Monday, December 15, 2014

2014: Year in Review

2014 has been quite a year for classic rock music. We’ve seen the release of many new albums from classic artists, as well as some solid reissues/remasters. As I do every year, I will briefly review every album I’ve bought this year. Note that there are some albums in this article that I didn’t review the first time around.

 David Crosby - Croz
David Crosby
Rating: ***

            Much to the surprise of many people, David Crosby decided to release his first album in 20 years. Croz was handed to me by my college radio station and I’ve only heard it once. While not a particularly memorable album, Croz is an enjoyable album. I can’t really pick out any stand out tracks. It’s just okay.

  Steel Panther - All You Can Eat
Steel Panther
All You Can Eat
Rating: ****

            For their third album, comedic hard rockers Steel Panther decided to stick to their guns by presenting their fans with more juvenile-humored tracks. While it can get tiresome to listen to the same over-the-top sexual jokes, the songs on here are pretty damn good. “Party Like It’s the End of the World” is a hilarious anthem while the hard hitting “Gloryhole” is good fun. Musically, the band are tighter than ever. While songs such as “Bukkake Tears” have disgusting subject matters, the music is very pretty and melodic. The stand out track on here, in my opinion, is “The Burden of Being Wonderful.” This is an impressive song coming from the band, as there is no dirty humor to be found in the lyrics. Instead, singer Michael Starr musses about why he’s so perfect while everyone else around him isn’t.

  Various Artists - Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life
Various Artists
Ronnie James Dio- This Is Your Life
Raing: ****

            After years of waiting, an official Dio tribute album has been released. In all honesty, I’ve only listened to this once. Still, it’s a great collection of tunes from some of the best metal artists. Friends of Ronnie such as Rob Halford and Glenn Hughes are on the album. The highlight, for me, is Metallica’s suite of Rainbow tunes.

  Uriah Heep - Outsider
Uriah Heep
Rating: ****

            45 years after their formation, Uriah Heep are still together making music (although of its founding members, guitarist Mick Box is the only one). Outside is an important album in band’s discography, considering it’s their first release after the death of long-time bassist Trevor Bolder. With new bassist, Davey Rimmer, the band manages to crank out a couple of songs on here. “Speed on Sound” is an electrifying opener while “Looking at You” shows that the band can make keyboard-heavy sounding track cool in 2014. “Can’t Take That Away” is a personal favorite as it does certainly try to capture the band’s 1970s sound. While I prefer its predecessor Into the Wild, Outsider is still a good album.

  Quiet Riot - 10
Quiet Riot
Rating: *** ½

            Much to the surprise of many fans, Quiet Riot released a new album this year just days after announcing its release. Since 2010, drummer Frankie Banali has been touring with a new version of Quiet Riot- taking the surviving members of the band’s last line up (guitarist Alex Grossi and bassist Chuck Wright) along with a new lead singer. Ex-Love/Hate and Ratt singer Jizzy Pearl is now the band’s new frontman. While many have criticized Banali’s choice to reform Quiet Riot without the late Kevin DuBrow, the new band has been doing fairly well paying tribute to the music. The new album, 10, is a strangely structured album featuring six new studio track and four live tracks. While strange, the end result isn’t bad at all. The new tracks featuring Pearl are good while the live cuts featuring the late DuBrow are a nice touch.

  Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls
Judas Priest
Redeemer of Souls
Rating: ****


            Despite embarking on a “farewell tour” and the departure of guitarist KK Downing, Judas Priest have managed to release a new kick-ass studio album. Now with guitarist Richie Faulkner, the band delivers the goods throughout the album’s 13 tracks. Songs such as “Dragonaut” and “Halls of Valahalla” prove the band can still make hard n’ heavy tracks. Even Rob Halford is a good form, especially on “Metalizer” and “Battle Cry.”  The title track is strong while the album bravely closes with the ballad-esque “Beginning of the End,” which sounds as if it came from Sad Wings of Destiny. This album is so great that it’s almost frightening.

