soul rock

REVIEW: Little Caesar – Little Caesar (1990 cassette)

LITTLE CÆSAR – Little Cæsar (1990 DGC cassette)

I missed their first EP, Name Your Poison.  None of the local record stores knew who Little Caesar were, but rock magazines like Hit Parader were already tootin’ their horn.  When their major label debut Little Caesar hit the shelves, it was none other than Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.  “Chain of Fools” was selected for the lead single/video, which was probably a mistep.  It did show off Little Caesar’s knack for crossing Skynyrd’s southern rock innards with soul, but a more mainstream rocker like “Down-N-Dirty” would have been less of a shock to the uncultured longhairs of 1990.

Soulful blues rock was all the rage in 1990, with the likes of the Black Crowes and The London Quireboys hitting the charts.  Was Little Caesar just one too many bands?  They didn’t have the impact of the other two, though they certainly stacked up in the quality department.  Lead howler Ron Young’s lungs are enviable, with a southern gritty drawl and authenticity to go.*  The rock continues through “Hard Times”, which puts out a killer street rock vibe, able to tangle with any Hollywood competition.  “Chain of Fools” serves to show off Young’s limitless talents, but as a hard rock adaptation, falls shy of their original.

Diversity points are earned for a stellar ballad called “In Your Arms”, delivering on a solid soul vibe.  Young’s voice is the focus, revealing depth track after track.  There’s a darker turn on “From the Start”, foreboding but with anthemic chorus.  The first side’s closer puts you in a “Rock and Roll State of Mind” with a harmonica-inflected blues burner.

Gotta big monkey and he’s on my back,
It’s warmer than China, it’s better than crack,
It’s burnin’ like fire, it’s takin’ my soul, yeah,
So damn addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.

You may as well call this one my theme song.  The history of rock is delivered in under five minutes.

White boys stole it back in ’55,
Turned in to disco in ’75,
Said it all started with “Blue Suede Shoes”, yeah,
For years brothers called it just rhythm and blues.

Tell it how it is, brother!

Money can’t buy it ’cause it can’t be sold,
If you say it’s too loud, then you’re too fuckin’ old.

Flip the tape.  “Drive it Home” takes the car/sex metaphors to a dirtier level.  On, Ron, I bet you’d like to drive it home!  Another dusky ballad called “Midtown” changes the mood and the groove.  A ballad with balls and a banjo?  Then, “Cajun Panther” is its own descriptive, but the slippery guitar will hook you right in.  Greasy slidey goodness from Creedence county.  The next song, “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is actually closer to the mainstream and doesn’t stand out amongst more unique material.  Unique like “I Wish It Would Rain”.  It may be another ballad but its southern flavouring make it clearly different from anything on the radio in 1990.  “Little Queenie” nails the soul-rock vibe one last time, going out in style, but also with a song that doesn’t really sound like a closer.  Perhaps a little song shuffling would have put “Little Queenie” in a better spot to showcase its strengths.

Sonically, since this is a Bob Rock production, you already know what it sounds like.  It’s a big sounding album that captures the band in top shape and presents them in an appropriately dressed frame.  It’s a 12 track album and although that was becoming the norm, Little Caesar would have been a more effective debut if it were 10 songs, focusing on the ones that made it unique.

3.5/5 stars


* Tragically, Ron Young was killed in 1991 by a time-travelling Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. **
** Fake News.  But he was in the movie and did get his ass kicked.

REVIEW: Richie Kotzen – Mother Head’s Family Reunion (1994 Japanese import)

Kotzen’s music is cut for hard rockers who like insane playing and a side of R&B.


RICHIE KOTZEN presents the Mother Head’s Family Reunion (1994 Geffen, Japanese with bonus track)

Did anybody really expect Richie Kotzen to stay in Poison?  The chances of that happening were always about as good as a Beatles reunion tour — next to zilch.  Kotzen’s talent burst at the seams that were Poison.  He could not have been content for long.  Post-Poison he resumed business swiftly with Mother Head’s Family Reunion, his fifth overall recording.

