steve vai

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full.  I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars.  However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.

It started with Derek’s message to me.  “Unpopular opinion:  Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said.  “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?”  Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.

Derek definitely has some good points.  It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars.  Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums.  They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined.  As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”.  That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals.  However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.

Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree.  There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that.  Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai.  I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating.  Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses.  Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record.  Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions.  It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom.  Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.

Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album.  It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”).   I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.

REVIEW: Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)

JOE SATRIANI, ERIC JOHNSON, STEVE VAI – G3 Live in Concert (1997 Epic)

It took me 21 years to finally buy this CD.  Why?  It was hard to get excited about three live Satch songs, three live Vai songs, and so on.  But a collector needs to catch ’em all, and it’s actually a pretty fabulous listen throughout.

Joe Satriani opens the set with “Cool No. 9” from his self-titled blues album.  Blues to Joe Satriani is a different kind of animal.  It’s trick-laden and thick with notes, although this doesn’t mean light on feel.  His landmark classic “Flying in a Blue Dream” is more what people expect from Joe.  I like to describe his albums as regular vocal rock records, just with the lead guitar singing the melody instead of a person.  I think I stole that description from Joe himself.  You can’t really call “Flying” a ballad but it sure is epic.  Finally it’s “Summer Song”, Joe’s big 1992 hit from The Extemist.  It doesn’t get more accessible for instrumental guitar rock.  Joe’s actually the perfect artist to open this CD for that reason.  His music, more than most instrumentalists, is door-opening for listeners.

The sublime Eric Johnson is in the middle position.  “Zap” is a tour-de-force of instrumental prowess, built into the framework of a nice shuffle.  Though you can certainly bop along if you like, the musicianship here is not for the timid.  “Camel’s Night Out” is a busy groover.  One of Johnson’s best tunes ever has to be “Manhattan”, which goes down unbelievably smooth live.  The playing is lyrical and warm.

Steve Vai’s threesome includes “Answers” and “For the Love of God” from Passion & Warfare.  “Answers” is one of Vai’s more challenging songs, fast and funky with weird tones and melodies.  This is probably the most blistering song on the whole disc, including a solo that isn’t in the studio version.  For all that, “For the Love of God” is the most awe-inspiring.  This ballad puts the passion in Passion and Warfare.  This is the one with Steve’s soul in it, every bend and every beat.  “The Attitude Song” is an oldie from the first Vai album Flex-able, just a solid rocker with some shredding.  Live it is much heavier than the tinny studio cut.

Finally, there is a trio of tunes with the three maestros playing together, as is the G3 tradition.  The blues standard “Going Down” is a typical jam, with Joe on vocals.  Then a tribute to Steve’s mentor, Frank Zappa, on “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” with everyone singing…and shredding.  Finally, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” finishes the CD with Eric Johnson on lead vocals.  Of these three tracks, “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” smokes the other two.

May as well pick up the original G3 CD if you find it in the wild.  It’s good stuff.

3.5/5 stars

#729.4: LeBrain’s Unorthodox Top 10 of 2018

Given everything that happened in 2018 (cancer, more cancer, death), I wasn’t as tuned-in to rock and roll as I normally would be.  I missed a lot of new releases, some on purpose, others by accident.  Therefore, this year I’m doing something different from my Top Lists of 2018.  Before we get to the lists, let’s talk about the past 12 months.


2018: RELEASES IN A NUTSHELL

January saw new CDs by Joe Satriani and Corrosion of Conformity, finally reunited with Pepper Keenan on vocals.  There was new Loudness, and a release by Beth Hart & Joe BonamassaDef Leppard had a low-key EP exclusive to iTunes (The Lost Session).  In February we got the return of the mighty Saxon.  March was a big month, featuring Judas Priest, Stone Temple Pilots, Jack White and Myles Kennedy.  The rock kept rolling in April.  The big metal one here was Stryper‘s God Damn Evil, along with new Godsmack and Thirty Seconds to Mars.  During this time I was personally only able to get the Stryper and Priest.

As temperatures warmed in May, Bad Wolves came out with their novelty cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries which became a predictable hit.  Frank Turner and Five Finger Death Punch also released new records in May.  News in June was unfortunately dominated by Kanye West and Drake, but don’t forget Ghost, The Darkness (with their first live) and Nine Inch Nails!  In July, Halestorm came out with the critically acclaimed ViciousAlice in Chains made their long awaited return in August with Rainier Fog, an album I bought but have not yet fully penetrated.

