SECRET SPHERE
Scent Of Human Desire
Nuclear Blast Records

Deliciously symphonic, this, the third record from Italian powerhouse Secret Sphere, take the foundations built on “Mistress Of The Shadowlight” (1999) and “A Time Nevermore” (2001) and set new standards for power-metal as we know it. The richly captivating “Rain” with it intoxicating piano injections, the acoustically intense “Desire” and the rapid-fire “Runaway Train” see the band growing into a international phenomenon. Even the inclusion of voice augmentation (through a number of tracks) keep the songs interesting with out falling into trendy ruts.

Achieving their sound through six individuals, the band take influences from Helloween (even performing the tribute album “Keepers of Jericho”), Rhapsody and Primal Fear, take elements of each and make them their own. Their talent is maintaining a strong sense of melody in songs like “1000 Eyes’ Show,” the breath-taking “More Than Simple Emotions” featuring vocals by their female bassist Anrea Buratto and the progressive “Surrounding” to become epic masterpieces.

Even chunks of Deep Purple and Rainbow creep into the organ drenched “Virgin Street 69” and the soaring ballad “Scent Of A Woman” which could almost be a Foreigner AOR hit. The record closes with “Life Part 1” (Walking Through The Dawn)” and “Life Part 2” (Daylight) play out with the impact of a feature film complete with plot twist and orchestral maneuvers. A hidden bonus track finds it’s way out at the end in of the record in the form of an odd little carnival ditty.

Website:
Nuclear Blast Records.

THE FLAMING SIDEBURNS
Sky Pilots
Jet Set Records

Several months ago we featured The Flaming Sideburns as our “Record of the Month” with their compilation disc “Save Rock N Roll”. Response to our feature was enormous as was the timing since both the Hives and the Hellacopters were pushing new discs as well. What we have in “Sky Pilots” is a maturing of sorts for our Finish quintet. Reaching further back into the 60’s vibe of the Stooges the record’s first three songs “Save Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “Invisible Hands” and “Since The Beginning” fuse a rich texture of layered sound, crisp guitar and tasty licks to bring the songs to full fruition.

But once they hit “Off Direction” the record kicks in the rock. Twin-guitars come blazing through a meaty batch of MC5 meets Sonics hyper intensity. Less full-on garage retro the band use a blend of twang (“Pictures Far Behind”), hip-shakin’ (“Effect-O Tequila”) and organ/tambourine swagger (“Let Me Take You Far”) to stir up and blissful sweep of groove. That’s not to say the disc is lacking in chuggin’ guitar and quintessential Scandinavian muscle. “Heavy Tiger” brings it on with a catchy hook and claws that draw blood. “Into The Golden Shade” and “Submarine Sensation” are just a manic as the FS early pelvic-grinders just with more precision and direct stimulation.

Still in touch with their three-chord gusto the Flaming Sideburns keep the better part of their primal force and season it with some new flavors. This rounds out the band and proves that they can be as prolific as they are powerful. The piano-tinged “Drive On” is sure to raise some eyebrows and it is here where Argentinean vocalist Eduardo Martinez gives the song an exotic melodrama of cinematic proportions. The CD also features a video of “Street Survivor”

Website:
Jet Set Records or The Flaming Sideburns

ERIC SARDINAS
Black Pearls
Favored Nations Records

In look and swagger you might think Sardinas is the same character hired by the devil to out gun (or out play) Eugene Martone (Ralph Macchio) in the 1985 blues/coming of age - road movie Crossroads. Though the original character, Jack Butler, was played by Steve Vai, Sardinas embodies the legend come alive. Entering the blues scene in 1999 with the Dick Shurman produced “Treat Me Right,” the hard working LA mainstay lit up the boards with a heavy dose of heavy riffs soaked in Mississippi mud.

Using the term “blues-rock” may not be the most fitting but on last years “Devil’s Train” as with his new opus “Black Pearls” that is exactly what Sardinas brings to the table. His rich mixture of well honed, masterfully studied and dazzling blues interpretations are stroked to perfection with the guiding hand of famed producer Eddie Kramer (Hendrix, Kiss, Zeppelin). Know as one of the hardest working players on the circuit, the tall, lanky, slide master brings to life such crisp compositions as the hard-rockin’ “Flames Of Love,” the down home “Bittersweet” and the Allman Brother inspired “Big Red Line”.

