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The Journey Goes On
Frontiers Records 2003
The best way to get over a dangerous curve is to enjoy the ride, say those who know what the drive is.

There’s always a risk of repeating yourselves, especially when your journey’s going on for some twenty years, but MANTIS took a challenge gracefully, without looking too much over their collective shoulder. A quick glimpse was much needed though, after their singer has left the fold, yet the band – bassist Chris Troy, his guitarist brother Tino and another axeman, Dennis Stratton (yes, of IRON MAIDEN pedigree), all sharing the vocals on the title track – found a great solution and welcomed on-board Doogie White, who toured with them before joining RAINBOW, and ex-URIAH HEEP John Sloman, who they wanted for a frontman for a long time. A little surprise, then, that the new effort sounds so, er, effortlessly, being a prime example of how ’80s-styled hard rock can exist now without feeling worn-out.

It’s impossible not to get hooked onto the opening “Tonight” which holds simultaneously an attack and immense subtlety Sloman delivers with no shade of panache. Underpinning guitars play no needless note either throughout – check the bass line in “The Escape” – and if White’s contribution may seem less impressive, the nerve-strained “Naked”, quite pale on 2000’s "Nowhere To Hide", makes for a real grand finale. What lies in between is a number of fine songs full of memorable tunes – and this is a surprise, indeed: where did the band found all those great melodies like acoustic epic “If Tomorrow Never Comes” or expansive waltz of “Beast Within”? That’s a good definition for the whole album, incidentally: beast within. Join the ride, then – bumpy it might be, but goosebumps guaranteed.


More Than Conquerors
Classic Rock Productions 2002

See also the DVD

Long-separated URIAH HEEP soul brothers jam their act together just to be separated on the record. Here is the closest you get to Ken Hensley solo gig.

Ken Hensley played only a few concerts since he left URIAH HEEP, so his appearance at 2001’s The Magician’s Birthday Party was a timely return. Accompanied by a band lent to him by his former bandmate John Wetton he shares the spotlight with, this is the part where Ken takes the lead. He might be nervous and not in the best voice due to the cold, yet the performance was good, as Hensley’s playing skills remain intact. Very much so to open with a piano piece “La Tristeza Secreta” which grows into his trademark Hammond-heavy “A Minor Life” and then to “Easy Livin'”.

HEEP tunes, including obscure ballad “Confession”, make the bulk of the show and receive a new reading thanks to the second keys operator, John Young, and the second guitar – an amazing one: “Day Tripper” as “The Wizard” coda, anyone? – of Dave Kilminster, the two supplying harmony vocals as well. “July Morning” and “Return To Fantasy”, where Wetton clearly overshadows Hensley, have another flavor to them, while Ken’s solo numbers, “I Don’t Wanna Wait” and “Out Of My Control”, are even more infectious, and “Tell Me” sees the veteran in brilliant rocking form handling slide guitar like never before. Knowing this “before”, still, you can be either disappointed or delighted, but the music is really conquering.


Slow Gin
Unicorn Records 2003
Intrepid bass leads to the other world for the third time.

More and more etherial it gets with each record from this Canadian band, the axis of which is Antoine Fafard’s flexible bass. Wrapping itself in airy keyboards, the four-string beast runs free in spastic title track, to the effect where one understands the concept of banning a guitar out of sessions with a prospect of creating THE SPACED OUT ORCHESTRA to flesh-up the flash. Now, there’s no sense in untying this tight knot of progressive rock and jazz – tight but loose enough to weave one’s imagination in. There’s always a space for that, equally in highly melodic “The Thing” and intense soundwhirl of “Minor Blast”. The most impressive, perhaps, is short “Glassosphere – Part III” which ties this album, 2000’s "Spaced Out" and 2001’s "Eponymus" into a trilogy of ordered confusion. Or fusion, if you will. Sure, you will.


& Friends –
Wake The Nations
Songhaus Music 2003
It’s all in the family – Sammy Hagar’s cousin comes out with a wake-up call.

