blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Rocking Out Like It's '94
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Weezer took a four year hiatus before delivering "Everything Will Be Alright In The End," with much hullabaloo that they were returning to previous form, the kind that made the Blue album and Green album great. And guess what. For a change the hype lives up to the album. "Everything Will Be Alright In The End" is full of big riffs, catchy hooks and geeked out songs that only Rivers Cuomo can produce.

They even poke fun at fan disappointment in the lead single "Back To The Shack." They promise to play the "start with the lightning strap...more hardcore." They also let you know that even they are tired of "those stupid singing shows," But they also turn the other cheek with "Eulogy For a Rock Band." Did they feel like they might have been left behind? "Time marches on, words come and go," they sing, as they worry about becoming the kind of band machine that plays the greatest hits circuit forever and ever. It's a trap the band won't have to worry about.

Cuomo still turns out great turns of lyrical phrase like (in "DaVinci") "Stephen Hawking can't explain you, Rosetta Stone can't translate you." It's done in the trademark power-pop that has always been the hallmark of the best Weezer songs. It's no coincidence that Ric Ocasek (of The Cars) is back to producing, he was behind the boards of the Blue and Green albums. It's more of the point that Weezer wants to remind you that they have greatness in them once all the right ingredients are in place. That includes a duet with Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino on "Go Away," where she's the one calling Cuomo out for years of d-baggery.

That's not to say the album is pure brilliance; both "The British Are Coming" and album closer "The Futurescope Trilogy" suffer from blandness on the former and trying too hard on the latter. Even so, "Everything Will Be Alright in The End" compensates for the past few mediocre albums (anyone seriously looking back at "Hurley" with nostalgia?) and puts them back on top of their game.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Could this be the best album of 2014?
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Gaslight Anthem are the kind of band that, should you see them in a local pub, would either have you raising your bottle clenched by your pumping fist, or crying in your beer over how damn good they are and how rare a band that rocks like they mean it seems to be these days. This time, on the excellent "Get Hurt," they stretch out even more than any of their previous albums. The hushed sonics of "Stay Vicious" open the album in a way that definitely says that this isn't going to be a carbon copy of "Handwritten" or "American Slang." The band is tighter than ever before, but they are now willing to toy with your expectations.

Granted, they are still worshiping at the alter of Springsteen and Tom Petty, but they claimed their own sound on "Handwritten" only to refine it here. The soulful title track is one of immense longing. It's a slow burner and and an open hearted song, pleading with the woman in question to ultimately sign off with "You might as well do your worst to me." For a band that built its reputation an barband blues and bluster, opening up this much takes a lot of guts. But before you think The Gaslight Anthem have sold out, you have "Helter Skeleton," with big chords and a ripping lead guitar. Lead singer Brian Fallon can emote with the best of them, be it the speed balling "1,000 Years" or the exposing of the heart that is "Underneath The Ground."

"Get Hurt" is an expansion, one some fans may have trouble adjusting to. But to me, hearing them tackle new sounds without losing their original spirit is healthy. TGA know that their listeners are probably still in that bar I talked about at the beginning of the review, clutching that bottle, and getting it on when a band sings more about them than glitz and glamor. Already a best of for 2014.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Cast Your Spell Over Me
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Tom Petty may have been making albums for over 40 years now, but he never lost his will to rock. Even with the maddeningly uneven "Mojo," there was plenty of guitar to go around. Same with the "Mudcrutch" reunion. Now he's back in the studio after a tour that was comprised mainly of deep cuts from across all his albums and a couple of small theater residencies. All of this seems to have given Petty and the band a kick in the kiester, as "Hypnotic Eye" gets down to business and doesn't let up.

The first thing you hear is a great big fuzz blast and you know you're in for a good time. "American Dream Plan B" picks up where "American Girl" left off all that time ago, and brings her back with her boyfriend who still believes in the dream, but he's getting old enough to know it might never happen. But you'd never guess the song's a bit of a bummer because the band is laying done a sound that's pure retro Petty, organ and all. Speaking of retro, you might even feel a little Doors creep in on the next song, "Fault Lines."

