Saturday, October 27, 2012

LIBERTY N JUSTICE "The Cigar Chronicles: Volume 2-The Originals"

(2) 2012 LnJ Productions

  1. Devil His Dues (Derrick LeFevre of Lillian Axe, Vic Rivera of Crunch, Michael Feighan of Liberty N Justice/Whitecross, and Barry Graul of Mercy Me/Whitecross)
  2. The Greatest (David Cagle of Liberty N Justice, Mark Allan Lanoue of Chasing Karma/Biloxi, and Brad Stetler)
  3. Cupid's Gonna Bleed (Gunnar Nelson of Nelson, Steve Brown of Trixter, and Barry Karl of Rockapella)
  4. Under Construction (Eric Dover of Slash's Snakepit/Jelly Fish, Mark Kendall of Great White, Ian Keith Hafner of Jaguar Blaze/Angry Little Freak, and Eric Rango of Liberty N Justice)
  5. Been There, Done That (Ted Poley of Danger Danger, and Richard Kendrick or Straitjacket Smile)
  6. Grace (Michael Bormann of Jaded Heart/Rain/Charade, Phillip Bardowell of Unruly Child/Beach Boys, and Mark Slaughter of Slaughter)
  7. Sucker Punched (Rick Stitch of Hotel Diablo, Jerry Dixon of Warrant, and Xander Demos)
  8. Broken Bones (Giancarlo Floridia of Faithsedege, Greg Martin of Kentucky Headhunters, and Chad Stewart of Faster Pussycat)
  9. Sin (Jani Lane of Warrant/Saints Of The Underground, Bill Leverty of Firehouse and Keri Kelli of Alice Cooper Band/Ratt/Skid Row/LA Guns/Vince Neil Band)
  10. Give 'Em A Light (Paul Shortino of King Kobra/Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot and Dave Henzerling of King Kobra/Steelshine)
  11. Daddy Long Legs (Louis St. August of MASS and Timothy Gaines of Stryper)
  12. Cut Me Mick (Ron Keel of KEEL/Iron Horse and Michael Phillips of Deliverance/The Sacrificed)
  13. Tomorrow (Terry Ilous of Great White/XYZ, Ron Wikso of The Storm/Foreigner/David Lee Roth Band, Alessandro Del Vecchio of Harline/Eden's Curse, and PK Mitchell formerly of Bloodgood)
Additional Musicians:

JK Northrup (King Kobra/XYZ/Liberty N Justice)--Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Bass, Drums
Justin Murr (Liberty N Justice)--Bass

Additional Backing Vocals:  Giancarlo Floridia, Richard Kendrick, Phil Vincent, Michael Stover, Frankie Cleaver, and Bryan Cole

When a band has been around long enough, a lot of critics start talking about that band's defining moment, the pinnacle of their career.  Pink Floyd had The Wall, Queensryche had Operation: Mindcrime, Def Leppard had Hysteria, Whitesnake had their 1987 self-titled album...and on and on...  So, it is not surprising when looking back over the vast catalog of great material that Justin Murr has released under the Liberty N Justice moniker it is natural that critics and reviewers of melodic hard rock might start looking for the defining moment from that project (not yet a band...but it's coming!  Look for hints throughout the review...).  My friends...the Liberty N Justice definining moment has arrived!!!

The Cigar Chronicles is a massive undertaking more than three years in the making.  I have had various demo versions of many of these songs floating around my computer and mp3 player for a couple of years now, but to finally hear the finished product is amazing.  This two-disc, 26-track collection is staggering not only in its size but also in its execution.  It is not only the line-up that has been assembled that will stagger fans, but the quality of the work, the near-perfection in the songwriting, the mixing, the production, and the performances of all involved.  It is near impossible for me to find something not to like about The Cigar Chronicles, especially on Volume 2-The Originals, where the songwriting team of Justin Murr and JK Northrup (along with assistance and co-writes from a handful of others) bring a level of skill to this LnJ collection that has never been equalled on any previous LnJ project.

From the moment new, permanent LnJ drummer Michael Feighan thunders in to open "Devil His Dues", it is apparent Liberty N Justice has stepped up their game!  The production is crisp and clean, giving a distinct voice to each of the instruments involved in a manner not heard on a full LnJ project before.  The huge backing vocals are a perfect compliment to the exceptional lead vocals of Derrick LeFevre, the former front man for Lillian Axe, and the lead guitar work of Vic Rivera is short, sweet, and powerful on this exceptional rocker that sets a high bar for the rest of this album to follow as far as quality.

While not as well known as LeFevre or Rivera, the team of David Cagle and Mark Allan Lanoue step up to the plate and deliver as well, with another formidable rocker, "The Greatest".  Slickly produced, the song reminds me a lot of the excellent material that fellow Christian rockers Shout and that band's lead singer, Ken Tamplin, put out in the 90's.  A powerful message coupled with a top-notch performance gives this disc a two-for-two start as far as excellent tracks goes.

"Sick of eating crow..." grumbles the intro (and outro) for the next number, as Gunnar Nelson of his namesake band, Nelson, takes center-stage next on "Cupid's Gonna Bleed".  A slight bit more modern in approach than the first few tracks, this is nonetheless still an outstanding uptempo number with Steve Brown from Trixter launching into a tasty melodic solo that will have listeners sitting up and taking notice as few times can I recall him ripping through a solo like this in his main band.

Eric Dover of Slash's Snakepit slows things down for the first time on this album with "Under Construction" and he gives a gritty, emotion-laden performance on this track that also pairs the long-toothed Great White guitarist, Mark Kendall, with Jaguar Blaze axe-slinger, Ian Keith Hafner.  Again, nearly flawless production really separates the instruments here and the layered background vocals work to perfection.  If this was 1987, lighters would be burning bright all over an arena somewhere as this song echoed to a close.  A powerful performance that mixes both acoustic and electric guitar over the top of LnJ keyboardist Eric Rango's complimentary keyboard work.  (A note to other keyboard players out there...THIS is how the instrument should be used!)

Ted Poley of Danger Danger picks the pace up again with "Been There Done That".  Once again, the production and songwriting takes on just a hint of a modern touch and just a bit of buzz has been added to the guitars on this number, but it works well with the structure of the song.  Again, big layers of backing vocals lend themselves to the chorus and Kendrick packs a punch on his solo heading into the final chorus of the track.  I'm going to have to be sure to track down some Straitjacket Smile if this is the style of guitar that is present in that band's music!

"Grace" picks up where "Under Construction" left off as far as balladry goes, but takes a different approach.  Employing a backing vocal section that reminds me of a powerhouse gospel choir, this U2-ish melodic number that delivers a surprising guitar solo from Mark Slaughter.  Formerly known for his piercingly high vocal style, Slaughter shows that he is no slouch on the guitar here, as he handled both the main solo and the outro on this excellent ballad with a powerhouse of a message about grace and salvation!  As it stands, this track already packs a vocal wallop as former Beach Boy and Unruly Child member Philip Bardowell trades off vocal duties with German vocal legend, Michael Bormann of Jaded Heart.  Truly an amazing piece of music that still moves me when I hear it.

"Sucker Punched" is an interesting number that features a truly amazing, completely unheralded guitar hero in the form of one Mr. Xander Demos!  Demos, along with Jerry Dixon of Warrant fame, deliver an aggressive-yet-still-melodic hard rocker that also showcases the vocal talents of Hotel Diablo's Rick Stitch.  However, with no disrespect meant for anyone involved, it is the Malmsteen-esque solo runs delivered by Demos that are the real treat of this song and I encourage anyone who has not yet snapped up his solo album to do so immediately!  Tell 'em Glitter2Gutter sent you!!!

"Broken Bones" features yet another vocalist I had never heard in one Mr. Giancarlo Floridia of the band Faithsedge.   He has a Sebastian Bach-meets-Jamie Rowe style that works well with this hard rocker that has a surprising guest solo from country-rocker Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters.  Martin, of course, is no stranger to Christian hard rock, having previously recorded with LnJ as well as Christian veterans Bride, but his guitar take here is far more rock and far less swampy blues than people may have experienced from him in the past.  Of note here is also the presence of current Faster Pussycat skins-master, Chris Stewart, who lays down a nice rhythm for the rest of the song to be structured over while also tossing in a couple of nice fills and some tricks of his own.  This tasty song reminds me of the style that LnJ employed on the Soundtrack Of A Soul album a few years back and, while not the absolute gem in this treasure-chest of an album, it will never have someone reaching for the skip button by any means. 

