ALBUM REVIEWS FOR FEBRUARY 7TH, 2016 by John The Rock Doctor

Other than the deluxe reissues by Black Sabbath reviewed in late January, I haven’t written an album review in a couple of months.  I wanted to take a break over the holidays after writing the “Best Of 2015” column, and have been spending recent weeks working hard on my book of rock star interviews.  As a result, CD’s and downloads clamouring for attention are piling up on my desk and in my email.   In an effort to bring everything up to date, I took the last few days to blast through what was on hand for ‘quickie’ reviews.  My apologies to artists and records that deserve more attention, you know who you are.  Well, here we go… DYSTOPIA Megadeth (Universal) **** ½Every now and then, Megadeth veers off course and makes a record with an almost pop melodic sensibility, which they did with 2014’s Supercollider, then they come roaring back with something as hard as nails.  That’s what they’ve done here with Dystopia– after a throat operation Mustaine’s voice is gruffer and bassist Dave Ellefson is, frankly, playing his ass off.  New guitarist, Brazilian Kiko Louriero is the kick in the ass that Dave and Megadeth needed, and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler’s performance is explosive throughout.  The band hasn’t done an album this exciting in YEARS.  Mustaine’s political paranoia is still alive and well too.ESSENTIALS:  Lying In State, Dystopia, Death From Within CATCH ME IF YOU CAN The Carson Downey Band (ZEB) ***A blues disc here with a distinct funk feel and a bit of a jazz edge, kind of like a combination of Robert Cray and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  The playing is excellent and Downey’s leads are sweet and expressive.  If I have a beef, though, it’s that the production is a little too clean, a little too perfect.  I usually prefer my blues with a little more grime and some dirt under the fingernails, but again the playing is great. Catch Me could be one of those records that grows on me over time- we’ll see.ESSENTIALS: Why Do It, I’ve Got Something To Say, Never Met A Woman BLUES GUITAR WOMEN Various Artists (Ruf) *****+Before Christmas I reviewed a double disc set from this label called Blues Harp Women, and in the press write-up I received it also mentioned this set, so I emailed the record company and asked them to send this too- for review, and for use on my radio shows.  Two discs, 29 cuts in all, from a list of chicks that just flat-out wail; including Ruthie Foster, Memphis Minnie, Sue Foley, Rory Block and more.  In the 26 years (as of this month) that I’ve been writing album reviews, this is one of the hottest blues compilations I’ve ever heard.ESSENTIALS:  Woke Up This Mornin’ (Ruthie Foster), Can’t Quit The Blues (Lara Price Band), Fixin’ To Die (Rory Block), In My Girlish Days (Memphis Minnie) WINDOW ON THE WORLD John McKinley (Independent) *****This guy (the band is a trio) really knows how to get your attention, kicking the door right off the hinges with a jet fuelled instrumental called Dirty Nails as track one.  It gets pretty smooth in some places and pretty nasty in others, with John and the guys covering a lot of territory in these dozen tracks.  McKinley’s tone is, I think, often nastier than his band which makes it feel a little unbalanced, but the songs are good, the musicianship borders on transcendent, and the instrumentals are just crazy-good.   This is a band with the talent and balls to do whatever they want and that’s always enjoyable.  Perfection.ESSENTIALS: Dirty Nails, Cuando Yo Me Voy (I’m Outta Here), Stratitude SCARY CREATURES Brainstorm (AFM) ***German power metallers, following up 2014’s Firesoul with a loud, crushing, fearsome slab of heavy metal.  Sort of reminds me of Accept (their German-ness a commonality no doubt), but this doesn’t grab me like Wolf and the guys do.  Big and dramatic to be sure, Scary Creatures is very 80’s in its wall-of-riffage approach.  I like this well enough out of the gate, but perhaps a few more spins are needed to get a full grasp on Scary Creatures.ESSENTIALS: We Are, Twisted Ways HIGH NOON Shakra (AFM) ****The band has mended fences and gotten back together with vocalist Mark Fox and Shakra are really kicking out the jams on their new album.  This is heavy metal in the traditional 80’s sense- melodic with taut, palm-muted riffing, ferocious (but not Cookie Monster) vocals and 4-on-the-floor locomotion that makes you want to throw the horns, pump your fist in the air and scream. A very easy album to get into straight away.ESSENTIALS: Hello (first single), Around The World, The Storm TURN IT UP LIVE!  Riot & The Blues Devils (Iguane/ZEB/ Universal)  *****I didn’t realize how much I missed Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double trouble until I threw this into the CD player.   This is the blues with rockabilly attitude- Riot sings his ass off, and his guitar playing is greasy and without fear.  He goes where angels fear to tread and the band lays in the pocket like a cobra ready to strike.  