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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

BLACK STATE HIGHWAY:ALBUM REVIEW.


It's refreshing to get an album these days that's not overrun with the usual 13 or 14 tracks, and a glut of substandard bonus tracks.  So I was pleasantly surprised when Black State Highway's self titled debut album arrived at my door, containing just 8 tracks.  The saying quality over quantity without doubt applies here.

The Brighton based band introduce themselves with a riff happy blend of blues rock with a distinctive metal influence.  Lead vocalist Liva Steinberga immediately makes you sit up and take notice on opener Conclusion.  Her impressive range is more than a match for the Zeppelin-esque guitar on this groove laden rocker.  Lead off single, Ain't Got No, is more of the same and showcases  some impeccable drumming from Harry Bland.

On the atmospheric Broken, you get more than a hint of early Sabbath, with Steinberga once again excelling, especially on the chorus.  It's no coincidence that this band met at the Brighton Institute Of Modern Music, because their musical intelligence is blatantly evident here.  Guitarists Olie Trethwey and Yonnis Crampton make next track, Free, their own.  With a riff containing a healthy slice of Deep Purple's Black Night, but the distorted guitars puts their own stamp on it.


It's not just your 70's classic blues rock that's the chief influence on the album..Sacrifice leans a lot in the grunge direction, but is delivered with a hell of a lot more slickness and precision.  The raunchy Tekkers has a delicious meaty groove that is incessant throughout.  Gordon Duncan's brilliant bass line knits the whole song together perfectly.  Penultimate track, Common Man, more than tips it's hat to Southern rock with a relentless grinding riff.

Closer, Trouble, once again has Steinberga's voice dominating, which in truth is my only real criticism of this very impressive debut.  But this band are only going to get better.  Debut albums aren't meant to be perfect, but if this is just a taste of Black State Highway's talents, then I intend on tasting a lot more.

BLACK STONE CHERRY. THE ACADEMY, DUBLIN, 23rd OCTOBER.

A little over 700 people packed this tiny Dublin venue to witness the Kentucky rockers unleash their brand of Southern fried hard rock.  With a set spanning their four albums, this was a band hell bent on making this chilly Thursday night, a memorable one.

Launching into Rain Wizard, from their self titled debut album, FrontmanChris Robertson's opening roar of "here comes the rain", set the tone for the night straight away.  A brilliant Blind Man was followed by an ear splitting Me And Mary Jane from their new album Magic Mountain.  The energetic rhythm guitarist, Ben Wells, and bassist, Jon Lawhon, swap stage positions like men possessed.

On In My BloodRobertson lets the crowd take stage singing the chorus.  The clearly moved singer tips his cap in appreciation.  A nice moment.  Another new song, Holding On...To Letting Go, gets the energy pumping again. Next, they get their Zeppelin out on the riff strewn, Maybe Someday, leaving the crowd gasping for breath.  The great thing about Black Stone Cherry's music is it's sincerity, it's guts, and how their songs take on a whole new meaning in a live setting.  Evidence of this is clearly seen on Remember Me, and the sublime, Like I Roll.

After Bad Luck And Hard Love, drummer John Fred Young gave a five minute masterclass, that was probably felt anywhere within a fifty mile radius.  Young reminds me of a human version of Animal from The Muppet's, but Robertson summed it up best by simply calling him a beast.  The band return and raise their glasses to their roots with Hollywood In Kentucky,brilliantly performed with a Southern swagger.  If anybody in the crowd thought the band were taking their foot off the gas, then they must of got the fright of their lives for what was about to follow.  Bang - Boom - Bang - Cherry classics, White Trash MillionaireBlame It On The Boom Boom and Lonely Train hits the crowd firmly between the eyes.  And just to finish us off, 30 Seconds Of Death Metal is the parting shot.


Encore, Peace Is Free, closes the night on an inspiring note.  An emotionally drained looking Robertson once again gives the Cherry faithful the mic, who pay him back with interest. Performances like this are proof that Black Stone Cherry are one of the best live acts around today.The quality of their music grows with every album release, and the chemistry between them is infectious.  These are four guys who have known each other since childhood and have a genuine bond.  And an even greater one with their audience.   Apart from this flawless performance, it was heartening to see a young audience at a proper rock show.  And also, to see them with their fists in the air, and not a sea of smart phones.  A memorable night.

