Brian Downey

REVIEW: Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 North American version)

REVIEW:  Thin Lizzy – Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 Polygram North American version)

It might not be the best introduction to the most underrated classic rock band of all time, but it was my introduction. Dedication was a 1991 Thin Lizzy compilation that was buoyed by the unreleased song “Dedication” which was released as the radio single.  There’s nothing wrong with the “new” track, except it wasn’t supposed to be a Thin Lizzy song.  Phil Lynott recorded the song in 1985 for his new band Grand Slam.  Scott Gorham and Brian Downey replaced the original instrumentation leaving Phil intact.  And that’s fine.  “Dedication” sounds slightly unfinished but it also sounds like what Thin Lizzy might have been doing had they carried on.

These kind of extra songs usually get spotlighted at the front of the album, or left at the end to whet the appetite.  On Dedication, it goes last, leaving the compilation to ascend in chronological order.  Is that the best way to approach listening to Thin Lizzy?  While many sets go that route, it leads to a very uneven playing experience.  Early Thin Lizzy was much more folksy, and dare I say it, just not as good.  It certainly had some excellent tunes, and some of the better ones are showcased here.  “Whiskey in the Jar” is an actual folk traditional, rocked up and made unforgettable by that Eric Bell guitar hook.  That’s followed by the firecracker “The Rocker”, just shy of three minutes but every one of them shockingly great.

Original guitarist Eric Bell left the band after three albums due to exhaustion, and the band was beefed up to a four-piece with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham taking his place.  It took a while for the albums to really catch up with the talent.  On CD it’s a lot of slow material before we get to the more rocking stylings of the Thin Lizzy that you know and love.  From 1974’s Nightlife we have “She Knows”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Showdown”.  A lot of ballads and blues and not a lot of fire.  The guitar work is sparkling but the songs are not yet as astounding as they would yet become.  Another ballad, “Wild One” from Fighting (1975) is one of the best of the batch.  It is bookended by two rockers, “Fighting My Way Back” and the Bob Seger cover of “Rosalie”.  Both are tracks you don’t want to live without.

Part of (but only part of) Phil Lynott’s genius was bringing Gorham and Robbo (and later others) together as a unified guitarmony duo.  The next batch of classics really hammer this home.  “Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Cowboy Song” and “Don’t Believe a Word” are the embodiment of what people think of when they picture Thin Lizzy.  The driving beats, the hooks, the dual solos, the poetic lyrics — it’s all there in what might be considered Lizzy’s peak era.

Brian Robertson left the band shortly after, and doesn’t appear on “Bad Reputation” or “Dancing in the Moonlight”, but Gorham picked up the slack in the studio and rendered these as two more stone-cold classics.  “Bad Reputation” covers the driving side of the band while “Dancing in the Moonlight” is funky, light romantic storytelling.  Truly excellent songs even without Robbo.

The Gary Moore era follows with “Do Anything You Want To” and “Waiting For An Alibi”, two more excellent Lizzy classics from the underappreciated album Black Rose.  Moore lasted only for one album, and his successor Snowy White for two more.  Snowy is only heard on one track here (“Chinatown”) and the man that replaced him (John Sykes) is heard on none!  So another failing of the Dedication album is a sudden drop-off at the end, leaving out important songs.  “Chinatown” is excellent at least, but so is “Hollywood” and “Renegade”, yet they are not here.

Yes, too many songs were left off Dedication because you couldn’t get ’em all on a single CD.  Johnny The Fox (possibly their best record) is an album that isn’t given enough time here, along with Black Rose.  And to have no Sykes?  Unjustifiable.

Fortunately the last song “Dedication” is better than expected, sounding like Thin Lizzy 1991, beefy and tough.  It doesn’t sound like Lizzy ’75 or Lizzy ’83.  But it does sound like Lizzy because Phil Lynott’s voice tends to do that.  Scott Gorham does a decent job of replicating all the guitar excitement himself (he’s had to do it before).  The track, written by Lynott and Grand Slam guitarist Laurence Archer, had one of those guitar hooks well suited to the Lizzy canon.  Gorham and Downey did it justice enough.

