Saturday, December 7, 2013
A 'Rock Ain't Near Dead™' exclusive! Rock Guitar Daily's Tony Conley has heard through the grapevine that Jack White will be producing Vintage Trouble's highly expected and as-yet-untitled second studio album. Following 2010's The Bomb Shelter Sessions and several years of heavy touring (including opening for The Who), and near constant television exposure, we'll see if the band can deliver on their own almost impossible hype. I've long said that if they can drop some sheen and grow some hair, they may be unstoppable. Evidently, someone has agreed.
This could be the grand slam of 2014, as success on this front would not just project VT into the stratosphere, it could also give White even more credibility with the world of classic rock, which still tends to see the guitar-slinging producer as an indie rock upstart (though one with by-now industry wide credibility as a producer). If this rumor turns out to be just that, someone should step in and make this a reality, though I'm hearing it from a source close to the band. I'm a big believer in rock destiny, and as I've said, "Rock Ain't Near Dead!"
Thursday, December 5, 2013
So - I'm the guy that started the Facebook page, 1,000,000 Black Sabbath fans say yes to Bill Ward. Me and a few friends joked about the outrage of Mr. Ward not being included in the band's plans after he'd been disinvited after their 11-11-11 reunion announcement, and I started the page as a lark, never thinking a million would be on board, and damned shocked when it grew to 25,000 members in a day, and eventually rising to well over 50,000 before it was all over.
I never vilified anyone, though I certainly criticized the poor manner in which the band handled the whole episode, and I stick with that assessment to this minute. I'm a huge Sabbath fan, going back to the early seventies, and for me, Bill Ward's drums were a huge part of the band's sound. That being said, I am grateful for whatever wizardry has rendered Live...Gathered In Their Masses into being such a great document of the band's tour this past summer. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler have never, ever sounded better, and they look great in this awesome DVD. Tommy Clufetos also steps up and kicks some serious metal ass behind the kit - he doesn't have Ward's sophisticated sense of swing, but few rock drummers ever have had that.
The big question for me is that of John 'Ozzy' Osbourne - early clips from the tour suggested that he was to put it charitably, 'addled.' And honestly, I'm fairly certain that some serious post filming work went into making his vocals sound as good as they do here, but for that I am absolutely grateful. While it may be somewhere between genuine and modern technology, I'm very OK with that - I can sit and watch this and as a serious student of rock, I can show this to, and tell my child just why so many consider Sabbath to be the greatest heavy metal band in history.
For me, it's all about Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, and they are bone crushingly beautiful - Iommi's playing is crisp, clean, and his tone is picture perfect. Whatever happened to his tone on 13 is beyond me. I tried on five occasions to listen to the whole album, and I never once made it. I wondered how Rubin reduced the might Iommi to what I heard. Well, it sure wasn't Tony - he acquits himself fantastically and solidifies his position as metal's true godfather. When you hear War Pigs, you are going to melt. It looks great, and sounds even better.
Geezer Butler's bass jumps out of the mix and you can almost hear the callouses on his right hand as he cranks out line after line of precise magic, and I'm not sure who recorded, engineered and mixed the album (I only have a stream - no liner notes to work from), but they deserve heaping mounds of love, respect, and admiration. When Iommi slides down the neck for the intro to Into The Void, you can hear frets hitting fingers - it gets no cooler than that. This is one of the best sounding pieces of work I've heard this year, and I don't care how they did it. At the end of the day, it delivers the goods as well as they have ever been delivered by this band.
Clufetos' drumming is huge, and he actually makes the band sound like Dio's Sabbath jamming with Ozzy, and that I dig. He's more metal than Ward, and I gotta say, he's on fire on this set.
Filmed by god only knows how many cameras, nobody in the world can say anything other than this is a job very, very well done. The editing is excellent, and there are tons of great shots for the proper worship by players and fans alike. They even render Ozzy looking good. Magic? Deal with the Devil down at the crossroads? I care not - somewhere between the black country and Hollywood lies the truth, but the rock 'n' roll kid in me is thrilled.
There have been rumblings that the band could be done with heavy duty touring, and if that's true, they could not have a better send off than Live...Gathered At Their Masses. This will go down as one of the great live documents of rock - beside Live At Leeds, Thin Lizzy's Live & Dangerous, UFO's Strangers In The Night, and Frampton Comes Alive, and we all know that to some degree those shows got doctored, so I can't get my panties in a bunch over how much 'fixing' had to occur.
Tony Iommi has always been given his due as the ultimate writer of riffs, but it's his lead work that keeps grabbing me by the throat - Loner, the first song of the set off 13 isn't going to be on the list of his greatest riffs, but his soloing is sizzling. Mind you, the riffs hear are magnificent - his Laney amps are crisp and clear, not at all muddy nor too gained up - just right. This DVD would be the perfect document to show a judge if you were arguing that Iommi stands proudly right beside anyone who ever picked up a guitar.
Snowblind has Iommi and Butler going down the highway to hell side by side, and it's a great road map to see how the band ventured from the sludgier early days into the crisp riffing of Heaven & Hell. Geezer's bass sounds superb as every note and nuance jumps out of the speakers. Iommi slows things down for the solos and milks every note for all its worth.
Riffs - you want riffs? Black Sabbath's flatted fifth may have started the whole thing, and here even Ozzy's on point - I know I give him hell, but he's well earned it, and I don't have to love him to love his band, which I do.
It's a three for one as the band stays with their eponymous debut with Beyond The Wall Of Sleep, and N.I.B. and we're reminded that they started out on top, and while it's been a trip filled with ridiculous highs and lows, it's still been a helluva trip. I could still do with Osbourne yelling, "I can't hear you," again, again, and again, but it's a small price to pay for getting to hear one of metal's miracles in between, I suppose.
Methademic is another track off of 13, and it's here where Ozzy looks a little lost, staring down at the lyrics and searching desperately for a thin melody to begin with. This isn't near the band's usual standard, and comes off sounding like generic metal for the most part. A good point in which to refresh that drink, pop off for whatever you must do, for things are about to head for the big ending.