With too many either guitar or vocals-biased records in the last years, someone had to level the situation, and that’s what Ken Tamplin does here. A solid effort features some of the best players around, yet it’s a showcase of Ken’s talents as a writer and a singer. The writing is exemplary, there’s a highly melodic way with a difficult subjects of “We’ve Jihad Enough” and “Cell Phone Freaks” where Ritchie Kotzen guests, vocals are strong too, “The Story Of Love” seeing Tamplin bold enough to invite Jeff Scott Soto for an impassioned duet, which leaves overt Paul Rodgers imitations on tracks like “Every Day Is Precious” or “Hare Kristians” unexplained. Even more so, when a “God In Heaven” breezy blues unfurls dramatically, but some emotions get lost due to the album’s length, as a few of eighteen songs could have easily been omitted. Still, it’s big and it rocks good – especially “Freedom” – for a call to be heed.


Under A Savage Sky
Cult Metal Classics 2003
A fire still burns, and a metal master is back to claim his fame.

Jack Starr, whose first success lay with VIRGIN STEEL, kept quite a low profile since mid-’80s, yet his legend loomed larger and larger with every passing year. Now, given a chance by Cult Metal to cut another album, he called old friends, bassist Ned Meloni and drummer Joe Hasselvander having played in his BURNING STARR, to arms, so the return is glorious. What may seem bombast, as signalled by the choir lead-off, turns out clever and dynamic, with no needless compression to spoil an attack and shoot down Shmoulik Avigal’s vocal flight. Don’t go no further than the title track: stylistically speaking, there’s nothing new to this classic heavy metal, yet who needs novelty with melodies so poignant in the opening “The Flame Never Dies” and magnificient in Gary Moore-ish instrumental “Anthem For The Nations” and energy oozing out of every guitar note? Scorching.


Wheels Within Wheels
Strange Music 2003
What an appalling cover! Fortunately, the music belies that death mask. Well, almost.

What’s been a talk of some years gains a flesh now, when the Eireland’s finest guitar’s long silent, and this posthumous collection feels as an exquisite testament of a great talent. Perhaps, too exquisite: while acoustic tracks spiced many of Rory’s albums, there always was a life-affirming energy in them, cowboys and bandits rocking hard in “Out On The Western Plains or blues calling with “Calling Card, thus reflecting a real soul of the man. “Wheels Within Wheels, though, has a different ring to it, a sort of chamber one, and if Gallagher was keen on doing a folk programme some day, this offering is hardly the record he’d come up with. The task was left to his brother Donal, a former manager, who – having a little choice against sheer responsibility – carried the torch gracefully.

The cuts gathered here are of varied provenance and sound quality, some being sketches and some occasional collaborations, yet whatever optimistic tone a title track, a sprawling blues, sets, a poignancy pervades all of them. There are slabs or that intense Rory everybody loved, too, skiffley “Goin’ To My Hometown sharing the spotlight with Lonnie Donegan, and a studio version “As The Crow Flies, a highlight of acclaimed “Irish Tour ‘74 album. Sitting rather comfortably alongside them, “Bratacha Dubha and “Ann Cran Ull, featuring respectively Martin Carthy and Bert Jansch, see the other side of the artist – this of a minstrel treading the roads of a country he adored – to put “Lonesome Highway understated groove or “Flight To Paradise flamenco, a duet with Juan Martin, to the backyard.

All of this doesn’t mean there’s no fun in the fare, Gallagher could be as melancholic as reckless. Troubled spirit may show in “The Cuckoo moving tune, where the voice soothes and rages wrapped in his and Roland Van Campenhour’s strum, yet humor fills up “Barley & Grape Rag that the guitarist revisited in THE DUBLINERS’ company, and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky which Rory and Bela Fleck’s banjo took back to the bluegrass soil right after dipping the Delta mud with the hushed take on “The Walkin’ Blues the Irishman started doing when still a part of TASTE. His heart doesn’t beat anymore, but roaring – Rory-ing? – and rolling, these wheels keep on turning.


Fate Of A Dreamer
Transmission 2001
When the metal opera gets ambient and turns into a teenage one.

Arjen Lukassen made a name as a creator of concept albums, yet this concept was completely different from the onset: while sculpting an instrumental record from the bits and pieces of AYREON, his main project, Arjen heard a 14-year old Astrid van der Veen and stopped in (reconstructing) his tracks. A little one’s melodies and lyrics suited the material – Lukassen’s tightly woven guitars and keyboards – like a glove to have lent it a wholly new drift which took more fresh infusion, a couple of voiceless pieces, as grandiose “Fate, still retained.

