Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Car Party “High and Low Places” [EP]

Modern rock
The Baltimore-based pop-tinged alternative rock quartet, Car Party, has released their sophomore EP “High & Low Places.” The band was formed in 2009 through a CraigsList ad posted by female drummer, Taylor Hughes. Joining Taylor is vocalist Michael Matzke, guitarist Jim Luparello, and bassist Chris Martin. The new EP was produced and engineered by Ace Enders of the modern rock band, The Early November.

“Please Me” is the new single and you can check out the video below. Within a week of Substream's video premiere of this video, Car Party skyrocketed to #2 on “Please Me” is a slick and tight slice of modern rock straddling a sound that fall in-between Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World. The other three songs on the EP follow suit, with “Dear Son” having the greatest impact after “Please Me”. Lyrically astute, “Dear Son” should resonate with listeners of all ages. “Forever Family” features a very impassioned vocal by Matzke, perfectly placed subtle backing vocals, and a gang chorus preceding the coda. The EP closes by showing a softer side to the band with the ballad “Anniversary”. One of the key things the band has going for them is chemistry – every member gets an opportunity to shine and the songs are written in a way that allows Matzke to showcase his vocal talents. One area that could use a little polishing: the band needs to focus on crafting more captivating hooks in the chorus of every song.

Catchy enough to satisfy most fans of pop rock, the songs on “High and Low Places” also boast contemporary production that will pull in modern rock fans as well. This EP suggests a band with great potential – with some sharper hooks, they will reach the high places for sure. Check out Car Party if you like Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, or Jimmy Eat World.

Car PartyFacebook

CAR PARTY | Please Me | {} from {} on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Drake Bell - It’s Only Time (2006)

One of the secret joys about being a parent is being able to watch kids shows without any feelings of guilt whatsoever. One show that my boys watch over and over is Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh, and I’m there with them every time. Just puts me in the mind of an 80s sitcom, a genre sadly missing from the television these days.

We bought this disc as a gift for my youngest and he would play it night and day, loudly. But, I sure as hell took notice because this was far from what I expected it would be. Obviously the boy was raised right musically because it would have been all too easy for him to release some over processed, auto-tuned mess rather than this power pop blast of goodness.

Seemingly inspired by Jellyfish, Paul McCartney and Cheap Trick, it’s standard three chord rock that far exceeds any sort of expectations. Not that I’m complaining, because it’s so easy to hit repeat on a track like the riffy and oh-so-hit-worthy title track, which not only reaches for the rafters but proceeds to blow the roof off. The same could be said for the sunny day 70s pop of “Makes Me Happy” or the acoustic take of the Drake & Josh theme song “I Found A Way” which continue this poptastic streak.

But, it’s songs like the vaudevillian opener “Up Periscope,” the pure piano pop of “I Know” or the deep Beatlesque “Fool The World” that elevate this far above typical teen idol fare.

On the musical front, Drake has been awfully quiet other than some live shows (where he actually covers Jellyfish’s “Joining A Fan Club” and nails it). I heard a new track from an album that’s been forever due and though it has an almost industrial touch shows a lot of promise and still very much in the power pop world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Ross and the Wrongens “Life In The Loos” [EP]

Pop rock
Headed by Ross Wrongen, he and his companions formed a band in 2009 that relied on a strong work ethic to deliver songs that echo the entire history of pop – from Sinatra to The Sex Pistols. The four tunes appearing on their EP, “Life In The Loos” embody the spirit of the Golden Age of AM radio. The band is raising eyebrows already, as evidenced by two of their songs (“That Magic Feeling” and “Summer Sun”) being nominated for best pop song at the Exposure Music Awards, an organization dedicated to promoting the best new bands in the UK.

Lead off track “That Magic Feeling” is terrific – a wonderful radio-ready gem bursting with sunshine and memorable melodies. The chorus is catchy enough as is, but the added backing harmony vocals make it truly irresistible. This is followed by another song heavily influenced by The Byrds and The Hollies called “Through With U (Ballad Of An Alcoholic)”. “Reason 2 Live” is another hook-laden feel good track, while “Summer Sun” ends the EP on a high note. The organ in this track is spectacular, rivaling the work found in many songs by Boston.

This excellent EP suggests that Ross and the Wrongens are a band that rejoices the jovial spirit of traditional pop rock, but don’t let their carefree disposition fool you – they take their songwriting most seriously. If there is only one thing I’d change about the band…lose the Prince abbreviations in your song titles!

Ross and the Wrongens Official site.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

HARLOT “Room With A View” (1989)

Harlot is Danish answer to Da Vinci, Treat, or Dalton. Most of them are probably unknown except inside the melodic rock community, but “Room With A View” is a long forgotten gem, a beautiful creation, that deserves to be recognized more by public. “Room With A View” is lush with keyboards, a mix of slow tempo to fast-paced tracks, and a soaring tenor vocal. If you love bands like Journey or Foreigner, I bet this one will be sheer enjoyment.

