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Simon Collins —U-Catastrophe
Artist:
Simon Collins
Album:
U-Catastrophe
Genre:

Modern Rock, Melodic Prog, Pop

Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Slightly proggy like his dad used to be, but with a modern electronic rock twist.

Simon Collins, son of that Phil Collins, doesn’t just look like his dad. Sure, the family resemblance is striking, and their shared abilities include drumming, playing keyboards, and singing. But while dad has aged gracefully into the world of children’s movie soundtracks, Simon has clearly absorbed all those classic Genesis albums and anchored them at the core of his rock songwriting (and perhaps, one or two of dad’s late-Eighties pop solo records).

There is definite greatness here. On the drumming front, Simon shares style and tone with his dad, but he goes far more in a modern rock direction with programming electronic beats and grooves. On the vocal front, Simon may be a stronger rock vocalist than his dad was back in the day, and on the keyboards, Simon takes a page out of “Uncle Tony’s” synth book and infuses it with modern tone and authority.

The fifty-six minute long U-Catastrophe packs a musical journey that is melodic, sometimes a little bit progressive (in that Genesis or Peter Gabriel sort of way), sometimes heavy in a modern way (with great guitar work by producer Kevin Churko), and on occasion ventures into the pop arena.

The standout track for us has got to be the truly haunting and dark ballad, “The Good Son,” which will undoubtedly leave listeners wondering if Simon is writing about his life growing up continents apart from his famous father (short answer: the song is not about Dad). But then we’re also in love with the instrumental “The Big Bang,” a fantastic dueling drum solo set to an industrialized “Land of Confusion” groove while featuring father and son banging it out in much the same way that Phil and Chester Thomson used to battle it out in concert.

“Go (Only One I Know)” has really dark vocal harmonies, cool lead synth lines and big modern rock guitars at add up to a great track, while “Disappearing” sounds like Maroon 5 reinvented as a hard rock band delivering a message of environmental destruction.

Besides Phil Colins, ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett makes a guest appearance on “Fast Forward the Future,” but despite the pedigree, the CD sometimes suffers a bit of an identity crisis. A few songs like “Unconditional” and “Us (Love Transcends)” are pure Dad Collins pop fare — good songs, but they take away the focus on rock that is present in tracks like “Between I & E,” the powerful title track “U-Catastrophe,” and much of the rest of the CD.

Whether or not this CD leans a little more towards rock or pop, U-Catastrophe is a great CD that will appeal to a wide range of rock and pop music listeners (including Genesis fans). It’s a worthy stocking stuffer, and we’ll be talking with Simon about the CD shortly, so look for that feature story this winter.

— SK
 
Hair Apparent: The Main Man Records Tribute to Hair Bands
Artist:
Compilation
Album:
Hair Apparent: The Main Man Records Tribute to Hair Bands
Genre:
Rock, country, electronica, punk, and more!
Rating:
2.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:
There’s something fun in this collection for everyone.

The premise was simple: find a bunch of bands in a diverse range of musical styles and ask them to “reinterpret” a classic hair band song in their style. Unfortunately, the compilation failed to fully deliver on the promise. A number of songs are nothing more than pretty covers while others are tracks from such obscure artists that even devout hair band fans will scratch their heads wondering just who picked those songs for a tribute album.

Fortunately, with twenty tracks, there are plenty of standouts to enjoy (or just download individually from iTunes). The CD opens with a unique electronica reinterpretation of “Heavy Metal Love” by LaBooze, and the country/rockabilly artist Christian Beach delivered an outstanding version of “I Wanna’ Rock” that rivaled the original in an entirely different genre! Mars Needs Women did a great punk-rock-meets-Springsteen version of “Public Enemy #1” and the melodic prog rock band Days Before Tomorrow actually made it cool to enjoy “After The Rain” from those blonde-haired twins.

We loved hearing The Dennis Dunaway Project perform “Big Bottom Girls” with the precision of a hard rock band that was actually trying to play their instruments well, but as with the other Spinal Tap offering on the CD (from Frankenstein 3000), we were disappointed that these were both straight covers with no real sense of interpretation.

There are more than a few duds in the collection, either because they are remakes of songs that nobody has ever heard or because they just flat out sucked, but there is still plenty of good music to be heard. So if you miss the days of mullets and fishnets, you owe it to yourself to check out this interesting collection.

And in an effort to provide full disclosure, you should know that a few of our editors are in the band Days Before Tomorrow… and it turns out that at least one of the bands on the CD belongs to someone at the record label. But hey, what’s wrong with a little nepotism every now and then?

— SK

 
Stacie Rose — Shotgun Daisy
Artist:
Anj
Album:
Shotgun Daisy
Genre:
Pop
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Pop songs about love and relationships served up prime-time television style

Stacie Rose is a singer/songwriter with the gifts of melody and meaning. On her latest CD, she delivers twelve enjoyable songs that cover relationships from many angles. Stacie’s style falls somewhere in the Joan Osborne/Jewel/Shawn Colvin vein of light and dreamy female singers (but without the edge of vocalists like Aimee Mann), and she has a pleasant, pretty, and sometimes bubbly voice common to many of today’s female singers. It’s no surprise that we’ve heard a few of her songs placed in popular television shows.

