Author: mikeladano

Metal, hard rock, rock and roll! LeBrain's Record Store Tales & Reviews!

#722: Christmas Mix 2006

GETTING MORE TALE #722: Christmas Mix 2006

It took some searching, but I finally found a copy!  This is the first Christmas mix CD I ever made, back in 2006.  I didn’t start making these until I had left the Record Store.  Nobody who works retail wants to listen to Christmas music outside of work.  Once I had been gone a year, my brain and soul were freed!

As discussed in the previous Christmas Mix article, after a few years I was running short on good songs to use, so I had to repeat a few from prior years.  Several tracks from the 2006 disc made a return appearance in 2010.

Repeaters included:

1. Hawksley Workman – “3 Generations”.  Truly an incredible, family-oriented song that is a highlight of Hawkley’s excellent Christmas album, Almost a Full Moon. The 2006 CD has lots of Hawksley songs.

2. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”.  My sister always liked this one, which sounds like early Extreme – perhaps first album era.

3. The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”.  I leaned heavily on this one, though not a great song, just because it’s the Beatles and it’s a rarity you may not have heard.

4. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas“.  Bon Jovi have done several Christmas songs, but Jon’s solo version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” is by far the best.  Let’s face it, this is a great tune!

5. Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”.  Another one I lean on because a song about New Year’s Eve is a nice change of pace.  Plus, it’s Jim Cuddy!

6. Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”.  I think every Christmas mix needs a kick in the nuts to keep things interesting.  Here’s the kick!

7. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  It can get a little tedious, as many joke songs are, but people know it and like it.

That’s not bad for repeat.  I’m sure Kiss have repeated more than just seven songs on their greatest hits CDs….


For creative types, the first thing you try something is often the best.  Maybe that’s the case with my line of Christmas mixes.  This first instalment is a great listen, even if you hate Christmas music and everything to do with it.  Check out the amazing songs you would have heard in 2006!

“Linus & Lucy” isn’t a Christmas song at all, but it works because Charlie Brown is associated with Christmas.  Wynton and Ellis Marsalis did an entire album dedicated to the music of Charlie Brown (Joe Cool’s Blues), but “Linus & Lucy” is the most instantly memorable.  And now, all of a sudden, you’re a kid again watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

Hawsley Workman’s first appearance here is “First Snow of the Year”, a song that is much too happy for a song about snow!  It’s homey, upbeat and jovial.  Keeping things upbeat, I went for the Brian Setzer Orchestra next.  “Jingle Bells” mixes the big band style with jaw-dropping guitar as only Setzer can do.  I then chose to cool things out with “The First Nowell” by the sublime Eric Johnson.  His acoustic/electric instrumental contains just as much original music as it does traditional.  It’s wonderful.

There was a time when Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” was a rarity.  Now you hear it on the radio.  When I first had it, it was on a bonus CD within a Queen Classics/Greatest Hits box set.   (The “Green Cover”.)   Since just about everybody likes Queen (then and now) including it is a slam dunk.  It’s 80s Queen but that’s OK, isn’t it?

I used a lot of instrumental music on these Christmas mixes, which tended to come from Merry Axemas 1 and 2.  “Joy to the World” by Steve Morse is a beautiful rendition, much like the Eric Johnson track, though Steve’s is entirely electric.  Then it’s Joe Perry’s Hawaiian guitar version of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”.  You may recall that I put Elvis’ version on my 2010 CD.  Joe’s version is cool because it’s different, though not as popular around our dinner table.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra is, honestly, a band I don’t get.  Look, I’m a huge Savatage fan.  Massive Savatage fan.  I’ve been a fan since I was 15.  Trans-Siberian began as a spinoff of Savatage, and I was absolutely shocked when little old men and ladies would come in to the Record Store asking for them!  Trans-Siberian isn’t as “metal” as Savatage, but the bombast is all there.  They’re popular though, so I put as much Trans-Siberian on here as I could handle.  “A Star to Follow” is a pretty gothic version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.  Much better is “A Mad Russian’s Revenge”, an interpretation of Tchaikovsky.  I also threw on “The Silent Nutcracker” because it is a simple acoustic guitar instrumental, not at all like the other TSO tracks.