Back on track with Fairies Wear Boots, and Ozzy looks a bit more at home again, and you can hear the band stepping back up and hitting the gas, as well. It's somewhat subtle, but I can hear where they are more in sync with what's going on out front, and when Iommi solos, Butler is hitting it hard underneath in support - then it goes into the breakdown, and it's bliss. It's maybe on this tune in which I long to hear Ward's snazzy sense of swing, but it's too late to spend much time mourning what ain't to be, I suppose.
Symptom Of The Universe rocks accordingly, and Clufetos takes the obligatory solo, and while it's certainly adequate, that's all it is, too. His chops aren't up with the better drummers of the seventies, and I'm not trying to beat a horse that's long since run off, I just find this to be mediocre. It doesn't ruin the party, but it does give the Ward fans something to bitch about, and I'm thinking it should have ended up on the cutting room floor for all above. The best thing about it is that it leads nicely into the main event, Iron Man.
Ozzy might sing it, but Iommi is the Iron Man, and it's never more obvious in what might be rock's mightiest single riff. Butler pummels his bass, and it's no wonder that he said he hurt in places he didn't know he had after these shows - he's pounding it out, and his jousting with Iommi on the solo section is nirvanic. Clufetos is much more powerful and impressive on the interlude, and I'm convinced that the solo should have been cut. This marvelous stuff, and nobody won't dig this.
End Of The Beginning is the one time that I think 13 made the mark, and it's heavier here than on the studio version, and truly Sabbath worthy. Even studio magic can't get Ozzy in tune on this, but all I can hear is Iommi, and I'm OK with it.
1971's Master of Reality was where it all started for me and Black Sabbath, so Children Of The Grave is always welcome. This is a great version, and once again I'll say that Iommi and Butler have never sounded better, and that's where it's at for me. Black Sabbath looks funny playing white guitars, but sure enough both Iommi and Butler wield white weapons, and they pummel them just the same. Again, this isn't one of their better, or more original riffs, but this pair could play 'Chopsticks,' and make it metal.
God Is Dead? may be the closest 13 gets to classic Sabbath, and it's a good way to end the set. Iommi sounds better here than in the studio, and this could maybe sit on an older Sabbath outing without seeming weak. There's no real hook, but the rock rolls, and it's appropriately heavy. The new stuff sounds better live than it did in Rubin's room, and for that I'm grateful.
Wrapping it up, it could only be Paranoid, right? Iommi's second best riff is still miles better than anyone else's, right? And Ozzy could sing this one in his sleep. They throw in an all-too-brief moment of Sabbath Bloddy Sabbath, and then it's off to the races, and they end the show with a resounding reminder of why we're watching.
There you have it, ladies and germs - I figure I'll still manage to piss off some of the hardcore, but I think this is a fantastic package, all things considered, and I would say that everyone should buy this, watch this, and love this. I never weathered so much abuse in my life as when I was running the Bill Ward page, so a little more grief won't hurt me none. I'm thrilled to recommend this and even to admit that it may just end up in my year end top ten, if for no other reason that I dearly love Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, and they are magnificent from beginning to end. As they have always been.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Circus Life is a good life, and rock 'n' roll is alive and well in the hands of Dan Baird and Homemade Sin. If this album isn't enough to get this bunch back on American soil in 2014, I might be applying for resident alien status across the puddle.
Let me clarify the lineup for those perhaps not in the know - Dan Baird and Homemade Sin is three quarters Georgia Satellites and one quarter Warner Hodges (Jason and The Scorchers). And they're so good I almost want to cry. Baird preaches the sermon of rock as well as any poet that ever attempted, and the band is rarely less than picture perfect. You could be excused for not knowing that this bunch has never stopped performing in one guise, or another since they started back in the '80s, but there will be no excuse for you to not purchase, listen to, and adore this record.
Sonically, this album is wonderful - you never wonder what Baird is singing about, the harmonies well placed and Stonesy, the rhythm section of drummer Mauro Magellan and bassist Keith Christopher sounds like they've known each other forever (which they have), and then there's the guitars. The guitars are not only well played, they also sound like a masterclass in tone - Baird and Hodges are a great team. Listening to the pair's rhythm tracks reveals all - they're playing the same song, the same chords, but the differences in nuance and style are beautifully distinct. Almost always panned left and right, there's a great education in rock there alone. But then there's the songs....
I'm given to hyperbole, but I'm not given to being wrong (well, not about rock 'n' roll, anyway), and I am here to tell you that Dan Baird is as great a writer of that thing known as a rock 'n' roll song as anyone on the planet. There's not a much harder thing to do than to write a straight up rock 'n' roll song in the late year of our Lord in 2013, but Baird makes it sound simple as he avoids cliche while writing instant cliches every step of the way. There's gold in these words and chords.
The first pinched, gritty chords that pop out of the speakers that announce Fall Apart On Me, and it's another of Baird's stock-in-trade - the seriously tongue-in-cheek look on the relationships between men and women. I'd love to see Baird's record collection - whatever he got fed as a youth must have been the perfect diet for the writer as a young rocker. The rhythm that Warner Hodges plays against Baird's is a beautiful piece of whip-crack syncopation, and every guitar player should check this as a fine way to measure one's ability to keep time. I'll say it again and again, but this bunch gets it right. I haven't heard two guitarists joust so well since Webb Wilder and Donny Roberts told Chuck Berry the news in the nineties to all too darned many deaf ears. Check out the final 24 seconds of this tune for a dose of pure bliss.
Stepping it up to a double time snare snapper, Little Darlin' is steeped in sweet country harmonies, and when the guitar solos start it's time to hit the woodshed - these licks sound as smooth as silk and sweet as honey, but they're knucklebusters of the best type.
All The Same is another sad, sad song about the travesties of love, and if Chuck Berry had known it would end up here, he'd smile from ear to ear. Ear candy - there are more calories of candy here than I've heard on an album all year - nothing here is rocket science, but I'll be damned if all the fake rock country guitar players in Nashville get anywhere near this high water mark. No, this is the real deal, and this is where the true religion can be found.
