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Stimulator — Lovelier in Black
Stimulator — Lovelier in Black
Artist:
Stimulator
Album:
Lovelier in Black
Genre:
Heavy Alternative Rock, Electronica,’80s Pop
Bottom
Line:

New Wave meets modern metal with a splash of… lots of other stuff, to great success!

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars 3.63

On their third studio CD, Lovelier in Black, Los Angeles-based Stimulator delivers a mostly fantastic collection of modern rock songs with a big ‘80s new wave influence. This band could most simply be summed up as Berlin revisited but with heavier guitars. The similarities in style, from the songwriting to the vocal delivery, are striking, and we couldn’t be happier about that as the former was a band that had a sound all their own which encompassed a variety of styles. But if the only song of theirs you knew was “Take My Breath Away” (the worst song Berlin ever released) then you won’t truly appreciate the similarities that I’m citing.

Stimulator have songs that range from alternative rock with heavy guitars and synth pads to new wave dance tunes with drum machine beats. The musical influences extend beyond Berlin though, and include artists ranging from Duran Duran to Garbage to Prince.

Songs like the opening track, “Untouchable,” and “Live Like Gods” have a big arena rock sound that you just want to crank up the volume on, the first one with an almost James Bond-like cinematic musical movement running through it. Rock tunes like “I Won’t Let You Down” have an Oasis vibe with their acoustic guitars layered behind electric guitars with delay and some heavy power chords in the chorus. “Chasing The High” tastefully blends a little bit of Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar work with some Shirley Manson attitude.

Production on the CD is a mixed bag, with some exceptional tracks, like the ones mentioned as well as “You Think You’re Sorry Now” and the haunting, dark ballad that is the title track. But some of the tracks, like “My Science” and “Blow My Mind” sound like they came from a Brooklyn, NY-based bedroom musician happy to produce lo-fi indie crap. Variety is great, but tracks like these detract from the rest of the album and should have been dumped.

Musicianship is excellent, with obvious kudos to producer, guitarist, and co-songwriter Geoff Tyson. But the star in the mix is vocalist Susan Hyatt, with a voice that combines sultry and sexy with angst and power. It’s refreshing to hear such a great female vocalist who is also a musician and co-producer that is not limited to the ranks of typical singer-songwriter.

Stimulator loves remaking classic songs. We were big fans of their remake of the classic Olivia Newton-John hit, “Magic” — awesome modern production and guitar work, though less excited by their remake of RUSH’s “Tom Sawyer” (they sucked the prog rock element right out of it). Lovelier in Black has a very cool remake of the classic Sony Bono song, “The Beat Goes On.”

In short, this will be definitely make our list of best albums from 2010.

— SK

 
Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train — Round Trip
Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train — Round Trip
Artist:
Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train
Album:
Round Trip
Genre:
Acoustic Rock, Melodic Rock, AAA
Bottom
Line:

New fans will love this acoustic rock collection while old fans will marvel at the classic songs re-imagined.

 

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars 3.5

New Yorker Tony Harnell is best known as the world-class vocalist of the Scandinavian hard rock band TNT, but he has also built a diverse catalog of songs via other projects over the years such as Westworld and Starbreaker. With his new acoustic rock band, The Mercury Train, Harnell revisits material from those projects in an attempt to present them in brand new and fresh ways, which he does spectacularly.

First, allow me to say I typically hate albums that feature “stripped down” or “acoustic” versions of rock songs, but fortunately this release falls into neither category by a long shot. Instead, Tony Harnell and the Mercury Train deliver bold new interpretations of some great songs featuring a brilliant, layered, vocal production (ala TNT) on top of a tight, acoustic, groovin’ four-piece band. There are also some beautiful sounding, additional vocalists featured including Tony’s wife, Amy Harnell, and a surprise guest from the other side of the Hudson River.

The instrumentation seals the deal in making sure this isn’t just a re-hashing of older tunes. Sure, there are plenty of acoustic guitars, but this album never once sounds like a collection of campfire songs. It sounds like a fresh new acoustic rock band that you’ve never heard from before.

In most instances, these new song versions provide an alternate and unique deviation from the originals, such as the almost jazzy feel of “10K Lovers” and the ragtime feel of “Satellite.” However, in many instances these re-imagined songs may very well become the definitive versions. Take “Northern Lights” for example, a beautiful song from TNT’s Tell No Tales album. In its original form, it sounded a bit watered down due to the slick ‘80s-era production. The new version sounds absolutely gorgeous, with Harnell’s dreamy vocals at the front and a melody that promises to be stuck in your head for days. Similarly, TNT’s “Song for Dianne,” which originally suffered from an uncharacteristically un-melodic Ronnie LeTekro solo, greatly benefits from the new attitude delivered by Tony’s Mercury Train cohorts.

