November 27, 2018
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the 9th grade, walking through the high school cafeteria looking for a place to devour my fries with gravy. I passed by one of the cool kids, who happened to be blasting "In The World Of Giants" on his ghetto blaster. Of course, I was stunned by what I heard and thought "what the hell is that?" The next day I was off to the record store.
"Universal Juveniles" turned out to be the last album recorded by Max Webster. Led by Kim Mitchell (guitar and vocals) Max was a band that followed no rules. They seemed to do whatever they wanted musically and didn't seem to care what anyone thought. And that's what made them so cool. On the 4 studio albums they released before U.J., Kim certainly made us aware that he was a stellar guitarist, but on this album he comes out guns-a-blazing, slaying everyone in his path. I spent many nights in front of the record player, slowing down the RPMs trying to figure out exactly what was going on - I'm still trying.
"In The World Of Giants" opens with a ripping lick that grabs your attention immediately and sets the vibe for the whole album. This is an up tempo rocker that leaves you exhausted by the time it's over. Without question, the song features Kim's most adventurous guitar playing. The solo is simply ferocious. He relentlessly blasts across the fingerboard, pouncing on every note available (yeah, yeah, I can hear the guitar snobs out there saying that it ain't all about speed - well, today it is!). All joking aside, Kim Mitchell proves here that speed and feeling can certainly co-exist.
The next tune is "Check". I'm reminded here about the unique guitar tone on this record. I'm not sure what's going on with the effects, but I like it. It sounds like there's a mild blend of flanger on the lead guitars. In any case, there are some fine licks throughout this song. The solo's intro line is very cool and a little weird - if anyone out there can lift it, I would love to learn it.
It's not my intention to go over every song, but it sure is tempting. "April In Toledo" (you gotta love the titles) has one of my favourite lyrics ever: "She's taking a break, from my face". Ha ha. And Kim's got some kind of cool effect happening in the guitar solo. Although he could be using a volume pedal to create those "swells", my guess is that he's got his right-hand pinky finger wrapped around the volume knob. Great phrasing too.
"Drive and Desire" has to be one of my favourite songs EVER. I love the rhythm guitar during the verses, I love the vocal performance and, of course, I love the solo! It sounds like it was worked out and orchestrated in advance, but I'll bet that it was improvised on the spot.
"Blue River Liquor Shine" is beautiful; rich with acoustic guitars and piano, almost begging for some lap-steel. This solo is one that I taught myself as a kid, jamming along with the record over and over, trying to get every nuance just right. One of these days I'll nail it.
The album closes with "Cry Out Your Life". They do that thing where the band fades out while the lead guitar stays up in the mix, and then they bring the band back in. There's that awesome guitar tone again, and Kim Mitchell is just "going for it". I'm sure I've driven the staff at The Guitar World nuts on many occasions, playing these licks during product demos in the shop.
Those of us who grew up listening to Max Webster were very lucky. The band never really became an international success, and therefore never received any recognition outside of southern Ontario (although I know that Paul Gilbert is a big fan). So let me say a big thanks to Kim Mitchell for being such a great inspiration to myself and many other guitar players out there. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy of Universal Juveniles. It will do one of 2 things for you - it will either make you want to pick up your guitar and play, or it'll make you want to throw it down the stairs - haha.
Thank for reading.
November 26, 2018
I find that I'm constantly pushing my favorite guitar-based music on the many young up-and-coming players that pass through The Guitar World. Most of the time I'll go on and on about this band or that guitarist, and talk about how cool they were and how they don't make 'em like they used to ... and then i realize that 20 minutes just flew by and my poor audience is looking at me with that "can i go now?" look in their face. But, in most cases, it usually results in the guy coming back the next time, saying "wow, I checked out that band and you were right!" (of course I was right). Well, I figured that I should create a little section here on our site where I can provide some listening advice for the masses. My goal is to do a review on a different album every month, and focus on those that really had an impact on me as a guitar player. It might even get to the point where we can have guest contributors now and then (like You).