As of today, and mind you, I'm fickle when it comes to these matters - Thousand Little Pieces is the best song I've heard this year. I've been revisiting the live YouTube clip incessantly since I found it, and this seven minute forty-two second cut is even better yet. Slow stuff it tough - you have to be accurate, and your heart must be in the right place. When Hodges kicks into his sweetly sustained solo, he achieves guitar nirvana, then Baird kills me with what may be his best verse yet:
"We had it all,
pretty as a picture.
Just like the one,
you left hanging in the hall.
A better man,I don't know exactly how George Jones felt about rock 'n' roll, but I'm sure he would have loved this.
would find hope in the scriptures.
But Jesus wept,
is all I can recall."
|Photo by Jos Westenberg|
Warner Hodges playing is great across the album, but his soloing on Thousand Little Pieces is the stuff greatness is made of - he goes for the throat with an almost speaker exploding distorted tone, then he backs down and makes you cry, only to wind it all up again and deliver hope in a song that may otherwise just be too damned sad. There's redemption to be found in those notes, and that was always the point. Hodges stands accused of having perfect tone and unquestionable note selection.
A goddamned barn burner, it is.
Where'm I Gonna Lay My Head has a hard act to follow, but it has more going for it than the most creative use of an apostrophe this year, as the band dives right back into the rock. Much of this reminds me of The Band, in that there's no attempt to be progressive, psychedelic, or innovative, just an attempt to write and play the music as best as it can be. Hodges is on fire again, and his stinging and slinging soloing sizzles. The beauty of this pair is that they seemingly have no sense of anything but musical camaraderie - there's never a minute of anything but rock 'n' roll glory.
Stonesy syncopation is a tough order, and Break Down And Cry reminds me of the simpatico relationship I hear on Keith's solo records with Waddy Wachtel - the rhythms here are sublime and they make me dance in my chair as I type. And I like that. The arrangement includes some extremely tasty Hammond organ and some very pop harmonies on the chorus that keeps the track from ever becoming run of the mill. Masterful.
Bassist Keith Christopher steps up to do a lead vocal, and we don't miss a step. This band has been working for a few years to loving crowds around the UK and Europe, and it's quite apparent that they know one another like the back's of their respective hands - Think It's Time is another new type of arrangement, introducing some nice plucked harmonic keyboards under the chorus that add the perfect pop sweetness. Another winner, but you knew I was going to say that, right?
|Photo by Jos Westenberg|
Mauro Magellan earns his place in the percussion hall of fame with his work on Baby This - not many drummers can 'own' a song, but it can happen, and Magellan does it here with not just stellar stick work, but tons of catchy and chugging, percolating accessory work. Baird has his wit pen out again, and his writing is pure poetry.
The first time I spun this disc, I thought to myself, 'Have they really done this? Have they really recorded a whole album of fairly straight up, soulful rock 'n' roll without covering their own tracks even once?' They have, and the chorus of Long Way Down proves the point marvelously. Hodges is a master of the chordal solo, slurring notes and harmonizing with himself as he works his way around the solos and fills. The record is everything that's wrong with Nashville, and everything that's right with rock. Hell no, rock ain't near dead.
Dan Baird knocks out great rockers like clockwork - every one of us would love to write one rocker that would compare to Outlivin', and he's written an album full. There's an unholy union of The Byrds and The Dictators on this one. Chimey descents of guitar harmonies that evoke memories of And Your Bird Can Sing are always a pleasure, and they fit this number like a glove. I can't write as well as they play, so you are just going to have to buy this record and figure it out for yourself.
Face Of Love is another jangler, rocking melodically down the pike. Starting and stopping and swaggering, all at the same time - most bands could never do this without falling upon their respective arses, but Dan Baird and Homemade Sin toss it off like nobody's business. More arrangement wizardry as clever choices abound - before Hodges goes into yet another 'here's how it's supposed to be done' solo, they throw in a little step down that only lasts about five seconds but contains more musical intelligence than you can believe.
Wear And Tear wraps up the party, and it's a sweet piece of power pop that reminds me that The Flamin' Groovies are back on the scene, and if they hadn't reunited, I'd have been just fine with this in their stead. This album delivers on promises I've been waiting on since The Small Faces dissolved all those decades ago.
|Photo by Jos Westenberg|
Circus Life may be the perfect album of 2013 - it makes not a single misstep, and every step of the way it has thrilled me to the bone. Thanksgiving week is perfect for its release, as it has me giving thanks for rock 'n' roll this great. I'm soon starting a radio show called Rock Ain't Near Dead down in Los Angeles - it's about where rock came from, where it's at, and where it's going, and I am going to have to move heaven and earth to get someone from this bunch to guest and explain just how they do it. Rock Ain't Near Dead, and this record proves it in spades. I am now calling it the best of 2013. I didn't see that coming, but there you have it.
Friday, November 22, 2013
The band's new album, Symphony of Sin, is a stunning success, and new vocalist Nikola Mijik may be the find of 2013. I recently caught up with bassist/producer Paul Logue, and the affable Scotsman impressed me tremendously with his passion, outlook, and wisdom, as he looked back over the last year and towards the future, which, for Eden's Curse, has never looked better.
The world of melodic metal got a jolt when Eden's Curse founding member Michael Eden took a powder after the band's successful run of shows opening for Dream Theater in support of the band's latest release - I decided to start there and work our way towards better days:
Paul Logue: "Michael announced his departure just after we opened for Dream Theater in the UK - he came forward and told us his financial demands on the band.
"So, it was all down to money. With this band having a global spread (each member is from a different country in Europe, or the UK), that sounds like a bad barroom joke, 'Have you heard the one about the Scotsman, the servant?'
"We have travel expenses the equivalent of a day of an African nation, so it's taken us six years to get to a point of probably breaking even. So, when Michael came forward with his requests, we just didn't have the money to give him, and you can't have a member of a band being paid over everyone else - it's just not going to happen, you know?
"So, we said as a team, 'We want you to stay, nobody wanted him to leave, and would he continue on the route that's got us to where we are at this point in our kind of tenure, and he just refused to do it, and became quite unreasonable about the whole matter. It was just up to us to say, 'Listen, we can't give you what you're looking for - we lose, win, or draw as a team, and that's just the way it's going to work,' but he refused to back down and he moved on and left.
