Finding Joe Grushecky 'Somewhere East of Eden'

By Peter Lindblad

Joe Grushecky released Somewhere East of Eden
in fall 2013
Blue-collar through and through, just like his home city of Pittsburgh, Joe Grushecky is concerned about the soul-crushing struggles of the common man, just like his mentor, Bruce Springsteen.

A teacher who works and lives in the rougher part of the Steel City, Grushecky writes about people he encounters every day, whether they be kids from the wrong side of the tracks ("Who Cares About Those Kids") or Iraq war veterans trying to cope with regular life Stateside and the nightmarish memories of battle.

Grushecky lives to tell their stories, from the point of view of a man who is no stranger to hard-luck stories and a greying observer of the human condition in all its tattered and flawed beauty.

Somewhere East of Eden, released in October, is Grushecky's latest solo album, and it's a gritty, tuneful mix of raucous R&B and blues-flavored rock that brings a lunchpail to work. Recorded in Weirton, West Virginia, at longtime co-producer Rick Witkowski's Studio L, Somewhere East of Eden is Grushecky's 17th solo effort. Out on the Schoolhouse Records label and distributed by Warner Bros. Records Nashville, it boasts rowdy blues bashers like "I Can Hear the Devil Knocking" and "John the Revelator," but when Grushecky turns soulful on "Save the Last Dance for Me," there's not a dry eye in the place.

A true rock 'n' roll veteran with plenty of recordings to his credit, Grushecky was once a member of of the Iron City Houserockers, before going solo and getting the chance to work with The Boss. Springsteen not only produced Grushecky's 1995 solo album American Babylon, but he also co-wrote a couple of songs, contributed guitar on the record and even served a touring guitarist with the band.

Outside of music, Grushecky is known for his charitable endeavors, having served as an executive board member of the Light of Day Foundation, an organization that helped raise over a million dollars worldwide to fight Parkinson;s Disease at the 40+ Annual Light of Day Concerts in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Grushecky talked about his new record and his career in an e-mail interview recently.

What is the significance of the title Somewhere East of Eden and how does it relate to the Iraq War veteran who is the subject of the song? 
Joe Grushecky: I got the basic idea from an article I read about a returning vet. A lot of the details were verbatim from the article. “East of Eden” is one of my all time favorite books. The Garden of Eden was said to be in the Fertile Crescent of Iraq. As I read the veteran’s story he struck me that he was returning home from Somewhere East of Eden. That thought and phrase inspired me to write the song.

How would you describe the music for the "Somewhere East of Eden" LP? It seems to have a blue-collar quality to it.
JG: I’ve been tagged blue-collar my whole career. I think it stems from the fact that I write about the life around me which is distinctly from a working man’s point of view. I get up 4:30 every day and go to work! The music is my take on all the stuff I’ve listened to all these years.

This is your 17th solo album, and you decided to seek aid from fans to make it. Is it inspiring to you to see such tangible support from people who admire your work, and do you think this is the way many music artists are going to fund their projects in the future?
JG: It is the only way guys like me can reach a greater audience. I really enjoyed the process after being somewhat skeptical at first. We would not be doing this interview if not for the pledge drive enabling me to get a good publicist.

You were going to embark on recording an acoustic album of old R&B and soul stuff. What's the status of that project and how did it spark the creation of the new record? 
JG: I love learning and singing, so I was just going about my business recording old songs that I always loved. I did not have a coherent group of songs that fit together until I wrote  “Somewhere East Of Eden.” I used a solo stripped-down approach on “John the Revelator” and “Save The Last Dance For Me.” Playing those great old songs inspired me to write good ones of my own.

How does the Pittsburgh area and the lives of its people affect your writing? A lot of this record seems to highlight the struggles of ordinary people in your community.
JG: Well, I write about what I know. I am in the community working everyday in an economically disadvantaged area. It was easy to weave the fabric of that into these songs. I have always written about Pittsburgh. It is a unique city with a lot of character. Everything about it, including the music, was rough and tumble when I was growing up and a lot of that rubbed off on me.

Joe Grushecky playing live
For those who don't know about the Iron City Houserockers, what is the band's story and what happened to it?
JG: We started out in my basement and got signed by Steve Popovich to Cleveland International Records. He was a legendary record guy. We did four albums to great critical acclaim. We worked with great producers, including Steve Cropper, Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter, and Steve Van Zandt. We were the pride of Pittsburgh and a killer live band. We never had anything resembling a major radio song. We lasted until guys started to bail out to pursue other careers besides music.

How long have you and your producer, Rick Witkowski, been working together and why does the creative relationship you have together work so well?
JG: Rick and I are great friends, and we have different strengths that complement each other. He likes the Beatles and pop. I like the Stones and blues.

Bruce Springsteen produced your 1995 album, American Babylon, and even co-wrote a couple of songs and played on the record. What do you recall about the experience and what is he like to work with? Was it a transformative period for you?
JG: Bruce helped us at a critical time. We were pretty much dead in the water as far as our recording careers were going. I will always be grateful to him. He is one of the all-time bests. He is an extremely proficient musician. He can play anything and play it well. It was like playing baseball with Roberto Clemente. 

