Shrapnel

REVIEW: Smoke on the Water – A Tribute – Various Artists (1994 cassette)

SMOKE ON THE WATER – A Tribute (1994 Shrapnel cassette – tribute to Deep Purple)

This baby can be expensive to acquire on CD, so let’s give ye olde cassette tape a spin.  It’s not been played in over 20 years.  This review is with fresh ears.

The backing band on this tribute to Deep Purple consists of:  Deen Castronovo (Hardline/Journey – drums), Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen – keys), Todd Jenson (Hardline/David Lee Roth – bass) and Russ Parish (Fight/Steel Panther – rhythm guitar).  Each track has a featured singer and lead soloist.  Let’s dig in.

First up:  “Speed King” by Yngwie J. Malmsteen with Kelly Keeling on vocals.  Keeling is on the sandpapery side of Joe Lynn Turner here, while Yngwie gets to jizz fanboy style all over the fretboard.  The star might actually be Jens Johansson’s keyboards but this is an unfortunately very cheesy version of “Speed King”.  Woah, Keeling just nailed an Ian Gillan scream!  Nice.

Kip Winger and Tony MacAlpine team up for “Space Truckin'”.  Tony goes his own way with the solos, innovating as he goes.  This is…pleasant?  There’s some kind of spark that’s missing, and when you’re playing “Space Truckin'” you need to put accelerant in the tank or you’ll fall flat.  Studio sterility has replaced spontaneity.

You gotta hope Glenn Hughes and John Norum can shock some life into “Stormbringer”.  They can!  Of the guitarists so far, John Norum (Europe) is the one who has the right feel for Deep Purple.  Glenn’s great, but doesn’t get to play bass, and here’s part of the problem.  You can hear that the backing band recorded the songs and then the featured players recorded their parts over them.  In a perfect world you’d have Glenn plotting the way on bass too, gelling with the backing band in a united groove.  That can’t happen when you record this way.

One guy who manages to inject his song with personality is Richie Kotzen.  He’s got the funky “Rat Bat Blue” and is granted both the lead vocals and guitars.  Yngwie returns on “Lazy” and he’s teamed with former Deep Purple singer and his own former bandmate, Joe Lynn Turner!  Yngwie plays appropriately on this strong but fairly bland track.  And that’s the cue to flip the tape over.

Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) gets the vocal and guitar honours on “Maybe I’m a Leo”, which frankly is too slow and lacks groove.  Paul’s vocals, however, absolutely nail Gillan’s on the original.  Things turn stale quickly when it’s time for “Smoke on the Water”.  Russ Parish takes the guitar slot while Robert Mason (Lynch Mob/Warrant) sings.  Far more interesting is “Fireball” with Don Dokken and his future Dokken bandmate Reb Beach.  Don sounds a bit overwhelmed by the demanding song, but hits all the requisite notes.  The brilliant Jeff Scott Soto takes the driver’s seat on Mk I’s “Hush”.  This veteran vocalist (Yngwie/Journey/man more) makes mincemeat of your ears, absolutely killing it.  Soto is absolutely the vocal star on this album (one that includes Glenn Hughes)!  The final song goes to Tony Harnell (TNT) and Vinnie Moore (UFO).  They busy-up “Woman From Tokyo” a bit too much with unnecessary fills, but Moore does some really cool picking during the quiet section.

Though interesting, Smoke on the Water is far from an essential addition to your Purple collection.  There are already so many tributes out there.  The most interesting was T.M. Stevens’ Black Night which re-interpreted Deep Purple according to his New York sensibilities.  He had Joe Lynn Turner, Vinnie Moore and Richie Kotzen on his album too!  Then there is the more recent Re-Machined, featuring Iron Maiden, Metallica, and more Glenn Hughes.  Considering the CD prices these days, place Smoke on the Water fairly low on your priority lists.

2.5/5 stars

Gallery: LeBrain Birthday Bonanza (including Food Porn)

First up to bat, my good buddy Aaron, (who as you all know loooooooves Mastodon) decided to rectify the situation that I didn’t yet have their latest album Once More ‘Round the Sun. Which I can tell you, is awesome. Mastodon have a lot of what I liked best in metal, and this album lives up to the hype. I’m really into track 6, “Asleep in the Deep”, which has a very cool chiming Voivod-esque riff.

Proceedings got off to an unofficial start yesterday at noon. We do a monthly lunch out at work regularly, and this one fell on the Friday before my birthday. My co-workers bought me lunch at Beertown, which was very very good. Above, some beer & cheddar soup, as well as some lovely truffled sweet potato fries.  I also had some battered calimari.

Jen and her mom always gets me the best T-shirts.  Above, two Big Bang Theory T’s, the infamous Walter White, and a spiffy Led Zeppelin swearshirt that will definitely be worn to next year’s Sausagefest.

They also bought me Transformers.  FansToys are making some absolutely astounding G1 Masterpiece-class Dinobots right now.  Scoria aka Slag is a beautiful, heavy figure.  He looks great next to MP Grimlock and MP Prime.  If you like Grimlock, you will love this figure.  Thank you to Jen’s mom for this amazing figure.  I will definitely be getting Swoop.  Jen also got me the new Generations Skrapnel/Shrapnel and Reflector, which I also like a lot, for a Scout-class figure.

