The Record Box for Sunday, October 4th

CROSSEYED HEART Keith Richards (Mindless/ Virgin) ******A new solo record from this Rolling Stones mainstay, his first such since Main Offender in 1992, is reason enough for celebration.  That the album is so solid, so bloody good, is the icing on the cake.  No mincing words; Crosseyed Heart is WONDERFUL.I’ve been looking forward to this since I heard Keith was working on something new.   Keith Richards may look somewhat like a lizard after many years and some hard miles, but there’s no denying he’s one of the most soulful guys in rock & roll.  I think the organic way this album began has a lot to do with how it feels and comes across too.  In the liner essay by Anthony DeCurtis, Keith complains to drummer/ producer Steve Jordan about hard it is to get everyone together from the X-Pensive Winos (his solo band) as they are all highly sought after session musicians.  Jordan suggests that Keith just get to work, start cutting rhythm tracks and not worry too much about fleshing out the rest of the lineup until later.  That’s how they began, with Jordan on drums (he played on and produced Keef’s previous solo albums too) and Richards on guitar, often doubling on bass and/or piano. “I wanted to record, but I didn’t want to put an entire band together and make it into a project” Keith explains in that liner essay. “It kicked off in a very low-key way- let’s just cut some tracks when we’re in town and when we feel like it’.”Eventually, all of the Winos- like guitarist Waddy Watchel and backup singer Sara Dash- would end up wandering into Germano Studios in New York and contributing to what would become Crosseyed Heart. Sonically and musically it ranges from the raw acoustic blues of the title track to the country ache of Robbed Blind, from the Memphis soul of Lover’s Plea to the sinuous reggae cover Gregory Isaac’s Love is Overdue to some decidedly Stones-style rock & roll (I could almost hear Mick throwing a vocal down on Trouble) , making this an album that sums up who Keith Richards is, musically speaking.Crosseyed Heart has a very relaxed ‘music for the sake of music’ feel to it, thanks to its unhurried creation, and Richard’s singing voice is much smoother and musical than in the past, almost shockingly so.  These 15 songs (even his soulful cover of Goodnight Irene) seem to come from his very bones.  Want to know who this cat is?  Throw Crosseyed Heart on and he’ll answer you in 15 different ways.  This isn’t just one of the best records of the year it’s one of the best of the decade- at the very least.ESSENTIALS:  Crosseyed Heart, Trouble, Amnesia, Blues In The Morning, Lover’s Plea HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES Hollywood Vampires (John Varvatos/ Republic) ****Rarely does a band live up to the sobriquet ‘super group’ but, in this case, The Hollywood Vampires do just that.  Led by Alice Cooper & Bob Ezrin and including such members as Johnny Depp, Joe Perry, Brian Johnson, Paul McCartney, Zack Starkey and more, they have fashioned the most fun rock album of the year.HV is essentially a covers album, and the group was inspired by an informal drinking club of the same name from 1970’s Hollywood, roosting mainly at The Rainbow, that included members of the Doors and The Who as well as Alice, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Mickey Dolenz, Hendrix and more.  Most of the tracks on this record, whose proceeds are earmarked for charity, are by bands and artists either from that circle or those close to it that have lost members to drugs and the demon rum, with 2 songs being original for the project as well as the intro; the late Christopher Lee reading a passage from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.‘Classic rock’ is definitely the vibe here as a rotating roster of musicians cover songs like John Lennon’s Cold Turkey and the Hendrix nugget Manic Depression.  They’re all enjoyable performances and interpretations, but 2 in particular jump out;  a take on Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love that starts out as a slow, bluesy grind that substitutes Jimmy Page’s memorable guitar solos with some brilliant harp work from Alice.  The other is a take on School’s Out (including the original Cooper group rhythm section) that interpolates Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall Part II.  The only question there is, why hadn’t anybody thought of doing that sooner?Produced by Ezrin this disc has muscle and spirit, and a selection of tunes that would be pretty hard to fuck up- I daresay some of them turned out a smidge better than the originals.  Take Hollywood Vampires in the spirit in which it is intended, and you’ll have a great time.  