And is that Sandi Saraya we hear singing harmony on “Shame?” You bet!! And while we would have preferred her vocals more prominent in the mix, it sure was great to hear that voice again.

Round Trip is a great, consistent listen from start to finish. Whether you’re an old Harnell fan or just a new listener in search of some melodic acoustic rock to chill with, or to play in the background at your next BBQ, this is one release definitely worth picking up.

— JQ

 
HookahTheFuzz — HookahTheFuzz
HookahTheFuzz
Artist:
HookahTheFuzz
Album:
HookahTheFuzz
Genre:
Progressive Metal
Bottom
Line:

Don’t let the horrible band name fool you — they’re actually quite decent!

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 3.13

HookahTheFuzz is a progressive metal band from Birmingham, UK that could best be described as Linkin Park meets Frank Zappa, but with an obvious Metallica influence.

Right from the opening track, “(D)Illusion,” the music deftly moves from Metallica influenced rhythm grooves to Zappa inspired jazz jams to Linkin Park’s modern metal chorus anthems.

The band features Si Jefferies on vocals/rhythm guitar, Alexander Louis on lead guitar, Roger Ash on bass, Harwood Shing on keys, and Ross Hawkins on drums. The musicians do a great job — there’s real musical talent here, and we would have given the release a four-star rating for musicianship except for Jefferies’s lead vocals, which aren’t up to the same level as the rest of the release.

His voice is a bit too emulative of James Hetfield when he rasps/sings the verses, Mike Shinoda when he lays down annoying rock raps (so ‘90s), and Chester Bennington when he sings his choruses. If we didn’t know better, half of the choruses sounded to us like they could be new Linkin Park tunes. To make matters worse (yes, we’re always this picky) there are more than a few places where his pitch is off just enough for critical ears to notice.

Kudos to Louis for some fantastic guitar work with some obvious influence from Dream Theater’s John Petrucci on the lead work and Metallica’s Hetfield/Hammett on rhythms. The nice, clean shred solo in “The Girl Do Voodoo” was just one example of Louis’s guitar mastery, which is consistently strong throughout the CD, though we’re still debating the placement of a note or two in the solo during “Addict.”

The other star in the band is Shing on keyboards. It would be harder to pin down his influences, as he creates most of the style changes in the music. At times he lays down keyboard orchestration with big string sections, while other times he lays down the vintage Rhodes/Wurli Zappa grooves or the full-on freaky jazz jams like in the intro to the very ‘70s inspired “Preachers Suck More…”

The rhythm section plays an appropriate role in the music, mostly supporting in nature,and Hawkins does a great job of mixing things up style-wise. It’s not all double-bass metal stuff here, and he’s obviously comfortable covering the range of styles this band delves into. Cool percussive cymbal sounds in “Munchkin Fever” were one of the unexpected highlights.

Bassist Ash has some catching up to do with the other musicians. He plays a fine supporting role, but languishes too much in comfortable eighth-note runs instead of breaking out into more lead-like melodic runs that would be appropriate in many of the musical passages. Listening to his genre-nailing reggae jam in “Addict” makes me think that he’s less influenced by modern rock and metal than the other guys in the band.

Production and mixing by Chris Fielding was mostly a good job, though we found the keyboards were mixed way too hot in the opening track. As this submission came to us from one of the MusicPlayers.com readers, we have to say keep up the good work! We’re looking forward to hearing how this band evolves over time. Hopefully, Jefferies can grow into more of a singer role and shed the rap-rock influence that mars an otherwise strong debut CD.

— SK

 

 

 

 

 
Dan Reed — Coming Up For Air
Dan Reed — Coming Up For Air
Artist:
Dan Reed
Album:
Coming Up For Air
Genre:
AAA, Acoustic Rock
Bottom
Line:

Stunning album from a sorely missed musician.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars 3.63

We last heard from the Dan Reed Network back in 1991, which is a shame because The Heat was a rock album of epic proportions. But Dan was on a life journey for which music wasn’t the final destination, and he walked away from it to venture into other art forms and to explore the world, ultimately relocating to Israel and dropping off our music radar but not off of our play lists.

