Nelson – Lightning Strikes Twice (2011)

Nelson – Lightning Strikes Twice (2011, Frontiers Records)

  1. Call Me
  2. Day By Day
  3. Ready, Willing And Able
  4. How Can I Miss You?
  5. You’re All I Need Tonight
  6. To Get Back To You
  7. When You’re Gone
  8. Take Me There
  9. Come
  10. In It For The Money
  11. Change A Thing
  12. Kickin’ My Heart Around

Gunnar Nelson – Vocals & Guitars
Matthew Nelson – Vocals & Bass
Brian Burwell – Drums
David Morgan – Piano & Background Vocals
Gary Corbett – Piano & Keyboards
Gary Schlecta – String Arrangements on tracks #6 & #8
Steve Lukather – Guitar solo on track #6

Producers: Gunnar Nelson & Matthew Nelson

Country: USA

Total Time = 54:07

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Frontiers Records

If you listened to FM radio or watched MTV in 1990 & 1991 then there was no way you were going to miss Nelson. Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, twin sons of the legendary Ricky Nelson, debuted with the AOR/Melodic Rock bombshel AFTER THE RAIN (1990), an album that produce the #1 hit ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection’ and three other hit singles while selling 4 million copies. The band was every label’s dream: two good looking twins who had the family musical legacy, crafted slick pop-flavored Rock, and made the girls swoon and the guys quietly sing along. I admit to buying AFTER THE RAIN back in the day and proudly playing alongside my Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica albums but, after too much exposure, the party ended in 1991 and the backlash began. The brothers became the butt of the joke, kind of like Winger did, and the Grunge movement spit in the face of sugar-coated melodies and sweet ballads. By the time 1995 rolled around and Nelson released their follow-up, BECAUSE THEY CAN, mainstream fans had moved on and the album went unnoticed. The Nelsons never left, they just started in a new direction over the last 15 years by releasing a darker edged concept album, IMAGINATOR (1996), going a little Country on another album and covering their father’s songs on 2000’s LIKE FATHER, LIKE SONS. All this and doing it all in house on their own label and continuing to tour. Now 20 years after their successful debut, the Nelsons release what could easily be termed as the natural follow-up to that record with LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN.

***(Before I get into the review, let me explain the album’s release year. Technically, this album was released in late 2010 on Frontiers Records everywhere BUT North America. I wasn’t going to buy an import, especially when postage rates to the U.S. from Europe & Japan are so high, so I decided to wait for the U.S. release. I ended up picking this up in February, shortly after the January U.S. release. So technically it’s a 2010 release but I’m counting it as a 2011 release because of where and when it got proper distribution.)***

Opening the album is the infectious ‘Call Me’, a hit single if I ever heard one, that is complete with melodic guitars and the signature Nelson harmonies that make every song sound huge. ‘Call Me’ has that good time party vibe that gets you singing along right away and immeadiately transports you back to 1990. As if that wasn’t enough to hook a melodic rock fan in, the brothers continue the upbeat retro sound with the Bon Jovi slick ‘Day By Day’ (a song Jon Bon Jovi would kill to have written, maybe it would have saved his last record!) and the harder edged ‘Ready, Willing And Able’ that has a ’70s Classic Rock feel to it with the big harmonies and superb vocals. Both songs follow ‘Call Me’ perfectly and could easily be singles in their own right and they continue that “big hair” sound from the late ’80s/early ’90s that made the Nelsons platinum successes. The album takes a twist with the opening Scorpions style guitar intro that reminds me of ‘Still Loving You’ and hints of a ballad with the opening lines, then the song turns into a dark rocker that moves into a heavier groove until that big harmonized chorus. It’s kind of hard to describe a Nelson song as dark, maybe moody is a better? Maybe harder is better than that? What grabs me here is the guitars…..listen closely and you can hear that Scorpions tone in the licks and it just works. It’s harder but melodic, it’s Nelson but slightly different. The band heads back into the classic AOR sound for the first proper single and video from the record — ‘You’re All I Need Tonight’. This is classic melodic Nelson at it’s finest, easily a hit single if this was 20 years ago and definitely a great song today that should get radio airplay.

Surprisingly, we haven’t had a ballad yet! That changes with ‘To Get Back To You’, a song that Jon and Ritchie would probably kill to have written for that last Bon Jovi album! This is a signature ballad with acoustic guitars, piano, keyboard orchestration and the big vocals from the brothers…..definitely one of those “raise your lighters” moments. Add in a special appearance by guitar maestro Steve Lukather (Toto) for the guitar solos and it all comes together perfectly. More catchy Melodic Rock returns with ‘When You’re Gone’, a song that sounds like Bon Jovi mixed with Damn Yankees on the vocals and melodies with a touch of Tom Scholz guitar (Boston). This is one of my favorite songs on the album, probably because it’s one of the more truer Rock songs but with that catchiness that gets me singing along immeadiately. It’s a feel good song…..actually, the whole album is feel good! Isn’t that what good music is about? Ballad #2 arrives with ‘Take Me There’, another one Jon & Ritchie wish they stole, I mean wrote! ‘Take Me There’ doesn’t feel like a ballad because the guitar really kicks in for extra power (listen for the solo!) and the song builds into the glorious chorus. Another straight ahead rocker comes with ‘Come’, a song that channels Damn Yankees at their commercial best with a vocal that sounds very Tommy Shaw like. ‘Come’ is heavy mid-tempo with some heavier guitar work and more up front drums but I’m a little distracted by the vocal and, among an album of strong songs, I’d have to call this the weakest so far but it’s still pretty good. ‘In It For The Money’ is another catchy song that has an underlying Classic Rock feel to it and it has the one thing you expect from a poppy, melodic, party album…..handclaps! The chorus is extremely catchy too. ‘Change A Thing’ is a moody mid-tempo ballad that becomes the weakest song instead of ‘Come’ because it just sounds out of place on such a happy rock record. It’s not a bad song, just out of place and a level below the rest of the songs on the album. Last tune is ‘Kickin’ My Heart Around’ is another mid-tempo track that has a crunch to it when the guitars kick in for the chorus but goes mellow for the rest. For me, not one of my album favorites but a decent song in it’s own right.

Bottom Line:
I never thought I would honestly say this but Matthew and Gunnar Nelson have made an album that equals, if not surpasses, their multi-million selling debut and I think it’s one of the best Melodic Rock albums of 2011. Twenty years after AFTER THE RAIN, the Nelsons have given us a worthy successor with LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN and, while it’s not going to sell millions, it’s still going to be a success in returning mainstream popular Rock to an audience willing to rejoin the party. Maybe the time away from this kind of music fueled the fire? Maybe the next album the brothers release will be a continuation of this sound that made them famous? Either way, LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN is a great comeback for two musicians that really never went away. I was really surprised by this album right from the opening of ‘Call Me’ and I have listened to this probably more than any other new album this year. I can honestly say I like this record better than AFTER THE RAIN and I’m going to put the latter day Nelson albums on the Want List because I’m sure there’s something I haven’t heard and am missing out on. This is a must for Nelson fans and fans of AOR/Melodic Rock but also for those of us who were kids back in the day that secretly listened to Nelson but made fun of them around our peers. The joke is on us because this is a great record well worth checking out!

Favorite Songs:
‘Call Me’, ‘Day By Day’, ‘Ready, Willing And Able’, ‘You’re All I Need Tonight’, ‘To Get Back To You’, ‘When You’re Gone’

Whitesnake – Forevermore (2011)

Whitesnake – Forevermore (2011, Frontiers)

  1. Steal Your Heart Away
  2. All Out Of Luck
  3. Love Will Set You Free
  4. Easier Said Than Done
  5. Tell Me How
  6. I Need You (Shine A Light)
  7. One Of These Days
  8. Love & Treat Me Right
  9. Dogs In The Street
  10. Fare Thee Well
  11. Whipping Boy Blues
  12. My Evil Ways
  13. Forevermore
  14. Love Will Set You Free (alternate mix)*
  15. Forevermore (acoustic version)*
  16. My Evil Ways (My Evil drums mix)*

* (bonus tracks)

Bonus DVD

  1. Making of Forevermore
  2. Forevermore: Track By Track
  3. ‘Love Will Set You Free’ video
  4. Making of ‘Love Will Set You Free’

Band Lineup:
David Coverdale – Lead Vocals
Doug Aldrich – Guitars
Reb Beach – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Michael Devin – Bass
Brian Tichy – Drums

Additional Musicians:
Timothy Drury – Keyboards
Jasper Coverdale – Vocals

Producers: David Coverdale, Doug Aldrich, Michael McIntyre

Country: United Kingdom/USA

Total Time = 1:17:12

Whitesnake MySpace page
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Frontiers Records

Whitesnake is back again with a brand new studio album, FOREVERMORE, one of the most anticipated albums of 2011. It’s been three years since Whitesnake mainman David Coverdale and his formidable lineup delivered the excellent GOOD TO BE BAD (2008) but the band hasn’t been out of the spotlight. Quite the contrary with shows played worldwide, including a U.S. tour with Judas Priest in support of GOOD TO BE BAD. Unfortunately, due to health reasons, Coverdale had vocal problems on the tour and had to cancel certain dates giving critics, and some fans, reason to write the band off but Coverdale and company have returned again with a vengeance. Joining David again is the excellent guitar duo of Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach (members since 2002) and keyboardist Timothy Drury but there are new faces in the rhythm section with former Ozzy, Billy Idol and Lynch Mob drummer Brian Tichy and former Lynch Mob bassist Michael Devin. Despite this round of lineup changes,and David Coverdale pushing 60, Whitesnake sound as powerful as ever.