One of Marillion’s very best Christmas tunes is “I Saw Three Ships”, so for my debut Christmas mix, I used nothing but the best Marillion.  This is from 2001’s A Very Barry Christmas.  There is something special and unique about this band.  “I Saw Three Ships” is both true to the song, yet intrinsically Marillion.

Hawksley’s third appearance is a hat trick of perfect celebratory pop.  “Claire Fontaine” isn’t particularly seasonal, though it’s from his Christmas CD.  It’s about a girl who makes lovely decorative paper.  There’s a line about “going home for Christmas” but otherwise there is little connection.  Claire could use her paper to wrap gifts, though Hawksley uses it for writing.  “Your sheets are very smooth, I like to rub my pen across them.”  This was a selfish inclusion.  I just love this song.

“Ring Out Solstice Bells” is also a selfish inclusion, because although it is a brilliant track, nobody I knew actually liked Jethro Tull.  In fact some, like Mrs. LeBrain, are quite anti-Tull.  So who was this song for?  Me!  And I stand beneath the Christmas tree, doing my best Ian Anderson single-leg stand.

Lo, what is this I hear?  More Hawksley?  Yes, Hawksley Workman had four tracks on my Christmas CD.  That is a full one-half of his original album!  I chose “Common Cold” for the last Hawksley.  Nobody gets through the holidays without getting sick, not in my family anyway!  (Last year I had the flu.)  “Nearly OD, on Vitamin C, you’re standing in a lineup with a gift just for me.”

The disc ended with a slew of tracks I’d use again.  Cuddy, Nugent, and Bob & Doug closed the CD.  A joke song makes a good closer sometimes, so that’s why I re-used Bob & Doug in the exact same position on 2010’s CD!

I like this CD, but I today I would axe the first two Trans-Siberian tracks.  I don’t think I’d change anything else.  In fact I’m quite thrilled to hear “Linus & Lucy” again for the first time in ages.  (I’ll have to give the whole Wynton & Ellis CD a spin again.)  Hawksley is always a delight, and I used his very best Christmas songs here.  And that Jethro Tull song is brilliant; I don’t care what cynics say.

I’ll give myself a solid:

4/5 stars

 

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#721: Christmas Mix 2010

GETTING MORE TALE #721: Christmas Mix 2010

Making mix CDs was a lot of fun (and work).  I used to make custom Christmas discs that didn’t suck, for my family and friends every year.  Why did I stop?  I ran out of good Christmas songs.  Let’s face it:  unless you’re one of “those” people, Christmas music is nails on a chalkboard.  You can only take so much.  If you’ve worked retail in the past (or present), you probably can’t take any at all!

2010’s Christmas CD is a good example of what I used to make.  You’ll notice there’s no Trans-Siberian Orchestra on there.  I used up all their best stuff on the previous instalments.  I tried to avoid duplicating songs from previous years although Hawksley Workman’s Christmas album is so good that I made exceptions for him.  Hawkley’s Almost A Full Moon is the best Christmas CD that I own, and probably the best one I’ve heard.  I bought it twice.  He reissued the album after only a year with two extra songs!  I forgave him, because Almost A Full Moon is so warm and perfect.

What do you think of the Christmas 2010 CD?  Would you have wanted a copy that year?

1. Bill Ward – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  Yes, that Bill Ward!  The Black Sabbath drummer did a spoken word recording of the classic Christmas poem, and I opened the CD with it.  I can tell you that when we played the CD at dinner time, this track was a failure.  Nobody paid attention.

2. Kathryn Ladano – “Jingle Bells”.  I got their attention back by putting on a track by my sister.  This instrumental version on bass clarinet is from her CD The Christmas Album.  Of note, her Schnauzer Ali is credited for barks on “Jingle Bells”!

