Krokodil – Getting Up for the Morning (1972)

Krokodil_GettingUp3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although formed in Switzerland, the obscure band Krokodil often got lumped into the Krautrock category of music, and on several of the band’s releases, it’s easy to see why. Sure, Krokodil focused mainly on Heavy Psych and Blues Rock, but it also tossed hints of Progressive Rock and Folk Rock with some fun experimentation into many of its tracks, using everything from harmonica and flute to Mellotron and synths, and therefore ended up being a nice cross between U.K. and German bands of the same era.

Despite the truly lame album cover—”pretty boys” is hardly a term that springs to mind for these guys, huh?—Getting Up for the Morning (the band’s fourth studio release) is quite enjoyable overall, especially for lovers of tasty, bluesy, trippy guitar from one of the most exciting periods in rock ‘n’ roll history.

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Kick Axe – Welcome to the Club (1985)

KickAxe_WelcomeClub4 out of 5 Stars!

I always felt this sorely overlooked band from Canada was special among its ’80s peers. Kick Axe was not a typical “hair band,” nor a typical Hard Rock act for that matter, but one with a talent for writing ultra-catchy, anthemic choruses yet always adding some strange instrumentation, some intriguing dynamics, to each track’s arrangement.

The band would occasionally incorporate odd breaks in its beefy “wall of sound,” insert guitar runs or drum fills or lush vocal harmonies or some bizarre sonic effect at unexpected times, keeping the listener always on the edge on their seats, wondering what exactly would come next. This is especially evident on the powerful debut album Vices, and to a lesser degree on this, the band’s sophomore release.

Additionally, the group possessed a terrific, wide-ranging vocalist in George Criston, who appeared on the trio of albums from the ’80s, and gave Kick Axe an added “zing.”

Unfortunately, the original group eventually disbanded in 1988, but reformed in 2003 to release one more album (with a new singer) the following year, of which I have yet to hear.

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Kansas – Kansas (1974)

Kansas_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

To my mind, this was one of the best debut albums by any Prog-Rock band of the ’70s. Kansas was truly rare. Few other major Prog bands of the era (Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Van der Graff Generator, Jethro Tull, etc.) debuted with an album where the band’s instantly identifiable “signature” sound/style was fully intact…with most other bands, it typically took several albums before that occurred.

And with the violin prominent and used on every song, often as a lead instrument, along with the layered keyboards mixed with occasionally heavy guitars, a lively and agile rhythm section, two recognizable lead singers, and even a hint of Southern Rock on several tracks (“Can I Tell You,” “The Pilgrimage,” and “Bringing It Back” as examples), Kansas also had a unique Prog-Rock sound for the era, not to mention a unique image—a band member wearing a flannel shirt and overalls? Yes, the group’s image and style was pure down-home Americana at its Midwestern best!

Regardless, from a band residing in the midst of the agricultural heartlands, who would have guessed that the debut album featured a highly sophisticated blend of driving Hard Rock and adventurous Symphonic Prog with strong classical overtones, as witnessed on tunes such as “Journey From Mariabronn,” “Apercu,” “Belexes,” and “Death of Mother Nature Suite,” with everything from the songwriting, to the arrangements, to the performances being nothing short of jaw-dropping. No wonder Kansas went on to become world-renowned within a few short years, and a large influence on many future Prog-Rock bands to come, even those forming in this day and age. Kansas truly deserved all the plaudits it received!

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Kiss – Rock and Roll Over (1976)

kiss_rnrover4.5 out of 5 Stars!

After the highly successful (but over-produced) album Destroyer (with the sugary sweet “Beth”—good God, spare me!), the band returned to the studio to produce a “back to basics” sort of album, with raw production values and nothing in the way of horrific and sappy ballads or lush string orchestrations to mar the hard-rocking proceedings.

Rock and Roll Over is perhaps one of my favorite Kiss studio albums, thanks to infectious, energetic songs such as “I Want You, “Makin’ Love, “Mr. Speed,” “Take Me,” and the Rod Stewart-inspired “Hard Luck Woman.”

