Thursday, October 31, 2013

Don't Buy The Hype - Things ARE Getting Better

The author playing a Falbo Custom 6-12
Every day I am met with more and mounting evidence that things in the music business are getting better. Yesterday I met guitar builder/designer Frank Falbo. He won't say it, but what he is doing with his acoustic guitars will revolutionize that industry to a great degree - not only do his instruments sound better, but his new way of dealing with the concepts of string tension, tops, and bracing may add tremendously to the lifespan of the acoustic guitar.

I met Frank while doing a podcast with Dan Boul, a guy who is designing guitar amps (and maybe soon some other exciting musical apparatuses) that bring the sound of vintage classics to a listenable volume, while also creating products which will allow the end user to greatly reduce maintenance costs through tube replacement. Falbo and Boul are two examples of manufacturers who aren't cloning the past, nor are they depending on people not realizing that there is no man behind the curtain - I could name a lot of companies who are wheeling out tired ideas in shiny new packages that speak more to making a fast buck than true innovation, or present day problem solving, but my time is better spent telling you that great builders like guitar maker Terry McInturff are adding staff, and staying busy by the dint of their hard work and creative ideas.

McInturff Carolina Custom
If you read things like the Lefsetz Report, or other industry shill publications and blogs, you may think that the only way to keep the industry's head above water is to keep following the lead of the big labels and the streamers, but that's what's been called propaganda in decades past - that's when somebody gets paid to spew the rhetoric of those want you to believe that the cliff you just stepped off wasn't doing you any good, and they have the solution to the problem that they most likely created. I call it bullshit.

The best of the old and new - Dan Boul's 65amps Producer 6l and George Lynch's '68 Plexi
I'm currently about ten record reviews and seven great interviews behind schedule for the simple reason that there are a given number of hours in a day, and currently there is more great stuff available than hours. I made a twenty two hour trek to LA and back yesterday to keep the balls in the air and to keep things moving - Rock Ain't Near Dead™is on its way to becoming not just a theme, but an industry. The radio show will be starting in early December, we're looking at recording facilities in the Los Angeles area, and I'm starting to scout out a distributor for my small batch boutique record label, Rock Ain't Near Dead Records. Don't tell me things aren't getting better - I'm living the proof. Mind you, I didn't say easy, and those twenty hour days happen more than they should, but the cause is good.

Granted, we're still in a period of tremendous challenges and transitions, but I'm encouraged when a veteran like Steve Hackett is doing sold out shows around the world with his Genesis Revisited project, and that Genesis Revisited II has actually outsold the original recordings at this point. Progressive rock is currently doing very well, and bands like Porcupine Tree and their leader Steven Wilson, The Flower Kings, and others are doing relatively booming business, and more important, the work they are doing is brilliant.

Regardless of genre, I'm hearing better music with greater regularity than I have in years - it's not as easy to find, but then it's also not being spoon fed to me by corporations - the death of the labels has resulted in the birth of small batch artist owned imprints that allow for great pollination in the way of collaborative freedom, and a greater variety of products. Hackett may release a studio set, a live CD, and another DVD set later that encapsulates many of the same songs (in different formats), but it's all available to the completist collector, or in bits and pieces for the more casual listener - it's great to have the choice! What would we have given in the seventies to have such options?

Dan Boul and Frank Falbo - A New Day's Pioneers
What it all comes down to for me is this - yeah, economies are still rough, that's true, and it's a tough time to figure out how to make it all work out and to reformulate how we buy and sell, but for me that's evolution. You can't go back in time, and you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube - however, you can move forward, taking what worked, getting rid of what didn't work, and spending some real time applying yourself to new thoughts and possibilities.

I'm existing in a sea of good right now - granted, I nowhere near have it made, and the challenges are still both stressful and uncertain, but I believe that by seeing the good in things, staying positive and moving forward beats the hell out of grousing about the past, who's to blame, or how bad things are - Rock Ain't Near Dead, and neither am I!

Maybe I'll match the Lefsetz's of the world with a positive and forward looking newsletter. Lord knows, I hear a lot of good news!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Doogie White - On Bridge The Gap - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"When Michael approached me and said, 'Do you want to do it?' You have to say yes. He is one of the all time great guitar players, and I wanted to see - I wanted to do a good album with him, and see if I could stand up with the great vocalists he's worked with." ~ Doogie White
Doogie White is one of the most well-respected voices in the world of classic hard rock, and he's earned the acclaim - he writes well, sings well, and is well-loved by his peers. That being said, he's just upped the ante somewhat considerably with his latest efforts.

Bridge The Gap is the album by Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock, and while it is the legendary six stringer's best record in decades, it is also the album that will make Doogie White a household name in hard rock circles. Mind you, Doogie is quite well-known already - he's not stopped to take a breath since he was handpicked by Ritchie Blackmore to front Rainbow nearly twenty years ago, and his work has always been very in demand.

I reached out to Doogie because I wanted to hear his side of the tale - I knew I'd be talking with Michael, but I loved White's work so much on the new record that I had a great desire to hear what he had to say on the eve of his greatest success. As expected, he came across as a very proud papa - not one to brag, but quite aware of what's been achieved. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
Photo by Markus-Hagner Photography
I started off by apologizing to Mr. White for calling a bit later than scheduled - we exchanged pleasantries before Doogie brought us to the point:

Doogie White: "But we're here to talk about bloody albums, aren't we?!"

Indeed - I asked the singer if this felt like a band effort, and not just another guns-for-hire gig:

Doogie: "That's what we were hoping for, we're hoping that people see this as a new band, rather than a new version of MSG. There have been so many versions of MSG - I think with Herman (Rarebell) and Francis (Buchholz) in the band, especially, I think maybe Michael felt it was more respectful to them, and a chance to launch a new phase of his life and career."

This completely echoes Schenker's comments, which came several days after our conversation - you can find that interview here:

Doogie White's writing on Bridge The Gap is exceptional. He balances Schenker's wild flights of creative composition on guitar by keeping the songs very structured and extremely melodic. I asked how he approached writing an album with Michael for the first time. I half wondered if he just received a package marked 'songs' in the middle of the night by a masked courier:

Doogie White: "That's pretty much it! That's what happened! 
"We had finished the last tour in September of last year, and at the airport, we were going our separate ways at the Frankfurt Airport, and Michael said to me, 'You and I should really write an album together!' 
"And then I never heard from him - never spoke to him. So, I started having building work done around my home on the 7th of January, and on the 7th of January I get nine song ideas from Michael! 
"I had builders tearing out windows, knocking down walls, and ripping floors up, so I just had to sit in my little home studio here, and work as quickly as I could. What I tried to do was to keep the momentum going - I'd write a verse, a bridge, and a chorus, then I'd send it down to him and (producer) Michael Voss. 
"I did that every day for a week. I'd wait for a response, and if they liked the idea, I'd expand upon it and write more lyrics. See, Michael is a very compact writer - he can squeeze into 3 1/2 minutes what a lot of bands can't do in seven or eight! It's an extraordinary talent, I think, to be able to do that."

