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The Big Lebowski radio, tonight!

I will be LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET).

This Week On Visions In Sound – The 20th Anniversary Of The Big Lebowski – Drop in to see what condition your condition is in this week as this week we celebrate the 20th of the Coen Brothers cult classic The Big Lebowski. We will also be live on Facebook!

I’m a bit of a fan of both the movie and its excellent soundtrack.  My movie review can be found here.  Check out my cool Lebowski ID and swag!

 

 

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REVIEW: Leatherwolf- Leatherwolf (1988)

Found in the late 1990’s at Natural Sound in Kitchener.

 

LEATHERWOLF – Leatherwolf (1988 Island)

I first saw Leatherwolf in a 1988 Hit Parader magazine. Their gimmick was the “triple-axe attack”. Their singer, Michael Olivieri, doubled on guitar so during those twin harmony solos, the rhythm guitar wouldn’t drop out. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t sound like much, now that Maiden have three full time lead guitarists. At the time it was enough to get me interested enough to have a listen. I saw the video for “The Calling” on MuchMusic — instant fan!

This album, originally released on Island records (then home of U2), is quite good.  It’s an amalgam of thrash metal’s heaviness and pounding double bass — and glam rock. An odd mixture, but it works. The first album Endangered Species was pretty straight forward thrash, but this self-titled is tempered by keyboards and ballads.

Leatherwolf commences with some sweet acoustics: “Rise Or Fall” soon kicks into gear with some march-style drums and “Genghis Khan” (Iron Maiden)-style riffing. Then, another time change and the song careens into high gear with thick backing vocals, time changes, and guitar harmonies.  The aforementioned “The Calling” was the anthemic first single. A fist pumper. I love the riff on this one. Very cool and chunky.  The chorus ain’t too shabby either, nor the verses.  Although it’s a bit early for a balld, “Share a Dream” is next.  Most metal guys out there will probably have no problem skipping this too soft keyboard ballad. I don’t mind it, but it’s a jarring change of pace.

At first you might think “Cry Out” is another ballad, but once the intro is over the song nails it. This one is quite the anthem, with plenty of shouted backing vocals, and power to spare.  That was the side closer, and side two was introduced by “Gypsies And Thieves”.  Like the album opener, it’s complex with plenty of changes and fast parts.  Good for getting back on track.  Leatherwolf are a metal band after all, not Bon Jovi!

I was enamored with “Bad Moon Rising”a a teenager.  Yes, the CCR cover, but performed as a fast-paced two-minute thrash rocker. Some won’t like it, as a cover is always a dangerous weapon to behold.  I always thought it would have made a great theme song to an 80’s horror movie.  Remember back when you absolutely had to have a rock theme song in every horror movie?  In fact, in the 12th grade I gathered my friends Anand and Danesh with the intent of creating a student film along those lines.  Unfortunately we only finished one scene before our star one day just decided to stop showing up at school!

“Princess Of Love” is not a ballad, but it is quite keyboard heavy and gothic. Another winner in my books.  “Magical Eyes” is one of the only dull songs on the record.  It’s heavy, but inferior in quality to a song like “Rise Or Fall”.  Skip button territory. Because it would have been folly to end the album on anything but, “Rule The Night” is a metallic anthem. Shout-able choruses redeem the album.  Leatherwolf threatens to run off the rails once or twice, but it always centers itself before it’s too late.

As you have seen, Leatherwolf walks the fine line between thrash metal and commercial pop metal. As such the band never fell in with either camp and broke up after the next album Street Ready, which was actually way better than this one. Some closed-minded listeners didn’t get this strange mixture of seemingly contradictory styles.  That’s too bad.  There’s a lot to like here.  The only real drawback to this CD is the 80’s production values by Kevin Beamish. It’s a little too dense, a little too echo-y.

