shredder

REVIEW: George Lynch – Sacred Groove (1993)

It’s a shame I lost my original 1993 review of this album.

LYNCH_0001GEORGE LYNCH – Sacred Groove (1993 Elektra)

If you like Dokken but never followed George onto the Lynch Mob, then this album is for you.

George Lynch is a very talented shredder, capable of playing a wide variety of styles.  Sometimes he hits, sometimes he misses, but on Sacred Groove he makes the mark every time.  Sacred Groove was designed as a solo project shortly after the second Lynch Mob album.  The idea was to work and write with different singers and musicians, and George loaded up on some great singers.  Glenn Hughes, anyone?

John Cuniberti, who co-helmed many Joe Satriani albums, produced this opus and lent it some serious sonic excellence.  The opener “Memory Jack” is a collaboration between producer and guitarist, but this is little more than a sound collage to kick off a killer instrumental called “Love Power From the Mama Head”.  This isn’t to say that “Memory Jack” does not contain some shredding licks, because it does…but they are not the focus.  The sound collage itself is the focus.  Into “Love Power”, George lays down some serious riffy rhythm guitars.  This is topped with a very Satriani-esque guitar melody.  “Love Power” is constructed very much like a Satch rock instrumental track, with memorable guitar melodies and song structures.

There is a very cool moment in the guitar solo in “Love Power From the Mama Head”, at exactly 4:47.  While George was essentially assaulting his guitar with the whammy bar, he accidentally dropped the instrument on the studio floor.  “Shit!” said George, while producer Cuniberti ran over and stopped George from picking it up.  The producer then kicked the guitar for added effect!  Cuniberti assured George it would sound cool, and it kind of does!  The guitar just stops on this weird chord-like sound, before they punch out of that and into more shredding.  It’s different and spontaneous and I love shit like that.

“Flesh and Blood”, contender for best track on the album, is the first vocal, featuring Badlands’ Ray Gillen (R.I.P.).  It’s a Dokken stomper for sure, but with Ray Gillen’s bluesy Coverdale-isms all over it.  Killer.  The lyrics were co-written by George’s ex-Dokken bandmate Jeff Pilson, who also co-wrote and plays bass on the next track, “We Don’t Own This World”.

Now here’s the interesting thing about “We Don’t Own This World”.  Lyrics by: Don Dokken?  The fuck?

George, Don and Jeff had planned to reunite on this one song, that Don supplied the lyrics for.  Don however cancelled or chickened out (either/or) and didn’t make it to the session.  It just so happened that the Nelson twins, Matthew and Gunnar, were in town and eagerly sang on the track in Don’s absence.  With their harmonies, “We Don’t Own This World” sounds nothing like Dokken, except in basic ways.  It’s the most commercial track on the album; a pop rocker.  The vocals soar over one killer melody, and the solo is one of George’s best.  If this song had come out only two years sooner, it would have been a hit single.  The Nelsons have done some cool music over the years, and not gotten a lot of credit for it, so this song is pure delight.

I still think of CDs as “albums” with distinct sides, and on the cassette version “I Will Remember” closed Side One.  This instrumental ballad has a vaguely dark tropical feel, although it is an electric guitar song.  George’s solos are sublime and I love his unexpected timing on certain notes.  He has flawless chops mixed with feel…a rare combination.

LYNCH_0002

Side Two’s opener is an epic in two parts, but it’s as close to a skip as this album gets.  The problem is vocalist Mandy Lion, of WWIII.  You either like his glass-garling-elfin-metal voice or you do not.  I do not.  However, “The Beast” Parts I and II are such a slamming groove that I tend to block out the words and the voice singing them.  This is another track where the original vocalist slated could not do it.  Udo Dirkschneider wanted too much money and Rob Halford was too busy, but Mandy Lion would do it.  He showed up at the studio in the heat of summer wearing head to toe black leather.

