Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Jimi Jamison “Never Too Late”

Melodic rock/AOR

If anyone needs no introduction in the melodic rock arena, it is Jimi Jamison. In addition to his solo career and early work with Cobra, Jamison helped maintain Survivor in the 80s limelight with huge hits like “Burning Heart”, “High On You”, “The Search Is Over”, and “Is This Love”. Jamison is singing once again with Survivor, but finds his voice in such demand that he’s somehow made the time for several outstanding side projects, such as Kimball Jamison (with Toto’s Bobby Kimball) and One Man’s Trash (with Fred Zahl).

During the Kimball Jamison project, he started working with Swedish songwriter and producer Erik Mårtensson (W.E.T., Eclipse, etc). An AOR pairing that seems like a match made in heaven, Jamison and Mårtensson deliver yet another infectious release full of rockers and ballads on “Never Too Late”.

“Everybody’s Got A Broken Heart” provides an energizing start to “Never Too Late”, sounding very much like a hit that Survivor could have had in the 80s – a wonderfully nostalgic track with a modern flair. “The Great Unknown” is another signature inspirational anthem that Jamison can add to his collection alongside “Burning Heart” and “Reach”. The title track is similar in theme, but has a pleasant mid-tempo pace that will have listeners nodding along to the beat. Fans of “American Heartbeat” (pre-Jamison Survivor) will detect a familiarity in the thumping keyboard intro to “Street Survivor”, but the song soon explodes with a racing rhythm and a rebel’s lyric. On the power ballad side, be sure to check out “The Air I Breathe” and the heartbreaking “Heaven Call Your Name”.

“Never Too Late” is another solid addition to the impressive Jamison discography that will appease old school fans and new fans of the melodic rock genre. His voice still sounds like one of the best in the business, proving once again that no matter who writes the songs, Jamison can make them sound like gold.

Jimi Jamison – Official site.

Check out the video for "Never Too Late":

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: Neil Nathan “Sweep The Nation”


New York City-based singer/songwriter Neil Nathan charmed our socks off with his previous effort, “The Distance Calls”, a release that displayed his love for Jeff Lynne and Cat Stevens in a series of folky, Alt-Americana styled songs (review here). Fans might not recognize him at first on his follow-up, called “Sweep The Nation”, which may as well have been named “Sweep The Nathan” given how much of the former Neil Nathan has been swept aside to let his “Overlord” alter ego emerge to the fore.

Inspired by the avalanche of socio-economic protests around the world, and actually released under the name “Neil Nathan, Inc.”, “Sweep The Nation” is a “power to the people” concept album dissing corporate personhood. “Sweep The Nation” is a sharp turn in terms of style and influence, but Nathan’s trademark vocals and knack for melody provide a common thread to the artist’s past. This time out, Nathan was written a concept album that pays tribute to classic 70s rock – you’ll hear overt influences from David Bowie, The Stooges, and T. Rex.

This new style is immediate with the appropriately titled opener, “Jumpstart” – a short and sweet rocker in the vein of Matthew Sweet that sets the stage for what’s to come (I got the same impression later on the party tune “Everybody Everywhere”). The title track follows, digging its chorus hook into you right at the get-go. You can detect some of his trademark singer/songwriter attributes coming through in “Comin’ Round The Bend”, but this midtempo rocker quietly builds into a piece that could have fit comfortably on a 90s Collective Soul record. The foot-stomping anthem “I Ain’t No Company Man” strikes at the heart of the record’s themes, while “There Is No Time” is one of the catchiest songs in the collection and “Evey” gives a nod to Cheap Trick. Not everything is bombastic – even the Overlord has his somber moments with the beautiful “For The Lucky Ones” and the closer, “All We Need Is So Much More”.

“Sweep The Nation” is a satisfying trip down memory lane to a time when concept albums mattered – this record is to Nathan what “The Wall” was to Pink Floyd. Nathan’s songwriting sensibilities are as sharp as ever, crafting songs that stand alone remarkably well yet gel with the others to build an epic story. “Sweep The Nation” will sweep you off your feet and allow you to get your democracy on at the same time.

