RECORD STORE TALES & REVIEWS: Complete Table of Contents

February 1, 2012 7 comments

BOOK REVIEW: C.K. Lendt – KISS and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup

October 25, 2014 9 comments

KISS AND SELLC.K. LENDT – Kiss and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup (1997 Billboard Books)

Chris Lendt used to be an accountant for Kiss’ management company (from ’76-’88), and according to him, quite close to the band. He spent a lot of time on the road, with the band, keeping track of the money.  The story he tells is amusing at times, off-topic at others, but also often critical of his former bosses.

Lendt distills Kiss’ legacy to profit/loss diagrams. At the same time, he tells a lot of stories about excess, touring, and groupies, but not a lot about rock and roll. If you are looking for the nitty gritty details about Kiss and the music, this is not the book for you. For that book, check out Black Diamond by Dale Sherman. If you want one person’s account of the inner workings of the Kiss business, then read on.

Lendt describes parties, extravagent budgets, and stage shows. Where things get really interesting in this book is when things start to go sour for Kiss, right around the time of the Dynasty tour in ’79. He desribes Gene’s plan for “Kiss World”, a traveling amusement park that was to play outside of Kiss’ concerts on that tour. Needless to say it never happened, but it’s not something that’s well covered in other books, at least in this level of detail. He talks about recording budgets, about Ace Frehley building a gajillion dollar home studio that was never used (and later turned into a swimming pool), about wigs (Gene’s), about gurus (Paul’s), and about desperately copying every move Bon Jovi made when they hit it big in ’86, before his company was fired by Kiss in ’88.

He also spends a bit too much time talking about Diana Ross, whom his company was also managing. There are too many pages about investments, stuffy boardroom meetings, profit margins, and budgets. While this book is very insightful, covering many details that nobody else was privy to, it’s not enough about rock and roll. I can’t even tell if Lendt really likes rock and roll. Certainly, he liked working for Kiss in the early years, and the touring, but the later years are marked by constant criticism.  (A bit like my own Record Store Tales, I guess.)

Pick up Kiss and Sell cheaply, read it and enjoy it; but please also pick up Dale Sherman’s Black Diamond, and Kiss’ own Behind The Mask. Both books are more about the music, and both books are actually surprisingly critical as well. All three together will be a very well rounded reading of the hottest band in the land.

3/5 stars. More if the author would stick to the topic!

GALLERY: Piles and Piles of Music

October 24, 2014 17 comments

Nothing like getting a re-organizing project going, eh?  Especially when you’re a music lover like we all are.  Here are some pictures of things as they are now, before I begin.   The reason there are so many piles of discs out is because I’m out of storage space.  I will cleverly re-organize and create space, but the long term solution is that I’ll have more room when we move.  That plan has been delayed due to Jen’s illness but we’ll get there.

In the meantime, organizing and handling the physical product is really a labor of love.  It’s work too, but it’s a lot of fun.  It gives me an excuse to spend time with some old friends for a few hours!

You’ll probably recognize a few of the titles visible below from recent reviews!

REVIEW: Savatage – Gutter Ballet (Steamhammer remaster)

October 24, 2014 4 comments

GUTTER BALLET_0001SAVATAGE – Gutter Ballet (1989, 2002 Steamhammer remaster)

Having first latched onto Savatage in ’87 with “Hall of the Mountain King”, I was primed and ready for Gutter Ballet.  What I didn’t expect was the heavy piano on the title track/first single.  But that was a pleasant surprise: I was heavily getting into piano within the context of hard rock at the time.  Savatage’s Jon Oliva has a tendency to write simple but very catchy piano parts.  “Gutter Ballet” was inside my head on first mindblowing listen.  All that was left for me to do was buy the album.

Savatage have reissued Gutter Ballet with different bonus tracks many times.  I have the 2002 Steamhammer release (the Earmusic version) which has an extensive booklet with ample liner notes.  Gutter Ballet was the post-rehab album for Jon Oliva, and this informs many of the lyrics (“Thorazine Shuffle” for example).  Upon beginning the album, Jon and his brother Criss wrote heavy guitar based metal songs which were later included as bonus tracks on various releases.   Not satisfied, producer/co-writer Paul O’Neill sent Oliva out to see Phantom of the Opera in New York.  This changed everything.  Meanwhile, the rehab stint ended up producing a three song mini-suite.  The road to 1991’s Streets: A Rock Opera was now paved.

