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Grinning Streak – Barenaked Ladies

I’m gonna be ending my 2013 year by reviewing the latest albums from my two most favourite bands of all time. Let’s take a listen to the Barenaked Ladies’ 2013 release Grinning Streak. Released in June and debuting at #10 on the US Billboard charts, this is their 11th studio album proper and their 2nd since singer/guitarist/songwriter Steven Page left the band back in 2009 (I’m still not over that). It is also the band’s first album on their new record label, Vanguard. The first single, Boomerang was recorded in a separate session produced by Gavin Brown in May 2012, initially for release that summer.

The album starts with Limits a song about taking a breather, taking a look at what has happened so far and knowing your limitations despite doing your best and giving it a sincere go. Boomerang is about coming back to the one who holds your heart and despite everything else and all the travails and tribulations, you come back to the one you love. I’m unsure of what the song Off His Head is all about, although I like the lyrics. I’m guessing it’s about being a parent and being faced with various situations that is out your control and being more affected because it’s not happening to you but to another human being that you love unconditionally. Gonna Walk is a song about being in love and chasing the object of your affection and not quitting until love has been achieved.

Odds Are is one of my favourite songs of BNL and one of my favourites of all time. The song is so catchy and lyrically thought provoking and yet simple enough to understand and the music lifts my spirits – just like a lot of their songs tends to do! Positivity and hope is sprayed throughout this song and the odds are in your favour that you will find the love of your life and things will go good for you and it resonates with me a lot. A little bit antagonistic and a lot about standing your ground and fighting when you are attacked is Keepin’ It Real. I know Ed Robertson (singer/guitarist/lyricist) is an atheist and this verse perfectly fits:

“What’s the point in wishing there was somewhere to go
If when you get there, you can’t let anyone know
When my time comes, I won’t be leaving this Earth
And what I’ve done for people will determine my worth”

Saying you’re sorry is hard and to a loved one making up is hard which is what the song Give It To You is all about. Talk about lyrics that let on that you are an atheist –  how’s this verse from Best Damn Friend:

Talk was cheap
‘Till I started talking to professionals
Not my first leap,
This atheist could have used confessional
Sown, so reap,
Allow me to lead you in devotional
While you weep,
Imagine the man whose more emotional.

Alright, Did I Say That Out Loud is a realization of love. Daydreamin’ is about – what else day dreams? And about wanting to make those day dreams a reality and showing the naysayers that they were wrong. Smile is about not being so serious and not forgetting the innocence of youth. Crawl is comparing the crawl of a baby to learning about life and making a sincere effort about it. We have 3 bonus tracks in this version of the album – Blacking Out, Fog Of Writing & Who Knew that add to the excellently received album both publicly & by critics. I love this album.

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The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – Alice In Chains

It’s been such a long time since I did a musical album review but I just have to get back to it. Ok, let’s start with a release from May of this year. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is Seattle giants Alice In Chains’ 5th full length studio album and the second album following the reunion post the length layoff post former singer Layne Staley’s death. It is also the second album to feature Wiliam DuWall on lead vocals & rhythm guitar. The album peaked at #2 on the US billboard charts and did well in most countries.

The album starts off with Hollow with that familiar grungy guitar style of riff and patent AiC harmony vocals with DuWall & Jerry Cantrell singing the lyrics. Pretty Done follows a familiar style although not as hard, and lyrically it’s about people who give up everything else to chase a dream. Once they get it they have to be careful as others are waiting to take it from them and the singer will not be around to be used. Stone is about an antagonistic relationship featuring lyrics like “What makes you want to carve your initials in me? Rained and weathered, erasing, hard to read
Find me distant, outwardly rough, obscene, Cold dry stone”. With some acoustic & electric guitars interchanging, Voices is an instantly hummable and memorable song and is surely a stand out in the album. It’s an introspective look at oneself and that just resonates well with most listeners. “The devil put dinosaurs here / Jesus don’t like a queer / No problem with faith / Just fear,” which appear in the title track, tells us what AiC think about the religious explanations which tend to be mixed with politics in the US. “I am wise and you don’t know, A cloud is my home, Only some get in, Got a ‘maginary friend.”

Lab Monkey is about being used for other’s purposes and gains. Low Ceiling is making fun at a wanna be big shot who’s ego is bigger than anything else he has ever done. It is stated that the song is aimed at particular music critics. I like the guitar solo a lot on this one. Breath On A Window is about the long travels on the road. Scalpel, a track that’s a bit slower, is about broken dreams. Phantom Limb back with double harmonies is about getting the due that you deserve when you have done way too much shit that trouble is imminent. Hung On A Hook is about your reflections showing you a side of you that you’ve tried to hide away from. But sometimes a cracked mirror shows the real you. Saying a goodbye or a farewell is what Choke is about. Pride and wrong decisions have let you to this path and now it’s closing around you.

The cover artwork features the skull of a Triceratops with a second skull image steganographically hidden on a red background. The two skulls, when revealed, combine to form the image of the Devil. The album title refers to a belief held by some religious individuals that to confuse the masses of humanity, Satan himself planted dinosaur bones deep into the Earth to dissuade the faithful. The veteran rock band has given us a solid and memorable album that will still proudly in the same shelf as their best. Here is the video for The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.

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Roots And Wings – Terri Clark

Released on July 26, 2011 via BareTrack Records/Capitol Nashville/EMI Canada Roots And Wings is country superstar Terri Clark’s 8th studio album. The albums starts off with Wrecking Ball a cheerful medium fast number. The song is about the determination of a woman who knows what she wants and will not stop until she gets it. Slowing things down a bit she gives us a country singer’s staple type of song  about breaks up and relationships dying as Breakin’ Up Thing. Lyrically it’s about how the lover is an expert at breaking up and the singer could learn a thing or two from him. There’s some mellow pedal steel and telecaster solos in this one. In The One, is about loneliness and what people say about a single woman. And the woman doesn’t want to settle down for just about anyone but is waiting for the right one.