The first track, “Now I See”, is a great one but I don't think it really fits here. Despite the slow pace, it's too long and doesn’t pick up the momentum like “So Much For Happy Endings”. That one has a lot of energy and the arrangement is just stunning. “Out All Night” is also tremendous, but it's a mid-tempo tune, so if you're looking for a heavier and faster one, try “Kecia” or “Dancing On Dynamite”. Avoid “Invisible Ones” because it's kind of average - promising at first, but falling short.

“Metropolis Children” reminds me of Foreigner, especially the keyboards. The verse is much better than the chorus but overall it is still a top-notch tune. “Bring Home Your Love” is an enchanting piano ballad; if you know Australia's Air Supply you’ll note this song has a similar vibe with vocals even sounding like Russell Hitchcock.

This disc used to be hard to get but I believe there's a re-mastered version out there, even though it's kind of difficult to find as well. Rock Candy or Yesterrock should have done a proper reissue of this. I love this CD - it has the necessary heavier edge as in hard rock but not too harsh. Songs are mostly beautiful with a couple of acceptable fillers. Recommended!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: The Bangles “Sweetheart of The Sun”

Pop rock
I feel compelled to set the record straight here. Too many people have been gushing about how great this new record from The Bangles is that I just have to chime in. I’ve been a fan of these girls for 30 years on, but to give “Sweetheart of The Sun” anything more than 2 stars is being overly generous. Yes, it is still a sublime experience to hear those trademark harmonies, but even those magical moments can’t pull this lackluster batch of songs out of the bin of mediocrity.

“Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)” is an okay start to the album – the song didn’t blow me away by any means, but it wasn’t a chore to get through. I grew optimistic after hearing the next cut, the very good “Under A Cloud”. Also ear pleasing is the gentle midtempo ballad, “I’ll Never Be Through With You”. After the decent “Mesmerized”, the record just fizzles into a great ball of hook free blandness. Not helping is the notable lack of Susanna Hoffs tunes – despite the years instilling a bit of a rasp in her voice, hers is still the sweetest and it isn’t heard enough.

On this outing, the Bangles lost an original member (Michael Steele) but gained Matthew Sweet. Sweet has been collaborating with Hoffs for years now, with the two of them producing a couple well received records of 70s cover tunes. The love for that music often spills into “Sweetheart of the Sun”, but just doesn’t fill the cup. Vocally, the Bangles aren’t missing a note, but the production is flaccid and songs too uninteresting to write home about. Instead, go check out 2003’s comeback record “Doll Revolution”.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 5

The BanglesFacebook.

Check out “I’ll Never Be Through With You”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CD Review: Chickenfoot "Chickenfoot III"

CD Review: Chickenfoot "Chickenfoot III" 
eOne Music
All Access Review: B+

Now we know why Sammy Hagar can't drive 55. It's because he's got some hot little number waiting somewhere to give him the time of his life, and Hagar is hours away from a steamy rendezvous. With Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy blasting from the stereo, Hagar's going to drive all night at dangerous speeds to get there, state troopers be damned.

That's the gist of "Big Foot," the first single off the head-scratchingly titled III, the second LP from Chickenfoot, a much-ballyhooed supergroup of Hagar, guitar god Joe Satriani, ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Red Hot Chili Peppers' drummer Chad Smith. Another in the long line of car songs that have made Hagar the lead-footed hero of scofflaw drivers everywhere, it may be the best of the bunch. Rooted in Satriani's thick, meaty guitar grooves, "Big Foot" stomps and beats its chest like a testosterone-crazed Tarzan eyeing up a naked Jane.

A manly expression of heated desire and need for speed, "Big Foot" paces a strong set of heavy, skull-thumping rockers and occasional surprises — see the Nashville-flavored country stylings of "Different Devil" and the spoken-word, "all hell's breaking loose" fury of "Three and a Half Letters," which bemoans the dilapidated state of the U.S. economy. Pushed to the fore are the signature vocal harmonies of Hagar and Anthony — more muted in Van Halen — while bedrock riffs and crunching rhythms churn underneath such infectious brawlers as "Up Next" and "Lighten Up."

Tender is the soft tear-jerker "Come Closer" and Hager dips down into the lower registers in the smoky R&B-tinged winner "Dubai Blues," but make no mistake, Chickenfoot is throwing big, chunky right hooks of '70s-inspired hard rock on III. Your move, Van Halen ... and David Lee Roth.

-Peter Lindblad

Official Website:

Review: Ex Norwegian “Sketch”

Indie rock
Following their 2009 debut, “Standby”, “Sketch” aims to propel indie rock band Ex Norwegian to greater heights. “Standby” helped the band attain national exposure with appearances on TV and radio shows, in addition to being critically acclaimed. “Sketch” delivers ten more doses of their brand of fanciful and sonically surprising rock.