I agreed and mentioned that many in the musical community miss that point - the point that Michael Schenker is an exceptional composer, and not just a hot handed six-stringer:

Doogie White: "No, no, no - he's very good as a composer! 
"What I did notice about him, for me, is that he doesn't do what we in the UK call the middle eight. No middle eights in any of the songs. He does the verse, then the (b) part working into the chorus, but once you've done that a couple of times, generally there is a kind of melody that is slightly different musically, but he seems to use that for his solos. 
"So, it was just a matter of overwriting, as I normally do. Because there were no strict forms on any of the demos, it was just a case of me overwriting and filling in holes. 
"When we got to the studio to record them, we'd go in, and they'd say, 'No, that's the solo there, so take your bit out!'  
"We wrote the first nine songs in about twelve days, then I went over to Vossy's studio over in Germany, and we took five days to record the nine songs. We were doing two songs a day, and then on the last day, we used that as a backing vocal day. 
"Voss would get there at 9, I'd be there at 11, and Michael would arrive around noon. Voss and I had listened to what we had recorded the night before, and then it was off to the new day's project. We were trying to do two a day, and we'd work until maybe 4 o'clock in the afternoon. 
"Because what happens to me is, when I'm in the headphones for any length of time, or longer than you should be, my ears go dull. If your ears go dull, you can't pitch anymore. It's not like knowing where the notes are on your guitar when you've got the music blasting. 
"What we'd do with every song is we'd do three takes, but sometimes it'd just be one take, because the fire was coming out, initially. I've been in other situations working with other people where nobody believes you can do it in 1, 2, or 3 takes, so they'll have you back in there forever! You lose all the magic and you squash all the passion and improvisation - you lose the fire."

I inquired whether that is mostly a matter of experience and seasoning:

Doogie White: "I understand the process much more than I did, say, when I went into it with Blackmore and Rainbow. We had booked a residential studio for four months - so we were determined that we were going to use that four months to play mostly football, or soccer, as you'd call it!  
"The other thing that was interesting for me working with Michael - I had never really worked with Michael before in a writing/recording situation, apart from Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, which he just loved, and that was it. He likes to write in 6/7 and that's a very difficult timing for singers to work in. 
"I didn't know how flexible he'd be, so I'd just give him my vocals over his parts, and they would change the drum parts. The guitars are still in the 6/7 rhythm, but the drums are straighter. And he had no issues with that at all. 
"It was for the good of the song, he wasn't concerned about anything other than what was going to make a good song. We'd put it all together, and say, 'Well, that's a good song!'"

True enough, much of the albums smooth sophistication is in the exquisite interaction between Schenker's riffs, White's compelling melodies, and the incredible syncopation of Herman Rarebell's drums:

Doogie White: "Herman was very much up to speed because he'd played a lot last year with Temple Of Rock - so he was playing up to speed, and he practices every day. He just goes in there and rocks out. 
"Him and Francis (bassist Buchholz) just lock together - it's an amazing rhythm section. They are two peas, they are the yin and yang of one another. They compliment each other so beautifully."

After touring with this band for months and months, I asked if doing a band record had been on Doogie's mind:

Doogie White: "Well, I had been asked to do some stuff with Michael before, as whoever was in his band at that time couldn't do it. So I started learning the setlist, and then ten days before we were due to go wherever we were going, they said, 'No, the original guy is going to do it,' so I was sort of left out of it. 
"Then, Chris Glen, the bass player, invited me down to Shepherd's Bush Empire to sing a song, because I'm old mates with Chris. I went down and I sang Doctor, Doctor with Gary Barden. Then Michael and I met up in Sardinia, and we just sort of hit it off. He heard me sing, and thought, 'OK, I'll try this guy out for the next tour.' 
"So, we went out for the next tour in Europe with the Temple Of Rock album that Vossy had done. Voss was going off and doing his Mad Max project on his own, so he wasn't available. So he got me in, and we got on very well! There are no issues in the band, and we just get on with it. We've all been involved, and we're all professional."

At which point I had to ask if there was any hesitation on either Doogie's or Michael Voss's part - two lead singers in the same room, one singing, one producing could be tense in some situations:

Doogie White: "No, no - Vossy and I get on very well!  
"I had no issues with him recording me, and he had no issues recording me. He made his decision to go with Mad Max, which left that job open. I'd have never pitched for that gig if Vossy was in the band - you just don't do that, it's like trying to steal someone's wife! 
"When Michael approached me and said, 'Do you want to do it?' You have to say yes. He is one of the all time great guitar players, and I wanted to see - I wanted to do a good album with him, and see if I could stand up with the great vocalists he's worked with. 
"He's clearly back on top, because he's been working so hard, and I thought - 'I can do this!' 
"We can really build something here, and with Herman and Francis, and of course, Wayne Findlay's been there for the last 14-15 years, giving him all his support through everything. Between the five of us, the dynamic in the band is fine - you see us walking around in pairs, or twos and threes setting having breakfast, or having a chat, whatever."

For many years, Doogie White has been one of the busiest vocalists on the scene, popping up with great bands like Tank, La Paz, Demon's Eye, and others - I had to wonder what would happen in 2014 once Bridge The Gap tour dates started coming in:

Doogie White: "When the Temple of Rock album comes out, and the tour dates start coming in, I have nothing - my books are clear for the next year. I said I would keep my schedule open for Michael for the next year. 
"I enjoy being in the band, I enjoy singing the songs, and I want to take the songs I've written with Michael out live. We could play most of the new album - we probably won't but we could. The album was written for the live environment. 
"It's a very exciting album. We wrote it in two parts - we wrote the first part in the freezing cold winds of wintertime, and then I went to Japan with Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner, and we did three or four gigs over there, then I came back and finished the remaining songs that we had. I came home, did the laundry, and then went back out on tour for another five months. But, I'm really looking forward to going out again!"

At that point I felt like we had covered the ground pretty well. After chatting a bit about the record's release dates, I mentioned that I'd be talking with Michael two mornings hence:

Doogie White: "Well, send him my best! I haven't spoken to him since we finished the tour. You just don't, you know? 
"When we get together and we're together for 5-6 months, then you go off and do your own thing - then when you get back together, you're all fresh and happy to see each other. Ready to go and do it all again!"

It was nice to hear from Michael that he and Doogie had a nice phone chat the day after our chat - they are certainly on the same page, and this may be just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Thanks to Doogie White, Michael Schenker, Felictas Siegel at In-Akustik, and Peter Noble at Noble PR.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Michael Schenker - On Bridge The Gap - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I am basically like a monk - I stay away from listening to music period, and it's not that difficult for me because I enjoy creating. Consuming takes energy, and I prefer to create. That's my passion." ~ Michael Schenker
Michael Schenker is ready to release Bridge The Gap, the latest from his Temple Of Rock project, and after more than 40 years and 40 plus albums, he's still pushing the boundaries and developing as both a musician and a man. He looks back on his long and storied past with the equanimity of a wise sage - never critical of those critical of him, and always balanced in his reminiscences. He's an artist who is concerned with the present, not consumed by the past, nor immersed in future schemes or dreams.

