kim mitchell

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

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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.

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – “Alana Loves Me (New 2014 version)” single

NEW RELEASE

ALANAKIM MITCHELL – “Alana Loves Me (New 2014 version)” (iTunes-only single)

Kim’s last studio album, 2007’s Ain’t Life Amazing, failed to blow me away.  Since then he’s been very busy, changing to a career in radio at Toronto’s Q107.  While I miss the days of being able to look forward to new Kim music every other summer, he’s been very popular and successful at Q, so good for him!

A few weeks ago, Kim announced that he’d re-recorded his old hit “Alana Loves Me” from Shakin’ Like A Human Being, a 28 year old song.  The original is sounding pretty dated with all those 80’s synths and keyboards, so I approached this with an open mind.  Plunking down my hard-earned $1.29, I bought “Alana Loves Me 2014” on iTunes.

Even though I had not expected too much, I am crushed with disappointment!  All the charm of the original has been sucked dry with a boring acoustic arrangement.  This snooze-inducing rendition only comes to life towards the end, when it goes into a more interesting laid-back instrumental band arrangement.  The piano player (Ray Coburn?) is excellent and has a long solo.  Then, finally, Kim himself picks up an electric guitar and does what he does best.  He proves he’s still the most underrated guitarist that this country has to offer.  His solo is awesome, warm and melodic, but tricky too.

So: first half of the track sucks, and the second instrumental half isn’t bad.  How do I rate it?

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Kimosabe (1999) / “Sudbury Saturday Night” (1998)

Here’s a Kim Mitchell two-fer for ya!  Once again it’s Epic Review Time!

KIMOSABE_0006KIM MITCHELL – “Sudbury Saturday Night” (from Summer Dock Party, 1998 EMI)

‘Twas Thomas who alerted me to the existence of Kim Mitchell’s cover of “Sudbury Satuday Night”.  He had heard about it from one of his customers, when Tom owned his own record store.  Somebody came in and said to him, “I heard a new Kim Mitchell song on the radio.  I don’t know what it’s called or where it’s from, all I remember are the opening words.  ‘The girls are out to Bingo, and the boys are gettin’ stinko,'” he recited.

Tom immediately recognized that as the opening line to Stompin’ Tom Connors‘ classic song, “Sudbury Saturday Night”.  He called me at my store to ask what Kim album it was on.  I didn’t have a clue.  I didn’t know he had recorded anything since 1994’s Itch.

He had.  This cover appeared on the Canadian compilation CD Summer Dock Party.  And what of it?  How does one cover Stompin’ Tom?  Well, for Kim Mitchell, it’s a harder rockin’ version of KIMOSABE_0007the song, complete with accordion and an electric guitar solo.  I’ve grown to like it more over the years.  It’s hard to overlook the sheer joy in Kim’s vocal.  No matter how you feel about the sanctity of covering Stompin’ Tom, I think Kim’s version has plenty of merit.

Great cover…not-so-great CD cover though! What would Irish Jim O’Connel and Scotty Jack Macdonald say about that front cover? That sure doesn’t depict gettin’ stinko, or represent “Cause everything is wonderful, tonight we had a good fight,” to me!

3.5/5 stars

*I was surprised to find a completely different studio recording of this same song on Youtube.  Further investigation is required.


 

KIM MITCHELL – Kimosabe (1999 Chinook)

I think Kimosabe is about separation.  I read that Kim was going through a divorce around this time, and perhaps the lyrics reflect that.  Additionally, there was another separation, as once again Kim parted with his long time writing partner Pye Dubois.  The two had a falling out after 1989’s Rockland, due to Kim’s decision to record in Los Angeles, without Pye present, as he had been for all of Kim’s previous albums.  The two reconciled for 1994’s Itch, but appear to have separated once again, because Kimosabe was written with Andy Curran (Coney Hatch) handling the lyrics rather than Pye.  I don’t know what happened.

