dream theater

REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998)

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998 Magna Carta)

Liquid Tension Experiment is a supergroup on Magna Carta, which should tell you much.

Featuring not one, not two, but three guys from Dream Theater, plus Tony Levin, Liquid Tension Experiment is the progressive fan’s dream band.  Granted, keyboardist Jordan Rudess wasn’t in Dream Theater yet when they did this CD, but that’s where people know him from today.  Drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci are the other driving forces behind Liquid Tension Experiment.

To use phrases like “mind blowing”, “insane”, “incredible” or “the shredder’s wet dream” don’t even begin to touch what the album Liquid Tension Experiment is about.  The liner notes by Mike Portnoy reveal that this project was assembled based on a wish list of players and their availability.  Rudess and Levin were on the list but guitarists just weren’t available, so that’s how Petrucci stepped in.  Together they had six days to write and record this album.  That it turned out so incredibly well says volumes about these guys as musicians.

Liquid Tension Experiment is not just an instrumental album with wicked playing.  The compositions are strong enough to make the album rise well above similar projects.  Magna Carta is loaded with insane projects by the best players in the world, but how many of those albums are good for repeated listenings?  The melodic and tonal sensibilities of Petrucci in particular really keep the album grounded, in a way that even lay people can enjoy.  Levin adds the Chapman Stick and a new agey flavour to the lighter material.  Check out “Osmosis” for a fine example of this.

Most of the album is heavy jammin’. It’s Mike Portnoy, and he does that so well. Together, they create a challenging sound but one with enough hooks that anyone can get into it. You might not realize how many time changes, weird chords and tempos you’re being exposed to, but you are, and you’ll be far better for it.

Together the album consists of nine songs and one spontaneous jam that exceeds 28 minutes! In fact, the tape ran out while recording, so the tail end of the song is from a DAT tape that Portnoy always runs when rehearsing. According to the notes, this piece ironically called “Three Minute Warning” was 100% improvised. “Not a single beat or note was discussed beforehand.” And no fixes or overdubs were made after the fact. It’s over 28 minutes of pure improvisation, and it came out brilliant. Everybody needs some of that in their life, to experience what pure free-form musical genius sounds like.

Must-hear pieces include “Paradigm Shift”, “Osmosis”, “Freedom of Speech” and “Universal Mind”.  It goes without saying that the 28 minute jam is essential as well.

This self-produced album also just sounds incredible.  The sonics are huge, but when the layers are peeled back, you can hear everything so clearly.  The Chapman Stick also adds a huge palette, sometimes heavier than lead and others lighter than a feather.  I’m sure the excellent audio is partly due to the mixing skills of one Kevin “Caveman” Shirley.  Don’t hesitate to pick up Liquid Tension Experiment if you see it.  There was also a second album made called 2, but this is the one to get if it crosses your path.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dream Theater – Master of Puppets (2009)

DREAM THEATER – Master of Puppets (2009 Yste Jam)

From Dream Theater’s acclaimed self-released series of covers albums, we have before us Master of Puppets.  This was recorded in Barcelona back in 2002.  Just as advertised, it’s Dream Theater doing the whole album live, in sequence, and pretty authentically too.

Dream Theater are a very different band from Metallica.  This is bound to be interesting.

The most obvious difference is that Metallica have two guitar players, while Dream Theater has one and a keyboard player.  On this, Jordan Rudess does aggressive keyboard solos where Kirk Hammett may have laid down one with his axe.  He also plays the acoustic parts on keys.  From time to time, you forget it’s a keyboard.  In short, Rudess turns the prospect of Metallica with keyboards into a lesson on forgetting your assumptions about keyboards!

James LaBrie fits the silhouette of a young James Hetfield.  He sings a convincing Metallica cover indeed!  He cuts loose and goes for it.  Metallica requires a gritty singer, going for it 110%.  LaBrie handles it.  For Dream Theater, doing these cover albums (from a wide variety of bands in fact) must be a lot of fun.  They would have the chance to sing and play in a way that isn’t the usual for them.  Guitarist John Petrucci does not often get to riff on something for five minutes straight like Metallica do.

Lars haters are naturally going to ask “What do Metallica songs sound like with a real drummer?”  Hey, I’m no Lars hater.  (He can play better than I can…)  But in answer to that question I can only respond “fucking awesome”.

