Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Talas ~ Featuring Billy Sheehan

(No official website.)
Style: hard rock
Label: Metal Blade
Year: 1980
Home: New York (disbanded)

Members: Billy Sheehan ~ bass/vocals
Dave Constantino ~ guitar/vocals
Paul Varga ~ drums/vocals


Some people know bassist Billy Sheehan from hair metal band Mr. Big. Some only know the band for a single MTV acoustic power ballad. If this is your knowledge of Sheehan you've got homework to do. Mr. Big is quite a fascinating prog meets L.A. hair metal band & should not be remembered via the sappy "To Be With You". Yet, for Sheehan Mr. Big is really but a footnote. He previously found his fame touring beside Steve Vai in David Lee Roth's first solo band. Coming right out of Van Halen, one of the most important bands, all eyes on where on Roth & company. It's funky & wild stuff worth checking out, particularly via old videos where the band is as crazy as Roth. It'll then become quickly obvious that Sheehan is one of the ones responsible for making the bass in the rock world than a rhythm instrument but a lead instrument in its own right. If you don't know any of this, let this review be your homework assignment leading to a wikipedia cruise. To really get a feel for Sheehan's musical catalog one needs to go back to 1971 when he formed the pre-hair but with lots of hairspray & spandex power trio Talas. They became known in upstate New York for extended bass solos that were as much performance art as anything. Sheehan's reputation would quickly eclipse the band, often taking him away for temporary gigs with such folks as UFO & the Michael Schenker Band. For one year Talas would even continue without him as a two guitar quartet. It wasn't until 1980 that Talas, with a couple year old solidified line-up, finally went into the studio. They put out two albums, Featuring Billy Sheehan being the first, before yet another complete line-up change & transition into a quartet that would come to feature future members of Danger Danger, Megadeth, Asia & Y&T. Sadly, Talas is a band that reads better on paper. The studio recordings don't fully paint the best picture. Talas is really a band that needs to be seen & thankfully bootleggers have done that with rough picture recordings floating around the internet. While the music is good some of the spark is missing in the studio where there's no audience to push the energy, the songs or the solos into the outer limits that made the group famous. It's a common problem of groups that make the transition from club to studio after making a name for themselves as a live band, particularly one a decade old. So often one speaks of 70's trios in light of Cream, particluarly those trios with a heavier edge. But, Talas is much more in the hard rock 80's vein where the blues are but a building block, as would be the 80's hard rock style. Sheehan had already gained a reputation for being the bass playing version of Eddie Van Halen, & would help show how far one could take technical playing for a new generation of musicians that were moving against the excessive free form jamming of the 60's for more technically challenging jamming, or at least sounding more technical. "NV4 3345" is a bass solo that one would expect from the fingers of Eddie Van Halen & is everything but what the bass is expected to sound like in 1980, affirming Billy's role as a pioneer. Actually, its much closer to Jaco Pastorius & some of the jazz guys & the funk scene, but few were doing this in rock. It's not funk, it's not even rock, it's melodic in a way bass solos aren't. It's a bass solo in a way they come to be in the future. It's a bass solo that puts the traditional rhythm player to shame. It shouldn't, but it does. It's a highlight of the album as are all of Sheehan's spotlight moments. The problem is that the rest of the band is churning out un-inspired arrangements of 70's-esque hard rock riffs, nor rising to the technical level of Sheehan. It's not so much band interplay as a bassist & his backing band, however odd that sounds. But, one shouldn't really envision a bass-playing Joe Satriani & band as the arrangements are a fence keeping things too straight forward & safe. Randy Coven, another bassist with a similiar feel who came about in the early 80's but would never get the mainstream recognition, attempted for instrumental duets with his guitarists & is worth checking out to see what Sheehan could have achieved if he'd broken from the traditional song structure approach. But, for all its faults, this first album is the best to delve into the Talas sound. The later quartet would tuck Sheehan into the mix & sound like a very bland early 80's Quiet Riot-esque hard rock band. What makes the trio different interesting is the shared vocals, the good singing balances the bad singing. Phil Naro would become the singer for the quartet, later to become the original though non-recorded frontman of Danger Danger which would include fellow Talas members Al Pitrelli & Bruno Ravel. Danger Danger being built from the ashes of Talas. But, Naro is not a distinctive singer. Also, none of the members, in any era of the band, show themselves as particularly good songwriters, relying too much on traditional song structures with weak lyrics. Again, check out Randy Coven for comparison of how a similiar technique is taken in a new direction just via a different songwriting approach. There's a reason Sheehan's star shone over Talas's. It's all in the songs. But, in its favor, this early recording still has a lot of 70's influence on it, versus the 80's hard rock that would influence the later two albums. The irony is that Talas had an influence on the 80's sound, much like Hanoi Rocks had an influence, only to eventually be caught as an imitator of the imitator. This debut may not be the best representation of Talas, but there's a glimmer here & its better than nothing. Though, probably, in the end for Sheehan fans only & not going to convert anyone else who will wonder what the fuss around Sheehan is about. The fuss, like Hanoi Rocks, is the big picture. The fuss is doing the homework beyond just litening to the music. Though, for those just wanting a touch of Sheehan I recommend a compilation from Mr. Big.




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