Sunday, March 31, 2019

PAISTY JENNY "18 Days In Weed"

(c) 2019 Direct Hit Records

  1. 18 Days In Weed
  2. Criminal
  3. High
  4. Let It Go
  5. Hollywood
  6. Run To Me
  7. Ashes
  8. Run To Me (Acoustic)
Gregg Lee--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Stan Liberty--Lead Guitars, Vocals
Gabe Matthews--Bass, Vocals
Tye Lovette--Drums, Vocals

Lincoln, NE rockers, Paisty Jenny, have finally released a new album, their first since 2011's Head In A HazeThe new record, 18 Days In Weed, was recorded with multi-platinum producer, Sylvia Massy (Sevendust, Tool, System of a Down) and Michael Beck (Jake E. Lee's Red Dragon Cartel), and features a bigger, richer, heavier sound than these hard rockers have ever managed to capture on an album, coming across much closer to their live sound than they have in the past.  I say this with great confidence, as I have seen the band perform multiple times, including at SkullFest a few years back.  Combining a love for 80s arena rock with modern crunch and edge, the band finds its way into that category occupied by bands such as Hinder, Theory Of A Deadman, and even Velvet Revolver to a degree.  

The new effort kicks off with the "title track", if you want to call it that.  Basically, "18 Days In Weed" is a drum cadence from Lovette (along with some big drum kicks) with some guitar riffing running below with what sounds like some sampled emergency phone call audio laid over the top.  All of this essentially serves as the lead-in for the first real song on the album, "Criminal".  For fans of the band, yes, this is the same song that was released as a single back in 2013.  However, prior to this album, the song was never available on CD that I am aware of, so it is nice to have it included here.  For those who are not aware of the band, "Criminal" was up for Grammy consideration in multiple categories in 2014, which is pretty amazing for a regional band like Paisty Jenny.  However, if you have heard the track before, you will still need to hear the new version, as it is far heavier and punchier than the original.  Crunchy guitars blast the song to life, joined by big arena-styled drums and a strong bass presence from Matthews.  Lead vocalist, Gregg Lee brings his sassy snarl to the vocals on this song that pretty successfully straddles the 80s arena rock and modern rock styles.  Liberty lays into a nice, melodic solo, and the entire band contributes to the track with layered backing vocals on the catchy-as-heck, sing-along chorus.  Yep, you've heard it before...but never like this, and "Criminal" officially gets things rolling in a big way for this band and this record.

"High" comes out swinging, as well, with more hard-hitting guitars and punchy drums.  Lee's vocals on the verses are performed through a megaphone (check the video below), but the chorus is much cleaner and has a far more melodic feel to it than the verse sections do, feeling akin to the trippy melodic rock of a band like Enuff Z'Nuff.  Again, there's a really good guitar solo embedded in this track, along with a nice vocal bridge that showcases Lee's melodic singing ability, as opposed to the snarlier, edgier vocals he utilizes on much of the band's material.  I would have to say that this is my second favorite of the new tracks here, and I really like the way the band experiments with a variety of styles and sounds here, showing a willingness to expand upon the tried and true PJ sound.

"Let It Go" is another excellent track here that longtime fans of the band may have heard in the live setting.  Introduced by a short, hip-hop sounding lead-in from Matthews on vocals, the song quickly kicks into full-on rocking mode, once again featuring a nice juxtaposition of melodic chorus sections set apart from edgier verse portions.  Again, Lee sounds strong and comfortable with both styles of vocals here, and contributes some crunchy rhythm guitar lines, as well.  I have to continually give props to Liberty for his work on the lead guitars here, as each song on 18 Days... features a strong solo, whether its a melodic string bender such as on the one found here, or a more metallic-sounding solo such as the one found on the next track, "Hollywood".  Truly strong work from a guy that honestly bolsters each of these songs with an extra shot of musical adrenaline.

"Run To Me" sounds very much like a track that Warrant would have delivered in the 80s, with Lee delivering a particularly impassioned vocal performance here.  As much as I think "High" is a great new song, "Run To Me" is just that much better to my ears.  This is possibly the best written song I have heard from the band, and the "Don't be afraid to try your wings..." bridge is an excellent lead in to another big guitar solo from Liberty.  The beauty of a track like this is that while 30 years ago, this song would have hit the radio, it also proves the relevancy of great songwriting.  A great song is a great song, and even today, "Run To Me" stands as the strongest entry on an overall strong album from an eastern Nebraska band that you really need to seek out.

"Ashes" is another older song finding its way onto a CD for the first time, and it brings the album proper to a close.  Much like "Criminal", the band neatly and deftly manages to live in both the 80s arena rock and current modern rock world, thanks in large part to a big, arena-styled drum sound, strong rhythm and lead guitars, and Lee's vocals, coupled with a bigger than the 80s bass presence and better production than was often the norm in the 80s.  Lee adds a screech to his vocals for good effect in a couple of places here, and I would imagine that this song is one that brings the fans to life in a live setting.

"Run To Me" is given an acoustic rendering to end the album, and while it is definitely a song that lends itself to this style, I feel like it was an unnecessary addition, as the original is particularly strong.  I will say that hearing the acoustic guitar work here is a treat, as it is very clean, with both a rhythm line and a melodic line running simultaneously in places.  I'm assuming both Liberty and Lee played their respective guitar parts here, but I am not 100% certain.  Far shorter than the original version, the vocal bridge is dropped, as is the final set of runs through the chorus, this version doesn't quite reach the three minute mark, while the original tops out at slightly more than four minutes.  

