Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR – May 14, 2023


That’s a fitting name for this ‘best of’ set from a co-founder of Manowar.  Ross “The Boss” Friedman has had this band bearing his name going since 2006, and Legacy Of Blood, Fire & Steel, a bunch of the best cuts from 4 studio records, is a crushing metal statement.

On first listen these tracks hit like a cross between Iron Maiden and Judas Priest- not a bad place to start.  Those first six Manowar albums, released between ’82 and ’88, are now immortal classics and it’s telling that the band never reached the same level of success after the New York guitarist’s departure.  The music of his namesake band contained on Legacy is raw and primal metal, more of the ‘classic speed metal’ variety as opposed to other variants like ‘black’, ‘doom’ or ‘death’.  This is run-in with Ross The Boss yet the disc connected with me instantly.

From the twin leads to the galloping rhythms and impressive vocals, L.O.B.F.&.S. is a seismic event.  This is the best of Ross The Boss’s 4 records; New Metal Leader, Hailstorm, By Blood Sworn and Born Of Fire. Great sound quality overall, though the title track from 2018’s By Blood Sworn is curiously murky.  The performances by all the band members is quite robust; Ross on guitars of course, Marc Lopes on vocals, Mike LePond on bass and Steve Bolognese on drums.  With songs like these and this much talent in one band, had some decent breaks come their way they’d have become a household name like Priest.

Legacy Of Blood Fire & Steel is not the sort of thing to throw on when you’re trying to unwind at the end of a shitty day; this will get you up, motivated and moving. It’s a blast of metal energy that will serve you well and worth checking out.

HOT TRACKS:  Blood Of Knives, We Will Kill, This Is Vengeance


Hailing originally from the streets of New York City’s East Village and the dive-bar and cabaret scene, Zucchero has called New Orleans home since 2013, and these two worlds collide on his new album Electric Church For The Spiritually Misguided.  This is an uplifting gumbo of styles and grooves that feel as good as a warm, sunny day.

Dean Zucchero has played bass for the likes of Cyril Neville, Little Freddie King and Johnny Sansone, and he currently plays, co-writes and co-produces with Ghalia Volt.  He brings a lifetime of musical experience to Electric Church,  taking the Nola slant to rhythm & blues, rock & roll and trad jazz while also synthesizing more indigenous Louisiana musical forms like Indian funk, zydeco, Cajun and Louisiana blues.  And he does all this while staying in touch with Mississippi, Memphis and Chicago.  Blues funk with real depth is what’s happening here.

Electric Church is at its heart a blues album although the places of influence listed above can be felt too.  As with so many records of our time the genesis for this goes back to the pandemic.  Zucchero organized the Ácoustic Blues Series at a spacious beer garden at a local German bistro.  Acting as program director and house bassist Dean was able to provide weekly employment and a creative outlet for many of his musical friends while helping lift New Orleans from the seclusion and isolation its once-thriving live music scene was suffering from.  It was through events like this and a mini Jazz Fest in place of the city’s most popular musical event that the cornerstone was set for Zucchero’s new solo album.

Electric Church is a showcase for Zucchero’s own music through the lense of his talented musical friends who came together to break the musical silence in the early hours of the pandemic in 2020.  From such stark beginnings has come a disc with sterling production, juicy grooves and superbly talented performances.  This album is all kinds of excellent.

HOT TRACKS:  Craft Beer, American Dream, Last Minute Packer

BIG WORLD OF TROUBLE Walk That Walk (independent) *****

When you think of Boston, the blues might not be the first thing that comes to mind… but thanks to Walk That Walk maybe it should.   Big World Of Trouble, the follow-up to last year’s You Good? is a fine slice of Chicago-style blues with a little Detroit spice; deep and exciting.

When I reviewed their last album I said “they really bring it, and leave everything on the table”, and it’s good to see that’s still the case.  The band is Poppa C. DeSnyder and well-seasoned harp player Tim Gartland backed by the irresistible Walk That Walk rhythm section.  WTW served as the New England touring band for Bo Diddley and Johnnie Johnson, plus they’ve backed Chicago’s Carey Bell.  The blues is in their bones, it’s in every note and, as front man Poppa C notes, “if you’re not passionate and high energy when you perform, people will head for the exits.”  These guys have carved out quite a reputation on stages across the New England area, and if Big World Of Trouble is any indication, they burn the place down every night.

BWoT is 8 originals plus a sweet cover of John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen, and it’s the original numbers here that really make the earth shake.  Roof Got A Hole, the opening cut, is a great introduction that puts you in the mood for what’s to come. See Poppa C is a nice, slow grinding, sexy blues positively dripping with attitude and bravado.  If someone were to ask “what is the blues” I would play this track for them and watch them as they get it in a big way.

Fantastic rhythm section here (Randi Laak-drums, Dirk van Gulden-bass) and fine keyboard work too (Ted Hastings Armstrong), but it’s the interplay between Gartland’s harmonica and DeSnyder’s guitar working on top of that bedrock that really makes this baby sing.  This isn’t just a group of white guys dabbling in the blues; Walk That Walk is a group of accomplished musicians with a total grasp of the idiom that, as I said above, feels it in their bones.  ‘Authentic’ may be an advertising buzzword rendered meaningless by overuse, but with Big World Of Trouble it happens to fit very well.  This kids, is very much the real deal.

HOT TRACKS:  Roof Got A Hole, See Poppa C, Big World Of Trouble

THE BURYING POINT Darker Days (Fiend Force/ Massacre Records) ****

Subtle cover art, eh? This is the debut outing for this Salem based quintet.  The Burying Point charges out of the gate with relentless energy and never lets up- loads of kinetic energy that leaves you drained by the time the last song is done.

