Saturday, October 28, 2006

CD Review Saturday. Glenn Hughes, Edenbridge, Iron Maiden. The World Series Sucked.

New Music From Glenn Hughes, Edenbridge and Iron Maiden

It is raining like hell here in North-Central Massachusetts, so I figured I'd catch up on my new music reviews. In the spotlight are the new releases from Glenn Hughes, Edenbridge and Iron Maiden. Hang on tight!

Music For The Divine is the latest release from Glenn Hughes. He features long-time guitarist JJ Marsh and new-found friend, drummer and co-producer, Red Hot Chili Pepper Chad Smith, as well as some guest appearances by Pepper guitarist John Frusciante. The songs are tight and varied, mixing elements of hard rock, funk and jazz, with very little self-indulgence. Here’s the track-by track rundown:

The Valiant Denial – Opens with a spacey repeating riff from JJ Marsh before moving into a slamming funk beat driven by Glenn’s pounding bass lines and Chad’s tight drumming. Glenn delivers the vocals with urgency and passion. After a couple of verses and choruses, the spacey riff returns and blends with some violins through which JJ contributes some deep fills before the song ends.

Steppin’ On – A monster funk-rock tune with some hard hitting on the drums by Chad. JJ’s guitar sounds goes from clanky to overdrive to pace Glenn’s snarling vocal delivery. The second half of the song moves into a nice jam until the end.

Monkey Man – Another funk rocker that is interspersed with quiet parts as Glenn’s vocal delivery goes from growling to gentle. JJ throws in a short solo tinged with a bit of the old wah-wah pedal. Another end-the-song funk jam turns up as Chad turns up the heat on the drums, while Glenn lays down some heavy bass lines.

This House – An acoustic ballad that centers on love. Glenn gives a lilting vocal performance over the strains of Marsh’s guitar and a nice string arrangement.

You Got Soul – Back to the funk rock on this beast. Glenn’s vocals go from a whisper to a scream over Chad’s jazzy drum fills and JJ’s everything but the kitchen sink guitar sounds. The heaviest song so far in terms of sheer sonic output.

Frail – Another acoustic ballad that highlights Glenn at his introspective best as he shows the more subtle side to his voice as he delivers the sad lyrics.

Black Light – A hard-hitting rocker that showcases Chad’s rolling thunder drumming style paced by JJ’s growling guitar riffs and insane, wah-wah driven solo. Glenn keeps the pace on the bass, while delivering a mid-range (for him) vocal performance that drives the point home.

Nights in White Satin – Why a Moody Blues cover? It’s not as bad as it sounds, and is actually kind of funny in parts. JJ let’s Chad’s Red Hot Chili Peppers bad mate, John Frusciante take over on the guitar, and he does a nice job as he provides some cool fills and overall atmosphere. Glenn’s vocals are mostly terrific as he does a nice job with his multi-tracked voice on the choruses, but he loses it late in the song as he pushes the limits of the higher end of his register. At least they didn’t try to duplicate the “breathe deep the gathering gloom…” part.

Too High – A straight ahead rocker with a stomping beat, courtesy of Glenn’s driving bass and Chad’s hard hitting drums. JJ is back at the guitar wheel, and he provides a psychedelic wah-wah feel and a tight solo. Glenn’s vocals are all over the place here, including some kind of dampening effect in some parts.

This Is How I Feel – John Frusciante returns to play guitar on this track, which goes from ballad-like to mid-tempo rocker, with some orchestral sounds in the mix for atmosphere. Glenn gives us a good feel for the range of his voice, as it goes from subdued to urgent. John provides a short guitar solo, and a nice psychedelic outro over Glenn’s meandering bass lines and Chad’s steady backbeat.

The Divine – The final cut is a poignant ballad. Glenn seems to be almost crying at times as he sings the words of warning that comprise his lyrics. Mark Kilian, who provided the string and orchestral arrangements on this CD, does more of the same here in addition to playing some nice keyboard melodies in accompaniment to JJ’s acoustic guitar.

