Feed aggregator

Kansas - The Absence Of Precense (CD/LP)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:49

I’ve been a fan of Kansas since the early seventies and I’ve followed the bands through their ups and downs, from the progressive and orchestral early Steve Walsh period, via the more easy accessible melodic John Elefante era, the Stere Morse-era, back to the slightly uneven second Steve Walsh period. After Steve Walsh decided to leave the band a second time, he eas replaced by singer Ronnie Platt who made his debut on the 2016 album “The Prelude Implicit”. Ronnie sounds quite a lot like bass player Billy Greer, who sounds a lot like Steve Walsh. Another new guy on the previous album was guitarist Zak Rizvi, while original members, drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams are still in the band. Here’s also Billy Greer and David Ragsdale, who have been with the band for many years now, while Tom Brislin, on keyboards and vocals is a new face on this album. ”The Abscence Of Presence” opens up with the title track, which sounds as much classic Kansas as it possibly can. A more that eight minute long journey, going from melodic rock through orchestral passages. An excellent number. ”Throwing Mountains” kicks off with a surprisingly heavy guitar riff, to proceed into a slightly softer verse, but still sounding like Kansas in splendid shape. “Jets Overhead” continues in the same vein and I now have to say that, this far, this is the best I’ve heard from Kansas since their heydays! ”Propulsion 1” is a short instrumental piece that brings to mind the Steve Morse era of the band. A proggy, and very nice intermission. ”Memories Down The Line” takes it down to a soft piano ballad level. Even if the song may be a bit cheesy in the verse, the nice pompy mid-section takes it up a few notches and makes up for it, where also the following verse has been enhanced with a nice orchestral backdrop. In its context a really nice song. ”Circus of Illusion” starts with the classic violin solo, continues into a proggy section and a nicemeodsic verse. I have to say that this, still, is a damn fine album! ”Animals On The Roof” continues in the same vein with a nice musical rollercoaster where melodic parts go into odd rhythms and proggy solos. “Never”, again takes it down to a soft piano ballad level, but here it gradually evolves, but without being all prog rock. The album finishes with “The Song The River Sang” which opens with some pretty intricate rhythms and riffs. The verse however shows a slightly different side of the band, and it’s positive, and thene the classic Kansas moves come back in! A really nice and at times pretty intense thing that keeps the listener’s interest up. A highly surprising and abrupt ending though! Can we hope for a sequel, maybe? This is a really outstanding album with all the ingredients I could’ve wished for from a top-notch Kansas album. Despite several of the original members missing, I can’t really say I miss them when listening to the album. Sure, I wouldn’t say no to a couple of licks from Kerry Livgren, and some Steve Walsh vocals (from back in the day when his voice was in top shape), or maybe a violin solo from Robbie Steinhardt, but no, I can’t say I really miss it when listening to the album. The new members, and the old ones of course, do an outstanding work and the album sounds just like a kick ass Kansas album should sound. What more could I wish for?   
Janne Stark
Country: USA
Year: 2020
Label: InsideOut

Shaggy – Scarecrow (LP/CDr)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:48

Classic Swedish hard rockers Shaggy released an outstanding album already back in 1975 and then fell off the earth, to return in 2012 with the equally outstanding album “Destination Nowhere”. This album was then followed by Fighting Angels And Demons”, which was actually a double album, divided into two releases. The first one was stellar, so now that part 2, entitled “Scarecrow”, has been released, my expectations are quite high. The album kicks off with the highly hit-oriented “Hero”. We’re not talking buttery, wimpy pop-hit, but more the type of hits delivered by bands like Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, hits with dignity and backbone. Next up is “Boogie Man”, which continues in the same vein and it’s not often I get to label a track “progressive boogie”, but that’s just what this is! Great Hammond playing from original member Tom Ryan and fat guitars from his original colleague Fidde Rognås and his son Hannes. ”Gorgeous Children” continues in the vein of classic Uriah Heep with a nice proggy touch, but without getting complicated. Singer Ulrich Carlsson from M.ILL.ION has sung with the band since the reunion and his vocals fit the band perfectly. The remaining two newcomers (since the reunion, that is) are bass player Robert Ottosson and drummer Stafan Husar who both perform their musical duties to perfection. Shaggy truly feels like a tightly knit unity. To return to the album – “Laughing Boy Crying” has a cool, almost folkish touch and made me think of Irish rockers Horslips, which is great in my book. The title track continues in the same folk-influenced vein, while next track “Mystery Man” is in a slightly softer vein. I really like the variety. ”Thunder And Lightning”takes us back to the fields of classic Uriah Heep, but with guitar harmonies which is something you never hear with Heep (since Mick Box is the bands only guitarist, so no wonder). I do however have to say I think this is even better than the stuff Uriah Heep have produced lately, and I really love Heep!! The CDr version (only released in 100 copies) has two bonus tracks, starting with “Rainbow’s End Pt 1” (it’s actually also featured on the vinyl as a bonus track). Stylewise if fits well with the rest of the material. A quite melodik straight ahead number. The final bonus track, “Hello Goodbye” (on the CDr only) is a more mainstream, slightly poppy thing, ironically with a touch of Cheap Trick and The Beatles. All in all a really great record from a band that has never disappointed me. Highly recommended! The CDr and LP are only released in 100 hand-numbered copies! Get it while you can!
Janne Stark
Year: 2020
Label: Self-released
Country: Sweden

Sapphire Eyes - Magic Moments (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:47

Sapphire Eyes, based in the south of Sweden, now release their third album. The idea of this project started already after keyboard player Niclas Olsson had put his old band Alyson Avenue on the shelf, and 2011 it became a reality. The year after, the debut album saw the light of day. In 2018 the follow up “Breath of Ages” saw the light of day and now it’s third time lucky. Niclas is again flanked by Leverage singer Kimmo Blom, guitarists Patrik Svärd (Cloudscape, Alyson Avenue) and Emil Knabe (Acacia), basist Christer Engholm (Alyson Avenue, Acacia) and drummer Fredrik Eriksson (Alyson Avenue, Dawn Of Oblivion. Former Alyson Avenue (and Nightwish) singer Anette Olzon also guests on the album. Sapphire Eyes holds a firm position in the classic AOR lane. Easily accessible choruses, nice harmonies, outstanding musicians, a world class singer and great production. Not much to complain about for any AOR fan. “Don’t Walk Away” made me think about the colleagues in Bad Habit, and I’d say they could be used as a pretty good reference for most part of the album. No wonder Swedish AOR has a great reputation all over the world!
Janne Stark
Country: Sweden
Year: 2020
Label: Pride & Joy

