Friday, May 29, 2020


                                                                (c) 2020 Kivel Records

  1. Keeping Up With The Jones
  2. Believe In Love
  3. Love Song
  4. Heart Strings
  5. Under Construction
  6. World Is Wide
  7. No Secret
  8. Little Things
  9. Heaven Sent
  10. Good Times (w/Paul Shortino)
  11. Face The Fire
Scott Board--Lead & Backing Vocals
Jason Staton--Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Marc Brown--Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Matt Crow--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jason Collins--Drums

Additional Musicians
Erik Johnson--All Drums and Bass, Backing Vocals
Tavis Mobley--Piano on "Good Times"

Seven years is a pretty good stretch between albums, but believe it or not, that is how long it has been since No Love Lost released their debut album.  And, as should probably be expected with such a significant time gap, there have been some changes to the band.  In fact, outside of vocalist Scott Board and guitarist Jason Staton, No Love Lost has undergone a complete facelift, adding a second guitar player, and replacing the entire rhythm section.  (It should be noted that on the album, according to the liner notes, the "rhythm section" is just one guy...Erik Johnson of Bombay Black).  The result?  A much tighter sound, with bigger hooks, catchier rhythms, and overall better songs than those on the debut.

The album opens with the thunder of drums and a big, arena rock guitar intro, and "Keeping Up With The Jones" is off and running.  The track...and much of the album, honestly...hearkens back more toward the hard rocking arena sound of a band like, say, Foreigner, or perhaps more like Night Ranger; never quite venturing into that "hair metal" sound, but always comfortably close with plenty of guitar and big, full drums.  To me, that was a bit of what didn't work 100% for me on the debut record; the band didn't sound like they knew who they were yet.  But on Bliss, that problem is definitely solved!  A big part of that is due to the powerhouse that is Scott Board on lead vocals.  His pipes slot him in that mid-tenor range for the vast majority of the songs on this record, although he does showcase his ability to climb the ladder a bit when necessary.  Smooth and soulful, Board's vocals pack quite a punch on the big rockers, while incorporating an emotive side on the slower material.  On "...Jones", and follow-up rocker, the uber-catchy "Believe In Love", which just may be my favorite track on the record, Board is dominant, sounding extremely confident in his delivery and the material, which is top notch stuff this time around.  "Believe In Love" has the perfect style for summer, with an edgy rhythm guitar to kick things off as the drums start to build and the bass rumbles forward.  To me, this is the kind of track that just screams fun and begs to be repeated, with a catchy chorus that will likely spend a lot of time rattling around your brain once the track ends.  Staton rips through a great solo here, as well, and just a couple of songs into the record, it is clear that Bliss is a notch or two better than its predecessor. 

Up next is "Love Song", but lest you concern yourself that this is a big power ballad, a la Teslas track of the same name, this is a definite rocker from start to finish.  Staton lays into a killer solo before the final run through the chorus section, when newcomer, Marc Brown, gets to share the six string stage with a big outro solo of his own.  Excellent backing vocals, including some big "whoa whoas" from the gang, provide additional support for Board's leads, and the band sounds like they are having an absolute blast with this catchy rocker that was co-written by the three men mentioned here.

"Heart Strings" again teases at slower material with it's title, but the rocking guitars, the pulsing bass...and the COWBELL...shake those thoughts aside rapidly, as No Love Lost powers through another melodic rocker.  Once again, the construction of the song is just so much better than a lot of the music being released today, and it is evident the band put some serious time and effort into building solid melodies and big hooks into each and every track here.  Once again, Staton showcases some seriously understated talent on guitar, and the backing vocals are perfectly executed.  A bit more on the Night Ranger-ish side here, especially with the guitar solo and the bigger, fuller sound, "Heart Strings" is another track that has already found its way onto one of my road CDs and frequently gets the repeat treatment from me.  It's right there with "Believe In Love" and "Good Times" (more on that in a minute), as far as my favorites go.

"Under Construction" employs an interesting percussion line (did someone say bongos?) and great combination of acoustic and electric guitar work from Brown, who is credited with all the guitars on the track, including a great solo that brings the band back to an acoustic pre-chorus and then a final run through the chorus.  Nicely executed and not your typical approach to slower material, "Under Construction" shows the versatility of the re-tooled No Love Lost and is definitely impressive.

