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Joe Satriani — Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards
Joe Satriani
Instrumental Rock

Satch returns with a fine album and impressive band.

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

Joe Satriani’s recent studio output (Super Colossal, Professor Satchafunkilus) and projects (Chickenfoot) have left fans decidedly divided in terms of acceptance and appeal. Although I do not necessarily agree with any of those sentiments, if fans found the last few releases a bit of a curve ball, they should have no problem enjoying the mans latest offering.

Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards is Satriani’s 14th studio album and is noteworthy for the inclusion of a few new band mates, keyboardist Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Steve Vai) and bassist Allen Whitman (Mermen) as well as production duties courtesy of Mike Fraser (He of AC/DC and Metallica fame).

Naturally, there is some incredible guitar playing to enjoy, such as the track "Pyrrhic Victoria" which also includes some nice keyboard interplay courtesy of Mr. Keneally. “The Golden Room” with its flamenco styling is also a highlight as is the Middle Eastern influenced “The Golden Room.” True to form, the man throws in a few stylistic detours along the way such as the jazzy "Two Sides to Every Story" and the ballad "Littleworth Lane."

The biggest difference between Black Swans and most of Satch’s earlier output is that the past few years playing with rock band Chickenfoot has had a significant impact on Joe’s solo work. This album is a fine collection of band-driven songs with all of the players really contributing to the listening experience. The overall soundscape is allowed to “breath,” creating space in the sound that allows the listener to really enjoy the fine band Satch has assembled. Keyboards add a noticeable contribution to the songs, as does the rhythm section.

This is not to say that previous bands were shoddy by any means, but we can’t recall listening so intently to the supporting instrumentation, or listening repeatedly to hear new bits and pieces.

Simply put, Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards is modern instrumental guitar at its finest, featuring great guitar playing within the context of a cohesive band, great tone as usual, and most importantly, great songs!

— JQ and SK
Duran Duran — All You Need Is Now
Duran Duran
Pop, Rock

Picture-perfect new wave retro pop album.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars 3.75

Duran Duran are classic pop hit makers. They helped usher in the era of New Wave music from England with a unique sound and style, and continued to evolve over the years since they were last Platinum-selling mega-stars in America. After original guitarist Andy Taylor left the band in pursuit of solo ventures, he was replaced by former Frank Zappa/Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, who helped take their music to new heights of excellence, though most of it was largely ignored by the U.S. radio market.

A reunion of Andy with all the original band members happened a few years ago and resulted in a pretty good comeback album of sorts, though the playing never reached the innovative heights of the Cuccurullo years, nor did it really recapture “classic” Duran Duran magic. 

After Andy left the band again during the making of the next record, English player Dom Brown was tapped to finish up the tracks. He also stayed on board for the last world tour and was thus part of the team that set to writing the new album. This is a good thing because Brown’s style falls nicely in between classic Taylor and modern Cuccurullo, but leans more towards the wizardry of Warren. The new album is a fantastic return to form that captures the style of very early Duran Duran with modern production.

Musically, the album sounds mostly like Duran Duran’s self-titled debut and a little bit like Seven and the Ragged Tiger — more than Rio, which lesser fans would simply cite as the classic release. That said, the digital album’s closing song, “Before the Rain,” is basically a blatant reincarnation of “The Chauffeur.”

The CD opens with the killer title track, which has a modern rock vibe that morphs into classic DD territory by pre-chorus time, reminiscent of “Is There Something I Should Know?”

The songs feature outstanding keyboard work from Nick Rhodes, who reached new heights of modern synth coolness on this release, and Brown unleashes truly killer funk-style guitar playing all over the songs, sporadically mixed with some Cuccurullo or Robert Frip-influenced mayhem. Our only complaint on this release is that perhaps Brown should have embraced more of his own coolness instead of falling too easily into the classic funk style of Andy's playing. But it’s a minor gripe — he’s got killer chops on display all over the album.

Simon Le Bon is truly inspired on this CD. His vocals are strong, the vocal harmonies are great, and credit fantastic production values from Mark Ronson for knowing how to find the right balance between keys and guitars to make a quintessential ‘80s record with a ‘90s vibe.

John Taylor is also invigorated on this record. I wish he’d get back to the chops he displayed on Rio, but this album has some of his funkiest playing in years and gets closer to that target than ever. The bass stands out and you notice it because it’s really fantastic.

Can’t forget to mention drummer Roger Taylor, who’s got some very Rio and Duran Duran “retrolicious” fills going on while also incorporating modern drum loops. All that’s missing are some Remo roto-toms.

Great songwriting throughout, I’m not even going to talk about other specific tracks. If you liked classic Duran Duran or just want to hear great modern pop executed beautifully, buy this now. It’s great music performed by great players, deftly produced.

