Thursday, June 30, 2011

EROTIC SUICIDE "Abusement Park"

(c) 1993 Erotic Suicide/Koch International 

  1. Babylon
  2. Can't Remember
  3. Goin' Down
  4. Comes Around Goes Around
  5. Mean Sex Machine
  6. You're So Cool
  7. Ties Me Up
  8. Get What You Pay For
  9. Wait A Minute
  10. Sweet Summer Nights
Rach Rose--Vocals
Kyle St. Clair--Guitars
Stephen Lauran--Guitars
Leslie Kane Blak--Bass
DD Rose--Drums

Erotic Suicide is a band that had it all...a nasty, sleazy-yet-glammed-up sound, above average musical talent, "the look", great songs...everything a band could need...EXCEPT a record deal!  Coming out of Oklahoma City, record deals were few and far between for bands, regardless of how much they looked and sounded like the best of the Sunset Strip.  Add in the fact that it was 1993 and hair bands were all but dead, and Erotic Suicide was left basically only one option:  do it themselves.  And that is what they did with Abusement Park, the best Sunset Strip sleaze album you have never heard...and that didn't come from the Strip!

There is, literally, nothing to dislike about this album.  Every track here is above average to excellent, there is only one ballad to slow things down (and they even put it last on the record!), the production is excellent (especially considering the lack of a proper label to produce it), and the performances are hungry, gritty, sleazy, and far superior to what was left of the Hollywood scene.  To describe the sound, imagine Faster Pussycat (vocally) and Tuff's What Comes Around Goes Around album with just a touch more attitude to the music.  Aside from the ballad, this band has no illusions about gaining airplay with this record, as everything here is too aggressive, too loud, and too sleazy to ever play alongside the Nirvana's or Pearl Jam's or Smashing Pumpkins of the day.  This band was about playing the music they loved, playing it loudly, and likely scaring the snot out of fathers who were afraid their daughters would run off and become groupies!

Favorite tracks for me are "Can't Remember" (check out the video below), a funny song about picking up chicks, "Goin' Down", the band's ode to hookers, "Comes Around Goes Around", and "Ties Me Up".  "Babylon" and "Mean Sex Machine" are also top-notch sleazers, with everyone of these songs coming in full-speed ahead.  In fact, the only complaint I have ever heard from someone who has actually heard this record is that they "kind of" wish there was a break in the middle to keep the songs from all running into one another.  I can understand where those folks are coming from, to a degree, but I will take great rocker after great rocker if it means no ultra-sappy, hyper-sugary ballads in the mix.

Speaking of ballads, yes, I did mention that there is one on this album...and I also mentioned it is the last cut.  "Sweet Summer Nights" is a pure glam power ballad, again sounding very much like Tuff's "Kissing You Goodbye" but with Taime Down on vocals.  Had it been 1990 and not 1993, I think this song would have been all over Top 40 radio and on MTV.  As it is, it's a solid effort that just came too late to be of any use.

Abusement Park is top-notch sleaze for fans of the genre and well worth tracking down.  Koch International out of Germany did eventually pick this up for distribution, but even with that assistance, this CD is dang near impossible to find for under about $50...and some of those are bootlegs, so buyer beware! 

Rating:  Crank this unheralded gem to 8.5!

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

FINSTER BABY "Take A Lick An' See"

(c) 1992 Vagabond Records, 1993 Mausoleum Records

  1. Forgot Your Name Again
  2. Somethin' Goin' On
  3. Love Ain't Nothing Without Sex
  4. Johnny
  5. Get Out Of My Face
  6. Nature Of The Beast
  7. Don't Like You Anymore
  8. Never Promised You Tomorrow
  9. Take A Lick An' See
  10. Blood Machine
  11. Goin' Under
  12. Far Away
Scotty LaStat--Lead Vocals
Steve Raia--Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jimi Mui--Bass, Backing Vocals
Tony Lords--Drums, Backing Vocals

While grunge had certainly done all it could to kill off most of the hair bands by 1993, there were a handful that refused to die.  Many looked to smaller, independent labels and foreign markets to get their music out to the people.  Finster Baby was one of those...and they were certainly one of the best! 

Finster Baby plays the kind of sleaze metal that fans of Guns N Roses, LA Guns, Circus Of Power, and Faster Pussycat are likely to fall in love with.  LaStat's vocals spit and snarl their way through these tracks like a seasoned veteran, despite the fact that this was the band's debut effort.  Likewise, Raia's guitar work comes screaming out of the speakers, ripping through leads and solos, while keeping the sludge factor high as far as tone and attitude goes.  One thing that this band incorporates that a lot of their peers do not is a more funky style of bass sound, which I think really works well.  It truly is hard for me to believe that this is the band's first album, and I am guessing that they spent a LOT of time working together before recording this project because they are tight and in sync with each other.

The album starts off with the high-intensity sass of "Forgot Your Name Again", an ode to pick-up lines and one-night stands.  "Somethin's Goin' On" has a funky vibe to it, but is more pure sleaze once the vocals kick in.  "Love Ain't Nothin' Without Sex" is pretty self-explanatory, as is "Get Out Of My Face". "Take A Lick An' See" is pure raunch-n-roll, and every bit as nasty as the song title implies.   "Blood Machine" is a mid-tempo thumper of a song with an angry vibe and an equally angry vocal performance.

The band does take the time to slow down on occasion.  "Johnny" is the required Skid Row-esque bad-boy-ballad, a la "18 And Life", but not quite as powerful.  "Never Promised You Tomorrow" also slows things down into acoustic-based ballad territory.  While neither of these are terrible songs, this is NOT what Finster Baby does best...not even close.  In fact, these two tracks are the weak points of an otherwise ferocious disc.     

The above cover is the German import album artwork.  It is the only one I have ever owned; I have never owned the American version, but I believe the tracklisting is the same on both albums. 

There was not a lot to love about the scene from about 1993 on, but Finster Baby's raunchy Take A Lick An' See is one of the true gems from that time frame.  Be prepared to pay a pretty healthy sum for this album, however, as it is LONG out of print on a tiny label.  I have seen this sell for as much as $50 on eBay, and for $60 or more for this German version.

Rating:  Crank this to 8!

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Monday, June 27, 2011

FALLING RED "Shake The Faith"


(c) 2010 Rocksector Records
  1. How You Feel (On Me)
  2. Thrive
  3. Out Of Control
  4. You Were Out To Get Me
  5. Sue You For Your Soul
  6. Immoral Heights of a Lowlife
  7. No Good, So Wrong, So Right
  8. Shake The Faith

Rozey--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Shane Kirk--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Millsy--Bass, Backing Vocals
Dave Sanders--Drums, Backing Vocals

Is this 1989 or 2011?  That was the question I jokingly asked myself when I popped Shake The Faith in to review it.  To say that these guys have one foot frirmly planted in the 80's Sunset Strip, with the other in today's modern production, would be the first way to accurately describe he sound of this band and disc.   

This CD just drips with sludge from the very first note of "How You Feel (On Me)", complete with the huge drum sound that made so many 80's albums great.  By the time the guitars snake their way into the track, it is obvious these guys have done their sleazy homework, paying homage to GnR, LA Guns, Faster Pussycat, and the rest of the quality sleaze acts of that era.  The same can be said of Rozey's snarl, which has enough lip curl and snarl to make it clear that these guys are not faking this stuff...this is exactly the sound they are after and this decadent sound is the life that they live. 

With no slowing down on this album, "Thrive" keeps the album kicking along, with more gritty, sleazy guitar work and pounding drums driving the track.  "Out Of Control" has a bit more bottom end than the other songs and carries a punk attitude along with the big, bouncy drum sound and the chugga-chugga of the rhythm guitar.   "Immoral Heights of a Lowlife" can you not chuckle at a title like that...may be my favorite track on the disc, ripping into a blistering pace with leads ripping over the top of the rhythm and bass guitar right from the opening note.  The title track, and album closer, may be the strongest of all the material here with its hook-filled, driving tempo, churning guitars, and pounding rhythm section, and a catchy-yet-simple chorus.

All is not 100% perfect...but nothing is terrible.  "You Were Out To Get Me" has a bit of a "heard this before" feel to it, and is easily the most radio-friendly track here, although Rozey's vocals aren't exactly Top 40 material.  It's a good track, just not quite as filthy as the rest of the material here.  "Sue You For Your Soul" is another high-speed rocker, but the production seems a bit muddy to my ears.  "No Good, So Wrong, So Right" has a semi-annoying intro that I could live without, but that doesn't kill the song outright.  Honestly though, those are really my only complaints other than the fact that the disc is very short, clocking in at just 30 minutes over these eight tracks; I would have LOVED to have another song or two added to this disc.    

This CD is not earth-shattering, as, like I said, there is something extremely familiar about its feel.  However, it doesn't sound dated or like every other album you have heard before, either.  The band is energetic and obviously love what they are doing...and they do it well.  Here's hoping that these guys continue to crank out this style of music and don't bend to the trends that shape rock radio today.  Rocksector Records has potential stars on their hands here...let's hope they keep them pointed in this favorable direction!

