High Country

#555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

GETTING MORE TALE #555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

Yesterday I took Mrs. LeBrain to Toronto to see a neurosurgeon.  It was a great meeting; very positive, but we will get more into that in a future tale.   (Look for an upcoming Getting More Tale story called “Seize the Day” if you want to know more.)   After the meeting with the doctor, she had some tests.  I didn’t need to be around for the those, so with a couple hours to kill, I went down to Sonic Boom on Spadina.  I was accompanied by Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom, who insisted we cab to the store.  It was a rainy miserable day outside.  Wet, cold, windy and unpleasant.  The cab ride wasn’t unwelcome.

I’m glad I shaved my beard down to a goatee the other day, because almost every dude in that store looked the same.  Bearded hipsters buying vinyl, left right and center, lookalikes all!  I tuned out the background noise and focused on the cool.  Upstairs they had two colouring books I almost considered getting.  Do you know anyone who is a huge fan of either James Franco or Benedict Cumberbatch?  If so, I am happy to report that Sonic Boom had colouring books of both.  (They also had Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.)  I spied the new Mastodon among the new releases, but headed downstairs where the real treasures usually lay.

Although I put in a Herculean effort, there was little to be found.  Maybe I have too many CDs, because everywhere I flipped it seemed to be “got it, got it, got it, got it…”  Aaron asked me to look for Danny Michel and a few other titles.  Nothing to be found.  I was struck by how just about everything seems to be reissued on vinyl today.  The Spice Girls’ first album, Spice.  I fail to comprehend.  It doesn’t compute.  I considered buying some Kiss reissues, but I didn’t really want to come home with something I already owned.

With some persistence I did liberate three titles:

  1. The Sword – High Country (CD, used, $9.99)
  2. Queen – The Game (2 CD remaster, used, $9.99)
  3. Rush – Agora Ballroom, Cleveland Ohio, May 1975 (vinyl, new, $32.99)

The Queen set was in the recent arrivals, and that is a nice score.  I’m nowhere near complete with my Queen remasters, but when I can pick them off one by one, used?  That’s the best way.  The Rush on the other hand is something of a chance I’m taking.  This is a radio broadcast vinyl, and I’ve never bought one of those before.  They had several available.  I don’t have anything live from Rush in 1975, so that was the key factor.  Also a non-album track:  “Bad Boy”, a Larry Williams cover.  180 gram coloured vinyl to boot.  Should be good times.

Not a knockout shopping excursion, but not a waste of time either.  We walked back to the hospital (although Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom would have preferred a cab) and got soaked, but it’s good to stretch the legs when it’s a long day of driving and sitting.  Besides, we enjoyed looking at the Toronto scenery.  The fruit and vegetable markets smelled great.  They even had bonsai trees.

Back in the hospital waiting room, I was able to do a little research for my Kiss Re-Review series in progress.  Guess which album I have to write up next.

I don’t want to use the word “disappointing” for this Sonic Boom trip, because I am very pleased with my new albums.  I told Uncle Meat I wanted some more The Sword, and Sonic Boom delivered.  I’m more surprised than disappointed that I was only able to scrounge up three finds this time.  Every visit is different, and I’m sure that next time I return (either in the fall with Aaron, or sooner for more tests) it will be another story.  Sonic Boom is still an absolute must for any music fan visiting Toronto.  Don’t miss out, and be sure to check out the new arrival bins.  They are often the key to many great finds.

As always Sonic Boom gets 5/5 stars.  And so does Mrs. LeBrain for being a tough-as-nails trooper.

 

