Jake E Lee

REVIEW: Working Man (Tribute to Rush, 1996)

Scan_20160821WORKING MAN (1996 Magna Carta tribute to Rush)

This CD was released in 1996, and almost immediately the music press started reporting that Rush were trying to have it taken off the shelves.  One of our former owners at the Record Store, the infamous Tom, said:  “I can see why they were trying to do that.  Because it’s too fucking good.”

It actually is.  There are few tribute albums worth listening to all the way through.  How many can you name:  Encomium, the Zeppelin tribute?  The Sabbath tributes Nativity in Black?  Do you listen to those front to back?  That’s the best and only way to enjoy Working Man.  So numerous are the progressive rock and hard rock names here that we may have trouble keeping track of them all.

Sebastian Bach hails from the Great White North, so it is only appropriate for him to open this CD with the title track.  He also passionately stuns on “Jacob’s Ladder” a bit later on, utilising the power and range he is known for.  What names on these songs!  Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan play drums and bass respectively; two guys often cited as the best in the world on their instruments!  If that wasn’t enough, ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee shreds the hell out of “Working Man” while John Petrucci from Dream Theater goes for the throat on “Jacob’s”.  Take a minute to absorb all that.

Seamlessly, “Working Man” develops into “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” with James LaBrie of Dream Theater in peak voice.  Sheehan and Portnoy handle the rhythm for most of the album, so you can be assured that the chops of Mr. Lee and Mr. Peart are served well here by the next generation of players.  Dream Theater fans will lose their shit completely.  But there is so much more here than just progressive rockers letting it fly.  A youthful and impressive Jack Russell from Great White takes on the galloping “Analog Kid” from Signals and wins.  Have no fear or doubts: this may seem strange, but Russell’s version of “Analog Kid” may well be one of the best Rush covers you’ll ever hear.  (Especially when Billy Sheehan and guitarist Michael Romeo do a synched-up dual bass/guitar solo!)

Other highlights:

  • The late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery has no problems with “The Trees”, an excellent version.
  • Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors) takes the main guitar part for “La Villa Strangiato”, causing spontaneous head explosions.
  • Blue-eyed soul singer Eric Martin (Mr. Big) does a fine job of the light “Mission”, though it sounds very different from the shred-rock elsewhere.
  • A bang-on “Closer to the Heart” performed by Fates Warning is a must-have for fans.
  • James LaBrie and his old bandmate in Winter Rose, Rich Chycki, reunite on the classic “Red Barchetta”.  A little added Can-Con for rock fans.

And best of all, Devin Townsend screaming his balls off, all over “Natural Science”.  Without a doubt, Townsend has the most unorthodox interpretation, but it’s Devin Townsend, so you must expect the unexpected.  This guy is an underrated national treasure, and along with James Murphy (Death, Testament) on guitar, Stu Hamm on bass, and Deen Castronovo on drums, all walls are shattered.  “Natural Science” is undoubtedly the most different track here, and consequently it’s the most exciting.

The only mis-fire:

  • “Anthem”, with Mark Slaughter and George Lynch.  Slaughter’s voice is too shrill.  (I cannot handle when he shrieks “Come on!  Yeah!” at the start.)  George’s Eastern-flavoured shredding is also overdone and misplaced.

That means out of 13 tracks, 12 of them are keepers.

For an added layer of authenticity, the CD was mixed by Terry Brown himself, in Toronto.  Prices fluctuate wildly, but fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Sebastian Bach or Devin Townsend would be wise to pick this up if found in their travels.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Best of Ozz (1989 Japanese exlusive)

Second of an Ozzy double shot! For the other review, Randy Rhoads Tribute, click here.  

OZZY OSBOURNE – Best of Ozz (1989 CBS Japan exclusive)

Japanese releases are such interesting things.  Sometimes they are chock full of bonus tracks and additional goodies, and sometimes they are not.  This CD is one that is not.

