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REVIEW: Def Leppard – The Lost Session (2018)

DEF LEPPARD – The Lost Session (2018 iTunes)

Cast your memories back to 2012.  Def Leppard re-recorded some very high quality “forgeries” of some of their classic hits for iTunes.  Three of these iTunes singles were released:

  1. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” / “Rock of Ages”
  2. “Acoustic Medley 2012”
  3. “Hysteria 2013”

The iTunes exclusive concept dried up for Def Leppard afterwards, but in 2018 we got six more tracks, from a 2006 “lost session”.  The rest of the songs don’t sound like “forgeries”, as the first ones did.  These are listed on iTunes as “live”.  They are not.  They are also not meticulously recorded recreations.  They lie somewhere between:  not fully live, but raw in a way that Leppard rarely are.

There are a number of surprises in the re-recordings.  First and foremost:  “Let It Go”!  Any Leppard fan will tell you that the 1981 High N’ Dry LP is Leppard at their early, heavy best.  While nothing can compete with the Mutt Lange produced original, the re-recording is still razor sharp.  It gives you a chance to hear Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell on lead guitar.  The pair do not attempt to imitate Pete Willis and Steve Clark, instead blazing their own trail.

You don’t have to wait for the second surprise, a baffling one indeed: a re-recording of “Rock On” from 2006’s covers album Yeah!  Why do Leppard keep playing this song?  (It was even on their recent Best Of.)  Considering how they’ve beaten this dead horse, it’s actually not much of a surprise after all.  It was a boring song to start with, and Leppard can’t save it just by throwing down more guitars.  “When Love and Hate Collide” is another surprising choice to re-record.  The guitars are pretty incredible, but it’s just a ballad from a 1995 greatest hits CD.

“Foolin'” from Pyromania is missing the atmosphere of the original, but otherwise hits all the notes.  Joe Elliott still has an enviable voice.  Then it’s “Promises” from Euphoria, their best song from a dreary era.  Sure it’s a formulaic rewrite of their best hits rolled into one, but it works.  This re-recording is closest in sound and spirit to the original (from 1999).  Finally “Bringing On the Heartbreak” is a smokeshow as the closer.  It’s hard to really call it a ballad; there is some heavy rocking here too.  The guitars sound fabulous.  Def Leppard may no longer be the band they were in the 80s, but Phil and Viv are two of the best players in the game.  They don’t show off, so people rarely think of them when listing great guitarists.  But they are.  The outro solo (sounds like Vivian) nails it!

Def Leppard’s Lost Session is perfect for the fans who have it all.  Re-recordings are almost always very dicey cash grabs.  Leppard’s are worth the purchase.  They’re not cheap knock-offs.  New slants are fused with the old classics, so take these songs out for a fresh spin.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

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CONCERT REVIEW: Hello Hopeless and guests, Nov 30 at the Boathouse

HELLO HOPELESSThe Boathouse (Kitchener Ontario, November 30 2018) with Another Crush, Pioneer Anomaly, and Antisocial Surf Club.

With a new CD in hand, Kitchener rock band Hello Hopeless introduced the Boathouse to a fistful of new songs in a velvet glove of rock.

Playing every song from their new EP Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures plus a couple oldies and covers, the threesome kicked ass from start to finish with nary a hiccup.  The band were tight, proving that their performance on CD was no fluke.

Hello Hopeless tick several boxes:  1) Great stage presence and stage-worthy rapport.  2) Strong original songs.  3)  Great vocalists.  4) Musical chops.  5) A clear love of what they do.  With a Toronto gig on the horizon, the band are ready for the next jump.

Standout tracks included “Hurricane”, “The Match”, and acoustic ballad “Broke”.  It was the first time “Broke” was played live, and its rawness was appealing.  Singer Garrett Thomson poured everything into it, and it paid off.  The set was otherwise upbeat, fast and fully electric.  The band played a couple covers:  “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers and “She’s Out of Her Mind” by Blink 182.  Remarkably, their originals were much better than their covers.

