Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ian Hunter & The Rant Band: Hunter and Cleveland Both Still Rock (Mightily)

At 73 years of age, Ian Hunter rocks as much as he did in '73. Cleveland? It still rocks - mightily. Thursday night, the Beachland Ballroom was sold out, the crowd was incredible, and Hunter and his crack band delivered the goods in spades.

Touring in support of his highly lauded new album, When I'm President, Hunter shows no sign of slowing down a step, in fact, he seemed more animated, and rocked harder than he's rocked in ages. Mark Bosch has stepped up and is tossing off massive shards of electrifying lead guitar, and if there was anything right in the world, Hunter would own the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hunter has never been content with playing his greatest hits, and doing the oldies act - he played half the new album, a good sampling of his last decade with The Rant Band, selections from the years with Mick Ronson, and of course, the classic Mott The Hoople material.

Not to throw a wrench in the works, but I must say that the sound at The Beachland Ballroom was absolutely the worst I have  ever heard. It was much louder than it needed be, and I could not find a place in the room in which the band's amazing performance was not turned into a indecipherable mess of noise. I could stick my fingers in my ears and reduce the din to a listenable level, but that's no way to enjoy a rock show - kudos to Hunter and his band for remaining entirely professional and soldiering on with great spirit. I spoke with the venue's manager on the way out, and he blamed Hunter's sound man. He said his sound guy knows the room like the back of his hand, and never has an issue. The sound was as bad as I have heard in 40 years of shows - however, Hunter & The Rant Band were perfect.

Ian Hunter seems to be getting younger. He looked great, sang great, and played great guitar and piano. The new tunes all sounded fantastic, especially the bluesy Black Tears, which features Bosch playing some wonderfully melodic guitar, and not to be outdone, James Mastro contributes some slide playing that elevates the song to sheer majesty. Mastro and Bosch  also contribute some lovely background vocals that evoke bold memories of The Hooples. The Rant Band is one of the finest troupes out there, and they are getting better with every tour. On this night, they were electric.

As I stated some weeks ago when I reviewed When I'm President, Mark Bosch has entered the league of Hunter/Hoople lead guitarists who are considered the greats. He seems to have found his own voice after several albums and tours with Hunter, and he was on fire in Cleveland. He plays all the great parts originally played by the Micks (Ralphs and Ronson), Ariel Bender, and Andy York, yet still manages to throw in an encyclopedia of great fills, slurs, solos, and chords that are his own.

The Rant Band has blossomed into as good a band as a guy could hope to have. I wished they worked together more often, but the time are changing, and I understand that between the economy and Hunter's unwillingness to endure endless inconvenience for questionable returns makes more roadwork unlikely. It's just a shame that more cities can't see such an amazing band doing such amazing shows.

Ian Hunter is amazing. At 73 he is as vital as he was in '73. I've said this again and again, and I'm sure I'll keep saying it. Rock has never had a better spokesman, and he's got my vote. The Rand Band? They'll make a helluva good cabinet. And Cleveland? You still rock - mightily.

  1. (John Lennon cover) (Finish with Dylan's Roll On John)
  2. (Lou Reed cover)
  3. Encore:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gary Moore - Blues For Jimi: Long May They Run

Gary Moore fused molten rock to the blues - he roamed from hard rock shredder to full fledged bluesman, but only now do we see the release of a document that shows how completely, how perfectly he embraced and combined both.

Moonshade Photography
Blues For Jimi, recorded on October 25, 2007, sees the Irish wonder covering eleven Hendrix classics and it may be the finest tribute record these ears have ever heard. Throughout the set Moore stays close to the mold, replicating runs, chords, and fills with a panache that almost makes it sound easy, but he also injects enough of his own spirit into the proceedings to keep this exciting, fresh, and new. He nails the solo on the set opening Purple Haze, then finishes with a rapid set of descending pull offs that are classic Moore. Jimi is smiling somewhere in the cosmos. So is Moore. In fact, they're probably having a laugh together.

Manic Depression features drummer Darrin Mooney and bassist Dave Bronze doing their finest Experience impression - especially the furious display of fills from the former Primal Scream sticksman. His free flowing frenzy is anchored by Bronze, who stays steady, keeping the path clear for the red hot histrionics of Moore and Mooney. This group takes possession of these songs - they're not just covering them, they are taking ownership for the evening.

Moore's command of his instrument is astounding as he squeezes the shellac off the back of his faithful Strat's neck for the hallowed feedback that introduces Foxey Lady. The solo sees him adding much of his own style, with drastic string bends, and the otherworldly fury of his right hand makes it a wonderful trip - you can easily imagine that Jimi would have loved the direction that Jim Marshall took his little amplifier company.

Gary Moore was known for his guitar playing, but his singing always carried an equal share of the load - when he slows things down for The Wind Cries Mary, his tone, phrasing, and vibrato are all as captivating coming from his mouth as his hands. Soul seeped through every iota of his being - it's almost hard to imagine how the guy got so much spirit coming from both at the same time. You can hear the soul of the American South via his vocals as his guitar gently reminds us of the influence that the chittlin' circuit had on Hendrix's guitar playing, and no greater tribute could be paid. There's a tremendous amount of love, devotion, and respect being applied to these songs.

