james labrie

REVIEW: Dream Theater – Master of Puppets (2009)

DREAM THEATER – Master of Puppets (2009 Yste Jam)

From Dream Theater’s acclaimed self-released series of covers albums, we have before us Master of Puppets.  This was recorded in Barcelona back in 2002.  Just as advertised, it’s Dream Theater doing the whole album live, in sequence, and pretty authentically too.

Dream Theater are a very different band from Metallica.  This is bound to be interesting.

The most obvious difference is that Metallica have two guitar players, while Dream Theater has one and a keyboard player.  On this, Jordan Rudess does aggressive keyboard solos where Kirk Hammett may have laid down one with his axe.  He also plays the acoustic parts on keys.  From time to time, you forget it’s a keyboard.  In short, Rudess turns the prospect of Metallica with keyboards into a lesson on forgetting your assumptions about keyboards!

James LaBrie fits the silhouette of a young James Hetfield.  He sings a convincing Metallica cover indeed!  He cuts loose and goes for it.  Metallica requires a gritty singer, going for it 110%.  LaBrie handles it.  For Dream Theater, doing these cover albums (from a wide variety of bands in fact) must be a lot of fun.  They would have the chance to sing and play in a way that isn’t the usual for them.  Guitarist John Petrucci does not often get to riff on something for five minutes straight like Metallica do.

Lars haters are naturally going to ask “What do Metallica songs sound like with a real drummer?”  Hey, I’m no Lars hater.  (He can play better than I can…)  But in answer to that question I can only respond “fucking awesome”.

Dream Theater cover Master of Puppets without drawing attention to themselves.  Mike Portnoy does not grandstand and overplay.  Nobody does.  If the effort was to do an authentic version of Puppets, as close to note for note as possible, then I say mission accomplished.  Beat for beat, this is stunningly true to the original album.  The keyboards are the most obvious deviation, and that’s minor.  In anything, Dream Theater draw attention to the fact that these are great heavy metal songs.  Are they Metallica’s best-ever set of songs?  Some prefer Kill ‘Em All, some Ride the Lightning.  Any way you slice it, Puppets is metal immortal, a very important record in anyone’s collection.  Dream Theater painstakingly learned the album front to back so they could play it live for a few thousand people.  They did that because it’s a great album on any day.

Dream Theater’s live covers albums (and many, many other releases) can be found on their own Ytse Jam Records website.  Check out the multitude of stuff available (though some are out of print now) and try not to drain your bank accounts.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Rik Emmett & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016)

Had I got it in time, this album could have made the Top Five of 2016 list.

scan_20161231RIK EMMETT & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016 Mascot Music)

Rik Emmett had a long productive career as 1/3rd of Triumph, but he has rarely looked back.   Post-Triumph he has released a steady stream of jazz, rock, blues and acoustic music, sometimes revisiting Triumph songs in re-arranged form.  Finally the ice thawed and Triumph successfully conquered Sweden Rock.  In 2016 Rik released RES 9, a new rock album with his new band RESolution 9.

RES 9 is in fact a time machine.  Dial up track 1.  You will be transported back to 1990 with the rock boogie of “Stand Still”.  This is a spiritual sequel to “Drive Time” from Rik’s first solo album Absolutely.  Then punch track 2.  “Human Race” (not a Red Rider cover) could have been a single from 1986’s The Sport of Kings.  With Alex Lifeson guesting on guitar, Rik and the band tapped into the hookiness of 80’s Triumph, but with a modern integrity.  When you hit up track 3, you will find yourself in the future.  Accompanied by fellow Canadian James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Rik turns in a modern rock anthem with “I Sing”.  Big and uplifting choruses preceded by mellow verses are built for radio.  LaBrie’s vocals are the perfect compliment.  Without a shred of hyperbole, “I Sing” is absolutely one of the best songs Rik’s ever recorded.