Dedication is not enough Thin Lizzy but it’s enough to get your feet wet.  Although it’s a slow starter it will eventually get you interested enough to try more.  It worked for me and it’ll work for you.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Still Dangerous (2008 inc. bonus tracks)

THIN LIZZY – Still Dangerous (2008 VH1 classic, iTunes bonus tracks)

Think of this as a companion piece to Live and Dangerous.  Four tracks were previously released on that landmark live album.  Still Dangerous has a bunch more, purportedly recorded in October 1977 in Philly.  10 tracks; 12 if you got it on vinyl with bonus 7″, on iTunes, or in Japan.

Like Live and Dangerous, what you get is live Lizzy at their peak, well recorded, and charismatic as ever.  It’s interesting that they opened with “Soldier of Fortune” since it’s a slower number, though no less powerful than any others.  It merges into “Jailbreak”, leaving the audience no chance to breathe…only to be rocked.  Impressive guitar and drums on this one.

“Cowboy Song” and “Boys are Back in Town” are the same as Live and Dangerous; legendary!  Basically one long ongoing song.  Phil introduces their then-new single “Dancing in the Moonlight” as a song with some sax and sex.  Yet it has a youthful exuberance.  “Now we go steady to the pictures, I always get chocolate stains on my pants.”  You can picture that long, hot summer night.  The next track, the blistering metal of “Massacre” is from Live and Dangerous.  Just listen to Brian Downey on the drums, a prototypical metal machine.  Without “Massacre” there could be no Iron Maiden.

“Opium Trail” doesn’t let up the aural assault.  Brian Downey impresses once again with his creative fills and patterns.  Lizzy moves on to “Don’t Believe a Word”, an older classic but just slightly sluggish.  There are more energized versions out there.  “Baby Drives Me Crazy” is also a bit dull, with one of those long audience singalong sessions.  The standard CD closes with “Me and the Boys”, furiously fast and fun!  It’s a long jammer, but its caffeinated pace really keeps things moving.

The two iTunes bonus tracks (mastered annoyingly louder) are “Bad Reputation” and “Emerald”.  Only Emerald was previously available on Live and Dangerous.  “Bad Reputation” is pure smoke.

Since this album was mixed by Glyn Johns and Live and Dangerous was not, one must assume even the tracks from that album are presented differently here.  If you already know that album front to back, then enjoy the fresh sounds of Still Dangerous instead.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels (2001 box set)

IMG_20141109_085906

LIZZY VAGABONDS BOX_0001THIN LIZZY – Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels (2001 Mercury 4 CD set)

This is one of the best boxed sets that I own. Of course, it’s not a complete collection of rarities. Such a thing does not exist, the Lizzy catalogue is so labyrinthine with EP’s, singles, and Phil’s solo projects. It takes a scholar just to keep it all straight. This set however does include a very generous slice of rarities, including one rare exclusive. It also includes pretty much every Lizzy hit and album cut you could want. Everything from my own obscure favourites (“Hollywood”, “The Sun Goes Down”) to the biggest hits (“Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”) are on here.

The set is divided into four discs, each one reflecting a phase of Thin Lizzy. From the Eric Bell power trio years (was “power trio” even a phrase back then?) to the final Phil single “Nineteen” (famously covered by Bad 4 Good), there is no era of the band overlooked. The liner notes are also excellent, with lots of photos and text, and detailed credits.

The rarities and B-sides are pure gold. It’s also important to remember that in Lizzy’s day, non-album singles were the norm.  Many of those singles are crucial tracks.  “Randolph’s Tango”, with its intricate flamenco solo, is one.  The storming “Little Darling” is another necessity.  I love the reggae of “Half Caste”. How hard it must have been being Phil Lynott growing up. “The boy ain’t black, the boy is brown,” goes the painful lyric. “Sitamoia” (written by Brian Downey) is a ferocious tornado as only Lizzy could do. “Sugar Blues” is a live jam blast, featuring the underrated Snowy White doing what he does best: the blues.

IMG_20141109_085733Most of the B-sides and rare tracks have since been released on the various Thin Lizzy deluxe editions.  Not necessarily in these versions though.  One track you won’t find on a deluxe edition is “Song For Jimi”, originally from a magazine flexi-disc.  This track features a reunited original Thin Lizzy with Eric Bell, recording in 1981!

