Reviews

VHS Archives #48: Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes live interview 1992

“If I’m still playing music when I’m 35 or whatever, you know…” – Chris Robinson

By request of Vinyl Daft Dad, J!

The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was fresh on the racks, and the Black Crowes were hitting the charts for “round two”.  With a plane to catch, Chris Robinson still had time to stop by the MuchMusic studios for a live chat with Natalie Richard.  If you’ve never heard a French Canadian accent before, prepare to swoon.

Live phone calls are answered and Chris does his best to explain what The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is all about.

REVIEW: Quiet Riot – One Night in Milan (2019 CD/DVD)

QUIET RIOT – One Night in Milan (2019 Frontiers Deluxe Edition CD/DVD)

James Durbin made me a believer.

On paper, the current Quiet Riot shouldn’t be my thing.  A band with no original members and a frontman from one of those singing contest shows?  No thanks.  Except it’s actually good.  After years of flailing around with different replacement singers, Frankie Banali finally hit gold when he got James Durbin.  Wisely, Frankie chose to do a live album with him.

One Night in Milan is a terrific live CD/DVD set, aided and abetted by a singer who is 100% into it.  Durbin has charisma and the frontman chops, but importantly, he’s not trying to be Kevin DuBrow.  He still uses the striped mike stand, but otherwise Durbin is his own person.  His range is out of this world, and though his voice may grate on some ears, he sounds terrific to this listener.  The whole lineup, including Alex Grossi on guitar and veteran Chuck Wright on bass, has gelled.

Quiet Riot get points for doing the opposite of what most bands do.  They didn’t ignore their 1990’s albums!  “Whatever It Takes” (from Down to the Bone) and “Terrified” (from “reunion” album Terrified) sound awesome live.  “Terrified” in particular has been a long time coming, a true hidden classic from a forgotten era.  On the other hand, there are only two songs (“Freak Flag” and “Can’t Get Enough”) from their newest album Road Rage.  There’s only so much room on a live CD, and it’s otherwise stuffed with stone cold Quiet Riot classics.  It’s cool to hear deeper cuts like “Condition Critical”, “Thunderbird” and “Let’s Get Crazy” live.

The DVD, featuring all the songs from the CD, is even more convincing.  Banali continues to thunder like no other drummer, a true phenomenon.  There’s more stage talk included, and Banali introduces “Thunderbird” performed live for the first time ever with piano.  Durbin is always the focus on stage, although Wright and Grossi are both mobile, entertaining performers.

If you’re just not into Quiet Riot without Kevin DuBrow, that’s fine and you should stick to what you like.  However it’s safe to say that James Durbin has saved Quiet Riot from becoming a pointless parody of itself.  With James center stage, this band has a future again.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Klassik ’78 – Side One and Side Two (2017)

KLASSIK ’78 – Side One and Side Two (2017 EPs)

When I was a kid buying new Kiss albums likes Crazy Nights, I used to say “Kiss should go back and make a full album that sounds like Side Four of Alive II.” Either that or Kiss Killers. I thought either direction was worthy of re-visiting, since they were small collections of songs, not full albums.

The guys who created the original band Klassik ’78 read my mind, and decided to do something about it.  In the spirit of the Kiss sound circa Alive II, Klassik ’78 took it upon themselves to write and record a “lost” Kiss studio that could have followed Love Gun.  Imagine Kiss didn’t split to make solo albums or return with a Disco record.  Original Kiss, not ghost musicians.  Klassik ’78 aimed to create an album from that exact year in that precise alternate universe.  The remarkable thing is that they actually succeeded.


