THE RECORD BOX Friday, May 2nd

Good to be back in the saddle again.  After a couple of months off, and chatting with my buddy Mark from Atlanta, giving in to the urge to write album reviews again was inevitable.  I’ve tried stopping many times over the last 24 years, but it seems I can’t.  One thing has become increasingly clear over the last two months- it seems quite likely that I won’t be able to stop until it’s time for the big dirt-nap… and I’m okay with that.John “The Rock Doctor” Kereiff BELLE OF THE BLUES Lisa Biales (Big Song Music)  ****When Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck play guitar, the line between man and instrument is blurred.  When John Popper blows harp, the hair standing up on my arm tells me that I’m witnessing someone doing what they were put on this earth to do.  With Lisa Biales, her purpose is to sing the blues.   It was something I sensed immediately on Just Like Honey then Singing In my Soul, both of which lead up to her choice new album Belle Of The Blues.As a singer Biales comes across as equal parts good-natured speakeasy vixen and soulful southern torch balladeer.  Produced by EG Kight and engineered by Paul Horsnby, this album compares to Maria Muldaur’s Memphis Minnie tribute from a year or two back.  Performances from the musicians are joyous lessons in how to groove, not unlike Biales herself. Featured guests are the amazing Tommy Talton on guitar (Gregg Allman, Dickie betts), Randall Bramlett on Hammond B-3 (Sea Level, Steve Winwood, Widespread Panic) and Bill Stewart on drums (Gregg Allman, Bonnie Bramlett), and they play like they’ve been doing it together for years- on that gut-level instinctual plane.“I love singing sad songs” Lisa confesses. “The strong array of emotions that bubble up, and the connections I feel to people while singing them makes me realize my worth”, referring directly to Mask and Sad, Sad Sunday.  She considers Bessie Smith an influence, and it shows.  She calls Smith “One of the greatest classic blues singers of the 1920’s, and someone  I have grown to admire.  It’s only fitting to have her presence on this recording with two songs; Black & White Blues and Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.”I fell in love with Lisa Biales when I first heard Just Like Honey in the summer of 2012, and through 2013’s Singing In My Soul and now Belle of The Blues, I fall deeper each time.  From the heartbreaking ballads already mentioned to rockin’ tracks like Trouble, Biales has crafted another stunning set of songs.  After a few months of self-imposed retirement from writing, Belle Of The Blues is the one that brought me back out from under a rock and whispered in my ear “you’re not finished yet”.  For that, I am grateful.  I did a phone interview with Lisa a couple of days ago for my radio show How Blue Can You Get (Sundays at noon on k-Rock in Cold Lake and Wainwright Alberta) and will share the results on the May 25th episode- noon Alberta time at and .HIGHLIGHTS:  Sad, Sad Sunday, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home THIS IS YOUR LIFE: A TRIBUTE TO RONNIE JAMES DIO Various Artists (Rhino)  ***A tribute to one of the most powerful vocalists in rock & roll, this well intentioned tribute, with proceeds directed to the “Stand Up & Shout” cancer fund, set up by Ronnie’s widow, was released in early April.  Thanks to the original source, it rocks.The problem with This Is Your Life, as with any tribute album, is we’re dealing with a collection of cover songs.  As any artist approaching this material, once the song you cover is chosen the question is; should you do a faithful recreation of the original, or should you take some chances and put your own spin on it?  Relax, there is no right answer- either way you’re screwed.Still, it’s quite a guest list gathered on a single disc- from groups like Anthrax, Halestorm and Metallica to unique gatherings with members from various bands crowding around old Mr. microphone to pay homage to rock’s mightiest voice, choosing material from all eras of Ronnie’s career- Rainbow, Sabbath and solo stuff.  As heartfelt and earnest as their efforts are, there’s one glaring problem- they ain’t RJD.Efforts that stick close to the originals include Anthrax’s enthused version of Neon Knights while Adrenaline Mob goes balls out on a remake of The Mob Rules that is almost better than the original.  Lots of “eh, s’okay” tunes here too, like Scorpions with The Temple of The King and Tenacious D’s The Last In Line.  The highlight of the album, no doubt released before street date to help drive sales, is Metallica’s enormous Ronnie Rising Medley, combining mostly songs from 1976’s Rainbow Rising into a 9 minute epic that is worth the purchase price alone- best thing they’ve done in years.I didn’t expect a transcendent experience from This is Your Life, nor did I get one- but I’ve been an RJD fan since first hearing Man On A Silver Mountain on a tabletop jukebox in a Chinese restaurant when I was a teenager. I enjoy many of the artists involved, it’s for a good cause and today, that’s enough.HIGHLIGHTS: Ronnie Rising Medley (Metallica), The Mob Rules (Adrenaline Mob) DUETS Linda Ronstadt (Rhino) *** ½ This is a collection of Linda’s most successful vocal collaborations over the course of her amazing career.  Mostly country in tone, Duets is quiet, tasteful, gentle- exquisite.How a disc like this feels depends on circumstance.  