The best way to describe FOREVERMORE is that it’s the natural continuation of GOOD TO BE BAD. The band leans toward the original Blues based Whitesnake sound of the late ’70s/early ’80s with a nod to the mega-platinum success of the late ’80s, the songs all thick with heavy guitars, plenty of melody and groove and, of course, excellent vocals from Coverdale. If you listen to the album in it’s entirety you immeadiately notice the thick, rich sound and that’s due to the top of the line production but you also hear layers of guitars. There’s no doubt that Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach are the perfect compliment to David Coverdale, both guitarists are experienced and at the top of the Hard Rock heap with a combined resumé that includes: Dio, Winger, Dokken, Lion, Burning Rain, Hurricane and Bad Moon Rising. Devin and Tichy have proven they are a solid rhythm section and Drury compliments the sound with his keyboards but the obvious question mark is Coverdale himself…..has he recovered from the throat issues that plagued him a couple of years ago? I’m happy to say that Coverdale puts in another excellent performance at the mic and at almost 60 years old! After so many years of consistent vocal performances from Deep Purple through to Whitesnake in 2011, Coverdale is one of the best in the business and there seems to be no effects from the previous years’ issues. He prefers to use the more bluesy side of his voice, the early Whitesnake sound, rather than the high pitched screams of the late ’80s and you can tell that he stays in the lower register but David Coverdale’s lower register is better than 90% of younger current day singers! You can easily drift back to older Whitesnake albums like LOVEHUNTER (1979), READY AN’ WILLING (1980) and SAINTS AND SINNERS (1982) just by listening to the vocals. Add Reb Beach and Jasper Coverdale on backing vocals and it’s the perfect compliment to get that thick full vocal sound. The same basic themes are back again in the songwriting: love, love lost, love gained, love in general. There’s nothing wrong about writing about love, seduction, break-ups, etc and Coverdale is one of the best, he’s made a career out of it, so you know the album is well-written.

Opening the album is the hard Blues based rocker ‘Steal Your Heart Away’ with plenty of guitars and big hooky chorus. You can hear the slide guitar mixed into the riff trading from Aldrich and Beach and the solo break signals that this isn’t going to be a relaxed record, this is going to be a rocker! ‘Steal Your Heart Away’ kind of reminds me a little of ‘Shake My Tree’ from the Coverdale/Page album from 1993 in some of the bluesier parts but this is Hard Rock at it’s best. You can hear that Country influence with that slide guitar, a slight honky-tonk sound that adds a layer to the song. Continuing the Blues Hard Rock sound is another guitar grooved rocker ‘All Out Of Luck’ and the first single from FOREVERMORE, ‘Love Will Set You Free’. You can hear Coverdale start to go for the higher register and notes while maintaining that seductive groove in ‘All Out Of Luck’ and he shows flashes in ‘Love Will Set You Free’. Being the first single, it’s easy to say that ‘Love Will Set You Free’ sounds a bit more commercial compared to the first two opening tracks, and it’s true to a point drawing comparisons to late ’80s Snake, but the heaviness is there and the thick sound still gives it than dirtier, less polished sound.

After three solid rockers to open the album, the first proper ballad is ‘Easier Said Than Done’ and it reminds me of the WHITESNAKE (1987) and SLIP OF THE TONGUE (1989) era, it has that ‘Is This Love’ & ‘The Deeper The Love’ emotion that could easily propel it to a hit if radio played bands like Whitesnake. Same thing with the uptempo ‘Tell Me How’, it reminds me of those two classic albums’ sound much like the title track from GOOD TO BE BAD a few years ago. Another song that has that melodic commercial hook is ‘I Need You (Shine A Light)’, another song that could easily be a radio single. After listening to this song once, you instantly pick it up right away and start singing along but, as you hit repeat, you can hear a Boston influence. Listen closely to the guitar tone and the vocal harmonies, there’s a touch of Boston in there, probably because it’s such a melodic track.

Moving into the second half of the album you get the acoustic mid-tempo/ballad ‘One Of These Days’. It’s a pretty simple song with the focus on David’s solid vocal and the guitars, a perfect song if the band was ever going to perform unplugged, listen for the harmonies on the chorus…..superb. It almost doesn’t sound like Whitesnake! A song like ‘One Of These Days’ is perfect for a Rock album like FOREVERMORE because it breaks up all the heavier fast songs and adds a different layer to the album. The Hard Rock continues with ‘Love & Treat Me Right’ and the all out Metal of ‘Dogs In The Street’, a song that immeadiately reminds me of ‘Bad Boys’ from the 1987 s/t album. Talk about going back in time! It’s like Whitesnake recorded this sometime between 1987 and 1989, put it in a vault and released it 20+ years later. Forget the Blues base here, this is Metal! Following the assault of ‘Dogs In The Street’ is another good acoustic ballad ‘Fare the Well’ that’s very similar to ‘One Of These Days’ but slower. That’s three ballads through ten tracks, it may be a bit excessive but Coverdale’s track record can’t be denied, he’s had plenty of big hits with mid-tempo songs and ballads. The band continues to keep us guessing by giving us another rocker that sounds influenced from the COVERDALE/PAGE record from 1993 and mixed with GOOD TO BE BAD. It’s a very riff heavy song and Coverdale keeps his voice in that higher register from back in his younger days. Brian Tichy gets his quick solo moment with the opening drum intro to ‘My Evil Ways’, another guitar driven blues rocker that borders on ’80s Metalwith the trademark Coverdale screams and trade-off guitarwork fron Aldrich and Beach. There’s a Thin Lizzy meets the George Thorogood vibe here if you listen: Thin Lizzy with that twin axe attack and Thorogood with that honky-tonk Blues groove…..definitely a cool fast song. Ending the album is the fourth ballad, and third acoustic ballad in a row, ‘Forevermore’. I can’t fault Coverdale for going to what he does best, writing love songs, and he does this throughout the entire record. The title track is in the same style as ‘Easier Said Than Done’ but slower and more gentle until the solo break where the band kicks in and everything sounds lush with the big power ballad sound. Any doubts about David’s voice should be cast away after this song, after this album, because he sings with plenty of power, emotion and ability as he ever has.

If you’re an insane collector like me, then you needed to buy the limited edition that included three bonus tracks and a DVD. The three bonus tracks are an alternate mix of ‘Love Will Set You Free’, and acoustic version of the title track and a different drum mix of ‘My Evil Ways’. These songs are very similar to the originals and are a nice bonus for a couple of dollars more. The DVD includes the video for ‘Love Will Set You Free’, the making of the album and the video. Again, a nice bonus tucked into the deluxe glossy digipak packaging for a couple bucks more.

Bottom Line:
Here we go again! Whitesnake has released another great album that mixes the older Whitesnake sound with the late ’80s bombastic style. There’s a great mix of bluesy Hard Rock, ’80s Metal and acoustic ballads that keeps the album fresh with every listen, it’s a great record. The songs are full of melody and hooks that draw you in and gets you singing right along while you fiercly air guitar. The album sounds full and rich thanks to a great production and the musicianship is top notch with Aldrich, Beach, Devin, Tichy and Drury putting on a blazing sonic display. The one question on FOREVERMORE was how good David Coverdale would sound after having vocal issues in 2009 and 2010…..the question is answered in spades with a great vocal performance by one of the masters of Hard Rock. Coverdale sounds as good as he ever has singing with power and emotion proving that talent defies age. Stacking this up against GOOD TO BE BAD is tough because that album had such an impact after 11 years of waiting for new Whitesnake but FOREVERMORE continues where GOOD TO BE BAD left off and even goes beyond it at certain points. Definitely a must have for Whitesnake and Hard Rock fans and a contender for Album of The Year for 2011!

