jeff beck

REVIEW: Merry Axemas – A Guitar Christmas – Various Artists (1997)

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MERRY AXEMAS A Guitar Christmas (1997 Sony)

Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life.  The first one, in particular.

I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD.  I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year.  Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world.  For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.

Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here!  This isn’t for grandma.  This is for guitar maniacs!  Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment.  Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself.  The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir.  A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.


Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental

The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”.  If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out.  Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts.  The big band is icing on the cake.  Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”.  This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else.  Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y.  This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs.  Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes.  Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to.  If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.

How big can these names get?  Try Steve Vai on for size.  You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special.  Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice.  And the names keep getting bigger.  Heard of Joe Perry before?  The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock.  Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.

“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses.  It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel.  The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to.  He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.

Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas.  Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year.  Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs.  Don’t celebrate Christmas?  No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Duff McKagan – Believe In Me (1993)

scan_20170213DUFF McKAGAN – Believe In Me (1993 Geffen)

In 1993 Duff McKagan was not clean yet, at least not for good.  It would take a critical medical emergency for him to get close enough to death and stop drinking.  The cover of Believe in Me, a skeletal Duff bathing in a martini glass, reflects the last of the old Duff.  It was his solo debut, following Izzy but before Slash.  Guns’ own Spaghetti Incident? hit the shelves two months later, as the end of the original band creeped on the horizon.

Fans were probably experiencing a bit of Guns overload.  Two albums, two live concert video tapes, loads of touring and music videos…Guns were everywhere from 1991-1993 and then it was the dawn of Guns solo albums.

Duff’s solo debut was a grab bag of different styles:  punk, rock, funk, jazz and ballads.  It was also loaded with rock star guest shots:  Lenny Kravitz and Sebastian Bach sang one song a piece.  Dave Sabo and Rob Affuso from Skid Row joined Baz on the album while Slash laid down a couple trademark dirty guitar solos.  Jeff Beck dropped by, and just about every Guns member except Axl himself contributed.

Despite Duff’s ambition, the best tracks tend to be the rockers.  Opener “Believe in Me” was a very Guns-like single:  short, sweet, catchy and with a Slash guitar solo to hit it home.  “I Love You” isn’t a ballad despite the title, in fact it’s a rocker and perhaps the best tune on the album. “Just Not There” also rides the GN’R train, normally bound for hitsville.  Sebastian Bach’s “Trouble” is plenty of fun, and Lenny Kravitz gets angry on “The Majority”.  These songs would have made a fine basis for a Guns album, but Axl wasn’t looking for songs that sounded like Guns N’ Roses.

An angry “(Fucked Up) Beyond Belief” (a song birthed from GN’R rehearsals) is noisy punk-rap, while “Fuck You” itself is basically a rock rap song featuring a guy named Doc.  “Punk Rock Song” is exactly what it claims to be, but isn’t particularly memorable.  The biggest mis-step is the muted trumpet jazz number, “Lonely Tonight”.  At least Duff was trying something different, but his vocals and lyrics leave a lot to be desired.

During the period that Guns N’ Roses were inactive or just working behind closed doors, a lot of these solo albums really represented an alternate universe.  “What if the original members didn’t leave and instead recorded a new album?”  It’s possible these songs or songs like them could have been on that hypothetical album.  Instead, Believe in Me was a launch pad for plenty of Duff projects and albums:  Neurotic Outsides, 10 Minute Warning, Loaded, Velvet Revolver and many more.  Duff has proven that clean and sober, he can be one hell of a prolific songwriter.  Believe in Me is a good introduction to the many stylings of Duff McKagan.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Jeff Beck – Blow By Blow (1975)

Purchased at BMV in Toronto, $4.99

scan_20161111-2JEFF BECK – Blow By Blow (1975 Sony)

Jeff Beck’s second solo album, Blow By Blow, was co-produced by George Martin.  The talents of both need no elaboration.  A guitar god and “the” producer’s producer were bound to make something special together.  With an ace quartet (Max Middleton on keyboards, Phil Chen on bass and drummer Richard Bailey), there were no weak links.