The bluesy soul ballad “My Cathedral” gives Rik a chance to show off his impeccable chops.  His tone — unbelievable!  Moving on to “The Ghost of Shadow Town” effectively dials up 1976 in the time machine, with a dark heavy Zepp-ish blues.  “When You Were My Baby” continues down smoove blues street, throwing in some jazz licks.  “Sweet Tooth” is turn down a brightly lit side avenue, a sweet treat indeed.

A hard Triumph-like vibe permeates “Heads Up”, another fine hard rocker for the radio.  “Rest of My Life” adds the jangle of acoustic guitars to the rock and roll mixture, creating another fine concoction just begging to be a hit.  Things toughen up with the pure rock power of “End of the Line”, featuring the returns of LaBrie and Lifeson.  The sheer star power of all these Canucks in one studio must have driven the temperatures well below freezing.  Still the track smokes, and if you’ve ever wanted to hear Emmett and Lifeson go head to head, then wish no more.

But it is not the end of the line.  Back to the future, we have a bonafide Triumph reunion featuring the full trio of Emmett, Gil Moore and Mike Levine.  This long awaited reunion happens on the bonus track “Grand Parade”.  The genuine surprise here is that it’s not a hard old time hard rocker, but a thoughtful and musically deep blues ballad.  It strikes me as appropriate that this much anticipated track sounds nothing like old Triumph.  That was, after all, a long time ago.

With RES 9, Rik has re-established his rock credentials.  Whether he does another album like this is beside the point.  RES 9 is the point; a damn fine album indeed.

4.5/5 stars

 

GUEST REVIEW: Dream Theater – The Number of the Beast (by Uncle Meat)

GUEST REVIEW by:  Uncle Meat

ST NUMBER BEAST_0003DREAM THEATER: The Number of the Beast (2002 Ytsejam Records, Covers Series)

For the most part, Dream Theater is a band you either love or you hate. Some Metal fans are put off by the keyboards perhaps, while many others find Dream Theater hard to listen to because of the effeminate tone to the voice of singer James LaBrie. On the other hand, music fans who are not into the sensibilities of progressive music would label Dream Theater as “pretentious,” or which have you. Most music fans though can appreciate the musical talent of everyone involved. They are also a very busy unit, often branching out into different projects between DT albums and tours.

While still in the band, and then after his departure from DT in 2010, Mike Portnoy has been the busiest of all the DT members. So much so, that while researching to do this review of Dream Theater’s Official Bootleg: The Number of the Beast, I was blown away with how many projects Portnoy has been a part of that I truly love. Simply said, Mike Portnoy comes off as the biggest music fan in the music business. On top of his resume of original music, his obsessively accurate tribute projects can only be pulled off by someone who is an authentic “music geek super fan”. Sound familiar, LeBrain? So yes, this review has morphed itself into a bit of a Mike Portnoy love fest. Check out this list of his accomplishments outside of Dream Theater.

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – The two studio albums with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin are fantastic albums. Their self-titled CD is one of my favorite progressive rock albums. With three subsequent live albums with that lineup and two albums with a name change to Liquid Trio Experiment, that makes seven albums with the great Tony Levin alone.

TRANSATLANTIC – Four studio albums and four live albums with this Prog super group along with Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Neal Morse(Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors) and the bassist from one of my favorite bands…Marillion…Pete Trewavas.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – After the death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, during the writing of a new album, Mike Portnoy stepped in and played drums on their 2010 CD titled Nightmare. He also joined them for a few shows over in Iran and Kuwait for American troops overseas.

ADRENALINE MOB – Two albums with this band consisting of members from Symphony X and Fozzy. I honestly do not think I have heard it so can’t say much really.

FLYING COLORS – One studio album and one live album playing with my favorite musician of all time… Steve Morse. Consisting of Neal Morse again and others, including the incredible Steve Morse Band bassist Dave LaRue. Maybe you should just read LeBrain’s review of this band right “here”.

