Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's Words Worth?

RPG – “Worth The Weight” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Canada’s great metal defenders, Anvil, once had an album called “Worth The Weight.” RPG, on the other hand, has never had one called “Metal On Metal.” But you know what? That’s ok. Reason being, this one here is good as shit. Basically, this bunch from Richmond VA turn on, crank up and simply kick out the jams for a sweet 30 minutes of in-your-face, hard rawkin’ roll. You want subtlety? Go look somewhere else because this sounds like the bastard child of Bon-era AC/DC, The MC5 and maybe the best local punk band from your hometown who were too snotty to ever get signed. Interestingly, these guys are actually even better than all that because their singer sounds almost as much like Bon as Ogre’s Ed Cunningham and their lyrics have way more depth than you might suspect on first blush…read ‘em and see. Check out “(She Thinks) She’s Tough” and “Joanne and Joshua” as examples but don’t forget to duck or you’re liable to be decapitated by flying Angus/Kramer-styled riff shrapnel. Simply put, “Worth The Weight” is a top-notch hard-rawkin’ blast of energy and RPG has put themselves right in the middle of my map. They’re not only a band to watch in the future but one to get into right now. No excuses! 9.0

JOE BONAMASSA – “Sloe Gin” CD ’07 (The Blues Foundation, US) – I was sitting here, listening to this album and musing about how funny coincidences can be. I know, I’m 50 years old and I’m sitting around musing. So put me in a friggin’ retirement home, already! Thing is, I had just been chewing the fat with a buddy of mine about why Gary Moore can’t get the hell out of his rut and make a rock album for once, stuck like he is in the quicksand of his blues jaunt that he’s never come back from. Truly, I understand that Gary loves the blues, but damn! Ok, we get it! Problem is, the dude’s done the same album 20 times now trying to show us that. The funny thing is, as sick as I am of Moore’s forays into trying to re-invent the wheel, this blues record by JOE BONAMASSA has gone down real well with me. Of course, it’s the first disc I’ve ever heard by this New York six-string-slinger but, even so, there’s a freshness about it that I can’t help but feel in all it’s cuts. Interestingly enough, BONAMASSA’s work here, both on the guitar and vocally reminds me a good bit of some of the solo Leslie West stuff (another New Yorker) and that’s quite a compliment, considering the “Fat Man” is one of my all-time faves. Everything from the no-fooling-around “Ball Peen Hammer” and “Jelly Roll” to the more pensive “Seagull” & “India” bristle with a kind of rough-yet-loving edge that works so well. See, I think the deal is that while a guy like Gary Moore has a love for the blues, it may not be “him” per se. With JOE BONAMASSA, this kind of music is in his soul and consequently it flows out of him & into the listener’s ear like a nice “Sloe Gin.” I know…ouch. Good record! 7.5

THE KOFFIN KATS – “Drunk In The Daylight” CD ’08 (Hairball 8, US) – I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know a whole lot about horror punk, psychobilly, etc. Get me started on NWOBHM, ‘70’s hard rock, ‘80’s thrash or Celtic folk and I’ll take my chances with anybody, even Lars Ulrich. Still, I do feel qualified to speak on Detroit’s KOFFIN KATS simply because I know what I like when I hear it and I like this. First off, I like the fact that these “kats” come from Detroit, which from all reports has always been a pretty damn good rock & roll city. Secondly, the high-adrenalin punk vibe present here, from stem to stern, is real…refreshing, honest and invigorating. Certainly not least, however, are the songs. From “Storm Ahead” through “Battery Acid Baby” and on to “Our Faded Funeral,” the quality never dips although your head will be bopping & weaving & your toes will be banging to the infectious and top-notch hooks all round. There’s a gothic vibe to cuts like “A Vampire’s 2084” for sure, but this is in a completely cool sense, not high-school-ish I’m-so-miserable-leaching-off-my-suburban-parents-trendiness. In fact, this whole record, highlighted for me also by the demon-Elvis vocal stylings of Vic Victor and the friction-axe-burns of Tommy Koffin, is purely a no-holds-barred fun listen. Drunk, sober, day or night, you’re going to enjoy this one! 8.5

