Canadian rock

Getting Ready for Canada Day

This my friends is a Japanese A5 wagyu.  The most highly prized steak in the world.  This will be going on the plate July 1.  It will be my first time cooking it.  Wish me luck!  I definitely will not be overcooking it.  Chefs recommend rare or medium rare.  I’ll aim for medium.  Chefs also tend to season simply with salt and pepper and little else, to let the beef flavour dominate.

So now that we have the food settled, we just need some fireworks and music.  What Canadian songs are your favourites?  Comment below.

 

#983: Gimme Another R!

RECORD STORE TALES #983: Gimme Another R!

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R!

There’s a certain amount of pride that one takes in being a Helix fan.  Helix the band are almost as old as I am!  They formed in 1974 and put out their first independent album Breaking Loose in 1979.  And what a debut it was!  With a handful of road-tested songs, the band plied the waters of guitar rock, with a foot in sci-fi prog and another in boogie-woogie.  Just check out their first minor hit “Billy Oxygen” if you don’t believe me.  They’ve been releasing music steadily ever since, with Capitol Records and others, with only a minor five year gap between It’s a Business Doing Pleasure (1993) and half-ALIVE (1998).

In 2022, Helix are back with a new single called “Not My Circus, Not My Clowns”.  They’re getting ready to start gigging again after two years of Covid-induced hibernation.  The current lineup consists of founder Brian Vollmer, classic members Daryl Gray and Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and guitarists Chris Julke and Mark Chichkan.  Julke has already been in the band eight years, and Chichkan had countless gigs with Helix in the mid-90s.  These veterans absolutely know how to give ’em an R.  Then we have Sean Kelly helping out in the studio to boot, adding some nitro to the mix.  In other words:  Helix are still potent.

It’s fair to say we all miss Paul Hackman.  I never met Paul though I’ve met most of the others.  He sure was a talented writer, and many of his songs like “Heavy Metal Love” are beloved classics today.  Fritz Hinz has been through hell and back, making a stunning recovery after a coma-inducing fall from a roof.  In recent years we also lost original guitarist Ron Watson, keyboardist Don Simmons, and road warrior Brian Knight.  Brian Knight was a kid from our neighborhood, who went to do road work with Helix for many years.  We lost him in 2021.  Yet Helix keep on going, and going, and going.  Even former guitarist Brent “the Doctor” Doerner has a new album coming out called The Ashtray Sonatas.

Speaking of the good Doctor, I first befriended the guitarist in 2006 at a Helix gig.  I knew a guy named Shane Schedler, who was in his new solo band, and this led to an interview with Brent at his home.  It was the first of several visits.  A few months later, with a few gigs under his belt, Brent screened some live footage of the band and had some friends over to celebrate.  It was that night that I wrote up the official bios for his band.  I remember telling Brent I wanted to write the band member bios for his website and then running around the room getting quotes from all the members.  It was a lot of fun.  Definitely a personal highlight.

So for the first time since the first time, here are the Brent Doerner’s Decibel bios that I wrote.

Thanks to everyone who’s ever been in Helix for rocking us.


BRENT DOERNER’S DECIBEL

Band Bios and Fascinating Factoids

 

BRENT DOERNER (Lead Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars)

“What’s right is what’s left after you’ve done everything else wrong.”

Not just every guitar slinger out there can claim to be a part of a Canadian rock institution.  Brent Doerner can:  He spent over 15 years in Helix playing guitar, writing, singing, blowing minds and winning fans the world over.  He has the battle scars and the gold records to prove it, but that’s not the end of the story.  A new chapter has just begun with Decibel, a new rock band of good-time tunes and unique lyrics that continues his legacy with pride and vision for the future.

CHICK (Rhythm Guitars)

“If you don’t have rhythm, stay at home.”

Ralph “Chick” Schumilas has been around the block once or thrice.  He has 40 years experience as a musician.   In the beginning, he was a drummer which gives him a rhythmic edge that’s tough to beat.  Formerly, he was the co-owner of  Buzz Marshall studios, and has played and written with such luminaries as Cheryl Lescom, Rob Juneau, and Keith Gallagher among others.  He brings his immense songwriting experience to Decibel’s solid live repertoire.