The music is well executed by a variety of musicians including drummer Jeff Lipstein, Bassist Jeff Allen (who produced the CD), and guitarist David Patterson (who does a great job with that vintage electric wah tones). Stacie brings a sweet soulfulness to songs like the ballad “December,” some attitude to the opening soft-rock tune “Find Your Way,” and little bit of a young country vibe to the crossover tune “Run Out.”

Overall, listening to Shotgun Daisy is a lot like watching a “chick flick.” It leaves you without any weird feelings, your girlfriend will love it, and it may even win you a few sensitivity points if you drop it in the stocking this holiday season. But as with so many singer/songwriters we’ve heard in the past five years, Stacie leaves us once again asking the question “What’s really different here?” (Bear in mind that we’re picky “serious musician” folks around here)

If Stacie wants to get out of the coffee house and into the large concert venue, she’s going to have to develop a more specific sound or vocal style that helps to differentiate her from the pack. With so many singer/songwriters sounding almost indistinguishable from one another, it’s not enough to be just another pretty girl with a sweet voice and simple songs.

— SK
 
 
Marillion —Happiness is the Road
Artist:
Marillion
Album:
Happiness is the Road
Genre:
Melodic Progressive Rock
Rating:
4 Stars
Bottom
Line:
Double CD packs a classic (modern) Marillion punch. Essential listening.

The fifteenth studio album from British rock band Marillion delivers two CDs worth of fantastic melodic progressive rock music that combines the vibe of classic albums like Holidays in Eden and Afraid of Sunlight with the modern style of Marbles and the instrumental presence of Somewhere Else. What this means to the uninitiated reader is that this would be a great place to jump in and become a fan of one of the greatest melodic rock bands in the world.

Volume 1, Essence, is a concept album that deals with the pain of lost relationships. It has a somber mood at times, and “This Train is my Life” delivers Steve Hogarth’s classic vocal delivery that takes the listener on a roller coaster of emotion. And while much of the first album is on the mellow side, the powerful anthem “I Woke Up” lifts up both the tempo as well as your emotions. This CD really knows how to pace itself, ebbing and flowing in all the right places. We loved the final “bonus” track, “Half Empty Jam” because it is, in fact, a live jam from the recording session (with a little bit of cleanup and overdubs, but at its core it’s built from the actual jam session). Hogarth delivers the most powerful angry cries we’ve ever heard on a Marillion album on this track. Clearly, he wasn’t in the best place emotionally the day they tracked this one.

Volume 2, The Hard Shoulder, is a collection of songs that didn’t make sense within the context of the concept story on Volume 1, and thank goodness they weren’t discarded. It’s like an entirely extra album filled with more up-tempo tunes. We loved hearing bassist Pete Trewavas slap his bass throughout “The Man From the Planet Marzipan” (and we loved the digital delay on Steve Rothery’s acoustic guitar on the same track).

Rothery channeled his inner David Gilmour on “Asylum Satellite #1,” and overall, we loved that on both CDs, his big delays, rotospheric tones and lush choruses were in abundance. There are so many great songs throughout both CDs, but “Half The World” was another stand-out up-tempo tune that showcased another difference in the latest CD set… harmonies! Lots of them! In fact, we’ve never heard so many vocal harmonies on any one Marillion CD before, and it made a great difference in the overall collection of songs, at times even evoking something of a Beach Boys vibe.

The Brian Wilson vibe was also created in a huge part by the keyboard stylings that Mark Kelly provided. His sound palette expanded on these CDs with many new synthetic textures, and his acoustic piano got a large workout, too. Of course all of this great stuff was anchored by Ian Mosley, the most humble of serious prog drummers who told us once that he doesn’t think he plays any complicated parts.

What would an amazing album like this be doing here without an artist interview? Never fear — that’s coming up next month!

— SK
 
Uriah Heep — Wake The Sleeper
Artist:
Uriah Heep
Album:
Wake The Sleeper
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Old-school ‘70s prog from British icons

For longtime progressive rock fans, Uriah Heep is a household name in the classic-rock arena. The legendary British rock band began their career in the late ‘60s with their first album release in 1970, Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble. After a 10-year hiatus and 21 albums later, Uriah Heep released a new studio album this past summer, Wake the Sleeper

The band is comprised of long time founding member Mick Box / Guitar, Trevor Bolder / Bass, Phil Lanzo / Keyboards, Bernie Shaw / Lead Vocals, and newcomer Russell Gilbrook on Drums (who replaced Lee Kerslake due to illness).

