SOUTHERN ROCK ALL STARS – Crazy Again [Record Heaven]

From the remains of classic southern bands, the All Stars boasts Dave Hlubek [ex Molly Hatchet], Jackson Spires [ex Blackfoot], and Jay Johnson [ex Rossington Band]. (Bassists Charles Hart and Blackfoot alumni Greg Walker also perform here). This debut from S.R.A. brings together the classic southern HR feel of members’ past bands, as well as the more AOR feel of the likes of 38 Special. “Train Of Sorrow”, “Ghost of You”, and “Crazy Again” are both classic friendly southern rockers, while “Traveler” is a heavier rocker, more reminiscent of Blackfoot IMO, with a vocal very similar to Rickey Medlocke himself.  Crazy Again also features a number of more AOR type tunes and ballads like “Dreaming”, “Better Off Alone”, and “Knight In Shining Arms” [w/ additional keyboards and sax]. Also includes a cool cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe A Word”, which is from the 2CD Tribute to Phil Lynott released by Record Heaven as well. Overall a strong album which will appeal a lot to fans of southern rockers like 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and Blackfoot.  The band’s follow up should be out shortly as well.  For more info check out  www.southernrock.com

YES – Magnification [Beyond]

Yes is back, but as a 4-some [minus Billy Sherwood and keyboardist Igor Khoroshev], but accompanied with an orchestra! Into their 4th decade as one of the pioneers of progressive rock Yes continues to produce classy and attractive music. Where I loved 1999’s “The Ladder” for it’s more classic Yes approach, “Magnification” is another step, albeit lighter overall, but a great combo of the Yes trademark sounds ala Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White and Steve Howe and conductor Larry Groupe and orchestra filling in for the absence of keyboards.  The production and flow of this album is another great attraction, from the opening acoustics of the title track to the detective movie theme feel of  “Spirit of Survival”, each track goes together smoothly. Standouts include the upbeat “Can You Imagine”, the epic 4 movement “In The Presence Of”, and the short ballad “Time Is Time”.  Clocking in at one hour, this album features plenty of instrumentation and lots of acoustic guitar and piano as well [White being credited as piano player here]. An album that will need plenty of listens to soak up, but with Anderson’s unique voice, and the classic Yes harmonies and great melodies this one is well worth hearing.  For more info check out  www.beyondmusic.com OR yesworld.com

CRAWLER – Pastime Dreamer, Live [Red Steel]

Back Street Crawler started in the mid 70s boasting ex Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, and ex Bloontz members Michael Montgomery, Terry Wilson, and Tony Braunagel and singer Terry Wilson-Slesser. By the time these 2 American shows were recorded John Rabbitt Bundrick [ex Free] had replaced Montgomery on keyboards [actually on “2nd Street” LP], and relatively unknown guitarist Geoff Whitehorn had filled in for the deceased Kossoff.  Ironically, despite being dumped by their record label for apparently Not replacing Koss with a big enough ‘name’ guitarist, the band went on to be a bigger draw in the US with a Top 100 single “Stone Cold Sober”.  Although I wasn’t initially crazy about my Back Street Crawler LPs [the last one “Snake Rattle and Roll” being the best one IMO] this Live release has got me revisiting them and curious about more. The band seemed to be better live with a great sound and feel, somewherez between the likes of Free, Rare Earth, and Traffic. Great performances all-round, especially Bundrick’s keyboard adventures, with plenty of cool intros, solos, moog, hammond, etc... Judging by these live sets this band enjoyed playing together, as on the extended “Blue Soul”. Crawler could go from funky tunes to blues to rock, with a number of great tunes here like “Where Is The Money”, “Devil Run” [this one reminds me of Skynyrd for some reason], “Never Loved A Woman”, and my fave here – lead off track “How Will You Break My Heart”. 13 tunes, as well as a bonus radio interview segment, and packaged with pics of old magazine articles and sleeve notes from Free Appreciation Society founder David Clayton.

Worth checking out to classic rockers, Crawler just may well be one of the most overlooked bands of the 70s era.  Note: Bundrick went on to work with The Who [still does] and released a number of solo albums.

