Tod Howarth

REVIEW: Four By Fate – Relentless (2017)

FOUR BY FATE – Relentless (2017 The End)

“Supergroups” are everywhere these days.  Four By Fate is best known for its former members of Frehley’s Comet:  Tod Howarth and John Regan.  When they first formed, they also contained drummer Stet Howland (W.A.S.P.) and guitar master Sean Kelly.  Pat Gasperini replaced Kelly, and A.J. Pero played drums on half the album before his untimely death.  The band was completed by ex-Skid Row skinsman Rob Affuso.

Relentless is a beefy album, with 13 tracks including a handful of covers.  The opener is John Waite’s “These Times Are Hard For Lovers” (co-written by maestro Desmond Child), and it’s decent.  Frehley’s Comet fans will recognise Howarth’s lead vocals, though this band is harder than the Comet.  Blasting through “Moonshine” and “Hangin’ On”, they got a nice heavy drum sound.  It’s  good to hear Affuso on an album again.  Track four, “Levee Breach” is the first of six with A.J. Pero.  It’s a little like a Stone Temple Pilots clone.

The next cover is a remake of “It’s Over Now” from the Comet’s 1988 album Second Sighting.  Nothing is ever as good as the original, but if you wanted a heavier version of that power ballad, here ya go.  (You can really hear those low piano keys.)  Onto “Follow Me”, another one that sounds grungy.  They went with such a “modern” sound on this album.  Some might have expected more influences from the pop-smart 80s, the era most of these guys were rockin’.

“On My Own” has a cool Howarth riff and some befitting hooks.  Grunge emerges again on “I Give”, and a partly acoustic song called “Don’t Know” is similarly dark and out of the 90s.  Relentless almost sounds like an album written in 1994 or 1995, and not recorded until 2017.  Then suddenly, “Back in the 80’s” has a Dio-like chug, and of course A.J. Pero on drums.  Then it’s “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo”, a really fun Derringer cover.  They close the album on a strange patriotic ballad (two versions) called “Amber Waves”

The strength in Relentless is the musicianship.  Howarth and Gasperini make a formidable guitar team, and we all know the reputations of guys like A.J. Pero and Rob Affuso.  Musically, Four By Fate can face off against the big boys.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Milwaukee Live ’87 (2015)

scan_20161014ACE FREHLEY’S COMET – Milwaukee Summerfest Live 1987 (2015 Echoes radio broadcast)

In 1987, Ace Frehley had just begun his comeback.  He recorded a well received debut as Frehley’s Comet, with a notable appearance by drummer par excellence Anton Fig.  Anton had been working steadily for the Letterman show since 1986 and so was not on the tour this CD was captured from.   This version of the Comet featured new drummer Billy Ward.  They were recorded live in Milwaukee at Summerfest on June 29th of that year.  It was taped for broadcast and somehow survived.  Live radio broadcast CDs are so common now that you can even find them at Walmart.  Some are worth the cash, others less so.  A Frehley’s Comet broadcast from the first tour is automatically interesting to Kiss collectors.

Unfortunately what buyers will discover is that this CD is a harsh chore to listen to.  Vocals are back in the mix, bass way up front, and there is a thin haze of staticky air over it.  Ace’s perennial opener, “Rip It Out” (from his 1978 solo album) is but a shadow of the better produced version on the Live + 1 EP.  This is through no fault of the band, featuring mainstay bassist John Regan, singer/guitarist Tod Howarth, and Ward.

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Ace sings lead on most of the material, but Tod Howarth has a couple songs from the first Comet LP.  “Something Moved” and “Breakout” (co-written by the late Eric Carr) are fast paced action, while “Calling to You” is anthemic pop rock.  Howarth was in excellent voice that night, this much is certain.  Ace sings a handful of Kiss tunes as well as solo and Comet material.  Gene Simmons originally sang “Cold Gin”, but Ace took it back for himself by singing it live.  At the same time, Kiss were also playing “Cold Gin” live (a song Ace wrote) and fans will have to decide who pulled it off best.  Ace even tackles “Deuce”, a song Gene wrote.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

It really is a shame that the audio hampers the listening experience.  It sounds like a legitimately great Ace performance.  Having a guy like Howarth in the band enabled Ace to have multiple lead singers like Kiss did.  On the Kiss covers, Howarth takes the Paul Stanley role.  Billy Ward and John Regan make the songs a little more complex rhythmically than the Kiss originals, but Ace also adds in new and extended solos.  The end results are enhanced, Ace-ified covers.  No notable tracks are missing; it is a really solid set list of Ace Frehley classics.

