REVIEW: Dream Theater – Master of Puppets (2009)

DREAM THEATER – Master of Puppets (2009 Yste Jam)

From Dream Theater’s acclaimed self-released series of covers albums, we have before us Master of Puppets.  This was recorded in Barcelona back in 2002.  Just as advertised, it’s Dream Theater doing the whole album live, in sequence, and pretty authentically too.

Dream Theater are a very different band from Metallica.  This is bound to be interesting.

The most obvious difference is that Metallica have two guitar players, while Dream Theater has one and a keyboard player.  On this, Jordan Rudess does aggressive keyboard solos where Kirk Hammett may have laid down one with his axe.  He also plays the acoustic parts on keys.  From time to time, you forget it’s a keyboard.  In short, Rudess turns the prospect of Metallica with keyboards into a lesson on forgetting your assumptions about keyboards!

James LaBrie fits the silhouette of a young James Hetfield.  He sings a convincing Metallica cover indeed!  He cuts loose and goes for it.  Metallica requires a gritty singer, going for it 110%.  LaBrie handles it.  For Dream Theater, doing these cover albums (from a wide variety of bands in fact) must be a lot of fun.  They would have the chance to sing and play in a way that isn’t the usual for them.  Guitarist John Petrucci does not often get to riff on something for five minutes straight like Metallica do.

Lars haters are naturally going to ask “What do Metallica songs sound like with a real drummer?”  Hey, I’m no Lars hater.  (He can play better than I can…)  But in answer to that question I can only respond “fucking awesome”.

Dream Theater cover Master of Puppets without drawing attention to themselves.  Mike Portnoy does not grandstand and overplay.  Nobody does.  If the effort was to do an authentic version of Puppets, as close to note for note as possible, then I say mission accomplished.  Beat for beat, this is stunningly true to the original album.  The keyboards are the most obvious deviation, and that’s minor.  In anything, Dream Theater draw attention to the fact that these are great heavy metal songs.  Are they Metallica’s best-ever set of songs?  Some prefer Kill ‘Em All, some Ride the Lightning.  Any way you slice it, Puppets is metal immortal, a very important record in anyone’s collection.  Dream Theater painstakingly learned the album front to back so they could play it live for a few thousand people.  They did that because it’s a great album on any day.

Dream Theater’s live covers albums (and many, many other releases) can be found on their own Ytse Jam Records website.  Check out the multitude of stuff available (though some are out of print now) and try not to drain your bank accounts.

5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Amherst Drive – “Breakdown” / “Better Way” (single)

AMHERST DRIVE –  “Breakdown” / “Better Way” (2017 single)

What happens when an experimental avante-garde multi-instrumentalist goes punk?  You get Amherst Drive.  Derek Kortepeter is best known for his multi-genre solo music in which he plays all the instruments.  Naturally with Amherst Drive, he also plays and sings everything himself.

Like all of Derek’s music, Amherst Drive is memorable but challenging.  Punk rock?  Sure, but “Breakdown”, the first track on his new single, has none of the traditional punk rock melody.  Derek has taken his unusual stylings and amped them up.  “Better Way” is a ballad, but not an easy pill to swallow.  Neither of these songs are easy to digest.  Derek may have simplified some things and punked them up, but he has still fucked things up just enough to keep them edgy.  Unusual rhythms and melodies are mixed together in very un-punk-like fashion.

Good little debut punk single here from Amherst Drive.  Hopefully Derek will assemble a band and give these tunes a stretch live and see where they can go.

3.5/5 stars

Bandcamp:  amherstdrive.bandcamp.com/track/better-way

#587: Blocked!

GETTING MORE TALE #587: Blocked!

Someone bugging you on Facebook?  Block!  How about Twitter?  Block!  Go ahead and try it.  The President does it all the time!

In the pre-Record Store 1980s, it was not this easy.

In late 1987 and early 1988, a kid from school named Bobby was getting a bit too clingy.  He was even a bigger nerd than I was.  Way bigger nerd.  His prized possession was a massive multi-volume copy of the Oxford English Dictionary.  His stalking didn’t begin until grade 10 French class.  I was never very good at French.  I can’t really explain why I took it again in grade 10 when I didn’t have to.  It was my worst class.  Bobby and I would study together over the phone.  It helped so we continued our phone studies.  That’s how it started.