A funky “Socialite” demonstrates Kotzen’s diversity.  Drummer Atma Anur breaks it down while Richie brings the soul.  Kotzen’s music is cut for hard rockers who like insane playing and a side of R&B.   The soulful profile is on full display with “Mother Head’s Family Reunion” which sounds like a Black Crowes cover.  Switch to blues balladeering on “Where Did Our Love Go”, and “Natural Thing” brings it all the way to funk again.

Listening closely, Mother Head’s Family Reunion sounds a lot like Native Tongue, Phase II.  It’s that album, but beyond:  it’s Kotzen completely unleashed and without Bret Michaels.  You could easily imagine a track like “A Love Divine” on side two of Native Tongue, among the more grooving material.  That connects seamlessly with “Soul to Soul”, another bluesy ballad, with a summery feel.  “Testify” has a similar bright side, and a wailing chorus.

Cover songs can be shaky ground, and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” sticks out like a sore thumb, a song from another era that doesn’t match up with Richie’s originals.  That’s not to say it’s bad.  Far from it — it’s one of the best covers of it that you’ll find.  It’s just on the wrong album, even as it jams on for seven minutes!

Through the last four tracks (“Used”, “A Woman & A Man”, “Livin’ Easy” and “Cover Me”) Richie and company rock it up and slow it down again with consistently impressive chops.  There are no weak songs, and Kotzen’s ballads have a genuine sound that stays timeless no matter the year.  The speedy funk-soul-metal soup of “Cover Me” concludes the standard domestic album by smoking your ears with blazing hot licks.

This album, long out of print, has been reissued in Japan with the bonus track intact, at a surprisingly low price.  (Amazon Canada had it in stock for $22.33.)  If you’re lucky enough to acquire it, you’ll get the extra song “Wailing Wall”.  Sometimes the Japanese fans got the best exclusives.  “Wailing Wall” is one.  It taps into the spirit of Tommy Bolin-era Deep Purple and it could be the best song of them all.

Easy decision:  Get some.

4.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Glenn Hughes – From Now On… (1994 inc. 2 bonus tracks)

scan_20170122GLENN HUGHES – From Now On… (originally 1994, 1996 Explorer records reissue)

Glenn Hughes had his struggles, from being kicked out of Black Sabbath in 1986 to a long coked-out period of inactivity.  He began making waves again in 1992, but it was 1994’s From Now On… solo CD that really inaugurated the lean, clean & mean Glenn Hughes that still dominates today.  He has continued to release powerful soulful rock music under his own name and with supergroups such as Black Country Communion and California Breed.  The critics can’t stop raving about Glenn Hughes today, but in 1994 he wasn’t getting the attention deserved.

From Now On… features a Swedish band including two members of Europe: John Levén (bass) and Mic Michaeli (keys).  Comparing this album to the music that Levén and Michaeli make today, you can hear their influence.  There is the soul but also big big hooks.  The first opening track however is wide open and takes no prisoners.  “Picking up the Pieces” probably had an autobiographical meaning for Glenn, but the track is fast-forward bluesy metal as his old band Deep Purple have been known to do.  His voice is enviable, powerful and clean.  John Levén is a superb musician, but one only wishes it was Glenn on bass too, since he is the original maestro.  He takes it to a slower, sexier groove on “Lay My Body Down”, with big soul vocals.

Epic melodic rock diamonds begin to take shape with “The Only One”.  This epic track echoes some of the big choruses Glenn did with the supergroup Phenomena.  Think old tracks like “Kiss of Fire” and “Still the Night” from 1985.  “The Only One” is a successor to those tracks, with a big melodic chorus and a killer performance from Glenn.  “Why Don’t You Stay” is a soul ballad, but still in gear with the big 80s-style Glenn Hughes choruses.  It is closest in direction to Europe (a-la Prisoners in Paradise).  Hold on tight because that chorus crashes in like a tidal wave.

Back in the Deep Purple days, Glenn was the funky one.  “Walkin’ on the Water” brings a little bit of that funk vibe, but the focus is Glenn’s slinky vocalizin’.  A little bit of the Sabbath chug emerges on “The Liar” which acts as a natural side closer.  Rainbow’s 1995 album Stranger in Us All has a song with similar hooks called “Cold Hearted Woman”, but this is probably just coincidence.  Wicked guitars dart across the speakers as Glenn protests, “You’re the one they call the liar!”