I Don't Live Today is the crossroads-cum-the sixties. You can almost smell the napalm on the newsprint and wonder if Hendrix didn't dream this one up as he remembered once wearing paratrooper garb. He starts in the blues and ends up in an acid drenched guitar freak out. Moore does his best to recreate the vibe and largely succeeds.

As soon as the first pulsating chords tumble out of his speakers, you can't wait to hear what the Irish wunderkind does with Angel, and he certainly delivers. Balladry was one of Moore's strong points and he milks this one for all it's worth, then when the band starts modulating up towards the stratosphere you just want them to take it higher and higher, and they do. Mindblowingly beautiful.

Fueling the funkier section of the Hendrix catalog, Fire gives the Moore and his crack band the chance to pick up the pac, and boy do they. This one is like a bottle from a rocket shot free - Mooney pounds this one out in a manner that makes me miss Bonzo on this day of his passing. Great drummers make me smile, and I am smiling. This one ends with Moore doing his best air raid impression, and it's marvelous.

Now it gets special as M.C. Keith Altham introduces Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Moore stokes the fires with the time tested and approved intro that can only announce an arrival at the Red House. Cox and Moore trade vocal verses, and while the vibe is looser, more relaxed, and casual, this has much more of a bluesy vibe as Billy walks hard on his old Fender bass. Mitchell is as loose as ever, and perhaps only Ginger Baker ever came as close to bringing jazz to the rock as well as Mitch. The solo section here is amazing - Moore slows down, and shows that he's much more than fire and brimstone, he's also deep.

Cox takes the vocal for Stone Free, and it's straight back to the psychedelic 60s - what a great trip. Moore plays this one clean and slinky - he's giving Cox and Mitchell the stage and letting them roam free. Then he kicks on the distortion pedal, and sets his sights on the astral planes. This is more authentic than I have ever heard anyone do Hendrix - much looser and sloppy than what has proceeded, but in a great way. It works. It works well.

Hey Joe - how many times have I prayed to never hear this played again? Boy, I'm glad that I didn't get my wish. This is transcendent. Cox and Mitchell move this thing from down Mexico way to the Southside of Chicago, down the Mississippi to the Gulf via New Orleans, and Moore chases them every step of the way. They end up together in a state of rock and roll nirvana. Wow. This one is worth the price of the record.

They wrap it up with Voodoo Child (Slight Return) - Moore playfully attacks his wah pedal and takes this intro uptown with John Shaft. Then Mitchell and Cox join in, and together they ride off into the sunset. Of course, it takes almost eleven minutes - you get to hear the drummer bring the big rock, and Moore puts his
pedal to the metal.

Gary Moore blazed a bright trail - he started off as a Clapton acolyte playing hard rock, moved upwards to become a heavy metal guitar icon before finding out late in his life that he still had the blues. He never gave less than a thousand percent, and he made some amazing moves by filling the shoes of EC, playing with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, recreating the music of Cream (as well as an album of their own as BBM) - I'm glad he was also able to show his respect, love, and command of the catalog of Jimi Hendrix. This is a beautiful way to pay tribute to both Moore and Jimi - a wonderful set of Hendrixian blues and rock, all played with love.

Like I said, probably the best tribute record I've ever heard. Get this one, it's scorching. I'm surprised he didn't break and burn his guitar at the end. Instead, he says thank you - repeatedly. No Gary, thank you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Joe Bonamassa Has His Say

This just in from Joe Bonamassa's Fan Forum. Well said:

Without going into the comings and goings of  all this nonsense..  I am sorry it all has come to this point that the gig has been cancelled ..  I love all the guys in BCC and love making music with them. But at this point in our lives it doesn't seem in the cards so to speak.  I will always consider each of them a dear friend and the door is always open at least from my point of view.  I just can't  do it at this point with all the things that been said unfairly about me and my intentions toward this band..  It would not be an honest show for me and I will not take the money from the fans in that fashion.  For  23 years I have always maintained that code...  I will not compromise that deal I made with you the fans and myself so many years ago whether its 1 or 100,000 people in the audience...  Thank you for understanding .. And I totally understand if you do not by the way.   Im just one member of this band of five and very disappointed  in the way this has played out over the past two months. With that said I will not allow my reputation that I worked 25 years to establish with Roy  to be compromised by someone who has the microphone and a agenda..   This will be the last I will speak of this event.. I won't get into the discussion and want to put this all behind me for I see it as a black eye on my career.   I just really felt I owed you all somewhat of an explanation..

You are all the best thank you again.. 
Joe Bonamassa

Steve Harris British Lion - A Very Nice Surprise

I came to this album carefully, almost gently. I decided to forget who Steve Harris was, what he meant to me, and listen to a group I'd never before heard. It's an excellent record - one of the year's best, and I suspect if you give it a few listens you will enthusiastically agree.

