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VOX TEMPUS -
In The Eye Of Time
Angelmilk 2008

The melodious voice of our turbulent age. Get in the swirl!

This LA band's drummer is Gregg Bissonette which is a quality mark but there's more to the quintet's music than just driving rhythm, even though in "Escape" Ray Mantor lays heavy guitar bricks for Eric Ragno's piano to decorate, and the opener, "For Every Life", hangs on Jim Turba's bass throb, a base for subtle time changes. Rooted in progressive and hard rock traditions, VOX TEMPUS, for the most part temper their epic aspirations to let it all break loose in the multi-faceted, 13-minute-plus "Love, Lies & Treason", while the band's instrumental interplay peaks with the short "Forshadows", an intro to the moving waves of "Revelations" with Dan Reed's soaring vocals, and "Voice Of Time" where neo-classic reigns. Insipid in places yet spirited on ballads, there's much to enjoy here.

***1/2
DOJO - Studiojo
Dojo 2008

Is highway star a cosmic thing? Let's go space trucking!

These days clever means sophisticated and sophisticated all too often means boring, but with a Japanese word meaning "Place of the Way" for a name, this Kansas City trio find their Zen in transparent, light fusion that falls between Steve Howe and John McLaughlin, and is all the better for it. In the opening "One Key" Brian Bagget stacks his layered guitars up in the airy pyramid, and "Dojo" is a windy epic in which, rather unexpectedly, a Ritchie Blackmore's ghost pays a visit - to be back in "Muscle Shirt" crystallized on Chris Handley's punctuated bass. The most out-there piece that initially seems to be stumbling on Luke Stone's jazzy drumming and then walks for a jolly jaunt adjusts to its title: "Demented". So there's a method to the madness of finesse shaping up with every new spin.

****1/2
THE COTTON SOETERBOEK BAND -
Twisted
Caf Fine Records 2008

Back to the bluesy Seventies and into the future: the elite alumni have a field day.

Oh yes, this is twisted indeed: the ensemble's name and the debut album's cover suggest either bluegrass picking or neo-classic shredding, so it's quite a guilty pleasure to find out it's a nice slab of good old hard rock that opens up your crotch chakras. It's there in the space between the burr of ex-AFTER FOREVER Joost van den Broek's organ and Alan Cotton's guitar riff of "Pretty Maureen" which sets the tone for a slow 'n' sexy ride that sometime begs for a tempo change but is tasty nevertheless, especially in the piano boogie of "Little Sister".

The release comes with the "Cold And Gray" rolling optimism, where the DRIVER refugee Butch Carlson makes his drums dance, and the "Leave Me Blue" clear-sky strum with former AYREON belter Robert Soeterboek switching to the reflective folky mode where his harmony vocals shine the brightest. Yet there's nothing as powerful as the final "The Game" hooked on erstwhile Rob Halford's bassist Mike Davis' rumble: the song sounds a bit incongruous in this album's context but might be a great indicator of the next one's direction.

****
THE MUGGS -
On With The Show
Muggs Music 2008

Let's get it on and make it hot 'n' nasty!

There's no deficit in bands playing rock the early '70s way, but only a handful of those do play as if that glorious decade has never passed and, thus, sound as modern as today's crop. This Detroit trio fit in the latter category and with their second outing pour balm on many a soul. With the hint of hard rock psychedelia of the title track, THE MUGGS' honey comes sludgy yet scorching just like lava, but don't take the bookending "Motown Blues" too serious: here's only mapping the place where the action is.

The funky jive of "Slow Curve" rips the gloom to shreds - now, those who miss the BECK, BOGERT, APPICE unholy union have something fresh to savor - and in "Just Another Fool" Danny Methric's unisonal voice and guitars roar raving to Matt Rost's tasty economic beat. Ah yes, rock - that's what the threesome do in "Somewhere Down The Line", with that bottom line under the slide solo and vocal harmonies punctuated by Tony DeNardo's Fender Rhodes bass, and in changing-all-the-time SABBATH-like "Never Know Why". And that the question, why nobody didn't sign this power trio yet?

