Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR – June 4, 2023

CRIMSON & STONE Vermilion Whiskey (independent) *****

Heavy metal southern style- that’s Vermilion Whiskey’s third album, Crimson & Stone. Recalling Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society with a touch of Doc Holliday, this is brute force blunt trauma rock & roll, and I love it.

These Louisiana-based stoner rockers play extremely loud; southern fried hard rawk at its finest.  The guitars are hard and thick with doomy grooves a-plenty and catchy riffs that stick.  No ‘Cookie Monster’ vocals here… if anything singer/ guitarist Thaddeus Riordan sounds a lot like original Trouble warbler Eric Wagner with an aggressive delivery, well suited to the music yet not over the top like so many black metal growlers.  Southern hard rock yeah, but more accurately Crimson & Stone is ‘doom metal’- nothing more, nothing less.

Silenced by the pandemic as every band was, Vermilion Whiskey can’t wait to take these songs on the road.  They play with the reckless abandon of a bar band with nothing to lose, and Crimson & Stone feels like the album that can take them further than rabid regional success.  Aside from Riordan on vocals and guitar we have Ross Brown on leads, Jason Decou on bass and Tommy Buckley on drums, with Wade Perkins getting behind the kit for live shows.  These guys stick together in a gloriously dense river of sludge, a true show of maximum heaviosity.  The little interludes are fun too, like the intro for Confidence: “Forget it man, and get with the countdown. Take your square world and blast off for Kicksville.”

When it comes to metal I’m not impressed with speed for speed’s sake, preferring the way a band likeVermilion Whiskey grinds it out.  As the press info states, “The American south is steeped in rich musical tradition. In a time when metal is in a constant cycle of who can be the most brutal, we often forget where the tradition started and its signature sound.”  Vermilion Whiskey hasn’t forgotten- they strip it bare, play it loud, and it just… fucking… works.  I bet Tony Iommi would LOVE Crimson & Stone; let’s roll a couple and turn this bastard UP.

HOT TRACKS: Down On You, Confidence, Hollow

ROCKING INTO MIDNIGHT Sanjay Michael (independent) *** ½

This kind of rock & roll really works; riff-powered and simple.  Rocking Into Midnight hits you in the groin like classic AC/DC with the title track, a simple 4 on the floor number that’s impossible to resist.  For anyone proclaiming “rock is dead”, Sanjay has a simple reply; “Rock ‘n’ roll never left the party, it’s just getting a drink at the bar.”

Sanjay Michael is a singer/ songwriter from Singapore intent on carrying the infectious energy of rock & roll to the masses.  When it came to Rocking Into Midnight he had a plan; “I sought to recreate the kind of ‘monster’ albums that I listened to when I was younger” he says, “a large collection of hit singles that were carefully curated and arranged so that the album was a journey in itself.  I worked with both the keys and sonic textures so that as you listen through, each new song is a pleasant surprise.”  A fairly calculated approach on the surface of it, but there’s something to be said for knowing what direction you want to take.

The production on RIM is quite simple, maybe even low budget, and matches Sanjay’s stated mission well.  Like Malcom Young he has a good ear for catchy riffs and while his guitar solos are bluesy and serviceable they tend to be quite ordinary- not meaty enough. The lyrics are very rock & roll and as a singer he’s decent but you’d never mistake him for Chris Cornell. Having said all that though, there’s something about the power of driving rock & roll that makes this album a swell spin.  Overall Rocking Into Midnight could be tighter and thicker- the drummer mugs a couple of fills- but for a first time out I quite enjoyed this.  I’d love to see Sanjay Michael do a record with a great producer- now THAT would be something.

HOT TRACKS:  Rocking Into Midnight, I Should’ve Never Let You Go, Backtracks

SOLAR FLARE Solar Flare (bandcamp) *** ¾

Holy galloping rhythms, Batman! This is a remixed/remastered version of this band’s 2020 self-titled debut.  If 80’s hair metal can make a comeback then why not NWOBHM?  Solar Flare, a quintet from Ohio, has the vibe and enthusiasm of early Iron Maiden- t’ain’t a bad place to start.

With a pile driving rhythm section Solar Flare leans on huge, melodic riffs to get their songs across and that’s the way, uh-huh, I like it.  Comparison to early Maiden extends to the lyrical subject matter too, so if you’re a fan of that band there will be a comfortably familiarity with Solar Flare.  Medieval, the opening cut, is an indictment of the brutality of society, Under The Sun speaks of a soldier having to deal with the horrors of war, and Pharaoh deals with an Egyptian king who betrays the Gods for- what else- greed and power. The deepest cut here, I think, is Taken To The Other Side, which explores the fear of dying without having done anything worthwhile… something many of us contemplate.

