Canadian rock

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – The Big Fantasize (2020)

KIM MITCHELL – The Big Fantasize (2020 El Mocambo Records)

13 years ago Kim Mitchell released Ain’t Life Amazing, his last studio album.  He wasn’t exactly quiet in that time — there was his radio show on Q107 in Toronto, but then he had a heart attack!  You can’t keep Kim Mitchell down, and his new one The Big Fantasize is a quieter collection of contemplative music.  Some of it is rock, some of it is clearly not.  And that’s OK.  Whether or not he’s rocking, Kim’s songwriting yielded some pretty great material.  There are nine new tunes, plus a bonus four live tracks for those who bought the physical product (CD or LP).

The gentle call of a clarinet is the first sound to be heard on the new Kim, a surprise to be sure.  “Red Horizon” is a sparse acoustic ballad with clarinet accompaniment, and melody that tugs at the heart.  It’s a brave way to open the album but also an honest one.  “This is what I do now, so don’t expect ‘Rock and Roll Duty Part 2′” is what this track says as an opener.

That said, “2up2Bdown” has that guitar playing you love Kim for.  It rocks but in a new slick way.  It would have fit comfortably on an album like 1992’s Aural Fixations, but better than that.  It’s a celebration, and if it’s the only track that sounds like “old Kim” then at least it does it well.

“Summer Lovers Autumn Wine” presents quiet electric guitars and pianos dancing in the twilight.  Like much of Kim’s music, it paints an audio picture with his guitar.  The mood turns bright on the delightful acoustic “Wishes”.  Kim’s mastery of melody and expression is apparent.  He gets the beat hopping again on “Georgian Bay”, a piano rocker with no guitar, maybe a little bit like the Guess Who?  Or maybe that’s just a lazy comparison.  It doesn’t matter, it’ll be perfect for your next summer deck party (whenever that is).

“Best I Never Had” might be laid back, but it has a strong dusky blues vibe.  Soulful backup singing lends the right feel.  “Montgomery” is a highlight song, mixing some skillful acoustic guitar pickin with the most memorable of melodies.  Upbeat, but quiet and gentle with trademark Mitchell hooks.  The acoustic solo is masterful.  More masterful melody takes center stage on “Old Marriage Waltz”, the closer “Time to Stay” really overshadows it.  A strong beat behind him, Kim picks away with intent.  Great light rocker to end a terrific album, on an upbeat note.

CD and vinyl buyers get the four live bonus tracks:  “Lager and Ale”, “Rocklandwonderland”, “Paradise Skies” (Max Webster tune), and “All We Are”.  If you needed more rock, here you go.  Firey live performances, captured in the studio in front of an audience.  “Rocklandwonderland” stands out with a new piano intro and a passionate performance.  However nothing can overshadow an epic “All We Are”, 8:13 of awesome.

After such a long wait, and an eventful one at that, it is a good thing to see that Kim Mitchell still has the creative spark to write a great song.  These songs are different but just as unforgettable as “Patio Lanterns”.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Greatest Hits (1995)

KIM MITCHELL – Greatest Hits (1995 Alert)

Five studio albums, one live and an EP to boot:  Definitely enough music to justify your first solo Greatest Hits.  For added value, Kim included a bunch of new and unreleased music.  With 15 songs and over an hour of music, Kim Mitchell’s Greatest Hits is an easy buy for fans and collectors.  For new fans it’s not quite ideal, for reasons we’ll get in to.

Long time fans will remember that Kim’s prior band Max Webster issued a greatest hits called Diamonds Diamonds with two new songs.  This album follows suit with two brand new tracks recorded for this set.  “No More Walking Away”, co-written by Pye Dubois, is an electric ballad with stunning guitar tones.  This is in the same lane as some of Kim’s previous ballads from Rockland or Aural Fixations; very much a “later Kim” sound.  Long time fans will love hearing Peter Fredette on backing vocals.  The other new song, “Rainbow”, is a straight-on hard rocker.  With Andy Curran on lyrical duties, “Rainbow” is just good time Kim rock as you have grown to expect it.  It goes without saying that his guitar playing is tremendous.  The chorus goes all the way to the clouds.  “I’m bringin’ you back your rainbow,” sings Kim and you better believe it.

