Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Procol Harum- Broken Barricades


Artist: Procol Harum
Album: Broken Barricades
Genres: Progressive Rock/Hard Rock/Symphonic Rock
Release Date: 1971

Procol Harum is best known as the band that performed the 1967 classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale", which has been a staple of psychedelic rock for decades. While the band is a one hit wonder to many, that isn't the case for anyone who has dug into their catalog. They are a band of many sounds, and a lot of awesome albums. Released in 1971, Broken Barricades is one of their hardest rocking efforts. It was the last album to feature their criminally underrated guitarist Robin Trower, until he returned once more in 1991 for the album The Prodigal Stranger. The album has a lot of great tracks, and features a raw and heavy sound that was different compared to the band's other albums. 


Review:

The album starts with the rocker, "Simple Sister". This is a badass track in for many reasons. The guitar riff is distorted, muffled, and bluesy. The tone of the guitar, along with the heaviness of the riff sounds like an early version of doom metal. I expected the guitar to become heavier, but a chuggy piano riff by Gary Brooker (vocalist/pianist) came in, along with his vocals. Brooker's singing is very soulful as always, and he fits the song perfectly. B.J. Wilson comes in at the same time on the drums, and he absolutely smashes. I think the song hits its peak once Trower begins his guitar solos. The tone of his lead sounds similar to Hendrix, and so does his playing. He hits screaming bends that put me in a trance, and he has so much emotion in his playing. The solo is followed by a great piano breakdown. The thing I love about the piano on this song/album is how heavy it is. The sound is so thick, and it is adopted perfectly as an instrument for a hard rock album. 

"Broken Barricades" is the second track of the album, and it is a softer song than its predecessor. The music is hypnotic, especially the beautiful organ playing by Chris Copping. Even though the song is soft, Wilson still bangs on the drums like there's no tomorrow. He was honestly one of the most underrated drummers. His skill was out of this world, and so was his sound. Brooker's vocals are beautiful on this song. They start gentle, but his raspy soul comes out and steals the show. This track was a huge shift from the heaviness of "Sweet Sister", but it fit perfectly. It is a sign of the diversity that is to be seen on the rest of the album. 

The third song on the album is "Memorial Drive". This song is straight blues-rock, but the thick organ leads it to sound like an upbeat Deep Purple song. There is a cool guitar riff, good vocals, a funky bass line, and amazing drumming. The best part of the song is when the guitar chords and the drums become chaotic as the song reaches its end. It is a great little moment of jamming, and it shows the chops of the group. The song is not as memorable as the past two tracks, but it still rocks. 

"Luskus Delph" is the final track on side one, and it is another ballad. The song is deceiving, because at the start it sounds like it is going to be more of what we heard with "Broken Barricades", but it has its own quirks. There are odd time signatures from the drums, beautiful string arrangements, and a gorgeous vocal performance by Brooker. Procol Harum is known best for a symphonic rock sound, and this track was a perfect example of what they know best. It is a great closer to the first side, and it leaves the listener eager for the second half. 

Side two begins with "Power Failure". Right off the bat, the drumming on this song is insane. The rhythm is highly eccentric, and their are a lot of fire fills. The vocals are dominant on this track during the verses, and they are very catchy. The song gets interesting to me when the breakdown happens. There are subtle and choppy attacks from the guitar and bass, but the drumming takes the spotlight. This song has the perfect balance of the rockers and the softer songs on the album. 

"Songs For A Dreamer" was written by Trower and the band's lyricist Keith Reid as a tribute for his late friend Jimi Hendrix. The song is very trippy, and it instantly put me in a trance. The guitar takes the spotlight, which is appropriate for the subject matter. The solos are very cathartic, and the reverb drenched notes made me feel like I was in a dream land. The drumming is dark and atmospheric, and the fills feel like they are running across the air. Trower's vocals are very dreamy, and the effects on his voice remind me of Ozzy Osbourne's on "Planet Caravan" (which came later). This is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album, both for its sentimental nature of the lyrics, and for the mystical sounds of the instrumentation. 

The third track on side two is "Playmate Of The Mouth". This song is one of the more psychedelic tracks on the album. It has acid-drenched guitar solos by Trower, a brooding piano riff, menacing vocals by Brooker, and an overall unsettling feeling. I like this track, but it is definitely one of the less memorable on the album. The highlight of it is definitely Trower's guitar playing, which is mind-blowing the entire time. 