Even though this album came out after No Rest for the Wicked (1988),  this Best Of Ozz includes no songs from that album or with guitarist Zakk Wylde.  The songs are drawn from the first four Ozzy studio albums only, and the CD contains only 10 tracks.  You have to shrug your shoulders at some of the song selections.  “Secret Loser” and “Centre of Eternity” are on this, but not “Suicide Solution” or “I Don’t Know”.

Those two aside, however, this ain’t a bad but brief run through the land of Ozz.  “Crazy Train”: check.  “Bark at the Moon”: check.  “Mr. Crowley”: check.  “Shot in the Dark”: check.  They get some bonus points for deeper cuts such as “Diary of a Madman”, “Over the Mountain” and “Goodbye to Romance”.   I’m also glad “The Ulimate Sin” was included, as that song has sort of been erased from Ozzy’s canon since then, in a manner of speaking.  He doesn’t like reissuing any songs from that album.

Interestingly, each track alternates guitar players: Randy, Jake, Randy, Jake, through the whole BEST OF OZZ_0005album.  The result is an uneven listen.  I don’t know why they did that.

The tracks are most likely the original CD masters.  There are no liner notes indicating they had been remastered and I think it would be highly unlikely.  Since there is nothing exclusive to be had on Best of Ozz, and since it is limited to just 10 tracks and lacks Zakk Wylde, this CD is nothing more than a collectible to me.  I don’t remember what I paid for it, but I bought it from T-Rev’s store.  I probably paid about $16.99 or so.  The CD itself is scratched a little bit, but not bad enough to skip or play defectively.  Most appealing to me, the original obi strip was intact, and there’s a lyric sheet with Japanese writing and amusing sketches.  Bizarrely, some of these sketches are of Zakk Wylde, even though he’s not on the album.

I’ve listened to Best of Ozz exactly twice: when I purchased it, and when I reviewed it.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Bark at the Moon (2002 Remixed version)

Happy Hallowe’en! AAHOOOOOOOH! Bark at the moon!

OZZY OSBOURNE – Bark at the Moon (2002 Sony, unadvertised remixed)

Much like Diary and Blizzard, when Bark At The Moon was reissued in 2002, it was also remixed. People who own my preferred edition of this beloved Ozzy classic have noticed the unadvertised remix. (There was no sticker on the cover indicating this album was remixed, and it was also ignored in press releases.  The liner notes claim this was mixed by Tony Bongiovi, like the original.) Why this was done is a mystery to me, I’ve never read anything about it. All I can say is that you’ll notice particularly on Jake E. Lee’s solos, the overall sonics, and some keyboard parts as well. The ending to some songs, and the beginnings of others are very different.  Maybe Ozzy thought the album sounded dated?  The remix seems as if they were trying for the drums and effects to sound “current”.  Which is silly, of course.  This year’s “current” is next year’s out of date, but classic will always be classic.

Either way, the original mix of Bark has been an underdog favourite for many years.  Ozzy seems to really want to bury the Jake years.  He only plays the title track live, none of the other songs. Granted, “Bark at the Moon” is clearly an outstanding track.  There are still some lesser-known classics here equally good as the album tracks on Diary or Blizzard. For example, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel”. This riff monster sounds like the natural successor to some of the best moments on Diary. There are a ton of great songs here. “You’re No Different”, which is one of those great Ozz slow burners is another one. I’ve always liked “Slow Down” and of course “Waiting for Darkness”. Ozzy had gothed out his sound a lot more on this album and you’ll hear a lot more keyboards and even strings.

Ozzy was in a bad place back in ’83.  Still hurting from the death of Randy Rhoads, Ozzy was forced to audition players again, a process he hated.  Jake E. Lee (ex-Ruff Cutt) was selected, perhaps due to his ability to meld white hot riffs with neoclassical shredding.  Bassist Bob Daisley returned, as did drummer Tommy Aldridge, who had played on the last tour.  Don Airey returned for keyboard duties, creating a spooky atmosphere for the Ozzman to prowl.