Edgy guitars snarl their way back onto the scene as "World Is Wide" jumpstarts the music back to a higher voltage style.  Again sounding more akin to Night Ranger here than anyone else I can think to compare them to, this is the type of song that No Love Lost absolutely dominates.  This is really good stuff, and Brown again shows off some serious finger fire as he tears up and down the frets on the solo and the outro here.  Not to be outdone, Staton handles all the axe work on the next track, the equally catchy rocker, "No Secret", which slots more into that Foreigner comparison I made at the outset, particularly in the approach of the guitar lines that support the verses, as well as the way Board's vocals take on a more direct, more urgent (no pun intended) sound and style.  This is the kind of rock that I really found myself drawn to as a teen, and the pull is still there on "No Secret".  The bass line is solid throughout the track, and the bursts of guitar fire in the middle of the track are exquisite!  We even get a short burst of double kick in the drums as the song scorches toward a close.  Really, really good stuff here!  Maybe this is my favorite song....  Hmmm....

"Little Things" continues with the catchy melodic rock, with Staton handling the big solo here.  There is a definite Dokken feel to this track in its melodic approach and the guitar hooks that Staton throws into the mix.  Board is particularly strong here, dropping his range to some of the lowest points on the album and pulling it off expertly, with a generous dose of support from the truly impressive backing vocals of Staton, Brown, and bass player, Matt Crow, as well as Erik Johnson of Bombay Black.

"Heaven Sent" has some really catchy harmonic guitar work to intro the track, with both Staton and Brown getting shots at center stage on their own, as Staton handles the main solo and Brown scorches the outro.  I actually love it when the guys share their duties like this as you get the feeling that there is a chemistry, and perhaps even some friendly competition, between the guys that really brings these tracks to life!  On "Heaven Sent", Staton sets the bar high as he RIPS through his solo run, but Brown seems to be his equal on his run out of the song.  And not to be forgotten is the soaring vocal work of Board who really lets his notes carry at the end of the song, expressing a power and control that not a lot of guys seem capable of matching in today's rock scene.  He truly is an impressive vocalist that you owe it to yourself to hear.

Speaking of impressive vocalists, Mr. Paul Shortino shows up to join Board on the remake of the classic "Good Times", which finds the band in rollickingly fun form!  The piano from Travis Mobley is inserted brilliantly into the song and has a definite part to play in this southern rock staple that multiple bands have covered over the years.  Definitely a fun track to drop into the mix here, and one that I hope finds its way into potential live sets, although I realize it could be difficult if one of the guys doesn't have some keyboard skills.

Things close out in fine, hard rocking form with "Face The Fire", which may be the hardest hitting track on the record.  I can't say enough about the powerful addition that solid backing vocals provide to a song, and they show up in spades here, especially on the chorus as they support Board on the soaring "face the fire!" section.  Just expertly performed.  The drums are given a heavy dose of life on this track, with a big, thundering arena rock feel, and the fret-melting solo from Brown is just icing on the cake here.  And did I mention that Board is just a dominant singer across the board here?  I did?  Oh...well, it needs to be said again.  And if I already picked a favorite track on the album, it might be because I hadn't gotten to this one yet, because it has to be in consideration for that title as well.  What a killer way to end a damn fine record!       

Incredibly catchy and pure ear candy from start to finish, Bliss is a monster of a record that I see spending a lot of time in my CD player this summer.  From start to finish, there isn't a filler track to be found or a weak performance to be heard.  Kudos go to the production team of Sims and Johnson, as well, as they pulled the best from these guys seemingly on every track recorded.  The mix is bright and clear, but not so slick that it feels synthetic; there is still grit and edge to the guitars, and the bass gets a full-throat rumble in the mix, as well.  Yet another excellent addition to the Kivel Records discography and an album that will likely find its way onto many people's Best of 2020 list come year's end!  Grab your copy now!

Rating:  A cranker, for sure!  Turn Bliss up to 8.5!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

STALLION "Slaves Of Time"

(c) 2020 High Roller Records

  1. Waking The Demons
  2. No Mercy
  3. Time To Reload
  4. All In
  5. Brain Dead
  6. Die With Me
  7. Merchants Of Fear
  8. Dynamiter
  9. Kill The Beast
  10. Meltdown

Ah, those Germans.  Not so great in World Wars, but excellent in metal, especially when it fast, heavy, and loud!  Speed merchants, Stallion, throw their hat firmly into the ring of current metal contenders with Slaves Of Time, their third release for High Roller Records.  Full throttle riffs, machine-gun fire drums, rumbling bass, and high, screeching vocals are the weapons employed by this band which seeks to take the musical clock and dial it back to the 80s speed metal scene when bands such as Exciter, Agent Steel, Heathen, Anvil, and early Helloween were tearing up the frets on their guitars and making your ears bleed with their high pitched vocalists.

