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Stripped To The Bare Bones

NMC Music 1999

Strangely, but since the demise of COCKNEY REBEL the bandleader seemed to be lost for public eye, too, while he’s still alive and well and living in. This acoustic perfomance from London’s Jazz Cafe eloquently demonstrates what always stood behind REBEL’s glam – a vulnerable soul stuck to balladeering rather then belting out hits. Thus, Steve’s approach are of Dylan’s kind: one wouldn’t deny Harley’s not belonging to the first league of rock warblers – as doesn’t His Bobness. Accopmpanied solely by Nick Pynn playing guitar, dulcimer and violin, Steve comes up with something very folky as “My Only Vice” while “Star For A Week” has even cold baroque feel thanks to great solo. Harley’s audience is surprisingly easily led, they join in for the last chorus of “The Best Years Of Our Lives”, those old COCKMEY fans now grown up he addresses to with “Judy Teen” calypso.

“Mr. Soft” attains somewhat pre-War decadence feel as well as “Sling It!” turned to tango – but ain’t there variety show elements in rock’n’roll since “Death Of A Clown”? On the contrary, Steve becomes extremely serious once he sets for his former band hits. Flamenco guitar added to “Sebastian” changes it all over, the same difference as between two versions of Clapton’s “Layla”. A drastic re-working! Unchangeable is “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)” – you can bet it turns out to be a fine singalong with that magnific solo. An enjoyable listening not only for fans although it’s mainly them this CD aims at.


Studio Sessions

NMC Music 1996

THE STOOGES are the band everyone has to re-visit from time to time to recall they were not only about noise. Iggy seems to overshadow hus mates while it was them who secured for the singer a space to freak out in. These recordings hail from 1972, around the “Raw Power” period and after it, when the band set to work on the follow-up. Welcomed in the fold was Scott Thurston whose Jerry Lee Lewis-ey piano shines in “Head On” and no one can ignore Ron Asheton’s bass. Hectic rock’n’roll debuted on the “Metallic KO” live album but this version shows how unleashed the band was even in the studio. “Death Trip” is presented here in rough mix, not so wild as one that made the LP. Pop in his best Jagger mood.

“I Got Right”, fantastic, organ-driven song eventually appeared in 1975 on Pop’s album of the same name. Early variant could have been considered classic had it been released by the band. Kudos to the short solo Blackmore would’ve been proud of.

Detroit’s WABX radio broadcast 1972 sessions and now fans can savour “Hard To Beat” and still poppy “Raw Power” taken off the station’s vaults. In case you don’t know: “Hard To Beat”, once polished and loaded with fiery guitars, turned out as “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell”.

Another rock’n’roll of this kind is “Cock In My Pocket”, previously known only by the “Metallic KO” rendition. But studio version appeared to exist with keyboards’ firework provided by one Bob Sheff while . Also there are two jams, “Rubber Legs” and “Pin Point Eyes”, dedicating the listener to THE STOOGES methods of work, tight and disciplined despite the rumours. Especially good is the latter, the blues, while James Williamson’s solo of the former blows the socks off the feet.

Manzarek-like organ adorns mighty “Open Up & Bleed” which you could easily confuse with stoned Mick The Stone track. And more DOORS feel to “Johanna” to pop up later on Iggy’s “Kill City”.

A valuable addition to THE STOOGES’ catalogue, a fun not only for a fan.



Verglas 2000

ARENA established themselves as the solid hard’n’art unit and proves it time and again. They tend to combine PENDRAGON atmospheric approach – well, it’s restless Clive Nolan in the end – with sharp riffage. Nothing really unexpected from the opener, “Chosen”, but listening is pleasant throughout. Heavy keyboards could have suit even DIO – luckily, no Wakeman in them, it’s great when the influences don’t jump up on you. Clive made the right decision not to dominate and keep balance with John Mitchell’s guitar. Rob Sowden’s singing may be too exuberant with pathos – OK, but ain’t it the name of the game? More relaxed is acoustic-driven ballad “Waiting For The Flood” with Ian Salmon’s prominent bass. Good song yet too predictable while “Space Oddity” inklings sound curious.

