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REVIEW: Jim Crean – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020)

JIM CREAN – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020 Dark Night Records)

Jim Crean, hard rock singer extraordinaire from Buffalo, New York, has issued another covers album called The Book of Cryptids Volume II.  Many will shy away at the thought of a covers album, but Crean always picks interesting covers off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II works because A) these are not songs you typically hear covered, and B) Jim kicks ass on them all.

It’s a varied album.  “Medusa” by Anthrax opens heavily and melodically.  You might wonder how a hard rock singer like Crean tackles Anthrax.  Without difficulty!  Jim has a bit more rasp, but where Joey Belladonna gets aggressive, Jim pays more attention to the notes.  It’s a fine trade-off.  Second in line is the seldom-covered Aerosmith classic “Kings and Queens”, which is right up Jim’s alley.  Sounds like a banjo is thrown in for texture during the verses.  For an even deeper cut, check out the flawless version of Def Leppard’s “Mirror Mirror”.  It ticks all the boxes from dual guitars to throbbing bass.  Old raspy Def Leppard is well suited to Jim, who wrenches some panache from the chorus.  An ace performance.

Gowan’s “A Criminal Mind” is definitely an unexpected cover.  The only band known for covering it is Styx — featuring Lawrence Gowan.  Jim Crean could be the only other singer to dare tackle it?  This song might be a bit of a sacred cow in some quarters, but Jim does an admirable job of it.  Not vastly different, but with its own unique vocal colours.

Keeping with a synthy 80s plot twist, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” is the old Mike + the Mechanics hit.  Cool guitar solo on this track that stays pretty true to the original.  Then “Cry For Freedom”, the White Lion slow burner from 1989, is another surprise.  Crean has covered White Lion before, but “Cry For Freedom” is a special song.  Not a ballad yet not a rocker, it leans heavily on the beat and the vocal.  Then it has a guitar burn-up near the end, and this one sounds exactly like Vito Bratta.

A keyboardy piano ballad called “Love Is” (Vanessa Williams) …well, let’s just say it takes balls of steel to put it on the same album as an Anthrax song.  Fortunately Jim makes it cool, but not as cool as the earlier “Criminal Mind”.  But then it’s a whole different ball park:  Mother Love Bone, and “Star Dog Champion”.  Again, a song that might be considered sacred in some quarters.  Jim’s voice is well suited to it, and this “Champion” is fully enjoyable.

We begin to draw to a close on the Scorpions early dark ballad, “When the Smoke is Going Down”.  It’s another song that Crean is capable of bending to his will.  Brilliant vocal on this one, especially considering that Klaus Meine has to be a top-five metal singer.  Coming down from that climax, the final denoument is surprisingly authentic to the original:  the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”.  This is one of those mountainous peaks that only fools dare to climb.  Yet Crean’s winning streak continues unabated.  The sonics are so close to the Stones, and everything sounds completely natural.  How the hell do you replicate Charlie Watts’ drums on “Gimme Shelter”?  Dunno, but it sounds really good!

All this said, you’re still skeptical, right?  Covering “A Criminal Mind” and “Gimme Shelter”?  A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when reading a glowing review of a covers album.  To me, covers are worth listening to when you enjoy the spin that another artist puts on the song.  In this case it’s Jim’s voice, a classic hard rock voice that I like a lot.  So I’m cool with hearing “A Criminal Mind”, because I like the way Jim sings.

Consider this.  We’re 10 months into a worldwide pandemic and gigs have dried up.  Some artists, like Jim Crean, are recording and releasing music, and we should be supporting that.  He gives you good value for the money.  This copy came signed, with a custom Jim Crean guitar pick and signed photo.  Not to mention some quality covers of great songs off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II comes with cool artwork of various cryptozoological specimens including a kraken, Bigfoot, some sirens and an alien.  You can buy this package direct from the artist, so you know the money goes to the right people.  Check it out — guaranteed a few of these tracks will put a smile on your face.