Having read many of the comments given on this record's Facebook page, I'm astounded by how many listeners took to task Harris's choice for a singer on the disc. Richard Taylor is a fine vocalist - if this wasn't an album by a man associated with histrionic metal vocalists (whom I adore, mind you), the same people would be gleefully comparing this to Muse and Radiohead. The songs are top notch, the playing and singing are fabulous, and the arrangements and production are as perfect as one would expect from a man who's been making records for over thirty years.

Steve Harris championed a band called British Lion back in the early 90s, but as you'll remember, that was not a time that was kind to melodic hard rock. He's brought back guitarist Graham Leslie, and vocalist Richard Taylor, who not just sing and play, they also wrote a good many of the songs with Harris. Joined by guitarist David Hawkins and session drummer/producer Simon Dawson (Airrace, The Outfield), this lot sounds like a band, and given that Harris could have called most anyone in the world to join him, these gentleman have my full respect.

If you come to this with Maiden ears, you'll walk away unhappy - why would Harris do a second rate Maiden when he drives the finest in the world? This is a classic hard rock outfit, that sounds like they've heard everything that has happened for the last couple of decades, and kept the good bits. Harris gets to indulge himself in emotions, words, and melodies that would fit in Eddie's costume, and we are the richer for it.

This Is My God enters with a wah drenched guitar that reminds me of Iommi circa 1980 meets The Muse. Harris's bass has never sounded better - this album should serve as a primer, if not a complete lesson on rock bass guitar. Harris's playing and tone are simply superb, and when he's not competing with Maiden's great wall of guitars, you suddenly find yourself thinking that this guy is right there with Geezer, Entwistle, Bruce, among the best of the British bottom enders. Singer Taylor has a smooth, smokey tenor that nicely updates Harris's sound. Perhaps even more than the difference in vocal styles, Taylor serves up lyrics that just wouldn't set easy with the more molten metal crowd. The spiritualized side of a metal god - who'd of thought?

One of the great questions here is just how Taylor and Leslie have remained hidden from the mainstream all these years. This material reminds me that I wasn't wrong about Seattle and Grunge - if that scene had had finer musicianship and this much craft, I would have been on board. Lost Worlds is modern and contemporary, but with none of the banal repetition I tend to find in most new rock.

Bass bravado meets melodic metal for Karma Killer - had Harris not found millions with Maiden, he'd have been superb next to Michael Schenker after UFO let the mad axeman walk away. This evokes a slight sense of Maiden, but it swings in a way in which Eddie could never dance. I love the fact that Graham Leslie knows he's not here to be a virtuoso - not that he doesn't have chops aplenty, he does - but he plays for the songs, he plays like a grown man with nothing to prove. He tasty as hell on every song, and he sounds like no one more than himself.

Harmony guitars and a galloping rhythm section (sound familiar?) rushes in Up Against The World, but quickly give way to a rather romantic rock tune that wouldn't sound strange coming from the mouth of Phil Mogg. The guitar solo on this tune sounds like it could have been lifted off the first IM album, as does several instrumental interludes - I wonder how long this one lived in Harris's song folder? It's great to hear a gifted rock writer getting the chance to indulge some early influences, and step outside his comfort zone - this is a great example of why solo albums can be so wonderful.

The Chosen Ones has a bit of The Who's DNA, along with a huge nod of the Harris hat to Boston. Boston? Yup, Boston. This is poppy and peppy in the best sense. No, Conley hasn't gotten into the poppies, this is the first song I have ever compared to Scholz and Delp. Wait until you here the guitars in the coda - you'll see. Very cool - very, very cool.

A World Without Heaven is another great tune that wouldn't rest easy on an Iron Maiden record. More melodic metal, this sounds fantastic - I would love for this band to do some shows, or a festival or two. Throw us a bone, rock and roll. After the Black Country Communion debacle over the last few weeks we could sure use one.

Going back to a day when metal could still raise a goosebump, Judas is majestic and beautiful rock. This stripped down approach gives Harris room to be fully heard, and I might say that along with Glenn Hughes's virtuosic display with the aforementioned BCC on their swan song album, Afterglow, that this is one of the finest records for bass fans in a very long time. Harris's tone is in your face and his articulation and note choices are sterling perfection.

Eyes of the Young and These Are The Hands are both fine rockers, but not quite up to the rest of the album in uniqueness, or excitement. In fact, Eyes of the Young is almost Springsteen-esque - it's very Americanized, and only Harris's bass reminds us that this is the voice of the UK speaking.

The Lesson is a lovely way to wrap up the record with it's brit-folk acoustic guitars, lilting strings, and piano arrangement. This is another piece that would find no home on a Maiden release, and shows yet another side of Harris that I hope we get to see more of in the future.

British Lion is a fairly fantastic record - if I didn't know it came from Harris, I would say that something new and brilliant has been raised in the British Isles, but then again, I guess it has. Give this one a few listens and forget about Iron Maiden for a moment. You'll most likely dig what you find, and this one will give you many, many hours of listening entertainment. Hats off to you, Steve - job well done.

Oh yeah - this record was mixed by the golden touch of Kevin Shirley. No one in rock is on more of a roll, and his skills are a valuable part of this fine outing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Neal Schon - The Calling: A Guitarist's Journey

I love this record - Schon recorded it in just four days at Berkeley's famed Fantasy Studios, and it reveals just what a monster of a guitar player the guy has been for a great many years. The instrumental wizardry he possesses doesn't get much airtime when he wears his band hat for his day job as songwriter/sizzling soloist with the melodic rock institution that is Journey, and it's as much magic as there is in the possession of any shredder, or fusionist you'd care to name.

The Calling is just that. Neal Schon has been a guitar star since he joined Santana at the tender age of 15, after turning down Clapton's request that he join Derek and The Dominos. In 1973 he formed Journey, and there's been no looking back. If he hadn't made that slight misstep, he just might have heard his name mentioned alongside Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Al DiMeola when guitarists sit around talking about the greatest players of the era. As it is, he must somehow find solace in the fact that he's sold more than 75 million records. I imagine he sleeps well at night, especially as all those players I mentioned love his playing.

Steve Smith slams down a solid beat and some steam driven high hat work, and the metallic fusion of The Calling is called to order. Schon riffs heavily, carrying the tune's basic structure before he steps on the gas and combines wicked melodicism with a encyclopedic display of sheer virtuosity. Schon's pyrotechnical display of fireworks is astonishing.

High concept composition is the main course, and Carnival Jazz is one of the featured dishes - this tune is dizzying syncopation, memorably melodic, and again Schon fires off salvo after salvo of molten hot licks that are as entertaining and they are mystifying. He's playing with the speed and ferocity of a kid, but with the supreme knowledge and wisdom of a veteran jazz man. Igor Len show up and provides some serious piano underpinnings that keep one looking down into the tunes undercarriage and smiling at what gems lie there. Quite a trip for the musically adventurous.

Six String Waltz is a wonderfully romantic ballad, easily as engaging as any Journey hit, in terms of beauty and Schon's fielty to the high art of melody. This one will have you hitting repeat again, and again.

Big, big drums and a Middle Eastern twist of underlying strings are up next, and suggest a slight nod to Kashmir, as the guitarist gets heavy - this is as close to metal as it gets, and then some sophisticated changes and Smith's incredible stick work kick things up a notch into that high concept composition trip I mentioned earlier. This may have been recorded in four days, but there's many lifetimes of serious musicianship on display here. It's like Schon has chosen to knock the chip off the shoulder of those who would rather write about his personal life than his artistry. Back Smash is big, smart rock.

Fifty Six (56) sees the return of Schon's old fusion jousting partner Jan Hammer, and the two got at it like a couple of space age knights of the round table. Reminiscent of Chick Corea and Al DiMeola in the days of Return To Forever - the technology is of today, but much of what they are playing smacks of classical composition sped up to  warp speed. There are chop galore, but never at the expense of the music.

True Emotion is another large dollop of string bending, thick syrupy tone, and a sense of whimsical nostalgia - love lost, or found. It's a touching piece of melody that suggests many available
possibilities - how you respond to this tune, where it will have you go emotionally, will be up to where you are at when you hear it. It could be joyful, or just as easily tearful. Either way, it's a sweet way to get there.

Jan Hammer returns for Tumbleweeds, and you remember instantly his days in Jeff Beck's band - his synth playing always captured the histrionic twists and turns of the master mechanics finest jazz moments, and they do the same for Schon in this context. The guitarist returns Hammer's solo with a furious volley of funk fueled fire. The whammy bar gets a wicked workout, then Hammer returns it with an icy cold blast of Arp madness. If you miss great synthesizer playing, look no further. These two sound like they never stopped playing together, a fabulous combo they make. I hope they don't wait so long before they get together again.

Science fiction soundtracks could learn a thing or two from Primal Surge - it's very cinematic in scope and suggests terrains we've never seen and creatures never envisioned. If things don't work out for Schon as a pop star, maybe he has something here he can fall back on.

Ronnie James Dio and Neal Schon are two names you don't normally see in the same paragraph, but Blue Rainbow Sky was written as a tribute to the fallen singer on the day of his death, as Neal sat and looked out at the night sky and considered the temporality of this life. We live, we give, we die. This one is another beauty - majestic, larger than life, and somewhat mystical - yup, that was Ronnie, all right. A rainbow, in the dark.

Transonic Funk is straight up swagger - Schon digs in hard and pops the strings, getting the distortion to punch out his message with great command. Smith, who's playing on this album is never less than fantastic, slows the pace down just a bit, and rides just behind Schon like a rider holding back the bridles on a race horse. But he can only hold him back for so long, and before you know it they are careening down the twisting hills and heading for a wah soaked valley. They've found the way home.

Back at home for the night, Schon turns down the lights, Smith returns to his ride cymbals and they gently coa the record to a close with Song of the Wind II. The original Song of the Wind was a tune off of Santana's Caravanserai album, Schon's last with the band, and this seems like a good place to wrap it up, remembering that this is indeed, The Calling.

Schon recorded this album while on a break from some Journey tour dates. He's now back on the road with the band, but it would sure be great if he could get out and do some dates as just a guitar slinger. He deserves to hear his name right along side some of the other great guitar gods, and see his name mentioned when talk is of the true greats of the guitar.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lance Lopez - Texas Prophecies: A Sneak Preview

"Lance is a Ferrari, ready to roar. What we have here is very competitive. His live jams for the last two nights at the China Club in LA with this new material put everyone in awe. The cream of who's who LA players - from former members of Guns & Roses to guys who are playing with Jeff Beck. He blew them away." ~ producer Fabrizio Grossi
Tell The Truth is the first sneak peek at Lance Lopez's new record, and if we get an album full of tracks that sound as good as this, we're going to have us a new guitar star from the Lone Star state.

A belligerent, muscle bound riff comes strutting out of nowhere, and Lopez confidently turns its beat over, under, sideways and down before big beat drums, and a slamming Hammond escort the veteran guitar slinger to the song's county line, and a chugging verse riff that suggests the possibility that there was a little bit of Judas Priest stirred into young Lopez's grits.

Lance has had the brand of guitar hero stamped on his hide for some years now, but producer Fabrizio Grossi has captured Lopez's
voice in a way that no one has before. There's power and supple phrasing - a Grossi trademark. The producer made what might have been last year's best sounding record, Leslie West's Grammy nominated Unusual Suspects, and he may be doing it again. This guy is a record or two from being the new superstar producer on the block, and the combination of his studio savvy (he's also playing bass here, and helping with the songs and arrangements) and Lopez's time tested musicianship indicate that this album may be the big one that finally proves what Band of Gypsys drummer and Lopez band mate Buddy Miles suggested when he said:
"When we are onstage together I get chills because Lance reminds me of someone I used to play with a long time ago." 
Yesterday I asked Fabrizio Grossi what drew him to Lopez - he answered, "Billy F. Gibbons told me about Lance. How can I not listen to The Reverend?"

Stay tuned - these fellows have a great deal more work to do, but if this tune is any indication, we're in for a great record.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Black Country Communion - Afterglow: Is This To End, Or Just Begin?

There's no point in acting as if there isn't an 800 pound gorilla in the corner. Black Country Communion's third album, Afterglow, is having a rough birth - with rumors rife and tension thick, the band's survival has been questioned recently by many. It's evident that the band's focal points, Glenn Hughes and Joe Bonamassa have some issues that, while best left in back rooms, has spilled out into the arena. I know both fellows just well enough to say that I like and respect them both a great deal, but I don't know what their beef is - all I know is that it's getting in the way of some great music. Maybe the best either has yet made.

Afterglow is a huge record. It sounds like there's a war going on, and much of the fighting is happening beyond sight. It rages with an unbridled passion unseen on the first two Black Country releases, and this passion adds immensely to the music. Glenn Hughes has made the statement of a career - his voice is more powerful and under control than ever, his phrasing shakes, quivers, screams, and howls with rightful indignation. He's at war, but I'm not sure with whom or what. His lyrics are as amazing, and they tell tales that could be heard in a variety of interpretations. Joe Bonamassa hits his strings like Ali hitting Sonny Liston - wicked accuracy and vicious intent that can't be hid. These two titans are like a couple of super heroes fighting a war set up by some unseen bad guy - it sure isn't the music that's a problem, and whatever stands between them is not worth killing the music over. The damage is done, the question is - what survives in the afterglow?

As soon as Big Train kicks in, it's clear that this is a very different Black Country Communion. This band sounds like Deep Purple once did - you have a band in crisis, and it sounds dangerous, like great rock and roll often does. Derek Sherinian is all over this, like a layer of molten lava. Kevin Shirley has him sitting high up on the mountain, and it sounds great. Hughes is singing like he's rock and roll's last living disciple, and playing his bass like he's leading an army with it. Jason Bonham is hitting every beat as if his soul depended on it. I've never heard Joe Bonamassa ride a wah pedal so hard as he does on his solo - it sounds like the guy's spitting out shards of Ritchie Blackmore's shattered nightmares.

"This Is Your Time, it's in your hands,
This Is Your Time, to make your stand."

There's a battle being fought, but it's too dark to see how it began, or who's winning. This Is Your Time is a tune that Jason Bonham brought in, and Bonamassa is calling it his favorite cut on the record. It comes across as a prayer, or sermon from Hughes. With Afterglow, Glenn Hughes has finally made his great rock album. He's been known as "The Voice of Rock" for years, but never has he reached quite this high. Of course, he's always sang with a passion and power that not everyone can understand, or appreciate - to those who would say his vocals are histrionic affectations, I say you just don't know the guy. He's the purest English rock singer since Stevie Marriott, and I have long been of the opinion that he has little say about the startling instrument that speaks through his soul. He could no more change his style, than you could change the color of your eyes. His performance on This Is Your Time is on par, and at the level of any great vocal performance in the annals of rock. He's singing better than ever - his Stevie Wonder informed vibrato is dead on point, and his every word, his every utterance is felt as much as heard.

Joe Bonamassa has for now left behind his tendency to play nice, and I'm guessing he never spent a session attacking his strings so fiercely - the guy sounds pissed, and in this situation it sounds just  right. His solo on This Is Your Time shows his mean side, and we get some seriously satisfying savagery out of the usually chivalrous gentleman. Well played, sir.

Midnight Sun jumps out, and it sounds like The Who and Iron Maiden fighting it out in a seedy London back alley. Jason Bonham's drumming is astounding - his fills are fantastically musical, and when Bonamassa takes his solo, you have Hughes and Bonham taking flight just as high. It's dizzying and only Sherinian keeps them out of the path of Icarus, and for those who always wondered what The Who would have sounded like if Pete were a shredder - look no further than this barnburner.

BCC finally sounds like a full fledged, dye in the wool band on the cut Confessor, as opposed to a 'supergroup.' You can tell they've done some playing together, and on this record they gel better than ever. Sherinian and Bonamassa finally get their Jon/Ritchie thang on, and when they do, they get it right - good jousts between guitarists and organists are too rare these days, and this satisfies an appetite that has been ignored for too long. Great stuff. Hughes's lyrics demand a close listen, but I'll let you form your own opinions as to his intent.

The freak flag is out and waving on Cry Freedom, children. Bonamassa and Hughes throw lines back and forth on the verses like they're red hot coals, and the effect is terribly powerful. Hurricane BCC is blowing in the wind. Vocally, this album is a huge leap forward for the band - there are cool background parts, heavenly harmonies, where previously we've had less than we may have liked. Hughes takes a groovy bass solo after Bonamassa has had his solo say, a solo in which Joe sounds like a true bluesman. I'd love to know what's going through the mind that's spitting out these licks. This is dripping with emotions, and they do not appear to be simple emotions at that. Maybe they should have called this record, "Kid Gloves Come Off."

Afterglow is Black Country rock at it's best - this number has the spirit of Led Zeppelin all over it. Sherinian does the best John Paul Jones I've ever heard. His orchestrations are superb - an homage, but an homage with tremendous musical value of its own. Hughes's vocal performance is as good as I've heard in many, many years. How many '70s power singers are currently singing their best work? There's a midsection interlude here that sees the band go straight prog rock for a moment, and I hope with all my being that we're just hearing these guys get warmed up. This album shows glimpses of a BCC we've only hoped for  - one that goes from supergroup to super group. As in a true classic. There is seeming little the band can't do, and the mind boggles to imagine what could happen if they can find a way to put the music first.

For his solo on Afterglow, Bonamassa puts on an awesome display of post Satriani/Vai shredding, and one hopes these fellows can see  the forest through the trees. Joe has shown yet another side of his musicality with this record, and I must say, it fits him well.

A hippie dippy piece of semi-psychedelic folk come blues called Dandelion is up after the title track, and it simply swings. Did I just hear a brief tribute to Rush? Hahaha, I'll be damned if they didn't and they nailed it! Hughes's bass playing is off the hook on this album - this is what rock and roll bass playing should sound like it. John Entwistle is smiling up in heaven.

The Circle is the first cut on the album that sounds like it could have come from BCC's earlier tracks. This is the songwriting side of Hughes that shone so brightly, though briefly in the days of Hughes/Thrall - his growth as a writer on this record is very impressive. I do wish Bonamassa sang more on this track - it almost cries out for his voice at certain points. Opportunity missed, for now. This is a tune that just keeps building and building. I always love when Joe kicks in the time based effects and gets his big jungle cat, uni-vibe voice up and running. If I didn't know better, I'd think he may have watched Michael Schenker from the wings once or twice, but I could be wrong. No, I just listened again, and his solo is very Germanic and majestic. Joe, I love your solo act, but you're goddamned good at this band thing. This sounds so much like an ending that it may just be a new beginning.

Common Man cops some serious old school moves - this puts me in mind of Paul Rodgers fronting The Gap Band. The band trades fours in spectacular fashion before Sherinian tears off a great solo - it's not chop heavy, but it is sonic perfection. Fits like a glove. There's even a clavinet calliope section that is straight up, shit hot funk/rock. Another startling new direction, and they pull it off brilliantly.  This sounds like they finally got their groove on as a band, and are playing together as a team.

The Giver - another Hughes sermon delivered at the alter of the church of rock. I'd love to hear Glenn's tracks in solo mode - just straight bass and vocals. Many will hear this and go straight to the unconscious Plant vibe that comes with growing up in the hills of the Black Country, but I'm hearing one amazing performance - no matter how it is sliced. Joe Bonamassa's solo sounds like a swordsman throwing down a gauntlet. Wait until you hear the 12 string/vocal outro:

"Here Comes The Giver,
He will be free,
Here Comes The Giver,
He will be free."

Wow. Powerful stuff.

The Crawl suggests that if this thing with Bonamassa doesn't work out, maybe Hughes should bring in Jimmy Page - of course, that's some presumptuous trash to be talking on many fronts, but damn. Bonamassa actually does a fantastic Page here - not so much in what he plays, but rather his artful orchestrations. This is Black Country rock. Communion? Well, maybe some dissension and tension is good for a marriage from time to time. These two jousters are going toe to toe, and I'm declaring this one a draw. Afterglow is an album of tremendously powerful rock - when Glenn told me it was his most epic work, he wasn't kidding. Bonamassa and Sherinian trade fours again on this cut, and it seems they are just starting to get good at it. The possibilities suggested by this album boggle the mind. This album is a serious listen - it doesn't suffer fools, and it may not walk under it's own weight. Let's hope for the state of the music, it does.

Joe and Glenn, I don't know what your issues are - I don't want to know what your issues are. I just hope that whatever they may be that somehow the music may live through it. Together, you have a musical chemistry that is near unheard of in these times, and I hope your musical partnership can continue.

Hats off to super producer Kevin Shirley - you have done an amazing job in keeping this ship floating, and getting this record done. The proof is in the product, and this record sounds amazing. Congratulations and great thanks to all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

ZZ Top - La Futura: All Is Forgiven, Rick

I came to this one kicking and screaming. Tales of Rick Rubin's cantankerous nature had rung louder than bombs over the last month, and had clouded my view. Turns out, he's made one helluva ZZ Top record, and that's what they paid him for. La Futura is just what you would've wanted out of the band in 2012, if you asked their fans in 1976.

You've all heard it, but wait until you hear I Gotsta Get Paid in all its glory - not some YouTube MP3, but full spectrum. If you would have told me that the firm of Gibbons, Hill, and Beard would have sounded like this when they were in their mid 60s, I'd have smiled from ear to ear - just like I'm doing this minute. The tones are perfect, the beat throbs, and the Reverend Willy G be preachin'. Hallelujah, children - this one smokes.

Chartreuse doesn't add anything new to the ZZ Top story, but it states its case elegantly - the little ole' band out of Tejas can still bring it. Straight up boogaloo that gets you shaking and moving. Gibbons dusts his broom with a slick as minnows slide solo, and when he's through the band slams into Consumption like a spaceman walking his dinosaur - this is the George Jetson meets Jon Lee Hooker trip I wanted to hear Rubin take with these boys. Nobody gets sicker tones to jump out of an plank and stack than Gibbons, and this one reeks - fantastic tones that are just beating the piss out of classic Japanese Radio Shack Custom Shop speakers. Yeah, this is the beast coming to close the deal.

Over You? No, I'll never be over you, not in another million years, but as long as there's blues like this, at least I'll know I'm not alone.
This is as fine a slow blues cooker as the band has ever cooked up, and when Gibbons groans softly and his guitar collapses at the end of his solo, you'll know this man knows the blues better than he's been given credit. This makes me shudder, as the hilly wind keeps blowing, and the sun sets down. Gibbons soulful leaps into a near falsetto at the tunes tail is elemental - you'll get it.

Heartache In Blue is a Hooker infused blues boogie that reveals its Memphis roots with some changes that step beyond John Lee, and James Harman brings some harp blowing that equals the molten licks that Gibbons is laying down - not many players can go toe to toe with Billy, but Harman holds his own for 15 rounds.

Gibbons is in fine voice on this album, and I Don't Wanna Lose, Lose, You is a fine one for figuring out just how effective a vocalist he has always been. Sometimes someone is so dependable, and so on the job every day that we end up taking them for granted. Gibbons might be one of the best blues vocalists ever, let alone of the last fifty years.

Rubin captured it, that's for sure. He did his job - he made ZZ Top sound like a modern, great version of themselves, and I think that's the gig.

Flyin' High is far off the well tread path for the band - it's almost new wavy/power poppy, but dipped in hot sauce. This is the song that NASA sent into space - astronaut Mike Fossum had the first iPod in space, and a new ZZ Top tune on the set list. Back to La Futura!

The future colliding with the past seems to be the theme here, and It's Too Easy Manana leaves me amazed that Gibbons never spent any time locked up - this is some locked down and not gettin' out soon blues. Psychedelic blues at its best, this is so slow and so greasy that you are almost sure you're Gibbons cell mate, and then when the solo comes, it's drenched in enough echo, and tonal molasses that it makes Syd Barrett seem sane. Goddamn, Billy - this is high art of the Nth degree.

Big Shiny Nine is straight up blues innuendo, and of course, nobody does it better - Sharp Dressed Men have always understood that this is the language of the realm, and it was good.

Have mercy, this train rolls out at about the same place it rolled in.  The band didn't let Rubin change them, but they let him make them sweat - this sounds like the most ZZ Top has worked at making an album in too many moons. It may have been four years in the making, but it works. Have A Little Mercy sees the band walk it off into the west, but not before they stop at the stratosphere on the way out - this is the finest slice of rock and roll to come riding out of the lone star state in many, many years, and it gives my pals Lance Lopez and Fabrizio Grossi something to shoot for out in Los Angeles this week - Gibbons set the bar high fellas, let's see what you can do.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mos Generator - Nomads: Balls Aplenty & A 2012 High Water Mark

Mos Generator puts out their first album in over five years, and it turns out that is was well worth the wait. Nomads is yet another winner from the studio and mind of Tony Reed, and his label, Ripple Music. Both are on a helluva streak with no slowdown in sight. It just might be the hard rock/metal album of the year. Tony Reed is a writer, singer, producer, and guitarist of prodigious talent, and this may be his finest moment yet.

Cosmic Ark sets things up beautifully. It sounds like you've discovered a long missing Sabbath track from the early days. It's not sacrilege to either team - Reed is amongst the finest regular purveyors of classic hard rock in the world, and while this is not as derivative as his regular band, the all '70s style encompassing Stone Axe, the sonic footprint of the decade of the metal gods is all over this platter. The riffage is simple and solid, the vocals are passionate, and the rhythm section is propulsively solid. The bridge is a jazzy spin that suggests the better instincts of The Guess Who at their psychedelic best before the riff returns and rides out on some great string bending and chorus chanting.

The riff that kicks off Lonely One Kenobi should have a thousand kids out buying guitars, amps, and punishing music store sales people with constant repetition. Writing a great hard rock riff is like finding a big, raw diamond - it doesn't happen every day, and when one is unearthed it is as thrilling as ever. Just past two minutes in, the rock gives way to some very proggy brilliance - a nice segue into a brash melodic solo that ought to have the guitar magazines fawning over the long under acknowledged Reed. This might be the metal track of the year.

I've been harping for a Free reunion for years, and the album's next track suggests that Reed would be one great pinch hitter for the late Paul Kossoff. Torches blisters the paint off the blues - Tony is playing like his ass is on fire. His leads are sizzling hot sections that generally steer clear of the main of the tune to go off on a musical adventure that furthers the story like a good novel.

Step Up is a dynamo of dynamics - one minute it's a swaggering metal anthem, then it's a thoughtful meditation that invites you to "find your way up into the light." Bassist Scooter Haslip lays down the gauntlet on this one, and Reed takes off over the top on an Iommi informed flight of fancy that has me grinning from ear to ear and praying that the new Sabbath record is half this good.

When I saw that Tony Reed and his cohorts in Mos Generator were covering Judas Priest's Solar Angels, I shuddered slightly and went about my business of spinning the disc. It takes balls to cover a Priest tune - some would say it's ill-advised, at best. I'd say it just takes balls, and if there's one thing this album has it's balls aplenty.

Indeed, this cover has more balls than the original take - I'm a huge Judas Priest fan, but I found the production on their Point of Entry album to be thin and Halford's vocals were a bit thin, most likely given to the coke fueled times. I do wish Reed could have gotten Rob in for some harmonies on this, but I'm given to asking for a lot, some would say too much. Reed pulls this off, and for me that's huge - as I said, it's dangerous to cover something as iconic as the Priest, but the band kills it. Big, blustery, ballsy, and anthemic - hats off fellas.

For Your Blood stays in the neighborhood of early JP with a bit more boogie. Boogie is the long lost word on the path of stoner rock. The solo section here is a pile-driving dance as drummer Shawn Johnson rides his cymbals to great effect as Reed gives a class in rock and roll guitar playing - I'm reminded of the grand days of Foghat and Ram Jam's classic Black Betty.

Time changes and tempo jumps grab you by the throat and refuse to let go on Can't Get Where I Belong. Reed may not know exactly where he fits in the world at large, but he is the master of his domain, and that domain is anywhere there is a pair of humbuckers, and an amp stack. It's tough being the only guitarist in a rock band - it's a tremendously demanding task, and this guy knows every twist and turn in the lexicon of the language. I have a short attention span, and little patience, but this album keeps me on the edge of my seat.

The acoustic interlude that introduces the album's title track is a joy - it sounds fresh and was recorded so well that it sounds like it could fill a huge room with ease. In comes some muted chording that has a nice swing and sway - joined by a fluid bass line, then some tom tom hits and we're into a major groove. We're into the final track, This Is The Gift Of Nature, and it is an epic. You don't even have to smoke pot to get stoned by this one. It builds into a metallic romp, then Reed brings in the verse with a stagger step riff that is everything that bad metal isn't - this is musically satisfying, sophisticated, soulful rock and roll, and ye had best rejoice. Nomads is a labyrinth of great rock - not just this song, but the whole album.

Mos Generator has hit it out of the park on this record, with the bases loaded. A grand slam that will have you fist pumping, dancing, and even thinking. Get out whatever you play, be it an air guitar, or the real thing - you're gonna need them. This is an inspiring piece of rock, and I hope it has the influence it deserves. Tony Reed is at the top of his game, and I can't wait to see where he goes from here.

There's a ton of reminders of what a great band Black Sabbath was at one time on this record - I hope that the Sabs and Rick Rubin come up with something that makes me half this happy.