Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ringo Starr- Postcards from Paradise album review

 Ringo Starr - Postcards From Paradise
Ring Starr
Postcards from Paradise
Rating: *** 1/2

Believe it or not, Ringo Starr will be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame this year for his solo career. Since the announcement, people have been asking one question: why? In Ringo’s defense, he is not being inducted as a performer but rather for “musical excellence.” While he didn’t have the strongest solo career, Ringo has never stopped working since the break-up of the Beatles. Whether he’s with his All Starr Band, on his solo albums or someone else’s album, Ringo is indeed a trailblazer. Ringo’s latest album, Postcards from Paradise, proves this point: it’s Starr’s 18th studio album, his first since 2012’s Ringo 2012. Compared to Ringo 2012, Postcards from Paradise is an improvement as the album is longer and doesn’t feel rushed (Ringo 2012 was less than half an hour). Still, the album is certainly not an instant classic. If anything, Ringo makes his albums for fun. With that being said, Postcards from Paradise is a fun album to listen to.

            When looking at the tracking list for the album, I was impressed to see that there wasn’t a song with “Liverpool” in the title. The opening track, “Rory and the Hurricanes,” might’ve mostly taken place in Liverpool. The song is a sweet autobiographical 50s rock n roll number about Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the band Ringo was in prior to joining the Beatles. While it might be seen as corny, I personally enjoy the song and love how Ringo is paying tribute to the band that gave him his start. The psychedelic reggae “You Bring the Party Down” is an interesting track: while this is Ringo’s song, it reminds me of a John Lennon solo track. During the chorus, I can easily imagine Lennon giving a hearty vocal performance (“I Found Out” comes to mind). If Lennon was an influence on the track, I would not be surprised.

            The next few tracks are, in my opinion, fall on the weak side. “Bridges” has a strong vocal performance from Ringo but nothing more while “Right Side of the Road” just doesn’t go anywhere. The title track, which is the album’s lead single, might be cringe-worthy for some listeners. The song is written in the form of a letter, with Ringo referencing Beatles songs Gene Shalit style. It’s not a bad song, mind you. In fact, it’s kind of cute in a way. The second half of the album is stronger. “Not Looking Back” is a beautiful slow ballad with solid lyrics while the guitar and keyboard led “Touch and Go” is simply catchy. The festive “Bamboula” features some impressive drumming, celebrating all things New Orleans. The reggae influence is strong on this album and can be heard throughout most of the album. This is certainly the case for “Island in the Sun,” as it features island steel drums and rousing saxophone playing.

            Overall, Postcards from Paradise is a fun album from Ringo Starr. When it comes to Ringo’s solo career, his work has always paled in contrast to the albums John, Paul and George have released. In terms of consistency, I’d say this is probably Ringo’s most solid album since 2008’s Liverpool 8. Whether you’re a Beatles and/or Ringo fan, you’ll enjoy this album.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cynthia Lennon dead at 75

Cynthia Powell Lennon
September 10, 1939-April 1, 2015

Cynthia Lennon, first wife of John Lennon, died on Wednesday April 1 after a battle with cancer. Lennon was 75. According to sources, Ms. Lennon died in her house in Spain with her son, Julian, by her side. 

Born Cynthia Powell, Ms. Lennon was the youngest of three children. At a young age, Cynthia was a promising young artist. When she was 17, her father passed away from lung cancer. A year later, Cynthia enrolled at the Liverpool College for Art in 1957. It was there where she met John Lennon. The two were friends at first, given Cynthia was engaged. When her engagement didn't work out, she and John started to date on and off in the next few year. John would later go on to be one of the founding members of the Beatles. Already, John had dropped out of college and set out to become a musician. While the band toured in Hamburg, John would stay in contact with Cynthia. By 1962, the Beatles had a record deal and were managed by Brian Epstein. However in August 1962, Cytnhia discovered she was pregnant with John's child. As the story goes, John immediately insisted they had to get married- which they did on August 23 of that year. Their child, John Charles Julian Lennon, was born on April 8, 1963.

At the time of Julian's birth, Beatlemania was just beginning to take over the world. As a result, John was not at home with his family as much. Sometimes, Cynthia would join her husband on tour but Epstein tried to keep the marriage on the down low. Cynthia would stay married to John until 1968 when the couple divorced, after John admitted to having an affair with Japanesse artist Yoko Ono as well as Cynthia admitting to having an affair with their friend, Magic Alex. John and Cynthia's divorce would go on to inspire Paul McCartney to pen the Beatles hit "Hey Jude," a song written as a message to Julian as a way to cope with the divorce of his parents. After her divorce from John, 
Cynthia would wed another three times: Roberto Bassanini (1970-1973), John Twist (1976-1983) and Noel Charles (2002-2013, when Charles passed). 