“The Beast” could be a dirty sex anthem, I guess, but it’s far too heavy for the 50 Shades crowd.  I dig when halfway through, George breaks out his newly-bought sitar.  (I remember seeing pictures of George in Metal Edge magazine buying it!)  If only Mandy would have chosen to shut up at this moment.  Bassist Chris Solberg comes in and grooves through to a false ending, and then it’s “Part II (Addiction to the Friction)” — a 10 minute track in total.  Thankfully a huge chunk of it is instrumental.

The regal Glenn Hughes raises the bar any time he opens his mouth.  His two songs were the first new Hughes singing I had heard since Black Sabbath.  I detect some fragility in his voice here.  I think this may be from a period where Glenn was recovering from addictions.  Regardless, he sounds a lot better today, whatever the reasons are.  That’s not to say he’s bad here, because he’s still the best singer on the album.  You just feel he’s not giving it everything like he does today.

“Not Necessary Evil” is Glenn’s first song, a Dokken groove with Hughes’ soulful signature style.  This one too had hit single potential, but only in an alternate timeline in which Rock never fell to the Grunge Hordes in 1991.  “Cry of the Brave” is his second track, a slower and more soulful rock track.  This is a song about injustice to the American Indian (reading the lyrics, I’m assuming specifically Leonard Peltier), and it’s worth noting that Glenn wrote the lyrics by himself.

The album closes with a final instrumental called “Tierra Del Fuego”, and if you couldn’t guess, that means George breaks out the flamenco guitar.  There’s also a guest electric guitar soloist named Daryl Gable.  If I remember the story correctly, Daryl Gable was a lucky fan who was selected to have a guest shot on the album.  How cool is that?  And he’s pretty good, too!  I have to admit I like these dusky tropical flamenco things, so I consider “Tierra Del Fuego” to be a very successful album closer.  But fear not, there’s plenty of electric guitar too!

Sacred Groove is pretty damn near flawless.  If only they could have got Udo instead of Mandy, eh?

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: VAI – Sex & Religion (1993)

VAI – Sex & Religion (1993 Relativity)

Flash back to summer 1993:  Steve Vai was just about to debut his brand new “commercial” rock band on Jay Leno. I had been tracking the progress of this band via the guitar mags. Vai already had TM Stevens (bass) on board, as well as the singer Devin Townsend, from Vancouver’s Caustic Thought on vocals.  I had heard Vai say in a previous interview that “Nobody sings better than David Coverdale, and nobody is a better showman than David Lee Roth. But I need a singer who combines the best of both singers.” How could you not be psyched? Expectations and hopes were high.

Back to Leno —  Vai comes out, his hair in dreads, and he strums the first chord of “Still My Bleeding Heart”.  And the singer…holy crap…there was this bald, psycho-looking dude with stuff written all over his body in magic marker. “Caustic Thought” was written in huge letters on his leg. I was taken aback! What the deuce was this?

HI TRACY

I taped the performance, so I rewound, rewatched…and quickly became hooked on the song, and the vocalist, Devin Townsend. Here was a guy, I thought, who would be the next Mike Patton. He had the power, and range and quirkiness, yet had his own style.  Devin was a unique right from his first major release!  Here, his style is based mostly on (as Devin once put it, and I quote) “screaming his balls off!”  Devin said he was usually pretty happy as long as he sounded as if his larynx was bouncing off the studio walls.

This album is my second favourite Vai platter after Passion and Warfare. A band effort with Terry Bozzio on drums, Sex & Religion was a mindblowing album to me at the time.  I thought it was extremely profound, though it sounds somewhat dated today.  It still kicks my kicks my ass to listen to it, you cannot go wrong with this lineup.  The music is intricate, composed with great care to both stimulate and rock.  I don’t need to tell you that the guitar is a shredder’s wet dream.

To me, 90% of the songs here are winners. Highlights are “Still My Bleeding Heart” and the single “In My Dreams With You”. Both are extremely catchy rock songs with slightly off-kilter arrangement, innovative guitar playing, and challenging but powerful vocals.  There is an emphasis on melody, even if they melodies are not typical of modern rock music.  Elsewhere you will find “Down Deep Into The Pain”, a very fast and heavy song that was obviously designed to keep up with some of the newer heavy bands that were out at the time. The lead vocal here is absolutely shriek-tastic.

