John The Rock Doctor Reviews The new Springsteen and Red Dragon Cartel

HIGH HOPES Bruce Springsteen (Columbia) *****Maybe it’s my age or the jaded perspective that can come with having written album reviews for far too long, but in recent years there have been few records that I have fallen deeply and helplessly in love with from front to back. I couldn’t care less that this is a combination of re-done tracks cover songs, and leftovers from recent albums.  For me at least, and the missus too, this disc is deep and satisfying.In recent interviews Bruce has called Tom Morello and his guitar (he filled in for Steve Van Zandt on the Australian leg of the last tour) as his muse and inspirationfor High Hopes.  It was Morello’s suggestion that American Skin (41 Shots) be re-done for this record, and the results are thrilling.  Tom is all over this record, featuring prominently on 7 of the 12 songs, even trading verses with Springsteen on the highlight of the album, a muscular remake of The Ghost Of Tom Joad.  I would imagine he is on this album thanks to 3 things; his live work with the band last year, his unusual guitar-playing style, and the political nature of the material he’s recorded under the nom de guerre of The Night Watchman.  It could have been a train wreck, but the results are truly glorious.Though I’ve enjoyed Springsteen’s hits over the years, it’s only in the last few months that I’ve really become a fan.  Working on an episode of my rock radio show on Springsteen last year had me digging deeper, past songs like Born To Run and Glory Days  into his catalogue- the further I went the more I enjoyed it, to the point of buying the Tracks box set (now THERE is a veritable feast of leftovers!) before Christmas- I somehow knew the 18 cut single disc version just wouldn’t be enough.Despite the genesis of High Hopes it rolls out like a finely plotted album, not unlike Born In The USA.  I haven’t fallen hard for everything Bruce has done (Nebraska still defies absorption) but at this point in my journey Springsteen’s music really speaks to me.  If I were still writing top ten lists, High Hopes would certainly be at the top for 2014, maybe even the decade so far. What would be a throwaway project or ego masturbation for many artists to fill the gap between proper releases has turned into a great record here.COOL CUTS:  41 Shots (American Skin), The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Harry’s Place, The Wall RED DRAGON CARTEL Red Dragon Cartel (Frontiers)  ***Remember guitarist Jake E. Lee?  He settled in as Ozzy’s foil for a couple of great albums (The Ultimate Sin, Bark At The Moon) after the tragic death of Randy Rhodes.  After attempting to parlay that association into a career with Badlands in the 90’s, who threw in the towel after a couple albums, Lee retired and disappeared, believing his 15 minutes to be up. Flash forward to present day, when friend and musician Ronnie Mancuso (ex-Beggars & Thieves) coaxes the reluctant guitar hero into a studio in Vegas to check out what he (Ronnie) has been up to.  The result is this crunchalicious album, produced by Mancuso and Lee, then mixed and mastered by Kevin Churko (Ozzy, Five Finger Death Punch) Turns out that Jake hadn’t spent his self-imposed exile watching daytime TV- he came in armed with literally hundreds of great riffs he’d written over the years, giving the band a great head start.  Though the leadoff track Deceived sounds very much like Bark At The Moon stylistically, the rest of the album doesn’t. Singer DJ Smith is the greatest voice I’ve ever heard, perhaps that explains the impressive guest list at the mic, including  Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) and Paul Dianno (ex-Iron Maiden). All that is nearly immaterial- it’s just a treat to hear Lee strap on his Strat, turn the Marshalls up to 11, and just friggin’ play. Red Dragon Cartel is classic guitar driven rock & roll with occasional flashes of brilliance (love the intro to Slave, and the opening section of War Machine is very War Pigs until it elevates into the main- and kinda cool- strutting riff) but overall I have to say it’s kind of average- which isn’t to say I don’t like it, but it doesn’t make the hair on my arm stand up either. Jake E. Lee’s attachment to the project will surely attract attention, but it remains to be seen what kind of legs this thing has. If classic metal, not the stuff the kids call metal these days, blows wind up your skirt, you could do a lot worse than throwing Red Dragon Cartel into your CD player.  It releases in Europe January 24th and January 28th in North America.  Who knows? A few more spins and I may fall head over heels. COOL CUTS:  War Machine, Deceiver, Slave 

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