Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Greg Lake - Songs of a Lifetime - A Proper Retrospective, and A Great Look Back

Greg Lake - Songs of a Lifetime is a brilliantly executed document - it's like having the man in your front room for an evening, and who wouldn't love that?

Lake is a troubadour. Sure, he's been in a couple of the most explosively musical rock bands that have graced the planet, but at the end of the day, it's a guy with a guitar playing his songs. Yes, Lake is a minstral of the type that has been touring the world for many centuries, and he's one of the better acts to have done it in the last century.

Click Here For A Six Minute Video Sampler

Songs of a Lifetime came to be as Greg was writing his autobiography, which will, of course, be entitled, Lucky Man, after the title of his biggest hit. You might not know it, but Lake wrote that legendary tune when he was but twelve. Indeed, he's a blessedly lucky soul, but I get the feeling he's been doing this since he and Bill Shakespeare were comparing notes.

Lake is a very engaging and charming host - is this the same kid who got off his own jet, standing on a Persian rug, and chewing gum in front of 250,000 at Cal Jam in 1974 as he tossed off gems like Lucky Man, and Still... You Turn Me On? It is, and the years have burnished off any rough edges, remarkably so, and this whole night of music is an amazing testament to just how much ground Greg has managed to cover over the decades.

I was curious about the use of backing tracks as opposed to either a live band, or a pure solo performance, and at the end of the day, I find this to be a very cool option. The tracks are appropriate, but done with enough reserve to keep us focused on the matter at hand, the voice the songs, the guitar of Greg Lake - well played.

Right off the bat, we're given a minute of the prog/metal of 21st Century Schizoid Man, the 1969 King Crimson classic. It's a nice way to start, and I only wish there were more of this classic.

Lend Your Love To Me Tonight is from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's Works Volume I, a record that was unique in its time (1977), as it saw the band basically doing three sides of solo material, and one side featuring the band as a whole. Lake's contribution was largely made up of his true stock in trade, romantic balladry, a trade he plies in such a manner that I can only posit Sir Paul to be his peer in this lofty form. True love songs are very special, and few in this age aside from McCartney and Lake have been able to completely embrace them without scorn, irony, or cynicism. This is a great first acoustic number, with some doubled guitar, a restrained rhythm section, and some nice strings coming along for the ride - you get a fairly little known tune, but a great encapsulation of Lakes huge skills.

Lake is in fine voice - sure it's a step lower than it was in the seventies, but if he was selling himself as a youngster at age 65, I know I'd be cringing instead of the big smile I'm smiling. He's sounds graceful and dignified - as rock should when it matures.

When Lake stops to address the audience for the first time, we get a glimpse of who it is we're hearing, and he's a very charming and likable character. He explains his premise, and the stage is set for the rest of the evening.

From The Beginning is as enthralling as it's ever been, and its aged so well. Actually, when it was newer I thought it sounded almost too young, as if it were not quite possible for someone so young to sing with such wisdom and depth. Hearing it now is like a travelogue of my life - I see scenes from every chapter of my life, and I smile when Lake plays a very tasty guitar solo. It's often overlooked, the fact that while he was known as ELP's bassist/vocalist, he's also a wickedly fine six stringer, and whether it's intriguing acoustic composition, or snarling leads, the man has had some great guitar moments - more than most, certainly.

Elvis enters the building as Lake tells a great tale of seeing The King in Lake Tahoe at a casino in the '70s, and it's a great leads that to an unexpected Heartbreak Hotel, and again he pulls it off.

King Crimson's Epitaph is next, and this is a prog tour de force, we finally get the full effect of Lake's backing material, and the fact that Lake was present at the creation - when he segues into The Court of the Crimson King, I'm physically moved. Goosebumps. What in some hands could be clumsy and inelegant is instead majestic.

Lake then takes a few great minutes to tell the tale of King Crimson, and the moving tale of how the album's legendary cover came to be. Again, and again, I'm taken by Greg's ability to not just entertain, but to make all this grand history very personal for everyone.

I Talk To The Wind is one of Lake's favorites as he humbly states, and it's a song that anyone would be thrilled to have been a part of creating. Gorgeous in melody and prose, if you'd have played this for me in he seventies and told me that this is where it would wind up, I'd have been immensely pleased. I admit that I'm a sentimental sort, but what true lover of music and life isn't? The flutes that intertwine with Lake's slowly picked J-200 is sublime and while there's no piano player, the piano is pristine and lovely. And, yes, that voice....that voice.

The Beatles are next in the telling of the tale, and he speaks of a cool story involving Ringo, and Lake's enduring love of The Fab Four. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away is another winner as the man leads the fans through the choruses.

Touch and Go brought hard rock into the realm of prof when Cozy Powell partnered up with Lake and Palmer in 1986, and it's pomp is as large as its legend, this supposedly being roughly based on the melody of English folk ballad, Lovely Joan. It's as compelling a number as it was then, and I only wish Powell were here to be bashing behind Lake, or anyone for the matter.

Back to the ELP catalogue, it's Trilogy - Lake always had a tremendous skill for composing acoustic guitar pieces that seemingly had no template, and it's put to great use here. I don't know that Greg's ever gotten his due as a songwriter - so much of the legacy has been tied to the band's larger than life antic and epics. At the heart of all the virtuosity lies the troubadour, singing to castles and princesses.

Still... You Turn Me On is a personal favorite, and I can never hear the tune without remembering Lake's performance of the tune at the famed California Jam in 1974 in front of 250,000 fans at the Ontario Motor Speedway, in which ELP's touring sound system was set up almost a half mile from the stage and fed to the audience via a tape delay system to merge with the stage sound. That performance set a standard which has seldom if ever been bettered, as the singer nervously chewed his gum and wove his tale.

Well, this is a more intimate setting, and it's another time and place - Lake's voice is wonderfully dynamic, and if his range isn't what it may have been 40 years ago, he's still one of our finest tenors, and his phrasing and pitch is pretty amazing. His voice is huge and paints in large swatches of beauty.

C'est La Vie comes after the telling of the tune's origin, and it's a tear jerker, as it has always been. I know nothing of his personal life, but Greg Lake is a deep well of emotion when it comes to the man's art. "Is there no song I can play for you, C'est La Vie...." Lake hits notes he has to clearly reach for, but he does it with such command that I could imagine it being sung no differently.

Greg Lake wrote Lucky Man when he was twelve years old. A little kid's song, he calls it, a medieval fantasy - he says he never wrote it down, he just remembered the song. I'll save the rest of the story for you to hear, but it's another great anecdote, and the song is as great as it ever had been. Of course, it's not a silly song written by a child, but a moment of musical prescience that suggests that this might not be Mr. Lake's first lap around the pool. This sounds like the final victory - game, set, match.

People Get Ready, the Curtis Mayfield classic from 1965 is an unexpected pleasure, read straight from the heart to close the show.

The encore is a bit of rock, provided by 1973's Brain Salad Surgery album - Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 2 goes from set opener to closer, almost as if Lake wants to reinforce the point that there is still power to burn in his tank. His vocal is downright fiery, and he's belting from start to finish. I like that he breaks out the bass on this and 21st Century Schizoid Man - it's a nice touch.

