Warner Brothers

REVIEW: Steve Earle – I Feel Alright (1996)

STEVE EARLE – I Feel Alright (1996 Warner)

One of the greatest albums of the 90s might never have happened if Steve Earle didn’t get addicted, go to jail, and finally clean up.  Earle was always a formidable songwriter.  “Ain’t Ever Satisfied”, “Someday”, and “The Other Kind” (to name only three) dripped with emotion and a certain perfection, insofar as art goes.  Steve’s songs were always about life, but in the 90s, life got intense.  I Feel Alright is the resultant album, a masterpiece that serves as the prototype for several more of Earle’s later works.

I Feel Alright was actually preceded by an acoustic album called Train A Comin’, made up of songs written from 1974 to 1995  In the liner notes, Steve tells the story.

“When I was locked up, I was getting ready to go off on this boy that stole my radio.  My partner Paul asked me where I was going.  I said, ‘To get my radio, and then go to the hole for a little while.’  He looked at me like I look at my 13 year old sometimes and said, ‘No, you ain’t.  You’re gonna sit your little white ass down and do your little time and then you’re gonna get out of here and make me a nice record.’  SO, I MADE TWO.”

“I Feel Alright” opens with defiant chords, hands hitting the strings unrelentingly, and then Steve opens his mouth.  It’s the same voice but somehow, now it feels like he really means it.   “I feel alright tonight,” he sings reassuringly.  Because we were worried about him!  The worldly lyrics are backed by shimmering layers of guitar.

Fun hits hard on “Hard Core Troubadour”, classic guitars chiming away.  Singing about a girl who’s seeing another guy on the side, Steve threatens him with the epic line:  “Wherefore art thou Romeo, you son of a bitch?”  It’s over and out in under three minutes, but the enduring adventure will be worth a repeat spin.

A blast of harmonica enters for the sentimental “More Than I Can Do”.  Upbeat and unforgettable.   Simple, impeccably constructed, and effective.  Three perfect songs in a row.

The first ballad, “Hurtin’ Me, Hurtin’ You”, is the kind of song Steven Tyler has been trying to write since about 1993, except done right.  This is what he’s been trying to write — the bluesy country heartbroken ballad with punch.  Sorry Tyler, Steve’s got you beat.  This song has “Crazy” beat by a country mile.

Upbeat harmonica enters the fray once again on “Now She’s Gone”, the story of a wild child.  Something Steve probably knows a thing or two about.  Vivid storytelling.  “She met a boy up in Kentucky, Charlie was his name. Just when he thought he got lucky, she stole his watch and chain.”  Most of I Feel Alright is short and sweet and this is no exception.  With rough and weathered voice, Earle sings it with intent.

Side one closes on “Poor Boy”, traditional country a-la Johnny (Cash or Horton).  Strong beat, light twang, and seasoned singing.  This is the kind of country Steve would have grown up on.

Opening side two, “Valentine’s Day” is a somber apology.  It sounds like Earle has made quite a few apologies in his day, and this represents them all.  Gentle, with subtle country backing vocals and light strings.

The clouds give way to a fiery blaze in “The Unrepentant”.  Steve’s hunting the devil himself this time, with a “bad attitude and a loaded .44.”  He concludes his threat with, “You got your pitchfork and I got my gun…somebody’s gotta do it.”  Fans of “Copperhead Road” will enjoy this song cut from a similar electrified cloth, though at a slower, more deliberate pace.

The only track on I Feel Alright that might be out of step is the blunt blues “CCKMP” (“Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain”).  It’s obviously dark, raw, and intense.  Clearly born from Steve’s own experiences, and completely relevant to the journey.  Will you enjoy listening to it?  Difficult to say.  What can be said is “CCKMP” is the dark point of this ride, the scary part in the tunnel.  It has its place.  It would have been wrong to leave out this crucial part of Steve’s journey.

“Billy and Bonnie” is a classic outlaw story, mandolin singing away while a driving beat takes us on down a dusty dirt road.  A Cadillac, a gas station robbery, and a day in court make for a killer story (literally)!  Then it’s a little bit of traditional country bluegrass on “South Nashville Blues”.  Looking for a little company, with money in pocket.

