John Regan

REVIEW: Four By Fate – Relentless (2017)

FOUR BY FATE – Relentless (2017 The End)

“Supergroups” are everywhere these days.  Four By Fate is best known for its former members of Frehley’s Comet:  Tod Howarth and John Regan.  When they first formed, they also contained drummer Stet Howland (W.A.S.P.) and guitar master Sean Kelly.  Pat Gasperini replaced Kelly, and A.J. Pero played drums on half the album before his untimely death.  The band was completed by ex-Skid Row skinsman Rob Affuso.

Relentless is a beefy album, with 13 tracks including a handful of covers.  The opener is John Waite’s “These Times Are Hard For Lovers” (co-written by maestro Desmond Child), and it’s decent.  Frehley’s Comet fans will recognise Howarth’s lead vocals, though this band is harder than the Comet.  Blasting through “Moonshine” and “Hangin’ On”, they got a nice heavy drum sound.  It’s  good to hear Affuso on an album again.  Track four, “Levee Breach” is the first of six with A.J. Pero.  It’s a little like a Stone Temple Pilots clone.

The next cover is a remake of “It’s Over Now” from the Comet’s 1988 album Second Sighting.  Nothing is ever as good as the original, but if you wanted a heavier version of that power ballad, here ya go.  (You can really hear those low piano keys.)  Onto “Follow Me”, another one that sounds grungy.  They went with such a “modern” sound on this album.  Some might have expected more influences from the pop-smart 80s, the era most of these guys were rockin’.

“On My Own” has a cool Howarth riff and some befitting hooks.  Grunge emerges again on “I Give”, and a partly acoustic song called “Don’t Know” is similarly dark and out of the 90s.  Relentless almost sounds like an album written in 1994 or 1995, and not recorded until 2017.  Then suddenly, “Back in the 80’s” has a Dio-like chug, and of course A.J. Pero on drums.  Then it’s “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo”, a really fun Derringer cover.  They close the album on a strange patriotic ballad (two versions) called “Amber Waves”

The strength in Relentless is the musicianship.  Howarth and Gasperini make a formidable guitar team, and we all know the reputations of guys like A.J. Pero and Rob Affuso.  Musically, Four By Fate can face off against the big boys.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Milwaukee Live ’87 (2015)

scan_20161014ACE FREHLEY’S COMET – Milwaukee Summerfest Live 1987 (2015 Echoes radio broadcast)

In 1987, Ace Frehley had just begun his comeback.  He recorded a well received debut as Frehley’s Comet, with a notable appearance by drummer par excellence Anton Fig.  Anton had been working steadily for the Letterman show since 1986 and so was not on the tour this CD was captured from.   This version of the Comet featured new drummer Billy Ward.  They were recorded live in Milwaukee at Summerfest on June 29th of that year.  It was taped for broadcast and somehow survived.  Live radio broadcast CDs are so common now that you can even find them at Walmart.  Some are worth the cash, others less so.  A Frehley’s Comet broadcast from the first tour is automatically interesting to Kiss collectors.

Unfortunately what buyers will discover is that this CD is a harsh chore to listen to.  Vocals are back in the mix, bass way up front, and there is a thin haze of staticky air over it.  Ace’s perennial opener, “Rip It Out” (from his 1978 solo album) is but a shadow of the better produced version on the Live + 1 EP.  This is through no fault of the band, featuring mainstay bassist John Regan, singer/guitarist Tod Howarth, and Ward.

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Ace sings lead on most of the material, but Tod Howarth has a couple songs from the first Comet LP.  “Something Moved” and “Breakout” (co-written by the late Eric Carr) are fast paced action, while “Calling to You” is anthemic pop rock.  Howarth was in excellent voice that night, this much is certain.  Ace sings a handful of Kiss tunes as well as solo and Comet material.  Gene Simmons originally sang “Cold Gin”, but Ace took it back for himself by singing it live.  At the same time, Kiss were also playing “Cold Gin” live (a song Ace wrote) and fans will have to decide who pulled it off best.  Ace even tackles “Deuce”, a song Gene wrote.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

It really is a shame that the audio hampers the listening experience.  It sounds like a legitimately great Ace performance.  Having a guy like Howarth in the band enabled Ace to have multiple lead singers like Kiss did.  On the Kiss covers, Howarth takes the Paul Stanley role.  Billy Ward and John Regan make the songs a little more complex rhythmically than the Kiss originals, but Ace also adds in new and extended solos.  The end results are enhanced, Ace-ified covers.  No notable tracks are missing; it is a really solid set list of Ace Frehley classics.

There are some who will happily purchase anything with Ace’s name on it (guilty!) and there are others who can live without.  Decide who you are and spend your money appropriately.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Loaded Deck (1998)

Part 8 of a 9 part series on Ace Frehley.  So close to the end now!   Did you miss any?

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ACE FREHLEY – Loaded Deck (1998 Megaforce Worldwide)

So then an other odds n’ sods disc from John Regan of Frehley’s Comet arrived.  Like 12 Picks, this one also came with an Ace guitar pick.  The most appealing songs in this collection are the unreleased tracks “One Plus One” and “Give It To Me Anyway”.  Both are complete Frehley’s Comet songs, produced by Eddie Kramer.  My respected reviewer friend Jon holds these songs above many that made it onto the actual albums.

“One Plus One” is an excellent commercial rocker with that Ace “quirk” to it.  This one might have been cut from 1987’s Frehley’s Comet album because it was considered too pop.  That’s a shame because it’s great.  Tod Howarth’s high backing vocal complements Ace’s lead for maximum hooks.  I love it.  This song is addictive.

“Give It To Me Anyway” is one of the oldest Comet songs, dating back to 1985, recorded for 1989’s Trouble Walkin’, and left unreleased.   This is a tough, funky rocker, musically ambitious.  Anton Fig’s avalanches of drum fills are always soothing, but Richie Scarlet’s raspy vocals are the real hook.  Not that the chorus is bad either!

