Welcome to the meandering musical insights of Aaron Joy (me!), formerly known as the Roman Midnight Music Blog. Here you'll find over 700 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie, good & bad, U.S. & foreign. A new review every Monday.

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December 29, 2012

Metallica ~ S&M (live) (album review) ... I like to practice my S&M behind closed doors!

Style: thrash, heavy metal, symphonic, live
Label: Elektra
Year: 1999
Home: San Francisco

Members: James Hetfield ~ vocals/rhythm guitar
Kirk Hammett ~ lead guitar
Jason Newsted ~ bass/b. vocals
Lars Ulrich ~ drums

Guests: Michael Kamen ~ conductor
David Teie principal, Richard Andaya, Barara Bogatin, Jill Rachuy Brindel, David Goldblatt ~ cello
Jeremy Constant concertmaster, Daniel Banner, Enrique Bocedi, Paul Brancato, Catherine Down, Bruce Freifeld, Connie Gantsweg, Michael Gerling, Frances Jeffrey, Robert Zelnick, Yukiko Kamei, Naomi Kazama, Kum Mo Kim,Gurthanthaclops Yasuko Hattori, Melissa Kleinbart, Chumming Mo Kobialka, Daniel Kobialka, Rudolph Kremer, Kelly Leon-Pearce, Diane Nicholeris, Florin Parvulescu, Anne Pinsker, Victor Romasevich, Philip Santos, Peter Shelton ~ violins
Don Ehrlich, Gina Feinauer, David Gaudry, Christina King, Yun Jie Liu, Seth Mausner, Nanci Severance, Geraldine Walther ~ violas
Chris Bogios, Glenn Fischthal, Andrew McCandless, Craig Morris ~ trumpets
John Engelkes, Tom Hornig, Paul Welcomer, Jeff Budin ~ trombones
Stephen Paulson, Steven Dibner, Rob Weir, Steven Braunstein ~ bassoons
Julie Ann Giacobassi, Eugene Izotov, Pamela Smith ~ oboes
Eric Achen, Joshua Garrett, Douglas Hull, Jonathan Ring, Bruce Roberts, Robert Ward, James Smelser ~ French horns
Russ deLuna ~ English horn
Linda Lukas, Tim Day, Robin McKee ~ flutes
David Neuman, Carey Bell, Luis Beez, Ben Friemuth ~ clarinet
Catherine Payne ~ piccolo
Peter Wahrhaftig ~ tuba
Charles Chandler, Laurence Epstein, Chris Gilbert, William Ritchen, Stephen Tramontozzi, S. Mark Wright ~ double bass
Anthony J. Cirone, Ray Froelich, Thomas Hemphill, Artie Storch – percussion
David Herbert ~ timpani
Douglas Rioth ~ harp
Robin Sutherland ~ keyboards

I'm not a fan of revues on Broadway, that is shows that aren't truly Broadway shows in the traditional sense of the term. I mean, those shows where the music wasn't written for the stage but gathers songs from the career of a musician/band or a group of them & puts it together like a stew, changing their original meanings via a potentially weak story. Examples include Mama Mia for Abba, Movin' Out for Billy Joel & Rock Of Ages for the 80's. These pull audiences in to hear music you love done in a way you might not love once you suffer through two hours, with a story you don't care about & characters that are as flat as paper ... not even 20 lb paper. Or, that's been my experience of these farces called Broadway shows with tickets as expensive as the real thing. Though I might not like them I've had an idea for a revue that I think would be interesting & have real potential ... or certainly drum up controversy. I haven't a clue what the story would be about, as the songs tend to be a little bit too much groin oriented & that doesn't create too create much diversity to work with ... but then, the story doesn't really matter in these revues. That is Kiss. Yes, put Kiss on Broadway. I mean, they've done worse with all the merchandising. If it fails they embarrassed themselves decades ago so nobody will notice the difference. & it'll be one more opportunity for Gene Simmons to say something incredibly stupid. Of course, you'd have to work with the music fleshing it out, give it a stage feeling as rock music doesn't always work with a direct jump. Rock music, except for Genesis, isn't meant for sitting quietly & listening. What would the Kiss Broadway show sound like? In my mind it would sound exactly what Metallica created with S&M, the album where they played live with the San Francisco Symphony. It would open up not with an overture, something I think is out of fashion for the stage, but an instrumental opening such as Metallica's standard opening "The Ecstasy Of Gold" by Morricone followed by "The Call Of The Ktulu". The songs following would turn well-known melody lines into string & horn flourishes with lots of nuances not previously there. To say the result would have fleshed out songs is a bit of an understatement as the reworked songs would now be stuffed silly with notes ... maybe too stuffed at times, like when you fall asleep after Thanksgiving dinner. Though, the problem would be in replacing a twin guitar attack with a symphony of how many instruments? Two guitars can have a clean sound but two guitars plus a symphony can often verge on cacophonic & distracting. At the same time, the new symphonic approach would also temper some of the harshness & anger for a wider audience. The music would still be dark, but in a tamer more theatrical way. The Sunday matinee retiree set probably don't want to see an angry young man show. The songs would also be, on the whole, longer than their originals to allow lots of stage movement & big dance numbers. Though, after awhile the audience might stop paying attention to the music as it goes on a bit too long. There also comes another problem in that stronger singing is needed to combat the waterfall of music. The lone voice of Workshop actor James Hetfield gets lost in the now overflowing mountain of sound, so what was originally a focus of the song is now just another noisy moment. A strength has become a weakness sadly. Of course, one can imagine for this new revue, that some songs would be great for the stage. "The Thing That Should Never Be" is custom made for a chase scene, even leading into the bad guy's cackling spotlight moment ... even if actor Hetfield, is he Equity?, is a little stiff & the dialogue pushing it a bit trying to be overly dramatic when it was already. Then there's "Hero Of The Day" leading into "Devil's Dance" where our story's characters contemplate their state of affairs as we near intermission. There is a problem in Act I with the music & story seeming to drag. It doesn't feel like just the first half as the audience is so exhausted they think the show is done. The lack of emotional oomph for music flourish & lengthy songs doesn't help in the least the script. Act II also needs re-writing as it shouldn't open with a dragging "Nothing Else Matters" that goes on for a bit, at least to "Until It Sleeps". Things do pick up with the Metropolis-esque "Human". Where does this song come from? It's great! The emotional push of the second act needs some tightening up, but the flow of the songs is nearly perfect. A medley would have been cool versus a ten minute "Outlaw Torn". The ending needs to be, obviously, big. "Enter Sandman", "One" & closing on "Battery" is not big when you rip the soul from the most overheard songs of the band. The only climax is that the audience recognizes the songs. Though, sadly, for the Metallica revue, like every good revue - famous songs, bad versions. Check out "Fuel", "Human", "Sad But True", "One" & "The Memory Remains" for the heaviest moments. The last song before intermission "Bleeding Me" might be the most emotional & tender moment, along with "Hero Of The Day". It's interesting to note how many of the good moments come from the oft criticized Load & Reload. Time for a re-evaluation? As for how these revue versions compare to the originals. This is thrash for people who don't like thrash ... most of a typical Broadway audience, I bet. Basically, this is metal with a faux-heaviness, i.e. no guts but lots of flash to make you think it has guts. You won't be able to head bang, or even dance, to any of it. Don't expect to be singing this around the piano at a Christopher Street bar. I just want to know if the audiences for the Workshop performances of this future Broadway show were shocked or enthused or just confused? The New York Times is still silent on the matter.

