Dissecting Player's 'Too Many Reasons'

Peter Beckett, Ronn Moss talk about new songs

By Peter Lindblad
Player - Too Many Reasons 2013
Too Many Reasons is the new album from ‘70s soft-rock sensation Player, known best for their smash hit “Baby Come Back.” Featuring original members Ronn Moss and Peter Beckett, Player has been chomping at the bit to put this record out.

And the time is finally here.

“It was supposed to come out in November,” explains Beckett. “I had it finished. I handed the finished thing in, in July of last year, and it was supposed to come out in November. And as with everything, it’s hurry up and wait; it didn’t come out because they held it back because of the Christmas rush. And they said we’ll have a much better chance if we put it out after Christmas. So, I think it was the right move.”
Now that is has, being released in North America on Feb. 26 via Frontiers Records, Beckett and Moss are more than eager to discuss it. They went through some of its tracks in a recent interview:

Why did you want to do an acoustic version of “Baby Come Back” for this record?
Peter Beckett: That song had been … that’s one of the songs that I went in and did a while ago. And I actually did it as a demo, an acoustic demo, with a little bit of electric guitar and stuff on there, and Frontiers wanted a bonus track. And they said, “Just do something acoustically.” So I said, “I’ve got this version of ‘Baby Come Back’ that is semi-acoustic, and it’s been sitting here a few years. You can use that.” And they heard it and they loved it, so they put it on there. In fact, I think they actually said, “We like it so much we want another bonus track (laughs) and we’re going to make it part of the album.” So we had to find yet another bonus track. So that’s the story of the acoustic “Baby Come Back.”

Tell us about how some of the songs on this record came about, starting with “Man on Fire.”
PB: Okay. Well, truthfully, that was one of the latest songs. When we had most of the songs accepted by the record label, they said, “We want you to do a couple of rockers.” Our guitarist, Rob Math, who’s … well, he’s younger than us. He’s kind of a serious heavy-metal guitarist, actually. He’s quite amazing. And he had this track, which he brought to me at my studio at home, and he had a handful of songs. I said, “That track I consider a good hard rock track.” And myself and Steve Plunkett [of the ‘80s metal band Autograph], we edited it, changed parts, wrote the lyrics, wrote the melodies and sent it to Frontiers, and they said, “Perfect. Now we need another one (laughs).” I went in and did one by myself, but Ronn hadn’t heard that song until it was finished, and we were actually rehearsing in Ronn’s garage at the house with the band, and we just started playing it, didn’t we Ronn? And it was like instantly Ronnie loved it, and the band loved it.

“The Sins of Yesterday” and “My Addiction” – are they related somehow?
PB: Related to each other? No. They’re all coming from life stories, you know. They’re all little stories on their own, positive or negative, because everything comes from more truth. Some are … Ronnie can explain “My Addiction” if he wants.
Ronn Moss: “My Addiction” is from when I saw my wife … That’s my tribute to her. I dedicate that to her.
PB: And “The Sins of Yesterday,” I think speaks for itself. It’s a really weird thing explaining your songs to people, unless you’ve written about something political and then you can say whatever you want, but when you’re writing songs about your life, you’ve really got to leave it up to the listener to pick up on what you intended.

“Life in Color” and “Nothin’ Like You”
PB: “Nothin’ Like You” again is one of the older songs that I wrote with Steve Plunkett. Steve Plunkett was from the band Autograph. He was in a heavy-metal hair band, and he had a bunch of hits on his own. We’ve written together for a long time, but “Nothin’ Like You” … I don’t even remember what it was written about, ‘cause it was a while ago. “Life in Color” is a brand new song, and basically, particularly as you can hear in the words, I went through a big divorce – so did Ronn a while back, before me – and you live with that for years after and there’s something that’s always eating at you about it, you know. And my life changed about two years ago. I met somebody who changed my life for the better and made me positive again, and she just said, “You only live once. You can’t be miserable. You’ve got to live your life in color.” And that’s where that came from. It just puts a positive message out there.

Lyrically, do you have a different perspective on things – I suppose you can’t help but have a different perspective on things the older you get – but does that come through in your lyrics?
PB: Yeah, you know, somebody just said in an interview the other day – and it was a written interview, somebody from Germany – and he said, “What do you think Player has to offer?” or “Does Player have anything to offer these days?” And I said, “What we have to offer now is experience.” We’ve lived. We’re older now. We’ve got a lot of experience and that’s going to come through, probably more so than 30 years ago.

Ronn, do these songs kind of capture how you’re feeling?
PB: We’ve known each other a long time. You know, we’ve known each other since the beginning of Player, and pretty much, even when we weren’t in contact a whole lot, we were still in contact for the past 20 years or so. We’ve been constantly in contact, and we’ve done a lot of stuff together and we’ve worked on a lot of stuff together. One of the songs Ronn does on this album is a song called “Kites.”
RM: “Kites” is really sort of an ethereal-flavored song that came from one of my solo albums, and it came from a song in the ‘60s done by Simon Dupree, who had a No. 1 record with it in England when I was a kid. Well, interestingly enough, when we signed … when we met the guys from Frontiers Records, based in Italy, who were going to distribute our records, we started talking about this band …
PB: Simon Dupree and the Big Sound.
RM: Anyway, we did this song called “Kites” by this guy Simon Dupree, and this guy raised his hand, and we go, “Are you Simon Dupree?” And he goes, “Yeah.” (laughs)
PB: We’re sitting there with three of the executives from the label, and we said, “We’d like to put this song on there. It’s a beautifully produced song, you know, and Ronn does a great job on it and it’s called ‘Kites.’ It was a hit in England by this guy, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound,” and he puts his hand up like this, and we go, “No.” And he says, “Yep, that was me.” And he’s going to be our executive.
RM: Talking about my relationship to all the lyrics, Pete has always written very wonderfully crafted lyrics around amazing, memorable songs. He never writes to make a couple of hits on the album … so we had a lot of material to work from. I identified with pretty much all of it, as well. It’s become part of our thing. And so I live through it, just like everybody, but we’re always starting new. This band has always started new; everything’s fresh from the start, like erasing everything on a chalkboard, like a kid, starting over. It’s always cool to start over. And that’s what this has been. It’s been a rebirth for all of us.

You guys are planning on touring?
PB: Yep, they’re talking. They’re trying to get us to Europe, because our record label is based out of Europe. We have a shed tour that our manager is trying to put together in the summer with several other ‘70s artists … Bobby Kimball, Toto. I don’t know who’s actually going to end up on the final bill … Christopher Cross, and people like us, and the Little River Band … I’m not sure. People like us from the late ‘70s and so far, we’re looking at about a month, between May and August. Not sure if it’ll be a month in succession, but it’s about a month’s worth of gigs and that’ll continue if it goes well in America.

Player has 'Too Many Reasons' to come back

‘70s group to release new album, ready to make film debut

By Peter Lindblad

Player - Peter Beckett and Ronn Moss 2013
Peel off the layers of the onion known as Player, and it quickly becomes apparent that there was more – much more – to these ‘70s hit-makers than the ubiquitous soft-rock chart-topper “Baby Come Back.”

Right off, there’s the fact that Ronn Moss is a huge international soap opera star, having portrayed fashion mogul Ridge Forrester on “The Bold and the Beautiful” for an astounding 25 years, before recently calling it quits.

Moss’s partner in Player, Peter Beckett, may have an even more interesting background. Not only did he see The Beatles play at the Cavern Club and perform with the Little River Band from 1989 to 1997, but he also was an integral member of Paladin, one of the U.K.’s most intriguing and experimental early 1970s progressive-rock outfits.

When Paladin, which Beckett called “a fusion-rock, quasi-jazz thing” formed by ex-Terry Reid band members Keith Webb and Peter Solley, split up, Beckett headed for America – or more specifically, California – at the behest of friend Steve Kipner.