After these two valuable now-classics, Regan throws on three Frehley also-rans that didn’t make it onto the prior 12 Picks compilation.  They are Ace’s excellent cover of The Move/ELO’s “Do Ya”, Tod Howarth’s ballad “It’s Over Now”, and “Shot Full Of Rock” from Trouble Walkin’.  I like all three songs, but I question the wisdom of including “It’s Over Now” on this compilation.  Ace didn’t write it, didn’t sing on it, didn’t play the guitar solo…

A smattering of live tracks makes up the next section of the CD.  Some of these are from the Live + 4 VHS release, others are from the same gig that the Live + 1 EP was recorded at.  “Stranger In A Strange Land” (from Frehley’s Comet) is from this show, and has Anton Fig on drums.  Not the greatest song but you can actually hear where it would fit into Live + 1 (right before “Something Moved”).  Up next is “Separate” which Ace introduced as “Separate the Men from the Boys”.  I’ve admitted to liking the song, but this is especially cool as this is the very first performance of it.  I dig the vocal and Ace’s chugging guitar and I think it actually works live, surprisingly.

LOADED DECK_0004Tod Howarth…I’m sorry dude…you suck at introducing songs.  I wish you said nothing in front of “New York Groove”.  You’re no Paul Stanley, believe me.  I ain’t gonna “clap those hands”.  Thankfully the performance of the song is great, even if Jamie Oldaker butchers the drum part.  “Rock Soldiers” is once again back to the Anton Fig lineup, and this time Ace does the intro himself.  You can immediately tell it’s a different drummer, it’s like night and day.  “Remember Me” is the last of the live tracks, and though it’s presented live, it’s the same version that is on Trouble Walkin’.

The final two songs are parts 2 and 3 of the “Fractured” tetralogy (though in 1998 still a trilogy).  Part one, of course, was on Ace’s 1978 solo album, which is considered part of the Kiss catalog.  Therefore, John Regan wouldn’t have been able to use it on Loaded Deck.  It’s fine…a bit of a cop out way to end a compilation album I think.  To me, it feels like, “We’re all out of good songs so here’s two instrumentals.”  For the casual fan, it’s a “blah” ending.  For the die-hards, well, we already have these songs…part one included…and could make our own tapes with all of them, should we desire to experience them like that.  I’ve never had that compulsion.  They were all individual album closers, that felt right ending the albums in that context.  Together, it doesn’t work for me.

Sometimes a compilation leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  If it’s a disjointed listening experience, I’m less likely to return to that compilation.  Loaded Deck gets fewer plays in my collection than 12 Picks does.  Even though they are meant to complement each other, like two discs of a double anthology, I think 12 Picks is a better album experience.

What Regan should have done is make an album of just the unreleased studio and live songs, without the stuff we already had on the studio albums.  Megaforce figured that out, and in 2006 issued Greatest Hits Live, a compilation of these two compilations.  After we already bought said compilations.  Awesome.

2/5 stars for the album, just go ahead and get Greatest Hits Live instead.

REVIEW: A World With Heroes – A KISS Tribute for Cancer Care – A 40th Anniversary Celebration (2013)

Part 7.5 in my series on Ace Frehley, sorta!  Plenty of Ace related coolness here.  For the last part of the Ace series, 12 Picks, click here.

A World With Heroes – A KISS Tribute for Cancer Care – A 40th Anniversary Celebration

Cancer sucks.  Kiss rules.  Agreed?  Buy this CD.

Mitch Lafon executive produced this sucker, and I suspect that means a hell of a lot of work.  I have never in my travels discovered a cooler Kiss tribute album.  Do you really need to buy another Kiss tribute album?  Do you?  Yes, you do.  Why?  For the following reasons:

  • IMG_00000937Profits benefit the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Palliative Care Residence in Hudson, Quebec.
  • Obscure track selections.
  • Rare Kiss related gems, such as two Peter Criss Band demos with Phil Naro.
  • New Brighton Rock!  Finally.
  • Superstar performers including Mark Tornillo of Accept, Russ Dwarf, Don Dokken, Bonfire, Sean Kelly, Vinny Appice, L.A. Guns, Doro, and many more.
  • Members of the Kiss family including Eric Carr, Peter Criss, Frehley’s Comet (minus Frehley), Bob Kulick and Phil Naro.

I can’t say enough good things about this compilation.  Upon first sight, it had enough rarities from artists I liked, as well as Kiss obscurities, to make it a must-have.  Hearing it, I’m blown away repeatedly.  It is a heady brew of hits and deep, deep cuts.  Since there are 51 tracks in total, I can’t go into too much detail.  I’ll point out some personal favourite moments.

I’m a huge fan of the Revenge album, and I’m a huge fan of Accept.  Hearing Mark Tornillo do his thing through “Spit” was awesome.   I think the man’s vocal cords must be made of steel or something for him to sing like that.  I also loved “Sure Know Something”, although I don’t know Chris Buck & Anthony Cardenas Montana.  It’s a slinky version, very true to the original but with a Rod Stewart vibe.  Jeff Paris does a pretty authentic “Shout Mercy” and I give him full points for doing a Monster tune, the newest Kiss song on A World With Heroes.

I’ve loved Brighton Rock since I was a kid, but I never expected them to unplug “Creatures of the Night”.  This twist takes a moment to get used to, but their haunting arrangement is very original and cool!  “Larger Than Life” from Alive II is revisited by Brian Tichy and friends, and they do it pretty straight to the original, almost lick for lick.  It’s great.  I love that Ron Young from Little Caesar sings “Little Caesar”, a nice wink and a smile there.  A band called Shredmill contribute their original song “Outerspace”…which was later covered by Ace Frehley on his Anomaly album (giving himself a writing credit).  Shredmill’s version is more Danzig, where Ace’s was more Ace.