Songs of a Lifetime is a great trip through the career of Greg Lake - I'd recommend giving up the preconceived notions of 'greatest hits karaoke,' that I've heard from some - if you watch and listen, you'll love this. It's one of the seminal British rockers playing his life out on a stage for his fans, and could we ask for anymore? I think not.

Songs of a Lifetime - available Feb 25th from Cherry Red Records:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

dUg Pinnick - "I Just Do What I Love To Do, and I'm Glad People Like it. That's Where I'm At."

"Haha, I think the world is more pleased than I am, it's not that I don't like it, it's just that whatever I am a part of, I can never step outside of it to see it for what it is!" ~ dUg Pinnick

dUg Pinnick is more of a walk the walk kind of guy than a talk the talk kind of guy. He's largely content to let the music do the talking, but with the success of his latest project, Pinnick Gales Pridgen, he's up early and doing press - no big surprise, for PGP has taken the hard rock world by storm, debuting at #1 on the Amazon Hard Rock Charts, and also #1 on their Progressive Rock Charts on the first day of its release, and the world is at their doorstep.

Pinnick Gales Pridgen is going to be a tough record to top for anyone in 2013 - I proclaimed it record of the year in mid January, and while I'd love to see someone knock the rock off my shoulder, I'm not holding my breath. Pinnick does what he's always done, Eric Gales puts on the lead guitar performance of a lifetime, and Thomas Pridgen's whirlwind drumming has left even his bandmates mystified.

I had spoken with Gales at length at last month's NAMM show in Los Angeles, and he excitedly told me that the band was already discussing the follow up record, so this project is growing wings - when offered a chance to talk about the record with dUg, well, of course, I couldn't wait.

Before we jumped into the new record, I had to ask about dUg's bandmate for the last thirty years, drummer Jerry Gaskill of Pinnick's full time band, King's X - Gaskill suffered a heart attack in early 2012, and then had the misfortune of having his home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Pinnick was pleased to report that Jerry is doing better than ever:

dUg: "Jerry's doing great! After the heart attack he recovered completely - we've done some shows and he has a new found life. Man, he just brings life to the camp, y'know, it's pretty cool. We've got some shows set up this spring, and we're planning some recording, but there's no date yet."

In this economic climate, having your band on the shelf for a year is a tough thing, so I asked dUg how PGP came together, how Mike Varney got involved, and how the record got made:

dUg: "Mike was probably the focal point, in that he called me up and said, 'Hey, I want to do this record with you, Eric, and Thomas,' and I go, 'Sure!' Next thing I know, we're in the studio ten days later and we've got a record."

I asked if there was any time for demos, or preparation before hitting the studio:

dUg: "No preparation before - I brought in five songs, and we collaborated on five more, I think. It was really quick, it was like we all knew what each other was capable of, so we went in and let everyone do what they do. There was no arguing, there was no telling another person what to do, or somebody going, 'I don't like that part, why don't you change it to this.' Nothing like that happened, ever. It just seemed like everything we came up with worked. 
"We did the drum tracks in three days. We had to have the drums ready, because the drum tracks are the most important part of the song - and Thomas had to leave after the third day! So, he put down his drum tracks and left. Then we pieced it all together - we had the basic tracks, but we had to make up vocals and melodies, Eric had to put on his leads, and stuff like that."

Listening to Pridgen's performance, it's not just incredible that he laid the tracks in three days, it's also incredible that Pinnick and Gales could always follow his hyperkinetic masterwork. I asked dUg how difficult it was to adjust to Pridgen's fiery style:

dUg: "It's real hard! To play with somebody that busy - but, I wanted him to play that busy because that's his style, and that's what his appeal is! I think it really added to the band and the make-up of the band. I really do think that he did an exceptional job, but it's like I said, it's hard to play with him, because sometimes I don't know where the one is - he finds his way back there, but I don't!"

Pridgen aside, it's also a whole new ballgame for Pinnick playing with Eric Gales - Gales has a style like no one's and I had to ask how it was for dUg to play with Eric after working for three decades with the equally different, and very eclectic Ty Tabor, the legendary six string wizard of King's X:

dUg: "The difference is Ty doesn't think he's any good. Whatever he does - he always doesn't care about it, and he thinks that other guitar players don't care about him. He doesn't think he has anything to offer, even though he does.That's just who he is. 
"As for Eric? Eric loves everything that he does. Watching him do leads, watching him get excited about his leads, and watching him stop in the middle of a lead because he just did something incredible, and he'll look at us and go, 'Y'all hear that? That was deep!' I mean, he loves what he does in a really innocent and beautiful way. I wish I could love what I did like that. 
"That's the biggest difference to me, besides playing-wise, because they're both just phenomenal."

Sticking with Gales's performance on PGP, I asked about all the layers of guitars that were laid down after the basic rhythm track - it's a masterful performance with Eric throwing down lead after lead after incredible lead. One of the performances of the century to my ears, and from most of the other reviews I've read. Surprisingly, his performance only came at Pinnick's prodding:

dUg: "The raw tracks were just his rhythms. Then, he just came in and re-did the leads, pretty much. We knew what we were getting from the beginning - there were no surprises. It was just really great to make him play as much lead as he could on this record, because he didn't want to! 
"He didn't want to do a lot of leads, but I thought, 'You know, this is his strength,' so, you do a lot of leads, you could do leads all night long - I said, 'This is what people wanna hear,' so he just went for it, you know? And that is the whole point in this band is that everyone tried to grab a hold of their strongpoints. Forget about weak points, we got no time for that!"

By the same token, Pinnick's bass tone is unlike any other. He gets his sound by sending his high end signal into a Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx II, giving his tone some grinding distortion and time based effects, while sending his low end through a more traditional bass amp rig. The result is a steamrolling sound that is as broad as it is long. At times on the record it's occasionally not easy to decipher whether you're hearing Gales's guitars, or Pinnick's bass - I asked if Gales's had any difficulty adjusting to Pinnick's huge tone, which is perhaps the most unique this side of John Entwistle's roar with The Who:

dUg: "Eric has known my sound since his band toured with King's X when he was fifteen, so he  knew what to expect. I don't know....we never discussed it at all, and he didn't seem to have any problems with it as he put his parts down. Yeah, it wasn't even discussed, really."

Mike Varney was the Svengali who dreamt up the lineup of Pinnick Gales Pridgen, so I wondered about his role, once the band got into the studio:

dUg: "He was the ring leader! He just kind of pushed us to keep going. We were sort of frustrated at first, because we were thinking, 'We've gotta make a record in ten days?' He kept us focused and kept pushing us, which was really cool. 
"I wrote about 25 songs in the last year, and some of them went on my solo album that will be out in May, then there were some more left over - Mike said, 'I want you to bring in five songs,' and I brought in ten, so we picked five of them, then we just kind of did them."

Again, I was pretty amazed that a record that sounds so rich and complex could have been laid down so quickly. It's down to seasoned pros knowing exactly what they're doing, and having the skills and confidence to proceed. Things haven't always come so easy - both Pinnick and Gales have on occasion had to battle with personal problems that made their lives difficult - I wanted to know what effect dUg's personal life had on his art, and the making of that art:

dUg: "It effects it 100%! I think I write better songs when I'm being tortured - when I'm happy and everything's going great, I have nothing to say, and there's no passion, or drive in my music. But, it seems the moment I'm hurtin', or angry, or frustrated - I write a song about it. 
"It's sort of a way of releasing a lot of my feelings. Also, because if I didn't have music to release the things I go through, and how I feel, if I couldn't talk about it - I'd go crazy."

