On paper, Redemption’s pedigree couldn’t look any stronger – vocalist Ray Alder and guitarist Bernie Versailles hail from the legendary band Fate’s Warning while bassist James Sherwood and drummer Chris Quirarte are on loan from up-and-coming prog-metal band Prymary. Multi-instrumentalist Nick van Dyk is the glue that holds it all together, molding the contributions of these various talents into a cohesive sound and sonic texture imbued with his unique musical vision.
Redemption’s The Fullness of Time
Any questions of a “sophomore slump” are quickly laid to rest with the opening notes of The Fullness of Time, Redemption’s second album. “Threads” kicks off with blazing guitar riffs, waves of sound leveling everything within sight until the quieting piano begins to seep in around the edges of the song. From this point, it’s full-scale madness, galloping rhythms supporting Alder’s soaring vocals as the song takes more instrumental twists and turns than a dark country road. “Parker’s Eyes” is a chilling take on the loss of innocence, using the tragedy of September 11th as a backdrop to illustrate the effects of hate and violence. Alder’s vocals impart a certain weary worldliness to van Dyk’s intelligent lyrics, while cacophonic instrumentation swirls behind him in the mix.
“Scarred” is a battle of self-doubt and reflection, the song matching industrial-strength arena-rock riffs with classic prog keyboard wizardry behind Alder’s impressive vocal gymnastics. “Sapphire,” a tale of love lost, or perhaps the path not taken, begins as a subdued ballad before van Dyk’s keyboards take flight and the drums begin to pound and the entire band kicks in and the song leaves the stratosphere on wings of divine noise. The second half of The Fullness of Time is a conceptual song suite, lyrically divided into four themes. As you might guess from the titles of each section, the song describes a spiritual journey, of sorts, from the betrayal and loss of “Rage” and the subsequent abject loneliness and hopelessness of “Despair” to forgiveness of “Release” and the freedom of “Transcendence.”
It’s an ambitious lyrical suite that stumbles now and then but succeeds in the end, describing both a personal sojourn as well as that of the country in a post-911 world, all wounds healed by only “the fullness of time.” The four songs, clocking in at a healthy 20 minutes altogether, are also an excellent showcase for the instrumental prowess of the band that van Dyk has assembled. Over the course of the four sections, everybody has a chance to shine, and the various inspired combinations of vocals, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards stun the listener with both the creative mastery and the technical proficiency of the players.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Progressive rock and metal may be about the least “hip” genres on the entire musical planet, kissing cousins holding hands, snubbed by alt-rock indifference and ridicule. As fans of the two faces of prog realize, though, there’s some great music being made in the trenches, bands like Redemption leading the charge out of the underground.
Incorporating elements of everybody that has come before, from Kansas and Rush to Dream Theater, Fate’s Warning and Spock’s Beard, Nicolas van Dyk has brought his considerable vision and talent to bear on The Fullness of Time and it shows. If you’re bored by the cookie-cutter kiddie-metal and rote hard rock being crammed down your throat by the major labels, take a walk on the prog-rock wild side with Redemption. (Sensory Records, released June 21st, 2005)
Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005
The Black Keys found unexpected success with their 2010 breakthrough album Brothers, which earned the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney three Grammy® Awards. While Brothers’ mix of psychedelic-tinged blues, rock, and soul music struck a chord with listeners, the album’s hit single, the groove-fattened “Tighten Up,” became ubiquitous, blasting from TV sets and radios across the fruited plains.
The Black Keys’ El Camino
The Black Keys have delivered a fast follow-up to Brothers in the form of El Camino, a solid collection that draws upon its predecessor’s timeless mix of styles with a pure-at-heart blast of retro-soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Unlike the band’s previous collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, 2008’s Attack & Release, which experimented in lofty sonic atmospherics, there are no loose musical threads here. Instead, El Camino hits fast-and-hard with inspiration that spans the decades, the Black Keys turbo-charging their trademark garage-blues sound with elements of soul, electric funk, and punch-drunk throwback rock ‘n’ roll.
El Camino cranks from the jump with lead single “Lonely Boy,” which sports a riff-happy melodic hook every bit as large and in charge as that on “Tighten Up.” Auerbach’s slightly-echoed vocals are overwhelmed by the song’s dangerously infectious sing-along chorus and Carney’s propulsive drumbeats. Infusing a bedrock of rock ‘n’ soul with a maddeningly effective recurring riff and plenty of engaging “whoa whoa whoa,” the song will stick in your brain long after you’ve heard it, like some funky brain chigger.
