jeff pilson

VHS Archives #40: Dokken interview (1987)

I always liked this interview clip.  Jeff Pilson seemed so friendly and enthusiastic.  Don, meanwhile, didn’t even know how many songs were slated for the Back for the Attack album!  I think he forgot “Mr. Scary”.

Back for the Attack wasn’t out yet, so Laurie Brown asked Dokken about Under Lock & Key.  Check it out!

REVIEW: Dokken – Return to the East Live (2018 Japanese CD/DVD set)

DOKKEN – Return to the East Live (2018 Frontiers Japan CD/region 2 – DVD set)

Even the most devout Dokken fan must acknowledge that Don is not the be-all and end-all of singers.  A good singer, yes, but never in the top tier.  Now that age has taken its toll (as it always does), Don relies on the backup singing of Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, and George Lynch to hit those high notes.  The classic Dokken lineup reunited for some shows in Japan, and even recorded a new song to go with it.  Fortunately Dokken were up to the challenge, even with the shortcomings that age creates.

Some of the audience looks too young to have known Dokken when they first rocked Japan back in the 80s, but most are die-hards.  Don himself looks cool as a cucumber, with George and Jeff on either side holding down the fort.  Most importantly it seems they had a good time.  Lynch is simply compelling to watch, as he plays impossible licks while making it look so easy.

There’s no messing around with this setlist.  All classic Dokken, all 80s, no filler.  They focused on what the fans wanted and they delivered.  The band sounded great.  Pilson’s all-important bass is given enough room in the mix to be effective.  Songs like “It’s Not Love”, “The Hunter” and especially “Alone Again” buzz with electricity.  Vocally, with great backup singers like Jeff, the band were able to pull it off.  It’s a high energy reunion show.  It’s just too bad so many people in the audience spent it on their phones.

The DVD and CD tracklists are, strangely, not in the same order.  You can hear some obvious vocal overdubs in places, most notably “Kiss of Death”.  There are some sloppy edits on the video.  Don’s lips don’t always match the words, and there are annoying graphic overlays, but it’s a good show with plenty of closeups.  Jeff Pilson is a dynamo on stage, but Wild Mick has lost nothing over the years either.  He hammers on his kit as if he’s still 25 years old!  There is little interaction between the members on stage, except for Jeff who is all over the place, including the keyboards.  Don grins like a Cheshire cat when George lays down those familiar solos.  He picks up the guitar himself for oldies like “Breakin’ the Chains”.

Both the CD and DVD portion have unique bonus content.  After the main feature, you will find 45 minutes of behind the scenes footage, directed by Don.  Shaky camera work aside, this is fascinating fly-on-the-wall stuff.  Chatterbox Don is full of energy, even when losing his fedora hat. Eagle-eyed Trailer Park Boys fans will recognise road manager Tom Mayhue, their nemesis in the Out of the Park series.  As the band pick apart the set and put it back together again, you get a real sense that they just wanted to get it right but not at the expense of fun.

You will find two exclusive bonus acoustic songs on the CD.  “Heaven Sent” (with congas) and the obscure “Will the Sun Rise” are studio re-recordings, giving both songs a fresh, mellow gleam.  That’s not the main feature, however.  For obvious reasons, the brand new song “It’s Another Day” is the centrepiece, and as such it is presented as the very first track on the disc.  While the live set is undoubtedly a very significant memento for fans, nothing really excites them like a brand new song — their first together as the classic lineup two decades.  And it’s a solid B+.  Grooving with a head of steam, “It’s Another Day” is very reminiscent of the excellent and underrated Dysfunctional album from 1995.

The Japanese bonus track this time is the early Dokken classic “Paris is Burning” live, which is also on the DVD but not the standard CD or download versions. Don’t you hate when a track is missing that is only on the DVD? Sure you do.

Jeff Pilson says that he wanted Dokken to end (if this is the end) on an up note.  “Just a really positive  exclamation point to a great career.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

4/5 stars

#681: Bad Lessons

GETTING MORE TALE #681: Bad Lessons

Parents of the 80s were always concerned about the impressions that their kids were getting from music videos.  Objectifying women?  Drug and alcohol use?  Absolutely a concern.  But what about other misleading lessons from the music video age?

 

Bad Lesson #1:  You can play guitar with gloves on!

You’re guilty, Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P.!  You too, Jeff Pilson of Dokken!  You both played your instruments in music videos while wearing full leather gloves.  As children, we simply assumed if it got cold outside, you could continue to play your guitar with gloves on.  I’m not talking fingerless gloves, but full coverage.

It doesn’t really look cold in that Dokken video for “Burning Like a Flame”. Why the gloves, Jeff? George Lynch isn’t even wearing a shirt.

 

Bad Lesson #2:  Great hair just happens.

