Reviews

#923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)

RECORD STORE TALES #923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)

I think it was around 1995 that I really gave up into the ’90s.

What do I mean by this?  It’s simple.  In late 1991, there was a sea change in rock music.  The old guard was suddenly unhip, while a new unkept kind of rock was surfacing in Seattle.  Within three years, classic rock bands such as Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Poison, Ratt, Whitesnake, and even the once-bulletproof Guns N’ Roses were in some sort of decline, losing key band members or just breaking up completely.  They were replaced on the charts with a swath of new bands, from Nirvana, to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.  Rock had been on such a high in mid-91 with #1 albums by Skid Row, Metallica, Van Halen and more.  It only took months for the landscape to darken.  But really, the warnings were in place well back in ’89.

It was a disorienting change and it got to a point in the middle of the decade where my favourite bands were dropped, broken up, or transformed.  Bon Jovi survived this period unscathed, losing only the inconsequential Alec John Such.  They were one of the few exceptions.  Motley Crue put out a killer record with their new singer that was criminally panned at the time by its critics and many longtime fans.  Winger couldn’t catch a break.  Some of the bands that did put out records in the 90s released sub-par trash.  Quiet Riot:  guilty with Down to the Bone.  Judas Priest:  Jugulator.  Dokken:  Shadowlife.  Unless your name ended with Jovi, it seems like every old guard rock band put out albums that were crap, sold like shit, or both.  Then, half of ’em broke up.

What was a metal head to do?  Still buy the old bands’ records and hope for the best, yes, but when you’re buying so much shit on a wing and a prayer, you start looking for something else.  I had to open my heart to some newer bands that, I felt, had something in common with the old.

Here is a list of 11 bands that made their way in.


1. OASIS.  I still love those first three records, and all the B-sides that came along with the tide.  My mom got me into the Beatles, and while I never bought into that “the new Beatles” crap, I did like that Oasis brought back some of what I liked about the fab four.  They were the only Brit Pop band I could put my heart behind.  Not metal at all, but Lars liked ’em.  They had guitar solos at least.


2. GOO GOO DOLLS.  Right around the time of “Slide” and “Broadway”, I let the Goo Goo Dolls into my life.  They reminded me of Bon Jovi without the bombast (and the solos).  They would have to do during the time when I needed a surrogate Jovi, which happened in the late part of the 90s when Jon released the stinker Destination Anywhere.  Goo Goo Dolls nailed the lovestruck acoustic/electric vibe that was once a Bon Jovi strength.


3. THE BARSTOOL PROPHETS.  Amazing Canadian band that could have been the next Tragically Hip.  The Prophets might have been a little more hard edged, and I identified with their lyrics more than the labyrinthic words of Saint Downie.  T-Trev was a fan and he recommended I give ’em a try, and I have loved them since.


4. sandbox.  A band that did not win me through a friend or a music video, but through the live experience.  Opening for the Barenaked Ladies, sandbox (all lower case) were a bit gloomier and heavier.  But there was also something magical about their songs “Curious” and “Lustre”.  They soothed my soul when I was lonely.  Later on, I found out that guitarist Mike Smith was on a television show called Trailer Park Boys


5. THE PRODIGY.  Who didn’t buy Fat of the Land in ’97?  It was a good album and Noel Gallagher had lead vocals on one track.  This new heavy brand of electronica had hooks and a rock-like vibe.  It was like dance-y industrial rock.  I could dig it.  They even had a guitar player named — no word of a lie — Gizz Butt.


6. THE TEA PARTY.  I couldn’t get into Splendor Solis; I foolishly dismissed the band as a Zep clone.  I came to my senses on their third album The Edges of Twilight.  The Zeppelin comparisons were obvious (and I didn’t care about the Doors), but who else was making music like this anymore?  Nobody.  The Tea Party would do!


7. SLOAN.  It was not until their fourth album Navy Blues that Sloan scratched the itch.  Yes, I was a late comer.  Yes, I got into them during their commercial peak.  But the truth is it was really their double live 4 Nights at the Palais Royale that really nailed it.  One of the best live albums since the mighty Kiss Alive.  The comparisons don’t end there, as both bands feature four lead singers — a configuration I always enjoy.  (Hello, Goodbye, Beatles!)