The final track on the album is "Poor Mohammed". This one has Trower back on vocals, and he sounds pretty good. He gives a raspy performance, which fits the heaviness of the song. The guitar playing is badass on this track. It sounds like he was using the slide, which gives it a very trippy and unique sound. The guitar solo at the end of the song is the highlight of the track. The distorted tone penetrates the mind, and it is some of the most aggressive playing on the album. The overall groove of the song is very cool, and it is helped by the cowbell in the background. I honestly wish this song was somewhere in the middle of the album, rather than the closer, because while it is a very strong track, it felt like something should've followed it. 


Overall:

Broken Barricades is probably my favorite album I've heard by Procol Harum thus far. There are a lot of different sounds on it, including hard rock, progressive rock, symphonic rock, and the blues. The band is able to adopt all of these different sounds seamlessly, and the result was a lineup of songs that ranged from very good to great. There were definitely moments that were better than others, but I never felt that a song was anything less than enjoyable. This is a truly underrated album by a band that deserves more credit, and I would recommend it highly. Rating: 8/10

Standout Tracks:
"Simple Sister", "Luskus Delph", and "Song for a Dreamer". 







Sunday, January 12, 2020

Mick Ronson- Slaughter on 10th Avenue


Album: Slaughter on 10th Avenue
Artist: Mick Ronson
Release Date: 1974
Genre: Glam Rock/Art Pop

Mick Ronson was one of the most talented musicians that doesn't get talked about in rock. Most famous for his work with David Bowie, he also worked with artists like Ian Hunter, Mott the Hoople, and Lou Reed, amongst others. On top of being a talented musician (especially on guitar), he was also amazing at arranging songs, which is what this album is all about. Slaughter on 10th Avenue was Ronson's debut solo album, and it was released in 1974. He only had writing credits on two of the album's tracks, but he arranged and produced the entire album. He had help from his colleague David Bowie (Bowie penned a couple of the tracks), and there were also a couple covers. The album is not perfect, but it is a great solo endeavor of an underrated talent. 


Review:

The album starts off strong with a cover of Elvis Presley's classic "Love Me Tender". When I saw this on the back of the album, I got nervous before my first listen. Surprisingly, the cover does the song justice, while giving it a very new take. Ronson starts with low vocals that sound closer to what Presley did with the song, but he quickly jumps into his higher register. Vocally, Ronson reminds me a bit of a mix of Freddie Mercury and George Michael. He gives a much more dramatic performance than Presley, and the passion bleeds through the record player. The guitar tone and piano sound pretty great too. His soft strums at the beginning fit the old time feel of the original song. After about a minute, the song kicks in with distorted guitar, drums, and bass. It is a very emotional listen the rest of the way through. There is a tasteful guitar solo by Ronson about halfway through, which is followed by the chorus until it fades. Overall, I was extremely impressed by this cover. It was able to fit the 70's sound without being cheesy, and it still did justice to the original. 

The next track is "Growing Up And I'm Fine", which was penned by Bowie. This song is tricky for me. It has grown on me as I have listened to the album more and more, but it definitely has some cheesiness to it. The instrumentation is beautiful. It is very piano heavy, especially during the verses. While the playing itself is great, the sound is a bit off in these parts. The piano sounds a bit more distorted than I'd like it be, especially for how high the notes are. It causes the playing to sound too thin, and it lacks the depth that it could potentially have. The chorus adds bass, drums, and guitar, and tends to be my favorite part of the track. I think the song needed the extra instruments to fill the song out, so it doesn't sound as weak as it does in the verse. Ronson's vocals are wonderful on the song. His phrasing sounds a bit like Todd Rundgren on one of his quirkier tracks, and there is a very playful tone. While this track is flawed, and a bit dated, I still enjoy it for the most part. 

One of my favorite tracks on the album is the Ronson penned classic, "Only After Dark". This is definitely the heaviest track on the album. It begins with some thunderous open chords, and once the song kicks in, it has a hard-rocking groove, a great riff, and great guitar tone. Ronson sounds a lot like Bowie in his vocal performance, and I enjoy that a lot. There is some cool instruments used throughout the song, including what sounds like a shaker. The backup vocals also add a cool touch to the song, and succeed in not being cheesy. 

The next song is "Music is Lethal". The track was originally by Italian singer/songwriter Lucio Battisti, but the English lyrics were written by Bowie. Just like "Love Me Tender", this song succeeds as a really beautiful cover. The verses are acoustic, melancholy, and feature sad and gentle vocals by Ronson. It never comes off as cheesy, and he sounds quite a bit like Bowie again. The instrumentation sounds like something that would be played in a classic Italian song, and I appreciate Ronson for arranging this cover to sound true to the source material. The song does kick in for the chorus, and I absolutely love it. He sounds even more like Bowie vocally, and the build in the instrumentation is so gradual that once it reaches the peak it feels so rewarding and justified. The transition back into the soft verse is seamless, and so is the build back to the more powerful chorus. The song finishes strong with thunderous drum fills, distorted and melodic guitars, and a triumphant tone. This cover was a brilliant addition to the album, and was one of the standout tracks. 