3. Lemmy, Dave Grohl, Billy F. Gibbons – “Run Rudolph Run”.  This breakneck Christmas carol is done in the Motorhead style.  I played it in the car for sis.  “This is shit!” she proclaimed.  “Why do these guys get to put out albums and not me?”

4. Marillion – “Let It Snow”.  This drunken favourite is from 2007’s Somewhere Elf.  The spirit is intoxicating, as I’m sure they were!

Found some booze in a flight case,
And I’m afraid that we’re all shit-faced,
So I guess that we’ll have to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

5. David Bowie and Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”.  This is the David Bowie song that your grandma likes.  It’s just lovely.  I didn’t own anything with this song on it, so I had to download.  That’s why it didn’t appear until 2010!

6. Helix – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”.  Yes, it rocks, but not too hard!  Helix covered Lennon for their Heavy Metal Christmas.  Singer Brian Vollmer is trained in the Bel Canto technique and he’s more than capable of singing songs for your Christmas dinner in mind.

7. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”.  My mom always liked Extreme, or “Nick Strean” as she thought they were called.  This isn’t the greatest Christmas song in the world, but it doesn’t suck.

8. Hawskley Workman – “3 Generations”.  Told you there would be some Hawksley.  This touching song is about three generations of women in the kitchen making Christmas dinner together.

9. Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”.  I must have downloaded this one too.  I am a bit of a sucker for Elvis.  I included Joe Perry’s instrumental version on a previous CD.

10. The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”.  Not one of their best songs, but it’s the Beatles so it had to be included eventually.  This version comes from the 1995 CD single for “Free As a Bird”.  Relatively few have heard it, and I thought that would get people’s ears perked up, but by this time, the wine was out….

11. Steve Vai – “Christmas Time is Here”.  This is from the first Merry Axemas.  It’s a lovely track and not too shreddy.  Remember this song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special?  Steve does it on guitar, of course!

12. Jethro Tull – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”.  This funky flute version will get the toes tappin’.  Hard to believe that this is from Tull’s final studio album in 2003, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album!  It would have been nice to get one more, but Tull’s Christmas Album is a good one to have around.  If you need to tolerate Christmas music, you may as well listen to Tull jamming it out.

13. Brian Vollmer – “The First Noel”.  Helix’s Vollmer put out a rare charity album in 2005 called Raising the Roof on Mary Immaculate.  “The First Noel” is one of the best tracks.  Vollmer is the first artist to get two appearances on my CD.

14. Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”.  Much like “Run Rudolph Run”, this one smokes!  It’s a guitar instrumental at full speed.  Grandma didn’t like this one.

15. Twisted Sister – “O Come All Ye Faithful”.  I really don’t like the Twisted Christmas album.  This song was a hit though, and since it’s virtually identical to “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I can…errr…take it.

16. Cheap Trick – “Come On Christmas”.  My sister was a huge Cheap Trick fan at one point.  She had this song before I did.  Essentially just a Cheap Trick pop rocker with Christmas lyrics.  Sounds like classic Cheap Trick to me.

17. AC/DC – “Mistress For Christmas”.  I put this song on as the joke it is.  I like to remind people that AC/DC did have a Christmas song.  “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the day.  I can’t wait to Christmas time, when I roll you in the hay.”  Hey, it counts.

18. The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)“.  In my review, I said, “Even though the guitars are thicker than a good ol’ bowl of Thin Lizzy pudding, there is no mistaking this for anything but a Christmas song.   It is a joyous rock re-imagining of a Christmas carol, with the unmistakable Justin Hawkins falsetto.”  Plus, sis likes The Darkness.

19. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas”.  I like this one.  Fuck off.

20. Jimi Hendrix – “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”.  From an EP called Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Jimi and band jammed out some impressive licks but the dinner party didn’t enjoy.

21. Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”.  Cuddy’s solo debut All In Time is tremendous CD and comes highly recommended by this guy right here.  It’s like listening to a Blue Rodeo album, but only the Jim songs.  The sentimental “New Year’s Eve” is a lovely ballad that fits right in with the Christmas theme.

22. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  You gotta end with a classic.  From 1981’s The Great White North comes the big Christmas hit.  We used to hear this every single year on my mom’s old clock radio.  We’d squeal with laughter trying to sing along.  “A beer…in a tree…”

 

How would you rate this one?  Trying to avoid overlap was previous instalments was my Achilles’ heel.  I’d swap out a lot of the lesser songs for better ones, but it’s not bad.  It’s listenable.  It’ll do.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Derek Smalls – Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Aging)

DEREK SMALLS – Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Aging) (2018 BMG)

So very desperately, I wanted this to be good.  Alas, it is very very remotely far from anything good.  It’s not the line between clever and stupid; it’s just foul smelling putridity.  Spinal Tap’s bassist Derek Smalls, who might be best known for his “Jazz Odyssey”, cannot hold a tune.  There must be a reason why Smalls sings the fewest lead vocals of the three Spinal Tap members.  He’s all but unlistenable.

The gimmick on Smalls Change is twofold.  It’s a collection of songs about getting old, which is a crappy concept to start with.  There is nothing wrong with songs that have some life experience, but who wants to listen to a tune about an MRI?  Who wants to think about it all?  The second gimmick is the roster of guests:  old fogie buddies like David Crosby, Steve Lukather, Paul Shaffer, and so on.  There are few somewhat younger folks here too, such as Dweezil Zappa, Joe Satriani, Chad Smith, and Phil X.  But the guest stars can’t save it.  Admittedly, the lyrics are sometimes funny.  “Butt Call” is about butt dialing!  “Nobody speaks, handset by the cheeks.”  “Memo to Willie” is about erectile disfunction (get it?), a subject I’m sure you like singing about as well.  Then there’s “Gummin’ the Gash” which you can figure out for yourself.

The biggest problem is the voice, which is a cross between a garbage disposal and Otto the bus driver.*  No amount of Spinal Tap references can save it.  When the singer cannot sing, then Houston we have a problem.  And the thing goes on for 14 tuneless tracks!  An hour of gargling words out in an English accent.  Without a David St. Hubbins or a Nigel Tufnel to carry the melody, Smalls is sunk.  When there is an actual melody, that is.

We sadly have to proclaim Smalls Change as the worst, most unlistenable album of 2018.  Clearly, a lot of time and money went into making it, but don’t invest any of yours.

1/5 stars

* Yes, of course we know that Derek Smalls is played by Simpsons actor Harry Shearer.  If Otto was British, this could have been his album.

 

CONCERT REVIEW: Max the Axe and guests, Dec 8 at the Boathouse + CD GIVEAWAY!

The Boathouse was rocked again this past weekend as Max and his legendary Axe stormed the place with heavy riffing, some friends, and a brand new album called Status Electric.

Opening the show was singer was former Max singer Mickey Straight (“from Guatemala” as he was introduced, but I think Guatemala is Toronto).  Mickey has a rock star stage presence and together with Max the Axe, they played some of their oldies such as “Mutant Mind” and “Belljar Party”.  Mickey played bass as a trio with Max and Dr. Dave Haslam on drums, which we quickly learned was going to be a common theme going forward.

Second up was the biggest surprise of the night: Nancy Vicious and the Nasty Bitches.  Punk rock was expected, and punk rock we had (including some Pistols and Stooges with originals).  On drums…the newly rebranded “God Damn Dave” Haslam.  Guitarist Mike “Mitch Bitch” Mitchell surprised us by ripping off his shirt revealing a corset.  But the real surprise was Nancy Vicious herself, a young powerhouse with lungs of fucking stainless steel.  Classic punk mixed with new-breed bands like Dilly Dally.  I learned that Nancy has been playing the bars for years, though only 19 years old.  No CDs for sale unfortunately — Nancy told me their first album was “really bad” but that they are working on a second one with (hopefully) about 13 songs.  They did have merch for sale in the way of stickers, buttons and postcards.