BISON B.C. – “Quiet Earth” CD ’08 (Metal Blade, US) – From Vancouver B.C. come BISON B.C. and there’s no question that their name befits their style. Crunching riffs dwell alongside guttural vocals and the occasionally surprising Iommi-ish lead overlays, all centering around the 3-part epic “Wendigo Pt. 1/These Are My Dress Clothes/Wendigo Pt. 2.” Still, not nearly as punishing as High On Fire nor close to the startling innovation of Mastodon, BISON B.C. currently reside in that middle ground also occupied by The Sword. It’s there that, without a real push toward more identity, these guys will musically languish. 5.0

AC/DC – “Black Ice” CD ’08 (Columbia, Aus) – Well, hot on the heels of Journey’s “Revelation,” we have another major label release available exclusively at Wal*Mart/Sam’s Club. Makes you feel all warm & fuzzy inside, doesn’t it? To be fair, as much as it made my hands feel a tad dirty, my purchase of said Journey disc awhile back yielded a very pleasant surprise: The AOR giant’s best effort since “Frontiers” and a record that’s been very hard to get out of my player. Has the result been the same with ACCA DACCA? Um…not exactly. If there’s been one thing about Angus & Co. over the last umpteen years, from “For Those About To Rock” on, it’s that their mediocrity can be counted on like an abacus. Through records like “Fly On The Wall,” “Flick Of The Switch,” “Razor’s Edge” & “Stiff Upper Lip,” the one constant has been a collection of songs that, for the most part, all sound alike. That is to say, mid-paced rock based around the same few chords, Brian Johnson’s increasingly appalling vocal deterioration and spiced up only by Angus’ alarmingly good leads. Does “Black Ice” continue this decades-long yawner of a trend? Well, to some extent. First, the surprises. “Wheels,” without any fanfare, is the best song AC/DC have done since “Back In Black.” This one includes the kind of chorus that would fit in with something as high-energy as “Shoot To Thrill.” “Black Ice” itself, saved for the end of the album, is a worthy title cut. While not even a patch on “Back In Black’s” namesake song, it still has a mean riff, meaner leads and stands out as one you’ll want to hear again. Moreover, there are also a couple trax that gave me pause as sounding like decent CCR numbers, which is as pleasing as it is odd. But, the fact remains that “Black Ice” contains some 15 songs and the majority of them, while not bad, simply blend in with each other. They see the band reverting to that tried & true formula of a few re-arranged bluesy power chords and Johnson, albeit sounding better than he has in awhile, dishing out very familiar vocal lines. So, what I find myself thinking about “Black Ice” (now into about my 5th listen) is that it’s a decent listen. You can put it on, nod your head to it and every great once in awhile, be a bit surprised by a bit of cream rising to the top. But if you want a classic, or even a great album, stick with the Bon stuff or “Back In Black.” 6.0

MARTONE – “Clean” CD ’08 (Magna Carta, US) – I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been really big on the so-called “shredder” genre. Sure, I dug Yngwie in the early days when those mystical Rising Force demos were making their way around the trading circles. I was even known to buy a Tony MacAlpine album or own a Vinnie Moore cassette or two, although I submit the latter has showed a lot more depth to his playing of recent years with UFO. And before you say anything, Uli Jon Roth & Eric Johnson are not shredders, they are Gods! Point is, when it comes to those studious looking guys with Julliard diplomas on their walls, PRS guitars in their hands and more notes than Carter’s got liver pills on their CD’s, well, I usually run the other way, deeply in search of the blusier guys with more feeling (see the Joe Bonamassa review). All that being said, when this here MARTONE disc came my way, I had to admit a bit of a pleasant surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jumping on the internet trying to track down every slice of round digital plastic that contains the talents of guitarist Dave Martone (and apparently, he has several). I’m just saying that the variety here, running the gamut from full-on speed exhibitions to bluesy workouts to a few nearly bluegrass-inspired numbers is impressive and actually makes for an enjoyable listen. Joined by his band (Daniel Adair – drums & David Spidel – bass) and a bevy of guests like Joe Satriani, Billy Sheehan & Jennifer Batten, MARTONE manages to take a genre that I’ve had virtually no interest in and make it a worthwhile endeavor. Kudos for that, as this must be one of the best of the style. 6.5


Mark said...

great reviews Ray. Don't feel guilty about the Wal Mart connection. According to Neil Schon from Journey, the artist gets a much better royalty rate through the Wal Mart deal than traditional major labels of the past. go figure!


raysrealm said...

Yeah, and I'm glad to know Neil & crew are picking up some cash on "Revelation." Every time I listen to that CD, I like it more. An AOR wonderland!