“Estranged may depict how a usual listener feels about that, but flutes here or pipes in a wonderful, acoustically-tinctured, “Lost Message stir a stunning atmosphere, so there’s no need to be guessing the origins of a certain part. Wakeman-esque or Oldfield-like elsewhere, “Surreal sounds exactly so, transparent strumming pervading thick synth and guitar layers. With ambient throbbing and real drumming, it’s heavy and ethereal in one instance, as light a pastoral as murky a gothic, mostly cold but undeniably emotive, like “High. That’s where the album takes the one who dreams a dream.


American Full Circle
American Full Circle 2002
Can something be more American than the blues? Roll on in circles, then.

Whatever images the band’s name – and the album’s title – may conjure up, they’re not of the blistering blues tailored by the TASTE blueprint. While his vocal vibrato sometimes feels a tad detached from the raw emotions of music, Janusz Bartolik’s catchy riffing ‘n’ ripping owes much to Rory Gallagher, and such a flair is quite telling to ensure the grooviness herein. And the music is groovy, indeed, power trio giving it all in Hammond-underlined “Childhood River” and playful “Bad Penny Boogie” without shying away from sentimentality that “Happy” is shot through with – a brave and candid thing. Less harrowing come the seeming results of long jams, like “Hope Is Good For The Soul”, yet they can’t take away from heavy if folky “Seeing Is Believing” and ebullient “Can Your Read My Mind”. “Wrong Side Of Town” dedicated to Brian Jones, the Stone one, feels an oddity though.


EMPIRE – Trading Souls
Lion Music 2003

Read the interview

Getting imperial doesn’t mean getting heavy – but solidly proud.

One could hardly bet German guitarist Rolf Munkes would get together a line-up equal to that of the first EMPIRE album, 2001’s "Hypnotica", ever again. It wasn’t doomed to have become a one-off project though, the second round easily topping the debut: a classic hard rock approach bolstered with a bunch of classic hard rock players determined a classic hard rock record, very whole this time thanks to the vocals and a melodic gift of Tony Martin’s who provides a great icing to a cake Munkes bakes.

Rolf escapes the trappings of casting the singer into BLACK SABBATH, Tony’s previous band, framework while supplementing his powerful voice with riffs and solos as powerful as clever – as displayed in a top-notch “Pay Back Time which takes in both harmony and acoustic guitars, oiled by Neil Murray’s rolling bass, and breathes emotion, just like the dramatic “Did You Ever Love Me does. Another veteran present is Don Airey, whose organ draws an orchestral feel to the “Teenage Deadhead balladeering and irons out the angularity of “One In A Million. A shade of the ‘80s rarely makes for such a comfortable listen these days, yet “Perfect Singularity appears a nice definition for an album which demands no soul to be traded in pursuit of excellence.


All Day Home
Romislokus 2001
No matter what the title suggest, there’s no hint of agoraphobia.

It comes as a surprise: with all the classic rock popularity in USSR, Russian bands are still rare in the field. Yet when they emerge, they do rock – witness ROMISLOKUS. Bubbly guitar melody of “Cool”, the opener of this album, their second, is able to find a way to both the prog lovers and the MTV eaters. But while clever English lyrics and various effect add up to the tastiness, not everything here bristles with immediacy, ‘L’Amour” and “Persici” (sung in French and Italian respectively) taking an alt course to ram it all home with piano-driven melancholy of “If” and space rock of spacious “Freedom”. The coldness of those may come as an explanation for the title, yet there’s a warm shot in a form of ’60s-styled “Name”, which points towards greater things – are they out of the doors yet?


Back In The U.S.
Capitol 2002

See the DVD

Coming from the Sixties and rocking in his sixtieth, Paul’s still at it.

With all the furore surrounding his “Driving USA” trek, the question must be if there ever was an unsuccessful Macca tour? Hardly, except for the 1980’s Japanese affair that so effectively finished WINGS, yet what started in 2002 when Paul have set to promoting "Driving Rain" album, took the rejuvenated veteran on totally unpredictable course. His new band, with only Wix Wickens a seasoned player, can easily match for enthusiasm any ensemble McCartney previously wrapped himself in. Even the very first one, and this is a good reason to proudly flag “Getting Better”, never been performed live. Perhaps, a signal of the artist embracing his own past at last, as it’s the first time that the Fabs / post-Fabs quotient gives advantage to the BEATLES material up to the six-song run, including “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude”, at the end of the show to drive the audience crazy.