There is a subtle progressive vibe to “Into the Void”.  Glenn sings it soft on the verses, and with power on the choruses.  You can hear the spooky keyboard influence of Mic Michaeli who co-wrote the song.  An unreleased Hughes/Thrall song finally emerged on “You Were Always There”, a funky little 80s number.  Re-recorded for 1994, it nonetheless sounds like period in which it was written.  Unfortunately “You Were Always There” begins a sluggish patch midway through the second side.  Rolling into the ballad “If You Don’t Want Me To”, nothing stands out like the previous songs.  “Devil in You”, another unreleased Hughes/Thrall song, begins to get things on track.  “Homeland” really delivers and it’s back to the soaring power choruses.  (And no, it’s not the same song as Europe’s “Homeland” on Prisoners in Paradise.  This one is co-written by Mel Galley.)  It’s bright days indeed, and “Homeland” is a beacon.  This builds up to the original CD closer and title track “From Now On…”.  This track pulses with understated power, and the incredible “voice of rock”, as Glenn is called.

The 1996 Explorer records reiusse adds two bonus tracks:  remakes of Deep Purple’s “Burn” (from Burn, 1974) and “You Keep on Moving” (from Come Taste the Band, 1975).  While Deep Purple re-recordings are numerous (hello Joe Lynn Turner and David Coverdale!), these two by Glenn Hughes are among the best you will find.  It is true that Whitesnake’s The Purple Album also has re-recordings of these two songs.  Glenn’s versions get the edge, due to the sheer power of the man’s vocal performance.  He didn’t have to downtune the songs as David did.

No album by Glenn Hughes will lead you astray, but From Now On… (with or without bonus tracks) is easy and cheap to find used.  Why not make it your first solo purchase from the man that the Japanese call “The God of Voice”?

4/5 stars


REVIEW: Blackjack – Worlds Apart (1980)

scan_20161003BLACKJACK – Worlds Apart (1980 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

Blackjack (Bruce Kulick, Jimmy Haslip, Sandy Gennero and some unknown guy named Michael Bolton) made a grand total of two albums before splitting.  Michael went on to a fairly successful solo career (two Grammy awards), and a few years later Bruce joined Kiss.  Neither guy is really sweating the fact that Blackjack had no impact.  The albums are long out of print, except in Japan.

Their second album, unfortunately, lacks the memorable hooks of the first one.  Starting off with a cover is rarely a good sign.  The Supremes’ “My World is Empty Without You” is as ham-fisted as you can imagine, with heavy handed bass forced into what is usually a fine soul song.  Bolton oversings.  It’s a misstep from the get-go, and it’s not a good sign that this is one of the better tracks on the album which is otherwise mostly written by Bolton and Kulick.

“Love is Hard to Find” works well as an early-80’s Bon Jovi blueprint.  The ballad “Stay” certainly sounds like Michael Bolton, or more accurately, it sounds like Michael covering an over-dramatic Rod Stewart ballad.  “Airwaves” passes as a rock song, but it certainly is a weak one even compared to similar bands from the era such as Journey.  Ironically what it needs is Michael to let loose with those pipes, the way he does on the ballads.  Even a title like “Maybe It’s the Power of Love” lacks the kind of vocal power you want (though Bruce does get a tasty little solo with a dual harmony part).

The hardest rocker of the album is the side two opener, “Welcome to the World”, which bizarrely opens with an actual recorded baby birth.  That aside, it’s a pretty solid rocker with more of those Kulick harmony licks.  Strangely, Kulick had nothing to do with its writing.  This works into the very 80’s sounding “Breakaway” with its programmed keyboards and soft-rockisms, and among the worst tracks on the album.  “Really Wanna Know” is almost as bad, so cheesy you can smell it coming by the opening synths.  “Sooner or Later” works better, again perhaps a precursor to early Bon Jovi.  Good track, and Michael lets the voice rip like you want to hear it.  And then the album craps its own pants with the closer, “She Wants You Back”, lighter than light rock.  There’s a lick that borrows from Steve Miller’s “Swingtown”, but the Miller song is better.

