CD Review: Billy Sherwood – Citizen

CD Review: Billy Sherwood – Citizen
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: A-

Billy Sherwood - Citizen 2015
Filling the shoes of the late, great Chris Squire as the bassist in Yes is an almost impossible task. And yet, Billy Sherwood – handpicked by Squire as his replacement in the legendary progressive-rock outfit – isn't shying away from taking on other herculean projects, such as his latest LP Citizen.

Like all the scripts from "Quantum Leap" all rolled into one sprawling concept album, the Frontiers Music srl release Citizen imagines "a lost soul reincarnated into various periods of history" that isn't Scott Bakula. Still, the cast of Citizen is impressive, as Sherwood draws on the talents of prog-rock innovators Geoff Downes, Steve Hackett, Steve Morse, Rick Wakeman and Jordan Rudess – just to name a few – to bring his vision to life. What's more, Squire actually plays on the triumphant and expansive title track, thought to be his final recording.

Sherwood's "citizen" finds himself either caught up in a series of cataclysmic world events, such as the Great Depression and World War I, or witnessing the birth of paradigm-shifting scientific discoveries, once as a friend to Galileo or another time as an assistant to Charles Darwin. All the while, Citizen's sweeping, slow-developing melodies, layers of harmonies, soft instrumental interplay and breathtaking, cinematic beauty seem attuned to the somber and surreal artwork that graces its cover in standout tracks "No Man's Land," "Just Galileo and Me" and "The Great Depression."

More watery and ominous, "Empire" turns starry and its choruses grow wider, while "Trail Of Tears" – a song about the forced migration of Native American peoples in the U.S. – is an edgier puzzle of sharp confusion sussed out in a manner signifying rage at the ruinous cruelty and injustice of such a monstrous policy. Lighter and more lively, with some splashes of funk thrown into the mix, "Age of the Atom" practically dances about, as Sherwood's bass lines, so plush everywhere else, offer contrasting melodic forays, but in the end, it's the accessibility and drive of "Man and the Machine" that wins the day. Not so different from the music of Yes, the compositions here, while cut from the same cloth, are more lush and elegantly designed, even if Citizen does tend to infuriatingly dawdle at a somewhat leisurely pace. That won't matter to those with a lot of time on their hands; their patience will be rewarded with an immersive experience, both lyrically and musically. If Citizen is any indication, Squire has left Yes in good hands with his protege.
– Peter Lindblad

The stars are out for Martin Turner

Wishbone Ash founder talks new studio album, making of 'Argus'
By Peter Lindblad

Martin Turner
Feet still firmly planted in the rich, fertile ground of progressive-rock, Martin Turner also has his head in the stars these days.

A founding member of Wishbone Ash, one of the U.K.'s most internationally renown prog-rock acts of the '70s, Turner was the band's lead vocalist, bassist and songwriter. Instrumental to the band's success, Turner's seductively melodic bass lines and intelligent, deeply philosophical lyrics were just as distinctive as Wishbone Ash's innovative and beautifully sculpted twin-guitar leads and vocal harmonies.

Turner's artistry was a crucial factor in the success of such classic early '70s LPs as Wishbone Ash, Pilgrimage, Wishbone Four and There's The Rub – not to mention 1972's crowning achievement Argus, still considered one of the touchstones of Britain's progressive-rock movement. Experiments in musical direction and personnel changes occurred, stunting Wishbone Ash's momentum. Finally, things came to a head in 1980, when – under pressure from the record label to make more commercial music – three of the other members told Turner they wanted a new frontman, leading to a divorce between Turner and the group he'd started.

All these years later, Turner has released a new studio album entitled Written In The Stars, an album full of astronomical allusions and beguiling, shape-shifting melodies that he seems to have snatched from the heavens. Working off the templates he drew up for Wishbone Ash way back when, Turner and company have crafted an appealing set of diverse and engaging songs that merge elements of folk, classical and rock into a sound that's both fresh and familiar.

After spending so much of his time recently on the road performing the music of Wishbone Ash with his touring band, consisting of guitarists Danny Willson and Misha Nikolic and drummer Tim Brown, Turner seems reinvigorated on the Cherry Red Records release Written in the Stars, and he was eager to talk about his latest record and his days in Wishbone Ash in this interview.

I know you've been touring the classics of Wishbone Ash recently. How did that influence the making of this album?
Martin Turner: Well, really I’m just doing what I’ve always done. I mean, in the ‘70s, I was the main songwriter really and singer, so what I’m doing now really is just more of the same – especially, for instance, the harmony guitar thing, which was one of Wishbone Ash’s identifiable … well, they call it a signature sound, don’t they now? The sound you recognize immediately. Because I was brought up on classical music, it was very easy for me to sing what I call pseudo-classical melodies, which if you sang sounded good with harmonies. But if you transposed it onto guitar and then put together and sang harmonies to it, and then transposed that onto guitar, then you ended up with the harmony guitar that Wishbone Ash was known for, which was very distinct. It wasn’t what a guitar player would normally work out. And the reason for that was because it started out as a vocal melody. And you know, we still do that now really.

