Joe Satriani

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: Joe Satriani – Shockwave Supernova (2015)

Purchased at BMV for $7.99 during Toronto Record Store Excursion 2016.

scan_20161217JOE SATRIANI – Shockwave Supernova (2015 Sony)

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.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Joe Satriani – Flying in a Blue Dream (1989)

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.

5/5 stars

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TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”


AMERICAN DAD! – “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
(Episode 5, season 9)

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.

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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.

5/5 stars

AMERICAN DAD 3

 

REVIEW: Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot (CD/DVD set)

CHICKENFOOT_0001CHICKENFOOT – Chickenfoot (2009 Redline CD/DVD reissue)

This reissue of the fantastic debut Chickenfoot CD is a decent but imperfect repackage. The music is so good, I can’t stay mad about the double-dip. You can get this cheap if you hunt, so keep that in mind. First let’s talk about the music, before we get into the reissue.

I will go out on a limb and call this the best album Sammy Hagar had made in many years, and better than most (if not any) Van Hagar album. Part of the reason is the performances by this cast of pros (Sammy, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, Chad Smith), and part of the reason is solid songwriting. What’s left is youthful energy, which this band of old dudes has plenty of.

The first obvious highlight for me was the glorious return of the Van Hagar harmony vocals. Michael Anthony was responsible for a lot of that in Van Halen, and it was just a joy to hear him harmonizing with Sammy again. Close your eyes and you’d think you’re listening to some lost Halen track circa For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Then you recognize those warm Satriani guitar tones and tricks. Finally you hear Chad Smith on the drums, making it all sound easy. This actually sounds like a real band.

Highlights: The single “Oh Yeah”, “Sexy Little Thing”, “Runnin’ Out” (definite sounds like a long lost Halen tune), “My Kinda Girl” (my kinda chorus!), and “Turnin’ Left” (which just grooves).  “Bitten By The Wolf” has this bluesy Satriani-circa-Flying kind of vibe.  There are no weak songs, and nothing which doesn’t fit the direction of this band.  There’s no point going song by song.  Each one features the stellar playing, singing and melody that you would expect for this band of pros.  Satch’s tone is rich, beautiful and perfect.  This is most definitely hard rock.  There’s nothing too wussy about Chickenfoot.  Even the ballad “Learning to Fall” has the integrity of an outtake from Flying in a Blue Dream.  It’s hard not to enjoy something with Joe Satriani on guitar!

“Bitten By The Wolf”, of course, was the original bonus track on the vinyl and download versions of Chickenfoot. Now you can get it on a proper CD with this two-disc reissue. In addition you get an hour long DVD. This disc contains a couple fun music videos, interviews with each guy, and some excellent live stuff. Two things I noticed right away on the live stuff: One, Joe plays a lot more solos. Watching him play is a real treat. I’ve never seen Joe play up close on a DVD before. My God this man’s fingers move fast. Plus he’s entertaining as a showman. Two, Chad Smith is great to watch. On CD he makes it all sound easy. On DVD he makes it all look easy. This tower of a man just locks in and powers through. Awesome to watch. No wonder he is so in-demand with everybody from the Dixie Chicks on down.

Of note:  There are many who do not like this album as much as I.  Craig Fee from 107.5 Dave FM told me that this record was “disappointing, like seeing an all Toronto Maple Leafs NHL All-Star team, standing there in their blue jerseys.”

I only had two disappointments. One, the original CD had no booklet, only a link to download a pdf file. That remains so on this edition. I would have loved a booklet. Two, the original also had this awesome heat-sensitive packaging. The cover was almost entirely black, but when you placed your warm hand on it, pictures of the band members appeared. That packaging is not a part of this edition. Instead, the black has been replaced with white and now you can see the pictures unobscured. Two very small qualms. I still own the original CD and a vinyl copy to boot, so it’s not a big deal to me.

