rush

GUEST REVIEW: Rush – “Distant Early Warning” (1984) by Aaron Lebold

I asked Aaron Lebold if he wouldn’t mind throwing in a few words about “Distant Early Warning” for my Grace Under Pressure review.  He sent me 772 words!  So here’s an entire separate post for you — Aaron Lebold on “Distant Early Warning”.

 

RUSH – “Distant Early Warning” / “Between the Wheels” (1984 Anthem)

by Aaron Lebold

Mike has asked me to do a review on the song “Distant Early Warning” by Rush.  When I first met Mike I quickly realized that Rush was one of his favorite bands,* and though he showed me a lot of their work, this song was the one that always stuck out to me the most.

My interpretation of the song may be a bit different now than it was when I first heard it; one of the greatest things about music is that its personal meaning can shift depending on what is going on in your own life.  I find musical interpretation to be completely personal, and what you take from it may be completely different than what the artist even intended.**

I was always reluctant to hear the artists of the songs I enjoyed explain them, as it could feel very crushing if the impact it had on me was not the actual meaning. I will explain what this song means to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.  It does mean that I am able to see why it had relevance to me, and if you have found a different interpretation, you are not wrong.

“An ill wind comes arising, Across the cities of the plain, There’s no swimming in the heavy water, No singing in the acid rain, Red alert, Red alert”

To me this is the ability to foresee an event, there is a metaphoric storm on its way, and it is serious enough for us to stop our own distractions, and unhealthy coping strategies in order to prepare for what is ahead.

“It’s so hard to stay together, Passing through revolving doors, We need someone to talk to, And someone to sweep the floors, Incomplete,  Incomplete”

This talks about the separation among us as people to me; we all tend to find our own paths and some of us become relevant to each other, where others become lower class, and we may see them as nothing more than the person who is sweeping the floors for us. This type of discrimination makes us incomplete as a human race.

“Cruising under your radar, Watching from satellites, Take a page from the red book, And keep them in your sights, Red alert, Red alert”

This again is a reference to having greater insight than others may possess. Being able to observe a situation undetected and being able to gather forethought about what the results may be.  The Red Book is a reference to Psychology, and this suggests using that manner of thinking as you move forward.

“Left and rights of passage, Black and whites of youth, Who can face the knowledge, That the truth is not the truth, Obsolete, Absolute, yeah”

To me this makes reference to our way of thinking, and things we may have misinterpreted as priority.  Rights of passage is the idea of moving from one group to another, and relates to social classes and advancement. Separating the races of children is another method of creating a divide.  The truth could refer to the idea that we are all one class and one collective  group of people, and that a lot of our perceptions are obsolete in the big picture.

“The world weighs on my shoulders, But what am I to do? You sometimes drive me crazy, But I worry about you”

To me this means that even though I may have my own problems, and I don’t always agree with someone’s actions, I still care for them and can’t help but notice when they seem to be heading in a bad direction.

“I know it makes no difference, To what you’re going through, But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you”

This basically means to me, that I am aware that my insight does not change your situation, but I can see the bigger picture and it makes me worried about how it may end up affecting you.  The Tip of the Iceberg is of course a reference to the Titanic, and how there is much more lurking under the water than is visible from the surface. The results can be potentially devastating, as they were for the historic vessel.

I can’t recall exactly what drew me to this song when I was younger, and I may have interpreted things differently back then, but the bottom line is that I found relevance and importance in the lyrics.  You may have a completely different take on this song, which is great.  The best thing about music is using it to find our own connections, and get us through our own lives.

Aaron Lebold


* So he thought.  In 1994 I was still a Rush poser.  I only owned Chronicles.  

 

** “Distant Early Warning” was written about the loneliness of someone who worked the DEW Line- a system of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning of any sea-and-land invasion. – wikipedia

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REVIEW: Rush – Grace Under Pressure (1984)

Part one of a two-parter.

RUSH – Grace Under Pressure (1984 Anthem, 2011 Universal remaster)

When Rush followed 1982’s synth-driven Signals, they said goodbye to producer Terry Brown.  The band weren’t satisfied with the sonics of Signals and wanted to try working with different people.  They chose Steve Lillywhite, who wasn’t available, and so used Peter Henderson.  The album Grace Under Pressure was one of their most difficult to make.  Perhaps this is why it has such a cold, dark aura.

