Richie Zito

REVIEW: Richie Kotzen – Mother Head’s Family Reunion (1994 Japanese import)

Kotzen’s music is cut for hard rockers who like insane playing and a side of R&B.

 

RICHIE KOTZEN presents the Mother Head’s Family Reunion (1994 Geffen, Japanese with bonus track)

Did anybody really expect Richie Kotzen to stay in Poison?  The chances of that happening were always about as good as a Beatles reunion tour — next to zilch.  Kotzen’s talent burst at the seams that were Poison.  He could not have been content for long.  Post-Poison he resumed business swiftly with Mother Head’s Family Reunion, his fifth overall recording.

A funky “Socialite” demonstrates Kotzen’s diversity.  Drummer Atma Anur breaks it down while Richie brings the soul.  Kotzen’s music is cut for hard rockers who like insane playing and a side of R&B.   The soulful profile is on full display with “Mother Head’s Family Reunion” which sounds like a Black Crowes cover.  Switch to blues balladeering on “Where Did Our Love Go”, and “Natural Thing” brings it all the way to funk again.

Listening closely, Mother Head’s Family Reunion sounds a lot like Native Tongue, Phase II.  It’s that album, but beyond:  it’s Kotzen completely unleashed and without Bret Michaels.  You could easily imagine a track like “A Love Divine” on side two of Native Tongue, among the more grooving material.  That connects seamlessly with “Soul to Soul”, another bluesy ballad, with a summery feel.  “Testify” has a similar bright side, and a wailing chorus.

Cover songs can be shaky ground, and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” sticks out like a sore thumb, a song from another era that doesn’t match up with Richie’s originals.  That’s not to say it’s bad.  Far from it — it’s one of the best covers of it that you’ll find.  It’s just on the wrong album, even as it jams on for seven minutes!

Through the last four tracks (“Used”, “A Woman & A Man”, “Livin’ Easy” and “Cover Me”) Richie and company rock it up and slow it down again with consistently impressive chops.  There are no weak songs, and Kotzen’s ballads have a genuine sound that stays timeless no matter the year.  The speedy funk-soul-metal soup of “Cover Me” concludes the standard domestic album by smoking your ears with blazing hot licks.

This album, long out of print, has been reissued in Japan with the bonus track intact, at a surprisingly low price.  (Amazon Canada had it in stock for $22.33.)  If you’re lucky enough to acquire it, you’ll get the extra song “Wailing Wall”.  Sometimes the Japanese fans got the best exclusives.  “Wailing Wall” is one.  It taps into the spirit of Tommy Bolin-era Deep Purple and it could be the best song of them all.

Easy decision:  Get some.

4.75/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Cult – Ceremony (1991)

Scan_20160729THE CULT – Ceremony (1991 Beggars Banquet)

Only 25 years late, I have finally acquired the Cult’s Ceremony CD, thanks to my kind and generous reader Wardy.  I somehow missed this album all those years, even though I own all the singles.  There are some songs here that are completely new to me.  Ceremony received mixed reviews when it was released, as it represented the band’s furthest move away from their roots, into commercial radio rock.  Let’s see how accurate that is.

It starts sounding more like some lost Deep Purple album, with big organ and jammy sounds.  Richie Zito co-produced this disc, and the band got a sharper sound out of the studio than they did with Bob Rock last time.  Sonically, Ceremony has more impact, more heft, more oomph than the big and echoey Sonic Temple.  The “Ceremony” in question on the title track is the rock arena, as the Cult had definitely become arena rock.  They had also been reduced to a core duo.  Jamie Stewart and Matt Sorum were gone, and the Cult used session musicians during this period.  Charlie Drayton (bass) and Mickey Curry (drums) helped the band achieve what sounds like a very sincere crack at this kind of rock.  Accessible it is, but the Cult didn’t really sell out.  Check out the frantic “Wild Hearted Son”.  Like the sound of a stampede of horses across the plains, “Wild Hearted Son” does not let up.  I think I lot of fans were disappointed that the new Cult sound wasn’t more esoteric, but that doesn’t make it bad.

