Brian Tichy

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Anomaly (2017 deluxe edition)

ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2017 eOne deluxe edition)

Ace Frehley’s solo album Anomaly was a comeback of sorts for the ex-Kiss guitarist.  Released in 2009, it was his first solo adventure since quitting Kiss for the second time.  In 2017, it was reissued as a questionable “deluxe edition”.  Why questionable?  There are only three added tracks.  The album was remastered (out of necessity so that the unreleased tracks match the album) and a new essay was included.

We reviewed Anomaly back in 2013 as part of a complete Ace Frehley review series.  There’s little point in rehashing it all.  The good songs are still the good songs:  “Outer Space” (Shredmill cover), “Fox on the Run” (The Sweet cover), “Change the World”, “Sister”, “Genghis Khan”, “Space Bear” and “Fractured Quantum”.  Three of those songs are instrumentals.  The filler is still there too:  “Pain in the Neck”, “Too Many Faces”, “Foxy & Free” and so on.

The best of the bonus tracks is “Return of Space Bear”, previously only available by download (and then disappeared off iTunes).  This is the first chance to get “Return of Space Bear” in any physical format, if you were lucky enough to get it at all.  What is “Return of Space Bear”?  Back on October 30 1979, Kiss did an appearance on the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.  Ace was “pre-lubricated”, so to speak, and had a little teddy bear Ace with him, “the first space bear in captivity”.  Gene Simmons tried to divert attention away from Ace, but a lovably drunk Frehley stole the show.  “Return of Space Bear” is a version of the album track “Space Bear”, with Ace’s dialogue re-enacted and added in.  Kiss fans will love it.

The other two extras are demos.  “Hard For Me” is an early version of “Foxy & Free” with different lyrics.  While less polished, the music is 100% intact and the demo is nice and lively.  According to the new liner notes, the record company thought that “Hard For Me” was a bit too dirty, and so demanded new lyrics.  Then there is a “slower” version of “Pain in the Neck”.  It’s not drastically slower, but a little heavier.

Is it worth re-buying Anomaly just for the bonus tracks?  Well, if you hated that weird fold-out box the original came in, then take note this version comes in a standard digipack (with nice embossed lettering).**  Online, fans were more excited about the vinyl editions, including a lovely picture disc 2 LP set.  Buying it again is justifiable if you haven’t already bought Anomaly, but difficult to do otherwise.*

3.75/5 stars

* I bought it to beef up an Amazon order to qualify for free shipping.

** On this edition, Les Paul’s name was added to the “In memory of…” on the reverse.  Presumably, when Les died in 2009, it was too late to add his name to the back.

COMPLETE FREHLEY REVIEWS

ACE FREHLEY – 12 Picks (1997 Megaforce Worldwide)
ACE FREHLEY – ACE FREHLEY (KISS solo album) (1978 Casblanca)
ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2009 version)
ACE FREHLEY – “Cherokee Boogie” (1996 Attic)
ACE FREHLEY – Frehley’s Comet (1987 Megaforce Worldwide)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Live + 1 (1988 Megaforce Worldwide)
ACE FREHLEY – Loaded Deck (1998 Megaforce Worldwide)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Milwaukee Live ’87 (radio broadcast CD)
ACE FREHLEY – Origins Vol. 1 (2016 eOne)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Second Sighting (1988 Megaforce Worldwide, 1998 reissue)
ACE FREHLEY – Space Invader (2014 E One/Victor Japan)
ACE FREHLEY – Trouble Walkin’ (1989 Megaforce Worldwide)
Return of the Comet – Tribute to ACE FREHLEY (1997 Shock Records)
Spacewalk – A Salute to ACE FREHLEY (1996 DeRock/Triage)

 

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REVIEW: Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life (Tribute)

NEW RELEASE

“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0001VARIOUS ARTISTS:  Ronnie James Dio – THIS IS YOUR LIFE (2014 tribute CD)

No preable from me: we all know how great Dio was.  Let’s get to the tracks.

