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Ozzy Osbourne — Scream
Ozzy Osbourne, Scream
Artist:
Ozzy Osbourne
Album:
Scream
Genre:
Metal, Hard Rock
Bottom
Line:

Our favorite Ozzy album since No More Tears.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars 3.38

Ozzy Osbourne is one of heavy metal’s living legends. But after the past twenty years with Black Rebel Society leader Zakk Wylde laying down guitar duties for the Prince of Darkness, things had gotten a bit, shall we say, stale. And after a few years of reality television, we were starting to wonder if Ozzy was just another burned out media joke who no longer commanded the attention and respect he deserved.

We’re happy to report that on his new album, Scream, Ozzy is back in fantastic clarity. His vocals have the familiar commanding style that doesn’t seem to have aged — and the new album, co-written with producer Kevin Churko (who produced and co-wrote on 2007’s Black Rain), showcases a mature but solidly rockin’ master at work.

With newcomer Gus G. taking over guitar duties, the aptly titled Scream serves as a wakeup call to everyone who grew disinterested with Ozzy over the past decade as he infuses the familiar sound and style with something fresh.

Gus G. is a new name in American circles, but this European shredder’s speed metal band, Firewind, is getting set to release its sixth studio album, so don’t mistake him for some kid who may have won a contest at a local Guitar Center. He’s got some big shoes to fill, of course, following the lineage of Ozzy’s historic guitar masters such as Randy Rhodes, Brad Gillis, Jake E. Lee, and Zakk Wylde.

Gus G. delivers the requisite chops and tone to make this album a success. The album doesn’t really break any new ground — it’s typical Ozzy fare overall, but the songwriting is mostly strong throughout the album’s eleven tracks, and some of the songs flat out rock. There are a few moments that may make you think of classic Black Sabbath stuff, but forget vintage Ozzy stuff — this album has a modern metal vibe overall.

Gus G. wasn’t part of the songwriting process (the album was already written when he was brought on board), but he definitely added his unique signature to the sound. He is far more than a clone of Zakk or any of Ozzy’s other previous guitar deities.

Gus G. imparts a familiar flavor to the music — he grew up loving Black Sabbath and Ozzy’s entire catalog, so fans of Ozzy’s late ‘80s and ‘90s output will readily embrace this release. But Gus G. also introduces elements of European industrial metal and neo-classical shred that weren’t a big factor in Zakk’s sound (and may not appeal to “classic” Ozzy fans).

From the opening guitar riffs and distorted vocals of “Let It Die,” we were drawn into the album, and we loved the extended instrumental section that had background vocal effects very reminiscent of the classic song, “No More Tears.”

Following the album opener is the first single, “Let Me Hear You Scream,” and it’s about as catchy and rockin’ as any Ozzy Osbourne song. It’s at the start of the solo section where we got our first real taste of Gus G.’s unique style, with a very cool sliding riff that precedes more traditional shredding, which in Gus G.’s case is always fast and precise.

Ozzy’s ballads have always been beautiful and emotional acoustic fares, and “Life Won’t Wait,” with its U2-esque quarter-note baseline in the verses shows that Ozzy may have indeed found what he was looking for: rebirth through rock n’ roll after being destroyed by reality television. For us, it’s right up there with “Mamma’ I’m Coming Home.”

“Diggin’ Me Down” pummeled us with its industrial metal rhythm — Gus G. nails sixteenth note rhythms with fantastic precision — no Pro Tools assistance required, swears producer Churko. And while there are some pinch harmonics that are sure to make some listeners say “Oh, he’s a Zakk clone,” Gus G. is quick to point out in interviews that Zakk didn’t invent the technique.

Clever lyrics abound on Scream, and “Crucify” delivers classic Ozzy political-meets-religious fare. “I Want It More” is another stand-out track, with its Jimmy Page-meets-the-Devil guitar hook, dark and heavy verse that opens up to a soaring and melodic chorus. It’s epic Ozzy stuff.

Despite a few duds on the album — songs like the tuned-way-too-low “Soul Sucker” and way-too-boring “Fearless,” Scream is filled with a lot of fantastic metal music. Ozzy sounds invigorated, and he’s backed by a great band that includes bassist Rob "Blasko" Nicholson, drummer Tommy Clufetos, and keyboardist Adam Wakeman (son of Yes keyboard legend, Rick Wakeman).

Although tracks were already recorded when Gus G. came on board, there was still plenty of space for him to add his style and fantastic tone. After the band spends most of 2010 and some of 2011 on tour, we look forward to Gus G. being part of the writing process for the next record.