4/5 stars

#864.5: “Oktoberfest Cheer” – A Thank-You to Max the Axe

It was laundry night, when my phone blew up.  Uncle Meat was desperate to get a hold of me.  He rang my phone twice and there was a text message to call him immediately.  Of course, I was worried about my buddy.  If he needed me, I’d be there.

The urgency was apparently musical in nature.

Max the Axe had just finished mixing the three songs that will make up a forthcoming punk EP.  He finished that day…a full sweaty day at the studio that ended with “Thirsty and Miserable”, “Pygmy Blowdart” and “Oktoberfest Cheer” on a burned CD-R.  The only way for Meat to hear these tracks, songs that he sings on, was convoluted.  Max had to physically deliver the CDs to my house, and then I had to rip them to PC and email them to Uncle Meat.  That’s how ass-backwards those two guys are with technology.

The bonus in this case is getting an early copy of the still-untitled punk EP, which I assure you, is a killer.  But Max was so appreciative of my favour that he randomly gifted me this cool set of Twisted Sister guitar picks.  10 picks mounted on a paper matte, with a cool Twisted Sister picture.  Ready for framing.  Thank you Max!

What about the EP?  “Thirsty and Miserable” is a Black Flag cover with inspiration from Lemmy Kilmister.  It’s brilliant is all I can tell you.  “Pygmy Blowdart” is an original (Meat stresses that he did not write the lyrics) that sounds like a Josh Homme hit.  Finally “Oktoberfest Cheer” is a drunken, sloppy, very messy Kitchener-centric party song that could very well become a local anthem.  Oktoberfest actually ended a couple weeks ago, but this song captures the boozy oom-pa-pa of our annual Bavarian celebration.  “Don’t crush my smokes, and don’t spill my beer!”  I think it’s brilliant in that lager-soaked punk rock tradition.  I only heard an early mix, so I hope they take my advice when I say “more accordion”!

Enjoy a free preview of “Thirsty and Miserable” by Max the Axe featuring lead vocals by Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller!

 

 

#835: A Letter From Jason Becker

GETTING MORE TALE #835: A Letter From Jason Becker

Jason Becker should need no introduction to you.  Though his best known album is David Lee Roth’s A Little Ain’t Enough, he never shot to stardom like his predecessor Steve Vai.  Instead Becker was struck with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Becker has steadfastly refused to give in, recording new music and being an inspiration to everyone suffering from neurological disorders.  Though memories are now lost, in the mid-90s fans were asked via the rock magazines to send Jason some cards and letters of encouragement.  Nobody expects the artist to send anything in return, but Jason Becker went to the expense.

They weren’t personal letters of course, but Becker went to the trouble of responding to everyone with a typed note about how he was doing.  “Although I do read every letter I get, my condition has put such huge demands on my time and limited energy.”  He goes into some detail on his treatments and status.  At the time he could still speak but was unable to play guitar, using a computer to compose.  He also mentions his solo album Perspective which was out in Japan but not the US.  No domestic record label would back him due to his inability to tour or promote the album.  He eventually put together an independent release in May 1996, but his condition was worsening.

That same year, Jason lost the ability to speak.  His father designed a system that reads Jason’s eye blinks in order to communicate.  It’s a remarkable story, and a painful one considering that Becker was a real guitar prodigy until his condition worsened.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the letter (aside from the fact that it exists at all) is that they taped a Jason Becker guitar pick to the corner.  I had forgotten that I owned a Becker pick in my collection.  I’ll keep it exactly where it is so it doesn’t get lost.  Another neat detail is that Jason “signed” the letter with a thumb print.

Jason Becker is still making new music.  His most recent album, 2018’s Triumphant Hearts, features all sorts of high-profile pals like Steve Morse, Joe Satriani, Trevor Rabin and many more.  He refuses to give in and that in itself is the triumph.