"Waking The Demons" kicks things off with a thunderous, somewhat plodding drum cadence and some searing guitar licks, before the rhythm guitars kick in and the speed picks up, courtesy of Axxl and Clode.  Pauly's distinct vocals snarl their way into the mix, and whether you love his approach or hate it is going to depend a lot on your feelings towards the 80s heavy metal/speed metal scene.  For those of you who love it, Pauly...and, indeed, Stallion...are going to be right up your alley, as his vocals have a high pitched, snarling approach that was fairly commonplace in the 80s, especially with German bands.  The rhythm guitars are fast and furious, and the drum work from Aaron keeps the frantic pace up nicely.  This is definitely a great start to the album.

From here, things actually manage to get faster, as "No Mercy" is unleashed, and even Stampfe's bass comes rumbling out at a speed that would have made a young Metallica sit up and take note!  Gang-shouted backing vocals support Pauly's piercing wails, and the tempo changes incorporated here make for some interesting listening, showcasing the band is about more than just speed for speed's sake.  The same can be said of "Kill The Beast", which also features some blistering rhythm guitars and sprinter-style double kick bass work from Aaron, but again incorporates a level of musicality one might not expect to hear from a band like Stallion.  The guitar solo nearly melts the strings off the guitar, sure, but there is a musical complexity to the solo that is more than just running up and down the frets as fast as humanly possible.  Both tracks are well worth the listen.

"All In" slows the pace just slightly, adding a bit more traditional heavy metal to the sound and coming dangerously close to being octane-infused sleaze metal, a la Nitro.  Using that Nitro comparison, the solo work on this track is absolutely masterful, and Pauly's vocals match the intensity of the music note for note, in much the same way Nitro's frontman, Jim Gillette used to.  To me, however, Pauly doesn't have the cartoonish quality that Gillette used to interject at points, and Pauly is actually very strong in the mid-section of his range.  Man, I don't know...I've heard/read a lot of people bagging on Pauly's vocals, but again, I have to question where in the metal timeline they jumped in, because if it was early-to-mid-80s, they should be loving this stuff!

"Die With Me" is the epic song of the album, clocking in at over 7 minutes (everything else is under five minutes in length), and is the real "miss" track of the record for me.  This is the one and only track where I have to say that Pauly's vocals really don't fit what the music is doing here.  For all intents and purposes, this is the band's attempt at a metal ballad (don't think hair metal power ballad), but Pauly is just TOO Pauly on this one for me.  Musically, it isn't bad at all, and perhaps if the vocals were mixed a bit further back, things would've worked out better.  Actually, by the time we hit the 3:30 mark, the mix has balanced out, the lower-registered backing vocals are working, and the song manages to right itself to a large degree, but by then it's going to be too late for most people, I think.  The guitar solo is top notch, and the rhythm section does a really nice job, but I think the majority of listeners will have checked out by the time the song solves some of its initial missteps.

If "Die With Me" is the longest song, then we owe some love to the shortest, correct?  "Dynamiter" is just a tad over 2:30, and is pure 80s metal worship from start to finish.  Intense drum work, rumbling bass, and more rhythm guitar notes than you hear in some albums today blaze through the track, and while it isn't the fastest track here, it is one of the most fun, just for the sheer intensity of the track.

"Merchants Of Fear" ventures into thrash territory, and is possibly my favorite track on the record.  Pauly spends some time in a far lower register than the falsetto territory he works most of the album in, and the music has a bit harsher edge than some of the other stuff here, which is why I say it drifts across that imaginary "speed/thrash" line to a degree.  Also of special note for me is the album's closer, "Meltdown", which has pretty much the perfect combination of everything that Stallion does, all in one track.  A strong drum presence sets the stage for some rapid fire rhythm picking, a high voltage solo, and probably the strongest, most in-control vocal performance from Pauly.  This song is exactly the kind of stuff I was listening to from 1986-88, for the most part, as I was out doing construction work and wearing out cassettes on my Walkman.       

The production is a bit retro sounding (of course it is), but it doesn't sound cheap, hollow, or tinny, nor does it sound like it was recorded in your basement on a boombox.  The guitars, especially, have a strong, clean voice, which is required when you are dealing with the kind of savage speed that Stallion regularly unleashes.  As I mentioned earlier, the vocals get a bit heavy in the mix on occasion, but that is the exception rather than the rule, and outside of "Die With Me", this is never an issue that I find off-putting.

Look, in the end, if you are looking for something highly serious, look somewhere else, as that is not what Stallion is about.  This is a band about three things:  speed, metal, and fun.  And they definitely have those things on Slaves Of Time.

Rating:  Impossible to deny this band's love for, and mastery of, the 80s speed metal scene, and impossible not to crank!  Crank this to 7!