Norther Girl is Terri Clark celebrating her Canadian-ess and her pride for her native country. Lyrically and musically this is one of her best songs and certainly a highlight of this album. Beautiful And Broken is about love lost and asking the questions to what made it go wrong. Fiddles bring forth the next song, Lonesome’s Last Call – the heartbroken people’s song. A more traditional sounding kind of country song, it’s a really good song to sing along to, in a country western bar.

With the intro reminding me of something the Bee Gees would do, The Good Was Great is another love ballad from Terri that touches the  heart and I can see myself listening to this one in the evening while sipping a cold vodka. The next song surprised me cause it’s got Bluegrass legend Alison Krauss lending backing vocals. Smile is a gentle ballad about being supportive and loving and not letting distance separate people from their loved ones. Lyrically, I think this song is about Terri’s mom who gave her tremendous support when the singer went away from home to make it in the music industry. The Canadian country singer/songwriter gives us a cover in the upbeat We’re Here For A Good Time which is a Trooper song. I’m sure this will be a really good choice for her to close her concerts with during her tours. And finally we get Flowers In The Snow – a lament from someone who has seen too  many heartaches & pain. The album officially ends with 10 songs but the deluxe version has two more songs, live versions of Norther Girl and one of her best songs ever If You Want Fire.

Great album, no weak songs at all. Here’s the video for Norther Girl.

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A Dramatic Turn Of Events – Dream Theatre

If you are a serious rock/metal musician, interested in approaching your art with the passion and dedication of the greats, look no further than Dream Theater to find a suitable role model for a band. There are hardly any other quintets who are as proficient on their respective instruments of choice as these guys. A Dramatic Turn Of Event, the eleventh studio album by American progressive metal band Dream Theater, was released worldwide on September 12, 2011 and in the United States on September 13 through Roadrunner Records. It is the band’s first recording to feature drummer Mike Mangini following the departure of founding member Mike Portnoy in September 2010. And their fans flocked to see if the sound would change with the change in personnel.

A commercial success, the album moved 36,000 units in the United States in its debut week, charting at number eight on the Billboard 200. Since July 2011, Dream Theater have been on tour in support of the album. They sound much like the DT we know and love. was produced by John Petrucci and mixed by Andy Wallace. It was written, recorded, mixed, and mastered between January and June 2011 at Cove City Sound Studios in Long Island, New York. First single and opening track On The Backs Of Angels starts things off in, pardon the pun, dramatic fashion. The song was written by the band’s guitarist and producer John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess, and bassist John Myung with lyrics by Petrucci. Rudess and Petrucci’s works will make you feel damn good. Build Me Up, Break Me Down is the next single with a riff that will please headbangers and fist bangers. S inger James LaBrie did a three-layer vocal hook, which is insane. John Myung’s bass riff is insane and fits perfectly. The drums are amazing in this track. The chorus is catchy and Petrucci’s amazing solo followed by fucking insane keyboard work by Rudess owns.

The next song is a technical fest – Lost Not Forgotten starts off with a delicate piano intro before Petrucci’s monstrous riffs take over with Mangini following up with some intensive drumming. With many twists and turns all over the song, this is already one of my favourites of theirs – of all time! Amazing guitar solo too. The next  track is more of a ballad with some heartfelt solo guitar work and Jordan’s melodic keyboard riffs. James delivers some of his best vocal performances to date. Bridges In The Sky starts off with some fuzzy noizes and then a throaty bellow (some kind of tribal vocal performance?) before the church style chanting starts and then the band kicks in. A furious guitar solo follows later and the song ends with the same sounds that launches it. Outcry begins with some delightful keys play by Rudess laid on a synthesized drum beats before the rest of the band joins in. The keyboard work is uplifting over here. The drums, bass & guitar lock in for a rhythmic heartbeat style riff-age and James takes over.

Far From Heaven is a gentle piano work and some strings & LaBrie outperforms here, with intense emotion. This is an extremely melodious and personal song. Breaking All Illusions, the longest song on the album which is written by John Myung, after 11 years, he has penned down stuff and boy does he deliver. Everyone is at the top of their form for this track. And we come to the end of the album with Beneath The Surface; which starts with a dripping tap before gentle acoustic riffs and James’s emotional & melodious vocals starts. Jordan’s lovely keyboard solo gives you goosebumps.

I would call this one of the better offerings but not their best yet. Still awesome to hear and with a few listens you should be easily able to include this as a staple of your collection. Here is the video for On The Backs Of Angels.

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2 – Black Country Communion

For those of you who do not know what or who Black Country Communion is/are, they are a rock supergroup formed by lead vocalist and bassist Glenn Hughes (former Deep Purple), drummer and percussionist Jason Bonham, keyboardist Derek Sherinian (former Dream Theater), and guitarist and vocalist Joe Bonamassa (solo). With chops like these it’s no wonder they created a lot of excitement when the band was announced. Hughes & Bonammasa had been working for a year in 2009 when producer Kevin Shirley suggested that they contact Jason Bonham to play the drums. Keyboard player Sherinian was also asked to joined, which he did gleefully.

Released on June 14, 2011, their second album, simply titled 2, is the album we are checking out today. Things start out with a bang and Hughes loud & powerful vocals fuel The Outsider. Sherinian’s keyboard work sounds a lot like Jon Lord at his best and Joe’s guitar work excels here. First single Man In The Middle is up next with a down & dirty, heavy blues-rock feeling. I get a bit of an Extreme vibe especially in the vocal delivery here, which may or may not be intentional. I haven’t heard any of Jason Bonham’s but I certainly am digging his drumming here. Bonamassa takes over vocal responsibilities in The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall which starts off acoustic before picking up. This is probably their best track till date, done really well and one of the best songs I have heard in recent years. The almost 8 minute Save Me was partly written by Bonham during his time with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones when a Led Zeppelin reunion and future album may have been possible. Jason brought the song over to his new band mates and worked on it to form what we now hear. It has that Zeppelin sound & energy to it.

