steve morse

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Abandon (1998)

DEEP PURPLE – Abandon (1998 BMG)

19 years ago, Deep Purple released their final studio album with Jon Lord.  We didn’t know that at the time of course.  Jon’s departure happened a few years later, when touring wore him down.  He capped it off properly with a Purple tour of live performances of the Concerto for Group and Orchestra.  However, there is always a certain sense of…incompletion.  Lord’s last studio album wasn’t the kind you want to go out on.

Purple had a huge comeback with the masterpiece Purpendicular in 1996.  It was a beautiful, quirky and intelligent record.  Its followup Abandon was an effort to “get heavy”, but with hindsight even the band admitted it missed the mark.  Sure, it was heavier with more riffs, but Steve Morse isn’t particularly a riffy player.  Abandon lacked the feeling, and the level of songwriting was not there.

Lead track “Any Fule Kno That” works on a heavy groove, and it’s one of the songs that does click.  There are two particularly memorable songs on Abandon:  “Any Fule Kno That” and the laid back “Fingers to the Bone”.  “Fingers” is based on a celtic Steve Morse guitar lick, with a passionate Ian Gillan vocal on top.  Almost up there with them is “Seventh Heaven”, which could be the heaviest Purple song ever.  Paicey’s drums are relentless.  You can also count “Bludsucker” among the best material, but it’s a re-recording of “Bloodsucker” from In Rock.  Unfortunately this serves to underline how many years have passed, in regards to the vocal cords of Mr. Gillan.

All the other tunes have something to them of interest, but just not enough.  “Almost Human” for example has a nice shuffle beat.  “’69” has cool lyrics and a hell of a tempo.  There is a killer slow blues called “Don’t Make Me Happy” that just needs a better chorus.  The magic sauce just isn’t there.  Few of these songs were played live, and when they were, they tended to have more life than the album.

One must wonder, if the lacklustre Abandon is the reason Deep Purple haven’t self produced an album since.  Every record since then was either produced with Michael Bradford or Bob Ezrin.  Every record since has been better overall.  Something about Abandon just doesn’t hit the bar.  Maybe it’s the oddly obtrusive double-tracked vocals.  Whatever the cause, it’s hard to recommend Abandon when there are so many awesome Purple albums to enjoy ahead of it.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – “Johnny’s Band” (2017 single)

DEEP PURPLE – “Johnny’s Band” (2017 Edel single)

2017 is the year of Purple. Witness: We have not just their awesome new album InFinite, but also a new live album included with the deluxe box set version.  There is a Classic Rock magazine CD called Limitless including an exclusive version of “Black Night”.  There have been two CD singles (“Time for Bedlam” and “All I Got is You“) each with their own exclusives.  Now, Deep Purple have released their third single from InFinite, called “Johnny’s Band”.  More exclusives abound, making this quite a fun year for Deep Purple fans and collectors.  Have you been keeping up?

If you bought InFinite (and you should, what are you waiting for?), then you know “Johnny’s Band” is one of the most instantly catchy songs on it.  Upbeat and danceable, “Johnny’s Band” is a hoot.  Gillan’s lyrics are witty and honest, and did you notice the musical segue into “Louie Louie”?  “Johnny’s Band” is a much more obvious single than the first two they released, so let’s be glad that somebody thought Deep Purple needed three singles for InFinite.  The lyrics tell the story of a band who hit it big, fell down hard, but keep slogging away in the bars anyway.  In the end, Gillan gives it a positive conclusion.  It is, after all, all about the music.

But hey, it’s Johnny’s Band,
Playing all those wonderful songs,
Making the rounds with that old fashioned sound,
And here we are singing along.

Perhaps there’s a little slice of life in there.

Track 2 is an unreleased studio jam.  “In & Out Jam” focuses on a low key guitar riff as its base, but spreads in other musical directions from there.  The bottom line is this:  Steve Morse, Don Airey, Roger Glover and Ian Paice jamming together is always going to produce something of value.  “In & Out Jam” isn’t a song and probably wasn’t likely to ever become one, but these are ideas from the best brains in rock and enough to make the musician in you weep in sorrowful inadequacy.

Live tracks from Gaelve, Sweden finish off this single.   There are now three different live versions of “Strange Kind of Woman” released this year.  My Deep Purple folder has 27 different versions of “Strange Kind of Woman”!  How much is too much?  Who cares.  “The Mule” is played far more rarely, but there is still another version of it on the deluxe boxed InFinite set.  It’s a thunderous showcase for drummer Ian Paice, who is still one of the greats at age 69.  The years take their toll on everyone, but Paicey does not sound 69 years old here!