WILD SOULS "Queen Of My Heart"

(c) 2020 Lions Pride Music

  1. Nothing But Loving You
  2. Night Groove
  3. Love Ain't No Lie
  4. Ready To Rock
  5. Queen Of My Heart
  6. Sexcellent
  7. I Remember You
  8. Set Me Free
  9. Snakebite
  10. Hold Me Tight
  11. Beyond The Stars
  12. Street Eagles
George Nikolaou--Vocals
Kostas Tsiligiris--Guitars
Thanos Kalantzopoulos--Guitars
Leyteris Nasos--Bass
Michael Saroglou--Drums

Additional Musicians
Dimitris Kyriakidis--Guitars on "I Remember You"
Tasos Kalafatis--Keyboards on "Set Me Free" and "Hold Me Tight"

It has been three years since Wild Souls surprised me with their excellent sophomore album, Game Of Love, which found its way into the Glitter2Gutter Top10 of 2016, pretty much out of nowhere.  I had heard bits and pieces of the band's debut album, and while there was some obvious talent, I was in no way prepared for how good Game Of Love was (and still is)!  So, with their latest effort for Lions Pride Music, the Greeks really have their work cut out for them.

Retaining 3/4 of their previous line-up, changing drummers, and adding a second full-time guitarist, Wild Souls retains their melodic, hard rocking sound, with possibly even a bit more guitar flash and a somewhat fuller sound. Lead vocalist, George Nikolaou (man...I can't get enough of typing all these Greek names!!!) has a vocal approach and sound that at times sounds like Dave Meniketti of Y&T, while much of the time he takes on a bit of a David Coverdale sound, especially when he drops lower in his strong tenor range and adds a bit of smoke to the voice, such as on "Set Me Free".  Very smooth and very powerful, Nikolaou is every bit as impressive here as he was on Game Of Love, and his delivery has actually improved, I believe.  The man can definitely sing!

Likewise, the guitar tandem of Kostas Tsiligiris and Thanos Kalantzopoulos are an impressive pair, with strong rhythm playing and some soulful, expressive solos.  While I don't have a breakdown on who plays the solos in each song, suffice it to say there is plenty of melodic string-bending going on in numerous places here, and the harmonic pairing, such as on the mid-tempo rocker, "Queen Of My Heart", is top notch.  Nasos' bass gets plenty of breathing room in several songs here, and newcomer, Saroglou is a really solid, straight-forward drummer, showing flashes of speed here and there, but otherwise not overly flashy or distracting from the rest of the band.  

The album kicks off on a high note right away, with "Nothing But Loving You".  The guitars come roaring to life and vocalist George Nikolaou howls at the moon in a way that is very reminiscent of David Coverdale and Whitesnake's opening of "Bad Boys" from the 1987 self-titled record.  I can't help but feel this is done as an homage to that band, because there is going to be a lot of comparison between Wild Souls and Whitesnake, especially vocally, on this record.  That being said, Nikolaou is impressive in his own right here, as is the entire band on this catchy opener.  The twin guitars are a great touch here, and Saroglou's drums are impressive from the start, with a couple of high-speed bursts, and plenty of bottom end in the mix.  This is precisely the type of song that Wild Souls did so well on Game Of Love, and I am happy to hear that the band has retained much of what I really liked about that album.

"Night Groove" is up next, and anyone familiar with the band will notice right away the extra dimension that is added with the second guitar.  The sound is a bit fuller, and the tone on the rhythm guitars is a bit different...but in a good way.  The solo work here is still of a very high caliber, and the bass work from Nasos is very evident here.  A catchy, sing-along chorus adds to the fun here, and we are immediately two-for-two to kick off the new record.

"Love Ain't No Lie" starts off with some very 80s-sounding keyboards (think Bon Jovi's "Runaway"), but a thick rhythm section soon pushes those keys into the background a bit, and the guitars sweep in, escorting Nikolaou's deeper-range tenor into the mix.  This is a really good melodic rocker, and I am especially impressed by the execution of the guitar solo here, with both guitars actually getting into the action as they join forces to create a six-string tandem as the solo ends and the last vocal section kicks off.  Not really a full-force rocker, but a great song, nonetheless.  

"Ready To Rock" is the star of the show for the first half of the record, in my opinion, and features a definite Y&T feel to the music, and this is where Nikolaou's vocals take on that definite Meniketti sound, which I really dig as a fan of that band.  Even the big, gang-shouted vocals on the vocal bridge coming out of the solo fit the Y&T style perfectly.  If the production wasn't so crisp and the mix featured a bit less bottom end, this song could easily find its way onto Contagious or Ten in Y&T's catalog, which says a lot.  While I like pretty much everything this band has done on the last two records, I can't deny that I would LOVE to hear an album of exactly this style of hard rock, maybe even with a Y&T cover or two thrown in.  Wild Souls has this sound down pat!  Fun stuff here!

