Stormbringer

REVIEW: Mollo / Martin – The Cage 2 (2002)

Scan_20160208DARIO MOLLO / TONY MARTINThe Cage 2 (2002 Frontiers)

Three years out from their debut album The Cage, Tony Martin and Dario Mollo re-teamed up for a sequel, creatively titled The Cage 2!  On their second effort, Mollo and Martin broke out of a cage of sorts and made heavy metal music with a little more identity.  Keyboardist Don Airey did not return for this album, but in his stead is the legendary Tony Franklin on bass.

Heavy modern nu-metal touches highlight “Terra Toria”, a detuned beast with a bit of grunting on the choruses.  Thankfully the verses are piled high with Tony’s melodies, the same kind that he used to contribute to his Black Sabbath albums.  Mollo meanwhile lays down the shred with a Neal Schon vibe and plenty of power chords.  The heavy stuff takes a bit of a back seat on “Overload” which could have worked well as a Dio power ballad.  Underrated as a vocalist, Tony Martin has no issues delivering the hooks and high notes.  One thing I have loved about Tony Martin is that he also plays violin, and sometimes throws that into his songs, as he did on his solo album Scream.  “Overload” has a fast flying violin solo, and it’s a killer.

Distorted lead vocals on “Life Love and Everything” lend it a modern touch on the verses, but the layered vocals of the chorus make it clear that this is not nu-metal.  The guitar riff is a tricky shuffle, but with a groove.  It’s soul metal with the emphasis on the metal rather than the soul!  “Balance of Power” is just speed metal, along the lines of some of the things Sabbath had done on Tyr such as “The Lawmaker” and “Heaven in Black”.  If you miss that era of Sabbath, or the kind of fast metal that Dio was apt to do, then check out “Balance of Power”.  If you’re in  tune with 80’s Sabbath, check out “Amore Silenzioso”.  It is the closest thing to Black Sabbath’s “The Seventh Star” that I have heard, though not quite on that level.  A short keyboard based instrumental (“II”) closes that, and goes into “Wind of Change”, not the Scorpions song, but a ballad nonetheless.  If the songs on Cage 2 have a common weakness, it is that many are on the long side.  “Wind of Change” is too much ballad, though it does house an absolutely stunning guitar solo.

“Theater of Dreams” carries over with the 80’s Sabbath sound, and more intricate and cool guitars.  The slow groove combined with the might of Martin and the metal of Mollo make it a winner in these books.   Then they take a drive down Van Halen alley, with “What a Strange Thing Love Is”, not a bad tune at all, but definitely in the summer song style of Sammy Hagar.  It’s pop metal with soulful backing vocals, and it’s cool.

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The only serious mis-step is an ill-advised cover of “Dazed and Confused”.  It’s nearly impossible to do this song without sounding like a jackass.  As great as Martin sings most of it, he ruins it by adding in his own adlibs that just remind you, oh yeah,  it’s a cover of a better version by Led Zeppelin. Thankfully Mollo makes the guitar solo the centerpiece and it does the job without copying Jimmy Page.  Without this cover clogging up the works, the CD is actually more enjoyable.

Moving into the last lap, “Guardian Angel” pounds the ground with double bass and heavy riffing.  It has Iron Maiden elements but kicks ass all around.  Still they saved the best track for last, which is “Poison Roses”.  This melancholy closer is the most memorable in a batch of pretty strong heavy metal songs.

You have to give Tony Martin credit.  He’s a great singer, a good songwriter, but no matter what kind of albums he makes, he remains in the shadows.  Too bad.  Fans would do well to seek his his collaborations with Dario Mollo.  They compete in quality with the albums Tony made in his better known band.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Mollo / Martin – The Cage (1999)

Part one of a two-parter!