While listening a couple of days ago to consider it for review, Duets bored me silly- but here, in the early morning hours on the cusp of a Vegas vacation, it’s delicate charm is working. Though I’ve said it many times previously of other records, this collection has an O Brother Where Art Thou feeling- bluegrass and mountain soul, mixed with country from the valleys with some vintage swing on the side.Crystalline, expressive and wonderfully nuanced, Ronstadt’s voice is comforting and, over the years, her duet partners have been well chosen.  Vocal partners here include Dolly Parton, Don Henley, James Taylor, Aaron Neville (perhaps her best match) and Frank Sinatra, to name about half.  This is definitely an “enjoying a dark, quiet evening with a glass of wine while you think about life” sort of record.As beautiful as many of the songs are, it’s as difficult to listen to Duets in one go as it is to throw on a Motorhead album and stay all the way through.  With the exception of  I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine with James Taylor and Sisters with Bette Midler, this is a very mellow affair.  The ultimate fate of Duets at my joint is a place in my i-Tunes library where I can cherry pick songs for homemade compilations, those spots here and there where you need to take it down and cool off some.While in Seattle a few months back, I picked up a 2 disc set of Linda’s rock and pop stuff, which I prefer to Duets.  It was announced last year that she has Parkinson’s disease, which makes it difficult for her to travel and impossible for her to sing, so these kinds of career retrospectives are all we have now.  There are times when this disc will take your breath away, and for that we should say ‘thanks’.HIGHLIGHTS: Somewhere Out There (w/ James Ingram), I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine (w/ James Taylor)ROLLIN’ WITH THE BLUES BOSS Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne (Stony Plain) ****+Talk about a tour de force of boogie woogie ‘n’ blues!  Rollin’ With The Blues is a good time looking for a place to happen- it could be the most fun you have this year.When you throw this on, any resemblance to classic Powder Blues is not entirely coincidental- rock solid grooviness and punchy horn lines abound in this set produced by PB guitarist Tom Lavin.  As Duke Robillard observes on the back of the album cover of Kenny, “He’s a monster pianist, a soulful singer, and he captures the essence of old school blues and boogie while sounding totally fresh and contemporary.”It’s refreshing to hear piano-centric blues, especially these days when that music seems to be all about the guitar.  Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne comes from a long tradition of hip ivory ticklers like Fats Domino, and his music rolls as much as it rocks. Overall this is a fun album, but he doesn’t mind slowing down and getting soulful on songs like Baby It Ain’t You with Diunna Greenleaf.  As much as I dig the slow stuff, it’s upbeat songs like Ogopogo Boogie and Hootenany Boogie-Woogie that make this album soar.Born in Spokane, the son of a preacher who feared for his son’s soul as he played the devil’s music, Kenny moved to Vancouver in the early 80’s and now calls Kelowna home, the lucky bastard.  Too many people on this set to name them all, but producer Tom Lavin plays guitar on a number of tracks, and Eric Bibb sits in on the bouncy Two Sides. This isn’t just the most fun you’ve had in some time, it’s musically satisfying.  In a less fragmented radio world I could see Slow Down being an enormous hit, and the instrumental Out Like A Bullet that closes the album must surely be a show-stopper on stage.  Good times, great musicianship- that’s Rollin’ With The Blues Boss.HIGHLIGHTS: Hootenanny Boogie, Woogie, Slow Down FAR BEYOND DRIVEN; 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION Pantera (Rhino) ** ½Got this one the same day as Linda Ronstadt’s Duets, and to say it’s a very different album is the king of understatements.  Pantera fans will love this though- not only does this package have a re-master of the original album, the 2nd disc contains their entire set from the ’94 Monsters of Rock Festival.Far Beyond Driven was my first encounter with this extreme form of metal.  The GM of the radio station I was working at in ’92 when this, their 6th album, actually came out threw FBD on his stereo and asked my what I thought- I thought it was crap.  Time and more experience with extreme music has softened my view somewhat, but not a whole lot. Never cared for the ‘shouty’ vocal style and the uber-fast drumming occasionally called for sounds like a monkey with a Ritalin problem.So why bother writing about it now?  An appreciation for the work of late guitarist Dimebag Darrell.  Tragic end aside he was one of the best in the game, spewing out shattering walls of riffology and, when you listen to his playing he clearly wears his influences on his sleeve.  The speed of a track like Strength Beyond Strength leaves me cold, but a real grinder like I’m Broken is a physical experience.  As for Good Friends And A Bottle of Pills- well that’s just fucked up.I’ll leave it to the tried and true Pantera fans to judge the 20th anniversary edition of Far Beyond Driven.  I haven’t listened to the live disc yet, and may never- I just don’t care that much.  I prefer Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display Of Power to this, along with latter day Pantera like The Great Southern Trend Kill and even the post-Pantera Damageplan album but hey, I’m an old man.  For hardcore metallers, this takes you pretty close to the source.HIGHLIGHTS:  I’m Broken, Planet Caravan

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