HILLS WALTER (Bass, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“I’m not working for road rash.”

Hilliard Walter’s résumé is impressive in its diversity and scope.  He’s been paying his dues in the clubs across Ontario for the better part of 30 years.  Rock, however, is only one part of Hills’ musical makeup:  He’s done punk, new wave, funk, soul, and every combination and isotope of those styles that is currently known to modern science.  He’s played with Soul Circus, Sthil, Dezmanhall, Ed Bertoli, and lots more.  He saw Helix make their big break and said, “I can do that too.”  Now, Decibel is the main focus of this talented bass player with the soulful voice.  When he sings, you listen.

SHANE SCHEDLER (Lead guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“They tried to bury the double lead, but we’re going to rectify that.”

Shane’s history as a recording artist goes back to the mid-90’s when he was a member of the guitar-driven trio Martyrs of Melody.  With the Martyrs, he released two independent CDs and began honing his songwriting craft.  He’s been grinding his axe for “seven point something Olympic years” (you do the math).  He now writes, sings and plays for Decibel, a band that makes him beam with pride.  Shane is also proud that he hasn’t cut his hair since grade nine.

BRIAN DOERNER (Drums, Vocals)

“Some drummers think ‘time’ is a magazine, but they don’t have a subscription!”

Brent’s twin brother Brian Doerner is legend on the skins.  His discography reads like a “who’s-who” of rock:  Helix, Saga, Brian Vollmer, Ray Lyell, Refugee, Myles Hunter, and more.  He first picked up the sticks after seeing the Beatles on TV in ’65, and it’s been a love affair with music ever since.  A respected session man and teacher, Brian has inspired the others to new levels in their playing.  Now that the twins are back together, the chemistry onstage is infectious.


 

REVIEW: Jacob Moon – Under A Setting Sun (2022)

JACOB MOON – Under A Setting Sun (2022)

I’ve only helped crowdfund two things in my life.  I’m happy to say I picked a winning horse in both cases, the second being Jacob Moon’s new CD called Under A Setting Sun.

Although Moon is certainly a stunningly good musician, and his voice could be described as “angelic”, it’s his songwriting that really sets him apart.  Each song on the EP has a different flavour.  That being the case, they all share a certain light, an uplifting feeling that just makes you feel better after a listen.

The opening track “Live A Little” feels like a morning sunrise, with gently picked acoustics ringing clear, and a hint of slide shining from the shadows.  “Today we’re going to leave all those cares behind, and live a little” sings Moon, asking us to look at the stars above.  The message here is simple but necessary.  A brilliant song with a bright glow that will sound great in just about any setting.  It’ll go great on the porch this summer.

The familiar crunch of an electric guitar is joined by the moan of organ on “Tennessee”, a brilliant slow ride.  It has a vaguely southern feel especially when the slide guitar joins in.  “And the road has got the best of me, I thought I could be free yeah, like the winds in Tennessee,” sings Jacob as a soulful backing chorus joins in.  This one will sound great in the car on a country drive, guaranteed.

A unique acoustic song called “Miles To Go” has a gentle, breezy vibe.  A terrific song; you could imagine Jon Bon Jovi clenching his fists in jealousy that he didn’t write it.  It sounds in the pocket of mid-90s Bon Jovi when they weren’t afraid of getting a little more laid back on These Days.  The track sounds more lush as it goes, building to a nice resolution at the end.

If you’ve got the guts to call a tune the “Song That Won’t Leave You Alone”, it had better be catchy!  It’s actually about the creative process, but the title demands an actual song that won’t leave you alone.  The lyrics are fascinating but the chorus is really fantastic.  Great guitar work on this one as well, an absolute gem of a song.

“A Little More Time” is a quiet ballad, but backed with a strong drum beat.  The chorus is perfect.  Once again, a certain Mr. Jovi might be gnashing his teeth that he didn’t come up with this one, but that’s just pure speculation.  He couldn’t sing it like Moon does anyway.