All across "Hypnotic Eye," you'll find mesmerizing rock and more of the "Mojo" blues. There's a shuffling blues harp surfing the rhythm of "Burnt Out Town" and a bump and grinder nearly seven minute "Shadow People." What Petty also reminds himself here is that you can still deliver a knockout in under three minutes, and he gets that body blow in with "Forgotten Man" (dig those twin lead guitars featuring Petty and Mike Campbell) and "American Dream Part B." There's a little something for everyone here, and it's all good. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers' "Hypnotic Eye" will cast its spell and you won't mind a bit.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Wherefore art thou Lazaretto
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A step back from his solo debut, "Blunderbuss," Jack White goes very scattershot on his second solo album, "Lazaretto." Recorded with the all-male Buzzards and all-female Peacocks alternating tracks, the focused energy of the debut is missing here. The time spent in Nashville seems to have guided Jack White into some more country elements, and not in a good way.

There's even a full on twangy ballad, "Alone in My Home," a duet with Lille Mae Rische, that meanders a bit but not so much as the following song, "Entitlement." This feels more like a Neil Young song at its heart. If you're looking for rockers, there are a few. "That Black Bat Licorice" and "Just One Drink" mix it up with white signature crunchy guitars and a touch of Rolling Stones swagger. And just to make sure he hasn't lost his fire, there's a white-hot instrumental called "Highball Stepper." But where "Blunderbuss" had a fire that burned all the way through the album, "Lazaretto" is White experimenting. That's a good thing, because between all his time in separate bands, he's earned the right.

"Lazaretto," which is named after an 18th century asylum, is Jack White exorcising what seems like some of the thoughts in his head and guitar that don't have an outlet in The Dead Weather or The Raconteurs. Again this is not a bad thing. But it does lead to what is essentially an average album.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Stand tall, Rise up, Stay strong
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Judas Priest last appeared in the form of a metal fever dream: the double disc concept album "Nostradamus." While I happened to love it, some Priest fans were left shaking their heads. There were plenty of good tracks, but where was that one killer anthem? This time, they have nothing to worry about. "Redeemer Of Souls" is Judas Priest back to basics. Twin guitars, thunder drums, and Rob Halford's glorious shriek rising above it all. One of the songs may be titled "Valhalla," but for old fans, this will be nirvana.

You can tell Priest is back to business from the moment Halford sings the first stanza, "welcome to my world of steel." And while the departure of legendary guitarist K.K. Downing may have set fans on edge, his replacement, Richie Faulkner, plays off Glenn Tipton and kick mutual butt. Even so, with all the plundering of their iconic metal sound, you'll still find the soul of a bluesman as "Redeemer" comes to a conclusion. "Beginning of The End" echoes Black Sabbath (whose "13" was a comeback of a similar excellence) with the swamps of ancient mists folding around one of Halford's more subdued performances. Mix that up with the bludgeoning "Metalizer" or the creature feature "Dragonaut," and you'll have a Judas Preist disc that stands toe to toe with their best work.

The deluxe version offers five extra songs, starting with the riff heavy and lead stinging "Snake Bite" and the anthemic "Bring It On" being the best of the five, especially the lead guitar threads needling their way through "Snakebite." There's even a parting gift of "Never Forget," in which the band declare their eternal thanks to the loyal fans who've stuck with the band for 17 albums and multiple decades. They are defenders of the faith, indeed.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
I Wanna Go Hot Rockin'
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Sandwiched as it is between two five star metal classics, "Point Of Entry" suffers from being buffered by "British Steel" and "Screaming for Vengeance." There's plenty of high energy rocking coming of the disc, but it's only average high energy as opposed to classic stuff like "Breaking The Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Coming" from opposite sides of this release. There are a couple of tracks here that just feel like filler, which was rare for a Priest album.

But when the going is good, Rob Halford and crew were still delivering the goods. "Heading Out On The Highway," "Hot Rocking" and "Desert Plains" are as good as Judas Priest gets, but then you're saddled with the iffy stuff, like "Don't Go." There were some other inconsistencies, like the lack of the trademarked twin-guitar attack that is a huge part of the band's signature sound. It's also worth noting that most of the songs clock in at under four minutes, which means the band was given no room to stretch out. Perhaps it is because of the "large quantities of alcohol" the band admits to using in the liner notes or the fact that the songs were written in the studio without some road-testing to see what would or would not work.