Thinking back to Paladin, Beckett recalls, “We did that whole thing where we went out and lived in a castle in Gloucestershire in the countryside for six months, and then did an album and we came back to London, and we did the whole university circuit. We did two albums. It was a pretty well-known band in England, and then it split up. And truthfully, I can’t remember why it split up. It was just a couple of guys left, and we replaced them, and it was never as good and the band split up.”

Looking around for work in L.A. after Paladin dissolved, Beckett auditioned for record labels and management companies, before winding up in something rather ridiculous called Skyband.

“It was atrocious,” says Beckett. “I mean, I’m sure they had their reasons, but they made us all dye our hair white, and they took pictures of us with no shirts on with these big helmets with feathers in … and it was Skyband and we were supposed to be like warriors from the sky – very embarrassing album cover.”

Nothing they did was well-received.

“We put out one album, and it did nothing,” remembers Beckett. “We did one tour of England, believe it or not, with the [Sensational] Alex Harvey Band. We were horrible, and we came back and split up [in 1975], and I was like floating for a year.”

Whatever sins Beckett committed beforehand in his life, Beckett’s penance with Skyband more than made up for them, and soon, he was rewarded with a 1977 meeting in Los Angeles with future band mates Moss and Texan J.C. Crowley that would lead to the formation of Player.

As Moss recalls, “We met at J.C. Crowley’s little cockroach-infested apartment. Peter and J.C. were there already and our soon to become manager Paul Palmer had said to me, ‘I’ve got a couple guys that I think you should meet, and I think the three of you will work really well.’ So he arranged it, we exchanged demos that day, we played … the place was so small that we had to go outside to meet each other, because there wasn’t room for all three of us. But we wound up using his garage to finish writing all the songs for the first Player album. And it worked out really well. I really liked the guys, and we had a camaraderie that worked well.”

Player - Too Many Reasons 2013
That friendship between Moss and Beckett that began in that tiny hole-in-the-wall has survived for decades, and they have made a lot of music together, even though it’s been almost 20 years since the last official Player record. In 2013, however, Player has resurfaced, with its newest album Too Many Reasons, and it feels to them like the late ‘70s all over again, when Player’s varied musical tastes helped propel them up the charts.

“Player’s always been a very eclectic band,” says Beckett. “I’m always worried about the songs fitting together, which is kind of stupid because The Beatles were like that anyway. You know, they always had hard rock and soft ones, and so even in the old days, we’d have a song like ‘Baby Come Back’ on the same album as a song like ‘Silver Linings,’ which was a total hard rock song. And then we’d stick some pop in there, and it was always very eclectic, and this album has turned out to be exactly that. As Ronn will tell you, I was really worried that the songs didn’t go together, but when we put them all together and mastered it, it sounded exactly like one of the old Player albums. It’s got a bit of everything in it.”

Moss adds, “I feel like these songs now, even though some of them are pulled from older songs, we’ve given them a new flavor. They are not sounding like old songs. They sound new.” And that includes the title track, which Beckett claims is “… from a while ago, and we fixed it up. That could be anybody. It sounds to me like it could be a Whitesnake record.”

‘Silver Linings’ Playbook
Unlike Beckett, Moss grew up in L.A., the son of the owner of Mutual Ticket Agency, a predecessor to Ticketmaster. Concerts, theater and music – Moss became immersed in the entertainment industry from a young age, and he played multiple instruments, including drums, guitar and bass.

Moss found his kindred spirits in Beckett and Crowley, who had been in a band together called Riff Raff, which changed its name to Bandana. That band had been on Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter’s label Haven, but Haven folded. There was a silver lining, however. The two record company moguls eventually moved on over to RSO Records, the Robert Stigwood label that would go on to sign Player, but not before Beckett, Crowley, Moss and the drummer Moss brought to Player, John Friesen, went to great lengths to get a deal.

“We got turned down by almost every record label in America, until we found the RSO label through Dennis Lambert,” remembers Beckett.

Player’s search for a label involved performing live in front of producers, because as Moss puts it, “We’d always wanted to play live in those showcases. We never wanted to play tapes of us playing. We wanted to make sure they saw us and heard us playing live.”

Before each one, Beckett says Player would rehearse for a week.

“I think we did two or three, the final one being when we had ‘Baby Come Back,’ and that’s when we were starting to get pretty good,” says Beckett. “There was one we did … I think we did about five songs, and we did ‘Baby Come Back’ at the end, and got all of it done. I seem to remember being very cocky in those days and all that, but I went on the mic and on that last song – nobody had ever heard ‘Baby Come Back’ yet – and there’s all these record executives, and I said, ‘Now, we’d like to do our No. 1 record.’ And this was like six months before it even came out, and we did it and it kicked ass. And everybody’s mouth was open like, ‘Oh my God. That sounds like a hit.’ And then we went and recorded it, and you know the rest.”

Player's self-titled debut album
Well, that’s not quite all there is to the story. With their self-titled first record out, Player brought their brand of breezy, laid-back pop-rock out on the road, initially touring with Gino Vannelli in November 1977.

“The very first gig we did – and we’d been rehearsing for a while, but we hadn’t been playing gigs – and we got this gig at the Buffalo Town Hall and we were supporting Gino Vannelli, who is, you know, amazing,” says Beckett. “And we all, with our little guitar cases, just kind of walked in behind the stage and he was doing his sound check, and it was just monstrous. It was just so good, just as synthesizers were coming in and his whole thing was synthesizers, and it was just huge. And we were sitting in the wings going, ‘Oh my God, we’ll never be anything like that (laughs).’”

While out with Vannelli, “Baby Come Back” was climbing the charts by leaps and bounds.

“We were in … a real dirty little rehearsal place, and the manager comes running and he said, ‘You guys are No. 80 on Billboard,’” says Beckett. “And we just went crazy,” much as they did when they first heard the song on the radio.

“I remember the first time we heard it on the radio,” says Moss. “J.C., Peter and I were actually driving up La Brea Avenue in my car and it came on the radio – it was one of those freak things that just happen in life. And we just started screaming in the car. It was a great moment.”

There would be many more highlights. With their hit single on the rise, going all the way to No. 1, where it spent three weeks in the top spot, Player was shifted from the Vannelli tour to the Boz Scaggs bill. “We were plucked and put on [Scaggs’s] ‘Silk Degrees’ tour,” says Beckett. “And we went from just medium-sized gigs to doing huge arenas, and [‘Baby Come Back’] hit No. 1.”

The Scaggs gig was a high-profile one for Player, but in short order, they’d be called up to the big leagues as the support act for guitar god Eric Clapton on his “Slowhand” tour.

“Well, you know, the Boz Scaggs tour wasn’t chopped liver, either,” says Beckett. “But we’d already done about two months of 30,000-seat arenas, and then we went back and did the Danger Zone album. We knew we were going on the ‘Slowhand’ tour, so we made the Danger Zone album harder edged so that we were able to go out and support Eric Clapton and have the right kind of music under our belts.”

As it turned out, they were a little too good for Clapton’s entourage.

“We had a wonderful little thing happen to us at the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas,” says Moss. “Player had the No. 1 record, and in the middle of ‘Baby Come Back’ there’s a silence, before the last chorus starts. Well, right at that downbeat to that chorus, after the silence, we all came in … and, no power. The power had gone out. There was nothing but drums.”

Beckett chimed in, “The sound had gone out,” before Moss added, “The lights didn’t go out – just the power to our amplifiers. So we all looked around, and they finally got it up and rolling.”

Evidently, as Player would later find out, one of Clapton’s roadies pulled the plug on Player’s performance. “It took several days for somebody backstage to finally fess up,” says Moss. “And it turned out to be Eric Clapton’s crew who fessed up and said, ‘Yeah, we pulled the plug on you guys.’ We were going down to well, and initially, we were really pissed. ‘Why would you do that?’ and the guy said, ‘It’s because you were going over a little too well.’”   

