kim mitchell

REVIEW: Max Webster – Live Magnetic Air (1979)

MAX WEBSTER – Live Magnetic Air (originally 1979, 2017 Anthem remaster)

So you’re the canker banker?  They’re just Max Webster, here to thin the thickness of your skin.

Any good 70s act worth their salt had to have a solid live album. Max released theirs after four studio albums, a good basis for a fulfilling concert set. The 10 songs (plus one reggae jam) only begin to scratch the surface of their bizarre and rocking history, but a good 10 songs they are.

Want some rockers? Tap into “America’s Veins”. 70s radio rock? Take a lift up into the “Paradise Skies”.  Looking for some progressive rock?  You’ll find it “In Context of the Moon”.  The adventurous and quirky arrangements of some tunes are a direct contrast to the catchiness of others.  “Gravity” blends quirky and catchy into one successful gestalt.  “Charmonium” both challenges and pleases the ears at once.  Whether you’re soaring on “Night Flights” or biting into “Lip Service”, there is no filler on Live Magnetic Air.

One expects great playing on any Max Webster platter. Live Magnetic Air has plenty of that gonzo Kim Mitchell guitar work that he is known for.  Terry Watkinson’s keys explore different tones within single songs, never getting boring.  Yet it’s Gary McCracken’s drum work that seems to really shine, especially on the 2017 remaster from The Party boxed set.

It is difficult to throw too much praise at Max Webster, because surely they deserve it.  They were not as famous as Rush and not as worshipped as Zappa.  But those are the kind of names thrown about when speaking of Max Webster.  Each Max album is loaded with amazing material, but if you were looking to start with something, why not make it Live Magnetic Air?  The party atmosphere and ace selection of songs are the basic ingredients of a classic live album.  Now that it’s finally been properly mastered for CD, you can hear it the way you were always meant to.  For those who just wanna rock, the guitars have the crunch.  The discerning fan will enjoy the new clarity and depth that this remaster offers, without overdriving the levels.

Once again we wholeheartedly recommend The Party boxed set, but if you find Live Magnetic Air on vinyl, pick it up and hear what some genuine “Sarniatown Reggae” sounds like.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Max Webster – The Party (2017 box set)

MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)

Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually.  Three of the eight discs have already been covered here:  Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album).  The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.

The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering.  The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny.  Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first three albums with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest?  I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest.  It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered.  And now we have The Party in hand as proof!

The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg.  Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies.  The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album.  It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.

If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party.  It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep.  They didn’t go for loudness.  This is all very good.  You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.

The Bootleg will be the main draw for many.  It does not disappoint.  In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more.  Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.

Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”.  It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show.  Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever.  Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa.  “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air.  Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”.  These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.

The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums.  Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party.  Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different.  Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement.  It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good.  It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.

Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max!  It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress.  There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979.  Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level.  “Walden 5” just needed some editing.  A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing.  Kim fans will love it!  Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.

The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one.  Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated.  In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.

Oh, one last thing:  The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set.  So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down.  Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture.  Just a word to the wise.

4.5/5 stars

 

QUIZ ANSWER: What was in LeBrain’s Bag?

The startling conclusion to What’s in LeBrain’s Bag?

You had a picture and five clues:

 

  1. There are two records in there.
  2. One is a double, one is a single.
  3. One is a new release, one is a reissue.
  4. One is Canadian content, the other is not.
  5. You can kinda make out one.

 

And we had a winner, immediately.  A man who knows his metal like he knows his haggis.  SCOTT, your HEAVY METAL OVERLOrD correctly guessed the first record (the new release, non-Canadian double LP) and wins a picture drawn by me!

It was…ACCEPT – The Rise of Choas.

I did what any sensible shopper should do before buying the album.  I looked it up on CD Japan to see if the Japanese version had any bonus tracks.  They did not, so I grabbed the double vinyl.  10 tracks, 2 records, orange and blue swirl vinyl, limited to 700 copies.  Those numbers add up for me!  I can’t wait to sink my needle into those.

 

 


Scott’s picture is a Schnauzer on an airplane!

The second LP (which I didn’t seriously expect anyone to guess) nicely fills a gap in my collection.  You see, I have CD remasters for every Rush album from the first one to Test For Echo…except one.   Roll the Bones continued to elude me,  so instead of CD, I opted for something possibly better:  200 gram vinyl LP remaster.  As far as I can think of, this is my first 200 gram vinyl purchase, though I own a few 180 grams.   Aaron correctly guessed Rush (with an initial guess of VoiVod) so I offered to draw him a picture of a cookie.  Sadly it turned out looking more like vomit (even when I added the cookie fumes), so I hope you will excuse the lack of a prize.