Just as relentless as “Wild Hearted Son” comes the “Earth Mofo”.  One thing I had never really paid attention to before was the bass.  Drayton’s get some great bass chops.  The production of Ceremony leaves a lot of space between the instruments, so you can hear them.  Those who find Sonic Temple overproduced may dig on this, so give “Earth Mofo” a spin.   That’s nothing though compared to the powerful “White”.  Epic in scope, “White” is a massive groove with layers of acoustic instruments a-la Zep.

I didn’t see the tender sound of “If” coming, just piano and Ian’s crooning.  Not after all that heavy hitting rock.  But then “If” also explodes into something bigger, anthemic and memorable.  I’m starting to think that if Ceremony got a bad rap back in ’91, it’s because people weren’t paying proper attention.

“Full Tilt” is a great name for a rock song.  Riffed out with generous helpings of rock sauce, “Full Tilt” was reported to have knocked a picture of at least one journalist’s wall.*  Just wait until the afterburners ignite in the last minute of the song.  Strangely, the very next track is the acoustic ballad “Heart of Soul”; a good song indeed but not as great as “Edie (Ciao Baby)” was.  Back to the rock, “Bankok Rain” lacks the charisma that the rest of the tunes seem to have in common, though there is certainly nothing wrong with it’s staggering riff.  By the end you won’t care, because the whole thing  burns like fire and gasoline until all the fuel is spent.

A fascinating Cult song is “Indian”, a basic acoustic song with cello accompaniment.  As Cult ballads go, this is definitely a peak moment.  Ian infuses more passion into one line than most singers can do in a whole song.  Unexpectedly, the album moves right on to another ballad, “Sweet Salvation”, which is actually less a ballad and more a soul song.  It’s powerful, as are all these songs in their own ways.  Ian Astbury breaks out the Morrison poetry jams to kick off the ending track, “Wonderland”, a riff driven slow broil.

That’s the album, and it’s hard to gauge where it sits among the whole Cult catalogue.  Certainly, this and Sonic Temple are brother records.  They are stylistically more similar than Cult albums tend to be.  Ceremony possesses track after track of scorching rock music.  Does it make as strong an impression as the bombastic Sonic Temple?  Not quite.  By stripping the production to a more sparse and live sound, perhaps the Cult sacrificed the nuances.  Ceremony gleams shiny with amped up guitars and drums aplenty.  It is hard to find fault.  It is still a fine album.

3.5/5 stars

* That’s a true story, but I can’t remember what magazine I read it in.  The reviewer said, quote “‘Full Tilt’ knocked a picture off my wall.”

REVIEW: Poison – Native Tongue (1993)


NATIVE TONGUE_0001POISON – Native Tongue (1993 Capitol)

C.C. DeVille was let go from Poison after an embarrassing performance on the 1991 MTV awards.  Who can forget the pink-haired C.C.?  Drugs and alcohol had taken their toll on the guitar player.  There were musical differences as well.  Bret Michaels liked the bluesier direction Poison were going on; C.C. preferred basic sloppy rock.  A parting of ways was all but inevitable.

Poison were lucky enough to convince guitar prodigy Richie Kotzen to join the band.  Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, like Poison, and had released three critically acclaimed solo albums.  Richie Kotzen and Electric Joy were hard-to-penetrate instrumental albums, while Fever Dream introduced Richie’s soulful singing voice.  He had also contributed the bluesy rock of “Dream of a New Day” to the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack album.

Like many fans, I waited and wondered what the new Poison would sound like.  Kotzen claims that many of the songs were completely written, lyrics and all, before he joined Poison.  Regardless each song received a four-way songwriting split among the band members.  Fans in the know could tell right away that Kotzen’s impact on the songs was much greater than the other members.

Native Tongue was not as immediate as any prior Poison album, but what it lacked in instant hooks it made up for in musicianship and integrity.  Native Tongue was also a long album, at almost an hour not including B-sides such as “Whip Comes Down”.  It was a lot to absorb, and due to the changing winds of rock, not too many fans were willing to spend time with and get to know Native Tongue.

