O Canada! Friday Live Streamin’ returns with “Maple” flavoured lists!

The list format returns!  It’s another “Nigel Tufnel Top Ten”, and this time it’s a doozy.  How do you narrow down the top albums from an entire country, and arrange them on a list?  I dunno, but there are some of us that are going to try.  Wish us luck.

How you get in on the mayhem?  It’s easy.  Just go to Facebook: MikeLeBrain on Friday August 14 at 7:00 pm E.S.T.  There you can participate in the fun with your commentary, as we count down…

THE TOP 11 CANADIAN ALBUMS OF ALL TIME

No greatest hits; all genres permitted.  A monster of a task indeed.  Four lists have been submitted.  Cohosts have been booked.  If all goes according to plan (which it should due to an hour-long test stream last week) we will have two of the most knowledgeable Canadian music fans on board for what promises to be an epic discussion.

Join me tonight at 7:00 pm E.S.T., eh?

REVIEW: Gowan – Strange Animal (1984)

GOWAN – Strange Animal (1984 CBS)

Strange Animal was only Lawrence Gowan’s second solo album, and one of his best sellers.  It’s also one of his most dated sounding, with programming and production honed in on the 1980s.  Regardless, you can’t knock the musicians:  Tony Levin (bass/Chapman Stick), Jerry Marotta (drums), and Chris Jarrett & David Rhodes (guitars).  Gowan basically lifted his studio band from Peter Gabriel.

Opener “Cosmetics” was a single, though just shy of cracking the Top 40.  It’s terribly dated sounding, with that wretched brittle synthetic sound that even Queen resorted to at one point.  So you might love it!  The piano is delectable and Gowan is as smooth as pie.  “Desperate” is darker, but I sure do hate synth hand-claps!  Fortunately this is a great song, akin to 80s Phil Collins.  Another really smooth one is “City of the Angels”, like a waltz at midnight.  Progressive rock invades “Walking on Air”, which lightly tip-toes from gentle rock to more aggressive guitars.

A delicate but powerful “Burning Torches of Hope” sits right at the middle of the album, and it is so very 80s.  Levin makes some animalist noise on “Keep the Tension On”, which sounds much like its title.  Taut, powerful, and even heavy in a certain way.  It’s melds right into a march on “Guerilla Soldier”, a killer song with terrific verse hooks.  Massive song!  It feels like this album builds to a close.  Especially when you consider the last two songs.

Finally, at the end of the album comes the familiar hits.  First:  a huge Chapman Stick groove, on the poppy upbeat title track.  “Strange Animal” is an awesome song: strictly fun, and incredibly so!  The melody stays in your head for days, and you’re hooked.  Ominous spiritus, ahh!  And then it’s his most famous song, “A Criminal Mind”, otherwise known as “the one that Styx play live”.  Solo, in the studio, “A Criminal Mind” is just as haunting, just as powerful, and just as unforgettable.  It also had one of the most disturbing music videos we had seen as young kids, and our reaction was revulsion.  On album, it is a capstone of a pretty terrific record.  It really feels like it should have opened.

Though ultimately it is up to the listener, unless you grew up with Strange Animal in the Walkman nestled in your back pocket, the programming and 80s-isms are a bit distracting.  It’s also strange how Gowan left all the big firepower stacked at the end of the album.  In the CD age, it just makes the whole thing more rewarding at the end!

3.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 North American version)

REVIEW:  Thin Lizzy – Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 Polygram North American version)

It might not be the best introduction to the most underrated classic rock band of all time, but it was my introduction. Dedication was a 1991 Thin Lizzy compilation that was buoyed by the unreleased song “Dedication” which was released as the radio single.  There’s nothing wrong with the “new” track, except it wasn’t supposed to be a Thin Lizzy song.  Phil Lynott recorded the song in 1985 for his new band Grand Slam.  Scott Gorham and Brian Downey replaced the original instrumentation leaving Phil intact.  And that’s fine.  “Dedication” sounds slightly unfinished but it also sounds like what Thin Lizzy might have been doing had they carried on.