Soon after, Bobby began calling for non-school related reasons, which was still OK, but it picked up speed. The calls became very regular.  First, they were every other day.  Then they were daily.  Then twice a night, and more.  He started inviting me to go to church with him.

I was a young kid with no idea how to handle the discomfort I was experiencing.  Talking on the phone was fine, but every night?  I was getting smothered, except I didn’t know that was the word for it.  I wasn’t sure if this was weird or not, or how to deal with it, and I didn’t want to confront him.  I decided the best strategy was to start avoiding his phone calls.  There were two problems with this:

  • In 1987 there wasn’t an easy way to “block” Bobby’s number.
  • My mom outright refused to lie and tell Bobby I wasn’t home.

I made sure my mom knew that Bobby was calling too much and annoying me, but she wouldn’t play ball!  “I won’t lie for you!” she said.  I can remember her answering the phone, while I’m telling her “I’m not home!” only for her to hand the phone over to me.  I was furious but she wouldn’t budge on her lying policy.  New techniques had to be invented.

The easiest was taking the phone off the receiver.  Leaving it “off the hook” would give any caller a busy signal.  No such thing as voicemail.  I began taking the phone off the hook during Bobby’s usual calling hours without telling my parents.  The only problem was that the handset then started making a very loud beeping sound when you left it off the hook.  So I buried the receiver under blankets and pillows so it could not be heard.  Of course we wouldn’t be getting any calls at all from anyone, but I figured that was the price my mom had to pay for refusing to lie!  Later on, I learned how to remove the ear piece so that it wouldn’t make any noise.

The other method of Bobby-blocking required the help of my best friend Bob, not to be confused with Bobby.  One night my parents were out and Bob was over, when the phone rang.

“That’s Bobby calling,” I said.  “Answer the phone and tell him he has the wrong number?”  Bob obliged me.  He was willing to lie for me!  He answered and told Bobby he had the wrong number, but it was a little more complicated than that.  Bobby said, “But I have this number programmed in my phone!”  It was 1987.  Nobody had numbers programmed into phones…except Bobby.  Bob insisted that he still had the wrong number and hung up.  Sure enough the phone rang again as Bobby called back.  This time we didn’t answer.

Things with Bobby came to a head twice.  The first time was over the phone, one of those nights he called multiple times.  He asked me to go to church with him again and I said “No” very firmly.  I said we had our own church to go to and I just didn’t want to go to his.  To my shock he started bawling on the phone and hung up on me.  He then called back, apologized and asked if I’d go to church with him again.  I accepted his apology but declined church again.  He started crying again and hung up again.  He was Lutheran, in case you’re wondering if he was evangelical or something more obscure.  Nope, just Lutheran.  Pretty mainstream.

Bobby and I patched up the friendship and boundaries were re-established.  There was another incident towards the end of 1988 and it was the final one.

I had 11th grade math class with Bobby and the year started fine.  He sat next to me.  One morning in class he took my pencil case and wouldn’t give it back.  I had been drawing band logos on it, so Bobby took it upon himself to take it (and all the pens, pencils and erasers it contained) away, as if he was a parent and I was a child.  I was getting more and more angry and when he finally returned it after class, I was furious.  He acted like it was funny, but I wasn’t laughing.  I was really pissed off.  I went to the cafeteria at lunch, and I told Bob what happened.  He said, “Well we just won’t let him sit with us at lunch.”

I met Bob and our group in the cafeteria for lunch, and we made sure to take up all the bench space.  When Bobby arrived, Bob informed him he’d have to sit somewhere else because I was still mad at him for taking the pencil case and not giving it back until after class.  That was pretty much it.  Bobby and I stopped speaking completely after that, even though we sat next to each other in class.  It was awkward but a certain amount of peace and quiet returned to my life.