The last of the live songs is the newest, “Hell to Pay” from 2013’s Now What?!  This is only the third live version of the song ever released.  It’s a short blast of guitar and keyboard mania, with a chorus on top.  Its most interesting feature is the organ solo in the middle, something you don’t hear on many singles (which “Hell to Pay” was).

Purple are currently on tour with Alice Cooper.  Both artists have put out remarkably strong albums in 2017.  Will wonders never cease?

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – InFinite (2017 deluxe box) Part 2 of 2

This is Part 2 of a double-sized Deep Purple deluxe InFinite box set review!  For Part 1, click here.

DEEP PURPLE – InFinite (2017 Edel deluxe box set edition)

When we last met, we took a solid look at Deep Purple’s fine new album, InFinite.  Because the year is 2017, InFinite is available in multiple editions.  The most logical to buy is the deluxe box set.  This includes:

  • InFinite on CD
  • From Here to InFinite – a full length documentary DVD
  • InFinite on a 2 LP set in its own double gatefold
  • The Now What?! Live Tapes, Vol. 2 – an exclusive live album included on three 10″ records
  • A T-shirt
  • A poster
  • Five lovely photo cards
  • A sticker

That’s a lot of goodies for a reasonable price, and it all comes housed in a sturdy box.

The included DVD is a very intimate look at the creation of InFinite from writing to overdubs.  Narrated by Rick Wakeman (you read that correctly), it also looks at the moments that Steve Morse and Don Airey joined the band.  Much attention is given to the shocking departure of Ritchie Blackmore in 1993, and the acquisition of Joe Satriani (who is interviewed for the DVD). However, Joe had commitments and couldn’t stay long.  Deep Purple couldn’t wait for him, so they had to look for someone else.  They had a list, and the first name on it was Steve Morse.  Almost instantly they found themselves rediscovering the joy of music.  The atmosphere and attitude of the band did a complete 180.   When Jon Lord’s passing is discussed, there are a few teary eyes and sincere words.  Moving on to InFinite, it is remarkable to watch the band pluck ideas from the air and mold them into songs.  Bob Ezrin is a huge part of the process, with his own ideas and preferences.  His reputation as a taskmaster is reinforced by the band, but it seems like a very easy collaboration.  They have the same goals and desires, and trust each other’s musical instincts.  There is also a shockingly frank discussion with Steve Morse, about the osteoarthritis in his picking hand.  His technique has, over the years, worn out his wrist to the point that there is bone-on-bone contact.  The pain has grown so severe that playing the guitar required him to completely change his picking technique, while wearing a wrist brace.  Meanwhile Don Airey gets 20 “Cool Points” for wearing both a Rival Sons T-shirt, and a Winnipeg Jets sweater.  Canucks will also be pleased to know that Ian Gillan recorded his vocals at Bob Ezrin’s studio in Toronto.

The DVD can be had in a CD/DVD set, so the real reason for fans to choose this box set is The Now What?! Live Tapes, Vol. 2.  Vol. 1 was included on the “gold” reissue of their last album Now What?!  Vol. 2 is, as it states on the sleeve, “100% live!  100% unreleased!”  There are some obscure tracks on here, making this live album very enticing indeed.  You don’t have to sit through more versions of “Smoke on the Water” or “Black Night”.  Even better, or perhaps best of all to the vinyl nerds, are the lovely records that comprise The Now What?! Live Tapes, Vol. 2.  Three 10″ records, each in their own coloured sleeve, and each on coloured vinyl!  White, clear, and clear blue.

“Après Vous” (from London) commences the proceedings.  This newby from Now What?! has a lot of life on stage, and the long instrumental section sounds kinda like the old days.  Then an oldie:  “Into the Fire” (Milan) from 1970’s Deep Purple In Rock.  Ian really strains his voice on this one, but somehow pulls it off with style.  Back to London for “The Mule”, a song featuring Ian Paice’s busiest drum work.  No problems from Paicey.  Indeed, on the DVD Paicey says he hasn’t experienced much physical difficulty in continuing to play the way he wants to.