"So, we decided to move on , and we briefly got Marco (Sandrone) in from Italy, but it was just a case of his personality - it was just wrong, and there was a language issue as well. Marco had to be reminded that he was joining our band, and we weren't joining the Marco Sandrone Band on several occasions.
"We then made a tough decision for Eden's Curse, long-term. Do we carry on with this guy? We were quite far along in the writing process for the new record. We said, 'It's going to be embarrassing, but we need to do what's best, so we parted company with him, and I think it's been proved that we made the right choice!"
Whatever it took to get new singer Nikola Mijik into Eden's Curse, one listen to Symphony Of Sin and it's incredibly clear that the band not only made the choice, they got damned lucky. Mijik is a powerfully melodic belter who fits Eden's Curse like a glove. I asked Paul about the process (over 30 auditions) and the results:
Paul Logue: "It was about 44, in fact, the total count!
"We tried originally to find a British singer, but the standard, and the quality of what we were looking for just wasn't there. That was rather disappointing, but as you know, this band has a global spread, so we decided to focus on Europe - if we really wanted to make decent progress in terms of touring, it has to be someone in their own backyard, at least the same continent.
"So we spread out, and with a great many auditions coming through, one day I was on the website of Lion Music from Finland, they're a really good label with a lot of great prig bands - they had Nikola's band from Hungary called Dreyelands on their roster, and I checked them out on Facebook to see if he was doing anything with the band, just how active he was.
"Then I reached out to him, he responded, and I encouraged him to audition. He did so, and we took it from there - we added a couple more songs, and eventually we did two Eden's Curse songs from the back catalog and we gave him a brand new song. That just floored us - absolutely floored us. We gave him a blank canvas to go in - here's the lyrics, here's a rough melody, see what you can do, and that turned out to be Evil & Divine.
"We gave him a three minute song, and he gave us back a five and a half minute song. He put a lot of production ideas into it, so we found out he was very well versed - he's a professional mix engineer, he owns his own studio, mixes for live bands....
"He brought a lot to the table, was a joy to work with - very grounded, very humble, and supremely talented. We knew that he was the man.
"AFM (the band's label) said, 'OK, get him into the studio, record the record, and let's come back with a big bang!"
It seemed that for all the strife, Eden's Curse had stepped up a notch in the face of adversity:
Paul Logue: "Yeah, I would say so, and I would agree with that assessment. You know, I love Michael Eden's voice, there's no doubt about that, and I thought Marco was a sensational singer, but there's a lot of versatility with Nik.
"Not only in his voice - I mean he brings forward his performance. In the video (for Evil & Divine) he was excellent, he can actually act!
"When people get to see him on stage - the guy's a gifted performer, and that's something I have to be honest about, and say that was lacking in the previous lineup. That was something we weren't overly happy with, in terms of live work. We sat down and wrote on a piece of paper what we'd like in a new singer, and to find someone eventually after all this time that checks all these boxes, it's kind of hard to believe, to be honest!"
At the time of our talk, the band had yet to do a show with Mijik, but were set to play the Firefest in England in a bit over a week. I asked if the band had a chance to play any warm up shows before their festival debut:
Paul Logue: "No, we meet in England next week to rehearse for three days before we do the show.
"We tried to set up a few warm up dates, but the festival has the exclusive rights for the UK, so that got put on the back burner. But tut's OK, because it allows us to focus on this show - it means we can put our attention into it.
"It's sold-out, 2,000 melodic rock maniacs are going to be there. We're on the bill with some esteemed artists - some of my favorite bands, singers, and I'm looking forward to a real party weekend.
"It's a very partisan audience, so I think if we can go out and put six of our greatest burps out there, it will be applauded! Thankfully, we're coming in to play something old, something new, and it's going to be a good atmosphere!"
Working with foreign vocalists, and staying busy is nothing new for Logue, recently he had produced and written much of the debut album by Code Of Silence, whose vocalist hails from Brazil:
Paul Logue: "Yeah, Gus Monsanto - he's a phenomenal singer!
"This has been a busy year, for sure! At my last count it was six, or seven albums I've recorded and produced this year, and there's still two to come out. The other one I did was LaValle's Dear Sanity, which came out on Kivel Records, kind of an unashamedly Dokken/Ratt type of '80s thing.
"So it's been a busy year, but I really enjoyed the Code Of Silence project, and getting to work with Gus, he's phenomenal."
Working as a unit spread across the UK and Europe, I asked Paul how detailed demos and arrangements were before files were sent to each band member:
Paul Logue: "If I'm writing a song - as an example, say Sign Of The Cross, or Wings To Fly off the new record, which were written completely by me. I presented those songs to the band and luckily all the guys agreed that there was nothing to change there.
"We've come into the situation where we are very mature in terms of where we are with each other as songwriters, and in our relationships as people. We've worked together now on four back-to-back albums.
"We know each other, and where our talents lie, what we can bring to the table.
"So, for another example, maybe we're working on something like Break The Silence, or Evil & Divine, and I'll write the verse, all the guitar riffs - Thorsten changed the opening guitar riff, and Pete wrote the chorus in terms of the vocal melody. So, we know what works, and how to work with each other - in a nutshell, that's what we do.
"It gets to the point of where demos are the final arrangements and final structure, then maybe the odd line will change when you get the singer in the vocal booth."
Having completed four albums in this fashion, is there any desire to one day get the band in the same room to record?:
Paul Logue: "Oh yeah! I'd be lying if I said that wasn't possible, or something that excites us, but yeah, for now, even if you speak to our producer Dennis Ward, Dennis tells me that we are five, or six years ahead of most bands because of our global spread.
"But, a lot of bands are doing this now - the budgets are not what they used to be, and too, the bands are being a little bit more careful on what they spend, because they can utilize the budget elsewhere. For example, touring, unfortunately, has never been more expensive. That's the one side of the business as the budgets are going down, the costs are higher, because you have fuel bills and everything that comes with it.
"So you may not be looking at spending to record the drum tracks here with Dennis - it would be 4-5,000 Euros, but with Pete having his own studio set up, and having done it for the last three Eden's Curse records, why spend the money on doing that?
"I think in the long-term, if the success of the band takes off, and we find ourselves fortunate to be up several levels, then absolutely. Going to the Bahamas and renting Lenny Kravitz's studio would be nice! We can all dream, can't we?"
