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REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 1 – Various Artists (1990)

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RAW M.E.A.T 1 (1990 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Drew Masters’ legendary metal magazine M.E.A.T took a lot of pride in promoting Canadian talent.  The next logical step was putting out a CD featuring the best of the best in unsigned Canadian rock and metal.  The flagship band was Toronto’s Slash Puppet.  On this first volume, only groups from the province of Ontario signed up.   Even though the talent all came from a small region in and around Toronto (with one exception), it’s a surprisingly diverse selection of styles.

I look at Raw M.E.A.T as a first tapping of an oil reserve.  It was a gusher.  So much untapped raw talent, unheard in suburbs.

“Slow Down” by Slash Puppet was previously issued on their indi tape, but Raw M.E.A.T 1 was its first issue on CD.  The track has been described as Motorhead meets Faster Pussycat and that still fits the bill.  Lead singer Anthony J. Mifsud was the sandpaper throat to go with the rough and tumble music.  You can hear why there was such a buzz around Slash Puppet.  They had pro-level tunes and performance. All they needed was a break.

Most Raw M.E.A.T buyers knew what they were getting with Slash Puppet. The rest of the tunes were uncharted territory.

Eiffel Power, from Taranna, knocked it out with “City Action”.  Singer Lionel Lois  had ample range and lung capacity for this fun metal shuffle, very current for the time.  Think of Extreme’s first album but with more muscle.  Then there’s the instantly likeable “Feel Me Sweet” by Brampton’s own Ragadee Anne.  Yes, it’s true:  coming up with names for bands isn’t always easy, but “Feel Me Sweet” kicks.  One reason they sound so professional is due to the production by Tom Treumuth (Triumph), surely an advantage in the studio.  Glam rock with bite and youthful innocence sure sounds good.

Blackglama (Toronto) take it to the streets with the rock/rap hybrid of “Playin’ Hardball (With the Big Boys)”.  This was just a year or two ahead of its time, though director Bruce McDonald used it in his 1991 film Highway 61  (but not the soundtrack CD).  The next group, Washington Wives, bring it to immaculately composed AOR rock.  “Memoirs, Etc.” has backing vocals from Phil Naro, from just across the border in Buffalo.  Naro is best known for Talas and his work with Kiss’ Peter Criss.  “Memoirs, Etc.” is vaguely familiar, as if you’ve heard its like on the radio before (Journey? Night Ranger?), but there’s no question this track was hit-ready.  Zero fat content, this is all meat of the most melodic variety.

Short Avenue has another “name” attached, that being “Scarpelli”.  Guitarist Gene Scarpelli is the son of Gino, of Toronto’s Goddo.  Short Avenue sounds nothing like Goddo, rather more like some tough street punks ready to mix it up.  With hindsight, they sound like precursors to The Four Horsemen.  “Push Comes to Shove” is right in the same vein as the Horsemen’s “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  From the Horsemen to the Cult:  The Cult have always been big in Canada.  First impressions are that Trouble In Mind (Toronto) were very inspired by Ian Astbury.  Regardless, their track “Sweet Addictions” is album quality.  Lead singer Beau (just “Beau”) turned up on a later instalment of the Raw M.E.A.T series, but that’s another story.

We depart Toronto momentarily for a trip to the nation’s capitol.  Ottawa’s Antix had been self-releasing vinyl since 1986, and “Kick It Up” was a new track.  With a Van Halen shuffle, their track hits the right spots, but suffers from inadequate production.   It’s unfortunate that the most experienced band has one of the poorest sounding tracks on the CD.

Russian Blue received their first major exposure via Raw M.E.A.T, and thanks to their incredible song “Once a Madman”, they gained a cult following.  They were a double threat:  a magnificent singer and a terrific guitar player.   Vocalist Jo E. Donner found himself compared to a young Robert Plant.  Richard Gauci backed that up with memorable guitar hooks.  “Once a Madman” gets the job done in just 3:15, leaving behind an unforgettable and unique rocker that begs for repeat listens.  One reason it sounds so good?  Produced by a pre-fame Harry Hess of Harem Scarem.

