Randy Cooke

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996)

scan_20160908THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996 Magnetic Air)

The Four Horsemen seemed to burn the candle at both ends.  Before really even getting off the ground, they imploded, but not before dropping one of the greatest unsung records of the decade:  Nobody Said it Was Easy.  They had Rick Rubin, they had Def American, they had a guy that was in the Cult and another from D.O.A., and they had tours with the Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  They also had a volatile frontman who drove the band nuts and ended up in jail, and they just couldn’t make it last.

Founding member Haggis tried to give it another shot.  He reformed the band with a new singer named Tim Beattie, but ultimately the album was shelved.  It sounded like a completely different band, a southern soul band with nothing hard or heavy.  That’s not a bad thing:  the album Daylight Again was finally released in 2009, and it’s incredible (and we’ll get there soon).  Instead they folded again, but not for long.  Dave Lizmi and Frank C. Starr formed a new Four Horsemen, with Canadians Pharoah (bass) and drummer extraordinaire Randy Cooke.  With another Canadian, producer Rich Chycki, they forged a rare followup:  one as good as the original.

Slimmed down to a single guitar band, the new Horsemen sounded leaner and less AC/DC.  Frankie’s voice had changed and he was no longer screaming, and that also lessened similarities to AC/DC.  He had also become more expressive, while losing none of his power or character.  They opened the album with a southern flavoured “Still Alive and Well”, a Rick Derringer cover.  Considering the five year gap between albums, they couldn’t have picked a better opener.

The title track “Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By” goes deeper into the swamps of the south.  Lizmi takes out the slide, and who doesn’t love some greasy slide guitars?  This is an uplifting hard rocker, stating the Horsemen’s modus operandi:  “Well well, oh my my, what have we here?  Some good old fashioned music, lots of whiskey and beer.”  Lizmi wrote the lyrics for this album, but the words sound like Frankie’s.  It’s a celebration of rock and roll, proudly and loudly.

The third song in a killer triple threat of openers is “Drunk Again”, which sounds exactly like you hope it does: fast, upbeat, cocked and loaded.  Gotta love the female backing vocals, giving it a kick of soul.  The performance sounds live and authentic.  At one point, it sounds like Frankie cracks up chuckling right in the middle of a line.  “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face…ah shit…”  This is the kind of music everybody needs for a serious rock and roll party.

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There are few more standout songs that have to be discussed.  First is “Song for Absent Friends”, one of the most emotionally bare tracks you’ll ever find from a band of this ilk.  Original drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery, a Canadian punk legend, died in 1995 of a drug overdose.  “Song for Absent Friends” sends legitimate tingles up the spine.  You can feel the hurt.  But it’s not a funeral, it’s as much a celebration of Dimwit as the rest of the album is a celebration of life.

“And I know that you all are out there somewhere,
On a leave of absence from this place,
And I still have a place for you all,
A place around near me,
And your glasses will always be full.”

Then we have the blazingly fast drag race of “Hot Rod”, featuring the lyric “I got the hottest rod around,” ha ha. It’s that slippery fast guitar lick that knocks you out. But if you want a song that’ll knock some teeth out, with some biting lyrics, look no further than “Back in Business Again”. Frank sounds pissed!

“And we were headed for the top babe,
Way back in ’91,
Some record business scumbags took it from us,
Well they forgot my gun.
Well now we’re back in business folks,
I’ve come to claim what’s mine,
See we’re the Four fucking Horsemen,
Back for a second time!”

That’s nothing. Clearly, they were still ticked that they got dropped by the label in 1992. I don’t think Frank or Dave thought much of the latest wave of bands that were topping the charts in the early part of the 1990’s. Exhibit A:

“Now pay attention,
I got a little story here to tell ya,
It kinda goes like this.
You know I had a couple years off there babe,
To kinda take some time,
And I heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers,
Complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.
I say we gather up all these little bastards,
Shove them back to their little nowhere town,
See I was born on this stage,
And I plan to stick around!”

Frank didn’t get that chance, either.

Before Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was even released (by the Canadian label Magnetic Air), Frank was hit by a drunk driver while riding a motorcyle. He suffered massive brain trauma. He never woke from coma, and died four years later.

It’s almost absurd how much hardship fell upon this band, almost as if the fates decided that nothing would stand in the way of grunge. The Horsemen tended to end their albums with emotional epics, and this album ends with “What the Hell Went Wrong”. It’s a complicated question with many answers, but the bottom line is that the success the Four Horsemen had was inversely proportional to their talent.