In addition to the new songs, this time Kim also included two re-recordings.  This is unfortunately where first-time buyers are going to be let down.  One of Kim’s biggest career hits was undoubtedly 1986’s “Patio Lanterns” from Shakin’ Like a Human Being.  This compilation includes a new arrangement, which is actually quite cool.  It’s twangy and has lots of guitar play.  But that’s not the version that old folks remember from highschool — not even close.  The tempo they used to dance to is gone.  This version, excellent as it is, unfortunately is only for people who already own the original.  The other re-recording is the less sacred “Lager & Ale”, originally from Akimbo Alogo.  The vocal line is slightly modified, but this one shouldn’t upset too many people.  The Akimbo original remains the best version.

What else is to be found on this disc?  We have the opening and closing bits called “Transcendental Soda” and “Hare Soda”, which are simply snippets from the live intro to “Go For Soda”.  Nothing too special, but elsewhere you’ll find some cool stuff.  “Expedition Sailor” is credited as “The Other Version” which is a remix from the music video, long unavailable to regular folks like us.  This fine ballad was a decent hit back in 1989-90 so it’s nice to own that elusive video mix.

That’s it for the special stuff listed on the back, but there are two hidden surprises within.  Between “Rainbow” and “All We Are” (the live version from I Am A Wild Party) you will find 30 seconds of a demo.  This is a demo for “All We Are”, and the tape could even date back to the Max Webster days since that’s when he wrote the tune.  That’s gold.  What a cool way to introduce “All We Are”.  The other surprise is evident by the track times.  Hit single “Rocklandwonderland” is missing the fade out, and runs out to its actual end.  It just ends — the guys just stop playing.  Really cool unlisted bonuses here.

As for the rest, it’s the hits!  All singles (though some only for radio), except for “Lemon Wedge” which was a hit with the fans.  Though it doesn’t suit everybody’s needs, Greatest Hits still plays well and scratches some of those big Kim itches.

4/5 stars

#870: You Can Be My Lemon Wedge, and I’ll Be Your Tequila

GETTING MORE TALE #870:
You Can Be My Lemon Wedge, and I’ll Be Your Tequila
(Part One of a two-part review of Kim Mitchell’s Greatest Hits)

The leaves turned colours, and were starting to decorate the ground.  I had been working at the Record Store for over a year.  I was well over my first relationship that went south, and was now seemingly hard at work wrecking the second.  Everything started lovey-dovey in the summer.  The first two months were bliss.  It started to sour in September and October.  “People are always on their best behaviour at the start,” she used to say in regards to “new love”.  Now that things were going bad, was it my fault?  It had to be.  What was I doing wrong?  It was in this emotional environment that Kim Mitchell released his first solo Greatest Hits CD in 1995.

As things started to go south, I anticipated that I’d need some new Kim music to get me through.  This compilation had two new songs, one rare remix, two re-recordings, and some surprising bonus music.  Decent value for a hits set.  “Ooh, it’s a messy breakup,” sang Kim on the new track called “Rainbow”.

The relationship was hitting the rocks and taking on water, and so the arguments were increasing.  Making things more uncomfortable, she was hanging out with my ex from the first bad breakup.  A lot.  I didn’t have a lot of experience, but that was weird, right?  They talked a lot.  It was obvious to me that she wasn’t happy with the way things were going and I was in no way prepared to deal with this added twist.

In October we went out on our last movie date:  Virtuosity, a terrible Denzel Washington sci-fi thriller featuring Russell Crowe as the killer.   I didn’t pick it.  I haven’t seen it since.

I was the driver that night.  Kim Mitchell’s Greatest Hits was in the tape deck.  I purchased the CD (and still own that copy) but I recorded everything to tape so my music was always mobile.

I will tell you one thing I remember:  she hated the song “Lemon Wedge”.  I wasn’t keen on it either, but it was a very popular tune with old school Max Webster fans.  It’s different.  T-Rev at the Record Store absolutely loved it; it was one of his jams.  “Lemon Wedge” is funky, horn-laden and mental.  Not at all like “Patio Lanterns”.  I was more indifferent to it.  I was puzzled that it was included on Greatest Hits at all, instead of one of the songs from Itch that I thought were better.  But I don’t skip songs; I play albums all the way through.  We’re heading home from this shitty movie and on comes “Lemon Wedge”.

