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Gallery: The Lego Cassette Project

Did you watch cartoons in the 1980s?  If you, you probably remember the Transformers.  Think back, and picture the cassettebots.  Remember them?  Soundwave (Decepticon) and Blaster (Autobot) were the cassette recorders, each with an arsenal of cassette mini-robots to back him up.  Using an advanced alien technology called “mass shifting”, these giant robots could shrink down to the size of an actual cassette, thereby enabling them to spy unnoticed on human and robot alike.  As affordable toys, you may have had some yourselves.  The neat thing was these cassettes designed by Japanese company Takara were designed to perfectly mimic the size and shape of actual micro cassettes.  On the TV show and in the pages of the Marvel comic book, they were depicted as standard sized cassette tapes.

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Third party company Toyhax (also known as Reprolabels) has come up with some fun ways to enhance your cassette-bot toy collection.  Recently they released a set of plastic engines and stickers for the current Buzzsaw and Laserbeak toys in the 2016/2017 Hasbro Titans Return line.  This time they transform into little media players.  Fans always complain that Hasbro toys “don’t look enough” like the original 80s toy they are an homage to.  Toyhax has created the labels and engines to enhance the current toys, and enhance them they do.  The new accessories even enable new modes, like the “Star Trek communicator” see below.

Toyhax have also released a sticker set that enables you to use ordinary Lego bricks to create you own shrunken-down cassette versions of characters both popular and obscure.  All you need  are those small 1×2 flats.  You know the ones I mean?

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Don’t have any of those just lying around anymore?  Get this.  You can buy them, picked to order, for just pennies a piece.  You can pick as many of any colour you like.  Mix and match the stickers to get the best looking mini cassettes around, and perfect for your Masterpiece scale figures to hold.

They look great, and it’s a fun little project you can do with very little cost.  They enhance any solid Transformers Masterpiece collection as scale accessories.  See below with Fans Toys’ “Tesla” (aka Perceptor), they look just perfect!

 

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#548: Bad Boys

 

GETTING MORE TALE #548: Bad Boys

I was speaking to a friend’s son the other day.  He’s in his late teens.  We chatted about parents and rules and chores and I realized, “The ‘bad’ stuff I used to do as a kid is nothing compared to what teenagers think is ‘bad’ today.”  When I was teenager, I had never seen a drug.  I didn’t know any kids who drank.  None of my friends had tattoos.  We liked heavy metal music, which had an aura of evil, but that was just the image.  Our lives were pretty mundane…but we did have our fun.

My buddy Bob was the leader when we were growing up.  He was creative and had all the best ideas.  We invented our own games.  A version of street volleyball with no net was one.  A backyard obstacle course made of chairs and sprinklers was another.  I have a book full of drawings we made for video game ideas we planned on selling to Atari.  There is a huge binder (3″)  filled with action figure ideas — we called it “Death Team”  It was a years-long project that included written story lines and an audio sketch.  We imagined the AC/DC instrumental “D.T.” was their theme song.  We even made an elaborate board game using old cardboard, a lot of tape, and a bag of army men.  Making things (or modifying them) was a big part of our creative process.  In 9th grade, we made elaborate cardboard guitars for air guitar purposes.  We used yardsticks as the guitar necks, and the bodies were cut from old boxes.  We then painted them, using my mom’s workshop with dozens of colours to choose from.  We really let it loose for Halloween.  We started preparing for Halloween in late August.  We began by making heads out of papier-mâché. Ours were crude, but when dressed up with sunglasses, hats or wigs, did the trick. Then we would begin working on an audio tape. This was a 60-minute long compilation of scary bits from Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden albums. We hid some speakers outside and would play the tape on a loop for background scary sounds.   Kids loved it.  Really small ones were scared, so we had to stop the tape and turn on the lights for them, but 95% thought it was awesome (including parents).  We’d see kids across the street, and they’d make a beeline for our house as soon as they saw it.  My favourite costume was the one I made in grade 10:  Alice Cooper.

We also did a bunch of things that we didn’t tell our parents about.  My mother is about to read about some of these things for the first time.