The second Blackjack album has no surprises, no progression and little impact  Even though the second LP is a soundalike to the first, it’s weak.  And so they split.  Bruce Kulick’s brief foray into “moustache rock” ended and he was on to other things.  Blackjack and Worlds Apart are interesting mostly to Kiss fans and collectors.  As for Bolton fans, I know he still has many, but I think only these two fellas would buy Worlds Apart (they celebrate the guy’s entire catalogue).

2/5 stars


REVIEW: Blackjack – Blackjack (1979)

It’s Bruce Kulick week here at! Check in for some cool releases featuring the extremely talented former KISS guitarist.

scan_20161002BLACKJACK – Blackjack (1979 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

The Kiss family tree is a fascinating tangle of disparate roots and branches.  One of the most intriguing branches is that of Bruce Kulick (Kiss guitarist 1984-1996) who has played with a number of fantastic artists over the years.  After completing a tour with Meat Loaf, Bruce was invited to form a new band with a hot young rock singer out of New Haven, Connecticut. This singer was a powerhouse with a Seger-like rasp, mixing soul and rock in equal measure, and able to write songs too. In fact today, this singer has sold 75 million albums with his name on them. Or at least the shortened version of his name. Back in 1979, his last name was spelled “Bolotin”. Today, he’s known as Michael Bolton.

Today, Bolton is probably best known for covers (“When a Man Loves a Woman”), but in 1979 he co-wrote every song on Blackjack’s debut. Both Kulick brothers (Bruce and Bob) have credits on a number of songs. And shockingly, they are generally pretty good! Fair warning though, this isn’t hard rock or heavy metal. Look at Bruce’s moustache. This is 1979 moustache music. It actually sounds bang-on in tune with the 1978 Kiss solo albums.

Bolton’s blue-eyed soul had a remarkable youthful energy. Check out the powerhouse chorus on the lead track “Love Me Tonight”. It’s hard to recognize the chops of Kulick, who was just beginning his evolution. The focus is undoubtedly on the singer, who impresses on every song. Second in line is “Heart of Stone”, a dusky soul-funk-rock number with some unbelievable singing. Unfortunately the ballads are less interesting then the rockers. “The Night has Me Calling for You” lacks the focus of the prior two songs. Following it with “Southern Ballad” makes it seem like we’re listening to a Peter Criss solo album at times. The side resumes to rocking with “Fallin'”, a great little tune that again sounds like it could have fit on one of the Kiss solo albums.

They even made a music video!

Although this is a remastered Japanese HM-CD, the second side of the original LP would have commenced on “Without Your Love”, a catchy and hit-worthy rock song a-la Journey (the members of whom helped out Bolton on his hit 1987 album The Hunger). Although “Countin’ On You” counts as a ballad, it’s better than the two on side one. It bears a strong chorus with urgency, and some cool finger picking by Bruce. The chorus of “I’m Aware of Your Love” is awkward but also catchy. I mean, who says “I’m aware of your love”? Is that a thing people say? If it works for you, sing along with Michael!

For soul ballads, “For You” is quite good, and Kulick complements it well. Finally the album ends with energy courtesy of “Heart of Mine” another strong soul-rocker with some powerful Bolton pipes. This is good stuff, horribly dated but if you like the cheesier side of late 70’s rock, then dig in. Who knew that Michael Bolton could rock? Kiss fans, that’s who. Because of Kulick, fans have been aware for years that Michael Bolton did rock at one time. Now with both Blackjack albums re-released in Japan on super high quality CDs with LP style packaging, you can get in on the fun too.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bill Ward – When the Bough Breaks (1997)

BILL WARD – When the Bough Breaks (1997 Purple Pyramid)

If anybody in Black Sabbath is an under-sung genius, it must be poor Bill Ward, the drummer on the outs with the legendary band.  Not only did he release the cult classic Ward One: Along the Way, but also its lesser known followup When the Bough Breaks.  Much more than just a drummer, Ward writes music and lyrics.  He also sings lead on every song, unlike its guest-laden predecessor.  What he didn’t do on When the Bough Breaks was plays drums — at all.  Maybe there is something to this talk from Ozzy about Bill not being able to hack it?

