There’s quite a spread of new releases here in the office and we’ve been gorging ourselves on some great music. All of them are tasty and there’s not a turkey in the bunch. We’re thankful for them all – here’s our favorites:
Alter Bridge (www.alterbridge.com) were born out of the demise of 90’s radio giants Creed and the band’s heroic effort to re-brand themselves has resulted in their triumphant fifth full-length release The Last Hero. Powered by the dynamic duo of riff-master Mark Tremonti and Bruce-Wayne-by-day frontman Myles Kennedy the quartet show what they’re made of on this record’s thrilling 13-tracks. What they lost in Scott Stapp they have more than made up for by brandishing the dual skills wielded by Kennedy – his superhuman vocals and his secret weapon with six strings. Paired up with Mark – the man with the golden touch – Alter Bridge has an unstoppable two guitar attack that they put to use for good on the positive hard rock anthems that abound on this album. “Show Me A Leader” is the timely opener and a plea for sound guidance in this current age of corruption and political ineptness. “My Champion” opens with sonic chords leading into a luscious lick before championing the universal message of perpetual perseverance. “Cradle To The Grave” is a brave and fearful look at the brevity of life. On The Last Hero Alter Bridge has made a bold leap forward – up the charts and over tall buildings – to emerge as the leading rock force to be reckoned with at the moment.
Fans of musician Neal Morse (www.nealmorse.com) know that Neal usually releases projects of epic proportions. The Similitude Of A Dream is certainly that. Clocking in at over 100 minutes, this progressive pageantry runs the gamut from melodic to moody to mind blowing. It is now available in multiple formats: a two CD package, a Special Edition with the two CDs and The Making Of A Dream DVD, or as three vinyl records along with two CDs. Morse explains that the album was inspired by John Bunyan’s book “Pilgrim’s Progress” telling the story of a man’s spiritual journey from the City of Destruction to the Land of Deliverance. Morse along with drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Randy George, keyboardist Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillett brings to life this complex concept album with songs that move from reflective to riveting. Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Twisted Sister, ex-Dream Theater) states “I honestly think this is THE album of my career. Neal and I have now made 18 studio albums together, and I consider The Similitude Of A Dream the absolute creative pinnacle of our collaborations together. Time will tell if listeners agree with Mike’s bold proclamation but for us we found this two-disc odyssey to be innovative and inspiring.
As a core member of the Grateful Dead for over 50 years most of us know Bob Weir (www.bobweir.net) as one of the founding fathers of jam. On Blue Mountain Weir returns to his early roots of working on a ranch in Wyoming. So if you are looking to shake your bones with Bobby this is not the record as it is a more mellow collection of 12 original tunes spiked with a few mid-tempo, catchier tracks such as “Gonesville” flowing into “Lay My Lily Down.” The album is bookended by “Only a River” and “One More River To Cross” crafting a theme of a life journey with a country flair that is also a tip of the hat to cowboys. “Ghost Towns” is heavy and haunting as is “Darkest Hour” followed by the sad and stark “Ki-Yi Bossie.” An array of fellow artists appear alongside Weir including Ray Rizzo (drums, harmonium, harmonica, backup vocals), Joe Russo (drums), Jon Shaw (upright bass, piano), Rob Burger (keyboard, accordion, tuned percussion), Sam Cohen (electric guitar and pedal steel), Nate Martinez (guitars, harmonium, backup vocals), Jay Lane (drums, vocals), Robin Sylvester (upright bass, vocals, Hammond organ) and Steve Kimock (Lapsteel), thus Blue Mountain has first class musicianship paired with fine storytelling making it well worth a spin.
Eric Johnson (www.ericjohnson.com) is well respected for his hot electric guitar licks along with his eloquent Jimi Hendrix covers. Johnson has been a popular mainstay on the Experience Hendrix tours for years. On Eric’s latest release EJ he exposes more of his musical personality. This thirteen track CD of covers and originals reveals that Johnson is also apt on the acoustic and piano. “Almost all of that material was cut live,” Johnson explains. “Some of the songs I actually sang and played at the same time – just live in the studio. Recording this way gave it more of an honest realism and organic emotion. EJ has a gentle warm feel throughout with songs like “Wonder,” “Fatherly Downs,” and “All Things You Are” featuring Eric on a 1980 Martin D-45, a gift from his late father. “Once Upon A Time in Texas” sounds big with taps layered with tricky guitar techniques. Other highlights include an enchanting acoustic/piano version of Hendrix’s “One Rainy Wish” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” presented as a piano/vocal piece. EJ shows a softer yet still poised and polished side of guitar great Eric Johnson.