All in all, this is a solid effort by the veteran Hughes. I hear that JJ has, for now, left Hughes to pursue a solo career. I hear that Glenn will replace him on the upcoming tour with Jeff Kollman (Cosmosquad), who is a solid choice. Fans of Glenn’s heavier side may be a bit disappointed, but his solo stuff has been headed in this direction ever since Return Of Crystal Karma. Besides, if it’s heavy you want, grab his collaborations with Dario Mollo (Voodoo Hill) or Tony Iommi (Fused). Well done Glenn!

Next up is a CD from Austrian symphonic metallists Edenbridge. The brainchild of a multi-instrumental madman named Lanvall, who writes all their material, this band has a lineup that has become prevalent in Europe over the past few years. They feature the typical guitar, bass and drums, with atmospheric keyboards, but they also have female vocalists with operatic abilities. Other bands that work this way are Nightwish, After Forever and Within Temptation to name just a few. The Grand Design is Edenbridge’s latest release. The track-by-track rundown:

Terra Nova – The beginning track features most of what we come to expect from this band. Seven minutes of time changes, multi-tracked choral vocals and musical virtuosity shine through. Multi-instrumental madman Lanvall provides his usual orchestral feel with tons of keyboards and some tight back-and-forth guitar solos with guest guitarist Karl Groom (Threshold, Shadowland). Drummer Roland Navratil gives us more of his machine-gun drumming attack, and new bassist Frank Bindig holds his own at the bottom end of things quite nicely. Vocalist Sabine Edelsbacher continues to shine as one of the best in this genre of European bands with operatic style female singers.

Flame of Passion – An epic that starts out as a straight-ahead rocker, the tempo goes back and forth between grandiose and hard-hitting. The whole band is tight, and Sabine ignites the sonic landscape with her vocal delivery.

Evermore – This track opens with a gloomy feel before charging straight ahead. The middle of the song gets quiet with light piano fills and Sabine’s whispering vocals before the band kicks back into gear and drives the tempo upward for the final verse.

The Most Beautiful Place – Starts out as a piano ballad that carries Sabine’s lovely voice as Lanvall’s orchestral layering make their appearance, bringing a deeper atmosphere.

See You Fading Afar – This one is a driving rocker, fueled by Lanvall’s effects-driven guitar tone and Sabine’s multi-tracked vocals. Roland stomps hard on the drums as the song grinds away.

On Top of the World – An uptempo song that starts off with a nice guitar melody from Lanvall that supports Sabine’s voice as the song moves into gear. Lanvall also throws in a fluid, multi-tracked guitar solo with a soaring feel to it. Nice, positive feel all through this track.

Taken Away – A quiet, sad song that features Lanvall on the piano to accompany Sabine’s sad, lamenting vocals.

The Grand Design – The epic title track begins quietly, with Sabine singing loftily over Lanvall’s harmonic acoustic guitar before the band kicks in with the grandiose power that is Edenbridge’s trademark. About four minutes in, the time and instrument changes come into play as Lanvall’s multi-tracked guitar solos run up against some violin parts, courtesy of Astrid Stockhammer, and some beautiful flamenco guitar from Martin Mayr. Lanvall caps this all off with an amazing guitar solo before the song finds its way back to the main melody. There is a final flourish of choral style vocals over Lanvall’s guitar as the ten-plus minute long track comes to an end.

This is a terrific CD, and if you are already a follower of this band you will love it, but at just eight songs that total about 43 minutes, it’s simply not enough! I hope Lanvall isn’t running out of ideas. Also, the cover art is typically mystical, but the band photos are terrible, especially those of Sabine. Look at her pics on the previous release, Shine, then look at this crap. Sabine is a babe! If I were Sabine, I’d find the photographer and kick the living shit out of the SOB. Anyway, next time, how about a little more sonic bang for the buck?