Rating:  Crank this to 7.5!

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

CONCERT REVIEW: Hinder & My Darkest Days (6/25/11)

NebraskaLand Days 6/25/2011
It was an awesome show tonight, featuring
Hinder with opening act, My Darkest Days.  Granted, MDD is a bit more modern than the bands I tend to review here, but I think Hinder is a perfect fit for this site, as I consider them to be a modern version of so many of the bands that populate these reviews, and they are, hands-down, my favorite band of the current crop of American modern hard rockers.  Anyway...
The night for my wife and I started at about 5:30 or so with a meet-and-greet with Hinder.  We had ZERO business being there, but my brother is on the NebraskaLand Days board and pulled some strings for us!  (Thanks, bro!)  We sat around in the back area for a while, watching the guys from My Darkest Days do some interviews while they were eating their pre-show meal.  We didn't want to bother them while they were doing their thing, so we just hung out, waiting for the meet-and-greet.
It was a pretty short wait and we were ushered into a tent where the band was set up at a long table.  A stack of 8 x 10's was sitting there, and each band member had a pen, so the process was pretty mechanical.  Each member would shake your hand, tell you "hi" or "thanks for coming" or something similar, sign the photo (see above), and then shift it down to the next guy.  I talked VERY briefly with Austin Winkler, the lead singer, telling him we saw them previously in Omaha, opening for Motley Crue.  My wife quickly chimed in that Hinder blew Motley off the stage, which got a couple of laughs.  Winkler then called my wife "babe", which pretty much relegated me to second-class citizen status for the rest of the night! 
After everyone had gone through and gotten their autographed photos, the band lined up to have pictures taken.  That's my wife cozying up to Austin Winkler...I'm just trying to be included in the shot!  Talk about feeling short!  It's bad enough when your wife is taller than you, but I think I was the shortest guy in the room!!!  We left to eat with friends then came back for the show, which started at 8:00 sharp.

I am not familiar enough with My Darkest Days to remember all of the songs that they performed, but I do remember several, all of which come from their current, self-titled album.  Included in the set were:

"Set It On Fire"
"Come Undone" (Duran Duran cover)
"Fu**ed Up Situation"
"Every Lie"
"Move Your Body"

...and of course, the closer for the night...

"Porn Star Dancing"

I think they played a total of about 8 or 9 songs, but none drew the crowd reaction that "Porn Star Dancing" did, as it was obvious everyone knew this song, regardless of if they knew the band or not.  Again, MDD is quite a bit more modern in sound than the typical band I review, but I can tell you these guys pulled off a very good live sound, with solid vocal harmonies and some great guitar work courtesly of Sal Costa (at right with my wife, her cousin, Monti, and friend...).  The lead singer also has a KILLER metal scream when he chooses to unleash it. 

After a short intermission filled with Bon Jovi, Skid Row, and Aerosmith songs, Hinder took the stage to a major roar from the crowd.  I was fairly suprised that the band spent so much time on their new material from All-American Nightmare, as sales for that album have not been what the previous two releases were, and many of the songs were not as familiar to the crowd of about 5500 to 6000.  For those of us, including myself, who knew all the new stuff as well, it was great to hear so much new material included!  The set-list was:

"2 Sides of Me"
"Up All Night"
"Use Me"
"What Ya Gonna Do"
"Better Than Me"
"How Long"
"All American Nightmare"
"Hey Ho"
"Lips Of An Angel"
"Waking Up The Devil"
"Room 21 (including band intros)
"Put That Record On"
"Get Stoned"

The encore was a bit short, and I was very suprised that songs like "Homecoming Queen", "Loaded & Alone", "Take It To The Limit", and "Without You" were not included in the set, but as it was, Hinder was on stage for just over 90 minutes.  Bad weather was starting to move in, as what had started as a warm, sunny day was completely cloudy by the time Hinder hit the stage, so perhaps this caused a song or two to be eliminated.  Regardless, the band did not disappoint, with Winkler doing his best take on Steven Tyler of Aerosmith throughout the night, getting the crowd completely worked up and into every song.  Multiple songs included some form of crowd participation, especially "Up All Night", "Hey, Ho" and "Get Stoned".  The band seemed to genuinely be enjoying themselves on the last stop on the current leg of their tour (at least according to their tour shirts).  The band was sharp and very energetic throughout, especially on the heavier material from the new album, which sounds excellent live.  My only complaint would be that I don't know if the band is used to playing smaller (10,000 max. capacity) outdoor venues, as their sound was almost too loud for the arena at times and some of the instruments got lost behind the drums and Winkler's vocals, especially on the hardest rockers.      
All in all, it was an excellent show with great performances by both bands.  Three of the five members of My Darkest Days came out afterwards for pictures and an impromptu meet-and-greet with people who hung around after the Hinder show; this is actually where the above picture of my wife and Sal from MDD was taken.  I would STRONGLY encourage anyone who has the opportunity to see Hinder live and to pick up All-American Nightmare if they have not yet done so.  My Darkest Days is also a great bunch of guys that put on a very entertaining and musically proficient set.  They are a bit too keyboard-heavy for my usual tastes, and again, more modern than most stuff reviewed here, but great performers who acquaint themselves with their audience very quickly.

Kudos to the NebraskaLand Days staff for bringing in two popular, current artists who tore up the Wild West Arena!

See Also"
All American Nightmare

Saturday, June 25, 2011

JOINED FORCES "Joined Forces"

(2) 2010 Retrospect Records

  1. Love Reaction
  2. Alone Tonight
  3. When The Lovin's Good
  4. Don't Get Me Started
  5. Sad Boy Blues
  6. Johnny's On The Bad Side
  7. Angel (I Wanna Fly)
  8. Taste My Honey
  9. One More Time
  10. The Wild Side
Jimi Bell--Guitar
Mark Diamond--Vocals
Livio Gravini--Vocals
Mark Franco--Bass
Joe Aparo--Drums

Look closely at the picture above...does that band look familiar?  If so, you are a TRUE child of the 1980's and some obscure movies!  This band, Joined Forces, was featured in the movie Light Of Day, which starred Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox (I think it was in 1986 or 1987).  Remember that one?  I actually went back and looked it up because I honestly didn't remember...but it is true.

Joined Forces is yet another in a long line of great bands that for one reason or another didn't quite make it.  Sure, making it into a major production movie could be considered "making it" for most bands, but Joined Forces really should have been a staple on rock and even Top 40 radio had things worked out correctly.  This is not just some cover band that put out a handful of originals.  This is a band that toured with Jett and recorded some excellent hair metal/melodic hard rock that begs to be heard, even if it is about 20 years after the fact. 

While the band did manage to release one 5 song EP in 1985, shortly before the movie, it is pretty much impossible to find now (the album is called Show And Tell) and is on vinyl only, I believe.  There are bootleg CD's floating around out there, including some pretty professional looking ones (I bought one), but even these are not remastered or cleaned up.

Enter Retrospect Records.  I am not sure where they find these bands or the material, but Retrospect Records is quite possibly THE label when it comes to releasing old, unsigned bands and getting their music to the fans.  The Joined Forces release is not only professionally recorded and remastered, it features 10 songs recorded between 1986 and 1989, none of which are on the EP, which makes this a true gem of a release.

Musically, people are going to immediately draw lines of similarity between Joined Forces and Y&T with hints of Whitesnake, solo Hagar, and Rough Cutt thrown in.  The guitar wizardry of Jimi Bell on this album is amazing, especially with solos like the one he unleashes on the mid-tempo rocker, "Alone Tonight", and it instantly becomes obvious why James Christian pulled him into the House Of Lords fold.  "The Wild Side" is a great track that slowly builds from the intro into a bottom-heavy rocker that really showcases Livio's powerful tenor vocals and yet another scorching solo.  "Sad Boy Blues", with its slide guitar intro and bluesy stomp, will make a lot of people think of the style of early Tora Tora or Tangier, but the vocals fall more in line with Sammy Hagar, as does the rocking "Don't Get Me Started" which sounds like it could have come from Sammy's VOA album.  "Johnny's On The Bad Side" is interesting as there is really no chorus except for a group shouted "Johnny's on the bad side!" at a couple of points in the song.  It's a really different approach, but Joined Forces makes it work.

Not every track is a winner or holds up as well through the lens of time.  "Taste My Honey" is ridiculously cheesey in its lyrics, although it has a nice beat and a catchy hook.  "Angel (I Wanna Fly)" is an okay acoustic-based ballad but lacks that big power chord to make it a huge hit, and "One More Time" is an attempt at a more radio-friendly ballad but is a pretty unremarkable song overall, falling a bit flat as the band seems to struggle with trying to sound like Journey musically but with subpar material. 