Opening acts were Another Crush (Hamilton), Pioneer Anomaly (Toronto) and Antisocial Surf Club (Kitchener).  Pioneer Anomaly suffered technical issues, including a downed mike stand during the first song.  Fortunately a hero emerged from the audience as Max the Axe (he’s kind of a big deal) ran to the stage to fix the microphone so the band could finish the song!  Max the Axe has earned the honorific title “Max the Roadie”.  Max will be playing at the Boathouse next week, December 8, for his own CD release.  Antisocial Surf Club were notable for a few catchy originals and covers though clearly aimed at a younger crowd than Max and I.

If Hello Hopeless come to your town, see them.  If they keep playing gigs like this and writing quality originals, you will be hearing about them one way or the other.

5/5 stars

 

 

HELLO HOPELESS CD release tonight!

Local punk rock threesome Hello Hopeless will be releasing their new EP Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures tonight November 30 at the Boathouse in Kitchener!  This smoking hot release is well worth your attention and the measly $10 they are asking for it.  Support local music and go see Hello Hopeless.  Here are the details:

The Boathouse, Victoria Park
57 Jubilee Dr., Kitchener, Ontario
Show starts at 8pm

Featuring guests AntiSocial Surf Club, Pioneer Anomaly and Another Crush.

 

Come and meet me!

If I didn’t truly love this CD, I wouldn’t be plugging it.  Hope to see you at the Boathouse.

 

REVIEW: Hello Hopeless – Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures (2018)

HELLO HOPELESS – Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures (2018)

You have to admire a band that puts in 110%.  Hello Hopeless, a trio of punk rock upstarts from Kitchener Ontario, have spared no expense making their new EP sound perfect.  It’s verges close to punk metal if you asked me, but let’s not split hairs.  Whatever you want to call it, the production is surprisingly deep with loads of variety and small details.

It’s easy to compare Hello Hopeless to modern punk greats like Blink, but there’s more to it.  Opening instrumental “Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures” works things up with a Priest-like beginning (think “Electric Eye” going into “Screaming For Vengeance”).  The tension seeths into the next and best track, “Victim, Victim”.  Busy drums and a chunky riff back up a great, punchy song.  Garrett Thomson (vocals, bass) seemingly plumbs the depths of his soul when singing, but the simple, hammering riffs are what keep you coming back.  The drums (by Will Bender) are fast n’ busy, just like you want it.  Blasting on, “Save Myself” (guitar solo!) and “Inertia” continue in this direction.  “Inertia” is particular is a varied trip, and well worth it.  The dark lyrics are quite good, but the production just smokes.

An unexpected acoustic ballad called “Broke” boasts a raw, emotional vocal and excellent melodies.  It’s a good break in the action, because it’s pedal down from here out.  Thomson and guitarist Nathan Heald share lead vocals on “The Match”, and again I’m hearing a hint of Judas Priest (the opening to “Hellrider” specifically).  Catchy vocals paired with a groovy bassline, plus a guitar solo, riffs n’ drums…what more do you need?  The closing track “Hurricane” also features shared vocals, and goes out on a suitably powerful note.  There’s even piano for a touch of the dramatic.  Once again, I hear a lil’ bit of metal.  Savatage this time.  What a way to end it.

I may be a little biased since these guys are from my home town, so let’s get that out there.  I truly think Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures is one of the better releases of 2018.  You’d do well to check it out.  So go ahead and do it, it’s on Spotify!  For those who demand a physical product, the CD is out November 30.

4.5/5 stars

Check out Hello Hopeless at the Boathouse in Kitchener on November 30 to get your CD.

GUEST REVIEW: Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp (1987/88)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

SOUNDGARDEN – Screaming Life/Fopp (1987 & 88 EPs, released combined on Sub Pop CD 1990)

I love Halloween. I love autumn. I love horror films. I love metal. When you combine the four of those things that complement each other so well, it adds up to be one of my favourite times of the year. It may be considered a childish holiday, but to me it’s not about the candy. The entire atmosphere of the world seems to change around and on a holiday. The world almost seems to become more surreal, taking on aspects of life that only seem normal in films. There’s no reason Christmas should feel any lighter or peaceful than a regular day, but it does. Halloween has a certain feel too, an eerie one that goes perfect with metal and horror films, the cooling weather, and the waning sunlight. It’s about the deception, the masquerade, the vaudeville, the showmanship that keeps me intrigued by Halloween. Throughout the month on Wednesday’s I’ll be writing reviews of albums that are important Halloween albums to me, finally culminating on the big day (10/31). I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do writing them.