Autumn began with the biggest name in rock and roll, Sir Paul McCartney himself.  SlashPaul Simon, Lenny Kravitz and Suicidal Tendencies had records out on the same day.  VoiVod, Therapy?, Metric and even Rod Stewart returned in September as well.  October featured two big soundtracks:  Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star Is BornAce Frehley, Greta Van Fleet, and The Struts came out with new music the same month.  In November we got Mark Knopfler, the Smashing Pumpkins, Ted Nugent and yet another live Beth Hart.  The month closed with the latest Def Leppard best-of.  December boasted Metal Church but not a lot of rock.  Thank the Metal Gods that Max the Axe swooped in with Status Electric to save the year.


I spent most of 2018 checked out mentally.  I missed most of the new releases and have a lot to catch up on.  The summer was spent on Highway 401, and a flash drive loaded with music helped me survive it.  New releases were not the be-all and end-all for me.  Therefore, my Top Albums of 2018 list includes some oldies that just helped me get through it all.  It seems right to do it this way, since I can’t really do a well-curated list of new releases without absorbing them properly.

TOP 10 ALBUMS THAT GOT ME THROUGH 2018

  1. Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)
  2. Max the Axe – Status Electric (2018)
  3. Ghost – Prequelle (2018)
  4. The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith  (2018)
  5. Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)
  6. Blotto – Tonight At Toad’s (1982)
  7. Ace Frehley – Spaceman (2018)
  8. Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson & Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)
  9. The Sword – Used Future (2018)
  10. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  1. Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)
  2. Hello Hopeless – Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures (2018)
  3. Mike Slayen – Dude: A Guitar CD (2018)

TOP MOVIES OF 2018

Can’t do a movie list this year.  Not possible.  I didn’t see ’em all, but one movie blew away all the rest.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War

A PEEK AT 2019

What’s hot for 2019?

  1. Star Wars:  Episode IX
  2. Motley Crue‘s long awaited movie The Dirt, and new songs too.
  3. Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
  4. Avengers:  Endgame
  5. Queensryche – The Verdict

Stay tuned….

 

 

 

#721: Christmas Mix 2010

GETTING MORE TALE #721: Christmas Mix 2010

Making mix CDs was a lot of fun (and work).  I used to make custom Christmas discs that didn’t suck, for my family and friends every year.  Why did I stop?  I ran out of good Christmas songs.  Let’s face it:  unless you’re one of “those” people, Christmas music is nails on a chalkboard.  You can only take so much.  If you’ve worked retail in the past (or present), you probably can’t take any at all!

2010’s Christmas CD is a good example of what I used to make.  You’ll notice there’s no Trans-Siberian Orchestra on there.  I used up all their best stuff on the previous instalments.  I tried to avoid duplicating songs from previous years although Hawksley Workman’s Christmas album is so good that I made exceptions for him.  Hawkley’s Almost A Full Moon is the best Christmas CD that I own, and probably the best one I’ve heard.  I bought it twice.  He reissued the album after only a year with two extra songs!  I forgave him, because Almost A Full Moon is so warm and perfect.

What do you think of the Christmas 2010 CD?  Would you have wanted a copy that year?

1. Bill Ward – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  Yes, that Bill Ward!  The Black Sabbath drummer did a spoken word recording of the classic Christmas poem, and I opened the CD with it.  I can tell you that when we played the CD at dinner time, this track was a failure.  Nobody paid attention.

2. Kathryn Ladano – “Jingle Bells”.  I got their attention back by putting on a track by my sister.  This instrumental version on bass clarinet is from her CD The Christmas Album.  Of note, her Schnauzer Ali is credited for barks on “Jingle Bells”!

3. Lemmy, Dave Grohl, Billy F. Gibbons – “Run Rudolph Run”.  This breakneck Christmas carol is done in the Motorhead style.  I played it in the car for sis.  “This is shit!” she proclaimed.  “Why do these guys get to put out albums and not me?”

4. Marillion – “Let It Snow”.  This drunken favourite is from 2007’s Somewhere Elf.  The spirit is intoxicating, as I’m sure they were!

Found some booze in a flight case,
And I’m afraid that we’re all shit-faced,
So I guess that we’ll have to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

5. David Bowie and Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”.  This is the David Bowie song that your grandma likes.  It’s just lovely.  I didn’t own anything with this song on it, so I had to download.  That’s why it didn’t appear until 2010!