Side two starts with a fantastic cover of "I'm the One" by Annette Peacock. The first half of the song sounds like a dark acid-trip through Broadway. It is chaotic, theatrical, and it features some fantastic guitar playing by Ronson. The piano lines are catchy and jazzy, and they add sleaziness to the overall sound. The song shows its true brilliance when it slows down. I visualize the second half of the track as a seductive performance in a cabaret club. Ronson's vocals are stunning. His runs go over all the place, he uses falsetto beautifully, and he even begins scat-singing. The brass in the background adds to the jazziness, and makes the song even more emotional. This may be the standout track on the album, and it is a magical achievement. 

"Pleasure Man/Hey Ma Get Papa" is a nine minute medley that Bowie and Ronson both have writing credits on. It's dark, atmospheric, and has fantastic instrumentation the entire time. Even with its long run time, it doesn't overstay its welcome. There are guitar ear-piercing guitar solos over the song, Ronson nails it vocally, and the bass lines are badass. The second half of the song gets a lot more avant-garde, and it is easy to hear Bowie's influence on it. There are trippy synths, noisy effects, and the vocals sound exactly like Bowie. It sounds a lot like something Bowie and Ronson would've done together as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. 

The album finishes strong with the jazzy and experimental instrumental "Slaughter on 10th Avenue". It is a cover of a ballet by composer Richard Rodgers. All of the instrumentation is fantastic, especially when it gets chaotic. The highlights are the lead guitar playing and the piano. It feels like proper closure to a fantastic album, and avoids being cheesy. 


Overall: 

Slaughter on 10th Avenue is a solid solo endeavor for Ronson. Solo albums can be iffy, especially for a guitarist, but he really showed that he can hold his own. The arrangements are fantastic, he proved to be a wonderful vocalist, and all of the songs are enjoyable. All of the tracks on side one are great, but they feel less like a coherent album than side two (which flowed seamlessly). I do see this as a minor weakness, but it is nothing too detrimental. The only track that had any significant flaws to me was, "Growing Up And I'm Fine", but that was due to production rather than the songwriting itself. I would definitely recommend this album to fans of Bowie and of rock music in general. It is a hidden gem of the 70's, and there is a lot to enjoy about it. Rating: 8/10

Standout Tracks: 
"Only After Dark", "Music is Lethal", "I'm The One", and "Pleasure Man/Hey Ma Get Papa". 




Saturday, January 11, 2020

Iron Maiden- Piece of Mind


Album: Piece of Mind
Artist: Iron Maiden
Release Date: 1983
Genre: Heavy Metal

Iron Maiden was founded in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris. The band released two albums with their original singer Paul Di'Anno; Iron Maiden (1980) and Killers (1981). These albums were a different sound for the band compared to their later albums, as they had a much punkier feel, especially in Di'Anno's vocals. Both of these albums are masterpieces, and are among my favorites in the metal genre, but Di'Anno was released from the band afterwards. In 1982, Maiden released the album Number of the Beast with their new frontman Bruce Dickinson. The transition of singers was seamless, and while Di'Anno and Dickinson had very different sounds, they were both able to stand alone as amazing frontmen for the band. In 1983, the second album with Dickinson, Piece of Mind was released. The album marked the first appearance of Nicko McBrain on the drums, as a result of Clive Burr's departure from the band. Topping Number of the Beast was a tall order, but in my opinion, they did with this album. The music got heavier, the lyrics were amazing as usual, and some of my favorite tracks by the band are featured. Finding used Iron Maiden vinyl (I don't buy 180g reissues) has been near impossible for me for years now. I found a copy of this album about a week ago, and it was my first by the band in my collection. I have listened to all of the band's albums many times on CD's and streaming, but I have to say listening to it on vinyl was a game-changing moment for me. 

Review: 

The album starts off with the classic, "Where Eagles Dare". From the legendary opening drum fill on, this song is one of the band's heaviest and most mesmerizing tracks in their catalog. The lyrics are powerful as they use eagles as a metaphor for bomber planes in the war. They are very direct, but also poetic in a sense. Dickinson comes in strong with this track. He has a very aggressive delivery, and it is easy to feel the passion and emotion as he sings the lyrics. For me, the strongest aspect of the song is the rhythm section of Steven Harris on bass and Nicko McBrain on drums. The machine gun bursts of the drums adds so much appropriate chaos to the track, and Harris' bass lines create a triumphant groove. It is definitely a shining moment for the both of them. 