1987 was the peak year for mainstream metal*, but it was also the starting point for an underground movement that would upset the entire genre of rock for good. Some call it grunge, but I think that term is as disrespectful as “hair metal”, especially given that the so called ‘big four’ of grunge didn’t sound alike at all. My favourite of those four bands was always Soundgarden. Chris Cornell was easily the best singer out of the bunch, and the group’s songwriting was also superior to the other bands from the same town. None of the other bands came close to writing an album as undeniably badass as Badmotorfinger. They were also the most metal out of the Seattle scene, and Chris Cornell didn’t seem to be a whiny punk like Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder. Cornell didn’t shy away from success and intentionally sabotage himself like the other two guys, at least not publically. His passing was one of the few times that a ‘celebrity’ death had actually impacted me, and was a horrible loss to the music world.

In the aftermath of his passing, it makes sense to start back at the beginning to see how he progressed throughout his career. Soundgarden made their debut on Sub Pop with an EP called Screaming Life. They followed it up the next year with the Fopp EP, and they were eventually packaged together on CD in 1990 by Sub Pop under the clever title Screaming Life/Fopp. I bought this CD, and Lynch Mob’s Wicked Sensation at the same time in mid October, so both of these albums have a strong mental link to Halloween for me, but the Soundgarden EPs have more than an emotional attachment to the holiday. This is some evil sounding stuff that fits absolutely perfectly with the time of the year. This is partially because Kim Thayil exhibits a much stronger influence on the band’s music than he would on the last few Soundgarden albums. While on later Soundgarden albums, Chris Cornell wrote a substantial amount of the group’s music as well as its lyrics, here a good share of these early songs were written by guitarist Kim Thayil and original bass player Hiro Yamamoto. All the music on Screaming Life was written by one of the two, with Cornell handling only the lyrics. This is a different sounding band than the group that wrote “Black Hole Sun”. There are some punk roots showing with the obvious Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin influences.

The aforementioned Black Sabbath influences are blended seamlessly with the brevity and relentlessness of punk in the album opener “Hunted Down”. This is the group’s first of many classics, and was also their first single. It’s an absolutely evil sounding number, with a hypnotic riff that sounds like the band are summoning demons themselves. The lyrics tell the story of a convict escaping prison and being hunted by the authority figures. He copes by changing his face permanently to avoid detection. The band follows the “Paranoid” single mold by making the song less than three minutes, which gives it a lethal efficiency. The melody is somber, and compliments the music accordingly. Chris Cornell was not yet the consummate vocalist that he would become, but his chops here are impressive for a youngster starting out on his first recording. The song was so good that Sub Pop chose it to be their hold music when people would call the label, prompting the group to call them up just to hear their song on the phone.

That Soundgarden classic is followed up by the much more obscure “Entering”, a four minute song that is so doomy that you think it goes on much longer (before checking the CD again, I had originally typed in the review that it was a seven minute epic!). It begins with slow ringing guitar notes that are enchanting in a dark way. It’s unsettling, yet you’re intrigued by it. This is one instance in which the song perfectly mixes with the stark visuals of the black and white cover. The beginning of this song is actually reminiscent of early 20th century horror films. It wouldn’t sound out of place being played on a grand piano in Dracula, Nosferatu, or Frankenstein, that’s how ominous it is. The song then goes through a dynamic shift and is kicked into high gear by the frantic drumming of the great Matt Cameron as Chris Cornell begins to wail with a slap back delay on his vocals that gives the song an energetic live feeling. The production is rough, but the muddiness only helps enhance the songs.