RUSH – Roll the Bones 200 gram remastered LP.  Now I have all the Rush remasters!


And now, the conclusion to the “How did Mike get the Max Webster The Party box set?

Because, oh yes, I did get it.

Sunrise had it for $64.99, but I had trouble cancelling my Amazon pre-order at $89.99.  I bought my Rush and Accept records, and drew a prize:  a new fidget spinner!  (I think I have four now?)  I went home and kept trying to cancel my Amazon order.  An email said that the issue should be resolved in a few hours, so I sat tight.

Around 4:30 that afternoon, I got the email that my pre-order was successfully cancelled.  I hopped in my car; four minutes later was back at Sunrise.  I grabbed Max Webster, and drew another prize:  a Transformers mini-comic!

So, really, everything went down about as perfectly as you could imagine.  I got The Party box set and an extra prize for coming back.

The Party is very bare-bones for packaging.  There are no booklets, but the discs are housed in mini-LP gatefold sleeves with inner graphics.  For that reason, I am going to hang onto my remastered Max Webster debut CD on Rock Candy, which has an extensive booklet.  A buddy of mine named Scott has dibs on the rest of my old Max Webster collection.  Hey, it’s a lucky day for guys named Scott!

I have a lot of listening to do, which will hopefully lead to a little reviewing.  Hope you enjoyed this game!  Back to reviews tomorrow.

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Aural Fixations (1992)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

SARNIA.

scan_20170128KIM MITCHELL – Aural Fixations (1992 Alert)

Over the course of his solo career, Kim Mitchell kept on givin’ ‘er even though some albums are cloudy in the collective memory today.  Aural Fixations made less of a hullabaloo than Rockland, and many of its tracks are forgotten by the Canuck masses.  Public amnesia does happen to deserving songs sometimes, and there are a few on Aural Fixations that merit dusting off.

Kim really made a niche of good time summer party songs:  “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, “I Am A Wild Party”, “Lager and Ale”.  “World’s Such a Wonder” assumed that duty on Aural Fixations.  His picking is impeccable, but fans in the know noticed something was “off”.  The quirky poetry of Pye Dubois was gone; he and Kim had a falling out during Rockland.  Others such as Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness – review at Boppin’s Blog) and Andy Curran (Coney Hatch – review at Stick It In Your Ear) filled the lyrical void instead.  This meant that one of the qualities that made Kim special, Pye’s unique wording, was gone.  Also departed was bassist/singer Peter Fredette.  Peter still provided backing vocals for this album.  That said, most in the Great White North probably did not notice or care.

“Big Smoke” is a bluesy grind, good stuff for guitar enthusiasts.  A couple upbeat tracks got radio play, such as “Hullabaloo” and “Find the Will”.  Both sound like what we had come to expect from Kim Mitchell:  rock and roll guitars, big hooks, and choruses built for shoutin’ along to.  The most outstanding one of the bunch is “Hullabaloo”, a real Canadian good time summer song.

“There’s a lot weekend doin’ on this hullabaloo,
Honey’s on the beaches, Monday back in old ‘T.O.’,
Showin’ off her sunburn.”

The song is perfect from the ground up. Verses, bridges and choruses all line up for one quintessential Kim Mitchell classic. “Take a walk on that wild guitar, it’s such a wild guitar…”

Aural Fixation also shifted towards lighter sounds, perhaps a bit too far.  “Pure as Gold” is the best of the softies, a quiet, slow smouldering bluesy ballad.  “Some Folks” steers right into the pasture, a keyboardy country ballad that could have been left in the barn.  The twangy “America” isn’t as bad.  It carved out another hit video, following in the footsteps “Easy to Tame” (1986).  Other tracks just simmer without ever really cooking:  “There’s a Story”, “Flames”, “Dreamer”.  The musicianship is above reproach, but the songs don’t all meet expectations.  “Dog and a Bone” has the rock, but the chorus lacks impact.

One of the most interesting tracks is the final one, an instrumental called “Honey Forget Those Blues”. A total of six guitar players are credited on it, creating a massive guitar harmony part. It sounds like a guitar orchestra playing the blues and it’s brilliant. Its cheeky creativity hearkens back to the glory days of Max Webster. It is in fact Kim’s first instrumental song as a solo artist.