With complete honesty, there isn’t one single track I would have changed on this set. I think of all my favourites (Lizzy, solo, and otherwise) and check to see if they’re on here. “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed”? Check. “Massacre”? Check. “The Rocker”? Check. “King’s Call”? Check. “Fool’s Gold”? Check. “Romeo And The Lonely Girl”? Check. “Dancing In The Moonlight”? Check. In fact the only thing I can think of that’s missing is the posthumous “Dedication”, but it’s arguable that it doesn’t belong, since it has a sort of early 90’s sound and was finished by Gorham and Downey on their own.

I wish Thin Lizzy became as big a name as some of their contemporaries, such as Zeppelin, Aerosmith, or Purple. They certainly had the musical chops, they had a multitude of influences and variety of sounds (all Lizzy though), and of course they had the unequaled lyrical talents of Phil Lynott. A poet like Lynott will never come again. Let’s celebrate his life, even though it’s too late for him to celebrate with us.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Star Riders – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013)

BLACK STAR RIDERS – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013 Nuclear Blast CD/DVD set)

Epic Review Time again!  This time it’s a CD/DVD combo set, the debut album by Black Star Riders.  You might know the guys from Black Star Riders by another name they sometimes use: Thin Lizzy.  Scott Gorham put a Lizzy lineup back together in 1996, over the years utilizing Lizzy alumni such as himself, John Sykes, Darren Wharton, and Brian Downey.  But when it came to creating new music, why did they change their name?

Let’s begin by reviewing the DVD, which answers this question and any others you may have about who Black Star Riders are.

IMG_20141010_185936

Scott explains that he and Brian Downey really decided not to do a “Thin Lizzy” album because of their own discomfort with the idea. Without Phil, it didn’t seem right. The rest of the band were disappointed because they had written 17 new songs they were excited about. But they would not add a Lizzy album to the canon without Phil.  Singer Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) says that once that decision was made to record with a new name, he found inspiration from a western movie featuring a gang called the “Black Star” gang. He liked the gang mentality. But Brian Downey dropped out early in the proceedings (although he did participate in writing some of the material.)   New drummer Jimmy Degrasso (Megadeth) explains that Thin Lizzy’s special sound comes from a Blues/R&B swing, and of course the “dual guitar armies”. They aimed to keep these qualities with Black Star Riders. Guitarist Damon Johnson believes that Ricky Warwick’s lyrical prowess is exemplary, and carries the Lizzy spirit. I would have to agree.

Recruiting producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden),  the album was done in 12 days. They did one song start to finish each day. It was recorded as live as possible, simply because they only had 12 days!

Unfortunately for me, there just isn’t enough behind the scenes footage on the DVD. There’s a little: brief glimpses of writing and recording sessions. The disc is made up mostly of interviews. Gorham, Warwick, Degrasso, Johnson, bassist Marco Mendoza and producer Shirley take turns in front of the camera. It is quite extensive; this is not a short DVD. (I don’t see a time listed anywhere but I’d guess it was an hour long.)  Subjects covered include Phil Lynott, songwriting, pressure, inspiration, guitar solos, Ireland and more. Each individual song is discussed in detail.


Now that you’re familiar with Black Star Riders, we can discuss the album All Hell Breaks Loose.  Which is a killer.

You could easily mistake the title track for an outtake from the Jailbreak album, or Johnny the Fox perhaps.  Though there is only one Phil, Ricky Warwick’s voice occupies the same range.  His lyrics are storytelling much like Phil’s were, and they both share similar interests in history and gang mentalities.  This is as close as anyone has ever gotten to Thin Lizzy (and no wonder).  I love when, just before the solo, Warwick cries, “Alright Scotty!”  But Johnson joins Scott for the second part of the solo, recreating the classic Lizzy guitar sound.  Then, the single “Bound For Glory” completely captures the goodtime vibe of “Boys Are Back In Town”.  It’s a great choice for a single, and once again you could easily mistake it for an outtake from Jailbreak.   Just like Phil would do, there’s even an Elvis reference in the lyrics.  You truly get the feeling that All Hell Breaks Loose is as much a new album by these guys as it is a tribute to Lynott.

“Kingdom of the Lost” captures the Irish spirit of Lizzy.  Traditional Irish instruments join the band, and it’s in the same vein as a Lizzy track like “Black Rose”.  I should mention now that while each song feels like an homage to Phil, none sound like a re-write.  They capture the spirit without being note-for-note ripoffs, and I think that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to accomplish.