Beckett says Clapton knew nothing about the incident, but after the roadie admitted what he’d done, Clapton tried to make peace. “They fessed up. They fessed up. And [Clapton] came in the dressing room a couple of weeks later with a bottle of Jack Daniels, and he never really admitted anything, but he said, ‘Are you guys okay?’” says Beckett.

The original Player lineup started to break apart after the Danger Zone LP, as Crowley departed for a solo career in country music. There were arena tours with Heart and Kenny Loggins, a handful of hit singles such as “This Time I’m in it for Love” – which went to No. 11 on the Billboard chart – and 1980 saw Player release Room with a View, but Moss and Friesen left soon after.

“My own decision came from the fact that our record company seemed to be falling out from under us,” explains Moss. “RSO Records had reached the pinnacle and then disbanded. And then we went to Casablanca, after Neil Bogart had died. And we weren’t recording enough. We were basically sitting around, getting frustrated and I decided to do acting and give it a try. So I went from having something in music to basically having absolutely nothing in the acting world. And I took a couple of years’ hiatus from being with Peter and Player and doing music, and they continued on, with another album from Player. He never stopped doing music, and I took a short break, and eventually we hooked back up and it’s been a nice ride – still is a nice ride.”

Player - Lost in Reality 1996
Beckett kept Player going, recording one more album with Spies of Life in the early ‘80s before shelving the Player name, until Moss and Beckett – the sole remaining original members – made 1996’s Lost in Reality. Over the years, Beckett has been a prolific behind-the-scenes songwriter, penning material for such artists as Heart (one of his favorites), Kenny Rogers, The Temptations, Poco, Janet Jackson, Survivor, and Olivia Newton-John, who scored a Top Five hit with one of Beckett’s compositions.

“I love Heart. I had a song on Bad Animals,” says Beckett. “Kenny Rogers, I had a beautiful song that Ronn actually did as well, called ‘All This Time.’ It’s a song that’s one of my favorites of what I’ve done. Kenny Rogers did it and then Ronn put it on one of his solo albums. With Olivia Newton-John, she had a song at No. 5 on Billboard called “Twist of Fate,” which we do onstage today with our band. It’s a lot harder than Olivia did it.”

Writing music for the movies has also kept Beckett busy. “I’ve written rap songs for movies. I’ve written ballads. I’ve written heavy metal. I had two things in ‘Rock Star,’ the Mark Wahlberg movie. I had the main song, ‘Living the Life.’ And that’s serious metal,” says Beckett.

But, it’s his partnership with Moss that has endured, and soon Player and its music will make it into a feature film being directed by none other than Moss himself.

“Combining Player’s music with the visual, that’s something we’ve been heading toward for a long time,” says Moss, who regrets that Player missed out on the MTV explosion. “When we did our videos, everything was very simple – standing up on a soundstage and filming the band actually playing the song. We didn’t have all that great imagery you have now.”

With their latest album, out Feb. 26 on the FrontiersRecords label, Player now has plenty of songs for Moss’s directorial debut as a filmmaker. Player will have more to say about their new album in a blog slated for that release date.

CD Review: Glenn Hughes – Live in Wolverhampton

Glenn Hughes
Live in Wolverhampton
earMusic/Armoury Records
All Access Review: A-

Glenn Hughes - Live in Wolverhampton 2013
Sobriety seems to suit Glenn Hughes rather nicely. A nasty drug habit nearly cost him his life, as well as his career, by 1990. Off of nearly everyone’s radar, Hughes was in danger of both burning out and fading away. 

Miraculously, despite all efforts at self-destruction, the former Trapeze, Black Sabbath (yes, he was working with Tony Iommi on his solo album, but Seventh Star ended up a legit Sabbath release) and Deep Purple Mark III and IV bassist/singer – dubbed the “voice of rock” by, all of people, the techno-house outfit The KLF, who employed Hughes on their 1991 single “America – What Time is Love?” – got clean and started working his magic again, putting out an eclectic series of solo albums and interesting experimental collaborations that, once more, brought out the funk-soul brother in Hughes.

Live in Wolverhampton, recorded over two nights in 2009 in Hughes’s hometown of Bilston, is sort of a Glenn Hughes starter kit for the uninitiated. Joyous and life-affirming, with an intimacy most concert recordings never quite manage to capture, this double-disc set showcases the vocal gymnastics and vitality of Hughes and the impressive chops of a band that twists and turns this material sideways and inside-out, breathing new life into it. When they get cooking on extended jams, Hughes, drummer Steve Stevens – not the guy from Billy Idol’s band – and guitarist Jeff Kollman threaten to boil over on sweltering hard funk and vibrant R&B workouts like the old Trapeze favorites “You Are the Music,” a cosmic “Your Love is Alright” and “Way Back to the Bone” from Disc 2, themed “You Are the Music: An Evening of Trapeze.”

And what a night it is for this particular performance, reminding us all just how criminally underrated Trapeze is, the funk-rock pioneers blazing trails few dared follow. Culling selections from both 1970’s Medusa and 1972’s You Are the Music … We are the Band, this set finds Hughes and pals giving “Coast to Coast,” “Seafull” and the warm, charming little ditty “Good Love” a soulful rendering, with some sophisticated jazz-fusion passages – as well as a stormy, yet melodic, take on “Jury” – thrown in for good measure.

All the colors of Hughes’s rainbow are display on Disc 1, where the rugged hard-rock stomp and thick grooves of both Hughes/Thrall’s “Muscle & Blood” – off their self-titled 1982 album – and “Crave,” from Hughes’s solo LP First Underground Nuclear Kitchen, move with purpose and bad intentions, with just a touch of psychedelic soul making the choruses bloom, as they also do in the sunny, kaleidoscopic R&B feasts “Love Communion” and “Don’t Let Me Bleed.” Stevie Wonder, who once called Hughes his favorite white singer, would be duly impressed, although he might blanch at their lengthy and unnecessarily bloated 20:36 reading of Deep Purple’s “Mistreated.”

Originally recorded by Purple for the seminal 1974 album Burn, Hughes’s first appearance on record with the band after he’d replaced departed bass player Roger Glover and David Coverdale had stepped in for Ian Gillan, “Mistreated” opens with an imaginative and beguiling Kollman guitar solo that’s gentle and delicate in parts and fluid and fiery in others. Still, this take is somewhat turgid and missing the smoldering bluesy character of the original, with some of Hughes’s vocal histrionics going a bit too far at the finish. Despite this misstep, Hughes’s confident phrasing throughout Live at Wolverhampton is sublime, those remarkable pipes of his sounding just as clear as they did 40 years ago.

When he screams, “I’m a man,” at the end of “Muscle & Blood,” you don’t doubt it for a second, and he chooses his partners well – Stevens’ amazing stick work in “You’ve Got Soul” is intricate and propulsive, and both he and Kollman, who sounds like a hundred of the greatest guitar players of all-time all rolled into one, seem perfectly in sync with whatever’s going on in Hughes’s head. The party for Hughes may no longer involve mind-altering substances, but if Live at Wolverhampton is any indication, it’s raging hotter than ever for a man who’s found serenity and happiness.
-            Peter Lindblad

Saxon's 'Sacrifice' a thrash-metal throwback

Front man Biff Byford talks new album, U.S. release date pushed back

By Peter Lindblad

Like a general marshaling his troops for another saber-rattling, bloody charge into battle, Saxons Biff Byford had an inspirational message for the band on the eve of preparing to go to work on Sacrifice.

Saxon - Sacrifice 2013
Due out now in late March, the 26th to be exact, in the U.S., having been delayed because of manufacturing problems, Sacrifice is rough-and-tumble, old-school New Wave of British Heavy Metal mixed with fire-bombing thrash, influenced by the same bands, including Metallica, that once worshiped at Saxon’s altar.

As Byford says in the press materials related to Sacrifice, “My brief to the band was not to be afraid, to be raw, be real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.”

