Joel Hoekstra

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 Japanese import)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Cynjas Japanese import CD)

So you got the new Whitesnake.  Think you got all the songs just because you got the deluxe version on CD or iTunes?  Naw!  Think again!  Once again, it’s Japan with the hardest to find bonus tracks.

To be fair, it’s a give and take.  While Japan often gets their own exclusive songs, they also miss out on others.  In North America, we got a deluxe edition with “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong”, “If I Can’t Have You”, and three remixes of album tracks.  The Japanese CD has none of those, but instead has its own exclusive remix.

The ballad “After All” is surely one of the highlights on Flesh & Blood.  As a simple, fairly unadorned acoustic love song, it’s right in the wheelhouse of more recent “unzipped” ‘Snake.  Well, the Japanese bonus remix is even more stripped down.  The “Unzipped” mix is the same recording, just with less stuff in the mix — no electric guitars, no keyboards.  An insignificant difference?  Absolutely.  But with an acoustic song this fucking good, you may enjoy the purity of the unembellished version.  Up to you really, but if you’re the kind of collector that needs “all the tracks”, then you do need this, don’t you?

“I don’t care about bonus tracks,” you say.  “Just tell me if the album is any good!”

Check out our track by track review for full details, but in short:  fuck yes!

Flesh & Blood is being described by enthusiastic fans as “the best album since Slip of the Tongue.  They are probably correct in that declaration.  It’s stunningly good:  diverse, well written and well played.  It draws from a broader palette of sound than many of the past albums, and even dips back into the 1970s on “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong” (which isn’t on the Japanese CD).  There are no songs to skip through, and while not all are equally strong, none suck.  It has a high ratio of songs that could become future classics, like “Gonna Be Alright”, “Good To See You Again”, and “Sands of Time”.  So yes, to answer your questions, it’s a bloody good album no matter what version you can afford.

The domestic CD is the best buy for its songs-per-dollar value (18 tracks on the deluxe), over the Japanese (14 tracks).  Rating this purely as an album with its bonus track, it’s still a solid:

4.5/5 stars.  Could be the album of the year.

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REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 deluxe)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Frontiers CD/DVD deluxe edition)

What’s the year again?  You’ll want to check, because David Coverdale just released the best Whitesnake album since the 1980s.  Swollen with fresh song ideas, this ‘Snake has more bite.  Maybe it’s the unleashing of Reb Beach or the new contributions of Joel Hoekstra.  Whatever the cause, Flesh & Blood is sheer nirvana for fans of classic hard rock and technical guitar playing.  The album is evidence that this could be the best lineup David’s had since Steve Vai.  For guitar geeks, there are lead break credits for each song, a-la Judas Priest.

“Good to See You Again” is an ideal opener and you could hear it working that way live.  David then assures you it’s “Gonna Be Alright”, on a slick number with a darker vibe and major hooks — almost more 90s Queensryche than Whitesnake, but with a good time in mind.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the lead single, shows that David isn’t afraid to get sleazy even in his senior years.  It’s good time party rock, expertly delivered.  A clear choice for single.

Going heavy, “Hey You (You Make Me Rock)” grooves like the ‘Snake you remember.  The soloing here will make you wet your pants.  “But it’s not John Sykes!” scream the unbelievers.  Well, check out “Always & Forever” for a hint of that Thin Lizzy regality.  It’ll bring you back to the days of Jailbreak but with David instead of Phillip.  Then comes the first ballad: “When I Think of You (Color Me Blue)”  Reminiscent of “The Deeper the Love”?  There are many who love ballads — more power to ’em!  This is a good one.  Things get greasier on “Trouble is Your Middle Name”.  Pedal to the metal — not sure where David is getting the fuel from, but it’s potent.

Halfway through now, it’s the title track “Flesh & Blood” sounding a lot like Slip of the Tongue era ‘Snake.  Think something like “Slow Poke Music”.  It leads perfectly into “Well I Never”, soulful but dark and heavy.  Amazing stuff.  Another ballad, “Heart of Stone”, brings to mind the glory of Coverdale-Page.  This is heavy stuff for a ballad, loaded with integrity and delivered expertly by the master.  Then it’s the bluesy boogie of “Get Up”, a song clearly designed to get asses shaking, and air guitars a-picking.  One more ballad:  “After All” is pleasantly acoustic, and an
appropriate respite from electric shreddery.

The final song of the main 13 track songlist is an epic:  “Sands of Time”.  David explored Arabic sounds before on “Judgement Day”, and this is another foray into the exotic.  Something about those scales automatically make a song huge in scope.  “Sands of Time” is really impressive, and Reb & Joel compliment it with the perfect solos.

