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ELVIS PRESLEY – ’55
NMC Music 1999
This unique recording is the soundtrack to the “Louisiana Hayride” TV program. What makes it so unique? A year of 1955. Elvis started recording for “Sun” in 1954 but became a national star just in 1956-1957. So 1955 was a transitional year in the singer’s life. Here we hear true Presley, raw and swinging at his full. Presley, still not fed up with fame. Presley, just having started tasting rockin’ in front of screaming crowd.

Elvis’ energy shines through old mono tape, as do brilliant licks by Scotty Moore. Today all the songs Elvis sings here are classics – maybe with the exception of “Tweedle Dee”. So it’s just funny to hear an announcement of “Heartbreak Motel” instead of “Hotel”. It’s still innocent Presley here – just listen to his off-stage interview.

It’s just a great CD with insight on how a legend was born. The booklet has some irritating mistakes though.

*****
 

ROXY MUSIC – Valentine
NMC Music 2000
This album is a good documentary on how another legend was born. ROXY was the Bryan Ferry’s brainchild, indeed, but it was him, who killed the band with his sweet-sticky songs. ROXY were a real event while there was another Bryan – Eno, the grand master of electronic experiments. And it was a combination of Eno’s novelties and Ferry’s love for jazz and forties’ marooning that made ROXY so unique and let the band stand out off the motley glam crowd of British scene of the early ’70s.

There are just six tracks – let alone video bonuses – from the first four albums of 1972-1974. But these tracks were recorded for BBC in 1972, the fact more interesting if to know that Eno was present just on the first two LPs. And there are not a lot of the classic line up live recordings around as well. “All I Want Is You” and “Street Life” were left out for forthcoming releases for unknown reasons. But hell! – how they sound here, along with “Virginia Plain” and “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”! It’s pure energy still not replaced by dullness. And Manzanera’s jazzy soloing makes wondering whether he and Iommi had the same source of inspiration. Highly recommended for those who never dig the band. Bonus video makes for it as well.

*****
 

JEFF WATSON
- Around The Sun
Frontiers Records 2000
Who’s Jeff Watson? It’s elementary, Watson! The guitar player with NIGHT RANGER. The guy’s developed the unique “eight-finger” technique. And what matters it’s not his playing with Chris Isaak but with MOTHER’S ARMY alongside Joe Lynn Turner, Bob Daisley and Carmine Appice.

It’s Jeff’s second outing – and, unlike the first, “Lone Ranger”, – it represents three singers, Watson himself, Sammy’s son Aaron Hagar, and Steve Walsh, the voice of KANSAS. It’s a whole piece of work quite far from hard rock. One starts loving guitar sound right from the outset, bluesy acoustic-laden “Glass Revenge” followed by throbbing “Life Goes On”. While “Tight Rope” is catchy rock’n’roll, “Moment Of Truth” with its folk motifs would fit well for Robert Plant.

The album’s just beautiful and ends with rocky bonus track “When My Ship Comes In”.

****1/2
 

MELODICA -
Long Way From Home
Frontiers Records 2000
The band is a collaboration between Aiustrian guitar player Gerhard Pichler and former BONE MACHINE singer Ted Poley. The music fits well with the band’s name and those who like RAINBOW of ’82-’83 will love it. It’s hard to differ one track off the album, it’s just plain American hard rock. There are some more catchy rhythms in the middle, “Forget About It” and the title track – although its intro’s more promising than the rest of the song. “Take Me Away” is obligatory ballad in the end but is overshadowed with great instrumental “A Long Time Ago”.

***
 

JIMI JAMISON’S SURVIVOR – Empires
Frontiers Records 2000
It’s a big name. The band started back in 1977 and won Grammy for “Eye Of The Tiger” from the “Rocky III” soundtrack. Jimi Jamison became SURVIVOR’s singer from their second LP and it is him ressurecting SURVIVOR now, after its demise in 1988.

“Empires” is a welcome return as “I’m Always There” now become a well-known theme for “Baywatch”. The song is nothing special but good with it piano part. The rest of the album is good, too. The title track is a duet with Liza Frazier and there are riff-based songs like “Run From The Thunder”. You start singing along to “Love Is Alive” and “A Dream Too Far” that remind you of ASIA and WHITESNAKE.

Two live tracks in the end add nothing to the album as, having crystal studio sound, they don’t smoke like most live recordings do. Bad final chord for a good release.