When can we expect to see Pinnick Gales Pridgen on the road?:

dUg: "There's talk - it'll happen when we can figure out when. People are doing all their own thing, and we've all got so much going on in our lives that it's going to be a difficult coordination, but we'll do it. 
"It's a lot easier on stage now, because I'm more confident. Studios always intimidated me, because you're under a microscope, and I've never been....I'm a very insecure person, especially when it comes to my talent - when you're in a studio, and everybody's looking at you - watching everything you do, and making sure that you're in tune, and in time. Trying to get an emotion out of you that maybe you don't have, or they see something that they want you to get out of you, but you don't feel it.  
"The whole mindset of recording is so much different than playing live. Now days, when I go into the studio, it's like, I'm better at what I do, so I'm not as insecure about it. 
"When I sing - it's like, as soon as I open my mouth everybody either freaks out, or starts crying! So I go....well....I listen back to the take and I'm going, 'Man, I suck,' and they're looking at me like, 'This is the greatest thing in the world!' 
"I just roll my eyes, and go, 'We just do what we do, and we hope people will like it.'"

After recording both a solo record that features Pinnick playing, singing, and engineering nearly everything to going into the studio with a high powered producer like Varney, and a couple of super capable bandmates, I asked dUg which was easier?:

dUg: "It's easier with a bunch of individuals, because when I do everything myself, it takes forever - I engineer it myself, and I don't always know what I'm doing.
"I'll try a vocal track a hundred times, and the first was probably incredible, but there's no one around to tell me to stop! Making a solo record is a nightmare for me. I'm real happy with the results, but it's a lot of work. Working with other people is the easiest thing in the world - if all I've got to deal with is my bass, or just vocals? Hey, that's a piece of cake. You got the engineer, the other guys doing their thing - lately that's been the most fun for me. 
"I've had four projects with bands in the last year, and I've just went in and played bass and sang, and it's just been so much fun to not worry about the guitar parts, or the drums, or to have to tell somebody how I want the groove to be. 
"In these side projects I'm doing, everybody's does their own thing and there's a trust that we all have with each other. Everybody's been around a long, long time - when you've been playing for twenty, or thirty years, if you're accomplished, you don't need somebody coming in and saying, 'Man, I don't like that chorus, why don't you change it?' What I like is, if I go into a chorus, I go, 'OK - what is my bass part going to do for this chorus to make it better, or make it comfortable for me?" I don't go in there for anything other than to make it work. 
"A riff is a riff, a song is a song - there's millions of them out there, and we continually shit out songs left and right. But, the thing is, when you allow everyone to do what they do, and stand back and say, 'OK, this person says this picture is green and yellow - and I have blue in my hand. Well, where you gonna put the blue at to make this a good picture? Or add to the picture - and that's how i look at it now is, let's just build a song.  
"There's no deconstructing a song - whatever you got, we can make it work! It doesn't matter what the riff is, or what the song is - if you can put a great melody on it, put some attitude to it - you got it."

I'm coming across this type of attitude more and more often, as the budgets for recording are smaller, and the demands of labels now non-existent. I suggested to dUg that I am reminded of the way in which old jazz records were made, often in someone's living room with one microphone:

dUg: "Yeah - that's it! I've got two other projects, there's 3rd Ear Experience with Robbi Robb from Tribe After Tribe, that record will be out soon, we're just getting the mixes together. Then I've got a blues band called Grinder's Blues up in Vegas - I drive up there, and we've just finished that record, and it's being mixed."

If you've ever wondered why so many musicians are involved in so many projects, much of it comes down to one thing. While in many ways it is great for the listener, and it is easier for players to cross pollinate amongst themselves musically, it really comes down to making a living, and keeping body and soul together. I asked dUg a question I'm asking all of my interviewees these days - dUg, what effect has illegal downloading and pirating had on you?:

dUg: 'It killed us! It killed me. It - the whole Internet killed all of us. I mean, you know, not just music,  but if you look around, the Internet changed everything. Everybody lost their jobs. You can't even go to the mall anymore, because people can sit at home online and buy stuff. It's across the board. 
"Yeah, I'm starvin' to death. I'm doing everything I can to make a living, I live month to month, and there's just no way out. People just don't buy music like they used to. There's no venues where people can go to know what's going on, there's no MTV, there's no serious radio, and all we've got is a big wall of information sent at us. It's up to the person to decipher, or sift through it to find if there's any genius in it. It just killed us.

However, Pinnick doesn't come across as bitter, or hateful - he gladly admits that the Biebers and that ilk are talented, and simply a commodity for corporations. He sees it as just part of a bigger picture:

dUg: 'Even Jimi Hendrix, when he first came out - he sold a million records, and that was a big deal, because very few artists ever sold a million records back in 1968, or '69.  
"By the '90s, you could sell a million records in a week. I remember Pearl Jam was at number one and sold ten million copies. Pantera hit number one - ten million. Now, we're back to ground zero, and back to where it used to be. A musician struggles, and he's unknown. 
"My hypothesis on this all is that everyone thinks because the '90s, and '80s were so huge, and even the '70s after Peter Frampton put out that live album, corporations saw that millions would buy records, and it became a big boom - like the oil boom in Texas, or the gold rush in California. But, sooner or later it goes away, and it's done. We got slim pickens - everybody's got their pitchforks out, and they're digging!"

Having brought up Jimi Hendrix himself, I felt it fair to ask a question I think I already knew the answer to - I asked dUg what Hendix would have thought of Pinnick Gales Pridgen's new record?:

dUg: "From what I know of the people that have known him, and the people that talk about him, or just know his history - I'm sure he would have loved it! As far as I know, Jimi was just like the rest of us - not sure of himself, and he didn't think he was the greatest. He just had the heart to do what he did. I think when he saw other guitar players, he was intimidated sometimes, just like when they saw him. 
"But then, I don't know - because I remember that story about when he first went to England - Chas Chandler said, 'OK, I'm going to take you to England to play,' and Hendrix said, 'OK, but you gotta get me a gig with Eric Clapton, I want to play with him. Then, when he did, Hendrix got up and blew Clapton out of the room. Jimi knew what he was doing, so sometimes I wonder how much of a big head did he have? Hahahaha!"

I insinuate that perhaps on occasion Eric Gales has a bit of the same gunslinger in his makeup:

dUg: "He knows what he's doing, haha - He's a genius in his own right - that's for sure!"

To wrap things up, I thought I'd ask dUg what he was listening to these days for both pleasure, and inspiration. In letting me know, we may have found him yet another potential side project:

dUg: "Djent music from Meshuggah, Tesseract, Sikth - the Meshuggah-type djent music they call it - it's so heavy and low tuned, it's a completely different vibe and sound - a whole different mindset for thinking up riffs.  
"Plus, I go to the opposite extreme and the last Coldplay record (Mylo Xyloto) that I play a couple of times a week. It makes me smile and makes me happy, which I don't hear in most music. A band hasn't made me excited since early U2, and Coldplay does that for me. I also love Rival Sons because they've brought back the '70s the way I remember them, and they move me. 
"Then there's this guy named Wilson T. King - that dude! I just got turned on to him, and I got both records from iTunes, and I pretty much have played both records every day for the last week. I would love to meet him!"

