Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Review: Aerosmith, "Honkin' on Bobo"

It's a shame these are cover songs because this is the album that a lot of Aerosmith fans have been waiting on for more than 25 years.

There are no synthesizers, no horn sections and no bows to radio airplay. It's just the five members of Aerosmith (with occasional help from vocalist Tracy Bonham and pianists Paul Santo and Johnnie Johnson) rocking out on some of their favorite blues tunes. The result is a very warm, organic record that recalls the band's best work of the 1970s. And why shouldn't it? Some of the band's hottest songs in the '70s were covers of old blues tunes.

Hearing the band put their stamp on "Shame, Shame, Shame" or Willie Dixon's "I'm Ready" will make you think you're listening to one of Aerosmith's classic albums like "Toys in the Attic" or "Rocks." The songs would certainly fit right in there.

A real surprise on this album are the two Joe Perry sung tunes, "Back Back Train" and "Stop Messin' Around." In the past, Perry songs have been like an afterthought, perhaps throwing a little bone to the guitarist. On this collection, they're two of the best songs. Perry's smooth, smoky voice is a perfect fit with the bluesier numbers.

The only weak spot on the album is, surprisingly, the only new Aerosmith song, "The Grind." It sounds like the same ballad we've heard them do seven or eight times since the early 1990s. But the energetic numbers like Bo Diddley's "Road Runner" and "Baby, Please Don't Go," and the down and dirty numbers like Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind" and "Never Loved a Girl," a reworking of Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man," will soon make you forget that one misstep.

This is what Aerosmith should sound like. Here's hoping the Boston bad boys will throw us some new rock 'n' roll in this vein in the near future.

Get "Honkin' on Bobo."

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Review: Grip Inc., "Incorporated"

When drummer Dave Lombardo parted ways with Slayer in the early 1990s to form his own band, I thought it was a bad move.

Grip Inc.'s first three releases were good, but not outstanding, and when Lombardo rejoined his old bandmates in Slayer a couple of years ago, it could have signalled the end of Grip Inc. Instead, the band has delivered its best album to date.

"Incorporated" is easily the most diverse album the band has done. It has the same mix of Slayer-style thrash, punk and progressive, but every time you think you've got it figured out, the band throws in something new. They add some electronic industrial beats on tracks like "The Answer " and "Prophecy." They throw out a little flamenco guitar on "Enemy Mind," and several songs have a Middle Eastern flavor.

Perhaps the most surprising touches are the strings on "(Built to) Resist," and the Gregorian-style chanting on "Blood of Saints."

What won't surprise you are thrashers like "Endowment of Apathy" and the slab of crunch on "Man With No Insides." They may mix things up a bit, but they haven't sacrificed any heaviness.

Get "Incorporated."

Review: Godsmack, "The Other Side"

Acoustic sets are a tricky thing for hard rock bands. For every Alice in Chains or Tesla that gets it right, there are a dozen bands that take the stage with an acoustic and bang out the same power chords they use with an electric. Without the wailing wall of distortion, all of the weaknesses are exposed.

Luckily, Godsmack is one of the bands that gets it right. On "The Other Side," the band offers up acoustic versions of several of their songs, along with three new tracks.

Godsmack shows an impressive side on this album, that they've hinted at before on songs like "Voodoo" and "Serenity." The most impressive and surprising moment on the album is a reworking of their heavy hit "Awake." They've renamed it "Asleep" for this version and changed it from a pounding headbanger to a melancholy ballad. It gives a whole new signifigance to the song's subject.

I was also a bit surprised by how well other heavy tunes like "Re-Align" and "Keep Away" translated into acoustic numbers. They perhaps hovers a bit close to the "same three chords" approach, but the songs take on a warm, rootsy feel that works well.

Of the three new songs, the most interesting is "Touché," which features members of Dropbox, the first signing to Godsmack singer Sully Erna's label. It's got a twangy, almost country feel that's a bit out of character for the band. All in all, "The Other Side" reminds me a lot of Alice in Chains' "Jar of Flies," and that's a very good thing. This album shows that Godsmack isn't a one-trick pony and further reinforces their position as one of the top hard rock acts out there.

Get "The Other Side."

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Review: Manowar, "Hell on Earth III"

Is there any band that better represents the spirit of metal than Manowar?

Whether you love Manowar or think the metal warrior schtick is a little corny, you have to admit that there are no greater champions of the music than the world's loudest band, and they prove it again on this DVD.

The first disc chronicles Manowar's travels around the world with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, fan interaction and some live performance clips. This disc shows first-hand Manowar's dedication to their fans and vice versa. Their love of performing their music is evident, and they seem to truly appreciate the people that allow them to do it. How many other band have you ever seen that allow a fan to grab a guitar and come on stage for a jam session almost every night?

The second disc contains an hour-long performance from an outdoor festival in Cologne, Germany, where about 27,000 fans packed the streets of the city to see the band. It's a rousing performance, if a bit brief.

The rest of the disc is full of vintage Manowar videos, along with their latest two clips. I would have liked just a little more live performance, but beyond that, I've got no complaints. The DVD shows truly that Manowar are "Kings of Metal." All hail.

Get "Hell on Earth III."