***1/2
 

FAIR WARNING – 4
Frontiers Records 2000
Attention! It’s FAIR, not FATES WARNING. But well-known name as well. It’s eight years from the start and now we have the forth album called just like FOREIGNER’s one.

“Heart On The Run” was a right choice both as an album’s opening and a single for Japan. It attacks and it’s melodic followed by “Through The Fire”, an easy and exquisite rock’n’roll almost orchestrally arranged. As weak points we can call just regular “Time Will Tell” and “Eyes Of Love” which compensated by smocky “Find My Way” with its a capella intro and “For The Young”, a real solemn hymn to youth, augmented by bagpipes and obviously inspired by MOTT THE HOOPLE’s “All The Young Dudes”. Just cool.

****1/2
 

PETER PERRETT – Hearts On Fire
NMC Music 2000
It’s not the name everyone’s familiar with. Perrett was the singer with the late 70s cult heroes THE ONLY ONES before vanishing due to his drug addiction. But he came up in 1994 with accompanying musicians unfortunately not mentioned in the booklet to get back on stage.

Here we have his live gig in “The Mean Fiddler” recorded in 1994. The set consists of the material from the then forthcoming “Wake Up Sticky” album (released in 1996) plus some THE ONLY ONES tunes though. The music is similar to Britpop, SONIC YOUTH and THE BAD SEEDS – no reason to be surprised as it is post new wave/post punk a little monotone drone of a sharp but melodic guitar, splashes of organ and piano with a little Iggyish indifferent voice over.

Pretty well done – although nothing special. Ah yes – there are two videos on the second CD.

***1/2
 

BUZZCOCKS -
Small Songs With Big Hearts/
Beating Hearts
NMC Music 2000
It’s very curious item: two discs with one of the BUZZCOCKS concerts recorded in the band’s golden years on each. “Small Songs” is the London’s “Rainbow” performance of November, 1979, while “Beating Hearts” comes from the October, 1978 evening in Manchester’s “Apollo”. There are just 13 month between two gigs but they make for a big difference. And the reason isn’t most prominent bass of earlier show which turns a sound very deep. The concert in “Apollo” is more simple, more open in the band’s contact with the audience while in 1979 songs appear to be more elaborated. It’s easy to compare as both sets have ten songs in common.

1978-1979 were the years of punk’s sinking. Survivors were those who really could play and combine punk energy with good melodies. That’s why we cherish BUZZCOCKS and THE JAM. The talents of Pete Shelley and Paul Weller are of the same caliber. The BUZZCOCKS teenagers-themed songs would have seemed to be extremely primitive but… What would you say on the real bolero of “Sixteen”? And what about folky instrumental “Walking Distance”?

What makes me glad is the band’s self-ctiticism – they used to close their shows with “Boredom”. Indeed, have they played for 3 hours – like LED ZEPPELIN – they would surely be killed!

****
 

DONOVAN -
Rising Again
NMC Music 2000
Quite a strange opinion calls Donovan an “English Dylan”. Yes, you can compare the two. But what for? Well, majority used to see both with acoustic guitar and harp. But as Bob dusted off his folk hero status and went electric so did Mr Leitch having recorded with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. Dylan’s more sarcastic while Donovan’s more mellow, Dylan’s more social oriented while Donovan’s more lyrical. So stop – let’s say that Donovan is the artist in his own right.

Double album “Rising Again” was recorded during the singer’s perfomances in 1984-1986. It may seem boring to listen to melodic but not very bright songs but that’s the Donovan’s art to keep going such huge audiences as those of New York’s “Carnegie Hall” or London’s “Royal Festival Hall”.

The artist very skillfully intersperses his classic tunes – “Catch The Wind”, “Mellow Yellow”, “Season Of The Witch”, “Sunshine Superman” – with less known songs while chatting with the audience. Listen to how he inserts into “The Hurdy Gurdy Man” a tale on his 1967′s trip to India with THE BEATLES, Mike Love of THE BEACH BOYS and Mia Farrow and on George Harrison’s writing the not used verse for the song. Listen to the voise that inspired Marc Bolan. Listen to the author’s rendition of “Lalena” that we know in DEEP PURPLE version. Listen – and you’ll see the difference between Dylan and Donovan: the former wrote “Mr Tambourine Man” while the latter came up with “Mr Flute Man”.