8. RANCID.  Incredible band, two lead singers, and one great album that just slayed me.  Many of the rock bands I liked, such as Guns and Motley, extolled the merits of their punk rock backgrounds.  Just as Zeppelin and ZZ Top encouraged me to check out Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Nikki Sixx pushed the Pistols on me.  Rancid were much better than the Pistols, but they had the same snot in their noses.  Rancid brought with them the ska and reggae side, which appealed to me immediately.


9. OUR LADY PEACE.  For one album, anyway.  Maybe it was Arnold Lanni that made this band buzz for me, but they were really a single album group.  Naveed is a monster.  Jeremy Taggart was a good enough drummer for Geddy Lee!  It had some things in common with hard rock, like loud guitars.  I could build them a bridge into my heart.


10. LIVE.  I maintain that everybody bought Throwing Copper in 1995.  This band just had tremendously broad appeal.  Unusually, every song was up to the same lofty level of quality; no duds, all keepers.  A number of strong singles led to massive radio and video play, but no followup album of the same stature ever emerged.


11. NINE INCH NAILS.  I was just starting to get into Nine Inch Nails.  The Downward Spiral is my album when it comes to this band.  They took such a long break after it that I lost interest.  What I liked were the riffs built from noise, the layered approach, the angst, the self-loathing, and the anger.  The album is still is trip to play, but I have never liked “Piggy” or “Closer” and think them a bit contrived.  Admirable though that the video for “March of the Pigs” is 100% live, music included.


Although there were many good albums made by metal bands in the 1990s that I have not mentioned, it was not enough for a music addict.  I needed to expand my horizons or remain stuck in the past.  There were more — Ben Folds Five, Steve Earle, Robbie Williams, Mel C. (yes that Mel C.) and Tonic to name a few.  Anything that had some kind of integrity of connection to the rock music I loved.  Ben Folds didn’t even have a guitar player, but his music rocked nonetheless.  These were all great picks to sample some of the best of the 90s.  Have a listen.

REVIEW: Lee Aaron – Radio On! (2021)

LEE AARON – Radio On! (2021 Metalville)

With a long career travelling landscapes of rock, jazz and metal, Lee Aaron has returned on CD with 12 new tracks that represent some of her best work to date.  It’s called Radio On! and it’s an apt title.  These are radio-ready tunes built for summer purposes.  For best results, roll down those windows and hit the highway with Lee Aaron on your deck, loud.

Lee’s band with whom she wrote and recorded Radio On! include Sean Kelly on guitar, Dave Reimer on bass, and John Cody on drums.  With a guy like Kelly contributing licks, you know you can count on some smokin’ guitar hooks and that’s exactly what you get on opener “Vampin'”.  Hard hitting, but constructed with melody in mind.  Lee is one of those artists for whom time has not passed.  As she’s explored genres other than rock, she’s only gotten better and that shows on “Vampin'”.  It belies the jazz records in her discography, but make no mistake, this is rock!  Kelly’s solo break ensures it.

A collection of vintage-sounding riffs on the mid-tempo “Soul Breaker” lend it a melodic base.  Lee uses that to springboard into hook after hook.  Future classic potential.  A memorable solo is like a maraschino cherry on top.  Things turn slightly pop-punk on “C’Mon”, a brilliant single that will be lighting up stereos all summer long.  Check out John Cody’s cool drum pattern and the jabbing stun-gun melodies that Lee delivers.

A diverse album this is, with “Mama Don’t Remember” sounding like a rocked-up roadhouse blues.  You can picture a band playing this number in a seedy bar with dusty beams of light leaking through the walls.  Then it’s the title track and the memorable hook “I wanna die with the radio on”.  Me too, Lee!

“Soho Crawl”, backed by bouncy piano, rocks pretty hard in a different direction.  Another road is explored on the dark “Devil’s Road”, with bass leading the way.  Burning slow, laden with some of Lee’s finest words, “Devil’s Road” has the potential to be the kind of song that makes an album immortal, like a “Black Velvet”.

Picking up the pace, “Russian Doll” has the “Radar Love” rocking boogie, while Lee belts line after line of sticky sweet vocal candy.  Kelly dives right into parts unknown for the wicked solo.  Live, this is the song that will get people up and dancing.  But this album doesn’t linger in the same places too long, and so the mid-tempo “Great Big Love” takes a different road.  Opposites attract in the lyrics, and the music leaves lots of room for Lee to do her thang.  Her lyrics just keep getting better.  “It all comes down to chemistry, the science is in babe and science don’t lie.”  There’s a swing and a country feel to it.

