www.needleinthegroove.co.uk

Friday, 20 April 2018

James Christian - 'Craving' Album Review

James Christian - Craving

Review by Lawrie Willcox

Craving is the 4th release by James Christian. I had limited knowledge of Christian as the lead singer of House of Lords and only heard a couple of his solo tracks so Craving was new to me.

The press release blurb states that “Craving is a strong personal statement from James Christian, a mature artist, songwriter, producer and performer”. What I took from this given song titles such as 'Heaven is a Place in Hell', 'Jesus Wept', 'If there’s a God', 'Love is the Answer' and 'Amen' was that there was going to be a Christian influence (no pun intended) and I wasn’t wrong.

'Craving' is a real mixed bag. There are some classy AOR tracks but also some very mellow tracks that don’t, in my humble opinion, sit comfortably with the rest.

JC, hmmmm I think maybe someone else with those initials influenced some of 'Craving', has a distinctive voice and does write some catchy tracks, The opener 'Heaven is a Place in Hell' is a cracking start, a bounce along song, upbeat with an infectious chorus.'Wild Boys' follows in a similar vein but the wild boys mentioned seem a bit tame. The track is all American sounding and again full of energy but no menace to it.

The title track 'Craving' follows and is for me the track of the whole album. A real slow burner of classic AOR with a wonderfully layered chorus and full of emotion. It really showcases JC’s voice with a superb acoustic sound that becomes stronger when the chorus kicks in. Impressive stuff.'Jesus Wept' suffers due to the quality of the preceding track, it has a sound of Heart and actually is a grower. World of Possibility for me never got going, it’s a soulful ballad but for me a bit too clichéd and lacked the depth I feel the song needed.

'Sidewinder' lifts the tempo and has a touch of Aerosmith in its sound but after a decent start it kind of drifts from the early promise. 'I Won’t Cry' is another ballad and has some great vocals and a top guitar solo, another grower. Sadly 'If There’s a God' brought me back to earth with a bump. It is so mellow it borders on total blandness. If there’s a God he wouldn’t want this on his play list.

'Love is the Answer' kind of pulls the album back on track and has a mournful feel to it that is lifted by the positive feel of the chorus. 'Black Wasn’t Black' gets back to proper rock, a few more of these were needed JC, it’s got the feel of a proper AOR with a great guitar solo thrown in. It has a nod in the direction of Highway Star and I personally wish the album finished there but Amen finishes it.

'Amen' is obviously a song personal to JC but while I imagine it’s supposed to close the album in a melancholy way it was a bit too Songs of Praise for me.

'Craving' as I said is a mixed bag, some really decent stuff but I found the none too subtle Christian references a bit much in a couple of tracks (this statement by me, who had a full emersion baptism when 18 but have since lapsed). For some people singing about sinners, un-repenting, crucify and other such stuff might appeal but the lesser tracks left me a bit cold. That said if Mr Christian’s beliefs are correct I’ll be going to a place that’s a lot hotter when I die.

However on the positive side James Christian has a very good voice, he obviously is a decent song writer and he has employed a bunch of very good musicians. The album like a few of the tracks is a grower and after a couple of listens I’m almost converted…….almost. I’ll play this again quite happily and think live James Christian would be well worth the effort of seeing.

Score 6.5/10 

 
Tracklisting - 
Heaven Is a Place in Hell
Wild Boys
Craving
Jesus Wept
World Of Possibility
Sidewinder
I won’t Cry
If There’s a God
Love Is the Answer
Black Wasn’t Black
Amen

PRODUCED BY: James Christian, Alessandro Del Vecchio, Pete Alpenborg, Clif Magness, Daniel Volpe

