Wednesday, August 27, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: Ace Frehley "Space Invader"

Ace Frehley
Space Invader
(Entertainment One Music)

Hey, smell that? That's the 
distinctive aroma of burning 
wig fibers and grease paint. 
Yep, must be the "Simmons 
brothers" fuming over being
spanked by their much-
maligned former bandmate.

Simply put, Ace Frehley has created some of the greatest rock music ever. He's also produced some world-class crap over the years too. However, his latest collection, Space Invader, showcases some of his finest work to date.

Produced by Frehley, the former KISS guitarist's sixth solo record arrived in stores and online on August 19th via Entertainment One Music. More of a true solo effort than his previous releases, the Space Invader band is comprised merely of Frehley on vocals, guitars and bass and Matt Starr on drums — along with a smattering of keyboard, bass and backing vocal contributions.

With its blistering "I'm in Need of Love"-style solo, the title track makes for a hard-hitting opener — Ace is back, and he told you so, indeed!

"Gimme a Feelin'" and "I Wanna Hold You" both exemplify signature Frehley at the top of his game, while the riff-laden "Toys" hearkens back to his classic Alive! era. And "Immortal Pleasures" oozes a catchy "Dolls"-like cadence from his 1987 Frehley's Comet record.

"What Every Girl Wants" is Space Invader's crown jewel. This guitar-driven, cock rock treasure is without question one of Frehley's hookiest, no-holds-barred tracks in a very long time.

Co-written by Frehley and Chris Cassone, "Past the Milky Way" is another mighty highlight. Deeply personal lyrics accompany some of Frehley's all-time most blistering guitar work. At this point in the record, the "Simmons brothers" should be experiencing a bit of buyer's remorse regarding their current obedient sidemen.

Frehley's remake of Steve Miller's "The Joker" is simply superb and he succeeds in making the 1974 classic his very own. In short, it's so fresh and so fun, it could truly become a "New York Groove"-caliber hit.

Space Invader closes with "Starship" — the latest in Frehley's long line of epic instrumental compositions. Clocking in at just over seven minutes, this is his most unique and compelling opus since 1978's "Fractured Mirror." And yes, I have seen George Jetson!

(Melbourne, FL - 1993)
All four original KISS members now have weighed in and taken more than ample nasty shots at each other with their respective salacious tell-alls. But at the end of the day, everybody's just gotta shut up and let the music do the talking. The half-scab version of KISS has Monster — Ace Frehley has Space Invader. And although Gene and Paul won the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame battle, Ace clearly has won the street cred war  hands-down!

-Christopher Long
(August 2014)





C'MON! -

Saturday, August 16, 2014

CONCERT REVIEW: Rock 'N' Blues Fest - "A Tribute to Johnny Winter" / Melbourne, FL / 8.13.14 (Guest Post)

- A Tribute to Johnny Winter -
w/ Edgar Winter
Vanilla Fudge / Peter Rivera
Kim Simmonds
King Center / Melbourne, FL / 8.13.14  

Michelle Wilson returns with 
another front row concert review. 
I really wish I had seen this one.

The recent passing of legendary guitar virtuoso, Johnny Winter, was a devastating loss to legions of musicians and fans throughout the world. With his unrivaled guitar skills and unique style, the Texas bluesman has left his indelible mark on the music industry. Before his untimely death, Winter was scheduled to headline the Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest along with the Edgar Winter Band, Vanilla FudgePeter Rivera formerly of Rare Earth and Kim Simmonds  of Savoy Brown. In homage to Winter, the tour transformed into a celebration of the icon’s musical legacy. Thanks to promoter, Brevard Music Group, the collective embarked upon Melbourne, Florida’s King Center for the Performing Arts for a night of lively, upbeat music, stellar acoustics and engaged fans.