Ending as strongly as it began, I Feel Alright goes out on a duet with Lucinda Williams.  “You’re Still Standing There” is the love letter at the end of the story, the happy ending.  More blasts of harmonica, backed by impeccable melodic construction.  When you filter those melodies through the very human voices of Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, you get a raw celebration of a closer that just makes you wanna smile.

The celebration is just that Steve survived.  That he came back truly a stronger singer/songwriter is the remarkable part.  Though he came close to perfection on followup albums like El Corazón and Trancendental Blues, song for song, Steve has never touched the level of I Feel Alright again.  It’s one of those magical albums that’s composed of classic after classic after classic; songs you want to keep hearing over and over again.  Very real performances, communicating human emotion efficaciously.  A perfect record.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: D.A.D. – No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims (1989)

“And when the night comes to the city I say…I’m sleeping my day away.” – D.A.D.

D.A.D. – No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims (1989 Warner)

There we were sitting in Bob Schipper’s basement after school on some Thursday in late 1989.  Suddenly Bob’s attention was caught by a music video. We always had our eyes open for unique guitars. Neither of us had ever seen a two string bass before. The neck was insanely thin. The song was called “Sleeping My Day Away”, and the band was D.A.D. — Disneyland After Dark. They already had two albums out in their native Denmark, but this was their first North American single.

It wasn’t just the bass. Even the song was unique. Anchored by a simple three-note lick played on a fat hollowbody guitar, the song had an edge we were unfamiliar with. The singer, Jesper Binzer, had a cool rasp. He wore a tie in the video and the bassist (Stig Pedersen) wore a medic’s helmet! Bob loved ’em. So did the music magazines. It’s a shame that didn’t translate into North American success.

When the bassist’s medic helmet erupted with fireworks during the guitar solo, I didn’t know what to think about D.A.D.  Were they serious?  Were they a joke?  I should have just listened to the music, but it wasn’t easy to find their album.

D.A.D.’s No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims is made up of 12 sparky rock tunes.  They range from 2:04 at the shortest to 4:36 at the longest.  If guessed that punk rock must be an influence, you would be correct.  No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims has that energy and sneer, crossed with the melodic sensibilities of classic hard rock.  Also a knack for a memorable lyric; not the easiest task when English is your second language.

“Jihad!  I’m gettin’ mad!  And there’s no fuel left for the pilgrims,” sings Jesper, somehow stretching the word “mad” into two syllables.  “Jihad” is an adrenaline-fueled blast, revealing the band’s punk rock roots.  But they slow it down to a strong beat on “Point of View”, a melodic bright spot with more of that catchy hollowbody echoing hooks.  “Rim of Hell” slows it down further, turning up the menace.  “They throw the best damn parties at the rim of hell,” goes the hook, and you’ll be ready to jump in by the end.

“ZCMI” brings AC/DC to the table, adding to the stew of influences.  Iggy is definitely in D.A.D.’s record collection too.  “Girl Nation” is another catchy highlight, with Jesper imagining an interstellar “female civilization”.   Elsewhere, the chorus “I win with a Siamese twin!” tells us where Jesper’s mind is.  It’s certainly a unique lyrical theme in music.   “Wild Talk” edges into Kiss territory; but it’s Kiss when Bob Kulick was secretly playing guitar!  Closing on “Ill Will”, thrash metal is the final genre to be conquered!

No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims contains no duds, and has nothing to skip.  Though “Sleeping My Day Away” is clearly the best song, it is among a very strong batch.  D.A.D. have that punk rock sense of humour that runs through the album.  A reckless, who-gives-a-shit attitude that hints this band will do anything so long as it’s fun to do.  It’s a great little album that didn’t particularly fit in with any of their peers coming out of Hollywood.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

VAN HALEN – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

Stuff like this is in my collection not because it’s valuable to me, but because at one point in time I got it for free.  We ran across promos like these all the time, and couldn’t sell them, so they were free to take.  Because it was Van Halen, I hung onto it even though all five tracks are taken from the live album Right here, right now.  It disappears in your CD collection due to the jewel case without a back cover or spine.  For the sake of simplicity (and a shorter title), we’ll just refer to this EP as “Van Halen turns 15”.