Neil Nathan – Official site.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: Research Turtles “Mankiller Part 2 of 2” [EP]

Alternative Rock

The Research Turtles come back out of their shell with the second part of their “Mankiller” EP set (the first is reviewed here). This follow-up was planned for a 2011 release, but the band admitted to some delays due to rising recording costs and reduced income from touring. I am sure fans were waiting with bated breath as “Mankiller Part 1” was so good. In short, Part 2 doesn’t impress as quickly as Part 1, but there are a couple gems not to miss. “Guy Like Me” sets the stage on Part 2, a haunting acoustic complement to the opening “Girl Like You” track from Part 1. “Break It Up” and “Space” are more upbeat and true to form for Research Turtles – solid songs, but not particularly memorable. The saving grace here is the outstanding track called “Into You”. “Into You” is a hugely catchy slice of pop rock – simple but amazingly addictive and a blast to play again and again. Research Turtles definitely hit a home run with “Into You”.

The band is making all of its music available in the form of FREE downloads on the web site below, along with Jud Norman’s new solo album, as of October 18.

Research Turtles – Official site.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: Electrolic “Live On Land”

Indie rock

Electrolic is the brainchild of Scott Gagner (reviewed here) and Steve Enstad. The pair have come together in a home studio among the redwoods near Big Sur, California to record a new psych-synth-power-pop set of tunes. The end result is an eclectic yet alluring album called “Live On Land”. As Steve Turnidge, who mastered the project, stated, “Usually, when I master, I’ll do a song and go on to the next one. In this case, I sat and listened to each track several times just for my own enjoyment”. I can say an analogous thing about the record itself. After a review, I’m usually reaching for the next artist in the queue, but there was something about “Electrolic” that made it difficult to hit eject so quickly.

If you are familiar with Scott Gagner’s previous work (either as a solo artist or as Cartographer), the music of Electrolic is not quite what you’d expect at first. But give it a chance. You’ll surely hear a lot of Ric Ocasek in the peppy opening track, “Hello Hello” – and their love for the The Cars is most overt in their decision to cover one of their biggest hits, “Drive”. Electrolic does a splendid reworking of “Drive” that ranks among one of the best cuts on the album for me. Other highlights include “Benefit Of The Doubt”, which is closest to the breezy pop style Gagner has charmed us with in the past. There is also a great energy propelling “Refreshing” and a catchy melody perforating the otherwise moody “After The Fall”.

Electrolic is recommended if you like Guided by Voices, The Shins, or The Flaming Lips.

Electrolic – Official site.

Check out the video for “Hello Hello”:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: Bos Taurus “In The Sun”

Indie rock/pop

Led by guitarist Steve Chesser, the Delaware-based band Bos Taurus released their latest album, “In The Sun”, earlier this year. He’s joined by a set of “who’s who” among the indie power pop and rock arena, including lead guitarist Shawn O'Neill (The Knobs), bassist Sam Musumeci (The Caulfields, Mercy River, The Knobs), multi-instrumentalist Phil Young (The Cocks, The Knobs, The Rubber Uglies), drummer Pete Romano, and backing vocalist Heather Plank.

Themes of loss, disappointment, and regret predominant on “In The Sun”. The sound of the band draws heavily from its influences, which include The Pixies, The Shins, and Yo La Tengo. If you’re into any of those bands, odds are you are going to dig Bos Taurus. Building from their recent success in earning a Spark Award for the Best Pop Band at the 2009 Delaware Music Awards, Bos Taurus is raising the bar on this sophomore effort. The songs here are meticulously crafted with well-placed harmonies and a mix of acoustic and jangle pop guitar tones. Highlights include the Posies-inspired “Even Now”, the bouncy and horn-laced “Just Like Lightning”, and the driving rocker “The Silence”. Reminiscent of R.E.M.’s heyday, the title track is one of my favorites, with Plank’s backing vocals providing the perfect accompaniment to this savory piece of ear candy. The back half wasn’t grabbing me as fast, but I sense that with repeated listens a deeper appreciation of the songwriting will reveal itself.

No sophomore jinx here – Bos Taurus has gone to new heights with “In The Sun”.

