rich chycki

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


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REVIEW: Triumph – Greatest Hits Remixed (2010)

My Triumph reviews to date:

GR HITS REMIXED_0001TRIUMPH – Greatest Hits Remixed (CD+DVD 2 disc set 2010 Universal)

I was very impressed with the “new” Greatest Hits Remixed by Triumph. Normally I don’t go much for remixes, as 9 times out of 10 the original versions are superior. Greatest Hits Remixed however was done by none other than Rich Chycki (ex-Winter Rose) whose credits include remixing work with Rush, particularly on Retrospective III. He did the first remixes of the Vapor Trails material, leading to the band remixing the whole album today.  Chycki’s work elevated those songs to a new level, likewise with Triumph.

The drums are louder and harder (read: modern sounding). The guitars more aggressive. The rolling, grooving basslines are now in your face. (I may have underrated Mike Levine in the past.)  Keyboards have been toned down. Vocals have been stripped dry and place high in the mix. In the case of “Just One Night”, the entire song sounds re-recorded, particularly the lead vocal.  Gil sounds older on this version. Even the hokey cheese of “Somebody’s Out There” has been replaced with a new edge, drowning out the formerly keyboard-heavy leanings. My only complaint is that some vocals are a little heavy on echo.

This CD-DVD 2 disc set comes with a wealth of interesting extras.  The DVD here is a great package on its own, and would have been worth buying in the $10 range alone. Every major Triumph video is here, now backed by the remixed tracks. In addition, there’s some bonus features, such as the “Child of the City” music video by the “v2.0” version of Triumph with Phil X.  There’s some early fan-cam footage (“Blinding Light Show”) and perhaps best of all, Triumph inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  They are inducted by Tom  Cochrane, introducing Gil Moore as one of his closest friends.  Who knew?  Additionally, the set is housed in a nice double digipack, with lots of photos (a couple recent ones too) and lots of text to read. On the whole, a well made and timely package.

If you’re a new fan who hasn’t got their first Triumph CD yet, this package is a pretty good buy.  You might really get into the more modern sound. If you’re an old fan, I think it’s fun to enjoy the memories and the harder rocking sounds.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rush – Moving Pictures (CD/blu-ray deluxe edition)

 

Everybody got to evelate from the norm…

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RUSH – Moving Pictures (2011 Anthem remaster with 5.1 blu-ray)

The great musical academic, Tom Morwood, once called Moving Pictures “the greatest album of the 1980’s”. I think he has an arguable position. Besides the obvious “Tom Sawyer”, you get such classics as “Red Barchetta”, “YYZ”, “Limelight”, and of course “Vital Signs”. This is back in the day when 7 or 8 songs made an album, and Moving Pictures’ 7 songs are a hell of a concoction.

Although the Rush catalogue was last remastered back in ’97 (or there ’bouts), this was the first Rush deluxe edition to hit the shelves. Unlike most deluxe editions, this one contains no “bonus tracks” per se, at least none in CD form. Disc one is Moving Pictures, in stereo, and disc two is the entire album in hi-def 5.1, plus three music videos. Disc one has been remastered (yet again!), but don’t fret — unless you’re an audiophile, you don’t need to worry about that. The 1997 CD edition sounded fine, as does this. You’re buying this for the 5.1, and if you can’t play 5.1 just stick with the original CD which sounds pretty much the same to the average Joe Listener.   (There’s also a “96k PCM stereo” with “256 times more resolution than a CD” on the blu-ray disc.)

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If you don’t own this album yet, then what are you waiting for?  You couldn’t find a better CD to start with.  Although Geddy had brought the keyboards out, this album still represents the perfect mix of Alex’s guitar and Ged’s keys — not fighting for space in the mix, but sharing it equally and powerfully.

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Do I really need to talk about “Tom Sawyer”?  It’s Rush’s most recognizable riff.  I can think of few other songs where the drum part carries just as many hooks as the other instruments.  But that’s Rush, that’s the Professor.  That’s part of their genius.

“Red Barchetta” is a futuristic tale.  The Motor Law has been passed, banning cars.  Romance for the old vehicles still exists in some, who seek the thrills.  I always felt the subject matter was similar to the movie The Last Chase, which didn’t come out until the following year.  Musically, the song twists and turns like the roads it’s about.

