"It's very much a labor of love." ~ Vivian Campbell on Last In LineLast In Line is a band comprised of Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain, Vinnie Appice, Claude Schnell, and singer Andy Freeman - a band born of the desire of the original members of Dio to again play the music that produced platinum records, sold out tours, and created a platform for Ronnie James Dio to achieve solo stardom after successful stints with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow and Black Sabbath.
After twenty one years with Def Leppard, Vivian has found himself reinvigorated by a brief stay with Irish rock legends Thin Lizzy. Playing with Lizzy reminded him of his early love affair with the guitar, and he finally felt ready to face his past with the Dio band, something he had been unable to do for almost thirty years. The split with Dio is a thing of rock legend - we deal with that in great detail in the interview, which I would hope any lover of rock will read with an open mind and heart. Viv pulls no punches, dodges no issues, and stays on the point that as the composers of the material, the original members of Dio have every right to take the music to the stage once again, and I think at the end of the day this is a win/win scenario for everyone involved.
I spoke with Vivian Campbell just before he announced his cancer treatments - it was decided that any discussion of health could be left to him to dispense, and we limited our discussion to things musical. I will say that the Irish guitarist sounded very healthy - he was enthusiastic about the future, and emphatic about the past. We laughed a good deal as we navigated the straits of his long and successful career in some of the best bands in the history of rock.
My first question was 'Why now,' for Last In Line?
Vivian Campbell: "You know, Tony, what I figured, a big part of it was that I did a stint with Thin Lizzy in 2011 - and Lizzy were a very, very influential band for me when I was learning how to play guitar as a teenager. That was the shit learned, the Live & Dangerous album. I think that my role in Def Leppard, as great a band as it is, isn't that challenging for me as a guitar player. Leppard is about the songs, the singing, the structure - and I've certainly become a much stronger singer from the 21 years in Def Leppard, but most of the stuff we play is the classic stuff, and Phil Collen plays most of the challenging guitar solos. "So my stint with Lizzy kind of reminded me of my guitar playing youth, and I got real excited about my guitar playing again. I came home from the Lizzy tour, and I'm playing a lot of guitar - so I called Vinnie, and Claude, and I said, 'Hey - let's get together and play some of those old songs that we did,' and Vinnie recommended Andy Freeman, who he ad worked with briefly in Lynch Mob. Andy came in, and he sings the shit out of the stuff! We had a great time and we decided to take it a stage further."
Next, I was curious to hear how it felt to play that material again after such a lengthy and trying period of being away from it, and the situation of his leaving Dio:
Vivian Campbell: "It was very, very, very exciting, and it actually sounded incredible! We probably could have done a bit of a gig that night. "It was so tight, and it all came back so quickly for us. It was a very unique chemistry that happens with any group of players, especially when you write the songs together. I firmly believe that no two people play alike - no two guitar players are quite the same, no two drummers are the same. There's all sorts of difference between the notes, and little grace notes that are very unique to individuals. "You know, Vinnie, Jimmy, and I, we wrote those songs together, so nobody is ever going to play them like us - and as soon as we started playing, it all came right back."
Getting reinvigorated by playing on the same stage with Thin Lizzy is certainly understandable, but I was interested in what it was actually like to be standing on stage playing with Scott Gorham and Brian Downey after learning their catalog note for note as a kid:
Vivian Campbell: "That was incredible! Because again, every musician is unique, and nobody plays like Brian Downey - he's got a real swing feel to his playing, I don't even think Brian had ever intended to be a rock 'n' roll drummer. It's part of the whole uniqueness, that idiosyncrasy that he has that made that music so unique. "Gorham was one of my guitar heroes - particularly the classic era lineup of Brian Robertson and Scott, like I said, the Live & Dangerous album n particular, and the Jailbreak record, I knew them inside out. It was very much from my love for Thin Lizzy that I came across Gary Moore, who was probably my most influential guitar player, y'know? "It was a real honor and privilege to play with those guys, and to be on stage with them every night. I was pinching myself - here I am on tour with Thin Lizzy, because when I was about 18 or 19, my first band out of Ireland, Sweet Savage, we did a UK tour opening for Thin Lizzy, and every night we'd go on stage and do our thing, then we'd watch Phil Lynott and the band do their thing. I so badly wanted to be a part of that band - and here I was, 30 years later!"
Stepping back a couple of decades, Campbell had joined the already hugely successful Def Leppard after two rough endings with Dio, and Whitesnake. I asked Vivian what he remembered about that experience:
Vivian Campbell: "It was a lot to learn! They are very specific about what they want - it's not open to interpretation, if you know what I mean. "And to be honest, that's more the way I play - my playing has always been a little fast and loose. When it comes to taking liberties with style, because I'm a self taught player, and I'm not very schooled. I still to this day don't understand modes, or any of that stuff. "But I was a Def Leppard fan from way back - like I mentioned before, my band Sweet Savage started at the same time That Leppard did, and they were kind of an inspiration, not even so much musically, but as forging their own path.Leppard and Maiden were two of the first bands to break out of that whole New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing. As a result of that, they were very inspirational. We were very aware of what they were doing, and we were always checking out their music. "I was also a friend of Joe Elliott's - Joe had lived in Dublin for a great many years. He and I had mutual friends, and we knew each other socially. I'd see him in clubs, and we'd go to dinner occasionally, we'd have a little game of soccer together, y'know? So, Joe knew me personally, and he was the one who invited me into the band - he had to do a selling job to the other guys, because the other guys only knew me by reputation. "I'd been in Dio and gotten fired, I'd been in Whitesnake, and been fired....so I was two for two in terms of not being able to hold on to a job. The other guys were a little bit skeptical about my reputation, so we had this sort of long courtship that lasted about two months here in Los Angeles. "I had lived in LA ever since I had come over to do the Holy Diver record, and the band came to town - they were mixing the Andrenalize album. We got together and we played, and it was great when we played, but it wasn't even about the music with the guys in Leppard. "They wanted to be sure that I could be part of their team - they wanted to make a commitment for the long term, they weren't just looking for a guitar player for a tour. "Literally - we went out to movies together, I remember we went to the Imax to see The Rolling Stones, we went to dinner together, played football together, and we'd go into the studio and play some more, then we'd go for a walk! It was like going on a date, y'know? "That went on for six to eight weeks here in Los Angeles, and eventually we really got to know each other, and it worked out. "Material wise, I just put my nose to the grindstone and got in there. I was already familiar with the songs, I just had to ascertain which parts specifically to play, especially on the later material like Hysteria, because there are so many layers of guitar parts. Fortunately, Phil lives about an hour from me, he lives down in Orange County, so he and I could get together frequently, and I just sat with Phil with a couple of practice ampss, and he'd show me the specific parts - you play this for the verse, you play that for the chorus, so it was easy enough! "I like to think that I'm an easy guy to work with, I think if you ask anyone in Leppard, they'll tell you that, but obviously the reputation I had coming out of Dio, and coming out of Whitesnake didn't do me any favors. It didn't look like I was someone who could keep a job!"