I remember shortly after that, I caught a ride home from school with Bob.  He drove a shit-brown Chevette.  We were driving home when I spotted Bobby up ahead.  Bob slowed down his car and followed Bobby without saying anything.  He just slowly, slowly followed, at walking speed, in his car.  This time it was me who found it funny, but Bobby was not amused and yelled at his neighbors to call the police!  (They didn’t.)

Bobby changed schools the next year, and a mutual acquaintance told me that he “hated” me now.  I accept the part that I had to play in it, but I would also suggest that where I was concerned, Bobby was obsessed.  He was not gay,  he was just fixated.  It wasn’t going to end well no matter how it ended.  One thing for certain though, the obsession had to end, because if it didn’t, my wits would.

I can’t help but wonder if much of this could have been avoided if only my mom would have played along and told Bobby I wasn’t home!  We’ll never know now.  Thanks, mom.

 

REVIEW: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Live in Birmingham 2016

RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW – Live in Birmingham 2016 (2017 Universal)

Ronnie Romero has one of the toughest jobs in rock.  As the singer in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, he must fill the shoes of many past vocal champions:  Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner, as well as Ian Gillan and David Coverdale from Deep Purple.  The really difficult thing about it is the main guy he’s compared to:  Dio.  Fortunately, this Ronnie is no Dio clone.

Blackmore’s newest incarnation of Rainbow has been doing light touring and recording new material.  From their 2016 show in Birmingham comes this live album, a welcome addition to the Rainbow catalogue.  20 years since their last tour with White, Rainbow has an all-new lineup including Jens Johansson, the top rated keyboard player who made his fame with Yngwie Malmsteen and Dio himself.  Also on board are members of Ritchie’s acoustic Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night:  David Keith and Bob Nouveau on drums and bass.  Backing them are singers Lady Lynn and Candice Night from the same project.

What everything really has to come down to is the lead vocalist.  Ronnie Romero cut his teeth with Chilean band Lords of Black, a power metal group with some minor Blackmore influences.  Ritchie obviously has a good ear.  One wouldn’t immediately think of Romero has the next singer for Rainbow, but the fit is good and snug.  Ronnie can sing the old Dio material and is an instantly likeable frontman.  He has the power and range available to do Dio material, but his rasp is actually reminiscent of another Rainbow singer, Graham Bonnet.  On this album, Romero does the hit single “Since You Been Gone”, originally performed with Graham.  It’s the most authentic version of the song since the original.

As online forums have discussed and debated, Rainbow have a very Purple-heavy set.  Nine songs are Purple classics, making up the majority, including an odd choice in “Child in Time”.  Have Rainbow ever performed that song before?  Perhaps it was put back in the set simply because Purple haven’t played it in 20 years either. “Burn” is no problem for Ronnie Romero though.  He’s very comfortable in David Coverdale’s range.

Could more Rainbow songs have been squeezed in at the expense of a Purple oldie like “Woman From Tokyo” or “Highway Star”?  Sure.  But it’s Ritchie’s ball game.  He wrote those songs, and if he wants to open his set with “Highway Star”, he sure can.  “Soldier of Fortune” originally from Stormbringer is a surprise and all the more successful for it.  Whitesnake will sometimes play it live, but Purple do not, and Rainbow may never have before.  That leaves seven Rainbow songs, mostly Dio era.  “Stargazer”, “Catch the Rainbow” and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” are indispensable.

The only real issue with the recording lies with Ritchie.  The guitar should be louder.  It’s far too quiet.  You cannot hear enough of what he is doing.  Comparing to another live album, Black Masquerade recorded in 1995, the guitar was in your face and seemed more aggressive.  It seems strange that a guitar-dominated band like Rainbow would have the instrument toned down on the live album, but many listeners have said the same thing:  “Needs more guitar”.

All the new musicians are more than capable, and after hearing these songs done a million times, it’s nice to hear some new twists on solos and fills.  Romero’s native tongue is Spanish, and there are times he slips up on some old Deep Purple lyrics (particularly “Perfect Strangers”).  This never matters, because nobody screws up Deep Purple lyrics more than Ian Gillan himself!  The main thing is Romero has the right voice.  It’s unbelievable that he can sing a long set like this with such power throughout, seemingly with ease.