The next band, Zyle, sound like they were going for a traditional metal sound.  The Scorpions come to mind immediately, as does fellow Canadian rockers White Wolf.  They needed a bit more originality.  The guitar solo directly quotes Randy Rhoads, too close for comfort.  But then it’s The Remains with something a little more street punk.  A variation of the classic Peter Gunn riff, “Too Much” is actually never enough.  It’s the right mixture of middle finger and middle eight.

Hanging out just down the QEW are Hamilton and Oakville, from which come the last two groups.  Cathouse prove that you can never have enough permutations of the classic Van Halen shuffle.  “In For the Kill” nails it, with a vocalist who seems like equal parts Skid Roper and Rob Halford.  Finally, Oakville’s Johannes Linstead is best known today for his flamenco guitar albums.  He didn’t start there!  Wildside (later to become Gypsy Jayne) are about that sleaze rock.  You can hear that the guitarist is something special, though you wouldn’t predict the future from this one track.

It’s difficult to be objective, even though so many years have passed since Raw M.E.A.T 1.   Many (if not most) of these bands had potential.  Toronto in the early 90s was ready to explode as “the next Seattle”, but there was no “next Seattle”.  12 of these 13 songs are really fondly remembered, with one just needing a little more originality.

4.5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Slash Puppet – Slash Puppet (EP, 1993)

I found much to my horror that my original Amazon.ca Slash Puppet review had been taken and credited to some defunct site called “bandfocus.net”!  I thought it would be wise to re-claim it for myself.  Here it is in slightly revised form.

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SLASH PUPPET – Slash Puppet (Fringe EP, 1993)

A short while ago, I reviewed the debut release by the legendary Toronto glam metal band, Slash Puppet. For a while there, it looked like Slash Puppet was destined to be the “next big thing”.  They were winning awards, had national video play, and a stunning collection of hard rock material to draw from for their well-reviewed gigs.

Well, you know what happened next. Grunge took over, and the Toronto metal scene never exploded the way it was hoped. If it had, Slash Puppet would have been the band leading the charge. (With Winter Rose, I Mother Earth, Sven Gali, Russian Blue, Slik Toxik, Attitude, and so many others right behind…ahh, but I digress.)

This 1993 EP was their second release (the afformentioned debut is now available on CD as No Strings Attached, on Sun City Records).  It is solid from start to finish. The singer, Mif (better known as Anthony J. Mifsud; you’ve seen him acting in the Norm McDonald comedy Dirty Work!) has a soulful, gritty, and gravelly voice that has elements of Brian Johnson and Lemmy, but really sounds like neither. Really, Mif sounds like Mif, and you have to hear the voice to get it. The band were tight, emphasizing tough riffs, killer choruses, and street-smart lyrics. No wimpy songs here. Even the sole ballad “Eyes Of A Child” isn’t a wimp-out. Not with lyrics like those, and a soulful delivery from Mif.

The lead track from No Strings Attached, “Slow Down”, reappears here, now parsed as “Slowdown”. (I believe this song is a remix with a new bass part, based on the credits. Peet Dove played bass on the original demo version but is not credited here, which leads me to believe the bass was re-recorded by new bassist Dave Carreiro. Otherwise, the song sounds almost identical to the demo version.)

SLASH PUPPET GLOSSY

Every song smokes.  Slash Puppet down-shifted on speed for these songs, but traded that in for a slightly bluesier, soulful vibe.  Their songwriting abilities grew by leaps and bounds between releases, no doubt enhanced by their live experience.  When their debut was recorded, the band had not even played a gig yet!  Slash Puppet is much more melodic than No Strings Attached, but still tough as nails.

If you’re into tough, glammy rock n’ roll with great musicianship and songwriting, Slash Puppet are the band to check out. This EP just shines.  If you’re into collecting obscure albums from the era, or Canadian bands, this CD is an absolute must, although I saw one guy on ‘net claiming to have sold his copy for almost $200!  I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay that much.  Check thrift shops and used CD stores.  I used to sell this in my store for $5.99.