The packaging here is pretty good, especially for a completely self-produced effort (Direct Hit Records is the band's own label).  The digipack is a double fold with multiple color photos, a thank you section, and basic recording info.  There are no lyrics here, but nothing the band sings is hard to make out, regardless.

The album dropped on March 30, and I believe it will be available shortly on the band's website.  For now, the digital versions of singles "Let It Go" and "High" can be found on the band's CDBaby page, as can older versions of "Criminal" and "Ashes", and their previous album efforts.  

Overall, I have to say that 18 Days In Weed is a very fun listen and a solid representation of the band's energy and sound from the live setting.  When I mentioned this to Lee the other day, he told me, "Amazing what happens when you hook-up with a couple of world class producers!"  I am inclined to agree with him, for as solid as Head In A Haze was, 18 Days In Weed is leaps and bounds better.  Hopefully the band will be in your neck of the woods at some point so you can snag a CD and catch their live performance so you can leave the show "PAISTED!"  

Rating:  A definite cranker here!  I have no issues giving this a 7.5!  I just wish it had been a song or two longer, with at least one more new track.

Friday, March 15, 2019

LA GUNS "The Devil You Know"

(c) 2019 Frontiers Records

  1. Rage
  2. Stay Away
  3. Loaded Bomb
  4. The Devil You Know
  5. Needle To The Bone
  6. Going High
  7. Gone Honey
  8. Don't Need To Win
  9. Down That Hole
  10. Another Season In Hell
  11. Boom!
  12. Killing Machine (Live) (Japanese Bonus Track)
Phil Lewis--Lead Vocals
Tracii Guns--Lead Guitars
Ace Von Johnson--Rhythm Guitars
Johnny Martin--Bass
Shane Fitzgibbon--Drums

It's always funny to me how a band can go years...sometimes even decades...between album releases, and then turn around and start churning out album after album.  LA Guns is one of these bands, having sustained gaps of 7 years between Tales From The Strip and Hollywood Forever, and then 5 more years between Hollywood Forever and The Missing Peace, but now we are on the second studio record (third total counting Made In Milan) from the reunited Phil Lewis/Tracii Guns duo in less than a year and a half!  But hey, I'm not here to complain, especially when the results are as amazing as The Devil You Know, because this album takes all the furious energy of The Missing Peace and simply adds to it, coming across loud, aggressive, sleazy, angry, snarky, and wagging a middle finger at anyone who though the band was dead and gone. 

The first two tracks here have both been released on YouTube as singles.  "Rage" is a high-speed, punk-infused blast of adrenaline into'd by Fitzsimmons' sticks and a "1, 2, 3, 4!" that bursts right into a nasty guitar riff and a yowling vocal style that can only come from Phil Lewis!  Martin's bass throbs all the way through the track, and that beefed up bass presence is just improvements to the overall sound of this record from the more raw, almost garage-sounding style of The Missing Peace.  Tracii cuts loose on a rambunctious solo before the last couple of spins through the chorus, with Von Johnson's aggressive rhythm work charging hard from start to finish.  "Rage" sets a pace that would seem almost impossible to keep up for an entire album!

As if on cue, "Stay Away" backs off the speed just a tad, but don't mistake that for saying it backs off the aggression, as that is simply not the case.  I love the riff on this track, and Fitzsimmons has some serious issues with his cymbals, as he beats the living crap out of them, adding to the aggressive tone of the track's overall sound.  Phil Lewis strings together some of his best lyrics in years, with the line "I got a taste of success/The taste of blood in your mouth/Like getting punched in the face/And your teeth knocked out!" just grabbing my attention from the very first time I heard it.  Bitter much, Phil?!  Whatever has him angry, it has his full lyrical attention, which is a great thing for fans of the snark and sneer that was always present, along with an ever-present chip on his shoulder, when Phil was at his best!  

"Loaded Bomb" starts off with a snare drum intro and some Zeppish guitar work before it morphs into another high-energy rocker with some sick slide guitar from Guns and absolutely spot-on vocals from Lewis.  An absolutely filthy sleazefest, "Loaded Bomb" also features some excellent rhythm work from Von Johnson and frantic footwork from Fitzgibbon, and continues to find Lewis in a rather pissed off mood, lyrically.  "Loaded Bomb" sounds like it crawled straight out of an 80s-era Sunset Strip sewer then dragged itself to the modern version of the band and just slathered itself all over the band members.  At times fast and furious, at times a bit funky, and at all times sleazy, its on tracks like this, where the band stretches themselves a bit to incorporate different influences, that I think LA Guns has always sounded their best, regardless of the incarnation. I love this track.

The title track took me a few spins to really get behind it, but that is likely because there is a lot to take in on this track.  For starters, this is a pretty doomy sounding song, which is not something that one will often hear about LA Guns (in fact, I don't think I've ever said something like that...).  It seems Phil is trying his best to craft some sort of dark, horror rock track lyrically, with a chorus of "My mama done told me you're the devil/And the devil been suckin' on my soul..." or "Gotta stench that stinks like sulfur/And blood flows through your pores/Not band when you're numb to the horror/Gonna meet me...when I'm dead and cold!"  There are guitars all over this track, coming at you in waves, whether in the chug-chugga-chug tempo of the bridge, or the wailing Guns solo that screams to life right after, there is, as I stated before, just so much going on in this song.  The drum presence is big here, especially in that bridge section I mentioned, and the bass can be felt throughout.  Different, and not my favorite track, but one that continues to grow on me more and more.    