Anthrax kick off the festivities with a slamming “Neon Nights”.  The storming opener couldn’t have been in a better slot.  Not only is Charlie Benate heavy as shit, but the guitar solos are mental.  Joe Belladonna handles the powerful vocal ably.  Rob Caggiano is still in the lineup indicating this isn’t brand new.  I suspect it was recorded at the same time as last year’s Anthems EP.

The guys that never get respect, Tenacious D, tackle the difficult second slot.  No worries there; they chose “The Last In Line” which Jack Black sings with no difficulty.  Uncle Meat has said it before:  Jack Black is one of the best singers he’s seen live.  “The Last In Line” proves his pipes, although some may not like his exaggerated, humorous vocal enunciation.  Kyle Gass plays a cute recorder solo in lieu of guitar, but there’s not enough K.G. on this track.  Brooks Wackerman kicks the drums in the ass.

And speaking of drums, Mike Portnoy is next with Adrenaline  Mob.  They demolish “Mob Rules”, although singer Russell Allen is certainly no Dio.  He is completely overshadowed by Portnoy and the shredding of Mike Orlando.

Corey Taylor, Satchel (Russ Parish) and friends  chose “Rainbow In the Dark” as their tribute to Ronnie.  This has always been such a fan favourite, and a personal one as well.  It is difficult to imagine anyone but Ronnie singing it.  While Corey Taylor is not at all like Ronnie James Dio, you can tell he loves this song.  It bleeds out of his performance.  He does it in his own rasp, and it works.

The incredible Lzzy Hale and Halestorm are up next with another Dio classic, “Straight Through the Heart”.  There is no denying the talents of Lzzy Hale, but her powerful pipes are almost too much.  Perhaps she overpowers the song, rather than simply fueling it.  Halestorm fans will love it, but I think Lzzy maybe should have reeled it in a bit.  Or, maybe I just need to get used to it.  “Straight From the Heart” does sound better after a few listens.

Biff Byford (Saxon) joins Motorhead on lead vocals for Rainbow’s “Starstruck”.  There’s a bit of that Motor-slam in it, but if I didn’t know who it was, I never would have guessed Motorhead.  You can hear Lemmy on backing vocals, but weirdly, he’s not credited on bass.  Nobody is, but you can hear the bass clearly and it sounds like Lem.

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I’m a little sick of the Scorpions doing ballads, but I admit that “Temple of the King” (another Rainbow classic) is stunningly good.  One might almost mistake it for a Scorpions original.  It has that regal Scorpions bombast to is, but Matthias Jabs’ lead work is just sublime.  He’s an underrated player, absolutely.  You can tell he’s a Blackmore fan.

An oldie from 1999, Doro’s cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” is excellent.  It’s cool to hear female singers like Doro and Lzzy Hale sing Dio.  Doro’s impressive pipes have always been astounding.  Her version of “Egypt” is a little over the top compared to Dio’s, but that’s cool by me.

Killswitch Engage…hmm.  “Holy Diver” starts great, super heavy, with some perfectly acceptable, melodic vocals.  Then it all goes down the toilet at the bridge.  That’s when it turns into hardcore shouting and blast beats…sorry, not on this song, thanks.  I can listen to that stuff in moderation, but don’t sully “Holy Diver” with it.  Fortunately the guitar solos are great, sounding like an Iron Maiden outtake from Powerslave.  Shame about the growling and shouting.  Skip.

“Catch the Rainbow” is a great song, and Craig Goldy plays guitar on this cover.  He’s ex-Dio himself, and he’s backed by his former Dio-mates Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright.  (Hey, that’s also 1/3 of Tateryche!)  Glenn Hughes sings, but this song sounds out of his scope.  His bluesy slant doesn’t work for me.  Sorry Glenn, you’re still awesome!