*****
DAVID CROSS BAND -
Alive In The Underworld
Noisy Records 2008

It takes one Crimsonite with a bow to prove who's the King that never bows down.

"Out In The Darkness": the tenebrous intro producing a solemn light leaves no doubt as to who's playing. If Robert Fripp has been leading his band onto the celestial pastures since the early '80s, his violin-bearing cohort David Cross went down below to come to the surface once in a while with real diamonds. But it's onstage that their precious stones shine the brightest, and it's there that the veteran took his ensemble in March 2006 to delight the public and record these nine tracks.

Wisely, the group don't dwell on the leader's past and most of the songs stem from Cross' solo catalogue, with metal onslaught of "Nurse Insane" balancing the heaviness of the closing "Twenty-First Century Schizoid Man" and Arch Stanton's incantations making it all a delicious mental brew. But then, there's crystal romanticism in "Exiles" which David re-jigged for his same-titled album and high on Paul Clark's guitar flight "Are We One" from the band's latest "Closer Than Skin". Full of rage which culminates in the synth-oiled "I Buy Silence", the band's music's not so experimental while it thrives on imrovisations; one of these, angularly chugging "Floodlights", has been embellished in the studio in the classic KING CRIMSON tradition to open the gates for some hellish paradiso to flow in. This albums burns indeed.

*****
NINE BELOW ZERO -
Both Sides Of
Angel Air 2008

Three decades on, the train keeps a-rollin' - and what a nice sound its chug is!

It takes some preservative for the blues to sound breathing on a record, so it's only logical to have it captured live, and it's only fitting that almost half of this band's albums are live ones, "Both Sides Of" being one of those. Laid down in 2006, it's a great testament to their talent and abandon - that's how the quartet tackle even such an unlikely blues material as the Motown classic "I Can't Help Myself" and there's a grand walk for their own down-and-dirty "11+11" with Dennis Greaves' guitar and Mark Feltham's harmonica vying for the soundspace while their voices run in unison, and "One Way Street" where Gerry McAvoy's grooving bass makes the rest run for cover.

The four cover many bases here - and do so acoustically on the accompanying DVD - not shying away from the "Mama Talk To Your Daughter" hoedown and rockabilly of "Don't Point Your Finger", a good vehicle for Brendan O'Neill to show his shuffle. It's impossible to not join their ride on the "Homework" and "Hit The Road, Jack" link-up, so it's tempting to go along on the roller-coaster over and over again.

****1/3
POLEY / RIVERA -
Only Human
Angelmilk 2008

Sometimes the time stand still, but is this an excuse for the hard rock guardians?

Only human? We all are! Yet the former DANGER DANGER singer Ted Poley and ex-ADRIANGALE axeman Vic Rivera try to be supermen and go against the temporal tide. For them, early '90s is where it's at which is not bad, as the urgent riffing and stop-gap vocals of "Keep On Fighting" and its clone "Did We Just Have A Moment" suggest, but while melodic metal rules supreme in this well-oiled mechanism, there's little development in the compositions on offer. The pair's fans will be happy as well as the genre's aficionados; the rest will find this antidote to the grungy edge rather shallow with real emotions filling the streamline "NWS" and the heartfelt title track only. If 20 years ago "Fires At Will" could be a hit, now they burn quite dimly... Make it heavier, though, and the flames will rise; it means breaking away from the duo's style, yet they're only human to try.

**
THE LIZARDS -
Ar-che-ol-o-gy
Hyperspace 2008

Some reptiles can groove wildly. Some relics can be unearthed and trotted upon.