A thumping bass line draws us in to climb aboard the ride that is “Jet Lag”, a slow burning tune that creeps up to a sticky chorus that gets better with each flight through your ears (video below). “Jet Lag” finds Ex Norwegian sounding very much like a highly evolved version of Weezer. “Smashing Time” lends support to this comparison with its groovy verses and hook laden chorus. Other highlights include the near Lennon-esque “Seconds” and the rumbling “Turn Left”. There are a handful of fillers, like the quirky “You’re Elastic Over Me” and “Girl With A Moustache”, but overall “Sketch” is well fleshed out.

Taking advantage of both their male and female vocal strengths, the band often incorporates delightful harmonies making them sound like the Mamas and Papas of the modern indie rock scene. With an effective mix of clever lyrics, tasty licks, and groovy rhythms, Ex Norwegian is one of the more commercial-ready indie bands I’ve heard this year.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 6, 8

Ex NorwegianOfficial site.

Check out the video for “Jet Lag”:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Def Leppard “Slang” (1996)

It amazes me that there are still a fair amount of people that think that “grunge killed hair metal,” when in reality hair metal did just fine to kill itself off. 3rd tier bands were releasing mediocre product thinking they’d be able to ride Bon Jovi and Poison’s coat tails forever. What people always fail to understand, music is cyclical in nature and no one genre ever stays on top for long. When the stagnation sets in, all that needs to happen is for the right band to be in the right place at the right time to bring about sweeping change. And, that’s exactly what Nirvana did. Did they plan it? No, Cobain was lucky to stand upright. But, for that one moment in time, lightning struck Seattle and the musical storm once again changed.

So by the time 1996 rolled around, I think it’s safe to say that not many were pining for a new Def Leppard album, except those who were still sitting around blaming grunge for all their begotten musical ills. Shame of it is - what is probably the most misunderstood Def Leppard album was also one of their best. Had the Mercury promotional team handled things correctly, sales might have been more multi-platinum rather than just scratching gold.

I have to admit, the first time I listened to it I had taken notice how different the sound was. In fact, you couldn’t not notice. It was contemporary and not so reliant on technology or production. It was rough, down-tuned and dare I say, industrial. Title track notwithstanding, gone suddenly were songs about pouring sugar and getting rocked to make way for much more personal songs.

The first two tracks, “Truth?” and “Turn To Dust,” were not exactly the best choices for album openers. Not bad songs by any stretch, just out of place. Once track three rolls on, the title track “Slang,” the album just kicks in and never lets up. That title track also should have been the first single in the US, as it is the closest song here that bridges the gap between old Lep and new Lep.

From there on out, the next seven songs in a row all had hit single potential. From the Bryan Adams like “All I Want Is Everything” to the thrash-like blitz of “Gift Of Flesh,” even now these songs stand up remarkably well. Hell, maybe even better than when they were released.

But, it is absolutely criminal that the superior power ballad “Breathe A Sigh” was never promoted in any way, shape or form as a single. A bit sparse and almost a capella at times, it is hands down one of the best songs this band has ever recorded. That goes for the other power ballads, “Blood Runs Cold” and “Where Does Love Go When It Dies,” which I’d throw up against any ballad the band has ever recorded.

I think this relative failure hit the band pretty hard. I saw them on the “Slang” tour, with Filter in tow, and although they played quite a few songs from the album, the passion and conviction seemed to be missing. They’d regroup though and go on to record a few more killer albums, all pretty much ignored as well. They have seemingly turned into a nostalgic touring act now but here’s hoping they still have the fire to get a few more albums out as there is definitely a huge hole in the musical world without them.

CD Review: Anthrax "Worship Music"

CD Review: Anthrax "Worship Music"
Megaforce Records
All Access Review:  A

A dark, evil hymnal for the damned, Anthrax’s Worship Music is a gloriously aggressive monstrosity, frightening in its intensity and yet somehow also melodically captivating. Already anointed by metal’s cognoscenti as one of the New York City bashers’ greatest works, the record is Anthrax’s first with singer Joey Belladonna since 1990’s Persistence of Time, and the long-awaited reunion, brokered for the recent earth-conquering Big 4 tour with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, has birthed a thrash-metal masterpiece, a teeth-gnashing symphony of sonic mayhem and beautiful violence that never takes a smoke break.

More than that, however, Worship Music is classic Anthrax. It doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis. Thirty years into a career built on uncompromising, brutal music, Anthrax has stayed true to itself, despite numerous vocalists and other personnel changes. Even when they stretch out a bit, like in the soul-searching, cavernous chorus “The Giant,” where Belladona passionately wails, “Caught between the lines of right and wrong yeah/Caught between the things that I don’t know,” Anthrax stamps its mark on the track with a heavy, furious cyclone of serrated guitars, pounding rhythms and a heaving bridge as clear proof that they’re as grounded and comfortable in their own skin as any metal band that’s ever lived.

