GETTING MORE TALE #827: Freestylin’ 5 – Brave New World
Oh, how so much has changed in such a short time. The conveniences I once took for granted are now dearly missed. I feel as if I am living in the early chapters of an old undiscovered dystopian fiction novel. Then there is the paranoia I feel when we get such mixed signals from all around. Don’t go out! But this store is offering pickups. Wear a mask! But only if you’re not able to be more than 2 metres away from the next person. Or not. And what kind of masks? It’s a surreal day that ends with a phone call with your mother about what kind of mask she’s wearing these days.
Look at classic science fiction. There are very few that feature gloves as part of regular daily attire that are not dystopias!
Because I feel it’s appropriate, I’m listening to Kilroy Was Here by Styx for inspiration while I write.
“We all need control. I need control. We all need control.”
And to think we were led to believe that the future dystopia would involve robots and rock & roll rebels.
On the other hand, I feel like I’ve been rehearsing for this my whole life. In spite of losing hundreds of books and movies in a recent purge (to be discussed in full in another chapter), I still have dozens unwatched and unread here to enjoy. I was saving them for the proverbial “rainy day”. Who was to know it was going to be three months of rain?
As a classic introvert, I tended to spend most of my time indoors anyway, nose buried in a laptop, headphones on. I never particularly sought busy weekends of going out and being social. I left that to Jen while I did my own thing. She’s managing as well as anyone else. What I really miss are the luxuries. Dropping in at the parents house
to steal groceries from their fridge for a visit. Going out for a medium rare steak when you’re craving it. Wandering the aisles at the record store. Even ordering from Amazon.
I am a creature of habit, but with more emphasis on spending locally in social media, a thought occurred to me. Why am I relying on Amazon for music? We have Encore Records here in town, and they have been advertising that they ship. The other day, John at 2loud2oldmusic mentioned that there was a new Joe Satriani coming out. I liked the track he posted, so I checked and Encore had it in stock.
I don’t believe in ordering “just one” of anything so I browsed a bit and quickly filled my cart. I searched for “Coverdale” (hey, you never know if something previously unheard will pop up) and their very smart search engine returned me a hit for all his stuff plus some related albums like Vandenberg. Good ol’ Dekes has long asserted their brilliance so why not? It looked like it’s probably one of those sweet Rock Candy reissues. Love/Hate’s Blackout in the Red Room is an album I’ve wanted for 30 years but never pulled the trigger on until now. It has three bonus tracks thanks to Rock Candy’s fine series of reprints. Finally, King Kobra’s second CD Thrill of a Lifetime made it an even four.
I picked my shipping, hit the Paypal button and later the next day they had my order processed. I’m going to have new music this week! And plenty of it too!
New music helps keep up the illusion that things are still “normal”, while they are actually anything but. You can pretend for a while. I’ll sanitize the parcel when it arrives, a stark foreshadow of what the “new” normal will be like. I’ll wash my hands when I’ve removed and discarded the cellophane. Only then will I allow myself to enjoy the CDs without the reminders.
A wise person recently told me that now is the time to spread kindness. I’m trying to remember that. Part of that includes being kind to yourself. I bought myself some CDs. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself if you can. I know we’re not all in a situation where we are financially able to do that. I’m part of an essential service. As much as I resented that at first, I’m really grateful for it.
As I try to be kind to myself, a dark side of me whispers in my ear. “You’re being careless. Everything you let enter the house is a threat. You already suffer asthma. You’re not paying attention to the statistics. You should be working from home.”
We are all facing our own personal struggles right now. I know a few people who have it bad, real bad, and I can’t do a damn thing to help them except be here to listen. It’s a small gesture, but can be a huge one in some circumstances. Don’t underestimate your own personal value as a human being that can listen.
My hopes are high that we will get through this together. Together, separately. Humans have a remarkable capacity to work together when we want to. I don’t dare put a timeline on this in my mind. I try to take it one day and one week at a time. We have made it through another week, and all we have to do now is keep on keepin’ on.
So keep on keepin’ on, my friends.
It took me 21 years to finally buy this CD. Why? It was hard to get excited about three live Satch songs, three live Vai songs, and so on. But a collector needs to catch ’em all, and it’s actually a pretty fabulous listen throughout.
