Snowy White

REVIEW: Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 North American version)

REVIEW:  Thin Lizzy – Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 Polygram North American version)

It might not be the best introduction to the most underrated classic rock band of all time, but it was my introduction. Dedication was a 1991 Thin Lizzy compilation that was buoyed by the unreleased song “Dedication” which was released as the radio single.  There’s nothing wrong with the “new” track, except it wasn’t supposed to be a Thin Lizzy song.  Phil Lynott recorded the song in 1985 for his new band Grand Slam.  Scott Gorham and Brian Downey replaced the original instrumentation leaving Phil intact.  And that’s fine.  “Dedication” sounds slightly unfinished but it also sounds like what Thin Lizzy might have been doing had they carried on.

These kind of extra songs usually get spotlighted at the front of the album, or left at the end to whet the appetite.  On Dedication, it goes last, leaving the compilation to ascend in chronological order.  Is that the best way to approach listening to Thin Lizzy?  While many sets go that route, it leads to a very uneven playing experience.  Early Thin Lizzy was much more folksy, and dare I say it, just not as good.  It certainly had some excellent tunes, and some of the better ones are showcased here.  “Whiskey in the Jar” is an actual folk traditional, rocked up and made unforgettable by that Eric Bell guitar hook.  That’s followed by the firecracker “The Rocker”, just shy of three minutes but every one of them shockingly great.

Original guitarist Eric Bell left the band after three albums due to exhaustion, and the band was beefed up to a four-piece with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham taking his place.  It took a while for the albums to really catch up with the talent.  On CD it’s a lot of slow material before we get to the more rocking stylings of the Thin Lizzy that you know and love.  From 1974’s Nightlife we have “She Knows”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Showdown”.  A lot of ballads and blues and not a lot of fire.  The guitar work is sparkling but the songs are not yet as astounding as they would yet become.  Another ballad, “Wild One” from Fighting (1975) is one of the best of the batch.  It is bookended by two rockers, “Fighting My Way Back” and the Bob Seger cover of “Rosalie”.  Both are tracks you don’t want to live without.

Part of (but only part of) Phil Lynott’s genius was bringing Gorham and Robbo (and later others) together as a unified guitarmony duo.  The next batch of classics really hammer this home.  “Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Cowboy Song” and “Don’t Believe a Word” are the embodiment of what people think of when they picture Thin Lizzy.  The driving beats, the hooks, the dual solos, the poetic lyrics — it’s all there in what might be considered Lizzy’s peak era.

Brian Robertson left the band shortly after, and doesn’t appear on “Bad Reputation” or “Dancing in the Moonlight”, but Gorham picked up the slack in the studio and rendered these as two more stone-cold classics.  “Bad Reputation” covers the driving side of the band while “Dancing in the Moonlight” is funky, light romantic storytelling.  Truly excellent songs even without Robbo.

The Gary Moore era follows with “Do Anything You Want To” and “Waiting For An Alibi”, two more excellent Lizzy classics from the underappreciated album Black Rose.  Moore lasted only for one album, and his successor Snowy White for two more.  Snowy is only heard on one track here (“Chinatown”) and the man that replaced him (John Sykes) is heard on none!  So another failing of the Dedication album is a sudden drop-off at the end, leaving out important songs.  “Chinatown” is excellent at least, but so is “Hollywood” and “Renegade”, yet they are not here.

Yes, too many songs were left off Dedication because you couldn’t get ’em all on a single CD.  Johnny The Fox (possibly their best record) is an album that isn’t given enough time here, along with Black Rose.  And to have no Sykes?  Unjustifiable.

Fortunately the last song “Dedication” is better than expected, sounding like Thin Lizzy 1991, beefy and tough.  It doesn’t sound like Lizzy ’75 or Lizzy ’83.  But it does sound like Lizzy because Phil Lynott’s voice tends to do that.  Scott Gorham does a decent job of replicating all the guitar excitement himself (he’s had to do it before).  The track, written by Lynott and Grand Slam guitarist Laurence Archer, had one of those guitar hooks well suited to the Lizzy canon.  Gorham and Downey did it justice enough.