6. Helix – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”.  Yes, it rocks, but not too hard!  Helix covered Lennon for their Heavy Metal Christmas.  Singer Brian Vollmer is trained in the Bel Canto technique and he’s more than capable of singing songs for your Christmas dinner in mind.

7. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”.  My mom always liked Extreme, or “Nick Strean” as she thought they were called.  This isn’t the greatest Christmas song in the world, but it doesn’t suck.

8. Hawskley Workman – “3 Generations”.  Told you there would be some Hawksley.  This touching song is about three generations of women in the kitchen making Christmas dinner together.

9. Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”.  I must have downloaded this one too.  I am a bit of a sucker for Elvis.  I included Joe Perry’s instrumental version on a previous CD.

10. The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”.  Not one of their best songs, but it’s the Beatles so it had to be included eventually.  This version comes from the 1995 CD single for “Free As a Bird”.  Relatively few have heard it, and I thought that would get people’s ears perked up, but by this time, the wine was out….

11. Steve Vai – “Christmas Time is Here”.  This is from the first Merry Axemas.  It’s a lovely track and not too shreddy.  Remember this song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special?  Steve does it on guitar, of course!

12. Jethro Tull – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”.  This funky flute version will get the toes tappin’.  Hard to believe that this is from Tull’s final studio album in 2003, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album!  It would have been nice to get one more, but Tull’s Christmas Album is a good one to have around.  If you need to tolerate Christmas music, you may as well listen to Tull jamming it out.

13. Brian Vollmer – “The First Noel”.  Helix’s Vollmer put out a rare charity album in 2005 called Raising the Roof on Mary Immaculate.  “The First Noel” is one of the best tracks.  Vollmer is the first artist to get two appearances on my CD.

14. Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”.  Much like “Run Rudolph Run”, this one smokes!  It’s a guitar instrumental at full speed.  Grandma didn’t like this one.

15. Twisted Sister – “O Come All Ye Faithful”.  I really don’t like the Twisted Christmas album.  This song was a hit though, and since it’s virtually identical to “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I can…errr…take it.

16. Cheap Trick – “Come On Christmas”.  My sister was a huge Cheap Trick fan at one point.  She had this song before I did.  Essentially just a Cheap Trick pop rocker with Christmas lyrics.  Sounds like classic Cheap Trick to me.

17. AC/DC – “Mistress For Christmas”.  I put this song on as the joke it is.  I like to remind people that AC/DC did have a Christmas song.  “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the day.  I can’t wait to Christmas time, when I roll you in the hay.”  Hey, it counts.

18. The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)“.  In my review, I said, “Even though the guitars are thicker than a good ol’ bowl of Thin Lizzy pudding, there is no mistaking this for anything but a Christmas song.   It is a joyous rock re-imagining of a Christmas carol, with the unmistakable Justin Hawkins falsetto.”  Plus, sis likes The Darkness.

19. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas”.  I like this one.  Fuck off.

20. Jimi Hendrix – “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”.  From an EP called Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Jimi and band jammed out some impressive licks but the dinner party didn’t enjoy.

21. Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”.  Cuddy’s solo debut All In Time is tremendous CD and comes highly recommended by this guy right here.  It’s like listening to a Blue Rodeo album, but only the Jim songs.  The sentimental “New Year’s Eve” is a lovely ballad that fits right in with the Christmas theme.

22. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  You gotta end with a classic.  From 1981’s The Great White North comes the big Christmas hit.  We used to hear this every single year on my mom’s old clock radio.  We’d squeal with laughter trying to sing along.  “A beer…in a tree…”

 

How would you rate this one?  Trying to avoid overlap was previous instalments was my Achilles’ heel.  I’d swap out a lot of the lesser songs for better ones, but it’s not bad.  It’s listenable.  It’ll do.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Merry Axemas – A Guitar Christmas – Various Artists (1997)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

MERRY AXEMAS A Guitar Christmas (1997 Sony)

Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life.  The first one, in particular.

I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD.  I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year.  Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world.  For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.

Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here!  This isn’t for grandma.  This is for guitar maniacs!  Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment.  Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself.  The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir.  A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.


Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental

The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”.  If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out.  Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts.  The big band is icing on the cake.  Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”.  This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else.  Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y.  This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs.  Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes.  Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to.  If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.

How big can these names get?  Try Steve Vai on for size.  You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special.  Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice.  And the names keep getting bigger.  Heard of Joe Perry before?  The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock.  Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.

“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses.  It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel.  The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to.  He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.

Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas.  Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year.  Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs.  Don’t celebrate Christmas?  No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Alien Love Secrets (1995)

STEVE VAI – Alien Love Secrets (1995 Relativity)

You can always count on lil’ Stevie Vai to deliver something completely off the wall…except when he’s trying to play it straight.

Compared to Passion and Warfare and Sex & Religion, Steve plays it remarkably straight on the stripped back mini-album Alien Love Secrets. Remarkably straight for Steve Vai, that is. This is a guy who is known to make his guitar sound like anything except a guitar.  There’s plenty of that here (check out “Bad Horsie”, which sounds like some kind of bad horsie at times), but there are also actual grooves and riffs too.  Alien Love Secrets is an instrumental mini-album that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Steve’s music has always been an alternative to the mainstream, but grunge and heavy rock play an influence on “Bad Horsie”, one of the heaviest Vai riffs in existence.  Former Ozzy/Journey drummer Deen Castronovo is there to help cement the grooves (Deen also played on Ozzy’s Vai-written song “My Little Man”).  Alien Love Secrets is the ideal starter for people who don’t think they’re Vai fans.  The heavy rock continues on “Kill the Guy With the Ball”, featuring Deen doing some serious steppin’.

It’s wall to wall shred, but if you’re looking for something even more straight-ahead, you’ll dig “Juice” which is just a classic Van Halen shuffle done a-la Steve.  What about ballads?  From the very beginning, Planet Steve has included ballads.  “Die to Live” is a stock Vai ballad, melodic with tricky lead parts.  Some of the licks remind of “Hina” from David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper.  “The Boy From Seattle” would also be pegged as a ballad, but it’s definitely a bit more challenging.  Then there’s the beautiful closing track “Tender Surrender”, which is blues for the intergalactic age.

People who don’t like Steve’s goofy side will loathe “Ya-Yo Gakk”, a duet between infant child and lead guitar.  Steve has always experimented with guitar imitating the melody of a human voice, like “So Happy” from Flex-Able.  This is more of a song, but still a matter of taste.

Alien Love Secrets will still be incomprehensible to some, but it’s probably Steve’s most accessible release overall.  Without the layers upon layers of tracks, you can get in there and just listen.  If you want more, there is a cool DVD release, with a video for each track on the album!

3.25/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: KISS – “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” (1991 single)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 40:

 – “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” (1991 Interscope single)

Kiss’ Hot in the Shade tour wasn’t a sellout, but it was well received by fans who appreciated that a bunch of older songs were back in the set.  The tour was unfortunately highlighted by the June 15, 1990 date in Toronto, igniting a feud with Whitesnake.  Kiss were third on a four-band bill, with David Coverdale, Steve Vai and company in the headlining slot.  Paul Stanley used his stage raps to complain that Whitesnake wouldn’t let them use their full setup, including a giant sphinx.  When Whitesnake hit the stage, it was to a chorus of boos.  Steve Vai later stated that it was the first time he had ever been booed.  Vai once even walked onstage to the sound of people chanting “Yngwie! Yngwie! Yngwie!”, but he had never been booed until the incident with Kiss in Toronto.

When the tour wrapped up in November, Kiss took a few months off before gearing up again in the new year.  It was to be another album, another tour, but suddenly real life interfered.

Eric Carr hadn’t been feeling well.  Flu-like symptoms turned out to be heart cancer.  Simultaneously, Kiss received an offer to record a song for the sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Carr underwent surgery in April, with chemotherapy following.  Having little choice, Kiss recorded without him.  Eric Singer, who had performed so well on Paul Stanley’s solo tour, filled in on drums.  Eric Carr, in a wig, was able to play for the music video taping.  He gave his all, and did a full day’s shoot, with excellent (pun intended) results.

Unfortunately a rift was developing, with Eric Carr feeling shunned and excluded from Kiss.  He was afraid he was going to be replaced, permanently, and his relationship with the band was strained.  Although everybody hoped Eric would make a full recovery, he passed away from a brain haemorrhage on November 24, 1991.  Eric Carr was 41.

On the same date, Freddie Mercury of Queen succumbed to AIDS.  Carr’s death was barely mentioned in the news, including Rolling Stone magazine who missed it completely, prompting a harsh reply from Kiss:

If anything positive came from Eric Carr’s death, it was that Kiss were going to put all that anger and frustration back into the music.  The music was to be their Revenge.

