RECORD STORE TALES & REVIEWS: Complete Table of Contents

February 1, 2012 9 comments
Categories: Table of Contents

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986)

August 3, 2015 17 comments

Scan_20150728DAVID LEE ROTH – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986 Warner)

1986 was the year it all went down. If you were a Van Halen fan, it was time to choose.

Of course, nobody really had to choose between Van Hagar and David Lee Roth. It’s not like every fan had only $10 to spend on albums that year. Fans did choose anyway, and even today almost 30 years later, we still argue about who’s best: Diamond Dave or the Red Rocker?

No matter who you sided with, there is no question that David Lee Roth stormed into 1986 with a killer new band and album.

Steve Vai! That’s enough right there to make for an incendiary band — just ask David Coverdale. Before Little Stevie Vai was a household name, he had earned the respect of Frank Zappa who hired him on after Joe’s Garage. He made his Zappa debut on Tinseltown Rebellion, before being snagged by Graham Bonnet in 1985 for Alcatrazz’s Disturbing the Peace. In that band, he had the unenviable task of replacing a Swedish guitar player you may have heard of called Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Needless to say, Steve Vai was already experienced in filling big shoes by the time David Lee Roth made contact.

Billy Sheehan! A lot of people think he’s the world’s greatest bass player, period. Eight finger lead bass, baby! Three albums with Talas didn’t do much in terms of sales, but the material was strong enough that one song was re-recorded for the Roth album.

Gregg Bissonette! Once you learn how to properly spell his name, you will recognize Bissonette on loads of album credits. Joe Satriani come to mind? How about Spinal Tap? For your information, Gregg Bissonette is still alive, and is still the current Spinal Tap drummer.

Combine those three virtuosos with the greatest frontman of all time, and you have best new band of 1986.

Van Halen’s 5150 came out in March, going to #1. That’s a hard act to follow. Eat ‘Em and Smile, however, ending up standing the test of time. I would argue that even though it’s not Van Halen, it’s still the best Van Halen album since 1984….

As if to say “Eddie who?”, the album opens with Steve Vai’s trademark talking guitar. I’m talkin’ about-a-“Yankee Rose”! Here’s the shot heard ’round the world indeed. Lyrically, musically, and instrumentally, this song truly is the spiritual successor to classic Van Halen. David Lee was still in prime voice, and does he ever pour it on! Sassy as ever, Roth sounds exactly how he should: the showman in the rock and roll circus. And let’s not forget Billy and Gregg. Sheehan’s slinky bass on the outro is space age groove.

“Shyboy” is an atomic bomb. Billy brought in this song from Talas, but there is no question that Dave’s version is vastly superior. I have no idea how Vai makes his guitar create these sounds. When he goes into syncopation with Billy on the fastest solo of all time, your head may be blown clean off. Please, do not attempt to listen to “Shyboy” in the car, without testing it at home first. As Steve’s guitar flickers from left to right, Billy’s bass is the fastest, baddest groove on record. “Shyboy” is of such high quality that I do not think any self-respecting rock fan can live without it. Virtually every trick that Steve had at the time was in this one song.

One thing that was special about Van-Halen-with-Dave was their fearlessness in doing odd covers, such as “Big Bad Bill” or “Oh Pretty Woman”. Dave took that with him, and included oldie swing covers like “I’m Easy”. Horn laden and with Steve’s expert licks, it should be no surprise that they nail this one. It’s much in the spirit of Dave’s solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, only better.

Perhaps the most outstanding song on Eat ‘Em and Smile would be “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” Dave has always said he loves disco and dance music. This is the most perfect melding of that world with rock. Vai is rarely so funky, and there is no question that Dave has the vibe right. Smooth and steamy, “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” is a tune perfectly in synch with activities of the nocturnal persuasion. Who else but Dave would be perfect to deliver this message?

“Goin’ Crazy” was a great track to make into one of Dave’s typically high flying music videos. It’s party rock time, with a tropical vibe. “Goin’ Grazy” worked particularly well when Dave re-released it in Spanish, as “¡Loco del calor!”. I used to consider this tune a bit of a throwaway, but it has certainly endeared itself over the years. Another meticulously perfect Vai solo doesn’t hurt, and Billy’s bass popping helps end side one on an up note.