You’ll find no creative drop-off from the radio-friendly peaks of “Lonely Boy,” El Camino rolling through its eleven songs in a shockingly efficient 38-minutes, leaving the listener gasping for breath and wanting another taste. The martial rhythms of “Dead and Gone” belie the song’s melodic R&B heartbeat, while “Little Black Submarines” is a Zeppelin-styled folk-rock ballad with melancholy vocals and elegant, atmospheric fretwork. “Money Maker” is a raucous blues-rock stomp with muscular rhythms while “Nova Baby” revisits the retro-soul vibe of the opening track with a gorgeously melody and sticky chorus.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
The Black Keys have come a long way from their three-chord garage-blues origins as an ersatz Rust Belt White Stripes doppelganger, finding their own voice in a high-octane blend of styles that is as classic as it is contemporary. (Nonesuch Records, released October 12, 2011)
Review originally published by Blues Revue magazine…
Throughout their lengthy and illustrious career, the Rolling Stones have always been known primarily as a live band. Strangely enough, however, they’ve never really released a great live album. From historic shows like Leeds, Oakland ‘69 or New Orleans ‘78, their best onstage moments have always been caught on tape (and subsequently put on vinyl and/or CD) by bootleggers. Even Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, arguably the band’s best live effort, has been eclipsed now that the entire show, taken from the original acetates, has recently been bootlegged by Japan’s Stones-crazy Vinyl Gang. Unfortunately, the release of No Security, the Stones’ umpteenth live disc, will do nothing to add to the Stones’ live legacy.
The Rolling Stones’ No Security
Not that No Security is entirely bad, mind you. It doesn’t reinvent the band as the semi-live, semi-acoustic Stripped did, but it’s probably the band’s best live effort since Ya-Ya’s, which isn’t really saying much. Some of the performances here are golden – Mick’s duet with Dave Matthews on “Memory Motel,” the great Taj Mahal guesting on a cover of his “Corinna,” and Joshua Redman’s sax flourishes complimenting Mick’s vocals on “Waiting On A Friend” come to mind. “Thief In the Night enjoys a particularly soulful rendition.
Other cuts on No Security are luckluster enough to be sleep-inducing, however – Jagger cakewalks through a morose rendering of “Gimme Shelter,” a song that once held so much primal power and raw energy that people lived (and died) by it. The band just sounds tired on cuts like “Sister Morphine” and “The Last Time,” and the couple of songs included here from Bridges To Babylon are so unremarkable as to be practically anonymous. Part of the problem is that No Security was compiled from songs from five different shows, thereby losing whatever cohesion and continuity the performances had in the first place. Another part of the problem is that the Stones have always been a visual band, one best enjoyed while sitting right in front of them…an intangible that doesn’t translate well to CD.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Mick, Keith, tell you what, boys – next time out (and there will be a next time, you can bet on it!) just record a bunch of shows, pick the best one and release it in its entirety, flaws and all. Either that or dip into the vaults and release a legitimate version of one of those often bootlegged shows. Until then, we’ll make do with No Security, the latest not-so-great live album from the world’s greatest live band, the Rolling Stones. (Virgin Records, released November 2nd, 1998)
Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 1998
Perhaps the greatest of the primal heavy metal bands that walked the earth during the early 1970s, Black Sabbath defied critical expectations and went on to become not only one of the most successful acts in rock music during that decade but also one of the most influential. From Guns ‘N’ Roses and Iron Maiden to White Zombie and Marilyn Manson, not a single one of them would have existed if not for Sabbath’s groundbreaking musical efforts. Although signature Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne would leave the band in 1980 to become a superstar in his own right, the band continued to carry on through the two decades to follow. Making both good records and bad, Sabbath trudged along under guitarist Tony Iommi’s guiding hand to become one of rock music’s most enduring legends.
Black Sabbath’s Reunion
Sabbath has now come full-circle as the original foursome of Ozzy, Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, and bassist Geezer Butler got together again last December for a couple of live performances. The result is captured on the 2-CD Reunion, a long overdue live set from one of rock’s monster live bands. Unlike their contemporaries, Kiss, another recently reunited rock legend created by the fans rather than the critics, Sabbath didn’t attempt to knock people out with a set of new songs. No, they decided to give their fans what they’ve always wanted – red-hot live versions of some of their greatest hits. They’re all here, too, from “Iron Man,” which is still chilling after all these years, to the eerie “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and the crowd favorite “Paranoid.” Ozzy allows the audience to sing along on a wicked rendering of “War Pigs” while other Sabbath favorites also enjoy stellar performances, including “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Snowblind.”