Martin Turner - Written in
the Stars 2015
Just listening to this album, and Wishbone Ash’s stuff was always this way, too, do you feel like this album has a real accessibility to it, along with some of the complexities you’re known for?
MT: What, the album? I don’t know. The press has been good. Everyone’s been making fairly positive comments. Some people love the album. What it is is another thing which is in the Wishbone Ash tradition as an album, where you’re not recording a couple of songs that are maybe singles and then you’ve got a bunch of filler. All the songs are decent songs. I’ll put it that way. You know, if people like it, great. Good for them. I can’t make that happen, but if they do, then I’ll be very happy.     

Did making this album remind you of making any of the Wishbone Ash albums?
MT: Well, they’re all different really. I mean, they were all made in different locations. We were all over the place, sometimes in America and sometimes in Britain. Yeah, if you remember back in the olden days, as my children call it (laughs), there was something called a record and actually a record is quite a good title for it because it’s a record of where you’re at at that time and what’s going on at that time and given place. With this album, because I’ve got a band and we’ve been for the last God knows how many years playing mainly the Wishbone Ash catalog and there’s a lot of songs to choose from, any song that we had a look at we seemed to be able to make it work. So, I kind of made the mistake of thinking of these guys as performers primarily – not so much as creative people. But when we got down to it, I was amazed that between my drummer (Tim Brown) and Danny Willson, one of the guitar players, they really surprised me with their creativity. And when you’ve got that going on as a band, it’s great because you’re feeding off each other and inspiring each other. And the process really worked well.

It sounds like a lot of these songs came together in the studio then?
MT: No, I think with Tony and with me and the other guys, too, we tend to make what we call sketches. It’s like a pre-drawing, and then when you go into the studio, you want to make it into a full Technicolor, stereophonic experience. So, yeah, you can do that on anything really. You can do that on your iPod, a cassette machine, a small, multi-track recorder – that’s the way I tend to work. The other guys they’ve got little 8-track recorders that will fit in your pocket just about. So everyone makes sketches, brings them into the studio, and then we take it from there really – see what everyone can contribute. And the process on this album was very raw, which is why we want to get back into the studio and do some more.

I wanted to ask you about some of the songs on the album, and one that I really liked a lot was “Lovers.” It’s really a nice folk-pop song. How did that one come about?
MT: Well, that one was written about my current wife (laughs), who at one stage … well, we kind of fell in love. The problem was I was already married to someone else. I asked her to leave me to sort my life out. And she got shacked up with another musician (laughs), quite a well-known one. I best not mention who. No, she’ll be angry with me, but I would still see her now and again – you know, check on her to see how she was doing. Make sure that this dude was looking after her. And basically, that’s what the song is about, while all the time, I had this feeling we were meant to be together, and that’s the way it turned out. She’s sitting in the next room right now. And we’ve been together a long time.

How about making “The Beauty of Chaos”? That has a real Western feel to it.
MT: Yes, really I wanted to try and imagine a kind of musical interpretation of the heavens, the stars. You see these phenomenal pictures that they come up with nowadays, astronomical arrays that are looking up at the heavens. I mean, when you look at some other galaxy where stars have exploded and there’s this huge wave of gas in the air and fragments … I mean, from where we’re looking at it, it looks absolutely beautiful. But if you were actually in there in the middle of it, it would be complete chaos. The juxtaposition of that really, how beautiful it looks from a distance and how crazy it must be if you’re in the middle of it. So, what I was trying to do was create a musical interpretation of that, as the kind of opening of the album.

I suppose the same could be said of “Vapor Trail” and “The Lonely Star,” these very celestial songs.
MT: Yes, this again. I mean, the thing with “The Beauty of Chaos,” a couple of people walked in the studio and one guy said to me, “The guy who’s playing that guitar sounds like he’s drunk,” which is exactly what I asked the guitar player to do. I went, “No, no, no … it’s all about chaos.” (laughs) Sorry, you asked about “Vapor Trail” and “The Lonely Star.”

MT: Well again … I mean, “The Lonely Star” is an instrumental, and it’s a song that mainly came from Danny. It’s a song but an instrumental, too. It’s a tie-in with the rest of the album, just on the star theme really. And the great thing about it was that as he was putting the thing together, and … because it was an instrumental and there were no vocals, he just wanted a little bit of speech in there somewhere saying, “The lonely star.” And he was at home actually, my guitar player Danny, trying to put it together and couldn’t get it to sound right, and then his little lad walked in. He’s 7 years old and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m saying, ‘The lonely star.’ I tell you what. Why don’t you have a go?’” And he did. The boy spoke it kind of low, he kind of whispered it. And we heard it, and we stuck it on the track. It sounded like it really fit it. And that’s the only vocal on it – three words (laughs).

Martin Turner was a founding member of
Wishbone Ash, serving as the lead
vocalist, bassist and songwriter
It sounds like the making of this was a real collaborative process.
MT: Yeah, yeah, yeah … it was a delight. You know, hard and long … I think getting all the songs together and the recording process, because I wanted to try a live room, and we did that, and it sounded okay. But we wanted to try another way to see if it would sound better, so we transferred to a radio stage studio room. And we changed the mic-ing of the drums, so that we recorded the drums as kind of one big piece, rather than trying to individually mic everything. And that changed the equation and made it sound good, but the whole thing was nine months. It’s a bit like having a baby, sort of like having a baby.