You can be my lemon wedge,
And I’ll be your tequila.
I just wanna have a dance,
And I just wanna feel ya.

“This song is terrible!  Why do you listen to this?”  I didn’t think it was worth explaining that I don’t skip tracks.  That wouldn’t help.

Then, as if on cue, I made a wrong turn in the car.  I have a terrible sense of direction and didn’t know my way around town like she did.  She was really mad at me now, so I pulled over into a parking lot on Fairway Road.  Then I sat there and just took it.  This in turn frustrated her even more.

“You never stand up for yourself!” she complained.  “Whatever shit people say, you just go with it!  You can’t just keep bending over all the time!  You need to grow a backbone and start sticking up for yourself!”

I wanted to, but I was afraid of getting dumped again, so I preferred not to argue.   Getting dumped was no fun and I was not eager to do it again.  But I got her point.

“Well, I like that Kim Mitchell song,” I lied in a half-assed rebuttal.  She was not very impressed with my comeback.

My head was spinning.  This was supposed to be a movie date.  How did it turn into this lecture about me growing a spine?  I can relate to the episode of Big Bang Theory where Penny dumps Leonard.  “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,” he said before she walked out.  But that isn’t what she wanted.

“I’m pretty sure it’s already over,” said Leonard with the wisdom that I was lacking.*

It really was curtains; all over except for Kim’s singing.  There were a few more arguments, but it was toast after Halloween.  I can’t remember what our last argument was about, but she was hanging out with my ex again and wasn’t answering her phone.  The ex was in fact the final “Lemon Wedge” that pushed us apart for good.  And it’s good that it happened for reasons that are obvious to anyone who is not me in 1995.

Instead of trying to win her back like I did with my last doomed relationship, I moved on decidedly.  I deleted my electronic contacts so I wouldn’t be tempted to email her.  I selected a variety of rock albums that I tailored to my listening needs.  She was into a lot of current music – Dance Mix ’95, the new Smashing Pumpkins, Lisa Loeb.  I chose to dive deep into classic British hard rock, the stuff she wasn’t into.  Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath.  Ozzy had a new album out and so did Iron Maiden.  There was plenty of music that didn’t remind me of her.

For a variety of reasons, that relationship took some time to get over.  She married the next guy, which is exactly what also happened with the previous ex!  I was the guy people go out with before the meet the one they were going to marry.  So I did a lot of re-evaluation, both personal and musical.  I really wanted to like that “Lemon Wedge” song just because she hated it so much, but I couldn’t force it to happen.  You either like “Lemon Wedge” or you don’t.  I wish I could say it was my favourite song in the world because of this story.  Unfortunately not every story can be about your favourite song.  Some are just about the music that was playing at the time.

Full CD review tomorrow.

 

* Ironically, Kaley Cuoco otherwise known as “Penny” was in that awful Denzel movie as a child actor.

REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Change the World (2020 Japanese import)

HAREM SCAREM – Change the World (2020 Frontiers Japanese import)

One of the greatest melodic rock bands in the world is Canadian and 30 years since their inception, they still got what it takes.  Pete Lesperance, Harry Hess, Creighton Doane and Darren Smith can be counted on to deliver some great professional singalong tuneage every time.  Not every album has been brilliant (some people don’t like the Rubber era, I’m not big on Voice of Reason) but with their latest Change the World, Harem Scarem is back on top.

The upbeat title track opens the celebration with chiming guitar notes wrung from the neck.  “You and I are gonna change the world,” sings Harry with an uplifting melody.  Pete’s got his back with hooky guitar fills.  A track like this could have easily come from peak period HS, like 93’s Mood Swings.  “Aftershock” has a little more bite, but the same kind of killer chorus.  For those unfamiliar, expect thick, heavily layered choruses with all four guys singing multitracked backing vocals.  It’s like Def Leppard with more balls.  Yet it’s also their own song because Harry Hess’ voice has not changed one iota.  It’s just as powerful as it was on 1985’s Blind Vengeance debut, only better!  “Searching For Meaning” hearkens back to the pop sensibilities of Rubber, but richer in tone and with a heavier slam.

Things go darker on “The Death of Me” without losing the edge.  It’s not about defeat, it’s about keeping up the fight.  “I know you won’t be the death of me!”  An apt tune for 2020.  “Hit the panic override!” urges Harry.  Keep calm and carry on!