 Accept - Blind Rage 
Blind Rage
Rating: ****

            As their third album since reuniting with new singer Mark Tornillo, Accept’s Blind Rage is another heavy album from the German heavy metal band. Compared to 2010’s Blood of the Nations and 2012’s Stalingrad, this one follows them up nicely. In fact, I think I might like this better than Stalingrad. Accept still knows how to make rapid-fire head bangers such as “Stampede” and “Trail of Tears.” The band even offers the melodic “Dark Side of My Heart,” and the anthem-driven “Wanna Be Free.”

 Riot - Unleash the Fire 
Riot V
Unleash the Fire
Rating: ****

            Sole original member Mark Reale might’ve died from Crohn’s Disease in 2012 but that didn’t stop guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Donnie Van Stavern from continuing to perform the music of Riot. Now under the name Riot V, the new group has been touring all year long with new singer Todd Michael Hall at the helm. From beginning to end, Unleash the Fire is a touching tribute to Reale as the album’s 12 tracks celebrate all eras of Riot. “Ride Hard Live Free” is a guitar heavy track while “Metal Warrior” is lyrically filled with references to other Riot songs. The band even offers throwbacks to the classic Riot era with “Return of the Outlaw” (a sequel to “Outlaw” from Fire Down Under), “Take Me Back” and “Land of the Rising Sun.” I think it’s safe to say the legacy of Riot is in good hands.

  Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Pink Floyd
The Endless River
Rating: *** (3.25)

            Much to the surprise of many people, it was announced in July that Pink Floyd would have a new studio album out this year. The truth is that the material on this album isn’t new, has it comes from session previously known as “The Big Spliff.” This project was recorded by Pink Floyd as a side project during the recording of The Division Bell. It was originally an electronica affair that wouldn’t be released under the Pink Floyd name. However, David Gilmour and Nick Mason thought it was good enough to release not only as a swan song but as a tribute to the late Rick Wright. With that, Gilmour and Mason recorded new music to the unfinished product. While it does sound like a Pink Floyd album, The Endless River also comes across as an album I’d probably hear playing at a massage parlor. At times, the album can become boring to listen to. With the exception of one song, the album is entirely instrumental. Still, there are some good tracks on here with most of them last for only some two minutes. The sole track with vocals, “Louder Than Words,” is a great song. Despite a few positives, this album didn’t need to be released.

  AC/DC - Rock or Bust
Rock or Bust
Rating: *** ½ (3.75)

            Despite the retirement of co-founding member Malcolm Young, AC/DC have decided to soldier on without him. Rock or Bust is the band’s first album since 2008’s Black Ice. The album runs at a little under 35 minutes, making this the shortest album the band has ever made. Still, there some great songs such as the title track, “Play Ball” and “Dogs of War.” Of the 11 tracks, there are a few weak songs. Personally, I feel the songs on Black Ice were stronger although that album had the longer runtime (55 minutes- the band’s longest album ever). For what it is, Rock or Bust is good fun.

RANKINGS (excluding Crosby and the Dio tribute album, given I didn’t listen to them much)

1.      Judas Priest- Redeemer of Souls
2.      Riot V- Unleash the Fire
3.      Accept- Blind Rage
4.      Uriah Heep- Outsider
5.      Steel Panther- All You Can Eat
6.      AC/DC- Rock or Bust
7.      Quiet Riot- 10
8.      Pink Floyd- The Endless River


  Love - Black Beauty
Black Beauty
Rating: ****


            In 1974, Arthur Lee was still with his band Love. At that time, the band featured an all-black line up of the group. This line-up recorded an album entitled Black Beauty. While the album was complete, the album ended up being shelved due to their record label folding. Lee meant to properly release the album before his passing in 2006, although the album had since then been widely bootlegged amongst music lovers. In 2011, a new label called High Moon Records announced they would release the album as one of their first two releases (the other being a long out-of-print Gene Clark album). With High Moon Records being a new label, the release date kept changing. The vinyl was released first just last year and now the CD is here in 2014. If released in 1974, Black Beauty could’ve been a comeback for Arthur Lee and Love. The mix of hard driving rock against R&B and soul sounds make this album. The remaster used an acetate copy of the album and it still sounds wonderful. Songs such as “Midnight Sun,” “Young and Able” and “Beep Beep” are all great. Along with the album, High Moon have treated Love fans to some previously unreleased bonus tracks. If you’re a Love fan, this is well worth the $27.

