Polydor

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad (1989)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Trial By Fire:  Live in Leningrad (1989 Polydor)

Walk up to the well-schooled rock fan in your group of friends and ask, “What do you think of Yngwie J. Malmsteen?”

Even the ones who don’t like the Swedish Speed Demon’s albums will admit, “except for that one with Joe Lynn Turner; that was pretty good.”

The short-lived Turner lineup did release a live album in 1989.  Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad was accompanied by home video of the same name with more tracks.  By 1990, Malmsteen already had a new album and singer named Göran Edman, but only Joe Lynn Turner had the marquee value to bring Yngwie a Billboard top 40 charting record (#40 with Odyssey).

Although Turner can act as a gateway to hear Yngwie for the first time, his stuff can still be pretty off-putting.  Just look at the pompous “thank you’s” on the inside sleeve.  Sprinkled in with the regular names are da Vinci, Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, HP Lovecraft and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Come on, Yngwie!

Joe is a versatile singer, which is one reason he’s always been sought after.  He effortlessly imbibes the old Yngwie tracks with his own attitude:  “Liar”, “Queen in Love”, and “You Don’t Remember” are better with Joe singing.  Unfortunately this is marred by a too-loud audience and Yngwie’s always excessive shredding.  More often than not, he overplays.

When it works, it works.  “Heaven Tonight”, “Queen in Love” and “Deja Vu”, the most melodic songs, click.  The instrumentals are good too, like demonstrations of immaculate neo-classical rock.  “Far Beyond the Sun” is tightly composed and arranged, though live Yngwie lets the strings fly even more.  Listen for some Deep Purple right in the middle of “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”, and some Rainbow on “Crystal Ball” too.

Yngwie produced Live in Leningrad himself, and it’s a rather shrill affair with obvious backing tapes on some of the choruses like “Heaven Tonight”.  The problem with many Yngwie albums is that you can only listen to so much before ear fatigue sets in.  Live in Leningrad is one such album.  By the end your brain is exhausted and you have to listen to something from a different end of the spectrum.  Even Joe Lynn Turner can’t blunt the aural razorblade effect.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Dixie Dregs – Night of the Living Dregs (1979)

Dedicated to my dear friend Uncle Meat.  This CD was purchased off Joe “Big Nose” at the Waterloo branch of the Record Store at which I used to work.

 

scan_20161009DIXIE DREGS – Night of the Living Dregs (1979 Polydor)

If they could bottle genius, distill it down to its essence, sell it and serve it at a party…then the Dixie Dregs are the music that should be played at that party.

The Dregs are undefinable.  Just when you think you have them nailed down to a progressive jazz-rock hybrid, they go classical on you, or full-bluegrass mode.  Their instrumental chops are incomparable, while still managing to deliver such basic song pleasures such as “melody”, “hooks” and “grooves”.   These melodies are usually delivered at the hands of Steve Morse (guitar) or Allen Sloan (violin).  Listeners familiar with with the guitar stylings of Morse will have an idea of the kind of songs and arrangements he writes:  challenging, but rewarding.

Night of the Living Dregs is half studio, half live.  The first side, from the cleverly-titled “Punk Sandwich” to the ballad “Long Slow Distance” are carefully crafted studio recordings, each different from the last.  While each track is unique and showcases different sides of the band, it is “Long Slow Distance” that really shines.  This soft work captures so much of what Morse does well.  There are jazzy licks embedded within melodies, and so many different textures of guitar.

The live side is recorded nice and clean without a lot of crowd noise.  “Night of the Living Dregs” is an upbeat little number, featuring some absolutely jaw-dropping melodic bass playing from Andy West.  This is also where drummer extraordinaire Rod Morgenstein comes up to the plate.   His playing is so multifaceted and you can hear it on this track.  The most fun can be found on “The Bash”, a full-on bluegrass ho-down, chicken-pickin’ full steam ahead.  Any jaws left on the floor are hopefully picked up so they don’t miss “Leprechaun Promenade”.  There are celtic flavours thanks to the violin, and the song is comparable to Jethro Tull.  Then suddenly it turns into Frankenstein’s monster with some eerie keyboards (Mark Parrish).  This is complex stuff, not for the timid!

The whole experience ends on “Patchwork”, which works as a description of the album at large.  It is a patchwork of style and feels, which create the whole.  The Dixie Dregs are a challenging listen, but ultimately rewarding.  There is plenty of joy in the grooves.  The band does not play anything simple or easy.  Everything is a little bit of smarty-pants music, but for the listening, this is a delight.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Blackjack – Worlds Apart (1980)

scan_20161003BLACKJACK – Worlds Apart (1980 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

Blackjack (Bruce Kulick, Jimmy Haslip, Sandy Gennero and some unknown guy named Michael Bolton) made a grand total of two albums before splitting.  Michael went on to a fairly successful solo career (two Grammy awards), and a few years later Bruce joined Kiss.  Neither guy is really sweating the fact that Blackjack had no impact.  The albums are long out of print, except in Japan.