I mention that I know Wilson T, and that I will certainly pass this information along:

dUg: "Please do - that would be awesome! He is - it's amazing, it's so reminiscent of Band of Gypsys, and Maggot Brain, all that stuff by Funkadelic. That's some of my favorite guitar playing, and I heard those were some of his influences, so when I heard him, I instantly related to it. 
"Cool, I'd love to get to know him - when I write some new solo stuff, I'd like to send him a track to put some leads on. That would be awesome!"

dUg Pinnick is on the move - with the incredible Pinnick Gales Pridgen album tearing up the charts, another record in the works, a solo record out May 7th, tour dates with King's X, and several exciting side projects slated for release, we should have no shortage of dUg for some time to come - let's just hope the business is as good to him as he is to the business.

Thanks to dUg Pinnick, Eric Gales, Thomeas Pridgen, Barbara Lysiak at BLI, and Magna Carta Records.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Micky Moody of Snakecharmer - "We Just Go Out There & Rock and Have A Good Time"

Micky Moody seems the sort that does not think, but rather knows the glass is more than half full. Snakecharmer, his latest endeavor, has just released an album that's getting rave reviews the world around, and when one looks at Moody's career - a career that started at age fourteen in a band with no less a vocalist than Paul Rodgers, and has since stayed remarkable consistent and successful, one gets the impression that Moody's humor and positive outlook may be right on the money.

Of course, it's not all wine and roses, there have been times when things haven't quite went his way, as one often finds in this life, but he's relied upon his love of the guitar and irony to see him through.

Currently, things are looking pretty sunny for Mr. Moody - he's just made one of the better albums amongst the well over a hundred he's put his stamp on, and he's getting ready to hit the boards for the first time in several seasons with his new group, Snakecharmer, a band that has it's roots perhaps in Micky and Neil Murray's old love, Whitesnake, but which has a bite uniquely of its own. After a failed attempt the day previous, I managed to connect with Micky and we had a most enjoyable conversation.

Micky Moody: "Sorry about last night, I think the three previous interviews before you rang sort of ran down the battery of my handset, and it just went on the blink!"

Doing heavy press is a daunting task - try telling roughly the same tale to eight strangers in the space of an evening, and you'll get the drift - if Micky had taken the batteries out of the phone and wondered off to the local, I sure couldn't have blamed him:

Micky Moody: "Hahaha, well, my ear was very hot actually! I could hear your voice on the answering machine, but unfortunately, I could do nothing about it!"

I explained to Micky that when an interview goes wonky, I'm generally so relieved to discover that I'm not at fault that it matters little to me the cause - I'm a big believer in whatever happens happens, and it's all for the best. To finally have someone on the phone that I've wanted to speak with for years is well worth the wait, and I congratulate him on his band's new record and ask if this weekend's gig - the first to feature the new album, feels any different to him:

Micky Moody: Well thank you. The gig on Saturday, it's a launch for the album in London. Yeah, y'know, there's a lot to remember as we haven't done many gigs lately, I think the the last gig we did was five, or six months ago, so there's a lot to remember, and there's some filming being done, etc. But, I'm sure we'll rise to the occasion!"

Snakecharmer's new album is a twelve slice pie of hard rock excellence - it's easy to imagine a time when the band could have gone on stage, played the record straight through and gone down a storm. I asked the guitarist how much of the new platter would be played on Saturday night?

Micky Moody: "I think it's about three quarters of it, yeah, we're planning on about that. We've rehearsed them and we're going to intersperse them with some of the classic Whitesnake numbers, as well. We hope it will be a very entertaining set. 
"I think some people might worry that they might not get everything just right, but hey - it's rock 'n' roll. We're not some sort of Eastern German techno/funk/jazz band - we'll just go out there and rock, and have a good time!"

Snakecharmer has been together for several years, gigging in and around the UK and Europe. Mostly they've been reprising the catalogues of their renowned pasts. It's only in the last year that they've decided to write and record their own album, at the suggestion of their manager, Martin Darvill of QEDG Management who runs perhaps the most prestigious classic rock stable in Europe. The ongoing successes of such long running acts as Asia, Uriah Heep, Greg Lake, John Wetton, and others signals the enduring popularity of classic British rock, and given the exemplary resumes of the members of Snakecharmer, new music certainly makes great sense. I asked Micky how this all transpired:

Micky Moody: "Well, Tony, what happened was myself and Neil Murray had got together for a drink, and we decided that we hadn't worked together for a while (Murray and Moody's association began in 1978 with the formation of the original Whitesnake lineup), so we thought that we should do some gigs for a bit of fun.  
"Neil spends a lot of his time with Laurie (Wisefield, Snakecharmer guitarist) in We Will Rock You, the musical in London, as they're principle players in that, so we wanted to get out and do some rock. We got together, and Harry James was very interested - Harry's from Thunder, and we were put in touch with Chris Ousey, who none of us knew, but he came very highly recommended, and the idea was that we'd go out and do some gigs and a few festivals, playing the music of the guys in the band - so, myself and Neil did the original Whitesnake stuff, with Harry we'd do some Thunder, with Laurie we'd do a little Wishbone Ash, and one of his compositions, and with Chris, we'd do a few songs from his band, Heartland. 
"So, that was the idea, and then Martin Darvil came to see us, and he said, 'Hey, you guys should be doing your own stuff, y'know? There's so much potential there!' 
"He inspired us, and kind of got us together to go and write a couple of songs, go into his studio and see how it sounded, which we did! We wrote, Smoking Gun, and Turn of the Screw, and went in and recorded them - and they sounded alright!"

In the day of digital streaming and Dropbox, it's not often that I'm privvy to such things as liner notes, so I wanted to find out how the writing was parceled out amongst the band - Moody was glad to lay it out for me:

Micky Moody: "Well, really, it's down to the individuals to put their ideas forth, and Chris is the only guy to write lyrics, and he writes great lyrics. I mean, I can write some lyrics, but I can't write the stuff that he does.  
"Basically, whoever wrote the music made demos, and sent the music out with the arrangements to Chris, and he put the melody lines and lyrics to it. 
" I wrote two, or three with Chris, and I'd written one with Laurie. There's a couple of band compositions where we all chipped in, and Laurie's written three, or four with Chris, as well, then there's a couple of three ways. Harry's written one as well with Chris, so everyone's on there somewhere, but I believe myself and Laurie wrote a bit more of the music."

Listening to the album, this is well borne out. The music is well crafted, well played classic hard rock, with a great deal of melody, and indeed, Chris Ousey's lyrics are excellent - I'm reminded of the days when this type of parsing about of the writing duties often resulted in long players that could stand up to a listen through, there's no dull repetition, or filler to be found. Also, in spite of a great deal of the world's expectations, this record certainly doesn't sound like a pale imitation of classic Whitesnake - it stands on its own merits, and Snakecharmer is a new force. I asked Moody if this was intentional:

Micky Moody: "Yeah - I mean, obviously, the feel.... myself and Neil having been original members of Whitesnake, we play a certain way, which we did in those days, and we still have that feel. So it was kind of obvious that some of the tracks would lean a little towards that sort of '78 to '82 Whitesnake, but we never actually sat down and said, "OK, we're going to sound like this band, or that band, and this song, or that song - we just went in and came up with the first twelve songs and we went in, ran through them and recorded them.  
"There was not a great deal of sitting around and pre-thinking everything. We wanted to keep it a little bit loose, as well. We're all pretty experienced in the studio. It didn't pose any problems - we went in, and we did it. 
"It took a while to do, because of people's commitments - it'd not yet been a full-time band, so it took us nearly a year to get the record finished. Going in and doing a few tracks, and then taking a few weeks off, because people were busy, or people were away - it's not an easy band to keep together for any length of time, but now that the album is getting some good reviews and we're enjoying it so, it might be that we can get out there and do some touring this year!"