Now there is a story here that needs to be told. Billy Sheehan was in Canadian progressive rock band Max Webster for “about three weeks” according to lead singer Kim Mitchell. Upon joining Dave’s band, he introduced them to Kim Mitchell’s solo track “Kids In Action”, which they decided to cover. Bill called Kim up to ask him for the lyrics, because they couldn’t quite make them all out. Kim supplied the words, and Dave recorded the song. However, it was dropped at the 11th hour, for another cover — “Tobacco Road”. David Lee Roth’s version of “Kids In Action” has yet to be released or even bootlegged. Not that I am complaining about “Tobacco Road”, another old cover! Yet again, the reliably awesome Steve Vai just sells it. There is no question that the whole song just smokes, but getting to hear Stevie playing this old blues?  Pretty damn cool.

That’s nothing. You thought “Shyboy” was fast? Check out “Elephant Gun”! Billy’s fingers didn’t fall off, but mine would have. “I’ll protect you baby with my Elephant Gun”, claims Dave. Nudge, wink! Steve Vai’s been known to write blazing fast songs, and “Elephant Gun” is so fast it’s almost showing off. Wisely though, things get slow and nocturnal once again on “Big Trouble”. That’s a title Dave recycled from an old unused Van Halen song. (That song became “Big River” on A Different Kind of Truth.) Steve’s guitar melodies and solo on this are particularly celestial. Roth uses his speaking voice, spinning a tale as only he can. “Bump and Grind” is a perfectly acceptable album track, a sleaze rocker as only Dave can do. If I am interpreting the lyrics correctly, Dave is a dance instructor in this one. “Shake it slowly, and do that Bump and Grind”.

Much like “Happy Trails” ended Diver Down on a jokey note, Dave ends his first solo album with a cover: “That’s Life”, the song that Sinatra made famous. Coming from the guy who did “Just a Gigolo”, we know he can do that kind of thing very well. The first time I heard the album years ago, I shrugged and said, “Another one?” Now, older and fatter, I sez it’s all good! Zop-bop-doop-zooby-dooby-doo indeed. Funny thing though. When I think of Diver Down, I think of a fun but fairly shallow album of half covers. When I think of Eat ‘Em and Smile, I don’t question the integrity of it. I don’t know why I seem to hold that double standard.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Eat ‘Em and Smile was David Lee Roth’s finest moment as a solo artist. It was not nearly as well known as 5150, OU812, or any of Van Hagar’s albums, and that is almost criminal. The talent in this band, pound for pound, outweighed anybody else going at the time, including Van Halen. Shame they couldn’t make it last.

5/5 stars

VIDEO: The Birthday Mug from Caught Me Gaming

August 2, 2015 21 comments

Sarca from Caught Me Gaming does much more than just video games (not that those don’t rock)!  She talks coffee, she talks books, movies, and occasionally music too.   I was thrilled to get this birthday gift.  Check the video below.

Aaron got the same gift from Sarca for his birthday!  Check his out over at KeepsMeAlive.

Thank you Sarca for this awesome rock and roll mug!

Click here for Sarca’s original post featuring this mug.

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REVIEW: Scorpions – Lonesome Crow (1972)

August 1, 2015 7 comments


Scan_20150722SCORPIONS – Lonesome Crow
(1972 Metronome)

What an odd album this is, considering where the Scorpions went a decade later. Young kids from West Germany finding their musical feet, Scorpions seemed to be a psychedelic band at the start. Their major asset was the 17 year old guitar prodigy Michael Schenker. Throughout Lonesome Crow, it is Schenker’s sparing solos that hint that Scorpions may in fact be a rock band. Throwing down the wah-wah hard, Schenker hadn’t found his direction yet either, but the talent was clear.

Also obviously gifted was 24 year old singer Klaus Meine. Although his thick accent probably didn’t help gaining international appeal, he sure could wail. The one single scream on opening track “I’m Going Mad” revealed that perhaps there was a rock star here in cocoon form.

