Brian Robertson

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)

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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: 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 – Jailbreak (deluxe edition)

JAILBREAK FRONT

THIN LIZZY – Jailbreak (2011 deluxe edition)

Jailbreak!

This classic underappreciated masterpiece of rock goodness has finally been expanded with bonus tracks.  Underappreciated?  Sure, while everyone knows at least two songs from this album, how many friends of yours actually own a copy?

Jailbreak‘s been given some cool bonus tracks.  An entire disc’s worth in fact!  The remastering sounds good enough to me.  Until I got this deluxe, I hadn’t played Jailbreak in a while, and I had completely forgotten about great album cuts like “Running Back”.  It’s a sweet little love ditty as only Phil can do it, romantic but classy all the way.

I think the second track, “Angel From the Coast”, is one of Lizzy’s greatest album cuts.  It rides on top a rhythmic, rolling guitar riff, but it’s also one of Phil’s more memorable compositions.  “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” is another one of Phil’s romantic classic rockers.  The lyrics are kinda cheesey:  “Whoah-oh, poor Romeo, sittin’ all on his own-e-o”.  But it works, because it’s Phil, and everything he did sounded sincere and cool.

“Warriors” brings the metal.  It’s a classic heavy rocker that I am sure people like Steve Harris studied meticulously to learn the mysterious art of songwriting.  Multiple sections collide, thundering drums roll, and solos rage.

“Fight Or Fall” is a great ballad, acoustic and soulful.  This is the kind of thing that Phil had done so well on albums like Nightlife.  “Emerald” is another Phil historical epic.  Once again, I feel that Steve Harris probably studied this song intensely.  This really anticipates where Iron Maiden were going to go later on.

One of the true classics on Jailbreak was “Cowboy Song”, a song that melded live with Lizzy’s cover of Bob Seger’s “Rosalie”.  In my mind, the two songs are one in the same now.  They go together like peanut butter and jam.  And that, friends, is a tasty sandwich.

I don’t really need to talk “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back In Town”, do I?

Alright, I will.  “Boys Are Back” is one I discovered initially through Bon Jovi.  They covered it back in 1989 on a charity CD that I’ll cover another time.  It was perfect for them.  Didn’t Jon always sing about the boys being back in town back then?  It had a tasty guitar harmony part for Richie Sambora to sink his teeth into, and it was melodic and radio-worthy.  In a way, this is Lizzy’s Bon Jovi song, but it is no less classic for it.

And “Jailbreak”?  Everything about it is perfect.  The riff, the melody, but it really came alive in a live setting.  As good as the album version is, it was live that “Jailbreak” burned.

The bonus disc kicks off with four remixes helmed by Joe Elliott, one of the biggest Lizzy fans out there. His strategy was simple: some subtle fixes to out-of-tune guitars and drums that were mixed too low.  Then he and Scott Gorham added previously unheard lyrics, solos and fills. The result is some fine alternate versions that won’t replace the originals but serve as interesting companion pieces. I especially enjoyed the previously unheard lyrics from Phil.

The remixes are followed by some live takes. BBC recordings of the title track, “Emerald”, and others are nice and clean. Just as you would expect from the BBC. Then there is an extended cut of “Fight Or Fall” with some very tasty slide guitar brought up to the forefront. It’s a nice touch. “Blues Boy” is a completely unreleased track, a blues as you might have guessed. It is complete with some skeletal vocals from Phil, but this is essentially a blues jam. As an unreleased song, this is a valuable inclusion, albeit not a standout song. The album ends with a live take called “Derby Blues”, which is an embrionic version of “Cowboy Song”. “This is a new number, this one!” says Phil.  “As yet untitled. We’ll call it ‘Derby Blues'”. It still has all the energy and fire that it would later embody.  (“Derby Blues” is also on a more recent release called UK Tour 75.)

The liner notes to this edition are quite excellent, among the best I have ever run into in a deluxe edition. As an added bonus, there is a page of notes from Joe Elliott, explaining the included remixes.

If you don’t want to bother with the deluxe, at least make sure you own Jailbreak.
5/5 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 – Live and Dangerous (deluxe edition)

“Is there anyone here who has some Irish them? Are there any girls who’d like a little more Irish in them?”Phil Lynott

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THIN LIZZY – Live and Dangerous (2011 deluxe edition)

Kiss Alive. Frampton Comes Alive. Live At Leeds. Live and Dangerous. What is it about live albums that, in the past anyway, pretty much defined a band’s career? If you were going to own one Kiss album, let’s face it, it was Kiss Alive. Likewise with Lizzy — this was the album you were most likely to find in the older brother’s record collection. Or the dad’s CD collection, as time goes on. What is it about live albums in general and this one in particular?

Hard to say. However, one thing it does have common with Kiss Alive is that it was heavily overdubbed in the studio. The liner notes go into great detail on this, with producer Tony Visconti and guitarist Scott Gorham disagreeing on the details. So we may never know, except to listen to the results and blindly enjoy them for what they are!

Now expanded to two discs with two bonus tracks, Live and Dangerous is still a fantastic listen from front to back. I can’t believe how great this album still sounds. If this was concocted in the studio, I have no idea how they managed this kind of energy. In particular, Phil’s vocals are better than anything he’d ever done anywhere else — more soulful, more pronounced, powerful — pick your adjective. Either way, this is the sound of a real singer, singing live, improvising notes here and there, making it more real.

Enough good things cannot be said about Live and Dangerous so I will just add two more things and leave you to buy (or not, but you’d have to be a real suckypants not to want to own this). I was disappointed in two things:

1. Only two bonus tracks were included, and the B-side “Me And The Boys” is not one of them. This is very rare for deluxe editions, which usually include as many B-sides as possible, and there was room on the discs. (Don’t fret though, the live version of “Me And The Boys” can be had on the Lizzy box set.)

2. The DVD Live And Dangerous – Live at the Rainbow Theatre 1977 just includes the show itself and none of the special features included on actual individual DVD editions you can buy separately.

As an added note, you may enjoy the “sequel” album Still Dangerous, although there is some overlap.

5/5 stars. Just buy it.