The frenzy, though, is on from the off, from “Hello Goodbye” complete with its Hawaiian coda and bubbling “Jet”, and the fresh material gets airing only six numbers into the concert, “Let Me Roll It” sounding as an excuse to unleash a deeply emotional stance of “Lonely Road” that is mirrored much later in “The Long And Winding Road” which sees Paul so overwhelmed with feelings. Yet moving is all of the fare, for different reasons: pathos-flecked “Freedom” has a special meaning for America, while Lennon-addressing “Here Today” and Harrison’s “Something”, played on George’s beloved ukulele, come down poignantly personal not only on McCartney but on everyone in the venue eagerly eating from the singer’s hand.

And it’s hard to resist indeed, such is an unpretentious panache – an oxymoron, yes, but true – with which Macca pulls in an acoustic mini-set featuring less familiar “Vanilla Sky” and “Every Night’ alongside “We Can Work It Out”, all enlivened with the same little rhythm-and-bluesiness that simmers down an exuberant “Coming Up”. That’s what it takes to get the people going, and there’s no need for verbal communication, bar one funny bit in “Carry That Weight” where Paul forgets the lyrics and weaves an admission into the song. Who cares, anyway, as Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson’s guitars, anchored to the leader’s swinging bass and Abe Laboriel’s drums, churn out a cheerful rock ‘n’ roll of “Back In The USSR” or “All My Loving”? A shape the veteran’s in is amazing, there’s more colors to his voice than before, something for everybody – could this be an explanation to the furore? Ah yeah, just one wee detail: McCartney’s a great artist.


Rock Of Faith
Giant Electric Pea 2003

Read the interview

The avatar of classic rock gets it together and brings out the best.

There’s something peculiar about this album that’s hard to define at first: for ten years since John emerged as a fully-fledged solo performer he’s been shaping a serious pop music and seemed to have dismissed his much respected past which lay in other realms. Now, fifty years of the artist’s life caught up with him on both personal – the way his music grows on – and creative levels to make Wetton feel the need to reassert his sensitivity, no matter what style it may bring on. Hence, the title and some old friends appearing here alongside new ones, the peculiarity being the wholeness of the record’s diversity.

It’s not easy coming to terms with progressive feel that pushes the album from the beginning, yet though good melodies are aplenty here, immediacy isn’t what John’s after today. He mostly eschews those trademark harmonies – of which “When You Were Young”, sung a cappella, is a prime example – having supplanting them with a chant in the title track co-written with Clive Nolan, in charge of a keyboard department on the album, bass duties relayed to his PENDRAGON‘s colleague Peter Gee. The result is an outer world filled with rare intimacy from where a sublime “Who Will Light A Candle”, drenched in cathedral-like echo, is borne – the past rolls back, John’s lifelong pal Richard Palmer-James coming in to craft lyrics like he did back in CRIMSON days.

Connection and reconnection mark “Rock Of Faith”, even hard rock of “A New Day” – brilliant John Mitchell’s guitar playing throughout – may have followed in the wake of Wetton claiming back his chapter in URIAH HEEP story at the time of the album’s recording. Whatever, of much more importance many will tend to find another reuion, with Geoff Downes – the peace is made, and there’s no attempt to revive the ASIA spirit, that’s why the impassioned “I’ve Come To Take You Home” featuring ELO’s Hugh McDowell on cello, and “I Lay Down” are ballads true to that spirit and so beautiful. Rock of faith or faith in rock, it’s all the same now.


Live In Denmark ’72
Purple Records 2002
Raw but ready – a rough sketch for the greatest live album of all time.

This might be a tad confusing: PURPLE had two things called “Scandinavian Nights”, one a live LP recorded in 1970 in Stockholm, the other a video taped in 1972 in Copenhagen. What we have here is that latter performance, the source of this album aimed strictly at fans as it’s coming dangerously close to the band’s definitive stage set of only five months later, immortalized on grandiose “Made In Japan”.

