Friday, September 21, 2018

ROYAL BLISS "Live @ Rigby Road"

(c) 2017 Air Castle Records

  1. Goin' To Hell
  2. Forever Young
  3. Into The Night
  4. Fire Within
  5. Racin'
  6. These Days
  7. Sweet Rosie
  8. Crazy
  9. Cry Sister
  10. I Was Drunk
  11. Fine Wine
Neal Middleton--Vocals
Taylor Richards--Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals
Memphis Hennesy--Acoustic Guitars, Lap Steel, Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jake Smith--Drums, Percussion
Dwayne Crawford--Bass, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Rob Moffitt--Percussion
Walker Gibson--Banjo, Piano, Keyboards, Accordian

Utah's favorite rockers, Royal Bliss, treated some lucky fans to an up-close-and-personal, mostly-acoustic live show...and were kind enough to record it for the rest of their fans to hear.  Live @ Rigby Road was recorded in April of 2017 at Rigby Road Studios in Salt Lake City, and while I don't know the exact number of people in attendance at the show, the sound of the live crowd would seem to indicate no more than 50 people, likely, although I could be way off on that number, as the crowd is not mic'ed at all.  The song selection for this live set is an interesting one, as it forgoes some of the band's better known songs in favor of older material, cover songs, and a couple of singles.  

The album opens with a brief intro from the show's emcee, before Middleton welcomes the crowd and the band launches into the rollicking acoustic rocker, "Goin' To Hell" from the band's last studio release, The Truth.  A high-speed picking affair, "Goin' To Hell" is the perfect song selection here, as it not only serves to showcase the tightness of this band as well as the power of Neal Middleton's vocals.  No studio trickery here, no overdubs, no vocal enhancements, just the band and their voices and all acoustic instruments for this particular song, and they pull things off expertly here.  Of particular note is the clean picking from Hennesy on the solo here.

Up next is a cover of Rod Stewart's classic hit, "Forever Young".  The theme song of hundreds of elementary, middle-school,and high school graduations for three decades, "Forever Young" is a great cover for this band in this setting, as it affords them the opportunity to stretch out past their country-tinged, hard rock sound into a more pop-centered style, which the crowd obviously enjoyed.  Middleton sounds excellent here, choosing to stay within his own particular range and style, forgoing the temptation to try to add unnecessary rasp or a higher tenor to his vocals.  The piano from Walker Gibson is a perfect complement to the song, as well, and really helps to pull things together.  

"Into The Night" is one of my favorite songs on this record, as it really represents how the band has been incorporating a bit more rocking country to their sound.  An insanely catchy chorus and "I know I've heard this before" songwriting give this track a fun, uptempo energy that is just infectious.  I truly hope to get the opportunity to hear this song live at some point, as you can just hear...no, feel...how much the band is enjoying themselves here.  While taken from a different acoustic show, this video for "Into The Night" captures that same magic that I am talking about on this record.


  "Fire Within", I believe, is a brand new song recorded just for this live album, and it is a good one.  Foregoing the countryesque sound of some of their other songs here, "Fire Within" is more of a modern alternative rock song.  Once again, strong vocal command from the underappreciated Middleton is really showcased here, as well as on the next song, "Racin'", another track from The Truth EP.  Don't let the title fool you, if you are not familiar with the song, as "Racin'" is anything but a high-speed affair.  Rather, the song is a poignant ballad about the loneliness of the road and the desire for the song's protagonist to get home to his loved ones.  I was somewhat surprised the studio version of this song was not released to country radio/video outlets, as I thought it would have crossed over nicely.  

Middleton tells the crowd that "These Days" was released as a single "about a month ago", which it was as a digital single.  One of the more "electrified" tracks here, "These Days" has a definite modern-Nashville feel to the hook, but Middleton's vocals have so much more soul than pretty much anything coming out of the Country Capitol...ahem...these days...that the song really wouldn't fit in with the country scene now.  The studio version of this track can be found below...