My only quibble, and it’s a minor one, is that instead of putting the songs together like one gig, they fade out on the applause after each number- though I guess that makes it easier to drop songs into your own road compilations,  This is severely hot stuff- oh MAMA!ESSENTIALS:  Finding The Blues, $150 Hat, I Miss My Woman DRIVING HOME Rick Fines (independent) ****Hard to nail this guy down to one style but one thing’s for sure, listening to this album makes you feel good.  Fines is described as warm-hearted blues, juke joint folk and dockside soul.  His vocal style is warm, friendly and inviting as he roams around through various linked styles without much regard for borders, and his stinging leads are a treat to listen to.  So many things on this album to like there’s no reaching for the ‘skip’ button- you’ll listen all the way through, and then want to hear it again.ESSENTIALS:  Ridin’ The Rails, Buttermilk Falls, The Winds Of Time SONNY BOY GUMBO’S BLUES Pat Loiselle (ZEB) *****+Jeez- every time I listen to an album like this- and it’s happened a lot today-  I miss doing a blues show so much my damaged heart aches.  This disc is just huge, bluesy fun.  “(This) is my first CD, it’s a look back at my first real love in music; old blues from Chess, Vee Jay, Atlantic, Modern and other legendary labels” says Pat, and that love shows. From the Bo Diddley beat that powers the opening track Pretty Thing to the tasty blues harp throughout, it’s an awesome set.  Some Loiselle original sit comfortably with old classics written by Elmore James, Robert Petway, John brim and more- he even covers The Rolling Stones’ No Expectations. Simply a fantastic album.ESSENTIALS:  Pretty Thing, Catfish Blues, No ExpectationsLONG LOST SUITCASE Tom Jones (Virgin/EMI) ****I bought this in November, around the same time I bought Tom’s excellent autobiography.  Released October 9th, this disc follows a similar path to records like Spirit In The Room and Praise & Blame. No Vegas cheese here, just straight up great singing with a vintage sound, the sound of a man that has nothing left to prove.  Even into his 70’s Jones is still a powerful vocalist and these tunes, produced to sound like they come from the 60’s are primal and powerful.  Do yourself a solid and pick up this disc along with the two mentioned above- GREAT stuff.ESSENTIALS: Bring It On Home (yes, the Zeppelin tune), Factory Girl, Elvis presley Blues 7 Seal (Reprise)  *** ½ Also from November this, Seal’s latest album, is a lush affair that explores love and all of its implications, idiosyncrasies and intricacies.  It’s his first album of original material since 2010, and it finds him reunited with producer Trevor Horn. “I tried to capture all of the wonderfully different dynamics of love, whether it’s the anger,  the acceptance, the bliss, the sadness, the elation or the recklessness” he says.  It’s smooth, romantic, well produced and very enjoyable, but doesn’t grab me quite like his early stuff did, and still does.  As my dad would’ve said, this is good belly-rubbin’ music.ESSENTIALS: Every Time I’m With You, Half A heart, The Big Love Has Died INTO THE LEGEND Rhapsody of Fire (AFM) ** ½ The latest from Italy’s symphonic metal Masters (yes, that’s a real genre) is dramatic, pompous and overblown, but extremely well played and enjoyable to listen to.  It feels like a lot of this just sort of goes over my head but I recognize first class musicianship with I hear it, and that band make your average guitar shredder sound like they wear over mitts when they play. This kind of thing is definitely an acquired taste and if I’m being completely honest here, I prefer my metal to be blues based.  Sorry, guys.ESSENTIAL: Into The Distant Sky WAITING FOR JUNE Harlan Wells (Last Tango) *** +This is the sort of album that kind of grabs you by the hand and says “come on in”.  Before the slide acoustic first number (Lonesome Road) was even half done, I had my feet up and was enjoying myself.  Harlan has been playing professionally since he was 15, and this 5 song set was produced by Peter Hamilton (Blue Rodeo, Leonard Cohen, Steve Earle), Waiting For June will certainly find favour with Blue Rodeo fans and those in general that like countrified music with a bluesy edge.  Billboard Magazine praises him as being “very reminiscent of great Canadian singer/ songwriters like Ian Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot”, and that tells you everything you need to know.ESSENTIALS:  Lonesome Road, Every Time It Rains GOODBYE MINE Lost & Profound (Last Tango) *****Described in the press release as “melancholy infused pop/ rock”, there’s a curious comfort and familiarity to the sound of this Toronto area group, kind of a cross between Blue Rodeo and Cowboy Junkies.  “A lot of the sadcore stuff we write gets pulled from reality” says singer Lisa Boudreau of her collaborations with lyricist/ guitarist/ producer Terry Tompkins, and indeed this is a sad sounding album- in a delicate, gorgeous way. “We’re okay with being described as ‘rock Carpenters’” says Tompkins. “Goodbye Mine was produced specifically with the warm, sparse production of the 70’s era in mind.”ESSENTIALS:  Until It Broke, Bad Sister, Goodbye Mine BOOM TOWN Victor Wainwright & The Wildroots (ZEB/ Blind Pig) *** ¾ I suppose the way to describe this is Dr. John and Leon Russell meet Long John Baldry.  