“Wild” Mick Brown

REVIEW: Dokken – Tooth and Nail (1984)

DOKKEN – Tooth and Nail (1984 Elektra)

Dokken always served up large helpings of cheese. Within the framework of 80s hard rock, their second album Tooth and Nail has been elevated to the status of classic.  Produced by Tom Werman and armed with nine great songs, Dokken were poised to move on to the big leagues.

The brief instrumental opener “Without Warning” leads directly into the full speed chug of “Tooth and Nail”.  George Lynch was the obvious star on guitar, but “Wild” Mick Brown certainly blows the doors off with his high speed drum work.  Don Dokken could hit the high notes when required, aided and abetted by bassist Jeff Pilson.  The quartet could go hard or soft, or right down the middle.  “Just Got Lucky” is perfect in the centre.  Not too heavy, boasting a chorus that sticks, and a fiery hot guitar solo.

The lesser known “Heartless Heart” gets by for its Lynch chugging, though its chorus is left wanting.  Even chuggier:  “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, which Lynch leaves a smoking ruin:  Don screaming over the wastes left behind by the incessant rocking.  And that’s side one.

Dokken were especially good at slower, heavy songs.  “When Heaven Comes Down” is one of those.  Lynch’s riff holds the fort while Don conjures apocalyptic imagery.  Then a classic:  “Into the Fire”.  This song has it all.  The chorus and riff are topped only by a killer middle eight and a flammable solo.  You can pass on the cliche “Bullets to Spare” which sounds like a Quiet Riot B-side.  But don’t miss “Alone Again”, one of the best ballads from the entire decade.  It defines the term “power ballad” all by itself.  From the words, to the melody, to the legendary Lynch solo, “Alone Again” sounds as good today as it did then.

Finishing it off you’ll get the incendiary “Turn On The Action”, a cross between Van Halen, Motley Crue, and 2/3rds of the Sunset Strip.  It’s a good closer, but derivative and absolutely a product of its time and place.

Tooth and Nail is two or three songs shy of 5/5 rating.  Though you may debate it among yourselves, Back For the Attack and Dysfunctional are superior albums.  Tooth and Nail, however, has something they don’t have, and that is a high percentage of Dokken concert classics.  “Alone Again”, “Just Got Lucky”, “Into the Fire” and “Tooth and Nail” are all cornerstones of a Dokken collection.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Dokken – Return to the East Live (2018 Japanese CD/DVD set)

DOKKEN – Return to the East Live (2018 Frontiers Japan CD/region 2 – DVD set)

Even the most devout Dokken fan must acknowledge that Don is not the be-all and end-all of singers.  A good singer, yes, but never in the top tier.  Now that age has taken its toll (as it always does), Don relies on the backup singing of Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, and George Lynch to hit those high notes.  The classic Dokken lineup reunited for some shows in Japan, and even recorded a new song to go with it.  Fortunately Dokken were up to the challenge, even with the shortcomings that age creates.

Some of the audience looks too young to have known Dokken when they first rocked Japan back in the 80s, but most are die-hards.  Don himself looks cool as a cucumber, with George and Jeff on either side holding down the fort.  Most importantly it seems they had a good time.  Lynch is simply compelling to watch, as he plays impossible licks while making it look so easy.

There’s no messing around with this setlist.  All classic Dokken, all 80s, no filler.  They focused on what the fans wanted and they delivered.  The band sounded great.  Pilson’s all-important bass is given enough room in the mix to be effective.  Songs like “It’s Not Love”, “The Hunter” and especially “Alone Again” buzz with electricity.  Vocally, with great backup singers like Jeff, the band were able to pull it off.  It’s a high energy reunion show.  It’s just too bad so many people in the audience spent it on their phones.