BRONZ – Unfinished Business [Red Steel]

80s Brit hard rockers from the UK. The band, originally was on the Bronze label, just before it went under,  and before splitting boasted singer Max Bacon who went on to greater fame in the supergroup GTR – with Steve Howe and Steve Hackett.  “Unfinished Business” is the best of the band’s previous recordings, mainly with original singer Paul Webb [and bassist], as well as a few newer ones. Although mainly an 80s HR band, Bronz wrote some pretty classy stuff with tracks here like a 1999 remake of “Stay Alive”, plus older tunes like their main hit “Send Down An Angel”, and early metal gems like “Loneliness Is Mine” and “Night Runner”. What’s impressive is that these guys could go from NWOBHM rockers to more progressive moments like “Ask No Questions”, and then the aor shlop of “Enemy Of The Heart”.  If the newer recordings  [from 99] are any indication, I would look forward to hearing more of these guys, with tracks likes Stay Alive, “Good Lovin Hot Lovin” and a cover of Uriah Heep’s “The Other Side of Midnight”. The lone track featuring Bacon is a decent live version of “Breakout” from Denver 1984.

If you’re in to 80s Hard rock, chances are you missed these guys, but this is a nice intro to them, and hopefully we’ll hear more.  For more info check out  www.bronz.co.uk .

SHAG – Shag [Bey]

Rochester, NY based band from a few years ago, featuring guitarist Mike Staertow [see my interview with him in 2001].  Guitar hard rock here, altho I ain’t too crazy about the vocals, the tunes are largely OK, with a few standouts like “Watch Me Fall” and “Don’t Think About It”. Also includes a decent cover of Alice Cooper’s “Is It My Body”. 

GREAT WHITE – Recover [Cleopatra]

80s rockers Great White were no strangers to doing covers in their career, often throwing in Zep tunes live and doing a disc of Zep tunes as well as a few of the members briefly gigging an acoustic set of Zep tunes. But this set of covers, recorded in 1989 features a number of rock classics, some neatly re-arranged or presented differently, such as the acoustic medley of the Stones “Bitch” & “It’s Only Rock n Roll”. An interesting set of tunes here ranging from older classics like Badfinger’s “No Matter What” [this version is kind of a let down IMO], Free’s “Fire & Water”, to Robin Trower’s “Lady Love”, AC/DC’s “Sin City”, and to the 80s rock of The Cult’s “Love Removal Machine” [which comes off pretty good, staying close to the original].  The band also sound at home doing a cool version of Bad Company’s “Ready For Love”, and there’s also a decent cover of Status Quo’s “Again and Again”.

An interesting collection of rock classics, and some solid covers. Great White fans will love this, while classic rock fans may find themselves very intrigued as well.

HURRICANE – Liquifury [Cleopatra / Frontiers]

HURRICANE were an 80s LA metal band fronted by Kelly Hansen, and perhaps better known for featuring Tony Cavazo and Robert Sarzo who had more famous brothers in QUIET RIOT. Hurricane released a trio of commercial metal albums, most notably 1988’s “Over The Edge” which garnered some radio play with rockers like “I’m On To You” and a cover of “I’m 18” – not surprisingly over produced by Bob Ezrin himself. The band’s last Lp “Slave To The Grind” [produced by Michael James Jackson] lacked in heaviness, with Jackson opting for more keys and production slop.  A while back singer Kelly Hansen [see Stuart Smith’s “Heaven & Earth”] decided to resurrect the name with drummer Jay Schellen, but minus Cavazo and Sarzo.  The result is a surprisingly excellent HR album. Not that I didn’t expect much, but this is really good! On “Liquifury” the tracks are mainly written by Hansen & Schellen, who also do a good production job, and the 2 are joined by guitarist Sean Manning, and bassist Larry Antonio, with Hansen also chipping in on guitars and keyboards. Liquifury doesn’t suffer from the overblown 80s production that marred the band’s last album and parts of Over The Edge. It’s somewhat heavier too, with a number of excellent rockers like the fast paced “Ruler Gold”, “Heart Made of Stone”, “Shelter”, and “Torn”.  Only 2 ballads here with “In My Dreams” and the heavy power ballad “Happy To Be Your Fool”, the latter being one of the best tracks here and best performance from Hansen. Overall this is a strong album with no dodgy cuts, and excellent performances, especially from Hansen.

A Tribute To JOURNEY [Deadline]

Another ‘tribute’ disc from Deadline featuring many of the 80s rockers that have played on the previous ones.  As usual, these guys take the band’s main hits and try to recreate them to the letter. Not bad overall, but somewhat predictable I guess. The musicians are the same on each track with members from such bands as Bang Tango, Crush, and Warrant performing on all the tracks. Singers include the usual lot such as Marc Torien or the BulletBoys, Kelly Hansen of Hurricane [on “Separate Ways” & “Wheel In The Sky”], Steve Rachelle of Tuff [“Lights”], and John Corabi ex of Motley Crue & Union [“Girl Can’t Help It”]. Fave vocal performances include the 2 by Hansen [although the music on Separate Ways sounds slower and the keyboard intro sounds out of tune], Marq Torien [BulletBoys] on “Faithfully”,  and Corabi on “Girl Can’t Help It” – which is interesting to hear John do such a tune. Also interesting to note how much Eric Dover [Slash’s Snakepit] sounds like Steve Perry himself on “Don’t Stop Believing”. 