Scan_20160109DARIO MOLLO / TONY MARTIN – The Cage (1999 Dreamcatcher)

When Ozzy Osbourne returned to Black Sabbath in 1997, that was undeniably a very exciting moment in heavy metal, and rock in general.  By ’98, original drummer Bill Ward even returned to the band, completing the original lineup.  We were rewarded for our patience with two new Black Sabbath songs called “Psycho Man” and “Selling My Soul” by the original lineup, but otherwise it was the beginning of a long drought.  Though Sabbath toured and played festivals, it was the sparsity of new material that pissed off a few fans, this one included.

Thankfully during this Sabbath ice age, some former members kept the flame alive with new heavy metal music.  Former vocalist Tony Martin, who was ousted for Ozzy’s return, recorded three albums with Italian guitarist Dario Mollo.  1999’s The Cage, featuring Don Airey (Deep Purple) on keyboards, is their first collaboration.  This helped scratch the Sabbath itch during the drought.

A jagged Dio-ish guitar riff commences “Cry Myself to Death”.  The doomy edge is present.  Martin sounds as if in peak voice.  The thirst is quenched.  It’s easy to imagine a song like this could have been on a followup to 1995’s Forbidden.  Dario Mollo is nothing like Iommi, being capable of heavy modern shreddery at maximum velocity.  This is proven on “Time to Kill”.  This time the vibe is like “Lawmaker” from 1990’s Tyr album.  The pace is breakneck, but Don Airey is more than capable of keeping up on the keys.  This is a stunning metal track mixing the spirit of old with the talent of new.  It verges on regal Priest-isms by the solo break, blazing on to the end in a frenzy.

Don Airey plagiarizes his own keyboard part from Judas Priest’s “A Touch of Evil”, for an instrumental intro called “The Cage”.  This serves as the start for a moody Dokken-esque ballad called “If You Believe”.  Don Dokken only wishes he could still write a song this good, a quality dark ballad, perhaps akin to Sabbath’s “Feels Good to Me”.  Then “Relax” also operates on a dark Dokken / Whitesnake vibe.  Mollo’s shredding on this would would make Eddie Van Halen nod in approval.  And speaking of Whitesnake and Cov the Gov, guess what they cover later on in the album?  “Stormbringer”!  Don makes the keyboards a bit too spacey on that one, but it is an otherwise pretty authentic cover, and the guitar solo is virtually note for note.

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“Smoke and Mirrors” is pretty lame.  “Some girls, they look really pretty but they tell you lies,” sings Martin.  Well maybe, but some singers sing real good but struggle on the lyrics.  The weakest track so far, “Smoke and Mirrors” has a sleezy rock vibe, like a latter-day Europe track.  Mollo’s playing is the highlight but the song is pretty skippable.  “Infinity” is more Sabbathy, reminding me of “Headless Cross”.  Onto “Dead Man Dancing”, I think of Gary Cherone and Extreme.  The song boasts a soaring Martin chorus and plenty string mangling by Mollo.  Then it’s onto “This Kind of Love”, a dead ringer for Van Hagar.

The album closes on “Soul Searching”, (kind of similar to Sabbath’s “Nightwing”) which is something I wish Dario and Martin had done more of during the writing of this album.  It would be nice to hear more of the sounds of their own personalities rather than songs that remind us of other bands.  That’s rock and roll; the great struggle.  It is not easy to carve out your identity among the thousands of bands who already have.  The Cage is loaded with great music, and the playing is above reproach.  What it lacks is originality.  Even in the guitar playing, I would say that Dario Mollo owes John Sykes a debt of gratitude, though he is certainly no slouch.  I just crave more originality in the tunes.  Yes, part of the appeal of following ex-Sabbath members like Tony Martin into a solo career is to hear a bit more of that sound you loved.  There are just too many moments on The Cage that sound like songs you already know.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Shades 1968-1998 (box set)

DEEP PURPLE – Shades 1968-1998 (Rhino 1999 box set)

I was really excited about this 1999 box set when it came out, but what it came down to was this: I paid “x” amount of dollars for just two songs that I didn’t have on other recent Deep Purple CDs. One song, “Slow Down Sister”  by Deep Purple Mk 5 was only available here. It’s since been reissued on the Slaves and Masters deluxe edition.  The other is a very rare and very great 1971 live version of “No No No” from a compilation called Ritchie Blackmore/Rock Profile Vol. 1. So there’s your bait.