As a result of the band’s impromptu reunion, Ozzy and Tony Iommi penned two new songs, which are tacked on as studio cuts at the end of Reunion. The first, “Psycho Man,” is a taut thriller with concertina wire-sharp guitars and ominously plodding rhythms while “Selling My Soul” offers a sordid tale of madness and confusion – sort of like a sequel to “Paranoid” – that is driven by Ozzy’s trademark wailing vocals. Perhaps a hint of things to come, these two songs showcase that Black Sabbath has forgotten more about “heavy music” than a lot of aspiring metalheads will ever know. A reunion tour is allegedly in the works, with a new studio album possibly not far behind. Regardless, Reunion captures the greatness that is Black Sabbath in concert, maybe not at their fighting prime, but not missing many punches, either. (Epic Records, released October 20th, 1998)
Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 1998
New album releases in 200 words or less… Marshall Crenshaw
– The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw (Sunset Blvd
Records) American major labels are scouring the archives for uncut gems to pump up
their expensive “deluxe” anniversary reissues of best-selling back catalog
titles. These sets are often luxury purchases for well-heeled boomers and they
offer little in the way of value with their seemingly endless studio outtakes
and they-shoulda-remained-demo-recordings. The legendary
Marshall Crenshaw, on the other hand, delivers on the dollar, his
archival release The Wild Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw a
reasonably-priced two-disc set comprised of previously-unreleased live
performances. What do you get for your double-sawbuck? Disc one offers 16 tracks
with Crenshaw’s early band circa 1982-83 featuring delightful performances of
some of his best-known songs like “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” “Rockin’ Around
In NYC,” “Cynical Girl,” and “Someday Someway,” all of ‘em performed with energy
and youthful enthusiasm. Disc two stirs in a couple of lovely solo acoustic
numbers and a 1991 performance of “Walkin’ Around” with friends like Mitch
Easter and Brad Jones. Crenshaw lovingly covers the Bottle Rockets’ sublime “Kit
Kat Klock” before the disc closes with six songs performed with the Bottle
Rockets themselves and recorded by Eric Ambel (The Del-Lords), the engaging
performances sitting comfortably at the intersection of Beatlesque power-pop and
Crack The Sky – Between the Cracks (Carry On Records) Rust Belt rockers Crack The Sky have been dancing on the hard edge
of progressive sounds for better than 45 years now and, with roughly two-dozen
studio and live albums to their name (including this year’s wonderful Tribes),
CTS has a rather sizeable back catalog of music. Between the Cracks is an
odds ‘n’ sods collection of songs chosen by the band members, material they
collectively consider to be “sleeper tracks that fell between the cracks.” It’s
a heady collection, to be sure, with deep cuts dating back to the early ‘80s,
but the bulk of the dozen songs here are from the new millennium (my guess is
that they couldn’t license any of the 1970s-era Lifesong label tracks). What you
hear is a mature, veteran band with significant musical chemistry as shown by
songs like the mesmerizing “Zoom,” the ghostly Goth-prog of “We’re All Dead,”
the Kraut-rockin’ “The Box,” and the stunning guitars and biting
social-commentary of “Immigration.” Crack The Sky’s sound is equal parts
guitar-rock and proggy ambition, performed with imagination and no little skill.
Early CTS fans should check out Between the Cracks for a taste of what
this talented band has been doing in recent years.
Donna Frost – The Quarantine Sessions (self-produced) Like many of us, Nashville-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist
Donna Frost spent much of 2020 locked in the house, trying to avoid the
plague raging outside our doors. She did what a lot of restless musicians did –
she wrote and recorded a bunch of songs, five of which are featured on Frost’s
The Quarantine Sessions EP. With a gorgeous voice that straddles the line
between folk and country, Frost looks for the positive with songs like “I’m
Keeping the Faith” and “Love and Kindness,” her performances anchored by a
gentle guitar strum and unadorned, emotionally-impactful vocals. With
“Quarantine Blues” Frost displays a deft hand with Piedmont-styled blues guitar,
her spry inspired-by-real-life lyrics cleverly documenting America circa 2020
while “When This Is All Over” is an uplifting look towards the future.
The Quarantine Sessions closes out with “Welcome To Our New World,” a
frank appraisal of our predicament that is musically jauntier than the lyrics.
Overall, Frost faces the pandemic and quarantine with hope and humor with these
five carefully-crafted and entertaining songs.