Gutter Ballet commences with “Of Rage and War,” the bass hook of which reminds of “24 Hours Ago” from the last album.  It has one of those staggered Criss Oliva guitar riffs that I miss so much, and the unforgettable drum patterns of Steve “Doc” Wacholz.  The lyrics are not profound, but they’re catchy enough (especially when Oliva starts shrieking).  They’re also still relevant today.

You got Libya, you got the Russians
You got civilian planes crashing to the oceans
Airports full of terrorists, Nazi skins, anarchists
When are you gonna learn?

Lyrics aside, the strongest thing about “Of Rage and War” is the guitar riffing.  The six-string then takes a bit of a back seat (solo aside of course) on “Gutter Ballet” to the piano for the first time.  Oliva’s simple melody is one of the first that I learned to play on keyboard and I still have my old cassette demo somewhere!  A minute later things speed up and get dramatic.  As good as the piano part is, the guitar riff that comes in to compliment it is just as stellar.

Could “Gutter Ballet” be Savatage’s best song?  You could easily argue that, even though the band would later ramp up the drama and complexity on their albums.  I think the song is completely without flaw.  From Jon’s lyrics (inspired by a stabbing he witnessed while in New York) to the slightest piano accents, the track is perfect.  And it even manages to maintain its balls, which I’m sure helped longtime Savatage fans adapt to the new sound.

First video with Chris Caffery.

“Temptation Revelation” is a 3:07 instrumental track that really only serves to bridge “Gutter Ballet” to another piano based hit, “When the Crowds are Gone”.  The piano and guitar vibe is maintained throughout.  “When the Crowds are Gone” is a very special song, and undoubtedly you could call it a ballad.  It has heavy choruses, but the thrust of the song is based on Jon’s voice and piano.  Jon sounds tiny at first before using his full throat.  The song was first conceived by Paul O’Neill as part of  the later Streets rock opera, a project he had cooking for many years.  The song would have fallen after “A Little Too Far” on side one.  I think it’s another one of Savatage’s best-ever compositions, and Jon’s screaming at the end seems to really embody the desperation of the lead character.

I never wanted to know, never wanted to see
I wasted my time, till time wasted me
Never wanted to go, always wanted to stay
‘Cause the person I am, are the parts that I play.

So I plot and I plan, hope and I scheme
To the lure of a night, filled with unfinished dreams
I’m holding on tight, to a world gone astray
As they charge me for years I can no longer pay.

Note Doc Wacholz’s United Federation of Planets drum kit!*

Side one closed with an acoustic instrumental called “Silk and Steel” which is really a showcase for the underrated Criss Oliva.  It’s just acoustic guitars — nothing else — for four minutes.  Right on, and perfect for a side closer.

No punches are pulled whatsoever on side two.  A bruising tune called “She’s In Love” boasts a chugging riff and those speedy Dr. Killdrums snare hits.  As for Jon, he spends most of the song screaming in fury (but also in tune).  Musically, think “Loss of Control” by Van Halen, but metalized.  “Hounds” then opens with quiet picking, similar to Metallica’s “One”.  This doesn’t last, and before too long it’s a regal metallic plod with a little bit of Sabbathy organ audible in the background.  Then, “The Unholy”:  a stampede of tricky licks and screaming vocals.  There is no let up.

GUTTER BALLET_0003The aforementioned three-song mini suite is next, and it begins with “Mentally Yours”.  The character of “Timmy” is introduced, a disturbed character.  The insanity theme is immediately obvious by the piano intro where Jon sets the scene.  Think Alice Cooper’s From the Inside album.  This piano intro could even be considered a separate song, as it has nothing to do with “Mentally Yours” musically.  Intro aside, this is another heavy metal bruiser, guitars on the prowl.  It even changes to a speed metal thrasher by the end.

“Summer’s Rain” is the only thing resembling a ballad on side two.  If so, it’s a heavy ballad without piano.  It does feel spiritually connected to “When the Crowds are Gone” from side one.  Still, the best tune of this trilogy is “Thorazine Shuffle” which has an ominous opening.  Then the song really begins; a stuttering limping riff, evoking the Thorazine shuffle Oliva sings about.  Gutter Ballet ends on an appropriately heavy note.

This remastered edition has two live bonus tracks; unfortunately they are just from the album Final Bell/Ghost in the Ruins. As such I’ve chosen not to talk about them, since I’d rather just review that album later on.  So be aware, the Steamhammer remaster from 2002 doesn’t have any exclusive bonus tracks.