How many music videos of the 80s showed the band members doing up their hair?  None!  Probably due to the “hairspray” stigma of the 80s. Some videos showed the band members literally getting out of bed, with hair intact.  I assumed that once you grew your hair long enough and had it cut by a professional, it would just automatically look cool every morning.  Naturally, I had bad hair for years.  Thanks, rock stars.  Don’t be embarrassed by your hair care products!

 

Bad Lesson #3:  Guitars are eeeeasy to play!

Since we didn’t fully comprehend that music videos were mimed, and not an actual performance, we assumed guitars were easy to play!  After all, they made it look so easy!  C.C. DeVille could jump around and swing his guitar everywhere without missing a note.  Others would just…hit their guitars…and the song played on!  Paul Stanley seemed to play his without even touching it.  You can imagine how we felt when we actually bought our first guitars ourselves.  Hitting it didn’t play a song, it just made a hitting sound.  We were lied to!

Players like DeVille and Jeff Labar of Cinderella also made it look far too easy to swing your guitars over your shoulders.  We damaged some necks and some ceilings trying to imitate these guys.  We learned you had to buy strap locks or watch your guitar get launched skyward.

 

Bad Lesson #4:  Adulthood involves walking the streets at night with your boyz.

As young impressionable kids, we didn’t know what adulthood was really about.  We saw our dads go to work every day.  Mom worked hard too.  But what about before they met and got married and settled down to have kids?  What was life like at that stage?  Judging by Dokken, Journey or Motley Crue videos, adulthood meant walking around town a lot with your buds.  Some bands even cruised in cars!  Is this what growing up looked like?


“Don’t Go Away Mad” (by the most Mötleyest of Crües) is guilty on two counts: plenty of downtown walkin’, and Vince waking up with hair perfectly coiffed.

 

Bad Lesson #5:  Getting arrested is no big deal!

David Lee Roth was led away in handcuffs in the “Panama” music video.  Bobby Dall of Poison got arrested in one of their clips, too.  Let’s not forget Sammy Hagar getting busted for speeding in “I Can’t Drive 55”.   But it’s all good – the guys were all there at the end of the songs.  No big deal!

 

 

It was never the alcohol, or devil worship, or women that made rock videos dangerous. Turns out it was the mundane stuff. Who knew long hair was so hard to upkeep? They never told us that. How naive we were!

 

 

REVIEW: Dio – Strange Highways (1994)

Scan_20151011DIO – Strange Highways (1994 Reprise)

Black Sabbath had a very acrimonious split with Ronnie James Dio in 1993.  Sabbath were asked to open for Ozzy Osbourne at his “farewell” concerts in Costa Mesa.  At the end there was to be an original Sabbath mini-reunion.  Ronnie James Dio outright refused to perform and left the band immediately afterwards.  Sabbath were forced to get Rob Halford, not so far away in Pheonix, to fill in (the first of two times he would have to do so in Black Sabbath, the second time due to an Ozzy illness).  Halford did so admirably under the circumstances.  After the show, drummer Vinnie Appice joined Ronnie in a new version of Dio.

The new Dio lineup was a four-piece for the first time since album #1.  On bass, Jeff Pilson (ex-Dokken), also helping out with keyboards and backing vocals.  Pilson was always capable of singing the high parts in Dokken songs, and with Dio he adds a little bit of melodic accent by harmonizing with Ronnie.  On guitar, controversially so, was Tracy G (Griljalva) from the band WWIII, which had also included Appice at one point.  Dio described his mood as “pissed off” during this period and it certainly came out in the heaviest Dio album yet.

The thing with Tracy G was that he had an abrasive, atonal drony guitar sound, although certainly fitting to the new angry Dio sound.  It was very different from the slick neo-classical bent that guys such as Vivian Campbell added to their solos.  It was a brutally heavy and edgy change that should have earned Ronnie some credit rather than criticism.  “Jesus, Mary & the Holy Ghost” opens the album on a speed metal approach, showing off the new guitar player.  Tracy G was like the mad man’s scientist heavy metal guitar player crossed with Steve Stevens from Billy Idol’s band.  If you want to check out what Tracy G did within Dio, just crank up “Jesus, Mary & the Holy Ghost”.

Admittedly, a whole album of Tracy G’s razor blade guitars can make one weary, but fortunately Dio albums are usually varied in song tempo and style.  “Firehead”, the second track is a slow metal groove that suits Dio well.  Arguably, the Dio lineup with Pilson on bass is more adept at this Sabbathy path than any other.  Pilson has always been one for the low end, and his bass has an elastic thud that is similar, but different from ex-Dio bassist Jimmy Bain.  Slower and heavier still is the title track “Strange Highways”.  Ronnie has always stated that he liked to hear the space between the instruments, and that’s “Strange Highways”.  This really was a great lineup for the band.

“Hollywood Black” is based on a lyric that Ronnie wrote for the sessions of Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer album.  Maybe it’s even the same melody; the original has never been leaked.  This is a strong mid-tempo slog; the most mainstream Dio song yet in this collection.  Side closer “Evilution” (love that title) is even better; nastier and snippy.