LINE-UP:
James Christian: Lead Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Background Vocals 
Billy Seidman : Additional Acoustic Guitars 
Tommy Denander : Guitars, Bass, Keys (Wild Boys, Love Is The Answer, Sidewinder, I Won’t Cry) 
Jimi Bell : Guitars (Black Wasn’t Black)
Pete Alpenborg : Guitars and Bass (Jesus Wept) 
Alessandro Del Vecchio : Keyboards (Jesus Wept) 
Clif Magness : All Instruments (Craving) 
Josh Freese : Drums (Craving)

Links: 


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Ross The Boss - 'By Blood Sworn' Album Review


Ross The Boss – By Blood Sworn

Review by Sty

Guitarist Ross the Boss’ stature in the history of hard rock and heavy metal has been well-solidified for decades, with a resume including some of the most influential and hardest-hitting bands of all-time, particularly both the Dictators and Manowar. And he continues to rock - as a member of the group DeathDealer, and also, as the leader of his own solo outfit, which has issued such stellar releases as ‘Hailstorm,’ ‘New Metal Leader,’ and this latest offering, ‘By Blood Sworn.’
Joined by Marc Lopes on vocals and keys, Mike LePond on bass, and Lance Barnewold on drums for the sessions (Steve Bolognese will beat the skins on the album’s tour), ‘By Blood Sworn’ was produced by Dean Rispler, and will be released April 20th via AFM Records.

The only way to appreciate this album’s superb production is to crank it up!! I’ll be 100% honest in saying that I had never heard of these guys but I am so glad I got to review this album. The opening Iron Maiden Transylvania-esq riff of album titled ‘By Blood Sworn’ sets the mood just perfectly. A great opening track which scuttles along just nicely. ‘Among Them Bones’ opening riff will warp you straight back to the late 1980’s / 1990’s rock era. It’s speed changes will keep your foot tapping and head nodding. Sublime stuff.

‘This is Vengeance’ reminds me in parts of Holy Terror’s ‘Judas reward’ from their ‘Mind Wars’ album of 1988. ‘We Are the Night’ is another angry double-bass led thumping track with a great opening riff. Things slow down for ‘Faith Of The Fallen’, an epic ballad of synth, melodies and great acoustic trickery with a great chorus. The guitar solo will just suck you in.

‘Devil’s Day’ picks things up again superbly by cranking out rock and roll at it’s very best. Being a bass player myself, the opening riff of ‘Lilith’ was met with great appreciation and I just love the way the rest of the band follow. A great doomy, moody verse to this tune that builds slowly and superbly into the chorus, with a fantastic speed change and a great Black Sabbath type riff thrown in for good measure.

What I’m loving about this album is that the music does the talking as well as the lyrics. Iron Maiden were the first band that I felt that with. ‘Play Among the Gods’ hits hard and fast, as does ‘Circle Of Damnation’, although these latter two sound slightly more mainstream than the rest of the album. Nothing wrong with that of course, and ‘Circle’ is sure an arena anthem to rock to and a potential great Radio airplay tune. Lots of Iron Maiden sounding riffs in this. It’s brilliant stuff.

‘Fistful Of Hate’ rounds things off with it’s Native American intro. Very ‘Indians’ by Anthrax, as is the opening riff which follows. This speeds along just nicely to an unexpected abrupt ending which for me, works well. See you, good night, Bang!! I feel thoroughly entertained.


So, would I recommend you buy this album? 100% YES!! Would I go and see these guys if they hit these shores?? ABSOLUTELY!!!

Score – 9/10

Reviewed by Sty

Tracklisting:

1 – By Blood Sworn
2 – Among The Bones
3 – This Is Vengeance
4 – We Are The Night
5 – Faith Of The Fallen
6 – Devils Day
7 – Lilith
8 – Play Among The Godz
9 – Circle Of Damnation
10 – Fistful Of Hate

Line-up:
Marc Lopez (Vocals), Ross Friedman (Guitars), Mike LePond (Bass), Lance Barnewold (Drums)

Monday, 9 April 2018

Tokyo Storm - 'Optimistic State Of Mind' Album Review


Tokyo Storm – 'Optimistic State Of Mind'

I was recently contacted by Ben Green singer of TS. They are an unsigned UK AOR band. Tokyo Storm is a four piece melodic rock band hailing from the West Midlands.