Even if Grace Under Pressure has a downer vibe, the first side is excellent.  Few albums have a strong an opener as “Distant Early Warning”.  Rush’s recent penchant for keyboards is front and center.  It also boasts one of their most catchy choruses:  “I see the tip of the iceberg and I worry about you.”  This single is a perfect storm of hooks, tension and biting guitars.

The album as a whole shows new influences.  “Afterimage” has a contemporary 80s new wave sound, but “Rushified”.*  Alex Lifeson in particular seemed to draw new influence from Andy Summers of the Police.  Reggae and ska became a part of the band’s arsenal, with Lifeson deftly handling those enigmatic chords.  “The Enemy Within” is one track that shows off these tricky new rhythms, in a frantically rocking way.  Synths and sequencers are a part of the picture on “Red Sector A”.  This post-apocalyptic track utilizes robotic rhythms to paint a picture of a future world.  “Are we the last ones left alive?  Are we the only human beings to survive?”  The lyrics are actually inspired by Geddy Lee’s mother, a holocaust survivor.  With the digital pulse beneath, you could just as easily imagine it’s about The Terminator.**

The second side also has memorable tracks such as “The Body Electric”.  This number definitely has a Blade Runner-like future setting.  “One humanoid escapee, One android on the run, Seeking freedom beneath the lonely desert sun.”  And how many songs can you name with lyrics in binary?  A lesser Rush song, “Kid Gloves”, is upbeat but not legendary.  “Red Lenses” is also somewhat forgettable, except for Peart fans who will savour every little moment of exotic and electronic percussion.

Rush saved the longest track for last, “Between the Wheels”, a melancholy but challenging track that reminds of the old school progressive Rush.  Backing guitars are exchanged for keyboards, but Lifeson uses the guitar to make unorthodox sounds.

It’s unfortunate that Grace Under Pressure has a brittle and icy production.  While that definitely works on “Red Sector A” and “Distant Early Warning”, one wonders what side two would sound like if it were a little fuller.

4/5 stars

 

* “Rushified” is a word coined by Paul Rudd in the film I Love You Man.

** Aaron Lebold will return tomorrow to discuss Rush lyric interpretation.

#587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales (With Video)

GETTING MORE TALE #587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales

Another long weekend in Ontario has come and gone.  Yes, international friends, the first weekend of August is a long weekend for we Ontarians.  Despite a stormy start, it was just a lovely time.

Every holiday weekend needs its weekend music (unless your name is “1537” or some similar number).  The car trip commenced with the finish of a double live album called Black Masquerade by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This 1995 concert features Doogie White on lead vocals.  We enjoyed it as a contrast to the newer Live in Birmingham 2016 with Ronnie Romero singing, which had been in the car during the week.  On the whole, I think I prefer Romero to White in Rainbow, but that’s not an easy choice to make.  Both are very talented and charismatic frontmen, but with very different voices.

When Black Masquerade came to its natural closing point with “Smoke on the Water”, I switched the deck over to the new Styx.  Don’t be surprised if you see the new Styx album The Mission on many 2017 year-end lists.  It’s been a favourite of mine the past few weeks, and Mrs. LeBrain was very impressed herself.  “And this is their new album?” she asked, since it sounds straight out of the 1970s at times.

We got to the cottage Friday night.  A storm was blowing through.  It was too cold for funnel clouds to form, but as you will see in the video I put together, it was gale force weather.  And then the next day?  Completely calm.

Brand new video!

For weekend entertainment, I brought with me some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  Thanks to Mr. BuriedOnMars, who has been reviewing the MCU films in order, I have been re-watching the early ones again.  This weekend I chose Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, because neither are on (Canadian) Netflix at the moment.  Both were enjoyable entertainment, but Iron Man 3 is just too gosh darn long and weakly plotted.  And of course there was more music to be heard.  Some friends down the road were partying to George Jones.  It reminded me of the old days when my Grandpa would have done the same but maybe with Kenny Rogers instead.

Mom and dad provided the meat for the weekend, and I did the cooking.  Jen did up her potatoes and I took care of the steaks.  On the holiday Monday, we hooked up with old buddy Peter and his sister Jo.  Regular readers may recall some of my adventures with Peter, particularly Getting More Tale #559:  Hotel Hobbies.  It was fantastic catching up with the two of them at the newly renovated Jean’s for breakfast.  Jean’s is bigger and just as busy.  It’s one of those reliable breakfast places that we have been going for years.  Still reliable!

