Archive for July, 2013

Album of the Week 30-2013: Blackfoot – Marauder

Categorizing Blackfoot as a Southern Rock band always seemed kind of a strange idea. Sure, these guys were from Jacksonville, Florida like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, but apart from the occasional banjo or slide riff, Blackfoot was truly a Hardrock band at heart. Closer in sound to Thin Lizzy than Skynyrd. Regardless of what you choose to name this genre-wise, singer/guitarist Ricky Medlocke and drummer Jakson Spires were a brilliant songwriting duo. And as Hardrock songwriters, ‘Marauder’ was truly their finest hour. A muscular Rock record with strong hooks and riffing that will get your blood pumping.

Not that the predecessors of ‘Marauder’ weren’t good; ‘Strikes’, the most “Southern” sounding of their classic albums, had some amazing songs and ‘Tomcattin” found the band truly coming into their own, but ‘Marauder’ isn’t the epitome of Blackfoot’s classic period without reason. The riffs rock harder, the choruses are more anthemic, the variation on the album doesn’t sacrifice any of its punch and all the band members simply sound the best they have ever done. In addition, this is the best collection of songs Blackfoot (and possibly any band labelled Southern Rock) has ever done.

Absolute highlight of the album – coincidentally the song that drew me to Blackfoot in the first place – is the heartbreaking tale of desperation that is ‘Diary Of A Workingman’, a Rock ballad which is as such only surpassed by ‘Stairway To Heaven’, to which it is fairly similar in structure. Also, note how good the acoustic guitars sound here. ‘Searchin” is the other fantastic power ballad, but the rockers here do as much justice to the album. ‘Good Morning’ is the perfect opening track both musically and lyrically, the stomping ‘Dry County’ is the closest the band ever got to Heavy Metal, ‘Fly Away’ is a fantastic, catchy Rock tune and ‘Fire Of The Dragon’ a dynamic and heartfelt drug elegy.

‘Marauder’ has relatively little departures from the Rock sound of the band. ‘Rattlesnake Rock ‘n’ Roller’ has a banjo intro courtesy of Rickey Medlocke’s grandfather Shorty Medlocke, but turns into an energetic Hardrocker and the awesome ‘Too Hard To Handle’ has a Mexican-styled trumpet solo. But then again, the band does so well here, that these unconventional bits aren’t really needed to impress. The guitars of Medlocke and Charlie Hargrett tear through everything, Greg T. Walker provides some good melodic bass lines and while Spires will never make the favorites list of any Fusion-freak, he has a power that is matched by very few colleagues.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what you choose to label ‘Marauder’, the simple fact that it’s one of the best collections of songs ever released. There simply isn’t one song on here that is any less impressive than the rest and that alone should have made Blackfoot bigger than many of their contemporaries. Rickey Medlocke’s charisma should have taken care of the rest. Management and record label decisions prevented that, but ‘Marauder’ is a blazing example of how amazing Southern Rock can be when stripped of its over-the-top melodrama.

Recommended tracks: ‘Diary Of A Workingman’, ‘Too Hard To Handle’, ‘Dry County’

Album of the Week 29-2013: Aerosmith – Gems

Reviewing compilation albums isn’t a thing I want to make a habit of. However, when one of those albums is compiled as well as ‘Gems’ is, it does deserve a special mention. Since the greatest hits a band has had aren’t necessarily the band’s best songs – and Aerosmith is one of the world’s most obvious examples of that statement – a compilation containing all of the better songs in the band’s discography that for some reason didn’t become huge MTV staples the way that ‘Love In An Elevator’, ‘Rag Doll’ and the absolutely nauseating ‘Angel’ were doesn’t seem all that bad of an idea.

In this case, the reason these songs didn’t turn out to be huge hits is most likely the fact that these songs are significantly heavier and harder rocking than most of the band’s hits. That makes ‘Gems’ the perfect accompanying piece for 1980’s ‘Greatest Hits’. That and the fact that there are no doubles. Where hits like ‘Sweet Emotion’, ‘Walk This Way’ and especially ‘Dream On’, most likely the finest power ballad ever written, represent Aerosmith at their most accessible, the material on ‘Gems’ shows us some of the best Bluesrock and early Heavy Metal tunes and therefore is essential for a complete image of what Aerosmith is really like.

When I was about ten years old and just getting into Rock music, ‘Gems’ was the fifth album or so that I ever bought and it’s the one I played most at the time. These are the songs that still get my blood pumping and boiling even now, almost two decades after getting acquainted with them. This would be a good listen for people who throw Aerosmith on the same pile as the likes of Bon Jovi based on their late eighties, early nineties second heyday. The low, heavy riffing of ‘Round And Round’ and ‘Nobody’s Fault’ – coincidentally both Brad Whitford compositions – and the dirty riff ‘n’ roll of ‘Rats In The Cellar’ and ‘Mama Kin’ is sure to surprise those people.

Had ‘One Way Street’ been on this compilation, my entire Aerosmith top three would have been on here. The jam-heavy ‘Rats In The Cellar’ and the down ‘n’ dirty, sexy groove of the downright brilliant ‘Lord Of The Thighs’ are the other two and are essential listening for fans of early Hardrock. Other highlights of Aerosmith’s discography included here are the raucous Yardbirds cover ‘Train Kept A Rollin”, the bluesy tale of their signing that is ‘No Surprize’ (lead-off track to their criminally underrated ‘Night In The Ruts’ album), the insane ‘Jailbait’ and the heavy ‘Lick And A Promise’.

Okay, there should most certainly be a difference between a “greatest hits” and a “best of” album. Naturally, a “best of” can contain hits and Aerosmith has certainly had a few big hits that were among their best songs as well, but releasing a compilation with only non-hits is a ballsy, though artistically satisfying move. Of course, eventually you should own every Aerosmith studio album – save for maybe the horrible ‘Just Push Play’ and the directionless ‘Done With Mirrors’ and ‘Rock In A Hard Place – but this is a nice way to get acquainted to their darker, heavier and better side.

Recommended tracks: ‘Lord Of The Thighs’, ‘Rats In The Cellar’, ‘No Surprize’

Album of the Week 28-2013: Satan – Life Sentence

Despite arguably being the band with the dumbest band name in my collection – Edguy and Hell are worthy contenders as well though – Newcastle’s Satan has always been guaranteed to deliver some quality old school Heavy Metal. The band recently reformed the lineup that recorded the NWOBHM classic ‘Court In The Act’ and ‘Life Sentence’ is the first sign of life of the reformed lineup. And with all the half-assed reunions that have plagued music recently, I wouldn’t have expected ‘Life Sentence’ to be this good. In fact, had this been released in 1984, it would have been seen as essential as ‘Court In The Act’.

On ‘Life Sentence’, Satan acts as if nothing really happened since their debut album. As if NWOBHM is still the main heavy musical style in the UK, modern recording technology has yet to be invented, albums can’t be longer than 45 minutes and no one frowns at a hand painted skull on your cover art. And I truly applaud them for it. But what’s most important is that the band has written ten fantastic songs that measure up to the quality of what was heard on their debut album. In fact, I’d prefer some of the songs on ‘Life Sentence’ to their classics.

When hearing the first notes to opening track ‘Time To Die’, it’s already obvious that we’re dealing with classic Heavy Metal. An uptempo twin riff with an in-your-face guitar sound going into a killer riff, with awesome melodies and (later on) guitar leads to boot. This is what a good Heavy Metal record was supposed to be like back in the eighties. All songs on here are Heavy Metal written and played the way I love it, but isn’t released too much anymore. There’s enough variation to keep the listener interested through its entire run with varying tempos and surprising twists in the songs.

Highlights include the relatively fast, yet obviously pre-Thrash inspired ‘Testimony’ – those speedy twin lines are sheer old school Metal euphoria – the slightly slower ‘Incantations’, which spots a few Middle-Eastern intervals in its main riff, the highly melodic title track sounds like it could have been on one of the ‘Metal For Muthas’ compilations and closing epic ‘Another Universe’, which shifts from the creepy tranquillity of the intro to a riff and lead fest for the guitars in the second half.

The production, which is free of much of the digital trickery that over-sterilizes many modern Metal productions, is powerful. The only complaint would be that Brian Ross’ vocals are too loud. I’ve always been more of a fan of his successor Michael Jackson (no, not the most overrated male artist in Pop history), but he does a good job here. Sonically, the album would have improved if he was turned down a bit though.

What makes ‘Life Sentence’ the great album it is, is the fact that it isn’t just a work of nostalgia. The songs are well-written and executed even better. All musicians – especially guitarists Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins – are at the top of their game. Ramsey and bassist Graeme English deliver better tunes than on the recent works of the only western Folk Metal band worthy of existence (Skyclad of course). If you want technical mastery or dull modern chugging, look elsewhere. However, as a reminder of how good old Heavy Metal can still be, ‘Life Sentence’ is strongly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Testimony’, ‘Life Sentence’, ‘Incantations’, ‘Another Universe’

Critical Fanmail

Dear mr. Coverdale,

Your recent performances have caused many people to ask for your resignation. I tend to see this with a little more nuance, but you can hardly deny that the upper register of your range has been somewhat shaky throughout the last few years. Of the three Whitesnake shows I have visited throughout the years, your performances ranged from alright (Arrow Rock Festival 2006), to good (Heerhugowaard 2009) to downright horrible (Arrow Rock Festival 2008).

The solution to the insecure nature of your higher register seemed simple and effective: ask your fantastic guitarists Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach to tune their guitars down a full step and turn up their sound. Case in point: the two new Whitesnake live releases ‘Made In Japan’ and ‘Made In Britain’. There’s two problems with this approach. First of all, tuning down gives the music a completely different vibe which generally doesn’t suit the songs too well and secondly, the guitars are so incredibly loud that it still sounds like you can’t keep up with them.

Of course, those who listen a little closer will quickly discover that you still have something to offer. You still have that incredible, goosebumps inducing lower range. That soothing Blues voice that graced quite a lot of the fantastic ‘Into The Light’ album and many of the ballads throughout Whitesnake and Deep Purple history. This part of your range can still be heard to great effect on these two live offerings, most obviously on the title track of the most recent ‘Forevermore’ album. You might want to consider focusing solely on that segment of your range. I’m not saying you should go all-out ‘Starkers In Tokyo’, but that register is your forte. Just leave the high-pitched screams to Glenn Hughes.

Back in the eighties, you were one of the two big names that miraculously gained an incredible range after throat surgery – Scorpions singer Klaus Meine being the other – but I think you should accept those days are over. Your backing band consists of a couple of capable singers who can carry the highs in the choruses for you and otherwise, you can always reside to the old trick of letting the audience do it for you.

Just consider a Blues record. I know you’d like to do it and your voice can still carry it.


Kevy Metal

Album of the Week 27-2013: Spiritual Beggars – Earth Blues

On this second album with former Firewind singer Apollo Papathanasio, Spiritual Beggars finally did the right thing and shed most of the edge that betrays the (extreme) Metal roots of most of its members. As much as I liked their music before, some of the low E-string chugging of Michael Amott sounded somewhat out of place with the band’s retro Rock approach. With a more organic guitar sound than ever before, a distinct live feel and lots of room for Per Wiberg’s fantastic old school keyboard work, ‘Earth Blues’ is a Rock record first and foremost. Heavy Rock, but Rock nonetheless.

Since I thought this album’s direct predecessor ‘Return To Zero’ was decent at best, I wasn’t expecting ‘Earth Blues’ to be this good. Sure, all the musicians are experts of their instruments and Papathanasio is a very capable Bluesrock singer, but ‘Return To Zero’ had nowhere near the amount of memorable passages this album has. Papathanasio gives us a passionate performance reminiscent of David Coverdale’s earliest days, Amott’s riffwork takes place mainly on the higher regions of his fretboard and Ludwig Witt’s rhythms have a swing that many Metal drummers should envy. Even more importantly: the songs are well-written and invite to give them another spin.

What makes albums like ‘Earth Blues’ such a delight to listen to in general is the love of the original music displayed by the musicians. ‘Earth Blues’ is a perfect example of this sense of late sixties, early seventies euphoria. Spiritual Beggars isn’t a simple soundalike though. Sure, the influence of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and Rainbow is more than obvious and if you like those bands, you should most certainly give ‘Earth Blues’ a listen, but the band puts its own spin on those influences with great success.

Many Rock and Metal records these days are pretty much frontloaded with the good stuff. ‘Earth Blues’ luckily is an exception. ‘Wise As A Serpent’ and ‘Turn The Tide’ are great songs to open the album with in the sense that they represent the band’s music in an accessible manner, but the best stuff comes later. Like the quasi-psychedelic middle section of ‘Sweet Magic Pain’, the amazing cover of Bobby Bland’s ‘Dreamer’, ‘Kingmaker’, which has an intro strongly reminiscent of Uriah Heep’s ‘Gypsy’, Witt’s awesome percussion work on ‘Too Old To Die Young’ and the fantastic closing epic ‘Legends Collapse’. Other highlights include ‘Hello Sorrow’, ‘Dead End Town’ and the relatively heavy ‘Freedom Song’ and ‘One Man’s Curse’.

Despite always having liked the band’s retro sound, I have to say that they hadn’t yet released an album as fantastic as ‘Earth Blues’. And my first impression of the album wasn’t even that good, but it grew on me quite quickly. A well-written album with a fantastic production. If you get the limited edition, you’ll get a bonus disc with the band’s gig on Loud Park 2010, proving once and for all that Apollo Papathanasio has a fantastic voice perfectly suited for this kind of music. I have always loved his voice, but I do think this kind of Rock works better for him. I sometimes hear people complain there aren’t any truly good Rock albums anymore. ‘Earth Blues’ definitely proves them wrong.

Recommended tracks: ‘Legends Collapse’, ‘Hello Sorrow’, ‘Kingmaker’, ‘Freedom Song’, ‘One Man’s Curse’

Looking back: Community season 4

Frequent visitors of this weblog may have already noted my music obsession. Those of you who know me personally are most likely aware of my obsession with NBC’s ‘Community’, which is in my humble opinion the best TV show ever made. For the music freaks, this may be a bit of an annoying departure, but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the controversial fourth season of the brilliant sitcom.

A quick summary of what it was that made the season so controversial for those unfamiliar with the story: series creator Dan Harmon was sideroaded by Sony Pictures for reasons that are still unknown. Harmon wasn’t the show’s sole writer, but the vision was his, so many fans, including myself, didn’t quite know what to expect of these series. Especially since several other key figures of the ‘Community’ crew also departed, among which writer and producer Chris McKenna and the directing brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, all of whom have been vital to many of the series’ key episodes.

Now that the series have finally aired in Holland – I know I could have watched online, but I think the wait and excitement are part of a series experience – I can finally have an opinion on it. And I must admit: it wasn’t as bad as some reviewers have lead me to believe it would be. Granted, the season was short (13 episodes instead of over 20) and Harmon’s influence was certainly missing, but I still found it to be an enjoyable season. It did have the general air of a tribute band with original members – you’d be surprised how many of those exist – because while the brilliant actors were still there, as was the general idea of the series, but there was something lacking. I’ll try and explain.

I don’t think season 4 will have the replay value of the earlier seasons because the humor of this season lacks the subtlety of earlier seasons. When I revisit those earlier episodes, I still discover new things that are incredibly funny – keep in mind that I have watched those a ridiculous amount of times – but with these episodes, there aren’t many surprises even the second time around. It’s not necessarily a problem, but I do think the replayability adds to the general quality of a show. In addition, much of the show’s genius meta-humor and popculture references appear to be in the episodes because they need to be, not because they’re spontaneous strokes of brilliance.