Back to back killer tracks here are "Gone Honey" and "Don't Need To Win".  "Gone Honey" captures that laid back groove that the band had down to such a science on Cocked & Loaded, a sleazy self-confidence with a smooth and sly, cocksure quality spreading across Lewis' vocals as he dismisses a scorned lover.  "Don't Need To Win" picks the pace up just a bit and Lewis' vocals regain their edge and bite with the whole band sounding like they've spent a good deal of time with the debut album, reliving that gritty, sleazy style of rock n roll that the band produced seemingly effortlessly back in the day.  "I don't need to win the game/But I'm gonna be in it" is such a great line that fits the feel and attitude of a band that has absolutely zero to prove but is still out there taking big league swings at the fence nonetheless!

"Down That Hole" is a song that will divide the fans a bit, I have a feeling.  The Zeppelin vibe on this track is absolutely inescapable, from the retro feel of the drum sound used by Fitzsimmons to the liberal use of slide guitars.  The solo from Guns is one of the best on the record and a big, catchy hook just grabs hold of the listener as Lewis glides (as much as Phil's vocals will glide) across the track.  This, and the title track, are likely to be the most challenging songs for long-time fans of the band who think every song should be "Sex Action" or "Rip And Tear".  But for fans of some of the bands' more adventurous musical endeavors, these two songs are going to be big time winners.

"Another Season In Hell" is as close to a ballad as the album comes, but this ain't no "Ballad Of Jayne".  Lyrically dark and musically intense, "epic" is probably the best single-word description for this track which stretches to nearly six and a half minutes.  Tracii's guitars carry a tone that matches the angst and pain in Lewis' vocals perfectly, especially on the melancholy solo section that is drenched in soul and carries as much emotional weight as anything he has laid into a song in years.  Dang close to musical perfection to these ears.  

The album closes with "Boom" is punkabilly at its best and a fun way to close the album proper.  Big, gang-shouts bolster the chorus, and Tracii rips through one last scorcher of a solo before the band exits the album on a high note that is likely to leave fans wondering how long they will have to wait before the band treats its fans to another slab of rock done right!

If you happen to snag the Japanese pressing of this record, a live version of "Killing Machine" is the final track on the album.  Sounding like a soundboard recording, this isn't the same version that was released on Made In Milan, and it finds the band in fine form.  A couple of minor vocal squawks from Lewis let you know this is, indeed, a live recording that, at least vocally, is likely free of too much touching up,  That being said, Tracii's solo is so note-perfect, I wouldn't be overly surprised to find it had been overdubbed, but it's really not a big deal because this song has nothing to do with The Devil You Know or how great that record is.

One thing of note that I feel needs to be added is that the sound quality of the videos that have been released is NOT of the same quality on the CD, at least to my ears.  I have had issues with some of Frontiers Records' releases as far as production goes, but I don't detect any significant flaws on The Devil You Know.  There are a couple of places where Phil's voice gets a bit raw, but these areas are small and don't run the course of entire songs or anything, and take nothing away from the quality of the songs.  If anything, these minor flaws only show that the production here is not so heavy-handed that everything has been sanded down and polished up to a glossy veneer that would run counter to the style of a band like LA Guns.  Of course, production is an opinion thing, but I like the way this album is mixed and put together, and I think the flow is excellent, with peaks and valleys in tempo keeping the listener on their toes, despite the lack of a pure ballad.  No real complaints from me in the production department.

Overall, I have to say that I think The Devil You Know is a step up from the really, really good The Missing Peace, and I have mentioned to people before that, as of this writing, this may be my favorite LA Guns record...ever.  As amazing as those first two records are, I truly feel The Devil You Know deserves mention with them both as far as the best the band has done.  Maybe it's the newness of The Devil..., and maybe it's because I have played those first two albums TO DEATH, but there is something about this new record that just grabs me and holds on for dear life while simultaneously trying to shake me to death!  Had this album come out in 1990, after Cocked & Loaded would it have been a hit?  Not likely, as I think it would have scared the crap out of most people to hear the band sounding this angry and this hungry.  Perhaps that is why it is so powerful to me now, because somehow, after all these years, and while dragging all that baggage, LA Guns sounds as powerful and as hungry as they ever have.  And that's saying something...

