STILL CLIMBING Leslie West (Provogue/ Mascot) *****
Mountain’s big hit Mississippi Queen was decades ago- who’da thunk Leslie West would still be making great, bluesy rock & roll in 2013? Believe it, kids. Still Climbing (a nod to Mountain’s debut Climbing) is seriously excellent.
I re-discovered West late last year when I came across a link on facebook to a song from his album Got Blooz. I dug it so much that I got an iTunes card to download the album. Similarly, I checked out stuff from this album on a re-broadcast of his October 30th appearance on Rockline (www.rocklineradio.com) that I picked up another card on my way home so I could grab the new record as soon as I got in the door.
West considers this a sequel to Unusual Suspects, an album that featured performances from Slash, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Joe Bonamassa and Billy Gibbons. It was just after recording that album that he had his leg amputated due to complications from diabetes. “I’m lucky it wasn’t one of my hands or I’d be screwed” he says bluntly.
Still Climbing features performances from Johnny Winter, Jonny Lang, Dee Snyder and Mark Tremonti from Creed and Alter Bridge. Co-produced by West and Mike “Metal” Goldberg, this is one of the heaviest sounding albums I’ve heard in some time. Listening to Climbing you’d expect a big pedal board and effects rack, but that’s not the case. “I used 4 of my Dean signature model guitars with my Mountain Of Tone hum-bucking pickups” he says. “I plugged them into my Blackstar amps- no pedals- and turned them up loud and raw- what you hear is exactly what I did in the studio.” Talking to my youngest son Matt on the phone last night (he’s learning guitar), I urged him to get his hands on this album and bask in its awesomeness.
On hearing one of the early tracks for this, Leslie’s friend Slash commented “That’s as heavy as it gets.” If you love hard rock guitar and the blues, Still Climbing is absolutely the album for you.
COOL CUTS: Busted Disgusted or Dead (with Johnny Winter trading slide licks), Hatfield Or McCoy, When a Man Loves A Woman (with Jonny Lang) a vocal tour de force
SAMMY HAGAR & FRIENDS Sammy Hagar (Frontiers) ***
Sammy’s new album was released September 27th, but never having been that keen on his solo stuff I was giving it a pass as I prefer his Van Halen and Montrose stuff. Color me pleasantly surprised, then, when I finally this on the stereo.
I’ve always dug Sammy as a singer but other than a hit or two never felt drawn to his solo tunes. Overall, SH&F feels like a greasy blues album with some serious rock & roll muscle. Perhaps it’s the eclectic nature of this album that’s so appealing- amongst others, it includes some pretty choice remakes of Bob Seger’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritville (with Toby Keith) and a sweet version of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus that features Journey’s Neal Schon on guitar. Other guests on the album include VH/ Chickenfoot bassist Mike Anthony, former Montrose bandmates Bill Church and Denny Carmassi, Anne Wilson of Heart, Kid Rock, Joe Satriani and Chad Smith. I wonder if he reached out to Eddie Van Halen? Yeah- probably not.
With that many guests coming and going, a project like this could have just as easily taken a left turn and ended up a cluster-fuck, but good karma was in Hagar’s corner. This is a solid effort, and one hell of a rock & roll party. Sammy comes across sometimes as one of the clown princes of rock & roll, just a dude with shaggy hair looking for the next party, but SH&F suggests another storyline. While he does like to party- the guy started making his own line of tequila for crissakes- his voice is still as powerful as it ever was, and when he wants to, he can put together a pretty damned entertaining record. Sammy Hagar & Friends has been doing well since its release- not because of the stunt casting although that doesn’t hurt, but because it’s a fun album to listen to.
COOL CUTS: Not Going Down, Magaritaville (with Toby Keith), Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, Bad On Fords & Chevrolets (with Ronnie Dunn)
CAN YOU HEAR THE MUSIC Downchild (Linus) *** ½
Another fine slab of jump blues from Canada’s beloved Downchild- said to be the inspiration for Aykroyd & Belushi’s Blues Brothers. Still guided by founding member Donnie Walsh, this latest chapter in the group’s 40-plus year history is sweet music.