On the second CD, surprises and highlights continue.  Ron Keel and friends from Tesla and Cinderella knock it out of the park on “Rock N’ Roll Hell”, with a nod at the start to Keel’s own “The Right To Rock”.  Rick Hughes of Quebec metal masters Sword helps blow the doors off “The Oath”, a favourite from The Elder.  The L.A. Guns guys (Phil Lewis included) tackle the difficult “Master & Slave” from Carnival of Souls, and it smokes.  They do it authentic to the grungy original but with Phil’s snarky vocals.

As a Killer Dwarfs fan, I’m always pleased to hear Russ Dwarf’s nasally twang, and he turns in a decent “Hard Luck Woman”.  (Meanwhile, another bunch of L.A. Guns guys did their own version on disc one.)  Bonfire contribute a live version of Paul Stanley’s unreleased song “Sword & Stone”, from their Live at Wacken CD.  I don’t really know who American Dog are, but I love that they covered the Paul Stanley version of “God of Thunder”, not the Gene Simmons take from Destroyer.  They do it the speedy rocked-up way that Paul originally demoed.  Jim Crean does justice to “Magic Touch”.  He’s almost Joe Lynn Turner style on this one.

A WORLD WITH_0001The second CD ends with two takes of “Beth” (Chris VanDahl sounding like the hoarse Peter Criss on Alive II, and Phil Naro).  This is in addition to Michael Lardie’s (Great White) version on disc one.  Naro’s is easily the best of the three.

But wait, that’s not all, folks.  iTunes are selling a 51 track version of A World With Heroes, including 11 exclusives.  Thankfully, you can buy these exclusives separately if you already bought the CD (like I did).  Once again, highlights are many.  Doro contributes a 2013 re-recording of “Only You”, which she had a previous hit with back in 1990.  Russ Dwarf returns with an outstanding “God Gave Rock and Roll To You II”.  There are two previously unreleased demos by the Peter Criss Band with Phil Naro.  These feature Peter on drums, but believe me, you can hear that it is the Cat Man and no one else.  In addition, there’s a third song from this period, but recorded by Phil in 2013.  There is also a second version of “Larger Than Life”, this time by somebody called Robot Lords Of Tokyo.  I don’t know who Robot Lords Of Tokyo are, but I love “Larger Than Life” and I have no problem with another version of it.  This one’s done quite differently, and heavier too.

But wait!  There’s still more!  Pledgers who pre-ordered the CD got four bonus tracks.  I missed the boat on these, and you can’t get them anymore.  I’m bummed about that, but for the sake of completion, the four bonus tracks are:

  1. ‘Calling Dr. Love’ – Performed by: Crash Kelly
  2. ‘Comin’ Home’ – Performed by: Sudden Flames
  3. ‘Heaven’s On Fire’ – Performed by: The Feckers (ft. Irene Slade)
  4. ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ Performed by: Alain Pernot

I’d love to have these, especially Crash Kelly, but alas.  The project is still awesome and worth your coins.  Especially if you’re a self respecting Kiss fan.  Get it.

5/5 stars

EDIT:  I now have the tracks.  Crash Kelly’s is awesome!  Fun and awesome.

Disc 1:

  1. ‘Psycho Circus’ – Performed by: DDRIVE (Phil Naro, Don Mancuso, Dave Sessions, Jt Taylor & Bobby Bond)
  2. ‘Spit’ – Performed by: Ken Dubman, Jimmy Callahan, Scott Metaxas, & Mark Tornillo
  3. ‘Deuce’ – Performed by: Bill Leverty, Kevin Valentine, John Regan, & Russ Dwarf
  4. ‘Sure Know Something’ – Performed by: Chris Buck & Anthony Cardenas Montana
  5. ‘Detroit Rock City’ – Performed by: Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Rex Brown & Brian Tichy
  6. ‘Eyes Of Love’ – Performed by: Eric Carr, Benny Doro & John Humphrey
  7. ‘Shout Mercy’ – Performed by: Jeff Paris, Troy Lucketta, Eric Brittingham Jeff Labar
  8. ‘Creatures Of The Night’ – Performed by: BRIGHTON ROCK
  9. ‘Larger Than Life’ – Performed by: Rex Brown, Brian Tichy & Mark Zavon
  10. ‘Cold Gin’ – Performed by: Don Dokken & Tommy Denander
  11. ‘Love Gun’ – Performed by: Tony Harnell, Mark Kendall, Scott Snyder, Sean Michael Clegg, Kevin Valentine & Tommy Denander
  12. ‘Little Caesar’ – Performed by: Ron Young, John Regan & Tommy Denander
  13. ‘Hard Luck Woman’ – Performed by: Chris VanDahl, Stacey Blades & Adam Hamilton
  14. ‘Outerspace’ – Original demo later covered by Ace Frehley on his Anomaly album – Performed by: SHREDMILL (David Askew, Jesus Mendez Jr, Jaime Moreno)
  15. ‘Goodbye’ – Performed by: IMPERIA & BOB KULICK (J.K.Impera, Matti Alfonzetti, Tommy Denander & Mats Vassfjord) – Additional Guitars by Lars Chriss
  16. ‘See You Tonight’ – Performed by: TODD FARHOOD & MYSTERY (Todd Farhood, Michel St-Pere, Sylvain Moineau, Jean-Sébastien Goyette, Francois Fournier & Benoit Dupuis)
  17. ‘Beth’ – The Grand Piano Version – Performed by: Michael Lardie
  18. ‘Tomorrow’ – Performed by: DRESSED TO CHILL (Matt Bradshaw, Rav Thomas & Rhys Lett)
  19. ‘Anything For My Baby’ – Performed by: SLAVES ON DOPE (Kevin Jardine, Jason Rockman, Seb Ducap & Peter Tzaferis)
  20. ‘Unholy’ – Performed by: Fred Duvall, Glenn Belcher, Mark Slaughter (Guitar Solo), Rob Zakojc & Russ Dwarf