"Revelations" is an interesting track that doesn't get talked as much about as much. It has a lot of variation in sound throughout. There are moments of the classic Maiden heaviness, but there are also mystical sections that calm down with clean guitar riffs and a more gentle performance by Dickinson. It is a very progressive track, and it even reminds me of Rush at times. I love the section of the song after the guitar solo where the riffing gets heavier than ever. It becomes quite chaotic, and then transitions back into the main riff seamlessly. 

My favorite track on this album has always been "Flight of Icarus". The chugging riff is instantly captivating, and is pretty heavy in a unique way. The song is slower than a lot of tracks on the album, and while that has been a point of criticism by some, I think it is a great change of pace.  Dickinson sounds better than ever on this song. My favorite part of his vocals on the track is the chorus. The notes he hits harmonize so well with the chords, and there is a sadness in his delivery. I love the lyrics too, as they show the bands love for mythology and legends. In a time where the majority of popular rock and metal groups were singing about girls, these guys were out there singing about Icarus, fantasy, and the war. I admire them for the bravery to be different. 

Side one ends with "Die With Your Boots On". This is probably my least favorite track on side one, although I still love it. It is a fast, heavy, and aggressive track. I think the only reason that it is my least favorite on the side is the chorus. It's a lot of fun, but it feels a lot more mainstream than the others. The song still has amazing guitar playing by Adrian Smith and Dave Murray (maybe even some of the best on the album), a great rhythm section, and a great performance by Dickinson. 

Side two thunders in with the most popular track on the album, "The Trooper". This is one of the guitar songs on the album. The opening riff is legendary, and has been a favorite of many guitar players that have come after. The melodic twin guitars are very memorable on this track, and it is hard not to sing the lead lines throughout. The verses are headbangers without a doubt. There are driving power chords, kick ass vocals by Dickinson, and another example of what a fire rhythm section that the band has. Even though the song is a staple of classic rock radio, it has not overstayed its welcome. It isn't my favorite track on the album, but I can't help but love it even after hearing it hundreds of times. 

The rest of side two is also strong. Some of the standouts for me are "Still Life" and the closer, "To Tame a Land". The latter has one of my favorite Maiden riffs. It is so chuggy and heavy, and has me banging my head instantly. I love the lead guitar throughout the song too. The melodies sound very exotic, and they led the track to be the most experimental on the album. The second half of the song reaches new heights guitar wise, as the riffs become heavier and the solos even crazier. It is definitely my favorite guitar playing by Smith and Murray on the album, and one of the top guitar tracks from the band's catalog. The rhythm section really gets to show their chops in this one. There is a whole breakdown part where the bass is the prominent instrument. It becomes super atmospheric, and it is capitalized by some wonderful drum fills. As mentioned throughout this review, Dickinson once again brings it on home. His phrasing is very interesting on the verses of this song, and he hits some stunning high notes. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album for sure, and it was a very powerful way to end such a solid album. 

Overall:

Piece of Mind had every opportunity to disappoint audiences. It was the first album to not feature Clive Burr, whom was one of the most interesting drummers in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It also was the album that followed Number of the Beast, which is one of the most iconic metal albums of all time. Piece of Mind exceeded expectations though. It is a very mature album that features a lot of solid heavy metal tracks. The band was on fire, and McBrain was a perfect addition to the band. While it is hard to choose, this is my favorite album by Iron Maiden. Their run in the 1980's was unmatched by most metal bands, but I see this as the strongest offering that they ever put out. 

Standout Tracks:
"Where Eagles Dare", "Flight of Icarus", "The Trooper", and "To Tame a Land". 





Friday, January 10, 2020

RIP Neil Peart: 1952-2020


I just heard a bit ago that Neil Peart passed away. I knew that he had been suffering from cancer for a while, and the news devastated me. Rush is undoubtedly one of the greatest bands in rock, and a huge chunk of their success was due to Peart's legendary drumming and lyrics. He influenced the generations of musicians after him, and his legacy will never be forgotten. 

Peart's debut with Rush was their second album Fly By Night in 1974. Right from the beginning he was breaking down barriers with his playing, and blowing the minds of listeners across the world. He played on the rest of the band's albums, and was a member until 2018; when the band bid farewell. In 44 years, Peart and Rush made some of the greatest albums in Prog Rock, including Farewell To Kings, 2112, Permanent Waves, Hemispheres, Moving Pictures, etc. The band was one of the few of their time that made a successful transition from the 70's to the 80's, and they showed their versatility and willingness to explore new sounds.

