steve vai

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 21, 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

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Greatest Hits (1994)

WSWHITESNAKE – Greatest Hits (1994 Geffen)

I don’t own this CD.  Never have, actually.  I gave it enough in-store play (only while working alone!) that I have no problem reviewing it. This Greatest Hits CD dates back to 1994, the year I first started working at the Record Store. As such, it was the first ever official Whitesnake Greatest Hits CD, the first of many. The band had been broken up for about four years at that point. Even by 1994 standards, it was only an OK release. It did contain some rare tracks, but was limited to Whitesnake’s 1984-1989 Geffen output only. For budget-priced collections, I would recommend the cheaper 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection because it still has all the hit singles from that period at a lower price. For fans who need more, the much better Whitesnake Gold or Silver Anniversary Collection make a more complete picture with more rarities and deep album cuts. These of course weren’t available in 1994.  Today music buyers have a lot more to choose from.

One inclusion that some listeners may not enjoy about Greatest Hits is the version of “Here I Go Again” chosen. This is not the well-known album version that most people have heard. This is the “single remix” with different guitar solos (by guest Dan Huff) and more keyboards. Some radio stations do play it from time to time, but I think most casual buyers would listen to this and say, “I don’t like it as much”.  And nor do I, but it is a rarity.

Otherwise, this album (like 20th Century Masters) contains every hit single from the period, and nothing from the blues-based records before. It does feature some other cool rarities: the B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” featuring Steve Vai, “Looking For Love”, and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”. However, with the many compilations and remasters released since 1994, these songs are no longer hard to find. “Sweet Lady Luck” was even released on a Steve Vai boxed set!

Rounding out this selection of hits and rare tracks are deeper album cuts.  These are include the glossy Kashmir-esque “Judgement Day”, “Crying in the Rain ’87”, “Slow Poke Music” and the wicked “Slide It In”.  They help balance out the ballad-y hits that Whitesnake were adept at writing.

Interestingly, when this album was released, David Coverdale assembled a new, shortlived Whitesnake and toured for it. That version of Whitesnake included former members Rudy Sarzo and Adrian Vandenberg, both of the 1987-1990 version of the band. It also included drummer Denny Carmassi (Coverdale-Page) and guitarist Warren DeMartini (Ratt). Shame that no live recordings from this version of the band have never been released. The band disolved for several year again after this, only to reform in 1997 with a new lineup including Carmassi and Vandenberg.

This album is only mildly better than 20th Century Masters, but is inferior to the more recent, more comprehensive compilations I have mentioned. Buy at a sensible price point.

2/5 stars
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#357: “Dream Bands” (1990 version)

ROB

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#357: “Dream Bands” (1990 version)

I’m sure you and your friends have made these lists many times: put together a lineup of your dream band! Any living players can qualify.

I had deep, long conversations about this with my friends in highschool. One of them simply listed the four members of Led Zeppelin (Jason subbing in for John) as his dream band. You could certainly make an argument for that. My highschool dream band (1990-91 year) was instead made up of the players that I thought were the absolute best in their fields.  Can you guess who I was listening to that year? Lineup:

  1. Lead vocals – Rob Halford
  2. Lead guitar – Steve Vai
  3. Rhythm guitar – Malcolm Young
  4. Bass – Billy Sheehan
  5. Drums – Scott Travis
  6. Keyboards – Jon Lord

As a joke, I also added a seventh bonus member, Walter Ostanek on accordion!  That was for my buddy Andy, who also played accordion.  Upon submitting my official list for consideration, I removed Ostanek.  But I figured that Walter could show up for a guest appearance on a track or two, because everyone loves accordion.

An interesting band lineup to be sure, but as my highschool friends pointed out, they would probably implode after only one rehearsal. Steve Vai and Malcolm Young in the same band? I can’t see how that would work. Sorry, LeBrain circa 1990. Fail!  I’m glad I kept this stuff though, because it’s so funny to look back on it now.  25 freakin’ years ago!

Who would you place in your “dream band” lineup today? One stipulation: the artist must be alive and able to play. For example I couldn’t put Malcolm on my list today, nor could I put Phil Collins on drums, since he can no longer play them due to injury.

Have at it! Let’s see your lists!

metal smurf

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Hey Stoopid (1991)

First of an Alice Cooper double shot!  Tomorrow, The Last Temptation!

ACHS_0002ALICE COOPER – Hey Stoopid (1991 Sony)

When Hey Stoopid first came out in ’91, fans were still reeling from the disappointment (but commercial success) that was the Trash CD. Fans wanted Alice to get heavier and drop the cheese, and Hey Stoopid was a step in the right direction, to be fully realized on his next album The Last Temptation.