The more I listen to this release, the more I find myself comparing it to a Sammy Hagar and Y&T collision, which is a really good thing.  Excellent guitar work, powerhouse vocals, and mostly above average songwriting really leaves me wondering how things went so wrong for this band after such big-time exposure.  This is one album that is very much worth tracking down.  I find it hard to believe fans of any of the bands I used for comparison will not find themselves loving this disc immediately.

Rating:  Crank this unearthed gem to 7!

You can check up on the band on their Facebook page.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

TORA TORA "Revolution Day"

(c) 2011 FnA Records

  1. Revolution Day
  2. Mississippi Voodoo Child
  3. Candle And The Stone
  4. Blues Come Home To You
  5. Time And The Tide
  6. Shelter From The Rain
  7. Livng A World Away
  8. Rescue Me
  9. Little Texas
  10. Memphis Soul
  11. Me And You
  12. Out Of The Storm
Anthony Corder--Vocals
Keith Douglas--Guitar
Patrick Francis--Bass
John Patterson--Drums

The long lost/buried/unreleased third Tora Tora album has finally "officially" surfaced and has seen the light of day via the FnA Records label.  This is the same label that has also released three discs of Tora Tora demos and unreleased material, all of which have some average to excellent material on them, but they struck the mother lode with this album.

Revolution Day has not exactly been unheard prior to this.  While there are no official statistics, obviously, I would have to say that Revolution Day is one of the most circulated bootlegs out there, both on file-sharing sites and among tape/CD traders.  I'm not going to lie...I have had a bootleg copy for several years now, as it was sent to me in a batch of real demos that I had purchased off of eBay.  Since it seemed highly unlikely it would ever see the light of day, I was pretty glad to have it.  But, to continue with my honesty...I didn't like the album.  In fact, I would go so far as to say I nearly hated it.

For one, the production on the copies floating around is terrible.  Most sound like copies of copies of a tape.  In fact, I read a quote somewhere from the guitar player, Keith Douglas, who says that is exactly what is out there...and the tapes are played too fast, to boot!  The stuff floating around has not been properly mixed or produced and is truly inferior to this, the official, band-endorsed release...and some versions are missing songs! 

Once I got this REAL version in hand, that piece of crap bootleg went straight into the trash.  The comparisons are pretty much night and day.  The production and mix on the FnA version are crisp and clean and give new life to these songs.  It is easy to hear, however, why these songs remained shelved for so many years, as they had NOTHING to do with the musical landscape of the time of their recording in 1993.  Grunge had destroyed rock radio and MTV, and dance-pop and boy bands were dominating Top 40 radio, so there was nowhere for a hard rocking, southern-tinged hair band to go.

From the opening song to the last, this is the obvious progression of where this band was headed from day one.  Revolution Day picks up right where Wild America left off, with the opening acoustic guitar and harmonica giving something of a Zeppelin-meets-Tesla vibe to the rocking mid-tempo title track.   "Mississippi Voodoo Child" sounds exactly like the swampy title would have you believe, very southern rock sounding vibe, with a ZZ Top-ish guitar lick and a blues-boogie rhythm that pushes this song along.   "Candle And The Stone" is a Tesla-ish styled ballad that works very well with Corder's vocals.  "Blues Come Home To You" is, as you would expect, a very blues-based rocker which feels similar to some of the Black Crowes' material; while good, it's not quite up to par with the rest of the album, at least for me.  "Time And The Tide" is another acoustic-based rocker that is also pretty solid but seems to be lacking the punch of the rest of the disc's material. 

"Shelter From The Rain" returns to stronger material and heads back into ballad territory and, once again, to Tesla-esque territory.  Sure, the vocal similarities are obvious, but even the writing style is so similar it is uncanny.  I am NOT accusing Tora Tora of ripping off Tesla, by the way, as anyone who heard older Tora Tora could tell this was the direction the band was headed.  It's just interesting to me that Tora Tora finished up sounding a lot like Tesla started out (and continues) sounding like.  "Living A World Away" cranks the tempo back up a bit and dirties up the guitar sound, before "Rescue Me" once again slips down a gear.  This would be my one complaint, in all honesty...this disc spends a little too much time exploring the slower mid-tempo to full-on ballad areas and not enough time going balls-out on blues-rockers like "Memphis Soul" (complete with a horn section) or the stellar album closer, "Out Of The Storm".  Even a couple more boogie-woogie tracks like "Little Texas" would help even this disc out a bit.

Overall, this is not a bad album at all.  In fact, I enjoy it a lot, especially now that I have had the chance to hear the songs as they were intended.  That being said, I can't honestly say that, despite their similarities, I would rate this album above anything Tesla has done, or even above Wild America.  There is simply too much down-tempo material to have to wade through.

Rating:  Rock this one to 6.5 and throw away any of the crappy bootlegs of this disc you may have...the real deal is FAR superior!         

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RADIO ACTIVE CATS "Radio Active Cats"

(c)1991 Warner Bros. Records

  1. Shotgun Shack
  2. Hold On Tight
  3. Bed Of Roses
  4. Finger In The Pie
  5. Standin' In The Rain
  6. Love Razor
  7. Cry On My Shoulder
  8. Think About Love
  9. Cheap Mascara
  10. Knock Knock
  11. Wet, Hot Sweat
Shel Graves--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Michael Graves--Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Ian Espinoza--Lead & Slide Guitar, Mandolin, Backing Vocals
Ron Maldonado--Stand Up & Fretless Bass

Bands...let this be a warning.  If you give yourself a ridiculous name like the Radio Active Cats THIS is the kind of album artwork you must expect.  I mean, c'mon...what else could Warner Bros. do?!   Anyway... 

Radio Active Cats are NOT a prototypical hairband, regardless of their appearance on this album cover.  In fact, they have far more in common with bands like the Stray Cats than they do with, say, Firehouse or Warrant; think Stray Cats mixed with a bit of the bluesy vibe Great White made famous, along with a hint of 70's glam and you have the Radio Active Cats.  "Hard-rockabilly" is how I described them to a friend of mine once, and I think the label still fits.  Slide guitar, stand-up bass, mandolin...and electric guitar...what a combination!  It is a given that Radio Active Cats don't sound like anything you have probably heard before. 

As for the songs themselves, standouts would have to include the sleazy sounding "Finger In The Pie", the hard rocking "Love Razor", and the mandolin-tinged power ballad, "Think About Love".  "Cry On My Shoulder" is another good hard-rocking shuffle tune.  "Wet, Hot Sweat" is easily the best track on the disc, for me, and is a great, hard-rocking song with dirty, sleazy lyrics.  "Standin' In The Rain" is another excellent, driving hard rock song that I personally think should have been the album opener. An album full of songs of the caliber of these last two tracks I mentioned would have been killer! 

A few songs come up pretty short for me, however.  Album opener "Shotgun Shack" is simply TOO rockabilly for my tastes and nearly led to me not listening any further.  "Cheap Mascara" has the potential to be the hardest rocker on the disc, but as soon as the shuffle kicks in, the song fails to deliver on its potential.  "Knock, Knock" is nothing but filler and is relatively boring.  "Hold On Tight" is relatively blah with very average lyrics, and "Bed Of Roses" is nothing particularly special, either.

I am betting that these guys put on a killer live show, as you can definitely hear the energy in their performances.  In my opinion, if the track order was altered, this would be an above average album.  However, it takes some skipping around to find the good songs, and the opening two tracks probably deterred a lot of people from digging any deeper.  There is a very solid EP's worth of material here, and if you cut out the worst two tracks here, you would still have 9 average to above-average songs with a different sound and vibe that could have won over a nice fan base. 

As a side note to those who find this disc and like it:  I have read in several places that this band later changed their name to TV In Flames and recoreded at least one album under that name.  Also, if you do track down this CD in its original form, which I have been told is pretty hard to do, the tray case is as green as the cats on the cover. Apparently this version is pretty collectible...I do not have it; my jewel case tray is black.

Rating:  Like a Tootsie Pop, the good stuff on this album is in the middle, so skip the first couple of stinkers and rock this at 6.

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RATT "Out Of The Cellar"

(c) 1984 Atlantic Records

  1. Wanted Man
  2. You're In Trouble
  3. Round And Round
  4. In Your Direction
  5. She Wants Money
  6. Lack Of Communication
  7. Back For More
  8. The Morning After
  9. I'm Insane
  10. Scene Of The Crime
Stephen Pearcy--Lead Vocals
Warren DeMartini--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Robbin "King" Crosby--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Juan Croucier--Bass, Backing Vocals
Bobby Blotzer--Drums, Percussion

It would be vitually impossible to overstate the importance of this record.  Following the unexpected success of Quiet Riot's Metal Health album, record labels were looking for bands that could fill a similar role.  Up stepped Ratt.