This EP was mixed by Rich Chycki, probably best known for his 5.1 work with Rush!

Here’s hoping Mif and the surviving members reunite for a few more songs or shows. I’ll be there.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Slash Puppet – No Strings Attached (aka The Demo, 1989)

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SLASH PUPPET – No Strings Attached (2007 Sun City Records)

Slash Puppet were one of the biggest names of the burgeoning Toronto rock scene of the early 1990’s.  Unfortunately, unlike their competition Sven Gali and I Mother Earth, they never got signed to a major label.  They did, however, manage to sell out 2500 copies of their first recording, The Demo, an independent cassette, via mail order.  They were the darlings of M.E.A.T Magazine and appeared on MuchMusic’s Power Hour.  Slash Puppet signed a management deal with Ray Danniels and SRO (Rush) who later also handled Van Halen, King’s X, and Extreme.

SLASH PUPPET GLOSSY

I was one of the 2500 people who ordered The Demo.  Every mail order was accompanied by a glossy 8 1/2 x 11 autographed photo.  I still have mine, this is especially treasured since their talented lead guitarist, Lou Garscadden, passed away in 2001.   Today, lead vocalist Mif (originally billed as “Tony Terrance Dartanian”, for some weird reason) is a successful actor.   That’s him as the mob boss in Norm McDonald’s hilarious Dirty Work, billed under his real name, Anthony J. Mifsud!

Incredibly, for a band that never put out a major label release and split in 1994, Australia’s Sun City Records reissued The Demo on CD in 2007, as No Strings Attached.  A well-assembled package, it features liner notes, lyrics, and loads of photos.

This ass-kicker starts with a bang:  “Slow Down”.  This was the first video, and it even made a return appearance (in slightly remixed form) on the second Slash Puppet release, a self-titled EP.  “Slow Down” is an infectious hard rocker, a tougher and faster Faster Pussycat with a way, way raspier singer.  It has more integrity than most of the Sunset Strip of the time combined.  And this was from the bad bad streets of Mississauga!

The extremely catchy ‘Squeeze It In” follows, a mid-tempo groover, and my personal favourite song.  This one just drips sleaze with a knack for gritty melody.   Up next is “Hard On Love”.  It’s another concoction of raspy lead vocals, catchy backing gang vocals, and pure sex.  It’s twice as hard as anything Hollywood was producing at the time.  “Bad Girls”, which closed side one of the original cassette, is about the only misstep.  While the song is another adrenaline-filled sex romp, the chorus lacks punch.

It’s here that I think the CD edition of No Strings Attached differs from The Demo.  If memory serves correctly, side two began with “Overload” and closed with “Turn It On”.  On the CD, the track order seems switched.  Unfortunately, my original cassette copy is now lost.

Regardless, “Turn It On” is fast paced, raspy and built for sex.  It’s not an upper-echelon song, it’s more similar to “Bad Girls”, the chorus is a bit thin.  The band compensates with the excellent “Evil Woman”.  Great chorus, great hooks, and it sounds great in the car.  It also has a cool dual guitar solo by Lou Garscadden and Frank “Bart” Bartoletti, proving these guys had the chops.

The dark and slower-paced “Some Kind O’ Lady” provides some variety on an album that is otherwise very party-oriented.  This killer tune was always one of my favourites.  It has some killer soloing and a great riff.  The verses kind of remind me of a Testament ballad like “Return To Serenity”, but before Testament even wrote that song.  Maybe it’s the grit in Mif’s voice that reminds me of Chuck Billy.

“Overload” closes the CD on an upbeat note.  It has a fast, playful riff, sleazy lyrics and plenty of grit.  It’s totally headbang-worthy.  And with that, the CD ends, listener exhausted by half an hour of pure heavy glam rock!

The production values for this album are not the greatest.  Keep in mind this was originally a self-financed demo tape, never meant for wide release, and never intended for CD.  The guitar solos are often buried, and the backing vocals sound a bit thin.  What does come across is the grit of Mif, an underrated singer and frontman (by all contemporary accounts).

