ELEVATE Lee Aaron (Metalville Records) ****
Canada’s one-time Metal Queen has just released her 5th album (including a Christmas record) since 2016. Elevate is big rock & roll fun as Lee and her band have found a groove that really works FOR THEM… not metal but more Zeppy, full of attitude and stories with depth and style.
I began noticing Aaron again with 2016’s Fire & Gasoline- even tracked down her rep to land an interview- and aside from the semi-metallic leanings of Diamond Baby Blues in 2018, the Lee Aaron Band has been moving steadily in this direction. Elevate benefits greatly from the insistent pulse of bassist Dave Reimer (Randy Bachman, Bryan Adams) and drummer John Cody, who plays like a combination of Mickey Curry and John Bonham. Of course songs are a melodic undertaking, so let’s not forget guitarist Sean Kelly, the newest member of the band. His taut riffs and no-frills soloing elevate the songs, if you’ll pardon the clumsy pun.
Elevate is further proof that time travel is possible- it makes me feel the same way I did in the 70’s and 80’s when rock & roll inspired my every waking moment; whether the lads & I were flying down the highway on a Friday night to catch the peelers at Funky John’s or just unwinding after another shit-show of a day at the smelter. This is the kind of rock that you can sink your teeth into, that makes you want to get up go, makes you feel alive, man! Lee has a killer band plying an infectious 4-on-the-floor magic behind her, and even at 60 her voice (not unlike Ann Wilson’s) is still a force to be reckoned with. The ballad Red Dress, near the end of the album, is a real heart stopper. Elevate is proof that Lee Aaron still has it and then some.
HOT TRACKS: Rock Bottom Revolution, Freak Show, Spitfire Woman
NEW WAVE CONNECTION Martin Stephenson & John Perry (Thoroughbred Music) *** ½
Legendary UK folk/rock singer/songwriter Martin Stephenson and his longtime friend, guitarist John Perry, have hooked up with Thoroughbred for a rollicking new album. Despite the title, New Wave Connection is more than just angular pop ditties, stylistically speaking. Full of superb, expressive guitar playing and Stephenson’s warm vocal style, it’s a record that wanders through pop, country and rockabilly territory to agreeable effect.
Stephenson is best known for his band The Daintees, whom he still tours with extensively as well as performing solo. John Perry is a co-founder of The Only Ones, who came out of London during the punk movement’s initial blast in 76-77 and toured with New York bands Television and The Heartbreakers, yet his guitar playing reminds me of John Mayer. New Wave Connection is a warm combination of troubadour-style folk songs exhibiting pop song craft and occasional bursts of rocking out, along with lyrical observations that make you want to get closer so you can understand the conversation, even on a gonzo country number like Running Water.
Stephenson began his career as a busker at the age of 15 and over the course of nearly 40 years has managed jazz, blues, skiffle, country and reggae and others in a glorious collision of styles that makes this music hard to pin down or pigeonhole. His website describes his live performances as “an exuberant tour de force combining heart-in-your-mouth intimacy with playful humour and warm self-deprication”, and that vibe is quite evident on New Wave Connection as well. Martin and John want you to have a good time and leave with a smile, but if they’ve given you some things to think about on the way, well that’s fine too.
New Wave Connection isn’t the sort of record that will have you jumping up and down with excitement but, sonically and lyrically, it’s like a nice warm hug and I really like that.
HOT TRACKS: Wholly Humble Heart, Frattern Star, Running Water
I WANT IT ALL N Y Fury (Eonian Records) ***
Let’s time travel back to the 80’s; that’s where you’ll find N Y Fury. I Want It All is Eonian records’ first official public release of the band’s previously vaulted studio recordings. Hard rock with hooks and melodies, you’ll be reminded of mid-period Journey or even REO Speedwagon as you wonder why N Y Fury weren’t a big deal internationally.
Looking at that CD cover, the hair is definitely of that decade and the outfits look like they were snatched during a late night raid on Kiss’s costume storage facility. A hard hitting sound with commercial appeal, the band was a force to be reckoned with on the New York scene through much of the 80’s. Even so, NY Fury remained unsigned. “We were headlining theatres and performing in arenas, but this set the bar high and gave off the impression that we were already signed” says bassist/ vocalist/ founder Gene Hunter. A Philadelphia journalist says “N Y Fury’s stage show, music and performance would rival some of the more well-known established acts at the time, despite not having a major label or management.” All of which makes them a story that could have and probably should have been told on a broader scale.
I Want It All is journeyman rock & roll and that’s not a knock; it’s the kind of stuff that gets my motor runnin’, sort of blue collar beer drinking music, perhaps a step above hair metal. Aside from Gene the band included Ron Hunter (brother?) on drums, Nick Bellarosa and Mike Sinclair on guitars and Gary Ryan on lead vocals and drums. Solid guitar work and driving songs abound, so why didn’t they make it? This is solid stuff, but by the time N Y Fury came along there was a glut of bands just like them on the scene and they seem to have just fallen between the cracks. At least we have I Want It All to remind us what could have been.
HOT TRACKS: I Want It All, My American Pie, Sit On This
THE SICK THE DYING… AND THE DEAD Megadeth (Universal) **** ½
I was going to give this a pass after hearing the single Night Stalkers (featuring Ice T) until I noticed the album appearing on several “Best Of The Year” lists. That, and the I-Tunes card I used to purchase Lee Aaron’s latest convinced me to add The Sick the Dying… and The Dead! to my collection. Megadeth’s 16th studio record (Killing Is My Business is the only one I DON’T have) is hard, aggressive and lyrically astute. It’s not exactly a return to form ala Youthanasia but it’s not far off; a mix of thrash and traditional metal that I’m really enjoying.
Released in September The Sick is Megadeth’s first album in 6 years, since 2016’s Dystopia. It’s the second album to feature guitarist Kiko Louriero and the first for drummer Dirk Verbueren. After the public rift with bassist Dave Ellefson fueled by a sex video scandal involving a supposedly underage girl, his parts were re-recorded by Testament’s Steve Di Giorgio. Founder Dave Mustaine’s back was against the wall, but he came up with an acutely focused record.
As usual his songs are socially and politically topical with many thinking The Dogs Of Chernobyl is inspired by the war in Ukraine. Couple of things wrong with that; the album was originally intended to be released in 2019, then 2021, before finally appearing last September, pre-dating the Russian invasion by some time. More to the point, the song is actually about Mustaine’s 2018 battle with throat cancer. According to Wikipedia, Dave says that his treating radiologist contributed “a couple of phrases and some information about the radiation poisoning when everyone got sick at Chernobyl” to the song’s lyrics. His well-known Christian beliefs also make themselves known, particularly in This Planet’s On Fire.
Where past efforts like Supercollider and Risk felt like deliberate attempts to be more commercial, The Sick… takes a hard line and sticks to what Megadeth does best. Plus, Louriero is a genuinely exciting guitarist and an excellent foil for Mustaine. This is the best thing Megadeth has done since 2004’s The System Has Failed.
HOT TRACKS: The Dogs Of Chernobyl, This Planet’s On Fire, Mission To Mars