vinyl

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

 

 

REVIEW: Coney Hatch – Live at the El Mocambo (2021 limited edition)

CONEY HATCH – Live at the El Mocambo (2021 limited numbered & autographed edition)

It only took four decades, but like a fine Chardonnay, time made it just parfait.  Coney Hatch’s first live album, recorded back in October 2020 at the legendary El Mocambo is, in a word:  perfect.

First, let’s define “perfect”.  “Perfect” doesn’t mean “exactly like the studio versions”.  Not when we’re talking about live albums.  It means there’s an exciting vibe, great songs, top-notch performances, and a band that sounds like they’re out for blood.  Coney sound as if there was no pressure — but they delivered their best anyway.

Four albums, 15 tracks, over an hour of tunes.  Live at the El Mocambo represents the entire career of Coney Hatch, including all your favourites like “Stand Up”, “Devil’s Deck”, “Monkey Bars”, and “Hey Operator”.  A couple great tunes from Coney Hatch Four (like “Marseilles”) prove that the Hatch lost nothing when they reunited a few years back.  While everyone will have their own highlights, “Wrong Side of Town” absolutely smokes.  The album is paced perfectly with more contemplative tunes like “She’s Gone” balanced out by bangers like “Boys Club”.  Lots of songs about “girls gone bad”, according to Carl.

Andy Curran discusses Live at the El Mocambo

The on-stage banter by Andy Curran and Carl Dixon is warm and humorous.  It’s clear that they appreciate where they are in their careers now, fortunate to have this amazing second run.  In the back, drummer Dave “Thumper” Ketchum gives us an idea of how he earned that nickname.  But let’s not forget the newest member, guitarist Sean Kelly, who proves why he is one of the most in-demand players you’re likely to hear these days.  His ripping licks on this record are hair raising.

Another strength is that these guys have lost nothing in terms of vocal abilities.  It’s all there.  How Carl hits the notes he does, is actually unknown to modern science.  Andy Curran has just as much expression as ever, the ying the Carl’s yang.  When the band sing together on a big chorus, it’s arena-ready.

The first 100 copies came signed by all four members, and with a Coney Hatch can cooler!  If that’s not an invitation to get your buzz on with this great album, I don’t know what is.  It’s done in true bootleg style:  plain white cover, with logo stamped on the front, and plain white labels on the records.  The track listing is on a separate insert.   The non-limited version is available for you to purchase so get on that right now!

5/5 stars

 

Coney Hatch – Live at the El Mocambo – Live vinyl unboxing!

A quick impromptu episode. Limited, numbered, signed vinyl LP!

T-Bone Lets The Music Do The Talking on tonight’s LeBrain Train

The LeBrain Train:  2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

Episode 49 – “The Return of T-Bone”

 

Layin’ down some facts for you:

  1. T-Bone is one of my favourite people,
  2. “Let the Music Do the Talking” is one of my favourite songs,
  3. but Done With Mirrors is one of my least favourite Aerosmith albums.

It’s been a mere two months since T-Bone last graced our show with his presence, but this time he’s coming locked and loaded with a special album deep discussion:  Aerosmith’s Done With Mirrors.

When I ranked all the Aerosmith albums, I placed it at #11.  I gave it a 3.5/5 when I reviewed it separately, but I blame Deke for that.  He was whispering things in my ear.  “36 minutes of classic Aerorock,” is what he said.   That was six years ago, and I have not listened to Done With Mirrors much since.  So it will be interesting to see what we have to say this time out.  Deke and T-Bone are big fans.

Besides Deke and T-Bone, we’ll also be bringing in Uncle Meat and Buried On Mars.  They are coming into the discussion with fresher ears than I, so it’ll be interesting to hear their takes.

Also:  Special beer “de-canning”!   Music unboxing from Encore Records!  New Current River music video!  All coming to you live…tonight!

 

7:00 PM E.S.T.
Facebook:  MikeLeBrain  YouTube:  Mike LeBrain

 

 

Scheduling Notes:

Martin Popoff will be back next Friday, February 12, for a King’s X Top Five show!

We are also hard at work on plenty of list shows and returning guests.  Rob Daniels and Mike Slayen will be returning when we do the Top Riffs of the 80s.  Harrison the Mad Metal Mad will be back when we tackle Top Maiden Album Covers, and a few other topics that we have cooking up.  And for a special 1st Anniversary show on March 19, Brent Jensen is going to talk about music that makes our skin vibrate one more time!

 

 

REVIEW: Triumph – “Spellbound” (1984 special promo 12″)

TRIUMPH – “Spellbound” (1984 MCA 12″ radio promo disc)

1984’s Thunder Seven was a big one in Canada, with “Spellbound” and “Follow Your Heart” both hitting the top 100 singles chart.  Triumph singles rarely offered up much in the way of non-album material, but the odd curiosity could be found.  This Triumph single for “Spellbound” was acquired by a friend, from Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh back in 2013.

