randy jackson

REVIEW: Richie Sambora – Stranger In This Town (1991 2 CD deluxe)

scan_20161021-2RICHIE SAMBORA – Stranger In This Town (1991 Mercury 2 CD deluxe)

Bon Jovi went on hiatus after the lengthy New Jersey tour.  Their future appeared uncertain.  Jon had released his first solo album, a soundtrack called Blaze of Glory. Alec John Such was reportedly opening carwashes in Hungary, although that was probably a joke answer in a magazine interview.   Meanwhile, the rest of Bon Jovi (Richie Sambora, David Bryan and Tico Torres) gathered in the studio to record.  With Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, the group assembled Richie’s first solo album, Stranger In This Town.  Although fans were worried about a possible split, there was much excitement for Richie to have a chance to sing his own songs.  Adding to the hype, Eric Clapton appeared as a special guest.  (Randy Jackson played bass on one song, “One Light Burning”.)

Sambora seemed to determine to fly his own colours.  Predominantly, that’s blue, as in the blues.  He also mixed in soul, pop, and rock to create an album that wouldn’t alienate any Bon Jovi fans.  David Bryan contributed songwriting, and there is even one Bon Jovi song in the mix.  It’s not a guitar album, although it need not be stated that the guitar playing on this album is brilliant.  Richie went for feel and atmosphere rather than flash.

This is apparent on opening track “Rest in Peace”.  It’s not really a full-fledged song, but more an introduction to the album.  It even has listening instructions:  “Turn down the lights…light a candle…welcome.”  That doesn’t sound very rock and roll, does it?  But it is good advice.  That’s the kind of album this is.  “Rest in Peace” is loaded with soul, and this merges with the pop rock on “Church of Desire”.  A song like this wouldn’t have worked with Bon Jovi.  It has more soul, and its quiet production lets the music breathe more than Bon Jovi songs do.  It’s a brilliant track, and Richie’s solo just blasts.  Different from Bon Jovi, but accessible for Bon Jovi fans:  it’s an ideal song for a first Sambora album.

The blues single “Stranger In This Town” sounds like something Richie had been aching to do for years.  Backed by a choir of vocalists, this is Richie fulfilling some musical dreams.  Both blues fans and rock fans should enjoy the middle ground where they meet on “Stranger In This Town”.  As a single, it seemed to represent the image Richie was going for.  This album has three singles in a row, making the first side a little more consistently strong.  “Ballad of Youth” was the debut single, combining Bon Jovi’s anthemic melodies with Richie’s new laid-back vibe.  It even has a Bon Jovi-like positive message.  “Don’t waste your life away, thinkin’ ’bout yesterday’s blues.”  The excellent third single was the synth ballad “One Light Burning” which almost sounds like Richie Sambora joined the Cars.  For the programmed sounds and percussion, Richie said they had “about 100 computers” networked together.  Oh, 1991!  Though a ballad, it’s the centerpiece of the album.

It’s possible they intended “Mr. Bluesman” to be the centerpiece, but the lyrics are difficult to digest.  When you write a song as a tribute to your hero, such as this tribute to Eric Clapton, lyrics are always the trick.  Thankfully Mr. Clapton’s guest guitar appearance, though brief, does tell us the story.  Hearing him rip on this blues ballad is like a searchlight cutting through the murky haze.  But here’s the weird thing.  Didn’t Eric find Brian May’s tribute song “Blues Breaker” embarrassing?  Yet he appeared on this ballad?

IMG_20151004_091117“Rosie” is a Bon Jovi song that was heavily bootlegged, from the fruitful New Jersey sessions.  It sounds like Bon Jovi, but Richie’s version has way more guitar.  Unfortunately the Bon Jovi version has never been released.  It was mysteriously not included on the Sons of Beaches demos that came out in 2014, even though the other songs were.  One has to assume Jon didn’t include it on his set because Richie already had his version out.  The next track “River of Love” is a title that has nothing to do with the Bon Jovi demo of the same name.  This is the first and last really greasy rocker on the album.