Most of the current lineup has been together since 1990- that’s 23 years, longer than most bands last, period. Even this far into their career Downchild still wins awards, including multiple Maple Blues honors- one listen to Can You Hear The Music and that’s not hard to understand. The playing on these 11 tracks is tight but fluid, on up-tempo numbers (such as the title cut which opens the disc) and on slinky stuff like Blue Moon Blues. As the music speaks to the history of blues in Canada, the cover art does too- a doctored picture of the (formerly) coolest spot in all of Canada, the storefront to the original Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. I recognized it immediately because once upon a time I was lucky enough to shop there.
Not a whole lot about Downchild’s sound has changed over the years, but you wouldn’t want to throw on one of their albums and hear something different. The songs are all new compositions, most written by Walsh with 3 coming from various band members. As you listen to them tear through a romp like Fasten Your Seatbelt one can’t help but think Tom Lavin & the guys from Powder Blues are very much inspired by what Downchild does. Certainly Downchild plays with the instinctive ease of musicians that have been furrowing the same grooves for a couple of decades, comfortably sitting in each other’s pockets and doing what comes so very naturally.
In 2013 Downchild is Don Walsh (guitars, harp), Chuck Jackson (vocals), Pat carey (sax), Michael Fonfara (keys), Gary Kendall (Bass) and Mike Fitzpatrick (drums), with an assist here from Peter Jeffrey on trumpet. Uptown blues that occasionally gets down and dirty- but not too dirty- that’s Can You Hear The Music.
COOL CUTS: Blue Moon Blues, title track, Don’t Wait Up For Me
SHANYTOWN Shanytown (Garage Door) ****
The debut album from another branch of the Lynyrd Skynyrd family tree. Southern rock with plenty of guitar action, I gotta say this is a very likeable disc.
For some the Skynyrd connection is a selling feature, but not for me- a few hits aside, most of which Classic Rock radio overplays like a zealous retard, I’ve never been that into them. But I do like hooky, riffy guitar-driven rock and Shanytown’s self titled debut has that in spades. Singer/ guitarist Ron Morris and drummer Robbie Morris are nephews to the Van Zandt clan, and rounding out the group are guitarist Kevin Williams and bassist Charles Moody. I love the sound of Les Pauls squalling out of Marshall stacks, being driven by a blue collar ‘nothin’ fancy let’s just get the job done’ rhythm section, and that describes this disc quite nicely.
With power chords and skittering violin figures Red Neck, the album opener, is an impressive calling card, a lyrical twist on the topic you might not be expecting. Songs of brotherhood, loud cars and outdoor pursuits abound, with a heartfelt life on the road mid-tempo ballad like One More Night throwing in for a change of pace. The songs are ‘slice of life’ as is typical of the genre (and of country music too), and that’s just fine by me.
Perhaps most of all, though, Shanytown is a great sounding album. Produced by drummer Robbie Morris and engineer Glenn Halverson it sounds the way a rock & roll album should- the guitars nice and thick yet they don’t get in each other’s way, the bass stays in the pocket to provide the heartbeat, and I even like the sound of the snare drum. This has muscle & heft, begging to be played at physical volumes- who are we to argue?
Shanytown’s brand of brass knuckle/ take no prisoners southern rock & roll is the real deal, and this is a hellaciously fine debut.
COOL CUTS: Redneck, Loud Pipes, Mexico
ON AIR- LIVE AT THE BBC VOLUME 2 The Beatles (Capitol) ******
It’s not often that you can say you just some new Beatles’ stuff, but here we are. I could review this new set in one phrase; it’s The fuckin’ Beatles, ‘nuff said!” but I’ll resist. When you hit your local music store, you’ll be faced with two choices; this single double disc release, or Volume 2 packaged with the original Live At The BBC in a budget priced set. It means prying your wallet open a little wider, which I didn’t mind a-tall.
On Air features 37 previously unavailable performances, ten of them songs never recorded by The Beatles for EMI, and two of them released here for the first time ever. Included between many of the tracks is playful, cheesy banter between the band and the host deejays, much more than the first Live At The BBC release. Uber fans will no doubt appreciate the 4 candid interviews with each Beatle, recorded in late ’65/ early ’66- those run about 8 minutes each, the guys quite relaxed and candid.
