soft rock

REVIEW: Steve Perry – Traces (2018 deluxe edition)

STEVE PERRY – Traces (2018 Fantasy Records deluxe edition)

So what’s the story?  Does Steve Perry still “got it”?

He does.  We just might not agree on what exactly “it” is.

Traces is Perry’s first solo album since 1994’s For the Love of Strange Medicine.  He’s been keeping a low profile since leaving Journey after 1996’s Trial By Fire.  If you were worried that Steve Perry has gone “soft” and his voice has changed in that time…then you were right!

But that’s not a bad thing.  Steve Perry’s voice is one of a kind.  The soul cannot be copied; it’s just raspier now.  If you want the youthful range, go listen to Journey instead.   Or buy Arnel Pineda’s forthcoming solo album.  If you want an older, wiser but still the same Steve Perry, he is here on Traces.  He’s collected 10 slower songs, some more upbeat than others like the lead single “No Erasin'”.  Each one still retains Perry’s ability to compose memorable material.  These songs are honed, short, and to the point.  Even the ballads are pretty basic: quiet and contemplative, but with soft hooks.  All fat has been trimmed.  “We’re Still Here”, “No More Cryin'” and “We Fly” are among the best tracks, but “No Erasin'” is the clear highlight.

The deluxe edition, a Sunrise exclusive in Canada and Target for the US, has five more songs of varying styles.  “October in New York” sounds like a quiet piece from a stage musical.  “Angel Eyes” goes more for soul, while “Call on Me” has the tropical flavours you might remember from Journey’s “Baby I’m Leaving You”.  The fabulous “Could We Be Something Again” has a choir on it.  The good thing about the bonus tracks is you can tell the reason they were cut was not quality.  It was simply that they don’t fit in with the direction of the main album.

Traces is not for Journey fans who wanna rawk.  This is for fans of classy pop rock, soft rock, and the ballads on Trial By Fire.  If that’s you, get Traces (the deluxe of course) and take some time to dig a little deeper.

4/5 stars

 

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#614: Believe It Or Not

GETTING MORE TALE #614: Believe It Or Not

Who doesn’t love lists of musical firsts?  I’ve done my own, but here’s a record that I forgot to include.

It wasn’t my first record.  As a kid, I had read-along story recordsStar Wars, E.T., The Black Hole, and more.  The E.T. record was cool because it was read by Drew Barrymore.  I also had John Williams’ music soundtracks, like Indiana Jones.

My first “metal” album was Quiet Riot’s Metal Health.  I had it on cassette.  It changed my life. Going back even further, Styx’s Kilroy Was Here was the first rock album that I ever bought, but technically it wasn’t my first “rock” record.  Technically.  It all depends on how you define “rock”, but for the purposes of this article we’ll include soft rock under the umbrella.

In 1981 there was a new TV show that, by all signs, looked like it was going to be awesome.  It was about a goofy superhero.  He couldn’t fly straight, and he looked silly with his blonde curly hair in a red skintight outfit.  His landings were always crash landings, and what kid doesn’t find a grown man falling down absolutely hilarious?  The premise was that aliens gave the protagonist this super-suit, but he lost the manual and doesn’t know how it’s supposed to work.  Funny, right?

Sadly, the program called The Greatest American Hero never lived up to the premise or the TV ads.  We kids swiftly lost interest in it.  Magnum P.I. occupied our TV time, and The A-Team and Knight Rider were only a couple years away.  The Greatest American Hero was quickly forgotten, except for one minor detail.

The Greatest American Hero had a terrific theme song.  Theme songs are important.  I can hum the themes for the A-Team, Knight Rider and Magnum P.I.  Can you?  The Greatest American Hero had an even more memorable theme song:  “Believe It Or Not”.

I didn’t know the name of the guy who sang it, I just knew I liked the song.  I told everyone it was my favourite song.  So one day, my Aunt from Calgary came for a visit and gave me a copy of the single. I was elated!  The singer was somebody I never heard of called Joey Scarbury, and now I had the record and I could play it any time I wanted!  I did, over and over.