Just when we thought Ozzy was going to disappear into the ranks of nostalgia bands playing classics at music festivals every few years, he really came back and shocked the hell out of us. Which we’re certain is exactly what he was counting on.

Click here to read our new interview with guitarist Gus G.

— SK

 
Brian Kahanek— One True Thing           
Brian Kahanek, One True Thing
Artist:
Brian Kahanek
Album:
One True Thing
Genre:
Rock, Blues Rock, Instrumental Guitar
Bottom
Line:

Multitalented “Guitar Hero” continues to impress.

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

When I first heard the name Brian Kahanek, it sounded awfully familiar to me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had definitely heard this name before. It’s not that Brian has been steadily releasing albums since 2004; that wasn’t it. Press in guitar magazines? Nope, nothing I ever read. But then I finally remembered where I had heard the name Brian Kahanek.

Four years ago, at the tender age of 16, I was an avid Guitar Hero player, and Kahanek’s track, “Gemini,” was featured in the game, Guitar Hero II. It had long been one of my favorite songs to play in the game — I can nail his solos like nobody else on a cheap plastic controller! Brian’s inclusion in the video game certainly helped to boost his reputation as a talented musician, not to mention exposing him to a world of younger guitar players like myself. On his new record, One True Thing, Brian shines.

This album is pure rock and roll, from start to finish. Kahanek’s guitar sound is riveting, and he blends several different styles of rock on this album, staying true to his unique style. The tracks on this album flow seamlessly from one to another. It’s not too heavy, but there are some heavy tracks. It’s not too slow, but there are some love songs. It is clear that Brian was very passionate about creating this album, and that he wanted to achieve a specific sound. His influences are obvious on all of the tracks — think of it as a rock/blues/country album with sweet and tastey lead guitars. Kahanek is accompanied by band mates Sam Daleo and Dustin Cunningham on Bass and Drums, respectively, and the trio format works great for the style.

Brian gets right into it on the first track of the album. “Bottle Rocket” is a fresh rock and roll tune with a great classic rock and roll sound, obvious blues influence, and a sound reminiscent of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. The album moves on to a more modern rock/country feel with the next few tracks, “Sunshine Man” and “Dreamland.” Kahanek’s guitar playing can be subtle at times, and then out of nowhere he cranks up the gain and hit you with a powerful solo. Brian stays true to his riff-rock roots on the tracks “Fireflies” and “Say,” and his guitar is dripping with beautiful vintage guitar tone.

Kahanek does a good job with vocals on a few tracks, mixing them nicely with some slide guitar playing on the title track, “One True Thing” and showing his softer side on the pop tune “Say,” where his guitar can’t help but make us think of the classic Olivia Newton John tune, “Magic.” His vocal tune, “Sunshine Man” can’t help but make us think of Glen Phillips/Toad the Wet Sprocket and Eric Johnson.

The final track on the album features a kickin’ live version of Kahanek’s song, “63 Candles,” paying clear homage to Jimi Hendrix both in his guitar and vocal style. Brian really shreds it up on this eight-minute final track. His guitar abilities are obvious and quite impressive.

Overall, this is a great album that all of the guitar editors are enjoying around the office. The instrumental tracks shine the brightest, and Brian really lets loose on the guitar. There are tons of excellent riffs on One True Thing, and I would recommend the album to anybody with an ear for classic rock guitar. It’s really no wonder why Kahanek was chosen to be featured in Guitar Hero. This album is finely crafted rock and roll goodness that flows effortlessly from start to finish.

— BF

 
La Roux La Roux
La Roux
Artist:
La Roux
Album:
La Roux
Genre:
Electropop, Synthpop
Bottom
Line:

Dance music for the non-believer.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.63

“This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof!” You may hear this fast-paced summer jam being belted out a car window by a sunglasses-sporting, empowered single woman. I mean, I can’t be the only one who does this, right?

La Roux is a British synthesizer pop duo featuring Elly Jackson on vocals and keyboards and Ben Langmaid on keyboards. While this album was released in June of 2009, its success in America grew steadily through 2010 with the single, “Bulletproof.” I assumed it was impossible to follow up this catchy sing-along single, but as I listened to the album, the momentum and curiosity it sparked moved me on from one track to the next.

Jackson and Langmaid write impeccably catchy tunes. Each track’s originality and catchiness is linked together with undertones of heartbreak and despair. The album is not your typical dance album, with words secondary to the “uhn-tiss uhn-tiss” and electric tones. It has a listenability and sincerity that most pop music on radio lacks.