Mr Quinn - Walking Through Fire (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:46

Mr Quinn is a Swedish hard rock band from the Västerbotten region (up north). ”Walking Through Fire” is the band’s third album and just like on the predecessors the band has its feet firmly tucked down in the classic hard rock soil. It’s quite obvious that the band members grew up with bands like Rainbow, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. But, there are also some more elements here, like in “My Recall” with its almost theatrical touch of pomp rock and a pinch of AOR. Also “Nothing Last Forever” has a theatrical touch, and a really nice chorus. The band has a new drummer since last time. Former Moon Safari man Tobias Lundgren proggy drum playing fits perfectly. Mr. Quinn are quite close to the musical vein of today’s Europe, but they have actually managed to find a slightly more melodically accessible vein. However, sometimes they are even a bit too poppy, like in the slightly bland AOR song “No Tomorrow”, and where ballad “My Love” is also passes by quite unnoticed. Unfortunately album closer “Don’t Hold Back” is a slight anti-climax, after the highly pleasant “It’s Up To You”. For the most part a really nice album, which despite a couple low points is recommendable.
Janne Stark
Country: Sweden
Year: 2019
Label: Self-released

UFO - a band that had long ago lost its Way

Rock Guitar Daily with Tony Conley - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 18:41

Is it now “Lights Out” for UFO? 

The band is on its Last Orders tour, and frontman Phil Mogg has stated that it is his intention to retire when this tour concludes.

For me, this comes not a moment too soon. It’s no secret to those who know me well that I’ve never been a big fan of guitarist Vinnie Moore in this band, though I’ve loved his work as a solo artist, and in other projects, but not in UFO.

For those who would like me to unpack that last comment, here you go.

It goes right back to what made me love UFO from the beginning. 

The beginning came for me in 1975 when I first heard the band’s first album with German guitar wizard Michael Schenker. The record artfully combined the melodic folk underpinnings of tracks such as “Crystal Light” and “Space Child” with the progressive hard rock guitar anthems “Rock Bottom” and “Queen of the Deep”, and the crushing beauty of “Doctor Doctor” sealed the deal for me.

I followed the band through another lineup with their No Heavy Petting album, which contained no big hits, but was still a consistant winner.

Then the band changed lineups again in 1976, and I’ll say this with the expectation that everyone sensible will agree, that this was the definitive “classic” lineup.

It was this lineup that I first saw on November 8, 1977 opening up for Aerosmith at the University of Dayton Arena. It was, to this day, one of the finest shows I’ve ever experienced. Here’s the setlist from that evening:

  1. Lights Out
  2. Gettin’ Ready
  3. Love to Love
  4. On with the Action
  5. Doctor Doctor
  6. Out in the Streets
  7. This Kid’s
  8. Shoot Shoot
  9. Rock Bottom
  10. Too Hot To Handle

Paul Raymond brought a certain class and polish that took the band to a new level. The dynamic between Michael Schenker and Raymond was exquisite. Raymond’s keyboards settled perfectly to Michael’s guitar work, his upside down, left handed guitar playing fit well with the German’s fiery stylings, and his voice was a near perfect match with Mogg’s making for sumptuous harmonies and fill ins.

Then we have the toxic twins, bassist/songwriter Pete Way and guitar god Michael Schenker.

A truly perverse combining that made beautiful music, but wasn’t meant to last.

I’ve sat beside Michael on a tour bus, and listened to him tell tales of hazing and unmerciful taunting from the band when he joined, mostly at the hands of Mogg and Way.

I’ll do no favors to anyone by belaboring with tales of old injustices, and debauchery, save to say that what made Columbia rich made UFO poor. By 1979 the classic era had ended.

UFO then made the task of soldiering on bravely an art form.

First came what is now known as “The Chapman Years.”

Guitarist Paul Chapman replaced Schenker, and the band leveraged past successes to carry them through five albums that each landed subsequently further down  the charts, though they remained strong in the UK. By 1983 this iteration had ran it’s whiskey and cocaine soaked course.

UFO was never a band that could hold its bad habits at bay, and every rock ‘n’ roll cliché came to haunt the band. The bad stories superceded the victories, and the band were relegated to being a second division stalwart, but well loved contender who never really made it to the big leagues.

UFO may be the greatest band in history who never achieved superstardom. 

But they didn’t. Much like Thin Lizzy, the legend was destroyed by the excesses, the personalities, and the inability of Schenker and Mogg to even be friends, let alone a Jagger/Richards portrait of achievement. Ah, for what could have been.

This all carries forward to this new millennium, and the band’s nearly twenty year final chapter.

Here’s where it gets weird for me, so that being said, I’ll ease into this gently.

I like guitarist Vinne Moore a lot, both as a musician and as a stand up, cool cat.

No question about it, I’ve enjoyed his work from his legendary 1987 debut with the great Mind’s Eye on Mike Varney’s shred label, Shrapnel, up to his brilliant performance on 2014’s Red Zone Rider, which saw him partnered up with vocalist Kelly Keeling. Eddie Trunk was right when he stated, “Red Zone Rider is one of the finest musical combinations to have come forth in a long, long time."

However, I’ve never for a minute though that he was the right player for UFO.

Whether live or track-by-track on record, his style never resonated with me in this band, and boy, did I ever try.

I saw more shows with Vinnie in the band than with any other guitarist, and my initial impression never changed.

This completely came to a head for me last week when I saw UFO play what to my ears was the worst I’ve ever heard from the band (not that their nostalgia soaked fans cared, they were quite satisfied), and with that in mind, I’m glad it’s about over.

I went to the show with only one stated intention.