Blow By Blow spans many musical genres, all augmented with Jeff’s sharp and slippery fingerwork.  Funk, jazz, blues, Carribean and progressive rock all collide in the grooves.  The songs are instrumental hybrids of styles, but Jeff keeps it consistent.  His guitar speaks.  There really isn’t a better way to describe what he does with tone, technique and technology.  There is even an uncredited Stevie Wonder cameo on “Thelonius”.  If you can’t get enough funky clavinet, you’ll love Blow By Blow.

This albums is tops in almost every conceivable measure.  The drum rhythms and bass grooves are hard hitting and relentless.  Musicianship like this is rare and valuable.  Without Jeff Beck there could be no Steve Vai — this, I firmly believe.

Play Blow By Blow, and then play it again.  Thanks to George Martin’s fine musical sensibilities, it reveals new nuances each time.  A complete triumph.

5/5 stars

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This has been a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge.

 

 

REVIEW: The Honeydrippers – Volume One (1984 EP, 2007 reissue)

scan_20161017THE HONEYDRIPPERS – Volume One (1984 Atlantic, 2007 Rhino reissue)

In 1981, Robert Plant felt like playing some old fashioned rock and roll again.  He assembled a group of friends including Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Nile Rodgers, Dave Weckl and Paul Shaffer.  With a handful of covers ready to go, The Honeydrippers Volume One EP went top ten in the US and Canada.  I have now officially bought this EP four times: First time on cassette, then vinyl, then CD, and now finally this remastered CD with one bonus track.  One bonus track is all they could be bothered to beef this up by.  A grand total of 22 minutes, up from 18.

Originally released in 1984, in a lot of ways this was as close to a Page/Plant reunion as we were likely to get in the 80’s, although this is very different from Led Zeppelin.  These are classic golden oldies, rock and roll and R&B hits: the sound like guys like Plant and Page grew up with.  So get up, get down and dance!

“I Get A Thrill” is an excellent track with which to open the EP.  It’s a great song with wonderful backing vocal harmonies.  A nice fast one to dance to.  Everybody should know “Sea of Love”, the lush, elegant slow-dancer. Today it is better known than the Phil Phillips original. The music video might be most notable for the speedo-wearing Frank Zappa lookalike on the xylophone.  Ray Charles is last for side one:  “I Got A Woman”.  It’s breakneck fast, and might be too much for those on the dance floor cutting a rug!  Don’t go and break a leg….


Does humour belong in music?

Plant croons his way through “Young Boy Blues”, a Phil Spector oldie done justice by Robert’s rich voice.  It’s as lush and brilliant as “Sea of Love” and easily as good as the better-known single.  Back to cutting a rug though, you’d better get up for “Rockin’ At Midnight”, another hit single for the Honeydrippers.  Jeff Beck nails the perfect guitar solo in the midst of a boppin’ horn section.  Rock perfection!

The one measly bonus track is a live version of “Rockin’ At Midnight”. It’s shorter than the studio version of the song by two minutes.  It’s hard to fathom how Rhino only had one bonus track to include.  Plant performed live with the Honeydrippers numerous times.  To think they only ever recorded one track live is pretty hard to believe.

This remaster (released in 2007 as part of the Plant remasters) sounds great, and despite the short running time, is worth your cash as long as you’ve never bought it on CD before. It’s fun, it’s warm, it’s a great listening experience and every one of these tracks is a bonafide classic. It’s kind of odd hearing Plant’s distinctive squeal on some of these songs, but it actually works.

4/5 stars, but only because they could have included more bonus material.

REVIEW: Jon Bon Jovi – Blaze of Glory (1990)

JBJ BOG_0001

JON BON JOVI – Blaze of Glory: Inspired by the film Young Guns II (1990 Mercury)

Billy the Kid was a fascinating character.  Perhaps he was the embodiment of the Old West itself: a charismatic outlaw, who reportedly had a hair trigger temper but also a heart of gold.  Unfortunately, the film Young Guns II seems more about a person called Brushy Bill, rather than William H. McCarty, also known as William H. Bonney, but best known as Billy the Kid.  Having killed his first man at 18, the Kid earned his nickname with his boyish looks.  He looked nothing at all like his screen counterpart Emilio Estevez, but it’s because of Emilio that Jon Bon Jovi recorded the soundtrack to Young Guns II.