The title track ends the album with a string-coated song that brings the vibe of the album full circle.  If “Live A Little” sounded like morning, then “Under A Setting Sun” brings the day to a close.  Whether that’s intentional or not, that’s one interpretation if you like.  Regardless, “Under A Setting Sun” wears an understated strength on its sleeve, based on the rhythm of the acoustic guitar.  The strings raise it to the clouds, dreamy and powerful.

2022 has been a year for strong releases already.  Add the name Jacob Moon to your list of must-hears.

5/5 stars

 

#968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

RECORD STORE TALES #968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

Trapper is Emm Gryner, Sean Kelly, Frank Gryner and Tim Timleck.  For those who know, Trapper is also one of the best hard rock bands going, if you happen to like that retro-catchy sound done with expertise and skill.  This style of music never died, but it was definitely harder to find after grunge hit the “reset” button.  Bottom line though:  a good song is a good song.  Trapper write and play good songs!

Joe Elliott is a fan. Isn’t that enough?

I have liked Trapper since first hearing about the band in 2015, when they released their first cassette.  I knew Emm Gryner by reputation and quickly became a fan of her solo work.  Of course, I was will familiar with Sean Kelly from his many recordings with Helix, Lee Aaron, the Metal On Ice CD/book project, and so on.  But I missed out on that limited edition tape.  I also missed the five track CD release Go For the Heart, of which 300 copies were made.

I’d been listening to the band quite a bit on the weekend, since getting their newest tape Songs From the Electric North in the mail.  Only 50 were made, and this time I managed to get one!  Sean sent it to me with a nice note.  He’s a great guy.  Not only did he take the time to appear on the LeBrain Train in May 2021, but even before that he was instrumental in helping me identify MuchMusic personalities on my VHS tapes.  I always like adding more of his music to my collection.

And that is the point of this story:  the collector’s disease.  It’s a real thing, and I have the actual receipts.  I decided I wanted “all the Trapper songs”.  I looked on Discogs and much to my amazement, they had a copy of Go For the Heart for $75 plus shipping.  $100 total.  Last copy sold was $71, two years prior.  It had been on my wishlist for some time.  I did the math, and decided this was my best chance to own it.  Go For the Heart has “Grand Bender” and “The Warrior” from the debut tape, so this would get me “all the Trapper songs” in physical form.  Still flush with Christmas money, I decided to pull the trigger.  Collector’s itch:  temporarily scratched.

I felt quite satisfied with my myself!

The next day, I noticed my good buddy Aaron from the KMA had left a comment on my Friday January 14 live show, during which I unboxed my brand new Songs From the Electric North cassette.  “Jealous you got the new Trapper,” he said.  “I only have the one CD here.”

Wait…the CD?  They only have one CD and it’s Go For the Heart.  The one I just paid a hundred bucks for.  And Aaron’s was signed by Emm and Sean!  He paid a buck.

I had to tell Sean this story.  “No regrets!” I said.  And it is true.  I paid a lot — maybe the most paid yet for that particular CD.  But I wanted it.  I wanted it for a while.  I know what the last guy paid, and I paid $4 more.  Will it appreciate in value?  Not the point!  I collect music from artists I like in physical formats.  I wanted it, so I bought it.

Hey, I’m a collector and sometimes we splurge!

REVIEW: Trapper – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

TRAPPER – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

One gets the sense that, although Trapper take the quality of their music very seriously, Emm, Sean, Tim and Frank are doing it for the pure enjoyment.  They must be!  Trapper is a top-notch band honouring their 80s roots by writing that kind of catchy rock song with singalong hooks.  Each track on their brand new cassette EP, Songs From the Electric North (limited to just 50 copies!) sounds assembled with great care, and genuine zeal.

Fear not if you missed out on the cassette, for you can download the EP on your iTunes!

Songs From the Electric North consists of four originals and two covers.  The covers,  “Illégal” by Corbeau and “Bye bye mon cowboy” by Mitsou, were previously reviewed here so you can check that out if you want to know more about those two excellent tracks.  In particular, we praised “Illégal” for a beautifully chunky riff that Sean Kelly captured with a nice crunchy guitar tone.  We also singled out Emm Gryner’s lead vocal, with depth, grit, power — the whole package.  This is the first physical release for these tracks.

