Sass Jordan – Racine (1992)

SassJordan_Racine4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Sass Jordan…who, you might ask?

Plainly and simply, Sass is a female version of Rod Stewart, especially on this particular album, a down-and-dirty collection of Blues Rock tracks in the same realm as Faces. Indeed, on the final track “Time Flies,” Sass even sardonically utters the ad-libbed lyrics “Miss Judy…you’re so rude,” thus giving a firm nod to the track “Miss Judy’s Farm” from Faces’s classic A Nod Is as Good as a Wink album.

Regardless, the tracks “You Don’t Have to Remind Me,” the aforementioned “Time Flies,” “Make You a Believer,” “If You’re Gonna Love Me,” and “Cry Baby” are only a handful of the highlights…indeed, each of the eleven tracks is a gem in its own right.

Therefore, for fans of Faces-style rock with some Rod Stewart/Janis Joplin-inspired vocals along with a healthy dose of Kim Carnes, Joanna Dean, and Alannah Myles, grab a copy of this now! This Canadian singer is an undiscovered gem of a vocalist.

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Jefferson Starship – Freedom at Point Zero (1979)

Starship_FreedomPointZero4.5 out of 5 Stars!

After the band released its rather disappointing, “middle of the road” Earth album in 1978, Jefferson Starship revamped its lineup in the wake of both Marty Balin’s and Grace Slick’s exits, hiring the dynamic Mickey Thomas (The Elvin Bishop Band) as its new lead vocalist and also recruiting ace drummer Aynsley Dunbar (Journey/Jeff Beck/Frank Zappa). More importantly, instead of continuing on in the same musical direction, the band smartly hardened its sound and released one of its best albums.

Freedom at Point Zero included the mega-hit “Jane,” along with the pounding and straightforward “Rock Music,” the beautiful ballad “Fading Lady Light,” and the kick-ass AOR gems “Just The Same” and the almost-proggish “Awakening,” which all showcase Mickey’s exceptional, breathtaking vocals. Incidentally, I also found it quite impressive that, in many respects—especially when the band employed its trademarked “Jefferson Airplane-ish” gang-vocal singing style on songs such as “Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” “Things To Come,” “Lightning Rose,” and the title track (which strongly reminds me of the band’s previously released “Ride The Tiger”)—Mickey Thomas, with his wide range, sounds almost exactly like Grace Slick, making her absence less “stinging” overall for longtime fans of the group who missed her presence.

Be that as it may, this album thankfully rejuvenated the band and became the first in another series of highly successful albums (with Grace happily returning to the fold on the next release). Both this album, as well as Modern Times (released two years later), are probably my favorite albums from the group, no matter its various incarnations.

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Janus – Gravedigger (1972)

Janus_Gravedigger4 out of 5 Stars!

Music-loving kids of today don’t have a bloody clue how good they’ve actually got it, do they? Here’s why I say that…

It continues to astound me how a seemingly endless stream of above-average “old” albums by “old” obscure bands of which I’d never known existed keep popping up in my “middle/olden years” which, in a perfect world, I should have discovered way back in my youth but didn’t. Certainly this has everything to do with the situation back in the “olden days” before the mighty Internet existed. Dear heavens, remember those times when only local (lame) radio and (lame) television stations, along with a few assorted (mostly lame) magazines (aside from Circus and few others) provided the sole sources in discovering new music, and to a lesser extent, the meager selections in stock at the small local record store and word of mouth? For those of us in America (and especially in the Midwest), this is especially true of European (non-UK) bands whose albums were always tucked away in the high-priced yet always-intriguing “Import Section” at the record store, when a teenager had no available cash to splurge (experiment) on an album that looked so damned fascinating but wasn’t available to “test listen.” Hell, of course, then I would rather spend my meager cash on the heavily advertised albums from world-renowned groups such as Uriah Heep or Deep Purple or Yes or Black Sabbath instead of “chancing” a release (except sparingly) by seemingly unheard of German bands such as Jane or Lucifer’s Friend or Guru Guru or Scorpions. This is the area in which the upcoming Internet became (undoubtedly) the “holy grail of discovery” in the lives of die-hard music lovers like myself. So I repeat my earlier question—music-loving kids of today don’t have a bloody clue how good they’ve actually got it, do they? Probably not!

Anyway, this is the reason I write many reviews for older (ie. seemingly ancient) albums and bands, since for me, many are truly brand new discoveries, the actual year of actual release/existence be damned. Therefore, despite this album being released more than four decades ago, it is essentially a new release in my eyes, and Janus is, for all intents and purposes, a brand new band.