Disc 2:

  1. ‘Breakout’ – Performed by: Tod Howarth, John Regan & Kevin Valentine
  2. ‘Rock N Roll Hell’ – Performed by: Ron Keel, Troy Lucketta, Eric Brittingham & Jeff Labar
  3. ‘Nowhere To Run’ – Performed by: DRUCKFARBEN (Phil Naro, Ed Bernard, William Hare, Troy Feener & Peter Murray)
  4. ‘The Oath’ – Performed by: Rick Hughes, Chris Buck & Bob Richards
  5. ‘Master & Slave’ – Performed by: Adam Hamilton, Scott Griffin, Stacey Blades & Phil Lewis
  6. ‘Calling Dr.Love’ – Performed by: BURNING RAIN (Keith St John, Doug Aldrich, Sean McNabb & Matt Starr)
  7. ‘I Stole Your Love’ – Performed by: S.U.N. (Brian Thomas Tichy, Sass Jordan & Tommy Stewart) With Derek Sharp (Of The Guess Who)
  8. ‘Reason To Live’ – Performed by: Johnnie Dee & Derry Grehan of HONEYMOON SUITE with Michael Foster & Bill Leverty of FIREHOUSE
  9. ‘Hard Luck Woman’ – Performed by: Fred Duvall, Glenn Belcher, Rob Zakojc & Russ Dwarf
  10. ‘Forever’ – Performed by: Terry Ilous, Sean Kelly With Jeff Paris.
  11. ‘Sword And Stone’ – Taken From Bonfire Live In Wacken – Performed by: BONFIRE (Claus Lessmann, Hans Ziller, Chris Limburg, Uwe KöHler, Harry Reischmann)
  12. ‘God Of Thunder’ – Performed by: AMERICAN DOG (Michael Hannon, Steve Theado & Keith Pickens)
  13. ‘She’ – Performed by: RAZER (Chris Powers, Chris Catero, Jordan Ziff, Paul Sullivan, Eric Bongiorno & Chuck Alkazian)
  14. ‘New York Groove’ – Performed by: SLAVES ON DOPE (Kevin Jardine, Jason Rockman, , Elizabeth Lopez & Peter Tzaferis With Marty O’Brien)
  15. ‘Magic Touch’ – Performed by: Jim Crean, Phil Naro, Vinny Appice, Steve Major & Stan Miczek
  16. ‘Tears Are Falling’ – Performed by: Willie Basse, Bruce Bouillet, Scott Warren & Mike Hansen.
  17. ‘Rock N Roll All Nite’ – Performed by: Harley Fine, John Regan & Atom Fellows
  18. ‘Shandi’ – Performed by: Dani Luv, Scott Griffin & Matt Starr
  19. ‘Beth – Bonus Track’ – Performed by: Chris Vandahl & Scott Griffin.
  20. ‘Beth – Bonus Track’ – Performed by: Phil Naro, William Hare & Ed Bernard

iTunes exclusives:

  1. ‘No, I’m Not Afraid’ (Previously Unreleased Peter Criss Band Demo from 1991) – Performed by Peter Criss and Phil Naro
  2. ‘Wait For A Minute To Rock N’ Roll’ (Previously Unreleased Peter Criss Band Demo from 1991) – Performed by Peter Criss and Phil Naro
  3. ‘Back On The Streets’ (2013 Mix originally from Return of the Comet) – Performed by Richie Scarlet, John Regan, Tod Howarth, Arthur Stead & Steve Werner (The Comet Band)
  4. ‘Only You’ (2013 Recording) – Performed by DORO
  5. ‘God Gave Rock N Roll To You II’ – Performed by Russ Dwarf
  6. ‘I’m An Animal’ (2013 Mix originally from Return of the Comet) – Performed by the Comet Band
  7. ‘Let Me Go Rock N’ Roll’ – Performed by The Oddfathers
  8. ‘Surrender In The Name Of Love’ (Written by Peter Criss & Phil Naro) – Performed by 24K featuring Phil Naro and Mladen Alexander
  9. ‘Love Gun’ (Tommy Denander Guitar Solo Mix) – Performed by Tony Harnell, Kevin Valentine and Tommy Denander
  10. ‘Larger Than Life’ (2013 Remaster – Robot Lords Of Tokyo version) – Performed by Robot Lords Of Tokyo
  11. ‘Cold Gin’ (2013 Remaster from L.A. GUNS’ 1998 Wasted EP) – Performed by L.A. Guns

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – 12 Picks (1997)

Part 7 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last one, Return of the Comet?  Click here!

ACE FREHLEY – 12 Picks (1997 Megaforce Worldwide)

With Ace experiencing a second Golden Age back in Kiss, 1997 was the perfect time for various parties to cash in with compilations and re-releases.  It made sense for Megaforce to put out a collection of Ace’s better solo work along with unreleased live tracks.  With Frehley’s Comet bassist John Regan in the executive producer’s seat, at least 12 Picks has input from somebody on the inside.

This is a pretty logical collection.  Since it has “Into the Night”, “Rock Soldiers”, “Words Are Not Enough”, and even “Hide Your Heart”, you could easily make an argument that casual fans can start and stop here.  Sure, they’d miss great favourites like “Calling To You” and “Do Ya”…but leaving tracks off opens doors to sequels, no?

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If you imagine an album still having two sides, then the studio tracks make up side one.  Side two consists of live versions of Kiss favourites and others.  These are all from the Second Sighting tour with Jamie Oldaker on drums, unfortunately not Anton Fig for these versions.  They are however previously unreleased on any audio format.  These are some (but not all) of the songs from the Live + 4 VHS video cassette.  This video was never released in Canada, and I’ve never owned it.  Unfortunately, “Something Moved” from the VHS tape is not included.  To date it is still frustratingly unavailable.  From the same gig (Hammersmith Odeon) but unreleased until now is “Deuce”.  Other tracks from the concert would later trickle out elsewhere.

