Album of the Week 34-2012: Paul Weller – Stanley Road

Never having been a fan of The Jam, I never took the time to check out Paul Weller’s solo work. It wasn’t until I heard the simple, but effectively breathtaking ‘The Changingman’ on VH1 about a year and a half or so ago that I realized that “the Modfather” was a genius. I rushed out to my local record store to get the album the song opens – luckily it was on sale – and was enchanted by its music. This isn’t the Who-influenced Mod that made Paul Weller famous in the first place. Weller and his band mates are jamming here.

‘Stanley Road’, not unlike his self-titled debut and the wildly eclectic ‘Wild Wood’ before it and ‘Heavy Soul’ after it, injects a powerful shot of Bluesy Soul into Weller’s firm British roots. The result sounds somewhat like Traffic jamming with Curtis Mayfield, but even though this album features extensive jamming, Weller’s music is a more to the point than both of those artists would ever be. Though rocking, the sound is laidback, almost without exception and as a result, the album works best as the soundtrack to a late summer daydream.

Most remarkable about ‘Stanley Road’ is the flawless musicianship. Weller, lead guitarist Steve Cradock, drummer Steve White and bassists Dr. Robert, Mark Nelson and Yolanda Charles sound as if they’re so comfortable and familiar with each others playing, that the songs appear to have written themselves as they were recorded. Guest appearances by the likes of Noel Gallagher and the incomparable Steve Winwood are no different. Nothing sounds forced on this record and everything just fits.

But of course, all of the high-class musicianship would have been pointless, had Weller not written a handful of brilliant songs for the album. ‘The Changingman’ was my eye-opener for Weller’s music and it remains my favorite song of his to date, but there are many, many more songs to enoy here. The introspective ballad ‘You Do Something To Me’, for instance, or the stomping rhythms of the title track, the dynamic ‘Out Of The Sinking’ and the brooding masterpiece ‘Whirlpool’s End’. Yet in the end, it will always be one of those albums you listen to entirely instead of playing a few selected tracks. And it works; those 52 minutes fly by and you won’t even notice.

Okay, I was too quick to judge Weller based on his work with The Jam. I’m glad ‘The Changingman’ prove me wrong; Paul Weller’s discography holds several jewels of top-shelf British musical craftsmanship, with the man himself consistently refusing to stick to one style. That is something I consider admirable. And though all of Weller’s discography is worth hearing, ‘Stanley Road’ is to these ears his finest achievement yet. However, I do feel he has at least one more masterpiece up his sleeve…

Recommended tracks: ‘The Changingman’, ‘Whirlpool’s End’, ‘Stanley Road’, ‘Out Of The Sinking’


Album of the Week 33-2012: Vicious Rumors – Welcome To The Ball

Although it is instantly audible from what era of Metal Vicious Rumors stems, it’s quite hard to categorize them. Their music probably comes closest to the glorious 1980’s US Power Metal, with all the layers of spectacular guitar work, but especially on this brilliant fourth album of theirs, ‘Welcome To The Ball’, there’s quite some riffs bordering on the more melodic vein of Thrash, think Powermad, Holy Terror and the likes. Still, the band isn’t heavy enough to be a Thrash band. Then there’s the late Carl Albert, whose powerhouse voice was equal parts Hardrock, USPM and Thrash, not unlike Metal Church’s Mike Howe at the time. That accounts for a combination of the best three genres the eighties had to offer, you won’t hear me complain!

Central to any Vicious Rumors record is the downright stellar guitar work by band brain Geoff Thorpe and his fellow axeman, Mark McGee in this case. The NWOBHM-on-speed riffs are all over the place, the soaring twin leads are irresistable and the guitar solos by both men – McGee’s outnumbering Thorpe’s by a hair – are the climaxes to the awesome compositions on the albums. However, the classic Vicious Rumors records – ‘Digital Dictator’, the self titled and this one – are lifted to a higher level by Albert’s charismatic and powerful vocals. I’m not saying Vicious Rumors became worse after his fatal car accident in 1995, but Albert has yet to be surpassed.

‘Welcome To The Ball’ starts out relatively heavily with ‘Abandoned’, not a typical Metal opener in the sense that it’s not a very fast track. However, it does make sense as an opening statement to this record, as some of the faster tracks, such as the awesome ‘You Only Live Twice’ and the almost-Thrashfest of ‘Six Stepsisters’ pass by at exactly the right moment on this record. Other highlights include ‘Savior From Anger’, which has a chorus with gang shouts and great vocal harmonies, therefore containing all the elements of classic Vicious Rumors backing vocals, the powerful closing track ‘Ends Of The Earth’, which spots the best bass lines of the album, ‘Dust To Dust’ and the best ballad Vicious Rumors has ever written: ‘When Love Comes Down’, the definition of a power ballad.

Production-wise, this is exactly what you’d expect from a late eighties, early nineties USPM record. There’s a bright gloss and reverb to the total sound and Larry Howe’s drums in particular, I just have a feeling that the guitars are a bit more ballsy. And of course, the guitar work is basically what Vicious Rumors is renowned for. Interesting sidenote is that the bass is relatively present for a classic Metal album, which makes sense, figuring David Starr’s qualities as a bassist.

If you are a fan of classic, US Power Metal, you need to own this album. And if you’re running off to get it, be sure to pick up ‘Digital Dictator’ and the self-titled as well. This is classy, powerful Heavy Metal in the best Maiden/Priest tradition. Recommended to anyone who likes classic Heavy Metal, but open minded Thrashers may want to give this a shot as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Savior From Anger’, ‘When Love Comes Down’, ‘You Only Live Twice’, ‘Abandoned’

Album of the Week 32-2012: The Roots – How I Got Over

Though Hip Hop isn’t necessarily a genre I usually like listening to, the genre has boasted a few classic albums I love to listen to. Most of it is the early eighties stuff, when the line between Funk and Hip Hop was still pretty thin, but the live Hip Hop The Roots have been delivering on their recent albums just keeps getting better. Starting out as a combination between socially conscious lyrics and jazzy music courtesy of the brilliant rhythm section of Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson – one of the world’s best drummers overall – and bassist Leonard ‘Hub’ Hubbard, The Roots have gradually grown more eclectic and better with every release, with 2010 release ‘How I Got Over’ being the highlight so far.

What I like most about ‘How I Got Over’ is the overall somber mood on the album. This isn’t the “long live the party” vibe you hear on mainstream radio every day, this is – if I interpret everything correctly – about people struggling to keep their heads above the water in a changing and confused world, all set to moody background music that is at times reminiscent of the jazzy vibes of the days of ‘Do You Want More?!!!??!’. ‘How I Got Over’, however, puts more emphasis on strong and catchy choruses than before, which gives an impression of actual songs instead of vamps decorated by raps.

After a jazzy a capella – although I suspect the voices are sampled – intro ‘A Peace Of Light’, the first gloomy piano chords of ‘Walk Alone’ open the desperation of this album. ?uestlove places his snare and cymbal hits as crashing explosions in atmorphere, the raps are reflective and the chorus has the soul of an old Blues man. This and the following ‘Dear God 2.0.’ – almost a sequel to the song by Monsters Of Folk, who appear on this version as well – set the sad mood for this album perfectly. There are some moments that break this mood though, such as the cry for breaking out which is ‘The Fire’ (featuring John Legend – with whom The Roots recorded the equally brilliant ‘Wake Up!’ – on the amazing chorus), the somewhat hopeful title track and the subdued groove of the brilliant ‘Radio Daze’, which is somewhat similar to an early sixties Soul song in delivery. This variation is what makes this album so brilliant in the first place. The only low is the closing track ‘Hustla’, but that’s only a bonus track!