WINERY DOGS – With a more straight ahead rock and roll approach, the Winery Dogs is his current gig with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen.  [Check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review hereLeBrain]

And that’s just the original music he has been a part of. He has gone to great lengths to put together live shows recreating the concerts of, and playing the music of, his favorite drummers. He has arranged one for Led Zeppelin called Hammer of the Gods. He has also done one for Rush called Cygnus & the Sea Monsters. I actually learned about these while researching the review that I haven’t even got around to yet (yes this has become a much larger project than initially thought), so I am curious to search these out. You should be as well. The one I can comment on is his Beatles tribute called Yellow Matter Custard, named from a lyric within the song “I Am the Walrus”.

Consisting of Matt Bissonette, Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse and himself, this unit recreates what it would have been like to see The Beatles live. A lot of the songs were never played by the Beatles live. I listened to this with a good friend of mine who himself is a great musician and huge Beatles fan. Listening to it brought the Beatles super-fan out of him, most especially loving the somewhat obscure tracks performed live by the band. I highly recommend checking this out if you are a Beatles fan. So that pretty much means everyone.

 

 

ST NUMBER BEAST_0002I can’t believe I am now just starting the intended review, but here goes. In 2002, while touring for the album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater went on a short club tour in Europe where they played a different album in its entirety, track for track. Among the albums covered in this tour were Master of Puppets – Metallica, Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd and Made in Japan – Deep Purple. (Who covers a live album? And one of my favorite live albums of all time? Dream Theater does, that’s who).

On October 24, 2002 DT played a small club called La Mutualite in Paris, France. The album on the menu that night was The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. From the sound of the enthusiastic crowd you can clearly hear throughout the album, this was a well-appreciated re-creation of one of the greatest Metal albums of all time.

The show starts off with album opener “Invaders”. My first impression was how great it sounded. Lively version and a thick guitar sound. Another thing I quickly realized is this: say what you want about James LaBrie and his effeminate style. Not many singers, including Bruce Dickinson himself can sing these songs live. I have seen Iron Maiden play several of these songs live, and even in a reduced key it is a struggle for Dickinson to sing the songs how they are recorded on the album. The opening track just left me looking forward to the rest of the set.

“Children of the Damned” was a joy to listen to, again mostly because of the vocals. This is probably his best singing on the album. Bruce Dickinson would have to get himself on a Lance Armstrong-like drug program to ever have a chance of singing this song in this key again. This song is also where I first really noted one of the truly great and original things about this album. Iron Maiden is a classic two-guitar fueled machine. DT is doing this with one guitar and a keyboard. Check out the twin guitar/keyboard solo in this song and hear throughout as the guitar and keyboard trade solos. A magnificent treat for the ears and surprisingly seamlessly done.

The crowd revs up as the classic Patrick McGoohan intro to “The Prisoner” plays as it is on the album. Chanting along with the intro just before Portnoy launches into the classic Clive Burr drum beat, this makes for a great listen, hearing the energy of the crowd and their appreciation of this show. Awesome version as well I must say.

“22 Acacia Avenue” is another track that is a treat to hear live. Live favorites “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” follow. These two Heavy Metal anthems go over with the crowd extremely well as you would think they would. A case could be made that these back to back songs are the two most popular Iron Maiden songs of all time. Agreed? Discuss….

Coming next is their amazing version of “Gangland”. This is easily the most ambitious moment of the show. Kind of making the song their own, they begin the song off as a piano ballad and then make a left turn and turn it into a progressive, almost jazz fusion-ish groove as the song closes out. Absolutely brilliant and is probably my favorite track on the album. The show ends with a perfect version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and the performance is over.

This is not just re-hashing of a great album. This was a well thought out and rehearsed celebration of this album, allowing true Maiden fans to hear what these songs may have sounded like when the album was toured in the 80’s. A friend of mine scoffed at the idea of DT covering this album and I may have shared some of his trepidation before I heard this recording. After listening to it now several times it has become obvious that this is not only a very relevant capturing of Number of the Beast, but it makes a very simple statement. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the players in Dream Theater have a higher level of musicianship than really any of their peers in popular music. And as listed earlier, it seems that everything Mike Portnoy does comes from the heart of just another music fan like you and I. So who is gonna come along and play one of Dream Theater’s albums track for track? Well Dream Theater of course. Who else possibly could? Good luck with that, Three Days Grace.