Smokestack Woman brings us more of that harder, fuller, rock and roll groove sound that BCC has come to be associated with. When I saw the title of this track, I was kinda expecting The Cult’s 1989 hit single Fire Woman. Bonamassa gives us a searing blues drenched guitar solo here. Faithless slows things down but not by much, just enough for us to catch our breath. But Hughes delivers a fine vocal performance here. Bonamassa once again picks up the vocals for An Ordinary Son an 8 minute epic. Slowly snaking it’s tempo up during the chorus, this is a fine group effort. I Can See Your Soul brings us back to Hughes’ vocals and the faster & heavier blues-rock. And then we get really down with the blues in Little Secret sung by Hughes but really it’s Joe’s song to showcase just why he is called one of the best guitarists around. Crossfire sees Hughes’s best bass work with some great harmonies and solid performances from all the band members. The final track Cold leaves you with the chills and you are left wanting more.

Transitioning from a super group to a band is not easy but BCC have done it and done it well. They are a rock force to reckon with. And we are the better for it. Enjoy the album and here is the video for Man In the Middle.

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The Other Side – Cathy Richardson & The Macrodots

Grammy Award Nominee and four-time DIY Music Award-winner Cathy Richardson is a Chicago based singer who hit & conquered the local scene before Cathy made headlines being cast as Janis Joplin in the Off Broadway hit Love, Janis. She later toured the US with Big Brother and the Holding Co. and in 2008 became the lead singer for psychedelic rock originators, Jefferson Starship (with founding member Paul Kantner). A strong female vocalist, she then started the Macrodots with San Francisco guitarist/producer Zack Smith. Their debut album is called The Other Side.

The opening & title track sees Richardson going for the jugular with her killer vocals as she hits us full throttle. Musically the song, The Other Side, reminds me of a bit of Garbage – with balls. I really like the rhythm section on this track. The second track, Beautiful Girl, is a bit more ballad-y without being corny. A nice distorted guitar solo just adds to the feeling of longing in the song. Cathy has a voice that most female singers, and quite a few male singers, would sell their souls for. Everything Is All I Want is that obsessive, passionate lover kinda number yet cheerful & almost celebratory. Not Too Late is the hopeful kind of advice seemingly targeted to a saddened and depressed individual. The music itself has some uplifting elements to it. I love the drummers’ fills in this song.

A bit in your face and, dare I say, Piece Of Me reminds me of 60’s blues rock a lot like some of Kula Shaker’s stuff. Todd Kerns fans would find this particular track reminiscent of a couple of songs from his 2004 solo album Go Time. The dreamy I Am sees Cathy stretch her magnificent vocal in the chorus, where the music shifts intensity. The guitars & keyboards rule on this track. Every Time reminds me a bit of something Tori Amos would do if she stood up and rocked a bit more. If I Could sees Cathy singing her socks off in this vocal showcase of what a woman with the right set of pipes can do for rock. This is the ballad that could launch the band to the limelight. Richardson could literally kick the pants of any popstar wannabe female singer across the planet on the strength of this one track. Yes they are that powerful & awesome.

A bit more in your face is Kiss My Ass a blatant fuck-you to the antagonist target of the singer’s ire. The whole band lock in as one unit behind this track to deliver a strong punchy track. Raunchy Rock And Roll Part II with it’s killer riff  is that rocker anthemn that we can all relate to. I can just about picture it being played live in front of a massive fist pumping & headbanging crowd, who appreciate the ballsy guitar solo and lusty vocals. The lost woman’s lament in Save Me is a smoke filled bar ballad that will resonate with most people who need that helping hand. Once again, Cathy’s voice is awesome and will fill your home even if the volume is kept low when you play this track. Thus ends a truly wonderful rock album.

Without having to resort to cutesy, sexy barbie doll type stuff or hysterionics or any of that nonsense that young rocker-wanna gals seem to be doing these days, mature & experienced Cathy does it the way it’s supposed to be. She doesn’t apologize, she doesn’t back down and neither does she tone it down or pretend to be something she isn’t. 100% genuine rocker with balls to spare and a voice that could knock the wind outta you. Awesome and worth spending many hours just to appreciate the songs. A must buy for those of you who like rock n’roll and want to listen to what a lady rocker should sound like.

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Love Letter – Jessie Farrell

Jessie Farrell is the redheaded all-Canadian country singer from Vancouver. I’ve been a fan of hers from her 2002, which was more folk pop than country but since then she’s shined on in her favourite genre. Her songs are sweet, fun and clap worthy and while the lyrics won’t stretch your brain cells, like 99% of most country songs, they are catchy. She may not be in the big leagues as far as country superstardom is concerned but she’s in my personal top 5 of female country singers. Love Letter is her 2011 release and her 4th album overall.

The opening number Catch Me is a dance inspired number, the lyrics are all about relationships with reference to dancing. This is a real bar or casual country ballroom dancing song at it’s best, with some clapping and footstomping. The title track, Love Letter is a straight mid-tempo ballad. It’s that wishing & optimistic style of love song but with a god mix of poppiness to cross over to a pop audience. The fun & frolic is back with the effervescence of Sunny Days. This song is all about the summer and the fun that young people want to engage in during those days. First single with a cool video Turn You Down is up next. It’s more rockier and probably one of my favourite songs of hers. I just love it when she sings in these style of songs.

Another ballad; well country songs are usually about love and heartbreak but I don’t mind it when it’s done well without a lot of pretension. Simple lyrics and feelings abound in Everything To Me. It works better in this version rather than the acoustic version I had heard on a tv show. You want more fun songs? The almost rockabilly Case Of Love aims to please and only asks you to grab your dancing shoes in return. Filthy Habits are about giving something up, changing your lifestyle for the best and making a fresh start. Lyrically it’s one of the more inspiring stuff that Jessie has sung. Making Ends Meet is about the struggles and the pains to do get by in life. Fall is another love ballad, about taking chances in life. The album proper ends with Love Never Ends, a mid tempo number.

We also get acoustic versions of her older singles Let’s Talk About Love, Fell Right Into You & I Guess. A nice enough album that’s easy listening and a pleasant journey into the life of Miss Farrell. I love her and her songs. Here’s the video for Everything To Me.

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Here And Now – Nickelback

Band of the decade for 2000-2010. Not bad. Even as their detractor create a lot of hate and vitriol at the 4some from Vancouver, Nickelback themselves are laughing all the way to the bank. They remain classy in not responding in kind to all the nonsense that the haters put out in the internet. Does it make one difference to them or their fans? No! And hats off to you guys! Nickelback has received large amounts of criticism for their repetition of the same sound, same themes and nearly identical albums. But it is this no-selling out and not changing their sound to what is new & trendy, much like previously similarly maligned band AC/DC, is what makes a lot of their fans stay loyal.

