BOB SEGER
Smokin’ O.P.’s
Capitol Records

One of the most anticipated and hard-to-find Seger records has finally been reissued on CD. The 1972 release of Smokin’ O.P.’s has been carefully remastered and given a fine spit and polish to be appreciated once again by Seger fans worldwide. Seger, known for his extraordinary depth of songs that capture both the hope and heartbreak of the American dream, continues to draw fans from around the globe. His Greatest Hit’s package has been on the chart for an astounding ten years since its release in 1994. The reissue from Capitol records is an effort to respond to overwhelming online requests of Seger’s more obscure work.

True to its original format, Smokin’ O.P.’s is packaged with the classic Palladium label on the CD, original images and song credits. To capture the essence of time smudges and ring-ware have been added to the art package giving it a vintage look. With the dust and scratches now removed from the original masters, the warm recording reveals that Seger was not only a talented bandleader and songwriter from the Midwest but had the instinct and ability to cover other writer’s songs as well. The intoxicating “Bo Diddley” stretches out to over six-minutes complete with horn arrangements and Motown funk. The passionate “If I Were A Carpenter” brings light and aroma to the original while Seger’s voice embraces Stephen Stills “Love The One You’re With” and Leon Russell’s “Humming Bird.” This refreshing blast from the past comes not only recommended but essential to coinsures of Midwestern rock and soul.

Website:
Capitol Records, Bob Seger

BEN JACKSON GROUP
All Over You
Navarre Music Group

A return to 80’s butt-rock, the Ben Jackson Group sounds somewhere between Tesla and Alice Cooper with a bit of Ratt thrown in. All Over You is the band’s second outing and continues to explore guitarist /vocalist Ben Jackson’s roots. Musically similar to Jackson’s previous bands Crimson Glory and Parish, BJG dedicates its direction to full-on stadium anthems starting with opening track “Turn It On.” A muscle-bound heavy hitter, the song comes complete with aggressive riffs and a thundering backend – a serious push into overdrive. Jackson also pulls from his private record collection of Accept, Metallica and King Diamond to give the listener an earful of European-metal.

The Scorpion-esque nature of title-track “All Over You” followed by “Eyes Of Ice” are reminiscent of metallic Germanic song-writing complete with massive hooks and a catchy chorus. “Mean Machine” locks in tight with an addicting open chord followed by a serpentine weave through classic riff-rock. Jackson’s Stephen Pearcy-like vocals can move songs from power-ballad subtlety to melodic melodies effortlessly. However, the richness of the harmonies comes not only from Jackson, but drummer, Rich Tabor, bassist, Dano Binz, guitarist, Mark Borgmeyer, and background vocalist, Rose Sexton. The combination makes songs like the intoxicating “Falling Down” move closer to the Def Leppard territory, embraced by a spine-tingling solo and a funky beat.

The appropriately named “Ghost In The Mirror” does not fall far from the shadow of classic Priest with “Break It” even ringing of the Ram It Down era. Only the haunting keyboard separates it from the metal giants. Other tracks like “Far And Away,” “Rock and Roll Heaven (or bust)” and “Heavy On My Mind” go straight into Van Halen/Ratt / Motley Crue Sunset Strip territory complete with tongue-in-cheek references o’ plenty.

website:
www.benjacksongroup.com

THE HOLLOW POINTS
The Black Spot
Disaster Records

Co-produced by Duane Peters, Seattle’s Hollow Points deliver a worthwhile collection of streetwise punk with mammoth geetar. This is the trio’s third release and showcases the thousands of road miles amassed in the past 12-months. First track in “Never Say Die” may well be the groups mantra as they’ve criss-crossed the country playing with the likes of The Distillers, The Bones, Throw Rag and TSOL. The track takes full advantage of drummer Lucky’s quick footing, keeping the tempo erratic and sonically hyper. “The Sickness” keeps the band refreshed by adding memorable hooks in Green Day fashion with guitarist Matty making the most out of his three-chord phrasing. Then there’s the image ready “Hooks and Sink-her,” “Sleaze of Seven Seas” and “My Misfortune” all capitalizing on the band’s Pirate-like image.