3.5/5 stars

* Savatage MUST be Trekkies.  The next album, Streets, featured the following lyrics:

And who’s to say what it’s all about?
When John Wayne took the last train out?
And Spock and Kirk have had enough,
And no one’s left to beam me up.

#328: Slowly Going Deaf? (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

October 23, 2014 28 comments

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#328: Slowly Going Deaf?

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I’ve been listening to music for as long as I can remember.  I’ve been listening to rock music — and I’ve been told to turn it down — since I was 11 years old.  That’s 30 years ago.  Remember all those times your parents said, “Turn it down, or you’ll be deaf by the time you’re 40!”  Let’s see if that’s true.

I’m not the concert-goer that a lot of you are.  I’ve always had a thing about crowds, but I’ve definitely seen my share of loud shows: Black Sabbath & Motorhead, Helix and Deep Purple are not the kind of bands that turn it down.  In 1972 Deep Purple were declared by Guinness to be the world’s loudest band!  But I don’t enjoy the sheer earthquake noise levels you can get at a concert like that, so I’ve been using earplugs much of the time for almost 20 years.  I started wearing them shortly after seeing Kiss in ’96.  I find this cuts a lot of the noise, and renders the concert to a volume more akin to a loud home stereo.

Where I’m most guilty of playing it too loud is the car.  Sometimes I don’t realize just how loud it is in there until I start the car in the morning, having left the stereo on at full blast.  I seem to turn it up, turn it up, turn it up…and get used to it.  Like a frog in cold water that you begin to slowly heat to boil, I become accommodated to the volume of the rock.  So that would concern me, where hearing loss is concerned.

How much hearing have I lost?  I completed a hearing test at work a short while ago, and have received the results.  Using a 2009 baseline as the comparison, it looks like it’s barely changed at all!

Here’s how the exam worked.  A mobile hearing test truck pulls into the parking lot and we take the hearing tests six people at a time.  Each one of us enters a soundproof booth, which look like we’re sitting in the escape pods of a spaceship, especially after we don our special noise-cancelling headphones.  Unfortunately it’s not a perfect setup.  I and several others could hear the beeping of forklifts and tow motors in the yard, through the booth and headphones.  This doesn’t help when you’re supposed to push a little button at the sound of a beep in your ears.  The test took about five minutes to complete and the results came back about two weeks later.  And here they are.  I don’t know what half this stuff means, but I’m told I have no major loss.  Alright!

TEST

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Under Cover (2005 Japanese import)

October 22, 2014 15 comments

Purchased this year at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale.

OZZY OSBOURNE – Under Cover (2005 Japanese CD/DVD set)

I want to know who thought this album was a good idea to release.  Sure, we know Ozzy will do pretty much anything.  He even appeared on a tribute album to Black Sabbath (Nativity In Black Vol. 2).  So why not have Ozzy cover a bunch of songs that, by and large, the world didn’t need him to cover?

“SHARON!”

I’ve never thought much of this album, and I think you can gather why on the first track “Rocky Mountain Way” (Joe Walsh).  Why did this song need to be redone, metalized, and howled upon by Ozzy Osbourne?  It’s awful.  The female backing vocals are totally out of place, the changes made to song are unnecessary, and the vocal is stale.  The only positive thing I will say is that Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) plays on Under Cover, and he’s the only thing redeeming it.  His slide and talk box solos on “Rocky Mountain Way” are swampy and great.

Whether Ozzy covers the Beatles (a pukey echo-drenched “In My Life) or Cream (“Sunshine of Your Love”) or the Stones (“Sympathy for the Devil”), nothing of value is added to the song.  It’s assembly line rock.  There are no innovations or interesting slants.  “Sunshine of Your Love” is altered to resemble Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” which doesn’t help matters at all.  Ozzy even does two solo John Lennon songs (“Woman” and “Working Class Hero”).  I get that Ozzy has a connection to the lyrics to “Working Class Hero” and is a huge fan of Lennon.  That doesn’t mean he should try doing his own version.  Most songs don’t benefit from being metalized.  I’ve even heard a good metalized cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” better than Ozzy’s.

Best tune (only good tune):  “Fire” originally by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

OZZY UNDER COVER_0003Special guests: Leslie West plays some smokin’ axe on the cover of his own “Mississippi Queen”.  Ian Hunter joins Ozzy on “All the Young Dudes” but doesn’t do much other than shout along.  Others such as Gregg Bissonnette (David Lee Roth) and Joe Bonamassa are credited on the album, with no indication of what they did on which tracks.  Maybe Bissonnette was hired solely to play cowbell.  Who knows?