Bridge The Gap is an album which will remind guitar lovers why they originally fell in love with Schenker's sterling riffs and molten, melodic leads - his writing has never been more adventurous, and his solos are riveting. You can read my full review here:

I recently had the chance to catch up with my old boss (in keeping with truth in journalism, I worked for MS as a guitar tech back in the days of the McAuley/Schenker Group), and after some catching up, I congratulated him on the album, which I consider his best in over two decades:

Michael Schenker: "Thank you, very much, Tony! And thanks for the great review! It's great that you perceive it like that."

At this point, I knew I was speaking with a man who has reconsidered certain things - I couldn't imagine Michael Schenker reading his press, good or bad. I began our discussion by asking him about his ongoing development as a composer:

Michael Schenker: "Well, the thing is that I keep developing and I kind of keep playing and discovering. It comes from a place within, therefore it is an intimate place - you decide to present the world with a color that only you can express, and you dig into that. Every album I do, I have found bits and pieces that usually haven't been heard before, because nobody can express what an individual can express if they fearlessly express it from their own insides, you understand what I mean?"

 I do understand, and when you hear Bridge The Gap, you will, as well. It is astounding to hear an album chock full of brand new riffs that sound like a guitarist creating with beginner's mind, and not just a regurgitation of past glories. The album always sounds like Schenker, but brand new Schenker. I asked if this may be partially due to the fact that Michael does not listen to any music other than that of his own making:

Michael Schenker: "Yes! I don't listen to any music at all. Since I was 17 years old, I had that insight that I shouldn't and I guess subconsciously I was always aware of what I was interested in, which was basically pure self expression. 
"When I was nine, and I completely understood what I wanted - then I was like 14, and I heard people like Leslie West, Rory Gallagher, Jimmy Page, stuff like that, and Jeff Beck. Then I knew that was what I wanted to do - when the distorted guitar came out. I became fascinated by the single string and what can be done with it, so that's what my world became, and I focus on that. 
"I'm basically a monk - I stay away from listening to music period, and it's not that difficult for me because I enjoy creating, you know? Consuming takes energy, and I prefer to create. That's my passion."

Schenker's performance on Bridge The Gap is nothing if not inspiring - he riffs often in demanding tempos, but it's kept on track by ex-Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell, and the compelling lyrics and melodies of Doogie White. Long noted for his choices of great singers, I asked Michael how it was that the Scottish veteran got the nod:

Michael Schenker: "Doogie - our paths had crossed several times in the last three or four years - we had a gig in Italy, a couple of times we did something together, once with Don Airey, Chris Slade, Neil Murray back again in Italy, and when I did the Temple Of Rock album in '11, either Doogie was interested in doing something on it, or somebody suggested he do a song, and that song, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, became an A-play on Planet Rock Radio for over three months, and became quite popular. 
"So, one thing lead to another because the whole thing started with Temple Of Rock. When I played with MSG with Chris Slade, one of the shows in 2010, we played at Shepherd's Bush and I had up some guests on stage. Paul Raymond, Pete Way, Doogie, and that's when I found out that Herman Rarebell lived in Brighton, and that he always wanted to do something together, and Pete seemed to be in good spirits. 
"I wanted to put together a live project - I hadn't played Strangers In The Night for a long time, the material from UFO, so I was going to put together something with music throughout my whole career. So, we teamed up in Brighton, we were jamming together, and at the same time I was ready to go into the studio and make a new record. I ended up in Münster and made a demo there with Michael Voss helping me out with the guide vocals. I liked his voice, so I asked him if he wanted to sing the whole thing. 
"I came back with the demo, Pete and Herman heard it, and they immediately liked it so much that they wanted to be the rhythm section. So I had a drummer, bass player, singer, and, of course, Wayne Findlay, who is always there - that became Temple Of Rock, but when it came time for touring, Michael Voss wasn't available because he had signed another record deal. 
"Now, I had to figure out how to tour and promote the album - I had Robin McAuley singing, as well as Doogie, so I had to figure out who was available for where! I ended up with Robin in the States, Michael Voss in Japan, and then Doogie in Europe, but before it went to Doogie's part, we did some shows with Michael Voss in the Uk, Pete Way was still there, but Pete wasn't doing well, so when the European tour came up, which was to be Doogie's territory, I asked Herman if we should ask Francis Buchholz if he would like to participate, since we were already playing a lot of the Lovedrive songs - it would be great to have three of the originals doing that, and he was happy to join. That was the beginning of that, and it became better and better - we had really good shows, and I thought, 'Wait a minute, I have to capture this on video before something happens!' 
"It was too exciting to let it appear and then disappear with nothing but memories. So, I decided to make a DVD of it, and we picked a place in Holland (Tilberg) that was most convenient for everybody. 
"The film crew had experience in that place, and it was a somewhat intimate experience - we edited in the High Voltage Festival footage with Michael Voss, so it came from the Tilberg intimacy to the London High Voltage kind of a thing. 
"By October on that tour, our agent had already accepted more concerts, but they were not until April of 2013. I had six months, so I decided, 'You know, I had better make a record!' 
"This window was perfect for making an album with this lineup, a studio album. I already had the title, Bridge The Gap, because that's what it felt like."

I broke in then and asked Michael about the process of making the album. I say that in jest - fact is, I was thrilled to hear Michael talking with such animation and excitement in his voice:

Michael Schenker: "Well, I started writing in October. As you know, Tony, I always collect pieces - when I finish an album, I keep playing and I discover, and whenever I bump into a great riff that came out of nowhere, then I put down that five seconds, 10 second pieces. When it's time to make a new album, I listen to them, and whatever inspires me, I write the connecting pieces and so on. 
"By the end of 2012 I was ready to go to the studio, and I went to Münster with Michael Voss. I put down my ideas and made up arrangements, and sent them off to Doogie to come up with ideas, then we picked the best approaches. We had different approaches for the same songs, and we decided on whatever sounded the best. 
"By the time we actually finished the album, mixing and mastering - the 31st of March, and on April 4th we had a concert in Russia! So, it worked out really good!"