It started with “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II”, a re-imagining of an old Argent song for the Bill & Ted movie.  Eric Carr may not have been well enough to play drums, but that didn’t stop him from singing.  His vocals on “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” were his last.  The song wouldn’t be the same without Carr, as he can be heard sweetly harmonising with Paul Stanley.   Eric Singer wasn’t credited on the single, or the final soundtrack for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.  It simply says “performed by Kiss”.

“God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” was important for two more reasons.  First, and very significantly, it was produced by Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin was responsible for the two albums that some consider Kiss’ best, and Kiss’ worst.  It had been 10 years.  A Kiss-Ezrin reunion was very big news for fans.  It indicated that Kiss meant business this time.  Secondly, “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” was the first Paul Stanley/Gene Simmons (with Bob Ezrin and Russ Ballard) co-writing credit since 1985, and their first shared vocals in ages upon ages.

Although it didn’t make waves in 1991, “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” has become enough of a favourite to make it onto 2015’s Kiss 40 compilation, and continue to be played live.  It shows off what Kiss can really do.  Yes, they can sing!  Yes, they can play!   This lineup could do it particularly well.  It’s appropriate that Eric Carr went out on a good Kiss track.  And Eric Singer was the right guy to continue.

There are three released versions of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II”:  The single edit (3:57), the soundtrack version (5:23) and the final 1992 version that was later released on the next Kiss album (5:19).  The single edit cuts out too much of the grand, pompous arrangement, including the epic opening.

In an ironic twist, the version of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” that is in the movie has a guitar intro solo by Steve Vai.  The same guy whose band got booed in Toronto thanks to Kiss.

The CD single is rounded out by two more songs from the Bill & Ted soundtrack, by Slaughter and King’s X.  The King’s X track, “Junior’s Gone Wild” (previously reviewed in our mega King’s X series) has never been one of their better tunes, but as a non-album rarity, a nice one to have.  Just don’t judge King’s X by this one track.  Slaughter turned in something better, a fun party tune called “Shout It Out”, also a non-album recording.  Slaughter, of course, were one of Kiss’ well-received opening acts on the Hot in the Shade tour.  And what was their Kiss connection?  Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum were in a band with Kiss’ old guitar player, called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion!

As work proceeded on the next LP, the world suddenly changed.  Hard rock was out, and grunge took over MTV.  This single bought Kiss a little bit of time, but it was going to be the longest gap between Kiss albums yet — three years.  Revenge had to wait a little longer.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/08

 

 

#486: Dream Music

Welcome to another theme week at mikeladano.com. This week: Getting MORE Getting More Tale. Instead of reviews, we have lined up five days of music stories in the Getting More Tale series. Hope you enjoy.

 

dream music

Have you ever heard music in your dreams?

Steve Vai has.  When he was a young musician, he experimented with lucid dreaming.  When you’re in a lucid dream, you can control your own actions.  Vai’s lucid dreams were very sexual, and musical.  Eventually his album Passion & Warfare emerged from these experiences.  The opening track “Liberty” is directly inspired by one of his dreams where he was standing saluting a flag (“a different kind of flag,” said Steve).  His song “Liberty” was meant to approximate what he heard in the dream, but what he was able to write versus what he actually heard in his head were very different.  He was unable to capture the fullness and grandeur of his dream.

Terence Trent D’Arby too has heard music in his dreams.  In his case, Marvin Gaye approached him in a dream, and asked if he’d be interested in a song Gaye had written.  Perhaps as an expression of his own ego, D’Arby answered, “If I like it.”  He must have, because D’Arby recorded the song as “To Know Someone Deeply is to Know Someone Softly” on 1989’s Neither Fish Nor Flesh.  Much like Vai, D’Arby found it impossible to translate the beauty of his dream music accurately into the real world.

As for me?  I’m no musician; I wish I was.  Maybe if I was, I could do something with the music constantly cruising around in my unconscious LeBrain!*

I don’t know why it is, but music does exist in dreams, and vividly so.  Bringing that music into the auditory realm is so damn hard no matter how hard you try to remember.  I like to write songs – little riffs and melodies that fit together into ditties that I can hum, but not really perform on an instrument.  Some of the music I have heard in my dreams would have been the best songs in the world, had they been real!

It’s impossible to describe anything specifically, except to say the music I heard in my dreams was heavy, symphonic, grand and complex.  If I wanted to, I could focus in on any specific part.  I could dive into the strings and hear the individual parts.   I could even manipulate the music once immersed.  As if I was playing the guitar myself, I could make the guitar solo go any way I wanted it to.  I could control the music like I was a conductor.   The only thing I couldn’t do was remember it when I woke up.