*****
 

IAN HUNTER – Missing In Action
NMC Music 2000
Well, y’know, Ian Hunter never was a brilliant singer. Even in MOTT THE HOOPLE times. Could we, for instance, compare his version of “Ready For Love” to that sung by Paul Rodgers with BAD COMPANY? But there’s a good word which fits Hunter well and the word is “charisma”.

“Missing In Action” is very interesting live compilation from 1979-1989 period when quite often vocalist toured with Mick Ronson of the Bowie’s SPIDERS FROM MARS fame. Very tight in his guitar phrasing, Ronson perfectly – maybe more than Mick Ralphs – suited Hunter’s raw voice. So “M.I.A.” is one more chance to savour the art of a guitarist who after passing away became a real legend.

Disc begins with edgy, almost punky, “Life After Death” followed by great ballad “Ships”, good HOOPLE song “Letter To Brittania From The Union Jack” and catchy “We Gotta Get Out Of Here”. The rest of material are not so interesting but there’s THE BEATLES’ “Day Tripper” so laid back that this version leaves behind those played by Hendrix and WHITESNAKE.

I just fear that the real fans will more often play bonus disc that clicks off with THE SHADOWS’ “F.B.I.” and includes songs which made Hunter famous – “Rock’n’Roll Queen”, “All The Way From Memphis” and “All The Young Dudes”.

****
 

RONNIE WOOD – Live And Eclectic
NMC Music 2000
At last we can hear the invisible man Ronnie live! Ron Wood never intented to be in the front line: he humbly played in JEFF BECK GROUP (the fact not mentioned in the booklet), then together with twin brother Rod Stewart moved to THE faceS and then, in mid-1975, to THE ROLLING STONES where he is to the date – in the shadow of the Glimmer Twins. He appears to be the person responsible in those bands for the thing called “shuffle”. It’s hard to say how THE STONES would have sounded without Wood’s slide. And yes – how boring would be rock’n’roll without this perky nosey clown.

The material of “Live And Eclectic” was recorded in December, 1992, right after the guitarist’s solo “Slide On This” was out. So sure there are some traks off the album – Woody and singer Bernard Fowler brilliantly do “Always Wanted More” and “Breathe On Me”. But, of course, fans would prefer to listen to THE faceS’ “Flying” and “Silicone Grown” or “Stay With Me” that Stewart used to close his shows with or some gems by THE STONES – not so well-known “Black Limousine” off “Tattoo You” and “Pretty Beat Up” from “Undercover”. And yes! – there’s the immortal “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll” originally recorded by pre-Wood STONES but inspired by him.

By the way, on this recording Wood is aided by THE STONES’ Chuck Leavell and THE faceS’ Ian MacLagan on keyboards. And there’s a bonus CD – for encore.

****
 

TWO FIRES -
Two Fires
Frontiers Records 2000
Beautiful, good, melodic. What else can I say? Singer Kevin Chalfant and guitar player Josh Ramos some years ago worked with guys from JOURNEY in the quite well-known band THE STORM while drummer Kenny Aronoff played for BON JOVI. The fans of all these bands surely will be satisfied. At the same time from all this one can assume that the TWO FIRES’ music is rather predictable – a point by no means lessening its value. Yes, it’s typical american “stadium” AOR. But glossy ans smelly of FOREIGNER.

Sometimes it just irritates that after very tasty intro – as the excellent bluesy guitar in the opening “My Love Will Be There” – we hear cliches which drag it all down to zero. Well, the playing is flawless but as we expect something to explode this moment doesn’t come. But who requested of the band any revelatiion though?

The timing is precise: some rockers, some uptempo tracks, two ballads – “When Love Is Gone” and “I Believe In You”. One unexpected thing is some cameo appearances of acoustic guitar. And so interesting how it is live…

***
 

BOB CATLEY – Legends
Frontiers Records 1999
Frankly saying, I cannot recall the last time I was listening to MAGNUM, an excellent British band which such elegantly balanced on the verge of hard and progressive rock. “Legends” is the second solo outing from the MAGNUM singer Bob Catley and is recorded with the aid of British band TEN. A CD by old master quenches a thirst of those who’s hungry for music not mawkish but melodic and clever, a combination rarely heard of recently.

