Thursday, July 28, 2011

CRAZY LIXX "New Religion"

(c) 2010 Frontiers Records

  1. Rock And A Hard Place
  2. My Medicine
  3. 21 Til I Die
  4. Blame It On Love
  5. Road To Babylon
  6. Children Of The Cross
  7. The Witching Hour
  8. Lock Up Your Daughter
  9. She's Mine
  10. What Of Our Love
  11. Desert Bloom
  12. Voodoo Woman
Danny Rexon--Vocals
Andy Dawson--Guitars
Luke Rivano--Bass
Joey Cierra--Drums

Is there no end to the talent pool in what I like to call the Swedish Strip scene?  While many people, myself included, would consider Crashdiet to be at the top of the heap, there are any number of excellent bands that are vying for the number two spot...if not trying to dethrone Crashdiet as the top dog.  Hardcore Superstar is certainly one of the bands you have likely heard of, and Reckless Love is another.  However, Crazy Lixx may be the best band you have not heard of (unless, of course, you are into this scene) and they may be the band with the best chance of unseating Crashdiet.

This is actually the band's second full length album, to go along with an EP, but it is easily their best output so far and it just screams 1980's, albeit with a bit more modern production.  In fact, the production on this album is the one thing I hear people complain about the most, claiming that it is simply too slick, too polished, to really fit into the scene.  I disagree completely, pointing to "21 Til I Die" as a perfect example of the band at their rocking best, with "Lock Up Your Daughter" and "Road To Babylon" also being strong rockers.  "My Medicine (R.O.C.K.)" reminds me of a Firehouse boogie number at first before settling into a Def Leppard-esque song, a la "Let's Get Rocked".  "Voodoo Woman" also falls into this category, but not all songs are Leppard worship, however.  "She's Mine" and "Blame It On Love" will draw as much comparison to a harder-edged Nelson as to Leppard, as the songs perfectly blend the pop sensibilities of the Nelson Twins with the hard rock attitude and big, layered choruses both bands employ. 

People who may have already been fans of the band are likely to be curious about how the band's sound may have changed with Dawson taking over on guitars for Vic Zino who jumped ship to join Hardcore Superstar.  To me, Dawson is actually a step up on this type of sound.  Zino fits the sleazier sound of Superstar, at least to my ear, and Dawson is perfectly suited for this poppier, hair metal sound.  His leads are crisp, his solos, while not mind blowing, are sharp and melodic, and his rhythm playing is spot on, so the personnelle change should not deter anyone from picking this disc up.

Of course, since this release is on Frontiers Records, the production (provided by Chris Laney) is top notch, as is the packaging.  Of course, since it is on Frontiers Records, it is a bit tougher to come by at non-import prices, but sharp-eyed buyers may manage to snag this off eBay or while it is on sale through some on-line vendor for $15 or so.  Personally, I wouldn't hesitate to pay that kind of money for this effort, as New Religion is truly top notch and a definite step up, albeit a small one, over Loud Minority.  

Rating:  No question this is top-notch stuff that should be cranked to 8.5!

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DIRTY WHITE TRASH "Life In The Redlight"

(c) 2011 DWT Music

  1. Breakin' Down The Walls
  2. Get Dirty
  3. Sweet Addiction
  4. Hollywood Honey
  5. Queen Of Sleaze
  6. Freaks And Weirdos

This is what I love about the music scene now...and also what I hate about it.  Because of current technology, ANYBODY can put out an album on their own, no labels required.  The internet gives you an instant sales opportunity through iTunes and Amazon, and your marketing department is Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.  Now, the reason I say I hate this is because there are some REALLY CRAPPY bands that have no business thinking they are recording stars putting out inferior, sub-garage quality music.  On the flip side, you have a band like Dirty White Trash that has definite talent, a handful of very well written, very catchy songs, and the drive to do things their own way, even if a big label isn't going to give them a hand.  So, I guess I will take the good with the bad because when you hear something as good as Dirty White Trash, you can get past the garbage that isn't filtered out by a label.

Dirty White Trash, as the name would imply, is pure, unadulterated sleaze, plain and simple.  These four Brits know the sound they are after and they get right to it from the get go with "Breakin' Down The Walls".  Big gang-style choruses, hard-hitting drums, and some great, high-speed rhythm guitar push this song along before Lyxx lays into a frenetic solo that should have most listeners snapping their necks.   "Get Dirty" slows the tempo just a tad bit but does so with a bump-and-grind rhythm that sticks in your head in a "I swear I have heard this before!" type of way.  While this appears to be the band's stab at something at least remotely radio-ready, this may still be my favorite track on the disc...or that distinction may belong to "Hollywood Honey", which seems to be the band's ode to a smoking hot hooker or groupie they may have come across. 

While those listed above are my favorites, no songs on this album are weak.  The lickity split quick "Sweet Addiction" is full of raw power and grit, clocking in at just over 2:30.  This song just rips from note one, with my only complaint being that the solo is just not long enough for me to fully appreciate.  "Queen Of Sleaze" could have been written by a hungry young GnR back in the day, but there are absolutely no vocal similarities between Sin and Axl, as Sin tends to have a bit more snarl to his voice and doesn't have nearly the high-end screech that Axl could pull out at any given time.  EP closer "Freaks And Weirdos" has a Crue-ish feel to it, harkening back to the "Live Wire" era, and pretty much sums up how the band feels about themselves, which is not a bad thing, as they seem to wear this distinction with pride.  This is an excellent track to close with and leaves listeners screaming for more.  

I can only come up with three complaints.  First is the length of the EP (just a hair over 20 minutes total), but I knew that going in (doesn't mean I can't want more music!).  Secondly, the production is just a tiny bit thin at times, lacking some of that big production bottom end to the drums that I think would really bolster the overall sound.  These complaints are minor, especially since I knew going in that I was taking a chance on an indy EP, so my expectations weren't really all that high.  To say that Dirty White Trash meets or exceeds what I was hoping for is not giving this English quartet enough credit.  My third complaint is one that is going to come up any time a band releases download-only material:  GIVE ME A CD!!!  Call me old-fashioned if you want, but I want something tangible to hold in my hands.  Perhaps a CD is in the making, but for now, the only way this material is available (that I am aware of) is through Amazon and also at iTunes. 

This is an excellent little sleaze teaser that has me anxiously awaiting a full-length project in the very near future...hopefull also in CD format!

Rating:  Crank this sleazy project to 8!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

GLITTER BOYS "From Gutter To Glitter (Tour Edition)"

(c) 2010 Retrospect
  1. Rock N Roll Time Machine
  2. Backstage Pass
  3. She's Red Hot
  4. Hold Me Tight
  5. Wasted Again
  6. Do You Believe In Rock N' Roll
  7. Take Me Out West
  8. Heidi
  9. Bop Bop Baby
  10. Lost Highway
  11. Another Lonely Night
Johnny Sparkles--Lead Vocals
Jody Row--Drums
Chase "Babyface" West--Lead Guitars
William Dr. Haygood--Rythm Guitar
Jon Jon The Phenominon--Bass

First off, I SWEAR I didn't steal their album title for this blog!  Heck, I had never even heard of the Glitter Boys until I ran across this CD on eBay and thought I'd take a chance on it.

After doing some research, it seems this band from Mississippi got their record deal after they played Rocklahoma in 2009 and 2010 and got huge crowd responses.  They claim their influences are Skid Row, Motley Crue, Warrant, Jackyl, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, know, the standard "we loved the 80's" list of influences.  You can hear bits of those influences, especially on songs like "Hold Me Tonight" which has a very definite old school Crue feel to the guitars, or on "Wasted Again" which goes so far as to steal AC/DC's "Oy, Oy, Oy!" chant...but their sound is a definite blend of the late 1970's and the most glam sounds of the Sunset Strip, such as early Poison.

There are no terrible songs on this disc, nor are there any real "must hears", but a few songs do stand out more than others.  "Bop, Bop Baby" is almost a Poison rip-off, but not of a specific song; the drums and guitars and delivery just reek of Bret, CC, and the boys.  "She's Red Hot" has a simplistic T. Rex/The Sweet sound to the music, but the vocals, especially the gang-shouted parts, are straight out of the 80's.  "Rock N Roll Time Machine" has a similar blending of styles, but leans more heavily towards the 80's musically and 70's lyrically.  Make sense?  Nah, probably not...better just buy the disc!  One thing of note is that Chase is a master shredder when he is allowed to fully cut loose.  The material I have read says that he is only 23 or 24 now, but he can definitely rip some leads and is worth listening to. 

On the flip side, there are a couple of songs I could do without.  "Another Lonely Night" is the only ballad on the disc and would have really benefitted from a big power chord coming crashing in about halfway through, but the band maintains the song as an acoustic offering and it just doesn't do anything for me.  Since it's the last track, I just skip it.  "Take Me Out West" is just kind of there, not really doing anything but throwing in a couple of 80's glam cliches. 