The final review of the day is A Matter of Life and Death, the latest release from British Metal Gods Iron Maiden. This is their third release since vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith rejoined the band for 2000’s Brave New World, and these guys just keep delivering the goods. Track-by-track rundown:

Different World – An atypical short and sweet Maiden track. Bruce Dickinson delivers his usual wailing vocal performance on this stomping piece. Steve Harris on bass and Nicko McBrain on drums are their usual steady selves. Adrian Smith seals the deal with a whining guitar solo.

These Colours Don’t Run – This baby brings us back to the more typical Maiden time changes. Bruce delivers the lyrics that are centered on not backing down in the face of war. Janick Gers fires off a tasty guitar solo. Adrian follows along with a solo of his own as the time changes develop.

Brighter Than A Thousand Suns – Starts quietly with Bruce using the low end of his register before the grinding rhythm comes in to power the song forward. This song deals with the notion of atomic weapons and the potential horror they hold. Adrian Smith takes the first guitar solo after a quiet passage featuring Bruce almost crooning “Out of the darkness / brighter than a thousand suns” before the band kicks back into high gear. Janick then fires off an insane guitar solo as the band heads into “gallop” mode before the main melody re-asserts itself. Question: We are three tracks deep and Dave Murray has yet to take guitar solo…WHY???

The Pilgrim – Starts off as if it will be a mid-tempo piece, but quickly revs up into gallop mode. Steve’s pinging bass lines and Nicko’s crashing drums pace the multi-layered guitar melody. The tempo changes to one with an Arabian feel before going back to the main melody. Bruce delivers the goods with lyrics that showcase the delusion of religious fanaticism. Adrian contributes a tight, quick guitar solo.

The Longest Day – Steve’s bass line starts this track off over a lone, quiet guitar. Bruce’s vocals go from whisper to low sneer to mid-range, and the band slowly builds the sound up as Bruce turns it up to banshee mode. The lyrics deal with the horror and desperation of battle. Midway through, a time change comes in with a sinister new melody. Adrian comes in with a guitar solo punctuated by Nicko’s heavy hitting and multi-tracked guitar melody before…AT LAST, A DAVE MURRAY GUITAR SOLO!!! The song then shifts back to the main melody with a last painful lament from Bruce before the end comes quietly.

Out of the Shadows – Starts quietly with a straining melody and Bruce singing in a lower voice than normal for a Maiden song. The chorus then comes in amidst an increase of wattage as Bruce begins to wail. Adrian takes the first guitar solo, although Dave provides some nice fills. A time change that features some acoustic guitar comes in, and is topped off by some multi-layered guitar work and more of Dave’s fills before the song comes to a quiet end.

The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg – Another one that begins quietly with Dave playing a flurry over Steve’s bass line. Bruce again begins his vocal delivery on the low end as this horror story of a song gets going. Things get going as a monster riff asserts itself, and Bruce’s vocals seem teeter from sneer to lament. A time change with some multi-layered guitars punches through, paving the way for Dave’s slithering guitar solo. The main melody returns with Bruce continuing to wail over the crunching wall of guitars, bass and drums before one last time change abruptly ends with uneasy quiet.

For the Greater Good of God – Quiet guitars over Steve’s bass begin this track. Bruce, again, begins his vocal performance on the low end of his range before the tempo change kicks in. Bruce, now back in wail mode, cries out over the guitar melody and Nicko’s heavy hitting. This song deals with the consequences of following idiotic leaders who invoke God to justify their mad plans. A flurry of time changes follows, punctuated by guitar solos from Janick, Adrian and Dave, before the main melody comes back. The song ends quietly with Bruce’s quiet lament for Jesus at the mockery most leaders have made of his life and death.

Lord of Light – Yet another slow burner at the outset. You get one guess as to the subject matter of this track. After a minute and a half, the tempo kicks in and Bruce is wailing like a banshee. Close to four minutes in things quiet down again for a bit before a new, more sinister melody kicks in. The guitar solos are quick, but deadly. First, Adrian fires off as if he’s a rocket to the stars, then Dave cuts in to put the fire out and start one of his own. The song ends with a heavy, quick finality.

