TM Stevens

REVIEW: T.M. Stevens – Black Night: Deep Purple Tribute According to New York (1997)

Black Night:  Deep Purple Tribute According to New York (1997 DeRock)
Produced and arranged by T.M. Stevens

This is one of the coolest and most different Deep Purple tributes you are likely to find.  It’s also by far the funkiest.

Bassist T.M. Stevens (aka Shocka Zooloo) might be best known for his work with Joe Cocker, James Brown, Billy Joel and many others…but he first came to the attention of hard rockers via Steve Vai.  He was a member of Vai’s Sex & Religion band, and immediately stood out on CD and on stage.  Although his name doesn’t appear on the front cover for Black Night: Deep Purple Tribute According to New York, it’s clearly his project.  He produced it, arranged it, and is the only musician who appears on every track.  He has a pocket full of well known friends to fill out the instruments including:  Will Calhoun (Living Color, drums), Cory Glover (Living Color, vocals), Joe Lynn Turner (Deep Purple/Rainbow, vocals), Richie Kotzen (guitar, vocals), Al Pitrelli (Savatage, guitars), Vinnie Moore (UFO, guitars), Stevie Salas (guitars), Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic, keys), Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz, drums), and Tony Harnell (TNT, vocals).  What a team!

Black Night is not for everyone.  Each and every song is drastically changed.  “Black Night” itself is slowed down and turned into a metallic bluesy grind.  Dual lead guitars by Pitrelli and Moore ensure its metal credentials, and Joe Lynn Turner comes down with his raspy soul.  Another raspy soul singer, Richie Kotzen, handles “Strange Kind of Woman” on guitar and vocals.  This one turns the funk right up!  The rhythm section of Calhoun and Stevens generates a punchy funk that can’t be stopped.  A standout.  Living Color’s Cory Glover takes over on the even funkier “Fireball”.  The creative arrangement deconstructs the song.  “Fireball” was one of the few Purple songs to feature a bass solo, so Stevens takes the opportunity to slap some bass.  A Purple tribute without “Smoke on the Water” wouldn’t be a real Deep Purple tribute.  It’s a hard track to funk up, so it’s more of a steamroller with funky verses.  Kotzen turns in a hell of a soulful vocal, proving how versatile any music can be.  An original and refreshing slant on a tired classic.

The most interesting arrangement is by far “Child in Time”.  The epic soft/loud dynamic of Purple’s beloved classic has been replaced by reggae, and why not?  Bernie Worrell does his best with Jon Lord’s original outline to create his own organ parts.  T.M. and Tony Harnell share lead vocals: Tony singing the clean and high parts (with absolutely no difficulty!), while T.M. does his Rasta take on the rest.  Sacrilege?  Keep an open mind.

Keeping an open mind is the key for this entire album.  If you cannot do that, you will probably hate Deep Purple According to New York.  That title says it all.  This is Purple according to Stevens and friends, and they do their own thing.  The rest of the material — “Woman From Tokyo”, “Stormbringer”, “Speed King”, “Burn”, and “Space Truckin'” — are as different as the first five tunes.  “Woman From Tokyo” is funky soul vocal nirvana, featuring four lead singers (Kotzen, Stevens, Harnell and Turner)!

In case you’re wondering what the closing track “Deep Purple NY” is, it’s just a funky shout-out to all the players on the CD.  “New York is in the house, New Jersey, Bernie Worrell!”  That kind of thing.

I’ve heard a number of Deep Purple tribute albums over the years.  Yngwie did four Purple songs on his mediocre Inspiration album.  Thin Lizzy did a Purple tribute under the name Funky Junction.  There was the star-studded Re-Machined CD.  There was even a 1994 tribute album called Smoke on the Water that featured three of the same guys on this album!  (Joe Lynn Turner, Tony Harnell, Richie Kotzen, as well as another ex-Purple member, Glenn Hughes).  None of those albums, even with all that star power, are nearly as interesting as Black Night.  I chose that word “interesting” on purpose.  It’s a very neutral word.  Your reaction to this album could be wildly positive, violently negative, or simply passively unmoved.  The listening experience will be anything but dull.  Whether you like it or not, if you pick up this CD you’re going to hear some of the greatest rock and funk players on the planet, so get your dancing shoes on.

