Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Review: Iced Earth, "I Walk Among You"

I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong, but in this case, I’m not. Tim Owens owns Matt Barlow in Iced Earth, and this EP is the absolute proof.

Those of you who have read my rants here or talked to me on the forums at Teeth of the Divine won’t find any surprises in this review. It’s no secret that I loved Owens and how he sounded in Iced Earth. The return of Barlow aside, there’s a big difference between this teaser for the upcoming record and last year’s "Overture of the Wicked," the teaser for "Framing Armageddon." "Overture of the Wicked" got me really fired up. I loved the re-recordings of the original “Something Wicked” trilogy with Owens, who gave them a little more aggression. They were stripped down, sleek and heavier than the originals. Combined with “Ten Thousand Strong,” arguably the strongest track on "Framing Armageddon," it made me want to get my hands on the record as soon as possible. Instead of that effect, "I Walk Among You" makes me almost dread the upcoming record, as I’m afraid it will be the first Iced Earth record that I truly detest.

Let’s start with the title track. It seems that, if you’re looking to pump up interest in the new record, you’d choose one of the best songs on it to put out there on an EP. If that’s the case, Iced Earth fans are in trouble. “I Walk Alone” isn’t an awful song, but there’s nothing to recommend it either. It doesn’t have a great riff like, say, “Burning Times.” It doesn’t have a memorable chorus hook like “Ten Thousand Strong.” Basically, it doesn’t have anything. It’s a run-of-the-mill filler song for Iced Earth, and I don’t understand why you’d choose to showcase a piece like this.

After that, Jon Schaffer returns to his usual tricks of re-recording old songs with the new singer. Unlike the Owens re-recordings last year, which I thought were great reworkings of the original material (which I still love, as well), the re-recordings with Barlow border on unlistenable. “Setian Massacre” and “A Charge to Keep” are OK, but pale in comparison to the originals. “The Clouding” is vomit-inducing. I had to force myself to listen to the whole song for the first time for this review, and to be honest, I’ll probably never listen to it again. Barlow’s voice seems to drone rather than evoke any emotion, and the song is just dead and lifeless.

Though I discovered Iced Earth with Barlow at the helm, I make no secret of the fact that I’m an Owens fanboy, and I think Iced Earth sounded their best with him behind the mic. I know there are a lot of fans who disagree with me, and that’s fine. I’ll still check out the new record because I love the band, and I want it to be a great record. I can’t help but think, though, that I won’t be able to listen to it without thinking how much better it might have been with Owens.

Get "I Walk Among You."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Interview: Shooter Jennings

Fans of Shooter Jennings probably noticed a slightly different attitude when his latest release, "The Wolf," hit stores. While there were still rockers like record opener "This Ol' Wheel" and "Higher," the record has a decidedly more country flavor than his previous efforts.

"We wanted to use a lot of those traditional instruments and do some really wild stuff with it," Jennings said. "I feel like it is more of a country record. It's not necessarily defining what my next direction is going to be or anything like that, but it's a storytelling record to some degree, so we wanted to keep it as rootsy as possible."

Though this record is his most country outing, when he's at home or on the bus, Jennings is as likely to have Sabbath on the stereo as George Strait, particularly the band's sixth record, "Sabotage." He's even incorporated the riff from the band's "Sweet Leaf" into a song from his first record, "Busted in Baylor County," and has been known to play more of the song live.

"I really do love George Strait's music, but if you don't listen to Sabbath, you're not going to totally get me altogether," Jennings said. "If you haven't put on 'Sabotage' before and listened to it from head to toe at least once in your life, you're probably not going to get the whole picture of my music."

So fans shouldn't worry, he said. Jennings is not giving up the rock.

"I love rock 'n' roll, and I'm definitely not going to turn my back on rock 'n' roll," he said.

It's an attitude that, perhaps, has cost him some traditionalist fans of country, who aren't crazy about the rap-like vocal he delivers on "This Ol' Wheel" or the rock 'n' roll lifestyle that he often sings about.

"I'm a big fan of pure country, and I'm proud that I can get a lot of the pure country fans," he said. "But I'm not out there aiming to get the pure country fans. I'm aiming to get my own kind of fans, and if the purists don't like it, they don't have to listen to it."

It's a testament to Jennings' crossover appeal that he was recently asked to play both on Charlie Daniels' Volunteer Jam tour and a few dates on Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello's Justice Tour. He's been equally accepted by both crowds, and that mix of fans is what he's after — people who can appreciate both rock and country.

"That's kind of my point," he said. "It makes me feel accomplished to do that."

He's also making a habit of playing with Louisiana artists. On his last record, "Electric Rodeo," Tony Joe White made a guest appearance. This time around, it's legendary fiddle player Doug Kershaw guesting on "This Ol' Wheel." The pairing came completely by accident. Jennings had gone to a guitar store in Los Angeles to buy a 12-string guitar for one of the songs on the album. The guy who sold him the guitar was Kershaw's nephew and played with Kershaw's son in a band.

"That was such a funny situation," Jennings said. "He said, 'hey, if you want any fiddle, my uncle is Doug Kershaw, he'll do it.' So I gave him my number, and like an hour later, he called. We flew him down there, and he cut the track and really killed it, and we had a great time with him."

"The Wolf" features a wide mix of sounds from a cover of Dire Straits' "Walk of Life," which Jennings says was a random decision after hearing it on the radio one day, to very traditional country. There's also perhaps a bit more of his legendary father, Waylon Jennings, on songs like "Old Friend," "Time Management 101" and particularly "Concrete Cowboys." He takes comparisons to his father as a great compliment.

"It's kind of a ballad of a modern-day drifter," Jennings said. "I feel like the instrumentation on it was really simple and raw, and that's what we wanted to do. The melody on it is really like my dad's or Willie's or something like that. He's always with me. He was very influential in my life, a good friend of mine, a hero of mine. I couldn't deny that to anyone."