ROCKS VEGAS Kiss (Eagle Rock) ****
Picked this one up at HMV the day it came out, the Blu-Ray/ single CD package. Rocks Vegas is Kiss’s first KISS live set since 2010 and the final instalment of their Kissology DVD series, and it’s a beast.
For those who whine that it’s not Kiss without Ace & Peter, Kiss Rocks Vegas should shut them up. The turgid opening cut Detroit Rock City aside, the playing is hard and spirited. The standards aside, we’re also treated to several tracks from Creatures of The Night plus Parasite, an unexpectedly heavy version of Tears Are Falling and a rearranged version of Lick It Up that includes a bit of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.
Production by lead guitarist Tommy Thayer is thick and juicy, and the Blu-Ray is a blast to watch- much moreso than the gig I was actually at in Edmonton in 2013 where I was bored by the halfway point. The CD is the rock concert itself, and the Blu-Ray also includes a pre-show acoustic performance with 6 tracks. This package makes it definitely okay to dig Kiss again.
ESSENTIALS: Lick It Up, Tears Are Falling, Parasite, War Machine
THE PARTY’S OVER Prophets of Rage (Universal) *****
An EP from a hip-hop super group including most of Rage Against The Machine plus Chuck D, B Real and DJ Lord. I’m not a rap guy but checked this out anyway because I’m interested in anything Tom Morello does- and it’s fuckin’ great.
The Party’s Over is 2 new studio tracks produced by Brendan O’Brien and 3 live cuts produced by Greg Collins. It’s basically a rock project with rap vocals and it’s a powerful, irresistible combination. The music is like being in a fist fight, and the forceful lyrics grab you by the throat and say “Hey, it’s time to take this shit seriously”.
Rock & roll used to be the music of protest and change before it got soft, then hip-hop took up the challenge. What I hear Prophets Of Rage saying in this potent mix is “things are fucked up, and that’s gotta change”- I can only hope people are ready to listen.
ESSENTIALS: The Party’s Over, Prophets Of Rage
BRINGING SATAN DOWN The Vaudevillian (Busted Flat Records) **
When you look at the title of this album and the name of the band, it conjures up a certain expectation of what you are about to hear from this trio. It’s definitely an acquired taste, and how much you enjoy this will depend very much on your fondness for vaudeville.
Bringing Satan Down is like time travelling back to the roaring twenties and thirties, around the end of prohibition, as the band uses everything from washboards to car horns to kazoos to entertain. The performances are joyous and energetic as they roll out one blues/ ragtime gem after another- it’s almost as if they’re daring you not to have a good time.
If I was sitting in a grimy pub somewhere guzzling cheap beer and watching these guys play I’d be having a helluva time… but just sitting in the basement listening to Bringing Satan Down on the stereo, not so much. I appreciate their commitment to the ideal, though- this disc needs to be heard at the right time in the right circumstance. Leon Redbone would love this.
ESSENTIALS: Bootlegger’s Blues, Dry Bone Shuffle, Grind So Fine
SOUTH LOUISIANA BLUES Smoky Greenwell (Greenwell Records) ***
A taste of Louisiana blues from The Big Easy. Smoky, a former member of War, is one of the best harp players I’ve heard in all the years I’ve been into the blues and this, his 11th album, is a groovy pleasure.
A dozen songs here on SLB, with 4 originals and the others coming from blues musicians with deep ties to South Louisiana. Smoky and his band have been working the New Orleans scene for decades, and the guests invited into the studio include some of the top tier guys on the scene. There’s a tightness in the playing that exhilarating, on the classic stuff as well as the more recent tunes.
Smoky Greenwell’s lead vocals are probably the weakest link here. He’s not a terrible singer by any stretch, but his voice isn’t anywhere near as expressive as his harp playing… might not have been a bad idea to get somebody that could really dig in and tear it up. Even so, South Louisiana Blues is mighty tasty and is a disc I will return to often.
ESSENTIALS: The Hunch, Let’s Work Together, You Can’t Take it With You
RAIN Lew Jetton & 61 South (Coffee Street Records) *** ½
Think a little SRV with Cajun spice, and you’ve got the 3rd release from Lew Jetton & 61 South. Rain is raw, emotional, well played and meticulously produced.
As a singer Jetton is a smoky cross between Gregg Allman and Darius Rucker. Lew Jetton’s guitar work has been called “southern fried Chicago blues” by Real Blues Magazine, and that’s what you’re about to hear on this disc. The 5 other guys in the band give him just the support he needs, whether it’s on the cheeky opening cut Who’s Texting You or the slow burning, glorious remake of John Hiatt’s Feels Like Rain. Though it’s only their 3rd album these guys have been around for more than 20 years, and it shows in the way they play together.
Previous music by this band has been featured on Sirius XM’s “Bluesville” channel (my favourite, #70 in my wife’s truck) and it’s a safe bet that they’ll be all over Rain as well. This tasty mix of boogie ‘n’ southern fried blues is destined to have a long shelf life.
