Crucible – Tall Tales (1997)

Crucible_TallTales5 out of 5 Stars!

If you’re a fan of Genesis’s early work, then you will certainly find this at least interesting, if not love it. I fall into the latter category, admitting this is one of my favorite progressive-rock albums of recent years.

The Genesis comparison becomes immediately evident on the opening track “Over The Falls” in a variety of forms, mainly the tones of the piano, organ, mellotron, synths, etc…all have Tony Banks’s signature style stamped over them. Even the guitars, both acoustic and electric, resemble Steve Hackett’s or Mike Rutherford’s tones/playing styles. Add an occasional flute to the mix on tunes such as “The Poet’s Liar” and you have a band eerily reminiscent of Genesis around the era of the classics Nursery Cryme, Selling England By The Pound, or the magnificent Foxtrot.

And it’s more than just the instruments/musicianship that brings to mind those “oldie” albums. Changes in time signatures, seamless interweaving between heavy and acoustic passages, complicated arrangements also have the Genesis mark.

The only place the sound truly differs from Genesis is when it comes to the lead vocalist. Crucible’s Bill Esposito doesn’t possess the instantly-recognizable timbre or quirky dramatics of Peter Gabriel (or even Phil Collins, for that matter), but then again, who does? Esposito’s voice is more than pleasant, however, and fits well within the genre.

Generally, most of the tracks are memorable, some even “sing-along” worthy. “Lords And Leeches” is one such tune. Additionally, many of the most unforgettable sections on this album are the instrumental bits—the occasional guitar or keyboard riffs—that pop up throughout several of the longer tunes. Again, in “Lords And Leeches,” an organ riff in the center section is a prime example of this, as well as the opening acoustic guitar/mandolin melody that opens the short instrumental track “In Ancient Tongue.” You can hum along to these passages after just one or two listens and you’ll have them popping into your head at the oddest of times.

The high point of the album, however, has to be the last track, “An Imp’s Tale,” a seven-part epic highly reminiscent of all things Genesis. Although the opening section sounds quite similar to Genesis’s “The 11th Earl of Mar,” the remainder has more than a few similarities to Genesis’s opus “Supper’s Ready.” Heck, there’s a hopping/bopping little passage reminiscent of “Supper’s Ready’s-Willow Farm” section as well as another chunk that instantly brings to mind the powerful “Supper’s Ready-Apocalypse In 9/8” passage, replete with the odd time signature and the haunting mellotron wash and synth leads. And once again, the flute returns here, making the Genesis influence/connection complete and too apparent to ignore.

Is the “copycat” approach horrible? Not to my ears. Apart from the earliest releases by Marillion, I had not run across another band so reminiscent of Genesis, especially the “early/classic” era when Peter Gabriel still ran the roost and before things slowly degenerated into pop territory. Is Crucible’s approach in any way innovative? Hell no, but that’s what makes them fun, at least to me, since I’ve longed for that old Genesis sound for way too many years. Is Tall Tales another masterpiece in the form of Foxtrot or Selling England By The Pound? Probably not, but it’s close enough for me!

Get The Album Now!

Alice Cooper – Trash (1989)

AliceCooper_Trash1 out of 5 Stars!

The album’s title should have been a warning. This is Alice Cooper doing Bon Jovi, plain and simple. Songwriter Desmond Child was both a blessing and a curse to music…sure, his songs helped put Bon Jovi on the map, but unfortunately, he kept writing the same darned songs over and over and over and over and over again, which is why this entire album sounds like “You Give Love A Bad Name, Part 187.”

The album gets a single star only because it’s Alice Cooper…on the flip side, the album loses 4 stars since a gifted, creative, true rock legend like Alice Cooper should have known better than to join forces with such a tedious and uninspired songster such as Desmond Child. Yes, utter trash!

Get The Album Now!

Colosseum II – Wardance (1977)

Colosseum_WarDance5 out of 5 Stars!

On War Dance, each musician SMOKES! It’s Musicianship with a capital “M” all the way! Gary Moore’s guitar playing has never been hotter, Don Airey earns his stripes to prove he’s one of the top keyboardists of all time, and the rhythm section of John Mole (bass) and Jon Hiseman (percussion) is amazing. The interaction between musicians is breathtaking and each track is a killer.