The syncopated keyboard parts file into each other to create unified electropop, with many keyboard lines playing simultaneously. The melodies and counter-melodies compliment each other with different sounds on the synths, and the vocal melodies follows their own clear paths over the intricate musical compositions. The vocals styles vary slightly from song to song, sounding like everything from Prince to Evi Goffin (Lasgo) to Portugal, the Man.

The lyrics are sometimes simplistic, but this is not a criticism given the genre. They are heartfelt and fit the complex music perfectly, diving through each phase of the music with precision. They leave a person eager to not only quote the lyrics as poetry, but also really seem to capture the moment when Jackson sung them.

One of my favorite moments on the album is found in the song “As If By Magic,” when Jackson sings in her falsetto-like tone, “And although you’re the only home I’ve ever known/as if by magic/thoughts of you are gone.”

With its catchy synth riffs, like in “I’m Not Your Toy,” and the call-and-answer choral styling in “Cover My Eyes,” this album will be a big hit with fans of Justice, MGMT, and Passion Pit.

— MT

 
 
Mark Schulman — A Day In the Recording Studio
Mark Schulman, A Day In the Recording Studio
Artist:
Mark Schulman
Album:
A Day In the Recording Studio
Genre:
Instructional, Drums
Bottom
Line:

Schulman graciously and clearly lends some experience to aspiring pro drummers.

Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars

In both personality and appearance, Mark Schulman is justifiably referred to as “The Rock Star Drummer.” Though we first caught sight of Schulman as the current drummer for pop singer PINK, he has worked with everyone from Velvet Revolver, Sheryl Crow, and Stevie Nicks to Foreigner, Billy Idol, Destiny’s Child, and Cher (among others).

Already carrying a rather impressive resume, Mark is so much more than that. He is a world-renowned drumming clinician, motivational speaker, music educator, writer/producer and trained audio engineer who is co-owner of West Triad Recording Studio in Venice, California. This brings us to the subject of one of Hudson Music’s latest releases: A Day In the Recording Studio.

At the very beginning of the program, Mark quickly lists the range of topics that he wishes to discuss like tuning, microphone techniques, and his system of charting music. Admittedly, when first hearing about this instructional package, we were expecting a program that chose to focus primarily on the technical nature of recording hardware and software. However, Mark favors a more all-encompassing approach that delves into all of the different aspects of being a functioning drummer in the “hot seat.” Thus, he takes the time to discuss the nature of studio construction, gives a concise run down of the basic components of recording equipment, options and reasons behind microphone choices, exercises for working to a click track, playing techniques, etc. It’s almost as if to state that the best equipment will never truly substitute for a drummer who is familiar with all of the elements involved in cutting pro drum tracks.

The DVD is split into two main parts: the first being more of the technical discussion of equipment, while the second half is much more focused on musical circumstances. We were really impressed by how the later part of the presentation was put together. The section touches on musical arranging, rhythmic analysis, drum part construction, short hand notation for learning music quickly and developing one’s ability to feel certain lengths of standard phrases/bars (an aspect often overlooked by drummers). The musical examples used to give context to these topics are very different from one another, ranging from pop/rock to more of an indie/alternative sound, all the way up to more jazz/fusion oriented music.

At the conclusion of the DVD, we felt that the presentation was very solid. But for viewers who are less experienced with studio subject matter, we felt that there could have been some more details and explanations to a number of things briefly mentioned in the program. But then we began to read through the included e-book and consequently changed our minds. The 36-page e-book is so full of extras that no stone is really left unturned!

Mark not only includes the floor plans of his studio so that it can be used as a reference, but also includes an overview of its development including detailed architectural blueprints and diagrams that demonstrate how soundproofing was accomplished, what materials were used for the walls, etc. This sort of detail was continued through most other subjects discussed on the DVD including tuning, miking, etc. In essence, the DVD could be seen as a quick reference (or starting point) for information that is more deeply explored through Mark’s writing.

Hudson Music and Mark Schulman really scored with this release. Mark’s personality jumps off the page and screen, and he takes every opportunity he can to make light of the subject with humor. Schulman has put together a package that provides some really great information for just about any drummer at any level.

— CG
 
Jeff Scott Soto — One Night in Madrid
Jeff Scott Soto, One Night in Madrid
Artist:
Jeff Scott Soto
Album:
One Night in Madrid
Genre:
Hard Rock, Rock
Bottom
Line:

The “other” hardest working man in Showbiz delivers intimate performance.

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

I oftentimes refer to Jorn Lande as the “hardest working man in show business.” And while that may be true, he faces some stiff competition from Jeff Scott Soto, who is equally prolific in terms of output and consistency in performance. From his early days as an unknown singer with Yngwie Malmsteen to solo releases, Talisman, Takara, a brief stint in Journey, numerous guest appearances, and also movie soundtracks, JSS never leaves his fans “wanting.”