I asked what became of the album between April and now - that's a lifetime for music sitting in the can these days:

Michael Schenker: "The problem was now we had 6, 7, 8 months before the release date!  
"How am I going to deal with the finished product? I didn't want to wear it out in my head, so I stayed away from it to keep it fresh, and I didn't play it for anybody. 
"I had to do it that way because it was the property of In-Akustik, and you know what it is like - you give it to somebody and it leaks, then everybody has heard it. So, I had to be very careful with it. 
"But - the beauty of that was that by the time we ended the tour in July, somewhere around that time I had decided to let everyone hear it - I couldn't let anyone hear it before because it would have been too distracting on tour. They would have all come up with all sorts of, 'Well, what about this then, and what about that?' They would have wanted to change things and it would not have been a good time to be on tour, and to try to deal with that. 
"So, I played it for them - I hadn't heard it for a long time, and they listened to it, I listened to it, and we collectively decided that we wanted to remix it. It was really, really good that we did that because what happened is that we added some stuff to it that Wayne had done, we opened up the drum sound, because it was too compressed, and we did little bits and pieces over and turned it into a much better album. 
"In that way, it was almost like I hadn't heard the real album yet anyway, so by the time we remixed and remastered it, it was a few notches better. For me, that was good because it sounded better and extra fresh. It worked out very well in the end."

Fresh, indeed - this is the freshest product off the Schenker shelf in ages, it sounds as if a whole new world of guitar possibilities has opened before the man's eyes. I asked whether the guitar solos were all improvisations:

Michael Schenker: "There was only one solo that was worked out - that's Lost And Lonely. That's the only solo that was written, the rest were improvised, and you know, it's like this - when I made the last album, and then there's a year or eighteen months in between, I play and discover on a regular basis.  
"By the time I make a new record I have enough new sparks, new found insights that the world doesn't know about, because nobody plays better than I do, because it comes from me. Like each person has a color that if they choose to show that color, it will sound unique and it will sound fresh because it hasn't been a part of a trend, or a scene, or anything! 
"That's the secret about being individual, or having things sound fresh, and of course, it has to do with that I'm not a consumer, I stay away from that, and I just develop things the way I feel. Therefore, it will always be something that people haven't heard yet."

Not just the guitar playing is fresh - Michael appears to be getting healthy and happier with every photo-op, so I asked him how he was accomplishing this sense of well being:

Michael Schenker: "Well, the thing is, in 2007, I guess it was a turning point. 
"The Universe was the driver and I just do my part. The middle time of my life and career was more experimental and developing, both musically and on a personal level.  
"There was a very fast beginning at the peak of UFO, and that was enough for me to have a taste of what that was all about. Then I looked more inside myself to develop and overcome, and to learn whatever is important to use your time wisely while on this planet, and then somehow I guess it was time when the orbit came around to the point where it was time for me to get back into the loop of rock 'n' roll, so I started Michael Schenker & Friends. It was a very tough time, because I was so far away from the scene for so many years, it was quite hard work. 
"So, step by step I developed - each year I would make another step and with In The Midst Of Beauty with Gary Barden, that was the first record that was presented as being back in the loop of rock 'n' roll. All of a sudden, out of the blue, I started enjoying myself onstage! 
"I have no idea what happened, you know? 
"It just went bit by bit, and that's it. I've grown out of the other stuff, and I have done a lot of studying about life - I've been on the battlefield, and whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all of that is true! 
"I keep in shape - physically, mentally, and spiritually, so that's what I do."

Moving on to current events, I mentioned to Michael that I had just the night before viewed the new live DVD by Europe, who featured Michael with the band on the UFO standard, Lights Out (which by the way is a brilliant concert presentation from beginning to end):

Michael Schenker: "Yeah, yeah - how did that look? 
"They were very well rehearsed! I think Lights Out used to be one of the band's favorite songs when they were in their development stage. John Norum is a friend, I've known him for a long time, so when they did that concert for the DVD they invited me to play, and I guess they also invited Scott Gorham, who was also an influence. In their scene, UFO and Thin Lizzy were what they grew up on, so they invited us both to play with them and be in their video!"

Keeping things current, I asked if this iteration of the Temple Of Rock left him feeling as if he were in a band again:

Michael Schenker: "Yeah! It's like we developed! 
"It's kind of weird - we've done so much touring already. The second half of the European tour was another three months, then there was another month on top of that, and it just keeps getting stronger and stronger. 
"Having made the album, it turned out really good - lots of fast songs, melody, a bit of darkness, great vocals, and this is only a step - let's bridge the gap! I wrote a song for Wayne Findlay - he reminds me of Neptune, an undersea god when he comes out of the water! I can see him with his crazy beard and his crazy hair coming out with a trident! 
"I said to him, 'Let's design you a guitar, like Neptune's trident!' That guitar is now done, and it will be out next year at the NAMM show, so we have created a character for Wayne, which is good because people like that sort of thing! He's a seven string player, so he has a purpose to be there, and he plays keyboards, so he gives us that low sound - that seven string's B string is a very, very low sound! 
"So, I kind of introduced that step by step, making something - so that song is Neptune, so we have that heavy beginning."

I asked what else was in store for 2014 after the release of Bridge The Gap:

Michael Schenker: "I already have an idea for the next album!
"We will maybe just call it Temple Of Rock, and we'll all go into the rehearsal studio and write together! Just go in and play and play and play until we have collectively put an album together! Maybe make it more of a group effort. I'm looking forward to seeing how that will work out!"

From there, we broke off into a discussion of things more personal and a bit confidential - things like management, signature model amplifiers, and a frank discussion of the new album's American release date, which is currently slated to come an almost eternity of two and a half months after the European release. Like I've said, I'm not just a writer when it comes to Mr. Schenker, I consider myself to be both a fan and friend to him and his band.

It's tremendously exciting to hear Michael speak - he has never sounded more healthy, more happy, or more in command of his tremendous talents. When you hear Bridge The Gap, I think you will share our enthusiasm.

Great thanks to Michael Schenker, Felicitas Siegel at In-Akustik, and Peter Noble at Noble PR.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dick Wagner Book Signing at Guitar Showcase - A Splendid Evening

Let's see - I like books, great guitar shops, good audiences, I really like Dick Wagner, and I love my new son Ian - this must be why we had such a great time at his book signing last night at Guitar Showcase in San Jose.

I've been trying to catch one of Dick's signing/performances all summer, but it was only last night that our stars aligned to make it so. I'm glad I finally made it, because everything about the whole affair was steeped in great fun and elegance. And, my five week old son got his first guitar lesson from the maestro himself!
Dick Wagner ~ "Tony Conley, noted journalist and friend of the maestro presents his five week old son, Ian Conley, 'A future guitar player.' Ian is receiving his first guitar lesson at my book signing. Maestro says, 'He did very well for his first lesson. I think the theory part escaped him, but those little fingers managed to astound.'"

