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GATE OF ALL SAINTS (2008)
LOVE TRAIN (1999)
featuring Jimmy Kunes
Independent Release

Cactus singer Jimmy Kunes has been steadily working in the New York area for several years now. In the early eighties he could be spotted in the Canadian speed metal band Exciter but after moving to London, UK, his deeper roots to surface. Eventually he toured and fronted Savoy Brown and Gypsy Soul before forming Love Train in the late ‘90s. By 2005 he was asked to joined legendary band Cactus where he recorded and toured with the band throughout 2006. His current project, Gate Of All Saints, is a muscular rock outfit that takes full advantage of the singer’s throaty blues appeal. The disc hosts a allstar lineup that includes Simon Kirke (Free/ Bad Company), Steve Gorman (Black Crowes), Robert Kearns (Cry Of Love), Rick Ventura (Riot), Teddy Rondinelli and Angus Clark (Trans Siberian Orchestra). Kunes splits his time between GOAS and the Jimmy Kunes Band featuring Dennis Dunaway (original Alice Cooper Band), Paul McGilloway and Dan Grennes (Arlene Grocery Band), Tony Beard (Johnny Winter Group), Doug Derryberry (Bruce Hornsby) and Frankie Thomas (Bonesmen).

Jimmy was kind enough to send us a copy of Love Train Slow Moving Vehicle (’99) and Gate Of All Saints Self-titled (’08) for our listening please - and indeed it has been. Love Train showcase seven songs of blues-influenced melodic rock with elements of Bad Company, Havana Black and Tattoo Rodeo. The band features bassist Randy Pratt (Cactus, The Lizards) an enormous fan of classic ‘70s rock, who also steps in as the record’s producer. Slow Moving Vehicle is a very laid-back affaire, keeping the songs mid-tempo and rustic. The acoustic-based “What You Will” swirls around Kunes voice as the harmonica stokes the fire and a transcending piano delivers the right amount of punctuation. “Till Tomorrow” has the singer using his falsetto and vocal echo to add timber and color to a bass-driven rollicker.  Hard rock grinder “Sunshine,” the rough and ready “Remember” and brilliant “Slow Dance” capture a southern groove that drinks from the same well as Bad Company, Cry of Love and Black Crowes. The layered keys / piano are essential to nurturing an authentic 70s warmth. Ballad “Strong Enough” echoes early Fleetwood Mac with sustained vocal control and some of the records best guitar work. A personal favorite, “Marie” brings a bit of Zeppelin meets Faces-like folk layering to the mix. The attitude alone is worth admission.

Gate Of All Saints has Kunes working with some of the best musicians in the New York area (see above), several of which defined or rejuvenated the classic sounds of hard rock. Six songs embrace this release beginning with the barnstorming title track “Gate of all Saints” with its AC/DC-like riff and heart-pounding rhythm section. The guitar is urgent and the solos razor-sharp with a flare for Joe Perry. Most noticeable is Kunes’ more aggressive vocal style especially when he wraps it around a chorus. He even throws in a little Frankie Miller on ballad “Once In A Lifetime.” Both “Every Time Down The Line” and “Your New Reality” live in the shadow of Faces and Bad Company respectively. The later being a haunting masterpiece with a killer wind up that makes the most out of layered piano / organ running with a driving riff and crashing drums. The last two minutes of this track are absolutely roaring. The country-tinged ballad “Fallen from Grace” eases into a gentle acoustic sway. The lyrics beg for a duet but the guitar fills the gaps with its subtle picking. Second of the disc’s two ballads, “Waiting For Me To Fall” is more Rod Stewart Gasoline Alley-era with pub piano balanced by slow, gritty guitar. Both bring out the emotion in the singer and prove he has so much more to give. A near classic!

Website: Jimmy Kunes

Meat Loaf
Bat Out Of Hell
Eagle Entertainment

Straight from the cauldron of 1978 comes the original Bat Out of Hell tour shot for Rockpalast onstage in Stadhalle Offenbach, Germany 11 June 1978. A slice of rock history, the DVD captures Meat and his band in all their glory bringing to life Jim Steinman’s pomp opera of hedonistic American youth. Just a year prior, the Todd Rundgren produced record Bat Out of Hell was struggling for label support and distribution, so the performance not only marks the apex of a long hard road, but a miraculous turning point of key players involved. Recorded using mostly studio musicians, only Meat, Steinman and backing vocalist Rory Dodd remained for the debut tour. The rest of the line up consists of the ex-Long Island Good Rats, Bob and Bruce Kulick, keyboardist Paul Glanz, drummer Joe Stefko and bassist Steve Buslowe. The lovely Karla Devito steps in for original vocalist Ellen Foley almost stealing the show from the thunderous Meat with her dramatic and comedic staging clad in skin-tight white jeans that showcase her notorious camel toe.

