HEART & SACRIFICE Sweet & Lynch (Frontiers) ****
This is the third go ‘round for Michael Sweet (Stryper) and George Lynch (Lynch Mob, ex-Dokken) as Sweet & Lynch. George is an old school guitar hero and Michael’s startling vocal range make for compelling bedfellows. Be warned; Heart & Sacrifice will startle you, move you, and may lead to a fistful of speeding tickets. Wanna rawk? These are your guys.
Aside from his ‘day job’ as guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter for Stryper, Michael Sweet has also released a number of solo records. George Lynch keeps busy too with Lynch Mob, KXM (with King’s X’s Dug Pinnick), The End Machine with some fellow ex-Dokken members and more. For some being in one band would be enough, but not these guys- they like to play. Sweet & Lynch’s first two albums Only To Rise (2015) and Unified (2017) made it onto the charts, so a third album has always been likely but their other musical endeavors got it the way. Last year they began sparking off each other once again, and here we are.
Heart & Sacrifice was co-produced by Michael Sweet and Alessandro Del Vecchio, who also played bass on the record, and drums are by a guy called Jelly Cardarelli. Del Vecchio has a tendency to smother his productions with keyboard washes, glad to see that didn’t happen here. The riffs are dark, occasionally nasty and driving… I can’t be certain who is playing what exactly, but Michael and George work so spectacularly well together that it hardly matters. The rhythm section is quite powerful, and together these 4 men make genuinely exciting rock & roll. Sweet’s operatic vocals recall Stryper in the same way solo Ozzy feels like Black Sabbath. I’ve always found Lynch an entertaining guitar player and would imagine he takes most of the lead breaks on the disc; I’m sure Michael is fine with that.
Heart & Sacrifice is driving hard rock, energetic and thrilling, turn it up… WAYYY up.
HOT TRACKS: After All Is Said And Done, Heart & Sacrifice, Give Up The Night
GETTIN’ TOGETHER Michael Jerome Browne (Borealis) *****
I love high-powered fire breathing blues with plenty of guitar solos, but I love the quiet, intimate stuff just as much if not more. Michael Jerome Browne’s new album falls into the latter category. Gettin’ Together is finely executed acoustic blues with a touch of bluegrass mountain soul. The entire album was recorded live off the floor, and it feels like we’re right there with him.
Calling himself ‘a child of the blues’, Michael re-visits the songs of his youth on his new album. Gettin’ Together is made of the songs he first learned to play when he picked up the guitar and that have stayed with him through nearly 5 decades as a roots performer and historian. This disc is a celebration not only of Browne’s formative blues, but of just being able to get back together in the studio and jam with other players. Special guests involved here include Harrison Kennedy, J.J. Milteau, John Sebastian, Eric Bibb, Colin Linden and Mary Flower.
There’s an easiness to Gettin’ Together that I’m really enjoying with the casual yet excellent musicianship from all involved. Hard to say who played what exactly except for Milteau’s harp playing, but MJB’s casual singing voice echoing John Mayall really ties it all together. Not being familiar with most of these songs- I’m more of a blues fan than historian- makes listening a fresh experience. He wears his blues well, as do all of his compatriots on the album.
Montreal’s Michael Jerome Browne is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter as well as a living encyclopedia of American roots music, so there isn’t much about the blues he doesn’t know. He’s also a three time Canadian Folk Music Award winner, recipient of the Blues With A Feeling Award at The Maple Blues Awards in 2020 and five time Juno Award nominee, so he’s bonified; he’s got prospects. Gettin’ Together is the kind of stuff you can imagine being played around a bonfire at the beach or maybe for a Saturday afternoon back porch party, with a loose friendliness that invites everybody in. Yeah… I can imagine this disc making LOTS of friends.
HOT TRACKS: Living With The Blues, Fixin’ To Die Blues, Monday Morning Blues
RODEN HOUSE BLUES The Hip Priests (The Sign Records) *** ½
So- this is what pissed off sounds like. Roden House Blues, The Hip Priest’s fifth full length album (singles, EP’s and compilations notwithstanding) ain’t no Mississippi blues. It’s a fierce, high energy sermon of misanthropy, hate and contempt… you know, punk, at least in attitude. It’s the kind of records that makes most bands sound lazy.