To put it another way, Anthrax is, indeed, the devil you know, and the sprawling Worship Music won’t leave anybody wondering if Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Rob Caggiano and, of course, Belladonna, have traded in their aggressive, high-velocity riffage, searing guitar solos, hammering drums and quaking, blinding bass lines – not to mention Belladonna’s primal, raging vocal waging piercing through the magnificent din – for a bag of magic beans and glitzy, pop-music stardom. After the haunting instrumental intro “Worship,” Anthrax ignites all-out war in “Earth on Hell,” a hornets’ nest of activity and energy that attacks the senses from every angle. “The Devil You Know” follows, and its momentum is unstoppable. A runaway semi of sound with an instantly memorable chorus (“Gotta go with the devil you know!”) and an impossibly heavy groove, “The Devil You Know” has secured its place among Anthrax’s most revered aural assaults. And speaking of aural assaults, the unrelenting “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can” – a song about fending off a zombie apocalypse – is a street fight of Benante’s vicious, martial-arts-style drumming, sharp guitar stabs and Belladonna’s bare-knuckled vocals.

Heavier still is the militaristic stomp of “I’m Alive,” with its thick, crushing riffs and Belladonna delivering the poisonous lyric “heaven lives in every gun” with gut-level urgency and theatrics, while the churning epic “In the End” rises slowly and majestically like a rogue wave that’s about to crash down on a defenseless fishing trawler. Everything on Worship Music boggles the senses. It’s war-like, with a little bit of dark, oaken cello and the occasional church bell for atmosphere. Tempos shift on a dime, and Anthrax’s frantic energy strains at the leash, while Belladonna barks like a Doberman at times and soars to the sun when coaxed to fly, like he does on the retina-scorching supernova “Crawl.” Always ready to do battle in the streets if they have to – as the haymaker-throwing, nose-bloodying riots of “The Constant” and “Revolution Screams” bear out – with Worship Music, Anthrax has come to blow open the doors of cathedrals everywhere and unleash hell.

-Peter Lindblad

Official Websites: 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CD Review: Michael Shenker "Temple of Rock"

CD Review: Michael Shenker "Temple of Rock"
All Access Review: A-

A shrine built of molten, rampaging riffs and burning solos – all infused with subtle melodic touches and flourishes – Temple of Rock is an all-out shred-a-thon from one of metal’s most enduring and admired guitar slingers. Pulling out all the stops, Michael Schenker unleashes a fast and furious sonic bombardment that sweetly and majestically explodes on impact in tracks like the “How Long,” “Storming In,” “The End of an Era” and “Fallen Angel,” and if this Temple of Rock is, indeed, a place of worship, perhaps it could also serve as a sanctuary for a man beset by turmoil in both his personal and public life.

A cult hero to serious fans of metal, Schenker is also a cautionary tale, an extraordinary talent whose alcoholism and health issues, not to mention his onstage blowups with UFO and revolving-door personnel changes in the Michael Schenker Group, almost completely derailed his career. There almost at the beginning with The Scorpions, founded by his older brother Rudolf in 1965, Schenker lent his burgeoning axe work to the band’s 1972 debut Lonesome Crow. While on tour with The Scorpions in support of Lonesome Crow, headliners UFO witnessed Schenker’s six-string sorcery. Under his spell, the British hard-rock survivors beamed him aboard as a replacement for Bernie Marsden, himself a temporary fill-in for departed original member Mike Bolton.

Schenker’s tenure with UFO was tumultuous, to say the least, spanning the years between 1974’s Phenomenon and 1979’s classic steamroller of a live LP Strangers in the Night. All the while, critics, blown away by Schenker’s blazing fretwork, lined up around the block to hail this guitar phenomenon, with the rest of UFO becoming engulfed by the large shadow he cast. Tensions ran high, and there were nights when it all came to a head. On a few occasions, Schenker was reported to have walked off the stage in the middle of a show. By 1978, he’d had enough, and for a brief period, Schenker rejoined The Scorpions, injecting Lovedrive’s “Another Piece of Meat,” “Coast to Coast” and the title track with a potent shot of lead guitar Viagra.

In the years since, Schenker has fronted his own project, the Michael Schenker Group, which for a time became the McAuley-Schenker Group. But, when UFO set about making the comeback record Walk on Water in 1995, Schenker couldn’t resist re-upping for another tour of duty. Eventually, though, Schenker would return to MSG, which has had its ups and downs, as has Schenker. Personnel shuffling and Schenker’s continued battles with the bottle led to inconsistent recordings and live performances, but through it all – including a bizarre episode where his wife divorced him and disappeared with his kids, and his manager’s alleged embezzlement of Schenker’s savings – the guitarist has persevered, despite a troubled 2007 tour, riddled with cancellations, that would have killed the careers of lesser artists.