Their second album, unfortunately, lacks the memorable hooks of the first one.  Starting off with a cover is rarely a good sign.  The Supremes’ “My World is Empty Without You” is as ham-fisted as you can imagine, with heavy handed bass forced into what is usually a fine soul song.  Bolton oversings.  It’s a misstep from the get-go, and it’s not a good sign that this is one of the better tracks on the album which is otherwise mostly written by Bolton and Kulick.

“Love is Hard to Find” works well as an early-80’s Bon Jovi blueprint.  The ballad “Stay” certainly sounds like Michael Bolton, or more accurately, it sounds like Michael covering an over-dramatic Rod Stewart ballad.  “Airwaves” passes as a rock song, but it certainly is a weak one even compared to similar bands from the era such as Journey.  Ironically what it needs is Michael to let loose with those pipes, the way he does on the ballads.  Even a title like “Maybe It’s the Power of Love” lacks the kind of vocal power you want (though Bruce does get a tasty little solo with a dual harmony part).

The hardest rocker of the album is the side two opener, “Welcome to the World”, which bizarrely opens with an actual recorded baby birth.  That aside, it’s a pretty solid rocker with more of those Kulick harmony licks.  Strangely, Kulick had nothing to do with its writing.  This works into the very 80’s sounding “Breakaway” with its programmed keyboards and soft-rockisms, and among the worst tracks on the album.  “Really Wanna Know” is almost as bad, so cheesy you can smell it coming by the opening synths.  “Sooner or Later” works better, again perhaps a precursor to early Bon Jovi.  Good track, and Michael lets the voice rip like you want to hear it.  And then the album craps its own pants with the closer, “She Wants You Back”, lighter than light rock.  There’s a lick that borrows from Steve Miller’s “Swingtown”, but the Miller song is better.

The second Blackjack album has no surprises, no progression and little impact  Even though the second LP is a soundalike to the first, it’s weak.  And so they split.  Bruce Kulick’s brief foray into “moustache rock” ended and he was on to other things.  Blackjack and Worlds Apart are interesting mostly to Kiss fans and collectors.  As for Bolton fans, I know he still has many, but I think only these two fellas would buy Worlds Apart (they celebrate the guy’s entire catalogue).

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Blackjack – Blackjack (1979)

It’s Bruce Kulick week here at mikeladano.com! Check in for some cool releases featuring the extremely talented former KISS guitarist.

scan_20161002BLACKJACK – Blackjack (1979 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

The Kiss family tree is a fascinating tangle of disparate roots and branches.  One of the most intriguing branches is that of Bruce Kulick (Kiss guitarist 1984-1996) who has played with a number of fantastic artists over the years.  After completing a tour with Meat Loaf, Bruce was invited to form a new band with a hot young rock singer out of New Haven, Connecticut. This singer was a powerhouse with a Seger-like rasp, mixing soul and rock in equal measure, and able to write songs too. In fact today, this singer has sold 75 million albums with his name on them. Or at least the shortened version of his name. Back in 1979, his last name was spelled “Bolotin”. Today, he’s known as Michael Bolton.

Today, Bolton is probably best known for covers (“When a Man Loves a Woman”), but in 1979 he co-wrote every song on Blackjack’s debut. Both Kulick brothers (Bruce and Bob) have credits on a number of songs. And shockingly, they are generally pretty good! Fair warning though, this isn’t hard rock or heavy metal. Look at Bruce’s moustache. This is 1979 moustache music. It actually sounds bang-on in tune with the 1978 Kiss solo albums.

Bolton’s blue-eyed soul had a remarkable youthful energy. Check out the powerhouse chorus on the lead track “Love Me Tonight”. It’s hard to recognize the chops of Kulick, who was just beginning his evolution. The focus is undoubtedly on the singer, who impresses on every song. Second in line is “Heart of Stone”, a dusky soul-funk-rock number with some unbelievable singing. Unfortunately the ballads are less interesting then the rockers. “The Night has Me Calling for You” lacks the focus of the prior two songs. Following it with “Southern Ballad” makes it seem like we’re listening to a Peter Criss solo album at times. The side resumes to rocking with “Fallin'”, a great little tune that again sounds like it could have fit on one of the Kiss solo albums.


They even made a music video!

Although this is a remastered Japanese HM-CD, the second side of the original LP would have commenced on “Without Your Love”, a catchy and hit-worthy rock song a-la Journey (the members of whom helped out Bolton on his hit 1987 album The Hunger). Although “Countin’ On You” counts as a ballad, it’s better than the two on side one. It bears a strong chorus with urgency, and some cool finger picking by Bruce. The chorus of “I’m Aware of Your Love” is awkward but also catchy. I mean, who says “I’m aware of your love”? Is that a thing people say? If it works for you, sing along with Michael!

