Music Reviews by the Rock Doctor – Oct 28th, 2017

Podcast for October 28th, 2017 😉

WHITESNAKE (1987) Whitesnake (Rhino) *** ½

This is the 30th anniversary edition of the biggest album in the ‘snake’s career. Available in several different configurations, the only version Sunrise Records had in stock was the 2 disc set, with the re-mastered album on disc 1 and a concert from the tour to support the record on disc 2; a ‘must-have’ combo for Whitesnake fans.

Was this album really that big a deal in its time?  Yes- perhaps moreso than any other, going 5-times platinum in Canada at 8-times platinum in America.   The second half of an effective 1-2 punch (the first being 1984’s magnificent Slide It In) 1987, as this is commonly known, put David Coverdale’s band on the map once and for all.   Originally produced by Mike Stone this is a tough, bluesy, melodic album that defined the best of the hair metal era, from the songs to the videos.

The booklet in this 30th anniversary edition details the album’s difficult birth, definitely a worthwhile read.  Written mostly by Coverdale and guitarist John Sykes, Sykes bailed when his former band mate Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy died.  Completion of the record at Little Mountain was hampered further when David suffered a serious sinus infection that left him unable to sing for much of 1986. That this came out at all is itself a miracle.

So the deluxe reissue?  Right; the re-mastered version of the album sounds much the same as the original CD in my collection does- nice, beefy rock & roll.  What makes this worth having is the behind the scenes story, and the live concert CD.  The album proper was recorded by one band; Coverdale on vocals, Sykes on guitar, Neil Murray on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums.  By the time Whitesnake hit the road in ’87 to promote the record it was a completely different group with Adrian Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell on guitars,  Rudy Sarzo on bass and the amazing Tommy Aldridge on drums.

While I’m not big on box set anniversary reissues of any band’s big albums- Pink Floyd cured me of that- this 2 disc version of Whitesnake 1987 strikes the perfect balance; a re-tweaked version of the original record, plus a concert from the subsequent supporting tour.  I’ve listened to the demos and other extras on Spotify and am glad I didn’t pony up for the full meal deal.  A cool and informative booklet completes this package though, making it a welcome (and loud!) addition to my CD collection.

KEY CUTS:  DISC ONE: Give Me All Your Love, Here I Go Again

DISC TWO: Slow An’ Easy, Crying In The Rain

THE DRIFTER & THE PREACHER Barney Bentall (True North) *****

It’s been awhile since I checked up on Barney so, on a whim, I purchased his new album on I-Tunes.  He’s recorded over the years with The Legendary Hearts, The High Bar Gang and The Grand Cariboo Opry as well as under his own name.  While The Drifter & The Preacher has a pop/rock vibe I haven’t heard from him in awhile, it combines elements from all of his musical styles with classic melodies to wonderful effect.

“I have often grappled with the tug-and-pull between the nomadic path of the troubadour and the predictable life of the village” Barney notes on his website about life as a solo musician and as part of a band.  “Thankfully there comes a time in your life when you feel the choices you made in the past have a purpose, and that, by and large, the journey now makes sense. I am getting closer to that point of peace in my life.”  You can read more about the creation this album at BB’s website,

If you’re not familiar with Bentall’s music, comparisons to Jackson Browne and Blue Rodeo are valid points of familiarity- in fact, Jim Cuddy is featured on the track Won’t Change The World.  Cuddy calls Barney “a very poignant songwriter; his voice has a ring of authenticity and I am easily swept up in the narrative of his songs”, which is how I’ve felt about BB’s music since first hearing Something To Live For in ‘88.  As Cuddy also noted, “His records are my ‘go-to’ ones when I need some familiarity to soothe my worries” and again, I agree- Barney’s songs are wonderful stories to get lost in.

The Drifter & The Preacher was inspired by two pivotal figures from Bentall’s past; his father-in-law, and his father Howard- a preacher from Calgary.  The Miner, a song he co-wrote and performs with his son Dustin, is about his father-in-law heading north to pan for gold in The Cariboo region of BC.  And while The Preacher is about his situation, Barney says it’s not fully autobiographical.  Intending to catch the spirit of rock & roll rebellion, he says “I used to think that being a preacher’s kid would somehow keep me from a career in music… (then) I realized you couldn’t pick a better past!”

