John Petrucci

REVIEW: Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998)

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998 Magna Carta)

Liquid Tension Experiment is a supergroup on Magna Carta, which should tell you much.

Featuring not one, not two, but three guys from Dream Theater, plus Tony Levin, Liquid Tension Experiment is the progressive fan’s dream band.  Granted, keyboardist Jordan Rudess wasn’t in Dream Theater yet when they did this CD, but that’s where people know him from today.  Drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci are the other driving forces behind Liquid Tension Experiment.

To use phrases like “mind blowing”, “insane”, “incredible” or “the shredder’s wet dream” don’t even begin to touch what the album Liquid Tension Experiment is about.  The liner notes by Mike Portnoy reveal that this project was assembled based on a wish list of players and their availability.  Rudess and Levin were on the list but guitarists just weren’t available, so that’s how Petrucci stepped in.  Together they had six days to write and record this album.  That it turned out so incredibly well says volumes about these guys as musicians.

Liquid Tension Experiment is not just an instrumental album with wicked playing.  The compositions are strong enough to make the album rise well above similar projects.  Magna Carta is loaded with insane projects by the best players in the world, but how many of those albums are good for repeated listenings?  The melodic and tonal sensibilities of Petrucci in particular really keep the album grounded, in a way that even lay people can enjoy.  Levin adds the Chapman Stick and a new agey flavour to the lighter material.  Check out “Osmosis” for a fine example of this.

Most of the album is heavy jammin’. It’s Mike Portnoy, and he does that so well. Together, they create a challenging sound but one with enough hooks that anyone can get into it. You might not realize how many time changes, weird chords and tempos you’re being exposed to, but you are, and you’ll be far better for it.

Together the album consists of nine songs and one spontaneous jam that exceeds 28 minutes! In fact, the tape ran out while recording, so the tail end of the song is from a DAT tape that Portnoy always runs when rehearsing. According to the notes, this piece ironically called “Three Minute Warning” was 100% improvised. “Not a single beat or note was discussed beforehand.” And no fixes or overdubs were made after the fact. It’s over 28 minutes of pure improvisation, and it came out brilliant. Everybody needs some of that in their life, to experience what pure free-form musical genius sounds like.

Must-hear pieces include “Paradigm Shift”, “Osmosis”, “Freedom of Speech” and “Universal Mind”.  It goes without saying that the 28 minute jam is essential as well.

This self-produced album also just sounds incredible.  The sonics are huge, but when the layers are peeled back, you can hear everything so clearly.  The Chapman Stick also adds a huge palette, sometimes heavier than lead and others lighter than a feather.  I’m sure the excellent audio is partly due to the mixing skills of one Kevin “Caveman” Shirley.  Don’t hesitate to pick up Liquid Tension Experiment if you see it.  There was also a second album made called 2, but this is the one to get if it crosses your path.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dream Theater – Master of Puppets (2009)

DREAM THEATER – Master of Puppets (2009 Yste Jam)

From Dream Theater’s acclaimed self-released series of covers albums, we have before us Master of Puppets.  This was recorded in Barcelona back in 2002.  Just as advertised, it’s Dream Theater doing the whole album live, in sequence, and pretty authentically too.

Dream Theater are a very different band from Metallica.  This is bound to be interesting.

The most obvious difference is that Metallica have two guitar players, while Dream Theater has one and a keyboard player.  On this, Jordan Rudess does aggressive keyboard solos where Kirk Hammett may have laid down one with his axe.  He also plays the acoustic parts on keys.  From time to time, you forget it’s a keyboard.  In short, Rudess turns the prospect of Metallica with keyboards into a lesson on forgetting your assumptions about keyboards!

James LaBrie fits the silhouette of a young James Hetfield.  He sings a convincing Metallica cover indeed!  He cuts loose and goes for it.  Metallica requires a gritty singer, going for it 110%.  LaBrie handles it.  For Dream Theater, doing these cover albums (from a wide variety of bands in fact) must be a lot of fun.  They would have the chance to sing and play in a way that isn’t the usual for them.  Guitarist John Petrucci does not often get to riff on something for five minutes straight like Metallica do.