We were under the impression that the Hellen Keller Band had changed their name to the Delusionals.  This was Fake News.  What is the Hellen Keller Band?  An instrumental trio led by Mike Mitchell on guitar, God Damn Dr. Dave on bass, and Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller on drums.  Mitchell’s incredible picking was quite stunning to watch.  He’s got chicken pickin’ going on, and plenty of ability.  And it turns out Dr. Dave is even better on bass than he is on drums.  This trio was plenty of fun to watch, as they mixed covers and originals.  They closed the set with a blistering Dead Kennedys “Holiday in Cambodia”.

Finally the game of Musical Chairs came to the end when Max the Axe hit the stage.  Lineup:  Max on lead guitar, with Eric Litwiller’s voice, Dr. Dave’s drums and Mike Mitchell’s bass.  He played his entire new album, the stellar Status Electric in sequence with a break in the middle.  Now, we’ve been quite clear here how great Status Electric is.  Hearing it played live for the first time?  Brilliant.

Litwiller opened up his powerful lungs on “River Grand”, a grungy rocker.  He blasted consistently through all of “side one” while Max ripped hot licks on his Axe.  After the vocal tour-de-force “Sick of Living”, they played “Mexican Standoff” from Trillion Dollar Threats, some Black Flag, and then gave Litwiller a break as Mickey Straight was invited back for two oldies.  “Daddy Was a Murderin’ Man” and “I Don’t Advocate Drugs” (also Trillion Dollar Threats) were a treat.  The final side of the Status Electric album was then laid out, with “Gods on the Radio” and “Scales of Justice” being the obvious best tracks.  Unfortunately by this time all four band members had already played full sets with other bands, and they flubbed a few lines in “Uptite Friday Night” and “Scales”.  Not that this detracted from the show.  It seemed everybody was aware of how hard these guys had been playing all night!

4.5/5 stars

 

CD and MERCH GIVEAWAY!

WIN YOUR OWN COPY OF STATUS ELECTRIC!  Bonus NANCY VICIOUS STICKER AND BUTTON!

 

How, you ask, do I win?

It’s simple!  Just answer the easy question below by submitting it directly on the form.  All correct answers will be put in a hat and one lucky winner will be drawn at random!  Please remember to include your complete mailing address so we can send your prize!*

QUESTION:  Name all four current members of Max the Axe.

This contest will run for one week, from December 10 to December 17, when we will draw the winner.

Good luck!

*Disclaimer:  Canada Post is on strike and we can make no delivery guarantees.

Sunday Chuckle: ‘MURICA

December 7 was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and this came up on the calendar:

MAX THE AXE CD release tonight!

Heed the “Call of the Wild”!  Max and his legendary Axe are hitting the Boathouse in Kitchener TONIGHT (57 Jubilee Drive, Kitchener, Ontario) for the release of his sixth record Status Electric.  Though a late arrival in 2018, Status Electric is so bloody good that it’s likely to (spoiler?) make our Top 5 of 2018 list.  When nine songs get stuck in your head for weeks on end, that’s a good sign.

Opening acts include Mickey Straight (ex-Max the Axe singer), Nancy Vicious and the Nasty Bitches, and The Delusionals (formerly the Hellen Keller Band).

$5 at the door, $10 for a CD.

If you’re anywhere near the “River Grand”, you won’t need the “Next Plane to Vegas” to join Max the Axe at the Boathouse.  Even “Randy” may be there, screaming the “Call of the Wild”.  If you are “Sick of Living”, don’t go to “The Other Side”!  “You Gotta” go to the Boathouse instead.  If you had an “Uptite Friday Night” then the best cure will be to rock with Max on Saturday.  Witness the “Scales of Justice” tip forever in Max’s favour.

