CD Review: Peter Frampton – Premonition, When All The Pieces Fit, Now

CD Review: Peter Frampton – Now
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: A

CD Review: Peter Frampton – Premonition
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: B-

CD Review: Peter Frampton – When All The Pieces Fit
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: C

Peter Frampton - Premonition 2015
Wandering in a neon wilderness of New Wave, punk and hair metal in the 1980s, Peter Frampton had lost his way. A string of commercial defeats had considerably dimmed his star, that is until 1986's Premonition yielded the catchy minor mainstream-rock hit "Lying."

It was a brief glimpse of the old Frampton, a spirited romp of pop defiance with good, sure hooks, but Premonition's heavy reliance on synthesizers and glossy '80s production values pushed Frampton's distinctive guitar work into the album's cobweb-covered recesses – so much so that the record now sounds horribly dated, thin and soulless. Whatever promising melodies and song structures he'd come up with were lost in a technological junkyard, and Premonition came off as a desperate attempt at relevancy, just like its equally disappointing successor, 1989's wet bag When All The Pieces Fit

While each have their moments, the two records, soon to be reissued by Omnivore Recordings along with 2003's Now – each boasting expanded artwork and extensive liner notes drawn from interviews with Frampton – find the Humble Pie co-founder grasping at straws, attempting to retool his earthier blues and hard-rock aesthetics for a modern digital age that seemingly wanted nothing to do with him, and often failing at it. Generic songwriting poisons "You Know So Well," the title track and the syrupy power ballad "All Eyes On You." Much of this material has aged badly, going the way of the floppy disk with all of its synthetic window-dressing. And yet, Premonition can be bright, boisterous and exude a sunny charm, as "Stop," "Hiding From a Heartache," "Into View" and "Call of the Wild" – as well as smartly designed bonus tracks  "So Far Away" and "Nothing At All" – can attest.

Peter Frampton - When All
The Pieces Fit 2015
Three years later, fresh off taking part in David Bowie's "Glass Spider Tour," Frampton stumbled with the drab, lightweight When All The Pieces Fit. The subdued 1989 effort saw him collaborating with The Rembrandts' Danny Wilde and John Regan, and the results were mixed, to say the least. While the pop buoyancy of "Back to the Start" and the wheeling, infectious chorus of "Hard Earned Love" contain some spark of inspiration, the rest of When All the Pieces Fit sounds unconvincing, especially on "Hold Tight," "Holding On To You," "More Ways Than One" and "My Heart Goes Out to You."

All these years later, the cold and aloof When All The Pieces Fit still gives the impression that Frampton was disconnected with contemporary pop music at that time, that he was a fish out of water when it came to using new studio gadgetry. Even the occasional burst of guitar fireworks feels forced, the album's leaden stomps and flimsy melodies clumsily groping for relevance.

Peter Frampton - Now 2015
Redemption would arrive with 2003's Now, undoubtedly the gem of this lot and one Frampton's finest efforts. A vastly underrated work, this is Frampton completely comfortable in his own skin, honest to a fault and staying true to his roots. Keeping it simple, Frampton engages in electrified, riff-mongering rockers such "Verge Of A Thing" and "I'm Back" wearing coats of distorted fuzz to stay warm, then gnashes his teeth while delivering a stirring rendition of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," his impassioned tribute to George Harrison.

A gentle reading of "Mia Rose," this soft, glowing ballad that is positively luminous and quite possibly one of the best songs he's ever recorded, is exquisitely rendered, as is the brooding, confessional "Hour Of Need," its soul-baring poignancy couched in enticing hooks that evolve wonderfully. Frampton's nuanced guitar work is sublime on Now, at once elegant and understated, but then turning somewhat rougher around the edges, matching the emotional turmoil of these songs. This time around, he turned to George Kennedy (Bonnie Raitt, Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss) as a songwriter, and the man who wrote Eric Clapton's "Change The World" helped Frampton recapture the magic.

Now finds Frampton confronting inner demons and wrestling with them in songs artfully arranged and deftly executed, where Premonition and Where The Pieces Fit are valuable only in that they tell a cautionary tale of an artist straying from his principles. On the surface, it seem odd to lump these three releases together, but in a way, it makes perfect sense. Frampton wasn't afraid to experiment in the '80s, but in doing so, he never quite figured out how to reconcile his songwriting values with all the new toys at his disposal. But, in the end, with Now, he found his way back with a record that deserves to be celebrated and not forgotten.
– Peter Lindblad

Anthrax on the verge

Changing singers on the fly in hopes of 'Spreading The Disease'
By Peter Lindblad

Anthrax's "Spreading The Disease"
Neil Turbin's days with thrash-metal titans Anthrax were tumultuous to say the least.