Donna Frost – The Quarantine Sessions, Volume 2 (self-produced) Sadly, the pandemic didn’t go away as quickly as a certain self-absorbed
segment of our political leadership believed, and singer-songwriter
Donna Frost experienced the loss of her mother to Covid. As such, the
nine songs on Frost’s The Quarantine Sessions, Volume 2 are a shining
example of faith in the presence of grief and tragedy. Frost’s wonderful vocals
are accompanied only by her guitar, both instruments displaying a greater sense
of urgency than previously with many of these songs. The positive lyrics of
“Here and Now” and “I’m Gonna Take This Day” are nevertheless plagued by the
same doubt and uncertainty that many of us are still experiencing, while the
bluesy shades of “Bitter But Better” are entirely appropriate considering the
song’s see-sawing emotions. Frost’s beautiful and touching “Mama’s Prayers” is a
wonderful reminiscence of a loving, supportive relationship that deserves a
place on country radio and, by closer “Press On,” the singer has regained her
determination to face down adversity. The songs on
The Quarantine Sessions, Volume 2 are more complex and pissed-off
performed more aggressively than its predecessor, but Frost’s lyrics still
display the hopefulness and optimism we’ll need to get through this three-ring
circus we call life.
Mark Harrison and the Happy Tramps
– Way Out! (Twister Records) With Nashville rockers Sour Ops, Mark Harrison and brother Price weld
Detroit sonic overkill with modern power-pop to create a fresh throwback sound.
Way Out!, the debut from Mark and his band the Happy Tramps, veers away
from the guitar-happy crash ‘n’ bang of Sour Ops in favor of a chill retro sound
that’s heavy on 1960s-styled pop-rock-soul atmospherics. Opener “Believe It Or
Not” melds Booker T-inspired pop-soul and a lush backing soundtrack to
Harrison’s trembling, emotional vocals. It’s a heady musical moment, one of many
on Way Out! Harrison’s vocals remind of Roy Orbison by way of Chris
Isaacs, songs like “Where The Wild” and “Want You” displaying haunting beauty
while tunes like “Mindbender” and “Shake It” roll down the tracks with a drunken
bluesy swagger (“Shake It” displaying some of Harrison’s fiery git-licks). “Down
The Line” and “Leaving Now” evince a sort of folkie singer-songwriter vibe with
an emotional heartbeat and those ethereal vocals. Harrison is a pretty good
lyricist in a Dylanesque manner, and it’s to his and the band’s credit that they
stamp their trademark on the disparate styles described above and, much like
Sour Ops, make it a sound uniquely their own. Highly recommended!
Grade: A+ BUY DIRECT!
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
– 662 (Alligator Records) Christone “Kingfish” Ingram turned more than a few heads with his
stunning 2019 debut, Kingfish. By the time of that album’s release, the talented
20-year-old guitarist had already performed at the Obama White House and opened
for legends like Buddy Guy and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The ambition and beauty
of Kingfish does nothing to prepare you for Ingram’s spectacular sophomore
effort, 662 (named for his Clarksdale, Mississippi area code). Working
with producer Tom Hambridge, Ingram has delivered a mature, multi-faceted work
that shines like a jewel in the sunlight. The guitarist masterfully blends
contemporary blues styles with blues-rock and throwback R&B for a sound that
will have your stereo speakers jumping. The title track is a juke-joint rave-up
with flamethrower guitar while the socially-conscious ‘70s-styled funk-soul
sound of “Another Life Goes By” displays Ingram’s smoky, Curtis Mayfield-styled
vocals. The “bonus” track “Rock & Roll” is just hauntingly beautiful, with
languid vocals and elegant fretwork that sticks in your brain for days. Ingram
has upped his game throughout 662, his vocal phrasing meeting the needs
of each song and supported by his fluid, diverse, and electrifying guitar style.
Alligator Records’ founder Bruce Iglauer discovered a rare talent in Christone
The Rubinoos –
The CBS Tapes (Omnivore Recordings) Power-pop pioneers the Rubinoos shock and awe with The CBS Tapes,
a collection of demo recordings evincing an anarchic attitude and adorable
pop-punk energy almost two decades before Green Day and the Offspring made their
mark. Recorded at CBS Studios in San Francisco in 1976, prior to the band’s
signing with Berserkley Records (home to Earth Quake, Greg Kihn, and Jonathan
Richman), this eleven-track collection features the band’s original roster,
including guitarists Jon Rubin and Tommy Dunbar, galloping through a 30-minute
set that approximates their live show at the time. So, you get ripping original
tunes like the bouncy, glam-rock “All Excited” and the young, loud, and snotty
“I Want Her So Bad” delivered with the subtlety of a stick of dynamite alongside
cover songs both serious (The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand”) and not (The
Archies’ “Sugar Sugar”). The band displays an unexpected instrumental deftness
on their cover of the Meters’ classic “Cissy Strut” while their take on friend
and labelmate Jonathan Richman’s “Government Center” is provided a sophisticated
pop-rock arrangement. The CBS Tapes preserves the sound of happy music
guys making a joyful noise. Reforming in 2010, the current touring band includes
three original members. Bravo!
