Loads of new publications in stores now!

For those of you who need something to read during the dark, family obligation ridden days around Christmas, you may want to consider reading some of the stuff I wrote, because a lot of it appeared in stores these last few days.

Gitarist features two big stories of mine this month. First of all, there’s the interview I had with Estelle Stijkel of the amazing The Jacks. She’s got an awesome, Slash and Jimmy Page influenced style and displays that on a downright awesome custom Les Paul to boot. We talked about her gear and the new release ‘Epic Trois’, the second EP The Jacks released this year. I would like to urge anyone to go out and check The Jacks, because they’re my best “new discovery” of this year. I’m also very proud of the picture I took that is included with the interview. Also, I talked with returning Focus guitarist Menno Gootjes – who incidentally was one of Estelle’s teachers – about his return to the legendary group, his Les Paul Classic, his amps and his general style. I loved his former band Nine Volt as well. I reviewed The Jacks’ combined release of their three EP’s and Bad Brains’ awesome new album and besides that, there’s an interview with John McLaughlin, a special about Fuzz Faces, a feature on Fender reissues and loads and loads more. Be sure to vote for the Gitarist poll as well!

Those of you interested in drums and percussion would do right by checking out the new issue of Slagwerkkrant. Besides the interview I had with Case Mayfield’s new drummer Nienke Overmars about her unexpected inclusion in the singer/songwriter’s touring entourage and her equipment, there’s a very interesting interview my chief editor Mark van Schaick had with Metal drummer extraordinaire Dirk Verbeuren as an introduction to the new segment he will have in the magazine, Ralph Rolle of Chic – a very beloved band for yours truly – is interviewed and among the others interviewed are Thomas Lang and Chris Dave. As you can see: we’re covering lots of different genres with equal love for rhythms!

Digging deeper into the technical side of recording music, Interface will deliver. My input in this month’s issue is limited to an interview with The Gathering’s René Rutten about the recordings of their brand new album ‘Disclosure’ – a different take on the same conversation appeared in last month’s issue of Gitarist – but there’s more interesting stuff in there. In-depth analysis on the Korg Krome, Cakewalk Sonar X2 and many other new software and hardware releases, something really interesting for me in the shape of a workshop on recording acoustic guitars and interviews, including one with Benny Blanco, who is responsible for two of the biggest abominations on the radio at the moment (‘Move Like Jagger’ and ‘Diamonds), but it’s an insightful interview nonetheless.

And if that’s not enough for you… There will no doubt be more reviews on here. Let’s not forget that the year is nearly at an end and that allows me to do the only thing I like about these festivities: end-of-year-lists!


Album of the Week 50-2012: Scorpions – Blackout

Even bands that have a string of classic releases tied to their names have these albums where everything just seems exactly the way it should be. ‘Blackout’ may very well be that moment for the Scorpions. The German Hard Rock machine had been churning out a number of fantastic albums – my favorites being ‘Virgin Killer’, ‘Taken By Force’ and ‘Lovedrive’ – for about a decade prior to ‘Blackout’, but this is the moment when all the stars aligned for the Scorpions. It’s a collection of brilliantly written Heavy Metal tracks, the punchy production is among the best of the era and Klaus Meine’s vocals are at their absolute high here.

Despite the presence of excellent songs on former albums, there were always one or two filler tracks included. On ‘Blackout’, every song strikes gold. Also, there’s obviously a lot of thought that went into the song order; there’s anever a dull moment here and the band doesn’t waste all its energy on the first few songs, a mistake often heard on Rock records. The band plays at a 110 percent energy level on the Heavy Metal outbursts that open both sides of the record (‘Dynamite’ and the headbang-or-die title track that opens the album) and the more subdued stuff, like the semi-ballad ‘No One Like You’ and the crushing midempo stomper ‘China White’ are kept for the middle. Also, the ballads that are here, are among the most dynamic of the post-Uli Jon Roth era, with patterns much less predictable than the songs they’d become much more popular with not long after the release of this album.

However, no matter how awesome the raging Heavy Metal of ‘Now!’ and ‘Blackout’ are, the album’s highlight is closing track ‘When The Smoke Is Going Down’, easily the best ballad the Germans have ever written. It’s hard to describe why that is, but it has to do with the goosebumps inducing atmosphere, look no further than Matthias Jabs’ subdued, but incredible guitar solo for an example. And I’d have to admit: I’m a sucker for these “musician after the music is over” stories. Klaus Meine definitely delivers with both his lyrics and delivery here.

Speaking of Meine, it’s impossible to discuss this album without going through his miraculous vocal recovery. Meine famously had lost his voice during writing sessions for this album and underwent surgery on his vocal cords, only to return with a wider range and greater power than ever. David Coverdale had a similar revelation with Whitesnake’s ‘1987’ album, but what Meine does here is unbelievable. He is wild all throughout the album and is spot-on within any part of his register.

As for the rest of the band; Rudolf Schenker has always been the riff master in the more accessible segment of the genre and although Matthias Jabs doesn’t possess the same supernatural qualities of his predecessors Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker, he is absolutely on fire here. His guitar solos are blazing with conviction and he is the perfect guitarist for this incarnation of the Scorpions, which – if you wish – needs flamboyance rather than flashiness. And of course, this type of music doesn’t succeed without a powerful rhythm section. ‘Blackout’ features an especially excellent Herman Rarebell on drums.

Quickly after the release of ‘Blackout’, commercial successes and frequent artistic failures haunted the Scorpions. And although there have been some strong records after – ‘Unbreakable’ springs to mind immediately, but the recent ‘Sting In The Tail’ and breakthrough album ‘Love At First Sting’ both feature stellar songwriting and the usual amazing musicianship – the band has never quite reached the heights of ‘Blackout’ again. However, that doesn’t degrade the band in any way, it’s just a testament to the lasting power of the brilliant record that is ‘Blackout’.

Recommended tracks: ‘When The Smoke Is Going Down’, ‘Blackout’, ‘Now!’, ‘China White’

Album of the Week 49-2012: Jethro Tull – Songs From The Wood

While Folk music has always been quite an obvious influence in Jethro Tull’s music, the band has never explored the genre as much as on 1977’s appropriately titled ‘Songs From The Wood’. Two years prior, the brilliant ‘Minstrel In The Gallery’ already hinted at this with its more acoustic based material, but it wasn’t until main man Ian Anderson moved to the countryside and immersed himself in English folklore, that Jethro Tull made its most Folky record yet. And not without Anderson’s unique sense of irony; the album cover clearly states that we will be treated with “kitchen prose and gutter rhymes”.

One of the reasons why ‘Songs From The Wood’ is one of the best Folk Rock albums ever released, is that it doesn’t ignore the Rock part of that. For instance, ‘Hunting Girl’ is one of the heavier songs Jethro Tull had done up until this point, with its pulsating riffs on both guitar and bass and impressive double bass drumming by Barriemore Barlow. The lyrical subject matter is definitely inspired by folklore and there are some Folk melodies, mainly in the keyboards of John Evan and David Palmer, but this is still very much a Hard Rock song. After the a capella intro, the title track opens in a rocking matter as well and ‘Pibroch (Cap In Hand)’ has Anderson’s flute and Martin Barre’s distorted guitars battling for attention.

As for the Folk stuff on this record, although Tull has had its fair share of brilliant Folk-inspired songs in the past (‘Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day’ and ‘Wond’ring Aloud’ spring to mind), the melodies have never been quite as captivating as the main melody on ‘Cup Of Wonder’ or the fantastic ‘Jack-in-the-Green’, which features Ian Anderson on every instrument. It’s almost as if they were learning Folk before ‘Songs From The Wood’ and the album is the first product of a Jethro Tull fully understanding the genre. I’m generally not too fond of bands mixing European Folk with contemporary genres – I possess a distinct hatred for European Folk Metal, for instance – but this is just one of those albums where all the pieces fall together in just the right places.

Combined with a fantastic production, ‘Songs From The Wood’ is one of those must-hear albums from the seventies. Jehtro Tull’s had quite a few actually and since they’ve been on heavy rotation at my place this week, I could have picked any of their albums from the 1971-1978 era, but this album has just been a landmark album for Jethro Tull finally reaching what they have been hinting at for all these years. This is where the Hard Rock and the Folk really came together with Ian Anderson’s unique sense of humor. Want a proof of the latter? Check out the gramophone needle on the dendrochonological growth rings on the album’s back cover and try not to chuckle.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hunting Girl’, ‘Songs From The Wood’, ‘Jack-in-the-Green’

Album of the Week 48-2012: The Tea Party – Live From Australia

Lots of big reunion things these days. It’s only been weeks since the recordings of Led Zeppelin’s 2007 reunion gig surfaced, now it’s The Tea Party’s turn. Last year, the Canadian trio reformed after half a decade of inactivity and as this document proves, they haven’t lost their touch even in the slightest bit. This collection of recordings made during this year’s Reformation Tour shows The Tea Party is still inspired, powerful and compelling. Also, singer and guitarist Jeff Martin, bassist and keyboard player Stuart Chatwood and drummer Jeff Burrows are incredibly well attuned to each other still.

For those unfamiliar with this brilliant band: imagine what Led Zeppelin would have sounded like if they further developed the direction they had taken on ‘Kashmir’ with Jim Morrison on vocals. That’s not completely fair to the band, I find Martin to sound a lot more passionate than Morrison and The Tea Party has really taken the Moroccan Folk influenced sound to a higher ground. It’s created a hypnotizing atmosphere within their music and on their first four albums in particular. And those are the albums that are represented with the most tracks on here; only ‘Lullaby’ from 2001’s ‘The Interzone Mantras’ was released later.

As soon as you get halfway through the opening ten minute rendition of ‘The River’, it’s already obvious that The Tea Party doesn’t shy away from stretching out. With two songs past the ten minute mark and only three tracks (and the short instrumental ‘Winter Solstice’, which is hidden before ‘Sister Awake’, but mentioned nowhere in the track listing) under five minutes, this is clearly a show of epic proportions. And that’s where experiencing this album comes out best. The intense acoustic Blues of ‘Sun Going Down’ opens with a rendition of the classic Gospel song ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and builds towards a goosebumps inducing closing two minutes. Absolutely beautiful. ‘Save Me’ – featuring Martin on esraj and violin bowed guitar – is of similar length and works towards a number of fantastic climaxes. Other highlights include a thrilling version of ‘Halcyon Days’ and the mind blowing experience that is closing track ‘Sister Awake’. Both of these songs are “only” around eight minutes long.

If you get the DVD or Blu-ray, the beautiful performance of only the Sydney show – the CD gives you a compilation of recordings of all the Australian shows – is presented to you in absolutely flawless, razor sharp images with an enormous dosage of blue light. It all adds to the hypnotizing experience. And seeing Burrows attack his drum kit is nothing short of inspiring. The only criticism I could have is that I sometimes miss the bass on the songs on which Chatwood plays keyboards, but that’s usually covered just fine. I guess it’s just that I like his bass playing so much.

Word on the street is that The Tea Party is currently writing music for a new album. That would be just amazing, as this live collection proves that these guys are still among the best bands in the world. Just let the music speak for itself; it is bound to take you on a journey. If you need help to chose between formats: I’d just get both the CD version and the video version of whatever video system you possess. They’re different recordings and just seeing these guys play is simply overwhelming. Let’s just hope it won’t take too long before their new album can be the album of that particular week.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sun Going Down’, ‘Sister Awake’, ‘Halcyon Days’, ‘Save Me’, ‘The River’

Album of the Week 47-2012: Soundgarden – King Animal

Still I can hear guitarist Kim Thayil say it in an interview which took place shortly after Soundgarden’s return to the stage: “If we make another album, it will probably sound different than we’ve done before.” In the meantime, ‘King Animal’ was released and it sounds exactly like you would expect from Soundgarden. Maybe even slightly better than expected; it surpasses 1996 farewell album ‘Down On The Upside’ in every possible way. To these ears, ‘King Animal’ sounds like the album Soundgarden could have done between ‘Badmotorfinger’ and ‘Superunknown’. The Seattle rockers still sound fresh, inspired, powerful and open to the odd surprise.

Every element that made Soundgarden so good in the first place is still firmly intact on ‘King Animal’. Say what you want about Chris Cornell’s dubious solo carreer, his strong Rock voice with just the right amount of rasp is still among the best in the business. Matt Cameron hasn’t ceased to inject his grooves with the force of Rock and the technique of Jazz, Ben Shepherd still knows how to make his presence known, even during passages in which he plays fairly standard stuff and Cornell and Thayil once again weave their guitar lines into an irresistable, psychedelic tapestry.

Although Soundgarden has recorded a bunch of kick-ass straight forward Rock tunes for ‘King Animal’ – the appropriately titled opening track ‘Been Away Too Long’, ‘Attrition’ and ‘Non-State Actor’ are quite brilliant in that matter – it isn’t until the band hits that semi-psychedelic mode when the album really hits its peak. It’s probably not a coincidence that the three songs Thayil wrote or co-wrote the music to are among the album highlights; ‘A Thousand Days Before’ has a hazy atmosphere with great guitar work reminiscent of the nineties Stoner scene, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’ has a monstrous groove underneath pleasantly dissonant riffs and the heavy ‘By Crooked Steps’ deliciously stomps through odd meters, which is also a hint of Cameron’s involvement.

That’s not where the fun stops though. Cornell’s slow and introspective ‘Bones Of Birds’ has an inescapable atmosphere, Shepherd’s ‘Taree’ has a bunch of amazing, Black Sabbath-ish riffs, ‘Worse Dreams’ has some killer unexpected twists, Cameron’s ‘Eyelid’s Mouth’ works towards multiple amazing climaxes and features a stellar performance by Cornell and the hypnotizing closing track ‘Rowing’ has a somewhat Delta Blues-like atmosphere, slightly reminiscent of John Lee Hooker, and a killer, fuzz-laden guitar solo near the end.

Okay, that’s a lot of tracks I mentioned, but the truth is that almost every song here is a direct hit. There’s nothing as crushingly heavy as ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ or as vicious as ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ on here, but ‘King Animal’ quickly became one of my favorite Soundgarden records. It’s just barely short of the brilliance of ‘Badmotorfinger’, but it’s at least on par with breakthrough record ‘Superunknown’. It’s good to hear that this group of musicians can still create something magical together; an album that isn’t a delight to listen to based on nostalgia, but on the amazing music created right now.

Recommended tracks: ‘A Thousand Days Before’, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’, ‘By Crooked Steps’, ‘Bones Of Birds’, ‘Non-State Actor’, ‘Rowing’

Album of the Week 46-2012: Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day

Magical. That’s what it must have been like if you were at the O2 Arena in London on December 10th 2007, when the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin teamed up the the late John Bonham’s son Jason on drums for a one night only reunion show. Being the Led Zeppelin addict I am – I still think there’s nothing higher attainable musically than Zep – I of course entered the lottery for tickets. Didn’t win any, but this is almost as good. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to any release as much as this one. I counted down the days. But it was worth it: ‘Celebration Day’ shows a powerful, inspired performance by the best Rock band ever.

Most of the songs have been tuned down half a step to easier facilitate Robert Plant’s voice. It’s obvious from the first second of opening track ‘Good Times Bad Times’. Since Plant has a history of not playing Zeppelin stuff the way it has been released throughout his consistently amazing solo carreer, I don’t mind these little changes. And let’s not forget that the human voice does lower with age. And while Plant’s voice has inevitably aged, he handles this material incredibly well, albeit somewhat less over-the-top than on the originals. This causes him to sound like a reflecting old man rather than a young romantic on the eternal classic ‘Stairway To Heaven’. The subdued performance of the band backs him up there, adding a whole new dimension to an extremely familiar song.