As mentioned, Slash Puppet returned with an EP later (released by indi Fringe), amped up, better sounding and more mature without losing an ounce of their street-tough sensibilities.  Look for a review of that ultra-rarity in a future edition of mikeladano.com!

As for No Strings Attached?

4/5 stars, baby!

Part 82: Impact

Your gracious host

Your gracious host

The first time a record store person had any impact on me was actually well after high school.  Until then, I never spent much time interacting with them.  I always knew how to find what I wanted, and I never special-ordered anything because the stuff I wanted, they couldn’t get anyway.  I had to order my rare albums from magazines.

In 1990, Peter and I got heavily into Faith No More.  Peter got Introduce Yourself before I did, but I found We Care A Lot first.  I found it at Sam The Record Man, generally considered the best store in town at the time.  Angel Dust had just came out on CD, but I hadn’t got it yet.  We Care A Lot was a rarity; therefore a priority in my spending budget.

It was there, on cassette.  $14.99.  Not cheap.

Al King was behind the counter.  Al King was the undisputed music guru in town.  Undisputed.  I strived to be what he represented.  Heck he even had a feature spot on a weekly local TV program — The Metal Mike Show — which I watched many times.

“Do you have the new Faith No More yet?” Al asked me as he took the security tag off my purchase.

“No, not yet.  I saw this and I had to get it because I’ve never seen it before,” I answered.

“The new one is…pretty different.  Have you heard Mr. Bungle?” he inquired.

Al was engaging me.  He had just seen Bungle live.  He liked Bungle, but the new Faith No More was still growing on him.  He explained to me that you could really hear the Bungle influece on it.  The next time I came in, he told me he had just seen Faith No More.  He told me everything about the show.

Years later, things cycle around, and I found myself in Al’s shoes.  Kids were coming up to me and asking my opinion on things.  I tried my best to be honest and treat them with respect.  I had my bad days — we all do — but I certainly didn’t want to recommend music that I didn’t think was any good.

When I saw a young guy or girl come in buying Kiss, that was an instant obvious coversation starter.  Tall One and Short One, who I talked about several chapters ago, started getting into bands like Kiss and Oasis, so I tried to steer them into the albums I was into.

I made a lot of friends that way.  Shane Schedler, who I’ve talked about twice before was one guy who trusted my opinion implicity.  There was another guy, Italian Tony, who always wanted to know what I was into.  I sold him Slash Puppet that way, I knew he would be into that band.  And then there’s my buddy Statham.  Some found me on Facebook, some I just run into randomly.

Of course I had just as many failures.  Sometimes you expect someone to be into a new Maiden album just because they liked the old Maiden, for example.  Then they don’t trust you anymore.

I don’t think I appreciated my position back then.  I don’t think I saw myself as Al King.  I think I saw myself as still trying but not quite succeeding at being that guy.  It’s only now that I talk to people and get it.  Somebody will say to me, “You told me to buy this album, and I did, and it’s in my top ten of all time now.”  That’s a cool feeling.  I wish I appreciated it back then.

The truth is, it was a job just like any other.  You were a business and businesses were supposed to make money.  Stores have to be cleaned, books balance, shelves stocked.  Sometimes it felt like conversation was keeping you from your job.  And spend too much time with a single customer, and you got dirty looks from people with the authority to give you dirty looks.

I appreciate now though, that conversation was the job.  Conversations that I don’t even remember have turned out to have huge impacts on people’s musical lives.  Al King was a trusted musical guru to me.  It’s weird to think that I might be that to other people.   But if that truly is the case, I have to say thanks, because that’s all I ever really wanted anyway.

Well…that and a staff discount.

Yeah. Slash Puppet, baby.

Part 12: The Pepsi Power Hour

RECORD STORE TALES Part 12:  The Pepsi Power Hour

I’m going to take you back in time a bit.  Back to a time before the record store….

I remember back to the 80’s and early 90’s when MuchMusic was king. Back when there was no Jersey Shore and they played actual music videos.  There was no internet at that time, so you had to go to the store to buy your music (more often than not, on cassette). To hear new bands, you watched videos on Much and listened to the radio. There was no YouTube.