How have you changed or developed as an artist since American Babylon?
JG: I like to think I keep getting better. Sometimes I think I’m just starting to get the knack of it.

You work as a teacher and play on the weekends from the sound of it. Do the two interests impact each other in some ways?
JG: It is two completely different worlds! The teaching has allowed me to pursue my music by providing me with health benefits and a steady income. I have always worked in very poor schools so I’m not getting rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I never really had to play anything I didn’t want to.

What are your hopes for Somewhere East of Eden

JG: I hope as many people as possible listen to it.

CD Review: Stryper - No More Hell to Pay

CD Review: Stryper - No More Hell to Pay
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B+

Stryper - No More Hell to Pay 2013
Onward go these Christian heavy-metal soldiers, trudging off again to a war they've been fighting since their inception in 1984. Stryper's missionary work is never done, and on No More Hell to Pay, their eighth studio album, they unapologetically proselytize for Jesus as they always have. 

It's forgivable, given that it's pretty well established that for Stryper this religious fervor was never meant to be a gimmick. This is who they are, for better or worse, and if nothing else, at least they're not Jehovah's Witnesses.

Begrudgingly, the metal community, not known for being tolerant of religion and Christianity in particular, came to respect Stryper, even as cynics derided their black-and-yellow outfits and their teased hair. Trading in their bumble-bee spandex for black denim and t-shirts, Stryper's look is edgier and not so glamorous these days. The same goes for their sound. 

Was it God telling them they needed to get heavier? If so, the Almighty had the right idea. Living in the shadows, No More Hell to Pay is grittier than past Stryper offerings, with beefy, Goliath-sized riffs streaked with dirt and the strongest songwriting ever attributed to Michael Sweet and the disciples. Toggling between mid-tempo crunch and enticing crawls, Stryper has channeled its inner Accept or Judas Priest, forging melodies that have a firm grip and filling No More Hell to Pay to the brim with meaty, satisfying hooks. Tracks like the punishing "Legacy" and the stomping "Marching into Battle" are surprisingly aggressive, while "Sticks and Stones" slithers menacingly and Sweet and Oz Fox take their axes to the sharpening stone and grind away on "Water into Wine." 

All of them, though, bow to what becomes a powerful anthem of a title track, where slow-burning riffage sticks in your craw and a wind-swept chorus signals a redemptive change in fortunes, a theme near and dear to Stryper's heart. Mostly foregoing speed in favor of heft, Stryper, nevertheless, rips through "Saved By Love" like a righteous twister, and perhaps predictably, they give a euphoric reading of the old Doobie Brothers' hit "Jesus is Just Alright," which makes some of the embarrassingly ham-handed lyricism found throughout No More Hell to Pay easier to swallow. It's not all cringe-worthy or hackneyed, as there's always been a sincerity and sense of purpose in their writing that's refreshing and unusual in the world of metal, but then comes a chorus crafted around the old "sticks and stones may break my bones" mantra that shakes your faith in Stryper, even if its spirited attitude is admirable. 

Still, like Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, Stryper has driven away its more pop-oriented inclinations for No More Hell to Pay. This seems to be the kind of music they've wanted to make all along. More comfortable than ever in their own skin, Stryper has come out swinging against their critics, landing haymaker after haymaker, with Sweet's trademark vocal wailing and the technically brilliant guitar fireworks of Sweet and Fox throwing caution to the wind. And their backing harmonies are as golden as ever. While they may advocate a peaceful "turn the other cheek" philosophy, with No More Hell to Pay they've shown themselves to be tougher than anybody thought.
- Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Annihilator - Feast

CD Review: Annihilator - Feast
All Access Rating: B+

Annihilator - Feast 2013
The great Feast of Annihilator is upon us, and it is quite a spread. On the menu, served Manson family style of course, is aggressive, in-your-face thrash-metal mixed with ivy-covered passages of dark, melodic beauty, an occasional nod to traditional metal architecture, frenzied punk and classical influences and some rather serious, no-bullshit lyrics.

And then there's that gory, zombie apocalypse artwork that makes the "Walking Dead" seem like a trip to Disneyland. 

Emphasizing blistering speed, searing guitar leads that track their targets like heat-seeking missiles and sucker-punch changes in direction and atmosphere, album No. 14 from these versatile Canadian thrash veterans goes on a brutal rampage through "Deadlock," "Demon Code," "Wrapped" and "Smear Campaign," all of them swallowed whole by voracious, all-consuming riffs or beaten into a coma by the kind of brutal rhythmic assault and battery Prong might commit.