These kind of extra songs usually get spotlighted at the front of the album, or left at the end to whet the appetite.  On Dedication, it goes last, leaving the compilation to ascend in chronological order.  Is that the best way to approach listening to Thin Lizzy?  While many sets go that route, it leads to a very uneven playing experience.  Early Thin Lizzy was much more folksy, and dare I say it, just not as good.  It certainly had some excellent tunes, and some of the better ones are showcased here.  “Whiskey in the Jar” is an actual folk traditional, rocked up and made unforgettable by that Eric Bell guitar hook.  That’s followed by the firecracker “The Rocker”, just shy of three minutes but every one of them shockingly great.

Original guitarist Eric Bell left the band after three albums due to exhaustion, and the band was beefed up to a four-piece with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham taking his place.  It took a while for the albums to really catch up with the talent.  On CD it’s a lot of slow material before we get to the more rocking stylings of the Thin Lizzy that you know and love.  From 1974’s Nightlife we have “She Knows”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Showdown”.  A lot of ballads and blues and not a lot of fire.  The guitar work is sparkling but the songs are not yet as astounding as they would yet become.  Another ballad, “Wild One” from Fighting (1975) is one of the best of the batch.  It is bookended by two rockers, “Fighting My Way Back” and the Bob Seger cover of “Rosalie”.  Both are tracks you don’t want to live without.

Part of (but only part of) Phil Lynott’s genius was bringing Gorham and Robbo (and later others) together as a unified guitarmony duo.  The next batch of classics really hammer this home.  “Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Cowboy Song” and “Don’t Believe a Word” are the embodiment of what people think of when they picture Thin Lizzy.  The driving beats, the hooks, the dual solos, the poetic lyrics — it’s all there in what might be considered Lizzy’s peak era.

Brian Robertson left the band shortly after, and doesn’t appear on “Bad Reputation” or “Dancing in the Moonlight”, but Gorham picked up the slack in the studio and rendered these as two more stone-cold classics.  “Bad Reputation” covers the driving side of the band while “Dancing in the Moonlight” is funky, light romantic storytelling.  Truly excellent songs even without Robbo.

The Gary Moore era follows with “Do Anything You Want To” and “Waiting For An Alibi”, two more excellent Lizzy classics from the underappreciated album Black Rose.  Moore lasted only for one album, and his successor Snowy White for two more.  Snowy is only heard on one track here (“Chinatown”) and the man that replaced him (John Sykes) is heard on none!  So another failing of the Dedication album is a sudden drop-off at the end, leaving out important songs.  “Chinatown” is excellent at least, but so is “Hollywood” and “Renegade”, yet they are not here.

Yes, too many songs were left off Dedication because you couldn’t get ’em all on a single CD.  Johnny The Fox (possibly their best record) is an album that isn’t given enough time here, along with Black Rose.  And to have no Sykes?  Unjustifiable.

Fortunately the last song “Dedication” is better than expected, sounding like Thin Lizzy 1991, beefy and tough.  It doesn’t sound like Lizzy ’75 or Lizzy ’83.  But it does sound like Lizzy because Phil Lynott’s voice tends to do that.  Scott Gorham does a decent job of replicating all the guitar excitement himself (he’s had to do it before).  The track, written by Lynott and Grand Slam guitarist Laurence Archer, had one of those guitar hooks well suited to the Lizzy canon.  Gorham and Downey did it justice enough.

Dedication is not enough Thin Lizzy but it’s enough to get your feet wet.  Although it’s a slow starter it will eventually get you interested enough to try more.  It worked for me and it’ll work for you.

3.25/5 stars

#850: Truly A Marvel

GETTING MORE TALE #850: Truly A Marvel

You can blame my dad!  He doesn’t remember getting me into Marvel comics, but he started it.