Also, the comic talents of Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta Perry, were severely underused. In some ways, I’ve always thought it may have been a burden on her that she’s a good looking blonde woman, as several interviews I’ve seen with her prove that she is truly naturally funny. In addition, some of the writers seem to have mistaken the naivity of Troy Barnes, played by the superb Donald Glover, for stupidity. On the other hand, the popularity of the Abed Nadir character, brilliantly portrayed by Danny Pudi, caused the writers to enlarge his role, which isn’t always to the series’ benefit, as his sudden appearances are part of his character’s charm. And where both season two and three had brilliant animated episodes (respectively the stop-motion Christmas episode ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ and 8 bit game animated ‘Digital Estate Planning’), the Muppets-like ‘Intro To Felt Surrogacy’ ultimately fell flat, favoring shape before content.

Having said that, the season does still have the general ‘Community’ vibe and a bunch of fantastic episodes. And these aren’t necessarily the episodes done by the house writers of the show. For instance, actor Jim Rash, who plays Dean Craig Pelton in the series, debuted as a writer with the episode ‘Basic Human Anatomy’, which is one of the best episodes of the season. The ‘Freaky Friday’ homage is a bit obvious, but applied very well to the general story and containing several moments of clever humor. New writer Jack Kokuda contributed to ‘Herstory Of Dance’, which I found strong story-wise, while Abed’s story was simply charming.

While the Halloween episode ‘Paranormal Parentage’ (written by veteran Megan Ganz) may not have been aired in time for the holiday, I found it really funny – anarchist vegetarian Britta dressed as a ham is downright brilliant – and well-written. And I’m not quite sure how the Thanksgiving episode ‘Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations’ was aired in relation to the holiday, but it was a very enjoyable episode. Abed’s ‘Prison Break’ reference may have been the best joke of this season. Using Yvette Nicole Brown’s character Shirley Bennett in a funny matter rather than the group moral was a good choice as well. The two episodes closing the season may have been a tad overdone, but they were good nonetheless.

In the end, questions will remain. Would Dan Harmon have wanted Jeff Winger – portrayed by the never disappointing Joel McHale – to actually meet his father? Would the end of the season be what he had envisioned? And more importantly: now that Harmon has agreed to be back on board for a fifth season, did these series provide him a satisfying starting point? I’m just glad that Harmon is back. His presence was missed, but after all: a mediocre season of ‘Community’ is still streets ahead (pun intended) of many a sitcom’s good season. The fifth season is prospected to also consist of 13 episodes, which I consider the ultimate stepping stone to six seasons and a movie.

Loads and loads of Kevy Metal and more in this month’s Gitarist

Although it’s been about five years since I’ve started writing on a somewhat professional level, I still get proud every once in a while. First of all: the new issue of Gitarist features a photo that I have taken (the King Of The World picture) and secondly: there’s quite a few larger articles and pictures I’ve made inside. With my big interview with guitarist Erwin Java (ex-Cuby + Blizzards) and singer/bassist Ruud Weber, there are three pictures I took at their show at Amstelveen’s P60. Also, the conversation we had about the start of the band and the recording of their downright fantastic debut album ‘Can’t Go Home’ is quite interesting. There’s an interview with Dutch Rock band Colossa, who have recently released their surprisingly good second album ‘New Day Rising’, and an interview with guitar legend Uli Jon Roth, which also includes a picture I’ve taken. As you may be able to imagine, I could hardly be more proud.

Besides that, there’s loads of interesting stuff in this month’s issue of Gitarist. There’s a big feature on the golden jubilee of the Gibson Firebird, my respected colleagues Mark van Schaick and Steven Faber went to the factory of Aristides guitars for a brilliant article, there’s an interview with Alice In Chains on their great new opus ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ and Guthrie Govan tells us all about his Charvel guitars. And if that isn’t enough, there are loads of gear and album reviews. I contributed greatly to the latter with reviews on the new Orphaned Land, Rob Orlemans, Seagall, Paul Rose, Hey Kid and both new Queensrÿche albums.

I haven’t had the time to read this front to back, but I will. I hope you will too. Also, I can’t enter for the Marshall fridge as I’m a contributor, but just look how awesome that thing is!