Aural Fixations has those sparks of brilliance that makes you wish it consistent throughout.  “Hullabaloo”, “World’s Such a Wonder”, “Find the Will” and “Honey Forget Those Blues” could all be on a hypothetical Kim Mitchell “box set”.  Is that enough to add this album to your collection?

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Max Webster – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977)

Scan_20150730MAX WEBSTER – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977 Anthem)

It’s only the second Max Webster album, but the band were so tight and perfect that they got three radio classics off it.  “Diamonds Diamonds”, “Gravity” and the title track are all three radio staples, and “On the Road” a live classic that Kim Mitchell occasionally plays unplugged.  Every fan has a favourite Max album, and I think I probably know a couple who would put High Class in Borrowed Shoes as numero uno.

The album opens with the impressive “High Class in Borrowed Shoes”, a blaster that sounds to me like a Canadian Van Halen!  Max had tamed some of their wackier tendencies (“Toronto Tontos”, anyone?) and focussed their chops.  Not that the new Max (now featuring legendary drummer Gary McCracken) was normal by any definition.  Just listen to the lullaby-like “Diamonds Diamonds”.  Great song, but very different for a rock band.  Its dreamlike mood is heightened by the surreal lyrics by Pye Dubois.  Not to mention there are only six lines to the words!

“Gravity” would make my top five Max tracks in a heartbeat.  “What do I know?  I sat under a cloud.  I looked up, afraid to look down.”  Kim sounds like a little boy speaking the words, to great effect.  The chorus is a big one, backed by a Kim’s riffing.  I have no idea what this song is about, but to me the line “Forget that fear of gravity, get a little savagery in your life,” says everything.  Don’t be afraid to take chances.  As Pye’s friend Neil Peart once said, just roll the bones.  That’s what it means to me, anyway.

Proving he has always been capable of tender ballads, “Words to Words” is one of Kim Mitchell’s first.  The keyboards of Terry Watkinson keep it just a little left of center, but Kim’s acoustic work is impeccable and excellent.   Pye Dubois’ lyrics are magical and stirring.  It’s hard to overstate just how quality this song is.  However ballads are usually best followed by scorchers, and that’s “America’s Veins”.  Killer solos, smoking drums, and a chorus built for the concert stage: it’s here in one complete package.

“Oh War!” is an incredible monument of rock.  AC/DC did a song with a similar vibe called “Little Lover”, but “Oh War!” is a completely different animal.  The gonzo solos are more in the “Z” section of the rock aisle, as in “Zappa”.   And check out the words!  “‘Cause I say fuck you instead of thank you, your choice under your breath.”  Yes, that’s what Uncle Kim, Canada’s favourite king of the summertime, just said!  OK, so it wasn’t going to get on the radio with those words…but damn, it should have been.  This song could have been almost as big as “Battle Scar” had it been.

I have a tape here of Kim Mitchell doing “On the Road” live in the MuchMusic studios, acoustically, on their Intimate and Interactive show.  This is what you might call “campfire rock”, but that sells it far too short.  “On the Road” is more than a song that would sound good played live around a fire, it has genuine soul that you can feel.  It’s an incredible song, and once again, I wonder why Max Webster wasn’t friggin’ huge.  “Rain Child” is next in line, which I would describe as a slow burner.  Terry Watkinson’s keys take center stage, never intruding.  “Rain Child” is a classic album track, and perfect for winding down the album.

IMG_20150730_182836

Max Webster went mad on the last track, “In Context of the Moon”.  This is the second of four “Moon” songs on the first four records:  “Coming Off the Moon”, “Beyond the Moon”, and “Moon Voices” are the others.  “In Context” can’t be described easily, because it spans many styles and tempos in just five measly minutes!  How?!  You have to play this one a few times just to get everything that is happening.  It’s certainly one of the most challenging pieces of music Max have recorded.  The four musicians must have rehearsed the shit out of this one.  Anyway, at all times, it smokes.  Whether it’s the bright intro guitars, or the metal riffs that follow them, or the sheer madness (including bass solo) that ensues, “In Context of the Moon” is always riveting.  It’s just non-stop even though by the time you get to the end of it, you’ll wonder how you got there!

