max webster

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

Advertisements

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.

QUIZ: What’s in LeBrain’s Bag?

Saturday September 30th was Sunrise Records’ “Grand Re-opening” across Canada.  I’ve been shopping there for months now, but the 30th was a ceremonial event.  They had prizes and sales, but as usual I came for music.

Brother Tom sometimes asks me, “Why do you go to Sunrise?  Go to Encore Records — a real record store.”  I get what he means.  Encore has long reigned as the Best Music Store in Kitchener-Waterloo.  Even back when Tom and I were in the business, we knew Encore had the game all sewed up in this town.

I like going to Sunrise for a number of reasons; one is location.  I got there in four minutes.  Two, I want them to do well with this re-opening.  The mall needs a record store.  A mall without a record store is just a Walmart with a food court.


On to the quiz:  What is in LeBrain’s Bag? Examine the picture at top and post your answer in the comments.

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.

The Prize:

I WILL DRAW A PICTURE FOR YOU, yes that’s right I WILL DRAW YOU A PICTURE!

Guess just one record and I will draw a picture for you, probably of a Schnauzer, but you never know.  Airplanes are also cool.

Guess both records and we will send you to Dr. Peter Venkman to be tested for ESP ability.


The big new release this week was the long awaited 8-disc Max Webster box set, The Party. It’s all their albums (except the “greatest hits” Diamonds Diamonds), a disc of unreleased rarities and the Kim Mitchell EP too.  Encore Records had it — 15 copies.  Sunrise had it too.  My copy was on pre-order from Amazon, for $89.99.

When I arrived at Sunrise, I nearly shit my pants.  They had it for $25 cheaper — only $64.99.  I jumped on my phone immediately, logged into my Amazon account and tried to cancel my pre-order.  It was already staged for shipping.  The cancellation wouldn’t go through?

What happened?  Was I able to cancel my Amazon order?  Would Sunrise still have the box set when I came back?  Tune back later today for the answer to today’s quiz and the conclusion to the story!

REVIEW: Talas – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998)

scan_20161211TALAS – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998 Metal Blade)

The Talas story did not end with the breakup of the band.  Of course not; bands both famous and obscure like to reunite for nostalgia shows.  Talas did that in 1997 with the original power trio lineup:  Billy Sheehan on bass, Paul Varga on drums, and Dave Constantino on electric guitar.  With classic material (from the first two Talas albums) and a few unreleased songs, they memorialized their reunion with a brand new live CD.  Billy even pulled his old platform boots out of the closet for this one.

As usual the set opens with “Sink Your Teeth Into That” and an enthusiastic home town crowd.  Talas only sounded better with age.  The original voices are there and just as strong as they were in 1982.  It actually sounds like everyone has improved over the years.  A speedy “High Speed on Ice” is in the second spot ensuring no loss of momentum.  Material from the first self-titled Talas album is included too (unlike the last live album Live Speed on Ice).  “Expert on Me” is very pop in construction, but clearly not as great as the songs from album #2, Sink Your Teeth Into That.  Speaking of which, the slow rumbler “Never See Me Cry” is brilliantly adapted to the stage.

“Power to Break Away” is one of the previously unrecorded songs, and it kicks it just as hot as anything from Sink Your Teeth Into That.  It’s taut with hooks and the prerequisite bass workouts.  “Tell Me True” is the second unreleased song, a slow non-descript dirge ballad that takes a while to get going.

Imagine Billy Sheehan plowing his bass right through a funky Led Zeppelin riff.  That’s “Thick Head”, an awesome track from Talas (1979).  “You” has a cool vibe, almost like an unheard Aerosmith demo from the Done With Mirrors era.  A few other tunes from the first Talas (“Most People”, “Any Other Day” and “See Saw”) are adequately entertaining.  Back to Sink Your Teeth Into That, “King of the World” is still one of the best Talas tunes, overshadowed by only a few like “Shy Boy”.  Here, “Shy Boy” is preceded by a Paul Varga drum solo.  The sheer velocity of “Shy Boy” itself makes me wonder how Varga did it.  It’s just pedal to the metal, blurring the lines and smoking the minds.