Rating:  One crankable beast, The Devil You Know is a definite 8.5 for me!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

RON KEEL BAND "Fight Like A Band"

(c) 2019 EMP Records

  1. Road Ready
  2. Fight Like A Band
  3. Rock N Roll Guitar
  4. Long Way Down
  5. Hearts Gone Wild
  6. Good Songs Bad Times
  7. Girls Like Me
  8. Fire In The Rain
  9. Just A Cowboy
  10. Old School
  11. Tears Of Fire
  12. Right To Rock
  13. Hey Man
Ron Keel--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Dave "DC" Cothern--Guitars, Vocals
Geno Arce--Bass, Vocals
Jeff Koller--Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Scott "Dakota" Schmitt--Keyboards, Vocals

Additional Musicians
Mike Dresch--Backing Vocals, Producer

Ron Keel is a busy guy.  Whether its authoring books, performing with KEEL or one of his other bands, or working on his Streets Of Rock N Roll podcast, the man always seems to have something going on.  So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that it has been 5 years since the singer/guitarist released his album, Metal CowboyBut now he's back with a new band, new album...and the same attitude!  Whether he is playing his own brand of metallic country rock, or blasting forth with 80s-era KEEL styled tunes, the man...and his band...are out to kick some serious ass!  And, with Fight Like A Band, the Ron Keel Band does exactly that!

The album starts off smoking hot, with "Road Ready", a song that could have easily come from KEEL's self-titled effort from back in 1987 (can you believe that?!).  Starting off with a nice, melodic piano which is partnered with some harmonic guitar work and simple drums, the song's introduction is misleading, because it is a matter of just a few seconds before the hard-edged guitars and Ron's unmistakable bellowing roar spring to life!  This is damn-near classic KEEL right here, and Ron seems determined to drive that point home, as he name-drops close to a dozen classic KEEL song titles within this one tune!  From "Right To Rock" to "Lay Down The Law" to "Back To The City", this track hits on them all...heck, he even pops his book title, Even Keel, into the mix, but it all works on this energetic and entertaining hard rocker!  For anyone who was concerned that the man and his band were simply going to be treading the hard-country-metal territory they plumbed on Metal Cowboy, take heart, for there is a LOT of classic KEEL here.  Ron may have shaved a bit off the top of his range, but the power is definitely still there, as is the lung capacity, and he sounds in fine form throughout the song (and record).  And, while there is no Bryan Jay to flash the guitar solos, DC Cothern more than holds his own, and with Ron, forms a fine twin guitar combo.  An excellent way to kick things off!

The title track, "Fight Like A Band" is up next, and the KEEL-esque material rolls on.  Yes, there is a bit of a hint of Nashville in the song structure, but the approach and the attack are more in-line with what KEEL was doing back on their later stuff, like on Streets Of Rock N Roll.  Again, Ron's big voice and excellent guitar work from Cothern really crank up the power on this track, with strong support from the powerhouse rhythm section of Jeff Koller on drums and Geno Arce, who has been with Ron in projects from KEEL (Streets...) to Iron Horse, and even the Rat'lers days, on bass.  Catchy with a big, anthemic, easy to sing chorus, my guess is "Fight Like A Band" will be one of the new tunes that garners the most attention live, along with "Road Rage" and the next tune, "Rock N Roll Guitar".

Speaking of "Rock N Roll Guitar", this track hits hard right from the start, with chunky guitars and a thumping percussion presence, before settling into a story-song style that tells a tale not entirely dissimilar to Foreigner's "Juke Box Hero", with the song's protagonist buying a pawn shop guitar and building himself into a rock n roll star!  The drums from Koller have a very big presence in this song, with a particularly ear-catching fill right before Cothern breaks into one of the best solos on the record, blazing through a six string tear that is reminiscent of some of the best stuff from KEEL.  Speaking of blazing guitars, be sure to check out the monstrous outro solo on this song, courtesy of 16 year-old phenom, Eli Dykstra!  I would have loved to hear this given some extended time, as he is simply melting strings as the song fades!  This and "Road Ready" are in a constant battle for top new song on this record for me, as both are instant winners that should have the rockers throwing their fists in the air and head banging along!

"Long Way Down" finds the album intentionally drifting into more of a country rock style, but the edge doesn't disappear in any way, and while the guitars have cleaned up some of the distortion, and the keys take on more of a piano feel, there is still a definite classic rock element to this song.  The thing is, a good song is a good song, regardless of style.  I know that not everyone shares this sentiment with me, but as someone who spent many years as the music director on a country radio station, I have an appreciation for the style that many may not have.  But I have long contended that 90s country is where a lot of the musicians that were originally headed for the Sunset Strip ended up once grunge hit, and country radio stole the look...and the hair metal power ballad...and turned out some of the best radio rock that many "rock and metal or nothing" people never got to hear.  That is where "Long Way Down" fits to me; excellent country-tinged classic rock with non-country radio vocals (Ron is just too gritty, too edgy for today's "Bro Country" scene), and enough attitude to keep the rockers happy.  I'll be honest, as much as I love classic KEEL, I could also take an entire album of songs like this and the follow up, "Hearts Gone Wild", and be perfectly happy.

"Hearts Gone Wild" is a more mid-tempo rocker with some southern rock and 80s radio rock sensibilities mixed in.  Easily a top 5 track on an album filled with great songs, "Hearts Gone Wild" is another story song that Ron delivers with a believable passion, especially on the acoustic section right before the final chorus.  Speaking of the chorus, big, gang-shouted backing vocals really beef up the sound here, and Ron cuts looks with one of his classic wails as the song comes to an end.  Again, just good hard rock here that would have found a home on mainstream radio back in the 80s, I'm sure.

"Good Songs, Bad Times" stays the mid-tempo course, as this heartland country rocker about how music is the soundtrack of our life, from the heartbreak of break-ups to the unforgettable great times of walking down the aisle or celebrating any of life's truly great moments.  As he does so frequently throughout the album, Ron interweaves classic song titles and bands, from "Take It To The Limit" to Tom Petty and AC/DC, but he does so without sounding cheesy, which so frequently happens on efforts such as this.

