The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971)

Doors_LAWoman4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I freely confess, I was never a fan of The Doors during the band’s actual existence (from 1965-1973). In hindsight, the reason was certainly understandable—when the band burst onto the scene in ’67 with its self-titled album, I was only seven years old, and during that time in my young life, The Monkees were (to my mind) the next best thing to peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and chocolate milk. Then, when I really started “getting into” music around the age of eleven or twelve, no one within my circle of friends even owned an album by The Doors, but instead, introduced me to “new” and exciting groups they’d discovered such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Yes, The Allman Brothers Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Bloodrock, and Black Sabbath. Plus, by this time, The Doors had already lost Jim Morrison (RIP) and were already considered “old hat” and “hanging on by a thread.”

Therefore, it wasn’t until the early ’80s—when I’d reached my twenties and regularly performed in my own groups—that I gained an interest in the band. For this sudden exposure, I thank a Chicagoland act called Moonlight Drive. As the name implies, the outfit was a “Doors tribute band,” fairly popular in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and I luckily found my own band playing several shows with the group in the tri-state region. Of course, I’d certainly heard of The Doors, but only knew the hit singles such as “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me,” and had always thought the band rather lightweight and way too “acid rock poppish” for my tastes. But after seeing Moonlight Drive deliver a dramatic, heavy-hitting set of The Doors’s best tunes, including many of the non-hit singles, on several nights, I suddenly found myself hooked. Only then did I realize that The Doors’s back catalogue apparently had much more to offer than the Pop-Rock fare I’d always associated with the band, so on a whim, I subsequently purchased the six studio albums from the “Jim Morrison” heyday.

My favorite of the group’s platters not only proved to be the “rockingest” of them all—no surprise, considering my preference for heavier material—but also the last of the Morrison albums. On L.A. Woman, the group included one amazing track after the other—not one “filler” in sight—and I ended up playing it regularly through the decades, certainly more so than any of the group’s earlier efforts, which I consider less consistent (and yes, as on 1969’s The Soft Parade, for instance, occasionally way too light for me). Additionally, this collection had a biting edge to it, along with a darker atmosphere (perhaps since I knew it would end up being Morrison’s swansong), and also included more Blues-based tunes as opposed to much of the group’s previous and “trippier” Psychedelic-tinged work.

Here, Morrison performs at his grittiest and gruffest best, belting out the lyrics with an almost punkish urgency and dementia—I have to believe that vocalists such as David Johansen from New York Dolls gained much inspiration from Morrison’s performances—where I can easily forgive his occasional inaccuracies regarding pitch. Moreover, his often cryptic and mysterious lyrics are, as ever, pure poetry, justifiably earning him legendary status in the rock ‘n’ roll world.

Meanwhile, although never a stable fan of Ray Manzarek’s organ tones (depending on the track, such as the catchy hit “Love Her Madly,” where the Hammond has a Farfisa sound that always rubbed me the wrong way), his rollicking performances on the funky opener “The Changeling” and the thumping “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” helped launch both tunes to the top of my “favorites” list, plus his strange Hammond insertions on “L’America” made for some creepiness I found endlessly charming. And of course, his wildly melodic traditional piano dexterity on the bopping “L.A. Woman” as well as the Fender Rhodes that graces that composition and also provides the haunting leads and solid chord patterns on the stunning “Riders on the Storm” aided to create two unforgettable and endurable classics, which incidentally are my other two favorite tracks not only on this album, but in the band’s entire catalogue.

Meanwhile, Robby Krieger impresses throughout. His guitar leads (especially on the bluesier songs “Been Down So Long,” “Crawling King Snake,” and “Cars Hiss By My Window”) are always tastefully executed and often inspired, while his rhythm guitar bits (as well as those provided by “guest” rhythm guitarist Marc Benno) never distract or hog center stage when not warranted, allowing the songs to breathe without clutter. Drummer John Densmore also displays the full spectrum of his skills, his tempos always tight and punchy, and his fills perfectly appropriate on both the rockers and the laid-back numbers. Additionally, although just one in a long string of session bassists playing on each of the band’s studio albums, Jerry Scheff also delivered a meritorious performance, his bass lines working in perfect tandem with Densmore’s beats, and his riffs always melodious with first-rate implementation. Plainly speaking, in my estimation, he was the “guest bassist” through the years who offered the most energy and backbone to the band’s overall sound.