I’d wake up, and even though I could remember dreaming of an amazing piece of music, I couldn’t get it out of my head and onto tape or paper.  I could hum a melody or two, but nothing more.  The grandness and power was all gone.  Who knows if the melody I was humming was even anything like what I heard.  Either way, the melodies I would hum after would be tiny snippets, special in no way at all.

It’s a rare, bizarre, beautiful, frustrating experience.  Has this ever happened to you?

 

 

*Thanks to Mr. Books for perfecting that sentence for me.

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986)

Scan_20150728DAVID LEE ROTH – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986 Warner)

1986 was the year it all went down. If you were a Van Halen fan, it was time to choose.

Of course, nobody really had to choose between Van Hagar and David Lee Roth. It’s not like every fan had only $10 to spend on albums that year. Fans did choose anyway, and even today almost 30 years later, we still argue about who’s best: Diamond Dave or the Red Rocker?

No matter who you sided with, there is no question that David Lee Roth stormed into 1986 with a killer new band and album.

Steve Vai! That’s enough right there to make for an incendiary band — just ask David Coverdale. Before Little Stevie Vai was a household name, he had earned the respect of Frank Zappa who hired him on after Joe’s Garage. He made his Zappa debut on Tinseltown Rebellion, before being snagged by Graham Bonnet in 1985 for Alcatrazz’s Disturbing the Peace. In that band, he had the unenviable task of replacing a Swedish guitar player you may have heard of called Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Needless to say, Steve Vai was already experienced in filling big shoes by the time David Lee Roth made contact.

Billy Sheehan! A lot of people think he’s the world’s greatest bass player, period. Eight finger lead bass, baby! Three albums with Talas didn’t do much in terms of sales, but the material was strong enough that one song was re-recorded for the Roth album.

Gregg Bissonette! Once you learn how to properly spell his name, you will recognize Bissonette on loads of album credits. Joe Satriani come to mind? How about Spinal Tap? For your information, Gregg Bissonette is still alive, and is still the current Spinal Tap drummer.

Combine those three virtuosos with the greatest frontman of all time, and you have best new band of 1986.

Van Halen’s 5150 came out in March, going to #1. That’s a hard act to follow. Eat ‘Em and Smile, however, ending up standing the test of time. I would argue that even though it’s not Van Halen, it’s still the best Van Halen album since 1984….

As if to say “Eddie who?”, the album opens with Steve Vai’s trademark talking guitar. I’m talkin’ about-a-“Yankee Rose”! Here’s the shot heard ’round the world indeed. Lyrically, musically, and instrumentally, this song truly is the spiritual successor to classic Van Halen. David Lee was still in prime voice, and does he ever pour it on! Sassy as ever, Roth sounds exactly how he should: the showman in the rock and roll circus. And let’s not forget Billy and Gregg. Sheehan’s slinky bass on the outro is space age groove.

“Shyboy” is an atomic bomb. Billy brought in this song from Talas, but there is no question that Dave’s version is vastly superior. I have no idea how Vai makes his guitar create these sounds. When he goes into syncopation with Billy on the fastest solo of all time, your head may be blown clean off. Please, do not attempt to listen to “Shyboy” in the car, without testing it at home first. As Steve’s guitar flickers from left to right, Billy’s bass is the fastest, baddest groove on record. “Shyboy” is of such high quality that I do not think any self-respecting rock fan can live without it. Virtually every trick that Steve had at the time was in this one song.

One thing that was special about Van-Halen-with-Dave was their fearlessness in doing odd covers, such as “Big Bad Bill” or “Oh Pretty Woman”. Dave took that with him, and included oldie swing covers like “I’m Easy”. Horn laden and with Steve’s expert licks, it should be no surprise that they nail this one. It’s much in the spirit of Dave’s solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, only better.

Perhaps the most outstanding song on Eat ‘Em and Smile would be “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” Dave has always said he loves disco and dance music. This is the most perfect melding of that world with rock. Vai is rarely so funky, and there is no question that Dave has the vibe right. Smooth and steamy, “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” is a tune perfectly in synch with activities of the nocturnal persuasion. Who else but Dave would be perfect to deliver this message?