Lars haters are naturally going to ask “What do Metallica songs sound like with a real drummer?”  Hey, I’m no Lars hater.  (He can play better than I can…)  But in answer to that question I can only respond “fucking awesome”.

Dream Theater cover Master of Puppets without drawing attention to themselves.  Mike Portnoy does not grandstand and overplay.  Nobody does.  If the effort was to do an authentic version of Puppets, as close to note for note as possible, then I say mission accomplished.  Beat for beat, this is stunningly true to the original album.  The keyboards are the most obvious deviation, and that’s minor.  In anything, Dream Theater draw attention to the fact that these are great heavy metal songs.  Are they Metallica’s best-ever set of songs?  Some prefer Kill ‘Em All, some Ride the Lightning.  Any way you slice it, Puppets is metal immortal, a very important record in anyone’s collection.  Dream Theater painstakingly learned the album front to back so they could play it live for a few thousand people.  They did that because it’s a great album on any day.

Dream Theater’s live covers albums (and many, many other releases) can be found on their own Ytse Jam Records website.  Check out the multitude of stuff available (though some are out of print now) and try not to drain your bank accounts.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Working Man (Tribute to Rush, 1996)

Scan_20160821WORKING MAN (1996 Magna Carta tribute to Rush)

This CD was released in 1996, and almost immediately the music press started reporting that Rush were trying to have it taken off the shelves.  One of our former owners at the Record Store, the infamous Tom, said:  “I can see why they were trying to do that.  Because it’s too fucking good.”

It actually is.  There are few tribute albums worth listening to all the way through.  How many can you name:  Encomium, the Zeppelin tribute?  The Sabbath tributes Nativity in Black?  Do you listen to those front to back?  That’s the best and only way to enjoy Working Man.  So numerous are the progressive rock and hard rock names here that we may have trouble keeping track of them all.

Sebastian Bach hails from the Great White North, so it is only appropriate for him to open this CD with the title track.  He also passionately stuns on “Jacob’s Ladder” a bit later on, utilising the power and range he is known for.  What names on these songs!  Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan play drums and bass respectively; two guys often cited as the best in the world on their instruments!  If that wasn’t enough, ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee shreds the hell out of “Working Man” while John Petrucci from Dream Theater goes for the throat on “Jacob’s”.  Take a minute to absorb all that.

Seamlessly, “Working Man” develops into “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” with James LaBrie of Dream Theater in peak voice.  Sheehan and Portnoy handle the rhythm for most of the album, so you can be assured that the chops of Mr. Lee and Mr. Peart are served well here by the next generation of players.  Dream Theater fans will lose their shit completely.  But there is so much more here than just progressive rockers letting it fly.  A youthful and impressive Jack Russell from Great White takes on the galloping “Analog Kid” from Signals and wins.  Have no fear or doubts: this may seem strange, but Russell’s version of “Analog Kid” may well be one of the best Rush covers you’ll ever hear.  (Especially when Billy Sheehan and guitarist Michael Romeo do a synched-up dual bass/guitar solo!)

Other highlights:

  • The late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery has no problems with “The Trees”, an excellent version.
  • Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors) takes the main guitar part for “La Villa Strangiato”, causing spontaneous head explosions.
  • Blue-eyed soul singer Eric Martin (Mr. Big) does a fine job of the light “Mission”, though it sounds very different from the shred-rock elsewhere.
  • A bang-on “Closer to the Heart” performed by Fates Warning is a must-have for fans.
  • James LaBrie and his old bandmate in Winter Rose, Rich Chycki, reunite on the classic “Red Barchetta”.  A little added Can-Con for rock fans.

And best of all, Devin Townsend screaming his balls off, all over “Natural Science”.  Without a doubt, Townsend has the most unorthodox interpretation, but it’s Devin Townsend, so you must expect the unexpected.  This guy is an underrated national treasure, and along with James Murphy (Death, Testament) on guitar, Stu Hamm on bass, and Deen Castronovo on drums, all walls are shattered.  “Natural Science” is undoubtedly the most different track here, and consequently it’s the most exciting.

The only mis-fire:

  • “Anthem”, with Mark Slaughter and George Lynch.  Slaughter’s voice is too shrill.  (I cannot handle when he shrieks “Come on!  Yeah!” at the start.)  George’s Eastern-flavoured shredding is also overdone and misplaced.