We had reached that point in the conversation in which it was time to broach the topic of the guitarist's relationship and history with Ronnie Dio. Many unpleasantries had been exchanged over the years, and in the light of the legendary metal singers' death, many internet discussion were overheard that questioned the appropriateness of the Last In Line project. At this point, I must congratulate Vivian Campbell for stepping up, taking the bull by the horns, and having his say:
Vivian Campbell: "Why would anyone be against the Last In Line idea? "We wrote and recorded those songs, and we'd like to play them! That's what it comes down to - the only issue being that Ronnie and I had a public spat. "I can hold my hand up and admit being wrong about saying some mean things about Ronnie, and I was also derogatory about the genre of music. "The thing that Dio fans may not completely understand is that they weren't there when we wrote and recorded those records - Ronnie was a very difficult person to work with. He was a lovely human being to his fans, but he didn't always share that wonderful personality with those closest to him. "Every human being is complex, there's no back and white, no cut and dry. "I had a very difficult relationship with Ronnie, and he had a very difficult relationship with me, and it really hurt me that he not only fired me, but he went on to betray it as if I had left the band. So that's what got me so riled up, and I really turned my back on him and the genre of music because I was very, very hurt by what it was he had done to me. "I admit that it was childish, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge, and for me, I've taken all that out of the equation. When I think about the music, I didn't listen to it for almost thirty years - that's how caught up I was about that shit. "Ronnie and Wendy Dio went out of their way to betray me as someone who had turned my back on the band in the middle of a tour and quit, which was absolutely, 100% untrue - I was fired from that band, I never intended to leave that band, and I never wanted to leave the band. "Those are my songs as much as they are Ronnie's songs. Jimmy, Vinnie, Claude, and myself got fuck all for those records. We got nothing from the record sales, none of the t-shirt money - we were salaried musicians earning less than our road crew! Because we believed in the music, and we believed as Ronnie had told us that we were going to have an equal cut by the third album. "And that's all I asked for! The third album came along and I said Ronnie, do you remember that first time we met in London when we jammed and this band was put together, and you had promised us that by the third album it would be an equity cut, which was why we got fuck all for all those years? We put our blood, sweat, and tears into doing that and it hurt the fuck out of me, as it would anyone. So then he goes and fires me, and betrays me as being the one who quit. So for thirty years, I didn't listen to those records. "I wanted nothing to do with Dio, I wanted nothing to do with that genre of music - I just removed it all from my life. "After thirty years, and maybe it is because Ronnie's dead, maybe that does make it easier, I don't know - I haven't sat down and analyzed it, but the fact is, that's my music, I'm the one who's entitled to play it, and that's what I'm going to do. "What really makes me laugh is when people think I'm doing it for the money! We've got four shows booked in the UK, and I can't even begin to tell you how much money it's costing to do that. It's all for the love of guitar playing, the only reason I did it in the first place! "The only thing that I would ask is that people come with an open mind.There's been a lot of shit said in the press, a lot of it untrue, some of it is true, but it's truly about the music. I'm not doing this for the money, believe me, I've got plenty of money. It's about the love, the passion for the guitar playing. When I did it in the first place, I didn't do it for the fucking money - $100 a week, I don't think that's a lot of money, and that's what I got for doing Holy Diver. And that's pretty much what I'll get for doing it again, thirty years later, hahaha!"
I was reminded of the days when I was a guitar tech for the McAuley/Schenker Group and had been instructed to never talk money with the band, as we crew members were making a more, shall I say, livable salary:
Vivian Campbell: "Well, that's exactly what happened with Dio. Right up until the Sacred Heart Tour, and when I got fired, we were still getting paid less than guys in the crew! "It's one thing to get less than the principle artist, yes - I get that, but to earn less than the crew? "Especially when you are the ones writing the songs, it's not like we were hired to play the parts. We wrote those fucking songs, we were part of the band, and we were totally gipped over. "But in hindsight? I said all those things about Ronnie, and well yeah, part of it was true about Ronnie being the one who ultimately made the decision, but it was really all Wendy Dio. Jimmy Bain, Vinnie Appice, Claude Schnell, they still haven't made a fucking dime, nor have I. I have been very fortunate to have twenty years of work, so I'm doing fine, thank you. "Rock 'N' Roll is full of these kinds of stories though, y'know? But it's all just very much a labor of love."
We spent a bit more time talking, but I think it feels right to stop here - again, I thank Vivian for being so willing to discuss very openly a part of his history that has been buried for so long. As always, there are two sides to every story, and most generally things aren't as simple as they are made to seem. I definitely get the impression that Campbell feels, and quite frankly I agree, that he has every right to go out and play the music he's written, and I think that at the end of the day it is the music that matters - personally, I can't wait to hear them again doing what they did so marvelously for so long.
I'll leave you with one thought - as soon as Campbell made the call, every member of the original Dio band signed on (and without promise of financial gain), and remain anxious to again take the stage as Last In Line. To me, that speaks volumes.
Pat Travers Band's Can Do (out July 9 on Frontiers Records) sees the veteran rocker in fantastic shape, playing well, singing great, and writing some of the best material of his long career. Staying fit and doing the job is becoming the task for classic rockers who first made their mark in the seventies - some do it great, guys like Travers, Glenn Hughes, and many others, while some choose to still cling to bad habits and not minding that they're giving their fans as little for their dough as they can. Travers delivers here in spades - one of the best records of his career.
Travers has always been best known as a stellar six stringer, and while his playing on this record is a refreshing dose of pure tone and passion, it's his singing and songwriting that are blowing me away. His voice is in great shape, and he's written an album that delivers on melody and rock. I don't know what commercial even means anymore, but Travers has produced what back in the day would certainly have been called commercial - I guess that means it's filled with hooks and hits.
You can still hear the funk and Southern Rock influences that always served to remind that Travers was a product of a time when cross genre music making was a good thing, and Can Do never gets caught in the trap of being too same sounding, or relying on past tricks - a track like Waiting On The End Of Time sounds like it got steeped in New Orleans, then dipped in gooey Marshall goodness. Other times, it goes very commercial and pop without ever sounding like it panders. This all sounds incredibly organic. This is a solid return to rock, which may disappoint the blues rock crowd, but I've been waiting to hear this Travers record for a long time.
Can Do is a big sultry rocker, and an auspicious beginning. Hard rocking harmony guitars abound and the riffs are razor sharp. You immediately notice that Travers is in great voice, and is going for the throat with his vocals. The huge hooky chorus is filled with big chords and nicely layered gang vocals. The guitar solo section is straight out of the eighties classic handbook, and I mean that in the best possible way. One of my favorite hard tracks of the year, and a tremendously pleasing introduction.
Cocky guitars ring in Stand Up, and Pat's silky effected guitars bring back great memories - there are fills galore that have me on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what's next, and that never happens enough. This guy sounds like he's got something to prove, and he's proving it. More great singing, and the writing is wonderfully melodic and forceful. This sucker struts.
Things slow down and the mood changes with Diamond Girl, a melodic ballad that moves on staccato rhythm guitars and Travers' vocal melody. This is much more pop oriented than traditional PT music, but he wears it very well. Swirling synths and more grooving guitars. Nice sequencing - this record never gets caught up in any one mode, and the pacing is excellent.
Hard rock returns with power chords and slashing slide guitars that carry the vocals along on I'm With You. Travers mixes things up nicely and most of these songs are anything but one trick ponies - this cut contributes a musical interlude that intrigues, and brings in a snazzy slide solo that sticks in the brain.
Pat Travers albums always featured some very cool guitar effects, and there's some time based wizardry on the intro of Long Time Gone, another of the coolest hard rockers I've heard this season - this is the first cut that really takes me directly back to the Canadian rocker's past, rip snortin' rock 'n' roll at it's best. This harkens back to the days when guys like Travers and Rick Derringer were filling theaters and arenas with happy rockers.
Wanted (That Was Then, This Is Now) is one of the best grown up rock star songs I've ever heard - it reminds me of Ian Hunter's best looks back in time. Rock 'N' Roll growing up with dignity and beauty, Pat Travers is doing what we can all aspire to and admire - he's getting better with age. This is a classic tune that should be heard the world around. The best song Jon Bon Jovi never wrote - this one comes from the heart, and there's a huge difference.
Furious funk rock marries some serious Southern Boogie on Armed and Dangerous. More great guitars, singing, and songwriting - this one marches boldly as the guitars whipsnap around the husky vocals.
Here Comes The Rain is an unexpected cover, and while it should go over great live, I find that it slows this album down momentarily, simply because Travers' writing is more engaging and immediate. Having said that, he nails it, and there's loads of killer guitars and he sings the hell out of the song.
The guitars come out on the instrumental on Keep Calm & Carry On and the rhythm and blues rhythms are elevated to the cosmos by a wall of note bending guitars and synths - Travers sounds more confident and mature than ever as he never hurries, never rushes, he just smoothly delivers a package that keeps moving and growing - the tones are killer and the playing sublime.