Be that as it may, "Point Of Entry" lacks the drive and inspiration of most of the Priest albums in their discography and especially in the fertile period between "Hell Bent for Leather" and "Defenders Of The Faith." What makes Judas Priest so inspirational is simply missing, and there are many other better albums to pick up on.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Kiss Figure Out That Being Heavy is a Good Thing.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The old school fans of Kiss had been drifting away for a period when Kiss reconvened for "Creatures of the Night." Bored by the pop metal of "Unmasked" and left confused by the weird concept album of "Music From The Elder," it was too much even for Peter Criss, who'd already bolted and was replaced by the terrific Eric Carr, and Ace Frehley, who still appeared on the album cover but was replaced on the disc by future Kiss members Vinnie Vincent and Bob Kulick. There's even a funnier story behind Ace's departure/cover shot; allegedly Kiss's contract stated that at least three of the original members had to be in the group or their contract could be renegotiated. Since Kiss's fortunes were on a decline, they faked Frehley's presence as long as they could in an attempt to avoid rewriting the conditions of their contract, ergo their royalty rate.

Even with that scenario in place, Kiss came on strong with "Creatures Of The Night." The title track was one of the heaviest tracks they'd ever recorded, and Carr pummels the drums in a way Criss could never manage. Simmons stops being a demon clown and goes for the jugular for "War Machine." Paul Stanley digs deep for a loverman blues rocker titled "I Still Love You," one he liked enough to include it when the MTV Unplugged reunion happened a few years down the road. Then there was a rock and roll stomper aimed at the same anthemic status as "Rock and Roll All Night" and "Shout It Out Loud," "I Love It Loud."In fact. there's only one true clinker in the batch and that's Simmons, who just couldn't resist one more cliche in "Rock and Roll Hell." But that's a solid 8 out of 9 songs.

Still, "Creatures of The Night" did not return Kiss to previous heights of glory. They'd have to radicalize their appearance (good-bye make up) and keep the tougher sound for "Lick It Up," the real comeback.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
35 Years Later...
2 Out Of 5 Stars

And Tom Sholz, the notorious perfectionist, is wondering why folks aren't taking to new Boston albums with the fervor of old. He even blames the unspectacular reception given 2002's "Corporate America" on poor promotion instead of the fact that Boston's audience has simply moved on, so much so that there are three re-recorded or re-mixed songs from that album here, even a few featuring the late Brad Delp. Who was, frankly, a major brick in the wall-of-sound Scholz so prefers. So how does "Life Love and Hope" measure up? Let's just say that nobody will be giving up their copies of "Don't Look Back" for this one.

The fault lies mainly with Scholz. He can spend as much time as he wishes in the studio, but the songs need to have a significant hook if he wants them to stick in the memory. On "Life Love and Hope," it seems he forgot that part. He favors the trademark layers of guitars that are a hallmark of Boston's classic sound, and when it clicks (like on "Someone," featuring Delp), it's "More Than A Feeling" all over again. It's telling that the best track does feature Delp, as the new singers are either imitations (Tommy DeCarlo) or the inappropriate female vocalist Kimberly Dahme, who doesn't have the powerhouse voice needed to propel herself above that wall of sound.

What's memorable then? "Heaven On Earth" may be a cliche of a title, but it does kick the album off with fond reminisces of Boston past. "Someday" is noble in its intent, as a song against bullying. "Te Quiero Mia" is another retread (from the reissued Greatest Hits) and again features Delp, and also makes the best of Sholz's studio perfectionisms. After that, it's strictly hit and miss. I might add "The Way You Look Tonight" as a decent love song, and that's about it. Everything else will depend on personal tastes, or just how bad you're jonesing for Scholz's particular brand of classic rock. I'll even give the guy some bonus points for a decent production job, which studiously ignores the loudness wars for a recording that has some sonic depth to it. If that is also an attraction for you to pick up "Life Love and Hope," by all means, dig in.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Pump Up The Volume
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Aerosmith continued their unlikely comeback with a second powerful album, "Pump." Working off the momentum supplied by "Permanent Vacation" and still collaborating with a few hired guns (Jim Vallance and Desmond Child snag a few songwriter credits), the Toxic Twins of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were back in a groove that rivaled their heyday. "I'm a .38 Special on a Saturday night," growls Tyler on "F.I.N.E." and he means every word of it.