That means out of 13 tracks, 12 of them are keepers.

For an added layer of authenticity, the CD was mixed by Terry Brown himself, in Toronto.  Prices fluctuate wildly, but fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Sebastian Bach or Devin Townsend would be wise to pick this up if found in their travels.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

GUEST REVIEW: Dream Theater – The Number of the Beast (by Uncle Meat)

GUEST REVIEW by:  Uncle Meat

ST NUMBER BEAST_0003DREAM THEATER: The Number of the Beast (2002 Ytsejam Records, Covers Series)

For the most part, Dream Theater is a band you either love or you hate. Some Metal fans are put off by the keyboards perhaps, while many others find Dream Theater hard to listen to because of the effeminate tone to the voice of singer James LaBrie. On the other hand, music fans who are not into the sensibilities of progressive music would label Dream Theater as “pretentious,” or which have you. Most music fans though can appreciate the musical talent of everyone involved. They are also a very busy unit, often branching out into different projects between DT albums and tours.

While still in the band, and then after his departure from DT in 2010, Mike Portnoy has been the busiest of all the DT members. So much so, that while researching to do this review of Dream Theater’s Official Bootleg: The Number of the Beast, I was blown away with how many projects Portnoy has been a part of that I truly love. Simply said, Mike Portnoy comes off as the biggest music fan in the music business. On top of his resume of original music, his obsessively accurate tribute projects can only be pulled off by someone who is an authentic “music geek super fan”. Sound familiar, LeBrain? So yes, this review has morphed itself into a bit of a Mike Portnoy love fest. Check out this list of his accomplishments outside of Dream Theater.

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – The two studio albums with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin are fantastic albums. Their self-titled CD is one of my favorite progressive rock albums. With three subsequent live albums with that lineup and two albums with a name change to Liquid Trio Experiment, that makes seven albums with the great Tony Levin alone.

TRANSATLANTIC – Four studio albums and four live albums with this Prog super group along with Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Neal Morse(Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors) and the bassist from one of my favorite bands…Marillion…Pete Trewavas.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – After the death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, during the writing of a new album, Mike Portnoy stepped in and played drums on their 2010 CD titled Nightmare. He also joined them for a few shows over in Iran and Kuwait for American troops overseas.

ADRENALINE MOB – Two albums with this band consisting of members from Symphony X and Fozzy. I honestly do not think I have heard it so can’t say much really.

FLYING COLORS – One studio album and one live album playing with my favorite musician of all time… Steve Morse. Consisting of Neal Morse again and others, including the incredible Steve Morse Band bassist Dave LaRue. Maybe you should just read LeBrain’s review of this band right “here”.

WINERY DOGS – With a more straight ahead rock and roll approach, the Winery Dogs is his current gig with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen.  [Check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review hereLeBrain]

And that’s just the original music he has been a part of. He has gone to great lengths to put together live shows recreating the concerts of, and playing the music of, his favorite drummers. He has arranged one for Led Zeppelin called Hammer of the Gods. He has also done one for Rush called Cygnus & the Sea Monsters. I actually learned about these while researching the review that I haven’t even got around to yet (yes this has become a much larger project than initially thought), so I am curious to search these out. You should be as well. The one I can comment on is his Beatles tribute called Yellow Matter Custard, named from a lyric within the song “I Am the Walrus”.

Consisting of Matt Bissonette, Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse and himself, this unit recreates what it would have been like to see The Beatles live. A lot of the songs were never played by the Beatles live. I listened to this with a good friend of mine who himself is a great musician and huge Beatles fan. Listening to it brought the Beatles super-fan out of him, most especially loving the somewhat obscure tracks performed live by the band. I highly recommend checking this out if you are a Beatles fan. So that pretty much means everyone.

 

 

ST NUMBER BEAST_0002I can’t believe I am now just starting the intended review, but here goes. In 2002, while touring for the album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater went on a short club tour in Europe where they played a different album in its entirety, track for track. Among the albums covered in this tour were Master of Puppets – Metallica, Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd and Made in Japan – Deep Purple. (Who covers a live album? And one of my favorite live albums of all time? Dream Theater does, that’s who).