Influenced by bands such as Journey, FM & ELO, the debut album, ‘Optimistic State of Mind’ was the brainchild of Bob Peach (drums) and Joe Bartnicki (guitar) who wrote and recorded the music for the album over a couple of years.
After recruiting Ben Green to sing on the album, they have now been joined by Jason Edwards to play bass on their upcoming live shows.

Do you know what? I’d love to see a label like Frontiers take on a band like TS instead of pushing ‘so called big names’ and giving them oxygen when they should have been culled with a bolt gun in the early 90s. Like BulletBoys for one, and there’s more like this I could mention.

The melodic rock community is saturated with bands from the 80s, who still think it’s the 1980s (it isn’t guys). Or the newer guard - some of which are from the 80s, but never got the chance they deserved, but are making up for lost time now.

I understand the financials in doing this ‘legacy band’ offer. Even if it’s shite, they could probably shift 3-5k with no effort. But, for the legacy to survive, punts have to be taken on some of this ‘new unsigned guard’ of bands.

TS apart from Ben look as if they have been doing the rounds for a fair few years and have clearly paid their dues. What I’ve heard so far is a cracking set of melodic rock songs that would grace any AOR lovers collection.

You wouldn’t think that this thing is self-produced as it’s as good as anything I’ve heard. ‘Optimistic State Of Mind’ sets its AOR stall out immediately. It envelopes you like a blanket, and you’re sucked in by the warm vocals and comfortable feeling that you get from a band that knows what it wants, and wants you to feel. Is this love is as smooth as it comes, a bit Toto, and FM like. Which is no bad place to be. ‘Tune’ gives Joe Bartnicki the chance to show off his guitar skills, no OTT thrill, just simply and very nicely done. ‘Stormy Night’ is a obligatory ballad, with Greens vocals giving enough emotion to make it count. It could easily segue into ‘what becomes of the broken hearted’

‘Kill The Machines’ is a bit harder edged. Green reminds me of someone I can’t quite put my finger on. Shit like this is regular when you’re 51! Got it….on this song he has this Matti Alfonzetti vibe, and that, is not a bad sound by any stretch. ‘Silent Obsession’ is a smooth an AOR ballad that you are likely to hear, they type that could just be triple the length live and would be even more fantastic. The TS boys have set their phasers to ‘stun’ with ‘Fire In Your Eyes’, and it has a great 80s vibe to it. ‘Lady Darkness’ is a bit of a plodder, I was hoping it would build up to a crescendo, but stayed at the same pace throughout. Its not bad, I just wanted a little more out of it. ’Summer feeling’ has a ‘proper’ 80s opening riff, and when its played out like this is when they truly shine. Its over all too soon with the final track, and epic-length ‘Signals’. Just because its long doesn’t guarantee that its great. The first couple of eight minutes are just too incidental. I was expecting ’something’ and it constantly failed to arrive. It’s a disappointing end to a good album. The guys could have had at least two songs that would have taken it up as level. For me, I would skip away from Signals if I had it on a random listen.

Joe Barnicki and Bob Peach have written some pretty decent songs and have an album they should be really proud of. In getting Ben Green for vocal duties, they have unearthed a gem

I don’t know if the guys are selling it, giving it away for free or, play it at your house if the moneys right. If you are a true fan of AOR/melodic rock, you really need to check out Tokyo Storm

Score - 7.5/10 (more if the last song wasn't on there)

Tokyo Storm –
Bob Peach – Drums
Joe Bartnicki – Guitar
Ben Green – Vocals

Jason Edwards – Bass (Live shows)

Tracklisting –
Optimistic State Of Mind
Is This Love
Tune
Stormy Night
Kill The Machines
Silent Obsession
Fire In Your Eyes
Lady Darkness
Summer Feeling
Signals