More and more bands fall victims to the covers albums fashion but more often it's covers that fall victims to the pointless reproducing or thoughtless re-jigging. Not so with this American quartet and it's never more obvious than on the lead-in track, "Fire And Water": within the original shape of the FREE classic, Randy Pratt's seething bass adds flourishes to Andy Fraser's line, while Patrick Klein thinks beyond Paul Kossoff's solo without losing none of its muscularity. And that about defines the band's approach to the blues rock '70s legacy - with the exclusion of too faithful take on URIAH HEEP's "The Wizard" up to having ex-JOURNEY Steve Augeri to sing Mark Clarke's back up. Where the power accumulates the most is John Lee Hooker's "I'm Mad" with Bobby Rondinelli's cymbals splashing rave-up to Mike DiMeo's voice and "Juke It" by VANILLA FUDGE offshoot BOOMERANG, whereas HUMBLE PIE's "Thunderbox" sounds too loose Pratt's harmonica notwithstanding as the song's sleaziness overshadows Clem Clempson-designed riffage - but that's not so much THE LIZARDS' fault. So when the wrongly-credited "One More Heartache" by DETECTIVE ends the proceedings, a listener begs for more covers. A rare thing.

****
HERMETIC SCIENCE -
These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins
Musea 2008

Prog rock historian and premiere silver hammerer goes all colorful.

With a title pointing out to a treasure linked to self-destruction, one will be forgiven for thinking of heavy metal but Ed Macan's touch is as soft and at the same time firm as usual when it comes to keys and mallets. Seven years on since "En Route", anthemic lounge of "De Profundia" gently rages with Jason Hoopes' bass lightnings while the leader's piano expands into an ocean full of monsters who can be as friendly as evil. There's a fairy tale in the pop twists of "Aion", but "Triptych" comes on much more creepy: percussion is hit so that the tension builds on and on to almost orchestral proportions yet the piece feels so full, there's no need for strings or brass - Angelique Curry's marching drums are enough to blow a drama and a release, and the allusion on Ravel's Bolero is more than welcome. Want progressive? "The Second Coming" serves it up on organ-oiled greasy plate spiced with sharp guitar riffs. One more tasty treasure!

*****
HUMI
(Hugh Hopper &
Yumi Hara Cawkwell) -
Dune
Moonjune 2008

The unstoppable machinist go blue-eye desert-way to find celestical subsonics.

When it comes to open vistas to explore and conquer Hugh Hopper is almost as bold as Muad'Dib, but this time the trance-inducing aural pictures are born not from walking on hot sand but from the veteran bassist's rendezvous with composer and piano player Yumi Hara Cawkwell. Forget your Kipling: the twain have met, and the Canterbury wandering spirit has found a perfect foil in Japanese traditional way of singing. With the "Shiranui" troubled serenity a jazzy update of "Nightingales And Bombers", the music brings anxiety as well as relaxation. But that's not for the faint-hearted, as from the causal ivory drops over the humid low-tone strokes of "Long Dune" to the "Awayuki I" crazy organ fugue to the shadows of Hopper's legendary past in "Futa", there are vocal ghosts flying out of nowhere and into sometimes nightmarish mirage. The most intensely captivating piece, "Scattered Forest", feels rather humid than arid, yet as mind-scorching as it gets, while "Distant Dune" draws on white-noise borealis. The seasoned adventurers will surely feel here at home, the home-observers should take to HUMI cautiously.

***
URIAH HEEP -
Wake The Sleeper
Sanctuary 2008

There's been no hybernation, but were ten years worth the wait? And was it really a decade?

It's a strange world. Not so many bands approaching their 40th anniversary have such a solid fanbase as these British veterans, yet it took URIAH HEEP a long time since 1998's "Sonic Origami" to sign to a new label and, after a couple of delays, finally come up with a new record. A very modern records, as all the songs are freshly written, not amassed over the endless touring period which saw the quintet's status growing day by day, just like it was in the early '70s that "Wake The Sleeper" is firmly linked to.

HEEP's trademark blend of sharp guitar attack and tight vocal harmonies is unleashed from the off, from the title track with no words bar that same title. But if Mick Box's wah wah and Phil Lanzon's Hammond sound grounded as ever, there's less fire in Bernie Shaw's singing. Still, it feels impossible to not be sucked in by the energy of the pieces like "Shadow" or "Tears Of The World" where hooks abound. A lot of familiar terra covered, it's classic URIAH HEEP thrown into the XXI century to go waltzing in the acoustic glow of "Heaven's Rain" and tap into the time's nerve with progressive anthem "War Child" and the "What Kind Of God" folky drone with Trevor Bolder's anxious bass pounding and Scottish rolls from the new drummer Russell Gilbrook whose work mostly lacks his predecessors' subtlety but lends the band a new gravity. An impressive wake-up call.

