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Alvin Lee, Journey & Judas Priest CD Reviews & Assorted Book Reviews

November 15, 2012

ALVIN LEE –

“STILL ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM” (CD)

(Repertoire)

There must be something in the air at the minute with the baby boomer generation of musicians travelling back to the past: there’s Bruce Springsteen and his odes to Woody Guthrie, Neil Young and his recent collection of folk songs ‘Americana’ and Elton John with his Leon Russell collaboration. English guitarist Alvin Lee was at Woodstock with is band Ten Years After but in 1972 he released a collection of Americana inspired tunes with an album titled ‘On The Road To Freedom’. Obviously he never found freedom because over thirty years later he’s released a new album called ‘Still On The Road To Freedom’. More than anything it is a tribute to his musical roots having been inspired by his dad’s collection of jazz and blues records. Although the album was recorded in Spain the album drips with American influences. The bluesy ‘Save My Stuff’ is evidently Lee’s homage to American blues musicians like Big Brown Broonzy and BB King.  There are touches of country-folk with ‘Walk On, Walk Tall’ and slow, eerie blues with ‘Nice And Easy’. There’s funk with ‘Rock You’ and R&B with ‘Look Like A Man 2’, and sixties rock ’n’ roll with ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

Lee has recorded a sumptuous collection of songs that reflects his passion for American music, and like a lot of his peers he has nothing but respect and love for his influences ranging from Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry. Lee loves the blues but he also adores rock ’n’ roll, funk, jazz, folk and country. There’s a little bit of everything in this album. Lee is a fine guitar player and an underrated one actually; really only known to aficionados of music. ‘Still On The Road Freedom’ is an interesting low key release that’s worth checking out.

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

JOURNEY –

“GREATEST HITS II” (CD)

(Sony)

The first ‘Greatest Hits’ has sold over twenty million copies worldwide making it one of the biggest selling releases in music history. Well, let’s be honest here: it is one of the greatest collection’s of AOR songs ever. A truly genre defining release. It was almost inevitable that after the ‘rebirth’ of Journey due to the success of the successful albeit cringe-worthy TV show ‘Glee’, and the song that everybody is probably fed up of hearing by now, that a second collection would eventually be issued at some point. Sure, there have been other Journey collections released over the past decade (some of them more complete and extensive than this one) but what makes ‘Greatest Hits 2’ stand out amongst the masses is that former singer Steve Perry has dug a little deeper into the band’s archives and come up with a fairly healthy collection of 17 songs, which he has remastered himself. It is proof yet again that Journey is a band like no other.

Hopefully what this second collection will do is open up the band’s back catalogue for those who only know Journey because of ‘Don’t’ Stop Believin’.’ For whatever reasons, the likes of ‘Stone In Love’, ‘Chain Reaction’ and ‘Mother Father’ were not included on the first release. Sure, it’s easy to call this CD a cash-in but it does show a different side to the band but it’s doubtful that mainstream music lovers will go for this collection the way they continue to do so with the first one. This reviewer can’t see ‘Greatest Hits 2’ selling millions upon millions of copies like the first one whose legacy is never going to be beaten by any other Journey collection. And though ‘Greatest Hits 2’ looks good and everything it’s missing some sleeve notes and rare photos as well some obscure tracks for anoraks. Perhaps some rare, unreleased and live Steve Perry fronted Journey material would have been preferable?

The biggest problem is that the first collection has too much to live up to and while this is a good collection with some strong songs from the earlier stages of the band’s career it fails to better the original. Having said that it’s an awful lot of fun to listen to. Nitpicking aside, Journey – like Queen with their two legendary million-selling ‘Greatest Hits’ collections – have managed to come up with a couple of truly enjoyable compilation releases that appeal to both casual and diehard fans, but unlike Queen, let’s just hope Journey don’t make a big cock-up with a third ‘Greatest Hits’ if they go ahead with such a collection. Time will tell on that one…

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

JUDAS PRIEST –

“SINGLE CUTS” (CD)

