Archive for July, 2012

Album of the Week 30-2012: Tommy Bolin – Teaser Deluxe

Often criticized during his stint with Deep Purple for not being Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolin deservs all possible recognition for his powerful, cross-genre and intuitive guitar playing. He didn’t get most of it until he sadly passed away of drug overdose in 1976. Since this was a decade prior to my birth, I am not able to view this musical injustice in its own time, but Bolin is truly one of my all time favorite guitarists. And though he was a great band guitarist, as evidenced during his stints with Zephyr, Energy, The James Gang and Deep Purple, it’s his solo stuff where he really shone. His debut album ‘Teaser’ in particular. And this collection of alternate versions of the ‘Teaser’ songs is probably even more awesome.

My initial doubt about the necessity this release was quickly blown away by the extended jams on these verions of the songs. One of my favorites, ‘Wild Dogs’, which is slightly under 5 minutes on the original ‘Teaser’ album, here gets an almost 14 minute rendition during which Bolin is simply on fire. It stays exciting all the way through and that is exactly what makes Bolin so good. Both his songs and his playing combine equal parts Funk, Latin and Fusion with slightly larger parts of Rock and Blues into an exciting mix with fantastic songs like the Jazzrock instrumental ‘Homeward Strut’, the exotic Latin Rocker ‘Savannah Woman’ (eat that, Santana!), the Reggae-crossover atmosphere of ‘People People’, the scorching Bluesrock of the title track, the spacey psychedelia of ‘Lotus’ – also treated to a heavily extended jam here – and the aforementioned homesick epic of ‘Wild Dogs’ as as result.

Playing-wise, Bolin was one of a kind. Despite his young age – Bolin was 25 when he died – he had a technique that even in that particular time of guitar heroes, many of his colleagues would kill for, but the true power of his playing lies with how intuitively he plays. His playing is audibly unschooled, but undeniably expert, accounting for an exciting sound which – to these ears – was at the time only rivaled by the already deceased Hendrix and Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel. He shared their genius of combining lead and rhythm guitar in one guitar track. Genuinely American in terms of Rock ‘n’ Roll approach and fiercely funky and rocking in sound.

All the songs of the original ‘Teaser’ album are included here. The booklet doesn’t provide any information as to what these versions are exactly. My thought is that these are either pre-production demos or different takes from the ‘Teaser’ sessions, since the source material is obviously very good. I actually prefer some of these versions to the original ‘Teaser’ versions due to the lack of distracting synths. Greg Hamptons mixes are vibrant and powerful and sound like Tommy Bolin is right there in the room with you (imagine that!). I sometimes find the drum sound a bit too modern – my guess is that he used contemporary compressors – but a lot better than on the ‘Whips And Roses’ compilations. And as a bonus, there’s yet another exciting Jazzrock instrumental called ‘Crazed Fandango’…times two!

So if any of you is still fixed on Blackmore, please get your head out of your ass and realize that ‘Come Taste The Band’ is one of Deep Purple’s best albums and Tommy Bolin was one of the best guitarists ever to have graced this planet. This posthumous release revives him once again. It’s almost impossible not to wonder what could have been, but as long as his music is still alive, that is enough to keep his spirit remembered.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wild Dogs’, ‘Dreamer’, ‘Teaser’, ‘Homeward Strut’

DeWolff and Timo Somers in the new issue of Gitarist

Today, the new issue of Gitarist will land on the shelves in the better book stores. In deed, if it’s not there, your book store sucks! Two interviews and two reviews of yours truly are included this month. I talked to Holland’s own Timo Somers about all the widely different projects he is a part of this year and Pablo van de Poel of our country’s own and brilliant DeWolff tells us all about his favorite guitars, effects and amplifiers. Also, a review of DeWolff’s amazing new album ‘IV’ (which was Album of the Week a couple of weeks ago on this weblog) and a small review of the new Delain record – featuring Timo Somers – are included as well.

Among the other articles are an interesting feature on how to record your guitars, an interesting interview with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “new kid” Josh Klinghoffer and an awesome interview my chief editor Mark van Schaick conducted with Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard. I really wish he had time to write more, because I always think his stuff is a delight to read.

As of now, the new issue is shaping up nicely. Until that one is out, take your time to read this one!

Album of the Week 29-2012: Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Ascending To Infinity

One of the pleasures I’ve always failed to see the supposed guilt in was Rhapsody. Okay, their music is over the top in terms of bombast, there’s a certain cheesiness to the lyrical nature of the band and Fabio Lione’s thick Italian accent may throw some people off, but the power of the band’s music to me is in the heavy orchestration. That’s why I kind of lost track of them when they decided to be more Metal (think ‘Power Of The Dragonflame’). Now that Rhapsody has split into a Luca Turilli-lead camp and a Alex Staropoli/Fabio Lione-fronted side, my fear was that Turilli’s Rhapsody would be too Metal- and guitar oriented. ‘Ascending Into Infinity’ prove me wrong: it’s the Rhapsody-album answering most to the band’s “cinematic Metal” ideal since the masterpiece that was ‘Symphony Of Enchanted Lands’.

Turilli obviously thought his compositional skills were more important to exhibit than his guitar skills. None of the songs are as riff based as I thought they would be and even when the riffs are the focal point – as is the case with epic closing track ‘Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall’ – they aren’t mixed in as the prominent feature that needs the attention. Never is any instrument overpowering the importance of the actual composition it is a part of. Not even when Turilli gets to his trusted sweeping solos.

So what to expect from these compositions? Well, I can honestly say that while the basis is still the heavily symphonic Power Metal that the Italians are known for, this is probably the first album to harken back to the more progressive sound of the band’s first two albums. More proggy songs like ‘Excalibur’ and ‘Dante’s Inferno’ immediately bring to mind stuff like ‘Rage Of The Winter’. Also, the purely operatic stuff is represented in the goosebumps inducing ‘Tormento E Passione’ and first video release of the album ‘Dark Fate Of Atlantis’ and the title track of the album are bombastic delicacies to any Rhapsody fan. In fact, the only song that doesn’t quite fit is the Alessandro Safina cover ‘Luna’. It’s a well executed song, but its strong Italian Pop vibe clashes with the rest of the record.

And then I haven’t even mentioned the true revelation of this album. Because I had never heard of him, but damn, that Alessandro Conti is an amazing singer! Somewhat similar in terms of style to Fabio Lione, there’s a hint of familiarity straight away. However, Conti has a personality of his own. His style is a bit more “fluent” than Lione’s and more pleasant to listen to for the untrained ear. His versatility is impressive, from the almost whispered vocals in the verses of ‘Dante’s Inferno’ to the full on Power Metal singing of ‘Dark Fate Of Atlantis’ and the opera of ‘Tormento E Passione’… I’ve asked this after the sudden emergence of the brilliant Michele Luppi with Vision Divine about a decade ago: Italy, where are you hiding all these singers?

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to think of Rhapsody being divided in two, but if that means we’re getting twice as many great albums and live shows, you won’t hear me complain! Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody set the bar quite high, but that’s nothing more than commendable. ‘Ascending Into Infinity’ is a downright must for fans of Rhapsody and fans of orchestral Metal in general. And I’m just glad that Alessandro Conti is put on the world map of Metal, what a set of pipes! “Born to sound cinematic”, the booklet states. I hope they will grow up that way as well!

Recommended tracks: ‘Tormento E Passione’, ‘Dante’s Inferno’, ‘Dark Fate Of Atlantis’

In Memoriam Jon Lord 1941-2012

Not a single keyboard player has been quite as important to me musically as Jon Lord has been. As a young, conservative fan of the heavier side of music – it was around age 10 and I still had music served to me neatly pre-packaged by mainstream media – it was Jon Lord who prove to me that including keyboards in Hardrock wasn’t by any means “gay” at all. In fact, his screaming Hammond organ was at least as heavy as Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar was. It was a validation of the use of keyboards in heavy music for me. Now that he has died of pancreatic cancer at age 71, the Hammond organ will never be the same.

It’s no surprise that it took an intelligent and classically trained man as Lord to introduce me to this side of music. He was a visionary who didn’t just focus on playing his instrument as perfectly as possible, he also tried to push the instrument beyond its limited role it received in many Rock bands by taking on leads often influenced by classical pieces. In addition, he pushed the actual sound of the Hammond beyond its limitations by running the sound from the standard rotating Leslie speaker through a guitar amplifier – a Marshall to be exact – to create this mean, ugly and big sound that was only rivaled in ugliness by Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley at the time.

Lord’s classical background has always been fairly apparent in Deep Purple’s music, but flourished in full on 1969’s ‘Concerto For Group And Orchestra’, on which Lord fused both styles seamlessly. Many bands have tried to imitate this approach later on and many failed. It was a formula Lord continued to experiment with also besides Deep Purple and it made him a respected musician even outside of his own musical circles in a time that music was heavily segregated.

Until his retirement from Deep Purple in 2002, Lord continued to invest a lot of energy into playing and writing with the band, resulting in some brilliant stuff. Even after the band’s Mk II heyday, which spawned classics like ‘Child In Time’, ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’, Lord’s keyboard playing had a profound impact on amazing songs such as ‘This Time Around’, ‘You Keep On Moving’, ‘Anya’, ‘The Battle Rages On’ and – one of my all time personal favorites – ‘Knocking At Your Back Door’. And listen to that big intro to ‘Perfect Strangers’. Who else than Jon Lord?

And let’s not forget that Jon Lord was on the first six albums of his former Deep Purple band mate David Coverdale’s Whitesnake. What seems to have started as a service to his friend Coverdale – along brilliant Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice – boasted a number of classics with Lord’s Hammond, piano and synths all over it. And let’s be honest, that Hammond bit over the stomping intro to ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ is heavier than any guitar riff Whitesnake has ever used. And he wore the second most epic moustache in popular music – second only to the equally brilliant Frank Zappa.

Jon Lord is alive no longer, but let’s replace the mourning with a celebration of his rich musical legacy. There’s many, many albums and songs to enjoy to keep his memory alive and all that music will stay alive forever. And mr. Lord, please say hello to Tommy Bolin…

Album of the Week 28-2012: The Cult – Choice Of Weapon

As much as one would like to punish The Cult for their weird antics, odd business decisions and not being sure when they were active and when not, fact is that their music remains of consistent high quality. ‘Choice Of Weapon’ is no different. In fact, it may be one of the best releases by the Brits (although the entire rhythm section of Chris Wyse and master groover John Tempesta is American). It combines all the better elements of The Cult’s entire discography into one rocking package.

Not as soaked in Gothrock production as ‘Love’, not as sparse as ‘Electric’, not as decadent as ‘Sonic Temple’ and not as overtly Metallic as ‘Beyond Good And Evil’, ‘Choice Of Weapon’ finds The Cult rocking carelessly, without wasting any effort wondering if what they’re doing is en vogue or shaped well enough for any radio format. The result of that is an album with a great deal of variation, but which never loses focus.

This way, it’s obvious that it’s the same band playing the entire album, regardless of if it’s a rocking song, like opening track ‘Honey From A Knife’ or practical ‘Fire Woman’-rewrite ‘The Wolf’, or a more ethereal track, like the breathtaking ‘Elemental Light’ or the subdued darkness of the fantastic closing track ‘This Night In The City Forever’. Part of that is that all the known elements are still there: Ian Astbury’s rutting wail is still strongly intact, Billy Duffy’s guitar sound is as big and beefy as anything in the eighties and the rhythms are still surprisingly dancable for a Rock band. And isn’t that what made a Cult-record a delight anyway?

Production-wise, this is possibly the best album by Astbury and Duffy yet. As much as I appreciate Youth as a producer, the work Chris Goss and Bob Rock have done for the sound of ‘Choice Of Weapon’ gives us the powerful punch that ‘Born Into This’ was lacking. You can feel the power of the guitars and drums and there’s a certain clarity over the album that makes it a pleasure to listen to. Plus, the album is spared of Bob Rock’s tendency to get the vocals way too loud in the mix. Just great.

In short, ‘Choice Of Weapon’ is possibly the best collection of songs The Cult has put out so far, or at least a worthy contender for the “holy trinity” of ‘Love’, ‘Electric’ and ‘Sonic Temple’. I actually think this one makes up for the consistency issues the latter two have. ‘Choice Of Weapon’ shows The Cult doing what they do best: channel their energy into a bunch of concise, powerful and catchy Rock tunes. Some a bit more Doorsy some a bit more Stonesy. And both directions work well. So why not check out the album? And while you’re doing that, be sure to get the deluxe edition, which includes the two fine ‘Capsule’ EPs on a bonus disc.

Recommended tracks: ‘Elemental Light’, ‘This Night In The City Forever’, ‘Wilderness Now’, ‘Honey From A Knife’

Album of the Week 27-2012: Exodus – Exhibit B: The Human Condition

Essentially, a good Exodus album is characterized by a continuous kick in the face. That was the case when ‘Bonded By Blood’ came out and that tradition was carried forth with the 2004 rebirth of ‘Tempo Of The Damned’. Gary Holt’s songwriting has become somewhat more contemporary recently, but the solid Thrash punch is still there. However, things had become a bit stale on ‘The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A’. Holt’s insistence to write long songs was only partially successful (‘Children Of A Worthless God’ and the title track were awesome) and the band sounded like they were forcing something that wasn’t there.

Something must have crawled up Gary Holt’s ass then, because the ‘Exhibit B’-entry is much more vicious, inspired and powerful than its direct predecessor. These long songs actually make sense and my god they’re incredibly aggressive. It’s this sense of high-speed aggression that makes the seven and a half minutes of a song like ‘Beyond The Pale’ fly by as if the song is half its actual length. That is the essence of a good long song. And Gary Holt seems to have gotten a hold of that ability a lot better this time.

Another progression from the previous effort is that this time, the long songs are alternated with shorter burts of aggression, such as ‘Burn, Hollywood, Burn’ (not the Public Enemy song) and ‘Good Riddance’. It keeps the flow of the album strong, with the only exception that there’s two songs that could function as closer; after the punishing ‘The Sun Is My Destroyer’ – if those verses don’t make you want to go out and kill, nothing ever will – I really thought the album would be over, but there’s a little instrumental (‘A Perpetual State Of Indifference’) and ‘Good Riddance’ after that.

