Thursday, June 13, 2024

Review: Blackberry Smoke, "Be Right Here"

I consider Blackberry Smoke’s 2012 album The Whippoorwill to be one of the greatest Southern rock albums of all time, and yet I haven’t listened to it in years. It was a record that arrived in the darkest hour of my life and seemed written for me.

I identified with nearly every song on it, and I’m not being dramatic when I say that it played a huge role in helping me survive the turmoil and return to the land of the living again. And therein lies the problem. While I’ll still occasionally rock out to “Sleeping Dogs” or “Shakin’ Hands with the Holy Ghost,” some of my favorite songs from The Whippoorwill – like “Ain’t Much Left of Me” and the title track – are too tightly tied to that darkness for me to comfortably revisit. They hold emotions and feelings that are better left in the past.

For years now, I’ve wished that Blackberry Smoke could release another album that hit the way that The Whippoorwill did so I could enjoy it in better times. While I’ve liked most of what they’ve done, it’s never quite reached that pinnacle. But Be Right Here may be the record that I’ve been waiting for them to make.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Review: Durbin, "Screaming Steel"


After years of trying to cash in on his "American Idol" fame with more radio-friendly rock fare, James Durbin turned to his passion for 1980s metal on his 2021 album The Beast Awakens. While the style is not likely to land him on top of the charts, it did seem like he was having more fun. He's continued that on the follow-up Screaming Steel, wearing his influences on his sleeves and basically writing another love letter to classic metal.

What's hot?

The record is a treasure trove of Easter eggs and inside references for fans of classic metal. It starts in the title track, where Durbin throws out references to classic bands and songs almost non-stop. Is it campy? Absolutely. Do I care? Not at all. I'm banging my head and shouting them out along with him. The strongest performance on the album, in my opinion, though, is one of the shortest tracks here, the Dio tribute "The Worshipper 1897." I love the whole delivery, and it makes me wish that Dio was still around to maybe do a guest shot on it. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Best of 2023, Part 2: In Flames, Avatar, Metallica, Nita Strauss, Overkill

Continuing my list of top 20 albums of 2023:

No. 10. NITA STRAUSS – THE CALL OF THE VOID: The long-time Alice Cooper guitar slinger delivers her second solo album, this time shaking things up with a whole host of guest artists (including the boss), as well as some incredible instrumental pieces. The songs with guest stars do tend to take on the flavor of the guest’s band, but that’s honestly not a problem at all as it brings great variety from the melodic death metal influence of “The Wolf You Feed,” featuring Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, to the quirky nu metal of “Dead Inside,” featuring David Draiman of Disturbed, to the all-out hard rock of “Victorious,” featuring Dorothy. But it’s not just guest vocalists that Strauss brings on as we get a shredder's dream collab with Marty Friedman on “Surfacing,” to close the record. Call of the Void is a solid album that should appeal not only to guitar fans, but fans of great rock songs.

Standout songs: “Summer Storm,” “The Wolf You Feed,” “Victorious,” “Winner Takes All,” “Kintsugi,” “Surfacing”

Monday, January 1, 2024

Best of 2023, Part 1: Icon of Sin, Extreme, Texas Hippie Coalition, Burning Witches, Gloryhammer, Angus McSix

This was another surprisingly good music year for me. Perhaps not as strong as 2022, but still solid enough to produce a Best of 2023 list that includes a lot of very familiar faces and a few newcomers:

No. 20. GRYMHEART – HELLISH HUNT: There were several albums competing for this last spot on my list, including solid new efforts from Prong and Spirit Adrift. In the end, though, Grymheart’s debut album was just too much fun to deny. From the first time I stumbled across “Ignis Fatuus,” I knew this was my kind of band – a blend of folk metal, power metal, and extreme metal with some super addictive melodies. The lyrics are, at times, pretty awful, but since the only Hungarian words I know I learned from Alestorm, I really can’t knock them for their English lyrics.

Standout songs: “Ignis Fatuus,” “My Hellish Hunt,” “Fenrir’s Sons,” “Monsters Among Us”

Friday, April 21, 2023

Review: Metallica, "72 Seasons"

Metallica’s 72 Seasons will, no doubt, be one of the most loved metal albums of the year. It will also be one of the most hated.

That’s the spot the band has found itself in with every album released since the early ’90s. (Except maybe St. Anger, which is pretty much reviled by most.) You could make the argument that it goes back farther than that. There are fans that will say And Justice for All was the beginning of the end because they did a music video for “One,” and I’ve heard arguments at one time or another as to why every album since Kill ‘Em All has sucked.