Schenker, though, has apparently come out the other side a better man, and a more focused musician, as Temple of Rock bears out. Despite his problems, Schenker doesn’t seem to lack for friends. The band he assembled for Temple of Rock includes ex-Scorpion Herman Rarebell on drums, Schenker’s old UFO mate Pete Way on bass, Wayne Findlay on keyboards and Michael Voss on vocals. And that’s not all. Among the cast of thousands appearing as guest stars are keyboardist Don Airey, legendary Mountain guitarist Leslie West (who participates in a three-man guitar battle with Schenker and Michael Amott on “How Long (3 Generations Guitar Battle Version), and drum gods Carmine Appice and Brian Tichy – not to mention Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner.

But, go ahead and throw the liner notes away, because a cleaned-up, motivated Schenker was all that was needed to make guitar nerds wet their pants over this release. His solos, so fluid and smoothly executed, are sublime, and those heavy riffs of his have all the powerful thrust of booster rockets, propelling each track into the stratosphere. On the aforementioned “Fallen Angel,” Schenker assembles what seems to be a jigsaw puzzle of neon-lit guitar parts, piecing together surging, shape-shifting riffs and high-flying leads until they form a dazzling picture of an artist who isn’t afraid of complexity. Drag racing ahead is the “The End of an Era,” which showcases Schenker’s ability to combine speed, an impeccable feel for the urgency of the moment and barely harnessed energy, while he punishes “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” with power chords and shrouds it in a bluesy darkness that knocks at your backdoor like Perfect Strangers’-era Deep Purple did in the ‘80s.

In the quiet moments of the epic “Storming In,” Schenker adroitly navigates a tricky acoustic prelude, before a deluge of riffs comes pouring down and floods the scene. His solos here bloom like a bush of roses turned black by some demonic hand, setting the stage for the progressive-metal oddity “Scene of Crime,” a track that’s full of sonic menace and muscular rhythms that occasionally detours into Asian gardens of sound that an early Genesis might have planted.

The full breadth of Schenker’s talent and experience are on display in Temple of Rock, as the fist-pumping party anthem “Saturday Night” sits comfortably alongside the red-hot, muscle-car growl and grind of “Speed.” And if you like guitar solos the triple-threat guitar orgy of the freedom-fighting “How Long,” (3 Generations Guitar Battle Version)” featuring West and Amott, is not to be missed. This Temple of Rock is built on a bedrock foundation of classic musicianship and strong songwriting, and it houses one of the finest guitarists metal has ever known.

-Peter Lindblad

Official Michael Shenker Website:

Review: Mitch Malloy “II”

Melodic rock
Mitch Malloy is one of the unsung heroes in the melodic rock world, quickly rising to fame in the early 90s with his tasty hit “Anything At All”. A change in musical tides through the 90s found Malloy experimenting with a markedly more adult contemporary sound before returning to the rock area with 2000’s excellent comeback record, “Shine”. Fans parched for a new Mitch Malloy CD finally get to quench their thirst with his new release, simply entitled “II” to denote that this one is a sonic sequel to his 1992 self-titled debut.

Coming along for the ride are some notable guests including Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Pete Lesperance (Harem Scarem), and Jeff Scott Soto – virtual Knights of the Melodic Rock Round Table. Malloy still sounds incredible and has worked in plenty of opportunities in these tunes where he can sustain a hair-raising note. His songwriting style definitely aligns with his work from his debut, straddling the fine line between light and hard rock – a la Bon Jovi or Nelson.

“I’m The One” is an opener that testifies to Malloy’s return to form, sizzling with 80s sounding guitar tones and an overall vibe that matches the upbeat ear candy of “Anything At All”. “Falling To Pieces” is a bit grittier but still plenty catchy with an affable sing-a-long chorus. While the title might imply a power ballad, “Love Song” is a driving rocker that sticks in the mind quick. “On and On” and “I Don’t Know How” both shine with winners of a chorus, sandwiched by verses that are easy on the ears. Just when you think the guy has run out of hooks and moving chord changes, out comes the chugging rocker “What I Miss”. Fans of classic Malloy ballads will enjoy “Carry On”, “Take It All”, and “As Long As I’m With You” – for me, “Take It All” wins the day in this department. The album closes with a love letter to his fans with the stirring “All My Friends”.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12

Mitch Malloy - Official site.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

BADLANDS “Voodoo Highway” (1991)

After their underrated eponymous debut that was cheered by traditional hard rock fans, Badlands continued on the same path with "Voodoo Highway". But this time they recruited Jeff Martin from Racer X to fill in the drummer spot after Eric Singer left the band to join Kiss. At that time, only a few knew that Ray Gillen had a dispute with Jake E. Lee regarding the musical style - Gillen wanted them to be more commercial while Lee insisted they stick to their bluesy roots. Later we found out that "Voodoo" favored Lee's intention and Gillen was fired soon after.