In spite of the record being assembled in a somewhat piecemeal manner, it is a remarkably coherent first effort - if you told me that they'd recorded it in a week, I would not have blinked. Mark that down to the incredible amount of talent and experience on board. The band produced the record themselves, and the thought of six pros stirring a soup made me ask what the process was like in the studio - what's it like to try to mix a record by committee?:

Mick Moody: "Hahaha.... Well, we talked about getting in a producer, and a couple of names came up, but to be quite honest with you, Tony, the budget was quite small, and we couldn't really afford the guys we wanted - it's as simple as that! 
"We had a good engineer, and then when it came time to mix, we handed it to John Cameron and his assistant - he's very well thought of at the moment, and they took it away and would send us the finished product. If we had any comments, we would e-mail back and forth, and say, "Maybe a little less of this, or some more of that," and then we went in for a couple of days, myself, Laurie, and Neil, and just oversaw the last bits. It worked out very well, really!"

One of the album's strongest points is the wonderful guitar interplay between Moody and Laurie Wisefield - they pass parts off as if they have been playing side by side for decades, and their styles sit comfortably together. I asked Micky how long it took for them to gel:

Micky Moody: "About eight seconds! 
"Yeah, that long! I've known Laurie for a while, but I'd never worked with him, but there's much mutual respect there. I had worked with Bernie Marsden in Whitesnake, and The Moody Marsden Band, and so in the end, we had a sort of telepathic way of playing which comes from playing together for so long - it's early days for myself and Laurie, so at the moment we're just working from suggestions, but hopefully, once we get going, get on the road, and get a few gigs under our belts instead of just the occasional one, we can start coming up with some different things and also bouncing off each other a bit more. It's again, just very early days, but I think it's going to be quite good once we get going! 
"We have some similar tastes, but our styles are a bit different - Laurie is a master of the melodic rock guitar, I think, and my style's probably a bit more in the funky blues direction. It's gelled well so far, and I'm hoping it's really going to take off!"

Bassist Neil Murray has been a staple of British hard rock since the beginning of Whitesnake, and he's played with greats such as Gary Moore, Black Sabbath, Michael Schenker, Queen, Peter Green, and many, many others - the Snakecharmer record is a great reminder as to just how much impact Murray's playing has had on the history of British rock. I asked Micky how it was to be working alongside an original Snake once again:

Micky Moody: "You know, Tony - it's funny. When I was working with Neil in Whitesnake back in those days, I never really took as much notice of the bass as I should have. I could feel it, obviously, but it was only years later when I listened back to that stuff, when it got released on CD in the later '80s. I suddenly realized just how good his bass playing was - how perfect it was, really. It's got everything there - it's got drive, taste, feel, and he's even better now! 
"Like Laurie, he works all the time, with We Will Rock You, and they do many other things, as swell - Laurie did Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, and people like this, and you can tell that their chops are so good, because they play together so much. They are very, very confident, which comes from playing every day - which is something I've not done for a while, I kind of came off the road a few years ago to concentrate on writing, and some on-line guitar tutorials, but these guys, they are just so on it - it really shows!"

Working on a regular, perpetual show such as We Will Rock You is certainly a boon for Murray and Wisefield, as the record business has been greatly reduced due to a tremendous set of variables. I asked Micky about the changes in the business, and he replied in a thoughtful, and very positive manner:

Micky Moody: "Yeah - the way things are going, I think a lot of guys are going back to working on their own, simply because we don't sell the amount of records we used to sell, because of the downloading and file sharing, people copying things and pirating things. It's kind of tough out there, it's tough in general, anyway. 
"In some ways it's giving us mature types a kick up the pants, to say, "C'mon, you can still do it - you can still create! 
"So, that's what we're doing, really. We wanted to keep it straight down the line, Tony, we've all had solo albums where we show off what we could play, and show other musicians what we can play - we all know there's competition out there. I think with this band, we all went in with the attitude of let's just rock it - let's keep it good. Let's not get too selfish - and that's worked out well for us."

Stepping back from Snakecharmer for a moment, I wanted to find out more about how it came to pass that British born Micky Moody would end up as one of the world's best slide guitarists, a skill that often is a trademark of the colonies, and those closer to the roots of the blues:

Micky Moody: "Back in the '60s, when I was a kid and I started listening to records, the first time I heard a slide guitar was 1964, and it was The Rolling Stones, Little Red Rooster - Brain Jones was playing in an open tuning, I didn't know it then, but he was tuning his guitar to an open G-chord, and I was just fascinated by the sound of it. Then I heard a bit more - Jeff Beck with The Yardbirds, and he was playing in a standard tuning, and through that I started listening to the blues guys.  
"I heard Elmore James, and John Lee Hooker, and it was different from regular guitar playing. I got into acoustic stuff with Robert Johnson, and it's something I feel in my soul - I don't know why, because I'm not from Mississippi, anywhere like that, or even London! 
"I just feel it, and I think that with anything, if you feel something, and you want to express yourself that way - if you're determined and serious about it, then you should be good. Really - it's as simple as that - the more you put into it, the better it will sound. 
"I've always had a fascination for the slide guitar, and I messed around with steel guitar and things like that, but I always came back to what we call 'bottleneck style.' I still love it today, and y'know, I've had a great many influences over the years - from the blues guys, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, Johnny Winter, Duane Allman, Sonny Landreth - there's so many great slide players, and I do the best I can. Really - when I hear people like Sonny Landreth, I go, "Uh-oh...."

I interrupt to point out to Micky that any comparison to Landreth is ludicrous - surely Moody must realize that like Jimi, Sonny's skills are just too unique for things such as comparisons:

Micky Moody: "Oh! Thank you for that! Hahaha, yeah - he's a one-off, so there's still hope for the rest of us yet. 
"A lot of guys play the blues stuff on the slide, but I think that Sonny, he can go in any direction, he can get into Cajun and all that stuff, and I really admire that type of thing. I keep that in mind - I can do a nice little impersonation now and again, but I try not to do it too much, because people will go, "Why are you doing that, it's so obvious that you're trying to play like Sonny Landreth, and I think - 'Yes, you're right, I should play like myself, and leave that to him.'"

