Three cheers for Matt Starr! Ace Frehley’s drummer is the “starr” of the show on 11 of the 12 tracks on Origins Vol. 2. This is evident immediately on the Zeppelin cover “Good Times Bad Times”. There are plenty of guests on this album, but doing justice to John Bonham ain’t easy. Starr nails it! Fortunately the Ace Man himself is also able to tribute Jimmy Page ably on his solo.
In fact the weakest part of the album are the vocals. As Ace ages, his voice has gotten lower. Some of these songs are in a lower key than usual to accommodate. It’s also, quite frankly, difficult to get excited about a second album of covers. A lot of the same bands are covered, including the aforementioned Zeppelin, Kiss, Cream, Stones, Kinks, and Jimi Hendrix.
It’s an OK covers album. It’s nice to get so much Ace-sounding rock. Frehley makes Mountain sound like his own originals, as he does “Kicks” by Paul Revere and the Raiders. He’s a bit heavy-handed on “We Gotta Get Out of this Place”. But “Space Truckin'”? Not necessary, or even wanted. “Space-Ace truckin’!” he sings and it’s borderline cringe. “Hey where’s Jendell?” While it’s good to put your own twist on a song, dropping your own name in doesn’t cut it. And Ace is no Ian Gillan. (Ian Gillan is also no Ian Gillan, but that’s beside the point.)
Among the guests, John 5 rips solos on “I’m Down” (Beatles) and the thumpin’ “Politician” (Stones). He executes both modern and traditional rock and roll guitar solos, but goes wild for the “I’m Down” outro, on which he shreds. Lita Ford also appears, but not on guitar. She sings on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. While there’s no denying that’s a classic song that influenced Ace, how many people have covered “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”? Lita’s voice has barely changed since the 80s and she is easily the charismatic highlight of this overplayed tune, and a highlight of the album as a whole. One guy whose voice has changed a bit is Robin Zander of Cheap Trick, who sings on “30 Days in the Hole”. He can still do it with power and range, but you can hear the years. Speaking of voices, Ace doesn’t sing on the Kiss cover “She” but the vocals are split three ways among the backing musicians, and they capture a reasonable facsimile of that vintage Paul/Gene layered vibe.
The most interesting guest of the lot could be one of Ace’s replacements in Kiss, Mr. Bruce Kulick himself. Of course, over the years Bruce and Ace have jammed a few times, and it’s sheer delight to hear them together. Bruce has, arguably, the best guitar solo on the whole album, with “Manic Depression”. The guy is greased lightning, extra greasy! It’s warming to see Ace and Bruce put egos aside and just play some music. Any time, guys, any time.
Giving credit to Ace for one more thing, “Lola” does sound like his kind of tune. His vocal shortcomings are obvious here but don’t really get in the way. Whether you like that song or not, Ace has a quirky side that “Lola” fits, just as sweet as Coca-Cola.
Bonus: the album comes with nice liner notes by Kiss scribe Julian Gill.
Let’s hope Ace has the covers out of his system for now. Another original album, hell even a live album would be cool, but no more covers Ace, please!