The final rip off to fans is that almost all of Under Cover was previously released on Ozzy’s Prince of Darkness box set earlier that year!  Many Ozzy fans such as myself picked that one up for its numerous long-sought rarities.    When Under Cover was released as its own album, four new recordings were added to make you buy it again: “Rocky Mountain Way”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Woman”, and “Go Now”. If you have Prince of Darkness, then you already own over 75% of Under Cover.

The Japanese bonus track was daughter Kelly Osbourne’s cover of Black Sabbath’s ballad “Changes”, with dear old dad singing with her, and lyrics adapted to suit.  If you were one of those (I hope not) who bought Kelly’s 2002 album Shut Up, then you already have this.  But like most Ozzy fans, I already have this song on the Prince of Darkness set.  This version also comes with a bonus  region 2 DVD: the music video for “In My Life” (whoop-de-do) and a long (about 45 minutes I think) feature called “Dinner with Ozzy and Friends”.  You might recognize a couple of these friends.  Road stories are shared, the funniest ones involving Ozzy being mistaken for Meat Loaf, and Lemmy for Willie Nelson.  And there’s the infamous story of Zakk Wylde and a cork.  Finally, the two sided DVD also has the entire album in “enhanced stereo”.

1/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Star Riders – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013)

October 21, 2014 17 comments

BLACK STAR RIDERS – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013 Nuclear Blast CD/DVD set)

Epic Review Time again!  This time it’s a CD/DVD combo set, the debut album by Black Star Riders.  You might know the guys from Black Star Riders by another name they sometimes use: Thin Lizzy.  Scott Gorham put a Lizzy lineup back together in 1996, over the years utilizing Lizzy alumni such as himself, John Sykes, Darren Wharton, and Brian Downey.  But when it came to creating new music, why did they change their name?

Let’s begin by reviewing the DVD, which answers this question and any others you may have about who Black Star Riders are.

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Scott explains that he and Brian Downey really decided not to do a “Thin Lizzy” album because of their own discomfort with the idea. Without Phil, it didn’t seem right. The rest of the band were disappointed because they had written 17 new songs they were excited about. But they would not add a Lizzy album to the canon without Phil.  Singer Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) says that once that decision was made to record with a new name, he found inspiration from a western movie featuring a gang called the “Black Star” gang. He liked the gang mentality. But Brian Downey dropped out early in the proceedings (although he did participate in writing some of the material.)   New drummer Jimmy Degrasso (Megadeth) explains that Thin Lizzy’s special sound comes from a Blues/R&B swing, and of course the “dual guitar armies”. They aimed to keep these qualities with Black Star Riders. Guitarist Damon Johnson believes that Ricky Warwick’s lyrical prowess is exemplary, and carries the Lizzy spirit. I would have to agree.

Recruiting producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden),  the album was done in 12 days. They did one song start to finish each day. It was recorded as live as possible, simply because they only had 12 days!

Unfortunately for me, there just isn’t enough behind the scenes footage on the DVD. There’s a little: brief glimpses of writing and recording sessions. The disc is made up mostly of interviews. Gorham, Warwick, Degrasso, Johnson, bassist Marco Mendoza and producer Shirley take turns in front of the camera. It is quite extensive; this is not a short DVD. (I don’t see a time listed anywhere but I’d guess it was an hour long.)  Subjects covered include Phil Lynott, songwriting, pressure, inspiration, guitar solos, Ireland and more. Each individual song is discussed in detail.


Now that you’re familiar with Black Star Riders, we can discuss the album All Hell Breaks Loose.  Which is a killer.

You could easily mistake the title track for an outtake from the Jailbreak album, or Johnny the Fox perhaps.  Though there is only one Phil, Ricky Warwick’s voice occupies the same range.  His lyrics are storytelling much like Phil’s were, and they both share similar interests in history and gang mentalities.  This is as close as anyone has ever gotten to Thin Lizzy (and no wonder).  I love when, just before the solo, Warwick cries, “Alright Scotty!”  But Johnson joins Scott for the second part of the solo, recreating the classic Lizzy guitar sound.  Then, the single “Bound For Glory” completely captures the goodtime vibe of “Boys Are Back In Town”.  It’s a great choice for a single, and once again you could easily mistake it for an outtake from Jailbreak.   Just like Phil would do, there’s even an Elvis reference in the lyrics.  You truly get the feeling that All Hell Breaks Loose is as much a new album by these guys as it is a tribute to Lynott.