Nothing like a good cover to help draw a live album to a close.  Talas did two:  “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Battle Scar”.  The King Crimson cover is a daring one to attempt.  They somehow manage to strip it down and pull it off with integrity.  As for “Battle Scar”?  Total surprise there!  Max Webster were just across the border from Buffalo, and Billy Sheehan nearly joined Max at one point late in their career.  Introduced by a Billy Sheehan bass solo, this Max/Rush cover is the set closer.  As a final addition, “Battle Scar” surely makes this one hell of an album for the history books.  (The Japanese version has a bonus track called “Doin’ It Right” — this shall be reviewed at a later date.  Our copy is on order but will not arrive for several weeks.)

Since this is a more recent release on a well known label (Metal Blade), it turns out that If We Knew Then What We Know Now is an easy CD to find in the shops.  Fortunately this is a good first Talas album to add to any collection.

4/5 stars

scan_20161211-2

#433: Top 15 on the 15th (by LeBrain)

15

Getting More Tale #433 presents: A worldwide online event!
THE TOP 15 ON THE 15th

This is an event spanning many sites and writers in the World Wide Web today!  I will link to as many as possible.  A few months ago, the challenge was thrown down to all comers:  List your top 15 albums of all time!  The date September 15 was chosen for the deadline.

Hashtag it:  #top15onthe15th

You might have to wait for some of these to go live, but here are the links I have so far:

J at Resurrection Songs – Top 15 on the 15th
Uncle Meat – Top 15 on the 15th
Iron Tom Sharpe – Top 15 on the 15th
James at the KMA – Top 15 on the 15th
Sarca at Caught me Gaming – My Top 15 Music Albums of All Time
Deke at Arena Rock – DeKEs All Time Top 15 (Kinda,Sorta)
Geoff at the 1001 – Top 15 Albums
Aaron at the KMA – Top 15 on the 15th
Danica at Living a Beautiful Life – My Top 15 Albums of All Time
1537 from 1537 – Top 15 Books About Music
We Left This World Today – 15 is not enough…
Andytallman from A Hole in the Head – Top 15 Albums of All Time
Pop Culture Forays – Top 15 Albums
Brian from Boppin’s Blog – Top 15 on the 15th
Ovidiu Boar at Tangled Up In Music – Top 15 on the 15th
80sMetalMan – My Top 15 Albums
Jimmy at kingcrimsonblog – Top 15 on the 15th
Another Bad Conversation – My Top 15 on the 15th
Nick from Nick Green’s Reviews – Top 15 on the 15th
Zack at The Audible Stew – #top15onthe15th
Quirky T at The Guitar Train – The Guitar Train’s Top 15 Albums
Ian at The 80s didn’t suck – Top 15 Albums (Plus 54 Others)


Oh, how I loathe lists! Readers seem to love “Top Whatever” lists; different kinds, but I sure do hate making them.

However, I don’t like doing things in half-measures either. So for this, the Top 15 on the 15th, I’ve gone one step beyond. Not only do you get my Top 15 on the 15th, but also a list of the Top 15 tracks to listen to from these 15 amazing albums.

As of today, here are my Top 15. These will change periodically, probably tomorrow, and again the day after. See why I hate lists?  In the end I decided that I wanted to fairly represent some of my favourite artists.  But enough whining from me — let’s rock.  Spin these little bastards for a good time!

LEATHER15. Judas Priest – Hell Bent for Leather (Killing Machine)

VACATIONS14. Max Webster – A Million Vacations

NEWS13. Queen – News of the World

SCHOOL12. Alice Cooper – School’s Out

BEATLES11. The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album)

JOHNNY10. Thin Lizzy – Johnny the Fox

HOUSES9. Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

SAN8. Johnny Cash – At San Quentin

ANGEL7. Faith No More – Angel Dust

MOVING6. Rush – Moving Pictures

19845. Van Halen – 1984

Let’s stop here for a moment.  The thing about my top albums list is, the top four never change.  Four of these five albums have been in my top five for a long as I can remember making lists for.  The order may change, but that top four have been my top four, forever.  They are indelibly heat-stamped onto my grey matter.  These are as much a part of me as my left arm!

