Friday, September 23, 2011
Everything I've heard concerning the band seems slightly off the mark - many comparisons to the desert fueled fires of Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, and then jumping to nineties grunge - I hear much more primal metal, a slight nod to Budgie styled boogie, and classic 80s crotch rock. They exhibit none of the tentative sloppiness that hounded every band that emerged from America's Northwest in the 90s, and damned little of the ADD inspired structure changes and forced complexity that has left me scratching my head at many of the Stoner ilk. Tracer are as tight as tight can be - an even cursory listen will have you humming, nodding, and seeing quite clearly where these guys are coming from, and where they're going. They're going on tour, they're going to rock the world, and they are going to get laid. Let's just hope that along the way, they sell some records, sell out some shows, and get paid.
Smart boogie? You bet. It happens every so often that a band will inject a dose of danceable boogie onto a track, and not come off sounding hokey, or unintelligent. Foghat did it in the seventies by whipping out dual slide guitars that proved slides were not the sole property of the American South, and throughout the nineties, Raging Slab did it with ferociously cool guitars, and some seriously good songwriting. Tracer bring some serious swing to the album's second cut, Push, but they transcend the pitfalls of the genre, and move it on from the southern funk to some silky metal moves in time for the chorus, which features a killer riff that moves under the vocals fantastically. I'm guessing the Brown's are big fans of the King of The Riff, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi. They've learned their lessons well.
The vocal on Louder Than This will have you thinking Ian Gillan, but the Browns avoid further comparisons as the tune itself is just more inventive rock writing - the art of writing a riff is one of rock's toughest tasks, make no mistake about it, and these fellows write great riffs. The changes here aren't jarring or a surprise, instead they are subtle and at times almost subliminal in their transparency. They just sneak up on you, and you smile. There are myriad examples of the bands' creativity on every track - they never play it dumb, and they keep it interesting and stimulating all the way through.
Powerful, straight ahead rock continues with The Bitch. They have the decency to never say "the bitch" anywhere on the tune, which redeems the weak title. The song is the one place on the record in which I'm reminded of the Seattle sound, as the vocal has a definite Chris Cornell vibe, but the Northwest kids were never this succinct, or as competent with their instruments. Leigh Brown's background vocals on this tune are awesome - he sings very well, and maybe even more importantly, he's very creative with the parts he chooses to add. I would have turned him up a bit in the mix, in fact. He always brings something interesting to the party, and it should be heard!
Voices In The Rain sees Tracer slowing things down, and again the band's chops and arranging skills do much to prop up what is a rather straight ahead rock radio sort of song. The rhythm section move things around nicely, and the refrain from The Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter keeps easing into my brain, though they suggest it more than they parrot it.
Leigh Brown's bass line rings in Dead Inside, as brother Michael weaves a tale of deception with no redemption in sight. The band builds loudly alongside the singer's anger until he brings it back down with a more pensive guitar solo, then returns with a final anthemic verse and chorus to wrap things up.
Tracer makes a lot of noise for a three piece, that is for sure. They clearly have put their all into writing a record that avoids the traps that haunt three piece rock bands - boredom and repetition. Never more so than on Save My Breath, which sees the band doing what they do best, taking basic riff rock and making it both interesting and compelling.
The album wraps up with a strong rocker, Won't Let It Die (Run Mary). The band pulls out every trick they've turned, and after a slight dip through the mid-section, they're solidly back on track, and you're again thinking that this is a damned fine band which just could become a great one.
Spaces In Between is a winner, of that there is no doubt. These guys are doing it right, and I'm guessing they're about another year of touring and writing to land themselves in the bigs. In the meantime, if you like you're rock on the classic heavy side, you can't go wrong here.
Thanks to Peter Noble and Tracer.
Spaces In Between - Out October 3rd on Cool Green Recordings/Mascot Group
To Pre-Order - http://mascotlabelgroup.com/mlg/releases/spaces-in-between/?reload
Monday, September 12, 2011
Led by guitarist/vocalist Tash Neal, the band plays like they've not left the rehearsal studio since they met. Joined by the incredible Christ Saint on drums, and bassist/vocalist Kiyoshi Matsuyama, The Souls are a tight, and exceptionally dynamic aggregation. They spent three years gigging before they laid down their first long player, and it shows. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios by Ethan Johns (yes, that would be Glyn Johns' son - yes, Glyn Johns, who recorded and engineered The Who's Who's Next), the record is a wonderful reminder of the studio's grand history, yet is completely contemporary in tone and mood.
The London Souls - what an appropriate moniker for a bunch of upstarts that sound as if they were nourished and nurtured by the voice of Stevies Marriott and Winwood, the guitars of the James - Hendrix and Page, and the rhythm section of the aforementioned Who.These boys destroy the faux posturing of so much fake reverence for vintage rock that appears these days, and show how to properly pay homage, without being some mass marketer's transparent puppet. This is no phony fantasy, this is real rock.