Regardless, anyone still unfamiliar with The Doors (and without the good fortune of having a tribute band like Moonlight Drive to provide a marvelous replica) who yearns to investigate the band, L.A. Woman is a great place to begin, since it shows the group at the height of its fame and creativity. After Morrison’s passing, the surviving members went on to release two additional albums, but alas, the music seemed a pale imitation of what appeared on this platter, so who knows what else the band may have fashioned had Morrison not left this planet so tragically young? I can’t help thinking that, if L.A. Woman gives any indication, chances are it would’ve likely been just as exceptional.

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Dave Kerzner – Static (2017)

DaveKerzner_Static4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The name of Florida-based keyboardist and vocalist Dave Kerzner first came to my attention back in 2015 when investigating a band called Sound of Contact, a Prog-Rock act that also included drummer Simon Collins (son of Phil Collins, of Genesis fame). The group’s sole album in 2013, Dimensionaut, proved fairly impressive, especially when it came to Kerzner’s grand and symphonic keyboard arrangements. So in 2016, when I saw Kerzner’s name in association with yet another new band, this one called Mantra Vega (also including vocalist Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn), I snatched it up without question. And once again, the keyboard-rich material on that debut, The Illusion’s Reckoning, made a terrific first impression. So Kerzner was “two for two” in my book, and I started delving into the man’s background, seeing what else I might have missed.

Well, one of the tidbits I unearthed was that the keyboardist had also delivered a solo album in 2014, New World, which became another “no-brainer” for me when it came to the decision of purchasing it. And, no great shock, the album ended up being another first-class winner. This time, however, Kerzner provided the lead vocals (along with keyboards, some guitars, bass, and drums, and the proverbial kitchen sink, I’m sure) as well as composed and produced lush and breathtaking soundscapes, his performances enhanced with the aid of various Prog-Rock cohorts, such as drummers Nick D’Virgilio and Simon Phillips, guitarists Steve Hackett and Francis Dunnery, and even the magnificent Keith Emerson himself (RIP), to name but a few. Okay, I decided, so the guy not only knows some top-notch people in “the biz,” but has talent—considerable and enviable talent at that!

So, with his name indelibly emblazoned in my mind, I certainly did not miss the announcement of Kerzner’s latest album, Static, which he dropped on the Prog-Rock community in late 2017. And guess what? Yes, it’s another gem, this time with Kerzner repeating his songwriting, performing, and production duties as skillfully, enjoyably, and as powerfully as he did on his first solo effort. And like before, a wealth of “guests” (most notably Hackett and D’Virgilio again) pop up on several tracks, but despite the presence of these musicians injecting their own talents on various tunes, it also becomes crystal clear that, like the previous album, Static is easily Kerzner’s beautifully and lovingly nurtured baby. Indeed, with both New World and Static in his arsenal, creating a one-two punch of musical muscle, Kerzer can now claim his own distinctive sound/style, much in the same way as other solo musicians (Neil Morse instantly springs to mind) has his own identifiable brand stamped on each new collection of tracks he releases under his own moniker.

Sure, amidst the varied tunes, both brief and lengthy compositions, I can sometimes hear, as examples, a bit of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Spock’s Beard, and Transatlantic influences, but Kerzner never attempts to clone any other artist. He doesn’t need to, actually, since his creativity seems to know no bounds.

Aside from the brief “Prelude,” the album opens with a mighty and sardonic bang in the form of the upbeat, glorious, and occasionally eclectic “Hypocrites,” a track that includes everything from numerous and diverse passages, tempo shifts, ballsy guitar rhythms and leads, keyboards galore (including Mellotron and synth solos), and creepy digital ambience tossed in for good measure. The vocals, done in luscious multi-part harmony for the most part, do seem to have a “David Gilmour/Pink Floyd” flavor when it comes to Kerzner’s range, timbre, and execution, but heck, the man can’t help it if his voice possesses a few homogeneous traits of another singer, right? He does, however, do much to avoid direct comparisons, delivering the lyrics with layered harmonies and electronic enhancements. And in the end, this track is a real corker, and one of my favorites—”we’re all hypocrites”—indeed!

The title track, on the other hand, is—music-wise—pretty much in direct opposition to the previous tune, with a dreamy, keyboard-grounded background over a lazy rhythm, luxuriant in its spacier atmosphere and laid-back vocal delivery. In other words, more along the lines of groups such as Pink Floyd or Airbag. Whereas on the quirkier and bopping “Reckless,” the poppish vocal melody, varied and highly creative instrumentation, and overall eccentric character of the song arrangement suddenly brings to mind the wonderfully produced material released by the late Kevin Gilbert on his The Shaming of the True release. And no shock that Kerzner might have adopted some of the same “sound/style” qualities as Gilbert, considering the two had worked together in and around the group Giraffe and the latter’s solo material.