It actually plays really well.  Without any filler or solos, it’s a tight CD packed with some of the best songs.  “Dreams” serves as a connection to the earlier pop rock sounds of 5150.  Live, it rocks with higher octane than the studio version.  “Judgement Day” was one of the better representations of the then-new For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge material.  Its modern groove was predictive of the kind of music people would want to hear in the 90s:  heavier with more edge.  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is the one token DLR track, and then seemingly to balance things out, it’s Sammy’s “One Way to Rock”.  Whatever — the listening experience is perfect.

Because “Right Now” was the biggest thing since Crystal Pepsi, it’s inevitable that the live version was included on this CD.  If you find “Right Now” to be vomit-inducing, you can just hit stop.

Since this is a promo and should only be sought as a freebie, appointing it a score out of 5 stars is meaningless.   Radio stations are always ditching boxes of old CDs so it’s bound to turn up somewhere.

Whatever/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: THX-1138 (George Lucas Director’s Cut)

THX-1138 (Originally 1970, 1998 George Lucas Director’s Cut, Warner DVD)

Directed by George Lucas

Anyone claiming to be a Star Wars fan that hasn’t seen THX-1138 isn’t really a Star Wars fan…yet.  You really can’t grok one without assimilating the other.  They are reflections of each other.  Themes and techniques intertwine.  Sometimes they are opposites, at others, cousins.

This is hard sci-fi. There are no cute furry Ewoks, there is no “villain”, there are only glimmers of heroics. This is a dystopian future brought to you by the once-brilliant director George Lucas, unhampered by his own commercial drives. This is as pure a vision as it gets.  One viewing is not enough to digest THX-1138.  There is little dialogue or exposition. There is no traditional music, and the story plods along in a very Kubrickian fashion.

The setting is not a long time ago, nor far far away.  It is the future right here on Earth, and humanity now lives in a vast underground city.  It is so vast that nobody ever ventures out to its superstructure where malformed, monkey-like “Shell Dwellers” remain. Perhaps they are mutants, victims of a long-forgotten nuclear holocaust.  It is a surveillance society.  Like today, there are few places you can escape the view of a camera lens.  Humanity lives in the bubble of a sterile, pristinely white city that resembles the dullest of shopping malls.  They are told to consume.  At strange Catholic-looking confessionals, one prays to the State and the Masses and a weird Christ-like face. Children are taught entire school courses via a chemical IV. Sexual activity is forbidden unless you are scheduled to produce a child. Sedation by drugs is compulsory. Failure to take your medications will result in drug offences and rehabilition. Some humans are deemed defective and left to themselves in a strange white prison, an asylum that seems to go on forever.

Our protagonist is THX-1138 (Robert Duvall), called “Tex” for short.  He does not feel well. He is sick, shaky, because he is secretly off his medication. Feelings of love and lust are stirring for his roomate, LUH. The lack of sedation has allowed those feelings to surface for the first time. It has also, however, affected his work, and one error is all it takes to clue in the powers-that-be that THX is a drug offender.

Themes turn up again in Lucas’ later films. See the totalitarian faceless government, complete with masked law enforcement (not Stormtroopers but robot officers).  Constant, overlapping staticky background dialogue makes up the most of the soundtrack to this film. Lucas has taken sound effects and used them as music, yet they still convey information crucial to the plot. For further comparison, some shots are even duplicated in Star Wars; see if you can spot them.

THX-1138 isn’t Lucas’ fairytale vision of sci-fi.  Scenes are chilling. THX is channel surfing and comes upon a program of an officer beating a human repeatedly for no apparent reason. This is the entertainment of the future.  The brutality is so iconic that Trent Reznor used the sounds in Nine Inch Nails’ song “Mr. Self Destruct”.  In another scene, two techs are tormenting THX’s body, but their dialogue betrays absolutely no connection whatsoever to the human being they are hurting. “Don’t let it get above 48,” says one, as THX is writhing in agony. “Oh, you let is get above 48, see, that’s why you’re getting those readings.”