Bos Taurus – Official site.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Melodic rock CD of the week: 7th Heaven

By Stephen Kasenda

7th HEAVEN “Pop Media” (2011)

7th Heaven is either too creative or too generous, but it seems every new package they have is always abundant with song numbers. After the record-breaking near 300 songs on their 15-discs boxset, 'Jukebox', and also 18 songs on their previous 'USA/UK' record back in 2008, now they're back again with a full set of 21 songs, convincing us they have no shortage of song ideas.

With no significant change to their formation, 7th Heaven brings us solid melodic hard rock with a modern power pop touch – and still referencing the 80s. As usual with too many songs on a single CD, you'll find it hard to separate which track is which - you'll get mixed up easily, especially since all the tempos and styles are very similar.

If you carefully pick the strongest tracks, I think there are at least 9-10 excellent songs while the rest are spread between fillers and so-so tracks. Among those big numbers are 'Sing' and 'Snapshots In Time At The Speed of Light', a cross of Savage Garden and late-80s Def Leppard; 'Go For A Ride' and 'Dance of A Lifetime' featuring a groovy rhythm and wonderful chorus; 'She Should Have Been An Angel', 'Animals', 'Photographs', 'Should I Stay', and 'Living In A Mystery' are other favorites of mine.

I still consider 'USA/UK' as a better release, but 'Pop Media' won't disappoint the old fans, in fact, 7th Heaven is one of the most consistent bands that keep delivering what their fans really want.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review: Rick Springfield “Songs For The End Of The World”

Pop rock
While I’ve followed Rick Springfield’s steady stream of releases since his 80s heyday, I have to say they’ve never really generated too much excitement for me. They are generally solid albums, with a track here or there that I deemed iPOD-worthy, but otherwise not much to write home about. I never thought he would be in the running for one of my favorite albums of the year ever again, but his new 2012 record, “Songs For The End Of The World”, is a massive game changer.

Cast aside all of your preconceived notions: “Songs For The End Of The World” sounds like any other modern pop rock record, dripping with hooks and strong performances all around. Springfield’s vocals sound incredible and his songwriting has never been this sharp. I hasten to add that there are plenty of nostalgic moments that throw you back to the 80s, but I never got the impression the record felt dated. It takes great skill to pay homage without sounding cheesy, and Springfield pulled it off.

Springfield kicks things into gear with the appropriately titled “Wide Awake”, firmly asserting that this is not your father’s Rick Springfield – “Wide Attack” takes your ears by storm. Springfield quickly follows this with the radio-friendly pop rocker “Our Ship’s Sinking”. A familiar 80s-styled riff accentuates the poppy “I Hate Myself”, and Springfield pulls out more 80s mojo with gang vocals on the fist-pumping anthem “Love Screws Me Up”. Written about his son, “Joshua” is another terrific modern pop rocker and with a wise message. If you are in the mood for a power ballad, be sure to check out “You and Me”. FYI, there are several notable guests on this record, including other 80s legends like Richard Page (Mr. Mister) and John Waite. On the bonus edition, you’ll also get a live cover of Paul McCartney’s hit, “Jet”.

“Songs For The End Of The World” is a complete triumph that will delight fans of yore and certainly draw in a new group of followers. It may even be my favorite Rick Springfield album, eclipsing even his best work from the 80s. Geez, what surprises might 2013 hold? Are you listening Bryan Adams? Billy Squier? Eddie Money?

Rick Springfield – Official site.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Joshua Ketchmark “The Ignited” [EP]


Rounding out a trio of EPs released this year, modern rocker Joshua Ketchmark delivers “The Ignited,” October 30th. Not to slight the other two excellent EPs (reviewed here), but it seems Ketchmark has saved the best for last. These four tunes all have bite and grab at your attention span greedily, exuding a commercial appeal that ranks them as some of the more radio-friendly songs he’s written to date. With help from Davey Julson Rieley (Kill Hannah, Kelly Clarkson, Elvis Costello) as producer and engineer, along with engineer Jeremy Hatcher (The Used, Black Veil Brides), “The Ignited” is a sonic treat.