Southern boogie is back with Dust & Bone, and I wish the last Aerosmith album had moved me this much - it's impossible to sit still on this one, and then Travers throws in some stratosphere seeking lead lines that thrill the hell out me. Another great vocal, and bassist Rodney O'Quinn keeps this one moving with some percolating low end.
Waiting On The End Of Time sounds like someone mixed up The Rolling Stones with The Atlantic Rhythm Section and brought in Dr John on the vocals. One hell of a cool stew, and it's all Travers - I might be begging comparisons, but be clear that this is his hour to shine. This is another instant classic - again, I wish commercial still meant commercial and this tune could be a great summertime hit. This is top down rock of the highest caliber.
Red Neck Boogie is just that and the jump is jumping - this is as close to a blues tune as Travers gets on this outing, and it's still chock full of high octane rockin'. It's actually a great way to end the album, as after almost a whole record of new world Pat Travers we're reminded that he's the same cat that snorted whiskey and drank cocaine - but he lived to tell the tale, and a few new ones to boot, and that's what mattered.
I hadn't planned on being blown away by a new Pat Travers Band album, but I'll take it as an auspicious way to start the week which will see me married - hell yes, this is a great record, certainly one of Travers' best, and one that will please a lot of guitar rock fans. Top ten on 2013, I'm guessing, and who'd have thunk? Congrats, Pat and band, on a great new record.
The Pat Travers Band is a band, but my access to liner notes is such that I can't say much except that everyone plays their asses off.
Maybe the lesson is to keep your head down, your ears back, and tough it out. In an economy in which many (if not most) have folded up and headed back to the barn by little choice, Dan Boul has maintained his rather headstrong notion of compromising on anything but the amps, and posited his firm, 65amps, at the apex of guitar amplification.
65amps wasn't built as a commercial proposition, but from a desire to design and construct the ultimate guitar amp - in concept, design, build quality, and sound. Guitarist Peter Stroud needed the tone of his 100 watt vintage Marshalls, but at a more user friendly volume, and he also needed an amp that was bulletproof - you can't go silent in front of 10,000 Sheryl Crow fans. Ever.
To say that Dan Boul and Peter Stroud are world class amp nerds (their phrase), well, that may be as steeped in understatement as I most generally am in hyperbole. This pair had been friends for a great many years going back to working in the trenches of a large Atlanta music store in the days when the clients would number Black Crowes, Georgia Satellites, and half of Athens' legendary music scene. You had to know what the hell you were talking about, you can't fool guys like that - they're players, they know the score. They also have between them over forty years of being professional musicians. Even from the very early days, Stroud and Boul had their heads both in back of, and in front of the classic amps of the age, figuring out the magic.
To say that when they finally decided to design and build an amp from the ground up, Stroud's job with one of the best selling bands in the world at the time depended upon their ability to deliver is no exaggeration. After endless hours, days, and months of borderline neurotic obsession, solder burns, and deliberation, 65amps London was born.
But not as an amp company - that didn't happen until after hearing Stroud's new amp, Sheryl Crow was heard to say, "Where's mine? I want one," and suddenly Dan Boul's phone at his desk at a software company began being rang by the likes of Joe Walsh (who just bought a new 65amps Producer EL last week), Peter Frampton, and Steve Miller. The world was finally catching on to the concept of classic amp stack tone at livable volume. Stroud is musical director for Sheryl Crow's top flight road band, and he's been with the chanteuse for well over a decade.
Dan Boul likes to say that while he'd love to be able to tell you this all came about because of his genius and acumen, it's really down to fear - not only did the first amp, and then by association, every amp after the first have to sound better than the classics that inspired them, they also had to be indestructible, and well, they had to look cool. He and Stroud thought through the features, the tones, and then, to insure that they never fail on the job, they overbuilt at every step and only used the very finest components that they could find, or in the case of the amps heart, they had output transformers built to an incredibly precise ideal by Sergio Hamernik of Mercury Magnetics. The fear of coming up short was unspeakable, and that concept remains to this day.
Dan Boul and George Coutretsis of CMEI had the privilege of accompanying Dan Boul on the mission of personally introducing himself and his amps to two of the titans of modern musical instrument retailing, Chicago Music Exchange, and Sweetwater Musical Instruments & Pro Audio of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Over the last two years, I've gotten to know Dan pretty well, largely do to the fact that I feel like I spend an hour or two with him every week as he delivers his wildly successful weekly podcast, Lunch with Dan Boul From 65amps. I've come to realize that Boul is a true original - first off, he's a guitar player who has played professional for a great many years. Next, he'd worked in music stores for a long time, and knew what selling was all about. He got his business chops and polish from a successful run in the software industry during its boom years. When you put these experiences together and couple it with the fact that he happens to be a very personable fellow, and you realize that he may be the first rock star/boutique amp builder.
Most boutique amp builders come to the game from the ranks of repair shops, and the art of cloning classic designs - Boul and Stroud came from in front of the amps, and learned the tech side by tweaking, fixing, and modifying their own amps. The difference is that while they learned the hardware side of things, they also had their eyes down the road - not copying classic designs, in fact, they've never designed an amp based upon an old schematic. What they have done is to conceive every amp they make with a specific mission in mind. They build amps for just two people - themselves. That their customers, including a great many rock stars, and seemingly half of Nashville loves their wares is a pleasant after effect of that fact.
When I heard that Boul was heading towards the Midwest, I quickly volunteered to act as chauffeur, and proverbial fly on the wall , and in a most typical act of graciousness, Dan accepted my offer, as he could not have foreseen the travails. Delayed flights, traffic jams, tornadoes and five inches of rain, none of which even momentarily derailed the mission. It never got funnier, or more sad when the desk clerk looked at us after a long drive into the dankest of Chicago suburbs and said, "No. It's a single with a king." Not words you want to hear in a city of sold out hotels. No, not even this upset the apple cart, it just made for more laughs and knowing nods - the road is like that when someone else has made the arrangements.
We arrived at Chicago Music Exchange on Tuesday evening - if you've never been, CME is unquestionably one of the world's finest guitar shops. It's not only a gorgeous facility, it's also filled with a stunningly beautiful array of new, used, and vintage instruments. Whether it's a new guitar design from Dennis Fano, or the 1958 Gibson doublecut Les Paul Junior that Boul grabbed to demo his innovative amps, they cover a lot of ground. Store Manager George Coutretsis gave us the fifty cent tour and introduced us to the store's expert sales staff, and Film Producer Chris Hershman - it may seem strange, but yeah, the store employs a full time videographer, and they manage to keep him quite busy. 9,000 square feet of store holding over 2500 great guitars and amps (not to mention a new drum department and much more to come) multiplied by some seriously enthusiastic employees equals what owner David Kalt calls, "The coolest guitar store in the country."
CME's impressive wall of Rickenbacker heavenAfter being greeted by some 65amps owners and their families (like I said, Boul is rapidly becoming a star in his own right based on the success of his amps, and his podcast), we got things sorted out for some video shooting to be done early the next morning, and it was then off to some fun and food Chicago style. Local musician and 65 fan Dominic Harris was our host for the evening, and he did a marvelous job of getting us where we needed to go, and educating us on the Chicago music scene, which includes his band, The Diemakers. The food was provided by Soprano's Italian Restaurant, and it delivered upon the ageless promise of Chicago cuisine.
The next morning we were in the hands of filmmaker Hershman, and several product demos were filmed - they even pulled off an abbreviated Lunch with Dan Boul from 65amps podcast from the store, and I'm guessing they'll have more up their creative sleeves in due time. At any rate, it was a great time, and an auspicious beginning to what should be a marriage made in heaven. I love the fact that I can be completely honest and say that these are some of the best guitar amps on the planet, and this just might be the coolest guitar store in America.
We then headed south to Fort Wayne, Indiana, home to Sweetwater Musical Instruments & Pro Audio. If CME is the epitome of small shop cool and vibe, Sweetwater is corporate culture gone right - so self sufficient that they even maintain their own full service hair salon for their over 200 sales engineers and staff. The sprawling campus is growing, and the company expects to add yet another 300 jobs in the foreseeable future, and is building an additional 100,000 square feet of showrooms and offices to house their growth.