Dangerously is the right word, the group sound much more raw here, with their finest moment, “Machine Head”, still awaiting its release, and the five trying to hit the stride and not realizing still what a smash lay dormant in “Smoke On The Water”, to be brought on-stage later in the year. The best example of that tryout can be “Strange Kind Of Woman”, a revelation of how well-rehearsed was the vocal / guitar interplay which would always pass off as an extemporization. Those magical improvisations are abound though, not only when Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord let it rip but also because of Ian Gillan rhythm-and-bluesy hollering all the way through that makes up for him missing some high notes – not in “Child In Time” spliced with a good dose of moral preaching – and Roger Glover running over the fret in the Ian Paice’s drumming showcase, “The Mule”.

So maybe this set is even livelier – warts and all – than the other one, and while many will undoubtedly greet the first official appearance of “Fireball” concert version by the Mk II, the vast majority should be assured to stick to their copy of that Japanese album.

***** – for collectors only

Shadows In The Air
Sanctuary 2001
Jack Of All Trades soars in the Latino-colored blues.

There are many sides to the veteran artist, yet they rarely come together in one package like this, arguably Bruce’s best since his 1969’s debut, from which a couple of songs made it to here. Jack’s been several times revisiting his own past to get a new shine to gems that, alongside fresh material, seem fit with another play of his. This time it’s in a Latin key, shifting lazily into the view with a ghostly “Out Into The Fields”, awashed in Vernon Reid’s guitar instead of Leslie West’s of the original, and funky “52nd Street” so remindful of lava blues a certain trio Bruce was in used to be brewing.

He, indeed, revives two CREAM smashes, “White Room” and “Sunshine Of Your Love”, and one would be forgiven to think it’s Santana weaving his strands in but no – that’s the very same player who shaped them in the first place, Eric Clapton, has a mighty ball. Still, there could be no mistake as to whose axe’s cutting it in a majestic ballads “Heart Quake” and “Dark Heart” – Gary Moore does wear no disguise now. Jack himself doesn’t either, as it’s just different angles that highlight jazz of “Boston Ball Game 1967” or “This Anger’s A Liar” boogie, voodoo’ed up by Dr. John’s piano, while the voice is as pure and deep as ever.

And musicianship, too – as it’s Bruce’s own dramatic piano that ebbs in plaintive, heartbreaking “Milonga” and powerful bass that throbs “Dancing On Air” through before dissolving into acoustic breezing of this oldie, “He The Richmond”. He the master, yes, a chaser of shadows, and this record is a masterclass of the trade.


THE JEEVAS – 1-2-3-4
Cowboy Musik 2002
Not the return of Govinda yet there’s much to rejoice at.

That was a big loss when Chrispian Mills made the world bid farewell to the delicious KULA SHAKER that perfectly recaptured the late ’60s spirit. Rumours of him go solo proved false when the news broke of a new enterprise. THE JEEVAS are a nitty-gritty rock ‘n’ roll band with the same nerve – “jiva” meaning “indestructlible life-force” – but more garagey sound. “Virginia” sets the quite uncompromising mood, and there can’t be other in a three-piece of Mills on guitar, Dan McKinna on guitar and Randy Nixon on drums picking up where THE TROGGS left off. A gutsy stuff, former psychedelia surfaces in spades in “Silver Apples” only. “Scary Parents” providing a missing link between Mills’ past and present, the playfulness of “Once Upon A Time In America” or the energy of “You Get My Number” riffage come hard to resist, though melodies are less adventurous this time. Cowboy theme might be a good find, but it doesn’t justify the album’s brevity. Thirty-six minutes of an imaginary radio programme feel a teaser: 1-2-3-4 and it’s all over.


Live At L’Olympia
Sony 2001
The concert that brought the European audience to the late youngster’s feet.

All of his short life Jeff was averse to any comparisons to his great father, yet when Buckley Jr. walked on the Olympia stage the discipline and sensuality of Tim’s got through his son’s American skin. The rawness of the official bootleg recording serve equally well to both the “Kick Out The Jams” sonic attack and the nerves’ exposure in the brief falsetto, Tiny Tim-style, take on “Kashmir”. Those covers, Cohen’s “Hallelujah” aside, a needless extra, the singer’s emotional state is explicable as he was giving his love to Edith Piaf back to Paris in desperate “Dream Brother”, having enveloped everybody in deep tones of “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”. The problem is, nervousness became too overwhelming to darken the show from “Eternal Life” on, “Grace” standing out even here, which in the light of the artist’s destiny looks rather appropriate.