The perspective of this record comes from a man that’s been hurt and heartbroken. “The Ignited” begins with the rousing track, “About To Break” – an instant anthem sure to get your blood pumping. The break-up song “Fallen” easily glides into Foo Fighters-territory and is likely to become my favorite in the bunch. The markedly darker tone of the gritty “Hurt” provides a good example of the contrasts Ketchmark is skilled with juggling. Be sure to wait for the chilling note he holds 2/3’s of the way through. He concludes with “Without You”, the first single. One of the more ambitious songs in the Ketchmark catalogue, “Without You” attempts to merge moody verses with a more accessible chorus. A decent track, but not the best one here in my opinion.

Be sure to get the song “Without You” for FREE over at his web site right now! Recommended for fans of Foo Fighters, Hinder, and Paramore.

Joshua Ketchmark – Official site.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Richie Sambora “Aftermath of the Lowdown”


Bon Jovi’s better half returns with his long-awaited third solo album, “Aftermath of the Lowdown”. No stranger to dramatic highs and lows in his personal life, Sambora throws lots of emotive lyrics into his work. This time around also features an unexpected pairing with power pop legend Roger Joseph Manning Jr (Jellyfish), who plays keyboards on the record. Other notable contributors include guitarist Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney) and Elton John’s longtime songwriting collaborator Bernie Taupin.

Things get off to a sizzling start with some outstanding guitar work in “Burn The Candle Down”, but the song is unfortunately ruined for me with the use of heavily distorted lyrics. Why a singer as talented as Sambora would chose to disfigure his voice like this defies logic. But the next track and first single, “Every Road Leads Home To You” is a terrific soaring modern rocker that sounds like Coldplay after testosterone injections. But even this is not as good as the upbeat rocker “Nowadays”, which features beautiful chord changes and an instantly memorable chorus you’ll want to sing all day. “Learning How to Fly With a Broken Wing” is another engaging anthem among the rocking tracks.

After a mighty peppy first half, the back half of the record is predominantly filled with balladry, but this is a specialty for Sambora. Among the most inspired, I would cite “Weathering the Storm” and the midtempo “Seven Years Gone”, which features one of his best vocal deliveries this time out. The album closes with a short Bowie-styled lullaby called “World”. Sambora sings “World, we don’t want you to end”, which is pretty much the same sentiment I had regarding the record at this point.

“Aftermath of the Lowdown” is a top quality rock album with a 50/50 mix of upbeat tunes and ballads. The album is a quantum leap into the modern rock era. Sambora is in excellent form on all levels – as songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. Shame we don’t get to hear his solo efforts more often, but I guess that other band keeps him pretty busy! :)

Richie Sambora – Official site.

Check out the video for “Every Road Leads Home To You”:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Melodic rock CD of the week: Crash Diet

By Stephen Kasenda

CRASH DIET “Generation Wild” (2010)

Crashdiet is surrounded by tragedy in its genre - their original singer committed suicide and the second replacement singer left to form a rival band. Now, Simon Cruz, the third singer, breathes new life into the band by helping them create a superior album, "Generation Wild", which is on par with their sensational debut. With three singers and three albums, I don't think it's an easy job to survive, but Crashdiet has persevered and I must raise a glass of beer to them.

"Generation Wild" is a rare commodity that combines elements that I love very much - the heaviness of early glam, the naughtiness of sleaze rock, and the big punchy anthems of melodic rock. My most fave tracks here are: "Armageddon", filled with sleaze madness and a huge chorus; the title track, which can be a soundtrack to a rebellious gang; the fiery uptempo track of "Rebel"; the gigantic heavy metal piece of "Down With The Dust"; the commercial melodic hard rock tune, "Chemical"; and the Dokken-fueled "Bound To Fall". I can't find any weak links here, as everything is enjoyable, including the mandatory ballads, "Save Her" and "Beautiful Pain".

Simon Cruz has a strong voice. He's truly a gifted singer and the band sealed a very good deal by recruiting him. This magnificent album upped their game again, and for fans of heavy metal, sleaze, and melodic rock, this is your dream album - a tribute to the late Dave Lepard, and a must buy!