The band does have a sense of humor in their lyrics, which is appreciated, as I would think it is hard to play pure throwback music like this and take yourself too seriously.  How can you not chuckle...or maybe cringe...when you hear lyrics like "hold me tight while we do it tonight"?  Yet this is really as raunchy as these guys get, not fully crossing the line into audio porn like a band such as Steel Panther, which is appreciated. 

One of my main complaints would be that the drums sound programmed at times, especially the snare.  I am not sure if a drum machine was used and Jody Row came on board after the fact, or if the mix is just THAT bad at times.  It's not bad to the point of making me want to turn the disc off, but it is a distraction at times.  Similarly, Sparkle's voice sounds a bit flat at times, and I do not mean in a musical sense.  Sometimes it sounds like his vocals were recorded in analog and the rest was recorded in stereo.  It's kind of hard to explain, and maybe this was done on purpose to give even more of a throw back feel to the vocals.  I did read on the Retrospect Records page that this "Tour Edition" is not the final version of the album and was put together quickly to give the band some product to sell on tour, so perhaps these minor issues will be corrected on later versions of the record. 

With a name like Glitter Boys, how could the band play anything but late 1970's/early 1980's glam?  That is exactly what I thought when I snagged the disc, and it is exactly what I got when I popped it in the CD player.  Is it something that is going to blow you away when you hear it?  No, not likely, but it is a good time, even if it is a bit dated sounding and not overly well produced at times.  If you can find this CD at a reasonable price, I would go ahead and pick it up.  I highly doubt you will be disappointed and will likely have a pretty good time listening to these songs.

Rating:  Rock this at 6.5...hang up some Farrah posters, tease the hair up big, and maybe throw in a few episodes of That 70's Show and have a theme party!

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Monday, July 25, 2011

GIANT "Promise Land"

(c) 2010 Frontiers Records

  1. Believer
  2. Promise Land
  3. Never Surrender
  4. Our Love
  5. Prisoner Of Love
  6. Two Worlds
  7. Plenty Of Love
  8. Through My Eyes
  9. I'll Wait For You
  10. Dying To See You
  11. Double Trouble
  12. Complicated Man
  13. Save Me
David Huff--Drums, Backing Vocals
Mike Brignardello--Basss, Backing Vocals
Terry Brock--Lead Vocals
John Roth--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Dann Huff--Lead Guitar on 1 and 13

I have held off reviewing this disc because Giant is one of my favorite bands of all time and Last Of The Runaways is a Top 30 album for me, no question.  Huge vocals, excellent guitar work, both rhythm and lead, strong rhythm section, and fabulous songwriting are cornerstones of this incredible, yet mysteriously underappreciated melodic hard rock band.  If you picked up a Giant album in the past, you knew exactly what you were likely to get.

But things have changed....

For starters, lead vocalist/lead guitarist/main songwriter/founding member Dann Huff is gone.  That is an incredibly HUGE void from this band, as Dann was the heart and soul of Giant.  Also gone is keyboard player Alan Pasqua who, while often overlooked, was a big part of the Giant sound as well.  Recruited to attempt to fill the voids were new vocalist, Terry Brock, formerly of Strangeways and Seventh Key, and guitar player John Roth, formerly of Winger and also a member of Survivor vocalist Jimi Jamison's solo band. 

The results...?  Mixed, to say the least.     

Don't get me wrong, Brock is a very good, powerful vocalist, but his voice lacks the range and the emotion that Dann Huff brought to the group.  Likewise, Roth is a more than competent guitar player, but he sounds like he is trying to play Giant songs rather than actually being a member of Giant.  Again, it is not a lack of talent that is the problem...he just doesn't have the style or the sound that Huff has.  Just compare Roth's guitar playing and the two tracks that Dann actually performed on here, and it is obvious there is a difference.  That difference is a large part of the Giant sound.   

Additionally, I think it is pretty obvious the difference in songwriting style.  Dann Huff did write five songs and co-wrote two more, which is roughly half the album.  Is it coincidence that even without reading the songwriting credits I found "Our Love", "Save Me", "Double Trouble", "Two Worlds" and "Promise Land" (all written by Huff) to be my favorite tracks?  I really don't think so...  If you close your eyes and listen to the ballad "Our Love" and imagine Dann's vocals on it, you can just hear how it would have fit with the rest of the band's back catalog.  Meanwhile, "Double Trouble" is a rocker that would have fit very well on the Time To Burn album, which is the hardest rocking disc of the Huff & Huff era.  After going back and looking at the writing credits, I was only off on one, as I truly thought that Dann's hand was in the writing on "Believer", but instead it was his guitar playing that was contributed here.  That leaves just five songs that Dann had nothing to do with (he also wrote "Through My Eyes" and "Plenty of Love").

So what about those five songs?  Are they Giant songs?  To my ears, they are Giant songs in name only.  "Complicated Man", while a nifty rocker, sounds like it is a Van Halen rip-off (can't miss the "Hot For Teacher" riff...).  "Prisoner Of Love" is another song that is not bad, but it might seem like you have heard this before.  I think that's because the chorus sounds like it is something the band Europe might have used at one time, and also because musically it is practically the same as Time To Burn's "Lay It On The Line", at least as far as the guitar goes.  So, I guess that technically does make it a Giant song, huh?  The best of the non-Dann songs is the big-time ballad "Dying To See You" which has a nice, bluesy guitar, some subtle keys in the background, and feels akin to a classic Journey song more than a Giant song, but it is good nonetheless.

So, what is the verdict on Giant with a different lead singer and different guitar player?  This is difficult.  If this had been recoreded under a completely different name, I would say that this is an above average hard rock album with powerful, if not unique, vocals, competent lead guitars, and solid rhythm playing with just the right amount of keys to keep the song textures melodic and interesting yet not overpowering enough to make the album start to drift off into AOR territory.  However, as a Giant album, it is lacking two things...Dann's voice and Dann's guitar...and those are two very GIANT things to be missing.

Rating:  Rock this at 5.5 knowing that if Dann Huff had been a full-blown participant it would have likely been 2 or 3 notches higher...

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OUTLAW BLOOD "Outlaw Blood"

(c)1991 Atco

  1. Tower Of Love
  2. Body & Soul
  3. Last Act
  4. Sink My Teeth
  5. Every Day I Die
  6. Soul Revival
  7. I'm N Shock
  8. Red Hot 'N' Blue
  9. Slave To Love
  10. Fall Thru the Cracks
  11. Hollywood Babylon
Marc McCoy--Vocals
Rick Harchol--Lead Guitar
Marti Frederiksen--Guitar and Vocals
Larry Aberman--Drums
Nick "The Hammer" Parise--Bass

Outlaw Blood...major label band...big time producer (Jeff Paris) on MTV (for "Body & Soul")...  Ever hear of them?  No?  That's okay...very few have, which is a shame because this is a very good band that released just this one, underappreciated disc and then was swallowed up by the crater that the grunge meteor created when it hit the music scene. 

Outlaw Blood plays a great brand of melodic hard rock that is infused with hints of southern rock and a touch of Memphis soul.  Sure, some of the lyrics are a bit juvenile at times and rather obvious in their intent (anyone who doesn't get the meaning behind "Tower Of Love" probably doesn't speak English as a first language...), but such were the times.  And, let's face it...there were not a ton of overly "deep thinkers" in the Hollywood scene in the 1980's and early 90's.  But don't let this deter you from checking into Outlaw Blood, as they truly are a very good band, sounding more musically related to bands like Tora Tora, Tangier, or Baton Rouge when they are in bluesy-shuffle mode than they ever sound like the majority of the Sunset Strip glamsters.

The music obviously mattered to these guys as the performances are top notch.  McCoy's vocals and Harschol's leads, in particular, stand out on this effort.  "Slave To Love", "Body & Soul", and the previously mentioned "Tower Of Love" are all top-shelf rockers, as is "Sink My Teeth".   "Last Act" is a great southern hard rock ballad complete with a slide guitar and a big power groove that I don't understand how MTV and radio overlooked.   The same could be said of "Every Day I Die", which is another great ballad that has more soul and feel to it than most of the lighter-in-the-air ballads that became radio staples for other bands.

The album has numerous gems scattered throughout, with "Hollywood Babylon" being a personal favorite.  This is a great song that alludes to the entrapments of the Sunset Strip scene at the time, and almost comes off as a warning to the youth who may be dreaming of making it big in Hollywood.  "She Sunset Stripped me, Her high heels kicked me, 'Baby you ain't going nowhere'" the song warns in an unusually honest song.  Additionally, "Fall Thru The Cracks" is a thumping bass line, a catchy chorus, and ripping solo all wrapped up in one mid-tempo rocker that gets stuck in my head whenever I hear it. 

There are a couple of less-than-top-of-the-heap songs here, with "I'm In Shock" coming off as rather formulatic (that is a word, right?), and "Red, Hot, and Blue" sounds like a late addition to the album, not really fitting the same groove as the rest of the songs here.  Neither is terrible, but I also don't envision anyone listing either of these as their favorites on this otherwise very solid album.