Dick Wagner has just turned 71, and as he so wonderfully sang in the evening's last song, "I've Seen It All." His 2012 autobiography, Not Only Women Bleed, is one of the best true looks in the mirror as I've ever had the pleasure to see. He's unsparing in his truths, takes credit when it's right, takes the blame when he was wrong, and gives credit where credit is due - something that is a most difficult balancing act for those who are brave enough to write of themselves. The book is also one of the most fun rock 'n' roll reads that you can imagine, and I'm almost a bit jealous of those who picked up a copy yesterday and are enjoying it today. Here's a link to my full review from last year:

Wagner has been touring the book for most of the last year, and has picked up a number of book awards along the way. He was joined on this night by his manager and editor, Susan Michelson, and while I know Dick knows it, I must say - every artist should be so blessed as to have someone so passionate and skilled looking after their careers. Every detail had been tended to, and no need was unfulfilled. She even gave us some great and most welcome advice on child rearing!

After a brief and most entertaining synopsis of his book, Dick got down to what he does best - he sang and played. Accompanied by Carmel By The Sea blues guitarist/instructor Stu Heydon and pianist Mike Martinez, Wagner played a nice selection of his greatest hits as a songwriter and even threw in a brand new original at the end which will undoubtably be his next success, a look back on life and love entitled, I've Seen It All. One song that may have raised some eyebrows amongst the crowd was Air Supply's Just As I Am - a #3 chart topper in 1985. Wagner told a great story about the song - evidently he had passed the song to Clive Davis, but hadn't heard a word back from the mogul in almost three years, when he got a call from super producer Bob Ezrin. The producer said that he was in a pinch - he had a song that the band didn't want to do, since they hadn't written it, and that frankly he wasn't too enthused about, but that label head Davis had insisted they record. He asked Wagner if he could lend a hand with the arrangement and some guitar tracks. He said, "The song is called, Just As I Am." Wagner said, "Bob, that's my song!" Wagner replied, "oh no, the song - it's great!" Welcome to show business, ladies and germs....

His tale of writing Welcome To My Nightmare with Alice Cooper was a little more light hearted, and a much sexier tale! He played a great version of this and two more big Cooper hits, You and Me, and the smash hit Only Women Bleed.

Many of Wagner's tales are as dark as the night, but he's lived to see light at the end of the tunnel, and what was once a hard charging, some might call arrogant music maker has appropriately smoothed off some the old edges and now sees life with a much more relaxed and compassionate view, including towards the guy in the mirror. I won't lie - the guy is a born songwriter and storyteller, and the final tune of the night, given it's look at life, combined with my five week old son being just steps away, may have made me a bit misty. But, that's what a great songwriter does, right? They deliver the goods.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention this evening's crowd. They knew the legend, and they were in the legend's palm from beginning to the end. Also, the staff at Guitar Showcase could not have been cooler, or more helpful. They even allowed for the possibility of taking small children in on trade. Not tonight, guys, but thanks!

There's more Dick Wagner news on the way, as he's just written a song for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, entitled, If I Had The Time (I Could Change The World), which he recently recorded with a who's who of rock veterans, but I'll save the details for my next update.

It was great to see Dick and Susan and to experience one of the coolest book signings I've ever attended. Thank you guys, you are most wonderful. Ian and Monica would like to thank you as well.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Michael Des Barres Band - Hot N Sticky Live - This Is Rock 'N' Roll, Children

Rock Ain't Near Dead, and if you need any convincing on this point, look - no, listen no further than Michael Des Barres fiery new live set, Hot N Sticky Live. Coming on the heels of last years fabulous long player, Carnaby Street, this disc will cure what ails you with ample doses of rhythm, the blues, and a heaping helping of a sensational love of rock 'n' roll.

Des Barres has returned to the stage after an absence of way too long, but it's better late than never, and if you miss a true London bred hero fronting a tight but loose group of swaggering pirates, look no further. This makes good on the promise set to lie by such acts as Rod Stewart & The Faces, who left to soon only to not return - well, I'm here to say that this is as good as I could have dreamt for rock's growing up into the new millennium. This set moves, grooves, and shakes you down with a top flight band of LA aces, and a frontman who melts all before him.

Rock's regals seem to have made it through the dimly lit darkness that enveloped the breed and the art throughout the '80s and '90s - the real rockers, the Ian Hunters, Glenn Hughes, and yes, the Marquis Des Barres (oh yeah, he's got lineage), have all saved it up and not spent it all, they're alive well and proving on a regular basis that rock may not be on the radio, but it's doing just fine as an art form.

Des Barres has a long standing habit of keeping a guitarist with hellacious firepower just to his right, and he continues the tradition with LA veteran Mark Tremalgia who sounds perfect in his role, firing off shards of spiky leads, slippery slide playing and a great counter to the bosses solid rhythm playing. He never overplays, but when he steps up it's a rock 'n' roll joy to behold. He's bolstered on the left by Des Barres regular Paul Ill, a bassist who's obviously worshipped some Jamerson licks, but may have soaked them in some sophisticated musical stew while at Berklee, and he's a constant presence - jumping between solid pumping and melodious flights of fancy with great authority. They're joined at the back of the bandstand by drummer David Goodstein, whose name has been attached to more artists than I have room to name, but the list includes Waddy Wachtel, Edgar Winter, Ivan Neville, and the late, great Clarence Clemons  - yeah, he's got that kind of rhythm, he moves this band. Keyboardsist Damon Fox rounds out this stellar outfit, and if you don't know of Damon Fox, well just remember that you heard the name here first. Google Bigelf, and look for that name in 2014, but I digress....

My mention of the band is longer than most reviews, but bands are damned important, and I salute Michael Des Barres for going the extra mile to track down the best LA has to offer.

Carnaby Street kicks things off, being the lead track of the band's last studio offering, and it's rock 'n' roll nirvana - Paul Ill chases the fiery frontman across the track, and the band is blaring, but this is unquestionably Des Barres' show. The man is in great voice and chock full of piss and vinegar. It's a no holds barred performance, and when we get to the whooping background vocals, and the solos, it's simply blissful. Like he says at the end of the track, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen - welcome to a fucking rock 'n' roll show. Indeed, and amen.

Soulful organ, a slamming backbeat, and groove-a-liscious bassline leads us into another key track from Carnaby Street, You're My Painkiller, and it's a serious slice of rockin' rhythm and blues. Des Barres has always been an excellent composer of life confirming lyrics, and he puts it over here as well as better than ever. A killer guitar solo that's underpinned by a baseline that will have smart bassists running to the woodshed, and when Des Barres steps back in, he sells it, and it stays sold.

Hot N Sticky (Down South) is one that's for the ladies, and it does well strut as well as The Faces ever did. Fox's organ fights with the guitars for room in the mix, and it's a fight worth watching - the guitars are dirty, but not too dirty, just the right amount of swirling grit, and girth. Listening to this reminds me of why I adore rock 'n' roll. This is a church service of the highest quality. When we get to the musical interlude in the mid-section, you just want to stay there and steep in it.