December 26, 2012

Jizzy Pearl's Love/Hate ~ Let's Eat (album review) ... Chef Jizzy at your service!

Style: hard rock
Label: Perris
Year: 1999
Home: Los Angeles

Members: Jizzy Pearl ~ vocals
Joey Gold ~ drums
Jon Jones ~ guitar
Jeff Simon ~ bass

If it wasn't for grunge L.A. hard rock vocalist Jizzy Pearl might be a name better remembered, rather than that singer whose played in L.A. Guns, Ratt, Adler's Appetite & guested with many other bands. Where he may lack an immediate recognizable voice he's far more exploratory with his voice than a lot of singers going from a clean tenor to gruff Bon Scott-esque moments. He's not for everyone, but he's far more interesting than a lot of his peers who just want to scream in as high a pitch as they can. L/H was Jizzy's entry onto the L.A. hair metal scene, though ironically the quartet of Jizzy, Jon E. Love, Skid Rose & Joey Gold started out under the influence of The Cult with a gothic look before becoming more L.A. hard rock. Before their day was up they would tour with Dio, AC/DC, Skid Row & Ozzy Osbourne, but success was always just out of grasp. Their second album was turned down by the label so writing started again with growing conflict between the band & label on the musical direction to be taken. L/H were dropped by the label after the second album didn't have the intended financial return, the band didn't approve of some label decisions & the label in turn didn't support the band, including sponsoring a tour with Black Sabbath. The third album was funded by the sale of songwriter/bassist Skid Rose's car. Then grunge came & L/H would never have a chance. During the fourth album Skid & drummer Joey Gold started a band called Skoe, while Joey also hooked up with Jizzy for Sineaters. After a few ups but mostly downs Jizzy joined L.A. Guns, which brought him his most fame, & later spent six years with Ratt. L/H would reform, but it would be with Jizzy fronting a revolving door of members, only occasionally would one of them be an original member. By the time of their final album Let's Eat L/H was gone, or existing only as a Jizzy outing. As much as L/H with Jizzy only is not really L/H, considering all the songwriting had previously been done by Skid Rose, this final L/H album is not a L/H album outside of name. It probably horribly shocked any unknowledgeable listeners when it came out it's so much not a L/H album. This is the Sineater recordings & the similarities with L/H are few if none between the two musical groups. None of the interesting musical variety of L/H is here, nor are the polished wannabe hits as this is a fairly lo-fi almost demo affair, & probably are demos. If there's any connection between the Sineaters & L/H it does have the lyrical anger that had come out on L/H's last two albums, climaxing with the aptly titled album, I'm Not Happy, but again this is now Jizzy's pen not Skid's. This might be better considered a Jizzy solo album. He's done a couple, though reviews are mixed. I find the problem with his two solo albums, particularly Vegas Must Die, is too much AC/DC does L.A. & Jizzy doesn't have the vocal experimenting going on as I've enjoyed hearing from him elsewhere. Plus, he just cannot compose great music to compliment his vocals. The music here essentially fails, either becoming unmemorable or imitative, & the poor production doesn't help. Jizzy is experimenting with his vocals but there's no music to back him up like on the other L/H albums, as guitars just chug in a non-melodic haze. The potential is here as Jizzy is feeling around at some new ground, even going so far as to not imitate AC/DC, like on Vegas Must Die, but actually the talk-rap of something that might be found with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (for example, "Don't Play Your Guitar When You're Talkin' To Me", "Walk On The Moon", "Heartbreaker"), though at the same time I could draw parallels to Faith No More. But, again, he needs either a songwriting partner or at least some clean guitar lines. Vegas Must Die also suffers from muddy sounding guitars. Let's Eat feels like a club band with not enough melody, too much distortion, not enough time working on the songs, but a desire to just play & who cares, which might be more closer to the Sineaters truth than not. Here Jizzy is letting it all hang out rough & if I had to choose a solo album to hang on to or let go this is it as in repeated listens it keeps my interest much more than the proper solo albums. Ironically, the feeling of this reminds me of Hole's debut & Nirvana's Bleach. Jizzy might have been pushed out by grunge but he's trying his best to join the crowd here as I hear many Sub Pop bands in his writing & I'm tempted to want to give him some credit for trying ... just don't listen then switch over to the first two L/H albums or even L.A. Guns. Just don't compare this to any of the Sub Pop bands & you'll find it interesting.

December 24, 2012

The Antics ~ Running Faster (album review) ... Running from a piranha attack!