Long live rock ‘n’ roll, long live Rainbow, and long live Ronnie Romero.  It’s easy to be skeptical, but most doubters will be silenced by the newest incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This is a pleasant surprise and one of Rainbow’s most enjoyable live albums due to the charismatic Romero.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Paranormal (2017 2 CD edition)

ALICE COOPER – Paranormal (2017 Edel 2 CD edition)

Both Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin had a lot to live up to with their latest collaboration Paranormal.  Excluding 2015’s covers album Hollywood Vampires, their last record together was the remarkable Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2011.  Bob Ezrin has already produced one of the more impressive rock albums of 2017, Deep Purple’s InFinite.  Considering this recent track record, one might say we expect the goods this time too.

Paranormal is a great album, loaded with fantastic Alice Cooper material of different rock and roll styles.  It is not up to the level of brilliance of Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  That album (a concept album sequel) was dense with ideas and composition.  Paranormal is a step towards something less conceptual and more like a traditional album.  The big surprise this time out is the drummer:  U2’s Larry Mullen plays on 9 of the 10 core songs, and you’d never guess that without reading the credits.

The title track is impressive on its own.  It has a haunting guitar hook and vocal, and is built a bit like Alice’s horror material from the 80s.  That’s Ezrin’s pal, Roger Glover from Deep Purple on bass.  Back to the early 70s, get down with some hard rocking “Dead Flies”, but don’t let your guard down.  Relentlessly, “Fireball” blazes down the terrain, kicking aside everything not nailed down.  Alice doesn’t have anything that sounds like “Fireball” on any of his other albums.

The lead single “Paranoiac Personality” (a single worth tracking down for an exclusive live B-side) is similar to “Go to Hell” (from 1976’s Alice Cooper Goes to Hell).  It’s the kind of magic that happens only when Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin work together.  Memorable Alice Cooper rock, accessible enough for radio play, but within the personality of Alice.

Moving on to sleaze rock, “Fallen in Love” is a strong entry.  If it sounds a little greasy, that’s probably because Billy Gibbons is on it.  It’s followed by a speedy trip called “Dynamite Road” with a neat spoken-word style vocal.  It suits Alice’s storytelling lyrics.  After a couple of heavy bashers, it’s good to get back to a groove on “Private Public Breakdown”.  These are some impressive songs, each different from the other but fitting the whole.

A kickin’ horn section joins Alice on “Holy Water”, a fun and unorthodox rock and roll sermon.  Then there’s a good old fashioned punk rocker called “Rats”.  It might remind you of Michael Monroe’s classic “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘N’ Roll”.  It’s the only song on disc one that Larry Mullen doesn’t play on.  “Rats” has the surviving original Alice Cooper band: Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, and Dennis Dunaway.

Going for a haunting close, there is an understated song called “The Sound of A” to end the album proper.  This truly recalls Welcome to (and 2) My Nightmare.  Original bassist Dennis Dunaway co-wrote and plays bass on the track.  Although he was not in the band during the Nightmare era, that is what immediately comes to mind.  This is the kind of song that has the potential to become an Alice classic a few years down the road.

Cooper has been generous with bonus tracks on his last few albums, and Paranormal has a fully loaded second CD.  There are two more brand new songs featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band.  Steve Hunter is also on board with some slippery slide goodness.  “Genuine American Girl” is a transgender celebration, the kind of thing that would have been cutting edge in 1972, but today is just timely.  Smith co-write this with Alice and Ezrin, and it’s a remarkably catchy little tune.  “This is no-man’s land and I live here every day” sings a gleeful Alice.  It does sound like something the original band could have played back then.  “You and All Your Friends” (Cooper/Dunaway/Ezrin) is more of an anthem.  A crowd could definitely sing along.  These two tracks serve as reminders to what great players the original band members are.  Neal Smith is absolutely a drumming maniac and Dennis Dunaway is still one of kind.

There are six more bonus tracks, all live cuts from 2016 featuring Alice’s stellar live band.  It’s good to have these, because really the only thing missing from the new songs is guitarist Nita Strauss.  She’s a monster player.  For those hoping to hear Nita on Alice’s new album, at least she’s on the bonus tracks.  The live cuts are a fairly standard selection of 70s hits (all but “Feed My Frankenstein”).  You know what you’re getting:  expertly performed Cooper classics by his gang of professional rock and roll misfits.