It’s no wonder that modern-day “progressive rock” groups such as Dream Theater and Symphony X found inspiration for their music by listening to classics such as this album. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!

Get The Album Now!

The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness (2015)

AaronClift_OuterLight4 out of 5 Stars!

The material on this release seems (at first listen) like some better-than-average AOR/Melodic Rock material, but upon a second listen, one notices the intricate arrangements and top-notch musicianship on each track. It’s one of those albums where every time you listen anew, more surprises pop up in the mix, things that you didn’t notice the previous times. Several songs (especially the longer ones, no surprise) also boast more of a Prog-Rock feel. Regardless, each track is quite melodic, even though the singer (Aaron Clift himself) has a mid-level range, a straight-forward approach (no mega-passionate or overly emotional deliveries), and he actually sounds suited for more of the (safer) Adult Contemporary or AOR genres (in other words, none of the sometimes silly dramatics occasionally associated with bands in the Prog genre). Despite this lack of drama, his voice is quite agreeable, his notes perfectly accurate, and he certainly has an ear for some catchy riffs.

Overall, there’s nothing here to set the world on fire (it’s rare a band does that anymore), and there’s nothing in the least bit “over-the-top innovative” for the genre, but there’s nothing offensive or embarrassing either. In fact, it’s all enjoyable and well-played music that I found myself drawn to on numerous occasions.

Therefore, this is a rather satisfying band with true talent and huge potential. I hope they continue on for many years, especially when it comes to exploring more of their Prog-Rock tendencies, since they apparently have the chops.

Get The Album Now!

Citizen Cain’s Stewart Bell – The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1) (2014)

StewartBell_Antechamber4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 2014, this release came as a terrific surprise. I originally listened to The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1) based only on the fact that Stewart Bell is a member of Citizen Cain, a better-than-average Progressive Rock band with a sound reminiscent of classic Genesis. But then the vocals came in immediately, and I instantly recognized the voice of singer Simone Rossetti (from the excellent Genesis-clone band The Watch) who (thankfully) pretty much dominates the album when it comes to the vocals, even though a few other singers appear throughout. Well, that sold me!

What we have here is a highly Symphonic/Neo-Prog album with four out of seven songs clocking in at more than ten minutes, and each of the three remaining tracks surpassing five minutes, thus allowing the musicians the freedom to stretch their musical muscles, exploring the boundaries of their instruments within some tracks with complicated arrangements and superb production quality. In many ways, this could have been another album from The Watch, but with some differences. Certainly the “Genesis sound” (or “The Watch sound”) is present, thanks to Rossetti’s voice, but Genesis and The Watch, for all of the typical musical complexity, are rather “bare bones” when it comes to the overall production of their songs. What makes this album different from those bands is the dense production. Not to say anything is muddied or too cluttered, but simply fuller, richer, more orchestrated—more than just the basic guitar / keyboard / rhythm section (plus the occasional flute) of Genesis or The Watch. I mean, when was the last time you heard female backing vocals on any track by Gabriel-era Genesis? Or “heavy progressive” guitar solos or slamming bass lines? That’s where the main difference lies. So imagine Genesis meets Threshold or Dream Theater, and that’s what you have here.

Nevertheless, for any fans of the aforementioned bands, The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1) is an album you will likely want to experience. If you love the thought of a heavier Genesis or The Watch or Citizen Cain, one with some beefy guitar chords and frantic solos, thick keyboard atmospheres and outrageously bracing synth leads, extreme mood shifts and varied rhythm changes, along with dramatic vocal performances (all this within “Decoherence,” the five-part opening track alone!) and some “progressive bizarreness” thrown in for fun on several additional tunes, then grab a copy of this album as soon as possible. You can tell a ton of blood, sweat, and (perhaps) tears (and definitely a great deal of “heart”) went into the making of this album, so savor it. It’s a Prog-lover’s dream come true, and thankfully, Bell followed up in 2017 with “Part 2,” so the dream continues.

 

Get The Album Now!

Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick (1977)

CheapTrick_15 out of 5 Stars!

Ah, yes, this is THE Cheap Trick, the band my friends and I saw at local Chicago clubs like Haymakers, B’ginnings, and The Thirsty Whale. THE Cheap Trick that blew everyone’s socks off with their dirty, sloppy, loud, and fiery brand of metal pop. THE Cheap Trick that had such promise! From the bullsh*t liner notes of the band’s history (total fiction, hence the name of the band), to the in-your-face production, to the two “Side Ones” on the back cover, to Robin Zander’s shrieks intermixed with his unique and melodic vocal style, this is THE band that had the Chicago clubs packed night after night.

The extraordinarily ultra-nasty guitar tones, the bombastic rhythm section and (generally) sinister lead vocals—in other words, the overall “sleazy and punky and drastic and dastardly” Rock ‘N’ Roll rebellious sounds—are raucously exemplified on head-banging tracks such as “Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School” or “Taxman” or “Hot Love” or “Elo Kiddies” or “He’s A Whore” or the deranged “The Ballad of T.V. Violence,” whereas the pop-rock sensibility of future Cheap Trick albums still shines through on songs such as “Oh, Candy” and “Mandocello” and also the aforementioned “Taxman” and “He’s A Whore,” but with that overall mind-warped, slamming twist that leaves one feeling as if they needed both a spiritual cleansing along with an hour-long shower after experiencing the mental derangement. In other words, the band—at this point in its career—was a wonderful conglomeration of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, Aerosmith, Badfinger, and Steppenwolf, and who-the-hell-knows-what-else “Rock Marriages” that were (sadly) never repeated on future Cheap Trick albums.

So, not a below average track amongst the batch. A true classic. Such a shame this is the one and only release that actually captured THE real Cheap Trick before it dove head-first into the watered-down pop territory that brought it fame and fortune. Not to say the Cheap Trick album’s that followed should be written off entirely, but for those who want to know the real Cheap Trick, this is THE band and THE album!

 

 

Get The Album Now!

Kim Carnes – Voyeur (1982)

KimCarnes_Voyeur5 out of 5 Stars!

For those already familiar with my musical tastes, it will come as no shock that I have a fondness for raspy-voiced women, and singer/songwriter Kim Carnes is easily on my list of favorites. When Voyeur (Carnes’s seventh album) came out in 1982, I immediately thought it a masterpiece, and the vinyl rarely left my turntable for many weeks. And even after all these many years, I still believe it’s awesome.

Overall, this is Carnes’s heaviest, darkest, and “rockingest” album. Justifiably capitalizing on the success of 1981’s Mistaken Identity (which featured the breakthrough hit “Bette Davis Eyes”), Carnes put together another collection of tracks that continues along that same musical pathway, only with the volume occasionally turned up a notch. But the most important deviation, however, is that half of the songs on Mistaken Identity were penned by outside writers, whereas Carnes either wrote or co-wrote the majority of material on this follow-up.

Yet like the previous release, many of the songs here fall into either the AOR or keyboard-driven Pop category, the majority written in minor keys and given an almost eerie edge (the hit “Voyeur” with its controversial video that got banned for being “too suggestive,” as well as “Undertow,” “Say You Don’t Know Me,” “Merc Man,” “Take it on the Chin,” and the outstanding “Looker”), with the synth sounds being periodically akin to, for instance, The Cars on Heartbeat City. Apart from those tracks, Carnes also tossed in a few back-to-basics guitar-driven rockers (“The Arrangement,” “Thrill of the Grill,” and the bonus cut “Dead in my Tracks”) as well as emotional ballads (the stark “Breakin’ Away From Sanity” and the powerful “Does It Make You Remember?”).

Despite the differences in musical styles, however, each track is mixed to perfection and bundled into Carnes’s most cohesive package, thanks largely to the Prophet, Oberheim, and Arp synthesizers and the overall production magic, courtesy once again of Val Garay. Similar to Mistaken Identity, Garay’s production is often atmospheric, haunting, and on several tracks, almost sinister. And as always, Carnes’s vocals are top-notch, quirky, gravelly, and truly unique, while the musicians (including Bill Cuomo, Duane Hitchings, Josh Leo, Craig Krampf, and Waddy Wachtel, to name but a few of the more eminent contributors) play through the well-arranged tracks with utter professionalism.