My neighborhood friends did have something to do with it initially.  Marvel’s Secret Wars was turning into the comic event of the year.  Neighbors like Bob Schipper and George Balasz introduced me to some of the characters – The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Rogue, Storm, and Bob’s favourite Hawkeye.  Bob liked collecting “limited series” and 1984’s The Last Starfighter (based on the movie) was the first he completed.  Marvel also had the comic rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, so it was natural for me to gravitate to them rather than DC.   Even Kiss had a Marvel comic.

I remember Marvel four-packs at convenience stores.   You would get four Marvel comics from four different titles in one bag.  My dad would buy these for us on the way to the cottage to give us something to do.   Just one bag of four books would keep us occupied on those long drives.  Iceman, Iron Man, ROM the Spaceknight and the X-Men entered our lives this way.  I didn’t want DC comics; I wanted the characters that I knew.  We were not comic fiends the way some kids were, but Marvel was there for me with astounding tales of science fiction and fantasy.

My father has no memory of buying those old books.  He looks at these Marvel movies today completely dumbfounded.

“Who’s that guy?” he’ll ask.

“That’s Tony Stark!  Iron Man!  You bought my first Iron Man comics when I was a kid!”

Although he always responds with “I don’t remember that,” I sure do.

It’s all true.  He bought my first Iron Man.  When I started reading them, James Rhodes was actually Iron Man.  Tony was just about to reclaim the helmet for himself when I jumped in.

Of the heroes, ROM was my favourite.  His adventures crossed over with Ant Man, Alpha Flight and others, exposing me to more Marvel characters.  A ROM annual (#3) with the X-Men hooked me on the Spaceknight.  At this time, my grandfather was dying of cancer.  When we went to visit the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to see him anymore.  He was too sick and they didn’t want me to remember him that way.  I can remember sitting in the waiting room reading ROM #62.  The battle to save Earth from the Dire Wraiths was a good distraction from the hospital sounds and smells.

As a little kid, I couldn’t buy everything.  It was hard just getting to the stores to catch every issue.  So my mom got out her cheque book and bought me subscriptions to my three favourite books.  Now there was no way I would be missing the latest issues of ROM, GI Joe, and The Transformers.

DC Comics had the big movies – Superman, Batman – but Marvel didn’t seem to translate well to live action.  We had the TV show The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno, but it was only loosely based on the comic.  (The TV producers didn’t want the Hulk to be green but fortunately Stan Lee insisted upon it.)   Marvel finally came out with a great film in 2000’s X-Men, directed by Brian Singer.  Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan were fantastic, but it was Hugh Jackman as Wolverine that was the real breakthrough.  Unfortunately the X-Men films declined in quality too quickly.  Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man debuted in 2002, but suffered the same fate by the third film.

Whether it was Blade, Fantastic 4 or Ghost Rider, Marvel rarely made me gasp in awe at the silver screen.  Not until Iron Man flew around the world in 2008.  That Jon Favreau film was a game changer.  Especially when Samuel L. Jackson showed up in a surprise cameo as Nick Fury to discuss the “Avenger Initiative”.  Suddenly the idea of Marvel heroes interacting with other Marvel heroes seemed possible.

None of us could have imagined the marvel-ous tapestry that they would weave over the next 22 movies.  Finally seeing my heroes like Captain America, Thor and Ant Man in movie form made me remember what I loved about my old comics.  They tried to stay reasonably close to the original stories.  The costumes might have been updated and less colourful, but there was no mistaking the Mighty Thor for anyone else.

And now all these decades later, I’m going back, buying graphic novels and catching up on my old friends in the Marvel Universe.  Reprints of The Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Wars, and the very first adventures of the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the X-Men are all in my library any time I need some nostalgia therapy.  Thank you Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and all the rest.  Jim Shooter, Larry Hama, Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman, I will always be grateful for bringing me childhood heroes month after month!

 

Sunday Chuckle: F’in bird!

Do you hate birds?  Dr. Sheldon Cooper isn’t a fan.  I saw this on the back of a delivery truck the other day, and couldn’t help but think that these icons for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram spell out “f’in bird”!