And prowl he did.  This is a hard rocking album, probably harder than the two Rhoads discs.  It is also a dark sounding album.  Blizzard has a lot of musical joy on it; you can hear that these guys were stoked to be playing those songs.  Bark sounds a bit tired by comparison, a bit like a druggy haze.  “Now You See It (Now You Don’t)” is an example of a song that has all these qualities.  It has a hard, almost Sabbathy guitar riff, but is cloaked in darkness.

“Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel” is the most upbeat song.  Who doesn’t like a song about rebellion in the name of rock and roll?  It also has obvious references to the TV preachers who were out to get Ozzy at the time, so the song is like a big middle finger from Ozzy.  “I’m a just a rock ‘n’ roll rebel, I’ll tell you no lies.  They say I worship the devil, they must be stupid or blind.”

Then you have the jokey weird ballad, “So Tired”.  At least that’s how I heard it then, and still hear it now.  The video seems to emphasize the jokey aspect.  Who doesn’t love to see Ozzy dressed up as monsters?  As far as the song goes, I have no idea what they were thinking at the time.  Maybe it was the drugs?  Another weird thing — even  thought I think the song is a joke, I love it!

As mentioned, since the remix changes the sound of the album and swaps out solos here and there, pick up one of the earlier CD editions. The 1995 remaster is pretty good; it contained the B-side “Spiders” (sometimes written as “Spiders In The Night”).  Unfortunately even though it’s a well sought rarity, it’s not one of Ozzy’s better songs. It’s an obvious B-side. Better (because it’s funnier) is “One Up The B-Side” which makes its CD debut on this edition. “The bent overture”. Heh.

Now that Ozzy and Sharon have seen the light and finally reissued the original mixes of Blizzard and Diary, one can always hope for a long term Ozzy reissue program. I’d like to see the original mix of Bark At The Moon made available again. I think it’s a shame that Ozzy seems to have disowned most of the Jake E. Lee era. Jake was and remains a great guitarist — check out his work on the incredible Badlands album.

4.5/5 stars (original)
3.5/5 stars (remix)

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ultimate Live Ozzy (picture disc EP)

Welcome to the third WEEK OF SINGLES!  Once again, we’ll be looking at singles and EPs all week.  Up first is a really odd one.

Click here to see directories for the last two installments:  The Week of Singles, and the Week of Singles 2.

OZZY OSBOURNE – Ultimate Live Ozzy (1986 CBS picture 12″ record)

T-Rev bought this for me a year or two ago, God knows where he found it!  All I know is that one day I got a text from him saying, “Mikey, Ultimate Live Ozzy picture disc, do you need it?”  I obviously said yes,  I didn’t care what it was exactly.  I figured it was probably live cuts from The Ultimate Ozzy home video release.  I know that Ozzy picture discs go for crazy amounts of money at record shows, and this one was affordably priced.

Picture discs don’t sound the best, and this one even has a label on the front warning the consumer of this fact.  Unfortunately my plastic sleeve isn’t in the greatest shape, although the record is absolutely perfect.  I love the way the turntable spindle sticks out of Ozzy’s tongue on one side.  The other side has a picture of Ozzy and guitarist Jake E. Lee with the girl from The Ultimate Sin album cover.  Jake’s taking a bite out of her bum.

Here’s the weird thing.  Even though the label clearly states these are live versions from Kansas in 1986 (the Ultimate Ozzy video shoot), there are no live songs.  There are three tracks per side, and both sides are identical.  They contain the studio versions of “The Ultimate Sin”, “Never Know Why”, and “Thank God for the Bomb”.  The studio versions — not live versions!  Somebody screwed up somewhere; you have to assume one side was meant to have the live tracks, and the other the studio counterparts.  Information is scarce, except that there are multiple reports of the same issue for this picture disc on the web.