The names meant nothing to me then, but “Believe It Or Not” was written by Mike Post, who also wrote – surprise surprise! – Magnum P.I. and the A-Team!  Though Mike Post is mostly known as a TV composer (The Who have a song called “Mike Post Theme”), he even produced Van Halen III!  “Believe It Or Not” must be one of his most well remembered songs.  It didn’t hurt when it was spoofed on Seinfeld back in the 90s.  Remember George’s answering machine?  “Believe it or not, George isn’t at home…”  Since then, it’s been used and re-used again in TV shows and commercials.

I remember as a kid, flipping over the record to listen to the B-side, which I immediately hated.  The ballad “Little Bit of Us” was not for me.  I tried playing it at different speeds to see if it would make the song any better.  It didn’t and I never played it again.

I don’t actually know what happened to the record.  I know I lost the sleeve (it wasn’t a picture sleeve, just a plain white one) and filed the record in with another 45.  From there, it disappeared.

I may have outgrown “Believe It Or Not” but playing it today still brings a smile to my face.  Not enough to try and re-watch an episode of the Greatest American Hero, and definitely not enough to track down more Joey Scarbury music. Just enough for some nostalgic rememberings.

 

#427: I Do Want to Miss This Thing

“Michael Bay is the Nickelback of movies.” — Mrs. LeBrain

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#427: I Do Want to Miss This Thing

Blame Michael Bay.

Quite possibly the worst movie director of all time may be responsible for the downfall of Aerosmith.  I’m not talking about the “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” music video, which he directed.  No, that was not the downfall.  In fact quality-wise, Nine Lives was a bit of an up-tick from Get A Grip.  It’s too bad that sales didn’t match (2 million sold U.S. vs. 7 million U.S.), but that’s the fickle finger of fate.  The tastes of the public seldom make a perfect match with hard rock quality.

Since Nine Lives would have been considered a bit of a sales disappointment in some camps, it probably didn’t take Steven Tyler much coercing to do a Diane Warren ballad for a movie soundtrack.  Of course, Tyler’s daughter Liv was the headline actress in the flick, so from that standpoint it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to work on the same project.  Unfortunately for the world, that project was Armageddon.  Not quite as bad as a real meteor heading to Earth, this Michael Bay stinker made so much money, that some reports suggest that Bay wallpapered his 43 bedroom mansion entirely in Benjamin Franklins.  There’s that problem with the tastes of the masses, again.

So Bay, aided and abetted by Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thorton, and Steve fucking Buscemi, laid this turd of a movie and all it needed was a turd soundtrack.  As for what happened next, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader 2015 desktop calendar* has the answer:

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For many fans, this was the beginning of the end of Aerosmith.  Some truly dreadful music followed “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, such as Just Push Play and (ewww) “(It) Feels So Good”.  Can Aerosmith be redeemed?  I don’t know the answer to that.

What I do know this is, and it’s quite simple.

If Michael Bay didn’t make this damned movie, Aerosmith wouldn’t have had this damned million selling single!

Message to Michael Bay:  Stay away from things I like!

* These things are brilliant and I recommend them to anyone who does not have a stunted sense of humour!

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Collection (2 CD)

Part 1 of a 2 part Bon Jovi series.

ULTIMATE BJ_0001BON JOVI – Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Collection (2 CD)

I guess Bon Jovi were due for a new “hits” CD. Crossroads, after all, was 16 years old at that time, and Tokyo Road was only made available in Japan. Ultimate Collection isn’t the ultimate collection that I would have put out.  If you’re going to do two CDs, you have room for great also-rans like “Last Cigarette” and “Something For The Pain”.  Still, it’s not a bad Bon Jovi collection. Listening to it front-to-back, I was pleasantly reminded of all these hits, and man, Bon Jovi had a lot of hits. From early stuff like “Runaway” to the New Jersey classics such as “Born To Be My Baby”, to the newbies like “Have A Nice Day”, this has pretty much all the key Bon Jovi radio hits. Unfortunatly, you’re going to miss out on second-rung hits like “Dry County” and “Joey” but for the uninitiated, or those who just want a good sized Bon Jovi collection, this is the place to go.  I think it’s important to explore albums such as New Jersey (the review of which is Part 2 in this series) and Keep the Faith, as well as hits.