With its scissoring, mauling guitars ripping and tearing at whatever they can get their claws on, "No Way Out" would be included on this list of violent offenses, except for Annihilator suddenly, and rather seamlessly, slowing down and bursting upon a pretty, almost dream-like setting. Were it not for its treacly song structure and bad romantic poetry, the predictable ballad "Perfect Angel Eyes," might also be lauded for painting an expansive and well-defined Gothic aural picture, but instead, it just seems out of place on Feast, a record where virtuoso chops, seething rage and strong, intimidating vocals are the order of the day.

Some might say the same thing about "No Surrender," a jazzier, funk workout in the spirit of 24-7 Spyz, but its pummeling chorus really cracks some skulls, like so many sonic beat downs on Feast. Led by Jeff Waters, Annihilator doesn't mind doing the dirty work, but they also have a sophisticated palate, and it's this contradiction that makes Feast, and past Annihilator LPs, so intriguing, as Waters pulls no punches in tackling subjects like drug addiction, apathy, self-victimization and suicide without pity. And yet, Annihilator occasionally leaves all that ugliness behind, escaping into lovely, carefully plotted melodic scenes that disappear all too quickly.

While a dearth of "stick to your ribs" tracks leaves Feast wanting, it still offers breathtaking, hard-hitting action and lots of it, not to mention its monstrous metal riffs. In that way, Annihilator can take pride in being The Great White North's answer to Metallica or Anthrax, with Feast settling in somewhere a notch or two below Master of Puppets and Among the Living.

Those who shell out a little extra money for the lushly illustrated limited edition eco-book version of Feast, with its fearsome 3D cover, will encounter a sprawling bonus disc titled Re-Kill, where Annihilator updates 15 past classics with a more visceral, modern sound and fresh surprises. It's here that the nightmarish fairy-tale world of "Alison Hell" recalls King Diamond, the progressive-metal maze of "Set the World on Fire" grows more intricate and the chariots of thrash-metal fire "Nozone" and "Bloodbath" blaze anew, as does "Welcome to Your Death W.T.Y.D."

Annihilator has killed before, at least musically they have, and, in all likelihood, Waters and company will kill it again. And when they do, maybe Feast will be remembered not as the quiet, mannerly neighbor nobody knew very well, but rather as an articulate monster with a dual nature that valued art and intelligence but could erupt into volcanic anger at the slightest provocation.
- Peter Lindblad

Carmine Appice's new label, Rocker Records, is set to launch

Carmine Appice 2013
Revered by legions of high-profile musicians, including Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, as one of the most innovative and powerful drummers that rock and roll has ever seen, the legendary Carmine Appice needs no introduction.

Now, the man whose soulful pounding powered the uniquely heavy psychedelia of Vanilla Fudge’s mesmerizing late-1960s remake of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” up the charts and later co-wrote Rod Stewart’s smash hits “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Young Turks” is launching an exciting new record label, Rocker Records.

The first four releases are due out Nov. 19 as digital offerings, and they include Bogert/Appice & Friends, TNA (featuring Appice and guitar master Pat Travers) Live in Europe, and two concert recordings from his highly influential post-Vanilla Fudge group Cactus, Live in Japan and Live in the USA. Expect a bonanza of Appice-related material to flow from this new pipeline.

Information regarding these and other upcoming releases can be found at and

It was a meeting with Mike Cusanelli, from the record label and management company World Sound, that provided the impetus for the new venture. Wondering out loud, Cusanelli suggested an idea to Appice that sounded very appealing.

“Mike, being a records kind of guy, says, ‘You know, if you have product laying around, you should probably start a record label that would be able to get your product out, and then you could sell other people’s product – from friends of yours who have product that maybe want to release it,” explained Appice. “So I said, ‘Really, that’s interesting.’ So then he had a talk with the head of eOne, which is our distributor, and he was totally into the idea. So I thought, ‘Okay, let’s give it a try.’ And these first releases are things that I’ve had basically in the can, with really nothing to do to them. They’re from my personal collection. So he says, ‘Let’s get it out to the fans!”

That’s just what Appice and Rocker Records plan on doing.

“It’s going to be a lot of digital stuff,” said Appice. “So maybe we’ll have a digital online store, but there are enough of those already. We have a web site now,, which will keep news of what’s coming out and what’s available and all that, and maybe provide some links to things you can buy from iTunes or something. We may do that, but we’re too new. We’re really taking it as it comes.”

Appice discussed each of the four initial recordings:

Cactus Live in the USA

Cactus - Live in the U.S.A. 2013
Recorded in 2006 at B.B. King’s in New York City, this heaping plateful of hot and heavy boogie-rock documents the rebirth of the original Cactus lineup, minus singer Rusty Day, who died in the ’80s. “Actually, that was the first show we’d done since we broke up in the ’70s,” said Appice. “So that’s one cool thing about it. It was the warm-up show we did for the Sweden Rock Festival, which was the next show we did after that a couple days later before 10,000 people.” This record has an interesting story behind it. “We had a DVD years ago – 2006 – that came out on MVD,” said Appice. “Somebody in Europe took the soundtrack off the DVD and released it, unbeknownst to us. So, when we found it, we went, ‘Huh?’ And it was selling well, so we worked out a deal with the guy and he paid us royalties, and when I listened to it, I said, ‘Wow, this sounds really good.’ And it has Tim Bogert on it. So you’ve got Cactus with Tim Bogert.”