Constructed at Mothership studios in LA, Sardinas with longtime bassist Paul Loranger and drummer Mike Dupke lay down what is essentially a live album, straight to analog tape, which gives the disc a warm, embracing quality. The guitarist’s skill as a slide, dobro player is heightened by the intensity he weaves through “Black Pearls” twelve tracks – the title track being one of the best on the disc. However, it is his diversity and expression that is most captivating. “Sorrow’s Kitchen” and “Old Smyrna Road” eases back to a finger-picking country style while “Ten Fold Trouble” and “Ain’t No Crime” bring out the rock. The record closes with the foot-stomping “Wicked Ways” that accentuates Eric’s admiration for Elmore James and puts his own brand on the blues.

Website:
Eric Sardinas

JAMES LAROCCA
A Different Road
Independent

When James LaRocca was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago his life was turned upside down. 36 years old and the father of two, the Portland native went through a range of emotions. He had to learn to deal with a loss of vision, fatigue and sensitivity to heat. As the chronic disease attacks his central nervous system, he has become acutely aware of the trials and hardship associated with his condition and how it affects those around him.

Composing “Eleanor” for his grandmother’s funeral, the seasoned Jazz instrumentalist realized his ability to touch people through his music. With the support of family and friends he penned what has become “A Different Road,” a beautifully crafted body of work that deeply touches the soul. The disc spotlights LaRocca’s subtle, exotic and delicate acoustic guitar augmented by violin, drums and string bass. As with his life, the recording moves through a wide variety of tonal peaks and valleys. From the charming “Summer’s Day” to the melancholy “Understanding” to the somber “Little Girl Blue” LaRocca breathes passionate life into heartfelt compositions that speak volumes.

The piano-driven “Domenica” breaks up the acoustic strings yet never drifts from the mood landscape and rich texture of songs like “Camille” or “Julian.” “I want to reach out and communicate with those who are battling this disease,” says LaRocca. “I want to tell them there is hope.” 51% or all the proceeds from the sales of “A Different Road” will go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Website:
James LaRocca

CANNED HEAT
Friends In The Can
Fuel 2000 Records

You gotta admire a band for giving it one more go after nearly 36 years in the business. Essentially Canned Heat was over when Bob “The Bear” Hite died in 1981. However, drummer Adolfo Fito de la Parra (member since 1967) has been dedicated to keeping the banner flying over the CH camp for several years now. To “drum” up business he has delivered a set of steady numbers featuring several key guests including John Lee Hooker (posthumously), Taj Mahal, Roy Rogers, Corey Stevens and Walter Trout. Though the reviews have been mixed “Friends In The Can” has been doing amazingly well on the blues charts.

The 2003 lineup includes Parra (drums), Dallas Hodge (guitar), Stanley Behrens (vocals), Greg Kage (bass), and John Paulus (guitar). Having played as a cohesive unit for three years they decided to record “Friends In The Can” as a tribute to their greatest musical influence, John Lee Hooker. “Same Old Games” starts the record off sounding as close to the ’67 band yet - complete with some meaty harmonica and Behrens doing his best Hite impression. Getting a bit dirty is the tasty rocker “Bad Trouble” and the thick “Black Coffee.” The Corey Stevens penned Getaway, currently heard in the Target commercials is a barnburner complete with power-riffs, Hammond organ and Steven gruff vocals.

“Let’s Work Together” makes a re-recoded appearance twice. Once with Hodge on vocals, the other, heard in the Target commercials has Robert Lucas on vocals. Walter Trout cooks up a greasy rendition of “Home To You” but it’s Taj Mahal’s vocals on “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive” and the late, great John Lee Hooker’s vocals on “Little Wheel” that carry the spirit of the record to another level. In all, it’s nice to hear modern renditions done with muscle and flare.

