graham bonnet

REVIEW: Rainbow – Finyl Vinyl (2 CD edition)

RAINBOW – Finyl Vinyl (1986, 2 CD Rainbow Remasters edition)

Finyl Vinyl was the third Rainbow album I bought, right after Rising and Straight Between the Eyes. The year was ’96, and the place was Dr. Disc.  I bought it on vinyl initially, because the original CD edition omitted two tracks for space limits (a major flaw with double albums issued in the early CD age). However what I did not know until recently was that the vinyl also omitted a song: “Street Of Dreams” which was only available on cassette!

This complete 2 CD remaster contains all the songs from all the versions.  For sheer portability reasons, it made sense for me to own this.  I have filed my vinyl copy away, and I now rely entirely on this new Universal CD version.

I love Finyl Vinyl and even though it was issued posthumously and consists mostly of unreleased live songs, I think it’s one of the most enjoyable Rainbow albums to listen to. It contains music from all three of the original Rainbow eras: Dio, Bonnett, and Turner. It leans most heavily on the Joe Lynn Turner era, with only a couple songs from the Ronnie James Dio era. Graham Bonnett also appears on two songs, and there is an instrumental B-side from his Down To Earth era as well. It is worth noting that the B-sides contained herein have been issued on other albums since.

Finyl Vinyl contains a lot of my favourites, and in great versions too: “I Surrender” and “Miss Mistreated” sound great live. Pop rock goodness, made classy as only Blackmore/Turner can do it.  “Jealous Lover” is a standout midtempo burner from the Joe Lynn era.  Blackmore’s picking is resplendent.  Unfortunately the two Dio-era songs don’t have the fidelity of the later Turner recordings, but you can’t have a Rainbow collection without representing Ronnie James.  That is done via unreleased 1978 live versions of “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll”.

My only complaint: The photos inside are too damn small and blurry. One of my favourite things about the vinyl release was that there were pictures of almost every incarnation of Rainbow, but here you can barely tell who’s who. Too small, too blurry like a bad scan; the booklet should have been expanded. Also, the credits still contain some errors that were never corrected from the original vinyl issue (see Wikipedia).

Still, great music, and finylly (ha ha) complete!

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Alcatrazz – Disturbing the Peace (1985)

ALCATRAZZ – Disturbing the Peace (1985 EMI, 2001 Light Without Heat)
Released as part of Steve Vai’s The Secret Jewel Box

This is the only Alcatrazz album I own.  The reason I own it is Steve Vai.  I’m a Steve Vai fan before I’m a Graham Bonnet or Yngwie Malmsteen fan.  Plus, this album was reissued exclusively in Steve’s stunning looking Secret Jewel Box (2001) as CD 2.   The collector in me wanted that box set and I was glad Steve was so thorough as to include collaborative efforts like this one in his box set.  According to Steve’s 2001 liner notes, Alcatrazz was one of his favourite band experiences and I think you can hear that.

Disturbing the Peace, Alaztrazz’s second LP, is very idea-heavy.  It’s dense musically and conceptually while still being straight-ahead rock music.  It’s the same trick Steve pulled on David Lee Roth’s universally acclaimed Eat ‘Em and Smile record.  Vai is credited as a co-writer on every track, except the instrumental “Lighter Shade of Green” on which he has sole credit.  Clearly, his input on the album is tremendous as it is literally covered with his fingerprints.  His style is all but fully formed (he had already recorded and released his experimental first solo album, Flex-able).  His guitar sound was certainly well on its way, and the way it shimmers with multiple layers is omnipresent on Disturbing the Peace.  Hell, Vai even recycles melodies from Flex-able, which he would recycle yet again on Passion & Warfare!

(Note:  I’m referring to the melody from Steve’s “Answers” from Passion and Warfare, which is also in “Wire and Wood” on Disturbing the Peace and “Little Green Men” on Flex-able.  While this is strictly conjecture, I assume this melody to be among the many that Steve “heard” in his lucid dreams that inspired the Passion and Warfare album.  Another such melody is “Liberty”, which was based on recollections of a lucid dream.)

There are some really great songs on Disturbing the Peace.  “God Blessed Video” (which had its own great video that featured Steve extensively) is a great example of the kind of powerful, melodic hard rock Graham Bonnet can produce.  It superficially resembles Rainbow’s “Death Valley Driver” (surely a coincidence) and has the same relentless drum stomp and chugging riff.  This is all left in the dust by Steve who anticipates his role as the “Devil’s Guitarist” from the movie Crossroads by stewing up an unconventionally wicked guitar solo.

The more straightforward metal of “Mercy” is credited to the whole band, also including Gary Shea (bass), Jan Uvena (drums) and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards).  That’s probably why it’s much more standard in construction.  Bonnet’s pipes get quite a workout, and Steve’s solo is jaw dropping.  The solo section here absolutely sounds like a prototype for Passion and Warfare.  “Will You Be Home Tonight” is steamy, a bit more laid back and heavy with atmosphere.  None of this prevents Bonnet from wailing, nor Vai for throwing down some space-age bluesy licks.  This kind of thing would come in handy for Whitesnake, later on.

The aforementioned “Wire and Wood” is actually the most Rainbow-like of the songs.  At times it almost sounds like a leftover from Down to Earth, but then Vai reminds us that this it was now 1985 and there’s a new kid on the block.  Side one closed with “Desert Diamond”, Steve Vai on Choral sitar this time.  This time I’m reminded of a similar gimmick on “My Little Man”, which Steve co-wrote for Ozzy’s Ozzmosis album.