URIAH HEEP Tribute – Heepsteria [Red Steel]

Now, THIS is what a ‘tribute’ album should be all about! A varied collection of the band’s songs, different interpretations, and musicians who are fans of the band [as well as a few Heep alumni here] and not just pro musicians doing paint by numbers remakes.  “Heepsteria” features 33 tracks, including a few original tunes, written in the Heep vein just for this project. And the list of alumni is impressive too, with Ken Hensley, John Lawton, Gregg Dechert, Denny Ball, and even a bonus track featuring Heep’s keyboardist Phil Lanzon! The songs? Well, this is quite a collection, not merely the band’s greatest hits revisited. The project was co-spearheaded by American guitar player [and Heep webmaster] Dave White, so it’s interesting to find White on like 8 tunes! As part of ‘Dreamer’ [a band of American Heepsters on the web], White, along with Bob Dreher, Mac Steagall, Joe Doran, and singer Dave Griffin recorded at Ken Hensley’s own studio and perhaps it’s Dreamer’s tracks that try to remain closest to the originals here, thus for the die-hards they will dig these performances. Hensley himself ‘guests’ on 2 of the Dreamers tracks – “Rain”, as well as playing slide guitar on “Circle of Hands”. Elsewhere it’s pretty unique stuff with Clive Rogers [of Cobra] doing a very different version of “The Wizard” with keyboards, flute, and extended instrumentals clocking the track in at over 6 minutes [twice as long as the original]. Canadian band Featherwheel, featuring former Heep keyboardist Gregg Dechert is a masterpiece, with Dechert adding a little improvised piano intro before coming in with the main organ riff he recorded off a church pipe organ. Rob Seagrove of Featherwheel does an excellent job on the guitar, and his vocals are smooth.  John Lawton performs a number of tracks as well, doing a medley of tunes with Graham Hulme – who plays keyboards and programs the drums and bass. It’s interesting! Though not musically outstanding [no guitars or real drums here] it’s great to hear Lawton turn out such performances on David Byron era tunes “Return To Fantasy” and “Wonderworld”.  Lawton [w/Gunhill] also perform 2 tracks from his own time with Heep, one being a slower version of “Sympathy” and the other a classy acoustic version of “Come Back To Me”. 

Other bands here include British rockers Native Son who do a heavy guitar version of “Stealin” and an excellent take of “That’s How I Am” -  a song that Heep recorded but never released in ’79.  80s Brit rockers Bronz also appear here with nicely up to date takes of “The Other Side of Midnight” and “All My Life”.  But some of gems here are the lighter moments, in particular Denny Ball [former Hensley & Byron bass player] who does a great reworking of “Firefly” , and sounding very much like Hensley himself.  Trevor Hensley [Ken’s brother] contributes 4 tunes, 2 decent acoustic songs with Ken [“The Soldier” and “No Other Way”], as well as 2 Heep songs [“Tales” and “The Easy Road”] with wife Stella on vocals.  Dave White contributes a sweet instrumental version of “Come Away Melinda”, as well as a keyboard passage [“The Journey, Part One”] , and along with Richard Wagner, Graham Hulme, and Mike Keuter [Easy Livin Band] contribute ‘the best song Uriah Heep never wrote or recorded’ “River Of Dreams”, a classic rock song very much in the Heep tradition.  German blues rockers Double Trouble do a heavy version of “Real Turned On”, and Cosmic Banditos turn in a killer performance of “Gypsy” [following the Live 73 version]. Germany’s own Heep cover band Easy Livin also contribute 4 remakes of classic Heep tunes [the band has a full album worth of Heep covers out there somewhere on tape BTW].

The 2CD set ends with the bonus track , a strange dance version of “Gypsy” by Heep’s Phil Lanzon [w/ Attila Marshall] which he originally issued as a single in ’94.

In all, an excellent set of Uriah Heep songs done uniquely, along with a few originals that are of the Heep ilk, and help to pay a great tribute to the band.

JOHN LAWTON – Heartbeat [Red Steel]

This long lost solo album by former Uriah Heep / Lucifers Friend singer recorded in 1980, a year after leaving Heep, and a year before reuniting with Lucifers Friend for a killer HR album [Mean Machine!].