Dan Boul with Sweetwater's Mitch GallagherThere is certainly more than one way to approach anything, and while you couldn't find two more diametrically opposed operations, both CME and Sweetwater are state of the art in their field, and the common thread seems to be a culture of superior customer service - it matters not if you have all the inventory advantages in the world if you can't put a smile on your customer's face, and these titans of MI retailing are doing just that every day. It's a trait they share with Dan Boul, and everyone at 65amps - it is not at all unusual to call their offices and find yourself on the phone with the CEO and founder himself. In a time of economic uncertainty, all three of these businesses are rapidly expanding and growing, a most impressive and telling fact.
Professor Boul schooling the troops at SweetwaterIn spite of being located in a small city, Sweetwater has done an impressive job of recruiting some of the finest talent in the business - readers of Premier Guitar will be familiar with their Editorial Director, Mitch Gallagher, a longtime veteran at Sweetwater, as well as with publications such as EQ Magazine, where he served as Editor in Chief. I had a chance to sit and chat with Mitch, and he hospitably regaled me with a great overview of what makes the company so successful. Who knew that there were over 600,000 pages of musical instrument content on Sweetwater's website?
Matt Duncan, who came to the Indiana retailer from a large MI mail order shop located in Medford, Oregon was our chaperone for a night out on the town, and after a great dinner and some beverages at the local pub, we were nearly swept away - first by the hospitality, and then by five inches of rain and sporadic tornado touchdowns in the area. The next morning we were greeted by a CNN report from where? Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the weather somehow outmaneuvered us for story of the day.
Dan Boul cowboyed up at the early hour of seven a.m. (that's four in the morning Los Angeles time), and put on a commanding performance for several hundred sales engineers in the company's state of the art theater. A huge room with fantastic sound, lights, and cameras, this theater never sounded better than when Boul strapped on a Strat and rocked the room with his wares. After a forty minute presentation, Boul then proceeded to deliver the message in small doses for several hours - Sweetwater calls this office hours, and the professor was in. Again, let me beat this horse silly and state that this guy holds a crowd in his hands as well as anyone. Fierce passion, an incredible innate curiosity, and a huge dollop of courtesy is evidently all it takes.
The Sweetwater CampusAt lunch we were joined by industry veteran Jon Croft - after leaving VHT Amplification in 2005, Croft signed on with industry giant Guitar Center, where he quickly climbed to the position of overseeing the company's high end Platinum Rooms as National Platinum Manager. In just over a year at Sweetwater as a Senior Category Manager he increased guitar and amp sales over 60%, proving that hard work, innovation, and vision can lead to improvement even when something is already successful, and in what most consider trying times. That Croft chose to relocate to a sleepy Midwestern town speaks volumes of Sweetwater's ability to attract the best of the best.
What keeps coming back to me, as I reflect on this rocket shot of a road trip is the consistent looks of amazement on faces when they experience hearing 65amps for the first time. When Boul says that his Lil' Elvis head is rated at a clean 12 watts, almost everyone looks on and shakes their head with the thought of, "Yup, too big for the living room and too little for the gig." He then proceeds to tear off a bit of classic rock history with the amp turned up, and it is the unmistakeable sound of a generation - and it's loud. Loud enough for most stages, certainly. When he cranks back the innovative master voltage knob, the amp becomes family friendly and retains the vaunted tone. If you know much about guitar amps, you'll realize that this feat is about as easy as getting 40 miles to a gallon from a Ferrari, and still winning the race. It does clean, it does dirty, it does things one little amp has never really done before. It's tremolo was born in Lodi, and its meaty girth comes straight from La Grange. Until you hear it, my words can only attempt to evoke the joy you will experience - it's a trip like no other, believe me.
Yup, a '58 Junior.We then wrapped it up, packed it up, and headed back to the barn - like the genius I am, I made sure that I could catch Chicago's legendarily busy rush hour traffic both to and from the airport, where I delivered Boul back to the plane that would deliver him back to his family in time for the weekend. He had come and he conquered - made some new friends, hung out with some old acquaintances, convinced a few hundred of the very best musical instrument salesmen in the country that good things do come in small packages, and that 65amps might be the most innovative thing to hit the amp world since the master volume. The days may be over when your boutique builder resembles your mechanic - there's a new breed afoot, and a day is dawning in which amps and guitars are again becoming the things of legend, looking great, sounding great, and delivering on the promise.
Thanks to Dan Boul, 65amps, Chicago Music Exchange, and Sweetwater Musical Instrument & Pro Audio.
"It's been great! We've done our last few records through crowd funding. I was really surprised, because when we floated the idea, I didn't expect it to go that well, but we've got great fans out there who are willing to put their money where there mouth is, so to speak, and pay for something that hasn't even been made yet, which I think is pretty amazing." ~ Alan Morse, Spock's Beard
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is Spock's Beard's eleventh studio album, and critics and fans are agreeing that it's one of their best. In a day in which many records get made in a matter of days, these prog rock veterans are still putting in the time, energy, and work to get things right, and you can hear it loud and clear. New singer Ted Leonard fits like a glove, and both his writing and his vocals are top notch. I recently had the opportunity to get the story from the band's founder, Alan Morse.
Alan Morse: "We had toured with Enchant (Leonard's long running band), they opened for us on a couple of tours, so we were pretty familiar with Ted and of what he is capable - plus, Dave Meros has been doing a cover band with him. When we realized we needed a new singer, Dave said, 'Maybe Ted would be into it.'
"The fans seem to be right in there with the change, I haven't heard anything but great comments about it. He's been killing it live - he's singing, playing guitar, and doing everything without a hiccup, and everybody picks up on that."
Leonard wrote the record's first track, and Hiding Out is a tremendous way for the band to introduce their new frontman. His is one of the best voices in the genre, I'm reminded of the days in which Kansas' Steve Walsh was filling arenas with his range, power, and chops. The time spent on arranging and production is immediately apparent and the band's players are all on point. Seven minutes and some change later, it's easy to see why Leonard got this gig. Win/win for everyone involved.
Ryo Okumoto deserves to be a household name, though in fact, keyboardists most generally get short shrift in this world. His playing is amazing throughout the record, and on I know Your Secret, he's everywhere and he manages it all quite tastefully, while Dave Meros throws down an astonishing bass line with a tone that is captivating - overdriven and thick, it still manages to retain a crisp bite, and when the first instrumental interlude arrives, it sounds a mile wide and deep. After this movement, the band goes into a very melodic section that is filled with a great vocal from Leonard, and a melange of background vocals that will definitely have you approving of the band's taking its time.
A Treasure Abandoned, a tune written by Alan Morse, and longtime collaborator John Boegehold, is a showpiece for Morse's always inventive and tasteful rhythm guitar work - this is another tune that allows Leonard to show off his range, the silkiness of his phrasing, and he makes the best of this opportunity to shine. His double tracked work on the bridge is sublime, and he mixes things up so well that it is very exciting to see where he will go next. Morse wraps things up with a rather epic guitar solo, and these guys make thrilling sound easy.
Alan Morse: "Most of the stuff was written before Ted joined - we changed it slightly, but it's not really much different. Range-wise, Nick was similar, but Ted can go a little higher. It might change our writing moving forward, though. I think the John Boegehold stuff was written thinking more about Ted. "There were parts of Submerged, Ted's tune, that, well, I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but some of this stuff makes me cry when I hear it."
Submerged has big rock melody, huge hooks, and it builds up to another great guitar solo from Morse, before returning back to hit singlesville. Drummer Jimmy Keegan is explosive on this track - he's a very musical drummer, and his sense of dynamics work perfectly when partnered up with Dave Meros' excellent bass work.
Alan Morse's brother Neal returns to the fold, co-writing Afterthoughts and Waiting For Me - the former being a melodic piece of quasi Middle Eastern funk that sets a nice stage for Leonard's lyrical manifesto. Mad as a hatter? As well as this all works, who cares? Leonard's words match wonderfully with the Morse brothers bent composition.