Dream Theater cover Master of Puppets without drawing attention to themselves.  Mike Portnoy does not grandstand and overplay.  Nobody does.  If the effort was to do an authentic version of Puppets, as close to note for note as possible, then I say mission accomplished.  Beat for beat, this is stunningly true to the original album.  The keyboards are the most obvious deviation, and that’s minor.  In anything, Dream Theater draw attention to the fact that these are great heavy metal songs.  Are they Metallica’s best-ever set of songs?  Some prefer Kill ‘Em All, some Ride the Lightning.  Any way you slice it, Puppets is metal immortal, a very important record in anyone’s collection.  Dream Theater painstakingly learned the album front to back so they could play it live for a few thousand people.  They did that because it’s a great album on any day.

Dream Theater’s live covers albums (and many, many other releases) can be found on their own Ytse Jam Records website.  Check out the multitude of stuff available (though some are out of print now) and try not to drain your bank accounts.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Working Man (Tribute to Rush, 1996)

Scan_20160821WORKING MAN (1996 Magna Carta tribute to Rush)

This CD was released in 1996, and almost immediately the music press started reporting that Rush were trying to have it taken off the shelves.  One of our former owners at the Record Store, the infamous Tom, said:  “I can see why they were trying to do that.  Because it’s too fucking good.”

It actually is.  There are few tribute albums worth listening to all the way through.  How many can you name:  Encomium, the Zeppelin tribute?  The Sabbath tributes Nativity in Black?  Do you listen to those front to back?  That’s the best and only way to enjoy Working Man.  So numerous are the progressive rock and hard rock names here that we may have trouble keeping track of them all.

Sebastian Bach hails from the Great White North, so it is only appropriate for him to open this CD with the title track.  He also passionately stuns on “Jacob’s Ladder” a bit later on, utilising the power and range he is known for.  What names on these songs!  Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan play drums and bass respectively; two guys often cited as the best in the world on their instruments!  If that wasn’t enough, ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee shreds the hell out of “Working Man” while John Petrucci from Dream Theater goes for the throat on “Jacob’s”.  Take a minute to absorb all that.

Seamlessly, “Working Man” develops into “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” with James LaBrie of Dream Theater in peak voice.  Sheehan and Portnoy handle the rhythm for most of the album, so you can be assured that the chops of Mr. Lee and Mr. Peart are served well here by the next generation of players.  Dream Theater fans will lose their shit completely.  But there is so much more here than just progressive rockers letting it fly.  A youthful and impressive Jack Russell from Great White takes on the galloping “Analog Kid” from Signals and wins.  Have no fear or doubts: this may seem strange, but Russell’s version of “Analog Kid” may well be one of the best Rush covers you’ll ever hear.  (Especially when Billy Sheehan and guitarist Michael Romeo do a synched-up dual bass/guitar solo!)

Other highlights:

  • The late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery has no problems with “The Trees”, an excellent version.
  • Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors) takes the main guitar part for “La Villa Strangiato”, causing spontaneous head explosions.
  • Blue-eyed soul singer Eric Martin (Mr. Big) does a fine job of the light “Mission”, though it sounds very different from the shred-rock elsewhere.
  • A bang-on “Closer to the Heart” performed by Fates Warning is a must-have for fans.
  • James LaBrie and his old bandmate in Winter Rose, Rich Chycki, reunite on the classic “Red Barchetta”.  A little added Can-Con for rock fans.

And best of all, Devin Townsend screaming his balls off, all over “Natural Science”.  Without a doubt, Townsend has the most unorthodox interpretation, but it’s Devin Townsend, so you must expect the unexpected.  This guy is an underrated national treasure, and along with James Murphy (Death, Testament) on guitar, Stu Hamm on bass, and Deen Castronovo on drums, all walls are shattered.  “Natural Science” is undoubtedly the most different track here, and consequently it’s the most exciting.

The only mis-fire:

  • “Anthem”, with Mark Slaughter and George Lynch.  Slaughter’s voice is too shrill.  (I cannot handle when he shrieks “Come on!  Yeah!” at the start.)  George’s Eastern-flavoured shredding is also overdone and misplaced.

That means out of 13 tracks, 12 of them are keepers.

