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Not For The Beginners
Steamhammer 2001
Talking Mick’s or Keef’s record you can’t help but think STONES while Woody is Woody with all the monkeys on his back – the Face, Jeff, Rod. Ronnie’s shuffle’s always there and no heavy guest can’t make it stumble. One of such guests here, namely Dylan, tries to equal Ron in his trade: Bob, who graced the sessions by chance, presented the host with a simple tune, “King Of Kings”, and joined in the fun of another instrumental, “Interfere”, alongside Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana. Ian McLagan who plays piano on this one and organ in “R U Behaving Yourself” (with Andy Newmark on drums) is adding to the family vibe, as the rhythm section of Mark Wells and Martin Wright used to play with Jesse Wood, Ronnie’s son. Wells, Wright and Woody ring out “Wayside” before taking Jesse onboard for “Rock’n’Roll Star”, very loose in changing the 12-string excellence for steel’n’slide glory. And as if THE BYRDS’ tune’s not enough to kick the dust off, there’s Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Leaving Here” that THE BIRDS, Ronnie’s early combo, played.

Still, steeped in the past the record isn’t, with youth abound: STEREOPHONICS’ Kelly Jones sharing the plaintive vocals on “Whadd’ya Think” and Leah Wood following dad’s guitar lines in swampy “Wake Up You Beauty” and duetting with him in touching country blues “This Little Heart”. So what’s exactly not for the beginners? Apparently, uninitiated won’t enjoy hushed emotions of “Hypershine” or “Be Beautiful” – but they creep closer and closer to one’s heart. Or, even more, to “Heart, Soul & Body” as Woody sings. Sings and swings dubbing himself a “Real Hard Rocker” – because he is one. He has this hard edge to him, usually kept in the STONES shadow yet let free now, acoustically haloed and adorned with Woody’s paintings.


The Watchers
Frontiers Records 2002
Following in the wake of "The Mission", “The Watchers” is a kind of intermission. Maybe, “following” isn’t the right word for the collection built around epical “Intervention”, 14-minute monster the first part of which preceded band’s last album in Japan. Now, fused with previously unreleased section, it’s the best opus Andre Andersen ever composed, John West’s expressive voice painting over a solid canvas of Andersen’s keyboards – from layered synthesizers to roaring organ to gentle piano – and nicely measured Jacob Kjaer’s guitar. Here, arresting melody doesn’t fall victim to complexity, like in remakes of four old tracks. Too mechanical to fully enjoy, even “Clown In The Mirror” seems inferior to the original version, except for vocals. Much better taste four concert recordings, though with live feel kept mostly by Steen Mogesen’s bass it’s easy to presume a good dose of studio trickery was applied, while magnetic “Lies” comes much looser than on "Fear". A must for the fans watching the band at the crossroads, anyway. For fans only, if not for “Intervention”.


Giant Electric Pea 2001
Reunions bring disillusion too often. That’s not the case with RENAISSANCE, non-existant since 1987, who came back quietly and did the job magnificiently. It’s hard to blame the album for coming close to Annie Haslam‘s solo records, she never wrote with guitarist Michael Dunford – until now. Besides the two, off the classic line-up there’s drummer Terence Sullivan with keyboardist John Tout guesting on a couple of songs. Tout and another old hand, Roy Wood, back Annie on “Dolphins Prayer”, the most unlike tune for this band, just like “Life In Brazil” incandescent samba reflecting the singer’s South America experience. Save for these, in parallel history “Tuscany” could be a successor to “Song For All Seasons” though it’s a bit less immediate than “Azure D’Or”. It’s not ashes burning brightly in compelling “Dear Landseer” – all soaring voice and court dance – it’s the same band, even with Tout officially out of ranks and Haslam’s associate Mickey Simmonds in.

