tribute album

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  The epic soft/loud dynamic of Purple’s beloved classic has been replaced by reggae, and why not?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

 

REVIEW: Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life (Tribute)

NEW RELEASE

“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0001VARIOUS ARTISTS:  Ronnie James Dio – THIS IS YOUR LIFE (2014 tribute CD)

No preable from me: we all know how great Dio was.  Let’s get to the tracks.

Anthrax kick off the festivities with a slamming “Neon Nights”.  The storming opener couldn’t have been in a better slot.  Not only is Charlie Benate heavy as shit, but the guitar solos are mental.  Joe Belladonna handles the powerful vocal ably.  Rob Caggiano is still in the lineup indicating this isn’t brand new.  I suspect it was recorded at the same time as last year’s Anthems EP.

The guys that never get respect, Tenacious D, tackle the difficult second slot.  No worries there; they chose “The Last In Line” which Jack Black sings with no difficulty.  Uncle Meat has said it before:  Jack Black is one of the best singers he’s seen live.  “The Last In Line” proves his pipes, although some may not like his exaggerated, humorous vocal enunciation.  Kyle Gass plays a cute recorder solo in lieu of guitar, but there’s not enough K.G. on this track.  Brooks Wackerman kicks the drums in the ass.

And speaking of drums, Mike Portnoy is next with Adrenaline  Mob.  They demolish “Mob Rules”, although singer Russell Allen is certainly no Dio.  He is completely overshadowed by Portnoy and the shredding of Mike Orlando.

Corey Taylor, Satchel (Russ Parish) and friends  chose “Rainbow In the Dark” as their tribute to Ronnie.  This has always been such a fan favourite, and a personal one as well.  It is difficult to imagine anyone but Ronnie singing it.  While Corey Taylor is not at all like Ronnie James Dio, you can tell he loves this song.  It bleeds out of his performance.  He does it in his own rasp, and it works.

The incredible Lzzy Hale and Halestorm are up next with another Dio classic, “Straight Through the Heart”.  There is no denying the talents of Lzzy Hale, but her powerful pipes are almost too much.  Perhaps she overpowers the song, rather than simply fueling it.  Halestorm fans will love it, but I think Lzzy maybe should have reeled it in a bit.  Or, maybe I just need to get used to it.  “Straight From the Heart” does sound better after a few listens.

Biff Byford (Saxon) joins Motorhead on lead vocals for Rainbow’s “Starstruck”.  There’s a bit of that Motor-slam in it, but if I didn’t know who it was, I never would have guessed Motorhead.  You can hear Lemmy on backing vocals, but weirdly, he’s not credited on bass.  Nobody is, but you can hear the bass clearly and it sounds like Lem.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0004

I’m a little sick of the Scorpions doing ballads, but I admit that “Temple of the King” (another Rainbow classic) is stunningly good.  One might almost mistake it for a Scorpions original.  It has that regal Scorpions bombast to is, but Matthias Jabs’ lead work is just sublime.  He’s an underrated player, absolutely.  You can tell he’s a Blackmore fan.

An oldie from 1999, Doro’s cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” is excellent.  It’s cool to hear female singers like Doro and Lzzy Hale sing Dio.  Doro’s impressive pipes have always been astounding.  Her version of “Egypt” is a little over the top compared to Dio’s, but that’s cool by me.

Killswitch Engage…hmm.  “Holy Diver” starts great, super heavy, with some perfectly acceptable, melodic vocals.  Then it all goes down the toilet at the bridge.  That’s when it turns into hardcore shouting and blast beats…sorry, not on this song, thanks.  I can listen to that stuff in moderation, but don’t sully “Holy Diver” with it.  Fortunately the guitar solos are great, sounding like an Iron Maiden outtake from Powerslave.  Shame about the growling and shouting.  Skip.

“Catch the Rainbow” is a great song, and Craig Goldy plays guitar on this cover.  He’s ex-Dio himself, and he’s backed by his former Dio-mates Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright.  (Hey, that’s also 1/3 of Tateryche!)  Glenn Hughes sings, but this song sounds out of his scope.  His bluesy slant doesn’t work for me.  Sorry Glenn, you’re still awesome!

I find it strange that two more ex-Dio members (Jimmy Bain and Rowan Robertson) chose to cover Black Sabbath.  But who cares!  They covered “I”, perhaps the greatest song from Dehumanizer (1992)!  On drums is Brian Tichy, with Oni Logan (Lynch Mob, Dio Disciples) singing.  It’s a perfectly authentic version and I love it.  It’s absolutely thunderous, and I love Jimmy Bain’s bass sound.  Always have.  Of all the vocalists on This Is Your Life, it is Oni Logan that comes closest to nailing Dio’s vibe.  Considering he’s in Dio Diciples, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I didn’t expect it though, based on what I knew of Logan from Lynch Mob.  He fits “I” like a glove!

I was disappointed in Rob Halford’s version of “Man On the Silver Mountain”.  It’s true that Halford did replace Dio in Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992.  However, having owned a bootleg video of that show since that time, I knew that Halford’s and Dio’s styles didn’t really mesh.  This is no different; I don’t think his voice works with the song and it unfortunately shows off the places where Rob’s voice has weakened.  What is cool though is that the band (all ex-Dio:  Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson and Scott Warren) take it to a swampy bluesy Whitesnake-y place for the intro.  You can definitely hear Pilson covering the high notes in the chorus.

Finally we arrive at the mighty Metallica.  Snicker if you like.  If Metallica do one thing really well, it’s covers.  If they do two right, it’s covers and medleys.  The “Ronnie Rising Medley” is entirely made up of parts of Rainbow songs.  “A Light In the Black” bleeds into “Tarot Woman,” where the vocals begin.  It’s safe to say if you don’t like Metallica, you won’t like this.  If the opposite is true, I think you’re in for a treat.  Metallica do these classics in their own style, just as they have in the past when covering Maiden, or Mercyful Fate, or Thin Lizzy.  Simply add Lars’ thuds, James’ growl, and some standard Metalli-licks, and you’ve got a medley that is enjoyable through its near-10 minute run time.  Having said that, the weak point is definitely “Stargazer”, which is gutted of all its majesty.  They do much better with “Kill the King” which is fucking perfect.  They include the entire song in their medley!

Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad:  Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996.  I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”.  Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon.  The lyrics speak of mortality:

This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame
Won’t last forever?

This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical

What a way to end a great album.  As much as you can “miss” a person you have never met, I do miss Ronnie James Dio.  In many ways he’s been my friend for 30 years.

4.5/5 stars

As a nice added touch, the liner notes include photos of just about every performer on this CD with Ronnie!

Of  note:  the Japanese edition has a bonus track by Dio Diciples:  “Stand Up and Shout.”  It also has Stryper’s version of “Heaven and Hell” from their 2011 album The Covering, which I reviewed here.

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!
RETURN OF THE COMET_0006-a

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