Phil Naro

REVIEW: Jim Crean – Greatest Hits (2018)

In a surprising turn of events, Jim Crean has been named the new singer for Vinnie Vincent! So it is a perfect time to review Jim Crean’s Greatest Hits.

JIM CREAN – Greatest Hits (2018 Visionary Noise)

Buffalo’s Jim Crean has four solo albums under his belt.   That’s a good minimum before you release a greatest hits.  There is enough material here for a solid listen, including two new songs from Crean’s forthcoming fifth album.

Several of the best tracks are hard rockers from Crean’s Insatiable. “Touch” remains a standout, a great song any rock songwriter would be envious of.  Not to mention Crean’s power-pipes lay waste to the chorus.  Check out the metal riffing on “Follow Your Heart”, too.  These taffy-sweet tracks claw into your cranium via your ear canal.  All you can do is surrender to it.

Crean’s also capable of standout ballads.  “Make It” and “Can’t Find My Way” (a duet with Mike Tramp) are fantastic.  Then he goes vintage Aerosmith on “She Goes Down”, a song that could have fit nicely on an album like Toys in the Attic.

There are a handful of covers on the 16 track album, and interesting choices too.  “Caught in the Middle” is, of course, Dio, performed with Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice.  “Over the Edge” is early 90s L.A. Guns, an excellent groove.  Crean also covered fellow Buffalo band the Goo Goo Dolls with the acoustic “Cuz You’re Gone”, one of the Goo’s finest ballads.

What about the new songs?  “Scream Taker” sounds like a Ronnie Dio tribute, with the lyrics cut and pasted from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio songs.  “Scream Taker” indicates that Crean has gone heavier on his fifth record.  The other new song, “Conflicted” has a strong traditional metal riffy vibe.  (Is that Billy Sheehan on bass?)  Both these new songs hint at a great album to come.  Guitarist Steph Honde, who plays on both new songs says that while the new Crean album will be a bit heavier, there will also be some great ballads.

Don’t have any Jim Crean yet?  Pick up his Greatest Hits to catch up.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 1 – Various Artists (1990)

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RAW M.E.A.T 1 (1990 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Drew Masters’ legendary metal magazine M.E.A.T took a lot of pride in promoting Canadian talent.  The next logical step was putting out a CD featuring the best of the best in unsigned Canadian rock and metal.  The flagship band was Toronto’s Slash Puppet.  On this first volume, only groups from the province of Ontario signed up.   Even though the talent all came from a small region in and around Toronto (with one exception), it’s a surprisingly diverse selection of styles.

I look at Raw M.E.A.T as a first tapping of an oil reserve.  It was a gusher.  So much untapped raw talent, unheard in suburbs.

“Slow Down” by Slash Puppet was previously issued on their indi tape, but Raw M.E.A.T 1 was its first issue on CD.  The track has been described as Motorhead meets Faster Pussycat and that still fits the bill.  Lead singer Anthony J. Mifsud was the sandpaper throat to go with the rough and tumble music.  You can hear why there was such a buzz around Slash Puppet.  They had pro-level tunes and performance. All they needed was a break.

Most Raw M.E.A.T buyers knew what they were getting with Slash Puppet. The rest of the tunes were uncharted territory.

Eiffel Power, from Taranna, knocked it out with “City Action”.  Singer Lionel Lois  had ample range and lung capacity for this fun metal shuffle, very current for the time.  Think of Extreme’s first album but with more muscle.  Then there’s the instantly likeable “Feel Me Sweet” by Brampton’s own Ragadee Anne.  Yes, it’s true:  coming up with names for bands isn’t always easy, but “Feel Me Sweet” kicks.  One reason they sound so professional is due to the production by Tom Treumuth (Triumph), surely an advantage in the studio.  Glam rock with bite and youthful innocence sure sounds good.

Blackglama (Toronto) take it to the streets with the rock/rap hybrid of “Playin’ Hardball (With the Big Boys)”.  This was just a year or two ahead of its time, though director Bruce McDonald used it in his 1991 film Highway 61  (but not the soundtrack CD).  The next group, Washington Wives, bring it to immaculately composed AOR rock.  “Memoirs, Etc.” has backing vocals from Phil Naro, from just across the border in Buffalo.  Naro is best known for Talas and his work with Kiss’ Peter Criss.  “Memoirs, Etc.” is vaguely familiar, as if you’ve heard its like on the radio before (Journey? Night Ranger?), but there’s no question this track was hit-ready.  Zero fat content, this is all meat of the most melodic variety.