Produced by Chris Curran and Kyle Blamy, The Burying Point is dense and fast without necessarily being frantic.  I’m not entirely certain if it’s the timbre of his voice or the way singer Mason Eaton’s voice is double tracked and harmonized, but it sure reminds me of Stain’d singer Aaron Lewis.  I know both bands are from Massachusetts but this goes beyond any geographical similarities. Solid band here but the drumming of Randy Mason is particularly notable- not for jazzy fills and rolls but for the way it feels like he just picks up the band and moves them… he’s definitely the right guy in the engine room.

You can really feel the sweat Darker Days poured into this record, and they wear their influences proudly on their sleeves; AFI, The Misfits and Blitzkid.   Lyrically, The Burying Point touches on things like their favorite horror movies as well as real life hardships.  Maybe geography does play a role in their mindset when they write.  Their hometown of Salem was home to the infamous witch trials and the New England area in general seems haunted… H.P. Lovecraft came from Providence and you’ll find Stephen King in Bangor, plus there’s the bleak countryside to inform and inspire the things they write about.

Vibe-wise The Burying Point is like a cross between Stain’d and Green Day, melodic but metal and punk as hell.  Should these things even be allowed to mingle? At the end of the day any artist or band has to go with making the kind of music that inspires them, anything less would be dishonest…. So if those are the kinds of things that drive Darker Days, then so be it.  As debuts go, The Burying Point impresses.

HOT TRACKS:  Maniac, Killing Time, 1818

VORTEX Pharm (bandcamp) ***+

Kelowna BC (Gonzo’s home base) has always had a vibrant music scene. At one end of the spectrum you’ll find rustic acoustic acts and at the other you’ll bands like Pharm, who label what they do “progressive hyper stoner rock.”  Vortex is their debut and while I’m not sold on how the vocals were treated (Lucas Seagal is a solid rock singer), these guys hit the ground running.

Pharm have been nominated for the Gonzo Okanagan showcase and, in an email from the band asking that I consider their album for review, they told me that their music is “for fans of Black Sabbath and Rush” which happen to be two of my favorite bands.  I said I’d give this a spin and write it up if I dug it, and I do.  Vortex was started in 2019 with the album finally being released October 29th, 2022.  They’re Lucas Seagal (bass, vocals), Teagan Ramage drums) and Matt Parson (guitar), a tight knit power trio with intricate arrangements that recall Fly By Night-era Rush with elements of classic Yes.  You can get a sore neck trying to keep up with the time changes but hey that’s part of the fun.  This ain’t exactly a dance party, ya know?

Overall Vortex is quite well produced with layered guitars and a thick, driven bottom end.  You’ll notice it’s short on heroic guitar solos, but ‘progressive hyper stoner rock’ is more about the groove and hanging on for dear life when they head into a turnaround.  Their bandcamp page indicates that this was recorded at ArcHouse Studios in Kelowna; recorded, engineered and mixed by Adam Wittke, mastered by Chris Holmes (not the guy from Wasp, I’m sure), with arrangements courtesy of Pharm. Sabbath and Rush aside, this feels like heavy metal Zappa… perhaps a little more direct but still out there on the fringes. 

Ultimately Pharm is the kind of band that makes the sort of music that turns them on, and whether Vortex has sold dozens or thousands of copies, that’s the only way to play it. This is a band with real balls, and I applaud their sense of adventure.  They’re currently on a 52 day cross-Canada tour, so catch ‘em onstage if they’re playing near you.

HOT TRACKS:  Crystal Ships, Tear at The Wall, Conqueror


DAD LOVES HIS WORK James Taylor (Columbia) RELEASED: March 1981

If the profile on Wikipedia is right, Dad Loves His Work is James Taylor’s 10th studio disc.  His stuff is the sort of thing to put on after a hard day of swimming upstream in the rat race and while he’s released some fine albums since this, I think, is the best thing he’s ever done.

Married to Carly Simon at the time the album title Dad Loves His Work was his response to her ultimatum to curtail his schedule and spend more time at home with her and their kids.  Shortly before this came out they separated, with divorce following in 1983.  James was still struggling with drug abuse at the time and has since admitted that he was ill-equipped to be a family man, putting his career before his family.  All of this is worth mentioning because it is the emotional backdrop against which Dad Loves His Work came to life.

Much emotional baggage is unpacked in the first two songs, with Hard Times about Carly and James’s difficulties as a couple and Her Town Too, a duet with J.D. Souther pointing to the reef against which their marriage would founder.  I respond to Dad on emotional and aesthetic grounds.  Lots of relationship songs here aside from the two just mentioned that guys who’s been divorced twice can relate to (ahem), including Stand And Fight and That Lonesome Road, which James sang at John Belushi’s funeral in March of ’82.  The sound of this record is quite stunning too- it was produced by Peter Asher and, according to the liner notes, “mixed using the Aphex Aural Exciter” which puts the listener in the studio with Taylor and his band.

I don’t know if it’s the effect of James’s mental health challenges early on or his lengthy struggle with drugs but he’s become the ultimate storyteller, drawing you into his tales and making them feel like your stories too.  He has come close many times since 1981, but you won’t find a better example of James Taylor at the top of his game than he is on these 11 songs.  When I want to retreat from the world for a little while James Taylor is the music I take with me and Dad Loves His Work helps me untie all those knots.  Seeing him live in Edmonton a few years back remains a highlight of my concert going life.  I’ve always loved his music and I adore this album.

HOT TRACKS:  Her Town Too (with J.D. Souther), Stand And Fight, That Lonesome Road 



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