Tensions between the band and its lead singer in the early- to mid-'80s were always simmering and threatening to boil over. In late summer 1984, the divorce was finalized, leading to a search for a new vocalist.

For a brief time, Anthrax hitched its wagon to former Skid Row singer Matt Fallon. Carl Canedy knew the shotgun marriage wasn't going to work.

"After a week of working with him, he just wasn’t cutting it," said Canedy, drummer for '80s metal hellions The Rods and an executive producer on Anthrax's Armed and Dangerous EP, as well as their classic Spreading The Disease album. "He wasn’t the right fit for the band. And I told the band to get to this next level, this isn’t the guy who’s going to take you there."

Most recently, Canedy was involved in overseeing an archival release of material from his overlooked, pre-Rods band Kelakos called "Uncorked: Rare Tracks From a Vintage '70s Band." An East Coast '70s act whose classic-rock sound had more in common with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Santana and the Allman Brothers than the Judas Priests and Black Sabbaths of the world, Kelakos wouldn't survive long, their music perhaps too diverse for a major label to stomach.

In the mid-'80s, Canedy was part of a team trying to shepherd Anthrax into major-label stardom. He believed it was only a matter of time before they broke it big.

"Having worked with a lot of bands, and having gone through the process of wanting to be signed to a major label and what it takes and how focused you have to be, I saw that in spades with them," said Canedy. "Those guys were laser focused and super talented. I remember telling (drummer) Charlie (Benante), 'You’re going to be a Modern Drummer guy. People are going to fall in love with your playing."

Anthrax had a lot going for them, especially with manager Jon Zazula, aka Jonny Z, in their corner. The founder of Megaforce Records, Zazula was consulted about the issue with the lead vocalist. Quickly and decisively, a decision was made.

"I told the band, and they said, 'Get Johnny on the phone,' and I called Johnny Z, their manager and record label [guy], and I told Johnny what was up, and he said, 'Put the band on the phone,'" recalls Canedy. "And they went into the conference room, and five minutes later, they put me back on the phone with Johnny, and he said, 'He’s over.' He said, 'I’m putting him on the bus.' And that was it, and they made that decision. They were doing their third record, and there was no singer. It was incredible … it was as brave a move as I’ve ever seen, but they knew. They understood what I was saying, and they did it."

Through friends, Canedy was able to help Anthrax find Joey Belladonna, and the rest was history. "And he came in and it was just a great fit," said Canedy. "I mean, we knew right away he was the guy."

Anthrax - Armed and Dangerous
Still, the Anthrax camp didn't want to throw Belladonna into the deep end right away, according to Canedy. "Well, Armed and Dangerous was really an EP, and it was done rather quickly and for product for them," remembers Canedy. "And so it was kind of a transition record with Joey in the band. It was them trying to gel. It kind of got them a sense of who they were with Joey, so they could make the album, Spreading the Disease."

To Canedy, the die was cast. Anthrax was well on its way to becoming part of thrash's so-called Big Four, and Spreading The Disease put them over the top. Canedy could feel it was Anthrax's time to go to the next level.

"Absolutely. Yeah, we were seeing things happen," said Canedy. "Major labels were paying attention. Jonny had, by that time, Metallica, who was doing very well. Anthrax had already done very well. And then, it was just clear that this was the album that was going to get them to a major label. And we knew that. We were focused on that. We were focused on making sure we were going to get them to that major label."

Mission accomplished, as Spreading The Disease was released on Oct. 30, 1985, through Megaforce Worldwide/Island Records, and the unhinged single "Madhouse" was unleashed. Belladonna wasn't the only newcomer, as Anthrax also brought bassist Frank Bello onboard to replace Dan Lilker. Anthrax's classic lineup was born, and soon they'd break free of the thrash-metal underground.

CD Review: Praying Mantis – Legacy

CD Review: Praying Mantis – Legacy
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: B+

Praying Mantis - Legacy 2015
Keeping a stable lineup together was always difficult for Praying Mantis, whose role in growing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal into a force to be reckoned with in the '80s was relatively minor, as opposed to say, Iron Maiden or Motorhead.