The 11-song CD opens with the title track, “Wake the Sleeper.” The prominent guitar-based riff, supported by a double bass drum figure throughout, suggests a more modern edge leading to a more contemporary sounding Uriah Heep. But then the rock opera vocals kick in coupled with a prominent B3 organ sound that takes the listener back in time.

There is no mistaking what era the band hails from, but with the driving force of the drums coupled with the peppering of a Satch-like riff and wah tones, this album feels like a mix of old school prog attempting to cross over with a contemporary flare. Don’t be misled, though – once that B3 organ kicks in, all hopes of being contemporary are thrown out the window. Unfortunately, the keyboard parts are all one specific voice – no synth (not even a classic Moog), and no piano. That Hammond B3 keeps coming back, coming back, coming back — like the Energizer bunny! That voice definitely set the ‘70s vibe throughout the CD and removed any kind of modern edge that would have transformed the band into something from the current decade.

Track 2, “Overload,” really took me back to my childhood. The writing style and vocal arrangements really stay loyal to Uriah Heep’s signature sound from the ‘70s rock era. As we listened to the entire album, we found three things stayed painfully consistent: progressive classic rock forms and tones, melodic and theatrical vocal harmonies, and the constant layer/voice of the Hammond B3 organ. In listening to this track, you can easily recognize other bands that were influenced by Uriah Heep – Styx and Kansas to name a few.

Track number 7, “What Kind of God,” starts out with a contemporary delayed guitar riff with an underlying drum cadence sounding like something you would hear from U2 or Coldplay (but for some reason I kept thinking of “Little Drummer Boy”). That neat vibe goes away as we reach the instrumental section 2/3rds of the way through the tune, though. Breaking down to the bass and drums and then accompanied by that wah guitar tone, it becomes a simple jam with interwoven distant vocal lines – of course layered with… That’s right, the B3 organ.

By track 8, “Ghost of the Ocean,” you really get the impression that Mick Box might have been listening to a lot of Joe Satriani with all of his screaming bends and impressive use of wah effects. Between the characteristic sound of the lead guitar and the constant drive of the drums (double bass in particular), the progressive edge throughout the album is undeniable.

The closing track, “War Child,” is probably the heaviest of the selections. Again, the B3 was prominent, but made heavier by unison chord progression riffs, big harmony choruses, and the use of space within the groove to give the song a nice forward motion.

For Uriah Heep fans, this is probably the best album the band has produced to date. And with the added contemporary-isms of the rhythm section, predominantly the guitar and drums, this album may appeal to contemporary prog fans that enjoy a mix of progressive rock, classic rock, and brief interludes of contemporary metal, but if you’re not a big fan of the classic Hammond B3, this is not the prog album for you.

And sure to excite old school music enthusiasts who are into vintage gear and boutique stereo systems, Wake the Sleeper will also be available as a Limited Edition LP on vinyl.

— DD
 
Rolf Ebitsch —One
Artist:
Rolf Ebitsch
Album:
One
Genre:
Pop
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Could be the next Elvis Costello, if only we could get past his voice.

German singer/songwriter Rolf Ebitsch has a lot going for him. Most importantly, he knows how to write great pop songs with a ‘70s and early ‘80s vibe to them, and he takes you on a great retro journey while listening to the album’s eleven tracks.

We loved the numerous orchestral players on the record, and Rolf’s guitar playing, bass playing, and keyboard playing were all well suited to the music — he wrote, produced, recorded, and mixed the CD. But you can’t be a master of everything, and his drum playing was rudimentary at best (ironic given that it’s the one instrument he’s photographed with).

Lyrically, the CD seems centered mostly around love songs, and there are plenty of great harmonies with choral voices. Unfortunately, it’s his lead vocals that don’t measure up to the rest of the CD. While we can’t fault Rolf for wanting to deliver the emotional message of his songs personally, it wasn’t the best thing for this otherwise strong CD. He probably would have sounded a lot better in his native German language, and songs like the catchy (or is it kitschy?) “Waterfall” sounded more like William Hung (that American Idol kid who thought he could sing, so they made him a star for five minutes) than Elvis Costello.

One of our favorite tracks was the uptempo “Rescue Me” that had some nice vintage guitar work, big organ, and church bells, and the opening track “Crush on You” made great use of the orchestra.

The CD packaging itself was a beautiful work of modern art, too with its black-and-white NASA imagery. All in all, it’s a solid package that Rolf has clearly thought through from start to finish. The last time we encountered a musician who was in such control of every last detail, we were talking with Yngwie J. Malmsteen!

The big question though is whether or not listeners will get past his voice, or embrace it as unique. Of course, many Germans love David Hasselhoff’s singing, so we have to imagine Rolf will find some success at the local level. But whether or not the world will embrace his accent is the million-dollar question. After listening to the CD a few hundred times, we’re still not sure whether or not to love him or hate him, but we certainly don’t have any plans to remove the CD from our music library.

— SK
 
   
             
             
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