I was quite pleasantly surprised by how well this turned out, and I think you will be too.ESSENTIALS: School’s Out/ Another Brick In The Wall, Whole Lotta Love, Itchykoo Park, The Last Vampire CASS COUNTY Don Henley (Universal) ****It’s been 15 years since Henley’s last solo album, Y2K’s excellent Inside Job.  I guess you could say a few things have gotten in the way, like his day job (The Eagles, who have toured every year since re-forming in 1994), and the responsibilities of being a husband and a father.  Cass County came together over a period of about 6 years, off and on, and the deluxe version offers no less than 15 tracks.  Meticulous and well crafted, more rootsy than previous solo records, this is very satisfying.Cass County is very nearly and, on occasion, an overtly country record, with Don Henley as the country gentleman.  Named after the area of Northeast Texas where he grew up, a county of about 32,000, this disc is inspired by his childhood and this area that made Don who he is today.  It’s a collection of tales about personal relationships, with people and with the land (he comes from a long line of farmers) and many of the songs speak on a much more personal level than many of his songs have done before. There are some pretty cool duets on this disc too, playing its strengths as a country album; Mick Jagger & Miranda Lambert (Bramble Rose), Merle Haggard (The Cost Of Living), Martina McBride (That Old Flame) and Dolly Parton (When I Stop Dreaming).As previously, along for the ride again is his creative partner and good friend Stan Lynch, former drummer for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, who produced the record and obviously has an ear for who Don Henley is and what he wants to say.  Cass County is a country record in the same way that early Eagles albums are- sometimes thematically or instrumentally, there’s a longing in tracks like Waiting Tables, a universal yearning that makes you go “Wow, I’ve been there too”, and perhaps that’s what gives the disc its ability to connect so deeply, more than Inside Job or End Of The Innocence do.  Henley isn’t just singing about the people he knows or has met, he’s singing about you too.In a recent interview on Charlie Rose, Don said this album cost in the neighbourhood of a million dollars to make and that, in the changing landscape of today’s music business, amounts to little more than an advertisement for his upcoming solo tour, and he is unlikely to turn a profit on the record.  He bemoaned the fact that there’s an entire generation that feels if it’s on the internet then it’s free for the taking, that the whole process- from file sharing, to streaming services and the tiny devices we use to listen to music on now- devalues music, ignoring the care, talent and effort that must go into creating a song or an album.  I mention this only to say that I agree 100%.  I still have a big stereo in the music room, and while I am grateful to the record companies and PR people that continually send me albums to consider for review, I will also continue purchasing music by the artists I enjoy, to support their efforts.  Cass County is a case in point- the record company sent a copy of the CD, but I bought the download on I-Tunes because I couldn’t wait to hear it, and when I see the vinyl on the shelves I’ll buy that too.Long story short, Cass County is a marvellous, well crafted album, a collection of songs about personal relationships that you will easily see yourself in.  It might also be the best thing Don Henley has ever done.ESSENTIALS:  Praying For Rain, Take A Picture Of This, Bramble Rose (with Mick & Miranda), Words Can Break Your Heart B’S EXPRESSION Al Basile (Sweetspot) ****Not unlike his previous three albums this, Basile’s 12th solo outing, once again produced by Duke Robillard, is a collection of songs by the cornetist in a 60’s Memphis style. It’s a solid, swingin’ album, and Al is rightly proud of it; “Anyone who’s never heard me, and wants to know what I’m all about, should start with B’s Expression. I think it’s my best” he says.Basile is often referred to in the music press as the “Bard of The Blues”- he’s a rare combination of formal poet and singer/ songwriter.  The beauty of his music, and of B’s Expression in particular, is it’s the sort of album you can throw on and appreciate in a variety of circumstances- it’s good company while you’re puttering around the house getting things done, the poetic lyrics and frankly gorgeous musicianship invite you in deeper- the more careful you listen, the more these songs willingly give up.B was produced, of course, by Duke Robillard, who understands Al and his music like perhaps few others would.  He tapped Basile to join Rhode Island’s premiere jump blues outfit  “Roomful of Blues” in 1973, the first trumpet player for that band, and that common history serves this music well.  Duke plays guitar on the record of course, and the arrangements are uncluttered and fairly straightforward.  