styx

REVIEW: Styx – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011)

STYX – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011 Eagle Records)

Although legacy bands like Styx may not write and record new music as often as they used to, there have been a couple interesting effects from this.  Legendary discographies have been mined by a handful of classic bands, playing rare tracks live that haven’t been played on a stage in decades, if ever.  Sometimes, bands play full albums.  A few even play two!  Styx chose The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight for live resurrection.

Dipping back to 1977 and 1978, Styx picked two of their best records to perform.  Kind of the “sweet spot” between Tommy Shaw joining the band on Crystal Ball, and the drama with Dennis DeYoung on Cornerstone.  There are numerous of songs they never played live with Lawrence Gowan on vocals before, if at all!  They had to re-learn their own songs to put on this concert.  You can’t accuse them of taking the easy way out!

Tommy even tells you where the side breaks come!

With Todd Sucherman on drums, the songs are naturally heavier here.  Gowan’s voice lends a different sound to them too.  Bassist Ricky Phillips is rock solid as always, but original bassist Chuck Panozzo still comes out to play bass on the odd track live.  His rumble on “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” is nice and prominent in the mix.

The songs have other notable differences, like more guitar solos.  James Young does Dennis’ old spoken word part on “Superstars”.  Some might wonder, “Why listen to this, when you can play the original albums with the original members any time you want?”  It would be unwise to compare the talents of Gowan and Dennis, but why can’t you just be a fan of both?  Some people want to hear Gowan singing “Come Sail Away”, and especially “Castle Walls” which was only played once before in 1978 and a handful of times in 1997.  There are many such songs on this recording.  “I’m OK” (which Gowan sings) was dropped after 1979, until this tour.  “Lords of the Rings” (James Young on vocals) was only played once in 1978.

There are stories, and songs for the diehards.  This isn’t a package for someone looking for greatest hits.  It’s also not the same as listening to an old album.  This is for the Styx fan who loves the past and present equally.

3.5/5 stars

Sunday Chuckle Screening: Styx – “Love is the Ritual” (1990)

In 1990, Styx reunited — but without Tommy Shaw. Busy with Damn Yankees, Shaw would have to be replaced. And, let’s face it, it always seemed like most of the Styx friction was between Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung. Needing someone to fill Tommy’s “Shooz”, they recruited young singer/songwriter/guitarist Glen Burtnik.

The DeYoung/Young/Burtnik/Panozzo/Panozzo lineup produced one album, Edge of the Century. It was heralded by lead single “Love is the Ritual”, a decidedly un-Styx-like attempt to break into the 1990 rock market after a seven year absence.

You could mistake it for Winger. With Burtnik front and center, Styx take a back seat in their own music video. Dennis is rarely seen, only needed when there’s a “Hey!” backing vocal.  Glen fronts the band with microphone in hand — no guitar. If ever there was a music video built to appeal to the young while trying to hide the age or identity of the band, it is “Love is the Ritual”. The clip is padded out with shots of women and a Fabio-like dude. Truly an awful video, and an embarrassing attempt to grab the brass ring one more time.

#910: Fox on the Run

RECORD STORE TALES #910: Fox on the Run

There’s a wily fox that’s been prowling the grounds up at the lake.  This weekend I caught my first real sight of him.  I saw him twice in one day.  He has no fear of humans.  He is usually carrying prey in his mouth.  I’ve named him Reddy, after Reddy Fox from the classic children’s cartoon The Green Forest.

The first time I saw the fox, I was on the front porch rocking away as I often do.  The porch did a lot of rocking this weekend.  The star of the show was the new album by Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen.  The debut Smith/Kotzen CD is turning into an early summer favourite.  In particular, the song “Running” is quite incredible. I didn’t know how well the two very different singer/guitarists would mesh. Like cream and coffee. Glowing review to come.

Styx, Kiss, Queen, Ace Frehley, Rush, and Marillion all saw a lot of porch action this weekend. I was playing one of them when the fox ran past again, this time up close and personal. I saw a flash of red and then the movement. He was swift. He moved with the steady determination of a wild animal completely disinterested in its surroundings. He was within six feet me of when he strode past. It made a hacking sound. It did not care that I was there, nor anyone else that he galloped past on his way to wherever he was going.