****
DFA - 4th
Moonjune 2008

There is no strength in numbers, but there ain't no miscalculation either.

Abandoning math must be a good sign for this band from Verona approaching their 20th anniversary. "4th" is, in fact, the ensemble's third album but, having released a live recording in 2001 and taken stock with the first two records on 2007's "Kaleidoscope", the quartet took some time off from their day jobs and moved on to come up with this, their greatest work. Its allure lies in the fact that now the group don't play to the prog rock stifling, rather than liberating, rules - but just play, with total abandon and unusual swagger. "Vietato Generalizzare" has a mighty organ swing to it, while "Mosoq Runa" and vocals-adorned "The Mirror" chart the fusion water. And if the opener "Baltasaurus" brings forth the traditional species of folky flute and spacy synthesizers, there's a jazzy jive in main writer, Alberto De Grandis' multi-dimensional drumming which both drives and smoothes out constant time signatures, so the epic transforms from creepy to delicious. The band don't betray their classic Italian progressive roots, still, inviting Sardinian vocal trio ANDHIRA to their table for "La Ballada de s'Isposa 'e Mannorri" where the female voices sound celestial and bring the masterpiece that is "4th" to the grand finale.

****4/5
MAHOGANY FROG -
Do 5
Moonjune 2008

If the band's name indicates an objet d'art, that's what they do - the fifth time now.

Expect no mercy! The Winnipeg band are of that rare progressive kind who prefer taking bull by the horns rather than waving their exquisite flag before the beast, so the sharp-riff intro, "G.M.F.T.P.O.", throws a listener into the deep end. After this - hush. Yet "T-Tigers & Toasters" is as lulling as the night jungle by the piano-rippling river and predatory tension which builds slowly but surely for the adrenalin-driven adventurer to roam and enjoy the dense synth thicket and guitar lightning. More so, for "Medicine Missile" the quartet go underwater and beyond with bubbling bass and jittering drumming, to sail serenely with jazzy "Lady Xoc & Shield Jaguar". But so much for the seriousness: there are tracks titled "You're Meshuga!" (this meaning "crazy") and "I Am Not Your Sugar" following the madrigal-like "Last Stand At The Fisher Farm". Layers are aplenty here, so peel and see and wrap around your ears.

****2/3
T-REX -
Classic Hits:
A Celebration Of
Marc & Mickey
Angel Air 2008

Bolan's songs, Bolan's spirit, Bolan's voice... But wait! There's no Marc Bolan here.

It's a little bit vicious to reform a band firmly associated with its leader who's long dead. But as long as the fans like the likes of THIN LIZZY without Phil Lynott, there would be someone to please them. Hence, T-REX - not T.REX - led by Marc Bolan's skin-kicking sidekicks Mickey Finn and Paul Fenton from 1997 until 2003, when the former passed away, and up to now. With no use in writing new songs and Rob Benson a Bolan soundalike, theirs was a real celebration of the past glories, though the point of re-recording the classics in 2001 remains mooted.

Starting with T.REX's first hit, "Ride A White Swan", and ending with Bolan's swansong, "Dandy In The Underworld", that in its original form had neither Finn nor Fenton on, this line-up embrace the band's entire history, but not Marc's narcissistic energy. Of course, T-REX aren't mere imitators: they don't set a stress on the vocal quiver and ex-SMOKIE Alan Silson doesn't go for Chuck Berry chops as Bolan did, and sometimes pick on less obvious tracks such as "Teenage Dream" off "Zinc Alloy" and "New York City" from "Futuristic Dragon". Still, there's mostly the hits which, save for the rather languid "Hot Love", still rock like hell - just listen to the "Children Of The Revolution" guitar grandeur, the percussive feast of "20th Century Boy" or the "hey hey hey's" of "Solid Gold Easy Action" - so the legacy's well-preserved.