Not as rough or as edgy as their denim-and-leather clad NWOBM brethren, Praying Mantis – established by brothers Tino and Chris Troy in 1973 – eschewed traditional metal to explore the possibilities melodic hard-rock had to offer, even as its revolving-door membership tested the strength of its hinges by continously spinning over the years.

For their 10th studio album, Legacy, Praying Mantis welcomed two new members into the fold in lead vocalist John Cuijpers and drummer Hans in't Zandt to a band that also includes guitarist/vocalist Andy Burgess. The changes are more than cosmetic, especially with a greater emphasis on larger-than-life production and a different singer belting out these gloriously dramatic anthems that, at times, fly awfully close to the blazing, blinding sun of bombastic power-metal, especially on a theatrical "Eyes Of A Child," the soaring epic "Against The World" and a defiant "Fight For Your Honour."

Were this 1985 and not 2015, the searing, streaming jets of twin-guitar leads, trampling rhythms, dynamic vocals and flashing synthesizers that carry Praying Mantis on their broad shoulders might have a puncher's chance at getting FM airplay, as radio-friendly, bittersweet fare such as "The One," "All I See" and the winding, night-crawling, aural metropolis "Tokyo" make for rousing eargasms. As it is, Praying Mantis will simply have to take pride in crafting flowing, captivating songs of resilience, romance and adventure with big climaxes for whoever's still listening for such things in music today. And while the sometimes all-too-familiar, completely over-the-top sound of Praying Mantis may have exceeded its expiration date, it hasn't become exasperatingly stale. There is a freshness and vitality to Legacy that puts it right up there with beloved works Time Tells No Lies and Predator In Disguise – the vivid, sci-fi inspired album art from Rodney Matthews only making the whole experience all the more enjoyable.
– Peter Lindblad

Heart Of Storm merges dance and rock

Supergroup convenes to back Russian ballet

Heart Of Storm is a live mix of
rock music and Russian Ballet.
Take the glitzy bravado and loud bluster of a rock concert, pair it with the athletic beauty of Russian ballet and it all adds up to Heart Of Storm.

A unique artistic and cultural experience, Heart Of Storm will make its premiere in Los Angeles on Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, at the Orpheum Theatre.

As for the all-star band that will be accompanying the dancers live, it'll feature many familiar names, including keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater), drummer Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr, Electric Light Orchestra), guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio) bassist Tony Franklin (The Firm, Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers), Brent Woods (Warrant, Sebastian Bach), and saxphonist Brandon Fields (Tower Of Power, George Benson).

They teamed up with talented young Russian-Korean choreographer Stas Tsoy to tell the tale of a young major named Storm as he travels the labyrinthian depths of life, death and love with stunning visuals and powerful, and oftentimes symphonic, music. The dancing talent spans the Bolshoi Theatre, Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. Visit for more information. To get tickets to the show, go to

Sherinian, Bissonette, Aldrich and Franklin took time out to talk about the project in this interview:

When did the whole idea for Heart Of Storm evolve from? What sparked it for you?
Derek Sherinian: The creator Alex Semenov approached me in late 2013 to produce and play on a rock instrumental record. Alex decided to have choreographed ballet performing live along witha rock band, he found Stas Tsoy, a talent Russian-Korean choreographer, and this sounded like an exciting, unique opportunity to me.

What was your vision for this artistically? What message do you guys want to get across? What should people walk away with?
Doug Aldrich: Artistically, I thought this was a cool fusion of arts, and I wanted an opportunity to push myself in some new directions after Whitesnake. This was really something interesting and obviously with a great bunch of friends that also happen to be at the top level as musicians. I hope to have people walk away feeling happy to see and hear something fresh that is a new idea.

Derek Sherinian: Heart Of Storm is Alex Semenov's vision. My job is to help him see his vision through on the musical end.

Tony Franklin: Heart Of Storm is part rock show, part Russian ballet – with a killer band, featuring top-name rock musicians – and world-class Russian ballet. "Storm" is the main character, and the storyline follows his tumultuous journey of love, anger, jealousy and death. But this is not just a dance show with accompanying rock music. Both the band and ballet are interwoven into a unique, powerful and emotional performance. I've never seen anything like it.