I have a funny story about this song.  I bought the cassette while out on a road trip with my buddy Peter, who was always a much bigger Ozzy fan than Dio.  We put the tape in the car deck.  The words at the end of the song baffled us both, but it was a case of mis-heard lyrics! On Peter’s overdriven, bass-heavy car system, we heard the closing words as:

“Hello, good night, it’s me,
I’m open again,
Come back, come in, goodbye,
Wear clothes!”

The actual final line is “We’re closed.” If you play the song and pay attention…you can hear it too, can’t you? “WEAR CLOTHES!” Misheard lyrics…or hidden message?

As if there was any question from the first side of the album that Ronnie was in a bad mood lately, then “Pain” should settle.  “Take the water and wash your face with pain!”  Or, “Take the hammer and pound yourself with pain!”  My favourite, “Bury my bones on the moon, if they ever should find me it would be too soon.”  It was hard to find Ronnie’s usual positivity in some of these words.   But listen to that one floor tom hit at 2:00 in!  Holy drums, Batman!  I love that one hit, it’s my favourite part of the song, which is actually pretty good.

“One Foot in the Grave” is a lot more upbeat than you’d expect by the title and it too is pretty decent.  Notice these songs are not “great” — they are just shy of whatever quality makes a song great.  Then “Give Her the Gun” is the Dio power ballad, but thematically it too stark and real for some tastes.  Child abuse, gun rights?  In a Dio song?  All power to the man for speaking his mind, but even the most ardent supporter must concede that this is an unusually blunt song for him.

Onto “Blood From a Stone”, back to metaphors once again, and back to blazing hot Tracy G shreddery.  Back to insuppressible Pilson bass.  There are some 80’s-isms in some of the guitar licks, but blink and you’ll miss ’em.  Then, rock out to “Here’s to You”, which sounds like a blazing hot celebration of the rock, or the “masters of the universe”, or something.  But according to Ronnie, “The wheel goes ’round, so here’s to you!”  Sounds like by this point in the record, Ronnie has worked out whatever bitterness he had left seething in his system.  Finally “Bring Down the Rain” ends the album on a very Dio note, with all the majesty and power he can inject into a closing song.  It’s just heavier than before.  “Put out the flame”, sings Ronnie, his leathery lungs never more impassioned nor powered.

Perhaps Dio still had much anger left in him after all, since the next album was the aptly-titled Angry Machines.  But that’s another review.

Strange Highways in a good album bordering on great — but not quite.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rock Star – Music from the Motion Picture (2001)

Scan_20150812ROCK STAR – Music from the Motion Picture (2001 Warner)

I remember dragging my long-suffering girlfriend at the time out to see this movie.  She had every right to complain.  The movie was a stinker, absolutely.  Not to mention, it had no idea when it is taking place.  Vaguely, the 80’s, but then after this guy (Marky Mark) leaves the band (Steel Dragon), he goes and becomes the founder of grunge?  The movie sucked!  It was very, very loosely inspired by the story of Ripper Owens being discovered by Judas Priest, by being in a Judas Priest cover band.  In the movie, Marky Mark becomes the singer of Steel Dragon after their original singer (who also happens to be gay, hmmm?) quits.  It was supposed to be a really inspiring story of the everyman with talent who succeeded, but it ended up being just a normal everyday turd.

But listen, we’re not talking about the movie.  We’re looking strictly at the soundtrack CD.  I ask you one simple question: If you were to pick one band to write and play the title anthem for a movie about a heavy metal band in the 80’s, who would it be?  Obviously the answer is Everclear.  (I say “obviously”, because a whole bunch of suits who get paid a whole lot more than I do picked it, so they must be right.)  Actually, their tune “Rock Star” isn’t bad.  It sounds a bit like an old Canadian rock band called Deadline, actually.

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It’s astounding, but Zakk shaved his beard to get that 80’s look back!

The main attraction of the CD is actually the original tunage by the fictional band Steel Dragon.  On record, the lineup was:

  • Zakk Wylde – lead guitar
  • Jason Bonham – drums
  • Jeff Pilson – bass
  • Nick Cantonese – guitar
  • Mike Matijevic – lead vocals
  • Jeff Scott Soto – lead vocals

See why I dragged that poor girlfriend out to see this movie?  Zakk, Jason and Jeff were in even the movie, as the band Steel Dragon.

They had two lead singers, while Marky Mark mimed.  Jeff Scott Soto sings the raspy, mid-rangey stuff such as “Livin’ the Life”.  This isn’t a bad rock tune, but it’s Zakk’s guitar that makes it perk up a bit.  Mike Matijevic (Steelheart) sings the smooth and screamy stuff, with his impeccable range.  “We All Die Young” is a bonafide  great songs.  Matijevic’s stunning vocals meeting Zakk Wylde’s leads is probably a wet dream for some folks!  The only problem with it is that it doesn’t sound accurate to the period.  The movie is supposed to take place in the early 80’s (I think) but “We All Die Young” sounds early 90’s.  But wait…we’re supposed to be talking about the CD, not the movie.  Fuck the movie!