Even though she divorced from Lennon, she would briefly reconnected with him sometime during 1973-74 during Lennon's "Lost Weekend," when he was separated from Ono for 18 months. Lennon's partner, May Pang, encouraged Lennon to spend more time with Julian. As a result, Cynthia was sometimes present.  Cynthia would go on to write two books about Lennon: A Twist in Lennon in 1978 (a book that Lennon himself tried to stop from being published) and John in 2005. She also continued to raise Julian, as she attained full custody of him (Like his father, Julian went on to become a musician himself, releasing his debut Valotte in 1984).

Aside from writing two books on her life with Lennon, Cynthia would continue to be an active person in the world of the Beatles- making appearances in documentaries and turning up every now and then. In 1995, she released a single- covering Mary Hopkin's 1968 hit "Those Were The Days." (which Paul McCartney had written and produced). On October 9, 2010, she and Julian unveiled the John Lennon Peace Monument in Liverpool in honor of what would've been Lennon's 70th birthday. The night before, Cynthia attended Julian's photo exhibition. Also in attendance was Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, John and Yoko's son. For one night, the Lennon clan were together in peace.

It is sad to hear of Cynthia's passing. From what I've read and heard over the years, she seemed like a well-spoken and intelligent woman. As Paul and Yoko have said, she raised Julian wonderfully, who is now a talented musician and photographer. With Cynthia's passing, she is the third Beatle wife to have passed away- the first two being Maureen Starkey in 1994 to leukemia and Linda McCartney in 1998 to breast cancer.

Rest in peace, Cynthia.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

In Memoriam: Andy Fraser (1952-2015) and AJ Pero (1959-2015)

I thought I'd take the time to write up obituaries for two musicians who passed away this week. I'm putting them here in one blog post so here we go...

Andrew McLan "Andy" Fraser
July 3, 1952-March 16, 2015

Andy Fraser, former bassist for UK rockers Free, passed away this Monday at his home in California. The cause of death is unknown but it has been known that Fraser had been battling with both HIV and cancer. Fraser was 62. Fraser was a bassist who got his start playing for blues legend John Mayall. Fraser was only 15 and was also mentored by blues musician Alexis Korner. In 1968, Fraser became one fourth of Free. Along with Fraser was singer Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke. The band played up until their break-up in 1971 (although they briefly reunited in 1972 but without Fraser). Free found commercial success with the release of their third album, Fire and Water, which included the band's most popular song "All Right Now." The song was written by Fraser and Rodgers. For years, the song would become a classic rock radio staple.

After Free's split, Fraser joined a few other bands including Sharks and Toby, the former being formed with guitarist Chris Spedding and the latter a group formed with Sparks guitarist Adrian Fisher . Aside from releasing a few solo albums here and there, Fraser also focused on songwriting. For years, Fraser had been battling with HIV and was later diagnosed with Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. In 2005, Fraser came out as a homosexual. Before then, he'd been battling with his sexual orientation as well as his illnesses.   

Anthony Jude "AJ" Pero
October 14, 1959-March 20, 2015

AJ Pero, longtime drummer for New York hard rockers Twisted Sister, passed away on Friday this week. Pero had been discovered unresponsive on a tour bus in Poughkeepsie, New York as he was touring with super group Adrenaline Mob. According to Rolling Stone, paramedics rushed him over to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death is said to have been a heart attack. Pero was 55. Pero was one fifth of the classic line-up of Twisted Sister. Pero joined in 1982. His bandmates included singer Dee Snider, guitarists Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda and bassist Mark Mendoza. Pero joined just in time as the band was about to record their debut album Under the Blade, which was release later that year. This was followed by 1983's You Can't Stop Rock N Roll.

Twisted Sister reached their peak in 1984 with the massively successful Stay Hungry album. The album featured the hit singles, "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock." Both singles were accompanied by MTV friendly videos, staring Mark Metcalf of Animal House fame. The band's popularity began to wane after the release of the unsuccessful follow up Come Out and Play. Pero left in 1986 while the band kept going until 1989. After leaving Twisted Sister, Pero participated in several project- one of them being Snider's S.M.F's. Twisted Sister would reunite in 1997 and once again in 2001 before finally deciding to officially reunite in 2003. The day before Pero's death, Twisted Sister had been confirmed to play at the Metal Meltdown, an LA festival slated for May 30 which also features Great White, Skid Row and Extreme on the bill.