It’s ballads from there out, but terrific songs nonetheless.  “Father Time” (written with Desmond Child) is a melancholy rock ballad that Jon probably wishes he wrote.  It’s a powerful song, like an amped up “One Light Burning”.  Guitars burn up and down your spine while Sambora soothes your ears with his soulful croon.  Tico and David provide the solid base upon which the song is built.  Their expert chops are essential parts of the entire album.  Things draw to a close on “The Answer”, an acoustic lullaby-like song that has a lot of heart.  A sentimental ballad asking existential questions is an unconventional way to end an album, which is part of what makes it special.

Mercury did something unusual for the era, but very common today.  They released Stranger In This Town as a single CD, and a 2 CD deluxe edition.  The deluxe is housed in a long box, and has two bonus tracks.  At the end of CD is “The Wind Cries Mary”, which saves fans from having to buy the atrocious Ford Fairlane soundtrack on which it originated.  It’s a smoking Hendrix cover, and the best tune on that soundtrack.  On the second CD you will find an almost 20 minute interview with Richie discussing the songs on this album.  No revelations here; it’s really just an extended promo for the album.  Half of it is music anyway…snippets of the same music from disc one!  An OK extra, but the real bonus is “The Wind Cries Mary”.

The final extra, usually missing on the second hand market, is the metal guitar pick shaped pendant.  It has Richie’s solo logo on it, but nobody’s going to be wearing this thing.  All this is packed in the box, which is a beauty but awkward to store.

As an introduction of the “real” Richie to the fans, Stranger In This Town was a success.  He differentiated himself from Bon Jovi, and also proved he could sing an entire album easily.  Critically and commercially, the album was less successful.  There were mixed reviews, with the rock press hung up on the soft songs.  With the benefit of 25 years’ hindsight, Stranger has aged well, better than Bon Jovi itself.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Journey – Time3 (1992 box set)

scan_20161015-2JOURNEY – Time3 (1992 Sony 3 CD box set)

Very few box sets satisfy the way that Journey’s Time3 satisfies.  When it was released in 1992, Journey wasn’t even a functioning entity anymore.  Sony’s box set still represents the kind of care and attention to detail that makes for an extraordinary listen.  It is arranged (mostly) chronologically with ample rare and unreleased material.  What is most remarkable is how great this rare and unreleased material is.  Aerosmith did a similar looking box set in 1992 as well (Pandora’s Box), but their set isn’t as steady a listen as Time3 is.  Time3‘s ample wealth of worthwhile rarities rank it easily as the superior set.

From start to bitter 80’s breakup, every Journey member from 1975 to 1986 is included.  George Tickner, Aynsley Dunbar, Robert Fleischman, Randy Jackson, Mike Baird and anybody else you may not have known were in Journey are represented in this box.  There are ample liner notes and photos explaining the roots and branches.  (Humorously the notes claim the early Journey instrumental “Nickel & Dime” may have been the prototype that Rush ripped off for “Tom Sawyer”.)  Valuable early rarities include the unreleased jazz rock number “Cookie Duster” and an excellent vocal track called “For You” recorded  with Robert Fleischman singing.  Fleischman might be best known as the original singer for Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion a decade later, but in Journey he turned in a pretty powerful pop rock song.  This was just before Steve Perry joined the band as its first full-time lead singer.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie took care of the vocals before Perry joined, in addition to performing several smoking organ solos included herein.

There is a distinct change between the early progressive jam rock tracks and “For You”.  When they hired on a lead singer, it was with the intention to get a big break, and Steve Perry was the final ingredient.  With Perry they recorded brilliant classics such as “Patiently”, “Anytime” and the unforgettable “Wheel in the Sky”, which unfortunately is only included here as a live version.  Indeed, the Journey box set’s only weakness is a substitution of (non-rare) live versions for studio originals.  “Lights” is another such substitution.

Just as the band were making this prog-to-pop transition, drummer Aynsley Dunbar left.  His style was more progressive and frankly too highbrow for the direction Journey were going.  He was replaced by another total pro, the feel-oriented Steve Smith, a jazzbo at heart who can play R&B like nobody’s business.  “Too Late” from 1979’s Evolution is a perfect example of what he did to the Journey sound, as things simplified.