(Columbia)

The Metal Gods have been filling up their back catalogue recently with a live album and an anniversary set of ‘British Steel’ and now they have graced us with this single disc CD containing all of their A-side singles. They’ve wisely chosen to take a chronological track-listing beginning with 1977’s excellent cover of the Joan Baez folk classic ‘Diamonds And Rust.’ Of course what this collection doesn’t mean is that it represents the best of the band. ‘Hot Rockin’’ is fun but it’s not exactly the best way to celebrate such a fantastic heavy metal band as Judas Priest. On the other hand, these singles show just how diverse Priest have been throughout their career. They’ve never been afraid to experiment with new sounds and extend the boundaries of the genre and while I’d personally like to hear a more progressive metal album from the band than they offered with the over-bloated and over-long ‘Nostradamus’ I’m in the frame of mind that some of their best stuff was created between ‘British Steel’ and ‘Turbo’. Metal fans may find such a claim to bold and wholly inaccurate given how strong an album like ‘Sin After Sin’ is but ‘Freewheel Burning’, which is in this collection and originally featured on the excellent ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ opus (1984), is one of their finest achievements song-wise. Their most metallic album is certainly ‘Painkiller’ which spawned the killer singles ‘A Touch Of Evil’ and ‘Night Crawler’ as well as the title-track.

This collection is a mixed bag but nevertheless it’s a nifty way for the casual fan to reacquaint themselves with the band and a cool way to introduce newcomers to the Priest camp. Serious fans will already have these tracks on the original albums and perhaps the original singles too, but ‘Single Cuts’ is worth having in your collection anyway. Completists will more likely be interested in the fantastic looking box set that contains all 52 singles (so all the B-sides, etc,) spread across 20 discs. What a way to celebrate their career…despite the cost!

So underrated in many ways, yet so brilliant…

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

ROSS HALFIN –

“DEF LEPPARD: THE DEFINITIVE VISUAL HISTORY” (CD)

(Chronicle)

Like the recent Neil Zlozower books on Van Halen and Motley Crue, fellow world renowned rock snapper Ross Halfin has got an incredible talent for showing the various aspects of life within some of the world’s most famous rock bands. Halfin has been photographing Def Leppard for over two decades now and this book is a collection of some of his best snaps; candid and honest, you get the story of the band through the eyes of a camera. It’s not Halfin’s first book on Leppard, there was one in the late eighties called ‘Animal Instinct’ co-authored with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke.

‘The Definitive Visual History’ features text by Mojo/Classic Rock writer Paul Elliot who, of course, shares his surname with the band’s legendary frontman Mr. Joe Elliott (no relation.) This hardback, lavishly assembled coffee table book gets the thumbs up from the band: Joe Elliott has contributed a foreword and the band comment on the photos of which there are 250 going right back to when Halfin started shooting them in the late seventies. Some of the photos are previously unseen, which makes the visual story more interesting.

This book could probably tell you more about Def Leppard than any prose book ever could; you get a glimpse inside the world of Def Leppard, from their beginnings in industrialised Sheffield to the phenomenal success they had in the States in the mid to late eighties with ‘Pyromania’ and ‘Hysteria.’

Basically, this book tells you how they grew up, changed, matured and became what they are today. With over 60 million albums sold worldwide, Halfin shows you how and why Def Leppard became so successful.

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

 NICK KENT –

“APATHY FOR THE DEVIL” (Book)

(Faber)

The subtitle for Nick Kent’s second book that follows his highly acclaimed collection of rock journalism ‘The Dark Stuff’ is ‘A 1970s Memoir’. It was during the 1970s when Nick Kent worked for the NME as one of their star writers alongside the likes of Charles Shaar Murray and Ian MacDonald. He writes candidly about his failed relationship with Chrissie Hynde who would go on to have a very successful career as the frontwoman of The Pretenders, and his digs at fellow NME scribes Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill (who panned this book in The Guardian, unsurprisingly) are quite funny if seemingly bitter. Many of his peers would actually go on to have careers that would surpass Kent’s and bring them incredible wealth and/or fame. There are lots of rock clichés and his assessments of Queen, Sweet, Allman Brothers Band and Jethro Tull are certainly not aligned with mine.