The four originals vary in flavour, so picking favourites will also widely vary from person to person.  On side A, “Winterlong” opens, hitting the ears on a nice tense Sean Kelly riff with a Campbell-era Dio feeling.  This track has it all, from the powerhouse vocals to thundering drums n’ bass.  “Winterlong” also boasts a lyrical guitar solo, carefully composed and executed.  This track is a rocker!  Heavy as metal, yet sweet as saccharine at the same time.

Power ballad territory ahead!  Perhaps “Almost Forever” is in the vein of ‘87-era Whitesnake or albums of that direction?  Whatever your inkling, “Almost Forever” is memorable, and done to perfection.  It’s a hard sound to get just right.  The keyboards and especially Emm’s melody put it exactly in the right ballpark.  A winning song, that you will be coming back to again and again when you want a new ballad with that nostalgic feeling that sends you back in time.

Opening side B, “You Need An Angel” has a nice chunky rock groove.  Here Kelly reminds me at times of Ratt’s Warren DeMartini in tone and feel.  Another fabulous classic rock composition, laden with hooks and punchy drums.  And completely different in direction from the other tunes.

The last of the originals is the pounding metal of “New Year’s Day”.  This track has an epic quality, harder to describe, except to say it’s different again from the previous songs!  Solid riff/groove combo, with Emm delivering a vocal that just divebombs you with hooks from the sky!  How’s that for a description?  Just listen to it.

I’m very grateful to score one of the 50 copies of this tape.  To give you an idea of demand, Trapper’s first cassette “Grand Bender” / “The Warrior” was limited to 100 copies and never turns up for sale.  Their CD EP, Go For the Heart, runs about a hundred bucks total with shipping these days.  I should know, because I bought the last one!

You can get your copy on iTunes, so head on over and get rocked by the Songs From the Electric North. 

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Suicide Star – “The Day that Christmas Comes” (2021)

SUICIDE STAR “The Day that Christmas Comes” (2021)

Suicide Star recorded a Christmas song?  Then you know it’s going to rock heavy!  To make it even more interesting, this is not some overplayed Christmas pop hit from years past.  It’s a brand new original song, and the first new single since their excellent debut album Isolation.  Let’s celebrate!

As soon as singer Rob Barton opens his mouth, you know it’s Suicide Star.  He makes the band easy to identify even on shuffle.  Anchored by a melodic guitar line from Les Serran, “The Day that Christmas Comes” relays the bright hopeful feeling of the Christmas season.

There will be presents underneath the tree…
But the only thing I need, is you and me.

Lyrically the song captures the spirit and magic of Christmas.  Most importantly, the melodic tune (complete with jingle bells) makes it a delight to rock out to.  Production is stellar – up there with the album or even exceeding it.  There is even a fun and hilarious music video that really nails the Christmas vibe.  Well done, Suicide Star, and may your trees be overloaded with joy this Christmas!

Get in on yer iTunes or Spotify!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Rubber (Domestic and Japanese versions)

HAREM SCAREM – Rubber (1999 Warner Japan)
RUBBER – Rubber (2000 Warner Canada)

Time hasn’t been too unkind to Rubber, the experimental Harem Scarem album where they actually changed the band’s name to match.  Except in Japan where Harem Scarem were huge, a strange album by a band called Rubber emerged in the summer of 2000.  A generic, low budget rubber duckie adorned its cover.  No picture of the band on the back, but the mixing credits of Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance revealed the connection.  In Japan, the album was released in 1999 as a full-on Harem Scarem album, with all four band members depicted on the back, including Barry Donaghy and Darren Smith.  (Notably, Smith is not pictured nor listed as a band member on the domestic CD, as by the time it was released, he had left the band.)

What’s the fuss, then?  Harem Scarem had released a series of excellent albums with rarely a dud, but little impact in Canada or the United States.  Their albums had been skewing progressively more pop as the 1990s wore on.  By Rubber, it could almost have been considered a complete re-invention to a pop rock sound, heavily influenced by the simplicity of 90s pop-punk bands.  So the band was relaunched in hopes that some people thought they were a new hot group on the scene with a sizzling debut.