Complete with gangland lyrics and grounded by a meaty chug, “Rope’s End” has the taste of SoCal punk with Peter’s distinct production edge. Bashing fast, melodic guitars into sports fan-like chants keeps all 14 of the records three-minute numbers poised and ready for cult status. Only a couple numbers drop out a bit. “Telltale American” lacks completion and could use more work but is easily redeemed by “Bereaved” a hypnotic beat joined by bassist, Benny to create a tidal wave of sonic energy. For guitarist Matty the record is a theme park of dirty guitar and swashbuckling irreverence. Title track, “The Black Spot” feeds the social anger of the trio’s ear-bleeding angst while “The Hemingway Solution,” their term for suicide, features Matty’s best solo yet. Razor sharp riffs, punk spirit and a taste for melodic swagger keep this one on the top of the heep.

Website:
www.thehollowpoints.com

TSAR
Band, Girls, Money
TVT Records

The shadow of T Rex meets Stooges follows this band like bees to honey. Punk garage rock is very much alive inside the heart and soul of TSAR. Unlike The Strokes, The Vines and The Hives, these guys keep it a bit more dirty – closer to Stooges Raw Power with the Beatles’ Revolver thrown in. In essence, four dudes from LA who pack a stadium-sized punch in their 10-track sophomore release Band, Girls, Money.

Not only is there a huge energy jolt of twin-guitar madness when track one comes blowing out of the speakers of your ’78 Camero but the screech is absolutely seductive. There’s no doubt about a Cheap Trick pop-rock hook as the lyrics get thrown around until they find a sugary sweet chorus. Get use to the taste ‘cause it happens around every turn and you like it. Bass and drums lend a fundamental support especially in “The Love Explosion,” “Everybody’s Fault But Mine” and “Superdeformed” but the songs are really all about the guitar.

And what a sound they make. “Straight,” the band’s unapologetic declaration of heterosexuality, its certain to piss off the Village voice but sure as shit it will lift the hairs right off the back of your neck. Listen to the muscle in “Startime” and you’ll hail the next champs of proper rock and roll - even with the horns in the background. Keeping the songs a short burst of solid rock, even a bit punk, maintain the record’s pulse and sonic heartbeat. Nice to hear someone’s got the ball to come close to Raspberries territory - even if it is twenty years late.

Website:
TSAR, TVT Records

VAN ZANT
Get Right With The Man
Columbia Nashville

You knew something was up when the Van Zant boys signed to a Nashville subsidiary. Yes, country these days is recycled ‘70s rock and with Big and Rich and Montgomery Gentry fading the lines it was bound to happen. With Get Right With The Man the Van Zant brothers, Donnie (38 Special) and Johnny (Lynyrd Skynyrd), reverse the cards and actually make a legit country-rock record. But hold on, these guys deserve the right as the only true pioneers of Southern rock.

This makes album number three for the duo Van Zants. Where the other two were seeking to find a hybrid direction, record three jumps right in the country game complete with lap steel and whiskey-stained bar stories. “Help Somebody” was first to radio and though lyrically strong in a Montgomery Gentry kind of way, lacks the kick one might expect from two kids raised under the tutelage of brother Ronnie. “Takin’ Up Space” is more like it with a boot to the ass and a story to fit the hard rock. The same can be said about Van Zant-penned “Sweet Mama”, “I Know My History”, “I’m Doin’ Alright” (which should be the next single) and “Plain Jane.”

Yet, among the turned up guitars is pure traditional country straw. “Nobody Gonna Tell Me What To Do”, “Things I Miss The Most” and “I Can’t Help Myself” has the lyrical visual expected from Nashville songwriting. It’s here one can appreciate the brothers sense of melody, harmony and ability to deliver personality. Two of the records hidden gems are reserved for the end. A blues riff fuels “Lovin’ You” with an old school Nazareth feel and the bluegrass “Been There Done That” has a killer Allman’s coating complete with layered organ. Versatile and cohesive keep the legend in tacked

Website:
Van Zant, Columbia Nashville

IRON MAIDEN
The Essential Collection
Sanctuary Records

The Essential Collection joins the seemingly endless throng of “Best of” or “Greatest Hits” packages devoted to probably the biggest NWOBM bands. Maiden, or more correctly Sanctuary Group, have put together a neat little package reminding us once again how relevant the quintet/sextet have been over the past two and a half decades. Having listened to several of the past compilation previously stated, this one actually tracks better with greater emphasis on the muscle of the band. Divided into a two-disc set we get over two-dozen tracks covering the band’s tried and true highlights. The running order seems a tad disjoint with Maiden’s most current hitters on disc one, then promptly marching backwards. In essence it’s a way of viewing their long road with quantum time travel in reverse.