If you like 70s-driven blues rock with an 80s wild-and-wacky jam flair, and influences such as Led Zeppelin, early Whitesnake, Aerosmith, and Bad Company, then you'll love this album for sure. Lee's guitar even sounds like vintage 70s. The album fires off with a straightforward burning hard rocker, "The Last Time". This is my favorite song along with other fantastic numbers such as "Soul Stealer" with a flaming intro, Zeppelin-esque riffings, and Gillen's signature scream, "Silver Horses" with an awesome guitar charge, an outstanding cover of James Taylor's "Fire And Rain", and "Heaven's Train", which features Lee's top-notch riffin' and Gillen's AeroTyler's rappin' style.

Probably you still remember Bo Bice from American Idol, who surprised the audience by picking a Badlands's song, "In A Dream". Now you can hear the original version with Gillen's magical voice here accessorized by Lee's lazy dobro pick. "Three Day Funk", "Whiskey Dust", and "Show Me The Way" are also well-composed songs worth checking out.

Since I'm not really a big fan of blues and they don't have anything commercial that fit onto a Billboard chart (which I think is still an important aspect), this record is something that I only enjoy occasionally as it depends heavily on my mood. Sadly, Gillen passed away too fast too soon. "Voodoo Highway" together with their debut, are essential early 90s records for fans of genuinely talented bands rooted deeply to the classic rock sound.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Crown Point “Wolves” [EP]

Pop rock
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Crown Point is a collection of pop rockers with a very radio-ready sound. Their new six song EP, “Wolves”, showcases their knack for memorable melodies and affable lyrics. Formed in late 2009, the band features Jon Davidson (vocals/guitar), Russell Stafford (vocals/guitar), and Kaycee Kay (drums).

“Back To You” is a stunning opener that warms up to you quickly with its sunny disposition and hook filled chorus – an easy favorite. Featuring a darker atmosphere and crunchy guitar atop the acoustic base, the title track testifies that the band does not have an aversion to a grittier mood. Taking the pace down a bit, “Sound Of Your Voice” is a sweet confection with beautiful chord changes, highlighting their talent for balladry. “Easier Said Than Done” begins as another sparse tune, but the electric guitars creep in soon enough to give the song a satisfying edge. “Disappear” is another treasure – a gentle but engaging acoustic ballad to close an excellent EP.

Fans missing that 90s post-grunge pop rock a la Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows, and Toad the Wet Sprocket will find a friend in Crown Point. Looking forward to hearing more from these guys!

Crown PointOfficial site.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

FIREHOUSE “Firehouse” (1990)

Firehouse is a part of the last wave of glam metal bands that struggled and survived the grunge invasion, thanks to their double-platinum eponymous debut that put them on the map and won the Best New Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Band of 1991 at American Music Award. Their musical direction is pure melodic hard rock with some sleaze and blues, mostly displayed by the strength of sing-along choruses, memorable riffs, and an overall happy vibe. Singer C.J. Snare has a very unique and terrific high pitch vocal, similar to Mark Slaughter or Michael Sweet's squeal, and Bill Leverty puts out some beautiful guitar work all over the songs.

While they started off bumpy with a weak song, "Rock On The Road", the next three tracks are enough to get a high rating. "All She Wrote" is a great uptempo classic, "Shake And Tumble" unleashes a nasty groove, and "Don't Treat Me Bad" is an awesome slab of catchy hard rock. "Lover's Lane" is a bad-ass rocker with a really great riff, "Don't Walk Away" is a good bluesy experiment, "Helpless" is probably unknown to many but a wonderful closer with a big chorus, and "Love of A Lifetime" is a timeless ballad and everybody knows this song. However, in my opinion, the true gem of this album is "Overnight Sensation", from the Snare's screamintro to the commercial and bombastic chorus, this song came out as the champion.

The production level is quite thin, so you have to crank up the volume for maximum pleasure, but the details are crisp and clear, so it's still an acceptable situation. With a couple of decent tracks and the unnecessary instrumental fill of "Seasons of Change", this album still stands high above par. An essential album to have if you're fond of a high quality melodic hard rock output, a classic!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, November 4, 2011

This Just In: Brian Howe ends his recording career with EP

From Brian Howe, one time lead singer for Bad Company (posted on his Facebook page):


Review: Simple Plan “Get Your Heart On”

It is hard to believe that the young pop punk band from Montreal has now entered their second decade as Simple Plan. Their last album (self-titled) threw their fans for a loop with its uneven batch of songs mixing their standard sound with some techno and other experimental soundscapes. However, their fourth album “Get Your Heart On!” marks a strong return to form that should reignite the fanbase that fell in love with them from the get go. Released back in June, word has slowly been spreading that Simple Plan is back doing what they do best: belting out catchy pop rock tunes that sing about lost love, alienation, and the uncertainty of youth.