12PICKS_0005“Rip It Out” remains a stunning opener, although this version is hampered by the lack of Anton on drums.  Jamie Oldaker has a different feel, laying back behind the beat and I don’t think that’s the way these songs are best presented.  His fills are simpler than Anton’s, and things like the drums solos in “Rip It Out” and “Breakout” suffer for it.  The rest of the set is Kiss-heavy:  “Cold Gin”, “Shock Me”, “Rocket Ride” and the Simmons-penned “Deuce”.  Frehley performs “Cold Gin” with the right groove, which Kiss had trouble nailing without him.  I like the little touches, like the fact that the bassline doesn’t stray from the original much.  It lends these Ace versions a Kiss-like authenticity.  Tod Howarth backs up Ace’s lead vocals in a manner that recall’s Kiss’s multiple lead vocalists.

Although the setlist itself is pretty smokin’, the muddy drum sound and lack of Anton prevent the live portion from igniting.  Thankfully Ace has plenty of fuel when he solos, but this live side is noticeably inferior to the excellent Live + 1.  That’s too bad.

12 Picks came with a guitar pick in one of several (12?) colours.  I got black!

3/5 stars

REVIEW: A Tribute to Ace Frehley – Return of the Comet (1997)

Part 6 in a series on Ace Frehley! Missed the last part, “Cherokee Boogie”? Click here!
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RETURN OF THE COMET_0001A Tribute to Ace Frehley – Return of the Comet (1997 Shock Records)

Last time we talked about a tribute album with a new recording by Ace.  This time, we’re talking about a tribute album with new recordings by the Comet!  Return of the Comet even features some of the same artists that were on Spacewalk:  Tracii Guns, Gilby Clarke and the brothers Abbott (Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul) are on both albums.  And like Spacewalk, this one also comes with a guitar pick.  This time it’s a Bruce Kulick pick, because the CD also features a cool bonus: Bruce’s debut solo track, “Liar”.

This is a pretty good tribute CD.  Somebody called Bruiz does a faithful reproduction of the “Rock Bottom” intro, which seques directly into Brian Tichy’s “Rip It Out”.  I was familiar with Tichy from Zakk Wylde’s Pride and Glory, but he sings and plays every instrument on this.  Everybody knows today how talented he is, but this was a revelation to me in 1997.  Do I need to say that he does an excellent job on it?  He also nails Anton Fig’s drum solo.

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L.A. Guns is next, but it’s not Phil Lewis.  It’s Ralph Saenz.  You might know him better as Michael Starr from Steel Panther.  So how’s their “Cold Gin”?  It’s perfect for this band and this singer.  Eric Singer and Karl Cochran take a shot at “Strange Ways”, but I don’t like their take on it too much.  Eric’s vocal doesn’t suit the song in my opinion, and this version is too chunk-chunk-chunk.

“Getaway” was always a bit of a throwaway Kiss track, but I like the lesser known songs.  Seattle’s Tubetop speed it up a fair measure, but that’s not the problem.  I always identify this song with Peter Criss’ gritty voice.  Who doesn’t?  The singer, Gavin Gus, takes a smooth approach to the song, but sometimes Kiss songs aren’t meant to be tampered with too much.  It improves as it gets harder at the end.

RETURN OF THE COMET_0007Then we have the Presidents of the United States of America.  OK band I guess, but their stripped back sound is totally wrong for “Shout It Out Loud”.  Having said that, the brilliance of the song itself still shines through.  The album is immediately redeemed by a remarkable performance from a remarkable guitarist:  Dimebag.  He and Vinnie Paul stomp through “Snowblind”, a sludgy Ace classic.  Wisely, Dime changed nothing about the song, except adding some trademark Dime guitar shrieks on top.  It’s a totally appropriate touch.  Even though his singing voice is nothing like Ace’s (he’s more Zakk Wylde than Ace Frehley) he still lays down a lead vocal that fits.  Then his guitar solo rips your head off, end of story.  Mind blown, the album can end here thank you very much!

We’re not even half through yet.  Tod Howarth (ex-Frehley’s Comet) turns up with his own solo version of “Dancing With Danger”.  It’s a Streetheart cover that Frehley’s Comet also did on Second Sighting.  Tod tries to update the song for the 1990’s but fails.  His voice is also noticeably lower.  Then, Karl Cochran and Eric Singer are up with “Love Her All I Can”, a song originally sung and written by…Paul Stanley?  Why?  According to the liner notes, Cochran used to sing this song when he was in Frehley’s solo band in the 90’s.  Cochran and Singer perfectly nail this one, right down to the guitar solo and those Simmons/Stanley harmony vocals.  A winner.

Filler is “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” by Lee and Dallas (?).  As great as the original song is, I didn’t need to hear a jazzy country version of it.  It’s old-school country, swinging and authentic, but no thanks.  Thankfully Gilby Clarke comes to the rescue with the classic “Rocket Ride” from Alive II.  I love it.  I like it better than his version of “Shock Me” from Spacewalk, actually.

Richie Scarlet from Frehley’s Comet teams up with Beatlemania’s Mitch Weissman on Ace’s “Remember Me”.  It’s great and much like the original.  Then the Presidents are back for a second term, this time adding members of Tubetop and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden to the mix.  They do a cool campfire version of “New York Groove” that sounds live.  This is much better than “Shout It Out Loud”.  Well done.