Style: punk, alt rock
Label: n/a
Year: 2012
Home: New Jersey

Members: Luke Meisenbacher ~ vocals/guitar
Derek Rosengarth ~ guitar
Kyle Hammerschmidt ~ bass
Josh Reitan ~ drums

The Antics started in 2009 as Swimming With Piranhas. I'd like to say I remember them from my time in playing in bands in New York, but I don't, but its such a cool name I wish I remembered it. Supposedly, the Antics name is to reflect this Jersey quartet's energetic personalities, but that must be assuming piranhas sleep a lot. Personally, though while I like both names I would go for something more classic sounding, to reflect the music not the personalities. Their PR says they're influenced by Joy Division, the Smiths, the Doors & the Who. I wouldn't want to say the last two too loud as this is far from Jim Morrison's poetry or Roger Daltrey's voice. But, it sounds good to say you're influenced by these bands, if really you sound nothing like them. I mean, I used to love Shakespeare so I guess this blog has a very Shakespearian quality about it. Do I thumb my nose at you sir? As for Joy Division I don't know their music well enough to agree or not. Then, there's the Smiths. Now here's something that I will agree with & is not just one-sheet PR fodder. Though, focus more on Johnny Marr's guitars over Morrissey's vocals & I believe you might find something with a piranha attack called The Antics here on their debut album. They call themselves a post-punk band, but I think this is a highly over-used descriptor. Most of the post-punk bands I hear seem to be uncreative & often noisy alt rock injected shock to the groin ... or maybe from the groin. It's for the high schooler in you. While the Antics might confess to be making music high school girls love, there's often a very classic 50's/60's garage rock feeling to their music that can be appreciated by a much larger audience. Though, I wish the vocals were better mixed as they just end up sounding moody & losing some of the quirkiness that brings in Morrissey.

December 22, 2012

Trevor Rabin ~ Jacaranda (album review) ... Yes you will like this!

Style: instrumental, experimental country-rock, jazz-rock
Label: Varese Sarabande
Year: 2012
Home: Los Angeles, California

Members: Trevor Rabin ~ guitar/keyboards/bass/b. vocals

Guests: Vinnie Colaiuta, Lou Molino III, Ryan Rabin ~ drums
Tal Wilkenfeld ~ bass
Liz Constantine ~ vocals

For those expecting TR the Yes 1980's songcrafter who create slick pop prog ... sorry, look elsewhere & don't look back. This is a much more musically mature & experimental TR tainted by a post-Yes career doing numerous movie soundtracks & allowed to go beyond wannabe pop chart hits. This instrumental collection could best be described as a dozen faces of TR on overdubbed solo guitar & keyboards, with a few friends & even his son to spice up the mix. Though, a dozen might be too small of a number for the many hats that TR ends up wearing. "Spider Boogie" is a country boogie on both electric & acoustic guitars, very Steve Howe-ish, while there's the similar "Gazania" that has a New Age feel yet also swings in a very bluegrass way. It's a shock to hear the amount of country/bluegrass flavor on this album. Can you get any farther from Yes or what we might expect from a former member? Playing slide on a steel guitar is the instrument of choice for many melody lines, though its used a bit too much across the album but thankfully doesn't always dominate every melody. Yet, at the same time, "Market Street" is Yes all the way with organ & chugging bass & Yes-like variety in the arrangement. But, with a vocal line played out by an acoustic guitar instead of a vocalist it has a much more complicated feel than Yes ever did. But, really, TR turned in some very complicated songs for Yes to share, the problem was they weren't twenty minute meanderings like before so they sounded weaker & the heavy commercial pop sheen didn't help. But, all the bass, keyboards & guitar lines were well thought out by TR long before he ever brought them to the band to be re-recorded, especially for the first of his three Yes albums 902125. So, who really sounds like who? Is TR copying Yes or did he make Yes who copied him? But, the Yes moments are few & far between on Jacaranda. You get the nostalgic moment & then its over. TR wants to instead share with you his skills playing everything but pop rock. Bringing together musical styles is what he's come to do best, but Yes cut all that away showing a very small piece of what TR can create. Now, he wants to remind you that he's also quite a competent jazz guitarist. "Anerley Road" opens with a few straight ahead Joe Pass jazz bit, before leading into a more esoteric feeling song. The jazz motif is continued with "Freethought" that is much more straight ahead jazz quartet sounding & its hard to call it anything but straight trad jazz with an organ & guitar covering some great dynamic changes. Even when a second guitar comes in for a solo it's still more jazz. "Zoo Lake" takes the similar jazz feeling though the slide guitar gives it a bit of a country feel. Here's the Yes moment, the country moment, the jazz moment & now let's mix them all together. No expectations is the only expectation for Jacaranda. But, there's still another side of TR he wants us to hear. He's got a love of classical trills tucked up his sleeve or in his guitar bag. Almost out of place comes "Killarney 1 & 2" that's a solo piano piece. Of course, we know TR can play the piano, though probably you didn't expect a nearly full on classical feeling, while in "2" the piece goes up-tempo & is joined by guitar for an intricate piece. There's also the out of place & feeling incomplete "Rescue" with an operatic vocalist singing wordless vocals, very Cirque de Soleil. It feels like a bridge for a story that's not being told. Actually, that's more true than not as Jacaranda does indeed feel like an album missing a story. Or, its a soundtrack to a movie yet made. Its hard to really call but a few songs strictly one style or another. It's hard to pinpoint what this album is. An experiment? Certainly it's not a jam though it has moment. Is it songs? Certainly yes, though I'm more reminded of first Yes guitarist Peter Banks's solo work that's just wanting to share ideas, versus later Yes guitarist Billy Sherwood whose crafting catchy prog songs. This is often somewhere in between. Is it prog? There's some stuff here that's more country & jazz than anything remotely rock. Is it even rock? Is it a soundtrack for a movie to be made? Certainly, if I was a filmmaker I'd look no further. It has the turns & delicacy & variety that a movie soundtrack often needs. That might be the best bet. The theme of this movie seems to be mixing genres. It sounds like a good movie. Of note, this is his first solo album since 1989's Can't Look Away, done while still in Yes.