Dennis Ward is a name I hear all the time when melodic metal is the topic - both as a player, and a producer he's in constant demand, and at the top of everyone's list as a most valued partner. I asked Paul about their working relationship:
Paul Logue: "His role - he's essentially the 6th member of Eden's Curse.
"He's been with us from the outset, and he had been instrumental in this band actually being formed. Him and Dennis Readman - I was working with both of them on David's solo album way back in 2005 probably, and they gave me a lot of encouragement because of the wealth of material, and the quality of material that I had floating around.
"He's been there since day one, and he put a lot of faith in me and Mike (Michael Eden) when we first got together. He said, 'Guys, I'll mix your record, and if you don't get signed you don't owe me any money.'
"We said, 'What?' Generosity like that in this day and age is unheard of - so, we paid him back by the time we'd signed with AFM and when we came back to do The Second Coming record, we arrived with a big envelope of Euros for them, and paid them in advance, and he was just blown away by that.
"We've become great friends - in terms of mixing, he created the sound of Eden's Curse. I mean, I know that we have to physically record and a lot of the sound exists in the players fingers, absolutely, but he knows what works for this band.
"I remember he said, 'What do you want this band to sound like?' I said, Pink Cream 69, and that was easy enough for him because we could give him a tangible reference point for him. Like, we'll say, 'We loved what you did on the last Angra record, or what he did with Silent Force here, or Allen Lander, and that's cool because we're fans of this type of music, and it allows Dennis to really tap into what we're thinking about.
"He is in my opinion, and I may be prejudiced, even though I am the producer of the album, I'm just making sure the guys do things on time, and we do it in this order, and if the recordings are not clean they have to fix them up, but he is the man who is absolutely responsible for the wall of sound.
"So, he's one of the biggest cogs in the machine, he's right in the core of it. If you remove him from that, it changes the output."
Wrapping things up, as Paul had many interviews to do before he rests, we talked about how he felt about his band's future after all the strife, and subsequent successes:
Paul Logue: "Very positive!
"I don't think there's any hiding from it. I think we've touched upon the positivity within some of the lyrical content. Very proud of some of the songs we've attempted to do, and pulled off!
"We've handled taking on a 46 piece orchestra, and incorporating it on the opening title track, which still blows me away that we've been able to do that. If you do back to the first record, and you ask the guy that was behind the band then if a DeLorean appeared out of the sky with some crazy-haired professor accompanying a young guy going, 'Great Scott, Marty,' and sent him that Symphony Of Sin eight minute track, he's have been like, 'Jesus wept!'
"So, the progress the band has made, I'm very proud of it, and we grew as people, we grew as a band, and right now, the one thing that was very evident was when we had actually written the songs, never mind recorded them, the feeling within the group was that, 'We've got something very special.'
"We knew what Dennis was going to bring to the table, we knew this was a record that was going to make people set up and take notice, and it still floors me when we get his mixes back. And, I don't mind admitting it - when I first heard the mix of Unbreakable, I actually wept with joy, because it was everything sonically that I fought to make Eden's Curse over the last two difficult years that we had.
"So it was an unbelievably uplifting moment, and that's how much it means to us, and what we've come through. We knew through difficult times if we found the right guy, we knew what we were capable of doing.
"It's just unbelievably humbling to sit back and see that people are saying the same things we are thinking. Thank you so much, Tony - I appreciate your time, and your high compliments, and if we keep getting compliments like that, somebody is going to give us a call, and get us out there (America), and that would be a dream come true."
Symphony Of Sin is a tremendous record, and if there is anything right in this world, that world will take proper notice and shine down upon Eden's Curse with the same passion and care that went into the making of not just the record, but the band.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Pete Anderson is something of a renaissance man - equally at home spitting out a lexicon of guitar licks in about any style, blowing some smokey, reverb drenched harmonica, or regaling an audience with tales of troubles in love, the plight of the middle class, and the death of country music at the hands of Nashville. Like the Johnny Appleseed of American music, Pete throws his musical seeds from a big white vehicle rolling down the roads of this majestic country, and the faithful are eating it up and appreciative.
It wasn't a large crowd on this rare rainy evening in downtown Sacramento, but those in attendance knew why they were there. The Torch Club is a Sacramento mainstay and Anderson has made a habit of stopping in as he either heads north, or south down the West coast. This show was more like a gathering of old friends in a garage, or basement than the big productions Pete played in years past as guitarist and musical director for Dwight Yoakum, but the seasoned vet brought it, and brought it hard all night long.
|Reverend PA-1 Pete Anderson Signature Model|
If you counted the cool licks in Pete Anderson's toolbox you'd be up all night, and you'd need a calculator - everything from sumptuous multi-string bends to chromatic walks that visit Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago, down to Texas, and yes, even Nashville. The man is like an encyclopedia of American guitar styles, and he delivers them with a workingman's sense of no-bullshit, and nuthin' fancy. The tones coming from Pete's hands and his self designed Reverend Guitars (a PA-1 Signature Model, and an Eastsider T tele-type were the weapons of choice last night), and a super sweet and ancient Silvertone 1472 amp were absolutely perfect - of course, it's all in the fingers and hands and Pete's mostly bare knuckled approach gets it right with every strum, swipe, and pull.
The songs were mostly from his last few solo records (Even Things Up, and Birds Above Guitarland - which is what happens when you let your ten year old daughter title your album, according to Pete) with a nugget or two from earlier works and a blues staple here and there. Anderson is still the guy who spent twenty years trying to save Nashville from itself, and while he may not have saved The Music City's musical soul, he did walk away with more knowledge than you can lasso in one evening in a night club. If you took an alien by the hand, took him to a Pete Anderson show, and said, 'This is American guitar music,' your visitor would have a pretty good idea of what was up.
