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)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tune In To Mind Radio: A Tribute To Multi-Talented Vocalist Kelly Keeling

(Click on heading to visit official Surgeland website of Kelly Keeling)
Style: rock, country, classical, funk, instrumental
Label: Surgeland Records
Year: 2012
Home: n/a

Members: Anthony Z'sler, Steve Goatley ~ vocals/acoustic guitar
Charlie Gilbert ~ electric guitar
Tony Franklin, Mike Qualls ~ bass
Carmine Appice, Dallas Holder ~ drums
Greg "Cos" Cerenzia ~ guitars/bass/drums
Dominic Gaudious ~ didjeridoo/guitars/bass/drums
Park Sipes ~ vocals/guitars/synth/bass
Marty Paris ~ acoustic guitars
Jeffrey Michael ~ piano/synth


I originally discovered him through Trans-Siberian Orchestra & later Paris Keeling. My spouse met him via O'2L, which features more TSO members than any other side project. But, you might know him through MTV videos of Baton Rouge, or perhaps Blue Murder with John Sykes or his work with both Don Dokken & George Lynch, or maybe his time with Michael Schenker Group or even Carmine Appice's King Kobra. He also sang on Appice's multi-album Guitar Zeus project. There's also his time with the lesser known but the must be heard Heaven & Hell with prog keyboard whiz Erik Norlander now of Asia Featuring John Payne. Who am I talking about? Only a Louisiana born rock singer with Roger Daltrey-esque pipes, a songwriting sensibility with classic rock inklings & under-recognized guitar skills, that goes by the name of Kelly Keeling. Sadly, or that's the way of the music business, due to lacking that Top 10 make or break single the name of Kelly Keeling might not be as relevant to you as some other name whose done far less & is far less interesting. But, Keeling has been nothing but prolific & its hard not to stumble across him, particularly if you're one of those people that still reads liner notes or cares a little about who you are listening to. So, if you don't know Kelly Keeling then start reading some liner notes & let this 2012 tribute EP, the first such tribute to him, lead the way to his vast & still expanding musical catalog. All but one song of the six are from Keeling's pen & all the songs make their debut here. The album interestingly includes quite an array of artists, both musically & career-wise, who take various insightful editorial pens to Keeling's manuscript that brings out feelings not apparent previously in Keeling's original recordings. Thus, Keeling's strength as a songwriter comes through as his songs are engaging as ever, if not more, in the hands of strangers & friends. Among these new renditions its interesting to note that there's folks that have worked with Keeling & others that were only cursory familiar with him before contributing, there's folks who have immediately recognized names, others known regionally & some still working on getting their reputation off the ground. This diversity gives this small package some big surprises. The EP opens with "Perfect Day" by "Carmine Appice & Friends featuring Anthony Z'sLer". I must confess I heard "Perfect Day" when it was released as the lead-off single a year before the EP dropped, plus in numerous versions by Keeling on past albums. Multiple listens over time is where the real proof happens if a song is good or bad & I think this new version is the best ever ... & I say that quite honestly. I actually never gravitated to the song before, but do so now with this new arrangement. If Keeling ever reads this I'm sure he'll cringe seeing that last sentence. He might have a distinguishing voice that gives his work a classic rock feel, but reputation says he's also a perfectionist, which isn't bad in itself, but he has a tendency to clutter his albums with too many guitars, throwing it all out there. He wants to impress when really he should lay back & chill. He clutters up his own songwriting with unnecessarily affectation. I'm directly here talking about "Perfect Day", but this observation applies to this whole tribute EP. Through all the songs here we have the songwriting of Keeling uncluttered by his own worst enemy ... but aren't we all our own worst enemies at times? & when the outcome is a collection of songs that actually sing with their own individual flavors, well, for me that shows just how good a songwriter Keeling actually is & how's he is impressive by what he's already doing, not by what he's trying to do with one more layer or guitar. As already mentioned, this album includes known & unknown names & "Perfect Day" is the perfect example of this. It features former Keeling bandmates Carmine Appice & Tony Franklin, famous for The Firm with Jimmy Page & Paul Rodgers, who also provides the real key to the song with a melodic bass line with his distinctive