Having already released an impressively popular EP on a small independent label, Ratt quickly took a couple of those older songs, mixed in several new tracks, and Out Of The Cellar was born.  Far more metallic than most of the hair metal bands that would soon follow, Ratt combined the big, twin guitar attack of DeMartini and Crosby with the gritty vocals of Pearcy, the solid rhythm section of Croucier and Blotzer, and the production wizardry of Beau Hill to forge a sound that quickly tore up the charts.  The album peaked at #7 on Billboard's album chart, eventually selling more than 4 million copies, the song "Round And Round" made it to #12 on the Hot 100, and the career of one of the founding fathers of the hair metal movement was off and running full-speed ahead.

I think it's fair to say that most people reading this review are already fully aware of the biggest hit on this disc.  Not only did "Round And Round" hit #12 on the Hot 100, it also reached #4 on the Mainstream Rock charts.  Many people, however, are not aware that "Wanted Man" also managed to crack the Hot 100, reaching #87 (#38 on the Mainstream Rock chart), and that "Back For More", which I think is far and away the best song this band has ever released, topped out at #27 on the Mainstream Rock chart as well.  Outside of these songs, though, a lot of people probably don't hear much from this album now unless they intentionally dig it out from time to time.  I would encourage people to do just that, as it is easy to forget this disc's greatness with the glut of new music that becomes available on an almost daily basis.  Classics like "You're In Trouble", "Lack Of Communication", "In Your Direction", and the ultra-sleazy "Scene Of The Crime" are true gems of the genre.  There are a couple of lesser songs on this masterpiece, as I have never been a big fan of "She Wants Money" or "I'm Insane", but neither one is necessarily worthy of the skip button, either. 

While history lessons really aren't necessary, I think it is fair to say that, at least on a commercial and financial success level, Jake E. Lee, Chris Hager, Matt Thorr, and Dave Alford probably all wish they had stayed in Ratt and not jumped ship to form Rough Cutt with Paul Shortino.  I could be wrong...but I doubt it.  Ratt has gone on to sell millions and millions of albums, travel the world, and perform in front of millions of fans.  Rough Cutt...???  Well, Shortino does sound good with King Kobra now!

For most, this is where Ratt & Roll started, and Out Of The Cellar is a difficult one to top.  It is an absolutely essential album for any hair metal or sleaze metal fan, and I would dare say it belongs in ANY true heavy metal fan's collection. 

I'm lucky enough to have an autographed copy...
(that DOES say Stephen Pearcy, right....???)

Rating:  Crank this classic to 9!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

STEEL PANTHER "Feel The Steel"

(c) 2009 Universal

  1. Death To All But Metal
  2. Asian Hooker
  3. Community Property
  4. Eyes of a Panther
  5. Fat Girl (Thar She Blows)
  6. Eatin' Ain't Cheatin'
  7. Party All Day (F**k All Night)
  8. Turn Out The Lights
  9. Stripper Girl
  10. The Shocker
  11. Girl From Oklahoma
  12. Hell's On Fire (bonus track)
Michael Starr (Ralph Saenz)--Lead, Backing Vocals
Satchel (Russ Parrish)--Lead and Acoustic Guitars, Backing Vocals
Lexxi Foxx (Travis Haley)--Bass, Backing Vocals
Stix Zadinia (Darren Leader)--Drums, Backing Vocals

First things first...Steel Panther can flat out rock with the best of them.  No question.  In fact, it might be hard to find a band that can do what Steel Panther does...cover other band's material AND put out their own original material...any better.  Starr/Saenz, who possesses a Ph.D. in English literature, is a more than competent lead vocalist who has made a good living for himself not only in Steel Panther and its various incarnations, but also as the leader of the Van Halen tribute band, The Atomic Punks, not to mention a stint with the legit band LA Guns.  Satchel/Parrish is an excellent guitar player, and Foxx/Haley and Zadinia/Leader form a solid rhythm section, with all contributing vocals.  Anyone who gets the chance to see the band perform should do so, as they are guaranteed to enjoy a killer performance that more than likely will also feature one or more stars of rock or metal joining them on the stage at any given show.

A lot of people comsider Steel Panther, formerly known as Danger Kitty, Metal Shop and Metal Skool, to be the Weird Al Yankovic of the metal world, as so many of their songs are parodies.   However, on this album, the band turns in twelve original songs, although several still pull pieces of other well-known songs into the Steel Panther contributions (you can hear Bon Jovi ALL OVER "Party All Night", for example).  As stated, the musicianship is unquestionable, as these songs are incredibly well put together, catchy as all heck, and filled with hooks, solos, wah-wah's, whammies, and all the bells, whistles, and tricks that made hair metal so popular in the 1980's.  But in spite of all the great musical moments, it is the lyrics that make...or break...Steel Panther.

There is no getting around it; Steel Panther is vulgar.  In fact, I am not sure vulgar is a strong enough word.  To claim that the humor displayed in the lyrics is "toilet humor" might be an insult the the plumbing profession, because there may be some sort of sexual reference record set with this album.  While it is humorous for a song or two, the chuckles turn to embarrassed grins...and those soon fade to painful winces.  "Death To All But Metal" is riddled with homosexual references made about rappers,  "Turn Out The Lights" gives multiple reasons why the singer wants to be alone in the dark with the lady of his choice at the time, and "Stripper Girl"...well, do you really need to dig too far into the gutter of your imagination to guess where this otherwise smoking power ballad is headed?  Is this honestly the best that a doctor of English lit can come up with?!  The closest thing to a non-vulgar song is "Hell's On Fire", which, at best, is just plain stupid...but in a funny way.  If the entire album was made up of songs with similarly stupid-but-not-vulgar lyrics, I think this would be a great disc to spin for a laugh from time to time.  As it is, I simply can't find a reason I would ever recommend this album to my friends.  It is one thing to hear one of these songs intermixed into a live set with a bunch of hit cover songs that are performed well, but it's quite another thing to hear them strung back-to-back-to-back with no let up in the childishness and vulgarity.

Rating:  Musically I would crank this to a solid 8...seriously.  But as a whole, I would turn this down to a 4.

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ENUFF Z'NUFF "Dissonance"

(c) 2011 Rock Candy Records
  1. Dissonance
  2. Fine Line
  3. Lazy Dazy
  4. Rollaway
  5. High
  6. Altered States
  7. Playground
  8. Sometimes
  9. Joni Lynn
  10. Chicago
  11. Code Red (prev. unreleased)
  12. When Doves Cry
  13. Run For Your Lives (prev. unreleased)
Donnie Vie--Vocals, Guitar
Chip Z'Nuff--Vocals, Bass
Jake E. Lee--Guitars
Vinnie Castaldo--Drums

A couple of MAJOR things should be noted about the latest release from trippy glamsters Enuff Z'Nuff.  First off, band co-founder, Donnie Vie has returned to the fold and his vocal presence is IMMEDIATELY obvious.  But perhaps even more interesting is the addition of Jake E. Lee as the band's second guitarist.  Yes...Jake E. Lee, as in Badlands founder, former Ozzy guitarist...that Jake E. Lee.  His presence is also felt instantly as his grittier guitar sound is a unique addition to this Beatles-on-steroids sounding band. 

From the opening notes of the title track, it is apparent that this is more in-line with the original Enuff Z'Nuff than the Vie-less efforts of the past several years.  "Lazy Dazy" and "Rollaway" both contain that real Beatlesque vibe that the band has long been famous for, and they do not disappoint here.  "Lazy Dazy" features a jangly mid-section that has that quirky vibe that Enuff Z'Nuff displays so frequently, while Donnie's voice is particularly strong on "Rollaway", especially on the airy chorus, and Chip's bass lines carry the song.  "High" is one of the hardest rocking tunes here, and Jake E. Lee gets to stretch his legs a bit on this track.  "Sometimes" is more laid-back and in that mid-tempo groove that Enuff Z'Nuff treads so frequently, complete with the ringing guitars and layered harmonies.  "Playground" is a killer track that sounds like it is the theme song from some 60's or 70's crime drama, which I love, but the lyrics are definitely not from that decidedly G-rated era with a chorus of "Lay down, I'll make your body my your lily-white legs, now..."!   

Quite possibly the moment of the record is "Joni Lynn" which is an autobiographical account of Donnie's failed marriage.  The pain and bitterness is obvious in Donnie's voice, and the song has a definite power melody to it that keeps drawing the listener back for repeated spins.  Again, Lee adds a solid, if understated, solo to the song, giving it a bit of a punch, and Chip and Vinnie keep the entire band exceptionally tight on this song.  Definitely not a shiny-happy feeling coming from this track, but it is definitely a gritty song that I'm certain was written as a piece of cathartic musical therapy and turned into the most powerful song on this disc.

"Chicago" is also a very dark-sounding track right from the start and features Chip taking a turn at lead vocals.  Something about the song feels almost haunting in the way it is delivered.  Perhaps it is the production, or maybe it is just the way the song is performed, but it is definitely a moody piece that, while not as poppy as most Enuff Z'Nuff tunes, doesn't feel particularly out of place.

