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REVIEW: Feel – “I Become You” video (1994)

FEEL – “I Become You” (1994 independent VHS tape)

Not all great bands make it, and Feel was a great band.  Formerly Russian Blue, Feel were active on the Toronto rock scene in the early 90s.  When things went grunge, they adapted their melodic rock to the times.  The result was dark, not-quite-mainstream hard rock that could appeal to both sides of the aisle.  Their album This (get it? Feel This?) had a number of memorable tracks.  They also released a home video for lead song “I Become You”.

The video arrived personally autographed by all four band members; a nice touch.   In addition to being a top quality song, “I Become You” is also a slick looking, well-edited music video.  It utilises tricks like slow and fast motion, still photos, and plenty of camera movement.  The result is a briskly paced video with a band always in motion.  The guitar solo segment is particularly good.  Feel were television ready, if only the chips had fallen differently.  Frontman Joe Donner had the chops and certainly appeared ready to be the next rock sensation.

4/5 stars

Make sure you watch the video to the end, as I added some bonus content!  In 1993 Feel released a sampler cassette called A Taste Of….  I included the “Introduction” track at the end of the video, as it has a sampling of the album and even an unreleased riff that didn’t make it.  Check it out and let me know what you think of Feel!

 

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REVIEW: Feel – This (1994)

FEEL – This (1994 Feel)

Russian Blue followed their critically acclaimed demo tapes with a full length CD, but perhaps it was the long wait that killed their chances.  Between 1991 and 1994, the entire musical landscape had turned itself upside down.  A name change was in order to suit the new climate, and after using the name Deadmoon for a little while, they settled on Feel.  Simple: one word, one syllable, and trendy.  Would they be able to maintain a level of quality over a full-length CD?

Almost.  There is very little dead weight on Feel This.

“I Become You” is brutalizing, menacing, grooving detuned grunge.  The presence of the bass is felt on this heavy recording.  What Feel had that was different from other bands was the Axl-like screech of frontman Jo E. Donner.  Indeed, when Donner multi-tracks his high voice with his lower register, the overall feeling is very Axl.  Donner bellows forcefully, blowing out the speakers but not without help.  Guitarist Richard Gauci and drummer Mike Willerding were capable of playing challenging rock.  The drum patterns are busy and and Gauci is able to both shred like a hero, and also create the kind of noise that you needed to do in the 90’s.  The band were between bassists.  Robo was no longer in the band, so there are a couple session players on the CD.

Several smouldering tracks in a row occupy the first half of the album.  “What You Made of Me”, “Wild Eye” and the lengthy “Brotherhood” all boast heavy guitar and vocal hooks.  Wimps need not apply; Feel go for the throat even with a slower tempo.  The songs sound well thought out, with attention given to every shriek and guitar noise manipulation.  The bass grooves are absolutely key to all of this.  Rumbling and shaking like a good Soundgarden line, they deliver the bass chills that fans of such sounds love.  But was it all too similar to the chilly winds that had blown in from Seattle?  Feel had been growing heavier and groovier on the demo tapes already, so I believe this to be a natural evolution that happened independently from the Seattle scene.  Witness other Canadian bands such as I Mother Earth, who also evolved on their own into something that fit into that 90’s box.

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The centerpiece of the album has to be “I Am Your Mind”.  Long with a droning, irresistible chorus and cool lyrics — what’s not to like?  This tune takes only one listen to bore its way deep into your medial temporal lobe. Building dramatically, every guitar hook will sink in hard, only for Donner to hit everything home with his powerful larynx. Everything is perfect — a song of this quality could easily have been on Badmotorfinger or Superunknown. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.

The second half of the CD has fewer highlights. After being slammed in the face with so much heaviness, Feel were wise to put on an acoustic number next. “Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong” is good, and shows off the band’s Zeppelin influences especially in the vocals. It’s just that Feel unplugged doesn’t have the kick that Feel does fully electrified. On the other hand, another listener might say it’s the best track. The first skipper is “Under My Wing”, too slow and boring. Not enough Sabbathy slow, just stuck in the wrong gear. Back to the groove is the killer “Drip Sweet Blood”. Making use of trendy 90’s vocal distortion, Donner blows the speakers especially around the 3:15 mark with another hair-raising bellow — just awesome. “Stand on Walls” sounds something like a Skid Row outtake. It’s nothing outstanding, but it’s only 3:38. Closing the disc is “All”, which was formerly known as “Black” on the second Russian Blue demo. The psychedelic intro from the demo was axed, tightening up the song and amplifying its power. Alternating from soft to loud, “All” kind of does have it all, at least for 1994.