At the very least, you’ll hear the cautionary tale of why “Only a fool owns a deadly snake, let alone two.”  That’s how it goes…so go to the Boathouse and catch them live.

 

REVIEW: Tommy Shaw and Contemporary Youth Orchestra – Sing For the Day! (2017)

TOMMY SHAW and Contemporary Youth Orchestra – Sing For the Day! (2017 Universal)

These kids can play!

Tommy Shaw, accompanied by Will Evankovich, conductor Liza Grossman, and a whole orchestra full of highschool kids will blow you away on the live concert CD Sing For the Day!  It’s astounding to think that this room full of kids is so good that they got to perform the hits of Shaw with the master himself, and get it released as an album.  What gifted young musicians they must be.

Styx fans will adore Sing For the Day! for its roll call of classic songs, performed acoustically with the orchestra.  Styx music lends itself well to that kind of pomp and circumstance.  The album also boasts a number of Shaw favourites outside of Styx, like his first solo hit “Girls With Guns”.  With a new arrangement, “Girls With Guns” is almost unrecognizable but yet familiar.  You’ll also get Damn Yankees’ excellent “Come Again” and of course their hit ballad “High Enough”.

The album commences brilliantly with “Overture” from the newest Styx album The Mission.  Bar now set “high enough”, they run through “Girls With Guns”, “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Fooling Yourself” with aplomb and joie de vivre.  You wouldn’t be going out on a limb to suggest that these kids do as good a job of it as Styx themselves do.  “Crystal Ball” soars majestic.  “Boat on a River” simmers quietly.  Most of the arrangements offer a freshness while being true to the spirit of the originals.  The only sputter is “Renegade”, which is stripped down and a little strange.

Set highlights include “Diamond” from Tommy’s 1997 album 7 Deadly Zens, a pretty incredible track.  “Come Again” is brilliant, as is the bombastic oldie “Man in the Wilderness”.  “Blue Collar Man” is among the best versions of the song ever recorded, and completely different from the original.  Fans should enjoy just about the whole shebang.  Casual listeners would recognize a number of these songs and might get a kick out of these novel interpretations.

Do not hesitate if you happen to find this CD in the wild.  It’s better than you might expect.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – Regeneration Volume II (2011)

STYX – Regeneration Volume II (2011 Eagle Rock)

Long nights, impossible odds?  If you wanna discuss impossible odds, then let’s discuss re-recording your old hits.  It’s not usually a good idea.  In Styx’s case, it gave them a chance to sell some product while out on tour, but the new versions are no replacements for the old.

“Blue Collar Man” has that big fat organ riff, but it’s…different.  Technology can’t reproduce magic, and the original “Blue Collar Man” was pure magic.  It’s also missing Dennis DeYoung’s inimitable backing vocals.  The current Styx sure can sing, but Dennis’ voice was a big part of the chorus.  “Renegade” is more successful.  Todd Sucherman really stretches out on the drums.  The kid’s got talent!

James Young’s “Miss America” has more bite than the original.  “Snowblind” benefits from the re-recording, having more depth now.  Styx also get points for redoing “Queen of Spades”, now starring Lawrence Gowan.  Styx have plenty of hits, but just as important to fans are the deeper cuts.  Any time they get a little more spotlight is a good time.  “Queen of Spades” rocks regally, riffy and progressive.   “Boat on a River” is pretty authentic to the original, while “Too Much Time on My Hands” has some different keyboard flare.  Both are worthy inclusions.  This isn’t to say any of these versions are superior to the originals.  That’s impossible.  This is just to say they are enjoyable to listen to.

The bait to buy the re-recordings are two Damn Yankees songs:  “Coming of Age” and (of course) “High Enough”.  Styx have been known to perform “High Enough” in concert, but what are they like without Jack Blades and Ted Nugent?  Surprisingly good.  Styx can handle the singing, and James Young can riff and wail with the best of ’em.  “High Enough” in particular sounds great.  Lush and with more balls.