A swaggering rock intro rings is Someday, before Christ Saint arrests the beat and slides into a ska-scape that has Neal loping through the first verse, only to return smartly to straight swagger for the pre-chorus and refrain - these guys play it as smart as a Brooks Brothers suit on Wall Street. These arrangements are so good they piss me off. So young, so good. I bow in gracious appreciation.
This bunch clearly have worked their collective asses off to keep things interesting, and moving. Parts and song sections combine elegantly and sympathetically - Future Life winds through change after change without ever tripping, or sounding stilted - it breathes as it strolls by, including some wonderfully complex vocal sections and harmonies.
Old Country Road comes out choogling, with a loving nod to Fogerty's CCR, but they only suggest the past, never quoting, only paraphrasing. This song swings and struts like crazy as again the rhythm section is once more magical - these guys play with time like they own it. They manage to sound casual as they display musicality far beyond the reach of normal mortals.
A great mixture of Southern soul and 70s stadium rock is up next. Stand Up shows signs of the righteous soul poetry of James Brown and the grandstand antics of Grand Funk Railroad. Cool twists and turns have this one whipping around like an amusement park ride. Tash Neal rips off some really greasy leads and fills as he keeps abreast of Saint's stop and go drum display - this sounds like a lot of fun was had in the recording of this romp. Nothing tentative to be found here, The London Souls strut.
Sequencing an album is hard work. When to speed up, when to slow down, when to not break a mood, when to break up a mood. Between producer Johns and the band, they pretty much nailed it. This record flows so easily that if you told me that this was a band that had been making records for twenty years, I would not doubt it for a second, or bat an eye. I truly love being this jazzed by a new band - great stuff.
His playing and singing on Easier Said Than Done is a grand example, as he plays killer rhythm and sings a melody that is both catchy, and intelligent. When he gets to the bridge, he introduces an change in tempo and interesting melodic chord changes that suggest he's listened to his share of XTC and Cheap Trick - this is good, good songwriting. He breaks it all down with a reprise of the chorus that becomes pianistic and choral before he whips the tune back into his rhythmic intro and a stutter stop ending.
I Think I Like It brings the band back to bombastic rock before slowing down for an impassioned verse with call and response vocals that are instantly endearing and will have you singing along whether you intend to or not. Nash tears it up with a brief, slashing solo, then the band rejoins with a refrain that rides out the tune. This is certainly to be sang by audiences for a long time to come.
The album wraps up with a couple of arena rockers, Under Control, and The Sound. The latter may just be the coolest track on the record, with more call and response vocals from Tash, and Matsuyama, and some stunningly sweet and clever harmonies. I can't say enough about how impressed I am with the time they have taken to put together an album that could have easily ridden on the strength of the songs alone - but this crew went way above and beyond what has become acceptable, and have delivered an album worthy of the grand room in which it was recorded.
A stunningly good debut, and a band that is going to be one to watch. Buy this today!
Monday, September 5, 2011
Chickenfoot III is a great band album - filled with satisfying songs that speak directly to our times, and ensemble playing that finds everyone in the band contributing not just equally, but sympathetically. Maturity is a beautiful thing, especially when applied to virtuosos who have been historically very heavy on the gas. Hagar has transformed his persona into that of a gracefully aging superstar who has turned his attention from the high life to the realities of 21st century America. I never thought that I would hear myself say that Sammy has written a lyrically important record, but he's done just that.
Before I get into the songs, I have to speak about the rhythm section of Chili Pepper Chad Smith, and the soul of Van Halen, bassist/vocalist Michael Anthony. Michael Anthony sings with the voice of an angel, and his high pitched background vocals are as distinctive a sonic signature as exists in all of rock history. They are completely unique and he's a master of placement and style - he somehow manages to never wear out his welcome, nor appear cliched. His partner in the pit, Chad Smith supplies a powerful engine that keeps things roped in and rock steady. He's super solid, plays what is needed with great energy and enthusiasm, yet none of the over playing that too often has become a fixture in heavy rock drumming. Their performance throughout the disc is superlative - perfect for the task.
Alright sees Satch channeling himself from 1988, when he toured with Stone alone Mick Jagger. Smith counts it off, and who would have ever thought there would be a brilliantly Stonesy Chickenfoot number? Hagar and Anthony nail the chorus with vocals that remind me of Mick and Keith doing Motown. Come solo time, Satriani sounds like he spent some serious time wood-shedding the Band of Gypsies catalog, and he abuses his wah pedal superbly before he cuts loose with some melodic sizzling that leads beautifully into an elegant and majestic bridge that sees Sammy rapping out a little Jagger-esque commentary to his resisting lover. The writing far transcends the first Chickenfoot album, and sounds like these guys are now living in the same neighborhood in terms of marrying lyrics to riffs and melodies.