How did the idea of fusing the music with ballet come about? How did you create the songs to fit with the ballet choreography?
Derek Sherinian: The music was written first, and then the dancing was choreographed afterwards.

Doug Aldrich: Music has always been in ballet I guess, but this is a fresh approach that the composer felt would be more intense and fit well with the choreography. It could possibly reach a new audience that might otherwise skip ballet. I myself have never been to a ballet, but now I'm interested. The Red Rock Ballet is made up of very talented young dancers from Russia.

What is the story of Heart Of Storm? Tell us about the production and look of the show.
Tony Franklin: The Orpheum Theater is the perfect setting. In the Broadway Theater District of Los Angeles, it has a long history dating back to the 1920s. The list of artists who've performed here is remarkable, including Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Little Richard, Stevie Wonder – the list goes on. "American Idol" and "Amerca's Got Talent" are also filmed here. The Orpheum stage has been transformed to accommodate the unique Heart Of Storm production. The lights, the setting, the sound and performances are all fine-tuned to express the broad array of emotions of the storyline. I'm really excited to be part of Heart Of Storm.

Doug Aldrich: I was so immersed in learning the material that I didn't really know much about the story at first. But once we started to run the show together, it all made sense ... The look seems to be heavy ... very edgy, but with classic ballet feel in spots. In other places, it probably pushes the limit a bit.

Can you elaborate on the band's chemistry? What's the dynamic like?
Derek Sherinian: Everyone in this band is not only incredible musicians, but incredible people as well. Tony Franklin and Gregg Bissonette are hands down the nicest rhythm section in rock! I am truly blessed to be working with such a great team of people across the board.

Doug Aldrich: Derek is our fearless leader and has put together a very diverse bunch of people to perform the music. I know Derek has been working on this for some time. Then I happened to be in Moscow for a day, and I got a phone call from Brent Woods saying that he and Derek were out at a party in town and asked if I wanted to join (laughs). I was asleep and jet-lagged, so I didn't go, but a few months later Derek started to think about this production and called me to play. I have to say, it's been a huge amount of work for me to get up to speed, but we had so much fun that time has flown by. We are all very different people, so it feels unlike any project I've been in. Gregg and Brent secretly coordinated wardrobe the entire time showing up with the same shit and shoes or whatever ... tony is truly one of the nicest people you could ever meet. His playing is just astouding ... so giant. Like all the guys I reckon. Brandon has just blown me away ... with horns and flutes!! He has been very patient wiht his as he has not had to deal with a band this loud. But he seriously shreds if that can be deemed a compliment from me. Derek is that bad boy dude with chops that will back it up. Derek and Brent are serious gearheads, which, of course, I can relate to. Derek has more gear than just about anyone I know ... I get it. There is always more room for something new. Brent plays so awesome. I'm really glad to work with him. He is playing solos as well, but also doing acoustic work, which is very important with a ballet. Gregg is joking around all the time ... always, but he is just an insanely talented player. He, like all the guys, has played with the best of the best, 'cause they are that good.

Gregg Bissonette: The band chemistry is awesome. I've been a fan of all of these musicians for many years and have played with everyone before except Brent Woods, but now he's my new best friend. The first day I showed up for rehearsal, I was wearing a red Foo Fighters shirt and black jeans and Brent was wearing a red shirt and black jeans. Everyone commented on it, so each morning we decided to mess with the others by calling ahead of time and wearing the same colors. It took them a while to figure it out, and they thought we were on the same wave length, but they quickly caught on. We all take the music seriously, as a drummer in the band you have two-man jobs: the tempo and controlling the dynamics ... bringing it way down and way up when you need to. Brandon is one of the world's greatest sax players and I've played with him at the Baked Potato Jazz club in L.A., on his solo albums, and we were in the house band for the Latin Grammys a few years ago. I was in a band with Derek called Jughead, which my brother, Matt Bissonette (Elton John's bassist) and Ty Tabor (King's X) were also in. Derek and I played in Italy with Yngwie Malmsteen and Deep Purple, that's where I played with Doug Aldrich as well. Tony Franklin and I have played a ton together over the years and have been great pals for 20 years. We played years ago on a movie called Endless Summer 2. It was a surf movie. We've done a million albums together and toured all over the world. Derek is the glue that brought us all together. He is a great guy, a fantastic musician, and a wonderful producer and band leader. The music we are playing with Heart Of Storm is written so well that it lends itself to having a lot of dynamics, (playing at different musical volume levels). It's very passionate music and when everyone sees the dancers and storyline, they will love it and see that it's all brilliantly connected.