Released on November 21, 2011,  Here And Now is the seventh studio album by the band, their first since 2008’s Dark Horse. The artwork for the album is the Gastown Steam Clock in Vancouver and the clock is set at 11:21, the date the album was released. he album debuted at number two on the US  Billboard 200  selling approximately 227,000 copies in its first week,  just 0.18% below the number one spot. Marching out with the groovy This Means War, which encourages us to headband long from the start to the finish. Booming drums from drummer extraordinaire Daniel Adair herald Bottom Ups, a drinkers anthem inviting everyone to have fun, party and drink up. The track also has a nice solo from Chad Kroeger.

The next track & first single is the global awareness, call for peace and cooperation When We Stand Together, the kind of track that the band always seem to slip in amongst the songs about drinking, women, strippers & partying hard. Yet with this track, catchy bouncy feel-good rhythmic and singable song, it’s time to admit – their hearts are always in the right place. Having said that and as the wonderful lyrics of that track fade away, we do get a sex-themed song next Midnight Queen has lyrics like  “She’s got the bottle of Tequila and’a lime for her lips / Laid her body on the bar and put the salt on her hips, / I was lyin’ when I told her that I’m only gunna’ lick her tonight!” which doesn’t leave much to the imagination. And Gotta Get Me Some is similar – drinking with a chick and then getting it on! About the perfect hottie, dance & rock star.

Lullaby comes out from left field, a ballad that’s about suicide and a message of hope to someone who is about to contemplate killing themselves. Chad has always been fascinated with Hollywood and it’s lifestyle and in the next song, Kiss It Goodbye, he adds New York City and it’s excesses compared to the ones in LA along with it. This seems like a criticism of the tv culture that is present in the West. We have another semi-ballad in Trying Not To Love You in which the protagonist wants out of a relationship but the harder he tries, he falls deeper & deeper into the relationship. Holding On To Heavenis a similar styled semi-ballad professing love. We get another sex laden lyrics rocker in Everything I Wanna Do (You and me, sitting in a tree F-U-C-K-I-N-G sung in a distorted whisper) – probably one of the songs that a stripper could shake her things as she writhes onstage.

As the last song Don’t Ever Let It End, a nostalgic love song which makes us look back at the feelings that we had in our life, you get a typical Nickelback album – rockers, semi-ballads & ballads. The themes are the same and it doesn’t ask too much of you other than clear your schedule for 40 minutes and rock on. Ryan Peake & Mike Kroeger add their contributions very well in making this a great album to have. Another success for the Canadian quartet, more world tours and gold / platinum records and a few awards. Life’s good for Nickelback and they always have the last laugh. I leave you with the fabulous first single.

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American Soldier – Queensryche

Queensryche have long been one of my fav bands, ever since I heard Silent Lucidity back in 1991-92. They started out as more of a metal band but after a couple of albums they moved a lot more into the prog-metal band category. Most of their albums are based on a central theme and this one, their 10th, is a perfect example – American Soldier was released in 2009 and is a concept album that evolves around the lives and experiences of those who serve or have served in the United States armed forces.

Singer Geoff Tate spent a few years interviewing veterans from all conflicts America has been involved in from World War II to the Iraq War, including his own father and collecting their stories in order to help him write the album.  Starting of with a command “ON YOUR FEET” Sliver is the first track on the album. Not one of their better songs, it comes off like a cross of Limp Bizkit & a number of nu-metal bands during the chorus. I had an image of a drill sargent berating his troops while the song was playing along. The next song, Unafraid, is straight from the horses’s mouths, so to speak. The song uses dialogue from the soldiers’ interviews for the verses and Geoff Tate for the choruses. Thematically it is a great idea but does nothing as a song, although I see where the band is going with it. Slow paced & mixing clean & grittier guitar riffs, Hundred Mile Stare is more like it. The song also sounds like some of their older more popular material.

At 30,000 FT is about that feeling of being alone while in a fighter plane during a mission to attack the enemy. The pilot does not see or hear the people screaming in agony, bleeding & broken or running to escape. Reminding us of the atmospheric songs on 1994’s Promised Land, A Dead Man’s Words features seductive middle-eastern riffs and scales play in the background while Tate layers his vocals and even throws in a saxophone solo. Musically this is one solid song. The Killer is thoughts that a soldier struggles with in a war. If you have found yourself in the middle of a battlefield with people dying or dead left, right & center and you are trying to just make it out – welcome to Middle Of Hell. The song sounds like more of an out of the body experience or one in which the person is too stunned to do anything else. If I Were King is a pleading to have his fellow soldier back alive and praying for a miracle. Survivor’s guilt or just missing your comrade, it’s something all soldiers go through.

Man Down! is more of the same, focusing on survivor’s guilt and the horrors of remembering how some of your fellow soldiers were killed during an attack. Remember Me is a dying soldier’s last words before the life runs out. Home Again is about the other end of the spectrum, the family that struggles when the father/husband/son/brother is away in a dangerous place and is away for months & years. Tate sings this song with his then 10 year old daughter; the song  focuses on a father returning home to his family after having been gone an extended period. This theme reflects both the life of Tate as a touring musician and the life of one who serves in the military. This song belongs in the list of best ballads from the rock world. We end the album with The Voice is also about a soldier during his dying moments.

While certainly not in the class of Empire, Promised Land & Operation Mindcrime, the album does have it’s moments. I had hoped that they would have done things a bit different for some songs. The band hasn’t been the same without the talents of former guitarist/lyricist Chris DeGarmo and it shows once again. Still musically Queensryche is a force to reckon with. Michael Wilton did most of the guitars in the album, with some help from former member Kelly Gray, who engineered the album. New guitarist Parker Lundgren joined the band after the album was released. Here is the video for If I Were King.