We loved to make prank calls.  In the days before call display, Bob and I were the kings.  My parents went out every single Wednesday night to take my sister to dance classes.  Bob came over, we watched music videos, ate chips, and made prank calls.  We didn’t dial random numbers like most kids.  We looked up names that we thought were funny in the phone book, and called them.  There was one name in the phone book that Bob found especially amusing: Hans.  So Bob called up Hans and sang him a little song.  “Hans, hans, hans and feet, I have hans and feet.”  Somebody named Price was met with the phone call, “Come on down, the price is right!”  We really thought we were the most hilarious pair in the world.  Then we started pretending we were calling from the Coca Cola company and asking people if they preferred “New” Coke to old Coke.  Only Bob had a deep enough voice to fool anyone.

Then, there was the time I nailed “Phat Curtis” in the back of the neck with a projectile I named “The Killerang”.  When I was really young, I know I hit Mrs. Reddekopp’s car right in the middle of the hood with one of Bob’s lawn darts.  Bob reluctantly retrieved my errant dart, because I was too scared to get it.  “You can never ever tell anyone about this,” he cautioned me.  We knew that if we kept quiet, everybody would assume another neighbor kid, George, did it.  That’s exactly what happened.

Like many other kids of the 80s, we recorded comedy sketches on tape.  I have seven volumes of “Mike and Bob” on cassette here.  Having played them recently, I can assure you that you are missing out on nothing.  We sure did have fun making those tapes, but I can see why Bob found them embarrassing a few years later.  The recordings usually took place at my house, in the basement or garage.  His parents were pretty strict.

On recording nights, we had to stock up on snacks.  The only place within walking distance was the Little Short Stop at Stanley Park Mall, long gone now.  We spent many, many days and nights at the Short Stop over the years, pouring over comic books, Star Wars (or Indiana Jones) cards, and candy bars.  Later on it was rock magazines.  Our snack fix during this period was ketchup flavoured potato chips.  The thicker that ketchup dust, the better.  When we didn’t get ketchup, we got dill pickle.  It was only a 10 minute walk to the mall, but on those recording nights, we probably took half an hour each way.  We were busy ringing doorbells.

“Nicky Nicky Nine Door” was what they called it, but we were just being little shits.  We would choose houses on the way to the store, ring the doorbell and then hide in the bushes.  Once or twice, Bob was almost caught.  Sometimes we’d find a house we really liked and hit him up on the way to the store and on the way back.  And sometimes, a third for good measure.

We bored of “Nicky Nicky Nine Door” and soon found a new night time occupation:  walking around the nearby public school.  Stanley Park Sr. Public School was not locked at night.  At least, it wasn’t until we were caught.  Bob and I would wander the hallways, and buy a pop from the Pepsi machine inside.  We didn’t vandalize, and we didn’t steal.  All we did was go in and buy a can of soda for each of us.  The custodian never seemed to be around, but one night, they were.  They told us to get out, we were trespassing!  Bob asked, “But can I buy my can of pop still?”  The custodian said sure, so Bob walked over to the pop machine, bought his soda, thanked the guy, and left!  Is it still trespassing if you buy merchandise?  We didn’t think so!

That school was the site of many of our escapades.  Most of them were benign:  baseball in the park, basketball on the courts, and later on, tennis.  We had many late night tennis matches.  We ran sprints, we did the long jump, we rode our bikes.  When we didn’t have a ghetto blaster playing, we were probably singing.  George would often provide the boom box, loaded up with Kiss, Black Sabbath, or Iron Maiden.  When boredom set in, our activities became more mischievous.  Bob and George were skilled at climbing up to the school’s roof to retrieve lost tennis balls and basketballs.  One cold Sunday afternoon, Bob decided he wanted to throw his old bike off the roof.  We got a rope, Bob climbed up onto the roof, and then hauled the bike up by the rope.  He backed up, made a running start, and tossed the bike off.  There was barely any damage!  He went for round two, and the front wheel was heavily dented.  As he hauled it up one more time for round three, a man in a car drove up to us and told us to leave.  Bob asked, “So I can’t throw my bike off this roof?”  Wordlessly the man shook his head.  Who knew you couldn’t just throw a bike off a roof?  It was his bike, right?  No harm no foul?

