Steph honde

REVIEW: Jim Crean – Gotcha Covered (2019)

JIM CREAN – Gotcha Covered (2019 Visionary Noise)

Jim Crean is steeped in hard rock tradition.  He’s worked with some of the legends, and he’s covered the rest of ’em.  Atypical covers.  Not the usual “hits” but interesting tracks you might know and remember, or will be exposed to for the first time.  In 2019, Crean’s come out with an original album The London Fog, and a covers CD called Gotcha Covered.  Lets see what surprises there are in store.

Right out of the gates, it’s a shocker:  “Hall of the Mountain King”.  You don’t hear Savatage covers every day, and fortunately Crean has the necessary scream abilities.  He sounds like a man possessed by lust for the Mountain King’s gold!

Unpredictability is the theme for this album.  Up next:  Melissa Etheridge.  It’s an oldie from her landmark first debut, “Like the Way I Do”, and you’ve never heard it so heavy.  It sounds as if it was written to be played this way because it’s completely natural.  White Lion are a little more centerfield, and “Hungry” is a killer choice.  Jim Crean can easily handle mid-80s Mike Tramp songs, as they are right in his pocket.  John Corabi is another singer who Crean is naturally suited to cover.  The Scream’s “Outlaw” is definitely an obscure but inspired choice.   Tasty riff.  Badlands get the next nod, with “The Last Time”, the first single from the second album Voodoo Highway.  The high notes are no problem, and the chorus goes on for lightyears.

Then it’s back to left field, with Bryan Adams’ old (pre-Reckless) classic “Lonely Nights”.  You don’t hear Adams covers very often, and usually they suck.  Not this one.  Crean transforms it into a hard rock anthem, something Sammy Hagar could have recorded.  Another shocker is Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”, converted into a classy rock ballad, utterly different from the original.  The Cars’ “Bye Bye Love” is another brilliant choice (not that you can go wrong with any Cars).  It works well as hard rock.  “Falling In Love”, a Scorpions oldie written by Herman Rarebell, adds a heavy kick at the right time.

“Saved By Zero” is the only track that doesn’t sound overly metalized.  The Fixx cover reveals some more new wave roots, and a good song choice it is.  The complex backing vocals sound fantastic.  Crean does justice to his hometown boys The Goo Goo Dolls next with “Lazy Eye”.  This non-album Goos song was on the soundtrack for the ill-fated Batman & Robin.  As you’d expect, it boasts a strong chorus, but the chunky riff may surprise you.  Another obscurity is “The Warning” by Victory, a strong 80s chug.  Onto the 90s next:  Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy and Cinderella’s Fred Coury had a band called Arcade.  “Cry No More” is a ballad from their debut.

The last few songs include Dokken’s slow burning “When Heaven Comes Down”.  Nothing wrong with some Back for the Attack era Dokken.  The Sweet’s classic “Love Is Like Oxygen” brings that pop edge back.  But it’s the closer, Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” that really slams it home.  No horns, just guitars and heavy beats.  The original arrangement is untouchable, but a heavy rock version?  Sure, why not.

A good covers album is hard to come by.  It all comes down to song selection.  In this regard, Jim Crean knocked one out of the park.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Jim Crean – The London Fog (2019)

JIM CREAN – The London Fog (2019 Visionary Noise)

Vocalist extraordinaire Jim Crean is back with two new solo albums.  Not only is there a 16 track covers album called Gotcha Covered, but also The London Fog, a new original CD.  As usual, Crean boasts a killer hitlist of special guests, including Carmine & Vinny Appice, Mike Tramp, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Holmes, Steph Honde and plenty more.  Buckle up — it’s a heavy duty trip.

The London Fog goes wide open from the start, with the two new songs Crean released on last year’s Greatest Hits:  the excellent “Scream Taker” (tribute to Ronnie James Dio) and the riffy “Conflicted”.  “Scream Taker” features Dio alumni Vinny Appice and Rudy Sarzo.  These tracks follow the traditional blueprints of classic 80s metal, particularly “Conflicted”.  (The dexterous bassist that I initially mistook for Billy Sheehan is actually A.D. Zimmer.)

Want more riffs?  Then get “Broken”!  There’s a great chorus here: Melody and power, with some tasty licks from Steph Honde.  “Aphrodisiac” takes things to a more nocturnal place, but more menacing.  Still, there’s always room for some dirty rock, and that would be “Lady Beware”.  If Dokken’s classic lineup released another song today, it would probably sound a lot like “Lady Beware”.  This is the kind of rock we all miss, and have a hard time finding today.

Jim Crean is equally at home on rockers and ballads.  “Let It Go” (with Honde on piano and keyboards) has an epic quality for a ballad.  It might be a bit Scorpions, Whitesnake (circa 1987) or Guns N’ Roses…the comparisons are up to the listener.  The keyboard solo is a cool touch.  Then heavy sounds circulate on “Loaded” (more Zimmer on bass), but yet Crean maintains a knack for melody.