Joe Satriani opens the set with “Cool No. 9” from his self-titled blues album. Blues to Joe Satriani is a different kind of animal. It’s trick-laden and thick with notes, although this doesn’t mean light on feel. His landmark classic “Flying in a Blue Dream” is more what people expect from Joe. I like to describe his albums as regular vocal rock records, just with the lead guitar singing the melody instead of a person. I think I stole that description from Joe himself. You can’t really call “Flying” a ballad but it sure is epic. Finally it’s “Summer Song”, Joe’s big 1992 hit from The Extemist. It doesn’t get more accessible for instrumental guitar rock. Joe’s actually the perfect artist to open this CD for that reason. His music, more than most instrumentalists, is door-opening for listeners.
The sublime Eric Johnson is in the middle position. “Zap” is a tour-de-force of instrumental prowess, built into the framework of a nice shuffle. Though you can certainly bop along if you like, the musicianship here is not for the timid. “Camel’s Night Out” is a busy groover. One of Johnson’s best tunes ever has to be “Manhattan”, which goes down unbelievably smooth live. The playing is lyrical and warm.
Steve Vai’s threesome includes “Answers” and “For the Love of God” from Passion & Warfare. “Answers” is one of Vai’s more challenging songs, fast and funky with weird tones and melodies. This is probably the most blistering song on the whole disc, including a solo that isn’t in the studio version. For all that, “For the Love of God” is the most awe-inspiring. This ballad puts the passion in Passion and Warfare. This is the one with Steve’s soul in it, every bend and every beat. “The Attitude Song” is an oldie from the first Vai album Flex-able, just a solid rocker with some shredding. Live it is much heavier than the tinny studio cut.
Finally, there is a trio of tunes with the three maestros playing together, as is the G3 tradition. The blues standard “Going Down” is a typical jam, with Joe on vocals. Then a tribute to Steve’s mentor, Frank Zappa, on “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” with everyone singing…and shredding. Finally, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” finishes the CD with Eric Johnson on lead vocals. Of these three tracks, “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” smokes the other two.
May as well pick up the original G3 CD if you find it in the wild. It’s good stuff.
For a band with only two albums, Chickenfoot sure do milk it. After a single debut album, they did a live DVD called Get Your Buzz On. Two albums in came a live album called Chickenfoot LV. (Get it? LV can mean both “live” and “55”, Sammy’s notable hit.) Then another package called Best + Live, mixing the “greatest hits” with a new song and an audio release of Get Your Buzz On — which, by the way, was mined for five songs already on the previous LV album!
It’s all too much. We like Chickenfoot here; really we do, but enough is enough. Instead of buying all that stuff, we decided to just go for a 7″ single for the one “new” song called “Divine Termination”. That seemed the most logical purchasing option, all things considered. It’s a nicely packaged 45, on clear pink coloured vinyl. The side A label depicts Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony. Side B has Joe Satriani and Chad Smith. It feels nice and heavy in hand.
Unfortunately, it’s not all rose-coloured. These guys had five years to come up with one good new song. “Divine Termination” is not it. Although it does have a neat, vintage sounding Deep Purple riff, the Chickenfoot hooks and harmonies are missing. The chorus has no meat. “Divine Termination” is forgettable even though Joe Satriani plays as brilliantly as ever.
On the flipside is another release of “Highway Star”, the Deep Purple cover. It’s available on Best + Live, but its first issue was on Re-Machined, the Deep Purple tribute album. Too bad the B-side isn’t something exclusive, but it does blow away the A-side. Listen to Joe somehow make his guitar resemble Jon Lord’s Hammond Organ.
Maybe Chickenfoot were too creatively spent after years of solo and other projects to come up with a memorable new song. There’s talk of a third Chickenfoot album in the future. If so, it has to be better than “Divine Termination”.
Given everything that happened in 2018 (cancer, more cancer, death), I wasn’t as tuned-in to rock and roll as I normally would be. I missed a lot of new releases, some on purpose, others by accident. Therefore, this year I’m doing something different from my Top Lists of 2018. Before we get to the lists, let’s talk about the past 12 months.