"Girls Like Me" is a barroom shuffle song complete with hard rock attitude, big, gang-shouted backing vocals...including vocals from several ladies, and rollicking piano as Ron sings about liking girls who have things in common with him.  Cothern lays into a pretty cool solo before the final runs through the chorus start, and the drum and bass work here really keep the tempo and swing of the song rolling along.  I could do without the Strip Club Emcee routine in the middle, but this is a fun song, nonetheless, and isn't designed to be taken seriously.

"Fire In The Rain" is reminiscent of the material Jon Bon Jovi recorded for the Young Guns II : Blaze Of Glory soundtrack,  with a hard rock take on the western sound, especially in the way the guitars are styled.  Catchy as heck, this song would have definitely fit on the Metal Cowboy offering from a few years ago, but the guitar solo from Cothern on this track is better than just about anything that was on that album...and I really, really like Metal Cowboy!  Cothern just has a feel for what Ron has written on these songs and his solos, as well as his extended outros, are spot-on perfect for these songs.  Again, a definite top 5 song from the record as far as new material goes.

"Just A Cowboy" is the most straight-forward country song on the record, sounding like something that would have been heard on the radio back when I was working in that industry.  It wouldn't surprise me to find a song just like this as an album cut from Brooks & Dunn, with Kix Brooks doing the singing.  Ron backs off the edge of his vocals a tad bit, and the guitars are completely cleaned up of distortion, adding even more to that 90s country feel.  I would imagine that the Rock-Or-Die crowd is going to skip this track every time, but again, for those open to good songwriting and performance, regardless of style, this is not a bad track at all. 

"Old School" retains a bit of countrified songwriting, but the hard rock attitude and edge starts to climb back into the song, as well.  The guitars are dirtied up just a bit again, with the gang shouts returning to the chorus, and Schmitt throws down on a classic rock Hammond organ section, just for good measure.  Not a KEEL song, but a good classic rocker, without question.

Speaking of KEEL songs, two of that band's better known songs are given the RKB treatment here.  "Tears Of Fire" remains pretty true to the original in all aspects, with Ron's vocals really turning back the clock here.  The music is pretty darn close to the way it sounded on The Final Frontier, but with a slightly cleaner sound, owing largely to different production methods, I would suspect.  Cothern's acoustic work here is excellent, and the solo is really good, as well.  Meanwhile, "Right To Rock" had me a bit worried, to be honest, as I was not sure how this band would handle that band's instrumental work.  I needn't have worried, however, as this is a blistering rendition of that classic KEEL track.  Again, Ron has lost a bit of the upper range of his vocals, most notable on the big scream that opens the song, but outside of that, very little has changed here.  Koller adds some extra double-time snare before the big "THE RIGHT TO ROCK" shout at the end of the song, and the guitar solo from Cothern is not identical to the original, but otherwise, not a lot of the music is all that different.  Even the gang-shouted chorus nails it for me!  Yes, I still prefer the original because that is the version my brain tunes to automatically, but if nothing else, this version proves without a doubt that RKB can pull off pretty much anything from the KEEL catalog that they would choose to work up.

The album closes with "Hey, Man", returns to that Blaze Of Glory style of song, but it wraps the album up in excellent fashion as this is just a well-written and well-performed western rocker.  In fact, the tempo of the song is very much like that utilized in "Blaze Of Glory", with some excellent slide guitar work done here, I'm guessing by Cothern.  As I stated earlier, I could do with an entire album of this style of music from the RKB should Ron choose to do such a thing.

As is frequently the case with albums that run more than 9 or 10 songs long, there are a couple of lesser tracks here, but nothing that ruins the overall feel of the album.  Sure, I would probably have left "Just A Cowboy" off, especially if I was really targeting my rock audience, but I don't think that is what Ron was doing here.  I think Ron likely wrote a bunch of songs, took the best 11 new tracks, threw in the two remakes, and put out an album that he would listen to if he was a fan.  Like he sings in "Hey, Man", "through the bad times and the good, we wrote the best songs we could".  And to that end, I think he succeeds in spades!  This is a really, really good album, with enough diversity to catch the ear of the whole scope of Ron's fans, and PLENTY of great hard rock to draw the KEEL fans that may have drifted away a bit back into the fold.

Rating:  Definitely crankable!!!   A solid 8.5 here!

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Saturday, March 9, 2019


(c) 2019 Roxx Records

  1. Rock N Roll
  2. In Good Hands
  3. Stay Strong 
  4. The Lost Sheep
Jordan Cutajar--Lead Vocals
Andy La Morte--Guitars
Matt Brand--Bass
Benjamin Mann--Drums, Keyboards

Rainforce returns in 2019 with this four track, follow-up EP, Rock N Roll, to try to maintain the momentum they garnered following their popular 2017 debut, Lion's Den.  Continuing in the vein of metal-influenced three chord hard rock, a la AC/DC, Dirty Looks, Krokus, and X-Sinner, Rock N Roll is a solid, if short, entry into the 2019 musical fray...and it is a good one!