Various Artists – Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come (Ace
Records U.K.) After releasing a handful of personally-curated compilation albums
covering the essential years of the 1960s (one each from 1965 to 1968), British
rock critic Jon Savage jumped to a multi-year period for 2019’s Rock Dreams On
45 (1969-1971) comp. This year’s model stretches a little further, All Our Times
Have Come spanning 1972-1976 across two discs and 44 songs. This sort of
collection can be scattershot, but Savage has excellent musical taste and an ear
for primo-grade rock ‘n’ roll. Thus, you get the expected hit singles from folks
like Alice Cooper, Roxy Music, John Lennon, Andy Pratt, Blue Öyster Cult, and
Blondie as well as classic deep cuts from beloved rockers like the Byrds, Mott
the Hoople, Free, Lou Reed, the Sweet, Patti Smith, and Big Star. Throw in cult
rockers the Move (“Do Ya”), Flamin’ Groovies (“Slow Death”), Eno (“Third
Uncle”), the Ramones (“Blitzkreig Bop”), and Grin (“End Unkind”) alongside
lesser-known artists like Faust, Sparks, the Hammersmith Gorillas, the Count
Bishops, and the Wackers and Savage has once again assembled an entertaining and
electrifying period playlist. The diverse musical selection and a
profusely-illustrated 28-page booklet with extensive liner notes raise the set
miles above your average “hits” collection. Grade: A BUY!
By 1973, Alice Cooper was one of the hottest bands in rock ‘n’ roll. Featuring the flamboyant on-stage antics of lead vocalist and band namesake Cooper and a sound that was a cross between metal-edged blues, hard rock and camped-up show tunes, the band struck gold with their fifth album, 1972’s School’s Out. By the time that they would enter the studio to record what would become their masterpiece – Billion Dollar Babies – the band was on the verge of breaking up. Suffering from tensions created by constant touring, the ever-growing complexity of their stage shows and problems created by the extreme overuse of alcohol, the band nonetheless put together ten songs that would become the keystone of the Alice Cooper legacy.
Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies
Remixed by producer Bob Ezrin and reissued by Warner Archives and archival experts Rhino Records, Billion Dollar Babies was originally released in 1973 to overall critical acclaim and great commercial success. It became the band’s best-selling album, it led to one of the largest-grossing and spectacular tours in rock history and it inspired a legion of hard rock, punk, and heavy metal bands to follow. Today, nearly 30 years after its release, it stands out as a landmark of rock music. Cuts like “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Hello Hooray,” and the vastly underrated and oft-overlooked “Generation Landslide” stand as rock icons. “Elected” is every bit as funny and relevant in the new millennium as it was in the Nixon era while lesser-known tracks such as “Raped and Freezin’” and the macabre “I Love the Dead” did their best to launch the Goth and death metal genres.
Released by Warner/Rhino in two versions, those who merely want a taste of one of rock’s most unique and influential bands can go for the single-disc reissue of Billion Dollar Babies. For long-time fans or the curious, the “deluxe edition” of Billion Dollar Babies includes a second disc of live tracks and outtakes that is well worth the few extra dollars to buy. Featuring eleven songs taken from two Texas shows in April 1973, it offers killer performances of “Elected,” “Hello Hooray,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and “Billion Dollar Babies.” It also includes live versions of older Alice Cooper faves like “I’m Eighteen,” “My Stars,” and “I Love the Dead” as well as a handful of outtakes from the Billion Dollar Babies sessions.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Two years after the release of Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper the band would break-up and Cooper the individual would start a lengthy and productive solo career that continues to plod along today. Along with his contemporary Ozzie Osbourne, Alice Cooper has been granted “rock godfather” status by today’s heavy metal kids. Through the years that followed, however, Cooper and his bandmates would never again make rock ‘n’ roll as primal, vital, and energetic as they would with these ten tracks. (Rhino Records, reissued June 6th, 2001)
Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2001