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What If…. – Mr. Big

Mr. Big broke up in 2002 but after fan interests & requests came pouring in they reformed in 2009 and did a tour of Japan. The success of that and consequent performances, including two dates in India, convinced them to stick together and in January of 2011 they released their first studio album in 10 years titled What If….. Also this album sees the return of original guitarist Paul Gilbert who had left the band in 1999 to pursue his solo career, which had seen some success and a few albums put out to guitar enthusiasts’ acclaim.

The album was recorded between September–October 2010 in a Los Angeles-area studio with producer Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Rush), and was supported by a world tour this year.

The album starts at a fast pace with lead single Undertow, galloping on the strength of drummer Pat Torpey’s boom boom sounds. You are treated to their trademark musicianship (all excellent at their instrument of choice), solid vocals and harmonies. “All dressed up in the red, white & blue” as singer Eric Martin remarks in the intro, American Beauty reminds me a lot of Colorado Bulldog from their 1993 release Bump Ahead. Stranger In My Life is a self reflective song, a ballad done in the style they are best know for. A melodic guitar riff starts off the next song, until the banging drums takes over – Nobody Left To Blame is not their best song but the bass & guitars still shine on this track.

Still Not Enough For Me which sets the album into a pedal to the metal pace, with bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan leading the way with his bass lines. The pace doesn’t slow down for Once Upon A Time, which is sure to be a concert favourite and probably the best song on the album. Whoever said that Mr. Big was a ballad band? In As Far As I Can See singer Martin shines all through, flexing his vocal abilities to it’s finest. The band takes the foot of the gas just enough to give us a delightful little number in All The Way Up, very melodic and a crowd pleaser to the crowd. It’s a love song, instantly memorable and one for the ages. A mid tempo break comes up in I Won’t Get In My Way, with harmonizing chorus vocals and thoughtful lyrics and a solid guitar solo. It’s about correcting your flaws and finding what it takes to get stuff done.

Around The World sees the trio of musicians click together like one unit, supporting Eric’s vocals and like much of this record, features a blistering bass line from Sheehan. A melodic rocker is I Get The Feeling – sunshine, top down on the car, riding along the beach sides and the music playing loudly – that’s what this song reminds me of. Kill Me With A Kiss is a bonus track, I think for the Japanese version only, which I have. Gilbert’s guitar shines & shreds, Pat Torpey’s drums are bombastic and Sheehan is awesome as always and Eric does some well done vocals. I missed them when they were gone. All’s well with the world now. Here is the video for Undertow; enjoy!

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Revolutions Per Minute – Big Sugar

Canadian Blues-hard rock & reggae band Big Sugar had split up in 2004 after almost 13 years in the biz and 5 albums plus a greatest hits record out. Founder, guitarist & singer Gordie Johnson relocated to Austin, Texas and formed a gritty blues-rock band called Grady, while the other members went their separate ways. Johnson has produced many bands, worked with so many musicians and even had a stint with Saskatoon blues rock band Wide Mouth Mason, which als so him formalize the bond by becoming a permanent member playing bass for the trio! What did this all mean for Big Sugar? Was one of my fav bands done & dusted?

We first heard rumblings in late 2009 of a reunion tour. Finally in 2010 after playing a few gigs the band reunited with Johnson,  harmonica and tenor saxophonist Kelly Hope, bassist Gary Lowe with new members Stephane Bodean on drums & Friendlyness on keyboards. Earlier this year the band put out their 6th studio album Revolutions Per Minute. The world’s dirtiest soul band is back. That’s what they are soul –  blues, hard rock & reggae mixed soul.

What an enjoyable album this turned out to be! No weak songs at all just fun blues & hard rock with reggae added for spice. Potent stuff. From the retro feeling of Roads Ahead, a really fun loving & clap along song. We get a nice slide guitar solo, sax solo, while Friendlyness tickles the ivories. Come A Little Closer…..Now Come! is a bass driven rhythm and funky number which could be a dance floor hit if marketed properly. Sexual innuendo is not one of the band’s weaknesses and when we hear that blues harp – heaven! Track 3 is when we get a slice of reggae beat when Little Bit A All Right. This is best heard when the guitar solo is poured over the rhythm beat & then we get a rasta message from Friendlyness. Allman Brothers & Govt. Mule’s Warren Hayes lends his wah-drenched guitars to It’s All I Know. Things get a little slowed down, but in the smooth & casual way, before the song closes of in a lead guitar duel.

Smooth! Like a nice dark chocolate porter! More reggae in If I Were Heaven (Tonight) which also features the melodic Maritime fiddle of guest star Tim Chaisson. Gordie guitar sounds so great here, sublime yet strong in this romantic song. Montreal’s Shane Murphy joins the band for another reggae-esq light hearted song in Done So Much In The Dark.  Dare I say it, there’s an accordion playing in that song. Work It Now! is more dancehall with some broadway influences mixing with a little Indian/Arabian bit thrown in. Un-Employed Expert sounds like it could be tailor made for a musical Hollywood movie. Actually it reminds me of some of the songs in Once More With Feeling, that Buffy musical episode. It’s got that vibe to it and an almost middle eastern style of horns playing, while still being bluesy. Counterfeit Wings (Are Some Jive Ass Wings) continues in that old style blues style of singing and overall feel while the music gallops along. I can’t think of another band that sounds this cool and strange at the same time.

There’s No Telling Me is about the stubbornness and no-nonsense attitude that the band has been long known for. Great track which feels like a midnight blues track playing in a smoky bar. True Believers is about sticking to your guns, the lyrics of a world weary traveler and who just wants to settle down with a lover now. Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash does his bit to massage the political concerns of the title track into something a little closer to lovers rock.  This is just a chill out, weeds & beer kinda of song “The record may be scratched but the music still sounds sweet” indeed!And they channel Rush’s 1980 classic hit in the line “Don’t you believe in freedom of music?”. And as Friendlyness sounds his rasta lines, Bob Marley’s ghost is nodding & humming along.

In the end the 50 minutes of 12 really good songs serve us the best that the band has ever put up. They have matured and calmed down and it shows. Where’s my joint? I wanna relax and listen to this album again. Do the world a favour – throw out your rap crap, chuck out Lady Gaga and dance songs and never mind the Beiber. Gordie wants you to relax and sink in the pool.