“Wasted” goes to dark territory.  Serious subject matter, but wrapped gently in some of the most beautiful music Lee Aaron’s ever sung.  All before it explodes punkily in the middle for a rousing chorus.  Shifting into a funk groove, “Had Me at Hello” has some wicked rhythm.  Lee’s playful words are an instrument to their own as the band jams on.

Finally closing on a piano ballad, Radio On! feels like a journey.  The last leg is “Twenty One” which is likely to take you back in time.  “Always in my mind, I’m 21.”  It’s a vocal tour-de-force, ending an album full of ’em.

It’s worth celebrating any time a beloved artist from our past puts out a truly great album these days.  For it to be one of the best albums of their career, that’s something very special.  Respect to Mike Fraser for another perfect mix.  Summer 2021 just gained another mainstay for its soundtrack.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Stand Up (2 CD & DVD Edition)

JETHRO TULL – Stand Up (Originally 1969, 2010 2 CD & DVD Chrysalis Collector’s Edition)

Stand Up, from its wonderful cover art (including a fun Jethro Tull pop-out!) to the music in the grooves, is probably my favourite Tull platter. One basic reason is that it sounds like a transitional album, and I’m often drawn to those. It combines the remnants of the blues jams that they specialized in from the Mick Abrahams era (1968’s This Was), and their growing experimental side. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, and it always sounded great — even better on this new remaster.  Stand Up has since been remixed by the very talented Steven Wilson (2016’s Elevated Edition), but if you wanted a CD copy of the original unaltered mix, this 2010 edition is what you need.  (This mix is available on a DVD in the Elevated Edition, but not CD, and they each contain different bonus material.)

“A New Day Yesterday” has the task of opening this new era of Jethro Tull on LP, and it maintains the blues direction.  Then immediately, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” brings on the hippy side, with bongos, psychedlic jamming and the world’s greatest rock flautist.  “Bourée” proves it, as he jams jazz-rock style along to J.S. Bach.  Only Tull can make Bach swing as they do on “Bourée”.  From the upbeat jamming “Nothing is Easy” to the exotic “Fat Man”, this album begins to open up Tull’s diversity.  “Reasons For Waiting” brings on a lush, orchestrated side of Jethro Tull that some would call pompous and others would call delicate and quaint.  But then they just flat out rock — with flute — on album closer “For a Thousand Mothers”.  It’s truly the first diverse Tull album, going from corner to corner to explore whatever their hearts desired.

The Collector’s Edition contains valuable bonus music aplenty.  The first disc alone doubles the length of the album.   It has every bonus track from the previous 2001 remaster, which are the A and B-sides of two standalone singles.  These are the swinging’ “Living In the Past”,  filler “Driving Song”, the powerful (with horns!) and awesome “Sweet Dream”, and my favourite, “17”.   It adds in a mono single mix of “Living In the Past” with some subtle differences.  Two BBC live sessions are included via four live tracks, including “Bourée”.  There are even amusing radio spots. And that’s just the first disc.

The second disc is an entire concert: Live at Carnegie Hall, New York, 4 November 1970.  This would make it a show from the Benefit tour, the album which followed Stand Up.  It includes songs from Benefit, such as “Sossity; You’re a Woman”.  It also previews the future Aqualung classic “My God”. It is, of course, a great live show…it’s Jethro Tull in their youth after all!  Hear Ian Anderson go nuts on the flute solo!

Another highlight is “Dharma For One”, stretched out to 13 minutes to include a bonkers Clive Bunker drum solo.  The wicked slidey guitar on “A Song For Jeffrey” is really hot on these tapes too.  By this time, John Evan had joined as Tull’s pianist which adds another dimension.  Check out the intricate work on “With You There to Help Me”.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, there is a bonus DVD which contains a DTS 5.1 mix of the whole concert — audio only, however!  If you have the equipment to play it, then enjoy. I will usually resort back to the stereo mix on CD but the 5.1 mix offers some additional depth.