A Frehley’s Comet reunion is the climax of the album.  Alumni Richie Scarlet, John Regan, Steve Werner and Arthur Stead are back to redo two unreleased Comet classics.  These songs are Vinnie Vincent’s “Back On the Streets”, which is, in a word, awesome.  It’s a dark ominous song with balls.  Then they do “Animal” which was written by Regan and Stead (perhaps the reason it was never released before?).  It has a funky little riff before it breaks into a cool anthemic chorus.

RETURN OF THE COMET_0005It’s best to think of the last two songs as bonus tracks, because they have little to do with Ace.  From a forthcoming Howarth album named Cobalt Parlor is a lacklustre song called “California Burns”.  I wanted to like this, really I did.  It’s just a really nauseating attempt at being modern and heavy, and no sir I don’t like it.  Sorry Tod.  “The Liar” by Bruce Kulick is much better.  I am a real fan of Kulick as a solo artist.  He is an articulate, skilled player with a knack for melody.  “The Liar” is a great instrumental, alternating between light and heavy, but always very lyrical.  Just sing a lead vocal of your own over Bruce’s guitar, and you can imagine this as a “I Still Love You” rock ballad.  This song was Bruce’s first ever post-Kiss solo release, and according to the liner notes, it serves two purposes.  One: to end the album with an instrumental as Ace always did.  Two: to tip the hat to the guy who succeeded in filling Ace’s shoes for over a decade.

I would recommend this tribute album to any serious Ace/Kiss fan, simply because it has some great cover versions of some obscure classics.  That to me raises it above most cut-and-paste tribute albums that are out there on the market.  There is a real sense of passion to this CD.  John Regan put it together and you can tell by the attention to detail.  Kudos, John.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Trouble Walkin’ (1989)

Part 4 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Second Sighting?  Click here!

TROUBLE WALKIN_0001

ACE FREHLEY – Trouble Walkin’ (1989 Megaforce Worldwide)

Gone was the Frehley’s Comet moniker, and gone was multi-instrumentalist and talented singer Tod Howarth.  I believe he toured with Cheap Trick after the Comet, on backing instruments and vocals.  In his stead came Richie Scarlet, certainly no slouch, and an alumnus from an earlier version of the band.  Not only did Scarlet write some of Ace’s best stuff, but takes a lead vocal on the album Trouble Walkin’.  Also back was drummer Anton Fig!

On top of all that, producer Eddie Kramer was back working with Ace again, and they have great chemistry together.  Certainly all the elements were in place for a great solo album.  The critics and fans were pretty much unanimous in their praise of Ace’s latest.  Little did they know it would be his last solo album for 20 whole years!

Trouble Walkin’ was Ace’s heaviest solo album to date.  Take “Shot Full Of Rock”, the opener.  It is scorching from start to finish, but especially on the ripping guitar solo.  It has a great chorus to boot, and a fine lead vocal from the Ace.

Frehley has a knack for selecting great covers, and his take on The Move’s “Do Ya” is superior to the original in some respects.  As he has with other covers, Ace makes it his own.  I think Ace does very well when rocking up poppier, melodic material and “Do Ya” is no exception.  I always hoped it would be a bigger hit, but it wasn’t really.

“Five Card Stud” is co-written by Marc Ferrari of Keel.  It’s not an exceptional song, but it does boast a suitably heavy riff, and plenty of tasty Ace licks and solos.  It might not be the best song, but the guitar work makes it worthwhile.

This is followed by the weirdest song of all:  “Hide Your Heart”, a song written by Paul Stanley, Holly Knight and Desmond Child.  It had been demoed years before for Crazy Nights, but not used. Bonnie Tyler was first to record the song, then Robin Beck and then Molly Hatchet!   When Kiss recorded it for Hot In The Shade, they released it as a single mere weeks before Ace’s album came out.  By the time Kiss’ album came out (the week after Trouble Walkin’) the song had been released by no less than five different artists.  The common thread to some of those versions seems to be Desmond Child.  Obviously, Ace knew people would compare his version with Kiss’.  Gene Simmons spoke to him on the phone to warn him that Kiss were releasing it as their lead single.  Ace’s version, while harder, just is not as good.  That’s not to say it’s bad, because Kiss’ version is awesome.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0006“Lost In Limbo”, a Richie Scarlet co-write, closed side one on a pedestrian note.  Side two began with a better song, the title track.  This would be a good time to mention that Peter Criss sings backing vocals!  You can’t hear him, but he showed up.  That’s Richie Scarlet saying “Take it, Ace!” and singing the bridge.  This one’s a solid Ace rocker, guitar and cowbell heavy!

My favourite song is “2 Young 2 Die”.  It’s just so heavy!  I used to think Peter Criss was singing the lead vocal, because it’s so raspy.  It is in fact Richie Scarlet, though Peter is on backing vocals again.   This is an outstanding song, rhythmic and bass-driven.  Anton’s drums are tribal and dramatic.  The guitar solos are all over the place, but all of them are ear candy.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0003“Back To School” is a a fun song, and you can’t mistake who’s singing (screaming) with Ace on the chorus:  one of the biggest Frehley fans on the planet, Sebastian Bach himself!  He’s joined by Peter Criss, and Dave “Snake” Sabo and Rachel Bolan, also of Skid Row.  This one is more hard rock than anything else, but damn catchy.

I’m not sure if “Remember Me” is really live, but it’s mixed to sound that way.  A crowd is mixed in, and Ace says good evening to “Club Remulac, in France!”  It is important to remember that “Remulak” is home planet of the Saturday Night Live characters, the Coneheads.  Appropriate since this song is sung from the perspective of a space traveler, advising Earthlings to get some world peace happenin’.  Good song, though, kind of lazy and light.

The album closes with “Fractured III”, and much like its predecessors, it’s an instrumental.  The thing about the Fractured series is that they do sound all interconnected.  They all sound related at the hip, or the heart, and that’s cool.  I like all of them for different reasons.  “Fractured III” might be the hardest, most electric of them to this point.