Lead singer Marc McCoy became an ordained minister in the mid-90's and then died of cancer in 2000.  Rick Harchol also appears to have followed a similar path of faith, as he and McCoy collaborated on several Christian songs together in the mid-90's. (You can check out some of Rick's stuff here.) I don't know what happened with the rest of the band, but it would have been great if this band could have had the opportunity to enjoy some of the resurgent popularity that many bands of the 80's and 90's received, if that was something they would have been interested in.  As it stands, this self-titled disc is all that remains of an excellent band, and I highly recommend tracking it down.

Rating:  Crank this to 7.5!

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Friday, July 22, 2011

SERPENTINE "Living And Dying In High Definition"

(c) 2011 Victor Entertainment

  1. Deep Down (There's A Price For Love)
  2. Philadelphia
  3. Dreamer
  4. Love Is Blue
  5. Where Do We Go From Here?
  6. Cry
  7. Best Days Of Our Lives
  8. Heartbreak Town
  9. Nuremberg
  10. Forgotten Heroes
Tony Mills--Vocals
Gareth David Noon--Keyboards, Vocals
Christopher Gould--Guitars
Gareth Vanstone--Bass, Vocals
Roy Millward--Drums

Occasionally I will put in a new CD without even really looking at who the band is, let alone who is in it; I just grab one or two new discs off the review stack, pop them in, and let them go.  Such was the case with Serpentine, a band that I had never even heard of.  I put the disc in, turned it on, and SWORE I had read the packaging incorrectly in my quick glance.  This HAD TO BE a new Shy CD that was titled Serpentine, because that is exactly what popped into my head when I heard the music, and especially the vocals kick in.  Of course, the reason for my initial reaction is because Tony Mills, the former singer for Shy (and also for Siam), and the current vocalist for TNT, is also the lead singer for Serpentine, and his voice is one that is unmistakable.  However, the similarities don't stop there.  This CD could very easily be mistaken for an updated version of Shy with modern production qualities, as the style of the music is uncannily similar: keyboard-fronted, yet still guitar-driven melodic hard rock with Mills' soaring tenor vocals and a solid rhythm section.

While I generally shy away (pun intended!) from albums that are this heavily keyboard laden, I have to admit to really liking this disc!  Yes, there are keyboards literally everywhere on this album, but they are mixed properly, not overpowering the rest of the band, which is key as the driving guitars are part of what keep this band and album from drifinting into the keyboard-heavy AOR territory that drives me bats.  This is not proggy or fluffy AOR...this is hard rock through and through....and it is performed exceptionally well.

The album starts off with, what else, a keyboard intro for the uptempo, melodic "Deep Down (There's A Price For Love)", and I will admit I was concerned, but once the drums and guitar kick in, and Mills cuts loose with his vocals, that Shy comparison just blasted me in the face.  "Philadelphia", one of the hardest rockers on the disc, continues in uptempo fashion with a solid drum-and-guitar intro and layers of vocals leading up to one of the catchiest choruses on the disc.  There is a Journey-esque quality to this song's melody that will leave a lot of listeners wondering if they haven't heard this classic feeling song before.  "Dreamer" has a galloping rhythm that carries it forward, again somewhat reminiscent of the more rocking moments of classic-era Journey.  Three tracks in and all three are solid rockers, much to my liking.

"Love Is Blue" is the first ballad on the album and it is a strong one with still more Journey mixed with Shy comparisons being evident here, with some very powerful lyrics similar in style to those you might find written by Shawn Pelata of Line Of Fire.  Excellent stuff here!

"Where Do We Go From Here" is a mid-tempo, somewhat proggy song that finds the band using some vocal phrasing that reminds me a bit of classic Queensrhyche, but not nearly as heavy and probably more keyboard influenced than the rest of the album.  There is a nice guitar hook in there, and an above average solo, but this song just gets too...lush is a good word...for me to really enjoy it.  It's not necessarily a skipper, but it really fades into the background for me.
"Cry" is a rocker that has Shy written all over it, with Mills really powering through the vocals on this one.  The keyboards are pushed back a bit and the guitars are allowed to come across as more aggressive and out front than on some of the other songs.  Excellent song that is one of the highlights of the disc for me.  "Best Days Of Our Lives" also sounds like it could have come out of the Shy catalog, as this mid-tempo rocker again showcases Mills' strong voice and a more melodic sounding guitar.  The same can be said of "Heartbreak Town" which, at first, deceives the listener into thinking this is going to be a very slow ballad before upping the tempo into a surprisingly driving rocker. 

"Nuremberg" is a song that I am not really sure what to make of.  It is the darkest sounding song on the album and the chorus sounds a bit clunky to my ears, possibly because it sounds like the middle syllable of the word Nuremberg sounds like it is cut out to make it fit.  It's just odd to my ears.  Additionally, in such a rocking song, it is frustrating to hear a keyboard solo where a ripping guitar solo would have sounded so much more powerful.  Much like "Where Do We Go From Here", it is not a skipper per se, but it is not my favorite by any means.

The album closes "Forgotten Heroes", yet another hard rocker with a deceptively mellow, piano-based intro that once again has Shy fans perking their ears up in appreciation.  Gould rips through a particularly tasty solo near the end of the record that has emotion just dripping out of it, and I can't think of a better way to end a suprisingly great record.

This unexpected album may have wormed its way into my Top 10 releases of the year so far, and to say I am shocked would be an understatement.  Somehow I missed the boat on this band because after doing some additional research, I found out that this is actually the band's second album (Touch Of Heaven came out just a bit over a year ago).  Sadly, I have also read that this will be Mills' last album with the band, which is too bad because I honestly prefer this to the music that he has been making with TNT which has, thus far, been somewhat disappointing for me.  For now I will definitely be enjoying this CD...and hunting down their Serpentine is a truly great melodic hard rock band with excellent songwriting and outstanding musicianship.  Hats off to these guys for Living And Dying In High Definition is one of the absolute gems of the summer...I am greatly impressed!

Rating:  Crank this shocker to 8.5, with just a couple of minor misses holding it back...

TESLA "Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions"

(c)2011 Scarlet Records

  1. Into The Now
  2. Hang Tough
  3. 2nd Street (new track)
  4. Edison's Medicine
  5. What You Give
  6. Better Off Without You (new track)
  7. Shine Away
  8. I Love You (Climax Blues Band cover)
  9. Changes
  10. A Lot To Lose
  11. Caught In A Dream
  12. Song And Emotion
Jeff Keith--Vocals
Frank Hannon--Guitar
Dave Rude--Guitar
Tommy Skeoch--Guitar
Brain Wheat--Bass
Troy Luccketta--Drums

Perhaps it is fitting that Tesla chose to use their second unplugged album as a final chapter and reboot all at the same time.  Ater all, it was Tesla that essentially sparked the unplugged craze with their Five Man Acoustical Jam album, so what better way to say goodbye to one of the band's original members, as the second half of the album is the swan song for guitarist Tommy Skeoch.  Likewise, this album gives fans a chance to hear new guitar slinger Dave Rude in the acoustic setting that the band is at least semi-famous for.

To me, what makes this album a great listen is the fact that the band didn't simply rehash all of their biggest songs in an acoustic fashion.  There is no "Modern Day Cowboy", no "Love Song", "Gettin' Better" or even "Signs".  Instead, what we are treated to are versions of some of the lesser known songs in the band's catalog, including recently recorded songs like "Into The Now", which worked surprisingly well as an acoustic track.  "Shine Away" and "A Lot To Lose" are excellent songs for this type of recording and both really show the strength of Keith's unique voice which does not sound at all road-weary or strained, unlike a lot of the 80's singers who are still recording.  Of course the ballads like "Song & Emotion" work well in the acoustic format, but the same can be said of songs like "Edison's Medicine" and "Hang Tough", both of which are some of the harder rocking songs in Tesla's catalog.

There are two new Tesla songs here, as well as a new cover tune.  All three are strong songs, with the cover of the Climax Blues Band's "I Love You" fitting nicely into the set.  Of the two new originals, I would have to say that I think "2nd Street" is the strongest of the two, although I like both.  I would like to hear "plugged in" versions of both of these songs, by the way, so Tesla members...take that as a hint. 

The high point for me, outside of the amazingly well-executed "Edison's Medicine" is the acoustic rendering of one of Tesla's most powerful songs ever: "Changes".  I have loved that song since the first time I heard it on Mechanical Resonance, and that love has not changed or been altered by this new version.  Keith takes his voice down just a slight bit in register, but it does not take away from this great song, and it is a great inclusion on what I feel is a very good set. 

I don't know that Tesla will win any new fans with this Twisted Wires..., nor do I know that they indended to.  I do think, however, that long-standing fans of the band will find a lot to love on this recording and will enjoy hearing fresh takes on some of their favorite tracks as well as a handful of the band's more obscure songs.  The production is crisp and clean, which I will admit I was a bit concerned about with the shift to the Italian Scarlet Records label which is more known for their heavier metal acts like Primevil, Eldritch, and Necrodeath.  No need to be concerned it turns out, as Tesla sounds exactly as they should here...they sound like Tesla!