ROCK 'N' BLUES FEST - Melbourne, FL  (8.13.14)
Kicking it all off at precisely 8pm was legendary Welsh blues guitarist and founding member of Savoy Brown, Kim Simmonds. Touted as one of the leading innovators of late 1960s British blues and influenced by the likes of John Lee Hooker and John Mayall, Savoy Brown’s early sound was steeped in Chicago blues. Simmonds 20-minute set offered up some cuts from his latest record, “Goin’ to the Delta,” including the title cut and “Nuthin’ Like the Blues” as well as “Poor Girl” from “Looking In, ” during which Simmonds showcased a masterful harmonica solo. Backed by Edgar Winter’s brilliant band members including guitarist Doug Rappoport, bassist Koko Powell and drummer Jason Carpenter, the combination of Simmonds’ high energy, incredible guitar skills and outstanding vocals set the tone for the remainder of the dynamic show.

Next up was Peter Rivera, and the drummer / lead vocalist and founding member of Rare Earth never played or sounded better. Also supported by Winter’s band but with Carpenter moving over to the Hammond B3, Rivera and company delivered rousing renditions of Rare Earth classics including “Hey Big Brother,” “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” “Get Ready” and “I Just Want to Celebrate,” all of which were written and performed by others but covered by Rare Earth. Rappoport and Powell provided additional beautiful backing harmonies. It was a thrill to watch Rivera behind the kit as he impressed the audience with his masterful skills during the 25-minute set.


Boasting three of its original four members and taking the stage just shy of 9pm, Vanilla Fudge members included singer / keyboardist Mark Stein, guitarist Vince Martell and quintessential drummer Carmine Appice, as well as Powell on bass. Known for their reinterpreted, psychedelic covers, the seasoned players delighted the crowd with such memorable hits as “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Shotgun” and “People Get Ready,” which they dedicated to Johnny Winter. Stein’s vocal range is still incredible and Martell is a joy to watch as he plays guitar, but it’s Appice who steals the show.  Unquestionably one of the most transcendent drummers ever, I was enthralled by Appice’s tremendous talent, especially from my front row vantage point. 

EDGAR WINTER (8.13.14)
As renowned as his brother Johnny, Edgar Winter has a stellar musical history of his own, fusing a jazz, blues and rock flavor that boasts more than 20 records. Following a brief intermission, Winter and his band graced the stage and opened with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” a clear reference to his late brother, and then followed it up with the John D. Loudermilk-penned “Tobacco Road,” which Edgar dedicated to Johnny. The multi-talented instrumentalist, who played saxophone, keyboard and timbales throughout, delivered such renowned hits as "Frankenstein," Dan Hartman’s "Free Ride" and Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61,” during which Simmonds came on stage and played killer slide. Wrapping up the event, Edgar was joined by everyone for a snappy version of the Jagger / Richards staple, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” to end the epic evening. Admittedly, I was a bit perplexed by the song and artist choice, as I would have expected the show to close with a Johnny Winter song. Having said that, however, it still was quite an enjoyable experience peppered with guitar and drum solos, and one that undoubtedly would have done Johnny proud.

-Michelle Wilson
(August 2014)

Do you have something to say, something to get off your chest or an amazing story to share? From pop culture views and reviews to political commentary to messages of faith, my blog is a great platform for writers to showcase their work. There are very limited criteria for submitting a post. Your views don't even have to be in line with mine — just create and contribute a compelling, well-written story. Interested? Send me and email.


Monday, August 11, 2014


Magnolia Pictures

Michelle Wilson returns with
an insightful screen review.
THIS one, I gotta see!

Muscle Shoals, Alabama likely would have been the last place in the world for the birth of not one, but two iconic recording studios. This sleepy little area on the shores of the Tennessee River encompasses a “magic” all its own, and “it’s like the songs come out of the mud,” as U2 frontman Bono suggests in this 111-minute documentary that chronicles the formation of Rick Hall’s FAME Studios and The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Sections’ (dubbed The Swampers) Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The collaboration between black singers and white session players was virtually unheard of, but as Hall points out, “we were color blind” in the studio. Clarence Carter also reinforces this notion: “Music played a big part in changing people’s thoughts about race, especially in the South. Each time a person went to Muscle Shoals, they came out with a hit record. You had to know there was something magic in Muscle Shoals.” Carter goes further by explaining that there was no use of “Mr.” in the studio when addressing the white session players: “You just worked together. You never thought about who was white or who was black. You thought about the common thing and it was the music.” 