You mentioned your guitar players. In what way do they remember you of when you heard Andy (Powell) and Ted (Turner) for the first time play together?
MT: Well, you know the world is full of great guitar players. There’s so many of them around, and they have a little bit of a tendency to be technicians. They’re performers, but if you can find the guys who can get creative and have got the patience for it, the ability to do that, which the two guys who are with me now … Danny and Misha (Nikolic), they’re both what I call creative musicians. They can think in terms of the song and what’s right, rather than trying to play a bunch of licks. But, the world is full of good guitar players. There’s so many of them out there.
What was the most important factor in Wishbone Ash’s ascent in the early ‘70s?
MT: It was partly the time. We were all young lads. I think we were fairly unusual. We were signed to an American record label, Universal in Los Angeles. And, indeed, we had an American manager (Miles Copeland III). He lived in England, but he was very much an American. So from day one, we went backwards and forwards and worked our way up from ground zero to becoming successful in both the European market and also in the States. In fact, in the early days in America, I can remember a lot of people thinking we were an American band. And then with me talking to them, they realized we were English (laughs). But, it was the time. We were young guys. We didn’t have kids or mortgages and were free to work all hours of the day and night, which we did – we regularly did six-week tours in America.

And I think we accomplished a lot by playing live, really. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a tour in the U.S., but you’re talking six weeks where you’re playing virtually every night. And, when you’re in a new city each day, you fly in and all you really see is the airport, the hotel and the gig. I mean, you end up not knowing where the hell you are (laughs). It’s quite … you know, you have to be the kind of person who can deal with that. Some people walk into a hotel room and they can’t figure out how the bloody tap works, and it freaks them out. Other people like me, I’m getting down on my knees and trying to figure out how is this designed? This is interesting (laughs). So, you know, it varies. We were very good at that, the original band with Ted Turner. I think we had – what would you call it? – a newness, a freshness about our approach to music. We dabbled a lot in folk music, especially jazz but mainly rock, and we had a great time doing it. And really, the Argus album that went out in 1972 was very popular. I think it got “Album of the Year” award in Britain. People loved that album, and they’ve bought it ever since then.

Was that the most fully realized version of what Wishbone Ash was all about?
MT:  Yeah, it’s probably the most loved album of ours, and the sales reflect that really.

A shot of Martin Turner
performing live
Was it an easy album to make? Did it come together smoothly?
MT: It was a strange one. I spent a lot of time working on it, and there were big, big themes – struggling with the concept of time. We live in a world that’s confined by time and space. "Sometime World," "Time Was" … these things. And then the idea of war – young men. Why is it that these old warmongers seem to be able to harness the energy – what I call “kill-f**k” energy – of young men and cause wars all over the place? I wrote the song “Warrior,” which was very much about that. And being a typical Libran, I thought, “Well, wait a minute. People will think I’m advocating it. I need to write another song to counter-balance it. So I got stuck into "Throw Down the Sword," which is kind of a peace song really, and the two of them fit together like a glove. And “The King Will Come,” that was another peace song which is basically pretty much straight out of the Bible and a Muslim book – not word for word, but the idea of a savior coming to rescue the world. So that was the idea.

Again, I’m not advocating it or saying it must be right. I’m just putting it out there as an idea, and then the song that probably was the most commercial-sounding tune was a song called “Blowin’ Free,” which I’d actually put together the lyric in the ‘60s, late ‘60s, about a Swedish girl I’d met. And we were kind of fascinated by each other, but it was like she’d come from another world to me. I mean, I was like a little rock ‘n’ roll rat, staying up half the night, diving in and out of clubs and bars. She was a healthy Swedish girl with beautiful hair and skin, who went riding, and her dad was a professor – you know, it was like, “How the hell did we ever get together?” (laughs) And I wrote this strange song about it called “Blowin’ Free,” but the thing of it, the mood of it, was celebratory, it was up … you know, it was a joyous little anthem. And that had quite an impact on everyone else. Incredibly, when we were in the studio and we were putting all this stuff together, we tried to record that song a couple of times before, and I couldn’t get it to sound right. And finally, we recorded it on the Argus sessions, and you can hear if you listen to the bass on it, it is so pushy. It’s like an engine. It’s kind of saying, “This song will bloody well work this time.” I’m really pushing the song along, and it sounded really good. And the producer said to me, “Martin, listen, we’ve been traveling about this tune, and it’s really good, but it doesn’t really belong on the album.” And I said, “What?! You’ve got to be joking.” And he said, “Well, the other stuff is serious … you know, ‘Warrior,’ ‘Throw Down the Sword,’ ‘The King Will Come’ and this one is a totally different mood.” And I said, “Yeah, well, that’s exactly why it needs to be on the album. It’s not all serious. It’s like a counter-balance. It’s a bit of a relief.” So I had to fight to get it on the album. I said, “It’s going on there.”   

