Blue Murder

REVIEW: Jim Crean – The London Fog (2019)

JIM CREAN – The London Fog (2019 Visionary Noise)

Vocalist extraordinaire Jim Crean is back with two new solo albums.  Not only is there a 16 track covers album called Gotcha Covered, but also The London Fog, a new original CD.  As usual, Crean boasts a killer hitlist of special guests, including Carmine & Vinny Appice, Mike Tramp, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Holmes, Steph Honde and plenty more.  Buckle up — it’s a heavy duty trip.

The London Fog goes wide open from the start, with the two new songs Crean released on last year’s Greatest Hits:  the excellent “Scream Taker” (tribute to Ronnie James Dio) and the riffy “Conflicted”.  “Scream Taker” features Dio alumni Vinny Appice and Rudy Sarzo.  These tracks follow the traditional blueprints of classic 80s metal, particularly “Conflicted”.  (The dexterous bassist that I initially mistook for Billy Sheehan is actually A.D. Zimmer.)

Want more riffs?  Then get “Broken”!  There’s a great chorus here: Melody and power, with some tasty licks from Steph Honde.  “Aphrodisiac” takes things to a more nocturnal place, but more menacing.  Still, there’s always room for some dirty rock, and that would be “Lady Beware”.  If Dokken’s classic lineup released another song today, it would probably sound a lot like “Lady Beware”.  This is the kind of rock we all miss, and have a hard time finding today.

Jim Crean is equally at home on rockers and ballads.  “Let It Go” (with Honde on piano and keyboards) has an epic quality for a ballad.  It might be a bit Scorpions, Whitesnake (circa 1987) or Guns N’ Roses…the comparisons are up to the listener.  The keyboard solo is a cool touch.  Then heavy sounds circulate on “Loaded” (more Zimmer on bass), but yet Crean maintains a knack for melody.

A familiar voice welcomes you on “Candle”, a Mike Tramp (Freaks of Nature) cover featuring Tramp in a duet.  The song is new to these ears, and I like how the parts shift and change moods.  A riff for the ages follows, on an original track called “1981”.  Again I’m reminded of Dokken, the classic era.  It’s hard to recapture a time period with such clarity, but Jim Crean has a talent for writing that way.  Some of his originals could very well be from another time.  (Drummer Colleen Mastrocovo gives “1981” a serious kick.)

Another obscure cover:  Robin Zander’s 1993 solo track “Time Will Let You Know”, a classy ballad from an underrated album.  Jim doesn’t try to sound like Robin Zander, but does it justice.  Then it’s Rod Stewart’s dance classic “Passion”.  Very few singers have the right rasp to do Rod Stewart justice, but Jim Crean is one of them.  That’s the always slick Tony Franklin on bass.  And get this!  Franklin’s Blue Murder bandmate Carmine Appice, the same guy who played on the the original “Passion”, also plays on this cover.  He approaches both versions very differently.  Rod’s version is slick dance rock, and this is more like metal that you can dance to.  Same song; familiar but a completely different arrangement.  If John Sykes ever played with Rod Stewart, maybe this is what they could have sounded like.

“Passion” could have closed the album and you’d be completely satisfied, but there’s more.  A funky “Fool” sounds like Aerosmith, and who’s that on guitar?  Ray Tabano, the original Aerosmith guitarist before Brad Whitford joined the band!  This song is more Aerosmith than anything that band has recorded since 1993!  Then it’s another lesser-known cover and duet:  Angel’s “Don’t Take Your Love” featuring original Angel singer Frank DiMino.  Great melodic rock songs are always welcome, and this one is truly great.

Finally comes the metallic closer “Tears” featuring Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.).  The contrast between the heavy riffs and Jim’s melodic vocals is what makes this style work so well for him.  The riff has a W.A.S.P. vibe, but Crean takes it in a totally different direction.

Another fine album from Jim Crean and friends.  Fans of hard rock “the way they used to make it” will thoroughly enjoy.

4.5/5 stars

Check back for a look at Gotcha Covered, coming soon.

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REVIEW: Appice – Sinister (2017)

APPICE – Sinister (2017 Steamhammer)

Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, Dio, Cactus, Blue Murder, King Kobra…those are just a handful of the bands who have boasted an Appice in their ranks. Drumming brothers Carmine and Vinny have been recognised by fans and critics alike for their rhythms and associations with amazing bands. Now they step out on their own, with a duo album called Sinister.

The musical directions are all alloys of good ol’ heavy metal.  “Sabbath gave us metal!” goes one line (more on that later).  You know what you’re getting.  There’s even a Sabbath medley called “Sabbath Mash”.  Joining the Appice brothers are familiar names such as: Craig Goldy (Dio), Tony Franklin (Blue Murder), Robin McAuley (MSG), Paul Shortino (Ruff Cutt), Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N’ Roses) and Jim Crean (who regularly plays live with the brothers).

Many tracks have both drummers, with Vinny panned to the left and Carmine to the right.  It’s not immediately obvious, but if you listen, the drums sound huge!  Double drummers are not something we’re used to hearing, so pay attention and listen to the individuals and what they’re doing.  You won’t be bored, even if you’re not a drummer.

Everything rocks — no ballads.   You’ll find a sludgy Sabbath vibe on some tracks such as “Killing Floor” (lead vocals by Chas West).  Jim Crean kicks ass on “Danger” which comes from the brisk Dio end of the spectrum.  Another Crean song, “In the Night” is the most immediately memorable.  It takes a few listens to absorb Sinister.  Headphones may help, but give it a chance because it’s not an immediate listen.  Other tracks are familiar.  Blue Murder’s “Riot”, with Robin McAuley singing, is a damn fine heavy explosive.