I’m guilty, too. I was furious when the self-titled Black Album came out in 1991, and all of a sudden people who had been making fun of me for listening to Metallica for years were driving around blasting “Enter Sandman.” I felt strangely betrayed. I dislike the song immensely to this day, though I did eventually come around to the album with time. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag for me.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Review: Ward Davis at the Louisiana Grandstand (March 3, 2023)

When Ward Davis’ solo acoustic performance at the Louisiana Grandstand theater was announced, I almost decided to skip it. I’d just seen Davis with his full band back in the fall and had a heavy concert slate for 2023 already. I logged in on the day tickets went on sale, and it just so happened that there were still a couple of front row center-section seats left at a price less than I paid for one upper deck ticket to see his friend Cody Jinks a week later. I couldn’t pass that up, and it was a fortuitous turn of events because I really would have hated to miss this show.

This was my first visit to the venue, and you kind of have to know what you’re looking for. It’s a historical-looking unmarked red-brick building with white columns, and if not for the valet parking sign pointing around to the side, I would have wondered if I were in the right place. Walking in, the building has the feel of a place that country greats might have played back in the 1950s. Two staircases to either side of the entrance lead to the upstairs theater, about a 500-ish capacity place with wooden auditorium-style seats, a smallish stage and red curtains. It definitely had the feel of a place where you could have seen Hank Sr.

So, it’s already a cool venue, and for my money, Ward Davis stands as one of the best songwriters out there right now. That’s a perfect pairing.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Best of 2022, Part 2: Ozzy, Zeal & Ardor, Whiskey Myers, Parkway Drive, Amon Amarth, Alestorm, Skid Row

Continuing my Best of 2022 list with the top 10: 

No. 10. OZZY OSBOURNE – PATIENT NUMBER 9: Who’d have thought that an Ozzy Osbourne record would ever crack my Top 10 again? This one really kind of hit home for me despite some questionable production choices. The title track with Jeff Beck is the best thing that the Prince of Bleeping Darkness has done in ages, and there’s plenty more to like here with guest shots from Tony Iommi, Eric Clapton, Zakk Wylde and Mike McCready. Though it doesn’t quite capture the classic Ozzy energy, there are certainly shades of all of his incarnations to be found in the songs here, and it’s probably the first Ozzy album that I’ve truly enjoyed since 2001’s Down to Earth. (And yeah, I know most people dislike that one, too, but I don’t.)

Standout songs: “Patient Number 9,” “Immortal,” “No Escape from Now,” “One of those Days,” “A Thousand Shades,” “Evil Shuffle,” “Mr. Darkness”

Monday, January 2, 2023

Best of 2022, Part 1: Blind Guardian, Megadeth, Soilwork, Ward Davis, Disturbed

If there was one good thing that came out of the misery of 2020, it seems that a lot of artists used their lockdown time to create fantastic albums that trickled out through the year. For me, 2022 was an embarrassment of musical riches that featured some rock steady releases, some fantastic returns to form and even a couple of new discoveries.

The year wasn’t without its disappointments, and some of them were tough ones. The much-anticipated return of King’s X after a 14-year absence, for example, just didn’t connect with me the way that I’d hoped. But those were anomalies this year and certainly not the norm. I can’t remember the last time that I had 20 albums that I wanted to talk about at the end of the year, but here we are:

No. 20. HORIZON IGNITED – TOWARDS THE DYING LANDS: The second album for Finland’s Horizon Ignited was my introduction to the band. What they deliver on this first Best of 2022 honoree is not ground-breaking, but it’s very well-done melodic death metal in the vein of Soilwork and In Flames. Unfortunately for them, they were competing this year with a new record from Soilwork and four incredible songs from In Flames’ upcoming record, due in early 2023. That said, Towards the Dying Land is still a very enjoyable 40-ish minutes, and “Reveries” remains one of my favorite songs of the year.

Standout songs: “Reveries,” “Beyond Your Reach,” “Towards the Dying Lands,” “Servant,” “Eventide of Abysmal Grief”

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Review: Skid Row, "The Gang's All Here"

 I didn’t see this coming.

Like many fans, I’ve longed for a reunion of the original lineup of Skid Row. While I enjoyed some of the band’s work with replacement vocalist, the late Johnny Solinger, it never quite stacked up with their earlier output. It’s become pretty clear, though, that the chasm between former vocalist Sebastian Bach and the rest of the band is too wide to bridge. So, I never expected to get a new Skid Row record that I considered on par with those first three albums.

Enter Erik Gronwall, former vocalist of the band H.E.A.T., a lifelong Skid Row fan despite being born only a couple of years before their debut album. His version of the band’s hit “18 and Life” on a Swedish TV singing competition helped earn him the nod from Skid Row after they went through a series of replacement vocalists for Solinger, including Tony Harnell (TNT) and ZP Theart (Dragonforce), and they seem to have made the right choice. Gronwall breathes new life into the band. He sounds enough like a young Bach to hit old guys like me right in the nostalgia, but he also brings enough of his own sound to not give off the tribute vibe.