The band reunited in the 90’s with the live Wide Open CD, and went through several lineup changes in the lead vocals department. Olivieri left to be replaced by former Racer X singer Jeff Martin who did some awesome demos with them (check them out).  Then he in turn was replaced by ex-Crimson Glory singer Wade Black on the studio album World Asylum. When he left, World Asylum was re-recorded with Olivieri back on vocals and retitled New World Asylum! Whew!  And I believe the band are working on new music as you read this.  Stay tuned.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Tesla – “Call It What You Want” (single)

TESLA – “Call It What You Want” (1991 Geffen UK single)

Yesterday, I reviewed Tesla’s damn fine third album, Psychotic Supper.  As part of that, I wanted to talk about this single, the album’s second.  It’s an excellent companion to the album proper.

“Call It What You Want” isn’t a bad song.  It has a great chorus even if I find the verses sub-par.  Where Tesla have always excelled is in their rootsy but eloquent musicianship.  Not only are there Lizzy-esque dual guitar harmonies, but there are other things that border on country style.

I also dig the lyric, dated although they may be:

“Heavy metal, hard-core, punk, pop, or thrash,
You can call it anything, it don’t matter to me,
Call it what you want,
It’s all music to me.”

I think Tesla more than most hard rock bands around in 1991 were about breaking down boundaries between genres, and I’m sure this lyric was sincere to them.  I know guitarist Tommy Skeoch had a thrash side project going at the time called Thrash Tandoori.

I hate when bands use a regular album track as a B-side!  Nonetheless, “Freedom Slaves” is one of the best (if not the best) song from Psychotic Supper.  This is the hard rock/heavy metal side of Tesla shining through.  A Leppardy riff accompanies a song that boasts an anthemic chorus and dark verses.

The next two tracks are both previously unreleased, and both are covers.  “Children’s Heritage” is what I’d call an obscure cover!  I’ve never heard this, nor the band that wrote it, Bloodrock a 70’s band from Texas.  It’s a good song, straight ahead riff based hard rock.  It’s also self produced by Tesla, and is a lot looser than the album material.

More familiar is the old blues classic “Cotton Fields”, rocked up and slowed down from its CCR incarnation.  It bares almost no resemblance to the classic Leadbelly version, but it does rock.  Dirty slide guitars and wah-wah solos render this version almost as if Zeppelin were covering it.  That’s the overall vibe anyway, and few hard rock artists were sounding this raw and authentic in 1991!

In a rare  (I assure you) lapse of memory, I’ve forgotten where I got this CD.  I think Trevor got it in used, at his store, and sent it to me.  This would make sense, since one of his customers, Gord Taylor, used to sell him metal CD singles that he bought in Europe.  So that piece fits the puzzle.  Either way, whoever originally bought it paid £4.50 at HMV.

Tesla singles are rare in these parts, but thankfully both of these B-sides are now available on the compilation Tesla Gold.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (deluxe edition, 24kt gold Ultradisc II)

Another one that I wasn’t happy with my original review for.  I redid this one, with loads of new pics.  Here it is:  Pyromania redux!

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983, 24kt gold Ultradisc II, 2009 deluxe edition)

Pyromania is one of those landmark albums that every melodic rock fan should own: Over 10 million copies sold, four classic hit singles, and a sound that at the time was so new and fresh that everybody took notice. This is before Rick Allen’s accident, before Steve Clark’s death, and before Def Leppard had any serious hits. Three would prove to be their lucky number when they set down to record their third album.

Pyromania is also the only Leppard album to feature a three-guitar lineup, in a sense.  Pete Willis was fired mid-way through recording, ironically for alcohol abuse, the same illness that would take Steve Clark 8 years later.  Phil Collen (ex-Girl, with Phil Lewis of the future L.A. Guns) was hired to complete the unfinished guitar rhythms and solos.  Willis’ rhythm guitar appears on all 10 tracks, making this his final Def Leppard album.