A popular theory from the 1990’s was that Billy the Kid was not killed by Sheriff Patrick Frank Garrett in 1881.   In 1948, a character called Brushy Bill Roberts emerged claiming to be the Kid, alive and well.  There was enough facial resemblance, and also sworn statements from five people who knew the Kid. Roberts never proved that he was actually William McCarty, and today historians have dismissed his claims due to the number of facts that do not match (such as dates of birth).   Young Guns II, the film, operated on the popular theory that Billy survived, and that he faked his death with the help of Pat Garrett.

In fact Garrett did shoot the Kid and lived a life of shame afterwards, as the details of the shooting of the popular Kid didn’t paint him in a positive light.  Oddly enough, Garrett himself was shot and killed in 1908 by a rancher named Jesse Wayne Brazel, in New Mexico.  The interesting coincidence about this is Brazel was uncle to a Mac Brazel, also a rancher in New Mexico, near the town of Roswell.  It was on his ranch that something strange (almost certainly an actual UFO) crashed and was covered up.  It is an amusing intersection of two of the great folk tales in American history.

So along came this movie.  Emilio Estevez asked Jon Bon Jovi if they could use “Wanted: Dead or Alive” in the film.  Jon declined and said, “The lyrics don’t make sense.  That song is about touring, let me write you something more appropriate to the old west and Billy the Kid.”  This turned into an entire album.  Essentially Blaze of Glory is not a soundtrack album (since none of Jon’s songs are in the movie until the end credits) but a concept album based on the film.

The album begins with a snippet of dialogue:  “Yoo-hoo!” says Emilio/Billy.  “I’ll make ya famous.”  A gunshot and the song “Billy Get Your Guns” begins.  That’s Kenny Aranoff on drums in case you were wondering.  “Billy Get Your Guns” isn’t a hard rock song like Bon Jovi was doing at the time.  But it’s still rock and roll, featuring some great slide guitar riffing by Waddy Wachtel.  Jon’s voice is young, strong and loud.  It’s a sound I miss.  I think it’s impossible to dislike the excellent “Billy Get Your Guns”, especially when topped by a Jeff Beck guitar solo, who plays on pretty much the whole album.  (The album also features two Journey bassists:  Randy Jackson and Bob Glaub.)

Jeff even appeared in the music video for “Miracle”, the hit ballad from the album.  The lovely accordion and spare arrangement gives it quite a different feel from old Bon Jovi ballads. Once again I am reminded that Jon once possessed quite a powerful voice.  It’s also worth noting that Jon wrote every song himself.

“William H. Bonney, you are not a god.” – Keifer Sutherland as Doc Scurlock

“Why don’t you pull the trigger and find out.”  – Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid

I still love “Blaze of Glory”.  It’s timeless, more so than a lot of Bon Jovi’s hits from the time — “Bad Medicine” and so forth.  I remember seeing Aldo Nova on TV playing the riff on an acoustic guitar, and it is perfect in its classic simplicity.  Aldo is one of Jon’s oldest friends and he plays on the whole album as well.  This dynamite hit song has become so loved that Bon Jovi play it live and included it on their greatest hits compilations, even though only Jon was part of it.  Jeff Beck’s smoking solo is as much part of the song as Jon is.  I cannot understate how great this song is. From quiet acoustic strumming to bombastic aplomb, the song is a great achievement.

“Blood Money” is a short ballad, with spare acoustics, tambourine and accordion.  Jon sings as Billy the Kid, directly to Pat Garrett.  Historically we don’t know if Garrett and McCarty were friends as they are portrayed in the film, but likely they were not.  Regardless, even though the lyrics are implausible historically, it is still a powerful little song.

This leads into “Santa Fe”, which is from the perspective of Doc Scurlock.   You want epic?  Look no further.  An album highlight, “Santa Fe” boasts strings, powerful Aranoff beats, and Jon’s most vivid lead vocal.  If it had been on a Bon Jovi album, I think it would be regarded as highly as a song like “Dry County” which it resembles slightly.