On the A-side, the standard 5:12 single version of “Spellbound” without edits.  You can really hear why this was a hit in 1984.  Triumph had learned to marry keyboard and guitar riffs for a bigger radio-ready sound.  With Gil Moore on lead vocals, “Spellbound” had huge chorus.  The track was also made into a cool video.

The B-side was specially designed for radio airplay.  Each track on Thunder Seven is given a brief special intro by the three band members.  You could look at this as an interview disc.  It’s nine minutes in length and not without value.  By listening we learn that “Spellbound”, for example, changed much from conception to release.  It was once titled “White Lies” before it was rewritten.  “Time Canon” was made up of 18 parts over 66 tracks.  Amazing stuff.  Their Canadian accents are adorable.

An excellent purchase for Triumph fans who have it all and need a little more.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Leatherwolf – Endangered Species (1984)

LEATHERWOLF – Endangered Species (1984 Tropical Records / 1985 Heavy Metal America)

Leatherwolf carry on today but their origins are found on a humble indi debut from Heavy Metal America records back in 1984.  The Florida band’s original lineup boasted lead vocalist/guitarist Michael Olivieri, who was finding his feet here on the first album.  His voice was enviable; the fact that he could play guitar led to a gimmick called the “triple axe attack” long before Iron Maiden were able to execute the concept themselves.

Opening track “Spiter” takes influence from the aforementioned Iron Maiden as well as the thrash scene on the west coast.  Its blast of metal power serves to open the album with gusto.  The title track “Endangered Species” has a cool layered riff that is almost buried beneath the heavy production.  This is a busy band, with drummer Dean “Drum Machine” Roberts keeping all limbs in a flurry.  A great vintage heavy metal track here, just begging for a recording less flat and brittle.  Plenty of hooks and ideas packed into five minutes.

“Tonight’s the Night” isn’t as memorable, though Olivieri sure gives the vocal his all.  I can’t but laugh at “The Hook”.  “Hey honey, looking for a date?”  Songs about the world’s oldest occupation oh so often veer into cringe territory.  This is no “Charlotte the Harlot” though that seems to be the intent.  “Keep your eye out for the hook!” sings Michael.  The quiet section in the middle is pretty cool and there are multiple nifty riffs, but the song is a clanker.

Side two begins with acoustic guitars, a needed change of tone, and soon it’s back to hammering riffs.  “Season of the Witch” isn’t half bad.  As usual one riff just isn’t enough.  An amped-up Beast-era Iron Maiden seems to be the primary influence.  “Off the Track” has a shouted chorus that passes for a hook.  Not bad, but somehow incomplete like its parts weren’t fully assembled.  A slower tempo and sonic effects make “Kill and Kill Again” an effectively heavy change of pace.  A lot of Maiden in the faster outro, though.  Then accelerate into “Vagrant” which is further into the thrash side, but the production renders the guitars too tinny and without depth.  Fortunately the album closes on title track “Leatherwolf”, a mighty strong Priest-like street fight.

Though they still remained a heavy metal band with three lead guitarists, Leatherwolf added considerably more commercial elements such as ballads and keyboards by the time of their major label debut.  Michael Olivieri would tone down the screamy side of his style, which is used excessively here.  The band had a lot of room to grow, but their youthful exuberance helps make up for it.  There are a few worthwhile tracks that may have a place in your collection, and any fan of the heavier side of vintage metal will enjoy a spin.

2/5 stars

#869: Piece of Mind

GETTING MORE TALE #869: Piece of Mind

Trying to remember exact details is a bit like filling in the blanks, but here are the facts that I know I can state with confidence:

  1. The vinyl copy of Piece of Mind by Iron Maiden is the original that I bought back for Bob Schipper as a gift in the mid-80s.
  2. It was purchased at a music store in Kincardine, Ontario.
  3. It ended up becoming my property because he already had it.

I think it had to be the summer of 1985.  I remember being on vacation at the cottage.  I was just getting into heavy metal.  I know the basics but not the details.  Being away from home, I missed my best friend Bob, but I looked forward to getting him a birthday present.  I wanted to get him an Iron Maiden album.  I thought that he didn’t own Piece of Mind, and there it was in stock at this little music store on the main street of Kincardine.  I got it for him, or, more likely, I picked it out and my parents paid for it.  I was 12 turning 13.

For some reason, I think the record did not come sealed.  Again, memories are hazy here.  I might have known two songs:  “The Trooper” and “Flight of Icarus”.  I seem to remember looking at the credits and wanting to tell Bob about these two guys pictured inside named Martin “Black Night” Birch and Derek “Dr. Death” Riggs.  Bob knew the names of the band members, sure, but did he know these two guys?  I actually didn’t note that it was spelled “Black Night” instead of “Black Knight”, nor would I have caught the Deep Purple reference if I did.