I stumbled upon them when digging for more information on Jane (a band I did actually unearth way back in the 1970s). So due to its similar name, and also being from Germany, Janus kept popping up in my various “Jane-related” searches. Since I also kept seeing words and phrases such as “great” and “wonderful” and “undiscovered gem” and “semi-progressive Krautrock” (a genre of which I am quite fond) when describing the debut Janus album, I had placed it on my “wish list” and (thankfully) located a copy.

Not only have I played the five-track album repeatedly since I snagged a copy, but have grown quite fond of it. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to label this mainly guitar-oriented album (with some piano back-up) as simply Progressive Rock (which oddly seems the sole or primary genre listed at most music-related websites when it comes to this release), I would certainly say that Prog-Rock is a secondary genre. Apart from that, I would classify this album as being Hard Rock with abundant Psychedelic-Rock influences.

In many ways, especially due to the “unaccented” lead vocals and almost blues-foundation to some songs (such as on the three shorter tracks “Whatcha Trying To Do?” and “Bubbles” and “I Wanna Scream”—the latter almost a template for a Thin Lizzy song) and the overall guitar tones the band employs throughout the album, Janus has (for the era) more of a “Brit-band” sound, occasionally bringing to mind groups such as Ten Years After, Beck, Bogart & Appice, Cream, Led Zeppelin, etc.

Yet the heavier-hitting Psych elements make all the difference in the world (as on the killer, nearly nine-minute, opening song “Red Sun” with its apparent “I Can See for Miles” influence by The Who, and the side-long, twenty-one-minute “Gravedigger” with its often Mellotron-dreamy, acoustic-based “Moody Blues/King Crimson” feel), bringing shades of Jane, Guru Guru, Grobschnitt, etc. into the overall mixture of influences, and offering that unique Krautrock flair. Indeed, these lengthier aforementioned tracks are reason enough to investigate this album, since they’re the ones that offer the perfect blending of the “Hard Rock/Psych-Rock/Progressive Rock/Krautrock” genres and make this album quite special.

Hell, these two tracks alone make me wish I’d discovered this album upon its release back in 1972, then maybe my friends and I would have rocked out (and “spaced out” with a particular weed I cannot name) to more than just the albums the highly influential record companies and “lame” radio stations of the era declared were the “best of the best.” Now I just need to hunt down a few of this band’s subsequent albums (released decades later themselves) to see if Janus eventually lived up to the potential it displayed on its debut.

Yes, the music-loving kids of today are so damned lucky to have something called the Internet, because even they can easily discover an album such as Gravedigger more than forty years after its release. Damn, in this respect, how I envy them…

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Jumbo – Vietato ai minori di 18 anni? (1973)

Jumbo_Vietato5 out of 5 Stars!

A weird, wacky, and wild treat. The music on this album is a schizophrenic mix of styles, with all the songs seeming to take your brain through a demented roller-coaster ride of craziness.  But what exactly is Jumbo made of?

There are brilliant bursts of high-energy symphonic Prog-Rock interspersed with some mellow passages of pastoral beauty. It also sounds as if every musical instrument known to mankind is being tossed into the bowl, while rhythms shift and shimmy to continually jangle the nerves. Meanwhile, the instrumental passages sound like the best ingredients of Gentle Giant, PFM, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Jethro Tull after getting shoved into a musical meat grinder, only to be served at the table of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who sprinkled their own patented brand of crazy spices on top, especially when it comes to the vocalist, who delivers explosions of psychotic Italian babbling and jabbering and gut-wrenching shrieks to the proceedings. Add a crisp, clear production and some studio wankery and wizardry as if in the hands of Brian Eno to the dish before tossing it into the musical oven, and it’s done.

Definitely doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it?

And yet, somehow, it actually works! I’ve never heard another band like this, and probably never will. Bravo!

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Julian’s Treatment – A Time Before This (1970)

JuliansTreatment_TimeBefore4 out of 5 Stars!

U.K. band Julian’s Treatment released only a single concept album back in 1970.

The Prog-Rock displayed on this collection of tracks is dominated by organ, with the occasional piano and harpsichord, all supplied by Julian Jay Savarin, who went on to release another album under his own name (then went on to become a multi-published novelist). Note, even though the band supposedly included a full-time guitarist, he’s barely present on many of the tracks, and when he does make an appearance, it’s usually by tossing in either psychedelic (ie. heavy fuzz-toned) interjections or he contributes some mellow background fills. Actually, if I remember correctly, there are perhaps only one or two solos where he actually gets to shine. Flute (supplied by the guitarist) also makes an appearance on some of the tracks.