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Side two opened with Lou Diamond Phillips (Chavez y Chavez in the film) singing a native chant.  The song “Justice in the Barrel” refers of course to the barrel of a gun, and Jeff Beck’s playing in the opening reminds us why he is one of rock’s most legendary gunslingers.  The song however is more laid back, a slow rock groove.  “Never Say Die” is the most straightforward rocker on the album, and it features Robbin Crosby of Ratt on electric guitar.  This song most closely resembles Bon Jovi, the band, even lyrically.  It is followed by a song that sounds nothing at all like them, and also my favourite:  “You Really Got Me Now”.  From first listen, way back in 1990, to today, this is a song that always puts a smile on my face.  Imagine Jon Bon and Little Richard building a time machine, travelling back to 1881, and jamming in a saloon.  That’s “You Really Got Me Now”.  Richard plays piano and sings the second verse, and I love it.  It’s a shame this little tune is only 2 1/2 minutes long, but I guess it was a bit of a novelty.

“Bang a Drum” is a pleasant soft soul rock anthem, but the Hammond organ and Jeff Beck help maintain its integrity.  The soul comes from the backing vocals of Julia and Maxine Waters.  This is the climax; the denoument is “Dyin’ Ain’t Much of a Livin'”.  The delicate piano is provided by one Elton John (before he would become Sir).  Elton also joins Jon on backing vocals.  “All this fame don’t bring ya freedom,” sings Jon, a line that may apply to a rock star life as well as an outlaw.  The powerful song is a natural ending to a story such as this.

There’s a brief coda, an orchestral piece from the movie by composer Alan Silvestri called “Guano City”.  I always wondered why this piece (as good as it is, sounding like some of John Williams’ more exciting segments) was on the album.  Nevertheless, there it is, and the album is done.

Jon was very emphatic in stating that Blaze of Glory was not his true solo album.  It was 10 songs written specifically for a movie, to fit that movie.  His solo album would come seven years later with Destination Anywhere, but first it was time to get Bon Jovi, the band, back on track.  This began with a 1991 live performance of “Blaze of Glory” at the Academy Awards, by the full Bon Jovi band, augmented by additional guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar.

If you consider solo albums and soundtracks as part of the overall catalog, Blaze of Glory still clocks in as one of my absolute favourites.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “All I Want Is Everything” (2 part CD single)

Part 3 in my series of Def Leppard Slang reviews!  

Part 1:  “Slang”

Part 2:  “Work It Out”

DEF LEPPARD – “All I Want Is Everything” (1996 two part Mercury CD single)

“All I Want Is Everything” was the first song from Slang that we got to hear.  Def Leppard first revealed a live unplugged snippet on their Video Archive VHS.  I was still surprised when I heard the whole studio version: It is a lot darker than I expected.  I love it, don’t get me wrong.  I love its sparse, organic sound.  I think the chorus and verses are fantastic, but even better is the bridge.

A lot of my customers were turned off my Slang and songs like “All I Want Is Everything”.  While I could argue that this song is every bit as good as “Hysteria” or “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)”, it is obviously a lot darker.  But it was also 1996.  In 1996, bands like Def Leppard moved with the times.  Bon Jovi made similar adjustments.   This is no singalong hit, but it is quality songwriting and production.

Next up on disc 1 of this single is “When Saturday Comes” performed by Joe, Phil and Sav.  This is apparently for a movie also called When Saturday Comes.  This song would be more satisfying to those wishing for an older school vibe; indeed it is a dead ringer for Van Hagar.  It is anthemic with some shredding from Phil.  It wouldn’t make my own personal Def Leppard mix tape, but I thank them anyway for including the song so I wouldn’t have to hunt down an obscure soundtrack.  “Jimmy’s Theme” performed by the same trio is an instrumental from the same soundtrack.  Out of context from a film I’ve never seen, it doesn’t do much for me.  It’s a nice slow blues with Phil playing some elegant melodies.  But it’s just “nice”, I don’t regularly come back to this one.  The CD ends with an edit version of “All I Want Is Everything” (whoop de do).

Disc 2, for whatever reason, also includes the same two versions of “All I Want Is Everything”.  Why not just put the album version on disc 1, and the edit version on disc 2?  Small gripe I guess but it got tedious when I had both discs in the changer and was too lazy to skip.

Also on disc 2 are a couple tracks from the Jeffology tribute record.  Phil Collen does “‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”.   Personally I don’t think anybody can touch Jeff Beck on this one.  In fact Beck is so awesome on this, especially live, that I don’t really see the point of listening to a cover version.  Sorry Phil, that is nothing against your playing, which is really really great, especially when you start cookin’ around the 4 minute mark.  I just think nobody’s even in Beck’s league on this one, and I think that’s a fair assessment.