Final note:  My good buddy T-Rev, who has guest written here a couple times before, met Gary McCracken after he moved to Sarnia.  He was working at Fastenal when in came a guy to pick up an “order for Gary McCracken.”  T-Rev pondered a bit before enquiring, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but were in a band called Max Webster?”  Yes, he had.  It was that Gary McCracken, and he was cool.  I love little stories like that.  Gary McCracken was Trevor’s biggest influence as a young drummer!

Popoff's awesome book

Popoff’s awesome book

There is nothing more to be said in just a single review.   For the whole enchilada, get the book from martinpopoff.com!  And be sure to get High Class in Borrowed Shoes for your collection.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986)

Scan_20150728DAVID LEE ROTH – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986 Warner)

1986 was the year it all went down. If you were a Van Halen fan, it was time to choose.

Of course, nobody really had to choose between Van Hagar and David Lee Roth. It’s not like every fan had only $10 to spend on albums that year. Fans did choose anyway, and even today almost 30 years later, we still argue about who’s best: Diamond Dave or the Red Rocker?

No matter who you sided with, there is no question that David Lee Roth stormed into 1986 with a killer new band and album.

Steve Vai! That’s enough right there to make for an incendiary band — just ask David Coverdale. Before Little Stevie Vai was a household name, he had earned the respect of Frank Zappa who hired him on after Joe’s Garage. He made his Zappa debut on Tinseltown Rebellion, before being snagged by Graham Bonnet in 1985 for Alcatrazz’s Disturbing the Peace. In that band, he had the unenviable task of replacing a Swedish guitar player you may have heard of called Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Needless to say, Steve Vai was already experienced in filling big shoes by the time David Lee Roth made contact.

Billy Sheehan! A lot of people think he’s the world’s greatest bass player, period. Eight finger lead bass, baby! Three albums with Talas didn’t do much in terms of sales, but the material was strong enough that one song was re-recorded for the Roth album.

Gregg Bissonette! Once you learn how to properly spell his name, you will recognize Bissonette on loads of album credits. Joe Satriani come to mind? How about Spinal Tap? For your information, Gregg Bissonette is still alive, and is still the current Spinal Tap drummer.

Combine those three virtuosos with the greatest frontman of all time, and you have best new band of 1986.

Van Halen’s 5150 came out in March, going to #1. That’s a hard act to follow. Eat ‘Em and Smile, however, ending up standing the test of time. I would argue that even though it’s not Van Halen, it’s still the best Van Halen album since 1984….

As if to say “Eddie who?”, the album opens with Steve Vai’s trademark talking guitar. I’m talkin’ about-a-“Yankee Rose”! Here’s the shot heard ’round the world indeed. Lyrically, musically, and instrumentally, this song truly is the spiritual successor to classic Van Halen. David Lee was still in prime voice, and does he ever pour it on! Sassy as ever, Roth sounds exactly how he should: the showman in the rock and roll circus. And let’s not forget Billy and Gregg. Sheehan’s slinky bass on the outro is space age groove.

“Shyboy” is an atomic bomb. Billy brought in this song from Talas, but there is no question that Dave’s version is vastly superior. I have no idea how Vai makes his guitar create these sounds. When he goes into syncopation with Billy on the fastest solo of all time, your head may be blown clean off. Please, do not attempt to listen to “Shyboy” in the car, without testing it at home first. As Steve’s guitar flickers from left to right, Billy’s bass is the fastest, baddest groove on record. “Shyboy” is of such high quality that I do not think any self-respecting rock fan can live without it. Virtually every trick that Steve had at the time was in this one song.

One thing that was special about Van-Halen-with-Dave was their fearlessness in doing odd covers, such as “Big Bad Bill” or “Oh Pretty Woman”. Dave took that with him, and included oldie swing covers like “I’m Easy”. Horn laden and with Steve’s expert licks, it should be no surprise that they nail this one. It’s much in the spirit of Dave’s solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, only better.

Perhaps the most outstanding song on Eat ‘Em and Smile would be “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” Dave has always said he loves disco and dance music. This is the most perfect melding of that world with rock. Vai is rarely so funky, and there is no question that Dave has the vibe right. Smooth and steamy, “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” is a tune perfectly in synch with activities of the nocturnal persuasion. Who else but Dave would be perfect to deliver this message?

“Goin’ Crazy” was a great track to make into one of Dave’s typically high flying music videos. It’s party rock time, with a tropical vibe. “Goin’ Grazy” worked particularly well when Dave re-released it in Spanish, as “¡Loco del calor!”. I used to consider this tune a bit of a throwaway, but it has certainly endeared itself over the years. Another meticulously perfect Vai solo doesn’t hurt, and Billy’s bass popping helps end side one on an up note.