  Wings - Venus and Mars
Paul McCartney and Wings
Venus And Mars & Wings At The Speed of Sound
Venus and Mars rating: ****
Speed of Sound rating: *** ½

            The Paul McCartney Archive Collection continues with two Wings albums, Venus and Mars and Wings At the Speed of Sound. As with the previous installments in the collection, both albums have top-notch remastering and a bonus disc that’ll make any completist happy. Venus and Mars has always been a favorite of mine so hearing it remastered is very cool. Speed of Sound has always been an odd album for me but the new remaster makes me appreciate the album a little more.

George Harrison
All Things Must Pass
Album and Remaster Rating: **** ½

            The George Harrison Apple albums were reissued and remastered during the fall, in a box set form and as individual albums. Instead of buying the expensive box set, I decided to give All Things Must Pass a listen. After listening to it a few times, I have to agree with fellow audiophiles: the 2014 remaster is better. The last time the album was released was in 2001, one of the last things George ever worked on (released months before he passed). While the 2001 remaster was fine for people then, it’s actually pretty loud (especially on songs like “Wah-Wah”). The 2014 remaster sounds warmer in comparison and according to what other people are saying on the web, it’s closer to the vinyl. No matter which version of the album you own already, I’d say go for it.

As for the rest of the box set, I’m not too sure. Personally, I won’t repurchase Living in the Material World given it was last reissued in 2006. Still, some think the 2014 one sounds better. If anything, it’s good to know that all of George’s albums are in print.


The Doors
Feast of Friends
Rating: ****

            After years of being bootlegged, the long lost “surreal documentary” about the Doors has finally been released. Filmed in 1968, Feast of Friends is a short 40-minute documentary that shows the Doors on tour in 1968. The film was later completed by friends of Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek from UCLA and released in 1970, submitted for several film festivals. The movie has never received an official home video release but footage from the movie has been used in other Doors media such as home videos and music videos. Of the 40 minutes in the movie, I’ve already seen most of it in the videos MCA released (which can all be found on The Doors: Collector’s Edition DVD, three videos in one. It’s probably the best Doors DVD out there). Still, it’s good to see the original movie. The bonus features, especially a half hour of extra footage entitled “Feast of Friends Encore” strengthens the movie itself. Also included is a BBC documentary from 1968 and a performance of “The End.”


Face the Music: A Life Exposed
By Paul Stanley
Rating: ****

            It might be hard to believe but as of this year, all four original members of Kiss have released an autobiography. Rhythm guitarist and frontman Paul Stanley is the last of the four to publish a book, but this was well worth the wait. For me, Paul has always been my favorite member of Kiss as I think he’s a great singer and songwriter. While most of the information in this book might not be anything new, most of it is brutally honest. In the book, Stanley describes his life as a shy, awkward kid with a stump ear who would later become one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock history. Stanley’s journey isn’t an easy one, filled with some regrets and tragedy. As one might’ve guessed, he rips his former bandmates each a new asshole: Ace Frehley was apparently racist, Peter Criss could be a moody bitch and Vinnie Vincent was just difficult to work with. He even sheds more light on the late Eric Carr, who was loved by all of the fans but didn’t always like his position in the group. In the end, Face the Music is well-worth reading.

2015 releases
It’s been confirmed that both Bob Dylan and Black Star Riders will have new album out next year. Other than that, we’ll just have to wait.   