I’m also a big fan of “Dirty Black Hole” which combines a speedy assault of instrumentation with a soul-rock chorus.  The title track is a bit funky, with Devin doing some scream-rapping.  I remember my mom being offended by the lyric, “Jesus Christ is in your bed tonight.”

More standard rock arrangements can be found on songs like “Survive” and “Here And Now”, although they are still well coated in Vai-isms and guitar madness. There are instrumentals sprinkled in as well, “Touching Tongues” being especially sublime. And then there is “Pig”.  It’s the only song with a co-write by Townsend. This is what happened, according to Vai, when he tried to write song “Remedy” by the Black Crowes.  Vai was into the Crowes at the time, and somehow “Pig” was the result of that. Can you hear any connection to “Remedy”? I sure can’t! This song is where the album hits its peak of absolute madness. As Vai likes to say, “Sorry folks, I just can’t help myself”.

That sums up this album in a nutshell. “Sorry folks, I just can’t help myself.” It is a simply brilliant piece of work that will take some folks a while to get used to. For Vai fans, this might be easy listening compared to some of his instrumental workouts.  Either way, if you can penetrate its sometimes off-putting weirdness, you’ll find a rewarding listening experience.

The final song , “Rescue Me or Bury Me”, is the only one I can do without. Featuring Steve singing lead, I find it too long and meandering, spoiling what was for me an otherwise gripping ride the whole way through.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Quiet Riot – The Randy Rhoads Years (1993)

QR FRONT

QUIET RIOT – The Randy Rhoads Years (1993 Rhino)

Growing up in the 1980’s, Quiet Riot was the first “metal” band I liked.  Back then, we were aware that Quiet Riot had two albums prior to Metal Health.  These albums seemed unobtainable forever at best, mythical at worst!  The first two, Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II, were released in Japan only.  Later on, I did manage to get both albums, so I have a unique perspective on this CD:  The Randy Rhoads Years, by Quiet Riot.

See, here’s a nutshell version of the story:  QR lead howler and co-founder Kevin DuBrow had wanted to re-release the Randy material for years.   Randy himself was never happy with those albums, nor his guitar sound on those albums.  In light of this, the late guitarist’s mother Delores was very guarded of Randy’s legacy.  She knew that Randy felt the albums consisted of sub-par songs with horrible production. DuBrow eventually won her blessing to re-release some of the old Quiet Riot material, but on one condition only: Get the quality of the songs up to snuff so it doesn’t tarnish Randy’s legacy.

So that’s what he did, using all the means available, and the result is a highly modified collection of Quiet Riot songs with Randy Rhoads.

I can tell people out there who haven’t heard the first two albums that they do sound awful. That’s not a myth. Randy’s guitar is but a shadow of what it would become, and the songs are mostly pretty bad, especially on the first album. The second is much better (particularly in the songwriting category) but it is still hampered by poor production. So what could DuBrow do to get permission to do a re-release?

He started by picking out six of the better songs from the first two records:  “Mama’s Little Angels”, “It’s Not So Funny”, and “Look in Any Window” from Quiet Riot, and  “Trouble”, “Killer Girls”, and “Afterglow (Of Your Love)” from Quiet Riot II.  All of these songs were heavily remixed, with completely re-recorded vocals, from scratch.  DuBrow felt, probably  correctly, that his original singing voice on those albums was too “boy-ish”.

DuBrow re-sampled all the drums, and re-recorded all of Randy’s guitar tracks through a Marshall stack.  Randy had confided with Kevin that he was happiest with the way his guitar sounded live with Ozzy, so Kevin recorded the original, sterile guitar tracks through Carlos Cavazo’s amps.  They used the Randy Rhoads Tribute CD as a guide.