It’s funny to look back at these moments and realize, these were the best times of our childhoods.  I don’t think Bob would want his kids to read this.  For that reason, I’m leaving out other sordid details and I’ll deny everything else.  For example, we may or may not have spelled the word “FUCK” on the lawn of the school in strips of fresh sod.  I can’t confirm or deny that we scratched KISS and IRON MAIDEN in the school doors with paper clips.  Both of us had pellet guns, and I may or may not have fired a round through George’s mom’s laundry.  My dad found pellets in the fence.  He knew what we were up to.  We denied.  We water-ballooned George’s bedroom window.  We would hide behind the fence, laughing, listening to him singing “Love Gun” loudly and out of key in his room.

We knew that not all these activities were particularly “good” behaviour (that’s why we didn’t tell our parents), but we considered it all pretty innocent.  We did well in school.  Both of us got into the schools we wanted to go to.  He has a large family and I’m happily married to a beautiful wife.  That leads us into the last story.

At my wedding, Bob decided he wanted to make a short speech, and tell a story about us.  It was so true, and so funny, that I had tears in my eyes.  I mentioned earlier that Bob’s parents were stricter than mine.  As such, Bob was not allowed to eat any sweet cereals for breakfast.  He complained and complained of shredded wheat.  He also was not really allowed to indulge himself in snacks at home, and he really loved our microwave oven.  This is how Bob invented some of his classic foods and beverages:

  • The Froot Loops dog – A hot dog topped with Froot Loops and any other toppings of your choice.
  • Froot Loops orange juice – A glass of orange juice with a handful of Froot Loops as a garnish.
  • Froot Loops swamp water – combine milk, orange juice and grape juice in one glass.  Top with Froot Loops and serve.  In case of Froot Loop shortage, substitute with Apple Jacks.

Those were the times of our lives.

 

 

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Sunday Chuckle: The Wisdom of Betty White

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REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Karma Cleansing (1997)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

Today is Part 2 of a Harem Scarem double-header!

TORONTO.

scan_20161202HAREM SCAREM – Karma Cleansing (1997 Warner)

Against all odds Harem Scarem kept on givin’ er.  They were big in Japan but couldn’t get arrested in Canada anymore.  Their fourth album Believe (following the monumental Mood Swings and the experimental Voice of Reason) saw release in the Land of the Rising Sun, but in Canada the track listing was tweaked and put out as Karma Cleansing.  Original bassist Mike Gionet was out, replaced by Barry Donaghy who was also capable of singing lead.   And while three of the guys now had short hair, drummer Darren Smith stubbornly left his long.  Awesome.

Although their entire discography has highlights and standouts, many fans feel that Karma Cleansing was at once a return to sound of Mood Swings, and also the last Harem Scarem album before they began adding pop-punk elements.  There is nothing wrong with albums like Big Bang Theory and Rubber, and you can’t blame the guys for trying out some changes for greater success.  Fans who have stuck around since the start prefer the more progressive elements of Mood Swings and Karma Cleaning.

One can see parallels between Harem Scarem and bands such as Extreme and Van Hagar.  “Karma Cleansing”, the title track could have been an outtake from Van Halen’s Balance LP.  However, Harry Hess has a unique and powerful voice that is identifiably him.  When the band join him on those thick Harem Scarem harmonies, they hone in on that sound that makes them special.  “Karma Cleaning” kicks it off hard, melodically and with just a touch of exotic progressive influences.

One after another the strong songs roll on:  “Cages” hits the heavy buttons that you wanna hit to get the blood pumping fast.  Then “Hail, Hail” has Queen verses with pompous hard rock choruses.  And while one can hear that Harem Scarem continue to bring new and interesting elements to their songs, you can also identify that the guitar work is simplified.  It’s less busy, less showy.  This was a trend that continued into the next albums.

“Morning Grey” then conspires to bring Beatles sounds into the picture, but like its title, it’s dreary though hugely complex.  The adrenaline starts to flow again on “Die Off Hard”, a brilliant anthem that kicks every ass in the room.  Harem Scarem managed to write a few of these over the years, usually a couple per album.  Songs like “Die Off Hard” are immediate, but never get old.  Interestingly, the bridge to the song (“It’s been a long time coming…”) is ancient.  It appeared on Harem Scarem’s earliest demos before their first album as a part of other songs.  It only took four albums to finally use it!  Fortunately it found a home in “Die Off Hard”, making it one of the most luminous diamonds in the Harem Scarem catalogue.