Following a throwaway screeching punk number, the band turns in one of the best songs in the gloomy and slow drop D tuned “Nothing to Say”. This song can only be described as “Electric Funeral” with better vocals updated for the late ‘80s. The group would never again sound this evil excepting their debut album Ultramega OK, which was actually released on Halloween. Perhaps to break up this seriousness, the band included many joke songs on their early albums. “Little Joe” is one of these, a funked up strange number about a Hispanic kid crossing the border. It’s totally disposable, just like all of their joke songs they just take up space and distract from the better music (except “Big Dumb Sex” from Louder Than Love). It’s still slightly demented in a off-putting way, which keeps it from ruining the mood of the EP.

The Fopp section is much lighter, in content and in mood. It contains just three songs and a remix, with only one original Soundgarden tune. The Chris Cornell’s first sole songwriting credit is with “Kingdom of Come”, a fun little tune, that doesn’t amount to much, but sounds good enough when you’re listening to it. The production on this half of the compilation is much clearer than on Screaming Life. The guitars have much more midrange energy, and the most of the muddiness has been cleaned up. If the first EP sounded like a cult ritual, this seems like the light-hearted after party. The set is rounded off by the covers of “Swallow My Pride” and “Fopp”.  These are a couple of tunes just like “Kingdom of Come”, in that they’re enjoyable in a fun way, but there’s not a lot of substance underneath them.

Overall, the Screaming Life section is the superior EP, but together the shades of light and dark are an interesting insight into Soundgarden’s later, more developed sound. This is an absolutely wicked sounding release that most be listened to on headphones at night at least once around the Halloween season. While it’s not perfect and still shows a band in development, it is haunting and helps to scratch that horror metal itch if you’ve already exhausted Welcome to My Nightmare and your Black Sabbath collection.

3.25/5 stars

 

* LeBrain respectfully disagrees and remembers 1989 as the peak year for mainstream metal.

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Red Hot and 2 Parts Live (1985 EP)

 

All hail the mighty Aaron of the KMA.  He is a very generous man.  He is known to send parcels to friends all over the world, and he always keeps an eye out for things that people look for.  He’s incredible that way, and he deserves a tremendous amount of recognition for all he does for the Community.

 

BON JOVI – Red Hot and 2 Parts Live (1985 red vinyl Polygram EP)

Preamble:  Although I forgot about this, back in the fall Aaron did his regular Toronto shopping excursion.  He found a Bon Jovi 12″ single that I’d never seen before.  But I was tapped out, cash wise.  I had done my own Toronto trip to pick up an an absolutely massive toy for my collection.  Apparently he texted me about the Bon Jovi, and I asked him to leave it there because I couldn’t afford it.  Naturally he bought it anyway and secretly stashed it away.

Aaron sent me a big box of goodies for Christmas (and reviews of those will come too!) but the Bon Jovi was the centerpiece.  I didn’t actually open this box of goodies until Easter.  Due to illness and circumstance, our family finally just got around to celebrating Christmas.  I saved his box until then.

This three song EP, on brilliant clear red vinyl, has two live tracks and one remix.  “Hardest Part is the Night” (from 7800° Fahrenheit) was mixed by David Theoner though the differences are minor.  Interestingly, it was also issued as its own single with “Always Run to You” on the B-side.

The other two tracks were recorded live in Japan in 1985.  “Tokyo Road” was later released on the remastered 7800° Fahrenheit as a bonus track, but that CD doesn’t look nearly as pretty as this vinyl.  It’s a little odd hearing Jon introduce it by saying, “Welcome back to ‘Tokyo Road’…” when in fact they were the visitors in Tokyo, but whatever!  Jon’s the professional frontman, not me.  “In and Out of Love” is the real treat, featuring an extended guitar solo, and a different version from the one on 7800° Fahrenheit.  The track is still over 10 minutes long with all that (smoking) noodlin’, but Sambora fans who miss him will want to have this.

Fans of early Bon Jovi — hunt down this EP.  Get it or live your life without this awesome live Bon Jovi that you won’t get otherwise.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Sound of A (2018 EP)

ALICE COOPER – The Sound of A (2018 Ear Music EP)

“The Sound of A” is in the air…but it took 50 years to get there!

Alice Cooper’s Paranormal was one of the most delightful rock releases of 2017, which really came as no surprise.  Alice has been consistently awesome for several albums in a row.  Any time he works with producer Bob Ezrin, you can count on quality.  The new five track Sound of A EP is quality.