 

 

Casual Saturday Bonus Test Guest Stream starring Mr. Books and Sarca Sim!

Gratitude to Kevin / Buried On Mars for helping me get started with Streamyard.  Thanks to the insightful Mr. Mars, and thanks to the perseverance of Mr. Books, today we accomplished a few goals:

  1. Successfully test streamed with the one and only Aaron of the KMA on board, full video and audio, for the first time ever.
  2. Added a third participant.  The test volunteer today was the awesome Sarca from Caught Me Gaming!
  3. Cleared up some other issues when streaming with a co-host, such as mirrored images and working from a PC.

This test stream went on for an hour as our impromptu chat developed.  We talked music, guitars, the Community, Covid, school, Paul Rudd, and Skip the Dishes.  This little unofficial bonus episode is now available for you to watch below.  But the significance is huge to me.  Now I can have up to five additional co-hosts on future shows.  The game has changed.  The sky is the limit!

 

VOTE:

Does Aaron look like Paul Rudd?

1980: In Depth Stream with Mike and Deke!

Thanks to Rob Daniels for this episode’s title!  This week Deke and I took a trip back to 1980 to discuss some 40 year old albums, in a little more depth than usual.  We each chose three to reminisce on.  There are dozens of critical albums we could have picked from that year, so we each chose three that we important to us on a personal level.

The stories flow like beer, and the laughter can be heard from one side of Ontario to the other.  Join us as Mike mocks the Leafs and Deke praises Buried On Mars.  (There is a good story about Mars’ site and one of the most important albums from 1980.)

Points of interest:

To start with some unboxings, go to 0:02:55 of the stream

The 1980 retrospective starts at 0:09:45 in the stream.

Attention:  Geoff Stephen!!  0:14:00.

For the Back In Black shenanigans skip to 1:28:20.

There’s some audio lag on the latter part of the video; sorry about that.  I hope you enjoy this chat as much as we did!

Deke and LeBrain return to the year 1980 – tonight!

Going solo was fun, but nobody can yammer on about music like Deke and LeBrain!

Tonight’s theme was the brainchild of our collective chit chat.  Have you noticed how many great albums are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, including Back in Black?  It’s hard to turn on the radio or follow social media without noticing all the albums turning 40 this year.  Deke and I decided to talk about some in depth that were special to us personally.  He doesn’t know exactly which ones I picked, and I don’t know which ones he picked.  All we know is that it’s gonna be a blast!

I will also be doing an unboxing before Deke joins us.  Sometimes it’s worth tuning in early.  Chris Sarre is slowly learning this.

Join us tonight at 7:00 PM E.S.T. as we hop in the DeLorean with the flux capacitor set to the year 1980.  Facebook:  Michael Ladano

 

 

REVIEW: Jackyl – Jackyl (1992)

JACKYL – Jackyl (1992 Geffen)

This is one of the CDs I inherited from my late Uncle Don Don.  I always wanted the first Jackyl for two songs:  “She Loves My Cock” and of course “The Lumberjack”.  Now that I finally have it, I thought it would be fun to review it “live” on first listen.  The first thing to notice is that all of the songs are under five minutes.

Jackyl, starring Jesse James Dupree on lead vocals and chainsaw, signed to Geffen at the tail end of the hard rock era in 1991. It wasn’t too late though as Jackyl scored a platinum with their 1992 self titled debut. Even though they never reached those heights again, Jackyl have continued on to the present day with relatively few lineup changes.

With a song called “She Loves My Cock”, you can probably understand why why K-Mart refused to stock this album. In protest, Jackyl filmed their video for opener “I Stand Alone” in a K-Mart parking lot. An AC/DC vibe is imminent, but Americanized with shout-along chorus.  Dupree certainly has the Brian Johnson pitch and grit, as well as certain vocal inflections.  Good track, solid groove, great catchy solos.  The shouted bits are dated, but the song is otherwise pretty slick.