Track listing:
1. Long Tall Sally
2. Swim
3. One Way or Another
4. Cactus Music
5. Brother Bill
6. Muscle & Soul
7. OLEO (Bass solo)
8. Part of the Game
9. Evil
10. Cactus Boogie
11. Parchman Farm
12. Rock & Roll Children

Cactus Live in Japan 

Cactus - Live in Japan 2013
The current version of Cactus went over to Japan in 2012 to record two shows, one audio and one video, “which will come out next year,” according to Appice. He describes that first performance as a “kick-ass show,” and it is an absolute barnburner, with Cactus rolling through classics such as their versions of Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” and Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book (By Lookin’ at the Cover),” plus “Rock & Roll Children” and “That’s Evil.” Appice said, “Live in Japan is the first night. It’s not complete. It’s a single-disc. But it was the first night we played in Tokyo, and it was great. It was a kick-ass show. I mean, we’d never been to Japan before, and the crowd was great. It was sold-out, and (guitarist) Jim McCarty was on fire, and the band just sounded great.” Pete Bremy is the bassist for this occasion.

Track listing:
1. Swim
2. One Way or Another
3. Brother Bill
4. Can’t Judge a Book (By Lookin’ at the Cover)
5. Alaska
6. Electric Blue
7. Muscle & Soul
8. Evil
9. Parchman Farm
10. Rock & Roll Children

TNA (Travers & Appice) Live in Europe

Travers & Appice 2013
Take two sublime musical talents like Pat Travers and Carmine Appice. Let them go at it, and the results will be magical, like they were for their album, It Takes a lot of Balls. As Appice recalls, “It was the best album I’d done in years.” In 2004, they toured together and brought the house down everywhere they went, playing 30 shows in Europe. This night was no different. “That was the first night Tony Franklin played with us,” said Appice. “We had T.M. Stevens playing with us for two weeks before that, and then Tony joined us, and we did another two weeks. Somebody sent me that CD, a live gig. I don’t even know where it came from, but when I got it in the mail in my office in L.A., I played it in the car, and I said, ‘Wow! This sounds great.’ And I had it in my computer, and I would listen to it on my iTunes for my enjoyment, and it was really good.” The versions of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” and the Travers classic “Boom Boom” are full of vim and vigor, and there is one bonus item, an unreleased studio track that Appice finished with keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio.

Track listing:
1. Taken
2. Better from a Distance
3. I Don’t Care
4. Crash and Burn
5. Livin’ Alone
6. Tony Solo
7. Gotta Have Ya
8. Keep on Rockin’
9. Snortin’ Whiskey
10. Can’t Escape the Fire
11. Evil
12. Da Ya Think I’m Sexy
13. Boom Boom
14. Stand Up
15. Funkified

Bogert/Appice & Friends

Bogert/Appice & Friends 2013
Made up of studio recordings Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert did in the early 2000s, this six-song EP has the feel and spirit of Vanilla Fudge’s finest work. “We mastered it, and it’s an EP, and it really sounds good. I’m really happy with it. The arrangements are awesome, and the arrangements will sound very Vanilla Fudge-y,” said Appice. “We did ‘Falling’ and ‘Bye Bye Love,’ and ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ and two original numbers, and then we have ‘Falling’ again with Brian Auger playing organ, which is really, really cool. He plays the hell out of it. So it’s really interesting.”

Track listing:
1. Bye Bye Love
2. Falling
3. Black Box
4. Eternity
5. Star-Spangled Banner

6. Falling (bonus cut)

DVD Review: Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen and I

DVD Review: Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen and I
Eagle Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen and I 2013
The fans have spoken, or at least some of them have. In a documentary titled "Bruce Springsteen and I," now out on DVD, Blu-ray and digital formats after its theatrical release this summer, that explores the intense devotion of The Boss's fanatical following, people from all walks of life share unfiltered stories of life-changing encounters with the artist and attempt to put into words what his music has meant to them.

A charming, modest little film that's often funny, incredibly uplifting and sometimes a bit strange, "Bruce Springsteen and I" fails to shed new light on the man or his music. Then again, that doesn't seem to be what the moviemakers intended. Instead, it's a heartfelt, smartly articulated mash note to someone whose penetrating lyrics, affecting songcraft and ability to shape powerful stories has profoundly affected how his audience views themselves and those around them. 

So what if, when asked to paint a portrait of Springsteen in three words, an endless stream of respondents reply with the usual descriptors "passionate," "sincere," "honest"  and "one of us." They manage to sum up Springsteen's artistic vision pretty well. And they rightly tout the communal vibe of the Springsteen fan base as something unique, stemming from Springsteen's ability to connect deeply and spiritually with a fandom made up of just about every demographic under the sun. 