We went to Mother’s Pizza for dinner tonight.  Thanks Dad!  I had the small “Grandmother’s”.  It tasted a lot like I remember it tasting almost 30 years ago.  It had lots of olives and mushrooms, which I topped with double cheese.

Neil DeGrasse-Tyson’s Cosmos on Blu-ray is an absolute treat.  Thanks Jen.  I hope you don’t mind watching the whole series, over again with me!  She also picked up Paul Stanley‘s Face the Music, which I hear is a great read!  And who doesn’t like jellybeans?

 

Thanks everyone for all the birthday wishes.  It was a great, laid back day!

REVIEW: Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991)

Classic Kotzen! For a look at the new album by his new supergroup The Winery Dogs, check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review.

RICHIE KOTZEN – Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991 Shrapnel)

Albums by Richie Kotzen were impossible to find in Canada.  My only exposure to his music was “Dream of a New Day”, from his second album Fever Dream.  Fever Dream was his first vocal album, but Kotzen returned to instrumentals on his third, Electric Joy.  I’d seen his picture in dozens of guitar magazines, but hadn’t heard his tunes until “Dream of a New Day” was included on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.

His debut album was a hit with the shredders, but three albums in, Kotzen had already delivered three completely different pieces of work.  Electric Joy has some of the playfulness of the debut, but is mostly a jaw-dropping collection of intricately composed pieces that skirt multiple genres including funk, country, bluegrass, jazz, fusion, and blues.  If I had to pick out an influence, I would say that Electric Joy sounds like Richie had been listening to a lot of the “two Steves”:  Vai and Morse.  His technique is top-notch.

I first got this on a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan.  My parents made a point of going there every spring and I started tagging along, and then later on my friend Peter joined us as well.  We’d stay at the Bavarian Inn and on the way back to Ontario, we’d stop at the stores in Port Huron, where I found this as well as old rare Savatage cassettes.

“B Funk” opens the album with some light-speed bluegrass-y licks, but it keeps changing, from a funked up rocker with shredding, to a melodic “chorus” section.  Then it’s back to the bluegrass from space.

At this point I’ll point out that Kotzen plays all the instruments except drums, himself.  That’s Richie’s standby Atma Anur on drums.  What this means is, that incredibly dexterous bassline you’re hearing on “B Funk” is also performed by Kotzen!  And it’s almost every bit as stunning as the guitar!

“Electric Toy” begins ballady, with some lyrical Vai-like moments.  Of course, Kotzen can’t help but do what he does, so there are different sections, some at lickity-split tempos.  This is followed by “Shufina”, which is essentially a blues jam.  Kotzen’s deep bends are appropriate, but before too long he’s harmonizing with himself on some unconventional melodies.

A smoking hot riff ignites “Acid Lips”, little lightning licks flicker in and out, but this one has a solid groove.  (It can’t be easy grooving with yourself on bass.)  “Slow Blues” contains some of Richie’s most lyrical lead work.  If you can imagine the lead guitar taking on the role of a singer, then “Slow Blues” is probably the most accessible song on the album.

The next song “High Wire” is uncatagorizable, suffice to say that like all of Electric Joy it combines quirky notes with shreddery, funk and groove.  My favourite song is “Dr. Glee”.  It sounds like it seems it should – gleeful.  I find this pleasant melody to be very summery.  Kotzen guitar has so many different sounds and shades, even just within this one song.

“Hot Rails” is another one that sounds like advertized…a train racing down the track.  Kotzen’s slide work is anything but simple.  This one’s so fast it’s hard to keep track of all the cool different guitar parts.  It almost sounds like Kotzen wrote a blues shuffle, and then decided to hit fast forward on his tape deck and learn it at that speed!

Electric Joy closes with “The Deece Song”, which thankfully is mid-tempo allowing us to catch our collective breath.  It’s another great performance, similar in style to “Dr. Glee”.  It has its sweeping Satriani moments as well.

The production on the album is very dry, which is different from what a lot of the other instrumentalists were doing at the time.  While this means it might take some more time to penetrate an album that is loaded to the brim with dense ideas already, it is a worthwhile endevour.

In a bizarre turn of events, Kotzen briefly put his solo career on hold.  He received a phone call from Bret Michaels.  The Poison frontman was looking for a replacement for the departed CC Deville.  The fact that Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, not already in a band, and wrote and sang original material caught Michaels’ eye in a magazine article.  Having a shredder, but one with some feel too, might garner Poison some respect in the tough 1990’s.

Kotzen did succeed in co-writing (and in some cases, writing entire songs himself) their most accomplished album, Native Tongue.  Of course, it did not sell.  The Poison relationship imploded because of another relationship: the one that Kotzen was secretly having with drummer Rikki Rockett’s fiance!  Kotzen eventually married her, and he was replaced in Poison by another shredder, Blues Saraceno (who was in the running with Kotzen in the first place).

As for Electric Joy?

4/5 stars

ELECTRIC JOY