— SK
Mike Adamo —The Breakbeat Bible
The Breakbeat Bible
Drum Instruction

The Breakbeat Bible breaks the mold for education on a newer, unexplored style.

Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars

The current influence of electronic music (and all its sub genres) is becoming more and more prevalent in so many of the things that we are listening to. Whether it's the use of loops and samples in the arrangements of singer/songwriters, the slew of hits on modern radio from artists like Katy Perry, Pink, and Lady Gaga, or the ever-increasing use of electronics in modern indie rock, you really can't escape it. It would therefore behoove the modern drum set player to become more familiar with the roots, mechanics and applications of this music. This is where Mike Adamo and Hudson Limited come into the picture. 

As Mike says in the forward, The Breakbeat Bible was made to “tighten up and take my own playing to the next level.” It is when books and educational material are made with this sort of childlike exploration and self-initiative for improvement that the best things come about. With that said, the book attempts to “focus on the fundamentals of breakbeat drumming, as applied to hip-hop.” However, while you are working on your vocabulary and a certain style of drumming, the author really appears to know the ultimate goal of the drummer, which is to play a subservient role whose first priority must always be to have great sounding and feeling time. This last point is strongly exemplified by the “Click Track Loops” chapter that in some ways is similar to the systems utilized by drumming phenom Benny Greb in his Hudson title, The Language of Drumming. The system revolves itself around practicing to a click track while not having it reside on the quarter note (as is most common). It would seem that great minds think alike. 

Through Mike's great approach coupled with the conducive nature of the genre, the reader of this book with have an incredible library of reference material to work with. Aside from the over ninety transcriptions (which include information regarding the drummer on the track, the album the song is off of, the record company which released the music, context about the tune, etc), the book is full of historical sections which revolve around significant participants to the history of the style. This includes mention of hip-hop legends like Africa Bambaataa, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash as well as some of the most well known drummers who have been sampled like David Garibaldi, Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, and Gregory Coleman.

In the same token, the book is also very current, as it includes references and dealings with modern artists such as The Roots and Jay Z (as well as where some of their sounds originated from). The real key to all of this information lies within how Mike draws the lineage between the old and the new. This is fantastic for older and newer drummers as it highlights the relationship between early RnB and Funk to modern music. 

All things aside, this is a method book, and an effective one at that. The book is split up into thirteen elements that range from certain mechanical skills to aiming for certain notes in the bar around the kit.  

Working off of a permutations approach, exercises are formatted so that the student is able to explore as many variations within a given concept as possible, all the while as the sections are related back to songs where that particular concept is used by the drummer. Review sections that follow and string certain concepts/permutations in a sequence are very reminiscent of the Carmine Appice approach in the classic method book, Realistic Rock

If there were one complaint that we had, it was that the book could have had even more resource materials as the genre really runs deep in its roots to other older styles of music and many cultural movements. However, in the end, The Breakbeat Bible is not only a great reference for this particular genre of music, but also a great general text for becoming a more precise, musical drummer. 

— CG
Hinder — All American Nightmare
Hard Rock

Solid, radio-friendly rock music, but it’s nothing special.

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 2.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 2.5
Overall Rating: 3 Stars2.75

Here’s the thing with these types of hard rock bands — you know, the ones where all the songs are about partying, sex, and drug: eventually, it all begins to sound the same. Bands like Avenged Sevenfold, or even Nickelback, have been doing this same type of stuff for years now.  As for a “deeper meaning” within the album, I could find none. With songs like “Hey Ho” and “Red Tail Lights” you can tell that the subjects matter is limited. It really can only be taken at face value, and it makes me think of the All American Sellout.  

The writing of the music, i.e. lyrics and song structure, was mediocre at best. As I said, it all takes on the same mood and sound, and then means much less to the listener. When I finished listening to the album, I was surprised to note that a great portion of the songs were actually ballads. I was expecting more Pantera-type songs about drinking whiskey and pillaging towns on motorcycles with shotguns, but these guys are just softies, I guess. One song after another laments about relationships, with the occasional party song thrown in. I’m sorry, but these guys wouldn’t last two nights partying with the members of Motley Crue or Ozzy.

The guitar work on the album, both acoustic and electric, is the finest aspect of the music. These guys aren’t any old bums that have been noodling on their instruments for just a couple of years. “Waking Up the Devil” was one of the tracks that stood out to me because of its great guitar solo.  Finally, someone is adding some neo-classical shred licks to mainstream music (too bad this track will probably never hit the airwaves). The acoustic work has a bit of country twang to it, which adds a nice touch. In addition, the production on the album is quite good, with an even mix and every instrument sounding crisp and clear. This album is a comfortable listen even when cranked.

This is not bad music at all. In fact, it’s pretty decent, but it’s been done before, by a host of other bands who just did it better. I’m sure the pop world will find this entertaining enough to have at least a couple of singles stay on the charts for a few weeks, but I’ve already moved on.

— VG

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