Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Ace Frehley – Space Invader

August 18th, 2014
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Kiss’ original spaceman, Ace Frehley is back with a new solo album that he promises will make ex-bandmates Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons “look foolish” for saying he was not in playing shape (“not fit to wear the Kiss uniform,” is the quote). So the question stands, does Frehley deliver? The answer is, actually, yes. If the standard is “fit to wear the Kiss uniform,” Space Invader is heads and shoulders above Kiss’ last album Sonic Boom.

acefrehley_spaceinvader1500pxWhat Frehley has always done well, playing inside the groove, allowing the song to shine and not overpowering the song with his guitar playing, he does very well here. From the title track and first single, Space Invader, to an addictive an groovy version of Steve Miller’s The Joker, to Starship, the seven-minute instrumental that closes the album, there’s no weak spot in terms of songwriting on Space Invader. True to his word, Frehley’s performance is good throughout: listen to the hot little solo on The Joker and ask yourself if it sounds like a guy who no longer has the goods?

As a vocalist, Frehley has always been a good, not great singer. But he manages to stay within his range and gives a good vocal performance throughout Space Invader. In fact, in can be argued Frehley is in better voice than his former bandmates these days, and may be in better voice than Gene Simmons ever was.

That said, this is a good, not great collection of songs. There is no Nothin’ to Lose, Duece or Firehouse (to pull three songs at random off of my running setlist) on Space Invader. All 12 songs are enjoyable, but there’s no standout song to make you run to the record store. Ace Frehley has put together a solid rock ‘n’ roll record, no small feat it seems in 2014. But it’s not Kiss circa 1975

Space Invader will be released on August 19th in CD, vinyl and digital download.

Kiss Army, Record Release, Review

Review: Claire London – Like a Machine.

October 16th, 2011
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The world of female singers these days is stuffed full of pretty girls on auto-tune. It becomes a frustrating experience trying to weed through more and more of the same old.

clairelondonalbumcoverThe first song I heard on Claire London’s Like a Machine was Basket Case, a song loaded with soulful blues and a rap bridge. First impression, pretty good. Second impression, rap? Yet Claire London had a rapping style that let her get away with it. Sexy and sultry, Basket Case is a dangerous sounding song.

But the album isn’t all rock/blue/soul in sexy voice. Every other song on the disk sounds like a compromise with the record company, just another generic song in a generic age.

When London breaks the shackles of what female singers are supposed to sound like in 2011, the album soars. It is musically diverse, and she is a singer of rare quality. The slow blues of Another Side, a Cat Stevens style acoustic song, complete with two part vocal counter-play with herself in the coda, super sexy Basket Case, reminiscent of Allanah Myles Black Velvet, with a rap where the guitar solo should go. What if we Started a Fire, another acoustic guitar piece that perfectly blends voice, lyric and guitar. Nowhere at All, London’s voice soars over a piano and cello, creating pure beauty. Their all dynamic songs graced with musicality and vocal prowess.

But Like a Machine has it’s share of weak songs: Color Me, more electronic than musical, Diary of a Mad Woman, Space Queen and Burning Daylight are attempts at a dance music that is nothing more than an average Beyonce or Madonna song, neither worthy of hearing twice.

The weak music in Like a Machine give it commercial potentiality, some street cred on a broken street. But there’s enough of the other to make Claire London’s debut album interesting and worth the listeners time.

In short, when she’s good, she’s very good, when she’s bad, she’s Madonna.

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Music Review: Sophie Milman – In the Moonlight

September 21st, 2011
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I’m not, as a rule, a jazz fan. I’ve given it a fair shake, even had a turn at playing jazz in my younger days, and it never took. It’s just not for me. sophiem_coverThere are, however, exceptions: I like the 40’s bebop, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other classic jazz. I also like the sultry female singers. Give me a sexy sounding diva cooing how she’s got the Fever, I’m there. From Billie Holliday to Diana Krall, the girls have a real tendency to make jazz I can listen to.

Sophie Milman comes from the latter school of jazz. The Russian born, Toronto based, singer’s 4th album, In the Moonlight has a full slate of jazz and pop standards showing off her sultry vocal chops throughout.