The major “plus” is in the lead vocal department, supplied by Cathy Pruden, who, with her wide range and pleasant tone, is quite adept and lends almost a Curved Air feeling to the album.

Generally speaking, however, the album sounds a little dated in a “Vanilla Fudge albums sound dated” sort of way, yet the material is pleasant enough and well-performed, with almost a Krautrock feel to the overall production.


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Journey – Eclipse (2011)

Journey_Eclipse5 out of 5 Stars!

No one was more shocked than myself when I decided this album was probably among my choices for Top 10 Releases in 2011. Sadly I had long ago given up on Journey—oh, not that I thought the band sucked or anything like that, but just that I assumed I probably would never hear anything truly exciting from the group after Escape. In my eyes, after the excellent Escape album, the band had started a slow downhill slide, with Perry’s voice turning raspy and sounding strained, and the band relying more and more on writing songs with poppier melodies and fully turning their backs on their roots of being an excellent AOR act. Certainly the material was always a notch above most other bands of the same genre, but much of the band’s output seemed simply a rehash of the material that had come before. And then, once Steve Perry left the group, I figured the band would never again achieve anything considered “great.”

Oh, how wrong I was! I LOVE this album, more so since it was a total surprise that Journey released anything that could excite me again. The most surprising part is that I rated this album 5 stars, the same as I rated Escape, but for completely different reasons. On Escape, the band was at the top of its game when it came to not only performances, but also songwriting, and the entire album consisted of stellar hits, aimed at the arena-rock audience. On Eclipse, however, the band decided not to attempt to write an album of hit singles, but instead FINALLY returned to its roots as a true AOR band. I love album-oriented rock, where songs could be not only catchy, but could also be experimental, even progressive, when necessary, and the band could stretch out when it came to arrangements instead of cramming everything into little three-minute packages of singalong ditties. Indeed, on Eclipse, only one track (an instrumental one at that) falls under the four-minute mark, and nine of the tunes hit the five-minute mark, which gives the band plenty of room to expand its ideas and deliver some terrific arrangements.

Unfortunately, some people still criticize the band for being Steve Perry-less. It’s a shame, since in truth, I can’t picture an album as good as Eclipse with Steve Perry leading the way. He was just too “hit-oriented” overall, too limited in his approach, which was perfect for the material on Escape. Whereas Arnel Pineda, although he has a similar voice to Perry, seems able to handle the more complicated melodies on Eclipse, and the band also seems to be having fun kicking aside the strict three-minute “hit format” in favor of stretching its wings. There are some ballads, for sure, but also some of the hardest rocking tracks Journey ever recorded, and when the band adds a touch of progressive rock during a few of the passages, things take an exciting turn. Some great stuff here!

The high points of this album are way too numerous to mention. Each of the tracks has something special about it, whether a strong melody, a lively arrangement, a screeching solo, or intriguing instrumentation or performances. Each member shines, especially Arnel Pineda, who has an ear for melody and seems to have grown considerably since his debut with the band on the album Revelation. Now I can only pray the band continues in this direction for at least another album or two and offers up some more riveting AOR without concentrating on the hit-single approach.


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Jono – Silence (2015)

Jono_Silence4 out of 5 Stars!

Although the music of Jono is usually labeled as “Rock Opera” on several music-review websites, that’s only partially true regarding the band’s sound. Instead, picture a combination of bands such as Savatage (Streets era) meets Queen (Sheer Heart Attack era), only without the overly grand background vocals and more AOR-ish when it comes to melodies, flirting with the band Avantasia. Add a touch of Jesus Christ Superstar and that’s similar to what Jono has to offer on this release.

Interesting stuff!