This sounds like a nice place for a side break.  “Rain” is a light ballad, refreshing and cleansing the palette.  The mood gets darker on “I Won’t Be There”, somewhere between ballad and mournful dirge.  The band’s knack for melody keeps it all above the water: yet another brilliant song.  The beat gets harder on “Victim of Fate”.  Chunky guitars and a groovin’ foundation make this a winning combination.  Unmistakable Harem Scarem harmonies bring the chorus to the top level.  Then comes the Van Halen style boogie of “Believe”, an unexpected twist.  There are no words to describe how much this song kills it.  It also feels like it’s building up to an ending, as the side plays on.  That finale is “The Mirror”, a theatrical ballad which serves to end the album with a musical statement.  Not a ballad in the “radio hit” sense, but that it’s a slow track with light and shade, keyboards and emotional singing.

What an album.  You can see why the fans in Japan got it.  A lot of the rock artists that make it big in Japan are melodic rock bands with incredible musicians.  Harem Scarem fit that bill, and Karma Cleansing is another jewel in their crown.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Mood Swings (1993)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

Today is Part 1 of a Harem Scarem double-header!

TORONTO.

scan_20161201HAREM SCAREM – Mood Swings (1993 Warner)

Most bands have that one benchmark album.  You know the one: the album that all others are compared against.  Every time the band releases a new album, you usually hear, “Best album since blank!”  For Harem Scarem, Mood Swings is that album.  Only two records into their long and prolific career, and they already put out their magnum opus.

Harem Scarem were (and are) better than the average hard rock band.  With Pete Lesperance on guitar, they had a guy who was able to do Nuno-like shreddery.  They had two guys — Harry Hess and Darren Smith — who can sing lead.  They also had two great backing singers, Lesperance and Mike Gionet.  (Darren “DJ” Smith was even the oft-criticized frontman for Jake E. Lee’s solo band Red Dragon Cartel.)  Together though, the four guys were able to create Queen-like harmonies that added depth to the music.  Fact is, Harem Scarem put out a better album in 1993 than many of the top selling rock records of that year.  I saw the band live in early 1992, and they were still doing covers in their set at that time.  They really impressed with two unusual covers that showed off their talents:  “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.  Impressive stuff.  The prospects for the next album were promising.

As if to say “Check THIS shit out,”  Lesperance opens the CD with some pretty impressive licks, before diving head first into the riff to “Saviors Never Cry”.  (I’m sure Negan agrees with that sentiment.)  With the pomp and circumstance of a band trying to expand its horizons, “Saviors Never Cry” provides the thrills & chills.  Slight keyboard accents and tricky licks proved that this was not a band of pretty boys, but a group of musicians taking no prisoners.  When “No Justice” commences with those layered harmony vocals, your ass will be sore from all the kicking.  You can’t find a stronger chorus anywhere, but it’s not wimp rock.  As a first single, it drove home the band’s growth since LP #1. Their trajectory was much in line with their American counterparts, Extreme, who were growing album by album.

Backwards guitar lulls you in for “Stranger Than Love”, a radio ready track with more of the powerful patented Harem Scarem vocals.  Hess looks like a lion with that curly mane of his, and he roars like one too.  While songs such as “Stranger Than Love” are completely accessible to anyone, “Change Comes Around” is full throttle.  With the speedometer in the red, yet harmonies intact, Harem Scarem blazed the tarmac clean.  Unlike their grunge opponents, Harem Scarem focused on the positive in their lyrics.  “When all your faith is gone, don’t let it pull you under.  Change comes around, sail on to higher ground.”  Generic inspirational rock nonsense?  Absolutely.  Great fun to sing along with?  Definitely.