The song “The Sound of A” was written in 1967 by Alice and bassist Dennis Dunaway.  When Cooper reunited with members of the original band for some songs on Paranormal, Dunaway suggested revisiting “The Sound of A”.  With Bob Ezrin’s help, “The Sound of A” has become another in a long line of understated Cooper classics.  It has the sound of Welcome to My Nightmare with a hint of the present.  Another apt (but coincidental) comparison would be “Journey of 1,000 Years” by Kiss.

“The Sound of A” is packaged with four unreleased live songs:  “The Black Widow”, “Public Animal #9”, “Is It My Body” and “Cold Ethyl”.  Of these, the real treat is “Public Animal #9”, an old School’s Out favourite that has never seen release on any Alice live album.  This is from Columbus Ohio in May 2017.  As is often the case, “The Black Widow” is shortened live, but “Public Animal” is damn fine.  Can you believe it took this long to get a live version?  It’s one of the best on School’s Out, albeit in the shadow of a big hit.  Even “Cold Ethyl” is hard to find live.  You can locate it on 2011’s No More Mr. Nice Guy via Concert Live, and the semi-official Extended Versions and Alone in His Nightmare.

Don’t miss The Sound of A.  Consider it a live EP with some stuff you’ll be glad to have.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Alien Love Secrets (1995)

STEVE VAI – Alien Love Secrets (1995 Relativity)

You can always count on lil’ Stevie Vai to deliver something completely off the wall…except when he’s trying to play it straight.

Compared to Passion and Warfare and Sex & Religion, Steve plays it remarkably straight on the stripped back mini-album Alien Love Secrets. Remarkably straight for Steve Vai, that is. This is a guy who is known to make his guitar sound like anything except a guitar.  There’s plenty of that here (check out “Bad Horsie”, which sounds like some kind of bad horsie at times), but there are also actual grooves and riffs too.  Alien Love Secrets is an instrumental mini-album that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Steve’s music has always been an alternative to the mainstream, but grunge and heavy rock play an influence on “Bad Horsie”, one of the heaviest Vai riffs in existence.  Former Ozzy/Journey drummer Deen Castronovo is there to help cement the grooves (Deen also played on Ozzy’s Vai-written song “My Little Man”).  Alien Love Secrets is the ideal starter for people who don’t think they’re Vai fans.  The heavy rock continues on “Kill the Guy With the Ball”, featuring Deen doing some serious steppin’.

It’s wall to wall shred, but if you’re looking for something even more straight-ahead, you’ll dig “Juice” which is just a classic Van Halen shuffle done a-la Steve.  What about ballads?  From the very beginning, Planet Steve has included ballads.  “Die to Live” is a stock Vai ballad, melodic with tricky lead parts.  Some of the licks remind of “Hina” from David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper.  “The Boy From Seattle” would also be pegged as a ballad, but it’s definitely a bit more challenging.  Then there’s the beautiful closing track “Tender Surrender”, which is blues for the intergalactic age.

People who don’t like Steve’s goofy side will loathe “Ya-Yo Gakk”, a duet between infant child and lead guitar.  Steve has always experimented with guitar imitating the melody of a human voice, like “So Happy” from Flex-Able.  This is more of a song, but still a matter of taste.

Alien Love Secrets will still be incomprehensible to some, but it’s probably Steve’s most accessible release overall.  Without the layers upon layers of tracks, you can get in there and just listen.  If you want more, there is a cool DVD release, with a video for each track on the album!

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Greta Van Fleet – Black Smoke Rising (2017 EP)

GRETA VAN FLEET – Black Smoke Rising (2017 Republic records EP)

Sometimes a tune just comes outta nowhere and takes over.  Greta Van Fleet’s very Zeppelin-like “Highway Tune” is one such song.  Who are Greta Van Fleet?  Three young brothers and a buddy from Frankenmuth, Michigan of all places!  (These guys weren’t even born yet when I was last in Frankenmuth singing Zeppelin karaoke, so I cannot claim to have influenced them at all.)  They describe themselves as “a blues influenced rock n roll band picking up where classic rock left off”.  Black Smoke Rising is their second EP, after the very rare Greta Van Fleet: Live in Detroit (2014).

