GET ROLLIN’ Nickelback (BMG) *** ½
It’s the 10th album for these Canuck rockers. Their last full length El Pee was 5 years ago… Get Rollin’ is another slice of slick, bottom-heavy rock with pop smarts for this band that is more popular than they are divisive. Sure it sounds familiar, but if it ain’t broke why fix it?
As far as Nickelback records go, Get Rollin’ throws some nice changeups amidst the posing and heaviosity like the mid-tempo Tidal Wave, the country rock of High Time, the acoustic heart of the record in Steel Still Rusts and stadium filling get-your-Bic-lighter-out ballad Does Heaven Even Know You’re Missing. The case can be made that their albums sound similar, usually by critics and those that don’t bother to scratch below the surface. While there is a certain consistency to their sound, they’ve always been more than a one trick pony- those who bother with more than a passive listen would notice that. There just aren’t many bands out there that can combine a hard rock roar with pop music savvy like these guys.
Nickeback’s mission has never been to re-invent the rock & roll wheel and Get Rollin’ certainly isn’t an album that does that. This one is geared towards satisfying the fans as opposed to corralling new or casual fans, but if their claims to be the second best-selling foreign act in the U.S. behind The Beatles is even close to being true, they hardly need to. I like the sonic heft of crunchy hard rockers like San Quentin and Vegas Bomb, against which tracks like the aforementioned Steel Stills Rusts and High Time stand out in even starker relief. Yeah, Get Rollin’ might sound familiar but so what? It feels way too damn good.
HOT TRACKS: San Quentin, Steel Still Rusts, Tidal Wave
DEAR ILLUSION Steve Hill (Independent) ****+
Singer/ songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist Steve Hill celebrates his 25th year as a recording artist with a rockin’ new record. Dear Illusion, 3 years in the making, features a horn section (The Devil Horns) as well as 7 time UK Blues Awards Drummer Of The Year Wayne Proctor, who also mixed and mastered the disc. Bright and energetic, Dear Illusion makes a deep impression.
Known over the last decade as a one man band it’s a treat to hear Steve Hill working with other people, making Dear Illusion a step up from previous records. As for why it took 3 years to put the album together, Hill says that he “had a version finished right before the pandemic started. There was no point in releasing it then, so I decided to wait. Overall I feel like the album as a whole is telling that no matter what happens, you should give it everything you’ve got and move on… be the best person you can be, and no matter what, the sun will rise again.”
I’ve always liked Steve as a singer (this is my 5th record of his), and I think it’s working with others like The Devil Horns and drummer Wayne Proctor that has opened him up and made the new record so engaging. There’s something about a real happening horn section that raises the energy, and you can feel everyone rising to the occasion on Dear Illusion. Of course, having great songwriting in your back pocket doesn’t hurt either. The one man band thing always felt gimmicky to me- no offense to Mr. Hill- and feeling the communion between the musicians involved on the new album is invigorating. I daresay Steve’s guitar playing is better here too as a result. This is the best thing he’s done yet.
HOT TRACKS: Don’t Let The Truth Get In The Way (Of A Good Story), Everything You Got, Until The Next Time
BEYOND Autograph (Frontiers) ***
It feels like I’m caught in a time warp, some sort of temporal nexus (Star Trek Generations anyone?) because here’s another hearty band of 80’s rockers up for another kick at the cat. Autograph, noted for their 80’s anthem Turn Up The Radio have just released this gang of riffy, hard charging songs. Original or challenging? Uh, no… but fun to listen to? You bet.
Autograph disbanded in 1989, but in 2011 founding members Randy Rand (bass) and Steve Lynch (guitars) rekindled their friendship, which eventually led to a reunion. Original singer Steve Plunkett was asked to join but couldn’t due to a busy schedule; enter vocalist Simon Daniels (Jailhouse, Flood, 1RKO), whose hard edged bluesy voice more than fit the bill. In 2019 guitarist Lynch decided to leave to pursue other musical directions… enter House Of Lords’ Jimi Bell and new drummer Marc Wieland, and you have Autograph 2022.
In mid-April of this year Randy turned in the master tapes and artwork for Beyond to the record company. Then, as they put their heads together to plot its release, the bassist received devastating health news. Shockingly, just a few days later, he died. Before that happened he told his bandmates that if something were to happen to him before release plans were finalized, he wanted them to make sure the album came out. So, of interest to fans in particular, Beyond represents Randy Rand’s final recorded works.
Beyond is essentially what you would expect and want from Autograph; melodic vocals, hooks everywhere, and a heavy thickness that brings their sound forward into today. Their mission here is to take what they’re known for and do it extremely well. On one hand you could say we’ve heard this stuff before but on the other, let’s crack a beer and let the good times roll.
HOT TRACKS: Your Slave Tonight, Take Me Higher, Flying High
RARITIES Bruce Cockburn (True North Records) *****
This is more for diehard fans than the public at large. Rarities, a digital-only release, gathers 16 rarely heard and newly remastered recordings into one collection including a pair of previously unreleased songs that weren’t included on 2014’s limited edition Rumours Of Glory box set, plus 4 tracks that appeared on tribute albums dedicated to Gordon Lightfoot, Pete Seeger, Mississippi Sheiks and Mississippi John Hurt. Casual listeners won’t care, but us fans who appreciate a deeper look into this gifted artist will treasure it.