How do you think the first two albums, Wishbone Ash and Pilgrimage, prepared you to make Argus? Was there a progression with those two?
MT: Yeah, I think we were working with a producer called Derek Lawrence, who – I don’t know if you remember a song from the ‘60s called “Hush”? That was a song by Deep Purple, it was a single, a pop song really. We did a gig in the very early days supporting Deep Purple in England, and I noticed Ritchie Blackmore was really checking us out. He was watching the band for a long time. Never said anything, but clearly, he liked the band because he rang up his producer, Derek Lawrence, and told him we were a really good band and to check us out, and he loved the band and said he knew a guy in L.A. who was looking to sign bands out of A&R for MCA/Universal, and that’s actually how we got our record deal. So Derek was written in on that, and he produced our first three albums. And we also used the same engineer, who went on to become a producer in his own right. That was Martin Birch. And they basically were a really, really good team. And we worked together great with them, and that team did the first three albums. And then we did everything differently on the fourth album, which sounds poor. Although it sounded great in the studio, when it finally came out on record, it lacked balls and sounded very small for some reason. I think the engineer made a mistake there somehow. But yeah, it was a good team in the early days.
With your bass playing you’ve always had a really melodic style. Do you think that’s a lost art among bass players these days?
MT: Yeah, I, as I said to you earlier, if you’ve been brought up on classical music and that sort of thing, and then singing in the choir as a lad, it gives you a very strong sense of melody. To me, music, if it’s going to last, if it’s going to have any longevity, any long-term appeal, it needs to contain memorable melodic content. I don’t know. I mean, I’m analyzing it, but when I write music, that sort of thing just seems to come naturally. It’s just something that I do, and with my bass playing, it’s the same way. I don’t know if it necessarily needs to be a melody on its own, if you know what I mean. But sometimes if I’m stuck for a bass line, I’ll resort to again singing it, working it out vocally and then figuring it out on the guitar. You know, everyone has their own way of doing things. That’s what I do.
The last question I have for you. What worlds are left for you to conquer in music or maybe outside of music?
MT: Well, one of the reasons I got into music in the very, very days is because I wanted to see the world, and I’ve certainly done that, because I’ve traveled the world and played North America, South America, Mexico, Japan, Australia, all the countries of Europe – except I’ve not been to Russia yet. I was in Moscow airport en route to somewhere, but I would like to see Russia. It’s such a huge country in the world and I particularly would like to shore up on Russian music – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff. I’d love to go there one day and check them out. So that’s an important thing for me, and still today, I love traveling. We were just in Holland last week, and we had a great time out there, great to meet the local people, make contact. It was lovely. That’s the main thing, and then obviously, as much as I like getting out on the road, I’m also a big-time studio man. I love working in the studio. I did it for years and years when I was off the road, and that’ something that’s really important to me. But, away from music, I have other interests. I like car racing. I like reading books.

I’ve got a couple of fantastic old 17th century books that I bought years ago that were written in Old English about the history of the kings and queens and the courts in England ... they’re a heavy go. Love reading stuff like that. And other stuff, like I’ve become fascinated, and maybe this had an impact on me with this Written in the Stars album, [with] astronomy and all the incredible things they’re finding out with the advent of incredible telescopes and everything they can send up, this huge array of dishes … they found out a lot of stuff, and it’s really fascinating the way our universe works. When I say Written in the Stars, I think that everything in written in the stars – the fate of our planet, our solar system – well, we know that one day that the star that keeps us warm and gives us light and energy, that will one day grow huge and then collapse. So that’s going to be a big change, and on the same level, on an individual level, for our little life spans 70 years or more, there’s a blueprint that’s written in the stars. We have choices to make, as we go along our spiritual journey, physically. But also, it’s all written in the stars (laughs).      

Short Cuts: Clutch, Black Stone Cherry, The Rolling Stones

CD Review: Clutch – Psychic Warfare
Weathermaker Music
All Access Rating: A

Clutch - Psychic Warfare 2105
Psychic Warfare is real. Neil Fallon says so on a fantastically frenetic "X-Ray Visions," and the battle is joined, Clutch working itself into a swarming, groove-powered lather. Fallon's skirmishes of the mind are soundtracked with momentum-gathering riffing and hooks as tight as balled-up fists in a song that goes from a rolling boil to a tension-packed simmer as Fallon makes band introductions based on astrological signs before Clutch again blows the lid off the place. It's as if an invading army is overrunning an enemy territory, setting off another equally delirious, earth-scorching conflagration called "Firebirds." Clutch is just beginning to show its hand, and it's an unbeatable one, as Fallon's oddly compelling tales of the weird ("Decapitation Blues" tackling the subject of reanimation and all) are couched in unstoppable, hard-rock fury ("Sucker For The Witch"), cinematic Western noir ("Our Lady Of Electric Light"), nasty, cat-scratched funk ("Your Love Is Incarceration") and sizzling blues ("A Quick Death In Texas"). After hitting an all-time high in delivering an agile and sinewy Earth Rocker LP in 2013 with hooks that killed, Clutch simply refuses to rest on its laurels, the hardscrabble, haunted blues of "Son of Virginia" rising into a thunderous closing epic as Clutch declares war on mediocrity.