Girl, featuring Phil Collen and Phil Lewis

Girl, featuring Phil Collen and Phil Lewis

At some point in the 1990’s, Pyromania was licensed out to Mobile Fidelity labs, who used the original master tapes to create a 24kt gold “Ultradisc II”.  The discs are “custom pressed” (don’t know what that really means) on gold, because it doesn’t oxidize (IE, it’ll last longer).  Although the back cover states that “all liner notes, photos and artwork from the original LP are faithfully recreated”, this is not so.  All the Ultradisc comes with are the lyrics, and nothing else.  Not even a producer credit.  And the weird thing is, Leppard didn’t even print lyrics in their albums at the time.

The ultradisc comes in its own unique case seen below, and does sound tremendous, I can vouch for that.  Does it sound better than the remaster?  Hell, I don’t know.  I’m no audiophile.  They both sound good to me!  The 24kt gold is obviously collectible, which is why I still have it, even though I upgraded to the deluxe since then.

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The Ultradisc II’s unique case

Now, onto the deluxe.  This was freshly remastered. It brings the glory of Mutt Lange’s groundbreaking production to daylight. The liner notes (by one of my favourite writers, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke) reveal Mutt’s obsession: At one point the band were laying down entire chords one note at a time in order to get the right alchemy. Their goal was to create an album that nobody had made before, and they succeeded. (Hard to believe that they would pull off the same stunt twice, and do it again on Hysteria, as different from Pyromania as Pyromania was from On Through the Night!)

This landmark album contains no weak songs:  All 10 of its tracks were valuable use of precious vinyl.  It even filled the vinyl, a full 45 minutes, pretty close to the maximum afforded by the format.  From the melancholy apocalyptic riffage of the power ballad “Too Late For Love”, to the manic gallop of “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)”, this album is nearly flawless.  Album cuts like “Comin’ Underfire” (tied for my favourite on the album) and “Stagefright” stick to the brain like peanut butter in the mouth.  (“Too Late” is my other favourite.)

And that’s not including the hits:  “Rock of Ages”, “Foolin'”, and “Photograph”, all classics in their own right, which I certainly hope you already know by heart.  The combo of Def and Mutt had, by this point, gotten quite good at writing riffs with hooks, and the songs to go with them.  “Rock of Ages” has a life of its own now, radio will never let this one die.  “Photograph” was a mid-tempo pop rock classic, pointing the way to Hysteria, four years later….

Unlike the Hysteria and Adrenalize deluxe editions on the market, Pyromania has no B-sides.  There were no extra tracks lying around unreleased, and no B-sides available. The liner notes reveal that an 11th song was written, but not much else is known about it.

Instead, the bonus second CD contains an awesome sounding show from the Pyromania tour. It’s important to remember that no live albums or videos were released by Def Leppard until post-Hysteria, so this is the only live release featuring Rick Allen before his accident. Def Leppard sound absolutely ferocious. Joe Elliot’s voice is at its vocal-cord-shredding best, gargling glass like Brian Johnson possessed. Steve Clark and Phil Collen (the new boy) rip and shred on their guitars, and weave them into a wall of thunder (listen to “Switch 625”). The two Ricks, Allen and Savage, keep it rolling on the rhythm, steady as she goes. And then Brian May of Queen even shows up at the end for a CCR cover tune (with a surprise foray into Led Zeppelin)! Some of these songs have never been heard live on a CD before. Indeed, Leppard rarely play anything pre-Pyromania anymore.

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I mean, it’s always a treat to hear “Wasted”, isn’t it?  Combine that with some great tunage from High N’ Dry, such as “Mirror Mirror” and “Another Hit and Run”.  These are some of my favourite Def Leppard tracks anyway, and to hear them live in ’83 by a young and hungry band is really, really entertaining.

Pyromania being their third release, it would have been totally appropriate (and in hindsight very wise, considering the gap between albums) to release this concert as a live album back in the 80’s as the band buckled in for the very hard Hysteria recording sessions. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. At least we get to hear it now!

5/5 stars

Pictured below:  the three versions I currently own.  The original LP, the 24 kt gold Ultradisc II, and the deluxe. 

