11 June 2012

Review: Meat Loaf - Hell in a Handbasket

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In 1967 Marvin Lee Aday formed his first band, “Meat Loaf Soul” and after 45 years of performing in everything from bands to acting in over 35 movies, over 25 television shows(most recently “Celebrity Apprentice”), and doing over 20 concert tours,  the man who now goes by “Meat Loaf” is releasing his 12th studio album.
If familiar with the work of Meat Loaf you know that he does everything big, crazy and unexpectedly. Most of all Meat puts his whole heart and soul into everything he does.

It’s hard to do something unexpected when everyone is expecting it, but there were a few surprises on Hell in a Handbasket.

The first song, “All of Me” sets the tone for the album which Meat Loaf says is the first album he has made that really expresses the way he feels personally. It’s the kind of power ballad you would expect from a Meat Loaf album. “The Giving Tree” is a lesson in dynamics for any aspiring musician. Starting with a single tambourine, it swells from almost spoken lyrics to a feverish anthem with church choir like backup vocals. Then everything drops out and you have hand claps and church choir vocals until it ends with a single tambourine.

Pushing into the realm of the unexpected we have, “Live or Die”. On the surface with its acoustic guitar, fiddle and organ it sounds like a country song.  Peel all that away and you actually have a pretty heavy rock song. The acoustic guitar solo in the middle works amazingly well too.

Meat crosses deep into the unexpected with the medley “Blue Sky/Mad Mad World/The Good God Is A Woman And She Don’t Like Ugly,”   which includes rapping by Chuck D. Then he follows that up with another cover, “Calfornia Dreamin’”. No surprise that it’s a duet with Patti Russo. He makes it his own, but I have listened to it half a dozen times and I am still not sure if I like it or not. 

Still unexpected is the song “Party of One”. I would say it crosses into the realm of early punk or psychobilly. It’s a song about the upside of being alone.

Finally the most unexpected oddity on Hell in a Handbasket is “Stand in the Storm”. Where else can you hear Meat singing with Trace Adkins, Mark McGrath and Lil Jon?  Only someone like Meat Loaf could get such a diverse group of musicians together on an album. Let alone one song.

Meat Loaf made the mistake of writing Bat out of Hell at the beginning of his career. How do you possibly ever top your swan song? Hell in a Handbasket isn’t going to stand up to Bat out of Hell, but it is a good album. It is full of emotion, big vocals and great arrangements. Meat Loaf continues to have no qualms with cross contaminating genres. No matter what ingredients he mixes together it all ends up tasting like Meat Loaf. I am sure Guy Fieri would say,  “Mmm, that’s money!”

4/5 Stars
Key Tracks: The Giving Tree, Live or Die, Party of One
Kirk Bullough

1. All Of Me  
2. The Giving Tree
3. Live Or Die
4. Blue Sky / Mad Mad World / The Good God Is A Woman And She Don't Like Ugly
5. California Dreamin'
6. Party Of One
7. Another Day
8. 40 Days
9. Our Love And Our Souls
10. Stand In The Storm
11. Blue Sky
12. Fall From Grace


Artist:  Meat Loaf
Title:  Hell In A Handbasket
Genre:  Rock
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Label:  Sony Legacy
Website:  http://www.meatloaf.net