Bruce Springsteen ~ Born In The U.S.A. (album review) ... God bless America, or not?

Style: Americana, folk-rock
Label: Columbia
Year: 1984
Home: New Jersey

Members: Bruce Springsteen ~ lead vocals/guitars
Roy Bittan ~ keyboards
Clarence Clemons ~ saxophone/percussion
Danny Federici ~ keyboards/glockenspiel
Garry Tallent ~ bass
Steven Van Zandt ~ acoustic guitar/mandolin/b. vocals
Max Weinberg ~ drums

Additional: Richie Rosenberg, Ruth Davis ~ b. vocals

I was just talking with someone the other day about which classic rocker was aging the best & maybe even looking a bit younger & better in some backwards logic way. No, Madonna is not the one who tops my list even if she has reinvented what it means to be a middle-aged woman. The Boss from Jersey is actually my top choice ... David Lee Roth is up there too, if you're wondering. Certainly the lack of drugs has helped, but he's grown into himself in a way that puts his once rough younger self to immature shame. He's no longer the angry bar hound but a storyteller along the lines of Bob Dylan. He always was but today we expect from him a personal story over a flashy stage show. It also helps that his music has aged as well as he has & his new music just as good as ever, maybe at times better. Though, really, in hindsight, there's something funny & very un-aging well about a song about being born in the great U.S.A. that features tinkling Wham!-esque keyboards & no guitar solo. It seems very un-American, particularly for hard rocking 1984. Musically this is not the album I remember or even want to remember. It's too pop & certainly BS remarked at the time how pop he had gone. I remember something that rocked harder & not so dated & certainly not with such a keyboard heavy sound or at least a production that favored the Foreigner feel. But, really, this is a storyteller's album & that's how it should be graded as the music is really just a background to something bigger. So often the lyrics are a background to the music. That being said, the talk in the title track about a Viet Vet certainly reminds me of my youth when such things mattered, but now they are just passing lines of nostalgia as relevant as talking about the Southern Reconstruction or the Spanish Civil War or maybe even Desert Storm. How different would the title track be if written today? It certainly wouldn't be about a Viet Vet. I might be more angry sounding, though I don't know if it would sound as enjoyable & almost unpretentious. Perhaps, the whole album would be far more angry if made in today's America. Definitely, it would probably have far more guitar solos than sax solos & far less keyboards, which lace too much of the album for its own good. It's in the strength of the lyrics that we forget the weakness of the sound. It's an album of characters, who happen to live in the U.S.A., & those characters are very much living & breathing as much as any lyricist could want. In many ways, we may even make this album greater than it is ... considering the previous albums might be more interestingly musically & what came afterwards was a bit of a disappointment in comparison ... the magic is that these characters are much more humble in some ways than those characters that had come before. Before they were definitely angry young men, but here they've matured, still angry but can handle themselves better through the ups & downs. His kids before might have been disillusioned, but now they can deal with it in a way that doesn't cause the trouble they'd skirted with at the edge of town. Though, the pop sensibility of this album, this was BS's first work with synthesizers, masks a bit of the agony they still feel. Ironically, most of the album would be recorded before the very different & rawer sounding Nebraska. Given that Nebraska ended up being a release of demos, this new pop yet mature BS is almost an accident that it came to come together so cohesively versus a track here or there as it had been originally written. That might be what really makes it special, the fact that its an accident & not a grand scheme to create some great album of the era, even if the joke was on the conservatives in the end.

December 19, 2012

The Allman Brothers Band ~ Live At Great Woods (DVD review) ... Gregg Allman's guitar is my spirit animal!

Style: classic rock, blues-rock
Label: Epic
Year: 1992
Home: Georgia

Concert location: Great Woods, Boston, Massachusetts
Year Recorded: 1991
Length: 90 minutes
Bonus Features: none

Members: Gregg Allman ~ keyboards/acoustic guitar/lead vocals
Dickey Betts ~ guitar/b. vocals
Butch Trucks, Jaimoe ~ drums/percussion
Marc QuiƱones – drums/percussion/b. vocals
Warren Haynes ~ guitar/lead vocals
Allen Woody ~ bass/b. vocals

Guests: Robbie Robertson ~ host

When we talk about the white boy blues & blues-rock bands of the past that brought the blues to the mainstream, some have stuck more to the blues & others have blurred the lines between what it means to play the blues, while others have just gone rockin' without looking back. Eric Clapton has played the hardcore drooling blues more often than not, or at least it feels that way even when he's at his most Kenny G, the Rolling Stones have forgotten the blues though at one point that's all they did, while Jimmy Page took the blues firmly by the rock horns or gave it rock horns yet without losing sight of where he came from. The ABB might be a leader in the category of blurring the line the between blues-rock without going in either direction as far as Page or Clapton, but yet not totally at home with blues purists & certainly you won't find them in the blues section of the music store ... if you can even find a music store to verify this. If there's a white boy blues band out there that's continuously had success without too much musical variance & continuously shown why they're leaders in their field, even with regular membership changes, it's the ABB. Let alone, they're both a great band & the home to some great individuals, particularly the late slide king Duane Allman but more recently two thirds of third generation blues rockers Gov't Mule. But, we shouldn't pinpoint the individuals to the detriment of the whole. The duel drumming Grateful Dead feel is as necessary to the musical landscape as any of Dickey Betts solos ... & anyone who said that someone over 30 can't rock need only watch Betts soar in another land with more gusto than guys half his age, including bandmate Warren Haynes. This hour long concert was part of the ABB's tour for their second comeback album Shades Of Two Worlds & originally was filmed so a couple songs could get on Japanese television. The band decided to release the entire filmed concert. The late Duane Allman might be the eternal face of the band for many, but as I've previously written in this blog, don't give up on the ABB because he's gone. He was not the only thing about the ABB to pay attention to & I often get tired of the fact that it often seems that way to the detriment of a lot of other great players, including his own brother who still plus away behind the often uncool organ. This is about as blues as blues-rock can get without going into the deep end ... actually, it does go into the deep end as the band let their solos carry them away. But, while blues solos often soar leaving the band behind or become show-off-ish, there's none of that pretentiousness here as this is firmly a band moment & not a soloist's gig. Never once does one tire of a solo that's gone on too long or showed off too much. There's also a decent mix of classic standard blues (for example, "Hoochie Coochie Man"), classic ABB songs (for example, "Statesboro Blues") & two contemporary songs that fit perfectly into the mix ("End Of The Line" & "Get On With Your Life"). For those thinking the ABB is nothing without Duane or not a valid entity beyond the nostalgia circuit this video, though it might not be the definite choice for some fans due to its lack of liner notes, the music fully speaks for itself about how great these guys continue to be. The band turns in a blistering set with top-notch performances that any band would have a hard time beating. Of course, today, every blues-rock band sounds like the ABB ... or maybe they now sound like every blues-rock band ... but once-upon a time they were 'the' blues-rock band & considering only three of the faces onstage are not original members one will see what being 'the' blues-band means after only a song or two. The rest of the show is just constant verification. They're as gritty & inventive as ever & even feature full-on acoustic renditions, even with Gregg Allman is on guitar, of "Blue Sky" & "Going Down The Road". The band has gone through a plethora of membership changes, but this post-reunion line-up is a particularly vibrant movement in their long life making this video stand out from the crowd in some ways. No bonus features except for the option of having the lyrics appear, which few will probably require. Included periodically throughout the show is interviews with Betts, Allman & Haynes discussing the writing of some of the songs & their influences. The only problem is the interviews come during solos in the songs.