Rating:  Crank this at 8 and enjoy a bit of the past, present, and what the future has to offer!

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

PETRA "On Fire!"

(c)1988 Star Song Records

  1. All Fired Up
  2. Hit You Where You Live
  3. Mine Field
  4. First Love
  5. Defector
  6. Consel Of The Holy
  7. Sombody's Gonna Praise His Name
  8. Open Book
  9. Stand In The Gap
  10. Homeless Few
John Schlitt--Lead Vocals
Bob Hartman--Lead Guitar
John Lawry--Keyboards
Ronny Cates--Bass
Louie Weaver--Drums

For those who may be unaware, Petra is, hands down, the biggest Christian rock act of all time, selling well over ten million albums, rivalling the total sold by Stryper.  By the early 1980's Petra had modified their sound to become more of a straight-forward rock band along the lines of Foreigner or Boston.  But with this, the band's third album with John Schlitt as lead vocalist (and the third album produced by the Elefante brothers), Petra released an album that was full-on hard rock, even bordering on metal on a couple of tracks and their popularity was never higher as the band earned their first Dove Award (think Christian Grammy) and were nominated for their fifth Grammy.

The first three tracks on this album leave no doubt that while the band was largely the same (with the exception of new bass player Ronny Cates), this Petra had an all new attitude and was out to "rock the hell" out of their listeners!  "Fired Up", "Hit You Where You Live", and especially the metallic "Mine Field" are all smoking rockers that really show the strength and power of Schlitt's vocals, the soloing skill of Hartman on guitar, and the thunderous sound that the Elefantes coaxed out of Weaver on drums.  As has always been the case with Petra, there is a fairly liberal dose of keyboards in the mix, but they are not a detraction from the sound on this album and actually provide a balancing point for the fans who may be more enamored by the AOR leanings of some of Petra's older material.  "Mine Field" actually reached number one on the Christian rock charts, as did the album's first ballad, "First Love". 

Personally, I have never been a fan of Petra's ballads, and this album is no different.  Yes, the songs are put together well and performed with great skill, but they are simply too keyboard-driven for me, never reaching the level of "power ballad" status, and, as such, falling pretty flat on my ears.  This is not only true of "First Love" but also "Somebody's Gonna Praise His Name" and "Homeless Few", which are, ironically, among the most popular ballads the band has ever released.

When the band is rocking on this disc, however, they do no wrong for me.  "Defector" is another excellent hard-rocker, and "Counsel Of The Holy", a song about the Bible, is a great, great mid-tempo hard rock song which again pushes the boundaries of metal and showcases some of the strongest vocals Schlitt had delivered up to this point (along with "Mine Field").  "Stand In The Gap", while not as hard-hitting as some other tracks, is still a very good rocker which is not out of place on the record.

Unlike Stryper, who has always had strong crossover appeal to non-Christian audiences, Petra has never really caught on with the secular music buying public, and that is a shame.  In my opinion, the period from 1986 (Back To The Streets) to 1991 (Unseen Power) features some of the strongest material from any of the Christian bands and rivals the material put out by Petra's secular counterparts.  On Fire! may be the best of the bunch, especially if you are looking for the hardest, dare I say "heaviest" material the band had ever released (at least until the Jeckyll And Hyde album in 2003), and it is an album I feel all hard rock fans, Christian or not, would be wise to check out.

Rating:  Despite my lack of love for the ballads, this album is still crank-worthy...juice it to 7.5!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

HOLY SOLDIER "Holy Soldier"

(c) 1990 Word Records

  1. Stranger
  2. See No Evil
  3. The Pain Inside Of Me
  4. Cry Out For Love
  5. Tear Down The Walls
  6. When The Reign Comes Down
  7. Lies
  8. Eyes Of Innocence
  9. Love Me
  10. We Are Young, We Are Strong
Steven Patrick--Lead Vocals
Jamie Cramer--Guitars
Michael Cutting--Guitars
Andy Robbins--Bass
Terry "The Animal" Russell--Drums

Whether you agree with the tag or not, Stryper is easily the most popular Christian hair metal band of all time.  There is no arguing that fact statistically.  That being said, I would argue that Holy Soldier was every bit as good, if not better, than Stryper musically, at least on this, their debut album, and on the follow-up.  If you have not heard either, get both...they are that good.

Holy Soldier was an immensely popular act on the Sunset Strip, frequently selling out venues and reportedly outdrawing many of their secular counterparts on a regular basis.  The combined excellent musicianship with strong songwriting, a very popular live show, and, let's face it, they had the look as well.  If any band on the Strip had a better combination, I am not sure who that band would be.  What Holy Soldier reportedly refused to do, however, was to sell out their Christian beliefs and to water down their message as was supposedly requested by some bigger labels.  I am not 100% sure if this is completely accurate, but it would seem to make sense as these guys signed to the Christian label Word instead of a big label like Epic or Atlantic or someone else.

Despite this being their first album, Holy Soldier is a very well-crafted, polished album, perhaps due in large part to the production of David Zaffiro, the lead guitar player for another popular Christian metal band, Bloodgood.  Don't let the "polished" adjective fool you into believing that this CD does not rock, because it does.  Album opener "Stranger" kicks in with a hard-rocking guitar and a thundering drum sound with Steven Patrick's excellent upper-range vocals soaring over the music.  "See No Evil" continues the rocking theme, this time on an anti-abortion song, before slowing things down with the album's first slower moment, the excellent "Pain Inside Of Me".  While these are just the first three tracks, it is instantly apparent that this is a band that has their sound down perfectly and is able to transition from big-time rocker to lighter-time ballad with minimal effort.  This continues as the album cranks the tempo right back up with "Cry Out For Love" and "Tear Down The Walls".

Perhaps my favorite tracks are both found on the second half of this disc.  "When The Reign Comes Down" is an excellent mid-tempo track talking about the return of Jesus to the earth, while "Through The Eyes of Innocence" is a ballad of top-notch quality that I think should have received a lot more airplay than it did.  "We Are Young, We Are Strong" is an excellent hard rocker to close out the album, as well.

From the time I bought this album when it was first released to this very day, I do not believe there is a better debut album in the Christian metal genre, and I have heard dozens and dozens of debuts over the years.  There is not a weak song on this album, in my opinion, and the professionalism in performance and recording is top notch with excellent packaging from Word Records who signed Holy Soldier as the first hard rock act in the label's history.

This album is difficult to find on the Word label without paying $20-25.  However, it has been reissued on the band's own Space Port Records and is not overly difficult to find at a much lower price.  There was also a single released (cassette-only, I believe) that can fetch pretty significant money on eBay and on-line record selling sites.

Rating:  Crank this underappreciated gem to 8.5!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TANGIER "Four Winds"

(c)1989 Atlantic Records

  1. Ripcord
  2. Mississippi
  3. On The Line
  4. In Time
  5. Four Winds
  6. Fever For Gold
  7. Southbound Train
  8. Sweet Surrender
  9. Bad Girl
  10. Good Lovin'
Bill Mattson--Vocals
Doug Gordon--Guitar, Vocals
Gari Saint--Guitar, Vocals
Garry Nutt--Bass, Vocals
Bobby Bender--Drums

In the 80's and early 90's there were a lot of bands that had a lot of talent but just never seemed to catch that big break.  Tangier proves that it wasn't just unsigned independent bands that had this issue, as these guys had a major label deal and STILL didn't make the big time.  But, as I stated at the outset, it was not for a lack of talent.

Four Winds is actually the band's second album, but first on a big label (their self-titled album on Wolfe Records is quite a collectors item).  This is a truly great album featuring several very melodic hard rock songs with catchy hooks and choruses that should have spelled rock radio success.  Album opener, "Ripcord" is a prime example of such a song.  This uptempo hard rocker has a tasty solo in it, a chorus that, while simple, wriggles its way into your brain and sticks there, and solid tenor vocals that hint at David Coverdale or David Reece (Bangalore Choir, Quiet Riot) at times.  Follow-up song, "Mississippi" is drenched in blues and soul, as you might expect from the song title, and is a great piece of music.  "On The Line" is another excellent mid-tempo, blusier-edged southern rocker that isn't far removed from what the second incarnation of Bad Company (Holy Water, Dangerous Age, etc.) was doing at the time.  While this track was given the video treatment, it still didn't do what it should have, which had to be frustrating.  "Southbound Train" also had a video made for it, and deservedly so, as this is one great song that sounds like a beefed up version of .38 Special, but with better vocals and guitar.  "Four Winds", the song, is another great hard southern rock tune that just REEKS of Molly Hatchet or maybe the Outlaws, but again with better vocals.   It's when the band is in this vein that they are at their strongest, and they seem to know it, as "Fever For Gold" and "Sweet Surrender" continue in this hard-rockin' southern style, with the first track being more mid-tempo in style while the latter is pure southern boogie-woogie rock n roll.  The final two tracks, while not bad, are not as solid in my opinion, with the backing vocals on "Good Lovin'" being a particular annoyance for me. 

