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    What We're Listening To & Reading

   
             
   
Winger — Better Days Comin’
Genre:

Hard rock, prog rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.86

Winger - Better Days Comin'Convergence is the word I’d use to describe this amazing new release from one of the most talented hard rock bands to survive the ‘80s. If you’re a fan of both the Winger releases as well as Kip Winger’s more progressive solo albums, then you’ll have a complete love-fest on your hands here, as this is the first Winger album to really embrace the more introspective and progressive writing styles of Kip’s solo work. We love hearing the incredibly talented Reb Beech cover more styles of guitar than typical on a given Winger album. He joined the ranks of guitar deity decades ago, and this album is a perfect starting point for new fans to discover why: it’s full of his impeccable chops, riffs, lead work, and great tone.

The title track is a ‘70s-tinged classic, and we loved the abundance of keyboard work that appears throughout the record. It’s all tasteful stuff, and not over the top like the classic material from the days of spandex (thought admittedly, we love all of that, too). Another classic is certainly “Tin Soldier,” with its fusion riffing sure to conjure up memories of “Rainbow in the Rose.” And while the big rock songs with classic Winger vocal harmonies abound on Better Days Comin’, some traditional Winger fans may find a few tracks here to be sleepers. Not the more evolved MusicPlayers.com readers, mind you, but perhaps the imbeciles with tattoos of Beavis and Buthead stamped on their asses. Definitely one of our favorite hard rock albums of 2014.

 
Paul Gilbert — Stone Pushing Uphill Man
Genre:

Instrumental guitar rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Paul GilbertPaul Gilbert isn’t the first instrumental guitar player to serve up a bunch of cover tunes, but on his latest release, Stone Pushing Uphill Man, Gilbert digs through a variety of classic rock songs and serves them up completely instrumental, using lead guitar in place of lead vocal.

Stone Pushing sounds great, and grabs you right from the start with its rockin’ reinterpretation of Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend.” And while it’s easy to hear how Paul Gilbert would shred over a rock song like that, it’s even more impressive when you hear his take on a classic piano song like Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road” or his awesome interpretation of, “My Girl.”

Not only is the guitar work first class, but this is the kind of instrumental record you can share with your “regular” rock music friends who only know that Paul Gilbert was that guy from Mr. Big in the ‘80s. Rock on!

 
Udi Levi — A Sudden Transition
Genre:

Instrumental rock guitar, fusion

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Udi LevyUdi Levy is one hell of a guitar player. For years, he’s been recording jazz records, and this past year decided to put out a rock record. When a Suhr-wielding jazz dude turns his focus to rock and fusion, watch out! Sparks will indeed fly.

On A Sudden Transition, Levy does what typical wankers just can’t achieve: write songs with great rhythms and hooks, and he writes lead lines that incorporate his jazz chops mixed with deft rock skills.

“One for My Daddy’O” is case in point for showing off his versatility. It’s as if Eric Johnson got together with Joe Satriani and then they start jamming on classic Van Halen tunes. Yeah, it’s that kind of cool.

Not much more to say except that this is a great instrumental guitar rock record, and this is one player definitely worth getting to know.

 
Marco Minnemann —EEPS
Genre:

Instrumental, Fusion, Retro Grunge Rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 2.5
Overall Rating: 3 Stars3.13

Marco MinnemannWhen we received this CD, we didn’t know exactly what to expect from the drummer who auditioned to replace Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater a few years back, but we expected that the music would be somewhat prog metal related. That assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth, however, and on so many fronts!

After a few tracks, the comparison that came to mind mostly was Primus, as EEPS presents a crazy and eclectic mixture of songs, some instrumental, some with vocals, that cross lines of classic jazz fusion with grunge rock and classical piano. If you can imagine Dave Grohol playing in the Chick Corea Elektric Band, you’d get what I’m talking about.

Our next surprise was the versatile talent that is Marco the musician. He plays everything! Guitars, drums, keys, bass, and vocals. I’m not sure of any particular stand-out tracks as there’s such wild variety here, but “Sushi Cat Doll” was a crowd pleaser with its acoustic guitars and vocoding lending an ELO vibe to the first half, then it morphs into a jazz fusion meets prog rock instrumental. If you’re looking for chops on fire, this isn’t the right CD for you. Yes, the performances are all top flight, but this is not a post-DT, flash-all-my-chops, affair. It’s a deliberately crafted collection of songs that seem to indicate Minnemann’s influences come from a younger world of grunge, pop, and jazz fusion.

Good stuff throughout, but a bit too odd and atonal at times for regular listening.