The DVD and CD tracklists are, strangely, not in the same order.  You can hear some obvious vocal overdubs in places, most notably “Kiss of Death”.  There are some sloppy edits on the video.  Don’s lips don’t always match the words, and there are annoying graphic overlays, but it’s a good show with plenty of closeups.  Jeff Pilson is a dynamo on stage, but Wild Mick has lost nothing over the years either.  He hammers on his kit as if he’s still 25 years old!  There is little interaction between the members on stage, except for Jeff who is all over the place, including the keyboards.  Don grins like a Cheshire cat when George lays down those familiar solos.  He picks up the guitar himself for oldies like “Breakin’ the Chains”.

Both the CD and DVD portion have unique bonus content.  After the main feature, you will find 45 minutes of behind the scenes footage, directed by Don.  Shaky camera work aside, this is fascinating fly-on-the-wall stuff.  Chatterbox Don is full of energy, even when losing his fedora hat. Eagle-eyed Trailer Park Boys fans will recognise road manager Tom Mayhue, their nemesis in the Out of the Park series.  As the band pick apart the set and put it back together again, you get a real sense that they just wanted to get it right but not at the expense of fun.

You will find two exclusive bonus acoustic songs on the CD.  “Heaven Sent” (with congas) and the obscure “Will the Sun Rise” are studio re-recordings, giving both songs a fresh, mellow gleam.  That’s not the main feature, however.  For obvious reasons, the brand new song “It’s Another Day” is the centrepiece, and as such it is presented as the very first track on the disc.  While the live set is undoubtedly a very significant memento for fans, nothing really excites them like a brand new song — their first together as the classic lineup two decades.  And it’s a solid B+.  Grooving with a head of steam, “It’s Another Day” is very reminiscent of the excellent and underrated Dysfunctional album from 1995.

The Japanese bonus track this time is the early Dokken classic “Paris is Burning” live, which is also on the DVD but not the standard CD or download versions. Don’t you hate when a track is missing that is only on the DVD? Sure you do.

Jeff Pilson says that he wanted Dokken to end (if this is the end) on an up note.  “Just a really positive  exclamation point to a great career.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

4/5 stars

REVIEW REDUX: Ted Nugent – Shutup & Jam! (2014)

Scan_20150925 (2)TED NUGENT – Shutup & Jam! (2014 Frontiers)

I first reviewed this album earlier in the year, when fellow reviewer Deke over at Arena Rock gave it to me digitally.  However I’m a physical product kinda fella.  Now that I have a CD in my hands, I had the urge to re-review.  Follow along, won’t you?  The original review can be found here, but this one is about 50% brand-new.  The CD is sonically superior anyway.

Some rock fans have a love/hate thing with Ted Nugent.  He’s a proud hunter (“kill ’em and grill ’em”), but a conservationist.  He loves the right wing of the political spectrum and has nothing but loathing for the left, all the while taking great glee in offering his opinions.  The second amendment is sacred to him…but so is rock and roll.  It’s hard to outright hate a guy who has rocked so damn hard over the years, and non-stop at that.  You gotta give him credit for the tunes.

Upon first listen, it is clear that the years have done nothing to Ted.  The opening title track is faster, meaner and more fun than 99% of the flock.  The great Gonzo still shreds a chaotically perfect solo as if the studio is Cobo Hall.  “There just comes a time when you just gotta rock,” he sings.  Sounds good to me Ted, I’m on board for that!  Ted keeps it rolling with a vicious riff on the excellent “Fear Itself”.  What a killer song.  The message is pretty straightforward:  he got nothing to fear but fear itself.  “I get up every day, with a smile on my face, happy to be alive and I’m back in the race.”  Ted offers no apologies, but tries to keep it positive.  “Positive energy makes me smile,” he sings, but “victory makes it all worthwhile.”

Old pal Derek St. Holmes lends lead vocals to “Everything Matters”.  A whole album of Ted’s shrieking has never been easy to swallow, so I’m always glad to hear Derek’s smooth pipes.  By the slippery bluesy rock, you might think it’s ZZ Top.  Early ZZ Top, at that!  Somehow, Derek and Terrible Ted found a time machine back to 1972 and captured the sound on “Everything Matters”!