The second record starts with Purple’s recent “Green Onions”/”Hush” medley (Gaevle, Sweden), a cool way to inject new life into one of Purple’s earliest singles.  The interplay between the four musicians during the jam section is remarkable.  Even though most of the originals are long gone, it sounds sorta like Purple circa 1969.  Another medley showcasing Steve Morse (“The captain of the skies, the Aviator”, says Gillan) occupies side two.  “Contact Lost” (London) is Morse’s short instrumental tribute to the crew of STS-107, known to most as the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.  This merges into Purple’s majestic song for Jon Lord, “Uncommon Man” and finally Steve’s instrumental “The Well-Dressed Guitar”.

One more record to go.  The excellent single “All the Time in the World” from Now What?! comes from Aalborg, Denmark.  It’s a slick and laid back jazzy rock groove.  Purple always seem to find a great groove, and “All the Time in the World” is unlike previous ones.  “Highway Star” (London) is like a polar opposite.  Though you know they will hold it all together, “Highway Star” still sounds so fast that it could come off the tracks at any time.  1971’s “Strange Kind of Woman” (Aalborg) is a long-time favourite with fun vocal-guitar interplay.  Back to London for the last track, “Space Truckin'”.  What can you say about “Space Truckin'”?  Not much except that Ian Paice still kicks it, and hard!

Purple fanatics who still love what the band is doing today will need this box set.  It will be indispensable to them.  Wear your T-shirts with pride!  For the casual Purple fan who just wants to check out the CD and DVD, that edition will suffice.

To InFinite and beyond!

4/5 stars

 

Further reading on more Deep Purple InFinite related releases:

DEEP PURPLE – Time For Bedlam (2017 Edel EP)

DEEP PURPLE – All I Got is You (2017 Edel EP)

DEEP PURPLE – Limitless (2017 exclusive CD included with Classic Rock #234, April 2017)

DEEP PURPLE – InFinite (2017 Edel)

REVIEW: Deep Purple – InFinite (2017 deluxe box) Part 1 of 2

This is Part 1 of a double-sized Deep Purple deluxe InFinite box set review!

DEEP PURPLE – InFinite (2017 Edel)

49 years and still kicking it.  The Deep Purple of today is a very different band from the Deep Purple of 1968.  There is only one original member; drummer Ian Paice.  This matters not.  Ian Gillan and Roger Glover are the singer and bassist you remember from “Smoke on the Water” (1972).  Guitarist Steve Morse is a certified genius, and longstanding member for 22 years running.  Don Airey is still the “new guy”, but the former Rainbow/Ozzy/everybody keyboardist was the only man on Earth who could have replaced the late Jon Lord.  He’s done it for four albums straight, sometimes sounding exactly like Jon, and others like nobody else.

So if you didn’t know already, now you do:  There is no question that 49 years later, Deep Purple are still THE legitimate Deep Purple.  This isn’t like, God forbid, Quiet Riot.  Or Bobby Blotzer’s Ratt.

Deep Purple seem to work with producers in spurts.  They did two albums (Bananas and Rapture of the Deep) with producer Mike Bradford.  Now they have done two with the legendary Bob Ezrin!  As soon as Ezrin’s name enters the conversation, the bar is raised.  Ezrin is a full-on collaborator, with co-write credits on each song.  He is an educated musician with an impeccable ear.  His credits (The Wall!) speak for themselves.  Deep Purple is a very different band from Pink Floyd, but Ezrin gels with them in exciting ways.

We have already reviewed the first two singles (“Time For Bedlam” and “All I Got is You“), so for deeper impressions you can check those out.  “Time For Bedlam” opens the new album InFinite, quite successfully.  It’s reminiscent of “Pictures of Home” from Machine Head, which should catch listeners and keep them hooked.  “All I Got is You” (track 3) is the superior of the singles, smooth but smouldering hot.

The balance of InFinite, like much of the Steve Morse era of Deep Purple, takes a few solid listens to absorb.  The songs are challenging but rewarding.  Songs that are rock and roll can suddenly have highbrow instrumental sections.  Gillan and Glover’s lyrics are more biting than ever, enticing the listener to check them out over again.

“Hip Boots” has a vibe like “Lick It Up” from The Battle Rages On but better.  Don Airey really does sound perfect within Deep Purple, as this monster is largely powered by the good old Hammond organ.  Airey’s also the star of “One Night in Vegas” (working title:  “Something Else Or What”), with both organ and piano sounding oh-so-Purple.  (Bob Ezrin is also credited for additional keyboards on the album, but this sounds more likely to be Airey on both parts.)  Gillan’s lyrics as a storyteller are as amusing as always, going back to tracks like “Anyone’s Daughter”.  The first non-descript song is “Get Me Outta Here”, but perhaps more listens will increase the appeal.