MOVIE REVIEW: The Big Lebowski (1998)

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THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen)

10th Anniversary Limited “Bowling Ball” Edition

Way out west there was this fella… fella I wanna tell ya about. Fella by the name of Jeff Lebowski.

Okay sir, you’re a Lebowski, I’m a Lebowski, that’s terrific, I’m very busy so what can I do for you?  Well, I’m gonna tell you about this movie.  First of all, for the rockers who read LeBrain’s blog, rest assured, there is a music connection.  And that’s the killer soundtrack.  From Captain Beefheart, to Bob Dylan (the incredible “The Man In Me”), Elvis Costello, CCR, the Gipsy Kings (“Hotel California”), Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, and even the fuckin’ Eagles, this movie is loaded with solid tunes.  There are even appearances by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Aimee Mann, and Flea!  (Yes, that Flea.)

Ahh, who am I kidding? If you’re a fan, you don’t need me to sell you on this movie. Hence, I shall review this movie in two parts: For fans, and for non-fans. Dudes and Un-dudes.

DUDISM

FOR DUDES:

The new “bowling ball” edition of Lebowski is awesome. Finally we’re given the special features that we’ve been asking for, for years! No audio commentary track, but the Coens and the Dude himself will give you some insight to the film and its characters. After two disappointing editions, this is so overdue. Two discs, featurettes, that weird intro, Lebowskifest, an interactive map of Los Angeles, it’s all here. Most of your questions will be answered, but of course not all…some mystery must always remain. Plus the bowling ball just looks cool. I have mine on my entertainment centre, and it’s a conversation starter. “What is that bowling ball doing there?” It’s sturdy and it houses the DVDs in two slip cases. Life does not stop and start at your convenience, so be sure to pick this up and enjoy while you can, it’s limited edition.

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FOR UN-DUDES:

One important thing about this film that I must stress is, don’t try to understand the plot on first viewing. It’s every bit as stupifying to the first time viewer as it is to Jeffrey Lebowski. Just enjoy. My feeling (and this is just my feeling) is that The Dude himself (Jeff Bridges) doesn’t know what the heck is going on, so neither should you. The plot is not complicated, but your thinking about it might be very uptight. I don’t necessarily recommend that you stick to a strict drug regimen to keep you mind limber, but having a few white Russians might help.

The Dude (the laziest man in Los Angeles) is unemployed (or “a bum” to some) and spends most of his time having acid flashbacks and bowling with Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). One day his home is broken into by two thugs looking for money. They have mistaken The Dude for a millionaire with the same given name: Jeff Lebowski. During this break-in, Wu micturates on The Dude’s rug. That rug really tied the room together. Walter tells The Dude to try to take up the rug issue with the other Jeff Lebowski, the millionaire (David Huddleston). And this is where our adventure begins.

An amazing soundtrack backs a hilariously confusing movie about a guy in way over his head. There are a lot of facets, a lot of ins and outs, a lot of interested parties and strands to keep in Duder’s head. Along the way you will meet The Stranger (Sam Elliot), Brant (Philip Seymore Hoffman), Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid) and a group of nihilists lead by Peter Stormare. Things are complicated by the appearance of Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), a kidnapping, and a ransom note. Can The Dude recover the million dollars? All he wants is a finder’s fee. Perferably in cash. He has to check with his accountant on this, but he’s worried about being put in a higher tax, uhh, you know. All this with next round-robin of the bowling tournament starting. And The Jesus (John Turturro) is ready to take them down next Wednesday, baby.

Brilliantly written, brilliantly directed, brilliantly performed. Yes, you should be confused the first time you view it. By second, third, and fourth watch, those stands in Duder’s head come together, supported by musical cues (listen for CCR), odd bits of dialogue (“Johnson”) and other clues.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. You too will become a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever, and perhaps even an obsessive fan, dressing up and going to Lebowskifests. You never know. At the very least you might just find a new enjoyment of white Russians. Just don’t run out of non-dairy creamer. Is there a Ralph’s around?

5/5 stars