Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR February 21, 2022

4 Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators (Snakepit Records) **** ½

The Guns N Roses guitarist sure likes to keep busy. 4 is, as you might guess, his 4th album with Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) & The Conspirators. The record is filled with the memorable hard rock guitar hooks that you want from this modern day Jimmy Page, a record that exudes brawny rock & roll confidence.

Though helping put Guns back together in 2016 and touring the world relentlessly, Slash has also maintained a solo career. Let’s face it; the dude loves to play. After a decade in each other’s company, 4 is this group’s most spontaneous collaboration to date, and it’s the most ‘band’ sounding record too, as opposed to a Slash solo record. Unlike recording piecemeal as they have with previous albums it was decided that the group would record mostly live off the floor, which has resulted in a real ‘together’ vibe with a looseness and inspiring sense of groove. The set was produced by Grammy winning producer Dave Cobb with the sessions happening in Nashville’s RCA Studio A.

After spending so much time together as a band, there’s a relaxed confidence and ease in these performances. 4 doesn’t come across like a side project for a bored millionaire rock star, you can feel Slash pouring his soul into these numbers as do the rest of the band. Aside from Slash and Myles, the group also includes bassist Todd Kerns, rhythm guitarist Frank Sidoris, and drummer Brent Fitz whose playing I first noticed in Bruce Kulick’s (ex-Kiss guitarist) late 90’s group Union with John Corabi. Myles Kennedy has an easily identifiable and wide ranging voice, plus no matter who Slash plays with he’s always going to sound like Slash- but that’s why we love the guy.

4 is pretty straight ahead journeyman hard rock, but what a breath of fresh air! The songs are concentrated rocket rides that last less than 5 minutes with most in the 3 minute range. Exceptions are the mid-tempo ballad Fill My World and the epic Fall Back To Earth that ends off the album. Remember when rock & roll was thrilling? These guys sure do. If Guns ‘N’ Roses never get around to doing another album, I’d be fine with following Slash and Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. From Kennedy’s soaring vocals to the rock steady pulse of the rhythm section to Slash’s inspired (and inspiring) solos, 4 is close to being a masterpiece.

HOT TRACKS: Call Off The Dogs, The River Is Rising, Fill My World

I’M NOT FROM CHICAGO Debra Power (independent) ****

This is the Calgary-based singer/ keyboard player’s 3rd album. I’m Not From Chicago is some hard swingin’ good time piano based blues destined to show all who listen a good time, with ballads like What Color Is Love that will make you want to get closer together.

Power brings a lifetime of varied musical experience to what she does today. She was weaned on Big Band music as a child, her father a bandleader during the dance era. After studying music at Memorial University majoring in voice, she then played in R&B and rock bands in Eastern Canada before moving out west, where playing in country bands sharpened her skills further. Now calling Calgary home, Debra is a vital fixture on that city’s explosive blues scene and also a regular performer at the Calgary and Edmonton blues festivals come summertime.

Debra has a great voice when she’s going balls out on a rocker like Hardwired For The Blues, and her country soul shows in ballads like Slow Love. Contrary to the album title, these songs make it feel like she IS from the windy city. Of note is the spirited playing of Harpdog Brown, adding much to the vibe here. Power said she was really looking forward to playing the final mixes for him, then he passed away unexpectedly January 7th before she could. Knowing Harpdog well enough to exchange emails on a semi-regular basis, I’m confident in saying he would have been well pleased with the end results.

I’m Not From Chicago is big fun, a blues adventure with many facets informed by Debra Power’s musical life to this point. From tear-the-roof-off-this-dump blowout rockin’ blues numbers to weepers like the Covid-inspired The Woman With A Hole In Her Heart, virtually no stone goes unturned on this puppy. On this number in particular you can hear something of the gospel in Debra’s powerful voice, not unlike Etta James. The album, produced by Steve Dierkens and Debra herself, was recorded and mastered in Calgary. All songs were written by Powers with the exception of Hardwired For The Blues by Steve Pineo. Great songs, top notch playing and excellent production make I’m Not From Chicago essential listening for every blues fan.

HOT TRACKS: New Shade Of Blue, The Last Time I Saw Memphis, Slow Love

BEFORE THE SUN SETS City Of Lights (Frontiers) *** ½

This is a new collaboration between British songwriter/ guitarist Neil Austin and Greek singer Manos Fatsis. Before The Sun Sets is a prime example of the 80’s style melodic

rock this label champions so spectacularly well. Crunchy riffs, hair raising solos and rich keyboard textures abound to give bands like Night Ranger a run for their money.

This project was born when newcomer Austin, armed with a collection of songs inspired by the classic hard rock sounds of the 80’s, began searching for a singer with the tone, range and emotional delivery needed to sing them properly. He heard what Fatsis had done with Desperado Odyssey and Hideaway and knew he’d found just what he needed. Neil and Manos connected on Facebook and began perfecting the songs together. By the time they hit the studio they’d found the right rhythm section in brothers Robin (bass) and Mats (drums) Eriksson from Degreed. After hearing the demos, Robin and Mats couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play on Before The Sun Sets.