Ozzy Osbourne
Down To Earth
Sony 2001
Gracious grave dancing for the children of today, but dirty Oz isn’t.

There’s a notable moment in the bridge of “Facing Hell” when the melodic figure gets close to that of SABBATH’s “Megalomania”. Hardly a coincidence with Ozzy thrown onto the MTV altar to admit here he’s not “the Antichrist or the Iron Man”. His metal still rocks though, and the opening “Gets Me Through” belongs to the golden canon Osbourne set thirty years earlier, but most of this album takes of that depository rather than add to it. The artwork feels reflective, showing the singer fade to the bones, and getting thin he is, remaining fashionable while stretching his talent too much to fall into many a cliche as in “Black Illusion” and turn “Dreamer” into an AEROSMITH-like lush ballad. More typical of Ozzy’s own romanticism “You Know…”, awashed with acoustic guitars, and piano-splashed “Running Out Of Time” may please the long-time fan and a new devotee alike. Yet – with him confessing, “I feel like a living dead” – it’s hard to not notice something grave in Prince Of Darkness’ getting to earth.


100th Window
Virgin 2003
Five years down the line since “Mezzanine” shook the world, the ATTACK is on again, warm and beautiful.

That’s optimistic, a title meaning a way to get to the inner feelings and a record to hit the nerve, not too edgy and not too comfortable. “Future Proof” – 3D’s soft voice, insistent beat and anxious guitar buzz, all awashed in electronica – comes close to capturing today’s concern, in sync so complete it’s hard not to wrap oneself in a piece. The dub’s caressing but keeping awake, vibrant “What Your Soul Sings” and “Special Cases” delivered by Sinead O’Connor’s spectral voice gets under the skin for music to become even more spooky with Horace Andy appearance on echoing, lachrymose “Everywhen”. At this point the drift takes a very unsettling, dark course, Arabian strings of “Butterfly Caught” and “Antistar” adding to it until melodicism wans into a silky web of “Small Time Shot Away”. A way in found, an urge for a way out arise.


– Lean Holhim Pit’om Kulam?
L. A. 4 Records 2002
A long way from their previous work, Israeli paragons of progressive show how relaxing a mooch could be.

When there’s a five-year between the albums, a new one can turn out a killer, and the opening “Yerah” feels a full-blown teaser – slow-burning organ, crawling guitars, orchestral swaths, soft harmonies – which sets a promise, sadly not resolved as it might have been. The band pull on a mood too melancholic to convince it’s a completed work, not a collection of elaborate demos with an odd glimpse of solid theatricality, like in echo-laden, forlorn “Holot”, hitting the rock bottom of desperation, or artsy, puppety title track that somehow reflects in dramatic “Hayim”. As a whole, though, the album feels a grower, if you happen to get in the groove – and sooner or later, you do. And when you did, an answer to the question in the title – Where everybody goes to suddenly? – may finally dawn on you. The road in question leads to Truth.


Amputated Feelings
Derelict Brew 2002
Strange brew, if you don’t watch out it’ll stick to you. Classic were bloody right – yet why watch out?

The band might be very young but the promise is profound in what even if you don’t know where you are in their world, you like it nevertheless. Stitching cuts proper with short interludes, the Boston quartet’s second outing packs a punch straight in the opening “Toxic Candies”, a delicious mish-mash of pastoral prog and heavy metal riffage, catchy and deep. Keyboards permutate from Mellotron subtlety to Hammond beefiness to a great effect – quirky and tasty, the only drawback being unimpressive effect-laden vocals, compensated for by “TFM”, an instrumental continuation on the same theme dipped in dub of which humorously emerges “Beelzebub Blues”, best described as baroque reggae. Here’s an explanation to the album’s title: get your feeling out to not tangle them in a crazy knot that can’t be loosened. But that’s tight and that’s good, as “Lonesome Heatwave” beats on. Quite groovy.

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