For Carnes, this album proved a high benchmark. Indeed, after Voyeur, I recall being somewhat disappointed with each of her subsequent releases, as I was eagerly hoping for another to match Voyeur‘s power. But sadly, although Carnes always delivered rather above-average records throughout her later career with few exceptions, nothing came close to equaling Voyeur. A shame.

Regardless, this album remains a musical time capsule showing Carnes at the height of her career with everything (songwriting, musicianship, inspiration, drive) coming together to create the perfect disc.

“Does It Make You Remember?” one of my favorite songs asks.

My answer: Hell, yeah. I remember quite vividly, and I still LOVE it!

 

Get The Album Now!

Built For The Future – Chasing Light (2015)

BuiltFuture_ChasingLight3 out of 5 Stars!

Built For The Future is (from what I gather) a new band from Texas, although the word “band” doesn’t quite seem appropriate considering the act consists of two members, vocalist Kenny Bissett and multi-instrumentalist Patric Farrell, with a handful of guest performers.

For the most part, the music is rather pleasant, melodic, and well-performed with high-quality production. The majority of the tracks (including “Lightchaser,” “Burning Daylight,” “The Siren Will,” and “Radiowave”) seem to be more straightforward AOR songs. heavily laced with electronic percussion, and with only the merest hint of Prog-Rock, typically based on much of the keyboard instrumentation, whereas others (“Running Man,” “Samsara,” and the three-part “The Great Escape,” most notably) contain more than a touch of Progressive Rock in, what I consider, the sound of the most recent Yes albums. Or to be more accurate, the “Yes offshoot” bands, such as Conspiracy and Circa: and White, even World Trade. And truth be told, that’s where the main problem lies with much of the material here.

After initially listening to this release, I was not shocked in the least to learn that Billy Sherwood was involved in some capacity with the production/mixing of this album. Indeed, his stamp seems to be all over this release. Not that there’s anything wrong with Sherwood (who is quite talented in my book), but when it comes to those previously mentioned “Yes offshoot” bands, even World Trade, the vocals always seem to be rather emotionless. Oh, the singing is perfectly in tune, the harmonies are always commendable, but they generally lack any trace of raw emotion. “Singing by the numbers,” I call it. Way too slick, too smoothed over, too…well, sorry to say, gutless. This is, unfortunately, the one thing that Sherwood projects generally seem to have in common. And for me, this is the main aspect of the music that brings down this release at least a half-star.

Therefore, since the material is more often than not better than average—although I would have preferred more variety in the tunes and less of an “electronic” feel to much of the instrumentation—I have to rate it 3 Stars, but the album likely would have been closer to 3.5 Stars if the band possessed a singer with more punch, more passion, more attitude in his performance instead of the “sing by the numbers” approach that infects many Sherwood-related (or Sherwood-inspired) projects.

 

Get The Album Now!

British Lions – Trouble With Women (1980)

BritishLions_Trouble2 out of 5 Stars!

When grabbing the debut album by British Lions, a “Mott” fan might hope (or be reasonably assured) that “something” similar would be on offer. And that proved very true. Although not exactly “Mott The Hoople” or even “Mott,” the original British Lions release offered a bunch of similar musical/style traits to the aforementioned bands so that the transition was nothing too shocking.

But this release?…Trouble With Women? Sorry, but this WAS shocking. Perhaps toooooo shocking of a change for most fans, since the album sunk faster than the RMS Titanic when it originally came out.

After many years, when one would hope that time might lesson that original shock, sadly, it has not. Even to this day, upon a fresh “rehearing,” this album fails on soooo many levels. This is not even close to a “Mott The Hoople” release, not even a spit’s throw from a “Mott” release, but a shadow of the former “Mott” glory, that it is perhaps best to avoid at all costs…apart from the “purists” among us who crave anything pertaining to “Mott.”

Not an even “average” unknown band could achieve such low levels. Sooo sad, especially from a band that had such promise!