 


 
Bobby Owsinksi — Music 4.0
Music 4.0
Subject:
Music marketing
Bottom
Line:

A must-read for any band trying to make or maintain a career in the digital millennia.

Overall Rating: 4 Stars

It was back in 2010 when we reviewed Owsinki’s essential book, Music 3.0. The start of that review is just as valid today as it was then:

“Whether you’re a professional musician in a well-known band that started back in the ‘80s or you’re trying to break the latest band, if you’re over 30 years old, you need to read this book!”

The back cover of the book states “Everything you knew about the music business has changed,” and it is right on the money, the key word being knew. If you’ve been trying to put years of personal industry experience to good use trying to break your latest band, stop wasting your time — you’re going about things all wrong. And if you’re wondering why your record label doesn’t seem to be doing enough for your established act anymore, Music 4.0 makes it painfully clear how the industry has changed.

The industry has seen massive changes in the past couple of years since Owsinksi wrote Music 3.0, and it’s enough that even if you own that treasure of a book, you need to pick up the revised Music 4.0 to learn about all that has changed, and how to use those changes to your best advantage.

Whether you’re an indie artist or signed to a label, Music 4.0 is filled with tons of essential advice for building your brand, growing your fan base (don’t worry—this is not just another book about how to use social media), fascinating industry history, and great interviews with industry insiders. Music 4.0 one of the few books we consider essential reading if you’re serious about making or sustaining a career in the music industry. Have we made ourselves clear enough about this book?

 

 
In Flames — Siren Charms
Genre:

Metal

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

In FlamesScandinavian death metal masters, In Flames, are back with their eleventh studio album. Siren Charms leans further away from death metal than all the band’s previous efforts and strikes our ears as more of a melodic metal album with a goth vibe. There are less screaming vocals here than on previous records, which will make this record appeal to a much broader an audience.

We love the juxtaposition of Anders Fridén’s alternative/gothic style voice against the modern metal riffage—it’s part of what gives this record a unique metal sound, and the modern synth sounds add a nice touch to the song arrangements. We wouldn’t have listened much to these guys in the past, but if this is any indication of their continued growth and new direction, they may have won over some new fans here. Maybe you’re next?

 
Rush — Presto (Hybrid SACD release)
Genre:

Progressive rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars4.0

RushIf I could wave my magic wand, all Rush albums would sound as great as this special reissue of Presto, arguably one of the best records in the expansive Rush catalog. Assuming you have a high-end audio system, compatible blu-ray player or premium car audio system, you can enjoy the sonic beauty of a Super Audio CD, or SACD. It will play just fine in a standard CD player (technically, it’s the Hybrid format that makes this possible), but if your system is so equipped, you get audio that was reproduced at 2.8 MHz instead of the traditional 44.1 kHz frequency… and it’s 1-bit DSD vs. 16-bit PCM, too. Bottom line: in a premium sound system, this album sounds even better than the original release.

The lush acoustic performances combined with some great heavier guitar tones on top combined to make this album something of a turning point in the Rush catalog, departing from the synth-heavy albums that led up to it. Presto is easily one of our favorites from the Canadian trio, and it features such classic, inspired gems as “Show Don’t Tell,” “The Pass,” and more. Rush fan? Buy this. Upgrade your home theater if you must. Enjoy.

Other than new mastering for the format, there’s nothing new. Original album artwork is unmodified other than a new URL on the back of the CD jewel case, and SACD mastering credit. It’s a limited, numbered release, so get it while you can.

 
Fire Garden — Sound of Majestic Colors
Genre:

Progressive rock, prog metal

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Fire GardenIt’s refreshing to hear some nice, modern, prog rock with a UK vibe but that actually came from the USA. This is easily prog in the vein of artists like Porcupine Tree with a splash of Pink Floyd and Dream Theater influences scattered around. In fact, at first listen, you’d swear that “Alone” is actually being song by Steven Wilson… but that’s just Kevin Pollack delivering an uncanny resemblance until the song moves into a Pete Townsend, Who-like vocal vibe for a bit. Vocals are melodic and harmony-rich throughout the album.

Musicianship is very tasty throughout, led by Zee’s excellent rock/prog/metal guitar work (layered, ranging from high gain tones to beautiful acoustic passages) and most-of-the-time excellent tones. Our only strong critique is the opening track, with its Dream Theater vibe but disappointing guitar tone—compared with the guitar tones on most of the rest of Colors. If you start listening at track #2, you’ll end up with a much more positive impression of this album.

Great playing by Frank Lucas on keyboards, and solid though not attention-grabbing rhythm work from Chuck White (drums) and Barry Kleiber (bass), too. Fans of the modern prog and prog metal genres will find lots of great stuff to enjoy here.

 
 

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