places, Thadeus Gonzalez will be a nice introduction to the album's namesake for those who may have missed him the first time around.  I doubt the record will get much in the way of airplay, largely due to this indie status with no label backing, but that shouldn't stop fans of modern hard rock from jumping over to the website to snag a copy of this album. 

Rating:  Crank this to a 7, with the lack of lead guitars being the main thing that keeps it from edging a bit higher.  Not earth-shattering, but definitely enjoyable.