Magna Carta

REVIEW: Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998)

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998 Magna Carta)

Liquid Tension Experiment is a supergroup on Magna Carta, which should tell you much.

Featuring not one, not two, but three guys from Dream Theater, plus Tony Levin, Liquid Tension Experiment is the progressive fan’s dream band.  Granted, keyboardist Jordan Rudess wasn’t in Dream Theater yet when they did this CD, but that’s where people know him from today.  Drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci are the other driving forces behind Liquid Tension Experiment.

To use phrases like “mind blowing”, “insane”, “incredible” or “the shredder’s wet dream” don’t even begin to touch what the album Liquid Tension Experiment is about.  The liner notes by Mike Portnoy reveal that this project was assembled based on a wish list of players and their availability.  Rudess and Levin were on the list but guitarists just weren’t available, so that’s how Petrucci stepped in.  Together they had six days to write and record this album.  That it turned out so incredibly well says volumes about these guys as musicians.

Liquid Tension Experiment is not just an instrumental album with wicked playing.  The compositions are strong enough to make the album rise well above similar projects.  Magna Carta is loaded with insane projects by the best players in the world, but how many of those albums are good for repeated listenings?  The melodic and tonal sensibilities of Petrucci in particular really keep the album grounded, in a way that even lay people can enjoy.  Levin adds the Chapman Stick and a new agey flavour to the lighter material.  Check out “Osmosis” for a fine example of this.

Most of the album is heavy jammin’. It’s Mike Portnoy, and he does that so well. Together, they create a challenging sound but one with enough hooks that anyone can get into it. You might not realize how many time changes, weird chords and tempos you’re being exposed to, but you are, and you’ll be far better for it.

Together the album consists of nine songs and one spontaneous jam that exceeds 28 minutes! In fact, the tape ran out while recording, so the tail end of the song is from a DAT tape that Portnoy always runs when rehearsing. According to the notes, this piece ironically called “Three Minute Warning” was 100% improvised. “Not a single beat or note was discussed beforehand.” And no fixes or overdubs were made after the fact. It’s over 28 minutes of pure improvisation, and it came out brilliant. Everybody needs some of that in their life, to experience what pure free-form musical genius sounds like.

Must-hear pieces include “Paradigm Shift”, “Osmosis”, “Freedom of Speech” and “Universal Mind”.  It goes without saying that the 28 minute jam is essential as well.

This self-produced album also just sounds incredible.  The sonics are huge, but when the layers are peeled back, you can hear everything so clearly.  The Chapman Stick also adds a huge palette, sometimes heavier than lead and others lighter than a feather.  I’m sure the excellent audio is partly due to the mixing skills of one Kevin “Caveman” Shirley.  Don’t hesitate to pick up Liquid Tension Experiment if you see it.  There was also a second album made called 2, but this is the one to get if it crosses your path.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Working Man (Tribute to Rush, 1996)

Scan_20160821WORKING MAN (1996 Magna Carta tribute to Rush)

This CD was released in 1996, and almost immediately the music press started reporting that Rush were trying to have it taken off the shelves.  One of our former owners at the Record Store, the infamous Tom, said:  “I can see why they were trying to do that.  Because it’s too fucking good.”

It actually is.  There are few tribute albums worth listening to all the way through.  How many can you name:  Encomium, the Zeppelin tribute?  The Sabbath tributes Nativity in Black?  Do you listen to those front to back?  That’s the best and only way to enjoy Working Man.  So numerous are the progressive rock and hard rock names here that we may have trouble keeping track of them all.

Sebastian Bach hails from the Great White North, so it is only appropriate for him to open this CD with the title track.  He also passionately stuns on “Jacob’s Ladder” a bit later on, utilising the power and range he is known for.  What names on these songs!  Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan play drums and bass respectively; two guys often cited as the best in the world on their instruments!  If that wasn’t enough, ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee shreds the hell out of “Working Man” while John Petrucci from Dream Theater goes for the throat on “Jacob’s”.  Take a minute to absorb all that.

Seamlessly, “Working Man” develops into “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” with James LaBrie of Dream Theater in peak voice.  Sheehan and Portnoy handle the rhythm for most of the album, so you can be assured that the chops of Mr. Lee and Mr. Peart are served well here by the next generation of players.  Dream Theater fans will lose their shit completely.  But there is so much more here than just progressive rockers letting it fly.  A youthful and impressive Jack Russell from Great White takes on the galloping “Analog Kid” from Signals and wins.  Have no fear or doubts: this may seem strange, but Russell’s version of “Analog Kid” may well be one of the best Rush covers you’ll ever hear.  (Especially when Billy Sheehan and guitarist Michael Romeo do a synched-up dual bass/guitar solo!)