From this point forward, the album moves at a brisk clip, with several shorter, more direct tunes such as “Chain Reaction” and “Millennium Man” (which remind me of the catchier, straightforward side of artists such as World Trade or Trevor Rabin, only with multifarious studio enhancements and Prog-Rock embellishments), “Trust,” “State of Innocence,” and “Right Back to the Start” (delightfully mellow ballads that I can easily envision Art Rock artists such as Roxy Music or 10cc would have killed to release decades ago if given the studio capabilities of the modern age), and “Quiet Storm” and “Statistic” (electronically enriched tracks that add avant-garde strangeness to the overall collection).

And then, the album closes with “The Carnival of Modern Life,” the nearly seventeen-minute magnum-opus, which deserves (no, it demands) its own paragraph. Talk about varied and strange, this wickedly creative track has it all when it comes to Prog-Rock magic…heck, just look at the eerie cover art (thanks to equally brilliant artist Ed Unitsky) and that should give you an idea as to the song’s off-the-wall qualities when it comes to numerous melodies, rhythms, and sound effects. Yet, the organs and synths, the guitar and bass runs, and the vocals performed in the same multi-layered resplendence as the aforementioned “Hypocrites” all work to perfection. In fact, the track’s mischievously assorted instrumentation and sundry mood shifts reflect the often-insane reality of modern society’s ever-alternating viewpoints and occasional mass-hysteria moments. How long it took Kerzner to piece together and mix this mammoth masterpiece is beyond me, but my guess would be months, since the level of detail with the shifting song arrangements, the various sound effects and voice-overs that add atmospheric tinsel, would seem a mighty daunting task. But damn it, the whole track works, therefore, bravo to the mastermind behind this daring and audacious composition.

So in total, Kerzner has once again delivered an album of exceptional quality, and now, after reveling in his work for several years, I can clearly and undoubtedly declare that the man has a laser-focused brain and boundless imagination for creating engaging music in the Prog-Rock variety. And I’m so damned covetous!

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Danté Fox – Under the Seven Skies (2007)

DanteFox_UnderSevenSkies4 out of 5 Stars!

When Danté Fox popped onto the U.K. music scene in the late 1990s to release two catchy albums (1996’s Under Suspicion and 1999’s The Fire Within), I immediately thought the band an updated, more rockin’ version of North American acts such as Heart, Toronto, Saraya, or Chicago’s mighty Tantrum (albeit with a single female vocalist as opposed to three). And that opinion didn’t change in the least when the band finally returned to action in 2007 with the release of Under the Seven Skies.

Here, on tunes such as “The Last Goodbye,” “Lucky Ones (Born Tonight in the Setting Sun),” “Love Tried To Fine You,” “Firing Guns,” and “Goodbye to Yesterday,” Sue Willetts’s voice is still in splendid and stunning form, commercial as all heck, and the skillful band delivers yet another powerful collection of ultra-catchy material, destined for greatness in a perfect world. Indeed, the nine-minute title track, with its intricate symphonic arrangement, is AOR perfection itself.

I’m still not sure why this band isn’t better known, except for the fact that this world is indeed (and too sadly) far from perfect, darn it. Nevertheless, Under the Seven Skies kicks melodic butt, and Danté Fox Roxx!

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Dominici – O3: A Trilogy (Part 3) (2008)

Dominici_Trilogy34.5 out of 5 Stars!

New York band Dominici is probably best known for being the band formed by Charlie Dominici, Dream Theater’s original lead vocalist.

Although the first of the albums released under the Dominici banner—the Part 1 of the trilogy—proved to be nothing but a forgettable collection of acoustic rock and disappointed many fans like myself who expected a foray into Prog-Metal territory, the group’s second and third albums, however, actually did contain music not too dissimilar to Dream Theater.

Yet unlike Dream Theater, these last two Dominici releases seemed to have gotten lost in the musical ether and remain horribly obscure. It’s a shame, really, since both albums are actually quite impressive.

On O3: A Trilogy (Part 3), tracks such as “Enemies of God,” “Genesis,” “Revelation,” “King of Hell,” and “King of Hell,” offer outstanding musicianship, with decent songwriting overall, intricate song arrangements, and a highly polished sound.

Charlie Dominici truly did himself a favor by surrounding himself with top-notch players, his team easily rivaling the skill level and professionalism of his former group. Therefore, it’s too bad the band disappeared after this final release, since another album or two of this caliber might have finally gotten Dominici deservedly noticed by Prog-Metal fans.

