Just posted some reviews, then realized I forgot a couple of things- let's the this again!
“Roots” Johnny Winter (Megaforce/ Sony) 5/5
This far into music career, Winter goes back to visit some of the songs that inspired him as a young Texan to become the blues guitar God he is now. With help from some good friends, Johnny has turned out his finest album in quite some time.
This is a disc of blues standards, with a nod to rock & roll courtesy of a lively version of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” that also features Vince Gill on guitar. There’s a relaxed energy and confidence to the performances here that feels great. The best example is “Further On Up The Road” which Johnny shares with guitarist Jimmy Vivino, the loping pace and tasty fretwork making it a standout. Other guests on “Roots” include Warren Haynes, Susan Tedeschi, John Popper and Sonny Landreth. Strong vocals from Johnny here, and at the show Monday night at the Vic Juba too, as the band rolled out a number of tracks from the album during a show that, frankly, was a privilege to witness. If great blues guitar gets your motor runnin’, consider “Roots” an essential addition to your collection- it just might be THE blues album of the year.
Top Tracks: “Further On Up The Road” (with Jimmy Vivino), “Last Night” (with John Popper), “Dust My Broom” (with Derek Trucks)
“Dystopia” Iced Earth (Century Media) 4/5
For their 10th album Jon Shaffer and Iced Earth, now with Canucklhead Stu Block at the mic, have meticulously constructed a stone cold masterpiece.
Shaffer formed the band in 1985 with the intent making metal along the lines of his admitted heroes; Judas Priest, Kiss and Iron Maiden. Since their first album in 1990, he’s gone through several vocalists over the years, perhaps most notably the man that dared replace Rob Halford in Priest, Tim “Ripper” Owens. In Block he seems to have finally found a comrade in arms, a singer that can help him realize his vision. “Dystopia” is far and away the best Iced Earth album so far, at least out of the handful that I have heard. From speed metal bliss down to slower numbers such as “Anguish Of Youth”, a metal ballad with balls that showcases some of Stu’s startling vocal range, this disc is symphonic in scope. It’s a blistering tour de force that lyrically explores a nightmare-ish Orwellian future, with Block’s versatile steel plated pipes ranging from a near death metal growl to heights only Halford himself would have once dared reach for.
Recorded and mixed by Jim Morris at his studios in Tampa, this past summer, one word to describe the sound and feel of “Dystopia” is ‘crushing’. At a time when people download single tracks, when the album is slowly disappearing as a form of expression, Ice Earth demand and deserve your full attention throughout ten devastating tracks. “Dystopia” tells a dark tale… and we’d better pay attention.
Top Tracks: “End Of Innocence”, “Anguish Of Youth”, “Dark City”
“Guitar Slinger” Vince Gill (Universal) 5/5
Boy howdy, talk about truth in advertising! Aside from being a country music star, Vince Gill is flat our one of the best guitarists on the planet. This may very well be the best album of an already amazing career.
Gill’s talent transcends Nashville, as he has recently played on songs off of the latest albums by Alice Cooper and blues great Johnny Winter. “Guitar Slinger” is also the first album he’s recorded in his new studio, constructed in the Nashville house he shares with is wife Amy Grant. Gill, a notorious perfectionist, is pleased with his latest release. “I think the songs are better, I play better, sing better and it sounds better” he notes. “Everything’s improving that’s supposed to.
Some of the songs, such as “Threaten Me With Heaven” (co-written by Amy) are intensely personal, moreso than his stuff usually is. That song was also co-written by Will Owsley, who has since taken his own life. “Guitar Slinger” is also the first album he’s made since 2007 without longtime friend and band mate, pedal steel player John Hughey, who died that same year. So it’s no wonder that these songs dig a little deeper than you might expect.
Of success, Gill says “I have come to the realization that the results aren’t dictated whether they number one records and you sell 20 million copies. None of the notes change because of it. I don’t think I will ever let the results of something I like or don’t like change be dictated to me by how well it does commercially. I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done, and that makes me happy.” Makes me happy too, Vince.
Top Tracks: title track, “Who Wouldn’t Fall In Love With You”, “Threaten me With Heaven”
“Clancy’s Tavern” Toby Keith (Universal) 4.5/5
With some country artists, you get the feeling they’re making a fashion statement, making the music because that’s what the demographics tell them is popular. Then there are guys like Toby Keith, people that mean what they sing and sing what they mean. In the world of country music this guy is the real deal, and his new album is a good ‘un.
I don’t hear “Clancy’s Tavern” as an album nearly as much as I do a collection of stories, if you get the difference. The title track is a case in point, it plays like a nearly 4 minute movie that plays in your ears. Lots of stuff here to tap your toe or slow dance to, but unlike a lot of country I’ve heard, this is a good listen too- good thing, since I haven’t danced in years!
There’s a wide range of stuff on this album, from the monster first flag wavin’ single “Made In America” to the aforementioned title track, and the ballad “Just Another Sundown” that I’m listening to as I type this. Good drinking songs like “Beers Ago” and the hysterical “Red Solo Cup” of which Keith says “I don’t know who played it first, but it was so stupid I just died laughing. What’s great about this song is it does everybody the same way it did me-; ‘That’s the stupidest song I’ve ever heard and I can’t get it out of my head.’ I laugh every time I hear it.”
“Clancy’s Tavern” gives you some things to think about, and it shows you a good time too. No wonder Toby Keith is one of country’s top earners, few artists do it better than he does.
Top Tracks: “Just Another Sundown”, “Clancy’s Tavern”, “Red Solo Cup”
“Season One” The Monkees (Eagle/ Rhino) 5/5
A big piece of my childhood has been issued on DVD- if you live long enough, the same will probably happen to you. Here is the first season of their 3 year TV show, 32 (!!) episodes over 6 CD’s and it’s wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
This first season is ground zero for The Pre Fab Four. The show, the brainchild of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, ran from 1966 to ’68, the typical run for a TV show back in the day- see the original “Star Trek” and, methinks, “Batman’ and “Gilligan’s Island”. Their daffy adventures usually included having to pay the rent on the beach house they shared, getting gigs, and saving damsels in distress. For me, as a child of 8 when season one originally aired, it was all about the music. Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz weren’t a band when they started, they just played one on TV. A deliberate rip-off of (or tribute to) The Beatles, their songs climbed the charts. I watched eagerly every week, waiting to hear songs like “I’m A Believer”, “Sometime In The Morning”, “Steppin’ Stone” and “Last Train To Clarksville”, discussing the previous night’s episode the next day with my school mates.
Production values? Ha! In almost every way “The Monkees” was the same as other 60’s sit-coms, silly humor with occasion laugh tracks. The people that will buy season one, or all three, are doing so to relive their childhoods. If you’re interested, the bonus materials include separate commentaries on select episodes from individual members of the group and directors. I don’t usually watch that sort of thing but I did (for you) and was fascinated to find out, during Peter Tork’s commentary on one episode that the ultra cool looking Monkee Mobile, created from a GTO, was actually a gutless 6 cylinder car that could barely make 70 MPH with a good tail wind. But what about that cool chrome blower? Fake. You can also play only the songs, and even watch the vintage Kellog commercials The Monkees made when they were first starting out. If you want to learn some real behind the scenes minutae about season one, the liner notes are excellent.
I don’t have the full season of ANY TV show on DVD, but I think I’ll start with The Monkees, have some laughs and enjoy some great pop music. Like I told my wife yesterday, we should start collecting ALL of our favorite shows- soon, we won’t NEED cable TV. Hey, hey, they’re The Monkees… don’t miss ‘em!