The disc comes with an entertaining, informative yet comedic backstage interview featuring Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman. It’s a great place to start as it briefly describes what it took to bring this legendary piece to music to the public. The show kicks off with a neurotic Steinman sitting at the piano for a run through “Great Boleros of Fire” (a track not included on the original album, but later included on the 25th-anniversary edition). A solid mood setter, the track sag ways perfectly into the album’s title track “Bat Out of Hell.” From aging and bad lighting the film is very dark, even when Meat steps under the center spot and delivers “The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling / way down in the valley tonight.” Yet, the band is sizzling hot. The Kulick brothers swap leads as interspersed shards and electric energy while bassist Buslowe and drummer Stefko lock down an impressive groove. The theatrics are way over the top as the band swagger into “You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth” with Steinman’s spoken word intro and Devito’s sprayed-on white outfit beckoning like a neon sign.

Instead of playing the record track-for track, the group launch into the throbbing “All Revved Up with No Place To Go” omitting the jarring ballad “Heaven Can Wait.” Also dropped from the set is riveting “For Crying Out Loud” which Meat had performed at a CBS executive convention and received a standing ovation by Billy Joel. Buy this time in the show Meat is in full sweat. Not athletic sweat but drenched junkie just-out of-the-shower sweat. The Kulicks however are on fire twitching their porn-star mustaches with each yank of the string. It’s here Bob’s infamous wig starts to become incredibly distracting. Devito teams with Meat for a lusty version of “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” The sultry vixen deserves huge accolades for her weathered tango as a sweat-soaked meat bumps and grinds her into “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” Meat’s voice gets a bit pitchy as he slowly runs out of gas and the cocaine starts to wear off. In the end it is an entertaining view of the lumbering masterpiece that defined classic rock high school, lost virginity and rock’s biggest hard on.

Website: Eagle Entertainment

ZZ TOP
Double Down Live 1980-2008
Eagle Entertainment

The double disc thriller Double Down Live 1980-2008 is another Rockpalast special this time featuring Texas trio ZZ Top. It hosts a set of shows from 1980 (pre-Eliminator) and the slick, over-produced machine they have become in 2008. First disc titled “Definitely Then” filmed at the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany is certainly more intriguing as its raw nature shows the band as a straight, hungry Tex-blues rock outfit. The vocals wobble a bit before bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons find their harmonies all occurring in the Isaac Hayes-penned opening track “I Thank You.” At the time the trio were touring behind sixth record Degüello featuring the hit “Cheap Sunglasses” which pops up mid-way through the set. Of the 22 songs played, the band manage most of Degüello including the riff-aholic “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom,” and the humorous “A Fool For Your Stockings.” Only “Esther Be the One” gets left off. The rest of the set is a sledgehammer greatest hits package including the grinder “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” the essential “La Grange,” and drummer Dan Beard’s finest “Just Got Paid.” There’s very little banter between numbers, just straight business as the group plow through classics “Jailhouse Rock,” first hit “Tush” and sleazy “Tube Snake Boogie”.

Second disc “Almost now” is only half as long as disc one with eleven tracks. Several songs spill over from the first set noting their endurability and stamina. Side by side comparison see “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” and “La Grange” still holding up even under the weight of polish and shine. Part live, part video and part travelogue - disc 2 shows a band all grown up and super sized. Modern classics “Got Me Under Pressure,” “I Need You Tonight” and “Head It On The X” are gruff and tidy. The interview segments between tracks hold intrigue giving the members the opportunity to chat through their history, influences and experiences. Though mature and groomed, ZeZe still play the blues with sinister persuasion as “Blue Jean Blues” beautifully demonstrates. Gibbons narrates most the song while unleashing a barrage of razor-sharp notes that fly through the air like shards of glass. The beards are white now but the Texas three piece prove their star status with each note they deliver. Essential for fans of all things big, bluesy, and wooly.