A familiar voice welcomes you on “Candle”, a Mike Tramp (Freaks of Nature) cover featuring Tramp in a duet.  The song is new to these ears, and I like how the parts shift and change moods.  A riff for the ages follows, on an original track called “1981”.  Again I’m reminded of Dokken, the classic era.  It’s hard to recapture a time period with such clarity, but Jim Crean has a talent for writing that way.  Some of his originals could very well be from another time.  (Drummer Colleen Mastrocovo gives “1981” a serious kick.)

Another obscure cover:  Robin Zander’s 1993 solo track “Time Will Let You Know”, a classy ballad from an underrated album.  Jim doesn’t try to sound like Robin Zander, but does it justice.  Then it’s Rod Stewart’s dance classic “Passion”.  Very few singers have the right rasp to do Rod Stewart justice, but Jim Crean is one of them.  That’s the always slick Tony Franklin on bass.  And get this!  Franklin’s Blue Murder bandmate Carmine Appice, the same guy who played on the the original “Passion”, also plays on this cover.  He approaches both versions very differently.  Rod’s version is slick dance rock, and this is more like metal that you can dance to.  Same song; familiar but a completely different arrangement.  If John Sykes ever played with Rod Stewart, maybe this is what they could have sounded like.

“Passion” could have closed the album and you’d be completely satisfied, but there’s more.  A funky “Fool” sounds like Aerosmith, and who’s that on guitar?  Ray Tabano, the original Aerosmith guitarist before Brad Whitford joined the band!  This song is more Aerosmith than anything that band has recorded since 1993!  Then it’s another lesser-known cover and duet:  Angel’s “Don’t Take Your Love” featuring original Angel singer Frank DiMino.  Great melodic rock songs are always welcome, and this one is truly great.

Finally comes the metallic closer “Tears” featuring Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.).  The contrast between the heavy riffs and Jim’s melodic vocals is what makes this style work so well for him.  The riff has a W.A.S.P. vibe, but Crean takes it in a totally different direction.

Another fine album from Jim Crean and friends.  Fans of hard rock “the way they used to make it” will thoroughly enjoy.

4.5/5 stars

Check back for a look at Gotcha Covered, coming soon.

REVIEW: Steph Honde – Covering the Monsters (2017)

STEPH HONDE – Covering the Monsters (2017 Musik records)

Steph Honde is a French guitar player, best known for his work with Paul Di’Anno (Iron Maiden) and Hollywood Monsters (including such players as Don Airey and Vinny Appice).  He’s rocked with Jim Crean and Danko Jones.  He can write and play multiple instruments.  And he can sing!

Honde’s 2017 album Covering the Monsters takes on a diverse batch of rock and metal.  He plays everything but drums, and does a damn fine job of it.  What makes the real difference is a unique selection of covers.  Saxon’s “Waiting For the Night” comes from 1986’s Rock the Nations, which garners a lowly 2.5/5 over at Heavy Metal Overload.  Yet from a so-so record comes a stunning pop rock track!  Honde’s vocals will divide listeners, but his playing should stun everyone.

“Turbo Lover” is a slick choice, and “Bring Your Daughter…To the Slaughter” unexpected.  Vocal cords are shredded on “Bring Your Daughter” just like Bruce did on the original.  There are also ballads.  “Edie (Ciao Baby)” has to be one of the most underrated of the 1980s.  It’s fun to just listen blindly awaiting the next track.  Danzig’s “Mother” leads into Guns N’ Roses (“It’s So Easy”).  Not just Danzig, but also Michael Graves (“Crying on a Saturday Night”).  Love and authenticity are poured into each one.

The best track is the one you’d think would be toughest to cover — the epic ballad “Take Me for a Little While” by Coverdale-Page.  Honde captured what makes it a powerful song.

We exeunt to some Nazareth (“Not Fakin’ It”), obscure Sabbath (“Zero the Hero”), a little Ramones (“Something to Believe In”) and epic Winger (“Headed for a Heartbreak”).  It’s a very satisfying mix of song choices, though Honde really has to stretch for notes on “Zero the Hero”.  Mission accomplished.

Great covers album, and that’s saying something, because covers albums are often not.

4/5 stars

 

Intermission: Mail Call!

The mailman has been busy this last week or so.  Just look at the goodies!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” Record Store Day single

DEF LEPPARD – Live at Abbey Road Studios 12″ Record Store Day EP

RAINBOW – Memories in Rock II Japanese CD – 2 bonus tracks

STRYPER – God Damn Evil Japanese CD – bonus track

STEPH HONDE – Covering the Monsters 

DALE SHERMAN – Mel Brooks FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Outrageous Genius of Comedy books – one for me, one for my dad’s 80th birthday!  SHHH don’t tell.  He doesn’t read this!