Interestingly enough, it looks like all the guys recorded their parts in different studios, all over the place.  Gowan was recorded in Toronto, and of interest to Rush fans is that Terry Brown co-engineered his parts.  The marvels of the modern world.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Styx – Regeneration Volume I (2010)

STYX – Regeneration Volume I (2010 Eagle Rock)

I know what you’re thinking.  “Styx re-recordings?  Why the  hell do I need those?”

You don’t.  That’s why they added a new song (“Difference in the World”) exclusive to this set.

Initially, the EP Regeneration Volume I was sold exclusively online and at Styx concerts, but it was reissued with Volume II to regular retail as a double CD set.  Volume II has its own exclusives, which will be discussed in a separate review.  Aside from the cleaner sound, the most obvious difference is the more modern drumming by Todd Sucherman.  Original drummer John Panozzo had his own style and the difference is obvious.  That’s neither good nor bad; just an observation.

“Difference in the World” is a melancholy but good song.  Styx have a lot of good songs.  Tommy Shaw wrote another one.  There you go.

“The Grand Illusion” features singer Lawrence Gowan on an old Dennis DeYoung classic.  Considering how long Gowan has been with Styx now (almost 20 years!), it is justifiable to re-record old songs with him on a low-key release such as this.  It’s harder to justify Tommy Shaw’s “Sing For the Day” and “Fooling Yourself” which are damn near note-for-note accurate to the originals.  Tommy’s orchestral re-imaginings on his solo live album Sing For the Day! are a lot more interesting.  The biggest difference are Gowan’s backing vocals.  Put these versions in a Styx shuffle and they won’t be too obtrusive.

James Young takes the lead on “Lorelei”.  Of the re-recordings, “Lorelei” is clearly the best.  Dennis DeYoung sang the original, but James sings it live today since he’s the co-writer.  Doing a studio version with James is more than justified.   “Crystal Ball” is still as epic as it ever was, but has more edge with modern production.  The guitar solo is to die for.

What about “Come Sail Away”?  Unnecessary and perhaps detrimental to this EP.  Doing it live without Dennis is one thing.  It’s not a song you want to leave a Styx concert without hearing.  Gowan’s fine, but redoing this one in the studio can never live up to the original in any way, and you’re digging your own hole by even trying.  Magic cannot be recreated, only imitated.

3/5 stars

#720: Domo Arigato

Join me for some   for the rest of this week!

GETTING MORE TALE #720: Domo Arigato

It was grade 5, and Allan Runstedtler was to blame for my first rock and roll album.

At school, I played a tape I made with three songs on it.  It was a clear blue 120 minute Scotch cassette.  “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC was first, followed by “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann.  The third might have been “Ooby Dooby” by Roy Orbison.  AC/DC was my favourite because of the chorus.  “He sounds like he has a frog in his throat!” I squealed.  We just referred to Bon Scott (we didn’t know his name) as “the guy with the frog in his throat”.  I thought the song was hilarious, and that went double for “Big Balls” since it had “Balls” in the title.

“You have to hear ‘Mr. Roboto’,” said Allan.  “It’s by a group called Styx.  But it’s not spelled like ‘sticks’.  It’s spelled S-T-Y-X.”

Cool!

I went to his house one afternoon with my trusty Fisher-Price mono tape deck.  That thing was built like a tank.  Wherever it is, it probably still works beautifully.  Allan had the Styx LP, Kilroy Was Here, featuring “Mr. Roboto” as the lead track.  He explained the concept of the story to me:  a futuristic world where rock music was outlawed.  We familiarized ourselves with the characters.  Kilroy, the protagonist, was played by someone named Dennis DeYoung.  Jonathan Chance, the secondary hero character, was Tommy Shaw.  Meanwhile the evil Dr. Righteous was portrayed by the sinister looking James Young.  We scanned the album credits and figured out who sang each song.  (The Panozzo brothers were Lt. Vanish and Col. Hyde, but we couldn’t figure out their roles in the story.)  The LP came in a deluxe gatefold, with full lyrics and pictures from the video (which we had never seen).  On the cover were the masks of two “Robotos” that reminded me of the centurions from the movie The Black Hole.