To come completely clean with my readers, I very nearly skipped ahead of everything else when I got these tracks and jumped straight to the fully recorded version of "Sin", the last known recording from former Warrant frontman, Jani Lane.  We have already been treated to a heart-wrenching acoustic version of this song on the previous Liberty N Justice release, Hell Is Coming To Breakfast, but I knew that this version was the one that Justin, JK, and the rest really wanted people to hear.  I resisted the temptation of jumping ahead, which, considering the lyrical topic of this song is a bit of irony in and of itself, and I am glad that I did, because the greatness of this song really is showcased when surrounded by so many other excellent pieces of music.  As it is, the late Jani Lane's vocals are every bit as haunting and soul-scarring here as they were in the acoustic version, but the extra power of a properly amped-up Bill Leverty (Firehouse) and Keri Kelli (who has played for everyone EXCEPT Firehouse, it seems...), this song reaches a level I did not know was possible for it.  I am not trying to over-hype this song or sell it to anyone, because I truly believe the song sells itself once it is heard.  Rather, I am trying to express the frustration and sadness that I feel whenever I hear Lane tackle this song about THIS subject, because I think it so chillingly reflects what we have learned about the end of his tormented life.  As someone who does not believe in pre-destination, I find myself feeling that this song was meant to be performed by this man and no one else...and he puts an exclamation point on the talent that he possessed when he (and his cohorts) absolutely nail this number.  Perfect performances across the board, excellent production from JK Northrup, and truly amazing songwriting here; this is the level that I wish all music could be taken to.  Amazing...

"Give 'Em A Light" brings out yet another stellar vocal performance, this time from one of my all-time favorites, Paul Shortino (King Kobra/Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot).  Shortino's blues-soaked, life-lived vocal delivery is the perfect compliment to this driving rocker that also features his pal Dave Kenzerling of King Kobra on lead guitar, and...of course...his good friend Mr. JK Northrup, who also previously performed with King Kobra, on rhythm guitar, drums, and bass.  This lighter-hearted number is the perfect pick-me-up to follow "Sin", and is strong enough in its performance to not be overshadowed by the previous track.

Louis St. August of the underappreciated melodic Boston rock band MASS takes the mic for the next track, "Daddy Long Legs".  Tim Gaines of Stryper handles the bass (with JK Northrup on guitar and drums) on this track that delivers a really cute message about a topic that is explained in a spoken bridge to the song, but wraps it some cliched 80's rock lyrics that could lead the less-than-straight-minded listener down a different road if they let their thoughts drift.  Perfectly tongue-in-cheek and delightfully light-hearted, Mr. Murr's ode to the song's subject is a good one with a catchy chorus and some excellent vocal work, both out front and in the backing department.

Speaking of Justin Murr, his penchant for film rears its head again on The Cigar Chronicles.  On Hell Is Coming To Breakfast, the listener got to feast their ears on Murr's ode to the Bruce Willis Die Hard series of movies.  This time, Stallone's Rocky character is lifted straight from the first movie as, after having his face is beaten to a swollen, bruised mess, Rocky begs his trainer "I can't see, you gotta open my eyes.  Cut me, Mick".  In this lyrical incarnation, Ron Keel handles the Rocky character's line in over-the-top KEEL vocal fashion and swagger in this song about not giving up when life gets hard.  Michael Phillips of Christian metal legends Deliverance (and currently with The Sacrificed) handles the guitar work here and absolutely rips through a couple of solos on this, the hardest rocker on the album.  Excellent songwriting and lyrics that make my inner Rocky want to get up off the floor and keep on fighting really drive this number that really drives the latter portion of this album.  (Stick around for the Rocky II quote at the end of the song, by the way....)

My feelings about Terry Ilous being the new lead singer of ONE of the versions of Great White have already been documented on this site, but that opinion takes nothing away from the excellent performance Ilous provides in closing this album on "Tomorrow".  Ilous and Hardline's Alessandro Del Vecchio provide the bombastic voices for this big, inspiring ballad, that really has a full band feel to it, as Ron Wisko from The Storm/Foreigner/David Lee Roth Band handles the big drum sound here, with former Bloodgood guitar hero PK Mitchell tackling the melodic guitar solos.  A really nice way to close the disc, this song is by no means the "leftovers" of the recording sessions and is not buried at the end as a sign of weakness.  I look at it as a way to wrap the album back around to the beginning in one big, nearly perfect loop! 

By the time we have finished the last track, we, the listeners, have been taken on a quite a musical journey that I feel I have inadequately described in places.  This is a truly complete musical experience that I can honestly say I have not taken in quite some time.  Ups and downs, lows and highs, rockers and ballads...everything works here...and this is only HALF of the Cigar Chronicles project!  An absolute must-own, this is going to be difficult to top if someone wants to claim the number one position in the Glitter2Gutter Top 12 of 2012. 

Rating:!  The Cigar Chronicles: Volume 2-The Originals is as near to perfection as 2012 has seen.  Crank this masterpiece to 9.5...

To read our review of The Cigar Chronicles: Volume 1-The Covers, click here!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

DOKKEN "Broken Bones"

(c) 2012 Frontiers Records

  1. Empire
  2. Broken Bones
  3. Best Of Me
  4. Blind
  5. Waterfall
  6. Victim Of The Crime
  7. Burning Tears 
  8. Today
  9. For The Last Time
  10. Fade Away
  11. Tonight
Don Dokken--Vocals
Jon Levin--Guitars
Sean McNabb--Bass
"Wild" Mick Brown--Drums

This is 2012, not 1987, folks.  25 years and seven studio albums separate what most will say was the last, true Dokken classic, Back For The Attack, (I disagree, as I think Lightning Strikes Again is a classic Dokken record!) and this latest effort, Broken Bones.  Things have changed, both internally and in the music industry, but Don Dokken continues to forge on, whether for the good or the bad, still working to release quality melodic hard rock in a world...or at least in an America...that constantly turns its back on such sounds.  He can't hit the high notes like he once could, George Lynch is long gone, and a lot of the songs here are far more personal and introspective than the anthems of the past, but when Broken Bones is at its best, it is a very good record.  Can it sustain those high moments, though?  That is really what the main question about Broken Bones turns out to be.  

Things start off in very promising fashion, as "Empire" is a full-throttle rocker that finds the band in fine form, with Don stretching his vocals about as far as they will apparently go now, and Levin absolutely ripping through an awesome solo that has me immediately comparing it to Lightning Strikes Again and  Erase The Slate's hardest moments.  "Broken Bones" continues in the hard-hitting vein, albeit easing off the gas pedal just a bit, but it still sounds for the most part like classic-era Dokken, especially in the way the chorus is delivered, and should leave most fans of the band anxiously awaiting the next track.  "Best Of Me" took me a few listens to really get into, but, once again, it is a solid track and we have a nice trifecta going to start the disc, and "Blind", while not necessarily leaping into "classic" status for this band, is certainly a better-than-average track that I like quite a bit after giving it some time to grow on me.  Four-for-four as far as rockers to start the album...that's a pretty solid average and I'm thinking we have a potential sleeper for Top 12 of 2012 here.

Then things hit a bump...and it's a pretty hefty sized bump, by the way....

"Waterfall" starts a somewhat downward trend, especially as far as tempo goes.  Levin has a cool solo in this song, but the track as a whole really goes nowhere for me.  It feels like the band couldn't decide if they wanted a ballad or not, so they bumped it up just a notch and gave us a kind of blah tempo that really drags things down for me.  Then comes "Victim Of The Crime", which my wife referred to as "hippie-drippy crap".  While I don't know that I would go that far, it is definitely an odd song that sounds more like the New Agish rock Don experimented with on Long Way Home a few years back.  Not my thing at all.

Just when I was starting to think about writing off the album overall, "Burning Tears" hit and I was back in "pretty impressed" mode.  Again, Levin's acrobatics really contribute to this uptempo rocker that just seems to continually build and build until it hits anthem mode, which I love.  It's a toss-up as to whether "Burning Tears" or "Empire" is the best song on the disc, by the way (and one more near the end throws its hat into the ring, as well...).

My hope for this record was just about flattened, however, with "Today".  Now, if this track had been served up on Don's acoustic solo disc from a couple years back, that would have been one thing...but it doesn't belong here AT ALL!  Seriously, after two listens I've had all I need of this boring, semi-acoustic, trying-to-hard-to-be-happy but still sounding depressed number.  If it seems I don't like it, well, then I guess my description is working...

"For The Last Time" brings the disc back to life in a big way, again delivering one of those classic-feeling Dokken anthems, but in a more modern version.  Levin is in top form here and Mick Brown sounds better on this track, more alive, than he does anywhere else.  Easily top three as far as songs go here, this is another one of those songs that I am sure will find its way into any "best of" Dokken compilation I decide to put together and I would imagine it will be a killer number in a live set.

"Fade Away" is the one track where I felt like the band made a legitimate attempt to reach into the past, and they almost pull it off.  It tries really hard to be a classic Dokken ballad, but it falls short, leaving the listener feeling like they came THIS CLOSE to hearing a great song, only to be left a little empty.  At times it reminds me of "Unchain The Night" off of Under Lock And Key, especially on the guitar riff, and at others is feels a bit like "Burning Like A Flame" from Back For The Attack.  But something is missing that keeps it from reaching classic greatness:  Jeff Pilson.  I'm not talking about his bass playing, but rather his backing vocals.  This is a perfect example of a time when the vocal harmonies of Pilson are sorely missed, as I think they would have possibly been enough to put this song over the top.  As it is, Levin nearly makes it great, but just not quite.  Definitely not a skipper, and perhaps it will grow on me even more with time and repeated listens, but fans who were hoping for a full-on classic are likely to feel a bit jilted, maybe even teased, and let down, albeit fairly gently. 

