Rob Affuso

REVIEW: Four By Fate – Relentless (2017)

FOUR BY FATE – Relentless (2017 The End)

“Supergroups” are everywhere these days.  Four By Fate is best known for its former members of Frehley’s Comet:  Tod Howarth and John Regan.  When they first formed, they also contained drummer Stet Howland (W.A.S.P.) and guitar master Sean Kelly.  Pat Gasperini replaced Kelly, and A.J. Pero played drums on half the album before his untimely death.  The band was completed by ex-Skid Row skinsman Rob Affuso.

Relentless is a beefy album, with 13 tracks including a handful of covers.  The opener is John Waite’s “These Times Are Hard For Lovers” (co-written by maestro Desmond Child), and it’s decent.  Frehley’s Comet fans will recognise Howarth’s lead vocals, though this band is harder than the Comet.  Blasting through “Moonshine” and “Hangin’ On”, they got a nice heavy drum sound.  It’s  good to hear Affuso on an album again.  Track four, “Levee Breach” is the first of six with A.J. Pero.  It’s a little like a Stone Temple Pilots clone.

The next cover is a remake of “It’s Over Now” from the Comet’s 1988 album Second Sighting.  Nothing is ever as good as the original, but if you wanted a heavier version of that power ballad, here ya go.  (You can really hear those low piano keys.)  Onto “Follow Me”, another one that sounds grungy.  They went with such a “modern” sound on this album.  Some might have expected more influences from the pop-smart 80s, the era most of these guys were rockin’.

“On My Own” has a cool Howarth riff and some befitting hooks.  Grunge emerges again on “I Give”, and a partly acoustic song called “Don’t Know” is similarly dark and out of the 90s.  Relentless almost sounds like an album written in 1994 or 1995, and not recorded until 2017.  Then suddenly, “Back in the 80’s” has a Dio-like chug, and of course A.J. Pero on drums.  Then it’s “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo”, a really fun Derringer cover.  They close the album on a strange patriotic ballad (two versions) called “Amber Waves”

The strength in Relentless is the musicianship.  Howarth and Gasperini make a formidable guitar team, and we all know the reputations of guys like A.J. Pero and Rob Affuso.  Musically, Four By Fate can face off against the big boys.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Duff McKagan – Believe In Me (1993)

scan_20170213DUFF McKAGAN – Believe In Me (1993 Geffen)

In 1993 Duff McKagan was not clean yet, at least not for good.  It would take a critical medical emergency for him to get close enough to death and stop drinking.  The cover of Believe in Me, a skeletal Duff bathing in a martini glass, reflects the last of the old Duff.  It was his solo debut, following Izzy but before Slash.  Guns’ own Spaghetti Incident? hit the shelves two months later, as the end of the original band creeped on the horizon.

Fans were probably experiencing a bit of Guns overload.  Two albums, two live concert video tapes, loads of touring and music videos…Guns were everywhere from 1991-1993 and then it was the dawn of Guns solo albums.

Duff’s solo debut was a grab bag of different styles:  punk, rock, funk, jazz and ballads.  It was also loaded with rock star guest shots:  Lenny Kravitz and Sebastian Bach sang one song a piece.  Dave Sabo and Rob Affuso from Skid Row joined Baz on the album while Slash laid down a couple trademark dirty guitar solos.  Jeff Beck dropped by, and just about every Guns member except Axl himself contributed.

Despite Duff’s ambition, the best tracks tend to be the rockers.  Opener “Believe in Me” was a very Guns-like single:  short, sweet, catchy and with a Slash guitar solo to hit it home.  “I Love You” isn’t a ballad despite the title, in fact it’s a rocker and perhaps the best tune on the album. “Just Not There” also rides the GN’R train, normally bound for hitsville.  Sebastian Bach’s “Trouble” is plenty of fun, and Lenny Kravitz gets angry on “The Majority”.  These songs would have made a fine basis for a Guns album, but Axl wasn’t looking for songs that sounded like Guns N’ Roses.

An angry “(Fucked Up) Beyond Belief” (a song birthed from GN’R rehearsals) is noisy punk-rap, while “Fuck You” itself is basically a rock rap song featuring a guy named Doc.  “Punk Rock Song” is exactly what it claims to be, but isn’t particularly memorable.  The biggest mis-step is the muted trumpet jazz number, “Lonely Tonight”.  At least Duff was trying something different, but his vocals and lyrics leave a lot to be desired.