An early favourite is “The Surprising”, a dramatic and quiet flight of progressive fancy.  The subtle but awesome drum work of Ian Paice unobtrusively creates a perfect backdrop for Don and Steve’s interplay.  Challenging “The Surprising” for dominance is the next track, “Johnny’s Band” (working title:  “Jig”).  It’s easily the most fun of the new songs, and the one with the instantly memorable chorus.  Then “On Top of the World” (working title:  “Slow Heavy”) is probably the most different of the tracks, containing a poetry section over a progressive backdrop.  Otherwise it’s just a smoking jam, with an oddly premature fade-out.  Steve Morse dominates “Birds of Prey” with his smooth stylings.  The track is a slow but excellent journey through the sand dunes of progressive rock.

The only questionable choice on InFinite is covering The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”.  It’s wonderful to hear Ian Gillan on the harmonica again.  (What was the last time?  “Hush” in 1988?)  But covering a beloved classic is dangerous 99.785% of the time (there are studies that have been done.*)  Fortunately Deep Purple are an exceptional jam band, so it’s not a total disaster.  Covering “Roadhouse Blues” is like another band covering “Smoke on the Water”.  It’s a “who cares?” moment.  I like to think of “Roadhouse Blues” as a bonus track on an otherwise excellent album.  The InFinite box set has the album on CD, and a 2 LP gatefold version, so you can listen any way you please.

4/5 stars

Check back soon for Part 2 of this review — the extras from the deluxe box set!  They include a DVD and three 10″ records that make up The Now What?! Live Tapes Vol. 2.  (Vol. 1 was a bonus CD on the Now What?! reissue.)

* No there weren’t.  

 

Further reading on more Deep Purple InFinite related releases (each with exclusives):

DEEP PURPLE – Time For Bedlam (2017 Edel EP)

DEEP PURPLE – All I Got is You (2017 Edel EP)

DEEP PURPLE – Limitless (2017 exclusive CD included with Classic Rock #234, April 2017)

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Limitless (2017 Classic Rock exclusive CD)

DEEP PURPLE – Limitless (2017 exclusive CD included with Classic Rock #234, April 2017)

You have to hand it to the folks at Classic Rock.  It’s a quality publication that also manages to give out quality free cover-mount CDs.  With all the attention on Deep Purple these days due to their newly released album Infinite, Classic Rock have done the band up in style.  The CD is not just for beginners either.  Limitless (get it?) has a bunch of material from recent vintage and one exclusive track too.  That’s right — one track on this CD is exclusive to Classic Rock, so get on it, collectors!

At 43 minutes, Limitless has the ideal run time for a great listen through.  If you want to check out some new Deep Purple right off the bat, then just dive in.  Tracks 1 and 2 are the first two singles from Infinite:  “Time For Bedlam” and “All I Got is You”.  Both tracks are excellent, and fine samplings of what the current Deep Purple lineup (est. 2003) sound like.  With Steve Morse and Don Airey, the band have gone from strength to strength.  The instrumental prowess on these songs will easily demonstrate why Deep Purple are universally lauded.

Going back one album prior, we have two tracks from the Now What?! period.  The single version of “All the Time in the World” is a nice ballad for inclusion, though I think “Vincent Price” blows everything else on that album away.  Also included is the rock and roll “First Sign of Madness”.  The liner notes state this song is taken from the “Above and Beyond” CD single.  That doesn’t actually appear to be the case, but ” First Sign of Madness” was included as a bonus track on many editions of the Now What?! album.

The second half of Limitless is dedicated to live material, all classics.  “No One Came” from 1971’s Fireball is one of Purple’s most lethal grooves, and is lifted from the deluxe “Gold” reissue of the Now What?! album.  Gillan’s voice strains hard on this one.  A fun version of “Strange Kind of Woman” comes from the double live 2015 Wacken set.  It’s pure delight.  Next, “Perfect Strangers” is always welcome aboard, and this live version comes from the parallel double live 2015 Tokyo release.

