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REVIEW: Triumph – Allied Forces (40th Anniversary Box Set)

TRIUMPH – Allied Forces 40th Anniversary Box Set (Originally 1981, 2021 Round Hill Records RSD set)

Triumph is under-celebrated.  That’s a fact.  To the unknowing, they were “the other Canadian power trio with the high voice”.  To the Allied Forces, they were Rik, Mike and Gil:  Triumph!  And really incomparable to Rush except in superficial ways.  Finally, some of their back catalogue has received the treatment it deserves and that is Allied Forces, for its 40th anniversary.  Overseen by Andy Curran,* this vinyl box set (no CD) features some exclusive music and a wealth of goodies packed within.  The usual content like booklets and reprints, but also a little surprise awaits you inside.  Released for Record Store Day back in May, limited quantities were later made available for the schmucks like us who couldn’t snag one in time.


Allied Forces itself is pressed on a picture disc.  The brilliant yellow A-side shows bullet belts and a Spitfire.  Vibrant imagery that only serves to enhance the tunes you’re about to hear.  Opening with “Fool For Your Love”, the beautiful picture disc sounds great with low surface noise.  Rik Emmett goes deep with some wicked slide guitars, on a good time rocker sung by Gil Moore.  In the luxurious liner notes, Rik explains that there are four tracks of guitar layered.  Indeed, Canada’s greatest guitarist sounds nice and thick with a delectable crunch.  With a nice tasty riff to bite down on, this opener stands as one of Triumph’s most enjoyable pure rockers.

The iconic #8 single “Magic Power” introduces Rik’s acoustic contemplative side.  Triumph succeeded in marrying all their facets on Allied Forces, and “Magic Power” is a fine example of this.  It has a quaint folksy vibe, but when the electric guitar kicks in, it becomes a pop rock classic.  With lyrics about drawing a “magic power” from music on the radio, what could be fitting?  Mike Levine’s big Hammond B3 is the ultimate accoutrement.

“Air Raid” is an interlude, a sonic experiment honed at the band’s new home studio, Metalworks.  It serves as a war-like intro to “Allied Forces”, one of Triumph’s heaviest.  A rallying cry for the live setting.  According to Uncle Rikky, it’s Triumph letting out their Deep Purple side, and you can certainly hear “Speed King” and “Highway Star” in its DNA.  Gil Moore rips it up on drums and vocals.  Triumph at their most Purple, and powerful.  But to end the side properly, they go for a good-time party rocker in “Hot Time (In This City Tonight)”.  Of course in the live setting, this enabled Triumph to honour their host city every night.  Just change the words to “Hot time in Cleveland tonight,” as we’ll see!  With a hot boogie behind him, Rik Emmett sings some ongodly high notes and wails away a fresh solo laden with wicked licks.

Flipping the record over, Side B depicts a triumphant B-17 bomber dropping its massive payload.  A strong graphic statement.  “Fight the Good Fight” is the clear album centerpiece.  Built upon Rik’s 12-string depth, it boasts many strengths.  Gil Moore’s complex beat and Mike Levine’s keyboards accent the song and build upon its heart.  Emmett’s solo is a sub-composition until itself, as they often are with him.  It has peaks, valleys and hooks of its own.  Adding to the true weight of “Fight the Good Fight”, the liner notes add the wrinkle that the song was inspired by a battle with cancer.

“Ordinary Man” is one likely to split opinions.  Fans of the progressive side will love the choir and acoustic arrangement.  Rawkers will say, “bah, pombous prog bullshit!”  Gil expresses regret that they didn’t play it live; it certainly would have been a challenge.  Queen-like vocals and guitar layers would be hard to perform by a power trio.  Speaking of power, that kicks in around the three-minute mark.  That’s when the riffing starts; full-on metal mode.

In the penultimate position, Rik’s classical instrumental (a Triumph institution) is “Petite Etude”, which also boasts some jazzy chords if you listen carefully.  Finally Rik ushers in the album closer “Say Goodbye” with more of that juicy slide guitar.  A pop rocker in the truest sense, and a Rik construction.  Mike and Gil seem a little cool on it in the liner notes.  It might not seem like the kind of song that fits on Allied Forces, but it does close the album on a really bright note, which is not a bad thing.  Mike’s Hammond B3 returns to add some integrity.

And that’s Allied Forces, a great album with no weak songs.  A solid 4.5/5 on a bad day.  But this box set has so much more to go.


“Magic Power” (Live in Ottawa 1982) is an exclusive 7″ single.  The A-side is the live version of the Triumph classic, unavailable elsewhere.  With the Triumph logo emblazoned on the right, a female mechanic services a World War II-era warplane on the sleeve.  As for the track, it’s a brilliantly energetic performance although you sure do miss that Hammond B3.  Still you can’t beat it for the electricity in the air.