The piano comes out for the first ballad “Mother of Invention”.  The vocal arrangement here is quite nice though the song isn’t all that memorable.  The bass-driven “No Man’s Land” is more unique, and has one of those choruses that is so hard for forget.  Then head for space on “In the Unknown”, a softer burner of a track that launches into the stratosphere, fuelled by killer hooks.  This is Harem Scarem’s bread and butter.

If you think a song with a title like “Riot In My Head” should be faster and more intense, then you got your wish.  The riff sounds as if lifted from a classic 80s racing song.  Great track, as is the ballad “No Me Without You”, with its slight nods to the Beatles.  It’s back to the racetrack with “Fire & Gasoline”, an absolute smoker of a song.  There’s a classic Lesperance guitar solo to savour and a bangin’ beat to bash your head to.  The standard album then concludes on “Swallowed By the Machine”, another defiant fist pumping rocker.  Get psyched with lyrics such as “We all have dreams, we all have doubts, be careful which you feed, and don’t get swallowed by the machine.”  A rip-roaring guitar workout a-la Nuno Bettencourt takes it to another level.  Talk about ending the album on an up!

Of course, those who go the extra mile and purchase the Japanese CD get the extra track, an acoustic recording of “No Man’s Land”.  It’s an interesting alternative though not as impressive as the original.  Still a cool little coda, and still ending the album on an up note.

For a humble band from Canada that a lot of people aren’t even aware of, Harem Scarem have a remarkably huge discography.  There are more peaks than valleys, but Change the World is definitely evidence that this band has more to give.  One of the finer rock records of 2020.

4.5/5 stars

#867: You Keep Me Rockin’

GETTING MORE TALE #867: You Keep Me Rockin’

I love Helix.  They were one of the first rock bands I ever heard.

There are a handful of Helix albums that I play less frequently today.  I tend to gravitate towards “underdog” albums besides the “big four” on Capitol Records.  I can usually be found spinning Breaking Loose, It’s a Business Doing Pleasure, B-Sides and other lesser-known classics.

As an ending to this past summer of 2020, I decided to change it up and spin some classic 80s Helix, the stuff I grew up with.  I chose Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge and Long Way to Heaven in the car.  As per usual, like an old movie, images, thoughts and feelings came flooding back with every song.

Razor’s Edge was my first Helix, and considered the “big one”, with hits like “Rock You”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” and “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  The first memory that came back was how disappointed I was with that Capitol cassette when I got it as a gift as a kid of 13 years old.  In Canada at least, Capitol cassettes in the early 1980s were of awful quality.  They always seemed to play slow.  I undoubtedly heard the album play sluggish and warbly for years.

That wasn’t all.  I scanned through the credits and noticed something that I thought was peculiar.

“They didn’t write the only songs on here that I know!”  Even as a kid, I noticed!

“Rock You” was a Bob Halligan Jr. composition.  The other two songs were covers (Crazy Elephant and A Foot in Cold Water respectively).  For the first few listens, I had a hard time getting into Helix’s own originals.  I wondered if I even actually liked Helix at all!  But then as now, I didn’t just fast-forward to the songs I liked.  I played the whole tape front to back every time.  I’m not sure when I started doing that — listening to an album in full, and only in full.  It came later in childhood.  When I played my Styx and John Williams records I tended to just skip around to the tracks I liked.  It’s possible that the change to listening to full albums was a combination of the cassette format with my good ol’ OCD.

I was new to “heavy metal” music, and Helix were one of the heaviest bands I’d heard.  My young ears were not acclimated yet.  Only one Helix original jumped out at me on first listen, and  to me it was clearly the hit that wasn’t:  “Feel the Fire”.  It sounded like a rewrite of “Heavy Metal Love”, which wasn’t on the album.  I liked it because I didn’t have “Heavy Metal Love” (didn’t even know what album it was on), so “Feel the Fire” would do instead.