For those who don’t know who Jake Shimabukuro (www.jakeshimabukuro.com) is let’s just say that he is the Jimi Hendrix of the four string. Following in the footsteps of the Experience, Jake on ukulele fronts a power trio on his latest ten-track release the Nashville Sessions. Jake went to Music City in January of 2016 to jam with two top Nashville session players – bassist Nolan Verner and drummer Evan Hutchings. “At first I was hesitant,” Shimabukuro admits. “‘We’re just going to go in and jam? Really? With nothing prepared?’ I never dreamed we would leave the studio six days later with a full album” and what a dazzling, diverse album it is. The intro “Hermiola Blues” has a cool beat that could work in a dance club. It flows into the expansive “6/8” and “Man of Mud” giving way to the gentler yet pretty “Galloping Seahorses” propelled by strong rhythm patterns a trend found throughout this record. The ever changing soundscape keeps this all instrumental platter interesting. Shimabukuro steps back from the traditions of the ukulele to explore jazz, jam and progressive and the end result is stunning.
In the eighties Rik Emmett (www.rikemmett.com) fronted that other successful Canadian hard rock power trio. With his boyish good looks and blonde locks Emmett and Co. powered Triumph up the charts on the strength of their positive tracks that had mass appeal. Now, with the help of RESolution9 and some friends from the land of the Maple Leaf he’s back with a resolute eleven tracks that represents what he calls “a journey through my life”. “Stand Still” opens the set but the frenetic pace never lets up as Rik unleashes some fast finger work on the upbeat rocker. “Human Race” is a new anthem for humanity that finds Emmett working in harmony with Alex Lifeson of Rush. “I Sing” introduces Toronto’s James LaBrie of Dream Theater doing what he does best. James is back on the closer as is Lifeson and the grand guitar duels on “End of the Line” bring the proceedings to a close. But wait, there’s more – a special bonus track “Grand Parade” which reunites Emmett with his bandmates bassist Mike Levine and drummer Gil Moore for a nostalgic stroll down memory lane. Rik Emmett has dug deep into his own world of experience and has emerged with another triumphant effort.
Santana IV Live at the House of Blues (www.santana.com) is as classic and as contemporary as it gets. On October 21, 2016, Eagle Rock Entertainment released the DVD+2CD, Blu-ray+2CD, and digital formats capturing the long anticipated reunion of the legendary late-sixties / early-seventies line-up of Santana – Carlos Santana (guitar, vocals); Neal Schon (guitar, vocals); Gregg Rolie (Hammond B3, lead vocals); Michael Shrieve (drums) & Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals), joined by Karl Perazzo (percussion, vocals), Benny Rietveld (bass), David K. Mathews (keyboards), with special guest vocalist Ronald Isley. Varied and vibrant world beats are an important part of the band’s unique sound and that point was made right on the sizzling opener “Soul Sacrifice” featuring a dynamic drum display. The sound and visuals throughout this collection are crisp, clean with soaring guitar solos from both Carlos and the now confident Neal Schon who was just starting out when he was in Santana. “Shake It” a newer tune showcases the group’s signature sound with the two guitarist greats respectfully trading licks is one of many high points. Others are expansive, energized versions of a jamming “Jingo”, “Evil Ways”, an alluring “Anywhere You Want To Go”, a potent “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” flowing into an opulent “Oye Comova.” Santana IV Live at the House of Blues reminds us of what is so memorable about the early line-up of Santana but in a modern context of production paired with musical maturity.
