light rock

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – The Big Fantasize (2020)

KIM MITCHELL – The Big Fantasize (2020 El Mocambo Records)

13 years ago Kim Mitchell released Ain’t Life Amazing, his last studio album.  He wasn’t exactly quiet in that time — there was his radio show on Q107 in Toronto, but then he had a heart attack!  You can’t keep Kim Mitchell down, and his new one The Big Fantasize is a quieter collection of contemplative music.  Some of it is rock, some of it is clearly not.  And that’s OK.  Whether or not he’s rocking, Kim’s songwriting yielded some pretty great material.  There are nine new tunes, plus a bonus four live tracks for those who bought the physical product (CD or LP).

The gentle call of a clarinet is the first sound to be heard on the new Kim, a surprise to be sure.  “Red Horizon” is a sparse acoustic ballad with clarinet accompaniment, and melody that tugs at the heart.  It’s a brave way to open the album but also an honest one.  “This is what I do now, so don’t expect ‘Rock and Roll Duty Part 2′” is what this track says as an opener.

That said, “2up2Bdown” has that guitar playing you love Kim for.  It rocks but in a new slick way.  It would have fit comfortably on an album like 1992’s Aural Fixations, but better than that.  It’s a celebration, and if it’s the only track that sounds like “old Kim” then at least it does it well.

“Summer Lovers Autumn Wine” presents quiet electric guitars and pianos dancing in the twilight.  Like much of Kim’s music, it paints an audio picture with his guitar.  The mood turns bright on the delightful acoustic “Wishes”.  Kim’s mastery of melody and expression is apparent.  He gets the beat hopping again on “Georgian Bay”, a piano rocker with no guitar, maybe a little bit like the Guess Who?  Or maybe that’s just a lazy comparison.  It doesn’t matter, it’ll be perfect for your next summer deck party (whenever that is).

“Best I Never Had” might be laid back, but it has a strong dusky blues vibe.  Soulful backup singing lends the right feel.  “Montgomery” is a highlight song, mixing some skillful acoustic guitar pickin with the most memorable of melodies.  Upbeat, but quiet and gentle with trademark Mitchell hooks.  The acoustic solo is masterful.  More masterful melody takes center stage on “Old Marriage Waltz”, the closer “Time to Stay” really overshadows it.  A strong beat behind him, Kim picks away with intent.  Great light rocker to end a terrific album, on an upbeat note.

CD and vinyl buyers get the four live bonus tracks:  “Lager and Ale”, “Rocklandwonderland”, “Paradise Skies” (Max Webster tune), and “All We Are”.  If you needed more rock, here you go.  Firey live performances, captured in the studio in front of an audience.  “Rocklandwonderland” stands out with a new piano intro and a passionate performance.  However nothing can overshadow an epic “All We Are”, 8:13 of awesome.

After such a long wait, and an eventful one at that, it is a good thing to see that Kim Mitchell still has the creative spark to write a great song.  These songs are different but just as unforgettable as “Patio Lanterns”.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Shaw Blades – Hallucination (1995 Japanese import)

SHAW BLADES – Shaw Blades (1995 Warner Japan)

Ever wonder what Damn Yankees would have sounded like without Ted Nugent?  Possibly, a little like Shaw Blades.  In 1995, the Nuge returned to his solo career with Spirit of the Wild.  Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades had already formed a successful songwriting partnership (with an Aerosmith hit under their belts) and so together they continued.  Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone joined them, but for the most part it’s expert Journey-man Steve Smith — one of the smoothest drummers in rock.

Expect acoustic rock and ballads with impeccable harmonies.  Boring, you say?  Not at all; not when you have a batch of songs this strong.  Opener “My Hallucination” is a lament for the 1960s, with an electric guitar backing up Shaw and Blades’ perfect vocals.  Those two guys can hit some notes.  “I’ll Always Be With You” is more like campfire rock, a summetime gem and ode to innocent love.  There are some sweet Def Leppard chords tucked in there.  Third in line, the strong “Come to Be My Friend” gets a touch psychedelic but it’s the smoking acoustic soloing that will blow you away.  Either that or the insanely good chorus harmonies.

“Don’t Talk to Me Anymore” is the first song you could call an outright ballad even though it’s a soft album.  It’s lightly arranged with a less is more attitude.  Then things get upbeat on “I Stumble In”, an outstanding memorable head-nodder.  Journey fans will recognize their favourite drummer’s always fascinating tom tom work.  Moving on to the album’s second true ballad, “Blue Continental”, a laid-back Southern vibe permeates.  It’s logically followed by “Down that Highway”, upbeat but stripped to the basics.  A couple acoustic guitars, two voices, some tambourine and accents (fiddle, keys) and you have a song!

The electric guitar comes out for “How You Gonna Get Used to This”, one of the less remarkable songs compared to the catchier acoustic tunes.  The mandolin makes an appearance on “The Night Goes On”, another quiet but excellent ballad.  “I Can’t Live Without You” draws things to an end, but is also unremarkable.  Among diamonds, it fails to shine bright enough.  Fortunately, the ending it was preceding is a short track simply called “The End”, which reprises themes from prior songs, tying up the album with a nice bow.