Peter told me something at breakfast that did surprise me.  I noticed that the old Record Store in which I worked was now buying used vinyl again.  In the past, only Tom‘s store stocked used vinyl but times they-are-a-changin’.  Sadly Peter’s dad passed away late last year.  He had some old vinyl.  Not a lot, just about 20 records or so.  Pete’s dad would have had old German music, nothing of any particular monetary value.  Peter decided to give my old store a call to see if they’d take them off his hands.  What he was told was so strange:  He’d have to send them into the head office, and they’d take a look and get back to him within one month.

One month?  Peter took the old records to Value Village and dumped them there.

I don’t know what the story is with the one month thing.  Maybe they realized the records weren’t their thing and were trying to brush him off?  Seems a bizarre answer.

I’m sure if Peter’s dad somehow had any rare German Scorpions records, he would have let me know, as unlikely as that is!

Great to see old friends again.  After breakfast the weather was starting to turn rotten, so we made our way home.  And what a musical ride it was!  All of Deep Purple’s Purpendicular album.  All of Rush’s Moving Pictures.  Side one of the next album, Signals.  It was a smorgasbord of so called “smart-guy rock”!

Hopefully we’ll make it up a couple more times before the summer is over.  There are still quite a few new albums here at LeBrain HQ that need road trip testing.  Styx’s The Mission passed the road trip test, securing a big point in this year’s Best Album stakes.  To be continued….

 

 

#586.5: GUEST SHOT – More Adventures with Aaron

GETTING MORE TALE #586.5: More Adventures with Aaron
Guest shot by Aaron Lebold BMR

 

My old friend Aaron Lebold has been writing fast and furious!  He has now hit the point in his own story when we met in 1994.  I’d like to share with you a few of his stories that I featured in.  1994 was an interesting period in both our lives.  I had just started at the Record Store, which was the beginning of something incredible.  At the same time, I was very lonely.  I was in my last year of school but I didn’t know anybody in any of my classes.  Meanwhile Aaron’s dad left.  We became good friends.  He was like a little brother to me, and I never had a brother.  Both of us were in some kind of pain, but I really enjoyed having someone around who was into music, and eager to listen to my stories.

As Aaron will explain, he called me Geddy.  Here are some excerpts and links to the full stories.  They brought back of lot of memories, musical and otherwise!  I hope you’ll give them a read.

Thanks Aaron for friendship and writing these stories!


AARON LEBOLD BMR – “Geddy (part one)”

It was the summer of my Grade Eight year, and my sister and I were both discovering a new world on the computer. In a fashion similar to the internet, we were both going on the computer, and starting to interact with people in a new way, with new identities.

After spending some time in this reality, it didn’t take long to establish who was popular, who was considered “cool” and who was also frequenting each individual site. Geddy was a name I was familiar with, he showed a lot of confidence, and seemed to really know what he was talking about. One of the things that really stood out to me was his love, and knowledge of music.

At this time in my life music was turning into a bit of a fascination for me, I had a few bands I really liked, but didn’t really have much in the way of knowledge. Back then, it still cost upwards of thirty dollars if you were to purchase a new CD, I didn’t have a radio, and there was no music available to listen to online like there is today.

I spoke with Geddy about music fairly often, I felt a sense of excitement knowing that I was talking to one of the popular people from this new environment. I’m pretty sure I pretended like I knew more than I did about music to try to relate, but I was definitely listening to what Geddy had to say.

Finish reading here:  medium.com/@aaronleboldbmr/geddy-part-one


AARON LEBOLD BMR – “Geddy (part two)”

Mike was a product of the 80’s, so a lot of what he listened to was in that genre, but he also kept up to date with new music. Mike showed me Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and of course his favorite band Rush. The first time we hung out he let me tape some of his CD’s, and showed me how to make photocopies of the album art to make it seem more authentic.

Over the course of that summer Mike and I began hanging out fairly often, sometimes with other people we had met on the computer. Mike lived in the city, about twenty minutes from the small town I had grown up in. I didn’t get to the city much as a kid because my mother refused to drive there, and my father was never home.