Taking off from their late ’70s style RENAISSANCE’s only claim to epic are “Lady From Tuscany” and “One Thousand Roses” than bookend the record. The remainder are just excellent songs, much better than one might expect: lots of acoustic guitars, tight orchestrations and vertiginous vocalizing so poignant in “Eva’s Pond” where Annie’s left alone to Simmonds’ lapping piano. Alongside light hymn of hope, which is contemporary sounding “In The Sunshine”, some songs seem to be composed way back then – sublime “Pearls Of Wisdom”, for one, develops erstwhile “You”. The drift is always alluring, be it simple “In My Life” or galloping “The Race”, both featuring Alex Caird’s punctuated bass, and “Tuscany” feels a grower. “Voices and music cry out to be heard”, RENAISSANCE one more time gave us “the greatest gits of all, Love”. If there won’t be another one, that’s a chapter worthy to have been written.


Voodoo Caravan
Steamhammer 2001
One of the most proficient hard rock albums of the year – and boring in the same measure. It kicks, it rocks, it does whatever you want, but do you want second hand goods? That might be funny, be the music less serious. Yet it is, occasionally letting shine the only treasure of theirs: Christian Carlsson’s slide guitar, rare in the genre at all, not even mentioning this day and age. Forget today to indulge the magic of “(Wade Across) The Mighty River”, a mesmeric ZEPPELIN-esque mirage in all too familiar desert. “Heartbreaker” riff for “Save Me”? More SABBATH for “Virgo” or “Until Earth Is Bitter Gone”, anyone? There’s even better Iommi impersonation courtesy of SPIRITUAL BEGGARS’ Michael Amott in “Shapes Of Afterlife” that Roger Nilsson’s magnificiently overloaded bass drags on its back. A logical path from “Sell No Soul” with Jolle Atlagic’s mighty intro copying Bonzo’s drumming in “Rock And Roll”. All this inventory no way justifies the songs duration making you tired from the opening title track which, together with “Overlord” and “Drifting”, picks up where David Coverdale and Dio dwell though there’s no balls enough and no identity – both to the singer Magnus Equall and the band as a whole. “Hole In My Head” reveals the way for all those influences to get in. Dust off your old records instead – just like THE QUILL did – and “Travel Without Moving” on their advice. Great song, by the way…


Lord Of Earth And Heavens Heir
Limb Music 2001
Hannover warriors tread a beaten glory road very steady for a debut album, thanks to strong Jioti Parcharidis’ voice getting a grip on a listener from the opener, “The Dragon’s Lair”, and Tommy Newton’s production making “Little Flame” sound like WHITESNAKE’s “1987”. Heroic metal cliches come shuttered here by pleasant melodies neatly orchestrated with Dirk Marquardt’s keyboards impressively soloing in “Damned To Bedlam”. Not too confined by the genre’s shackles, sextet effectively pull in Celtic motifs to unfurl a tapestry of the title track approaching RHAPSODY’s “Hollywood metal”.

It’s not an even issue though: if in “Amberdawn” Torsten Wolf’s and Volker Trost’s guitars feel great, in “Divine Astronomy” they’re too much for a simple groove. At the same time, in “Stroke Of Fate” melodic gets poorer while Pablo Tammens’ bass work and Apostolos Zaios’ drumming come forth to level it all off with instrumental “The Fortress” and shoot higher with “Forgive & Forget” moving serenade. A persuasive beginning of the journey.


– The Event
Hi-Note Music 2001

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As unlikely a prog land as it seems, out of Israel occasionally emerges a band deeply rooted in art rock tradition. A trio comprised of guitarist Ori Hendel, his keyboards playing vocalist brother Shachar and a singing flautist Sharon Rinat are such an ensemble. They may take in some familiar things, like overtly Frippian chops for “Tel-Aviv Stress” or Howe-like fluidity for a neatly woven “Substitute”, and come dangerously close to GENTLE GIANT medieval musings in opening “One By One” but here’s always a lyrical irony hidden between dramatic guitar/violin interplay. As of the Middle Eastern flavour some classical proggers’ opuses reek of, it never was as authentic: a capella section of “Introduction To The Event” appears sung in Hebrew – being a Bach-written sarabande, while the title track itself combines dervish dance with an exquisite piano and madcap reed blowing.