It is probably not coincidence that bands such as Tangier, Tora Tora, Tattoo Rodeo, Sweet FA, and others that tried for this bluesy, hard southern rock sound all failed to really blast their way to the tops of the charts.  Maybe it is also not coincidence that bands like Whitesnake and, to some degree, Deep Purple and Bad Company, modified their sounds as they aged, heading toward more of a pop production and hair metal sound and managed to remain relevant.  I do wonder if Tangier and their ilk would have enjoyed the same success if they had come along in the late 1970's instead of the late 1980's, and also had the chance to modify their sound like Whitesnake did.

At the same time, it makes me wonder how Tesla managed to break so big....

If you see Four Winds, snag it.  You are not going to be disappointed.... 

Rating:  Crank this to 7 while looking for their other stuff as well.

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BULLETBOYS "10¢ Billionaire"

(c)2009 Chavis Records

  1. Asteroid
  2. Blessed By Your Touch
  3. Born To Breed
  4. Bringing Home The Gun
  5. Girls Kissin' Girls
  6. Jenna Star
  7. Road To Nowhere
  8. Save The World
  9. Wasted
  10. Witness
  11. Road TO Nowhere (Radio Edit)
Marq Torien--Vocals, Guitar
Rob Lane--Bass
Ryche Green--Drums & Percussion
Tory Stoffregen--Guitars

Let me start off with the positive, because I absolutely LOVE the Bulletboys first three discs (Bulletboys, Freakshow, and Za-Za).  Marq Torien has always had a very unique voice with a lot of power and, quite frankly, a lot more soul to it than the vast majority of singers in the hair genre, especially on the sleazier side of things.  So, I am happy to report that on 10¢ Billionaire, Torien still has his pipes, which is not something that can be said about a lot of the 80's har bands who have made comebacks in recent years.  I have no doubt that Torien could still rip through "Smooth Up In Ya", "Hang On St. Christopher", or "Kissin' Kitty" with no problems.  Secondly, Torien and Stoffregen are a very solid guitar tandem on a couple of these songs, with some excellent work on several songs, with some good solo work on "Asteroid", "Born To Breed", and "Witness" for example.   And, finally, there are a couple of moments when you get the feeling that this disc could provide a return for this once great sleaze band, with songs like "Blessed By Your Touch" and "Wasted" being pretty strong tracks that mix the old Bulletboys sound with a definite modern vibe and production that works fairly well.  "Bringing Home The Gun" is another really solid track that mixes the old with the new, and "Jenna Star" has an interesting retro-vibe to it.

So, let's see....that's three positive things I can say about this album.  Good vocals, pretty good guitar work in several spots, and a handful of solid songs.  I'm glad that I came up with that list, because I really only have one bad thing to say about the rest of the album...IT'S NOT BULLETBOYS!

Man, I had some high hopes after hearing the first two songs, "Asteroid" and "Blessed By Your Touch" back-to-back.  Sure, the sound is a bit more modern than I would have liked coming from this band, but hey, it was still Torien's voice, the songs rocked, and I won't begrudge a band for trying to expand their sound and stay relevant while not completely casting off their old style and sound.  But the more I listened the more I discovered a band who had no interest in their past and wanted to be something modern.  Its when a band completely shuns their old style, such as on  "Born To Breed" and "Save The World", which both sound like Bulletboys trying to channel Stone Temple Pilots, that I lose interest quickly.  "Girls Kissin' Girls" is just ridiculous, with the band trying to show they are still "sleazy" on this borderline modern punk tune, when what they are is pathetic sounding.  And why, oh why, did the band choose to release "Road To Nowhere" as a single and then "treat" us (insert sarcasm) to TWO versions of this blatant stab at modern rock radio which is also a blatantly average, uninsteresting song?  "Witness" is just about as bad, although at least on this song Bulletboys throw out any pretenses of being their old selves and simply go for a full-on modern sound reminiscent of Cavo, Saving Abel, Three Days Grace, etc, and slap a nice solo in the mix.  I would be curious to see how this grab for modern radio acceptance sold because I would almost bet that the band would have sold more records had they gone for the revitalized 80's hair band niche market rather than trying to convince a bunch of teens-to-early 30-somethings that they are some hot new band.    

In all fairness, if I had been handed this CD and told, "Hey, check this new band out", and I had NO CLUE it was Bulletboys, I probably would have liked about half, maybe 2/3 of it.  I'm not going to lie and say I don't appreciate a good chunk of the modern hard rock scene, because I do.  But Torien would have done himself a favor to come up with a new band name to go along with this modern sound than to try to get Bulletboys fans to buy it or to try to convince the kids that the Bulletboys from their parents' CD rack is now relevant to the modern scene.  So, to be 100% fair, maybe I shouldn't say this album is terrible (for what it is) as much as I should say it is terrible if you wanted a Bulletboys disc.  How's that for democratic?

Rating:  If you want modern hard rock, rock this at 5...if you want old-school Bulletboys, turn this WAY DOWN to a 2...maybe a 3...because this ain't it!  

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011


(Special Edition Cover)
(Regular Edition Cover)

(c)2011 Roadrunner/604 Records

  1. Lowlife
  2. The Bitch Came Back
  3. Hurricane
  4. Out Of My Head
  5. Gentleman
  6. Love Is Hell
  7. The Truth Is...(I Lied About Everything)
  8. Head Above Water
  9. Drag Me To Hell
  10. What Was I Thinking
  11. Easy To Love You
  12. We Were Men
Bonus Tracks on Special Edition

13.  Careless
14.  Does It Reall Matter
15.  Villain
16.  Better Or Worse
17.  Out Of My Head (Acoustic)
18.  Easy To Love You (Acoustic)

Pre-Order Only Bonus

19.  Lowlife (Acoustic)

Tyler Connolly--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
David Brenner--Rhythm Guitar
Dean Back--Bass
Joey Dandeneau--Drums

It's been over a bit over 3 years since Theory Of A Deadman really broke through with their massive hit album Scars & Souvenirs, featuring the huge radio songs "Little Smirk", "Hate My Life", "Not Meant To Be", "All Or Nothing" and the mega-smash, "Bad Girlfriend".  During that time, the band stayed busy, still touring in support of that album which had been repackaged with several bonus tracks and some cover songs.  However, a lot of people started to wonder when new material was going to be made available.  Wait no longer...

Theory Of A Deadman's fourth studio album, The Truth Is..., picks up pretty much where Scars... left off, with several several attitude-packed rockers, a couple of emotionally-charged ballads, and one or two complete misses, much the same as Scars...  The band doesn't do anything to reinvent themselves here, nor do I think they needed to.  Either you are a fan of the sleazy Canadian rockers or you are not.  If you fall into the fan category, you are likely going to really like this new record (which I do), and if you didn't like them to begin with, don't waste your time or money.

The band kicks things off with this album's rocking first single, "Lowlife", which sounds like it could have been pulled off of the Scars... album.  This is a fun track that is perfect for summer listening.  "Bitch Came Back" is sung to the exact tune that is likely going through your head right now ("Cat Came Back"), and, quite frankly, gets as annoying as the original fairly quickly, although it is, once again, a fun least for a while; I imagine I will get very irritated with it being stuck in my head after a while.  "Hurricane" is easily one of my favorites, and is more of a mid-tempo rocker with some synthesized (I'm assuming) strings in the mix.  Pretty cool song.

I'm not a real fan of "Out Of My Head", largely because of the "I-ee, I-ee, I-ee, I" way he Tyler drags out the word "I" on this ballad...just annoying to me!  Once that song is out of the way/skipped, it is back to more of the good stuff, as "Gentlemen", "Love Is Hell", and the title track are all back in the more familiar vein of what fans now expect from Theory Of A Deadman.  "Gentlemen" and "The Truth Is..." are both uptempo rockers while "Love Is Hell" is a down-tempo, angry, swear-fest, as I think just about every curse word that can't be used on radio is included in this song in some way. 

About 2/3 of the way through the disc, things get a bit iffy for the rest of the main disc.  Track 8, "Head Above Water" is a decent song, a mid-tempo number about not quitting, but nothing overly spectacular.  "Drag Me To Hell", on the other hand, may be the best song on the album, a high-energy, anger-fueled track that just flat out rocks!  I can imagine this is going to be a big hit in concerts and on satelite radio.  "What Was I Thinking" kind of drags things back down a bit and is not an overly memorable song with a decent chorus but no real hook to it.  "Easy To Love You" keeps the down-tempo trend going, and although it is a bit better than the previous song, it is still missing the real gutsy, gritty feel of a T.O.A.D. ballad such as Scars' "Not Meant To Be".  Standard album closer, "We Were Men" does nothing to pull the album out of the tempo slump that it is now mired in, although the material on this song is interesting (soldiers returning from war), and there is a GREAT guitar solo at about the 2:40 mark.  Very good stuff, if not up-tempo, and I am not disappointed with this being the standard album version closer; at least it ended with a powerful song.