Favorite Songs:
This is going to be a hard one because there isn’t a weak song on the album and I like every one of them. If I had to pick five favorites: ‘Steal Your Heart Away’, ‘Love Will Set You Free’, ‘I Need You (Shine A Light)’, ‘Dogs In The Street’, ‘My Evil Ways’

Gary John Barden – Rock ‘N Roll My Soul (2010)

Gary John Barden – Rock ‘N Roll My Soul (2010, Inakustik)

  1. Oh Well
  2. I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock ‘n Roll Band)
  3. Never Before
  4. When A Blind Man Cries
  5. Let’s Work Together
  6. Why Did You Do It
  7. I’m A Man
  8. Stay With Me
  9. Travellin’ Band
  10. The Long And Winding Road
  11. Zeit macht nur vor dem Teufel halt
  12. Rock ‘n Roll My Soul

The Players:
Gary Barden – Vocals
Michael Voss – Guitars, Drums, Keyboards & Background Vocals
Don Airey – Piano & Orchestration (Track 10)
Ian Ward – Harp (Track 5)
Tommy Denander – Lead guitars (Track 6)
Axel Urban – Keyboards (Tracks 5, 8, 12)
Steffi Stephan – Bass (Tracks 5, 9)
Matthias Rethmann – Bass
Barend Courbois – Bass (Track 8)
Pearl – Backing Vocals (Tracks 3, 7, 8)
Andrea Beusker – Backing Vocals (Track 11)
Ferdy Doernbrg – Keyboards (Tracks 4, 7)
Wayne Findlay – Hammond Organ & Piano (Track 3)
Molly Duncan – Saxophone (Tracks 6, 9)

Produced by: Michael Voss & Gary Barden

Country: United Kingdom

Total Time = 42:32

(no official website)

Current Michael Schenker Group vocalist Gary Barden has a new solo album out, ROCK ‘N ROLL MY SOUL, and I was pretty psyched to hear it when I found about it last year. Actually, I believe that this CD was released everywhere except North America in late 2010 but it finally has proper distribution, my copy says “2010” so I’m going with it! I saw MSG in concert last summer so I’ve been on an MSG kick, especially the first two records with Barden on vocals, so I was looking forward to getting my hands on Gary’s new solo album. Of course I acquire it and I find out it’s an album of cover songs with one original tacked on the end. Regular readers know (and I will write this everytime a cover is involved) that I’m not into covers where original songs should be, especially when the album is promoted as a “new album”. Granted that it’s new but let’s get to full disclosure! I read the press release when I it came through but it didn’t click somehow that this was a covers record.

Giving the album a few spins, I can honestly say that this is a well-produced and good sounding album. Musicianship is great and Gary sounds in fine voice, he can just sing these songs and not have to pack a Hard Rock punch to them as he does in MSG or when he was in Praying Mantis or Statetrooper. The songs here are all from the late ’60s to the mid ’70s, basically what Gary was listening to back in his formative days. If you’ve ever listened to your local Classic Rock radio station then you’ve definitely heard the original tunes and even know most of the words. I knew all the originals except for the German song ‘Zeit macht nur vor dem Teufel halt’ by Barry Ryan.

Let me run down the original artists in order: Fleetwood Mac, The Moody Blues, two in a row by Deep Purple, Canned Heat, Stretch, The Spencer Davis Group (featuring Steve Winwood), The Faces, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, Barry Ryan. Add the title song by Barden and you’ve got an album! A new album. Anyway, the songs are all done well (like I mentioned before) and the highlights for me are both Deep Purple songs, ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Travellin’ Band’ and ‘The Long And Winding Road’. I always liked the originals of these songs and the covers are all dead on (all of the covers are), there’s nothing overly special to them, I just like the tunes. I like the fact that Gary covered a couple of Deep Purple songs from MACHINE HEAD (1972), especially ‘When A Blind Man Cries’. Gary sounds a bit like Ian Gillan at times on both songs but it’s not the performances that get me here, it’s the selections. Why cover ‘Never Before’ when you could do the more popular ‘Highway Star’ or the Rock anthem that is ‘Smoke On The Water’? Good for Gary going a little deeper and pulling out ‘When A Blind Man Cries’, a song that was originally the B-side to the ‘Never Before’ single and not originally released on MACHINE HEAD until the 25th Anniversary edition released in 1997. I like the original song, ‘Rock ‘N Roll My Soul’, it has that Aerosmith ‘Big Ten Inch Record’ sound to it…..upbeat, light, quick and fun.

Bottom Line:
This is a covers album so I’m not going to give this outstanding marks but there is some meat on the bone with the original title track, the choice of songs to cover, the arrangements and Gary’s vocals. I think I’m softening my hardline stance against covers because I enjoyed giving this album more than a few spins…..probably due to the fact that you don’t hear these songs covered that often. Usually the Hard Rock guys go with Hard Rock covers, the closest Hard Rock here is Deep Purple. Actually, Gary’s vocals on ‘When A Blind Man Cries’ are really good and that performance helps pull the album from my immeadiate personal disqualification. If you want to hear different versions of these classic songs, or you want to hear Barden’s singing, then pick this up. Of all the covers records I’ve heard in the past couple of years, I like ROCK ‘N ROLL MY SOUL as one of the best.

Favorite Songs:
Both Deep Purple tracks ‘Never Before’ & ‘When A Blind Man Cries’, ‘Trevellin’ Band’, ‘Stay With Me’, ‘The Long And Winding Road’ and the original title track.

Hurtsmile – s/t (2011)

Hurtsmile – s/t (2011, Frontiers Records)

  1. Just War Theory
  2. Stillborn
  3. love Thy Neighbor
  4. Kaffur (Infidel)
  5. Painter Paint
  6. Tolerance Song (edit)
  7. Set Me Free
  8. Jesus Would You Meet Me
  9. Slave
  10. Beyond The Garden/Kicking Against The Goads
  11. Just War Reprise
  12. The Murder Of Daniel Faulkner (4699)

Band Lineup:
Gary Cherone – Vocals
Mark Cherone – Guitar
Joe Pessia – Bass, Mandolin
Dana Spellman – Drums, Percussion

Produced by: Gary Cherone & Joe Pessia

Country: USA

Total Time = 49:50

Hurtsmile MySpace
Gary Cherone
Frontiers Records

I’m a big Extreme fan from way back in the beginning so when Gary Cherone’s new project, Hurtsmile, was announced, I knew that it would be something unique. The problem with a Gary solo project is that sometimes he gets way too experimental and deviates from the Rock sound that made him a success in Extreme and Van Halen. Take a listen to the Tribe Of Judah album from 2002…..if you can sit through it! That album was horrible (I can’t even explain how bad it was!) due to it’s highly experimental direction and lack of Rock. I’m all of artistic expression and exploring new music avenues but a Rock album should be a Rock album when it’s promoted as such. Now I was really into the last Extreme album, SAUDADES DE ROCK (2007), and their live CD & DVD, TAKE US ALIVE: BOSTON 2009 (2010), so I knew that I was going to buy the Hurtsmile CD but I was crossing my fingers that I would like it.

The album starts out well with the Hard Rock of ‘Just War Theory’ and ‘Stillborn’ and you can immeadiately hear that Gary’s voice is still top notch and his brother, Mark Cherone, has some serious guitar going. You could almost put these songs in either the last Van Halen or Extreme album because they have that modern, edgy flavor. Actually, the sound is almost Grunge, especially on ‘Stillborn’, and I can hear traces of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots…..influences that will permeate all the harder and/or faster songs on the record.

‘Love Thy Neighbor’ starts out with a 1950s a capella intro but moves into more more familiar modern Rock territory as does ‘Kaffur (Infidel)’, sans intro. Four songs into the album and so far things are going along a modern Hard Rock path with some serious guitar work but the band throws us a curve with the Beatles-inspired acoustic ‘Painter Paint’. This is Gary’s showcase without a doubt, you can really hear his singing voice and how great it really is, kind of like you can do with the Extreme classic ‘More Than Words’. I don’t want to put Gary in a certain box but this guy can sing ballads with the best of them and have great success, I’m surprised that there aren’t more on albums he records.

One of the reasons Gary was hired to replace Sammy Hagar in Van Halen is because he has a very similar sounding voice at times and there is no better example of that with the beginning line of ‘Tolerance Song’… swear that’s Sammy! The song follows the same formula as the first four rockers but there’s a little more experimentation with different tones and effects on Gary’s vocals to make it sound more current. The vocal effects almost remind me of some of the ones Motley Crue used for Vince Neil on parts of GENERATION SWINE (1997). The songwriting here isn’t that great and I’m not really digging the song at all. ‘Set Me Free’ continues that thick guitar driven grungy sound mixed with more quiet parts where Gary’s voice carries the song, I like the solo break and Mark Cherone really shines, he plays well through the entire album. ‘Jesus Would You Meet Me’ sounds a bit like Extreme’s ‘Hole Hearted’ instrumentally but the song takes an acoustic/Bluegrass/church hymn direction. I wasn’t really sure about this track the first couple of times I heard it but, after multiple spins, I like it for it’s simplicity and it’s similarity to the Extreme hit. A quick bass intro with some vocal effects open ‘Slave’ and continue throughout the track except for the chorus. The song takes a few twists and turns stylistically and I think it’s really too varied. The band gets back to what I think is their strong suit: the ballad. I was really impressed with ‘Painter Paint’ and ‘Beyond The Garden/Kicking Against The Goads’ also leaves a lasting impression with it’s soothing arrangement and Gary’s smooth vocal.