Almost every Bon Jovi album has hits included here, right up to The Circle. The song flow is excellent, hitting you with hit after hit after hit, landmark ballads sprinkled in between. And I give credit for the inclusion of “Blood On Blood”, a song that was never a single but has been a huge concert favourite due to its real life story of JBJ’s childhood. Not to mention it’s just a great song.

ULTIMATE BJ_0003The four new songs create feelings of moderate indifference to great dislike. “What Do You Got?” is another trademark Bon Jovi ballad, certainly nothing special, outshined to a great degree by all the other tunes here. It’s easily forgettable and feels tacked-on as an afterthought. But two of these new songs — “No Apologies” and “The More Things Change” are just awful songs. Cheesy, contrived, choose whatever words you like, they’re juvenile and awful and really don’t fit in among the classier hits. To me these are B-sides and perhaps should have been held back as B-sides.  Or just deleted completely.

Packaging is not the greatest. There are full songwriting and production credits, but they are arranged in such a way as to make finding information difficult. Performance credits are even harder to find — I couldn’t find bassists Hugh McDonald or Alec John Such’s names anywhere in the credits, and their pictures are also not included. There are a few more recent photos of the main four guys. No liner notes.

On the whole, despite the fact that I don’t really like the four new songs, I don’t regret this purchase. It’s going to be a great road CD. It is a good way to hear tunes like “We Weren’t Born To Follow” without listening to the album it came from, which I wasn’t too keen on. So, no regrets. I think most fans will like the album, they might even like the new songs.  Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom enjoyed it in the car and commented that she knew many of the songs.  Newcomers would be wise to pick this up as it has a great hit-per disc ratio!

3/5 stars

Part 246: Dancing Steve


RANGERS

RECORD STORE TALES Part 246:  Dancing Steve

One of our best customers at the original store was Dancing Steve.  I’ll get to why he’s named Dancing Steve in a minute, but I first met Steve when I started at the store.  Steve would come in or call looking for various cassettes (never CDs), and put them on hold until he had $150 or $200 worth, and buy them all in one shot.  That’s just how Steve rolled.  Normally we would never stockpile so much inventory for a customer for so long, but Steve spent so much money and was so pleasant that it was a special arrangement just for him.

Steve would call looking for songs.  I can remember putting a Gina Vannelli tape on hold for Steve, and I also remember him looking for Rod Stewart’s then-recent song “This”.  I found that song on Rod’s latest, the excellent A Spanner in the Works.  It was always so nice dealing with him, he was so friendly, and even if we didn’t see him for two months at a time, he was uber-reliable.

I knew Steve was a hockey fan as he would often wear a Kitchener Rangers hat or jacket.  What I did not know was that Steve was legendary among Rangers fans!  Steve often wrote (and I think he occasionally still does) long letters to the editor of the local newspaper, cheering on our Rangers and offering his strategic advice.

T-Rev and I found ourselves at a Rangers game one weekend.  I don’t remember the circumstances.  We may have got the tickets for free, but neither of us were particularly fans of the game back then.   The Rangers scored, the crowd cheered!  Then, T-Rev noticed some commotion in the seats of one corner of the auditorium.  To our left and down was a man in a Rangers jacket and hat, dancing.  It wasn’t a sophisticated dance, it was a bit of an awkward shuffle, in that big warm Rangers jacket.  The crowd loved it, cheering him on!   It was none other than Steve, our Steve.  I found out his actual nickname in town was Dancing Steve, because he had seasons tickets and rarely missed a game.  Steve would get up and dance any time something good happened: a goal, a power play, whatever!