Easily the most bizarre moment on the album is the cover of the Prince mega-hit "When Doves Cry".  The bass line is modified, I'm guessing to avoid the royalties that would have to be paid for the sampling.  The song, as you might imagine, is rather dark and the funk of the Prince original (which I FAR prefer) is not present here, but the song is interesting at the very least.  I don't see this being a track which gets much, if any, live play. 

Previously only available in Japan, this new version of Dissonance features two new studio outtake recordings in "Code Red" and "Run For Your Lives".  The first features a funky bassline courtesy of the returning Z'Nuff, and the traditional Enuff Z'Nuff sound is evident here.  "Run For Your Lives" has a pop-rockabilly feeling that keeps me waiting to hear Kenny Loggins belt out "I'm alright..." for the chorus.  I like this track a lot and am happy to have it included on this American repackaging.  

Is this an earth-shattering release?  No, but none of Enuff Z'Nuff's albums were, although the debut and Strength are must-haves for period collections, I believe.  In fact, that was never the point with Enuff Z'Nuff who were always about catchy melodies and  that trippy, 60's vibe, set over a simplistic hard rock rhythm.  Enuff Z'Nuff is about a good time, and this album is exactly that for most of the record.  Sure, there are a couple of darker moments when raw emotions are exposed, but fans of the feel-good rock that is brought to mind with older favorites like "Good Thing", "In Crowd", and "Hot Little Summer Girl" should find plenty to love on this Chip & Donnie reunion effort.

Rating:  Crank this to a tripped-out 7...

DAVID MARK PEARCE "Strange Ang3ls"

(c) 2011 AOR Heaven
  1. Ang3ls (Help Us)
  2. Alone I Cry
  3. Shelter Me From The Rain
  4. Tell Me Why
  5. Everytime It Rains
  6. Strange Ang3ls
  7. To Live Again
  8. Save Your Prayers
  9. Eden Is Burning
  10. So Far From Heaven

David Mark Pearce--All Guitars, Keyboards
Göran Edman--Lead Vocals (tracks 2, 3, 6, 8, 9)
John Payne--Lead Vocals (tracks 4, 7, 10)
C.S. Brown--Bass
Lisa LaRue--Keyboards, Bkg Vocals
Mikael Wikman--Drums
Oliver Wakeman--Keyboards
What?  Never heard of Mark David Pearce?, neither.  But once you hear Strange Ang3ls, you are going to want to make sure that you hear more of him in the future! 

David Mark Pearce is a modern guitar virtuoso along the lines of Yngwie Malmsteen, Richie Blackmore, Adrian Vandenberg, and others of the melodic hard rock genre, although he brings more AOR sensibility to his music, utilizing keyboards more strongly and mixing his brand melodic hard rock with some subtle progressive overtones, as well.  That being said, as soon as the opening guitar riff kicks in on  "Alone I Cry", there is no doubt about the Malmsteen influence on Pearce's songwriting and performance.  This influence is expanded upon by the addition of Göran Edman on vocals, as he has performed on multiple albums with Malmsteen.  Of course, Edman is not the only big name that Pearce has recruited for this album, as the other lead vocalist is no slouch, either, as many will recognize John Payne's voice, if not his name, as the frontman for Asia.  Additionally, Oliver Wakeman the former keyboardist for Yes, adds his musical talent to this release to really ramp up the star, and musical, power.

One thing that is frequently a hazard on quasi-"super-groups" such as this one is that the sound will become less focused and the intent of the music gets lost.  While it's interesting to me that when Payne steps to the microphone, the music tends to take on a more Asia-like progressive quality, while when Edman is at the mic, we get more straight ahead melodic rock, this does not lead to a disjointed album at all.  Pearce and his guitar are the focal point of all these tracks, regardless of the talent he has surrounded himself with, and the collection is cohesive with the songs all working well with each other, flowing smoothly from track to track.

Regardless of the people he brought on board, the real highlight here is the instrumental, "Every Time It Rains".  This is a powerful piece with mutliple Pearce solos ripping throughout.  On this particular effort, Pearce sounds more akin to Satriani than Malmsteen, preferring to tell a story with his guitar rather than simply shred up a piece of classical music.

The title track, "Strange Ang3ls" is another instance when Pearce wears his Malmsteen influence on his sleeve, and with Edman on the vocals here, you would swear this track could have come from either Malmsteen's Eclipse or Fire And Ice albums.  The following track, "To Live Again" comes off as more of a classic rock song, albeit with a bit more flair on the opening guitar line and the solo contained within.  Following this is Payne's shining moment, for my money, as "Save Your Prayers" is a great mid-tempo number with, once again, more of a classic rock feel to the chorus but again featuring some excellent guitarwork and enough keyboard work to keep the listener interested without over-fluffing the piece.    

Pearce's performance throughout the album is very tight, very precise, with each note being clear and distinct, each seeming to have a specific purpose in these songs. When he goes on a run, it is not simply for speed's sake; there is a reason for that particular burst of speed.  Likewise, when he chooses to slow things down, such as on "Eden Is Burning", he does so with melodic intent, giving the song a chance to display its power, not simply dragging the song down to a plodding pace and seemingly dragging the song out interminably. 

While this is his debut album, I have been told there is a Pearce EP floating around out there, and trust me when I say I am going to track it down.  Anyone who is a fan of classic melodic hard rock, or any of the guitarists mentioned in this review, would do themselves a large favor by picking up Strange Ang3ls.  This is an excellent slice of melodic rock, as is usually the case with most AOR Heaven Records releases.

Rating:  Crank this one to 8.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

BANGALORE CHOIR "All Or Nothing (Live At Firefest)"

(c) 2011 Destiny Records

  1. Wazoo City
  2. Power Trippin'
  3. Just One Night
  4. Martyr
  5. Doin' The Dance
  6. Loaded Gun
  7. If The Good Die Young
  8. Living Your Dreams Every Day
  9. Slippin' Away
  10. Freight Train Rollin'
  11. Angel In Black
  12. All Or Nothin'
David Reece--Lead Vocals
Curt Mitchell--Guitars
Andy Susemihl--Guitars, backing vocals
Danny Greenburg--Bass
Hans in't Zandt--Drums

Now that 3/5 of the original line-up is back together following last year's Cadence record, it only makes sense that Bangalore Choir would hit the festival circuit.  This live album, All Or Nothing, was recorded at Firefest and is limited to just 1000 copies.  (There are several Firefest releases, but this is the only one I ordered...).  My interest here was to compare the classic tracks from the debut to the more modern hard rock sounds of the Cadence songs in a live setting.  Much to my pleasure, despite the fact that they were written 15-20 years apart, the two studio albums' songs sound excellent side by side and this is a high quality recording that showcases the band in top notch form.

Reece's vocals are, of course, the focal point of this group and he does not disappoint live.  Having been the vocalist for Accept, Sircle of Silence, and multiple other projects, Reece knows how to deliver a song in the studio and that carries over well to the live performance here as well.  It is impossible not to notice how similar he sounds to David Coverdale at times, due mostly to the lower register and bluesy approach he takes to his vocals, but that is not a bad thing at all.  The rest of the band steps up and delivers quality performances as well, with Mitchell and Susemihl sounding particularly strong on the guitars.  The bass and drums are solid also, but not overpowering to the overall sound, which is sometimes not the case in a live setting, particularly if the mix is not done well.  That is not an issue here, as the production and mix are of very good quality.

The song selection here is very good, but I would have liked to hear a couple more of the new tracks, like "High On The Clouds" or "Heart Attack and Vine", for example.  The choices from the debut are exactly what I would have expected and wanted, with "Angel In Black" always being one of my favorite songs of the era.  "Loaded Gun" and "Doin' The Dance" are both performed very well, also, and don't disrupt the flow of the newer material.  The same can be said of "If The Good Die Young", which is really the only ballad in this live set.

I wish this album was more readily available, but I can understand the need to limit the pressing, both for economic and collectibility reasons.  I would encourage fans of the band, or of Reece in general, to hurry and try to order this, as once they are gone there are to be no more pressings (at least according to the press release).  I am not sure how many remain, but check Destiny Records homepage for information about this or the other Firefest releases.

Rating:  Rock this to 6.5, which is a pretty high number for me when rating a live album...