I was going to hear my all time favorite rock vocalist sing just one more time.

I successfully completed my mission, but in spite of it all being a great experience, I can’t say that I enjoyed the show.

Now I’ll lay that out.

What did I like about it?

I liked that Phil Mogg remained quite pleasantly on point. He does what’s right for the music, and for his voice. He’s 71 years old, and he knows when to hold them and when to fold them. A rock vocalist who’s grown up gracefully.

Then there’s new/old guy Neil Carter. Neil came back into the fold, after serving in the band for five albums in the eighties, following the sad passing of Paul Raymond in April of this year, and if anyone could have saved my evening last Tiesday, it would have been Mr. Carter.

He played his parts with accuracy and aplomb, but it was his outstanding stage presence that alongside Andy Parker’s fierce drumkit pummeling that kept the evening somewhat on the rails. His classy stage strutting and insistent cheer leading were brilliant. If rock ‘n’ roll had a “Comeback of the Year Award,”
this year it should go to Neil Carter. His performance was that good.

Then there is the venue and their staff. Bogart’s has been serving Cincinnati rock shows since the mid-70s, and they are at the very top of any venues in their realm. Especially strong kudos must go to their VIP Experience manager, Hannah.

Hannah moved heaven and earth to make certain that myself and my guests had deluxe accommodations, and she made sure that we were thrilled by their efforts. We were. It’s tough to run a rock show; it’s a circus where the clowns have been drinking, and that’s never an easy thing to control. Hannah, and all of the staff at Bogart’s knocked the ball out of the park. We’ll be back soon, I’m sure.

Sadly, UFO will most likely not be. 

As to which I’ve alluded, this was musically the worst UFO show I’ve seen, and it came from trying to impose the figures of Vinnie Moore and bassist, Rob DeLuca over the legends of Mssrs. Schenker and Way, and again, to my ears it was a terrible fit.

I’ve nothing against reconfigured classic bands, as I’ve consistently championed bands such as Foreigner and Black Star Riders (who have succeeded in making excellent records in the shadow of the late, great Phil Lynott). The pieces just have to fit.

The American contingent of this iteration of my favorite band failed to move me. In spite of the fact that everyone was giving their best, to me, it often sounded like an under rehearsed train wreck.

For those who take issue with this assessment, I understand. I can empathize, but I cannot lie about what my ears revealed to my brain. Nostalgia is great until it clouds the judgment.

I’d love to hear some board tapes, so I could point out the huge rhythmic issues that I’ve heard creep into the bands sets over the last ten years, and if I’m honest and frank, I’ve never heard Vinnie Moore play a solo with the band in a live setting that in any way measured up to the Schenker legacy. Their styles in no way jibe.

And after a fleet of bass players following in the footsteps of the great Pete Way, it’s quite clear that without Pete Way, you just don’t have UFO. I tried. Repeatedly. But, it never worked, never once approached the true greatness of UFO’s legacy. (disclaimer: I loved the work Mogg did with “Atomik” Tommy McClendon and bassist Paul Grey, but I never considered it to be UFO.)

Mind you, there’s little profit in things like blame or finger pointing. This is a review that many will take issue with, but I’ve made my reputation by being explicitly honest in what I write. I’ve always been known as a journalist who kept it above the waist and positive, but I had to have my final say on this.

UFO is my favorite rock band, but the way this ended for me wasn’t memorable or joyful. For the first time, I left before the encores.

I was like the jack rabbit that was screwing the skunk. I hadn’t had all I wanted, but I’d had all I could take.

In spite of this seemingly ungracious review, I am thankful and grateful to Neil Carter (who I sure hope we’ve not seen the last of), the band, and Bogart’s (especially the incredible Hannah!) for the wonderful accommodations, and for so much. I am humbled, and I’ll see you all again.

Not the way I wished this had ended, but we can’t always get what we want.

UFO will forever remain my favorite rock band.

A.C.T – Rebirth (MCD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sat, 08/10/2019 - 17:52

My favorite Swedish melodic progsters are back!!! YES!! The band’s new EP (hopefully just a taste of what’s to come) is a 5-track release in a nice digipack. Opener “Ruler Of The World” throws us straight back to A.C.T in their prime. Poppy, proggy, melodic, rocking, the perfect mix! “Running Out Of Luck” continues in the same vein. This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for! Rebirth? Hell yeah!! “Digital Affair” starts off in a humanoid, futuristic vein, with a touch of early Saga (can’t remember the track right now), continues in the classic half-tempo, heavy yet melodic A.C.T manner. A different, but really cool track! Love it! “Meet The Past” is a poppy, up-tempo number, with the true happy-rock A.C.T vibe to it. Ooops, there was a bit of reggae, then comes an ABBA-esque part, going into City Boy territory. That’s what I love about this band, how they seamlessly go from style to style without missing a beat or making it feel strange. Closing track “A Broken Trust” brings out the heavy artillery! Powerful guitars, heavy rhythms and chugging guitars, but still so melodic. This is melodic prog in its finest form. Ola’s guitar solo is just genius! One of my favorite tracks! Quite honestly, A.C.T have always sounded great, but now they sound better than ever!! Now my appetite for a full album has really been awoken (so… what was that little teaser at the end of the last track?)!! Damn, this band is great!!
Janne Stark

Label: Self-released
Year: 2019
Country: Sweden

Coldharbour – Subject & Symmetry (MCD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sat, 08/10/2019 - 17:51