Monday, 13 October 2014

MR BIG:THE STORIES WE COULD TELL:ALBUM REVIEW:

Hands up, I've never given Mr Big the time of day.  Even since I heard their massive 1991 hit To Be With You, I closed the door on them completely.  That song made my teeth water and my ears cry.  But they do say time is a great healer, and now as I'm two years into my 5th decade, I think it's time to open that door.  This is the bands eighth studio offering and follows 2011's What If.

Opening track Gotta Love The Ride delivers with a earthy slice of Zeppelin and Sknynrd, and threatens to explode, but in truth it doesn't need to, it's infectious tempo carries the song through.  Next up, I Forgot To Breathe, is a perfectly crafted rocker with a sublime chorus, and a wonderful trademark Paul Gilbert solo.  The radio friendly tones of Fragile takes the edge off after the gritty opening tracks.  If you like a bit of sexual innuendo in your songs, Satisfied won't disappoint, with it's nasty guitars and a humping bass line from Mr Sheehan.  If it wasn't for the flawless performance of vocalist Eric MartinThe Man Who Has Everything, would probably fall flat on it's face.  But his crisp, soul filled voice, breathes life into an otherwise ordinary ballad.

The brilliant funk leanings of The Monster In Me, reminds us what magician bassist Billy Sheehan is.  Without doubt the highlight of the album so far.  What If We Were New and It's Always About That Girl are much in the same vein as Satisfied, seductive, in your face belters.  Light Of Day is another standout track, with Gilbert and Sheehan once again in blistering form.  This a real roll the top down and cruise number.  Ballad, Just Let Your Heart Decide is a weak point for me.  I generally like my ballads big and beefy, but this is low fat at best.  The album closes on a high note with the title track, with fantastic classic rock elements, right in the vein of Free and Bad Company.

All in all, this is a traditional rock album, packed tight with melody, towering bass lines and killer guitar work.  Though I think it's a bit top heavy with ballads, but don't let that put you off, there's plenty of head shakers on it.  I'm glad I've lost my Mr Big virginity, but I still hate that bloody song.

AN "ADRENALIZING" WEDNESDAY IN DUBLIN !


I've witnessed Def Leppard in some strange concert situations over the years.  The first one was in 1986, while on holidays in a seaside resort called Ballybunion,on the south west coast of Ireland. The Leps were doing a live rehearsal tour of the country in preparation for a series of Monsters Of Rock shows.  And also to get drummer, Rick Allen, back up to speed after his horrific car accident.  They played the local hotel, a run down little dump called the The Atlantic.  This place was a complete throwback to the 70's, with a nicotine stained glitter ball swinging precariously from the roof.  The second was a year later, on the opening night of the Hysteria world tour.  This time the venue was a local bingo hall on the north side of Dublin, called the SFX.  Nothing special, just four beer and piss stained walls and a gaping hole in the roof.

Fast forward five years, it's Wednesday and I'm in work getting lacerated with paper cuts.  I get a phone call around noon, it's my buddy.  Guess what, he says, Def Leppard are playing McGonagles tonightfuck off I say.  Tickets just went on sale,he continues, we haven't a fuckin hope, I say, defeated.  The 400 tickets sold out in point 4 of a second.  The band were doing a warm up show for The 7 Day Weekend Tour, in support of their latest album Adrenalize.  It was also Vivian Campbell's first gig with the band.  He was replacing long time guitarist Steve Clark, who sadly passed away the previous year.  He was to be presented to the world the following week, at Freddie Mercury concert, in Wembley Stadium.  Despite not having tickets, we meet that evening anyway and make our way to the venue, with the faint hope of scoring tickets outside.

Let me describe McGonagles for you, it's a legendary club on South Anne Street, just off the very posh Grafton Street, on the south side of Dublin.  It had hosted bands like Nirvana and U2 in their infancy, and was a well known venue for up and coming thrash metal bands.  And the interior, well, it was like a large toilet, with a hole in the wall for a bar, and box for a stage.  It smelled of damp leather and Spanish onions. Two hours to doors and we get approached by a suspicious looking character.  But, he was a suspicious looking character, with tickets.  This guy had a massive scar from his neck to his cheek with one eye facing north and the other facing west.  His breath smelt like he'd been French kissing a chain smoking camel.