Website: Eagle Entertainment

BILLY IDOL
In Super Overdrive – Live
Eagle Entertainment

Billy Idol hasn’t aged in 25 years. To prove his vitality is In Super Overdrive – Live, a 12-song, 70-minute DVD released through Eagle Entertainment. It radiates as a “Best Of” package filmed at Chicago’s Congress Theater for the US TV series Soundstage and originally broadcast in America in July 2009. Intact is the notorious punk sneer, the darting eyes and peroxide spiked hair, but also an air of real confidence. Back in his Generation X days Idol taunted the members of Led Zeppelin as they exited from a London recording studio calling them dinosaurs, now - him self a dinosaur, its interesting to watch as he manipulates his audience into a sweaty frenzy. His band including guitarist Steve Stevens, who played on (and sometimes co-wrote) all his eighties songs, drummer Brian Tichy, bassist Stephen McGrath and keyboardist Derek Sherinian the same line up that recorded Idol critically acclaimed 2005 comeback Devil’s Playground. The tracklist for this DVD runs from early Generation X hits, through Idol’s classic solo singles and up to tracks from his latest release including turbo-charged “Super Overdrive,” and bass-driven “Scream” (featured in Viva La Bam).

Though Idol’s music was far more akin to pop hair-metal (courtesy of Stevens) he does have a knack for writing catchy ditties. Most are reflected in this sweat-stained amalgamation of past and present. Generation X single “Dancing With Myself” and sex-stained “Flesh For Fantasy” are clear audience favorites as both Stevens and Idol kick it into gear. With the theater’s lack of air conditioning this was a timely place for Idol to start disrobing. The song’s catchy hook and McGrath’s bass groove make for the perfect strip club moment. “White Wedding” pushed the metallic edge with Steven in fully flurry and Idol’s soulful growl echoing through the hall. By “Eyes Without a Face” Idol is shirtless with beads of sweat rolling off his toned physique. The song does not disappoint as Steven’s acoustic intro pulls from his flamenco background – the keyboard swirls and suddenly it’s 1984 all over again. “Ready Steady Go,” Idol’s biker-anthem “Rebel Yell” and punk-meets-the Who “Kiss Me Deadly” are essential as the band take full flight. Missing is club hit “Mony, Mony,” the appropriate “Hot in the City” and only 90’s #1 hit “Cradle of Love” but who’s to complain?

Website: Eagle Entertainment

DECEMBER PEALS
People Have Demons
Chorus Of One Records

Having only recently been turned on to these guitar-thrashing Germans, we immediately dig their reckless abandon and street-smart snarl. 300 gigs in the past couple years have introduced the December Peals to a lot of crazy punters, hence the title to their current long player, People Have Demons. The disc wastes no time getting down and dirty with the scorcher “Bad Company,” an open riff playground with AC/DC punch and a head-banging beat. 12-tracks latter it’s obvious the five-piece are in full celebration of their musical heroes which not only include the Aussie school boys but Guns and Roses, Hinder and Buckcherry. Production is at a premium with the full-throttle “Electric,” the keyboard-prancing “Let Go” and old school rocker “Prisoner.” Since most the disc runs at the high-octane mark, three minutes being the average, the slower paced, acoustic toe-tapper “Capitol Cowboys” stands on its own with a shade of Oasis in its darker recess.

Doubling up the guitars has Ali Auch and Patrick Dirkes throwing down some massive power chords with serious lead frenzy. Our favorites have got to be the energetic lick in “Hypoxia” which slides into a huge catchy chorus, “Over and Over” delivers an attitude-soaked dancehall mash up while the roaring “Saints and Sinners” crosses over to the new wave of Scandinavian punk rock. Drummer Thomas Schepers gets a chance to showcase his chops in “The Devil You Know” and the frantic “Best of Luck” dipping back to Ramones-meets-Stooges in its denim-clad roots. Bassist Tobi Richter gets his fame with the bass-driving “Slow Beat” – a nasty, funky little streetwalker with hip-shaking swagger. Title track “People Have Demons” slash and burns with a Backyard Babies-like guitar duel and a rhythm section like a charging herd of rhinos. Vocalist Andreas Loba spits and growls his way through stories of teenage angst, riotous hooligans and testosterone overload. Perfect for rock and roll.