What we have here is a DVD capturing Soto’s 2009 club performance in Madrid (a double CD is also available).  The concert starts off with the funky “21st Century” from his latest release, Beautiful Mess, and Soto continues the groove seamlessly with tracks from Talisman, solo releases, and even recent one-off projects such as W.E.T. 

To say Soto sounds great is to state the obvious, so allow me to heap some praise on guitar player Jorge Salan, who is one of the absolute highlights of the show, providing some great axe-work in tracks like “Eyes of Love.”  There are breaks in the action, such as the piano oriented “If This is the End” and “Holding On.” Both tracks feature Soto accompanied only by a piano, and with no band to hide behind, it really showcases the man’s ability not only to sing, but to connect intimately with his audience.

It was Soto himself who provided the singing voice for character Bobby Beers (of the fictitious band, Steel Dragon) in the 2001 film, Rock Star.  For good measure, Soto throws in a rendition of “Stand Up” from the film’s soundtrack complete with that legendary opening scream!

And the man likes to have fun as well.  With full crowd participation, the encore showcases the band embarking on a fifteen-song medley of rock, funk and even disco.  Songs included such diverse classics as “Stayin’ Alive,” “Kung Fu Fighting,” “I love Rock n’ Roll,” and “Walk This Way!” Soto’s rendition of Madonna’s “Frozen” was a flop, though. It’s a great song, but he just didn’t do Madge justice vocally on that one.

The audio and video production was good, though not as spectacular as some of the ten-plus high-def camera shoots we’ve seen from some better-financed artists. Still, for a club performance, One Night in Madrid comes across like any pro concert should, thanks in part to the great musical performances delivered by everyone in the band.

Additional DVD features include a tribute to the late Marcel Jacob, exclusive tour footage, and a collection of music videos from Soto’s solo career.  One Night in Madrid is definitely a release worth adding to your collection, whether you are a hardcore fan or just a fan of good rock music in general.

— JQ

 
Nick Driver Warm is Your Color
Nick Driver, Warm Is Your Color
Artist:
Nick Driver
Album:
Warm is Your Color
Genre:
Acoustic Pop
Bottom
Line:

You've heard this before, by someone else, yet it's really quite pleasant!

Musicianship: 2.5
Songwriting: 2.5
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars2.75

If Jason Mraz and a pleasant day at the park had a baby, that offspring would be Nick Driver’s album, Warm is Your Color.  Really, this dude is Mraz reincarnate. He could even front the first-ever Jason Mraz cover band if such a thing were to exist!

With a velvety voice that melts women’s hearts and a minimalist Jack Johnson acoustic guitar sound, Driver’s album tickles the speakers with finesse and continuity.  The album, produced by Jamie King, was expertly mixed with subtle background percussion. The acoustic guitar work is tight and the vocals are polished. The pleasantness and airiness of the album, and Nick’s endearing energy, mostly overcome the album’s shortcomings.

Warm is Your Color seems to follow the adage, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Driver proves that one’s acoustic guitar work does not have to be overly complicated to be successful.  On the flip side, the embellishments and brilliant instrumentation found in a typical Jason Mraz song are not present here. The art of simplicity sans boredom is a delicate balance, and while faster paced songs such as “Sidelines” capture this carefree, simple, feeling quite nicely, the ballad “Gardens” falls short and put us to sleep.

The lyrics are a bit sophomoric and unoriginal (think Michelle Branch’s The Spirit Room meets your high school diary). For instance, in the peppy first track, “Logged In,” the chorus proclaims, “Everywhere I go, everyone I see/reminds me of how we used to be.”  And in “Let’s Stay Together,” Driver serenades, “Well I can wear my hat and you, you can wear that dress.” This would be fine singer/songwriter stuff except that it’s extremely reminiscent of the ‘90s song, “Kiss Me,” by Sixpence None The Richer, with the lyrics, “You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.”

I really enjoy the sound of this CD — this is pleasant summertime stuff that you would hear coming from a starving-but-happy-about-it artist playing in a Brooklyn coffee shop.
But what Nick Driver lacks is originality. He’s far too emulative of his number one influence, yet not as strong a guitar player. His vocal delivery isn’t quite as polished (thought it’s mostly good), and his lyrics need a bit more maturity. To make matters worse, Nick’s appearance also emulates Jason Mraz, complete with a fedora hat! He does have a pleasant voice and a gift for writing pop tunes, but he really needs to spend some time developing a unique voice and style.

— MT

 
   
             
             
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