The theme of escape, which was common with Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars, is what drives THX. He eventually finds an ally in a “hologram” (Don Pedro Colley) that he meets in the white asylum. SEN (Donald Pleasance) is suitably creepy as a man obsessed with THX and LUH.  Can they escape the city and see what is beyond?

Lucas loves tampering with his films and THX is one of them. CG race cars and cityscapes enhance the film, while CG Shell Dwellers look phony and out of place. I would have preferred the original Shell Dwellers, but in the cityscapes, the new effects certainly add depth and believability.  Just like the Star Wars special editions, some things work and others do not.  Cloud City worked well in the Star Wars digital tweaks, just as the underground one does here.

DVD bonus features are awesome, including ample documentaries.  For a treat, check for the original black and white student film that Lucas made: THX-1138-4eB – Electronic Labyrinth. See how his vision survived intact to the big screen, and see how ideas such as dialogue acting as the soundtrack was present in the original short.

A fantastic visionary sci-fi film, and a warning to us today. We must not allow our society to become as controlled as THX’s.

Not for everybody. Only for those who like thinking man’s sci-fi.

4/5 stars. Near-perfect dystopian vision.

REVIEW: Rod Stewart – The Story So Far: The Very Best Of (2001)

ROD STEWART – The Story So Far: The Very Best Of (2001 WEA)

Sir Roderick Stewart might be best known for his covers, though he certainly wrote his fair share of corkers.  He’s the kind of artist that made certain covers his own, to the point that some think they’re his originals.  “Downtown Train” (Tom Waits) is a good example.  So is “The First Cut is the Deepest” (Cat Stevens).  Rod’s versions are iconic.  Something about his blue-eyed raspy soul.

Stewart is also known for his successes in multiple decades.  He was big in the 60s, with Jeff Beck.  He was huge in the 70s with the Faces  as a solo artist.  He successfully rode out the disco era with a huge hit (an original, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, co-written by Carmine Appice).  He became a massive pop star in the 80s, and even kept the momentum going through the start of the 90s with MTV Unplugged.  Finally he became an adult contemporary sensation in the 2000s with his Great American Songbook albums, before finally returning to writing original music.  Rod just has an ear for a good song, and an ability to wrap his inimitable voice around it.  The Story So Far: The Very Best Of Rod Stewart captures a huge chuck of music from the late 60s to 2001.  It’s separated into two discs, for two moods:  the upbeat A Night Out and the softer A Night In.

Is The Story So Far all you need?  No, but it touches the bases.  It’s easier to think of songs that aren’t included.  You’ll still want to get “Handbags and Gladrags”, “Infatuation”, “Broken Arrow”, and many more.  This CD set will help you hone in on what you want, and you’ll still get plenty of goodies.  From “Stay With Me” and “In A Broken Dream” all the way through “Some Guys Have All the Luck”, and into the unplugged “Reason to Believe”, it’s loaded with quality.  In fact there’s only one dud, which is “Don’t Come Around Here” with Helicopter Girl (who?) from 2001’s dreadful Human.   The programmed beats reek of an age past when everybody turned to computers to stay trendy.

There are even a couple hard to find tracks.  “Ruby Tuesday”, from Rod Stewart, lead vocalist was not originally released in North America.  “All For Love” is a Bryan Adams song featuring Rod and Sting from the Three Musketeers soundtrack.  “In A Broken Dream” is an oldie by Aussie band Python Lee Jackson, featuring Rod at the mic.  These are good songs worth owning.

One misfire on a compilation of 34 songs ain’t bad, and Rod’s ballads are as good as the rockers so both discs are equal in strength.  Get your “Hot Legs” on the dance floor with some “Young Turks”.  You’ll have a great time, “Ooh La La”, so “Tonight I’m Yours”.  “Tonight’s The Night”, so go get some Rod Stewart!