Fast-forward almost twenty years and wow! Dan is back with a fantastic new album, Coming Up For Air, that showcases a more refined and introspective artist singing deeply personal lyrics over modern rock arrangements that are mostly acoustic guitar driven, but sometimes dabble in dub/techno sounds and synth pads. The vibe I get from this album is similar to experiencing a Sting album but with more of a pop and rock influence than the jazz influence that shows up in the other rock veteran’s work.

Dan’s voice hasn’t lost a thing over the years, and neither have his guitar chops. Although we knew him primarily for outstanding electric guitar playing back then (and singing/songwriting, of course), he spends most of this album skillfully playing his Taylor acoustic, plus many keyboard and synth parts. There are numerous additional musicians playing keys, guitars and bass, drums, percussion, violin, and exotic instruments (by rock standards, anyway) such as Gu-zhen (21 strings!), Kemenche (like a lute), and Oud (fretless pear-shaped instrument used in Middle Eastern music). The songs are expertly played and the album is recorded and produced beautifully.

The vibe is easy-listening, AAA format overall, and it’s hard to pick any stand-out tracks as the thirteen songs are all strong and flow beautifully in sequence, uplifting at times (“Coming Up for Air,” “Closer,” “Brave New Word”) and dark at other times, like on the closing track, “The Dictator,” which really makes you feel bad about the darker side of humanity, or inhumanity as it may be. “Sacred Ground” is another song to make you think deeply. If you are distraught over all the fighting in the Middle East (and elsewhere in the world), you will really feel the pain in Dan’s message throughout the album.

Gone are the sappy hair band lyrics from days gone by (anyone remember “Tiger in a Dress”)… this is more like an entire album of my favorite DRN song, “Thy Will Be Done” from a conceptual standpoint, very introspective and touching. “Come dance with me and we will try to strip away our fears until the walls come crashing down,” “All my life I’ve searched for a love that’s simple and pure\ Now I find love’s not so simple for me and you… when we’re losing our fear,” and “A wise man once said ‘An eye for an eye makes the world go blind’\ But I’m blinded by my rage so I take my aim one more time” are just a few samples of the outstanding songwriting.

I’m hoping that the next album arrives sometime this decade, and with a more upbeat message of hope, but for now, at least we have this album that delivers outstanding music with heartfelt delivery. Singer/songwriters in particular should consider this a must-listen as it shows how you can write dense, layered instrumentation and still deliver a deeply passionate and personal message. As for DRN fans… if your tastes have evolved over the years, this is Dan Reed at the pinnacle of his writing. Welcome back!

— SK

 
Jorn — Dio
Jorn — Dio
Artist:
Jorn
Album:
Dio
Genre:
Metal
Bottom
Line:

Jorn Lande pays tribute to the master.

 

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: n/a
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 3.1

There is perhaps no one more fitting to offer a tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio than Jorn Lande. As Jorn himself has cited in numerous interviews, Dio was a prime influence in his formative years, and you can hear that influence in his vocal phrasings and deliveries across almost every project he has ever worked on. And lest anyone think the timing of this albums release is a bit suspect, rest assured this project was conceived long before Ronnie’s untimely death this year. Certainly, Jorn was not intending this release to be a posthumous tribute, although that is precisely what it has now become.

Dio finds our man covering twelve Dio-fronted songs, but the jewel in the crown is the album’s one original track, “Song for Ronnie James,” an epic number that combines all the magical imagery of its namesake, delivered with intensity by the golden throat of Mr. Lande.

Surprisingly, Jorn has avoided covering the more popular Dio songs such as “Rainbow in the Dark” or “Holy Diver.” Instead, he has chosen tunes a little more off the beaten path, such as “Sunset Superman,” “Push,” and “Lord of the Last Day.” There are a few staples however, such as “Stand up and Shout,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” and “Shame on the Night.”

To say Jorn sings each track with an eerie similarity to Ronnie is an understatement. In fact, he comes so close to “spot on” that you may ask yourself why you didn’t just listen to the original. That fact alone makes this album hard for me to judge properly, because even though I could listen to Jorn sing the telephone book, the novelty of him singing Dio songs wears thin quickly, especially considering the carbon-copy nature in which he covers them (not to mention, his last few solo albums were overtly “Dio-esque”). Also adding to the “nothing new under the sun” vibe is the fact that three of the album’s tracks appeared on earlier Jorn releases, Unlocking the Past and Live in America.

While I appreciate the sentiment (I am a lifelong Dio fan as well), I don’t see myself giving this one more than a few spins before it’s retired permanently to my music library, or at best holds me over until the next “proper” Jorn release.

— JQ
 
 

 

 

   
           
             
             
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