Unfortunately, the booklet and discography is loaded with errors. This was disappointing. The packaging is nice, with that sheet metal looking embossed cover. It opens kind of awkwardly though, making it hard to handle. And man, there are so many Deep Purple box sets out there now! I have Listen, Learn, Read On which is six CDs dedicated entirely to just 1968-1976. Obviously you can’t squeeze Deep Purple’s career onto just four discs. This set covers 1968-1998, which is a huge chunk.  It’s almost the entire Jon Lord tenure.  It skimps in some places and confounds me in others. Usually, Rhino do such a great job, but I felt this one didn’t live up to their other products.

SHADES_0003Disc one covers 1968 to 1971 (Shades Of to Fireball). The tracks listed here as demos or rarities are from the Deep Purple remastered CDs, all except for the aforementioned “No No No” which really is awesome. If you have the great Singles A’s & B’s and the Deep Purple remasters, you have all this stuff. Except maybe the edit version of “”River Deep, Mountain High”, I’m not certain about that one. You get a good smattering of favourites on here, like “Kentucky Woman”, “Speed King”, “Child In Time” and so on, but it’s not really sequenced all that well. The slow-ish Deep Purple Mk I material fits awkwardly with the Mk II.  Other songs of note include non-album singles and B-sides such as “Hallelujah” (first recording with Ian Gillan) and “The Bird Has Flown”.  The version of “Speed King” included is the full UK cut, with the crazy noise intro.

Disc two is 1971 to 1972: more Fireball, and Machine Head. All these tracks can be found on Deep Purple remasters. There  are some excellent tracks here, such as the rare “Painted Horse” and “Freedom”. “Painted Horse”, a personal favourite, has been available for decades on an album called Power House. I guess Blackmore didn’t like them at the time, so they languished until the band broke up before the record label released them. “I’m Alone” was rare for a long time, and “Slow Train” was completely undiscovered until the Fireball remaster. I like that “Anyone’s Daughter” is on here, a very underrated song.  Of course you will hear all the big hits on this disc: The studio versions of “Smoke on the Water”, “Fireball”, Highway Star” and “Space Truckin'”. This will be many people’s favourite disc.

The third CD continues with Mk II.  It starts off with the Made In Japan live version of “Smoke” which is fine, but now you’ve heard it twice.  Soon, it’s  “Woman From To-kay-yo”, “Mary Long”, and the scathing “Smooth Dancer”.  Then Gillan and Glover are out, and in comes Coverdale and Hughes  One rarity on this disc is the instrumental “Coronarias Redig”, which dates from the Burn period. It also includes some of Mk III’s most impressive work, including two of the best tunes from Come Taste The Band. Conspicuous by their absence is the epic “You Keep On Moving”, and Blackmore-era fave “Gypsy”. You will, however get “Burn”, and “Stormbringer” from Stormbringer itself.

SHADES_0005The fourth CD is the one that ticks me off the most. This covers the reunion era, from 1984 to the then-most recent album Abandon in 1998. The hits are here, “Perfect Strangers” and “Knocking’ On Your Back Door”, as well as some singles from the Joe Lynn Turner era. What ticks me off here is the song selection. “Fire In The Basement”? What? That song kind of sucks, why not “The Cut Runs Deep”? Only one song from The Battle Rages On is included, only one from the excellent Purpendicular, and only one from the recent Abandon? And not even the best songs? That makes no sense.

To short-change the later era of Deep Purple only serves to short-change the listener.  The band were revitalized and rejuventated by Steve Morse, and made some really good, well received music. I saw them live with Morse in 1996.