fretless bass playing. I don't think I ever heard what a distinctive style he has like I do here now. I, of course, remember him from the Firm, but he's come so far since then & honed in the rough edges. Also on this song are new faces Anthony Z'sler on acoustic guitar & vocals, whose a voice is one to pay attention to in the future, & as arranger deserves special kudos, while guitarist Charlie Gilbert lays down some great lead lines & a strong but uncluttered rythm throughout all the whole thing intertwining, in trademark Kelling compositional style, with Z'sler's guitar. Next comes "In & Out Of Time" with Greg "Cos" Cerenzia on all instruments. Cos might be most recently known for Permanent Reverse featuring Keeling's TSO mate Maxx Mann, his former Baton Rouge drummer Corky McClellan & Paris Keeling partner Marty Paris. A change from "Perfect Day" Cos has turned in an instrumental on acoustic guitar with electric lines fading in. Keeling doesn't write for solo rock guitar & this hasn't become that in Cos's hands. More than one track on the album looks at Keeling the composer of music, not just the songwriter. Many instrumentals like this feel like vocals are missing from the equation or like they're unfinished songs, or they become a guitar solo onslaught. This isn't any of the above. Actually, this is the type of song I picture running over credits or in a commercial. It's got a recognizable & memorable riff but not too in your face as it lays back with a couple guitars ringing out. It's provides a nice foil to the intricately layered "Perfect Day." "Park Sipes & Friends" turn in "Rising Of The Snake", a good song from Keeling's 2005 solo album Giving Sight To The Eye but routinely criticised for being severly cluttered by too many guitars. Snake should be plural in Keeling's hands. Here the streamlined feel of this tribute EP comes fully into play. "Rising Of The Snake" is turned into an AOR rock ballad that reminds me of Bon Jovi, particularly in Sipes' vocals. This also has a groove that's missing in Keeling's solo album version. Sipes is the rising star voice of cover band Sunset Strip featuring guitarist Chris Taylor who plays routinely with Carmine & Vinny Appice. Sipes is joined on the next track by Marty Paris for the song "Free", under the name of "Marty Paris & Friends." Paris originally produced this song when he & Keeling did it as Paris Keeling & it only made sense to return to it years later. "Free" features Steve Goatley on lead vocals & guitar, Paris on the lead lines against the rhythm & synth lines by Sipes. It's the first real shocking turn of the EP as it's a country song, or perhaps more properly Americana, & shows just how much diversity can be brought to Keeling's work depending on who the players are. It's a simple song after so much complex from the gut rock music. It's also a bit of a surprise inclusion as it is one of the few tracks that reaches out to a non-rock audience, something Keeling has rarely done on his own. Paris & Park in the last year have put together the Christian rock band Barbarian Way. Jeffrey Michael does the Cos thing by handling all the instruments on "Morning Song", though here's its acoustic piano with some light string sounding synth in the background. It's soft, tender, anything but the rock proceeding it & even a further step away from the foundation than "Free" was. If I was Keeling I'd be inspired by this interpretation as its so different than the rock he's most known for ... & its not a given that rock songs will work on piano without losing something in the translation. The album concludes with a track inspired by Keeling performed by Dominic Gaudious, also on all instruments though now a didjeridoo is added to the textures for subtle effect. But, no, this is not Australian aboriginal folk but "Hombre Salvaje" is a funky little piece of acoustic guitar against funk bass that captures the feeling of Keeling's career & provides a nice closing moment. In the end, this is an interesting EP as its not too hard or classic-tinged rock, which is where many of Keeling's fans are or what folks might expect to hear in a tribute to him, but appeals to a wide range of listeners. This is an album you'd be safe playing at a dinner party as nobody is going to get tired of it & its diversity appeals to a large group. One person will perk up at one song, while another will have their own favorite. Though, it is a bit on the short side, but one problem with tribute albums like this is they are so long & so diverse that they fall into personality crisis land where they're are an overdose more than an enjoyment. So, playing it short is the safe route & makes this worth checking out as a project all involved can be proud of.

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