December 16, 2012

Kiss ~ Psycho Circus (album review) ... A 4 ring circus!

Style: hard rock, heavy metal
Label: Mercury
Year: 1998
Home: n/a

Members: Paul Stanley ~ lead vocals/rhythm guitar/bass
Gene Simmons ~ lead vocals/bass/rhythm guitar
Ace Frehley ~ lead guitars/lead vocals
Peter Criss ~ drums/lead vocals
Tommy Thayer ~ lead guitar
Bruce Kulick ~ guitar

Additional: Bob Ezrin, Shelly Berg ~ keyboards
Kevin Valentine ~ drums


Is there anyone who didn't rejoice with Kiss's MTV Unplugged, for countless reasons including a reunion of the original band & a unique take on the classic hits? Growing up I was surrounded by the unmasked Kiss, the Revenge comeback & everything in that nearly embarrassing era that they're now working on putting firmly behind them. It wasn't a good era to become a Kiss fan with & I could never figure out what was so great about them, it was just a bunch of guys with characters that didn't seem to have any relationship to each other or a mythology like Alice Cooper. Yet, I still hunkered down to watch Kiss go acoustic, though I didn't know any of their music at the time. This is one of the biggest bands in the world, love them or hate them. & I loved the results, still do & think that might be one of their best moments. The songs aren't any less dumb sex ballads, but the gig is fun, intimate & the music still hits a good strong beat & you get six members of the band instead of the normal quartet. So, of course, when they went to record a formal reunion album with the studio release Psycho Circus I was interested for the first time, the hologram cover also helped lure me ... though I felt sad for the dumping of temporary boys who put up with a lot of big egos for many years & did a great MTV performance to be let go so unceremoniously, but that's business. I love the idea of a psycho circus, but this is not a concept album that such a title belays & given the disastrous Music From The Elder it's probably good for Kiss to avoid concept albums. What this actually is is an album of big rock anthems typical of the Kiss catalog with a lot of quasi-throwaway wannabe memorable lines & hooks. It's the band doing what it always did with little variation. It's big riffs, shallow lyrics written around a catchy chorus hook & as much of an in your face album that Kiss probably thought they could churn out at the time without going too overboard ... their overboard, of course, not being defined the same as for other bands. This is very much the opposite of Unplugged & the opposite of what made that so great. This could have been more, I believe I wanted it to be more, but when the name of the album is describing a musical entity & not the music itself that's not a good sign to start the show with. My lack of Kiss knowledge meant I misinterpreted an album name for representing great creative musical strides. Kinda like when you hear Jon Anderson's Olias Of Sunhillow you think this is going to be something interesting. No, Kiss is the psycho circus not the album. This is a summation of their career as much as the Rolling Stones Bridges To Babylon was about describing their stage set. Kiss know how to turn out lots of layers, chugging basslines & soaring solos without doubt ... but they're playing the same music now they always did just with better production values & more layers, & I still don't think anyone in the band are particularly interesting singers beyond adequate & Peter Criss will be forever stuck with ballads to sing, while circus pomp flies without embarrassment as always. Yet again, Kiss has not made me a fan or given me something I'm going to turn to with joy in the years ahead. MTV Unplugged was a fluke of pleasure - sad to say. The problem with Psycho Circus is that years later when I think about it I don't think substance. It hasn't aged well & listening again I'm actually a bit disappointed ... my memory forgot the blandness of so much of it & the enormous amount of filler for a meager ten songs. Too many songs (i.e. title track, "Raise Your Glasses", "You Wanted The Best", "I Pledge Allegiance To the State Of Rock & Roll") are self-saluting anthems of look at how great we are because we're Kiss & we survived & now we're gonna give you the best rock'n'roll ever ... the fact that rock'n'roll takes on its own definition for the sex-ladden cock rock of Kiss is another story ... balanced by more under-developed personal moments lost in the bombast as the die was cast too early that this is going to be a big album not a reflective album (i.e. "Within", "We Are One", "I Finally Found My Way", "Dreamin") with some absolute bland topic filler of meandering phrases but no meaning (i.e. "Into The Void", "Journey Of 1,000 Years") with all the songs built around a catchy chorus line & little lyrical development. I will say, while the lyrics do little for me, musically the album is not so much a failure. Well, it's not that interesting on the whole but it has moments. A lot of work was put into the music, no doubt. The riffs are quite powerful, the layers thick & when Gene Simmons lets his bass gurgle like a beast (i.e. "Within", also featuring a great guitar solo) the songs are amazing & rival the intensity of Tool or any thrash band out there. & there's a lot to listen to in many of the guitar riffs, solos & some great passing notes. But, any band can turn out a killer riff, particularly when they have the production experience of Kiss, but in the long term I still want substance & passion more than fluke good riffs. Here there's too many shallow songs that sound like Mick Jagger big stadium rockers ... & you know what we all prefer is Keith Richards softer "I Want To Hold You" more often than not. Perhaps if Paul Stanley & Gene Simmons didn't dominate the writing process that change might happen. But, Kiss is these two immature boys turned old immature boys with more business sense & anyone else is just a throwaway opening circus act, even if they are original members. "Into The Void" with returning Ace Frehley singing, though a Paul Stanley composition as Frehley & Criss get no writing credits, for all the hype around the glory of the legendary riffer Space-Ace can you get any more boring? Not even a good guitar solo. It's just too bad & giving us quasi-power ballads with "We Are One" or "You Wanted The Best" - which is the only Kiss song ever to feature all four members singing lead - just don't do much to make up for it. Though at least they gave the orchestrated acoustic "I Finally Found My Way To You" to Peter Criss to sing, as the song is great for him & goes right back to the 70's ... but its so out of place it's almost like Simmons & Stanley didn't know what to do with him so they dug a classic song out of the vault as he's not good for anything else. A nice little dancing seal act. This might be a reunion in membership but its still a two man game & if you know the game already there's no surprises in the outcome. It shouldn't even be a surprise that its not really a reunion. The Space-Ace only sings & plays on two songs ("Into The Void", "You Wanted The Best") & Criss is only singing on two songs ("You Wanted The Best" & "I Finally Found My Way") & drumming on one ("Into The Void") ... though doing the math one find that its only three out of ten songs that include the returning boys & only two of these with all four members. You're actually listening to Tommy Thayer on lead guitar, who would take over the lead guitar spot on subsequent tours & albums, & former lead guitarist Bruce Kulick gets a backwards guitar intro as his unceremonious goodbye to Kiss ... his final kiss off. I have to say that Thayer turns in some great riffs when given a chance. Of course, neither of these boys get credit in the album, which says all lead guitar parts are by Frehley & Stanley. Indeed, welcome to the psycho circus where the show is big, the riffs are big, Gene Stanley's cock is big & so his is codpiece ... the music is not important. The fact that this is a weak/fake reunion is almost an after-thought. Reunion is just an excuse to make another album. It's much better than a lot of the unmasked years, but don't have too high expectations & you'll be fine with this moment when Kiss actually had to do something other than merchandise themselves.