The Legacy – The final cut, this one also gets off to a quiet start, the quietest yet, complete with acoustic guitars for over two minutes until a heavy, echoing riff churns up the waters before it quiets down again. The pattern repeats until a slow riff powers its way through followed by Bruce’s sneering vocals. If I had to guess, I’d swear that the lyrics centered on our own Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy and his brainless manner of leadership. The mid-song tempo changes come in, with Dave tossing in a tasty guitar solo. A nice multi-layered guitar melody comes in as Bruce continues to wail. The chaos slows down to quiet again as the song comes to a slow end.

How can this band still be this good after so long? Unbelievable performances abound on this outing. Needless to say, Maiden fans should love it. The US leg of their tour is over, and they are now in Japan (I managed to catch about 2/3 of their October 6th show in Boston. Unfortunately, due to wage slavery organization bullshit, I was late to the gig, which is why I have not posted a review). Anyway, see how you do on the Guess the Guitarist solo-meter. I’ve followed these guys from just about the beginning, and I like to think, as a guitarist myself, that I have a pretty good ear for the subtle differences in styles and sounds of each guitarist. See if you hear it the way I did. Here’s the solo tally: Adrian – 8, Dave – 5, Janick – 3. The CD package includes a DVD of how the sessions went as the CD came to life. I don’t see anything but boredom stopping this band from continuing to come up with monster recordings like this one, and right now, these guys are anything but bored. Exceptionally well done!

Let's Agree That This World Series Did Not Happen

Please? What a joke! I will say that the Cardinals scouts definitely earned their pay. They obviously saw the way the Yankees and A's pitched to the Tiger batters, and were able to help the Cardinals pitchers come up with a plan to neutralize the bats. How else could Placido Palanco go from ALCS MVP to 0-for 17 in the World Series? The Tiger hitters with the notable exception of gimpy Sean Casey looked completely helpless at times aginst the St. Louis hurlers. That would have been bad enough for the Tigers, but those awful throwing errors! You can't give teams extra outs and expect to win, especially in the World Series.

I have no worries about the Cardinals. They are mostly a veteran team that will likely end up at the top of the crummy NL Central again in 2007. It will be interesting to see how the young Tigers rebound from this. After the thrill of knocking off the mighty Yankees and shocking the A's with a sweep in the ALCS, to have their magical season end like it did has to be, to put it mildly, a letdown of epic proportions.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Things That Go BANG! In the Night...

Here are a couple of tidbits I found as Game 3 of the World Series draws near. They serve as a reminder to those who would ingore what is happening in the ever changing sky...

154-Pound Meteorite Unearthed in Kansas

Scientists, using technology they hope will help to unravel some of the mysteries of the Martian soil, have unearthed a 154-pound meteorite that fell to the ground about 10,000 years ago in an area of Kansas that is known for having taken such hits. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

GREENSBURG, Kan. - Scientists were excited when they pulled a 154-pound meteorite from deep below a Kansas wheat field, but what got them most electrified was the way they unearthed it.

The team Monday uncovered the find 4 feet under a meteorite-strewn field using new ground-penetrating radar technology that someday might be used on Mars. It was that technology which pinpointed the site and proved for the first time that it could be used to find objects buried deep in the ground and to make an accurate three-dimensional image of them.

"It validates the technique so we can use something similar to that instrument when we go to Mars," said Patricia Reiff, director of the Rice Space Institute.

Such GPR systems had been used in the past to locate smaller meteorites through the ice in Antarctica. But until the Kansas dig, the technology had not been successfully used for ground detection in heavy soils — like on Mars — to find meteorites or water there.

The dig was likely the most documented excavation yet of a meteorite find, with researchers painstakingly using brushes and hand tools to preserve evidence of the impact trail and to date the event of the meteorite strike. Soil samples also were bagged and tagged and organic material preserved for dating purposes.

"When we find a piece of meteorite, each one is a new sentence we add to the book to understand the evolution of the solar system," Essam Heggy, planetary scientist at the Johnson Space Center's Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Even before they had the pallasite meteorite out of the ground, the scientific experts at the site were able to debunk prevailing wisdom that the spectacular Brenham meteorite fall occurred 20,000 years ago. Its location in the Pleistocene epoch soil layer puts that date closer to 10,000 years ago.