Between 1980 and 1983, Saxon toured relentlessly and churned out album after album of rugged, hard-working metal machinery that celebrated the blue-collar lifestyle, the commitment to spreading the gospel of metal and the pure enjoyment of engines and driving heavy-duty motorcycles. Studio albums such as Wheels of Steel, Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather and Power & the Glory are considered stone-cold NWOBHM classics, and Sacrifice – coming hot on the heels of such critically acclaimed works as 2009’s Into the Labyrinth and 2011’s Call to Arms – is a throwback to the good old days of Saxon. 

“Yeah, I think we’re in that sort of period again that we used to be in, in the ‘80s,” says Byford, in a recent interview with Backstage Auctions. “We’re knocking them out really good. So, yeah, we feel pretty good about this album. I produced it myself. I was more in control of, you know, the actual songs and the sounds, so I’m quite happy about that.”

The decision to captain the ship this time around came from a desire to make a classic Saxon album, especially in light of the fact that Sacrifice is the band’s 20th album.

“I just really wanted to make an album that I liked and not be beholden to the people who are not doing it,” explains Byford. “The fans are quite happy with that, so that was good. Yeah, I just wanted to reflect them on this album. There are no ballads, just good rock music, just good metal music. That’s what I wanted to do.”

For homework, the boys in Saxon – Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, drummer Nigel Glockler, and bassist Nibbs Carter – were assigned the task of sitting with those landmark recordings and trying to channel the spirit and attitude of Saxon’s glorious past.

“I mean, we went back to the ‘80s a little bit for two or three of the songs, just to figure out what made us great,” says Byford. “I think ‘Warriors of the Road’ and ‘Stand Up and Fight’ are sort of thrash-metal-y like the ‘80s were, and yeah, I just wanted to play with Marshalls and Gibsons really, and just play and not rely too much on too many digital tricks and just play like it is really.”

Forget Pro-Tools and all that foolishness. Sacrifice was made in England, the old-fashioned way. And though it certainly contains elements of classic Saxon, Sacrifice did allow the band to stretch out creatively.
“Some of the stuff is quite modern, like ‘Made in Belfast’ is a really heavy song, with the Celtic sort of style (mandolins being part of the equation),” says Byford. “We were experimenting as well, but yeah, I wanted the songs to have that kind of push like it was recorded yesterday, but still have that one foot in the past.”

Sacrifice was originally slated for release Feb. 26 in America. It’ll come out in a variety of packages, including a standard jewel-case CD, a limited-edition deluxe digibook, a vinyl picture disc, a direct-to-consumer fan package (available exclusively for online order from online retailers), and a digital download that includes one bonus song, “Luck of the Draw.” It’s an iTunes exclusive. A complete version of our interview with Biff will be available as the release date for Sacrifice approaches.

For more information on Saxon, visit saxon.udr-music.com or www.saxon747.com.

Jeff Scott Soto is about to get W.E.T.

Singer talks new projects, Queen, Yngwie Malmsteen and more

By Peter Lindblad

There is no rest for the wicked or Jeff Scott Soto apparently.

W.E.T. is (left to right) Robert Sall,
Magnus Henriksson, Erik Martensson,
Robban Back and Jeff Scott Soto 2013
Versatility is one of the veteran singer’s calling cards. His tireless work ethic is another. Seemingly always juggling a multitude of projects at one time, Soto’s ability to multitask and sing with power and dynamic range has made him one of the most sought-after lead throats in hard rock.

It all started for Soto in the early 1980s, when guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen tabbed him to sing on his 1984 debut solo album Rising Force. Soto stuck it out with Malmsteen for one more album, 1985’s Marching Out, but he bristled under Malmsteen’s dictatorial leadership and left to pursue other projects.

One was Talisman, the Swedish melodic hard-rock outfit he fronted from 1990 to 2007. Allowed to moonlight whenever he pleased, Soto – influenced heavily by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Journey’s Steve Perry, as well as soul singers like Sam Cooke – also lent his talents to a wide variety of musical endeavors, including the movie “Rock Star,” which found him joining forces with guitarist Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Jason Bonham and bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), as well as Steelheart’s Michael Matijevic, in the fictional band Steel Dragon.

Along the way, Soto has sung with the likes of Axel Rudi Pell, Panther, Takara, Eyes and Soul Sirkus, among other bands. In the U.S., he’s probably best known for stepping in for Steve Augeri in Journey on their 2006-2007 tours and singing with the heavy-metal theatrical caravan Trans-Siberian Orchestra in recent years. However, he’s also provided background vocals for such metal and rock luminaries as Lita Ford, Stryper, Glass Tiger, Saigon Kick and the aforementioned Steelheart.

W.E.T. - Rise Up 2013
For years, though, Soto has also been friends with Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, and in the summer of 2012, he toured with Queen Extravaganza, the official Queen tribute band that Taylor produced.    

As if that weren’t enough, Soto released his solo album Damage Control in the spring of 2012, and in 2013, he plans to tour in support of it. But, there’s the not-so-little matter of his involvement in the super group W.E.T., which releases its sophomore LP, Rise Up, on Feb. 26, via Frontiers Records. Soto is responsible for the “T” portion of W.E.T., having been in Talisman. The other two letters refer to the bands of Erik Martensson, from Swedish pop-metal act Eclipse, and Robert Sall, keyboardist/guitarist for the Swedish melodic rock outfit Work of Art.

Surprisingly heavy, but still infused with big hooks and generous melodies, Rise Up, the successor to W.E.T.’s unexpectedly successful self-titled first album, is chock full of great songs and thick, crunchy riffs. And it is a complete band effort, whereas the first album saw Soto singing to tracks sent to him by Sall and Martensson. Rounding out W.E.T., a project devised byFrontiers Records President/Founder Serafino Perugino, are guitarist Magnus Henriksson and drummer Robban Back. They’ll be touring in 2013 as well. Soto discussed W.E.T. and his fascinating career in this recent interview.

I’ve been listening to the new W.E.T. album. It’s very good.
Jeff Scott Soto: We’ve been sitting on this for almost a year because we started working on it earlier in the year, but because we’re all in different bands and all so busy, it was kind of hit and miss as to when we could get together and do it. And then we finally finished it, and then we realized, you know what, it’s not strong enough. Let’s get a couple of other songs on there, and then let’s decide what’s going to make it on. It was really just a total work in progress for almost a year. So, we’re excited to finally get it done and get it out there, and now we’re getting the excitement level building for it.

The songs are great and the production is really spectacular. Did you want to up the ante from the first one or do you feel that this is not necessarily another step in the progression of W.E.T. but a fuller realization of what you want to do with the band?
JSS: Well, it’s kind of all of the above. The first album was more of a session for me. It was more an idea that I did for the record label. It was just a concept – let’s see if this works. And the fact that it worked and then some … I mean, this thing outsold all of our collective bands individually by more than double. So overall, it was something we didn’t expect, but also with that now thrown into the equation, we realized if we’re going to do a follow-up, let’s do it as a band. Let’s follow up and turn this into something that is real, not just something that was kind of an accident that kind of happened in the studio. And ironically, and I’ve said this a couple of times already, this whole thing came about almost in the same way Talisman came about – and Talisman was my band for 19 years, up to 2009, when my bass player [Marcel Jacob] took his own life – it was kind of an experiment that turned into longevity for part of my career. So that’s kind of how we’re treating this thing. It started as, “Let’s get these guys together who kind of barely know each other and see what can resolve of it.” And now it’s kind of turned into a real thing. So, yeah, we knew we had to up the ante. We knew we had to make the album sound as good as we possibly could. We knew the songs had to be strong. It wasn’t just something that we threw together and said, “Well, okay. Let’s do it as we did before.” We had to put a little more effort behind it if we were going to have people take it seriously.

From listening to it, it had to be difficult to choose a first single, because every song is radio-friendly. Why did you choose “Learn to Live Again”?
JSS: That’s pretty much out of our hands. That’s when the label comes into play. They helped us decide which songs could be on the final product, but also, they have the final say on what’s going to be the first single that gets out there. As far as we’re concerned, we have no problem with that, because as you said, there are so many strong songs on there. They could have chosen any one of them to be the first single, and we would have said, “Yes,” because we feel that strongly about a lot of the material there.