Bottomline: Swingin' high to the top again!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday videos: Mitch Malloy auditions for Van Halen

After the demise of Van Hagar in the mid-90s, Eddie and Alex had to find a replacement lead singer. Mitch Malloy, frequently reviewed on Now This ROCKS (click here), auditioned for the gig, which ultimately went to Gary Cherone (Extreme). Below is a rare demo that captures what Van Halen would have sounded like in a parallel universe where Malloy took the job as their new lead vocalist. The song they did was "Panama", so let's first refresh our memory of the original with David Lee Roth.

Now here is the Mitch Malloy version:

But the job went to Gary Cherone:

And lest we forget, and to round out the comparisons, the Sammy Hagar version:

So there you have it - which version do you think is the best?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Ex Norwegian “House Music”

Indie rock

Not long ago, indie rockers Ex Norwegian piqued our interest with their sophomore effort, “Sketch” (reviewed here). The band is back now with “House Music”, hoping the third time is the charm.

Don’t let the record title scare you – Ex Norwegian has not abandoned their quirky and catchy indie roots in favor of monotonous dance music. On the contrary, this third record is stuffed with ten sizzling slices of hipster rock. These tunes retain the adventurous vibe their longtime fans have come to expect, yet advance considerably closer to the realm of commercial rock. It is a delicate balance, but I believe Ex Norwegian is achieving it.

The funky sound of the infectious opener, “Ginger, Baby”, shimmies down the ear with ease, fusing potent indie rock with the sounds of 80s new wave – not unlike Weezer doing a Devo cover. The intriguing chord changes and harmonies on “Original Copy” are truly engaging. The charmingly positive lyrics (“Take initiative, it’s free”), and super catchy backing vocals combine to make the jamming anthem, “Initiative Rock”, a shining gem in the bunch. Additional highlights include the peppy “Spin With It” and the refreshingly breezy “Rearrange It”.

Ex Norwegian continue to evolve with “House Music”, a collection of tunes that will get plenty of airplay around my home.

Ex Norwegian – Facebook.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Melodic rock CD of the week: Shake City

By Stephen Kasenda

SHAKE CITY “Shake City” (2009)

Adam Shore was in Warrant before Jani Lane but as Warrant reached new heights, Lane was recruited to replace him. Shore eventually met guitarist Don E. Sachs to finally form Shake City in late 1986. Some songs were written and produced by Tommy Thayer of Black N' Blue and Erik Turner of Warrant, so don’t be surprised if you can find influences from those bands on this record. Touring from club to club, state to state, Shake City was building up a reputation but then fell off the radar in 1992 when the musical climate started to change.

After 17 years in silence, Eonian brings back the fond memories of this band’s wild and wicked days. The typical sound of early 90s glam is all over their songs, such as the great hard rock tunes "One Good Reason", "Betty Blue", and "Game of War" (which was written by Jani Lane), or the party anthems of "Submarine" and "Lust & Love". The interesting bluesy flair on "Get It While It's Hot" and the Enuff Z'Nuff vibe on "Psychedelic Ride" is also lovable. Two superb ballads here are "Sweet Dreams" and "Can't Get Over You" – the other three songs are decent fillers.

The production is average…it's acceptable considering most of the songs are from 20 years ago. But now at last we can listen to the powerful vocals of Adam Shore and the killer guitar lines of Sachs and Blair. If you like Poison, Sweet.F.A, Southgang, or Warrant, this is such a great and enjoyable album to have.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: YoungBlood “No Retreat”

Glam rock

Holy hairbands! YoungBlood’s “No Retreat” is one of the most authentic throwbacks to the late 80s glam scene that I’ve heard in a long time. Checking closer into the bio, it now makes sense. These tunes were originally written in 1989 and have been re-mixed and re-mastered to finally rock our asses off in 2012. We have all the sleeze, falsettos, and fretboard gymnastics of that classic era. The members of the Indianapolis-based band also used to be Henry Lee Summer’s touring band, but “No Retreat” is much closer to Poison and Motley Crue in sound and style.