On neither appearance did I have any chance of grabbing a picture. There was no way. It happened in two seconds. There only chance would have been if he walked past during the rare instances I was running my lake cam. But he never did. I know I’ll see him again. His blatant disregard for humans means he’ll be back. He wasn’t phased by the Schnauzers barking at him either. He’s like a Borg, only interested in one thing and that’s where he’s going. So long as you’re not in his way, he’s completely disinterested.   He moves swiftly with no hesitation and no pause.  It was an interesting thing to feel so completely outside of nature at that moment.

I’ve been coming to this place for almost five decades.  I missed a few summers, but a fox is a rare sighting indeed.  We’ve had plenty of rabbits, porcupine, skunks, and even a few deer and one bear.  Foxes are elusive.  Not this guy though.

I doubt I will ever be quick enough to get a picture of that fox, but I will make sure to keep my eyes open for a sighting.  At least we know he’s not afraid of the sound of music.  I have the new Styx on deck for next weekend.  Let’s see what happens.

REVIEW: Styx – Cornerstone (1979, coloured vinyl reissue)

STYX – Cornerstone (Originally 1979 A&M, 2020 Universal red vinyl reissue – limited to 1000 copies)

With Cornerstone, Styx were on their fourth album in their most successful incarnation:  Dennis DeYoung, James Young, Tommy Shaw, and Chuck & John Panozzo.  Shaw was the newest member and a fierce creative force in songwriting, on guitar, and with his own lead vocals.  Styx had a string of hits with this lineup including Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, and Pieces of EightCornerstone would be their biggest yet.  Though imperfect, it’s loaded with memorable songs and dynamite performances from the poppy-pretentious-prog-rock quintet.

What a terrific song “Lights” still is, with that big fat keyboard lick and Tommy Shaw’s delicate lead vocal.  You can hear why the punk rockers sought to eradicate the likes of Styx and their contemporaries.  But Cornerstone went to #2 in the album charts, and “Lights” was one of the singles released in Europe.  It’s a song about performing on stage, something that most of us will never be able to relate to.  But there’s something in its sincerity that is just charming.  “Give me the lights, precious lights, give me lights.  Give me my hope, give me my energy.”

Another single follows called “Why Me” (which wasn’t intended to be a single, but we’ll get into that).  A head-bopping light rock delight.  One of those tracks where you say, “Yeah, decent song.”  You might forget about it later; you might forget which album it’s on.  But it’s cool, especially when a blistering saxophone solo hits the speakers.

The big hit is in the third slot:  legendary power ballad “Babe”, Styx’s only #1.  Its strength is its pure corniness.  Surely, it must have been corny in 1979 too.  Yet a word comes back to me – “sincerity”.  Dennis DeYoung sounds completely sincere singing, “Babe, I love you,” like he means it.  Indeed as I research the album, “Babe” was written for Dennis’ wife.  You can hear it.  And if I was writing a song for my wife, you’d find it corny too.

A natural follow up to this Dennis-fest is a solid Tommy Shaw rocker called “Never Say Never”.  One of those album tracks that couldn’t stand on its own as a single, but has a perfect slot on side one after the big ballad.  That is an important slot for any rock band’s side one.  You have to get the blood pumping and the circulation back into the extremities with something that has some pep.  Because before you know it, the side will be done.

And side one closes on an epic:  Tommy’s mandolin-inflected “Boat on a River”.  Shaw on mandolin, guitar and autoharp.  Dennis on accordion, Chuck Panozzo on double bass with a bow.  Although fully acoustic with no electric, “epic” is the best word to describe it.  Perhaps it is a precursor to the the current popular “sea shanty” trend.  Well, Styx did one in 1979.

Side two kicks off with a blast:  “Borrowed Time”.  It’s amusing to hear Dennis start the song by saying, “Don’t look now, here comes the 80s!”  But this fun romp will be almost completely forgotten when you are suffocated by “First Time”, one of the most syrupy ballads ever foisted upon us.  Too syrupy, though the string section is a nice touch.  And it would have been the second single, had Tommy Shaw not objected.  “Babe” was a smash, and so “First Time” was selected to follow it.  Tommy expressed concern at two ballads in a row for the first two singles, and threatened to quit the band over it.  Things got so nasty that Dennis DeYoung was briefly fired and then re-hired over the issue.  And thus “Why Me” was chosen as second single instead.  Probably for the best…though you never know.