Disc one, including interviews with John and George, is 34 tracks and disc 2, with Paul & Ringo interviews, is 29 cuts. The charm, as with the first set, is hearing this monumentally important group in their formative stages back when their music was mostly pleasure and joy, before things got- weird. Lots of cover songs here, but then their early records were maybe half original tunes. Of course, as someone that remembers seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964, this takes me right back to my childhood. Even at the age of 6 I like to think I was conscious of bearing witness to something monumental.
You know what? I’ve changed my mind about reviewing this in a single phrase- it’s the fuckin’ Beatles- ‘nuff said.
COOL CUTS: far too many to mention
AFTERSHOCK Motorhead (UDR/ Motorhead Music) ***
As front-man Lemmy Kilmister says at the start of every gig, “We are Motorhead and we play rock & roll”. According to Wikipedia, this is Motorhead’s 21st studio album. A lot has changed since their 1977 self-titled debut, but then again a lot of things have stayed the same.
Today Motorhead practice a brutish but surprisingly musical brand of rock & roll, certainly not the speed metal they helped pioneer in the late 70’s/ early 80’s. Phil Campbell’s muscular guitar riffing and tasty solos have been to the fore since he joined in 1984, and former King Diamond drummer Mikki Dee finally accepted the invitation to sign up in 1993 to record Bastards, and he’s been there since. Despite the different lineups over the years, as long as Lemmy is at the helm it’s still Motorhead.
Aftershock continues on the same path that I noticed with 2006’s Kiss Of Death, or even as far back as the magnificent Bastards in ‘93- still pulverizing, but bluesier and not as frantic, much more melodic than the band’s hell bent for leather attack in the decades previous. Still, some tracks here like Going To Mexico recall the early stuff to a degree- then they lay down something tasty like Lost Woman Blues that, speaks to the range the band has been willing to display over the last few discs. They even turn grunge with Silence When You Speak To Me by lifting the riff from Alice In Chains’ Man In The Box.
Aftershock was produced by Cameron Webb, as have been Motorhead’s last few records. It’s thick and menacing, and while the albums Webb has helmed have been a huge improvement over most that came before, it feels like the vocals are buried a bit too deep in the mix here. It’s either that, or the factory sound system in my 2008 PT Cruiser is really a steaming piece of shit.
I’ve been a fan since quite accidentally coming across Ace Of Spades in 1980, and 23 years later it feels like they’re losing some steam. Recent hea1th issues aside Lemmy will be 68 next month, which is pretty long in the tooth to be playing music this intense. Having said that, Aftershock is still a fierce bit of rock & roll and Lemmy is one of one of the last true warriors. While not their crowning achievement this is still a step above 90% of the crap that calls itself rock these days- play it LOUD.
COOL CUTS: Death Machine, Lost Woman Blues, Silence When You Speak To Me
Tim Bastmeyer & Jerome Tucker (Grassfire) ****
This is Tim’s 4th album and his first in a couple of years. This time the Canadian blues guitarist has teamed up with a bassist from Philly with an impressive resume; the results are funky, blue and delicious.
Bastmeyer’s last album (also self titled) placed #8 on my best of 2011 year end list, so I was naturally curious about this one. Going from dark blues to this joyous funk wasn’t as much of a stretch as you’d expect. It’s a refreshing change of direction, but there’s no need for blues fans to panic- When You Love A Woman will put a smile on your face.
Vocally, Tim is no Michael Buble- he’s been compared to Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen, to which I’d add a young Jim Morrison- but his voice is unique, and he knows where it fits and how to use it well. With Tucker taking on a good portion of the lead vocal duties, I’m sure Bastmeyer is relieved to not have to shoulder that burden by himself. In the time Tim served as a sideman to others as well as engineer and producer he was obviously paying attention as there is nary a false step or a “Jeez, he shouldn’t have done that” moment on the new album.
Produced by Bastmeyer and Tucker, guests on this one include Jerome Godboo on harmonica, Richard Thornton (Jack DeKeyzer’s band) on sax, and Canadian country singer Leah Daniels laying down some sweet backup vocals. While I tend to gravitate towards the blue moments here, a nasty piece of funk like Seven Year Itch feels pretty damn good too. This self titled set is a good one to throw on for a Friday night while enjoying some Jack on ice and congratulating yourself for having survived another week in the machine. Go ahead- you’ve earned it.
COOL CUTS: When You Love A Woman, Wallflower, Obeah, Seven Year Itch