"Tonight" is a decent closer, again reaching for that classic Dokken sound but just missing by a fraction of an inch.  That being said, I would take a hundred "Tonight's" or "Fade Away's" over some of the cookie-cutter rock that clutters the airwaves of rock radio today.  There is at least some grit and soul to a track like this, along with yet another superb effort by Mr. Levin as well as solid contributions from Brown and McNabb.  Speaking of McNabb, it is worth mentioning that he does a more than credible job throughout the record, doing his part by keeping the songs moving along (at least when he's allowed to), but never threatening to overstep his bounds.

And then there's Levin.  I was texting a friend about this album the other day, and as I told him then, I have to say that the more I listen to Broken Bones, the more I am convinced that it is Levin's guitar that is the lead vocalist on this album, not Don Dokken.  While I absolutely don't hate Don's vocals here (although, as I pointed out, they do sound strained at times), I simply can't get over how much Levin has taken the band on his shoulders and carried it ,which allows Levin to step into the role of guitar-god that it seems he was born to play.  I know it's blasphemous for many to read this, but I actually prefer what Levin did here to the last couple of records Lynch did with the band; he is that good to me.  Guitar purists and snobs are likely going to tell you how derivative Levin's sound is, or how his intonation is a rip-off, or blah, blah, blah, blah.  Horse crap.  The guy can flat out shred and he saves the day for this sometimes very middle-of-the-road album.

My version of this album is the Deluxe Edition which comes with a DVD, which I just don't understand at all.  As I have said numerous times here, I have ZERO interest in watching the band talk about the making of the album, so it is very likely that the DVD will never leave the case.  Oh, by the way, the case is a danged digi-pack, and we all know what I think of those!!!!

When this album is at its best, it is every bit as good as Lightning Strikes Again, Erase The Slate, or the best parts of Hell To Pay.  It's those moments when it stumbles that keep this from becoming the best Dokken disc since Back For The Attack.  The more I listen, the more I love the rockers...and the more I don't like the filler stuff or the less-than-classic Dokken balladry.  Still, I'll take a slightly off Dokken over much of today's music any day.  For fans who can embrace what an older Don sounds like, and who can put away the "Lynch-or-nothing" attitude, there is a decent amount to like here.  Not as good as Lightning Strikes Again, but there isn't much in the band's catalog that is.

Rating:  A 65/35 album that is saved at times by Levin's undeniable talent.  Rock this at a 6.5 and enjoy the solid moments where Dokken is still Rokkin' and the band has flashes of their glory days.

Speaking of classic Dokken, how does this new album stack up to Jeff, George, and Mick's new T&N project?  Check that review here...

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

TORA TORA "Wild America"

(c)1992 A&M Records
  1. Wild America
  2. Amnesia
  3. Dead Man's Hand
  4. As Time Goes By
  5. Lay Your Money Down
  6. Shattered
  7. Dirty Secrets
  8. Faith Healer
  9. Cold Fever
  10. Nowhere To Go But Down
  11. City Of Kings
Anthony Corder--Lead & Backing Vocals
Keith Douglas--Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Patrick Francis--Bass
John Patterson--Drums & Percussion

On this, Tora Tora's sophomore album, the band continued with their blues-tinged hard rock...all for not.  I say this because 1992 was, for most readers of this blog, I suspect, the year the music died, and Tora Tora was lost in the shuffle.  Too bad because this is an excellent album that stepped up a bit from their debut yet remained filled with both solid rockers and a couple of top-notch ballads, all of which could have been hit material for radio and MTV had either format cared about the hair bands of the 80's that were still bringing it in the early 90's.

As it is, Wild America is my favorite of the Tora Tora albums that have been released, as Corder's vocals really showed a depth that was not always present on the Surprise Attack! album from 1989.  Sure, "Phantom Rider" was a great tune on that first disc, but this album has several songs that are every bit as good as that classic's just that not nearly as many people have heard these songs.  Also, the guys decided to let some of the "metal"in their "hair metal" sound slip away, settling instead for a sound that has more in common with Cinderella, Tesla, Tangier, and some of the other more blues-based hard rockers of the time.  For evidence of this, check out the following video for the phenomenal mid-tempo number, "Faith Healer".   

For those who were fond of the style the band used on "Walkin' Shoes" from Surprise Attack!, the shuffling rocker "Amnesia" should be right up their alley, as this song truly sounds like it could be the younger brother of "...Shoes".  Francis is especially present on this number as his bass line is the dominant feature here, but Douglas slides right in with a tasty little solo as well, lest you forget the talent this underappreciated guitar player wielded. 

Other top of the heap numbers would include the Memphis blues-soaked "Dead Man's Hand", the hard-driving, thumping title track, the more stripped-down "Nowhere To Go But Down" (which also features some nice mandolin work), and the balls-out, rolicking "City Of Kings", which is quite possibly the hardest number the band ever released and, most likely, would have propelled the band's debut album even further had this song been included on that album.  "Lay Your Money Down" is another stand-out track on an album that really has no bad songs, as is "Dirty Secrets".   As far as ballads go, "As Time Goes By" is as good as it gets, as the pomp of the power ballad is left behind and the emotion of the song is allowed to shine through.

Some twenty years after the fact, this is still an album that I pull out with a good deal of regularity and is one that should be given second life by anyone who may have filed it away.  If you haven't had the chance to hear this gem yet, it can usually be found for about the same cost as a footlong sandwich from Subway, so feed your ears with your next five dollar bill and see if you don't agree that this is one album that truly missed its shot at greatness due to the grunge virus that killed off so many great bands.

Rating:  Even after 20 years, this album is still crank-worthy!  An unhearalded classic worthy of a solid 8.5!  I truly love this record!

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

MONGREL "Reclamation"

(c) 2012 Thom Hazert Company
  1. Bored To Death
  2. Pseudocide
  3. F**k Off And Die
  4. Zombies Of War
  5. More I Bleed
  6. Tarnished Halo
  7. C & 1/2
  8. Crucifiction
  9. Revisionist
  10. Stillborn Savior
  11. Wake Up
  12. No Gods No Masters
Adam Savage--Guitars
Jessica Sierra--Vocals
Micah Maltais--Bass
Mike Hogan--Drums
Additional/Recording Musicians:
Dave Kauzukiewicz--Drums
Rev--Bass & Backing Vocals
Scott Campbell--Additional Vocals on "Wake Up"
Hmmmm....this is going to be difficult.  On the one hand, I do my very best to be honest and open about my feelings about the material I am sent, because I want to give the readers a fair impression of what they may hear if they choose to buy an album based on one of my reviews.  On the other hand, my momma always said, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all".  As such, I am very tempted to leave the rest of this review blank, as it is VERY difficult for me to find anything nice to say about Mongrel...and it's even more difficult to say anything nice about Reclamation.
Mongrel is a Boston-based metal band that combines doses of thrash, punk, hardcore, straight-up rock...and come up with a sound that reminds me a lot of the crossover bands that were on small labels back in the 80's.  Not only does their style remind me of those days and those small labels, so does the sound.  The production is so raw and so underground in feel it takes the album to the point of sounding unprofessional in spots.  The mix is decent, with no one instrument overpowering the rest, but the drum production is not particularly good and the record sounds like it was recorded in a garage with a boombox.  Who knows...maybe it was.
Lyrically, this album has some of the trashiest lyrics I have read in quite some time, and this is coming from a guy who gets sent dozens of albums a month from all genres of hard rock, modern rock, and metal.  Take for example this sample of lyrics from "Stillborn Savior":  "My stillborn savior, dead before you're born, My stillborn savior, just take this crown of thorns, My stillborn savior, now all my dreams have died, My stillboard savior, my aborted christ".  Or how about the classic chorus from "C & 1/2":  "You're not just a bitch, you're a C and a half (repeated four times)".  There is also the album's closer which has some more solid lyrics in it's chorus of "No Gods, No Masters, F**k You, You Bastards".  And, of course, I don't think much imagination is needed to guess about the lyrical content of the elloquent "F**k Off And Die".  Yeesh....
As to individual performances, Savages buzzsaw guitars are prominent throughout, but again, not so much as to bury the other instruments.  His is just the one instrument that I feel is played with more than the basest level of punk talent.  Sierra's vocals are just grating to my ears and nerves, never singing, but also not delivered with the snarl and skill of an Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy).  Her vocal approach varies from laughable sneer and snarl to almost rappish on a song like "The More I Bleed", which may be the worst song, musically if not lyrically, on the album.  And, whoever is playing the drums and bass, whether it's Maltais and Hogan or Rev and Kazukiewicz, simply lack anything more than rudimentary instrumental skills, as a sloppy rhythm section provides the shakey foundations for these tasteless blasts of aimless punk-metal. 
Mercifully, only three of these songs hit the 4 minute mark in duration, and six of them are under 3 minutes.  I have to wonder if the reason these songs are so short is because the players broke their instruments by beating on them so hard, or if because they ran out of ridiculous, inane things to scream and rant about so they just stopped. 
When doing some research on this band, I have seen them referred to as "brilliant", "unheralded and underappreciated", and "underground heroes".  My guess is that those reviewers were looking up antonyms and not synonyms in the thesaurus, because NONE of those words apply to Mongrel in any definition I could muster.  The band lacks imagination lyrically, displays no sense of melody or harmony, and, at least on this recording, exhibits about half of the talent I have witnessed in unsigned bar central NEBRASKA, no less!
Rating:  Don't waste your time even reaching for the knob, Glitter2Gutter readers.  There is nothing you will want to hear on this record.  Just turn it off....