**1/2
DAMAGE CONTROL -
Raw
Damage Control 2008

The unholy trinity of hard rock geezers try to reign in their inner animal and gloriously fail.

To call it a power trio would be an underestimation of these veterans' synergy. In their free time the UFO's bassist Pete Way, drummer Chris Slade mostly recognisable from his AC/DC stint and Robin George who played guitar for Phil Lynott and David Byron pooled their talents to have fun and get away with it. The abusive self-criticism peaking in the "Damage Control" boogie groove, there's no mercy in their deliciously rough music where the subtlety is well hidden behind the stringers' voices and the dark humor, with the "There ain't no Alice here, this ain't no wonderland" line to sum it all up. Well, some more adventurousness spiced up with the "Nightingales And Bombers" kind of drumming would be welcome, but the acoustic texture of grungey "Savage Song" brings about enough buzz, and "Selfish" is one of the most tremulous ballads out there with an exquisite, almost flamenco lace woven into its blues fabric. More so, "Slaughtered" is shaped as a fine slab of country blues, while "Spy" comes as an exercise of cramming as much initialisms in a song as possible - talk about all things lyrical and dirty, then.

Somewhat purer takes on some of these tracks have found their way onto the "Radio 1" EP - now added to "Raw" - with the almost chamber "Spy" sitting snugly alongside "Damage Control", funked-up and shot through with an acoustic thread, and some new songs which are too good to have been omitted yet not so bright to go to the second album that may see the threesome managing their anger ever effectively.

****4/5
THE GLITTER BAND -
Glitteresque
Angel Air 2008

Not all that glitter is gold yet the glam is what's needed to chase away the gloom.

Originally a Gary Glitter backing group, John Rossall's ensemble came to be thanks to Mike Leander (the "She's Leaving Home" arranger for The Fab Four) who had enough faith in THE GLITTER BAND's potential to let them strike on their own and be as successful as their original singer. Glistening to date, now the vocals are handled by Rossall and sax still blown by Harvey Ellison, the band paid a visit to a studio to revive their old hits and add some new songs to the catalogue. Of these, three are covers, ABBA's "Does Your Mother Know" taking it to the dancefloor to follow the "Let's Get Together Again" queasy club mix, while "Peppermint Twist" links up with Sam Cooke's "Twisting The Night Away", But the new ballad "Jean Jeanie (With The Blue Eyes)" nicely echoes the sentiment of the opener, "Angel Face", the band's first hit which still solemnly cuts it.

With no less than five songs from their debut album, the past grooves with all the might here, and the sheer power of delivery of classics like "Just For You" is amazing. The wall of sound so solid, it explains the dusting off of Phil Spector's "To Know Him Is To Love Him", whereas "Rock And Roll Pt. 2" could be left off as Rossall's group didn't play on the original. Compared to "Goodbye My Love", it pales anyway. Now it's time for a completely new album, as the answer to the grand finale of "Am I On Again" is a firm "Yes".

***1/3
THE FRATELLIS -
Here We Stand
Universal Island 2008

Hocus-pocus? Hardly so. On their second album the Scottish trio are fooling around but donít fool the public.

If the fairground magician on the cover means there's a sleight of hand involved in its making, it really is - but the artful playing's not the thing here, even though this outing is a bit short of the "Costello Music" immediacy. "Here We Stand" is deeper and more textured, just pay attention to marimba and acoustic guitar behind the powerful riff of the charming, devil-may-care opener "My Friend John". The piano-based boogie that "A Heady Tale" is leave no space for indifference as it takes whole of the room for the knees-up. The band cleverly didn't place "Look Out Sunshine!" at the start: that would be too obvious a decision from the guys who know how to hide their '60s roots in the multi-colored guitar ripplie... and the "c***" word.

It's a wonderful world anyway, with the "Tell Me A Lie" perky punky country and the psych-lyrical "Stragglers Moon" counter-balanced with the cynical romanticism of "Babydoll" and the sparking urgency of "Lupe Brown". More so, the vocal harmonies and stratospheric solo which top off "Milk And Honey", a hearty ballad, make one want to visit the fairground again. And again.