There are two bonus tracks on the deluxe CD.  The first is a callback to early Whitesnake.  “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong” sounds like the kind of blues David was playing in the 1970s.  It’s sheer delight hearing him revert to pure bluesy ‘Snake.  Lastly it’s “If I Can’t Have You”, a good if unremarkable song after all this epic madness.

Is that all?  Of course not; David Coverdale is known for giving value to the fans.  There’s a DVD with different mixes and videos too.  This disc sounds huge.  The bass — woah!  First:  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the video “classic Jag” version.  Because David is driving the Jaguar from “Here I Go Again”, obviously.  It’s Whitesnake on a small stage, in a club, up close and personal.  Unsurprisingly the “Club Mix” of the same is just the video without the Jag.

Three remixes are presented in hi-res.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me” is the “video mix”; nice to have a clean audio version of that.  To hear the differences will require further investigation (clapping at the end aside).  An impressive “X-tended mix” of “Gonna Be Alright” is pretty cool.  Last is a “radio mix” of “Sands of Time”, which is strangely longer than the album version.  Unusual for a radio mix.  All the remixes are slightly longer.

Japanese customers got one exclusive bonus track, an “Unzipped” mix of “After All”.  It doesn’t have any of the other bonuses.  That CD is in the mail and when it arrives we’ll review it too.

Finally, the DVD contains a 15 minute “behind the scenes” of the making of the album.  David reveals that The Purple Album was intended to be his last.  The passion returned and he followed it.  Sounds like beautiful women are still inspiring to him.  As far as the album goes, you’ll notice the background vocals are quite thick.  David says that all the Whitesnake members…all but Tommy Aldridge anyway…are capable lead vocalists in their own right.  All six band members get their chance to speak.

This is an album you’ll be enjoying all summer.  Dig it.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Appice – Sinister (2017)

APPICE – Sinister (2017 Steamhammer)

Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, Dio, Cactus, Blue Murder, King Kobra…those are just a handful of the bands who have boasted an Appice in their ranks. Drumming brothers Carmine and Vinny have been recognised by fans and critics alike for their rhythms and associations with amazing bands. Now they step out on their own, with a duo album called Sinister.

The musical directions are all alloys of good ol’ heavy metal.  “Sabbath gave us metal!” goes one line (more on that later).  You know what you’re getting.  There’s even a Sabbath medley called “Sabbath Mash”.  Joining the Appice brothers are familiar names such as: Craig Goldy (Dio), Tony Franklin (Blue Murder), Robin McAuley (MSG), Paul Shortino (Ruff Cutt), Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N’ Roses) and Jim Crean (who regularly plays live with the brothers).

Many tracks have both drummers, with Vinny panned to the left and Carmine to the right.  It’s not immediately obvious, but if you listen, the drums sound huge!  Double drummers are not something we’re used to hearing, so pay attention and listen to the individuals and what they’re doing.  You won’t be bored, even if you’re not a drummer.

Everything rocks — no ballads.   You’ll find a sludgy Sabbath vibe on some tracks such as “Killing Floor” (lead vocals by Chas West).  Jim Crean kicks ass on “Danger” which comes from the brisk Dio end of the spectrum.  Another Crean song, “In the Night” is the most immediately memorable.  It takes a few listens to absorb Sinister.  Headphones may help, but give it a chance because it’s not an immediate listen.  Other tracks are familiar.  Blue Murder’s “Riot”, with Robin McAuley singing, is a damn fine heavy explosive.

What about drum instrumentals?  Well, of course!  You would feel ripped off if the two brothers didn’t go head to head.  “Drum Wars” is exactly what you’re looking for.  What Vinny and Carmine have done is create drum parts that compliment each other and work in unison, creating a fuller sound.  You’ll also get a kick out of “Brothers in Drums”, which tells the story of the Appice brothers.  “Is that my brother, on TV?  That’s what I wanna be!”

The album goes a little sentimental on “Monsters and Heroes”, heavy as hell, but the lyrics may bring a tear to your eye.  “Sing a song, singer, you’re the man on the mountain…”  Yes, it’s a tribute to Ronnie James Dio, with lyrics by Shortino, who worked with Dio back in 1985 on Hear N’ Aid.  Sabbath gave us metal indeed, but “Monsters and Heroes” captures a little bit of why we miss Dio so much.

Not every song brilliant, and 13 is a large number of tracks, but Sinister grows as you listen.  (Stay tuned to the end!) It’s a grower thanks in no small part to some great performances by an assortment of rock n’ roll veterans.  Any fan of heavy metal will find something to enjoy with Appice.  Serious Sabbath or Dio fans should consider adding it to their collections, as an extension of the discographies.  Bonus:  there’s a poster inside!