In memoriam
Scott Asheton- drummer of the Stooges
Tommy Ramone- original drummer of the Ramones
Johnny Winter- guitarist and solo artist
Dick Wagner- guitarist, Alice Cooper and Lou Reed
Glenn Cornick- original bassist of Jethro Tull, Wild Turkey and Paris
Jack Bruce- bassist of Cream
Bobby Keys- saxophonist and sideman for the Rolling Stones
Ian McLagan- keyboardist of the Small Faces and Faces

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Black Star Riders to release "The Killer Instinct" in February

Hard rockers Black Star Riders announced details on their upcoming sophomore effort. The new album, The Killer Instinct, will be released on February 23, 2015 on Nuclear Blast Records. The album serves as the follow-up to 2013's critically acclaimed All Hell Breaks Loose. Black Star Riders are perhaps better known as the reunited Thin Lizzy. Since 2012, the new Lizzy have been performing under the BSR name when the new group were recording All Hell Breaks Loose. This was done out of respect to late Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott, who (along with drummer Brian Downey) played on all twelve studio albums the band released.

Black Star Riders currently consists of...

Ricky Warwick- guitar/lead vocals
Scott Gorham- guitar
Damon Johnson- guitar
Robbie Crane- bass
Jimmy DeGrasso- drums

Of the five members, Gorham is the only member to have played in Lynott-fronted version of Lizzy.

I'm excited to hear about the new album. I was aware that the band were in the studio recording the second album but it looks like it'll be coming out pretty early next year. I really liked All Hell Breaks Loose, which really did capture the spirit of Phil and Thin Lizzy.

The tracking list for The Killer Instinct is...

1. The Killer Instinct
2. Bullet Blues
3. Finest Hour
4. Soliderstown
5. Charlie I Gotta Go
6. Blindsided
7. Through the Motions
8. Sex, Guns and Gasoline
9. Turn In Your Arms
10. You Little Liar

There will also be a special 2 disc edition, with the second disc including...

1. Gabrielle
2. The Reckoning Day
3. The Killer Instinct (acoustic)
4. Blindsided (acoustic)
5. Charlie I Gotta Go (acoustic)
6. Finest Hour (acoustic)

Black Star Riders will also be touring in Europe during March. For more information, click here for their official website.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Steve Hackett revisits Genesis in Collingswood (11/22/2014)

Steve Hackett
Live at the Scottish Rite Auditorium
November 22, 2014

Note: I’m aware that I’m writing this concert review pretty late, considering the show was on November 22. However, I’d still like to have a review written since I’ve been doing this in some for every concert I’ve seen ever since I saw Kiss in 2009 (with the exception of Rush, but I did post a short review of it on this blog’s Facebook page). I really did enjoy this concert so I’d like to share that with you. Enjoy.

            Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, along with his band, performed at the Scottish Rite Auditorium on November 22. Hackett, 64, has been touring the last few years playing the songs from the classic era of Genesis as part of his Genesis Extended Tour. While many would like to see the classic line-up of Genesis reunite (Hackett, Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Tony Banks), Hackett and his band put on a hell of a show.

            The lights went out a little after 8 pm. The audience started to cheer and soon enough, Hackett and his band arrived on the stage, starting the evening off with “Dance on a Volcano” from A Trick of the Trail. Immediately, Hackett’s lead singer Nad Sylvan struck out- with his long blonde hair and dramatic stage presence. Throughout the show, Sylvan nailed each song and did at times sound just like Gabriel. In between songs, Hackett spoke to the crowd and introduced each song. “Squonk” was next, which was then followed by “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” The band played three songs from 1971’s Nursery Cryme. The last of the them, “The Musical Box,” was the most impressive as the band played the whole 17 minutes of the song. With its constant change in tempo, it was amazing that Hackett and the band could pull it off. Sylvan led the audience in chanting the song’s last verse- “Now, now, now, now, now!” After the song ended, the band received a well-deserved standing ovation.