“The Butterfly Man” represents typical progressive epic which, quite restricted in studio variant, should be so great live, in the same time a thought of genre crisis comes to mind on hearing “Ghost In The Firewall” – undistinctive from hundreds tracks of other artists. Musicianship’s not the case, problematic are the melodies. Why be intricate when the tune’s not catchy? Catchy might be the title “Climbing The Net” – because it has nothing to do with cyberspace. Absolution is large-scaled “Moviedrome”, massive and huge like, say, “Epping Forest”. Time changes and good theatricality abound, there’s no escape from GENESIS comparisons until guitar goes metal. Enjoy it as Clive takes on pure piano! “Friday’s Dream”, a pathetic ending, leaves you thinking something’s missed on this album. Question mark on the CD looks very appropriate, indeed.


Mandies And Mescaline Round At Uncle Harry’s

NMC Music 1997

What’s the first thing coming to your mind when you think of a band with two drummers? FLOYD’s stage show? Maybe. But can you imagine an ensemble gathered by former members of TOMORROW and THE DEVIANTS? Horrible it should be? Communists on white bycicles? You’re wrong by far! If Hendrix and CREAM are your cup of brandy, welcome PINK FAIRIES. Raw bluesy guitar and rough voice create a majestic live atmosphere preserved on this compilation of BBC recordings from 1970-1971. Russel Hunter’s and Twink’s drumming could leave OSIBISA way behind, rattling as if hellhounds broke free. “The Snake” might be seen as psychodelic masterpiece – especially with those mad effects. Many played Little Richards’ “Lucille” but had old rocker heard FAIRIES’ version, he might retire happily, teaching and preaching.

“Johny B. Goode” sounds less energetic, not due to the guitar players doubling – DEVIANTS’ Paul Rudolph was joined by Trevor Burton of THE MOVE fame – but because Twink, the driving force behind the band, went off. Feel the difference by comparing “Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout” to “Uncle ‘Henry’s’ Last Freakout”, the latter sans Twink. “Harry” and “Do It!” coming from Glastonbury gig are remindful of early SABBATH (“Paranoid” vs “Harry”), another heavy, unleashed and bluesy quartet. Fantastic stuff!

Who says of punks? No way! Savour PINK FAIRIES, the treasure buried in time.


The Vaudeville Years:
1968 to 1970

Receiver Records 1998

What a fantastic band FLEETWOOD MAC was in its original form! This double set comes as a great addendum to the shoddily presented “The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions” box set. The material included here was recorded around time of “Then Play On” album, the last one prior to Peter Green’s leaving the band. We’re allowed now to see different MAC, MAC enjoying their work so much that were even going to release together with “Then Play On” an EP containing “The Milton Schlitz Show”. What it was? Something strictly for fun – five parody tracks with Jeremy Spencer fooling about between. He takes on different accents, makes a “Contribution To Doo Wop” and has a spoof of John Mayall in piano-driven “Man Of Action” – remember, Spencer didn’t play on the album so, had the “Show” been put out back then, it’d be his “goodbye”. Fun is fun yet musicianship has nothing to do with it – pay attention to organ part of “(Watch Out For Yourself) Mr. Jones” or Mick Fleetwood’s firework on Gene Vincent-ish “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight”.

Jeremy wasn’t the only who didn’t manage to spread his wings as wide as he could. Peter also was capable to soar higher had not albatross (or “Albatross”, absent here) already been on his neck. Guitarist vulnerability is clear as never before in “Love That Burns” or starkers “Man Of The World” with no echo of final version. Danny Kirwan might be on the other end, rumbling through “Like It That Way” and Elvis’ “Mighty Cold”, but once he sets for poignant “Although The Sun Is Shining” you see a soft spot in his armour he always seemed to hide.