Speaking of old friends, Sammy Hagar (who is friends with everyone, except the current members of Van Halen) shows up to sing lead on “She’s Gone”.  It’s a ball-crusher of a song (basically just a variation on “Going Down”), but  I road tested the guitar solo, wailing with the car windows down this summer.  It passed the rock test.  Sammy haters are gonna hate, but I don’t how you can hate him when he’s rocking like this with the Nuge.  Even better though is the pure fucking joy in the riff for “Never Stop Believing”.  Ted has been quite a riff merchant over the years, but “Never Stop Believing” is another triumph, as big as ever.  Strap on your air guitars, folks:  you’re gonna need ’em.  The song ends on some really nice laid back picking from Ted, reminding me that he is one of the most underrated players from the classic rock era.

“I Still Believe” indicates to me that Ted really wanted to get his point across when he said he’d “Never Stop Believing”.  The opening riff apes “Helter Skelter” shamelessly, but the rest of the track is pure Ted…with twang.  I like that Nuge is singing fairly tame things like “I still believe in America” and “I believe in liberty” rather than “fuck the Democrats”.  The sentiments are more inclusive.

My favourite track has turned out to be the silly titled “I Love My BBQ”.   I do love to barbecue, and I absolutely dig the shout-out to us Canucks:  “I love my Barbeque, it’s what Canadians do, pull up a chair I’ll get a beer for you,” sings Ted in the first verse!  A small minority may be offended but my mouth is drooling. But I really don’t think it’s Ted’s primary intention to upset you.  He’s just being funny on this one.  I mean, come on:  “Tofu might just kill you babe, a tossed salad’ll make you weak.”  Nudge nudge, wink wink.  Poking the bear a bit.  “Well the animals, they got rights…right next to my mashed potatoes, baby.”  It is obviously intended as comedy, and that’s fine.

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I love my BBQ, too.

Kicking ass is Ted’s business and “Throttledown” is a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal rock instrumental.  As always though, there is a twang to Ted’s dexterous picking.  That’s what makes this different, and better, than middle of the road rock.  Having said all that, I have no idea what “Do-Rags and a .45” is about.  It sounds like Anvil, except for that title.  Keeping the pace fast, “Screaming Eagles” doesn’t give up an inch, guitars fueled and ablaze.  None of these songs overstay their welcome.  Shutup & Jam features five songs in the 2 minute range in a row!  “Semper Fi” is the last of these five, a stomper rather than a screamer.  I come from a military family so I have no issues with Ted paying tribute to those in uniform.  Some might find it all a bit too much; that’s up to you.  Fear not, the song has just as much guitar shred as it does singing.  Ted then tells us he’s going to “Trample the Weak Hurdle the Dead”.  “War is not the answer,” sings Ted. “I only know evil has got to go.”  It’s a great tune and it’s not hard to swallow.  And that’s the key.  All of these tunes are immensely catchy with lyrics you can sing without having to worry about being considered a right-wing radical by your neighbours.

A bluesy reprise of “Never Stop Believing” closes the album; a rough recording appropriate for the gritty blues approach.  It’s a bit of a throw-away compared to the regular version, decent but not nearly as special.  Ted’s playing is always the main reason to listen.

I have maintained that if only I heard Shut Up & Jam in the year 2014, it would have been a contender for the Top Five list that year.  It’s not hard to understand why — it’s a killer record showing Ted is still in fine form today and hasn’t let the politics get in the way of a good rock song.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Lynch Mob – Wicked Sensation (1990)

This review comes by request of reader Wardy, and Jon Wilmenius!

LYNCH MOB_0001LYNCH MOB – Wicked Sensation (1990 Elektra)

When Dokken split, everybody more or less expected George Lynch to take it a little heavier.  “Wild” Mick Brown (drums) stuck with him, and together to put together a band including newcomers Oni Logan (vocals) and Anthony Esposito (bass).  Lynch praised his name band, which had to be dubbed Lynch Mob, because it’s just too obvious not to.