Short Avenue has another “name” attached, that being “Scarpelli”.  Guitarist Gene Scarpelli is the son of Gino, of Toronto’s Goddo.  Short Avenue sounds nothing like Goddo, rather more like some tough street punks ready to mix it up.  With hindsight, they sound like precursors to The Four Horsemen.  “Push Comes to Shove” is right in the same vein as the Horsemen’s “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  From the Horsemen to the Cult:  The Cult have always been big in Canada.  First impressions are that Trouble In Mind (Toronto) were very inspired by Ian Astbury.  Regardless, their track “Sweet Addictions” is album quality.  Lead singer Beau (just “Beau”) turned up on a later instalment of the Raw M.E.A.T series, but that’s another story.

We depart Toronto momentarily for a trip to the nation’s capitol.  Ottawa’s Antix had been self-releasing vinyl since 1986, and “Kick It Up” was a new track.  With a Van Halen shuffle, their track hits the right spots, but suffers from inadequate production.   It’s unfortunate that the most experienced band has one of the poorest sounding tracks on the CD.

Russian Blue received their first major exposure via Raw M.E.A.T, and thanks to their incredible song “Once a Madman”, they gained a cult following.  They were a double threat:  a magnificent singer and a terrific guitar player.   Vocalist Jo E. Donner found himself compared to a young Robert Plant.  Richard Gauci backed that up with memorable guitar hooks.  “Once a Madman” gets the job done in just 3:15, leaving behind an unforgettable and unique rocker that begs for repeat listens.  One reason it sounds so good?  Produced by a pre-fame Harry Hess of Harem Scarem.

The next band, Zyle, sound like they were going for a traditional metal sound.  The Scorpions come to mind immediately, as does fellow Canadian rockers White Wolf.  They needed a bit more originality.  The guitar solo directly quotes Randy Rhoads, too close for comfort.  But then it’s The Remains with something a little more street punk.  A variation of the classic Peter Gunn riff, “Too Much” is actually never enough.  It’s the right mixture of middle finger and middle eight.

Hanging out just down the QEW are Hamilton and Oakville, from which come the last two groups.  Cathouse prove that you can never have enough permutations of the classic Van Halen shuffle.  “In For the Kill” nails it, with a vocalist who seems like equal parts Skid Roper and Rob Halford.  Finally, Oakville’s Johannes Linstead is best known today for his flamenco guitar albums.  He didn’t start there!  Wildside (later to become Gypsy Jayne) are about that sleaze rock.  You can hear that the guitarist is something special, though you wouldn’t predict the future from this one track.

It’s difficult to be objective, even though so many years have passed since Raw M.E.A.T 1.   Many (if not most) of these bands had potential.  Toronto in the early 90s was ready to explode as “the next Seattle”, but there was no “next Seattle”.  12 of these 13 songs are really fondly remembered, with one just needing a little more originality.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Talas – Live Speed on Ice (1983)

Second in a two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.  Part one is here:  Sink Your Teeth Into That.  More Talas tomorrow!

scan_20161210BILLY SHEEHAN – The Talas Years (Part Two of Two)  (1989 Relativity)
TALAS – Live Speed on Ice (1983 Relativity)

When we last met Talas, they were a power trio.  On their 1984 live album, they were a quartet.  Billy Sheehan was the only remaining member of the original lineup, with some hot talent behind him:  Mark Miller on drums, Mitch Perry (MSG) on guitar, and the hugely talented Phil Naro singing.  Naro has been around, including a stint with Peter Criss.  (You can hear a number of his performances on Mitch Lafon’s Kiss tribute CD A World With Heroes.)

There is little question that Naro’s voice brings the songs to another level.  “Sink Your Teeth Into That” benefits from his young rasp.  Mitch Perry throws in a more articulated guitar solo for an extended section leaving Billy to hold down the riff.  Second in line is a new song, “Crystal Clear” which has a biting Police guitar riff.  The busy bass holds down the melodic center as Naro soars on top.  Live Speed on Ice has great value, since much of its material was actually brand new and never released on anything else.  “The Farandole” is another new one, an instrumental of jaw-dropping ability.  Dueling bass and guitars dance and parry while the drums hit the heavy blows.