During the 80’s I was rather snobby towards this type of rock & roll, but in hindsight have developed a healthy appreciation for it. While the music can seem a bit formulaic and the keyboard textures something of a distraction, the musicianship on display here is first rate with the Eriksson brothers providing a rock solid foundation and guests like Nathan Doyle & Daniel Johanssen (Degreed) and laying down some six string acrobatics to provide plenty of juice. I’d never heard Fatsis sing before, but I’m impressed with what he brings to the table; he’s a natural for this type of stuff. Perhaps a cross between Night Ranger and White Lion, City Of Lights lay down hard rock grooves ranging from the requisite fist pumping riff monsters to squishy ballads like How To Love, easily as good a love song as Every Rose Has Its Thorn if not better.

I admit it’s a bit odd for a new album from a new band to feel nostalgic, but that’s the trick City Of Lights has managed to pull off with Before The Sun Sets. A love of 80’s-style rock may be seen as a guilty pleasure by some, but not me; great musicianship always wins the day in my book, and this disc is overflowing with it.

HOT TRACKS: Racing On The Redline, Heat Of The Night, How To Love

ARE YOU READY Degreed (Frontiers) ****+

I don’t know what’s in their drinking water (or beer for that matter) but I’ve been hearing a lot of great hard rock and metal coming out of Sweden in the last couple of years. Degreed is the latest example of that and Are You Ready, their 6th album, is a steamroller powered by big, chunky riffs and hooky choruses that stay with you.

Degreed’s sound is a mix of classic melodic and hard rock sounds, a four-on-the-floor attack that reminds me of Jake E. Lee-era Ozzy. If I’m reading the press info correctly Are You Ready is their first disc for Frontiers and, judging from all the stuff I’ve heard from that label over the years, they couldn’t be in better hands. Their first album Life, Love, Loss came out in 2010, and singer Robin Eriksson sees this new one as a successful bridge to the future. “Our old fans will not be disappointed” he says, “and I’m sure that we will gain a lot of new ones as well with this one.” Bold? Perhaps, but I also know that Are You Ready has made a fan out of this guy from the prairies.

Thanks to that pesky pandemic Degreed weren’t able to tour in support of 2019’s Lost Generation, so after releasing the song The World We Knew in 2020, surely a track we can all relate to, work began in earnest on what would turn out to be Are You Ready. The band, by the way, includes Mats & Robin Eriksson, Mikael Blanc and Daniel Johanssen and if those names seem familiar, check my review of the new City Of Lights just before this one; Mats, Robin and Daniel all played on that album too.

No production notes available for this one, but the sound is sharp, dangerous and meaty. Robin Eriksson is an excellent rock singer and as a guitar player Daniel Johanssen is just all kinds of fun to listen to. Some keyboardyness overall give Are You Ready a bit of an 80’s feel for sure, but the songs themselves are powerful enough to withstand such dalliances. This is guitar driven hard rock and the insistent propulsion of the Eriksson brothers rhythm section is the musical equivalent of bench pressing 400 pounds- it’s just relentless. Put all that together with a melodic approach to the songs as opposed to just grinding out cool riffs and you’ve got a hard rock album that stands tall in ANY era.

HOT TRACKS: Higher, Are You Ready, We Will Win

KEYS TO THE KINGDOM Kenneth Brian (Southern Shift Records) *****

If you miss The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and southern rock in general, you’ll want this fix. Keys To The Kingdom, the newest from Gainsville’s Kenneth Brian, is saturated in southern rock, alt country, blues and Americana. It’s a little ragged in a Crazy Horse sort of way, and it’s magnificent.

Just to show you the kind of aura KB has he’s toured with Blackberry Smoke, Lucinda Williams, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd in recent years, to show you where his music fits stylistically. I enjoy the grit and depth of this album as much as the sound of it, if not more. “I wrote these songs while living in Hollywood and Malibu over the last 5 years” Kenneth says. “They are heavily influenced by my experiences in Southern California.” So this what California looks like through the eyes of a good ol’ boy from Florida.

Pre-production was handled by Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty, Average White Band) and former Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell in LA, with the album recorded over 5 days at Dave Catching’s Rancho De Luna Studio in Joshua Tree. Kenneth is on guitar and vocals with Chris Cano on drums and Brandon Owens on bass. “Steve and Mike helped me get the first 5 songs together” Brian says, “I’m very grateful for their insights and the experience. All songs were cut as live as possible in no more than 3 takes, I really wanted to capture the true sound of the band.” It’s that energy I’m tapping into on this; as much as I dig the songs, I like the way they’re played even more.

I’m not familiar with Kenneth Brian’s previous work but dammit, thanks to Keys To The Kingdom it looks like I have some exploring to do. The blurring of lines between genres is what really throws this thing over the top and makes it the sort of record that most people can get something from. California, a ballad near the end of the album, almost sounds like a tear soaked love letter to the type of leggy blonde chicks you’ll find everywhere on the west coast but it’s actually about the state itself, which I find ballsy and inspiring. If you want to get lost in the soft white underbelly of southern California Keys To The Kingdom is the record that can get you there but fair warning; it’s addictive.

HOT TRACKS: Hard Heart, California, War


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