KISS "Monster"

(c) 2012 Universal Music Company

  1. Hell Or Hallelujah
  2. Wall Of Sound
  3. Freak
  4. Back To The Stone Age
  5. Shout Mercy
  6. Long Way Down
  7. Eat Your Heart Out
  8. The Devil Is Me
  9. Outta this World
  10. All For The Love Of Rock & Roll
  11. Take Me Down Below
  12. Last Chance
Paul Stanley--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Gene Simmons--Lead Vocals, Bass
Tommy Thayer--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
Eric Singer--Lead Vocals, Drums

Paul or Gene?  Gene or Paul?  Basically, your opinion of KISS and their albums largely comes down to your preference of lead singers (although everyone takes a turn at the main mic on this disc), and the different styles of songs the two generally bring to the project.  Monster is no different.  Following up the surprisingly successful Sonic Boom from 2009, we are again treated to a mixture of Paul's more polished, fuller-sounding anthemic hard rock and Gene's generally more stripped-down three-chord rumblers.  Personally, I have always fallen into the camp of the Starchild, as Paul's music, whether as a solo artist or on his contributions to KISS, tends to grab my attention more, whereas so much of Gene's material tends to sound the same to me...not always, but quite frequently.  Monster is not any different, at least for me, but there are a couple of nice little surprises that make this an above average listen for rock fans, KISS Army members or not.

For me, the easiest way to break down this album is to split it up by singers, so that is the approach I will use here.  And, since I've already admitted to being more of a Paul fan than Gene (or anyone else), I will start off where the album starts...with Paul in the lead.

Things kick off with what I consider to be one of the band's strongest songs since the 1992 comeback classic Revenge album.  "Hell Or Hallelujah", which was also written by Paul, is superior to anything from Sonic Boom, and is a logical followup to that disc's dominant moment, "Modern Day Delilah".  Kicking off with a catchy guitar riff and a driving tempo, this track features the much higher, more controlled vocals of Paul on all of the lead parts, with Gene snarling his backing contributions in classic KISS fashion, giving the song a classic-KISS-meets-Revenge feel, complete with a very Ace-ish solo, handled nicely by Mr. Tommy Thayer.  "Freak" is another excellent Paul-fronted contribution, although this track received a co-write from Thayer.  Once again, fuller production, a screaming guitar solo, and some spot-on vocals drive this uptempo rocker that sounds to me like it might have fit well on the Psycho Circus album, again mixing a classic feel with the heavier sounds the more recent offerings have provided.  To me, songs like this and "Hell Or Hallelujah" are when KISS are at their best, and I would love to hear an entire album of exactly this type of material.  "Shout Mercy" is a definite throwback attempt, and the guitar riff sounds comfortably classic, mixing well with the majority of the material the band put out in their 70's hey day.  Once again, this song features the perfect mix of Paul on lead vocals and Gene on the backing tracks, with yet again another solid solo provided by the talented Thayer.  (Allow me to jump out of the Paul portion of this review to mention that, for the most part, Thayer has contributed the best guitar tracks on a KISS album in MANY years!  His playing here is just superb and worth noting in virtually every instance!)  Not every Paul cut is an absolute killer here, as I think "Long Way Down" gets a little plodding and is missing a bit of the oomph of the rest of his material on Monster.  "Last Chance" ends the album on a solid note, although it is a bit cliche feeling in it's approach and is not the best of the Paul tracks by any means.  Once again, this song sounds like it could have come from the Psycho Circus writing sessions...and once again, Tommy Thayer treats listeners to a great solo that will have air-guitars in full force after a couple of listens.

Overall Paul track rating:  Crankable at 8

Gene's tracks, in most instances, actually pleasantly took me by surprise. "Wall Of Sound" is crunchy in all the right places, and doesn't slip into the mind-numbing, plodding rhythm of so many of his past contributions.  Perhaps this is due to Paul's contribution as the album's producer, or perhaps Gene just found a bit of his 70's youth in one of his songwriting pens, because this is one of Gene's finest moments in many albums.  "Back To The Stone Age" is full of lyrical cliche and cheese, but it succeeds by keeping the tempo truly upbeat, with Gene's bass thumping along on the bottom end and Singer's drums crashing away at a solid clip, not allowing the track to bog down.  As with "Wall Of Sound", this is, at least musically, one of the better Gene tracks in quite some time.  "Eat Your Heart Out" is another very solid Simmons number (again with a great Thayer guitar solo) that has both a classic feel and a more modern production feel.  The really interesting thing about this track is the vocal intro, which has a DEFINITE classic sound, although it isn't necessarily a classic KISS sound (you need to give it a listen to appreciate what I mean here).  Again, this song does a good job of not slipping into slow-end mid-tempo range, as so many Gene songs have done in the past, and the Demon has crafted a song that will slide into a current set-list right alongside so many of the band's classics.  "The Devil Is Me", however, is one of those tracks I keep alluding to, with Gene slowing the pace too much, dropping his vocals to the bottom end of their range, and churning out a three-chord rocker that sounds like it might have been left on the Creatures Of The Night editing floor.  You've heard this song a dozen different times, just with different lyrics and a different title, although, once again, Thayer's guitar work saves the song enough that I don't just hit the skip button right away.

Overall Gene track rating:  Rock-worthy at 6.5

There is one trade-off track here, "Take Me Down Below", and it works pretty well here with Paul and Gene each tackling a verse.  Again, this is the kind of material that I really used to wait for on the older KISS records, because I always thought it was so unique to have a band that not only had two (or more) lead singers, but also utilized them in the same song.  Not the best song here, but certainly not the worst, this is one that may have more listeners than just me waxing nostalgic.

As to the other two songs, which feature Eric and Tommy on vocals, both are performed well, but my take on them is completely different.  WhenEric Singer gets his turn on the microphone with a Paul written track called "All For The Love Of Rock & Roll", it is one of the true high points of this album.  Again containing a classic KISS riff and feel, this mid-tempo groover is one that I can imagine will find its way onto future KISS compilations and could definitely gain significant airplay on classic rock stations that also mix in classic bands' new material.

Despite all of the glowing work contributed by Thayer on guitar, his moment in the spotlight as a vocalist is NOT the high point of this disc.  Now, let me clarify a bit; it's not that "Outta This World" is a horrible song.  It just sounds to me like Paul and Gene sat him down and said make this song sound as much like "New York Groove"-era Ace Frehley as  possible, and be totally unapologetic about it, which is what Thayer does here.  I realize that Stanley wrote this song, but blatant isn't a strong enough word to describe how much this feels like a rip-off in nearly every facet.  Even Thayer's vocal approach is similar to that of Ace.  Thayer's skill is evident, and the song is played with conviction by all parties here, but I just can't get over the shameful way it seems this song is directed at Ace (even the lyrics take a swipe at Frehley's "Space Ace" theme...).  It's one thing to have Thayer dress like Ace, and one thing to have him ape his solos as closely as possible (for which there is at least some understandable need), but to do something like this is difficult for me to swallow completely without a bitter taste being left behind. 

 The packaging, as you would likely expect, is top-notch.  Full lyrics, multiple full-color pictures, and full album credits are included in this 20 page booklet.  There is also a deluxe edition of this album which comes with a 64-page book that I have heard has even more photos as well as interviews and other KISS goodies, which is a nod to the marketing savvy of Gene, I am sure.

In the end...look, either you like KISS or you don't, and within that you are likely either a Paul or Gene fan.  No matter your standing in the latter part, you are going to find something you really like, and maybe a moment or two that leave you wanting...but isn't that they way with pretty much everything KISS has ever done?  I've read several other reviews on-line, and I have to say I am (so far) the only person who is going to make this statement:  I definitely prefer Monster to Sonic Boom, and it is leaps and bounds better than the very spotty Psycho Circus.  The best moment in KISS-tory?  Nope.  It is, however, the best thing the band has released in at least 20 years, at least to these ears.