Website:
Canned Heat

CAGE
Darker Than Black
Fugitive Records

Our buddy Sean Peck and his angry band of smoldering fiends have delivered yet another slab of molten steel. Building strength upon strength, San Diego’s Cage roar from the grated sewers of hell to put their own tattoo on power metal. Perfecting their Iron Maiden meets Judas Priest meets Queensryche assault, the five-piece craft teeth-clenching, fist-pounding, rapid-fire aggression with searing intensity. And served up with gorgeous artwork by famed illustrator Marc Sasso (Dio).

Originally formed in 1992, the band has been plagued by misfortune and setbacks. Their debut was recorded in 1995 but was not released until 1999. Their second effort Astrology (2000) received rave reviews and won them a sea of fans as they preached the devil’s music from the festival stages across Europe. However, it is within the plastic encasing of “Darker Than Black” that we hear real maturity and with world-class execution. Check out “Blood Of The Innocent” with its Native American intro as well as the galloping baseline of “Eyes Of Obsidian” and its twin guitar fury.

Cage is one of those fascinating band where they sound just as comfortable doing their best death metal impression (Chupacabra, White Magic), to Maiden (Door To The Unknown) and Halford (Secret Of Fatima). The epic “Wings Of Destruction” actually embraced elements of European Prog counterparts Hammerfall, Gamma Ray and Helloween. Peck is also coming into his own as a storywriter as heard in “Philadelphia Experiment.” The duel-guitar of Dave Garcia and Anthony McGinnis as well as the thunder of bassist Mike Giordano and drummer Mikey Niel are mind numbing.

Website:
Cage and artwork by: Marc Sasso

JOE BONAMASSA
Blues Deluxe
Medalist Entertainment

The first time I saw Joe play he was 12 opening for Eric Johnson in upstate New York. A blues child prodige and master of the guitar by 8, the Utica, NY native is now all grown up and blazing his own trail to the crossroads. “Blue Deluxe” is his fourth record in three years on the Medalist label. In between his own solo efforts he has contributed guitar to AOR giant Joe Lynn Turner’s past two outings as well as busying himself with soundtrack work.

Slightly different than last years “So, It’s Like That” and the brilliant Tom Dowd produced “A New Day Yesterday” the 26-year old bluesman reaches further back into his blues repertoire to bring out not only the best of his ‘70s rock icons but traditional idols as well. “Blues Deluxe” still accentuates Bonamassa love of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton but includes Albert Collins, Freddie King and T-Bone Walker. To encapsulate his encyclopedia of influences he delivers a record loaded with covers and stamped with the guitarist signature sound. His guitar playing on the BB King cover “You Upset Me Baby” comes in like a whirlwind but it is John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” that sets the disc a flame with some very impressive slide work.

The Buddy Guy “Man Of Many Words” stings like a bee with a passion for rhythm as does “Long Distance Blues” where the acoustic “Woke Up Dreaming,” the first of three originals that pepper the record, sits more comfortably next to Robert Johnson than anything Bonammassa has penned to date. The Jazzy, self-revealing “I Don’t Live Anywhere” and steel resonating “Mumbling Word” match the mood and showcase Joe’s road worn vocal prowess. Standout favorite is the Jeff Beck number (and album title) “Blue Deluxe” oddly enough written by Rod Stewart, yet sounding absolutely perfect here.

Website:
Joe Bonamassa

JOE STUMP
Armed And Ready
Leviathan Records

Originally recorded as a part of Leviathan’s “Diginet Music Guitar Masters” series “Armed and Ready,” Joe Stump’s new instrumental, is destined for much wide audience. Pulling from his influences that span Uli Jon Roth, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Gary Moore and Yngwie Malmsteen, Stump creates an environment where he enters the arena on his own terms. Using his accomplished skill and six strings he blazes through a complicated mixture of hard rock melodies, twisted song arrangements and guitar calisthenics to expose a pureness in his playing unmatched before.