****2/3
MAROON 5 -
It Won't Be Soon Before Long
(Deluxe Edition)
A&M 2008

They have grown up in the last five years, so the goodbyes aren't sweet anymore. But do the boys funk it!

That's quite a fitting album title. Since 2002's "Songs About Jane" the band had a nice bite of success with a live DVD released soon after their debut to document Adam Levine and Co's glory road. This record fares well enough to have a second edition now (what's happened to the first pressings' erstwhile prestige?) augmented with B-sides and another DVD with four videos and the last year's concert that sees re-imagined old cuts alongside some new ones.

New songs bear less adolescent playfulness. Now the break-up feels dangerous, sometimes deadly like in extremely infectious "Wake Up Call" which picks up where "This Love" left off, Levine often going for double entendres and elegantly shifting stresses from their appropriate place to where a melody dictates. Still, there's no equilibrium: all the hits - cynical fink of "Makes Me Wonder", synthetic velvet of "If I Never See Your Face Again", and the "Won't Go Home Without You" tired soul - occupy the first half of the CD. The rest pales in their shadow, and it's a little surprise as among them are stupidly erotic "Kiwi", jolly yet awkward "Can't Stop", and tender but predictable "Goodnight Goodnight". And it's only the use of "neglige" that spices up the "Back At Your Door" saccharine.

Nothing wrong with this, as there's no fillers as such, but a different running order and swapping some album tracks for a bonus like "Miss You Love You", a nice slab of rock steady, could have made "It Won't Be Soon Before Long" much more delicious.

****1/2
GILLAN -
No Easy Way
Angel Air 2008

A CD and DVD package of the hard rocking band at their pinnacle.

1980 was a glorious year for GILLAN, with the "Glory Road" album an indication of the fact that the quintet became a real force, and this live recording from one of the October's shows in "Hammersmith" is one hell of a proof. Ian Gillan's not in his best vocal form here and may occasionally hit the wrong note, as in "Unchain Your Brain" which gets pushed forward by the propeller-like rhythm section of Mick Underwood and John McCoy, but man do the bunch rumble! More so, there's a testament to their imagination in re-shuffling of "Smoke On The Water" where Bernie Torme converts the legendary riff into a solo featuring a quote from Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel". What with the usual material such as Colin Towns' keyboards-driven, vertiginous "Vengeance" or "Mr. Universe", obscure yet fantastic "On The Rocks" and "Are You Sure?" make a rare appearance in the set which more than makes up for inferior quality of the last tracks - recorded by a fan, they make the performance almost complete... Possibly the most charged GILLAN performance of all.

****4/5
THE SPLIT KNEE LOONS -
Loon Knee Tunes
Angel Air 2008

Read the interview

The Bonzos of heavy metal? Yes, it's that funny. A pity they split but the knee still kicks.

Often caricature-like, hard rock heroes rarely welcome humor into their music. GILLAN were different, especially when Ian Gillan wasn't around. Skilled players, Colin Towns, John McCoy, Bernie Torme, Janick Gers and their outsider compadres had enough time on their hands to fool around in a studio and, adopting names like Arthur Guitar, Ernie Orme and Cosmo Toons, come up with some hilariously great pieces.

Appearing first on the "For Gillan Fans Only" EP which went with the initial copies of "Glory Road" and was re-issued on "The Gillan Tapes. Volume 3", THE SPLIT KNEE LOONS often parodied popular pieces - from "I Wish I Was In Dixie" to Verdi's "La Donna e Mobile", here transmogrified in choir-delivered "Confidante Opera", to operetta of "Shaving Cream" - yet didn't shy away from fiddling around with their own songs: the aficionados will love "Mutually Insured Third Party And Theft", a knees-up take on "Mutually Assured Destruction", while Viv Stanshall's listeners must apply for "I Am An Astronaut", effectively the update of "Urban Spaceman". Ad-lib interviews and demented renditions of the perennial "Runaway" and "Let's Dance" add to overall surreal fun and make it all almost an essential addition to the GILLAN catalogue - even though the music aspect of this is left out in the cold.

****
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