Victor has won the coveted Blues Music Award for “Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Of The Year”, and if this disc is any indication his live shows must be a riot.  An energetic cocktail of boogie n blues, Boomtown is an explosive party album, the band is tight as hell, and I can sure believe when American Blues news declares “He is always entertaining and madly talented.  You will never see Victor play a room and not go over with the crowd in a big way.”  These aren’t sad blues at all.ESSENTIALS: Saturday Night Sunday Morning, When The Day Is Done, Piana’s Savannah Boogie ANYBODY LISTENING PART 2: DIALOGUES Cecile Doo-Kingue (Streaming Café) **** +A powerful and raw follow-up to 2015’s acoustic Monologues this, the middle part of a planned trilogy continues the social commentary begun on the first disc while adding disenfranchisement, self-gratification and religious fanaticism, but she also addresses the sweeter side of life on songs like Thankful. This set is also electric, displaying the Montreal-based singer/ songwriter as one of Canada’s great guitarists as she blazes through knuckle-dragging riffage and delicate lead lines.  Mostly tracked and entirely mixed at Bottega Studios in Kelowna, this album is VERY worthy of your attention.ESSENTIALS:  Anybody Listening, Riot & Revolution, Bloodstained Vodka LAST SOUTHERN BELLE Sandy Carroll (Catfood Records) ** ½ This one was a tough call- I really like it musically more than the core indicates, and Carroll is a good songwriter, but as a singer she just doesn’t grab me.  The songs are all about growing up in the south, a fascinating and fertile subject.  “I was a Southern Belle in training” Sandy says.  “I never graduated to full Southern Belle-hood, but those who did were the women of the 50’s and early 60’s- before eyes were opened, before civil rights, before equal rights for women.  It was unhip to be a Southern Belle after that- there were more important things than matching pearls and beauty pageants.  We were on the front lies.”  Last Southern Belle is one of those records that will require more attention and examination than a single spin for me to absorb and appreciate.ESSENTIALS:  Headin’ Out On Empty, The Nothing In Your Eyes, Southern Woman MONKEY BRAIN Sean Pinchin (independent) ****Here is a dirty, grimy, gritty, rockin’ blues record that sounds like a roadhouse with a sawdust floor on a Saturday night, and a worthy follow-up to 2013’s Rustbucket.  Co-written with and produced by Rob Szabo (as was Rustbucket), the songs were recorded quickly and live off the floor, old school, as this type of music should be done. “Here’s a guy who’s been playing onstage 180 shows a year for the last year and it shows” says Szabo. “He can play- Sean is the real deal.”  The way thi disc swaggers and rocks is hard to shake- I expect this disc will be doing some serious time in my CD player.ESSENTIALS:  Monsters, Monkey Brain, Charity Case 21st CENTURY BLUES Van Wilks (Texas ’51) ***The album cover looks like a take-off of Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth and the guitar boogie found inside sounds like it could be a long-lost ZZ Top disc- in fact Billy Gibbons co-wrote Drive By Lover. “The record I my take on contemporary blues” says Wilks. “The common thread that holds it all together is my guitar.  It’s just that low down, wound up, rockin’ Texas blues’ he proclaims. I prefer my blues a little dirtier than some of these tunes, but the slow stuff like Just Walk Away (the solo is gorgeous) really works.  I expect 21st Century Blues will grow on me in the months ahead.ESSENTIALS: Just Walk Away, 21st Century Blues, Midnight Crossing TIGER IN A CAGE Johnny Rawls (Catfood records) ***+Some smooth Texas soul blues to follow Johnny’s Soul Brothers of 2014, and I would almost call it smooth.  The man has a great singing voice, no wonder he’s been nominated more than once for Blues Foundation awards.  This set features 9 originals and 3 very interesting covers; Sam Cooke’s Having a Party, Jackie Wilson’s Your Love is Lifting me Higher and The Rolling Stones’ Beast of Burden. Though I’m not particularly in the mood for this disc today, you can hardly go wrong with throwing this on at your next house party.  It’s not all that rowdy, but it will show you a good time- that I promise.ESSENTIALS: Every Woman Needs A Working Man, Beast Of Burden, Born To The Blues GOD + BOOZE Mr Rick (independent) ***An engaging and somewhat surprising set from Rick Zolkower, Mr. Rick Sings About God + Booze is a real charmer. Billed as gospel, blues and Americana, I’d throw old timey-country into that list too, thanks to some tasty fiddle work from Drew Jurecka. Writing credits on only one track is credited to Rick, with the rest coming from people like  Sleepy John Estes. “The songs on this CD were woven into my musical heart at a young age” notes Rick.  Since I was old enough to turn on a radio, my ears was always drawn to blues, country and gospel music, which was still on the radio back then- let’s just have fun with it.”ESSENTIALS: One Kind Favor, You’ll Need Someone On Your Bond, Liquor Store Blues


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