CD/DVD Review: Black Stone Cherry – Thank You: Livin' Live, Birmingham, UK October 30, 2014
Eagle Vision
All Access Rating: B-

Black Stone Cherry - Thank You:
Livin' Live, Birmingham, UK
October 30, 2014
A simple "Thank You" from Black Stone Cherry will suffice, as these post-grunge sons of the South rise again in a country that has embraced with open arms. Their third album, 2011's Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, hauled ass all the way up to No. 1 that year in Great Britain, and Black Stone Cherry hasn't forgotten that. With a raucous, high-energy performance at Birmingham's LG Arena – now available on DVD, Blu-ray or as a CD/DVD combo entitled "Thank You: Livin' Large, Birmingham, UK October 30, 2014" – just over a year ago, they showered the audience with appreciation and stomping, sleazy riffs dug out of Nickelback's homogenous compost heap and recycled under a different brand. Though shot professionally in high-definition, the sparkling clean camera work isn't very imaginative. Neither is Black Stone Cherry's generic music, which has always been willing to rinse itself free of grit and earthiness for a glossy shine. Still, the photography does manage to heighten and add fuel to Black Stone Cherry's fiery passion, plainly evident in swaggering, arena-sized rockers "Rain Wizard," "Me and Mary Jane" and "White Trash Millionaire." And the crowd is clearly with them, singing in unison with every word to almost every number. Youthful exuberance and full volume only go so far, however, as Black Stone Cherry suffers from occasional bouts of off-key singing, bland guitar work and loose drumming – the hot messes that are "Bad Luck and Hard Love" and "Holding On ... To Letting Go" being the most egregious crimes. On the other hand, more poignant material such as the soaring "In My Blood" and "Things My Father Said" forms a strong bond between crowd and the performers, making the concert feel like a family reunion. And for fans of Black Stone Cherry, this is a nicely arranged package, as live material and interview footage from a performance at Download Festival are nice additions, even if the lack of liner notes is glaring.

2 CD/DVD Review: The Rolling Stones – From The Vault: Live In Leeds 1982
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+
The Rolling Stones - From the Vault:
Live In Leeds 1982

The Rolling Stones had miles to go before they slept. Their 1982 European Tour in support of their 1981 release Tattoo You would be their last for a stretch of seven years, but before unexpectedly going dark for such an extended break, the Stones had to attend to one more piece of business: a daytime show on July 25, 1982 at Roundhay Park in Leeds, England, now available in digital formats or as a 2-CD/DVD package that also comes in Blu-ray. For all its clarity and glossy definition, the cinematography is rather odd, employing an overabundance of fairly extreme facial closeups – the most awkward of which focus on Bill Wyman's vacant expression – in some weird shuffle. At the same time, it highlights the Stones' outlandishly gaudy fashion sense and intently studies the instrumental flair of Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards, while drinking in Mick Jagger's excitable onstage charm. Another in an ever-expanding "From The Vault" series of classic, previously unreleased concert material, this set is an uneven affair. As tired and disinterested as they appear early on during "When The Whip Comes Down," "Going To a Go Go" and "Shattered," the Stones are revived by the bluesy "Black Limousine," a rough-and-tumble cover of Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" and a rip-roaring, ramshackle version of "Little T&A." Perfect on a summer day, with a massive crowd in attendance, their breezy, blissful version of "Just My Imagination" is sunny and soulful, and on "Tumbling Dice," "Miss You," "Beast of Burden" and "Brown Sugar" they seem to savor every delicious note. Well-written liner notes give necessary context to this historic performance, the last for piano player Ian Stewart with the Stones, in a nicely designed booklet that rounds out what is, for the most part, a solid live release. Just please leave poor old Bill alone.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance

CD Review: Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance
Nuclear Blast Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

Metal Allegiance - S/T 2015
The army of mercenary artists assembled for Mark Menghi's Metal Allegiance has a history of violent aggression and sonic brutality. Their mission: Go forth and shred, and do whatever's necessary to keep metal alive and vital.

Assembled by Mark Menghi, the all-star project – established in 2011 – unites a veritable "Who's Who" of metal and hard-rock notables in a rather large and seemingly unwieldy musical collective with a revolving cast, although the core of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Alex Skolnick (Testament) and David Ellefson (Megadeth) is unchangeable. And Menghi is the ringleader, making a foursome that created the original material for this record.

Up to this point, Metal Allegiance's activities have been limited to live performances on boat cruises and special events like NAMM, but in September, their self-titled debut LP – released by Nuclear Blast Entertainment – dropped from the sky like a burning asteroid of furious, full-on thrash (meaner than hell on "Can't Kill The Devil" and the anthemic "Pledge of Allegiance) that satisfies and more traditional metal swimming against periodic melodic tides. In "Destination: Nowhere" and the rumbling, action-packed "Scars," with its scissoring, serrated guitars and the contrasting vocal textures of Cristina Scabbia and Mark Osegueda, Metal Allegiance toggles between barely harnessed rage and bittersweet ruminations, but the searing opener "Gift Of Pain" is the gift that really keeps on giving. A relentless, slamming juggernaut of grinding guitars, "Gift Of Pain" sets a blistering pace, its momentum only temporarily stalled by a swinging bridge that almost cracks under the weight of its ponderously heavy riffs, as Lamb Of God's Randy Blythe growls with malevolent intent.