Mick Moody's slide guitar sound is very recognizable - from millions of sales with Whitesnake (Moody co-wrote some of their biggest hits, and his too cool slide work literally made Slow An' Easy, and Slide It In) to his excellent dual interplay with Laurie Wisefield on every cut of Snakecharmer, his style, tones, and note selection have always been superb. I brought things back to the Snakecharmer and asked about the record's sumptuous guitar tones:

Micky Moody: "Most of the time we kept it really simple. A good deal of the time, myself and Laurie were actually in the control room. Quite often, we didn't even use speaker cabinets - we were using Palmer Speaker Simulators, even when the other guys were in the studio. 
"I used a small Orange head, they make this thing called The Tiny Terror, a very small amp, and one called a Dual Terror, about the size of a lunch box. Maybe a 50 watt Marshall on a couple of things, but I kept it all very simple, and for the slide, I obviously used another guitar - I have slightly heavier strings tuned to a chord, and lower frets. I think on the first track (My Angel) I just played in regular tuningjust to get a different sound, but in general, I treat it a bit differently.  
"Most of the guitars are Les Pauls, and Laurie also used a '50s Les Paul Jr like Leslie West used to play, and there's the odd Strat here and there, but overall I think it's classic rock. It's a Les Paul with a bit of Strat, a little bit of Marshall, and this and that, but nothing outrageous. 
"We want to be able to reproduce it as best we could live, and that's the best way. Keep it genuine, and try to repeat that when you get onstage."

Snakecharmer's not-so-secret weapon is vocalist Chris Ousey - a relative unknown to American audiences, Ousey has been filling seats and moving units for years with a variety of bands and solo projects. His performance on the new record is stunning - his writing is razor sharp, and his vocals are compelling, to say the least. I asked Micky if he saw this coming:

Micky Moody: "Not really! Chris was recommended by a friend of mine, our sound man, in fact, who lives near Manchester - he suggested Chris because he had been in a band with him in the late '80s, doing covers. 
"I checked him out on YouTube with his band Heartland, and I thought, 'Yeah, this guy can sing!' He comes from an AOR background more than myself and Neil, who come from more of maybe a bit more blues rock influence. But, the guy can surely sing, and also he writes - I like his lyrics because they have a bit of thought behind them, y'know? They're not just belted out.  
"I also like the melodies - so yeah, it was when he was in the band and we were just doing covers that we didn't know which way things would go. We're very pleased now - the records getting great reviews, you know, you get the odd person who says, 'He doesn't sound like this person, or that person', but I think he sounds like Chris Ousey, and I really like what he does."

We've only just seen Snakecharmer's first release, and shows, yet I'm already thinking ahead to the next record - I'd love to see this band on American soil, and the possibility of solid sales and a second record may just make that a reality - I asked Micky if it's on the table, as yet, and while at first he thinks it's a ways off, he's immediately describing how he hope it will go:

Micky Moody: "It is a bit early, yeah, Tony. It is in the backs of our minds, but we want to see how this goes. 
"For the next album, I'd like to bring in a producer, even if just.... just the amount of e-mails back and forth (during the first record's recording) - it must have been 10,000! I think that drove us to distraction after a while, so I'd like to think, and I think we'd all like to bring in a producer, and just be able to concentrate on playing, really. 
"Bring in a producer's input, as well as for his sound, and what he thinks. We've got a couple of guys in mind who we think would be a good fit, but it's early days yet, so we'll see how it all goes, and who knows, maybe later in the year we'll get to do another album. We'll go in and do it over the period of a couple of months - that's the way I'd like to do it."

Micky Moody has had the pleasure, and honor of playing with some of the finest drummers who have ever lived - Simon Phillips, Cozy Powell, Ian Paice, his childhood friend Jimmy Copley to name a few, and knowing this I had to inquire how Harry James sized up in his estimation. James plays fantastically on the album, and has a track record several miles long, most notable is his over twenty years with Thunder (and years prior to that with Thunder's predecessor Terraplane). Here's what Micky had to say:

Micky Moody: "Harry - Harry's great - I'd put him up there with some of the best ones. There's Harry James, and a guy called Jimmy Copley, who's a friend of mine who's played with Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck, and Manfred Mann - of the guys who are around today over here, him and Harry are my favorite drummers. 
"Yeah, it was great to play with Cozy and Ian - they were the best - though they had very different styles. Harry is a fantastic band player because he's very musical - he plays guitar, and is a fine singer. He really puts a lot of himself into what he does, and he plays with quite a few bands and has a lot of work over here. He's so good - he's great for this band, and I'd like him to continue with us. You know,  when we do another album, I'd like to keep this same lineup for sure."

The next chapter....

Micky Moody is more than a guitar playing songwriter - he's also an author having written one book, and co-written another. I though we could wrap things up by looking towards the future. I asked if he had another book in the works - I'm thrilled to report that he does, and it's not far off:

Micky Moody: "My first attempt at writing was with a friend of mine, Bob Young, a lyricist who's worked with Status Quo. We did an album together back in the '70s playing kind of very laid back blues stuff, and we had a sense of humor between us, so we wrote this book called, The Language of Rock and Roll, which was a book of musician's terms. 
"That was my first attempt, but then I suppose, it must have been at the beginning of this century - I started putting down some, I suppose you'd call them memoirs together, and I realized that I enjoyed what I was doing with it.  
"I mean, I'm not a great writer, I wasn't that educated, I was sort of self taught along the way as far as writing goes. I like humor, and the book I wrote was called, Playing With Trumpets: A Rock 'n' Roll Apprenticeship. It's about my experiences in the '60s - I went to school, and I was in the same class as Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company, Queen) and we formed our first band when we were like fourteen years old, and it's all about that era, and putting bands together, moving to London when we about sixteen/seventeen. The book ends when I join Juicy Lucy in 1970, which was the start of the big, bad world of rock and roll - the end of innocence kind of thing. But I kept the humor thing going, throughout."

So - what's next?

Micky Moody: "I've been writing the follow up, which takes in the '70s - there again, it's taken me five years to write it, and I've nearly finished it now. I write when I feel like it, I'm not a professional writer, so I can't sit down everyday and write. If I get the need, a feeling to do it, I'll work on it, but it takes me a long time. 
"I like to write it myself, I don't go for that ghostwriter thing - I'm slow, my punctuation marks are a mess, but we have a proofreader. I'm pretty well near the end of it, so hopefully this year I'll get that book out as well.It's about the '70s, so it's a little bit more adult, if you will, but I'm still keeping the humor in there. 
"It's not a journal, it's to be entertaining as well, because I like humor, and I always want to keep that in there. It's the 2nd part of the autobiography. 
"It's less innocent than I was in the '60s, and I had a few more late nights, shall we say, but I  can still remember loads of it. I can write about it, and take a bit of artistic license here and there - Neil kept diaries of it all, so if I need to know what happened on March 15th, 1978, he can say, "Oh - we were in the studio after Germany, or whatever.' 
"People say you forget the bad things, and that's true when you're writing certain things, but I always try and see the funny side to it, or the ironic side. I love irony, so I try to twist it all a bit so that ironically something happened because of this, or that. It's not all happy, happy things, because life isn't like that is it?"

True as this all is, I can't help but notice that Micky Moody is well served by his pleasant manner, and his ardent grasp of humor and irony. It has certainly served him well, and I'm sure it will continue to do so in the future. At any rate, he's just made and released another great record, he's joining the rock 'n' roll circus once again, another book's to be released and another record to be recorded. Thanks to Micky Moody for reminding us that life is good.

Thanks to Micky Moody, Snakecharmer, Frontiers Records, and Dustin Hardman.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

SIMO - Great Debut Album, A Glorious Noise

J. D. Simo has figured it out. A perfectly wonderful guitarist/singer/songwriter, Simo did the smart thing, and managed to hook up with a rhythm section which is his equal, and they make what I call 'a glorious noise.'