There are many rough sketches here. “Blues In B Flat Minor”, a backing track to “Before The Beginning” from “Then Play On”, “Farewell” in which one can recognise “Earl Grey” to appear later on “Kiln House” album, the first without Peter, or “Fast Talking Woman Blues”, a re-working of “Drifting”. And have your kicks comparing “Do You Give A Damn For Me” with its great slide guitar to the song’s final result, “Show-Biz Blues”.

Less song-oriented Disc 2 features lengthy jams that turned out so great on-stage but tend to be boring here. John McVie’s work on “The Madge Sessions – 1” is amazing though. Scattered among jams are the gems: Spencer’s “(That’s What) I Want To Know” remindful of playful Lennon and very unbridled “Oh Well” and “Green Manalishi”. Exquisite “World In Harmony” can be seen as a precursor for “Sweet Lies” but, once turned onto female thing, MAC had robbed the world of something unique.


Windows To The World

Frontiers Records 2000

Originally “Heaven And Earth” was a title for the Smith’s debut album. Now it’s a band with Richie Onori on drums Arlen Schierbaum on keyboards, Kelly Keeling taking the vocal duties and bass help provided by Kelly, producer Howard Leese and vet Tony Franklin. This line up sounds more solid than a chain of stars on the previous album – but material comes a little weaker.

Well, “Dogs Of War” is great, with traditional English tune woven into classic RAINBOW robes. Kudos to Schierbaum filling too straightforward piece with warm organ when there’s too little of acoustic guitar to savour. But wonderful “If Only Love” comes repleted with acoustic sound – if only Kelly didn’t imitate Joe Lynn Turner here and in very standard “Worlds Apart”. Joe, one of the singers on, co-wrote “Through Your Eyes”, a poignant ballad he’s a master of.

Close your eyes and here it is, “Jade”, which you can’t tell from the ’80s PURPLE – especially with Keeling doing Gillan better than Ian himself lately. “Broken Arrow” at last shows us bluesy Smith yet melody seems lacklustre. Which, sure, can’t be said of “Prisoner” crediting Blackmore as a co-author, the song could easily make “Bent Out Of Shape” had Ritchie finished it back then.

And what becomes a problem is that here’s too much Blackmore in Stuart’s playing – irritating even for the Man in Black fans. Progress is zilch if not to say this album’s a step back. A title track looks fresh though. And a hidden folky song’s a killer.


Ring Of Fire

Frontiers Records 2000

Read the interview

Can a singer be made for a neo-classic rock? Guitar players can but singers… In the case of Mark Boals the answer is firm “Yes”. For many Mark is unbreakably tied with Yngwie who exploited Mark’s voice for so long. Now Boals returns with a vengeance, as fresh as he was in “Trilogy” times. This time guitar serves the voice – Boals is accompanied by one Tony MacAlpine. Two other members of his band are old stalwart Virgil Donati and Vitalij Kuprij, a keyboard player of Don Airey kind.

If “Ring Of Fire” comes as a new “Jet To Jet”, a typical yet majestic piece with a catchy tune, “Atlantis” appears to be more original, being bluesy and impressively arranged – what a mighty piano inserted in the middle of Tony’s fervent solo. Plus organ, plus orchestration. And that voice! Sometimes Mark sounds like Dio or Tony Martin – as in throbbing “Betrayer” or viscous “The Quest” – and extremely like Boals. What else do we need? Yes, we need “Nessum Dorma” by Puccini tagged to the Japanese edition of the album.

Magnificient “Keeper Of The Flame” is another killer, a balsam for all who miss RAINBOW. The same goes for “The Hunted” supplied with fantastic harpsichord solo. Too many superlatives? Well, Boals had to be unleashed earlier. He hardly would be allowed to come up with rich harmonies of “Death Row”, had he still be just a singer in a band. He’s at the helm now but gives his friends so much freedom that they can’t help but complement Boals’ talent. Ballad “Alone” may seem too modest for Mark yet this modesty holds a lot of energy within, released in “Battle Of The Titan” which completes the songs circle. A circle, a ring. A Ring of Fire.