The band digs into their catalog a bit for the next two tracks, as "Sweet Rosie" comes from the band's 2006 effort,  After The Chaos II.  A stark ballad that is basically Middleton, Hennesy, and the accordian of Gibson (along with some assorted percussion), this track features some excellent Spanish guitar work from Hennesy and the always powerful, soulful, and gritty voice of Middleton.  An excellent deep cuts track from the band, which leads nicely into one of the first tracks I ever heard from Royal Bliss, in "Crazy".  Found in two different versions on my favorite album from the band, Waiting Out The Storm, this version of "Crazy" stays true to the original, but is perhaps given a bit more urgency in the acoustic setting of this record.  Once again, the piano from Gibson is an excellent addition here, and Smith's drums pack a confident punch as it teams with Crawford's bass to provide a backbone for the rest of the song to flesh itself out across.  

Another single, "Cry Sister", from Chasing The Sun, follows next.  Starkly different than the hard-hitting rock of the studio version, this live effort has a haunting feel to it, especially with the acoustic strumming, the urgent piano line in the background, and the strong support from some great backing vocals.  Kudos to the band for not playing it safe with this one, and a big hats off to Hennesy for an inspired, powerful acoustic guitar solo here.  

Fan favorite and a single from 2008, "I Was Drunk" finds its way onto the live record next, as Middleton introduces the guest musicians and the crew, the band's sponsors, and then toasts the crowd.  Taken from the band's 2009 studio effort, Life In-Between, this track has become a staple of the band's live shows, acoustic or electric, and is generally a raucous affair live, with the crowd providing much of the backing vocals on the chorus, which they are encouraged by Middleton to do here.

More conversation from Middleton and the band members brings about a brief break before the band breaks into "Fine Wine", which Hennesy tells the crowd is the "oldest song we still play".  It is given a decidedly countrified facelift on this live acoustic record, and while the band sounds like it is having fun with it, the crowd doesn't seem to indicate it is overly familiar with it, as there isn't really any crowd interaction with the song at all.  

A hidden track, "Home" closes the record, and is basically Middleton...and the crowd...singing along to a tamborine, an acoustic guitar, and an accordian.  A fun number, it is likely "hidden", as there is really no musical quality to this song at all, as everyone seems to have enjoyed their fair share of liquid entertainment by this point, and are simply wrapping things up with the band they love.

Nothing fancy, no frills, but a lot of fun and pretty entertaining, Live @ Rigby Road captures the talent and passion of a band that more people should appreciate...and likely would appreciate, if they could get any kind of consistent label support or airplay.  I've had the opportunity to meet and interact with the guys, as well as hear them perform live, and they are incredibly talented and extremely personable and friendly with their fans.  While not really a representation of what you will hear at most Royal Bliss shows, which are generally fairly hard-edged, high-energy rock shows, Live @ Rigby Road is a nice introduction to several older songs and really gives the new fan an indication of the talent of the band and Middleton's amazing voice.

The packaging here is about as simple as it can get without being a slipcase, as this is an outside/inside cover digipack with pictures of the musicians featured on the recording, and a group photo of the band and their guests, along with some thank yous to their sponsors and some recording info.  Were my scanner not on the fritz, you would see that my copy is signed by the band, which is a cool touch. You can get YOUR OWN signed copy here, if you would like.

Rating:  I have a hard time ranking live albums, especially intimate affairs such as this one, which aren't necessarily designed to be commercial releases...but what the heck.  Crank it to 7, just to have some fun.  