Weighed down by deep melancholy and trudging along, "Dying Song" is just the opposite, a thick, gothic slice of metallic Southern-rock frosted by Philip Anselmo's hoary utterances and struggling to hold onto its bruised and battered soul. There are complex progressive instrumental parts that hijack "Wait Until Tomorrow" and the multi-part, technically brilliant "Triangulum," which suffers from self-indulgence and boring, masturbatory jamming. On the whole, however, there is a surprising cohesiveness to Metal Allegiance that allows for the occasional head-scratching departure, such as the beautifully rendered Spanish guitar interlude that breaks up "Let Darkness Fall" – otherwise a fine specimen of solid, lively hooks and propulsive energy. While the standard version of Metal Allegiance keeps to nine tracks, the digipak edition adds a faithful and thrilling version of Dio's "We Rock," as singers Osegueda, Chris Jericho, Alissa White-Gluz, Chuck Billy, Steve "Zetro" Souza and Tim "Ripper" Owens pay homage to a metal icon with a variety of interesting singing styles.

The project's list of contributors includes a slew of metal heavyweights, its vast Rolodex including ex-Pantera bassist Rex Brown, Exodus and Slayer guitarist Gary Holt and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante, just to name a few. Still, what keeps this alliance together, whether on record or onstage, is a common vision and a healthy respect for metal's glorious past and its promising future.
– Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Scorpions – Forever And A Day

DVD Review: Scorpions – Forever And A Day
Specticast and Tempest Films
All Access Rating: B+

The Scorpions - Forever
And A Day 2015
All that retirement talk was a bit premature. Billed as their farewell tour, 2011-2012's "Final Sting" was going to close the book on the Scorpions, one of metal's most enduring outfits. That final chapter has yet to be written.

Eons ago – actually 50 years – in their hometown of Hanover, Germany, the fun-loving Scorpions came to life, and they are still going strong, having given no indication that the end is nigh. Things looked very different, however, a few years ago when renowned director Katja Von Garnier signed on to document their last days on the road. Part free-flowing tour diary, part stodgy history lesson, "Forever And A Day" soon to be available in DVD, Blu-ray and digital formats as its theatrical run comes to an end, is ultimately an engrossing study of a band trying to come to grips with its own mortality, only to find themselves reinvigorated by the experience.

The elephant in the room in the well-paced, good-natured "Forever And A Day," it's the overriding issue that drives a story with many sub-plots, as The Scorpions discover the fountain of youth in the form of infectiously enthusiastic crowds greeting them as conquering heroes. Performing a complicated balancing act, Von Garnier deftly intersperses rousing, arena-rock concert clips of the Scorpions performing songs like "Crazy World," "The Zoo" and "Big City Nights" with loads of intimate, behind-the-scenes footage from the "Final Sting" tour in taking viewers on a whirlwind journey across the world. At the same time, a makeshift video scrapbook emerges from candid, vintage still photos and home-movie footage of their formative years that leads to warm reminiscing about The Scorpions' past.

There were gigs at Liverpool's famed Cavern Club, and the story of how finishing second at a "battle of the bands" contest actually resulted in a record contract, while the documentary also touches on why it was so important for them to sing lyrics in English, rather than their native tongue. What makes "Forever And A Day" more compelling, though, is its examination of the relationship between Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker, as talk about their shared ambitions, their artistry and Schenker's visionary leadership. Disappointingly, "Forever And A Day" glosses over the crucial contributions of guitar masters Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker. On the other hand, it redeems itself with a deeply insightful look at The Scorpions' historic 1991 meeting at the Kremlin with Mikhail Gorbachev, who appears in the movie, and the socio-political impact of their hit single "Winds Of Change," as well as providing a detailed explanation of why the transition to Matthias Jabs made perfect sense for a band that made no secret of its commercial aspirations.

For the most part, the film transitions seamlessly from curating an informative biography to hurriedly catching up with the Scorpions wherever their victory lap happens to take them. Given seemingly unlimited access, Von Garnier unveils both the good and the bad of their trip, including how Klaus Meine's vocal troubles momentarily jeopardized the whole enterprise. How long The Scorpions continue will depend greatly on the most fragile of instruments, the human voice. Meine and company aren't naive enough to think this will last forever, but it's clear from "Forever And A Day" that they and their fans are going to enjoy the ride until the very end.
– Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Taste – What's Going On: Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970

DVD Review: Taste – What's Going On: Live At The Isle of Wight 1970
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A

Taste - What's Going On: Live
at the Isle of Wight 1970 2015
The simmering tension had finally boiled over. In a van, on their way to play the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, Irish guitar hero Rory Gallagher and his two bandmates, drummer John Wilson and bassist Richard McCracken, decided that Taste was done. Somehow, they'd just have to smile and muddle through the biggest gig of their lives as if nothing had happened.

Or, they could go out in a blaze of glory, which the bluesy rock 'n' roll outfit did, burning the place to the ground with an electrifying set that won over an apathetic daytime crowd that practically yawned at their introduction. They were so good, in fact, that they decided afterward to carry on, however briefly. Soon, though, Taste would ultimately reach the end of their rope.