2018: RELEASES IN A NUTSHELL
January saw new CDs by Joe Satriani and Corrosion of Conformity, finally reunited with Pepper Keenan on vocals. There was new Loudness, and a release by Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa. Def Leppard had a low-key EP exclusive to iTunes (The Lost Session). In February we got the return of the mighty Saxon. March was a big month, featuring Judas Priest, Stone Temple Pilots, Jack White and Myles Kennedy. The rock kept rolling in April. The big metal one here was Stryper‘s God Damn Evil, along with new Godsmack and Thirty Seconds to Mars. During this time I was personally only able to get the Stryper and Priest.
As temperatures warmed in May, Bad Wolves came out with their novelty cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries which became a predictable hit. Frank Turner and Five Finger Death Punch also released new records in May. News in June was unfortunately dominated by Kanye West and Drake, but don’t forget Ghost, The Darkness (with their first live) and Nine Inch Nails! In July, Halestorm came out with the critically acclaimed Vicious. Alice in Chains made their long awaited return in August with Rainier Fog, an album I bought but have not yet fully penetrated.
Autumn began with the biggest name in rock and roll, Sir Paul McCartney himself. Slash, Paul Simon, Lenny Kravitz and Suicidal Tendencies had records out on the same day. VoiVod, Therapy?, Metric and even Rod Stewart returned in September as well. October featured two big soundtracks: Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star Is Born. Ace Frehley, Greta Van Fleet, and The Struts came out with new music the same month. In November we got Mark Knopfler, the Smashing Pumpkins, Ted Nugent and yet another live Beth Hart. The month closed with the latest Def Leppard best-of. December boasted Metal Church but not a lot of rock. Thank the Metal Gods that Max the Axe swooped in with Status Electric to save the year.
I spent most of 2018 checked out mentally. I missed most of the new releases and have a lot to catch up on. The summer was spent on Highway 401, and a flash drive loaded with music helped me survive it. New releases were not the be-all and end-all for me. Therefore, my Top Albums of 2018 list includes some oldies that just helped me get through it all. It seems right to do it this way, since I can’t really do a well-curated list of new releases without absorbing them properly.
TOP 10 ALBUMS THAT GOT ME THROUGH 2018
- Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)
- Max the Axe – Status Electric (2018)
- Ghost – Prequelle (2018)
- The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith (2018)
- Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)
- Blotto – Tonight At Toad’s (1982)
- Ace Frehley – Spaceman (2018)
- Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson & Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)
- The Sword – Used Future (2018)
- Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978)
- Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)
- Hello Hopeless – Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures (2018)
- Mike Slayen – Dude: A Guitar CD (2018)
TOP MOVIES OF 2018
Can’t do a movie list this year. Not possible. I didn’t see ’em all, but one movie blew away all the rest.
- Avengers: Infinity War
A PEEK AT 2019
What’s hot for 2019?
- Star Wars: Episode IX
- Motley Crue‘s long awaited movie The Dirt, and new songs too.
- Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
- Avengers: Endgame
- Queensryche – The Verdict
So very desperately, I wanted this to be good. Alas, it is very very remotely far from anything good. It’s not the line between clever and stupid; it’s just foul smelling putridity. Spinal Tap’s bassist Derek Smalls, who might be best known for his “Jazz Odyssey”, cannot hold a tune. There must be a reason why Smalls sings the fewest lead vocals of the three Spinal Tap members. He’s all but unlistenable.
The gimmick on Smalls Change is twofold. It’s a collection of songs about getting old, which is a crappy concept to start with. There is nothing wrong with songs that have some life experience, but who wants to listen to a tune about an MRI? Who wants to think about it all? The second gimmick is the roster of guests: old fogie buddies like David Crosby, Steve Lukather, Paul Shaffer, and so on. There are few somewhat younger folks here too, such as Dweezil Zappa, Joe Satriani, Chad Smith, and Phil X. But the guest stars can’t save it. Admittedly, the lyrics are sometimes funny. “Butt Call” is about butt dialing! “Nobody speaks, handset by the cheeks.” “Memo to Willie” is about erectile disfunction (get it?), a subject I’m sure you like singing about as well. Then there’s “Gummin’ the Gash” which you can figure out for yourself.
The biggest problem is the voice, which is a cross between a garbage disposal and Otto the bus driver.* No amount of Spinal Tap references can save it. When the singer cannot sing, then Houston we have a problem. And the thing goes on for 14 tuneless tracks! An hour of gargling words out in an English accent. Without a David St. Hubbins or a Nigel Tufnel to carry the melody, Smalls is sunk. When there is an actual melody, that is.