What do we need now?  A James Young rocker!  “Eddie” is his sole writing and singing credit on Cornerstone.  And it rocks hard, James pushing the upper register of his voice.  You wanna talk deep cuts, well “Eddie” is one of the best.  Interestingly it’s also one of those songs where the verses are slightly better than the choruses.

The closing slot on Cornerstone is left to Tommy Shaw’s “Love in the Midnight”, an interesting choice, echoing the side one closer when it opens acoustically.  It is the most progressive of the songs, featuring an absolutely bonkers Dennis keyboard solo and suitably gothic “ahh-ahh-ahh” backing vocals within a section with odd timing.  Things get heavy and punchy.  Definitely going out with a bang and not a whimper on this one.

This transparent vinyl reissue looks and sounds nice. It’s a gatefold sleeve with lyrics, pictures, and moustaches.  Not as cheap as buying a vintage vinyl or CD…just a lot nicer to look at.

4/5 stars

 

 

Operation: Concept Albums – an epic Nigel Tufnel Top Ten

Concept albums!  A marathon session with a five person panel. The best concept albums in the history of music (the earliest dating back to 1918). Genre busting lists. A rush of inspiring music, from hip to elders.

Aaron kept tabs on the titles and I’ll post them when I get a chance.  There was one album that was a clear winner, and one subject that crossed over multiple albums.  You’ll just have to watch to see for yourself.*

There was some preamble chat about the latest episode of WandaVision, and a bit on Desmond Child.  We hit the lists at 0:21:30 of the stream.

Thanks for checking it out!  Tune in next week for Top Bootlegs with Harrison Kopp, John T. Snow, Buried On Mars and maybe more.  Cheers!

* If you don’t want to see for yourself, you can try to read Aaron’s hand-written notes below!

REVIEW: Dennis DeYoung – 26 East Vol 1 (2020)

DENNIS DeYOUNG – 26 East Vol 1 (2020 Frontiers)

It wasn’t that long ago that Styx re-emerged with their best new album in decades.  Now their original singer Dennis DeYoung has done the same on his own.  They say 26 East (to be released in two separate volumes) is to be his retirement album.  If so, Dennis has gone out on an exceptionally high note.

It’s clear from this release that DeYoung is reclaiming his throne. The final track “2020 A.D.” is a essentially another part of Styx’s “A.D. 1928”, a cornerstone of their progressive monuments.  The three trains on the front cover, with the words “Trade Winds” and the year 1962 refers to the origins of Styx.  The trio is Dennis, Chuck & John Panozza — the founding members.

With 26 East, Dennis has turned up the rock side significantly more, to a vintage Styx-like balance of guitar thrills and concrete keyboards.  His voice has lost very little over the years.  His depth and expressiveness cannot be touched, nor can his sense of melody.  Hooks!  Styx albums were always loaded with hooks.  Dennis has not forgotten how to write them.  Not at all.

The epic tracks contain sentiment, humour, anger and the whole gamut of human emotions.  There are rare political slants to songs like “With All Due Respect”:  “Fake fun, fake facts, hey look new tax!”  DeYoung’s patriotic pride comes out on “The Promise of This Land”, and he incorporates influences from coast to coast.  From church choirs to stage productions, all elements are included.

All the tracks are special, but one of the most chill-inducing is “To the Good Old Days”, a collaboration with Julian Lennon.  And to say the least, it has clear shades of John.  Picking other favourites is more difficult, but it’s hard to ignore the bombast of the opener “East of Midnight”.  For something a little different, “A Kingdom Ablaze” has Floydian guitar twangs that really feed the soul.  “Run For the Roses” is a pure epic Styx high-water mark, which when chased by rocker “Damn the Dream” is only that much sweeter.  “Unbroken” offers upbeat feelings that would have fit in on Styx’s 1990 album Edge of the Century.  There are no weak tracks and nothing to skip.  Dennis and co-writer Jim Peterik have really put together an incredible album worthy of its place in the catalogue.