4/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: VAI – Sex & Religion (1993)

VAI – Sex & Religion (1993 Relativity)

Flash back to summer 1993:  Steve Vai was just about to debut his brand new “commercial” rock band on Jay Leno. I had been tracking the progress of this band via the guitar mags. Vai already had TM Stevens (bass) on board, as well as the singer Devin Townsend, from Vancouver’s Caustic Thought on vocals.  I had heard Vai say in a previous interview that “Nobody sings better than David Coverdale, and nobody is a better showman than David Lee Roth. But I need a singer who combines the best of both singers.” How could you not be psyched? Expectations and hopes were high.

Back to Leno —  Vai comes out, his hair in dreads, and he strums the first chord of “Still My Bleeding Heart”.  And the singer…holy crap…there was this bald, psycho-looking dude with stuff written all over his body in magic marker. “Caustic Thought” was written in huge letters on his leg. I was taken aback! What the deuce was this?

HI TRACY

I taped the performance, so I rewound, rewatched…and quickly became hooked on the song, and the vocalist, Devin Townsend. Here was a guy, I thought, who would be the next Mike Patton. He had the power, and range and quirkiness, yet had his own style.  Devin was a unique right from his first major release!  Here, his style is based mostly on (as Devin once put it, and I quote) “screaming his balls off!”  Devin said he was usually pretty happy as long as he sounded as if his larynx was bouncing off the studio walls.

This album is my second favourite Vai platter after Passion and Warfare. A band effort with Terry Bozzio on drums, Sex & Religion was a mindblowing album to me at the time.  I thought it was extremely profound, though it sounds somewhat dated today.  It still kicks my kicks my ass to listen to it, you cannot go wrong with this lineup.  The music is intricate, composed with great care to both stimulate and rock.  I don’t need to tell you that the guitar is a shredder’s wet dream.

To me, 90% of the songs here are winners. Highlights are “Still My Bleeding Heart” and the single “In My Dreams With You”. Both are extremely catchy rock songs with slightly off-kilter arrangement, innovative guitar playing, and challenging but powerful vocals.  There is an emphasis on melody, even if they melodies are not typical of modern rock music.  Elsewhere you will find “Down Deep Into The Pain”, a very fast and heavy song that was obviously designed to keep up with some of the newer heavy bands that were out at the time. The lead vocal here is absolutely shriek-tastic.

I’m also a big fan of “Dirty Black Hole” which combines a speedy assault of instrumentation with a soul-rock chorus.  The title track is a bit funky, with Devin doing some scream-rapping.  I remember my mom being offended by the lyric, “Jesus Christ is in your bed tonight.”

More standard rock arrangements can be found on songs like “Survive” and “Here And Now”, although they are still well coated in Vai-isms and guitar madness. There are instrumentals sprinkled in as well, “Touching Tongues” being especially sublime. And then there is “Pig”.  It’s the only song with a co-write by Townsend. This is what happened, according to Vai, when he tried to write song “Remedy” by the Black Crowes.  Vai was into the Crowes at the time, and somehow “Pig” was the result of that. Can you hear any connection to “Remedy”? I sure can’t! This song is where the album hits its peak of absolute madness. As Vai likes to say, “Sorry folks, I just can’t help myself”.

That sums up this album in a nutshell. “Sorry folks, I just can’t help myself.” It is a simply brilliant piece of work that will take some folks a while to get used to. For Vai fans, this might be easy listening compared to some of his instrumental workouts.  Either way, if you can penetrate its sometimes off-putting weirdness, you’ll find a rewarding listening experience.

The final song , “Rescue Me or Bury Me”, is the only one I can do without. Featuring Steve singing lead, I find it too long and meandering, spoiling what was for me an otherwise gripping ride the whole way through.

5/5 stars