“Bloodshot” gave me a different feeling, which is while the riff has Lizzy elements, it sounds more “southern rock” to me.  Nothing wrong with that either.  “Kissin’ the Ground” then has a more “hard rock” sound, almost like something Damon Johnson might have written with Alice Cooper (who he used to play with) in mind.  But then the excellent chorus is one of the most Lizzy-like.  Then “Hey Judas” (a play on the title “Hey Jude”) is pure Lizzy, 110%. There is no question that Scott Gorham has carried so much of the Thin Lizzy sound into the present.  “Hey Judas” often finds itself as my favourite song (alternating with “Bound for Glory” and “Valley of the Stones”).   Then onto “Hoodoo Voodoo”, where I think the album sags.  I don’t think this is a standout.  Since the aforementioned “Valley of the Stones” is next, the decline is only brief.  This metallic stomp is like a highspeed Mad Max race through the desert, searching for the mystical valley of the stones itself.  Fear not through, the guitar duels keep it within Lizzy Nation.

If things have been a bit heavy, then the gleeful “Someday Salvation” captures that “Dancing in the Moonlight” swing of early Lizzy.  Then “Before the War” has an appropriate military beat.  I’m sure this is an excellent song in concert; you can shout along.  The last song on the regular edition of the CD is “Blues Ain’t So Bad”, a dusky slow rock song.  But I think the better closer is the “bonus track” “Right to be Wrong”.  That “better believe it!” shout-along hook is just great, and this upbeat song just smokes.

As you can no doubt see, I would have found it an impossible challenge to write this review without comparing to Thin Lizzy.  But I don’t think that’s important; the band clearly intended to follow in those footsteps.  If anybody has a right to, it’s Black Star Riders.

4.5/5 stars

CO-REVIEW: Funky Junction – Play a Tribute to Deep Purple (1973)

AN INTERNET FIRST:  LeBrain and the Heavy Metal OverloRd have combined forces to bring you our very first co-review!  We have chosen the rare album album by Funky Junction — a little known outfit better recognized under the name Thin Lizzy!  Perhaps you have heard of them.

For the purposes of this review, LeBrain will be in black and HMO will be in blue.

FUNKY JUNCTION – Play a Tribute to Deep Purple (1973 Damont)

HMO: I like a challenge. Ever since hearing about Mike’s “Holy Grail” list of rarities I’ve been determined to find some for him here in Scotland. Given that I’m Scottish, this obsession with Holy Grails probably makes me Sean Connery to his Indiana Jones. Or something like that. At any rate, I’ll be calling him “Junior” from now on. I saw this record in Glasgow’s Missing Records and, knowing the hidden Thin Lizzy connection, I emailed Mike to see if he had it. He replied that it was on his Holy Grail list! Ya dancer! On closer inspection, however, the shop-copy looked too scratched to be worth even the £2.50 asking price. But the discovery gave me hope that I might find a better copy for him online… and here it is!

LeBrain: The band on the front cover wasn’t them. Their names appear nowhere on the LP packaging. All we’re told on the record jacket is that Funky Junction “are an exciting new group that has the pulse of today.” But for all intents and purposes, Funky Junction was Thin Lizzy:

Phil Lynott – bass guitar
Brian Downey – drums
Eric Bell – guitar
Benny White – vocals
Dave Lennox – keyboards

Since Phil Lynott couldn’t sing Ian Gillan’s high notes, and since Thin Lizzy didn’t have a keyboard player, the band hired members of another Irish group called Elmer Fudd to record the album, which they did in one day!

IMG_20140709_211154
“Fireball” is one of my favourite Deep Purple tracks. Even though Eric Bell referred to singer Benny White as an “Ian Gillan” clone, I don’t hear that at all. A Rod Evans clone, perhaps. “Fireball” is largely based on the drums, so we’re in safe territory here. Brian Downey is one of the few drummers who could give Ian Paice a run for his money in 1973. Not a bad cover I suppose, if you’re eager to hear was “Fireball” would have sounded like with Rod Evans singing.

Totally agree with you on the singer. The guy is so Rod Evans he was probably wearing gold lamé trousers while he was singing this. It’s an ok version in a “pub covers band” sort-of way. Brian Downey’s drumming is impressive, Phil’s bass solo… not so much.

“Dan” (credited to the German business man, Leo Muller, that conceived of and financed this project) is brief guitar instrumental. It’s supposed to sound like “Danny Boy” in a Hendrixian style, and I suppose that’s the right ballpark. Eric Bell fans will dig it, but as a song…next!