You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the album that the duo of “Native Tongue”/”The Scream”.  Tribal drums by Rikki Rockett and Sheila E. set the scene for one of Poison’s heaviest songs ever.  “The Scream” is killer:  a relentless driving rock song with aggressive playing and lyrics.  Bret Michaels merged this with his Poison singing style, creating a successful hybrid.  “The Scream” is one of Poison’s finest achievements, and a hell of a way to kick off the new album with the new guitarist.

“Stand” was the soulful, gospel-like lead single.  It didn’t do anything for me, but you have to give Poison credit for going all-in.  With choirs and Kotzen’s soulful guitar playing, it’s still an outstanding Poison song.  “Stay Alive” was another good tune, this time about bassist Bobby Dall’s struggles with substances.   That led into the ballad “Until You Suffer Some (Fire and Ice)”, one of the band’s best such songs.  The only weakness here is a grouping of slow songs on side one.  “Body Talk” and “Bring It Home” make up for that.  “Bring It Home” in particular had that heavy groove that you needed to have in the 1990s, as well as strong backing vocals from Kotzen.   “Bring It Home” ended the first side with the heaviest song since “The Scream”.

The one thing that I found difficult about Native Tongue was the aforementioned lack of immediacy.  Thankfully, side two had a few songs that maintained that old-tyme Poison singalong chorus.  They were “Seven Days Over You” (a horn-inflected goodie), the anthemic “Blind Faith” and, “Ride Child Ride”.  These tunes weren’t too much of a departure from earlier Poison of Flesh & Blood.  Perhaps if they had been released as singles, there would have been more chart action.  “Strike Up the Band” is similar, capturing the high octane rock that Poison were good at doing live.

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“Richie’s Acoustic Thang” and “Ain’t That the Truth” are swampy bluesy goodness, crossing Poison and Kotzen perfectly.  Where Poison failed to do decent blues before, they finally managed to get it done with Richie.  Likewise, “Theatre of the Soul” is a soulful ballad that acts as another album highlight.

The final song was “Bastard Son of a Thousand Blues”, and it is really the only stinker, despite Kotzen having plenty of vocal time.  It reminds me of “Poor Boy Blues” from the prior album, and unfortunately ends the album on a mediocre note, guitar pyrotechnics notwithstanding.

Kotzen didn’t last long with Poison.  “Strike Up the Band”?  More like “Break Up the Band”, when Richie started fooling around with the fiancé of Rikki Rockett.  He was immediately fired upon discovery, and replaced by Blues Saraceno, another highly rated shredder.  The ironic thing was that Blues Saraceno was in the running for the guitar slot in the first place, but the band chose Kotzen.  Saraceno recorded the strong Crack A Smile CD, an intentional return to good-time Poison rock, but were dropped by the record label before a release.  That’s a whole other story, with six years of delays and bootlegs before the album was out, eventually leading to a reunion with C.C. DeVille.

Fortunately, Native Tongue remains a reminder of a brief period in Poison where they were momentarily among the best acts in hard rock.  No shit.

4.75/5 stars

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REVIEW: White Lion – Mane Attraction (1991)

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WHITE LION – Mane Attraction (1991 Atlantic)

I was expecting a lot more out of Mane Attraction.  Most fans are of a mind that Big Game was not as good as Pride (to varying degrees) and the band seemed to agree with them.  In a guitar magazine interview, Bratta and Tramp proclaimed that they had toned it down on Big Game, and the next album would be much heavier, and more epic.

In many respects, that was true.  Mane Attraction has an 8-minute epic and two more songs clocking in at 7 minutes apiece.  There are heavy moments here that are equal to the heaviest on Fight to Survive.  Producer Richie Zito captured the heavier sounds with polish and clarity.  Where Mane Attraction stumbles is not on the heavy songs, it’s on the sappy, pathetic, limp, impotent ballads.  Side one has two in a row!

