Night Ranger

REVIEW: Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees (1990)


Scan_20160525DAMN YANKEES – Damn Yankees (1990 Warner)

Now here is an album I haven’t played in a long time!

When the supergroup known as Damn Yankees first emerged in 1990, they quickly became my favourite new band.  Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw (Styx), Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and drummer Michael Cartellone emerged with one of the hottest new albums of the summer:  Pure radio-ready hard rock, but with the integrity added by the Nuge himself.  All aboard!

(I like that Ted is in the credits also as “security”.  You can picture it.)

So what is Damn Yankees?  Light rock, Great Gonzos, or a mixture?  The answer is:  all of the above.

The predominant direction is radio-ready hard rock circa the time. Even though all these guys had been around for a while (especially Ted), if you didn’t know who they were it was easy to mistake them for the new hot band.  Their lyrics are geared to the young.

Dressed to kill and lookin’ dynamite,
With her high-laced stockings and her sweater so tight,
I asked her name,
She said her name was ‘Maybe’…

Oh come on guys!    Jack Blades was 36 years old when he sang that.  We already have one Gene Simmons.  Thankfully, the lead single “Coming of Age” was musically impeccable for hard pop rock.  Lyrically, there is nothing of any value here, just meaningless male drivel.  The Van-Hagar like licks of “Coming of Age” are enhanced by the aggressive lead guitar work of Terrible Ted, who probably thought the lyrics were pure poetry.

The bluesy riff of “Bad Reputation” screams Nugent, but the vocals of Blades and Shaw blend as if they have always been a vocal team.  Of course as we all know, Damn Yankees led to a long and very productive partnership for the two, with Shaw-Blades being a personal favourite album.  The most remarkable thing about Damn Yankees is indeed the blend of vocals.  Just listen to that bridge in the middle of “Bad Reputation”.  Two rock singers rarely complement each other as well as Shaw and Blades.  But just when you thought it was going too folksy, Ted returns with a fluttering blitzkreig of strings and (probably) freshly killed meat.

“Runaway” features some of Shaw’s great slide guitar work, on a mid-tempo rocker with an unforgettable anthemic chorus.  Damn Yankees is often forgotten for its guitar work.  Think about it though:  Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent are two of America’s best from the old school.  While the songs are simple pop rock, the solos are simply awesome.

By the time fall 1990 rolled around, it was time to drop a ballad for a single:  “High Enough”.  In the year 1990 there were a number of acoustic ballads that were all very similar sounding:  “Silent Lucidity”, “More Than Words”, and “High Enough”.   There is no better way to describe “High Enough” than “sounds like summer 1990”.  Unfortunately it does not stand out or have any qualities that make it more memorable than the other ballads out that year.  The saccharine strings just do me in.  I get ballad-fatigue. And let’s not even talk about that awful music video.

The band’s namesake track “Damn Yankees” sounds like a Nugent song.  It has a chunky, ballsy riff, though nothing to write home to mother about.  Unfortunately the lyrics are terribly dated, the kind of pro-American intervention sentiment that went out fashion many years ago.  With references to Manuel Noriega and the Middle East, this is all much less glorious with the benefit of hindsight.  There’s a lesson to be learned there:  avoid overly politicizing your lyrics, young rockers.

For a better ballad than “High Enough”, check out side two’s opening track “Come Again”.  This one is old-school, sounding something like Styx’s “Boat on a River” colliding with the Nuge on “Stranglehold”.   It builds into a frenetic solo section that is just to die for, Nuge seemingly doing his best Eddie VH impression.  Then on “Mystified”, Ted brings the blues while Tommy gets down on the pedal steel.  This is a great little blues rock jam of the kind ZZ Top are comfortable with.  I’m certain Rev. Billy would approve of the Nuge’s blues licks, authentic as they come.

“Rock City” ain’t bad at all, accelerated for your pleasure and name-dropping Jimmy Page in the lyrics.  It’s not the heaviest song on the album — they save that for the end — but it’s definitely second.  There is little doubt, based on interviews with the band, that the heaviness came from Ted.  Let’s all take a moment now to thank Ted Nugent for rocking so damn hard.  Thank you, Mr. Nugent.  Penultimate track “Tell Me How You Want It” is a pretty good mid-tempo song, with classy vocals from Tommy and Jack.  Had they released more singles from the album, this one would have been up for the job.