George was championing his new singer Logan all over the press, “best singer I’ve ever worked with,” yada yada.  It was with slight disappointment that I finally heard Logan on the opening title track/lead single, “Wicked Sensation”.  Logan boasted a rough, unpolished bluesy voice akin to Ray Gillen.  He didn’t have a tremendous range but he was very different from the frictionless Don Dokken.  Logan relied on his bluesy, raspy wail to nail the choruses.

“Wicked Sensation” is a great introduction to Lynch Mob.  George did indeed go groovier and heavier than Dokken had been lately.  The song delivered a heavy chorus, a juggernaut groove, and Oni Logan’s sleazy howls.  It was not commercial but it was promising.  The second single “River of Love” was unfortunately more or less a generic rock track.  Where “Wicked Sensation” shook us to the core, “River of Love” merely sounded same-old, same-old to my teenage ears.

The musicianship is impeccable (especially “Street Fighting Man”), and certainly Anthony Esposito’s post-Lynch Mob discography has proved his worth.  George had the opportunity to shred as he hadn’t before, exploring different tones in his solos and rhythms.  It’s not a “guitar” album and there are no instrumentals, but it is heavy on the guitars.  The unfortunate thing is bland songwriting.  Many choruses lack hooks.  Other songs, such as “Sweet Sister Mercy” (generic title or what?) have a good chorus, but little else.

LYNCH MOB_0003

Standouts:

The aforementioned “Wicked Sensation” is an obvious highlight, a song that more or less forces you to pay attention to it.  “All I Want” has a cool, laid-back sleaze groove.  (Logan does really well on this one.)  “She’s Evil But She’s Mine” is a great little track, slinky but still heavy.  “No Bed of Roses” is a smoking hot rocker that just kicks ass.  It has probably the single best chorus on the album.  “For A Million Years” is also above par.

I don’t feel a lot of love for the rest of the album, which sort of becomes a soundalike soup of Lynch guitars and Logan wails.  Bottom line, there needed to be more focus on the songs.  While every track has its own jaw-dropping moments, there just aren’t enough hooks to stick to your ears like peanut butter in the mouth.  Even the ballad, “Through These Eyes” (obviously written in the mold of “Alone Again”) fades from the memory as soon as the song ends.

Wicked Sensation kicks ass, but it leaves me wanting.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Dokken – Dysfunctional (1995)

DOKKEN – Dysfunctional (1995 Columbia)

No matter how good the band may have been, when Dokken reunited for a new album in 1995, it was a no-win scenario. They always seemed to be one of those bands that critics loved to hate. I read a ridiculous review of Dysfunctional that said, “If Don Dokken fell in a forest, would he make a sound? And if he did, could they get George Lynch to solo over it for an hour?” What a stupid review.  The album deserves a lot of praise, because when Dokken did reunite, the music was as strong as ever.  They had discovered modern groove, added onto their lush harmony vocals, and it managed to sell 300,000 copies.

Dysfunctional was conceived originally as the second Don Dokken solo album, which just happened to have Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson on it. (Jeff had recently split from Dio.)  The record company persuaded Don to call up George Lynch and make it a true Dokken album.  Originally George was just supposed to come in and re-do the guitar solos, but Don wanted George’s rhythm.  That was smart.  George ended up with writing credits on most of the songs in the process.

I have to admit that when this came out, a new Dokken album was the last thing I expected to see. Deep into the grunge years, Dokken came out flying with a modern melodic hard rock record with warmth, depth and awesome production values (by Don and Michael Wagener). Raging solos, great ballads, glorious riffs, and those Dokken harmony vocals mark one of the best Dokken albums of their career.  It’s certainly lots better than the ones I’ve heard that followed it.

There are lots of highlights.  No songs suck, but some are better than others.  The best tune was the 7-minute single, “Too High to Fly”.  I don’t know who came up with the riff, whether it was Don or George, but this song kicks ass.  Jeff Pilson gets into a wicked bass groove, dominating the verses.  Don’s lead vocal is among his most impassioned and the band is smoking.  This is a shoulda-been Dokken classic.  I am given to understand that it is the only song from Dysfunctional that is still played live from time to time.