Harem Scarem are a diverse rock band, and “Jealousy” is the first change of pace.  A sparse arrangement allows the instruments to stand out more, which Lesperance uses to lay down bluesy lick after bluesy lick.  It’s not a blues song, but it’s influenced by blues.  It was a brilliant side closer, fading out and making way for the lead vocal debut of Darren Smith.  The drummer nails “Sentimental Blvd.”  He sounds a bit like the late Eric Carr (Kiss) on this pop rocker.  Boppy piano provides even more melodic backbone to an already strong song.

Lesperance is a talented enough player to earn an instrumental solo track, which is the ballad “Mandy”.  A good guitar instrumental should be both melodic and adventurous.  It should be memorable, but hopefully the soloist is pushing their own talents.  “Mandy” succeeds in both technique and songwriting.  It gives way to one of the heaviest album tracks, “Empty Promises”.  Without losing their sound or harmonies, Scarem’s “Empty Promises” manages to crack the concrete with a wrecking ball of heavy rock.

“If There Was a Time” is one of the most impressive ballads on the album, possessing both darkness and light sides.  Once again the harmonies sell it.  The musicianship isn’t busy but it’s eloquent just the same.  At this point the CD really seems to be building towards a conclusion.  The climax is acappella:  “Just Like I Planned” is as splendid as it is ingenious.  That’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” rubbing off on the album, I’ll wager.  How many rock bands outside Queen attempt full-length acappella songs?

You just need to blow off some steam at the end, and all this builds up to “Had Enough”, a bright track that reeks of Van Halen (or Hagar).  It has a great bottom end and some final thrilling chops from Pete Lesperance.  This completes the journey of Mood Swings, which is an apt title given the diversity of the songs.  Not only are the tunes all great numbers, but the album does have a start, middle and ending.  There are sentimental moments, and action packed interludes.  It’s more than the sum of its parts, and that’s one reason why Harem Scarem keep having to live up to it.

So much so, that they even went as far as re-recording Mood Swings.  According to Superdekes, in his review of Mood Swings, “In 2013 Harem wanted to release a 20th anniversary edition of Mood Swings, but their old record company said ‘Nope’. So Harry and Pete said ‘Fuck you’ and re-recorded Mood Swings with three extra new songs.”  That’s why today you can look for the original Mood Swings, or the reasonable facsimile and update, Mood Swings II.  It is so close to the original in sound and even lead vocals that conspiracy theorists believe that Harry Hess has indeed finally solved time travel.

No matter which version you ultimately choose, Mood Swings will continue to reveal new joys every time you play it.  If there is such a thing as a perfect hard rock record (smart, memorable, surprising, exemplary) then Mood Swings is one of them.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Honeymoon Suite – The Singles (1989)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

NIAGARA FALLS.

scan_20161110HONEYMOON SUITE – The Singles (1989 Warner)

In the mood for some good old fashioned Canadian AOR rock, but don’t know where to turn?

Easily solved.  Just drive down to Niagara Falls and take a left at Honeymoon Suite.

The Singles compiles all their best tunes from the first three LPs (Honeymoon Suite, The Big Prize, Racing After Midnight).  If you are a native of the Great White North, chances are you have already heard all 12 of these tracks.  Honeymoon Suite have been radio staples ever since their 1984 debut single, “New Girl Now”.  Even when they dropped off the face of the earth for much of the 1990s and 2000s, they got consistent radio play and gigs.  T-Rev and I saw them at Lulu’s in the 1990s when they were supporting a live album.  Even though singer Johnnie Dee seemed a lil’ tipsy they pulled out all the stops for an enjoyable gig.

When Honeymoon Suite kicked it off with “New Girl Now”, they tapped into a rock/new wave hybrid that earned them tons of video play in Canada.  Derry Grehan was (and is) a fine guitarist, certainly one of the most respected in the Great White North.  He gave the band the rock credibility they needed, meanwhile Johnny Dee had the pipes and the heartthrob looks.  The 80s angst of “Burning in Love” landed them another hit, with one foot a little more firmly in the rock arena. Bonus points for the very 80’s chorus echo. “I am still (still! still! still!) a lonely man burning in love,” sings Dee, and you know many ladies swooned.  The sound is not too distant from the Bon Jovi of the same period, burning up the clubs many miles away in New Jersey.