Nothing against Andy Curran, but without Pye Dubois, lyrics lose some of their poetry.  That’s Pye, that’s what he brings to the table.  Having said that, I think by now, most Kim Mitchell fans are looking for a catchy song to sing along to.  Curran does fine.  Kim himself wrote two of the lyrics himself (“Cold Reality” and “Over Me”, two of the best songs).

The opening duo, “Monkey Shine” and “Stickin’ My Heart” are both rockers.  “Monkey Shine” is très bien; they’re not trying to re-invent the wheel on any of these songs. They’re just doing what they do well, and that’s providing some good Canadian party rock. These are “stock” kind of songs. Reliable, not particularly possessing personality, but getting the job done. TCB, baby.

“Cellophane” is a funky blues. At this point I’ll point out the groove of drummer Randy Cooke, one of my Canadian favourites. You may have heard him with Rik Emmett or the Four Horsemen among others.  Kim’s very slick and lyrical guitar playing is in the spotlight of this outstanding track.

KIMOSABE_0004

Things start to cloudy with “Two Steps Home”.  Not that it’s a bad song, quite the contrary.  But this is where the party stops.  There’s a lot of feeling in this quiet ballad.  As far as sheer songwriting goes, Kim should be proud of this one.  Still, I feel the playing really shines brightly, guitar and drums both.

After a tune like that, I need a rocker, and Kim delivers with the title track, “Kimosabe”, a pun on the phrase “ke-mo sah-bee”, popularized in the 1930’s by The Lone Ranger.  Strangely enough the lyrics also contain the German phrase “auf Wiedersehen”, proving Andy Curran doesn’t mind putting three languages together in one song.

My favourite song is “Blow Me A Kiss”.  This outstanding track begins as a melancholy piano ballad, but transforms by the chorus into a bright, light rocker.  I would rank this track among Kim Mitchell’s best solo songs, without a doubt.  Randy Cooke really kicks this one in the ass.

“Cold Reality” also has a melancholy character to it.  This one starts a ballad and stays a ballad, and speaks of getting over the end of a relationship. “Halleluiah baby, I am healing. This pain and rage I felt for years is finally leaving.” This is one that Kim wrote the lyrics for himself, and as I said earlier, it’s not poetry, but when he sings it, I can feel something, you know?

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Back to something a little more upbeat, “Over Me” has a modern funky vibe to it, of the light-rock variety. Divorce seems to be the theme again, so we’re not hanging out in party rock land, but it’s musically upbeat and catchy. By the chorus, Kim’s singing, “One thing’s for sure, I’m going to get over you, just like you got over me,” and who can’t relate to that?

My least favourite song is the slinky blues, “Get Back What’s Gone”, featuring the great Canadian singer Lisa DalBello. In think this is a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me.” There’s nothing wrong with this well-executed blues, it’s just not clicking with me. It may with you, especially if you want to hear DalBello just sing some blues.

Album close “Skinny Buddah” is one of those lyrics where I just shrug and say, “OK, guys, whatever!” I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s a good solid rock song on which to close an album that I would consider to be a bit of a comeback.

Except it wasn’t. Kimosabe didn’t sell, and it would be eight whole years before Kim would release another album (2007’s Ain’t Life Amazing). That’s too bad. Given the chance, I think that this album could have introduced a new, “more mature” Kim, still fun, but now with a more serious side.  The album could have delivered a couple of hits. Too bad that isn’t the way it turned out. Bummer.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Kim Mitchell (1982 EP)

“Looking for the good life, in between all the clatter
Tonight I’m at the Bojar Grill, and they’re serving up only Tennessee water.”

KIM MITCHELL – Kim Mitchell (1982 Anthem)

This is an incredibly difficult review to write. How? How can words do justice to this magnificent 5-song EP of rock perfection? Am I supposed to somehow relay in English how this album makes me, and many other Max Webster fans feel? I don’t think it too crazy to suggest that the self-titled Kim Mitchell EP is the greatest EP our country has produced. As far as rock music goes in general, you will find very few Canadian releases as solidly untouchable as Kim Mitchell.  To say this is an intimidating review to attempt is an understatement.  There will be some reading this whose knowledge of Kim and Max vastly exceeds mine, and even though I have played this EP hundreds upon hundreds of times, I still need to actually play it again in order to convey to you how excellent it truly is.