Get your buzz on!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Purpendicular (1996 US bonus track)

“The banjo player took a hike” — Ian Gillan


PURPENDICULAR US_0001DEEP PURPLE – Purpendicular (1996 BMG)

When Blackmore quit Purple for the second time, I had written the band off. I wasn’t too keen on the previous studio record The Battle Rages On, and what is Purple without the man in black? I didn’t want to hear a hack Deep Purple, struggling on to pay the bills with some sub-Blackmore player.  The first time he left, it shattered the band and they were unable to continue past one record with Tommy Bolin. Then I started reading reviews of live shows with Steve Morse on guitar. Steve Morse? What the hell was that going to sound like? Morse and Ritchie Blackmore — it is hard to imagine two electric guitar players who sound less alike. (Joe Satriani was also briefly in the band to help them finish up touring commitments.  Bootlegs of shows with Satriani are well worth checking out.)

When Purple finally released their new studio album Purpendicular, I had to buy it on import.  It didn’t even have a North American release.   When it was released officially in the US, an extra bonus track was added, so I tracked that down and bought it too. That is how much I really love this record. It had a huge impact on me musically in the mid to late 90’s, and when I saw Purple on this tour, they were smoking!

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Kicking off with some of that patented Morse shredding, the oddly titled “Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic” kicks you in the teeth and won’t let go. This was, according to Gillan, done on purpose.  It was a statement: “Here is our new guitar player, bitches.”  Ian’s lyrics, ranging from bizarre to absurd and back again, are at their absolute peak on this album. (Check out “Somebody Stole My Guitar”.) Clearly, when the man had been freed of Blackmore’s shackles, he had been creatively revitalized.  That probably followed in turn for each of the members.

The second track is the melancholy, bass-driven “Loosen My Strings”, a song which wouldn’t sound out of place on Slaves and Masters. From there, the album goes from strength to strength: The powerful progressive epic “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” (probably the best track on the album) to the bright and positive “A Touch Away”. Every song is backed by Morse’s unmistakable picking, miles away from Blackmore’s style of riffing, or medieval tendencies. That is not an attack against Blackmore, but sometimes a quality change can be refreshing. Morse utilizes pinch harmonics frequently on this album, which is a new sound for Deep Purple.  He also utilizes long sustained notes with wide vibrato, a classic Steve Morse sound.

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There are very few weak songs on Purpendicular.  The plodding “Soon Forgotten” can be skipped.  Not all the songs are immediate.  Some of them are complex arrangements designed to take a little effort to penetrate. This album must be played a couple times for it to sink in. But when it does, stand back and prepare to be blown away.  I wouldn’t want to miss “The Aviator”, a rare acoustic Purple tune.  Morse lends it a celtic feel.  For folks who prefer the 70’s jamming Deep Purple, check into “Rosa’s Cantina” and give a shout-out to “Hey Cisco”.  And if you like it a little more straightforward and rocking, you may prefer catchy rockers like “Somebody Stole My Guitar” and “I’m Not Your Lover Now”.

PURPENDICULAR US_0003I mentioned that I re-bought this album for a US bonus track.  “Don’t Hold Your Breath” is a bright upbeat rock song, and worth tracking down.  It’s not necessarily an album highlight, but why do without?  Jon Lord’s organ sounds on this one are particularly enticing.

 

There was also one outtake from this album, a silly little jam/band intro called “Dick Pimple”.  This was put out on a fanclub-only release, and later reissued on Ian Gillan & Tony Iommi’s compilation CD WhoCares.  It’s a 10 minute track, giving the fans a rare chance to hear Purple with Morse jam just for shits & giggles.  Because it’s Deep Purple, it is a quality jam, and completely unlike anything on Purpendicular.

Purpendicular was a vital record for Deep Purple.  If they had blown it, that would have been it.  They couldn’t have continued with any credibility if it didn’t kill.  Fortunately it did.  I am pleased to report that despite the tragic death of Jon Lord, Deep Purple has managed four more great records since, all with Steve Morse on guitar.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Hey Stoopid (1991)

First of an Alice Cooper double shot!  Tomorrow, The Last Temptation!