“Goin’ Crazy” was a great track to make into one of Dave’s typically high flying music videos. It’s party rock time, with a tropical vibe. “Goin’ Grazy” worked particularly well when Dave re-released it in Spanish, as “¡Loco del calor!”. I used to consider this tune a bit of a throwaway, but it has certainly endeared itself over the years. Another meticulously perfect Vai solo doesn’t hurt, and Billy’s bass popping helps end side one on an up note.

Now there is a story here that needs to be told. Billy Sheehan was in Canadian progressive rock band Max Webster for “about three weeks” according to lead singer Kim Mitchell. Upon joining Dave’s band, he introduced them to Kim Mitchell’s solo track “Kids In Action”, which they decided to cover. Bill called Kim up to ask him for the lyrics, because they couldn’t quite make them all out. Kim supplied the words, and Dave recorded the song. However, it was dropped at the 11th hour, for another cover — “Tobacco Road”. David Lee Roth’s version of “Kids In Action” has yet to be released or even bootlegged. Not that I am complaining about “Tobacco Road”, another old cover! Yet again, the reliably awesome Steve Vai just sells it. There is no question that the whole song just smokes, but getting to hear Stevie playing this old blues?  Pretty damn cool.

That’s nothing. You thought “Shyboy” was fast? Check out “Elephant Gun”! Billy’s fingers didn’t fall off, but mine would have. “I’ll protect you baby with my Elephant Gun”, claims Dave. Nudge, wink! Steve Vai’s been known to write blazing fast songs, and “Elephant Gun” is so fast it’s almost showing off. Wisely though, things get slow and nocturnal once again on “Big Trouble”. That’s a title Dave recycled from an old unused Van Halen song. (That song became “Big River” on A Different Kind of Truth.) Steve’s guitar melodies and solo on this are particularly celestial. Roth uses his speaking voice, spinning a tale as only he can. “Bump and Grind” is a perfectly acceptable album track, a sleaze rocker as only Dave can do. If I am interpreting the lyrics correctly, Dave is a dance instructor in this one. “Shake it slowly, and do that Bump and Grind”.

Much like “Happy Trails” ended Diver Down on a jokey note, Dave ends his first solo album with a cover: “That’s Life”, the song that Sinatra made famous. Coming from the guy who did “Just a Gigolo”, we know he can do that kind of thing very well. The first time I heard the album years ago, I shrugged and said, “Another one?” Now, older and fatter, I sez it’s all good! Zop-bop-doop-zooby-dooby-doo indeed. Funny thing though. When I think of Diver Down, I think of a fun but fairly shallow album of half covers. When I think of Eat ‘Em and Smile, I don’t question the integrity of it. I don’t know why I seem to hold that double standard.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Eat ‘Em and Smile was David Lee Roth’s finest moment as a solo artist. It was not nearly as well known as 5150, OU812, or any of Van Hagar’s albums, and that is almost criminal. The talent in this band, pound for pound, outweighed anybody else going at the time, including Van Halen. Shame they couldn’t make it last.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare (1990)

PASSION AND WARFARE_0001STEVE VAI – Passion and Warfare (1990 Relativity)

Passion and Warfare was released in 1990.  I didn’t expect it to chart, but it did!  It was an exciting time for instrumental guitar records.  Joe Satriani had recently become a household name with albums such as Surfing With the Alien and Flying in a Blue Dream, but Flying had vocals on some songs.  Now his student Steve Vai was on the charts with his own solo album.

Different from Flex-able, which was basically just released demos, Passion and Warfare was a fully realized piece of art.  Some consider it to be Steve’s “real” debut album.  Some of the music dated back almost a decade.  “Liberty”, said Steve, was a melody he heard in a lucid dream and tried to recall.  Of the dream, Steve remembered saluting a flag he didn’t recognize, with an anthem playing.  “Liberty” opens the CD, which is actually a lyricless concept album.  Steve Vai is nothing if not ambitious.  There is some dialogue on and between songs (some performed by Steve’s then-Whitesnake bandmate David Coverdale), and the liner notes trace out some of the dreams that inspired the music.

Lyrics for a song that has no lyrics!

Lyrics for a song that has no lyrics!

“Erotic Nightmares” is self-explanatory.  Steve composed a chunky rock track with so much guitar that I doubt he even knows how many tracks of shredding is on it anymore.  Guitars build layer after layer, playing melodies that don’t seem possible to perform with fingers.  It’s not mindless shredding for the sake of shredding.  The “concept album” aspect means that the songs have movement and go to different places, trying to convey these ideas to the listener.  Steve used an Eventide harmonizer to give his guitar flute and keyboard-like tones.  Those bizarre sounds compounded with Steve’s impossible fretwork means this is one hell of an ambitious song and album.