On one guitar solo, Kevin knew that Randy wished he had used a wah-wah, but couldn’t afford the pedal at the time.  Kevin played the wah-wah pedal himself, using Randy’s guitar tracks, a unique form of collaboration between two friends.

With the Small Faces cover, “Afterglow”, Kevin came up with a cool idea.  “Unplugged” albums were on trend, so Kevin stripped all the drums and electric instruments off the track, leaving just Randy’s bare acoustic guitar.  It is like stripping a layer of paint off old beautiful old wood:  the bare guitar track reveals previously unheard warmth.  Kevin re-sang the vocal, kept the electric guitar solo intact, and used a triangle sample to cover up places where the original drums had leaked into Randy’s mike.  This painstaking work created from the ground up an incredible alternate version that Randy would hopefully have been very proud of.

None of these people are Frankie Banali.

None of these people are Frankie Banali.

One of Quiet Riot II‘s best songs is “Trouble”.  Kevin felt that it plodded too much, so he slightly sped it up which also raised its pitch.  He then re-sang it, and the result is a much better song.  Suddenly “Trouble” is a rich sounding hit-worthy rock track.

“Killer Girls” had some minor tampering, a blast of guitar where previously there was nothing.  It is “Last Call For Rock ‘n’ Roll” that is most changed.  Previously titled “Mama’s Little Angels” on Quiet Riot, Kevin re-wrote what he thought was a juvenile lyric.  (It was about trashing the house playing a game of “indoor baseball”.)  Bobby Rondinelli, who was working with Kevin on a Quiet Riot album called Terrified at the time, helped him re-write the tune.  Unfortunately, regardless of all this work, the song is still just a stock sounding track, nothing special, aside from Randy’s always classy if underplayed guitar work.

The rest of the album consists of unreleased songs.  One of the most exciting is a live take of “Laughing Gas” which Quiet Riot never cut in the studio.  It comprised an evolving, extended Randy Rhoads guitar solo.  Within it, you can hear the kernels of ideas that later became Ozzy Osbourne classics such as “Dee” and “Crazy Train”.  Even this “live” track is tampered with:  Kevin re-recorded his lead vocals (even the “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Randy Rhoads!” part) and actually spliced two different guitar solos together into one.  You can hear the splice point between the two quite clearly.  Of course this makes the solo no less jaw-dropping.

“Picking Up the Pieces” and “Breaking Up is a Heartbreak” are two of a kind.  Kevin says these come from their “pop” period after the second album, just before Randy was off to work with Ozzy.  They were getting more desperate for hits, and wrote these two melodic, radio-ready tunes.  Both are excellent.  Much like “Trouble”, these two songs are world-class.  Kevin re-recorded the vocals and so on just as he did with the other tracks.  At this time, bassist Kelly Garni had left the band and Randy played bass himself.

Lastly, “Force of Habit” is the only bare, untampered song.  In the liner notes, Kevin says they lost the original master tapes, so he was unable to remix or re-record any of it.  I think it’s an excellent heavy song on its own.  In fact, Ozzy Osbourne must have thought so as well, since parts of this song later became “Suicide Solution”!

This work,  and “Laughing Gas” in particular were enough to convince the Rhoads family to go forward with this album. If Kevin hadn’t done this, undoubtedly we would never have seen this release. On the other hand, this isn’t the way Randy recorded it, and Randy obviously had no input to how the tracks were mixed.  This has polarized fans, some of whom thought Kevin was the great Satan, others just enjoying the album for what it is.

I enjoy the album for what it is.  I like it a lot, actually.  I do have misgivings about the tampering, but since I own the first two albums, that feeling has subsided.  I can back up the claims that the first two albums are pretty poor.

Kevin had planned on a second volume, including such treasures as Quiet Riot’s metallic cover of “The Mighty Quinn”.  He had also mentioned a home video, including the extended “Laughing Gas” guitar solo.  Sadly DuBrow, will never get to complete these Rhoads reissues.

4/5 stars