KIM_0004Kim Mitchell burned out on Max Webster.   There were numerous lineup changes towards the end, and Kim walked out.   He was quick to bounce back with some new band members (Peter Fredette, Robert Sinclair Wilson, Paul DeLong) and some new songs.  Still with Kim through the breakup was Max Webster lyricist Pye Dubois, the only holdover from that band.  (Ex-Max bassist Mike Tilka was also an executive producer, as he was on the Max albums after he left.)  Kim settled into a recording studio in Oshawa Ontario (!) with the legendary Jack Richardson.

The guitar blasts of “Kids In Action” are sometimes included on Max Webster hits albums, but it was originally released as the opening track on Kim Mitchell.  “I guess we’re just gonna have to be the best bonfire in town,” sings Kim, and I think he succeeded.  “We want modern thrills, we want rock n’ roll that kills,” sing the backing band.  I think we got it.

IMG_20141002_180602“Kids In Action” is the perfect storm of Max’s harder side, with Kim’s newly found-melodic sensibilities.  That guitar is hard (though just as finger-lickin’-good) but the choruses have a new harmonic sheen.  Peter Fredette provided backing vocals to the record, and Kim fans know how awesome and integral he is to Kim’s solo sound.  Meanwhile DeLong can’t resist throwing in some Max-worthy drum fills that shake the cranium.  (I read somewhere that David Lee Roth’s band had worked on a cover of “Kids In Action” for Diamond Dave’s first solo album.)

What a killer opener.  Yet “Miss Demeanor” may be the best tune on the record.  This one has always sort of reminded me of “Beast of Burden” by the Stones, and I often sequenced them together on mix CDs.  It’s harder than “Beast of Burden”, but has irresistible “ooh ooh” backing vocals.   Everything about this song is perfect from the simple riff to the amazing rhythm section.  Kim unexpectedly throws on an acoustic solo, just as terrific as any electric solo would be.  The song is also supersaturated with nice little electric guitar licks.

IMG_20141002_180616If you title a song “Big Best Summer” then it had better sound like it.  Kim’s “Big Best Summer” is as gleeful as you want it to be, with most of the joy coming across in the guitar licks.  Once again the rhythm section has it laid down perfect, leaving Kim plenty of space to splash down tons of little guitar bits and pieces.   “Sometimes we thought we were the only ones under the sun.”  Yeah, I think I’ve had those summers too.

If “Miss Demeanor” wasn’t the best tune on the album, then “Tennessee Water” has to be.  This one blows the doors off, with a slippery southern guitar lick and relentless groove that keeps cooking and won’t stop.  This is also Pye’s first lyrical mention of the Bojar Grill, that I am aware of.  It’s good time rock n’ roll, performed by guys who really know they’re doing.  Incredible stuff.  I definitely gotta hit up this Bojar Grill.

The slow rock of “Chain of Events” was chosen to close the record.  There are a couple slight dissonant chords that keep the song on the experimental side.  It also has a strange rhythmic quality, and quirky Pye lyrics.  Kim’s guitar solo is bizarre and Zappa-esque.  This song would have satisfied any Max fans who worried that some of the other tunes were too straightforward.  And that’s the EP.

It’s worth noting that unlike Kim’s later albums, and also unlike Max Webster, this EP has no keyboards.  This allows the bass guitar to breath, and leaves Kim plenty of space for guitar fun.  As such, this is the toughest Kim solo release by far.  As good as Akimbo Alogo was, this is undeniably even better.

6/5 stars


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REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Shakin’ Like A Human Being (1986)

KIM MITCHELL – Shakin’ Like A Human Being (1986 Alert)

Kim Mitchell really seemed to soften up on 1986’s Shakin’ Like A Human Being.  It’s Mitchell’s most successful album, featuring the massive hit single “Patio Lanterns”.  A lot of people are very fond of Shakin’ Like A Human Being, but I for one find it inferior to Akimbo Alogo in almost every way, especially production. Still, I haven’t played Shakin’ in a couple years, so let’s have a listen and try to be fair.