Feel could have got themselves off to a great career with This as a debut album. Unfortunately I think by 1994 it was already too late.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEWS: Russian Blue – Demo #1 and #2 (1990-91)

RUSSIAN BLUE – Russian Blue demo #1 (1990), demo #2 (1991)

Russian Blue were a Toronto hard rock act fronted by the talented Jo E. Donner who, in a perfect world, would have been signed to a major label deal had not the roof caved in when grunge arrived.  They first rose to national awareness as part of the legendary Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1 compilation of Canadian indi rockers.  Upon hearing that first song, “Once a Madman”, I was immediately hooked on this band!  Donner had the pipes (often compared to a young Robert Plant) and the looks (also Plant), and the band clearly had the writing chops to crank out at least one world class rock song.  Its slow build was unusual in hard rock at the time, as was the lack of an actual chorus.  I had to hear more, so I wrote the band and ordered a tape.

RUSSIAN BLUE_0004Demo #1 (1990)

The first self-titled tape came in a professionally printed three colour J-card, with printed stickers on a white cassette.  Pretty pro for the time.  The J-card itself is a three panel fold out, with a black and white photo of the band and lyrics too.  Four songs, same both sides.  Let’s give’r.

The familiar tamborine and guitar licks of “Once a Madman” open the first tape.  M.E.A.T editor Drew Masters always advised bands submitting demo tapes to keep it short (three to five songs), professional looking, and top-loaded with the best songs.  Someone listening to a tape was likely to hit eject after the first half of the first song if they weren’t feeling it.  Russian Blue must have been paying attention because they hit all three marks.  (Masters’ other major beef with bands was not listing the song titles, the name of the band, or any contact info on a demo tape!)  The second strongest song “Likkin’ Dog” (ugh, come on, spelling) is suitably next in line.  Digging into a heavy groove and solid riff, I’m reminded of early Skid Row or Guns N’ Roses.  Donner truly had the voice of a rock star.  The other members (guitarist Richard Gauci, drummer Mike Willerding and bassist “Robo”) are also up to the task.  Gauci in particular boasts an impressive arsenal of tricks and licks for a guy you’ve never heard of before.

“Miss Precocious” enters with the same drum drum hook as “Dirty Weapons” by Killer Dwarfs which came out earlier that year.  Coincidence or inspiration aside, it’s a demo so it’s not a big deal.  “Miss Precocious” is an OK sleaze rocker that David Coverdale would have been comfortable taking a spin with.  This could have been on Slip of the Tongue as one of David’s randy odes to young ladies.  The generic “Had Enough” is the weakest of the four tracks, and is last on the tape for that reason.


A brief history of M.E.A.T Magazine

RUSSIAN BLUE_0005Demo #2 (1991)

Russian Blue added me to their mailing list and sent updates as to their current goings-on.  A second demo tape with four all-new songs was put up for sale and I ordered mine forthwith.  I was disappointed that the second demo didn’t come as professionally packaged as the first, but I suspect that the band spent all their money on that first tape and the spot on Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1.  The second tape came in a hand-made J-card with a photocopied band photo on the front and a sticker with the song titles inside.  Unfortunately the second song is misspelled “Balck” (“Black”) and this carried over to the sticker on the cassette shell as well.  The tape, a TDK D50 (50 minutes was a specialized length) was of good quality and has the same songs on both sides.  The tape also came with a little Russian Blue paper logo.  At least they tried.