Website: December Peals, Chorus Of One Records

GARY MOORE
The Definitive Montreux Collection
Eagle Entertainment

As a companion of sorts to the Gary Moore Essential Montreux, a 5-CD audio box set released July of 2009, The Definitive Montreux Collection goes more for the visual aspect while still boasting over five hours of Gary Moore’s ruckus electric blues. Personally this set is more attractive with 2 DVD’s and a single CD. Belfast-born guitarist Gary Moore has been a frequent visitor to Montreux over the years and this 2 DVD set brings together his very best performances from 5 different concerts between 1990 and 2001. Granted, over the years, these show have been individually packaged a couple different ways but here you get them all in one complete set. The DVD’s span Moore’s transition as he moved from a hard rock legend (in the shadow of his Thin Lizzy years) to his complete emersion into the blues. Moving chronologically, disc one offers up Moore’s blues debut Still Got The Blues (1990). To date it’s arguably the most successful of his solo albums being well received by old fans and converting many new ones. The self-penned “Midnight Blues” stands next to Peter Green’s “Stop Messin’ Round” and the gospel flavored “The Messiah Will Come Again” with keyboardist Don Airey (Deep Purple) nearly taking over the whole set. Moore’s power as a frontman shines through as does his remarkable playing through Texas, Delta or Traditional variations.

By the 1995 show, Moore has cut his thick mane and donned a vest for a more mature look. He rips into Fleetwood Mac’s “If You Be My Baby” with warmth and style, less metallic than the ’90 set and with a constrained nature to his playing. This was the year Moore recorded Blues for Greeny, his tribute to Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green so a number of the tracks from this show stemmed from that album including “Long Grey Mare” and “Merry-Go Round.” Live, the guitarist pays his respects to Green while injecting new life into his Les Paul. Favorites from ‘92’s album After Hours also creep in like Duster Bennett’s “Jumpin’ at Shadows” and John Mayall’s “Key to Love.” By the time the second disc rolls around Moore has moved back into his hard rock zone, albeit a bit strange. He was supporting the eclectic Dark Days in Paradise (’97) that struggled with critical and fan acceptance as it was a melding of different styles from psychedelia in “One Fine Day” to pop ballad “I’ve Found My Love In You.” Looking laid back in a neon green shirt and sunglasses the ’97 set is a bit of a reach, though Moore’s playing remains masterful and progressive. Nice to see “Out In The Fields” burn the house down.

1999 and another unusual record in A Different Beat has Moore trying to get his footing. The fact that he abandons any effort to support the disc and dips into a treasure chest of covers proves that he too questioned his direction. Returning to Still Got the Blues and Blues For Greeny he pulls out the stomping “Oh Pretty Women,” the eloquent “Need Your Love So Bad,” and blazing “Too Tired.”  Reaching all the way back to ‘79s Back on the Streets “Parisienne Walkways” fills the air with a tearful element of joy in the bended strings. The 2001 fifth show finds Moore healthy and ready to roar. His Back To The Blues record is just that and he waists no time blazing through “You Upset Me Baby,” T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” and the Hendrix classic “Fire”. This just maybe our favorite set as Moore is convincing, soulful and energetic. The CD that accompanies this package is a compilation of Moore’s best renditions from “Midnight Blues” and the slide frenzied “Moving On” to the more rocking “Out In The Fields” and a very metallic “Over The Hills And Far Away.” This set is a must for fans of who appreciate Moore’s dedication to self-discovery and expansion as an artist.

Website: Gary Moore, Eagle Entertainment

AGE OF EVIL
Get Dead EP
Independent Release

Young metal upstarts Age of Evil are making waves with their independent release Get Dead. Combining the twin guitar assault of Judas Priest and the funk elements of Faith No More, the four-piece have maturity far beyond their age. Formed in 2005 by a team of brothers Jeremy (vocals) and Jacob Goldberg (bass) joined by Jordan (guitar) and Garret Ziff (drums) with the determination to redefine heavy metal and become the best group of their generation. Megadeath guitarist Marty Friedman says, “Despite the fact that these guys were not even born when old school metal peaked, they seem to have an extremely firm grasp on it – even more then some of the actual veterans of the genre still playing it” So what we get with the Get Dead EP are two original songs, a cover of Skid Row’s “Slave to The Grind,” a brilliant rendition of “The Hellion/Electric Eye” (Judas Priest) and two live tracks. The disc follows 2007’s full release Living A Sick Dream and seems, in part, as a teaser for a future long player.