The Side One EP has a bangin’ opener:  the Paul-styled “Standin’ Tall”.   Paul-vocalist “Joe” nails the Starchild’s mannerisms, while the riff mimics that kind that Paul was writing around the time of Rock And Roll Over.  A slaying Kiss-like chorus drives it home.  Klassik ’78 member “Tom” rolls out a Gene-like song as authentic as the Demon’s long tongue.  “Please n’ Tease” is a “Love ‘Em Leave ‘Em” styled sleaze rocker just like Simmons used to write them.  There’s even an Ace-y solo that burns like the Spaceman’s rockets.  “Mean Business” definitely nails the Alive II vibe, kind of like a sequel to “Larger Than Life” with a guy who’s doing his best to sound raspy like Peter Criss.  Another perfect faux-Frehley solo is the ideal topping.  “Passion & Love” is obviously a “Paul” song, a mirror image of “Mr. Speed” and a nearly perfect vocal.  Every “Ooh yeah!” is spot-on.  There’s a good chance you could fool any casual fan into thinking “Passion & Love” is an actual lost Kiss song from 1977.  “Rock and Roll You” is another Gene-like vehicle, right in that Kiss pocket.  Finally, with a title like “Streetwise”, you’re probably already expecting a track like Ace Frehley.  That’s exactly what you get, with a crunchy Ace-like riff, sharp licks, and the same kind of spacey vocals (also by “Tom”).  “I grew up in the city, spent my time on the street.”  Every lyric on Side One is crafted to fit the Kiss member it’s for.  The attention to detail is remarkable.  Certain moments of the “Ace” guitar solo have bits inspired by Frehley’s 1978 solo album.  It’s uncanny.

The important thing is that these are not just tracks that sound exactly like Kiss songs.  These are songs that sound exactly like good Kiss songs.  Could Klassik ’78 deliver another six tracks to make it a full, good album?


“Joe” in the Paul Stanley guise opens Side Two with a stunning “World on Fire”.  It is in the style of Stanley’s ’78 solo disc, but with the Frehley guitar fills of Kiss instead of Bob Kulick.  Time for a “Gene” song next with “Ain’t No Fool”, kinda similar to “Mad Dog” as released on the Box Set.  Another obvious Ace title is “Jendell”; I say “obvious” because hard core fans know that Ace Frehley supposedly comes from planet Jendell.  “I was sent on a mission, light years ago.  To help the human condition, for how long I didn’t know.”  Yep, it’s a “Space Ace” track and a good one at that, once again with tones inspired directly from the Frehley solo album.  Back to Alive II (think “Rockin’ in the USA”), it’s another “Gene” song with “American Made”.  The title alone is perfectly Simmons.  “I”m American Made, and all my dues have been paid.”  In the vibe of “Makin’ Love”, it’s a Stanley-like “Hot On Her Heels” next.  Once again, you could easily fool friends into thinking this is actually Kiss.  Closing Side Two is “Victims (Nosferatu)”, implying a Kiss Demon epic.  Think “Almost Human” from Love Gun, but with more heft.  Klassik kloser, pardon the pun.

I’m not going to bullshit you.  If the Klassik ’78 album was a real Kiss album from 1978, it would be considered one of their best, with the original six.  Obviously Kiss have no intention of ever making an album like this, so why not let Klassik ’78 have some fun with it?  Obviously the fans responded, because the limited run of CDs (re-titled The Un-Originals) sold out immediately.

Check out Klassik ’78 on iTunes, put on your old jean jacket and set your time machine back to 1978.  This album will transport you back.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Persona Assistant”

AMERICAN DAD – “Persona Assistant” (Episode 16, season 15)

For fans of Roger the alien, the 15th season of American Dad really delivered this time.  It was a special episode:  #250 of the long-running animated series.  The best episodes usually focus on Roger and his many personas.  This instalment was one of them.

We get a glimpse of Roger’s daily life.  He’s busy for an alien.  He has so many personas to live, and only 24 hours in a day.  The workload must be getting to him.  He’s feeling sickly and has a strange lump growing on his ample forehead.

Roger is resistant but the Smith family take him to see Dr. Kalgary, the show’s resident master of the dark sciences.  Kalgary removes the lump, a large tumour, and Roger is sent for rest and rehabilitation.  Taking a jar with his tumour sealed inside, Roger goes on vacation.  So who will handle all his personas while he’s away?