One of the best albums of 2020 in any genre.

5/5 stars

#827: Freestylin’ 5 – Brave New World

GETTING MORE TALE #827: Freestylin’ 5 – Brave New World

Oh, how so much has changed in such a short time. The conveniences I once took for granted are now dearly missed. I feel as if I am living in the early chapters of an old undiscovered dystopian fiction novel. Then there is the paranoia I feel when we get such mixed signals from all around. Don’t go out! But this store is offering pickups. Wear a mask! But only if you’re not able to be more than 2 metres away from the next person. Or not. And what kind of masks? It’s a surreal day that ends with a phone call with your mother about what kind of mask she’s wearing these days.

Look at classic science fiction.  There are very few that feature gloves as part of regular daily attire that are not dystopias!

Because I feel it’s appropriate, I’m listening to Kilroy Was Here by Styx for inspiration while I write.

“We all need control.  I need control.  We all need control.”

And to think we were led to believe that the future dystopia would involve robots and rock & roll rebels.

On the other hand, I feel like I’ve been rehearsing for this my whole life.  In spite of losing hundreds of books and movies in a recent purge (to be discussed in full in another chapter), I still have dozens unwatched and unread here to enjoy.  I was saving them for the proverbial “rainy day”.  Who was to know it was going to be three months of rain?

As a classic introvert, I tended to spend most of my time indoors anyway, nose buried in a laptop, headphones on.  I never particularly sought busy weekends of going out and being social.  I left that to Jen while I did my own thing.  She’s managing as well as anyone else.  What I really miss are the luxuries.  Dropping in at the parents house to steal groceries from their fridge for a visit.  Going out for a medium rare steak when you’re craving it.  Wandering the aisles at the record store.  Even ordering from Amazon.

I am a creature of habit, but with more emphasis on spending locally in social media, a thought occurred to me.  Why am I relying on Amazon for music?  We have Encore Records here in town, and they have been advertising that they ship.  The other day, John at 2loud2oldmusic mentioned that there was a new Joe Satriani coming out.  I liked the track he posted, so I checked and Encore had it in stock.

I don’t believe in ordering “just one” of anything so I browsed a bit and quickly filled my cart.  I searched for “Coverdale” (hey, you never know if something previously unheard will pop up) and their very smart search engine returned me a hit for all his stuff plus some related albums like Vandenberg.  Good ol’ Dekes has long asserted their brilliance so why not?  It looked like it’s probably one of those sweet Rock Candy reissues.  Love/Hate’s Blackout in the Red Room is an album I’ve wanted for 30 years but never pulled the trigger on until now.  It has three bonus tracks thanks to Rock Candy’s fine series of reprints.  Finally, King Kobra’s second CD Thrill of a Lifetime made it an even four.

I picked my shipping, hit the Paypal button and later the next day they had my order processed.  I’m going to have new music this week!  And plenty of it too!

New music helps keep up the illusion that things are still “normal”, while they are actually anything but.  You can pretend for a while.  I’ll sanitize the parcel when it arrives, a stark foreshadow of what the “new” normal will be like.  I’ll wash my hands when I’ve removed and discarded the cellophane.  Only then will I allow myself to enjoy the CDs without the reminders.

A wise person recently told me that now is the time to spread kindness.  I’m trying to remember that.  Part of that includes being kind to yourself.  I bought myself some CDs.  Don’t be afraid to treat yourself if you can.  I know we’re not all in a situation where we are financially able to do that.  I’m part of an essential service.  As much as I resented that at first, I’m really grateful for it.

As I try to be kind to myself, a dark side of me whispers in my ear.  “You’re being careless.  Everything you let enter the house is a threat.  You already suffer asthma.  You’re not paying attention to the statistics.  You should be working from home.”

We are all facing our own personal struggles right now.  I know a few people who have it bad, real bad, and I can’t do a damn thing to help them except be here to listen.  It’s a small gesture, but can be a huge one in some circumstances.  Don’t underestimate your own personal value as a human being that can listen.