Then Jesse James starts squealing about a “Dirty Little Mind”, a sleazy rocker with more of the shouting, and then it gets really dirty.  Not a classic in any universe, but it sounds like it would be fun singing along in a bar.  A stuttery riff, like those popularized in the late 80s and early 90s, starts off “Down On Me”, catchy midtempo heaven with a soulful southern slant.  Apparently “Down On Me” was their biggest charting hit, even surpassing “The Lumberjack” and “When Will It Rain”.  I remember “When Will It Rain” from the music video, a darker and stormier concoction.  It seems an unlikely single, but thus far it’s the most serious track.  Certainly more serious than “Redneck Punk” which sounds like its name.  Sped-up punk beats infused with a Dixieland vibes.  And then as if to make the “redneck” point even further, it’s “The Lumberjack”.  I love found objects in music as a general concept, and it’s awesome to hear a sleazy rock band like Jackyl executing such highbrow concepts, going as far as to play an actual chainsaw solo and still keeping it musical. The contrast of the highbrow with the brutally juvenile lyrics strides that ever-so-fine line between clever and stupid.

It sounds as if this would be a natural place for a side break, as “Reach For Me” has a completely different vibe.  A choppy riff and dynamic verses really set up a cool song.  Without missing a beat we’re on to “Back Off Brother”, a tough little number with a minimalist riff.  “Brain Drain” has a slightly funky feel emphasized by the cowbell.  Not an album highlight, but a strange cross between AC/DC and Def Leppard.  Dupree expresses a clear preference for alcohol.  “It’s not the ‘caine, not the Mary Jane, but the golden grain.”  It’s good to know what you like.  A slick one called “Just Like the Devil” starts to wind things up with a tough riff and speedy beat.

Finally and wisely the album ends on “She Loves My Cock”, the track that got them banned from K-Mart.  There are clean versions of this CD available without the song, but what’s the point?  This album without that song like like a sentence without the exclamation mark!  The lyrics are not repeatable here but you can use your imagination.  Fortunately there is a solid foundation to this heavy track to support the ridiculous words.

And that’s the album, thoroughly enjoyable with minimal filler.  I could probably live without “Brain Drain” and “Dirty Little Mind”, but stuff like “Reach For Me” and “Down On Me” are like newly discovered treasure.  A good album that stretches out just enough, but never exceeds its ambitions.  Jackyl wants to be a party album with humour and balls, so that’s what it is.  It couldn’t exist without AC/DC or gasoline-powered wood-cutting implements, and there are few albums you can say that about.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes (1994 Japanese version)

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes (1994 EMI Japan)

Cross Purposes catches a lot of crap from fans, and maybe it is the softest Sabbath, but it ain’t bad.  The Tony Martin era was unfairly derided when he was the singer in Black Sabbath.  “Only Ozzy or Ronnie — no Tony!” complained some fans.  Well, we had Ronnie for Dehumanizer and that didn’t last.  Tony Martin was probably always the backup plan in case things went south with Dio.  It is said that Tony Martin recorded his own set of vocals for the Dehumanizer album in case Dio left abruptly.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Tony Iommi called up Martin when Dio did inevitably walk.

Ronnie brought drummer Vinny Appice with him, which meant Sabbath were replacing two members.  In a genius move, Iommi snapped up ex-Rainbow heavy-hitter Bobby Rondinelli.  Bassist Geezer Butler stayed put, but not without regrets.  He would later say that he thought they were recording an album for a new band, but that Iommi decided to use the name Black Sabbath.  This seems hard to believe given that Iommi always returned to the Sabbath name in the past.

Tony Martin & Bobby Rondinelli

Whatever the case may be, Cross Purposes was met with mixed reactions when it was released in 1994.  While some welcomed the return of a classic sounding band, others called them irrelevant in the face of grunge.  Indeed, Sabbath were accused of copying the style of Alice in Chains on “Virtual Death”, featuring a double tracked vocal similar to the Seattle band’s trademark sound.