ACHS_0002ALICE COOPER – Hey Stoopid (1991 Sony)

When Hey Stoopid first came out in ’91, fans were still reeling from the disappointment (but commercial success) that was the Trash CD. Fans wanted Alice to get heavier and drop the cheese, and Hey Stoopid was a step in the right direction, to be fully realized on his next album The Last Temptation.

It was the era of the virtuoso, and Cooper certainly knows a good musician when he hears one. To me it was a stroke of genius to have Steve Vai and Joe Satriani record a guitar solo together for the first time, and on a song called “Feed My Frankenstein” no less! Guest shots by Ozzy (barely audible, though), Nikki Sixx, Vinnie Moore, and Slash provided enough hype for the fans to salivate.

Songwriting-wise, Hey Stoopid was a step up from Trash. The title track with its lyrical warnings of drug abuse was a fun catchy rocker with a tasty Satriani solo. The solos on this album are all too brief. Still the players being as good as they are create solos that enhance each track. Other standouts include the mindblowing “Might As Well Be On Mars”, an epic Desmond Child song that just aches before it explodes on the choruses. “Die For You”, written by Alice with Motley Crue’s Sixx & Mars, as well as Jim Vallance, has a chorus that bores its way into your brain and stays there like a parasite.

There’s still a lot of filler, something that plagues almost Alice album from Goes To Hell through to Hey Stoopid. “Snakebite”, “Hurricane Years”, “Little By Little” and “Dirty Dreams” are all songs that Alice will never play live in concert, and for good reason.

Yet there are still lots of hidden gems on this CD, all the way through to the final track “Wind-Up Toy”. A song about insanity, as only Alice can do, it is something that really hearkens back to Welcome To My Nightmare. What’s this about “Steven”?

There are also a couple lesser known tracks that aren’t on the domestic CD that are worth tracking down: “It Rained All Night” is a slowy, groovy track that was a B-side but better than some of the ballads on the actual album. “Fire” was a Jimi Hendrix cover with some fiery (pun intended) guitar playing.

The most disappointing thing about Hey Stoopid is the production by the normally excellent Peter Collins. Yes, Trash was too glossy, and yes, Hey Stoopid toughens the sound with more guitars. However the background vocals in particular are so dense, so saccharine, that even Def Leppard would blush. They are credited to different groups of people, and clearly there are a lot of voices here creating this gigantic mush of sound. It’s too much. I much preferred when Alice stripped it down on Dirty Diamonds, an album that deserves much praise. In 1991, production values just seemed to go to this extreme — witness Europe’s Prisoners In Paradise CD for a similar sounding album.

Hey Stoopid was Alice attempting to find his footing again, and while it stumbled, it did pave the way for Last Temptation. If grunge didn’t wipe out hard rock later that year, maybe Hey Stoopid would be regarded more fondly.

3/5 stars. Not great, but certainly not a failure.

Promotional "Hey Stoopid" memo

Promotional “Hey Stoopid” memo

R.I.P. Randy Coven – guest shot by Warren Murchie

I read the news today that bassist Randy Coven had passed away at age 54 of undisclosed causes.  My friend and former customer as well as a bassist himself, Warren Murchie, shared a few words regarding the passing of Mr. Coven.

COVEN

By Warren Murchie

I met Randy Coven first off at a gig he had doubling up with Stu Hamm. Now, Stu’s albums are really good, not only as a bassist but also as a songwriter, and his works with Joe Satriani were incredible to say the least. I do have to say though that at this double bill, with both Randy and Stu and their respective bands and solo CDs, it was Randy that really stepped forward and was nothing short of incredible.

I HAD to talk to the guy afterwards, knowing he was someone that really had something to say to bass players in my mag. He proved to be forthcoming, informative and knowledable, and a hell of a decent character. (Many years later I met Stu Hamm in Switzerland at a bass clinic and he was a great dude too!).