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Saudades de Rock – Extreme

Most music lovers of the late 80s & 90s know Extreme from their acoustic love ballad & super hit #1 single More Than Words. That song was so huge that Extreme were wrongly & sadly categorized as a one-hit wonder and a ballad band. Not true as long time followers of the Boson based band will attest to. However they could never replicate the success of their sophomore album Extreme II : Pornagraffitti and disbanded in 1996 after their 4th album & tour. Since then, as some people know, singe Gary Cherone had a stint as the vocalist for Van Halen before creating Tribe Of Judah along with bassist Pat Badget and a couple of other projects, while guitarist Nuno Bettencourt had a solo record & couple of bands. Original drummer Paul Geary  now manages several rock bands including….. Extreme.

The band reunited in 2007 for touring and have put out their 5th album in 2008 called Saudades de Rock (Nostalic Yearnings of Rock). The first track Star is a fast number about all the trappings that come with the power, riches, glam & glory that comes with becoming a popular star in show biz. So great to hear Nuno’s guitar solo here. Comfortably Dumb is more bluesy rock nroll, peppered with drum rolls and solid guitar work. A little hilly billy style guitar playing in Take Us Alive makes for a fun footstopping number that is sure to be a hit in pubs & arenas alike. Riffs from the bass & guitar followed closely by the drumming makes the nest track, Run. Last Hour is a love ballad but it’s not one that will ignite passions. So far it’s my least weakest song on the album.

Sounding more like a Brit pop song, Flower Man, and Cherone even sings in a more punk edge style. WTF? But hey, the song is not bad and infact is even a bit infectious. I don’t know how to describe King Of The Ladies but it doesn’t sound anything like Extreme have put out before. This is new territory for the guys in the band. We have another ballad in Ghost with a piano adding to the atmosphere and Gary singing in a falsetto during the verses. Slide starts of with, dare I say it, a Led Zepplin-esq riff. The rest of the song doesn’t sound anything like M/s Page, Plant, Bonham & Jones though. Starting off with just vocals & acoustic guitars, Interface is a nice track. It’s probably one of the best songs ever, with some emotional lyrics. Sunrise is up next with a funky rock track and nice riff.

Track # 13 Peace (Saudade) is a piano piece and is a gentle prayer for peace. We get guitars, drums & bass only towards the end. This is easily a light up your cell phones (as it is these past years instead of lighters) kind of song and is a thoughtful & beautiful track. As a bonus track we get Americocaine, which is a demo from 1985 when the band was first forming up. Sounds a lot like Van Halen here. Good album, better than 1995’s Waiting For The Punchline but far from their best effort. Bassist Pat Badger & new drummer Kevin Figuereido are awesome. Still Extreme coming back was a big deal for their fans, including me. In 2010 they released a live album too. I’m sure we will have more Extreme albums coming up.

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Rich Man Falling – Simon McBride

Simon McBride is an Irish guitarist who I discovered online on Youtube. I found out about this bluesman while clicking on links for PRS guitars, which Simon endorses and often plays clinics for. That’s how I saw a few videos of his playing and then decided to watch some of his originals played live and finally got this album. While the inevitable comparisons to his late country Rory Gallagher aren’t unfounded, there’s also some Hendrix touches and some Stevie Ray Vaughn in his playing. Plus he’s also played a bit with fellow Irishman Vivian Campbell (former Whitesnake & Dio, current Def Leppard).

We start off with Down To The River, a good way to kick off things with some laid back blues-rock riffs. Lyrically its about making a woman change her mind and bringing her to you.  Standing Still starts off with this delightfully melodic lick, and is an appreciation about nature and the beautiful things we have around us that we take for granted. Fat Pockets is more rockn’roll, and about who holds the more money. And then we have the hopeful romantic in SO Much Love To Give, basically a plea for someone who wants something new to come into his life. He has washed away the pain & skeletons in his clothes and is moving on with life.

Punching It Out is a out & out rock n blues number, with a searing guitar solo by Simon. The title track, Rich Man Falling, is up next; a good ole mid-tempo rocker with a solid guitar solo. A slide guitar riff goes well in Devil Woman, about the hot & sexy nothing but trouble woman that you can’t get enough of. We get a ballad in Be My Friend. It’s a song about needing a special someone in their life to get them through the bad times. Change has a riff that at the beginning reminds me a bit of GnR’s Bad Apple from Use Your Illusion. However it’s a playful and fun number, more foot tapping than the GnR track. Tell Me Why is more bluesy and meant for a long guitar jam when played live.

You Gotta Problem is confronting a girl’s issues in her life and telling her to pick up the pieces of her life and offering help. More bright & foot tapping is the next number – DC. It’s about missing home & singing it’s praises. And we get to the Hendrix cover Power Of Soul. Nothing groundbreaking or anything but McBride’s got a good voice and he plays great blues guitar. Check him out on Youtube. Below is a live rendition of Down To the River.

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Innerevolution – Philip Sayce

I first came to know about Philip Sayce and his guitar playing abilities due to his liaison with Jeff Healey, touring with the late Blues legend and often jamming with him on twin guitar ditties and playing on two albums for Jeff. Post that Philip has also spent time touring with Uncle Kracker and more recently his high profile stint as the lead guitarist for Melissa Ethridge. In July 2010, Philip Sayce supported the legendary ZZ Top in Europe. In December 2010 he supported Deep Purple on their French dates. Along the way the Welsh-Canadian blues guitarist has also released two solo albums, the second of which is what I am reviewing here.

Innerevolution is a Bluesfest, dripping with rawking hot guitar leads and breaks but Sayce is a good vocalist as well, bringing us to mind a more rocking sounding Gavin DeGraw. He also has elements of Stevie Ray Vaughn & Jimi Hendrix in him – his two heroes growing up. Starting off with a thumping drums solo, Changes comes charging outta your speakers, like a rhino on steroid. It’s a song about picking up the pieces and rolling with the changes. Richard Marx has co-written some tracks on this record, like Scars the second track. Wah-wah drenched lead guitar rips through the track, singing to a lover that everyone has their scars, their pains and their hurts. Rolling drums leads into the main guitar riff announcing the onset of Bitter Monday a very energetic crowd pleaser during live performances. It’s a pulsating track about regrets and the morning after.