This is Chickenfoot as I had envisioned, and hoped for when I heard they were throwing in their collective lots. They have combined all of their obvious benefits, tempered their histrionic tendencies, and surrendered none of the fire that gave their past's such passion and acclaim.
I'm calling this review, Keeping Carter Happy. John Carter was Chickenfoots' founding manager, and he passed away in May of this year at 65. He assisted Hagar in originally putting this band together, but before that he had been an industry legend for over forty years. Carter’s career began in 1967, when he wrote the lyrics to Incense and Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock – a group he renamed by picking words from song titles on the week’s Hot 100 chart. He later went on to be integrally involved in the careers of Bob Seger and Steve Miller when they were at their biggest. He produced much of Tina Turner's huge comeback, including the mega-hit Private Dancer.
For all their firepower, you wouldn't expect Chickenfoot to do a number that would not sound a bit out of place on a mid 70s UFO album, and yet Lighten Up would indeed not be out of place as a long lost Schenker/Mogg track. I've a huge love for the creative team that made UFO one of the greatly undervalued hard rock bands of all time, so to say this is not to damn with faint praise, but rather to sing some glories. Satriani sounds like a combination guitarist/organist throughout, and Sammy is singing in a strong, confident tenor that makes it sound much more impressive when he does choose to go to a higher register. Satriani riffs like a classic Brit-rocker, and Smith and Anthony make like a Panzer tearing through the desert. Just goddamned good rock.
Sammy Hagar constructed the verses of Three and a Half Letters from actual correspondences he has received from downtrodden and suffering fans, who did their part for a country that chose not to return the favor. If this doesn't move you, you are one cold mother. I have not been able to hear it without choking up as of yet. The song ends with Hagar singing, "The last letter said, 'I'm nine years old and I'm homeless.' Fuck!" Satriani's solo is perfectly angst ridden and angry, and again the band nails the vibe beautifully. This should become an anthem of our times.
Sammy Hagar has never sounded better, or written with anywhere near the emotion and empathy that he delivers throughout this record. In an interview with Music Radar (http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/joe-satriani-on-chickenfoot-iii-new-album-preview-493500), the issue of both Hagar's vocals and Stariani's guitar playing were discussed:
"During the initial stages of writing, Satriani issued a directive to Hagar - sing differently: 'I had my reasons,' the guitarist says. 'It struck me that, whenever we would work together on songs, just the two of us, Sam would sing in a lower register. It was intimate, so full of soul. I thought, Wow, nobody has ever heard this quality in his voice before. He and I agreed that the new material would allow him to explore those other sides to his range.'"
At the same time, Hagar turned things around to Satch and told him that he wanted the guitar virtuoso to play his instrument in a new way. 'He wasn't as specific as I was,' says Satriani. 'But we did agree to take our creativity somewhere else. For me, it was something of an open canvas. It was hard at times, but ultimately it was very rewarding.'"
Big Foot began as a working title of one of Joe Satriani's demos for the record, but Hagar kept it, and built his lyrics to fit the concept. For me, this is the track that borrows the most from the band's past glories, and will keep longstanding fans in line for tickets. It's the one song on the record in which the singer can still not drive 55, and he's in fine classic red rocker form here.
Sophisticated, simmering blues is on tap with Dubai Blues. Driven by Chad Smith's super solid back beat, and Anthony's pumping bassline, the tune features Hagar singing a classic tale of the blues, that has the protagonist singing that he has everything in the world that he could want, but not the love that he needs. I absolutely love to hear this band groove with such muscle, and skill. Mike Fraser is a master in the realms of record production, and he makes this sound like an instant blues rock classic. A fabulous display of the incredible skills at play on this one.
Acoustic guitars, banjos....what do these have to do with Chickenfoot? I'll tell you. They wrap up an album that solidifies the fact that Chickenfoot is a band, not just a super-group project. The title is Somethings Gone Wrong, but the song is all right. If harkens back to the days when Paul Rodgers would own a room with his soulful pipes, and here the band have embraced that tradition, and added a few tricks of their own. Satriani plays against character here, but I believe that it may be just another facet of the same rock, one that has taken some time to ripen.
To say this album shocked me is an understatement. I read the interview on Music Radar, and Satch made it sound so interesting and good that I had to give it a whirl. These guys have made a great record, and have become a great band. They are now all they hoped to become when they joined forces. Indeed, Carter would be pleased....
You can pre-order Chickenfoot III at iTunes now.
You can pre-order Chickenfoot III at iTunes now.