December 11, 2012

Attention Deficit ~ The Idiot King (album review) ... Alex Skolnick strikes again from left field!

Style: instrumental, funk-rock, jazz-rock
Label: Magna Carta
Year: 2001
Home: n/a (disbanded)

Members: Alex Skolnick ~ guitars
Michael Manring ~ bass
Tim "Herb" Alexander ~ drums

While the outcomes don't always interest me as sometimes I feel they careen out of focus & are often one-off affairs that need more developing, I do greatly respect former Testament/Savatage guitarist Alex Skolnick who not not just refuses to sit in any box but destroy it completely more times then not ... oh, he's also a nice guy too having met him once. How many thrash guitarists do you know who have checked themselves into jazz guitar college courses? Well, there's been a few, but none have pursued a degree like Skolnick & none have gone on to make as many non-thrash albums albums as thrash ones. Though, like I said, I loved to see him develop a few more facets of his sound out over time versus a bunch of one-off 'here's a funk album, here's a jazz album.' AD is one of his many instrumental projects that brings together jazz funk & rock in a weird quasi-rock mix that might just be the highlight of Skolnick's non-thrash career. It's also one of the few developed ones, the trio having done three albums together, & while it may dip in the focus at times it gels musically in a way that makes up for that far more than Skolnick's other projects. AD includes experimental drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander formerly of Primus & master jazz bassist Michael Manring, on 10 string bass, who studied with Jaco Pastorius & has becomes the top session man for Windham Hill Records. They've done two albums together, this is their more focused second, & Alexander & Skolnick where on Manring's solo album Thonk & Manring & Skolnick where together in the cop-themed funk band Skol-Patrol. The time together shows. The problem I have with some of Skolnick's forays is that its ultimately about a lot of shredding & riffing, but in different styles, here he might lay back more than he ever has for his truest fusion jazz release turning in major quasi-rock riffs alongside light turns of phrase & giving the other boys lots of time. The outcome is a true group effort. Perhaps intentionally or not, it hearkens a bit of a slow moody Primus though this is because of Manring not Alexander. Alexander turns in atmospheric jazz drumming, I think of the late Paul Motion of the Bill Evans Trio, versus straight rock drumming. Alexander rides the wave of the beat instead of forcing it & cluttering it. Manring actually has one of those thick gritty sounds, perhaps Tony Levin might be a comparison for rockers & certainly Jaco's influence comes through, that's everything but what one expects to hear from a bass & you'll be shocked from his first notes. He creates this thick wall of sound that's often as upfront as Skolnick. Both AD albums are masterpieces of experimental jazz-funk-rock. Lots of space between the notes just the way I like them & certainly not anything you've come to expect from Skolnick, so two bonuses, plus AD introduced me to a new bass player so three bonuses. Folks listening will also be amazed by Manring & Alexander to the point where Skolnick is the least of your focus at time, as I said, true group effort. This is the album Skolnick went to school to make without a doubt. Sometimes soft & atmospheric, sometimes fast & furious, sometimes a bit rock, sometimes a bit jazz or funk. Skolnick fans shouldn't miss this for anything. Both albums are great, but I prefer this second one as it feels more group-cohesive & less experimental.

December 9, 2012

Dire Straits ~ Brothers In Arms (album review) ... Singing of the walk of life!