Stan steps up for the recovering Roger, only to find that living the lives of his all personas is hard work!  Of course he mucks it all up.  To his shock, Roger’s personas were so important that their absences causes the city to descend into chaos and anarchy.  When Roger finally returns, he is not alone.  It turns out that his species have a way of handling stress.  That tumour was not a tumour at all, but a little homunculus named Rogu!  With Rogu’s help, Roger can fix the damage that Stan has done.  But not before the return of one of American Dad’s most requested personas:  Ricky Spanish!  The most hated man in town!  Only Rogu can stop him.

When I saw Rogu, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.  The same thing happened the next day when I watched again.  For whatever reason, Rogu has tickled my funnybone in a serious way.  Roger has, over time, become almost a normal character.  There’s little he can do that surprises you anymore.  Rogu?  That’s a whole new ballgame.  The show can get even weirder now.  (Rogu is absolutely certain to return, considering an upcoming episode is called “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu”.)

In the second storyline, Steve’s joined the jazz club at school.  Playing on the old stereotype of drugged out jazzbos, Steve takes performance enhancing drugs to take his scat singing to the next level!  The finals are coming, and Steve brings his scatting to the extreme.  Only morphine can stop him.

Fuck yeah, American Dad.  I thought maybe the best years were behind.  Apparently not.  Carry on!

5/5 Rogus

REVIEW: Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns (1984)

TOMMY SHAW – Girls With Guns (1984 A&M, 2013 BGO Records)

When Styx split, both Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung were quick to release solo albums.  All we had to judge them by was their new singles.  Dennis came out of the gates with a ballad (“Desert Moon”).  As 12 year old kids in 1984, we took no interest in what Dennis was doing. Tommy Shaw, on the other hand, had a bright pop rocker called “Girls With Guns”.  It was loud, fun and featured a great music video all done in a single take.  Neither song sounded like Styx, but “Girls With Guns” sounded more like what we were into.

Dennis’ album outsold Tommy’s, but Tommy’s rocks better.

The title track is of course the main feature.  Dated with 80s keyboards or not, it is still a great song.  This was proven by Tommy when he performed it acoustically without the keys.  It’s just rock with joy, and a great beat.

“Come In and Explain” has a progressive Styx vibe and easily could have worked in that context.  Instead, it’s a great Tommy Shaw solo track.  It has a blue collar groove but highbrow keyboards.  Another great song is the ballad “Lonely School”.  It has a classic sound, albeit a cheesy classic sound.  The album alternates between cool and corny, and some songs that straddle the line.  There’s nothing dreadful.

This CD was a “holy grail” item of mine for years, but was reissued in 2013 as a remastered double CD with Shaw’s second album What If.  The CD also features two extended songs, presumably because vinyl couldn’t hold the full length.  Glad to have Girls With Guns in my collection, though I won’t be racing to play it every week.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – Brave New World (1999)

STYX – Brave New World (1999 BMG)

Most bands have stinker albums somewhere in their history. For Styx, that would be their sadly disappointing reunion album Brave New World.  Styx were not exactly in harmony with lead singer Dennis DeYoung, and this would be his last album with the band.

The most obvious evidence of the dischord in the band is that Brave New World sounds like two groups.  In one:  Tommy Shaw and James Young.  In the other:  Dennis DeYoung.  The songs with Shaw and Young singing have hardly any DeYoung, and vice-versa.  It sounds as if they could find no common ground.  Far removed from the days of old, when even a disagreeing band could sound like a group.