During the period that Guns N’ Roses were inactive or just working behind closed doors, a lot of these solo albums really represented an alternate universe.  “What if the original members didn’t leave and instead recorded a new album?”  It’s possible these songs or songs like them could have been on that hypothetical album.  Instead, Believe in Me was a launch pad for plenty of Duff projects and albums:  Neurotic Outsides, 10 Minute Warning, Loaded, Velvet Revolver and many more.  Duff has proven that clean and sober, he can be one hell of a prolific songwriter.  Believe in Me is a good introduction to the many stylings of Duff McKagan.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Skid Row – Skid Row (1989)


Scan_20160812 (3)SKID ROW – Skid Row (1989 Atlantic)

You can’t argue with five million copies sold.

Skid Row had the songs, but most importantly, they had the frontman.  Only once in a blue moon does a congenital entertainer like Sebastian Back happen upon the scene.  Born in the U.S. but raised in Canada, Bach had it all:  the looks, the youth, the charisma, and most importantly the voice.  He was a bull-headed bastard in those days too, but that is often a part of the frontman package.  Bach was a dynamo, always “on”, and with that voice on his side, people paid attention.

Without Bach, would Skid Row ever have made the impact they did?  Not to that degree, no.  Sure they had Jon Bon Jovi in their corner (and to take them out on tour) but without Bach, Skid Row would have been just another hard rock band in 1989, the peak year for the genre.  It can’t be understated how important the voice was.  Bach had the power, range and unique style required, but he had it right out of the gate!  The band was good too:  Dave “Snake” Sabo, Rachel Bolan and Scotti Hill wrote some great, bone-shaking cock rocking tunes.  Rob Affuso (today in Four by Fate with members of Frehley’s Comet) has long been an underrated drummer capable of some serious steppin’.  With Michael Wagener in the producer’s chair, everything aligned and came up platinum.

Three major hit singles made the album a must-have.  They were, of course, “Youth Gone Wild”, “18 and Life” and “I Remember You”.  These have become their career-defining songs, particularly the ballad.  “I Remember You” may have misled more than a few listeners when it first came out.  This is not a ballad album, but a very hard rockin’ record.  This wasn’t Bon Jovi.  It was heavier than everybody else on the radio that summer:  Motley, Warrant, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Def Leppard.  Though it rocks hard, it’s still memorable.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know Skid Row were capable of so much more, and they delivered on the next album Slave to the Grind.  Once they let the thrash metal and punk influences come out, the real Skid Row sound was conceived.  Their debut is good, but the next two were even better.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Skid Row – Slave to the Grind (both versions)

SLAVE TO THE GRIND_0001

SKID ROW – Slave to the Grind (1991 Atlantic “clean” and “dirty” versions)

The Skids knew the second album had to kill. The band, always heavier live than the first album implied, also knew the second album had to sound more like they did in concert. And following up a huge hit debut, they also demanded the album be all killer, no filler. Raising the bar and ignoring the record company, the band re-convened and kicked every ass in the room. The result is Slave to the Grind, one of the best hard rock albums of ’91 period.

The first single “Monkey Business”, which is essentially just dirty grooves n’ screams, was about as commercial as the album got.   With this as first single, it was clear that Skid Row didn’t care whether they got played on MTV or not.  There was nothing glossy or slick about it.  It’s still obvious that there’s something special here, and I credit that to two factors:  the songwriting talents of Snake Sabo & Rachel Bolan, and the frontman chops of Sebastian Bach.  Bach commands this song.   It’s not just his vocals.  It’s his confidence, his swagger, and his ego shining through.

If “Monkey Business” didn’t scare your little sister, then the second single “Slave to the Grind” definitely did.  For the first time, Skid Row jumped straight into the thrash metal deep end.  Drummer Rob Affuso had the chops to do it, and it really was a natural step to take.  Other bands were getting heavier in 1991 too, but none of them took a turn like this.  Skid Row raised the bar for everyone in their field in ’91.

The other singles from the album were technically “ballads”, although the band were eager to point out that none of them were anything like “I Remember You”.  They were dark and edgy.  The record company execs no doubt shit their pants when they heard the magnificent “Wasted Time”, which I can only describe as epic.   It’s an incredible song, and it’s one of the few that Bach had a hand in writing.  Baz wrenches all the emotions from his soul and that’s what I hear coming from the speakers.   “Quicksand Jesus” and “In A Darkened Room” are only a little less impressive.  They share the same kind of mood and sonic landscape.  There is really nothing commercial about any of them.  They all have headbanging moments and integrity.