Photo by Heather Harris
Des Barres takes us back to the sixties next with a fabulous shot of Motown - Stop In The Name Of Love never rocked so righteously, as the bands eases into the groove before exploding into the chorus, and you'll be singing right along. Fox displays his knowledge of deep south Hammond stylings and again, it's love, children, it's love. His solo is a wonder to behold, then Tremalgia lays down some great guitar that leads to Des Barres lifting the tune off into the night. If you're unfamiliar with the passion this guy brings to his work you are going to be amazed and thrilled.

Please Stay is a slow, simmering blues, and Des Barres brings the audience into the proceedings as the band goes gospel, and the singer pronounces his undying love. If there were still hit singles, this would be a top tenner. The whole band sings, and they sing like angels, so listen up.

The band goes back to 1977 for Detective Man, a cut off the great lost album and band, Detective, who were amongst the first signings to Zep's Swan Song label. If possible, the band is in even higher gear as the set progresses, and it's getting hotter and hotter. My only regret is that we didn't hear this more in the years that have come since. There's a scorching wah solo on this one - handle with care.

Things get heavy for Little Latin Lover, the guitars are getting louder and even more lively. This pays it's dues to the memory of the Morrison Motel by way of Carnaby Street. This is straight up rock 'n' roll with no chaser, and it's got quite a punch. I wish I had been at this show - I don't know where I was that night, but I doubt I was having this much fun.

Redemption and love are never far from Des Barres' mind, and he wraps up the set beautifully with a medley that ties it all up quite neatly - leading off with My Baby Saved My Ass (from my wicked past...), which features a stinging slide guitar solo from Tremalgia before Des Barres becomes a jet fighter coming into JFK and landing squarely atop a loving tribute to Humble Pie and Steve Marriott with a slamming bit of I Don't Need No Doctor, and after smoking solos from the guitarist and Fox, we get a reminder that Des Barres did spend time with supergroup Power Station as the band jumps into Bang A Gong (Get It On). What a great way to end a fucking rock 'n' roll show.

If you had played me this album in 1985, and told me that this would have been the state of the art in 2013, I wouldn't have been upset at all - Hot N Sticky Live certainly makes the case that Rock Ain't Near Dead, and Michael Des Barres continues to age like fine wine, getting better and more valuable by the moment.

When he's not throwing down top shelf rock, Des Barres can be found on several Internet outlets preaching his unique blend of rock, love, and light.

Thanks to Michael Des Barres, and Billy James at Glass Onyon PR.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Flying Colors - Live In Europe - A Resounding Success

Flying Colors - this band is perfectly named. Looking up what the phrase means, I see that it is cliche that refers to excellence and ease, and that's just right. Live In Europe is their new DVD/C/Blue Ray extravaganza, and it's a couple of hours of pure, unadulterated joy. I wondered how the band would sound on the road, given that their debut album was recorded in less than two weeks, and every member of the band has full time jobs elsewhere, with the exception of Mike Portnoy, who seems to have about a half dozen. My worrying was for naught, they pull this set off with grace, precision, and a subtle power that almost masks their brilliance.

This live set was recorded in Tilberg, Holland on the debut tour, and the sold out audience sounds like they knew just what they were in for - Blue Ocean opens the set and the dye is set, as the band replicates the sophisticated pop rocker with complete confidence, from Dave Larue's perculating bass intro to the soft gang vocals that come across with pristine clarity. At seven and a half minutes the song is not a second too long, and it breezes by and leaves me feeling like I could lose a lot of time to this package - so much that I think I'm going to have to seek out the three album vinyl version.

Shoulda Coulda Woulda ups the pace, and it's Neal Morse's organ that gives this its 'Vanilla Fudge in the new millenium' vibe. Casey McPherson comfortably slips from falsetto to baritone and back, and his voice blends wonderfully with Neal and Portnoy who hit the harmonies with great precision. Steve Morse sounds more at home in this band than I've heard him sound in years - he's an encyclopedia of guitar licks, chops, and tones and his unfailing sense of not just what to play, but how to play it is always spot on. Portnoy displays a small bit of his stick wizardry on the tail end, and then steps in to announce Casey McPherson's European debut.

Neal Morse's piano sets the stage for Love Is What I'm Waiting For, and the band puts on a grand display of their pure pop power - everyone wants to call this a prog band, but I'm hearing elaborate pop more than anything, and nothing could please me more. This tune evokes memories of the seventies when it was just understood that the whole band would sing, and they could all play their asses off. The other Morse pulls off a guitar solo that is half melody and half chops display, and with a tone that is, dare I say, perfect. This is like a high horsepower version of 10cc.

Portnoy plays master of ceremonies as he informs the audience that since the band has but one album, they must reach into their other projects to fill out the set, and it's a tune from Endochine, a band the singer fronted in the early years of this century, entitled Can't Find A Way. The band wraps itself around the arrangement, and while it's obviously not as sophisticated as a piece devised by the firm's senior partners, it's lifted by the empathetic backing given by what is the best backing band McPherson will most likely ever front. It turns out that he was the perfect guy to front this outfit - his stature is revered by those in the know, but his relative newcomer status in the world of classic and prof rock serves well to keep the public from having too many preconceptions - he's a lesser known entity, but no less talented, not for a minute. The guy sings like a bird, and writes like a very old soul.

You've maybe seen the YouTube clip of The Storm that the label put out as a tester, and it's not just a great song, it's also a great representation of what one can expect from Flying Colors. It's filled with hooks from every instrumentalist, and if you listen close, you'll hear Portnoy's deft cymbal and tom work and realize why the half of the world that doesn't have their heads up their asses think he's one of the finest drummers on the planet. Another barn burner of a solo from Steve Morse - he sounds like he's playing to no one's expectation here, and it's a huge breath of fresh air. He has it all, and it's all on display on this set.

Speaking of Steve Morse, the next tune is an old classic from his early days with the legendary Dixie Dregs - Odyssey is just that, and the band is up for it. It almost sounds like they're showing that they can honor this piece of musical history, and they do, they do. This shifts gears repeatedly and goes from smooth jazz to hard rock to a fistful of fusion in the turn of a trick with no problem.

Forever In A Daze is one of the harder rocking numbers from the band's studio debut, and bassist Dave Larue must be heard to be believed - he pops, pulls, and thumps with great tone, nice note selection and endless groove - very bassist who takes his playing seriously should be listening close to this and seeing how they're really doing with their instrument. When he breaks into his solo, it's a great journey - a head shaker, in that it's not just masterful, it's fun.

McPherson takes over for a meditation on his version of Cohen's Hallelujah, and it's majestic. It takes nerves of steal to have such a group of heavy hitters take a breather while you bare your soul, and he nails it.

Better Than Walking Away starts with some mournful notes from Morse's guitar, and then is taken over by Neal's electric piano and McPherson's soul stylings - this is pop/gospel beauty. As the tune develops, listen closely to the marvelous display of comping and filling in the spaces by the band - they know exactly when to make themselves known and when to back off - it's one thing to know every note in the world, but it's a completely different exercise to be an empathetic accompanist. This is like a master's level course on what to play when a guy is singing.