22 May 2012

Review: Bob Ardern - Wires Rosewood & Roots

Bob Ardern moved from England to Canada when he was 13, but it was on a visit back to England for the holidays that Bob discovered the guitar. Santa brought him a guitar for Christmas and then came the practicing. Living in the country without a television made for minimal distractions.
Bob took a break from guitar when life came knocking at his door. He finished his Computer Science degree, started a career, got married and bought a home. Life changed again after about twenty years and Bob found himself alone with no television and plenty of time to practice. 
He began to play a local coffee shop and eventually ended up in Nova Scotia where he met producer David Findlay and joined with him to produce Wires, Rosewood & Roots.
This album is a collection of Bob’s instrumental pieces some on acoustic guitar and some with backing instruments. If I had to choose a genre to describe this album I would call it Nova Scotian New Age Blues.
The night I started to listen to Wires, Rosewood & Roots I was starting my 40 mile commute home in a blizzard. It became the perfect soundtrack to my snowy trek home. The first track “Dusty’s Train” was just what I expected to hear based from the picture on the cover of the cd. Open strings, natural harmonics, finger picking. It’s a very beautiful, soothing piece.
By the time I reached the track “Scotch Rocks” the snow was starting to stick to the roads. Normally I would have had the urge to drive a little faster than I was, but “Scotch Rocks” is so smooth that I just sat back and enjoyed the solitude while listening. This song has an acoustic jazz feel and the backing instruments really make this my favorite track on the CD.
When I cross the railroad tracks I know I am almost home and I was almost finished with my first listen to Wires, Rosewood & Roots. The album had made my trip home more of a journey than a commute. I was now listening to the final track “Windrush”. It’s a fine example of how Bob is able to combine New Age style guitar with bluesy guitar licks. This hybrid gives the album a very unique style of its own.
Wires, Rosewood & Roots made my hellish commute a little piece of heaven. If you like acoustic guitar, you should add this album to your collection. Make sure you keep a copy in the car just in case.

4/5 Stars

Key Tracks: Dusty’s Train, Scotch Rocks, Windrush

Kirk Bullough

1. Irish Mood
2. Skating
3. Palindrome
4. Dusty's Train
5. Scotch Rocks
6. Flea's Reel
7. Eleanor of Aquitaine
8. Windrush
9. Tea Rose
10. Waiting for McAfee
11. Pray for Rain
12. Out of Work



Artist:  Bob Ardern
Title:  Wires Rosewood & Roots
Genre:  Folk: Fingerstyle
Release Date: January 2, 2012
Label:  Bob Ardern
Website:  http://www.bobardern.ca/

Review: Ann Claire - Honkytonk Princess

It’s good to be the king, but when you are Ann Claire it’s even better being the princess. Ann isn’t just the Honkytonk Princess; she is literally a real princess. She is the granddaughter of HH Princess Shams of Iran's Pahlavi Dynasty.
Ann Claire is far from what you would expect from a princess though. Ann grew up in London and Los Angeles. She attended school in England, Switzerland and Spain. She majored in film and television with a minor in sociology at University of Southern California. She also studied theatre and voice at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre. She is proud to be an American citizen and loves country music with her whole heart and soul.
As someone who already has fortune and fame, Ann has risked it all to follow her dream. Ann says, “This has never been for me about being famous or rich. Those things are not of interest to me at all. All I’ve ever wanted to do is write great songs and make a difference in the world, and sing and present them in a way where they will affect people.”
If you are going to call yourself the Honkytonk Princess, you better be ready to back up that claim. Out of the gate with the song, “Better Girl”, Ann Claire shows that writing and singing country music comes as easy to her as sliding off a greasy log backwards.  Her voice is unique, but if I had to compare it to someone I would probably say it reminds me a little of Dolly Parton with some Kate Bush mixed in here and there.
The song “Lucky Me” quickly became my favorite with its great banjo intro and witty lyrics. I am impressed that with her privileged upbringing, Ann Claire is able to put her life experiences into words that ring true to rural America. I am sure part of this is due to her experiences working as a waitress at a barbecue joint when she first moved to Nashville. She didn’t even own a car. Not something your typical pampered princess would do.
The title track of Honkytonk Princess shows that you don’t have to be born into royalty to be treated like a princess. “I don’t think it matters at all whether you’re from a trailer park or a palace, you’ve gotta know who you are, what you’re worth, and don’t you take a cent less.”
Honkytonk Princess finishes with a nice ballad “Somewhere”, reminding us that life is about enjoying the journey and not worrying about the destination. “I couldn’t say just where I’m headed yet,   but I’m headed somewhere”. 
Ann co-wrote 8 of the 12 songs on this CD. The lyrics are witty and honest with a sense of vulnerability to them. Watch out Nashville there is a new girl in town and she is tearin’ it up. Honkytonk Princess is the best new country album that I have heard this year. Ann Claire is soon to be taking her rightful place as an heir in the country music royal family.  
4.5/5 Stars
Key Tracks: Better Girl, Lucky Me, Somewhere
Kirk Bullough