For those naysayer slow to embrace Dance Of Death or Brave New World here is a second chance to absorb the progression on Steve Harris as a producer, songwriter, musician and founder of Britain’s finest stock. “Paschendale”, “Rainmaker”, “Wickerman” and “Brave New World” hurl forth with an anxious flight. Fully equipped with three guitarists in tow singer Bruce Dickinson unleashes a volley of scholarly story telling ripe with mysticism and illusion. Harris (bassist) and ex-Trust drummer Nico McBain hold the complex time signatures in place with a vice-like grip. As always Dickinson finds a way of lacing a set of lyrics with relevant stain. Listening to highlights from Virtual XI and X Factor allow one to appreciate Blaze-era Maiden and the relevance of songs like “The Clansman” and “Sign Of The Cross”. A fine set showcasing the band’s ability to forge forward with a third change in singing ranks.

There are no B-sides, unpublished rarities or wandering remixes in the lot, which actually help trim away any nonsense. Only the best of the meat are included keeping this collection tight and productive. Disc two will be the obvious crowd pleaser. The best of the best including “Waysted Years”, “2 Minutes To Midnight”, “Run To The Hills” and “Trooper” will have you reaching for the volume knob. Di’Anno-era, still considered by many to be classic, blows out with “Wrathchild”, “Killers” and “Phantom of the Opera”. The live “Running Free”(‘86) and the more recent (2003) recording of “Iron Maiden” make this a useful appetizer. Granted you may have all the CDs (some more than one copy) but every few years it’s good to look back at a body of work in its finest form.

Website:
Iron Maiden, Sanctuary Records

HONKY
Balls Out Inn
Small Stone Records

Last time Honky was in town singer/bassist Jeff (J.D.) Pinkus got so drunk that when he tried to pick a fight on stage, he fell completely off – and still kept playing. Yeah, gotta love a band like that! With a since of humor clearly on their sleeve, the Texas trio return with their fourth effort - first with Michigan-based Small Stone Records. Outside of what is certainly the best “erection” cover since the Cactus debut, Balls Out Inn takes the band’s Nugent-inspired riffage, strips it down to core basics and mixes in some serious southern heat. Seasoned drummer Kenny Wagner (Sixty Watt Shaman, Halfway To Gone) fuses with Pinkus in their quest for a dirty stoner grind while six-stringer Bobby Landgraf melts the whole thing down with one memorable lick after another. “Trespassin’”, “Plugs, Mugs and Jugs” and “White Knuckle Pass” side with the Nashville Pussy crowd while “Love To Smoke Your Weed”, “Walkin’ On Moonshine” and “Good Pipe” pull in that certain sweat-soaked retro ‘70s a la Black Oak Arkansas.

Adding the likes of Gordie Johnson for slide guitar texture fills in the gaps bringing the record an air of sophistication and heightens their established robust sound. Defiantly a leap from their Attacked By Lesbians days yet still keeping a hint of Joe Walsh in the guitar. Somehow our office CD player keeps making its way back to the killer “Undertaker” and “Looking Green” both embrace the riff as the song’s center point and settle into a great set of trademark Honky lyrics. Mixing in the Hammond B3 and Leslie on “Broken Days” (courtesy of Ezra Reynolds) takes a simple road song with its slow country-bass and creates an FM standard equally as good as Skynyrd’s Simple Man or ZZ Top’s “Whiskey’n Mama”. A favorite is the line “looks like this whiteboy’s turning blue.” The addition of all the flavored bits including the soul-drenched backup singers makes Balls Out Inn easily Honky’s best effort to date.

Website:
Honky, Small Stone Records

NOVADRIVER
Deeper High
Small Stone Records

Deeper High comes on the heels of some very sad news for Novadriver. Just prior to the record’s release bassist and key songwriter Jim Anders suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Yet, this is only one of many setbacks that have befallen the band in the four years since their last release Void – and certainly their most anguishing. Separating themselves from the pack of other coined “stoner” bands Novadriver has a somewhat spiritual link to the rock arena bands of the ‘70s – even contributing to the Aerosmith’s tribute disc Right In The Nuts. The Michigan-based foursome are known for grinding out doomy riffs with elements of Hawkwind/early Scorpions-like space metal along side psychedelic overtones. Contrast the fusion landslide of “Whiteout” and the guitar overload of “Blackout” to “Dark Aftermath” with its hypnotic ocean-like wave of melody embracing vocalist Mark Miers’ unique wail. It will blow your mind!

