Controlled Chaos

REVIEW: Nita Strauss – Controlled Chaos (2018)

NITA STRAUSS – Controlled Chaos (2018 Sumerian Records)

Nita Strauss became a household name touring the world and playing lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  Her natural ability and charisma ensured that the next question would be “when is she putting out a solo album?”  In 2018 Strauss released her entirely instrumental debut Controlled Chaos, playing everything except drums and keyboards.

Her choppy rhythm on “Alegria” soon gives way to extremely melodic (and fast) lead work.  Strauss’ talent seems to be taking a melody and making it as exciting as possible with only six strings.  There are shades of Yngwie, Joe and other assorted big-namer instrumentalists without sounding like any specific one.  The weakness is unfortunately the drums (by Josh Villalta) which are robotic and flat.  “Our Most Desperate Hour” sports blurry fast drum blitzes that should be exciting but instead sound artificial.  Worst track:  “Mariana Trench” due to long stretches of bland double bass.  Fortunately this album is more about the guitar.  Lots and lots of guitar.

Track after track, Nita blazes a tapestry of technique.  Her guitar creates moods — tension is in the air.  But she also does excellent ballads.  “Here With You” is the first.  Guitar instrumental ballads are a thing unto themselves.  She creates a powerful presence on “Here With You” with layers of guitars working together.

“The Stillness at the End” is a an examination of one of Nita’s techniques: densely layered guitars in harmony.  Here she mostly forgoes speed in favour of building up the melodies.  Keyboards are used sparingly, such as the intro to “The Quest” which goes full Yngwie in dragon-hunting mode.  But ballads like “Hope Grows” might give us a better look at Nita’s inner workings.  The sparse arrangement lets you really hear the feeling in her playing.  She has an excellent sense of composition, knowing exactly when to throw on some emphasis.  Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the ballads are the best tracks.

“Lion Among Wolves”, “Pandemonium 2.0” and “The Show Must Go On” all have their own guitar thrills to enjoy.  “Pandemonium” stands out due to an excellent outro guitar melody.  And if you’re wondering, “Hey, is ‘The Show Must Go On'” the old Queen song?  Indeed it is, featuring Nita sharing the stage with a cello (Tina Guo).  Great choice on which to end the album.  The cello solo is freaky.

Controlled Chaos is a good debut.  The drums are a sonic stumbling block.  As far as playing, composition and entertainment, Nita delivers the goods.  The songs could use a little more variety to give them album some texture, but there is plenty of room for Strauss to grow as her career is just going to get bigger.

3/5 stars

 

#829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

GETTING MORE TALE #829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

Buy local! That’s the mantra these days. The last time we went “Freestylin’“, I explained that I was going to try and buy as much of my music from Encore Records.  Having consumed the four albums I ordered last time, I decided to order four more!  Like before, I tried to (mostly) focus on albums I’ve never heard before.   At the same time I also wanted to pick up some music that people have been recommending to me.

First into the shopping cart:  Love/Hate – Wasted in America.  Your Heavy Metal Overlord was pleased that I enjoyed their debut album, Blackout in the Red Room, and so commanded me to acquire their second, Wasted in America.  Encore had in stock the Rock Candy reissue with two bonus tracks:  “Castles From Sand” and “Soul House Tales”.  I trust HMO with my dollars — he has rarely, if ever, steered me wrong.

My second purchase was Nita Strauss’ debut CD Controlled Chaos.  If you didn’t know, Nita plays lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  This one came highly praised by John over at 2loud2oldmusic.  “Nothing short of spectacular,” he said.  Funny enough, the last time he inspired me to purchase an album, it was another guitar instrumental:  Joe Satriani’s Shapeshifting.  I am looking forward to hearing a guitarist that, aside from live performances playing someone else’s songs, I’ve never really had a chance to listen to.  If Nita is as much of a beast in the studio as she is live, this oughta be a good album.

Uncle Meat has been telling me to buy some Cars studio albums for ages.  All I owned to this point was a Cars anthology called Just What I Needed.  Meat specifically recommended Panorama, but Encore had the expanded edition of Candy-O for just $16.99.  Maybe I’ll get Panorama next.  There is no point in getting the versions without the bonus tracks.  This one has a number of alternate versions, one B-side, and one previously unreleased song called “They Won’t See You”.

Because I ordered four CDs the first time I ordered from Encore, I randomly decided that I had to get four again this time.  My fourth was a re-buy, but a pretty mega re-buy.  The nice thing about this one is that it doesn’t replace the version I already own.  Rather, it complements the earlier version.  EMI already did a pretty excellent job when they reissued the Marillion catalogue in the 1990s.  Each of the first eight albums was stuffed with bonus discs packed with rarities and unreleased material.  My new copy of their debut, Script for a Jester’s Tear (4 CDs + 1 Blu-ray) duplicates only one track from the EMI original!

For the 2020 box set version of Script, the entire album is remixed, meaning I will need to hang onto my original.  The Market Square Heroes EP is also remixed.  The only song duplicated over both versions is “Charting the Single”, but here it is in a fresh 2020 remastering.  Discs three and four are an unreleased concert, Live at the Marquee Club.  “But I have that already!” you protest.  Do you?  No.  The concert on the Early Stages box set was recorded December 30, 1982.  This one was recorded the day before, December 29th!  While the setlist is identical, the concert is a completely unreleased one.

Finally the Blu-ray disc has the usual music videos and hi-def audio tracks, but most importantly it also has Script remixed in 5.1 surround.  It even includes the entire Recital of the Script live video (81 minutes)!   In other words, this version of Script is packed to the gills, yet amazingly without rendering your old copy obsolete.

Guitarist Steph Honde told me that the official Marillion website is sold out and he hasn’t been able to find a copy anywhere.  Fortunately the Marillion store says they will have more this week.

Thanks to Mark at Encore Records for keeping the rock rollin’.  This has been so important to my mental health.  I have always ordered new music to give myself something to look forward to in the mail.  The only difference in this new reality is that I sanitize the parcels thoroughly.  After too many weeks of no new music, ordering from Encore has been awesome.

Wonder what I’ll order next time?  Recommend four CDs to me.  If Encore carries them, there’s a possibility I might end up buying your favourite album next.