The album starts off with the title track, and this is pretty much pure AC/DC worship, start to finish,  with vocals that sound freakishly like Rex D. Scott from X-Sinner (they are not...I asked Rex, just to be sure).  Jordan Cutajar (also of Pylon) handles all the vocals, and this guy deserves some SERIOUS props, because he has a range of vocal styles that is rather uncommon, being able to handle the lower, edgier backing vocals as well as the snarly, higher-pitched leads!  From the rhythm guitar riff to the pulsating bass and big kick drum/simple snare pattern utilized by the Aussie rockers, there is no denying where La Morte's passions lie, musically.  Lyrically, there is no misunderstanding his passions, either, as his faith if on bold display here, but he gets his point across without Bible-thumping the listener.  Take the chorus as an example:  "The world around us is constantly changing/But really good songs stay really good songs/Some good things never come to an end/Our faith in Christ and love for....Rock N Roll!"  Nothing pushy, nothing offensive, but also definitely not backing off from where he stands.  And when he isn't busy writing the songs and lyrics, La Morte is also slinging a pretty mean axe, filling this song with tasty riffs and a powerful solo.  A great start to this EP on a track that I would swear is a long-lost X-Sinner track (if you've never looked into this classic Christian rock band, you need to!)

"In Good Hands" continues the three chord love fest, but with Cutajar taking the vocals into a far lower range than those utilized on "Rock N Roll".  Even in this range, Cutajar holds his own, adding a hint of snarl to his lower tenor vocals, while the backing vocals on the chorus add a bit of depth.  Not as impressive as "Rock N Roll" or the next track, "Stay Strong", but still very solid, straight-forward hard rock with another really nice solo from La Morte, who really backs off the distortion pedal for much of the lead work here, giving the song a smoother, more 70s-influenced guitar presence here.

"Stay Strong" heads back to the AC/DC-inspired vocals, and is the second best track on the record.  A thumping, plodding hard rocker, the interplay between the lower, snarlier vocals, and the higher, more-screamed Brian Johnson-styled vocals is pulled off in excellent fashion, and the rhythm section of Brand and Mann is in full effect here!  Again, La Morte shines on the guitar parts here, tackling both rhythm and leads, and handling both with expertise.  The tightness of the band really shows through on a track such as this one, and it sounds like the band is having a lot of fun with this material, right up to the cold ending.  Love it!

EP closer, "The Lost Sheep", is an acoustic-based number.  I'm not really sold on this song, to be honest, although I do appreciate the message.  I just think going the acoustic route here after pumping out three solid hard rockers is kind of a letdown, especially when we only have four songs to absorb here.  Perhaps the band would have been better served to hold onto this track for a full-length studio record, and instead dropped another blast of rock on this EP, even if it was a cover of an X-Sinner tune (hint, hint) or something.

Bassist Brand did the producing on the EP, and he does a commendable job.  The mix is solid here, and the production is clean, with no muddiness to be found.  Mine is a digital promo copy, so I have no idea about the packaging of this project, but generally, Roxx Records does a solid job in this department, so I have no real concerns there.

Rating:  Do the math...3/4 = 75% = a crankable 7.5!  Hopefully the next effort will be another full studio album!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

COWBOY X "Can't Stop Rockin'"

(c) 2019 FNA Records

  1. Dreamin'
  2. Hard Times
  3. Jealousy
  4. Can't Stop Rockin'
  5. Higher You Get
  6. Need To No
  7. Dreamin' (Demo)
  8. Hard Times (Demo)
  9. Nice And Nasty (Demo)
  10. Runner (Demo)
  11. Need 2 No (Demo)
  12. Don't Give Up (Demo)
Greg Lee--Vocals
David Marshall Hughes--Guitars
Barry Engle--Guitars
Randy Cotton--Bass
Michael Watson--Drums

Nebraska is not known as a music mecca, by any stretch.  Trust me, I have lived in the state my entire life, and outside of 311, and to a lesser degree Emphatic, Through Fire, and Arson City, there simply aren't a lot of hard rock/metal bands that have made much of an impact at the national level.  Regional?  Sure, there are a few.  Zwarte springs to mind, as does Paisty Jenny (more on them in a second). But generally speaking, most hard rock/metal bands in Nebraska, even the good ones like Slantpiece and Empire's End, tend to have local followings, at best.  But such is the nature of things, especially in the music industry of today.

But in the late 80s and early 90s, there were a handful of Nebraska bands that seemed to be on the cusp of doing something on a national level.  One of those bands...which was actually the product of a couple of other bands...nearly made a dent in the national scene.  That band was Cowboy X.  FnA managed to track down the original recordings of the six tracks, all of which were originally recorded in a basement recording studio...on tape no 1990 for a label called Direct Hit Records, the first six tracks make up an EP that was going to be shopped to the big labels before the change in the musical landscape wiped out pretty much any and all unsigned bands of the genre...and a lot of them that did have deals, as well!  The initial run of the EP sold well enough to sell out, but I have never come across a version of it on vinyl or cassette anywhere, so I'm not sure how many copies were pressed.  In addition to the EP tracks, there are also three additional songs that never made it to the full production stage, so they are included here in demo fashion, along with three repeated tracks with both studio and demo versions.