Choosing an influential album for this first installment was a piece of cake. It's the THIN LIZZY classic, "Live and Dangerous". Thin Lizzy was a band that had many different guitarists coming and going, but the most definitive line-up was that which included Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson on guitars, Brian Downy on drums, and of course the great Phil Lynott on bass and lead vocals. I remember that I was in the 10th grade, vacationing with my family in Florida when I bought this record. I couldn't listen to it until we got home to my record player, so I spent the first week or so just looking at the many photos on the double album's sleeves. I thought that if the music sounded as cool as the photos looked, then I wouldn't be disappointed - I wasn't.
There are 17 songs in total, and each and every one of them are great. You can't help but notice the variety of styles, from hard rockers to poppy toe-tappers to sweet ballads. The production has Brian Robertson coming out of your left speaker and Scott Gorham at the right. Their styles and tones are very distinct, with Robertson playing very ferociously through fat humbuckers and Gorham exuding a more melodic and flowing style through P90 pickups. (I was never quite sure of who's shoes I wanted to fill in the event that I was to join the band - haha).
I could easily discuss and dissect every single song, but I'll narrow it down to a few gems. "Emerald" has a cool Celtic riff then breaks down into a nice harmonized guitar theme (something that they were well-known for) and ends with a blistering solo. The solo begins with the guys trading off, but winds up with B.R. taking over the whole thing. I have to also mention the fantastic performance going on in the background - Phil Lynott and Brian Downy are relentlessly hammering away at this one.
Scott Gorham delivers a very tasty solo in "Dancing in the Moonlight" - total perfection. And just when you think he's such a sweet guy, he serves up a powerful callouses-builder in "Massacre". This song also has a fantastic spiraling riff that would make for a great car-chase theme in a movie.
"Still in Love with You" - probably the ultimate showcase song for a band with 2 guitar players. Brian Robertson, who is about 21 years old at this time, takes the first solo and just goes for it. This guy isn't shy and he oozes with pure confidence. (The song is playing as I write this and, two and a half decades later, it still makes the hair on my arms go up). Scott's solo closes the song off and it's like a whole other song within a song. It's orchestrated and executed with so much feeling. I strongly recommend trying to lift both solos by ear (of course). If you can, arrange to perform the song at a jam night somewhere in your town (no pun intended there) and jump in with both feet. If you can sing, be sure to tackle the vocals too. Oh, i can't forget to mention that the little nuances in the rhythm guitars are brilliant. This is evident throughout the whole album.
"Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed" is a funky tune and another of many examples where each guitarist takes a solo. Robertson is first, showing off his abilities with the wah-wah pedal. In fact, he's probably one of the best wah players I've ever heard. Again, it's the nuances and subtleties that make it sound so great. The key change in this section elevates the song a little and really helps to draw your attention to the lead guitar. Gorham closes this song, starting off slowly, then playing some exotic sounding licks and throwing some lightning in at the very end. Nice one!
Robertson shows off some more wah in "Don't Believe a Word", a catchy mid-tempo shuffle. But its in "Are You Ready" where the boys really let loose. This time Scott goes first, reminding us that he can rip as good as anyone. Then the band goes through another verse and chorus before changing keys for Brian to slay 'em all at the end. I love the reaction of the audience when it's all over. If you're a young band out there playing gigs, and you're the opening act, play this as your last song - the crowd will be exhausted and the headliners will hate you (haha).
I have to talk about the song "Suicide" - more trading back and forth on this one, starting with S.G. then B.R. and back to S.G. It's also a very funky song rhythmically; you gotta listen to those rhythm guitars! This time it's Scott Gorham ("our candidate for the next President of the United States of America") who steps on the wah-wah pedal during the last solo. Hmmm ... I think he's probably one of the best wah players I've ever heard.