It is sad to hear of the passings of Andy and AJ. They were great musicians and will be missed by many.

Rest in peace, Andy and AJ.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Daevid Allen dead at 77

Christopher David Allen
January 12, 1938 - March 13, 2015

Daevid Allen, founding member of psychedelic rock group Gong, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. Allen was 77. While Allen is best known for his work in Gong, Allen was one of the founding members of prog-rockers Soft Machine. Allen was a member from for only a year, as he was denied re-entry to the UK. Allen had stayed in Paris for too long while on tour with Soft Machine. Being Australian, he was not allowed to reconnect with his bandmates therefore forcing him out of the band. Allen returned to Paris in 1967, where he connected with Sorbonne professor Gilli Smyth. With Smyth and saxophonist Didier Malherbe, Gong was formed. 

While not commercial successful, Gong were able to attain a cult following amongst music fans. Of the albums in their discography, the band's most praised piece of work is their Radio Gnome trilogy- consisting of the albums Flying Teapot, Angel's Egg and You. The band went through several line-up changes, with Allen, Smyth and Malherbe as the core three members. The band would split in 1976 but would go on to spawn other Gong bands. This includes Smyth's Mother Gong, drummer Pierre Moerlen's Gong and Allen's Planet Gong. Gong reunited several times over the years (1991-2001, 2003-2006, 2007-present), with Allen at the helm along with other long-time members from the original group. The band's last album was 2014's I See You. In June 2014, Allen had a cyst removed from his neck. When it was discovered to be cancerous, Allen immediately underwent radiation. On February 5 of this year, Allen announced that the cancer had returned and had spread to his lungs. Allen chose not to have anymore surgery.  His doctors estimated he had six months to live. Allen would pass just a little over a month later. 

It's sad to hear of Daevid's passing. I had always heard of Gong and did become somewhat interested in their music but never got around to listening to it. He seemed to be devoted to his music as well as Gong's. Soon after he announced about his six months left to live, I immediately went online and listen to a few Gong albums. They were a unique band. Luckily, Allen left behind a pretty big body of work for music listeners to enjoy. 

Rest in peace, Daevid.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Black Star Riders- The Killer Instinct album review

Black Star Riders - The Killer Instinct
Black Star Riders
The Killer Instinct
Rating: ****

Following up their 2013 debut All Hell Breaks Loose, hard rocker band Black Star Riders have released The Killer Instinct. While their name might not sound familiar, Black Star Riders are a band with historic origins as the band consists of musicians that were in the reunited version of Thin Lizzy. Of the band’s five members, guitarist Scott Gorham is the only member that was in the Phil Lynott-led version of the band. Still, the other members in the band are well versed in the Lizzy songbook and are true fans. For a second album, The Killer Instinct is pretty solid.

            The album opens with Lizzy influenced title track. From the trademark twin lead guitar harmonies to the anthem driven chorus, it’s a strong start for the album and a great choice for the album’s lead single. Guitarist/singer Ricky Warwick shines on the album with his Lynott-like vocal approach and superb songwriting, having co-written more than half of the album. While Black Star Riders are a band that pays tribute to the music of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy, the band sounds like they are trying to make a name and sound for themselves. This is certainly the case for songs such as the rocking “Bullet Blues,” the remorseful western-esque “Blindsided” and the strutting riffs of “Through the Motions.” These songs are great and show that the band is capable of making other songs. However, a few of the songs on here aren’t as catchy or memorable as the ones on All Hell Breaks Loose.  It sometimes sounds like the band is recycling older material. In fact, the chorus for “Charlie I Gotta Go” sounds an awful lot like the chorus from “Hoodoo Voodoo” from the previous album.

Still, Black Star Riders have written some great songs on here and some do sound a lot like modern day Lizzy tunes. “Soldierstown” has Lizzy envy written all over it, with its twin lead guitar harmonies and subject matter (war and history- something the late Phil Lynott enjoyed writing about) while “Turn In Your Arms” features some killer psychedelic-riddled guitar riffs (a la “Massacre”). The nostalgic “Finest Hour” is another highlight while the band show some off Fleetwood Mac Peter Green era influences on the hard-hitting “Sex, Guns & Gasoline.” The album closes with slow rocker “You Little Liar.”