Yes, as you might be able to tell from the above paragraph, I have a fondness for Paul Stanley’s contributions, although I must say that Gene Simmons (the other chief songwriter) also delivered some commendable goods with “Ladies Room,” “See You in Your Dreams,” “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em,” and the hit single “Dr. Love.” (Note: I don’t normally rank Gene’s contributions too highly, only since I’m not overly fond of his vocal performances, unlike Paul’s.) Regardless, Peter Criss’s sole writing contribution (and his performance) on “Baby Driver” (as well as his vocals on “Hard Luck Woman”) are quite killer. Too bad Ace Frehley didn’t have any songs included on this album, although he was never known for delivering too many tracks to the overall Kiss repertoire…his guitar contributions were usually enough for me anyway.

Nevertheless, on this album, every single band member is playing at his best abilities, so it’s tough for me to criticize it. Indeed, every song is basically a keeper in my opinion, therefore I still play it regularly. Rock and Roll Over…indeed!

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Kraan – Wiederhören (1977)

Kraan_Wiederhören4 out of 5 Stars!

A wildly terrific German band that started in the ’70s and released a slew of funky, skillful, and adventurous Jazz-inspired Prog-Rock albums in its first decade of existence. Indeed, some of the band’s material reminds me of the Canterbury Prog-Rock scene in Britain…only sinfully manic, and on some damned-good acid.

Any of the group’s ’70s albums—including Wiederhören, the band’s fifth release—are highly recommended for lovers of the genres of Progressive Rock, Krautrock, Jazz-Fusion or Jazz-Rock. Seriously, the musicianship on display here (from the guitars and keys, to the sax, to the rhythm section) is unequivocally awesome…especially jaw-dropping on the tracks “Vollgas Ahoi,” “Let’s Take a Ride,” “Rund um die Uhr,” and “Rendezvous in Blue.”

The only area where Kraan “lacked” as a group (and where I lowered the rating by half a star) was in the vocal department, but since much of the band’s material is instrumental, and the vocals are “passable” overall, they are hardly a huge deterrent when it comes to savoring the outstanding musicianship and creativity on display.

And please hold the nasty comments and hate mail regarding my age, since I already know I’m going to sound like an “old fogey” by saying the following: “Today’s newfangled whippersnapper bands just don’t make music like this anymore…”  🙂

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Kiss – Monster (2012)

Kiss_Monster4 out of 5 Stars!

Well damn it, after listening to this album several times, I have to concede that this is probably one of the most powerful albums of Kiss’s career, with much of the album reminding me of the feeling I had when first listening to the slamming Creatures Of The Night album when it appeared after the band had fallen into lackluster territory in the late ’70s/early ’80s.

Although many reviewers seem to provide each of the albums in the post-Creatures Of The Night era of the band (from the albums Lick It Up to Hot In The Shade) with less-than-enthusiastic ratings, I’ve always felt those ratings completely unjustified. Certainly, the band at that time (having finally removed the make-up and showing the actual faces of the musicians involved to the public) jumped on the “hair band” bandwagon and went a bit “heavy-commercial,” they still seemed rejuvenated and wrote some decent tracks (certainly better than the Unmasked period of the band). Indeed, I quite enjoyed that period of Kiss. Not only was the band consistently powerful on that string of albums through the entire 1980s, delivering some catchy—and generally loud—stadium anthems, but the band seemed to possess an endless infusion of high energy that put most of their contemporaries of that era (Warrant, Dokken, Bon Jovi, etc.) to shame.

Soon came several more releases, from Revenge to the Psycho Circus album, which (sadly) I never quite embraced. To me, the songwriting quality had greatly diminished, as did the band’s “fun factor” and “attitude,” with Kiss even sounding in some ways like just another lackluster, depressing grunge band of the era, which completely took me by surprise, as I’m sure it did many longtime fans. Sadly, during this period, I lost nearly all interest in any of the band’s releases.