Unfortuately, I have to kill ‘Just War Reprise’. I get that Hurtsmile is an experiment in sound but it stays mostly on the Rock side of things…..’Just War Reprise’ is a Reggae version and it just doesn’t fit. I’m not bagging it because it’s Reggae, I like some Reggae, but on a Rock record? I give the band credit for trying something new but it doesn’t work for me. The final track is ‘The Murder Of Daniel Faulkner (4699)’, a tribute to the Philadelphia police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 1981, his badge number being #4699. The song reminds me of a Bob Dylan or a Tom Petty song (is there any sonic difference between the two anymore?) and it tells the tale of Officer Faulkner and the incidents involving Mumia Abu-Jamal resulting in his death on the night of 12/9/1981. The song is best described as a folk ballad, more of a musical story if you will, with excellent acoustic guitar and focused vocals. I guess you could maybe call this Ballad #3 of the album but there’s a little more to it than a straight up ballad, there’s a lot of emotion invovled as Gary recounts the story. Bagpipes mark the end of the song in tribute to a fallen officer.

Bottom Line:
I have to admit, this album didn’t really grab me after the first couple of spins, the songs were too grungy and a complete mix of different styles. I kept listening though because I’m a big fan of Gary Cherone and Hurtsmile grew on me. I was ready to lump this in with the industrial Tribe Of Judah (a huge mess!) as another experimental failure and send the message to Gary in this review to just stick with Rock but careful listening proved that there’s a lot more to hear. Extreme fans might not get into this album because it’s different than the traditional Hard Rock you expect but, if you’re looking for something different, Hurtsmile might do the trick. I’m not going to put this album at the top of the heap but I’m not going to cast it to the bottom of the 2011 pile either. This CD is a grower and there are a few songs that rise above the rest, particularly the ballads.

Favorite Songs:
‘Just War Theory’, ‘Painter Paint’, ‘Jesus Would You Meet Me’, ‘Beyond The Garden/Kicking Against The Goads’

Mr. Big – What If… (2011)

Mr. Big – What If… (2011, Frontiers Records)

  1. Undertow
  2. American Beauty
  3. Stranger In My Life
  4. Nobody Left To Blame
  5. Still Ain’t Enough For Me
  6. Once Upon A Time
  7. As Far As I Can See
  8. All The Way Up
  9. I Won’t get In My Way
  10. Around The World
  11. I Get The Feeling
  12. Unforgiven (bonus track)

DVD Extra – Undertow videoclip, All The Way Up videoclip, Making of WHAT IF…

Band Lineup:
Eric Martin – Lead Vocals
Billy Sheehan – Bass & Vocals
Paul Gilbert – Guitars & Vocals
Pat Torpey – Drums & Vocals

Producer: Kevin Shirley

Country: USA

Total Time = 50:54

Mr. Big
Mr. Big Facebook page
Mr. Big MySpace page
Frontiers Records

Has it really been 10 years since Mr. Big released their last studio album? And has it been 15 years since the original lineup released a new album? The answer to both questions is “Yes” so the next logical question is: Why is Mr. Big reuniting again? If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 22 years then you should know that Mr. Big is one of the biggest bands to come out of the late ’80s/early ’90s. The band had instant success with their self-titled debut album in 1989 and then released their follow-up, LEAN INTO IT (1991), that included the smash hit ballad ‘To Be With You’. Once the musical climate changed in the U.S. in the early ’90s, Mr. Big went on to international fame and fortune, especially in Japan. Mr. Big are gods in Japan and that is the reason for the current reunion of Eric Martin, Billy Sheehan, Pat Torpey and original guitarist Paul Gilbert…..the Japanese fans and promoters demand for Mr. Big is insatiable! The band reunited in 2009 for live dates and then hit the studio to create WHAT IF…

The album starts out with the hard rocking first single, ‘Undertow’, that immeadiately reminds the listener that the band is more than a bunch of balladeers, this band knows how to rock! The band sounds completely comfortable, all performances flawless, and the song is classic Mr. Big but with an updated edge. Eric Martin sounds in fine voice and the return of Paul Gilbert is solidified with his guitar solo…..I’d mention how great Sheehan and Torpey are but it’s a forgone conclusion that they are a solid rhythm team. The band hits hard again with ‘American Beauty’, a modern day version of ‘Addicted To That Rush’. This is how to rock! The band puts the foot to floor and heads back to the ’80s highway of fast melodic Hard Rock circa their debut album. The guitar and bass play right off each other and Gilbert turns in another brilliant solo while that funky bassline of Sheehan dances around it. So many fans hear the name Mr. Big and think of the ballads but if you listen to all their albums, especially the first two, these guys can rock with the best of them! That doesn’t mean the guys aren’t going to slow down and they do with ‘Stranger In My Life’, a ballad that showcases Eric Martin’s vocals…..this guy is just consistent, nailing down the vocals everytime on every album. All Mr. Big ballads will be compared to ‘To be With You’ but I’d say that ‘Stranger In My Life’ has more emotion and is more heartfelt, one of the best songs on the album. ‘Nobody Left To Blame’ keeps things on the slow side, more of a mid-tempo, but very heavy. There’s an edge here, a darker emotional feel, that really personalizes the song, Eric’s vocals sound very emotional like a sense of loss. The musicianship is top notch here, as is the case with every Mr. Big song, Sheehan and Torpey giving the song a groove that fits in well with Gilbert’s guitar heroics.

Time to kick it up a notch again with ‘Still Ain’t Enough For Me’, another fast-paced hard rocker that showcases the duelling Gilbert and Sheehan (especially at the solo break). This is another song that could easily be the modern day ‘Addicted To That Rush’ and that’s how I like Mr. Big to be: fast, heavy and straight forward. ‘Once Upon A Time’ continues the faster pace and is very heavy, Paul Gilbert really gets a thick sound on this track. I like the heavy modern edge to the song while maintaining the clean lines each musician follows…..on every song you can hear each player’s insturment clear as day. Obviously the band are excellent musicians but producer Kevin Shirley (producer for Journey, Iron Maiden, Queesryche and more) does another phenomenal job and makes the album sound flawless. I’ve read online that Shirley had the band play the songs live in the studio to capture the true feel of the band…..well, it worked because the band sounds better than they ever have. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since these four guys recorded together but it’s a testament to each member’s talent. The heaviness continues with ‘As Far As I Can See’ but you can hear the early Mr. Big in the melodic parts especially around the chorus…..I’m still wondering if Eric Martin has aged since 1989 because his vocals sound so good that he puts younger peers to shame. Ballad #2 arrives with the acoustic based ‘All The Way Up’, a cool change of pace from the heavier direction the album has taken so far. ‘All The Way Up’ is another perfect example of why Mr. Big gets lumped in with the “big hair” bands and the sweet love ballads, the band is just really good at making ballads! This song is heartfelt and very melodic with another vocal clinic from Eric Martin.

‘I Won’t Get In My Way’ continues the modern edgy Hard Rock and is another solid Rock song but there’s not much of the individual musical definition except come the solo break where Gilbert and Sheehan play off each other. The lack of musical individuality ends with the blazing melodic ‘Around The World’, as song that Billy Sheehan owns with his bass pyrotechnics! If you’re listening to WHAT IF… and you’re waiting for Billy to cut loose, this is the song! It’s not all bass though because the song is very melodic and the chorus is extremely catchy while Gilbert plays off Sheehan. The classic Mr. Big sound of the MTV era is alive and well on ‘I Get The Feeling’, a track that could easily have been a hit back in the day. It’s another melodic rocker with great guitar but I swear Eric Martin sounds a little like Tesla’s Jeff Keith on a couple of lines. The bonus track for the European/North American release is ‘Unforgiven’, another modern hard rocking song that’s very heavy and has that darker edge to it. If you’re like me, you needed to buy the limited edition version of WHAT IF… so there’s a bonus DVD included that has videos for both ‘Undertow’ and ‘All The Way Up’ and footage of the band making the album.

Bottom Line:
So what does Mr. Big have to offer in 2011? Obviously a lot because WHAT IF… is one of the best Melodic Rock records of the year! Seriously, I am already installing this album as 2011’s best and it’s going to be hard for someone to come along and beat it. There isn’t a weak song on the album, all are well written and well played. The production is flawless and Eric Martin proves that he is one of the best singers in Rock. Even the album artwork is great… one, including the band, ever thought they would reunite. Maybe “when pigs fly”? A perfect statement that shows the humor and fun Mr. Big is about. I was looking forward to getting this album and I am definitely happy with the results. Fans of Mr. Big will love this album as will fans of Melodic Hard Rock. Best album of 2011 so far!

