Sunday, October 26, 2014

Johnny Hickman - Live In The Living Room - Granite Bay, California

Johnny Hickman came, and boy did he conquer.

Honestly, I can't remember the last time it was quite like this. Not a single cell phone video. No cell phone photos. Everyone in the room singing along with many of the songs. Nothing but a room full of friends enjoying a night of great live music. This was the good old days.

House concerts are somewhat the rage, and while I've seen a few excellent examples (Gladgirl Shelly's house shows in Dayton, Ohio come to mind), Johnny Hickman's show in Granite Bay, California took the prize. The only solo show I can even compare it to from personal experience was seeing Dave Edmunds one spectacular evening down in Austin, Texas about a dozen years ago, and I have to say even that now resides in second place.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

VHF - Very High Frequency - Much More Than Meets The Eye

VHF is the brainchild of drummer T. Vinny Vinciguerra (the T is for Todd) - at first glance you could be thinking this to be just another bloated, instrumental shred-fest, but in reality you'd be dead wrong, very much off the mark, and maybe you'd miss one of the coolest little side trips of 2014.

I know what you probably thought, so let's get that 800 pound gorilla out of the corner and into the center of the room. You may have thought that an ambitious drummer went out and bought up some high level, high priced talent and indulged his rock 'n' roll fantasy - to a degree you'd be right, and beyond criticism for seeing what appears to be apparent, but then when you find out what's really happening, things are what they seem, but aren't at all what you'd expect.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Steve Hunter - Tone Poems Live - Lyrics Need Not Apply

Steve Hunter is a legend amongst us guitarists, and has been since the mid-seventies for most of us. You could be excused for not knowing that until Hunter came in with the loping, bubbling, gently cascading riff that is the melody of Peter Gabriel's first solo commercial breakthrough hit Solsbury Hill, that it was a tune that was about to be left off an album. Or, that when Aerosmith's homegrown guitarists couldn't or wouldn't, in came Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, and they became the light that lit up FM radio with brilliant and fiery leads that left the band's fans wondering what happened when they couldn't recreate the guitar magic that made Train Kept A Rollin' such a staple of its time.

Yes, you could be excused for not knowing that Hunter's stinging sweet guitar playing and his creative compositional skills created the famed intro that placed Lou Reed high on the charts with a suddenly sensational live version of Sweet Jane, a song that had long lived in rock's most perplexing poet's catalog until Hunter's first famed tone poem lifted Lou's lines above the din. He was there with Alice Cooper for some of his biggest records and tours, as well, but you could be excused for not knowing this.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Eric Gales - Good For Sumthin' - Gonna Be Hard To Beat This One

Eric Gales was right - he's been very excited about his new album as he wrote and recorded it, and now I know exactly why. I know he's been working non-stop for the last several years, and he's been getting closer and closer to unearthing something that reveals exactly who and what he is, not just as an artist, but also as a man. Good For Sumthin'? Yeah, he's good for sumthin' - he's made one of the most musical, personal, and moving albums that I've heard in a long time. An album that evokes the memory of James Marshall Hendrix in more ways than one. More on this very unfair, but not inaccurate comparison, later.

The stars line up just right - they've been moving for the last few years to get where they're going. Gales got his personal life more solidly squared away, made a couple of great albums with the power trio Pinnick Gales Pridgen, released a very compelling album with his homegrown trio, and maybe in the final move to make alignment he was gifted in having Raphael Saadiq produce his new solo album, and what an album it is.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jimmy Barnes - Hindsight - As Good A Voice As There Is, And A Notable Cast Take A Long Look Back

Jimmy Barnes' Hindsight is a great way to ease your way into a vast and wonderful world - it's a look back by one of the planet's best singers, and he's brought along a lot of marquee names to point out that he's been doing it right for 30 years, and this is a fantastic way to celebrate the anniversary.

There's every chance that you've no idea who Jimmy Barnes is, or if you do you think he's a guy that did a song with Bonamassa for a Deep Purple tribute album, or maybe some work with Steve Morse and the guys from Ozzy's band back in the day, and if that's the limit to your exposure, you ain't gonna catch it - and you really need to catch it.