For an added layer of authenticity, the CD was mixed by Terry Brown himself, in Toronto.  Prices fluctuate wildly, but fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Sebastian Bach or Devin Townsend would be wise to pick this up if found in their travels.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: King’s X – Ear Candy (1996)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 8


Scan_20151015KING’S X – Ear Candy (1996 Atlantic)

This is actually the album that sparked this review series in the first place.  I had to re-rip it to my PC.  Enamoured, I forged on with an entire series of King’s X, because they deserve it!

By the time King’s X hit album #6, any hope of them being a mainstream success was in the distant past.  1994’s Dogman was an artistic triumph, and considerably heavier than past albums, but still nothing.  King’s X even played the noteworthy, critically acclaimed opening set at Woodstock ’94 (more on that next time), to no avail.

Ear Candy was their last album for Atlantic and I don’t know if it was record company pressure or simply natural creativity, but it was different for the band yet again.  The heavy tunnel-vision sound of Dogman was severely toned down, in favour of melodic composition.  Canadian hitmaker Arnold Lanni was on board for production, his only outing with King’s X.  (The Canadian connection was manager Ray Danniels who was handling King’s X for a brief time.)  Even guitarist Ty Tabor had stepped back up to the microphone, after being notably absent on Dogman‘s lead vocals.  Some fans naturally rejected some of these changes.  For others, Ear Candy was a high water mark.  The 90’s were a confusing time!

This reviewer is in the high water mark category.  Although Ear Candy eschews progressive rock tendencies in favour of catchy tunes, I don’t think the end result was a bad thing.

“Step up and step aboard, your seat is to the left. Leave all your bags and tighten up your metal belt.” That voice is Ty Tabor’s and what better way to usher in his vocals with the first song on the album? “The Train” is a duet between he and Doug Pinnick who sings on the choruses. Classic King’s X trademarks are in place: harmonies, sweet 60’s melodies, hard guitars, and soul. The train is departing on a journey called Ear Candy, and it is a welcoming song.  Continuing with the 60’s vibe, “(Thinking and Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do” is sweet and summery.  Acoustic guitars, tabla, and Doug’s soulful throat are the focus.  Drummer Jerry Gaskill refuses to play anything simple, and so his drums and percussion are spare but unorthodox.  Backwards Tabor guitars add to the psychedelic trip.

One of the draws to King’s X has to be Doug’s 8 and 12 basses.  “Sometime” (another Doug song) has some of the baddest, lowest, most ass-rumbling bass you’ve ever heard.  You have to love the sound of those big phat strings shakin’.  Mid-tempo and sweet, “Sometime” is hard enough but with those Beatles-like harmonies.

There was one single released from this album, the very rare “A Box”.  (This single had a bonus track called “Freedom” that is missing the LeBrain HQ rock library.)  A brilliant selection for a single, “A Box” has that “Goldilox” sound from the first King’s X album. Pinnick had been dealing with his own personal issues and you can hear this in the words. Also worth noting: the drum sound. Arnold Lanni has a knack for finding a killer snare drum sound. Just listen to Our Lady Peace’s first album Naveed. Jerry’s drums have never sounded better than they do on Ear Candy. That snare just snaps!  Then “Looking For Love” blasts.  Doug is not seething in anger, but you can hear it between the lines.  “Religion burned me at the stake,” and  “I guess I lost my faith,” sings the once-devout Christian.  You can also hear it in the tempo; straining at the lead.  Then, following “Looking For Love” is possibly the album highlight…possibly.  Because next is Ty’s “Mississippi Moon”, which is impossible to hate.  Ty sometimes writes these pleasant, 60’s-pop-like songs in his solo material, and with King’s X.  The layered vocals are like a little sugar on top.  Just delightful.  The only stumble is “67”, which is plenty chunky but not memorable.  The freakout guitar noise outro is pretty cool though.

That sounds like a side closer, and the next song “Lies in the Sand (The ballad of…)” would work nicely as a mellow start to a second side.  Ty ballads are sometimes very special, and “Lies in the Sand” is special indeed.  His earnest singing and playing are basically the song; the other two guys take a step back and just let the song pulse.  Things pick up again with “Run”, with Doug sounding cast-down and dejected, but bouncing back again.  The pain also runs through “Father”.  “My brother’s on crack, my sister’s a wreck, our mother she tried, our fathers are lies.”  But the message is clear:  “Every one of us loves every one of us.”  Blood is thicker than water.