They call themselves “blues influenced”, but the truth of the matter is that they sound like the second coming of Led Zeppelin.  That’s not a terrible thing, and given their ages, certainly forgivable.  They have a whole career ahead of them in which to grow.  The good news is that regardless of the various shades of Zep, all four tracks are excellent.

Singer Joshua Michael Kiszka is a born star.  At times he’s a dead ringer for young Robert Plant.  At others he’s more like Andrew Stockdale.  He also shows his own character and lung power.  The point is, this guy is special.  Not that anyone in the band is a slouch, but there is one obvious immediate standout.

It’s easy to compare these tracks to earlier ones.  “Highway Tune” is a bit of an amped-up “The Rover”.  Zep bleeds into “Safari Song”.  You can hear “Down By the Seaside” and “Your Time Is Gonna Come” at the tail end of “Flower Power”.  Their most unique song is closer “Black Smoke Rising”.  If anything it sounds more like “Fight the Good Fight” by Triumph than anything like Zeppelin, but it’s more than that.  It sounds like a hint of what this band can progress into.

Keep an eye on Greta Van Fleet and by all means, get this EP.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – “Johnny’s Band” (2017 single)

DEEP PURPLE – “Johnny’s Band” (2017 Edel single)

2017 is the year of Purple. Witness: We have not just their awesome new album InFinite, but also a new live album included with the deluxe box set version.  There is a Classic Rock magazine CD called Limitless including an exclusive version of “Black Night”.  There have been two CD singles (“Time for Bedlam” and “All I Got is You“) each with their own exclusives.  Now, Deep Purple have released their third single from InFinite, called “Johnny’s Band”.  More exclusives abound, making this quite a fun year for Deep Purple fans and collectors.  Have you been keeping up?

If you bought InFinite (and you should, what are you waiting for?), then you know “Johnny’s Band” is one of the most instantly catchy songs on it.  Upbeat and danceable, “Johnny’s Band” is a hoot.  Gillan’s lyrics are witty and honest, and did you notice the musical segue into “Louie Louie”?  “Johnny’s Band” is a much more obvious single than the first two they released, so let’s be glad that somebody thought Deep Purple needed three singles for InFinite.  The lyrics tell the story of a band who hit it big, fell down hard, but keep slogging away in the bars anyway.  In the end, Gillan gives it a positive conclusion.  It is, after all, all about the music.

But hey, it’s Johnny’s Band,
Playing all those wonderful songs,
Making the rounds with that old fashioned sound,
And here we are singing along.

Perhaps there’s a little slice of life in there.

Track 2 is an unreleased studio jam.  “In & Out Jam” focuses on a low key guitar riff as its base, but spreads in other musical directions from there.  The bottom line is this:  Steve Morse, Don Airey, Roger Glover and Ian Paice jamming together is always going to produce something of value.  “In & Out Jam” isn’t a song and probably wasn’t likely to ever become one, but these are ideas from the best brains in rock and enough to make the musician in you weep in sorrowful inadequacy.

Live tracks from Gaelve, Sweden finish off this single.   There are now three different live versions of “Strange Kind of Woman” released this year.  My Deep Purple folder has 27 different versions of “Strange Kind of Woman”!  How much is too much?  Who cares.  “The Mule” is played far more rarely, but there is still another version of it on the deluxe boxed InFinite set.  It’s a thunderous showcase for drummer Ian Paice, who is still one of the greats at age 69.  The years take their toll on everyone, but Paicey does not sound 69 years old here!

The last of the live songs is the newest, “Hell to Pay” from 2013’s Now What?!  This is only the third live version of the song ever released.  It’s a short blast of guitar and keyboard mania, with a chorus on top.  Its most interesting feature is the organ solo in the middle, something you don’t hear on many singles (which “Hell to Pay” was).

Purple are currently on tour with Alice Cooper.  Both artists have put out remarkably strong albums in 2017.  Will wonders never cease?

4/5 stars