Not only did they have their groove back, they were also now MTV darlings. It turned "Love In an Elevator," "Jamie's Got a Gone" "The Other Side" and the power ballad "What It Takes" into hit singles. But it's the unlikely turns that made "Pump" into a little extra. There's a Sgt Pepperish middle section on "Elevator" that comes from outside the band's usual meat grinder. And would you have ever expected Aerosmith to pick up a Dulcimer and rock out with it (as does the "Dulcimer Stomp" that precedes "The Other Side." Despite "Pump" being a through-and-through Aerosmith album, they were stepping outside their box.

"Pump" was the peak of Aerosmith's second act. The outside influences began to overrun the band come "Get a Grip" and soon after that, the usual rock and roll demons took control. However, for sheer song for song bang, "Pump" offered conclusive proof that Aerosmith were one of America's classic rock bands that had the goods to outlast many of their 70's peers.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Did you do it for love? Did you do it for money?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The last Eagles album of their initial run was also their weakest. Coming off the triumph of "Hotel California," the same pitfalls that they sang about on that album now befell the band. Drugs, dissent and an impossible to meet demand kind of doomed "The Long Run" before it was even released, but then the weakness of the bulk of the album didn't help the situation, either. "The Long Run" is the first album since their debut to feature obvious filler, and some of it was even desperate sounding.

The two initial singles, "Heartache Tonight" and the title song did do the band proud. Don Henley employs his jaded sense into "The Long Run," asking his lady friend if she measures up to her expectations, while teasing that "all the debutantes in Houston, baby, couldn't hold a candle to you." Heartache Tonight" is a chant along number from Glenn Frey and rocks out pretty well.

But then you start getting to the questionable material. "In The City" was already a modest solo hit for Joe Walsh, so there was not much point to adding it here in an Eagle-fied version other than to fill up time. "Teenage Jail/The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks" are kind of goofy, but they'd gone to great lengths on both "Hotel California" and "One of These Nights" proving that they could fill an album without penning songs that ventured into an approximation of self-parody.

That not withstanding, there are three other songs that keep "The Long Run" from being a total dud. Timothy B Schmidt rises to the occasion with his R'n'B inflected "I Can't Tell You Why" while Don Felder and Walsh do a slinky twin talk-box guitar riff on "Those Shoes." Then there's another masterstroke from Henley, who penned what sounds like it could've been an outtake from "Hotel California," the melancholy "The Sad Cafe." Once again, he ruminates on the loss of Californian innocence and wonders where all the good times have gone. After all, Eagles themselves could have been one of those fledgling bands to use the likes of a "Sad Cafe" to get their start. It's kind of ironic that a song lamenting humble beginnings closed out an album that was the sound of Eagles' imminent collapse.

"The Long Run" was basically that. Once they squeaked this album out, the infamous Long Beach incident took place and the band would stay apart until, as Henely oft put it, "Hell Freezes Over." But "The Long Run" was the end of a band that went out, not with a bang but a whimper.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Very Evenflow
4 Out Of 5 Stars

What Pearl Jam did, maybe even unwittingly, was to weld the thick sludgy minor-chord sound (and general angst) of grunge to arena size rock choruses and guitar power. In doing so, they managed to quickly outshine their nearest peers (Nirvana) commercially and ultimately become the vanguard for rock through the 90's. Along with Red Hot Chili Peppers and maybe Soundgarden, they shaped the sound of a decade and thrived to see their success sustained creatively.