The thrilling action was filmed by Academy Award winning Director Murray Lerner, whose spontaneous cinematic instincts, an eye for action and drama and a gutsy appreciation for the raw, combustible energy burning uncontrollably in front of him threw gasoline on an already raging fire. And it serves as the centerpiece of a new DVD from Eagle Rock Entertainment named "What's Going On: Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970," containing all the tracks from the 1971 Polydor LP and a few more, as the trio stomps all over "Sinner Boy" and "Catfish Blues" in riveting fashion. At one point, as Taste is storming through the heavy blues of "Sugar Mama," Gallagher pumps his fist at Wilson, who reacts enthusiastically by pushing harder and more violently. Seeing Gallagher's slide-guitar work in "Gambling Blues" is a revelation, his soulful soloing a mixture of finesse and daring skill that's simply breathtaking. And when they launch into "Same Old Story," Taste's engine roars to life, their muscle and barely harnessed intensity coalescing into a rip-roaring show of strength and unity.

Preceding this tour de force is an unflinching, well-constructed documentary on Taste that doesn't succumb to banal sentimentality, and yet it speaks in awed wonder of their uncanny musical brilliance. From Taste's origins in Cork, Ireland, through management-inspired lineup changes, financial disputes, touring with Blind Faith and that fateful drive to the Isle Of Wight Festival, the tale of Taste is told with warm memories and genuine honesty, reflecting – through insightful interviews with, among others, Queen's Brian May, U2's The Edge, Bob Geldof and Rory's brother Donel, who also served as the band's road manager – on what made the volatile chemistry of Taste work and how Rory and his sublime talent transcended the sectarian unrest of his native land.

Bonus footage of Taste performing three songs on the German TV series "Beat Club" and videos for "I'll Remember," "What's Going On" and "Born On The Wrong Side Of Time" only enhance the value of a nostalgic package augmented by concise, informative liner notes and great photography. One little Taste is all one needs to be hooked on Rory and company forever.
– Peter Lindblad

Short cuts: Mark Lanegan, Martin Turner, Neil Finn + Paul Kelly

Box Set Review: Mark Lanegan – The One Way Street
Sub Pop Records
All Access Rating: A-

Mark Lanegan - One Way
Street 2015
Near and dear to Mark Lanegan's world-weary heart, the subject of loss often drops by to visit the writings of the former Screaming Trees' lead singer. Those affected by the prolonged absence of some of Lanegan's most cherished works might be tempted to buy a round for the house when they hear the news: Vinyl editions of Lanegan's first five solo albums on Sub Pop Records – some of previously out of print, others never-before-released via this medium – will be available, thanks to the release of The One Way Street, a new box set. That rich, weatherbeaten baritone of his, perfectly calibrated for boozy, late-night meditations on loneliness, sin and salvation, feels like a warm, if scratchy, wool blanket on recordings that till the fertile soil of traditional country, blues and folk. An outlier of sorts, but only because it's a covers LP, 1999's I'll Take Care of You finds Lanegan giving spare, haunting acoustic readings of Tim Hardin's "Shiloh Town" and The Gun Club's "Carry Home," while Brook Benton's "I'll Take Care of You," Overton Vertis Wright's "On Jesus' Program" and "Creeping Coastline of Lights" by Leaving Trains are awash in ominous noir atmospherics. Field Songs, Lanegan's fifth and final solo LP for Sub Pop, offers swirling psychedelia ("No Easy Action" (featuring Wendy Rae Fowler), a shimmering instrumental ("Blues for D") and confident country swing ("Don't Forget Me"), but it's the growing unease and thorny beauty of "Resurrection Songs" that creeps into your subconscious like a dangerous squatter. Making up a trilogy of sorts, 1990's The Winding Sheet, 1994's Whiskey For The Holy Ghost and 1998's Scraps at Midnight drives deep into the dark heart of Americana, as occasional angry, distorted outbursts such as "Borracho" and the agonized sawing of violins in "Carnival" break lush reveries of full, rich instrumentation and inky blackness of "Hotel," "Praying Ground," "The River Rise" and "Kingdoms of Rain" – just a few of the noteworthy tracks from an exhaustive collection. Much of this material was nearly lost to time, but it's been found. Some of the troubled souls in Lanegan's songs wish for a similar recovery.

CD Review: Martin Turner – Written In The Stars
Cherry Red Records
All Access Rating: A-

Martin Turner - Written in
The Stars 2015
Turning his gaze skyward for inspiration, Martin Turner – bassist, lead singer, main songwriter and co-founder of U.K. progressive-rock innovators Wishbone Ash – conjures Written In The Stars, a heavenly clutch of songs with diverse, celestial melodies and fresh uses for old, familiar tricks. Trotting out the curving twin-lead guitar forays on an urgent, pulsating title track and "The Lonely Star" that made Wishbone Ash a sensation in the early '70s, Turner creates tuneful passages with delightfully unexpected twists and turns in "Lovers" – a charming, romantic folk-pop ditty reminiscent of George Harrison and the Traveling Wilburys – and "Vapour Trail," with its bright, twinkling guitars. Nods to Turner's classical influences are found in the bombastic orchestral intro "The Big Bang (Overture)," the wondrous closer "Interstellar Rockstar" and "For My Lady," with its English folk traditions giving way to a crashing crescendo. Mixing acoustic and electric guitars to create starry harmonies in "Falling Sands," Turner also wanders the desert in the instrumental "The Beauty of Chaos," with its sweeping, Western soundscape. Written in the Stars is a spellbinding listen.