Some reviewers on various music-related websites have labeled this album a masterpiece. I’m unsure if I’d go that far, but in my eyes, it’s at least a forgotten gem!

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Dr. Z – Three Parts to My Soul (1971)

DrZ_ThreeParts3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Loaded with tribal-like percussion, twiddling pianos, and (of all things) harpsichord, Three Parts to My Soul, the one and only album by Dr. Z, is certainly a bit bizarre and totally different in the world of Prog-Rock.

This trio of musicians (keyboardist, bassist, and drummer) from the U.K. is sort of a maniacal version of either Triumvirat or Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. This has much to do with the rather crazy-sounding lead vocals (like the more deranged side of Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill), the hypnotically psychedelic and almost-creepy vibe, and the often-strange instrumentation and song construction on the lengthier tunes such as “Spiritus, Manes et Umbra,” “Too Well Satisfied,” and “In a Token of Despair.” Even the shorter, more commercial-oriented songs (if you can actually label them “commercial” in the general sense of the word) such as “Summer for the Rose,” “Evil Woman’s Mainly Child,” and the flute-enhanced “Burn in Anger” offer some strangeness, so Three Parts to My Soul is an album for Prog-Rock fans who yearn for something truly unique within the genre.

If you can imagine the Alice Cooper track “Black Juju” heavily dosed with the sinister atmosphere found on the debut album by the group Black Widow, and further picture the character of the macabre and grumbling manservant Lurch from The Addams Family playing along with these tracks on his harpsichord, then at least you’ll get an idea of what you can expect when listening to this rather strange album.

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Diamond Head – Borrowed Time (1982)

DiamondHead_BorrowedTime3.5 out of 5 Stars!

The generally exciting “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” era in the U.K. produced a slew of bands that, whether they fit the genre label or not, somehow got lumped into this category. Many bands (Iron Maiden, Saxon, Angel Witch, Tygers of Pan Tang, etc.) were appropriately categorized, whereas a handful of others (such as Nightwing or Girlschool, for example) seemed sadly mislabeled.

When it came to Diamond Head, another one of the “NWOBHM” groups heavily promoted by magazines such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer at the time, most of the tracks on Borrowed Time easily fit this category (although a few tracks, such as “Don’t You Ever Leave Me”—mainly a Blues-Rock excursion—and “Call Me”—a Hard Rock, almost AOR, attempt at generating a hit single—didn’t quite). And certainly once Diamond Head released its follow-up album, Canterbury, and the majority of the “metalness” had disappeared, the genre label seemed horribly inappropriate.

But as I stated, Borrowed Time did indeed include some actual Heavy Metal that offered great promise for the band’s future (sadly unfulfilled), especially when it came to the songs “Lightning to the Nations,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Borrowed Time,” “To Heaven From Hell,” and the utterly outstanding “Am I Evil?” (later covered by Metallica, and quite commendably, I admit).

So to me, Borrowed Time (Diamond Head’s first “official” major label release) is probably its finest album (not counting the band’s previous 1980 “demo”). The musicianship is generally commendable, with guitarist Brian Tatler displaying great potential, while bassist Colin Kimberly and drummer Duncan Scott do a commendable job with the material. But also note: although on many tracks I rather enjoy Sean Harris’s voice when it comes to his range and timbre, his delivery style did take some getting used to—his tendency to ad lib melody lines where he often ended up all over the map, and his inclination to be too forceful at unexpected moments, occasionally proved frustrating and downright annoying, so “potential listeners/buyers beware.”

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Dirty Tricks – Hit & Run (1977)

DirtyTricks_HitRun3.5 out of 5 Stars

Dirty Tricks was a promising band from the U.K. that released only a trio of albums in the mid-’70s before disappearing (although the group resurfaced with a comeback album in 2009).

Regardless, and whether fairly or not, Dirty Tricks always reminded me of Yesterday & Today (Y&T), not only in its overall raw and hard-driving style, but simply because both groups popped onto the scene about a year apart and I learned about them on the very same day (at the long-defunct Rainbow Records in Park Ridge, Illinois…oddly enough, I remember that moment as if it happened only yesterday. Funny how one’s mind works, right?). Anyway, I purchased both debut albums together, and therefore, despite any differences between the bands—not too much, truthfully—they will forever be linked in my head.