There are some who will happily purchase anything with Ace’s name on it (guilty!) and there are others who can live without.  Decide who you are and spend your money appropriately.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ace Frehley – 12 Picks (1997)

Part 7 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last one, Return of the Comet?  Click here!

ACE FREHLEY – 12 Picks (1997 Megaforce Worldwide)

With Ace experiencing a second Golden Age back in Kiss, 1997 was the perfect time for various parties to cash in with compilations and re-releases.  It made sense for Megaforce to put out a collection of Ace’s better solo work along with unreleased live tracks.  With Frehley’s Comet bassist John Regan in the executive producer’s seat, at least 12 Picks has input from somebody on the inside.

This is a pretty logical collection.  Since it has “Into the Night”, “Rock Soldiers”, “Words Are Not Enough”, and even “Hide Your Heart”, you could easily make an argument that casual fans can start and stop here.  Sure, they’d miss great favourites like “Calling To You” and “Do Ya”…but leaving tracks off opens doors to sequels, no?

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If you imagine an album still having two sides, then the studio tracks make up side one.  Side two consists of live versions of Kiss favourites and others.  These are all from the Second Sighting tour with Jamie Oldaker on drums, unfortunately not Anton Fig for these versions.  They are however previously unreleased on any audio format.  These are some (but not all) of the songs from the Live + 4 VHS video cassette.  This video was never released in Canada, and I’ve never owned it.  Unfortunately, “Something Moved” from the VHS tape is not included.  To date it is still frustratingly unavailable.  From the same gig (Hammersmith Odeon) but unreleased until now is “Deuce”.  Other tracks from the concert would later trickle out elsewhere.

12PICKS_0005“Rip It Out” remains a stunning opener, although this version is hampered by the lack of Anton on drums.  Jamie Oldaker has a different feel, laying back behind the beat and I don’t think that’s the way these songs are best presented.  His fills are simpler than Anton’s, and things like the drums solos in “Rip It Out” and “Breakout” suffer for it.  The rest of the set is Kiss-heavy:  “Cold Gin”, “Shock Me”, “Rocket Ride” and the Simmons-penned “Deuce”.  Frehley performs “Cold Gin” with the right groove, which Kiss had trouble nailing without him.  I like the little touches, like the fact that the bassline doesn’t stray from the original much.  It lends these Ace versions a Kiss-like authenticity.  Tod Howarth backs up Ace’s lead vocals in a manner that recall’s Kiss’s multiple lead vocalists.

Although the setlist itself is pretty smokin’, the muddy drum sound and lack of Anton prevent the live portion from igniting.  Thankfully Ace has plenty of fuel when he solos, but this live side is noticeably inferior to the excellent Live + 1.  That’s too bad.

12 Picks came with a guitar pick in one of several (12?) colours.  I got black!

3/5 stars

REVIEW: A Tribute to Ace Frehley – Return of the Comet (1997)

Part 6 in a series on Ace Frehley! Missed the last part, “Cherokee Boogie”? Click here!
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RETURN OF THE COMET_0001A Tribute to Ace Frehley – Return of the Comet (1997 Shock Records)

Last time we talked about a tribute album with a new recording by Ace.  This time, we’re talking about a tribute album with new recordings by the Comet!  Return of the Comet even features some of the same artists that were on Spacewalk:  Tracii Guns, Gilby Clarke and the brothers Abbott (Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul) are on both albums.  And like Spacewalk, this one also comes with a guitar pick.  This time it’s a Bruce Kulick pick, because the CD also features a cool bonus: Bruce’s debut solo track, “Liar”.