Maybe as important as what Pete plays is what he says. He told a wonderful story about the title song of his first solo album, Working Man - how he came to become a guitar player after seeing the lost phalanges on the hands of his prospective instructors at the tool & die shop that was to be a step up from his folk's jobs as automakers, and how his once on-point declaration of a decaying middle class later became outdated, only to be reborn in this new American century. Then he told of the time on the endless road when a tornado was chasing his stock-in-trade Econoline van down a highway - Pete saw a pickup truck, a refrigerator, and a big old tree being casually tossed about by the twister, and thought to himself, 'If I could just get that tornado to follow me up this road to Nashville, I might be able to finally fix country music.' It turns out he couldn't - the storm turned off the highway to devour a trailer park, but Pete? He's still on that road trying to make things right.
I saw a great lesson in not just American music last night - I also saw a great lesson in what it is to be an American. Pete Anderson might not shop at Nudie's, but he sure does wear it all very well. If you get a chance to see Pete Anderson somewhere out on the endless road don't miss it - it's the best bargain you're going to find in any barroom on any given night. Thanks, Pete!
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
I'll let you decide what the last big thing may have been, but I don't know when I've been more excited about a new album by any band from any land, than I am about Volume IV's Long In The Tooth (Ripple Music).
Volume IV will release their debut in March 2014, and from the samples and songs I've heard, they're going to make it as the new act to beat in the upcoming year. Here's the sampler platter from Ripple Music:
The band bills themselves as being 'too rock for metal, and too metal for rock,' but while that may, or may not be true, I'm guessing there's enough to dig for any fan of either. They never grind for too long without becoming melodic and sophisticated, and they have many moments in which chugging chords segue into dynamic instrumental interludes that suggest this is one smart bunch.
There's no nu-technology to be found, the band eschews click tracks, auto-tune, and triggers, instead opting for old school musicality, and their own imaginations.
Looking Low For A High is a tune that wouldn't sound out of place in a world that had ZZ Top forming in 2013 - it's easy to drape the flag of the original 'Lil' Ole Band From Texas' over these proceedings, but while they have obviously listened to a few albums by Gibbons & company, they are also much, much more. The tune evolves into a fun-fest of great drums, syncopated guitars, and a crushing bass groove that explodes into a wicked wah-drenched solo that shreds most melodically. Joe Carpenter growls a bit, but he keeps things clean enough to decipher on the vocal side, and not too gain with the guitars. This should appeal to everyone from 18-60 if the demographic is those who love cool rock.
Starting out with slowly arpeggiated chords and a dirge of a backbeat, Save Your Servant is served well by nicely stacked harmony vocals - it's hard to play this slow and keep the train moving down the track, and Volume IV pull it off as well as anyone since Hetfield. The chorus has some cool propelling chords that keep things melodically interesting until Carpenter unwinds a splendid and all-too-short guitar solo that leads into the second verse. This bunch is wise in the way of dynamics, and this tune just keeps building and building - the drums get more agitated, the guitars louder, and then the harmonies spill out of the Marshall amps on the stairway to somewhere.
KONG is by far the heaviest item on my sample platter, and it's heavy as Hades, but its spoken/rapped verse is still in control enough to not scare off the hard rock crowd, and when the band goes into the majestic interlude between verses they will win a great many hearts within the guitar community. The whole record is chock full of moments where I half thought things were too heavy for my aging ears, but the band always brought me right back with their well tuned towards rock history ears, smarts, and passion - Volume IV have learned their lessons well, and they are going to be hard to beat in 2014.
Here's another couple of samples which explains things better than my words might:
Volume IV - coming in March on Ripple Music.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Rush definitely falls into the latter category - most bands are lucky to make it to eleven albums, while Rush has eleven live albums to their credit, and while you can occasionally hear the strain of the constant touring in Geddy Lee's voice, he's still giving it a hundred percent and using his brain to take him where his vocal cords may no longer allow him to tread. As a band Lee, Lifeson, and Peart are still on fire and delivering the goods. This album features over three hours of music, 31 songs (12 with a string section), and spans over forty years of recording - I'd wager this is a marathon not many mere mortals could run.
There's nothing I can say to a Rush fan that they don't already know, so I'm talking here to the casual listener, or folks like myself who have always thought a little Rush went a long way. I'd be the first to admit that the band has always been a head, or two in front of me when it came to sheer grey matter, but what impresses me most about this live set is the amount of heart I'm hearing. Early in the set the band breaks out The Analog Kid, and both the energy and passion on display is majestic. They're going for the throat, and they're hitting their mark. Then there are tunes like Big Money, in which each member is on top of every part, and not missing a bar, or a note. A Hall of Fame performance, indeed.
Then there's the matter of playing over half of their last studio album without missing a beat, and having the material measure up to the classics. How many bands stay this engaged over the length of a career. If Rush ever misstepped, it may have been in their being so workmanlike, so very Canadian about the whole affair, and my tongue is, of course, in my cheek - they showed up they did their job, and they did what mattered. They moved units and put asses in seats for decades without so much as a single lineup change since before their first American tour. It's tough to find an unsatisfied customer.
Even soundcheck sounds good as the band rips through Limelight - Geddy Lee's bass tone is amongst the best I've ever heard, and he's got the chops to display it in the limelight. Lifeson is always underrated, and while he's got no complaints, when you hear his solo on this track you'll get it more than ever. And, of course, Neil Peart may, or may not be God's drummer, he's certainly amongst the best that ever walked the earth. Yeah, even soundcheck sounds incredible.
Rarely performed tunes like Middletown Dreams sound seamless and robust - Rush is not a band to do things with anything less than absolute devotion and care. I don't know how many people actually consider the tremendous care that this takes, the energy, the skills, and the love. It's easy to dismiss Rush as unemotional math rock, especially if one never listened close or actually paid attention, but maybe it's just that it's easier to criticize what we don't understand than it is to put in the work to figure it out.
Tom Sawyer is an unassailable classic, and when you hear the crowd erupt at it's intro, you know you're in for a great trip - again, the band plays it as if they were touring it for the first time, and when Lifeson goes into his solo, he's got Lee and Peart chasing his down the freeway at midnight, just as always. There's no resting on laurels, no half-assing nothing - they deliver.
Like I said at the top, there's nothing I need to say to the converted - Rush has been at the top of their game for decades, and they continue to be at the top today. But - for those who have always either half liked the band, or maybe even not liked the band, I'd recommend checking out Clockwork Angels Tour, and maybe coming to appreciate something maybe missed before - the fact that Rush is simply on of the best rock bands this planet has seen.