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Stryper - 'God Damn Evil' Album Review


Stryper – God Damn Evil

In the 80s and 90s, it was almost embarrassing (just for me) to say that I liked Stryper. Almost anyone I knew in my field of friends hated them. When it used to come up in conversations, I would be slated for listening to ‘wimpy, poodle perm, Jesus loving, rock!’ Harsh words indeed. (And that was from my mum!). Way back then, and to this day I gave never faltered with my love of this band. OK, so not all of the albums have been brilliant, as I sort of lost interest with the early noughties output. I still own everything, but wasn’t exactly over enamoured with the output. But then, in 2011 began the comeback, they eased their way back in with a covers album, and an album of rerecorded Stryper classics. This saw Stryper entering a golden period that I honestly didn’t see coming. Call it the second coming (What do you mean they’ve done it? Bollox!). 'No More Hell To Pay', rocked me to the core. It was full on metal and a great way to resurrect their career. Not that they ever went away of course. Soppy ballads were replaced with hard-edged rockers, and they sounded better than ever.

We jump to 2018 and this is their 10th studio album, 'God Damn Evil'. Since 2015s 'Fallen', Tim Gains has left which is a crying shame for me, but I wish him luck and success. In comes Perry Richardson (Firehouse) as a full time member.

Opening song ‘Take It To The Cross’ completely took me by surprise. I didn’t think they had it in them. A proper old school thrash riff, with complimenting thrash-tastic chorus, complete with death growls, courtesy of Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall, Act Of Defiance). I love it when a band regenerates and keeps you guessing. What would be the fun in just trying to write in the style of ‘Soldiers Under Command’?

‘Sorry’ and ‘Lost’ are more in line with what would be their ‘sound’ to be these past few albums, edgier, heavier, but with all the harmonics that you love them for, but for ‘Lost’ you have MS hitting notes he hit in his twenties. It seems as if a certain Mr Sweet is able to poop riffs and lyrics for fun. Title track ‘God Damn Evil’ is so planted in the 80s, I think it was brought into the studio as a demo on cassette in a 1983 Camaro! Its one of Stryper’s best anthems…..to date.  Its sing-a-long-a-metal at its finest.



‘Robert….Robert, we are over here mate! I told you not to wear your bleedin’ sunglasses at night. It’s as black as Hell!!!’

‘You Don’t Even Know’ has a doubly layer of Sweets vocals, with a nice throaty wail for the chorus. ‘The Valley’ kicks off with a short passage from the 23rd Psalm, and continues in that vein throughout. ‘Beautiful’ is a definite grower, the chorus being the hook here. ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ is the nearest thing to a ballad, thankfully its not one in the style of the saccharin coated ones from the 80s and builds nicely to its climax. Closer 'The Devil Doesn’t Live Here’ is the fast paced rocker on show here, and reminds me a bit of Tooth & Nail era Dokken.

First song aside, which could divide some Stryper fans (not me) it’s a very strong album from the get go. Where lots of bands are plodding along with ‘average’ albums, Stryper are relevant, and pushing forward with every release. Few bands from the 80s are doing this, and Stryper are rightly proud of their output and position as one of rocks finest.

MS has recently gone on record stating that he feels that this is their best album, do you know what, he’s not far wrong. I still love all the classics from the 80s, but his writing, and the consistency of his writing have improved with age.

Score 8.5/10

Tracklisting
Take It To The Cross
Sorry
Lost
God Damn Evil
You Don’t Even Know
The Valley
Sea Of Thieves
Beautiful
Can’t Live Without Your Love
Own Up
The Devil Doesn’t Live Here

Stryper are -
Michael Sweet
Oz Fox
Robert Sweet
Perry Richardson

OUT- 20th April 2018

Headlining Day 1 of Frontiers Festival, Milan 5th April