1. Better Girl
2. Dark Horse
3. Lucky Me
4. Good Enough
5. Honkytonk Princess
6. Here to Home
7. Let’s Go To Mexico
8. Way That I Do
9. Go With Me
10. If I Leave Here Tonight
11. Gettin' Good At This
12. Somewhere

Artist:  Ann Claire
Title:  Honkytonk Princess
Genre:  Country/Pop
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Label:  Prosody Records
Website:  http://princessannclaire.com/

21 May 2012

Review: Sonic Station - Sonic Station

Sonic Station is the vision of Swedish guitarist, composer and producer Alexander Kronbrink. He wanted to make an 80’s AOR style album that would have influences of Toto, Mr. Mister, Journey and some West Coast-sound of Airplay, Michael McDonald and Marc Jordan.
There is a large cast of singers and musicians on Sonic Station. Featured on lead vocals: Marika Willstedt, Magnus Bäcklund, Kristoffer Fogelmark &  Tove Lo, guitars: Alexander Kronbrink, keyboards: Jonathan Fritzén, Marika Willstedt, David Larson & Alexander Kronbrink, bass: Henrik Linder, Johan Hansén-Larson, Erik Metall, Kristofer Sundström & Johan Ivansson, drums: Aron Mellergårdh, Thern Pettersson & Niklas Almgren, percussion: Andreas Ekstedt, backing vocals: Marika Willstedt, Kristoffer Fogelmark, Oskar Nilsson, Matilda Bådagård & Alexander Kronbrink, saxophone: Conny Lindgren, trumpet, Flugelhorn: Erik Palmberg

The pilgrimage back to the 80’s begins with an instrumental piece with the unlikely name, “Intro”. It’s an airy song with layers of synthesizers, echoed guitars and trumpet. It’s a nice lead-in to “Love’s Gonna Show the Way”, the catchiest song on the album. From the moment the almost acapella vocals come in you are hooked. I dare you to not sing along.

“You Have to let me go” is a composite of 80’s meets the present. Tove Lo’s raunchy vocals are the energy that really drives this song through the roof. Also, Kronbrink ushers in the return of the guitar solo.

What would an 80’s/West Coast album be without a ballad? “The Most Beautiful Fear” more than satisfies that need. It was an expansion of a chord progression that Kronbrink’s father (also a song writer) shared with him some years ago. This track also has over 20 tracks of percussion on it.

 “Never Let the Sunshine Die” is the perfect canvas for Kronbrink to paint his rainbow of guitar licks on. His guitar is literally wailing and weeping as he sets the stage for Kristoffer Fogelmark to take over. He sings about the sky crying out rain, mirroring the sentiment with his raspy vocals. The song ends with an equally impressive outro-solo.

The album Sonic Station is teeming with amazing guitar sounds and synth patches. Kronbrink set out to recapture the feel of the 80’s. He succeeds in giving us a glimpse into where that sound would have evolved to had it stayed in the mainstream. The 80s were about excess in everything including record production.  I hope this is the album that launches that sound back into the forefront.
4/5 Stars

Key Tracks:
Love's Gonna Show the Way, You Have to Let Me Go, The Most Beautiful Fear, Never Let the Sunshine Die

Kirk Bullough

1. Intro
2. Love's Gonna Show the Way
3. I Wish I Could Lie
4. Hold On to Me
5. You Have to Let Me Go
6. The Most Beautiful Fear
7. Running Through the Night
8. Never Let the Sunshine Die
9. My Last Refrain
10. Love You More
11. Reasons

Artist:  Sonic Station
Title:  Sonic Station
Genre: West Coast/ AOR
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Label:  Frontiers Records
Website: http://www.sonic-station.com/

Review: Mr. Big - One Acoustic Night Live From the Living Room

In January of 2011 Mr. Big recorded an acoustic album in front of a small audience at WOWWOW TV studios in Tokyo, Japan. The album is called Live from the Living Room because the band performed on a stage that was created to look like a living room.
Mr. Big consists of Eric  Martin (vocals), Paul Gilbert (guitar), Billy Sheehan (bass) and Pat Torpey  (percussion).

My first thought listening to this album was, “Hey that sounds like an electric bass.”  I think the electric bass is why this album works for me. Acoustic albums are fun to listen to as a novelty and every once and awhile one comes along that actually stands well on its own. The problem with most of them though is that all the energy is sucked right out of the music. I think Mr. Big has figured out how to keep it exciting by leaving the electric bass in. In fact the last track of the album, “Nobody Left to Blame” has electric guitar as well.