Favorite Songs:
This is going to be tough because there isn’t a weak song on the album, each one is really great. If I had to pick four songs: ‘Undertow’, ‘American Beauty’, ‘All the Way Up’, ‘Still Ain’t Enough For Me’

Motorhead – The World Is Yours (2011)

Motorhead – The World Is Yours (2011, EMI)

  1. Born To Lose
  2. Know How To Die
  3. Get Back In Line
  4. Devils In My Head
  5. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music
  6. Waiting For The Snake
  7. Brotherhood Of Man
  8. Outlaw
  9. I Know What You Need
  10. Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye

Bonus DVD: Live At Wacken Open Air 2006

Band Lineup:
Lemmy Kilmister: Bass & Vocals
Philip Campbell – Guitars
Mikkey Dee – Drums

Producer: Cameron Webb

Country: United Kingdom

Total Time = 39:15

Motorhead MySpace page

When a new album is announced by Motorhead, you know exactly what you are going to get: pure Heavy Metal with attitude and balls. Since the band’s inception in 1975, and their self-titled first record in 1977, Motorhead has consistently released 21 studio albums since with countless singles, live albums, greatest hits packages, reissues and DVDs in between. Can you think of a year since 1977 that Motorhead DIDN’T release something/anything? Since 2000 with WE ARE MOTORHEAD, the band has found a solid two year pattern where they release a new studio album, tour, take a break and repeat. The last decade has been a rebirth for Motorhead (not that they ever went away) with now five studio albums, four live albums, and at least six DVDs (that’s more than a career for some bands!) based on consistent world tours…..Motorhead is as popular now as they have ever been in their history. The album was released in late 2010 as part of a special Motorhead commemorative issue of Classic Rock Magazine, and it was released in some countries in late 2010, but this is the North American release for 2011.

Much like AC/DC, Motorhead basically releases the same album over and over. The music is the same Heavy Metal & Punk hybrid that the band had perfected in it’s 35 year history. Most of the songs maintain the same uptempo style but Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey can kick it into overdrive when they want to give the Thrash, Death and Black Metal bands a run for their money. You’ve got the blazing guitar riffs of Phil Campbell, the double kick pounding from Mikkey Dee and the buzzsaw bass and gravel throated vocals of Mr. Kilmister…..right there is the description of the album in a nutshell! The same topics that Lemmy sang about on the last 20 Motorhead albums are back again (sex, religion, Rock ‘n’ Roll, war, history), so how does the band still keep fans interested and critics raving when it’s really the same album over and over? The quality of the material never wavers, the songwriting and performances are always strong and heavy and this core lineup has been together since MARCH OR DIE (1993). Lemmy himself has become as big a Metal icon as his friend Ozzy Osbourne and, in plenty of fan circles, more dedicated to the Metal cause then the Prince of Darkness. At age 65, Lemmy is still found at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, the strip clubs and the stage. How many rockers out there still record and perform as consistently as Lemmy while maintaining the lifestyle that musicians in their 20s would have a hard time keeping up with? Lemmy is Motorhead, Lemmy is Metal…..that’s why Motorhead is so respected with the fans. The band and their music is straightforward and in your face.

THE WORLD IS YOURS follows the same Motorhead formula and fits in perfectly with the last few albums like WE ARE MOTORHEAD (2000), HAMMERED (2002), INFERNO (2004), KISS OF DEATH (2006) and MOTORIZER (2008). Songs like ‘Born To Lose’ (a song I thought the band had already released and re-did here), ‘Get Back In Line’ and ‘Outlaw’ could easily be put alongside Motorhead classics in the live set but the standout tracks for me are the slower sinister ‘Brotherhood Of Man’, the testimonial of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Music’ and the perfect Lemmy trademark anthem ‘Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye’. There really isn’t a bad song on the album and that is always how Motorhead albums are, full of great Metal songs. If you picked up the limited edition digipak like I did then you got the bonus DVD of the band live at the 2006 Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany. It’s not the full set, only six songs worth, but it does give the uninitiated to the Motorhead live assault a taste of what the band is like live. Definitely a cool bonus and well worth the extra couple of bucks you might have to drop.

Bottom Line:
It’s a new Motorhead album…..if you have to be told it’s good, then you obviously don’t understand Heavy Metal. THE WORLD IS YOURS is heavy, fast and rude just the way Metal music is supposed to be, all the songs are solid and the band sounds just as powerful as ever. Definitely a top album of 2011.

Favorite Songs:
I like every song on this album…..bottom line. If I had to pick four standout tracks then I’d say ‘Born To Lose’, ‘Brotherhood Of Man’, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music’ and ‘Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye’

Requiem Aeternam – Destiny-Man (2010)

Requiem Aeternam – Destiny-Man (2010, ICorp)

  1. Exordium
  2. Destiny-Man
  3. Requiem Aeternam
  4. Freewill
  5. Existence
  6. Vying
  7. Purposiveness
  8. Ser
  9. Perserverance
  10. Epitaph

José Romero Sum – Vocals, Guitars, Bass & Keyboards
Fabián Redondo – Drums

Producers: Requiem Aeternam

Country: Originally from Uruguay, now based in the U.S.

Total Time = 50:05

Requiem Aeternam
Requiem Aeternam MySpace page
Philosophical Metal

Requiem Aeternam is a Progressive Black/Death Metal band that formed in Uruguay in 1995. The band has released two albums, ETERNALLY DYING (1998) and PHILOSPHER (2004), while enduring various personnel changes over the years with only José Romero Sum as an original member. For DESTINY-MAN, Sum and drummer Fabián Redondo were the songwriters and performers… extremely hard but rewarding task when you hear the wall of intricate sound the album contains. Requiem Aeternam defines their music as “Philosophical Metal”, a genre “which entails not only philosophical lyrics, but also music that gets intertwined with philosophical thinking, music that has existential meaning, and not simple imitation of already-known patterns of composition.” Each song on DESTINY-MAN is inspired by Classical composers who many may not think of as philosophers but the band thinks of as deep thinkers of music. Just reading the press release gives you a sense that the album is diverse and unique.

I went into this album with a hint of trepidation because I’m not the biggest fan of Black/Death Metal. One of my goals in the last year was to expose myself to more extreme forms of Metal and that has helped in my enjoyment and appreciation of DESTINY-MAN. The opening acoustic intro, ‘Exordium’, has a beautiful sound that moves right into the Yngwie-styled guitar intro to the title track. Despite the blastbeat drums and guttural vocals, the guitar intro is what captured my interest and made me listen closely for the music underneath. Same thing with ‘Requiem Aeternam’, the opening guitar opened me up to the rest of the song and, dare I say, the music is more Traditional Metal/NWOBHM inspired through much of the album until the vocals kick in. Throughout the balance of the record, a frantic and disjointed style begins to emerge but all within the concept of blending the extreme with Classical and with Progressive. My own personal tastes are suited to the Classical influence mixed with the Progressive Metal and I get a little lost with the brutal aspects. ‘Freewill’ is a solid song and I like the blend of styles but I find the extreme vocals distracting, I did like the clean vocals and thought they fit the song a little better. The instrumentation on ‘Existence’ is really well done and the guitar sound is really clean, very Iron Maiden in some parts to my ears. Another standout song I liked was ‘Ser’…..again, solid guitar work and I like the clean vocals. The guitar has that Maiden quality to it at times and the lack of blastbeat drums are a welcome sound, there seems to be more of groove here rather than trying to smash two different forms together to construct a song.

Bottom Line:
DESTINY-MAN is an ambitious album that blends the extreme to the fine form of Classical and the Metal of Progressive and I think, on the whole, Requiem Aeternam accomplished their goal of defining a new genre of Philosophical Metal because the music does make you focus and think. I’m not as well studied in Black & Death Metal as others may be but I do know my Traditional and Progressive Metal and those are the parts of the album that I enjoy most. Most of the best Metal is based on Classical music, I can hear the Rainbow & Yngwie Malmsteen influence, and I can definitely hear the Progressive styles of Iron Maiden & Dream Theater, I just find the vocals and the drums distracting. That’s not to say they aren’t well done, it’s just that I’m not used to them. Overall, I found a lot of interesting music on DESTINY-MAN and I had to go back and give the album a few spins to really absorb what the band is trying accomplish. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Metal to make you think? I enjoyed this album more than I thought I would and I’ve gone back a few times to see if I missed anything, I’m just not sure if my doubts are based on my inexperience with harsher Metal.