Then, more than a full decade passed, and the band finally released another album, this one being a collection of remakes under the name Jigoku-Retsuden (which I didn’t purchase). Again, I had lost much interest in the band, and I certainly didn’t feel like revisiting a bunch of “Kiss doing Kiss” tracks. But then to my thrill, a year later, the true comeback album Sonic Boom appeared, and I finally saw more than a glimpse of the old Kiss Alive energy and the band’s rejuvenated “fist-raising,” “rollicking-good-time” image rearing its welcomed head. In many ways, that album reminded me of the “back to basics” approach Kiss used on the album Rock And Roll Over after the overly produced Destroyer album had smoothed off the harder edges of their sound (“Beth” anyone? Good God!). Anyway, although the overall Sonic Boom package wasn’t quite what I had prayed, it was far from bad and was certainly a giant improvement from the Psycho Circus album. Thankfully, Kiss decided to continue in the same vein, only adding even more Adrenalin to the mix, and finally, Monster appeared in 2012.

An undeniable, sorely missed energy encompasses the album, a drive that the band hasn’t fully displayed since the early 1980s, not since its Creatures Of The Night masterpiece of kick-ass heavy rock (and an album that somehow captures the energy of their live performances). As mentioned at the start of the review, I feel this is one of the most powerful albums of Kiss’s career, both studio and live.

The opening track, “Hell Or Hallelujah,” barrels through the speakers with full guns blazing, and the album barely lets up until the closing track “Last Chance.” Guitarist Tommy Thayer truly leads the way into crunch-territory, delivering some wickedly wild leads and some memorable riffs—many of them reminiscent of Ace’s best solos and riffs from the olden days, or even Bruce Kulick’s blazing leads and riffs during that underrated ’80s period—and all the while the current rhythm section of Gene Simmons and Eric Singer, along with Paul Stanley’s dynamic guitar fills, create a magnificently grand, round and rich and bombastic sound and ultra-killer delivery in the best tradition of “stadium rock.” The full and blaring vocals only add to the excitement and fury, coming across as a “dare to listen to us again” call to arms to the Kiss Army. Sure, there are a few tracks that are lacking a tad (not in overall power or energy, but in substance and memorability), yet many of the tracks are not only catchy and infinitely repeatable, but also rival many of the tracks of the band’s early “classic” Alive years.

Yes, Monster proves that Kiss are back in full swing, and let’s pray the ride lasts forever.

Oh, and one final note: Turn It F*cking Loud!!!

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Karnataka – Secrets of Angels (2015)

Karnataka_SecretsAngels4 out of 5 Stars!

Since I’m always on the lookout for Progressive Rock bands with female vocalists (hunting for the next Magenta, my current favorite Prog-Rock band), I took notice recently when I saw postings regarding the band Karnataka and eagerly began investigating the group. To my frustration, I soon realized that the band has been around since the late 1990s, and it has five albums in its catalogue. Why I hadn’t heard of the band before this year is anyone’s guess—and quite annoying—but at least I know of Karnataka’s existence now. And more importantly, after savoring to the band’s most recent album, I now plan to seek out the four previous releases.

Although Karnataka is typically labeled as nothing other than Progressive Rock on most music-related websites, the label is extremely inaccurate and misleading. Indeed, the majority of tracks on this album don’t sound much like Prog-Rock, but thankfully I still enjoyed what the band does offer. The songs range from a union of genres such as AOR meets Symphonic-Prog (“Feels Like Home” and “Because of You,” both occasionally bringing to mind the music of Lana Lane and Within Temptation), to lush and dramatic ballads (“Forbidden Dreams” and “Fairytales Lie”), to melodic Hard Rock or Metal with heavy Symphonic touches (such as the Led Zeppelin-inspired opening track “Road to Cairo” with its “Kashmir” atmosphere, or “Poison Ivy” and “Borderline,” which both fall somewhat into the After Forever or Nightwish territory, only without the operatic vocals).