Into The Light

Frontiers Records 2000

Is it the same Tim Donahue that some years ago made “Voices In The Wind” album? Er, yes. This time guitar virtuoso comes up with more solid work, more straightforward record. “Into The Light” project is not to showcase Tim’s abilities but his music. Donahue plays all the instruments (drums sampled, in case you ask) while all vocal duties are fulfilled by Kelly Hansen whose name precedes that of Tim on the cover. No feel of band here though.

“No Turning Away” with those sharp riffs remids of SABBATH’s “Thrill Of It All”, not so heavy yet much complicated than it may seem. Donahue’s affinity for jazz are well hidden but one with an ear will hear it and enjoy in instrumentals as “Acceleron”. Title track flows in as a great example of blues rock – only this bluesiness prevents the song from being too saccharine. On the previous Tim’s CD he had Paul Rodgers singing and had Paul sung here, he’d be more appropriate than Hansen who warbles too cold while guitarist tries to be as warm as he can. Oh, other ballads, “Live Today” and “No Regrets”, are real acoustic gems in the vein of Stuart Smith.

One can’t help thinking Donahue just experiments as for “Time To Run” INTO THE LIGHT put on mask of WHITESNAKE though standard AOR numbers, “Skyrocket” and “Tonight” surprisingly sound somewhat raw. So is hard rock Tim’s cup of tea? Very hardly so – just listen to “Devil In Her Eyes”, weak attempt to be KISS or ‘SMITH. Donahue stuck in the middle, that’s the problem. A pity cause melodies are worthy.

Let’s wait for the next one. But will it come out as INTO THE LIGHT?


Keeping The Nite Light Burning

Receiver Records 2000

Could you ever imagine these kings of pomp rock going acoustic. It takes an awful lot of self-confidence to dare. MAGNUM are capable, no doubt. Tony Clarkin never seemed to play so beautiful giving whole to his guitar and, at last, Bob Catley allows himself to sing laid back. In “The Prize” he’s not going for high notes yet retaining all the dramatics of the piece, underpinned by cello and deep Wally Lowe’s bass. Vocal harmonies present, too – there would be no MAGNUM without this trademark. Songs, stripped to the bones, sometimes unexpectedly show interesting similarities as between reggae “Need A Lot Of Love” and NAZARETH’s output. Intrigued? I bet.

Then, what about “Foolish Heart” which, given horns arrangement, could easily make Broadway stage? Bob’s voice weakens in places but drive is up. Oh boy, what they’ve made of “Only A Memory” – full a capella version! Guys, were there any overdubs? If no, hats off and kneel down, everybody! Mark Stanway’s piano serves as a base for “Maybe Tonight” giving the song more spirituality than in original version. Well, this you could expect but jazzy vibe of “One Night Of Passion”… Never in wildest dreams!

“Without Your Love” takes a bluesy turn now becoming as vibrant with passion as Catley’s later work on "Legends". And if you feared this band would be scared to bring “Soldier Of The Line” on, you never knew MAGNUM’s dexterity – it’s here, very different without all this tinsel but terrific. Nite light still burns, indeed.


Songs From The Ocean Floor

Frontiers Records 2000

Don’t know for how long Kip Winger will still be associated with Alice Cooper. He plays different music, atmospheric. There are hints of hard rock but, repleted with 12-string guitar, this album’s not to stab you. Witness even something Sting-esque in “Landslide” or Plant-ey in “Crash The Wall”, the track so darn modern to fit NIRVANA. Kip’s not a great singer and has to ask friends such as Moon Zappa (“Sure Was A Wild Flower”) for help. What seems to be a problem is “Ocean Floor” targeting: hard rock fans may find this too soft and blurred while others might be scared of Winger’s metal past. Mawkish ballads as strings-attached “Two Lovers Stand” don’t help.

“Song Of Midnight” with its Moroccan feel feels like foray into prog rock field yet rather awkward one unless it gives way to instrumental “Feel”, magnificient dervish dance. The song on par with Winger’s fame is “Resurrection” to which Reb Beach supplied solo. And if Kip sells “Everything You Need” to a name bigger than his he’d make a fortune out of it.