Rick Hall with Clarence Carter at FAME
Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Chock full of interviews, commentary, photos and footage from various renowned recording sessions, the film offers a glimpse into how it all came to fruition. Additional insights are added by Jerry Wexler of Atlantic RecordsGregg Allman, and Jaimoe. The production is peppered with fascinating background stories and anecdotes too numerous to mention but definitely not to be missed. From Duane Allman’s slide guitar epiphany, to Aretha Franklin’s tension-filled sessions, to Etta James’ temper, to cutting tracks with the Rolling Stones and even to the rise of Lynyrd Skynyrd, there is so much packed into this movie that it warrants multiple viewings.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, 
or The Swampers, Muscle Shoals 
Sound Studio, Sheffield, Alabama.
Directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier with interviews conducted by Stephen Badger, the film delves extensively into the tragic early life of Rick Hall, who was raised in extreme poverty almost solely by his father. A horrific accident led to the death of Hall’s young brother, and his mother left the family for a life steeped in prostitution. Hall vowed to rise above his situation and to make something of himself, and after a series of downfalls and further heartbreaks including the loss of his first wife in a car accident, Hall returned to Muscle Shoals and opened FAME.  With the words of his father always ringing in his ears, Hall didn’t just want to be good at something; he wanted to be the best. Infamous for a perfectionist work ethic and a quick temper, Hall could be “a joy and pain to work with,” as soul singer Candi Staton mentions. Hall’s first group of session players was so exceptional that they went on tour opening for The Beatles, and not long after Hall had to replace all of them as they graduated to bigger endeavors. It was his next group of session players, nicknamed The Swampers by Leon Russell producer Denny Cordell, who would help solidify Hall’s place in music history.

Aretha Franklin with The Swampers, FAME 
Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
The film chronicles the partnership and eventual falling out between Hall and Wexler, which led to Hall signing a new contract with Capitol Records. No sooner had he closed the deal when his session players unilaterally decided to follow Wexler across town and open their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Comprised of bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Roger Hawkins and late keyboardist Barry Beckett, The Swampers proceeded to perform on endless hit records for major acts. Johnson even received engineering credit on The Rolling Stones’ blues-based gem, Sticky Fingers, and is a major figure in this narrative with invaluable remarks throughout. Both recording studios found great success after parting ways, as Hall hired his third group of session players and even received the prodigious Producer of the Year award in 1971.

Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman, 
Atlantic Studios, New York City.
(Photo: Stephen Paley)
The one component that this in-depth feature may have lacked was a more thorough examination of Duane Allman. For as groundbreaking as his slide guitar work was as a session player and with the Allman Brothers Band, the coverage of him seemed a bit light. His innovative guitar style literally helped launch an entire music genre, not because playing slide was new, but because seemingly no one in a contemporary band had incorporated it into the music until Allman’s arrival. Due to his conservative nature, Hall was unaccustomed to Allman’s lifestyle and voiced his concerns about working with him to Phil Walden, co-founder of Capricorn Records who eventually would buy Allman’s contract from Hall and transform the Allman Brothers Band into a huge success. Walden advised Hall to stick it out and that Allman would make him millions, but as Hall admits, “I missed the boat on that one.” This was even after the famous Wilson Pickett session that, at Allman’s suggestion, spawned the remake of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” and as Swamper guitarist Jimmy Johnson states, “all of a sudden there was Southern rock.”

Bono succinctly sums up the essence of Muscle Shoals and its impact on not only the music industry, but also on the world: “If you look at the recording studios, they were humble shells. But what they contained was an empire that crossed race and creed, ethnicity. It was revolutionary.”