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – 1000 Arms (2016)

BLUE RODEO – 1000 Arms (2016 Warner)

It’s hard keeping up with Blue Rodeo! They’re always working, either as a band or on their own projects. They’ve released new albums consistently without gaps. That’s 15 studio albums (one of them a double) spanning 30 years. Countless amazing songs…but mathematically their growth have kept me from growing with their new music as much as the old. There are only so many hours in a day, and days in a week, and it’s hard to imagine the day that 1000 Arms will surpass Five Days in July for number of spins.  It’s inevitable that when listening to newer Blue Rodeo music, it doesn’t feel as close to you as the early stuff.

Blue Rodeo maintain their knack for incredible songs and playing on 1000 Arms.  Greg Keelor conjures up the same old, not-quite-broken spirits as before.  “Nothing I ever do is good for you, will I ever realize?  You’re never satisfied.”  Biting lyrics, chiming mandolin and perfect Cuddy/Keelor harmonies combine to make the opener “Hard to Remember” a future classic.  Jim Cuddy takes the wheel next on an upbeat number called “I Can’t Hide My Feelings Anymore”.  When has Jim ever hid his feelings?  Not the point — another great tune.

The disc is loaded with great tunes.  “Jimmy Fall Down” (vocals: Keelor) maintains the bright, upbeat direction.  Things don’t slow down until track 4, “Long Hard Life”.  It’s quieter but no less enjoyable.  It’s only a temporary reprieve, as “Rabbit’s Foot” brings a classic guitar vibe.  The title track is old style Cuddy storytelling.  Greg’s penchant for slow and dramatic music is carried on by “Dust to Gold”.  There is even sly humour on “Superstar”, something you don’t always get with a Blue Rodeo album.  “Start a business, organics door to door, ’cause nobody buys records here anymore.”

We could go on and continue to describe this batch of new tunes, but rest assured there are no duds.  (Do stay tuned for a heavy exotic turn on closing track “The Flame”.)  I hope that, over time, these songs become as much a part of me as the old tunes.  There’s little difference in terms of quality, and the musicianship is always tops.  Colin Cripps would be responsible for many of the tasteful guitar solos, but 1000 Arms is the last Blue Rodeo album to feature mandolin player (and Kitchener, Ontario resident) Bob Egan.  (That’s why he’s front and center of the band photo.)  Bob departed after making this one, and he went out in great style.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit (1981)

CHEECH & CHONG’S GREATEST HIT (1981 Warner)

Even if you’re not into comedy albums, Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit compilation should be considered for your collection.  For one, it can be found in any format for cheap.  And that justifies buying it for their classic song “Earache My Eye”.  Classic song?  It’s been covered and homaged by bands such as Soundgarden, Korn, and even Rush.  So listen up!

Cheech & Chong’s original “Earache My Eye” is heavy metal and horns gone wild.  Cheech sings as his persona “Alice Bowie”.  The song was featured in the group’s first movie, Up In Smoke.  There is also a lesser song on the album called “Basketball Jones”, but it too is noteworthy because there’s a Beatle on it:  George Harrison!  And a slew of others including Billy Preston, Carole King and Nicky Hopkins.

Everyone in the world should know Cheech & Chong’s comedy sketch “Dave”.  If you don’t, shame on you and go hear it immediately.  “Dave” is here in edited form so you’ll get the gist.  Other popular bits include “Sister Mary Elephant” (remember the teacher screaming “SHUUUT UPPP!” to the rowdy classroom?) and “Sargent Stadanko”.  Most sketches focus on (gasp) drugs!  “Let’s Make a Drug Deal” is a spoof of a popular TV show.  “Cruising With Pedro De Pacas” is a paranoid drive with a Latino stoner.  Pedro and his sidekick Man take up most of side two.

Listening to this is a real throwback.  Sneaking people into a drive-in movie back when a drive-in movie was just 50 cents per person!  It’s good stuff but it may only appeal to people who remember those times.  Cheech & Chong’s laid back style of comedy makes this album (almost 55 minutes long) difficult to finish in one sitting.  Take a break between sides if it’s too slow for you.