I'm not sure what Ghost B.C.'s hardcore metal fans will make of their new EP, If You Have Ghost. Produced and drummed by Dave Grohl, the record sounds to my ears more like mid-period Blue Oyster Cult than anything from the last twenty years, and while I happen to love my metal with a bit of Bryds-ish harmony, and pop melody, I'm not so certain the band's fans will feel the same.
Grohl has perhaps spent time in Ghost for some time it would appear, rumored to have played drums on Infestissumam, and maybe even donning a hood and touring with the band, though the band resists naming names. At any rate, Grohl stands alongside Mike Portnoy as rock's greatest secret weapon, showing up on, or even devising projects that suits his fancy - again, a big benefit of a less corporate rock world.
It's hilarious that these Satanic upstarts manage to make Roky Erickson sound Top 40 - If You Have Ghosts tone is straight off BOC circa 1977, and it would have fit perfectly on their Spectres album next to Godzilla and Goin' Thru The Motions. I'm a big, big fan of melody and bands that do what their muse tells them, and I'm loving Ghost B.C. this morning.
Abba gets the treatment with I'm A Marionette, and again it's a big, polished seventies production. To my ears this is what a rock record should sound like - vocals are in tune front and center, the drums punch and the other instruments are bell clear and beautiful. Grohl's drumming is top notch as always, and the harmony guitars get me every time. One could be excused for guessing this to be an album cut from The Alan Parsons Project.
Crucified starts off sounding like an early Judas Priest outtake (in their softer moments), and while it gets grittier when the vocals come in, the chorus takes us straight to the ear candy store, and by now the band's hardcore may be pissed, but this is great stuff. This is lush and plush - saccharine sweet and sticky. Perfectly played, sang, and produced, kids.
Depeche Mode's Waiting For The Night is up next, and it's more of the same - you're either in deep now, or the CD's been thrown up against the wall. These guys might even have a Meatloaf album, or two in their collective collections, and Grohl milks the material from both behind the kit and the mixing board. Syrupy slow and thick as molasses, Ghost B.C. are in no hurry, and they carry this like a pall bearer to its resting place. Gorgeous.
Maybe it's to throw their fans a bone, but they've elected to end the proceedings with a live track - Secular Haze is from their last album, and the live treatment works, as the band sounds like Satan's circus. Maybe it's just to let everyone know that the covers like apples don't fall far from the tree. These mavens are really just consummate hard rockers on a lark, and I wonder if this isn't the first step towards an unveiling of the true talents that make up this sinister sideshow.
At any rate, it's great sounding rock, and that's all I could care about.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Joanne Taylor Shaw rips it up from one end to the other on Songs From The Road, her new CD/DVD offering, and it's tough to tell which she does better - sing, play, or write excellent blues rockers.
Recorded a few months back at The Borderline in London, England, this set reveals Shaw Taylor to possess more true grit than a bucketful of your run of the mill boy bluesers - her voice belies her soft look, suggesting a much rougher road than pictures would suggest, and her guitar tone is on the verge of psychotic reaction breakup. That she chooses a Les Paul and a Marshall as her main weapons speaks volumes - she is connected to the past, but not at all committed to sticking with the script.
I love her guitar solos for the simple reason that she sounds as if she's playing what she feels more than relying on the usual SRV apings - she's got a lot of rock 'n' roll under her fingers, and as anyone who knows me knows, I like my blues rock with a good dose more rock than blues. Her playing on Tied & Bound is incendiary - from the dirty riffing to an extended solo that touches much familiar territory for an experienced listener, but she's hitting it all with her own take. You won't here me saying anything about her being a hot female guitarist - she is simply a hot guitarist who happens to be female. If I have a criticism, it would be that I'd love to hear her with a band behind her that sound as on fire as their leader - mind you, they are perfectly competent, but her star would rise considerably if she had a gang behind her who would chase her a bit, and not just accompany competently.
Songwriting is most generally a weak point with blues rockers, but Taylor Shaw is miles ahead of the pack again - I hear a lot of the American South in her songs, from Muscle Shoals to the righteous Reverend Al Green, with a smidgen of The Brothers Allman on the side. Beautifully Broken is a song that most excellently makes my case. It smolders with soul and grit, and her solo is another howler.
Watch 'Em Burn is a great example of a song that rubs shoulders with the blues rock basics, but some interesting movement leads into the choruses, and keeps things out of the land of cliche - again her soloing is smoking hot and she manages to keep it quite interesting before backing off for the final verse which kicks nicely into the refrain. Then we get our first extended solo, and it's off to the races. Her style lives somewhere between Bonamassa's smooth as silk shredding and Gary Clark Jr's more savage axe slinging, and honestly I prefer hers. No disrespect to either gentleman, this is just more up my alley. It's feral, but there are some serious chops happening.
Diamonds In The Dirt is the title track from her 2010 studio set, and it's a sophisticated piece of soulful pop that brings to mind Boz Scaggs at his best. Her slinky rhythm guitars scratch nicely under her smokey vocals, and then her solo makes me remember why I miss Gary Moore so much. Good, good stuff.
Covering Hendrix is a ballsy manuever, and while Shaw Taylor is on the mark, she's held back by the band - again, they're a fine band, but they don't sound like a hellhound is upon their ass, and they leave their leader a bit vulnerable. They just don't sound like they ever get in her face, and that keeps damned good from being great. Manic Depression is an out of control train trip, and it needs to be ran and ran hard. The breakdown is brilliant, but it needs more fire from the band.
Jealousy is another great cover, and Shaw Taylor's take is downright funereal, in the best sense. Her vocal is one of the best on the record, as any take on Frankie Miller must be. She takes ownership - I wonder how many folks think this is one of hers? I can think of little better to say for her songwriting. If you're not hip to Frankie Miller, you'll thank me for the tip. I love her clean tone solo - a clean Les Paul is often very close to a Tele in pure six string tone, and this is a great example. Then she kicks in the sting of the fuzz, and burns the house down.