Time went on, and then suddenly another song clicked: the atmospheric and thumping closing track, “You Keep Me Rockin’”.  I enjoyed the dusky intro before the song kicked into gear.  I can remember listening to this in the family minivan.  Because my own Sony Walkman and Sanyo ghetto blaster couldn’t play Capitol tapes properly, I liked to give them a spin in a car tape deck, which usually had the power to play the tapes at the proper speed.  I cannot remember exactly where we were parked, but it was definitely on a cottage holiday.  It might have been in the parking lot of The Chapel in Underwood Ontario.  I would rather wait in the car listening to music while the parental units were in there browsing.  “You Keep Me Rockin’” came on and I distinctly remember thinking “I’ve never noticed this cool slow part before, but it’s good.”  As if it was the first time, I heard that thunderous riff.  I played it a couple times before I relinquished control of the tape deck back to the parents.

Long Way to Heaven came next into my life, probably Christmas of ’86.  I remember there was a flyer in the newspaper with cassettes on sale.  A&A Records, perhaps?  I circled Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy and Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  Both tapes suffered from the slow warble that was a Capitol trademark in my collection.

Long Way to Heaven brings back fewer memories.  Though the album cover was better, the music is less memorable to me.  No cover tunes this time, though there were two Halligan co-writes.  I remember thinking the old-fashioned harmonies on “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” were cool, and they sound just as good today.  You can really hear the smooth voice of Doctor Doerner in there.

Two of my strongest memories of Long Way to Heaven had to do with the lyrics.  “School of Hard Knocks” confused me.  Was this about highschool?  Was this what I was in for?  A school of hard knocks?  “It’s a long long education” sang vocalist Brian Vollmer.  This caused a bit of a panic for me as I worried about the next year at school!  Then there was “Bangin’ Off-A-The Bricks”.   While the lyrics were about starting out in a rock and roll band, all I could think was “do these guys really beat their heads on brick walls?”  I couldn’t tell but it seemed like it.  “We were just getting our kicks,” sang Brian, but I couldn’t understand what was fun about it.  Any metaphors went right over my head.

I also wondered what my Catholic school teachers would have thought about lines like “It’s a long long way to heaven, but only three short steps to hell.”  But I also didn’t care what they thought.

Those cassettes were hard to listen to, but by 1989 came the answer:  Over 60 Minutes With… was the first Helix CD, compiling the best songs from the first three Capitol records.  There were even three unreleased songs, and they were great!  Finally I had the chance to appreciate deep cuts, by hearing them with the sonics they always deserved.  Fan favourites such as “Animal House” and “Young & Wreckless”.  New stuff like “Everybody Pays the Price”.  Songs I never heard before like “Does A Fool Ever Learn” from No Rest for the Wicked.

I wasn’t able to listen to Helix properly until I had a CD player.  That happened, and it’s been true love ever since.  I’ve been a Helix supporter for many years now and I’m still proud to wear their shirts!

 

 

REVIEW: Storm Force – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 music video)

STORM FORCE – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 Escape Music video)

Our rock and roll friends Storm Force have released a new video for “Breathe”, and a good one it is!

These days when a band drops a new video, are you often disappointed?  Many videos today are low budget slideshows of still photos, or crude animations.  This was the trend even before Covid.  Unless you’re AC/DC, few go to the trouble of actually filming a concept/performance music video anymore.  Storm Force did a good one with “Pretty Vegas”, and now they are back to blow minds with “Breathe”, one of the strongest tunes on the new album Age of Fear.

“Breathe” deserved a proper video, and Storm Force deliver.  Lead singer Patrick Gagliardi sings from behind bars, but is it the prison of the mind?  He is joined by vocalist extraordinaire Serena Pryne, who has the grit and power of people like the highly respected Sass Jordan.  Although the lyrics are open enough to work with many interpretations, the song is about mental health, and having someone there to support you.  The video has the right tone and passion for this serious subject.  But if you want, you can just enjoy it as a mighty power ballad.

Of course, guitarist Greg Fraser has plenty of experience with music videos.  His solo on “Breathe” is cool because you can hear that it is him by the tone and technique.  Drummer Brian Hamilton and bassist Mike Berardelli create a really cool groove on this track, and Hamilton looks imposing and fearless in the video.