I find it strange that two more ex-Dio members (Jimmy Bain and Rowan Robertson) chose to cover Black Sabbath.  But who cares!  They covered “I”, perhaps the greatest song from Dehumanizer (1992)!  On drums is Brian Tichy, with Oni Logan (Lynch Mob, Dio Disciples) singing.  It’s a perfectly authentic version and I love it.  It’s absolutely thunderous, and I love Jimmy Bain’s bass sound.  Always have.  Of all the vocalists on This Is Your Life, it is Oni Logan that comes closest to nailing Dio’s vibe.  Considering he’s in Dio Diciples, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I didn’t expect it though, based on what I knew of Logan from Lynch Mob.  He fits “I” like a glove!

I was disappointed in Rob Halford’s version of “Man On the Silver Mountain”.  It’s true that Halford did replace Dio in Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992.  However, having owned a bootleg video of that show since that time, I knew that Halford’s and Dio’s styles didn’t really mesh.  This is no different; I don’t think his voice works with the song and it unfortunately shows off the places where Rob’s voice has weakened.  What is cool though is that the band (all ex-Dio:  Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson and Scott Warren) take it to a swampy bluesy Whitesnake-y place for the intro.  You can definitely hear Pilson covering the high notes in the chorus.

Finally we arrive at the mighty Metallica.  Snicker if you like.  If Metallica do one thing really well, it’s covers.  If they do two right, it’s covers and medleys.  The “Ronnie Rising Medley” is entirely made up of parts of Rainbow songs.  “A Light In the Black” bleeds into “Tarot Woman,” where the vocals begin.  It’s safe to say if you don’t like Metallica, you won’t like this.  If the opposite is true, I think you’re in for a treat.  Metallica do these classics in their own style, just as they have in the past when covering Maiden, or Mercyful Fate, or Thin Lizzy.  Simply add Lars’ thuds, James’ growl, and some standard Metalli-licks, and you’ve got a medley that is enjoyable through its near-10 minute run time.  Having said that, the weak point is definitely “Stargazer”, which is gutted of all its majesty.  They do much better with “Kill the King” which is fucking perfect.  They include the entire song in their medley!

Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad:  Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996.  I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”.  Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon.  The lyrics speak of mortality:

This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame
Won’t last forever?

This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical

What a way to end a great album.  As much as you can “miss” a person you have never met, I do miss Ronnie James Dio.  In many ways he’s been my friend for 30 years.

4.5/5 stars

As a nice added touch, the liner notes include photos of just about every performer on this CD with Ronnie!

Of  note:  the Japanese edition has a bonus track by Dio Diciples:  “Stand Up and Shout.”  It also has Stryper’s version of “Heaven and Hell” from their 2011 album The Covering, which I reviewed here.

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Anomaly (2009)

Finally, the end!  Part 9 of my 9 part series on Ace Frehley!  Via this series, we took a comprehensive look at every significant Frehley solo release that I had access to.  Here’s a directory to the whole thing in case you missed a part!

ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2009 Bronx Born)

Ace had a pretty good backing band on this, only his fifth solo album!  Anton Fig on drums, Anthony Esposito (ex-Lynch Mob) on bass, and a few guests here and there such as Brian Tichy.  The overall sound is much heavier than anything Ace has done before.  There are lot of chunky guitars, and a ton of riffs.

“Foxy & Free” is fine as an opener, but melodically a little awkward.  It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I don’t like about it, but it’s not one of the better songs.  Much better is “Outer Space”, Ace’s re-imagining of a song by a band called Shredmill.  While that band originally conceived the song as a Danzig-esque prowl, Ace cranks it up.  Pedal to the floor, this is the best song on Anomaly.  Too bad it’s a cover because this is the kind of original that Ace needs.  Unfortunately “Outer Space” is followed by “Pain in the Neck”, another one I find melodically annoying.

FREHLEY VINYLAnother cover, “Fox on the Run”, restores the album.  Much like “Do Ya”, I think Ace knocked it out of the park with this cover.  His modus operandi seems to be taking catchy pop songs and rocking them up.  He does it very well.  Another thing he does very well is instrumental tracks, and “Genghis Khan” is a fascinating one.  You don’t think of Ace as being influenced by Led Zeppelin so much, but this definitely sounds like Zeppelin for the most part!  This is thanks in part to Anton Fig’s perfect execution on drums.  But it’s not exactly an instrumental, as it does have a chorus!  “So, long, Genghis Khan!”  But that’s pretty much it in terms of lyrics!