PIECE4. Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind

HOTTER3. Kiss – Hotter Than Hell

FIREBALL2. Deep Purple – Fireball

BORN1. Black Sabbath – Born Again

Right there are 15 incredible collections of music, both studio and live. But let’s not fool ourselves. Nobody is going to listen to all 15 of those albums just because some guy on the internet who goes by the name of “LeBrain” said so. I have chosen to distill these 15 amazing records down into 15 key tracks. I’m sure nobody needs an introduction to the big hits, so here are tracks you may not have heard. If you have ever cared about rock music, then you need to listen to these Top 15 Songs from the Top 15 Albums, on the 15th!

1. Rush – “Vital Signs”

2. Black Sabbath – “Disturbing the Priest”

3. Queen – “It’s Late”

4. Iron Maiden – “Where Eagles Dare”

5. The Beatles – “Dear Prudence”

6. Johnny Cash – “San Quentin”


“If any of the guards are still speakin’ to me, can I get a glass of water?”

7. Led Zeppelin – “The Ocean”

8. Thin Lizzy – “Massacre”

9. Alice Cooper – “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets”

10. Deep Purple – “Fools”

11. Iron Maiden – “Revelations”

12. Judas Priest – “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”

13. Alice Cooper – “My Stars”

14. Queen – “Spread Your Wings”

15. Deep Purple – “No No No”

Astute readers will realize that one singer appears on two albums. Ian Gillan was fronting Black Sabbath in ’83 for Born Again, and of course is best known as Deep Purple’s lead howler. Does this double appearance make Ian Gillan the greatest rock vocalist of all time? No. But the greatest does appear, with Queen on News of the World – Freddie Mercury!

#422: Sausagefest 2015 – The Complete Countdown (& some quick pics)

IMG_20150704_151011

Seb and LeBrain, this year’s videographers

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#422: Sausagefest 2015 – The Complete Countdown

The annual trek to Sausagefest is centred upon the always epic Countdown.  There were many misadventures on the way to the Countdown, and after.  While I am sworn to abide by the credo “What happens at Sausagefest stays at Sausagefest,” I am also bound by my own nature as a storyteller.  Therefore, I can share with you a number of brief tidbits, hints, and insinuations.

Yes founder Chris Squire died only days before the Sausagefest countdown.  It was too late to include a tribute a Squire tribute into the countdown itself, so Tom and Uncle Meat sequenced about an hour of Squire’s best music to precede the actual countdown.  This was a promising hour, but upon hitting “play” on the laptop, it was immediately obvious that something was wrong.  We were only getting one channel.  Yes music, with its layers and wide stereo panning, turned out to be great music to test the four speakers.  Unfortunately it took almost all of the Squire-allotted time, seventeen men* and one record producer to figure out that all the muss was being caused by an RCA adapter somewhere.  We got two Squire songs, excellent as they were.

The Countdown this year was informally dubbed “The Greatest Songs of All Time”, because for the first time in years, the slate had been cleared and any and all songs were open for voting.  Because of this anything goes approach and some younger blood, we got to hear a lot of classic tunes that often are either overlooked or just not up for grabs.  I’m sure this was the first ever appearance of Boston on the countdown.  I can probably say the same for Foreigner.  These top ten hits are offset by more obscure favourites by Ian Thomas and UFO.

Now below, please analyse and enjoy the one and only OFFICIAL 2015 Sausagefest Countdown.  Every track was a winner.  I’ve highlighted songs I voted for (only two this year).

1 Battle Scar Max Webster/Rush
2 Shine on You Crazy Diamond^ Pink Floyd
3 Hallowed be Thy Name Iron Maiden
4 Working Man Rush
5 Sultans of Swing Dire Straits
6 La Villa Strangiato Rush
7 Eulogy for the Damned Orange Goblin
8 When the Levee Breaks Led Zeppelin
9 Natural Science Rush
10 A Day in the Life The Beatles/War mashup

^ The whole thing…parts I-IX.

