By Thomas S. Orwat, Jr.
Although, for Bruce Springsteen it's been decades since, and several millions of dollars removed from being an average blue collar American, he does quite a convincing job of writing from their perspective. And while Springsteen could easily rest on his past accomplishments and just play the “hits,” Springsteen still has that passion and fire to continue to create music relevant to the times. Since the turn of the century, Springsteen has released some of the most inspired material of his 40 year career. However, “Wrecking Ball,” which is Springsteen’s seventeenth studio release, is his most stirring and profound recording since the 9/11 influenced, "The Rising."
Produced by acclaimed producer Ron Aniello, “Wrecking Ball” has a good mix of the vintage Springsteen sound, but with elements of modern music fused in, such as loops and electronic drums. To keep it fresh, Springsteen went outside of his backing band (the E-Street band) and utilized Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello on two tracks, and Tori Amos' drummer Matthew Chamberlainfor three tracks. Also, producer Aniello plays a variety of instruments on the majority of the CD. But it is the late and great E-Street band member, Clarence Clemons who steals the show for a few seconds with saxophone solos on two tracks, the title track and "Land of Hope and Dreams."
The kick off track and first single is the insightful and rocking, "We Take Care of Our Own.” This song is one of the strongest on the CD and can appeal to any fan of Springsteen young or old. Lyrically, it addresses Springsteen’s frustrations with the selfishness of government and big business. Also noteworthy are the bawdy, hard hitting “Shackled and Drawn” and “Death to My Hometown.” Both are Celtic influenced, and similar in style to that of the Springsteen “Seeger Sessions” release of 2006. In addition, the track “American Land” was a left over song from those sessions, and now included on this release.
“Jack of all Trades” is soon to become a fan favorite. The mid-tempo song touches on the high unemployment rate and the perseverance of one to survive and provide during these hard economic times. The title track, “Wrecking Ball,” which deals with the demolition of Giants Stadium, is also destined to become a Springsteen classic. Again, it’s Springsteen’s clever, insightful lyrics that fuel this song. The fact that Springsteen can still write a song such as this, at this point in his career, is a true testament to his incredible talent and skill as a song writer.
“Wrecking Ball” is a true classic, a masterpiece that every music lover should listen to, and every politician should take to heart. Every song is strong, bold and moving. Springsteen is not only a legendary songwriter and performer, but a true American patriot. He is in a league all of his own, and we need a musical hero like him more now, than ever before.
By Thomas S. Orwat, Jr.
By Thomas S. Orwat, Jr.
X-UFO is an impressive new band that features three ex-members of UFO and one ex-member of the Michael Schenker Group (MSG). In addition, X-UFO only performs material by those two aforementioned bands on this release. So essentially, one would have to consider the group as a UFO tribute band of sorts, as it consists of: Danny Peyronel (UFO -1975-76) vocals/keyboards, Laurence Archer (UFO - 1992-94) guitar, Clive Edwards (UFO - 1992-94) drums, and Rocky Newton (MSG - 1984-91) bass. Even for the most die-hard UFO fan, it is a bit difficult to justify this lineup's significance in the overall history of UFO. However, Peyronel did play a role in influencing the future direction of UFO by being the band's first staff keyboardist. But regardless, X-UFO is one group of truly talented musicians, and what the hell, they deserve the right to be able to celebrate their time in UFO too, right?
This particular 14 track release is a live concert that the band performed during festival season in Europe last summer. In addition to the classic UFO songs such as “Lights Out,” “Doctor Doctor,” and “Rock Bottom,” this CD also contains many songs that were either recorded and/or co-written by X-UFO members during their time in UFO. Most noteworthy are the tracks “Natural Thing,” “Highway Lady,” and “Can You Roll Her,” all of which are from the "No Heavy Petting" release, that Peyronel helped write and played keyboards on.
Although Peyronel's contribution to the history of UFO is the greatest of the four band members, and he does a good job as the X-UFO frontman; however, it is guitarist Laurence Archer who is the true star of X-UFO. Although he only was with UFO for very short period of time, he along with drummer Clive Edwards played on the quickly forgotten “High Stakes & Dangerous Men” release. But Archer is an overlooked guitar hero. He simply shreds on guitar, and might even be the best guitarist, besides Michael Schenker, to have ever played in UFO. Archer’s solos are flawless, and his memorizing melodic fluid style helps compensate for the few moments of “interesting” vocals during this live performance.