Like a see-saw, the album swings back to melodically questionable territory.  “Too Many Faces” is not a stand out.  It’s heavy but lacks significant hooks.  “Change the World” is a another high.  Frehley’s an electric hippy praying for peace.  It’s not the first time, but it’s a worthy successor to songs of the past such as “Remember Me”.  Unlike many of the weaker songs, “Change the World” is catchy, singalong  quality, and fun!

A punishing and cool instrumental called “Space Bear” is actually overshadowed by another version of the song later on, so I’m going to skip it now.  “A Little Below the Angels” is a pretty good acoustic ballad.  I really dislike the middle section, with Ace talking to the girl…wish that had been excised.  It’s back again to heavy territory on “Sister”, one of the few really decent original Frehley heavy rockers on the album.  This one features Scot Coogan (Brides of Destruction) on drums, and he really throws caution to the wind and goes for it!  His drums are a highlight of a great Frehley rocker.

“It’s a Great Life” is certainly interesting.  It’s a funky 80’s sounding rocker, with Ace’s personality.  The chorus could have been stronger.  Imagine what a producer like Eddie Kramer could have done with the sound of this album!  Sonically, Anomaly is disappointing for the most part.  If Kramer had produced, I’m sure the closer “Fractured Quantum” would shimmer like the other three “Fractured” songs.  Don’t get me wrong, I love “Fractured Quantum”, I just think it lacks a certain sonic shine that the others have.  Like the other “Fractured” instrumentals, it consists of layers of acoustic guitars with some electrics here and there.  It is melodically simple and it works.

iTunes offered their exclusive bonus track, “Return of Space Bear”.  This song is either a) no longer available on iTunes, or b) not available on iTunes in Canada.  Needless to say I was forced to acquire it in the shady underbelly of the internets, but find it I did.  “Space Bear” is a reference to Ace’s hilarious drunken appearance on the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.  On October 30 1979, Kiss appeared on the show, and Ace was pre-lubricated. A visibly upset Gene Simmons attempts to divert attention away from Ace and his “first space bear ever in captivity”, a little teddy bear version of himself!  On this iTunes version, Ace’s dialogue is added, and this is the version I like best.  Ace re-enacts some of his funniest drunken lines over some cool rocking riffs.  To me, the tune sounds like early rocking Aerosmith, circa Rocks.

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photo: heavymetal107

I will say that I don’t like the packaging.  The cardboard case thing unfolds into a pyramid, but I’ve never tried.  As a device to hold a CD, it’s annoying to get the disc in and out, and mine is pretty scratched.  I did find a photo of the “pyramid” form at a cool blog called Heavy Metal 107 — click the thumb to see.

And that’s Anomaly, Ace’s first solo album in 20 years.  By coincidence, just like last time (Trouble Walkin‘), Ace’s new album came at almost exactly the same time as a new Kiss CD, Sonic Boom.   As before, fans compared and argued over who had made the better album.  I think these fans miss the point.  It doesn’t matter who made the better album, what matters is that both finally got back to making albums!

3.75/5 stars

When Ace returns for his next solo album, you can bet I will be here to tell you all about it.  Thanks for reading this series!  I hope you enjoyed.

REVIEW: A Tribute to Ace Frehley – Return of the Comet (1997)

Part 6 in a series on Ace Frehley! Missed the last part, “Cherokee Boogie”? Click here!
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RETURN OF THE COMET_0001A Tribute to Ace Frehley – Return of the Comet (1997 Shock Records)

Last time we talked about a tribute album with a new recording by Ace.  This time, we’re talking about a tribute album with new recordings by the Comet!  Return of the Comet even features some of the same artists that were on Spacewalk:  Tracii Guns, Gilby Clarke and the brothers Abbott (Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul) are on both albums.  And like Spacewalk, this one also comes with a guitar pick.  This time it’s a Bruce Kulick pick, because the CD also features a cool bonus: Bruce’s debut solo track, “Liar”.