"Queen Of My Heart" slips into Whitesnake mode in a big way, as this song has everything that made that 1987 self-titled album so great.  A smokey intro that hints at this being a ballad is dismissed in favor of big, punchy guitars and a heavy rhythm section but still never really escalate past mid-tempo hard rock, in much the way "Cryin' In The Rain" worked for the 'Snake.  Not one, but two solos are featured in this track, the first being a fairly short interlude between verses, with the second one being a protracted venture with both guitarists getting a chance to shine, along with some harmonic interplay between the two.  Definitely one of the top 3 or 4 songs on this album, I usually hit repeat at least once when this song hits.

The first half of the album ends on a bit of a down not, although it is not a case of the musical or vocal performances being weak in any way, because that is simply not the case.  This band is tight and well-versed in their instruments, no doubt.  But the lyrics get a bit cheesy and overly cliche on the hard-rocking "Sexcellent", bringing the song down a notch from the majority of this album.  I mean, it doesn't take a genius to read past that title and know that the song is a lyrical deathtrap, which is too bad, because the song is very well written and a great hard rocker.  To be fair, this isn't uncommon with foreign bands for whom English is likely a second language, as I feel they sometimes try to get lyrically cute, but miss the nuances and subtleties that an American or British band might not.  (Note, I said "might not", because we all know there are a LOT of cheesy American lyrics out there, especially in this genre!)  I don't skip it, but I have to admit to chuckling when I put too much focus on the words being sung, rather than on the really strong guitar work and some of the most inventive drum work that Saroglou puts forth on this record.

"I Remember You" (not the Skid Row song) kicks off part two of the record, and the minor slip of "Sexcellent" is quickly forgotten.  I'm not a massive fan of the keyboard lead-in, but it is definitely the type of intro we heard a good deal of in the melodic rock 80s.  The guitars have a smooth build to them, and by the time Nikolaou hits the first verse, the keyboards are pretty much relegated to a supporting role.  The chorus here is especially strong, and Nikolaou smoothly works his way up and down the wheelhouse of his range throughout the track, although he never really hits a high-end peak.  A solid mid-tempo rocker with some flash and flair from the guitars on the solo.

"Set Me Free" starts off (and ends) with the hiss and pop of old vinyl, and Nikolaou's vocals have an analog sound to them until the entire band hits.  Once again in the Whitesnake vein, Wild Souls even incorporates some Hammond organ for effect, and I can't help but feel that this song would be easy to sandwich between "Fool For Your Lovin'" and "Love Ain't No Stranger".  The drum patterns have a familiar feel, and the guitar work here is definitely of a caliber that would have grabbed your attention in the 80s every bit as much as now.  It's fun to hear the Hammond get some solo time, as well, and Mr. Kalafatis has a real feel for that particular instrument.  (I think we've all heard when a Hammond is handled incorrectly in a song, and this is definitely NOT like that!)   

"Snakebite" has a nasty bump-and-grind rhythm to it with some gritty guitar work that would have absolutely held its own in the late 80s.  Definitely one of my top 3 songs on an overall excellent record, "Snakebite" has everything that you could want in a dirty rocker.  Once again, Nikolaou drops low into Whitesnake territory, delivering in a slightly raspy, bluesy style that really fits the groove and attitude of the track. ( don't think...nahhh...)  Some punchy drums intro a rapid-fire guitar solo, and the whole song is just a lot of fun to listen to and is very nicely constructed.  Excellent stuff here!

"Hold Me Tight" intros with some nicely harmonized acapella vocals that are quickly betrayed by the guitars which snarl in a bit harder than one might initially expect.  But don't take that as a bad thing, because this is, once again, a very solid song with a strong hook and a very well-written chorus.  Nikolaou continues with his vocal dominance on this record, focusing mostly on the bottom end of his range, but climbing the scales a bit in the verse sections as the chorus approaches.  Likewise, on the second chorus he shows his ability to reach into the upper tenor range and to hold onto a note with little effort.  The guitar work on this track is some of the best on the record, with the finger-twisting solo perfectly complemented by the sharp rhythm guitars that run concurrent with the solo.  The keyboards used here are a perfect fill instrument and are used to support, rather than distract from rest of the song.  Really a good piece of music here. 

"Beyond The Stars" features more of those edgy rhythm guitars that I find myself really drawn to on this record, with plenty of attitude and energy.  Nikolaou runs the full length of his range here, working his way from the bottom to the top, again projecting solid power when a particular passage calls for a bit more.  The guitar solo is fast and furious, but perhaps a bit too short considering this is one of the most "metal" of the tracks here.  Nasos' bass is given a lot of work here, as are Saroglou's legs, as he breaks into a double-bass sprint to run through the last chorus in a head-long charge to the end of the track.