Steve was using his new Ibanez 7-string guitar exclusively now.  I believe he stated in an interview that there is hardly any 6-string on Passion and Warfare at all.  It’s that 7th string that enables Steve to dig low on the groovy “The Animal”.   With the expert rhythm section of Stu Hamm (bass) and Chris Frazier (drums), there is no way this would suck.  Steve remembers to throw enough melodic hooks down to keep it listenable for laypeople.  “Answers” is less accessible, a cute dance of strange munchkin-like melodies.  There is a melody here, however, that recurs through the length of the album.  It’s an old melody, and part of it appeared on Flex-able and an Alcatrazz album as well.  Clearly these ideas had been gestating a long time before they were fully realized on tape.

After a brief dialogue snippet (a tape of a preacher that Steve recorded off the radio many years prior) comes the track “The Riddle”.  That’s right — the answer came before the riddle.  I love stuff like that.  It sounds like there are backwards guitars on this song, but who knows!  I’m sure Steve can make his guitar sound backwards.  “The Riddle” is a long epic that goes to exotic territories, and many textures.  “Ballerina 12/24” is a short transitional piece that shows off the Evontide harmonizer – the notes are moved up a few octaves making it sound unlike a guitar at all.  Then a deep breath and it’s onto the serious album epic — “For the Love of God”.  Considered by some as one of the greatest guitar songs of all time, you can hear what all the hype is about.  The melody that it is based on becomes increasingly more complex and expressive as the song progresses.  That’s not a sitar on the song either, just Steve wrenching sounds of the guitar that it was not intended to make!

You can’t close a side better than with “For the Love of God”.  The second half of the album commenced with the jokey “The Audience is Listening”.  While this is a smoking track, the dialogue (performed by Steve’s actual grade school teacher) doesn’t stand up to repeated listens.  It’s amusing but it has a short shelf life.  The school room theme had some comparing it to “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen, but there’s no similarity beyond that.  It was an obvious choice to release as a single/video, with Thomas McRocklin playing young Stevie.

“I Would Love To” was the most accessible track on the album, and it too was chosen as a single/video. This is as mainstream as Passion and Warfare gets! An uptempo rock track like this is an easy point of entry for the uninitiated. That’s not to say anything is sacrificed for the sake of simplicity. Steve’s guitar is as dropping as ever. I’m not sure where it fits into the concept of the album. The liner notes tell us that the next song, “Blue Powder”, depicts a scene “high above the trees. Everything was more vivid than I thought was ever possible. I saw things from all sides. Then I realized I wasn’t perceiving things through human eyes.” Deep stuff, but musically it starts as a slow blues. Through the fingers of Steve Vai of course, so that means different from any slow electric blues you’ve heard before. And then it goes to outer space, anyway. It’s incredible how well Steve can play the blues, as well as the space-age stuff, and make it sound authentic. “Blue Powder” also boasts a freaky-funky bass solo from Stu Hamm.


I love that they make fun of New Kids on the Block in this video

“Greasy Kid’s Stuff” serves as an upbeat track with the smoking-guitar quotient at max.  “Alien Water Kiss” is another brief demonstration of how a harmonizer could make the guitar sounds like a not-guitar.  “Alien Water Kiss” actually sounds like what it’s supposed to sound like — assuming aliens have lips.  You get the feeling that a lot of Steve’s lucid dreams were wet dreams!   “They must have sensed that my actions and thoughts were harmless, being that they induced a union between us.”  Yikes!

Sometimes Steve Vai doesn’t get too weird and just writes beautiful music.  “For the Love of God” is one such song, and so is “Sisters”.  This soft ballad showcases a side of Steve Vai that some don’t know.  His technique is flawless, but so is his feel.  It doesn’t hurt to have Hamm and Frazier playing with him, who are also able to wrench feeling from their instruments.  The final song, “Love Secrets” is just Steve, at his most bizarre.  It’s a dramatic close to a confusing concept album, that leaves you with the feeling that you just heard something really significant.  You don’t know what that is, but it has a weight to it — and that’s what draws you back.

I’ve been listening to and enjoying Passion and Warfare for 25 years now.  Although Steve’s guitar tone sounds a little thin by comparison to today’s standards, I am just as enthralled as I was in 1990.  Passion and Warfare remains a genius album, and to this day it is still my favourite.

5/5 stars

PASSION AND WARFARE_0003