Friday, September 7, 2018

LUKE EASTER "The Pop Disaster"

(c) 2018 Luke Easter

  1. Life Goes On
  2. How To Die Alone And Broken
  3. Sideways
  4. As Damaged As You Are
  5. After I'm Gone
  6. Misspent
  7. Sleep
Luke Easter--Vocals
Kris Kanoho-Rhythm & Acoustic Guitars
Josiah Prince--Lead Guitar
David Bach--Bass
Jesse Sprinkle--Drums

Additional Musicians
Timothy Gaines--Bass on 1
Odalis Mandereau--Backing Vocals on 3
Phil Piserchid--Backing Vocals on 3
Jesse Roman--Bass on 6
Chris Cortez--Drums on 6
Caleb Whang--Lead Guitar on 6
Katherine Lu--Violin on 7
Rebecca Roudman--Cello on 7

I'll admit to it; I am ALWAYS a bit wary of lead singers that leave their band behind and set off into solo album land.  I mean, this site is littered with singers who have stepped away from the band they are associated with...sometimes by choice, sometimes not...and have released solo efforts with varying degrees of success.  For every Ron Keel (Keel), there's an Austin John (Hinder), for each Tom Kiefer (Cinderella), there is also a Steven Tyler (Aerosmith).  It's a total roll of the dice, really.  Do I get Donnie Vie (Enuff Z'Nuff) or do I get Chip Z'Nuff (Enuff Z'Nuff)?  As I said before, I was skeptical.

Turns out, I had no reason to fret here.  Luke Easter more than successfully surgically excises himself from his position as the twenty-plus year frontman for prog/thrash legends, Tourniquet, and seemingly effortlessly transplants himself into a band of friends willing to allow him to explore the music that is more in line with where he has stated his heart lies.  No, there is no metal to be found on The Pop Disaster...and I mean NONE AT ALL...but there is plenty of expertly crafted, hook-laden rock that ranges from the poppier edges to the harder-yet-melodic fringes of the genre.

Enlisting some pals from such well-known Christian rock and metal bands as Guardian (Bach), Disciple (Prince), Demon Hunter (Sprinkle), and Stryper (Gaines), as well as his longtime friend, Kanoho, Easter finds himself able to express his personal musical vision, rather than the collective vision of a band.  Additionally, Easter changes his vocal approach to great degree and effect on this ELP (too long for an EP, too short for an LP...), sounding a bit like Sebastian Bach on the album's opener, "Life Goes On", while regularly utilizing a more Mike Tramp-ish style for most of the record.  To say I was surprised, and pleasantly so, would be an understatement.

The album starts off with the previously mentioned "Life Goes On", which intros with a catchy riff from Mr. Prince, and a solid hard rock rhythm driven by Sprinkle and Gaines.  Again, I was pretty surprised by the style and sound of the track when it kicks off, but not nearly as surprised as I was when I first heard Easter's edgy-yet-melodic tenor slide into the first chorus.  As I said above, his approach here is very reminiscent of Sebastian Bach here, although the performance and production is a bit poppier than anything Bach has done with Skids or as a solo artist.  The last song written for this album, "Life Goes On" is a catchy, upbeat tune with a tasty little guitar solo before the final chorus, and is one of those songs that I just seem to keep returning to time and time again.

"How To Die Alone And Broken" follows up with a fun, snarky attitude delivered by that raspy-Bach-esque vocal style atop a pop-punk rhythm that finds Sprinkle and bassist, Bach, thumping away from start to finish on easily the fastest song on the release.  I used the word "snarky" to describe the attitude of this song, which Easter describes as being about people that "choose not to be good people.  They take their loved ones for granted, they mistreat and abuse people, and eventually they end up bitter and lonely."  I think this is perfectly summed up in the excellent lyrical approach used here, with such humorous-yet-dead-on passages as:
"If I came back in a million years, Chances are you'd still be sitting here, Collecting thoughts and crafting clever speeches, Ready to pontificate at anyone who'll lend a willing ear"...

...or...

"Reality is not your strong suit, You think that if you say so, the sun won't rise.  The ones you're supposed to love the most, You turned into the victims of your self-serving lies."