Since that time, I learned that Kilroy was a Dennis project and the other guys weren’t too happy with it.  As kids in the moment, the whole thing seemed custom built for us!  The music was (mostly) good (I’ll get to that) and there were robots and heroes and good vs. evil.  There was a story to follow along.  There was production value in the packaging.  This wasn’t just stupid rock music to us.  It seemed part of something much bigger.  At Allan’s house, I recorded the album on my tape deck, open air style.  We quietly crept upstairs while the LP side played so we wouldn’t ruin the recording with noise.  When we heard the music stop, we went back down and flipped the record.  Tiptoeing back upstairs to the sound of “Heavy Metal Poisoning” is a one-of-a-kind memory.

We poured over the liner notes.  I observed, “It’s weird that Dr. Righteous is against heavy metal music, but he’s fighting back using a heavy metal song.” The hypocrisy was not lost on Allan and I.  “Heavy Metal Poisoning” was Dr. Righteous’ message to the kids of future America.

What the devil’s goin’ on,
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more.

It was the heaviest song on the album, and at that point probably the heaviest music I ever heard in my life!   And I had a good point.  Dr. Righteous was clearly against heavy metal music, but here he was presenting his message in a heavy rock song!

I brought the tape home.  I was so excited to have some music of my own.  “I can’t wait to play my new tape for Grandma,” I said to my mom for reasons completely unknown to me.

“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” mom deadpanned.

Even at that age, a taped copy wasn’t good enough.  I had to get the album.  The pictures, the lyrics, the liner notes…it was all necessary.  Mom took me to Zellers at the mall where I purchased my own copy, and my very first rock album.  It sat in my collection next to my beloved John Williams soundtracks.  After all, Kilroy Was Here is a soundtrack of sorts!  Only this time, the movie was in our imaginations.  Allan and I used to discuss what that movie would be like.

I memorized every word to “Mr. Roboto”, not to mention every “ooh” and “ahh”.  I sat in the basement and wrote them out on paper.  I also figured out that I didn’t like every song equally.  Allan and I were pretty much on the same page as to the good/bad songs.

My list of the “good” songs, in order from best on down:

  1. “Mr. Roboto”
  2. “Don’t Let It End (Reprise)”
  3. “Double Life”
  4. “High Time”
  5. “Cold War”
  6. “Heavy Metal Poisoning”

I never listened to any of the ballads.  We were simply not interested.  “Don’t Let It End” was nothing like the reprise version, which was essentially “Mr. Roboto” over again!  In my kid-sphere, I was oblivious to the fact that in the larger world, “Don’t Let It End” was a hit.  I just didn’t care.  Couldn’t have told you how “Haven’t We Been Here Before” or “Just Get Through This Night” went if you paid me.  For Allan and I, Kilroy Was Here just had six songs.  Well, five songs and a reprise.

Sad to say, but I temporarily “outgrew” Styx.  The “moment of clarity” was when I first heard Iron Maiden.  I tuned into heavy metal exclusively at that point, and discarded my old music.  (Which wasn’t much — just some soundtracks and a Springsteen tape.)  I remember playing the Styx album during the start of the heavy metal years, and it was suddenly too soft and pop for me.  I lost the record at some point, either in a move or at a garage sale.  I didn’t hear Kilroy again until a friend picked up a copy for me in Toronto, on CD.  I was 32.

Guess what!  I don’t mind the ballads anymore.  “Just Get Through This Night”, in particular, is outstanding.

To Allan I would like to say:  domo arigato, for getting me into Styx!