This is a pretty good tribute CD.  Somebody called Bruiz does a faithful reproduction of the “Rock Bottom” intro, which seques directly into Brian Tichy’s “Rip It Out”.  I was familiar with Tichy from Zakk Wylde’s Pride and Glory, but he sings and plays every instrument on this.  Everybody knows today how talented he is, but this was a revelation to me in 1997.  Do I need to say that he does an excellent job on it?  He also nails Anton Fig’s drum solo.

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L.A. Guns is next, but it’s not Phil Lewis.  It’s Ralph Saenz.  You might know him better as Michael Starr from Steel Panther.  So how’s their “Cold Gin”?  It’s perfect for this band and this singer.  Eric Singer and Karl Cochran take a shot at “Strange Ways”, but I don’t like their take on it too much.  Eric’s vocal doesn’t suit the song in my opinion, and this version is too chunk-chunk-chunk.

“Getaway” was always a bit of a throwaway Kiss track, but I like the lesser known songs.  Seattle’s Tubetop speed it up a fair measure, but that’s not the problem.  I always identify this song with Peter Criss’ gritty voice.  Who doesn’t?  The singer, Gavin Gus, takes a smooth approach to the song, but sometimes Kiss songs aren’t meant to be tampered with too much.  It improves as it gets harder at the end.

RETURN OF THE COMET_0007Then we have the Presidents of the United States of America.  OK band I guess, but their stripped back sound is totally wrong for “Shout It Out Loud”.  Having said that, the brilliance of the song itself still shines through.  The album is immediately redeemed by a remarkable performance from a remarkable guitarist:  Dimebag.  He and Vinnie Paul stomp through “Snowblind”, a sludgy Ace classic.  Wisely, Dime changed nothing about the song, except adding some trademark Dime guitar shrieks on top.  It’s a totally appropriate touch.  Even though his singing voice is nothing like Ace’s (he’s more Zakk Wylde than Ace Frehley) he still lays down a lead vocal that fits.  Then his guitar solo rips your head off, end of story.  Mind blown, the album can end here thank you very much!

We’re not even half through yet.  Tod Howarth (ex-Frehley’s Comet) turns up with his own solo version of “Dancing With Danger”.  It’s a Streetheart cover that Frehley’s Comet also did on Second Sighting.  Tod tries to update the song for the 1990’s but fails.  His voice is also noticeably lower.  Then, Karl Cochran and Eric Singer are up with “Love Her All I Can”, a song originally sung and written by…Paul Stanley?  Why?  According to the liner notes, Cochran used to sing this song when he was in Frehley’s solo band in the 90’s.  Cochran and Singer perfectly nail this one, right down to the guitar solo and those Simmons/Stanley harmony vocals.  A winner.

Filler is “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” by Lee and Dallas (?).  As great as the original song is, I didn’t need to hear a jazzy country version of it.  It’s old-school country, swinging and authentic, but no thanks.  Thankfully Gilby Clarke comes to the rescue with the classic “Rocket Ride” from Alive II.  I love it.  I like it better than his version of “Shock Me” from Spacewalk, actually.

Richie Scarlet from Frehley’s Comet teams up with Beatlemania’s Mitch Weissman on Ace’s “Remember Me”.  It’s great and much like the original.  Then the Presidents are back for a second term, this time adding members of Tubetop and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden to the mix.  They do a cool campfire version of “New York Groove” that sounds live.  This is much better than “Shout It Out Loud”.  Well done.

A Frehley’s Comet reunion is the climax of the album.  Alumni Richie Scarlet, John Regan, Steve Werner and Arthur Stead are back to redo two unreleased Comet classics.  These songs are Vinnie Vincent’s “Back On the Streets”, which is, in a word, awesome.  It’s a dark ominous song with balls.  Then they do “Animal” which was written by Regan and Stead (perhaps the reason it was never released before?).  It has a funky little riff before it breaks into a cool anthemic chorus.