Finally the set draws to a close with the Classic Rock exclusive track, a live tape of “Black Night” from Milan, July 21 2013.  Many of the live tracks on the Now What?! reissue come from that gig, but “Black Night” is previously unreleased.  It’s a jamming version, over seven minutes and Morse-heavy.  And there are more live tracks from that gig in the Deep Purple Infinite box set version, which looks just fantastic.

And magazine isn’t bad either!  The Deep Purple interview reveals some of the lighter side of the legendary Gillan/Blackmore relationship, tempered by the passage of time.  Incidentally, the magazine gives Infinite 7/10 stars.  That’s not bad for a band about to hit their 50th anniversary in a year’s time.  Check it out, and enjoy the 8-track CD Limitless while you read along!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – “All I Got is You” (2017 EP)

NEW RELEASE


DEEP PURPLE – “All I Got is You” (2017 Edel EP)

Infinite isn’t even out yet and we already have two CD singles in our hands!  Deep Purple are wasting no time in getting the new music out there.  The last single, “Time for Bedlam” had four tracks, including three brand new pieces of music.  “All I Got is You” has five tracks, two of which are brand new.  These singles are well worth buying, and won’t be obsolete when the album is released.

Age has done little to blunt the cutting edge.  “All I Got is You” has old and new elements.  It sounds like Deep Purple, but not like prior Deep Purple.  Its jazzy intro misleads, for this is a pissed off song.  It is difficult to describe except to say it’s busy, but still barely commercial enough for a single.  As usual, Steve Morse and Don Airey’s instrumental work stuns the senses.  If these new singles are what we have to judge by, the new album will be typical Morse-era Deep Purple:  still them, still restless.

The bonus material is varied.  “Simple Folk” is a lovely little guitar instrumental, reminiscent of the ballad “Never A Word” from Bananas (2003).  Don’t be surprised if the melody shows up elsewhere in the future.  It’s too good to relegate to a CD single, and it is exclusive too.  Also exclusive:  an instrumental mix of “Above and Beyond” from the last album Now What?!.    Instrumentals of songs you know well are always an interesting ride.  It is fun to listen to the music you couldn’t hear before, under the lead vocals.  “Above and Beyond” was of course a single in its own right in 2013.  Then, even better, we have the first take of the first single “Time for Bedlam”, complete with Bob Ezrin’s talking (and praise).  This too is an instrumental version, but if you ever wanted to hear what Deep Purple sound like completely unleashed in the studio, give it a spin.  I think I like it better than the actual single.

The only bonus track that will be re-released later on is the live version of “Highway Star” (yes, another one) that will be included on in the Infinite box set version.  That set will contain lots of vinyl including three 10″ records that together will comprise The Now What?! Live Tapes Vol. 2.  Sharp readers will recall that Vol. 1 came out with the deluxe “gold” edition of the Now What?! CD.  As for “Highway Star”?  Well, this one is 6:09 long and was recorded August 8 2013 in Denmark.  I don’t know how else you can differentiate versions.  My Deep Purple folder has 58 listings for “Highway Star” (albeit some of those would be the studio version on compilations).

As fans gear up for the Infinite album (and box set), they would be advised to get these singles too.  There is enough extra material on them to complement the album nicely when it’s finally out on April 7.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Time for Bedlam (2017 EP)

NEW RELEASE


DEEP PURPLE – Time For Bedlam (2017 Edel EP)

Has any band gone nearly 50 years with such integrity?  The only original member left is drummer Ian Paice, but that matters not.  Ian Gillan and Roger Glover are original members to laymen.  Steve Morse has been in the band for over 20 years, and Don Airey is at about 15.  There is no lack of authenticity to Deep Purple, no matter what preconceptions you may have.  This most recent lineup with Airey is now on its fourth studio album.  The new album Infinite (produced again by Bob Ezrin) will be out April 7.

“Time for Bedlam” is a great choice for a single.  It rocks a “Pictures of Home” (1972) vibe.  Gillan’s lyrics are as biting as ever.  “Sucking my milk from the venomous tit of the state…”  Meanwhile Deep Purple sound like Deep Purple, but always pushing outwards.  There is newness in “Time for Bedlam”.  The droning intro is nothing like Deep Purple past, with Ian in a low monotonous voice.  But whatever makes Deep Purple sound like Deep Purple, it’s on “Time for Bedlam”.  For most people, the organ is the most identifiable ingredient, and Don Airey continues to pay tribute to the original, Jon Lord, in every note.  The solo sections from Airey and Morse are jawdropping.