“Blood Pollution” (written by Twiggy Ramirez, interestingly) has Matijevic singing, but as with “Livin’ the Life” the song isn’t that special.  It sounds like Motley Crue, except with Zakk Wylde on guitar and a better Vince Neil.  Jeff Scott Soto helms “Stand Up”, which is way heavier than you’d expect considering Sammy Hagar wrote it!  This version actually came out before Sammy’s, on 2002’s Not 4 Sale and has different lyrics.  “Stand Up” kicks ass, and along with “We All Die Young” is one of the soundtrack highlights.  Just listen to Zakk killing it in that fast part! It’s also one of the few tunes with that patented, genetic Bonham Stomp.

Another track right up Motley Crue’s alley is “Wasted Generation”, and with its Desmond Child co-write it’s a lot heavier than expected. Jeff Scott kicks ass on the anthemic punchy chorus, and Zakk’s shredding is tasty. The final Steel Dragon tune on the disc is a Rainbow cover — “Long Live Rock and Roll” with Matijevic singing. I never understood why the band Steel Dragon would be playing a Rainbow cover, since it is implied that Steel Dragon were active in the 70’s too, contemporaries with Rainbow. But we’re here to talk about the CD, not that piece of shit movie. “Long Live Rock and Roll” with Zakk Wylde on guitar…it’s not what you’d hope it would be. Bonham’s awesome though, and remarkably Ian Paice-like.

The rest of the disc contains various hits from various bands from various years.  The Verve Pipe – “Colorful” (2001), check!  INXS – “The Devil Inside” (1987), check! Why? Who the fuck knows. I like some INXS, it’s completely out of place. I suppose that a soundtrack for you. More suiting to the tone of the CD are Kiss’ “Lick It Up” (1983), Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” (1986), Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” (1975), and Motley Crue’s “Wild Side” (1987). I do wonder why “Stranglehold” seems to be the only Nugent that ever shows up on movie soundtracks.  At least Marky Mark doesn’t have any songs.

The final song, Trevor Rabin’s “Gotta Have It” sounds like end credits music, but I’m not going to watch that crummy movie to find out. Rabin’s track is excellent, as should be expected. It sounds like Rabin, which is all I can really say to describe it!

So: Rock Star, a shit movie, gave us a pretty OK soundtrack. Considering I (and probably you) already had the Nugent, Kiss, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue songs, I salvaged seven tracks from the album as keepers: the six Steel Dragon tunes, and Trevor Rabin. There are 14 songs, so this time the math is easy.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: George Lynch – Sacred Groove (1993)

It’s a shame I lost my original 1993 review of this album.

LYNCH_0001GEORGE LYNCH – Sacred Groove (1993 Elektra)

If you like Dokken but never followed George onto the Lynch Mob, then this album is for you.

George Lynch is a very talented shredder, capable of playing a wide variety of styles.  Sometimes he hits, sometimes he misses, but on Sacred Groove he makes the mark every time.  Sacred Groove was designed as a solo project shortly after the second Lynch Mob album.  The idea was to work and write with different singers and musicians, and George loaded up on some great singers.  Glenn Hughes, anyone?

John Cuniberti, who co-helmed many Joe Satriani albums, produced this opus and lent it some serious sonic excellence.  The opener “Memory Jack” is a collaboration between producer and guitarist, but this is little more than a sound collage to kick off a killer instrumental called “Love Power From the Mama Head”.  This isn’t to say that “Memory Jack” does not contain some shredding licks, because it does…but they are not the focus.  The sound collage itself is the focus.  Into “Love Power”, George lays down some serious riffy rhythm guitars.  This is topped with a very Satriani-esque guitar melody.  “Love Power” is constructed very much like a Satch rock instrumental track, with memorable guitar melodies and song structures.

There is a very cool moment in the guitar solo in “Love Power From the Mama Head”, at exactly 4:47.  While George was essentially assaulting his guitar with the whammy bar, he accidentally dropped the instrument on the studio floor.  “Shit!” said George, while producer Cuniberti ran over and stopped George from picking it up.  The producer then kicked the guitar for added effect!  Cuniberti assured George it would sound cool, and it kind of does!  The guitar just stops on this weird chord-like sound, before they punch out of that and into more shredding.  It’s different and spontaneous and I love shit like that.

“Flesh and Blood”, contender for best track on the album, is the first vocal, featuring Badlands’ Ray Gillen (R.I.P.).  It’s a Dokken stomper for sure, but with Ray Gillen’s bluesy Coverdale-isms all over it.  Killer.  The lyrics were co-written by George’s ex-Dokken bandmate Jeff Pilson, who also co-wrote and plays bass on the next track, “We Don’t Own This World”.