On the expanded edition of this album, there are several bonus tracks, a couple of which I think are some of the strongest material in the collection.  "Careless" is a great rocker and I can't figure out why it wasn't included on the regular disc.  "Villain" is EXACTLY what a lot of fans are going to feel like they are missing on the main disc, as it is a sassy, snarky rocker with a great bass line and lot of attitude that could be compared to "Little Smirk" as far as the attitude it presents, and goes hand-in-hand with the album opener, "Lowlife".  I'm guessing that the band relegated this to bonus material status because it is another "language problem" song that is not likely to get any airplay outside of satelite radio.  "Does It Really Matter" may be the best ballad in the entire collection and I think it WILL become a satelite radio hit, which may be a good thing for the band as people will be seeking the expanded edition of the album just for this song.  "Better Or Worse", on the other hand, is a fairly forgettable ballad that has a real country feel to it.  The last two cuts are acoustic versions of songs already on the main disc and neither is an improvement. 

The band also treated their fans to yet another acoustic version of a main disc song, with pre-orders being treated to an acoustic offering of "Lowlife", which I do not have.  It will be interesting to see if we have different songs on Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Shopko,  etc., versions of the album, or if iTunes or Amazon end up getting exclusive downloads to help feed sales. 

Overall, this album feels like the little brother of Scars & Souvenirs, not likely to get the same amount of attention unless it is acting up and being naughty, which it does do on occasion.  However, the softer, more tender moments of previous albums come across rather flat this time around, at least for me.  Still, a very good, generally solid album that I think most fans will find many things to like on, and I think it will be on many people's summer playlist.

Rating:  Rock the standard version at 6.5, and CRANK the expanded version at 7.5...those extra good songs are worth the couple of extra bucks you will need to shell out. 

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Monday, July 11, 2011

DRIVIN' N CRYIN' "Fly Me Courageous"

(c)1991 Island Records

  1. Around The Block Again
  2. Chain Reaction
  3. Fly Me Courageous
  4. Look What You've Done To Your Brother
  5. For You
  6. Let's Go Dancing
  7. The Innocent
  8. Together
  9. Lost In The Shuffle
  10. Build A Fire
  11. Rush Hour
Kevin Kinney--Vocals, Guitar
Buren Fowler--Guitars
Tim Neilsen--Bass, Backing Vocals, Mandolin
Jeff Sullivan--Drums, Percussion

Drivin' N Cryin' is a hard band to categorize, at least in my opinion.  On the one hand you have a lead singer who sounds somewhat similar to Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrel or a young Tom Petty, a band that plays hard Southern rock in the vein of the Black Crowes, and a guitar player who channels a lot of the Sunset Strip scene in his solos.  So how do you classify them?  Perhaps classifying this band is part of the problem; perhaps they should just be taken for what they are.

There is no denying the obvious when listening to this rocks.  It is not the heaviest album you will ever encounter, by any stretch of the imagination.  It is, however, chock full of hooks, memorable-if-simple choruses, and some great song structures.  The problem, if you want to call it that, is that it is impossible to get past the title track when talking about Fly Me Courageous the album.  The song is just insanely catchy and rhythmic, the vocals are passionately delivered, and there is a smoking guitar solo in the mix that just has all the elements that hard rock/hair metal fans love.  Additionally, the song became an unintentional hit, as it was released during the start of the Persian Gulf War and it was reported that pilots from the U.S. Navy and Air Force were listening to the song before takeoff.  That's powerful stuff, intended or not, and the song took off from there, charting in the top 20 of both Billboard's Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts. 

Outside of that popular song, the album does feature two other Top 20 Mainstream Rock singles in "Build A Fire" and "The Innocent".  "Build A Fire" has definite southern rock roots and sounds like a logical musical follow-up to the popular title track.  Drummer Sullivan, who was in a pre-record deal version of the Black Crowes, locks into a groove with Nielsen and the pair carry this bouncing rock number, with another nice, if understated, guitar solo layering nicely over the backbeat.  "The Innocent", is another up-tempo rocker, although it starts out with a pretty mellow acoustic intro.

The rest of the album is somewhat hit-or-miss for me, and it is easy to see why those three songs were the choices for singles.  That is not to say there are no other good songs here, just that none are as commercially accessible or radio friendly.  "Rush Hour" is the fastest song here, a driving rock number that carries a frantic pace for a couple of minutes before apparently hitting a traffic jam and then slowing down into a plodding rhythm for the guitar solo, before cranking back up again.  A very interesting song structure here that I love and this is one of my favorite songs on the disc.  "Let's Go Dancing" is a straight-forward, mid-tempo acoustic number with the exception of the bass guitar, with a very sparse arrangement and simple structure.  "Lost In The Shuffle" is another high-energy rocker and "Together" is solid rock number that has a kind of Mellencamp feel to it, and is, again, one of the better tracks here.

Not all works to perfection for me.  Album opener,  "Around The Block Again" just has too much of a Petty feel for me, as I am not a huge fan of Tom and his Heartbreakers, although I can certainly appreciate their musical ability.  "Chain Reaction" sounds to me like it was taken straight from a Black Crowes album and just isn't overly original to my ears.  The only real ballad on this album, "For You", kind of falls flat for me, lacking any real emotion or musical punch.  I understand that Drivin' N Cryin' isn't trying to create a huge, lighter-in-the-air power ballad here, but that doesn't mean there can't be SOME power.  This reminds me of a Soul Assylum type of song where the music is almost as whiny as the lyrics.  It simply doesn't work for me.

As my attempted description probably indicates, Drivin' N Cryin' is a very hard band to pigeonhole, especially on this record, which most people consider to be the band's hardest rocking album.  The massively popular title track gets airplay on hard rock stations and even on Sirus/XM Satelite Radio's "Hair Nation" channel.  Other songs find themselves played on alternative radio, which I think is fitting in a fringe way.  I am not a huge fan of the band in general, and I only own one other album by the band, but I do like this record pretty well and I love the title track, which I played the crap out of back in my college radio days.  It's odd that with this being their most commercially successful album it is also one of the hardest to find in used CD stores, possibly because no one wants to let go of it.

Rating:  Rock this at a solid 6.5...and crank the title track to 8.5!

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

WANTED "Too Hot To Handle"

(c)2010 Eonian Records

  1. Whiskey & Women
  2. Too Hot To Handle
  3. Another Day
  4. Mr. Right
  5. Blue Jean Baby
  6. Lost In Me Forever (L.A. Cut)
  7. Be Still My Heart (L.A. Cut)
  8. Concert Intro (Live)
  9. Anchors Away (Live)
  10. Don't Play With My Heart (Live)
  11. See It Through (Live)
  12. Sidewalk Seducer (Live)
  13. Rhythm & Rhyme (Live)
  14. Life In The City (Live)
Robert "Bobby" Sisk--Lead Vocals
Eric "Cruise" Saylors--Lead & Rhythm Guitars
Tad Wilson--Lead & Rhythm Guitars
Erikk D. Lee--Bass
Scott Cole--Drums

Someday, I might start a "Should Have Been Stars" hall of fame...okay, probably not.   But if I DID, Wanted would be in there.  These guys had that Sunset Strip-look, a sound that screamed Skid Row (listen to the "Oh yeah...!" that opens the song "Whiskey & Women" and you will SWEAR it was lifted straight from "Youth Gone Wild"...), an excellent live sound, a manager with a band that had already been signed to a major label deal (Sweet F.A.), and a chance to record at least two singles with Geffen Records (Whitesnake, Aerosmith, etc.).  Yet for everything that seemed to be going their way, the planets simply did not align and Wanted faded into obscurity. 

As far as the studio tracks go, the previously mentioned "Whiskey & Women" and the boogie-woogie styled title track, "Too Hot To Handle" are some kick-ass hard rock tunes that seriously contend with anything put out at the time.  "Mr. Right" is another excellent up-tempo rocker, and "Lost In Me Forever" is serious lighter-in-the-air ballad material.  In fact, "Lost In Me Forever" is one of the two tracks recoreded for Geffen which really has me scratching my head, trying to figure out what went wrong, because this had radio hit written all over it.  For that matter, the other Geffen track, "Be Still My Heart", while not quite as solid as "Mr. Right" or the title track, is a very good uptempo number which reminds me stylistically of a lot of what Slaughter or even Motley Crue was doing at the time.  In fact, the only studio tracks on this set that I have any real complaints about would be "Another Day" and "Blue Jean Baby".  My issue with "Another Day" is simply that it BLATANTLY rips off Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" riff and then speeds it up to almost punkish speeds, which just rubs me the wrong way despite the fact that the song really isn't all that bad.  "Blue Jean Baby", despite rocking along very well musically, just seems somewhat childish in its lyrical content.  Again, not terrible, and better than a lot of the fluff and filler you find on major label releases.

For me, it's the live content here that really shows what this band was capable of.  Heck, the band's intro for their shows is cool enough to be included here!  I would have loved to hear studio versions of most of these songs, with "Anchors Aweigh", "Sidewalk Seducer", and "Rhythm & Rhyme" really grabbing my attention, along with another Slaughter-esque track in "See It Through". 