“YYZ” is perhaps Rush’s best known instrumental, a slammin’ piece of polyrhythmic madness.  It’s stuff like this that Rush is best known for, and “YYZ” is one of the best examples of it.  Alex’s guitar work is nothing short of stunning, meanwhile Geddy’s bass licks are perfect.

Meanwhile, “Limelight” represents the simpler pop side of Rush that the band were interested in exploring at the time.  It is still anchored by a solid riff, but with Geddy’s vocal melody enduring.  A song like this is an appropriate lead-in to “The Camera Eye”, a more complex piece featuring Geddy’s synth.  It’s over 10 minutes long, and perhaps the kind of thing people expect from Rush.

“Witch Hunt” is a shorter one, but ominous and dramatic.  Alex’s riff is the main focus, although Neil certainly throws in plenty of interesting accents.  The final track, “Vital Signs”, is my favourite.  Finding words to describe it is difficult.  It’s perfect — an amalgam of incredible playing with interesting influences and complex arrangements.  There is a clear reggae vibe, as they had been listening to a lot of The Police.  It’s also extremely memorable.  Neil’s drum work on this is stunning.

And that’s the album!  Seven songs done and dusted.

RUSH BLU RAY

The 5.1 mix, done by Toronto’s own Richard Chycki (he’s been doing Rush and Triumph remixes for years now) is pretty damn good. It’s different. Listen to “Vital Signs” for example. It’s different, the balance of instruments and vocals. Considering the original stereo mix was perfect, and you can’t fairly compare to perfection, I will just say the mix is different. It’s definitely a great listen on a good system, I liked what Chycki did. Again, listen to “Vital Signs”. What he did there just creates this amazing field of sound. There’s a great separation of instruments. Moving Pictures was a great choice to mix in 5.1, you can really hear the individual playing.

The music videos are old, and don’t look so hot, even on blu. I have always loved watching the “Tom Sawyer” video, Neil bashing his kit in Le Studio with that big glass window behind him in the dead of winter. Geddy with those big glasses.  My best friend Peter, he loves Geddy’s glasses!  There’s also “Limelight”, which is seen less frequently.  The “Vital Signs” video, from the same taping, is previously unreleased.

The liner notes are by David Fricke, and are quite different from the who-played-what-when notes in previous deluxe editions. Fricke’s don’t go into great detail regarding the making of the album nor the 5.1 mix, as previous deluxe editions do. However, it’s David Fricke, and therefore a good read. Enjoy while immersed within this album, in sublime hi-def 5.1.

5(.1)/5 stars

REVIEW: Slash Puppet – Slash Puppet (EP, 1993)

I found much to my horror that my original Amazon.ca Slash Puppet review had been taken and credited to some defunct site called “bandfocus.net”!  I thought it would be wise to re-claim it for myself.  Here it is in slightly revised form.

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SLASH PUPPET – Slash Puppet (Fringe EP, 1993)

A short while ago, I reviewed the debut release by the legendary Toronto glam metal band, Slash Puppet. For a while there, it looked like Slash Puppet was destined to be the “next big thing”.  They were winning awards, had national video play, and a stunning collection of hard rock material to draw from for their well-reviewed gigs.

Well, you know what happened next. Grunge took over, and the Toronto metal scene never exploded the way it was hoped. If it had, Slash Puppet would have been the band leading the charge. (With Winter Rose, I Mother Earth, Sven Gali, Russian Blue, Slik Toxik, Attitude, and so many others right behind…ahh, but I digress.)

This 1993 EP was their second release (the afformentioned debut is now available on CD as No Strings Attached, on Sun City Records).  It is solid from start to finish. The singer, Mif (better known as Anthony J. Mifsud; you’ve seen him acting in the Norm McDonald comedy Dirty Work!) has a soulful, gritty, and gravelly voice that has elements of Brian Johnson and Lemmy, but really sounds like neither. Really, Mif sounds like Mif, and you have to hear the voice to get it. The band were tight, emphasizing tough riffs, killer choruses, and street-smart lyrics. No wimpy songs here. Even the sole ballad “Eyes Of A Child” isn’t a wimp-out. Not with lyrics like those, and a soulful delivery from Mif.

The lead track from No Strings Attached, “Slow Down”, reappears here, now parsed as “Slowdown”. (I believe this song is a remix with a new bass part, based on the credits. Peet Dove played bass on the original demo version but is not credited here, which leads me to believe the bass was re-recorded by new bassist Dave Carreiro. Otherwise, the song sounds almost identical to the demo version.)