For “things you will only watch once” (or twice if you’re reviewing your collection), the DVD also includes a 45 minute Ian Anderson interview from 2010 to check out.  The split with Mick Abrahams is one of the most interesting parts though the story of the impasse is familiar.  It simply boiled down to styles, and Ian didn’t want to be limited to just one.  As such, he considers Stand Up to be the first real Jethro Tull album; the first to tentatively embark on their world-wide musical journey.  Of course Mick had to be replaced, and Ian discusses three guitarists that tried out, including you-know-who.  Martin Barre was chosen of course, given a second chance after a poor first meeting.

Barre’s furious solo work on Stand Up‘s blistering “We Used to Know” more than justifies the choice.

The packaging is gorgeous, coming packed in a thick, sturdy digipack.  Artwork like this deserves a proper showcase, and unless you buy an original LP, this is about as good as it’s going to get.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Suicide Star – Isolation (2021)

SUICIDE STAR – Isolation (2021)

If you are looking for something classic but modern, with lyrics that matter, then cease your quest.  Suicide Star’s debut called Isolation should be the salve that your soul is craving.  From the ashes of former band Step Echo, with new lead singer Rob Barton, this band is ready to kick 2021’s ass.

CD buyers get a bonus that streamers and downloaders do not — an intro before the lead track “I Survive”.  This intro, complete with air raid siren, explains the “suicide star” concept (with a shout-out to Neil DeGrasse Tyson).  It’s an explosive astronomy lesson!  Isolation is available now, just give the band a shout on social media and it’ll be in your hot little hands before you know it.

Opener “I Survive” is a positive start, with lyrics like “We’ve only just begun, this is the place where I wanna feel alive.”  Rob Barton’s got the pipes and the band has the heft.  Uptempo and heavy, this is the kind of rock we need right now.  The riff by seven-stringer Les Serran kicks, and bassist Aki Maris has the groove locked with drummer Brian Hamilton (also of Storm Force).  If you wanted something energetic and defiant this summer, here ya go.

The first video is for “Mercy”, another upbeat and catchy number.  Each one of these songs has hooks, both vocal and guitar, and “Mercy” just doesn’t let up.  “Have mercy on my anger,” sings Barton with intent.  Lots going on here lyrically, but framed in such a way that you can relate to the words in whatever way suits you.

After two sledgehammer tunes, the track “Suicide Star” delivers melodies that are more on the pop side, but with the heavy backing intact.  “Hold on, before you go too far, don’t you know who you are?  You’re a suicide star.”  Cannot get that chorus out of the skull!

The “power ballad” (if you will) is “Eye of the Storm”, but the emphasis is still on the “power” rather than the “ballad”.  It has a majestic guitar riff, and lyrics with some serious heart.  Barton sings ’em with passion, which is necessary when the band rocks this heavy behind.

Back to a tune with a classic metal vibe, “21 Guns” has kick and melody.  “Just say you will,” goes the unforgettable chorus, with some killer chords in behind.  Then comes the heavy “Follow” with a staggering riff, and Priest-like vibes.  The lyrics are fascinating and open to multiple interpretations.  It certainly could be about the last year!   “When the lie becomes the truth…”

“Love Me Like You Mean It” has a Darkness kind of riff; tremendous hooks.  This continues into “No Looking Back”, another lyric that could be about current times.  “I just roll with the changes,” sings Barton.  We can all relate to that.  The hooks don’t let up on “Fractured”, a more plaintive yet still heavy rocker.  The final track is appropriately titled “The Unknown” and concludes the album-length series of catchy vocals and guitar parts.

By the time you’re done the album, you’re still fresh to go in for a second listen.  There is enough going on in terms of guitars and lyrics that you’ll want multiple listens to drink it all in.

4.5/5 stars

Check out this interview by Deke and I with Rob and Brian from Suicide Star. Get an appreciation for the album and what it took to make it.

REVIEW: Slash – Live in Manchester 3 July 2010

SLASH featuring Myles Kennedy – Live in Manchester 3 July 2010 (2010 Abbey Road Live Events)

When Slash went on tour for his awesome 2010 solo album, he could practically only bring one singer with him.  That singer was Myles Kennedy who was more than capable of singing the songs from all the vocalists he had to cover.  The July 3 date in Manchester produced an “instant live” album.  This is as real as it gets.  In fact the set list on the back cover does not match what they actually ended up playing that night.  You could download and print off a replacement instead.

