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.

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