"We know it is recent," said Carolyn Sumners, director of Astronomy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, as she surveyed progress on the dig. "Native Americans could have seen it."

The Brenham field was discovered in 1882. Scientists have since traced pieces of the shower as far away as Indian mounds in Ohio, indicating the meteorites were traded as pieces of jewelry and ceremonial artifacts. The site was largely forgotten in recent decades until Arnold and Mani leased eight square miles of it and began looking deep below the surface. More than 15,000 pounds of meteorites have been recovered from the area.

This week's find will end up as part of a new exhibit on comets, meteors and asteroids at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The museum will pay about $50,000 for it, Sumners said. It is valued at more than $100,000, she said.

Landowner Alan Binford watched with interest as the scientists freed the meteorite, bagging clumps of his rich Kansas farmland around it. "I didn't figure there would be that much scientific value," he said. "I never thought about them going to this extent. It is interesting history."

No shit he watched with interest. For that much money I'd sure as hell watch with interest too!

Full Story

German Cottage Crushed by Meteor

On a similar note, a 77-year old man had his cottage destroyed by a meteor over the weekend in Germany. Full Yahoo News Reuters story:

BERLIN (Reuters) - A fire that destroyed a cottage near Bonn and injured a 77-year-old man was probably caused by a meteor and witnesses saw an arc of blazing light in the sky, German police said on Friday.

Burkhard Rick, a spokesman for the police in Siegburg east of Bonn, said the fire gutted the cottage and badly burned the man's hands and face in the incident on October 10.

"We sought assistance from Bochum observatory and they noted that at that particular moment the earth was near a field of meteoroid splinter and it could be assumed that particles had entered the atmosphere," he said.

"The particles usually don't reach the surface because they disintegrate in the atmosphere," he added. "But some can make it to the ground. We believe this was a bolide (meteoric fireball) with a size of no more than 10 mm."

A few years ago, I remember reading a story in Sky & Telescope about a meteor that caved in the front of a guy's car in Upstate New York. I wonder what the insurance comapany told that poor bastard...

Full Story Link

Too Bad I Never Could Hit a Curve Ball...

Relax baseball lovers, the new basic agreement is all but finalized, as shown in the following Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

ST. LOUIS - Baseball officials briefed owners on details of their new labor contract Tuesday and planned to make the agreement public before Game 3 of the World Series.

Commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr were to appear at a news conference Tuesday night in Busch Stadium. The five-year contract, which runs through the 2011 season, is subject to ratification by both sides.
Lawyers struck the deal last Friday night and Saturday during negotiations in New York, then worked on putting it in writing.

The current deal, reached in August 2002, is set to expire Dec. 19. After eight work stoppages between 1972 and 1995, baseball will be assured of 16 years of labor peace.

The deal continues, with minor modifications, existing luxury tax and revenue-sharing rules, provisions that funneled money from large-market teams to their competitors. The payroll threshold for the luxury tax increases from $136.5 million this year to $148 million next year, then goes up about 5 percent annually, a baseball official familiar with the deal said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement hasn't been announced.

The minimum salary increases, from $327,000 this year to $380,000 next season, and amateur draft pick compensation for some free agents who sign with new teams, will be eliminated.

Also, teams that reach targets for revenue-sharing will be rewarded under the new agreement, and those that fail will be penalized.

That part about eliminating amateur draft pick compensation when free agents sign with new teams sucks. This means that teams like Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay will continue to languish at the bottom of the standings. Young studs like David DeJesus, Jason Bay and Carl Crawford will soon become eligible to sign elsewhere, and the likelihood of more mid-to-late season trades to contenders will increase now that the draft pick option is off the table. I can't imagine which side screwed this one up.