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With Smith behind the kit, the hits kept pouring in.  “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” (also included live), “Any Way You Want It”, “Line of Fire” and many more burned up speakers across America.  The band very quickly went from “point A” to “point B”, but also with several exceptional looks backward.  Some of these lesser known gems include “Little Girl” from a rare Journey soundtrack album called Dream, After Dream done for the Japanese market.  There is also the live “Dixie Highway” from Captured that shows off some serious instrumental chops.  A rare highlight is the soulful and unreleased cover of “Good Times”, with full-on horn section, from 1978.  It’s one of the songs that make it worth buying a box set like this.

Rolie left after Dream, After Dream and did not appear on the one new Journey song on Captured:  “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  This brilliant pop rocker pointed the way towards the next era of Journey.  From The Babys came new keyboardist (and sometimes guitarist and singer) Jonathan Cain.  Cain forever brought Journey into the 1980’s, with modern keyboard accompaniment and serious writing abilities.  He has since become an indisposable member of the band, as important as founding guitarist Neal Schon himself.  Jon Cain’s first was the Escape album, which has sold nine million copies to date.  Not a bad little debut.  With “Don’t Stop Believin'” , “Stone in Love” and the smash ballad “Open Arms”, Journey ascended to the top of the mountain.  These tracks are all included as their studio originals.

There are a number of notable and great rarities from this period included in Time3.  “Natural Thing” was the soul-laden B-side to “Don’t Stop Believin'”, but feast your ears upon “La Raza Del Sol”, which snuck out as the progressive flipside of “Still They Ride”.  This blazingly recalls the arrangements of the early years with an unusually contemoplative lyric.  Check out Schon’s flamenco guitar solo.  There is the understated and brilliant rocker “Only Solutions”, from the 1982 Tron soundtrack.  These are valuable songs, that any Journey fan should enjoy completely.  Moving forward, “All That Really Matters” is a synthy demo with Jon Cain on lead vocals.  It doesn’t sound like Journey, but Cain fans will find it interesting.  Two more soundtrack songs are indispensable:  “Only the Young” from Vision Quest, and “Ask the Lonely” from Two of a Kind (both 1983).  Each song was significant enough to include on 1988’s Greatest Hits, so fans are well acquainted with both.  It’s incredible to think that Journey had songs of this quality to give to soundtracks.

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Towards the end, as bands often do, Journey began falling apart.  Steve Perry had a hit solo debut Street Talk (1984) and he returned to Journey more confident, imposing a soul/R&B direction upon the band.  Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were out.  Randy Jackson and Mike Baird were in.  Raised on Radio took forever to record and underwhelmed fans upon reception.  A live version of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” with the new members indicates that Journey had sanded off the rough edges.

Even at the end, there were still interesting happenings.  The liner notes reveal that even as the band was ending, they were winning awards.  Journey performed at the 1987 Bay Area Music Awards with a different singer — Michael Bolton.  One has to wonder where that could have gone.  The last music on this set chronologically comes in the shape of two unreleased instrumentals called “With a Tear” and “Into Your Arms”.  They were recorded in 1986 but not used for Raised on Radio, and so they were finished in 1992 by Schon and Cain for this box set.  Sadly these instrumentals are better than most of the tracks on Raised on Radio.  One is a ballad, and one is a rocker, but both are exceptional.  Journey started life with instrumentals, and so it’s fitting that Schon and Cain polished off the box set with a couple as well.

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This box set was reissued a number of times, but for the money you can’t beat the original 1992 printing with the long box and large booklet.  The liner notes are ample but the rare photos may even top them.  From the earliest days there are pictures of the band with original guitarist George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince.  Prince was invited to join permanently, but chose to join the Tubes instead, a band he found more creative.  He was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar who recorded the first LP.  Also pictured within are some truly impressive hair styles, clothes, and moustaches.