KISS (www.kissonline.com) celebrated their 40th Anniversary in 2014 with a high voltage residency at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. In 2016 KISS released KISS Rocks Vegas in multiple formats including a CD/DVD set to share with KISS nation all the excitement from their career spanning concerts in Nevada. Opening with “Detroit Rock City” KISS proves that they are still the kings of hard rock spectacle with fire, loads of lights, stacks of amps and showmanship. Yet the CD along with the bonus 7 song acoustic set on the DVD attests to the fact that KISS is not all smoke and mirrors but apt musicians also. Yes KISS still has plenty of flash and flair as they pummel their way through the hits – “Psycho Circus”, “Lick It Up”, “Love Gun”, the anthemic “Rock and Roll All Nite” and more but they can shine on catchy, harmonizing number such as “Tears Are Falling”, too. KISS Rocks Vegas is sonically and visually outstanding testifying that KISS alive is one-of-a kind and still going strong after 40 years.
Award winning guitarist Steve Hillage (stevehillage.com) has released a massive 22-disc career-spanning box set entitled Searching For The Spark. The psychedelic rock band the put him on the map – Gong (www.planetgong.co.uk) – has also returned with the lively new critically acclaimed collection Rejoice! I’m Dead. The Hillage set shines a spotlight on his solo work, chronicling his very first recording in 1969 through to 1991’s self-titled debut with System 7. In addition to gathering his eight solo albums, “Searching For The Spark” also houses seven albums of live material and no less than four discs of demos and archive recordings, many previously unreleased, direct from Steve’s own personal collection. For existing fans, it offers unprecedented access to the guitarist’s archives. For the new generations coming to Hillage through his ongoing work with System 7, it provides everything needed to explore Steve’s unique musical universe. For old and new admirers alike, everything from his formative years to his mature work as an unflinchingly forward-looking musician is gathered together in one truly encyclopedic collection. Some say it couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be done. How could Gong exist without Daevid Allen? A few minutes into listening to the title track of their brand new album, “Rejoice!”, aspersions will be cast aside. It is undeniably Gong who appears to be alive and well on trippy prog explorations like “The Unspeakable Stands Revealed” and the anachronistic “Insert Yr Own Prphecy” that finds the group turning back the clock. After all these years, Gong is still banging away. Who could’ve predicted that?
EVEN MORE NOTABLE RELEASES! The Franklys (www.thefranklys.com) play a mixture of garage, heavy rock and punk and provide their audience with an action packed live show full of energy, frenetic guitar riffs and a swarm of blurred hair. Their debut album hits next spring 2017, but high profile dates with Airbourne come first. The girls are prepping for their voyage with the release of “Castaway” that yearns for discovery. We give a damn…
Ben Craven (www.bencraven.com) hailing from Brisbane, Australia Ben creates his own unique style of cinematic progressive rock. On “Last Chance To Hear” you hear why critics are calling it a stunning triumphant musical masterpiece of progressive rock. You’ll be amazed at the grandness of the album completed solely by the very-talented multi-instrumentalist. And, it’ll leave you craving some more…
Canada’s The Mike Bochoff Band (www.mikebochoffband.com) have released a heartfelt advance single “Sons of America” as a reaction to one of the more publicized mass shootings in the United States. Over time, their song has transformed from an upbeat, solo acoustic melody to the powerful, slower version available today. Based out of Halifax, these pop rockers create catchy melodies with warm, thought-provoking lyrics and undeniable contagious energy, proving once again why we love the Great White North…
Left-handed Matthew Curry (www.matthewcurry.com) throws his hat into the ring to become the next big axeman on Shine On. The six strong songs on the astounding EP shed some light on why the still young prodigy from Bloomington, Illinois just might get there. The title track is so authentic and earnest as it builds to memorable climax courtesy of skilled fret work, you’ll be wishing there was a half dozen more tunes here…
See ya next month!
About Sights and Sounds of Note: SSON column editors Richard J. Lynch and Laura Turner Lynch are the founders of SoundPress.net, an Internet-based music industry magazine and review site, online since 1999. Laura is a published author of the inspirational Positive Power Secrets From A to Z (www.positivepowersecrets.net). Rich regularly interviews famous rock stars for the site’s radio show and he has recently launched his own recording career at (www.richlynchband.com).