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More new tunes:  “Do You Feel Any Better”, “Lone Rock”, and “Inner Mounting Flame” continue the ass-kicking streak.  Each has their own groove, but “Inner Mounting Flame” truly is live speed on ice.  A few older tracks from the album are solid winners:  “King of the World”, “High Speed on Ice” and of course “Shy Boy”, the one Talas song that people know today thanks to David Lee Roth.  Billy’s signature bass solo is also performed live (and extended), but cleverly retitled.  While “NVH 3345” meant “SHEEHAN” upside down, “7718 (3A17)” means “BILL (LIVE)”.  With the freedom of the live setting, Bill took his time to showcase some unheard of chops and effects.

Any album that has Billy Sheehan on bass is bound to include a thousand notes of pure thrills, and any record with Phil Naro is going to sound awesome vocally.  Therefore, Live Speed on Ice should be a welcome addition to the discerning rock fan’s personal library.  The easiest way to get it is on CD combined with Sink Your Teeth Into That as the 1989 compilation Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.  Either way, you win.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Jim Crean – Insatiable (2016)

NEW RELEASE

JIM CREAN – Insatiable (2016 Rocker Records)

If you’re not familiar with Jim Crean, that’s OK.  You probably know of his famous friends.  Crean sings lead with the Appice Brothers (Carmine and Vinny) for their Drum Wars live shows.   Both brothers appear on his solo CD, Insatiable, along with other stars such as Phil Lewis (LA Guns), Mike Tramp (White Lion), Tony Franklin (The Firm/Blue Murder), Phil Naro and more.  But it doesn’t matter how many guests you fill your album with if you don’t have the tunes.  Crean has not only the tunes, but also the voice.

In a way the weirdest track is the intro by Don Jamieson from That Metal Show.  He pronounces “Appice” differently for each brother.  Carmine is “Appeece” and Vinny is “Appicee”.  Very odd.  The title track “Insatiable” features Vinny, but the song does not address the pronunciation controversy!  If you’re a fan of 80’s sunset strip rock, then “Insatiable” is for you, like Faster Pussycat but fed a steady diet of heavy metal.  Crean has range and rasp, and the result is the kind of rock that people miss today.

Vinny might be best known for his stint in Dio and Black Sabbath with Ronnie James.  With the late Jimmy Bain on bass, Appice and Crean re-created Dio’s “Caught in the Middle”.  Having original players and writers on it lends it a credibility that most covers can’t match.  Best of all, Crean can pull it off!  Singing Dio is, to put it mildly, not easy.  Crean pulls it off with confidence and ability, just as he does with his own original tune “Touch”.  Not to exaggerate, but “Touch” has to be one of the best songs to come out in 2016:  killer mid-paced rock, besides the riffs and that voice!  Another fine cover, L.A. Guns’ “Over the Edge” is performed with assistance from Philip Lewis.  A more obscure choice from 1991’s Hollywood Vampires, it’s a powerful slow rock track with a Zeppelin-y groove.  Guitarist Steve Major also needs to be singled out for a fine performance on this one (and all the tracks).

The most star-studded song is the lead single, “Can’t Find My Way”, a Mike Tramp cover.  Mike sings on it, as does Phil Naro, with Tony Franklin on bass and Carmine on drums.  (Tony and Carmine make it 2/3rds of the original Blue Murder, minus only John Sykes.)  This ballad is a bit slow, a bit long, but kicks in for the chorus. I actually prefer Jim’s original material. “Follow Your Heart” is one such original, this one featuring ex-Dio guitarist Rowan Robertson. It has a distinct Dio-ish vibe, aided and abetted by Vinny’s incomparable drum sound. The final three originals (“Shut Your Mouth”, “Turn it Around”, and “Miss Me”) are all very strong hard rock songs. Crean wrote all his originals himself. What a talent. Such a voice, with sharp songwriting chops. This guy has more talent in his pinky than CC Deville has in his entire body.

Two bonus tracks close it out, both covers: Mr. Big’s rockin’ “The Whole World’s Gonna Know”, and “Magic Touch” by Kiss. Sharp fans will recall that Crean contributed “Magic Touch” to Mitch Lafon’s Kiss tribute CD, A World With Heroes.  If you missed that now sold-out CD, you can at least get Jim’s version of the song here.  “Magic Touch” is, of course, great.  It always was, but now here’s a chance to hear it without the disco (Kissco?) trappings.  As for “The Whole World’s Gonna Know”, Jim’s version may surpass the original.

