Review: Richie Sambora – Aftermath of the Lowdown

Richie Sambora is mostly known as Bon Jovi guitarist and ex-husband of Heather Locklear and Denise Richards. Very unfortunate because he’s a brilliant blues guitarist and composer. Stranger in this Town (1991) and Undiscovered Soul (1998) were great blues records and I was very much waiting for a new record, especially since Bon Jovi are taking it slower these days.

Aftermath of the Lowdown features 12 very diverse songs ranging from classic full-band pieces to just his voice and acoustic guitar. In Bon Jovi he sings a strong second voice but aside from being a very important songwriter of the band (and he’s in the Songwriter Hall of Fame), he really does have a strong voice and is able to carry lots of emotion, a feature many singers curiously lack. Lyrically the album seems like a retrospective on his recent struggles with substance abuse and relationships.

If you like your Mellencamp a bit stronger, thought the last Bon Jovi albums lacked a certain originality or just want to listen to a classic American A&R album give this a spin.

Review: Flying Colors – Flying Colors

(before you get any ideas, I have the pre-order confirmation so I think it’s ok to write about it)

Although it’s only March I can say without a doubt that this album will contend for album of the year. Flying Colors, the supergroup consisting of Steve Morse (Dregs, Deep Purple), Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Solo), Dave LaRue (Satriani, Dregs, numerous others), Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev) and of course Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic, numerous others) was for once not the brain child of Mike Portnoy but producer Bill Evans. With maybe the exemption of singer Casey McPherson, Evans put together a room full of egos and made it work. Flying Colors – Flying Colors is a great debut album and I am not just saying this as a Dream Theater/Mike Portnoy fan boy.

During the first listen, I didn’t even notice/remember/pay attention to the drums because they don’t stand out. Portnoy’s playing is of course outstanding, but this isn’t a drums album. When Portnoy characterized the album as Beatles meets Yes meets I don’t remember, I was thinking that this might be a tall order to follow. Of course I was hoping for it to be true but then of course the artist is going to laude is work.

Rest assured though: This album is a must have for music connaisseurs as it is as song-oriented as you would like a Beatles album to be, yet delivers enough nuggets for lovers of every instrument/fans of all participants to be very happy. Although only Portnoy knew singer McPherson and he was kind of the wild card in that quintett the vocal lines are catchy to a degree that I was whistling some lines after one listen. For a bunch of guys who haven’t been rehearsing material for half a year but just got together in a studio for 9 days, this album is truly epic. You think I am exaggerating? Listen to Blue Ocean and Kayla and try not to sing the chorus under the shower tomorrow? Listen to Fool in my heart and try not to think of old Steve Morse , listen to Better than walking away only to have your heart ripped out by McPherson’s lyrics.

Seriously, give it a spin.


Review: Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

So, Van Halen has a new record out, some 13 years after Van Halen III. I am not a Van Halen super fan, I like 5150, OU812 and the one with Poundcake on it. And I wasn’t too thrilled after news got out that most of the songs came from the vault and came of pre-1975 demos. And after  two listens I thought Tattoo, the first single was flat. But… Big But:

I love the new album. Tattoo gets better and better and has just the right tempo. The second track She’s the Woman not only showcases the classic Alex Van Halen drum sound but what’s more a second snare stroke in the down beat that is just irresistible for me not to like. Almost like Foo Fighter’s My Hero a bit faster. The album continues like that, catchy riffs by Eddie, lots of syncopation, great backing vocals in the chorus. There is even the obligatory oriental riff with a killer guitar line reminding me of Nuno’s deep bendy vibe in the Hip Today verse. All in all a great rock’n’roll record with the chance to stay in rotation for a while.

8 of 10

Review: Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events

Update: I’ll raise my score to 8,5 of 10. Why? I have been listening constantly and liking most songs more and more. Still no 10, because I still think that you can hear that writing took place without Mangini. But the album has definitely entered my top 5 DT album list.

After the first listen, I was ready to put all my dismay into reviewing this album that I was very much looking forward to, especially since Black Cloud & Silver Linings was the first Dream Theater album in a long time that I really liked. However, after giving it some thought (and some more ear-time), I am not so sure anymore. Some primers: I have been listening to Dream Theater since some time between Images & Words and Awake. From the Awake tour to Scenes from our Memories I have seen every tour, sometimes even caught more than one show. Collected countless live tapes back in the days. Watched “The Spirit Carries on” relieved and fascinated. Favorite albums are I&W, Awake and Scenes from a Memory.