-Michelle Wilson
(August 2014)


Do you have something to say, something to get off your chest or an amazing story to share? From pop culture views and reviews to political commentary to messages of faith, my blog is a great platform for writers to showcase their work. There are very limited criteria for submitting a post. Your views don't even have to be in line with mine — just create and contribute a compelling, well-written story. Interested? Send me and email.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: Glenn Evans "Overload"

Glenn Evans
(Sidipus Records)

Something wacky happened 
recently when Glenn Evans
went studio shopping for a 
possible Nuclear Assault 
reunion album. He cut a 
solo record.

When I first met Glenn Evans back in 1987, he was on the American leg of Nuclear Assault's Game Over tour. Comprised of Evans on drums, bassist Danny Lilker, vocalist / guitarist John Connelly and lead guitarist Anthony Bramante, the "golden era" Nuclear Assault line-up was practically starving on the road — traveling across the country in a dilapidated school bus. I was impressed immediately by this brash new band's un-compromised dedication. Fueled by sheer determination and possessing far more street cred than its crop of contemporaries, Nuclear Assault rose quickly to the top of the international hardcore metal scene and soon was touring worldwide with the likes of Slayer and Testament. The band's 1990 Handle with Care album enjoyed significant chart success and gave birth to the MTV staples, "Critical Mass" and "Trail of Tears." 

A bona fide hardcore metal classic.
In 2014, the highly-anticipated KISS-style reunion of the classic Nuclear Assault line-up remains in the talking stage. However, Evans felt compelled to get proactive and begin a nationwide search  for the perfect studio in which to record a potential new release. "I mainly wanted to find a great drum room for the final Nuke album," the songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer explains. "It was the day after Christmas, 2013. I had nothing written, so I jumped on a plane, flew to Sonic Ranch Studios in El Paso, Texas and recorded a solo album of cover tunes. I'm playing everything. It was recorded and mixed in a few days. Then, I had it mastered at the Panic Room in Sweden." 

Nuclear Assault - circa 1990
(Bramante, Lilker, Connelly and Evans)
My immediate concern upon first hearing about Overload was that Evans likely would be covering a glob of obscure speed metal tracks. But, HOORAY — they're ALL "A" list gems! Evans goes super-old school — back to his (very) early roots and serves up savory samples from all four basic aural food groups — pop, rock, metal and punk. Simply put, Overload (Evans' third solo effort and his first in more than 20 years), delivers — big. The production is impeccable and the musicianship — superb.

But be sure that although  Evans' guitar work is certainly exceptional, it's his machine-like drum skill that continues to serve as his true calling card. And nowhere on the record is that fact more evident than on the opening track — Motörhead's anthemic, "Ace of Spades." Wow, is it possible actually to bring MORE energy to this classic? Apparently so. And with his signature stormtrooper-style, Evans proves that his double-kick technique still packs as much rib-cracking punch as dual battering rams.

This rare X-ray reveals that Glenn Evans'
feet actually ARE battering rams!
Evans' no-holds-barred, savage vocal delivery makes Ace Frehley's "Hard Times," his very own. The guitar sound and style (especially during the solo) are pretty freaking close to the original. And the creative lyrical liberty that  Evans claims ("I got arrested, everyday life in New Jersey") is hilarious. In fact, I'd wager a bet that Evans' version likely sounds closer to how "the Spaceman" would have  recorded the track, had KISS not already morphed into a corporate kiddie band when it first appeared on the 1979 Dynasty album. 

"Bad Time?" Are you kidding me? THE "Bad Time?" Holy cow, I thought that I was the only "seasoned" metal dude who possessed a passion for this pop / rock guilty pleasure. A Top Five smash for Grand Funk in 1975, the song first appeared on the band's 1974 album, All the Girls in the World Beware!!! and over the years it has remained one of my absolute personal favorites. Musically, Evans doesn't stray far from the original recording. However, his vocals are a smidge more "heartfelt"  than Mark Farner's. Not only is "Bad Time" the highlight of the record, it also quickly has become one of my all-time favorite Evans tracks — behind "Brainwashed," "Search & Seizure" and "Critical Mass," of course!