I like Eric’s tone here but it’s a lazy arrangement: just playing the melody and wanging his bar every now and again. It’s definitely the most Lizzy-esque song here though.

Funky Junction settle into a light groove on “Black Night”. This is a pretty faithful cover. What I like about this performance is Eric Bell’s way of improvising his own guitar solo within the style that Blackmore set for this song. The organ solo however is pretty caveman by comparison to Jon Lord. Pretty stock cover.

I’m actually fairly impressed by how faithful this one is, and a good approximation of the sound too. Eric Bell and Brian Downey are still the classiest acts here but it doesn’t have anywhere near the edge of the Purple original. Still, one of the more enjoyable outings here.

I like that I can hear Phil Lynott’s personal bass style on “Palamatoon” but the lame keyboards sound out of place on this album. I don’t know how to describe this instrumental original except to say that, as usual, Eric Bell’s soloing is a highlight.

It’s cool to hear Phil on this. His bass line reminded me of “Little Girl in Bloom” a bit. It’s just a shame that this tune is so bad. It’s like Emerson Lake and Palmer but pissed as farts. John Peel once described ELP as “a waste of talent and electricity”. He was wrong. But this song definitely is.

“Strange Kind of Woman” is pretty limp. Once again, if you were eager to hear this Purple classic performed by a Rod Evans clone, this is the one. Downey and Bell are the highlights of a pretty dull performance.

I’m finding the Rod Evans factor to be one of the more interesting aspects of this. If it wasn’t so workaday you could almost imagine these are some long-lost Deep Purple sessions from before they gave poor Rod the heave-ho. But apart from the “what if?” fantasising… dull.

IMG_20140709_211124

Side two commences with the Deep Purple Mk I hit, “Hush” (actually a Billy Joe Royal cover). I find this one irritating. The singer’s enunciation bugs me. Deep Purple decided to anchor their version with a long keyboard solo. Unfortunately Funky Junction struggle to make their solo as interesting.

I think I liked this one more than you, Junior. This and Black Night are the two best Purple covers here. Not very inspiring on record but if they were playing it live at a pub I think I’d get into it. Benny sounds totally at home here, finally giving it the full, glorious Rod Evans. Probably with bouffant hair and a frilly shirt now too! Gaun’ yersel’ big man!

Even though we all know “Rising Sun” is a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” (a traditional), here Leo Muller takes songwriting credit! I hope he enjoyed what little royalties he earned from the meager sales of this LP. This is another instrumental cover, with a snooze-inducing ending.

Cheeky scamp that Leo Muller, eh? I’m surprised he didn’t just change his name to Traditional and watch the money flood in. Nice sound and a decent performance on this song but mostly goes in one ear and out the other.

I appreciate that Funky Junction chose to retain that noisy, messy intro to “Speed King”. I’m afraid that of all the songs, “Speed King” suffers the most from the inadequate singer. Fortunately the Lizzy guys are talented enough to play the tune properly.

Everything we’ve mentioned previously seems to work against them on Speed King. The caveman keyboards, the tameness. And the poor Rod Evans impersonator sounding like all your worst Karaoke nightmares (but with the added embarrassment of those trousers). It’s cool that they included the noisy intro (I think Leo Muller wrote that) but this is the worst Purple version here by a good margin.

“Corina” closes the album, a vocal track credited to Muller. It’s a cool blues that fits in with a Deep Purple Mk I vibe. I don’t mind this track too much. It’s nothing special but at least it’s not overshadowed by a superior Deep Purple version.

An OK boogie. It’s still making me think of pubs mostly. The lead guitar is the best thing about this one.

2/5 stars. Recommended primarily to fans of Eric Bell.

2.5/5 stars. I agree with Mike but I’m going to throw in an extra half-point because I thought the Rod Evans impersonator was a hoot.

  1. “Fireball” (Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, Ian Paice)
  2. “Dan” (Leo Muller)
  3. “Black Night” (Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice)
  4. “Palamatoon” (Muller)
  5. “Strange Kind of Woman” (Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice)
  1. “Hush” (Joe South)
  2. “Rising Sun” (Muller)
  3. “Speed King” (Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice)
  4. “Corina” (Muller)

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Thin Lizzy (2010 remastered edition)

THIN LIZZY – Thin Lizzy / New Day EP (2010 Decca, originally 1971)

Nothing against early Lizzy — I do like Vagabonds of the Western World. On this one, Lizzy’s first ever wax, they had not yet evolved into the dual guitar duelers that they were to become. A trio with Eric Bell, Brian Downey and Philip himself, the evolution of Lizzy is similar to that of Deep Purple. Both bands had to overcome three sleepy early albums with a prototypical lineup before they became the rock gods that they were destined to be.