For a writer whose articles are hailed as some of the best of British rock journalism and having been awarded the NME’s ‘God-Like Genius’ award the writing isn’t actually that great. There are some lazy and awkward sentences and lots of bitter remarks about certain rock artists and writers that are not necessary. However, it’s the stories that make this book succeed rather than the average writing style. The 1970s was certainly a colourful period for Kent. He recounts his tales of befriending, interviewing and/or touring with Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop and David Bowie et al with entraining detail. Kent was a junkie throughout much of the 1970s which forms the basis of the book and he continued his drug addled ways throughout the subsequent decade, which he recounts in a brief afterword before getting clean and starting a new life in Paris where he continues to live with his wife and son.

It’s a light read aimed at those who are interested in the history of rock journalism and despite its short-comings it’s a good rock memoir. (A better rock memoir, however, is Mick Wall’s sadly out of print tome, ‘Paranoid: Black Days With Sabbath And Other Rock Icons’.)

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

BRIAN LEW & HARALD OIMOEN –

“MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW” (Book)

(Bazillion Points)

The San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California has a rich history of producing metal bands and plays an important part in the chronicles and evolution of heavy metal. It can be argued that the foundations of American metal lies in the Bay Area. This fantastic pictorial book captures the energy, spirit and comradeship of the Bay Area thrash scene of the early 1980s. Photographers Brian “Umlaut” Lew and Harald “O.” Oimoen were fans just taking snap shots of bands in their local area; little did they know they were documenting one of the most important movements in popular music history. It was the complete opposite of what was going on down in LA. Until Slayer played their first gig in the Bay Area they were a glam inspired band wearing make-up and covering Priest and Maiden. What was going on in the Bay Area also had a huge impression on Metallica so much so they moved from LA to San Francisco.

This book features some excellent photos of Metallica, Slayer, Possessed, Exodus, Death Angel and Megadeth et al. There are some great shots of bands playing in the legendary clubs Old Waldorf, The Stone and Ruthie’s Inn. Lew and Oimoen managed to capture the bands both onstage and off and the 400 photos probably tell more about the thrash scene than thousands of words ever could. There are some personal stories from Ron Quintana of Metal Mania magazine as well as Gary Holt of Exodus, Alex Skolnick of Testament and Robb Flynn of Machine Head.

‘Murder In The Front Row’ is a fantastically produced book with some outstanding graphics and is further proof that the New York based Bazillion Points is at the very top of metal publishing having produced some fine works in the past. It’s simply one of the best looking metal books that I’ve ever come across. If you’re currently disillusioned by Metallica because of the absurdness of ‘Lulu’ than this book may reinstate your faith in Metallica and the thrash scene.

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

DAVE LEWIS –

“LED ZEPPELIN: FEATHER IN THE WIND – OVER EUROPE 1980” (Book)

(Tight But Loose)

Dave Lewis is well known to Led Zeppelin fans having chronicled the band for over two decades now. His excellent ‘Tight But Loose’ fanzine is probably the best example of the contemporary rock fanzine but Lewis’ appreciation of Led Zep doesn’t stop there; he has authored a number of books on his favourite band. His latest tome is this excellent hardback book which chronicles the final era of the band: their last tour which was a low-key 14 date tour of Europe in 1980. Lewis writes about how the tour was Led Zep’s way of getting back into the groove of live shows after having some time off in recent years, and after the 1979 Knebworth appearances, which Lewis chronicled in his previous book, ‘Then As It Was.’

Of course the proposed tour of America that autumn never happened due to the tragic death of drummer John Bonham. Such is Lewis’ knowledge of the band; he gives an in-depth report on every gig from the tour. Lewis also gives a personal perspective on the tour using his own diary from that year. He discusses the lead up to the tour and the immediate aftermath, and for die-hards there are also photos of memorabilia, bootlegs and such. Lewis is an incredible archivist and chronicler, and is an asset to rock journalism.

