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At Your Service

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Sammy Hagar & The Circle  – Live At Your Service 1_yellow_star1_yellow_star1_yellow_star1_yellow_star

Is it me or is Sammy Hagar on a mission to one-up Dave and the boys every chance he can? I mean, is it a coincidence that Sammy & the Circle release the live At Your Service album less than 2 months after his previous employers released their new live album? I think not…and I love it.

Sammy & The Circle is comprised of two former disgruntled Van Halen employees (Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony) as well as Jason Bonham on drums and Vic Johnson on guitar. That’s a pretty good lineup so I was very hopeful that the tracks – ranging from Sammy’s solo stuff to Hagar-era Van Halen and Led Zeppelin classics – would be great and I was not disappointed.

 
What I especially appreciated on this 2 CD Set of 19 live songs was the variety. The Red Rocker and his new circle of trust don’t do anything spectacular with his solo hits including “I Can’t Drive 55” and “There’s Only One Way to Rock” other than rock them out like they deserved to be rocked out.  Minus the flash, Sammy is a showman in his own right and his energy leaps off the album and will make you wish you were at that show right here, right now.

  
As you might expect, the Van Halen songs on At Your Service are from the Van Hagar era and include “When It’s Love,” “Poundcake,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” and “Right Now.” I have to be honest, when listening to these songs all I could think of was Van who? I’m not saying Vic Johnson is as good as Eddie Van Halen but he did a worthy job. And, yes, I would put Jason Bonham up against Alex Van Halen any day and feel good about it. The only thing missing (says the sap in me) was “Love Walks In” which happens to be one of my favorite post (or is it pre…or post-pre or whatever) David Lee Roth / Van Halen tunes.

And for good measure Sammy & the Circle toss in some really good Led Zeppelin covers like “Good Time Bad Times,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and my favorite, “When the Levee Breaks.” Are they the greatest versions I’ve ever heard? Nope. But they are refreshing and a whole lotta fun to hear.  As for the debate about who is/was the best Van Halen front man ever (Sammy) I’ll just say (Sammy) that it’s a matter of personal preference (Sammy). One is an aging showman who lost his moves, his hair, and his voice and the other still understands that there’s only one way to rock and, with a little help from some friends, doesn’t disappoint on At Your Service. 

JPL 

Shadowmaker

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Apocalyptica – Shadowmaker 1_yellow_star1_yellow_star1_yellow_star1_yellow_star

Shadowmaker is the 8th studio album from the metal band Apocalyptica. For those of you not familiar with the band, they were formed in 1993 in Helsinki, Finland and originally started out as a Metallica tribute band. They are currently made up of three classically trained cellists (what the what?), a drummer and possible official new member, singer Franky Perez.

Musically, Apocalyptica is absolutely amazing. Listening, they make you feel like went to a classical music event and a head-banging metal show broke out. I mean, can you imagine a mosh pit full of formal gowns and tuxedos?

I found Shadowmaker to be a tale of two albums. The first song is a cool, haunting short instrumental intro but then the album breaks out in to above average new metal songs that stand out because of the excellent music. Franky Perez has a strong voice but on songs like “Cold Blood” and “Slow Burn” it almost overpowers the music. The aforementioned songs are good but seem too status metal quo for such an extraordinary band like Apocalyptica.

Shadowmaker really takes off, however, with the amazing instrumental songs “Riot Lights” and“Till Death Do Us Part.” Cellos and all, they represent exactly what a great metal song should be and you might actually find yourself buttoning up that tuxedo shirt and then ripping it off and thrashing it in the same motion. And if you don’t have a tuxedo shirt, buy one before you listen to this album (or at least a tuxedo t-shirt)!

The two best songs on this album (both musically and vocally) are “Sea Song (You Waded Out)” and “Dead Man’s Eyes.” These are both beautiful songs that do everything right. Perez’s voice is toned down so perfectly to accompany the music rather than work against it and the music is powerful and unique and every bit as metal as anything you’ve heard.

Apocalyptica might be the only band that can make you bang your head and feel sophisticated for doing it.

 

JPL

Station

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Station– Station 1_yellow_star1_yellow_star

If you didn’t tell me who they were or anything about the band Station, I would have guessed a lesser known group out of the 1980’s glam rock scene riding the spandex coat-tails of successes like Poison and Motley Crue. Personally, this was the same era where I did not want my MTV so you could’ve told me just about anything and I would have believed it as long as it included the 1980’s in it somewhere.

As I continued to listen to the self-titled album by Station, I got more of a Night Ranger feeling mixed with some tame Def Leopard and a tad bit of any one of those unknown soundtrack bands in seemingly endless ski patrol movies of the 80’s. Those I did like, the movies that is, and so Station did create a nostalgic mood for me which I appreciated. But that’s about it.