Interspersed with electrically charged unseen performance footage of a younger Bruce and band hitting all the right emotional notes in live versions of "Born in the USA," "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," "The River" and "I'm On Fire" and more rock 'n' roll evangelizing, these testimonials, some brief and some more detailed and eloquent, are patched together rather effectively in a sort of collection of video quotes that mostly praise not only his workingman's poetry, but also his humanity and generosity of spirit. 

But, it's not enough for them to just say it. It falls to the filmmakers to actually show it, and they do, capturing Springsteen's genuine warmth and willingness to leave the safety of the stage and meet fans on their level. There's a scene where a busker on a street corner unexpectedly gets his chance to play Springsteen classics with the man himself, as Springsteen jokes, while working out chords, that the street performer knows his songs better than he does. 

In another sequence, the man known as the "Philly Elvis," dressed up as The King in full rhinestone-studded regalia, talks of Springsteen inviting him onstage to sing "All Shook Up" and then forgetting the words. Without telling the rest of the band, he segued into "Blue Suede Shoes," and Springsteen's band doesn't skip a beat. As jovial as ever, Springsteen, laughing and smiling, exhorts the crowd to give it up for "the 'Philly Elvis,' everybody" after it's done.

Although his songs can bring a man in his car to tears and give a college-educated female truck driver a reason for doing her job day after day, some aren't so enamored. One man, the husband of a particularly fervent Springsteen lover, wishes he wouldn't play so long in concert and lists other complaints. He and his wife later come face to face with Springsteen in a collection of scenes showing Bruce visiting and laughing it up with some of the real stars of "Bruce Springsteen and I," the devotees who make their kids listen to Springsteen's lyrics or manage to dance onstage with Bruce like Courtney Cox did in the video for "Dancing in the Dark." 

Joyous, insightful and moving at times, this document of "Bruce Springsteen and I" comes with bonus material consisting of Springsteen's glorious 2012 Hyde Park performance, including "Because the Night," made famous by Patti Smith, and "Shackled & Drawn" and "We Are Alive." That's the one where he and Paul McCartney essentially told the authorities complaining about the noise to shove it and get in on the celebration, as they tear through Beatles' classics "Twist and Shout" and "I Saw Her Standing There" with unbridled enthusiasm.

If it wasn't for the odd, racy and somewhat disturbing slice of erotic fan fiction a very hot and bothered redhead reads in this piece, "Bruce Springsteen and I" would be an almost perfect tribute to The Boss. As it is, it will give you even more of a reason to love Bruce, forever a friend of the common man and an artist who understands the fans better than they understand themselves.
- Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos

CD Review: Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos
Spinefarm Records
All Access Rating: A-

Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos 2013
There aren't many like Michael Monroe left on this planet. A real honest-to-goodness rock star, the former Hanoi Rocks ringmaster still looks the part, what with his platinum-blonde hair, thick eyeliner, form-fitting clothes and all the thrift-store jewelry he can wear on his rail-thin Finnish body. 

Monroe, and those like him, are an endangered species, and there are precious few out there who can still deliver the goods like he can, still belting out songs with all the desperation and raw, in-your-face attitude of an angry young rocker rebelling against everything you've got. Sensory Overdrive, released in 2011 to critical acclaim, was a primal rock 'n' roll scream from this patron saint of glam-metal that woke the dead, or at least shook up a sleepy hard-rock scene that needed a good slap in the face. And Horns and Halos, Monroe's latest, is even better. 

Like knocking back one Red Bull and vodka after another, Horns and Halos is rousing set of up-tempo, razor-sharp rock 'n' roll excitement, the shouted choruses, hand claps, the occasional rollicking piano runs and blazing guitars all raising a glass, slamming its intoxicants and then breaking it on the floor. If he did wear sleeves, Monroe's racing punk-rock heart would be more visible than ever on Horns and Halos, where tight, barbed hooks are never in short supply. His vocals are like a brick thrown though a plate-glass window or a lipstick-smeared punch to the face, as he forcefully spits out lyrics nostalgic for hand-to-mouth living, cheap thrills and danger. 

Monroe pines for a time when New York City wasn't so sanitized in the "Ballad of the Lower East Side," where he tells of living on 3rd Street as his boys Sami Yaffa and Steve Conte of the New York Dolls, Dregen from The Hellacopters and Backyard Babies, and drummer Karl "Rockfist" Rosqvist go running with him into the past with wild abandon. When Monroe sings, "There were junkies, pimps and whores/hallelujah," it makes the hair on your arms stand up, as this rowdy, fist-pumping anthem, and Horns and Halos is full of them, becomes positively euphoric. With its carousing, singalong chorus and its infectious spirit, "Ballad of the Lower East Side" rides a wave of emotion, much like the melodically earnest, but still emotionally potent, "Child of the Revolution."