As to Randy,both then and now I regret the fact that he did not have the opportunity or perhaps the wish to really create a portfolio of works. The guy was a brilliant bassist, equal to Billy Sheehan or Gary Strater of Starcastle, but of a different bent musically. It seem to be a good fit that Randy worked both with Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen over the years. He was, as Chris Squire was and is, a Lead Bassist. Like Chris however, Randy knew when to back off and work in a band environment. He could be a Team Player while still being so dazzlingly good he stood out regardless — perhaps because he could play at an Yngwie or Steve Vai level if he needed to, but also knew when to just shut up and hold the groove down.

We are all beholden to Randy, for all he added to the instrument over his all too short life. I know the world of bassists is head over heels in love with what Jaco Pastorius gave to us as a lighthouse in the dark for inspiration, but Randy, never receiving his just dues, added so much as well and demanded little. We are all lesser for the loss of him! If reincarnatinon is true, he will be screaming back here to bring us the next chapter of where bass is going to….

REVIEW: Deep Purple – The Battle Rages On… (1993)

TBRO FRONT

DEEP PURPLE – The Battle Rages On… (1993 BMG)

After the ill-fated (but personally enjoyed) Slaves and Masters, Deep Purple realized the only way forward was with Mk II screamer Ian Gillan back at the mike. With a full album’s worth of material already written with former singer Joe Lynn Turner, all Gillan had to do was turn up and re-write the melody and lyrics. Much to Blackmore’s chagrin! Blackmore had no qualms telling Gillan that he preferred the original lyric and melody to “Time To Kill”.

Much heavier than Slaves and Masters, The Battles Rages On is much more in line with albums such as Fireball, Perfect Strangers and Machine Head. Lord’s Hammond organ is much more in the forefront. However, a vintage sound does not a great album make. The Battle Rages On has 10 tracks, 5 of which are good and 5 of which are filler. This was disappointing for me personally, but some (M.E.A.T. Magazine and Martin Popoff included) have rated this album very high.  Joe Lynn Turner derisively calls this album The Cattle Grazes On.

The five tunes I like: “The Battle Rages On”, “Anya”, “Time To Kill”, “Ramshackle Man”, “Solitaire”.

The title track is absolutely monstrous. I remember hearing it on the radio and thinking, “Bloody well right!” Big beefy riff, angry lyrics!

“Annihilation, kill ’em all. Capitulation, watch the mighty fall. The road to glory is lined in red, and though the reason now is gone…The Battle Rages On!”  (Always wondered if this was about Gillan and Blackmore.)

The song is a Purple epic, along the lines of “Perfect Strangers” or “Knockin’ At Your Back Door”. Just an awesome track.  I understand that in 2013 they have actually returned it to the set.

“Anya” is a keyboard driven rocker, Jon Lord style, lots of drama. “Time To Kill” is sort of a heavy pop rocker with Gillan trying to get philosophical with the lyrics, which Blackmore hated. “Ramshackle Man” is blues rock, pure and simple as Purple have specialized in. “Solitaire” is mournful, sad, kind of unlike anything Purple had really done before.  Gillan’s droning melody seals the deal.

The rest of the songs just do nothing for me. Some, like “One Man’s Meat” have decent riffs and parts, but weak melodies and lyrics.  As songs, they don’t add up to a satisfying listen.  It is a shame, given the strength of the good songs on the album.

Blackmore left in the middle of the tour.  Joe Satriani filled in, and there was talk that he wouldn’t mind joining Purple full time.  His time proved to be temporary, and Steve Morse has been in the band almost 20 years now. When Joe Satriani was in the band, they did an awesome version of “Ramshackle Man”, which I have on a video bootleg from the European tour.  There was an official live album with Blackmore from the tour, called Come Hell Or High Water.  As well, you could buy official bootlegs with both Morse and Blackmore in a box set called Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000.  And let’s not forget the Come Hell Or High Water video, with Blackmore throwing that water bottle in Gillan’s general direction…

Check out Satriani’s outro solo starting at about 7:07…smokin’!

To me, Purple’s true comeback was 1996’s Purpendicular. Having said that, the five good songs on The Battle Rages On are worth the purchase at a reasonable price. And hey, maybe Popoff was right, and I’m just not getting it. You decide.

3/5 stars

And check out these cool supplementary releases, all of which deserve their own individual reviews.

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