Now there is a story here that needs to be told. Billy Sheehan was in Canadian progressive rock band Max Webster for “about three weeks” according to lead singer Kim Mitchell. Upon joining Dave’s band, he introduced them to Kim Mitchell’s solo track “Kids In Action”, which they decided to cover. Bill called Kim up to ask him for the lyrics, because they couldn’t quite make them all out. Kim supplied the words, and Dave recorded the song. However, it was dropped at the 11th hour, for another cover — “Tobacco Road”. David Lee Roth’s version of “Kids In Action” has yet to be released or even bootlegged. Not that I am complaining about “Tobacco Road”, another old cover! Yet again, the reliably awesome Steve Vai just sells it. There is no question that the whole song just smokes, but getting to hear Stevie playing this old blues?  Pretty damn cool.

That’s nothing. You thought “Shyboy” was fast? Check out “Elephant Gun”! Billy’s fingers didn’t fall off, but mine would have. “I’ll protect you baby with my Elephant Gun”, claims Dave. Nudge, wink! Steve Vai’s been known to write blazing fast songs, and “Elephant Gun” is so fast it’s almost showing off. Wisely though, things get slow and nocturnal once again on “Big Trouble”. That’s a title Dave recycled from an old unused Van Halen song. (That song became “Big River” on A Different Kind of Truth.) Steve’s guitar melodies and solo on this are particularly celestial. Roth uses his speaking voice, spinning a tale as only he can. “Bump and Grind” is a perfectly acceptable album track, a sleaze rocker as only Dave can do. If I am interpreting the lyrics correctly, Dave is a dance instructor in this one. “Shake it slowly, and do that Bump and Grind”.

Much like “Happy Trails” ended Diver Down on a jokey note, Dave ends his first solo album with a cover: “That’s Life”, the song that Sinatra made famous. Coming from the guy who did “Just a Gigolo”, we know he can do that kind of thing very well. The first time I heard the album years ago, I shrugged and said, “Another one?” Now, older and fatter, I sez it’s all good! Zop-bop-doop-zooby-dooby-doo indeed. Funny thing though. When I think of Diver Down, I think of a fun but fairly shallow album of half covers. When I think of Eat ‘Em and Smile, I don’t question the integrity of it. I don’t know why I seem to hold that double standard.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Eat ‘Em and Smile was David Lee Roth’s finest moment as a solo artist. It was not nearly as well known as 5150, OU812, or any of Van Hagar’s albums, and that is almost criminal. The talent in this band, pound for pound, outweighed anybody else going at the time, including Van Halen. Shame they couldn’t make it last.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Max Webster – Universal Juveniles (1980)

Scan_20150717 (3)MAX WEBSTER – Universal Juveniles (1980 Alert)

“1980 will be a year long remembered.  It has seen the end of Max Webster, and will soon see the end of Led Zeppelin.” — Darth Vader

All good things must indeed come to an end.  If there was one band — just one band! — out of the Great White North that truly deserved better things, it was Max Webster.  Much like their soul mate, Frank Zappa, Max Webster had successfully inserted humour into complex progressive rock songs.  The big difference was that Max tended to keep it to guitar-bass-keyboards-drums.  Their musicianship was unimpeachable.  Much like Bubbles shouted out “Geddy Lee! Neil Peart! Alex Lifeson!” to emphasize the awesomeness of Rush, I shout “Kim Mitchell! Terry Watkinson! Gary McCracken!”

Maybe it was the skinny balding front man in the tights, the weird but deep lyrics, or the goofy keyboards.  One way or another, Max Webster never saw the success that their friends Rush did, and Universal Juveniles would be the last Max record.  Genius keyboardist Terry Watkinson was out of the band, although he did play on the album.  Kim Mitchell folded the band mid-tour after the record, unable to hack it any longer.

Kim’s smoking chops open “In The World of Giants”, perhaps the world that Rush occupied and Max failed to enter.  Max sound stripped back, with minimal piano and keyboards.  What a song though.  Surely “In the World of Giants” is one of Max Webster’s most breakneck rock songs, albeit with the complexity of riff and licks that you would expect.  At the same time, do I sense a certain amount of fatigue, between the grooves?