This is a pretty good tribute CD.  Somebody called Bruiz does a faithful reproduction of the “Rock Bottom” intro, which seques directly into Brian Tichy’s “Rip It Out”.  I was familiar with Tichy from Zakk Wylde’s Pride and Glory, but he sings and plays every instrument on this.  Everybody knows today how talented he is, but this was a revelation to me in 1997.  Do I need to say that he does an excellent job on it?  He also nails Anton Fig’s drum solo.

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L.A. Guns is next, but it’s not Phil Lewis.  It’s Ralph Saenz.  You might know him better as Michael Starr from Steel Panther.  So how’s their “Cold Gin”?  It’s perfect for this band and this singer.  Eric Singer and Karl Cochran take a shot at “Strange Ways”, but I don’t like their take on it too much.  Eric’s vocal doesn’t suit the song in my opinion, and this version is too chunk-chunk-chunk.

“Getaway” was always a bit of a throwaway Kiss track, but I like the lesser known songs.  Seattle’s Tubetop speed it up a fair measure, but that’s not the problem.  I always identify this song with Peter Criss’ gritty voice.  Who doesn’t?  The singer, Gavin Gus, takes a smooth approach to the song, but sometimes Kiss songs aren’t meant to be tampered with too much.  It improves as it gets harder at the end.

RETURN OF THE COMET_0007Then we have the Presidents of the United States of America.  OK band I guess, but their stripped back sound is totally wrong for “Shout It Out Loud”.  Having said that, the brilliance of the song itself still shines through.  The album is immediately redeemed by a remarkable performance from a remarkable guitarist:  Dimebag.  He and Vinnie Paul stomp through “Snowblind”, a sludgy Ace classic.  Wisely, Dime changed nothing about the song, except adding some trademark Dime guitar shrieks on top.  It’s a totally appropriate touch.  Even though his singing voice is nothing like Ace’s (he’s more Zakk Wylde than Ace Frehley) he still lays down a lead vocal that fits.  Then his guitar solo rips your head off, end of story.  Mind blown, the album can end here thank you very much!

We’re not even half through yet.  Tod Howarth (ex-Frehley’s Comet) turns up with his own solo version of “Dancing With Danger”.  It’s a Streetheart cover that Frehley’s Comet also did on Second Sighting.  Tod tries to update the song for the 1990’s but fails.  His voice is also noticeably lower.  Then, Karl Cochran and Eric Singer are up with “Love Her All I Can”, a song originally sung and written by…Paul Stanley?  Why?  According to the liner notes, Cochran used to sing this song when he was in Frehley’s solo band in the 90’s.  Cochran and Singer perfectly nail this one, right down to the guitar solo and those Simmons/Stanley harmony vocals.  A winner.

Filler is “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” by Lee and Dallas (?).  As great as the original song is, I didn’t need to hear a jazzy country version of it.  It’s old-school country, swinging and authentic, but no thanks.  Thankfully Gilby Clarke comes to the rescue with the classic “Rocket Ride” from Alive II.  I love it.  I like it better than his version of “Shock Me” from Spacewalk, actually.

Richie Scarlet from Frehley’s Comet teams up with Beatlemania’s Mitch Weissman on Ace’s “Remember Me”.  It’s great and much like the original.  Then the Presidents are back for a second term, this time adding members of Tubetop and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden to the mix.  They do a cool campfire version of “New York Groove” that sounds live.  This is much better than “Shout It Out Loud”.  Well done.

A Frehley’s Comet reunion is the climax of the album.  Alumni Richie Scarlet, John Regan, Steve Werner and Arthur Stead are back to redo two unreleased Comet classics.  These songs are Vinnie Vincent’s “Back On the Streets”, which is, in a word, awesome.  It’s a dark ominous song with balls.  Then they do “Animal” which was written by Regan and Stead (perhaps the reason it was never released before?).  It has a funky little riff before it breaks into a cool anthemic chorus.