Aside from Al’s singing and playing, keyboard player Bruce Bears adds some tasty spicing, drummer Mark Teixeira contentedly stays in the pocket without giving in to bouts of showing off, and bassist Brad Hallen is a consummate groove master- a player with jazz chops that knows how to give a track just what it needs.  Fine performances here from all, but I find that my ears keep drifting toward what Hallen is up to.  It’s not showing off, it’s just that he plays so damned well.Liner notes for B’s Expression includes lyrics for each track, along with a few words about the inspiration behind each song.  If you’ve been reading my reviews for a bit then you know that’s candy for me- anything that gives a little understanding and takes us deeper into the music is always worthwhile.  This is a very well played album with top notch musicianship and sweet, sweet grooves- I love it to bits.ESSENTIALS:  You Know- You Don’t Know, Not Like I Do, Even Jesus Fell LEFT WITH THE BLUES Andre Bisson (Independent) *****This is the Hamilton native’s 5th (or is it 6th?) album, and while this is my first encounter with Bisson, just a couple of tracks in and one thing is crystal clear- this cat can sing, and this cat can play.Loved this album from the opening number (the title cut), displaying Andre’s husky singing voice and a feel on the guitar that had me thinking immediately of BB King. Left With The Blues is not exactly what the title would lead you to believe it is, though, as elements of big band jazz, Motown and swingin’ gospel make themselves known, felt and heard.  The musicianship on this disc is first rate, I have no trouble believing Andre Bisson has opened for the likes of Colin James, Jimmie Vaughan, Robben Ford, and former BNL singer Steven Page.Blues Review accurately praises Bisson and his band’s music as “a combination of clever arrangements, tasteful guitar work, and exceptionally talented saxophone and trumpet players, contributing to a jazz, pop, and soul fusion sound.”  I love the big band sass on tracks like Play Me A Fool, and as I listen to the disc I can feel the same spirit that I found in the old Joe Jackson set Jump N Jive, a record that has been a personal favourite of mine for many years.With so many different genres in play, often at the same time, Left With The Blues is a wonderfully uplifting experience.  There’s no way you can listen to a song like All I Need (think Your Love Has Lifted Me Higher, or perhaps some early 80’s Phil Collins confection) and not feel lifted up yourself.  This is wonderful, old-fashioned pop music that isn’t afraid to blur a few lines to get the job done- that job being to entertain and inspire.  It’s small wonder that Andre has already won a handful of awards and been nominated for many others since his career began in earnest in 2005.With a title like Left With The Blues that’s what I was expecting to pull from this batch of songs, but there is so much going on here I was delighted as each track grabbed me and took on some really cool, unexpected side trips.  This is a perfect album.ESSENTIALS:  Left With the Blues, All I Need, Deepest Kind Of Mean RATTLE THAT LOCK David Gilmour (Columbia) ****This is the former (I think we can say that with some confidence now) Pink Floyd guitarist’s 4th solo album, and his first since 2006’s On An Island. Of the 10 songs 3 are instrumentals, 5 have lyrics by wife Polly Sampson (she wrote for Floyd’s Division Bell and Endless River too) and 2 with lyrics by David himself.  Though there is some semblance to Pink Floyd here as there must be, it doesn’t particularly sound like a Pink Floyd album- and that is perhaps the best news of all.David Gilmour’s previous career has given him a tough act to follow but with Rattle That Lock he has proved himself equal to the task at hand. He seems to be following a similar path to another guitarist I greatly admire in Mark Knopfler, producing original music that pushes in fresh directions while also not being shy about where he comes from. I’ve always admired David’s playing, for his economy and knowing when it’s important not to play as well, and there’s a playfulness to songs like Dancing Right In Front of Me and The Girl In The Yellow Dress that I found delightfully unexpected.Rattle That Lock, produced by David along with Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera as was On An Island, was recorded in various locations including Gilmour’s own Astoria houseboat studio, and in Hove, Sussex and, in fact was put on hold in order to complete Floyd’s final album Endless River. As I heard him say on an episode of In The Studio hosted by Redbeard, he was deep into Rattle That Lock once again before the Pink Floyd album had even come out.  It follows a similar pattern as his previous solo set, 3 instrumentals and 7 vocal tracks, along with plenty of the beautifully expressive soloing that he is rightly celebrated for.  