Folks who know little about Bill or Sabbath usually assume it’s all doom and gloom.  Track 1’s song title is “Hate”, but fear not, Bill has not changed his tune.  Hate is the easy way, not the right way, is the message.  Meanwhile there’s a cool sax lick and chunky guitar, and I swear that Bill must have arranged the drum parts because even though it’s not him, it sounds like him.  Ronnie Ciago does a fine job on the skins, all over the album.  Then, “Children Killing Children” is clumsy lyrically, but backed by lovely music and a heartfelt vocal performance.  A pretty ballad with mandolin, dobro, cello and violins is not what many would expect, but When the Bought Breaks is a mellow listen as a whole, and it can’t be pigeon-holed.

“Growth” maintains the soft trend, but it also cascades into massive waves.  Bill sings with a high, whispery quavering voice.  It lends itself best to quiet drama, interspersed with maniacally heavy rock.  That’s what “Growth” is, with a progressive bent and female backing singers.  It seems to form part of a suite, “When I Was a Child” emerging directly from it.  Though the title misleads, this is actually one of the heaviest tracks — a sludgy heavy metal blues born from the steel mills of Birmingham.  The childhood theme is continued with “Please Help Mommy (She’s a Junkie)”.  It also continues the blues with swampy dobro…before it transforms in a space age gospel-soul-metal slam dance.  It has a hell of a lot more life and rock and roll than anything Ozzy’s produced since then.  The sludge remains on “Shine” which I like to think of as ending a side.  Oddball Bill rock is the best way to describe it.

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“Step Lightly” has a soft touch to it but the heavy guitars leave no doubt.  A potent mixture of influences and genres, “Step Lightly” defies categorization except to say it’s rock, but it’s a lot of things.  “Love and Innocence” is a strange name to a brief percussion instrumental, and it’s an intro to the song “Animals”.  A drummer’s wet dream, “Animals” is a heavy percussion blast with less emphasis on guitar.  A fine song, “Animals” is only hampered by a weird tribal-y front section.  “Nighthawks Stars and Bars” commences as we wind down.  This beautiful song feels like dusk, serenaded by saxophone.  Bill wrote a lovely soul ballad here, and the ladies singing on it are incredible.  “Try Life” is Floyd meets Lennon with a teeny tiny sprinkle of Sabbath, creating a light concoction of classy progressive rock balladry.

One last epic, the slow building title track (almost 10 minutes) leaves no doubt in mind that Bill Ward is a unique talent.  Of all the Sabbath solo records, Bill’s have been the most ambitious.   They’ve also been the fewest.  Bill’s long awaited Beyond Aston has no release date, but another solo album called Accountable Beasts was finally released in 2015.   Meanwhile, of Beyond Aston, Bill says it’s his best since Master of Reality in 1971!

Of When the Bough Breaks, I can only close with this.  It takes time.  It takes a lot of listening time invested, to pay back its full dividends.  When it does, you’ll be glad you bought it.  Of note however, there are multiple pressings and the one I have has liner notes and lyrics so tiny, that I fear I might irreparably damage my own eyes if I try to read them.

4.5/5 stars

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Part 198 / REVIEW: Promos II (King’s X – “Pillow” CD single)


In Part 117, we talked about promo CDs:  How to identify them, what they were, what they’re worth.  A short while ago, Statham and I were having a conversation about promo discs.  The conversation began in regards to one of my treasured rarities, a King’s X promo CD for their 1994 single, “Pillow”, from the Dogman CD.

Even though eBay (supposedly) have strict policies against selling promo discs, I just found one as I was writing this, identical to mine, on sale for $46.99 USD.  It even says “Promo Copy – Not For Sale” in clear writing on the back cover, in the eBay photo!  Somebody at eBay is asleep at the wheel.

I got mine for free, a decade ago!