On October 24, 2002 DT played a small club called La Mutualite in Paris, France. The album on the menu that night was The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. From the sound of the enthusiastic crowd you can clearly hear throughout the album, this was a well-appreciated re-creation of one of the greatest Metal albums of all time.

The show starts off with album opener “Invaders”. My first impression was how great it sounded. Lively version and a thick guitar sound. Another thing I quickly realized is this: say what you want about James LaBrie and his effeminate style. Not many singers, including Bruce Dickinson himself can sing these songs live. I have seen Iron Maiden play several of these songs live, and even in a reduced key it is a struggle for Dickinson to sing the songs how they are recorded on the album. The opening track just left me looking forward to the rest of the set.

“Children of the Damned” was a joy to listen to, again mostly because of the vocals. This is probably his best singing on the album. Bruce Dickinson would have to get himself on a Lance Armstrong-like drug program to ever have a chance of singing this song in this key again. This song is also where I first really noted one of the truly great and original things about this album. Iron Maiden is a classic two-guitar fueled machine. DT is doing this with one guitar and a keyboard. Check out the twin guitar/keyboard solo in this song and hear throughout as the guitar and keyboard trade solos. A magnificent treat for the ears and surprisingly seamlessly done.

The crowd revs up as the classic Patrick McGoohan intro to “The Prisoner” plays as it is on the album. Chanting along with the intro just before Portnoy launches into the classic Clive Burr drum beat, this makes for a great listen, hearing the energy of the crowd and their appreciation of this show. Awesome version as well I must say.

“22 Acacia Avenue” is another track that is a treat to hear live. Live favorites “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” follow. These two Heavy Metal anthems go over with the crowd extremely well as you would think they would. A case could be made that these back to back songs are the two most popular Iron Maiden songs of all time. Agreed? Discuss….

Coming next is their amazing version of “Gangland”. This is easily the most ambitious moment of the show. Kind of making the song their own, they begin the song off as a piano ballad and then make a left turn and turn it into a progressive, almost jazz fusion-ish groove as the song closes out. Absolutely brilliant and is probably my favorite track on the album. The show ends with a perfect version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and the performance is over.

This is not just re-hashing of a great album. This was a well thought out and rehearsed celebration of this album, allowing true Maiden fans to hear what these songs may have sounded like when the album was toured in the 80’s. A friend of mine scoffed at the idea of DT covering this album and I may have shared some of his trepidation before I heard this recording. After listening to it now several times it has become obvious that this is not only a very relevant capturing of Number of the Beast, but it makes a very simple statement. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the players in Dream Theater have a higher level of musicianship than really any of their peers in popular music. And as listed earlier, it seems that everything Mike Portnoy does comes from the heart of just another music fan like you and I. So who is gonna come along and play one of Dream Theater’s albums track for track? Well Dream Theater of course. Who else possibly could? Good luck with that, Three Days Grace.

5/5 stars

Part 268 / REVIEW: “Lie”

Part 2 of a 2 part series.  For yesterday’s part, a review of the AWAKE album, click here.

Not only is this Part 2 of the Dream Theater review, but also a nice way to introduce THE WEEK OF SINGLES 2!  From Monday through Saturday, we’ll be taking a look at some rare singles.  Today’s is Dream Theater’s “Lie”.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 268: Lie

DREAM THEATER – “Lie”:  This single was given to me by a customer named Ed. He was one of my earliest customers, very much intro progressive rock and heavy metal. He was a couple years older than me, with ginger hair and big big “Bubbles” glasses.

I had seen a copy in Toronto, at the big HMV store at 333 Yonge St. For whatever stupid reason, I chose to pass on it. Maybe it was the price. When I got back to Kitchener, I tried to order a copy from Encore Records but they reported to me that it was deleted. I then tried to order it from Amazon.com, who had it on back order for months before they too told me they could not get any more.

There were a couple good reasons to need this single:

1. The unreleased bonus track “To Live Forever”.

2. The hard to find live track “Another Day” which was only on the very rare (very expensive) Japanese release of the Live at the Marquee EP.

While discussing Dream Theater albums with Ed one day in ’97, I explained my frustration at not owning this single.