ROINE STOLT – Hydrophonia

Foxrot Music 1998

THE FLOWER KINGS’ frontman’s solo album is not what one can expect. Forget KINGS, Stolt doesn’t even sings here, just plays supported by drummer and saxophonist. Yes, it’s prog rock – but of solo Howe kind. Or just take off all instrumental passages from KINGS’ epics and give them more free form and you’ll get this new age stuff Roine presents on “Cosmic Lodge” or folky “Shipbuilding”.

This Scottish theme scatters around the album yet those into medieval mood should go for eloquent “Wreck Of HMS Nemesis”, powerful and jazzy, it develops into something fantastic. And if you like TULL’s short instrumentals you’ll love “Oceanna Baby Dolphin”.

Oh Gosh, how many guitarists has Roine in him? In title track I clearly hear Hackett‘s motifs of “Acolyte” times – just majestic. Very tight program, ten parts of a whole thing, a must thing.


Voices In The Wind

Eclipse 1996

Donahue belongs to category “musician’s musician”. Mighty guitar player in the vein of Satriani and Vai but not too well promoted even by this album produced by legendary Eddie Kramer who knows how to deal with guitarreros de lux. Donahue makes instruments for himself but there’s nothing special in terms of guitar sound. Many more will fall the voice on four tracks – others are instrumental – Paul Rodgers. Once you’re past driving “Step On It” you drown into acoustic guitars and magical voice singing a folky tune of “Voices In The Wind” adorned with wonderful solo. A few warblers could be so relaxed and warm, so Paul contrasts with Tim, as the latter is cold – problem of many players of mind rather than heart. Thus, “Riff Raff” comes simply as a technique demonstration. And Rodgers returns for “Sharing The Same Dream”, a title track’s twin. Bluesy “How Long” is pure Paul of THE FIRM period, though almost out-of-tune phrasing sounds very strange.

Rodgers’ cohort Jaz Lochrie’s bass work is very prominent on the bouncing “Primal Urge” which sets the mood for the last vocal track, BAD CO-like “Never Look Back”, with Donahue imitating Ralphs’ short riffs and going for a Scottish solo. To the very end Tim keeps a secret – his affinity for jazz – making “Mad Immortal Man” an outstanfing track. Solid work.


Nowhere To Hide

Frontiers Records 2000

Masters are back bringing in their new album. Title track has everything MANTIS posess yet vocal line weaker than instrumental. But the players are fantastic with additional kudos to Bruce Bisland’s drumming. Hey, URIAH fans, hooks in you with “Cruel Winter”, you’ll love this vocal harmonies filled poppy tune. Combining easiness and attack the band is to win. This mood fits even more progressive stuff like “The Clocktower”. In places melodies sound somehow familiar – obviously not a good sign, a hint of cliches abound, with deja vu about “You’ll Never Know” or “Can’t Stop The Fire”. But ain’t it what the fans seek?

Dennis Stratton shouldn’t be associated with MAIDEN anymore, he’s past it! His “Whenever I’m Lost” is an essential ballad with fantastic acoustic solo. Band join forces to come up with powerful “River Of Hope” while “Naked”, Chris Troy’s brainchild, successfully proves that 80s hard rock can be actual on the turn of the century. Had this song ended the album we’d definitely have got nowhere to hide and from this point “S.O.S.”, a showcase for Tino Troy’s bass is needless.


A Vision Of Angels

Toff Records 1997

Prog rock seems to be very restrictive for many bands striving to be too clever. So more enjoyable is this album from PENDRAGON’s bass man presenting music soft and warm, almost intimate. While progressive stalwarts Ian Salmon of ARENA fame as well as Pete’s bandmates Clive Nolan and Nick Barrett provide that familiar sound, Peter himself soaks the arrangements with acoustic guitars giving it another dimension – solo in “Lost And Found” makes you goosepimple. The opener, “Always”, even is not unlike classic Motown soul in places – especially given Simon Clew’s voice, not as bright as inspired.

