Richie Scarlet

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Loaded Deck (1998)

Part 8 of a 9 part series on Ace Frehley.  So close to the end now!   Did you miss any?

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ACE FREHLEY – Loaded Deck (1998 Megaforce Worldwide)

So then an other odds n’ sods disc from John Regan of Frehley’s Comet arrived.  Like 12 Picks, this one also came with an Ace guitar pick.  The most appealing songs in this collection are the unreleased tracks “One Plus One” and “Give It To Me Anyway”.  Both are complete Frehley’s Comet songs, produced by Eddie Kramer.  My respected reviewer friend Jon holds these songs above many that made it onto the actual albums.

“One Plus One” is an excellent commercial rocker with that Ace “quirk” to it.  This one might have been cut from 1987’s Frehley’s Comet album because it was considered too pop.  That’s a shame because it’s great.  Tod Howarth’s high backing vocal complements Ace’s lead for maximum hooks.  I love it.  This song is addictive.

“Give It To Me Anyway” is one of the oldest Comet songs, dating back to 1985, recorded for 1989’s Trouble Walkin’, and left unreleased.   This is a tough, funky rocker, musically ambitious.  Anton Fig’s avalanches of drum fills are always soothing, but Richie Scarlet’s raspy vocals are the real hook.  Not that the chorus is bad either!

After these two valuable now-classics, Regan throws on three Frehley also-rans that didn’t make it onto the prior 12 Picks compilation.  They are Ace’s excellent cover of The Move/ELO’s “Do Ya”, Tod Howarth’s ballad “It’s Over Now”, and “Shot Full Of Rock” from Trouble Walkin’.  I like all three songs, but I question the wisdom of including “It’s Over Now” on this compilation.  Ace didn’t write it, didn’t sing on it, didn’t play the guitar solo…

A smattering of live tracks makes up the next section of the CD.  Some of these are from the Live + 4 VHS release, others are from the same gig that the Live + 1 EP was recorded at.  “Stranger In A Strange Land” (from Frehley’s Comet) is from this show, and has Anton Fig on drums.  Not the greatest song but you can actually hear where it would fit into Live + 1 (right before “Something Moved”).  Up next is “Separate” which Ace introduced as “Separate the Men from the Boys”.  I’ve admitted to liking the song, but this is especially cool as this is the very first performance of it.  I dig the vocal and Ace’s chugging guitar and I think it actually works live, surprisingly.

LOADED DECK_0004Tod Howarth…I’m sorry dude…you suck at introducing songs.  I wish you said nothing in front of “New York Groove”.  You’re no Paul Stanley, believe me.  I ain’t gonna “clap those hands”.  Thankfully the performance of the song is great, even if Jamie Oldaker butchers the drum part.  “Rock Soldiers” is once again back to the Anton Fig lineup, and this time Ace does the intro himself.  You can immediately tell it’s a different drummer, it’s like night and day.  “Remember Me” is the last of the live tracks, and though it’s presented live, it’s the same version that is on Trouble Walkin’.

The final two songs are parts 2 and 3 of the “Fractured” tetralogy (though in 1998 still a trilogy).  Part one, of course, was on Ace’s 1978 solo album, which is considered part of the Kiss catalog.  Therefore, John Regan wouldn’t have been able to use it on Loaded Deck.  It’s fine…a bit of a cop out way to end a compilation album I think.  To me, it feels like, “We’re all out of good songs so here’s two instrumentals.”  For the casual fan, it’s a “blah” ending.  For the die-hards, well, we already have these songs…part one included…and could make our own tapes with all of them, should we desire to experience them like that.  I’ve never had that compulsion.  They were all individual album closers, that felt right ending the albums in that context.  Together, it doesn’t work for me.

Sometimes a compilation leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  If it’s a disjointed listening experience, I’m less likely to return to that compilation.  Loaded Deck gets fewer plays in my collection than 12 Picks does.  Even though they are meant to complement each other, like two discs of a double anthology, I think 12 Picks is a better album experience.

What Regan should have done is make an album of just the unreleased studio and live songs, without the stuff we already had on the studio albums.  Megaforce figured that out, and in 2006 issued Greatest Hits Live, a compilation of these two compilations.  After we already bought said compilations.  Awesome.

2/5 stars for the album, just go ahead and get Greatest Hits Live instead.

REVIEW: Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996)

Part 5 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Trouble Walkin’?  Click here!

Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996 DeRock/Triage)

Just in time for the massive Kiss reunion tour came this tribute CD.  There were several versions of this.  I have the second-coolest of the three:

  • Least cool:  Regular domestic 10 track CD.
  • Second coolest:  Import CD (Europe?) with brand new bonus track by Ace Frehley himself, called “Take Me To the City”
  • Most cool:  Japanese import CD with that and Sebastian Bach’s “Save Your Love”

This is one of those tributes made up of a mish-mash of metal musicians, no real “bands” so to speak, although all are great musicians.  Scott Travis plays drums on most of it (lending an awkward Priest-like vibe to the drums), Charlie Benate plays with Scott Ian on “Rip It Out”, and Vinnie Paul of course plays with Dimebag Darrel on “Fractured Mirror”.  (This site has all the information and credits for the CD.  Enjoy!  You’ll notice the backing band is basically Racer X on most tracks.)

I’m good with every track on here except one:  Bruce Bouillet’s version of “New York Groove”.  I’m not into drum loops in general, and although the track has a funky groove to it, it’s just not my bag.  On the other hand, Scott Ian’s cover of “Rip It Out” is Anthrax-worthy.  Frankie Bello’s on bass, and somebody named Zach Throne sings it with Scott.  Zach nails an authentic Ace-like vocal, while Charlie’s relentless on the drums.  The Anton Fig drum solo is almost exact note-for-note.  As is the signature guitar solo.

Gilby Clarke’s “Shock Me” is one of the better tracks. I don’t usually think of Gilby as a soloist, since in GN’R he didn’t solo.  His soloing style is unlike Ace’s, but he performs an original solo of his own that is appropriate to song.  On the other hand I wouldn’t count “Deuce” by Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) as a favourite.  The vocal (by somebody called Tom Gattis) is a tad overwrought.   Another “blah” tune is “Snowblind”, performed in a too-modern metally sound by Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) and Snake Sabo from Skid Row.

Ron Young (Little Caesar, the Four Horsemen) has a soulful but southern sound on “Hard Luck Woman”, an odd choice for a Frehley tribute.  Written by Paul and sung by Peter, the original was created for Rod Stewart to sing!  But it’s as good a cover as any, and I don’t have a lot of other stuff of Ron’s, so I’m cool with this.  Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) is on guitar.

We all knew Sebastian Bach would knock it out of the park on “Rock Bottom”, and he does.  “Rock Bottom” wasn’t written by Ace, but he did write the intro, performed here by Russ Parish of Fight/Steel Panther.  Baz is obviously a huge Kiss fan and the song is in great hands, although the solo’s way too modern.  Still, I wish I had “Save Your Love” too.

IMG_00000627Tracii Guns is passable on “Parasite”, but again I think the song is done in a style too contemporary.  Up next is John Norum of Europe, with “Cold Gin”!  (Hey, two songs in a row written by Ace!)  McMaster is back on lead vocals, not my fave singer in the world.  John is a great guitarist, and this version of “Cold Gin” is heavy with fills.  Some go with the song, some miss the mark.

Dime’s “Fractured Mirror” is perfect, even the production and sound of the acoustic guitar is eerily similar to Ace’s original.  Dime may well have been the biggest Ace Frehley fan in the world. Darrell does throw some of his own personality into the song, but I think foremost on his mind was probably playing the song the way he remembered it.  And he does.

Lastly, “Take Me To the City” is performed by Ace himself, with his crack band:  Steve Werner on drums, Karl Cochran on bass, Richie Scarlet on guitar and backing vocals, and…Sebastian Bach is there too at the end!  This Ace rarity is the best of all reasons to track down this CD.  This is Ace back to a hard rocking Frehley’s Comet sound, with an anthemic chorus.  When Baz shows up at the end, it’s icing on the cake (although you need to turn it ^UP^ to catch him in the fade).

I don’t really buy tribute albums anymore, because I find these mish-mashes of somewhat related artists to be a bit tedious.  Still, it’s pretty solid, and definitely worthwhile to fans of bands like Pantera, Skid Row, or Anthrax.  The Ace bonus track is pretty much a compulsory purchase.

3/5 stars

Soon, we’ll also be talking about another quality tribute album with some surprising guests and alumni.  Stay tuned.

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REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Trouble Walkin’ (1989)

Part 4 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Second Sighting?  Click here!