Jason Bonham actually does a great job replacing his father. He has a powerful style that resembles his father’s and therefore makes him the only justified drummer. Just listen to him punishing his kit during a breathtaking version of ‘Kashmir’ – actually played in its original tuning, since it’s in an open D tuning – or ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ (also featuring a mean blues harp courtesy of Plant) and you’ll have no doubt that it’s a Bonham playing. He also shares vocals with Plant on a strong rendition of ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and does that well.

Pleasantly surprising is that the setlist for the night didn’t only focus on the obvious choices as ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Rock And Roll’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’. In fact, with ‘Ramble On’ and ‘For Your Life’, the band played two amazing tracks from their back catalog live for the first time. Especially the latter is executed incredibly well. Unsurprisingly, half of ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ is included, but traditional blues tributes ‘In My Time Of Dying’ and ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ are the songs that the band seems most comfortable with. And let’s not forget my favorite Led Zeppelin song ‘No Quarter’, a psychedelic masterpiece that is just as good as the studio version from the moment John Paul Jones kicks in with the dreamy fuzz piano part. I wasn’t there, but it was a near-divine experience this way anyway. Also, playing ‘Dazed And Confused’ even slower than it was recorded almost sends it into Black Sabbath territory. Awesome!

Critics will always find something to attack on these performances. Jimmy Page is still a sloppy guitarist, but I have always felt that that was what gave his playing and the songs their breath of life. And of course, it doesn’t sound exactly like it did in the seventies, but it would have missed the point if it did. The bottom line is that these guys can still create magical music together. And judging from the looks on their faces, they were having a lot of fun doing it.

Any fan of Rock music should own this piece of history. Period. And if you haven’t gotten it yet, be sure to get a version with the bonus dvd, as it features the entire show as it was done during the production rehearsal. A performance that is filmed with only one camera and that is overal somewhat looser, but no less enjoyable. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on the dvd again, because one can never have enough Led Zeppelin.

Recommended track: ‘No Quarter’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’

Reasons to (not) buy ‘Machine F**king Head Live’

5 reasons to buy ‘Machine F**king Head Live’:

– The album generally focuses on a much beter era of material than ‘Hellalive’ and features Phil Demmel as a band member on every song, instead of just guesting on a few.
– Six out of seven songs from the most recent ‘Unto The Locust’ album, which I kind of overlooked at the time, are included and they sound great. This actually makes me want to revisit the album.
– The chorus to ‘This Is The End’ isn’t as godawfully annoying (Trivium/Killswitch Engage-style) as on the record here, actually making it quite a pleasant track to listen to.
– ‘Old’
– Both Phil Demmel’s and Robb Flynn’s guitar solos are simply outstanding! Possibly even better than on the studio albums!

5 reasons to not buy ‘Machine F**king Head Live’:

– The mix is downright horrible. The guitars are decent but miss the punch they need – maybe Flynn and Demmel should consider Blackstar amplifiers – and the vocals are somewhat buried beneath the rest every now and then. The sheen of the studio productions is missing. Juan Urteaga can do much better than this and I’m sure, because he has done much better.
– Every time when there’s audience participation, suddenly the audience mics are mixed into the sound loudly, with all the hall reverb included. This accounts for an irritatingly unbalanced sound during most of the choruses.
– Robb Flynn is a much more pleasant listen on the studio albums: he sings much better there, plus you’ll be devoid of his cliché ridden American frontman antics.
– Besides the amazing ‘Halo’, only the mediocre ‘Beautiful Mourning’ and the fairly obvious ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ are included from 2007’s brilliant ‘The Blackening’.
– The lack of their discography’s highlight ‘Descend The Shades Of Night’.