Paranormal is yet another late-career triumph by Alice Cooper.  It’s just a hair shy of mind blowing.

4.5/5 stars

Sunday Chuckle: A Scottish Concussion

My sister, world-travelling bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano, is in Scotland!

This should surprise no-one, but one of the things she is doing in Scotland is drinking beer.

As luck should have it, on her first day, she had a fall at a pub. I am assuming alcohol was involved, but that’s not important to the story. She spotted a black Scottish Schnauzer, and jumped up to see it.  She bumped her head and injured her shoulder. In her email to the family, she said, “I have a lump, but I didn’t have to go to the hospital.” Glad she’s OK!

My dad read this email first, and he immediately announced to the family that “Kathryn had a great start to her vacation…got a concussion, dislocated a shoulder. In a hospital.”

Talk about misreading! My dad has been known to 1) stretch the truth, and 2) immediately go to worst-case scenario, but I’ve never seen anything like this before!  She specifically said she didn’t have to go to the hospital, and she made sure to put that up front so my dad wouldn’t worry too much.  Well shit!

 

 

REVIEW: Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit (1981)

CHEECH & CHONG’S GREATEST HIT (1981 Warner)

Even if you’re not into comedy albums, Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit compilation should be considered for your collection.  For one, it can be found in any format for cheap.  And that justifies buying it for their classic song “Earache My Eye”.  Classic song?  It’s been covered and homaged by bands such as Soundgarden, Korn, and even Rush.  So listen up!

Cheech & Chong’s original “Earache My Eye” is heavy metal and horns gone wild.  Cheech sings as his persona “Alice Bowie”.  The song was featured in the group’s first movie, Up In Smoke.  There is also a lesser song on the album called “Basketball Jones”, but it too is noteworthy because there’s a Beatle on it:  George Harrison!  And a slew of others including Billy Preston, Carole King and Nicky Hopkins.

Everyone in the world should know Cheech & Chong’s comedy sketch “Dave”.  If you don’t, shame on you and go hear it immediately.  “Dave” is here in edited form so you’ll get the gist.  Other popular bits include “Sister Mary Elephant” (remember the teacher screaming “SHUUUT UPPP!” to the rowdy classroom?) and “Sargent Stadanko”.  Most sketches focus on (gasp) drugs!  “Let’s Make a Drug Deal” is a spoof of a popular TV show.  “Cruising With Pedro De Pacas” is a paranoid drive with a Latino stoner.  Pedro and his sidekick Man take up most of side two.

Listening to this is a real throwback.  Sneaking people into a drive-in movie back when a drive-in movie was just 50 cents per person!  It’s good stuff but it may only appeal to people who remember those times.  Cheech & Chong’s laid back style of comedy makes this album (almost 55 minutes long) difficult to finish in one sitting.  Take a break between sides if it’s too slow for you.

The most important life lesson contained within is don’t try to sneak friends into a drive-in movie in the trunk of your car.  Especially if you’re with two guys named Pedro and Man.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Lee Aaron – Radio Hitz and More… (2012)

LEE AARON – Radio Hitz and More… (2012)

Respect to Lee Aaron!  She’s persisted through the decades with a multi-faceted career, including her early metal roots.  What she really needed was some kind of compilation CD that captured it all.  1992’s Powerline is a good compilation but some of Lee’s most interesting work came after.  Radio Hitz and More… fills in some of the blanks from the past 20 years.  You can only get it via Lee’s website as a promotional item.  I bought a T-shirt and got the CD with it, signed and personalized.*

Even if it haunted her career at times, “Metal Queen” is a damn fine song.  Period, end of sentence.  Today we can see that “Metal Queen” had it all:  killer quintessential riff, howling vocals and a searing solo.  Few metal singers could touch Lee Aaron’s ability.  While the fans knew she could do more than metal, she absolutely owned it on “Metal Queen”.  Hail to the queen.