There’s no detectable tiredness on “Check”, which will wake you right the fuck up!  There’s nothing like a good, joyous, loaded-with-all-the-guitar-fixin’s Max Webster romp.  Want some shredding?  “Check this out!”  At only 2 1/2 minutes, “Check” is all it needs to be — in and out, the mission of kicking ass all complete.  Yet Max Webster was not about simply rocking, so “April in Toledo” brings some funk.  The classic refrain of “I wanna run to Niagara, I’ll cry and cry in the dark” is joined by gleeful guitars, to create the picture perfect mixture of Max confection perfection.  I’m still sitting here scratching my head wondering how Kim got that weird guitar sound in the solo so perfect, but I’m soon distracted by another awesome chorus.

“Juveniles Don’t Stop” is a Max party anthem; not as memorable as “The Party” itself, but still good to crank with some cold ones.  Don’t get too loaded though — you don’t want to miss the double barrelled blast that is “Battle Scar”.  What could be more epic than a duet with Rush vocalist Geddy Lee?  Oh, how about doing the whole song with Rush — a double trio!  That’s two bass guitars opening the song.  That’s Neil Peart and Gary McCracken providing the dual beats.  (You sure can tell when it’s Neil doing a drum roll, that’s for sure!)  That’s Alex Lifeson accompanying Kim Mitchell in a legendary guitar team-up.  Geddy Lee, in peak voice, provides the vocal chills necessary to top off such an epic alignment.  Truly, “Battle Scar” is not just an important song for Canadian rock, but a track that any serious rock fan should seek out and own.  You simply owe it to yourself to do so.

There’s some sneaky understated goodness in “Chalkers” but I find it to be one of the less memorable tracks.  It’s notable for containing the phrase “universal juveniles” in the lyrics, lending it for the album title.  “Drive and Desire” is a bigger song, a sizeable rocker with a nice bluesy vibe.  McCracken’s drums on this one are purely delicious.  Even better is the slow mournful “Blue River Liquor Shine”.  It foreshadows some of the songs on Kim’s excellent solo EP, Kim Mitchell.  A proud achievement, “Blue River Liquor” does indeed shine with Max classics of the past.

“What Do You Do With the Urge” is a wreckless Max party rocker, just in time to set us up for the final Max Webster song — the last one ever, sadly.  “Cry Out for Your Life” lurches like a wounded soldier crawling to the warmth of safety.  Loads of Max class abound, but there does seem to be less glee, less shimmer.  Perhaps the end was inevitable.  Although Kim and the gang turned in another jaw dropping Max Webster record, something was wrong and it sounds somewhat forced at times.

Kim Mitchell had tremendous success with his solo career in Canada.  Anthems such as “Go For Soda” have been immortalized in our memories, and on our TV sets.  Who can forget the moment in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys, when Bubbles goes to “rock a piss”, and Ricky responds, “You go rock a piss, I’m gonna get ‘er going with the Mitchell!”  Then: Bubbles peeing to the tune of “Go For Soda”, bopping his head in time with the music!  Just classic.  On the more sentimental side, Kim appealed to the adults in the crowd with “Patio Lanterns” and “Easy To Tame”.  He really aimed to please everybody….

…Except the fans of old, goofy Max progressive rock.  Universal Juveniles is its capstone.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Rockland (1989)

KIM MITCHELL – Rockland (1989 Alert)

This album was huuuuge in 1989. In Canada, summer time is Mitchell time. Cottages, brewskies, BBQ and Mitchell. That’s what it was all about! Shakin’ Like a Human Being was also a huge success for Kim, but he expressed a desire to use less keyboards and programming. Kim recorded in the US this time, and for budget reasons, did not bring along lyricist Pye Dubois with him. Pye had been in the studio with Kim for every album prior, and this caused a rift between the two that took years to heal. This was the last time they collaborated until 1994’s Itch.

The pseudo-title track, “Rocklandwonderland” refers to the “concert bowl” at Canada’s Wonderland.  “Listen to the music, listen to the voices, listen to my guitar,” sings Kim, although the song is a little light on guitar. “Rocklandwonderland” was a big hit for Kim, and although it’s not a heavy rock, his guitar playing on it is stellar. Perhaps he shouldn’t have followed a slow rock tune with a ballad, although “Lost Lovers Found” is a hell of a ballad, with just a hint of twang. Some felt that Rockland was too soft compared to Kim’s progressive rock past, but a Kim ballad has more integrity than most. Kim’s backup singer extraordinaire, Peter Fredette, is present here and he also serves to class up any song by several notches.