With tracks this strong from start to finish, great packaging, and such a wealth of rare material, it seems Time3 should be an easy 5/5 stars.  However, that niggling issue of live tracks (particularly “Wheel in the Sky”) replacing studio cuts is really devious.  It’s unnecessary.  It all but forces casual buyers to also own Greatest Hits for the studio versions.  It seems very calculated.

Otherwise, proceed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Stryper – Against the Law (1990)

AGAINST THE LAW_0001STRYPER – Against the Law (1990 Enigma)

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, Stryper finally took the second biggest gamble* of their lives and dropped the overtly Christian themes in their lyrics.  It was a decision they would quickly regret.  Changing their lyrical message did nothing to help them sell records, and they found themselves without a record deal.  They spurted out some new songs for a greatest hits album called Can’t Stop the Rock before Michael Sweet bailed and the band dissolved.  In the liner notes to that album, drummer Robert Sweet states, “We were making a grab for musical freedom, but we never should have let that be misinterpreted as a change in our beliefs.”

Before the change, cynics accused Stryper of faking the sincerity of their beliefs in order to “cash in” on the “gimmick” of being a Christian metal band.  Now that they had dropped those lyrics, they were accused of cashing in once again.  There was no winning at this point for Stryper.  No wonder the band caved in.

The shame of it is, fans in the know consider their 1990 album Against the Law to be among their very best.  It earned a cult classic status with those who ignored the hype.  The change wasn’t just lyrical, but total.  Eager to reverse the musical damage of In God We Trust, Stryper toughened up their sound and got veteran producer Tom Werman behind the console.  They also changed their image for the better.  Gone were the massive hairdos and the yellow and black bumblebee suits.  In were beards and goatees, and darker understated clothes.  The stripes were still there in the stage costumes, but they were now gray and black.  New logo, new start.  Or not.

A thunderous new sound opened the new album — a funky heavy metal riff.  No, this isn’t Extreme, it’s Stryper.  “Against the Law” is a really cool shuffle with echoes of Van Halen too.  The band were displaying a new toughness, and Werman captured a more appropriate raw sound from the band.  Guitar-wise, Michael Sweet and Oz Fox are not content to just law down some solos, but instead leave jaws on the floor with their creative shreddery.

“Two Time Woman” is not the kind of song title that Stryper fans were used to see on their albums.  This Motley Crue/Scorpions-ish rocker is strong but not a standout, despite its release as a music video. It’s just nice to hear Stryper rocking out with solid production behind them.

The next track “Rock the People” takes the album back to a funky “extreme”. It’s the lighter “Two Bodies (One Mind One Soul)” that really had hit potential. The acoustic guitars lull you in, but the chorus kills! “Two Bodies” gets my vote for best track on the album. It really is a shame that it never became a hit in this universe. Maybe on another Earth, where rock never fell to grunge….

“Not That Kind of Guy” is a blazingly fast Van Halen-style shuffle. David Lee Roth would have given his left nut for a song this much like his old band at the time. This kind of tune really reveals why Stryper were right to free up their songwriting a bit, if only for one album. This kind of music does not really fit spiritual lyrics all that well, so good on them for stretching out and writing a few songs like this. And listen to Michael Sweet’s scream at the end! Never before on a Stryper album had he let loose like that.

The big surprise of the album was the song chosen as lead single: a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star”! In a 1990 MuchMusic interview, bassist Tim Gaines recalled that the song was suggested to them and the reaction was “‘Shining Star’? What the hell is that going to sound like?” Not bad, actually. “Then we ended up making a video for it, which I’m not sure how that came about,” said Gaines.

“Shining Star” did not grab me at all, at the time. Today I really find it fun and enjoyable. Stryper already had funky metal elements on this album, so why not cover Earth, Wind & Fire? I’d say they pulled it off in their own way. The only mistake was choosing this song as the lead single! Leading with “Two Bodies” might have given the hard rock fans at the time something more familiar to sink their teeth into, than an Earth, Wind & Fire cover. That’s Randy Jackson on bass for this track by the way — that’s one reason why it’s so dang funky!