From The Beatles (’Til There Was You) to The Duke (Prelude to a Kiss), covering Gershwin’s Do It Again and Antonio Jobim’s No More Blues, Milman covers the full range of styles without ever leaving the romantic jazz oeuvre.

Throughout In the Moonlight, Milman’s voice is it‘s great asset, giving the songs a light sexy touch. She has a voice I can listen to all day, but that lets the songs shine. And while it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, it’s one of the better examples of the vocal style. For that, the album is one of the better examples of the slow, romantic jazz style.

If you’re looking for romance, a background as a Prelude to a Kiss, you wouldn’t be going wrong putting on Sophie Milman’s In the Moonlight.


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Music Review: Alec Gross, Strip the Lanterns.

September 15th, 2011
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Dancing Music, the first song on Alec Gross’ inaugural album, Strip The Lanterns, begins with a small classical guitar like intro: a Sor Etude perhaps, quickly morphing into Dan Fogelbergs Leader of the Band. Alec Gross hasn’t sung a line yet, and I’m hooked. This is gorgeous.

So put on dancing music, and I’ll lead soft and slow,
put on your mother’s necklace, the one you wear for show.
And I’ll put on a younger me, the one you used to know.
Tonight we will remember us, before we both grew old.

And while it is a beautiful piece, lyrically and musically it gives you pause to worry too. Is this it? Is it going to be an album of slow, pretty songs, nice to listen to, great to fall asleep too.

Dancing Music ends with a blast from a horn section, leading directly into If You Don’t Mind, and the worries disappear. More up-tempo, steel string acoustic, pedal steel slipping in underneath the fine vocals, a blues harp solo. No, boredom won’t be a problem with this album. And yet it ends with that bit of guitar again, that Sor, like a leitmotif, comes back into end the song. So, a concept album, then?

Gross himself calls his song-writing Cinematic Americana, and it is indeed a concept album – although if it has a leitmotif it should properly be called rock opera. The story of a fictional mid-western gas station attendant, Strip the Lantern is not a throwback, doesn’t sound like it came from the 70’s. Rather it is the best of modern albums, carrying the concept album tradition into the singer/songwriter genre with grace and fluidity.

It’s an album I hope they have released on LP: I can see myself curled up on the couch, side 1 playing, following along with the words, studying the liner notes for that little joke, reading what kind of guitars and harmonicas Alec Gross plays. It lends itself to an amount of study, seems like it would be worth the effort.

Whether it’s the up-tempo Just a Little Girl, with double stop lead guitar and is sing along melody, or So In Love With You, returning to the horns of If You Don’t Mind, and the leitmotif popping up in the piano, the Fender Rhodes sound in the Band-like Burning Grounds, Strip the Lanterns is a collection of good songs, weaved together in a lovely album.

It’s always a fools game to predict a career based on a debut album, but I’ll be watching for new Alec Gross with expectation in the future based solely on how much I like Strip the Lantern.

Review, Weekend Magazine ,

LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour: Review II

November 24th, 2010
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LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour

LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour

I’m a portion of the way through LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour, Stephen Davis’ new autobiographical read on Led Zeppelin’s 1975 tour of America and, more broadly speaking, Led Zeppelin’s 1975, and something is bothering me. In 1969 Davis saw Led Zeppelin at Boston’s famed Tea Party, and was impressed by the young, early rockers.

Between then and 1975 he worked as an editor at Rolling Stone (not the whole time), America’s premiere music magazine. So what does Davis do before heading out with Led Zeppelin? Familiarize himself with the Led Zeppelin catalogue. Familiarize himself, because working for the #1 music magazine means not being familiar with the top selling band, the top concert draw of the last five years?

Taking my assignment seriously, I had to familiarize myself with Led Zeppelin’s music… I had never even listened to 1973’s Houses of the Holy

My brother Chris is eight years younger than I. In 1975 he was still in the clutches of ardent Zeppelin fandom. He told me I had to hear the Led Zeppelin bootleg records because the mystical connection between the band and “the kids“ was a bout a communion forged by their intense love shows.