Bristling with energy, Horns and Halos is fast, tough and surprisingly sleek. This is no shabby production, but it's not overdone. Tracks like "TNT Diet" and the title track have a blistering pace and a raucous atmosphere, and "Saturday Night Special" and "Eighteen Angels," with Monroe blowing harmonica on the latter, are similarly wired for sound that is gutsy and fully realized, but never glossy. And "Stained Glass Heart" manages to grab some of that mangy charm of The Replacements for itself, proving that smart songwriting still counts for something in Monroe's book. As does having an adventurous personality. Holding nothing back with a band always willing to go for broke, Monroe even goes so far as to inject brief pieces of dub and high-stepping reggae when the mood strikes, just to let listeners take a quick breather.

With a devil on one shoulder and an angel with a dirty face on the other, Monroe hasn't picked a side just yet. With hardly anybody making high-powered hard rock this ballsy anymore, maybe it's for the best that he hasn't.
- Peter Lindblad

Sean Yseult's Star & Dagger salute 'The Shining'

Star & Dagger - Tomorrowland Blues 2013
Sean Yseult probably doesn't have a shoe phone or high-level CIA clearance. Just so there's no confusion, she's not involved in any cloak-and-dagger stuff.

It's Star & Dagger that has all of her attention at the moment, and the female stoner metal trio is releasing a video tribute to "The Shining," the classic suspense/horror flick directed by Stanley Kubrick. Titled "In My Blood," Star & Dagger's nod to Kubrick's cinematic tour de force was directed by Art Haynie.

The former White Zombie bassist has kept a fairly low profile since White Zombie split, but Yseult and Dava She Wolf of Cycle Sluts From Hell teamed up with a powerhouse new singer Von Hesseling to record their debut album, Tomorrowland Blues, earlier this year.

Recorded at Rancho de la Luna, Tomorrowland Blues was produced by Ethan Allen and Dave Catching, mastered by J. Yuenger (White Zombie) and released on Cauldron 333.

Oddly enough, it was a night of drinking with famed rock journalist and founding member of the Patti Smith Group, Lenny Kaye, that led to Star & Dagger's creation, as Kaye declared, "You two must start a band, I see it!" 

Leaning on heavy grooves and densely layered guitars, with Von's stunning vocals a force of nature, Star & Dagger sold out its first show in Los Angeles and they've since opened for the likes of Helmet, High On Fire, Eagles of Death Metal, Down and Saint Vitus. They also performed at the 2012 Voodoo Fest.

CD/DVD Review: Ministry - Enjoy the Quiet - Live at Wacken 2012

CD/DVD Review: Ministry - Enjoy the Quiet - Live at Wacken 2012
All Access Rating: B+

Ministry - Enjoy the Quiet - Live
at Wacken 2012
Quiet is not a word normally associated with the "godfather of industrial metal" Al Jourgensen or Ministry. Never one who's subscribed to the notion that the meek shall inherit the earth, Jourgensen has a mouth that roars and a raging band he founded in 1981 in Ministry that has only gotten more ferocious over time.

They were absolutely seething by the time the 2012 "RELAPSE" tour rolled into Wacken Open Air that year for the riotous final show of that campaign with a stage set-up that looked like an abandoned factory, ominous, dirty and ugly, the perfect home for a janitor/serial killer. A visceral, snarling performance from Ministry, this sonic hell-scape was recorded for a new double CD/DVD package titled "Enjoy the Quiet - Live at Wacken 2012" from UDR, and they scorch the earth of those darkened festival grounds in crystalline high-definition sound and video.

Combined with bonus audio and film footage of Ministry laying waste to Wacken 2006, this collection is as much about Mike Scaccia as it is Jourgensen. The longtime Ministry guitarist died five months after this last trip to Wacken, and his guitar work has rarely come across this mean and virulent. With help from guitarist Sin Quirin, keyboardist John Bechdel, bassist Casey Orr and drummer Aaron Rossi, Scacci and Jourgensen lead Ministry into a writhing, contorted aural and visual nightmare of dizzying background sounds and imagery that envelope fast, controlled blasts of atomic, churning industrialized thrash-metal fireballs such as "No 'W'" and "Rio Grande Blood." The riffage is devastating, overwhelming and relentless. 

Jourgensen bitterly vents about cheating managers and music industry corruption in a prepared video statement in the venomous show opener "Ghouldiggers," before Ministry's thickened, serrated aural attack slams through "Lies Lies Lies," "99 Percenters" and "Life is Good" as if caught up a high-speed police chase. Sensing that the audience is tired of Ministry's newer material, Jourgensen hauls out older favorites like "New World Order 'N.W.O.'," "Thieves" and "Just One Fix," and these versions are hypnotic and trashy. While blaring sirens and whistles and all manner of banging, piercing sounds make for a harsh cacophony of frenzied disturbances, Jourgensen and company plow through the fearsome noise that surrounds these songs with tight, brutal efficiency and jack-hammer guitars. 