The Drifter & The Preacher is an intensely personal record, recorded in Vancouver, full of enthralling stories and Canadian-ness that envelope you as Barney employs musical elements from most of the places he’s been in the past, musically speaking.  It’s like a deep and long conversation that you never want to end.

KEY CUTS:  The Miner (with Dustin Bentall), Moon At The Door, Won’t Change The World (with Jim Cuddy)

STRIP IT DOWN Casey James (CaseyJamesOfficial) ****

If the name seems vaguely familiar, James was an American idol finalist.  What may not seem familiar is the breadth and depth of the music here.  Returning to his Texas blues roots with the help of producer Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Foghat), it would seem that James has beaten the American Idol curse with Strip It Down.

Instead of following the expectations of TV producers or the slick game plan of a major label, Casey collected 13 songs he’d written or co-written (plus a goose bump-raising rendition of Little Willie John’s Need Your Love So Bad, a song also done by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac), holed up in a Nashville studio with his band and hammered out the bulk of this album in just 4 days.  That’s how it is with the blues- strike while the iron is hot, while the feeling is in the air.

Reading the bio for the disc, when I saw the phrase “American Idol finalist” my first thought was “Jeez, not this again”- but Strip It Down is the opposite of what I expected.  Far from being some turgid, over-produced pop confection, Strip is a lively blues outing powered by James’ smoky vocals and his wonderfully lyrical guitar playing. “This music has been a lifetime in the making for me” Casey says in the liner notes. “If you listen close enough, you can hear my heartbeat; the thing that keeps me alive.  This album has been a healing process for me.  To share my heart and passion with the world in an honest way is the best feeling ever.”  That honesty is evident as you listen and feel this album.

Cool songs, Tom Hamgridge’s sure-footed and spacious production and drumming, plus cool treats like the duet with Delbert McClinton on Bulletproof make Strip It Down one hell of a delightful surprise.

KEY CUTS:  Bulletproof, Need Your Love So Bad, Stupid Crazy (with Bonnie Bishop)

BREAK Andre BissonBREAK Andre Bisson (independent) ****

Bisson’s music is a wonderful blend of Motown, blues, big band, gospel and R&B, and that’s never been more evident than it is on Break, his 7th and latest album.  Arranged and produced by Bisson, ‘cool’ is just the right word to describe this new adventure.

Bisson gets around- he’s had 6 international tours and has opened for the likes of Colin James, Jimmie Vaughan, Robben Ford and former BNL front man Steven Page. He put Break together with some stellar help from Jessie O’Brien (keys) of The Colin James Band, Jason Logue (Aretha Franklin, The Temptations) and Rob Sommerville (The Temptations, The Four Tops, Paul Anka), making this a full and balanced record.  From lively horn charts to orchestrations to Bisson’s singing and delectable guitar work, this is a pretty easy disc to enjoy.

One of the standout cuts on Break is a totally re-imagined version of The Beatles’ classic Eleanor Rigby.  Far from a dour ballad with cellos, Bisson has turned it into an upbeat slice of funk that really works.  Gotta wonder if McCartney has heard this and what he thinks of it; I imagine he’d be pretty knocked out.  All in all this is a pretty fluid album, never staying in one spot for too long in terms of style or tempo, ending on the ballad Nothing At All that just features Andre’s voice, an acoustic guitar and a (gasp) cello.

Andre Bisson came out of the Applied Music Program at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario and has used his lessons well in constructing what is turning out to be an impressive musical career.  As a singer his delivery is emotional but not histrionic or overwrought.  As a guitarist he is soulful and exacting, and as a producer/ arranger his sense of balance and dynamics is near perfect.  Break is a very enjoyable jazz/ pop/ soul/ blues fusion that I’m sure you’ll find as much fun to listen to as I do.