I wonder at this not being a physical release, but then as a reviewer and consumer I get my hands on the majority of music digitally anyway- growing vinyl collection and unwieldy amount of CD’s aside. Rarities is mainly Bruce, his acoustic guitar and literate lyrical observations; what I call ‘good thinkin’ music’. I have 7 or 8 of his albums plus 3 compilations and, as enjoyable as his electric and/or full band tracks are (try Night Train, Tokyo or If A Tree Falls from those), there’s something about the intimacy of this new collection that feels far more personal. He’s a guitarist of uncommon talent, and while his melodies hypnotize his words speak of deeper things shared between friends. Even on the hits mentioned above, he told me in 2010 that for him to write a song it starts with a personal reaction. Pop stars certainly don’t work like that.
Bruce’s Life Short Call Now album is a personal favorite, and I was pleased to find Twilight On The Champlain Sea with Ani DeFranco here; originally intended for that disc but ultimately used on the Japan-only version. The oldest track on Rarities is Bird Without Wings, recorded in 1966 and from Bruce’s own personal files. Usually when an artist makes a record there’s a theme or through line that links the songs musically or thematically, but the fact that these sonic orphans come from disparate places gives Rarities a kind of accidental unity.
Rarities is a compilation with nary a hit amongst its 16 tracks, but their baroque simplicity make for an evening of intimate, unforgettable listening. With a winter full of dark nights ahead of us, I can’t imagine a more wonderful way to spend that time.
HOT TRACKS: Twilight On The Champlain Sea, Come Down Healing, Waterwalker Theme
THE LEGACY (BEST OF) U.D.O. (AFM) *****
These German metal legends cap off their 35th anniversary year in fist-pumping style. The Legacy is a double disc career survey, 33 songs in all including 4 rare bonus tracks for fans already familiar with their stuff. If you’ve ever been curious about how the one-time voice of Accept has done since leaving that band… the answer is very, very well.
Of course the band is led by former Accept vocalist Udo Dirkschnieder, who turned 70 this past April. He formed the group after leaving his old band in 1987 and, as with any group that’s been around this long there have been several personnel changes. Today the band includes Udo at the mic, Andrey Smirnov on guitar, Fabian Dee Dammers on guitar, bassist Tilen Hudrap, and Udo’s son Sven behind the kit. The Legacy includes tracks from all 17 of the band’s studio albums, and the remarkable thing is how consistent their sound and songwriting has been through all the changes. Udo’s voice is certainly distinct with a raw and ferocious power that could never be mistaken for someone else. The songs themselves are driven by walls of guitars in lockstep at a nice gallop; melodic, infectious and pummeling with tasty, athletic guitar solos.
Though U.D.O. has been making albums for 35 years it’s only in recent years- say, the last 5 albums- that I’ve begun to pay closer attention. Perhaps part of that is because I’m something of an Accept loyalist, thinking that Dirkschneider wouldn’t be able to carry the load, but that view is proven catastrophically wrong by the band’s catalog in general and The Legacy in particular; Udo has a knack for surrounding himself with the right people. This is denim and leather heavy metal at its very best, and I daresay it rivals (and in many cases surpasses) what Accept has done since Udo left. Powerful, undeniable- The Legacy is perhaps THE metal release of the year.
HOT TRACKS: DISC ONE: Fear Detector, Falling Angels
DISC TWO: Vendetta, Freelance Man
ACE OF BLUES Angela Strehli (Antone’s Records/ New West) *** ½
Strehli returns with her first album in over 17 years. Comprised mainly of covers, most of which any blues fan will recognize, Ace Of Blues is what Buddy Guy calls “Tough, soulful and sexy- my kind of blues.” Turns out it’s my kind of blues too.
Angela, now 76, co-founded the iconic Austin blues club Antone’s with the late Clifford Rush, Jimmy Reed and countless others. This disc pays tribute to the artists that have inspired her throughout her career with renditions of songs made famous by Elmore James, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Clay and more. Her voice and singing on these 12 songs is soulful, rich and deep, delivering a set of blues classics backed with a lifetime of experience in the blues. They may not be her songs save for SRV, the tribute to Stevie Ray that closes out the album, but she really makes you feel them.
Ace Of Blues was co-produced by Angela and her husband Bob Brown with a vintage sound that at the same time isn’t too retro. Strehli is surrounded by a group of talented musicians that know how to bring the groove, supporting her vocals with just the right energy and stepping up into the spotlight when it’s time for a solo to emphasize the emotion of the tracks. The blues world is glad to see her back in action; Bonnie Raitt says she’s “always a fan, I’m so glad she’s back”, while Charlie Musselwhite notes that “Angela has just kept getting better. She truly loves and ‘gets’ real deal blues and what it means.”
What Maria Muldaur had to say accurately sums things up when she says “Her lifelong devotion to the blues is fully realized here. this is an absolute must-have album for any blues lover.” Who are we to argue?
HOT TRACKS: Gambler’s Blues, I Love The Life I Live, You Never Can Tell