We sadly have to proclaim Smalls Change as the worst, most unlistenable album of 2018. Clearly, a lot of time and money went into making it, but don’t invest any of yours.
* Yes, of course we know that Derek Smalls is played by Simpsons actor Harry Shearer. If Otto was British, this could have been his album.
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection
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.
Purchased at BMV for $7.99 during Toronto Record Store Excursion 2016.
Like a manic version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, the title track from Joe Satriani’s latest Shockwave Supernova will render you mute as you pick your jaw up from the floor. Syncopated guitars and drums unite before Joe focuses everything on the melody. Joe’s brand of instrumental rock usually features the lead guitar in a melodic position where a lead singer would normally deliver the hooks. That’s Joe’s job and he has done it consistently well.
New age-y guitar twinkles highlight the ballad “Lost in a Memory”, which pulses with understated rhythms. It is only appropriate that this spacey music was recorded at Skywalker Sound. What atmosphere and what power. Things take a turn down Weird Street on “Crazy Joey”, a showcase for sounds you didn’t know a guitar could make, but still with a cool melody to remember. Unbelievable accuracy and dexterity here. “In My Pocket” brings back Joe’s bluesy harmonica work (often overlooked) with a stripped basic track. Then we fly “On Peregrine Wings”, but the song itself is heavy as granite. An unorthodox guitar hook reminds us that Joe isn’t a typical songwriter or player. Thunder returns on “Cataclysmic” which moves along with the grace of a herd of rhinos.
Joe hops in his Tardis for a trip back in time to the early 60s on “San Francisco Blue”, but of course with his own space age sound. He just has to “Keep On Movin'”, but it’s still a surprise when the piano shares the spotlight. There is no shortage of string majesty, but the piano is a nice touch. Things cool down on “All of My Life”, a gentle song with breezy congas and unexpected twists. “A Phase I’m Going Through”, track 10, is the point at which the listener begins to get a little bit of ear fatigue. 15 songs might be normal for a Joe album, but 10 songs might be the ideal length for the average listener.
Take a break if you have to because there are still great moments ahead. “Scarborough Stomp” is an apt title for the snare-heavy 11th track. It’s all about that uncomplicated beat, but there is a cool baroque section in the middle that sounds as if lifted from Joe’s brief stint in Deep Purple (1994). A tender ballad (“Butterfly and Zebra”) is a transitional song leading to the ominous backwards guitar intro to “If There is No Heaven”. This song is reminiscent of past Joe blasters like “One Big Rush”. Then you will see the “Stars Race Across the Sky” on one of Joe’s more atmospheric tracks. A “Goodbye Supernova” sends us off in dramatic fashion with heavy keyboard accents by veteran Mike Keneally.
Very few Satriani albums will let you down. Though some might argue “if you have one Joe, you have them all”, his fans will appreciate the differences.
JOE SATRIANI – Flying in a Blue Dream (1989 Relativity)
I used to read all the rock magazines and charts as a kid, and I was surprised when Joe Satriani’s latest album cracked the top 30 in Canada. “Isn’t he an instrumental guitar guy? Do enough people buy that stuff for it to chart?” Apparently they did, and even if instrumentals aren’t your thing, you have to love Joe’s big vocal single debut, “Big Bad Moon”.
Joe nailed a cool, creative music video with lots of shreddery, which immediately caught my eye. Joe looked like Razor Ramon before there was such a character, but cool as ice in that suit. Meanwhile, another Joe in a leather jacket shreds the fuck out of a beautiful silvery Ibanez. Putting on a gritty, Waits-ish voice, Joe slammed out a blues rocker like no blues I’d ever heard before. I had to get this!
Flying in a Blue Dream contains only six vocal songs, but it didn’t need any more than that to become a hit. The instrumentals are all killer (as Joe’s usually are). For an album that is well over an hour, it is rare to find one so full of killer, with zero filler! The best way to think about Satriani songs is that they are not really instrumentals, just good songs where the lead vocal melody is performed by a guitar. Most of the songs on Flying share this quality. The title track is one such song, where the musical backbone is a good song on its own, but the lead guitar front and center is where the lead singer would normally be delivering the hooks. Instead, Joe delivers all the hooks with his guitar alone, and does so ably. This is no easy accomplishment. Lots of songs are in the five minute range, but don’t drag or bore.