Jerry Gaskill takes a rare lead vocal on the ballad “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto)”.  The 60’s are recalled once again with a very Beatles-like piano pop ballad.  This sets up “Picture”, possibly the most upbeat pop rock moment on Ear Candy.  It has a drive to it, and instrumental integrity, which takes it levels high and above most examples of pop rock.  Doug sounds happy, and the band rock with glee.  It’s a great precursor to “Life Going By”, the finale.  It has a quality that sounds like a bookend to “The Train” at the start of the album.  Tabor weaves a bright tapestry of acoustic and chiming electric guitars, and also takes the lead vocal for this last song.  Layers of harmonies take us out on a sweet, soulful note.

What an album.  What’s not to like?  Fear not the pop, for King’s X took it back to heavy for 1998’s Tape Head….

5/5 stars

Shortly after Ear Candy, progressive rock fans who craved a little more got their wish partly fulfilled.  Doug Pinnick did an excellent guest appearance on the hella-cool song “Lines in the Sand”, from Dream Theater‘s Falling Into Infinity album from 1997.  Doug sang accompanying vocals with James LaBrie, lending the song an additional edge.  A 10 minute long-bomber, “Lines in the Sand” definitely supplied a taste of the heavy complex rock that fans may have missed.  Even if Doug was just a small part of it, he was an integral part.

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review

REVIEW: Platypus – Ice Cycles (2000)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 13


Second review from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto…Again!  I paid $2.99 for this CD at Sonic Boom.  A steal.

PLATYPUS_0001PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 InsideOut)

Platypus are:  Ty Tabor – Guitars & vocals (King’s X).  John Myung – Bass (Dream Theater).  Derek Sherinian – Keys (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Kiss).  Rod Morgenstein – Drums (Dixie Dregs, Winger).

From the information above, you already know several things: 1. Platypus is a supergroup. 2. This is going to have plenty of incendiary playing on it. 3. It’s gonna be progressive. Much like their first album (this is their second), it’s also gonna be fun!

If you’re a fan of any of these guys, you will love to hear them in this band’s context. There are plenty of King’s X-isms, but the personalities of the players have their own influences. Nobody plays drums like Rod Morgenstein, and I always enjoy the chance to hear him work.

The opening track, “Oh God” is quite heavy, with quieter keyboard moments. The track has some serious weight to it. Ty of course is a melodic singer, so that balances it. It’s just one of several standout tracks.  “Better Left Unsaid” has a pleasant aura, similar to Faith Hope Love-era King’s X, but with Sherinian’s keyboards lending a completely different sound. Myung doesn’t play bass like Dug Pinnick does, but he does create a thick sound. Morgenstein’s drums have marching band precision.

PLATYPUS_0002The heavy melody-driven “The Tower” really gets the engine running during the chorus. The verses lack a bit, but that chorus section is furious, as is the guitar solo. The piano tinkle of “Cry” has a moment that is playfully lifted from Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead”, but the chorus is like Alice In Chains! This is a complex track, not instantly likable. Give it some time to sink in. Morgenstein, once again, leaves jaws on the floor.

My favourite tracks are two: the brief “I Need You”, which has the lush Tabor vocals that we know and love.  This track is probably the most like King’s X, coincidentally.  Then there’s the smoking hot “25” with its Dream Theater keys and Zeppelin guitars.  There’s also a Rush riff in there somewhere.  This is one of only two instrumentals on the album, but it sure is a corker!  Just stunning.

The final track can only be called an epic.  “Partial to the Bean (A Tragic American Quintology)” is a instrumental that goes all over the board, in seven parts.  If you’ve heard instrumental epics by these players before then I’m sure you know what you’re up against.  A challenging but rewarding listen.

That can be said for the album in general.  It’s a rewarding listen that will, at times, challenge you.  I like that.

3.5/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)

GUEST REVIEW: The Winery Dogs – The Winery Dogs (by Jon Wilmenius)

After hearing so much praise for The Winery Dogs, I finally bought a copy.  I decided for now there was no point in writing a review:  After all, Jon Wilmenius already said it all.  So for my own review, all I’ll write is:  “What he said!”  Enjoy this review from Jon’s own excellent site, Music and Festival Reviews, reprinted with his kind permission.

Read the original here.