He is a fan above all else, but a shrewd and passionate one at that. ‘Feather In The Wind…’ is a hefty tome and one well worth picking up if you’re a Led Zep fan. It’s a worthy addition to any rock library.

Visit http://www.tightbutloose.co.uk for further information.

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

PAUL TRYNKA –

“STARMAN: DAVID BOWIE – THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY” (Book)

(Sphere)

Longstanding British journalist Paul Trynka is best known for his masterful biography of Iggy Pop, ‘Open Up And Bleed’, which is hailed as the undisputed definitive biography of the crazed Detroit rocker. Now, the former Mojo editor tackles a truly British subject – that of David Bowie. Wonderfully written and impeccably researched, ‘Starman’ is a terrific read.

Tynka is excellent on the early years of Bowie’s life in war-torn Bromley; his difficult relationship with his mother, his love for but distance from his stepbrother (who ended up in the infamous Cane Hill Asylum) and his well publicised sex life, which was certainly colourful. Trynka also goes in depth about Bowie’s genius for using – or is it abusing? – the talents of those around him such as guitarist Mick Ronson. Certainly the early 1970s Bowie albums would never have been as brilliant had it not been for the late great Hull-born guitarist.

Bowie was manipulative and selfish and stopped at nothing to achieve fame, but he was also incredibly talented even though it took quite some time for all his talents to manifest themselves. It also took him several years to have a hit song. Long-term readers of books on Bowie may find nothing new here especially after David Buckley’s highly acclaimed tome ‘Strange Fascination’ and the recent ‘Bowie In Berlin’ by Tom Seabrook, but Trykna is strong on a lot of areas of Bowie’s career – his rivalry/friendship with Bolan, his friendships with Lou Reed, Ian Hunter and Iggy Pop and his doomed marriage to Angie Bowie (their son is Moon/Source Code director Duncan Jones.) Trynka is also excellent on Bowie’s ability to transform himself; there are so many different eras to Bowie’s career – glam, jungle, New Wave, pop and funk. He’s done it all. Bowie is such a fascinating person, truly a one-off artist. What makes him utterly compelling is that he is famous but also eccentric and secretive. These days, he lives in New York with his wife, the model Iman, and their daughter in a state of semi-retirement. He hasn’t done an interview in about seven years and has only appeared on stage a couple of times (with Dave Gilmour and Arcade Fire) but it is his seemingly contradictory persona that makes him such an interesting character – that, and his music.

Trynka has written an excellent book here and one that Bowie fans will enjoy.

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

 

BARON WOLMAN –

“THE ROLLING STONE YEARS” (Book)

(Omnibus Press)

When chronicling the history of rock music, images can say a lot more about an artist than words. It’s certainly the case with the photographs of American rock snapper Baron Wolman; surely one of the most influential photographers in the music business. There are many other great photographers of course with Bob Gruen and Jim Marshall springing to mind, but Wolman has gone down in the history books because he was the first photographer hired by Rolling Stone magazine back when it was founded in 1967 by Jann Wenner and Ralph J. Gleason. Many of the photographs included in this lavish handbook book were taken throughout the late sixties and seventies and have since become iconic imagery.

Most of the artists featured in this book are as famous as you can get with the likes of The Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Ike and Tina Turner.  Wolman offers anecdotes about the photo sessions and what it was like working with the artists while there is also a very informative and detailed introduction. Many of the artists featured were flawed characters – Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison et al – and Wolman gives his personal insights in their world, which is fascinating stuff. These were the biggest artists of the sixties and seventies and Wolman was right there when rock history was being made.

This book is not only a celebration of his career but of the music we love. It’s hard to fault this book, really. It’s a fantastic time capsule and one that be looked at with awe.

Copyright Neil Daniels © 2012

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