Voted one of the Top 10 shredders of all time in Guitar One magazine, Stump attacks each of the records eight tracks with visible confidence. Surprising the to novice listener is the fact that each song was done in one tack – a landmark accomplishment and one that should not be tried at home or without supervision. Playing with this much inventive, forceful and dynamic emotion is reserved for the pros only. “Mind Games” is a most fitting lead - electrifying whirlwind guitar gymnastics over a pounding backbeat. Alluring and intoxicating is the frantic nature of the seven-minute opus “Prisoner Of Time” while “Hurricane X” establishes a lyrical defiance in the face of nu-metal. “Chasing Rainbows” is more of a straight metal track. Says Stump, “with this speedy fast tempo it's a fun track to blaze it up on. My goal was to make the playing totally over the top but still build it up and let it flow.”

The slower, grinding moments on “Armed and Ready” really rise to the surface. They include the title track, “Prisoner Of Time,” the Sabbath sounding “Day Of Doom” and “Destination” however the rapid-fire of “Hot Nights” is exhilarating. As with several recordings in this genre, “Armed And Ready” does get a bit screechy in places and could stand a thicker bass end. Yet, over all it is Stumps mind-numbing brilliance as a guitarist that is quintessential here.

Website:
Leviathan Records

SOUTHERN GENTLEMEN
Double Your Pleasure
Leviathan Records

Southern Gentlemen release their second outing with “Double Your Pleasure.” For those unfamiliar with the “Gentlemen,” they are a blues outfit from the backwoods of Georgia known for their tantalizing covers and ball-to-the-wall blues-rock blues. Within their song arrangements are elements of ZZ Top, Robin Trower and Allman Brothers, essentially blues riffs delivered with metal precision.

The key difference between last years “Exotic Dancer Blues” and “Double Your Pleasure” is the weight. This time around the band are a little heavier with more lead guitar playing. “Racing Back To Mississippi” is the first track to dig its meaty hooks under your skin. A great cruising song with lots of revved up muscle that works well for driving or other “high energy” endeavors. Band guitarist David Chastain comments, “Actually ‘Double Your Pleasure’ was never intended to be a Southern Gentlemen CD. I recorded these and a few other songs as the second Georgia Blues Dawgs CD (Chastain’s other blues band). I had a whole other SG album written and ready to record. However, I just went in one day and added heavy guitars over the Georgia Blues Dawgs CD and it sounded really good so I decided to also release the heavy version as Southern Gentlemen.”

Chastain also tells us that SG’s trademark will always be to have a sexy woman on the cover. Most of their lyrical content is love, sex, and heartbreak driven as heard in the cool riff of “Tell Me Woman,” “Not Worth My Grave” and “Love Affair Gone Bad”. The songs are rich and full of Chastain’s classic edge. The utltimate tribute to the ban’s sex drive must be “Slutovirgin.” Says Chastain, “Very seldom do I write about specific people but a generalization of many. I have just known women in the past who would basically do any and everything imaginable except normal sexual intercourse and then try to parade herself around as a ‘virgin’. While technically true, she had still blown half the town.”

The more commercial slant and melodic edge on the disc happen with “I Believe In Love” and “Tell Me Woman.” Thought the songs were reworked for this recording the emotion is unmistakable and genuine. “In Southern Gentlemen I always wanted to present the band as it would sound live,” says Chastain. “Almost no overdubs. Usually one guitar, one bass, drums and one vocal track - as if in a packed, smoked fill nightclub on a Saturday night. The band is cooking and you are trying to figure out which hot chick you wanted to take home tonight.”

Website:
Leviathan Records

INDIGENOUS
Indigenous
Silvertone Records

Native American blues-rock group Indigenous are back with their fifth national recording. Built around the Stevie Ray Vaughan-like vocals of singer/guitarist Mato Nanji the band flow from Hendirx inspired axioms to Robin Trower fused ‘70s hard rock. Keeping the format simple with their Silvertone debut the foursome plant their feet firmly in the blues yet allow the record to grow in different directions. “C’mon Suzie” sets the tone with a decidedly harder edge. Backed by his brother Pte (bass) and cousin Horse (percussion) along with his sister Wanbdi (drums/vocals), Nanji finds a workable groove quickly and makes certain you don’t forget it.