Overall, this is a solid live release in an era where most live recordings fall flat, or quite frankly, just suck. It’s really refreshing to hear some of these deep tracks that haven’t been performed in decades. And, if you are a fan of UFO, you will find this alternative version of the band to be just as good as the real deal. X-UFO plans on recording a new CD of originals this year, in the classic rock style. So the big question now is, can the members of X-UFO create music as good as their previous work. They have our attention now, so let's see if they can prove that they are a true band and not just a glorified tribute band
By John Jeffrey
After their highly successful (3/4) 'Reunion' tour of 2007-08, the following years became conspicuously quiet in the Van Halen camp. With no word from any of the band members, fans started wondering what their next move would be. Would David Lee Roth remain in the band? Would Eddie record an instrumental solo album? What would the mighty VH do?
In 2011, word started to creep out that the band had begun rehearsing material in undisclosed recording studios. Then, former vocalist, Sammy Hagar, started spear heading somewhat of a smear campaign against the boys, stating that he doubted that there would ever be a new Van Halen record with DLR. Once reports started coming in that the band was close to completing what would be entitled, "A Different Kind of Truth," Hagar once again went to the media and leaked the information that the CD was basically "outtakes from the early days," which in his opinion, showed "zero inspiration and zero creativity."
On February 7th, 2012 "A Different Kind of Truth" dropped, proving to all nay-sayers that a Roth-led Van Halen can still produce a viable album in this day and age, and one helluva album at that! Although the band has come forward and confirmed that the majority of the material is re-worked (previously unreleased) demos, it doesn't matter, because the songs deliver.
I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive when I first heard the a cappella intro of "Tattoo," thinking how easily the whole thing could wind up like a bad DLR solo record. But once the song kicks in, you can instantly hear the relationship between "Tattoo" and the original 70's "Down In Flames" demo (that it was based upon). A moderate rocker, in the vein of "And the Cradle Will Rock" and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone," creates a 'good time' feel as the album opener. The party really gets started with track 2 ("She's the Woman") which is based upon the 76 demo of the same name. This is the most classic sounding VH song on the CD, as the whole group is firing on all cylinders, and I must note the stellar bass playing by young Wolfgang Van Halen. Track 3, "You and Your Blues," kind of answers the 'What if' question of what would David Lee Roth sound like singing on a Van Hagar era tune. "Blues" starts out slow, but builds up to a great chorus, with amazing harmonies by the Van Halen clan. The next 3 out of 4 tracks are fast paced, double bass rockers ala "Hot for Teacher," but songs like "Chinatown" are kind of like Chinese food, where it tastes good, goes down hot and spicy, but really doesn't stick to your ribs. "As Is" is definitely the best of the bunch, but still not as memorable as some of the other songs on the CD. Tracks 8-13 bring it all home, as these tracks (along with "She's the Woman" and "Blood and Fire") are probably the strongest songs on "A Different Kind of Truth." The one-two punch of "Honeybabysweetiedoll" and "The Trouble With Never" is absolutely incredible, as Eddie's guitar work is just insane. The last 4 songs probably draw the most inspiration from older VH material, as "Stay Frosty" is the ever amusing 'sister/brother' song to "Ice Cream Man," and "Outta Space," "Big River" and "Beats Workin'" were demos previously known as "Let's Get Rockin'," "Big Trouble" and "Put Out the Lights." "Big River" reminds me as a cross between "Runnin' with the Devil" and "Bottle Rocket" by Grand Funk Railroad.
Once again, being the in the era of the 'single,' it's nice to see a legendary group like Van Halen, put out a great traditional rock album, which is undoubtedly to be heard as a collection of music (as a whole) - as opposed to - an attempt by a band to write a couple of 'hits,' with the rest of the disc being just filler. Like when Roth says in the song "Blood and Fire," "I told ya I was coming back," well thank you for coming back Dave, you were sorely missed! Let the truth be told...
By John Jeffrey
1. Anthrax - "Worship Music" - While their previous releases with John Bush were strong, they never matched the chemistry of the material they recorded in the 80's with their classic era vocalist, Joey Belladonna. Hard driving riffs, thunderous drums, offset by Belladonna's melodic vocal delivery is what sets them apart from every other thrash metal band. Great songs with a non-dated sound is what gives Anthrax the #1 CD of the year.
