Friday, August 29, 2008

Great Big Sea

Great Big Sea's latest release, Fortune's Favour, is their most rockin' to date.

Hailing from Canada’s most easterly province, the beautiful Newfoundland and Labrador, come Great Big Sea, a great folk/rock band that are difficult to resist. Great Big Sea got their start playing traditional Irish sea shanties in what is known as a Newfoundland kitchen party, and from there moved in to local bars. Great Big Sea became known for their upbeat lively spins on the traditional music they were performing and quickly began winning over audiences. It wasn’t long before their audience expanded across Canada and recording deal was struck with Warner Music.

Although their recordings consist of traditional music, it also contains many original pop songs. It is hear, in my opinion that the band really shines. It is pop music as it should be, no techo beats, but played with guitars, base, drums and in Great Big Sea’s case, a multitude of accompanying instruments including tin whistle, violin/fiddle, accordion, piano, among others, not to mention their great vocal harmonies.

Over the years the band has released nine studio albums and 2 live recordings, many have which went gold and multi-platinum. But if you truly want to experience and appreciate Great Big Sea, you need to see a live performance. The band is known for their energetic concerts and their connection with their audiences. I’ve had the opportunity to see the band perform in small clubs and large sold out arenas. I can honestly say that of the many acts I have seen, I have not witnessed anyone connect to the audience like Great Big Sea. If you ever get a chance to see them live, even if you are not familiar with their music, I highly recommend it.

Their latest release, Fortune’s Favour, offers more rock/pop songs than traditional music. It is a fantastic album and really shows off the band’s musical and song writing abilities. Other albums have more of a traditional flavor with some originals mixed throughout. Only one of their recordings, The Hard and the Easy, contains all traditional music, which paid homage to the music of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Alan Doyle, one of the group’s front men, has become an accomplished producer and composer outside of the band as well. He has composed music for Canadian television and film and produced recordings of other local bands. However, most notably he produced and co-wrote songs for a recording by film star Russell Crowe. Apparently, Crowe was filming a movie and Great Big Sea was performing a concert close by. Crowe decided to check out the show and after the performance he became a huge fan and got in contact with Doyle when he set to record an album himself.

So go and see Great Big Sea if they are performing in your neck of the woods. They tour extensively through Canada, the United States and Europe. The size of the venue will likely depend on what part of the world you are seeing them in and how well known they are. But it doesn’t matter; you are likely in for a treat either way. If anyone out there does check them out for the first time, I’d love to hear their impressions. Also check them out on their official website:

Here is my current top 10 list of Great Big Sea songs:

10. When I am King, (from the album Something Beautiful). Great Big Sea mostly use acoustic guitars, but they drive this one with the electric for a rock song about all of the things that would be different if “I were king”.

9. Goin’ Up (from the album Up). An original song with a traditional flavor. It is a great party song that captures the essence of what is known as a Newfoundland kitchen party.

8. Ordinary Day (from the album Play). Another great original and feel good upbeat song.

7. Consequence Free (from the album Turn). A great original that sings about something we have all wanted to be at some point in time – free of consequences.

6. Old Brown’s Daughter (from the album Turn). Over the years Great Big Sea have done some great a cappella numbers showing off their ability to harmonize. These songs usually come from the traditional/Irish/Newfoundland genre. I have fond memories of singing my two children to sleep to this song when they were babies. My vocals are not nearly as impressive as the boys of Great Big Sea, but it got my kids to sleep.

5. Old Black Rum. (From the album Up) Another fantastic Great Big Sea spin on a traditional tune. It is possibly the ultimate party tune.

4. Here and Now (from the album Fortune’s Favour). A great rock effort from their latest release that sings of the importance of living life in the present.

3. General Taylor (from the Play album). Another fantastic traditional a cappella song. They do a great live version of this and it’s been a standard in their set list for many years.

2. Feel it Turn (from the album Turn). Not a sappy ballad, but a beautiful original slow acoustically driven pop song.

1. Straight to Hell (from the album Fortune’s Favour). This is a new one and a great rock and roll tune. Great Big Sea use far more electric guitars on this album than any other. I couldn’t get enough of this song over the last few months.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bon Jovi Thoughts

This third album from Bon Jovi was a massive hit
and put them on the map to stay over 20 years ago.

My wife is a huge Bon Jovi fan. I’ve always liked the band, and although they never topped my list of favorites, I have enjoyed them over the years. I have seem them perform on two occasions, my wife zero. Both my concert experiences were before our marriage and both were amazing shows. We have to make an effort to see them sometime in the next couple of years for my wife’s sake, and I am sure I won’t be disappointed in the concert either.

I have begun to respect Bon Jovi more as a band over the years. There is no questioning their lasting power and their ability to release solid records and put off great live shows to large audiences. They have changed, but never in a sudden and drastic way. They have evolved, but are still Bon Jovi.

The first time I saw Bon Jovi was towards the end of their tour supporting the Keep the Faith album. I thought this was a strong recording and offered at least 4 or 5 radio friendly popular singles, all of which were played that night. The show I saw would have been one of the last base guitarist Alec John Such played with the band. There have been reports that the rest of the band was displeased with his performance and he was dismissed of his duties. One thing that has always annoyed me is that they have never officially replaced him. I think Hugh Macdonald has been playing base with them ever since. However, he is never listed as an official member of the band, he is always listed as “with Hugh Macdonald”. I like a band to be a band, a complete unit, and if there has to be a lineup change, then so be it.

Bon Jovi started the concert that night with the lead off track from the Keep the Faith album, I Believe. In addition to their singles from that record, they played all the hits from New Jersey and Slippery When Wet. Jon, by himself, played one from his first solo release and the band accompanied him for Blaze of Glory from the same album. They played a couple from their earlier efforts, Runaway and In And Out of Love, and because the show was in December, a holiday song was added to the setlist. There was no denying that it was a very entertaining show.

I don’t own every Bon Jovi recording, but in any event here are my top 10 Bon Jovi songs.

10. I Believe. This song from the Keep the Faith recording is, for the most part, what I like my Bon Jovi songs to be, just fun easy optimistic songs.

9. Livin’ on a Prayer. This song and You Give Love a Bad Name were massive hits from the Slippery When Wet album. I prefer this one.

8. Lay Your Hands on Me. It’s a great arena rocker from the New Jersey album. Sounded great both times I saw them live.

7. Have a Nice Day. I never owned this album of the same name, but I loved this single.

6. Keep the Faith. A bit of a different song for them. I was surprised it was released as a single. I really liked it and it was nice to hear them put out something that wasn’t as radio friendly for a change.

5. Raise Your Hands. One of my favorite rockin’ tracks from their breakout Slippery When Wet album.

4. Who Says You Can’t Go Home, Another single from the Have a Nice Day album. A great feel good happy song.

3. Lost Highway. A nice mid tempo title track from their latest release of the same name. Strangely enough I was hearing this song a lot during a rather dark period in my life when dealing with a serious family illness. During the many drives to and from the hospital this song somehow seemed just right.

2. Summertime. A great upbeat feel good happy song. Probably the “happiest” song on the Lost Highway album.

1. Wanted Dead or Alive. I have always loved this song. Love to play it on guitar too. A great slow rock anthem.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Summer Soundtrack

One thing I love about music is the memories associated with it; a song or an album can instantly take you back to a certain time and place. Often when I hear a particular track I will instantly remember a certain time and what was going on in my life.

One of the funniest examples for me was during the holiday season. My friend and I were just teenagers and at the time really into Def Leppard’s Hysteria album, and during the break from school we were really stuck on the song Armageddon It. That season we listened to that song over and over to the point that we starting calling it a Christmas song. Now, over 20 years later, anytime I hear that song I think of the holidays. In fact, it stirs up more festive feelings in me than most traditional holiday music.

As this summer winds down I (I hate to say that), any of the songs below may remind me of the previous few months.

10. Take Me Home, Danko Jones. I wasn’t a big fan of the album it came from, Never Too Loud, but this song stuck with me a little. If I was ever on a short drive by myself, and wanted to listen to one or two songs, I often played this one.

9. Never Walk Away, Journey. This double CD set surprised me. The lead off track from the disc containing new songs in the set is another I may have played on short drives. Journey delivered on this release, a lot of the songs were fun summertime music.

8. Cheap Champagne, Sloan. This song comes from their album titled Parallel Play. It is a fun summer sounding album all round. This is one of my favorite tracks on it.

7. The Pretender, Foo Fighters. I was a little late getting the Foo Fighter’s latest release, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. This is one great album start to finish and throughout the summer I have listened to it a lot. The lead off song here is just the first of many great ones on the record.

6. Longest Days, John Mellencamp. This is another album that surprised me. I played the entire disc through many times over the last couple of months. When we were camping during those quiet moments at night when the kids were sleeping, it sounded great. This lead off track is one of my favorites on the album.

5. Go, Def Leppard. Finally, one of my long time favorite bands come back with a great album of original songs. And as fate would have it, Joe Elliot got sick back in April and had to reschedule Def Leppard’s Ottawa show for August. As luck would have it I was planning on visiting this city in that same month. The song Go is the lead off track, and apparently they added it their set list the night before I saw them. I love the track and was delighted to hear it live.

4. Summertime, Bon Jovi This one came along for me in the early summer phases. We have a tradition here at my home; every July 1st we celebrate Canada Day with great food, drinks and good times with 50 plus guests. I always make a mix of music for the event and this track was included. I recall standing in front of the BBQ, with the sun shining down, a cold beverage in hand while surrounded by many good friends and family as Jon Bon Jovi declared, “Feels something like summertime!” It was a near perfect moment.

3. Runnin Wild, Airbourne. This is one of many great songs from their album of the same name. I played this CD a lot in July, especially in my car. Be warned: This album may cause speeding!!

2. Straight to Hell, Great Big Sea. For readers who are not aware of Great Big Sea, they are a great Canadian traditional/folk/rock band. Their latest release Fortune's Favour is probably their most rockin' effort to date. The final track on it is a great rock song that tells the story of someone who makes a deal with the devil and exhanges their soul for a great life of partying first. It is humorous and a lot of fun, and it does rock. A full post on Great Big Sea is something I am planning on doing.

1. Vengeance is Mine, Alice Cooper. If Airbourne’s Running Wild was the album of July for me, then Alice Cooper’s Along Came a Spider was the album of August. I love this album and every song on it. Vengeance is Mine is the second track on it. Once I am listening to this one, I know I want to let it play through to the end, and often do.

What about you? What were you listening to this summer? Speaking of summer, enjoy the rest of it!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Favorite Cover Songs

Some cover songs stay true to the original and some totally reinvent the song. There are some that are far better than the original and some are much worse. Here are ten that stood out to me.

10. Pour Some Sugar on Me, Cover by Emm Gryner. Original by Def Leppard. Emm Gryner is a Canadian signer-songwriter, but on her album Girl Versions she covers a variety of rock and heavy metal songs. Pour Some Sugar On Me never sounded so sexy as she slows it down and sings it accompanied by a piano. It is probably the most interesting and different cover on the list.

9. Like a Rolling Stone. Cover by the Rolling Stones. Original by Bob Dylan. It was fate that The Rolling Stones would eventually cover this song. Although I also love Bob Dylan’s original version of this classic, I also like how the Stones liven it up. Mick Jagger sings through the songs many lyrics very well.

8. Turn the Page. Cover by Metallica. Original by Bob Segar. Not too different than the original, but the guitars are more powerful. The song is about the frustrations from being on the road, and Metallica makes it sound angrier, as it should. I can feel the emotion more from this cover version.

7. Signs, Cover by Tesla. Original by Five Man Electrical Band. I have fond memories of this song and the album it came from, Five Man Acoustical Jam. I recall being a teenager playing this one often on my old acoustic guitar while everyone else sang along. I definitely liked Tesla’s version better than the original.

6. Rock On. Cover by Def Leppard. Original by David Essex. I don’t like the original version of this song. And I didn’t like Michael Damian’s version of this song in the 80’s. I shuddered when I heard Def Leppard were adding this one to their cover album. However, this version of the song finally won me over. About half way through the guitars hit loud and heavy and I think it finally sounds like it should. This song went over well and sounded fantastic at a recent Def Leppard concert I attended.

5. Smooth Criminal. Cover by Alien Ant Farm. Original by Michael Jackson. A Michael Jackson song never sounded so cool. I found this cover hard to resist and fun to listen to every time.

4. Whiskey in the Jar. Cover by Metallica. The original is an old Irish song but probably best known by Thin Lizzy who made it famous in the 70’s. Metallica’s version of this song is not overly heavy for them, but it is the heaviest version of the song I ever heard. Coming from the east coast of Canada, it is common to hear this song sung as a sea shanty, so I loved the change in pace with the heavy metal version.

3. The Zoo. Cover by Bruce Dickinson. Original by The Scorpions. These two versions are not overly different. Bruce Dickinson makes it sound fantastic. Come to think of it, he makes everything sound great. Have I ever mentioned I love Iron Maiden?

2. Boys of Summer. Cover by The Ataris. Original by Don Henley. I enjoyed Don Henley’s original version of this hit in the 80’s and remember it well when it came out. However, add some powerful guitar to suit my taste and I like this one even more than the original.

1. Hurt. Cover by Johnny Cash. Original by Nine Inch Nails. Occasionally, I like to step outside the world of rock. This Nine Inch Nails cover was truly haunting. The rest of the album, American IV: The Man Comes Around was great too.

You know I am sure there are many great covers over the years that I am forgetting. What are your favorites? Or what was worst cover version of a song you ever heard?

Monday, August 18, 2008

CD Review: Alice Cooper's Along Came a Spider

Alice Cooper is back with a brand new concept album titled Along Came a Spider. The concept here presents all songs from the point of view of a serial killer who goes by the name of Spider.

The biggest surprise I found after listening to this one a few times is how much I liked it. I didn’t really know what to expect here, I thought I would enjoy it on some level, but not nearly as much as I do. As I played this one through for the first time I thought, this is not bad, but I began to like it more and more after each listen.

Most of the songs are catchy, the guitars sound awesome, and I love the raw sounding drums as Alice’s scratchy voice takes us through the life of Spider. The whole the album has kind of a raw sound; nothing overproduced or too polished. It sounds like a young band on the verge of a great career. As usual, the theme of the concept album is secondary; this album sells itself to me on great rock and roll. However, for a concept album, the theme itself is mildly entertaining.

The album starts with a couple great tracks, I Know Where You Live and Vengeance is Mine, but it doesn’t slow down for me there, and in fact some of my favorite tracks come later in the disc. There are even a couple great ballads on here in the songs Killed by Love and Salvation.

I have tickets to see Alice perform live later this fall. I am sure his set will consist of mostly classics, but whatever he decides to give us from this latest release will be fine with me. Grade B+.

Favorite Tracks: Vengeance is Mine, (In Touch With) Your Feminine Side, Killed by Love, Salvation

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Rolling Stones Shine a Light

I finally got around to watching Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones’ movie Shine a Light this summer. I misunderstood the gist of this film. For some reason I thought this was more of a documentary with a behind the scenes look at a recent string of Rolling Stones concerts, with some live footage throughout. However, this is basically just a concert film, shot over two nights in New York City’s Beacon Theater.

At the beginning, this movie does look like a documentary. There is some footage of the designing of the set, a meet and greet before the show with Bill Clinton and company, and lot of Scorsese desperately trying to get a set list from the band before he begins filming the concert. But once the first song of the night is played, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, it turns almost exclusively into a concert film. There is some old interview footage throughout, mostly with members of the band commenting on how long they think they will be doing this. The old footage contains some humorous moments, but nothing really new.

The Stones performance is impressive. Mick Jagger is his usual energetic self as he dances and struts around the stage and the rest of the band also sound just fine. A lot of the Rolling Stone staples are there and a few lesser known numbers as well. One of my favourite parts of the performance is when Keith Richards takes lead vocals for a couple of numbers. Addressing the crowd while smoking a cigarette he proclaims “It’s good to see you…it’s good to see anyone really”. The concert also contains three duets with Buddy Guy, Jack White and Christina Aguilera.

The Stones, now in their 60’s, continue to impress. One might think they should not be doing this at this point in their lives, let alone doing it so well as they do. They strut around the stage, smoke cigarettes, and dirty dance with Aguilera. Jack Black’s character from School of Rock would be proud. They are probably the ultimate “stick it to the man” band.

As a movie however, this by no means a definitive rock film. I didn’t love it, but I did like it. The concert itself is worth watching. Scorsese does a great job capturing a great performance by a great band.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Concert Review, Billy Idol live in Ottawa

Billy Idol gets the crowd going at Scotiabank Place.

Although Billy Idol was billed as a supporting act for Def Leppard on this evening, there were no doubt many in attendance just as excited to see this 80’s icon perform. Billy Idol performed for a little over and hour to a full house and had the crowd on their feet for much of the performance, so rather than simply mention him as an opening act in my Def Leppard concert review, I thought he was worthy of an individual post.

At some concerts the supporting act does not play to a full capacity, but everyone was seated on this night in time to watch both bands perform. The lights dimmed and somewhere from behind the stage Idol screamed a “Hello Ottawa, Billy Idol is coming and all hell is coming with me!” The crowd cheered as his band appeared, including his long time guitarist Steve Stevens, and they began to play Rock the Cradle of Love. Idol appeared to a large ovation and got the night going. Once everyone applauded and cheered Idol’s appearance, the opening number didn’t do much to excite the crowd. This was one of Idol’s post 80’s singles, and no doubt had far less nostalgic appeal than what was yet to come. The second number of the night, Dancing With Myself, got the crowd moving and singing along instantly.

Billy Idol played mostly familiar music much to the delight of the crowd. Included were hits White Wedding, Flesh for Fantasy, Eyes Without a Face, Rebel Yell and covers Mony Mony and LA Woman. He did throw in a few less familiar numbers throughout the night including John Wayne, from his newest greatest hits package and Ready, Set, Go from his days a part of Generation X. Although, I believe this song has been a part of his set list for some time and the crowd responded well to it.

The song I was looking forward to the least probably had the most entertainment value of the evening. Oh how I dreaded hearing Mony Mony. I never liked this song thanks to many weddings I have been to and have been forced to dance with Great Aunt So-and-So as everyone screamed Hey Mother……you know the line. However, when this song was performed the crowd was on their feet and singing along. Idol left the stage and went into the crowd. It went like this, Billy sang, “Here she comes now singing Mony Mony” – passed his mic to a member of the audience who then sang the infamous unofficial line of the song. He kept walking around the audience doing this for the rest of the song, all of which could be viewed on two of the large screens suspended above. It made for some very funny moments and a great part of the show.

Another show highlight was the performance of White Wedding. We were treated to a stripped down acoustic version of this song with just Idol and Steve Stevens on the stage. But fear not for those who wanted to hear the rockin’ version of this hit, about half way through Stevens traded his acoustic for an electric and the rest of the band joined in to proceed with the song as we remembered it in the 80s.

Idol has not changed much over the years. He has aged a little (just a little), but he looked to be in great shape and can still hold his own on the vocals. He had the crowd into that night and gave an awesome performance.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Concert Review, Def Leppard live in Ottawa, Ontario

Def Leppard performing at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ontario.

Ottawa, Ontario and a sold out capacity crowd at Scotiabank Place was the scene for this stop on Def Leppard’s current tour. A crowd of a reported 13 000 eagerly awaited for the lads as the crew put the final touches on Def Leappard’s stage after supporter Billy Idol finished his set. The stage had a catwalk on the front that extended through the first several rows and a large catwalk elevated behind with Rick Allen’s drums in the center. There were several mics placed around the set allowing the band to move all over the large stage, which they did energetically throughout the night.

The house lights faded and a large screen, which stretched the entire length of the set from behind the stage, worked through an impressive visual display of images from the band’s early career up to the current Songs from the Sparkle Lounge release. All the while a guitar solo played through until the images ceased, and after brief moment of silence, a spotlight fell on vocalist Joe Elliot, and he simply proclaimed - “guitars”. At that point a power chord from Phil Collin was struck and it was back to Joe to declare - “drums”. That cued Rick Allen and within moments the band were belting out the first number of the night, Rocket, from the Hysteria album. The large screen continued to flash between various visually appeasing images, as well as the boys themselves as they energetically moved around the stage. An extensive light show also ensued and continued throughout the night. The tone was pretty much set for the evening.

The band, as expected, gave the crowd what they wanted. All the well known numbers from Hysteria and Pyromania, their two most successful albums, were there. The band has been known for being steady on performing these songs over the years and continuingly giving the people what they want. However, I was hoping to also hear some tracks from their latest release, their best effort in years in my opinion. And they did not disappoint in this department either giving three tracks in total from the new album. First up was the current single from the new album, C’mon C’cmon. It was met with a decent response as Joe did manage to get the crowd singing along in parts of the chorus. Shortly after the band played the lead off track from the new disc, Go, which did not get a great response from the crowd. Perhaps the best received new song of the night was Bad Actress, their first encore number. It went over well and sounded great performed live. Notably missing was the first single from the new album, Nine Lives.

One of the highlights occured midway through the night when the band performed a brief acoustic set performing Two Steps Behind and Brining on the Heart Break. Another highlight for me was the performance of Switch 625. For those unfamiliar, this is a great rockin’ instrumental number from their second release, High and Dry. I always loved this track and it was awesome to hear it live.

The show did not disappoint, the band once again looked like they were having a great time on stage and they sounded fantastic. Joe’s vocals held up through the show. He did appear to have some trouble with the highs on some songs, but he sounded just fine on more. The most impressive of the night were guitarists Phil Collin and Vivian Campbell. Their playing was tight and they looked as cool as ever on stage.

My only two slight criticisms of the show were as follows. At times I felt the sound was a bit too heavy on the base. However, it was only slight, and did not take away from the performance for me. Secondly, although Joe Elliot displayed about as much energy as he had 20 years ago and was as impressive as ever on stage, he did not interact with crowd much in between numbers. Like my first Def Leppard concert in ’92, for the most it was one song after another. I always enjoy a story or two from the band in between the music. It creates a kind of personal connection with the artists that you cannot get from a recording.

The band has been known for the live performance over the years and on this night it was easy to why. A 30 to 40’ish year old crowd sang along, danced and cheered loudly through the night. It was a great performance and fantastic night all round.

Here was the setlist in order: Rocket, Animal, C’mon, C’mon, Foolin’, Make Love Like a Man, Go, Love Bites, Rock On, Two Steps Behind, Brining on the Heartbreak, Switch 625, Hysteria Armageddon It, Pour Some Sugar on Me, Rock of Ages. Two encore numbers were Bad Actress and Let’s Get Rocked.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On the list and on vacation.

Hey everyone! I am heading off for a brief vacation, so no blog updates until the middle of next week. But thanks to everyone for visiting, I am really enjoying doing this and hearing from anyone who has left comments or emailed. A vacation wouldn’t be a vacation without some music in there somewhere. I’ll get the opportunity to check out Def Leppard this weekend and when I get back will have a post on the show. In the meantime I’ll sign out with a few notes, which may, or may not, interest you.

On the list of cool things to do I if you have the money and the time is the Pink Floyd cruise, being called the Great Gig in the Sea, setting sail to the Bahamas in May 2009. It will not feature any actual members of the band, but nightly performances from Think Floyd, the number one Pink Floyd production company in the United States. The cruise will also feature screenings of The Wall, trivia, games and more. Check out the Great Gig in the Sea website for details.

On the list of things to read is Steven Tyler’s autobiography, which he is set to pen. Rolling Stone reports that it will be the story of Steven’s career comeback. I guess he has to focus on the comeback because he probably can’t remember much about the early stages of his career. It should be an entertaining read.

On the list of upcoming things to watch is a new concert DVD from Bon Jovi set to be released by the end of 2008. My wife is the biggest Bon Jovi fan and I am guessing this one is going to be released just in time for the holiday season. Which also means I already know one item I will be purchasing for her. The DVD will feature footage from their last two nights of the Lost Highway tour at Madison Square Garden. We almost attended one of these shows, but our vacation plans had to be pushed back to August. So instead we will be catching Def Leppard, which is actually my preference. Lucky me!

All the best everyone. I’ll be back next week.

Danko Jones' Never Too Loud Review

Canadian rockers Danko Jones are back with their newest release titled Never Too Loud. I was looking forward to this one, as I had come to like the sounds of this band over the last few years. For those who may be unfamiliar, they are a hard rock trio from Canada who formed in the mid 90’s and have been flirting with mid level success ever since. Their music is hard-hitting, no-nonsense and fun rock. They sing about girls, relationships, being on the road and are a great party band. Not a party band in the sense of Poison, but a party band with more of a heavier edge.

After playing their newest recording off and on for about a month now, I can now safely say that I am a little disappointed. The album starts off with some great tracks. Code of the Road, City Streets and Still in High School all work for me in typical Danko Jones’ fashion. The next track on the disc is a bit of a departure from the rest and is an acoustically driven upbeat fun song called Take Me Home, which I also enjoy. However, somewhere close to the middle of the record, I start to lose interest. The songs all kind of blend together for me and nothing stands out. They are mediocre tracks at best and I don’t see myself having the desire to play this one from start to finish anymore.

However, I still recommend checking this band out if you are unfamiliar with their music. Perhaps start with some of their previous releases, such as Sleep is the Enemy, We Sweat Blood or Born a Lion. And there are also at least a few tracks on this one worth checking out. Grade C+.

Favorite Tracks: Code of the Road, City Streets, Still in High School, Take Me Home

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Van Halen Thoughts

This self titled Van Halen debut remains my favorite of their many recordings.

Van Halen is up there on my list of favorite bands. But not so much the Sammy Hagar Van Halen, it was the David Lee Roth years that I enjoyed the most. To me, the band never recorded a great amount of strong material during the Sammy Hagar years. I did think their first effort with Sammy, 5150, was a great album, but after that I didn’t embrace their other releases. And I tried; I had them all and wanted to love it. All the albums had their moments, but none were raised to the level of my affection of their previous material.

I also found the solo releases of David Lee Roth to be the same. They all had some tracks I enjoyed, but didn’t come close to the original Van Halen albums.

I paid least attention to Van Halen during the brief Gary Cherone era. I remember when news broke that the former Extreme lead singer would be joining the band. I thought Extreme had released some good albums and Gary’s vocals were solid. However, when this Van Halen album came out, titled Van Halen III, it seemed to pass everyone by without much notice. I owned it, but found myself not really even giving it a chance or listening to it very much.

Finally, the much talked about reunion happened and Dave rejoined the rest of the clan for a very successful tour. Well, the rest of the clan minus bass player Michael Anthony who was replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang. There have reports of a rift between Eddie and Michael since the Van Halen III recording session. Although many die hard Van Halen fans would have liked to have seen the original lineup together again, apparently young Wolfgang held his own just fine keeping up with his Dad and company.

The David Lee Roth reunion was a great success, their highest grossing tour to date. Still, what I would love to see is Michael back in the band, a new album recorded and a world tour to boot. Hey, how about a tour with both Hagar and Roth, where the band performs a set with each. Well, that would be dreaming for most Van Halen fans and probably one of the most unlikely things to ever happen in rock. I'll take another tour with Dave that hopefully I can get a chance to see next time round.

While we’re on the subject, here are my top 10 favorite Van Halen songs:

10. Jamie’s Crying, from the very successful self titled debut
9. Best of Both Worlds, from Sammy’s debut with the band, 5150
8. 5150, title track off Sammy’s debut
7. Runnin’ With the Devil, Great lead off track from their debut album
6. Ain’t Talking bout Love, Like so many Van Halen songs, hooks you in with a great riff. Also from their fantastic debut album
5. Drop Dead Legs, Great song from the wildly successful 1984 album. This album was also David Lee Roth’s last full length recording with the band.
4. Panama, One of 1984’s popular singles.
3. The Cradle will Rock, Great lead off track from the album Women and Children First.
2. Hot For Teacher, The lead in drum intro, the guitar and Dave all sound great on this one. It’s another single from 1984.
1. Unchained, A solid heavy rocker from the album Fair Warning, which was actually one of their least successful releases with David Lee Roth.

Unfortunately, I did not see Van Halen’s most recent tour with David Lee Roth and Wolfgang Van Halen, but would love to hear from anyone who has.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Some albums to look forward to

Wow – lots up upcoming releases that I am looking forward to listening to and reviewing. Much of the information below comes from my own daily readings from various websites, magazines, etc. In some cases, I’ve picked up info from some of the excellent blogs listed to the right, be sure to check them out. Credit is given in each of those cases.

In any event, here are some CDs that I look forward to spinning.

Sometime before the end of the year, the much anticipated new ACDC album should be on the shelves. They have been recording in Vancouver and it will be their first release since Stiff Upper Lip back in 2000. It sounds strange to say ‘back in 2000’ doesn’t it? According to Rolling Stone the new single titled Rock and Roll Train should hit the airwaves later this summer. Even more exciting than the new album, Rolling Stone also reports that ACDC will kick off a massive 18 month world tour on Halloween in Chicago. Perhaps somewhere during their travels and mine, I will get the opportunity to take in the show.

This fall Metallica’s latest release, titled Death Magnetic will be available. It is said to be a return to a heavier and speed metal style. I enjoyed Metallica’s ‘less heavy’ records, but am looking forward to this return to speed too. The album is set to be released in September. There is a lot of hype surrounding it, and a lot of anticipation from various sources claiming it is their best work in years. Apparently, the lead off single can be compared to the song One from the And Justice For All album. One is my favorite Metallica song and the track that got me into to metal in the first place. Can’t wait to hear it!

Queen and Paul Rodgers
This collaboration has been happening live for a few years, but now the former Free and Bad Company singer and the legendary Queen are set to release a new studio album in October. It will be interesting to see what type of new songs this merger will bring.

Another chapter to the legendary band’s career will begin in November with the release of their new album. I am sure another world blockbuster tour will follow, and another one I would like to see. Thanks to Layla’s Classic Rock Faves for this tip.

Thanks to Night Watcher’s House of Rock for the tip that these 80’s rockers will be releasing a new album later this fall. Tesla have made a bit of resurgence in the new millennium. They had a couple good rockin’ recordings in the 80’s that I enjoyed, The Mechanical Resonance and The Great Radio Controversy. They have also often been credited with starting the whole unplugged phenomena with their 1990 release The Five Man Acoustical Jam. Their newest effort will be available in November.