Big pop returns with Kayla, one of the best adult pop songs that I've heard in ages and ages - worth the price of admission. Yeah, I might say that a lot, but then again, I'm most generally not wrong. Portnoy is perfect, knowing when to push and when to lay back - the guy is a marvel in which to listen. Steve Morse fills in with some great chord inversions that fit the vocals like a tailored suit, and Neal Morse may be the perfect match in voice for which McPherson to harmonize with - listen to the two harmonize just after the first guitar solo, and you'll be well astounded. This is Simon & Garfunkel good.

Portnoy takes the mic for a lead vocal on Fool For My Heart, and while he demurs, he also pulls it off - it's another number off the band's debut, and if I'm not wrong, he proclaims his undying love for his keyboard player in the second verse! McPherson carries a bit of the load on the bridge before Steve takes yet another nice, overdriven solo. He's so lyrical in his playing with this band,   every solo has as much melody and passion as the songs themselves.

Dave Larue takes a solo for a Spur of the Moment that leads into a cover of Dream Theater's Repentance, another Portnoy vocal turn. This is more psychedelic than I remembered, and Morse's keyboards shine, making this, along with Larue's heavily effected bass, appropriately Floyd-like. Can it be long before the world sees a Portnoy solo project? Of course, it may be unnecessary, as he seems to already do exactly as he pleases, musically. I'm guessing that Portnoy loses little sleep over his departure from DT these days.

Neal Morse gives a nod to his old outfit, Spock's Beard with a reading of June. Morse is a musical treasure, one of America's greatest, and he's always on point and never off the mark. This track has more than a bit in common with the best work of Graham Nash in CSN. A very pretty respite with some gorgeous group vocals.

All Fall Down is the metallic riff rocker of the set and by far the heaviest tune off the band's self titled debut. Steve Morse tears this apart with fleet fast fingered dalliances up and down the neck, and Portnoy is with him every step of the way. If Steve had been in a band with this much firepower in the nineties, he'd have been riding in jets instead of piloting them. About two and a half minutes into this tune, Larue and Morse take things into the stratosphere with a bit of nuclear powered soloing. Magnificent.

The soundtrack number, Everything Changes is next and it is a cinematic wonder. Majestic as anything, this is one of Flying Colors best moments, and it's even better live than in the studio. Neal Morse's recorder patches are gorgeous under McPherson's singing, and it gets little better than this. It's a great song, being played and sang by a group of musicians who are at the very top of the hill, and all I can say is that I can't see where they take it from here.

The train leaves the station with Infinite Fire the same place they left off with their debut, and that feels just right. If by now they haven't made their case the case was thrown, a frame up, for whether you're a fan of pop music, prog rock, hard rock, or even heavier, there is plenty here for any music lover to sink their teeth into. Flying Colors is one of the most powerful musical machines on the planet as of today, and if I were you, I'd already be ordering this one up in whatever configuration works for you. Music this great deserves to be supported by dollar signs, so get out your wallets and help keep great rock alive, OK?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock - Bridge The Gap - The Best of the Old and the New

Bridge The Gap will do just what it says - it's the record that will find Michael Schenker returning to the major leagues in the very near future. It's filled with great riffs, compelling melodies, the best set of songs on a Schenker project in ages, and it finally sounds like Mr. Schenker is back in a band.

Michael Schenker is at the top of his game - riding higher in the saddle than he has in decades, rifling off riffs that make you ask, "How does he do that?," soloing with smoldering intensity and his trademark melodicism, and writing tunes you want to hear again and again. Whist the mad axeman's guitar playing is why we attend, this record finds him partnered with veteran shouter Doogie White - the singing Scotsman has written the best melodies and lyrics to be heard on a Schenker project in a great many years, and there is something magical that happens when Michael is matched up with his Scorpions brothers, Herman Rarebell and Francis Buccholz.

The last five years have seen Michael steadily climbing, and gaining confidence along the way - once hindered by the anxieties of stage fright, and all-to-many incidents of infamy, it would appear that the guitar master has settled into a place in which he finds peace, and full command of his considerable creativity. I don't know of a hard rock guitarist who doesn't hold the man in high esteem, and now they'll be back to chasing his lead.

Photo by Tallee Savage
The album kicks off with the brief instrumental, Neptune Rising, and Schenker catapults out of the gates with ricocheting shards of molten metal over the top of Wayne Findlay's heavier than heavy seven string rhythm - no wonder the Neptune is set to become the next guitar out of the Dean factory. This is a brief proclamation, and I hear a bit of Celtic melody which may, or may not be a nod off the hat to frontman Doogie White, who rides in on a sea of Schenker guitars to belt out Where The Wild Winds Blow - I suspected that after the success of Before The Devil Knows You're Dead off the last MS Temple of Rock album, that White may have found himself a job, and I'm glad he got the nod. When you hear the chorus, you'll know why, as well - it's the most compelling song to lead off a Schenker album in eons. This will be a barnburner onstage. I love that Schenker gives us eight bars of acoustic soloing before he breaks out the big guns, and when he does, it's like going back home again.

Where The Wild Winds Blow - Soundcloud

Herman Rarebell is in rare form on this album, and his exceptional drumming features large on every cut - he leads the charge into Horizons, a tune the band had been playing on their last tour - it might be the weakest track on the album, but it's still a winner - that's how good this album really is. The double timed bass drums and Buccholz's pumping bassline set the tone, and Schenker is flying on this solo - it's straight balls out, and White's upper range is the most impressive it's ever been.

Lord Of The Lost And Lonely is another Schenker riff that has that type of timing he always breaks out that has listeners wondering how he always finds the one, and back again - White and Schenker agree magnificently on the sing-song chorus, and Michael's riffing through the verses bring back a thousand great guitar memories of his storied past. His solos sound more composed on this album than they have in ages, but I'm guessing that he's just found his personal zone - he knows where he wants to go, and he goes there. Dare I say that this band could go out and play this album stem to stern and not piss off a single fan? Yeah, it's that strong.

One thing I love about this record is that the band sounds German. Schenker going toe to toe with Rarebell and Buccholz has a power and lockstep precision that rings of fine German engineering. Rock 'n Roll Symphony is another raging rocker that steamrolls across the tundra with a swagger that Doogie White rides like a Panzer across the desert. White brought his A-game to these sessions - you can hear that he took this gig very seriously, and put his heart and soul into every moment. Another memorable riff by the master.

To Live For The King is the tune that closest echoes White's performance on the last album, but this is a definite step ahead, and it sounds to me like the ex-Rainbow singer may have listened to some early eighties classics before he sat down to put pen to paper - this sounds like what might have come of a meeting between Schenker and Ronnie Dio. However, White is his own guy here, and I throw that out just as a reference to you readers - a little road map to get you to the store and plonking down your hard earned for this well deserving piece of art. Schenker's solo is as sizzling as any he has ever laid down, and this track is guitar nirvana.