The Sex Pistols staple, "God Save the Queen" has been bludgeoned to death —  plain and simple, by more seemingly well-intending artists than I can count. But by combining Tom Araya's gut-wrenching vocal sensibilities with C.C. DeVille-inspired cock-rock riffin', Evans manages to make this weathered  old bar hag somehow appealing again. 

Glenn Evans "Ace of Spades"
(Official music video)

In sum, Overload is an extremely impressive offering — one that keeps me reaching for the "replay" button over and over. And through its release and subsequent success, I hope that Evans prevails in his lofty mission to "poke the bear" and inspire the (true) Nuclear Assault reunion that fans have been patiently waiting for.

-Christopher Long
(August 2014)

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: The Allman Brothers Band "The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings" (Guest Post)

The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
Mercury / Universal Music - 2014
6 CDs - 355 min.

Music in its purest form is and always has been a conduit of communication. Some artists have conversed with incredible eloquence, others with direction, many with passion, joy and pain  through  ferocious chops and tremendous ability. However, there have been very few that managed to pull all those ingredients together the way the Allman Brothers Band did from mid-1969 through late Fall of  1971. The history of the band's formation has been well documented, but it's important enough to emphasize that when Duane Allman found himself jamming with Berry Oakley, Dickey Betts, Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks in the last week of March 1969, his search was over and he’d found his sound. The only missing piece of the puzzle was his brother, Gregory, then languishing in Los Angeles, flat broke and with no prospects. Duane's phone call to Gregg about the new band quickly reunited the brothers and shortly after Gregg's arrival  in Jacksonville, Florida, the crew packed up and headed for Macon, Georgia, where Phil Walden and his new Capricorn label were waiting. Over the next two years, relentless hard work and a grueling road schedule seasoned and whipped the six-piece combo into one of the toughest, tightest groups anywhere in the country, and they truly were without equals. By blending their deep roots in a number of American musical forms, they fused blues, jazz, country and rock influences into a stew that spearheaded the birth of Southern Rock, the Sound of the South.

When the sextet rolled into New York City on March 11th, 1971, plans to record their three-night stand at Bill Graham's famed Fillmore East were in motion. Since the latter part of 1969 the Brothers had played his venues on both coasts numerous times, and in doing so, they had gained a true ally who understood them and respected their untiring work ethic. With two albums already under their belts, when At Fillmore East was originally released in July of 1971, it boldly and loudly proclaimed the official arrival of the Allman Brothers Band. While the group's first two LPs might have made a few ripples on the surface of record industry waters, the 'live' double-album went gold within a few short months. Although countless venue recordings from an endless list of performers now have come and gone in the past four-plus decades, At Fillmore East still is regarded as one of the finest 'live' documents in the history of rock and roll. In fact, its success and popularity also saw a dizzying number of reissues over the past 20 years, but this new release is what many lifelong Allman Brothers fans have wanted – all four shows, both early and late performances from the weekend of March 12th and 13th, 1971.

A blow-by-blow account of this package would be almost pointless, and at approximately 355 minutes, you'd still be reading this review come next New Year's. But one commonly acknowledged, recurring theme concerning the Allman Brothers Band during this time period is certain – they might not have varied much from their razor-sharp set list once it was perfected, but they never played any song the same way twice. While there are five versions of "Statesboro Blues," four takes of "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," four extended rides on "Whipping Post," three runs through "Trouble No More," and many others to digest, Duane and Dickey's fiery guitar solos simply aren't approached in the same manner. Obviously, there are signatures to these pieces that needed to be maintained  because they were integral to the arrangements, but their playing varies markedly as you weave your way through these discs. Ditto Gregg's energetic piano playing or his wonderfully understated work behind the Hammond B-3, and that's without mentioning his 24-year-old voice that sounded every bit like that of a much older Chicago blues singer. His vocals are as raspy as they are world-wise and weary. The engine room in this aggregation was every bit as important as Duane, Gregg and Dickey were. Berry Oakley's bass playing was part of a foundation for the band to build on as much as it was another lead instrument. Rare indeed is a bass player who could add a rock steady grounding, as well as adjust his parts to fit the mood of the music from night to night. Last but not least, the dual-drumming of Jaimoe and Butch Trucks also made for key ingredients. While Butch's driving backbeats anchored the entire unit, Jaimoe's R&B and jazz leanings allowed him to insert incredible flourishes as accents to everything else that was going on around him.