"The Essential Pearl Jam" (a repackaging of Rearviewmirror, as reflected in the title) reflects (har har) that 12 years between Ten and Binaural in solid fashion, even if does lean heavily on the first three albums. It also offers a dozen later track to show that, even while the band's spotlight had faded somewhat, albums like No Code were better even while the band purposely was making music that antagonized fans expecting more of "Jeremy." Treats like "Do The Evolution" and "Man Of The Hour" sound just as powerful as any of the pre-Vs. material.

And for those who argue that Eddie Vedder is a big old sourpuss, they miss out on fun stuff like the tribute to old 45's "Spin The Black Circle" or the totally un-ironic cover of "Last Kiss" (that actually hit the top ten in 1999). Guitarist Stone Gossard rips some particularly innovative riffs through the proceedings here, and it's worth noting that Goassard (as well as the rest of the band) usually co-wrote the band's songs. On "Rearviewmirror," they are divided into two CD's, with an "Up" disc of rockers and the "Down" side of more pensive or acoustic material.

It is the second disc where more of the interesting material lies for me. I've always personally felt "Better man" to be the best song Pearl Jam ever wrote, and the closer, "Yellow Ledbetter" is a damn good blues number with Mike McCready hitting a terrific facsimile of Jimi Hendrix. There is plenty of meat spread between the two discs, and for the casual radio fan of Pearl Jam, this is a great sampler at a fine price.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Gunpowder and Roses
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Bridging the worlds between Beatlesque power pop and Who worshiping British Invasion rock, The Smitherrens looked like they were the next great rock and roll hope to spring from the wilds of NJ. With a string of powerful and dark jangle-pop singles, it sounded like they'd make good on that promise. They also brought in other instruments (vibes on "Blue Period" featuring Go Go Belinda Carlilse) and strings on their highest charting pop hit, "Too Much Passion." "Blown To Smithereens" is one of those great compilations; a CD filled with what sounds like classic singles from a band that only charted two, and they peaked in the low 30's.

When Dennis Diken (drums), Jim Babjak (guitar), Mike Mesaros (bass) and Pat DiNizio (vocal, guitar) had their attack down, they literally did a blow-up of rock radio. "Blood and Roses" may be one of the darkest hits to straddle college radio and contemporary radio, When they found their way to a major label (Capitol), they got the promotional muscle to drive "Green Thoughts" to gold status "Smithereens 11" brought them a pop single in "A Girl Like You" and their highest charting album. In addition, you'll find DiNizio powering his way through should be classics like "Blood and Roses" (in my opinion, a masterpiece of the 80's), "Behind The Wall of Sleep" about getting a girl with "hair like Jeannie Shrimpton back in 1965" who "stood just like Bill Wyman," and a decent back to the barband roots joyous cover of "Time Won't Let Me."

Guitarist Babjack could fire off great solos, like on "Behind a Wall Of Sleep" and "Blood and Roses," with the band keeping rock steady behind him. The camaraderie put some other bands to shame, and they sounded like a band of brothers. "Blown To Smithereens" packs 16 songs onto its shiny CD, and there's nary a dud in the batch. They should have been megastars.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Songs Of Faith and Devotion
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming hot on the heels of their certified metal classic, "Screaming For Vengeance," it would be easy to slag off "Defenders Of The Faith" as sub-par. That would be a fool's errand, because while "Defenders" doesn't have the song for song knockout blows of "Screaming," it still delivers a mighty powerful blow. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing rip from the opening "Freewheel Burning," while adding sting to a couple of new Priest Classics, "Love Bites" and "Heads Are Gonna Roll."

This was the period in which Judas Priest were at their most aggressive, sometimes outlandishly so. The ode to rough sex, "Eat Me Alive," got the band in hot water with Tipper Gore and her Parents Musical Research Center (remember the PMRC and their obsession with dirty music overall and Prince in particular?) for its particularly graphic narrative. "I'm going to force you at gunpoint to eat me alive" can still rankle those of a sensitive nature, but this came from a band who titled one of their UK albums "Killing Machine." Between the snarling guitars, the double kick drums and Rob Halford's leather skybound howl, subtlety was not their watchword.

"Defenders Of The Faith" also marked the end of a creative run for Priest. After this, they got the jitters from the emerging new wave of metal and - oddly enough - hair bands, too. It lead to the underrated synth heavy "Turbo," an album that took the band several more albums afterwards to recover from. But when you look at the line-up of "Hell Bent For Leather," "British Steel," "Screaming For Vengeance" and then "Defenders of The Faith," it's a creative metal run matched only by the first four Black Sabbath albums.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Eagles Rock
4 Out Of 5 Stars

In the documentary, "History Of The Eagles," band members repeatedly griped that their first two albums, produced by Brit Glyn Johns, were being held back from the band's desire to rock. That lead to the ditching of Johns after two songs for "On The Border," and bringing in Joe Walsh's producer, Bill Szymczyk for the rest. Then came the real magic touch when the band gained Don Felder as an additional guitarist. The chemistry clicked and "On The Border" became Eagles' first album to convincingly rock.

When I say that, I believe that the band may have wanted to think of themselves as rockers, but up to "On The Border," had yet to write a convincing rock song. Say what you want about Glyn Johns, but "Chug All Night" and "Out Of Control" from the first two albums were songs so generic that any bar band in America could've written them. "James Dean" (written by Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther) and "Already Gone" (which the band did not write) changed that completely. With the addition of Felder, they had a new twin guitar attack that kicked the songs into a higher gear than before. So yes, Eagles finally got their wish. They rocked.

They rocked for exactly two songs. The rest of "On The Border" still captured the country rock leanings of the first two albums, with Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon turning in a banjo powered bluegrass rocker for "Midnight Flyer" and Leadon's "My Man" (alleged to be written about the late Graham Parsons) is pure country. They also made the interesting choice to cover Tom Waits' "Ol' 55." Then, even with their slagging of Johns, the album's biggest hit and the band's first number one single was countrified ballad "The Best of My Love," one of the two songs John's produced. Then, as a precursor to both "One Of These Nights" and "Hotel California," the title track uses a funky bassline and a political lyric to set itself apart from any prior Eagles' song.

All of this makes "On The Border" a transitional album for the Eagles. The new line-up and producer partnership would yield serious fruit a year later when "One Of These Nights" made its debut. But for now, "On The Border" stepped one up from the "Desperado" concept and made the Eagles feel more like a band than ever before.


     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Like a Bolt From The Blue
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Pearl Jam's discovery that just being a great rock and roll band has its merits again has been a joy to hear. They continue this hot streak started with "Backspacer" with "Lightning Bolt," a mixture of pulse pounding rock and even some punk fury, along with some deeply touching songs that expose just what an affecting singer Eddie Vedder can be.

"Getaway" sets the tone from the beginning, decrying that everyone searching for a better place, but you have to come through "the dark stormy weather." Still, Vedder is happy to claim that "what's mine is mine." This is just before launching into the furious guitar attack of (first single) "Mind Your Manners," a barely three minute detonation. Even with that level of brevity, Mike McCready unleashes a spike of a guitar solo. If you were watching the videos for the Wrigley Field debut of "Lightning Bolt" (complete with Mother Nature adding visual effects), you already know that the mystery woman gives the band something to tear through as it builds to its crescendo.

The moments of balance come with the softer "Sirens" and "Sleeping by Myself" (which first appeared on Vedder's solo "Ukelele Songs"), where nuance rules the day. They've come to understand that softness doesn't always have to come with caustic. That's really driven home on "Lightning Bolt's" closer, the positively lush with emotion "Future Days." The sound of grown men taking on a world that perhaps "Jeremy" would have grown up to love, it's a gorgeous song, rating with the band's absolute bests.

Lest anyone get the idea that Pearl Jam might be forgetting their purpose in life, they haven't. The rock is still fierce, Vedder can still emote like few singers of his era, and McCready retains his status as the band's utility weapon of choice. They haven't forgotten their love for music, once again dipping to the spinning of the black circle for the guitar boogie of "Let The Records Play." But now that's tempered by a man who can say (on "Future Days") "I believe, I believe because I can see, our future days...days of you and me." "Lightning Bolt" may contain plenty of thunder, but Pearl Jam can now also see the calm after the storm.