In one of the strangest twists of an already twisty story, the masses finally heard the Four Horsemen when “Back in Business Again” was used in the movie G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  Completely out of context, but who cares.  The movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made $375.7 million.  That’s a lot of people who got to hear a kick ass Four Horsemen track with theater quality sound!

Rest in peace, Frankie.  Rest in peace, Dimwit.

5/5 stars


REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Kimosabe (1999) / “Sudbury Saturday Night” (1998)

Here’s a Kim Mitchell two-fer for ya!  Once again it’s Epic Review Time!

KIMOSABE_0006KIM MITCHELL – “Sudbury Saturday Night” (from Summer Dock Party, 1998 EMI)

‘Twas Thomas who alerted me to the existence of Kim Mitchell’s cover of “Sudbury Satuday Night”.  He had heard about it from one of his customers, when Tom owned his own record store.  Somebody came in and said to him, “I heard a new Kim Mitchell song on the radio.  I don’t know what it’s called or where it’s from, all I remember are the opening words.  ‘The girls are out to Bingo, and the boys are gettin’ stinko,'” he recited.

Tom immediately recognized that as the opening line to Stompin’ Tom Connors‘ classic song, “Sudbury Saturday Night”.  He called me at my store to ask what Kim album it was on.  I didn’t have a clue.  I didn’t know he had recorded anything since 1994’s Itch.

He had.  This cover appeared on the Canadian compilation CD Summer Dock Party.  And what of it?  How does one cover Stompin’ Tom?  Well, for Kim Mitchell, it’s a harder rockin’ version of KIMOSABE_0007the song, complete with accordion and an electric guitar solo.  I’ve grown to like it more over the years.  It’s hard to overlook the sheer joy in Kim’s vocal.  No matter how you feel about the sanctity of covering Stompin’ Tom, I think Kim’s version has plenty of merit.

Great cover…not-so-great CD cover though! What would Irish Jim O’Connel and Scotty Jack Macdonald say about that front cover? That sure doesn’t depict gettin’ stinko, or represent “Cause everything is wonderful, tonight we had a good fight,” to me!

3.5/5 stars

*I was surprised to find a completely different studio recording of this same song on Youtube.  Further investigation is required.


 

KIM MITCHELL – Kimosabe (1999 Chinook)

I think Kimosabe is about separation.  I read that Kim was going through a divorce around this time, and perhaps the lyrics reflect that.  Additionally, there was another separation, as once again Kim parted with his long time writing partner Pye Dubois.  The two had a falling out after 1989’s Rockland, due to Kim’s decision to record in Los Angeles, without Pye present, as he had been for all of Kim’s previous albums.  The two reconciled for 1994’s Itch, but appear to have separated once again, because Kimosabe was written with Andy Curran (Coney Hatch) handling the lyrics rather than Pye.  I don’t know what happened.

Nothing against Andy Curran, but without Pye Dubois, lyrics lose some of their poetry.  That’s Pye, that’s what he brings to the table.  Having said that, I think by now, most Kim Mitchell fans are looking for a catchy song to sing along to.  Curran does fine.  Kim himself wrote two of the lyrics himself (“Cold Reality” and “Over Me”, two of the best songs).

The opening duo, “Monkey Shine” and “Stickin’ My Heart” are both rockers.  “Monkey Shine” is très bien; they’re not trying to re-invent the wheel on any of these songs. They’re just doing what they do well, and that’s providing some good Canadian party rock. These are “stock” kind of songs. Reliable, not particularly possessing personality, but getting the job done. TCB, baby.

“Cellophane” is a funky blues. At this point I’ll point out the groove of drummer Randy Cooke, one of my Canadian favourites. You may have heard him with Rik Emmett or the Four Horsemen among others.  Kim’s very slick and lyrical guitar playing is in the spotlight of this outstanding track.

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Things start to cloudy with “Two Steps Home”.  Not that it’s a bad song, quite the contrary.  But this is where the party stops.  There’s a lot of feeling in this quiet ballad.  As far as sheer songwriting goes, Kim should be proud of this one.  Still, I feel the playing really shines brightly, guitar and drums both.

After a tune like that, I need a rocker, and Kim delivers with the title track, “Kimosabe”, a pun on the phrase “ke-mo sah-bee”, popularized in the 1930’s by The Lone Ranger.  Strangely enough the lyrics also contain the German phrase “auf Wiedersehen”, proving Andy Curran doesn’t mind putting three languages together in one song.