Miers, though almost out of the picture due to his departure after Void, is a large part of the records’ strength. Returning to the fold just before the band went into preproduction on Deeper High, the singer struts his vocal prowess from the spine-tingling “You Want Yours/You Want Mine” and bass-powered “Roll You” to the high-octane “Turn To Stone” and “Machine”. Together with guitarists Billy Reedy and Eli Ruhf, Miers can move easily from the darker phrasing of doom to frantic Detroit garage. On celluloid drummer Eric Miller and Anders create a tremendous rhythm section. They fuse an impressive, almost Monster Magnet vibe in “Push The River” and on the title cut seal a fitting tribute to Anders presence as the bass drives this mother home. Essential!

Website:
Novadriver, Small Stone Records

WHITE STRIPES
Get Behind Me Satan
V2 Records

When I first read Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield’s 5 star review for the White Stripes latest CD Get Behind Me Satan, I had to laugh. He said, “Having clocked all rivals, the Stripes have to settle for topping their 2003 masterpiece, Elephant, the way Elephant topped White Blood Cells. If you happen to be a rock band, and you don't happen to be either of the White Stripes, it so sucks to be you right now.” I mean come on. Yes, they’re good. But isn’t this a bit much?

There is little doubt that the White Stripes are the most hyped band in the last 10 years. Their jet-black hair and red and white clothes are so synonymous with their image, they almost seem more of a brand than a band. But with each excellent album being not only better than the last, but also so much better than anything on the radio, it’s no wonder that the duo of Jack and Meg White get a lot of press. Jack and Meg have cultivated their hype quite well, fueling the mystery of whether or not they are siblings, married, neither, or both. They date movie stars, beats up rock stars, and marry supermodels on canoes in the Amazon rainforest. It’s impossible for the press not to just eat it up. So when I finally got a chance to see them, I couldn’t help but wonder, are they really worth the hype?

Part of the allure is that the White Stripes do with two people what most bands can’t do with five. Twenty minutes into the show I closed my eyes and listened and was amazed at how dynamic and huge they sound and thought how could this be? Because when I opened my eyes, instead of seeing five or six people jamming on stage, you only see this one little brunette girl wailing away at the drums, and this one lone guy on guitar, standing at the microphone. But he might as well be standing at the crossroads in backwoods Mississippi because there is one thing that is crystal clear: Jack White sold his soul to the devil to be able to play guitar like that. He doesn’t so much wear his influences on his sleeve as he does channel guitar legends. He is Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Page, and Robert Johnson, all in one song. His singing so intense and riveting, he’s Howlin’ Wolf in one breath and screaming Robert Plant the next, yet somehow still sounds distinctly original.


Jack repeatedly switched instruments each song, from guitar to piano to marimba, yet the show never lost its steadily increasing momentum. Even when he was playing piano or organ, he would kick this thing with his foot that would crank out the last distorted guitar riff he had played on his guitar. And sometimes Meg would play the melody on bells while her feet kept the beat. They don’t just rock. They rock with every limb on their body, at the same time. From Delta acoustic blues to Brit blues rock, from seventies metal riffs to pure pop rock, the Stripes had the crowd in the palm of their hands throughout. After the stunning 30-minute encore, which included “I’m Lonely”, “Hello Operator” and “7 Nation Army”, it became obvious that I too would have to join the hype, and I have no shame in saying this: people, I have seen the future of rock-n-roll, and his name is Jack White.

by Kenny Boyett

Website:
The White Stripes, V2 Records

ARCH ENEMY
Doomsday Machine
Century Media

From the whining guitar to the barbaric drumming of opening track "Enter The Machine" Arch Enemy seem determined to breakout of their death metal rut. Doomsday Machine is the eighth effort from this Swedish five-piece and certainly their most polished and accessible. Gone is the drudgery that slowed the mid-section of Anthems of Rebellion ('03) and armed with better melody than Wages Of Sin ('01), Doomsday seems to be hunting for wider appeal. Michael Amott continues to be a force to be reckoned with as he plows through one massive riff after another. A master of guitar overkill, Amott harnesses his darker side from his days in Candlemass and Carcass and marches closer to NWOBM with the occasional power metal groove thrown in. Almost immediately you'll hear elements of classic Priest, Maiden and even Saxon in the undercurrent of "Taking Back My Soul", "I Am Legend" and "Hybrids Of Steel." Only Angela Grossow's distinguished growls keeps it rooted in its genre.