UK three-piece Coldharbour has just released their debut EP and it’s a pretty nice installment, I must say. Stylewise, they are a bit hard to pinpoint (which I like). There’s a bit of metal, a bit of prog, a bit of post-grunge, a bit of metalcore, a slice of nu-metal and various other bits and pieces thrown into the mix. To be honest opening track “Blackest Days” didn’t grab me that hard and I wasn’t entirely impressed, fearing the worst. However, already in the second track “Hour Of The Wolf” it picks up and some cool and powerful guitar riffs grab my attention. It’s almost a stoner vibe to this one, which I really like. Fat riffs, me like! I also like the clean, but quite powerful vocals. Third track, “Dorje’s Wish” is a powerful, proggy heavy rocker with a hint of Twelve Foot Ninja. Another great number! “Somewhere To Call Your Own” starts off as a slow and ballady number, but soon the guitar power chords come crashing in. A bit too nu-metal for my taste, though, and not really my cup of tea, I must admit. “Battlestar Spectacular” brings back in some hard and heavy staccato riffing, almost with a touch of Pantera to it, while the verse goes off in a totally different direction which is cool. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks! A powerful stomper, but still with lots of musical twists and turns that makes it an interesting listen. The closer “Fall Away” is another crusher, but with a cool dynamic verse that takes it down, builds it up and the throws in the power gear, but still with a lot of melody. All in all, a really good effort and a new band to keep a look-out for. The production is good but could do well with a bit more bottom and power in the sound, which would bring this up yet another a notch. Great vocals, great band (lacking guitar solos, though) and the song material is well above average.
Janne Stark

Country: UK
Year: 2019
Label: Self-released

Cirkus Prütz – White Jazz – Black Magic (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sat, 08/10/2019 - 17:50

This combo features quite a few years of Swedish music history. Prütz himself, is bass player Jerry Prütz, formerly of the bluesy hard rock band W.E.T (not the recent melodic rockers) who released a bunch of singles and albums between 1987-2002. Guitarist Franco Santunione has played with bands like Glory Bells, Glory Bell’s Band and Electric Boys, while singer/guitarist is most known for his guitar magic in The Quill. He turns out to be a great singer as well, with a cool low down and half-dirty blues voice. The drums are handled by Per Kohlus. Cirkus Prütz plays classic bluesy hard boogie rock with a southern rock swagger. Shotgun Wedding Blues takes us to southern shuffle country, while Aim To Please has a classic Steve Ray Vaughan swagger to it. The Gary Mooreish bluesy “Blues For Fallen Heroes” is a very nice tribute to two of the band’s former guitarists, who sadly passed away: Mikael Fässberg and Robert “Strängen” Dahlquist. “Hell To Pay” is a kick-ass groovy, riff rocker that really hits home! One of my favorite tracks! “Friends” and “Hats And Strats”, both remind me a bit of early Molly Hatchet and Christian actually has a bit of Danny Joe Brown in his voice, come to think of it. A really nice footstompin’ classic southern style blues rock album!
Janne Stark

Label: Metalville
Year: 2019
Country: Sweden

Shaggy – Fighting Angels And Demons (LP/digital)

Stark Music Reviews - Tue, 04/09/2019 - 19:37

If you have read my review of Swedish hard rockers Shaggy’s pompy/proggy return album “Destination Nowhere”, you noticed I said I was expecting a hard/heavy rock album, but instead they went proggy/pompy. Well, THIS album is actually what I would have expected. Opening track “Black Hearted Angel” kicks off in a full-throttle Heep/Purple vein with power and conviction. It has some cool twists and turns in the solo section which really makes it stand out. “Bouldless Love” brings me back to Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers” but with a touch of Black Sabbath! Damn, this is REALLY great stuff!! Fat and heavy mix, killer vocals by Ulrich Carlsson (ex-M.ill.ion). The line-up again features original members Fidde Rognås on guitar and Tom Ryan on keyboards, introducing Stefan Husar on drums, Robert Ottosson on bass and, I presume, Fidde’s son Hannes Rognås on guitar. “No Soldier Of God” continues in the heavy vein, with a touch of prog. “A Thousand Miles” started with a quirkt loop-thing and continues in a vein more akin to the previous album, until the bridge kicks in with a ton of bricks weighing it down. A really cool and quirky song, indeed! “Dark Symphony” starts off with some really dark and heavy Sabbathy semi-tones and could have been something from “Seventh Star”. Heavy and dark, but not completely doomy. Love it! “Runner In The Dark” really reminds me of Uriah Heep, like a mix of “Salisbury” era Heep and the latter day albums. The album finishes with “Self Destruction” kicking off with a mean and brutal guitar riff, distorted Hammond organ and a kick-ass drive! One of the best tracks on an album filled with killer stuff! This rocks, big time!!

Janne Stark
Year: 2019
Label: GMR Music
Country: Sweden


Rob Silver's Free Resources for Guitar - Wed, 03/06/2019 - 16:08

It really has been a very long while since I posted and added any new content.

I've not dissapeared, I've just been busy with life.

Much as I love the blog real, world things have to take priority now and then...

I had a request through my Facebook the other day for some diagrams of combined Major and Minor Blues Scales. While I'm not about to become a free custom diagram service, this did tweak my curiosity.

I've been goofing around with adding extra notes to the Pentatonic and Blues Scales in my own playing and in particular playing with ideas like Minor Pentatonic Add 3 and Minor Blues Scale Add 3 (I'll be blogging both these in the coming weeks, as well as a lesson on some cheats on how to start adding extra notes to the Pentatonic Scale) so this idea did tie in nicely with some of that work.

The Minor Blues Scale: 1,b3,4,b5,5,b7
The Major Blues Scale: 1,2,b3,3,5,6
Combination of both works out as: 1,2,b3,3,4,b5,5,6,b7

Which is a lot of notes, 9 in fact.

 I love the sound of  the Major Blues Scale and some of the Add 3 variation I mention above sound amazing, so I get the idea that blurring those two scales might sound awesome but for me, it just doesn't sound how I expected it to.
I've also mapped them out as 3 NPS, 4 NPS and as standard Minor Blues shapes with extra notes added so they might feel more familiar, but they still feel really awkward under the fingers to me.

I've included all version below.

It was an interesting intellectual exercise, and I'm glad I spent a few days playing around with this idea with the diagrams and on guitar, but if you're looking to blur the Major/Minor divide I'd check out MIXOLYDIAN ADD 3/DORIAN ADD b3

Or if you want to get a b5 in there for bluesy fun, try MIXOLYDIAN ADD b5 or DORIAN ADD b5

 However, Minor Pentatonic Add 3 and Minor Blues Add 3 will be coming soon.

If  you find this useful then do say hello on Facebook and say so, but if not then there's a ton more stuff to check out HERE.