KEY CUTS:  The Last Sandwich In Hungry Town, I Got The Right, Nothing At All

THE BEST OF VOLUME ONE Jack De KeyzerTHE BEST OF VOLUME ONE Jack De Keyzer (Blue Star) *****+

16 of the best cuts from one of Canada’s true blues superstars- what’s not to love?  I’ve heard some of De Keyzer’s stuff over the years but this collection, covering 1985 to 2009, really knocks me out.  As The Edmonton Journal says, “Blues bands would kill to sound as good as this crew.”

The simple packaging for The Best Of includes an essay from Jack that offers a brief description of each song, and notes that these are “Sixteen of what I consider my best tracks, spanning 24 years of recordings, condensed into 70+ minutes of blues, rock & soul good times!”  De Keyzer’s guitar playing is what will catch your attention first, a combination of SRV fierceness with a Keith Richards taste for memorable licks that just somehow makes your heart beat stronger.  As a singer, his voice is solid, well suited for and comfortable with this kind of material.  There have been many musicians in his band over the years, but as he has an ear for good songs and tasty arrangements Jack also displays unerring judgement in picking just the right players.

The Best Of Jack De Keyzer does what any self-respecting greatest hits compilation does; gather some of his best material together to hopefully foster interest in his back catalogue.  Though I consider myself a blues fan I am poorly informed when it comes to De Keyzer’s music… The Best Of has been grabbing me by the collar all afternoon and telling me to get deeper into his stuff.  These 16 tracks jump, swing, wail and get down, and though they come from several different records, they hang together as a singular expression of Jack’s talent and impeccable musicianship.

The playing on this disc is intense and de Keyzer’s soloing is inspiring; more than once I’ve looked at my own guitar against the back wall while listening to The Best Of, wishing I could make it cry and scream as Jack does his, but knowing that will take many more years of practice- probably more than I have left.  Still, what great music does is inspire and lift you up, and that’s just what The Best Of Jack De Keyzer does.  This is like Downchild meets Powder Blues; a desert island classic without a doubt.

KEY CUTS:  Cotton Candy, Blue Thing, Who Let The Cat Out of The Bag, My Love Has Gone

SUBWAY STORIES Ilana Katz KatzSUBWAY STORIES Ilana Katz Katz (Vizz Tone) *****

This is the 3rd CD for this unusual Boston artist.  She’s a fiddler, a singer, a novelist and visual artist, but far from a dilettante that merely chooses to dabble in music.  Subway Stories is a truly impressive slice of blues. No less than guitarist Ronnie Earl (one of my favourite bluesmen) calls her “brilliant and soulful”, and that’s just what she is.

Ilana’s fiddling stems from the old-time Appalachian tradition and that makes her blues feel even deeper.  Subway Stories’ album cover claims she plays ‘blues & roots fiddle’,  and she wields the instrument the way most of our heroes play a Stratocaster.  She is joined here by producer/ guitarist Barry Levinson (Canned Heat) plus Hank Van Sickle on bass, Anthony Geraci on piano, and harmonica ace Sugar Ray Norcia. As a singer her voice is serviceable but ordinary, but oddly that in no way takes away from the musical excellence with which these cool tracks are executed.

Blues vibe aside, Subway Stories is one of the most soulful discs you’ll ever hear.  According to her website Ilana is “a versatile, improvisational musician, as comfortable performing solo in large theatres as she is being featured in 14 piece rock bands or on Boston’s subway platforms, where you can find her most Fridays.”  On the back of this album she dedicates Subway Stories to the Killer Blues Headstone Project, which provides headstones for blues musicians  lying in unmarked graves- go to if you’d like to learn more.

Ilana Katz Katzhas delivers a beautifully soulful and well played set of songs here, most written by Katz and/or Levinson, along with a sweet remake of the traditional Motherless Child and John Brown’s Dream.  This disc has been sitting on my desk for a bit and, now having heard it, I only wish I’d gotten to it sooner.  Subway Stories is an inspiring disc that you’ll not soon forget.

KEY CUTS:  Subway Blues, Tribute To Slim Harpo, Don’t Forget, Motherless Child

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