Saturday, September 24, 2016

WILD SOULS "Game Of Love"

(c) 2016 Lion's Pride Music

  1. Game Of Love
  2. Dirty Mind
  3. Shame On You
  4. Pretty Babe
  5. Riding 
  6. Rock My World
  7. Moonlight
  8. One More Night
  9. I Need Your Love
George Nikolaou--Lead and Backing Vocals
Kostis Tsiligiris--Guitars
Nikos Tsiligoudis--Drums
Tasos Karapapazoglou--Bass, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Manos Skaramagkas--Keyboards

Greece is not the most common location for really good, 80s-inspired melodic hard rock, but Wild Souls is one of the exceptions to that unwritten rule.  With a solid grasp of melody, strong lead and backing vocals, some excellent guitar work, and just enough keys to satisfy the sweet tooth of the more AOR-minded fans, Wild Souls has put together a solid package of mostly uptempo, guitar-driven hard rockers that is among the best I have heard this year.  

On top of the top-notch musical performances, the songwriting here is of a caliber not commonly heard in more retro-styled projects.  So often, bands that are looking to emulate the 80s sound find themselves sucked into songwriting and lyrical cliches, but Wild Souls largely avoids this trap.  I know that the song titles don't necessarily bear proof of that, as most of the titles are pretty standard 80s fare, but musically, the band takes their inspirations and then updates them, adding some little musical twists that keep the listener interested and not feeling like they are listening to a cover band mimic and maul the tunes they grew up loving.

Particularly strong tracks here are the album's opener and title track, "Game Of Love", the hyper-catchy duo of the album's lead single, the hard-charging guitar rocker, "Dirty Mind", and my personal favorite, "Shame On You", which also showcases yet another in the long line of unknown-yet-amazingly talented guitar players, with Tsiligiris absolutely dominating the fretboard here.  I also really dig the exceptionally-well-executed bump and grind of "Pretty Babe", which has some great bass work from Karapapazoglou.  "Riding" is another really good rocker, with some more nice guitar acrobatics from Tsiligiris, who really gives the listener a comfortable feeling with his tone and approach, but comes off as uniquely original at the same time when he goes of on extended solo runs.  The one true ballad here is the beautifully performed, piano-based "One More Night". Good, good stuff right there, even if it doesn't particularly rock at any given point.  In fact, it is far more like a true, melodic AOR ballad than an 80s hair metal power ballad. even when Tsiligiris slides in with his guitar on a spectacular solo, or when the solid and underappreciated Tsiligoudis finally gets around to thumping his drums into the mix. 

Also worth mentioning here is the top-notch vocal approach of Nikolaou.  To be honest, I wasn't 100% sure I would love his voice upon hearing the opening track, but after hitting track two, I found myself really enjoying his style and range, and after repeated listens, I can truly state that he has one of the better mid-range tenors I have encountered in this style of music in recent memory.  Rich in tone and never coming across as strained, Nikolaou's voice runs like smooth whiskey over the more soulful numbers, like "Pretty Baby", but can also add a bit of edge when necessary to give a bit of extra oomph to a rocker like the Deep Purple-meets-Whitesnake romp of "Rock My World".  

The band was wise to keep the album trimmed to just the best nine songs they had composed at the time,  Every song here is solid, with not a single "filler" track for my money. Even the album closer, the slightly key-heavy rocker, "I Need Your Love" is of top quality musically, although this is the one track that is probably a bit weak in the lyrical department, leaning a bit more on the cliched title as part of the chorus than the rest of the songs here.  Even so, it doesn't come off as tired or forced and does nothing to detract from the surprising overall quality of this release.

Set to be dropped on Halloween of 2016, this album is definitely one that falls into the "treat" category.  A pleasant surprise for me from start to finish, I find myself returning to this album time after time for a melodic pick-me-up on par with the best material of this style and sound that I have been sent for review this year.

The band has released a video for "Dirty Mind" to help promote the release of the album, and you can check it out here to get an idea of the excellent quality of this record.

Ranking:  Some excellent, crankable material here.  Crank this to 9!  I really, really enjoyed this record, even though I honestly went in with less than high expectations.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

TESLA "Mechanical Resonance Live"

(c) 2016 Frontiers Records

  1. Rock Me To The Top
  2. EZ Come EZ Go
  3. Gettin' Better
  4. Comin' Atcha Live
  5. Changes
  6. Before My Eyes
  7. 2 Late 4 Love
  8. We're No Good Together
  9. Love Me
  10. Cover Queen
  11. Little Suzi
  12. Modern Day Cowboy
  13. Save That Goodness (new studio track)
Jeff Keith--Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon--Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Keys, Backing Vocals
Brian Wheat--Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Dave Rude--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Troy Lucketta--Drums, Percussion