Is that one of your favorite songs on the record, or is there another you feel better about?
JSS: You know what? Strangely enough, and on this album, I’m a little closer to the heavier stuff and the ballad stuff, because the AOR, middle-of-the-road rock stuff, the melodic rock stuff, that’s stuff that the first album was built on. We had more of that middle-of-the-road, melodic thing going on there, and so we knew to have that kind of stuff on here would be important, but I don’t think the heavier songs and the ballads were as strong on the first album as they are on the new album. That’s one of the reasons I’m so close to the ballads, and there’s actually an unreleased song on there that I hope at some point gets out there – whether it’s going to be on a compilation, whether it’s going to be on a single – but there’s a song called “Bigger Than Both of Us” that didn’t make it on the final album that’s a ballad and it’s one of my favorites that we did. And for it to be just a bonus track or something that’s going to be floating around, it’s kind of strange that we’re sitting on such a strong song. So it’s weird to actually try to choose one that’s your favorite. It’s kind of like saying, “Which one of your kids is your favorite kid.” You love them all, and you treat them all with the same adoration.

Before we get into some of the individual songs on the record, it’s such an interesting way that this band came together, and you said before that you didn’t really know the other guys that well. When they first approached you with this idea, what did you think of it?
JSS: Well, it was the label that came to me with it. I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Frontiers Records pretty much since they started. I’ve been with them since 2001, and they came to me with the idea of just having these two guys from two different bands in Sweden co-write some songs and that I would end up singing on them. At first, I was like, “Okay, I’m a bit busy. I don’t know if I’m interested. Let me hear the songs first.” As I started listening to the stuff they were coming up with, I got really, really excited about it. It wasn’t just a studio project for me. I knew it would be something that could be or would be accepted by my fans, but also it’s still a touchy situation when you’re doing something that’s considered a project per se, because a lot of people that end up liking these kinds of things, they realize you’ll never tour, you’ll never follow up, so they don’t get behind them. And so just the idea of doing yet another project that would just be a one-off, that was really the only reservation I had about it. I had known Eric from years past through association s with Marcel and other Swedes. I had seen Eric play before, and I met him a few times, but I didn’t know him in a working environment. And Robert, from Work of Art, I had no idea who this guy was. I hadn’t even listened to his band at that point. So, it was all so new and fresh to me, without any idea of what it was going to be like, but I really liked the songs and with that, it flourished because I got to know these guys especially once we got together to do the videos and the EPK for the album. I got to really know the guys behind the music, and with that, we realized that we’re on to something here. And the fact that Frontiers wanted to do a second album, that’s when we realized if we’re going to do it, let’s do it as a band would do it. Let’s do it, let’s take our time and do it the right way, as opposed to, “You write the songs, you send me the melody, you send me the lyrics, I knock them out and I send them to you” – this is the way a lot of people are doing things today, and I wanted to actually be more involved on this new album, which I am. I’m co-writing a lot of songs on this new one with them.

It must be interesting to come into a band without any real preconceived notions of what everybody does. Was that a different experience for you?
JSS: Well, yeah, and I just put a lot of trust in my label. They had an idea of what they wanted out of this. They oversaw every aspect of it, the first album, regarding the songs, the song selections, the direction they wanted it, and they trusted in me as well. They didn’t come back to me and say, “Could you do this differently?” Or, “Could you change that?” They gave a thousand percent trust in me that I knew what to do with this kind of music and what I would actually be laying down to complete it. And so that first album, there was a magic behind it, because there wasn’t any interference from the label, aside from them choosing the songs with Eric and Robert in the initial stages of it. This time around, they completely left us alone, and we chose the direction, kind of the mapping out of where we were going to go with the new album. And with that, they know … especially because Eric’s been writing a lot of stuff for a lot of their other artists, like Jimi Jamison; he did an album with Bobby Kimball (Toto) and Jimi Jamison (Survivor), he’s a few things with Frontiers that he’s writing a lot of stuff for them that they’ve got this trust between all of us, knowing what we’re going to deliver working together as well as individually.

I wanted to ask you about if you remember how some of the songs came about in the studio or the writing process for this record, starting with “Walk Away.”
JSS: “Walk Away” was one of the newer ones. That was one of the ones that came about at the end when we realized we needed something more like that. There were three recent ones … actually, “Rise Up,” we didn’t even have the title of the album. We were just calling it W.E.T. II. And “Rise Up” was also a new one that came about in September, as well as “Walk Away” and “The Moment.” Those three songs were last-minute additions, and we’re just happy they came about because it just happened that Eric was writing, and he said, “Man, I got this new song. I know we’re pretty much happy with the direction we’re going in and what we have, but we’ve got to check these out.” And when he sent me these three, I knew immediately the album would be more complete if we had these three on there. So “Walk Away” was one of those that we … ironically enough, we kind of emulated “Separate Ways” from Journey on this one. It’s got that vibe to it, and I really think the label fell in love so much with it that they wanted to open the album with it.

I know this doesn’t run through the whole album, but in listening to “The Moment,” in the choruses, it reminds me of Def Leppard, especially in the vocals.
JSS: Oh, okay.

Did you take anything from them?
JSS: No, but I can hear where you’re using that analogy.

Just with those big pop choruses, just very strong.
JSS: That’s just how we write. We just have this idea of writing really hooky kinds of choruses and just trying to make the songs as strong as we possibly can. A lot of songs are based on riffs. A lot of songs are based on how great the band is. We wanted the actual songs to stand out more than how well somebody can sing or how well somebody can play guitar.

One of the tracks that really stands out to me and that I think is a really great closer is “Still Unbroken.” How did that one come about?
JSS: Um, that one went through different stages along the writing. I have earlier versions of it that … the intros and certain parts of it sound completely different. It had a bunch of different trial-and-errors before we decided how it was going to sound, how it was going to end up sounding the way we have it now. But “Still Unbroken” was probably in the earlier stages, the very beginning stages, where we knew we wanted to have as many rock songs to choose from as opposed to just the melodic stuff. The melodic stuff, we can churn that stuff out a lot easier in the sense of that’s where we all come from. We all come from that school and that world of hard rock music, but we also didn’t have heavier rockers on the first album that we were extremely happy with. I think “Invincible” was the only one on the first album that I felt stood out, and I wanted to make sure we had enough rockers on this, so “Still Unbroken” went through those stages of “let’s make this one more hard rock sounding.”

And how about “Learn to Live Again.” That song just has great hooks.
JSS: Yeah, and that’s another one where Eric and I discussed doing a duet for this album, because Eric, of course, is the lead singer of the band Eclipse. And he’s got a great voice. He’s singing all the background vocals on the album, and he comes up with a lot of the layering and a lot of the parts … I submitted a few ideas, but for the most part, when he’s writing, all these things are swimming in his head as he’s writing the songs. But I wanted to take it to the next step further, especially if we decided to play live. I want to utilize Eric as a lead singer, and not just as a background singer, and I said, “We should do something where …” And we tried a couple things and “Learned to Live Again” seemed to work the best as far as him start off the first line, and then I kick in and then we sing harmonies for the next couple lines. And it just made the most sense, as opposed to doing a duet where we sing entire verses and kind of switch off where a duet would be. We kind of treated it more like the way Styx used to do it back in the day, where one would sing a line and then another one would sing a line and then they’d sing harmony together. And that’s kind of cool.