After this, Ace seemed to lay dormant for a number of years.  In 1990 there was a rumour that Kiss were working on a reunion with Ace, Paul, Gene and Eric Carr which of course never happened.  A few years later Ace turned up on his Just 4 Fun tour, playing a Kiss-heavy set of classics.  Later came the Bad Boys of Kiss tour with Peter Criss, and finally the inevitable original Kiss reunion.  During the reunion, there were some interesting Ace Frehley releases, and we’ll be talking about those things next.

As for Trouble Walkin’?  Solid.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Frehley’s Comet – Second Sighting (1988)

Part three in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Live + 1?  Click here!

FREHLEY’S COMET – Second Sighting (1988 Megaforce Worldwide, 1998 reissue)

Ace was rushed on Second Sighting.  I think that might be why it seems a little Tod (Howarth) heavy, song-wise.  I recall in an old Hit Parader interview circa 1989, Ace complained that he had to follow a “stupid schedule” on Second Sighting, and the album suffered for it.

Having said that, I like Second Sighting better than Frehley’s Comet.  I wondered what the hell Ace was high on when he made that comment about Second Sighting.  Indeed, this is my favourite (post-Kiss) Ace CD.  Let’s not forget how important context is.  It was summer 1988.  It was the summer of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Van Halen…and Ace Frehley!  I was a kid in love with the rock.

The lead single was a choice Ace may regret today.  Instead of coming out with a rocker, they went with “It’s Over Now”, a ballad sung by Tod!  I always thought to myself:  “If I was a kid and I didn’t know who Ace Frehley was, would I assume he’s the blond guy singing?”  Tod’s singing, playing the keyboards (a huge friggin’ keyboard), and then he breaks into a guitar solo on one of those little Steinberger’s with no head…odd choice for lead video, no?  Check out the close up on his two-handed tapping technique.  The perfect Howarth hair.  The video even seems to be vaguely about him and some chick.  I still have to admit that my teenage self loved the song, it might be a ballad but it was a quality ballad with some soloing.

Thankfully, the album itself was lead off with a better track, “Insane”.  It’s an Ace helmed good time party rocker.  New drummer Jamie Oldaker (Eric Clapton) isn’t as fancy as the unavailable Anton Fig, but he throws in some pretty cool fills.   Of course Ace lands the perfect solo, always complimenting the song.

The second track is a melancholy Dokken-esque rock ballad from Tod, “Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out”.  It has a pretty significant keyboard part, which some may find obtrusive.  Fortunately the guitar parts are great, and Tod’s powerful voice is easy on the ears.  It also has a pretty solid chorus.

I don’t know the story behind “Dancin’ With Danger”, but it sure boasts an odd batch of co-writers, including Spencer Proffer, Streetheart, Ace, and Dana Strum from rival band Vinnie Vincent Invasion.  The good news:  it smokes.  It has a ZZ Top-like sequencer part, adding a robotic pulse, but not taking anything else away.  The riff is pretty heavy, Ace takes the lead vocal and an absolutely scorching solo.

The first side of the album ended with “Loser in a Fight” which is kind of…meh…eh…  It’s OK, it’s heavy at least, but what I like about it is that is a co-lead vocal with both Ace and Tod.  It’s that old Kiss trick that I used to like.

SECOND SIGHTING_0001Ace enters on side two with some pretty cool guitar effects, leading into “Juvenile Delinquent”.  Ace sings to a 16 year old girl and tells her to follow her dreams.  It’s a little creepy when Ace sings “You’re looking good these days, believe it girl, I’m not blind.”  I tend to just block that part out when I hear it.  I think it’s a catchy song with a rock solid guitar base, and other than a couple lines in the song, I dig it.

“Fallen Angel” (not the Poison song that was a hit around the same time) is another Tod ballad.  Like “It’s Over Now”, it’s a totally solid song, but this one has some more balls to it.  It’s a little pissed-off sounding and the chorus is blazing hot.  It is followed by “Separate” which to me sounds like vintage Ace.  It’s sparse, the lyrics are basically spoken, and it has an extended guitar solo as the centerpiece.  It kind of reminds me of “Don’t Run”, an Ace demo that eventually became “Dark Light” on The Elder.

“New Kind of Lover” is a wicked cool hard rocker about Tod Howarth gettin’ it on with a ghost.  Once again, the solo is obviously Tod.  Some may find it offensive that Ace didn’t play every single guitar solo on his album, but Frehley’s comet was a band, and Tod’s no slouch.  His soloing style is opposite to Ace Frehley, which is one reason to allow him a couple solos.  It also lent the album a modern edge.

As is the Ace tradition, the album closes with an “instrumental” (technically).  Unlike past albums, it is not a nice pleasant “Fractured”.  Instead, this is a blitz of riffage and solos called “The Acorn in Spinning”, which does in fact have words.  The lyrics entirely spoken, Ace tells the tale of “this new fighter Bronx,” and a few other seedy characters.  As it happens, that summer I was introduced to the Sierra PC game, Championship Boxing.  Obsessed as I was with “The Acorn is Spinning”, I named my boxer Acorn and created a whole persona and cast of enemy boxers for him to challenge.

That’s the note I want this review to go out on, a note of personal anecdote, because for me this album is personal.  Summer 1988.  Ace may have been dissatisfied, but LeBrain 1988 was eager to hear the next one.  Little did I know that Frehley’s Comet had to endure some serious lineup changes.  But that’s next time.  See you then!

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Frehley’s Comet – Live + 1 (1988)

Part 2 in my series of reviews on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Frehley’s Comet?  Click here!

FREHLEY’S COMET – Live + 1 (1988 Megaforce Worldwide)

I remember finding this EP in a department store’s music section, and having to choose between this and Brighton Rock.  It really wasn’t a difficult choice.  I couldn’t have both so I chose Ace Frehley.  After all, Ace was my favourite member of Kiss.