And then there's the additional Wacken 2006 material, a hairier and wilder set that's visually exciting, if a little rough around the edges. In sharp contrast with the Wacken 2012 concert, this set, although longer, is dogged by audio problems; half of it is suffocated by high levels of distortion, as songs just seem to bleed into each other. Emerging through dense radiation clouds that obscure Ministry's bad sonic intentions, "Lies Lies Lies" and "Worthless" eventually come into greater focus and become more powerful than ever, while the dream-like "Khyber Pass" is absolutely enthralling. "Psalm 69," "Wrong" and other monstrous Ministry furies are intense and mesmerizing, as the band recovers from its confused beginnings. 

With its history of aural violence behind them, Ministry has said its goodbyes. Losing Scaccia led Jourgensen to finally drive a stake through the blackened heart of a band that was confrontational, funny, wonderfully obnoxious, stridently political and always interesting. This sick, savage world might soon discover just how much it misses them.
- Peter Lindblad

New Dream Theater DVD hits No. 1

Dream Theater - Live at Luna Park 2013
Being nominated for a Grammy is nice. Having the No. 1 DVD in the country is a pretty big deal also.

Dream Theater's "Live at Luna Park" has landed in the top spot on the Soundscan Music DVD chart. Not too long ago, the progressive-metal giants debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's "Hard Rock Albums" chart for their latest self-titled album on Roadrunner Records.

Released Nov. 5 in various forms by Eagle Rock Entertainment, "Live at Luna Park"  is available as a double DVD version, a digital video offering and a packed-to-the-gills deluxe edition that boasts a 60-page hardback phonebook, Blu-ray, two DVDs and three CDs.

While on the final leg of their "A Dramatic Turn of Events" world tour in July 2011, Dream Theater's breathtaking and powerful performance at Luna Park Arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was filmed for this overstuffed release. 

Along with the 160-minute main show, there is a bonanza of bonus material, including a trailer for the cinematic release, a documentary, a "behind the scenes" feature and an animated intro played on the big screen just prior to Dream Theater's entrance at Luna Park. 

Classic Dream Theater pieces such as "The Silent Man," "Pull Me Under," "The Test That Stumped Them All," "The Spirit Carries On," "Metropolis Pt. 1" and "On the Backs of Angels" are all here. Dream Theater earned a Grammy nod in 2012 for "On the Backs of Angels" door Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.

Dream Theater formed in 1985 as Majesty, with John Petrucci, John Myung and Mike Portnoy joining forces as founders. 

The trio stayed together for a good long while through a slew of lineup changes, adding James LaBrie and Jordan Rudess along the way. Portnoy departed in September 2010 and has since been replaced by Mike Mangini.

For a sneak peek at "Live at Luna Park," visit

CD Review: Def Leppard - Viva! Hysteria

CD Review: Def Leppard - Viva! Hysteria
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: A-

Def Leppard - Viva! Hysteria
Def Leppard was under siege. Bottles of urine and beer cans were, according to reports from the front lines, lobbed at them from every direction at the 1980 Reading Festival by angry British louts who weren't too keen on how Americanized this youthful hard-rock brigade was starting to sound. 

They must have torn their hair out when they heard 1987's Hysteria. Even if band members downplay the incident these days, saying it wasn't all that bad dodging missiles of piss and that other bands were getting similar treatment, it couldn't have made for a very enjoyable, or hygienic, experience. Although everybody can have a good laugh about it all these years later.

Nowhere near as boorish, the audiences in Las Vegas that turned out in the spring of 2013 for Def Leppard's 11-show residency at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino must have been swept off their feet by the still somewhat fresh-faced pop-metal glamour kids' glitzy "Viva! Hysteria" production. What an ideal location for this elaborate staging, centered around the sugar rush of vibrant, colorful performances of the band's highly stylized and massively successful Hysteria album in its entirety, given the sexy, glittery history of Vegas-style showmanship.

Vivid and vibrant new DVD, Blu-ray and deluxe two CD/DVD releases of this terrifically entertaining, high-definition aural and visual extravaganza are out now via Frontiers Records. One half of the CD document is all about the deliriously infectious Hysteria, and somehow, Def Leppard manages to bring to life the sonic wonderland they created with Mutt Lange with all the studio bells and whistles of the original record, although some of the gloss gets wiped away to reveal the songs' killer hooks and just how much instrumental flair and fire the band still possesses.

The sound quality is brilliant, and despite an aging Joe Elliott's occasional struggles to climb up to that higher register, the band is as fit and tight as ever, rarely dragging at any time. Melodic and fluid, while also squealing in ecstasy, the strikingly bold, piercing guitar work of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell cuts through the air like the point of a spear. On target every time, they make notes sting ever so sweetly and poisonously in "Animal," the breathy title track and "Love Bites." Detonating the sheer bombast of "Women," "Pour Some Sugar On Me," "Don't Shoot Shotgun" and "Armageddon It" with sharp, bountiful riffing, they also put a charge of electricity into "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph."