There’s so much ground to hit on with your career, it’s been so varied. But I wanted to ask you about the summer of 2012 tour with Queen Extravaganza. How did you become involved in that and what kind of impact did Freddie Mercury have on you as a singer?
JSS: Well, Freddie, he was more than just a singer for me. Every aspect of being a performer I got from Freddie Mercury. He was the mentor, so to speak, of … the king who can actually make someone in the back of a stadium filled with 70,000 or 80,000 people feel like they’re part of the show, as well as the people in the front row. And that’s a hard thing to do. That’s an important lesson to be able to acquire as a student of live performance. So aside from all the things I was inspired from and influenced by as an actual singer, writer and such, it was even his stage persona that was such a massive influence. And to this day when people give me kudos on my stage performance, I owe it all to somebody like Freddie Mercury, who was basically my teacher. I watched how he was able to entertain everybody and not just the people in the first few rows. I’ve been involved with Brian May and Roger Taylor for many, many years and I was with them in the initial talks when they were talking about putting this thing together, and I told them immediately if I can’t be singing with you … and I said it in kind of a joking way, that if I can’t be singing with you guys, I’d love to be a part of this thing, if and when you put it together. And so, of course, they held me to my word and when they pieced it together finally, they did the auditions through the Internet, and that’s the way they did it, but they reserved a spot for me when it was actually all said and done. And it was a great privilege to be a part of it, and it was a lot of fun. It’s great to sing those great songs, and now they’re actually moving on and they’re pursuing it in a different realm now. And I’ve gone back to doing what I’ve got to do, because I’m just swamped. Between doing that and TSO, and W.E.T. and my solo thing … there’s a lot going on right now.

You really do. I was going to ask you about Damage Control, too, and you’re going on tour for it [in 2013] I believe.
JSS: Yeah, we’re finally hitting Europe in April … April and May. And I eventually hope to get to the U.S. There’s also so much going on in the summertime. There’s a possibility I may be doing some more stuff in the studio and possibly live with [Trans-Siberian Orchestra] next year – not just the winter thing, but some additional things as well, and there’s talk about a possible Talisman reunion in the summertime as well. So between my solo thing and now the W.E.T. album coming out, and now people are going to want W.E.T. live, it’s pretty much a full plate. The plate is running over.

Talking about Queen again, what songs did you sing on the Queen Extravaganza and what was it like to sing Freddie Mercury’s stuff? Was it easy for you? Did you find anything difficult about it?
JSS: It’s extremely easy for me, because it’s embedded in my brain. I know those lyrics and those songs better than I know my own, strangely enough. I was pretty much the rocker representative of the group, because they’ve got a guy named Marc Martel, who is quite … if you know Queen Extravaganza, you know who this guy is. And he’s very good at all aspects of Queen, but they also knew they might need an edgier [singer] to come up with the stuff like “Stone Cold Crazy” and “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Fat Bottomed Girls.” So that was my role in there. I was more of the hard rocker representation of Queen’s music and the others who were singing lead, they were utilized for what their strengths were. And I was fine with that, because I wouldn’t want to have to try to sing these more obscure songs or one of these novelty songs after somebody like Marc Martel, who does them so well and does them like Freddie. If I did it, it would sound like me doing it, but when I do the rock end of things, it fits. It doesn’t have to sound like Freddie. It doesn’t have to sound like a Queen kind of a take on things. It’s me doing it, but it still represents the song in the proper way.

Do you have a favorite Queen album?
JSS: Oh, that’s always been a tough one to answer, and I’ve done it in many an interview. I go with the obvious when I answer that. I usually choose A Night at the Opera, just because it’s one of the albums that … well, I mean most of their albums I can listen to from top to bottom. I don’t find any filler, but I have to go with one of the more obscure ones. I have to go with Sheer Heart Attack as my favorite.  

I want to take you back to the beginning of your career. How did you become involved with Yngwie Malmsteen and what do you remember about meeting him for the first time?
JSS: I’ll give you the abridged version. Basically, he left Alcatrazz in 1984. I just happened to be at a friend’s house when the news came out on “MTV News” that he was looking for a singer. And literally, I just sent the cassette in, and – Cinderella-story luck later – I got the call to go meet him. It was a strange meeting and a strange situation to be a part of, but it took three weeks of singing with him at his house and demoing up things until I was finally inducted as the permanent singer of the band. And even the first two songs – the only songs that had vocals on them on the first album, the debut, Rising Force album – I didn’t know the songs until he put me in the studio. I basically learned them as I was singing them, and he kind of gave me the, “Well, if you sound good on them, then I’ll keep you on them. Otherwise, I’m going to sing on them.” And so I literally had the time I was singing on them to learn them and get a good performance in, and he actually really liked it. Strangely enough, I was 18 years old. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, and I pulled it off.

What’s it like to work with such a virtuoso guitarist as a singer? Was it a matter of you not wanting to step on any toes?
JSS: Well, yeah, and tongue in cheek, I usually answer that the same way. I didn’t really work with him; I worked for him. There were a few times where he kind of let me do my own thing when it was time for it, and we were collaborating and co-writing songs together, but he always had final say. He had a vision of what he wanted, and if it strayed too far from that vision, then he would cut it. It was a great situation for me as far as cutting my teeth in the business, but it also was a frustrating one, which led me to not sing with him too long because I was too strong-headed over where I wanted to go and I knew I wasn’t going to get that singing with him too long.

I know we don’t have too much time left, but you mentioned the Talisman reunion. It must have been so tough to get Talisman going because of all the label stuff. Do you feel as if you have unfinished business with Talisman?
JSS: Yes and no. I understand what bands go through, bands like Queen and bands like Journey, what they have to go through to have to replace somebody who is such a key figure in the band to continue. Now, we didn’t have the success that those two bands had. We didn’t have the interest and the sales of those bands, so of course, those bands to continue they have to find the right people. They have to be the right decision to move on. I don’t feel personally that there’s a reason to continue Talisman without Marcel [Jacob]. I wouldn’t want to record new albums and go on tour with Talisman without him, because I felt the same way those bands feel, that the body work was there because of that nucleus. And without that, it’s just kind of bastardizing the situation. Now, we do have surviving members of the band. We do have a body of work that deserves to be heard, and that’s what I’m more interested in. I’d rather reunite with the guys and play some shows and celebrate what we created, as opposed to just continue and try to come up with something that sounds like a continuation of what we already did.

Well, you talked about learning so much from Freddie about stage presence and singing to a live audience. How does that carry over to your work with Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
JSS: Well, TSO is a whole different animal. I mean, of course I still utilize my own persona and what I have to offer as an artist, but there’s more theatrics in the sense of … like musical theater behind Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which I never was into, I never followed, even while loving bands like Queen and Styx, who were very musical-theater-sounding rock bands, they didn’t sound like that to me. To me, they didn’t sound like a cast from “Les Miserables” or “Chicago” or one of those musical-theater numbers. With TSO, I have to kind of engulf myself into that world. I have to learn a little bit about it, because it is about going into characters. It’s not just about singing the songs. I can take any one of those songs and just sing circles around them, but it’s not about the performance of the songs as a vocalist. It’s more about the performance of the songs as a character. There are two different worlds there that I had to learn, and I look at it as an extension to who I am and learn something new and challenge myself into doing something that I’d never done before. That’s one of the reasons why TSO has become such an important part of my life, because I am now learning something different that I never had in my life. And I’m now able to now maybe, possibly utilize it to do something on my own. 

Doing the vocals for the movie “Rock Star,” did that prepare you in any way for Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
JSS: Not at all. I went in there and sang the way Jeff Scott Soto would be singing in Steel Dragon.

Looking back on the experience now, was it something you enjoyed?
JSS: Absolutely, a thousand percent. I had so much fun with that. I’m longtime friends with Zakk [Wylde, of Black Label Society and Ozzy Osbourne] and [ex-Dokken bassist] Jeff Pilson. Just to be a part of that whole experience with those guys, it felt like even though it was a fictitious band, it felt like we were a real band for the time we were in the studio putting that stuff together.

What do you think of the movie now?
JSS: I still love it. I loved it then. I thought it was tongue-in-cheek and there were parts of it that were, eh? And there were a lot of parts I really liked, and I think it still holds up. If we didn’t have the tragedy of 9/11, that occurred literally days after the release of the movie, I think it would have had a better chance.