Alan Morse on Leonard's role as a writer for the band: "I hadn't even really thought about it that much. But after we had set it all up, we were on our way down to Mexico for a gig, and he played me some stuff on a solo record he was working on, and I went, 'This shit is great, can we do this?' He said, 'Sure,' so there you have it."
Something Very Strange is as close as Spock's Beard comes to straight ahead rock - it's still filled with interesting changes, segues, and I love that for all the technical prowess on display, the band never becomes insular, or too esoteric - it's all very melodic, and never just clever for clever's sake. Dave Meros is a vastly underrated bassist - he's toneful as hell, he's got amazing chops, and he's mighty musical. Okumoto again paints huge sonic textures, and fills space with a fairly remarkable number of synth tones and sounds. Morse shreds a mighty solo, and then again the group convenes on a fade of great gang vocals and playing. Written by longtime band collaborator John Boegehold, but it manages to sound very coherent, which is a trait that the album exemplifies. Regardless of the writer, the material always sounds like Spock's Beard.
Ending the album proper quite epically is another Morse brothers composition, Waiting For Me. After a few hard rocking minutes that evoke again memories of days when prog-rock filled arenas, the band goes fusion-esque to great effect before breaking down into a section that makes me wonder why Yes never got Graham Nash in to replace Jon Anderson, if you will. Alan Morse takes a solo that begins with pastoral melody, then leads into a fireball of furious full contact magnificence. These guys are such great players that it's easy, again, to be so involved with the joy of the music that you almost forget how virtuosic this all is.
There is more excellence to be found on the bonus disc (roughly an extra half hour of music) - it's all top shelf, and not filler in any way. I'll let you discover this for yourself, though.
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is great evidence that fan and crowd funding can be a very effective method in the new music business model:
Alan Morse: "Yeah, I think so. I think our fans appreciate that it takes a lot of work to make this stuff. We're not just putting it down on a laptop, and putting it out. It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to make this, and they appreciate that - they know that if we can't get paid, we can't keep doing this, and we appreciate that. "The tracking took us pretty close to a year - from first track to mixed product, that took a year. Before that, it's kind of hard to measure, because we never sat down and said, 'Let's start writing for the record. "For me, there's still a lot of moments on this record that kick my butt if I listen to it."
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep has been out for a while (April 2), and as I mentioned above, it's being heralded by both fan's and the music press. It's a stunner from beginning to end, and you should probably just order yourself up a copy.
Thanks to Alan Morse, Spock's Beard, Inside Out Records, and Billy James at Glass Onyon PR!
King King's second long player picks up where their first left off, and Alan Nimmo goes bold by covering such legends as Frankie Miller (who's Jealousy is the album's first single), and Paul Rodgers, (by way of Free on Heavy Load, from the band's classic 1970 release, Fire and Water) - and he totally pulls it off in grand fashion. Standing In The Shadows covers a lot of bases, and its gorgeous mix of soul, blues, and classic rock makes this one of the best records I've heard this year. This is another one of those records that I consider to be not unlike a greatest hits album by an act I had somehow missed along the way.
There's not many records that I write about these days in which I can state that I like the vocals as well, if not better than the guitars. Alan Nimmo? Now, let me just say - the guy is a killer, killer guitar player. It's taken me two weeks to get this review written, because I can't help but at some point pick up a guitar and start playing myself, and that's one step higher than dancing for me. But, I digress - Nimmo takes on some legends here, and he does them proud. He has tone, phrasing, and just a damned good voice fin which to listen. He's powerful, and his vibrato is velvet and honey. A great singer.
Wayne Proctor brings not just some seriously swinging drum chops, but also his fine ears and skills as co-producer on this, and I thank him not just for the cool stickwork, but also for placing it perfectly in a superb mix. Any time a guy can separate a bass, Hammond organ, and kick drum this well, I consider him a friend, and myself a fan. This record sounds great - it is a joy to listen to sonically speaking, great performances aside.
More Than I Can Take sounds like it might be a straight blues riff until the band comes in swinging and then when Nimmo's vocal comes in, it's straight soulshine. These guys groove, and they groove hard. They play like grown men, not needing to fill every space possible, no, this stuff breathes. Nimmo takes a two part guitar solo, and when he kicks on the wah pedal for the second half, the whole thing takes off to the stratosphere. Bennett Holland's organ playing is well up in the mix, and bassist Lindsay Coulson (who co-writes with Nimmo) is rock steady.
Nimmo evokes the legacy of the classic Brit blues rock shouter across the whole of the album, and nowhere better than on Taken What's Mine - it's a well written mid-tempo piece that seems familiar upon first listening. You may know where it's going, but it's a hell of a great trip. Nimmo kicks in some power chords on the ending, and solos over it in a way that reminds me that guitar solos are supposed to build, they are supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Three songs in and they keep getting better - A Long History Of Love is a gorgeous soul song that takes you to the church of heartache, heartbreak, and the hope of redemption and reconciliation. This is one of those songs that you hear, and you wonder how someone hadn't already written it. Dynamics figure big on this record - the fellows slow down magnificently, and when they build, they soar. Listening to the band build up to the guitar solo gives me goosebumps - they do exactly, exactly what they are supposed to do - they make Nimmo play better, and you hear it in his bends, which are some of the coolest I've heard in recent years. Great stuff. Proctor's drums are a wonder on this one, listen close.
Frankie Miller is one of the greatest singer/songwriters that ever lived. He was singing his life, he wasn't sitting around trying to write a hit, though he wrote a few, and the track that Nimmo tackles is Jealousy, one of Frankie's best. Nimmo knocks it out of the park - when he sings the chorus, surrounded by some very nice harmonized guitar parts, he owns it. At 1:50 into the track, he hits the best guitar note on the album, and maybe of the year - it's a single note D at the 5th fret, and Nimmo squeezes it at tightly as a lover for the next sixteen seconds, before turning it into a crushing power chord that announces another chorus. Another blazing solo follows and Alan isn't a chops heavy player, but what he plays is exactly what should be played. Frankie would so dig this.
Bennett Holland tinkles some nice electric piano to ring in What Am I Supposed To Do, on which Coulson plays some very cool percolating bass as Nimmo unwinds another tale. Throughout the song that electric piano keeps showing up and filling the spaces with some seventies magic - a great touch. When he gets a solo it's a joy. A stone cold groove, my man.
Big rock's next on the menu, and Proctor makes an unholy racket that makes you think he means it - I've long since given up on exciting drum performances in general, but it's good to get smacked by the evidence that it's still out there, there are still great drummers playing great drums. One More Time Around isn't the record's strongest track, but it rocks and probably plays out better on stage.
Nimmo shows off his clean rhythm chops on Can't Keep From Trying, and it's a strutting number that reveals some serious soul chops all around. The drum fills and intros are masterful, more Wrecking Crew than 2013, and everyone plays so well that the whole thing is over before you know it, and too soon.
Coming Home (Rest Your Eyes) wouldn't sound out of place on a Squeeze box set - another trick up there sleeve, and another rhythm mastered. A more song-centered time is evoked. Nimmo sings his ass off again, and he gets the concept that as a song goes along, you build it, create some drama. Is it my imagination, or are things getting more musical again? Again and again, this record reminds me of music's more noble traits.
The snare drum build that introduces Heavy Load ought to win Proctor a Grammy Award. I'm guessing that he knows that if you're going to do a Free song, you'd damned well better approach it with gravitas. It's not a task for the timid, and these guys brilliantly own it. Going into the solo, Nimmo pauses, and I can't help but wondering if he's not wondering about Paul Kossoff - his solo is very respectful, and he brings his own voice to it nicely. He doesn't try to do some silly fast runs, or anything out of context to the proceedings, he plays for the song. If you didn't know who Free was, it wouldn't matter, and you'd just think this was another great number by another great band. Nice work - damned nice work.