This great CD single has three additional tracks.  “Paradise Bar” is a new non-album track, a laid back summer time groove.  It has progressive keys and a lazy easy going vibe.  It remains to be seen how it ranks among Infinite‘s album tracks.  It’s nice to buy a single and get an actual new unreleased track, and “Paradise Bar” isn’t mere filler.  Fans will enjoy Steve and Don’s solo trade-offs.  An unreleased instrumental version of “Uncommon Man” (from 2013’s Now What?!) will also be of interest to fans of the musicians in Deep Purple.  For such a long track (6:59) it’s amazing how well it works as a simple instrumental.  You have to hand that to this great band, and producer Bob Ezrin for capturing such great ambience.

The last track “Hip Boots” is an instrumental rehearsal of a track that will be on Infinite.  It’s a funky jam, a lot like what Deep Purple have always done.  It remains to be seen what the album track is like (will it have vocals, will it be a jam?) but this is an intriguing look at a song in a state that we don’t normally get to hear.  It whets the appetite for what could be coming.

Kudos to Deep Purple for still utilizing the singles format (something they also did with Now What?!), and in doing so, giving the fan some added value.  They’re creating a buzz for Infinite, so let’s hope that pays off in April!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Dixie Dregs – Night of the Living Dregs (1979)

Dedicated to my dear friend Uncle Meat.  This CD was purchased off Joe “Big Nose” at the Waterloo branch of the Record Store at which I used to work.

 

scan_20161009DIXIE DREGS – Night of the Living Dregs (1979 Polydor)

If they could bottle genius, distill it down to its essence, sell it and serve it at a party…then the Dixie Dregs are the music that should be played at that party.

The Dregs are undefinable.  Just when you think you have them nailed down to a progressive jazz-rock hybrid, they go classical on you, or full-bluegrass mode.  Their instrumental chops are incomparable, while still managing to deliver such basic song pleasures such as “melody”, “hooks” and “grooves”.   These melodies are usually delivered at the hands of Steve Morse (guitar) or Allen Sloan (violin).  Listeners familiar with with the guitar stylings of Morse will have an idea of the kind of songs and arrangements he writes:  challenging, but rewarding.

Night of the Living Dregs is half studio, half live.  The first side, from the cleverly-titled “Punk Sandwich” to the ballad “Long Slow Distance” are carefully crafted studio recordings, each different from the last.  While each track is unique and showcases different sides of the band, it is “Long Slow Distance” that really shines.  This soft work captures so much of what Morse does well.  There are jazzy licks embedded within melodies, and so many different textures of guitar.

The live side is recorded nice and clean without a lot of crowd noise.  “Night of the Living Dregs” is an upbeat little number, featuring some absolutely jaw-dropping melodic bass playing from Andy West.  This is also where drummer extraordinaire Rod Morgenstein comes up to the plate.   His playing is so multifaceted and you can hear it on this track.  The most fun can be found on “The Bash”, a full-on bluegrass ho-down, chicken-pickin’ full steam ahead.  Any jaws left on the floor are hopefully picked up so they don’t miss “Leprechaun Promenade”.  There are celtic flavours thanks to the violin, and the song is comparable to Jethro Tull.  Then suddenly it turns into Frankenstein’s monster with some eerie keyboards (Mark Parrish).  This is complex stuff, not for the timid!

The whole experience ends on “Patchwork”, which works as a description of the album at large.  It is a patchwork of style and feels, which create the whole.  The Dixie Dregs are a challenging listen, but ultimately rewarding.  There is plenty of joy in the grooves.  The band does not play anything simple or easy.  Everything is a little bit of smarty-pants music, but for the listening, this is a delight.

4/5 stars

scan_20161009-2

REVIEW: Working Man (Tribute to Rush, 1996)

Scan_20160821WORKING MAN (1996 Magna Carta tribute to Rush)

This CD was released in 1996, and almost immediately the music press started reporting that Rush were trying to have it taken off the shelves.  One of our former owners at the Record Store, the infamous Tom, said:  “I can see why they were trying to do that.  Because it’s too fucking good.”

It actually is.  There are few tribute albums worth listening to all the way through.  How many can you name:  Encomium, the Zeppelin tribute?  The Sabbath tributes Nativity in Black?  Do you listen to those front to back?  That’s the best and only way to enjoy Working Man.  So numerous are the progressive rock and hard rock names here that we may have trouble keeping track of them all.