KIM_0004There’s certainly nothin’ wrong with the opener, “Get Lucky (Boys and Girls)”.  Kim wisely commenced the party with a rocker similar to Akimbo Alogo.  Synths are kept to a minimum, and a shout-along chorus that’s easy to remember is always a plus on a Kim Mitchell album.  Pye’s lyrics are as cool as ever.  “The more moral you get the more oral we get.”  I love that.  Kim tops the cake with a fun melodic guitar solo which is like the cherry on top — uber sweet.

Paul Delong is a fantastic drummer, and he gets a nice long (but clanky) intro on “In My Shoes”.   Unfortunately the song itself suffers from too much synth and programming.  It does have a nice little guitar lick to it and a great chorus, but the song is just too middle of the road.  “Alana Loves Me”, though a ballad, is better.  The chorus, featuring Peter Fredette, is stellar.  Too bad that synth is back.

“Patio Lanterns” sure does bring on the nostalgia.  The lyrics are so pure and perfect.  Even though it’s one of Kim’s softest moments, there is an integrity here in its earnest honesty.  Although Max Webster were a progressive rock band, as a solo artist Kim Mitchell definitely evolved into cottage rock.  This kind is song is the type that we hosers play on those warm July evenings on the cottage patio, outside speakers and beer at the ready.  It’s the kind of song everybody seems to like.

Side closer “That’s the Hold” is the hardest rock moment on the album.  It’s one of my favourite 80’s Kim rockers, and if didn’t have so much damn synth on it, it would be a classic.  The live version on I Am A Wild Party is much better.  Too bad.

The second side commences limply with “In Your Arms”.  This is just synthetic syrup.  This is the only song that isn’t written by the duo of Mitchell and Dubois: keyboardist Todd Booth co-wrote it, which might explain why I cannot discern any guitars until the song is half done.  But it gets worse:  I cannot stand “City Girl”.  There is no redeeming value to this steaming pile of synth and bad lyrics.

The fine country twang of the hit “Easy to Tame” is unfortunately tempered by…grrrr!…too much damn synth!  I should be able to hear Kim’s Fender clear and true, but it is buried beneath keys.  It’s still a great song, but all I really want is to hear what it would sound like without the keys. The music video, vocals and guitar solo are all great at least.  Incidentally, the music video is a completely different mix of the song.

“Cameo Spirit” is pretty cool, although it’s another slow keyboard song.  This is the kind of sentimental ballad that Kim became very adept at writing, post-Max.  His spare guitars are delightful, but I only wish for more of them.  The final track “Hitting the Ground” is equally good, but also equally drenched in keys.  The chorus is stellar, as are Pye’s lyrics.  Fortunately there are some guitars to sink your teeth in.  At least you end the album on an up note.

Sadly, Shakin’ Like A Human Being is the last Kim Mitchell album to feature his legendary O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) baseball hat on the cover.  Shakin’ could have been a great album, equal or superior to Akimbo.  I place blame fully on the production.  Kim Mitchell self produced this album, so if anyone is to blame for all the synth and keyboards, it’s gotta be him.  Of note, Kim produced it at Le Studio, the same place Rush recorded Moving Pictures.  Too bad.  Oh what might have been.

2.5/5 stars

New book: Martin Popoff – Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster

You know this is gonna be good. Popoff writing the definitive book on his fave band of all time? I’m in. I ordered this with his Scorpions bio.

Dirty details:

260 pages, 100,000 words. Pics: live, studio, records, etc.

The sound, as per Popoff: 92% Blue Oyster Cult crossed with Cheap Trick, topped by 4% Kansas and 4% Zappa.

I’ve made no secret of my love for this band, and Martin’s books.   Now he’s finally shedding light on a band about whom info is usually scarce.   It’s a must for me, and all fans of Canadian rock.

Contact Martin, and his site for lots of books and ordering info. Martinpopoff.com.

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