A few songs ago, Michael Sweet claimed to be “Not That Kind Of Guy”, now he is saying he is just an “Ordinary Man”. This smooth mid-tempo track retains those classic Stryper angelic harmonies, but better arranged to suit harder rock music. Of course, every hard rock album needed to have a ballad. Rather than keep re-writing the same old piano ballads as they had been, Stryper went acoustic for “Lady” (not the Styx song). It was a good move, and a good song. It too had hit potential, but alas, it was not to be for Stryper. They were “Caught in the Middle”; so goes the next song. It is as close as we got to old-school metal Stryper. It’s good that they did not neglect that side of the band’s sound. Again, Sweet throws in some of those unearthly screams that he is capable of.

The sleek metal stomp of “All For One” sounds like classic Dokken to me, and that’s not a bad thing. It has the same dark, ominous chug that George Lynch is so capable of. No wonder Sweet & Lynch hooked up later on! The chorus kills it, too. Against the Law is ended by “Rock the Hell Out of You” which is about as preachy as Stryper get on this album (not very). It’s another killer speedy metal scorcher to go out on. Kudos to Robert Sweet on drums for being able to play like this!

I like stories with happy endings, so I’ll share this. Stryper has since reunited, heavier than ever. Christian lyrics and ordinary rock songs co-exist on the same albums now, and fans couldn’t be happier that they are back. The fact that their reunion-era albums are so damn good doesn’t hurt, either. If the story of Against the Law has a bright side, it is that it was a step on the journey to Reborn, Murder By Pride, The Covering and beyond.

4/5 stars

*Their biggest gamble was trying to be a Christian metal band in the first place.

REVIEW: Methods of Mayhem – Methods of Mayhem (1999)

METHODS OF MAYHEM_0002METHODS OF MAYHEM – Methods of Mayhem (1999 Universal)

Tommy Lee’s vision was to marry guitar riffs to sick beats, and he quit Motley Crue in order to do it.  As his first album outside of the band he helped make famous, Lee enlisted many guest performers and producers: Kitchener Ontario’s own Scott Humphrey at the console, with Mixmaster Mike (Beastie Boys), George Clinton, Kid Rock, The Crystal Method, U-God (Wu-Tang Clan), Lil’ Kim, Snoop Dogg, Fred Durst, Phil X (Bon Jovi), Chris Chaney, and even Randy Jackson on bass.  Tommy also teamed up with a guy named TiLo and called him the other half of Methods of Mayhem.

Guest appearances like these don’t do much for me.  Methods of Mayhem must stand or fall on its songs.  Sick beats are one thing, but in my world you need songs too.  Could Tommy Lee and Scott Humphrey deliver?  Fresh out of jail with new ideas, Tommy set to work.

Tommy was clearly relishing the chance to act all gangsta after his much-publicized arrest and incarceration for assault.  The album opens with a recording from L.A. County Jail, and Tommy Lee trying to make a collect phone call.  Then the heavy riff of “Who the Hell Cares” crashes.  It’s extremely reminiscent of the kind of guitar riffs that Motley Crue were writing for their 1994 self-titled magnum opus.  I like Snoop Dogg’s trademark smoove style on it.  To me it’s not about the rapping, but the snaky and stomping guitars. In honestly, “Who the Hell Cares” sounds more like Motley Crue than a lot of New Tattoo!  This melds straight into “Hypocritical” which has a similar “Motley Rap” sound.  “Anger Management” (an obvious reference to Tommy’s personal issues) has yet another one of those heavy Motley riffs, making me question just how much Tommy wrote on that 1994 album.  Quite a bit, I’ll wager.  As much as I wanted to hate the album, I can’t.

The single “Get Naked” (with Clinton, Durst, Mixmaster Mike and Lil’ Kim) is really annoying.  Tommy references his porno tape, whoop de do.  This song sucks, especially lyrically.   Thankfully “New Thing” with Kid Rock is better, even though Kid uses the guest appearance to boast that he’s gone “five times platinum”.  Musically the song sounds like one of the ballads on Generation Swine…but marginally better.