After 16 years a lot of bands hit cruise control and coast on former glories, but The Hip Priests still have the fire in their belly to rage against the status quo. This is like a marriage between The Ramones and early 80’s Motorhead; snarling, dangerous rock & roll. Written and recorded during the pandemic, Roden House Blues rails against the world we live in and post-Covid society in general. With song titles like Trojan Horseshit, Chasing Death and Sell My Soul they’re talking about some dark things. Then there’s the punk aesthetic; play hard and fast, and don’t stay any longer than absolutely necessary… only 3 of these 11 songs clock in at over 3 minutes. If you know The Air Pirates and the Metal Line sketch, “They say what they gotta say… they get the fuck in then they get the fuck out.” The press info describes this as a “(tight) collection of 11 low-fat, lean and mean banging tunes that could fit into 30 minutes.”
Roden House, after which the album is named, is one of Nottingham’s former lace factories where The Hip Priests have their own space. While this isn’t your dad’s or your grandpa’s blues there is a thematic correlation… it’s fair to call these numbers tales of loss, self-reflection, revelation and howling laments. Roden House Blues has been referred to as having “huge choruses, colossal dual guitar riffarama, more hooks than a fishing shop and one hell of an attitude”, and like listening to one of those early Motorhead albums, this thing will just wear you the fuck out. That is until you towel off, chug a beer and head right back in for round two.
The noisy, distorted production style can be a bit of a problem- hey, I’m an old geezer- but the energy and commitment make Roden House Blues worthy of attention.
HOT TRACKS: Trojan Horseshit, Just To Get by, Persistence Is Futile
SIGN OF THE CROSS Savage Grace (Massacre Records) ****+
If you’re getting tired of waiting for a new Judas Priest album, this just might fill the gap. Sign Of The Cross, the latest from Savage Grace, sounds and feels like modern-era Priest and new singer Gabriel Colon has the range and power of vintage Rob Halford, but enough with the comparisons. These guys play hard and fast, and are not interested in taking prisoners.
It’s a long way from those initial demoes in 1982. Guitarist Christian Logue has gathered an incredible cast of musicians from across the world to create what has been called “the most devastating version of Savage Grace yet”, and when faced with the sheer brute force of Sign Of The Cross I believe them. Logue is right proud of the new album too; “This is my masterpiece and a grand addition to my legacy of universally acclaimed classic metal recordings” he says, not immodestly. “Every song on this album is powerful, there is not one weak track on this record.” All killer, no filler… I dig the attitude.
When I compare this to modern Judas Priest it’s the powerful riffs and general song construction, and when they’re not barreling down the freeway at top speed, a song like Land Beyond The Walls has a bit of swing to it; plus, you don’t get the same twin lead guitar thing. Sign Of The Cross was produced by the guitarist then mixed & mastered by Roland Grapow at Grapow Studios with all the meatiness of a huge rack of barbequed ribs. I can’t name the other members of the band- didn’t even see mention of them on the band website site- but then again this is Christian Logue’s vision. Good rhythm section, hard and hammering riffs, average yet quite serviceable lead breaks, but that singer… oh man, where did he even find Gabriel Colon and why haven’t we heard of him before this?!? I’d love to see Savage Grace open for Priest and get Halford & Colon into some kind of mind-bending vocal duet.
For a band that’s been around this long Savage Grace’s discography is rather slight, but Sign Of The Cross has the kind of blood and spit to get them noticed in a very large way with the denim and leather crowd. This thing is a BEAST.
HOT TRACKS: Land Beyond The Walls, Branded, Barbarians At The Gate
FAN FAVORITES VOL.1 UNPLUGGED Michelle Malone (SBS Records) *****
Michelle Malone’s new record is just what the name implies; stripped down acoustic versions of songs that have become staples of her gigs. If you’re not familiar with Malone, Fan Favorites Vol.1 Unplugged is the perfect way to become acquainted and yes, you can thank me later.
I became familiar with Michelle when I first started writing album reviews in the early 90’s and a cassette by “Michelle Malone & Drag The River” landed on my desk. She’s been a mainstay of the American roots scene for more than 30 years and has built an impressive career as a singer, songwriter and road warrior. The idea to record new versions of older tunes came to her during the pandemic. She began performing stripped down songs in her living room, live streaming them to audiences on the internet. Old fans tuned in, new fans were made, and requests were taken. For the live stream she performed by herself, but for FFV1 she took guitarist Doug Kees into the studio to record these simple arrangements of some of her biggest hits… and the songs that I was familiar with previously haven’t lost the energy found in the original band arrangements. The power is still there, perhaps transmuted to a different and exciting element.