SIMO is their debut album, and it's a very auspicious birth. It's going to get called things like retro, '60s,  this that and the other, and deservedly so, but it's really just great rock, played by a cool bunch. Together a little more than a year, they've been unleashing their hard rock fury over audiences, and garnering a great deal of attention along the way.

Straight out of the box they evoke the halcyon tones of the best of the sixties - Aoh is a driving rock and roller that barrels along like a freight train. Produced by bassist Frank Swart at Fry Pharmacy in Nashville, and he got it just right. It's raw as raw gets, and the mix is great - the rhythm section is front and center, leaving Simo to weave his magic over the top like a surfer riding a torpedo. He manages to stay on top, and it attests to his power as a singer and player. Swart and drummer Adam Abrashoff are a hyperkinetic coupling who never back down. They take Simo's Yardbirdsian intro and go off into an experiential ride down the best side of another era. I can throw all kinds of cliches at this, and they wear them very well. These fellas play like they mean it - no pretense, just great and obvious rock and roll.

Shake It is the album's first single, and it's not an obvious choice, but what the hell is a single now anyway - Simo's vocal is piped through a wash of grind, and it has a great garage groove, but garage bands generally couldn't play this well. That's the biggest difference between the American garage scene of the '60s and the truly great bands of that era - like this bunch, they could play. Simo isn't a techie shredder, he's more along the lines of gutsy hard rock, filled with verve and passion.

Dynamics play big here, and it's great to hear them passing around the lead - Abrashoff is a pounder who has enough finesse to sound right - not the quantized crap you hear on most computer soaked metal and rock, but more like someone who loves to play the drums like a musical instrument. Swart dances in between Simo and Adam's aggression with some very melodic swoops and swoons and a nice round tone that never clashes with the guitarist's brighter Marshall tones. When J. D. cranks up his wah pedal towards the end, Swart climbs dizzily up his neck, and they sound perfect together. Yes, a glorious noise. If you didn't know it, you'd never know Fool For You was a Curtis Mayfield tune - they own it on this cover.

They segue right into Young Man, Old Man and it's a gentle acoustic intro that will bring to mind The Who circa Tommy, or maybe Stevie Winwood - Simo has assimilated the era, and I'm not certain that he hasn't simply time traveled to the now to screw with us. Damned glad he did. And I'm glad he brought Swart and Abrashoff - they turn this acoustic intro into a fiery rock exhibition. This is big room rock - born to be played in large rooms to religiously fervent fans of real rock. The end of this song is transcendent - it would be great in any era, but I feel like it's never been so necessary as now.

Clementia's Lament is born in one of Dante's hells, then is soon lifted by some Mid-Eastern rhythms from Simo's right hand, and Swart's brutal bass. They seldom play lockstep, but they know when to, and that makes all the difference. Simo's solo is psychotically beautiful, and it winds into a very melodic section that suggests the wistful melodic abilities of Eric Carmen's best works. Look him up if you don't know him, fer crissakes. Have I mentioned that this is a glorious fucking noise? Great rock peaks out from under the mush, the mire, and these sad times.

Then it's off and into a slow blues that is Greeny approved. This is almost too period correct, and while I may have opted for a cleaner vocal, I will admit to being a very picky bastard, and it ain't my record, right? They do nail it - the rhythm section s loosely leaden, and Simo is a masterful axeman, who can't be faulted. Abrashoff is one of the few drummers I've heard in a while who really gets cymbals - his punctuation is sublime. What's On Your Mind then gently waltzes out with a beautiful bit of nylon picking - nice. Maybe that's Peter Green's requiem.

Simo rarely seems to use any effects save for his wah pedal and on The Same Thing he gives a university level dissertation on its use. While the rhythm section plays a big burlesque, Simo dances elegantly into the stratosphere with some big cat moans. He also whips out some great psychedelic slide work that both Jimi and Jimmy would approve. Towards the end he goes into a nice skronk that let's us catch our breath before the big end. Yup, a goddamned glorious noise.

Thank You Tony Jones is a fabulous wind-up that has me guessing that Tony Jones implies Elvin and Mr. Williams. The rockingest drum solo song since Moby Dick.

Evil - that's how it ends, and damned if it's not. Howlin' Wolf knew this was going to happen, believe me. He may have grumbled about rock, but there's no way he would not have dug this. It's the big LZ finish, and SIMO has killed it - they've made a record that is at once nostalgic, and immediate. I hope this catches on as well as it should - we need some big rock bands who realize there ain't no shame in growing from the blues into something more glorious. I was told this week that one of this era's biggest blues rockers was embarrassed by rocking out on a big stage with a rock band. And that's a goddamned shame - the only reason the blues guys didn't sound like this was the equipment just wasn't there yet. They would have loved this - it's a glorious noise.

Don't be afraid of the rock - it shall set you free.

Thanks to Jason Barr at Revival Photography/Elliott Guitars for hipping me to this bunch!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mothership - Put On Your Seat Belts, Grab a Beer, and a Shot (or two)

Tough as nails stoner metal out of Texas is Mothership's stock in trade. I've read loads of comparisons to bands like Iron Maiden, UFO, and Thin Lizzy, and all I can figure is that some reviewers really don't know shit about rock. Sure, they cop some Maiden moves, but it's blatant enough to come off as homage, and not anything that could get them compared to the vision of Steve Harris. If you'd say early Motorhead, Iron Butterfly, or even Blue Cheer, I'd kind of get it, but these guys are full on bombast, and bluster - melody isn't very high on their list of priorities. Full tilt rock and roll is, though.

The Juett brother, Kells (guitar/vocals), and Kyle (bass/vocals) are joined by drummer Judge Smith, and they absolutely bring it. I get the impression that speed metal isn't an option here, this bunch is more about standing in the ring and going the full fifteen rounds. They write tight, punchy riffs, and when Kells goes after a solo, he gets in close and gives it all he has - he's not a high-tech shredder, but he's a passionate string bender who gets his point across.

Every cut here is thick and meaty - Kells gets high marks for layering some riffs and doubling up on his rhythms - the bass and guitars largely live together, full of dense muscularity and thrust.

If you wanna sling comparisons, I'd call these boys the bastard children of Foghat and Manowar. They don't swing like Lonesome Dave and the boys, but the boogie ain't too far off the mark, and while they don't have quite the melodic sophistication of Ross The Boss's bunch, they do possess that Spaghetti Western vibe of three gringos atop horses at the edge of a cliff - they got nowhere else to go, and they are up to the task of taking on the world. I'd love to see Mothership live, I'm guessing that is where they shine most gloriously.

It's funny that people keep referring to this as old school, when in fact, there's really not much old school about it. Sure, I hear the Maiden riffing on Win or Lose, and Juett owes much to Dave Murray for style points, but truth of the matter is that not a helluva lot of bands sounded like this in 1980. For better or worse, things then were much more polished, and proficient. This is steeped in '90s desert rock, and punkish anger. If Maiden had sounded more like this, Paul DiAnno may have lasted longer.

Comparisons matter not much - Mothership does what they do, and they do it damned well. The Juetts and Smith make an unholy racket that is perfect for our times. This is cool club metal - it doesn't have the depth, or sophistication to translate to arenas, but arenas don't matter any more. They should also fare very well on festival stages. Metal for the masses.