With the themes based on the Bible excerpts music can’t be less spiritual thus “Orphans” comes as a hymn. Unfortunately, further on drift becomes too melancholic, it fits jazz’n’bluesy “Never Could Say Goodbye” but really gets down on the listener. Listening to the smooth yet not catchy melodies you can’t help but wonder: are angels so murky or it’s just a Peter’s vision of them?


The Higher You Climb

Now And Then 1996

Underrated singer. He shone in GTR being not overshadowed by Steve Howe and Steve Hackett. The same can be said of PHENOMENA II where Max was on par with Wetton, Gillen and Hughes and of Bacon’s involvements in Oldfield’s albums.

This one partially contains material which didn’t make the GTR’s second LP, that’s why we have here both Steves, Phil Spalding and Jonathan Mover playing. Plus present are ASIA’s Geoff Downes and THIN LIZZY’s Scott Gorham who also took part in PHENOMENA II. You can bet the style’s the same melodic pop rock. But the album’s raw, songs weak – “When I Was Young” and “Hold Him Closer” could be better had Bacon put more effort into them while “Love Comes Down” should’ve been unreleased at all. Title track and “Hungry Warrior” are arresting though.

“All Grown Up” and “Desperate Times” were originally penned by John Young for John Wetton to eventually end up on latter’s “Arkangel”. Er, versions are almost indentical – though Bacon dealt with demos.

Tagged to the end are two live GTR tracks, “I Know What I Like” and “Roundabout”, issued later by King Biscuit. So where’s Bacon now?


Live At The Academy Of Music

Mooncrest Records 2000

This piece of history was recorded in Philadelphia in 1985 when RENAISSANCE were almost over. There were only two key figures remained, Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam, who else. The album’s called “Unplugged” – but with or without orchertra RENAISSANCE, led by Dunford’s guitar, always leaned on acoustic side. Guitar is principle here as well, supported by Raphael Rudd’s piano, Mark Lambert’s solid bass soloes in places as well.

Annie’s voice, surprisingly, can be thin – as in the beginning of “Can You Understand”. What’s not thin at all is the band’s sound. “Carpet Of The Sun” not so majestic in stark arrangement, comes beautiful anyway – especially when Haslam turns her vocal flaw into folky trick. And how dramatic “Midas Man” turned out to be, sung lower than usually with powerful harmonies from the band. RENAISSANCE clearly enjoy the show.

The band don’t lay on the past fame introducing “Okichi-Sun”, acoustically made much better than on “Camera Camera” album. While “I Think Of You” lost some of its magic, “Black Flame” burns brightly sending shivers down the spine as does “Mother Russia”, always a killer. RENAISSANCE’s biggest hit “Northern Light” makes its debut here as a live version recorded and is really good. But it’s nothing compared to “Young Prince And Princess”, so fragile, stripped off from orchestra sound. The same with “Trip To The Fair”, an exquisite medieval piece with harp decoration and folky solo FAIRPORTS would’ve been proud of. The tension’s up again with frantic “The Vultures Fly High”. A capella section precedes traditional grand finale, “Running Hard”, the unchangeable one.

It’s interesting to compare “Unplugged” with Annie’s “Brazilian Skies”, acoustic too, but the game is strictly for fans. Just like this album.


Unfolded Like Staircase

Strung Out 1997

“Limbo” start leads to wry face – who needs another “In The Dead Of Night”? But no, resolution is beautiful with powerful neo-clasic guitar and wailing sax. GENESIS’ influences throughout, in piano parts and harmonies plus all these timechanges and theatricality in vocal approach. Nothing new but very tasty thanks to musicians knowledgeable in epic creating. Epics such as “Crutches” as mighty in its acoustic clothes as awkward the title looks. Violin and piano send anxiety while melody is a mishmash of many great bands of yore, even HEEP.

At last, the band proves its title right and CRIMSON-ish harmony drone fills “Into The Dream”, the track too raw and too long to enjoy: so many parts with good song in each yet overall its too boring. So after all the rest may feel unbearable, although Crimheads should like track not indicated on the cover.


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