Music Reviews by John the Rock Doctor
HEADBANGER’S SYMPHONY Wolf Hoffmann (Nuclear Blast) *****
This is only the 2nd solo album from Accept’s lead guitarist, but it’s a masterpiece. Headbanger’s Symphony is all the proof necessary that classic music and heavy metal are not strange bedfellows at all.The first song (and single, I believe) is Scherzo, which is an adaptation of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 that also uses a riff from Accept’s Teutonic Terror, and that pretty much tells you all you need to know about Wolf’s methods here overall. Other classical pieces he takes on include Georges Bizet’s Je Crois Entendre Encore, Vivaldi’s Concerto For Two Cellos In G Minor and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. Classical fans may be turned off by the heaviness, but Accept fans are excited by the combination.Produced by Hoffmann himself and mixed by Andy Sneap, who produced Accept’s last three (and brilliant, might I add) records, Headbanger’s Symphony is a disc that truly lives up to its title. I’ve been a metal fan for over 40 years and, while I enjoy classical music, I consider myself a novice in its appreciation. Put the two together and I’m a happy camper.
ESSENTIALS: Scherzo, Adagio, Air On The G String
PURE & SIMPLE Dolly Parton (RCA) *****
Dolly Parton’s 43 solo album, inspired by the Pure & Simple series of concerts given last year in Nashville and at Dollywood, is a stripped down set of songs- and it’s irresistible.Ms. Parton has always been a formidable songwriter and Pure & Simple shows that her talent has not diminished over the years. 4 of these 10 tracks have been recorded by Dolly before; Tomorrow Is Forever, Say Forever You’ll Be Mine, Can’t Be That Wrong and Mama but, as with the new stuff, they lend themselves well to this intimate delivery.Pure & Simple- written, arranged and produced by Parton- is more than a country record. You’ll hear some pedal steel and mandolin here yes, but I’d call it folk and pop too. The lyrics may surprise those not familiar with Dolly’s work, but she reaches in and gives your heart a squeeze time and time again. There’s more to her than wigs and big tits and, at age 70, Parton is still making music that stands up to her best, most well known stuff- it’s that pure and simple.
ESSENTIALS: Never Not Love You, Can’t Be That Wrong, Outside Your Door
FRESH AIR Johnny Nicholas (independent) *****+
This Austin based roots musician has just released a career making album. Smooth, sophisticated and soulful, Fresh Air is one of the best discs you’ll hear this year.“Fresh Air is a collection of stories and melodies that have haunted me for some time” Johnny says. “There are some different styles here but all of this is the blues as I know it- as all American music and rock & roll has sprung from the same source. I don’t understand a whole lot of what is going on in the modern world, but I do know I could use a little ’fresh air’. I hope you dig the tunes.”There’s a soul to Johnny’s singing that draws you right in, whether he’s thundering down the tracks on the album opener Moonlight Train or treating us to the Wes Montgomery-style licks on How Do You Follow A Broken Heart? Great, intimate performances here with nary a false note from Nicholas and his band and the guest musicians too, and producer Bruce Hughes frames each song beautifully. GREAT stuff.
ESSENTIALS: Moonlight Train, Play Me (Like You Play Your Guitar), How Do You Follow A Broken Heart?
HOW LONG? Little Mike (Elrob Records) ****
In the mood for straight-up blues? How Long is harp master Little Mike’s news disc and it’s a bewitching blast of fresh Delta air.Little Mike isn’t a retro blues artist, he plays the blues the way it was taught to him by Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, Hubert Sumlin and James Cotton, all of whom took Mike under their wing at one time or another. He’s been playing and touring since the early 80’s, and what he’s doing on How Long is paying respect to blues traditions while he pushes the form forward.Produced by Little Mike and Alan Shelby and recorded at Electric Lady in New York, How Long is a lively set of 8 originals and 4 covers. As a singer Little Mike reminds me of Clapton, his harp playing has the bravura of James Cotton, and his band plays flat-out when called for- until it’s time to bring it down for a song like Sam’s Blues where they demonstrate a masterful, deft touch as they just lay back in the groove and float. Yeah- this is some mighty sweet blues, highly recommended.
ESSENTIALS: Cotton Mouth, Slam Hammer, Sam’s Blues
BRAVER THAN WE ARE Meat Loaf (429 Records) ****
For his 13th studio album, Mr. Loaf has released a disc with neither Bat nor Hell in the title. Braver Than We Are is also his first full length effort with songwriter Jim Steinman in years- and may just be the best thing they’ve done since the original Bat.As you might guess, this is more than simply another rock record. With Steinman writing the songs a healthy amount of theatricality is to be expected. Meat isn’t a great singer here, but then he never has been- what he excels at over the course of these ten tracks is bringing out the drama, and he surrounds himself with the right people. I don’t have access to the liner notes- bought my copy on I-Tunes- so I have no idea who produced it, but a harder edge to the sonics would’ve been nice.If any of these songs sound familiar to you, More first appeared on a Sisters of Mercy album in 1990, Loving You’s A Dirty Job was heard on a Bonnie Tyler record in 1986, plus songs from Jim’s musicals like The Dream Engine and Neverland are employed as well. And, Souvenirs steals a line from Meat’s first hit Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad; “You’ve been cold to me so long/ I’m crying icicles instead of tears”.The longest track (11:28) on Braver can be interpreted as an answer song to Dashboard… Going All The Way Is Just The Start not only feels like it picks up the storyline, but it also features Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito on vocals. The ‘deluxe’ version bonus tracks include several songwriting demos (including I Would Do Anything For Love) with voice and piano, and a 4:20 version of Going All The Way.I know I’ve violated my self imposed review length here, but not unlike a Jim Steinman song, I just can’t get this one done in 200 words. Braver Than We Are isn’t as bombastic as Meat’s earlier stuff but it’s still a theatrical and emotionally charged record, and working with Steinman again feels like coming home. This is a compelling argument for the album as an artistic form over singles- nicely done, guys.