When I read the early reviews and many interviews and two things started bugging me: The constant comparison of the new tracks with older hits, and the fact that they wrote the album without the drummer. Let’s do a quick run-down of the songs before I cast my verdict.
On the Back of Angels – The teaser track. I didn’t get it at first, but after more than 10 listens I think it works quite nice, opening up the ears for what’s to come.
Build me Up, Break me Down – Think Linkin Park meets Dream Theater. It’ll go down as ADToE’s You not me, very radio-friendly. And no, I am not a fan of LaBrie going back to the screaming department.
Lost Not Forgotten – People will say the opening sounds like Under a Glass Moon, and it does. A lot. But then it doesn’t match the variation of the original. After some high-speed wanking the song really starts, and is not my favorite. This song shows the missing red thread of the album, actually the song has not red thread in itself…
This is the Life – This is actually a beautiful song. Great melody that highlights LaBrie’s vocals. Balladesque, not as dreary as Wither, nice guitar solo.
Bridges in the Sky – (Formerly titled The Shaman). I don’t care much for the chorus hookline nor the lyrics I have to say, but basically all this is just build up to a long instrumental section.
Outcry – Finally a guitar riff to my liking. Not quite About to Crash nor Finally Free, but very catchy.
Far from Heaven – A real ballad, no drums at all. Really beautiful melody, I like the lyrics as well as the  string sections.
Breaking all Illusions – Great song, including the instrumental section. Long. I like.
Beneath the Surface – Another ballad. Also catchy.

So, what’s my early verdict? I am sure composing without a drummer partly lead to two songs no drums at all and an additional ballad. I like those three songs. I have an issue with the other songs though. Nothing against Mangini’s playing but if anybody had doubts whether he’d be able to fill Portnoy’s shoes he won’t find the answer on this album. Sure he can play it all, but the drum parts are somewhat disconnected in the song structure. They don’t sound programmed per se (although that’s how they wrote the songs, with a drum computer), but I am sure the songs would have sounded much better if Mangini had been part of the composition progress. Many of the songs sound great from Petrucci, Myung and Rudess’s point of view, and then the said “ok, what can we do with the drums here”. Melody-wise and also guitar sound-wise I felt myself thinking about Scenes from a Memory quite often, unfortunately the composition isn’t quite there.
Concluding, this is not a bad album. But it also isn’t the holy grail of prog and “return to DT as it should be”. I’d say 7 of 10 points, and please consider to include Mangini in the composition process next time.

Review: Symphony X – Iconoclast

Four long years of wait are over as New Jersey progressive rockers Symphony X have released their new studio album Iconoclast. After a couple of run-throughs it feels like it was worth the wait, Iconoclast delivers the key ingredients of Symphony X’s music at its best: A great hook line that haunts you after two listens and strong guitar riffs that rock’n’roll all over the place.

Dehumanized, Heretic and especially Children of a Faceless God are prime examples for these classical treats although the music on Iconoclast feels more diverse as albums past, you can hear Metallica-like riffs as well as straight forward heavy rock. Electric Messiah has a glorious sing-along-chorus as well, over all the album sounds less dark than its predecessor Paradise Lost, but  that may well be due to the theme also. The classic rhythmic cascades a la The Accolade from the 1997 Devine Wings of Tragedy album are not as ‘visible’ as I would have liked, but as far as riffing goes, Iconoclast lives up to the old records, meanwhile sounding fresh and 2011.

So far the only downside if I have to call it that is the 10 minute opening title track iconoclast which isn’t as rounded as most other tracks. Maybe it’ll just take another 2 listens to warm up, maybe not, we’ll see.

Review: Protest the Hero – Scurrilous

I just love it when a piece of music just totally grabs your attention in way that makes you ignore the other 15,3 GB of music and podcasts on you iPod. If memory serves correctly Protest the Hero‘s first album was on a Best albums of the year-entry by Mike Portnoy. And I loved that too. Scurrilous is just a party for your ears, if you like progressive music, obviously. The German wikipedia page says mathcore but I don’t see them that extreme, let’s say technical prog metal but with very catchy melodies and songs. The songs on Scurrilous don’t sound like ABABCDAEFGGZZABCDCA, like let’s-throw-theses-parts-together – to me they sound like songs and interestingly the vocals play a big role in this. No burping and none of this high pitch screaming which you both can’t understand, enunciation it seems was part of the idea. But make no mistake, the voice is still awesomely powerful.
All in all, Scurrilous sounds like they are having fun. To my ears there is also some irony here and there, in the music as well as in the lyrics which is appreciated.
Check it out!