Filmed on location in Niagara Falls Ontario

“Stay in the Light” captures the same vibe, a keyboard-y tension with guitars providing the edge.  A sharp rhythm and indelible chorus keeps “Stay in the Light” burning in your memory long after it ceased playing.  “Wave Babies” is a bit hokey but that hasn’t kept it from airplay 30 years later.

Album #2, The Big Prize, edged their sound further into keyboard pop, which provided more hits but also turned some fans off.  “Feel It Again” maintained the guitars without straying too far, but the ballad anthem “What Does It Take” was a full-on 80s pop ballad.  The band had some serious firepower in the studio control room this time out.  The success of the first album gave them a shot with Bruce Fairbairn, and a young engineer named Bob Rock.  You can hear their impact in the improved sound of the drums, and the sonic clarity overall.  The production values help make “What Does It Take” palatable, but there is too much syrup for some.  “Bad Attitude” has some crunch but it’s overshadowed by those omnipresent keyboards.

Racing After Midnight returned rock to the forefront.  There were a couple lineup changes including on the keyboards.  The captain’s chair was manned this time by veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman.  With him they recorded “Lethal Weapon” for the film soundtrack of the same name.  Because it was written by Michael Kamen for a movie, we can forgive Honeymoon Suite for another soft rock ballad.  The guitar laden “Love Changes Everything” was a more proper introduction to the new album.  Derry has a chance to show off his enviable chops at the start, and has a good crunchy sound.  One of Honeymoon Suite’s most memorable choruses made it easy to love.  “Lookin’ Out for Number One” was equally powerful, especially when it comes to Derry Grehan’s impeccable shreddery.

Any good greatest hits album needs new material.  The Singles had two new songs:  big hit “Still Loving You”, and “Long Way”.  For a big anthemic ballad, “Still Loving You” nails it with class.  “Long Way” finishes it with a dark edgy acoustic vibe.  These two tracks do not negate the album title The Singles, because both were released as singles.

Factor in some great liner notes and lots of band photos, and The Singles is a pretty easy purchase to justify.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Aural Fixations (1992)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

SARNIA.

scan_20170128KIM MITCHELL – Aural Fixations (1992 Alert)

Over the course of his solo career, Kim Mitchell kept on givin’ ‘er even though some albums are cloudy in the collective memory today.  Aural Fixations made less of a hullabaloo than Rockland, and many of its tracks are forgotten by the Canuck masses.  Public amnesia does happen to deserving songs sometimes, and there are a few on Aural Fixations that merit dusting off.

Kim really made a niche of good time summer party songs:  “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, “I Am A Wild Party”, “Lager and Ale”.  “World’s Such a Wonder” assumed that duty on Aural Fixations.  His picking is impeccable, but fans in the know noticed something was “off”.  The quirky poetry of Pye Dubois was gone; he and Kim had a falling out during Rockland.  Others such as Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness – review at Boppin’s Blog) and Andy Curran (Coney Hatch – review at Stick It In Your Ear) filled the lyrical void instead.  This meant that one of the qualities that made Kim special, Pye’s unique wording, was gone.  Also departed was bassist/singer Peter Fredette.  Peter still provided backing vocals for this album.  That said, most in the Great White North probably did not notice or care.

“Big Smoke” is a bluesy grind, good stuff for guitar enthusiasts.  A couple upbeat tracks got radio play, such as “Hullabaloo” and “Find the Will”.  Both sound like what we had come to expect from Kim Mitchell:  rock and roll guitars, big hooks, and choruses built for shoutin’ along to.  The most outstanding one of the bunch is “Hullabaloo”, a real Canadian good time summer song.

“There’s a lot weekend doin’ on this hullabaloo,
Honey’s on the beaches, Monday back in old ‘T.O.’,
Showin’ off her sunburn.”

The song is perfect from the ground up. Verses, bridges and choruses all line up for one quintessential Kim Mitchell classic. “Take a walk on that wild guitar, it’s such a wild guitar…”

Aural Fixation also shifted towards lighter sounds, perhaps a bit too far.  “Pure as Gold” is the best of the softies, a quiet, slow smouldering bluesy ballad.  “Some Folks” steers right into the pasture, a keyboardy country ballad that could have been left in the barn.  The twangy “America” isn’t as bad.  It carved out another hit video, following in the footsteps “Easy to Tame” (1986).  Other tracks just simmer without ever really cooking:  “There’s a Story”, “Flames”, “Dreamer”.  The musicianship is above reproach, but the songs don’t all meet expectations.  “Dog and a Bone” has the rock, but the chorus lacks impact.