The bluesy hard rock swagger of “Don’t You Play With My Head” is what got the band off the ground, leading to their recording some 45 songs for a debut release on Sony/Epic that never happened. The aptly named “No Retreat” sees the boys finally getting these songs out to fans that should have heard them on the radio back in ’89. A few more highlights include “Pump It Up”, “Back In My Life”, “Sock It To Me”, “Find A Way”, and “Shot Of You”. There aren’t too many power ballads on this high octane release, but you can get your fix with “Coming Home” and “My One and Only”.

If you were ever a fan of Tora Tora, Kix, or Slaughter, get out your hairspray and makeup and check these guys out!

YoungBlood – More info.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: Eclipse “Bleed and Scream”

Melodic hard rock/AOR

Eclipse is a melodic hard rock band from Sweden (Erik Mårtensson - vocals/guitar/bass, Magnus Henriksson - lead guitar, Robban Bäck – drums, and Johan Berlin – keyboards) that raises the bar to new heights with each successive release. “Bleed and Scream” is the follow up record to 2008’s breakthrough, “Are You Ready to Rock”. Mårtensson has become a wunderkind in the business as a prolific songwriter and workhorse of a producer. He’s been involved with successful releases from melodic rock greats including W.E.T, Toby Hitchcock, Giant, and Jimi Jamison to name a few.

The attitude for the new recording is best summarized by guitarist Magnus Henriksson: “Every song has qualities as a single. Erik´s vocals are way better than ever. The guitar-sound is just awesome! The whole production is just in your face. It has something for everyone in it! We worked so hard at making this record that it drove us nearly nuts and made us wanna scream, but now it’s your turn to bleed and scream!”

“Bleed and Scream” is the edgiest, hardest record the band has done yet – people have often compared Eclipse to Journey, but this music has too much testosterone for that! Eclipse has come into their own, now delivering some of the thickest riffs and thunderous percussion around their sing-a-long melodies. “Bleed and Scream” also takes the lyrics up a notch, with the songs touching on worldly affairs alongside anthems of encouragement. The first four tracks may be the best consecutive stretch of melodic rock cuts on any album in this genre this year. “Wake Me Up” is a potent social commentary leading right into the ripping title track for scorned lovers. “Ain’t Dead Yet” is a forceful affirmation and “Battlegrounds” has the best chorus on the album. The only song that comes close to ballad territory is the engaging “About To Break”, otherwise it is rock that will shake your house down.

Eclipse – More info.

Check out the video for “Bleed and Scream”:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Melodic rock CD of the week: Little Caesar

By Stephen Kasenda

LITTLE CAESAR “American Dream” (2012)

'American Dream' is solid proof of LITTLE CAESAR's persistency in not giving up – to keep creating something raw and idealistic just like they did in the early 90s. Two albums that I think are among those underrated gems of the decade are the eponymous debut and 'Influence'. Blame it on the late arrival to the scene and the emerging wave of grunge, LITTLE CAESAR didn't receive the recognition they deserved back in the day. 

LITTLE CAESAR puts out a clever mix of blues and 80s hard rock. Some part of this album might remind you of AC/DC or perhaps AEROSMITH. Most songs here are comprised of the classic pattern of Verse/Chorus/Verse, the same old formula that's probably started since the 70s, so whether you've heard of this band before or not, the music draws a very familiar and friendly picture. There are several gems here that I think are among their best. 'Only A Memory Away' is a beautiful ballad, 'Is Your Crazy, Gettin' Lazy?' is a brilliant fast-paced track, and 'Dirty Water' sounds very wild west-ish, full of hooks, and extremely catchy.

Other songs felt okay to these ears. There are a couple of bumpy roads on weaker tunes like 'Prisoner of Love' and 'In My Mirror', but other numbers such as 'American Dream', 'Hard Rock Hell', or 'Own Worst Enemy' are nicely composed and guaranteed to keep your toe tapping. I'm also amazed with the clean and crisp production they have here, considering this is a self-financed project. 'American Dream' is definitely a good album in the vein of classic hard rock - for those who are lookin' for the closest follow up to 'Influence', I bet this one is a smart choice.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.