Lunar Master ends the album on a high note, with some adventurous jamming on the extended outro - a bit more thinking man than most of the mosh-up, and perhaps a promising look ahead. At any rate, Mothership should do great business when they get in the van and start working this stuff out every night in front. If you like your rock right in your face, and with the volume up full, Mothership will fly you right.

Juggernaught - Bring The Meat Back - Great Guitar Rock Well Worth The Effort

Juggernaught seems to be slipping by the ears of a lot of reviewers - mind you, they do themselves no favor with their song titles and irreverent stance. They throw their reviewers right off the trail. Between the bawdiness, and their over the top political incorrectness lies one of the most sophisticated two guitar musical machines to come down my path in a while. Checking out various reviews and articles on the 'net and once again I'm appalled at how little musical knowledge resides in the brains of most of these 400 word review writers. It's almost as if they spent more time looking at the album's cover, or listening to the band's last album, than listening to what was going on here.

The two phrases I kept seeing were South African Metal, and Southern Rock. They seem to have long left behind the detuned metal of their debut record, Act Of The Goat. I don't really hear any heavy metal here, and really I don't hear much Southern Rock, either - what I do hear is some of the slickest guitar arrangements and rhythm play that more suggests the early Boston rock of Aerosmith, and the sophistry of Alice Cooper's original band before Coop sent them packing. This is very much thinking man's rock - drummer Oneyedogman is a master of the push and pull, and the tunes are never simplistic. They almost seem to revel in pulling the wool - the guitar team of Herman and Jovan keep me coming back again and again with their intelligent tag team attack - Herman's leads reveal a guitar hero in waiting, and this stuff reminds me more of the days of early '70s adventuristic guitar rock than anything.

I absolutely love that these guys are playing pretty clean - there's not a lot of grinding distortion, and the guitar tones are killer. Time has been taken to make this sound right. Complex chord voicings and tight harmonies are tossed about with ease, and you can hear the hundreds of gigs under their belts. This is a band that's gigged a bit, of this there's no question.

The swagger factor is high and there seems to always be more going on than meets the eye. The whip crack rhythms and the way the guitars intertwine are a wonderful thing - and it's all clearly defined in the first minute of the first song. The guitars work out a hypnotic yo-yo of a riff with just enough variation in tones to make it work before busting into a brief snip of Lizzy-esque harmony that leads back to a unison workout which announces the verse, which is delivered with complex chord clusters, and near jazzy voicings. Bad Idea is a righteous entry into a very strange trip - one listen to the solo section, and you'll get the picture.

Photo by Abel Scholz
Train brings more of a rock and roll onslaught, but there's still too much swagger and swing to approach anything metallic. This is actually one hell of a good piece of hard rock songcraft - when the chorus arrives, the tune climbs into a nice gradually escalating chord pattern that becomes a huge hook. Fans of Billion Dollar Babies era Alice Cooper should absolutely adore this. I can't say that I understand the band's sense of humor, but they bring the rock brilliantly.

Theatrical rock seems to have all but disappeared from the musical landscape, but a song like The Storm suggests it hasn't completely gone completely wanting. So seldom do I hear a band actually matching their lyrics with their music, but Juggernaught do it right here, in a way that does harken back to a more intelligent era of rock. This is some highly effective rock - shame it's lost on most who have written on the record.

Beef or Chicken suggests that Juggernaught might be the last of the real Zappas. I've read not a word about social commentary, but these fellows may have landed on their grotesque visuals in answer to the world they live in. Money won't buy salvation, and you don't get the message if you don't listen.

Southern Rock? Back Door Woman is closer to Little Feat than the American south, and let's remember that Lowell George was born in Hollywood - the guitars here are straight out of the early '70s, but they suggest Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, and hard rock than they do the Allman Brothers. The sophistication can't even hide behind the lyric - these guys are all about playing, and they do a bunch here. The solo section is a trippy take that slinks and slides through a wicked bit of funk by the rhythm section. I'm not sure what these guys have been listening to, but it almost seems like they have become a very different band in the time since their last release, 2009's Act of the Goat.

Rhythm guitarist Jovan seems to have that off-kilter style thing with which so many southpaws are blessed - his playing seems devoid of the routine, there's very little bar chord thumping. It dawns on me that perhaps lefties from Hendrix to Eric Gale not only play differently, but perhaps they also hear things from a slightly differently as well. They seem more intwined with the musicality, and less engaged with the commonalities. Whatever it is, both Jovan and Herman's playing is superb, and worthy of much greater attention. Here's hoping that Juggernaught gets to see the world.

Bootycall continues the irreverent bent that dominates the album lyrically. I guess it's just a matter of laying it out honestly - musically this is another killer cut with guitars and rhythm section dancing around one another with deft precision. I'm clearly of another generation, and in spite of my admitted difficulty with the word play, the music is too damned compelling to keep me away - I'll gladly admit that it's me who's out of time here.

The seventies sonic assault continues most pleasantly with Bring Back The Meat. This is almost like mountain men do the Chili Peppers - though I will say that there's never been quite this much cool guitar work on a RHCP album. Herman and Jovan seem to have an endless supply of super cool riffs, fills, and interludes in their arsenal. I haven't mentioned bassist Angilo, but he's a great player - he almost fits the terrain so well that it goes unnoticed, but again and again he tosses in a killer run, or fill that brings a grin.

I can't say that I miss the more metal side of Juggernaught - I'm listening back to some tracks off the first album and while I can hear the promise of their talent, but the modern detuned riffage always leaves me a bit cold - again, I admit to being older and more interested in subtleties than brute force. Mind you, Herman's vocals are never delivered with less, but when you listen closely you can hear the passion in the poetry. My attitude may even clash with that of the band, but again, I can only speak from my own vantage point.

I've heard some comparisons to seventies boogie band Ram Jam, who incidentally, weren't a Southern Rock band - they were built from remnants of sixties flower power poppers The Lemon Pipers, who hailed from Cincinnati, Ohio. Juggernaught definitely gets close with the tight harmony riffs of Wors, and Follow the Scent of the Musky Brisket, but I still don't see much here that I would really consider Southern - perhaps a nod to Gibbons and company here and there, but mostly I'm hearing reflections of Page and Beck more than the Allmans. At any rate, Wors is one of the best extended guitar workouts I've heard in ages - brilliant.

One of Them Days sees Herman showing yet more flash, piss and vinegar yet as a soloist - the song could almost be an old Bad Company track, but with a very different vocal approach, but when Herman kicks into the solo it's off to the races, but the race course has some wonderfully bizarre twists.

Juggernaught wrap it up with full tilt boogie rocker Paint It Brown, and the slick bit of rhythm displacement again avoids anything leaden - the guitars are clean, tight, and taut, the rubber band rhythm section plays - play, in the true sense of the word, this ain't working, these boys are having fun playing. Herman shouts out his philosophy lesson, and again the guitars are majestic and magnificent.

Everything I saw when this record landed in my lap seems to have been a cover for what was really going on - Juggernaught seems comedic if you only look - if you listen, you'll see that they are serious as anything, and that they are a masterfully musical bunch who have much more to offer than carnivorous sexual humor - dig deep, it's worth the work.