CD/DVD Review: Asia – Axis XXX Live in San Francisco MMXII

CD/DVD Review: Asia – Axis XXX Live in San Francisco MMXII
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: B+

Asia - Axis XXX Live in
San Francisco MMXII 2015
What impressive pedigrees they all had. Four of the biggest names in British progressive-rock deciding in 1981 to go in together on a new project called Asia certainly created a buzz, the very name suggesting exotic sounds, provocative philosophical insight and difficult-to-decipher musical dialects. Oh, the possibilities ...

As it turned out, Asia wasn't interested in all that. They set out to craft unabashedly commercial songs that made prog palatable to the masses, choosing accessible concision over complex, multi-part arrangements, and their gambit worked. Asia's 1982 debut landed at No. 1 in the U.S. like a message in a bottle with a lovesick note inside, a grand romantic gesture that stole many a heart, even as critics mercilessly slagged their banal sentimentality and general blandness.

It was never cool to like Asia, as the movie "The 40-Year Old Virgin" so painfully articulated for anybody who even considered them a secret guilty pleasure. Still, some 30 years after their formation, here was the original lineup of John Wetton (King Crimson, UK), Steve Howe (Yes), Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and Geoff Downes (The Buggles, Yes) broadcasting one of its last magical performances together at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Nov. 7, 2012, on AXS TV in spectacularly vivid high-definition video and audio – now available as an entertaining two-CD/DVD release from Frontiers Music. They must have been doing something right all those years.

As triumphant and wistfully romantic as ever, Asia puts on a surprisingly vibrant show awash in nostalgia, as old favorites such as a pulsating and effusive "Here Comes The Feeling" and "Sole Survivor," with its silvery flashes of synthesizer, mix with the bittersweet rehashing of "Only Time Will Tell" and the melodic flourish of "Heat of the Moment" that closes the set. Drama and dissonance are found in "Face on the Bridge" and "Time Again," respectively, and more recent material like "Tomorrow The World," off Asia's 2012 effort XXX, races, while the obscure "Ride Easy," a b-side for "Heat of the Moment" and later included on Aurora, offers pleasant hooks with a touch of heartache.

Given the opportunity to display their musical chops, Howe and Palmer take full advantage, with the drummer showing both power and precision on his solo in "Holy War." Meanwhile, Howe, ever the ingenious guitar player, deftly negotiating a tricky acoustic guitar solo in "Pyramidoloy" with warmth and lush tonality that slides seamlessly into his jaunty sketching of "Golden Mean." Downes' piano is the best thing about "Don't Cry," where Wetton goes embarrassingly overboard trying to get the audience to sing along like some oily lounge singer, and his synths are majestic in raising up "I Know How You Feel." Not at all incendiary or untidy, Axis XXX Live in San Francisco MMXII, instead, pleasantly illustrates Asia's gift for both melody and melodrama, and it seems Asia has passed the test of time.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Cathedral – In Memorium

CD Review: Cathedral – In Memoriam
Rise Above Records
All Access Rating: B

Cathedral - In Memoriam 2015
Taking doom metal to a more solemn and spectral place than it had ever gone before, Cathedral's 1991 album Forest of Equilibrium was grim, suffocating stuff, indeed.

A monastery of singer Lee Dorrian's animalistic grunts, funereal melodies and spellbinding, majestic swells of malevolence greeted its visitors. With an air of mystery about it, the seminal work of these monks built monolithic walls of blackened, disciplined riffs, and its architecture was jaw-dropping. However, prior to constructing this imposing sonic citadel, the UK gloom mongers made a self-financed cassette recording  – originally released in October, 1990 – that documents Cathedral's raw stages of early development, and for that alone, it's an interesting find.

Seemingly caked in dirt and filth and so punishingly heavy it damages internal organs, the lurching, lumbering four original tracks  – "Mourning of a New Day," "All Your Sins," "Ebony Tears" and "March" – slam into ears like bombs, all swinging like a weighty pendulum back and forth in monotonous fashion, as the rusted-out gears of Cathedral's machinery grind ponderously along. Only minor differences in tempo and tonality separate them, as Dorrian's gnarly, but more discernible, vocals seem to bellow from the bowels of the earth – here is the wicked progeny of Pentagram and Saint Vitus, covered in afterbirth and screaming for the cord to be cut, where Forest of Equilibrium sounded somewhat more polished, more mature and dynamic.