The B-side was a bit of a mystery until we did a little digging.  “Allied Forces 2021” is not a re-recorded version by Triumph.  It is a new version by former Triumph guitarist Phil X, reportedly for an upcoming tribute album that’s in the works.  Phil’s version is way heavier, but he sings it pretty good and the solo work is absolutely wicked.  It doesn’t seem to say anywhere in the box that this version is by Phil X, but the RSD site credits the Bon Jovi guitarist properly.  It’s certainly far heavier than anything coming out of Jon’s camp these days.

A nice little bonus single here, and a nod to Phil X who helped keep Triumph going in the early 90s.


Live In Cleveland – 1981 will be the serious bonus here for many fans.  Although this concert was released on CD in 1996 as King Biscuit Flower Hour (In Concert), this is its first vinyl release and remastered at Metalworks.  By the time Triumph hit Cleveland, they were on their fifth studio album and had plenty of great material to play; all now classics.  Only a few tracks from Allied Forces had worked themselves into the set, the bulk of which is still made up of earlier material and long instrumental stretches.

From the previous album Progressions of Power, “Tear the Roof Off Tonight” opens on a Zeppelin-y party rock note.  Before you can say “Rock and Roll”, they’re into the second track “American Girls” from 1979’s Just A Game.  A nice tasty riff with bite, and two Gil Moore tunes in a row, the drummer working extra hard.  Dig that break into “The Star-Spangled Banner” right before the incendiary solo.

Rik’s up with the first epic of the night, “Lay It On the Line”, 12-string majesty ringing clear and true.

“Same old story, all over again.  Turn a lover into just another friend.  I wanna love you, I wanna make you mine…won’t you lay it on the line.”

Then Rik misses the mark and there are a couple extra power chords before he picks up the vocal where he left off.  Things that only happen on true untampered live recordings.  This passionate version of “Lay It On the Line” has some of Rik’s most incredible singing ever captured.  Period.

First new song of the night is “Allied Forces”, Gil going in extra hard on the lead vocals.  Rik screamin’ in the back.  Triumph were frickin’ hot in 1981.  “Allied Forces” is a work-out before Triumph lets loose some more serious epic material.  “Fight the Good Fight”, impressive itself, is followed by “Blinding Light Show / Moonchild”.  This is just a solid 15 minutes of compositional and instrumental brilliance.  Not to mention a lead vocal tour-de-force from Rik.  Serious drum thunder from Moore on “Moonchild”, and Mike Levine relentlessly laying down a melodic rhythm the whole time.

Gil demonstrations his ability to scat out a wicked song intro on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Machine”.  It ain’t easy to front a band from behind the drum kit but here he does a song intro to rival Paul Stanley.  They blast through that tune, complete with Rik’s signature solo, and then “I Live For the Weekend”.  It’s Triumph at their most Van Halen, boogying and soloing with the big boys.  Then it’s “Nature’s Child”, a drum solo, and an instrumental jam.  They exit on “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Hot Time (In Cleveland Tonight)”, two live standards.

Live In Cleveland is not the definitive live Triumph album.  That will remain to be Stages, which had a better song/solo ratio.  This is however the heaviest live Triumph album and its rawness and unpolished veridity make it the perfect one to accompany this box set.  Listen to the whole thing in one sitting, is my recommendation.


There is a treasure trove of relevant Triumph goodies included inside.  Box sets sold in Canada included an exclusive replica poster for Triumph live at Maple Leaf Gardens, New Year’s Eve 1981.  For a show at the Gardens, it’s pretty ballsy for them to use a picture of Rik Emmett wearing a Habs shirt.  This box set is loaded with Rik in the Habs shirt!

Deke and I also received a Rik Emmett 2021 guitar pick taped to the front shrinkwrap of our sets.  Picks are the kind of added bonus we really appreciate.  Something material.  The included replica backstage pass is also cool, as it looks better than just a piece of paper.

There are lots of paper goods inside too including:  a massive 24″ x 36″ poster, three lyric sheets, three sketches, the booklet and Allied Forces replica tour book.  Plenty of photos and text to sift through.  There are interviews with Rik, Mike and Gil, and a song-by-song breakdown.  Everything about the making of Allied Forces from to the music to the iconic cover.

Hopefully the powers that be continue to honour Triumph’s history as it deserves to be.  Allied Forces is a triumph indeed but it’s ridiculous that it was released in such limited numbers.  Let all the fans have a chance to get one.

5/5 stars

Personal note:  This box set was released June 12 2021, for Record Store Day.  Deke and I tried mightily but were interviewing Andy Curran at the exact moment the box was released.  Having failed to buy the box, Curran advised us not to pay inflated second-hand market prices to get it.  “Something special is planned,” he hinted.  A few weeks ago, the remainder of stock was made available via Rock Paper Merch.  A kind viewer left a comment here with the link to buy, and both Deke and I managed to get one.  Thank you Andy, and thank you viewer!  It goes great with my official Triumph hockey jersey.

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.