Now here’s the interesting thing about “We Don’t Own This World”.  Lyrics by: Don Dokken?  The fuck?

George, Don and Jeff had planned to reunite on this one song, that Don supplied the lyrics for.  Don however cancelled or chickened out (either/or) and didn’t make it to the session.  It just so happened that the Nelson twins, Matthew and Gunnar, were in town and eagerly sang on the track in Don’s absence.  With their harmonies, “We Don’t Own This World” sounds nothing like Dokken, except in basic ways.  It’s the most commercial track on the album; a pop rocker.  The vocals soar over one killer melody, and the solo is one of George’s best.  If this song had come out only two years sooner, it would have been a hit single.  The Nelsons have done some cool music over the years, and not gotten a lot of credit for it, so this song is pure delight.

I still think of CDs as “albums” with distinct sides, and on the cassette version “I Will Remember” closed Side One.  This instrumental ballad has a vaguely dark tropical feel, although it is an electric guitar song.  George’s solos are sublime and I love his unexpected timing on certain notes.  He has flawless chops mixed with feel…a rare combination.

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Side Two’s opener is an epic in two parts, but it’s as close to a skip as this album gets.  The problem is vocalist Mandy Lion, of WWIII.  You either like his glass-garling-elfin-metal voice or you do not.  I do not.  However, “The Beast” Parts I and II are such a slamming groove that I tend to block out the words and the voice singing them.  This is another track where the original vocalist slated could not do it.  Udo Dirkschneider wanted too much money and Rob Halford was too busy, but Mandy Lion would do it.  He showed up at the studio in the heat of summer wearing head to toe black leather.

“The Beast” could be a dirty sex anthem, I guess, but it’s far too heavy for the 50 Shades crowd.  I dig when halfway through, George breaks out his newly-bought sitar.  (I remember seeing pictures of George in Metal Edge magazine buying it!)  If only Mandy would have chosen to shut up at this moment.  Bassist Chris Solberg comes in and grooves through to a false ending, and then it’s “Part II (Addiction to the Friction)” — a 10 minute track in total.  Thankfully a huge chunk of it is instrumental.

The regal Glenn Hughes raises the bar any time he opens his mouth.  His two songs were the first new Hughes singing I had heard since Black Sabbath.  I detect some fragility in his voice here.  I think this may be from a period where Glenn was recovering from addictions.  Regardless, he sounds a lot better today, whatever the reasons are.  That’s not to say he’s bad here, because he’s still the best singer on the album.  You just feel he’s not giving it everything like he does today.

“Not Necessary Evil” is Glenn’s first song, a Dokken groove with Hughes’ soulful signature style.  This one too had hit single potential, but only in an alternate timeline in which Rock never fell to the Grunge Hordes in 1991.  “Cry of the Brave” is his second track, a slower and more soulful rock track.  This is a song about injustice to the American Indian (reading the lyrics, I’m assuming specifically Leonard Peltier), and it’s worth noting that Glenn wrote the lyrics by himself.

The album closes with a final instrumental called “Tierra Del Fuego”, and if you couldn’t guess, that means George breaks out the flamenco guitar.  There’s also a guest electric guitar soloist named Daryl Gable.  If I remember the story correctly, Daryl Gable was a lucky fan who was selected to have a guest shot on the album.  How cool is that?  And he’s pretty good, too!  I have to admit I like these dusky tropical flamenco things, so I consider “Tierra Del Fuego” to be a very successful album closer.  But fear not, there’s plenty of electric guitar too!

Sacred Groove is pretty damn near flawless.  If only they could have got Udo instead of Mandy, eh?

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dio – Angry Machines (1996)

DIO – Angry Machines (1996 Spitfire)

I have never liked Angry Machines.  Right from the moment it came out, to today, I do not like Angry Machines.   It’s not because I don’t like this Dio lineup.  I’m quite fond of the Strange Highways record, which features the same band (Jeff Pillson – bass, Vinny Appice – drums, Tracy G – guitars).  Given my fondness for that previous record, and the awesome cover art emblazoned upon Angry Machines, I was looking forward to this album.  Now, all these years later, even cranked to max volume it has failed to grow on me and remains my least favourite Dio album by a fair margin.

When Dio gets his hands on a treacherously slow heavy metal song, he can sometimes wring great things from it.  Angry Machines, however, is bogged down with many agonizingly slow, soundalike trudgy songs.  The opener “Institutional Man” almost resembles Born Again-era Sabbath at times for sheer slow chug, but it lacks any sort of hooks.  Ronnie is bellowing as incredibly as he always has, but he’s grasping for a melody to hang his powerful voice on.  The saving grace is a razor sharp guitar solo by Tracy G.