One of the most interesting tracks is the final one, an instrumental called “Honey Forget Those Blues”. A total of six guitar players are credited on it, creating a massive guitar harmony part. It sounds like a guitar orchestra playing the blues and it’s brilliant. Its cheeky creativity hearkens back to the glory days of Max Webster. It is in fact Kim’s first instrumental song as a solo artist.

Aural Fixations has those sparks of brilliance that makes you wish it consistent throughout.  “Hullabaloo”, “World’s Such a Wonder”, “Find the Will” and “Honey Forget Those Blues” could all be on a hypothetical Kim Mitchell “box set”.  Is that enough to add this album to your collection?

2.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Helix – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

KITCHENER.

scan_20161215HELIX – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004 Dirty Dog)

This album was a long time coming. The last “true” Helix studio album (eg: not live, greatest hits or previously unreleased songs) was the excellent It’s A Business Doing Pleasure, twelve years previous to this one. A lot happened in those twelve years, including member changes, management and record company splits, and even a Brian Vollmer solo album (When Pigs Fly). That Helix came out with an album this good with no warning was a pleasant surprise.

Almost every song here is quality stuff, with only the instrumental opener “Space Junk” and the jokey closer “Sunny Summer Daze” not fitting in with the serious rocking going on here. A couple of these recordings had previously appeared on Vollmer’s solo CD (with Brian Doerner on drums), but this sounds more like a proper Helix album. The title track features a killer chorus (reminded me of “Rock You” a bit) with those recognizable Helix backing vocals. It’s also the most “party” of all the new songs, some of them being a little darker.  Glen “Archie” Gamble (drums) utilizes some interesting cymbal work, a little different from what you usually hear on a Helix record.  His playing gives this version of Helix a different rhythm.

“Six Feet Underground” has some nice acoustic work, and is extremely catchy. “Panic” has some irresistible vocals. “It’s Hard To Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Filled With Rain” might have an overly long title, but the song is amazing, as heard live in concert.  A wicked harmonica solo fills the spot with a guitar solo might normally fit.  “The Ballad Of Sam & Mary” is a jokey lyric as Helix have done before, but with some serious kick behind it. (Listen for a cameo by Brian’s wife Lynda Vollmer.)  It’s only when you get to the closer with its Hawiian guitar that you feel like the album just hit a speedbump. The final track’s saving grace is a guest appearance by former member “Doctor” Doerner on guitar.

This album represented a muscular return for Helix, one that kicked off a stream of new Helix records.  The band seemed revitalized even as lineups changed, as they continued to follow through with more quality rock and roll.  Rockin’ in My Outer Space is a pleasure for fans because it’s different. This is not party music. There are audible dark clouds and angry riffs.  The changes in heavy metal over the previous decade are obvious here.  The guitars are chunkier and dirtier, and no song has a party-hardy chorus like the days of old, though the title track comes close.  Helix are known for a certain brand of rock, and it’s nice when they choose to stretch out.

Fear not Helix fans. Brian Vollmer and his gang of little-known but excellent players did not disappoint when they finally decided to release a new album under the Helix Band banner. Aside from the first and last tracks, this is one you’ll be playing all the way through.

And heck, you get used to the the first and last tracks after a while.

4/5 stars

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Bonus:  In 2005, Helix returned to Sweden to play Sweden Rock.  iTunes have one song from their set available for download: “Rock You”  This track features the short-lived but very cool six-piece lineup of Brian Vollmer, Archie Gamble, Jeff Fountain (bass), Jim Lawson (guitar), Rainer Wiechmann (guitar and producer) and Cindy Wiechmann (vocals and other instruments). This is the version of Helix that supported this album, and fortunately it was captured live. Check it out for an idea of what this great lineup sounded like live.

ontario-bands-week

REVIEW: The Glorious Sons – Shapeless Art (2013 EP)

Welcome to the Week of Ontario Bands! A brainchild of BoppinsBlog, Ontario Bands Week will focus on favourites from our home province of Ontario Canada. Participating sites include Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, and 1001 Albums in 10 Years. Let’s give’r!