What about drum instrumentals?  Well, of course!  You would feel ripped off if the two brothers didn’t go head to head.  “Drum Wars” is exactly what you’re looking for.  What Vinny and Carmine have done is create drum parts that compliment each other and work in unison, creating a fuller sound.  You’ll also get a kick out of “Brothers in Drums”, which tells the story of the Appice brothers.  “Is that my brother, on TV?  That’s what I wanna be!”

The album goes a little sentimental on “Monsters and Heroes”, heavy as hell, but the lyrics may bring a tear to your eye.  “Sing a song, singer, you’re the man on the mountain…”  Yes, it’s a tribute to Ronnie James Dio, with lyrics by Shortino, who worked with Dio back in 1985 on Hear N’ Aid.  Sabbath gave us metal indeed, but “Monsters and Heroes” captures a little bit of why we miss Dio so much.

Not every song brilliant, and 13 is a large number of tracks, but Sinister grows as you listen.  (Stay tuned to the end!) It’s a grower thanks in no small part to some great performances by an assortment of rock n’ roll veterans.  Any fan of heavy metal will find something to enjoy with Appice.  Serious Sabbath or Dio fans should consider adding it to their collections, as an extension of the discographies.  Bonus:  there’s a poster inside!

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Blue Murder – Blue Murder (1989)

BLUE MURDER – Blue Murder (1989 Geffen)

For some, expectations were high.

On paper, it was genius.   Teaming up the legendary drummer Carmine Appice with anyone will turn heads, but John Sykes, the ex-Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake guitar genius?  Sign us up.  Add in ex-Black Sabbath singer Ray Gillen, and the Firm’s Tony Franklin on bass, and that right there is an interesting combo.  Two words were buzzing around the camp, and they were “blues” and “jams”.  When the band did start jamming the blues, they realized that Ray Gillen didn’t have much to do during the long instrumental breaks they were producing.  The decision was made to cut Ray and trim the band down to a classic power trio, with Sykes singing lead.  The trio format was fairly unique among rock bands in the late 80’s.  (Ray hooked up with another new blues-rock band, Jake E. Lee’s Badlands.)

Adding to the hype machine behind the new christened Blue Murder was the tapping of up and coming producer Bob Rock.  Coming off of some hit albums by Kingdom Come and The Cult, it was assumed Rock would do the same for Blue Murder.  They hiked up to Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver and recorded the album, dedicating it to Phil Lynott.

Unfortunately it was pretty clear after a few listens that despite the hype and big names, Blue Murder was not the supergroup debut that it should have been.  Indeed, the lineup expired after one record.

Sykes’ singing was not the issue.  His vocals on songs such as “Riot” and “Ptolemy” are more than adequate.  Power and range were not an issue for Sykes.  Perhaps his unique guitar stylings were too associated with the mega-selling Whitesnake 1987, because the sonic connections are obvious.  Too much ‘Snake, not enough Lizzy.  The songs are not all bad either, though many could use some minutes trimmed from them.  At nine songs and 52 minutes, Blue Murder does have the instrumental chills that Sykes wanted to get across, but at the cost of diluting the impact with meandering rock songs.  Other issues must fall at the feet of Bob Rock.  Though Blue Murder earned the producer a nomination at the Juno awards in 1990, the muddy sound is very far indeed from what Rock can do.  “Sex Child” is a perfect example of this. Rock strove to give Carmine a big drum sound, but there are also excessive keyboards and layers of vocals all occupying the same sonic space. This robs it of the groove.  It’s a chore to finish the whole album in a sitting, due to some of these problems.

There are three album highlights that are possibly worth the expense to rock historians.  They are the singles “Valley of the Kings” and “Jelly Roll”, and the epic “Ptolemy”.  At 7:50, “Valley of the Kings” had to be severely edited down for a single/video. It has all the progressive rock qualities that you know these guys are capable of, and who isn’t a sucker for lyrics about pharoahs and pyramids? Must credit must also be given to Tony Franklin, who makes it sound as if the fretless bass is easy to play! You don’t hear enough fretless in hard rock, and Franklin is one of the world’s very best. Period.

Interestingly, “Valley of the Kings” was co-written by then-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin. You can absolutely hear parallels to Sabbath’s Headless Cross released the same year – an album that also had some fretless bass on it thanks to Lawrence Cottle!

“Jelly Roll” was a music video, fitting the slot for some good time summer acoustic rock.  Instead of going ballad, Blue Murder went to the bayou.  The tricky slide licks recall Whitesnake, but unfortunately towards the end, the song sinks into typical ballad territory.  It sounds like two songs melded together, but I like the first part best.

The final keeper is the progressive epic “Ptolemy”.  Unfortunately the lyrics don’t have much to do with the actual mathematician and astronomer who lived almost 2000 years ago.  Instead the song is about tomb robbing; unrelated to Ptolemy of Alexandria.  This is a shame since they could have written about Ptolemy’s musical studies (Harmonics), or his influence on the concept of the universe of a series of spheres that create music.  Fortunately the musical qualities of the song enable us to overlook the words.

There are also-rans worth checking out:  particularly a track called “Billy” which is the most Thin Lizzy of all the tunes.  You could imagine, if Phil had lived, that he could have recorded “Billy” for a mid-80’s Thin Lizzy album.  Unfortunately most of the material resides in Whitesnake territory, especially the carbon-copy ballad “Out of Love”, and the closer “Black-Hearted Woman” which recycles Whitesnake riffs.

Too bad.  Loads of potential, but blown in the delivery.

2.5/5 stars

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