All the material is written by the TEN vocalist Gary Hughes who played all the keyboards as well which he usually doesn’t do in the band of his. The album proves to be serious and a kind of conceptual: the songs have one subject in common and the subject is mythology. And the tracks based on quite different myths – from Ancient Greek (“Medusa” and “Hydra”) to contemporary (“Tender Is The Night” dedicated to Marylin Monroe, and “The Pain” which tells of Elvis’ destiny).

There’s fortunately no such scheme as “two rockers – one ballad”, although we have here both patterns. The cornerstone is a character told of in a song. And it’s just wonderful. Because this way Catley retained the integrity of his singing. Singing of Marylin Bob doesn’t go too sentimental as Elton John did that’s why “Tender Is The Night” sounds much more naturally than “Candle In The Wind” (especially after the latter was re-written for the late princess).

And it’s a voice that reigns here. Catley sings just amazing and Hughes underlines veteran’s high notes. Solemn music and these pipes make for some operatic effect. There’s no weakness in the effort. Sometimes there’s a slight feeling that some tracks could have been a little shorter but every new listening wipes it out.

*****
 

TEN – Babylon
Frontiers Records 2000
Concept album is no novelty for art rock and heavy metal but we rarely have it from hard rock bands. The sci-fi/detective story behind the “Babylon” album is quite curious but the music is much more of interest. Gary Hughes and Co managed to create a real masterpiece. Well, there’s nothing new stylistically in the offering. But who needs it if the work and melodies are so brilliant?

TEN play classic hard rock a la RAINBOW – a comparison more natural thanks to presence of the veteran keyboard player Don Airey and a certain likeness between TEN’s “Timeless” and “Black Hearted Woman” and “Ariel” and “Cold Hearted Woman” from the RAINBOW’s last album.

What deserves to be praised as well is a good balance of high quality arrangements to the raw edge of playing – that’s what rock’n’roll is about. For example, “Silent Rain”, a cry of lost love is lyrical while not mawkish and is placed to where it really belongs not being the “obligatory” ballad.

The band intends not to prove anything to anyone, they just play – and win. And knowing that every new TEN record is better than the last one we cannot but gasp and wait for the next album.

*****
 

LOST WEEKEND – Presence Of Mind
Frontiers Records 2000
Well, the band is good. As is its second album. But album’s a little boring. Guitar player David Thompson played for some metal bands and served as a session man for Nina Hagen, Trevor Horn and, as they say, Steve Howe which I hardly believe as Howe’s a great master and I don’t seem to remember Thompson’s name on Steve’s albums. Paul Uttley was a singer in the Jan Cyrca’s band. The rest of the band are experienced too. And thanks to this experience they managed to record “Presence Of Mind” under hard conditions of breakdowns and other downs. The album took two years to complete.

Is result worthy? Hard to say. You listen to the CD and suddenly discover that it’s just fifth track playing – while you thought it’s eleventh one. But you cannot say the tracks are too long.

We have here a lots of keyboards – as way back in the eighties – but they are good when play separately from guitar. If keys and axe play in unison you feel that one of the instruments is needless. But - everything’s melodic and smooth, sometimes is too smooth.

The winning numbers are the opening “Holding On” with its great intro, catchy “All Hands To The Fire” and complicate “This Moment Too Long” that you’ll sing along to from the second chorus. Ballads are good and that’s all. So fans of the genre will be happy.

***1/2
 

EMERALD RAIN – Age Of Innocence
Frontiers Records 1999
It’s the second album, too. You smell the spontaneity of the recording and you eat it willfully. One can notice quite low timbre of the singer’s Murray Daigle voice underlined by the backing vocals from the other three members. The band uses vocal polyphony very skilfully when they insert a capella fragments to the tight music canvas. And axeman Mike Dimitrovic doesn’t boast with his Malmsteen-like guitar, too, while bringing in some classical elements.

There’s fortunately no ballads, common – and weak – places of melodic hard rock. But there are some singalongs as “Don’t Tell The Rain” or “Never Let You Go”. Just one weaker point is “The Method”, not too strong for real metal and too serious to be a parody.

But material is interesting, especially for the second album.

***1/2
 

GOOD RATS – Cover Of Night
Frontiers Records 2000
Not impressive cover art and flattering words addressing the band can make one relax. That’s why the opening notes feel like kick in the ass. Yes, Ozzy, KISS, GRATEFUL DEAD, AEROSMITH and others were right having let GOOD RATS warm up for them. And it’s a shame that the band with more than 20 years and 10 albums behind is not so well-known! For the new line up singer Peppi Marchello called to arms his two sons, drummer Stefan and guitarist Gene, who played withg his MARCHELLO, as well as bass man Denis Perry. And man, this bands can rock!