Some fans have developed great love for Lonesome Crow over the years. When I first found the album in 1990 (a cassette reissue at a Zellers store), I thought at the time that it was perhaps the worst album I had ever bought. My stance has softened considerably over the years, as I’ve managed to penetrate its foggy haze. I have friends who have offered great praise to Lonesome Crow after ingesting certain intoxicants.

There are indeed some stellar musical moments. The song “Action” for example boats a jazzy walking bassline and some stellar playing. Bassist Lothar Heimberg only ever appeared on this one Scorpions album, and the bass is one of the biggest noticeable differences to later Scorpions records. You just don’t hear busy, walking basslines like this on the rest of their catalogue. Drummer Wolfgang Dziony (also on his only Scorpions album) accompanies him appropriately.


Klaus should grow this beard back.

The factor that makes Lonesome Crow difficult to penetrate is the tendency towards long, meandering (often directionless) psychedelic rock jams. “I’m Going Mad” (though it has no vocals for almost 2 1/2 minutes) is pretty instant, and “In Search of the Peace of Mind” has its moments too. Other songs like “Inheritance” are head-scratchers. One of the most interesting (but also difficult to penetrate) songs is the 13 minute title track. I’m sure a more seasoned band\ could have trimmed the fat a bit. In general, the album has several flashes of brilliance, but you have to slog through long meandering slow jams to get there.  Producer Conny Plank, he of many Krautrock releases, allows the Scorpions to run wild with their imaginations.

Lonesome Crow isn’t a bad album. One reason it’s unlike other Scorpions records is that they broke up shortly after. When a new Scorpions formed, the only members remaining from this album were Klaus and rhythm guitarist Rudolph Schenker. Michael Schenker was noticed by UFO, who snagged him from the fledgling Scorpions. When the band folded, Klaus and Rudolph joined Dawn Road featuring another smokingly talented guitarist named Uli Jon Roth. Dawn Road was then renamed Scorpions, and together the new lineup began embarking on a harder rock and roll journey. With Roth’s help, and a growing songwriting duo of Klaus and Rudolph, great things were ahead.

2/5 stars

#419: Things Customers Do that Annoy Retail Workers

July 31, 2015 23 comments

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#419: Things Customers Do that Annoy Retail Workers

A few days ago, I saw this “20 Things Customers Do that Annoy Retail Workers” via George Takei’s daily (hilarious) Facebook posts.  It is so true that it hurts!  The memories it brought back…shudder.  I could relate to almost every single one.  The list was generally about clothing stores, but many of the points were wide-ranging.  Here are my favourite parts from the list that applied to us, with my own notes from the front lines of the Record Store!

1.  Asking “Do you work here?”  That used to drive me nuts.  Our boss used to make us wear these ugly STAFF tags.  It was like wearing a big hanging sign around your neck, it was so humiliating.  And still we’d get these questions!

5. “Tell you that an item that you sell is cheaper in another store.”  I’m not sure why people felt the need to do this at my store.  Their tone didn’t make it seem like they were trying to help.  Especially that one lady who told me, “Walmart has this cheaper than you.  HAH!”

7. “Try to return products which have been damaged by misuse”.  Ugh!  Someone in my store sold a brand new, sealed copy of Hit Zone 2 to a lady whose kids clearly used it as a skating rink.  When she returned it, she was furious!  “Do you always sell CDs that don’t work?” she asked me in a huff.  I said no, I’m really sorry, but we can exchange it for you.  Then I looked at the CD!  I had never seen a brand new CD that had been so quickly destroyed.  I did the exchange, but then I made her open up the new copy at the counter, inspect it, and sign her receipt saying she had seen the CD in perfect condition and it could not be returned.  She was just abusing the system.

8. “Spend half an hour browsing the when the store is trying to close.”  I can add my own note to this one: “And then leave without buying anything.”