Some nice atmospherics here too and some tasty piano playing as well over the synth backwashes.  Gilmour says he can plunk out some chords and a few simple things but has left the majority of the piano playing to Roger Eno and Phil Manzanera, with some help from Jools Holland.  It’s like Clint Eastwood says; “A man’s got to know his limitations”.Stylistically, Gilmour stretches himself creatively here, but not in ways that would panic the faithful.  Yes I am a Pink Floyd fan, but only as far back as Dark Side Of The Moon really, and there’s a sort of pop sensibility in some of these songs that is refreshing.  As much as I’m enjoying Rattle That Lock I also find myself hoping that David has another album or two in him as I’m curious to see where he might want to go next, or how much further he might be willing to stray from home.ESSENTIALS:  Dancing Right In Front of Me, Rattle That Lock, 5AM, The Girl In The Yellow DressWATERFALL Voodoo Hill (Frontiers) ***This is the third release from the unlikely alliance between Italian guitarist Dario Mollo and former Deep Purple bassists & vocalist (Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi creative foil too) Glenn Hughes. It’s decent hard rock, but given the talent of those involved, it’s pretty average.It is kind of refreshing to hear Hughes coming back to the sort of hard rock that defined his early career, after such creative enterprises as Black Country Communion and California Breed, but with the amount he jumps around from band to band, it’s difficult for me to take seriously or become invested in anything he does. He is one of the great voices in rock, that’s true- but it’s hard to get truly excited about something that probably won’t last, ya know?As for Dario Mollo, I’m more familiar with his work with ex-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin and enjoy his playing quite a bit. As a player he reminds me of Michael Schenker and bands Rudolph’s little brother has played for, mostly UFO. Dario isn’t a particularly speedy player but he’s very articulate on the instrument- his riffs crush without brutalizing your ears and his soloing is tasteful, lyrical and quite expressive… not unlike Ritchie Blackmore in his early Rainbow days, lacking perhaps only in the same dark volatility- and that’s a pretty high compliment.Where Waterfall really scores is in combining aggressive, heavy playing with beautifully melodic moments, though this approach does tend to make the songs feel ‘middle of the road’ from time to time- making for a pleasant listen, but not the earth-shaking statement I was hoping it would be. The song writing does tend to be a little predictable which is a shame given the level of talent in this band. Introducing some unbridled passion to the proceedings (listen to Dario’s solo towards the end of the title track) would, I think, turn the trick here. Waterfall is a good, solid album that could have been a great one.ESSENTIALS: title track, Eldorado, Rattle Shake Bone DYING TO LIVE Joel Hoekstra’s 13 (Frontiers) *** ½ Something of a side project here for current Whitesnake guitarist Hoekstra, Dying To Live is righteous riff rock. Suffice to say that, if you dig Whitesnake, you’ll like this too.I’d never heard of Joel before he signed on with David Coverdale just prior to The Purple Album, but the guy can play. His band is fairly front-loaded with talent too; Jeff Scott Soto on lead and backing vocals, Russell Allen (Adrenaline Mob, Symphony X) on lead and backing vocals, Vinnie Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) on drums, Tony Franklin (The Firm, Blue Murder) on bass and, of course, Hoekstra on guitars. In many ways this is a typical mid to late 80’s metal record- heavy but not too out there, and with a great sense of melody. The press release that came with the download labels it as being somewhere between Dio and Foreigner but I’d say it’s closer to Foreigner around their 3rd or 4th album, and for most of the time at that.Joel handled the bulk of the creative duties here, from song writing and arranging to producing, so whether you like this album or not, it all comes down to him- this is his baby. The emotional and lyrical thought behind much of this record revolves around potential pitfalls and the art of overcoming obstacles in life to finally arrive at where you were meant to be, a lofty theme for sure with what, in many respects, is a typical rock album. Dying To Live is a tight sounding well produced album, and the several guest musicians involved (including ex-Dream Theatre and Black Country Communion keyboard player Derek Sherinian) bring lots of atmosphere to the tracks as well.The playing on this disc is solid, but not really enough to raise it above being an average rock record. I found myself thinking the same thing listening to Dying To Live as I did when I first heard Chickenfoot- “this is really solid and the musicianship is good- so how come I don’t like it more than I do?” It’s not a bad record, far from it- but neither is it the kind of record that keeps you up at night because you can’t wait to listen to it again. Good stuff, but not great stuff.ESSENTIALS: Scream, Say Goodbye To The Sun, title trackWIND OVER STONE Dulcie Taylor & Friends ((Mesa/ Bluemoon) *** +This is the 6th album for this California-based singer/ songwriter.  