And while the primordial rawness and deliberate churn of these embryonic efforts is jarring, they're also strangely absorbing, as In Memorium heaves to and fro, until ramming its massive hull into a five-song clutch of live recordings from Holland and Belgium in 1991. Here are found concert versions of "Ebony Tears," "All Your Sins" and "Mourning of a New Day" that implode on impact, growing in strength, with gleaming, melodic twin-guitar arcs shooting out of sonic rubble and Cathedral also bludgeoning "Neophytes for Serpent Eve" and "Intro/Comiserating the Celebration" to death. The CD version of Rise Above Records' release of In Memoriam comes with a live DVD of Cathedral performing at Groningen in the Netherlands that same year, making for a compelling package stuffed with an eight-page booklet and rare photos. And there's a vinyl edition as well, all of which present a picture of a nascent band, now defunct, finding its way and transforming a genre into something even more menacing and foul.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Jeff Beck – Performing This Week ... Live at Ronnie Scott's – Special Edition

CD Review: Jeff Beck  Performing This Week ... Live at Ronnie Scott's Special Edition
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Jeff Beck - Performing This Week ...
Live at Ronnie Scott's 2015
It's 2007, and Jeff Beck has taken over London's Ronnie Scott's club, doing a much-ballyhooed series of shows there that called many of the guitar god's most fervent acolytes to worship. If anybody deserves his own church, it's Beck, whose long, remarkable career has seen the virtuoso performer constantly push the envelope and explore a wide variety of genres, while also expanding the limitless possibilities of his chosen instrument.

On the two-CD concert album Performing The Week ... Live at Ronnie Scott's – Special Edition, out via Eagle Rock Entertainment, Beck delivers a series of powerful musical sermons before packed houses, as this set compiles all of the live tracks from those shows for the first time on LP and CD – other CD and DVD versions were released in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Were it not for the singing of Joss Stone sucking the very soul out of "People Get Ready" by over emoting to such ridiculous extremes, disc two would have been far more enjoyable, highlighted by a smoky reading of "Blanket," with siren Imogen Heap lending her seductive vocals to a song ensconced in midnight hour ambiance, and "Little Brown Bird," where Beck and Eric Clapton cook up a simmering, slow-cooked blues meal that seems to drip from their chins. Heap rejoins Beck for a scorching rendition of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" – that's also viciously jarring in parts – prior to a feverish seven-song rockabilly workout with the Big Town Playboys, marked by spirited, swaggering rumbles "Race With The Devil" and "Crazy Legs," and Stone's train wreck is all but forgotten.

More serious business is attended to on disc one, with inspiring forays into jazz fusion, space-age funk and snarling blues-rock on a full and diverse instrumental menu. The manic and propulsive "Scatterbrain" becomes a bi-polar episode that athletically ping-pongs all over the place until order is restored, while "Eternity's Breath," "Stratus" and "Big Block" turn heavy and stormy, stopping only to allow Beck plenty of room to roam in expansive clearings – and roam he does, his unpredictable solos encompassing an unheard of range of emotions and techniques. Fluent in seemingly every possible musical language, Beck wrings big drops of pathos out of a poignant "Cause We've Ended as Lovers," agonizing over every blue note, and in his elegant re-imagining of The Beatles' "Day in the Life" develops it into something more meditative and fluid.

And what Jeff Beck live outing would be complete without the exotic and mysterious "Beck's Bolero," a sweeping epic with rich, dark tones that surges and flows with bold artistry in this close environment. Backed by players who employ preternatural instincts to interpret these instrumental pieces with palpable freshness and vitality and furious drumming, Beck is free to be playful and coy, assertive and aggressive, and gently lyrical when soloing or sketching out melodies. Performing This Week ... Live at Ronnie Scott's succeeds both as a survey of Beck's life's work and a testament to his supernatural talent.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Yes – Like It Is: At the Mesa Art Center

CD Review: Yes – Like It Is: At the Mesa Art Center
Frontiers Music
All Access Rating: A-

Yes - Like It Is: Live At The
Mesa Art Center 2015
Those who didn't get their fill of Yes playing its landmark albums in their entirety in concert with Like It Is – Yes at the Bristol Hippodrome can go back for a second helping. In this companion audio/visual release, with its warm sound, the progressive-rock masters – now missing dearly departed bass virtuoso Chris Squire – perform 1971's exalted Fragile and 1972's equally acclaimed Close to the Edge with colorful panache, faithfully recreating that hallowed original material with pleasant reverence, joyous whimsy and deft precision.