The Killer Instinct is a good album from Black Star Riders. While I do find myself preferring All Hell Breaks Loose, this isn’t a bad album at all. I’m glad these guys are still together and making music. With two albums under their belts, Black Star Riders can now go on tour and mix these songs in with the classic Lizzy tunes. As for a third album, I will be patiently waiting for it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sam Andrew dead at 73

Sam Houston Andrew III
December 18, 1941-February 12, 2015

Sam Andrew, guitarist for Big Brother and the Holding Company, passed away yesterday from complications from open-heart surgery. Andrew was having the surgery done after he had suffered from a heart attack. Andrew was 73. 

Andrew was one of the founding members of psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band formed in 1965, with Andrew, guitarist James Gurley, bassist Peter Ablin, and drummer Dave Goetz. The band also consisted of singer Chuck Jones, who was in the band briefly before being fired. The band found a new singer in Texas born singer Janis Joplin. With Joplin, the band soon took off. During his time in the band, Andrew was a interesting guitarist,  as he had a background in playing classical and jazz music before becoming a rock guitarist. Big Brother were among the many bands that made up the West Coast psychedelic rock scene, along with other bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Moby Grape. When Joplin left the band in late 1968, Andrew went along with her. With Joplin, they were able to form the Kozmic Blues Band- a group that would act as Janis' solo backing band. The group recorded 1969's I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama! before breaking up shortly afterwards. Andrew would rejoin Big Brother at various times during the next couple of decades, with the core of himself, Gurley, Ablin and Goetz in tact. Of the "classic" line-up of Big Brother, Andrew is the third to pass away- following Joplin in 1970 and Gurley in 2009. 

I'm sad to hear of Sam Andrew's passing. I can't say I'm too surprised though: Big Brother's Facebook page had uploaded a picture of Sam in the hospital. Something like that stands out on one's news feed and it did have me a little concerned. The man was a great musician and it's just sad to hear. 

RIP Sam. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Quiet Riot: Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back movie review

Quiet Riot: Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back
Rating: ****

Picture source: Blabbermouth

In the early 1980s, Quiet Riot had hit it big time. In March 1983, their American debut album Metal Health was released. By November, the album had made its way up the Billboard charts at #1, becoming the first metal album to do so. Drummer Frankie Banali now tells the story of the LA hard rockers, as well as his own story in this new documentary. The movie- Well Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back- is a heartfelt story about a rock band and the friendship at the center of it.   

While most of the movie documents the resurrection of Quiet Riot, we are also told of the band’s history. The first half hour of the movie is devoted to giving history of Quiet Riot from the beginning till the 1980s. At certain parts in the movie, it will cut back to the 1980s. For the most part, the information given in the history segments is good. Even being a Quiet Riot fan, some of the information was new to me as were some of the archival videos used. While this isn't a complete history of Quiet Riot, it’s still amazing how much director Regina Russell was able to fit in the movie’s runtime of 104 minutes.  

For interviewees, we get to hear from a nice group of people. This includes former members such as Rudy Sarzo as well as other figures in the world of hard rock including Dee Snider, Glenn Hughes and That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk. We also get to hear from Rhoads’ brother and sister, as well as singer Kevin DuBrow’s mother and even his brother Dr. Terry DuBrow (a plastic surgeon who has starred in several E! Network reality shows). Quiet Riot members Chuck Wright and Alex Grossi even get some camera time, sharing memories of DuBrow and discussing the status of the new band.  Watching the resurrection of Quiet Riot is quite entertaining. We get to see the band audition different singers in one scene before finally deciding on singer Mark Huff. The movie documents almost each and every show the band plays with Huff, which lead to some hilarious and even emotionally intense scenes.

Overall, Well Now You’re Here is a great documentary. The movie is also strengthened by the hard rocking tunes Quiet Riot delivered over the years. In the last few years, there have been a series of great rock documentaries: Anvil with Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Rodriguez with Searching for Sugar Man and Death with A Band Called Death just to name a few. Quiet Riot can now join that group with this movie. I highly recommend seeing this movie, whether you’re a fan of Quiet Riot or not.

This movie was also partially funded by Quiet Riot fans through Kickstarter in 2010. I was one of the many who donated some money so I could see this movie. After seeing this, I’m proud to say I had a small part in helping this movie become a reality.