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Monday, June 20, 2011

QUEENSRYCHE "Dedicated To Chaos (Special Edition)"

(c) 2011 Roadrunner Records

  1. Get Started
  2. Hot Spot Junkie
  3. Got It Bad
  4. Around The World
  5. Higher
  6. Retail Therapy
  7. At The Edge
  8. Broken (Special Edition Only)
  9. Hard Times (Special Edition Only)
  10. Drive
  11. I Believe (Special Edition Only)
  12. LuvnU (Special Edition Only)
  13. Wot We Do
  14. I Take You
  15. The Lie
  16. The Big Noize
Geoff Tate--Vocals, Keyboards
Michael Wilton--Guitars
Eddie Jackson--Bass, Fretless Bass, Backing Vocals
Scott Rockenfeld--Drums, Programming, Backing Vocals
Parker Lundgren--Guitars

It has to be hard to be Queensryche.  No matter what you do as a band, you are not going to win with the majority of your fanbase.  Fans who loved the sound but not the concept album style of Operation: Mindcrime tended to decry Empire as too radio-friendly.  People who claimed to be tired of the commercial sound of Empire hated the more progressive feel of Promised Land.  People who wanted the band to be more experimental completey ran down Hear In The Now Frontier.  Folks who thought the line-up had grown stale bemoaned the loss of Chris DeGarmo on Q2K.  When DeGarmo came back for Tribe, fans hated that as well.   Everyone who screamed for Operation: Mindcrime II...well, pretty much bagged on it (even with Ronnie James Dio making an appearance!).  Heck, in November of 2010, when they played music from their American Soldier album for the troops in Iraq, they were bombed (I really hope it didn't have anything to do with the music!).  How can this band ever win unless they remake the first EP and their first two full-length albums?  (Heck, I'm guessing people would bag on them for being unoriginal then....)   

I honestly hesitated reviewing this album simply because no matter what I think of it, I am sure most people will hate it without even giving it a fair chance, and that is sad.  To me, this is the best Queensryche has sounded since Promised Land, which is my favorite album by the band.  However, you can hear elements of Mindcrime, Rage For OrderEmpire and Now Frontier-era sounds in Dedicated To Chaos.  In fact, Geoff Tate has stated that he thinks the musical direction of this album is "the Empire record set 25 years in the future", and I think that is an accurate description, as it finds the band taking the best of all those records and putting them into the perverbial musical blender and pouring out a very solid, enjoyable album.

"Retail Therapy", with Jackson's bass lines rumbling across the bottom end of the track and the twin guitars of Wilton and newcomer Ludgren feeding that same hard-rock vibe that made so many cuts from Empire turn into rock radio staples.  "The Lie" has Operation: Mindcrime written all over the hook, but the vocal styling lends itself more to Empire.  "Hard Times" and "I Take You" could have come from that album as well, and "At The Edge" blends perfectly the Empire and Promised Land sounds.  Speaking of Promised Land, the experimental, proggy, even jazzy elements of that great album are present in songs like "Higher", which even incorporates saxaphone like the song "Promised Land" did.  "LuvnU" is pure Hear In The Now Frontier as far as the heavy-as-stink sound it delivers with its big drums and stripped down guitar tones combined with modern elements.

Am I trying to make you believe this is the perfect album?  No, not at all.  "Hot Spot Junkie" isn't terrible, but it sounds like it was a bit rushed in its writing.  I could do without "I Believe", which is almost too trippy to really fit here, and sounds more like something from Tate's less-than-good solo album. "Big Noize" which closes the album, is a bit too Pink Floyd for my tastes, but it isn't a horrible song by any stretch.  "Got It Bad" sounds like the band tried to mix dance beats into a Queensryche song.  If you think I'm kidding, Scott Rockenfeld said about parts of the album, "It's huge rock but with a great dance vibe to it, real modern dance. It's kind of like Rage For Order through a time tunnel, bringing it into the now mixed with Empire." 

Look, I don't get that whole "real modern dance" part of the quote, but even Rockenfeld agrees with me that this record is a mix of pretty much all the best parts of the Queensryche sound.  Again, I am not going to tell you that this album is perfect or that it will please all fans, especially if all you want to hear is "Queen of the Ryche" or "Lady Wore Black" sounding songs.  Folks, that Queensryche isn't coming back and, honestly, it hasn't been around since those songs were released.  This band has progressed and morphed and changed pretty much with every release from Mindcrime on, and this album is no different.  However, I think this is the strongest that Tate's voice has sounded in a long time (although I thought he sounded pretty good on American Soldier, also...), and Parker Lundgren teams up perfectly with Michael Wilton for an excellent double-barrelled guitar sound.  And, as always, the true heartbeat of this band has always been the duo of Jackson and Rockenfeld who continue to hammer away at the bottom ends of these songs, giving them life and strength, even on the most laid-back of tracks. 

If you are willing to open your musical mind a bit and accept Queensryche for what they are (and have been for the past 15 years) odds are there is going to be something you will really love about this album, especially if you were a fan of Empire or Promised Land.  But, if you want to pigeon-hole them and try to reconcile this album with one that is almost 25 or 30 years old, you will be sorely disappointed.

Rating:  Crank this to a 7.5...although I'm sure that rating will be as polarizing as the band is!

POISON "Native Tongue"

(c) 1993 Capitol Records

  1. Native Tongue
  2. The Scream
  3. Stand
  4. Stay Alive
  5. Until You Suffer Some (Fire And Ice)
  6. Body Talk
  7. Bring It Home
  8. 7 Days Over You
  9. Richie's Acoustic Thang
  10. Ain't That The Truth
  11. Theater Of The Soul
  12. Strike Up The Band
  13. Ride Child Ride
  14. Blind Faith
  15. Bastard Son Of A Thousand Blues
Bret Michaels--Lead Vocals, Rhythm and Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica
Bobby Dall--Bass Guitars, Backing Vocals
Rikki Rockett--Drums, Backing Vocals, Percussion, Tribal Drums
Richie Kotzen--Lead, Rhythm, and Acoustic Guitars, Backing Vocals, Mandolin, Dobro, Piano

I am going to say something that many people in the Poison fanclub would consider sacrilege:  I think Native Tongue is the band's most creative, most artistic album and quite possibly the highlight of their catalog.  That is not to say I don't like other, earlier albums, as I think Look What The Cat Dragged In and Open Up And Say...Ahh! are two of the definitive glam metal albums of the 80's and both include some of the band's best songs, at least as far as the party hearty lifestyle they lived at the time go.  But Native Tongue finds the band growing up and expanding their sound by using the old addition through subtraction method; they added to their sound and their creativity by cutting C.C. DeVille loose and bringing in Richie Kotzen.

Whether people willingly acknowledge it or not, it was never a secret that DeVille was something of a one-trick-pony on guitar and was generally considered the weakest-link in the band, which is somewhat humorous as it is not like the band has ever been composed of virtuosos.  However, the changes in the band were glaringly obvious once Kotzen plugged in, and to Poison's credit, rather than try to forge on with the same-old-same-old, they adapted their style and sound to allow themselves to expand and mature.  And, with a small number of exceptions, this works incredibly well.

After starting off with a tribal drum intro on "Native Tongue", the band kicks right into "The Scream", and the guitar upgrade is immediately evident as Kotzen shows off skills that DeVille has never had in his toolbox.  This is a very good, hard rocking track that would have been a monstrous opener for arena tours if such things were still possible for hairbands in 1993.  I found it a bit odd that Poison chose to go for a ballad so early on the album, but by track 3 we hit the major single release from this disc, with "Stand", complete with its church choir backing vocals.  Lyrically, this song picks up where "Something To Believe In" left off, albeit to even bigger effect (if not chart positioning), as it was written following the L.A. riots.   This is just the first of several ballads on this disc, with "Until You Suffer Some (Fire And Ice)" being, in my opinion, the strongest.  Once again, the bluesy tones that Kotzen brings to the table, mixed in with the Hammond organ, gives this song an altogether different feel than anything Poison had previously attempted.  "Theater Of The Soul" is another strong ballad that has a feel that is very similar to "Something To Believe In".
There are several rockers here, also, lest you believe this is nothing but a slow-dance soundtrack.  "Stay Alive" is a nice up-tempo number, as are "Body Talk" and "Bring It Home".  "Strike Up The Band", once you are past the intro, has the listener feeling like they have heard this before, as it bears at least a passing resemblence to "Ride The Wind", but rocks a little...dirtier. 

Some songs are a bit odd to hear, at least for me.  "7 Days Over You" is a good song, but the horn section seems a bit out of place for a Poison song.  "Richie's Acoustic Thang" is, as the name suggests, an acoustic instrumental that I could do without. 

For me, the last two tracks are a pair of the best, with "Blind Faith" and "Bastard Son Of A Thousand Blues" both being excellent up-tempo numbers that show Poison flexing its muscle in two different ways.  "Blind Faith" sounds like so many other Poison hard rocking hits, while "Bastard Son..." showcases the blues-rock feel of this incarnation of the band as Bret busts out his harmonica to assist on Richie's guitar-and-piano blues romp that shows exactly what was great about this new pairing. 

Unfortuanately, Richie apparently had problems scoring chicks of his own and was kicked out of the band after being caught sleeping with another member's girlfriend.  As such, this proved to be the only release with Richie on it, which is too bad because this new style and sound worked incredibly well and gave Poison a chance to grow beyond the hairband label they had so rightfully earned.  Artistically, this is the best album of Poison's catalog (followed by Crack A Smile which is, ironically, another non-C.C. album...), and it is well worth picking up.  The same can be said for nearly any project Kotzen lends his incredible talent to, by the way, so hunt his stuff down also, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it, as most of his stuff comes in as Japanese imports.