The Japanese and domestic CDs had different running orders, but since it was released in Japan first that’s the track list we’ll be following, including exclusive bonus song “Enemy”.  To its merit, the domestic CD includes an exclusive remix of “Sunshine” by noted producer Arnold Lanni.

“It’s Gotta Be” opens the album with a very 90s-sounding simple descending guitar riff.  It stands upon a catchy chorus, which Harry Hess delivers with the usual melodic expertise.  There are stronger tunes on the album, but “It’s Gotta Be” sounds very much like what was on the radio and video at the time.  Bands like Marvelous 3.

The oddly titled “Who-Buddy” is more like it!  Fast-paced (again, think pop-punk), with twang and candy-coated melody.  The build-up to the chorus can’t be resisted.  So very different from Harem Scarem of old, but the same four guys do it well.  Hess and Lesperance have always had a foot in pop, as demonstrated on the very mainstream Harem Scarem debut.  Pop changed quite a bit from 1990 to 2000, and “Who-Buddy” is a reflection of that evolution.

“Coming Down” is a different kind of pop, more lush with Spanish-influenced guitar twang.  Slower paced, but just as focused on melody, “Coming Down” is a lovely song that reminds of the melancholy music of the time.  “Didn’t know the grass is always greener, and then those blades cut my own hands.”

Thing really go pop-punk on the outstanding single “Stuck With You”.  As Hess sings, “There couldn’t be anymore anarchy if we tried,” you believe he’s 22 years old.  Smith’s busy drumming is on the mark, and the chorus just soaks into you until it’s just…stuck with you!  On the cover for the CD single, the three remaining guys are depicted with contemporary short spiky hair.  If not for the lack of neck tattoos they could have been Blink 192.  There’s even a reference to the current events of the time.  “The killer bees, casualties, everybody’s paying a price.”  Remember the killer bee scare of the late 90s?  The bees never came.

Unfortunately the hit never came either.  Though a brilliant song, it was impaired by a truly terrible music video about a kid who eats a variety of objects including a rubber duckie (seemingly containing the band), a doll and his little sister.  Somebody should have deep-sixed that idea.

“Sunshine” opens with typically late-90s skippy sound effects and adornments.  The Japanese version is 4:56 in length; Arnold Lanni trimmed his mix down to 3:54.  A slow pop song with distorted watery vocals on the Japanese mix, it’s a unique sounding track that fit into the alterna-flavours of the era.  Motley Crue made a whole album mixed like this, except it was shit and called Generation Swine.  The Lanni mix on the domestic CD retains the sound effects but ditches the vocal distortion, in favour of a clean mix that is easier on the ears, including additional backing harmonies.  Both versions have their merits, with the Japanese as a more spacey, experimental track and the Lanni version more aimed at radio.

Next up is the rockabilly “Face It”, continuing the twang of previous songs.  Unfortunate album filler compared to the others.  Smith’s drumming up a storm though!  “Trip” is more fun with a bendy 90s riff, and lead vocals by Pete Lesperance.   The chorus is suitably snotty.  Another odd title, “Pool Party” conceals an interesting if not quite memorable enough song.  The music is a little off-kilter, hinting at the band’s truly excellent schooled musicianship that was largely simplified for this album.

Back to the upbeat, “Headache” is pure bangin’ fun, with influences from rock to punk to ska.  Then an understated ballad called “Everybody Else” sits in the penultimate slot, building tension with a stealthy backdrop of strings.  Similar to past dark Harem Scarem ballads though wildly different in production.  Then we close on the Japanese exclusive “Enemy”, an upbeat track with a big chorus.

Harem Scarem continued with the dual identity for a few more albums before reverting back to their original sound and name.  As Rubber, they next released Ultra Feel, Weight of the World and Live at the GodsWeight of the World was a return to their classic, slightly progressive hard rock sound and so the name change back to Harem Scarem was sure to follow.  By 2003 the Rubber experiment was fully exhausted and the album Higher was the first to have no connection to that name.  From the Rubber era, only Weight of the World was included in the expansive Harem Scarem box set.