“Ghost” (originally with Ian Astbury) opened the Slash album and also opens the set.  The raw live performance is a contrast to the polished album.  Kennedy’s version of the track is awesome.  He makes no attempt to imitate Ian Astbury and just belts it as he should.  The second track is a largely forgotten tune:  “Mean Bone” from the second Slash’s Snakepit album (Rod Jackson on lead vocals).  This version seems to have more life, but it’s not as exceptional as the other songs, hook for hook.  “Nightrain” is the first of five Guns tunes.  All that needs to said here is that Kennedy can go toe-to-toe with a vintage Guns track, no problem.  Bullseye.

Velvet Revolver next, with “Dirty Little Thing”.  Suddenly Kennedy has to do Weiland and nails it once again.  Four tracks in, from four different bands and singers, he has all the bases covered.  The next singer he has to cover is an easy one — it’s himself on “Back From Cali” from the Slash album.  Myles had two of the best tunes on that album, and “Back From Cali” is received with applause and clapping.  It was clearly a hit with this crowd.

Eric Dover is the next singer covered, and yes that means we’re talking about 1995’s epic “Beggars and Hangers-On” from the first Snakepit CD.  This timeless song always needed more exposure.  It is preceded by some cool slippy-slide from Slash, before he breaks into that riff.  Kennedy’s delivery lacks the rasp of the original, but makes it bluesier.  Now it sounds like an electric prayer from the deep south.  It might be the biggest divergence from an original version in this set.  This is the epic part of that setlist, with “Civil War” and “Rocket Queen” forming a solid 15 minute wall of Guns.  Bassist Todd Kerns backs up Myles, thickening those high notes, but Kennedy needs no help on the difficult “Rocket Queen”.

Velvet Revolver is paid some more respect with “Fall to Pieces” and “Sucker Train Blues”.  “Fall to Pieces” is the only ballad of the set, earning a singalong from the crowd.  “Sucker Train Blues” shifts back into top gear.  You can’t top Weiland at his own game, but Myles turns in some respectable versions.

Back to the Slash album, “Nothing to Say” (with M. Shadows) was one of the heaviest tunes.  Live, it is not as sharply polished, but it is a banger.  Myles’ own “Starlight” follows, the second of the two excellent tunes he had on the Slash album.  Not quite a ballad, but it slows pace and brings an eerie quiet to the stage, before completely exploding on the skyrocketing chorus.

The instrumentals “Watch This” and “Godfather Theme” give Kennedy a chance to rest up the voice, while Slash gets to do what he likes to do, including lengthy a blues jam.  Then it’s a bright burst of light on “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, and a surprise:  Alter Bridge’s “Rise Today”.  Very cool, after covering all these songs, that Slash then covers a Myles Kennedy song.  It’s quite different from Alter Bridge, more snakey.

The show ends on some classic tunes:  “Slither” by Velvet Revolver, Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” and of course “Paradise City”.  By this time Myles’ voice has been through hell and back, a full setlist of very demanding material.  You can tell, but only barely.  The guy has had to sing songs by everybody from Axl Rose to Robert Plant!  He doesn’t cheat notes, he just barrels on through.

Not played at this show but appearing on the back cover is “By the Sword”, originally with Andrew Stockdale.  Slash’s live band included two Canucks:  Todd Kerns and Brent Fitz, with Bobby Schneck on second guitar.  They nailed it, every song, and had the foresight to be putting out an album that night.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011)

STYX – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011 Eagle Records)

Although legacy bands like Styx may not write and record new music as often as they used to, there have been a couple interesting effects from this.  Legendary discographies have been mined by a handful of classic bands, playing rare tracks live that haven’t been played on a stage in decades, if ever.  Sometimes, bands play full albums.  A few even play two!  Styx chose The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight for live resurrection.

Dipping back to 1977 and 1978, Styx picked two of their best records to perform.  Kind of the “sweet spot” between Tommy Shaw joining the band on Crystal Ball, and the drama with Dennis DeYoung on Cornerstone.  There are numerous of songs they never played live with Lawrence Gowan on vocals before, if at all!  They had to re-learn their own songs to put on this concert.  You can’t accuse them of taking the easy way out!

Tommy even tells you where the side breaks come!

With Todd Sucherman on drums, the songs are naturally heavier here.  Gowan’s voice lends a different sound to them too.  Bassist Ricky Phillips is rock solid as always, but original bassist Chuck Panozzo still comes out to play bass on the odd track live.  His rumble on “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” is nice and prominent in the mix.