Mike and I would basically just go out and have fun. I remember I had always wanted to steal a pylon from the side of the road and put it in my room, and one night Mike helped me turn that into a reality. I still had that pylon up until a few years ago.

Finish reading here:  medium.com/@aaronleboldbmr/geddy-part-two


AARON LEBOLD BMR – “Socializing”

My world with Mike began to expand, the people on the computer would periodically have get together’s where we would all meet in person. Mike and I would frequent these together as much as we could. Mike and I were at the point that we were both popular in this community, and people would look forward to our presence. I felt that Mike was the reason I was in this position, so I was always weary of jeopardizing this relationship by exposing the side of me that felt like a twisted mess.

During this process I began to get to know some of the girls my age that were also involved in the computer world. I began to set my sights on trying to get to know a girl named Kim, even though she lived in a city that was long distance from my town. Initially I hadn’t told Mike about my interest in Kim, as I wasn’t sure I had any kind of chance.

Mike and I were at a pretty large gathering at a restaurant called “Zeke’s” in his hometown. The night went well, I began getting comfortable expressing myself, and Mike and I developed a reputation for being somewhat of the life of the party. I fed a lot off Mike’s confidence, and in doing so really started to feel better about myself.

Finish reading here:  medium.com/@aaronleboldbmr/socializing


One thing that surprised me about these stories was that Aaron found me “confident” in a social way.  I remember feeling anything but confident.  But Aaron was my wingman, and maybe he’s the one who helped boost my confidence.

Food for thought.  Rock and roll!  Thanks Aaron for writing these stories.

 

#574: GUEST SHOT – Association Through Music

GETTING MORE TAKE #574:  Association Through Music
Guest shot by Aaron Lebold

A sequel to #571:  Record Store Tales – A Different Perspective

Before I met Mike, my knowledge of music was pretty minimal, and I had not yet been able to see the influence it could have on daily life.  I mostly listened to what my friends had shown me, which was basically dance and rap music.  I did have a friend who made me a mix tape, it mostly consisted of tracks from one of those Dance Mix [also known as MuchDance] albums, but amongst all that was “Sweating Bullets” by Megadeth.  I listened to this song fairly often.

When I met Mike I absorbed a lot of his musical tastes.  I looked up to him, and he seemed to know a lot about music, and was very passionate about it. Initially I was just enjoying what I liked the sound of, but this eventually shifted to me being a  bit of a music snob, and focusing mostly on the lyrics, and the message of the song.

Some of the first bands Mike showed me were Soundgarden and Rush.*  Once I got more into music I found I enjoyed a lot of Rush’s music, but couldn’t really find much personal value in it.  There was one song, “Distant Early Warning” that I always found to be powerful, and to this day it is still my favorite song by the band.  I have a feeling that Mike still thinks of me when he hears this song.**

I also associate Rush with a different element of my life.  I had a friend who I spent a lot of time with, and  really liked the girl who lived next door to him.  I remember talking to her about music, and at this point I still didn’t really have an abundance of knowledge, so I went with the few things I had learned from Mike at the time.  I told her I liked Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Rush.  I remember her response of “Rush sucks” made me feel a bit embarrassed, because with music in general I really didn’t know what I was even talking about at that point in time.***

Another association I still have to this day is in relation to Soundgarden. It was around the time that Superunknown had been released, and Mike and I were both huge fans of the album.  At this point in my life I was starting to find value in the lyrics, and Soundgarden and Nirvana really had what I was looking for.

I used to live across the street from a public school, and one evening Mike and I went over there and were just belting out the lyrics to “Spoonman.”  I would take the more mellow parts like “All my friends are skeletons,”  and Mike would follow by screaming at full capacity “They beat the rhythm with their bones”.  This would of course prompt us to both yell “Spoonman!” in unison.

I find it pretty extraordinary that music can be tied so tightly to memory.  I saw Soundgarden play in Toronto a couple years back on their reunion tour, and even then I thought of Mike when they went into “Spoonman.”  

If you are interested in learning a bit more about me, please check out my work on Medium.  

https://medium.com/@aaronleboldbmr  

I am in the process of reflecting on my life story.  Feel free to share some of your most memorable events that you use music to help you remember in the comment section below.

