Rise

REVIEW: Tom Keifer Band – Rise (2019) #keiferband

TOM KEIFER BAND – Rise (2019 Cleopatra)

The most surprising new release of 2019, to this listener anyway, has been the new Tom Keifer album.  It’s been a long time since I’ve given the Cinderella frontman any eartime, and I didn’t know what to expect from him in 2019.  What I got was “Holy Shitballs, this fucking rocks!”  Rise is earthy, bluesy but also with the rock side of Cinderella bursting at the seams.  It almost sounds like a direct continuation of the final Cinderella album Still Climbing.

Wicked slide guitar opens “Touching the Divine”, one of the songs that will directly appeal to fans of Keifer’s old band.  Backed by soulful backing singers, Keifer still reaches for the screamin’ vocals for a good mix of new and old.  Words like “greasy”, “rootsy”, and “heavy” all come to mind.  Even the softer songs have a weight and gravitas that old Cinderella didn’t always have.  Take “Waiting on the Demons” for example.  It’s soft, southern and Band-like.  But it is its own kind of heavy.

The album doesn’t need to be dissected track by track here, but some songs need to be addressed.  The title track “RISE” (all caps!) is stunningly soulful and epic, and many fans have really connected with the slower, marauding “Untitled”.  Whatever songs grab your fancy, you’ll hear something that you like.  Whether it’s a Crowes-like blues, rockers akin to Cinderella, or something new, Tom Keifer’s got a variety of great tunes here.  Not good, but great.  Nothing to skip.  Just 11 songs that will grow on you and then fade as others steal their sunshine.  And the guitar playing?  Keifer and Tony Higbee lay down some serious, grinding six-string hooks.  It’s guitar nirvana for fans of this kind of rock.  Acoustic, electric, slide — doesn’t matter.  It’s all good.

My personal favourite?  “All Amped Up”, the riffiest song of the batch.

Keifer has assembled a stunning band here, a seven-piece including his wife Savannah on vocals and piano.  He took a left turn away from the 80s and into something more real.  It paid off.  This is a contender for the annual Top 5 list, easily.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires – Rise (2019 3 CD Japanese edition) Part 2 – Live

Part two of a two part review

Check out part one, the studio album Rise, by clicking here.


HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Rise (2019 Edel Japanese edition) – Discs 2 & 3 Live

How do you do a Japanese edition up right?  How about including 21 bonus tracks in the form of a double live album?  Get your credit cards out, folks.

Hollywood Vampires Live unfortunately lacks any English documentation, but Japanese readers might know when and where this show was recorded.  It focuses on the covers with a handful of originals, the basis of the first Hollywood Vampires album.  Unfortunately a few more fallen heroes have been added to the list of rock casualties, and so Lemmy and Bowie are among the stars honoured.

The original tune “Raise the Dead” (featuring an intro by the late Sir Christopher Lee) opens the show, but it’s just preamble for the better known covers.  “I Got A Line On You” is the first track where you realize you’re listening to Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses, The Cult) on drums.  He’s unmistakable.  The big surprise is that the bassist is Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots)!  Alice first covered this tune back in ’88 and it sounds like it’s one of his own songs now.  “20th Century Boy” has bite, a little more than the studio cut.

Alice pauses to explain the concept of the band.  “We are the Hollywood Vampires,” he asserts.  “We pay homage to all of our dead drunk friends.  And here comes one now.”  It’s Keith Moon and “Pinball Wizard”, a Who cover that was not on the Hollywood Vampires’ debut album.  “My Generation” was however, and here it’s injected with the live fire of the sweaty concert stage.  Jimi Hendrix is honoured next with “Manic Depression”.  Joe Perry playing Jimi Hendrix.  Cool.   Alice Cooper has no problem jumping from style to style, expert performer that he is.

“This one’s for John,” states Alice.  That would be John Lennon, with both “Cold Turkey” and “Come Together”.  Joe Perry, of course, is no stranger to “Come Together” which Aerosmith scored a hit with themselves.  “Come Together” is another nice bonus because it wasn’t on the Vampires album.  It has a different feel from Aerosmith’s take even though it’s the same guitar player.

“Seven and Seven Is” (by Arthur Lee and Love) goes next, which is a late addition to the canon.  The Vampires recorded it as an iTunes bonus track for the debut album where it remains an exclusive.  The live version is a blitz; Matt Sorum’s sticks must have caught fire.  Contrasting that is the band’s interpretation of “Whole Lotta Love”, with Alice and Tommy Henriksen singing lead instead of Brian Johnson.

“I met these guys in 1968.  They were my best friends.  And I drank a little bit with Jim Morrison…”  The Doors are next to be saluted.  “Five to One” and “Break On Through” kick ass; Alice really gives ‘er.  David Bowie gets the nod on “Rebel Rebel” and “Suffragette City”.  It all sounds natural to the Hollywood Vampires.

“As Bad As I Am” is an original song about Johnny Depp, and another track that was only on the iTunes version of Hollywood Vampires.  It sounds a bit like “Reckless Life” by Guns N’ Roses.  Joe Perry takes the next lead vocal on “Stop Messin’ Around”, the old Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac blues number.  It’s an obvious choice since Aerosmith covered it on their 2004 blues album Honkin’ on Bobo.  This one is an extended jam, far beyond what Aerosmith did with it.