GUEST REVIEW by: Jon Wilmenius

THE WINERY DOGS – The Winery Dogs (2013 Loud & Proud)

Way back in the late 80′s / early 90′s supergroups were popping up like mushrooms in your garden. Bands like Bad English, Mr Big and Badlands had big success with the odd album or two before breaking up, but when the 90′s grunge era took over, supergroups were as rare as money on your bank account. Today, things have turned around and with the music industry looking like it does, musicians are forming different projects and bands with each other like never before. One guy that seems to involved a little everywhere are former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. As of now he is involved in no less than four different bands, Transatlantic, Flying Colors, Adrenaline Mob and now this thing. When The Winery Dogs started out in 2011, they consisted of Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan of Mr Big (formerly of Talas and David Lee Roth) and guitarist / lead singer John Sykes (Tygers Of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy, Whitensake, Blue Murder), but since Sykes seemed to have too much on his mind, he decided to split and was replaced by multi musician and guitar player / lead singer Richie Kotzen, who also has a successful solo career going on, but also a former member of Poison, Mr Big and Forty Deuce.

Without hearing a note of their music, just by looking at the line up makes expectations rise like a virgin’s dong at the Playboy Mansion. That means that nothing worse than ‘great’ would be acceptable for this trio’s debut release. Now, I don’t know how much music that was written with Sykes in the band and how much of it that ended up on this album, but the fact is, Kotzen is all over this record. Kotzen’s solo career sky rocketed after he got the boot from Poison, at least quality wise and even a tone-deaf  could spot his style miles away. Just listen to Poison’s Native Tongue, the best album they ever released, and you’ll hear pretty fast which songs he brought to the table. He really should re-record them as a solo artist someday. So, if you’re a fan of Kotzen’s, this album is a no-brainer – as a matter of fact, it really should be a no-brainer for any a rock fan to buy this CD, because this is amazing stuff. “Elevate” kicks this album into motion with a bang, a rootsy rocker that sounds a lot like Richie’s solo stuff only with Sheehan’s famous and personal bass sound and Portnoy’s heavy groove. “Desire” follows and it is a brilliant tune, full of catchiness and groovy rhythms, “I’m No Angel” has a fantastic refrain and a killer melody, you’re stuck after the first chorus, on “The Other Side”, Sheehan and Portnoy totally rules the groove and the bass and drums are both one and separated at the same time and they give us a brilliant blues ballad in “You Saved Me”. It has a bit of a U2 – feel and Kotzen sings the hell out of it. The guy has got some feel, to say the least.

Both “Not Impossible” and “One More Time” has a lot of Kotzen over them and I find myself thinking that they probably would have been a great fit on his last album 24 Hours. “Six Feet Deeper” has a major swing to it and it strikes me that this is the first album I have heard where Mike Portnoy plays rock ‘n’ roll like this. I mean, he’s an amazing drummer, but his skills has always been in progressive metal where he doesn’t groove that much. This album shows that Portnoy is a lot more all round than people might think. “Criminal” on the other hand, is a heavy piece – not a far cry from how a Kotzen fronted Mr Big would sound. “The Dying” is a ballad, but it leans way more towards heaviness than anything else which is really cool – and it is a great song. The album ends with “Regret”, a classic Kotzen ballad, very bluesy in a 70′s style. Wow! This really is a super trio and they have made one hell of a debut album and hopefully enough people will buy this to convince the guys to keep this project alive. Another thing, has Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy ever played with such a groove like they do here? I mean, they are both ace players and with Kotzen, groove is in his blood, but on here Sheehan and Portnoy really makes the rhythm section swing. When we’re writing January 2014 and making a list on the best albums of 2013, this album will no doubt be up there as a contender for the number one spot. Jon says: Get this!

Jon Wilmenius (9/10)

 

REVIEW: Flying Colors – Live In Europe (2013)

FLYING COLORS – Live In Europe (2013 Mascot Music)

There hasn’t been a new band that got me going like Flying Colors did in a dog’s age.  Their 2012 debut is a fantastic album, and it’s only grown on me more since I first reviewed it.  Songs like “Kayla”, “The Storm”, and “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” had me hooked on repeat — in the car, at home, it didn’t matter.  Flying Colors has been on constantly for months.