My hopes are high that we will get through this together.  Together, separately.  Humans have a remarkable capacity to work together when we want to.  I don’t dare put a timeline on this in my mind.  I try to take it one day and one week at a time.  We have made it through another week, and all we have to do now is keep on keepin’ on.

So keep on keepin’ on, my friends.

#799: Mix CD 10 – “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care” (2003)

GETTING MORE TALE #799: Mix CD 10 – “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care” (2003)

Welcome back to an informal series of stories on the subject of musical rediscovery!  It is a blast listening to mix CDs (or tapes) that you made ages ago. To get you caught up, you can check out the below if you so choose!

This is one I have been looking forward to, for a couple reasons.  One, I love the cover artwork.  I recently reconnected with an old friend from the UK named RooRaaah.  He drew this rabbit, “Rab C. Rabbit”, and I always thought the crude sketch was hilarious.  If I hadn’t used it on my 10th mix CD, I might have lost it forever.

The second reason is that I burned this CD in the aftermath of dating Elli, as told in Record Store Tales Part 15: Dating a Radio Station Girl.  I was seeking all sorts of music, from heavy and angry to soft and soothing.  There’s a healthy dose of nostalgia, as I knew I could always return there to fill the holes in my heart.  There are even some rarities here, the kind of things you found by browsing Limewire.

As usual, I opened with a comedy bit:  Trey Parker and Matt Stone yelling “Dude!” at each other, from the movie Baseketball.  “I guess you’ve got a point there.”  Then straight into the brand new Anthrax:  “Safe Home”.  We’ve Come For You All was fresh and this song captured part of how I felt.  “My whole world has moved on.”  It was a strong, albeit mainstream single for the thrash pioneers, and one that still holds up.

From there to full-on nostalgia:  “Mr. Roboto”!  Wow, she must have really done a number on my heart to make me go all the way back there, the first rock record I ever bought.  At this point in my history, I lost my original LP copy and hadn’t yet got one on CD since it was so hard to find.  Hence the Limewire download.  A co-worker picked up the Styx CD for me in Toronto a year or two later.    Then, first of three Motorhead tracks is a wakeup:  “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care”.  I was definitely pissed off!  But then it’s onto the Faces classic “Ooh La La”, a taste for which was acquired by repeated viewings of Rushmore.

Albums and artists tend to repeat on this CD.  Even certain songs repeat!  Jellyfish’s excellent “The Ghost at Number One” is the first of two appearances.  I can taste the nostalgia, as I retreated to a simpler time, sitting in front of the TV watching music videos on Much.  I always appreciated the Beatles-esque track, which I haven’t heard in years.  Back to the 80s again, and the Gowan classic “A Criminal Mind”.  Comfortable MuchMusic memories in the basement.  A dark, plaintive song that spoke to me.  “And you will never break me, till the day I die.”

Motorhead’s “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” reflects a fresh appreciation for punk rock in my post-Elli haze.  You could thrash out to it and just rock the frustrations till they were gone.  This song will lift you up no matter how deep the hole.  A real weird rarity follows this, a Limewire discovery:  Mike Patton & Dillinger Escape Plan covering Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You”.  And they fucking kill it, too!  Just a bootleg, but good enough for a mix CD.

Back to the movie Rushmore.  One of the most impressive tracks in that movie is the Live At Leeds version of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” by The Who.  Once a co-worker told me exactly what that song was (from expanded edition of Live at Leeds), I grabbed it (before buying the CD later on) from Limewire.  The track is an utter marvel, and I maintain the live version is the superior one.  I couldn’t believe it was actually live!  It’s as clean as a studio cut with perfect harmonies, but with explosive live energy.  It’s my favourite Who song, hands down.  It’s the kind of song that made me feel smug, like “Yes, I have fucking great taste in music.”

The first repeat band (and song) is “The Ghost at Number One”, this time live.  Jellyfish’s immaculate live version is tight as a drum.  Then, a magnificent double repeat:  Styx, now with Lawrence Gowan on lead vocals, with “A Criminal Mind”!  And not just “A Criminal Mind”, no; live in Kitchener Ontario, this one!  It’s cool that James “JY” Young threw down that wicked guitar solo right across town.  So this one is special to me no matter how you slice it.  The centerpiece of the CD, perhaps.