Musically, Cowboy X was somewhere between hair metal and more traditional metal for much of the material here.  Take for example the two best tracks here, "Hard Times" and "Jealousy".  "Hard Times" is a straight ahead rocker, with a metallic flair to it.  There is a decent amount of flash to the guitar, and the catchy chorus is definite sing along material, but it's not as poppy as a lot of the hair metal that was being pumped out in 1991-92.  "Jealousy", what I would give to hear this with top notch production!  This is a GREAT song that I think would've been the band's big break track had more people been able to hear it.  Really good songwriting, a great guitar solo, strong bass work from Cotton, and a real showcase of Lee's vocals are all packed into one track that teases at being a ballad for a bit before it morphs into more of a mid-tempo power rocker. Musically, the song has some definite Dokken or Hurricane qualities to it, sounding more like a early-to-mid-80s melodic metal track than an early 90s hard rock track. The guitar outro is excellent, as well, and unfortunately it is hard-faded when it sounds like there is a lot more musical work that is being done when the mixer/producer decided to pull the plug on the track.  Seriously, I dig this track A LOT.

The album's opener, "Dreamin'" is a commercial, melodic hard rocker with a screaming guitar that reminds me of the type of rock that David Lee Roth put out on his Skyscraper album.  "Can't Stop Rockin'" feels a lot like a Dangerous Toys song with an early LA Guns chorus section.  Lee does his best Jason McMaster impression vocally on the verses, and the gang shouts in the chorus are excellent.  I could've done without the stock audience sounds being thrown into the mix, but again, this is a really fun song that would have drawn some attention had it come out in, say, 1989, instead of 1992.

The ballad of the record is "Higher You Get", and it is a decent song.  The guitars are a bit tinny sounding, again the result of low budget recording, I would imagine, but the songwriting has a very "Something To Believe In" feel to it.  The bass is a solid presence here once again, and the percussion is nicely done, setting a nice tempo and filling well without coming across as overpowering.  Lee works more in the lower register of his vocal range here, and it fits nicely.  Once again, there is some solid solo work done here (from which guitar player, I am not certain), and I think with bigger, fuller production, this would've been one of those MTV power ballads that were almost constantly in rotation.

"Need To No" (that's the band's spelling, not mine) finds the band back in that Dangerous Toys vibe, and this is a style they work very well in.  It feels comfortable and the sound is one they definitely are able to really pin down.  Lee's voice is perfect for this type of rocker, and the simple-yet-catchy songwriting is right in the wheelhouse of this band.  I very much wish I had been able to catch Cowboy X when they were out touring this music, because it is obvious these guys were convicted in what they were doing and they had a decent amount of talent that I think would've really come across in the live setting.  Additionally, I think a really good studio could've done SO MUCH with three or four of these songs that I think Cowboy X could've been more than just a regional flash in the pan.

Speaking of the studio, the production here is decent, but not spectacular; it is definitely 80s small label/indie quality, and you can tell the source material is tape, not digital.  The performances are generally very good, however, and the energy of the songs makes up for some of what is lacking in the production area.  Lee's voice suits the music very well, and fans of Paisty Jenny will be able to pick him out immediately.  The guitars are solid with several good intros, outros, and solos thrown in, particuarly on "Dreamin'" and "Can't Stop Rockin'", as well as on the previously mentioned "Jealousy".  And the bass, particularly on "Jealousy", is a very strong voice in the band, which was not always the case in the 80s/early 90s, as G2G readers are likely fully aware of.  I applaud the bass work done here.

The demo material for the full-production songs doesn't need to be included, honestly, as the finalized versions of "Dreamin'", "Hard Times", and "Need To No" are far superior versions. I get the need to try to get to at least 10 songs on a release, so I don't fault FnA for including these, but the only ones necessary are "Nice And Nasty", which is not as sleazy as it sounds, but still a decent song, "Runner", a rocker which is very poorly mixed with the vocals WAY out front,  and "Don't Give Up", which is very rough but had a lot of promise as an uptempo rocker.  None of these tracks has a fully-produced version elsewhere on this effort.

I happen to know Gregg Lee, so I look forward to getting the chance to talk to him about this release and about what was going on with the Nebraska hard rock/metal scene back in the day, as well as what's up with his most recent rock gig, fronting Paisty Jenny.  Keep an eye on the Talkin' Trash section for an interview with Lee in the very near future!

For those of you who, like me, love hearing bands that others haven't stumbled across, this little package from FnA is a solid pick up.  My understanding is there is a pre-order version available that is signed by all of the original members, which would be pretty cool.  Check it out and pre-order the package at the FnA Records site!  By the way, I understand FnA will also be releasing the Airstrike album, which is another Nebraska-based hard rock band from the 80s, which is where Lee got his start.

Rating:  A nice collection from a band that may have had something going had the musical tide not turned on them.  Rock this at 6.5!