            “I Know What I Like” followed after, which had almost everyone in the audience singing along to what was an unexpected minor hit for Genesis in 1973. While the band was playing songs from Hackett’s time with the band (1971-78), they did play “The Knife” from Genesis’ sophomore effort Trespass- which Hackett did not play on since he hadn’t joined the band at that time. Sylvan was dramatic throughout the performance, holding a knife of his own. The band ended their set with “Supper’s Ready,” Genesis’s 26 minute epic that closed 1972’s Foxtrot. Many Genesis fans regard it as the band’s best song, as it tells the story of an apocalypse in seven different parts. It’s a hard song to play live, given it jumps from one part to another. When Genesis played it live back in the day, Gabriel would go through a few costume changes- most notably wearing a “flower mask” in one part. While Sylvan didn’t do the same, he did come out decked in a brown robe towards the end of the song. After a long performance, the band said goodnight…until they came back out to play “Watcher of the Skies” and “Los Endos” for the encore.

            No matter what kind of Genesis fan you are, I’d highly recommend going to see Steve Hackett and his band if they do come back to play the songs of Genesis. I was skeptical at first but at this rate, it’s probably the closest you’re going to get seeing Genesis live.

1.      Dance on a Volcano
2.      Squonk
3.      Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
4.      Fly on a Windshield
5.      Broadway Melody of 1974
6.      Return of the Giant Hogweed
7.      The Fountain of Salmacis
8.      The Musical Box
9.      I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
10.  Horizons
11.  Firth of Fifth
12.  Lilywhite Lilith
13.  The Knife
14.  Supper’s Ready


15.  Watcher of the Skies
16.  Los Endos

The band
Steve Hackett- guitar/vocals
Nad Sylvan- vocals
Nick Beggs- bass/vocals
Gary O’Toole- drums/vocals
Roger King- keyboards

Rob Townsend- sax/flute/keyboards/percussion/vocals

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ian McLagan dead at 69

Ian Patrick "Mac" McLagan
May 12, 1945-December 3, 2014

Ian McLagan, best known as the keyboardist for the Small Face and later the Faces, has died. McLagan was 69 years old. Earlier today, it was reported that McLagan was in critical condition after suffering from a head injury. A statement on McLagan's website said that the keyboardist had died from complications from a stroke he had the day before. McLagan was approached to join the Small Faces in 1965 after original keyboardist Jimmy Winston left. McLagan was joined by guitarist/singer Steve Marriott, bassist/singer Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenney Jones. Together, the band released three studio albums and many hit singles- including "Here Come The Nice," "Itchycoo Park" and "Afterglow (Of Your Love)." 

Marriott left the band in 1969 to form Humble Pie. The band were close to breaking up until they were approached by singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood, both of whom begged them not to split. The band rehearsed with Stewart and Wood, ultimately continuing as the Faces (the "small" monkier was dropped given that Stewart and Wood were 5"9 and 5"10).  The Faces would release four studio albums, leaning more towards a hard rock/blue sound than the psychedelic rock of the Small Faces. The group split in 1975, but McLagan would go on to rejoin reunited versions of both bands. Aside from his work with the Small Faces/Faces, McLagan would often play for the Rolling Stones while they were on tour. Before his passing, McLagan was currently in a reunited version of the Faces with Wood, Jones, singer Mick Hucknall and bassist Glen Matlock.

I'm very saddened to hear about Mac's passing. With Mac gone, three of the four Small Faces have now passed: Steve Marriott died in a house fire in 1991 and Ronnie Lane died from multiple sclerosis in 1997. The Faces meant to reunite with Rod many times but nothing became of it. Kenney Jones announced that the four surviving Faces would reunite for a tour next year. 

This is such a shame. 

Rest in peace, Mac. 