Be that as it may, Hit & Run, the band’s third and final album from the ’70s, showed growth in its development—with Dirty Tricks adding more intricate arrangements and instrumentation on various tracks such as “Gambler,” “Lost in the Past,” “Road to Deriabah,” “I’ve Had These Dreams Before,” and “Get Out On The Street”—and proved just as enjoyable as the previous two releases, with searing guitars, pounding rhythms, and Kenny Stewart’s instantly recognizable vocals.

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Discipline – Push & Profit (1993)

Discipline_PushProfit4.5 out of 5 Stars!

When Discipline released its debut album back in 1993, I thought the music a highly mature and interesting blend of groups such as Genesis, IQ, and Twelfth Night with more than a sprinkling of musical inspiration from Van der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant popping up in numerous sections of various tracks.

For instance, look no further than a track such as “The Reasoning Wall” for Genesis-styled keyboards and guitar tones, with the music being similar to work found on Foxtrot or Selling England by the Pound, with also a touch of Gentle Giant tossed into the intricate arrangement.

Or for nods toward Van der Graaf Generator, perhaps, then the hypnotic track “Carmilla” should suffice, especially with vocalist Matthew Parmenter’s often-eerie lead vocals being occasionally reminiscent of Peter Hammill’s (just not as insanely manic), only with a Mellotron-rich musical backdrop that also includes hints of other bands such as King Crimson and IQ, but with Discipline taking these various influences and twisting them into a unique style for itself.

Other more straightforward styles and atmospheres appear as well. At the beginning of “The Nursery Year,” an almost pop melody reigns supreme over mainly a light electric piano foundation that brings Hogarth-era Marillion to mind, while on “Faces of the Petty,” the band generates a rocking, bobbing little ditty with an almost funky Zappa-inspired chorus (Over-Nite Sensation era) that adds enough quirks to make things really interesting.

With only the merest, fleeting influences (or a curious and masked amalgam) of older Prog bands on display, other tracks such as “Diminished,” “Blueprint,” and “Systems” can only be described as music sounding like Discipline itself, the band’s own style bursting to the forefront and often defying comparisons. And the final track (and my favorite), “America,” again periodically brings to mind VDGG, only nowhere near as dark or creepy, but with acoustic-based instrumentation and an almost David Bowie-esque sing-along chorus, only performed and arranged as hypnotically as only Discipline can do.

After first savoring Push & Profit, I predicted the band had the capability of becoming even more impressive, and Discipline proved me right four years later with the release of an often-challenging and sinister 5-Star masterpiece, Unfolded Like Staircase. And then sadly, the group disappeared for more than a full decade, thankfully popping up again with another terrific album in 2011, then again in 2013, with yet another in 2017. Great news for Prog-Rock fans.

Regardless, Push & Profit is the album that started all the fun, an outstanding high-quality release I still play nearly as much as Unfolded Like Staircase.

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The Dogs D’Amour – In the Dynamite Jet Saloon (1988)

DogsDAmour_JetSaloon4.5 out of 5 Stars!

On its first official release, The Dogs D’Amour delivered some ultra-catchy, decadent, and rollicking “Sleaze ‘N’ Roll.” I loved this U.K. band when it first appeared, with singer Tyla and the other glammed-up guys doing their best impression of The Rolling Stones, and 1988’s In the Dynamite Jet Saloon album saw the band at its most prolific, most defiant, most ravenous period of its career.

Opening with the magnificent track “Debauchery” (that says a lot, huh?), this album just doesn’t let up for a moment. And with its roster of additional tunes including “Last Bandit,” “Wait Until I’m Dead,” “Everything I Want,” “Medicine Man,” and the catchy-as-hell “How Come It Never Rains” along with the potential hit “bonus” track “The Kid From Kensington,” In the Dynamite Jet Saloon is (to me) a classic of the genre.

Like when it comes to Hanoi Rocks from about the same period in time, you can listen to the “Dogs” and practically smell the fumes of whiskey and cigarettes wafting through the stereo speakers…indeed, “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum…Debauchery” pretty much says it all.

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Dokken – Back for the Attack (1987)

Dokken_BackAttack4 out of 5 Stars!

Back for the Attack was the fourth and final Dokken album during the band’s initial phase, and probably my favorite of the four, thanks to George Lynch’s shredding guitar riffs and solos on songs such as “Kiss Of Death,” “Sleepless Nights,” “Cry Of The Gypsy,” “Standing In The Shadows,” “Burning Like a Flame,” and especially the killer instrumental track “Mr. Scary.”

It’s hard to deny that, when it came to producing melodic, memorable, and quality Hard Rock during the mid ’80s in America, Don Dokken and his bandmates were generally way ahead of the pack.

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