Rounding out the album were several very strong deep cuts.  “The Threat”, track 3 on the disc, easily could have been a single.  In fact Terry David Mulligan of MuchMusic asked Sebastian if it was going to be selected as a future video, so I’m not alone in thinking that.  “Psycho Love” is a bangin’ bass groove, laid to waste by Bach’s scorching vocal.  “Livin’ on a Chain Gang” is another standout, an angry one about injustice.  Then you have slow, landmine-infested blasters like “Mudkicker”, and fast smokers like “Riot Act”.  All strong songs.  The only one I’m not keen on is “Creepshow”, a jokey tune about the kind of people you’d see on daytime talk shows.

SLAVE TO THE GRIND_0003Skid Row knew well ahead of time that some markets would not release an album with a song called “Get the Fuck Out” on it.  This fun punk rocker sounds like a Rachel song, but Bach’s attitude nails it.  It’s probably a bit of a novelty, but it’s fun.  “Fuck you if you can’t take a joke!” says Bach in one line.  But it’s OK: if you can’t take the joke, you can buy the version of the album without “Get the Fuck Out”.  Earlier pioneers in the clean/dirty dual releases, Skid Row saved the song “Beggars Day” for the Walmart version of the album.  (Also sold by Columbia House in Canada.)  I think it’s cool that they gave both markets added value with exclusive songs.  This song is more traditional metal (perhaps Priest-like) than the rest of the record, but it’s equally strong.

Michael Wagener produced this album with a raw, unpolished finish.  But there are backing vocals where you need ’em, and the instruments are clear and in your face.  It still sounds heavy today, unlike a lot of other music from the same year.  It just seems like everything clicked, and all the factors were in place.  Slave to the Grind kicks ass with the best of them.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Skid Row – Forty Seasons: The Best of Skid Row (Japanese version)

SKID ROW – Forty Seasons: The Best of Skid Row (1998 Atlantic Japan)

US cover

US cover

The Japanese fans always seem to get the coolest stuff.  Look at this package: shiny silver, instead of the boring grey of the American release.  Digipack with foil stickers!  Bonus track!  So much cooler than the standard release here.  Hell, the Japanese title is even spelled F-o-r-t-y, where the American version has the briefer 40.  Why?  Not sure.  Either way I’m glad to have this version, which fell in my hands thanks to customer Conrad in the late 90’s.  He sold it to me with stickers intact and still sealed; all that is missing is the obi strip.

Whether you own Forty Seasons or 40 Seasons, the party starts with “Youth Gone Wild”.  Any commemoration of the Sebastian Bach years should open with that track.  Although “Youth Gone Wild” is Bach’s signature track today (along with “I Remember You”), he actually wrote neither.  Some fans would be surprised how little Bach has written in Skid Row, and indeed he only has two writing credits on this greatest hits disc.  What Bach brings to the party is his spirit, attitude, and incredible voice.  When Skid Row came out in ’89, Bach was almost instantaneously a 21 year old superstar.  He had the ego to deliver the rock star vibe in concert and in print, and he certainly had the vocal chops.  This is why Bach has remained a thorn in Skid Row’s side today, 15 years since hiring Johnny Solinger to replace him.

Track two is a little too soon for a mellow song in my opinion, but “18 and Life” works in this slot due to its dark vibe and powerful choruses.  The singles “Piece of Me” and “I Remember You” are the other representations from album #1, although I definitely could have done without “Piece of Me”.  Skid Row have written much better heavy rockers since.  “I Remember You” is a song I still haven’t really tired of, thanks to Bach’s timeless performance.  Every time Baz sang this tune in Toronto, the place went insane, as Bach always sang it for his old stomping grounds.  Rachel Bolan and Snake Sabo may have written the song, but when I think of “I Remember You”, I think of Toronto.

Skid Row’s second album Slave to the Grind blew away the first.  I’m glad “The Threat” was included.  It may not have been a single, but it was one of the outstanding album cuts.  Equally solid was the bass groove of “Psycho Love”, which is relentless.  Skid Row really turned up the octane on that second album.  I think both tracks outshine the single “Monkey Business”, but nothing can overpowerful the thrash metal of “Slave to the Grind” itself.  When it was released, I couldn’t believe how full-on Skid Row had become.  This is a high water mark of heaviosity.