One must also credit Gagliardi for a collection of increasingly cool hats.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – “Day After Day (Rose-Coloured Glasses)” (1987 Remix single)

BLUE RODEO – “Day After Day (Rose-Coloured Glasses)” (Remix) (1987 Warner 7″ single)

Blue Rodeo were off to a hell of a start.  With a debut LP produced by Terry Brown (Rush), the uncategorizable band eventually went four times platinum in Our Home and Native Land.  Their first single, “Outskirts” didn’t do much, but the followup singles sure did.  Because of its unforgettable chorus, “Rose-Coloured Glasses” was renamed “Day After Day”, with the original title in parentheses.  It was also remixed for the 7″ format.  The 7″ remix remains exclusive to the single, despite a massive Blue Rodeo box set released not that long ago.

Purchased for 99 cents by Dr. Kathryn Ladano somewhere out in the boonies (possibly Radio Shack in Port Elgin), this copy looks like it was marked for clearance.  There is a telltale burn mark on the inner ring of the record.  Anything with non-album tracks or versions was on our radar for collecting and we didn’t care about little burn marks if the record was 99 cents!

The remix isn’t drastically different; some minor changes.  The song didn’t need any help.  As one of Blue Rodeo’s best from the early days, it’s still pure delight.  Greg Keelor’s lyrics are that of a lovestruck poet, something he does very well.  He often finds himself entranced by new love.  “But there’s something in those eyes that keeps me hanging on, I’m hypnotised.”  Still he’s always grounded in his own reality.  “See a world that’s tired and scared from living on the edge too long.  Where does she get off telling me that love could save us all?”  I love everything about it.  The music is full of joy and hope just like the object of Greg’s affection.

The B-side, “Floating”, is an unlisted edit version.  Cut down from 7:53, this version runs at 7:28.  There’s about 7 seconds of noise missing from the opening, and the rest seems to be taken off of the end.  That’s means you’re not getting all of Bob Wiseman’s nutty organ soloing, but who are we kidding, you already have the album anyway.  In contrast to the A-side, this is one of Greg’s more nocturnal explorations.  Are those waves crashing that I hear?  Blue Rodeo jam on this long bomber, the title of which is descriptive of the music.  “And I feel like William Holden floating in a pool,” goes the line that gives the song its name.

This is a band that has it all:  writing, playing, and singing.  They don’t use outside writers and their live shows feature jams that go on for days.  I’m going to get a little preachy here.  If you’re going to jump on the Blue Rodeo train, may as well start at the beginning with songs like “Rebel”, “Try” and of course “Day After Day”…or “Rose-Coloured Glasses”.  It doesn’t matter as long as you get it in your ears.  Hell, Bob Wiseman on his own is a brilliant and entertaining artist.  Throw in the rest of the original lineup and you have a formidable contender for Canada’s greatest band.  Greg Keelor’s guitar playing has always been underappreciated, though Jim Cuddy’s golden voice gets all the praise it earns.  Basil Donovan’s bass is in-demand due to his innate sense of rhythm and melody.  And Cleave Anderson, the former punk drummer who went country, just has a “sound”.  It’s simple and it’s his, just like Johnny Fay.  Though the band today is larger and more versatile, original Blue Rodeo was a special thing.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Sloan – “Stood Up” / “Same Old Flame” (1995 7″ single)

SLOAN – “Stood Up” / “Same Old Flame” (1995 murderecords 7″ single)

Though those without the syrup of the Mighty Maple flowing through their veins might not be familiar with Sloan, there are some who consider the east-coast quartet to be Canada’s greatest rock band.  With four writers / singers / instrumentalists, it’s an argument with some merit.  Though some say they are too sloppy live, in the studio they have some truly shining diamonds.  Some of those gems aren’t even from albums.

1995 was a difficult time for Sloan.  After receiving no support from Geffen for their shoulda-been breakthrough album Twice Removed, the band either broke up, or were about to break up, or considered themselves broken up even though they weren’t.  The double A-sided “Stood Up” and “Same Old Flame” single comes from this murky period in their timeline, released on their own label murderecords.  (In Japan, these two songs were included as bonus tracks on their third full length CD, One Chord to Another.)

“Stood Up” is a Chris Murphy number with a catchy tremolo guitar hook.  The lo-fi recording is so tasty.  Sloan’s usual vocal harmonies create the melodic blend you expect, but that relentless guitar groove is center stage.  Not dark, but shady, with energetic shouts.  By contrast, Patrick Pentland’s “Same Old Flame” is light and upbeat.  The fun verses set up a more plaintive chorus, all danceable.  Though both songs are equally strong, it’s “Same Old Flame” that you will singing and tapping your feet to.