Let Love In is a strong toe tapper, but I'm left feeling that it may have been mis-sequenced - it's a cool tune, but following what just came before asks too much. This will have you missing the quasi calypso swing of Robert Palmer. Hell, it's well written, well played, and contains another nimble Nimmo solo, so what am I bitching about. The more I hear it, I think this song could have clocked Heavy Load if they had kicked it off with the chorus - the beginning of the song isn't powerful enough, but if you go to the 2:50 mark and hear that as the beginning, it would be huge. Then again, I could be full of shit.
What I do know is that I've been digging this record for a while now, and it is to be released in America on June 18th on Manhaton Records - I understand it's in the top twenty in Europe, and I'm hoping that this thing catches on in the States and we get to see this bunch play live.
Great music is being made, and while it may be harder to find than it was in years past, it's worth the search. Your life will be better with the inclusion of King King.
Today sees the re-release of Wings Over America, and a more perfect way to waltz into the summer season is hard to imagine. Maybe what I like most about it is the act of the artist actually giving a damn, and supplying fans with value for their money. Paul McCartney has yet to rest upon his laurels - he's still doing lively and long shows to loving throngs, and when he puts out product, it delivers on the promise.
Originally released in 1976, Wings Over America sounds as fresh today as it did during the summer of America's bicentennial. That year, the three album set sold over 4 million copies, and landed on top of the Billboard Album Charts - it might not perform quite that well this summer, but it will stand as one of the best packages released in 2013.
I recently saw Rockshow, the DVD filmed on the same tour, in a cinema and I was amazed at my response - it was like being 16 again. I was giddy with excitement, and every tune took me back to somewhere both familiar and great. The almost two and a half hour show never sagged, it sailed from beginning to end.
McCartney successfully manages to make the argument that he may just be the most well rounded musician to ever grace a stage. His writing is easily equal to any, his singing is inspired and strong throughout, his piano playing is as good as any rock 'n' rollers, his bass playing is rivaled by few in any genre, and while he's always the star, he still manages to share the stage with his band, giving them ample opportunity to shine and when they are busy shining, Paul plays the consummate sideman. If anyone has offered a more complete package, I can't recall it.
And what a band. Denny Laine, who supplied a multi-instrumental flair, an excellent voice, and songwriting skills to boot, had been pulled from relative anonymity by McCartney when the ex-Beatle decided to form a band and hit the road. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch was recruited after Paul, Denny, and Linda had recorded Band On The Run in Lagos, Nigeria, and his fiery lead work is still a wonder to experience - McCulloch succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of just 26, and it's one of rock's strangest ironies that his most remembered performance is singing the anti-drug classic, Medicine Jar on the band's Venus and Mars album, an album nearly performed in whole on this live set. Joe English, an unlikely unknown is a marvel behind the drum kit, and also a fine accompanying vocalist. Rounding out the band is the missus - Paul's Linda, and her performances here are downright charming. Linda and Paul endured great criticism over her presence on the stage, but the result is still a remarkable live album and film, so damn the critics. The band is superb, they are given great latitude to display their talents, and they deliver in spades.
Paul McCartney's performance is a wonder to behold - he makes it look so easy that one has to step back, watch, listen, then realize that what you have before you is truly a musical god. His skillset is indeed hard to match, and he has a great time displaying them. If anyone at these shows had more fun, it would be a surprise.
As remasters go, this one is a huge success - McCartney's voice is captured in crisp high fidelity, as is the entire show. The guitars are punchy and vibrant - McCulloch is forever documented as an amazingly sharp soloist, and Laine's inventive versatility is highlighted as he maneuvers from double neck electric to bass to acoustic guitar, and piano. Maybe the coolest feature of the remastering process is the sound of McCartney's Rickenbacker bass. Sitting comfortably in the front of the mix, it becomes apparent that Paul is quite deserving when referred to by many as rock's best bassist. The separation is succinct, and the rich tone-fulness of every instrument is superb throughout. This should be textbook material for anyone who will ever mix a live record - it gets little better than this.
There's no need for me to go into individual song performances, but I will mention that the Wings material has aged very well, and stands next to The Beatles classics quite well. There's no time in which the set sags - it starts on a high and remains there for the duration. Whether you were one of the original millions who owned Wings Over America, or not, this remastered re-release is a winner. The remaster does sound better than the original CD release, and its crisp, in-your-face mix will have you smiling from ear to ear all summer long.
Hats off to Mr. McCartney for showing that he still cares - in a day and age when the competition for the entertainment dollar is at an all time high, the cute Beatle remains a stellar bargain.
Special mention to the late Jimmy McColluch - this set reminds me what a gifted and special guitarist the young Scot was, and what the world lost with his passing. His playing here is phenomenal - the notes, the tones, his phrasing are all essential rock listening.
Black Star Riders have pulled it off. They've made an excellent record, created an identity for themselves, been true to Phil's legacy, and managed to not piss me off. I didn't think they'd piss me off, nor do I imagine that they'd worry much if they did - but here's what I said about this record's prospects back in 2011:
"What about a new Thin Lizzy record? "Now this is a whole other can of worms, and it's where I have some serious concerns. This is a tough call. I do believe that the band has every right to record new music, and to release it under the Thin Lizzy name. However, to release new music under that name is a huge responsibility, and has not been done since Phil died. That being said, it would be very ballsy, as no one currently in the band has released any original music that is even close to the standard set by Lynott. It would come with a tremendous amount of pressure, and a dim view from a great many music fans. Personally, I would love to see them try it. Send Warwick back to Scotland for a couple of months, with nothing but pen, paper, and a busman's wages. Take some of the dough that's been made on these recent tours, and hire a ball busting producer who loves the legacy. Then make the best Thin Lizzy album that can be made. If at the end, it isn't up to snuff? Bury it. Deep."
Turns out they did me one better - they made a great record and managed to do it in the best way, with a new name, and a new beginning.
The mindset I entered when I put the record on was to imagine that this lineup had released this record a year after Thunder and Lightning came out in 1983 with a few lineup changes - Lizzy replaced guitar players with some regularity, so this would just be a slightly larger realignment. And if this had happened, and Ricky Warwick had been Phil's replacement then, I'd have not been overly sad. There's no replacing Lynott, but Warwick's his own man, and he's done a great fucking job here.
Scott Gorham has done well. He's always made sure that the legacy of Thin Lizzy has been respected, and no one has ever left a show disappointed when that moniker was on the marquee.
Damon Johnson - I hope you are grinning from ear to ear. Johnson is the latest of a very long line of amazing lead guitarists who have partnered up with Gorham to create the signature sound, and he has nailed it - his writing and playing are certainly in the spirit of the past, but he plays himself, and he stands as the next guy to follow Sykes, Robertson, Moore, and Bell, not a guy who is copying them. He's done a great job, and hats off to him.
Jimmy DeGrasso brings glory and while he doesn't try to copy Brian Downey's sense of swing, he does well doing his own thing, and when you hear his playing on Before The War, you'll so dig it. His playing is superb, filled with great fills and imaginative parts.
I'll wrap up fawning over the players by praising Marco Mendoza - he shines most brightly on the set closing Blues Ain't So Bad, but he does the same stellar work he always provides. Listen close, and be blown away with great frequency.
All Hell Breaks Loose is the opener, as well as the title tune, and it displays the update of the sound rather well. Warwick's a story teller, and he weaves his tale with great skill. This has bigger, brasher chords than a Lizzy classic would, and they fit fantastically. Johnson plays some great rhythms that compliment Gorham's signature comping really well throughout the tune. Musically it's more glam than the past, and the words may actually be closer to Springsteen than Lynott, but that's no put down. Truth is, it sounds like Ricky Warwick.
Now, Bound For Glory? Well, it's straight up Lizzy, but again, if this was 1984, I would not be pissed. If anything, I wish they had layered up the background vocals a bit more, but that's nitpicking on my part. When the guitars go into the solo, you'll dig Gorham and Johnson doing a bit of a reinvention and introducing a few new dance steps. Good stuff, if you don't dig this? I really don't know what to say.