“Proposition Fuck You” makes me laugh, but I’m easily amused.  This one is just straight rap, no rock. Cool techno hooks on “Crash” helps the song work its way into the skull.  I get the impression that this kind of song is where Motley Crue were trying to go on the aforementioned Generation Swine, but for some reason this is much better.  Same with “Metamorphosis” which sounds like, but surpasses most tunes on Generation Swine!

Milking his jail time once again, “Narcotic” opens with a phone recording with information about parolee’s upcoming drug tests…and then the sound of a joint burning.  It’s a tiring cliche.  “Forget about rehab! Gimme another one! The justice of my ass!”  These are some of the lyrics.  “Mr. Onsomeothershits” (ugh, come on) and “Spun” end the album on a so-so note.  Lots of beats and sounds, not a lot of songwriting.

It’s a rollercoaster affair, Methods of Mayhem.  It’s much better than you’d expect, but when it sucks, it sucks!

MOM ICONThe CD is enhanced, with screensavers, music videos, and a brief thing called “Making of Mayhem” which sheds little light on the actual creative process.  It’s no more than just a collage of people posing for the camera in the studio, unfortunately.  You will learn nothing about the making of the Methods of Mayhem album by watching the “Making of Mayhem” featurette.  Don’t you hate stuff like that?

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Jon Bon Jovi – Blaze of Glory (1990)

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JON BON JOVI – Blaze of Glory: Inspired by the film Young Guns II (1990 Mercury)

Billy the Kid was a fascinating character.  Perhaps he was the embodiment of the Old West itself: a charismatic outlaw, who reportedly had a hair trigger temper but also a heart of gold.  Unfortunately, the film Young Guns II seems more about a person called Brushy Bill, rather than William H. McCarty, also known as William H. Bonney, but best known as Billy the Kid.  Having killed his first man at 18, the Kid earned his nickname with his boyish looks.  He looked nothing at all like his screen counterpart Emilio Estevez, but it’s because of Emilio that Jon Bon Jovi recorded the soundtrack to Young Guns II.

A popular theory from the 1990’s was that Billy the Kid was not killed by Sheriff Patrick Frank Garrett in 1881.   In 1948, a character called Brushy Bill Roberts emerged claiming to be the Kid, alive and well.  There was enough facial resemblance, and also sworn statements from five people who knew the Kid. Roberts never proved that he was actually William McCarty, and today historians have dismissed his claims due to the number of facts that do not match (such as dates of birth).   Young Guns II, the film, operated on the popular theory that Billy survived, and that he faked his death with the help of Pat Garrett.

In fact Garrett did shoot the Kid and lived a life of shame afterwards, as the details of the shooting of the popular Kid didn’t paint him in a positive light.  Oddly enough, Garrett himself was shot and killed in 1908 by a rancher named Jesse Wayne Brazel, in New Mexico.  The interesting coincidence about this is Brazel was uncle to a Mac Brazel, also a rancher in New Mexico, near the town of Roswell.  It was on his ranch that something strange (almost certainly an actual UFO) crashed and was covered up.  It is an amusing intersection of two of the great folk tales in American history.

So along came this movie.  Emilio Estevez asked Jon Bon Jovi if they could use “Wanted: Dead or Alive” in the film.  Jon declined and said, “The lyrics don’t make sense.  That song is about touring, let me write you something more appropriate to the old west and Billy the Kid.”  This turned into an entire album.  Essentially Blaze of Glory is not a soundtrack album (since none of Jon’s songs are in the movie until the end credits) but a concept album based on the film.

The album begins with a snippet of dialogue:  “Yoo-hoo!” says Emilio/Billy.  “I’ll make ya famous.”  A gunshot and the song “Billy Get Your Guns” begins.  That’s Kenny Aranoff on drums in case you were wondering.  “Billy Get Your Guns” isn’t a hard rock song like Bon Jovi was doing at the time.  But it’s still rock and roll, featuring some great slide guitar riffing by Waddy Wachtel.  Jon’s voice is young, strong and loud.  It’s a sound I miss.  I think it’s impossible to dislike the excellent “Billy Get Your Guns”, especially when topped by a Jeff Beck guitar solo, who plays on pretty much the whole album.  (The album also features two Journey bassists:  Randy Jackson and Bob Glaub.)