Advertisements

GUEST CONCERT REVIEW: The Sword 04/12/2016 by UNCLE MEAT

Part two of a two part series. Part one: High Country album review

GUEST CONCERT REVIEW by UNCLE MEAT

THE SWORDTHE SWORD – London Music Hall, London Ontario 04/12/2016

I don’t think we ever found out the name of the first band that played on this night.  They had some great riffy moments, nothing too spectacular but a good way to warm up the crowd.  Seconds after they finished their set, Tom turned to me and said,  “Never too old to enjoy a Rock Show.”  A month earlier we had enjoyed another Rock Show, catching ZZ (that little band from Texas) Top when they rode into town. Ironically enough, tonight was all about seeing The Sword, another band of Texans who actually cite ZZ as a major influence. Six degrees of integrity, or something like that. Thus begins yet another musical journey, and yes Thomas is right.  In our 40’s and still lovin’ the Rock Show.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Sword once before as openers for Kyuss Lives: Relentless hard-rock riffing personified.  We realized that this would be quite the different experience.  Not only because they were playing a headlining set, but more importantly, we were seeing a completely different band than they were just a few years ago.  Debuting in 2006, The Sword released four great metal albums.  Albums that I definitely enjoyed, but apart from a few exceptional tracks, to me they were just another metal band.  While I can still appreciate a good thrashing once in a red Satanic moon, the genre as a whole has kind of taken a nostalgic back seat for me.  Before their latest album High Country was released, I didn’t LOVE The Sword.  When I read comments from The Sword that basically stated that this new album would reflect more of who they really are, and that if they made another similar “metal” album it wouldn’t be authentic, it instantly intrigued me.  From the first listen I connected with the polarizing High Country in a serious way.  So much so that I actually over-played it and had to put it away for a bit.  However “metal” fans had a different take on it.  Almost every review I read was negative and most of them could have been summed up with three words: “not heavy enough”.  That’s OK, cement-heads.  They didn’t make this album for you.  They made this album for themselves, and apparently me.  Several songs on High Country tap into the 70’s soft-rock genre (Ambrosia/Little River Band/Bee Gees) that I am a huge sucker for.  Thank you The Sword.

Since this is the home of Record Store Tales, I should include this.  While we were in London we stopped by the Record Store Tom used to own in London.  I don’t think the name of this particular chain can be mentioned around these parts, but I swear it doesn’t rhyme with “Pete Rose Con”.  Anyways, I witnessed first-hand that while record stores are a dying breed, there are still gems to be mined out there.  Tom’s face lights up as he finds a new copy of a Spiritual Beggars CD being sold new, at a used record store.  Irony ensues as we find out that the store manager that ordered in that particular CD was a guy Tom trained 20 years ago.  Sowing the seeds of Rock.  But I digress.

Second opening band Royal Thunder took the stage and began doing a…umm…sound check?  Considering there was a fair crowd in the London Music Theater at this point, this was something I haven’t seen very often, if at all.  After their first song which understandably sounded pretty shitty, the female lead singer goes on a bit of a tirade about problems at the border and that Canadian cops are assholes.  Aha!  Live sound check explained.  Royal Thunder had some great groove moments, but too many scattered riffs going nowhere.  And too much “plinkilly plinkilly” with the guitars going on; it overall needed some more beef to it.  Female lead singer/bass player certainly had some good pipes on her, but and I quote from Tom, “I liked their sound check better than most of their set.”  To me they kinda sounded as if Bonnie Tyler developed an affinity for Satan and became the singer of Concrete Blonde.  I also enjoyed that the drummer looked like our friend Tyler Generoux or 1971 Ian Paice, and he played like 1971 Bill Ward.  In all reality their whole set acted as a glorified sound check for The Sword anyways.  Step aside…this is High Country.

The lights go down and before The Sword come out, Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind” blares through the theater and it’s a glorious confirmation to me.  This band is making a statement right away.  High Country’s opening track “Unicorn Farm” plays as the hombres walk on stage.  Launching into the album’s next track, Empty Temples, all sound issues have been corrected and they sound great.  It’s during this song that it hits me.  The Sword is one of my favorite bands and I don’t know even the first name of any band member on stage.  I can still tell you off the top of my head that the classic lineup of Ratt is Stephen Pearcy, Juan Croucier, Bobby Blotzer, Warren DiMartini and Robbin Crosby.  I even know how to spell them.  But I have to use Google to find out the names of the members of one of my favourite bands.  That’s just freakin’ stupid.