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ACE FREHLEY – Trouble Walkin’ (1989 Megaforce Worldwide)

Gone was the Frehley’s Comet moniker, and gone was multi-instrumentalist and talented singer Tod Howarth.  I believe he toured with Cheap Trick after the Comet, on backing instruments and vocals.  In his stead came Richie Scarlet, certainly no slouch, and an alumnus from an earlier version of the band.  Not only did Scarlet write some of Ace’s best stuff, but takes a lead vocal on the album Trouble Walkin’.  Also back was drummer Anton Fig!

On top of all that, producer Eddie Kramer was back working with Ace again, and they have great chemistry together.  Certainly all the elements were in place for a great solo album.  The critics and fans were pretty much unanimous in their praise of Ace’s latest.  Little did they know it would be his last solo album for 20 whole years!

Trouble Walkin’ was Ace’s heaviest solo album to date.  Take “Shot Full Of Rock”, the opener.  It is scorching from start to finish, but especially on the ripping guitar solo.  It has a great chorus to boot, and a fine lead vocal from the Ace.

Frehley has a knack for selecting great covers, and his take on The Move’s “Do Ya” is superior to the original in some respects.  As he has with other covers, Ace makes it his own.  I think Ace does very well when rocking up poppier, melodic material and “Do Ya” is no exception.  I always hoped it would be a bigger hit, but it wasn’t really.

“Five Card Stud” is co-written by Marc Ferrari of Keel.  It’s not an exceptional song, but it does boast a suitably heavy riff, and plenty of tasty Ace licks and solos.  It might not be the best song, but the guitar work makes it worthwhile.

This is followed by the weirdest song of all:  “Hide Your Heart”, a song written by Paul Stanley, Holly Knight and Desmond Child.  It had been demoed years before for Crazy Nights, but not used. Bonnie Tyler was first to record the song, then Robin Beck and then Molly Hatchet!   When Kiss recorded it for Hot In The Shade, they released it as a single mere weeks before Ace’s album came out.  By the time Kiss’ album came out (the week after Trouble Walkin’) the song had been released by no less than five different artists.  The common thread to some of those versions seems to be Desmond Child.  Obviously, Ace knew people would compare his version with Kiss’.  Gene Simmons spoke to him on the phone to warn him that Kiss were releasing it as their lead single.  Ace’s version, while harder, just is not as good.  That’s not to say it’s bad, because Kiss’ version is awesome.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0006“Lost In Limbo”, a Richie Scarlet co-write, closed side one on a pedestrian note.  Side two began with a better song, the title track.  This would be a good time to mention that Peter Criss sings backing vocals!  You can’t hear him, but he showed up.  That’s Richie Scarlet saying “Take it, Ace!” and singing the bridge.  This one’s a solid Ace rocker, guitar and cowbell heavy!

My favourite song is “2 Young 2 Die”.  It’s just so heavy!  I used to think Peter Criss was singing the lead vocal, because it’s so raspy.  It is in fact Richie Scarlet, though Peter is on backing vocals again.   This is an outstanding song, rhythmic and bass-driven.  Anton’s drums are tribal and dramatic.  The guitar solos are all over the place, but all of them are ear candy.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0003“Back To School” is a a fun song, and you can’t mistake who’s singing (screaming) with Ace on the chorus:  one of the biggest Frehley fans on the planet, Sebastian Bach himself!  He’s joined by Peter Criss, and Dave “Snake” Sabo and Rachel Bolan, also of Skid Row.  This one is more hard rock than anything else, but damn catchy.

I’m not sure if “Remember Me” is really live, but it’s mixed to sound that way.  A crowd is mixed in, and Ace says good evening to “Club Remulac, in France!”  It is important to remember that “Remulak” is home planet of the Saturday Night Live characters, the Coneheads.  Appropriate since this song is sung from the perspective of a space traveler, advising Earthlings to get some world peace happenin’.  Good song, though, kind of lazy and light.

The album closes with “Fractured III”, and much like its predecessors, it’s an instrumental.  The thing about the Fractured series is that they do sound all interconnected.  They all sound related at the hip, or the heart, and that’s cool.  I like all of them for different reasons.  “Fractured III” might be the hardest, most electric of them to this point.

After this, Ace seemed to lay dormant for a number of years.  In 1990 there was a rumour that Kiss were working on a reunion with Ace, Paul, Gene and Eric Carr which of course never happened.  A few years later Ace turned up on his Just 4 Fun tour, playing a Kiss-heavy set of classics.  Later came the Bad Boys of Kiss tour with Peter Criss, and finally the inevitable original Kiss reunion.  During the reunion, there were some interesting Ace Frehley releases, and we’ll be talking about those things next.

As for Trouble Walkin’?  Solid.

4/5 stars