That’s why I decided to get the double Live In Europe CD.  I had to have more.  Who cares that it’s a double live album immediately following a debut!  All 11 songs from that album are here, plus covers and songs from each member’s past.  I am glad to report that Live In Europe is as stunning as the debut, even over its long running time.  When you have a band made up of guys like Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Neal Morse and Casey McPherson, you can count on a live show full of explosive instrumental pyrotechnics.  And that is present.  But it’s the quality of the songs and the humour of the band that makes it special.

The band open the set with three album tracks in a row, each different from the last.  “Blue Ocean” is the long, breezy opener, which is followed by the pummeling “Shoulda Coulda Woulda”.  Then, “Love Is What I’m Waiting For” is more soulful.  All three are outstanding songs with stunning playing.

Portnoy does most of the talking, but Casey McPherson gets the first solo outing.  “Can’t Find a Way” is from his former band Endochine, but played by Flying Colors, it fits seemlessly in the set.  Its soft vibe is similar to some of the quieter material on Flying Colors, and McPherson’s emotive vocals set it apart.  Steve Morse throws down one of his classic solos and seals the deal.  This powerful number could have been on the album easily.   They follow this one with my favourite song, “The Storm,” and the whole place ignites.

From 1978’s What If album comes the Dixie Dregs’ “Oddyssey”.  Since Flying Colors don’t have a violin player, it’s very different, but every bit as jumpy and complicated.  Coming back to something a little more straightforward, the band rock out to “Forever In A Daze.”  Then McPherson stuns the crowd with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  Yeah, it’s been a trendy song to cover lately, but when you pull it off as well as MacPherson does, why not?

The first CD ends with a mellow “Better Than Walking Away,” and by now a Flying Colors concert already feels like an emotionally uplifting experience.  It is a song like this that underlines not just the chops, but the melodic tendencies of this band.  It’s always fun to listen to a bunch of guys shred for 90 minutes, but it’s even better when they play a bunch of great songs, too.

The second CD commences with “Kayla,” which to me is already a classic.  The vocal harmonies of Neal Morse and Casey McPherson really dance.  After this, Mike Portnoy takes over, at the request of Neal Morse, sings lead on his “Fool In My Heart.”  I quite this swinging little ballad, and there’s nothing wrong with Portnoy’s vocal.  Dave LaRue’s solo piece, “Spur of the Moment,” leads into a Dream Theater classic.  “Repentance,” from 2007’s excellent Systematic Chaos, is part of Mike’s “12 Step Suite.”  As such it’s only fitting that he sings it himself.  It’s not the whole 10 minute version, it’s pretty much just the first half, “Regret.”  But it is every bit as powerful as Dream Theater’s original, yet very different.

From 1998’s The Kindness Of Strangers, Neal Morse performs “June” by Spock’s Beard.  This bright ballad enables McPherson and Portnoy to harmonize very nicely with Morse.   It’s certainly a nice respite before the slamming “All Falls Down.”  After the band lays waste with that tune, it’s only epics from there forward.  From the album, 8 minutes of “Everything Changes” is only topped by 12 minutes of “Infinite Fire”.  While these two are still “songs,” the shredders get their wishes granted with some long-bomb jams.

In a band like Flying Colors, you can’t single out any one player as an MVP.  It seems like a band powered by all five members equally.  Having said that, Steve’s Morse’s guitar solos are always a treat, and it also a pleasure to hear the rhythm section of LaRue and Portnoy gel like this.  They give the whole album a tremendous pulse.  Turn up your bass and see what I mean.

5/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Dream Theater – The Number of the Beast (by Uncle Meat)

GUEST REVIEW by:  Uncle Meat

ST NUMBER BEAST_0003DREAM THEATER: The Number of the Beast (2002 Ytsejam Records, Covers Series)

For the most part, Dream Theater is a band you either love or you hate. Some Metal fans are put off by the keyboards perhaps, while many others find Dream Theater hard to listen to because of the effeminate tone to the voice of singer James LaBrie. On the other hand, music fans who are not into the sensibilities of progressive music would label Dream Theater as “pretentious,” or which have you. Most music fans though can appreciate the musical talent of everyone involved. They are also a very busy unit, often branching out into different projects between DT albums and tours.