Lee eventually shifted into a hard rock mold.  “Whatcha Do to My Body” was a big hit, and it’s next in radio edit form.  It delivered big hooks and didn’t require any song doctors.  Lee Aaron and her longtime guitarist John Albini wrote it and were rewarded with loads of MuchMusic video play.  However the two did collaborate with an outside writer on “Powerline” (1987) and that outside writer was surprisingly former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner.  “Powerline” is a bit light and heavily reliant on keyboards, sounding a little like Heart.

The songs included from Lee’s “rock” period are all pretty much hits in Canada.  “Hands On” followed “Watcha Do to My Body” in regular video rotation.  “Sweet Talk” and “Sex With Love” were singles from another big Lee Aaron album, Some Girls Do (1991).  The title track “Some Girls Do” is here and very Van Halen.  Two of Lee’s most stunning ballads are included too.  “Barely Holdin’ On” could be her best song, period.  “Only Human” was from the 1987 pop rock era, but is a strong ballad regardless.  Only a few notable singles are missing.  The always likeable Disco-dis “Shake it Up” is too hard to find out there in the wild.  Another big ballad, “Peace on Earth” is missing in action.  However the space does not go to waste.

In 1996 Lee Aaron resurfaced with a new band called 2preciious.  The lineup included Lee and the three Dons from Sons of Freedom!  A strange combo to be sure, and the alternative-flavoured album they came out with didn’t make waves, though it got decent reviews.  “Mascara” is edgy acoustic rock, completely unlike Lee’s previous work.  There’s even a rare European-only track called “Concrete and Ice” which is a bass-heavy 90s groove rocker.  Great stuff; it’s unfortunate it didn’t gain traction,  because with Alanis Morissette being so big at the same time, perhaps Lee could have tagged along.

The next stage of Lee Aaron’s career was her entry into the jazz world.  2000 saw the release of her album Slick Chick, and in 2004 there was Beautiful Things.  Tracks from both are here, including the instantly likeable “I’d Love To”.  It’s a little jarring to hear “Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi” in the middle of a bunch of rock tracks, though.

This compilation is great for gathering together a bunch of Lee Aaron’s diverse hits, but that’s not all.  Track 18 is a little bonus for collectors.  From Sweden Rock, it’s killer track “Baby Go Round” originally from Emotional Rain.  This live version is available nowhere else, which is like catnip for collectors.

77 minutes of music, for free?  How do you spell N-O-B-R-A-I-N-E-R?

4/5 stars

*If ordering, check before assuming they still offer signed CDs.

 

 

 

REVIEW: July Talk – Touch (2016 vinyl)

JULY TALK – Touch (2016 Sleepless Records)

Surely one of the most exciting bands to emerge from Toronto in the last few years has been July Talk.  Defying categorization, they’re often lumped in with “blues rock” and “indie”, neither of which really describe July Talk.  You could also call them “art rock” because July Talk truly treat their music as high-energy art.  Loud art.

July Talk are a five piece rock band known for their volatile live shows where anything can happen.  Lead singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay offer a contrast, he of the gravel voice and she as the smooth one.  They songs are like battles between characters, little stories with Fay and Dreimanis playing the parts.  Dreimanis and bassist Josh Warburton have also entered the visual world, with each directing some of July Talk’s most interesting music videos.*

Picture yourself in a tangle with another, you’ll feel your body awaken.  That’s the opening lyric to “Picturing Love” but also apt listening advice.  Some of these songs sound like the act of sex in motion, limbs tangled and struggling to get free.  On “Picturing Love”, Leah Fay contrasts Dreimanis’ grit with a sassy vocal.  “I suppose, I’ll strike pose…”  A band is usually lucky to have one memorable front person.  July Talk have two and that’s their secret weapon.  “Picturing Love” is one of three singles.  Another is the next track “Beck + Call”, a bass-heavy groove that hits with body blows.  Dreimanis screams “She loves me, she loves me not!” while Leah Fay floats above it.

Things get dancey on “Now I Know”, a track which recalls certain aspects of the 1980s and a little bit of U2.  Fay takes the center stage with an irresistible shouted chorus.  We go punky on the brilliant “Johnny + Mary”.  Fay has a punky sass that she employs with pure attitude.  Meanwhile the band chug away on some heavy riffing.  One lick even sounds like an Iron Maiden melody.  A dusky ballad called “Strange Habit” closes the first side.  This delicate song shows that July Talk can do it quietly too, and successfully.