Anymore really sounds like Philip is using his DeGraw influences; the songs sounds like it could find a place in the latter’s repertoire. Lyrically it’s a heart-break song and about moving on. From the little subtle previous track, he goes all out a bit more in the rambunctious Take You Away which is more hard rock & roll and features a screaming solo lead guitar. Daydream Tonight is more sublime and tender, a ballad from the heart. Another wah-wah laden riff introduces the next track; My Pearl is just appreciation for the woman in your life. The chorus sounds very rnb or Motown. There’s some delectable keyboard playing during the chorus too. A nice brooding blues-rock number is Tennessee Girl, about a heartbreak & outlaw girl from the mentioned state.  A bad girl who can cause a lot of damage.

Are You Ready is a question in the form of a song to the lover is she is ready to commit and ready to accept the love of the singer. It’s a very catchy number. Another rawking track is Gimme Some More, a song about sex and love. And we come to the 11th & final track called Little Miss America, a number about the glamour & wealth that young women would do anything to possess. It’s almost got a political message to the US as a whole.

I really like this guy’s music and enjoyed the whole album; no weak tracks just a great bunch of blues rock numbers. Incidentally this album is dedicated to his mentor the late Jeff Healey. Here’s a live rendition of Bitter Monday.

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The Ground Cries Out – Jeff Martin 777

For those of you who do not know, Jeff Martin is the former lead singer & guitarist of Canadian trio The Tea Party. He began his career as a solo artist in October 2005, when The Tea Party disbanded. In 2010, Martin began work on new music with Jay Cortez and Malcolm Clark (formerly of The Sleepy Jackson) for a new album, his second solo studio effort, to be entitled The Ground Cries Out under the new bandname of Jeff Martin 777. On March 20th, I’d posted a video of Jeff playing a solo acoustic version of one of the songs from this album, Riverland Rambler.

Jeff Martin’s music, both with his former band and his solo stuff, has a timeless quality to it. He borrows from 1970’s heavy metal bands like Led Zepplin and mixes the heavy blues with Middle Eastern influences and creates a totally different sound. He is ably assisted in this venture by J Cortez (Sleepy Jackson/The Armada) on bass and Malcom Clarke (Sleepy Jackson/The Basement Birds) on drums. With that middle eastern melody, The Ground Cries Out starts out with the title track, mysterious elements mixing with a rock drum groove. More Southern rock sounding Queen Of Spades has this semi-acoustic 12 string guitar riff that is so infectious & groovy. This song is made even more enjoyable by the accompanying of a clapping track in places. Pure 70s music.

She’s Leaving starts off very quietly, as a melodic acoustic guitar starts things off to be joined by Martin’s perfect pitch voice. It’s a lament of someone who has left his love to be lonely for too long. And it builds up slowly as it moves along. The Cobra has this amazing riff first with acoustic & then an electric guitar that “snakes” (pun intended) through the song as it builds tension. The symphonic interlude of this main riff after the first verse is so strong, I could just listen to a loop of that all day. 1916 is a propulsive blues track which is about a man begging his lady love to take him back and all the things that he would do if she would. With an Oriental/Chinese sounding melody, let The Meekong take you away to a far away land, where things are different from your world. You may even find yourself checking to see if it was the same CD that u were previously listening to!

One Star In Sight is an acoustic driven number that brings back memories of 70s bands, with warbling sounds and steady strumming of guitars. Blue Mountain Sun is a gentle instrumental with jangly acoustic guitars accompanied by the beautiful pedal steel versions that makes it sunny and warm. The song actually remind me of a flowing river or a pond. Santeria maintains the acoustic theme yet augmenting it with electric guitars, drums & bass. Martin excels at the story telling kind of song and Riverland Rambler is no exception. It tells us about an alternative kind of minister who is ‘cool’ and thumps the bible at the same time and has a large following. Finally we have The Pyre is a stomping rock groove track which has this stop-start riffage with rich orchestration that makes it a stand out track and a great album closer.

Jeff Martin is looking to do things his own way and keep his influences & tastes on display for others to discover & enjoy. Here;s the video for first single & title track The Ground Cries Out.

 

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Laws Of Illusion – Sarah McLachlan

Afterglow was the last Sarah McLachlan album of original material and that was 7 years ago. When you consider the fact that the previous album before that was in 1997 with Surfacing, she is really not giving us, her ardent fans, much to hold on to. Now keeping that aside, my favourite singer delivers a nice album in Laws Of Illusion, her 7th studio outing, filled with 13 songs in that unmistakable style of hers. She is not rock, she is not pop, she is not goth-pop as I have heard her music being described. She is just Sarah!

Released by Arista Records on June 15, 2010, the recording for the album took place in Montreal and Vancouver and production was handled by Pierre Marchand, with whom McLachlan has frequently collaborated in the past. Awakenings is the love gone bad once the good intentions fade type of song that seems to hark back to her divorce. Illusions Of Bliss is an awesome & heart breaking-ly beautiful song about the wool we pull over our own eyes, thinking that because something is safe it should be the right thing. Once again the lovelorn actions of a person who wanted things to work out so badly but knowing that it’s going to break eventually, is what drives this song. A lot more positive is the next track; Loving You Is Easy is about the rush of being in a relationship and being in love.

Changes is about the things that change when one member of the family leaves when a divorce happens. Clearly most of the album is personal & based on Aswin Sood & Sarah’s divorce. Forgiveness is about the bitter taste of betrayal, wanting & longing for better times which the singer needs but knows that it can’t come back. Also that because of the betrayal forgiving the subject of this song is beyond her. Rivers Of Love is about creating an analogy of relationships & desire and the rough path that you must travel to make your journey through it.  Someone who has long waited for love and accepting of the highs & lows which accompany it will want to use Love Comes as their theme music. When you want to shut the crazy & desperate world out and leave everything beyond it, you need some sanity to hold onto, something that is good & pure just like in the haunting Out Of Tune.

