Paul Varga

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

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REVIEW: Talas – Sink Your Teeth Into That (1982)

A two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.

scan_20161210BILLY SHEEHAN – The Talas Years (Part One of Two)  (1989 Relativity)
TALAS – Sink Your Teeth Into That (1982 Relativity)

Fans of David Lee Roth are probably already aware of Talas via their incredible bassist Billy Sheehan, an innovative genius of the four-string rumble.  His first recordings were with Talas (1979-1983), a Buffalo power trio.  With Roth, he re-recorded the Talas track “Shy Boy” on Eat ‘Em And Smile.  The Talas original can be found on their second LP Sink Your Teeth Into That, or the compilation The Talas Years.

The focus is immediately and obvious on the bass.  Billy plays it simultaneously as a lead instrument, and the rhythmic foundation.  “Sink Your Teeth Into That”, the title track boasts not only insane playing, but sounds that had never been heard before from a bass guitar.  And the song’s pretty good too.  It’s raw 80s hard rock, no more no less, except for that bass.  “Hit and Run” is just as strong.  Talas were not just a bass showcase, but a band that could actually write good songs.  These are unpolished and rough songs, with the band (Dave Constantino on guitar and Paul Varga on drums) alternating lead vocals.

The centerpiece of the album is the bass solo “NVH 3345”.  Write that down and turn it upside down:  it spells “SHEEHAN”.  It has been said before that as Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” was a game changer on guitar,  “NVH 3345” is the “Eruption” of the bass guitar.  It is hard to imagine more sheer technique stuffed into 2:21.  For anyone who is a serious collector of hard rock heroes, “NVH 3345” must find a way into your collection.

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“High Speed On Ice” returns to a hard rocking momentum, like “Highway Star” via Buffalo New York.  Then “Shy Boy” which needed David Lee Roth and Steve Vai to finally perfect it.  Think of this version as a prototype.  It is hard to believe that David Lee Roth did not write the line “Gotta keep things movin’ ’til my personality starts it groovin'”, but Roth made it sound like he meant it.

“King of the World” and “Outside Lookin’ In” occupy the mid-tempo range, and that would be Billy singing those high screams.  Both good songs with the memorable hooks to go with the bass hijinks.  Shadows fall on “Never See Me Cry”, a darker side of Talas but still with the hooks intact.  Second to last song “Smart Lady” is the only loser.  There isn’t room for songs that just don’t cut it.  “Hick Town” ends the album on a better note, with bass pyrotechnics and thrills to go.

Sink your teeth into Talas, and come back tomorrow for a look at Live Speed on Ice.

4/5 stars

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