Friday, January 30, 2015

Uli Jon Roth - Scorpions Revisited - The Godfather Of Shred, But Much, Much More

Uli Jon Roth
Scorpions Revisited
UDR Records
March 10, 2015

The big news here is that Uli Jon Roth is playing guitar and singing as well, if not better than ever. The German maestro has been touring for several seasons now celebrating the 40th anniversary of his joining The Scorpions, a band he helped take to the very brink of international stardom before he exited the group to follow his own muse, and now he's documented the current state of his musicianship, his fine band, and the durability of some of the most adventurous hard rock music ever written and recorded.

Uli Jon Roth is a legend - he was there at the creation of a guitar movement that came to be known by the unfortunate name of shred, and in all actuality he may have been the first guitarist who married the feral excitement and soul of Jimi Hendrix with a sophisticated sense of harmony and the technique that had previously been left in the realm of serious jazz guitarists. No one had quite mastered the use of the Fender Stratocaster's tremolo bridge system - even Hendrix never approached the sheer mastery that Roth achieved with his customized extra sturdy arm that enabled him to wrestle dynamics and drama out of the instrument, and allowed him to find the full expression of his almost endless bends, pull ups and dips. Even that instrument itself ultimately found itself supplanted by Roth's self designed Dean Sky Guitars which with their scalloped frets, seven strings, and fully functional 34 frets, allowed the guitar to keep up with the imagination of its player.

Scorpions Revisited is a something of an enigma. It demands that the listener suspend certain beliefs and remembrances in order to fully embrace both its mission and its achievement. Again, the pluses all relate to the singing and playing. Roth plays with all the stunning accuracy and death defying fearlessness as he did so many years ago, and his range of tones is unquestionably greater today than it was in the seventies, but it is admittedly not quite as wild and untamed as it was then. However, it may also be that Roth's playing is even more controlled, and as a result emotionally more accurate than in the past. The downside is that this is 2015, and while the album sounds very, very good, it simply doesn't achieve quite the sonic splendor that was achieved with two inch tape, all analog circuitry, and the magic that producer Dieter Dierks captured on The Scorpions early efforts. This point will be debated by the hardcore loyalists, and while I love this music as much as anyone on the planet, I must see this all very soberly. All told, this is a grand and successful achievement.

One thing that makes this project so interesting is that Uli is joined by two guitarists, David Klosinki, the left handed prodigy now on tour with Roth on his American tour, and Niklas Turmann, who also supplies some ancillary vocals. This lineup allows for a very cool fleshing out of the music in terms of a greater tapestry of guitar sounds than exhibited on the original recordings. I won't lie and say I don't miss Rudolf Schenker's right hand on the sledge hammer rhythm riffs, he's one of the best in history, and while the flavors provided by Roth's young apprentices are delightful, they are of a different breed than Rudy's sheer (and beautiful) savagery. As for Roth, his playing is pretty much without reproach - the man is probably the most underrated of all the greats of his era, and as a pure original he stands proudly beside Hendrix and Jeff Beck.

Vocals are handled by newcomer Nathan James, and he must be given great credit for capturing as much as the original flavor and style as he can, and he's no slouch on the high notes, either - his range is superb, his tone and intonation are quite good, but it must be said that there is simply no one who will quite match the brilliance that Klaus Meine brought to the songs back in that time so long ago. Meine was as underrated as Roth, and his unique and incredible voice simply have no match when it comes to these songs. That being said, James does great work on every track, and his future seems assured.

Rounding out the band we have Corvin Bahn on some very tasty keyboards that brings some arrangement freshness to the classic tracks, drummer Jamie Little who brings a deft touch to the proceedings, and best of all we have longtime Roth sideman and bandmate Ule W. Ritgen, whose bass playing actually supersedes anything found on the original material - Ritgen's superb tones and confident playing adds great texture to the tracks (I even wish he was a tad bit higher in the mix, but that's just me nitpicking).

Finally we get to the material, and as one would expect, the leaning is towards the material that Uli either wrote himself, or was closer to in spirit, and the tracks that some may find missing are the classic Schenker tunes like Robot Man, Top Of The Bill, Speedy's Coming, and Steamrock Fever. Still, the 19 song set list should disappoint no one who knows what they're getting themselves into here, and every tune is a surefire winner. It's only when taken as a whole does one begin to see just how many great songs The Scorpions recorded in Roth's relatively short five years with the band.

The lineup of songs will be familiar as an old comfortable pair of shoes for most who come to this party, and I can only imagine the joy of discovery that anyone would get if they were to arrive new to this material. In fact, fathers should buy this album for their sons, in hopes that this next generation may come to understand true greatness of rock 'n' roll, and the electric guitar. My personal favorites include 'Catch Your Train', 'Sails Of Charon', 'Yellow Raven', 'Pictured Life', 'In Trance', and 'Life's Like A River'. My favorite moments are when Uli derivates from the original and throws in some new fire and inspiration, and when his original harmony lines are so incredibly recreated by himself and Klosinski. There's great magic at work when all these guitars get mixed together.

At the end of the day, if you're a fan of Uli Jon Roth, you're going to adore this record. If you're new to the world of Roth and his Scorpion legacy, you will be amazed by the gift of rock that will beseech you, and if you are a hard core Scorpions fan, you may have slight reservations, but you'll find that after a few listens that there are magnificent goods to be discovered, and remember here.      

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice to read an article about Uli written by someone who actually knows about that of which they speak. I share many of the opinions expressed in your review, especially those regarding the great Ule Ritgen. Not only is he an amazing bassist, he's a fantastic songwriter and I submit, one of the greatest oil painters of our time. (See Nice to see this severely talented guy get some props! Having met him and Uli, I can say they're two of the warmest, most humble people you could hope to encounter. You can really feel the joy they radiate playing on stage together. Here's hoping they continue to do so for many years to come!