“Heartbeat” [or “Hard Beat’ depending on where ya lived] featured the Lucifers Friends guys as the backing band here, with all the songs being co-written by LF guitarist Peter Hesslein [who also handles production]. This album being kinda made for the time, but showing how well Lawton could adapt to different styles of popular music. Heartbeat is kind of an upbeat poppy album, lots of synths, catchy melodies, dance beats.... Probably not one of the best albums Lawton’s ever made [and there’s been loads!], but taken in the spirit, this is a somewhat fun collection of songs with memorable tunes like “Return To Sender”,  “Lola”, and “Daddy’s In The Money”. Nicely added here are 4 ‘bonus’ tracks, most notably “Let It Ride” – which had been recorded with Heep [but never released] in ’79.  Check it out at www.johnlawtonband.com  

No More Mr Nice Guy : The Inside Story Of The ALICE COOPER GROUP [Re-issue] [SAF] 

Essentially a re-print of the original book written by Michael Bruce and Billy James a few years back. Legal problems meant a reprint had to take out a few photos, yet left room for a new chapter, updates, and more stuff. So this is worth checking out, with a  new chapter covering the last days of Glenn Buxton , as well as insight in to the Bruce Cameron project, and Michael Bruce’s apparent making up with Alice and the one-off gig of the original AC members.

NATIVE SON – Leap Of Faith [Red Steel]

British power trio’s 3rd full disc [from ‘98].  These guys for the most part are a fairly heavy guitar rock band, with lots of riffs, kinda 70s inspired in a way in that they aren’t really a metal band, kinda classic and blues influenced. Vocally solid, with a singer who has a distinctive and big heavy voice, kinda rough and edgy. Nearly 40 minutes on this disc [yeah maybe not a lot in these times, but] each tune is decent at the least with a number of good memorable rockers like “Losing You”, “Rhythm Of Life”,  and the more 70s HR of “Timeslip”. There’s also 2 excellent softer songs in the ballad “Heaven Song” and the closing track “Sans of Time”, cool guitar sound. The drums are heavy on this album too which really contributes to the overall thundering live feel of the music.

One newer band well worth checking out, without any modern day rock band annoyances; heavy and clear and solid rocking.

STEVE MORSE – Split Decision [Magna Carta]

The latest instrumental solo disc from Steve Morse [along with the usual rhythm section of Dave LaRue and Van Romaine]. It’s an excellent follow up to “Sudden Impacts”.  Split Decision is a lighter album for Morse, with half the disc being mellower tracks with a number of acoustic ones. The first 4 songs rock a good bit before “Great Mountain Spirits” lightens things up with a nice earthy beginning section before picking up. Cool intros, especially the somewhat Allman Brothers like ones to “Marching Orders” and “Gentle Flower, Hidden Beast”. The last 5 tracks are lighter ones. Actually the acoustic tracks are my favorite here, very different, lots of neat melodies and feel, and I like the way Morse borrows little bits from other songs [his own or others] such as the few lines from “The Aviator” from Purpendicular inserted in “Back Porch”. I would’ve loved to see a full album of these sort of tracks alone. “Clear Memories” has some piano accompaniment [altho there’s no keyboard player listed]. Best pic here is the ballad “Moments Comfort”, great guitar tone, smooth track.

Well worth checking out! Morse’s best solo outing yet IMO.  Check out www.stevemorse.com

GENTLE GIANT – The Last Steps (Live) [Red Steel]

The last live recording from these 70s progsters, taken from their last gig in the US in 1980. The sound ain’t as great as most Live recordings, as this is taken from a soundboard tape, and never really intended for such release.  One thing I find appealing about Gentle Giant compared to many prog acts of the 70s was that they could write excellent far out progressive music, yet often with an edge and with good rock riffs – all within a normal time frame. That is to say, you don’t have to sit through a 10 minute instrumental snooze-fest to hear the odd rock moment. Tracks here like “All Through The Night”, which features a heavy riff before the keys come in, and the upbeat “It’s Not Imagination” both are fairly hard rock tunes with proggy keyboards and twists to them, while epics like “Free Hand”, “Giant For A Day” and “Underground” are more adventurous with more keyboards and plenty of harmonies. Derek Shulman’s vocals are similar to the likes of Peter Gabriel and Steve Winwood [I imagine this band would appeal a lot to fans of Gabriel era Genesis], although with this recording his voice is often hard to hear in the softer moments, such as the ballad “Memories of Old Days”. Also features the 7 minute 5 man drum bash chaos of “For Nobody” before ending with the classically inspired “Advent of Panurge” and hard rocking “Number One”, which features some of the heaviest guitar soloing here.

For more on Gentle Giant check out their web site www.blazemonger.com/GG/

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Reviews: © Kevin J. Julie (Universal Wheels) Feb. '02