While still in the band, and then after his departure from DT in 2010, Mike Portnoy has been the busiest of all the DT members. So much so, that while researching to do this review of Dream Theater’s Official Bootleg: The Number of the Beast, I was blown away with how many projects Portnoy has been a part of that I truly love. Simply said, Mike Portnoy comes off as the biggest music fan in the music business. On top of his resume of original music, his obsessively accurate tribute projects can only be pulled off by someone who is an authentic “music geek super fan”. Sound familiar, LeBrain? So yes, this review has morphed itself into a bit of a Mike Portnoy love fest. Check out this list of his accomplishments outside of Dream Theater.

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – The two studio albums with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin are fantastic albums. Their self-titled CD is one of my favorite progressive rock albums. With three subsequent live albums with that lineup and two albums with a name change to Liquid Trio Experiment, that makes seven albums with the great Tony Levin alone.

TRANSATLANTIC – Four studio albums and four live albums with this Prog super group along with Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Neal Morse(Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors) and the bassist from one of my favorite bands…Marillion…Pete Trewavas.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – After the death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, during the writing of a new album, Mike Portnoy stepped in and played drums on their 2010 CD titled Nightmare. He also joined them for a few shows over in Iran and Kuwait for American troops overseas.

ADRENALINE MOB – Two albums with this band consisting of members from Symphony X and Fozzy. I honestly do not think I have heard it so can’t say much really.

FLYING COLORS – One studio album and one live album playing with my favorite musician of all time… Steve Morse. Consisting of Neal Morse again and others, including the incredible Steve Morse Band bassist Dave LaRue. Maybe you should just read LeBrain’s review of this band right “here”.

WINERY DOGS – With a more straight ahead rock and roll approach, the Winery Dogs is his current gig with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen.  [Check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review hereLeBrain]

And that’s just the original music he has been a part of. He has gone to great lengths to put together live shows recreating the concerts of, and playing the music of, his favorite drummers. He has arranged one for Led Zeppelin called Hammer of the Gods. He has also done one for Rush called Cygnus & the Sea Monsters. I actually learned about these while researching the review that I haven’t even got around to yet (yes this has become a much larger project than initially thought), so I am curious to search these out. You should be as well. The one I can comment on is his Beatles tribute called Yellow Matter Custard, named from a lyric within the song “I Am the Walrus”.

Consisting of Matt Bissonette, Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse and himself, this unit recreates what it would have been like to see The Beatles live. A lot of the songs were never played by the Beatles live. I listened to this with a good friend of mine who himself is a great musician and huge Beatles fan. Listening to it brought the Beatles super-fan out of him, most especially loving the somewhat obscure tracks performed live by the band. I highly recommend checking this out if you are a Beatles fan. So that pretty much means everyone.

 

 

ST NUMBER BEAST_0002I can’t believe I am now just starting the intended review, but here goes. In 2002, while touring for the album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater went on a short club tour in Europe where they played a different album in its entirety, track for track. Among the albums covered in this tour were Master of Puppets – Metallica, Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd and Made in Japan – Deep Purple. (Who covers a live album? And one of my favorite live albums of all time? Dream Theater does, that’s who).

On October 24, 2002 DT played a small club called La Mutualite in Paris, France. The album on the menu that night was The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. From the sound of the enthusiastic crowd you can clearly hear throughout the album, this was a well-appreciated re-creation of one of the greatest Metal albums of all time.

The show starts off with album opener “Invaders”. My first impression was how great it sounded. Lively version and a thick guitar sound. Another thing I quickly realized is this: say what you want about James LaBrie and his effeminate style. Not many singers, including Bruce Dickinson himself can sing these songs live. I have seen Iron Maiden play several of these songs live, and even in a reduced key it is a struggle for Dickinson to sing the songs how they are recorded on the album. The opening track just left me looking forward to the rest of the set.

“Children of the Damned” was a joy to listen to, again mostly because of the vocals. This is probably his best singing on the album. Bruce Dickinson would have to get himself on a Lance Armstrong-like drug program to ever have a chance of singing this song in this key again. This song is also where I first really noted one of the truly great and original things about this album. Iron Maiden is a classic two-guitar fueled machine. DT is doing this with one guitar and a keyboard. Check out the twin guitar/keyboard solo in this song and hear throughout as the guitar and keyboard trade solos. A magnificent treat for the ears and surprisingly seamlessly done.

The crowd revs up as the classic Patrick McGoohan intro to “The Prisoner” plays as it is on the album. Chanting along with the intro just before Portnoy launches into the classic Clive Burr drum beat, this makes for a great listen, hearing the energy of the crowd and their appreciation of this show. Awesome version as well I must say.