Weaving their way through the complex, multi-part pieces that have become the stuff of prog-rock legend, Yes displays its virtuoso chops in gracefully traveling the well-worn, shape-shifting passages of some of its most distinguished, and adventurous, works. The contrast of gentle, inside-out dissonance and cloud-bursting beauty – courtesy of swirling vocal harmonies, Steve Howe's guitar intrigue, melodic flights of fancy, flowering instrumental jams and time-signature mischief – is magical as Yes wanders through the wondrous mini universe of "South Side Of The Sky" and expands the already cinematic title track to Close to the Edge. The breezy, summery intro to "Siberian Khatru" morphs into an furious march, and Squire's signature bass motors through a lightly bouncing "Long Distant Runaround" and propels "Roundabout" into Geoff Downes' dancing keyboard spirals and sunny merriment, while the dream logic of "And You And I" mesmerizes, as singer Jon Davison negotiates the sweeping emotions and sonic puzzles of Yes with expressive aplomb. And the nostalgia trip that is Like It Is: Live At the Mesa Art Center, a Frontiers Music release, sends the faithful home smiling.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: The Knack – Normal As The Next Guy

CD Review: The Knack – Normal As The Next Guy
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: A

The Knack - Normal As The
Next Guy 2015 
Normal As The Next Guy was The Knack's last hurrah, at least as far as studio albums go. Released in 2001, it was the follow-up to 1998's Zoom, a record that The Knack hoped would bring a resurgence of interest in their sparkling, girl-obsessed brand of power-pop. The silence that greeted Zoom, however, was deafening.

Bitterly disappointed by the reception, commercial and otherwise, for Zoom, members of The Knack threw themselves into outside projects, but Normal As The Next Guy eventually came together and was sent out into the music universe in 2001. Holding onto the belief that lightning would strike twice and they would rise to the top of the charts like it was 1979 all over again, when the listening public fell in love with "My Sharona" and found their debut LP as addictive as crack, The Knack had their collective fingers crossed for Normal As The Next Guy. Again, fortune did not favor them, and Doug Fieger's health declined, culminating in his death from cancer in 2010.

In the liner notes to Omnivore Recordings' expanded reissue, bassist Prescott Niles said that "Normal As The Next Guy should be remembered as a good album and the start of The Knack's last page." As endings go, this one had some interesting twists. Stepping lively, The Knack goes country on the infectious, honky-tonkin' "Spiritual Pursuit" and looks temptation square in the eye and succumbs, while the sublime psychedelia of "The Man On The Beach," a sophisticated, gorgeously arranged pop song full of winsome vocal harmonies, shaken bells and piano infused with wintry ennui, seems to have drifted in from The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds sessions.

Wonderfully diverse and absolutely charming, with The Knack seemingly liberated by the lack of expectations for this record, Normal As The Next Guy is a warmer, more down-to-earth record than Zoom. Here, the irresistibly lighthearted summertime anthem "Les Girls" takes a walk on a tropical beach and ogles all the pretty women, while "A World of My Own" and "It's Not Me" snap, crackle and pop with effervescent guitars and "Disillusion Town" jangles and gleams like shiny chrome when the sun hits it just right. Sighing and swooning in a lovesick lament, "Seven Days of Heaven" longs for its feelings to be reciprocated, and an aching remake of "One Day At A Time," from the band's Serious Fun LP, struggles to deal with a devastating break-up.

Augmented with insightful liner notes and three enjoyable songwriting demos from Fieger that shed some light on how "Seven Days in Heaven," "Spiritual Pursuit" and "Reason To Live" came together so magically, Normal As The Next Guy is actually rather extraordinary, its humility and candid, reflective nature revealing its authors to be vulnerable, tender souls who approach life with an open heart and a sharp wit. It's not just the little girls who understand them.
– Peter Lindblad