Then again, maybe this new wrinkle will force teams like the Royals, Pirates and Deviled Eggs to think harder about what type of future their clubs want to embrace. After all, look at what happened to the Tigers this year. Three years ago they lost 119 games. Now, they are playing for a World Series championship.

Full Story

Monday, October 23, 2006

SKILLING CONVICTED!!! Queen Guitarist Collaborates on Astronomy Book.

Hola Amigos,

Rather than regurgitate the good news, namely that Jeffrey Skilling seems to be headed to prison for a long time, I figured I'd concentrate on this story I found on Yahoo news. Brian May, Queen guitarist, has collaborated on a book about astronomy that centers on the origin of the universe. Excerpt:

LONDON - Brian May traded rock 'n' roll for the big bang as he launched a book about the origins of the universe.

May, who abandoned doctoral studies in astronomy to play guitar with `70s rock legends Queen, has returned to his first love as a co-author of the book "Bang! The Complete History of the Universe," which was launched Monday.

Co-written with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott, presenters of the British Broadcasting Corp. astronomy program "The Sky at Night," the book recounts the formation of the universe from its origins more than 13 billion years ago and looks forward to its end, several billion years from now.

Moore is a big name in British astronomy, so this will most likely be a high-caliber project.

May, 59, whose guitar playing drives "We Will Rock You," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and other hits, sees similarities between his two great loves, music and astronomy.

I think his best stuff was on tracks like "Get Down, Make Love" and "Somebody to Love", but hey, I guess you can't avoid reliving the big hits...

"I think there's a sort of purity about both of them," he said recently, according to The Guardian newspaper. "Because you can immerse yourself in thoughts of the universe, or in music, and you're really abstracted. You're a million miles away from all your worries and personal problems and the dust and smoke of where you are."

For me, that last paragraph says it all. Well done Brian!

Full Story Link

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Back from the Twilight Zone...

Hola Amigos,

I'm back from the Twilight Zone, and am ready to resume blogging. For those of you wondering where I've been these past few months, and judging by the lack of comments, that number is very few, I've been helping to care for my sick father, who has had the bad luck to have experienced two bouts of pneumonia, a collapsed lung, various digestive problems and a minor stroke. The worst now seems to be over, but the combination of these ailments has left him weak and unable to function at a normal level with any sense of confidence. The end result, after having experimented with some home health care providers, who were competent enough, but who left Dad in a state of anxiety, is that he is now living with my sister, who has the luxury of not having to work full time, which guarantees that Dad will receive the care he needs.

Now, what have I missed that is comment-worthy? Hey, how about that criminal GOP gang? I'd like to think that the combination of corruption, arrogance and sexual predators would all but guarantee a Democratic re-capturing of the House and Senate, but as long as the GOP retains control of the Diebold voting machines, you'll forgive me if I don't hold my breath. All I can say is that the Dems should have taken note of Barney Frank's (D-Massachusetts) performance of this past Real Time with Bill Maher. He cut through the bullshit, and stated facts as they are, not how that nitwit Steve Moore pretended they were. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid should, in particular, have been watching, because Frank showed that all you need is the facts when you are right instead of mealy-mouthed apologies for pointing out the obvious, namely that this is the most criminally insane administration of all time, and I can only hope that November 7th will slow down their reign of terror.

On to baseball. The Red Sox reverted to their tried and true ways of wilting down the stretch this season, the ultimate shit sandwich being the five-game sweep they suffered at home at the hands if the Yankees in August. But, not content to merely be first runners-up again, they fell to third place in the AL East, one game in back of the Toronto Blue Jays. Well, thankfully, the Yanks were bounced from post-season play by the surging Tigers, who then swept the A's, and who now face the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. I'd analyze the Red Sox bit by bit, but it would take longer than I'm willing to commit to at this moment. Maybe in a future post.

Anyway, this is just to let all six of you know I'm back, and that I'll do my best to regain the heights of mediocrity to which you have become accustomed when accessing this crummy blog. That's all for now. I did finally obtain the latest Glenn Hughes and Edenbridge releases, and will be reviewing them some time this week. Until then, stay happy and stay safe.