Thin Lizzy includes a few good songs, my favourite being “Ray-Gun”. However, I must reiterate that this is a sleepy album. The component parts are all fine — great guitar work, great drumming, interesting riffs and lyrics scattered here and there. They never quite coalesce into memorable songs, except on spare occasions.

In fact, the bonus tracks on this CD version of Thin Lizzy are actually superior to the album itself! Their first single, “The Farmer” is better than most of the album tracks.  The cool thing is that “The Farmer” was recorded when Lizzy were a quartet with Eric Wrixton on keyboards.  Notably, “The Farmer’s” B-side, “I Need You”, is absent and I don’t know where else you’d find it.  It’s not on Lizzy’s excellent Vagabonds, Kings, Warriors, Angels box set either (although “The Farmer” is). Bummer.

NEW DAY EPThe New Day EP is here in its completion, containing some great songs. The mournful ballad “Dublin” and “New Day” are both great songs. Interesting is “Old Moon Madness”, a workout that sounds like Thin Lizzy meets Captain Beefheart without the growling vocals. “Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm” is the final tune from the New Day EP, another decent track. What’s with Phil’s obsession with farmers? “Return of the Farmer’s Son” is another song title on the album itself….

The CD is closed by four remixes from the 1977 album The Continuing Saga of the Aging Orphans, where Gary Moore and Midge Ure overdubbed new guitar and keyboard parts to modernize the songs. These remixes are generally preferred by me to the original versions. I would love a proper reissue of The Continuing Saga of the Aging Orphans, as a handful of its tracks have yet to be issued on CD.

Not the greatest album. The bonus material is superior.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning (180 gram vinyl with bonus 12″)

THIN LIZZY – Thunder and Lightning (1983, 180 gram Back on Black reissue)

I love this album, it was actually the first Lizzy studio album I bought, on vinyl, from Tom’s store way back in the late 1990’s.  I’ve always loved John Sykes from his work in Whitesnake and Blue Murder.

Thunder and Lightning is the final Lizzy studio album.  It’s definitely the most metal, but it’s not the best sounding one (gimme Black Rose for that honour). It just strikes that chord inside. You know how certain albums just click with you and you don’t know why? That’s Thunder and Lightning for me, but I think it reminds me of that general vibe of heavy metal music in 1983.  There are times it reminds me of Judas Priest.

This is the only album from the Lynott/Gorham/Downey/Wharton/Sykes lineup.  It is produced by Chris Tsangarides (Anvil, Judas Priest). Wharton and Sykes both scored songwriting credits, which may be why this album sounds so much more “metal”.  Wharton’s keys are not obtrusive.

Best track:   Gorham and Lynott’s “Bad Habits”. If there was one track that sounded like old Lizzy circa Johnny The Fox, it’s “Bad Habits”. It’s just a rock and roller of a song with killer lyrics.  Phil’s voice is noticeably a lot more raw, worn, but he works within his limitations as always.  His voice remains as expressive as ever.  In “Bad Habits” he sounds like he’s jonesing as bad as the title implies.

“Cold Sweat” is the one that Sykes co-wrote, and it is very metal, featuring his trademark guitar squeals and yet more great lyrics from Lynott. “I got a whole month’s wages, I haven’t seen that much in ages, I might spend it in stages, and move out to Las Vegas.”  Love it.  Sung by Lynott, those lines tell a whole story.

IMG_00000235_editReally, there’s not a bad song on this album. “This Is The One” has some relentless pounding drums courtesy of Brian Downey (one of the true greats). “The Sun Goes Down” is a slower one with a keyboard solo, very atmospheric. It reminds me of the similarly titled “Night Comes Down” by Judas Priest. “Holy War” is another relentless pounder with a message to be heard. Not a bad track to be found.

If I had any complaints it would probably be the mix/production which at times comes across as a bit too bombastic and 80’s.  I mean, it’s still Thin Lizzy, one of the classiest sounding bands ever.  Thunder and Lightning is pretty evolved in sound from a classic like Jailbreak, and that may or may not be to your taste.