5/5 stars

Part 268 / REVIEW: “Lie”

Part 2 of a 2 part series.  For yesterday’s part, a review of the AWAKE album, click here.

Not only is this Part 2 of the Dream Theater review, but also a nice way to introduce THE WEEK OF SINGLES 2!  From Monday through Saturday, we’ll be taking a look at some rare singles.  Today’s is Dream Theater’s “Lie”.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 268: Lie

DREAM THEATER – “Lie”:  This single was given to me by a customer named Ed. He was one of my earliest customers, very much intro progressive rock and heavy metal. He was a couple years older than me, with ginger hair and big big “Bubbles” glasses.

I had seen a copy in Toronto, at the big HMV store at 333 Yonge St. For whatever stupid reason, I chose to pass on it. Maybe it was the price. When I got back to Kitchener, I tried to order a copy from Encore Records but they reported to me that it was deleted. I then tried to order it from Amazon.com, who had it on back order for months before they too told me they could not get any more.

There were a couple good reasons to need this single:

1. The unreleased bonus track “To Live Forever”.

2. The hard to find live track “Another Day” which was only on the very rare (very expensive) Japanese release of the Live at the Marquee EP.

While discussing Dream Theater albums with Ed one day in ’97, I explained my frustration at not owning this single.

“I have two copies,” Ed said. “I bought it when it came out, and there were two CDs in the same case.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Any chance you want to let one go?”

“I’ll think about it,” Ed said. “I don’t have two cases, just two CDs, and I don’t need the second one.”

“I’ll be happy to take that off your hands,” I answered.

Ed did indeed give me his extra copy of the CD. Even without the case and cover art, I was satisfied. I bought an empty 2 CD case to put my copy of Awake in, with the “Lie” single as a “bonus CD”. Not exactly the ideal for a collector like me, but it’s an original physical CD copy and that’ll do.

DT_0002“To Live Forever” was an obvious choice as a B-side, in comparison to the better tracks on Awake. It’s similar to, but not as spectacular as the mellow songs like “Lifting Shadows” or “Innocence Faded”. The live “Another Day” on the other hand is every bit as good as the Live at the Marquee CD. This single saves me from having to track down a Japanese copy!  Thanks, Dream Theater.

From the album itself comes the incredible Kevin Moore song “Space-Dye Vest”.  As mentioned in yesterday’s review, that is my favourite song from Awake.  It defies categorizing, and it has a dark but glowing soul.  Also included is the single version of “Lie”, which is nice if you plan on making a mix CD.  The album track didn’t lend itself well to that, since it melds into other songs on the album.

I don’t know what happened to Ed. He’d mentioned he was losing interest in rock music. I guess that can happen, inconceivable as it is to me!  He bought a bit of classical stuff, but I stopped seeing him towards the end.  Maybe Ed will stumble upon this blog, and I can thank him again for this great CD single.

Thanks Ed.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dream Theater – Awake (1994)

Part 1 of a 2 part series.

DT_0001DREAM THEATER – Awake (1994)

Awake has stood the test of time.  In 1994 it was considered a commercial failure by the record label, in comparison to Images and Words.  In 2014, it is still my favourite Dream Theater album.  It is a lot of people’s favourite Dream Theater album, for its songs, complexity and aggression.  It was also the final album to feature keyboardist and cofounder Kevin Moore.  Moore had become increasingly more interested in samples, and you can hear that all over Awake.  It is all the stronger for it.