All this isn’t a rural idyll, still – “The Coin” the only exception boasting great jazzy guitar solos (“sharp frequencies and sonic cracks”) and a shamanic drum feast – with a clear urban sensation oozing out of acoustical minimalism of cold “Crown” or vaudeville-shaped “Tel-Aviv Stress”, even more tongue-in-cheek prefaced by organ fugue. It’s not worn on the sleeve, yet smile just cracks upon listening to the tango of spacious “The Well” or “Twilight”, which is partly waltz, partly frenetic Wakeman-like swirl. A quilt, then? No way: in a seeming patchiness lies a wholeness that warms a soul. The music, never immediate, keeps creeping into it on and on. If mirage is an event in one’s perception, “The Event” is of this kind of suprise.


Suicide By My Side
Nuclear Blast 2001
A sonic drop of condensed fury, 38 minutes of melodically charged agression. A tone-setter “I Spit On Your Grave” charts the band’s place on metal map as the next best to Doro. They may claim to head “Nowhere For No One”, but in a world of metal divas gone operatic, Kimberly Goss lands a genuine heavy metal building a bridge between new and old in frenetic “Shadow Island”. SINERGY’s business is “The Sin Trade”, a charming arena shouter in the vein of the ’80s, and listening to “Passage To The Fourth World” is an opportunity to remember that decade wasn’t just poodling about. Going introvert with ringing riff of “Me, Myself, My Enemy” – anger outlined by Marco Hietala’s clashing bass – you can’t be like this now, even “Written In Stone” doesn’t mellow down to pure ballad opting for anthemic panache instead. Guitar merchants Alexi Laiho and Roope Latvala weave a shining web to conjure up both MAIDEN and LIZZY ghosts, and do they dance, the ghosts! An essential listening nowadays and a feeling there’s much more to the band.


Burst The Bubble
Steamhammer 2001
At the time when so many young purveyors of hard rock try to be a new WHITESNAKE, this band are the closest to original. Guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody were two thirds the parents of the group, while bassist Neil Murray and keyboardist Don Airey graced later line-ups. So here are four SNAKE-charmers plus John Lingwood, a drummer of good pedigree, and Stefan Berggren on vocals. The guy’s good – although he hardly keeps from following Jorn Lande and Robert Hart, who sounded uncannily like David Coverdale and Paul Rodgers. That’s what Berggren does in “Days To Remember”, “She” or “Ride Ride Ride”, so you just feel betrayed a bit: if not for guitar shuffle and the coda, that would be second hand. But it’s not the voice that matters here, it’s attitude. And songwriting too: with the first major studio album to the band’s name you can forgive Moody and Marsden for re-recording some songs from their previous releases – at least, it’s not “Fool For Your Loving”.

It’s less bluesy than acoustic instrumental “Ayresome Park”, bookending the album, and “Back To The Blues” suggest. Still, the magic combination of Bernie’s chops, Micky’s slide and Don’s boogieing piano in powerful “Labour Of Love” makes you laugh and cry at once – what a hot’n’nasty bite! Well, panache, yes – it’s here, “Little Miss Happiness”, simple rock’n’roll, comes hard to resist – sleaze with ease. Listen to “All Dressed Up” and “Sacrificial Feeling” cutting edge – ooh! this lusty gusty bass and folky drift unfurling in “What Love Can Do”. It may seem too modern, like the title track, yet discard the loss for hearing those familiar harmonies resurrected. They fill “Hurricane”, ballad showing the signs of new lease of life: what does it take to break a heart? – electric and acoustic guitars and a little tune. “Kinda Wish You Would” – it’s not them telling, it’s what fans demand from SNAKES, so the more poignant sounds “Can’t Go Back”. Here they go again!


A Word In Your Eye
Giant Electric Pea 2001
It’s a “word” in the title not a “world”. And the word in the beginning was THE LENS, the late ’70s band featuring guitarist Mike Holmes and keyboard-yet-to-be-wiz Martin Orford. Failing to claw their progressive way through the punk razors though having a good following, a couple of years later they re-invented themselves as IQ. A revered ensemble now, Orford and Holmes decided to give old material a new life. Rather than restore the “No TV Tonight” cassette, the two re-recorded nine tracks anew helped by the IQ sticksman Paul Cook and saxophonist Tony Wright, who guested on the band’s last albums. IQ singer Peter Nicholls, a part-time member of THE LENS, doesn’t appear here leaving vocals to Martin. Hence the album is almost entirely instrumental: in the long interim musicians not only became masters of the trade but honed their co-writing to perfection – and it shows.