This isn’t speed metal but it is pretty driving.  Solar Flare, formed in 2014, has performed with a number of major acts like Anthrax, Raven and Joe Lynn Turner, so they’re getting some serious attention.  The rhythm section of drummer Jeff Ables and bassist Mike Fisher are the gearbox that keeps Solar Flare moving while guitarists Codi Davis and Garian Perry are an impressive tandem.  Whoever is taking the solos or whether they split them up they do a terrific job, well suited to the energy of the music.  I really like singer Ethan Jackson’s voice too, but his contribution feels under-produced. Maybe more double-tracking or compression to thicken up his vocals might have mixed better with the music; he seems a bit thin compared to everyone else. Plus, the drum track for Under The Sun should be re-done as it gets wonky in a few spots.

At the end of the day Solar Flare is a roaring start to a promising career of melting the faces of head bangers near and far.  Let the games begin!

HOT TRACKS:  Born To Burn, Medieval, Pharaoh

SATISFIED: AN ANTHOLOGY Gaye Adegbalola (VizzTone) *****+

If you don’t think socially conscious and/or politically astute blues can be a blast, you’ve never listened to Gaye Adegbalola. Satisfied gathers material from 9 of her solo projects, ranging from classic 20’s blues to biting, present day commentary.  Gaye just has so much damn fun!

Adegbalola is a founder of “Saffire- The Uppity Blues Women”, who recorded for Alligator Records from 1984 to 2009.  The joyous singing and piano playing will catch your ear but Gaye’s songwriting is the real star of the show.  She follows a long line of blues women- from Memphis Minnie to Maria Muldaur- who chronical topics about social conditions as well as affairs of the heart. She has been described as one of those fiercely independent “wild women” of the blues; unashamed to lay her soul bare and let you know what she thinks and feels.  She can be a comedienne too and often is, finding humor in the pain of day to day living.

15 of these tracks are originals with 5 more being covers, such as the immortal wedding song Let It Be Me.  She finds humor in everyday life on tracks like Big Ovaries Baby, Hetero Twinges and The Dog Was Here First. These are the kind of songs that effortlessly invite you to listen closely because you don’t want to miss anything. I like deep dark stuff, that’s how I’m wired- but I like a good laugh too, and there’s plenty on Satisfied. Gaye says this album is a composite of her life’s work and is dedicated to those classic blues women like Ma Rainey who birthed her. 

Satisfied: An Anthology does just what it should; entertain you and make you curious enough about Adegbalola’s work to dive in to her back catalog.  9 solo albums plus her work with Saffire… we have some exploring to do, and we’ll enjoy doing it.

HOT TRACKS:  Big Ovaries Baby, Hetero Twinges, 3 Hour Shoes, The Dog Was Here First

HIGH RISE BLUES Bob Corritore & Friends (SWMAF/VizzTone) ******+

As I listen to the latest installment from Bob Corritore’s From The Vaults series I have to wonder if he’s developing ‘roids from sitting on a mountain of gold as High Rise Blues focuses on the rich sound of Chicago blues.  These 14 tracks, previously unreleased and recorded between 1992 and 2022, include some big-time legends of the Windy City scene. Want a big helping of Chicago blues?  This is as good as it gets.

As a harp player, Corritore did the Chicago and shared stages with some of HUGE names.  Through his work on the Phoenix scene as a talent booker, club owner and studio rat he’s recorded a stunning body of work over the years.  The guest list for High Rise Blues is enough to make you salivate or spring a stiffy, or perhaps both.  Check out the list of folks joining Corritore here; Bo Diddley, Jimmy Rogers, Koko Taylor, Magic Slim, Sam Lay, Pinetop Perkins, Chico Chism, Luther Tucker, John Brim, Eddy Clearwater, John Primer, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Lil’ Ed, Bob Reidy, Manuel Arrington and Eddie Taylor Jr. Calling this an embarrassment of riches is a TITANIC understatement.  Schwing!

The songs on High Rise Blues, despite being recorded over a period of three decades, are remarkably clean and consistent sounding as if they all came from the same year if not the same sessions. The performances are soulful and energetic, a terrific example of what attracts so many people to this style of music, myself included.  I’ve truly enjoyed every disc from Corritore’s From The Vault Series, but lately it seems that each one is more spectacular than the one before. As much as I’ve enjoyed recent releases like Women In Blues Showcase and The World In A Jug, if I were to be sent to a desert island and told I could only bring one blues album, High Rise Blues would be it.  Even the most uninitiated novice blues fan will feel the mojo from this one, it’s THAT powerful. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

HOT TRACKS: Last Time (with Jimmy Rogers), Grinder Man (with Pinetop Perkins), Twenty-Nine Ways (with Koko Taylor) 

BACK IN STYLE Nigel Mack (Blues Attack Records) ****

Back In Style is the 4th album by Chicago’s Nigel Mack.  A fusion of traditional and contemporary blues, it’s an occasionally slick but never fussy showcase for blues harp and slide guitar.  Every time an album like this crosses my desk, it bumps my visiting The Windy City up my bucket list by another notch or two.  So much great music from one city!