This album produced no commercial singles, but there were two extra tracks, exclusive to the Japanese CD.  “How Does It Feel” brings back the electric guitar, but it’s more interesting than the other electric songs on the album.  It could be a grower.  “Straight Down the Line” is the gem.  It’s the fastest song of the whole bunch, upbeat but light, and a blast in the car.  Tommy’s intricate little lightning fast guitar hook is a tasty delight.  Tracks like this are why collectors really seek out Japanese imports.  They are their own rewards.

Any version of the debut Shaw Blades is going to be thoroughly enjoyed.  Get one.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Peter Criss – Out of Control (1980)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Supplemental:  Peter Criss solo.

PETER CRISS – Out of Control (1980 Casablanca, 1998 Mercury CD reissue)

The ex- kitty-cat landed on his feet rather swiftly.  A few short months after his departure was announced, Criss released the first solo album ever by an ex-Kiss member.  Unfortunately for the Catman, fans were already scared off by his 1978 album.  Anyone who was flabbergasted or confuddled by Peter’s penchant for light rock steered far clear of Out of Control.  They were correct to do so.  Out of Control is a virtual carbon copy of the 1978 album.

At least Peter didn’t mislead anyone into thinking this was a rock album.  The very opening, “By Myself”, is one of the softest songs Peter’s ever recorded.  Not a bad one, mind you, but not a song with mass appeal.  Peter Criss wasn’t about to become the next Rod Stewart.  His control over notes is not as strong…they are “out of control” so to speak, and his voice wavers.

“In Trouble Again” is far better.  Peter played all the drums on this album, and there’s some cool stuff happening on “In Trouble Again”.  It’s the most rocking tune on the album.  It’s back to ballad town on “Where Will They Run?”.  It’s dominated by the synthesizer, and it has a cool and light breezy rock vibe.  It even has a sax solo by George Young (not the one that’s Angus’ brother).  By track four, Peter is eager to tell us “I’ve Found Love”.  You’re in for a fun and upbeat number…but Peter just can’t hold onto a note!  He returns to rock and roll on “There’s Nothing Better”, which sounds like an old R&B classic even though it’s a Criss/Penridge original.  Well done on that one.

There’s a very corny title track here, which has a pseudo-disco beat:  “Out of Control” is cheesy and fun all at once.  It’s the string cheese of danceable rock.   Is that such a bad thing?  Not unless you’re lactose intolerant, or allergic to cats in general.  Sadly, “Words” is pretty horrid.  Peter also turned in a pretty lacklustre cover of The Young Rascals’ “You Better Run”, also famously covered by Pat Benatar and some guy named Robert Plant.  That’s tough competition.  “You Better Run”?  More like “Don’t Even Bother”.

The closing track “Feel Like Letting Go” is one of the best tracks.  It feels like a followup to Peter’s album closing epic “I Can’t Stop the Rain”.   The strings and piano make them spiritual brothers.  Did the lyrics have anything to do with Kiss?  “I feel like letting go…but my heart keeps saying no.”  Maybe, maybe not.  Peter seemed to be trying to separate himself from his former band, in order to establish himself.  The artwork and songs don’t offer clues as to Peter’s previous job.  Paul, Gene and Ace are thanked in the fine print.

In fact there is only one real wink to Kiss fans, and it was on a hidden track right after “Feel Like Letting Go”.  Paraphrasing a line from “As Time Goes By” (1931), he sings quietly “You must remember this…a Kiss is still a Kiss…”

The fans didn’t see it that way.

1.5/5 stars

To be continued…

 

#360: CHYM FM – “96 minutes of continuous light rock…for your workday!”

GEORGE AND TARA AND LEBRAIN

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#360: CHYM FM

In the beginning of my job at United Rentals, they had the radio set to local lite-rock station CHYM FM.  It is a horrible station, unless you enjoy old Daughtry and Taylor Swift ballads coupled with the biggest hits by the dulcet Lady Gaga.  Why, just the other day I was in my dentist’s office.  They have CHYM on the radio, and I was treated to some “Bad Romance” by Miss Gaga.  That’s dreadful enough, but the squeaky, bubbly on-air personalities are way too much for me to handle.  Apparently this was also the case nine years ago when I started at United, according to this 2006 journal entry.  We switched stations to Dave FM shortly thereafter.  Thank fuck!  CHYM TIME journal entry below.

Date: 2006/11/17 17:04

“96 minutes of continuous light rock…for your workday!”

That phrase, friends, is the sound of being welcomed into HELL!

Dear CHYM FM:   This is something that I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time. Here it is. Sorry if I’m being rather harsh, but you had this coming.

#1. Nobody needs to hear three Kelly Clarkson songs in one day. Nor do we need three of Jann Arden, Chantal Kreviazuk, Celine Dion, or any other of these wonderful light-rock songstresses.

#2. Lionel Richie has a long, illustrious career. I’m pretty sure he has more than one song. Why then, do you insist on playing the same damn song of his every single day?

#3. Same goes with Elton John.

#4. Tara, from the morning George and Tara Show, is too fucking perky. She’s like a fucking toothpaste commercial!  I don’t need that shit at 8:30 am before my coffee.

And finally #5.  Why do you call your station “today’s light rock”?  Are you not aware that Jann Arden hasn’t had a hit in over a decade?

Yours truly, Mike