On the other side of the inner sleeve, I thought Bob would love the photo of the band at the banquet table, Bruce wielding a mean looking blade.  At that point, I at least knew who Bruce was.  I also recall that the neighbour kids liked Dave Murray least because they thought he looked kind of goofy.  Meanwhile, Adrian Smith appears absolutely flabbergasted at the feast before them.

I looked forward to giving Bob the record, but there was a hiccup of some kind.  Either he already got Piece of Mind, or the LP format wasn’t good for him anymore.  He would have had to play LPs on the living room stereo rather than his own bedroom’s tape deck.  It could even have been both those things.  Either way, because of that well-intentioned gift, I ended up with my first Iron Maiden.

I consider myself lucky to have this record so early in my life.

By ’86-87, I was spinning it pretty regularly on the turntable.  I was lucky enough not only own this album as a young teen, but to even have a turntable in my own bedroom.  My parents weren’t going to use it anymore, so they handed it down.  Any time they wanted to hear a song from their records, I would tape it for them.

I can recall studying for exams in the 9th grade playing Piece of Mind, and a Triumph single, in constant rotation.  Although I should have had my mind on other things, I ended up memorizing the lyrics of the Dave Murray tune “Still Life” instead.  It was one of my first love affairs with a deep cut.  I mostly memorized “Sun and Steel” too.  I practiced singing these songs in my bedroom.

I had the writing credits committed to memory.  I liked all the songs.  It was an extraordinary album to me.  Few were the albums where I truly liked all the songs.  Some more than others, (“Quest For Fire” is perhaps not as good as “Revelations”, yeah?) but I liked them all for their own reasons.  Even the twisting, complex “To Tame a Land” was a cool Iron Maiden epic, though certainly not as accessible as “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or “Alexander the Great”.

20 years later I went full circle back to Piece of Mind once again dominating a time in my life.  I had finally quit the Record Store and was working a blissful job in the mail room at United Rentals.  I had just started reading Frank Herbert, starting of course with Dune.  This led me right back to Piece of Mind and “To Tame a Land”.  And finally, I memorized those lyrics too.  “He is the Kwizatz Haderach, he is born of Caladan, and will take the Gom Jabbar”.  I finally understand what the shit those words meant!  Insofar as a layman in the Herbert world, anyway.  The lyrics are a bit ham-fisted, but did it matter?  No, of course not, as I sang the words over the incessant rattle of that mail machine.

It was a contraption of aligned (or mis-aligned more often than not) components, at least 10 feet long.  Place a carefully sorted stack of invoices in one end, load a handful of windowed envelopes somewhere in the middle, and in theory, the thing would fold, insert, seal and stamp all the mail.  In reality it required constant babysitting at almost every step, but I soon became its master.  And I sang away in victory:

The time will come for him
To lay claim his crown
And then the foe yes
They’ll be cut down
You’ll see he’ll be the
Best that there’s been
Messiah supreme
True leader of men
And when the time
For judgement’s at hand
Don’t fret he’s strong
And he’ll make a stand
Against evil and fire
That spreads through the land
He has the power
To make it all eeeeeend!

Even over the clanking of that machine, I could still be heard.  I knew that, and I kept singing anyway.  I actually loved that job and wanted the world to know it.  I was so happy to be free of the Record Store.

Playing back Piece of Mind today is like putting on an old familiar T-shirt.  It fits just right, no adjustments needed.  Eventually you forget that it’s there, except that for persistent smile on your face.  Peace of mind indeed.

 

 

 

 

Scraping the Skies of Thunder Bay with T-Bone & Deke

Thank you T-Bone and Deke for an awesome Friday night on the LeBrain Train! Tonight’s episode was the brainchild of Deke and it was long overdue.  T-Bone, an original member of Thunder Bay’s own Current River, has plenty of great stories which we only scratched the surface of in this almost three-hour chat!

Topics discussed and their locations in the stream:

  • T-Bone Tales – scattered throughout.
  • Shaun of the Dead challenge – 0:33:20.  The zombie apocalypse has come and you are unarmed.  All you have to save yourself from the horde is your record collection.  Choose five records from your collection to throw at the zombies to save yourself.  Harder than it sounds!  This segment includes a highly disputed meltdown over Tenacious D’s debut.
  • Beer de-canning from Sleeping Giant brewery’s 2020 advent calendar – 0:35:00
  • A special Def Leppard box set unwrapping and story from someone involved with the making of it – 1:27:25
  • An hour-long track by track discussion of David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper LP – 1:50:00

Truly, some of the most fun I’ve had on a Friday night.  Good stories, good times, good beverages.  Good friends.  Spend your Friday nights with us, or catch us on Youtube after the fact.  Give the videos a share if you think your friends would like watching too.  It’s all about community and thanks for being a part of it.  Special appreciation to Harrison the Mad Metal Man for hilarious commentary.  I shall dub thee:  Hilarrison.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith (1984) Part One – Vinyl

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (1984 Columbia)

If memory serves, in contemporary times, Defenders of the Faith was considered good but not as good as Screaming for Vengeance.  It was a down-ratchet in terms of tempo and intensity.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that both albums are near-equals in quality.