Yes kids, in 1975 you could be one year out of a Rolling Stone editorship and never listened to a Led Zeppelin album that had been #1 on Billboard, Cashbox and the UK album charts. You never need to wonder again why Led Zeppelin so mistrusted the “rock” press.

That Led Zeppelin mistrusted, even hated, the press is an important part of the story of LZ-’75. Stephen Davis was invited to travel with Led Zeppelin, courtesy of Led Zeppelin, in a proactive attempt to get better press for the band. Stephen Davis, in short, didn’t do his job for five years, and was rewarded with the gig of a lifetime. His superior attitude that the stoned kids who liked Led Zeppelin were, “in the clutches of ardent… fandom,” runs throughout the narrative.

Yet for that, LZ-’75 is an enjoyable read. Once Davis has familiarized himself, and given Led Zeppelin’s history up until 1975, the book settles into a nice memoir of the band and it’s extended family.

Because he knew he would be covering Led Zeppelin during part of their 1975 tour, Davis kept newspaper reports of the early days of the tour. Whether it’s the fans in Boston in near riot during the lead up to the tickets going on sale, or the early shows and the various problems they encountered, Davis covers the history of the 1975 tour. But it is when Davis joins up with Led Zeppelin in New York that LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour comes to life. The book shifts from historical record to personal, first person behind the scenes account of the tour.

It is, however, the Los Angeles portion of the tour that makes LZ-’75 worth the money. Whether it is chance encounters with Jimmy Page’s ex-girlfriend Lori Maddox, (“Lori is a legend along Sunset Strip,”) or Ron Wood’s wife Chrissie, “who ran off with Jimmy before the tour started,” (Wood is reported to have asked Jimmy at an after concert party in New York, “how’s our bird?”): The Hyatt House, known as the Riot House; the groupies; the kindergarten teacher who wants to be a groupie, for one night at least; Iggy Pop selling heroin; John Bonham jamming, at full volume, to Alphonse Mouzon’s 1975 album Mind Transplant at 3AM; or Robert Plant on Davis’ hotel balcony, yelling “I am a Golden God!”

Add in an interview with Robert Plant (during which the aforementioned balcony scene occurs), and a meeting in Jimmy Page’s hotel room where the exhausted(?) Page lies around in darkness, the room barely lit with “a dozen white candles.” Davis has a meeting with the kindergarten teacher, The Prairie Princess, and two roadies at the bar.

Outside the Continental Hyatt House, Davis travels with the band on The Starship – including a harrowing trip through a storm, hangs out backstage, examines John Bonham’s drum-kit with Bonham’s faithful roadie Mick Hinton, to the concerts themselves.

LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour is overall, an easy, comfortable read. Many of the stories herein will be familiar to a Led Zeppelin fan, but weaved together they tell an interesting tale of a top flight band at the apex of their career. Their Achilles Heel, drugs, was just beginning to show itself and the band would change irrevocably in the aftermath of 1975.

Dotted throughout with fabulous black and white pictures by Peter Simon, many of them never before seen, LZ-’75 makes a perfect winter’s afternoon read in the big comfortable chair.


I previously reviewed LZ-’75 from an e-book version here.

Crossposted from RambleOn

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Black Country Communion Review

September 14th, 2010

All the work of blogging occasionally pays off, and in most unexpected coin. Through another blog I keep up, Ramble On, I was advanced a copy of the new “supergroup” Black Country Communion’s debut CD. I’ve been listening for four days now, and absolutely love this CD.