Vivian Campbell does “Led Boots” from Wired.  I love the original “Led Boots”.  It’s just funky, chunky and fucked up.  I think Vivian’s style is more suited to Beck than Phil’s is.  This is an enjoyable listen, Vivian gets to shred a bit.  It’s definitely less fucked up sounding than the original, but Vivian is just a pleasure to listen to, he is clearly enjoying himself.

The “Work It Out” single previous to this contained post cards of the first four Def Leppard albums.  CD 2 of “All I Want Is Everything” has the final four:  Adrenalize, Retro-Active, Vault, and Slang.

3/5 stars

GUEST SHOT: 30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit) Part 2

Missed part 1? Click here.

Here’s part 2 of 3 – 30 albums essential to Meat’s being, that should be essential to yours, too!  So, without anymore preamble, I’ll leave you with Uncle Meat, as he discusses 10 more albums, in alphabetical order by title, that you need to visit (or re-visit).

 

HIGH TENSION WIRES  –  STEVE MORSE (1989)

Simply put, Steve Morse is my favorite musician of all time.  I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Morse a total of 6 times when you combine The Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple and The Steve Morse Band.  Unlike the releases of some of his contemporaries, High Tension Wires is not your typical shredder album.  Oh it shreds alright, but Steve Morse is much more than a trickster.  There are beautiful compositions, unforgettable solos and some just plain ol’ rocking too.  Included is the link to a live version of a track perfectly named “Tumeni Notes”.  For more examples of the greatness of Steve Morse, introduce some Dixie Dregs into your collection.  You can thank me later.

 

HOT HOUSE  –  BRUCE HORNSBY (1995)

When Bruce Hornsby said goodbye to The Range, he immediately said hello with Harbor Lights, a heavily jazz-infused turn that completely changed the music world’s perception of him.  Hot House sees Hornsby taking that one step further.  The album’s cover speaks a thousand words.  It is a painting of an imagined band session between Bluegrass legend Bill Munroe and Jazz legend Charlie Parker. Nuff’ said there.  This recording contains many musical giants including Pat Metheny, Jerry Garcia, Bela Fleck and Chaka Khan.   Hot House is very addictive.  I know most of the words off by heart on this record.  Hopefully someday you will too.

JEFF BECK GROUP  –  JEFF BECK GROUP (1972)

This album definitely falls under the underappreciated category.  Sometimes known as  The Orange Album, Beck’s playing has never been better on this collection of original compositions and covers.  I would call this more of a Soul album than anything.  The incredible vocals of Bobby Tench seem to highlight this record at times, as you will see on the live performance of “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You” I have included for this entry.   Also worth noting, this album is one of the first recordings of the late Cozy Powell’s career.  The guitar work alone on “Definitely, Maybe” is enough reason itself to seek this record out.  Perhaps a rock n’ roll legend’s best work.

JOHN PRINE  –  JOHN PRINE (1971)

I actually discovered the music of John Prine while working at the same record store chain that Mr. Ladano speaks of in this blog.  There is no one quite like John Prine.  Some artists write great songs.  Some artists write great lyrics.  Only a select few truly do both this well.  There is no doubt that John Prine’s self-titled album contains some of the best lyrics ever written.  “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes.  Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose?”  That is just brilliant shit.  “You may see me tonight with an Illegal Smile.  It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while”.  I have said this many times and I am still saying it now.  John Prine is THE best lyric writer …. Ever.  Fuck Bob Dylan.  Yeah, I said it.

 

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON  –  KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (1970)

For the sake of alphabetical order by album, this Kristofferson follows the John Prine album on this list.  Really it should be the other way around.  While I stand by my earlier praise of Prine lyrics, I would certainly listen to the argument that there wouldn’t be a John Prine without Kris Kristofferson.  The songs on this album show a huge diversity and a sense of patience that just makes him so cool.  “Best Of All Possible Worlds” is just insanely-good storytelling and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a mega-smash for Janis Joplin.  Of all the great concerts I have seen, watching Kris Kristofferson and a guitar for two hours in 2006 will always be one of the best concerts I will ever see.  The true greats just need to show up.

