Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CD Review: Manraze, Surreal

I have been curious about this one for a while and a couple of weeks ago I finally got around to picking it up. Manraze is a trio that features Phil Collen of Def Leppard, Simon Laffy (formerly of the 70’s band Girl, which also featured Collen) and Paul Cook (formerly of the Sex Pistols).

The three of these musicians, for the most part, offer us some straight up in-your-face rock and roll. Gone are the overproduced and slick sounds that we are accustomed to hearing from Phil Collen in Def Leppard, this is raw material. And although it’s all fine rock and roll, there are a variety of different styles and influences coming through here.

It opens fast and furious with a great track titled This Is It. From here it moves into the first single, another catchy rock and roll track called Turn It Up. Twenty years ago this would have likely been a huge hit. From here the track Runnin’ Me Up offers a bit of a reggae and groovy feel and it’s also a great song. The next track changes gears again and brings us a smoother pop song called Every Second of Every Day. And that’s what this album is like, different styles coming through on each track, but all in all, three guys giving us great music.

One of the things I like about this album the most is Phil Collen handling the lead vocals as well as lead guitar. He does a great job on both. As for Def Leppard, throughout the album there are times when comparisons can be made. Every now and again a chorus or Collen’s vocals are unmistakably ‘Def Leppard’ish’. But it’s only at times, and this is not Def Leppard 2. Manraze are playing their own sound, and as I said before, it’s far less produced than what would be heard on a Def Leppard album.

Overall, a very solid effort, and from what I have been gathering, it has been getting a lot of great reviews. I’ve always loved Def Leppard and hope to hear a few more albums from them. But I hope Phil Collen can also continue to find the time to do both, because I would love to hear more albums from Manraze too. Grade B+.

Favorite tracks: This Is It, Turn It Up, Skin Crawl, Runnin’ Me Up

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Some Random Weekend Notes

My two passions come together in one. Def Leppard have teamed up with the NHL and will be playing a concert in Detroit as the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup championship banner is raised to the rafters at the team’s home opener. Hockey is also a favorite past time of mine, and Def Lepaard is one of my all time favorite bands. To add additional flavor to the event only one person from my native Newfoundland and Labrador have ever been on a Stanley Cup winning team. And that person is Dan Clearly of this current Detroit championship team. So it seems like an event I really should be at, but….I won’t.

Speaking of Def Leppard, I have been listening to their guitarist’s Phil Collen’s side project, Man Raze’s debut CD. A more detailed review is forthcoming.

I came so close to booking flights and tickets for a weekend in Boston that would have included a Celtics’ game on Friday night, a Bruins’ game on Saturday night, and more importantly an ACDC concert on Sunday night. The timing just wasn’t right, but now ACDC has suddenly moved to the top of the list of concerts I want to see. There are a lot of bands I would like to check out, but right now for the rock spectacle atmosphere there may be no better fit than ACDC.

Speaking of concerts I am less than a month away from seeing Alice Cooper perform live. I have never seen Cooper perform and I am hoping I am in for a treat. This one is titled the Psycho Drama Tour. I am wondering what type of antics and drama we will see unfold on stage. But I am keeping the promise to myself and I am not checking out detailed reviews or YouTube until after the show.

Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham has a new solo CD, titled Gift of Screws that has me intrigued. I have always like Buckingham and this effort is described as a return to rock. Watching Buckingham perform solo is impressive, especially his rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Big Love from the Seven Wonders album. He does this alone with only an acoustic guitar and I’ve seen footage of it from a couple different concerts. It blew me away each time. Buckingham also confirmed in Rolling Stone that there were some talks of Sheryl Crowe joining Fleetwood Mac for a tour to take Christine McVie’s place. They decided against it saying that bringing someone in just to do McVie’s parts would reduce the band to a lounge act. I don’t know, over a long career most bands have to face lineup changes, just like any sports team or place of business. Crowe is an established artist and bringing her in would have made for an interesting mix and tour I think.

That’s all for now. Hope you are all enjoying your weekend. In my part of the world the weather is awesome today, so I think it’s time to get out and enjoy it before winter creeps in faster than I’d like think.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Favorite Ballads

I found this list difficult to put together. I am not a huge fan of ballads, and I think I may be cheating a little here. So someone can feel free to set me straight. Some of the songs on my list may not be true ballads. In rock and roll circles ballads, other than being slowed down, usually have themes of relationships and romance. Some of these songs do not fit that criteria, but there are many definitions of ballads out there. In any event, these are slower songs by rock bands and here are 5 of my favorites.

5. Ride On, ACDC. Question for you. Has ACDC ever recorded another slow song? I love this one. It's unmistakably ACDC, but still so different than most everything else they ever recorded. This slow song perfectly suits the mood if you are tired, wore out, haggard, and just want to crash out for a while.

4. Every Rose Has its Throne, Poison. An eighties classic ballad. I can’t count how many parties I have been at where someone strummed this one out on an acoustic guitar and everyone sang along. Pretty simple stuff too, I’ve seen non-guitar players learn this one in no time. My favorite memory of this song is from the movie Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. When Bill and Ted were asked the meaning of life, they looked at each dumbfounded for a moment and then proclaimed “Every rose has its throne, just like every night has its dawn…..”. Their answer was deemed acceptable. This song was a huge hit for Poison and reached number one. It seemed for a while the thing to do for a hard rock band in the eighties was to release an acoustically driven ballad. Many of them didn’t work for me, but for some reason this one did.

3. Wanted Dead or Alive, Bon Jovi. First question I will ask put forth to you all is this considered a ballad? It’s a slow rocker, but not a romantic one. It’s actually one of my all time favorite songs. Back in the day I loved the video and the lyrics. I still think the song is great.

2. Wheat Kings, The Tragically Hip. The Tragically Hip are known for their hard rock alternative music, but they have put out a few slower numbers that I have enjoyed (Long Time Running, Fiddler’s Green, Pigeon Camera, Scared, Ahead By a Century), but this one tops my list. It tells the true story of a man wrongfully convicted of murder. After twenty years in jail the verdict was overturned and he was released. As a teacher of English, I have often used this one with my students for an example of narrative poetry and the imagery throughout.

1. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Pearl Jam. And the award for the longest song title goes to….Pearl Jam. As a side note does anyone know a song title longer than this one? I lost interest in many of the alternative bands that burst onto the scene in the early nineties, but I did stick with Pearl Jam. From their second release comes this slow haunting acoustic track about….well, an elderly women behind the counter of a small town. Every now and again a song hits you and you can instantly relate to it. Growing up in a smaller town as a child I often visited a small convenience store to buy candy, hockey cards, etc. The same lady served me for years until I left town for the big city and college life. Years later I returned as an adult, only to find the same person serving me. We stared at each other, but didn’t really talk. This song describes that moment to me.

I have put forth a few questions throughout this post, please feel free to answer any of them or share your favorite ballads.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Suprise Element

Thanks to the Internet and my inability to stop snooping around on it, every concert I have attended in the last few years has little to no element of surprise. I remember going to concerts with my friends and fellow rock and roll enthusiasts back in the days before cyberspace. We would spend hours speculating about what the opening number would be, what surprises might occur on the set list and what would be played for the finishing songs and encore.

Now-a-days is a different story. It’s no one’s fault but my own, but every time I go to a concert I know the complete set list and often in the order it will occur. Thanks to YouTube I even know those great little concert surprises, such as a certain song played acoustically or an extended solo. In some ways, it can provide a little more excitement to the show. Before I saw Def Leppard this past summer I checked out the show’s intro on YouTube on a few occasions. It looked great and it built up some great anticipation leading up to seeing it up close and personal. I also knew the set list from start to finish. Although, it was a predicable set list anyway, there would have been a few surprises in there. I would have never guessed they would have played Switch 625, an instrumental song from the High N’ Dry album. I love this song and although I was excited knowing it was coming, it would have also been a great surprise.

So I have resolved that for the next few concerts I attend, I am not seeking out any set lists or any YouTube footage, just as an experiment, to see which experience I enjoy more. I’ll let you know how it works out…if I can keep this promise to myself.

What do you think? Would you prefer/enjoy knowing the details going in or would you rather have the element of surprise?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Should I Board the Rock N' Roll Train?!?!

ACDC’s latest tour is about to get rolling and I want to see it. I thought my traveling for at least the rest of this calendar year was done, but I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of going and seeing this tour. To top it all off I have some friends approaching me about going. I live a very middle class life style and so far this year I’ve traveled and completed major renovations to my house. I am not sure if I can afford to hop on a plane again and head to Toronto or Boston (the two cities we are thinking about seeing them in). But then again, it’s ACDC!!!

As I write I am listening to their new single, Rock N' Roll Train. It sounds like every other song they ever put out…and it’s fantastic. Is there another band out there that has changed the least and remained as popular? To pull this off ACDC must be doing something right!!

Anyone out there planning on seeing them this time round or has seen them in the past?

I shall head back to torturing myslef over this decision. In the meantime, for those about to rock....I salute you!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

They're baaack...

I could keep this review short and sweet by saying, simply put, this album kicks ass! But allow me to elaborate somewhat.

Metallica was the band that first turned me on to metal, and it was their album, And Justice For All, that really did it for me. This recording takes me back to those days. It’s all there, from James Hetfield’s guitar riffs, to Lars Ulrich’s unmistakable drums, all blended together into a collection well crafted epic metal masterpieces. In fact, a lot of these songs are hovering around the 8 minute mark or longer.

The album starts off with an awesome track, That Was Just Your Life. In true metal fashion it starts off with a slow guitar riff, but soon plunges full steam ahead and sets the tone for the rest of the ride. I could go into a detailed description of every song on this one, as they are all great.

I will briefly mention the track, Suicide and Redemption, a great instrumental track clocking in at over nine minutes! I’ve always loved it when bands throw in an instrumental number, and this one delivers!

I will also mention the first single from the record, The Day That Never Comes. I started to hear about this one prior to the album’s release and it has been compared to the song One from And Justice For All. Although I think One may always remain my favorite Metallica song, or one of my favorite songs period, I won’t dismiss The Day That Never Comes either. It is one of the album's ten great tracks!

One of my favorite tracks is All Nightmare Long. It’s another epic masterpiece that hits just under eight minutes. In fact, one of the things I love about this record is the length of the songs. Of the 10 songs here, only one song can be considered short, My Apocalypse, and is in the 5 minute range, but it’s also a decent track.

Metallica fell under a lot of critisim the last number of years, but I was never so hard on them. However, something about this new release just feels right, which makes some of their previous releases feel a bit wrong. On this album Metallica are back, as good, or better than they ever were before. Grade A+

Favorite tracks: The Day That Never Comes, Judas Kiss, All Nightmare Long, Suicide and Redemption

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Heart of Rock and Roll is Still Beating!

Pictured above is a shirt my wife bought me for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. She knows me so well!

Well, life sure has taken a busy turn lately. My updates on here have been scattered as a result. I have my hands on the new Metallica album and have only managed one complete listen from start to finish so far. I usually like to give a few good listens before writing a review, but my early impressions are fantastic. I hope to write more on it sooner than later.

I am also hoping to pick up a copy of Manraze’s Surreal album. This is Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen’s side project, which features drummer Paul Cook formerly of the Sex Pistols and base guitarist Simon Laffy formerly of 70’s glam band Girl, which also featured Phil Collen. The single Turn it Up sounds great and I can’t wait to hear the rest. Hopefully, time will allow me to do so soon.

I have a few other things that I have been putting together and hope to post soon. I have been attempting to put together a list of my favorite rock ballads. I am finding this quite challenging because I never really enjoyed ballads. There are a few that I gave into over the years, and admittedly a lot of them are the cheesy ones from the glory days of hair metal.

So, I’ll be back soon. Thanks to everyone for continuing to drop by. Despite the busy schedule lately, I still plan on keeping this blog alive.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Resistance is Futile!

I don’t want to like it. I am trying to resist it. But…can’t…..fight…..it……any…..longer. I may as well give into that Kid Rock song, All Summer Long. It is so darn catchy and it seems everywhere I turn and hear it, and now I am finally starting to uncontrollably tap my foot to it. I have finally given in to it, I leave it on the radio, turn it up and listen. But still, there is something about it I don't want to like.

As soon as I get my hands on the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic, I’ll be listening and reviewing it here. A lot of buzz about this one and I have been looking forward to it. I’ve mellowed out a little lately and I am in need of a heavy dose of metal!!

Speaking of metal, if you are a fan of the genre, have you ever visited Metal Rules? It’s a great website, one of my favorites on the world of metal.

That’s all for now, will be back later this week with hopefully my thoughts on the new Metallica. Have a good one!

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Worst Rock Songs!

I hesitated to do a post like this. I am never one to criticize anyone for the type of music they like, just because it’s not my thing, doesn’t mean it can’t be yours. Whatever you like, then enjoy it and don’t defend it. Actually one of my pet peeves is when someone doesn’t like a certain song or type of music and make it their mission to try and convince those who do like it why they shouldn’t. Hey, if you don’t like, don’t listen and let those who do crank it loud.

So this post is just meant to be good hearted fun. We all have certain songs our there that for whatever reason make us cringe every time we hear them. Maybe it’s past experience that has mentally blocked you from ever caring to hear them again. Just as there are some timeless classics that will never grow old for you, there are some you can barely stand to stay in the same room while they are being played.

Here are five that I just cannot, never did, and likely never will enjoy. There are some great rock songs on the list, some very popular ones, from some talented artists, but these particular songs do not work for me. I’d be curious to hear from any of you out there with what songs make your list.

Boy I am putting myself out there for some criticism now, but remember, it’s just for fun. Here goes:

Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Meat Loaf. I was never really a fan of any of Meat Loaf’s music to be honest. I am not sure why, it sure is catchy. I can tolerate some of the songs, but not really this one, arguably his signature hit. Where I come from this is a wedding favorite and on many occasions I get nabbed into dancing with someone I don’t want to dance with, to a song I don’t like. And it’s so long!! Oh the horrible memories. How many times have I been in such a situation just waiting for Meat Loaf to “hurry up and decide” because “if I have to spend another minute with him I don’t think I could really survive”. I will give Meat Loaf some credit. I did see him perform as part of a festival and he put off a great live performance!! And yes, for the 60 plus minutes he performed, I may have even been a bit of a fan.

Old Time Rock and Roll, Bob Seger. I like Bob Seger and think he has put out some great rock songs. This one ever stirs memories of a classic scene in a great movie, Risky Business. But it’s one of these old cliché songs for me. You know the more I think about it, the more I realize how much weddings have ruined a lot of music for me. This is another wedding staple. Hmmmm…..maybe this post should have been called wedding music I hate. But then it would also be filled with Celine Dion songs.

Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin. Whoa, if there are any Zeppelin fans reading they are probably wondering what on earth is wrong with me. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Zeppelin, but I am afraid this classic has to make my list. Sometimes a song simply gets worn out for you. I remember learning to play this one on guitar as a teenager. For days on end I would play this over and over thinking “wow, this is great, I can play Zeppelin”. I recall one day while playing thinking to myself – “why am I playing this all the time, I don’t think I even like this song very much”. From that moment on I started to like the song less and less. I always felt it was one of those songs that you are not allowed to hate, which makes me dislike it even more. But fear not Zeppelin fans, they do rock!!!

Hotel California, Eagles. I have to sadly admit that the Eagles were never for me. Again, I don’t dislike them, but I don’t really like them either. I can appreciate why people like their songs and on occasion have played some of them on acoustic guitar myself. However, I would never bother to put on an Eagles song to listen to on my own time. If it’s on the radio I can tolerate it, with the exception of this song. I recall a few weeks back Mike at Mr. Mike’s Media Madness told a story from his youth of an obsessive John Mellencamp fan that he had to endure. I had a similar experience with an obsessive Eagles fan. He wasn’t really a friend, but more of just an acquaintance. He would show up at our parties armed with his Eagles greatest hits cassette and blast it all night. He was one of those types that was oblivious to everyone else around him and didn’t seem the least bit bothered that the rest of us probably didn’t want to listen to this all night. When Hotel California came on he would almost zone out in a trance like state and sing along to this song with his eyes closed as if this was the greatest thing ever written in the history of music. I hate that song because of that guy. And I probably can’t appreciate the Eagles because of him too.