Rubber the album isn’t bad though.  It’s better than the followup Ultra Feel, and though dated, still contains a number of good songs that are fully enjoyable today.  The best track is clearly “Stuck With You”, despite the atrocious music video.

3.5/5 stars

VHS Archives #105: The Sandbox Wake (1999)

MuchMusic ran this Sandbox special shortly after the band announced their sad demise at the end of the 1990s.  Since every cloud has its silver lining, we can be glad that guitarist Mike Smith found greater success as Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys.  This collection of interviews and live clips was run on the MuchEast program as “The Sandbox Wake”.

This memorial covers the band’s early days, writing terrible songs, improving, eventually getting signed and then onwards to the second LP.  The clips cover 1995-1997.  Graceland, The Junos, the East Coast Music Awards, concert footage…it’s here in this motherlode of Sandbox on MuchEast.

 

Sandbox:  Jason Archibald, Mike Smith, Paul Murray, Scott MacFarlane, Troy Shanks.

REVIEW: Danko Jones – Power Trio (2021)

DANKO JONES – Power Trio (2021 Sonic Unyon)

Let me tell you something’ people.  Danko Jones?  He’s the real deal and he’s back with Power Trio, an absolutely smokin’ new album heavy on the riffs and attitude.

Something about this pandemic has been driving our favourite artists to create some of their best work.  From Lee Aaron to Styx and Iron Maiden, we’ve been getting a lot of seriously great albums this summer.  Danko Jones joins their ranks with 11 of his best tunes to date.

“I Want Out” is relentless hammering with nothin’ but pure soulful metal aggression.  He gets a little sly on “Good Lookin'” before the pounding of the mighty axe resumes.  Great guitar and vocal hooks.  “Saturday” brings the party with no less adrenaline or acceleration.  Let’s use that word “relentless” again.  Power Trio is an album with the emphasis on power.  The band take it down to a mid-tempo slammer on “Ship of Lies”.  “Everybody knows it’s getting old, let’s sink this ship of lies.”  Amen, brother!  Great jagged riff, chunky tone.

Potential album highlight “Raise Some Hell” sounds like an anthem for bands sidelined by the pandemic.  “I’m tired of watchin’ it go by, sittin’ in the fence,” sings Jones as he looks forward to getting back out there for some rockin’.  “‘Cause sooner or later we’re gonna break the spell.”

“Blue Jean Denim Jumpsuit” has the best title on the record, but does this thing ever move!  The riff is like an engine.  The guitars on “Get To You” take on a more traditional metallic tone, though the song maintains the Power Trio drive.  “Don’t you let them get to you,” preaches the man; someone who knows.  “Jealousy don’t look good on ’em,” he roars.  “Take it as a backhand compliment, every time they take the shots.  Every sling that gets thrown at you only serves to drive up your stock.”  Wise words my man.  Just as Dee Snider took on bullies in the 80s, Danko is here to continue the work in the 2020s.

“Dangerous Kiss” has bite, as it clocks in as the shortest bomber on the album.  Second shortest is “Let’s Rock Together”, a real upbeat corker of a stomp.  Like classic Andrew W.K. but with a guy who can really sing.  The screamin’ “Flaunt It” turns up the tempo even faster, taking it to punk rock velocity.  This serves to set up the optimistic AC/DC-like closer “Start the Show”.  Yes, let’s!  Special guest Phil Campbell on guitar.

There have been several albums this year that were deemed to be the records we needed in 2021.  Add another worthy contender to the list.  Power Trio is another in a long line of consistently good Danko Jones.  The biggest difference is that we need Danko more than ever now.

4.5/5 stars

Power trio:  Danko Jones, Rich Knox, John Calabrese.


BONUS ==>  Misheard Lyrics

“I’m tired of watching it go by sittin’ on the fence,” totally sounds like “I’m tired of watching Nickelback sittin’ on the fence”!

REVIEW: Lee Aaron – Radio On! (2021)

LEE AARON – Radio On! (2021 Metalville)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars