Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dave Kilminster - Scarlet - The Director's Cut: The View From The Fellow Atop Water's Wall

Dave Kilminster - his brilliant musicianship has been experienced in by millions in relative anonymity as the bloke who's perched atop Roger Water's Wall for the last few years tossing off incredible guitar solos. What most of these millions haven't experienced is the equal wonder of Scarlet, his 2007 solo release that has just been re-released in a remixed/remastered version by Cherry Red Records. It may be almost six years old, but it is one of 2012's most stellar records.

Joined by former Keith Emerson bandmates Pete Riley (drums), Phil Williams (bass), and vocalist Anne-Marie Helder, Kilminster has succeeded in creating one of those great documents that leaves you in wonder - not in just the songs and their performances, but in the fact that as you listen, you come away with the impression that this is his soul speaking. I doubt that he could have created any other album - it's as if the music pours out of his body like a visceral entity, his life blood mixing with the ethers.

Kilminster is mainly known as a hot guitarist, and there are a million thrills to be had here, guitaristically speaking. His tones, phrasing, and note choices are immaculate - whether he is fingerpicking an acoustic interlude, strumming slinky rhythmic stratospheric Strat stabs of clean electric, or playing picture perfect leads that range from the tasty to the shredding, this is a textbook guitar lesson of the first rate. However, having read that last lengthy sentence, now forget it. Just listen to it, and dig the musicality - these are great songs that just happen to be made of absurdly brilliant technical proficiency. Whether you are a guitar aficionado, or a casual listener, you will adore the sublime beauty of this album.

Scarlet - The Director's Cut is a solo album, but in name only. Granted, the songs, guitars, and the lion's share of the singing are Kilminster, but his band is a monster. Pete Riley's drum work is consistently amazing, maybe as good as I've heard contextually, in the same league as Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland, and Mike Portnoy. For non-musicians, let me explain. His drum playing is perfect for each song - at times he's hammering out a straight beat and supporting the song, other times, it is his flashy fills, and unexpected accents that keep things so very interesting. Phil Williams creates similar magic with his bass - any listener will love the music, find themselves moving with the music, and not caring or wondering why, while we indulgent musos will be mystified by his subtly, incredible tone, and chops. You can pick any song on this album and literally write a decent bit of scholarly appreciation for the astounding musicianship on tap here, or you can just sit back and listen to an amazingly melodic set of tunes. Everyone should have a chance to hear the song, Rain...(On Another Planet) - it's one of those perfect pop songs that you listen to, love, and only later realize that it is almost ten minutes of fantastically sophisticated music - this, is magic.

Silent Scream starts of with some heady atmospherics that make the case for Kilminster being Waters's current Gilmour, but soon enough the songs grows into an ethereal groove with a languid vocal and the band kicks a little harder with each subsequent section - a falsetto driven bridge pulsates with a pulsing bass line before the guitars take over and the band brews up a sonic storm under Kilminster's vocal outro.

Kilminster and company crank things up for Static, with Riley's drums excitably pushing the guitar/bass groove into hyperdrive. Vocally Kilminster pushes himself, not allowing himself to ever sound like a guitarist singing an album. When he goes for loud, high notes he hits them confidently, and his phrasing is varied and his vibrato is assured. The song's solo section is a three ringed firestorm that is all to brief, but manages to identify the huge talents of the trio, and it does a great job of making you want more, instead of wearing you out early.

One of the wonders of the album is Kilminster's songwriting - Just Crazy could easily fit into any playlist of rock power ballads, and you'd assume it was a huge hit that you happened to miss. However, even in spinning out a melodic pop number, the band still manages to provide subtle touches, and sonic segues that expose their mastery. I love the production of this entire album - it's in perfect time, tone, and texture. In an age of rushed, cut and pasted Pro Tools production, this sounds like a great record. I'm listening to it on a forty year old system, and it sounds like heaven.  My system is set to supply as close a sound as I can afford to having musicians sitting in the room with me, and Kilminster's production is incredibly beautiful, detailed, and lush.

Like the string quartet that gently rings in Angel - Kilminster could have gotten his pal Keith Emerson in to do the piano work, but he chose instead to do the work itself, and it marries with the strings and guitars as sweetly as you could wish. Every squeak of his fingers on the strings of his guitar ring through, and even Riley's drums and Williams bass sound majestic. Stuff like this is why I don't bother writing about mediocre music - life is too short, and this is too good.

Some of this record sounds like what I imagine Steely Dan might have sounded like if Fagen had ever woke up in a good mood. Kilminster sounds like a guy who has a pretty good grip on this human existence - Chance is as jazzy as the album gets, and its smooth fusion will suck you in, and the silky harmonies of Kilminster and Helder will enthrall. Again, Riley's stick work is sublime, and his playful pattering is the perfect foil for a bit of scatting between guitar and voice.

Big Blue is a genre jumping poppy number that would be almost too saccharin if it weren't done so damned well. With a less skilled crew this would come come of as schmaltzy, but this mainly makes me simply wish that Brad Delp were still with us - soaring vocals are something that very few can pull off and still sound sincere, but Kilminster does a great job here. It never hurts that his guitars sound so damned perfect - from the tones to the notes, I keep saying, "Damn, I wish I had played that." Even his rhythm chops are well thought out and executed. Crazy good, he is.

Brightest Star is an acoustic number of the ilk that great Brit troubadours have been doing so well for so long - names like Greg Lake, Townshend, Gilmour, and others come to mind as I listen to this one. It's just Kilminster, a guitar (OK, maybe two), some strings, and a great song.

I love that when Kilminster rocks out, I have a hard time comparing it to another electric rock act - he's eclectic in a beautiful way. Not obtuse, or complicated for complicated's sake, but rather just unique and extremely musical. Liar is a scorcher that never grates, and features some guitar playing that will have you shaking your head, and muttering, "Damn...."

Rain... (On Another Planet) may have been recorded back in '07, but it's one of the finest new tunes to cross my path this year. Epic. Iconic. Classic. All those words you hate to read, but damn if they aren't all apt here. Even at nine and a half minutes, he can't tire us out, and again we hit repeat. Where, and how has this song remained hidden? I love a great song about the rain (just ask Johnny Hickman), and this is a very, very nice one to add to my list. The guitar solo here is Kilminster's lengthiest on the album, and it's fan-fucking-tastic. Like the big, final payoff we've been promised - don't get me wrong, the guy couldn't find a wrong note if he tried, but this one takes off and just keeps going.

This album often suggests the p-word, but I've tried not to utilize it to describe the proceedings, but the final tune, Harken, is pretty (as in gorgeous) prog. It's a gorgeous piano and cello ballad that gives way to some more of the band's brilliant ensemble playing - while all the way. Kilminster sings and plays his proverbial ass off. He also lyrically asks the question that haunts him in every interview since - "If this was the last day of your life, what would you do to make things right?"

My only hope would be that his answer would include releasing some more solo material. Scarlet - The Director's Cut is a brilliant piece of work. I don't know how many copies Dave Kilminster has managed to sell from his website, or at Roger Waters's merch booth, but it isn't enough. I'm thrilled that Cherry Red has released this properly, and I would suggest that you buy a copy immediately. This will be on my top 10 records list for 2012, no matter when it was recorded.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Michael Schenker - Temple Of Rock Live In Europe Giveaway!

Thanks to Michael Schenker, and my good friends at In-Akustik Records, I'm raffling off a Temple Of Rock Live In Europe Limited Deluxe Edition Package (2CD, 1 Blu-Ray, and a bonus DVD)!

All you have to do is make a comment about Michael Schenker below, or on this post on this Michael Schenker Facebook page:

The winner will be chosen at random and announced on December 1, 2012.

Recorded on the Temple Of Rock Tour 2012, the package includes  the band's Tilburg, The Netherlands, London's 2011 High Voltage Festival, and a great many bonus features - see below for full details!

Click here to go to the Live In Europe Website!

  • Into The Arena
  • Armed And Ready
  • Lovedrive
  • Another Piece Of Meat
  • Hanging On
  • Cry For The Nations
  • Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
  • Coast To Coast
  • Assault Attack
  • Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
  • Lights Out
  • On And On
  • Let It Roll
  • Shoot Shoot
  • Rock You Like A Hurricane
  • Rock Bottom
  • Holiday
  • Blackout
  • Doctor Doctor 
Michael Schenker (lead guitars)
Doogie White (lead vocals)
Herman Rarebell (drums)
Francis Buchholz (bass)
Wayne Findlay (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals)
Michael Voss (lead vocals, guitar - Special guest on 'Hanging On')

  • Armed And Ready
  • Another Piece Of Meat
  • Rock You Like A Hurricane(ft. Rudolph Schenker)
  • Hanging On (ft. Rudolph Schenker)
  • Doctor Doctor (ft. Rudolph Schenker)
Michael Schenker (lead guitars)
Michael Voss (lead vocals, guitar)
Herman Rarebell (drums)
Wayne Findlay (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals)
Elliott Dean Rubinson (bass)
Rudolf Schenker (rhythm guitar on Rock You Like A Hurricane, Hanging On, Doctor Doctor)
Pete Way (bass guitar on Doctor Doctor)
Jeff Scott Soto (vocals on Doctor Doctor)
Doogie White (vocals on Doctor Doctor)

CD EDITION - 2 DISCRecording from 2012’s Tilburg, Netherlands concert
Recording (extracts) from London’s 2011
High Voltage Festival
DVD EDITION - 1 DISCRecording from 2012’s Tilburg, Netherlands concert
Recording (extracts) from London’s 2011
High Voltage Festival
Bonus-Footage‚ Before The Show (Tilburg)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, dts, Stereo


Recording from 2012’s Tilburg, Netherlands concert
Recording (extracts) from London’s 2011
High Voltage Festival
Bonus-Footage‚ Before The Show (Tilburg)
Bonus-Footage‚ Sound check (Tilburg)
Audio: DTS HD Master, Stereo
LIMITED DELUXE EDITION - 4 DISCSIncludes 2 CDs, 1 Blu-ray, 1 Bonus DVD.
Bonus DVD includes the following content:  
  • Brighton Rehearsal
  • Doogie's Video Impressions

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Peter Frampton - Best of FCA! 35 Tour: More Alive Than Ever!

There are those that don't dig Peter Frampton - and they are wrong, it's that simple. He has been guitar player enough for both Steve Marriott and David Bowie. He's had an incredible solo career by any measure, being a great guitarist, a fine writer, excellent singer, and his skills are as sharp as they were the first time he came alive.

Best of FCA! 35 Tour: An Evening With Peter Frampton is a fantastic record - easily one of the best live records of the year, and a fabulous treat for any guitar lover. Mind you, the songs are ace, Peter is singing really, really well, and the band is as sharp as a tack, but it's the guitar work that keeps grabbing me, and reminding me of what captured my attention in 1975 when I first heard my first Frampton album. His tone is superb, his chops are finely honed, and his remarkable sense of melody never fails to make me grin from ear to ear.

I've seen loads of shows by acts who haven't had big hits in years, some with memberships in tact, some made up of farm club level players, some who've never been off the road, and some who went missing at varying junctures, and some, like Peter Frampton, who have just always kept playing through it all. Ups and downs are apart of the game, and few experience it with more grace than this gregarious Englishman. He's made great records when few were listening, but for the last few seasons his stock has been steadily rising, and this record is the perfect capper for this chapter.

Frampton's band is fiercely on point, especially returning bassist extraordinaire Stanley Sheldon, whose fretless playing added so much texture to the original Frampton Comes Alive back in '76. Guitarist Adam Lester also shines, filling in tasty rhythm work and supplying some fiery leads next to the boss, as well. Keyboardist Rob Arthur nails the classics, supplying the proper tones, and notes, but it's on the second and third discs that he really earns his keep. His playing on the third disc, filled with later era Frampton solo material is exceptional. You'll also love the way he replicates the piano on the intro of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Drummer Dan Wojciechowski is impressive on everything - a great drummer can take a band and make it great, and Dan W does a magnificent job. He pushes, pulls, and never allows things to get too laid back.

The first disc is, of course, the doppelganger of the greatest selling live album of all time, Frampton Comes Alive, and while it doesn' sound quite as airy and light as the original, that's exactly what I like about it. I always thought it sounded a little light, and maybe a bit immature - Frampton has aged very well, and he wears this material like a tailored suit. His guitar playing may be better than ever, and his voice has an ease and grace that makes it easy to understand why his shows still sell out with such regularity.

Disc two features an awesome 18 minute wind up of the legendary Do You Feel Like We Do that is worth the price of admission - I use that phrase often, but I always mean it. Frampton is playing the famous three pickup 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom that served him so well through the glory days, and to see him reunited with this axe after an absence of 32 years is life affirming. It sounds the same, and they were truly made for each other. Peter has always been a vastly underrated guitar player - his melodic grace is at the apex of great stylists. His melodies snake easily through his tunes, and when he goes for the throat, you remember that he was in Humble Pie. Also on disc two is Shine On, and two venerable Brit-rock classics, Jumping Jack Flash, and a breathtaking look at While My Guitar Gently Weeps. His take on the Stones standard is as worthy as Johnny Winter's fiery take from 1971. His soloing is is audacious and his tone huge.

The real treat of this set may be disc three, made up of largely later  solo career catalogue material, and it's all top flight - I'm not going to break it down by song, I'm going to put that onerous burden on you, the listener (the buyer). It's here where the band really stretches out, and shows that they are capable of much more than replication - they take ownership, and it's a great trip. There's some serious instrumentals, some killer rock and roll, and a couple of Humble Pie numbers that still smoke. I will say that Suite: Liberte is an eleven minute slice of blues fusion that will have you smiling, and hitting repeat a few times.

This one really took me by surprise - I knew it would be pleasant and enjoyable, but I wasn't planning on being blown away, but I am. This isn't a trip down memory lane, it's a great three disc live album by an artist who is as valid today as he was in 1976.

Thanks for blowing my mind, Peter.

The Who - Live At Hull 1970: Amazing Grace

Pete Townshend never quite gets his due - maybe because for whatever complicated reasons, he often comes across as an unmitigated ass. I get it, believe me, there have been times when I wanted to hate everything he did, just because he came off as such an insufferable twat. However. He's also as great an artist as rock has known.

Live At Hull 1970 is the long lost and unloved sibling of Live At Leeds, but while both have their benefits, I am here to tell you that this is one of the best live documents I've ever heard. Keith Moon sounds like God's drummer on this record (which Pete may interpret as a demotion) and Townshend's guitar tracks are sublime - if there is a better guitar tone primer than that of the second disc (the Tommy set), I've never heard it. Moon's drums sound perfect, but more importantly, his performance is transcendent - truly one of rock's greatest.

Much has been made of the fact that the bass tracks for the first four songs were lost and replaced by Leeds tracks, but if you didn't know, you'd never know, and while I wish I hadn't been told this, it really doesn't matter. Again, the real point is that this is an amazing live set from one of the best rock band's in history, and a must own by any measure.

By 1970, The Who were a fearless live band, brave enough to kick off their shows with a song sung by their bassist, and Heaven and Hell is far from a commercial tune. It is, however, brash, brilliant, and a fiery set starter. Can't Explain follows and this is a Townshend/Moon manifesto. A close listen will reveal that the rhythmic flourishes provided by the two are why every cover of this classic comes across as dull and lifeless. Entwistle's bass is exceptional as always, regardless of where it came from, and Roger Daltrey is a singer who's greatness is so well known that sometimes we take him for granted.

Fortune Teller is another deep catalogue favorite, and with it's staccato rhythms and Beatles-esque harmonies it's another brave choice for early in the set. Pete switches gears rapidly, going from pristinely clean arpeggios to slamming power chords, and back again. Tattoo was forty years ahead of its time, explaining tattoo culture way ahead of its later arrival. The sophistication of the band is incredibly evident, and they segue from pop to proto-metal without a blink. One of my favorite Who tunes.

Young Man Blues, and Substitute slam past brilliantly like freight trains, and then it's Happy Jack - one of rock's great moments and the only difficulty is for me to figure out which band member is shining most brilliantly. It's a toss up, but Moon? Holy hell, this set is the best Moon I've ever heard. Same with I'm A Boy - simple pop tune? Nope. Brilliantly written, conceived and performed rock miracle? Yup.

A Quick One, While He's Away is more sheer Townshend brilliance, and his guitar playing and sound are magnificent. By now Townshend had shed any desire to be an R&B/pop hitmaker, and he's into intricate operettas. I hate to beat a dead drum, but Moon is again beyond friggin' fabulous, and Entwistle's loping basslines create the perfect pad from which to launch Pete's awesome strumming. Pete's as good a rhythm player as Keith and John Lennon - cool thing is they all play completely differently. What was in the English water supply post WWII?

Muscular rock closes out CD one with Summertime Blues, Shakin' All Over, and one of the greatest 15 minutes of sheer rock bliss I've ever heard, a truly mind bending My Generation that stops and visits See Me, Feel Me, and a few other Tommy reprisals, before Pete Townshend goes off on a guitar tangent that in my estimable opinion should sit next to Hendrix's Machine Gun as an archetypal rock performance - this track is easily worth the price of the set, and every person who loves rock should own this. It's actually the final track of the night, and I wish they had stayed chronologically correct here. It is maybe the ultimate set closer, maybe even more so than the set closing Magic Bus from Leeds.

CD 2 is the whole of Tommy, and for my money, this is the only version to which I shall most likely ever again listen. Townshend's genius is presented in preposterously large fashion - strummed, picked, sang, and slung across the stage in a fashion never repeated by any guitarist. I don't know that any rock guitarist ever had a better hour. The range of his repertoire is what is commonly called, a vocabulary. The dynamic expanse of his emotional and sophisticated composition is astounding. I wish I could give this to you as an assignment, just to make sure you understand just how great rock can be. I don't mean to sound condescending, or authoritarian, but this is just so damned powerful, and good.

Like I said at the beginning, Townshend sometimes doesn't get his due, but this sure makes the case. He is as great a musician as we have known - a masterful writer, player, singer, and a practically unparalleled conceptualist, who just happened to be in a band with three other gentlemen who were as good as any at their jobs.

Live At Hull 1970 is a tremendous addition to The Who's catalogue, and even if you own, love, and swear on Live At Leeds, this is equally essential, and again, for my money, I've never heard Moon and Townshend better in sheer sonic terms.

Monday, November 12, 2012

ASIA - Resonance: Live and Precise

Resonance is a live DVD/CD recorded in Switzerland in 2010 - captured by 18 HD cameras, and it's filled with exceptional singing, playing, and songcraft. Asia occasionally gets hit for not being more prog, but that's a crock. This live set rocks, pure and simple. Four great musicians playing well crafted songs with precision, passion, and excitement. What's not to like?

Asia is only Asia when John Wetton is singing. When he's on board, I'm on board - if he's not, don't call it Asia, because it isn't. No disrespect to any of the fine musicians who earn their keep in the 'other' Asia, but Wetton is one of rock's giants - a talent that has maintained consistently high quality for over four decades, his voice, writing, and playing are all incredibly his own. He seems to have a reserve of energy to which he goes back to, and he comes back as powerful as ever. His voice still cuts through the mix with great command, and beauty.

I'm consistently and pleasantly surprised by how much Asia rocks on this live set. The hits are all here, and they are as compellingly pop as ever, but Steve Howe's guitar howls in ways it seldom does in Yes, Carl Palmer is as exuberant as he was in The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1969, and Geoff Downes provides tasteful fills, pads, and flourishes that keep things melodically interesting - they hit every song head on, and there's not a moment in which they let down their guard. This isn't an oldies act in any way, shape, or form. The numbers from later albums Phoenix, and Omega are a breath of fresh air, and fit perfectly with the band's earlier output.

As I said, the hits are all here and these renditions are fantastic, but it's newer tunes such as Wetton's tour de force, An Extraordinary Life, the compelling Holy War, and the majestic I Believe will have you reconsidering the Asia catalogue if you've missed some of it in the past. This set is a must have for Asia's fans, but it will also please any past doubters, and I know there are those of you out there - at times I've been right there with you, but now I'm catching up on some great rock that I've missed.

John Wetton keeps amazing me - I say it over and over, but the man is a wonder. Health issues have come and gone, but he's resilient and keeps coming back in full force, and with tremendous resonance. Resonance rocks - pick up a copy as soon as it's out, and you'll be well pleased.

I hope Asia keeps up this pace - I really enjoyed this year's new album, XXX, and this live set is a complete victory.

Dio Disciples: Ronnie Is Surely Smiling

Tim "Ripper" Owens and Oni Logan are a couple of rock belters of the finest sort, and when they take the stage to tackle the words and work of Ronnie James Dio, they honor the man to whom they are paying tribute. The entire group play their hearts out, and there is no exaggeration in calling this troupe a world class band by any measure.

The shoes and legacy of Ronnie James Dio are not easy to step into. From his entrance into arena rock as Ritchie Blackmore's first  post-Deep Purple vocalist, his fantastic work with Black Sabbath, his own incredible solo career, to his final days with Heaven and Hell, Dio set the high water mark for hard rock. His voice, lyrics, and stage presence were always exemplary, and his bands top flight - for Dio Disciples to attempt a recreation is bold, for them to succeed so brilliantly is a huge testament to their combined talents.

The topic of tributes is touchy to say the least. Rock fans love their heroes, and the idea of anyone trying to recreate the past for profit is looked upon dimly. I have long championed the efforts of the remaining members of Thin Lizzy for doing brave and excellent work keeping alive the memory of Phil Lynott, and their great band - in the face of criticism and skepticism the Lizzys made it work with passion, love, and pure grit. They've won over the lion's share of their fans and performed admirably. The minute Dio Disciples hits the stage, there is no question that they are playing for keeps, in top form, and are 110% committed to insuring that their love and respect for Dio the man is always the focus.

Maybe even better than the band's wonderful performance was the reaction of the crowd - there was not a doubter in the house, and it speaks volumes when you see the mouth of everyone in the crowd singing along with every song, and even a few tears on cheeks. This lovefest lasted from the opening notes of Killing The Dragon to the end of We Rock, Dio Disciples did just that - they rocked and they ruled.

Craig Goldy appeared on Ronnie Dio's radar back in the early '80s when the guitarist turned heads with LA metallers Rough Cutt - they remained collaborators for the rest of Dio's life. It speaks volumes that Goldy was Dio's choice for a musical right hand on four separate occasions, he was the singer's ace in the hole for over twenty years.

Goldy's performance with Dio Disciples is remarkable - faced with recreating the work of Blackmore, Iommi, and Viv Campbell, he nails every part your ears demand to hear, and he still manages to retain his individual sound. This is an art that not everyone can quite imagine, or appreciate, but it's like being an improvisational classical musician - knowing when to stay faithful to a composition and when to follow your own muse isn't easy, and he does it brilliantly. I hope he finds his way into an original project soon that can feature his excellent writing, and his great guitar work.

The remainder of the band is equally magnificent - Simon Wright is a fantastic stickman who's gotten the nod from Dio, AC/DC, UFO, Michael Schenker Group, and many others. His energy will blow you away and he keeps things thundering along marvelously. Scott Warren is along on keyboards, and he does yeoman work in keeping things melodic and providing a perfect pad for Goldy's guitar histrionics - his piano work on This Is Your Life, a delicate duet between Warren and Oni Logan is sublime. Bassist Bjorn Englen played and sang great - if you don't know him from his work with Yngwie Malmsteen, or as an instructor at BIT, keep listening, you will. His playing was perfect and his stage presence is top notch. Yeah, this band is going to blow your socks off, and have you grinning from ear to ear.

I have to admit, I went to this show with alterior motives - I was doing some research and recruitment work, but Dio Disciples grabbed me by the neck and took me for one of the best trips I've taken in months. Thanks, fellas, you blew me away.

Dio Disciples did what I did not think they could - they occasionally (actually, quite often) made me forget I was listening to a tribute band. It was just great rock and roll. As I said earlier Tim Owens and Oni Logan could not have been more powerfully impressive. Both are in absolute top form, and in great shape. Somewhere, in the rainbow, Ronnie Dio is smiling.

  1. (Dio cover)
  2. (Dio cover)
  3. (Dio cover)
  4. (Rainbow cover)
  5. Push 
    (Dio cover)
  6. (Dio cover)
  7. (Dio cover)
  8. (Dio cover)
  9. (Dio cover)
  10. (Rainbow cover)
  11. (Dio cover)
  12. (Black Sabbath cover)
  13. (Rainbow cover)
  14. (Rainbow cover)
  15. (Black Sabbath cover)
  16. Encore:
  17. (Dio cover)
  18. (Dio cover)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beverly McClellan - Fear Nothing: Labels Be Damned Brilliance

Beverly McClellan's Fear Nothing is an auspicious record that will set her on her way to solo stardom. It's my understanding that she has experienced great success via the television show, The Voice, but I wouldn't know anything about that. I haven't watched television for many years, but I do listen to Steve Vai.

McClellan first crossed my radar several months ago when I heard her belting John The Revelator on Vai's outstanding album, The Story of Light. Her explosive power, soul, and tone immediately grabbed me, and I set off to find some liner notes. One of the great frustrations of writing about music these days is that in a world of digital delivery, there are seldom cases wherein I get to see who plays what besides the artists name. Not to worry, I love calling whoever I need to call to find out, so as to give credit where credit is due.

So, my search reveals the voice that knocked me off my chair was Beverly McClellan - no sooner do I find this nugget of information than I get a note from publicist Lauren Archer, asking me to give a listen to this incredible new album got it, Beverly McClellan. This is being made all to easy, and I'm cool with that. I dearly love PR people that get things done and take care of their clients, and Lauren is a great one. Like I said, credit where credit is due.

Fear Nothing is a big, robust, tuneful, and exciting record - McClellan could read the damned phone book and make it sound like magic - she has a voice like a freight train, but she can also finesse a tune, and phrase as smoothly as a veteran jazzer. There's voodoo in this voice - a type of magic that makes good on the promise that  anything is possible, if you're true to your heart.

I See Love is a spicy blend of bass and drums right from the start - it sounds a little familiar, and sure enough it's a couple of greats doing the rhythm work over which our star weaves her spell. Tony Braunagal is a drummer I've been listening to since the '70s when he was working with Paul Kossoff in Crawler, and Hutch Hutchinson is one of the best and most recorded bassists in history. You'll probably best remember them as the section that elevated Bonnie Raitt to superstardom in the mid '80s. Mind you, Beverly McClellan is the star here, and her writing and singing are superb - I just want to let you know what kind of talent her talent has managed to attract. This is a great opening number, and it let's you know what you're in for, and it's a great trip.

McClellan is no new kid on the block, she had five albums under her belt before this one, and it shows. Lyin' To is straight out of the Carole King school of songwriting, and wouldn't sound out of place as an outtake from Tapestry - yeah, it's that good. Her phrasing is amazing - I'm on my fifth, or sixth listening, and I'm still tracing back over my steps to hear some lines again, and again. Jimmy Pugh has been Robert Cray's keyboard player since 1989, and as I said when I reviewed Cray's last record, he might be the best ivory tickler in the industry right now.

It Ain't Me sails in smoothly on a cloud of vibrato guitar and electric piano, stepping up to some very smooth funk when McClellen brings in the first verse. Everything here is an early take, caught mostly live by producer David Z (Prince, Billy Idol, Buddy Guy), and the experience of the players makes for an exquisite walk through what sounds like the encyclopedia of soul.

I'm glad that McClellan has worked out her demons - she's so damned soulful, that if I didn't know she had her shit together, I'd worry about her. Nobody's Fault But Mine is cut from the cloth of jazz's greatest voices, and most women who can sell soul like this pay for it with their's. The guitars of ace producer/guitarists Josh Sklair (two decades as Etta James's musical director and producer), and long time McClellan foil Billy Vasquez sound like they've been playing together all their lives instead of days. Still, it's McClellan that amazes with the most regularity, and in this group, that speaks volumes. This one is an instant classic - it'll be getting spun 40 years from now.

I Can't Hide Me is  a juke joint jumper, with Braunagal staying ahead of the guitars by a hair, and Hutchison's percolating, pumping bass providing the perfect springboard for the singer's gymnastics. Pure blues power, and some ceiling high swoops power this one. This has Grammy written all over it, and while I'm not big on awards stuff this is deserving.

Every song on this record sounds like yet another chapter of a good book, this is some of the best lyrical content I've heard since Melissa Etheridge's early works. I almost hate to say that, not giving a shit about and hoping to avoid the whole lesbian angle - this is brilliant, no matter what the context. Great material about relationships is tricky territory for a lyricist, and Beverly is a master. Personal, yet universal. Well Wondered, indeed.

Love Will Find A Way Out reminds me of the wonderful writing of John Hiatt - in trouble, but always with hope. I love a record that has me straining between the brilliance of the band and the vocals. This sounds like everyone had a great time making the record, and this gives the Robert Cray Band's Nothin' But Love a run for the money as best rhythm & blues record of 2012.

Slowly, gently, arpeggiated piano and guitar tunes have always been a soft spot for me, and Come To Me grabs me and holds me rapt for the duration. McClellan keeps taking it a step higher, and it's straight to musical heaven - a blissful waltz this is. Pugh's piano solo is majestic.

McClellan softens up for I Will Never Forget, and while it's softer, it's no less powerful, and her vibrato pulsates with feeling and passion. The band provides an acoustic, almost Appalachian via Southern California songwriter vibe, if that makes any sense - you'll get it, and like it when you hear it.

Braunagal's drums lead the way into Tender of the Most, and his sophisticated stick work will have you smiling, and toe tapping throughout this thoughtful meditation. It rocks you gently, not quite ever slowing to ballad, but staying much like a boat upon a river, rolling and swaying to its destination.

Precious Times is an uptempo stomp that winds things down, and it picks you up for an ending that brings you full circle, and you wonder where the time went, and you don't care, and you play the whole thing one more time.

Hey McClellan, great album! Damn, I wish it was always this easy. I ain't much good at anything but writing about what I genuinely dig, and you've made this very easy. This is a most have album if you enjoy great writing, singing, playing, and production - that's really all it has going for it. Brilliant - buy this the moment you can.