The album closes on a very high note with "Street Eagles", with Nikolaou channeling his lower-range inner-Coverdale on the verse sections, while stretching his range higher on the pre-chorus and chorus parts.  This is another really impressive track, with Nasos' rumbling bass powering the song toward the big, melodic, whammy bar-enriched solo, and once again, the rhythm guitars here are such a big part of this hard rocker.  This was the kind of music I was most drawn to in the 80s/early 90s, hook-filled, but also powerful, with richer, lower-ranged vocals that projected strength and emotion equally.  Think Keel, Baton Rouge, Y&T, of course Whitesnake, and even a band like Pretty Maids, as far as style and approach.  No, no, I'm not saying Wild Souls sounds exactly like any of those bands...and those bands don't really sound like each other, either.  But all possessed strong axe work, typically rocked harder than your average hair band, usually had more bottom end to the sound, and had lower-ranged vocalists with power on songs that leaned more toward the metal side and less toward the pop side of the hard rock genre.        

For my money, this is another great example of the high quality melodic rock that is coming out of Europe, and particularly southern Europe, that too many people are simply not aware of.  The production is very good, with a nice dose of bottom end and nice separation, especially with the guitars.  If you are looking for something new to add to your melodic hard rock collection, Wild Souls is an excellent band with a lot of musical talent and strong songwriting, and they deserve to be on your musical radar.

Rating: Queen Of My Heart is definitely a crankable record, and every bit as good as their previous effort.  Crank this to 9 and seek out Wild Souls now!

Friday, May 1, 2020

JACK RUSSELL'S GREAT WHITE "Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes"

(c) 2020 Deadline Records

  1. Lady Redlight
  2. Gonna Getcha
  3. Rock Me
  4. All Over Now
  5. Mistreater
  6. Never Change Heart
  7. Fast Road
  8. Livin' On The Edge
  9. Save Your Love
  10. Babe (I'm Gonna Leave You)
Jack Russell--Lead Vocals
Robby Lochner--Guitars, Vocals
Tony Montana Cardenas--Guitars, Vocals
Dan McNay--Bass
Dicki Flisnar-Drums

Where does the time go?  I mean, seriously, how has it been 33 years since Once Bitten was released (or 32 years since it went Platinum for selling over a million copies)?  We danced to "Save Your Love" at my senior prom, for crying out loud!  And while I realize that I am dating myself with that last statement, it also serves to enhance my original question, which we all ask as we get older.  Where does the time go?

Now, I am fully aware of the fact that more people are familiar with Once Bitten's follow-up, ...Twice Shy, due almost solely to that record's cover of "Once Bitten, Twice Shy", but I will be the first to tell you that Once Bitten is the superior record, overall.  The breakthrough track, "Rock Me", is still one of the biggest and most requested songs the band has ever recorded, and the enormity of "Save Your Love" is indisputable, as it is one of the biggest power ballads of that time.  But, man, that record had so many great...GREAT...songs.  "Lady Redlight", "All Over Now", "On The Edge", and even deep cuts that only the most devoted fans likely know, such as "Fast Road" and "Never Change Heart" were solid tracks.  Outside of Hooked, Once Bitten is my favorite Great White record, followed closely by Shot In The Dark (my intro to the band), and the self-titled debut, with numerous other really good records following in the wake.  So, when Robby Lochner told me a couple years ago that Jack's version of the band (don't get me started down THAT road) was going to do an acoustic rendering of Once Bitten, I was definitely more than intrigued...and a little bit concerned.  I mean, let's be honest; the acoustic thing has been played out a bit, and quite frequently with tired, lifeless results.  So I had my reservations.  And when the release of the record was delayed by nearly a year (it was originally supposed to come out in July, 2019), I had some very real concerns.

Turns out, I was sweating it out about nothing.

Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes is the first release from Jack Russell's Great White since 2017's He Saw It Coming, and it is not only an acoustic record, it is a track-for-track remaking of the classic Once Bitten album, played in the exact same sequence.  To me, this is a huge point being made by the band, because so often, these acoustic albums become simply "best of" records, even when implying something different (ahem...Foreigner).  With Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes, you get the entire album, start to finish, in the same order that you first experienced it (unless you had the British version and ended up with the bizarre mish-mash of Once Bitten and Shot In The Dark tracks, or the international version which had "Rock Me" on side two, and both "Fast Road" and "Mistreater" on side one.  But...I doubt you had those...)