It begins with a bang.  “Freewheel Burning” is borderline thrash, with the kind of high octane tempos they do so well.  Racing metaphors are paired with a lightspeed lead Rob Halford vocal, syllables flowing so fast that only a seasoned rapper could keep up with his flow.

Look before you leap has never been the way we keep, our road is free.
Charging to the top and never give in never stop’s the way to be.
Hold on to the lead with all your will and not concede,
You’ll find there’s life with victory on high.

Without a lyric sheet, there was no way you were able to follow the words.

After an adrenaline rush like that, Priest wisely shifted the throttle back a few gears with “Jawbreaker”.  Though not slow, it’s also not mental like “Freewheel Burning”.  The pace is determined.  It would not be controversial to say that Dave Holland isn’t as complex a drummer as Les Binks was.  Still he and Ian Hill do lay down a pulsing, robotic metal beat.

Third in line and backed by regal guitars, “Rock Hard Ride Free” sounds like an anthem.  “Rock hard with a purpose, got a mind that won’t bend.  Die hard resolution that is true to the end.”  For context, in the 1980s, being a metal fan was like choosing to be a neighbourhood pariah.  Many of us appreciated upbeat, encouraging messages like “Rock Hard Ride Free”.  We believed in something, and it wasn’t what the teachers and preachers thought it was.  That’s what “Rock Hard Ride Free” is about.

The first side closes on “The Sentinel”, a mini epic.  A street battle is taking place in a shattered apocalyptic landscape.  It could very well be the same world inhabited in “Blood Red Skies” or “Painkiller”.

Amidst the upturned burned-out cars,
The challengers await,
And in their fists clutch iron bars,
With which to seal his fate.
Across his chest in scabbards rest,
The rows of throwing knives,
Whose razor points in challenged tests,
Have finished many lives.

A multi-parted dual guitar solo animates what the rumble must look like.  Rob tells the story with the necessary urgency.  In the end it’s a scream-laden metal triumph.

Ominous echoing bass notes ring as soon as the needle drops on Side Two.  “Love Bites” was a single, an unusual song with a very spare riff.  Its simplicity is its weapon as it bores its way into your brain.  Halford sounds absolutely menacing.  Then they go turn on the afterburners for the very naughty “Eat Me Alive”, a song which got them a bit of trouble in the 1980s.  It  was one of 15 songs the Parents Music Resource Center wanted stickered for “explicit content” . “I’m gonna force you at gunpoint to eat me alive” sings dirty Rob, as the parents of America weep in their Cheerios.  Not an album highlight, except in terms of pure aggression.

Much more interesting is the slower, menacing “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”.  A great deep cut.  Dave Holland could have been a drum machine for what it’s worth, but this song is a champion.  Interestingly they followed it with the even slower “Night Comes Down” which might be the album ballad (albeit a heavy one).  Great pulsing bassline by Ian Hill on this track.  It’s a more sensitive, thoughtful side of Rob.  “Call me and I’ll wait till summer.  You never understood that I would wait forever, for love that’s only good.”

The album closes on a dual track:  “Heavy Duty” / “Defenders of the Faith”.  “Defenders” itself is an epic outro with “Heavy Duty” being the main part of the song.  As it implies, this is a heavy duty stomp.  The highly processed drums are accompanied by a repeating riff until Rob breaks into the outro.  Though “Defenders” itself is only a minute and a half in length, it’s among the best minutes on the album.

Not a perfect album, but even though this is a simpler Judas Priest for the 1980s, it still commands respect.  Defenders of the Faith is undoubtedly an 80s album.  It’s aimed at a wider demographic that wouldn’t necessarily get their earlier more complex material.  Defenders does it well, with some truly timeless riffs, and great song after great song.

4.5/5 stars

 

Sunday Afternoon Test Stream

With all apologies to Aaron, the old backdrop of checkers and lighthouses is gone.  Behold the new backdrop of a cloth with a paper logo!

But that’s not all.  Before this afternoon’s listening, I decided to un-package a rare 2016 limited edition 180 gram reissue of Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger.  Lemme tell you folks, it sounds great.  But it also looks cool and you can see it fresh out of the package in the live stream below.