But the final track, the album’s unrivaled masterpiece, is where the band displays its true calling (true colors). “Secrets of Angels” is a twenty-minute excursion into actual Prog-Rock. Both Celtic and Prog-Folk influences are here in abundance, and the rich and full orchestrations, the varying moods and often-dreamy soundscapes, along with the intricate instrumentation and soaring vocals, come across as a heavier version of bands such as Renaissance or Edenbridge. I couldn’t help listening to the track several times back to back, hoping to absorb all the song has to offer, or wishing Karnataka would concentrate on more tracks like this in the future. Excellent!

So, although in investigating this band, I did not locate the next Magenta (again, the style of music isn’t even close), yet I did discover a talented band nonetheless, only one that shouldn’t be classified as pure Prog-Rock. Be that as it may, there is quite a bit to enjoy on this album. The musicians are superb, the songwriting is commendable, and for me, the vocals of Hayley Griffiths (the newest in a long string of female singers since the band’s formation) are undoubtedly the high point of the album. Her tone is crisp and clear throughout, her pitch spot-on and her melody lines memorable, and her range wide and impressive. With her style and tone being somewhat unique, I can’t directly compare her to any specific singer (which is always a good thing), but she easily falls into the same enviable category of vocalists such as Sabine Edelsbacher (Edenbridge), Linda Odinsen (IOEarth), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), or Lana Lane.

Yes, this band has won me over based on this album alone. So now I can only pray the different vocalists on Karnataka’s previous releases have equally enjoyable performances.

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Kaipa – An Overview

kaipa_logoAlbums In My Collection

– Angling Feelings
– In The Wake Of Evolution
– Keyholder
– Mindrevolutions
– Notes From The Past
– Sattyg
– Vittjar

An Overview

This band from Sweden has the uncanny ability to truly kick my ass. Although, at this point in time, I’m still unfamiliar with their early releases (from the 1970s and ’80s), getting “into them” just as the new decade began when they reformed with basically a new line-up, and thus, I started listening to only their newest releases. And, surprisingly and thankfully, each album gripped me.

Everything Kaipa delivers is ultra-professional, from the performances of each musician down to the high-quality production. The melodies of their songs are generally engaging, and their arrangements will have most lovers of Prog-Rock in a perpetual heavenly bliss. The bottom line…every album the band has released since reappearing back in 2002 has been a 4- or a 4.5-Star rating from me, each featuring countless jaw-dropping moments, with each album close to perfection.

For those unfamiliar with the band, they play a generally bright, highly complex version of Symphonic Progressive Rock, with a perfect mixture of extended and shorter tracks, an impressive range of instruments, and both male and female vocals with rich harmonies. And grand KUDOS to Aleena, the female vocalist, whose style and delivery and range are extraordinarily! The tracks where she is featured are typically my favorites.

In many ways, Kaipa sounds similar to The Flower Kings when it comes to their overall sound and musical approach, and that’s certainly not a fluke, considering that Roine Stolt (founder of The Flower Kings) was also the guitarist of the original Kaipa back in the ’70s and also involved in the band’s resurgence within the first half of the new decade. Like the band The Tangent, due to their own connection to Roine, I place Kaipa firmly in the “Offshoots of The Flower Kings” category, whether they deserve the classification or not. Be that as it may, keyboardist Hans Lundin truly deserves a round of applause for “keeping the dream alive,” being (I believe) the only consistent member of the band since their formation, and thus, is the grand master of the entire affair, despite Roine’s occasional involvement.

If I had to offer any negative critique to the band, it’s that the majority of their albums can be, in my eyes, overly long. This is the same critique I would also offer to both The Flower Kings and The Tangent. But frankly, I’d much rather have too much new music with each album than too little, so my critique is quite minor in the grand scheme of things, especially to a band that offers such wonderful material.

Highly recommended for all Prog-Rock fans!

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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!


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