Other ballads on the record include “Tangle of Love”, which is quirky and experimental but not great. “O Mercy Louise”, which has a rocking chorus, is a fine song with cool lyrics. The “big one” however was the single “Expedition Sailor”. This introspective acoustic song is sparse and effective. Kim’s buddy Rik Emmett from Triumph drops by to play an excellent solo on classical guitar. “Expedition Sailor” is top drawer stuff.  (The music video received a remix, which you can get on Kim’s Greatest Hits album.)

The “big” song on the album, still getting airplay today, is the anthem “Rock N’ Roll Duty”.  The tougher direction of the song is exemplified by a “live” style music video in a seedy bar.  As a fan I really wanted Kim to come out with a tough rocking tune, with a killer chorus, and he did.

“I’m just doing my rock n’ roll duty,
Creating a buzz buzz buzz,
Some say I’m in it for the money,
Man, I’m in it for love love love!”

The phrase “I’m just doing my rock n’ roll duty,” is now commonly heard among music fans in Canada. The song just hits the spot, and the riff is now synonymous for summer in my mind.

Other highlights on Rockland include the joyful “The Crossroads” which opens side two. The guitar-heavy “This Dream” is another favourite. I could always identify with the lyrics. It’s just a stellar song, an also-ran that could have been a fourth single. The record is rounded out by “Moodstreet” and “The Great Escape”, two decent but unremarkable tunes.

MVP:  Drummer Lou Molino, a near legend in these parts.  Curiously, when you Google images of Lou Molino, you will also get hits for Lou Ferigno.

Overall I was pleased with the direction of Rockland, going a bit more raw and rocking. Unfortunately with the exception of a few tracks like “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, it feels very tame. Except for quirky moments within guitar solos, it doesn’t possess enough of Kim’s humour and idiosyncrasies. It feels as if it’s on a leash, but it’s also not straining to get off it. It feels like Rockland hits the mark in many respects, but plays it too safe.

3/5 stars

ROCKLAND_0004

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Itch (1994)

This review is for Thunder Bay’s hardest rocker, Deke from Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond! Once a loyal reader, now a blogger himself, Deke has been laying waste to the internet lately with his hilarious stories and classic Canadian reviews. This is an official LeBrain endorsement!

ITCH_0001KIM MITCHELL – Itch (1994 Alert)

I used to get so excited back in the Record Store days, checking the purchase logs from the day before. Many times, people logged KIM MITCHELL – ST (self-titled) in the books, immediately catching my attention. The self titled Kim Mitchell EP, after all, was and remains a true rarity. CD copies go today for up to $120.  When I would check the purchase logs against the physical CDs, I was always disappointed that the Kim Mitchell EP didn’t come in; rather his 1994 album Itch did.  The graphics are laid out in such a way that a part-time employee who didn’t know better couldn’t see that the album was called Itch, within the name Kim Mitchell.  Truth be told, I couldn’t figure out what it was called when I first started at the store in ’94 either!  I was working the week it came out.  “I didn’t know Kim Mitchell had a new album out!”  Staring at the cover…”What’s it called?”  I bought it on cassette initially.

The mid-90’s were a confusing time to be a Kim Mitchell fan. His 1992 record, Aural Fixations, was pretty straightforward and for the first time lacked lyrics written by Pye Dubois. When 1994 kicked off, the new Kim single “Acrimony” featured Kim rapping. Yes, rapping. Inappropriate comparisons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers were bandied about in the press.  I did not like “Acrimony”.  Some people do; in fact some people think Itch is Kim’s best CD.  I am not one of those people.

So how good is Itch? Well, it’s OK. It’s not great, not like Kim’s past work with the near-legendary Max Webster, though it does return Kim to some mild musical experimentations. There are standard Kim rockers like “Wonder Where & Why” and some great grooves like “Lick Yer Finger”. “Stand” is one of those classic Kim anthems that are perfect for the car in the summer time.  There are also just just plain weird moments that just don’t work. “Acrimony” is one of them, and “Lemon Wedge” is another. “Lemon Wedge” is a cool funk tune with horns, but is ruined by some guy (possibly Peter Fredette?) screaming out the chorus in a weird falsetto. Strangely though, those two songs made onto Kim’s first solo Greatest Hits CD, so maybe I’m the one who’s just not getting it.