Mony, Mony, Billy Idol or Tommy James and the Shondells. Not much to say here that hasn’t been said above. It is yet another wedding favorite. Picture dancing with your 80 year old Aunt while everyone on the dance floor screams “hey Mother yada yada yada”. It just doesn’t work and creates long lasting detrimental effects that cause me to have unexplainable cold shivers every time I hear this song. However, I did have a positive Mony Mony experience at a Billy Idol concert this summer. Watching Billy Idol roam around the audience passing off the mic to people getting them to sing “the line” was priceless. But that’s it, not the song can go away again.

So what makes your list?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Barenaked Ladies Thoughts and Memories

Barenaked Ladies are back with a brand new…..Children’s album! This new collection of songs called Snacktime probably won’t interest any of you out there unless you have children, and maybe it won’t interest you then. My kids’ one and only uncle dropped by to see them a couple of weeks ago and as he usually does, gives them a little something. This time it was this CD.

On a recent outing we brought this one along in the car and much to the delight of the whole family it was an enjoyable experience. The kids got a kick out of the songs and so did we. Some of the CD’s 24 songs are not that far off a regular Barenaked Ladies lighted hearted tune.

I like Barenaked Ladies for the same reasons I like Great Big Sea, as I mentioned in my previous post. It is pop music they way I think it should be played, by songwriters, using real instruments, with great melodies and vocal harmonies. Barenaked Ladies got their break in Canada when they recorded a version of Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time. At the time, they were not signed to a record label, but the song started to get major airplay across the country. The band toured extensively and quickly gained a reputation for a great live show.

I was still in college at the time and was at the campus bar one Friday afternoon after classes. Waiting for my friends to arrive I decided to have a game of pinball. When I finished the person waiting behind me to play was Tyler Stewart, drummer for the Barenaked Ladies who were in town for a show. I recognized him from the video for the Bruce Cockburn song, which was also getting a lot of play. I struck up a conversation telling him that I really liked their version of the song. He thanked me and asked me if I was going to their show that night to which I replied that I certainly was.

Truth be told, I didn’t even have a ticket and didn’t plan on attending. But when my friends showed up I convinced them that we should check it out and we were lucky enough to get tickets for the second of two shows that weekend for all of nine bucks a piece. We had a great time; the band sounded awesome, were humorous and energetic. I have followed their career ever since.

Of course they went on to a record deal and ten releases later including a Christmas CD, live recordings and the most recent Children’s album. They have been in the news most recently for Steven Paige’s arrest for cocaine possession, ironically on the heels of the Children’s music. I wish Paige all the best and hope the band and gets back with a new recording for us adults and a tour to follow in the future.

Their on stage humor is often reflected in many of their songs, but they do range of music, both serious and funny. Here are my top 10 Barenaked Ladies’ songs:

10. *This is me in Grade Nine. From the album Gordon. A funny little number that takes me back to when I was in grade nine. Especially, the line “I guess I shouldn’t tell them that I like Duran Duran”. At the time a metal head like myself would never admit to liking some of their songs.

9. One Week, Their biggest hit from their biggest selling album, Stunt.

8. Who Needs Sleep? Also from Stunt. Finally, a song about something I have struggled with my whole life - insomnia.

7. Light Up My Room. Although One Week was the huge hit from the album Stunt, there were other great songs on this record, including this one.

6. *Jane. The lead off track from 1994’s Maybe You Should Drive.

5. *The Old Apartment. From 1996’s Born On a Pirate Ship. Moving around from apartment to apartment in my college years, this one was easy to relate to.

4. *What a Good Boy. Another one from Gordon. Barenaked Ladies show off their serious side here with this slow song.

3. *When I Fall. Another great serious slow song. This one from the Born on a Pirate Ship album.

2. Lovers in a Dangerous Time. The Bruce Cockburn cover that really put these guys on the map. It is a great song and one of my favorites to this day.

1. *Brian Wilson, From their first full length recording, Gordon. A great song, but my favorite version is the live version on the album Rock Spectacle.

* More than half of these songs above can all be found on my favorite Barenaked Ladies’ album, a live recording called Rock Spectacle. Although, I’ve indicated This is me in Grade Nine to be there, it is not listed on the track list. They do break into it for a few moments during the song If I Had a Million Dollars. The Rock Spectacle album captures the band at their best and the versions of the songs here are as good or better than the originals.