Godspeed,
Aaron

* Rush I remember, but I didn’t know I could take credit for getting him into Soundgarden.  That’s pretty cool.  

** I do!

*** Perhaps I should have warned him that girls did not like Rush.

#555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

GETTING MORE TALE #555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

Yesterday I took Mrs. LeBrain to Toronto to see a neurosurgeon.  It was a great meeting; very positive, but we will get more into that in a future tale.   (Look for an upcoming Getting More Tale story called “Seize the Day” if you want to know more.)   After the meeting with the doctor, she had some tests.  I didn’t need to be around for the those, so with a couple hours to kill, I went down to Sonic Boom on Spadina.  I was accompanied by Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom, who insisted we cab to the store.  It was a rainy miserable day outside.  Wet, cold, windy and unpleasant.  The cab ride wasn’t unwelcome.

I’m glad I shaved my beard down to a goatee the other day, because almost every dude in that store looked the same.  Bearded hipsters buying vinyl, left right and center, lookalikes all!  I tuned out the background noise and focused on the cool.  Upstairs they had two colouring books I almost considered getting.  Do you know anyone who is a huge fan of either James Franco or Benedict Cumberbatch?  If so, I am happy to report that Sonic Boom had colouring books of both.  (They also had Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.)  I spied the new Mastodon among the new releases, but headed downstairs where the real treasures usually lay.

Although I put in a Herculean effort, there was little to be found.  Maybe I have too many CDs, because everywhere I flipped it seemed to be “got it, got it, got it, got it…”  Aaron asked me to look for Danny Michel and a few other titles.  Nothing to be found.  I was struck by how just about everything seems to be reissued on vinyl today.  The Spice Girls’ first album, Spice.  I fail to comprehend.  It doesn’t compute.  I considered buying some Kiss reissues, but I didn’t really want to come home with something I already owned.

With some persistence I did liberate three titles:

  1. The Sword – High Country (CD, used, $9.99)
  2. Queen – The Game (2 CD remaster, used, $9.99)
  3. Rush – Agora Ballroom, Cleveland Ohio, May 1975 (vinyl, new, $32.99)

The Queen set was in the recent arrivals, and that is a nice score.  I’m nowhere near complete with my Queen remasters, but when I can pick them off one by one, used?  That’s the best way.  The Rush on the other hand is something of a chance I’m taking.  This is a radio broadcast vinyl, and I’ve never bought one of those before.  They had several available.  I don’t have anything live from Rush in 1975, so that was the key factor.  Also a non-album track:  “Bad Boy”, a Larry Williams cover.  180 gram coloured vinyl to boot.  Should be good times.

Not a knockout shopping excursion, but not a waste of time either.  We walked back to the hospital (although Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom would have preferred a cab) and got soaked, but it’s good to stretch the legs when it’s a long day of driving and sitting.  Besides, we enjoyed looking at the Toronto scenery.  The fruit and vegetable markets smelled great.  They even had bonsai trees.

Back in the hospital waiting room, I was able to do a little research for my Kiss Re-Review series in progress.  Guess which album I have to write up next.

I don’t want to use the word “disappointing” for this Sonic Boom trip, because I am very pleased with my new albums.  I told Uncle Meat I wanted some more The Sword, and Sonic Boom delivered.  I’m more surprised than disappointed that I was only able to scrounge up three finds this time.  Every visit is different, and I’m sure that next time I return (either in the fall with Aaron, or sooner for more tests) it will be another story.  Sonic Boom is still an absolute must for any music fan visiting Toronto.  Don’t miss out, and be sure to check out the new arrival bins.  They are often the key to many great finds.

As always Sonic Boom gets 5/5 stars.  And so does Mrs. LeBrain for being a tough-as-nails trooper.

 

#536: Obligatory Christmas Post 2016

This Christmas has been tinged with sadness.  Rick Parfitt, George Michael…and a man you haven’t heard of named Peter Cavan Sr.  I grew up with his son Peter Cavan Jr.  Pete was the best man at my wedding, and his dad Peter Sr. always treated me well.  The Cavans made me feel like part of the family.  In my first year of university, I decided to stay home from the cottage on Thanksgiving weekend, so I could study for my first exam undistracted.  Alone that Thanksgiving, Pete’s family had me over for dinner.  I’ll never forget their kindness.  I always enjoyed Peter Sr.’s stories, of growing up in Germany during the Second World War.  Those are tales you don’t hear every day.  And he was funny.  Peter Sr. was truly funny.  Whether intentionally or not, I knew his stories entertained us for many hours over the years.  I received the sad message on Christmas morning that Peter Sr. passed after a short battle with cancer, peacefully at home that morning.