True as that may be, there is no question that opener “I Witness” sounds like no band other than Black Sabbath.  From Iommi’s squealing guitar shrieks to Geezer’s slinky bass, only one band sounds like this.  Yes, on the surface Tony Martin sounds like Dio, but that sells him short.  Dio has more grit, while Martin takes it smooth.  “I Witness” is one of those blazingly fast Sabbath openers, and Rondinelli’s massive snare sound just kills it.  I’ve always enjoyed how Black Sabbath worked their name into certain lyrics, like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.  Here, Tony Martin (an underrated lyricist) refers to the “pilgrims of Sabbocracy”, a word that doesn’t seem to exist outside the Black Sabbath pantheon.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons this album was poorly received is that two of its best songs are ballads.  People forget that Sabbath have many classic ballads — “Solitude”, “Changes” and “Born Again” come to mind.  “Cross of Thorns” is a vocal workout for Martin that darkens the sky and shakes the seas.  An acoustic riff begins the journey, but it transforms into something bigger and more dramatic.  It also includes one of Iommi’s most memorable guitar solos from his entire career.  Special mention goes to late keyboardist Geoff Nicholls who provides much atmosphere for this dark burner.

“Psychophobia” is an interesting song; not the most memorable but with a tricky riff that’ll get the heads banging.   The middle section exactly halfway into the song is outstanding.  It’s also a gas to hear Martin singing “It’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye”.  A sly jab at Dio?  Fans will probably always see it that way.  But then comes “Virtual Death”.  Its possible grunge inspirations stick out like the sorest of thumbs on side one.  This slow song drags too long.  The whole “virtual reality” trend was well worn out by 1994, so that did not help matters much.  Fortunately the first side redeems itself with a resounding closer called “Immaculate Deception”.  The beguilement here is that the song seems like trudge at first, until Rondinelli puts it in turbo on the choruses.

Side two opens with the second ballad (more of a blues really) called “Dying For Love”.  This is reminiscent of “Feels Good to Me” from the Tyr album.  Interestingly, Geezer’s bassline sounds like the one Bob Daisley played on “The Shining” in 1987.  (Geezer was around when “The Shining” was written, possibly under the name “No Way Out”.)  It must be said that, as great as Tony Martin is on this song, it would have sounded out of this world had Dio sung it.

“Back to Eden” is a skipper.  Nothing particular wrong with it, just not as good as other tracks.  We resume on the single, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”.  A keyboard opening gives way to a killer Iommi riff, one that sticks in your brain for days.  Top it off with an excellent chorus and this track is a winner.  Shame it never had a chance as a single.  “Cardinal Sin”, like “Back to Eden”, isn’t much to talk about, though it does have a cool keyboard line.

The standard album ends on “Evil Eye”, a song that incredibly came about through an unlikely 1993 jam with Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen laid down a solo, but the band weren’t recording properly.  According to Tony Martin, the Van Halen recording is simply too poor in quality to release.  I don’t think fans would mind, but that is wishful thinking considering they couldn’t even give Eddie a writing credit due to contractual wranglings.  This song just grinds, like a mountain over the aeons.  Tony Martin wails on the chorus, and Tony Iommi lays down several minutes of guitar licks that may or not have been inspired by Van Halen’s original solos.

A big thanks must go out to Harrison the Mad Metal Man for locating this Japanese printing of Cross Purposes that you are looking at.  A Sabbath collection that began in earnest back in 1992 was finally completed in 2020.  The bonus track here is “What’s the Use”, a song that doesn’t quite sound like the rest of the album.  The short choppy Iommi riff sounds more like Judas Priest than Sabbath, but it’s a welcome addition because it’s unlike the usual.

Had Cross Purposes come out under a different band name (something anonymously 90’s…like, I dunno, Carpet or something) with “Virtual Death” as the single, who knows what might have happened?  Probably nothing, because just as there were too many glam rock acts in the late 80s, the 90s were choked to the gills with alterna-bands.  A Japanese copy is expensive to come by, so don’t hesitate too much if you find a gently used domestic CD in the wild.  The album is, of course, out of print.

4/5 stars