The single “Everything is Cool” is by far the hardest rocking and best song.  There are a few decent ones, such as the exotic title track, but nothing that the band would still perform on stage today.  The most Styx-sounding track is Dennis’ ballad “While There’s Still Time”.  That’s right, a ballad!  Shaw’s “Just Fell In” is also swell, with a 1950s vibe.  Other songs such as “Number One” are annoyingly modernized.  The late 1990s is not a period that has aged well in music.  The production, the mish-mashing of styles…Styx seemed to pick up on the bad parts of these trends.  Too much programming, too many samples.  Not enough Dennis!  DeYoung can only be distinctly detected on a handful of tracks, mostly ballads.  These are often the best songs…all but “Hip Hop-cracy”, which is so painfully 1999.

It’s kind of a shame that the Styx reunion sputtered the way it did, but the silver lining was their second life with Lawrence Gowan.  The Styx reunion album was sadly a bust.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Video Capture USB 2.0

VIDEO CAPTURE USB 2.0 – Software by honestech

I almost gave this 0 stars.

For only $18, I was willing to take a chance. I needed to get my VHS Archives online before it was too late and the tapes were degraded all to hell.  Fortunately the tapes are in great shape, so all I needed was a way to convert them.  I didn’t even know if my VCR was still working.  It’s not so easy to hook up an old VHS player to a hi-def system anymore.

So I gambled my $18 for a little USB device to connect my VCR to a PC, using a USB-to-RCA device and some special software.  I set up a little work station with my VCR and laptop and began running into problems.

Issue #1 is no big deal for me, but might be for you.  The software you need can’t be downloaded, it’s on a little 3″ CD included, with a 16 digit access code printed on it.  My laptop refused to install the software — something to do with permissions and security.  The manual isn’t super-helpful.  “Any problems, please email the seller,” it says.  I’m sure some lackey at Amazon could tell me how to install it….

I bypassed the error by installing the software in a different folder.  Then I hooked up the VCR to the USB device and plugged everything in.  Unfortunately I could not get the software to detect the video source.  It defaults to capture from a webcam, but it couldn’t access the USB.  “The selected device cannot be used” said the popup window.  “If you get this error message, the USB might not install correctly.  Input win+x or use other ways to open the device manager”.  That was the not-helpful advice in the manual.  However it did tell me that the USB needed to install something on the laptop, and that was the hold up.

I was unable to get the USB to install, so I decided to try a different computer.  I tore down my little work station and hauled the VCR over to my desktop.

Everything installed quickly and easily on my PC.  In the end all I lost was an hour of my time, and my plan to use my laptop for everything.  No big deal.  I can manage.  So how does this device work?

Once you have it running, it works like a charm!  It’s the easiest thing in the world to use.  Rather than burn my tapes to DVD, I set the device to export directly to .WMV video file.  Click “record” on the software, press “play” on your VCR, and you are in business.  As soon as you click “stop”, the file will save itself.  You can make a file up to 24 hours long!  Any tape you have, this baby can handle it.  There is also an editing suite here to trim the excess or add transitions, but I don’t use it.  It is very limited.  You may as well use the default video editor on your computer (Window Movie Maker on mine).  Within minutes of playing my tape, I had videos on Youtube.  So painless!

The quality you get will depend entirely on your tapes and VCR.  Fortunately those things were not an issue for me.  You’ll probably have a harder time finding a VCR that isn’t all beat up, than using this device.  Incidentally you can plug in anything that uses standard RCA plugs or an S-video connector.

Bumpy installation aside, the Video Capture USB 2.0 has done everything I needed it to do, and actually more smoothly than I thought it would be.  For the price, this device is recommended — but be forewarned you may have the same problems installing it as I did.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: The Hellacopters – Grande Rock (1999 vinyl)

THE HELLACOPTERS – Grande Rock (1999 Sub Pop vinyl edition)

Personally, it all began with Iron Tom Sharpe and Joe Big Nose Perry.  By 1999, everyone was well aware that the big Kiss reunion album, Psycho Circus, was a diluted compromise of the album they should have made.  “The Hellacopters made the real new Kiss album, man.”  Come on, Tom, quit yanking my chain.  “You’ll love it.  This is the album Kiss should have made.  No man, seriously, they even have a song called ‘Paul Stanley’.”   Joe stepped in by offering to pick me up a vinyl copy, which had a bonus track, at the Orange Monkey.  I gladly took him up on his offer and hoped to hear what Iron Tom was talking about.  Grande Rock was the Hellacopter’s third LP, but LeBrain’s first Hellacopters.