So it is with profound sadness that I give you this year’s annual post-Christmas commentary.  My entire family knows and loves the Cavans, and we hope Pete and Joanne know we are there for them.


As it does every year, Christmas began early for me, at our office Christmas luncheon on November 25.  Just look at that food.  When you like the people you work with, an office Christmas party is a very rare and special chance to unwind with them.

My sister hosted Christmas Eve at her new place.  What a spread she put out!  Cheesey good appetizers, steak fondue, cheese fondue (the surprise winner), and chocolate fondue to boot.  The guests had a spirited debate on the merits of CD versus vinyl, with myself being the only holdout who still prefers CD.  (I know I’m not alone, just ask rock journalist Mitch Lafon which format he prefers.)  My sister did a great job of decorating her tree.  Have a gander.

And now, on to the good stuff.  Broken down into categories, let’s give’r!

Stuff You Listen To:

I have only played the Rik Emmett so far, given to me by Mrs. LeBrain who met Rik back in highschool as part of her guitar class.  Pretty cool!  It features a Triumph reunion on the bonus track, “Grand Parade”.  The Queen set is six discs of radio recordings.  The Rush set I am both grateful for and bitter about.  This is the third time I’ve received Rush 2112 as a gift in the last five years!  First as part of the Sector 1 box set, then the “deluxe edition“, and now this 40th anniversary edition which has some tracks not included on the deluxe (and a slew of artists covering Rush including Jacob Moon, Alice in Chains and Foo Fighters).  However, the 40th anniversary edition doesn’t include the 5.1 surround mix of the album, meaning…you kinda need both.  It’s sad that Rush reissues have become so exploitive.

The Keel reissue of The Right to Rock has a bonus track, a remix of “Easier Said Than Done”.  And this is my first time owning any version of Jethro Tull’s first album, This Was.

Stuff You Read:

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Stuff You Play With:

The Force Is With This Stuff:

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Stuff You Watch:

The Sopranos set I orchestrated myself.  Sometimes-contributor Thussy and I both always said:  “If the blu-ray set drops below $100, we’ll buy it.”  A few weeks ago he texted me that Amazon has it on for 24 hours only at just $80!  So this Christmas holiday, we will be enjoying some Sopranos and Italian food.

Stuff That Transforms From Stuff Into Robots:

Pictured below are the official Transformers Titans Return Astrotrain figure and a couple very interesting third party figs.  These are Masterpiece scale and heavy as fuck with plenty of die-cast parts.  Please meet Generation 1 Decepticon Reflector, incarnated here as KFC’s Eavi Metal series “Opticlones”.  Representing the Autobots is Dinobot Snarl, produced by the excellent Fans Toys in their Iron Dibots line as “Sever”.  I long ran out of room for more Masterpiece figures (especially Dinobots)…but who cares.

And finally…

Stuff That Flies:

I always wanted to try flying a drone.  My mom and dad surprised me with this starter drone, and is it ever a lot of fun.  I can almost get it to hover!  Getting it to fly in the direction I want is still a challenge.  So far there are no serious injuries.  Jen has a couple bruises.  I think my mistake was calling her into the room when I got it into the air, rather than when I figured out how the controls worked.  That was a lesson there.

 

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That’s another Christmas for the books!  I hope each and every one of you had a safe and happy holiday.  As I think of my friends the Cavan family, I ask you to remember that life is short.  Tell the people who matter that you love them.  Let’s try and make the world a better place in 2017.

LeBrain

REVIEW: Talas – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998)

scan_20161211TALAS – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998 Metal Blade)

The Talas story did not end with the breakup of the band.  Of course not; bands both famous and obscure like to reunite for nostalgia shows.  Talas did that in 1997 with the original power trio lineup:  Billy Sheehan on bass, Paul Varga on drums, and Dave Constantino on electric guitar.  With classic material (from the first two Talas albums) and a few unreleased songs, they memorialized their reunion with a brand new live CD.  Billy even pulled his old platform boots out of the closet for this one.