Talking about tragedy and the new album, from a lot of uplifting and hopeful songs, with the tragedy that happened in Newtown, Conn. it seems like a perfect time for this kind of a record.
JSS: Anytime there’s positivity out there … I mean, there’s enough negativity in the world that we have to deal with, and we’re going to be dealing with it, it’s just the world we live in today. So I think it’s good to have some positivity when we can get it, just because we need it at this point in time. 

CD Review: Misfits – Dead Alive

CD Review: Misfits – Dead Alive
Misfits Records
All Access Review: C

Misfits - Dead Alive 2013
The fiends are getting restless, as ominous thunderstorm sound effects rumble in the distance, signaling in a not-so-subtle way that evil, in the form of horror-punks the Misfits, this way comes. 

Led by founding member Jerry Only and his “devil’s lock,” with Dez Cadena on guitar and Eric “Chupacabra” Arce on drums, the Misfits – Glenn Danzig nowhere to be found, having split from the band in the mid-1980s amid much legal wrangling – crawl and slither out onstage to regale hardcore hooting and whistling followers with B-movie-inspired tales of monsters, murderers and other things that go bump in the night.

Only it’s almost impossible to discern just what’s happening in a good chuck of their latest concert album Dead Alive because Only’s bass is turned up to ludicrously loud levels, overloading the Misfits’ circuits and creating these formless, muddled sonic black holes that practically swallow whatever malevolent chords and notes are supposed to be hemorrhaging from their amps. Dead Alive culls spirited performances from the Misfits’ Halloween night 2011 show at B.B. King’s in Times Square in New York City and their Oct. 30, 2011 gig at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J., and their brutality has never been more delightfully injurious, from their punishing rhythmic mayhem to Only’s strong, broad-shouldered vocals. But the egregious sound problems muffles their roar, obscuring Cadena’s guitar work, dulling the hooks of “Death Ray,” mucking up an otherwise rambunctious “Shining” and reducing the song structure of a riotous, fast-paced “American Psycho” to complete and utter ruin.

Okay, punk is messy. It’s not meant to be well-scrubbed and clean-sounding, and the Misfits play with the kind of raw, reckless abandon, violence and frenzied energy hoped for from these old, intractable punks on an explosive version of “Vivid Red” and the brawling, bludgeoning opener “The Devil’s Rain,” from the 2011 album of the same name. Threatening to go thermonuclear the rest of the way, Only counts off “1, 2, 3” as the Misfits launch into a blistering “Land of the Dead,” but it’s here where the mix starts to go awry, the virus spreading to straight-line revivals of “Curse of the Mummy’s Hand” and “Cold in Hell” – continuing, by the way, a run of seven straight songs off The Devil’s Rain – where Arce’s straightforward drum bashing gets completely out of hand and loses all sense of timing. It’s like he’s hitting his cymbals with a lead pipe, which would be punk as hell were it not for Dead Alive’s obvious faults.

Opinions vary wildly as to the merits of the The Devil’s Rain LP, the Misfits’ first studio album in ages. Many who pine for Danzig’s return have, for the most part, written off this incarnation of the band, while the Only backers seem generally pleased, if not overly excited, about it. There is reason for optimism, though, as the Misfits close Dead Alive in celebratory fashion, gaining a tighter rein on a hook-laden, riff-mongering “Helena” that hits hard and explodes, before the bruising, greaser ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia of “Science Fiction/Double Feature” and “Saturday Night” lights up the night.

The world needs the Misfits and their ghoulish fun, and Only deserves kudos not only for his improved singing, but also for keeping the band going, even if some aren’t entirely sure of their direction. (misfitsrecords.com)

-            Peter Lindblad

Whitesnake's 'Made in Japan' live set drops in April

Pop-metal outfit to release 2011 'Loud Park' concert performance

Whitesnake - Made in Japan 2013
Whitesnake knows how to make a visual impact. Having Tawny Kitaen suggestively writhe all over David Coverdale’s car in those famous Whitesnake videos of the 1980s was a stroke of genius. Sex sells, and Coverdale and company rode those steamy MTV scenes all the way to the bank, where they made large - and I mean, large - deposits.

Unfortunately, she won’t be making an appearance in the new Whitesnake DVD/live CD package “Made in Japan” that’s due out April 23, courtesy of Frontiers Records, but Coverdale and company will be performing some of the strongest material of their career.

Available in several formats, including a deluxe 2 CD/DVD edition, Blu-ray and a standalone DVD, “Made in Japan” culls concert footage – shot in HD in 5.1 and stereo – from Whitesnake’s co-headlining set at the “Loud Park” Festival on Oct. 11, 2011 at Saitama Super Arena in Japan. At the time, Whitesnake was barnstorming the earth during their “Forevermore World Tour.”

Initially, the set was recorded solely for Japanese TV and future “Loud Park” promotions. However, after three songs were broadcasted on a “Loud Park” highlights program in Japan, there was a multitude of calls for Whitesnake to release the entire performance for the general public.

“Made in Japan” features a mix of tracks from Whitesnake’s most recent studio album, Forevermore, along with classics like “Is This Love,” “Still of the Night” and “Here I Go Again.” There is also a bonus CD with never-before-heard outtakes and acoustic versions of material from Forevermore recorded during soundchecks on the 2011 Japanese tour. Additional DVD content includes various band photo slideshows and fan-shot videos. For more information, visit www.whitesnake.com or www.frontiers.it.

“Made in Japan” track listing:
CD 1
1. Best Years
2. Give Me All Your Love Tonight
3. Love Ain’t No Stranger
4. Is This Love
5. Steal Your Heart Away
6. Forevermore
7. Six String Showdown
8. Love Will Set You Free
9. Drum Solo
10. Fool for Your Loving
11. Here I Go Again
12. Still of the Night
Bonus CD 2
1. Love Will Set You Free
2. Steal Your Heart Away
3. Fare Thee Well (acoustic)
4. One of These Days (acoustic)
5. Lay Down Your Love
6. Evil Ways
7. Good to be Bad (acoustic)
8. Tell Me How (acoustic)
DVD & Blu-ray: Track Listing:
1. Best Years
2. Give Me All Your Love Tonight
3. Love Ain’t No Stranger
4. Is This Love
5. Steal Your Heart Away
6. Forevermore
7. Six String Showdown
8. Love Will Set You Free
9. Drum Solo
10. Fool For Your Loving
11. Here I Go Again
12. Still of the Night
13. Forevermore (fan video)
14. Steal Your Heart Away (fan video)

Movie Review: Sound City

Movie Review: Sound City
Director: Dave Grohl
Roswell Films
All Access Review: A

Sound City - Dave Grohl 2013
The inner sanctum of Sound City never appeared in Better Homes & Gardens. Interiors with walls covered in brown shag carpeting and beat-up furniture that even a college fraternity would leave out on the curb would certainly offend the delicate sensibilities of its readership. From the outside, the place looked like a dump. Inside, it was even worse. But if you were a musician stepping into the studio for the first time, those record awards hanging in the hallways certainly made you overlook the shabby accommodations.

Such was the case for Dave Grohl, who made the trip down to Los Angeles in the early ‘90s with his Nirvana band mates, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novaselic, to bring their vision for Nevermind to life in the same studio where Fleetwood Mac had recorded Rumours. Understandably, Grohl has a soft spot in his heart for Sound City, and so do the numerous artists who did some of their best work there. It’s gone now, but not forgotten, having closed as a commercial studio in May 2011, and Grohl is making sure everybody understands what a special place it was with his wonderfully nostalgic tribute “Sound City.”