British Lions British Lions (1978)

BritishLions_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

As a lifelong rock ‘n’ roll fan, I learned at a relatively young age that, when it comes to my favorite bands, life can be both cruel and play nasty tricks. Take the group British Lions for example…

Back in 1974, I was sinfully obsessed with Mott The Hoople, replaying the band’s albums continuously, especially its most recent studio effort, The Hoople. Within months, learning of the loss of guitarist Ariel Bender came as a blow, for certain, but since the band had survived without the previous guitarist Mick Ralphs, I didn’t worry too much, especially since the announcement arrived rather quickly that the group had snagged longtime David Bowie cohort Mick Ronson to replace Bender. And since I was also a huge fan of the Bowie albums on which Ronson appeared, I considered the shake-up only a mild distraction. But then, horror of all horrors, shortly afterward, the band announced its actual demise. What? Talk about a cruel rock ‘n’ roll world. Well let me tell you, I was beside myself for months.

But thankfully, the world did not come to a fiery end as my fourteen-year-old self had woefully predicted during my mourning period, but soldiered onward—like the band itself—as a name-shortened “Mott” swiftly appeared the following year with a new singer and guitarist in tow to replace the departed Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. The world was miraculously saved from disaster, I thought, and I could also soldier onward.

But then, another devastating blow came just after the relatively new Mott released a killer sophomore album in 1976 called Shouting & Pointing when a second “death notice” arrived, claiming that Mott was also no longer in existence. But then, what did the band do? Yes, the remaining four musicians once again roared back with a brand new name this time (British Lions), another lead vocalist in the form of John Fiddler (Box of Frogs/Medicine Head), and a new lease on life.

But would British Lions still retain the same character and style as Mott The Hoople or Mott? Well, I was happy to discover that the revamped band’s debut was a better than average release. I recall cruising with my buddies, playing the album continuously on the car’s cassette player, so it was definitely a rather popular collection when it came to my group of friends. Of course, we were all Mott The Hoople devotees, so it’s no shock that we took interest in this release when it popped up in the record stores.

Granted, to us, John Fiddler was no Ian Hunter, or Nigel Benjamin (from Mott), but Fiddler had that same occasionally wild/bizarre/not-quite-accurate quality that wasn’t too dissimilar from his predecessors—in other words, we accepted him as a replacement, so this album will likely be fun material overall for most other Mott (The Hoople) fans who are still unfamiliar with this debut. Additionally, tracks such as “One More Chance to Run,” “Break This Fool,” “My Life’s in Your Hands,” “Wild in the Streets,” and “Fork Talking Man” are all Mott-like in many respects, with bassist Overend Watts and drummer Dale Griffin delivering their usual solid performances, and guitarist Ray Majors adding some particularly wicked leads. And not to be forgotten, keyboardist Morgan Fisher (in my mind, probably the most unheralded group member and its most gifted) laid down terrific grand piano accompaniment on the mammoth “Big Drift Away” and the song “International Heroes” (an anthem-like ditty not too far afield in atmosphere from MTH’s “All the Young Dudes” or Mott’s “Broadside Outcasts”), which might have been a huge hit had it been given the right promotion.

The only track that did not originally interest me was the album closer “Eat the Rich,” which I believed didn’t fit the overall style of the other tunes. But please note, an alternate/demo version of this track—a wonderfully fun “Mott-type” rendition—was finally made available as a “bonus” on an expanded edition of the album, and this version puts the original track to shame. Yet sadly, please also note, the other “bonus tracks” are, unfortunately, not even close to quality.

Regardless, British Lions went on to release a second album, 1980’s Trouble With Women, before finally splitting up. But frankly, the second album—one of those “nasty tricks” I mentioned earlier—is well below quality, completely disjointed, and one of those albums that should have never seen the light of day (indeed, in interviews throughout the years, various band members expressed a similar assessment). Nevertheless, at least the band’s eponymous debut was enjoyable enough for all of us hungry Mott (the Hoople) fans who just couldn’t face a cruel rock ‘n’ roll world devoid of one of its favorite acts.

 

Get The Album Now!