While the band foregoes the aloof experimentation that plagued the last album, they still brought in some A-list stars to guest on the album. Some that you might expect – Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) and Alex Gaskarth (All Time Low) – and others you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like Natasha Bedingfield and K'naan. But whoever is guesting, the song retains the distinct Simple Plan sound. The band rushes to reassure the fans that they aim to please by delivering a monster of a signature Simple Plan tune in “You Suck At Love”. This is the kind of song that made the band famous, and its peppy rhythm and sing-a-long chorus makes it an early favorite. “Jet Lag” is another arena-ready rocker featuring some infectious harmonies with Bedingfield and a huge chorus (video below). “Loser Of The Year” and “Last Man Standing” are classic teen anthems in the making.

For those of you looking for another big ballad along the lines of their hit “Perfect”, you might want to check out “Astronaut” and “Gone Too Soon”. They don’t quite rise to the heights of “Perfect”, but make a solid attempt. In the end, I am very pleased the band went back to their comfort zone – “Get Your Heart On” is a fine addition to the Simple Plan catalogue.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10

Simple PlanOfficial site

Check out the video for “Jet Lag”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: Republic of Letters “Stories”

San Diegi based Republic of Letters is a modern rock band that sounds like a fusion of 80s new wave and post-grunge rock…kind of like Echo & The Bunnymen meet Dishwalla. It is an intriguing and enticing sound for the most part, but would sound even better if these guys could write hooks that were better defined. The song structures are compelling and the lyrics interesting, so the stage is set for some very promising atmospheric rock. But there is something missing…

The band was originally formed by the Venti brothers, with Chris on vocals and guitar and Nick on drums. Chris Venti has a voice that is going to draw mixed reviews. He clearly has power behind his pipes, but whether he has full command of this power is a debatable question. He transcends into vibrato at times that borders on Eddie Vedder having a bad day, and sadly it distracts from the warm bellow he projects. Venti’s tone is a good fit for this style of music, and he has some melodious moments, but they are too few and far between.

Fresh off the heels of this debut, “Stories”, the band continues to write prolifically, accumulating another album worth of material already. If the guys in Republic of Letters keep at it like this, odds are they will realize their full potential. Highlights from this record include “Lost Chord”, “Long Way Down”, and the title track. Check them out if you like Dashboard Confessional, Snow Patrol, or Black Lab.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4

Republic of LettersOfficial site.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Kyle Vincent “Trust” (1985)

I’ve never shied away from admitting my unabashed love of 70s AM Gold type pop. Even though I lost a bit of touch with it throughout the 80s and the earlier part of the 90s, I’ve come to look at it now as a sort of musical comfort food. With no sense of irony, I can listen to something like Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods or Shaun Cassidy like I am listening to The Beatles.

This love affair started in the mid-70s when my family lived in Germany for about a year when I was 10 years old. Since I didn’t speak the tongue, short of being in school during the day at the Air Force base in Wiesbaden, my only friend was an AM Radio that pumped out one glorious pop hit after another. Every Sunday was like a holiday when Casey Kasem would count down the top 40 on Armed Forces Radio, where I kept a notebook writing down the hits as they came in. Eventually I went so far as to create my own charts, counting them down to myself in an effort to combat the loneliness. Man, what I would give to see those notebooks now. On second thought...
As we returned to the US and my tastes eventually shifted into something a little more riffy, I never did lose touch with those softer pop roots. I’d imagine it explains a lot of why I was never really turned off by things like Air Supply or Rick Astley in “my” decade.

When I got my writing on in the late-90s, one of the people I frequently corresponded with was A&R guy Jonathan Daniel, whose own bands will feature prominently in the future. He wanted to turn me on to an artist he was working with, Kyle Vincent (one time singer of the poptastic 80s band Candy), who would set my 70s Pop senses tingling. This fantastic self-titled major label disc released in 1997 wound up spawning two minor hits in “Arianne” and “Wake Me When The World’s Worth Waking Up For.” Suddenly, it seemed that I didn’t need to hide my “Time/Life Sounds Of The 70s” collection anymore. I had company in my AM Gold closet…

Well, turns out that a few years before, Kyle recorded an album for MCA in 1994 called “Trust,” that wouldn’t see release until later on in 2007 (retitled “A Night Like This”). Falling somewhere on the musical spectrum between 80s Rick Springfield and 70s Barry Manilow, the album serves as a time capsule of a rather care free and happy period of time that would be changing rapidly.