More variation is a huge improvement over ‘Exhibit A’ as well. The hyper-melodic ‘Downfall’ is a pleasant surprise, as are the slower, eastern-tinged tunes ‘Nanking’ and ‘Democide’. The latter is a contribution by guitarist Lee Altus, as is opening track ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’, the best “ballad” to ever open an Exodus-album.

Speaking of Lee Altus, apart from the rapid fire of riffs flying around, the solo sections of him and Gary Holt are nothing short of spectacular. Flashy, but not too flashy. Exactly like it was meant to be in Thrash. Tom Hunting shows why it’s an amazing thing why he’s back, with his powerful beats and trademark explosive fills and Jack Gibson’s bass work is remarkably present in the mix of this album. Also, Rob Dukes shows some improvement as a vocalist. Still pissed off and vicious (check his p’s and b’s, which are hardly distinguishable from each other, as proof), but a bit more varied. There’s this clean line underneath his typical shout in ‘Nanking’ that just lifts the song to a higher level.

So here it is, something or somebody (my guess is Lee Altus) lit a fire under Gary Holt’s ass and the result is possibly the best album since Exodus’ rebirth, or at least a worthy successor to ‘Tempo Of The Damned’. And they’re still a brutally lethal live band too. Exodus is here to stay and if it sounds like this, you won’t hear me complain!

Recommended tracks: ‘Beyond The Pale’, ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’, ‘The Sun Is My Destroyer’

Album of the Week 26-2012: Pearl Jam – Riot Act

Seeing Pearl Jam live – and it was fantastic – last week was a great excuse to revisit their entire back catalog, which makes me want to break a lance for what is probably the most criminally underrated album of the Seattle band. To these ears, ‘Riot Act’ finally picks up where ‘Vitalogy’ left off. Not that ‘No Code’, ‘Yield’ and ‘Binaural’ were bad albums – especially the latter spots a few fantastic tracks – but the band seemed drifting and insecure. ‘Riot Act’ displays something of a reborn Pearl Jam. The album sounds confident and mature.

Much of the album’s power lies within the fact that the band doesn’t restrict itself to one approach. In a fashion almost reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, ‘Riot Act’ is in turns reflective and powerful, straightforward and experimental, folky and rocking. All in a way that it makes sense; nowhere does it sound like you’re listening to more than one album. Part of that is the dry, almost rootsy sound that Adam Kasper and Brendan O’Brien gave the album. Very raw and in your face, but polished nonetheless.

Though the album went by largely unnoticed by mainstream Rock audiences at the time, the album still spawned a few classics among Pearl Jam’s fan base. ‘Love Boat Captain’ – which can be seen as the beginning of the collaboration with longtime Hammond and keyboard player Boom Gaspar – is a beautiful, moody Rock song in which the victims of the drama during the band’s 2000 Roskilde performance are commemorated, ‘I Am Mine’ is a subdued track in which Eddie Vedder’s spine chilling baritone is used to maximum effect and the acoustic guitar driven ‘Thumbing My Way’ is one of the band’s best ballads. The somewhat bluesy ‘1/2 Full’ became somewhat of a live classic as well.

But that’s not all there is. This is actually one of the most consistent albums Pearl Jam released. Matt Cameron proves his value to the band by not only being one of the planet’s best Rock drummers, but also by contributing three tracks, all of which are amazing Rock songs and one of which – the slightly psychedelic ‘You Are’, which also features Cameron on rhythm guitar – is one of the best songs the band ever recorded. The hard driving ‘Save You’ displays a full-band dynamic and energetic Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude that was missing from albums like ‘No Code’ and ‘Ghost’ also rocks along nicely. Closing track ‘All Or None’ is a moody and moving ballad. In fact, there’s not one bad song in the bunch. Only ‘Bu$hleager’ is skipworthy. There’s a few good riffs in the song, but ultimately, it’s a better protest than it is a song.

While ‘Riot Act’ isn’t Pearl Jam’s best album – the timeless classic ‘Ten’ is, of course – it is the only rightful follow-up to ‘Vitalogy’. And though ‘Riot Act’ may not be as crazily experimental as that album was – Vedder’s goosebumps guaranteed multi-layered vocal solo track ‘Arc’ isn’t exactly ‘Bugs’, ‘Satan’s Bed’ or ‘Stupid Mop’ – it is the ultimate proof of Pearl Jam finding their mojo back and maturing along the way. Those who ignored the album when it came out would do themselves a favor giving it another chance.

Recommended tracks: ‘You Are’, ‘Save You’, ‘Love Boat Captain’, ‘Thumbing My Way’, ‘Ghost’, ‘Get Right’