Again, I have no idea what went wrong for these guys, as there is NOTHING here that I can point to as being the reason this band didn't succeed.  Sisk is, at least vocally, a very competent front man, and the guitar tandem of Saylors and Wilson display a lot of style and flair without sounding like wankfest guitar-god wannabes by running the fretboads and hitting the whammy bar for every solo.  The rhythm section also proves worthy, especially evident on the live set, where Lee and Cole lock into these songs and keep things pumping along.

As is typical of the great stuff that Eonian puts out, the band's brief biography is included in the liner notes, but all that is mentioned is that "the relationship between the label and the band's management went south, soured, and eventually dissolved, killing any chance that Wanted would be signed to the label".  Maybe it was money, maybe it was song-ownership rights...who knows.  Thankfully, Eonian tracked this stuff down and put it out there for us to hear, because this is high quality, hard rockin' hair metal that ranks with the best of the unsigned bands that I have come across so far.

Rating:  Crank this to 8, even on the live material.    

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BIG COCK "Big Cock"

(c) 2006 Driver Wild Music

  1. Second Coming
  2. Fu**ed Up!
  3. Real Man
  4. Ride On Me
  5. Rock Hard
  6. She's A Lady
  7. So Easy Bein' Me
  8. Every Inch Of My Love
  9. Dirty Girl
  10. Scottsdale Girls
  11. Get Me Up
  12. Take Me
  13. Booze & My Baby
  14. Let's Make Love
Robert Mason--Vocals
David Henzerling--Guitars, Vocals
John Covington--Drums, Percussion

Before he went on to front the newest version of Warrant, and after his brief gig with Lynch Mob, Robert Mason was prowling the stage with the microphone for this band.  Not a shy band by any means, Big Cock...ahem...hangs it out there for everyone to see exactly what they are about, from their unabashed album cover to several song titles which leave no doubt about the sleaze factor of this band.

On this, their second album in just over a year, the band returns to the gutter to dredge up even more sleaze and sludge for fans of their straight-ahead style of hard rock.  There are a lot of songs to sort through here, and all of them clock in at almost exactly three minutes, so despite the large number of tracks, the disc moves along at a good clip.  The fact that the vast majority of this album blasts forward at full speed helps things keep moving as well.

Aside from the rather juvenile lyrics and lockerroom titles, the band is surprisingly adept at delivering some fairly decent hard rock tunes at times.  Stand outs would be "Fu**ed Up!", "Real Man", and the surprisingly good "Booze & My Baby", which Mason declares is "for the ladies".  Not sure about that, but it is a good song with a catchy rhythm and a nice solo courtesy of Henzerling.  "Take Me" is another good, bare-bones rocker that has a bit of a 70's AC/DC vibe.

The band does manage to throw the listener a couple of curve balls on this album.  One oddity here is the cover of of Paul Anka's "She's A Lady", which I think the band pulls off exceptionally well.  The albm closer, "Let's Make Love", sounds like it could have been taken from Tesla's Five Man Acoustical Jam album stylistically, and it works very well.  In fact, I wouldn't mind hearing the band tackle a couple more acoustic tracks such as this one, as opposed to the ridiculous ballad "Every Inch Of Me", which sounds like the band ripped off a Mr. Big or Extreme ballad and then tried to figure out how to make it as nasty as possible.   "Scottsdale Girls" has a very 60's sounding vibe to it, and again, the band figures out a way to make it work musically, even if the lyrics are, once again, less than mentally stimulating.

Big Cock is one of the few bands I have ever encountered who could compete with Steel Panther for juvenile, sexually-charged, perverse lyrics.  That isn't really a compliment, however, as Steel Panther at least acknowledges the fact that they are something of a joke band...and Steel Panther is more talented as musicians.  With multiple albums under their belt (there is at least one more after this), Big Cock appears to be in this for the long haul, depending upon what happens with Mason and his Warrant gig (the lead singer history of that band seems to indicate Mason won't last long...).  If you can get past the lyrics, or if soft-core audio porn is what you are after, Big Cock is probably right up your alley.  As for me, while I am definitely a sleaze fan and not a prude by any stretch, the banality of the lyrics just becomes tedious to endure and I find myself shelving this disc rather quickly.

Rating:  Turn this down to 4.5, but give the Anka cover a shot and see what you think.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

EXTREME "Saudades de Rock"

(c) 2008 Open E Records

  1. Star
  2. Comfortably Dumb
  3. Learn To Love
  4. Take U Alive
  5. Run
  6. Last Hour
  7. Flower Man
  8. King Of The Ladies
  9. Ghost
  10. Slide
  11. Interface
  12. Sunrise
  13. Peace (Saudade)
Gary Cherone--Lead Vocals
Nuno Bettencourt--Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Pat Badger--Bass, Vocals
Kevin Figueiredo--Drums

Extreme was one of the earlier bands to jump on the "80's Comeback Train", releasing Saudades de Rock in 2008, a couple of years ahead of many of their comrades.  As such, I am not sure if they missed out on the chance for a big label deal or if they chose to go with Open E Records despite other options.  Regardless, small label aside, this is a big Extreme record, chock full of their trademark harmonies, funk-infused hard rock, and Mr. Bettencourt's incredible guitar playing.

On this, their first record in nearly a decade, and one which comes almost 20 years after their debut effort, Extreme is found doing exactly what Extreme has always done.  These Boston-based rockers know what their fans like and what they expect, and the band delivers.  From the moment Cherone kicks off "Star" with some nicely layered vocals to the last notes of the closing ballad "Peace (Saudades)", there is no doubt that this is Extreme.  The band did not set out to reinvent themselves or to appeal to the modern rock masses. 

For me, Extreme was one of those bands that was always on the fringe of my tastes.  I like what they do, I really enjoy their sound, and they were fun to watch the one time I saw them live, but they kind of lost me with III Sides.  The music was still good, but they seemed too commercial by this point, appearing to intentionally reach for radio airplay and losing some of their humor and fun.  Waiting For The Punchline, in return, was a much darker record than anything Extreme had released before and record sales reportedly went down the drain, although I personally liked several tracks from that disc.  Saudades de Rock, while stylistically in the same vein as III Sides draws my attention a bit more, garnering more listens in a comparatively short period of time than III Sides has ever received from me.  Likewise, the band has also loosened up a bit on the seriousness of Punchline, especially on the single and video release for "King Of The Ladies", which is what I want to hear from Extreme.  A great chorus and a somewhat hip-hop vibe make this a really fun listen, especially when Nuno lays down the gritty-yet-laid-back, 70's inspired solo.

Other stand-out cuts on this disc would have to be the rockers "Star", "Slide", and "Learn To Love", all of which sound like they could have come from Pornograffitti with their funk-rock style, Cherone's strong vocal performances and Nuno's...well...being Nuno.  "Comfortably Dumb" is an excellent mid-tempo number full of layered harmony vocals that, for me, competes with "King Of The Ladies" and "Slide" for best song on the album.  There are no "More Than Words" or "Hole-Hearted" styled ballads here, but the piano-driven "Ghost" is likely to appeal to those seeking the sentimental side of Extreme, as is the acoustic "Interface", which showcases a particularly strong performance from Cherone who has fully returned from the abysmal Van Halen III outing on this record.  Previously mentioned album closer "Peace (Saudades)" is another ballad fans of the softer side of the band will likely fall in love with.

There are a couple of throw-aways here, particularly with  the goofy "Take Us Alive" which sounds exactly like what you would expect if Extreme announced they had become a bluegrass band (not kidding).  It is performed well, don't get me wrong, and it isn't a terrible song, but it really has no business here and sticks out terribly, especially when it is thrown in the middle of the album like this.  "Last Hour" has a plodding, bluesy, almost bump-and-grind rhythm to half of it, while being an acoustic number for the other half, and it comes off as kind of a mess, in my opinion.  "Flower Man", on the other hand, comes off as a punk-styled track that really doesn't fit Cherone's vocal style.  While I applaud the effort to expand their sound a bit, I think songs such as these would have been better on another Extreme album and not on their "comeback/reunion" disc.  Just my opinion, but if these three tracks were removed this would be a nearly flawless Extreme album.

Three-fourths of the original band are here, with only Figueiredo on drums being the newbie here.  He is more than competent, however, and locks right in with Badger's style and sound to provide a solid base upon which Nuno and Cherone can usually build the trademark Extreme sound.  Overall, this is an excellent return to form for one of the more original sounding bands of the 80's hair genre that Extreme was always lumped in with. 

Rating:  Even with the couple of minor misses, I would crank this to 7. 

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Monday, July 4, 2011

LIBERTY N' JUSTICE "Independence Day"

(c) 2007 LNJ Records

  1. Doubting Thomas (John Corabi)
  2. Monkey Dance (Jack Russell)
  3. Soldier (Kelly Keagey/Mark Slaughter)
  4. My Sacrifice (Shawn Pelata)
  5. Phoenix (Pete Loran)
  6. Independence Day (Kelly Keeling)
  7. Meet My Monster (Tony Mills)
  8. Praying For A Miracle (Ted Poley)
  9. Fade (Jamie Rowe)
  10. Bullet, Train, Breakdown (Jamie St. James)
  11. Addiction (Jani Lane)
  12. Wake The Dead (EZ Gomer/Tony Carey)
  13. Snake Eat Snake (David Raymond Reeves)
  14. A Little Bit Of Love (Mark & Shannon Hovland)
Liberty N' Justice is:
Justin Murr--Bass
...and a lot of famous rockstars!