RETURN OF THE COMET_0005It’s best to think of the last two songs as bonus tracks, because they have little to do with Ace.  From a forthcoming Howarth album named Cobalt Parlor is a lacklustre song called “California Burns”.  I wanted to like this, really I did.  It’s just a really nauseating attempt at being modern and heavy, and no sir I don’t like it.  Sorry Tod.  “The Liar” by Bruce Kulick is much better.  I am a real fan of Kulick as a solo artist.  He is an articulate, skilled player with a knack for melody.  “The Liar” is a great instrumental, alternating between light and heavy, but always very lyrical.  Just sing a lead vocal of your own over Bruce’s guitar, and you can imagine this as a “I Still Love You” rock ballad.  This song was Bruce’s first ever post-Kiss solo release, and according to the liner notes, it serves two purposes.  One: to end the album with an instrumental as Ace always did.  Two: to tip the hat to the guy who succeeded in filling Ace’s shoes for over a decade.

I would recommend this tribute album to any serious Ace/Kiss fan, simply because it has some great cover versions of some obscure classics.  That to me raises it above most cut-and-paste tribute albums that are out there on the market.  There is a real sense of passion to this CD.  John Regan put it together and you can tell by the attention to detail.  Kudos, John.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Forevermore (2011)

This has become a bit of a series I guess, unintentionally!  Here are my Whitesnake reviews thus far:

SnakebiteCome An’ Get ItSlide It InLive at DonningtonGood to be Bad

WHITESNAKE – Forevermore (2011 deluxe edition, Frontiers)

Considering that this band has housed such monster players as Steve Vai and John Sykes among many others, I take great risk with my opening statement, but here goes: I think Forevermore, the newest album by Whitesnake, is the most guitar-heavy of their entire career. Indeed, on first listen, one is blown away by the extremely well recorded antics of Reb Beach and Doug Aldrich. These guys can wail.

And wail they do, the opener “Steal Your Heart Away” (not to be confused with “Steal Away” from Snakebite) just roars with bluesy chords, fast fretwork, and slippery slides.  The guitars are greasy! And that’s just the opening track.

FOREVERMORE_0004You can definitely hear an urge from Coverdale and Co. to keep everything loosely based on the origins of Whitesnake. You get a lot of bluesy rock, a lot of soul singing from one of the best there is, and some serious groove. On the whole, this album sounds like a growth from the last album, the solid but safe Good To Be Bad. Good To Be Bad was a decent album, but very “safe”. It did not stray much if at all from the classic Whitesnake 1987 sound, complete with guitar solos from the John Sykes School of Axe Wizardry. Now Whitesnake are stretching out more, and dropping a lot of the Sykes-isms. If the last album was a debut album of sorts, this one definitely sounds like the more confident second album.

David is singing great. His voice is as marvelously rich as it was on the Coverdale-Page album back in 1993. And speaking of Coverdale-Page, some of these songs definitely bring that great album to mind.

The only thing that I really don’t like about Whitesnake today are the lyrics. David’s a capable lyricist, and songs like the oldie “Sailing Ships” are really well written. When David, at his current age, starts singing about girls that way that he sings about girls, I feel mildly queezy inside.  But then, on the album closer “Forevermore”, David returns to his philosophical lyrical side, a side I prefer.  (And it’s a great song.)

It is what it is, and musically this is just a freakin’ great album. My current fave track is “All Out Of Luck” which sports this nifty space age blues metal riff. You will find your own favourites too. Fans of both 70’s and 80’s ‘Snake should find something to enjoy here.

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There’s a bonus DVD:  A music video, some making-ofs, and a track by track commentary by DC himself.

There are bonus tracks on my “deluxe edition”, all remixes and alternate versions. Just a nice bonus, not essential for the enjoyment of this album. The “Evil Drums” mix of “My Evil Ways” is a little crazy.  Of note, Japan also got an exclusive bonus of their own, a “Swamp Mix” of “Whipping Boy Blues”. Like our bonus tracks, it’s just a bonus, not essential to the flavour of the album. Track it down if you’re a collector. I’ve heard it, it’s cool.

4.5/5 stars

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