RETURN OF THE COMET_0005It’s best to think of the last two songs as bonus tracks, because they have little to do with Ace.  From a forthcoming Howarth album named Cobalt Parlor is a lacklustre song called “California Burns”.  I wanted to like this, really I did.  It’s just a really nauseating attempt at being modern and heavy, and no sir I don’t like it.  Sorry Tod.  “The Liar” by Bruce Kulick is much better.  I am a real fan of Kulick as a solo artist.  He is an articulate, skilled player with a knack for melody.  “The Liar” is a great instrumental, alternating between light and heavy, but always very lyrical.  Just sing a lead vocal of your own over Bruce’s guitar, and you can imagine this as a “I Still Love You” rock ballad.  This song was Bruce’s first ever post-Kiss solo release, and according to the liner notes, it serves two purposes.  One: to end the album with an instrumental as Ace always did.  Two: to tip the hat to the guy who succeeded in filling Ace’s shoes for over a decade.

I would recommend this tribute album to any serious Ace/Kiss fan, simply because it has some great cover versions of some obscure classics.  That to me raises it above most cut-and-paste tribute albums that are out there on the market.  There is a real sense of passion to this CD.  John Regan put it together and you can tell by the attention to detail.  Kudos, John.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Frehley’s Comet – Second Sighting (1988)

Part three in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Live + 1?  Click here!

FREHLEY’S COMET – Second Sighting (1988 Megaforce Worldwide, 1998 reissue)

Ace was rushed on Second Sighting.  I think that might be why it seems a little Tod (Howarth) heavy, song-wise.  I recall in an old Hit Parader interview circa 1989, Ace complained that he had to follow a “stupid schedule” on Second Sighting, and the album suffered for it.

Having said that, I like Second Sighting better than Frehley’s Comet.  I wondered what the hell Ace was high on when he made that comment about Second Sighting.  Indeed, this is my favourite (post-Kiss) Ace CD.  Let’s not forget how important context is.  It was summer 1988.  It was the summer of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Van Halen…and Ace Frehley!  I was a kid in love with the rock.

The lead single was a choice Ace may regret today.  Instead of coming out with a rocker, they went with “It’s Over Now”, a ballad sung by Tod!  I always thought to myself:  “If I was a kid and I didn’t know who Ace Frehley was, would I assume he’s the blond guy singing?”  Tod’s singing, playing the keyboards (a huge friggin’ keyboard), and then he breaks into a guitar solo on one of those little Steinberger’s with no head…odd choice for lead video, no?  Check out the close up on his two-handed tapping technique.  The perfect Howarth hair.  The video even seems to be vaguely about him and some chick.  I still have to admit that my teenage self loved the song, it might be a ballad but it was a quality ballad with some soloing.

Thankfully, the album itself was lead off with a better track, “Insane”.  It’s an Ace helmed good time party rocker.  New drummer Jamie Oldaker (Eric Clapton) isn’t as fancy as the unavailable Anton Fig, but he throws in some pretty cool fills.   Of course Ace lands the perfect solo, always complimenting the song.

The second track is a melancholy Dokken-esque rock ballad from Tod, “Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out”.  It has a pretty significant keyboard part, which some may find obtrusive.  Fortunately the guitar parts are great, and Tod’s powerful voice is easy on the ears.  It also has a pretty solid chorus.

I don’t know the story behind “Dancin’ With Danger”, but it sure boasts an odd batch of co-writers, including Spencer Proffer, Streetheart, Ace, and Dana Strum from rival band Vinnie Vincent Invasion.  The good news:  it smokes.  It has a ZZ Top-like sequencer part, adding a robotic pulse, but not taking anything else away.  The riff is pretty heavy, Ace takes the lead vocal and an absolutely scorching solo.

The first side of the album ended with “Loser in a Fight” which is kind of…meh…eh…  It’s OK, it’s heavy at least, but what I like about it is that is a co-lead vocal with both Ace and Tod.  It’s that old Kiss trick that I used to like.

SECOND SIGHTING_0001Ace enters on side two with some pretty cool guitar effects, leading into “Juvenile Delinquent”.  Ace sings to a 16 year old girl and tells her to follow her dreams.  It’s a little creepy when Ace sings “You’re looking good these days, believe it girl, I’m not blind.”  I tend to just block that part out when I hear it.  I think it’s a catchy song with a rock solid guitar base, and other than a couple lines in the song, I dig it.