Shaw Taylor is a fine, fine, fine rhtyhmatist - not a word, but I like the sound of it. Her scratchy self accompaniment on Kiss The Ground Goodbye is extremely tasty and deft. Drummer Tony DiCello is in fine form on this, displaying exceptionally deft cymbal work as Joanne takes another flight of six string fancy.
Just Another Word is another rhythm workout that percolates nicely. I love that the guitar tones are not carbon copies, but rather they seem to be what Shaw Taylor wants to hear, and that's most generally the mark of someone on the proper path. Her clean rhythm strumming on the outré verse is exemplary.
Big rock moves inform Jump That Train with large style riffing setting up the verses that feature more clean skronk from the Les Paul. The solo is a bit Texas styled this time, and she takes it from six to sixty in no time at all, getting hotter by the measure. Her right hand is a work of wonder.
She sends the crowd home with the appropriately titled Going Home - a swampy number that heats up nicely, leading to another sizzling solo that makes the point once again.
Songs From The Road is a great sample of Joanne Shaw Taylor's skills - she's got it all, the songs, a great voice, and a set of hands and imagination that any guitarist would appreciate. She has an excellent band, but she's a great band away from being a big star. At any rate, I'd consider this a must own for anyone who digs their blues rock with a healthy dose of rock and soul.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Jake Bugg got delivered to my doorstep several months ago, and now I'm in the position of saying, 'Damn, Rick Rubin, brilliant job.'
Hear it here:
Shangri La is the young Brit's second effort, and it's going to be the one. Rubin picked the right few players, and got it down - not losing the kid's great writing, but framing it with great sonics. Matt Sweeney, Chad Smith, Pete Thomas, Jason Lader, these are all hallmark names, and they deliver the goods as sidemen - sure, this sounds a little ProTools-ish and sometimes a bit derivative, but in a day and age when this is just how projects are done, this is a wall-to-wall winner.
This album sounds best when taken out of context - if I said this was made in a garage in Brighton in 1966, it would be proclaimed as the missing masterpiece of a generation. In fact, I think the sequencing could have been made better by kicking things of with What Doesn't Kill You, the delicious slice of power punk that deflects the obvious Dylan comparisons that may result from opening with a There's A Beast and We All Feed It, as brilliant as the song is.
Even when he's chasing Zimmerman's ghosts, Bugg makes the grade - this record sounds as we always wanted Bob's records to sound like, less tinny, more meaty, and clear as a ringing bell.
Slumville Surprise rocks its way down the highway with a brisk beat and kick ass guitars that step back to allow the kid to deliver the big, sumptuous, and sweet chorus. Yeah, there was never a guitar solo quite this good on a Dylan record - I hope Bugg can find a live band strong enough to stand next to this record.
What Doesn't Kill You is a pre-apocolyptic rocker that drags you down the street at full speed, but still manages to sweeten up for the hook. When I first heard Bugg I thought, yeah, the songs and lyrics were there, but I wasn't sure about the arrangements - in the interim, he's stepped up, and now he has the enviable problem of having the songs sound so great that you might not notice the brilliance of the writing. This hook will have you humming for days.
It's hard to separate the tones on this record from that of its forefathers, but that's a niggling point. Me and You is another tune that transcends comparisons by outrunning its past. The choruses always take a turn that brings a grin, and aside from an overly loud cymbal, I can find no fault.
The crack band breaks out every twist and turn they know, and I even think I'm even hearing a little Guided By Voices/Indie influence woven into Messed Up Kids. Mostly, this is just well played, well written, and yes, well produced pop. Buggs may be getting swallowed up by the machinery, but damn, it sounds great, cut to cut. Rick Rubin may have blown it to my ears with a near wilted Black Sabbath, but all is forgiven, as he's made a record that deserves to make year end Top Ten lists here.
A Song About Love shows Bugg's sensitive side, and he consistently sounds like the way brilliant almost twenty somethings used to sound. All Your Reasons is a mid-tempo stomper that suggests a familiarity with the folk rockers of the early seventies who combined their angst with beauty to create a history. Maybe I'll throw out CSN&Y on a good day as a reference point. David Crosby would surely love this tune. I'm guessing he'd dig the whole record.
It's back to the big rock with Kingpin, and it's a tale of trying to stay ahead of your detractors and the trouble they may bring. Big rock is happening here with a huge beat and bass getting ran down the road by gritty guitars that sound vaguely familiar - if you're really sharp, you can hear the cops in the arrangements, but it's more fun than annoying.
Kitchen Table gets a bit more sophisticated with its rhythms and rhymes. This is also more along the paths of Laurel Canyon circa 1970, and I'm more than happy to make the trip. My one hope would be that people get past the hype and the hoopla, and just listen to this record with open ears and an open heart. Jake Bugg is getting the full treatment, but he's the best pure writer I've heard come down the trail in many, many a moon.
Acoustic guitars feature largely across the record, and Pine Trees may be the least adorned number, and Bugg shines when left to his own devices - pen, guitar, and voice.
Then it's back to the band and Rubin's brilliance as Simple Pleasures washes ashore with gorgeous guitars that announce the arrival of the bard. I congratulate Bugg for letting the pros do what they do as they weave magic around his tunes. This is a slow build that eventually explodes into something more musical and powerful than anything I ever heard coming from the age of grunge. People who say rock is dead are simply whiners who aren't listening. If I had given you this album in any decade, you'd sing its praises.
Storm Passes Away evokes folk music via The Traveling Wilburys, and I mean that with all due respect - the writing is top shelf, and the arrangement is both sophisticated and extremely tasty. Bugg sounds like he could have recorded this in 1964, 1974, or today - he transcends trends and manages to never sound quaint, even when borrowing styles and cliches with which to wrap around his tone poems.
Jake Bugg isn't the new Dylan, hell, Dylan would have just as soon not been Dylan, so I won't saddle him with crap like that - if you need a lowest common denominator, sure, but this is a kid who has ingested every piece of music he's ever heard and is smart enough to surround himself with talent that doesn't overshadow or intimidate. In doing so, he's made one of the coolest records I've heard all year.
Congrats to Rick Rubin - I seem to either love or hate your work, but that's more about something other than just quality. You're in a complicated business and anyone who ever batted .500 ended up in the Hall of Fame, so there you go.