Thankfully, the three missing live tracks are on the Prince of Darkness box set.   It’s always nice to get some live Ozzy stuff with Jake E. Lee, since it’s so rare to find.  Randy Castillo (R.I.P.) is on drums, and like him or not, he has a signature style that he utilized with Ozzy.  I enjoy his drumming.  The live versions are more keyboard heavy than the studio counterparts.  I enjoy Jake’s echoey guitar intro to “Thank God for the Bomb” which sounds cool live.

I’d love to know if these three live tracks were actually released on vinyl at all in 1986.  Prince of Darkness was released in 2005; that’s a long time to wait to finally get the tracks in an audio format!  I do have the Ultimate Ozzy video on VHS, but it has never been released on an official DVD.  Knowing of Ozzy’s loathing for this period, I wonder if it ever will be.  I doubt it.  It’s too bad, because some have a fondness for The Ultimate Sin and its songs.

If this picture disc had contained the live tracks it was supposed to, I’d give it 4/5 stars.  However, for a screwup this colossal:

0/5 stars.  At least it looks cool.

Final note:  When originally released, this disc came with postcards and a poster.  I have neither.

REVIEW: Badlands – Badlands (1989)

BADLANDS_0003

 

BADLANDS – Badlands (1989 Atlantic)

When this album came out I bought it immediately. Well, as soon as it was made available by Columbia House music club, that is.  I remember that I described it to a work friend named Mark as “raw bluesy shit”, and I still stand by that three word description. With an emphasis on raw. For 1989, this kind of production was unheard of. You can hear everything on this album, you can hear Jake’s fingers talking. Very little embellishment going on here.

Badlands were almost a supergroup of sorts: Ray Gillen (ex-Black Sabbath), Jake E. Lee (ex Ozzy Osbourne), Eric Singer (also ex-Black Sabbath, now in Kiss) and Greg Chaisson (ex-nobody significant). Jake had always complained he didn’t have an outlet to play the blues in Ozzy’s band, so this is his version of the blues, and it’s hard as hell!  The band also had a vision of an album with two sides: a first harder rocking side, and a second bluesier side with longer songs.

“High Wire” kicks Badlands off with Jake’s raw, stripped back guitar sound.  Producer Paul O’Neill (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) was also managing Badlands, and his production work here is completely different from the layers that he is better known for.  The effects are stipped back, and Jake’s guitar is very different from The Ultimate Sin.  A groovy exciting track, “High Wire” is driven by the riff and Gillen’s authoritative Coverdale-esque lead vocals.

The single “Dreams In The Dark” is next, the closest thing to a commercial song that this album gets. It has a strong chorus, instantly memorable, but you’ll be forgiven for thinking this is a Whitesnake outtake at first.  A brief instrumental precedes my favourite song, “Winter’s Call”.  It is as close is you’ll get to a ballad on this album, and only because its intro is slow and acoustic. However once that first riff kicks in, there’s no looking back. Eric Singer’s drum patterns are complex and hard hitting.  The song itself is atmospheric and still kicks my ass all these years later.  It’s infectious, like an old Zeppelin number.  I hear sitar!

A pair of rockers finish side one, “Dancing On The Edge” (an accelerated raw rocker with a great chorus) and “Streets Cry Freedom” a steamy, slower tune like a classic Coverdale prowl.  Both songs are standouts.

Side two starts with a serious rocker, “Hard Driver”, but from there it is on to the long, slower bluesy numbers that the band talked about. “Rumblin’ Train” is the bluesiest number, and “Devil’s Stomp” is as heavy as the title implies. “Seasons” is a slow moody one, brilliantly dramatic thanks to Gillen’s emotive vocal. The cassette/CD bonus track was called “Ball & Chain” and it finishes the album on a another hard bluesy note.  (Yes, back then when they couldn’t fit all the songs on an LP, they’d still include it on the cassette version and call it a “bonus track”.)