What’s this about Kiss then?  As “Action De Grâce” easily demonstrates, The Hellacopters can groove like the original foursome don’t even dare anymore.  This is Kiss circa 1976, but if they had taken a road other than Destroyer.  This is something like what they could have done if they wanted to take Kiss Alive! to the next step, and maybe taking some punk inspiration instead of disco.  “Move Right Out of Here” slams like Dressed to Kill on jet fuel.  “Alright Already Now” adds some harmonica, fuzz bass, and wah-wah.  The Hellacopters are not slavish like Klassik’78, they’re not trying to duplicate anything.  They’re going their own way with it, and it just so happens to be a lot better than Psycho Circus.  A lot of the vocals actually are closer to Steven Tyler circa Draw the Line.

A slower and darker vibe hits on “Welcome to Hell”, with some electric piano mixed in with Frehley-like solos and a little “Sympathy for the Devil”.  The punk rock builds on “The Electric Index Eel”, with stabbing guitar licks in under two minutes of length.  Clearly far beyond Kiss.  But then as if to get my attention back, there it is:  “Paul Stanley”, the song!  The riff must be inspired by Paul’s solo song “Tonight You Belong to Me”.  Wasn’t I telling you recently that Paul is one of rock’s most underrated riff writers?

The vinyl bonus track is right at the end of side one:  “Angel Dust”, which really sounds more like a top speed Appetite for Destruction outtake.  There’s a lot of Guns N’ Roses on this record too, particularly when there is a wah-wah solo or a blast of speed.

“The Devil Stole the Beat From the Lord” continues the rock and roll party on side two.  It’s pedal to the metal right through to “Dogday Morning”.  There’s a real gem in the middle of side two called “Venus in Force”, a big and grand riff with a song to go with it.  A more Kiss-like tempo in “5 Vs. 7” maintains a sense of variety.  Enjoy the flurry of guitars in the extended fade-out.  “Lonely” is a nice shorty by contrast, like a Gene Simmons love lament written in a hotel bathroom.  Closing position goes to “Renvoyer”, a killer outro jam.

Here is an interesting observation for you.  I used to think that Grande Rock had a great side one, but not much happening on side two.  However, I hadn’t actually listened to the vinyl for years.  I was listening to an mp3 rip of the 13 track album.  This time, I played the record and my perspective changed.  You have to get up and flip the record, and I happened to do something else for a few minutes before I dropped it back on side two.  That intentional break right there is everything.  There’s some sort of reset that happens, and you’re good to go for round two.

Grande Rock is damn near perfect for anyone craving a dose of the classic 1970s with a toe in punk rock too.  Vinyl is the way to go.  Don’t even bother with the CD, which taunts you with the fact that you bought the wrong version on the back cover by telling you that you’re not getting “Angel Dust”!  Awesome.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: John Dunsworth – Stories – Volumes I & II (2010 & 2012)

JOHN DUNSWORTH – Stories – Volumes I & II (2010 & 2012)

John Dunsworth, known as the beloved Jim Lahey on Trailer Park Boys, was a Canadian treasure.  By all accounts he was a caring man who gave generously of his time to fans and friends.  He loved this country and took great pride in the fact that many Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were entertained by his “drunken” antics as Lahey.  He toured coast to coast with Pat Roach as Lahey and Randy, meeting fans in character and signing autographs.  People loved John Dunsworth.

John recorded two CDs of his life stories.  Some copies were recently found in a box by his daughter Sarah Dunsworth, who plays Sarah on the show.  She made them available to fans and even included memorabilia in the mailed packages.  We’ll get to that; the CDs are quite interesting.