Other favourites include “Inside Looking Out”, which shares the same grooving direction.  “Long Way Home” is like classic Ye Olde Dokken and could have fit in on Back for the Attack next to “Mr. Scary”.  On the softer side, I really like the understated “Nothing Left To Say”, a classy acoustic ballad.  Jeff Pilson’s backing vocals coupled with strings create a timeless atmosphere.  Then there’s the album epic:  “The Maze”, a lush, multi-part progressive song with harmony vocals piled on top of harmony vocals.  It doesn’t get thicker than this!  The record closes on “From The Beginning”, an ELP cover and another classy acoustic song.

I don’t need to tell you how great George Lynch is.  The record company were right to get him involved.  He helped make this album really special.  And that’s not to say that “Wild” Mick Brown or Jeff Pilson don’t bring it, because both of them did and then some.  Just that George has a very unique sound.  There is only one George Lynch.

Dysfunctional is a compulsory purchase if you have ever liked Dokken. It is a shame that the title proved true. George bailed after the dismal followup album (Shadowlife) and Pilson wasn’t far behind. Sad.

4/5 stars

Nice hair, Don.

REVIEW: Ted Nugent – Shutup & Jam! (2014)

Thank you to fellow reviewer Deke, who gave me this album!  Check out his review here!

FolderTED NUGENT – Shutup & Jam! (2014 Frontiers)

Alright Nuge, it’s been a bumpy ride between you and I.  It’s been a love/hate thing with us.  Let’s see if I can stomach 2014 Ted, or if the politics are overshadowing the music.  As we Canadians say, Give’r!

One thing for sure: there is no denying that Ted has lost absolutely nothing.  The opening title track is faster, meaner and more fun than 99% of the flock.  The great Gonzo still shreds a chaotically perfect solo as if the studio is Cobo Hall.  “There just comes a time when you just gotta rock,” he sings.  Sounds good to me Ted, I’m on board for that!  Ted keeps it rolling with a vicious riff on the excellent “Fear Itself”, and old pal Derek St. Holmes lends lead vocals to “Everything Matters”.  A whole album of Ted’s shrieking has never been easy to swallow, so I’m always glad to hear Derek’s smooth pipes.  By the slippery bluesy rock, you might think it’s ZZ Top.

Speaking of old friends, Sammy Hagar (who is friends with everyone except the current members of Van Halen) shows up to sing lead on “She’s Gone”.  It’s a ball crusher of a song (basically just a variation on “Going Down”), but  I guarantee that the guitar solo will sound great wailing out of your car windows this summer.  Even better though is the pure fucking joy in the riff for “Never Stop Believing”.  I have a new favourite riff and it’s “Never Stop Believing”.  The song ends on some really nice laid back picking from Ted, reminding me that he is one of the most underrated players from the classic rock era.

“I Still Believe” indicates to me that Ted really wanted to get his point across when he said he’d “Never Stop Believing”.  The opening riff apes “Helter Skelter” a little bit, but the rest of the track is pure Nuge.  I like that Nuge is singing fairly tame things like “I still believe in America” and “I believe in liberty” rather than “fuck the Democrats”.  The next patriotic statement Ted has for us is “I Love My BBQ”.  And I absolutely dig the shout-out to us Canucks.  “I love my Barbeque, it’s what Canadians do” sings Ted in the first verse!  A small minority may be offended but my mouth is drooling. But I really don’t think it’s Ted’s primary intention to upset you.  I think he’s really just trying to be funny, like a stand up comic.  Sometimes comedy involves a little bit of a poke and a prod.  If Weird Al sang a song about a delicious hamburger, nobody would have a problem with it.