“Rip It Out”, printed as “Rip-It-Out” on this EP, opens the set, recorded in Chicago.  “You wanted ’em, here they are!  Frehley’s Comet!”  Hmm, that opening doesn’t sound at all familiar, does it?  Ace and the Comet tear through it, and let’s not forget that the drummer who played on the original, Anton Fig, plays on this one too — solo included.  I like the way that Tod Howarth sings, backing up Ace.  His higher voice lends to a nice harmony, thick and Kiss-like.  “Rip It Out” flows right into “Breakout”, another song with a drum solo, and this one extended!  “Anton rules, doesn’t he?” asks Ace during the fade out.

Those two songs took up the first side.  “Something Moved”, another recent song from Frehley’s Comet, is sung by Tod.  It’s an aggressive hard rock song, but Anton lays down a solid beat, while Ace throws out some wild bends.  Ace’s Alive II classic, “Rocket Ride”, is the final live song.  In this case, I don’t think it’s much compared to the Kiss original.  I prefer Kiss’ sloppy rock n’ roll take on it, Ace’s version is too tight for my liking.  The solo smokes though.

My favourite song is the new studio track, “Words Are Not Enough”.  It’s a slick, commercial hard rocker.  All the ingredients are included:  A keyboard riff, a killer chorus, and a knock-out extended solo.  Given the time period, I always felt this was the biggest “potential” hit Ace could have had.  It was bang-on for 1988 and I still like it in 2013.

I wholeheartedly recommend Live + 1 to any respectable Kiss fan, and to any hard rock fans wanting a first taste of the Ace.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet (1987)

LOOK!  It’s Rock and Roll!  I’m gonna review all of Ace Frehley’s solo albums.  Welcome to the series!  For Ace’s 1978 solo album, click here!  This review goes out to MARKO FOX!  Thanks for inspiring this idea. And happy birthday to ANTON FIG!

 

“Rock Soldiers come, and Rock Soldiers go.  Some hear the drum, and some never know.  Hey, Rock Soliders, how do we know?  ACE is back and he told you so!”

ACE FREHLEY – Frehley’s Comet (1987 Megaforce Worldwide)

It’s very daunting for me to review this.  My sister bought this album for me, for my birthday, in July 1987.  I had been a Kiss fan for a few years, and immediately liked Ace best.  Yet he’d been quiet for so long.  I didn’t even know what he looked like.  Then, the powerful video for “Into the Night” premiered on Much, and I knew right away.  I absolutely needed the album.

Frehley’s Comet is the debut release by Ace Frehley’s new band.  He had quite a band, too.  Singer / guitarist / keyboardist Tod Howarth had a really powerful, commercial voice and added keyboards to the mix, which was an edge in the late 80’s.  Meanwhile, on drums, was Anton Fig.  Veteran of at least three Kiss releases (Ace’s 1978 solo album, Dynasty, and Unmasked), there’s a reason David Letterman refers to Anton as “Buddy Rich Jr.”  Having Anton in the band was a serious coup.  On bass was John Regan, who proved to be a the only member to stick around for all of the 80’s.

“Rock Soldiers” was a great opening track.  Ace is back and he told you so?  Yeah!  This stomping anthem is the tale of Ace’s own carnage.  “And the devil sat in the passenger’s side of DeLorean’s automobile.”  And later, “When I think of how my life was spared from that near-fatal wreck, if the Devil wants to play his card game now, he’s gonna play without an ACE in his deck!”  How could Me 1987 not have loved this song?  It had a killer singalong chorus and was released as a single.

“Breakout” is interesting because the riff was written by Eric Carr, Ace’s old Kiss bandmate.  “Breakout” is in fact “Carr Jam ’81”, the song written at the time of The Elder.  Kiss never used it, so Ace did.  Tod sings lead on this one, and Anton plays his own drum solo where Eric once did.  Ace then turns in a friggin’ classic Frehley solo.

“Into the Night” is a Russ Ballard song, which surprised me, as I always felt that the lyrics fit Ace’s New York background like a glove.  It’s a mid-tempo rocker, and as first single, it was the first song that I heard.  Today, it still sounds dramatic and cool.

“Something Moved” is another heavy rocker, written and sung by Tod.  It’s similar in vibe to “Breakout”, and I really like when it goes into what I call the “Stryper riff” at the 2 minute mark, right after Ace’s solo.  Side one ended with “We Got Your Rock”, a sleezy one about groupie with a backstage pass.  To be honest, this one disappointed me back then.  I still find the lyrics to be pretty bad.  Ace co-wrote this one, hopefully not the lyrics, because the music’s decent enough.  If it were a Kiss song, it would be one of those Gene Simmons monster tunes.

Thankfully, side two starts on a better note.  “Love Me Right” is an Ace song, with a hard, solid riff and beat.  Yet it’s Tod’s “Calling To You” that is the gem of the album.  It’s a nice hard rocking commercial song with a scorching lead vocal.  The chorus is killer, and I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t the biggest hit of 1987 back then.   Sounds like a dual guitar solo too, with Tod taking the first solo and Ace finishing ‘er off.

The weirdest song is, without a doubt, “Dolls”.  Ace wrote this one completely by himself, words and music, and I have no idea what the hell he’s singing about.  I don’t think I want to know.  Anyway, musically it’s a bright pop rock number, based on the keyboards.  “Stranger In A Strange Land” is back in riff rock territory.  The chorus sounds great, with Tod and Ace singing together.

The album closes with “Fractured Too”, an instrumental sequel to “Fractured Mirror” from Ace Frehley.  It’s not quite as good as the first “Fractured”, but it has stood the test of time.  It’s this kind of music that Ace doesn’t always get recognized for, but his layers of shimmering guitars are very cool.

I wish the lyrics on Frehley’s Comet were better.  At least the music smokes!

4/5 stars