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Jo Jo Gunne – Bite Down Hard (1973)

JoJoGunne_BiteDownHard4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although to some fans of this L.A. group it may be an odd comparison, but Jo Jo Gunne always reminded me of Mott The Hoople. Indeed, were you to replace Jay Ferguson on lead vocals with Ian Hunter, this collection of songs would likely fit rather neatly into the Mott The Hoople catalogue somewhere between that group’s All The Young Dudes album and the following Mott album. Moreover, the guitarist on this release, Matt Andes, often had the same tones and playing techniques as Mott’s Mick Ralphs, and with Ferguson’s piano and some organ and synth featured throughout the album, you can almost imagine Mott’s Ian Hunter or Morgan Fisher playing the keys, while the rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Randall and drummer Curly Smith could be straight out of Mott as well. And ironically enough, Smith ended up being Ian Hunter’s drummer on the sorely overlooked 1977’s Overnight Angels album, so the connection between Jo Jo and Mott isn’t entirely off-base. See, I’m not totally crazy—or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Anyway, my mental status notwithstanding, Bite Down Hard is a solid and straightforward slice of rock ‘n’ roll from a band that, sadly, didn’t last long enough to release an extensive collection of material during its original run (apart from the brief reunion in the new century). A mere four albums, but thankfully, all of them quite enjoyable.

And on Bite Down Hard, with foot-stompin’, boogieing tracks such as the terrific opener “Ready Freddy,” plus “Rock Around the Symbol,” “Rhoda,” “Broken Down Man,” and “Take Me Down Easy,” along with a few mid-paced rockers like “Special Situations,” “60 Minutes to Go,” and the wonderfully catchy, harmonica-enhanced “Wait a Lifetime,” this ended up being not only Jo Jo Gunne’s second studio album, but also my second favorite of the band’s releases, eclipsed only by their fourth and final release from the ’70s, So…Where Is The Show?—but frankly, not by much, since I still play both albums about equally.

True be told, every time I listen to Jo Jo Gunne albums, I wish Jay Ferguson hadn’t left the group to pursue a solo career. Certainly, he achieved semi-success with 1978’s Thunder Island and, later, with some film score work, but in my opinion, none of his early lone efforts in the “rock” territory matched the same quality level as the Jo Jo Gunne releases, with much of his output being too light and too Pop-oriented for my liking. Therefore, it’s a shame Jo Jo Gunne wasn’t able to continue through the ’70s as a vehicle for Ferguson’s songwriting talents or perhaps the world might have had several more collections such as Bite Down Hard to cherish through the past decades.

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Jerusalem Slim – Jerusalem Slim (1992)

JerusalemSlim_14 out of 5 Stars!

Jerusalem Slim was a fun, short-lived band based in New York City featuring Mike Monroe and Sam Yaffa (Hanoi Rocks), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol/Atomic Playboys), and Ian McLagan (Faces) that released only a single album before vanishing.

As one might expect with this particular gang of musicians, the band played a style of music similar to (mostly) Hanoi Rocks. Yet with Stevens’s creative guitar prowess and sound effects on full display, with his solos and fills occasionally weird and mind-bending, the overall album is quite a bit heavier, with more polish and a brighter, rounder production quality than the aforementioned group ever had.

Nevertheless, vocalist Mike Monroe’s amusingly sassy, raucous, and punkish attitude is also here in abundance, and his wailing saxophone and harmonica pop up on occasion, so fans of Hanoi Rocks should certainly appreciate this obscure release as much as I do.

Punchy and energetic tunes such as “Teenage Nervous Breakdown,” “Lethal Underground,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Degeneration,” “Attitude Adjustment,” “Criminal Instinct,” and “Scum Live On” go for the throat and simply never let go in a sleazy, rebellious onslaught.

In a perfect rock ‘n’ roll world, Jerusalem Slim would have lasted much longer and issued more material…much more, damn it!

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Jane – III (1974)

Jane_32 out of 5 Stars!

A HUGE step down from their first two albums. Instead of progressing from where they left off, they seem to be regressing. Their first album contained some interesting Hard Rock mixed with a touch of Progressive Rock, even though the songs were made up of mostly 3-chord patterns, nothing at all adventurous, but pleasant enough. Then the second album expanded their style a bit, added more variety when it came to the keyboard sounds, and the chord patterns became a tad more developed, the songs more structured and adventurous.

And then this? For pity’s sake, the opening track “Comin’ Again” is nothing more than nearly 10 minutes of the same two chords played over and over and over and over again. Boring!  This is not even close to Progressive Rock, as this album is labeled at different music-review websites, but instead the band comes off as a Hard Rock-ish “garage band” whose members seem to be just learning their instruments. Lame, boring, and scary how a band that at first showed promise and steady progression in their development could suddenly have regressed to the point where they come off as nothing more than amateurs, and untalented ones at that.

Thankfully the band bounced back with their next release. Meanwhile, this is one album to avoid, a glaring mistake, a jarring interlude in their otherwise decent catalogue of early releases.