Dedication is not enough Thin Lizzy but it’s enough to get your feet wet.  Although it’s a slow starter it will eventually get you interested enough to try more.  It worked for me and it’ll work for you.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels (2001 box set)

IMG_20141109_085906

LIZZY VAGABONDS BOX_0001THIN LIZZY – Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels (2001 Mercury 4 CD set)

This is one of the best boxed sets that I own. Of course, it’s not a complete collection of rarities. Such a thing does not exist, the Lizzy catalogue is so labyrinthine with EP’s, singles, and Phil’s solo projects. It takes a scholar just to keep it all straight. This set however does include a very generous slice of rarities, including one rare exclusive. It also includes pretty much every Lizzy hit and album cut you could want. Everything from my own obscure favourites (“Hollywood”, “The Sun Goes Down”) to the biggest hits (“Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”) are on here.

The set is divided into four discs, each one reflecting a phase of Thin Lizzy. From the Eric Bell power trio years (was “power trio” even a phrase back then?) to the final Phil single “Nineteen” (famously covered by Bad 4 Good), there is no era of the band overlooked. The liner notes are also excellent, with lots of photos and text, and detailed credits.

The rarities and B-sides are pure gold. It’s also important to remember that in Lizzy’s day, non-album singles were the norm.  Many of those singles are crucial tracks.  “Randolph’s Tango”, with its intricate flamenco solo, is one.  The storming “Little Darling” is another necessity.  I love the reggae of “Half Caste”. How hard it must have been being Phil Lynott growing up. “The boy ain’t black, the boy is brown,” goes the painful lyric. “Sitamoia” (written by Brian Downey) is a ferocious tornado as only Lizzy could do. “Sugar Blues” is a live jam blast, featuring the underrated Snowy White doing what he does best: the blues.

IMG_20141109_085733Most of the B-sides and rare tracks have since been released on the various Thin Lizzy deluxe editions.  Not necessarily in these versions though.  One track you won’t find on a deluxe edition is “Song For Jimi”, originally from a magazine flexi-disc.  This track features a reunited original Thin Lizzy with Eric Bell, recording in 1981!

With complete honesty, there isn’t one single track I would have changed on this set. I think of all my favourites (Lizzy, solo, and otherwise) and check to see if they’re on here. “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed”? Check. “Massacre”? Check. “The Rocker”? Check. “King’s Call”? Check. “Fool’s Gold”? Check. “Romeo And The Lonely Girl”? Check. “Dancing In The Moonlight”? Check. In fact the only thing I can think of that’s missing is the posthumous “Dedication”, but it’s arguable that it doesn’t belong, since it has a sort of early 90’s sound and was finished by Gorham and Downey on their own.

I wish Thin Lizzy became as big a name as some of their contemporaries, such as Zeppelin, Aerosmith, or Purple. They certainly had the musical chops, they had a multitude of influences and variety of sounds (all Lizzy though), and of course they had the unequaled lyrical talents of Phil Lynott. A poet like Lynott will never come again. Let’s celebrate his life, even though it’s too late for him to celebrate with us.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning (180 gram vinyl with bonus 12″)

THIN LIZZY – Thunder and Lightning (1983, 180 gram Back on Black reissue)

I love this album, it was actually the first Lizzy studio album I bought, on vinyl, from Tom’s store way back in the late 1990’s.  I’ve always loved John Sykes from his work in Whitesnake and Blue Murder.

Thunder and Lightning is the final Lizzy studio album.  It’s definitely the most metal, but it’s not the best sounding one (gimme Black Rose for that honour). It just strikes that chord inside. You know how certain albums just click with you and you don’t know why? That’s Thunder and Lightning for me, but I think it reminds me of that general vibe of heavy metal music in 1983.  There are times it reminds me of Judas Priest.

This is the only album from the Lynott/Gorham/Downey/Wharton/Sykes lineup.  It is produced by Chris Tsangarides (Anvil, Judas Priest). Wharton and Sykes both scored songwriting credits, which may be why this album sounds so much more “metal”.  Wharton’s keys are not obtrusive.

Best track:   Gorham and Lynott’s “Bad Habits”. If there was one track that sounded like old Lizzy circa Johnny The Fox, it’s “Bad Habits”. It’s just a rock and roller of a song with killer lyrics.  Phil’s voice is noticeably a lot more raw, worn, but he works within his limitations as always.  His voice remains as expressive as ever.  In “Bad Habits” he sounds like he’s jonesing as bad as the title implies.