The tunes are spacious if emotional gaining momentum from “Sleep Until You Wake”, music thick and transparent at the same time. The vision is solidified by swell bass, an independent creature not anchored to the drums. Drums, in their turn, dance around percussive piano of “Choosing A Farmer”, solemnly upbeat third part of a melody which starts as an acoustic strum to take an electrified jaunty stroll with keyboards up to brief foray into reggae skipping Part 2 completely. “Of Tide And Change” is another dance where synth surge keeps afloat a flute, a reed softly following the folk path of “On A Stephen’s Castle Down” and dissolving in a “Shafts Of Light” heartbeat. Touchy innocence evaporates to naughty jazziness and light croon, that is “Childhood’s End”, before breaking into the “Frost And Fire” funky summer storm. “From The Sublime” electronic buzz opens another dimension, “word” and “world” become the synonyms – and if there’s a difference or a perspective a closer inspection is needed. THE LENS, an instrument.


The Book Of Burning
Hymns To Victory
Noise Records 2001

Celebrating the band’s 20th anniversary, STEELE look on their glory road and restore it with a double-shot. “Hymns Of Victory” is a glance inside the machine crammed with remastered versions, remixes plus a couple of new songs and a re-recorded one. “The Book Of Burning” mirrors it the other way being all new songs and versions. What’s funny is that “Hymns” serves to fans old and new anthologizing the cream of the crop and providing a nostalgia. The same goes for “The Book” holding newies as well as re-jigged oldies. Material off the first two albums, like “Don’t Say Goodbye”, comes catchy, equalled only by “Hellfire Woman” which denies access to larger-than-life opera projects, “The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell” and “The House Of Atreus”, picks of which fill “Hymns”. Classical influences aren’t to be ashamed of yet the most beautiful they appear delivered by David DeFeis’ piano in brand-new “Rain Of Fire” or Edward Pursino’s guitar in dusted-off “Minuet In G Minor”, tastier than heady “Conjuration Of The Watcher”.

Marrying old and new can be great though, “Children Of The Storm” taking previously unheard parts is a proof, while all-modern trends are bereft of good tune in favour of speed, like “The Succubus” shows in comparison to mighty “The Redeemer”. At the same time, now beginning of “I Am The One” is closer to Ozzy‘s “She’s Gone” and solo to PURPLE’s “Burn” than before, but what fans would undoubtedly savour is kicking “Hot & Wild”, the “Noble Savage” out-take. The early mix of “Noble Savage” itself that found its way to “Hymns Of Victory” appears the earliest thing on offer and, thus, the most interesting among the tracks off concept works. “Kingdom Of Fearless” and “Invictus” are a touch soulless if sharp, but heavy “The Burning Of Rome”, progressive “I Will Come For You” and unlikely bombastic rock’n’roll of “Saturday Night”, another “Savage” out-take, proudly stood the test of time. The simplier the better, acoustic re-works of “A Cry In The Night” and “The Spirit Of Steele” come hard to resist. Balance it with “Symphony Of Steele”: symphony still rages on but spirit seems to be on the wane now.

**** / ****

VIRGO – Virgo
Steamhammer 2001
A new band yet with a enviable pedigree: Andre Matos used to be in ANGRA while Sacha Paeth made himself a name as a skilful metal producer. Don’t look for metal here though, it’s different if not without a pomp. Still, what a miracle weaves an acoustic guitar of opening “To Be” on the slippery piano line gliding to heavy fandango! That’s quite easy to recall “Innuendo” at this point, attitude’s exactly the same. The method too, harmony guitar peeping in here and there – “Baby Doll” or “Blowing Away” prancing may even feel over the top following in QUEEN’s wake. “Discovery”, at the same time, is very fresh, proudly parading and beaming at full, melodic rock glam distilled while “Street Of Babylon” is pure ’80s elctro pop as designed by Dieter Bohlen – a genuine satisfaction guaranteed. Add here the spiritual appeal of “River”: ain’t it great for white folks jiving so bravely?