ESSENTIALS: Feels Like Rain, Who’s Texting You, Sandy Lee, Glory Train
MIRRORWORLD Serious Black (AFM) ***
Aggressive, dramatic metal music from this young German band- and I wouldn’t expect anything less. For only their 2nd album, Mirrorworld is a mature piece of work.
The official label for this, according to the bio, is “melodic power metal” and for once there is truth to that, though ‘progressive’ wouldn’t be out of place here. Hard charging guitars blasting over some tasty double kick drumming with symphonic keyboard touches are a compelling mix here. Singer Urban Breed has a powerful and versatile voice, and guitarists Bob Katsionis and Dominik Sebastian are the most exciting players I’ve heard in this genre in a while, taking the twin lead guitar attack to a whole new level.
Mirrorworld may very well be the record to break Serious Black out of the European circuit and put them on stages across the world. For a band only on their second record, I’m impressed- their extensive live schedule across Europe has forged them into an extremely tight unit, and their songs are catchy as well as powerful. Success is theirs for the asking.
ESSENTIALS: As Long As I’m Alive, Dying Hearts, Mirrorworld
BLUES REVIVAL Kat Riggins (Bluzpik Media Group) *****
Kat has one of the best blues voices I’ve ever heard, in the same league as Etta James and Koko Taylor. This, her new album, is blues perfection.
“It’s about the raw emotion in every note” Kat says about her singing. “If I can move someone to feel what I feel when I sing a song, then it’s all worth it”, and you feel it as soon as Blues Revival begins to play. Kat’s powerful vocals are backed by a band that knows how to swing and get down; Darrell Rains on lead guitar is like BB King, George Caldwell takes that bass for a walk, and drummer Doc Allison is a groove master.
All but two of these ten tracks (Change Is Gonna Come, Blues Is My Business) are originals as Riggins and her guys combine traditional blues with elements of gospel and southern rock with occasional glimpses of hip-hop, and every single track is dripping with soul. One listen to Blues Revival and there can be no doubt that Ms. Riggins is the real deal- I wouldn’t change a single note.
ESSENTIALS: Wail Away, Murphy’s Law, Change Is Gonna Come
BRAND NEW MAN Lee Delray (JAC) *****
Oh man, fans of great song writing and blistering blues guitar are just gonna eat this one up. BNM is Lee’s 2nd album, and it’s a stone cold killer.
Delray had lots of influences growing up in NYC and that shows in the tracks with hints of country, soul, doo-wop, rock and funk, blues (of course), and even hip-hop. “There will always be blues purists” Lee says. “I’m a purist, but only to a point. The blues has to evolve in order to survive. I want younger generations to groove on the blues like they did back when Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were doing it.” It’s hard to please everyone at the same time but dammit, Delray comes so close here we gotta call it a win.
Brand New Man is a rugged, in your face blues experience that I wouldn’t miss for the world. Delray’s guitar playing has an SRV intensity to it, and the band as a whole attacks each song with such relish is hard NOT to bob your head and keep saying “yeah!” GREAT stuff.
ESSENTIALS: Meet My Maker, First String Man, Mine All Mine, Grinnin’ In Your Face
ONE SIDED WAR Michael Sweet (Rat Pak) **** +
Stryper’s main man steps out with his hardest hitting solo disc yet. If classic metal/ hard rock is your thang, One Sided War is a genuine thriller.
I’ll let Mike explain the record; “Musically it’s my heaviest solo album. It’s not thrash metal but there are some songs that have a bit of the Iron Maiden/ Dio feel to them, as well as some songs that have a little bit of a Van Halen influence to them.” And boy does his solo band have chops to spare- guitarist Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), drummer Will Hunt (Evanescence), plus bassist John O’Boyle and east coast shredder Ethan Brosh.
Sweet’s ‘other band’ Stryper has been around forever but are a recent discovery for me. Their last couple of albums (No More Hell To Pay, Fallen) brought me around and, as much as I love those records, this one is even better. From the opener Bizarre, the songs are urgent and propulsive, and the production is as dense and volcanic as you would want a metal record would be. One Sided War is absolutely crushing.
ESSENTIALS: Radio, One Sided War, Who Am I, Can’t Take This Life
NO FILTER Michael Kaeshammer (In dependent) *** ½
Wow, this is the 11th (!) album from this Canadian jazz pianist/ singer/ songwriter. Excellent playing and well crafted melodies makes this a good time.
No Filter is a deliberate title as Kaeshammer follows his muse without regard to commercial imperatives or commercial constraints. “The songs here are just things I wanted to write” Mike explains. “If they sound as if they have been influenced by a lot of different things, then that is just the way it is. To me, it just sounds like my music.” From the hard charging Letter From The Road that opens to ballads like Late Night Train, there’s a lot to take in.
No Filter is impeccably produced by Kaeshammer, and special guests include Randy Bachman, who adds some sweet guitar work to Everybody Catches Love Sometimes. It’s a wonderfully entertaining record melodically, lyrically and sonically. Of his creative process Michael says “Unless a song is an instrumental, it always starts with the lyric. I begin in a stream of consciousness style… the song rather writes itself after you get started.” Gotta like that attitude.
ESSENTIALS: Late Night Train, Letter From The Road, Sweet Grace