Jeff even appeared in the music video for “Miracle”, the hit ballad from the album.  The lovely accordion and spare arrangement gives it quite a different feel from old Bon Jovi ballads. Once again I am reminded that Jon once possessed quite a powerful voice.  It’s also worth noting that Jon wrote every song himself.

“William H. Bonney, you are not a god.” – Keifer Sutherland as Doc Scurlock

“Why don’t you pull the trigger and find out.”  – Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid

I still love “Blaze of Glory”.  It’s timeless, more so than a lot of Bon Jovi’s hits from the time — “Bad Medicine” and so forth.  I remember seeing Aldo Nova on TV playing the riff on an acoustic guitar, and it is perfect in its classic simplicity.  Aldo is one of Jon’s oldest friends and he plays on the whole album as well.  This dynamite hit song has become so loved that Bon Jovi play it live and included it on their greatest hits compilations, even though only Jon was part of it.  Jeff Beck’s smoking solo is as much part of the song as Jon is.  I cannot understate how great this song is. From quiet acoustic strumming to bombastic aplomb, the song is a great achievement.

“Blood Money” is a short ballad, with spare acoustics, tambourine and accordion.  Jon sings as Billy the Kid, directly to Pat Garrett.  Historically we don’t know if Garrett and McCarty were friends as they are portrayed in the film, but likely they were not.  Regardless, even though the lyrics are implausible historically, it is still a powerful little song.

This leads into “Santa Fe”, which is from the perspective of Doc Scurlock.   You want epic?  Look no further.  An album highlight, “Santa Fe” boasts strings, powerful Aranoff beats, and Jon’s most vivid lead vocal.  If it had been on a Bon Jovi album, I think it would be regarded as highly as a song like “Dry County” which it resembles slightly.

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Side two opened with Lou Diamond Phillips (Chavez y Chavez in the film) singing a native chant.  The song “Justice in the Barrel” refers of course to the barrel of a gun, and Jeff Beck’s playing in the opening reminds us why he is one of rock’s most legendary gunslingers.  The song however is more laid back, a slow rock groove.  “Never Say Die” is the most straightforward rocker on the album, and it features Robbin Crosby of Ratt on electric guitar.  This song most closely resembles Bon Jovi, the band, even lyrically.  It is followed by a song that sounds nothing at all like them, and also my favourite:  “You Really Got Me Now”.  From first listen, way back in 1990, to today, this is a song that always puts a smile on my face.  Imagine Jon Bon and Little Richard building a time machine, travelling back to 1881, and jamming in a saloon.  That’s “You Really Got Me Now”.  Richard plays piano and sings the second verse, and I love it.  It’s a shame this little tune is only 2 1/2 minutes long, but I guess it was a bit of a novelty.

“Bang a Drum” is a pleasant soft soul rock anthem, but the Hammond organ and Jeff Beck help maintain its integrity.  The soul comes from the backing vocals of Julia and Maxine Waters.  This is the climax; the denoument is “Dyin’ Ain’t Much of a Livin'”.  The delicate piano is provided by one Elton John (before he would become Sir).  Elton also joins Jon on backing vocals.  “All this fame don’t bring ya freedom,” sings Jon, a line that may apply to a rock star life as well as an outlaw.  The powerful song is a natural ending to a story such as this.

There’s a brief coda, an orchestral piece from the movie by composer Alan Silvestri called “Guano City”.  I always wondered why this piece (as good as it is, sounding like some of John Williams’ more exciting segments) was on the album.  Nevertheless, there it is, and the album is done.

Jon was very emphatic in stating that Blaze of Glory was not his true solo album.  It was 10 songs written specifically for a movie, to fit that movie.  His solo album would come seven years later with Destination Anywhere, but first it was time to get Bon Jovi, the band, back on track.  This began with a 1991 live performance of “Blaze of Glory” at the Academy Awards, by the full Bon Jovi band, augmented by additional guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar.

If you consider solo albums and soundtracks as part of the overall catalog, Blaze of Glory still clocks in as one of my absolute favourites.

5/5 stars