Lead singer John D. Cronise (who also plays rhythm/lead guitar) never had your typical heavy metal voice, so their new direction sits right in his wheelhouse.  His partner in axemanship, Kyle Shutt, is the most rambunctious one in the band, and these two guys trade rhythm/lead guitar with the grace and prowess of combos like Adrian Smith/Dave Murray or any or all of the twin guitar combinations within the under-appreciated Thin Lizzy, and the great Wishbone Ash.  Watching these guys together was a pure joy.  Perhaps the most interesting musician on stage was bass player Bryan Richie, realizing early on that the standing synthesizer and keyboard foot pedals surrounding him make it possible for them to play some of the more eclectic material from High Country on stage. The band’s new direction has basically made him the most important member of the band, for live performances. Last but not least, in the immortal words of David St. Hubbins…“Great drummah…great drummah”.  Fittingly enough, he even has a Spinal Tap-esque name.  His name is Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III.  You just can’t make that shit up.  But seriously, he was a very solid drummer.  Every few songs he would ride that cowbell all the way to Valhalla!  There is just something about the cowbell that cuts clean through, especially with live music.  It’s powers certainly worked on Tom and I, as we often found ourselves screaming ROCK SHOW!!…ROCK SHOW!!, in appreciation of The majestic Sword.

Staying mostly within the hallowed fields of High Country, more aggressive tracks “Ghost Eye” and “Suffer No Fools” actually conjured up a mini mosh-pit, which thankfully faded away as fast as it started.   Who needs that bullshit anymore.  Stand-out track “The Dreamthieves” was executed perfectly with background vocals and keyboards abound.  The mind-blowing portion of the night comes when they play the robust “Mist & Shadow”, putting everyone in a rock and roll haze.  I have been calling this song “The ‘Layla’ of hard rock” since I first heard it, and the patience in the composition and performance of “Mist & Shadow” defines not only this show for me but what this band has become.

The Sword left and subsequently returned to the stage for their encore.  This is when I believe the band made its most profound statement of the night.  I am sure that the metal fans wanted to hear their classic riffer “How Heavy This Axe”:  Great heavy tune off their second album that I wanted to hear as well.  Almost seemed to be what they should do.  Instead, they chose to play the two tracks on High Country that are the most un-metal songs of not only the album, but their career.  It was a brilliant choice and the message was clear.  A message that became clearer as the lights come on and America’s “You Can Do Magic” starts playing.  The look on some of the stunned faces around me in the crowd were pretty comical, and made me almost me feel proud of this band for not taking the easy way and going through the motions with just another metal album.  This is what happens when musicians know who they are and what they want to become.  Maybe the message is that once you get to this magical place that The Sword are in musically…You can do magic.  You can play anything that you desire.

665/666 stars

REVIEW: The Sword – High Country (2015)

Part one of a THE SWORD two-parter. Epic conclusion comes tomorrow!

THE SWORD – High Country (2015 Razor & Tie)

Right, so let’s get to it!  The brief intro “Unicorn Farm” sounds like Queens of the Stone Age discovering synthesizers for the first time, or The Sword’s version of  “Sunday Afternoon in the Park” by Van Halen.  Then “Empty Temples”, the first real song, sounds like The Cream gone stoner metal.  The truth is these songs do not sound as if recorded in 2015.  They inhabit a netherworld between 1975 and 2015, where the two are one.  The sonics have the quality of today, the grooves are as valid as anything in the Fu Manchu catalogue, but the songs are out of the 70’s.  “High Country” is Sabbath meets the Eagles in its metally groove.

The laid-back psychedelic metal of “Tears Like Diamonds” is right up my alley.  Lead vocals by John D. Cronise are relaxed and somehow hypnotic in an Ozzy-like fashion.  “Mist and Shadow” on the other hand is swampy and blues-laden.  Of course it’s as heavy as weapons grade plutonium, but it still resides in some swamp in the deep south.  Either way it’s an album highlight.

Progressive synth with crazy drums up your alley?  “Agartha” is the instrumental for you, like something out of an old Tom Baker-era Dr. Who, but amped and hard to resist.  Continuing with the synth, “Seriously Mysterious” is impossible to categorize and very difficult to describe.  Synth rock with balls?  That’s the best I can do.  Again I can’t help but think that 1984-era Van Halen must be an inspiration, somewhere.  This is the “I’ll Wait” of the album.