“I have two copies,” Ed said. “I bought it when it came out, and there were two CDs in the same case.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Any chance you want to let one go?”

“I’ll think about it,” Ed said. “I don’t have two cases, just two CDs, and I don’t need the second one.”

“I’ll be happy to take that off your hands,” I answered.

Ed did indeed give me his extra copy of the CD. Even without the case and cover art, I was satisfied. I bought an empty 2 CD case to put my copy of Awake in, with the “Lie” single as a “bonus CD”. Not exactly the ideal for a collector like me, but it’s an original physical CD copy and that’ll do.

DT_0002“To Live Forever” was an obvious choice as a B-side, in comparison to the better tracks on Awake. It’s similar to, but not as spectacular as the mellow songs like “Lifting Shadows” or “Innocence Faded”. The live “Another Day” on the other hand is every bit as good as the Live at the Marquee CD. This single saves me from having to track down a Japanese copy!  Thanks, Dream Theater.

From the album itself comes the incredible Kevin Moore song “Space-Dye Vest”.  As mentioned in yesterday’s review, that is my favourite song from Awake.  It defies categorizing, and it has a dark but glowing soul.  Also included is the single version of “Lie”, which is nice if you plan on making a mix CD.  The album track didn’t lend itself well to that, since it melds into other songs on the album.

I don’t know what happened to Ed. He’d mentioned he was losing interest in rock music. I guess that can happen, inconceivable as it is to me!  He bought a bit of classical stuff, but I stopped seeing him towards the end.  Maybe Ed will stumble upon this blog, and I can thank him again for this great CD single.

Thanks Ed.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dream Theater – Awake (1994)

Part 1 of a 2 part series.

DT_0001DREAM THEATER – Awake (1994)

Awake has stood the test of time.  In 1994 it was considered a commercial failure by the record label, in comparison to Images and Words.  In 2014, it is still my favourite Dream Theater album.  It is a lot of people’s favourite Dream Theater album, for its songs, complexity and aggression.  It was also the final album to feature keyboardist and cofounder Kevin Moore.  Moore had become increasingly more interested in samples, and you can hear that all over Awake.  It is all the stronger for it.

Awake feels like a natural progression from Images and Words.  Sonically it’s similar, and there’s no mistaking that it’s the same band.  Awake is infinitely more complex, less commercial, and more ambitious.  Clocking in at 75 minutes (a very fast 75 minutes), Awake was more epic than anything Dream Theater had attempted in the past.  It was also heavier.  James LaBrie’s vocals are more aggressive in delivery, and the album as a whole is more pedal-to-the-metal.

While Awake is not a concept album, it does have recurring lyrical and musical themes.  The melody from “Space-Dye Vest” (written solely by Moore) appears elsewhere on the album, and there are a few multi-song suites as well.  You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a concept album.  In fact Awake holds together much better than some lesser concept albums by other artists.

DT_0003

Challenging, heavy arrangements include the opening “6:00” which introduced Kevin Moore’s propensity for samples.  I don’t know if the dialogue on the album is movie dialogue, or original material recorded for the album.  Regardless, it’s effective and the dialogue complements the song.  “The Mirror” and “Scarred” are also challenging, but rewarding to listen to.

There are more melodic songs, nothing as immediate as Images and Words, but still excellent:  “Caught In A Web”, “Innocence Faded”, “The Silent Man” and “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” are all personal favourites.  “Caught In A Web” was selected as the second single, but failed to make an impact.

One of the strongest, and certainly the angriest song, is “Lie” which was the first single.  I remember seeing the video on a program called “The Box”.  I was shocked that Dream Theater had gone for such a heavy first single, but I was impressed nonetheless.  “Lie” remains one of my favourite DT songs of all time.  It was built from the groove up, and lyrically it’s angry as hell!

This is the edit version from the single

The best song on the album is Moore’s “Space-Dye Vest”.  I don’t know what a space-dye vest is, but the title works with the song.  Based on piano, samples, and a haunting vocal melody, this is the most unique Dream Theater song that I can think of.   I think I can safely say that this one song is my favourite, even over “Lie”.  The band revealed that they would not have put it on the album had they known Moore would leave later that year.  The song was his baby, the others had no hands in its writing.