After repeatedly listening to Live from the Living Room what stands out are the vocals and harmonies. When you turn down the instruments your vocals are standing there naked for everyone to hear. Martin’s vocals are dead on and soulful. The backup vocals help add some of their own excitement to these stripped down arrangements.

Right out of the gate Mr. Big are rocking it with “Undertow”. There are fantastic instrumental parts in-between the melodic vocal parts.  The whole song has a tension/resolution feel between the instrumental parts and the choruses.

“Voodoo Kiss”, is the funkiest track on Live from the Living Room. The bass lick is dripping with mojo. Sheehan must be practicing some kind of voodoo to come up with such a perfect riff.

Want to hear some amazing playing? “Around the World” has it covered on acoustic guitar and bass. I gave up trying to decide which part was my favorite. Sheehan and Gilbert both are at the top of their game on this one. When I think about the fact that this was a live show (one take, no overdubs), I can’t help but sit in awe of just what great musicians these guys are.

The last half of the album adds a string quartet playing arrangements by Takashi Miyazaki.  It’s nice how the band mixes things up a little to keep the album fresh.
While I prefer the electrified Mr. Big, the percussion and acoustic guitar on Live from the Living Room give these songs a fresh new life of their own. There are plenty of great moments on this album. If you are a Mr. Big fan you should add it to your collection. If you aren’t a Mr. Big fan give this a listen. Maybe you will like the acoustic version of the band.

4/5 Stars

Key Tracks:
Undertow, Voodoo Kiss, Around the World

Kirk Bullough

1. Undertow
2. Still Ain't Enough For Me
3. As Far As I Can See
4. Voodoo Kiss
5. Take Cover
6. Around The World
7. Stranger In My Life
8. All The Way Up
9. To Be With You
10. Nobody Left To Blame

Artist:  Mr. Big
Title:  One Acoustic Night Live From the Living Room
Genre:  Acoustic Rock
Release Date: 28 February, 2012
Label:  Frontiers Records
Website:  http://www.mrbigsite.com/

15 May 2012

Review: Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth

It seems like there are two types of Van Halen fans out there, the fans that prefer David Lee Roth as the front man and those that prefer Sammy Hagar. There might even be a couple that like the Gary Cherone Van Halen.

 I was one of those in the David Lee Roth camp. The album 1984 brought heavy metal into the mainstream. Even my parents knew the song “Jump” (It’s still the catchiest, most upbeat song I have ever heard about suicide).

 Last year I heard the band was working on a new album with David Lee Roth (vocals), Eddie Van Halen (guitar), Alex Van Halen (drums) and Wolfgang Van Halen (bass). The wait was reminiscent of my childhood days waiting for Christmas.

 In January the band released the single “Tattoo” and I found myself feeling disappointed. The lyrics were a bit quirky and it just seemed a little cheesy to me. I have been listening to the new album A Different Kind of Truth all week long and realized something that has totally changed my feelings about this album. This is the same stuff that I used to love about the original Van Halen. The message hasn’t changed. The world we live in has. We are just getting out of a war and the economy seems to finally be gaining some ground. The world has been to Hell and back and a lot of people are ready for some healing.

 It’s about time we find our sense of humor again. A Different Kind of Truth is a refreshing journey back to those carefree party days when life was less serious and no one had ever heard of political correctness.

The first thing I noticed about this album was the lack of keyboards. When 1984 came out peoples biggest worry was that there was too much keyboard on it. If you were one of them then this one’s for you.

The second thing I noticed was the bass playing was a lot busier than the typical Van Halen album. The song “China Town” starts with a duel attack of guitar and bass playing synchronized two hand tapping licks. It may be that Wolfgang is a better bass player than Michael Anthony or it could be that Eddie is more willing to share the limelight with his son. Either way it works on this album.

Eddie and Alex have some new tricks up their sleeves. They continue to reach new levels as musicians and David Lee Roth delivers all the tongue in cheek lyrics and catchy melodies you would expect from one of the most entertaining showmen to ever front a rock and roll band.