The new record, of course, kicks off with "Lady Redlight", and immediately the listener should know they are in for a treat.  As soon as Lochner starts fast-picking his way through that intro...but now on an acoustic is obvious this is not going to be an album where the band just coasts along and hits the high points of the hits.  The bass is thick here and sets a nice bottom end groove, and the cool shuffle that the original had shows up in full effect here.  Jack soon comes gliding in, and the man is in top form from note one.  I have seen Great White in various line-up formations, both electric and acoustic, so many times I can't even count.  And to be honest, there have been a few shows where Jack wasn't in the best vocal form, for whatever reason.  That is absolutely not the case here!  Jack sounds fresh and inspired here, and the man soars to the highest peaks of this track with seemingly little effort, and I would be lying if I didn't admit to being impressed.  The backing vocals are light and simple, as they should be, only serving to add bits of enhancement to the lead vocals of one of the most underrated singers in the genre.            

"Gonna Getcha" has a good deal of punch to the bottom end, with more fast and furious finger work from Lochner all over the place on this track.  Jack's vocals nail the urgency and swagger of the track, and little inflections and improvisations here and there really add a live flair to the track, which actually happens in several places throughout the record.  The solo section is really cool, because the support instruments back way off to just a simple drum and bass line supporting Lochner's run that feels off-the-cuff fresh in the way he works it.  The rhythm guitar line is tight and the bass is full in this reworking of a track that I wish would get dusted off more in the live setting. 

One thing I really like here is the reworking of the classic tracks so that you aren't just getting the same old, same old minus the electricity.  This is especially evident on a track like "Rock Me", which is given a cool, bluesy feel with a big, rumbling bass line and some fun guitar rhythms, particularly in the chorus sections. The guitar solo that runs out the song is really something to hear, with some impressive intensity and fast, clean picking.  Jack sings the whole thing about half a step lower in octave than the original, and this is done solely for effect, as he proves throughout the record that he is more than capable of climbing the ladder to hit the high notes when he needs to.  The backing vocals are a bit subdued...intentionally so...and they are harmonized perfectly.  It should also be mentioned that Flisnar's drums are rock solid throughout the track (and record), which can be tricky when the drummer is kind of limited in what he can add to an acoustic track without overpowering the song.  Really cool stuff, here.

"All Over Now" is still sharp and sassy in the acoustic version, but it breathes a bit more, as you might expect.  Jack adds a snarling edge to his vocals in the verse sections, and the backing vocals on the verses are done very well.  The chorus is pretty much spot-on, as well, and I am really glad they kept the chorus the same as it is on record here, rather than the slightly altered approach taken when the song is done live sometimes.  There's no cowbell here, but there is some wood block thrown into the percussive mix here, which gives a bit more of an organic feel to the track.  Lochner tears through a rapid fire pick-fest of a solo here, with Jack encouraging him, "C'mon Robby, need little bit more!" about half way through, which only encourages the guy to do his best shred impersonation on acoustic strings.  Color me impressed!

"Mistreater" is given a heavy dose of the blues, especially with a brand new intro and some fast and furious picking in the chorus sections, along with a cool little run from the drums coming out of the choruses.  This is a perfect example of taking a song fans will be familiar with and giving it a musical makeover, respecting the original but having some fun and flexing some creative muscle in changing things up a bit.  The guitar solo here is awesome, once again featuring some really fast picking from Lochner, and there's a nice piano accompaniment from Cardenas (Montana) coming out of the solo section that leads into the final run through the chorus.  The guitar work throughout this song is simply amazing to hear, and Jack is very obviously having a blast with this Great White classic.

For me, one of the coolest parts about this total reworking of Once Bitten is that the album cuts get new life here.  Very few people could sing the lyrics to "Never Change Heart" or "Fast Road", but the band delivers on each of these as if they were the biggest songs the band has ever released.  "Never Change Heart", for example, is given a deep, dark groove for the rest of the song to work around, and Jack's clean, impassioned vocals stand out starkly against the backdrop.  There is one point where Jack's voice cracks ever so slightly in the first chorus, but rather than edit it out, the band just carries on and the "real" feel of the track is left intact.  I love this!  There's no need to carve out a single cracked word; this is what gives this album such a live feel.  To be honest, I expected applause to cascade over the outros of these songs, as the record really has a live setting feel throughout.  Fingers are flying on the solo here, once again, and forgive me if this offends, but I truly don't know if Mark Kendall could pull off the acoustic solos that Lochner drops here.  The man is a truly underappreciated talent, and this stripped down format only serves to prove that point more fully.