Coincidentally, that word 'communication'  brings us back to the beginning... the on-stage communication among these six young men in 1971 was pretty much unattainable by any other band in the country. Not only were they brilliant musicians who more often than not belied their youthful age, but they also respected the importance of listening and understood the value it offered them while exploring new territory each time they played. You'll hear subtle nuances and changing inflections in Gregg's voice over these sets, and you'll catch Duane and Dickey adjusting their phrasing and emphasizing different passages. You'll come to fully appreciate the riveting three-piece rhythm section working effortlessly, and not only over the four sets recorded in March of '71, but also upon their triumphant return at the end of June when Bill Graham singled them out as the best band he'd ever witnessed and chose them to be the last performers on the hallowed stage of the Fillmore East.

In addition to the original six members that made up the Allman Brothers Band, special guests in March included Tom "Ace" Doucette on harmonica, Bobby Caldwell on percussion, and Rudolph "Juicy" Carter on soprano sax. If there's one minor drawback, it's that Juicy's sax efforts on two versions of "Elizabeth Reed" seem to meander aimlessly when the rest of the band had a clear destination in mind and the best route to get there. In part, the beauty of Tom Dowd's masterful work on the original LP was that he was able to seamlessly fuse a few parts together from different performances to create a couple of perfect tracks. Those two cuts ("Elizabeth Reed" and "You Don't Love Me" from the 3/13 early show) are presented as they were on the 'live' album, with Dowd's editing in place, but the true shine of this newly released set is that we're now able to hear everything else just as it went down. There's a sense that if Dowd had been alive to see this come to fruition, he'd have considered two things; the first would have been splicing out Juicy Carter's solos in both takes of "Liz Reed" from the night of the 12th, and the second would have been adding them (in their entirety) as bonus tracks, for interest only. High points are far too many to chronicle here, but the two versions of "Whipping Post" from the two nights in March are as vicious as they are beautiful, and if their first attempt at Sonny Boy Williamson's "One Way Out" from one of the mid-March shows  sounds a little unsure of itself, by the time late June rolled around, the song had been sharpened into a blistering boogie ride. Suffice it to say that at almost six full hours, there's a whole new set of emotions that come with listening to this, from Duane’s nonchalant introduction on disc one, "I hope this comes out pretty good, we're recordin' our third album here," to the last joyous notes of "You Don't Love Me" at the Fillmore East's final show in late June. Sound is crisp and clear throughout and it's a guarantee you'll hear lots of things you simply never heard before. The immaculate separation between Duane and Dickey's guitars is as breathtaking as hearing Jaimoe adding deftly-placed embellishments to Butch's freight train-like approach.

Although the Allman Brothers Band has endured for over four decades in one form or another, what the original six members managed during a brief two-and-a-half year stretch from March of 1969 through October of 1971 has never again been matched. This was truly a heady and experimental time when the American musical landscape was shifting, heading into uncharted territory and realigning itself, as bands began fusing various influences and creating new and exciting sounds. In addition to that, it was the Allman Brothers Band staking their claim as leaders of the New South. 

-Craig Ruskey
(August 2014)

Do you have something to say, something to get off your chest or an amazing story to share? From pop culture views and reviews to political commentary to messages of faith, my blog is a great platform for writers to showcase their work. There are very limited criteria for submitting a post. Your views don't even have to be in line with mine — just create and contribute a compelling, well-written story. Interested? Send me and email.