The most important life lesson contained within is don’t try to sneak friends into a drive-in movie in the trunk of your car.  Especially if you’re with two guys named Pedro and Man.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Live in Japan (1996)

scan_20170221HAREM SCAREM – Live in Japan (1996 WEA)

Three albums seems to be the industry standard before you can release a live one.  Harem Scarem followed suit and issued Live in Japan right after their third LP, Voice of Reason.  It was their first with new bassist Barry Donaghy, replacing Mike Gionet.

Live in Japan is a safe, fairly compact selection of tunes from the first three.  It could use less Voice of Reason, an album which never boasted the killer tunage from the first two.  In fact if one edited out “Blue”, “Candle”, “Breathing Sand”, and “Paint Thins”, you could make a pretty tight set.  Leave in “Warming a Frozen Rose” though; it was always the best of the Voice of Reason tracks.  You can also leave in the title track as it’s pretty heavy.  Most of the real firepower comes from Mood Swings.  The opening salvo of “Change Comes Around” and “Saviours Never Cry” are a rousing start to the proceedings.

Live, Harem Scarem were tight.  Their harmonies are handled easily by the four guys, all capable singers.  Harry Hess’ roar is not lessened by the road nor jet lag.  He’s as powerful here as he is on record.  This is necessary for amped rockers like “Had Enough” and “Empty Promises” from Mood Swings, both very strong.  There is only one song from the 1991 debut album Harem Scarem. Representing Harem’s early pop rock roots is “Slowly Slipping Away”; call it a power ballad or just call it a song.  It feels like it has too much guitar to be a ballad, so call it what you want: it’s great.  You can clearly hear Barry Donaghy’s contributions on backing vocals, an essential part of the song’s hookiness.  The live set closes on “No Justice”, the best known track from Mood Swings and an obvious crowd favourite.  The vocals are just outstanding from the whole band.

There are two bonus studio tracks on this album, a nice little unexpected treat.  The first, “Pardon My Zinger” is a peppy instrumental the likes of which you expect from guys like Joe Satriani.  Not so much for guitar trickery, just in terms of composition and hooks.  The last track is a new ballad called “More Than You’ll Ever Know”.  It has since been reissued on Japanese compilations such as Ballads and B-Side Collection, but this live album is the easiest place to get a copy.  As far as ballads go, this one’s not bad.

For fans who didn’t get into Voice of Reason the way they did the first two, Live in Japan offers a bumpy ride.   There is little question that the recorded performance is freaking amazing.  It just comes down to the songs and personal taste.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993, plus “Jump” live single)

scan_20160929VAN HALEN – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner Bros, plus “Jump” live single)

The summer of ’93 was the “Summer of Live Albums” here at LeBrain HQ.  There were many live discs out to digest, several of them from “must-purchase” bands.  Most notable was Ozzy’s Live & Loud which came in a metal speaker grille cover.  Iron Maiden also put out A Real Live One, the first of a two-album live set.  And then there was a big’un:  Van Halen’s first live album, the double Right here, right now.

What did all three releases have in common?  They were all boring duds.

Sad but true.  In Van Halen’s case, the disappointment was acute.  Sure it was “Van Hagar” and not the “real deal” if you believe in that  sort of thing, but that wasn’t the issue.  There are a few problems with Right here, right now but none of them have to do with the singer.  The setlist is a real drag, with way too much material from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  10 of the 11 songs from F.U.C.K. are on this album!  (“The Dream is Over” being the only missing song — you had to buy this on VHS to get it!)  A F.U.C.K. song opens the set, another closes the set…it’s too much, especially since F.U.C.K. was (one of?) the weakest Halen albums to date.

Issue #2 is perhaps a bit silly, since Van Halen shows are known for their solos: but this album has too many solos.  Eddie’s aside; he always going to blow your mind.  Unfortunately, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen are, quite frankly, boring soloists.  Did “Ultra Bass” need to be five minutes long?  It’s best when Michael’s just playing, but as fans know his bass solo is half notes, and half noise.  Immediately after that is “Pleasure Dome/Drum Solo”, nine whole minutes.  The instrumental “Pleasure Dome” section is best since it resembles a song (a driving hard one at that).