There are some great songs on A Different Kind of Truth. There is the song “Stay Frosty” which sounds like a tribute to “Ice Cream Man” with an updated energy to it. The song “Honeybabysweetiedoll” is unique with an East Indian kind of feel to it. The guitar solos on this one take me to my “Happy Place”, but when I say, “Tap it in” I am thinking about Eddie’s two hand tapping.

The album ends strong with what I consider the heaviest song on the album, “Beat Workin’”, a song that treats us to a funky bass solo in the middle with liberty and cow bell for all.

A Different Kind of Truth is just the kind of truth I have been searching for. The only thing I find myself wanting that isn’t here is Michael Anthony’s backup vocals, but there are a lot of hidden gems on this album that more than make up for it. When was the last time a heavy rock album made you smile? For me it’s every time I play this album.

5/5 Stars

Key Tracks: Honeybabysweetiedoll, Stay Frosty, Beats Workin’

Kirk Bullough

1. Tattoo
2. She's the Woman
3. You and Your Blues
4. China Town
5. Blood and Fire
6. Bullethead
7. As Is
8. Honeybabysweetiedoll
9. The Trouble with Never
10. Outta Space
11. Stay Frosty
12. Big River
13. Beats Workin'

Artist:  Van Halen
Title:  A Different Kind of Truth
Genre: Heavy Rock
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Label:  Interscope Records
Website:  http://www.van-halen.com/

Review: KLogR - Till You Decay

When I first read the name of this band my arteries started to harden in anticipation. They were relieved when I found that the band name wasn’t pronounced (clogger), but (kay-log-are).
It’s based on the law of Weber-Fechner: S = K log R ( the amount of stimulus that each of the senses needs to actually be triggered on a cognitive level).

This project is led by Gabriele “Rusty” Rustichelli (Vocals & Guitars) with Nicola Briganti (Guitars), Todd Allen (Bass), Filippo De Pietri (Drums).

Their new album Till You Decay is a concept album about how society controls and judges us, conditions us and suffocates us. Society uses fear and anxieties to destabilize a person into something more fragile, more controllable and more subservient... till you decay.

The KlogR sound is a cross between alternative rock and alternative metal. It has its heavy moments and its melodic moments. The first song “Live Dying” starts with clean guitars and a lot of cymbals. Then the song kicks into overdrive with crunchy, thick rhythm guitars, driving bass and drums. “Live Dying” cycles through heavy choruses and soft parts with ghostly, airy vocals. The bridge adds more variance and then goes into a cool guitar interlude with some cool wah-wah guitar effects. 

“Bleeding”, the first single off of Till You Decay, starts at ludicrous speed with some frantic solo guitar. A machine gun like drum roll brings it home setting the mood for Rusty’s commodious vocals to take over. The bass and drums really open this song up during the choruses and then bring back the intensity for the verses.

“Young Graves” takes a little detour from the rest of the album. It’s a bit slower and often has a really soulful feel. The bass really shines in this one. I think “Young Graves” really showcases the versatility of the band.

Till You Decay is a gratifying album. The 11 songs on this album show a wide range of vocal ability and musical styles. I like the multiplicity KlogR has to move between heavy and melodic styles within the same song. I find musical journeys in between the vocals a great way to keep the listener engaged.

Listen to Till You Decay your arteries with thank you.

4/5 Stars

Key Tracks: Live Dying, Bleeding, Young Graves

Kirk Bullough

1. Live Dying
2. Silk and Thorns
3. White Eyes
4. Bleedin'
5. Green Star                
6. Self Loathing
7. Naked Mind
8. You Gotta Know
9. Value of Sin
10. Silted Memories
11. Young Graves

Artist:  KLogR
Title:  Till You Decay
Genre: Alternative Rock / Alternative Metal
Release Date: January 30, 2012
Label: Zeta Factory
Website:  http://www.klogr.net/home/

11 May 2012

Review: Chickenfoot - III

With the release of the new Van Halen CD right around the corner, I thought I would check out the new Chickenfoot III. I must admit I was disappointed at the first Chickenfoot attempt, so it’s taken me this long to give it a listen.
In case you don’t already know, Chickenfoot is: Sammy Hagar (Lead and Background Vocals), Joe Satriani (Guitars, Six String Banjo), Michael Anthony (Bass and Background Vocals) and Chad Smith (Drums and Percussion).