Rating:  You can't just average the Gene and Paul ratings, because that skips over the significant guitar contributions of Thayer and the above average performance vocally and on drums from Singer.  I guess time will tell if some of the polish is knocked off this effort from a nearly 40 year old rock-n-roll machine, but for now, Monster earns a Crankability rating of 7.5.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

TALKIN' TRASH WITH...Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot/King Kobra)

**Due to some technical issues, this interview, which was conducted in July, is just now seeing the light of day.  Unfortunately, there was about two or three minutes of the interview which has been lost due to these digital glitches.  However, the clarity of the content has not been compromised, and this is still one of the most enjoyable interviews I have done to date...and easily the longest!  So, if you have a few minutes, read along as Paul talks about Rough Cutt, Shortino, JK Northrup, his thoughts on his stint with Quiet Riot (as well as the new version of that band), and his current gig with King Kobra....

G2G:  Paul, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.  Your wife informed me you had quite a wild night with the guys from Hell Yeah! last night, so I appreciate the effort!  (Laughing)

Paul:  Yeah, yeah...we're supposed to hook up with them again this afternoon before they go back out on the road.

G2G:  You're hooked up with some legendary partiers, there, Paul...

Paul:  Oh yeah, man.  Especially Vinnie Paul, man.  He's a great guy, though...

G2G:  So when you're not running with the wild boys, you've been hard at work on the new King Kobra record, correct?

Paul:  Yes, yes, we've cut all the bass tracks and drum tracks and now we're in the process of going back through and cleaning up stuff.  I've started to track vocals with the bass and drums to kind of make sure everything's pretty tight, and then I'll send that off to David, then he goes through it, and then he figures out what he wants to keep and what he doesn't want to keep.  It's just a process that we go through that works for us.  On the last one, Carmine wanted to cut the drums on tape and that worked so on this one we cut the drums on tape, and then Johnny came in from St. Louis to cut the bass, and James lives in Phoenix, and I live here in Vegas, so we all have to find time to do our parts to put this thing together.  And, of course, Carmine's back and forth from here to L.A., can be crazy.  But, we did the last record this way, and it seemed to work and so we're going through this one the same way and, to be honest, probably the video, too.  Everybody did their parts in different states for the last record, but this time everybody's coming to Las Vegas except David.  He has a studio in Phoenix that he works out of, so...  Oh, and the last record was mixed in Germany by Michael Voss, and he's probably going to do this new record, also.  And then the last video was done by a guy named Mario in Spain, so, uh, its kind of interesting how stuff's done these can just send files all over the world and let people do their jobs.

G2G:  Yeah, that's what I was getting ready to say.  It's amazing to me how technology has made the idea of a band almost a nationwide, if not worldwide, concept if you really think about it.

Paul:  Oh, absolutely, you know, it's amazing that just because of zeroes and ones you can send files out, import them into a session and if things don't sound exactly right you can fix's just amazing.  I remember the old days when if they wanted to edit anything it was a chunk of tape on the floor.

G2G:  No more razor blades and tape...

Paul:  Nope.  In fact, I remember the second Rough Cutt album Jack Douglas was known for his editing  abilities.  When he worked on the last John Lennon album...did you know he actually worked on the last Lennon album before he was shot?  Yeah, they dropped him off at the Dakota just after being together in the studio, and Chapman shot him (Lennon) right after they dropped him off.

G2G:  Wow...

Paul:  Yeah... (laughing) I don't even remember where I was going with that... (laughter).  Oh, yeah...Rough Cutt...

G2G:  (laughing)  Well, since you brought up Rough Cutt, let's go back a bit and take a couple minutes to look at that band.  Why do you think Rough Cutt never really broke out like it seemed you guys were poised to do?

Paul:  Uh, well, one of the reasons was that we had a any kind of business it's always timing...and the timing was right but we spent a year looking for a producer even though we had been signed for a long time before a lot of the other 80's bands like Ratt and even Quiet Riot.  We were signed before them, I know, because they were playing around as DuBrow at the time, and then Kevin used to come see us back when he was in DuBrow, and then he put back together Quiet Riot here in the States after they had spent some time in a different version of the band in Japan.  But they got their record out before we did, so I think it had a lot to do with timing, you know.  Uh, Wendy (Dio) got us out touring and doing things...we went to Europe before we were even signed to a label, so it kind of took a while to pick a producer because we were out on the road, which we wanted to do.  Teddy Templeman signed the act, he was the executive producer at Warner Brothers at the time, and he did all the Van Halen and he was working at that particular time on records with, I think it was Lindsay Buckingham and I think Eric Clapton, so obviously that took priority over Rough Cutt... (chuckles)  We waited and waited and waited and waited and waited...and we ended up with Tom Allen, and I think he just took the job because he didn't have anything else to do.  You know, we had a great A&R guy in Tom Worley, and just as the record was finishing up being produced with Tom Allen, Worley left and went to Capitol Records, so we lost our A&R man at the same time.  So, I think the year looking for a producer screwed the band on timing and then after we did track the album, um, and I do believe that Allen was doing it because he had to fill in some time and space, I really don't feel like he was into the band.  And then, with the second album, um, that was with Neil Kernon, and that was in Long Island...err, no it was in The Village in New York...anyway we played a show there and he came to the show and we hung out with him the next day.  He had did the Dokken album, um, (Under) Lock And Key, or whatever, that went platinum, and anyway, he was also an engineer and he was going to engineer our Rough Cutt album and produce it.  He was also quite a songwriter, so I really wanted Neil to do it, and I thought he would have done a really good job with the band.  You know there were so many people in the band who wrote, that uh, well, sometimes it was a collaboration of different ideas and sometimes the lyrics didn't really fit with a song but everybody wanted their part in there, which is where I think a good songwriter like Neil would have been beneficial to the band.  Neil kept saying, "you know, you've got a singer with a kind of raspy voice, you should go toward a Bryan Adams kind of direction".  We had so many people with different directions, you know.  We had Chris who was into Priest and Alice Cooper, and Amir, he was into a lot of different kinds of music, and so, uh, it was kind of hard.  And then with me, growing up kind of an R&B guy, you know, it was music like old Temptations and Stevie Wonder and the R&B stuff  from back in the day, but I was also big into Paul Rodgers and Cream, and a lot of that was due to a bit of an age difference between me and the other guys in Rough Cutt, so it, uh...well, what my influences were weren't necessarily what theirs were or what they were know, I was into Zeppelin and Humble Pie, Free, a lot of stuff out of the early 70's and even late 60's.  Anyway, I think if we would have went with Neil on the second record and the timing would have been better, things might have worked out.  You know, he had success with Dokken and then he went on and did Queensryche, and you know they won a Grammy for "Silent Ludicity", I ran into him and he played me some of the Queensryche stuff that was going to come out at about the same time as our second album and I was just blown away, so it was like, "man...what if...", you know.  But...things happen...  You know, the PMRC thing didn't help, either, you know with Tipper Gore demonizing heavy metal and especially the album covers, and, well, ours had a heart with a knife coming out of it, so...(laughs)...that probably didn't help...  I don't know what that was so horrible...maybe it was the piece of blood dripping onto the mechanical spider...

G2G:  Scary stuff!  (laughing) 

Paul:  What's ironic was, it's kind of funny, but that album cover was really designed for kids.  But, I remember we were touring with Ronnie (Dio) on the Sacred Heart tour, and we were doing radio spots and record store promotions for people to come in and see the band and get stuff signed, but we would get to the record store and the album wouldn't even be out or at the station it wouldn't even be opened.  It was a really weird time and I think it had a lot to do with the label not really being behind us, and then we ended up with this big (PMRC) sticker on our record, so...  You know, if you're not getting any radio play, for whatever reason, really hurts.  Our album wasn't getting out there, so the sticker hurt us, but bands like Ratt, or WASP, in particular, they already had their material out there, so putting a sticker on their records actually promoted their sales, you know.  People were like, "hey, that must be cool stuff", whereas with us it was like, you know, "who are they"?  But with those other guys, people already knew who they were, but for us, it just stopped people from even opening up the record...  So be it.

G2G:  Now, despite the lack of support here, I've heard you actually had a really strong European following.  Is that correct?

Paul:  Yeah, um, where it was more of a cult following here in the U.S., we were much bigger in Europe for whatever PMRC, maybe....

G2G:  Now, do you consider the band that you later formed, The Cutt, to be an extension of Rough Cutt, or were you just going with what people felt comfortable with in associating your name with a project?