Unfortunately, most songs on this album from the relatively new band out of New York City come across dull. There’s just nothing exciting enough to even warrant (get it?) for me even a set on 80’s night at the local club. In this day and age, I think that if you’re going to try to re-introduce an old slice of rock you almost need to take it over the top rather than taking it down a few notches. Even the obligatory glam rock ballad on this album, “Waiting For You,” made me want to cry – not because it brought back memories of my high school ex-girlfriend in her painted-on acid wash jeans and hot pink tube top – but because I wanted it so badly to end.

OK, I hate to sound so negative so I’ll offer a silver lining. I will say that the music, like the vocals, is OK in the sense that I think the group has enough talent to possibly regroup and reinvent themselves as something better. Perhaps it might be time to resurrect grunge from the dead? I mean, it did kill glam, didn’t it? Smells like an idea!

Station’s Facebook page

 

JPL

Meanwhile In Burbank

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Stone Sour – Meanwhile In Burbank 1_yellow_star1_yellow_star

This is the second review in a row where I unwittingly stumbled upon an album of cover songs. This one, like the review of the album by Prong, took me a song before I realized what I was getting myself into. But, unlike the Prong tribute album, this had a different affect on me.

The first song, “We Die Young,” on Stone Sour’s EP of cover songs entitled, Meanwhile in Burbank, reminded me a lot of Alice in Chains. I wasn’t familiar with the song but the voice was very similar to that of the late great Layne Staley and I wondered if that was the intention. Guess it was and, honestly, not a big fan of that kind of thing. It’s not a bad cover but it doesn’t really add anything new or different. Might as well just listen to the original.

Same goes for “Love Gun” originally recorded by the one and only KISS. Lead singer Corey Taylor sounds very-much-sort of-like Paul Stanley minus the refined glam edge that Stanley has perfected. Again, not bad…but might as well listen to the original.

Stone Sour also tries to tackle the Judas Priest classic, “Heading out to the Highway” with about the same result – except that Taylor thankfully sounds nothing at all like Rob Halford. Definitely should listen to the original.

The fourth song on the EP marks a slight return to the sound-alike theme in a slightly subdued version of Metallica’s “Creeping Death.” Like the others before, it’s a well-made cover song but I just can’t help but harp on the fact that if you’ re not going to bring anything new to a great song by a great band – why do it? Same goes for that song as the band takes a stab at Black Sabbath’s, “Children of the Grave.” Ozzy, err, I mean Taylor is back to his mimicking ways but without the awe that the original song brings.

I suppose if you are a big fan of Stone Sour then hearing these songs would probably be pretty cool but they really can’t hold a candle to the originals. What you end up with is an album full of songs that would be pretty cool to hear in a bar on a Wednesday night somewhere in Middle America.

 

JPL

Songs From The Black Hole

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Prong – Songs From The Black Hole1_yellow_star1_yellow_star1_yellow_star1_yellow_star

I have to admit, it took me three songs to realize Songs From The Black Hole was an all-cover album. That’s when I heard a song that sounded very familiar to me. Who could it be? Wait. What? The Butthole Surfers? Really? Yes! So that opened up my eyes and as I read down the song list, I started seeing more familiar titles from some of my favorite bands like Bad Brains, Fugazi, Black Flag, Husker Du, Sisters of Mercy, Killing Joke and Neil Young. Wait. Neil Young? Really? Yes! But more on that in a minute… 

So I went back and started over and it made more sense why lead singer Tommy Victor (native New Yorker) sounds sort of English in the first song, “Doomsday.” While taking it to that extreme may be a little much, it’s still a killer song and the right choice to kick start the album. And with each song, I found more of the same from these veterans of industrial metal.  I would never have thought that a band could do justice to a Butthole Surfers song but Gibby Haynes and the boys would be stoked to hear Prong’s version of “Goofy’s Concern.” I know I was.  

Then I got to thinking. Songs From The Black Hole really isn’t just a cover album. In my opinion, it’s also a tribute album and one that might also open the doors to a whole new world for listeners who may not be familiar with (or familiar enough with) some of the bands that may have influenced the members of Prong in one way or another. And if you’re like me and are familiar with most if not all of the bands covered, then Songs is sort of like taking a refreshingly different path down memory lane. Might actually make you break out some old albums.  

Oh…and Neil Young. Really? Doesn’t seem to fit with the other bands, right? Who cares! Prong’s haunting rendition of “Cortez The Killer” does the song justice and is a fitting end to a really cool album. 

JPL