Rockicks – Keep On Rockin’ (A Retrospective Anthology)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 17:05

FINALLY!!!! G’daaaam! I’ve been waiting for this 70s classic to be released on CD since Moses was running around in shorts. Rockicks classic album “Inside” was released on RSO Records back in 1976 and I bought the LP back then. The band delivers a big chunk of southern influenced hard rock with dual guitars all over the place. There are heavy rockers like “Consideration”, rockers like “Rock N’ Roll Band”, powerful hard rockers like “Sweet Wealth” and “Keep On Rockin”. What was a huge surprise was that besides the 8 tracks from the original album there’s a SHITLOAD of previously unreleased bonus tracks here!! 7 tracks on the CD containing the album AND an extra CD with another 14 (!!) tracks!!! There’s a whole lot of killer stuff here! Damn, I wish they would have been given the opportunity to record a follow-up. Not that these tracks are badly recorded, but they could have been even better! 16 of the bonus tracks are from 1977! Damn! That’s even two albums (ok, there are a few alternate versions). There are also three really great tracks from 1991-1992. The quality of these tracks makes me wonder why there wasn’t another album there and then! The quality, both musically and soundwise is killer! The final track is a 2005 alternate version of “Consideration”, a sort of lounge version. Not bad at all, but I do prefer the heavy version. Unfortunately, two of the original members have passed, Rick Altschuler in 2004 and Brian Naughton in 2012, so I guess a Rockicks re-union is out of the question. Well, this double shot will at least give you the bands outstanding music in digital shape and form. A must!!

Janne Stark
Label: Grooveyard Records
Year: 2018

Country: USA

Vindicata – Beneath The Surface (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 17:02

This was not really what I expected to hear from the Grooveyard, I must admit! Vindicata, fronted by the raspy and fiery power pack Mary Magill leans more towards modern detuned riff-oriented hard rock (think Sevendust, Alter Bridge etc.) than the 70s influenced bluesy stuff we’re used to hearing from the guitar label of guitar labels. However, I must say I do not mind at all. This is some heavy shit! The band was previously called Half The World and released two CDs, now really rare and hard to find. The band changed their name to Vindicata and “Beneath The Surface” is a compilation of these two albums. Even though the albums were a few years apart and they were released some years ago, this does feel like a very homogenous and fresh album! You definitely can’t tell it’s a not a new album (I was actually halfway through the album before I was like – Where the hell have I heard this before??). Guess the band was a bit ahead of its time. Great band! Looking forward to hearing some new material!

Janne Stark
Label: Grooveyard Records
Year: 2018
Country: USA
Link: www.facebook.com/vindicataband

Revolution Highway – Revolution Highway (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 17:00

Man, when this album kicked off I was immediately thrown back to when I first heard the debut album by Montrose back in 1973. Earthy, analogue hard rock with phat riffs, pounding drums and a singer that rips! David Fefolt is his name and he’s previously been heard in bands like FireWölf, Hawk and Masi). Nothing wrong with his past ventures, but this one kicks them top the curb! So, who’s delivering the guitar riffs if not the hardest working man in Greece, Mr Stavros Papadopolous of Universal Hippies, Freerock Saints and Super Vintage. He’s really proved to be a riff force to be reckoned with on his other releases, and here he really sums it up, blending his bluesy licks and his powerful riffing capabilities. Two songs in and I’m in hook, line, singer and rod! This is without doubt one of the best albums of 2018! If you’re into bands like Montrose, (the sadly underrated) Manic Eden or Badlands with a touch of heavier 80s hard rock (think Whitesnake “1980”) this one’s for you. As usual it’s got flawless, powerful production from Stavros. When I hear an intro and a riff like in “All The Way Down” a big smile just floats out all over my face. This ROCKS (yes, capital letters required)! There’s honestly not a single weak track on the album! My biggest problem will be, getting it out of my CD-player, as it will probably get stuck from melting of excessive playing. A killer album indeed (if you haven’t gathered that by now)!

Janne Stark
Country: Greece/USA
Year: 2018

Label: Grooveyard Records

Shaggy – Destination Nowhere (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 16:59

Anybody remember the Swedish 70s band Shaggy? They were formed in in 1972 and released one LP in 1976 entitled “Lesson For Beginners”, one hell of a record it was. Classic Uriah Heep style hard rock. It’s now a rare item and it has never been officially re-issued on CD. But, suddenly, out of nowhere, a new album appeared in 2015! According to the liner notes it was a result of six years of recording. The songs were written in the late 70s and the album is also a tribute to original bass player Jan Destner, who passed away the year before the release. The line-up features original members Fidde Rognås on guitar and Thomas Ryan on keyboard. The vocals are handled by former M.ill.ion singer Ulrich Carlsson. Listening to the album, it doesn’t sound dated at all. Opener “All Around” is a mid-league melodic hard rocker, while the title track is a really good slightly heavier installment. “Magic Horses” continues on the heavy path, but with a more semi-soft progressive touch, which made me think of German band Anyone’s Daughter. “Lady Of The Hill” continues on the same path and I must say I really like this! It’s definitely a bit different from the debut album, why it’s a bit surprising that the songs were written in the same era. Thing is, different can be good, and it IS good for this album. It’s a really nice development into a slightly more eclectic vein with a more progressive and pomp-oriented genre. Just listen to a masterpiece like “Poem”. Heavy, proggy and melodic with killer vocals and playing. The rest of the album continues on the same path and I must say I was positively surprised! I was expecting… well, I’m not really sure what I expected, but I thought it would be more hard/heavy rock. Highly recommended!