We gallop off with “Suffer No Fools”, plenty heavy enough and this time sounding inspired by another album from 1984, but this one’s called Powerslave.  This is only an instrumental, which in a way is too bad, but not really because it’s awesome.  “Early Snow” then takes inspiration from the slowest and heaviest Sabbath grooves.  Even lyrically, you could imagine Ozzy howling about the days getting shorter and leaves falling from the trees.  Then the horns blast in.  What the fuck?  Chicago/Sabbath!  This is absolutely insane stuff!  Into “The Dreamthieves”, riffs and melody coalesce perfectly into a sweetly pummelling song.  The mixture of guitars, sweet vocals and keys render it strangely Ghost-like.  The riff and guitar solo section seem directly inspired by Judas Priest’s version of “Green Manalishi”.  “Dreamthieves” is classic, and instantly so.

Watch out for the “Buzzards”: straight heavy rock, but at the same quality level as the rest of the album.  The final instrumental, “Silver Petals” showcases the acoustic guitar, much like how Savatage would throw an acoustic thing right after something heavy. Or right before something heavy:  “Ghost Eye” is certainly that.  A jagged Dio-ish riff precedes some quiet picking and melodic vocals, but it is quickly back to the heavy again.  The penultimate track “Turned to Dust” is quiet and spare, though dramatic.  Finally make way for “The Bees of Spring”, a strange Deep Purple circa 1968-ish track that is as great as it is bizarre.  Hippie-era Purple with Rod Evans on vocals is the perfect description.  It could have fit right in on their self titled record.

There is little question that High Country is a great album.  It has diverse influences, but a cohesive sound.  It packs in more great riffs per minute than most bands can write in a single album.   Instrumental excellent is a given.  How do you rate something like that?

4.5/5 stars

#459.2: 2015 Year-End Lists, part 2 – Uncle Meat!

GETTING MORE TALE #459.2:
2015 Year-End Lists, part 2 – Uncle Meat!

List #2 for 2015 comes from the Uncle of the Meat. He needs no introduction here. Looking for some integrity? Then have a gander below.

MEAT

Meat, Bucky, Tom

UNCLE MEAT’S TOP FIVE ALBUMS of 2015

5. The Book of Souls – Iron Maiden
4. Meloria – Ghost
3. Terraplane – Steve Earle
2. High Country – The Sword
1. Psychic Warfare – Clutch

CLUTCH

UNCLE MEAT’S TOP TEN TV SHOWS of 2015

10. Ash vs. Evil Dead
9. F is for Family
8. Daredevil
7. W/ Bob and David
6. True Detective
5. Mr. Robot
4. The Affair
3. Better Call Saul
2. Game of Thrones
1. Fargo

BOB AND DAVID

UNCLE MEAT’S TOP TEN MOVIES of 2015

10. Straight Outta Compton
9. Ant-Man
8. Trainwreck
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
6. Amy
5. Spotlight
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
3. The Revenant
2. Jaco: The Movie
1. Love and Mercy

AVENGERS

Last list tomorrow!  It’s MY turn next….

#459.1: 2015 Year-End Lists, part 1 – Iron Tom Sharpe!

GETTING MORE TALE #459.1:
2015 Year-End Lists, part 1 – Iron Tom Sharpe!

Here we are once again.  It’s the end of the year, and that means it’s time for lists!

Iron Tom Sharpe, the near-legendary host of Sausagefest, needs no introduction here. I like to describe him as “one of the Jedi masters who instructed me” in the ways of rock. A former Record Store owner himself, Tom knows his shit. So listen up!

But which one is Tom?

But which one is Tom?

IRON TOM’S TOP SIX(!) ALBUMS of 2015

6. The Atomic Bitchwax – Gravitron
5. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls
4. Baroness – Purple
3. Ghost – Meliora
2. Clutch – Psychic Warfare
1. The Sword – High Country

THE SWORD

IRON TOM’S TOP SIX(!) TV SHOWS of 2015

6. The Last Man On Earth
5. W/ Bob and David
4. Mr. Robot
3. Fargo
2. Rick and Morty
1. Game Of Thrones

BOB AND DAVID

 

Come back tomorrow for another great list…from the man, the myth, the stinky putrid legend:  UNCLE MEAT!