The final major issue is one we didn’t even know about until recently.  Sammy Hagar revealed in his book Red that this album was heavily overdubbed afterwards, and I wouldn’t doubt it.  (Hagar claims that he re-sang the entire thing over again in the studio.)  There was always something underneath the surface that didn’t feel right about this album, and that could be it right there.  Right here, right now feels dulled, perhaps by too much studio polish after the fact.

It’s not all bad of course, how could it be?  “Poundcake” and “Judgement Day” start it off strongly.  Then they went and dropped a ballad (“When It’s Love”) and a shitty song (“Spanked”), and all momentum is stopped.  The duo of “You Really Got Me” and “Cabo Wabo” are pretty damn great though.  There are a couple Hagar solo tracks in set which add some spice to the mix.  The acoustic ballad “Give to Live” is just Sammy alone, but “One Way to Rock” is the whole ass-kickin’ band.  Of all the Hagar tracks the band has played live, “One Way to Rock” sounds most natural as a Van Halen song.  The final surprise is “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which Eddie does not play keyboards on.  Instead he mimics Pete Townsend’s synthesizer part with his guitar.  Who purists will hate Sammy’s take on it, but fuck it.  It’s a pretty damn good version of a hard to cover classic.

There are a couple other decent tracks to be had.  German and Japanese versions contain two bonus tracks:  “Mine All Mine” (from the OU812 tour) and another Hagar track, “Eagles Fly”.  They can also be found on the “Jump” live single.  Unlike much of the rest of the album “Mine All Mine” has some bite to it.  It’s a great example of synthesizer working well in a hard rock song.  (Unfortunately it fades out early.)  As for “Eagles Fly”, this is a song Sammy played acoustic on the occasions he didn’t play “Give to Live”.  Although it was played less, “Eagles Fly” edges out the other just slightly by a nose.  These two bonus tracks are worth tracking down the single for, or an import version of the album.

I traded up my original copy of LIVE: Right here, right now for a US import that came in a cardboard digipack.  Although it has no bonus tracks, it does have some bonus photos, which is still pretty cool.

It’s not fun to say any Van Halen album isn’t essential, but Right here, right now is not essential.

2/5 stars

 

COMPLETE VAN HALEN REVIEW SERIES:

VAN HALEN – Zero (1977 Gene Simmons demo bootleg)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen (1978 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen II (1979 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Women and Children First (1980 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Fair Warning (1981 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 1984 (1984 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – OU812 (1988 Warner)
VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015) Review by Tommy Morais

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VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” / “Me Wise Magic” (1996 Warner promo singles)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now” (1992 cassette single, Warner)
VAN HALEN vs. JOHN LENNON – “Imagine A Jump” mashup by “Mighty Mike”
RECORD STORE TALES Part 186:  The Van Halen Tin

 

 

REVIEW: Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees (1990)


Scan_20160525DAMN YANKEES – Damn Yankees (1990 Warner)

Now here is an album I haven’t played in a long time!

When the supergroup known as Damn Yankees first emerged in 1990, they quickly became my favourite new band.  Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw (Styx), Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and drummer Michael Cartellone emerged with one of the hottest new albums of the summer:  Pure radio-ready hard rock, but with the integrity added by the Nuge himself.  All aboard!

(I like that Ted is in the credits also as “security”.  You can picture it.)

So what is Damn Yankees?  Light rock, Great Gonzos, or a mixture?  The answer is:  all of the above.

The predominant direction is radio-ready hard rock circa the time. Even though all these guys had been around for a while (especially Ted), if you didn’t know who they were it was easy to mistake them for the new hot band.  Their lyrics are geared to the young.

Dressed to kill and lookin’ dynamite,
With her high-laced stockings and her sweater so tight,
I asked her name,
She said her name was ‘Maybe’…

Oh come on guys!    Jack Blades was 36 years old when he sang that.  We already have one Gene Simmons.  Thankfully, the lead single “Coming of Age” was musically impeccable for hard pop rock.  Lyrically, there is nothing of any value here, just meaningless male drivel.  The Van-Hagar like licks of “Coming of Age” are enhanced by the aggressive lead guitar work of Terrible Ted, who probably thought the lyrics were pure poetry.