Janne Stark
Year: 2015
Label: Self-released
Country: Sweden

Sakis Dovolis Trio – Cross The Line (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 16:57

Man, it seems the blues has really hit Greece! They have produced the fantastic talent of Stavros Papadopolous (who has also co-produced this album), with his Universal Hippies, Freerock Saints and Super Vintage. Here, his fellow country man Sakis proves he too can deliver the goods! It does say “trio”, so of course he’s got two fellows taking care of the bass (Fotis Dovolis) and drums (Nick Kalivas), and they do it with power, groove and assertiveness indeed! The album kicks off with the riff rockin’ “All Over You” in same same territory as Robin Trower, Craig Erickson, Philip Sayce. Lance Lopez and with a touch of Stevie Ray in his leads. Sakis is a phenomenal guitarist and also a great singer! If someone had played it to me without saying the band name, I would have said 100 % American. Well, Sakis also knows how to deliver crunchy and groovy riffs. “Everything” is as groovy as they come with Sakis letting that Strat rip the air a new one! Damn, this guy does rip!! He also manages to keep the momentum up delivering one number after another. There’s some heavy, detuned riffing going on in the title track giving it a different vibe, some more mellow, funky and almost jazzy playing in “Show Me Your Love” and he does it a really cool version of ZZ Top’s “Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings”. The album closes with Sakis’ tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a fine one it is. A cool, bluesy ballad with outstanding guitar playing. A killer of an album, indeed!
Janne Stark
Year: 2018
Label: Grooveyard Records
Country: Greece

Alcatrazz – PAROLE DENIED – TOKYO 2017 Sees 30 Year Sentence Overturned!

Rock Guitar Daily with Tony Conley - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 11:51

This will be my last post for Rock Guitar Daily, a labor of love which I have tended for the last eleven years. RGD was never a monetized endeavor. It was a tool that I’ve used for establishing my credentials as a writer, developing contacts across the industry, reaching a million readers (a steady fifty thousand a month without buying a single reader), and generally having a great time writing about rock without ever having to “go negative.” In fact, I could write about music from now until the end of time without having to crap on anyone. It’s fitting that this piece would be somewhat nostalgic, featuring the return of a band I first fell in love with in 1983 when Graham Bonnet exploded back on the scene after establishing himself as the go to vocalist with superstar guitarists Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow and a brief stay with the Michael Schenker Group in which he recorded the seminal classic rock album, Assault Attack.

Alcatrazz was an interesting proposal that saw Graham first recruit bassist Gary Shea and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo from America Hitmakers New England and drummer Jan Uvena from Alice Cooper’s Band after tryouts with guitarist Zal Cleminson and former Iron Maiden drummer, Clive Burr failed to gel. This unit was completed with the inclusion of one Yngwie Malmsteen, a hot shot shredder who had made great strides in America via Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records and the band Steeler.

In what would take a small book to explain, Alcatrazz ripped through three albums in quick succession with three startingly brilliant and very different guitarists. Yngwie had his vision and path to his own stardom and his leaving the band was carefully orchestrated with new recruit and ex-Zappa axe man, Steve Vai, writing music in Los Angeles for the band’s second album, Disturbing the Peace, as the remaining members fulfilled their touring obligations with the soon to be exiting Malmsteen.

With Vai aboard the band recorded what remains one of the most ambitious hard rock albums of the era. With Eddie Kramer at the board a stunning record on which the seemingly limitless musical imagination of the former six-stringer combined with Bonnet’s incredibly powerful and sophisticated vocals and lyrics and the brawny support of Shea, Waldo, and Uvena. The future would have hardly seemed brighter to the band before Vai was presented with an offer he couldn’t refuse (read as: $$$). DLR’s offer to the guitarist to be his musical right hand man alongside super bassist Billy Sheehan for the ex-Van Halen vocalist’s first solo album.

Again, Alcatrazz went back to the drawing board and they ended up bringing on a more traditional, but equally brilliant guitarist in Danny Johnson with whom the band when in a more pop/commercial outing with renowned pop producer, Richie Polodor (Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Alice Cooper) for the sadly under promoted Dangerous Games LP.

In light of losing three great guitarists and sagging album sales, the band finally split up in 1987. In spite of an incredible succession of break ups and business fiascos, Alcatrazz remained a very influential band in the world of hard rock and roll and heavy metal, and over the years Bonnet kept the franchise alive to varying degrees of success.

In spite of hiring band after band, Bonnet never had tremendous success and it seemed that Alcatrazz’s small but hardcore contingent of fans were never going to see a conglomeration of inmates that were worthy of the name until now. Thirty-some years on. The band finally reconvened in 2017 with Waldo and Shea rejoining with Bonnet and augmented with Bonnet solo band members Conrado Pesinato (guitar) and Mark Benquechea (drums). After two days of rehearsals and several U.S. warm up dates, the band triumphantly returned to their stronghold in Japan, a territory had certainly helped put Alcatrazz on the map back in the eighties.

To say that the resulting CD/DVD package PAROLE DENIED (Nov, 7 2018, Frontiers Music Srl) is a successful return may just be an understatement. When the review stream of the DVD crossed my desk, I engaged it with a degree of skepticism, not wanting to be disappointed by another half-baked version of the once-loved and revered band.

As it turns out, PAROLE DENIED is the finest product to come from the Bonnet/Alcatrazz camp since the original three studio albums.

The key seems to be in the musical chemistry of Bonnet, Waldo, and Shea, but one cannot for a minute disregard for the stellar contributions of Pesinato and Benquechea. In Alcatrazz revisions of the past, it seemed that the sidemen selected for the gig were always great players. They either never had a chance to gel or tht their attempts to create the heartbeat heavy, signature Alcatrazz sound proved elusive. They always appeared as mere characters of the original outfit.

I’m thrilled to say that the beautifully shot and recorded, PAROLE DENIED, stands as a logical follow-up to the band’s original legacy, and in fact, may be the finest representation of the band in a live context that we have yet seen.

Playing before a sold-out audience in Tokyo, this band is majestic and shockingly accurate in its recreation of many classic Alcatrazz moments and memories, and is actually quite exciting. The chemistry between Bonnet, Shea, and Waldo is undeniable and there are many moments of shared smiles and obvious affection, but the shocker is what the new guys bring to the mix.