“My Dead Drunk Friends” is a Vampires original, sort of their raison d’etre, that being paying tribute to Alice’s deceased drinking buddies.  It pales in comparison to “Ace of Spades” (lead vocals by Henriksen), easily the heaviest song that Joe Perry’s ever played on.  Possibly Alice too.  Check out DeLeo on bass, doing his best Lemmy.  It’s sad that Lemmy Kilmister joined the list of Rainbow regulars who didn’t make it, but holy shit, what a version!

Only now, at the end of the concert, do the Vampires roll out their own past hits.  “I’m Eighteen”, “Sweet Emotion”, “Train Kept A Rollin'” and “School’s Out” sound brilliant.  In particular, to hear “I’m Eighteen” with Joe Fucking Perry playing guitar?  “Sweet Emotion” with Alice Cooper singing?  Sweet Jesus Murphy, is this a fever dream?  As usual, Alice melds “Another Brick in the Wall” to “School’s Out” pretty much making it the definitive “school” song.

Closing the show, Alice reminds us:  “And remember, give blood!  To us!”

If the Vampires keep putting out quality releases, then that’s a distinct possibility.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires – Rise (2019 3 CD Japanese edition) Part 1

Part one of a two part review


HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Rise (2019 Edel Japanese edition) – Disc 1

The first Hollywood Vampires was a covers album with a few originals.  The second is an originals album with a few covers!  It’s a little strange and kind of sounds exactly how you think it would.  Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp and pals obviously set out to have fun, which is audible, but there’s also a weird bent that runs through.  Interestingly some of the best songs are the ones that sound like Aerosmith riffs, done up far better than Aerosmith would have lately.

At the outset, the Aerosmith flavour dominates the stew that is “I Want My Now”.  It’s “Draw The Line” meets Alice Cooper.  You can hear what it would have been like with Joey Kramer on drums, Tom Hamilton on bass and Steven Tyler shrieking up front, but instead it’s Alice, who has had a much more consistent output of late than Aerosmith.  In other words, Perry’s riffs are in good hands and the guy deserves to have a lil’ fun.  His guitar work has the looseness that Aerosmith shed years ago.

“Who’s Laughing Now” is psychedelic Alice, which could be the Depp influence. It’s a really good tune accented by 8-string bass (by Tommy Henriksen) and Joe Perry’s unmistakable guitar expertise. It’s also bookended by two weird instrumentals that appear to be Depp creations. Unfortunately all this lead-up ends at the slow and stodgy “The Boogieman Surprise”, probably the weakest tune. This starts a lull. A farcicle “Welcome to Bushwackers”, featuring Jeff Beck, is a token hillbilly country tune that doesn’t live up to its promise. The highlight, obviously, is Jeff Beck.

Course is corrected on Joe Perry’s lead vocal, a surprising “You Can’t Put Your Arm Around A Memory”, the Johnny Thunders song previously covered by Duff McKagan. Joe’s version is poignant and wise. “Git From Round Me” is a pulsing, hypnotic charge through the gates with Johnny Depp sharing vocal duties with Alice and Tommy. Depp takes one by himself on the Bowie cover “Heroes”, a surprisingly outstanding version. According to Cooper, Johnny Depp (who is currently fighting an acrimonious divorce battle with two-way accusations of domestic violence) had a lot of emotion to put into Rise.  Perhaps that’s what gives “Heroes” its weight, though it’s not a heavy song.

The best of the brief instrumentals is by second bassist Chris Wyse, called “A Pityful Beauty”.  The song it precedes, “New Threat”, is OK.  It is not up to the better material, sounding a bit like a stock riff & rhythm.  Fortunately “Mr. Spider” has a classic Cooper atmosphere, brimming with drama and horror.  Also sounding like classic Alice, but a different kind, is “We Gotta Rise”.  It’s “Elected” all over again with a Billion Dollar Babies mold, starring “President” Alice Cooper.  Alice isn’t political, but it’s hard to read these lyrics as anything but:

“We gotta rise, let’s rise,
We gotta rise, let’s rise above the lies,
It’s you and I, it’s do or die,
We gotta rise, let’s rise above the lies.”

Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but it sure does sound like a call to arms.  Regardless, “We Gotta Rise” is the best original song on the album.  Depp’s next lead vocal, the Jim Carroll cover “People Who Died” is just about its equal.  A rockabilly punk rocker, “People Who Died” is catchy as the flu, but better for you.

Rise concludes with an interesting spoken word track called “Congratulations”.  It works because Alice, Johnny and Joe have rich speaking voices.  Tommy Henriksen gets a spoken word portion too, using his more like a beat poet.  What you’d think would be a boring slog turns out to be an album highlight.

It’s hard to fathom where Rise will sit in six months time or a year.  It has moments less than stellar, where fat could have been cut, but the weirder escapades could warrant many returns.  Bad press aside, Johnny Depp is charismatic on record.  Joe Perry sounds like he’s having fun playing rock and roll away from Aerosmith.  And Alice?  When has he ever sounded like he wasn’t having fun?

Rise will probably have more longevity than the Hollywood Vampires’ covers album, it just needs to lose some dead weight.

3.5/5 stars

Come back tomorrow for a look at the Japanese exclusive Discs 2 and 3:  Hollywood Vampires Live.