Look at that majesty.  FOUR RUSH SONGS IN THE TOP TEN!

11 Fatso Forgetso Kyuss
12 Heaven and Hell Black Sabbath
13 Toronto Tontos Max Webster
14 Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd
15 Superstition Stevie Wonder
16 Rime of the Ancient Mariner Iron Maiden
17 Master of Puppets Metallica
18 End of my Daze Trouble
19 Papa Was a Rolling Stone The Temptations
20 The Trooper Iron Maiden
21 Ramble Tamble Creedence Clearwater Revival
22 War Pigs Black Sabbath
23 Penis Ground Groove Daddys
24 The Ocean Led Zeppelin
25 Stranglehold Ted Nugent
26 Sympathy for the Devil The Rolling Stones
27 Muffin Man Frank Zappa
28 Smokin’ Boston
29 Child in Time (Live ’72) Deep Purple
30 Aces High Iron Maiden
31 Into the Void Black Sabbath
32 25 or 6 to 4 Chicago
33 Machine Gun Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsies
34 Doctor Doctor UFO
35 Kashmir Led Zeppelin
36 Old Man Neil Young
37 Suite: Judy Blue Eyes CSNY
38 Illegal Smile John Prine
39 Testify Rage Against the Machine
40 Get Up Offa That Thing James Brown
41 Belzelboss Tenacious D
42 Emerald Thin Lizzy
43 Sweatleaf Black Sabbath
44 Tribute Tenacious D
45 Tres Brujas The Sword
46 I Black Sabbath
47 The Temples of Syrinx Rush
48 Space Oddity David Bowie
49 46 & 2 Tool


“Then I fuckin’ diddle-riddle-dee-doo.”

50 Monkberry Moon Delight Paul McCartney & Wings
51 39 Tenacious D
52 What is Hip? Tower of Power
53 Over the Hills and Far Away Led Zeppelin
54 The Mob Goes Wild Clutch
55 Better Living Through Chemistry Queens of the Stone Age
56 Mongoose Fu Manchu
57 Roadhouse Blues The Doors
58 Inside Looking Out Grand Funk Railroad
59 Hurt Johnny Cash
60 Don’t Stop Me Now Queen
61 Careful with that Axe Eugene Pink Floyd
62 The Chain Fleetwood Mac
63 Ophelia The Band
64 Jukebox Hero Foreigner
65 Fairies Wear Boots Black Sabbath
66 Where the Devil Don’t Stay Drive By Truckers
67 Fat Bottomed Girls Queen
68 Under Pressure Queen
69 Fools Overture Supertramp
70 The Pot Tool
71 Tempus Fugit Yes
72 Thunderstruck AC/DC
73 Green Eyed Lady Sugarloaf
74 Duke’s Travels Genesis
75 Red Hot Mama Funkadelic
76 Painted Ladies Ian Thomas
77 Down by the River Neil Young

Please note that double-shot of Queen, above!

Also note the presence of “Penis Ground” by the Groove Daddys (not to be confused with the Groove Daddies, or Groove Daddy).  This was a local trio fronted by guitarist and singer extraordinaire Rob Szabo.  I certainly didn’t expect anything that obscure making the list, considering the diversity of folks that attend.  To rank all the way up at #23?  That’s proof of the sheer quality of the music.  Indi enough for ya?

Once again, a huge thanks to Tom, Meat and everyone else for working so hard for us.  Thanks Craig Fee and Jeff Woods for your much-appreciated willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.  And lastly thanks to Uncle Meat for being such a delightful travel-mate this year.  Enjoy some of these pictures from the weekend, official video still to follow!

The Setup:

The Live Bands:

The Fest:

The Aftermath:

IMG_20150705_110509

* I didn’t take a head-count, but I swear if it wasn’t seventeen guys trying to fix the thing, it was close.  It doesn’t really matter because more wouldn’t have helped!

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