I’m not sure I would recommend Awake as the first Dream Theater album for somebody to try, but it should be tried by anyone curious about this band.  It has had a huge impact on me, and I hope it can do the same for you.

5/5 stars

Tomorrow, a look at the single “Lie” and its B-sides…

GUEST SHOT: 30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit) Part 3

Meat is back for the final installment of his essential list:  30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit).

Missed any?

Here’s Part 1.  

Part 2 is here.

And make no mistake, Meat wrote every word.  No messing around from me.  Enjoy!

PET SOUNDS   –  THE BEACH BOYS (1966)

When The Beatles released Rubber Soul in 1965, Brian Wilson heard something that inspired him to try and make his own masterpiece.  The result was Pet Sounds, which saw The Beach Boys discard their typical surf-inspired ditties and create an album that will always be a classic.  I remember when I first heard this album I was completely blown away that it was a 1966 album.  The overall sound of it is so full and rich, and it’s funny how everyone thinks The Beatles main influence for Sgt. Peppers was drug-related, and I am sure it was, but that classic would never have been without this classic album first.  Do yourself a favour and re-discover The Beach Boys by checking this out.

 

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE  –  QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE (1998)

There are a lot of people that think that the QOTSA album Rated R, is the band’s first release.  In all reality it is their third release if you count the Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age EP. However, it is a shame that this album has been somewhat overlooked.  I think it is by far their best album.  To gauge just how much I got into this album could never be measured.  For years, I stated that this album was my favorite album ever with distortion.  Now trust me I realize the exaggeration in that statement (I have since relented) but it doesn’t take away how brilliant I believe this album truly is.   This is a true collection of groovy rock songs, so much so that QOTSA could have titled this album exactly that.  I have not been a fan of the last few QOTSA albums, and frankly I wish they could harness this approach once again.  Check out the included track “Avon”.  An absolute air-drumming seminar at its finest!!

 

ROXY & ELSEWHERE  –  FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS (1974)

One of the albums previously on this list, Joe Jackson’s Big World, was a live album containing new material.  Considering the content of this particular album, that format was never more impressive or more challenging than Zappa’s album Roxy & Elsewhere.   From beginning to end, it’s hard to believe the complexity of what was happening onstage during these recordings.  From the colourful vocals of Napoleon Murphy Brock, to the guitar-fueled madness of Zappa himself, this is my personal favorite of all of Zappa’s recordings.  Songs like “Pygmy Twilite” and “Village of the Sun” are absolute genius.  The concert film of these recordings is STILL in limbo for whatever reason.  Included is a clip of the song “Montana”, recorded during these sessions but not included on the album itself.

 

 

SCENES FROM A MEMORY-METROPOLIS 2  –  DREAM THEATER (1999)

I simply couldn’t do a list like this without including Dream Theater.   I like heavy music and I like progressive music.  This band combines those two qualities perhaps better than any band ever has, and on this album its done to perfection.  This is your classic “concept album” and tells an interesting story that needs to be experienced.  But the true experience of this album is that it is a piece of song-writing and musical brilliance.  If you have seen Rush’s biopic Beyond The Lighted Stage,   you might recognize the now-familiar voice of long-time Rush producer Terry Brown (who also produced the vocals on this album).   The album sees John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy at their monster best and requires many listens to truly appreciate.  I am not a “Rolling Stone” magazine guy myself, but it does say something that in 2012 they named this album as the Number One all-time progressive album, beating out Rush’s 2112 and Yes’s  Close to The Edge.

THE ACTION IS GO  –  FU MANCHU (1997)

This album starts off with a bang, it also ends with a bang and actually this album is just one big resounding rhythmic bang.  After a few good, but not great albums (in my opinion), new drummer Brant Bjork was brought into Fu Manchu.  This would result in one of the greatest “Stoner-Rock” albums of all time.  This is literally the perfect driving album.  Sometimes you find yourself emulating driving just sitting and listening to it.   You can hear a huge Sabbath influence on this album, at least in the sound of the instruments and the driving low end.  Sometimes the vocals can leave a bit to be desired, but it is not really singing in the first place.  Almost sounds like a dude talkin’ to himself, which adds to the coolness of this album.  One of my favorite albums of the 1990’s indeed.

WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY  –  KYUSS (1994)

Somewhere around early 1995, I walked into a Sunrise Records where Tom (Tom has been mentioned many times in Mike’s blogs) was working.  At this point Tom and I only really knew each other from local concerts we would run into each other at.  The second I walked in he begged me to check out this Kyuss album on the listening station.  I remember the look on his face when I didn’t instantly “get it”.  Years later I had to bow to him and thank him for trying to open my eyes earlier.  No one knows how to set a mood quite like Kyuss.  The last album listed was Brant Bjork’s first album with Fu Manchu.  This album is the last Kyuss album featuring Brant Bjork on drums.  No coincidence here.  This man knows how to wash songs with a subtle intensity.  Check out the song “Demon Cleaner” sometime, with Josh Homme singing and see how Queens of the Stone Age were born.  This album has been listed as a major influence for many of the heavy metal greats of the day.

 

WHALE MUSIC  –  THE RHEOSTATICS (1994)

The Rheostatics are definitely one of my favorite bands of all time, and the artist I have seen live the most in my life.  Any band that calls their first album Greatest Hits obviously has a good sense of humour.  There really is no album that quite captures “Canadiana” quite like Whale Music.  Not to be confused with the later-released official soundtrack of the same name, this album ranges from the sweet to the insane.  Take the song “Queer” for example.  “Well the screen door is still broken, since you kicked your Kodiaks through it” and “I scored a hat trick on the team that called you a fuckin’ queer”, are lyrics that paint a Canadian portrait of everyday life.  I love this album and frequently re-visit it only to find it gets better with age.  Notable appearances on this album are Neil Peart on a song called “Guns” and The Barenaked Ladies (credited as The Scarborough Naked Youth Choir).   Included here is the amazing opening track.  Check it out eh ….

WHITE PEPPER  –  WEEN (2000)

Simply put, this is my favorite “Pop” album of all time.  I am not a Ween fan per se. I cannot say I have actually connected strongly with any of their other albums.  But when this album was introduced to me, it grabbed a hold of me and it will never let go.  First of all, the sound on this album is absolutely wonderful.  Second of all, the melodies on this album (with sprinkles of Ween weirdness of course) are something very reminiscent of The Beatles.  I have always tagged this album as their “Beatles tribute”, and it was pointed out to me by a friend that “The White Album? Sgt. Peppers?  White Pepper?”. Now I have not read that in fact that is what the name truly means, but I think that is a very good guess.  I have played this album for a few musician friends of mine and the result is pretty much the same across the board.  White Pepper  simply “hooks” you in, it is that simple. Check out the Trey Parker and Matt Stone directed video for “Even If You Don’t” included here.

 

UNCHAINED  –  JOHNNY CASH (1996)

I was working at the “Record Store Chain” Ladano blogs about when I was first introduced to this album.  It was instantly a revelation of what I do actually like about Country Music, and was the reason I became a fan of the older-style albums of the genre.   Not enough can be said about the genius of Rick Rubin.  The man who changed the careers of Slayer, The Beastie Boys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers got a hold of Johnny Cash and re-introduced him as the icon he always was.  Hiring Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers as the backing band for the second American Recordings Johnny Cash release was a stroke of brilliance.  The opening track “Rowboat” sees Cash cover a Beck song and make it his own.  “Sea of Heartbreak” is a melodic ass-kicker.  Everyone by now knows of the genius cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage”,  so good in fact that for a long period of time Chris Cornell refused to play it live stating “It’s not our song anymore.  It’s Johnny’s now”.  No album of this genre has ever sounded bigger, if not any genre.  A must have album.

VS.  –  PEARL JAM (1993)

This album had to be included on this list.  I understand that everyone looks at Pearl Jam’s  first album as this massive crowning achievement, but frankly I didn’t get it then and I really still don’t.  Their second album I think is the best album of their career and probably my favorite “Grunge” album ever.  Every song on this album is a classic to me and it does seem weird to call an album that was a Number One album on Billboard for five weeks straight “underrated”.  But I truly do feel this album gets overlooked and that’s a shame.  I find Ten to be kind of boring and redundant to be honest.  This album is still fresh to me.   I hope when it’s all said and done that this album is what truly defines them.