Awake feels like a natural progression from Images and Words.  Sonically it’s similar, and there’s no mistaking that it’s the same band.  Awake is infinitely more complex, less commercial, and more ambitious.  Clocking in at 75 minutes (a very fast 75 minutes), Awake was more epic than anything Dream Theater had attempted in the past.  It was also heavier.  James LaBrie’s vocals are more aggressive in delivery, and the album as a whole is more pedal-to-the-metal.

While Awake is not a concept album, it does have recurring lyrical and musical themes.  The melody from “Space-Dye Vest” (written solely by Moore) appears elsewhere on the album, and there are a few multi-song suites as well.  You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a concept album.  In fact Awake holds together much better than some lesser concept albums by other artists.

DT_0003

Challenging, heavy arrangements include the opening “6:00” which introduced Kevin Moore’s propensity for samples.  I don’t know if the dialogue on the album is movie dialogue, or original material recorded for the album.  Regardless, it’s effective and the dialogue complements the song.  “The Mirror” and “Scarred” are also challenging, but rewarding to listen to.

There are more melodic songs, nothing as immediate as Images and Words, but still excellent:  “Caught In A Web”, “Innocence Faded”, “The Silent Man” and “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” are all personal favourites.  “Caught In A Web” was selected as the second single, but failed to make an impact.

One of the strongest, and certainly the angriest song, is “Lie” which was the first single.  I remember seeing the video on a program called “The Box”.  I was shocked that Dream Theater had gone for such a heavy first single, but I was impressed nonetheless.  “Lie” remains one of my favourite DT songs of all time.  It was built from the groove up, and lyrically it’s angry as hell!

This is the edit version from the single

The best song on the album is Moore’s “Space-Dye Vest”.  I don’t know what a space-dye vest is, but the title works with the song.  Based on piano, samples, and a haunting vocal melody, this is the most unique Dream Theater song that I can think of.   I think I can safely say that this one song is my favourite, even over “Lie”.  The band revealed that they would not have put it on the album had they known Moore would leave later that year.  The song was his baby, the others had no hands in its writing.

I’m not sure I would recommend Awake as the first Dream Theater album for somebody to try, but it should be tried by anyone curious about this band.  It has had a huge impact on me, and I hope it can do the same for you.

5/5 stars

Tomorrow, a look at the single “Lie” and its B-sides…

REVIEW: Miscellaneous Maiden – Maiden Heaven / “Space Truckin'”

Part 41 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  This time, we’ll talk about the Kerrang! exclusive tribute album Maiden Heaven, and a cover tune that didn’t make it onto the B-sides for A Matter of Life and Death.

This will be the last Maiden review of this series before Christmas.  After the holiday we’ll reconvene so be sure to check back!  

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TRIBUTE TO IRON MAIDEN – Maiden Heaven (2008)

A little bit out of continuity, I wanted to get this release out of the way before we get into the next Maiden studio album.  Maiden Heaven was a Kerrang! exclusive tribute album, probably out of print.  I received this from my bud Dan Slessor who writes for the mag.  It was especially interesting to me for the exclusive Metallica and Dream Theater tracks!  Thus far, neither of these tracks have been reissued on releases by either band!

“Remember Tomorrow” by Metallica is friggin’ amazing.  It sounds exactly as you would expect, retaining the hard/soft vibe of the original, but with Kirk’s slippery soloing and Lars’ machine gun snare fills.  James nails the vocal with his trademark growl.  I would consider this among the very best covers that Metallica have recorded.  As James says, “Yeeeahh-yah!”  Unfortunately, there are no producer credits.

Dream Theater had the guts to cover “To Tame A Land”, one of my personal favourite tracks from Piece of Mind.  Dream Theater have been nothing but courageous their entire career, so it is only suitable that they would tackle one of the lesser-appreciated Maiden epics, and one of the rhythmically most challenging.  Mike Portnoy was still the drummer at this time.  It’s interesting to hear the song performed with keyboards since the original was so sparse and dry (reflecting the planet Dune itself).  But the keyboards lend a more exotic middle-eastern flavour.  It is also interesting hearing anyone but Steve Harris playing the bass line since it is such an integral part of the song.  Nothing against James Myung, the man is an absolute master of his instrument, but any time anybody covers Maiden, the bass always sticks out like a sore thumb because nobody sounds like Steve.  James LaBrie has no problem tackling the challenging vocal, high notes and all.