OK, finally there's "The Rocker". A very powerful riff to sink your teeth into during the chorus, and some big holes in the verses to leave room for Phil to cram all those words in. You get a sense from these guys that they don't mess around - they go for the throat on every single song. Brian Robertson's performance in this solo proves it. It's as if he's saying "yeah, my guitar is loud - do you have a problem with that?" I would be thrilled if a new young band came around the corner tomorrow with songs and chops like Thin Lizzy. Maybe that'll be your band.
Oh, one last thought. It would be lots of fun to jam on "Live and Dangerous" with your band or with your musician friends. The only problem is that you'll have a difficult time finding a drummer who can do it (haha). Seriously, Brian Downy is probably the most under rated drummer in rock 'n' roll. To all you drummers out there, this should be a very inspirational album for you too.
Thank so much for reading.
November 26, 2018
The whole idea of this blog was to go back in time and talk about the music that inspired me to play guitar. Of course, the albums I had in mind are all classics, mostly from the '70s. I never thought I'd be talking about a modern day band. Well, I am truly stunned to announce that this time around I will be gushing over "Kiss Or Kill" by EndeverafteR.
The last 2 decades in the world of rock music have been rather pathetic. Let's see, we've suffered the arrival of "grunge", a genre that was invented to accommodate the musical limitations of those involved. Then there's "metal", where everyone completely missed the point and confused cheesy distorted guitars and double-kick drumming with being heavy. And I think there's something called "emo" - don't really know, or care, what it is. The bottom line is that all of it gave "artists" a license to be lame, mediocre and lazy. Just turn on your radio and you'll hear what I'm talking about.
Somewhere in the back of my mind and deep in my heart, I truly believed that we might one day be blessed with a new band with enough of the right stuff to bring back some good-times rock 'n' roll. You can imagine just how excited I was to have stumbled across EndeverafteR.
Led by Michael Grant (vocals & lead guitar), this band sends out a nice big F-U. to the music industry with their debut, "Kiss Or Kill". My first exposure to the band was through YouTube, where I saw the video for the album's opening track, "I Wanna Be Your Man". Thunderous drums, crunchy guitars, cocky vocals and catchy hooks - was I dreaming? Or was this just a tease? Another one-off on a CD otherwise filled with ... well, filler?
The next day I had been to, not one, not two, but three different retail outlets before I found a copy of the album. Once in my car, I popped the CD into the player and simply could not believe my ears! Each and every one of the eleven songs made me grin with satisfaction. When was the last time a band put out an album packed to the seams with nothing but gems? (Uh, that would've been 1980 ... the band was AC/DC and the record was Back In Black).
All the elements of a classic are here. You've got your hard-driving anthems; there's a couple of pop-sensible party tunes; the token arena ballad; a cinematic epic and, just to shut up the non-believers, a sweet acoustic piece complete with mandolin and guest female vocalist. What really becomes obvious with "Kiss OR Kill" is that great songwriting is a craft that, until now, has been lost. But these guys get it. Whenever I'm driving with this CD cranked, I feel like I'm going to the beach (and it's the middle of winter) - THAT's the power of great songwriting!
Favourites for me include "I.W.B.Y.M" , "Baby, Baby, Baby", "Gotta Get Out", "Poison", "Tip Of My Tongue", "All Night" and "Slave". They're great songs to jam along to, with meaty riffs and killer licks. The guitar tones are fantastic - very organic-sounding and not over saturated (which reminds me to mention that I believe we're witnessing the arrival of a new guitar hero in Michael Grant). Oh, and there's something else that catches the listener's attention - melody! Yeah. Melody in the vocal lines ... melody in the solos. And there's harmony too!
So, let me say thank you to Michael Grant for having a vision and turning it into a reality. There was Queen, The Beatles, Kiss and now we've got EndeverafteR. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of "Kiss Or Kill" today.
Thanks for reading.
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