What LnJ started in 2004 with Welcome To The Revolution, and continued in 2006 with Soundtrack of a Soul, was continued in 2007 with Independence Day. On this effort, Liberty N Justice changes things up just a bit, putting forth a more laid-back sound with this largely acoustic rock album. However, unlike some other band's acoustic projects,  Independence Day is not a career retrospective done in a slightly different fashion simply to sell a couple of extra albums (Bon Jovi, anyone?), or regurgitated and sadly watered-down hits done without electricity (such as the VH1 “Stripped“ set of discs).  Independence Day is an album full of new songs for this group of musicians, and is done to show another side of the project.

Rockers, rest easy. This is not an acoustic album in the fully unplugged, almost folky or country sense. There are still lead guitar solos, they just aren’t chock full of distortion; there are still a few effects thrown into the mix, but there is not layer upon layer of keyboards or processed backing vocals. Rather, what you have here is raw, stripped, gritty hard rock, drenched in soul and the blues, and tinged with a southern rock approach in places. And much like its predecessor, Soundtrack of a Soul, Independence Day is an album does have its minor hiccups, but which proves itself an excellent example of not only the vision of group leader Murr, but also of the true talents on display by those involved.

As has become the LnJ trademark, Independence Day is bursting at the seams with big name talent, not only vocally, but behind the scenes as well. Recording/engineering star Mike Layne returns, also adding his touches on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and backing vocals. Mark and Shannon Hovland (Hovland) do much the same, contributing in virtually every musical area possible. Jack Frost (Savatage/Seven Witches) and Nikki Damage (Line Of Fire), along with several others, lend their talents on guitar, and EZ Gomer (Jet Circus) also jumps in on bass. Even the list of engineers on this project is impressive, with such notables as Keri Kelli (Warrant/LA Guns/Pretty Boy Floyd), Don Webster (Neon Cross), and Kelly Keagey (Night Ranger) all contributing.

But let’s face’s the all-star cast of vocalists that draws most people in, and in this area Independence Day does not disappoint. Returning alums such as Mark Slaughter (Slaughter), Pete Loran (Trixter), EZ Gomer (Jet Circus), Ted Poley (Danger Danger), and Jamie Rowe (Guardian/Adrian Gale), join newcomers to the LnJ fold, such as Jack Russell (Great White), Shawn Pelata (Line Of Fire), John Corabi (Motley Crue/Ratt/The Scream), Jani Lane (Warrant), and Jamie St. James (Black N Blue/Warrant). Several other new vocalists contribute as well, including David Raymond Reeves (Neon Cross), Tony Mills (Shy/TNT), and both Kelly Keagey of Night Ranger and Kelly Keeling of Baton Rouge.

For me, the highlight of the disc is tough to declare. Certainly up for consideration has to be Jack Russell on “Monkey Dance”. As a huge Great White fan, I have practically been begging Justin to get Jack on a Liberty N Justice disc, and he obliged in a big way. However, my love for this song is not merely sentimental; Jack’s smoky, blues-heavy voice lends itself especially well to a setting such as this. The infectious chorus wedges its way into your brain and seats itself there for the long haul (just ask my wife!), and Jack really gives the listener a sense that he knows something about the subject matter here (addiction and sin controlling your life). This is a track that I could easily hear Jack throw into the Great White mix and no fan would feel like something was out of whack.

“Snake Eat Snake” featuring David Raymond Reeves of Neon Cross is another standout. Again, befitting the tone of the record, David slides into a lower, grittier register here, sounding closer in tone to the songs on the “Torn” release than anything on the band’s debut. The song has a hard southern rock feel to it...almost an acoustic Charlie Daniels Band type of feel (his southern stuff, not country). David more than proves himself vocally capable here and shows that even if he is not the most well-known of the vocalists here, he is not out of his league at all.

Yet another stand-out cut to these ears is “Soldier” featuring Kelly Keagey of Night Ranger and Mark Slaughter of...well...Slaughter. The pair sound like they have been singing together for years, and Slaughter sounds especially strong here. Again, much like with Reeves, don’t expect to hear Slaughter ripping his vocal cords to shreds with piercing highs, but do anticipate a much more laid back, controlled delivery that I think suits his maturing voice very well. A strong chorus along with a throwback to childhood innocence lyrical feel make this track one of my favorites.

The “other” Kelly might surprise a lot of people here. Kelly Keeling of Baton Rouge sounds nothing like the vocalist he was as the leader of that hair metal band. On this remake of the classic Whiteheart tune, Keeling has a much more laid back sound and approach, letting more huskiness creep into his delivery and adding a more soulful feel that he did on much of Baton Rouge’s material. Given the daunting task of supporting the album's title track, Keeling delivers an excellent performance here.

Jamie Rowe, who is a mainstay of the LnJ projects, finds himself sounding very much at home here. Anyone who has heard Rowe’s performance on the “Swing, Swang, Swung” acoustic offering from his old band Guardian knows that Jamie can wrap his unique voice around a solid song and make it his own. He does exactly that here on the superb “Fade”. Sporting one of the strongest hooks and catchiest choruses on the disc (along with “Soldier” and “Monkey Dance”) this track really brings everything together and ties it all up for me. If I was forced to give just a single track to a potential buyer to highlight what this project is about, Rowe’s “Fade” would likely be that track.

“My Sacrifice” was a pleasant surprise for me as well, for much the same reasons as mentioned with Reeves and Slaughter. I am so used to hearing Shawn Pelata (Line Of Fire/K-Octave) really elevate his voice in both pitch and force of delivery that to hear him back off a bit and sing in a lower register with a much more somber delivery was a special treat. I‘m not sure if Shawn picked the track himself, or if it was assigned to him, but it was definitely a great choice and one that showcased an under-appreciated talent.

Two former Warrant frontmen contribute tracks here, as Jani Lane and  Jamie St. James (also of Black N Blue fame) do credible jobs with their chosen material.  Lane might pull off the performance award on this disc, not simply because of quality of the vocals themselves, but more with the sincerity with which he delivers the lyrics to “Addiction”. The listener really gets the feel that Lane is putting himself into this song, perhaps almost therapeutically. Always stronger on Warrant’s more soulful, bluesier material than the anthemic rockers, Lane sounds very much at home here.  St. James, meanwhile, does a stellar job with the romp-n-stomp “Bullet, Train, Breakdown”. In fact, I think St. James sounds stronger here than he ever has with Warrant, and better than he has sounded since the “In Heat” days of Black N Blue (obviously the Hell, Yeah! record is included here, also). He appears to have a full grasp on how he thinks this song should be delivered and he attacks it, especially in the gritty chorus. Perhaps this style is one St. James might consider fully exploring were to ever venture out solo once again. 

Tony Mills, formerly of  Shy/Shy England and now with TNT, handles his chosen song expertly as well.  I didn't like this song a lot originally, but time has really treated this song well for me and now I like it a lot.  Not sure what changed...maybe my attitude...but the more I got to listening to this song, the stronger it became.   

One track I simply can not seem to get past, however, is “Remember Me” by EZ Gomer of Jet Circus. With its quirky intro and strange, almost spacey vibe, I am not sure what to think about the structure of this song or about how Gomer’s voice works in this setting. The song just sticks out like a sore thumb to me, and is really the only thing that keeps me from just putting this disc on random/repeat in my CD player and then letting it go endlessly. In all honesty, after the first half-dozen listens or so, I have found the skip button a necessity here.

Other contributions include John Corabi (ex-Motley Crue/The Scream/Union/Ratt) on “Doubting Thomas“, Pete Loran of Trixter on “Phoenix“ and the husband and wife duo Hovland adding closing track “A Little Bit Of Love”. While none of these three is a bad performance, they all have more of a “filler track” feel to me. This was especially surprising to me with Corabi’s contribution as it is the lead track of the disc. I know the man can sing, but I never felt he really let loose here, which was disappointing for me. "Phoenix" didn't feel like it fit the rest of the project, as it really doesn't have a lot of the acoustic feel the rest of the tracks do; otherwise, I actually liked the song quite a bit. I just don't think it was representative of the project as a whole. All are certainly worthy of listening to, but none would find their way onto “The Best Of Liberty N Justice”, at least for me.

Overall, I find myself enjoying this CD a lot, even after literally hundreds of listens now. Its not often that a project such as this becomes a long-term player for me, as rarely is a normally “electric” artist able to convince me that they fit and feel comfortable in an acoustic setting. The vast majority of the singers here do not have that problem, however, and some almost seem more at home with this style than they do their current surroundings.

Rating:  Crank this to 8!