Paul:  Well, no, I just, know the name, Rough Cutt, I came up with it, so when I did a solo album, I just kind of figured I'd call the band "The Cutt".  I don't know that I thought the whole project would end up with that label, but it is what it is...  It was kind of a cliche to people, so I thought I could get away with it.  Actually, I should have just taken the name (Rough Cutt) and ran with it since the band was basically dead at that time anyway.  Those guys just really didn't know, we've tried a number of times, but the rest of the band, there's just too many guys with too many ideas.  You know, I had us a record deal to get Rough Cutt back together after we did this last King Kobra album.  You know, the Kobra record was done in December of that year, and my manager had checked with Frontiers Records and we got offered more for a new Rough Cutt album than we did the new King Kobra album, but then everybody started arguing over money, where we were going to track it, who was going to engineer it, you know all that stuff.  I told them how we had just done the Kobra record, you know, writing songs and sending them to each other to work on and analyze, chop up and give it a facelift, you know, see if people like the direction the song is going and so forth, you know, the lyrics and the melodies, like we had done with Carmine and Johnny and Dave for Kobra.  But they argued so much about the money and everything that by the time...look, if we had signed in the December when the contract was offered and worked out the rest after signing, we would have gotten more money, but then 2012 arrived, and we were still arguing about money and the whole deal had changed by that time, and now we needed to schedule so many dates to tour to support the record, and with Rough Cutt not having been out for 20-some, almost 30 years as a group, we just didn't have an easy time getting dates and stuff, so...  Eventually, nobody but me wanted to do it.  They kept going over the money thing until I was like, "you know what, forget about it."  You know?  I thought it was a good idea and a good way to make another record and do some touring.  It wasn't about making a fortune off the record because the money was good, but it wasn't going to make anyone rich or anything, but still it was a decent budget for a record that we all could have been doing in our own studios.  It just ended up never going anywhere because of money...  I just really miss playing with the guys and I think we could have made a really good record, but in the end, there wasn't enough money for the guys to be happy, so we just let it go.

G2G:  Were all of the originals going to be on board?

Paul:   What, the material?

G2G:  The band...

Paul:  Yeah, it would have been all the originals, yeah.  Well, we talked to Craig Goldy, but he's under contract with Wendy Dio, and he wasn't going to be permitted to participate for whatever reason.  The only guitar players that we would ask to bring in other than the originals would have been Jake (E. Lee) or Craig (Goldy), because they were the only two other guys who were really in Rough Cutt.  And then I said, why don't we just make it a four-piece, you know, but nobody could make up their minds about the budget or where to record just got like it was when we were together.  Everyone was so non-committal, nobody wanted to do anything was just very frustrating just never, ever being able to do what was best for the project, you know.  We had the same kind of problems when we were together originally.  I got outvoted on producers, you know, but everything was done by a democratic vote, so I went along with it.  But with this new project, that simply wasn't going to work because nobody could agree to anything, you was like four or five people voting four or five different ways.  That's just the way the whole thing went.

G2G:  When Rough Cutt disbanded originally, you went on to front Quiet Riot for that one, self-titled album.  Can you tell us what that experience was like?

Paul:  Well, that was like getting out of a band of very close brothers...despite our issues, Rough Cutt was a brotherhood...and going into, pretty much a situation that was so political that we didn't even have a collective management situation.  When I got into the band, if you can call it that, I had my own manager, they had their own manager.  I went in and tracked a few songs to see if the band wanted me as a singer because things could have been very difficult because me and Kevin (DuBrow) were very good friends.  And, uh, the band kept me very much under the radar with Spencer (Proffer) for a while, because they only had one record to do and they didn't want to re-sign with Pasha (Proffer's label).  The band wanted to cut that link with the label and go straight to CBS because, what was happening was they signed that deal with Pasha Records and Spencer, you know who's the one who told them "you need to do 'Cum On Feel The Noize', it'll make you huge," which it did...and so they were signed to a deal with Pasha which is his label, and he owned them lock, stock, and barrel...everything, you know.  So, they had one record to finish before they could just kind of move onto CBS who was their distributor, but they weren't sure if he would let them do the record without Kevin, so they kind of kept me hidden for a while, until they were sure they could make the record, because they wanted out.  See, basically CBS, the distributor for Pasha, gave all the advance money for Quiet Riot's records to Spencer and then Spencer divvied it out to the band however he wanted to, and so he ended up with all of their publishing.  Anyway, so, when I went in and tracked vocals I was walking into the most political situation I have ever been in as far as a musical situation, because the band and their manager didn't want to give me and my manager anything but they wanted my manager to do all of these things for them, like finding a place to rehearse and things like that.  You know, the Dio's had a place to rehearse and we could go in there without having to spend any money so we set that up to help the band out.  Then I officially got in the band and Chuck Wright, who was the bass player at the time, left and then Rudy (Sarzo) came back to the band at the same time, basically, but he was negotiating with us at the same time that Whitesnake wanted him, so he ended up going with them and we ended up finding Sean McNabb to work with us.  We worked for about a year tracking songs, in fact "Stay With Me Tonight" was a song that didn't make it onto the last Rough Cutt record that we did so I brought it to the attention of Quiet Riot.  They thought it would be a cool song to do, so we changed the groove and feel of it and then recorded that.  Then, after a year of litigation, lots of money and attorney fees, we were able to finish recording the album.  But, the whole thing, right up to the end, was just very political.  You know I really actually liked working with Spencer, I thought he brought out a lot of good things in me, but there was just a lot of hostility from years of them (Quiet Riot) working with Spencer and, you know, them going from touring in a Winnebago and whatever, then getting a number one hit and just being bigger than life with "Cum On Feel The Noize", and making all that money.  You know, they did, they made a lot of money but they were also all very bitter knowing what everybody gave up that could have been theirs, and probably should have been theirs, but that was their choice; they should have changed that after they went crazy with their big hit, as far as their publishing and everything went.  So, basically, when I jumped in the band we spent a year fighting over publishing.  You know, I didn't want to give up my writing and publishing rights and so we made a deal to split everything equally.  Where I made a mistake is I should have kept my rights as a writer, you know, especially with the stuff I brought in from the outside, and then split the publishing because, well, as a musician that's your retirement.

G2G:  Right, I've heard other songwriters say that...

Paul:  Yeah, it really is.  But, I made the mistake being a bit naive, you know, I made the mistake of giving up my writing credit as well, so, you live and learn, I guess.

G2G:  Did you play out quite a bit with Quiet Riot?

Paul:  Well, yeah, we did.  We toured South America, we toured Guam and Japan, in fact we released a video, or at least Frankie (Banali) did, I don't know, I've never seen it and I've never made anything from it, maybe Carlos (Cavasa) has, I don't know.  I met with Frankie and I agreed for him to release it, but I don't think there was any money to be made on the thing anyway, so....  They just released it digitally, so, I'm maybe starting to see some of the uh, the backlash of that whole effort or whatever.  But, you know, I wish Quiet Riot the best, but I don't see it being Quiet Riot out there now, you know.  Carlos is in Ratt now, and I'm with Kobra...  I believe that the only real version of Quiet Riot that could even exist now would be Frankie, me, Carlos, and Sean, because that is the only other line-up of Quiet Riot, other than the Randy Rhodes stuff years and years ago, that ever did anything outside of what the band did with Kevin, at least that was recorded, you know what I mean?  Everybody else, I mean, don't get me wrong, Chuck Wright did a lot of bass stuff for Quiet Riot and he's been in and out of the band for years, so, I don't have an issue with that I guess.  And I believe Alex (Grossi) was in the band with Kevin and Frankie, but there was also a time when Bobby Rondinelli was in there playing drums, and...there were just so many different people in that band that any number of people could go out and say they were Quiet Riot, but only the four of us ever really recorded anything as Quiet Riot, you know.  But the lineup that is with Frankie right now are all people who have been affiliate with the band at one time or another, except the new singer, but that lineup has never recorded anything as Quiet Riot, so...  Anyway, I wish them all the best, you know, it's a business and it's a very small circle of people and I don't like to say anything negative about anybody because it's not worth it, you know.  You just have to continue to move on.  I don't have any animosity towards anybody and I only wish anybody the best, so if this is the way Frankie wants to go out and do Quiet Riot, so be it.  But as for my time with the band, it was just a very interesting, very politically charged time and quite a journey, but unfortunately, like in Rough Cutt, it all came down to money and that's why they call it the music business because the business takes over the music sometimes.  If they could keep the business out of it, and just let people enjoy the creativity part of it, and not try to have so many people get their fingers into the pie of the whole know, the pie is always big enough to split up until people start taking more than they deserve.  That's what happened to Quiet Riot, really.  Spencer ended up taking more of the writing and publishing credits than any member of the band, and we wrote the material and stuff, so...  And I'm not saying he didn't do anything, because he was there on it, you know, but producers get paid a lot of money to help guide you through a song process and make it better, and you, it's amazing that people get greedy and hungry for a bigger piece of the pie, or whatever.  I was just recently doing a new publishing deal and I had to go through all of the percentages of everything that I have ever written and/or co-wrote with people, and it was, uh, it was very sad, actually, to see a lot of the work that I had done myself that a lot of other people got credit for and I was getting less of a percentage even though I wrote everything.  You know, seeing music sales and these other people, you know like Spencer who sold out all of his rights to another publishing company, so they are going to have money for all of his catalog and they, like Spencer, didn't even write any of it.  It's very bizarre how it all works and pretty sad, really.  I just don't have the money or the resources or the time to go and settle stuff in court that really isn't right, you know, and I would have a hard time proving a lot of it anyway, even though (licensing companies) BMI and ASCAP have the percentages from back in those days, and those percentages don't match up to what I am getting, so in order for me to change those percentages in writing credits for me to get what is actually mine, I would have to have a piece of paper, in writing, that we had all drawn up back then on who got what percentages.  But it is what it is.  I thought we wrote some really good stuff in Quiet Riot, but I kind of blame myself for not doing a second album with the band because of all the politics in that band.  I left the band before that next record and formed the band Badd Boyz with Sean McNabb who came along with me, along with Mitch Perry and James Kottack.