KINGSTON.

scan_20170212THE GLORIOUS SONS – Shapeless Art (2013 Black Box EP)

There has been a wave of exciting new bands from Ontario Canada in the last several years.  The Arkells (Hamilton), July Talk (Toronto), The Standstills (Oshawa), Monster Truck (Hamilton) and The Glorious Sons (Kingston) have been leading the charge on radio.  Each band is unique and unlike the others.  It is hard to pick a favourite, but The Glorious Sons truly are something special.  Their debut EP showcased secret weapon, lead singer Brett Emmons.  Rarely do you come across such a genuinely soulful rock singer from the snowy climbs of Ontario.  Instead Emmons sounds like he probably hailed from Mississippi or Louisiana.  He has enviable range and power, all substance with plenty of style.

The Glorious Sons’ debut EP, Shapeless Art, was mixed by fellow countryman Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar, Grady)*.  Johnson has a blues pedigree and the sheen he adds to the sonics is the cherry on top of some excellent songs.  The first two tracks are now rock radio staples:  “White Noise” and “Mama”.  These are different mixes than the ones released on debut LP The Union.  The familiar crashing and bashing of “White Noise” is welcome any time any day.  You can’t help but feel recharged after one listen.  “Mama” sounds like the deep south in the middle of summer.  It is definitely meant for good times.

The other three songs are unique to the EP.  Title track “Shapeless Art” sprints along with gently picked clean guitars instead of crunchy chords.  It has power, drama and catchy “whoo hoo hoo” backing vocals.  “Ruby” on the other hand builds slowly from a somber piano base.  By the end it’s an absolute party.  You can picture the crowd jumping up and down singing along, until it feedbacks to an ending.  The centerpiece though is “Baby”, a re-recording of an old music video they made independently.  Where the music video was vocalized by Jay Emmons, Brett sings it with him on the EP version.  It finally sounds fully realized, probably recorded, full power extracted and concentrated.  With “Baby” now sounding armed and ready to go, the Shapeless Art EP is complete and one of the most exciting releases of its kind in many moons.

 

“Baby” original music video version

Whether you check out this fabulous EP or The Union LP, or their brand new single “Kill the Lights”, do what you have to do to get this band in your ears.  You won’t mind if they move in right to your brain, because listening to the Glorious Sons is an absolute pleasure.  We look forward to their next album due some time in 2017.  If the pattern holds true, they will be hitting the radio again with another steady stream of quality singles.  May as well get ready for stocking up this winter on old Glorious Sons.  Shapeless Art would be a recommended first purchase.

4.5/5 stars

*Johnson has lived in Windsor Ontario, as well as Alberta, Winnipeg and Texas.

CHECK OUT THE GLORIOUS SONS’ NEW SINGLE, “KILL THE LIGHTS”!

passenger

Sunday Chuckle: Unwanted Passenger

One of the guys at work is a real joker.  The kind when you’re never quite sure if he’s joking or serious.  For the purpose of this story, we’ll call him “Happy”.  I went out to grab some lunch at Harvey’s.  I came back to the office, and Happy was standing there talking on his cell phone.  I nodded hello when I pulled in and he ignored me, seemingly deep in his phone call.

My car has electric locks.  I usually hit the button that opens all doors, out of habit.  As I got out of the car clutching my hot burger and cold drink, he climbed in the passenger side and closed the door behind him.  He continued to talk on his phone ignoring me.  I stood there perplexed.  Did he just get into my car and close the door?  Yes, there he is right now, talking on his phone.  I decided not to be baited by his prank and walked into the office.

I looked out the window — he was still there in my car!   I went up to my buddy Chris and said, “Dude, Happy is my car right now.  I have no idea why.  Go look.  He’s sitting right there.”  And there he was.  Chris was just as confused as I was!  Happy has a unique sense of humour!

Happy eventually stepped out and I never acknowledged it to him.  Just a weird day at the office!