The songs have other notable differences, like more guitar solos.  James Young does Dennis’ old spoken word part on “Superstars”.  Some might wonder, “Why listen to this, when you can play the original albums with the original members any time you want?”  It would be unwise to compare the talents of Gowan and Dennis, but why can’t you just be a fan of both?  Some people want to hear Gowan singing “Come Sail Away”, and especially “Castle Walls” which was only played once before in 1978 and a handful of times in 1997.  There are many such songs on this recording.  “I’m OK” (which Gowan sings) was dropped after 1979, until this tour.  “Lords of the Rings” (James Young on vocals) was only played once in 1978.

There are stories, and songs for the diehards.  This isn’t a package for someone looking for greatest hits.  It’s also not the same as listening to an old album.  This is for the Styx fan who loves the past and present equally.

3.5/5 stars

BOOK REVIEW: Gord Downie & Jeff Lemire – Secret Path (2016)

GORD DOWNIE & LEFF LEMIRE – Secret Path (2016 Simon and Schuster)

Residential schools are Canada’s shame.

History cannot be buried forever.  Eventually, atrocities are brought to light.  This terrible secret is no longer hiding in the dark.  It has shown the world that even the great nation of Canada has skeletons.  Tens of thousands of them.  Children, taken away from their families, and forced to assimilate.  Forced to lose their language, culture, and way of life.  All in the misguided and shameful effort to “civilize the savage” and “bring the heathens to God”.  Thus, “saving” them.

Thousands of these children never came home from the residential school system.  How many?  With bodies being unearthed daily, we may never know the true tally.  If Gord Downie were alive today, what would he have to say about these discoveries?

Downie and Jeff Lemire tried to tell us.  In 2016 they released Secret Path, a gorgeous and painful graphic novel to accompany the Downie album of the same name.  The book comes with a download code so you can listen along, and read the full lyrics.  It is the story of Chanie Wenjack, Anishinaabe by birth, raised in northern Ontario.  The residential school forced him to change his name to “Charlie”.  This is not ancient history.  This only happened in 1966.  The Beatles were the biggest band in the world.  Our parents were living normal lives.  Meanwhile, Wenjack and thousands like him were abused and tormented at residential schools all over the country, not even afforded the dignity of their own names.

At age 12, Wenjack ran away.  Home was 370 miles.  He never made it.  Secret Path is his story.


The book has no text other than the album’s lyrics.  Listening along is the best way to appreciate the rich images.  You must take time to study the lines and shading, for each page is rich with beauty and detail.

It was October of ’66 and the story begins with Chanie already on his way home.  Alone, following the train tracks, Wenjack is illustrated in stark black, blue and white.  The trees are bare, and ravens circle free overhead.  Chanie’s story is told in the form of flashbacks.   His thoughts go back to happier times, fishing with his father.  These memories are in full, beautiful watercolour.  Lemire captures the love in his drawings.

“My dad is not a wild man.  He doesn’t even drink.”

Chanie’s memories then go back to his first day at school.  Like a prisoner, he was issued a new haircut and new clothes.  His sorrow leaks through the pages.  He then thinks back to the morning of October 16.  Unable to tolerate any more abuse, Wenjack and two friends made a run for it.

“Now?”  “Not yet.”

“Now?”  “Now yes.”

They stayed briefly with the family of the other two boys, but Chanie wanted to return to his own home.  On his own, and only with a railway map, a windbreaker, and a jar with seven matches inside, Chanie followed the rail.  Only seven matches.

“And I kept them dry.  And as long as there were six, I’d be fine.”

“As long as there were five.”

“As long as there were four…”

His thoughts return once again to the school.  Sexual abuse is alluded to.  Chanie continues to run on his secret path, but he also tries to escape from his memories.  They are never far behind.  Only happy dreams of his father bring warmth, and they are gloriously painted in fall colours.  As he weakens, hallucinations manifest, both good and bad.  He wishes for revenge, and to see his father one more time.  The raven circles overhead.

“I’ll just close my eyes.  I’ll just catch my breath.”

While there is no way to really know the thoughts and feelings of Chanie Wenjack during his final walk, Secret Path is not a work of fiction.  It happened.  And now we know that Chanie is one of thousands.  Chanie Wenjack did not die on that train track from exposure to the elements.  He died of genocide.