Other highlights:

  • The late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery has no problems with “The Trees”, an excellent version.
  • Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors) takes the main guitar part for “La Villa Strangiato”, causing spontaneous head explosions.
  • Blue-eyed soul singer Eric Martin (Mr. Big) does a fine job of the light “Mission”, though it sounds very different from the shred-rock elsewhere.
  • A bang-on “Closer to the Heart” performed by Fates Warning is a must-have for fans.
  • James LaBrie and his old bandmate in Winter Rose, Rich Chycki, reunite on the classic “Red Barchetta”.  A little added Can-Con for rock fans.

And best of all, Devin Townsend screaming his balls off, all over “Natural Science”.  Without a doubt, Townsend has the most unorthodox interpretation, but it’s Devin Townsend, so you must expect the unexpected.  This guy is an underrated national treasure, and along with James Murphy (Death, Testament) on guitar, Stu Hamm on bass, and Deen Castronovo on drums, all walls are shattered.  “Natural Science” is undoubtedly the most different track here, and consequently it’s the most exciting.

The only mis-fire:

  • “Anthem”, with Mark Slaughter and George Lynch.  Slaughter’s voice is too shrill.  (I cannot handle when he shrieks “Come on!  Yeah!” at the start.)  George’s Eastern-flavoured shredding is also overdone and misplaced.

That means out of 13 tracks, 12 of them are keepers.

For an added layer of authenticity, the CD was mixed by Terry Brown himself, in Toronto.  Prices fluctuate wildly, but fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Sebastian Bach or Devin Townsend would be wise to pick this up if found in their travels.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Diamond Dave (2003)

DIAMOND DAVE_0001DAVID LEE ROTH – Diamond Dave (2003 Magna Carta)

One can indeed judge a book by its cover. David Lee Roth is hands-on with every aspect of his product, be it a photo shoot, a recording session, or an interview. He must have known his Diamond Dave album was crap, so he made a terrible cover to match it. Check out the tan, that wig and them pants!  (Also notice:  furry walls!)

This album, following up another aborted Van Halen reunion and the surprisingly powerful album DLR Band, switches gears and shows Dave’s “multi-faceted side”. Sure, we all know Dave likes disco, jazz, blues, showtunes, and standards.  It’s Dave doing what he did very successfully on Crazy From the Heat, and trying to do so again.  To make an album of this stuff would be fine, but Diamond Dave lacks any sort of zap.  At all.  It’s just one “who cares” cover after another, a couple crappy originals, and a Van Halen tune.

Dave’s voice just doesn’t generate the heat it once did, and all of Diamond Dave suffers for it.  The way Van Halen did A Different Kind of Truth used a lot of production on Dave.  Here, Roth is a whimper, a wheeze, a breathless gasp at the greatness that once was. To listen to this album in one sitting is an exersize in stamina. I know because I’ve done it.

Positives:  Instrumental moments on the Steve Miller cover “Shoo Bop”.  The ace rhythm section of LoMenzo and Luzier are complimented by a guitarist named Brian Young who is shit-hot on this.  Then Dave goes all dance-y on it…ugh.  “She’s Looking Good” is old-school and well done.

The indigestible:  The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen”.  Nobody needs to cover the Doors; Dave makes them sound like Smash Mouth.  Hendrix’ “If 6 Was 9” has too much of Dave’s boring talking voice, but not enough crooning.  His cover of the otherwise excellent Beatles number “Tomorrow Never Knows” (which he actually had the audicity to rename “That Beatles Tune”!?) sucks all the life and innovation out of a great song, as he wheezes to the finish line.    This is by far the worst song, even though he also covers “Let It All Hang Out”.

There is only one number here worth owning, which is his Las Vegas version of “Ice Cream Man”. He did this shortly after Your Filthy Little Mouth with Edgar Winter, Omar Hakim, Greg Phillinganes, and Nile Rodgers!  According to Dave’s autobiography Crazy From the Heat, this was recorded in a live in a video shoot.  The video was never released, but the audio was finally released.  It lives up to the hype if not the wait.

Decide what you are willing to pay for one or two songs, and buy accordingly.

1/5 stars