For only $7, I found this single at yet another record show in Guelph with my buddy Peter.  Today it sells for twice that.  Though I hoped to find more than just one Sloan single that day (“Rhodes Jam” still eludes me), at least I left with what I came for.  A great single for any Sloan collection, big or small.  An essential one in fact, now that everybody is into vinyl again as their primary format.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Storm Force – Age of Fear (2020 Japanese import)

STORM FORCE – Age of Fear (2020 Japanese import)

If 2020 is indeed the Age of Fear, then at least Storm Force have brought us the album that we deserve for all our suffering.  Released before the pandemic but with some eerily relevant lyrics to our current time, Age of Fear is one of the most kickass discs you are going to hear this year.

Storm Force features the stellar talents of former Brighton Rock guitarist Greg Fraser, powerhouse singer Patrick Gagliardi, drum monster Brian Hamilton, and groovin’ bassist Mike Berardelli.  Fans of Brighton Rock (R.I.P.) will recognize the tone and stylings of the six-string magician they call Fraze.  That said, Gagliardi’s arena-sized vocals cords are what will draw you in to this band immediately.

Storm Force waste little time cutting to the chase.  The single-ready “Because of You” opens with some epic sci-fi keyboards that might have you feeling you’re at the intro to a progressive concept album.  But then Fraze hits you with a cool stuttery riff, and Patrick’s in your ears with a classic hard rock voice with grit and range to spare.  But you want hooks?  Storm Force deliver on “Because of You”, a song that would have been a massive hit in an earlier time.

Without letup it’s the title track “Age of Fear”, ushered in by the mountainous drumming of Brian Hamilton.  He and Mike Berardelli are locked in.  The riff has a bit of Darkness and the melody has shades of Dio. It’s an uptempo blast through midnight, but even that is just a warmup for the third track “Breathe”. With guest vocals from Serena Pryne, it’s a full-on epic. Keyboard accents lend it appropriate drama. This song is massive, powerful and perfect.  In another universe, a hit. Watch for a music video coming soon.

“Ember Rain” gives us the first true ballad. The ringing acoustics and storytelling guitar solos recall some of the best of late 80s Whitesnake. Listen to the bass roll, and how the sparingly and effectively the drum fills are used. After a ballad, it’s best to chase it with a heavy headbanger. “Ride Like Hell” is a vicious road tune that Axl Rose wishes he wrote. The chorus nails it home, and the solos are eloquent.

“Dirty Vegas” was the first Storm Force video and you can hear why.  With a title like “Dirty Vegas” you can count on a party tune.  With bite, and a chorus that goes on for days.  Music like this is what we need right now.

Storm Force know you need a comedown after a track like “Dirty Vegas” so an upbeat acoustic-based tune called “More Than You Know” is there to sooth your aching rock hangover.  But it’s only temporary as “Marshall Law” has come to bust the door down!  It takes a real singer to deliver on a track like this and Gagliardi is world-class.  Truly one of the hottest on the scene today and one listen to “Marshall Law” is all it should take to convince you.

These guys know how to pace an album, and a piano ballad called “Different Roads” occupies the all-important second-to-last track.  The vocals on this one are on a whole ‘nother level!  Gagliardi can do so much with his voice that I could probably convince you that he is actually two singers.  For penultimate tracks, “Different Roads” is one of those ballads that could close a record in its own right, but actually sets you up for one more knock to the skull.  “Ringside”, like its title suggests, is not a ballad.  It’s a high velocity adventure in heavy metal histrionics.  And that closes the album with a slam!…

…Unless you’re one of the lucky who owns a Japanese CD (or an iTunes download).  The bonus track on those formats is “Weight of the World”, a song certainly equal to the others on the album.  A solid rocker, “Weight of the World” might express how some of us feel right now.  “The weight of the world is tearing out the heart of me.”  Ever felt that way?

Expertly constructed songs.  Thoughtful lyrics.  World class production by Darius Szczepaniak.  Veteran performances by artists at the top of their craft.  An album we desperately needed in 2020.  Get Age of Fear.

5/5 stars

If you missed it, check out our live interview with Storm Force from September 4 2020 starting at the 0:16:50 mark.  Thanks to Superdekes for helping setting that up.