Some vinyl and cassette versions of Thunder and Lightning came with four bonus live tracks.  They are actually from the Renegade tour and feature Snowy White on guitar instead of his replacement John Sykes.  Thankfully, the current Back on Black 180 gram vinyl release restores the rare 12″ bonus EP.  The four songs are “Emerald”, “Killer on the Loose”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, and “Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)”.  These are great tracks.  It also has a gatefold sleeve with lyrics inside.  It’s a very nice package.

I’ve heard that 2013 will see the release of more Lizzy deluxe editions, including Thunder and Lightning.  If that’s the case I will pre-order it as soon as I hear about it.  There are still several B-sides from this period that are not currently available, such as “Angel of Death”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Don’t Believe a Word” live, and a remix of “The Sun Goes Down”.  I don’t have these tracks, but it sure would be nice to get everything on one deluxe CD package, wouldn’t it?  You guys paying attention, Universal?

5/5 stars

LIZZY

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – UK Tour 75 (2008)

UK TOUR 75 FRONT

THIN LIZZY – UK Tour 75 (2008 Major League Productions)

This album was recorded 21 November 1975, in Derby, England.  Why it was recorded, for what purpose, and how it came to be released in 2008 are a mystery to me.  But this good sounding live album has liner notes provided by drummer and original member Brian Downey, so that makes it seem official-ish enough for me!

In 1975, Thin Lizzy (consisting also of Phil Lynott, Brian Robertson, and Scott Gorham) had yet to release Jailbreak.  This live album serves as an interesting reminder of a time when Thin Lizzy had yet to break out with some serious success.  They were on the verge and you can hear the confident, competent band ready to take on all comers.

Thin Lizzy sails from classic to classic, effortlessly, and these songs are indeed classics.  “The Rocker” sounds as great as ever, a song that will never get old.  (I remember seeing a four-piece called The Meligrove Band cover this one in Kitchener, Ontario in the early 2000’s.)  Lizzy were turning the corner from their earlier folksy beginnings and had galvanized themselves into a solid hard rock band.

“Fighting My Way Back” has always been one of my favourite Lizzy songs, and they open with this energetic number.  “It’s Only Money” grooves like it never did on the Nightlife album.  Downey plays a thundering tribal solo during a ferocious “Sha La La”.  “Derby Blues”, also released on the recent Jailbreak deluxe edition, is an early take of “Cowboy Song”.

My favourite track is “Little Darling”.  According to Brian, they dropped this song from the set forever shortly after this recording.  It was an early non-album single from the Eric Bell era, accompanied by horns in its studio guise.  Live, it’s explosive.  (You can get the studio version on the Vagabonds of the Western World deluxe now.)

The packaging is decent.  It comes in a sleeve-style case with a nice booklet inside.  I don’t feel ripped off by the packaging the way I have with other semi-official official live albums in the past.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Johnny The Fox (deluxe edition)

JOHNNY FRONTTHIN LIZZY – Johnny the Fox (2011 deluxe edition)

When my copy of Johnny The Fox had arrived, it was the last of the initial three Lizzy deluxe editions that I required. For some reason, it took two months to arrive. The wait over, I eagerly devoured this new remastered edition.

As always with these deluxe editions, the packaging is impressive. The cover art looks great, there are liner notes galore, and a bunch of pictures. The remastering was crisp and clear. Job well done. Where this deluxe edition falls short is on the bonus material. I found the bonus material a bit tedious this time out, with some tracks being mere curiosities and nothing you’d really care to listen to more than a couple times.

Johnny The Fox, as an album, is one of my Lizzy favourites. It features the classic lineup of Lynott, Downey, Gorham and Robertson and has some of the best lesser-known Lizzy album cuts. “Massacre” is a Maiden-eque stomp through some bloody history (Maiden covered it later). “Fools Gold” is some fantastic mid-tempo storytelling. I absolutely love this song, emotional and strong. My favourite song, “Borderline”, is a ballad with a slight twang and Phil hitting all the right notes with a beautiful bassline. This is just a very well rounded rock album, with lots of great songs like “Johnny” and “Boogie Woogie Dance” that just jump out at you.