‘How I Got Over’ is one of the best albums released this decade (if you start counting in 2010 that is…), regardless of what genre it is. Since the addition of guitarist ‘Captain’ Kirk Douglas, the band has become even better than I already thought they were and ‘How I Got Over’ is the album that is even better than the jazzy ‘Do You Want More?!!!??!’, the breakthrough of ‘Things Fall Apart’ or the amazing, wildly eclectic ‘Phrenology’. The only way to get a better impression of what The Roots are able to do, is to see them live.

Recommended tracks: ‘Radio Daze’, ‘Walk Alone’, ‘The Fire’, ‘How I Got Over’

Album of the Week 31-2012: Dew-Scented – Icarus

It’s been quite a while since I last heard a new Thrash album that made my blood boil in excitement. Dew-Scented’s ninth album does just that. The Germans once again succeeded in making a brutal, high-paced Thrash Metal record that thorougly tested the muscles in my neck. Although…Germans? Since ‘Invocation’ two years ago, vocalist Leif Jensen exchanged all the musicians surrounding him for three Dutchmen. A brilliant choice; the guitar riffs Marvin Vriesde provided for this record are nothing less than spectacular.

Dew-Scented has always operated somewhere on the line between Thrash and Death Metal. Though ‘Invocation’ contained all the familiar Dew-Scented ingredients – as always led by Jensen’s trademark bark – the album showed the band moving a bit more towards a traditional Bay Area Thrash sound. And although ‘Icarus’ has a distinctly more European vibe than ‘Invocation’, I’d still say that this is pretty much a full-on Thrash Metal album, only with a Death Metal intensity, characterized by Jensen’s growl and Koen Herfst’s (limited) use of blastbeats.

Vriesde has already filled in for the band on various occasions throughout Dew-Scented’s line-up changes infested history, even playing half of the guitar solos on ‘Issue VI’, and he is truly the revelation of this album. His songwriting is as varied as is possible within the Dew-Scented paradigm, shifting back and forth between neck-breakingly fast passages, slightly more melodic bits (check that solo break in the killer opening track ‘Sworn To Obey’!) and more creeping, crushing midtempo bits (like the amazing ‘Reawakening’, also spotting a guest spot for Dan Swanö). Also, his guitar solos are compositionally the strongest Dew-Scented solos so far, surpassing the Slayer-ish screaming and dive-bombing of many of his predecessors, sometimes even offering a place for a little melody.

Giving Vriesde credit for all good about this album wouldn’t be fair though. Leif Jensen is still infused with the same amount of aggression as in the ‘Impact’ days, Koen Herfst is one of Holland’s best drummers, especially in the Death Metal field, and proves so on this album. Bass has never been a very prominent feature in Dew-Scented’s music – or anyone in their genre, really – but Joost van der Graaf demands his position within the music and fills it well. It all accounts for brilliant Thrashers, such as the surprisingly varied ‘Thrown To The Lions’, the very intense ‘The Fall Of Man’, ‘Gleaming Like Silver’, featuring Rob Urbinati from Canada’s severely and unjustly overlooked Sacrifice on guest vocals, and the aforementioned ‘Sworn To Obey’ and ‘Reawakening’. But really, all of the album is great and due to the surprisingly large amount of varation, it’s great from start to finish.

For those of you already familiar with Dew-Scented’s high-energy, high-speed and high-quality brand of brutal Thrash Metal, this album can be bought without any hestitation, but anyone who likes their Thrash Metal with the intensity of Death Metal or their Death Metal with the bloodthirsty sense of aggression found in Thrash Metal, Dew-Scented is your band. And ‘Icarus’ may even surpass ‘Impact’ as the album I’d recommend you to check out if you don’t know them yet.

Recommended tracks: ‘Thrown To The Lions’, ‘The Fall Of Man’, ‘Reawakening’, ‘Sworn To Obey’

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’