Other bands that appear on the disc include Coheed and Cambria (“The Trooper”), Avenged Sevenfold (“Flash of the Blade”…woo!), Trivium (“Iron Maiden”) and Machine Head (“Hallowed Be Thy Name”).  Most of the rest of the bands I have never heard of, but I also liked this soft acoustic n’ keys version of “Brave New World” by a band called Ghostline.   One that I definitely hated was “Run To The Hills” by some band called Sign.  It’s just…weird.  Unique, but just wrong.

Overall, an interesting listen but I really only need it for Metallica and Dream Theater.

3/5 stars

And second, from the brand new Deep Purple tribute album…

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IRON MAIDEN – “Space Truckin'” from the Deep Purple tribute album Re-Machined (2012)

Although this came out in 2012, the Maiden track “Space Truckin'” was recorded during the A Matter of Life and Death sessions for use as a B-side. Last time, I talked about the other cover they recorded, “Hocus Pocus” (by Focus!) which made it to the “Different World” single.  “Space Truckin'” went unreleased, until now.

Sonically, it is very raw, sounding live off the floor.  Some fans were underwhelmed by the track.  I think it’s obvious that Bruce is thrilled to be covering his idol, Ian Gillan.  He throws in lots of those little Gillan idiosyncrasies.  “Eee-hoo-hoo!”  While I think Maiden did a fine job on the track (especially considering they don’t have a keyboard player), this is not one of the great Maiden covers.  It’s no “I’ve Got The Fire” or “Massacre”.  It’s still a total treat to hear Maiden gleefully ripping through this classic.  If this was actually live in front of an audience, I think it would have been better received.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Rockhead – Rockhead (1992)

ROCKHEAD – Rockhead (1992)

  • Bob Rock – guitar
  • Steve Jack – vocals
  • Jamie Kosh – bass
  • Chris Taylor – drums

A lot of Rock-haters (people who hate Metallica’s output from 1991-2003) have no idea that the man is quite the musician himself. Canadians remember the Payola$ and Rock & Hyde, but then there was Rockhead. Bob Rock found a great Canadian punk rock vocalist named Steve Jack, who as it turns out, was also a great screamer. Some of the screams on this album are unreal — check out “Bed Of Roses”, “Heartland”, and “Chelsea Rose” for some awesome vocals.  Face it, Canada has some great screamers (James LaBrie, Gerald McGhee, Sebastian Bach!) but Steve Jack was a contender.

This album was born during the the difficult Motley Crue sessions (not to mention a Bon Jovi album), while Bob was going through a divorce.  This comes out in the song “Warchild”.  In fact it ACTUALLY comes out during that song:   Bob can be heard yelling and throwing stuff around the studio at one point, which he recorded after a painful phone call.

I don’t find there is a weak track on this album, and plenty of Bob’s buddies show up.   Art Bergmann, Billy Duffy, Paul Hyde, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora all contribute songwriting skills.  Duffy and Sambora also contribute solos.   From the screamy Aerorock of “Bed of Roses” to the metal of “Heartland” to the acoustic Zeppelinesque “Angelfire”, every single track is worth a listen.  It’s a diverse album actually, running the gamut from light to dark and embracing different sides of rock.   Boozy, bluesy, epic, acoustic, you name it.  Its roots are firmly planted in the 1970’s, but if this had come out in 1989, it could have spawned 5 singles.

Sonically if you like Bob Rock, you will like this.  It’s right in the ballpark of that Motley Crue/Keep the Faith sound he had going on during that period.  Big big drums, layers of guitars, a lil’ bit of keyboards here and there, but mostly, lots and lots and lots of guitars.

4/5stars