And then finally…

A blues lick, and Ted speaking:  “Nice lick!  I have a feeling this is gonna be a rhythm and blues song…nice, real nice.  Tasty.  WAITAMINUTE!”

“Piledriver” is just a dumb sex song, but it’s also pure Gonzo Ted, the Ted you knew was hiding somewhere on this album.  You wanna hear Ted go friggin’ top gear for four and a half minutes?  “Piledriver”, baby!  Tommy and Jack on the backing vocals even drop an F-bomb!  Can you believe it?  They’re the nice guys of the band!  But let’s not forget Michael Cartellone on the drums, hammering relentlessly, not only keeping up with Great Gonzo but setting the freakin’ pace!  Even without headbanging along (strongly recommended), you’re exhausted by the end of the tune.

I say again, thank you Mr. Nugent.

As it turns out, Damn Yankees is still an entertaining listen 26 years later.  I didn’t properly appreciate the smoking guitars on it at the time.  Back then, I was interested in ballads and singles and catchy tunes.  Even so I still liked “Piledriver” back then…because it’s awesome.  The album’s real flaw is on the lyric sheet.  I know these guys can do better than some of these tracks.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996)

Part 5 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Trouble Walkin’?  Click here!

Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996 DeRock/Triage)

Just in time for the massive Kiss reunion tour came this tribute CD.  There were several versions of this.  I have the second-coolest of the three:

  • Least cool:  Regular domestic 10 track CD.
  • Second coolest:  Import CD (Europe?) with brand new bonus track by Ace Frehley himself, called “Take Me To the City”
  • Most cool:  Japanese import CD with that and Sebastian Bach’s “Save Your Love”

This is one of those tributes made up of a mish-mash of metal musicians, no real “bands” so to speak, although all are great musicians.  Scott Travis plays drums on most of it (lending an awkward Priest-like vibe to the drums), Charlie Benate plays with Scott Ian on “Rip It Out”, and Vinnie Paul of course plays with Dimebag Darrel on “Fractured Mirror”.  (This site has all the information and credits for the CD.  Enjoy!  You’ll notice the backing band is basically Racer X on most tracks.)

I’m good with every track on here except one:  Bruce Bouillet’s version of “New York Groove”.  I’m not into drum loops in general, and although the track has a funky groove to it, it’s just not my bag.  On the other hand, Scott Ian’s cover of “Rip It Out” is Anthrax-worthy.  Frankie Bello’s on bass, and somebody named Zach Throne sings it with Scott.  Zach nails an authentic Ace-like vocal, while Charlie’s relentless on the drums.  The Anton Fig drum solo is almost exact note-for-note.  As is the signature guitar solo.

Gilby Clarke’s “Shock Me” is one of the better tracks. I don’t usually think of Gilby as a soloist, since in GN’R he didn’t solo.  His soloing style is unlike Ace’s, but he performs an original solo of his own that is appropriate to song.  On the other hand I wouldn’t count “Deuce” by Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) as a favourite.  The vocal (by somebody called Tom Gattis) is a tad overwrought.   Another “blah” tune is “Snowblind”, performed in a too-modern metally sound by Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) and Snake Sabo from Skid Row.

Ron Young (Little Caesar, the Four Horsemen) has a soulful but southern sound on “Hard Luck Woman”, an odd choice for a Frehley tribute.  Written by Paul and sung by Peter, the original was created for Rod Stewart to sing!  But it’s as good a cover as any, and I don’t have a lot of other stuff of Ron’s, so I’m cool with this.  Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) is on guitar.

We all knew Sebastian Bach would knock it out of the park on “Rock Bottom”, and he does.  “Rock Bottom” wasn’t written by Ace, but he did write the intro, performed here by Russ Parish of Fight/Steel Panther.  Baz is obviously a huge Kiss fan and the song is in great hands, although the solo’s way too modern.  Still, I wish I had “Save Your Love” too.