PS. The Album packaging is sumptuous enough to give an old geezer like me nostalgia trips to when the album sleeve was part of the fun of buying new music. There are some things a download just can't replace.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lost Among The Stars
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For their final proper album as Queen (I am one of those who is steadfast that there is no Queen without Freddie Mercury), Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon put in a valiant effort towards making an album worthy of their finest work. But there is no escaping that "Made In Heaven" is a patchwork effort, comprised of B-Sides, remixes and songs cobbled together from snippets of works in progress. It's a good album, but it is not a great one, and Queen is a band that produced more than their share of brilliance.

In 1995, four years after Mercury's passing, the band took a look over what they had. This included vocal tracks that Mercury had laid down prior to his death; he knew what was coming and did what any self respecting Diva would do, he made sure there were plenty of his grand voice tracks for his bandmates to choose from. These are the songs "Mother Love" and (I believe) "A Winter's Tale." Of the two, "A Winter's Tale" fairs the best as a relaxed song where Freddie ruminates on the finer yet unheralded things of life, before adding at the end, "ooo, it's bliss."

Then come the redoes, like "Made In Heaven" and "I Was Born To Love You," reworked from Mercury's underrated "Mr Bad Guy" album. "Born To Love You" started life as a disco-fied dance-rock number, here Mercury's vocal track is synthed out into a mid tempo rocker with the rest of the band adding their background vocals. The two songs where Freddie's vocals weren't originally there come from "Made In Heaven" and "Too Much Love Will Kill You" (now there's some bad irony) via Roger Taylor's unheralded band The Cross and a Brian May solo album, respectively. Both are grand in the traditional Queen fashion. Same with "Let Me Live," which features Taylor and Brian sharing leads with Freddie and a gospel chorus backing them up.

That's the good stuff. The rest of "Made In Heaven" is piecemeal and sounds it. Then there's the inexplicable 23 minutes of ambient chill-out that drags out the CD (thank heaven for the skip button) to a very WTF ending where the final thing you hear is Mercury exclaiming "Fab!" I'm sure someone, somewhere, thought this was a brilliant tribute to Mercury's ascendance into legend, but it wasn't. For Queen fans and completists, "Made In Heaven" is something you should own. But I can't recommend it to much anyone else except for the most ardent of Queen fans. "Innuendo" was the last Queen album that measured up to the bend's mighty legacy. Best it should have stayed that way.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Mellencamp Transitions Yet Again
3 Out Of 5 Stars

John Mellencamp has never been one to allow his muse any slack. Be the disputes he's had over his name, his image and even his sound, Mellencamp has been kicking at the prickles since he started out. For 1996's "Mr Happy Go Lucky," Mellencamp again threw a spanner into the public's expectations and hired noted dance producer Junior Vasquez to man the production booth. Purists immediately cried foul over the album's dependence on drum loops, samples and other gimmicks, but they missed the point. Mellencamp, who had just recovered from a major heart attack, was compelled more than ever to explore his music on his terms and "Mr Happy Go Lucky" succeeds more than it fails.

Even with the touches added by Vasquez, the album still depends mainly on the kind of rootsy/folkish rock Mellencamp had been coaxing out of his songs sine "Big Daddy." The big hit, "Key West Intermezzo," glides atop a shuffling groove, but has the traditional drum clap and home-baked electric piano moving things along under Mellencamp's usual gruff melodic singing. Even with a dance producer, Mellencamp sounds more like Springsteen than Madonna. In fact, the one or two times that Mellencamp seems to be letting Vasquez push him, like "This May Not Be The End Of The World," sound forced.

You'll still be getting plenty of the patented Mellencamp sounds (I count "Key West Intermezzo" among them), like "Just Another Day" and "Circling The Moon," plus his deepening love of roots rock, like "Jackamo Road" and "The Full Catastrophe." Never one to sit on his laurels or cater to anyone's expectations, John Mellencamp was still capable of bending genres and confounding expectations. "Mr Happy Go Lucky" was another one of those albums and a worthy disc out of Mellencamp's library.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Your won't hear me, but you'll fear me
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Probably the most misunderstood of the Judas Priest albums featuring frontman Rob Halford, "Turbo" was 1986 Priest trying to march to the pop metal success if the likes of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. It also started life as a double album, with half being regular Priest and the other the revised Priest. The record label nixed that idea, and this version of "Turbo" was the end result. Fans did a serious freak out when the synthesized drums and dance beat of "Turbo Lover" opened the album, and the CD soon went platinum all the same, but stalled the momentum of the band for a brief spell.