“Kingdom of the Lost” captures the Irish spirit of Lizzy.  Traditional Irish instruments join the band, and it’s in the same vein as a Lizzy track like “Black Rose”.  I should mention now that while each song feels like an homage to Phil, none sound like a re-write.  They capture the spirit without being note-for-note ripoffs, and I think that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to accomplish.

“Bloodshot” gave me a different feeling, which is while the riff has Lizzy elements, it sounds more “southern rock” to me.  Nothing wrong with that either.  “Kissin’ the Ground” then has a more “hard rock” sound, almost like something Damon Johnson might have written with Alice Cooper (who he used to play with) in mind.  But then the excellent chorus is one of the most Lizzy-like.  Then “Hey Judas” (a play on the title “Hey Jude”) is pure Lizzy, 110%. There is no question that Scott Gorham has carried so much of the Thin Lizzy sound into the present.  “Hey Judas” often finds itself as my favourite song (alternating with “Bound for Glory” and “Valley of the Stones”).   Then onto “Hoodoo Voodoo”, where I think the album sags.  I don’t think this is a standout.  Since the aforementioned “Valley of the Stones” is next, the decline is only brief.  This metallic stomp is like a highspeed Mad Max race through the desert, searching for the mystical valley of the stones itself.  Fear not through, the guitar duels keep it within Lizzy Nation.

If things have been a bit heavy, then the gleeful “Someday Salvation” captures that “Dancing in the Moonlight” swing of early Lizzy.  Then “Before the War” has an appropriate military beat.  I’m sure this is an excellent song in concert; you can shout along.  The last song on the regular edition of the CD is “Blues Ain’t So Bad”, a dusky slow rock song.  But I think the better closer is the “bonus track” “Right to be Wrong”.  That “better believe it!” shout-along hook is just great, and this upbeat song just smokes.

As you can no doubt see, I would have found it an impossible challenge to write this review without comparing to Thin Lizzy.  But I don’t think that’s important; the band clearly intended to follow in those footsteps.  If anybody has a right to, it’s Black Star Riders.

4.5/5 stars

#327: Flash! (saviour of the musicverse!) (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

October 20, 2014 16 comments

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RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale

#327: Flash! (saviour of the musicverse!)

My current vehicle is my first to have a built in USB port.  What a revelation!  Only in the last few years did I finally make the digital leap with my Sony mp3 player.  Now with the car USB port, I finally have the ability to bring music with me in the car, without worrying about damaging a CD or packaging.  It’s a very liberating little gadget.  Listening to a Deep Purple box set in the car is no longer an exercise in delicacy.

The first music that I began ripping and loading onto a flash drive were in fact my box sets.  Let’s face it: some box sets (Pearl Jam’s Ten, Pink Floyd’s Shine On, Deep Purple’s Listen Learn Read On) are not very portable.  I find the car to be a great place to listen to a box set.  This week, I decided to revisit my 12 CD Marillion singles box sets, straight through.  Everyone who drives to work on a daily basis probably spend a lot of time in their cars.  It works for me to listen to something really long and involved on my drives, over the course of a week.  Many of my reviews have been mentally composed in my vehicle.

Unfortunately it’s not the perfect setup.  The GM factory stereo has some flaws.  One thing that bugs me is it doesn’t display the track times, unless you’re fast-forwarding or rewinding.  It also doesn’t interface well with the big 32 gig flash drives I’ve tried.  The stereo can’t remember where it left off on a drive that big.  Now I use a couple 8 gig drives, which work much better.  I can pick up the tunes exactly where I left off.

The biggest and most annoying flaw is that it will not play certain mp3 files.  I have never figured out why.  I get an “id3 tag error” on some files.  Some cassette rips, and some bootleg CDs will give me that error when ripped and played in the car.   Some official CDs even give me an issue once ripped.  Anthrax’s Anthems EP for example won’t play in my car after I ripped it.  (I should try re-ripping and see what that does.) Others are no problem.

It’s incredible how much things have changed since I was a kid, when it comes to listening to music.  When I think back to packing cassettes, and then CDs, for road trips…and now just loading up a flash drive, it’s amazing.  Yet the process remains the same: I still go through album after album trying to find the perfect batch for a particular trip.  The ease of doing so has been a massive shift for my listening habits.  I don’t know if they still make vehicles without USB ports, but unless something better comes along, I will never do without one.

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