LEGALIZE IT  –  PETER TOSH (1976)

After being a key member of Bob Marley & The Wailers for years, Peter Tosh embarked on a solo career.   On his first solo release, Legalize It, I personally believe Tosh recorded the greatest Reggae album of all time.  Fuck Bob Marley.  Yeah, I said it. (Wait why am I so hostile? Ha.)  Remember that one of Marley’s biggest hits “Get Up Stand Up” was co-written with Peter Tosh.  I love this album from beginning to end, and the album’s cover remains a visual anthem for Marijuana activists everywhere.  Sadly, Peter Tosh was taken from us when he was shot in the head during a home robbery.  Rastafarian music at its finest.

LITTLE EARTHQUAKES  –  TORI AMOS (1992)

There is only one way to put it.  During the spring of 1994 I became a literal disciple of Tori Amos.  By the end of 1996 I had seen her live 7 times.  Several of them in 2nd or 3rd row center seats, since this was back when you could actually wait all night for tickets and be rewarded for it.  This album spoke to me in a way no other album has, or really could.  Frustration with women, with Christianity and with life, I didn’t want to hear about hope in the horizon.  I obviously needed to experience the frustration of someone who understood.  I still have a red-head obsession because of Tori.  This is in my ten favorite albums of all time and always will be.  Little Earthquakes is full of intense and pretty compositions. The humor of “Happy Phantom” contrasts the pain of “Me and a Gun”.  And the included track here is “Precious Things”, which sees Tori Amos exposing herself as the angry and sexual piano player she truly is. Myra Ellen Amos is quite simply a beast.

 

MELISSA  –  MERCYFUL FATE (1983)

Mercyful Fate’s first two albums are among the best Metal albums of all time.  When you realize that this album came out a full year before Kill ‘Em All did you can start to see just how important this band truly were.  Mercyful Fate are the High Priestesses of underappreciation.  Yes King Diamond looks kinda ridiculous. And yes their lyrics are nothing short of evil incarnate.  Lines such as “Drinking the blood of a new born child” and “I’ll be the first to watch your funeral, and I’ll be the last to leave” sometimes are  so over the top that I guess it is understandable how an album this good could be ignored.  If Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to nothing but Black Sabbath, the end result would have to look and sound something like Mercyful Fate.  It’s no coincidence that the best thing Metallica has recorded since …And Justice For All is their medley-cover simply-titled “Mercyful Fate”.  One of the greatest Metal albums of all time hands down.  Click on the YouTube link and hear the start of “Curse of the Pharaohs”.  If you don’t immediately recognize “2 Minutes to Midnight” you are lying to yourself.

 

NEVER, NEVERLAND  –  ANNIHILATOR (1990)

After Annihilator’s first album, Alice in Hell, it was time for a new lead singer.  Out was the awful singing of the ridiculously-named Randy Rampage, and in was ex-Omen singer Coburn Pharr.  The second album of this Ottawa, Ontario band was a vast improvement  over the first album in every way.   Without question the guitar playing of Jeff Waters alone makes this an absolute must-have recording for fans of thrash guitar or just guitar in general.  If you can think of a better Metal album to  come out of Canada then I would love to hear it.  If you have never heard this album, and you consider yourself a “Metal guy” then you are missing out huge.  I am having a hard time trying to pick a song to post here for listening purposes.  That is how truly great this record is from beginning to end.

 

OPUS EPONYMOUS  –  GHOST (2011)

I know, I cannot believe it either.   Only the second of twenty (so far) albums to be released after 1999 that appear on this list.  This album by Swedish band Ghost is nothing but special.  Before I heard this album I was told that it sounded like a cross between thrash metal and Blue Oyster Cult.  As it turned out that description really was right on the money.  Melodic background vocals nestled in between heavy riffing.  I have to say that this album is my favorite Metal album in probably the last twenty years.  The PERFECT blend of melody and heaviness.  This is the only album that since I have got my iPod, every time I switch the music on it I leave this whole album on there.  Every minute of this album is pure genius and I am super-stoked for their upcoming 2nd album titled Infestissumam that will be released this spring.  Hail Satan!!!!

 

That’s it for now, stay tuned for part 3, coming soon…

REVIEW: Spinal Tap – Break Like The Wind (1992)

SPINAL TAP – Break Like the Wind (1992)

Almost a decade after the movie, the “black album” (Smell The Glove), and the near-breakup, Spinal Tap returned!  Even Marty DiBergi’s documentary could not keep Tap down, and setting aside their differences, they created this reunion album.  Mostly new material with some oldies sprinkled in, Break Like The Wind was yet another masterpiece by the Tap.