Live albums.  I love them...or else I want to love them and they end up letting me down.  Those two options are really it for me, at least that's always been my experience.  It often comes down to whether or not I have actually heard the band live, to be quite honest.  If I've seen a band live, I tend to be more critical of the live album because I know what they sound like live, and usually that isn't what comes on the record.  As we all know, most live albums aren't actually all that "live" now, as they are filled with studio overdubs, Pro Tools edits, and songs taken from multiple concerts then edited together to create one "concert" filled with seemingly flawless performances.  In theory, it may be sound practice because, let's face it, a band doesn't want to put out garbage, especially now that so many bands are releasing these albums themselves with little or no label money to back them.  If they are going to release something, they want it to sound as good as possible so that they can actually sell the albums and recoup their costs.  Like I said, it makes sense.  But it's still disappointing for me because I want an element of genuineness when I buy a live record.  This is especially true of a band I have never seen live...and may never get the chance to see live...because it gives me a bit of that experience I have missed.  Maybe I'm weird like that, but that's just how live records do...or, in my opinion.

Now, Tesla is a band that I have seen live...a few times.  I have NEVER been to a bad Tesla show.  Ever.  They are one band that has always left me feeling like my money was well spent after I leave one of their shows, so when I heard they were releasing (another) live album, I was immediately interested.  When I heard their intent for this new live album, I went from interested to almost obsessive.  Why?  It's simple.  What Tesla does here is an interesting twist on the live album concept, as they play one album...exclusively...on this live record.  Of course, I am talking about one of my all-time favorite albums, the truly remarkable debut record, Mechanical Resonance.  Def Leppard recently did much the same thing, re-recording their massively popular Hysteria album live, as well, although I am admittedly not a huge fan of that album (in fact, I think Viva Hysteria: Live At The Joint is pretty much garbage).  Why do I bring this up?  Hang in will make sense.

It has amazingly been 30 years since Tesla released their debut record, but despite that lengthy span of time, they are one of the few bands of that era that not only still records and releases new material, but has also survived largely intact as far as members go.  Only Tommy Skeoch is no longer with the band, having been replaced by Dave Rude a full decade ago.  As such, you know that the band has performed the majority of these songs so many times over the years that it would likely be easy to phone the performances in...and many people wouldn't even blame them.  After all, thirty years of performing "Changes", "Little Suzi", and "Modern Day Cowboy", among others, would likely become a bit less than exciting.  But that is not how the band comes across on this record.  Sure, you can hear some years on the band, especially in a bit of additional scratchiness in Keith's vocals, but for my money, this only serves to add to the authenticity of the performances here.  Besides, it's not the hits that I was most interested in hearing here; it was the deeper album cuts that never get pulled out now that I was most keen on hearing.  I have tried and tried, but I can't remember ever hearing "Right Before My Eyes" or "Cover Queen" live, although I have to believe "Cover Queen" has been tackled at some point throughout the years.  The same thing can be said for me of "We're No Good Together"; I know it has to have been played live at some point, but I just don't know that it has ever been at a show I have attended, personally.  Regardless, I am happy to say that I was not let down by the live renditions of these songs, as the band performed them for this record like they have been doing them day-in and day-out for the last three decades.  It is really a treat to hear these songs given the chance to shine on the stage, at least for me.

Speaking of treats, the brand new studio track, "Save That Goodness" is a definite high point and a really nice add-on for an already impressive record.  A mid-tempo bluesy rocker that treads that Aerosmith territory that Tesla has so respectfully and respectably called home, this new track is easily one of the best songs the band has recorded in years.  And this is where we flash back to that Def Leppard reference I made earlier, as this song was co-written by none other than Lep guitarist, Phil Collen, who will also be producing Tesla's upcoming ninth studio album.  Never a hair band, which is the label that seemingly haunted them back in the 80's and early 90's, much as it did Aerosmith, Great White, and other bluesy hard rock bands, Tesla knows exactly what type of music they work best with and what their fans expect from them, and this new track is a perfect example of that.  Filled with interesting backing percussion, Keith's instantly recognizable rasp, some soulful female backing vocals, and a catchy-as-heck rhythm, "Save That Goodness" is exactly the type of song that represents Tesla when they are at their best, which is where this one...album finds them.

If I had any real complaints about this record, it would be that they tinkered with the track order.  I know, I know..."Little Suzi" and "Modern Day Cowboy" have to be encore material, especially from this record, and I could probably forgive those tracks being shuffled.  But why change the order of all the other songs?  That I don't get at all.  At least they didn't pull a Foreigner and give us a live album that makes allusions to being an album performed in its entirety, then leave tracks off and add in songs that don't belong (see my review of Best Of Foreigner 4 & More).  Other than that, the band's performances here...which I have no doubt have been touched up at least to a degree...are really good and very reminiscent of the live experiences I have had with this band.  Add in the really, really good new studio of their best in many years...and I am happy to say that overall I am very happy with my purchase of this live record from Tesla.

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  I give this a solid 8, which is about as high as I think I could ever go with a live album.