Guns N’ Roses??
I put a question mark on the end of this new Guns N’ Roses release, titled Chinese Democracy, because I am not sure what the latest is on the saga of this much talked about recording. There has been much speculation and anticipation surrounding this album. Not the original lineup of Guns N’ Roses, but Axl Rose and his current band apparently have this one in the books. There have been reports that the album, that has been a long time in the works, has reached production costs of upwards of 13 million dollars! After several reported attempts, for one reason or another, its release keeps getting delayed. After Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, which I thought was fantastic, I paid little attention and didn’t think too much of their other recordings. But I must admit, with all the drama having played out here, I am looking forward to seeing what Axl has in store for us on Chinese Democracy.

Speaking of Guns N’ Roses, their former lead guitarist, Slash, is working on his first ever solo album. His current band, Velvet Revolver, is searching for a new lead singer. In the mean time, Slash is working on the solo project. Should be very interesting to see what Slash has to offer here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

My Favorite Metal Bands

I love Heavy Metal, but I was a little late embracing this genre. Through the 80’s I was into the glam metal and the hair bands, but didn’t discover my love of true heavy metal until the latter part of the decade. I purchased Metallicia’s And Justice For All in 1988 and fell in love with the album. From there I started venturing out in to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, among others. I still listened to all the other forms of music I had previously enjoyed, but added Heavy Metal to the list of musical styles that suited my personal taste.

I often have to defend metal more than other genres. There are those I have encountered who just can’t understand my fascination with this form of music. I try to explain that I love the energy, the lyrics and the unpredictability of a metal song. When listening to a metal song, you are often not sure what direction it will take, as it often doesn’t follow the formula of a ‘normal’ rock song. Sometimes, the number of riffs could be removed from one good metal song to make 3 or 4 rock songs.

Here are my five favorite metal bands.

5. Edguy
Hailing from Germany, they are the newest band on my list. They do borderline metal/hard rock and even have a touch of hair band sound in them. However, I clearly rank them as a metal band. They have lots of energy, great lyrics and big choruses. Perhaps the reason why I like them so much is because they sound like such a great blend of all my favorite musical styles.

Favorite Album: Rocket Ride. If you heard this album only, you would likely classify Edguy as a hard rock band. A close second for me is Hellfire Club. Their newest disc is due out in November.

4. Gamma Ray
Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter left an awesome metal band, Helloween, in the late 80’s to form another awesome metal band, Gamma Ray. They first appeared on the scene in the early 90’s when I was really embracing metal as hair bands were fading fast. Grunge was taking over, and although I bought into it somewhat, I still preferred the sounds of such bands as Metallica and Megadeath at the time. Gamma Ray came along at just the right time for me and has released a string of great albums since.

Favorite Album: No World Order released in 2001 is my favorite Gamma Ray effort from start to finish.

3. Metallica
These guys were the first for me. They have a wealth of great material. They have received some criticism from metal fanatics for becoming too commercial over the years. I am not so hard on them, even if the music was a little more commercial, it was still metal and Metallica moved it right into the mainstream.

Favorite Album
: And Justice For All is still my favorite. Contains the great song One, which has a great music video, which is based on a great book called Johnny Got His Gun.

2. Judas Priest: They have been called metal gods and are one of the most influential acts of the genre. Few bands do it better, and many would argue that no one does. Famed singer Rob Halford had a lengthy hiatus from the band in which they continued to record and tour. However, with Halford’s return in recent years, the band is back as great as they ever were.

Favorite Album: Angel of Retribution. With the many fantastic albums they have put out over the years, I am putting this 2005 release at the top. It marked Halford’s return and one of the best metal albums I have heard from start to finish in a long time.

1. Iron Maiden
One of my all time favorite bands - period. They embrace everything I think is wonderful about Heavy Metal. I enjoy every Iron Maiden album; there is not one that I would give a poor rating. Famed vocalist Bruce Dickinson has also released some strong solo efforts too, all of which I think are great. I even like Dickinson’s first solo album Tattooed Millionaire, which was criticized for being a departure from metal. The band continues to thrive and perform in front of large crowds worldwide. And they are on top of my list of concerts I want to attend.

Favorite Album: It is tough for me to pick a favorite Maiden album, but I’ll go with Number of the Beast.