10. “When they hand you a $50 or $100 bill, and while you’re checking it they say ‘I just made that myself’”.  I know you think you’re really original, coming up with that line, but half the people that hand me a $100 bill say it.  The other half got really pissed off when I said “We don’t take $100 bills.”  (We had a sign that said so at the counter.  One employee named Chris liked to say, “Don’t make me tap the sign again.”)

12. “Parents that allow their children to run rampant”.  This was one sure-fire way to ruin my day.  There’s nothing like watching a kid destroy your store, while the parent is browsing Limp Bizkit yelling, “Calm down!”  Obviously, the kid doesn’t calm down, and so he moves on to another section to destroy.  One youngster tore down my entire country section – put the whole thing in one gigantic pile on the floor.  The dad just said, “That’s not too bad, you’ll have that back together in no time.”  Thanks for the help.

14. “Complain about the prices. News flash, I don’t set the prices!”  Self-explanatory.  As manager I had the ability to offer you a discount.  However, being annoying and complaining constantly would not get you a discount.  Being polite would.  Turns out we gave very few discounts….

18. “You look like you need something to do.”  Usually said by someone carrying in a box of 400 CDs for sale, which will take me the rest of the morning to look at.  Thanks for the joke asshole, and so help me God you better not have more Limp Kizkit in here.

20. “So that means it’s free, right?”  That was probably funny the very first time somebody said it, when a price tag fell off the item they were buying.  Probably.  But that was also probably in ancient Greece and it hasn’t been funny since!

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

REVIEW: Max Webster – Universal Juveniles (1980)

July 30, 2015 49 comments

Scan_20150717 (3)MAX WEBSTER – Universal Juveniles (1980 Alert)

“1980 will be a year long remembered.  It has seen the end of Max Webster, and will soon see the end of Led Zeppelin.” — Darth Vader

All good things must indeed come to an end.  If there was one band — just one band! — out of the Great White North that truly deserved better things, it was Max Webster.  Much like their soul mate, Frank Zappa, Max Webster had successfully inserted humour into complex progressive rock songs.  The big difference was that Max tended to keep it to guitar-bass-keyboards-drums.  Their musicianship was unimpeachable.  Much like Bubbles shouted out “Geddy Lee! Neil Peart! Alex Lifeson!” to emphasize the awesomeness of Rush, I shout “Kim Mitchell! Terry Watkinson! Gary McCracken!”

Maybe it was the skinny balding front man in the tights, the weird but deep lyrics, or the goofy keyboards.  One way or another, Max Webster never saw the success that their friends Rush did, and Universal Juveniles would be the last Max record.  Genius keyboardist Terry Watkinson was out of the band, although he did play on the album.  Kim Mitchell folded the band mid-tour after the record, unable to hack it any longer.

Kim’s smoking chops open “In The World of Giants”, perhaps the world that Rush occupied and Max failed to enter.  Max sound stripped back, with minimal piano and keyboards.  What a song though.  Surely “In the World of Giants” is one of Max Webster’s most breakneck rock songs, albeit with the complexity of riff and licks that you would expect.  At the same time, do I sense a certain amount of fatigue, between the grooves?

There’s no detectable tiredness on “Check”, which will wake you right the fuck up!  There’s nothing like a good, joyous, loaded-with-all-the-guitar-fixin’s Max Webster romp.  Want some shredding?  “Check this out!”  At only 2 1/2 minutes, “Check” is all it needs to be — in and out, the mission of kicking ass all complete.  Yet Max Webster was not about simply rocking, so “April in Toledo” brings some funk.  The classic refrain of “I wanna run to Niagara, I’ll cry and cry in the dark” is joined by gleeful guitars, to create the picture perfect mixture of Max confection perfection.  I’m still sitting here scratching my head wondering how Kim got that weird guitar sound in the solo so perfect, but I’m soon distracted by another awesome chorus.