“Stripper” is pretty far from lyrically sophisticated.  While “A dark and crowded room / Warm beer that’s stale” does set the scene, it’s not really a story that needed telling, I suppose.  Similarly, “Painted Lover” could not misconstrued as poetry.  “She just wants that hard stash, hot from your pocket.”  I’m sure, Graham.

It’s kind of weird hearing trashy lyrics like this sung over Steve’s schooled and intricate melodies and tricks.  It’s like the smartest kid in class helping out a less talented classmate or something.  Nothing against Graham of course, he’s had more hits than I have, so what do I know?

SKYFIRE

“Skyfire”

Steve’s “Lighter Shade of Green” solo is a brief intro to “Sons and Lovers”, one of the most accessible hard rock songs.  It has a grand chorus, courtesy of Graham, the kind of thing he’s very good at.  “Skyfire” (surely named after the 1985 Transformers character, right?) is a very 1980’s sounding groove.  I like the fast chuggy parts, the strong melodies, and Steve’s guitar bits.  I also like that I’m going to start a rumor that it’s named after the Transformers character.  (It’s actually about a UFO that Graham sighted.)

The only song I kinda don’t like is the last one, “Breaking the Heart of the City”.  It’s here that I feel the Vai/Bonnet experiment fails somewhat.  It sounds like it wants to be dark, heavy, and ominous, but Steve is whimsical at times, space-y and too smart.  Meanwhile I’m feeling that the song needs something gritty, some more chug, a little bit of grind, you know?

After revisiting Disturbing the Peace, I now feel an urge to get No Parole From Rock ‘n’ Roll and compare.  Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen are polar opposites stylistically and it’ll be interesting to hear Yngwie’s version of Alcatrazz.

4/5 stars

Interestingly, Disturbing the Peace was produced by Eddie Kramer!

REVIEW: Rainbow – Down To Earth (deluxe edition)

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RAINBOW – Down To Earth (1979, 2011 Universal deluxe edition)

I was a little surprised (in a good way) that Down To Earth by Rainbow was given the deluxe treatment.  I really only expected the Dio albums to be re-released in such grand fashion, but here we are with the sole Graham Bonnet offering.  (To date, the debut album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow has yet to be issued in deluxe form.)

The brand new liner notes reveal that Cozy Powell was not happy with the commercialization of Rainbow’s sound, and that’s why he quit the band. Indeed, Down To Earth sounds like a very different band from that who recorded Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll. (And in fact only Cozy and Ritchie Blackmore remain from that album.)

Having said that, Down To Earth is a damn near perfect confection of Blackmore’s sublime riffing and commercial rock. Yes, many of these songs could have been on the radio at the time, but the guitars are cranked, and Graham Bonnet has grit and power to spare. In short, this is a fantastic album, majestic and grand, with all the hallmarks that make Ritchie Blackmore one of the most important guitarists in history.

From the opener “All Night Long” to the manic closer “Lost In Hollywood” and everything in between, there is not a weak track on this album. Everybody knows the hit, “Since You Been Gone,” which still gets played on rock radio today. In a way I like to compare this album to Seventh Star by Black Sabbath — a shift, but the elements are still in place. Except Down To Earth is still heavier than Seventh Star, it just lacks Dio’s mysticism.

My personal favourites, aside from the above tracks, include the mid-tempo and sublime “Making Love”, and the manic “Danger Zone”.  None of the eight tracks are skip-worthy though.

The new lineup included future Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey, and Ritchie’s old Purple bassist Roger Glover.  Glover had built quite a career producing bands like Nazareth, and he also produced Down To Earth.  He did a great job of it too, in particular with Cozy’s smashing drum sounds.

Two bonus tracks on disc one are “Weiss Heim”, the instrumental, and the B-side “Bad Girl”. Both songs were previously available on Finyl Vinyl and other compilations, but it is nice to have the sum total of the Graham Bonnet studio recordings here in one place.

The second disc contains a series of instrumental demos, which really highlight Cozy’s incredibly solid drumming and Ritchie’s picking. You can hear all the subtleties of Blackmore’s playing, every note and every stroke of the pick ringing clear. If you’re the type who can listen to a record and learn to play a song by ear, then you will love this disc. You’ve never heard Blackmore’s playing so bare. And Cozy? Well, his cymbal work is to die for, and of course his snare drumming is metronomic. It’s incredible that even if he wasn’t inspired by the songwriting, he was still playing this good. There are also a few tracks with embryonic lyrics such as “Spark Don’t Mean A Fire” (which became “No Time To Lose”). A “Cozy Powell Mix” of “All Night Long” is an annoying remix with the vocals mixed way way back, the guitar almost inaudible, and the drums upfront. Interesting from an analytical point of view, but not very enjoyable to listen to. The demos do a much nicer job of highlighting Cozy’s work.

Missing: “Since You Been Gone” live Monsters Of Rock Festival, Castle Donnington, England 1980. Also previously released on Finyl Vinyl, no idea why it’s not here. There was plenty of room.   Also missing is “All Night Long” from the same show, which was released on a compilation called All Night Long – An Introduction To Rainbow, and another just called Anthology.   It would have been nice to every Bonnet related recording in one place, but maybe they are planning on a Donnington live album at some point, who knows?

As with all deluxe editions, there are photos and great liner notes. This little-known period of Rainbow is illuminated by a lot of facts and stories of which I was previous unaware. A good read to go with some great music.

Now let’s get a deluxe going of Blackmore’s Rainbow, already!

4/5 stars