If reggae-spliced “I Want You To Know” and “Fiction” cabaret blues prove rather regular though very very pleasant, keyboardist Miro’s playing deserves all but acclaim when piano’s sent underpinning the questioning guitar and gospel choir of “Crazy Me?”. Dramatics linger on on Olaf Reitmeier’s meandering bass line into “Take Me Home”, bouncing to focus on Matos’ golden voice. This music’s hard not to sympathise to – then isn’t a female audience the VIRGO’s prime target? Listen to poignant “No Need To Have An Answer”, and don’t ask.


Rain Of A Thousand Flames
Limb Music 2001
With no thought of slowing down in-between two final parts of the “Emerald Sword” saga, Italian kings of power metal come up with a little present to the faithful. “A little” means a little, two mini epics and a couple of “extra” pieces. The beast is unleashed in a relentless run of a title track which holds all the band’s trademarks: a choir and an orchestra underlying Fabio Leone’s strong vocalizing, classically built guitar structures from Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli’s keyboards strains. The latter’s piano forms a short “Dream Omen” interlude leading into a full-length operatic “Queen Of The Dark Horizons”, that takes in the “Phenomena” horror movie main theme. “Hollywood metal” – geddit now? At the same time, it’s where Staropoli’s orchestrations disbalancingly overwhelm the band’s output until voice is left duetting with piano and, later, guitar flying across synthesizers field. Remember Wakeman’s “Arthur” here and get ready for the main course, “Rhymes Of A Tragic Poem – The Gothic Saga”.

There are four parts in it. “Tears Of A Dying Angel” may sound Wagnerian yet orchestra and the band counterpoint creates a reggae effect with the same humour held in narration. Forget of the tragic announced and the Emerald Sword mentioned and listen to this play while lying on a sofa with a wide grin and a remote control in your hand to treat yourself to the folky violins of “Elnor’s Magic Valley” twice. Or thrice, as the tune stretches into “The Poem’s Evil Page” to let in the solemn madrigal and roll out the tapestry of “The Wizard’s Last Rhymes”. It’s large, bright… and regular, spare for Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” fragments. That’s why you can skip it to not break the RHAPSODY main saga line.


Is Everybody Listening?
NMC Music 2001
Having served their “Breakfast In America” ‘TRAMP shoot to fame, which the band had been claiming to for some ten years. “Logical Song” was a painful reflection of their conquest with no less than two albums, “Crisis? What Crisis?” and “Crime Of The Century”, recorded on the way. Songs from the two LPs were what made the ‘TRAMP’s 1976’s tour routine this album is a document of. That was a classy concert as the band delivered some of their greatest hits, like “School”. The latter kicking off a concert was a winning move: Rodger Hodgson strumming a guitar and Rick Davies’ voice straining before he spills over the piano staccato awashed with John Halliwell’s sax and undepinned by bouncing couple of Doug Thompson’s bass and Bob Siebenberg’s drums, all leading to more instrumental playing than one might think of. Vocal harmonies are where they belong, sure, but “Bloody Well Right”, the rough-edge blues? Bloody right! That’s what the live atmosphere is about.

And did ‘TRAMP rule the crowd giving directions to let Hodgson do “Hide In Your Shell” vaudeville (and keep in this mode to break into classic number before “Dreamer”)! Resulting storm makes “Asylum” feel a natural successor, and the audience went for it, so another logical turn was to introduce still unfamiliar material from “Crisis?” – “Sister Moonshine”, groovy “Another Man’s Woman” and magical “Just Another Day” – right in the middle of the show, at which point the songs work great, though, brimming over with energy, they lack a bit of immediacy. Except for electronic wonder of “Lady”, very Beatle-ish in all the “ah-la-la’s”. Still, not everything required applauses, that’s why plaintive “Rudy” with its “nobody cares” drift was to be followed by “If Everyone Was Listening” sad wish to burst in “Crime Of The Century” rapture. From the perspective of three-year gap before “Breakfast” hit the world, words “now we’re planning the crime of the century” sounded prophetic. Was everybody listening?