As usual the set opens with “Sink Your Teeth Into That” and an enthusiastic home town crowd.  Talas only sounded better with age.  The original voices are there and just as strong as they were in 1982.  It actually sounds like everyone has improved over the years.  A speedy “High Speed on Ice” is in the second spot ensuring no loss of momentum.  Material from the first self-titled Talas album is included too (unlike the last live album Live Speed on Ice).  “Expert on Me” is very pop in construction, but clearly not as great as the songs from album #2, Sink Your Teeth Into That.  Speaking of which, the slow rumbler “Never See Me Cry” is brilliantly adapted to the stage.

“Power to Break Away” is one of the previously unrecorded songs, and it kicks it just as hot as anything from Sink Your Teeth Into That.  It’s taut with hooks and the prerequisite bass workouts.  “Tell Me True” is the second unreleased song, a slow non-descript dirge ballad that takes a while to get going.

Imagine Billy Sheehan plowing his bass right through a funky Led Zeppelin riff.  That’s “Thick Head”, an awesome track from Talas (1979).  “You” has a cool vibe, almost like an unheard Aerosmith demo from the Done With Mirrors era.  A few other tunes from the first Talas (“Most People”, “Any Other Day” and “See Saw”) are adequately entertaining.  Back to Sink Your Teeth Into That, “King of the World” is still one of the best Talas tunes, overshadowed by only a few like “Shy Boy”.  Here, “Shy Boy” is preceded by a Paul Varga drum solo.  The sheer velocity of “Shy Boy” itself makes me wonder how Varga did it.  It’s just pedal to the metal, blurring the lines and smoking the minds.

Nothing like a good cover to help draw a live album to a close.  Talas did two:  “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Battle Scar”.  The King Crimson cover is a daring one to attempt.  They somehow manage to strip it down and pull it off with integrity.  As for “Battle Scar”?  Total surprise there!  Max Webster were just across the border from Buffalo, and Billy Sheehan nearly joined Max at one point late in their career.  Introduced by a Billy Sheehan bass solo, this Max/Rush cover is the set closer.  As a final addition, “Battle Scar” surely makes this one hell of an album for the history books.  (The Japanese version has a bonus track called “Doin’ It Right” — this shall be reviewed at a later date.  Our copy is on order but will not arrive for several weeks.)

Since this is a more recent release on a well known label (Metal Blade), it turns out that If We Knew Then What We Know Now is an easy CD to find in the shops.  Fortunately this is a good first Talas album to add to any collection.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Working Man (Tribute to Rush, 1996)

Scan_20160821WORKING MAN (1996 Magna Carta tribute to Rush)

This CD was released in 1996, and almost immediately the music press started reporting that Rush were trying to have it taken off the shelves.  One of our former owners at the Record Store, the infamous Tom, said:  “I can see why they were trying to do that.  Because it’s too fucking good.”

It actually is.  There are few tribute albums worth listening to all the way through.  How many can you name:  Encomium, the Zeppelin tribute?  The Sabbath tributes Nativity in Black?  Do you listen to those front to back?  That’s the best and only way to enjoy Working Man.  So numerous are the progressive rock and hard rock names here that we may have trouble keeping track of them all.

Sebastian Bach hails from the Great White North, so it is only appropriate for him to open this CD with the title track.  He also passionately stuns on “Jacob’s Ladder” a bit later on, utilising the power and range he is known for.  What names on these songs!  Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan play drums and bass respectively; two guys often cited as the best in the world on their instruments!  If that wasn’t enough, ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee shreds the hell out of “Working Man” while John Petrucci from Dream Theater goes for the throat on “Jacob’s”.  Take a minute to absorb all that.

Seamlessly, “Working Man” develops into “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” with James LaBrie of Dream Theater in peak voice.  Sheehan and Portnoy handle the rhythm for most of the album, so you can be assured that the chops of Mr. Lee and Mr. Peart are served well here by the next generation of players.  Dream Theater fans will lose their shit completely.  But there is so much more here than just progressive rockers letting it fly.  A youthful and impressive Jack Russell from Great White takes on the galloping “Analog Kid” from Signals and wins.  Have no fear or doubts: this may seem strange, but Russell’s version of “Analog Kid” may well be one of the best Rush covers you’ll ever hear.  (Especially when Billy Sheehan and guitarist Michael Romeo do a synched-up dual bass/guitar solo!)