Don’t read anything into “Crabsody” by AC/DC being on this CD.  It’s not on any of the US albums, so I downloaded it when I searched for “rare AC/DC” on Limewire.  (Strictly a novelty song, incidentally and not a lost AC/DC classic.)  You can definitely read “nostalgia” into the next track.  Back to 1981 (Jesus!) and “Believe It Or Not” by Joey Scarbury.  And I clearly went for the most mangled transition I could manage, since the very next song is “Chinese Arithmetic” by a Patton-fronted Faith No More (second appearance for Mike).  The track opens with Patton announcing, “The word of the day is…fuck.”  Which he then repeats a few times, before seguing into “Vogue” (as they often did).

Finally it’s back to Gowan again, and “Strange Animal” (featuring Tony Levin on the Chapman Stick).  The rhythm that Levin lays down is a beast!  Even in shitty Limewire quality, this song moves.  Motorhead make their final appearance on the war ballad “1916”, a song which I found real affecting at that time.  I got the album as soon as possible.

Ending the CD (sort of) is CKY, whose only real claim to fame is an attachment to the Jackass guys via Bam Margera’s brother Jess.  The details are lost to me now, but I would have heard this song either a) on a Margera DVD or b) on a mix CD played in store.  It’s a good little ballad circa the millenium, and it suited my grey heart.  It’s been years since I last played it, and I can hear what I liked in it.  Thank God I’m not that sad sack o’ shit anymore, though.

The real final track is just a coda, a preview of the new Metallica song “Frantic” via a show called MTV Icon.  Remember, when they paid tribute to Metallica and had Snoop up there doing his thang to “Sad But True”?  Well Metallica closed the show with their own song, and then I guess the credits must have rolled or something, because this thing just fades out before James can even deliver one “Fran-tic-tic-tic-tic-tock!”

I put some effort into typing out an interesting looking tracklist on the back, and Rab C. Rabbit looks fab on the front.  I even glued the two together to make the insert.  Here’s the funny thing though.  I guess I must have needed a case to put this CD in, so I swapped out one from a local band called Vacuity, and threw their CD in the trash.  The vacuity.net sticker is still on the back.  This is funny, because one of the guys from Vacuity worked at the Record Store, and, well, he really wanted me to like his band.  When he and store parted ways, I parted with the CD!  Dick move, I know, but he was kinda a dick.

I think this my mix deserves:

5/5 Rab C. Rabbits

 

 

 

 

#770: Encore!

GETTING MORE TALE #770: Encore!

I’ve been avoiding downtown Kitchener for the last couple years.  All that construction (five years’ worth) installing our new light-rail transit system…it’s been hellacious.  But that construction is now over, and the LRT train (called the ION) is running every 15 minutes.  Only two years behind schedule!  And guess where one of the stops is?  Right by legendary record store Encore Records.  Perfect!  No need to worry about parking.

Mrs. LeBrain and I hopped on a bus to the mall, and a few minutes later the train pulled in.  Using the free Wi-fi, I live-streamed myself making goofy faces on our new train.  The ride was quiet and fast since it only stopped a handful of times.  These new trains are lovely!  Now that they are finally running, I can see that the headaches will be worth it.  Clean and quick – I’d use the ION again.  It’s a shame but there are still people who hate the train so much that they would actually like to spend taxpayer money on ripping up the tracks!  What a waste that would be.  Let’s give this LRT a fair shake.

We disembarked the train at the City Hall stop, only a brief walk from Encore.  Not only was this my first ride on the train, but also my first visit to Encore since they moved from their old Queen St. location.  The new store, though not wheelchair accessible, seemed bigger and cleaner.  Old pal Al “The” King was there, happily still slinging the rock for us patrons.

We chatted a bit.  Al really enjoyed working at Encore.  There was a guy that I trained at my old Record Store about 15 years ago.  He left shortly after to work at Encore, and he’s still there!  When you find a place you enjoy working, I guess you stay!

Time to go look at music….