The Parole Hearing!Since Alcatrazz is remembered as a band of guitarists’ guitarists, let’s start with Conrado Pesinato. His greatest attribute is that he has not only absorbed the actual notes and phrasing of all three original axe-slingers, but that he has a tone of his own that avoids any attempt to totally “up??” the sounds of Malmsteen, Vai, and Johnson, instead opting for a classic Strat-into-Marshall tone. His recreation of the original parts is accurate and admirable, but he manages to sound wonderfully organic in this setting. Previous Alcatrazz stand-ins here had a tendency to cover up a certain lack of authenticity while being wrapped in too much heavy metal posturing and over-distorted guitar tones. Pesinato nails the vibes and the notes, and he looks like he’s having the time of his life as he almost casually rips off huge shards of guitar artistry. He rings his own presentation to a classic tribute.

Behind the drumkit, Mark Benquechea displays a fierce countenance that brings to mind Cozy Powell. He never overplays, but he does show that he is both a powerful, chops driven drummer, as well as a guy who plays for the songs and he locks up with the rock-solid bass work of Gary Shea, who never loses sight driving the pulse of the band.

Jimmy Waldo is, as Gary Shea recently told me in a soon-to-be-published interview with the band, “the kind of keyboard player that guitarists love.” Being a guitarist himself, Waldo knows when and what to play, never forcing himself onto he music, but rather providing superlative arrangement details and extremely tasteful chops. When he does then choose to solo, it’s all the more impressive. He’s written much more of the Alcatrazz catalog than one would presume for such a guitar-oriented outfit and he produced the package’s outstanding audio alongside Giles Lavery, and he looks like he’s having a great time along the way, quite refreshing in a world that all too often seems reuniting bands doing so more for the quick buck than the love of the music.

That leaves us with Graham Bonnet. At the end of the day, Alcatrazz has always, for better or worse, been his baby. Through the band’s successful run in the eighties, and onward over the years, the prodigiously gifted singer from Skegness has alternately been landed for a limitless range and for being one of the most powerful vocalists of his ear, as well as being occasionally raked over the coals for the almost inevitable inconsistencies resulting from attempting to recreate his vocal gymnastics in a live setting.

PAROLE DENIED is unquestionably one of Bonnet’s best onstage performances. His recreation of Alcatrazz’s catalog is superb. While on tours with his solo bands over the last several seasons, Bonnet has depended heavily on some technical assistance to get him and his bands through the nights of poor monitors, sporadic scheduling, and propensity for globe-trotting that would battle any voice, this set finds him in incredible shape for a young man of nearly seventy-one years. If there are any fixes to be found here, they are well masked and not at all a distraction. Very few live rock records exist without some subsequent fixes, and grown up audiences and listeners understand this fact.

Then there are the songs and the music to be found on PAROLE DENIED. In spite of being a band known for almost ridiculous technical process, Alcatrazz is really all about the songs. Gorgeous melodies consistently wind themselves through and around the might of the band and he endless guitar wizardry. While its seldom discussed, Bonnet is amongst hard rock’s most uniquely talented lyricists.

From the opening greeting of “Ohayo, Tokyo,” to the infamous anti-war tome, “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” he emotional tribute to his mother, “Suffer Me,” and his James Dean homage, “Will You be Home Tonight,” Bonnet avoids any typical hard rock/heavy metal clichés, or the typical dungeons and dragons territory so often trod out by the genre. Alcatrazz’s legacy may well be that they were always a little too intelligent for the genre.

The DVD is beautifully shot and the HiDef visuals are stunning throughout. If this package had come out in 1988 instead of thirty years later, the story of this band would be very different. If there was ever a lineup that should make another Alcatrazz studio album it would be this one. Everyone is firing on all cylinders and new guys Pesinato and Benquechea certainly prove to be up to the task.

The world of hard rock is rife with failed reunions and ill-fated attempts to recreate past goodies, but with PAROLE DENIED, Bonnet and his merry tribe of men had wildly superseded expectations.

Thrilling from beginning to end, PAROLE DENIED stands tall alongside anything in this sadly undervalued legend of a band’s catalog.

2018 Top 10!

Stark Music Reviews - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 18:31
Ok, so I've finally come around to compile my top 10 of 2018!
I may (of course) have forgotten some album I later remember and go - daaaamned! Also, I still have a bunch of albums I haven't even had the time to listen to, so some may have gone under the radar.

1. Prins Svart
This is truly a masterpiece delivered by four Swedish musicians that had a band back in the 90s called Four Sticks. They only released a promo album, but it was a kick-ass piece of plastic (now quite a rarity in its original press - it was quite recently re-issued by Grooveyard Records). Anyway, singer Stefan Berggren has also appeared fronting bands like Company of Snakes, Snakes In Paradise (I see a pattern here...), Berggren Kerslake Band as well as released solo stuff, guitarist Henrik Bergqvist was in The Poodles, bass player Thomas Thorberg in Plankton, Snakes In Paradise and drummer Sebastian Sippola has been beating the skins in Grand Magus, Fortune, Southfork, Plankton etc. In Prins Svart (Prince Black) they get to revisit the good old 70s riff arena, surprisingly (but I love it) singing in Swedish! An outstanding album, which really left me craving for more!!

2. Revolution Highway - Revolution Highway (Grooveyard)
Man, this was on the verge! I received this outstanding CD in December, but damn! It really gave me a musical knock-out! Singer David Fefolt (FireWölf, Hawk, Masi, Valhalla) has the perfect bluesy, ripping voice to match the outstanding guitar licks of Greek riff phenomenon Stavros Papdopoulos (Universal Hippies, Super Vintage). I totally love Stavros other bands (and he's a great singer), but this combination just brings the level up exponentially! This is like hearing some of your favorite albums from the 70s for the first time, mixing classic hard rock with a southern groove and a phat bluesy vibe. Outstanding!

3. Lucifer - II
This one came as a total surprise. I had not even heard the band's first album when this gem just dropped down in my lap (well, it wasn't that simple - saw a link on FaceBook, listened, loved it, Googled the band, found the album and ordered it). Another outstanding slab of 70s oriented riff based hard rock with a touch of doom. Fronted by excellent singer Johanna Sadonis and also featuring former Entombed/Hellacopters bender Nicke Andersson. Riffs prevail! 