To this day, I feel cool that a local legend like Dancing Steve was one of our earliest, most loyal customers.  In fact we didn’t lose Steve until 1997, when we discontinued carrying cassettes.  Steve didn’t make the transition over to CD.  He was crushed when T-Rev had to tell him we weren’t going to be selling tapes anymore.

I have been to a couple Rangers game since, but not seen Steve.  I know he still goes though, as I’ve heard tell that Dancing Steve dances on at the Aud.  I would like to dedicate this chapter to Steve, an example of a jolly good fellow if there ever was one!

TOMORROW:  Something exciting.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Running Man (1987)

Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa appear in this cheesey 80’s classic!

RUNNING MAN FRONT

THE RUNNING MAN (1987, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, directed by Paul Michael Glaser)

It’s hard to believe that, as goofy as The Running Man is, it came so close to predicting what aspects of our society would be like in the future. We still have a few years before we hit 2019, perhaps we are right on track for our 2019 to match this version!

The Running Man is loosely (and I mean, very very very loosely) based on the novella by Richard Bachman, otherwise known to his “dear readers” as Stephing King. Where the King book involved a desperate man who needs money to buy medicine, and a game where he can travel anywhere in the world, the movie scales things back. Ah-nold, at his one-liner best, is Ben Richards, a former pilot who disobeyed orders and refused to fire on an unarmed mob. He is imprisoned but escapes, and is now about to appear on “The Running Man”, a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week television show (hmmm, Big Brother?) and fight for his life. The prize is a full pardon for your crimes, a loss means death.

This story was recently ripped off in a lil’ smash hit movie called The Hunger Games.  Perhaps you’ve seen it, or a 13 year old girl wearing a Peeta shirt?

Society is now a police state (hmmm?) and the people are distracted by endless game shows on television (hmmm?). News is heavily censored and “edited for television” (hmmm?). Ben Richards’ crime of disobeying orders has been spun by the networks — they show a fake video of him firing on the unarmed crowd, earning himself the nickname “The Butcher of Bakersfield”. Now he will have the chance to win his freedom on The Running Man, but the odds are well stacked against him. By his side, also fighting for their lives, are two captured freedom fighters.  These guys are hoping to use their capture to find the source of network transmissions.  Then they could jam it, and broadcast the truth of what the world has become….

The Running Man is not a great film. It’s an 80’s Arnold film.  If you’ve seen one, you know what you’re getting.  Lots of action. Arnold must battle “Stalkers” on The Running Man. Much like the gladiators on American Gladiators, these stalkers will do everything they can to stop Arnold from winning. They include:

* Sub-Zero, as played by Professor Toru Tanaka (weapons include hockey stick blade and exploding pucks)
* Fireball, played by Jim Brown (flamethrower, jet pack)
* the opera-loving Dynamo (who has a punk-rock-looking suit that can fire electricity; sings)
* Buzzsaw (so named for his use of chainsaw and motorcycle)
* the retired Captain Freedom (Arnold’s friend Jesse Ventura)

The show is run by Damien Killian (subtle!), played by former Family Feud host Richard Dawson. Nobody could have played this role better than Dawson. While playing a game show host was not a stretch for him, Dawson was absolutely flawless in the role. Other famous names include Yaphet Kotto (Alien) as another Running Man contestant, Mick Fleetwood as former-musician-turned-freedom-fighter named Mic (I like to think Mick is just playing the future version of himself) and a very young Dweezil Zappa.

The blu-ray disc has enough bonus features to keep you going after the film has ended, including audio commentaries and featurettes. The audio is really nice, mastered in sweet, sweet 7.1 surround. When Arnold is in that little pod heading down to The Running Man’s play area, the sound was awesome. If you have 7.1 at home you need to check this out. I really enjoyed the sound.

If you like other cheesey Arnold Schwarzenegger movies such as Total Recall or Commando, add The Running Man to your collection. If you like movies with a stirring plot and dramatic acting, avoid at all costs. Regardless of your feelings on this film, do try to read the book. I have always felt that a remake of this film, following King’s book, is well overdue.

3/5 stars