Rating:  Crank this one to 7.5. 

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

SHOUT "It Won't Be Long/In Your Face"

(c) 1998 KMG Records

  1. Never Stop
  2. Winners Or Losers
  3. It Won't Be Long
  4. Find A Way
  5. Dancin' Round The World
  6. Shout
  7. Showdown
  8. Timeless Love
  9. Without You
  10. Borderline
  11. When the Love Is Gone
  12. Give Me An Answer
  13. Faith, Hope, And Love
  14. Gettin' Ready
  15. In Your Face
  16. Getting On With It
  17. Waiting On You
  18. Moonlight Sonata (in 32nd notes)
  19. It's All I Need
Ken Tamplin--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Chuck King--Lead Guitars
Loren Robinson--Bass
Dennis Holt--Drums (tracks 1-9)
Joseph Galletta--Drums (tracks 10-19)

Additional Musicians
Mark Hugonberger--keyboards (tracks 1-9)
Roger Milky--keyboard (tracks 10-19)
Lanny Cordola--guitar
Marty Friedman--guitar
Randy Hansen--guitar
Alex Masi--guitar
Michael Angelo--guitar
Joey Price--guitar

Shout is easily one of the best bands of the Christian hair metal scene, and is a fantastically talented band, Christian or not.  Ken Tamplin's vocals are exceptionally powerful with a full range, and his guitar playing is top notch as well.  Chuck King is also a very accomplished guitar player in his own right.  The tricky thing with this band one knows for sure who played what when.  I have never found it clarified anywhere who did the leads and who did the rhythm tracks on either album.  I have heard that Tamplin plays the majority of the rhythm tracks with King playing the leads.  However, I have also heard that Lanny Cordolla actually played the leads on the It Won't Be Long album, and that King was added as part of the touring band afterward and was thusly credited.  There is also some question as to which drummer played on the albums, but this is the best information I could find.  Regardless of who is playing, one thing is certain:  if you have never heard Shout, you need to.

The first 9 tracks on this 2-on-1 compilation comprise the It Won't Be Long album.  This is the more melodic of the two with a bit more shine on the production.  The band is at its best on these tracks when they are in full-on rocking mode, such as on "Winners Or Losers", "Shout", and "Showdown".  "Never Stop" is another good up-tempo rocker but there is too much keyboard for me.  This is not to say the ballads are bad, as I think "Find A Way" is a very nicely performed track, but, again, the keyboards are too out front for me and it comes off as a bit too sugary for my taste.  "Timeless Love" is a bit more mid-tempo but still not a full-blown rocker; the same can be said of the title track, which is the better of the two. 

Tracks 10-19 make up MOST of the In Your Face album.  I say most because the album's original closing track is not included on this 2-on-1 collection.  Nevertheless, this is the more powerful of the two album, with a bit grittier production, a bit less keyboard, and a LOT more guitar!  Just take a look at the additional musicians I listed above and take in the fact that ALL of those guys performed on the title track!  Yes, Ken Tamplin has some friends in the business and he managed to get all of these folks to contribute to a Christian metal album at a time when a lot of people were not willing to "out" themselves as Christians.  This song SMOKES and is worth tracking down this disc all by itself.  However, it is far from the only good song here, as "Borderline", "When The Love Is Gone", "Gettin' Ready", and especially the powerful "Faith, Hope, and Love" are all exceptional rockers that deserve your attention and inclusion in your collection.  The instrumental "Moonlight Sonata (in 32nd Notes)" is exactly what it says it is, and it features some lightning fast playing.  The ballads here are a bit less-saccharine, but they still pale in comparison to the blistering hard rock this band is capable of unleashing when they are going full-force.

I chose to review this 2-on-1 compilation because it is far easier to come by than either album by themselves, as both are long out of print.  I have read that In Your Face did sell more than 200,000 copies, so there are possibly some floating around out there for you to snag if you are lucky, but you are likely to pay a pretty penny for it.  In all honesty, you will most likely pay a decent amount for either of these albums, and even this crappy KMG compilation is out of print.  Oh, did I say crappy?  Yep.  I bought this so I wouldn't have to risk scratching my originals, so it is good for that.  However, as is the case with KMG's releases, the inserts are garbage, with no band notes, no line-ups, no lyrics, and no pictures.  Some people will also be frustrated by the omission of a song from the In Your Face album.  Still, if this is all you can find (or afford), I highly recommend you pick this up, as Shout has all the musicianship of the majority of their peers, Christian or secular, plus they have one of the most talented-yet-unheard-of lead singers around. 

Ratings:  I'm going to break this down...
It Won't Be Long--Crank it to 7...
In Your Face--Crank it to 8.5
2-on-1 Compilation...come do the math and average it out!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

DEF LEPPARD "Mirrorball: Live & More"

(c) 2011 Mailboat Records
  1. Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
  2. Rocket
  3. Animal
  4. C'Mon, C'Mon
  5. Make Love Like A Man
  6. Too Late For Love
  7. Foolin'
  8. Nine Lives
  9. Love Bites
  10. Rock On
  1. Two Steps Behind
  2. Bringin' On The Heartbreak
  3. Switch 625
  4. Hysteria
  5. Armageddon It
  6. Photograph
  7. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  8. Rock Of Ages
  9. Let's Get Rocked
  10. Action
  11. Bad Actress
  12. Undefeated (Studio)
  13. Kings Of The World (Studio)
  14. It's All About Believin' (Studio)
Joe Elliott--Vocals
Rick Savage--Bass, Backing Vocals
Phil Collen--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Rick Allen--Drums, Backing Vocals
Vivian Campbell--Guitars, Backing Vocals

It has taken over 30 years to get here, but Def Leppard has finally released an official live album.  Sure, there are almost countless bootlegs out there, some quality sounding, some terrible.  There was also the bonus live disc included in the reissue of Hysteria, but that was a fairly limited effort in terms of the set list.  Prior to this one, though, there has not been a full, comprehensive live release that the band has fully endorsed and was fully aware that they were being recorded for, which, in all fairness, can make a world of difference in terms of quality.

Featuring 21 live songs culled from the most commercial section of the band's catalog, Mirrorball is a somewhat blurry snapshot of one of the most storied hard rock/heavy metal bands in history (don't tell Joe I called them a hard rock/heavy metal band!).  As one might expect, there are no songs from On Through The Night in this collection, and only an acoustic, fan-accompanied version of "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" and the instrumental "Switch 625" from High N Dry.  Much less surprising, I'm sure, is the exclusion of any material from Slang, and Euphoria is, to my surprise, also completely unrepresented, as is X.  So that leaves us, predictably, with a set that is almost exclusively pulled off of Pyromania, Hysteria, Adrenalize, and even Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, which many people rate as at least the second worst (behind Slang for many) album in the DefLep catalog. 

Disc 1 starts off impressively enough, with a very solid sounding version of "Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)", followed by a very good effort on "Rocket", and I was pleasantly surprised to hear Joe's voice holding up so well on these classic tracks.  Much has been made over the past few years of the fact that Joe is now a studio-only singer, meaning that enough editing and effects are used to accomplish his trademark sound that there is no way he can pull it off live.  Well, at least for most of the disc, Joe proves the critics wrong.  In fact, on the old, classic material, Joe sounds pretty good, especially on Disc 1, when his voice is still fresh. The backing vocals are TERRIBLE in places, however...and I mean just that...terrible. On higher-pitched songs, it is obvious Joe has lost range, but not vocal power, such as on "Love Bites" where the band very obviously shifts the chorus to a lower is plain as day when you hear it.  However, later on this disc when he performs songs such as "Nine Lives", which were recorded with his newer vocal limitations in mind, he sounds almost note perfect.  I was kind of surprised to hear the disc close with the popular signle and video cover track "Rock On", not because it is a bad song, but simply because it was not one of their own.  A minor thing, I realize, but when you combine it with the outset of Disc 2, I think it makes it a bit more of an oddity. 

Disc 2 starts off oddly with a ballad...actually two consecutive ballads...with "Two Steps Behind" and "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" and then an instrumental, "Switch 625".  All three are pulled off nicely, and as I mentioned earlier, "...Heartbreak" is given the fan-participation treatment during an all-acoustic rendering of this popular song.  I'm not sure if the band did this to keep the set list 100% accurate from their performances or if the label didn't think about the tracking order when they decided where to stop Disc 1 and start Disc 2.  A solid "Rock Of Ages" and "Let's Get Rocked" round out the set-list before what I am assuming was the encore, which is referred to as "BONUS LIVE" on the tray insert.  Here the band returns with a hit and a total obscurity to close the set, with "Action" taken from Retroactive, followed by the out-of-left-field "Bad Actress".  While "Bad Actress" is one of the hardest songs the band has performed in years, it was still a bizarre choice for a live closer, in my opinion.