From The House of Blue Light era, a single edit of “Bad Attitude” is included, which is probably rare.  What you won’t get is the full, 10 minute + version of the instrumental “Son Of Aleric”. This is one of the best lesser known tunes from the reunion era. Instead, you get the truncated 7″ single version. That makes the 10 minute version frustratingly hard to get. It was originally released on a 12″ single, which you may be able to find. You might have better luck finding it on the European version of Knocking at Your Back Door: The Best of Deep Purple in the 80’s. It was included there, replacing “Child In Time” from the US version. I managed to get it thanks to my mom & dad who bought it for me at an HMV store in Edinburgh (along with Restless Heart by Whitesnake).

SHADES_0004Mick Wall’s liner notes offer the Morse years a mere mention, and end on a nostalgia note of “bring back Blackmore.”  Come on. Let’s focus on the present of a band that shows no signs of slowing down, shall we? But this box set short changes the present, and by picking it up you won’t hear such awesome later songs as “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” or “Fingers to the Bone”.

I know many reviews of this set are glowing, and each reviewer has their own reasons for doing so. I can’t. This band is too important, too vital, and dammit, still alive! This box set simply doesn’t do them justice. I was ticked off when I bought it and realized I owned almost all the “rare and unreleased” material. Collectors won’t find much here worth the coin spent, and rock fans who just want a great box set of Deep Purple won’t get to hear enough Morse.

Somebody dropped the ball on this one! 2/5 stars.

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REVIEW: Whitesnake – Good to Be Bad (2 CD & Japanese versions)

Here’s my second review from the The Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale! It was Japanese import Heaven!

For the last installment of this series, click here.

WHITESNAKE  – Good to Be Bad (2008 Warner/SPV)

Whitesnake disbanded in 1990.  Coverdale did his album with Jimmy Page, but that didn’t prove to last either.  Although they’d started writing for a second album, the affair ended and David Coverdale assembled a new Whitesnake for a Greatest Hits tour in 1994.  This reformation eventually led to an album in 1997 called Restless Heart (billed as “David Coverdale and Whitesnake”.  This R&B flavoured album, a personal favourite, did not resonate with some fans of 80’s ‘Snake.

After another hiatus, and a solo album (2000’s Into the Light), David once again formed a new group of ‘Snakes, a mixture of old and new members.  After several years of touring (and lineup changes), the long awaited new Whitesnake album, Good to Be Bad, hit the shelves in 2008.  Former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich and Winger’s Reb Beach had been a formidable guitar duo since 2002.

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Similarly to his partnership with Adrian Vandenberg, David has retained his writing style of co-writing with just one co-writer; in this case, Aldrich. It seems to be evident that the guys have gone for a John Sykes guitar sound and style.  You can certainly hear a lot of trademark sounds and tricks that Sykes used to do, that gave the 1987 album such a cool sound.  This isn’t to say that they don’t play plenty of their own style too, but the retro stuff is frequent.

So similar is the direction of this album to 1987, that you can play “name that tune” with all the new songs:
“Can You Hear The Wind Blow” for example directly references moments on 1987, right down to those flares that Sykes used to do.  “All I Want, All I Need” equals “Is This Love” Part Deux.  Basically, every song on Good To Be Bad is a mash-up of songs from Coverdale Page1987 and Slip Of The Tongue, and you can hear the references quite distinctly. “A Fool in Love” is “Crying in the Rain”.  “Lay Down Your Love” is “Shake My Tree”, without Jimmy Page.  Throw in a little “Kashmir” during “‘Til The End Of Time” (which seems to be based off “Till The Day I Die” from Come An’ Get It) too.

Having said that, despite the lack of originality, Good To Be Bad is still a very enjoyable listen, and a very welcome return. A world without David Coverdale’s voice is like a world without crème brûlée.  That voice is in fine form, perhaps even stronger than it was on 1997’s Restless Heart. The album has a lot more life to it than Restless Heart, although it does lack that album’s subtlety and R&B moments. The band play great, kicking it on every tune, even the ballads. The melodies are strong and memorable.  It’s just…too contrived.