At the risk of separating themselves from their earlier roots with more harmony-laden time signatures and power-chord theatrics the record does give the band a fresh face. Converging guitars and syncopated drums unleash a furious assault and though melodic remain bone-crushing. "Nemesis" rages with full octane madness as does the violent "Machtkampf." Having Mike's brother Chris Amott on hand to match note for note the soldiering guitar-crunch keeps the vision streamlined and dynamic. "Skeleton Dance" and highlight "Carry The Cross" enjoy the best of both worlds with drummer Daniel Erlandsson and bassist Sharlee D'Angelo causing a frantic riot in the basement. Unless you've seem Arch Enemy live you'll never believe the guttural barking of Grossow comes from a pint-sized female. However, it is the chemistry of voice, sonic guitar and tribal pounding that carry this band to the next level.

Website:
Arch Enemy, Century Media

EXODUS
Shovel Headed Kill Machine
Nuclear Blast

Holy Sh*t this is a monster record. Hot off the heals of critically acclaimed Tempo of the Damned ('04) Exodus prove they are still a world class wreaking machine. For fans of old school thrash, no one does it better than the pivotal pioneers of Gary Holt and company. Jump right into the addictive "Deathamphetamine" with its grinding metal-on-metal guitar that bleeds into a hyperspeed drum beat and you get the picture real quick. Where other bands may have abandoned the guitar solo and the crotch throb bass Exodus feed it by the buckets. Instant classics "Shudder To Think", "Going Going Gone" and "44 Magnum Opus" unleash a volley of pulse-racing intensity, which, if you don't keep up, will leave you in the dust. There have been some changes over the years for the Bay area four-some but the mission remains the same: seek, kill and destroy.

Once know as the band that featured Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Exodus have risen to the pinnacle of the genre continuing to inspire and create stunning arrangements 20 year on. With Shovel Headed Kill Machine they pull from the spirit of Fabulous Disaster ('89) especially on "I Am Abomiination" and "Now Thy Death Day Comes" which both have a real connection to "The Last Act Of Defiance" and "Corruption" respectively. Inescapable are the "Ride The Lightning" similarities of "Altered Boy" and the Slayer moments in the title track but it's songs like "Raze" and "Kharma's Messenger" that are pure Exodus complete with garage grease and nitrus-injected overdrive. If blues guys gather their inspiration from their past then Exodus can do the same with conviction, honesty and pain.

Website:
Exodus, Nuclear Blast

NEVERMORE
This Godless Endeavor
Century Media Records

A kin to Queensryche, Seattle’s Nevermore release their 6th installment in This Godless Endeavor. A call to the darker edges of power metal, the symphonic bleeding of this opus sets the mark – maybe not for the genre but certainly for the band. Constructed ten years ago from the ashes of Sanctuary, vocalist Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard continue to move from the traditional Northwest late ‘80s prog-metal scene to a more European flare. Along with drummer Van Williams, guitarists Jeff Loomis and Steve Smyth they merge layered progression a’top shear brutality with heroic guitar work. After the critical success of Dreaming Neon Black (1999) Nevermore have become one to look forward to.

Produced by Andy Sneap (who was also at the helm for Dead Heart In A Dead World – 2000) This Godless Endeavor unleash a tympanic bashing with lead track “Born” setting the pace. Dane’s vocals, through not as high as his early days are more fitting with the band’s darker mood. Jeff Loomis and Steve Smyth’s guitars form a wall of impenetrable notes filled with monster riffs and raging solos. “My Acid Words”, “Medication Nation” and “Sell My Heart For Stones” rampage with melodic intensity. Yet, the track that will really grap your attention is the piano-tinged “Sentient 6”. Highly operatic, it bursts with dynamic emotion built around a delicately constructed melody. The tempo gives the record plenty of breathing room allowing the heavy-handed “Palm Of Lydia” to smash the gate releasing the lofty acoustic “A Future Uncertain” to the menacing edge of a nine-minute title cut.

Website:
Nevermore, Century Media