(c) 2018 BMG

  1. The One You Know
  2. Ranier Fog
  3. Red Giant
  4. Fly
  5. Drone
  6. Deaf Ears Blind Eyes
  7. Maybe
  8. So Far Under
  9. Never Fade
  10. All I Am
Jerry Cantrell--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars
William DuVall--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Inez--Bass
Sean Kinney--Drums, Percussion

The record kicks off with the lead single, "The One You Know", which seems appropriate, because instantly the listener is greeted with an unquestionably Alice In Chains riff, hard and chugging, downtuned and sludgy, somewhere between grunge and metal, right in the world that AiC occupied so perfectly in the early-to-mid-90s.  Kinney's thudding work on the kit is the perfect time-keeper on this plodding, chunky rocker that carries a bit of a "Grind" feel to it.  Cantrell has always been one of the most underrated guitar players in the hard rock/metal world, and his talent is on full display here, as are his vocals, which William DuVall complements with near perfection.  No, DuVall is not Layne Staley, but that's kind of the point; this is Alice In Chains v2.0 doing their absolute best to recall what you fell in love with about the band in Version 1.  And with "The One You Know", and the follow-up title track, "Rainier Fog", it is easy to remember the halcyon days of this great band.  A tribute to the area where the band broke, "Rainier Fog" is probably my favorite track on an album full of great songs, and is, to my mind, the best song the band has produced in the DuVall era.   

The album is chock full of crushingly heavy riff, courtesy of Cantrell, and a deep-in-the-pocket bass presence, which Inez has brought to the band since replacing the late Mike Starr on the 1994 EP, Jar Of Flies, and the following year's self-titled album, Alice In Chains.  His bass is particularly noticeable on tracks like "Red Giant", and particularly on the doomy, sludgy "Drone",  which finds Cantrell and Company channeling their inner-Black Sabbath on a nearly 7 minute long mid-tempo riff rocker that would likely leave Ozzy grinning and shaking his head, especially when the chorus hits and Cantrell moans, "Stepping in and out of madness/Such a dedicated drone", with DuVall taking the higher vocal road in the pairing.  Thick chords of sludge drip off the song from every place you care to look, from the mournful solo to the rumble of the bass line to the production of the drums.

"Fly" backs off the distortion just a tad, giving way to a more melodic approach that is not wholly different from the style that AiC utilized on the stunningly good Jar Of Flies.  Again, just an amazing song that finds Cantrell and DuVall harmonizing perfectly, which is something that they also do to an extremely effective level on the country-tinged vocal intro to "Maybe"...the harmonizing returns again to intro the second verse, as well.  Again, a largely acoustic-based rocker similar to the Sap and Jar Of Flies, this song is yet another example of a band that is creatively leaps and bounds ahead of so many other bands today, daring to explore a style that is under-employed and certainly underappreciated, where the vocals are utilized as much as an instrument as a messenger.  Haunting, aching, somber...stunning..."Maybe" creates such a nearly perfect melding of voices that, if I'm being honest, I have to question whether or not Cantrell could have pulled them off with Staley. 

"So Far Under", with its repetitive, whining riff, returns the band to a more self-titled release style and the way the vocals swirl down a hole, accompanied by equally swirling, plunging guitar lines, is a work of art in and of itself.  Again, the cleaner vocals used on the verses here recall "Grind", which is a damn fine tune, but the drain of the chorus here just pulls your attention away from anything said in the verses, sucking you in, pulling you along, and then cutting you off with a sudden stop at the end of the track.  Repeat, repeat, repeat...I can't stop hitting repeat.

"Never Fade" feels a bit like Alice In Chains covering a Soundgarden song, which is likely the point as the track is said to be at least partly inspired by the passing of Chris Cornell.  DuVall handles the lead vocals on the bridge leading into the chorus sections of this pure 90s track, and the Cantrell/DuVall guitar tandem works especially well here.  Kinney, as per usual, is the understated metronome with his crisp patterns and punctuating kicks, and Inez is once again a presence that is both heard and felt with each strike of a bass chord.  Good, good stuff. 

The album's closer, "All I Am", is an haunting, emotional epic of darkness that recalls so much of what was great about this band on Dirt, which found the band constantly introspective, dark, and seeking a way out, even if that way out only lead to more darkness.  That same sense of foreboding is felt on "All I Am", with Cantrell's moaning guitar parts somberly wading through an emotional mire, regardless of if it is plugged in or not.  

While I don't hate The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, to me it felt disjointed in places, especially when compared to the surprisingly good Black Gives Way To Blue.  But here, on Rainier Fog, the band finds themselves perfectly straddling who they were and who they are, not turning back, but instead pulling their past into their present and introducing the two, marrying them into a brilliant piece of heavy rock that should spawn multiple treks onto the modern rock charts for the now-retro rockers.

Look, I realize grunge wasn't everybody's thing, and I'm cool with that.  But Alice In Chains wasn't...and still isn't...your typical grunge band, as they were...and much doom metal as anything.  Add in a vocal style, in either version of the band, that carries so much more weight than all the Nirvanas and Screaming Trees and Tads and Mudhoneys and Sponges of the grunge scene.  As such, if you were a fan back in the day, Ranier Fog should be right up your alley.  If you were more into what the band was doing on the first two reunion efforts, there are still things to enjoy here, as the band both returns to their roots while also exploring new directions to travel in.  As for me, I'm loving pretty much everything about Ranier Fog, and hope that the band doesn't ever stray too far from what they have discovered here. 

If I'm perfectly honest with myself, I'd have to say Rainier Fog slips past Facelift and the self-titled record and lands in the top three studio album releases from this legendary least for right now...trailing only the near perfection of Dirt and the brilliant Jar Of Flies EP.  But, to be fair, the top five AiC records are all so great that rating them seems like a laughable pursuit.

Rating:  A sludgy, grungy, metallic cranker!  Twist it up to 8.5!