The bonus live disc is the the Canadian special edition is highlights from Live: In The Shadow Of The Blues. No big deal.  It’s nice to hear Whitesnake playing “Burn/Stormbringer” from David’s Deep Purple days, and cool to hear the old 70’s classics.

The real cool version to have is the Japanese release with two bonus tracks.  And a sticker!  Can’t forget the sticker.  The bonus tracks are both remixes (a “Doug solo” version of “All For Love”, and a stripped down version of the lovely “Summer Rain”).  For $20, I wasn’t complaining.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition)

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DEEP PURPLE – Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition, 2009 EMI, originally 1974)

Stormbringer, now available in the gloriously remastered series of Deep Purple special editions, is one of my favourite Purple platters. Now augmented with bonus material, it has finally been given the treatment it deserved. It’s certainly not everybody’s cup of tea, but Stormbringer has earned some begrudging fans over the years.  I for one find it a more enjoyable listen cover to cover than 1974’s Burn.

A lot of fans did not like the funkier, softer direction of the band. You can understand this, of course. A fan who loved In Rock, one of the heaviest records of any decade, could easily be turned off by the radio-ready soul funk of “Hold On”.  Blackmore himself decried the funky direction of the band.

Here’s the good news: Whatever Deep Purple set their minds to, they could do. And they could do it well.

STORMBRINGER CDBlackmore may not have liked the album, and he did take a step back in the mix, (you can barely hear any guitar on “Hold On”).  He could stilll adapt to and play any style. His playing here, while sparse, is sublime. Ian Paice takes to the funky rhythms very comfortably, laying down some excellent grooves. Jon Lord steps up to the forefront, supplying some excellent, funky keys.

There are a few songs that harken back to the past: “Stormbringer”, the title track, sounds as solid as any epic the band had ever composed. It could have been on Burn as easily as this record. In fact, it stands out as being out of place: As the opening track, fans must have been shocked and surprised when the rest of the album was so different.

Another song that has shades of older Purple is “The Gypsy”.   It’s a slow mournful piece, perhaps akin to “Mistreated” from the previous album.  The lyrics are uncharacteristically bleak.

One track showed an interesting glimpse of the future. “Soldier Of Fortune” is an acoustic track which forshadowed much of the music Blackmore would do with Rainbow, and even now with Blackmore’s Night. David Coverdale has performed it live with Whitesnake.  I think it’s one of Richie Blackmore’s finest compositions.

Of the other tunes, “Love Don’t Mean A Thing” is one of the funkiest, and one of the most entertaining.  It’s just fun to listen to.  David and Glenn co-sing this one.  Ritchie’s solo is very understated, but appropriate.  Glenn takes his first solo lead vocal with Deep Purple on “Holy Man”, a soulful ballad.  “You Can’t Do It Right” features probably the funkiest guitar work of Blackmore’s career.  It’s fascinating to listen to, and the band really cooks on this one.  It’s one of the most extreme experiments of this funky Purple period.

As with all the Purple reissues, this has been lovingly remastered. Finally you can discard your original CD, mastered for digital ages ago, but never really letting the subtleties of the music shine. Stormbringer, of all the Deep Purple albums, perhaps has more subtleties to hear due to the quieter nature of the music.

STORMBRINGER DVDBonus material?  Oh yeah, there’s bonus material, in this case four remixes by Glenn Hughes. These remixes don’t replace the original songs, but they do act as a companion piece of sorts. Fresh light is shed on alternate takes incorporated into the mixes, and “Love Don’t Mean A Thing” is extended by over half a minute. “High Ball Shooter” is presented in an early instrumental form as well.

As an added bonus, a second disc has been included. The second disc, exclusive to this edition, is a DVD containing the original 1975 quadrophonic mix of Stormbringer! Nice. Apparently, this disc is to be a limited edition so get yours while you can. I liked quite a bit, myself. As with many quad mixes from the 70’s, the songs often bear noticeable differences from the originals.  Quad was a gimmicky fad, by today’s standards, but listening to it with the benefit of hindsight is quite enjoyable.