"Sideways" slows things down quite a bit, utilizing Kanoho's acoustic guitar as the foundation for this mid-tempo number that finds Easter removing a bit of the snarl from his voice and drifting more into Tramp territory, and doing it exceptionally well.  I keep going back and forth on which song is my favorite on this effort, and "Sideways" is always in the top two or three.  Poignantly touching on the subject of a broken relationship, this track also finds Prince delivering an great 80s-styled guitar solo that would have felt right at home on just about any melodic rock album of the era.  This is strong songwriting at its best, incorporating both electric and acoustic elements, powerful vocals, and great production to excellent effect.  If I said this track wasn't my favorite today, ask me again tomorrow, because it very likely would be then.  I just love this song.

"As Damaged As You Are" speeds things right back up in fine fashion.  Again, far poppier than anything that Easter has ever been associated with in the past, this is a shining example of what happens when an artist finds his groove.  Confidence oozes from Easter's higher-end tenor vocals on this track, and once again, Prince delivers another retro-styled solo that is almost as far-removed from his work with Disciple as Easter's vocals are removed from Tourniquet...but it works so amazingly well!  This is the sound of a group of guys having fun in the studio, and it is exactly what I feel has been missing from the last handful of Tourniquet records, in my opinion:  fun. 

"After I'm Gone" is another guitar-driven rocker, more in an 80s radio rock vein than anything else, which is pretty cool to hear, honestly, as the song just is what it is.  No pretension clouds the song at all, its just a fun, top rolled back rock song with a cool guitar riff and a straight-forward rock rhythm.  Vocally, Easter retains that slightly raspy mid-to-upper range tenor, and echoes of Bon Jovi can be heard all across the track.  While not my favorite song, perhaps "After I'm Gone" is the one song that best represents where the project is as a whole, sitting pretty squarely in the middle of the styles and tempos of everything here.      

"Misspent" and "Sleep" are songs that Easter has carried with him for several years that finally get to see the light of day on The Pop Disaster.  "Misspent" could very easily be a later-era White Lion song and is another contender for song-of-the-album.  Much like "Sideways", "Misspent" features a lot of acoustic guitar, but the pace is definitely more uptempo than the one "Sideways" utilizes.  A wistful song about youth, "Misspent" has the best lyrics of the record, for my money, with the line "I really haven't got a clue about where the time went, There are no ready answers, but I hope that it wasn't misspent" being one that I think all of us can relate to as we move along in life, hoping that we did all we could and lived with no regrets.

"Sleep" is the most stark departure from Easter's previous gig, as the big, sweeping ballad incorporates both violin and cello in place of drums and bass...and works to great effect!  Demoed originally as a full-band mid-tempo rocker, the version of "Sleep" that finds its way onto The Pop Disaster is a thoughtful piece about putting the past behind, allowing yourself to breathe, and finding peace, and hopefully, a bit of rest...a bit of sleep.  It is a marvelous close to an overall pleasantly surprising effort.

If you go into this project expecting a bunch of medical terminology and technically over-the-top progressive thrash like early Tourniquet, or punchy, metallic crunch like later-era material from the band, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  As I stated previously, this is NOT a metal album, so if that is what you are after, steer clear.  But if you are open-minded and willing to go where Luke wants to take you, I can pretty much guarantee that The Pop Disaster is going to show you something you are going to want to return for again and again.  Do not be surprised to see this ELP in Best of 2018 lists here at Glitter2Gutter, as I fully believe it has a chance to be there come December.   

If you have a few minutes, jump over and check out an interview I did with Luke a few weeks ago, and get even more insight into the songs, the album, where he's coming from, and where he wants to go RIGHT HERE.

And the winner for most incorrectly titled album of 2018?  No question, The Pop Disaster from Luke Easter has to be RIGHT up there, as there is absolutely nothing disastrous about this effort.  A+ songwriting, a name-dropping backing band, and excellent production surround Easter on his debut solo effort, giving the former metal barker an amazing platform on which to showcase where his musical heart lies.  Here's to more...much more...from the talented vocalist and his friends!

Rating:  Definitely a cranker!  Twist 'er up to 9!