The four-piece play with such ease that you take their great melodies for granted. It’s from the first listening that you start humming these songs – all catchy, all rhythmic. Throbbing “Crazy, Wild & Angry”, funky “Hotline”, bluesy “Thunder Rocks My Soul”… You begin telling the most killing moments and end up listing all of the tracks.

And there is one, special, “Major Minor Chord”, obvious and genious QUEEN stylization. Peppi doesn’t pretend to make Mercury but these transitions from ragtime to the hymn-like moments as well as guitar a la May make for the effect needed. Not many artists would dare to make it – it’s so easy to flop, but GOOD RATS are self-confident. Honoured be their name!

*****
 

TEN – Spellbound
Frontiers Records 1999
It’s a little way backward for me. Amazed with TEN’s “Babylon” I started wondering where it all comes from. The CD cover’s very attractive, no surprise it was considered “cover of the year”, but the music leaves the artwork far behind.

To say that TEN’s fifth album is worse than the next one would be unjustice. I assume, the band has reached its peak and now they just can show us different facets of their art.

“Spellbound” smells of Celtic spirit. There is a folky center to the album that consists of three pieces – singalong “We Rule The Night” sung by a little choir with Bob Catley in, instrumental “Remembrance For The Brave” and “Red” that leads us back to hard rock route. Three pieces but they gather around the rest of material. Material quite standard stylistically but melodically…

The mucsicians’ work and Gary Hughes’ singing are truly flawless but the drumming of Greg Morgan should be praised high. He just intuitive feels HOW to play for melody to be winning.

On par with “Babylon” there are much more instruments on “Spellbound”: traditional ones used for “Celtic trilogy”, a string quartet with pure piano on “Wonderland” – the sound and the title must pull in URIAH HEEP fans.

The mood is set with the intro “March Of The Argonauts” that becomes “Fear The Force” which reminds of RAINBOW in 90s. “Inside The Pyramid Of Light” makes me think that Gary loves David Coverdale very much but rock’n’roll is just rock’n’roll and nothing more, really. Out of line is “The Alchemist”, the track’s a little more pale than the rest.

A little bit more of originality and the album could be a masterpiece. Anyway, it’s a wonder for the late 90s.

*****
 

EMERALD RAIN – Live2K
Frontiers Records 2000
The show was recorded in Canada last December. I don’t know, indeed, I don’t support an idea of releasing live album of a young band with just two CDs behind. If it were the old musicians project – yes, but this… Well, now we have one live album by EMERALD RAIN and none, for instance, by BLIND FAITH.

Anyway, the band’s good on stage. Listening to “Live2K” you think how assumably great it was to be in the audience. But out of it… I cannot say it’s boring – it rocks, especially “Desperate Heart”, but while the studio opus “Age Of Innocence” is smooth, the live CD is a little dry – but raw though. Out of album context every track is excellent. And yes, closer to the end of the gig musicians get tired and start playing some bum notes – which is natural.

There’s a studio version of “Take A Stand” added, that previously was a bonus track for Japan. Nothing special.

***
 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Union 3
Frontiers Records 2000
There’s a cream from Frontiers’ catalogue. If you get lost in CDs released by the label, go and buy this compilation, there’ll be no complaints even if you decide later to have albums in full because a portion of this double album is rough mixes and demo versions.

It’s a fair play from Frontiers as they put on “Union” NOT the best tracks off the albums which means you won’t be disppointed to have a whole CD, there will not be just one hit with ballast to fill the space.

You can read the reviews on some Frontiers releases placed here. And talking about those to come one must pay attention to “Spun In Lost Wages” from Italian guitarrero Dario Mollo’s “Voodoo Hill” (all the vocal duties on the album fulfilled by mr Glenn Hughes) which just grows on you and the brillian ballad “Don’t Turn Away” by ex-GIUFFRIA singer David Glen Eisley. I expected much more from the tracks sung by John Lande (JORN, MILLENIUM) and was really disappointed by MILLENIUM’s rendition of RAINBOW’s “I Surrender”: Blackmore played it in a minimalist way while in this version are too much guitar licks.

****
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