G2G:  Well, since you brought Badd Boyz up, what can you share with us about that band because, really, it is relatively unknown, correct?

Paul:  Yeah, which is too bad, really.  Um, we ended up needing a drummer to replace James because he couldn't commit, and then we actually ended up getting a recording contract, so, uh, we ended up getting a gentleman named Rich Carlson who was a very good drummer out of Colorado.  Um (chuckles), it's been a pretty jumpy ride through those Quiet Riot and Badd Boyz know, I mean you just live and learn.  Sometimes it's just kind of a sad reality when you see things come out the way you do and you wish you would have had a way to change things then.  The Badd Boyz record, I thought had some good stuff on it but it came out at a bad time, musically, for what we were doing.  So, uh, again, I wish nothing but the best to everybody I have ever worked with, you know all the Rough Cutt guys and the Quiet Riot guys and my Badd Boyz guys...I just want them all to continue to have happy, creative, and peaceful lives, you know.  I'm not bitter about any of it, it's just a little sad sometimes is all.

G2G:  You know, one of my favorite projects that you ever did was the stuff you did as Shortino/Northrup...and JK told me to tell you "hi" by the way...  But those two records, and particularly that first one, were just some killer bluesy rock records that not enough people have heard.  How did that pairing come up and what can you tell me about your time working with Mr. Northrup?

Paul:  Jeff Northrup is probably the most underrated, talented, guitar player I have ever met.  He is a phenomenal songwriter, guitar player, any other thing he does he's great at, too.  I couldn't say anything but great things about Jeff and would do anything for Jeff.  That Back On Track record is one of the best things that I have ever recorded and that is so much because of Jeff, man.

G2G:  I know, I love it...

Paul:  I do, too.  In fact the song "Pieces", I had walking pneumonia when I sang that song...

G2G:  Really?

Paul:  Yeah.  I was only supposed to sing on a couple of songs, originally, and we had such a great chemistry and connection that he didn't want anybody else to sing anything, and I was just really honored to do that record with Jeff.  And, the other one, too, Afterlife, I think is also a great record, but it doesn't even come close to Back On Track, I don't think, largely because of all the great drummers and guest musicians that were on that record.  That includes Bobby Kimball (lead singer of Toto), who came in and sang "Forgotten Child" with me.  I called Bobby and had him come in and sing with me, as a favor, and he called me and said, "Hey, man, I don't know about those guys!  I thought I was going to just go in and sing a couple of lines but they gave me the once over man!  They worked me, man!" (laughing)  He did a phenomenal job though, and what a great record.  We actually went on tour with Jeff, James, myself, and Sean McNabb doing some shows across the country not too long after that record was released.

G2G:  I just think it's a great record.  I know that it's been re-released once and I really wish that it would get properly released again by one of these retro labels that put everything out because I think it's one of those records that I just feel everyone should hear, you know.

Paul:  It really is.  You know it had some great songs and just some really great playing, especially from Jeff.  What a talent.  And there were some great drummers on there, also.  You know, I did stuff on there with Carmine before I ever even dreamed of doing Kobra, you know.  We were always kind of friends, but we've since become very close friends, and it kind of started on that record, you know.        

G2G:  Paul, I realize I am jumping a bit out of the timeline of events here, but I have to ask you about the Hear N' Aid all-star project because you are the first person I have had the chance to interview that was in on that event.  That had to be a heck of a thrill, I would think!

Paul:   It was, like, the most in-awe situation that I have ever found myself in.  There were just so many people that I, as an artist, looked up to and I never thought that I would ever meet some of the people that were involved in this project.  You know, I'm a fan as well, and here I am thrown into this group of superstars and I'm in a sort of shock, you know.   I mean, you have Ted Nugent and Carmine before I actually got to know know, legends in this genre of music that we were in.  And being tossed into this group of people that I was just in awe of was an incredible experience, and to be put into the group of people who were used as lead singers on the project was just a, uh, an unbelievable experience.  People put their egos in their back pockets and everybody was just down to earth and it was just an amazing event, a truly amazing event.  I remember doing the lead vocals at Captain and Tenille's studio in, I think it's Northridge, and then going to all the guitar solo stuff and the drum tracking for the basic tracks, and the backing choir stuff, which was all done at A&M Studios.  It was really quite an incredible, honoring experience to be involved in as far as I was concerned. 

G2G:  It's interesting to me that you brought up egos because everybody always says that Yngwie Malmsteen has the biggest ego out there.  What was he like to work with or do you have any memories of Yngwie?

Paul:  I really didn't interact with him very much, you know what I mean, because there were days and days and days of tracking, and you know some days I didn't even see him do his parts.  They had so many people coming in and doing their parts, and it was would have been impossible to really meet and spend time with everyone and I was in such a state of "I can't believe I'm here" that I probably didn't soak it all in as much as I wish I could have.  I was there when the two guitar players from Iron Maiden were there, um, I was there when Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) did his part, and I was there when the Spinal Tap guys were there (laughs), and they were, of course, bagging on all the "Yngwie J. Malmsteen" stuff with his middle initial...

G2G:  Oh yeah, classic stuff...(laughing)...

Paul:  Absolutely.  Great stuff and great times....

G2G:  Now, was that how you got hooked up to do the Spinal Tap movie?  A lot of people possibly don't realize that you were Duke Fame in that classic movie...

Paul:  Well, what had happened is that Rough Cutt had a gig, actually Jake was in the band at that time, and we had this gig at the Troubador, and we had put a couple of different ads out in papers and I believe it was BAM! magazine at the time, and anyway, uh, they all ran an ad of the band playing the Troubador and the lady who did the casting for the movie or whatever saw a photo and then came down to see the band.  She saw us and then asked Dave, Jake, and myself to show up to meet with her about this movie they were doing.  Well, I just happened to show up first and I was dressed in that outfit, you know the white leather and the boots, that was my outfit...

G2G:  Really?

Shortino in Duke Fame mode
Paul:  Oh, yeah, man!  (laughing)  So, uh, she saw me in this outfit and everyone there went, "He's Duke Fame!  We don't even have to take him to wardrobe!" (laughing)  So, yeah, I got the part, I showed up early, got my S.A.G. (Screen Actor's Guild) card out of it...  Funny thing happened when we were waiting around to film my part.  We were sitting around waiting, me and Wendy (Dio), and this girl that was in the shoot with me was actually Jackson Browne's ex-girlfriend, who he had dumped for Darryl Hannah before she did "Splash".  So, I was listening to her and Wendy talk about rock stars, and you know, Rough Cutt wasn't even signed yet, so I'm no rock star, you know, I'm just playing one.  Anyway, these two are going on about Jackson Browne and Ronnie and all these rock stars and boyfriends and husbands, and I see the Spinal Tap guys walk by and I take Wendy aside and tell her, "man, these guys are having a bad hair day or something!", not realizing they were wearing wigs, you know.  So then we take a break for lunch and I'm sitting next to Rob Reiner, trying to push Rough Cutt songs to him to be in the movie and the guys across from us are Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest, and the drummer, Rick...I can't remember his last name...might have been Parnell, Rick Parnell, who was a really good drummer, by the way...and anyway, I look at these guys who are out of make-up and costume, and I tell them "you look like these guys I saw earlier who were having a really bad hair day"...and I felt like a complete idiot when I found out they were the guys!  But I didn't get fired and I went and did my part with Howard Hessman, you know, and got my S.A.G. card, which has been a blessing, and that has pretty much been the whole experience, you know.  The whole thing was ad-libbed, so there wasn't any script, you know, there was just this outline of a movie and everyone was just kind of told, you know they told Fran Drescher, for example, here's your part, here's what's happening, go for it.  So, that stuff, all of Howard's stuff, that was all just made up and it was crazy!  So, we are out on the road as Rough Cutt, you know, and we couldn't get a line-check or sound-check with Krokus, who we were out with, but then their manager stopped by our dressing room one night and said, "hey, aren't you Duke Fame from Spinal Tap?"  I told him yeah and he was like, "well, the guys in Krokus want to meet you".  So I went and signed autographs and stuff and took some pictures and the next thing you know we had Heineken and a sound-check, and they checked out the Budweiser we had been drinking, and suddenly they were treating us like stars because Duke Fame was in the band.  It's crazy...

G2G:  Duke Fame got you some real fame, then...