Lastly, I must acknowledge the great liner notes. The most entertaining story included is in regards to “Love Don’t Mean A Thing.”  While in Chicago, Ritchie ran across a street busker, who was snapping his fingers singing a song about money.  Blackmore invited him onto Purple’s plane, collected Coverdale and Hughes, and jammed for 20 minutes with this guy who taught them the song and the lyrics.  The band finished the song that became “Love Don’t Mean A Thing”, credited to the entire quintet, because nobody ever bothered to get the busker’s name.

Pick up Stormbringer in this 25th Anniversary Edition, and finally you can feel comfortable discarding your original.

5/5 stars for both the music, and the reissue!

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Snakebite (album)

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WHITESNAKE – Snakebite (1978, released as both album and EP)

You gotta give David Coverdale some kind of credit for name-dropping two of his old Deep Purple Stormbringer classics right there in the first song on this album/EP, “Come On”.

“I’m just a SOLDIER OF FORTUNE,
Must be the GYPSY in me…”

Maybe David just wanted to remind people who he was, that this was not just some “new” band.  Either way, it’s a very solid outing, considerably more enjoyable than David’s first two albums as a solo artist.

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Snakebite was originally a 4 song EP, under the name Whitesnake.  Over here in Canada, I knew it as a full album .  North America stuck on four of the better tunes from David’s solo album, Northwinds, and released it as an LP.

The EP, or side one of the album, was helmed by Purple producer Martin Birch.  He ensured a solid sound, and Coverdale & Whitesnake provided four solid tunes.

The aforementioned “Come On” sounds like a smoove Paul Rodgers prowl, and features three players who would stay through most of Whitesnake’s history: Neil Murray (bass), Bernie Marsden (guitar) and Mickey Moody (guitar). Track two, “Bloody Mary” is driven by a boogie piano, one of the best songs on the album.  My personal favourite of the album, anyway.  It’s just impossible not to move to this one.  David’s as naughty as ever in the lyrics:

“You know that Madam Palm and her five sweet daughters”
Couldn’t give her man what the doctor ordered”

Then Coverdale gets bluesy. “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”, previously a hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland, ended up becoming Whitesnake’s live centerpiece.  On the original EP, it is the last track, its position swapped with “Steal Away”.  “Steal Away” is a another highlight.  Moody’s slide guitar is just pure awesome sauce.  The only thing I dislike is some really cheesy sounding electronic toms.

NORTHWINDSSide two of the LP had the earlier Northwinds material, produced by ex-Purple bassist Roger Glover. Although Mickey Moody plays on these songs, he’s the only future Whitesnake member present. The tunes are decent enough.  “Keep On Giving Me Love” was funky, like the kind of stuff Glenn Hughes was always trying to push on Deep Purple.  It’s not really outstanding until you get to the chorus.  “Only My Soul” however is a stand out. Coverdale has often done these incredible soul-searching pieces, such as Purple’s “Soldier Of Fortune”, and Whitesnake’s later “Sailing Ships”. This time out we’re treated to some very appropriate violin, and Glover on synth.  The side is rounded out by “Queen of Hearts” and “Breakdown”, the raucious rocker written about the final demise of Deep Purple.

Although David Coverdale seemed to still be searching for direction after leaving Purple, the Snakebite album (or EP, whatever you happen to own) is an enjoyable listen from front to back. Some material really showed what David was capable of, and he certainly would deliver in full in the future. Whitesnake diehards should not do without Snakebite, as it provides an interesting set of snapshots as to what Coverdale was up to, between his bouts of fame and glory.

TROUBLEThere are numerous options today to get this music.  Not only is the Snakebite album still in print on CD in North America, but you can now also find the tunes remastered.  The Snakebite EP has been added as bonus tracks to Whitesnake’s debut album, Trouble.  You can also get David’s solo album, Northwinds, remastered with bonus tracks.  Or you could just get ’em on original vinyl!  The choice is yours, but I think any Whitesnake fan would enjoy this Snakebite.

4/5 stars