If this book does not make you feel, then consult a doctor because something is wrong with your heart.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Unplugged at the Walls (1999)

On the 25th of June 1998 a strange thing happened.

A group of like-minded people arrived at England’s sea and airports and made their way to a small town on the Welsh border.  The came from Brazil, Mexico, North America, Australia, Japan, Israel, Germany, Holland and Spain.

They came to have dinner.

…they also came to see a band.

 

MARILLION – Unplugged at the Walls (1999 Racket Records – Racket 10)

What’s your favourite acoustic album?

We all know the big “unplugged” performances, but between the cracks fell the web-only release Unplugged at the Walls by Marillion.  Only available via their website, this remarkable album was recorded while Marillion were working on their 10th record Radiation back in 1998.

While recording in Oswestry, Marillion struck a deal with the “best restaurant in town”, the Walls.  Now independent, every penny counted.  In exchange for free meals, Marillion agreed to play some acoustic sets at the Walls.  The idea grew and people came from all over the world to hear new songs and tunes that had never been played acoustically before.  They stripped down and re-arranged songs, added some surprises, and the result is one of the best Marillion live albums ever made.  Out of over 100!

Sampling tracks from the five Hogarth-era albums, no oldies were to be found.  Plenty of singles though:  “Easter”, “Alone Again in the Lap of Luxury”, “Hooks in You”, “Eighty Days”, and “Beautiful” which opens the set.

While Marillion have always been top-notch musicians, in an unplugged setting such as this, Steve Hogarth is the standout performer.  Whether whispering or letting it all out, Hogarth is never less than spellbinding.  He is always in complete command, with every ear on him.

The highlights are many, but Marillion’s version of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” may surpass the original.  That’s all because of Hogarth.  Nobody can touch him.  He gets more intense as the song builds.  When he sings “I could blow through the ceiling,” you truly believe it.  The track is so good that they eventually used it as the B-side to “These Chains”.

“Abraham, Martin and John” (Marvin Gaye) is a track Marillion have since released on other live albums, but this gentle version is fantastic.  This one sports some beautifully warm electric guitar tones courtesy of Steve Rothery.  Marillion also cover “Blackbird” (The Beatles, but you knew that) and do a damn respectable job of it.  Instead of birds chirping, you get the sound of diners cheering!

The new songs premiered that night were the already-acoustic “Now She’ll Never Know”, and “The Answering Machine” which, over the years, has been popular both electrically and acoustically.  “Now She’ll Never Know” is the quietest song of the night.  “Answering Machine” meanwhile is one of the most upbeat.

They also tackled the surf-rocker “Cannibal Surf Babe” which did just fine unplugged and stripped to the basics.  “The Space” received a completely new, jazzy arrangement.  They played this version many times over the year, but it’s a bit of a slog compared to the rest.  The closer “Eighty Days” is jaunty and receives a massive response from the crowd, as does “Gazpacho”.  Appropriately enough, the Walls had gazpacho on their menu that night.

Speaking of which, the menu is included as part of the booklet.  It does indeed sound like the best restaurant in town!  “Salad of black pasta with marinated seafood and prawns.”  Wow!

This album was reissued in 2018, giving everybody a chance to get one.  You should.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Joe Satriani – Joe Satriani (1984 EP, 2014 RSD reissue)

JOE SATRIANI – Joe Satriani (1984 Rubina EP, 2014 Relative Record Store Day 180 gram reissue)

In 1984, The Squares guitarist Joe Satriani quietly put out a low-key instrumental EP on his own label, Rubina records.  How limited was the release?  An exact figure is hard to find, but original copies today run about $500.  Four of the five tracks were reissued on Joe’s Time Machine album, but the fifth track’s master tape was damaged.

This is a release most people assumed they’d never own without parting with some serious dough.  Then in 2014, for the 30th anniversary, the original Joe Satriani EP was reissued for Record Store Day.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of liner notes, we don’t know how this was accomplished.  The damaged track, “Talk To Me” is intact and sounds just fine.  Was it sourced from an original vinyl?  Was it restored?  You can now experience a 180 gram “replication” of the original 1984 EP that started it all.