In general Itch is a more somber album from Kim than the good time rock he produced in the 80’s.  It was also bluesier (“U.S. of Ache” for example) and harder edged, but I don’t think it had the songs to back it up.  Kim’s playing is fantastic of course, but you can say that about any of his albums.  Kim can play circles around most rock and blues players in his sleep.  He also has a crack band, featuring Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve on bass who did time in a couple legendary Canadian bands such as Loverboy and Tom Cochrane & Red Rider. Notably, Pye Dubois returned to pen the lyrics, the last time he would do so.  I think the main problem with Itch comes down to the songs.

The best tune on this CD is the last one, “Cheer Us On”, a great campfire song that should have been a single. However, it wasn’t, so it’ll just have to remain one of those little-known album songs with a few diehard fans.  I wouldn’t hesitate to put it on a greatest hits CD, even though it has never been used on a greatest hits CD.

As it stands, Itch was a commercial flop.  It has its staunch defenders, and maybe you are one of them.  Who’s right?

2.5/5 stars

Footnote: Eagle-eyed readers will recall seeing Itch in Record Store Tales Part 187; a video called “A Day in the Life at a Record Store”. Yes, a customer really did bring this album to the counter and inform me that someone had ruined the cover art with crayon. I had to tell them that it WAS the cover art!

#354: Packaging & Cellophane

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#354: Packaging & Cellophane

As I sit here finally ripping the cellophane off some of the discs I received for Christmas, a pile of discarded shrink wrap sits before me.  I find the plastic waste problematic, but I also recognize that in today’s consumer market, you have to present your product as “brand new” or “untouched by human hands” in some way.  So they seal up every CD and DVD, ensuring that nobody got their sticky hands on the playing surface of your disc.  As an added bonus the shrink wrap protects the CD or DVD case, meaning you and only you can scuff it up yourself.

IMG_20150102_094208Part of me hates waste.  The other part (the OCD part) really enjoys ripping the shrink wrap off a brand new CD and knowing that its appearance is perfect inside.  Only I can mark it up, now.  Same goes with toys, appliances, tools…we all want everything to be brand-spanking-new when we open them, when possible.  We want to be the ones to rip the protective plastic film off that new TV.  We want to be the ones who carefully remove our new laptops from the layers of packaging protecting them.

This seems to be especially important when giving gifts.  When you’re giving something to a loved one, you want everything about it to be perfect as possible, from the box to the product, right?  In cases like this, we tend to look at the layers of wasteful packaging as a necessary evil.  You probably recycle and re-use as much as possible, but we all throw a whole lot of packaging straight into the garbage bin whenever we open something new.

IMG_20150102_094112I’ll give you an example from the Record Store days, just how some people value packaging over waste when gift giving.  We used to offer a shrink wrap service.  I don’t remember what we charged.  If you wanted to buy a used CD and shrink wrap it in order to hide the fact that you were buying a used CD, we’d do it for 25 cents or 75 cents or something.  It might shock you how many times I heard variations of the question, “This is a gift.  Can you shrink wrap it for me?”

“Is there a way to put plastic on this so he doesn’t know it’s a used CD?”

“I don’t want her to know this is used.  Do you have a shrink wrapping machine or something like that?”

And so on and so forth.  There was a demand (clearly) so we offered it.

I found a better use for the shrink wrap machine.  When I happened upon a rare digipack version of a CD, or something with fragile packaging, I would reseal it, to protect it.  You’d be amazed how much you can wreck a CD case just from normal shelf wear.  If it’s something which has value in its packaging, then you want to prevent that.  I had (and later sold at a profit) a rare copy of The Black Crowes’ Amorica album.  This had the “x-rated” cover on a good condition digipack.  To prevent it from getting scuffed or damaged and losing value, I resealed it.   When I later got the Sho’ Nuff box set, I sold it for like $20.

IMG_20150102_093955You know those burgundy and yellow jewel cases that came with Kiss’ You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best CD?  Another prime candidate for resealing (though you will still have to be careful you don’t crack the plastic)!

Some of my co-workers were known to reseal their hands.  I do not know why.  I did not partake in that ritual.

My quandary can be summed up as this:  I like packaging to a certain degree.  I hate the waste aspect of it, and the environmental impact.  In my own life I try to reduce waste as much as possible.  But I can’t get around my preference to tear open the shrink wrap on a brand new virgin CD and be the first to touch it with bare hands.

What is the compromise?  I don’t know.

I don’t think there is a compromise.  I don’t think wasteful packaging is a sustainable practice.  I think, sooner or later, we all are going to have to get used to shedding layers of waste in our future.