SLASH PUPPET GLOSSY

Every song smokes.  Slash Puppet down-shifted on speed for these songs, but traded that in for a slightly bluesier, soulful vibe.  Their songwriting abilities grew by leaps and bounds between releases, no doubt enhanced by their live experience.  When their debut was recorded, the band had not even played a gig yet!  Slash Puppet is much more melodic than No Strings Attached, but still tough as nails.

If you’re into tough, glammy rock n’ roll with great musicianship and songwriting, Slash Puppet are the band to check out. This EP just shines.  If you’re into collecting obscure albums from the era, or Canadian bands, this CD is an absolute must, although I saw one guy on ‘net claiming to have sold his copy for almost $200!  I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay that much.  Check thrift shops and used CD stores.  I used to sell this in my store for $5.99.

This EP was mixed by Rich Chycki, probably best known for his 5.1 work with Rush!

Here’s hoping Mif and the surviving members reunite for a few more songs or shows. I’ll be there.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rush – Sector 2 (box set)

This one goes out to Rich from KamerTunesBlog, a great, informed site that you should check out.

I got the other two Sectors for Christmas, but this is an older review.

RUSH – Sector 2 (2011 box set, 5 CD + 1 DVD)

Damn you Rush.  Damn you!

If it wasn’t for the fact that I liked their past 5.1 mixes so much, I wouldn’t have bought each of these albums again in this box set.  And the fact that only one album (A Farewell To Kings) has been mixed in 5.1 really grinds my gears.  Because you know more is coming.  2112, recently released as a part of Sector 1, in normal stereo, is now coming again in 5.1.  It’s obvious Rush are going to continue to issue 5.1 mixes of their albums, in seemingly random order, which will probably make these box sets completely redundant in the future.

Rich Chycki did the 5.1 mix once again, and once again, it’s a pleasure to listen to.  In particular I found “Cygnus X-1” to really benefit from the treatment.  The swirly opening section made me feel as if I too was aboard the Rocinante, wheeling through the galaxies.  The album sounds three dimensional, clear, shimmery.  I’m very happy with the 5.1 mix.

Farewell is included on a standard stereo remastered CD, and also in stereo on the DVD.  I have read online that there are flaws with the stereo mix of this DVD but I’ve never played it.  I’m not that much of an audiophile that I would really care to, when I already have a CD.

The other CD’s included in the set, aside from A Farewell To Kings, are:

  • Hemispheres
  • Permanent Waves
  • Moving Pictures
  • Exit…Stage Left

…all of which I have now bought more than once.  In Moving Pictures‘ case, three times now, since they just issued that as a deluxe edition with a 5.1 surround blu-ray last year!  (Reviewed here.) Bastards.

I’m not going to review each individual album in this set.  That comprehensive task would require separate blog entries of their own.  They’re all great, of course.  Some (Moving Pictures) more so than others (Hemispheres) in my own personal opinion.  And of course, within this box set you will get such classics as “Closer To The Heart”, “The Trees”, “The Spirit of Radio”, “Freewill”, “YYZ”, “Limelight”, and “Vital Signs”.  In addition there are plenty of brilliant album tracks like “La Villa Strangiato” and “Natural Science”.

The box itself is attractive enough, and if you’re sucked into buying all three, then they all fit together on your shelf as one handsome library.  But you already own some of these albums, if not all, don’t you?  The bait is that 5.1 mix of Farewell.  And it pisses me off that Rush would treat their fans in that way.  Why not just remaster and re-release these albums on their own and in a box set?

The individual album packaging is nice enough too, mini record sleeve reproductions, with a nice booklet with lyrics and liner notes for the whole shebang, all taken from the albums.  As far as the booklet goes, there’s no exclusive essays or other content that is new to me.

And as for the new remastering?  I can’t tell the difference between this and the 1997 remasters.  I can’t.  Sorry.  I’m sure an audiophile would call me an idiot for saying so.

I probably won’t buy Sectors 1 and 3, not unless the prices drop dramatically.  I was able to re-gift my original Rush remasters off to other people, which is one way of dealing with the duplicates, but I’m not going to be getting rid of my deluxe Moving Pictures, since it has the blu-ray and a David Fricke essay.  So I’ve got two copies of that, and people who collect 5.1 mixes and have Sector 1 will end up with two copies of 2112.  Nice eh?

A Farewell To Kings 5.1 mix:  5/5 stars

Sector 2 box set:  1/5 stars