Style: blues-rock, jazz-rock, pop
Label: Warner Brothers
Year: 1985
Home: England

Members: Mark Knopfler ~ lead guitars/vocals
Alan Clark ~ keyboards
Guy Fletcher ~ keyboards/b. vocals
John Illsley ~ bass/b. vocals
Omar Hakim, Terry Williams ~ drums

Additional: Michael Brecker, Malcolm Duncan ~ tenor saxophone
Randy Brecker ~ trumpet
Tony Levin, Neil Jason ~ bass
Jimmy Maelen ~ percussion
Michael Mainieri ~ vibraphone
Dave Plews ~ horn
Jack Sonni ~ guitar
Sting ~ b. vocals

I remember in high school my best friend at the time, now an elementary school teacher in Alaska, was trying to get me to listen to this album, his latest passion. The problem was while I was lost deep in Top 40 Dave Matthews Band & hardcore Robert Johnson blues, he was a movie soundtrack buff. Literally, he loved the saddest movie soundtracks you could find, particularly to war films. I just wasn't taking his recommendation. I also wasn't sold due to the heavy rotation of the MTV video at the time & find myself burning out on the breakout single "Money For Nothing." I can take the less than great cover art of this modest album, the sappy melodic commercial pop, but the lyrics just bored me. "Money For Nothing" is actually a jab at MTV bands who seemingly don't work for a living, dressing like faggots, though the pop sensibility overwhelms the song & its meaning has become obscured & heavily criticized. At the time, I didn't quite get it either, though now I can see it for being as smart as it really is ... I'm still a bit bored by microwave ovens though (something I don't own, believe it or not). The other two hits "So Far Away" & "Walk Of Life" are just too melodic pop without the guts for me in that Peter Gabriel/Steve Hackett vein (neither of who I listen to). The sad thing is, & what my friend was trying to get me to hear, is that underneath it all guitarist frontman Mark Knopfler is actually quite a competent guitarist & composer creating subtle lines. He's also one of the minority of rock 's full time fingerstylists, he doesn't use a guitar pick, like one of my favorites Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. Like Buckingham, Gabriel, Hackett DS was Knopfler's attempt to craft some rock that relied on something a little less in your face & a little more exploratory. He was going to me more than the straight ahead. At the time I couldn't appreciate what he was doing & I don't know if my friend even realized the full equation he was trying to peddle to me. Like Tom Verlaine of Television Knopfler took a minimalist approach. He'd rock without the heavy beat & do the blues without the shuffle & turn in solos that brought in a country music bend but without sounding like it. Brothers In Arms is the sixth DS album, they'd only make two more in the 90's as Knopfler went solo & into the world of soundtracks, & this had them finding the best of all worlds. There's melody, a bit of 50's rockabilly & country bluegrass, some world beat & jazz, even some blues that sound surprisingly very ZZ Top-ish, some prog-rock & lyrically little moody vignettes of peoples & places a la Dylan to string through it all. It's actually the perfect music for the baby boomer generation in contrast to the messy hard rock that the kids were banging out. Brothers In Arms was the first album to sell a million copies in the CD format & to outsell its LP version. Though, listening decades later when the name of Knopfler has seemed to fade from eye, its not the perfect album one might expect. After getting beyond the trio of standout hits the albums staggers under its own weight becoming a long prog-rock experiment of lengthy experimental moments of shimmering guitar sounds with little flashes of blues & country. It's also a very laidback album with Knopfler almost singing in a whisper that's a bit too laidback at times. I can see why my high school friend would love it - it's perfect soundtrack music that is made to be in the background & not distract. It's not a bad album but it becomes hard to remember that this is an album by a guitarist. It sounds like an album by a guitarist trying to be a composer or arranger & avoiding the spotlight. It's too laidback for its own good. DS took their music as far as they could with this album, not making another album for some years & then to little acclaim. One is recommended to pick up the greatest hits of DS instead & for the big picture, & the picture of what came next, turn to Knopfler's busy solo career that has an equal amount of diversity, including a duets album with country guitar master Chet Aktins, most to great acclaim.

December 8, 2012

Slow Burning Car ~ Vol. 2: The Scattering (album review) ... For all your favorite songs from Dune & Battlestar Galactica!

Style: alt rock, hard rock
Label: self-released
Year: 2009
Home: Los Angeles, California

Members: Troy Spiropoulos ~ vocals/guitar/bass/keyboards/drums
Duc "Jimmy" Le, Burt Malcuit ~ lead guitar
Victor Bishop ~ keyboards/vocals
Mike Zimmerman ~ drums/b. vocals
Sheila McSherry, Krista Ray ~ vocals

So many bands try to be lyrically interesting or ironic, with the one off joke usually wearing off fast as its all about a cute turn of phrase that makes for a radio-friendly hit & a boring album. SBC actually have a lyrically tight & musically diverse album that's fun & interesting, that gives up the fun phrase for just painting little vignettes that have so much more life. Songs from the point of view of God ("Adama", though I've seen it suggested this is about Battlestar Galactica but it seems too theological to match what I've seen of the show) & Dune's Duncan Idaho ("Ghola") ... you know the sci-fi movie/book, which is a favorite of mine ... ancient gods ("Zeus", "Siren"), Homeland Security & international oil-led affairs ("Blowback"), drugged out life ("In These Trees", "Harum Scarum"), love ("Marry Me", "Man In Crisis") & bad friendships ("Call My Bluff"), changing days ("First Class") & just meandering thoughts we all tend to occasionally have or should have ("Fabian's Stroll"). It's a scattering of little worlds over a rather straight forward churning rock background of guitars & keyboards that's neither hard rock nor alt rock & might have more in common with a generic party band than a band reaching for a particular genre. Alongside the fun lyrics there is some fun musical variation. While many songs might be more straight ahead rock, "Blowback" takes the Red Hot Chili Peppers rap approach to good effect. The Batman Theme is recalled for "Harum Scarum" & the girls get a lead vocal spot for the overly cock rock Girlschool-esque "Man In Crisis" with a tinkling Asian sounding guitar solo. SBC are a fun little band well worth checking out. This is, obviously, their second album album & a third has since been released of the same comedic cultural flair.