Dunsworth had a rich voice, and you might even find these stories soothing to listen to.  Amusing anecdotes about family and friends are framed in an entertaining way.  He had a long career in show business and shares those stories as well.  As a casting director, Dunsworth gave a young Ellen Page a role in a TV movie called Pit Pony.  She later played Trina Lahey in the second season of Trailer Park Boys.  Media gave him credit for “discovering” Ellen Page, but he is far more humble about his small role.  The real talent belongs to Ellen Page, and he was very proud of her.

John talks about childhood.  I have a few things in common with him.  Neither of us could sleep on Christmas Eve, and both of us would creep downstairs in the early hours of the morning.  Some stories are darker.  “Flight 111” is about a plane crash over the ocean, that John was a member of a search party for.  229 people died, but the cause of the crash is debated.  Keep listening as the story takes a turn to the unknown.

I mentioned that copies came stuffed with free gifts.  Mine came with two “Lucy and Sarah” buttons but I almost missed the real treasure inside.  It’s just a copy, but I got a page from a Trailer Park Boys script, and not just any Trailer Park Boys script.  Season five (the hash driveway season), episode nine:  “I Am the Liquor”.

Randy:  “Is that you talking or the liquor?”

Lahey:  “I am the liquor Randy.”

Possibly the most legendary line of Lahey dialogue of all time.  Sarah Dunsworth signed it, as it originally came from her script.  Incidentally, by this page it appears the episode was originally titled “I’m A Cock-Riding Gay Cowboy Am I?”  I am going to keep this page safe and sound, because I love it.

The light and dark of Stories Volumes I and II will be treasured by the hard core Dunsworth fans, and they are out there.  Very limited in number, they will not be around long.  Check them out on the official John Dunsworth site.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensryche – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 promo)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 EMI America promo interview LP)

Here’s a nice little rarity for you, a full-length Queensryche interview disc from the Rage For Order era.  Promos are a funny thing for reviewing (and this is our second Queensryche promo review).  These records were never made for sale, therefore nobody reviews them.  Nobody…but us.  Is there any rock knowledge or collector’s value to be gleaned from this disc?  Let us find out.

It’s an attractive record, Geoff Tate’s digitally distorted face in black & white.  No Try-Ryche, but a neat digital Queensryche logo.  The interview is conducted by radio DJ Ralph Tortoro.  A very low-key Geoff Tate begins by answering general questions about the beginning of the band and their independent EP.  Chris DeGarmo is a bit more engaged and adds the details.  Shy Michael Wilton speaks up only on occasion.

You’ll also get bits and pieces of music:  Snippets of “Queen of the Reich”, “Warning”, and “Gonna Get Close to You”.  There are four full songs too:  a massive “Screaming in Digital” (so hot on vinyl!), “I Dream in Infrared”, “Chemical Youth” and “The Whisper”.

Interesting things I noted while listening:

  1. They hadn’t settled on the name Queensryche for the band until they had to print up the first EP, forced to make a decision.
  2. Maiden was one of their favourite bands to cover according to Chris.
  3. Tate clearly didn’t like being called “metal” even back in 1986.
  4. “NM 156” from The Warning is hailed as the track that showed the way of the future of Queensryche.
  5. Steve Harris loved The Warning and asked for Queensryche to open for Iron Maiden.
  6. Rage for Order is a “loose concept” album, examining order over three levels:  order in relationships, political order, and technological order.
  7. Other questions remain unasked.

The new digitally enhanced Queensryche of 1986 was destined to confuse people in the short term, gradually winning over fans as time went on and people “got” the album.  If you want to deepen your understanding of its themes, this record will help.  There’s more too; we won’t tell you everything.  As a fan, you should be able to decide if Speaking in Digital is the kind of thing you want in your rock and roll reference library.  The young, shy Queensryche interviewed on this LP are as cold as the machines that are striving for order in the lyrics.  It’s a dry but interesting listen.

3/5 stars