“You Turn My World Around” scorches for a second burn with a toughened up bass line and some very proud guitar. “What You Do To Me” becomes an anthum of sorts complete with a fist in the air chorus and spine chilling leads. Nanji’s husky vocals embrace the slower plod of “Hold On” sounding remarkably like Hendrix especially in his “Hey Baby” side notes. The band catch their breath with “Be Right There” where the strum of the acoustic guitar swirls around the song as with a powerful presence.

Production was done by the British Davey Brothers, which assists the recording in creating a thick sonic soup and a gutsy soundwall. The basic tracks were done live, giving the performance a delightful spark as heard on “Movin’ On,” a Bad Company meets SRV shaker, the shuffle of “Take Some Time” and the Jimmy Reed cover “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Coming into their own as blues-rock stars the band achieve a unique moment in “I Wonder” that is particularly hot and “Monkeyshuffle” which closes out the CD with a tasty little swagger.

Website:
Indigenous

DRIVE BY TRUCKERS
Decoration Day
New West Records

Following the critically acclaim of “Southern Rock Opera” was no easy step for the Birmingham, Alabama quintet. Doing for Southern Rock what REM did for ‘80s pop, the Drive By Truckers fuse infectious harmonies with loud bombastic hooks ready made for radio hits. Taking a dash of Neil Young, an over dose of Eagles and lessons learned from Lynyrd Skynyrd the band have put together an record that not only embraces lush melodies but stings with poignant efficiency. And is easily as good as what critics were calling their greatest achievement “Southern Rock Opera.”

Not attempting to recreate the vibe of SRO, the Truckers use the romance of country found in the lap steel or resonating hallow-body strains of “Sounds Better In Song” and “(Something’s Got to) Give Pretty Soon” while songs like the Skynyrd-fused “Marry Me” and “Your Daddy Hates Me” slips into a nostalgic Eagles-like wash (“Take It Easy” and “Teenage Jail” respectively). Lyrically the record spews out tragic southern tales that could be found in the headlines of the Birmingham News or the Jacksonville Times. “The Deeper In,” “Do It Yourself” and “Sink Hole” with it’s line “I’ve always been a religious man/But I met the banker and it felt like sin” reek with social observance and personal affection.

The rockers even carry an outlaw strut with them. “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy, ” and “Careless” bring out the best Johnny Cash meets Merle Haggard in the band. But it is the pain heard throughout the records fifteen tracks that make “Decoration Day” such an achievement. The confessional “My Sweet Annette, ” the homespun yarn of “Outfit” and revealing “Heathens” are all the more moving narrated in first person, a craft the Truckers have perfected and use abundantly. Back to back the band have succeed where many have failed. What will next year bring?

Website:
Drive By Truckers or New West Records

SUPERJOINT RITUAL
A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred
Sanctuary Records

With the rumor still hanging in the air that Pantera maybe no more, Superjoint Ritual momentarily fill that empty whole in the world of raging metal. The “side project” of Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, hosts guitarists Jim Bower (Eyehategod) and Kevin Bond, with drummer Joe Fazzio (Demonseeds, Stressball) - and none other than Hank Williams III on bass. Recorded with “everything loud, on 10, loaded, and letting whatever happen, happen” is what Bower says is the key to their sound.

The rapid-fire grind of “Waiting For the Turning Point” was the perfect backdrop for the band’s video debut for “A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred”. It was added to Extreme Rock at MTV2 and also Headbanger’s Ball (hosted by Slayer), which premiered at the end of July. A massive tour has been built around the record looking to spread the word on uncharted waters. Based on the strength of “Dress Like A Target” (and it’s potent, yet relevant lyrics, “to kill everyone is to love everyone”), the hypnotic thump of “The Destruction Of A Person” and double kick of “Personal Insult,” the band force-feed hardcore with both fists.

Most people refer to the bands name as being related to marijuana. Philip Anselmo recently told Rolling Stone Magazine, ‘That’s not what the name is about at all, it is about a super- joint; as in people joining forces together- a Superjoint Ritual.” That lethal combination is where “Death Threat,” “Stealing A Page…” and “Symbol Of Nevermore” get their brutality. Five angry guys in one room making angry music can only yield one thing – and that is “A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred”.

Website:
Superjoint Ritual