If you have not heard the first single from Touch, “Push + Pull”, do so now.  A slinky groove turns into a battering ram.  “Push + Pull” is a great representation of the July Talk sound.  Whether you are dancing or thrashing, “Push + Pull” will work for ya.

“Lola + Joseph” rests on a spare but killer guitar hook.  Fay and Dreimanis trade off vocals seamlessly, as things get hot.  “But I’ve never done this, can you show me please,” pleads Dreimanis during one sexy exchange.  “Just count to five, not too fast,” whispers Fay in response.   “Lola + Joseph” is the hidden gem on this album.  It’s the nice little surprise that you get for playing the album through.  It’s just killer.  Leah Fay goes for a new wave punky snarl on “So Sorry”, another brilliant and loud track.  “Jesus Said So” has a completely different vibe, more like classic 50s doo-wop in a modern song.  Closing with a haunting song, the last is the title track “Touch”.  Piano is the main feature as it builds to a dramatic close.

Check this band out.  Touch is only their second album.  Time to get on board!

5/5 stars

* “Guns + Ammunition” directed by Warburton is one of the coolest technical achievements in a music video you’ll ever see.  Check it out below.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998)

JUDAS PRIEST – ’98 Live Meltdown (1998 BMG)

First in a long line of non-essential Priest live albums, here’s ’98 Live Meltdown.  Why did bands at certain points feel the need to add the year to the title?  Warrant – ’96 Belly to Belly – Volume One.  Kind of silly, right?  For fans who know their metal history, 1998 falls in Judas Priest’s Ripper Owens years.  Priest had just released their first album without Rob Halford, Jugulator.  Live Meltdown (let’s leave out that ’98 part for simplicity’s sake) captures the tour that followed, from various uncredited dates.

Fortunately the album is better than its title and awful cover art.  (Shame on you Mark Wilkinson!)  Ripper Owens provided fresh young lungs and with him at the mic, Priest were uber-powerful live.  All the new tunes from Jugulator were better in the live setting too.  “Blood Stained” is devastatingly powerful, and an enthusiastic crowd eats it up.  There are a few extraneous Jugulator tunes.  The world could have lived without “Death Row” and “Abductors”, and maybe the title track could have been thrown in instead.  Fortunately the track list is an otherwise excellent mix of new tracks and old cuts.

Priest deserve points for re-imaging their Joan Baez cover “Diamonds and Rust”.  The acoustic version was completely new for Judas Priest and Ripper could easily handle the heavy and the light.  Even though it’s acoustic, “Diamonds and Rust” represents Sin After Sin on a CD that gives face time to nearly every Priest album.   Rocka Rolla and Ram It Down are shunned as usual, but otherwise the only albums without tracks on this are Turbo and Point of Entry.  There is an emphasis on the classic material from the 70s, solid songs from the early 80s, and four tracks from Painkiller.  It’s a well-rounded album, and by the next live release (2003’s Live in London) they changed it up and added “Turbo” and “Heading Out to the Highway”.

Ripper was a great lead singer for this band during Rob’s absence.  He took one of the hardest jobs in rock and roll and did it with class.  Ripper had the goods.  He could scream the notes.  He added his own slant with guttural growls.  He struggled with “Painkiller” proving he’s a mere mortal but still he got the job done.

Live Meltdown was self-produced by Priest and Sean Lynch, but the guitars are too low in the mix.  The emphasis is on Ripper, but it seems to come at the expense of the volume of the rhythm guitars.  And the packaging is atrocious.  While it is true that most metal bands like Priest found themselves on smaller record labels, this is worse than a 90s indy band.  Fortunately the music and performance justify its existence.

Curious fans are advised to pick up Live Meltdown for the best representation of the Ripper Owens years.  It’s better than Jugulator and Live in London.  Fans are unanimously happy that Rob Halford is back in Judas Priest today, but that shouldn’t be taken as a slight against Ripper.

3.5/5 stars