Heartbreak is about the illusion we have that if we run fast enough we might stay clear of heartbreak, pain & sadness. Like trying trying to outrun the inevitable grievances. The next two songs, also about her breakup with her ex-husband, appeared on her best hits compilation. Still, Don’t Give Up On Us is a melancholic, melodic & heartfelt number about some hope during a breakup or rough patch in a relationship. The beautiful piano driven U Want Me 2 was already released as a single to promote her best of album and it’s a heart-wrenching tale of heart break when you finally give up on your relationship.Finally we have a cover version Susan Enan’s Bring On The Wonder, which, by now, is very familiar to McLachlan fans who go to her concerts – although her largely a capella version is breathtaking. Very enjoyable, just like all her stuff, it’s an album that is bittersweet and melancholic. Sarah at her best.

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Losin’ Lately Gambler – Corb Lund & The Hurtin’ Albertans

The alt-country tunes that Corb Lund puts out with his backing band The Hurtin’ Albertans always stands in a class by themselves. They have released 6 albums to critical acclaim and have created a loyal following – of which this South Indian is also a part of. With their latest (actually released in 2009) album Losin’ Lately Gambler, Corb continues his semi-narrative style of singing, which along with the roots based music, is just screaming for beer, whiskey and a bar where everyone dances & listens to what the singer has to say.

We start off with Horse Doctor, Come Quick about veterinarians and about scoring drugs of the doctor, a situation that was just begging for a song. “Well I know you been busy pullin’ all them calves, But you got somethin’ that the other vets don’t have”. Corb always sings about horses and riding and this album is no exception. The next song is Steer Rider’s Blues – a bar dance kinda song. Lyrically it’s about a boy who’d rather be riding in the rodeo that be in school. A Game In Town Like This is about a gambler who has hit the long road to loses and it’s also from where the album title comes from. He has seen his share of wins but now he is losing money and is trying to cut his loses and hopes things get better.

We go into ballad nation with Alberta Says Hello, a lover’s letter to his ex who he misses a lot. She has moved her and gone to live in Montreal which he is still living in Alberta. And that although he’s finding life without her very difficult he’s glad that she is doing well. Takin’ Veternarian Blues is about a son learning from his dad, who is a vet, that it’s always better to get cash for the doctor’s bills instead of getting trades from farmers. More advise of life as a vet is followed in that talking blues-country style that Lund is famous for. Its Hard To Keep A White Shirt Clean, is a swinging country number of a hard life. It’s a fun little ditty that is sure to put a smile on your faces. Long Gone To Saskatchewan is a foot stompin’ number, which almost sounds like it was commissioned by the Province of Saskatchewan to get more farmers to migrate. The song’s about a cattle farmer & his wife who finds making a living tough in his native of Alberta and so he packs up and moved next door. Except for the chorus, the song is a narrative style sung fun loving number.

Sounding like something from the 1950s Devil’s Best Dress is about the heart breaking woman who has left the singer & many others in a pile of bloody mess in her wake. The Only Long Rider I Know a rockin country song is about a legendary rider just like any country band should sing about. This one should be a single and if it’s not a hit, well then there is no justice in this world. A Chinook Wind is a warm wind during the winter that hits the Canadian west; it’s also the name of the next song. Proud of his prairie roots and his Alberta home, This Is My Prairie is a ballad love song in tribute to the province.

All in all a good, strong album. I guess my fav Corb Lund album will always be 5 Dollar Bill but this one comes mighty close. One for the ages and evergreen for ever.

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Life Turns Electric – Finger Eleven

With the released of Life Turns Electric, their 6th album, Finger Eleven has evolved their music — something that is rare amongst their peers. Last we heard of them they were basking in the success of their huge hit Paralyser of their 2007 album Them Vs You Vs Me. Like most bands, the Canadian 5 piece has changed their sound. For fans of the band (and not just a particular song or two), going along as they progress on their musical journey, you get to experience the different sound.

It certainly is Top 4o radio friendly hard rock which the group does better than most. The groove kicks in with Any Moment Now, a bit aggressive but still beat-worthy at the same time. Scott Anderson does not over do his vocals but gets it just right, starting of at a comfortable medium pace. Likeable guitar riffs are what the band does best and Pieces Fit is no exception with a very groovy lick courtesy of the duo of James Black & Rick Jackett. It’s no surprise at the prevalence of the guitars on the album since it was self-produced by the band’s guitarists but they have done a fine job. Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me is a semi-ballad is a very nice track but just falls short of being one of the very best. I feel that they should slowed down the track a lot more. By the way, I’m loving the vocals by Scott – his voice certainly has become even more of a strength for the band.

Living In A Dream is the younger sister of Paralyser and also features a very good drum+bass track. It’s a cool and could easily be a dance floor hit. Disco rock or disco metal is the name given for this time of song/music and F11 do it justice. Good Intentions kicks it off with foot tapping tune that backs the singing with a catchy underlying guitar hook. It is hard to stop bopping you head to this album as well as tapping your foot. Stone Soul does not sound like anything F11 have ever put out before. It sounds more like a pop-rock band, the kind that I do not like. This is so far the weakest song on the album. Ordinary Life follows and shatters the illusion of what F11 usually sounds like. I’m not sure I like the direction the band are heading to on the basis of these two songs. Still with “I just wish the world would sing with me sometimes” sings Anderson, and if performed live, this crowd pleasing bouncer is sure to have a venue full of people singing along, even if it’s the first time they have heard the song.

Don’t Look Down sounds a lot more like their 2003 efforts – more angst but still cool. Famous Last Words starts with a drum and base combination quietly underlying the lyrics of the verse, making the song sound like a misfit for this record, but when the chorus takes turn, the hooky guitar combined with the beat and the change of pace in lyrics snaps a breath of fresh air back into the song. I really like the mood of this song. The last song Love’s What You Left Me With finally slows down the pace, fittingly closing out an energy filled group of songs. Thematically, the song of regret over a broken relationship, is a change in mood as well. Scott Anderson sings in a much lower & mellow tone which adds a lot to this song.

One of the negatives is that the album is only 10 tracks and clocks in at just over 32 minutes. A slight disappointment, but then again, there are plenty of bands that put some filler songs on a CD just to make it longer, so it is what it is. 7.5 stars outta 10.