Michelle Malone is a southern gal- she calls Atlanta, Georgia home- and you can feel it in the soul of these songs. Being a gal with an acoustic guitar may invite comparisons to Sheryl Crow, but she’s kind of like a rowdy cousin that will get you in trouble if you’re not careful. The most accurate description I’ve heard of Malone’s music is that’s it’s “ingrained in the soundtrack of the American South, mixing the rebellious stomp of roadhouse rock & roll with the raw grit of blues, the holy-rolling rasp of gospel, the slow motion sweep of country soul and the organic warmth of folk music”. You will feel all of these things as you listen to FFV1.
Fan Favorites Vol.1 Unplugged is the result of fans reacting to and requesting these stripped down versions of Michelle’s songs, and I daresay the sparse arrangements open them up to even deeper interpretations. It’s like when Springsteen does something acoustic; it makes you want to jump in a little deeper and wrap the music around you. Michelle Malone doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground, and probably not you either… but these songs will make you feel as though you’re a good friend, and that’s kind of priceless.
HOT TRACKS: Feather In A Hurricane, Avalon, Tighten Up The Spring
APOLLO 6 Aloud (bandcamp/independent) ****
These LA rockers by way of Boston are back with their 3rd album in as many years. Apollo 6 is full of songs crashing and banging around the edges, the kind of stuff that makes your noodle think and your feet move. There’s a Jefferson Airplane psychedelic and latter day Beatles energy at play on this one, a very different vibe from the Muscle Schoals inspired Sprezzatura from 2020. Great hooks and a thirst for musical adventure makes this irresistible.
After putting the finishing touches on Sprezzatura Aloud, like every other band, found themselves unable to tour. As with so many records I’ve heard coming from this period, Apollo 6 is shaped around personal concerns and observations. Singer Jen de la Osa and singer/ guitarist Henry Beguiristain wrote about the benefits of meditation, the effect of social media and the coping mechanisms we turn to in dark times. After writing the songs they reached out to bandmates Charles Murphy (bass) and Chris Jago (drums) who utilized their homes studios to help put the album together. “It became the most self-expressive batch of songs we’ve ever written” de la Osa says. “Almost every one was written about something we went through during the pandemic.” So the main themes at work here are coping, survival and resilience.
Apollo 6 is a throwback to when rock & roll was vital. The disc was produced by Aloud and mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios. You won’t hear machines at work here, just the blood and sweat of 5 musicians (including sax player Alanah Ntzouras Maguire) leaning into it and giving the music everything they have… and there’s not nearly enough of that in today’s scene. Psychedelic, rockin’, thought-provoking, in the true spirit of rock & roll… Aloud’s Apollo 6 is beauty and the beast wrapped into one.
HOT TRACKS: The Comeback Kid, Stranger In The Alps, Stoned Ape
CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW
In For The Kill Budgie (MCA) RELEASED: May 17th, 1974
The 4th album for this Welsh power trio. Typical hard rock for the time period, really, but of their 11 studio records this is the one that really captured my attention. Memorable riffs and solos from then guitarist Tony Bourge kept this on my turntable for quite some time.
I stumble upon Budgie quite by accident. Attending a dance at the local arena with a live band, they played the title track and I was immediately taken with the stop/ start intro. Knowing the guys in the group I asked during a break what the song was and they said In For The Kill by Budgie. Within a couple of weeks I had tracked it down at Pete’s TV in Castlegar and drove my family nuts by playing it over and over. Hey- I was only 16 at the time.
So what was it that captured my attention then and still holds it today? The songs, all written by singer/ bassist Burke Shelley, are blues based and fairly simple, yet catchy. His lyrics were unusual; Crash Course In Brain Surgery and Zoom Club being good examples. As a singer Shelley’s voice is surprisingly weak, particularly for a hard rock band, and yet somehow it works. The article on Wikipedia says the band produced the record but the back of my vinyl says Crash Course In Brain Surgery was produced by Roger Bain, producer of Black Sabbath’s first 3 albums so that, and the title cut, got me into the band.
Budgie were an influence on Metallica too- they included covers of Crash Course In Brain Surgery and Breadfan on their Garage Inc. album. Budgie, sadly, never enjoyed the commercial success of their contemporaries through their many lineup changes. Burke Shelley died in 2022 after battling health issues for several years, and even though they never reached the heights of a Sabbath or Zeppelin, I hope he went knowing that there are people who still love Budgie.
HOT TRACKS: In For The Kill, Hammer And Tongs, Wondering What Everyone Knows