'Caveman' Kevin Shirley earns his wage on Kingdom of the Lost, taking the band back to the very early days - I don't know that the legacy ever got this close to Ireland once Moore left the band. It's derivative as hell, but that's what Irish rock does - it transports us back to Ireland, and this does it well. This actually does sound more like Moore than Lynott, but the apple falls not far, right? Shirley does a fine job - everything is right where you want it, and it sounds like he got what went down in his usual fine fashion.
Bloodshot is another tune that updates the sound - Mendoza blazes some great basslines, which yeah, I wish were a bit louder in the mix, but damn these guitars sure sound great. This is a great band that Gorham's joined/built! The open, string skipping intro is a beautiful marriage between classic Lizzy and maybe a more Americanized hard rock that absolutely smokes, and works quite well.
Continuing the modernization project, Kissin' The Ground sounds like what might have happened if things had ended differently and Lynott had ended up in a band with Slash and The Clash. Put that in your pipe and smoke on it for a while. I'm playing around with these comparison things for fun and to make it easy, but this is just great rock at the end of the day.
Ricky Warwick takes the bull by the horns on Hey Judas, and if his doesn't win you over, nothing will. The guy sings his ass off, and writes better than he sings. I can't wait to see this guy get the chance to sing his own words over this band before the loyal - it's going to kick some ass. Gorham and Johnson are great on this one, tighter than a gnat's ass, as I once heard it put.
Hoodoo Voodoo is maybe the least Lizzy tune here, and it helps me solidify in my mind what this band sounds like on its own - even the guitar harmonies are of a fairly new breed, with Mssrs. G and J going a bit more linear, and less patterned - a nice variation to the theme. Again, Mendoza is playing his ass off, and I'm thrilled when he and DeGrasso lock together, and throw it down.
More cool hard rock appears on Valley Of The Stones, and it's more G&R than anything from the seventies, and that's a cool thing, as this is 2013 and if these guys had spent too much time in the past, it wouldn't work - the guitar harmonies are more Iron Maiden than Lizzy, and while this isn't the album's strongest cut, it's still much better than you're likely to hear on many others' records.
Someday Salvation is pretty classic Lizzy with a bit of pop and polish added - again, if this was just the next TL record in '84, I'd be one buzzed kid, especially digging the sha-na-nas. I cannot imagine any Phil fan not loving this. We can't have the man, but this is a great furthering of his brainchild.
The record's coolest exhibition of their collective skills may be on the epic Before The War - this one follows in the footsteps of The Warrior, and The Emerald as Irish rock classics. Everyone is firing on all cylinders and rock ain't near dead in 2013. Damon Johnson steps up once again, and throws down some wicked licks, and Gorham does the magic he's always done - maybe hard rock's best rhythm man?
This album is not nearly as much Thin Lizzy tribute as one may have imagined - no track proves it better than the set closing Blues Ain't So Bad. This has a swing that is brand new, and the chimed harmonics slither by pleasingly, as Mendoza cuts a groove so deep you can see the very bottom. Huge power chords explode out, and the tale is dealt by Warwick with a very effective under-vocal that I don't know who provided, but it's a great addition to the arrangement. What a great ending to an excellent album.
There are those who will still bitch, and carp, but this is a really fine hard rock record - one that makes peace with the past, and forges forward. I can't imagine how this bunch and producer Kevin Shirley could have done any better. They nailed it, and I dig it. I really can't imagine you not loving this record after a few spins.
Daft Punk reminds us that we can make musical dreams come true, that's why. Random Access Memories is a concept come to life in a way that's been missing from music for too long. Is it the best album of 2013? Well, that's a very subjective thing, and how in the fuck do you measure that anyway?
It is a great record - it is well written, incredibly well played by some of the best ever, and it's so pleasing to the ears that it will make kids want big speakers again. Could it be that the robots finding a heart may be more key than we're aware? Daft Punk haven't taken down the wall, they've done better - they've become vulnerable, while reminding us of our own humanity at the same time.
Get Lucky hits me with a groove as shocking as hearing Miss You was in 1978. The Stones did disco better than most, and they never put down their Strats to do it. My friend, Dan Boul of 65amps, has been on a tear recently, preaching the need for a return of rhythm to rock - it's gotta get you moving and allow you to stop over thinking, and he is dead on, absolutely right. He's nailed it. Rock 'N' Roll fer crissakes. The minute I heard that Nile Rodgers, Omar Hakim, and Nathan East were the heartbeat behind this tune it hit my speakers, and I've been playing it ever since. Spotify says it is their most played song ever, and I can certainly get that.
Random Access Memories' importance is not in whether it's the best album of 2013, though it will certainly make a lot of lists come year's end. Its importance is in the matter of intent. Daft Punk set out to make the record they always wanted to make, and they succeeded - they gathered up the finest collaborators they could, put them in great studios with great engineers, wrote a bunch of seriously compelling songs, and they made a great album.
Read that line again. They made a great album. How often do we hear ourselves saying that these days? It sounds kind of like a new toy in the hands of a very bright child. It quotes often, and well - reaching deep into the past to find the future. I trust the judgement of Niles Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder - true giants, they aren't guesting here, they are collaborating with like minded artists. Giorgio By Moroder will reinvigorate disco once again, and this time around the real musicians are back on board, making it real. The Return of the Groove.
Paul Williams is this years' John Travolta - remember when Tarantino rescued the actor with Pulp Fiction? It's a return of a favor of sorts, as without Phantom of the Paradise, the 70's sci-fi take on the classic phantom tale, Daft Punk may not exist. His star moment here is Touch, a tune that's half Studio 54/half Philip K. Dick, and it's a wonderfully cinematic piece that leads us into the hit single. Williams delivers - always a masterful writer, and he's back. I hope we hear more from him - maybe get him together with Don Was and the (Not Was) kids.
One of my gripes with electronic music is mind dulling repetition and the lack of musical dynamics - this has been resoundingly addressed, as Daft Punk have brought in Omar Hakim and John (J.R.) Robinson and set them loose. This is a great drum album, and there's never enough great drum albums.
Lose Yourself To Dance is a beautiful marriage between Nile Rodgers' homage to his own past, and fashion king Pharrell Williams' twist on The Artist Known As Whatshisname. In fact, next time out, these fellas need to get Prince on board for a smokin' guitar solo, or two. Dance music hasn't sounded this cool in three decades - how can this not excite me?
Within will be a closet classic - the robot as a man, I can't remember hearing anything so haunting for ages, and again, the melodies, the music, the production, well, everything about this sounds magical. I don't think I've been as moved by a personality piece since Bowie's Honky Dory album. Chilly Gonzales' keyboard work is stunning - beautiful, and so right for the song.
Next thing you know, kids are going to want to hear music this good on decent systems, and hell, they might even think it's worth money, and they'll buy again.
I get the arguments I've heard from both sides, that for the EDM crowd it's too organic, and for the rock crowd it may be too electric, but I don't buy it. It seems that everyone seems almost afraid to admit just how goddamned good this album is, but I'm shouting it from the rooftop - this is what is missing! Artists who are committed to making the art that lives in their hearts, bodies, and souls. It makes me think, it makes me dance, and it makes me want to make music - and that's why it is so important.
Record of the year? Well, that's a tough and subjective call, but I do think it is the most important album of the year so far. An album album, as a friend said.