Favorite Songs:
‘Freewill’ & ‘Ser’

Stryper – The Covering (2011)

Stryper – The Covering (2011, Big3 Records)

  1. Set Me Free
  2. Blackout
  3. Heaven And Hell
  4. Lights Out
  5. Carry On Wayward Son
  6. Highway Star
  7. Shout It Out Loud
  8. Over The Mountain
  9. The Trooper
  10. Breaking The Law
  11. On Fire
  12. Immigrant Song
  13. God

Band Lineup:
Michael Sweet – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Oz Fox – Guitars & Vocals
Robert Sweet – Drums
Timothy Gaines – Bass & Vocals
Charles Foley – Keyboards/Piano/Organ

Executive Producer: Bill Edwards
Producer: Michael Sweet

Country: USA

Total Time = 53:30

Stryper MySpace page
Big3 Records

When a band from the ’80s releases a new album, I always get excited. I lived and died with these bands as a kid growing up and I still do to this day. I love hearing what these veteran bands have to offer 20 to 25+ years after their ’80s heyday. When I read that Stryper was releasing a new album in early 2011 I marked the release date on my calendar right away because I was a big Stryper fan back in the day. I started out with SOLDIERS UNDER COMMAND (1985), picked up the 1986 re-release of THE YELLOW & BLACK ATTACK (originally released in 1984) and went forward. I’ve supported the band ever since and picked up every album as they were released. Recently, the band has been very active with three new releases since 2005 and touring consistently in that time. With a new tour date at the end of March added to my local area, and the announcement of THE COVERING, I admit that I got a little psyched about Stryper…..until I found out the new album was an album of cover songs.

If you’ve read this website over the last five years then you know that nothing irritates me more than cover songs taking the place on a studio album where original songs could be AND records that are billed as “new albums” but are really covers and nothing new except new versions of old songs. I’ll give Stryper credit, they were up front about doing a covers album, and the performances are good. If you take a look at the song selection you’ll notice a lot of safe and well known Rock songs included from the likes of the Scorpions, KISS, Deep Purple, Ozzy, Iron Maiden and even Led Zeppelin. I have no problem with the performances because the band sounds in fine form and the songs are all done basically as the originals. I also like a few of the songs the band selected among the safe ones: UFO’s ‘Lights Out’, The Sweet’s ‘Set Me Free’, Kansas’ ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ and Van Halen’s ‘On Fire’. The other songs are done well but how many times have we all heard the original or a cover of ‘Breaking The Law’, ‘Over The Mountain’ and ‘Shout It Out Loud’? Maybe a few more deep tracks by some of these bands would have been a better choice. The last song on THE COVERING is the new Stryper song aptly titled ‘God’. If there was ever a song title that you would think Stryper would have already used it would be ‘God’! The new original is an uptempo Hard Rock song that easily fits into the typical Stryper fare and could have easily been a part of the last Styper record, MURDER BY PRIDE (2009). What impresses me most is Michael Sweet’s voice…..this guy hasn’t lost a step since the mid-’80s! He can still hit all the highs and sing with a lot of power and melody. The band is always going to sound very good because Robert Sweet, Oz Fox and Timothy Gaines were always a tight unit but the usual measuring stick on a band’s sound is usually how the singer is…..if you want classic Stryper, they sound like classic Stryper and I bet they pull it off well live.

Bottom Line:
I was looking forward to a new Stryper album because their last one, MURDER BY PRIDE, was so good. Unfortunately, I’m disappointed to have a new album of covers with only one new song bu this is the trend lately to get a quick product on the shelves before a tour. A veteran band like Stryper can easily go through the more popular Rock songs with ease and put out an album like this but I would rather have all new material. Like I said, the performances are well done and there are a few different songs in the tracklist that you don’t hear that often but I’m still disappointed, I’d rather gat an album of original tunes. The main highlight for me is the new song ‘God’, the best cover for me is probably ‘On Fire’ because you don’t really hear that covered much. I would recommend this for the Stryper diehard and collector completist but not for a general fan looking to discover Stryper or add some new Stryper to their collections.

Favorite Songs:
‘God’ is the best song for me because it’s a good solid original. Best covers are ‘On Fire’, ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ and ‘Lights Out’

Steve Lukather – All’s Well That Ends Well (2011)

Steve Lukather – All’s Well That Ends Well (2011, Mascot Records)

  1. Darkness In My World
  2. On My Way Home
  3. Can’t Look Back
  4. Don’t Say It’s Over
  5. Flash In The Pan
  6. Watching The World
  7. You’ll Remember
  8. Brody’s
  9. Tumescent

Steve Lukather – all guitars, lead & bg vocals
CJ Vanston – keyboards, atmospheres
Steve Weingart – keyboards and atmospheres
Carlitos Del Puerto – bass
Eric Valentine – drums
Lenny Castro – percussion
Joseph Williams, Phil Collen (3) (4), CJ Vanston (3) – background voacals
Trev Lukather – power guitar (4)
Tina Lukather – background vocals (1)
Fee Waybill – background vocals (5) (7)
Bernard Fowler – background vocals (1)
Jory Steinberg – background vocals ((1) (2) (8)

Producers: Steve Lukather, CJ Vanston, Steve MacMillan

Country: USA

Total Time = 47:23

Steve Lukather
Mascot Records

For those of you who don’t know who Steve Lukather is, let me refresh your memory. Remember the late ’70s/early ’80s AOR/Rock band Toto? You know the singles: ‘Africa’, ‘Hold The Line’, ‘Rosanna’? Steve Lukather is the founding guitarist of Toto and has been playing guitar professionally since the young age of 19. Aside from his best known work in Toto, Lukather has gone on to enjoy popular and critical success by doing session work with some of the biggest names in music: Michael Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Don Henley and Olivia Newton-John. Add a solo career that has now totalled six records since 1989 and it’s easy to say that Steve is one of the hardest working, and most respected, guitarists in the business.

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL is Steve’s sixth solo album and it offers a wide range of musical styles along with some very personal and unique songwriting with a flawless production. The songs on this album range from ambient soft Rock, AOR, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Ambient and Pop all packed with one instantly recognizable constant…..Steve’s superb guitar work. The lyrics over the entire record have a very personal feel to them making each song memorable not only for it’s musicality but also it’s personal insight. There are a lot of darker lyrics, more of a sad and reflective nature rather then the usual Heavy Metal fare we are used to here, but there is also some that are upbeat as well. Great artists create some of their best work when the channel their emotion and life experiences into their work, it makes the music more genuine in my opinion. I’m not sure what’s going on in Steve’s life but some of the songs like ‘Darkness In My World’,  ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ and ‘Watching The World’ really bleed a personal reflective tone.

The opening track, ‘Darkness In My World’, is an ambient rock song with very personal lyrics that sets the tone for the entire album…..this is going to be an emotional journey. The song opens kind of soft but it moves into a more mid-tempo groove with a solid guitar base. The one thing I noticed/remembered right away was how good Steve’s singing voice is! With all his accomplishments as a guitarist, it’s easy to forget that he has a pretty good soulful sound to his singing. I went back and quickly checked a couple of my older Toto albums, KINGDOM OF DESIRE (1992) and TAMBU (1995), and Steve is front and center at the mic. His voice has a touch of Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball to it but I think it’s a little raspier on this album. Moving to the second song, ‘On My Way Home’, I immeadiately thought of Steely Dan and I’m not far off. The song has that Jazz/Blues beat to it with the catchy melodies that make it instantly memorable…’s so Steely Dan influenced to me that it sounds like Steve just took over for Donald Fagen on the vocals! This is one of my favorite songs on the album. Another favorite is the more rocking ‘Can’t Hold Back’, a song that starts out mellow with the opening vocal, moves into a funky groove but picks up tempo with the bridge and chorus as the guitar really kicks in. The guitar solo is one of the best, very clean tone and sound.

The personal side of the album is completely evident with the emotional ballad ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’…..listen to the song and pay close attention to the lyrics, that’s songwriting at it’s purest. Steve breaks things up a little with the harder rock of ‘Flash In The Pan’, a song that basically speaks out on the state of the music industry and the age of instant celebrity. I found myself laughing out loud at a few lines of the song as he takes a few shots at the expense of Britney, Paris and all the other tabloid superstars. Great song, another standout on an album full of standouts. ‘Watching The World’ pulls the listener back into that reflective/emotional mood but is another solid soft ballad while ‘You’ll Remember’ follows ‘On My Way Home’ with the Steely Dan influence. It’s got to be the piano/keyboard arrangement that really gives both songs that Steely vibe and I love it. ‘You’ll Remember’ has hit single written all over it and I wouldn’t be surprised if this made one of the Billboard charts, maybe the “classic rock/adult contemporary/jazz/blues” chart? Really, this is another catchy song with a great funky guitar and bass line and an awesome solo break with a perfect tone. I could honestly listen to this song over and over. ‘Brody’s’ is a slow blues rocker that kind of mirrors ‘Flash In The Pan’ with it’s look at current day trends by namechecking Facebook, “a war we can’t win” and “Tiger Woods’ ho”. You get the idea. Ending the record is the instrumental ‘Tumescent’…..Steve and the band cutting loose in a ’70s Rock style with plenty of fine guitar.