“Quicksand Jesus” represents one of the three slow tunes on Slave; I would have selected “Wasted Time”.  “Quicksand Jesus” is an outstanding song, and so is the other slow tune not included here, “In A Darkened Room”.   “Wasted Time” is so clearly above and beyond either of those two, that I can’t understand why it’s not on this CD.  It has something special to it, like “I Remember You” did.

FORTY SEASONS_0005So the first half of the CD covers the first two Skid Row records with all the big hits.  The second half covers the rest, plus rare and unreleased stuff.  I love the third Skid Row record, Subhuman Race.  I consider it a great metal record in the context of the mid 1990’s.  For some reason, none of the Subhuman songs included here are the album versions.  I know the band fought with Bob Rock over the production on that album, and maybe that is why.  “Into Another”, which might be considered a slower song, is remixed making a little lusher.  The single “My Enemy” is also remixed, perhaps to tame down the St. Anger-esque drums.  My favourite Skid Row ballad, “Breakin’ Down” is remixed as well, but you have to know the song really well like I do to notice by ear alone.  (Listen to the guitar accents.)  Overall it’s more polished and finished, which is fine, because the album version was actually more or less just the demo version.  Lyrically the song is a message from Sabo to Bach, about their failing relationship.  Bach reportedly received the demo, sang to it, and that’s what was put on the record.

The excellent banger “Frozen” is presented in demo form, which is interesting but inferior to the excellent, slamming album version.  Finally, “Beat Yourself Blind” (Bach’s favourite song from Subhuman Race) is live.  What an awesome tune live.  This is from the Japanese Subhuman Beings on Tour EP. As great as the stuttery album version is, the live one is more fluid.   I’ve heard Rachel Bolan say the Subhuman album “sucked”.  I don’t understand how he can say that, and I think the five songs here prove my point.

The album closes with a pair of treats: unreleased songs!  “Forever” from the first album’s sessions is better than many of the songs on that record!  Who chooses these songs?  Perhaps it was a bit too derivative of other popular 80’s bands, but Sebastian makes it sound like nobody else but Skid Row.  This not only should have been on the album, but could have been a hit single.   Then there’s “Fire in the Hole”, a great little slammer that didn’t make the second album.  This time I agree.  That second album is incredible and “Fire in the Hole” isn’t up to those high standards.  It’s definitely better than many bands’ album tracks, but not Skid Row.

Last of all, the lucky Japanese got the Ramones cover “Psycho Therapy” from the B-Sides Ourselves EP (1992).  This is the only inclusion from that EP, and it’s a gooder.  Rachel sang lead (with Taime Downe of Faster Pussycat backing him).  We all know Rachel’s a punk guy, and I think that’s the side of Skid Row that clashed with Bach’s metal tendencies.  Just my theory.

Great CD, loads of fun and value.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Skid Row – B-Sides Ourselves (1992)

SKID ROW – B-Sides Ourselves (1992 Atlantic EP)

This was a great EP, ranking among some of the better examples of such a format in metal.  I love the MAD-Magazine-esque cover artwork.  I also loved the concept of this EP as a bit of a treat to tide the fans over during the excruciatingly long four year wait between albums. The five selections are all fun, performed competently, and sound like Skid Row. They also sound like a band who truly loves these songs and knows them backwards and forwards.  It’s not quite as satisfying as you want it to be, as it’s only about 18 1/2 minutes long.   (I mean hey, there’s a Ramones cover on here so there you go.)  This is meant to be nothing more than a fun snack, and as such pay no more for this than you’d be willing to pay for any 18 minute CD.

Tracklist time!

1. “Psycho Therapy”

Bassist Rachel Bolan sings this Ramones-approved cover (backed by Faster Pussycat’s Taime Downe).  It was chosen as the first single/video. Excellent cover, very authentic. So well received, it was even included on their Forty Seasons: The Best Of CD.

2. “C’Mon And Love Me”

Classic Kiss cover from Dressed To Kill! A great riffy Kiss song. Skid Row do it justice.  It’s one of those solid, meat & potatoes rock songs that requires no frills, just some solid guitars.  I think this is definitely one of my favourite Kiss covers ever.

3. “Delivering the Goods” (Live)

Featuring the Metal God himself, Rob Halford, in a duet with his buddy Baz! One thing that is immediately obvious is that Baz is absolutely pumped. But then again, he does state that he’s been waiting his whole life to share a stage with Halford.  Great cover, very live sounding, mistakes and all.  Still, “Delivering the Goods” is the weakest of these covers…yet it still blows away most bands.