I heard about this country rock band from some friends and even though I’m a big fan of southern rock, the word country doesn’t sit well with me. When I finally checked the band out, I was totally blown away! Man, this was no washed up Waylon Jennings copies, these boys rock!! I recently discovered the band Texas Hippie Coalition, and I immediately compared The Killbilly 5’Ers to THC. However, where I found the latter fell a bit short on the consistency of the songs, KB5 don’t. The album kicks off with the rocking stomper Burn Down The Trailer Park and continues with the up-tempo rocker Up Shit Creek. The band’s strengths are many, from the killer dual lead work from benders Wincent Persson (ex-Violent Work Of Art) and Ola Af Trampe (Grand Illusion, Code) to the vocal strength of Ola “Alo” Karlsson. The rhythm section featuring bass player Daniel Tegnvallius and drummer B-O Kjellsson keeps the wagon swinging and swaying. The mix is heavy, yet dynamic. The guitars are heavy and detuned, but they also leave some space for acoustic additions such as in steamroller rockers Tupelo. Another bass-crushing rocker is entitled All Fed Up, and the vocals here reminds me a bit of early Volbeat with its stompy rhythm. A cool heavy rocker, indeed! Speaking of cool rockers, another driving “can’t sit still when hearing this”, is I Don’t Know What It Is (But I Want It), which I suspect will go down great live. Humor is another nice ingredient in the band’s songs, not only with titles like A Dick And A Douche, but listen to the stonkin’ No Bull and it’s guitar licks. Awesome! The album ends on another high note – Good Thing I’m Bad. I honestly can’t find a weak song on the album. The band manages to be consistent, yet keep it fresh and new twists and turns on the same heavy, down and dirty country-sih heavy riff rock. If you’re into bands like Texas Hippie Coalition, Hogjaw or Preacher Stone, lend these Swedish southern rockers your ears!
Not sure about the name, but it may be a pun on Tony Iommi (whom we sometimes used to call Tommi Lommi). Anyway, brace yourselves for this new Swedish power trio featuring drummer Jörgen Tjusling and bassist Dennis Österdal who have played (and play) with bands like Eaglestrike and Human Race. A tight rhythm section indeed. This time they are fronted by singer/guitarist Jens Florén and form a trio who is more in the vein of Black Label Society in degree of heaviness, but with some elements reminding me a bit of early Alice In Chains in songs like Suffer. It’s all very raw, untamed and crude, but in a good way. I’m not always 100 % into the vocals, but for the most part Jens does the job really well. At times I’m a bit torn between feeling it’s a bit too crude, like in Honesty and Leaver, but I still digging it. It’s a bit like when I heard Motörhead for the first time, like watching a horror movie through your fingers, if you know what I mean. And Motörhead did grow into a long term musical friend of mine. Powerless Consciousness reminds me a bit like playing a Pantera single on 33, it sort of reminds of Walk, but slower and heavier. Back From the Dead is a really cool rocker, starting out almost reminding me a bit of Ghost, which only goes for the intro. A great chunky rocker indeed. It’s a weird album in the sense that it’s no favorite of mine, but I still keep coming back to it. I think we have a love/hate relationship. A good one, that is.
Label: private release
Finnish guitarist Granfelt has previously played in bands like Gringos Locos and more well-known English rockers Wishbone Ash. His solo albums have always been quite solid. Melodic Relief is in my opinion one of his most straight ahead easy-listenable efforts. It kicks off El Gringos Revenge which reminds a bit of Joe Satriani on Surfing With The Alien. The track just flows along displaying Ben’s great groovy playing, here exploiting his more melodic rock side of things. This is a track that would fit perfectly to a movie high-speed car chase. Oh Yeah! Continues the melodic journey, and solidifies the album title. GTR Tech brings on some cool retro sounds, but also guitar harmonies reminding me more of Wishbone Ash. The title of the album really makes sense as the songs are all very melodic, easy to grasp and easy to like as well. I’d call it mainstream, and that’s without being condescending, I say it as a compliment. These are songs that could easily be played on the radio or TV. The track where he really lets lose is the album closer, Because We Still Can, where Ben really lets his seventies freak flag fly with some cool Octavia soloing. It may not be the most musically challenging instrumental album, but this is a really enjoyable melodic guitar journey, I must say.
Label: Sprucefield Oy
Label: Crusher Records
Clark Lane is a Swedish band I’ve kept my eyes on for some time. Their previous demo showed tremendous potential, and I was actually quite surprised to see yet another demo instead of a debut album. These guys really deserve to get their album out. It’s not easy to describe the band’s sound as, even though there are influences from various places, they do have their own sound. Opener Smalltown Misery is a great melodic rocker with nice biting guitar work that reminds me a bit of TNT, while the songs fits in somewhere between Dizzy Mizz Lizzy and 3 Doors Down. Alive continues with a cool vibe that makes me think of Canadians Tonic in their heavier moments, still very contemporary and melodic. This band is definitely radio material. Great vocals, great musicians, killer songs with great arrangements and top notch production. What I really like is the quirkiness that pops out now and then in the riffing, melodies and arrangements. Expectations made me think of Hoobastank in the initial riffing, but this is actually a bit heavier, and this band takes quite different ways melodically, plus there’s a great guitar solo. This is really, really good stuff! Kharma and especially Wreckingball are even heavier with a touch of King’s X in the riffing, but with a totally different vocal vibe. Both are outstanding songs! All five tracks are actually killer and this band deserves all exposure they can get! This is new and fresh with a nod to the (semi-) old school.
Label: none (CD-R demo)
Germán started his career fronting progressive metal band Afterglow, which later became Mind’s Eye. I remember praising his vocals on the band’s first MCD. However, as fate had it, Germán’s career took another turn and he disappeared from the scene for many years. He then returned and became the front man of neol-classic metal band Narnia, when Christian Liljegren decided to take a time out. After one, really good I must say, album entitled Curse Of A Nation, the story ended and the band was put to rest. Germán now joined the man he replaced, Christian Liljegren, in the bands DivineFire and Golden Resurrection. Now, finally, he has released his first solo album. This is a bit like Germán picking the best pieces from his former bands, the melodic yet heavy side of Narnia adding a bit of proggy quirkiness from Afterglow, all of it topped with his class A vocals! A New Beginning is a great piece of semi-proggy melodic metal, quite close in style to Swedish colleagues Cloudscape, but still with its own sound and touch. However, fans of the aforementioned should definitely check this out! Besides Germán’s excellent vocals, the guitars are handles by the swift handed Martin Hall, the bass by Raphael Dafras and the keyboards are handled by Guilherme Oliviera. Unfortunately the drums are programmed, which gives it a generic sound and stiffness I don’t really like. My only complaint I should add. There are some guests that should be noted, such as CJ Grimmark’s excellent solo on Face Of The Blind, which Thomas Plec Johansson handles the guitars and great soloing on two tracks, where his neo-classsical sounding lead on Open Your Eyes is a killer. Call For The One has a different, quite energetic touch in the verse, while the bridge and chorus takes it to a heavy edge. Nice blend, indeed. The song material is really solid and consistent and the album is a safe buy for fans of bands like Cloudscape, FullForce or classic Symphony X for that matter. The album, like Narnia, Golden Resurrection and DivineFire carries a pretty devout Christian message. The overall album, minus the very different operatic Canción Con Todos, is maybe a lacking a bit of variation, but it’s still a good affair. The programmed drums can be a bit annoying (to a seventies fan like myself), but aside of this – great work!
Label: Nightmare Records
Stormhold is another new band following in the trails of the classic Swedish wave of eighties heavy metal and bands like Steelwing, Enforcer etc., but with the addition of a folksy touch, a bit similar to bands like The Storyteller and Falconer. This shows quite clearly already in the intro The Legacy. Legion Of The Brave rocks it up in the vein of the aforementioned bands. The band sounds good, even though I can’t say they bring anything new to the table. If you don’t, you better do what you do damned great. To be honest, the band does a really good job, but to me I feel this has been done so many times, and slightly better in many cases. The songs are good, the musicians do their job very well, too. The vocals are usually the weak link. I’ve heard much worse, and they are by no means bad, it’s just that, if you want to stick out and rise above the rest in this genre, you better tick all the boxes, and I’m afraid the vocals is one box that’s not ticked for me. Especially in Godric Hammerfist I feel the song lacks a bit from inadequate vocal power and clarity. Westybay starts off sounding quite Iron Maiden influenced and musically it does kick ass. Still, it does fail to really impress me. Again, I’m afraid it’s the vocals that doesn’t hit the mark for me. The production is quite ok, very analogue and retro, which fits the genre, but they could probably push it up a few notches, especially the drum sound. Quite promising despite the flaws if you’re a fan of classic retro metal.
Label: none (CD-R demo)
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