And let’s not forget “Don’t Believe A Word”, one of the best known Lizzy classics.  Great song, absolutely timeless.  Not to be outshone are classics such as the tough “Rocky” and the cool funk of “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed”.  This album was Lizzy at their peak, the classic lineup, and a record equally as powerful as the slightly better known Jailbreak.

Even the lyrics are Lynott at his prime!  Check out “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed”:

In the back of a black Cadillac,
The voodoo music travels,
Down Skid Row only black men can go,
The shady deal unravels

See how Lynott also gave a shout-out to his old band, Skid Row, with Gary Moore?

Listening to Johnny The Fox now, I hear no weak songs.  “Old Flame” is a pretty ballad with the dual guitar thing going on,  a ballad as only Lizzy could do it.  Only the slow “Sweet Marie” is as close as you get to a dud.

JOHNNY INSIDE

The bonus disc starts off with two Joe Elliot remixes (“Don’t Believe A Word” and “Johnny”). Once again, Elliot has beefed up the sound while maintaining the integrity of the track. I know that they took great pains to fix every out of tune note, but you honestly don’t really detect it. I’m sure you could if you tried, but just enjoying the tracks, it doesn’t sound too messed with.

There are some good BBC Sessions up next, all very tight and sounding not too dissimilar for the album tracks. Unfortunately by now you have heard “Don’t Believe A Word” and “Johnny” three times each. You’re also about to hear “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed” a third time, this one a lo-fi instrumental take. There are four of these instrumental rehearsals in total, and honestly they’re extraneous. This kind of stuff, while interesting to listen to on an analytical level, were never meant for public consumption. Fortunately, this disc ends with a neat rough demo called “Scott’s Tune” that is a previously unknown musical idea by Scott Gorham. Nice find.

On the whole, I don’t regret this purchase, I’m glad to have the complete set of Lizzy deluxe editions. The packaging is very nice and the Joe Elliot remixes are strong. Some material I’ll be itching to skip over next time. It’s not the best deluxe edition ever.

4.5 /5 stars. (5 stars for album/4 for reissue)

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Chinatown (deluxe edition)

SAM_2224

THIN LIZZY – Chinatown (2011 deluxe edition)

Thanks again Amazon!  I recently collected all the Thin Lizzy Deluxe Editions.  Eventually, I’ll review them all.  Today, I’m doing one of the lesser known albums, 1980’s Chinatown.

SAM_2230

You know, it’s funny how perspective changes. When I first got this album a few years back, “Sugar Blues” was my least favourite track. Now, it’s my favourite. Just listen to that Snowy White guitar solo with headphones on, and dig into that driving rhythm.  Incredible.

In general, I enjoy Chinatown a lot more now. There are some strikingly great Thin Lizzy tunes on here, albeit a bit less complex than previous albums. “Killer On The Loose” remains a great heavy metal song with brilliant soloing courtesy of Gorham. “We Will Be Strong”, the slightly understated opener, is also a personal favourite. It may not be loaded to the gills with familiar songs, but Chinatown is still a fine Lizzy platter.

Another winner is “Genocide (The Killing of the Buffalo)”.  Some might wonder what right an Irish man has to criticize what the white American did to his land.  I think it’s a pretty straightforward and clear-cut position.   It’s also a great song, riffy and solid.

“Having A Good Time” is an enjoyable romp (Phil’s cheerleading being infectious) with yet another Snowy solo that just sails. It just rides the song beautifully and elevates the whole thing. Personally, I think Snowy’s work with Thin Lizzy has been among the most interesting.  He may not have been the “right” guy for Lizzy (discuss!) but his work cannot be dismissed.  As an interesting bluesy sideroad, the Snowy White era of Thin Lizzy is as compelling as the previous eras.

This deluxe edition adds a bonus disc of extra goodies that is well worth the price. (At press time, selling for about $17 on Amazon.ca, although I paid $32.50 CAD when it was just out.)  The B-side “Don’t Play Around” is stellar. While the live take of “Sugar Blues” is previously available on the Thin Lizzy box set (smoking solo by the way), “Whiskey In The Jar” is a really interesting version. Performed as a trio by Phil Lynott, Brian Downey and Midge Ure (apparently because Snowy and Scott don’t know the song?), it’s a very different, simplified version of the song but no less catchy.

As with all Thin Lizzy deluxe editions, there’s an extensive booklet with photos, facts, figures, interviews, and so on.  I enjoy reading along as I listen.

5/5 stars