My review is in. Be sure to read it all, but here’s some highlights:

I woke up this morning with a part of a song stuck in my head… It is the latter song I can’t shake today. Specifically, it is the part of the song when the band comes out of the chorus: they have built up to a great crescendo, Glenn Hughes voice straining, Marshalls at 11 and they transition to guitarist Joe Bonamassa coming in with a tasty little guitar lick, bringing the band back down a notch. It is such a sweet, melodic little line: one of those moments when the music seems to sigh…

Joe Bonamassa on guitar, Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals, Jason Bonham on drums and Derek Sherinian on keyboards. Each has an impressive pedigree, each shines in their own way on the debut, self titled, album. The rhythm section carry song after song with pounding regularity. Derek Sherinian offers subtle touches of 70’s era keyboards, adding ambiance and feel, never taking over. And Joe Bonamassa is brilliant, his licks imaginative without overplaying…

At 73 minutes long, it would be my normal MO to complain that Black Country Communion is too long, anything over standard LP length of 45 minutes being an extravagance…

… this would be the first album where I would be tempted to give five stars…

As it is, Black Country Communion is the best post-Zeppelin work of anyone associated with Led Zeppelin.

Black Country Communion will be released Tuesday Sept 21

Black Country Communion

1. Black Country 3:15
2. One Last Soul 3:52
3. The Great Divide 4:45
4. Down Again 5:45
5. Beggarman 4:51
6. Song of Yesterday 8:33
7. No Time 4:18
8. Medusa 6:56
9. The Revolution in Me 4:59
10. Stand (At The Burning Tree) 7:01
11. Sista Jane 6:54
12. Too Late For the Sun 11:21

Review, Rockin' and Rollin' and Never Forgettin' , , , , ,

Book Review: Gerry Nicholls- Loyal to the Core: Stephen Harper, Me and the NCC

March 23rd, 2009

Gerry Nicholls first book, the autobiographical Loyal to the Core, begins and ends with his time at the National Citizens Coalition (NCC). Nicholls takes us quickly through his early political leanings (Liberal), to his conversion to conservatism at the University of Windsor and to his postgraduate days at London’s Western University. Chapter two begins his career at the NCC in 1985, which lasted until 2007.

Loyal to the Core

Nicholls discusses learning to keep his writing short, simple and on message, and those lessons serve him well in this book. It is tightly written with not a superfluous word to be found in the 200 plus pages of the text: if somebody offers you an over/under of two for semi-colons/colons in Nicholls’ next tome, take the under. This book reads very much like a long version of any of Nicholls well known columns in the daily newspapers. It is readable and enjoyable.

I took this book with me for a two-day visit at my mother in laws and easily read it in the two days. A true rarity in the world of political books Loyal to the Core is enjoyable and never boring. The reason for this is that Nicholls is one of those rare birds: a backroom player who is not a policy geek. Nicholls doesn’t suffer with the ego of a politician or the boring insistence that policy rules all. Instead Nicholls has a pragmatic approach to match firm convictions about what is right. His communication background means his abiding concern is making a point.

The first half of Loyal to the Core is full of good yarns about the National Citizens Coalition and it’s work through the years. If you have paid attention to Canadian politics over the lasts 20 years, then you will fondly remember many of the campaigns that Nicholls was involved in, including the famed pigs at the trough campaign to highlight MPs “gold-plated pensions”, a term the NCC created.

The juicy part of the book, however, is when Stephen Harper becomes President of the NCC. At this juncture we get an insight into Stephen Harper that is not common, neither flattering nor a partisan slag. It is not, however, a personal hack job either. While there is some personal slags, the insight into Harper’s eating habits, and the fact he was called FB, or Fatboy, by NCC staffers is one, Nicholls description of Harper comes across as honest and thoughtful: a cold and tough boss; a boss who would call the Toronto office at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon (he worked out of Calgary) to make sure his employees where still at their desks; a boss who shut down ‘Friday afternoon drinkfest,’ and banned alcohol from the NCC offices; We see that Harper’s ideas are the law, that he takes council poorly and that he was more interested in policy than the NCC’s more traditional advertising blitzes.

Lest you think this is a Harper slap-down, Nicholls is very fair to the man who promoted him to the Vice Presidency of the NCC, and gave him the title of his first book, noting that Nicholls was “loyal to the core”.

Loyal to the Core is a good read, an interesting look at Gerry Nicholls, Stephen Harper, the NCC and the conservative movement in Canada over the last twenty years. If you are interested in politics, then you should probably read it. If you are a conservative who wonders how conservatives can communicate their message in a hostile media climate, it is a must read.

Order Loyal to the Core, and other Conservative books from Freedom Press.

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