This is a saddening loss in the world of music. My condolences go out to his family, friends, and colleagues. Will definitely be putting on some of Rush's classic albums again as a tribute. Rest in peace. 


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Judas Priest- Sad Wings of Destiny


Album: Sad Wings of Destiny
Artist: Judas Priest
Release Date: 1976
Genre: Heavy Metal


Most music aficionados will consider Black Sabbath to be the first band to create the blueprint of metal/doom metal music. This is something that I will not deny. I do feel like the first band to take that blueprint and use it to invent heavy metal was Judas Priest. Their underrated 1974 album Rocka Rolla was still more hard rock than anything, but in 1976, they established a genre with their masterful album Sad Wings of Destiny. The album had some of the bluesy and progressive elements of their previous effort, but much less so. This album focused more on screaming vocals by the 'Metal God' Rob Halford, metallic and aggressive guitars by KK Downing and Glenn Tipton, and dark lyrics that became the standard for the genre. The album was a hit with critics right off the bat, but it didn't get much traction with mainstream audiences until later on. It is definitely one of my favorite albums by the band. It has some of the strongest tracks of their career, and it showcases the rawness of early Priest that I love better than any of their other eras. 


Overview:

First impressions are important with an album, and Sad Wings of Destiny nails this in many ways. For starters, the album cover by Patrick Woodroffe is absolutely beautiful. The artwork hasn't aged at all. It could fit on any modern metal album, and is definitely one of my all time favorites. I love the detail of the flames in the background, and the color scheme is magnificent. Secondly, the album's opening track "Victim of Changes" is one of the greatest metal tracks in history. Running almost eight minutes, this song is truly epic. There are powerful guitar riffs, great lyrics about a failing relationship with an alcoholic girlfriend/wife, and more than anything, one of Halford's greatest vocal performances. The second half of the song is where Halford's chops are fully showcased, as he screams in operatic proportions. This phase of the song begins with a breakdown. This is probably my favorite part of the song, because of how eerie it is. Halford starts it by showcasing his lower vocal register, and is much more gentle as a contrast to his aggressive delivery throughout the rest of the track. This part of the song toys with the listener. It is inevitable that the song will pick back up, and the breakdown stays a bit longer than expected. This pays off once the song amps up again. Halford reaches new heights in his performance, and becomes haunting with his high register wailing. By the time that the song wraps back to its main riff, the journey is bound to blow the listener's mind. The final scream at the end of the song makes my jaw drop, and the hairs on my arm raise. It is a defining moment in metal, and I can't say I've ever heard anyone recreate it. 

With such a great start, it would've been easy for the album to fade away in its 40 minute run time. This is not the case. There is no bad tracks on this album. It's hard to say that there are any moments that feel weaker than others. Tracks like "Ripper", "Tyrant", and "Genocide" are top-notch headbangers that set the forefront for what Judas Priest had to offer. "Deceiver" shows the band's love for Sabbath in its doomy riff. "Dreamer Deceiver" is a haunting ballad that showcases some more haunting screams by Halford in another one of his most impressive vocal performances. If there was one track that felt at all out of place to me, it would be "Epitaph". I still enjoy the song, as it is another beautiful ballad. It sounds a lot like a nod to Queen (Halford was a fan of the legendary band since their beginning), and while it is a good one, I feel like it was jarring on such a heavy album. "Island of Domination" is a perfect album-closer. Its chuggy riff drives the song, and it is a powerful end to one of the greatest metal albums of all time. 


Overall:

Sad Wings of Destiny is a mind-blowing album. It is practically flawless. It is an album worthy of many listens, and is an essential for any fans of metal. It is hard to choose a favorite Judas Priest album, but I can say for sure that it is up there for me. 


Standout Tracks:

"Victim of Changes", "Dreamer Deceiver", "Tyrant", and "Island of Domination".
















Prelude

It has been a long time since I have worked on a blog. Past projects I have worked on in the past are still available to see, but they have not been updated in a while. This new page is a special one, because it involves one of my biggest passions; vinyl. Records have made a comeback in the past few years, but I remember first becoming interested a few years before they blew up. Going to various shops and looking for gems has become one of the greatest hobbies that I have. My exploration of different artists has skyrocketed, and has been formative to my development as a musician creatively and emotionally. I have been lucky with the many conversations that record hunting and working in a record store has brought upon me. I hope with this page, I can share some of the gems in music to all of you, and that it will guide you all on the wonderful journey of music.