 

REVIEW: Helix – Eat Sleep Rock (2020)

HELIX – Eat Sleep Rock (2020 Perris)

If there’s one thing you can count on, even in 2020, it’s that Helix keep on keeping on. 46 years running, and a new compilation CD on the shelves called Eat Sleep Rock.  Sounds a bit like Brian Vollmer’s life story!  Helix have given us two new songs and nine previously released numbers.  As has been the case recently, the cover art is by former guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.

We love Helix, but opening with “The Story of Helix” is a bit of a misfire.  I get that it would be a great opener for Helix’s acoustic gigs (it even has band member intros), but it’s a sluggish start to an album.  On this track, Brian Vollmer takes us through Helix history, with the odd musical segues through “Billy Oxygen”, “She Loves You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, and “Lick It Up” among others as the story progresses.  Even “Teen Spirit” in the 90s, “when everything went to shit”.  But what didn’t kill them made Helix stronger and they’ve certainly made great albums since.  Some of their best in fact.  Eat Sleep Rock contains shining gems aplenty of post-grunge-era Helix rawk.  But “The Story of Helix” should have been left for the last track on the album.

The good news is that Vollmer proudly proclaims he will “NEVER” retire!  And if the second song, “Eat – Sleep – Rock” is any indication, that’s a good thing.  This is a HEAVY Helix.  Produced by Daryl Gray, with guitars aided and abetted by Sean Kelly, this one smokes.  There ain’t no rest for the wicked, as “Eat – Sleep – Rock” resoundingly demonstrates.  Long-time Helix fans are going to love this newbie that recalls the fire and fury of 1984 all over again.

As mentioned in “The Story of Helix”, the 90s were not kind to Kitchener’s favourite band.  That said, they still put out three excellent albums in that decade, the last of which was 1998’s half-ALIVE.  It was the first Helix release in five years and included some new material to go with the live side.  “Shock City Psycho Rock” and “Wrecking Ball” (both heavy hitters) are two of the best.  “Shock City” is an upbeat boogie, and “Wrecking Ball” just slams.  Giving these two songs fresh attention is a good thing.

Brian Vollmer’s solo album When Pigs Fly (1999) is a Helix album in all but name, so “I’m A Live Frankenstein” is a valid addition.  This grinder has a hint of industrial rock and Helix alumnus Brian Doerner on drums.  It sounds a little out of place, but as Vollmer alluded, the 90s were a weird time.

“Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” is a scorcher originally from the excellent Bastard of the Blues (2014).  That album is criminally forgotten, and it’s actually under-represented here.  The guitar hook and chorus melody will gnaw away at you until it’s right in your brain.  “Cyber Space Girl” (from 2007’s The Power of Rock and Roll) hasn’t been on a compilation before.  It’s another great tune from a tragically forgotten album.  The Power of Rock and Roll was loaded with heavy melodic tunes, and “Cyber Space Girl” definitely deserves a revisit.  Even better though is “When the Bitters Get the Better of You” from the superb Vagabond Bones (2009).  That was the first Helix album to feature Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and Doctor Doerner since the 90s.  They loaded it with top-notch songs and “Bitters” is just one of many.  It’s another boogie, so get down!

Later, in 2017, Helix issued a bitchin’ 12″ single for “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” and “The Tequila Song”.  Both those songs resurface here.  I’ve said it before, but Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has or will.  As for the classic metal sounds of “Devil”, it has a positively beastly bass groove.  These are both great tunes.  Now you can get them affordably on CD.  And of course, “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock Is Dead” (from 2016’s Rock-It Science) still stands up.  It ran the risk of being a novelty, but holds up in the present.  Gene did proclaim rock to be dead, many times.  I’m glad he was wrong.  If he wasn’t, then Brian Vollmer couldn’t still Eat Sleep Rock today!  But he can, and so the Helix band keep putting out worthwhile new material.

The track listing for this CD was well chosen as there is minimal overlap with other compilations (with three in common with Rock-It Science).  It spotlights songs that haven’t have their rightful day in the sun.  The only thing I’d do is move “The Story of Helix” to the end.  Minor quibble aside, if you haven’t bought a new Helix album in a while then now’s the time.

4/5 stars