IMG_00000627Tracii Guns is passable on “Parasite”, but again I think the song is done in a style too contemporary.  Up next is John Norum of Europe, with “Cold Gin”!  (Hey, two songs in a row written by Ace!)  McMaster is back on lead vocals, not my fave singer in the world.  John is a great guitarist, and this version of “Cold Gin” is heavy with fills.  Some go with the song, some miss the mark.

Dime’s “Fractured Mirror” is perfect, even the production and sound of the acoustic guitar is eerily similar to Ace’s original.  Dime may well have been the biggest Ace Frehley fan in the world. Darrell does throw some of his own personality into the song, but I think foremost on his mind was probably playing the song the way he remembered it.  And he does.

Lastly, “Take Me To the City” is performed by Ace himself, with his crack band:  Steve Werner on drums, Karl Cochran on bass, Richie Scarlet on guitar and backing vocals, and…Sebastian Bach is there too at the end!  This Ace rarity is the best of all reasons to track down this CD.  This is Ace back to a hard rocking Frehley’s Comet sound, with an anthemic chorus.  When Baz shows up at the end, it’s icing on the cake (although you need to turn it ^UP^ to catch him in the fade).

I don’t really buy tribute albums anymore, because I find these mish-mashes of somewhat related artists to be a bit tedious.  Still, it’s pretty solid, and definitely worthwhile to fans of bands like Pantera, Skid Row, or Anthrax.  The Ace bonus track is pretty much a compulsory purchase.

3/5 stars

Soon, we’ll also be talking about another quality tribute album with some surprising guests and alumni.  Stay tuned.

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REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Speak of the Devil / Talk of the Devil (1983)

 

OZZY OSBOURNE – Speak of the Devil (1983 Epic)

After Randy Rhoads died, Ozzy really seemed to have gone into a tailspin. He just seems to have been completely miserable at the time and he really tries to bury the albums he made in this period. Speak Of The Devil, a live album featuring Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) on guitar, was not even included on Ozzy’s 2002 reissue program and went out of print.

Ozzy owed his label a live album, and had actually recorded one too (Randy Rhoads Tribute).  With fresh wounds from the loss of Randy, Ozzy didn’t want to do a live album at all.    So a compromise instead; Speak of the Devil (Talk of the Devil overseas) consisted entirely of Black Sabbath songs.  At the same time, Sabbath was releasing their own double live album, Live Evil.  This direct competition poured fuel over an already volatile feud.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL_0003I always hate to compare Ozzy’s versions of Sabbath songs with the originals. Ozzy’s have always sounded different because of the guitar players he’s chosen to use over the years. These Gillis versions are about as authentic as Ozzy’s been, until the fortuitous discovery of Zakk Wylde five years later.  Gillis is a flashier player than Iommi, but without Randy’s intricate classical bent.

You absolutely cannot argue with the track list (from the Ritz, in New York). This is Sabbath boiled down to its black core. These are the desert island songs, and I love that “Never Say Die” and “Symptom of the Universe” were included.  Through the classics, Ozzy sounds tremendously drunk.  Colossally smashed, not quite completely out of his fucking head yet, but close.  Still lucid, not yet totally annihilated.  His voice takes on an angry shade when he starts reminiscing about the the groupies at the old Fillmore East (“The Wizard”).  (Sounds like a naughty word was awkwardly edited of out this ramble, too.)

I do love a moment when, just before breaking into the aforementioned “Wizard”, Ozzy says to somebody (a roadie?) “Hey, what’s happenin’ man?”

The vocals sound like they’ve been sweetened in the studio.  They’ve been double tracked, or manipulated to have that effect.  I’m normally not a fan of that kind of thing, but it’s still a great listen.  There’s some annoying feedback at points…it doesn’t bother me too much, hell, when I first heard this album (on cassette) in 1991, I couldn’t even hear the feedback, for the shitty fidelity of cassette tape.  I’m sure Ozzy considers the album to be sonically embarrassing, that seems to be his modus operandi.

Of note, “Sweet Leaf” did not manage to make the original CD release, but has been restored to this version, its CD debut.  It was on the original cassette version, a cassette-and-LP-only “bonus track” at the time.  (Aaron, that means you gotta buy remastered or LP.)

Band lineup: Osbourne/Gillis/Sarzo/Aldridge/Airey.

4.5/5 stars

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