“Juveniles Don’t Stop” is a Max party anthem; not as memorable as “The Party” itself, but still good to crank with some cold ones.  Don’t get too loaded though — you don’t want to miss the double barrelled blast that is “Battle Scar”.  What could be more epic than a duet with Rush vocalist Geddy Lee?  Oh, how about doing the whole song with Rush — a double trio!  That’s two bass guitars opening the song.  That’s Neil Peart and Gary McCracken providing the dual beats.  (You sure can tell when it’s Neil doing a drum roll, that’s for sure!)  That’s Alex Lifeson accompanying Kim Mitchell in a legendary guitar team-up.  Geddy Lee, in peak voice, provides the vocal chills necessary to top off such an epic alignment.  Truly, “Battle Scar” is not just an important song for Canadian rock, but a track that any serious rock fan should seek out and own.  You simply owe it to yourself to do so.

There’s some sneaky understated goodness in “Chalkers” but I find it to be one of the less memorable tracks.  It’s notable for containing the phrase “universal juveniles” in the lyrics, lending it for the album title.  “Drive and Desire” is a bigger song, a sizeable rocker with a nice bluesy vibe.  McCracken’s drums on this one are purely delicious.  Even better is the slow mournful “Blue River Liquor Shine”.  It foreshadows some of the songs on Kim’s excellent solo EP, Kim Mitchell.  A proud achievement, “Blue River Liquor” does indeed shine with Max classics of the past.

“What Do You Do With the Urge” is a wreckless Max party rocker, just in time to set us up for the final Max Webster song — the last one ever, sadly.  “Cry Out for Your Life” lurches like a wounded soldier crawling to the warmth of safety.  Loads of Max class abound, but there does seem to be less glee, less shimmer.  Perhaps the end was inevitable.  Although Kim and the gang turned in another jaw dropping Max Webster record, something was wrong and it sounds somewhat forced at times.

Kim Mitchell had tremendous success with his solo career in Canada.  Anthems such as “Go For Soda” have been immortalized in our memories, and on our TV sets.  Who can forget the moment in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys, when Bubbles goes to “rock a piss”, and Ricky responds, “You go rock a piss, I’m gonna get ‘er going with the Mitchell!”  Then: Bubbles peeing to the tune of “Go For Soda”, bopping his head in time with the music!  Just classic.  On the more sentimental side, Kim appealed to the adults in the crowd with “Patio Lanterns” and “Easy To Tame”.  He really aimed to please everybody….

…Except the fans of old, goofy Max progressive rock.  Universal Juveniles is its capstone.

4.5/5 stars

#418: Toilet Anxiety

July 29, 2015 73 comments

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#418: Toilet Anxiety

Some of us have, errrr,  a few personal hangups.  Perhaps you don’t like spiders, or snakes.  Many have a fear of confined spaces.  Others, myself definitely included, hate crowds.  A few lucky ones like me can tick off multiple boxes in the anxiety category.  A lot of people will nod and understand if you say you’re afraid of spiders, but nobody seems to understand my toilet anxiety!  Specifically, public toilets.

I’ve never liked public toilets, ever since I was a kid.  Someone in my family, a musician who shall remain anonymous, loves to try out every different kind of toilet around.  The first time she went on an airplane was an exciting moment for her.  She can’t wait for the days of spaceflight when she’ll get to take a 0-gravity dump.  She was always fascinated with that scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dr. Floyd is trying to figure out the instructions to the space toilet.

My debilitating toilet issue is that I just can’t perform if someone else is in the room.  I remember the year before we got married, Jen bought me Rush tickets for my birthday.  It was the Snakes & Arrows tour.  We had a whole evening planned including dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.  The restaurant was packed with Rush T-shirts.  I had to make a pit stop, but the washroom was wall-to-wall dudes in Rush shirts, peeing.  I found a urinal but could not squeeze a drop.  Not one drop.  I began to worry.  “What if I can’t go pee before Rush?  The washrooms there will only be worse.”

Without options I waited it out, and eventually the washroom completely emptied.  I was able to take one of the most relieving pisses in my entire life, all the while cursing my own idiotic hangups.

In some ways work toilets are even worse – at least where I work.  Here, people will likely to strike up a conversation with you, while doing their business.  It took me a while to get used to taking a dump at my current job.  Unfortunately, my toilet anxiety became publicly known.  After walking into the washroom, and then walking right out again, I was asked what was up so I explained that I have a toilet anxiety and I’d rather wait for the room to empty.  Embarrassing, yes, but I couldn’t come up with a better lie on the spot.  I’m a terrible liar.  So I outed myself as a Shy Shitter.