Variety is another key quality to this album. “Flying” isn’t a ballad, but falls somewhere in between. “Can’t Slow Down” on the other hand will rip your head clean off. For a real ballad, check out the beautiful “I Believe”, still a favourite of mine today. While the diversity of the album is one of its strengths, another is the production, particularly on the guitars. Melty, etherial and slippery as greased mercury, Joe’s tone defies imitation. He gets crunchy on the rhythms though, and it’s a really sweet crunch — like a Skor bar.
When instrumentalists like Joe added vocals to their arsenals, jaded music snobs would often accuse the artist of “selling out” or “going soft”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Boom, right there on track #2 (“The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing”) is bright instrumental showcasing virtually every trick in the Book of Satch! Harmonics out the wazoo, sounds I can’t describe or articulate, but all done with an eye to the melody and groove of the song. That’s how to do it, folks. You want groove? Check out “Can’t Slow Down”, one of the blazing vocal tracks, or the headlong “One Big Rush” and “Back to Shalla-Bal”. You want bizarre and experimental? Then “Headless” and “Strange” appropriately fit the bill. You want mystical, exotic and avante garde…but with funk bass? Parts I and II of “The Bells of Lal” should do you.
Adding vocals was the coup de grâce. Those songs really elevate Flying in a Blue Dream to a timeless level. Of them, “I Believe” is particularly special. It is quiet and spare, in contrast to some of the heavier moments on the album. Tasteful and reserved guitar melodies set the tone, and Joe sings softly of making a better tomorrow. His singing is remarkable actually, because though Joe is not known for his voice, he sings with the correct passion and feeling. In short, it all works as a package. Remember, it is usually Joe’s guitar that delivers the the hooks.
Flying in a Blue Dream always seems to live in the looming shadow of its predecessor, the million selling Surfing With the Alien. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Flying in a Blue Dream, every time.
Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad is a very musical show. That’s why this is the second episode I’ve reviewed so far. It’s rare to find a cartoon with so much musical integrity. From an episode based on a song by Wax Fang, to another showcasing the band My Morning Jacket and their lead singer Jim James, they really stuff the show full of tunage. Not to mention they also use plenty of original music! There was one episode featuring Cee-Lo Green as a talking, singing hot tub. For real! Then there’s the original song “He’s Got a Kink”, with a dirty, dirty message!
You’ve got a kink,
You’ve got a kink,
Don’t be afraid to put a finger in the stink!
While the episode “My Morning Straightjacket” was probably one of the most musical episodes of any comedy show anywhere, it was “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” that earns top marks at LeBrain HQ. Why? Rush. 2112!
With Steve Smith dressed as a glammed-up Alex Lifeson, and his best friend Snot Lonstein as Geddy, the episode opens with the two best friends rocking out in the garage, playing air guitar to Rush’s immortal epic “2112”. When Steve’s dad Stan comes home, he is none too amused by the tight costumes, wigs and finger-flicking. “I-I don’t know where to start. Look at you two. Best case scenario, you’re telling me you’re gay with each other,” complains Stan.
Steve and Snot defend the air guitar, but a furious Stan smashes Snot’s tape deck and forbids Steve from seeing him again. Of course this does not work, so Stan does the obvious thing to get rid of Snot. He stages a fake mafia hit in front of the young kid, and then takes him away to be in the CIA witness protection program…forever.
Snot goes into hiding (the apartment building is #2112). While delivering Snot his weekly groceries, Stan finds that he actually likes the kid. They begin to hang out. When Steve finally figures out what his dad has done, he tracks Snot down…only to find him playing air guitar to “2112” with a wigged-out Stan!
The episode is dedicated to “BFFs everywhere”, and I admit I get the feels at the end. In an homage to Say Anything, Snot and Steve reunite, with a glorious air-guitared version of “Always With Me, Always With You” by Joe Satriani. Yes, the episode is a tribute to best friends. I think it is also a tribute to the pure joy that is air guitar. The two things go together. I played many many hours of air guitar with my best friend Bob, and nothing can erase the sheer happiness we had doing so. I identify with this episode! Not the dad breaking up the friendship part, but the friendship itself.
Highly recommended for nostalgic air guitarists everywhere.