I have a secret fondness for this CD. Despite the dance leanings, I love "Turbo Lover." It's the mist successful of the album's attempts to meld the twin personalities on "Turbo." For classic Priest, Halford lets loose on the heavy "Rock You Around The World." However, you can't escape that some of the songs here seem confused and schizophonic, like "Wild Nights and Hot Crazy Days," which sounds like just about every hair metal band of the 80's. Purist Priest never sounded generic before, and this time did, as "Parental Guidance" which was just a trendy slap at the rock hating Congressional hearings of that moment.

Still, this is Judas Priest. Even at their most off kilter, they still could kick the poo out of about any other rock band. "Turbo" may be the most average album of their 80's recordings, but it took them till 1990's "Painkiller" to right them back on the metal line. Seriously, I found "Ram It Down" to be a lesser album than "Turbo," so here's to playing with expectations.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Guitars and Gunslingers.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

I'm not sure why so many rock bands feel that they absolutely must write a song that equates being in a band to being western outlaws. But from Bon Jovi to Thin Lizzy, they all need to write a cowboy song. So you really have to hand it to Eagles. They skipped the single song part and went for a concept album, "Desperado." On their second full length album, yet. This also marked the beginning of Don Henley's ascent to the front of the band. On "Eagles," the band kind of democratically split the singing and songwriting. For "Desperado," Don Henley took writing or co-writing credit on 8 of 11 songs.

The singing was still split among the members (with Leadon getting on of the better album tracks, "Bitter Creek"). However, the partnership between Henley and Glenn Frey was starting to bear serious fruit, with the two most memorable songs being their co-compositions, "Desperado" and the album's hit, "Tequila Sunrise." Oddly enough, it was Linda Ronstadt's version of the title song that originally got to be well known, although Eagles' now can probably claim that prize. The overall western theme is tied in the title song and another one of the band's work with Jackson Brown, "Doolin' Dalton," which appears in three forms on "Desperado." It leads the album off, then Leadon banjo picks a reprise just before "Outlaw Man," and then a medley reprise with the title track to bring the album to a satisfying close. Also, the harmonies remained one of the band's biggest draws, with songs like "What Ever Happened to Saturday Night" and "Tequila Sunrise."

What was still holding Eagles back was they had yet to show they could convincingly rock. To their credit they've repeatedly blamed producer Glynn Johns for that, but one listen to "Out Of Control" also points out that they still didn't have the material that was up to the task. That hardly matters, as "Desperado" was an early peak for Eagles, and their albums would keep getting stronger. By the time they'd next explore the concept album, they'd be more than ready.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Richard Thompson's Best Live Album
4 Out Of 5 Stars


Recorded for the "Austin City Limits" program, "Live From Austin Texas" is Richard Thompson playing in a trio setting (drummer Michel Jerome, upright bassist Danny Thompson). Spare as that sounds, Thompson's muscular guitar cuts to the front of the line every time. Released in 2005 on the NewWest label, it boasts a clear sounding mix, a great selection of songs and Thompson is fine form.

You'll get songs that range back to "Shoot Out The Lights" to material from the then new "Mock Tudor." Some of the songs I kind of thought were lesser bits on previous albums, like "Al Bowlly's In Heaven" - terrific bass solo by Danny) - sound great in this context. Of the newer material, the ballad "Persuasion" (written by Split Enz's Tim Finn) and the ripping opener, "Cooksferry Queen" are stand outs. But my favorite is (and likely forever will be) the magnificent "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." It is one of the few songs that consider to be a flawless bit of writing and playing, and on "Live From Austin, Texas," it again fails to disappoint. The outstanding version of this song alone would rate the album three stars, and here it and his band give it due justice. Simply put, "Live From Austin, Texas" is the best of Richard Thompson's many live solo albums.


   

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