It didn’t take long for me to exceed my budget for the day.  First snag was from the new release rack:  The Beaches’ excellent new EP The Professional, $9.99.  A great recording; it will be getting a few spins this summer.  Next:  the used CD racks.  Plenty of stock as usual.  I came looking for old Styx, but there was no used Styx that I needed.  Instead I grabbed three Scorpions remasters:  World Wide Live (with DVD), Savage Amusement (with DVD), and Animal Magnetism.  $20 each.

Whoops!  I already owned Animal Magnetism.  No big deal; looks like some lucky person will be getting a free copy from me.  I really have to keep track of reissues better.  This is happening more and more frequently as my collection grows.

I still wanted some more classic Styx.  I’ve been playing my Styx albums repeatedly.  I needed some more classics to throw in the shuffle, so I moved on to the new CD racks.  There I picked up Pieces of Eight and Crystal Ball.  $9.99 each.  One by one and I’ll get them all.

Continuing through the racks of new stock, I spied two Kick Axe remasters by Rock Candy.  I’ve wanted both these albums for a long time:  Vices and Welcome to the Club, $22.99 each.  I’ve spun through both twice and was impressed with both the music and liner notes.  What an underrated singer George Criston is.  This sparked more Kick Axe purchases later on Discogs and Amazon.  The third album, Rock the World, is coming in the form of another Rock Candy remaster.  And thanks to the excellent liner notes inside Vices, I also tracked down some early Kick Axe on Discogs.  Debut single “Week-End Ride” / “One More Time” from 1981 is inbound!  Also coming, from the same year, is a compilation LP called Playboy Street Rock.  Kick Axe have a live track on that called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  It’s going to be cool hearing those early songs, which had a different singer.

It’s funny about Kick Axe.  One of the first buttons I ever bought for my jacket was Vices.  It only took close to 40 years to finally get the album.

Finally we closed the Encore trip with some vinyl.  A lovely reissue of Alice Cooper’s Zipper Catches Skin, on clear “black smoke” vinyl.  It looks and sounds great, and now I finally have all the Alice Cooper studio albums.

We bid farewell to Al and headed home again on the ION.  Now that the train is up and running, I do believe I’ll be making Encore a fairly regular weekend stop.

5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Tommy Shaw – What If (1985)

TOMMY SHAW – What If (1985 A&M, 2013 BGO Records)

Tommy Shaw’s second solo album What If didn’t have a big hit like Girls With Guns.  It did have some solid if lesser known songs.  Production wise, the edges are a little sharper.

Hot opener “Jealousy” boasts a cool sax solo, and a memorable chorus beefed up with soulful backing vocals.  Second up, “Remo’s Theme” is from the movie Remo Williams, a forgotten film with a decent lead song.  Unfortunately the drums have that electronic gate that indicates samples, but fits the 80s vibe of “Remo’s Theme”.  It sounds like a Miami Vice episode waiting to happen.

Shaw goes for the dusky nightclub scene with “Reach for the Bottle”.  Songs can paint pictures, and this one is made for drinking.  The electro-funk of “Friendly Advice” however just reeks.  Musicians would slap me and point to it as a high point of sheer playing ability, but I’m holding my nose over here.  It gets better on “This is Not a Test”, still lodged deep in the 80s but in a good way.  The subject matter is right out of 1985:  the threat of nuclear war!  This was a popular subject in the 80s, just ask Ozzy.

The second side opened with “See Me Now”, an inspirational energising tune, carefully composed like…layers of gouda on a cheese sandwich.  Dig?  It tastes good, but too much is probably not good for you.  “True Confessions” is similarly a pop guilty pleasure.  God that drum sound is awful!  Moving on, “Count on You” has a Floydian (80s of course) ballad vibe, with more of that tasty sax.  “Nature of the Beast” is another ballad with terrific melodies and more of them drum samples.  Finally “Bad Times” ends the album with a “good time” song.  Loads of saxophone,  upbeat hooks, and less obtrusive drums.

What If is not a bad album, but some the production gets to way too clunky on some tracks.  When it’s played closer to rock and roll, the basic instruments, it works far better.

3/5 stars