“Cold Sweat” is the one that Sykes co-wrote, and it is very metal, featuring his trademark guitar squeals and yet more great lyrics from Lynott. “I got a whole month’s wages, I haven’t seen that much in ages, I might spend it in stages, and move out to Las Vegas.”  Love it.  Sung by Lynott, those lines tell a whole story.

IMG_00000235_editReally, there’s not a bad song on this album. “This Is The One” has some relentless pounding drums courtesy of Brian Downey (one of the true greats). “The Sun Goes Down” is a slower one with a keyboard solo, very atmospheric. It reminds me of the similarly titled “Night Comes Down” by Judas Priest. “Holy War” is another relentless pounder with a message to be heard. Not a bad track to be found.

If I had any complaints it would probably be the mix/production which at times comes across as a bit too bombastic and 80’s.  I mean, it’s still Thin Lizzy, one of the classiest sounding bands ever.  Thunder and Lightning is pretty evolved in sound from a classic like Jailbreak, and that may or may not be to your taste.

Some vinyl and cassette versions of Thunder and Lightning came with four bonus live tracks.  They are actually from the Renegade tour and feature Snowy White on guitar instead of his replacement John Sykes.  Thankfully, the current Back on Black 180 gram vinyl release restores the rare 12″ bonus EP.  The four songs are “Emerald”, “Killer on the Loose”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, and “Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)”.  These are great tracks.  It also has a gatefold sleeve with lyrics inside.  It’s a very nice package.

I’ve heard that 2013 will see the release of more Lizzy deluxe editions, including Thunder and Lightning.  If that’s the case I will pre-order it as soon as I hear about it.  There are still several B-sides from this period that are not currently available, such as “Angel of Death”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Don’t Believe a Word” live, and a remix of “The Sun Goes Down”.  I don’t have these tracks, but it sure would be nice to get everything on one deluxe CD package, wouldn’t it?  You guys paying attention, Universal?

5/5 stars

LIZZY

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Chinatown (deluxe edition)

SAM_2224

THIN LIZZY – Chinatown (2011 deluxe edition)

Thanks again Amazon!  I recently collected all the Thin Lizzy Deluxe Editions.  Eventually, I’ll review them all.  Today, I’m doing one of the lesser known albums, 1980’s Chinatown.

SAM_2230

You know, it’s funny how perspective changes. When I first got this album a few years back, “Sugar Blues” was my least favourite track. Now, it’s my favourite. Just listen to that Snowy White guitar solo with headphones on, and dig into that driving rhythm.  Incredible.

In general, I enjoy Chinatown a lot more now. There are some strikingly great Thin Lizzy tunes on here, albeit a bit less complex than previous albums. “Killer On The Loose” remains a great heavy metal song with brilliant soloing courtesy of Gorham. “We Will Be Strong”, the slightly understated opener, is also a personal favourite. It may not be loaded to the gills with familiar songs, but Chinatown is still a fine Lizzy platter.

Another winner is “Genocide (The Killing of the Buffalo)”.  Some might wonder what right an Irish man has to criticize what the white American did to his land.  I think it’s a pretty straightforward and clear-cut position.   It’s also a great song, riffy and solid.

“Having A Good Time” is an enjoyable romp (Phil’s cheerleading being infectious) with yet another Snowy solo that just sails. It just rides the song beautifully and elevates the whole thing. Personally, I think Snowy’s work with Thin Lizzy has been among the most interesting.  He may not have been the “right” guy for Lizzy (discuss!) but his work cannot be dismissed.  As an interesting bluesy sideroad, the Snowy White era of Thin Lizzy is as compelling as the previous eras.

This deluxe edition adds a bonus disc of extra goodies that is well worth the price. (At press time, selling for about $17 on Amazon.ca, although I paid $32.50 CAD when it was just out.)  The B-side “Don’t Play Around” is stellar. While the live take of “Sugar Blues” is previously available on the Thin Lizzy box set (smoking solo by the way), “Whiskey In The Jar” is a really interesting version. Performed as a trio by Phil Lynott, Brian Downey and Midge Ure (apparently because Snowy and Scott don’t know the song?), it’s a very different, simplified version of the song but no less catchy.

As with all Thin Lizzy deluxe editions, there’s an extensive booklet with photos, facts, figures, interviews, and so on.  I enjoy reading along as I listen.

5/5 stars