The second demo showed the creeping influence of darker alternative tendencies.  “Mama’s Love” was different from anything on the first demo, taking a swampy minimalist approach to the verses.  When Donner rips out some rock shrieks, things kick up on a notch or two on the chorus.  The song is almost equal to “Once a Madman” in terms of quality, but traversing a different more menacing direction.  Keeping the stronger tunes up front, “Balck”…err, I mean “Black” is second in quality.  It opens with a psychedelic lullaby-like opening, before creeping into another swampy groove.  The vibe is nastier, including the first “F-bomb” of the album: “Nothing lasts forever, except the words to this fuckin’ song.”  It’s a good track and though it didn’t really last forever, it did get re-worked into “All”, a song on Russian Blue’s only full length CD, after they changed their name to Feel.  The album was called This (1994).

sam_1568“Child of the Ocean” has a drony, spare riff and a cool exotic sounding guitar solo by Richard Gauci.  It continues Russian Blue’s journey into less mainstream sounds, as this is a dreamy rocker.  The final song, which is the F-bomb  laden “Bleed”, is the most old school.  This one is basically a Guns N’ Roses B-side wannabe, but who gives an F-bomb?  Russian Blue had ability to pull of a ballsy song like “Bleed”, false ending and all, without sounding like douchebags.  Good on them.

In closing

A few years back, I posted a chapter of Record Store Tales (Part 146) about my cassette collection called Cassettes Part II – The Indi Years.  I showed off these old Russian Blue tapes, and less than a month later, a fellow enthusiast found the post and contacted me.  He was really excited about this second demo, because he had never seen it nor even heard of it before.  He didn’t know that Russian Blue had anything out between the first demo tape, and Raw M.E.A.T Vol 3 (1992), to which they contributed “Mama’s Love”.  It’s always a pleasure to be able to bring content like this to the internet, finally shedding light on the dark crevasses of rock and roll that were previously obscure.  The reader told me, “I was really into these guys back in high school. I pretty much bought a cowbell because of ‘Once A Madman'”.  How awesome is that?

Given that you have to allow for certain deficiencies in demos, especially from the cassette era, I am giving Russian Blue a grade based on the reasonable expectations from the period.  That considered, the Russian Blue demos come in at:

4/5 stars each.

Part 246: Dancing Steve


RANGERS

RECORD STORE TALES Part 246:  Dancing Steve

One of our best customers at the original store was Dancing Steve.  I’ll get to why he’s named Dancing Steve in a minute, but I first met Steve when I started at the store.  Steve would come in or call looking for various cassettes (never CDs), and put them on hold until he had $150 or $200 worth, and buy them all in one shot.  That’s just how Steve rolled.  Normally we would never stockpile so much inventory for a customer for so long, but Steve spent so much money and was so pleasant that it was a special arrangement just for him.

Steve would call looking for songs.  I can remember putting a Gina Vannelli tape on hold for Steve, and I also remember him looking for Rod Stewart’s then-recent song “This”.  I found that song on Rod’s latest, the excellent A Spanner in the Works.  It was always so nice dealing with him, he was so friendly, and even if we didn’t see him for two months at a time, he was uber-reliable.

I knew Steve was a hockey fan as he would often wear a Kitchener Rangers hat or jacket.  What I did not know was that Steve was legendary among Rangers fans!  Steve often wrote (and I think he occasionally still does) long letters to the editor of the local newspaper, cheering on our Rangers and offering his strategic advice.

T-Rev and I found ourselves at a Rangers game one weekend.  I don’t remember the circumstances.  We may have got the tickets for free, but neither of us were particularly fans of the game back then.   The Rangers scored, the crowd cheered!  Then, T-Rev noticed some commotion in the seats of one corner of the auditorium.  To our left and down was a man in a Rangers jacket and hat, dancing.  It wasn’t a sophisticated dance, it was a bit of an awkward shuffle, in that big warm Rangers jacket.  The crowd loved it, cheering him on!   It was none other than Steve, our Steve.  I found out his actual nickname in town was Dancing Steve, because he had seasons tickets and rarely missed a game.  Steve would get up and dance any time something good happened: a goal, a power play, whatever!

To this day, I feel cool that a local legend like Dancing Steve was one of our earliest, most loyal customers.  In fact we didn’t lose Steve until 1997, when we discontinued carrying cassettes.  Steve didn’t make the transition over to CD.  He was crushed when T-Rev had to tell him we weren’t going to be selling tapes anymore.

I have been to a couple Rangers game since, but not seen Steve.  I know he still goes though, as I’ve heard tell that Dancing Steve dances on at the Aud.  I would like to dedicate this chapter to Steve, an example of a jolly good fellow if there ever was one!

TOMORROW:  Something exciting.