4. Clutch - Book Of Bad Decisions
I'm a huge fan of Clutch! The early stuff, not so much, but when I heard Blast Tyrant, I was hooked! The last couple of album have all be EPIC! "Earth Rocker" and "Psychic Warfare" - OUSTANDING! Well, I will admit "Bad Decisions" didn't reach their flawless status, but it's still so much better than so many other albums! A song like "In Walks Barbarella" alone beats 80 % of the releases of 2018.

5. Ty Tabor - Alien Beans
I've always been a huge King's X fan! I've also always been a huge Ty Tybor fan! His solos, his sense for melodic solos, his vocals, his outstanding rhythm guitar playing! A top notch musician in my book! On "Alien Beans" Ty returned to some heavier songs which was right up my alley!

6. Bernie Tormé - Shadowland
Here's another guitar hero of mine that just keeps on delivering! I've been a pledger on his latest bunch of albums, and I've never been disappointed (which has happened with several others). "Shadowland" is not a good album, it's TWO great albums - in one! A double CD! He just keeps on delivering and he sounds better than ever!

7. Earthless - Black Heaven
To be honest I so wanted to like the first two albums by Earthless. The riffs were great, the musicians kicked ass. But... instrumental music rarely does it for me these days. I just wished they would find a good singer to complete the band. Well, now they did! "Black Heaven" is a killer album, indeed! Heavy, stonery/doomy riffing without going over the edge. Actually, more retro than stoner. There are still some instrumental passages, but it works!

8. Judas Priest - Firepower
Man, I grew up on Judas Priest! I heard "Rocka Rolla" on the radio back in 1974 and was hooked! My cousin introduced me to "Sad Wings Of Destiny" and the line and sinker were in as well! I kinda lost them in the 90s and even though "Angel Of Retribution" and "Redeemer of Souls" were quite decent albums, they never really hit home with me. Now, "Firepower" is a different story! It doesn't beat the early stuff, but damn it's a powerful and outstanding effort indeed!

9. Billy Gibbons - Big Bad Blues
I bought Billy's first solo album "Perfectamundo", listened to it, hated it and immediately sold it. I read about the new album being more of a blues album. This time I listened to a couple of songs before buying it. Damn great album! Could have been a ZZ Top album, for sure! And a good one at that!

10. Black Debbath - Norsk Barsk Metal
I just love these Norwegian funny-guys! Musically this is top notch riff-oriented stonerish heavy rock with killer riffs and kick ass songs! The vocals may be the thing that will put some people off. The band sings in Norwegian and the vocals may not be to everyone's liking. The lyrics are funny as shit (which is another factor those who don't understand Norwegian will miss)! "Norsk Barsk Metal" means Norwegian Hard/Heavy Metal. Other song titles include: "Følelsesmessig Inkontinent" (Emotionally incontinent), " Etiske Retningslinjer For Tryllekunstnere" (Ethical guidelines for magicians) and "Pappa lukter tusj" (Daddy smells like ink). Gotta love 'em!

Dirty Dave Osti – Midnight Mojo Man (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sun, 09/23/2018 - 17:25

Dirty Dave Osti has four more CDs out on Grooveyard Records and they’ve all been pretty solid in my book. For some reason this one really hit home with me. Not sure what it is, but the riffs seem more solid and I like the groove a bit more. Stylewise, Dave, reminds me a bit of Michael Katon. Solid, heavy, guitar driven blues rock with both feet deep in the ground. “Be The Love” has a really cool 70s sounding classic riff that carries the song. The only thing that pissed me off was that Dave recorded an outstanding cover of “Walk Before You Run” by Savoy Brown. Why? Because I had planned to record it. Love that sone. But, since you did such a kick-ass version, you’re forgiven, Dave ;-). Another outstanding favorite track on this album is “Rebel Run”, a kick-ass riff rocker with some killer drumming. The instrumental “Spacewolf” sticks out a bit as well with its cool funky groove. All in all, a really solid album that should attract fans of classic, riff-oriented hard edged blues rock.
Janne Stark
Year: 2018
Country: USA
Label: Grooveyard Records

Eddings – Cornelius – All The Madness (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sun, 09/23/2018 - 17:24

The artwork didn’t really impress, I must say, and the name Eddings-Cornelius didn’t say much. Steve Eddings: vocals and Larry Cornelius: all instruments. What could this be? Well, opening track “Down We Go” kicked off in a very promising way with its up-tempo southern rock vibe. “Burnin’ My Bridges” keeps the southern vibe up and adds some cool slide guitar as well. My only complaint would be the programmed drums, which don’t sound that exciting. The production is overall quite “cheap”, but it does have a certain charm to it. “Tooth And Nail” mixes the southern vibe and some classic 70s hard rock and they sometime makes me think of 70s bands like Hydra and Earl Slick Band. Larry has some pretty cool guitar chops and Steve’s vocals fit the music very well. The album is pretty solid, but there are a couple of tracks that are way too pop/country for me, such as “Eileen” and “Make Me Fit”.
Janne Stark
Year: 2014
Label: Private

Country: USA

We Could Build An Empire – In This Place (CD)

Stark Music Reviews - Sun, 09/23/2018 - 17:23

For being quite a small country and on the brink of collapse (at least according to Fox news… I haven’t seen it and I live here) we do squeeze out quite an impressive number of bands and records per year. So, here’s another name to add to the list – We Could Build An Empire. Musically they are really hard to box in. “All In This Together” sounds very Ghost influenced, while “Worry Of The Heart” has a heavier edge. “Red III” is quite proggy and quirky. I find it really hard to pin down this band, I must say. Musically they blend in elements of U2 (which I hate, but they kinda make it sound good), Ghost, King Crimson, Katatonia, Opeth, at times with proggy elements, and at times, as in “In This Place” with an almost gothy feel. “The Rise And The Fall” is another killer track that needs to be mentioned. The band features Marcus Pehrsson (ex-Last Laugh): lead vocals and bass, Pat Wallin (ex-Last Laugh): guitar and Michael Ohsson on drums. This is one of those albums I find highly intriguing. At first I can’t decide if I like it or not, I listen to it like watching an accident waiting to happen, can’t look away, can’t turn it off, and in the end I can’t stop listening to it. A really great album, indeed!
Janne Stark
Year: 2018
Country: Sweden

Label: Mighty Music