My favourite song is “Blow Me A Kiss”.  This outstanding track begins as a melancholy piano ballad, but transforms by the chorus into a bright, light rocker.  I would rank this track among Kim Mitchell’s best solo songs, without a doubt.  Randy Cooke really kicks this one in the ass.

“Cold Reality” also has a melancholy character to it.  This one starts a ballad and stays a ballad, and speaks of getting over the end of a relationship. “Halleluiah baby, I am healing. This pain and rage I felt for years is finally leaving.” This is one that Kim wrote the lyrics for himself, and as I said earlier, it’s not poetry, but when he sings it, I can feel something, you know?

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Back to something a little more upbeat, “Over Me” has a modern funky vibe to it, of the light-rock variety. Divorce seems to be the theme again, so we’re not hanging out in party rock land, but it’s musically upbeat and catchy. By the chorus, Kim’s singing, “One thing’s for sure, I’m going to get over you, just like you got over me,” and who can’t relate to that?

My least favourite song is the slinky blues, “Get Back What’s Gone”, featuring the great Canadian singer Lisa DalBello. In think this is a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me.” There’s nothing wrong with this well-executed blues, it’s just not clicking with me. It may with you, especially if you want to hear DalBello just sing some blues.

Album close “Skinny Buddah” is one of those lyrics where I just shrug and say, “OK, guys, whatever!” I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s a good solid rock song on which to close an album that I would consider to be a bit of a comeback.

Except it wasn’t. Kimosabe didn’t sell, and it would be eight whole years before Kim would release another album (2007’s Ain’t Life Amazing). That’s too bad. Given the chance, I think that this album could have introduced a new, “more mature” Kim, still fun, but now with a more serious side.  The album could have delivered a couple of hits. Too bad that isn’t the way it turned out. Bummer.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Lee Aaron – Lee Aaron (1987 remastered)

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LEE AARON – Lee Aaron (1987 Unidisc Music)

Lee Aaron: Canada’s “Metal Queen”. It is a name she will never live down despite the credible jazz career.  Try as she did to distance herself from the Metal Queen tag, Lee’s seems to embrace it more recently, even throwing a funky jazz-tinged version into her sets, as a mash-up with “Mysterious Ways” by U2!  And it works!

In the late 80’s, Lee (aka Karen) was less comfortable than today with being the Metal Queen, and her 1987 self-titled disc is possibly the best example of this.  All shades of metal were dropped; what was left is a mainstream pop rock record co-written with professionals such as Marc Ribler and Joe freakin’ Lynn Turner.

Growing up in Canada, you basically had two mainstream choices in female rock singers: Lita Ford, or Lee Aaron. That was all MuchMusic would play.  OK, sure the odd Joan Jett track too, after her resurgence with Up Your Alley.  That was it.  Otherwise the Pepsi Power Hour was pretty much devoid of regular female rock heroes.  There were the odd flashes in the pain — Vixen, Madame X — but Lee and Lita were the only two to get regular play year in year out.  Lee of course had the trump card labelled CanCon in her deck.

I got this album for Christmas 1987, and I was so disappointed. The sound — plastic, turgid, processed, synthetic, with hardly any guitars. The songs — commercial pop designed to get played on the radio and not a hint of metal to be found anywhere.  John Albini (now blonde all of a sudden?) is still her guitarist and co-writer, but there’s much less guitar on this album.  There are also some truly awful, awful songs on here, most notably “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. I won’t tell what that rains smells like, but it don’t smell good.

The single/ballad “Only Human” is a decent song, very soft, but not too far off from stuff the Scorpions would do later on!  (Lee actually sang backup vocals on “The Rhythm of Love” by the Scorps in ’88.)  The best track is actually the pop keyboard rocker, “Powerline”.  The guitar is not as dominant as the keyboards, but it does at least have some guitar.  It has Joe Lynn Turner’s melodic sensibilities and songcraft, hooks galore, and a smashing chorus.

But then you get tripe like “Goin’ Off the Deep End”, “Dream With Me”, and…ugh.  There was just no way, as a 15 year old, I was going to let anybody catch me listening to those songs.  People might have thought I’d stolen my sister’s Tiffany tapes or something.

Turns out that Lee, despite that powerful voice, just wasn’t cut out to be a Metal Queen. She’s doing great as a jazz singer, and I think that’s just fine.

1/5 stars