There's a festive, circus-like atmosphere to "Viva! Hysteria," and Def Leppard revels in it, with Elliott playfully and confidently stirring up the crowd and singing as powerfully as he's able, Rick Allen working his dynamic percussive magic and Rick Savage's bass bounding around and almost imperceptibly driving this party bus. And, as always, Leppard's background vocals are sublime, fleshing out a sound that's already bigger than life.

Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new. The trend of classic-rock and even alternative acts with glorious pasts going out and playing full albums live is reaching epidemic proportions. "Viva! Hysteria" offers a twist on the tried-and-true formula, though. Assuming the pseudonym Ded Flatbird, a mistaken utterance from someone who couldn't correctly pronounce Def Leppard, went beyond Hysteria and played two different opening sets of rarities, newer stuff and old hits as the "greatest Def Leppard" tribute band ever, as Elliott called them. 

There's a second disc full of them here. After the sensory overload of reliving Hysteria, hearing a fistful of charmingly scruffy rock 'n' roll with some dirt under its fingernails is satisfying, as Leppard knocks out driving anthems like "Rock Brigade," "Wasted," "Stagefright," "Undefeated," "Let It Go" and "High 'n' Dry" with a ragged toughness and raw excitement that recalls their rowdy salad days, as well as the rollicking energy of Elliott's Mott The Hoople tribute band Down 'n' Outz. "Viva! Hysteria," indeed. 
- Peter Lindblad  


DVD Review: Deep Purple - Perfect Strangers

DVD Review Deep Purple - Perfect Strangers
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A

Deep Purple - Perfect Strangers 2013
None of the members of the Mark II version of Deep Purple could put their fingers on the exact reason why they decided to reunite in 1984, except to say that the timing was right. 

Whenever the question was posed to any of them in the various TV interviews stitched together for the period tour documentary included as bonus footage and providing historical context for the new live DVD "Perfect Strangers," vague, incomplete and stammering answers cautiously escaped their mouths as if they didn't fully understand it either. There was something mystical at work.

Money wasn't the issue. One of the more contentious pieces in the piece, which seems to follow Purple from stop to stop, finds an irritated Ian Gillan bristling at the mere suggestion that a big pile of sweaty cash would entice them to reform when the idea was posited by two TV show hosts clearly angling for an admission that financial remuneration, and lots of it, was what brought them back together after all these years. Gillan said they'd had plenty of lucrative offers to do it since 1973, when the classic lineup simply couldn't bear to continue as they were then configured - his implication being that they would have done it a hell of a lot sooner if that was the only issue holding things up.

There was no explanation for it, aside from the fact that all the planets had aligned for Gillan, Roger Glover, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice and Jon Lord. And certainly none was needed when the magically reunified Mark II crew embarked on a massively successful tour in support of the platinum-selling comeback album, Perfect Strangers, that included this searing, and somewhat mischievous, performance of newer material and older classics Purple gave in Melbourne, Australia one night in '84.

The camera certainly doesn't lie, and neither does the roaring sound and sharp imagery of "Perfect Strangers," filmed smartly and with purpose to conscientiously capture not only the technically brilliant musicianship Purple's always been famous for, but also the explosiveness and wild-eyed euphoria of a group that had plenty of fire left in its belly and was as cohesive as ever.

Firing on all cylinders, Purple slams through a careening version of "Highway Star," riding high-voltage riffs, before getting caught in the wash of the bluesy spin cycle that is "Nobody's Home." With lust in their hearts and a wolfish demeanor, they revel in the surging testosterone of "Knocking at Your Back Door," a song of "low morals," as a devilish Gillian describes it. 

Haunting and mesmerizing, "Child in Time" is dark and beautifully rendered, punctuated by the magnificent, and barely human, screams of Gillan, clad in black leather pants and full of charismatic machismo. Building drama slowly, until the song becomes an exploding star, Purple also smolders in "Gypsy's Kiss," and expands "Perfect Strangers" into something even more exotic and cinematic in scope than on record. Everywhere else, however, the quickened pace of these songs is breathtaking, and the extended jams are furious and full of substantive, agile movements. No noodling is allowed.

The ramshackle, cosmic-hippie grooves of "Space Truckin'" rumble and shake; then suddenly, Purple falls down the rabbit hole of that dizzying chorus and burns up on re-entry. Unexpectedly playful, Gillan and Blackmore break ranks during a brawny, combustible "Strange Kind of Woman" and briefly segue into "Jesus Christ Superstar." And when Purple plows into the anti-war sentiment of "Under the Gun" with righteous intensity, Blackmore's crazed soloing and Hendrix-like showmanship, so gripping here, grows even wilder, with the guitar wizard laying his instrument over an amp and having his noisy, distorted way with it.

Directed for optimum action, with superbly written liner notes, "Perfect Strangers" is the concert film Deep Purple had to release, if for no other reason than to remind everyone that the MK2 lineup had few, if any, equals in a live setting. Nobody plays hard rock with this kind of passion and hunger, not to mention their virtuosity and indebtedness to classical music, just for money.

- Peter Lindblad