Killing Ground
Steamhammer 2001
Stop, get out, it’s the strong arm of SAXON on your throat! Restless warriors still kick their battle drums, still in their element the band pull a listener in with a slaughterhouse rumble of the title track preceded by cute Celtic-tinged intro. No relief, no frills, no-nonsense, Biff Byford’s fire-spitting voice is solid as ever to slide along the guitar lines delivered by veteran Paul Quinn and his younger partner in crime, Doug Scarratt. Highly melodic flow – up to impressive bass solo from Nibbs Carter – bears whole lotta heaviness that wonderfully fits in something unexpected, which is “Court Of The Crimson King”. Not even “Schizoid Man” that originally had a heavy riff but CRIMSO masterpiece in almost all of its glory – just SAXON-styled to outline the band’s versatility. Also not so traditional for them feels “Coming Home” bluesy steamroller, slow and hot as suitable for one of the NWOBHM ice-breakers.

Have SAXON changed, then? “Dragon Lair” points to the five’s real home, SAXON in their heavy metal thunder prime, and the answer lies in the ringing of “Hell Freezes Over” – a proud arena chant. Just like “Rock Is Our Life” anthem leading directly to the old days and “Deeds Of Glory” which, unfortunately, shows some melodic cracks. They keep the track with scorching “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got” that groovy bass fills and “Running For The Border” exploring the bluesy idiom once more – still, not much happening in these two. What you really can’t tell of “Shadows On The Wall”, all modern and vibrant – what a solo Scarratt plays! – to call SAXON old geezers; their singer may be toothless but it’s a bite sharp enough to smite you to the killing ground.


Hymn To Life
Nuclear Blast 2002
Calling his sophomore solo offering “a trip into my childhood and into my life in general and also into life how I see it”, STRATOVARIUS mastermind careens towards progressive pop rather than projecting his metal guitarist image. Largely a colourful fairy tale reflected by amazing artwork, the album bears a shade of “primal scream” therapy spilling out a pain in “Father”, the only out-and-out heavy, angular song here that puts up front Anssi Nykanen’s bell-toll drumming in absence of Mira Ervaskari’s keyboards. These are the musicians Tolkki chose to help him while taking other duties on himself. Even singing, Timo’s voice appears strong yet not expressive enough, so he leaves “Key To The Universe” and “Are You The One?”, the most sublime, to ex-HELLOWEEN Michael Kiske and Sharon Den Adel from WITHIN TEMPTATION. Surely, guitar is prominent (with an occasional nod to Brian May), but there’s no speed, just essential passion comes in simple, infectious songs like “Now I Understand” and an overall universal feel culminating in epic title track. “It’s Christmas Morning” breathes angst and “Dear God” anger but feelings are sincere, and this sincerity of delivery easily devours brief neoclassical hints behind light optimism of “I Believe” and poignant nostalgia of “Little Boy I Miss You” – innocence’s lost to the wide open which, in a beautiful piece of Americana, Tolkki refers to as “Fresh Blue Waters”. Past, future or still of the moment, Timo eagerly serves a paean this life deserves.


Building The Machine
Steamhammer 2001
He’s done it, veteran eventually delivered an album of music that equals his prized posession, his voice. In his solo years, Hughes walked a thin line between R&B and hard rock dramatically sliding to either side – until now. Like way back in TRAPEZE, Glenn’s gettin’ his act much tighter, to trio, the format you can’t hide in. Who said, no surprise from the old dog? What? What it is in the beginning of “Feels Like Home”? Feels like folk! Unbelievable yet tasty, voice sliding over acoustic guitars ringing mildly for rhythm to get tight again, right in time for “Highball Shooter”. For the first time ever DEEP PURPLE’s re-make isn’t kept to the sidelines being pulled in the album context. Hughes never adds anything new to the old songs in terms of vocals, but this version rocks wild with Gary Ferguson’s impeccable drumming, cranky guitar of JJ Marsh plus guest Vince De Cola’s Hammond – ahhh thumbs up to the live feeling! As if to balance this, Glenn brings forth another classic, the one he hadn’t had a hand in writing yet makes his own, RARE EARTH’s “I Just Want To Celebrate” – there’s a riot going on with a good help from Pat Travers’ guitar and voice. A cannibal tribal feast!