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Whitesnake – The Purple Album (2015 Japanese & deluxe editions)

WHITESNAKE – The Purple Album (2015 Frontiers,  Japanese & deluxe editions)

One old school buddy of mine, Rob Vuckovich, was a huge David Coverdale fan back in the 1980’s, but mostly a Deep Purple fan. He took great pride in telling me that he went to see Whitesnake on the 1987 tour. He held aloft a sign that said “PLAY PURPLE”. David reportedly acknowledged his sign by saying, “We’re not doing any of that!” What changed?

Jon Lord’s dying wish to his friend David Coverdale was to somehow reform Deep Purple MkIII. “Life’s too short and too precious to hold any animosities,” learned David after Lord’s passing. He reached out to Candace Night, wife of Ritchie Blackmore, and eventually spoke to the Man in Black about a Lord-less reunion. Blackmore was intrigued and David started working on updated arrangements for the tunes. He didn’t want to sing them in the same way that he did in his 20’s. The situation with Ritchie didn’t work out, but David did not want the work he had gone to on the new arrangements to go to waste. He approached his band and asked them what they thought about a Deep Purple covers album. The response was instant. Joel Hoekstra (guitar) in particular was pumped.

The result is The Purple Album. Sourced from Coverdale’s three albums with Deep Purple (Burn, Stormbringer, and Comes Taste the Band), 15 songs were selected. It’s hard to argue with the selection, either. There are chances taken. “Holy Man” is a damn hard song to sing, and it was originally performed by Glenn Hughes, not David. And four, count ’em, four songs (on the deluxe) from Come Taste the Band, perhaps the most underrated album in the Purple canon.

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The sound is “Snaked up” as David says, which means modern guitars and technical shredding. To his credit, David really let his band play instead of copying Deep Purple. Joel Hoekstra is a hell of a guitarist, able to shred. He has brought some soul back to Whitesnake that I felt was missing from their two studio albums with Doug Aldrich. Other songs are stripped down, such as the now-acoustic “Sail Away”. This song is dedicated to Jon Lord and it’s certainly among the best songs on The Purple Album. It’s very “live” in the studio.

Is it necessary? Hell no, but David’s entitled to do what he wants. Nobody else is keeping these songs alive except for Glenn Hughes now and then. Jon Lord would be delighted with the quality of it, but he would surely be saddened that Deep Purple MkIII has never reunited. Since that was indeed the case, David and Whitesnake worked very hard on plenty of new parts and licks for their own arrangements. Reb Beach sings many of the Glenn Hughes lead vocal parts (quite well), and finally Whitesnake feels like a real band again. It’s odd that it happened on a Deep Purple cover album, but the band sound like a real band, on album for the first time in ages. Hopefully the injection of passionate young blood in Hoekstra and new bassist Michael Devin will result in new music some day.

The deluxe edition of The Purple Album comes with two bonus tracks and a loaded DVD. “Lady Luck” and “Comin’ Home” from Come Taste the Band are actually two of the best selections. It’s rare that bonus tracks are album highlights, but just because these songs are not as world-renowned as “Burn” does not mean they are not as good. They’re awesome. “Comin’ Home” is very different from the original, having a new and very Whitesnake (circa Slide It In) riff installed.

Japan usually get exclusive bonus tracks and this time it’s a different mix of “Soldier of Fortune”. The reason for the alternate mix (according to the documentary DVD, which we’ll get to) is that David was somewhat torn on which version he liked best. The original concept was a straight acoustic version, with just David’s voice and an acoustic guitar — one guitar, like in Deep Purple. That version didn’t make the album. In a last minute decision, David chose to record bass and other embellishments, and that is what you hear on the standard album. The lucky fans in Japan (or those who wish to shell out for an import!) get the original concept as a bonus track. Delightful.

The bonus DVD is a nice treat, for the 30-minute “Behind the Scenes” feature. It’s great to see the band get so much face time, talking about their love of Deep Purple. Things like this aid in your appreciation of the final album. Observations: Reb Beach does a hilarious Coverdale impression. Tommy Aldridge is still an unstoppable beast of a drummer, even today. Indeed, the new Whitesnake lineup comes across as an inspired band. It is a brand new era for Whitesnake, according to David. He is happier with their sound than he has been in years.

Then there’s the fluff, the Whitesnake EPK (electronic press kit) which is just a condensed version of the main feature. Added to this are four music videos. It’s almost amusing that Whitesnake made music videos today, but again the band get a lot of face time and that’s cool. In the music videos, it really seems like Whitesnake are a band regardless of the lineup changes. The videos are glossy, a little cheesy, but a nice little add-on.

The original rating for this album was going to be 3/5 stars. Cover albums just can’t be judged by the same yardstick as an album of original material. Having seen and heard how much passion and work Whitesnake put into The Purple Album, I’ve grown to appreciate it more. Therefore:

3.5/5 stars