Sebastian Bach hails from the Great White North, so it is only appropriate for him to open this CD with the title track.  He also passionately stuns on “Jacob’s Ladder” a bit later on, utilising the power and range he is known for.  What names on these songs!  Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan play drums and bass respectively; two guys often cited as the best in the world on their instruments!  If that wasn’t enough, ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee shreds the hell out of “Working Man” while John Petrucci from Dream Theater goes for the throat on “Jacob’s”.  Take a minute to absorb all that.

Seamlessly, “Working Man” develops into “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” with James LaBrie of Dream Theater in peak voice.  Sheehan and Portnoy handle the rhythm for most of the album, so you can be assured that the chops of Mr. Lee and Mr. Peart are served well here by the next generation of players.  Dream Theater fans will lose their shit completely.  But there is so much more here than just progressive rockers letting it fly.  A youthful and impressive Jack Russell from Great White takes on the galloping “Analog Kid” from Signals and wins.  Have no fear or doubts: this may seem strange, but Russell’s version of “Analog Kid” may well be one of the best Rush covers you’ll ever hear.  (Especially when Billy Sheehan and guitarist Michael Romeo do a synched-up dual bass/guitar solo!)

Other highlights:

  • The late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery has no problems with “The Trees”, an excellent version.
  • Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors) takes the main guitar part for “La Villa Strangiato”, causing spontaneous head explosions.
  • Blue-eyed soul singer Eric Martin (Mr. Big) does a fine job of the light “Mission”, though it sounds very different from the shred-rock elsewhere.
  • A bang-on “Closer to the Heart” performed by Fates Warning is a must-have for fans.
  • James LaBrie and his old bandmate in Winter Rose, Rich Chycki, reunite on the classic “Red Barchetta”.  A little added Can-Con for rock fans.

And best of all, Devin Townsend screaming his balls off, all over “Natural Science”.  Without a doubt, Townsend has the most unorthodox interpretation, but it’s Devin Townsend, so you must expect the unexpected.  This guy is an underrated national treasure, and along with James Murphy (Death, Testament) on guitar, Stu Hamm on bass, and Deen Castronovo on drums, all walls are shattered.  “Natural Science” is undoubtedly the most different track here, and consequently it’s the most exciting.

The only mis-fire:

  • “Anthem”, with Mark Slaughter and George Lynch.  Slaughter’s voice is too shrill.  (I cannot handle when he shrieks “Come on!  Yeah!” at the start.)  George’s Eastern-flavoured shredding is also overdone and misplaced.

That means out of 13 tracks, 12 of them are keepers.

For an added layer of authenticity, the CD was mixed by Terry Brown himself, in Toronto.  Prices fluctuate wildly, but fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Sebastian Bach or Devin Townsend would be wise to pick this up if found in their travels.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo (2 CD/1 DVD + Japanese bonus tracks)

The Deep Purple Project is a massive, ongoing series of in-depth reviews.  This is the last for now as we take a break, but Purple will return.  

DEEP PURPLE – To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo (2015 Edel 2 CD/1DVD set, Japanese CD with 2 bonus tracks)

Purple live releases have been in strong supply lately.  Last year, Purple released a matching set of double live albums, each with a complete DVD of the show in one package.  The first set, In Wacken, was reviewed yesterday.  Today, we look at In Tokyo.  In order to “get it all”, I added the Japanese 2 CD set with bonus tracks to my collection.  The bonus tracks are on the CD portion of the package.  As we did yesterday, we’ll get the bonus material out of the way first.

The two Japanese extras are instrumental versions of “Hell to Pay” and “Apres Vous”, newer songs from Now What?!  I am happy to report that these instrumentals are not live.  Since both songs are complete and live on the album proper, I was pleased to find these two are instrumental mixes of the studio cuts.  This makes sense, since the instrumental “Hell to Pay” is used as the main menu backing music on the live DVD.  As with any instrumental mix, it is interesting to pay attention to the musical interplay.  Since it’s Deep Purple we’re speaking about, it’s that much more enjoyable.

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Moving on to the live part of the set, the recorded intro of Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War” has the Budokan crowd in Tokyo excited for the return of Deep Purple.  The band bravely opened with “Apres Vous”, the new cut from Now What?!  It works surprisingly well by setting a mood.  Ian Gillan keeps it from getting too serious by wearing one of those tuxedo-printed shirts.  I want one of those.