As I started listening, at first I thought it was a country album- then a folk record, then more like Americana.  Fact is it’s all three of these things- mostly acoustic instruments playing songs about life.Dulcie is the lead vocalist, she also plays guitar, dulcimer and percussion.  The few times she isn’t at the mic you’ll hear either guitarist/ keyboardist George Nauful or guitarist Tony Recupido.  Produced by Nauful And Tyson Leonard (mandolin & violin) Wind Over Stone has a surprisingly rich sound for an acoustic record.  It probably doesn’t hurt that they got Keith Olsen (Ozzy, Pat Benatar, Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Carlos Santana) to mix the record too.The rockin’ lead-off track, Not Here, Not Today was inspired, Dulcie says, by freedom.  “I’ve always thought about what motivated American people who revolted against English rule’ she says.  “This country was founded by people who wanted freedom, period.”  More recent events factor into the song too; “And Rosa Parks? My goodness.  This soft spoken woman of conviction who, in 1955, refused a bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the ‘coloured section’ to a white passenger.  When the driver told her he would have her arrested,  she quietly said ‘you may do so’.  No profanity just quiet, steely conviction.  Freedom, period.”So that’s the kind of thought you’ll find going into the original tracks on this 14 song collection.  There’s even a song inspired by poet Carl Sandburg;Look out how you use proud wordsWhen you let proud words go, it is not easy to call them backThey wear long boots, hard boots; they walk off proud; they can’t hear you callingLook out how you use proud wordsPretty good advice for all of us, don’t you think?   Aside from being a rather pleasant listening experience, Wind Over Stone is also food for thought.ESSENTIALS:   Not Here Not Today, Joyful News, I Wanna RideHOT STREAK The Winery Dogs (Loud & Proud) *****The sophomore release from the power trio that lends credence to the term ‘super-group’.  As much as I enjoyed their 2013 self titled debut, this is even better.If you don’t know these guys by now they are Richie Kotzen on guitar, vocals and keyboards, Billy Sheehan (the original David Lee Roth band, Mr. Big) on bass, and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theatre) on drums.  What Hot Streak has that the first record didn’t is mileage.  The Dogs have been through an album and tour, getting to know each other, and as any band can tell you that will either bring you closer together or drive you further apart.  In the press for the first album Sheehan went out of his way to assure fans that not only were the guys into this, they were in it for the long haul- good enough for me.Hot Streak is great hard rock, but there are blues and other elements here that weren’t readily apparent the last time around.  They’ve expanded their artistic palette, which can only serve to strengthen the music in the long run.  As before, the musicianship on this disc is breathtaking.  Kotzen is a fine guitar player who now has the platform to display his talent, and a voice that I’ve compared before to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell… Sheehan is a bass player that can go toe to toe with any shredder you’d care to name- I saw him on a Steve Vai DVD keeping up with Steve note for note on Jiboom without even breaking a sweat- but he has a great instinct for laying back in the weeds and just making a song throb as well… best bassist in rock & roll for my money.  And Portnoy on drums?  Sweet Jesus, he’s easily as good as Ian Paice and Neil Peart combined- some great hi-hat work and syncopation in his playing here, but if the song only needs a 4-on-the-floor rock beat, that’s exactly what he lays down.Hot Streak was also produced by the band- the guys have obviously been around long enough to know what they want, and an outsider would only get in the way.  Billy, Richie and Mike are masters of their instruments, and the growth between that last album and this, particularly in terms of song writing, is noticeable.  This disc is better than anything I can name from their individual pasts, and it’s a step up from their 2013 debut.  If you love well played rock & roll, Hot Streak absolutely needs to be in your collection.ESSENTIALS:  Captain Love, Empire, Devil You Know, War Machine

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