Added Can-Con bonus:  Much of the album was recorded in Toronto, just a stone’s throw away from Jim’s base in Buffalo, New York.

Added extra bonus:  My copy included a DVD with the “Can’t Find My Way” music video.

If you like hard rock with integrity the way they used to make it, then this album is for you.  If you buy one new release this week, make it Jim Crean’s Insatiable.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Criss – Cat #1 (1994)

CRISS CAT 1_0001CRISS – Cat #1 (1994 Tony Nicole Tony)

I am a Kiss fan, and I am also a Peter Criss fan. I like his first bunch of post-Kiss solo albums, Out of Control and Let Me Rock You just fine. They are not perfect but they have some good songs and are enjoyable, if dated, slices of the era.  I think most fans would grudgingly admit that Let Me Rock You isn’t bad.

Cat #1 (terrible title!) was supposed to be Peter’s comeback, after a decade of working with bands that went nowhere such as Balls Of Fire and The Keep (with Mark St. John). He later assembled the Criss band, which included Mike Stone (who would later end up in Queensryche). Cat #1 was also preceded by a mail order EP simply called Criss, with some exclusive songs.  That release was marred by an incompetent record company who took close to a year to mail out the orders.

Unfortunately, Peter did not need a record company to tank this release.  This CD tanked itself.  The problems with Cat #1 are three-fold:

1. No great songs.
2. Bland, uninspired performances and terrible singing by the backing band.
3. Bad production and plastic sounding drums.

The one good song is “Blue Moon Over Brooklyn”, the heartfelt ballad written for Peter’s mom who had passed away recently.  This song, though imperfect, justifies me having it my collection.  (Well, that and it’s Kiss related.)  Phil Naro co-wrote this one, and diehard fans know he’s a talented guy who has written some pretty good songs.  It’s just too bad that “Blue Moon Over Brooklyn” wasn’t fully realized by an ace band and producer.  Somebody to help Peter know when he’s singing flat, you know?

Naro wrote two tunes here, “Bad People Burn In Hell” is the other.  It’s not bad either.  It’s a fun rocker where Peter gets to sing in his Elvis voice for a bit. But that’s basically it. The rest of the songs sound like a hodge-podge of unrelated bits stuck together, and wouldn’t even pass as filler on the worst Kiss albums. You could probably Frankenstein bits and pieces from these songs to make one good song out of the bunch of them, but that’s all. For example, the chorus from “Strike” is decent, put that with the verses from “Bad Attitude”…you know what I mean?  Maybe you could make one good song out of them.   (“Bad Attitude” by the way seems to be about that homeless man who claimed to be Peter as documented on the Phil Donahue show. Remember that?)

CRISS CAT 1_0002The production though is terribly bland, and Peter’s drums sound like triggered samples.  They really sound terrible.  The drum sound alone robs Peter of the swing.  It’s distracting.  His singing is good in spots, and he actually wails pretty good on tracks like “Bad Attitude”.  “Bad Attitude” is vintage Kiss vocally, but shite musically.

Mike Stone sings lead on a couple tracks, and his voice is like…how do I describe this? He’s like Glenn Tipton meets an asthmatic Dave Mustaine or something. Not a good singer at all. When he takes the lead on tracks like “Show Me”, it sinks the song. Even when he backs Peter up on songs like “Bad Attitude”, it’s weak. A third voice is singing on “We Want You”, who I assume from the writing credits is Mike McLaughlin. His voice is even weaker, it’s like a raspy whisper.

Finally Peter recycled “Beth”, yet again.  It was great to finally have an unplugged acoustic version of the song, but he has really milked that one, hasn’t he?  It’s a good version, and it’s a slightly different mix from the one used on the earlier EP.

As marked on the cover art itself, Ace Frehley plays guitar on three songs: “Bad Attitude,” “Walk the Line,” and “Blue Moon over Brooklyn”. But you can’t really tell.   Let’s talk a moment about that cover art. Actually, let’s not: You can see it for yourself, so you decide what you think.  Challenge yourself to come up with one-word descriptions and post them in the comments.

1/5 stars