The lineup was:  David St. Hubbins (guitar, vocals), Nigel Tufnel (guitar, vocals) and Derek Smalls (bass, vocals) with new additions Ric (brother of Mick) Shrimpton (drums) and Caucasian Jeffrey Vanston (keys).

It turns out that previous keyboardist Viv Savage was a drummer prior to joining Spinal Tap.  He failed to tell them this, and well, he befell the same fate as countless Tap drummers.

From the beginning, like so many Tap albums past, Break Like The Wind was misunderstood.  The first single “Bitch School” was about a dog, but many chose a sexist interpretation.  This simple rocker is an upbeat catchy single and indicative of the new Tap sound.

The regal “Majesty of Rock” is second.  This track was chosen as second single.  St. Hubbins dares to ask the deep questions within the framework of a 4 minute pop rock single.   “When we die, do we haunt the sky?  Do we lurk in the murk of the seas?  What then?  Are we born again?  Just to sit asking questions like these?”  An excellent question David.

I do not know why Nigel seemed prone to wearing wetsuits during this period.

Tap turn it up a notch on “Diva Fever”, a fast one to give Metallica a run for their money!  A man named Dweezil plays the blistering guitar solo.  What an odd moniker.

Just when you thought you could get none more regal, the queen herself, Cher, turns up to duet with David on the gorgeous ballad “Just Begin Again”.  With strings and horns beside them, Tap deliver another classic.The lyrics are again deep:  never give up, never surrender!  Just begin again!  As David says in the words, “Life is just a meal, And you never say when!”  And if people stand in your way and say enough is enough? “Make the bastards eat their words!” says David!

Derek Smalls takes his first lead vocal on “Cash On Delivery”, a fun rocker advising the listener how Smalls prefers to do business.  It rocks along nice.

This is followed by a remake on an old classic, “The Sun Never Sweats” the title track of course from the album The Sun Never Sweats.   Nigel’s solo is among the highlights of this classic.

And then, a long lost rarity, “Rainy Day Sun”.  It was the B-side to their hit “(Listen to the) Flower People”.  Here it is released on CD for the first time, gloriously swirly, psychedelic, and digitally remastered.  This ends side one of the original album.  If you are listening to a CD, please do not attempt to remove and play the other side.

Side two began with Tap’s first epic since the mighty “Stonehenge”:  “Break Like The Wind” itself.  Melding middle eastern melody with modern instrumental flare, this one is surprisingly beautiful.  Smalls’ bass weaves in and out, as David and Nigel play simple guitar melodies.  But all comes crashing down by the time of the powerful guitar solos, and Tap rock once more!

As a surprise to their friend Nigel, the band erased most of his guitar solos and replaced it with other people playing!  Four of the greatest guitarists of the 90’s stepped in for Nigel:  Slash, Joe Satriani, Steve Lukather, and Jeff Beck.    None more epic.

From there, Tap can only disappoint.  “Stinkin’ Up The Great Outdoors”, a protest song, is worth protesting.

Nigel finally sings his first lead vocal on “Springtime”, a welcome change of pace.  Nigel follows it with “Clam Caravan”, from his solo project.  The title was supposed to be spelled “Calm Caravan”, but Nigel liked the misspelled version.  “Clam Caravan” is another middle-eastern sounding song, and it lulls you off gently…

Only to be awakened by “Christmas With the Devil”!  This is a re-recording of their classic Christmas single from the mid 1980’s.  This sonically superior version is even more evil than the original.  Happy holidays, to all the children!

The hidden track “Now Leaving” follows, questioning what life is worth if you’re on life support?  All three members bring their thoughts to the table, but I think David asks the most eloquent question.  “Shall he lie there forever with a tube up his nose, And his peepee and poopoo slipping out through a hose?”

I do not know David, I do not know.

Thankfully, these mortal thoughts are ended by the beginning of “All the Way Home”.  You may remember from the film that this was the first song that David and Nigel ever wrote.  Finally, their original 1961 demo was found and restored, and mastered for its CD release.   This closes the album.

I do not know if the  general public felt differently about this album than I do, for Tap did not release another album for 17 years!

11/5stars