The real story is that Jimmy Barnes has been one of the world's greatest vocalists for decades, and the guys who want to work with him do it for just that reason. One of the joys of this record for American listeners will be the two fisted joy of discovering not just Barnes, but many of his co-conspirators on this collection of songs from the singer's past. You know the names of Journey, Joe Bonamassa, Little Steven, but their are plenty of acts on this record performing alongside the star of the show who will be new and exciting discoveries for the uninitiated. Also, much credit should be given to producer Kevin Shirley for keeping this project sounding cohesive and focused as different casts show up for nearly every one of these great tunes from Barnes' extensive catalogue.

Anthrax - Chile On Hell - Would You Expect Any Less?

Holy hell - it's been a rough unveiling for Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian's new autobiography. I don't know, or even care to know the ins and outs of it at all, but it seems like the guy has been doing PR reparations every time I look up. Well, to be honest, I could not care less about who did who, and how many times - I'm in it for the music, for the show, and definitely not for the drama. I'll leave that for those sad folks who count their clicks. I write about rock, not about the bullshit.

That brings us to the latest from Anthrax - Chile On Hell, the band's latest DVD release, which I don't actually get to see, as the label, and by proxy the band thinks that journalists only need to hear and not see their product - I only have the audio tracks, but I'm supposed to somehow make a judgement on a DVD release. Well, it just so happens that I've just seen Anthrax in Northern California, so I can assume the DVD is a fair representation of their show, which I will describe as best I can as I hose the piss from the label off my disrespected shoes. The CDs rock.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The PRS Electric Guitar Book: 30th Anniversary Edition - A Grand Look At A Classic Brand

Paul Reed Smith is the youngest of the classic guitar manufacturers, but he's always been at the top of the class when it's come to quality and innovation. When I heard this book was coming to my desk, I half wondered if, given the relatively unchanged look the line has maintained, there was really enough to hold my attention in a retrospective. I shouldn't have worried - the book is as beautiful as you would imagine, but the story is also fascinating. Your mind will boggle when you realize just how much innovation and passion has went into the engineering side of making PRS one of the best of the best.

Dave Burrluck is one of the finest journalists remaining in the world of guitar magazines - he's currently Gear Reviews Editor of Guitarist, Total Guitar, and Guitarist Presents Acoustic magazines, he's written several excellent books, and he's been top shelf for a great many years. He's just released his latest edition of The PRS Electric Guitar Book (earlier editions - 1999, 2002, 2007) along with Hal Leonard's Backbeat Books. He's the perfect guy for the gig, and he's written the perfect book for the brand.

Dave Kilminster - ...and THE TRUTH will set you free... - Art For Art's Sake

Dave Kilminster returns with another excellent solo record that continues to display that he's above all, an artist. Touring with Roger Waters on his spectacular The Wall tours has enabled Kilminster to be seen by untold millions, and if he was a calculating cat, he could take the easy road, do an album that would ape the Pink Floyd legacy, and ride it to the bank. Instead, he chooses to spend his time off the road to chase his muse merrily around the recording studio, and play what's on his mind.

...And THE TRUTH Shall Set You Free... is a heady record - of course, coming from one of the world's most highly regarded virtuosos, it's filled to the brim with fantastic guitar playing, but it's not flash for flash's sake, it's art for art's sake, and it's museum worthy. The guitar solos alone make this one worthy of great regard, but the real story is what's going on leading up to the inevitable trips that seem to always end in blissful and mind-blowing explorations of guitar playing that redeem all. Lyrically, the album is deep, and complicated. With titles like Messiah, Save Me, Thieves, and The Fallen, you'd hardly expect a light hearted romp, and this is clearly not. That being said, it's a great trip, full of majestic music, soothing to the soul in it's hope seeking walk through the dark.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sonata Arctica - Ecliptica Revisited: 15th Anniversary Edition - Better The Second Time Around

Sonata Arctica have delved into heir past and re-recorded their debut album, Ecliptica, originally recorded in 1999, and while I'm most generally opposed to such projects, they've done a great job and get high marks.