Guitar Player magazine went nuts for the EP, which is remarkably performed entirely on guitar.  Every instrument you hear is a guitar.  The “drums” are Joe tapping on his pickups.  The “bass” is a detuned six string.  The sound effects and other “instruments” are Joe wringing every sound he could think of from his instrument.  It’s truly innovative.  It’s even pretty listenable.

The record opens with “Talk To Me”, which could be seen as a precursor to Joe’s uptempo guitar anthems like “One Big Rush”.  In fact, there’s a familiar lick in this track that Joe used as a main hook on Flying in a Blue Dream‘s “Back to Shalla-Bal”.  This track, thought long lost, is probably the best of the five and most indicative of where Joe was headed.

“Dreaming Number Eleven” is an interesting song, with a suitably dream-like opening that soon gives way to a funky beat complete with “slap bass”.  The experimental side of Joe manifests in the sound of a roaring train, all performed on guitar.

Side two commences with the light and tropical “Banana Mango”, a breezy track with blazing speed laid overtop.  This contrasts with the nuclear “I Am Become Death”, a gothic dirge.  There is a middle section that sounds like the wind blowing through a wasteland.  Then, a backwards guitar section that foreshadows part of Flying in a Blue Dream.  Finally, “Saying Goodbye” is a brief but tender ballad as Joe is known to do.  It is constructed from gentle volume swells.

It’s clear from this record that Joe was going to be a formidable composer, let alone player.  Just as interesting as the guitar work are the arrangements.  They are all meticulously constructed, and though some tracks are more listenable than others, they all make up a snapshot of who Joe Satriani would become.  Within three years of its release, Joe would change rock history by Surfing With the Alien, his talents now fully expressing themselves.  The Joe Satriani EP is an experimental prototype to the genius to come.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Smith/Kotzen – Smith/Kotzen (2021)

SMITH/KOTZEN – Smith/Kotzen (2021 BMG)

Had this album come out 30 years ago, it might have been called Smith/Curran.  According to our good pal Andy Curran from Coney Hatch, Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith has been looking for a project like this for quite some time.  The right partner arrived with soulful singer/songwriter/shredder Richie Kotzen.  As heard on the nine-track debut, everything clicked.  It was Smith’s wife Nathalie that introduced the two.  Friendship turned to jamming, and jamming turned to writing and recording.  We owe Nathalie a huge debt of rocking’ gratitude.

Fans of Kotzen, either via his solo work or the Winery Dogs, won’t be shocked by what they hear.  It is the Maiden fans who are in for an adjustment.  Not that Smith/Kotzen is wimpy — it isn’t at all — but it is vastly different from the traditional metal that Maiden peddle in.  This is a soul/blues/rock fusion from the heart.

None of the nine songs should earn a “skip” in your player.  Each one boasts a wicked blend of guitars and voices.  Who would have thought that two players and singers, so different in style, would mix so naturally?  You can usually pick out who is playing what, but it all works as one monolithic gestalt.  The whole thing is brilliant.  You can choose your own peaks, because everyone will have their own favourites.

“Running” should be an uptempo high point in anyone’s scorebook.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is the power ballad “Scars” (if you want to call it that).  Over six minutes with heartfelt playing and harmonizing over a slow riff — pigeonhole it any way you like.  The guitar tones on this album are rich and sometimes trippy.  Fans of both guitarists are in for a tour-de-force of feel.

Another high water mark is “Glory Road” which may be a slower blues, but boasts a melodic power chorus that you can imagine Iron Maiden pulling off successfully.  That gives way to a wicked series of solo trade-offs that blow the mind and punch the gut all at once.  But if you really like Maiden, there is no way you will not recognize the one and only Nicko McBrain on the Purple-y “Solar Fire”.  (The drums on the rest of the album are performed by Kotzen and Tal Bergman, which Richie and Adrian share bass duties.)  Picture the Coverdale/Hughes/Blackmore vibe.  An album highlight, “Solar Fire” is as hot as the stellar eruptions it’s named for.

Pick a song — “I Wanna Stay”, “Some People”, “Taking My Chances”, or “‘Til Tomorrow”  — all are excellent choices.  Smith/Kotzen has nine remarkable tracks to choose from.  They’ve all been road tested, and given fair play at home and on the porch.  Though they vary in tempo and direction, all nine promise excellent, memorable melodies and powerful playing.  This is an album for the summer of 2021 — an album we need.

4.5/5 stars