4. “What You’re Doing”

Perhaps the best cover on the album. This is a first-album Rush cover. Back when Geddy was writing the lyrics, and before Rush were singing about how trees are talking to each other and how different sides of your brain works, or outerspace bullshit. It’s an absolutely ferocious, angry Skid Row cover with Baz paying tribute to his countrymen. Excellent, obscure choice and the only cover on the album that I hadn’t heard somebody else do before (or since).

5. “Little Wing”

A surprisingly great turn on the Hendrix classic. Very different from Jimi’s version (obviously), this sounds nonetheless authentic and classy. Of note, the Skids also did a live-in-the-studio version for the music video.  I wish that version was released on a CD as well.  Unlikely we’ll see that happen.

Covers records can be so very hit-or-miss, but this one is five hits.  Battleship sunk.  Just wish it wasn’t all over in 18 minutes.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Gilby Clarke – Pawnshop Guitars (1994)

GILBY CLARKE – Pawnshop Guitars (1994 Virgin)

I cannot believe that this album came out 20 years ago.  We’d been inundated with GN’R solo albums in recent years, and I had no interest in yet another.  It was T-Rev who urged me to check it out.  T-Rev was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan.  Gilby Clarke was in GN’R for a few years, long enough to make some friends in high places and record this amazing debut solo record before being kicked out by Axl himself. (He was replaced by Axl’s childhood friend and co-writer Paul Tobias.)  Pawnshop Guitars is, of all the solo material recorded by all the ex-GN’R members, the very best of the bunch.

Every single member of the GN’R lineup circa 1994 makes an appearance here: Slash, Duff, Matt, Dizzy, and even the reclusive Axl himself, on a cover of “Dead Flowers”. Rob Affuso of Skid Row, Frank Black, Ryan Roxie and more show up for the party, and it sounds like one hell of a party. The Slash solos are unmistakable on “Tijuana Jail” (a “Radar Love”-esque smoker) and “Cure Me…Or Kill Me…”.  Indeed one wonders why they didn’t just release a bunch of these songs, a bunch of Slash’s songs, and call it the next Guns N’ Roses album.  Alas that never happened.

On this side of the border 20 pesos gets you dead

I don’t think there are any weak songs on Pawnshop Guitars. The influences are varied, but there is a strong vintage flavour.  Whereas Izzy Stradlin tended to channel the Rolling Stones via Keith Richards on his own solo debut, Gilby draws from the Beatles and Stones in equal measure. A song like “Black” sounds like a John Lennon outtake, but mixed with a batch of Joe Perry’s Boneyard Brew hot sauce.  I like Gilby’s lead vocals.  He’s not a power singer but his voice has character that suits the music.  It lends it a glam rock slant.

Other standout songs include the swampy “Skin & Bones” (an acoustic number that would have worked great as a GN’R tune), “Hunting Dogs”, “Jail Guitar Doors”, “Shut Up”…hell they’re all great.   T-Rev talked me into buying this album and it was a great purchase.  I liked it immediately.  Any serious Guns N’ Roses fan would do well to own this, one of the missing links between Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Skid Row – “Wasted Time” (1991 7″ single)

SKID ROW – “Wasted Time” (1991 7″ single)

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb if I call this the best song on Slave to the Grind.  The closing song on a damn fine metal album, “Wasted Time” is awesome.  It’s in “power ballad” territory, but it’s much darker than Skid Row’s prior hit ballad, “I Remember You”.  Sebastian Bach turns in the best vocal performance of his life on this one.  Sebastian co-wrote the song, about the damages of addiction.

Both the 7″ and the 12″ singles come with the previously unreleased live bonus track, “Get the Fuck Out”.  (The other bonus tracks on the 12″ are “Holidays in the Sun” and “Psycho Love” which are both available elsewhere.)  “Get the Fuck Out”, recorded at fuckin’ Wembley fer Christ’s sakes, features a long Sebastian intro that is probably more interesting than the song itself!  Apparently, Skid Row were given a letter that stated specifically that Skid Row were not to play “Get the Fuck Out”.  So what do they do?

Sebastian:  “It says here, they’re gonna stop the show, because they don’t like the word ‘fuck’!  And you’re not allowed to hear it!”  Baz then leads the crowd in a chant of “get the fuck out!” before Skid Row drive into the song.  As fans know, it’s a short firecracker punk rock song, and Baz is in top voice.

5/5 stars