It was the era of the virtuoso, and Cooper certainly knows a good musician when he hears one. To me it was a stroke of genius to have Steve Vai and Joe Satriani record a guitar solo together for the first time, and on a song called “Feed My Frankenstein” no less! Guest shots by Ozzy (barely audible, though), Nikki Sixx, Vinnie Moore, and Slash provided enough hype for the fans to salivate.

Songwriting-wise, Hey Stoopid was a step up from Trash. The title track with its lyrical warnings of drug abuse was a fun catchy rocker with a tasty Satriani solo. The solos on this album are all too brief. Still the players being as good as they are create solos that enhance each track. Other standouts include the mindblowing “Might As Well Be On Mars”, an epic Desmond Child song that just aches before it explodes on the choruses. “Die For You”, written by Alice with Motley Crue’s Sixx & Mars, as well as Jim Vallance, has a chorus that bores its way into your brain and stays there like a parasite.

There’s still a lot of filler, something that plagues almost Alice album from Goes To Hell through to Hey Stoopid. “Snakebite”, “Hurricane Years”, “Little By Little” and “Dirty Dreams” are all songs that Alice will never play live in concert, and for good reason.

Yet there are still lots of hidden gems on this CD, all the way through to the final track “Wind-Up Toy”. A song about insanity, as only Alice can do, it is something that really hearkens back to Welcome To My Nightmare. What’s this about “Steven”?

There are also a couple lesser known tracks that aren’t on the domestic CD that are worth tracking down: “It Rained All Night” is a slowy, groovy track that was a B-side but better than some of the ballads on the actual album. “Fire” was a Jimi Hendrix cover with some fiery (pun intended) guitar playing.

The most disappointing thing about Hey Stoopid is the production by the normally excellent Peter Collins. Yes, Trash was too glossy, and yes, Hey Stoopid toughens the sound with more guitars. However the background vocals in particular are so dense, so saccharine, that even Def Leppard would blush. They are credited to different groups of people, and clearly there are a lot of voices here creating this gigantic mush of sound. It’s too much. I much preferred when Alice stripped it down on Dirty Diamonds, an album that deserves much praise. In 1991, production values just seemed to go to this extreme — witness Europe’s Prisoners In Paradise CD for a similar sounding album.

Hey Stoopid was Alice attempting to find his footing again, and while it stumbled, it did pave the way for Last Temptation. If grunge didn’t wipe out hard rock later that year, maybe Hey Stoopid would be regarded more fondly.

3/5 stars. Not great, but certainly not a failure.

Promotional "Hey Stoopid" memo

Promotional “Hey Stoopid” memo

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Naked Tracks (2008 5 CD set)

STEVE VAI – Naked Tracks (2008 Light Without Heat)

I’m not a guitar player so my review of this box set will be limited to non-player knowledge. Steve Vai designed this set for guitar players to improvise over. He removed the lead guitar from selected tracks from the following albums:

  • Passion & Warfare
  • Sex & Religion
  • Alien Love Secrets
  • Fire Garden
  • Alive in an Ultra World
  • The Ultra Zone
  • Real Illusions: Reflections

He encourages the players to improvise rather than learn the original solos, and make loops of songs in order to play away as long as they want.

As I said I’m not a real guitar player, just a wanna-be, but I love Steve’s music and I enjoyed hearing his songs deconstructed. You can hear a lot of keyboards and backing guitars that you can’t hear with the lead guitar mixed in up front. Some songs, as a listener, don’t work at all like this such as “The Audience Is Listening” as there’s not much backing music. Again though, this wasn’t really designed for listeners like me.

I had fun playing a few simple melodies over some of Steve’s slower songs.  Some of these stripped-down tracks will also make good beds for voiceover recordings.

At this price, guitar players are getting a lot of music for their dollar. They might never play or use some of these tracks but you can’t argue with the value (about $20 Canadian).

For players, you’re going to get a lot of use from these CDs especially when you download the sheet music from Vai’s site. Vai writes arrangements that will give you a lot of challenges and fun options to play over. For the average listener such as myself, you will only play this occassionally. It will definitey give you insight to the songwriting and recording talents of Steve Vai, and maybe you can use the tunes to just chill out as background music at home. At this price maybe that is enough reason for non-players to buy it. Only a guitar player will truly get maximum use for this box set, and I think they will use it a lot.

3.5/5 stars

Note:  Steve has available on iTunes two more discs from this series:

  • Where the Wild Things Are/Sound Theories
  • Story of Light