CD Review: Neil Finn and Paul Kelly – Goin' Your Way
Omnivore Records
All Access Rating: A

Neil Finn + Paul Kelly - Goin'
Your Way 2015
With Crowded House and Split Enz, New Zealand's Neil Finn earned critical adoration and worldwide fame for crafting elegant, dreamy pop-rock that's open-hearted and full of romantic insight. Known for his eclectic taste and poetic lyrics, Paul Kelly is one of Australia's greatest musical exports, an everyman and that rare breed of singer-songwriter that happens to be Finn's equal. Bound together by a mutual admiration, they toured Australia in 2013 with a band consisting of Kelly's nephew, Dan, on guitar and Finn's son, Elroy, on drums, as well as Zoe Hauptmann on bass. Their glorious performance at the Sydney Opera House was recorded and released Down Under that year, cracking the Top 5 on the charts on its way to becoming a gold record. Until now, the only way to get it outside of Australia or New Zealand was to buy it as a pricey import, but in December, it'll become available the world over, thanks to Omnivore Recordings. And what an absolute treasure it is, impeccably recorded with crystalline sound to bring out the glow and sparkle of these exquisite 29 tracks, as well as the cheery enthusiasm of a crowd that had clearly fallen in love with Finn and Kelly all over again. Cleaved into two discs, this impressive set, which mines both of their collective back catalogs, exudes charm, as the bright, buoyant "For The Ages," "Careless" and "Leaps and Bounds" step lively with tight hooks in hand around the flowing, stylish and darkly luxuriant rushes of "Four Seasons In One Day," "Winter Coat" and "Fall At Your Feet" – all of them not-so-distant cousins of the captivating Crowded House smash hit "Don't Dream It's Over," also beautifully rendered here. Strummed guitar harmonies, rolling piano and easy, melodic rhythms that never leave the pocket galvanize "Dumb Things," "Better Be Home Soon," "Before Too Long," "Distant Sun" and "To Her Door," as the wistful jangle of "Deeper Water" sighs with satisfaction. A summit of brilliant songwriters, Goin' Your Way finds two old friends who are fascinated with each other's songs, intent on discovering new and interesting things about them that they are eager to share with the rest of us. Hopefully, Finn and Kelly are Goin' Your Way. If so, catch a ride.
– Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Lynyrd Skynyrd – Pronounced 'Leh-nerd Skin-nerd' & Second Helping: Live from Jacksonville at the Florida Theatre

DVD Review: Lynyrd Skynyrd – Pronounced 'Leh-nerd Skin-nerd' & Second Helping: Live From Jacksonville at the Florida Theatre
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Pronounced
Leh-nerd Skin-nerd & Second Helping:
Live from Jacksonville at the Florida
Theatre 2015
The material is strictly "Old Testament" Lynyrd Skynyrd, timeless scripture from the rowdy Southern-rock rogues' first two albums.

Over two shows earlier this year at the Florida Theatre in the band's hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., the congregation in attendance saw a glorious revival of the band's self-titled debut, subtitled "Pronounced Leh-nerd Sky-nerd," on one evening and its sophomore effort Second Helping the next night – the joyous, engaging performances filmed brilliantly for a new live release available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital formats, as well as a DVD/2 CD set available at Wal-Mart.

Both seminal LPs from the early '70s are played with red-blooded passion and carefree panache by the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, led by lone original member Gary Rossington, singer Johnny Van Zant – younger brother of Ronnie Van Zant, who died in a tragic 1977 plane crash that decimated the band – and Rickey Medlocke, the blazing guitarist who co-founded Blackfoot.

From the wistful drawl and affecting melancholy of "Tuesday's Gone" and a nostalgic, affecting "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" to rambunctious hell-raisers "Gimme Three Steps" and "Call Me The Breeze," Skynyrd treats these songs as if they were treasured family heirlooms, dusting them off and making them shine and sparkle in an environment that's warm and vibrant. Smooth flowing camera work draws out the strong, defiant personalties and smirking charm always inherent in Skynyrd, no matter the era. Professionally done, albeit with an adoring admiration for Skynyrd's instrumental fire, shots frame and articulate the searing fret work of Rossington and Medlocke, catch Michael Cartellone in the act as he bashes away on the drums and follow the rollicking piano runs of Peter Keys until the party comes to a crashing end. There is cantankerous defiance and sincerity in "Don't Ask Me No Questions," "Simple Man" and "Sweet Home Alabama," and "Free Bird" sounds as transcendent as ever, while rarely performed tracks like "I Need You," "Mississippi Kid" and "Poison Whiskey" are welcomed like prodigal sons reappearing again after long absences.

If at times it seems as if Skynyrd is not as tight as they should be or they're low on fuel, their energy level noticeably waning, none of that detracts from rock 'n' roll that has a pure heart and that is as intoxicating as moonshine and just as potent.

– Peter Lindblad