Bottom Line:
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL isn’t really the usual fare at Heavy Metal Addiction because, well, it’s not Metal! One thing I’ve always tried to do with this website is reflect my personal tastes and, even though I headbang with the best of them, my musical roots can be traced back to the late ’70s and early ’80s with AOR/Rock bands like Toto. Some of the best music, and most talented musicians, came from this style of music…..and some of my favorite songs as well. Listen to Toto’s ‘Hold The Line’ and tell me that’s not Hard Rock! I like all kinds of Rock ‘n’Roll be it hard Rock & heavy Metal, AOR, Classic Rock, Soft & Pop Rock…..I even like some Pop music from time to time! Rock musicians have a wide range of influences and some of the best albums are the ones that bring these together to create something special. I don’t own any of Steve Lukather’s other solo albums but, if they are as good as this one, I’d be crazy not to search them out. The blend of musical styles and the personal/emotional lyrics create an album that not only pleases the ears but also pleases the mind, it’s great to hear quality music with heartfelt songwriting because it takes the listener on the emotional ride with the artist. Musically, the album kind of reminds me a little of Neal Schon’s instrumental album ELECTRIC WORLD (1997) because it gets me in a different mindset. For me, ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL is a great way to start off a new year, it’s the first new album of 2011 that I’ve heard and I think it’s going to be one of this year’s best. If you’re looking for a change of pace from your Metal but still want solid musicianship and Rock, check this record out. Steve Lukather is a highly successful singer, songwriter and guitarist with plenty of gold and platinum albums, along with five Grammy awards, that prove how great his career has been. For me, I’ve just enjoyed the music he’s made…..and he’s always made great music.

Favorite Songs:
This is a tough one because I really can’t find a bad song on the album but, if I have to be put on the spot, then I would choose the Steely Dan influenced ‘On My Way Home’ & ‘You’ll Remember’, the fun ‘Flash In The Pan’ and the album opener ‘Darkness In My World’.

(Note — This album is my ALBUM OF THE MONTH for January 2011 but, due to a website relaunch, I’m posting the review now in the middle of February.)

Extreme – Take Us Alive: Boston 2009 (2010) CD & DVD

Extreme – Take Us Alive: Boston 2009 (2010, Frontiers Records)

  1. Decadence Dance
  2. Comfortably Dumb
  3. Rest In Peace
  4. It (‘s A Monster)
  5. Star
  6. Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
  7. Medley: Kid Ego, Little Girls, Teacher’s Pet, Play With Me
  8. Midnight Express
  9. More Than Words
  10. Ghost
  11. Cupid’s Dead
  12. Take Us Alive
  13. Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee
  14. Get The Funk Out
  15. Am I Ever Gonna Change
  16. Hole Hearted

DVD Bonus Material: Videos for ‘King Of The Ladies’, ‘Interface’, ‘Run’, & ‘Ghost’ from SAUDADES DE ROCK (2008)

Band Lineup:
Nuno Bettencourt – Lead Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Gary Cherone – Lead Vocals
Pat Badger – Bass & Vocals
Kevin Figueiredo – Drums

Producers: Extreme & Devin DeHaven (DVD)

Country: USA

Total Time (DVD) = approx 2 hours (includes concert & bonus videos)
Total Time (CDs) = approx 1 hour 40 minutes

Extreme MySpace page
Frontiers Records

Recorded live on August 8, 2009, TAKE US ALIVE is a live album and DVD that showcases Extreme playing in front of a sold out hometown crowd at the House Of Blues in Boston, MA. I was able to catch Extreme live a couple of years before in Boston at another venue while they were touring in support of their reunion but I was unable to catch this show last year. Now I’m kicking myself because, as the DVD shows, it was a solid energetic concert full of hits and new songs from their latest album SAUDADES DE ROCK (2008). What we have here is two separate releases a DVD and a 2 CD live album…..not sure why this can’t be packaged together as a special set but this seems to be the trend for most of the live CD and DVD releases this year.

The DVD version of TAKE US ALIVE captures Extreme live on stage in front of a sold out Boston crowd. The DVD contains the full 16 song concert and has a bonus section that includes four music videos made for songs from the band’s latest studio album, SAUDADES DE ROCK (2008). As far as the setlist goes, you get all the big hits like ‘Decadence Dance’, ‘Rest In Peace’, ‘Get The Funk Out’, ‘More Than Words’ and ‘Hole Hearted’ alongside new songs like ‘Star’, ‘Ghost’, ‘Comfortably Dumb’ and ‘Take Us Alive’ and they all work well together. Extreme have always been excellent musicians and that always translated into their songwriting and performances and this DVD really showcases how well the band plays and interacts on stage. I’ve been a fan of the band since their first album, only saw the band live once back in 2006, so I was really analyzing how the band played live. First off, drummer Kevin Figueiredo, who played on SAUDADES DE ROCK (2008), plays solidly throughout the show and fits seemlessly into the band. Back in 2006, the reunion show in Boston had original drummer Paul Geary on the kit, as well as, a guest appearance by Mike Mangini who ended up replacing Geary. For some reason, I was looking for one of these guys on the drums but Figueiredo is excellent. Turns out that Paul Geary is one of the band’s managers now! The energy of the band is powerful…..Gary Cherone prowls the stage with serious presence and superb vocals, Nuno Bettencourt is every bit the guitar god he has been made out to be and Pat Badger is the solid rock that keeps it all together. Honestly, I couldn’t believe the energy Cherone has on stage, this guy is pushing 50 and in excellent shape but he moves and sings like he was back in his 20s. Nuno’s guitar work is awesome, giving me a fresh appreciation for the man’s skills, and he really shines both on the electric and acoustic, touring with Pop superstar Rihanna hasn’t dulled his Hard Rock skills at all. I guess what I took most out of this DVD was how much fun an Extreme show is and how many solid songs these guys have. We all know the hits and they are the highlights of the show but the newer songs off the latest record are great too. Best one of the four is ‘Star’ because it sounds like classic Extreme and features their signature harmonies but ‘Ghost’ was also solid live. The highlight for me was the medley of songs from the first Extreme record released in 1989: ‘Kid Ego’, ‘Little Girls’, Teacher’s Pet’ and ‘Play With Me’…..that debut record is still my favorite and it brings back a ton of memories, good to see the band still play stuff from it. There’s no bonus material listed on the packaging but I found some on the DVD menu…..four videos from the SAUDADES DE ROCK album, best of the bunch being ‘King Of The Ladies’. It’s great that the band included these here because you’ll never see them on MTV or VH-1 Classic. The booklet is sparse, just pictures of the band members with the credits on the inside panel of the DVD digipak.

As far as the double CD live album goes, well, it’s basically the same thing as the DVD just without the visuals and the bonus videos obviously. The booklet is sparse also but the band pictures are different and the credits are in the booklet and not on the digipak. I like having the live album for the car, iPod and stereo and the concert holds up well in an audio-only format.

Bottom Line:
TAKE US ALIVE is a solid live release both on DVD and CD. I’ve been an Extreme fan since their first album back in 1989 and I’m surprised that they don’t already have a live album out there. TAKE US ALIVE is worth checking out because Extreme has a ton of great songs and the performance is great but it’s also a great way to experience some of their new material. For me, a must have release…..a little short on extras, although the videos were a nice surprise, but the concert speaks for itself.

Michael Schenker Group – The 30th Anniversary Concert: Live In Tokyo (2010) CD & DVD

Michael Schenker Group – The 30th Anniversary Concert: Live In Tokyo (2010, Inakustik)

  1. Welcome Howl intro
  2. Feels Like A Good Thing
  3. Cry For The Nations
  4. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
  5. Armed And Ready
  6. Victim Of Illusion
  7. Are You Ready To Rock
  8. I Want You
  9. A Night To Remember
  10. Into The Arena
  11. Lost Horizons
  12. Rock My Nights Away
  13. On And On
  14. Attack Of The Mad Axeman
  15. Ride On My Way
  16. Rock Bottom
  17. Dance Lady Gipsy
  18. Doctor, Doctor

DVD Bonus Material: The L.A. Rehearsal and Backstage Impressions

Band Lineup:
Michael Schenker – Lead Guitar
Gary Barden – Vocals
Wayne Findlay – Guitars, Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Neil Murray – Bass
Simon Phillips – Drums

Producers & Directors: Kiyoshi Iwasawa, Kota Akutsu, Shin Yamamoto

Country: USA & Germany

Total Time (DVD) = 1:39:54 (concert) & approx 25 minutes (bonus material)
Total Time (2 CDs) = 1:39:54

Michael Schenker
Inakustik Music

On June 13, 2010, the Michael Schenker Group performed a concert at the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo, Japan as part of the Japanese tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band and the first MSG lineup. You could call this a reunion of sorts with Michael joining forces again with original vocalist Gary Barden and drummer Simon Phillips, who played the drums on the first MSG album. Also along for the ride is long time Schenker guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay and former Whitesmake/Black Sabbath/Vow Wow bassist Neil Murray. Japan has always been a country in love with their guitar heroes and Michael is certainly fits that bill, I have been a fan of his career for years spanning his time with the Scorpions, UFO, MSG and solo. I caught this tour with a different lineup back in July and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year and the first time I saw MSG live but the lineup was different for the U.S. tour. What we have here with the 30th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT: LIVE IN TOKYO is two separate releases: a DVD and a 2 CD live album.