2. Megadeth - "Th1rt3en" - Coming in at a very close #2, Dave Mustaine delivers yet another incredible release, as this is the third CD in a row of just incredible tunes by Mega Dave. With Dave Ellefson back in the fold and a more brutal production than the last 2 discs, they've slowed the speed metal down just a bit, making "Th1rt3en" more reminiscent of some of their releases from the 90's. The fact that they included some re-written tunes from that era didn't hurt either.
3. George Lynch - "Kill All Control" - Following up 2008's hidden gem "Let the Truth Be Known" (recorded under the moniker Souls of We), George came in under the radar again with a killer CD in 2011. Utilizing several different singers (most notably Marq Torien of Bulletboy's fame and London Legrand from Brides of Destruction), "Kill All Control" displays a diverse, yet completely cohesive collection of songs. Ranging from Lynch Mob type compositions, to songs that sound like a cross between Tool/the Offspring/Alice In Chains (courtesy of several co-writes by AIC guitarist Jerry Cantrell), to tunes with big arena rock choruses in the vein of the Scorpions and Queen, George Lynch really hit the mark. George's guitar work on "Son of Scary" is worth the price of admission alone.
4. Sebastian Bach - "Kicking and Screaming" - Finding a comfortable medium between Sebastian's love of 'metal' and his Skid Row past, "Kicking and Screaming" delivers a nice package of hard rock tunes, which features guitar prodigy Nick Sterling on guitar. Producer Bob Marlette did a nice job of dialing in a current sounding guitar tone, which nicely compliments Bach's unmistakable pipes.
5. Butch Walker - "The Spade" - While the latest from Butch Walker isn't metal or hard rock, it would be remiss to not include "The Spade" as one of the best from 2011. With every release, Butch struggles with reinventing himself and satisfying his fan base, but "The Spade" has a little bit of everything to please his diehard followers and new listeners alike. Just overall, a fun record from beginning to end.
Review by John Jeffrey
Although Butch Walker explains how he came up with the main title of his book, "Drinking With Strangers," the subtitle of his work ("Music Lessons From a Teenage Bullet Belt") sums it up much better, as the autobiography (co-authored by Matt Diehl) reads like an episode of VH-1's "Behind the Music." When reading the hard-cover release, you're taken on a fantastic journey, from Butch's youth in Cartersville, GA, to the pursuit of his musical dreams in Hollywood, CA, to settling down in Malibu, and enjoying being the self-described "Mid-level Artist" he has become.
This PG-13 easy read shows the maturation of Butch Walker, as a person and a musician. He tells his story with the same, tongue-in-cheek, slightly sarcastic attitude, which he exudes in his songwriting. Following his learning curve, and his self taught education within the 'music biz,' you find yourself rooting for Butch the whole way, as he describes all of the adversity he has faced, in the various facets of the business. As a singer/songwriter or a performer/producer (for himself or other artists), Butch has run the gamut. From being in one of the last "hair bands" to be signed in the 90's (Southgang), to getting signed in a pre-"Emo," alternative 'number band' (Marvelous 3), to being signed as a solo artist, Butch has run the same rat race several times, reinventing himself each time, all the while, trying to figure out who 'Butch Walker' REALLY is, and where does 'he' fit in.
After reading "Drinking With Strangers," it's made very clear that Butch is his own biggest fan and his worst
critic, at the same time. Instead of accepting his life's work of music as a whole, every time Butch sheds his musical skin, he seems to hold a certain amount of disdain towards his previous incarnation (especially regarding the entire Southgang era). So much that there are several fan favorite songs that he refuses to play from his solo career and Marvelous 3 days. Butch refers to these songs (like "Freak of the Week," "My Way" and "Mixtape") as 'bananas' that he can never stomach eating again.
Being a huge fan of Butch Walker made this book a great read for myself, as I learned so many things that I never knew about Butch. And the candid insight he provides on so many topics within the book is just mind blowing. Even if you're not a fan, or not familiar with Butch's music at all, you get a great look at what goes on behind the scenes, and how the whole process of recording has changed throughout the years. While Butch's career may be described as a 'journey of failing upwards,' "Drinking With Strangers" does not fail in captivating your interest, and will keep us all waiting to see how the next chapter of Butch Walker's career unfolds.
Special Thanks to Chelsey Emmelhainz