“Fallen Angel” (not the Poison song that was a hit around the same time) is another Tod ballad.  Like “It’s Over Now”, it’s a totally solid song, but this one has some more balls to it.  It’s a little pissed-off sounding and the chorus is blazing hot.  It is followed by “Separate” which to me sounds like vintage Ace.  It’s sparse, the lyrics are basically spoken, and it has an extended guitar solo as the centerpiece.  It kind of reminds me of “Don’t Run”, an Ace demo that eventually became “Dark Light” on The Elder.

“New Kind of Lover” is a wicked cool hard rocker about Tod Howarth gettin’ it on with a ghost.  Once again, the solo is obviously Tod.  Some may find it offensive that Ace didn’t play every single guitar solo on his album, but Frehley’s comet was a band, and Tod’s no slouch.  His soloing style is opposite to Ace Frehley, which is one reason to allow him a couple solos.  It also lent the album a modern edge.

As is the Ace tradition, the album closes with an “instrumental” (technically).  Unlike past albums, it is not a nice pleasant “Fractured”.  Instead, this is a blitz of riffage and solos called “The Acorn in Spinning”, which does in fact have words.  The lyrics entirely spoken, Ace tells the tale of “this new fighter Bronx,” and a few other seedy characters.  As it happens, that summer I was introduced to the Sierra PC game, Championship Boxing.  Obsessed as I was with “The Acorn is Spinning”, I named my boxer Acorn and created a whole persona and cast of enemy boxers for him to challenge.

That’s the note I want this review to go out on, a note of personal anecdote, because for me this album is personal.  Summer 1988.  Ace may have been dissatisfied, but LeBrain 1988 was eager to hear the next one.  Little did I know that Frehley’s Comet had to endure some serious lineup changes.  But that’s next time.  See you then!

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Frehley’s Comet – Live + 1 (1988)

Part 2 in my series of reviews on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Frehley’s Comet?  Click here!

FREHLEY’S COMET – Live + 1 (1988 Megaforce Worldwide)

I remember finding this EP in a department store’s music section, and having to choose between this and Brighton Rock.  It really wasn’t a difficult choice.  I couldn’t have both so I chose Ace Frehley.  After all, Ace was my favourite member of Kiss.

“Rip It Out”, printed as “Rip-It-Out” on this EP, opens the set, recorded in Chicago.  “You wanted ’em, here they are!  Frehley’s Comet!”  Hmm, that opening doesn’t sound at all familiar, does it?  Ace and the Comet tear through it, and let’s not forget that the drummer who played on the original, Anton Fig, plays on this one too — solo included.  I like the way that Tod Howarth sings, backing up Ace.  His higher voice lends to a nice harmony, thick and Kiss-like.  “Rip It Out” flows right into “Breakout”, another song with a drum solo, and this one extended!  “Anton rules, doesn’t he?” asks Ace during the fade out.

Those two songs took up the first side.  “Something Moved”, another recent song from Frehley’s Comet, is sung by Tod.  It’s an aggressive hard rock song, but Anton lays down a solid beat, while Ace throws out some wild bends.  Ace’s Alive II classic, “Rocket Ride”, is the final live song.  In this case, I don’t think it’s much compared to the Kiss original.  I prefer Kiss’ sloppy rock n’ roll take on it, Ace’s version is too tight for my liking.  The solo smokes though.

My favourite song is the new studio track, “Words Are Not Enough”.  It’s a slick, commercial hard rocker.  All the ingredients are included:  A keyboard riff, a killer chorus, and a knock-out extended solo.  Given the time period, I always felt this was the biggest “potential” hit Ace could have had.  It was bang-on for 1988 and I still like it in 2013.

I wholeheartedly recommend Live + 1 to any respectable Kiss fan, and to any hard rock fans wanting a first taste of the Ace.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet (1987)

LOOK!  It’s Rock and Roll!  I’m gonna review all of Ace Frehley’s solo albums.  Welcome to the series!  For Ace’s 1978 solo album, click here!  This review goes out to MARKO FOX!  Thanks for inspiring this idea. And happy birthday to ANTON FIG!