As far as the previously mentioned "Fast Road" goes, it's really more of the same as far as quality goes.  If you aren't familiar with the original, this is a pretty uptempo track in its original form, but I daresay it may be a bit faster here.  The music has a really cool chugging train feel to it, reminding me a lot of the bluegrass breakdowns you hear in some of the faster music of that genre, but we don't venture into that type of instrumentation.  The backing vocals here are spot-on, and Jack absolutely dominates the higher end of his range, holding out notes for long stretches with seemingly little effort.  The chugga-chugga-chug of the bass line is a really powerful driving force in this song, and the guitar solo is catchy and inventive.

"Living On The Edge" has long been one of my favorite tracks by Great White, and it is given new life...and new appreciation from this acoustic setting.  Longtime, hardcore fans will likely notice the title change (I did), as the original doesn't have the word "Living" in it.  I asked Robby about this, and he said it was just a minor oversight and nothing that was done intentionally.  No biggie, as it is the music that matters, and it is done exceptionally well.  The bass line is thick, the drums are simple and straight forward, but still powerful, and the guitars are absolutely magnificent.  I really don't know what other word to use.  There is a rhythm guitar line running in the background that will likely remind the listener of the rhythm line used in Stevie Nicks' "Edge Of Seventeen", which is pretty cool, and I would imagine hard to maintain for a long stretch.  The handclaps that are added into the percussion mix here are a nice touch, adding a new quality to this classic track.  While it was never released as a single, I always felt it should have been, as it showcases what Great White did so well at that time, and the song is just catchy as heck. Once again, Jack completely owns the song, moving up and down his range with no problems and sounding fresh and powerful.  Maybe my favorite track here, although "Never Change Heart" is close.

As far as favorites go, a lot of people are likely to skip straight to the massive "Save Your Love", just to see how this track is handled.  In a word, it is handled "perfectly"  Jack doesn't miss a single note, delivering all the power and passion to this track that you have likely heard when the band performs this song live.  The bass is once again a very prominent part of this track, but outside of Jack's dominance, it has to be the amazing guitar solo from Lochner that is the focal point here.  He absolutely nails the solo here, delivering it as passionately as Jack does the vocals.  I probably still prefer the original, just because it is such an iconic track for the band, but man...this version does the song major service.  Absolutely exceptional work here.          

The album concludes with a bonus track in "Babe (I'm Gonna Leave You)", which has appeared on a couple of Great White albums and compilations through the years.  But, true to the record, even that classic Led Zeppelin cover has been completely re-recorded in acoustic fashion...and Jack has never sounded better.  In fact, his take on Robert Plant at this point is as good as I have ever heard, including on the Great White record, Great Zeppelin: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin.  The song is well-suited to be performed acoustically, I believe, and the band does not disappoint.  The acoustic guitars here are played to near perfection, and the percussion fits exceptionally well, not overpowering the quieter voices of the acoustic instruments, but delivering enough power to really push the song.  The big build moments are handled expertly, especially in the big section following the second chorus.  I asked Robby why this track was included, since it wasn't even a B-side or anything for this record.  He told me the record label had requested multiple bonus tracks, but the band gave them one.  And they gave them one helluva great one.  This may honestly be my favorite version of this track, and I simply can't say enough about how great Jack...and the entire band...sound on this cover.  It's a perfect close to an excellent record.

Produced and mixed by Lochner, the sound on this record is incredibly crisp and clean, with no annoying string squeaks from the guitars, and no instrument left silent in the mix.  The artwork is relatively simple, and has absolutely nothing to do with the original cover, but I think that's fine.  Besides, it looks better with the band's names scrawled all over it, don't you think?  There are no band photos or lyircs included in the tri-fold booklet, just a large thank-you section from each of the band members.

I have stated several times in many places that to me, this is the definitive version of the band, with Jack's voice being what drew so many people to Great White in the first place.  Robby Lochner is every bit the guitar player Mark Kendall was, and as I stated before, I think he pulls off work here that Mark couldn't even dream of playing today.  The rhythm section of McNay and Flisnar is rock solid, and Tony Montana's return solidified the line-up on rhythm guitars and keys, giving Jack Russell's Great White the truest sounding version of this splintered group, with Mark Kendall's version changing vocalists multiple times and, to be honest, coming off as rather tired-sounding and uninspired on their last effort, the relatively un-Great White Full Circle.  To compare the musicality of Jack Russell's Great White versus (Mark Kendall's) Great White is really not even a fair fight, as Jack's version is going to win every time.  Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes absolutely proves this point in spades.

Snag your own copy HERE and give this awesome album a listen with a new ear!  Now, while you do that, I need to transfer mine to a new jewel case (thank you post office!).

Rating:  Acoustically crankable!  I find practically zero flaws in this acoustic gem!  Crank this to 9.5!