Production is clean and clear with excellent separation between instruments. First track “Great Intentions” is a barn burner with the a massive drum sound leading into a twin guitar split that will instigate full on headbanging. The vocals pack power and conviction with grit and determination as they spit piss and anger. No scream-o just straight up metal singing. The guitar work is stunning. Duel leads, layered rhythms – its all there. “Get Dead” is straight out of the Laaz Rocket meets Death Angel school of writing. Thrash crosses over with punk metal while basking in cherry solos. Both “Slave To The Grind” and “The Hellion/Electric Eye” are done with full respect of the originals in a fitting tribute to the masters. The live tracks “Eye For An Eye” and “Glimpse of Light” hail from Living A Sick Dream and sound so clean it’s hard to believe they are live recordings. The vocals are especially crisp. If the band really is this tight live they would be a wonder to behold. Check ‘em out and let us know.

Website: Age of Evil

BLINDSIDE BLUES BAND
Raised On Rock
Grooveyard Records

We can’t get enough of this record! It’s so powerful, so majestic, so heavy. Mike Onesko (guitar/vocals), Scott Johnson (guitar), Kier Staeheli (bass) and Emery Ceo (drums) have out done themselves with their finest effort to date. Maybe it’s the thick, woolly guitar tone or the Pat Travers-meets-Leslie West in the voice. Whatever the magic, it keeps calling back for one more play. Production is at a premium with Onesko monitoring the board yet engineer Jim Stewart really helps find the sweet spot. The sound of an FM radio searching for true rock, starts the disc. Eventually the dial hits a seductive riff in the background, suddenly it’s in your face at full volume. “I was born with the blues / but I was raised on rock” blasts from the speakers and your totally hooked. The band are preaching to ya and your hearing the word because it’s the soundtrack of your life too. An Aerosmith-induced “Night Train” cracks the whip as bass and drum crank the pistons. The guitar bleeds from the sky as the rhythm chugs down the tracks. And that’s just the first two songs.

Perfectly, the Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues” locks in and the band are blowing out the heaviest version we’ve ever heard. The emotion in the vocal is so convincing you’d swear Onesko “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” Time after time this disc reminded us of West, Bruce and Laing’s Why Dontcha (1973) in strength and power. So it no surprise that “Love Is Worth The Blues” from that record is featured prominently here. Musically BBB take it deeper giving it an almost Black Sabbath-meets-UFO dirge. Second guitarist S. Johnson has an uncanny Michael Schenker-like presence to his solo runs. If any track will raise the hair on the back of your neck, this will be the one. The Seventies presence keeps coming in the Montrose inspired “Take You Down” and the Hagar-esque “War In The Streets.” Both raise the banner as hard rock anthems. “Bury The Axe” and “Wave On” take the best of Hendrix and Trower by fusing them together into a monster jam. Personal favorites are the rumbling “Backstreet Rider,” Uli Roth-inspired “Child Of The Sun” and bone-crushing “World On Fire.” Stick around for the 11-minute+ “hidden” instrumental track – it’s smokin’!

Website: Blindside Blues Band, Grooveyard Records

BRYCE JANEY
Blues In My Soul
Grooveyard Records

Blues In My Soul is the superb sixth record by Iowa native Bryce Janey, son of legendary Billy Lee Janey (of Truth and Janey). Bryce has a ballsy swagger to his music that puts it somewhere between ZZ Top, Canned Heat and Head East. Hard Rock Southern Country Blues may be the more lengthy description. A student of old school blues, SRV and his own father has fine-tuned the guitarist into an exceptional musician. The sting of his guitar can be felt in the autobiographical “Funky Guitar Blues” where he builds a hip-shaking groove while shooting electric solo spurts into the belly of the song. His vocal growl is reminiscent of Doyle Bramhall II with shades of Molly Hatchet’s Danny Joe Brown and sells the lyrics with emotional impact whether he’s singing the soulful “Mean Old Town,” the rough and tough “Hard Workin’ Man” or Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”. The real wake up call comes with opening track, “Country Fever” where the band, including bassist Dan DJ Johnson and drummer Eric Douglas, take a heavyweight ‘70s boogie and beef it up with razor sharp guitar.