There was this frickin’ awesome show on Much back in the day — you remember it. It was originally only on once a week (Thursdays at 4 if I recall) and was hosted by one John “J.D.” Roberts. Yeah, the CNN guy. After he left, the hosting slot rotated between Michael Williams, Steve Anthony, Erica Ehm and Laurie Brown and then finally the late Dan Gallagher. Despite his long hair, Dan didn’t know a lot about metal — he didn’t know how to pronounce “Anthrax” and had never heard of Ratt. But that show was by far the best way to hear new metal back in the day.

That show was THE POWER HOUR.

It was so popular that they eventually had two a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4, which was awesome for me since by 1989 I was working every Thursday at Zehrs.  I could still catch one a week, usually.

I remember tuning in, VCR at the ready to check out all the new videos and catch onto the newest bands. There was this band called Leatherwolf that I found via Hit Parader magazine and first heard on the Power Hour. I loved that band. There was another band called Sword from Montreal. Psycho Circus. Faith No More. Skid Row. Armored Saint. Testament. You could always count on the Power Hour to have Helix on. That show rocked.

They had some of the best interviews as well.  Usually they’d have someone come in and co-host for an hour.  They had everybody from Gene Simmons to Brian Vollmer to Lemmy.  In depth stuff too, at times.

Then in 1990 something else cool happened. I discovered a magazine called M.E.A.T (the periods were for no reason at all, just to look cool like W.A.S.P. but eventually they decided it stood for “Metal Events Around Toronto”). M.E.A.T was awesome because it was monthly, free, and had in depth articles clearly written by knowledgable fans. There was no magazine with that kind of deep coverage. Even Slash loved M.E.A.T, at a time when Guns hated rock magazines! I loved M.E.A.T so much I eventually sent them $10 to subscribe to a free magazine.  I did this on a yearly basis.

I discovered a whole bunch of great bands via that magazine. I Mother Earth, Slash Puppet, Russian Blue, Jesus Christ, not to mention they were way ahead of the curve on alternative. They had a Nirvana concert review back in 1989. They got behind Soundgarden way before they were cool. And you could count on them hanging onto the oldies. They’d put an indi band from Toronto on the cover one month, and put Black Sabbath on the cover the next month.  Next issue they’d have an in-depth interview with Kim Mitchell.  They’d talk about bands that nobody else did.

Their CD reviews were my bible! My music hunting was probably 90% based on their reviews, especially since by then the Power Hour had changed into the 5 day weekly Power 30 hosted by Teresa Roncon, and sucked.  The started playing too much thrash and grunge and never gave the old bands a shot anymore.

Things have changed so much now. I never get into new bands anymore, back then I used to just eat them up. I guess new bands just don’t interest me anymore. I like my old time rock and roll. I did buy the new Sheepdogs, twice.  The last new band I got totally and 100% excited about was The Darkness, and that was, what…2003?

Yet I can’t get into these new metal bands. The music sounds so sterile to my aging ears. The rock has lost its balls. The album I have been most excited about in 2012 was the new Van Halen — a band that is approaching 40 years old. But my God does it rock.  Kiss and Black Sabbath both have new records coming out, and I’m excited about them, but I could two shits about the new Nickelback.

In a lot of ways, it’s a better time for music now.  With eBay and Amazon I’ve managed to fill nearly every gap in my music collection.  There are some bands that I now have complete sets of, and others that I am achingly close.  I’m missing 4 Maiden EP’s and 1 Deep Purple import, for example.  Back in the 80’s you didn’t have access to this.  You didn’t even have access to an accurate and complete discography.  It wasn’t until the internet that this kind of information was even available.

Aside from that, today kind of sucks for music.  Sure, it’s easier to find new bands now, but we did OK in the 80’s.  M.E.A.T turned me on to lots of bands, and they were always giving away sampler cassettes.  Much played all the new videos by all the  metal bands at least once, basically.  You had to work a little harder, but we only appreciated the music more.  It wasn’t disposable.

And there were a lot more new bands around that just plain rocked!