In his directorial debut, Grohl, in his own inimitably casual and yet excitable manner, does the next-to-impossible, making a dirty, run-down recording studio that had never seen better days seem magical. And it was. How else do you explain the existence of a room that produced absolutely perfect drum sound, even though it had none of the characteristics that drummers want in such a facility? In fact, by all rights, it should have yielded terrible drum tracks, as the producers, engineers and drummers interviewed by Grohl are only too happy to tell you. And then there’s that custom-made Neve 8028 board, the one Grohl saved when Sound City went under for good. There were only four like it in the world, and the care that went into building one helped sound men become studio legends – like Butch Vig, who produced Nevermind

Even going so far as to interview the maker of that very board, Grohl – playfully playing dumb while listening to Rupert Neve explain in great detail how it works – practically creates another character for his movie with that console, its wires and buttons having played such a huge role in committing some of the greatest studio performances in rock history to tape. If only that board could talk. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Fear, Dio, Barry Manilow, Rick Springfield, Neil Young – all of them made records at Sound City, and in the right hands, that Neve board did God’s work. In the end, Grohl rescues it and puts it back to work, as he and the rest of the Foo Fighters record tracks with a number of artists, including Paul McCartney and Springfield, who as it so happens, provides the most poignant moment of the film.

While most the movie is a parade of warm memories and funny anecdotes – Fear’s Lee Ving providing some of the comic relief, while others talk glowingly about recording albums the old way – there’s a clearly emotional Springfield, openly expressing regret over treating Sound City owner Joe Gottfried, a man who’d dealt with him as if he were his own son, badly after he’d made it big. Gottfried’s kindness is remembered by many in the movie, as are the risks he and fellow owner Tom Skeeter took while running the studio and waiting for that big break that would rescue it from certain ruin.

As much as “Sound City” is a lively and enthusiastic study of the creative process and a not-too geeky exploration of music’s “digital vs. analog” debate, it’s also sheds light on the invaluable contributions of those behind the scenes who gave Sound City its family atmosphere. And that’s the charm of “Sound City,” an unstructured, freewheeling film that’s more of an Irish wake than a somber eulogy, where Grohl interviews practically everybody who ever set foot in Sound City and they all toast its shambolic charms with unguarded commentary, speaking of it as they would a long-lost friend. And Grohl’s preternatural skill as a filmmaker – who knew he had it in him? – shines through, as he collects all the engaging elements of this tale and pieces them together, somewhat chronologically, in a way that makes sense, even though perhaps it shouldn’t. Just like the best rock ‘n’ roll.
-            Peter Lindblad

Todd Rundgren's 'State' due out in April

Pop craftsman and producer extraordinaire plots U.S. tour

Todd Rundgren - State 2013
He’s a wizard. He’s a true star, and he’s hitting retirement age, but that doesn’t mean Todd Rundgren has tired of creating pop-rock magic. His new studio album, State, will hit the streets on April 9.

State is Rundgren’s 24th solo album, and this danceable blend of rock, soul, R&B and electronica will be released on the Esoteric Antenna label via Cherry Red. In support of State, Rundgren, who celebrates his 65th birthday in 2013, will embark on an 11-city U.S. tour in May.

In the late ‘60s, Rundgren fronted the psychedelic-pop outfit The Nazz, before leaving in 1969 to go solo and record his debut LP Runt. However, it was 1972’s Something/Anything? that established Rundgren as a sublime talent both as a songwriter and a studio artist, having played every instrument and singing every vocal part on the record, as well as serving as producer. He would go to make other landmark albums such as Todd, The Hermit of Mink Hollow and A Wizard A True Star.

Returning to the group format, Rundgren formed the progressive-rock visionaries Utopia in 1974, recording nine albums with the band. Expanding his horizons, Rundgren also made a name for himself as a producer, twiddling the knobs for classic records by the likes of Patti Smith, The New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, XTC, the Psychedelic Furs and Hall and Oates, although it was Meat Loaf’s mega-hit Bat Out of Hell that cemented his reputation as a studio wunderkind.

In addition, Rundgren composed all the music and lyrics for Joe Papp’s 1989 Off-Broadway production of Joe Orton’s “Up Against It” – the screenplay of which was commissioned by The Beatles for what was to be their third movie. He’s also scored such movies and TV shows as “Dumb and Dumber” and “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” respectively.

It figures to be a busy year for Rundgren, who will hold his annual musical summer camp, known as Toddstock v6.5, June 17-22 near New Orleans.

Check out the track listing for State below:
1. Imagination
2. Serious
3. In My Mouth
4. Ping Me
5. Angry Bird
6. Smoke
7. Collide-A-Scope
8. Something From Nothing
9. Party Liquor
10. Sir Reality

In support of State, Rundgren’s U.S. tour will hit these hot spots:
May 5 – Woodstock, N.Y., Bearsville Theater
May 8 – Norfolk, Conn., Infinity Hall
May 10 – New York, N.Y., The Gramercy Theatre
May 11 – Philadelphia, Pa., Trocadero Theatre
May 12 – Huntington, N.Y., The Paramount
May 14 – Kent, Ohio, The Kent Stage
May 15 – Pittsburg, Pa., Rex Theater
May 16 – Columbus, Ohio, Lifestyle Communities Pavilion
May 18 – Cincinnati, Ohio, Bogart’s
May 19 – Chicago, Ill., Park West
May 20 – Minneapolis, Minn., Varsity Theater

CD Review: Paradox – Tales of the Weird

CD Review: Paradox – Tales of the Weird
AFM Records
All Access Review: B+

Paradox - Tales of the Weird 2013
Claudio Bergamin sure has a way with apocalyptic imagery. His cover art for Tales of the Weird, the first new album in three years from Germanic thrash/power metal mavens Paradox, is certainly eye-catching, what with the creepy cloaked figures wandering about a wintry, burned-out landscape surveying the destruction as broken pieces of what may be a meteor fall from the sky on what has to be an alien planet.

Were this the 1980s, that sort of scene on a vinyl sleeve would have geeky teenage metal fans that had nothing better to do during the day but hang around record stores frothing at the mouth. This being the digital age, Bergamin’s imaginative, sci-fi/horror vision simply won’t have the impact on sales it would in the dwindling brick-and-mortar universe, but it does accomplish something for Paradox. And that is, it rectifies the cardinal sin of sequencing Paradox commits by opening the record with the 9:19 title track, an unwieldy, power-sapping mish-mash of conflicting and unfulfilled ideas that quickly unravel and fail to gain any real traction – despite some serious guitar shredding and the occasional attention-grabbing riff from Charly Steinhauer and Christian Munzer.

Hardy and fair-minded listeners who’ve crawled through that obstacle course of barely listenable challenges are rewarded with action-packed, dizzying progressive-metal mazes of dramatic arrangements, blinding tempos, pristine production and spectacular melodies. Among the most gripping and frantic tracks are “Escalation,” the multi-layered “Brainwashed,” “The Downward Spiral and “Slashdead” – all of them synthesizing Dream Theater and Metallica in combining fluid, fleet-fingered fretwork, flights of classical bombast and pounding, frenzied rhythms as unstoppable as a runaway train. Heavier than most of Tales of the Weird, but still fast as can be, “Brutalized” is Paradox on steroids, yet floating over this riotous, skull-crushing mayhem going on at street level is this strangely beautiful little guitar melody that somehow avoids being sucked into the tumult. Look for it and don’t miss it, make sure to stop and appreciate the pretty, well-designed acoustic guitar interlude “Zeitgeist” – they could get lost in all the brazen firepower Paradox unloads on Tales of the Weird.

Still, it all comes together for Paradox on the expansive and melodic “Fragile Alliance,” a raging river of monstrous, thick riffage, power-metal theatrics and vast, canyon-like vocal choruses. And yet for all of its extraordinary technical brilliance, its racing blend of power and speed, and its sheer immensity, Tales of the Weird suffers somewhat from ... well, a paradox. Trying to balance the desire to thrash like there’s no tomorrow with a flair for the dramatic is tricky for Paradox, especially with a singer whose strength is dynamic expression rather than brute force. Furthermore, the listener fatigue that comes with being bombarded every possible moment with instrumental fireworks is a very real problem. Paradox has the best of intentions with their cover of Rainbow’s “A Light in the Black,” but it’s too much, with whirls of synthesizer competing against a sensory overload of their own creation. And yet “Tales of the Weird” is a real page-turner once you get past the first chapter. (www.afm-records.de)

-            Peter Lindblad