For fans of sludge warriors, Truth and Janey, it’s a thrill to have the strutting “Running Down The Road,” and riff-heavy “Walking on a Live Wire” penned by father and son. Both are straight blues grinders but have that mid-western roll-licking backbeat. With thirteen tracks on the discs, it’s hard to pick favorites. However, we’d suggest starting with a couple friendly rumblers like the swaying “Medicine Man” which could easily fit on an old Whitesnake record. There’s also the brilliant “City Under Water” which has a laidback bass-driven groove that allows the guitar to carry it along with a thick pulsating riff. The chiseled solo runs etch into the song and polish it to a fine shine. Robin Trower’s “In This Place” is not only a classic cover, but also a chance to hear Janey’s voice paint a melodic canvas radiant with color. “Get You Off My Mind” and “Mission of Love” slow for impact with wickedly seductive playing and a midnight vocal that only means trouble.

Website: Bryce Janey, Grooveyard Records

CRAIG ERICKSON
New Earth Blues
Grooveyard Records

We’ve been fans of Craig Erickson for years so when his ninth solo record New Earth Blues arrived at our doorstep, we were elated. It’s been a couple years since we’ve heard any thing new - so his sweet guitar tone feels fresh and energetic. In 2008, Erickson’s studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa was wiped out with an epic flood – second worse flood disaster in US history next to Katrina. The devastation and aftermath fill New Earth Blues with an undercurrent (no pun intended) of struggle and hardship in titles like “Drownin’ Down Here,” “Spaceship Lifeboat” and “Titanic Planet.” His guitar echoes SRV, Clapton and Gallagher influence, but his lyric writing and vocal edge are closer to Chris Whitley, Little Feat and even the Grateful Dead. What many respect is his unique ability to color a song with the right emotion so that it sticks with you. For instance, his cover of Chris Whitley’s “Indian Summer” captures the laidback Iowa season with a delicate wa-wa and melodic voice that paints a picture of complete beauty.

On the other hand, album title “New Earth Blues” and “Political World” are fierce political statements that breathe fire into six strings while drummer Eric Douglas bashes out a thunderous groove. Also unafraid of unleashing loud riffs with big hooks, Erickson has us going back time-after-time to visit “Crossroads of Love” and Peter Green’s “World Keeps on Turning.” Both reflect a certain Gary Moore meets Leslie West echo, especially when the solo extends out. Erickson’s urgent delivery and dynamic phrasing push and pull to squeeze every ounce from each tune. He even steps “World Keeps on Turning” up a notch from shuffle to two-step and ends in rockus frenzy. Yet the tenderness of the before mentioned “Drownin” Down Here,” and Hendrix-inspired psychedelic nature of “Spaceship Lifeboat” truly showcase the guitarists craft as he embraces a variety of blues styles and gives them his own signature. Free’s “Be My Friend” takes on new life with Erickson’s voice becoming a powerful force of emotion joined at song’s end by a ripping solo run. The last 13-minutes of the disc are the most personal and passionate with country-edged “Blue Horizon” followed by a scorching 7-minute jam.

Website: Grooveyard Records

TRISTAN KLEIN
Universal Mojo
Grooveyard Records

This French phenom instrumental guitarist is new to us. So when the laser hit the celluloid and the blazing “Alligator” came raging from the speakers with Joe Satriani-like muscle, we had to have more. Unbelievably this young, talented and extremely gifted performer is only now getting universal exposure. Klein has an ear for melody and will take a song - and while giving it a searing-edge, finds room to add elements of jazz, blues and metal all in the same five minutes. Like Eric Johnson, Klein’s sophisticated and intelligent playing is what makes the colorful “Dark Side” and “Retro Voodoo Funk Express” (which guests Greg Koch) so much fun to listen to. It’s that type of song sculpting that makes instrumental albums successful. Even the temperature of the playing adjusts effortlessly to his mental vision. Check out the swagger of “Mojo” (featuring Craig Erickson) as the lick wraps around the rhythm moving into Lee Ritenour territory. Then there’s the absolutely gorgeous, late-night mood of “Shades of Blue” spilling over into the 11-minute “Gratitude” that performs like an exotic dancer with seductive chemistry.

For Universal Mojo, Klein does all the instrumentation including bass, keyboards and drum programming allowing him, with artistic precision, to craft each song like paint on a canvas. Mastered by Ty Tabor (Kings X) for sonic density, the elegant “Georgia” made famous by Ray Charles becomes a masterful mood setter complete with gentle highs and lows. Laughter at the beginning of “Green Zone” shows Klein doesn’t take himself too seriously as the track rolls out a funky stroll leading into a barrage of blinding scale runs. Adding French Strat-jazz legend Jean-Michel Kajdan for a duet of sorts on “Blues for J.M” increases the magnitude of what the two compose together. They merge a range of compelling styles and tones that feed the eclectic as well as the exotic. Blues-based “Not Dead Yet” and rockin’ “Solid Ground” have shades of Richie Kotzen all over. Punctuated aggression and sharp soloing make these our two favorite tracks and worth the cost of the CD alone.