Badlands made a couple more albums, but this one is my favourite.  Martin Popoff himself rates this one a 10/10.  I gotta agree with the man on this one.  On a 5 scale…

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ultimate Sin (1986)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ultimate Sin (1986, 1995 Sony remaster)

I know Ozzy isn’t especially fond of this album (or anything about the whole Jake E. Lee period) but I love it.  Hell, Ozzy hasn’t even offered it in any of his reissue programs.  It’s out of print, and Ozzy never plays any of these songs anymore outside of “Shot in the Dark”.

I don’t know why I love it so much.  I get why some people aren’t fond of it.  Ron Nevison butchered the production, for one thing.  Randy Castillo was such a powerful drummer, with a recognizable style.  Here he sounds plastic with awful sounding cymbals.  It’s a shame because the drum parts themselves are great.  Ozzy acknowledges being in a real “down” state at this time, and it shows in the tired vocals.

Yet I love it!  Maybe it’s Jake E. Lee, who is incredible.  He’s flashy in that 80’s way, but with balls.  He’s not just fluttery solos, although he certain can do that.  His riffs are choppy his fills stunning and classy.  I think Jake was a great replacement for the late Randy Rhoads, even though his true self wouldn’t shine through until Badlands.

ULTIMATE SIN_0003I like every single song.  The title track, “Secret Loser”, “Fool Like You”, “Lightning Strikes”…these are punchy Ozzy rockers.  They are well written songs, and longtime contributor Bob Daisley has credits on 8 of the 9 songs.  To me, that speaks to a certain level of quality.  Verses and choruses are strong and melodic.  The guitar riffs, solos and fills are all equally catchy and adroit.  Even one of the less interesting songs, like “Never Know Why” is still listenable today due to the catchy melody, and Jake’s flange-y guitar part.

Many of the songs such as “Thank God for the Bomb” and “Killer of Giants” return Ozzy to the anti-war stance that Black Sabbath took in the 1970’s.  I remember the 80’s clearly, and it seemed like every other week, there was a TV documentary or movie about the Soviets and the nuclear threat.  To me as a kid, Ozzy’s voice of protest eased my mind! Surely, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev would listen to Ozzy? “Killer of Giants” is quite an achievement musically, going from electric to acoustic to heavy all with Jake E. Lee at the rudder.  It’s an awesome song.

The big hit and first single was the last song, “Shot in the Dark”.  This is bassist Phil Soussan’s only writing contribution on his only Ozzy album.  Later, he’d go on to co-write the excellent Vince Neil album Exposed, which proved he wasn’t a fluke.  It’s a great mid-tempo rock song, although the video used to kinda frighten me as a kid.  Frighten and titillate all at once.  I was 13.

And on the topic of “Shot in the Dark”, why did bands in the mid-80’s always seem to wear sequined bathrobes? I’m looking at you, Mr. Simmons circa 1986…

I look at The Ultimate Sin as a 5/5 in terms of songs and musical performances.  I’ll dock it 1 star for Ron Nevison’s clunky production and Ozzy’s tired lungs.

4/5 stars

And maybe this is a good time to rant about these fucking 1995 Sony 22 BIt SBM Digital Remasters.  Oh, I have no problem with the sound of this CD.  It’s the fucking covers!  Why did they crop the awesome artwork and put that dumb OZZY along the side?  My Lord.  I had so many customers (Gord and Glen specifically) who refused to buy these remasters because the cover is dumb.  Not to mention putting the tracklist in a circle on the back cover, making it annoying to read.

  1. The Ultimate Sin (3:43)
  2. Secret Loser (4:08)
  3. Never Know Why (4:28)
  4. Thank God for the Bomb (3:53)
  5. Never (4:18)
  6. Lightning Strikes (5:13)
  7. Killer of Giants (5:41)
  8. Fool Like You (5:19)
  9. Shot in the Dark (4:16)