I'm playing catch up here, so bear with me. Somehow in the shuffle I had missed Sonata Arctica - for fifteen years. In fact, the Finnish melodic/power metallers were just in San Francisco less than two weeks ago. Damn my luck. This is one of the coolest bands I've stubbled across in ages, and I let them slip through my hands by dint of sheer ignorance. Well, I'm no stranger to sheer ignorance, but I'm not so daft as to not dig this band, and this album.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Front and Center Presents: Richard Thompson - Must See TV

First, a disclaimer. I've not watched television for many years. I own a television, but it's been in a storage facility for about eight years. Somewhere between living my life, and my becoming intolerant of the endless madness and brainwashing that has become so much of the mainstream media, I had checked out, and canceled further reservations. As a result, or at least in part, I had never heard of public television's Front and Center.

Each week, Front And Center presents an artist, much in the tradition of the show's forefathers, Soundstage, and Austin City Limits. Even now, I'm late to the party, and the first two episodes of the show's new season have already aired, but when I finally got around to checking out the promo episode I've been sent, I must say that I am completely blown away. It turns out that this show is a great example of what television should be, and could be.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Celebrating Jon Lord - An All Star Jam Worth Owning

Jon Lord cast a large shadow across this world, and he continues to do so from the next as his friends, family, and fans convene each year for The Sunflower Jam, an annual benefit for cancer awareness and research that was founded in 2006 by Jackie Paice (aka Mrs. Ian Paice). The charity and its annual gig has grown to the point that it now happens at the Royal Albert Hall, and this year's performances have just been released in a multi-format manner by earMUSIC ( release and packing info available here:

The beauty of this release is that unlike many other all star jams, aside from the charity the Sunflower Jam exists for but one reason - to celebrate the life and music of Jon Lord, and it sounds wonderfully cohesive as a result. I'm reviewing the CD release. This is not just a gathering, it's a very cool double album that includes performances from Paul Weller, The Temperance Movement's Phil Campbell, Micky Moody, Bernie Marsden, Glenn Hughes, Bruce Dickinson, Don Airey, Deep Purple, Rick Wakeman, and many others.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bernie Tormé - Bernie The Strat - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"People go on about rock stars, and all that - I mean, I could not give a fuck about any of that. I never have, and never will. It's about being able to play and record, you know?" ~ Bernie Tormé

Bernie Tormé is back! Mind you, he's never gone away, but he has released his first solo album in fifteen years, and I believe I even called it, "An absolute all time rock guitar classic (Flowers & Dirt Review)." It's a brilliant double album filled with great songs, impassioned vocals, and a tremendous amount of stunning guitar work. Making things even more exceptional is the fact that Bernie's album was the result of a super successful crowd funding project with PledgeMusic.

After I heard the record, I decided that I had to hear more about the coming and goings of this record, along with a smattering of reminiscences of the guitarist's stints with Ozzy Osbourne, and Gillan, with of course, Deep Purple frontman, Ian Gillan. Sticking with the DIY methods of today, I got ahold of Bernie directly, and he was kind enough to consent to my curiosities. It turns out that Mr. Tormé is a treasure trove of wit, wisdom, and rock biz experience, and anyone who reads the following will walk away as pleased as I.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mike LePond's Silent Assassins - This Is What A Solo Album Should Sound Like

Mike LePond has accomplished a great deal on his first solo album, Silent Assassins - he got the record written and recorded via crowd funding with a successful Kickstarter project, he gathered some great talent to assist him, and most importantly, he made an album that is a great listen for any fan of classic/power heavy metal.

LePond's day job for the last sixteen years has been that of bassist for Symphony X. In fact, he wrote this record on tour with the band, wisely using the endless hours of bus travel to compose the music, write the lyrics, and conceptualize Silent Assassins. I realize that on its face, the prospect of listening to a solo album from a bass player could seem fraught with the possibility of disappointment, but let me allay your fears. The album came to my desk highly recommended, and I'll gladly pass the recommendation on to you.