Thankfully “Don’t Tell the Kids” is a speed metal rocker.  I didn’t expect Ronnie to take it to Motorhead tempo, and that’s cool.  Lack of hooks is the problem again, so you’re left with little but the smoking instruments to carry you through.  MVP: Vinny Appice who has never sounded so lively!

DIO ANGRY MACHINES_0004

The disc gets stuck in the mud after “Don’t Tell the Kids”.  The atonal “Black” doesn’t do anything for me, although I do admire the stripped-back production (by Ronnie and engineer Wyn Davis).  I dig Jeff Pilson’s bass hook on “Hunter of the Heart”, and the chorus is pretty good, but the song is mostly forgettable.  Then is the slow and boring “Stay Out of My Mind”, a real snooze.  A 7-minute snooze with an extended keyboard segue!  Continuing with the mind control theme, “Big Sister” isn’t much to write home about either, except in terms of Vinny’s relentless sticks.

“Double Monday” has cool acoustic segment, very unlike typical Dio.  Unfortunately this one section does not save the song which is otherwise dreary and grating.  Up next, I enjoy the vintage groove of “Golden Rules” but again there’s not much of a song here.  Same goes for the penultimate track “Dying in America”.

You may already be familiar with the best song on Angry Machines, a piano ballad called “This is Your Life”, that was re-released on the 2014 tribute album of the same title. When I reviewed that excellent CD, I had this to say of “This is Your Life”:

Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad: Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996. I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”. Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon. The lyrics speak of mortality:  “This is your life, This is your time, What if the flame won’t last forever? This is your here, This is your now, Let it be magical.”

The always lucky Japanese fans received a bonus track with the cool title of “God Hates Heavy Metal”.  Although I am intrigued I have not been motivated enough to search it out.

2/5 stars

DIO ANGRY MACHINES_0003

REVIEW: Dokken – Dysfunctional (1995)

DOKKEN – Dysfunctional (1995 Columbia)

No matter how good the band may have been, when Dokken reunited for a new album in 1995, it was a no-win scenario. They always seemed to be one of those bands that critics loved to hate. I read a ridiculous review of Dysfunctional that said, “If Don Dokken fell in a forest, would he make a sound? And if he did, could they get George Lynch to solo over it for an hour?” What a stupid review.  The album deserves a lot of praise, because when Dokken did reunite, the music was as strong as ever.  They had discovered modern groove, added onto their lush harmony vocals, and it managed to sell 300,000 copies.

Dysfunctional was conceived originally as the second Don Dokken solo album, which just happened to have Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson on it. (Jeff had recently split from Dio.)  The record company persuaded Don to call up George Lynch and make it a true Dokken album.  Originally George was just supposed to come in and re-do the guitar solos, but Don wanted George’s rhythm.  That was smart.  George ended up with writing credits on most of the songs in the process.

I have to admit that when this came out, a new Dokken album was the last thing I expected to see. Deep into the grunge years, Dokken came out flying with a modern melodic hard rock record with warmth, depth and awesome production values (by Don and Michael Wagener). Raging solos, great ballads, glorious riffs, and those Dokken harmony vocals mark one of the best Dokken albums of their career.  It’s certainly lots better than the ones I’ve heard that followed it.

There are lots of highlights.  No songs suck, but some are better than others.  The best tune was the 7-minute single, “Too High to Fly”.  I don’t know who came up with the riff, whether it was Don or George, but this song kicks ass.  Jeff Pilson gets into a wicked bass groove, dominating the verses.  Don’s lead vocal is among his most impassioned and the band is smoking.  This is a shoulda-been Dokken classic.  I am given to understand that it is the only song from Dysfunctional that is still played live from time to time.

Other favourites include “Inside Looking Out”, which shares the same grooving direction.  “Long Way Home” is like classic Ye Olde Dokken and could have fit in on Back for the Attack next to “Mr. Scary”.  On the softer side, I really like the understated “Nothing Left To Say”, a classy acoustic ballad.  Jeff Pilson’s backing vocals coupled with strings create a timeless atmosphere.  Then there’s the album epic:  “The Maze”, a lush, multi-part progressive song with harmony vocals piled on top of harmony vocals.  It doesn’t get thicker than this!  The record closes on “From The Beginning”, an ELP cover and another classy acoustic song.

I don’t need to tell you how great George Lynch is.  The record company were right to get him involved.  He helped make this album really special.  And that’s not to say that “Wild” Mick Brown or Jeff Pilson don’t bring it, because both of them did and then some.  Just that George has a very unique sound.  There is only one George Lynch.

Dysfunctional is a compulsory purchase if you have ever liked Dokken. It is a shame that the title proved true. George bailed after the dismal followup album (Shadowlife) and Pilson wasn’t far behind. Sad.

4/5 stars

Nice hair, Don.

REVIEW: Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life (Tribute)

NEW RELEASE

“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0001VARIOUS ARTISTS:  Ronnie James Dio – THIS IS YOUR LIFE (2014 tribute CD)

No preable from me: we all know how great Dio was.  Let’s get to the tracks.