The DVD version of the 30th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT captures the all-star MSG lineup in full force at the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo, Japan in front of a sold out crowd. There’s the full 18 song concert shot with multiple cameras and a bonus section that includes part of the tour rehearsal in Los Angeles with band interviews and a behind the scenes backstage look at the Tokyo show. As far as the setlist goes, it’s basically the same as the one I saw in Foxboro, MA except that the running order is different and there are thwo additional songs: ‘Feels Like A Good Thing’ and ‘Victim Of Illusion’. There are plenty of classic MSG tracks and the band focuses on the first two MSG albums with a combined ten songs including ‘Cry For The Nations’, ‘Armed And Ready’, ‘On And On’ and ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’, as well as, ‘Rock My Nights Away’ from the Barden led BUILT TO DESTROY (1983). Also thrown in the mix are two UFO classics, ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Rock Bottom’, and four new songs, ‘I Want You’, ‘A Night To Remember’, ‘Ride On My Way’ and ‘Dance Lady Gipsy’. I really enjoyed watching the DVD as each musician is an expert at their intruments but the real treat here is watching Michael play from right up close. When I went to see the concert in Foxboro, it took a while for me to get myself positioned in front of Michael because that’s what everyone wants to do! The DVD allowed me to sit and watch one of the greatest guitarists play with ease and grace and truly enjoying himself. The performances are top notch and the set highlights for me are all the MSG classics but the new songs really fit right in. I saw ‘I Want You’, ‘A Night To Remember’ and ‘Ride On My Way’ (from 2008’s IN THE MIDST OF BEAUTY) live in Foxboro so I knew they were going to be great watching this DVD but the added bonus is getting ‘Dance Lady Gipsy’ from the Schenker Barden Acoustic Project – GIPSY LADY (2009). What you are buying this DVD for is the concert but there is a 25 minute bonus section that is pretty cool too. The first part is rehearsal footage from 1/9/10 in Los Angeles mixed with interviews with all the band members. The best interviews are with Michael,as he recounts his career with all his bands, and Simon Phillips, who provides a little more insight into his involvement on the debut MSG record. The second part of the bonus material is behind the scenes backstage footage of mostly soundcheck and the backstage are but there is also some cool footage of Michael interacting with fans after the show. As far as bonuses go, this is pretty basic stuff but cool nonetheless.

As far as the CD goes, it’s a 2 CD set that is a carbon copy of the DVD…..the setlist is identical as is the booklet but there are no bonuses on the CD version. I like having the live album for my stereo, car and iPod because it’s all about the music and there is plenty of classic songs on this live album.

Bottom Line:
A solid release here both on DVD and CD and a definite tour souvenir for me. I’ve followed Michael Schenker throughout his career but I’ve only seen him live once, on this tour almost two months after this DVD was shot. Seeing MSG live was one of my all-time favorite concerts so this DVD and CD has a special place in my musical history and, when I listen to the CD, I see the show I saw. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since the first MSG album debuted but 1980 was a long time ago for sure. It’s great to see and hear all these classic tracks from the first two MSG albums live and it’s great to hear some of the newer songs fit in seemlessly. Definitely well worth your time checking out if your an MSG fan, a great concert.

David Rock Feinstein – Bitten By The Beast (2010)

David Rock Feinstein – Bitten By The Beast (2010, Niji Entertainment)

  1. Smoke On The Horizon
  2. Evil In Me
  3. Break Down The Walls
  4. Metal Will Never Die (featuring Ronnie James Dio)
  5. Kill The Demon
  6. Rocks Boogie
  7. Give Me Mercy
  8. Run For Your Life
  9. Gambler Gambler

David Rock Feinstein – Guitar, Bass & Vocals
Nate Horton – Drums
Ronnie James Dio – Vocals on ‘Metal Will Never Die’
Carl Canedy – Drums on ‘Metal Will Never Die’
Garry Bordonaro – Bass on ‘Metal Will Never Die’

Producer: David Rock Feinstein

Country: USA

Total Time = 44:30

David Rock Feinstein
Bitten By The
David Rock Feinstein MySpace page
The Rods
Ronnie James Dio/Niji Entertainment

You may know David Rock Feinstein as the current guitarist/vocalist for the New York Heavy Metal legends The Rods but he was also a member of Elf with his cousin Ronnie James Dio. Feinstein has been on the music scene for close to forty years, playing on Elf’s debut album, releasing seven albums in the ’80s with The Rods and one record under the band name Feinstein but it’s his family affiliation with Dio that most fans knwo about. BITTEN BY THE BEAST is Feinstein’s second solo record (the first was 2004’s THIRD WISH by the band Feinstein) and the main draw is the final studio recording of Ronnie James Dio on vocals. This record has been a two year labor of love for Feinstein who plays all the instruments except the drums, cut all the vocals except for the Dio led ‘Metal Will Never Die’ and was the producer. The album has been released on Niji Entertainment (Wendy Dio’s company) and not only features Ronnie James Dio on ‘Metal Will Never Die’ but a full Rods reunion with Carl Canedy (bass) and Garry Bordonaro (drums) also playing on the track.

I am Metal and I will never die….” A very prophetic and eerie line in ‘Metal Will Never Die’. Like I mentioned, the draw here was the last studio recording of the late Ronnie James Dio on ‘Metal Will Never Die’…..honestly, this is the only reason why I bought the album. ‘Metal Will Never Die’ is a slow, doomy Sabbath style song that fits Ronnie perfectly…..always the consumate professional, Dio puts in a solid vocal performance. Listen closely after the opening guitar intro and as Dio starts singing, the rhythm section gets into a groove that has touches of the underlying rhythm parts of the Black Sabbath classic ‘Heaven & Hell’. As I mentioned, Carl Canedy and Garry Bordonaro of The Rods join Feinstein and Dio on this song and that also leads us into the ineveitable Rods reunion, I heard there’s an album being worked on right now! Obviously, this song is going to get BITTEN BY THE BEAST the most mileage in the press and it should, it’s the best song on the album. I’ve heard a couple of interviews with Feinstein about the production and mixing of this song, and of the album, and Ronnie was also involved in the mixing process.

Now that we have the Dio portion of the album out of the way, how does the rest of the album stack up? The rest of BITTEN BY THE BEAST is a meat & potatoes, old school ’80s Metal feast that features your basic guitar, bass , drums and vocals all primed to Rock. Feinstein vocals are very raspy and gritty and at times I hear a but of Brian Johnson (AC/DC) and Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) in his delivery. There really isn’t a set style to all the songs but more of a wide range of styles that include straight Heavy Metal on tracks like ‘Smoke On The Horizon’, ‘Evil In Me’, ‘Kill The Demon’, ‘Break Down The Walls’ and’Give Me Mercy’, to a southern Blues Rock boogie groove on ‘Rocks Boogie’ that sounds like ZZ Top mixed with AC/DC, to Power Metal on ‘Run For Your Life’, to a ’70s sludge on ‘Gambler Gambler’. This entire record is based on one thing…..the guitar. Every single song has killer riffs and solid solos, they may be basic guitar parts compared to the intricate stylings of current day Metal guitarists but Feinstein does a solid job of putting the riffs out there and in your face. What draws me in is the old school Metal sound, it all sounds dated and you can hear the influences on some songs: ‘Evil In Me’ and ‘Kill The Demon’ have that Dio sound, ‘Break Down The Walls’ has Judas Priest written all over it and the Black Sabbath influence on ‘Metal Will Never Die’ is obvious.

Bottom Line:
I’m an old school metalhead so I enjoyed BITTEN BY THE BEAST. The songs may sound dated but they are well done and definitely in your face. The songs are catchy,powerful and well written and performed, that’s all you can really ask for in a true Heavy Metal record. The obvious reason to buy this album is ‘Metal Will Never Die’ with the late Ronnie James Dio on vocals but I think that song also overshadows what is a pretty solid album. I’m not taking away from the Ronnie song, it’s an integral part of the album, but if people buy this and don’t go beyond to the other songs then it’s a waste. Take that one song off the album and you still have a solid Metal album that’s worth checking out.

Favorite Songs:
‘Smoke On The Horizon’, ‘Break Down The Walls’, ‘Metal Will Never Die’