I am always a little disappointed that Joe Satriani behaves himself so much in this band. But I know he is doing it because he wants to let Chickenfoot be a band and not just a bunch of super stars putting out an album. That leaves room for some of the most interesting bass lines I have ever heard from Michael Anthony. Check the intro on Dubai Blues to see what I mean.

“Up Next” is like a modern version of “Purple Haze”, I love the guitar and bass playing lines that double each other. It happens a lot on the album. The drums are just as funky as you would expect from Chad Smith. Together the rhythm section locks into a fluidic groove and the result is nothing less than musical alchemy.

Sammy’s lyrics are intelligent, his vocals rugged and determined, and with Michael Anthony singing backup vocals, Chickenfoot III sounds like it could be a Van Halen album. Maybe more than Van Halen’s new album will.

My favorite track on Chickenfoot III is “Something Going Wrong”.  It’s a nice acoustic bit with, surprise… a banjo part. There is also a very heartfelt song “Three and a Half Letters” in which Sammy recites some letters from people who have had a hard time making it in this slow economy. I do believe Chickenfoot may have their fingers more on the pulse of this nation than our politicians do.

The band has said they named this album Chickenfoot III to avoid the dreaded second album that many bands put out. What they don’t realize is that Chickenfoot I was that album. Chickenfoot III delivers the kind of album I was waiting for the first time around.

4/5 Stars

Key Tracks: Something Going Wrong, Three and a Half Letters, Alright, Alright

Kirk Bullough

1.    Last Temptation
2.    Alright Alright 
3.    Different Devil 
4.    Next
5.    Lighten Up
6.    Come Closer
7.    Three and a Half Letters
8.    Big Foot
9.    Dubai Blues
10.    Something Gone Wrong
11.    No Change ( Hidden Track)

Artist:  Chickenfoot
Title:  III
Genre: Hard Rock  
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Label:  Entertainment One Music

10 May 2012

Review: Eric Sardinas and Big Motor - Sticks and Stones

I first heard of Eric Sardinas in 2006. He appeared on  Steve Vai’s Live at the Astoria London DVD. I knew he was a great guitarist, but seeing him playing “The Attitude Song” was my only exposure to him. He was a talented guitarist. I filed him away in my head under ‘slide guitar shredder’ and that was my entire experience with Mr. Sardinas.
I have spent quite a few years thinking that the blues were stagnant and the only new blues act selling albums was John Mayer.
When the Eric Sardinas and Big Motor, Sticks and Stones CD crossed my desk I swear the jewel case was convulsing. I loaded it up to give it a listen and to my surprise, the thing I noticed wasn’t the shredding I expected. What I noticed first was a great rockin’, almost rockabilly song,  “Cherry Wine” with a deep and gruff rock ` n’ roll voice. I was instantly curious as to whether Mr. Sardinas was also the singer. Yep, Eric Sardinas (guitar, vocals), Levell Price (bass) and Chris Frazier (drums).
I listened to the whole CD and what I found was a great collection of songs that range anywhere from the  Delta blues of “Ratchet Blues” all the way to a frenzied full out assault of “Behind the 8”.
Sticks and Stones is a collection of songs that are fun and clever. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a lot of flashy playing on the album. That’s probably what you would be expecting to get if you bought this CD. To my surprise what you would end up with is an album that is entertaining and still enjoyable even after the flash has worn off. 
The lesson I learned is, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.” There are still exciting things happening in blues. After my re-introduction to Eric Sardinas and Big Motor I recommend Sticks and Stones to anyone who loves blues or rock.

4.5/5 Stars
Key Tracks: Ratchet Blues, Behind the 8, Country Line

Kirk Bullough
1.    Cherry Wine
2.    Road To Ruin
3.    Full Tilt Mama
4.    County Line
5.    Through The Thorns
6.    Burnin’ Sugar
7.    Ratchet Blues
8.    Behind The 8
9.    Goodness
10.   Make It Shine
11.   Too Many Ghosts

 Eric Sardinas and Big Motor
Title:  Sticks and Stones
Genre:  Blues
Release Date:  September 13, 2011
Label: Mascot Records