Anthrax kick off the festivities with a slamming “Neon Nights”.  The storming opener couldn’t have been in a better slot.  Not only is Charlie Benate heavy as shit, but the guitar solos are mental.  Joe Belladonna handles the powerful vocal ably.  Rob Caggiano is still in the lineup indicating this isn’t brand new.  I suspect it was recorded at the same time as last year’s Anthems EP.

The guys that never get respect, Tenacious D, tackle the difficult second slot.  No worries there; they chose “The Last In Line” which Jack Black sings with no difficulty.  Uncle Meat has said it before:  Jack Black is one of the best singers he’s seen live.  “The Last In Line” proves his pipes, although some may not like his exaggerated, humorous vocal enunciation.  Kyle Gass plays a cute recorder solo in lieu of guitar, but there’s not enough K.G. on this track.  Brooks Wackerman kicks the drums in the ass.

And speaking of drums, Mike Portnoy is next with Adrenaline  Mob.  They demolish “Mob Rules”, although singer Russell Allen is certainly no Dio.  He is completely overshadowed by Portnoy and the shredding of Mike Orlando.

Corey Taylor, Satchel (Russ Parish) and friends  chose “Rainbow In the Dark” as their tribute to Ronnie.  This has always been such a fan favourite, and a personal one as well.  It is difficult to imagine anyone but Ronnie singing it.  While Corey Taylor is not at all like Ronnie James Dio, you can tell he loves this song.  It bleeds out of his performance.  He does it in his own rasp, and it works.

The incredible Lzzy Hale and Halestorm are up next with another Dio classic, “Straight Through the Heart”.  There is no denying the talents of Lzzy Hale, but her powerful pipes are almost too much.  Perhaps she overpowers the song, rather than simply fueling it.  Halestorm fans will love it, but I think Lzzy maybe should have reeled it in a bit.  Or, maybe I just need to get used to it.  “Straight From the Heart” does sound better after a few listens.

Biff Byford (Saxon) joins Motorhead on lead vocals for Rainbow’s “Starstruck”.  There’s a bit of that Motor-slam in it, but if I didn’t know who it was, I never would have guessed Motorhead.  You can hear Lemmy on backing vocals, but weirdly, he’s not credited on bass.  Nobody is, but you can hear the bass clearly and it sounds like Lem.

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I’m a little sick of the Scorpions doing ballads, but I admit that “Temple of the King” (another Rainbow classic) is stunningly good.  One might almost mistake it for a Scorpions original.  It has that regal Scorpions bombast to is, but Matthias Jabs’ lead work is just sublime.  He’s an underrated player, absolutely.  You can tell he’s a Blackmore fan.

An oldie from 1999, Doro’s cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” is excellent.  It’s cool to hear female singers like Doro and Lzzy Hale sing Dio.  Doro’s impressive pipes have always been astounding.  Her version of “Egypt” is a little over the top compared to Dio’s, but that’s cool by me.

Killswitch Engage…hmm.  “Holy Diver” starts great, super heavy, with some perfectly acceptable, melodic vocals.  Then it all goes down the toilet at the bridge.  That’s when it turns into hardcore shouting and blast beats…sorry, not on this song, thanks.  I can listen to that stuff in moderation, but don’t sully “Holy Diver” with it.  Fortunately the guitar solos are great, sounding like an Iron Maiden outtake from Powerslave.  Shame about the growling and shouting.  Skip.

“Catch the Rainbow” is a great song, and Craig Goldy plays guitar on this cover.  He’s ex-Dio himself, and he’s backed by his former Dio-mates Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright.  (Hey, that’s also 1/3 of Tateryche!)  Glenn Hughes sings, but this song sounds out of his scope.  His bluesy slant doesn’t work for me.  Sorry Glenn, you’re still awesome!

I find it strange that two more ex-Dio members (Jimmy Bain and Rowan Robertson) chose to cover Black Sabbath.  But who cares!  They covered “I”, perhaps the greatest song from Dehumanizer (1992)!  On drums is Brian Tichy, with Oni Logan (Lynch Mob, Dio Disciples) singing.  It’s a perfectly authentic version and I love it.  It’s absolutely thunderous, and I love Jimmy Bain’s bass sound.  Always have.  Of all the vocalists on This Is Your Life, it is Oni Logan that comes closest to nailing Dio’s vibe.  Considering he’s in Dio Diciples, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I didn’t expect it though, based on what I knew of Logan from Lynch Mob.  He fits “I” like a glove!

I was disappointed in Rob Halford’s version of “Man On the Silver Mountain”.  It’s true that Halford did replace Dio in Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992.  However, having owned a bootleg video of that show since that time, I knew that Halford’s and Dio’s styles didn’t really mesh.  This is no different; I don’t think his voice works with the song and it unfortunately shows off the places where Rob’s voice has weakened.  What is cool though is that the band (all ex-Dio:  Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson and Scott Warren) take it to a swampy bluesy Whitesnake-y place for the intro.  You can definitely hear Pilson covering the high notes in the chorus.