The bluesy riff of “Bad Reputation” screams Nugent, but the vocals of Blades and Shaw blend as if they have always been a vocal team.  Of course as we all know, Damn Yankees led to a long and very productive partnership for the two, with Shaw-Blades being a personal favourite album.  The most remarkable thing about Damn Yankees is indeed the blend of vocals.  Just listen to that bridge in the middle of “Bad Reputation”.  Two rock singers rarely complement each other as well as Shaw and Blades.  But just when you thought it was going too folksy, Ted returns with a fluttering blitzkreig of strings and (probably) freshly killed meat.

“Runaway” features some of Shaw’s great slide guitar work, on a mid-tempo rocker with an unforgettable anthemic chorus.  Damn Yankees is often forgotten for its guitar work.  Think about it though:  Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent are two of America’s best from the old school.  While the songs are simple pop rock, the solos are simply awesome.

By the time fall 1990 rolled around, it was time to drop a ballad for a single:  “High Enough”.  In the year 1990 there were a number of acoustic ballads that were all very similar sounding:  “Silent Lucidity”, “More Than Words”, and “High Enough”.   There is no better way to describe “High Enough” than “sounds like summer 1990”.  Unfortunately it does not stand out or have any qualities that make it more memorable than the other ballads out that year.  The saccharine strings just do me in.  I get ballad-fatigue. And let’s not even talk about that awful music video.

The band’s namesake track “Damn Yankees” sounds like a Nugent song.  It has a chunky, ballsy riff, though nothing to write home to mother about.  Unfortunately the lyrics are terribly dated, the kind of pro-American intervention sentiment that went out fashion many years ago.  With references to Manuel Noriega and the Middle East, this is all much less glorious with the benefit of hindsight.  There’s a lesson to be learned there:  avoid overly politicizing your lyrics, young rockers.

For a better ballad than “High Enough”, check out side two’s opening track “Come Again”.  This one is old-school, sounding something like Styx’s “Boat on a River” colliding with the Nuge on “Stranglehold”.   It builds into a frenetic solo section that is just to die for, Nuge seemingly doing his best Eddie VH impression.  Then on “Mystified”, Ted brings the blues while Tommy gets down on the pedal steel.  This is a great little blues rock jam of the kind ZZ Top are comfortable with.  I’m certain Rev. Billy would approve of the Nuge’s blues licks, authentic as they come.

“Rock City” ain’t bad at all, accelerated for your pleasure and name-dropping Jimmy Page in the lyrics.  It’s not the heaviest song on the album — they save that for the end — but it’s definitely second.  There is little doubt, based on interviews with the band, that the heaviness came from Ted.  Let’s all take a moment now to thank Ted Nugent for rocking so damn hard.  Thank you, Mr. Nugent.  Penultimate track “Tell Me How You Want It” is a pretty good mid-tempo song, with classy vocals from Tommy and Jack.  Had they released more singles from the album, this one would have been up for the job.

And then finally…

A blues lick, and Ted speaking:  “Nice lick!  I have a feeling this is gonna be a rhythm and blues song…nice, real nice.  Tasty.  WAITAMINUTE!”

“Piledriver” is just a dumb sex song, but it’s also pure Gonzo Ted, the Ted you knew was hiding somewhere on this album.  You wanna hear Ted go friggin’ top gear for four and a half minutes?  “Piledriver”, baby!  Tommy and Jack on the backing vocals even drop an F-bomb!  Can you believe it?  They’re the nice guys of the band!  But let’s not forget Michael Cartellone on the drums, hammering relentlessly, not only keeping up with Great Gonzo but setting the freakin’ pace!  Even without headbanging along (strongly recommended), you’re exhausted by the end of the tune.

I say again, thank you Mr. Nugent.

As it turns out, Damn Yankees is still an entertaining listen 26 years later.  I didn’t properly appreciate the smoking guitars on it at the time.  Back then, I was interested in ballads and singles and catchy tunes.  Even so I still liked “Piledriver” back then…because it’s awesome.  The album’s real flaw is on the lyric sheet.  I know these guys can do better than some of these tracks.

3/5 stars