Paul:  Absolutely!  It's gotten me a lot of places, really.  I was picking Ronnie and Wendy Dio up at the airport, and you know they had their own limousine company, so I just showed up with the limo driver to help with the luggage, you know.  So, as I'm helping with the luggage, the guys from REO (Speedwagon) come over to me and ask me if I'm Duke Fame!  When they saw me getting into the limo they asked me if I was heading over to the Enormodome as they were getting into a shuttle bus to head off somewhere else.  It's just crazy what that film has done...

G2G:  And it got you to Glitter2Gutter!  (laughing)

Paul:  Exactly (laughs)

G2G:  Well, you have to have been one of the busiest singers of the last 30 years or so, at least as far as hard rock goes.  On top of all the bands we talked about, you also jumped on board and helped out Great White for a couple of shows there, didn't you?

Paul:  Yeah, yeah, I did because Terry (Ilous of XYZ and now Great White) wasn't able to be there and Jani Lane, my good friend who's dead and gone, couldn't make the gig because he couldn't leave the country.  Jani had been singing for Great White while Jack (Russell) was out with some health problems, you know, but he couldn't go overseas.  And, you know, we're all friends and everything, so Terry calls me up and asks me if I could maybe do a couple of shows.  He told me, "I can't go back over and do it, I just got done doing shows with XYZ over there, so would you be interested in doing it?", and I said sure, you know, I would do anything for friends.

G2G:  In your opinion, how bad is that situation now, with the two Great Whites?  We just had Jack Russell call us not too long ago and give us his insight, and I actually got to talk to Jack when he played here in town a couple weeks ago.  He told me that there is just no chance that things will likely work fact, he said it would "take an act of God" to get him and Mark Kendall back on stage together.  How sad is that for you, not only as a friend but as a fan?

Paul:  It's very sad, you know.  I mean, if you think about it, there's two LA Guns out there, now two Great Whites...I mean that would almost be like Carlos (Cavaza) starting up his own version of Quiet Riot, without any of us or anyone else in the band...

G2G:  Yeah, I feel the same.  It's getting ridiculous...  There were also two Faster Pussycats for a while, there are virtually two Dokken's now, what with Don going with a new band and the rest of the guys doing their thing together, the two LA Guns and two Great Whites, like you's confusing to fans and it's really sad that with so many bands getting back together now, the ones that had managed to stick it out and continue on are the ones that are breaking up now and going their separate ways.

Paul:  Well, there's another one, too.  I'm good friends with John Payne and John was with Asia for six or seven records, but the original Asia is all back together now, so now you have Asia with Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman and all those guys, and you have John Payne's version of Asia who, really, has the bulk of that band's material if you think about it, but none of the big hits.  So, all the records that John had done, none of them were huge because radio in the 90's had no interest in playing the music of 80's bands that were still going, like an Asia.'s like you said, it's confusing to fans...

G2G:  Talking about bands that kind of came out of nowhere to get back together again, King Kobra was, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried.  How did that resurrection come about and how did you jump on board?

The new King Kobra
Paul:  Well, how that whole thing happened was KEEL was doing another record, and I was helping out; I actually did Ron's (Keel) vocals in my studio, so they had gotten back together.  So, it just happens that Carmine had stopped by Pat Reagan's studio where he was mixing some of KEEL's new stuff with Brian Jay.  So, Pat mentioned to Carmine that Frontiers Records was signing all of these 80's acts and that Carmine might want to talk to them about getting King Kobra together for another record.  And, uh, Carmine said, "well, yeah, except that I'm not going to use Mark Free because"...well, he's Marcie Free now, you know, anyway, Carmine was like, "Mark never really wanted to do heavy rock anyway, so I don't think he would want to come back now."  So, Pat and actually I think it was Brian Jay who said, "hey, you should check Paul Shortino out, I think he'd be perfect for you guys."  So, Carmine came up to here to do a gig, and he brought David, the guitar player from Kobra with him, and we all did this thing together with me doing a King Kobra song with them.  Well, David had brought down some tracks with him and over the weekend we wrote three songs together.  We were all like, wow, this is really cool, this is really working, and we decided maybe we should pursue this.  In fact, we ended up writing almost the whole record before we even signed the contract to do the deal.  We took some old material that they had and mixed it with some new stuff, of course with a new singer in me, and we brought in some new ideas on melodies and stuff, and we came up with a really good record, and now we're doing another one which is great.  I really hope we get to tour behind this new record, and I think Frontiers is going to put us out with some other bands.  It would be really cool to get to go out with Whitesnake because we could call it the "Venom Tour" with the snakes and stuff (chuckles).

G2G:  (Laughs)  Snake-haters might not like that so much...

Paul:  Yeah, probably not...

G2G:  You know, a lot of people compare your vocal style to Coverdale's.  How do you take that?

Paul:  I take that as a great compliment because he's one of my favorite singers, man.

G2G:  Have you ever had the opportunity to work with him or spend any time with him over the years?  Your paths ever cross?

Paul:  I met David Coverdale at a Dio concert one time before Whitesnake got huge.  I was blown away.  The first time I had ever got to see David perform was with Deep Purple at CalJam 1, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were headlining.  It was so trippy for me because then all these years down the road I got to meet him backstage, warming up for a show opening for my friends in Dio.  This was around their Slide It In album and they were touring with Dio, of course.  I also ended up getting to meet Glenn Hughes, who of course played with Coverdale, at the Dio's house.  It was just amazing to me how I was able to meet people who I was in awe of for all these years...  My favorite singers who I kind of tried to emulate was Lou Gramm, Coverdale, Paul Rodgers, Robert Plant...those are like, as far as rock singers go, those are my favorites.  And like I mentioned earlier, I grew up a big fan of Motown and the soul sound and R&B sound of the 60's and 70's like the Temptations, the Four Tops...Stevie Wonder...(at this point, Paul breaks into song, singing, "I know you want me...."), you know, soulful stuff like that...  You know, Glenn Hughes is also a big fan of Stevie Wonder, can really hear it in some of his inflections when he's singing...  He's just one of the most incredible vocalists that I have ever heard...

G2G:  I agree...totally agree.  Now, Paul, you've always been noted for the raspier, blusier slant that you bring to your music, which really seems to lend itself to another current project of yours with the Vargas Blues Band, who Carmine also plays with, correct?

Paul:  Yes, yes.  Actually, we just did a remake of "If You Think I'm Sexy" which Carmine co-wrote with Rod Stewart...
G2G:  I'm going to have to hear that...

Paul:  Yeah, man.  We redid it, and Pat Travers is on the track, and so is Tony, it's got some rap on's a heavy version of the song.  It's like (Paul breaks into a VERY bluesed up version of the song at this point).  (Chuckles) As you can tell, it's a little different!  (laughs)  And then the chorus is like (again, very blues-soaked here) "if you want my body AND you think I'm sexy, come on honey let me know..."  And then, and this was my idea, we do some different stuff with the backing vocals and a kind of rap, kind of like a Jimi Hendrix kind of thing, you know a "wah wah" thing then this rap thing (Paul raps the lines from the song)...  There's just a little bit of everything in this one track...  We ended up doing a video for this thing which comes out in October or November, so we'll see if we can get back over to Europe and do some touring.

G2G:  Is that just called the Vargas Blues Band, then?

Paul:  No, this one is called V.A.S., which is Vargas, Appice, and Shortino...  He (Vargas) has a lot of other stuff out, too, so this one is V.A.S. And then the bass player, I forgot his name... (shouts to his wife "Carmen...who was the bass player with us in Vargas?")  That's right!  Louie! Luis Mayol is the bass player on there...great guy.  Can't believe I forgot his name...  He's in the video, too.  By the way, Javier (Vargas) is just amazing.  He's played with Prince, Queen, um, so many people.  He's extremely famous in Spain and he's played with, like, literally everybody who has come through Spain it seems.  Great guitar player and great human being.  This record that's coming out also has Glenn Hughes on the album, and an unbelievable list of musicians and performers that is coming out...

G2G:  I'm going to have to check it out.

Paul:  Yeah, it's really cool.  The only thing is, the whole album is blues except for the first song, "...Sexy", but, of course we did that one pretty bluesy too (breaks into the "...Sexy" chorus again before starting to laugh...)  Can you believe they did a video for that?  I think it's an awesome video and I just got it not too long ago, so, uh, I'll send you over a copy to look at.

G2G:  Now when can we expect the new King Kobra record to be out?  I'm assuming it's going to be on Frontiers again, right?

Paul:  Yeah, that should be out the first of next year, I believe.

G2G:  Well, Paul, you gave me so much more than I was even hoping for and it has been a true pleasure and experience for me to get the chance to spend some time with you on the phone...

Paul:  I hope we get the chance to talk again man, especially when that new Kobra record is out.  You, uh, you've got my number so feel free to give me a holler any time, my friend.

G2G:  I'll try to let you sleep in next time!

Paul:  Here...(laughing)...yeah, that would be great!  Thanks so much and God bless, my friend!

That, folks, was an almost 80 minute interview that Paul was so gracious to grant us!  Be sure to keep up with all things Paul Shortino at his website, where else,  

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