With tickets at £8 face value, we offer £15 each.  Ah will ya fuck off lads, dirty, dirty (he meant thirty), was his response.  After about a half hour of this, we eventually agree on £50  for two tickets.  And he even had the good grace to escort us to the ATM.  The word "forgery" crossed my mind as we approached the door.  I nervously hand over my ticket, and just as I was preparing myself for the worst, there it was, stub ripped off, I was in.  Everything looked normal, drums, amps, lights, but I still had a nagging suspicion we had been, monumentally had.  That was until Leps manager, Peter Mensch, walked in my direction.  I greeted him like a long lost friend - he looked at me like I had Bubonic plague.  Despite my embarrassment it confirmed to me that this was no hoax, this was very real.  Def Leppard, one of the biggest bands on the planet, were playing this shit hole.

And on they came, I said welcome to my showJoe Elliot screams, as they launch into a hair raising Stagefright.  They don't let the crowd up for air as Rock! Rock! (till you drop) keeps the place shaking.  The mid tempo thud of Women lets us draw breath a little.  Just two songs off the new album, Adrenalize were played, lead off single Let's Get Rocked and the reworked Tear It Down.  The main bulk of the set consisted of the Pyromania and Hysteria albums.  The last hour of the show was the most memorable for me.  With classics like Foolin'Rock Of Ages and Armageddon It, all following each other.  I was in hard rock heaven.  1987's comeback single Animal, was followed by a blistering version of Queen's, Now I'm Here, due to be performed with Brian May at Wembley Stadium the following Monday.

New guy Vivian Campbell, on home soil, fitted effortlessly into the band.  He traded licks with Phil Collen like he'd been in the band 20 years.  Joe Elliot gave him a "welcome to the family" introduction much to the delight of the sweat soaked crowd.  After the encore of Photograph and Tear It Down, the band exited and the "house light" came on.  And that was it.  Bar witnessing the birth of my two children, this was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.  I have yet to be at a gig that had as much energy and intensity.  I actually saw Ozzy at the same venue a couple of years later, great gig, but not a patch on Leppard.  Sadly, McGonagles has since been demolished,  I like to think that the wrecking ball that was Def Leppard,on that Wednesday in April, cast the first blow.

Get well soon Vivian.

Monday, 6 October 2014

KIX:ROCK YOUR FACE OFF:ALBUM REVIEW.


When a band are releasing their first batch of new music for nearly 20 years, you're well within your rights to expect something special.  The Maryland five piece follow up 1995's Show Business with Rock Your Face Off.

The aptly titled Wheels In Motion opens proceedings with bruising intent, and sets the albums tone perfectly with furious guitar solo's from Brian "Damage" Forsythe and Ronny "10/10" Younkins.  Next up, You're Gone, unmistakeably bears all the hallmarks of AC/DC, that is until the chorus, which frankly drags the song down.  But Can't Stop The Show more than makes up for that with it's beautifully seductive rhythm and rousing chorus.  And that continues with the wonderfully suggestive Rollin' In Honey, a song drooling in tongue in cheek humour.

For a title track, Rock Your Face Off disappoints, but no doubt will work better in a live setting, this version lacks serious punch.  All The Right Things sees the band get a bit of a southern swagger on, but still maintains it's rock soul.  Dirty Girls is a sleazy little number that's obviously about their undying love for eh........dirty girls.  Not much originality here, but bloody fantastic all the same.
Power ballads are always dangerous ground, some work, some don't.  But love them or hate them, they're almost a necessity.  And not many have perfected the art.  But on Inside Outside Inn, the guys have without doubt nailed it.  Vocally it's flawless with main man Steve Whiteman excelling.  The mayhem quickly resumes with the relentless punk-esque of Mean Miss Adventure.

Love Me With Your Top Down just about falls short of Spinal Tap.  That's not a criticism, far from it, but you will laugh at it's brashness and downright arrogance.  That theme is carried on with Tail On The Wag, and once again you could be listening to a mid 70's AC/DC, with it's crunching guitar rhythm's and tight bass line.  The album concludes with the high octane Rock 'n' Roll Showdown, that will no doubt become a live favourite.  A perfect finish to a not so perfect, but solid rock album.  But it's an honest album, KIX aren't pretending to be something they're not, they're just a rock 'n' roll band - plain and simple.  And folks, there ain't nothing wrong with that.