A long wait was worth it to finally hear Funk Man go, “I’m a hoochie coochie man”, Wonder-way, in “Don’t Let It Slip Away”. “You can call me papa or you can call me G” – chest-beating’s justified. Don’t say you weren’t warned, the opening track states, “Can’t Stop The Flood”, and showcases essential Hughes: ballsy bass and voice shooting sky high from the soily depth. A whole lotta catchy melodies Glenn seemed to have run dry of creep on and get in, the ringmaster loosening reins in “Inside” and JJ’s solo sweetening an anxiety boiled. Now a happy man, inside ain’t the way for Hughes to celebrate another day of living, “Out On Me” soulful funk should make Otis dance on his cloud. Horizon runs away, space grows wide with “Beyond The Numb” – soothing voice, jazzy dreamy drift, a quiet moment.

Still, no bliss there, “When You Fall” bares the nerves for all to pluck, all the rich textures trembling. But now, a helping hand ins’t out of reach, mellifluous soul poured in “I Will Follow You” lush blues beaming with optimism, not easy but full of hope outlined by moving guitar. Brett Ellis picks up here creating fragile acoustic ambience of gentle “Big Sky”, Glenn relaxing, laziness mesmerising. And deceptive, it’s a calm before the flood bursts in to get in the groove, get in the gears, and build a machine.


Heavens Cafe’ Live!
Tributary Music 2001
This time this is a rock opera, a live recording of a play staged with different characters portrayed by different singers and backing provided by author John Miner’s ART ROCK CIRCUS, a real band. Though one who wasn’t there hardly understands what’s going on behind the music, music itself deserves to be lifted off beyond the curtains. At the same time, without the acting vocal lines seem bleak and histrionic – opening Classical Man soliloquy, “Last Smile Sunshine” a proof – compared to Miner’s guitar work and Jon Weisberg’s illustrious drumming. The playing is exquisite and humorous too: get your kicks off simple rock’n’roll licks starting “Astralography”, where time signatures shift passing vocals around for harmonies to come close to those of Gabriel/Collins. Yet it’s not fairy tale, the atmosphere picturing “Heavens Cafe” itself is dark, even Guardian Angel looms threatening poking her sarcasm at Lark. Oh Robin’s are soothing songs, be it claustrophobic jazzy blues of “Never Alone” or final “Lullaby”. And there’s a wonderful wholeness in interlocking themes keeping the performance cohesive – however viscous mesmerising guitar swirl of “Classical Man” venomous aria is, it disorientates you no more.

Even once you entered “Labyrinth”, Jon Cornell solid bass pulls you through, where Lark gets lost with no reason and no rhyme in his philosophical monologue – long and murky, leading to “Tower Of Imagination” hazy if charming height that builds sonically on the way to violin-oulined culmination. And then, “Again”, funny marching vaudeville in under two minutes involving everyone dissolves in The Dark One’s musings of “Flowing Home”. In the end stormy “The Dark” enshrouds the scene and Kral – a pun is clear just like Rael’s real stature. So what is “Heavens Cafe”? Should we look for the answers “In The Cage”?


– Between You & Us
NMC Music 2001
From simple to complex, from funny to serious – all that is nineteen songs squeezed into 72 mins of live show, recorded in Denver in 1979. Amazing, indeed. Or, as ACES put it themselves, “Amazing Grace”. Not the traditional song but a bluegrass tune based on the one. They played originals, and one of them, “The End Is Not In Sight” in 1976 won them a Grammy for country group vocal performance. No wonder then, the show kicks off with it – and while vocal performance is great, that can’t be said of guitars, which sound quite out of tune. That improves as the concert builds on to steer away from genuine country rock of “Dancing The Night Away” or even roots country of “Out Of The Snow” and takes in boogie rock’n’roll, like “Who’s Crying Now” and “Hit The Nail On The Head” (well, they hail from Memphis, Tennessee), humorous reggae of “Love And Happiness” and “Third Rate Romance”, and even powerful desperate blues “Just Between You And Me And The Wall”. Whatever it is, it has a distinctive sound of James Hooker’s piano’s and Billy Earheart’s organ’s combination, plus Duncan Cameron’s bluesy guitar – ain’t them a country PROCOL HARUM then in this versatility?