Kicking ass is Ted’s business and “Throttledown” is just one of those pedal-to-the-metal rock instrumentals.  “Do Rags and a .45” sounds like Anvil except for that title.  “Screaming Eagles” doesn’t give up an inch either, guitars fueled and ablaze.  None of these songs overstay their welcome.  Shutup & Jam features five songs in the 2 minute range in a row!  “Semper Fi” is the last of these five, a stomper rather than a screamer.  Ted then tells us he’s going to “Trample the Weak Hurdle the Dead”.  “War is not the answer,” sings Ted. “I only know evil has got to go.”  It’s a great tune and it’s not hard to sing along.  And that’s the key.  All of these tunes are immensely catchy with lyrics I can sing without having to worry about being considered a right-wing radical by my neighbors.

A blues version of “Never Stop Believing” closes the album; a rough recording appropriate for the gritty approach.  It’s a bit of a throw-away compared to the regular version, decent but not nearly as special.  Ted’s playing is always the reason to listen.

I really liked Shutup & Jam.  If I had heard it in 2014, it would have been a contender for the Top Five list.

4/5 stars

TED LOVES HIS BBQ

 

REVIEW: Dokken – Shadowlife (1997 Japanese import)

Yesterday we talked about an album that Kelly Gray (Tateryche) wrecked produced.  Today, we’re looking at another.  Batten down the hatches.

SHADOW TURD_0001

DOKKEN – Shadowlife (1997 Victor Japanese import)

I got this Japanese import CD from one of our franchisees.  Even though we technically were not “allowed” to buy CDs from one of our franchises, we all did it, even the head office people who enforced the rules.  In this case the franchisee himself was glad to have a guaranteed sale, rather than sit on an expensive Dokken flop for several months in inventory.  It even came with the original obi strip, stickers, and everything else was mint.  The scarcity of the complete package was reason alone to buy it.

The infamous Shadowlife will probably go down in history as the worst Dokken album. It’s certainly the most dysfunctional (even though that was the title of the previous, much better album). The dysfunction largely came down guitarist George Lynch, who according to sources at the time, purposely sabotaged the album.  He did this to put an end to Dokken, go the claims. Don himself was very unhappy with it, as quotes from the era will reveal (look them up). He also referred to a lead vocal shot (“Here I Stand”) by bassist Jeff Pilson as too “bar band-y”, meaning the lead singer of a pro band is the lead singer, and the bassist is the bassist. Clearly, ego was an issue as well.

Kelly Gray

Kelly Gray

Not to escape without blame is producer Kelly Gray, who had just ruined the career of Sven Gali a couple years prior.  Gray produces, engineers, mixes, and even co-wrote a couple tracks.  According to Don, Mr. Gray would not let the band sing their trademark harmonies, opting for grittier more modern sounds.  Gray’s trademark distortion on the lead vocals is omnipresent.

There are very few standout tracks here, although many have good parts and interesting bits. It is difficult to remember any songs distinctly even after a few listens. The grungy “Puppet On A String” is OK, due to a blazing George Lynch guitar solo (although buried in the mix).  It has a heavy groove, but the distorted lead vocal wrecks it for me.  “Cracks in the Ground” is better, containing a shadow of the Dokken harmonies, but mired in boring melodies and production.  “I Feel” sounds like Dokken, at least.  Not really great Dokken, but Dokken nevertheless.

The Japanese, always so lucky, got two bonus tracks:  “How Many Lives” and “Deep Waters”.  Neither stand out any more than the album tracks.  Not really a bonus this time, sorry Japan.  If anything, these songs detract from the album, by making it a longer, more agonizing experience.

In general the album is too slow, too tunelessly dull, too dreary.  It’s disjointed and it’s uninspired.  Too rainy, like a dark Seattle mist.  Mick Brown does rock, at least.  There are a few heavy songs, such as “Hello”, but I think my favourite song would be the moody acoustic ballad “Convenience Store Messiah”.  It’s the only song that sounds like a fully composed, complete arrangement.

Avoid.

1/5 stars

Afterword:  I played around the idea of just writing a two word review a-la Spinal Tap (“Shit Sandwich”).  I was going to call it “Shadow Turd”.  In the end, my OCD level attention to detail refused to allow it, and the wordy essay on the art of turd-making you just read was posted instead.  I’m sorry.  (Blame Kelly Gray for that, too.)