Gillan’s hoarse on “Into the Fire”, but overall he’s stronger than he was in Wacken.  The added grit makes the song tougher and closer to the 1969 original.  Also from way back then is “Hard Lovin’ Man”, a pairing that always works well.  Don Airey takes an extended Hammond solo, and the song gallops in a way that set the basis for Iron Maiden’s career.  Thrills and chills abound, but Morse is smiling so much that you know we’re all in for a good time.  What a contrast with the moody and unpredictable Ritchie Blackmore!  This breathtaking assault of a song absolutely needs to be played live.  It’s no surprise that they need to lay back with something slower after that.  “Strange Kind of Woman” does the trick with that unforgettable groove.  Morse pulls off a jazzy solo that just kills.  This is a far better version than the one in Wacken.  Speaking of women and strangeness, it’s odd that “Woman From Tokyo” wasn’t played this time.

“That was the end of the jazz part of the show,” says Ian.  Back to new songs, “Vincent Price” is rolled out next.  Brought to life on the stage, “Vincent Price” is heavier and chunky.  The spooky keyboards are intact and Gillan injects the song with extra terror.  Steve Morse is on a roll now, and it’s time for his solo.  It’s chopped up a bit compared to how they played it earlier in the year.  “Contact Lost” is still first, but this time that goes into “Uncommon Man”.  I love watching Steve Morse playing volume swells with his pinky on the knob, while hammering out a complex melody.  There are plenty of hand close-ups here.  Copy if you can!  (I can’t.)  When “Uncommon Man” begins, Ian Gillan whispers in Steve’s ear.  I like to think he just said, “That was incredible.”

“Uncommon Man” is powerful live, by the way.  Steve goes again with his playful “The Well-Dressed Guitar”.  The dexterity here is quite unbelievable, but you knew that already.  Once again I’m grateful for plenty of hand close-ups.  I have no prayer of being able to play this but I love to watch and see how it’s done, and just marvel.  During a break in the keyboard part, Don Airey claps and dances along; quite amusing!

The Fireball oldie “The Mule” is always welcome out of the mothballs.  A drum workout, Ian Paice is given a chance to show that time has not lessened his abilities one iota.  It’s a busy drum song, and quickly descends into a mad solo.  At one point, the lights go out and Ian plays with glowing sticks, Sheila E style.  He gets to slow down a little on the Jon Lord tribute “Above and Beyond”.  Jon’s image behind them on the big screens of the Budokan, you can sense the emotion of the moment.  His successor Don Airey plays a Hammond tribute to Jon, before the band return to the sound of “Lazy”.  It’s just a seamless blur of one incredible piece of music after another.

“Hell to Pay” continues to prove its worth as a stage-ready, fun rocker.  You can tell that the formalities are over now, because Gillan has changed out of his tuxedo print shirt!  Don Airey dominates on the Hammond.  He gets a spotlight solo next, a chance to do his own thing.  Like his solo in Wacken, this includes a snippet of “Mr. Crowley”, a song that Don played on way back in 1980, and the ensuing Ozzy Osbourne tours.  His solo runs the gamut from tender piano, to classical passages, to spacey synth.  He quotes the melody of “Woman From Tokyo” which the crowd clearly appreciated.

It’s all business from here.  “Perfect Strangers”, as usual the only song from the 80’s, is as timeless as always.  Back to Machine Head for “Space Truckin'”, Roger Glover seems to be having a great time rocking it for the crowd in Japan.  Gillan’s sounding a bit knackered, but he’s still going for it.  No retreat, no surrender.  The classic riff, “Smoke on the Water” explodes in the Budokan, as we draw close to the end.  You can tell they still have fun playing this song, loose and never the same twice.  Two encores are still to be had:  the medley of “Green Onions”/”Hush”, and “Black Night”.  “Hush” is given a neat slinky jam section, because they’re Deep Purple and why the hell not?  After a brief Glover bass jam, “Black Night” commences as the final song of the night.  Gillan’s sounding tired, but that’s rock and roll.  They’re finally done, Roger lingering to make sure he’s thrown out every last pick.  That too is rock and roll.

These two sets were time consuming but very entertaining.  I think they are both worth having, but if you are not the Purple diehard that needs as much as you can consume, be aware that these are men in their late 60’s.  They are not spring chickens, so don’t expect To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo to be the equal of Made in Japan.

3.5/5 stars