Yet ACES had a pedal steel what made them be unmistakably themselves in bar room piano haze of “These Dreams Of Losing You” or “I Pity The Mother And The Father” bordering with Cajun dance. But “Typical American Boy” belongs to another genre, which is funk. Funny funky turn, that is, so this tongue-in-cheek attitude feels compelling, while it’s hard to deny ACES are high when playing what they love the most, swaying rock like that of “Ella B” or rockabilly of “I’ll Be Gone”. While on Elvis base, the band flow into “Who Will The Next Fool Be” do-wop answering themselves with “Fool For The Woman” burst. And in this sincerity lies the link between you and them.


Massacre Records 2001
Classic metal, classic sound where a bit of neoclassic guitars doesn’t mar an impression at all – all due to sheer energy proudly worn on the band’s sleeve from the opening title track, full blast at full throttle. D.C. Cooper’s voice may sound suppressed to some extent but guitars play charged rock’n’roll that’s impossible not to get hooked on. Catch the sharp riff and tremble to the thunderous drums of “Fall Into Oblivion” and get away with its sweet smell in your nostrils until MAIDEN-ish solo is set on chasing you. The secret lies in easygoing melodies, defined and refined in “Hear Me Calling”. Heed their call, indeed, because it’s worthy swaying along to – an awkward reverb notwithstanding. Little by little, power is gained and the heroic side of SILENT FORCE starts to show in keyboards-embellished “Promised Land” boasting wonderful vocal part with obvious folk influence, and then wind in cold swirl of “We Must Use The Power” and furious “All Guns Blazing” – is it them that set “World Aflame”? Here, unexpectedly, enters an orchestra for the trilogy of “Cena Libora”-“Gladiator”-“The Blade” to unfurl like an old tapestry. “Hail, Ceasar!” cry was common for metal a while ago, so welcome it back now before distilled metal glory announces its coming in “Last Time”. Well, ballad – is there a metal album without ballad? Not this, adorned with engaging “In Your Arms”, a duet with Inka Auhaugen, that Spanish guitar lace of “Northern Lights” ends so poignantly. True infatuation.


Scorched Earth
Retrowrek Records 2001
This mighty trio is a figment of Bernie Torme, but if you’re looking for the GILLAN guitar slinger you have some seconds of the “Smoke On The Water” riff at the fade-out. Otherwise, you deal with one of the sharpest players on the scene caught in the action between 1999 and 2001 – and the action is no frills and no excuses. “Make it or break it” approach, that’s honest, Bernie’s breaking voice on “Ghost Walking” adding to the overall live feel. Very very live, the three – GYPSIES’ rhythm section are ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE’s JJ Pearce and Simon Jeffrey – combine leader’s heavy constructions with a homage to their punk roots, and ride on such a perky attitude up to delivering the PISTOLS’ “Pretty Vacant” and their own bristly “Golden Pig”. They call it “Bad Blood” – OK then, bad blood’s good while it’s hot.

Still, not many famous tunes this time plus some songs still to be laid down in the studio, the band dent into the show with “All I Want” from Torme’s last album, "White Trash Guitar", ringing out thick rock’n’roll sound, chugging like a train. Using this metaphor proves right to the bone, as, for one, it’s an image off blues world Irish master decorates with his work and a Rory shadow cast on “Ball & Chain”. Then, there’s “Mystery Train”, 10-minute heartbreaker rivalled only by ZEP’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – what a guitar!

Torme’s instrument’s a trademark which left its imprint on many a group; “Ghost Walking” reminding of Bernie’s service in ATOMIC ROOSTER, not written for Vince Crane’s approval but clearly in the wake of “Death Walks Behind You”. Bravely belting out “Chasing Rainbows”, Bernie – never a Caruso – reaffirms his relentless passion for playing live. Stare into “Star” scorching the Earth, and dare not to mention “Highway Star” warbler. An ultimate experience!

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