Canadian born Nigel Mack performs regularly in Chicago, putting on what is called a high energy show that fuses blues classics with the punch of modern blues. Back In Style is an intriguing and subtly powerful blend of two blues worlds with the juice to reach beyond either and pull in new fans.  Nigel’s talents have been sharpened by years spent on the road to support his critically acclaimed albums, plus his songs have been featured TV soundtracks. His last release, Devil’s Secrets, reached #1 in Canada so lots of people are paying attention.

On one hand I like my blues ragged around the edges, sort of primitive and atmospheric, like the Bob Corritore record just reviewed… but there are times when a sort of Van Morrison-smooth approach feels as good as a backrub after a hard day at work, and that’s what Back In Style is for me.  The horns give the tunes some jump on tracks like A Place To Call Home and the instrumental Redemption is like the shoulder rub you didn’t know you needed.  Well, a massage for the soul might me a better way to frame that.

Produced by Nigel Mack hisself, Back In Style was recorded at several studios in the Chicago area, then mixed & mastered by Commodore Perry Barrett in Nashville.   It’s mostly blues with both a classic and modern vibe, although a song like Shangri-La Girl feels more like country swing.  I wouldn’t call this a purist blues experience per se, but it is very satisfying.

HOT TRACKS:  Travelin’ Heavy, Cold Comfort, Redemption, Jalapeno Peppers


This is a reissue of a record that came out in January of 1983 in digital, CD and vinyl formats; a re-master of the original 2 disc release, and a re-mix of the same. I pre-ordered it on I Tunes and am also expecting the vinyl from Amazon shortly. Live Evil 40th is as bold and powerful as I had hoped it would have been in ’83.

I’ve been a HUGE Black Sabbath fan since 1970 and Tony Iommi remains my favorite guitarist to this day.  Touring on the strength of 1980’s Heaven & Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules, when Live Evil was first announced I was giddy with excitement, looking forward to hearing live interpretations of some of those songs as well as how Ronnie James Dio would handle the Sabbath classics.  Fast forward to January 1983, I’m at Sam The Record Man in Trail on the day of release, race home to throw the album on, turned it up, and was distinctly underwhelmed.  On the original version of Live Evil the crowd sounded small and distant, Ronnie’s vocals felt buried in the mix, the rest of the instruments sounded muddy, I was heartbroken.  I knew nothing of the band’s internal problems at the time, like Dio planning to leave the band for a solo career after only 2 studio records.  It was arguments about mixing Live Evil That led to the split. Still, the record was successful, peaking at #37 on Billboard.

When playing Live Evil 40th Anniversary after work today I skipped past Andy Pearce’s re-mastered discs (will check them out another time) and went straight to Wyn Davis’s remix, which used the original analog multi-tracks. This is where we hear the instruments the way they should have been heard and some extra stage patter from Dio; even his yelpy takes on Paranoid and War Pigs aren’t nearly as cringe worthy.  Honestly, Wyn’s remix lifts Live Evil  to stand alongside records like Reunion (1998) and The End Live In Birmingham(2017) and the Heaven & Hell live sets as a masterful chapter in Sabbath history. 

No doubt my vinyl version will arrive at the local post office minutes after I send this set of reviews off to Gonzo.  I’m looking forward to extras like the illustrated hardback book that includes new liner notes and replicas of the concert poster and tour book from the Mob Rules tour, but it’s the music that matters most.  When I bought the Technical Ecstasy box set for my birthday in April and was so pleased with that, getting Live Evil 40th was a given. This was no reviewer freebie; between I Tunes and Amazon I’m out over $160, and even for a 40 year old album, I consider it money judiciously spent.  Too bad Ronnie isn’t alive to hear Live Evil the way it should have sounded… amazing.

HOT TRACKS: Voodoo, The Mob Rules, Heaven & Hell, Children Of The Grave


Previous articleThe best Smart Locks to buy in 2023
Next articleLive Nation Canada and Great Canadian Entertainment Partnership
The Rock Doctor is in the Cyber House to tell you how it is! (or at least my own opinion). Want a music review? email: \m/


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.