For soul ballads, “For You” is quite good, and Kulick complements it well. Finally the album ends with energy courtesy of “Heart of Mine” another strong soul-rocker with some powerful Bolton pipes. This is good stuff, horribly dated but if you like the cheesier side of late 70’s rock, then dig in. Who knew that Michael Bolton could rock? Kiss fans, that’s who. Because of Kulick, fans have been aware for years that Michael Bolton did rock at one time. Now with both Blackjack albums re-released in Japan on super high quality CDs with LP style packaging, you can get in on the fun too.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rainbow – Straight Between the Eyes (1982)

scan_20160911RAINBOW – Straight Between the Eyes (Remastered, originally 1982 Polydor)

I’ve always found the most interesting bands in rock to be the ones who have had multiple singers over different eras.  Blackmore’s Rainbow never did two albums in a row by the same lineup.  From Ronnie James Dio to Graham Bonnet to Joe Lynn Turner and beyond, Rainbow has been an ever-changing entity during its brief lives.  Each era has much to offer, with the Turner years sometimes slagged as the weakest.  It is true that ballads became a larger part of the Rainbow sound under Joe, but the turn towards the commercial was evident during the Graham Bonnet era, on Down to Earth.

The peak of the Turner period would have to be Straight Between the Eyes, his second with the band.  The lineup this time consisted of founder Ritchie Blackmore, with Roger Glover on bass (his third Rainbow record), drums by Bobby Rondinelli (his second) and new keyboardist David Rosenthal, replacing Don Airey.  Rondinelli is a remarkably hard-hitting drummer and his solid, massive beats propel the songs.  The finest example of this is “Death Alley Driver”, which could easily be seen as an updated version of “Highway Star” from a decade earlier. The amusing video clip featured Joe Lynn Turner on a motorcycle being chased perilously close by a pilgrim-hatted Blackmore in a hearse!* “Death Alley Driver” indeed!**

Although “Death Alley Driver” is the first track, the soulful ballad “Stone Cold” was the first single. It was a minor hit and still gets radio play today. The integrity lies in Ritchie’s smooth guitar, Joe’s always authentic vocals, and the classy organ backing it up. The song’s strength is in its unmistakable pulse, which is Rondinelli and Glover’s impeccable rhythm. Blackmore fans may have been aghast at the soft rock single, but “Stone Cold” holds up as a classy ballad from a spanking album.

Sadly the music video was not the humorous pleasure the “Death Alley Driver” was. Turner looks stiff**^ and awkward searching through a hall of mirrors looking for a girl with a frozen face.  Blackmore just looks disinterested.

Straight Between the Eyes was produced by Roger Glover, as were the previous two albums.  With Bobbi Rondinelli behind the kit, Glover extracted an even bigger drum sound, and it is up in the mix.  Each track boasts a massive beat, even the ballads like “Tearin’ Out My Heart”.  He provides a gallop, and that’s the extra kick the songs get.  The album would not have been as forceful with a different drummer.

So as Joe sings it, “Let the Dream Chaser take you away” if you want to get “Rock Fever”!  The album can be found affordable so it won’t be a “Tite Squeeze” on your wallet.  Feel the “Power” and “Bring on the Night”!  It’ll rock you “Stone Cold”.**^^

4/5 stars


* Something about that action-packed music video makes the music seem faster and heavier.

** During the Blackmore closeups inside the hearse, pay attention to the rear window behind him. You can clearly see from the trees behind that the car is not moving an inch!

**^ Cue Aaron.

**^^ These are all good songs.  No real duds on Straight Between Eyes.

REVIEW: The Jam – Greatest Hits (1991)

 

THE JAM – Greatest Hits (1991 Polydor)

I’ll admit that this is the only Jam that I own; about 10 years ago I decided that I loved this compilation enough to buy the Direction Reaction Creation box set. That box contained the entirety of their studio recordings.  Maybe it was too much Jam at once, or maybe their albums were just not as good as their singles. Whatever; I found that this Greatest Hits was enough Jam for me.  Yet I love all 19 songs.  You’d think I’d be into their albums, if I already liked 19/19 Jam songs on this CD

There’s a great variety of tunes on Greatest Hits: everything’s here from the punk rock snarl of the opener “In The City” to the mournful “That’s Entertainment” to the upbeat fun of “Beat Surrender”. In between you will find some of the catchiest bass lines ever recorded, topped by the undeniable lyrics of Paul Weller. To write this many truly great singles…well you just don’t see it that often.

The Jam rocked, The Jam were cool, from punk rock to Motown soul and funk, these guys did it all and did it well. You would be well advised to pick this up.  It’s cheap now, too.  Less than $5, used.

Songs I really, really like that you may already know:

  • “Down at the Tube Station at Midnight”
  • “The Eton Rifles”
  • “Town Called Malice”
  • “David Watts”
  • “The Bitterst Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)”

I later bought a second Jam compilation album called Collection.  It concentrated on album tracks and deep cuts and I didn’t like it.  Normally I would advise readers to pick up original studio albums rather than compilations.  This time I feel the opposite way.  I have to rate Greatest Hits:

5/5 stars