Things get off to a solid start.  “Lights and Thunder” is everything the band promised it would be.  This is the kind of uncompromising heavy rock that the band had been trying to do.  It has a trippy quality as it navigates different moods and sections.  It is quite probably the best song on the album.  Notably, Bratta’s style has become less fluttery and displays more balls.  “Leave Me Alone” too is adventurous, sort of a heavy metal funk hybrid.  It has a great heavy guitar groove, but Mike Tramp’s lyrics are absolute shit.  “Can’t touch this”?  Jesus Murphy.  It’s a shame because “Leave Me Alone” is pretty great musically.  You could headbang to it just fine; trust me, I know.

From Fight to Survive (the band’s indi debut) comes a re-recording of “Broken Heart”.  It is a commercial hard rocker, and it reminds me of early Europe.   New keyboard parts made it more pop and radio friendly, but it didn’t get the radio play the band needed.  Plenty of keyboards can also be heard on the other single, “Love Don’t Come Easy”.  Releasing a song this soft as the first single was commercial suicide; people were craving heavier sounds.  “Love Don’t Come Easy” (originally titled “There Comes A Time”) is a good song, but it did not make a strong first impression for a single.

On album, the band chose to chase this lukewarm single with a sappy ballad called “You’re All I Need”.

I know that she’s waiting,
For me to say forever,
I know that I sometimes,
Just don’t know how to tell her.
I want to hold and kiss her,
Give her my love,
Make her believe,
‘Cause she doesn’t know,
She doesn’t know.

Mnfnrhshitrmfn.

And then…wait for it…

Another ballad.

There is least some cool organ and bluesy guitar on “It’s Over”, but why the hell would you put so many soft songs in a row?  I’m sure back in the day the band were trying call this a blues, but that would be stretching the matter greatly.   “It’s Over” closes side one, and I need to go and get some air, because these stuffy ballads are making me feel ill.

FUCKING

Intermission

Alright, I’m back, I’ve cleared my head.  Side two begins with a bang; literally.  “Warsong” was written by Tramp and Bratta as a response to the record company asking them to write “another single”.  Musically, this is a fantastic song, propelled by Greg D’Angelo’s relentless beat.  It too exhibits multiple sections and a couple killer Bratta solos (the second drastically different from the first).  Where it loses once again is in the lyrical department.  I know Mike Tramp has written many songs condemning war, and I know that the Gulf War was going on when he wrote this.  What I took issue with was the line, “I know there’s nothing good in war, I know ’cause I’ve been there before.”  I don’t think it’s cool to say you’ve “been there before” unless you actually have.  I think it’s inappropriate.

“She’s Got Everything” is a cool groove.  The lyrics suck again, but that’s expected now.  My advice is just to sing your own lyrics over Mike Tramp’s.  For example, where Mike sings this:

“So we left the party, and drove to her place,
You could see excitement written on my face.
So she took me upstairs, laid me on her bed,
When she got undressed I just lost my head.”

Try singing this:

“Sheeba dabba dobby, n’ log in fireplace,
Soo loo ba dooby doo, pooping in the place.
Shooba dooba dabba, the man in the shed,
La dee da da dee da, eating loaf of bread.”

Better, right?

“Till Death Do Us Part” is a fucking wedding song, except nobody in the entire world ever used it as such.  It has a cool, atmospheric bass intro, but then it’s off to the honeymoon in downtown Shit City.  The only good thing is Bratta’s solo, the icing over a very rotten cake.

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It’s too late to save the ship from sinking now.  “Out With the Boys” is another stupid lyric, but at least framed in a good rock song.  Once again White Lion lay the groove on hard.  Then Vito Bratta takes a solo slot with “Blue Monday”.  This electric blues was written and recorded for Stevie Ray Vaughan who had recently died.  Too little too late, and rendered pointless by yet another ballad.  Mane Attraction closes on “Farewell to You”, and I say good luck, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, etc.

Mane Attraction is over an hour long.  If it had been 30-35 minutes long, like rock albums from a past era, this would have been a very different review.

2/5 stars

MANE_0005I’m doing an ear-cleanse now.  To Van Halen, not Van Hagar.