AC/DC- Rock or Bust album review

 AC/DC - Rock or Bust
Rock or Bust
Rating: *** 1/2 to **** (3.75)

            It might be hard to believe but this year of 2014 marks 40 years since Aussie hard rockers AC/DC formed. To celebrate, the band has decided to release a new studio album and have a tour to follow it in 2015. The new album, Rock or Bust, is the band’s first album since 2008’s Black Ice. However, AC/DC release Rock or Bust with a heavy heart as the band has gone through a major change in their line-up: rhythm guitarist and co-founding member Malcolm Young was forced to retire from the band, having suffered from a stroke earlier this year and is currently being treated for dementia. Replacing Malcolm is Stevie Young, nephew of Malcolm and Angus. Stevie is no stranger to AC/DC, having filled in for Malcolm during the band’s 1988 tour. Despite Malcolm’s absence, Rock or Bust manages to be another good album from AC/DC and celebrates their 40th anniversary well.

            The band gets right down to it, opening the album with the title track. With a mean guitar riff from Angus (similar to the one in “Back in Black”) and solid bass line from Cliff Williams, “Rock or Bust” is one of strongest tracks from the album. Singer Brian Johnson sounds great, which is saying a lot considering his age. The lead single, “Play Ball,” is another great song. While the song doesn’t have the greatest lyrics, it’s a short and sweet catchy song. For an album that’s a little under 35 minutes, there’s plenty of things from this album that can be enjoyed. AC/DC sure know how to deliver hard rocking tracks, slow and fast. “Dogs of War” is a slower track with some dark overtones and an edgy sounding chorus while I can already see Angus doing his Chuck Berry duck walks during the rapid-fire “Baptism by Fire.” Speaking of which, Angus really shines on this album. He and Stevie dominate during “Miss Adventure” while he plays some tasty Zeppelin-esque riffs during “Rock the House.” The latter track is so catchy; I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s used at any strip joints!

Rock or Bust does have a few weaknesses. As mentioned before, the album runs at 34 minutes- making the album AC/DC’s shortest. While I praise the band for trying keeping it short (which wasn’t the case for Black Ice: that clocked in at 55 minutes), I still feel like something’s missing. While Black Ice was the longer album, I feel it had better songs. “Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder” has a nice bass line from Williams but doesn’t go elsewhere while “Sweet Candy” just sounds like a continuation of “Rock the House.” Still, these are small bits of criticism and it doesn’t stop the album from being enjoyable.

           Overall, Rock or Bust is a solid album from AC/DC. With that, I will look forward to seeing the band tour next year. However, there might be another line-up change in the future:   along with Malcolm’s retirement, drummer Phil Rudd was arrested in New Zealand last month and is now facing threatening to kill and drug possession charges. Despite this, AC/DC has said their touring plans remain unchanged, saying they will go on with or without Rudd. In the meantime, AC/DC fans can enjoy Rock or Bust

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys dead at 70

Robert Henry "Bobby" Keys
December 18, 1943-December 2, 2014

Bobby Keys, best remembered as the saxophonist for the Rolling Stones, passed away today after a battle with cirrhosis. Keys was 70 years old. Keys was born in Slaton, Texas and by the time was 15, he was playing for Bobby Vee and even Buddy Holly. Keys joined the Rolling Stones as a side member in 1969, making his first appearance on a Stones album on Let It Bleed (providing the sax solo on "Live With Me"). Keys was close to the members of the band, especially Keith Richards- who was born on the same exact day as Keys. Keys stopped plays for the Rolling Stones for a while but joined their touring group 1980. Although mostly known for his work with the Stones, Keys was able to play with different artists including George Harrison, John Lennon, B.B. King, Harry Nilsson, Joe Cocker and on several solo albums by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. Prior to his death, Keys was not touring with the Stones due to his illness. 

It's very sad to hear of Bobby's passing. He was a wonderful sax player. He was there when I saw the Stones in 2002 during their Licks tour. He also seemed like a sweet guy and it's just a shame that he's gone.

Rest in peace, Bobby.