December 7, 2012

Meat Loaf ~ Hell In A Handbasket (album review) ... And music to go with it.

Style: hard rock
Year: 2011
Label: Sony
Home: n/a

Members: Meat Loaf ~ vocals
Paul Crook ~ guitar/keyboards/synthesizer/programming
Randy Flowers ~ guitar/b. vocals
Danny Miranda ~ bass
Justin Avery ~ keyboards/b. vocals
Dave Luther ~ saxophone/b. vocals
John Miceli ~ drums
Patti Russo ~ vocals

Additional: Ginny Luke, Caitlin Evanson ~ violin
Glen Duncan ~ mandolin
Bruce Bowden ~ pedal steel
Jerry Flowers ~ b. vocals
Jamie Muhoberac ~ keyboards

Guests: Chuck D ~ rap
Mark McGrath, John Rich, Trace Adkins ~ vocals
Lil Jon ~ rap/drum programming

For fans of the Loaf, which I am, there's a few truths about Meat for those who want to chew: a) the best albums are with Jim Steinman writing, performing, arranging, & b) all other albums tend to have a big epic Steinman-esque hit & a lot of forgettable filler. "All Of Me" is, in my ears, the Steinman wannabe piano ballad without embarrassment on ML's latest album. It has the musical feel of Steinman's complicated arrangements, but it lacks what makes Steinman Steinman - its all about the intricate lyrics that are impossible to sing with a single breathe. This has straight ahead lyrics but stretched out trying to make one word last for four & sound complicated. If one can make the line "all of me" last like "objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are" ML is certainly trying to. While it lacks the long soaring notes that once marked ML's music, as he no longer sings out like he once did - I wonder if he can - but instead gives off a smaller ranged constant annoying warble. Having seen recent live footage of him routinely losing breathe on stage I'm apt to think the decision has been made to avoid anything that will tax him too much. Of course, ML has aged & that can't be avoided ... but I wouldn't be adverse to a little studio trickery to make up for it. Since Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose a cluttered anti-climactic affair that fell more than it climbed, ML has stumbled, but at least the presence of Steinman's words gave him a chance even if it didn't in the end since Steinman didn't want to be involved & after hearing the album his instincts were probably proven right. ML stumbled after first dumping Steinman following the over-produced but still listenable Dead Ringer & stumbled after Bat Out Of Hell II released in 1993, but he was younger & could write off a bad album due to bad label deals or changing music styles. III was an attempt to pull out of the stumbling, but only was a breathing moment. Now, you know, he's desperate to have an album that's successful without Steinman's direct involvement. He wants to show that he can do it on his own & you want him to have that success because when he's good he's amazing. ML & his team knows what music works for him & try to stay within the epic template of highs & lows, even if his voice has lost its range & the lows lack the punch of Steinman's classic ballads. No one has ever been able to really be able to write for ML like Steinman. ML has engaged an array of music to make up for this shortcoming & he's no stranger to experimentation, for better or for embarrassment. Sadly, he's never really been able to find a musical identity that could replace what made him great. It must be a difficult struggle by now to have as many musical facelifts as Madonna but with none catching on. Hell In A Handbasket might be the closest ML has gotten to an overall successful album on his own terms in awhile, certainly compared to his 80's work its far better. Musically its very powerful & very elaborate only occasionally being too cluttered, & is helmed by former Anthrax/Sebastian Bach guitarist Paul Crook whose been by ML's side for many years. But, with ML's voice is now suffering & the warble just doesn't do what the music needs but is a bit painful to listen to. The heights here are all musical. While the lyrics aren't that interesting. The catch with Steinman is the fact that he paints very visual songs. It's poetry, not just songs. These are songs with rhyming. They're songs, not poetic stories. Regular duet partner Patti Russo appears on a few cuts, in true "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" tradition, but these aren't really duets or any sort of real conversation but glorified backing vocals. Speaking of backing vocals a couple songs also feature some rapping & some tv stars. One wouldn't think ML would need a rap break or guests. The world might be going to hell in a handbasket, but so is parts of ML's career yet again. This isn't so bad of an album, it has a few hits & a lots of filler ... but yet again stick with the first two Bat albums & leave the un-batty alone.

December 3, 2012

Steve Cradock ~ The Kundalini Target (album review) ... Paul Weller trained him well to hit the target!

Style: folk-rock
Label: Absolute
Year: 2009
Home: British

Members: Steve Cradock ~ all instruments

Additional: Paul Weller ~ b. vocals/12 string guitar
Sally Cradock, Hannah Andrews ~ backing vocals

Dreamy pop, those who know me will contest, I rarely find interesting. I like my rock hard, my folk traditional, my pop Phil Collins. Maybe I'm too mainstream for everyone's tastes, but I do listen to things before writing them off & I listen to a lot of things. I had no idea who SC was when I picked up this album. I only grabbed it as being a Hindu I was interested in its title. Of course, there's nothing Hindu here except throwing out some happy lyrics & calling that spiritual. But, I will confess that SC does something really interesting that deserves mention & after numerous listens I find it hard to hear anything else. Hopefully he'll take it as a compliment. He has just about re-created George Harrison & the dreamy acoustic pop of the Beatles. The Beatles never even sounded this Beatles after their break-up. From the guitars to the vocals to the arrangements. This is not a musician's album, but a songwriter's album that is very much out of time ... unless you consider Phil Keaggy in time or someone akin. For those like me not familiar with SC, he was involved in the 90's mod revival often alongside Paul Weller as his guitarist & with his band Ocean Colour Scene. This is his debut album, recorded at Weller's studio over six days. It's written that this solo album is much like SC has done before with Ocean Colour Scene, but having heard them I can't offer any opinion. So, if you like your music Beatles inspired, a little pop folksy, very dreaming with a soft beat that keeps it from being too hypnotic or drippy, strong & reflective song-writing, chorus vocals, then SC might be someone to check out.