 

“Rock Soldiers come, and Rock Soldiers go.  Some hear the drum, and some never know.  Hey, Rock Soliders, how do we know?  ACE is back and he told you so!”

ACE FREHLEY – Frehley’s Comet (1987 Megaforce Worldwide)

It’s very daunting for me to review this.  My sister bought this album for me, for my birthday, in July 1987.  I had been a Kiss fan for a few years, and immediately liked Ace best.  Yet he’d been quiet for so long.  I didn’t even know what he looked like.  Then, the powerful video for “Into the Night” premiered on Much, and I knew right away.  I absolutely needed the album.

Frehley’s Comet is the debut release by Ace Frehley’s new band.  He had quite a band, too.  Singer / guitarist / keyboardist Tod Howarth had a really powerful, commercial voice and added keyboards to the mix, which was an edge in the late 80’s.  Meanwhile, on drums, was Anton Fig.  Veteran of at least three Kiss releases (Ace’s 1978 solo album, Dynasty, and Unmasked), there’s a reason David Letterman refers to Anton as “Buddy Rich Jr.”  Having Anton in the band was a serious coup.  On bass was John Regan, who proved to be a the only member to stick around for all of the 80’s.

“Rock Soldiers” was a great opening track.  Ace is back and he told you so?  Yeah!  This stomping anthem is the tale of Ace’s own carnage.  “And the devil sat in the passenger’s side of DeLorean’s automobile.”  And later, “When I think of how my life was spared from that near-fatal wreck, if the Devil wants to play his card game now, he’s gonna play without an ACE in his deck!”  How could Me 1987 not have loved this song?  It had a killer singalong chorus and was released as a single.

“Breakout” is interesting because the riff was written by Eric Carr, Ace’s old Kiss bandmate.  “Breakout” is in fact “Carr Jam ’81”, the song written at the time of The Elder.  Kiss never used it, so Ace did.  Tod sings lead on this one, and Anton plays his own drum solo where Eric once did.  Ace then turns in a friggin’ classic Frehley solo.

“Into the Night” is a Russ Ballard song, which surprised me, as I always felt that the lyrics fit Ace’s New York background like a glove.  It’s a mid-tempo rocker, and as first single, it was the first song that I heard.  Today, it still sounds dramatic and cool.

“Something Moved” is another heavy rocker, written and sung by Tod.  It’s similar in vibe to “Breakout”, and I really like when it goes into what I call the “Stryper riff” at the 2 minute mark, right after Ace’s solo.  Side one ended with “We Got Your Rock”, a sleezy one about groupie with a backstage pass.  To be honest, this one disappointed me back then.  I still find the lyrics to be pretty bad.  Ace co-wrote this one, hopefully not the lyrics, because the music’s decent enough.  If it were a Kiss song, it would be one of those Gene Simmons monster tunes.

Thankfully, side two starts on a better note.  “Love Me Right” is an Ace song, with a hard, solid riff and beat.  Yet it’s Tod’s “Calling To You” that is the gem of the album.  It’s a nice hard rocking commercial song with a scorching lead vocal.  The chorus is killer, and I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t the biggest hit of 1987 back then.   Sounds like a dual guitar solo too, with Tod taking the first solo and Ace finishing ‘er off.

The weirdest song is, without a doubt, “Dolls”.  Ace wrote this one completely by himself, words and music, and I have no idea what the hell he’s singing about.  I don’t think I want to know.  Anyway, musically it’s a bright pop rock number, based on the keyboards.  “Stranger In A Strange Land” is back in riff rock territory.  The chorus sounds great, with Tod and Ace singing together.

The album closes with “Fractured Too”, an instrumental sequel to “Fractured Mirror” from Ace Frehley.  It’s not quite as good as the first “Fractured”, but it has stood the test of time.  It’s this kind of music that Ace doesn’t always get recognized for, but his layers of shimmering guitars are very cool.

I wish the lyrics on Frehley’s Comet were better.  At least the music smokes!

4/5 stars