Schenker and his anthropod brothers sound like they haven't missed a day since they recorded Lovedrive, and never more so than on The Land Of Thunder - Rarebell has never gotten his due as a drummer, and by God, now he must. He drives this tune, and you go, "Yeah, The Scorpions sound had all to do with his syncopated genius." I'll be damned if I'm not sitting here wondering if White hasn't written the best hard rock set of melodies in ages. I can't think of a single disc that has hit with more regularity in way too long. Brilliant.

Temple Of The Holy is another staggering riff that is tremendously heavy, but it's not weighed down due to the melody and Rarebell's accents. Wayne Findlay throws in some lovely Middle Eastern infused synth pads, and Schenker sounds absolutely inspired. Buccholz tosses down a massively distorted bass pad which Michael skates across with passion, melody, and six string fury. If I have a complaint, it may be in the tones on Schenker's rhythm pickup when he solos in certain spots - why doesn't this guy have a signature model amplifier yet? His playing is near perfect, but I admit to some niggling niggling over certain guitar tones. A small gripe, but this solo could have sounded even yet better, methinks. Still, it's a marvelous solo, and you can certainly not be blamed for giving me grief for nitpicking a small point.

The rage continues with Shine On - another great Desert Song kind of offset rhythm that is set straight by White's tremendous vocal melody. Buccholz's bass is huge again, and it sets nicely in the mix next to Schenker's layers of guitars. Michael is finally breaking free of some molds he's been in for the last few years, and he's back to creating single note patterns and leads that we simply haven't heard before - he's once again the creator, and not just going over places he may have been in the past - the whole beauty of this record is that it sounds like exactly where we had hoped he would be later in his career - taking chances and doing what he does best, and that is composing great rock 'n' roll.

Bridges We Have Burned starts off with some patented Schenker balladisms, but then a sizzlingly flanged cymbal pattern thrusts the tune into another mid-tempo stomper, and once again, hats off to Herman. The is classic melodic metal, and I can't imagine any heavy rock fan not adoring this number. It kind of reminds me of the McAuley/Schenker Group's chestnut, Shadows Of The Night.

Michael Schenker has been climbing steadily for the last few years, and I've been waiting for him to return to his legendary riff writing, and he finally has with Bridge The Gap - Because You Lied is another one, and his soloing over the odd changes is inspired. White's vocal is wildly echoed across the track, and when he and the boss go jousting on the outro, it's Zeppelin-esque in the best sense.

This is a very heavy album, make no bones about it - it's very contemporary in its sheer breadth, but it's always so compellingly melodic that the heavy never sounds weighty. It's like a 300 pound prizefighter without an ounce of fat - there's no flab, it's as taut and tight as anything. Black Moon Rising is another anthemic chorus that should see fists pumping across the globe in 2014. Schenker sounds like he's having a blast soloing over a slightly industrial backing before the band returns into a huge bit of chorusing to put the tune to bed.

Dance For The Piper sums up the case nicely - heavy, hummable guitars, an irresistible beat, and again White seems to have reached much deeper than he has on any project in his past - he's never been bad, it's just that on this album he has achieved a certain greatness - not many have an album this good in them on their best day, and as he should. Doogie is getting better all the time, and that's maybe the message of this entire record. Everyone here is playing at their apex, and they're reaching deeper and mining pure gold. A happy day for rock 'n' roll.

Thanks to Michael Schenker, Peter Noble, and Felicitas Siegel at In-Akustik Records. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Rising Sun Experience - Beyond The Oblivious Abyss - Good Food For The Brain and Soul

There's not much better than to have a great slab of music fall on your lap on a crisp fall morning in front of the fireplace, and today, that slab of music is from Lisbon's The Rising Sun Experience, who have just released their second long player, Beyond The Oblivious Abyss.

The record covers a lot of stylistic ground, but suffice to say that if you dig psychedelic rock that involves great guitars, heavy Hammond organ, throbbing basslines, and cool drumming, you're going to really enjoy this album.

It's a short album, coming in at around a half hour, but that's a good thing in my eyes. I've heard way too many overly long CDs, in fact, I'm of the opinion that 75 minute records did the industry no good, and actually great harm. Think about it - how many double albums were really worth it? Only a few, and they were rare. I'll take a great snack over a lousy feast anytime.

Beyond The Oblivious Abyss is a song suite of sorts, there are three songs that lead into a five piece suite entitled Wasted Dreams of Red Flowers.

Countries Off... is the opener, and it's a blissful sounding message of despair if there ever was one. The lyrics reflect the darkness of our days, but the sizzling combo sounds like aliens at Woodstock - the percolating percussion of Santana, the guitar histrionics framed perfectly by an insistent riff, and let's bless once again the sound of the full tilt Hammond organ. Almost eight minutes long, and it's over way too soon.

Anthemic psychedelia always thrills me, and The Integrity brings back the ghost of Alvin Lee's greatest moment of I'd Love To Change The World, but this updated sermon rocks harder and with a bit more wattage, but those softly picked acoustic guitars sound so sweet when topped with echo drenched distorted guitar leads, and the howling Hammond. This is great stuff, and this song is worth the price of the album. This is the single - should be a hit, if there were truly still hits....

Infinite Space Of A Man Without Character is a steamrolling rocker than dizzily steps through its changes with a great drum track, and guitar riffs that will have you jumping for joy. Nelson Dias' voice suits the material to a T, and the whole band is on fire. The best minute and a half song I've heard all year.

Wasted Dreams Of Red Flowers begins with pastoral cymbals and guitars, but soon gives way to the heaviest riffing yet to be found on the record - Bird Of Paradise, which posits the notion that many of has have pondered and posited, that which asks how do we escape this nightmarish world and get back to our true home. The wah guitars are huge, even making it over the Hammond's eternal howl - this is what I often hoped Vanilla Fudge would sound like.

Red Monkey Flower sounds like U2 jamming with early Genesis - beautiful, and all too brief.

Snapdragon is only a minute three second sample, but it's pure joy with everything we like jammed into a brief moment.

Swirling winds, meandering drums, and sweet synth musings softly announce Garden Mums, track four of the song suite, and it's properly psychedelic - some of this stuff is slow enough to be Floyd-worthy, and that's as high a praise as I can give music of this ilk. You could loop this and have yourself one great meditation.

Back to the end, we have Cosmos - where we came from and where we're going. This is all sustained guitar and galaxies gushing by in a motion so slow as to be spiritually soporific. I've been where this is going, and it feels like home.

This record fell in my lap as do so many these days, and it gives me hope, lightens my heart, and convinces me more than ever that Rock Ain't Near Dead™, and that there is great music being made all over the planet every day - you just might not turn on your terrestrial radio to hear it. Congratulations to The Rising Sun Experience for making a truly great record.