Website: Grooveyard Records

BARBARA RUBIN
Under The Ice
Btf.it Distribution

This is a slight departure from our usually guitar-oriented rock, but Rubin’s music is so pure and intoxicating that it must be praised for its unquestionable beauty. Gifted with a poetic voice that easily transcends from the ethereal to a harder rock edge, the singer has surrounded herself with a host of musicians making this seem more like a group project then solo effort. Tori Amos springs to mind as the piano dominates the opening track “Under the Ice” but instead of the tortured siren, Rubin’s mood is confident, melodic and invigorating. The record’s style is piano, synth, and orchestral based yet it does have a tougher edge in spots that could move Rubin into a similar territory as Tara Teresa (Firewind) or Epica’s Simone Simons. If trimmed down to three minutes, the guitar-driven “Liar” could easily unfold into a classic rock track with its addictive hook and surging rhythm. The fanfare of “No More Tears” glistens with melody and uses its dynamic keyboard arrangement to push the voice into fascinating colors.

Rubin can do a myriad of styles and do equal justice to them all. Several of her compositions are reminiscent of Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) in grandeur and scale. “Angle Heartbeat” is big, both lyrically and emotionally. Layered voice and instrumentation, including flute and strings, build a powerful ambiance. The Beatle-esque “A Place That Nobody Knows” takes advantage of tempo change to keep the song fresh with impact. Rarely does Rubin unveil her Italian origin. However, with “Ero E Sono” she embraces her roots singing in Italian a passionate love song.  The instrumental “The Land,’ the reflective “Before the Light” and melancholy “Orange Roses” with it violin accent showcase the songstress as a composer embracing the classical with the modern to enhance her soundscape. “Music and Love” and “Stupid Day” echo elements of Curved Air as progressively haunting with an fine edge for storytelling and a bit of Sonja Kristina Linwood in the voice. We’d love to hear what she can do with those pipes in a full-on rock band.

Website: Barbara Rubin

AMERICAN DOG
Mean
Independent Release

This band takes to beer and vintage rock and roll like a fish to water. Mean is American Dog’s 8th long player and follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2007 release Hard. Right out of the box the production and guitar tone are the first things that catch our attention from this monster. Tweaking the knobs is Joe Viers giving the disc the layered depth and breath of a sonic whirlwind - kinda like Motoerhead, Ted Nugent and dirty ‘ol AC/DC in the same back alley gang fight. Though we’ve raved about him before, guitarist Steve Theado is easily up there with Slash when it comes to cranking out hellacious riffs and bar-bending solos. The man’s a master of the frets and when it comes to tying the tiger by the tail in juiced up “Boozehound,” the addicting “Mine All Mine” and the quintessential “Motherfucker” he’s absolutely dangerous. Lead singer/bassist Mike Hannon writes lyrics that never cease to amaze, enlighten and amuse. When we say this record is chunky, we mean it! Hannon’s bass is in overdrive while drummer Keith Pickens lays down some serious bump and grind.

Title track “Mean” is a massive fist-in-the-air rock anthem. Slowed to a raunchy foot-stomper, the track sets the record’s course as a hard-as-nails jackhammer. The lyrics strike a chord as Hannon bellows, “Working my life on a couple dimes / I got nothin’, nothing’ that’s mine.” In “Drivin’ Down The Sidewalk” the trio chug along with an Aerosmith swagger looking for chicks after dark, “She can be nice, or she can be mean,” sings Hannon, “But all I really want is what’s in between.” The acoustic slide blues in “Sunshine/Moonshine” creates a counter dynamic that echoes early Skynyrd while “Ain’t Dead Yet” pulls out the electric slide that easily competes with GNR in their heyday. Best line in the song, “I smell like hell, but I ain’t dead yet.” Gotta love the change of pace in the country-blues “Gonna Stop Drinking Tomorrow” with its swampy intro that turns on a dime and snaps with a bucket-load of wicked geetar lead.  A blazing version of the Blue Oyster Cult classic “This Ain’t The Summer of Love” is what greasy bikers live for as they lock it into fourth and bury the white line. A masterpiece.

Website: American Dog