Musically, the live material is exceptionally well-performed and the band sounds energetic and tight throughout. I have no idea how much is touched up or re-recorded in the studio, but this is a very professional sounding recording.  The band is exceptionally well-oiled on the Pyromania and Hysteria material which one has to assume they have played thousands of times by now.  "Rocket", "Animal", "Hysteria", and "Armageddon It" are played almost note-for-note as you remember them, but, I was really surprised that the band did virtually nothing different to the massively popular "Pour Some Sugar On Me" which is usually tinkered with to incorporate crowd response.  As previously mentioned, "Love Bites" struggles a bit vocally but still sounds pretty close musically.  "Foolin'" and "Rock Of Ages" work particularly well here, while "Photograph" sounded just a bit off to me for some reason, but not terrible.  It is obvious, however, that Joe's voice is starting to lose some punch by this time in the show, especially on the higher notes in the chorus. 

The set-list is solid, but several fan faves (including mine) are  missing, most notably "Women" and "Gods Of War" from Hysteria, "Now" and "Long Long Way To Go" (both from X), "Slang", "Have You Ever Needed Someone" from Adrenalize, "Paper Sun" and "Promises" from Euphoria, and "Billy's Got A Gun" from Pyromania, which they haven't played live in years...maybe even decades. The inclusion of a couple of tracks from Sparkle Lounge kept the set current, as did the inclusion of the cover of "Rock On".

Great Live CD set? I don't think I'd use the term "great". Very good....that's more like it. It's just unfortunate it took so many years for a proper live album to be released by this legendary band because anyone who says that this is the "best I have ever heard Leppard sound live" has either been to some bad shows or is lying to themselves. Personally, I wish they would have recorded the entire Hysteria or Adrenalize tours as the sets were every bit as solid, Joe had a stronger, fuller range at the time, and the backing vocals (which many claim were canned) were MUCH stronger. about those new songs?  Well, I think they are some of the best material Leppard has recorded in years.  "Undefeated" is a big rock anthem which starts off with a thundering drum beat and some group shouts before kicking in with the guitars and lyrics in a manner that is not all that far removed from "Pour Some Sugar On Me".  "Kings Of The World" is a piano-based ballad that has a definite Queen feel to it, almost to the point of sounding like a Queen cover (even throwing in Queen lyrical referencess such as "princes of the universe").  Not my favorite of the new material, but definitely not terrible.  Hopefully it grows on me.  Disc closer, "It's All About Believin'" finds the boys rocking one more time, but the guitar tone is cleaner, with less distortion, and the band's pop sensibilities are on display here.  This song has Hysteria qualities to it and would likely have been another hit had it been released from that disc in that era.  As I mentioned earlier, it is apparent Joe's voice doesn't have all the range it did at one time, but when they are in the studio, the band caters to his limitations and the songs don't suffer because of this.  As a result, I would suspect that these three songs would all work in the live setting.

Also included is a DVD which features a "behind the scenes" feature from the Sparkle Lounge Tour of 2008, four live songs (all of which are also on the CD's), and two studio videos for "Nine Lives" and "C'Mon C'Mon".
All of this is packaged with a nice booklet of pictures, thank yous, and writing credits in an actual double jewel case!  When was the last time you held one of those in your hands?!  That case gave this release even more of a retro feel for me.

Rating:  It's generally tough for me to rate live albums, as I am not a massive fan, but this entire set merits being rocked at a 6.5.  If the backing vocals had been better on so many of these songs, you could have cranked this to an easy 7.5 or so...but those backing vox ruin a couple of classics for me.

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NIGHT RANGER "Somewhere In California"

(American Release)

(Japanese Release)

(c) 2011 Frontiers Records

  1. Growin' Up In California
  2. Lay It On Me
  3. Bye Bye Baby (Not Tonight)
  4. Follow Your Heart
  5. Time Of Our Lives
  6. No Time To Lose Ya
  7. Live For Today
  8. It's Not Over
  9. End Of The Day
  10. Rock N Roll Tonite
  11. Say It With Love
  12. L.A. No Name (Japanese Bonus Track)

  1. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (AC/DC cover from iTunes)
  2. Coming Of Age (Damn Yankees cover from Amazon)

    Jack Blades--Bass, Lead & Backing Vocals
    Kelly Keagy--Drums, Percussion, Lead & Backing Vocals
    Brad Gillis--Lead & Rhythm guitars, Backing Vocals
    Joel Hoekstra--Lead & Rhythm guitars, Backing Vocals
    Eric Levy--Keyboards, Piano, Backing Vocals

    Now, THIS is Night Ranger!  Forget those last couple of releases that found the band wandering around musical styles, sounding lost both musically and lyrically most of the time.  Heck, I was even starting to question whether Blades had lost some of his vocal skill as he just didn't sound right most of the the time on Neverland, Hole In The Sun or Seven.  Their live album, Rockin' In Shiyuba gave me hope, however, as the band sounded like they were having fun and were completely at home with their past hits, which, let's be honest, were all about fun lyrics, catchy hooks, Gillis' under-appreciated guitar prowess, and Blades and Keagy trading off on lead vocals.  1980's and early 1990's Night Ranger was FUN...late 90's and 2000's Night Ranger was BORING, tedious, and, well, not Night Ranger any longer.

    Somewhere In California is FUN Night Ranger again!  This is the album that should have followed 1988's Man In Motion album or even 1987's The Big Life.  Opening track, "Growin' Up In California" is a catchy song to get things rolling, but it is nowhere near the best this album has to offer.  "Lay It On Me" finds Night Ranger, and especially Gillis, ripping through an uptempo rocker like they haven't done in years!  This is full-speed ahead hard rock with a scorching solo in the middle that brings to mind Blades "other band" Damn Yankees with its power and crunch.  The same can be said for "Follow Your Heart" which again has a Damn Yankees feel to it and showcases the best Gillis guitar antics since Dawn Patrol, in my opinion.  In fact, the last 1:30 of this song is practically nothing but a massive Gillis solo and it is fantastic to hear!

    Of course, no Night Ranger album would be complete without a couple of big time ballads, and the band does not disappoint in this area, either.  While there is only one true ballad here, it is a big time effort.  "Time Of Our Lives" starts off as a piano-based ballad before the big, layered power chorus kicks in and the rest of the band crashes in on what would have been a major power ballad on rock radio in 1989.  This is a killer ballad and may be the follow-up to "Sister Christian" that I think the band was always looking for. 

    From here through the rest of the album, it is nothing but adrenaline-charged rock that finds Night Ranger catching a full second-wind on their sound, as this is pure 1980's hard rock with some modern production to really bring out the sound.  "No Time To Lose You" sounds like it was ripped straight off an MTV playlist from about 1987, and "Live For Today", while a bit more mid-tempo, is a nicely polished track that really showcases Blades' vocals.  "Rock N Roll Tonite" has a similar feel to many of the band's biggest hits, particularly in the not-quite-sung-but-not-really-spoken vocal delivery.  You will know what I mean instantly upon hearing this song.  Keagy takes vocal duties over on "End Of The Day" which is a melodic rock track again worthy of anything the band has done in their storied past.   If you snag the Japanese import or find the bonus song for download somewhere, it is an all acoustic number that is just Gillis and his guitar and shows the exceptional talent that the former Ozzy guitarist possesses.  

    So far, this is a summer of incredible comebacks, especially where Frontiers Records is concerned.  For me, it is very difficult to rank Night Ranger with anything other than a 10, as I feel this disc is every bit as good, if not slightly better, than Journey's comeback.  This is simply a must have for not only Night Ranger fans, but for fans of the 1980's hard rock scene.  An incredible return that I do not forsee worming its way out of rotation anytime soon for me!

    UPDATED 7/11/2011:

    As if the Japanese bonus track was not enough, Night Ranger, in a slick marketing move, has made two more bonus tracks available via download only.  If you go to iTunes, you can download the band's cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)", while Amazon has a new version of Damn Yankees' "Coming Of Age" featuring none other than Uncle Ted Nugent! 

    The AC/DC cover is solid, if not overwhelming, as it stays pretty true to the original version.  It is interesting to hear Night Ranger use vocals that are as gritty as these, however, and it is performed very well musically.  Worth paying for the download?  As a Night Ranger completist, I say yes.  I think AC/DC fans might also agree.  For those simply wanting the basic album, however, I don't think it's worth buying independently, as it is a song that we have heard many other bands attempt. 

    The new version of "Coming Of Age" is smoking, extended (nearly 8 minutes long), and particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, the solo in the middle has been COMPLETELY reworked and is now something akin to the stuff he did in his "Stranglehold" style, and it makes for a very interesting update.  The second reason for the interest here is, obviously, one has to wonder if a new Damn Yankees record could be being hinted at here.  If you can only afford one additional download, or if you only want the best one, this is definitely the one to get!  Absolutely fantastic to hear this dusted off and reworked.

    Rating:  A nearly flawless 10!

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