Finally we arrive at the mighty Metallica.  Snicker if you like.  If Metallica do one thing really well, it’s covers.  If they do two right, it’s covers and medleys.  The “Ronnie Rising Medley” is entirely made up of parts of Rainbow songs.  “A Light In the Black” bleeds into “Tarot Woman,” where the vocals begin.  It’s safe to say if you don’t like Metallica, you won’t like this.  If the opposite is true, I think you’re in for a treat.  Metallica do these classics in their own style, just as they have in the past when covering Maiden, or Mercyful Fate, or Thin Lizzy.  Simply add Lars’ thuds, James’ growl, and some standard Metalli-licks, and you’ve got a medley that is enjoyable through its near-10 minute run time.  Having said that, the weak point is definitely “Stargazer”, which is gutted of all its majesty.  They do much better with “Kill the King” which is fucking perfect.  They include the entire song in their medley!

Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad:  Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996.  I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”.  Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon.  The lyrics speak of mortality:

This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame
Won’t last forever?

This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical

What a way to end a great album.  As much as you can “miss” a person you have never met, I do miss Ronnie James Dio.  In many ways he’s been my friend for 30 years.

4.5/5 stars

As a nice added touch, the liner notes include photos of just about every performer on this CD with Ronnie!

Of  note:  the Japanese edition has a bonus track by Dio Diciples:  “Stand Up and Shout.”  It also has Stryper’s version of “Heaven and Hell” from their 2011 album The Covering, which I reviewed here.

REVIEW: Dokken – Shadowlife (1997 Japanese import)

Yesterday we talked about an album that Kelly Gray (Tateryche) wrecked produced.  Today, we’re looking at another.  Batten down the hatches.

SHADOW TURD_0001

DOKKEN – Shadowlife (1997 Victor Japanese import)

I got this Japanese import CD from one of our franchisees.  Even though we technically were not “allowed” to buy CDs from one of our franchises, we all did it, even the head office people who enforced the rules.  In this case the franchisee himself was glad to have a guaranteed sale, rather than sit on an expensive Dokken flop for several months in inventory.  It even came with the original obi strip, stickers, and everything else was mint.  The scarcity of the complete package was reason alone to buy it.

The infamous Shadowlife will probably go down in history as the worst Dokken album. It’s certainly the most dysfunctional (even though that was the title of the previous, much better album). The dysfunction largely came down guitarist George Lynch, who according to sources at the time, purposely sabotaged the album.  He did this to put an end to Dokken, go the claims. Don himself was very unhappy with it, as quotes from the era will reveal (look them up). He also referred to a lead vocal shot (“Here I Stand”) by bassist Jeff Pilson as too “bar band-y”, meaning the lead singer of a pro band is the lead singer, and the bassist is the bassist. Clearly, ego was an issue as well.

Kelly Gray

Kelly Gray

Not to escape without blame is producer Kelly Gray, who had just ruined the career of Sven Gali a couple years prior.  Gray produces, engineers, mixes, and even co-wrote a couple tracks.  According to Don, Mr. Gray would not let the band sing their trademark harmonies, opting for grittier more modern sounds.  Gray’s trademark distortion on the lead vocals is omnipresent.

There are very few standout tracks here, although many have good parts and interesting bits. It is difficult to remember any songs distinctly even after a few listens. The grungy “Puppet On A String” is OK, due to a blazing George Lynch guitar solo (although buried in the mix).  It has a heavy groove, but the distorted lead vocal wrecks it for me.  “Cracks in the Ground” is better, containing a shadow of the Dokken harmonies, but mired in boring melodies and production.  “I Feel” sounds like Dokken, at least.  Not really great Dokken, but Dokken nevertheless.

The Japanese, always so lucky, got two bonus tracks:  “How Many Lives” and “Deep Waters”.  Neither stand out any more than the album tracks.  Not really a bonus this time, sorry Japan.  If anything, these songs detract from the album, by making it a longer, more agonizing experience.

In general the album is too slow, too tunelessly dull, too dreary.  It’s disjointed and it’s uninspired.  Too rainy, like a dark Seattle mist.  Mick Brown does rock, at least.  There are a few heavy songs, such as “Hello”, but I think my favourite song would be the moody acoustic ballad “Convenience Store Messiah”.  It’s the only song that sounds like a fully composed, complete arrangement.

Avoid.

1/5 stars

Afterword:  I played around the idea of just writing a two word review a-la Spinal Tap (“Shit Sandwich”).  I was going to call it “Shadow Turd”.  In the end, my OCD level attention to detail refused to allow it, and the wordy essay on the art of turd-making you just read was posted instead.  I’m sorry.  (Blame Kelly Gray for that, too.)