Listening now, I’m still awestruck at how good Kyle’s vocals are. They are so clean and crisp and in the proper mixture, served as a finely tuned instrument on its own. And, although the production reeks of the early 90s, the songs as well hold up remarkably well and show that a well crafted song can bludgeon its way through any amount of gloss.

Whether it’s the straight up arena rock of the title track or the infectious “Something To Remember My By,” HUGE Eric Carmen-like power ballads “Maybe It’s Better” or “Wherever You Are Tonight” or the simple radio pop of a song like “What Am I Gonna Do” and “Now I Know,” Kyle’s heart-on-sleeve writing style takes the material many steps above what was going on at the time.

Kyle is still pumping out amazing softer styled rock to this day. His “Wow & Flutter” album is highly recommended and could easy have taken this place of this album for a column all on its own. He did gig for a spell with the Bay City Rollers (!) and also performs cover sets of 70s music with the Have A Nice Day band. A vastly underrated musician who really is seemingly all alone in the musical world.

[As I finished the article, I asked Kyle himself to give me some thoughts on the album and the era around it. When he sent me is just priceless, enjoy!]

I have mixed feelings about the days of the Trust album. As the album itself was eclectic, so were the sessions. One day I'd be in a top Hollywood recording studio watching Jerry Hey conduct an incredible orchestra playing the little notes I had written for them, and another day I'd be singing a vocal track in Clif Magness' bathroom in Calabasas.

So many great artists contributed to the 'album that never was'. The title track was a groovy R&B number that featured the percussionist who played on the Spinners' hits, female backing singers that sang on some of the biggest Soul hits of the 70s, and of course the producer was Steve Levine, best known for his work with Culture Club and the Beach Boys.

Sadly, the record company suits were just impossible to work with. They would come into a session at the end of the day, BMW keys jangling in one hand, and toss out ridiculous comments that had nothing to do with anything. They signed me because they loved my demos and the songs, but when it came time to actually record those songs for the record, they complained that they couldn't decide if I were George Michael or Bryan Adams. I would tell them, "Uh, can't I be both and double my fan base?" They didn't see it that way.

There were 3 producers. Me, Clif Magness, who was coming off some huge hits with Wilson Phillips, and Steve Levine. On the tracks I produced, I hired all my favorite players. I called in Freddie Washington on bass, Michael Jackson' s drummer JR Robinson, Madonna's drummer Jonathan Moffett, Rick Springfield's guitarist, and one of the Brothers Johnson on bass. I called up saxophonist Gerald Albright to come down and play a solo, and he did. And then I had Gerry Beckley from America sing and play guitar and Fender Rhodes keyboards.

What incredible sessions those were. The creative part of the record making was all joy, especially the day David Bowie was in the adjacent studio and we got to just hang out for a while. [a clip of that is on my Facebook page].

The biz part of it was mostly aggravating. The label must've promised me 100 times when the record would be released. They gave every excuse, "We're waiting to find the right slot for it to drop. We can't drop it when Bobby Brown's coming out. We'll drop it in a month". It ended up being dropped off a cliff and never being released. I was on tour with Barrry Freaking Manilow, playing in front of tens of thousands of people per night, and there was no record in the stores. I didn't even have t-shirts. Nothing. I remember one night after a show I went to the hotel office and borrowed their typewriter and typed up mailing list cards, one by one, so I could have something to hand out to people after my shows. To this day many of my faithful fans came from those little cards.

I could write a book on all the good and bad that went on behind the scenes during the Trust sessions, but overall it was an amazing experience, I learned a ton, met some great people, and am incredibly proud of the musical results.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: The Magnificent “The Magnificent”

Melodic rock/AOR
Frontiers Records will release the self-titled debut album from Scandinavia’s The Magnificent on November 4th in Europe and November 1st in North America. The Magnificent is an alliance forged by Circus Maximus singer Michael Eriksen from Norway and Finnish producer/guitarist Torsti Spoof (of Leverage fame). The rest of the band includes Rolf Pilve on drums, Sami Norbacka on bass and Jukka Karinen on keyboards. Collectively, they bring a dazzling blend of melodic and prog rock that works better than most bands trying to mesh these genres together.

Regarding the project, Torsti Spoof had this to say: “A lot of my musical influences come from the 80`s and I always wanted to make an album in that spirit. Now the dream has come true! This one was truly a joyride…I think together we`ve made a perfect blend of the old school songwriting with a big up to date sound”.

The record is equally heavy with keyboards and guitars, recalling the “Out Of This World” days of Europe. However, there is a lot of bite in the riffs and contemporary songwriting more along the lines of Eclipse or Brother Firetribe. The vocals are nothing short of amazing. AOR fans are sure to love this one from start to finish, but I find the more melodic numbers most satisfying, especially “Memories”, “Angel”, “Love’s On The Line”, and “Lost”.

iPOD-worthy: 3, 4, 6, 11

The Magnificent – More info here.