Since then, I have been pranked at the office numerous times.  Most often, someone just turns off the lights when I’m doing my thing.  Once, a pile of boxes was placed in front of the door while I was inside, forcing me to knock it all down to escape.

Once, I almost had a heart attack in there.  I was in the stall, doing my business, when somebody snuck into the washroom quietly.  I heard nothing. While I was sitting there reading my magazine, this person reached under the stall door, grabbed my feet, and tried to pull me off the seat!

Thankfully no mess was created, but I sure was given a shock!  You have to admit it was pretty funny, even though my public toilet fear only got worse in the short term!

REVIEW: Stealth – …listen (2015)

July 28, 2015 17 comments

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20150726STEALTH – …listen (2015 Stealth)

I may not know much about new music (the genre), or much about playing an instrument, but I appreciated the listening instructions enclosed within the liner notes from Stealth’s debut album:

…listen is intended as a moment in time for contemplation.  The listener chooses the length based on various points within the experience.  The album is intended to be heard as one track but can be divided based on your desired length of listening experience.”

It sounds intimidating, but listen is surprisingly accessible.  The title is very apt.  I decided to go all-in.  The album is almost an hour, divided into nine unnamed segments.

Considering that Stealth is composed of percussionist Richard Burrows and bass clarinettist Kathryn Ladano, I was surprised the music was so smooth.  Judging by a previous project both were involved in (a quintet called Digital Prowess), I expected Stealth to be a lot more random and schizophrenic.  Plus, Kathryn Ladano and I share the same last name — she’s my sister.  So I know a little bit about the nutso kind of music she normally liked to perform.  Let’s just say that I saw Digital Prowess play Frank Zappa’s “The Black Page #2″ in front of a crowd including a few seniors who may have wondered what the hell was going on.

That’s not to say Stealth isn’t challenging, but I think much instrumental music is challenging by its nature. There are some factors here that take the edges out a little. Richard Burrows performs a dual role: adding steady beats to help keep you up with what’s going on, and using percussion to create melodies and other special moments.   Meanwhile, Kathryn Ladano creates interesting and rarely heard sounds from just a wind instrument, all the while maintaining a balanced accompanying role with the percussion.  At no point do the two instruments interfere with each other.  Sometimes you may have to ask yourself, “Is that sound I just heard percussion, or did she do something crazy with the bass clarinet?”


Improvisation similar to “point f” on the CD

The music evokes scenes in the mind.  At times it’s a jazzy, gripping spy drama, at others a slow moving tour at dawn…you can imagine many images to go with this music, and I think that’s part of the point.  The liner notes state clearly that listen is an interactive experience.  It’s fairly seemless though can hear where the intended breaks take place.  I think most listeners would want to break it down into bits, maybe half an hour at a time.

But like I said, I was fearless and went all-in for the hour. I found the album to be an excellent, always interesting journey.  The duo format works splendidly and I hope Stealth re-convene for a second album.  The percussion and bass clarinet are never up front as feature instruments as they are here.  Lead bass clarinet?  Turns out it’s a pretty versatile instrument once you’ve spent a couple decades squeezing noises out of the beast.  There are noises called squeaks that are not considered “proper” in classically trained circles — they are considered mistakes.  Kathryn Ladano has turned squeaks into music by mastering them, just as Ted Nugent has done the same with guitar feedback.  As for Richard Burrows, my only wish is that the liner notes should have spelled out the different instruments he’s playing because there are a lot of different percussion sounds on the album.  He’s excellent, and I especially like what I call his “jungle drums” on “point i” of the CD.  Really enjoyable.

I’ve stated my bias up front, but I do truly believe that listen is a praise-worthy work.  Sonically it’s deep, and very well recorded.  Check it out and buy your copy by contacting the artists via kathrynladano.com. Coming soon to Amazon and iTunes.

4.5/5 stars

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