This one found its way into our warehouse, probably via a liquidation.  The warehouse manager knew we couldn’t sell it, not with that big inscription on the back, so he gave it to me, knowing I was a huge fan.  As I explained to Statham:

LeBrain:  We weren’t legally allowed to sell promos, at least ones that were obviously identifiable as promos, in the store.  We’d been caught once when one hit the shelves .Even if I bought this CD from you for $5, I technically couldn’t sell it in store.  We could have asked $20 for it easily, because of the unreleased tracks.  Those weren’t on anything else.

Statham:  So even on the dark days, the ones you HATED about being there, there were then moments like your getting this CD that made it OK again!

LeBrain:  Yes! Although I had to keep them secret…Our warehouse manager would slide them my way, on the condition that I don’t tell. Don’t know what they would have done with them otherwise, besides throw them out.  That would have been a shame.  [I think the statute of limitations has expired on my promise not to tell!]  We paid money for these promos though, we got nothing for free.  Everything we sold was purchased from somebody else, be it a wholesaler or an individual.

Statham:  Right, but all of that is pre-killed by the writing all over the promos prohibiting their sale. So there never was a [legal] leg to stand on, with those.  But nobody ever reads those warnings anymore. The Interpol warning at the start of a DVD? Just something else to skip. Part of the scenery. Surely we can ignore that, right?

LeBrain:  Yeah exactly.  Every other store in town had promos on their shelves too.  And they weren’t as discerning as we were, they’d sell anything.  [But] you’re right, we didn’t have a leg to stand on.   I guess in the long run it meant that I could get stuff like this for free.

Statham:  Even as recently as last year, I bought a promo single from there [LeBrain’s old workplace]. So apparently things still slip through the cracks!

LeBrain:  I’m sure they do.  After all, it was over 10 years ago that we received a warning about selling promos.  I don’t know who tattled on us, but it always struck me as unfair.  We PAID for those promos.  We got NOTHING for free!  And I would never buy or sell a promo in the store that didn’t have something worthwhile on it, like bonus tracks of some kind.  It had to have some kind of value.

And so it goes.  I have a lot of promo discs from those days, stuff that you technically couldn’t buy in stores, stuff that guys at record shows routinely ask $20 for.  eBay prices?  Double that.  Some of them are worthless, one track promo singles with no cover and no real value.  Others have exclusive live tracks, like this King’s X single we’re about to discuss.


KING’S X  – “Pillow” (promotional CD single, 1994 WEA)

“Pillow” was released as a single in mid-1994, and promptly went nowhere.  That’s too bad, as it’s a great song, heavy and slow, fitting right in with the grunge movement that was still dominating the charts.  King’s X trademark harmony vocals by Ty Tabor can be heard during the chorus, under Doug Pinnick’s soulful lead.  Doug’s 8-string bass chimes while drummer Jerry Gaskill sets the groove.  This track, one of the standouts from the Dogman album, simply crushes.

The two B-sides are live, recorded in Dallas on May 8, 1994.  “Shoes” is another great Dogman track.  What is especially cool is how great King’s X harmonies sound live!  This track proves they have the goods, but the Texas crowd is more than happy to take over the vocal chores.  They clearly knew the new songs backwards and forwards.

The second B-side is the complex “We Were Born To Be Loved” from the landmark Faith Hope Love album.  “I like a crowd that makes a lot of noise,” says Doug, before the band tear into the intricate rhythms and harmonies involved with this rocker.   It’s another Doug lead vocal, with Ty and Jerry on the harmonies.  Knowing how great King’s X are, I’m sure this truly is live — no backing tapes or overdubs.

There’s not much in the way of artwork; just a sticker on the front of the case and a pretty plain white back cover.  Stickers don’t age too well, as the gooey sticky stuff starts to seep through the paper.  Plus if you crack that front cover, you’re screwed.

Since this single was released, both these recordings have seen the light of day on an album, called Live & Live Some More, from 2007.   While that sort of destroys the collector’s value for a single such as this, it doesn’t change the fact that these songs are awesome!

5/5 stars

Next time on Record Store Tales…

Hooray for Stock Transfer Day!