“22 Acacia Avenue” is another track that is a treat to hear live. Live favorites “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” follow. These two Heavy Metal anthems go over with the crowd extremely well as you would think they would. A case could be made that these back to back songs are the two most popular Iron Maiden songs of all time. Agreed? Discuss….

Coming next is their amazing version of “Gangland”. This is easily the most ambitious moment of the show. Kind of making the song their own, they begin the song off as a piano ballad and then make a left turn and turn it into a progressive, almost jazz fusion-ish groove as the song closes out. Absolutely brilliant and is probably my favorite track on the album. The show ends with a perfect version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and the performance is over.

This is not just re-hashing of a great album. This was a well thought out and rehearsed celebration of this album, allowing true Maiden fans to hear what these songs may have sounded like when the album was toured in the 80’s. A friend of mine scoffed at the idea of DT covering this album and I may have shared some of his trepidation before I heard this recording. After listening to it now several times it has become obvious that this is not only a very relevant capturing of Number of the Beast, but it makes a very simple statement. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the players in Dream Theater have a higher level of musicianship than really any of their peers in popular music. And as listed earlier, it seems that everything Mike Portnoy does comes from the heart of just another music fan like you and I. So who is gonna come along and play one of Dream Theater’s albums track for track? Well Dream Theater of course. Who else possibly could? Good luck with that, Three Days Grace.

5/5 stars

Part 268 / REVIEW: “Lie”

Part 2 of a 2 part series.  For yesterday’s part, a review of the AWAKE album, click here.

Not only is this Part 2 of the Dream Theater review, but also a nice way to introduce THE WEEK OF SINGLES 2!  From Monday through Saturday, we’ll be taking a look at some rare singles.  Today’s is Dream Theater’s “Lie”.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 268: Lie

DREAM THEATER – “Lie”:  This single was given to me by a customer named Ed. He was one of my earliest customers, very much intro progressive rock and heavy metal. He was a couple years older than me, with ginger hair and big big “Bubbles” glasses.

I had seen a copy in Toronto, at the big HMV store at 333 Yonge St. For whatever stupid reason, I chose to pass on it. Maybe it was the price. When I got back to Kitchener, I tried to order a copy from Encore Records but they reported to me that it was deleted. I then tried to order it from Amazon.com, who had it on back order for months before they too told me they could not get any more.

There were a couple good reasons to need this single:

1. The unreleased bonus track “To Live Forever”.

2. The hard to find live track “Another Day” which was only on the very rare (very expensive) Japanese release of the Live at the Marquee EP.

While discussing Dream Theater albums with Ed one day in ’97, I explained my frustration at not owning this single.

“I have two copies,” Ed said. “I bought it when it came out, and there were two CDs in the same case.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Any chance you want to let one go?”

“I’ll think about it,” Ed said. “I don’t have two cases, just two CDs, and I don’t need the second one.”

“I’ll be happy to take that off your hands,” I answered.

Ed did indeed give me his extra copy of the CD. Even without the case and cover art, I was satisfied. I bought an empty 2 CD case to put my copy of Awake in, with the “Lie” single as a “bonus CD”. Not exactly the ideal for a collector like me, but it’s an original physical CD copy and that’ll do.

DT_0002“To Live Forever” was an obvious choice as a B-side, in comparison to the better tracks on Awake. It’s similar to, but not as spectacular as the mellow songs like “Lifting Shadows” or “Innocence Faded”. The live “Another Day” on the other hand is every bit as good as the Live at the Marquee CD. This single saves me from having to track down a Japanese copy!  Thanks, Dream Theater.

From the album itself comes the incredible Kevin Moore song “Space-Dye Vest”.  As mentioned in yesterday’s review, that is my favourite song from Awake.  It defies categorizing, and it has a dark but glowing soul.  Also included is the single version of “Lie”, which is nice if you plan on making a mix CD.  The album track didn’t lend itself well to that, since it melds into other songs on the album.

I don’t know what happened to Ed. He’d mentioned he was losing interest in rock music. I guess that can happen, inconceivable as it is to me!  He bought a bit of classical stuff, but I stopped seeing him towards the end.  Maybe Ed will stumble upon this blog, and I can thank him again for this great CD single.

Thanks Ed.

5/5 stars