Other highlights:

  • The late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery has no problems with “The Trees”, an excellent version.
  • Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors) takes the main guitar part for “La Villa Strangiato”, causing spontaneous head explosions.
  • Blue-eyed soul singer Eric Martin (Mr. Big) does a fine job of the light “Mission”, though it sounds very different from the shred-rock elsewhere.
  • A bang-on “Closer to the Heart” performed by Fates Warning is a must-have for fans.
  • James LaBrie and his old bandmate in Winter Rose, Rich Chycki, reunite on the classic “Red Barchetta”.  A little added Can-Con for rock fans.

And best of all, Devin Townsend screaming his balls off, all over “Natural Science”.  Without a doubt, Townsend has the most unorthodox interpretation, but it’s Devin Townsend, so you must expect the unexpected.  This guy is an underrated national treasure, and along with James Murphy (Death, Testament) on guitar, Stu Hamm on bass, and Deen Castronovo on drums, all walls are shattered.  “Natural Science” is undoubtedly the most different track here, and consequently it’s the most exciting.

The only mis-fire:

  • “Anthem”, with Mark Slaughter and George Lynch.  Slaughter’s voice is too shrill.  (I cannot handle when he shrieks “Come on!  Yeah!” at the start.)  George’s Eastern-flavoured shredding is also overdone and misplaced.

That means out of 13 tracks, 12 of them are keepers.

For an added layer of authenticity, the CD was mixed by Terry Brown himself, in Toronto.  Prices fluctuate wildly, but fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Sebastian Bach or Devin Townsend would be wise to pick this up if found in their travels.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

#494: I Think I’m Going Bald

GETTING MORE TALE #494: I Think I’m Going Bald
(a sequel to #488: Almost Cut My Hair)

A short while back, we took a look at popular hair styles in different genres of music.  One hair style we ignored, because it really knows no boundaries, is the old fashioned bald head, or the “Jean-Luc” as the kids call it today.*

When I was a young fella discovering rawk at the dawn of the 1980’s, I hadn’t seen any bald rock stars that impressed me.  Now my first musical love truly was John Williams, and he was bald.  Hard rock at the beginning of the 80’s wasn’t like that.  There was…a uniform.  Unless you were Rob Halford, Paul Di’Anno or Udo Dirkschneider, part of that uniform was having long hair to thrash about.

The only bald rockers I had seen included one rare picture of Bob Kulick, brother of Bruce, and the bass player from Blotto. I didn’t like Blotto: they also had a short haired geek with thick rimmed glasses on guitar. So, by extension, I didn’t like bald heads in rock!

Then grunge came, and long hair was no longer a “thing”. Then, even worse, our mortal rock stars began aging! How was this possible? There was no time to consider the thought, as one by one, rock stars shaved their heads completely: Rob Halford, Kerry King, Scott Ian, Billy Corgan, Joe Satriani, hell even Billy fucking Joel has lost the curls and gone cue-ball!

There’s nothing wrong with the bald head, obviously I have learned this now. I myself have rocked the bald look on and off for about 15 years now. Most people don’t do it on and off, but I’ve been blessed with a full head of hair (thanks mom’s side of the family!), and I shave it for convenience and to look tougher than I already am. Seriously though, there’s nothing better than having a shower, jumping in your clothes and heading right to work without worrying about hair. There’s nothing better to beat the heat in the summer either.

Now, funny thing. My mom and my wife both think I am going actually bald. They tell me my hairline is receding. What they don’t know is that my hairline started receding at age 16. Then it stopped and never started receding again! I have the exact same hairline I had at 16, only nobody believes me, because at 16 I was trying to hide that by growing it out!  It has not moved one centimetre since highschool, and that’s a fact, Jack!

This being summer time, I have shaved it all off once again.  This is the closest you may ever see to a picture of “topless LeBrains” here.

Who are your favourite bald rockers? Do you favour Sinead O’Connor for her fearless 80’s buzz cut? Do you call it a tie between Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel? There are so many epically talented bald rockers (not looking at you, Chris Daughtry) today that it truly is hard to choose.

* Not really, but a better name than the “Bieber” which was the name of an actual fucking hair cut.