THE FAULTS – Patients EP

On The Faults’ debut EP (a self-titled release from 2011) the band’s two members, Oli (gtr/vox) and Tom (drums) hammered their way through four reverb-drenched songs, sticking rigidly to the confines of the two-man setup.  While their work didn’t actually bring anything of a new slant to the garage rock genre, the tunes were played with absolute conviction and with a great energy.  Their second release, ‘Patients’ brings the keen garage rock fan much more of the same.

Beginning this second EP in a really unsubtle fashion, ‘Patience’ opens with raucous drums and hammered guitar, over which Oli wails like a man possessed by demons, his voice fuzzed up to create an extra level of intensity. While fans of garage-based noises are likely to dig this, be warned: the general looseness displayed means they’re in danger of sounding more like The Strokes in a slightly drunken stupor than The White Stripes or New York’s mighty Dead Exs at their best.  Much better, ‘Peace of Mind’ mashes an early sixties Phil Spector inspired beat with a guitar jangle that’s almost got a Mexicana vibe – like something from a spaghetti western played in a garage.  Between the disjointed pieces of music, the voice has a very strong presence, bawled with very little restraint. The combination of interesting tune and vocal forcefulness makes this one of the EPs better offerings.

‘Chivalry’ is a standard issue garage rocker where, between the crashing cymbals and the threat of a lead guitar break which never manages to surface, The Faults’ play firmly to their strengths.  Slowing things down and potentially becoming a touch more interesting in doing so, ‘Summer’ brings in a slight tone of sixties pop to the song writing. With the shift in pace, Oli’s voice gets a brief opportunity to stretch out on some longer, croony notes.  Despite a stronger focus on the voice and stripping back the drums, the general tone stays within their fuzzed up remit – yes, it may sound a little poppier in its construction, but everything still comes with a truckload of reverb…and if you’ve dug The Faults’ thus far, chances are, you’ll dig this too.  The strongest – and most easily accessible track – ‘Leather Jacket’ brings more of a trashy rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic to The Faults’ sound, all groove-led drumming and spiky guitar.  Think Jon Spencer Blues Explosion circa ‘Orange’ (though with Spencer’s drunken Presley-isms replaced by something less stylised) and you’ll know where this is headed.  Upbeat and sweaty, this is the Australian duo’s finest (almpst) two minutes.

Even though perhaps three of the five songs aren’t quite as instant as ‘Quarter’ from The Faults’ previous release, there’s some ragged fun to be had from ‘Patients’.  It is not as sharp as it could have perhaps been, but rest assured, it gets better with each play. ‘Leather Jacket’, meanwhile, is a killer track – certainly great enough to make up for anything potentially lacking elsewhere.

October 2012

RICK SPRINGFIELD – Songs For The End Of The World

In 1980, Rick Springfield’s fifth album ‘Working Class Dog’ shifted the Australian singer away from the teen market and into the pop/AOR market, its lead single ‘Jessie’s Girl’ subsequently propelling him to stardom.  During the next few years, he released album’s of a similarly high calibre, ending his most high profile period with the classic ‘Rock of Life’ in 1988.  Springfield then disappeared from the music scene for almost a decade, eventually returning with the band Sahara Snow, whose one album may (or may not) have been compiled from unused material written for ‘Rock of Life’s abandoned follow-up.

Releasing albums sporadically – under his own name – from then on, Springfield’s work adopted a slightly harder sound at times, but essentially retained many of the kind of pop/rock hooks which proved a winning formula back in the eighties.   In that respect, 2012’s ‘Songs For The End of The World’ will provide the longtime fan with few surprises – but those only familiar with Springfield’s eighties work may be surprised at the relative chunkiness of a few of these tunes.

Each of the album’s core twelve songs are all superb.  A huge production sound plus some well-written pop/rock material proves a winning combination. Following some crisp sounding guitar chimes, Rick chooses to open ‘Our Ship’s Sinking’ with some huge and very welcome whoahs.  In contrast, the verse which follows, at first, sounds a little lower key than such whoahs may have suggested. The real clincher comes with the chorus: harmonies are abound on a rather catchy hook, where – guitar sound aside – everything follows the classic Springfield mould, so much so, this could have fit happily onto ‘Rock of Life’.  With a slightly new wavish edge – perhaps as a nod to ‘Jessie’s Girl’, though just as likely an extension of Springfield’s natural style – ‘I Hate Myself’ is punchy and poppy all at once, while a gang vocal choir hammer home a chorus which only needs to be heard once before making an impact.  Similarly Ready for radio, ‘Love Screws Me Up’ is nice an simple, a chiming guitar part paving the way for a shameless chorus of “na na nas” – if you like things cheesy (in a good way, obviously), this is a tune you’ll love. If you’ve followed Rick Springfield’s career thus far, you’ll know what you’re in for.  If you’ve never been swayed by the man’s prior work, well…you’re probably not actually reading this.  [As an aside, is there any chance of power pop man Kurt Baker recording a cover, please?]

More reflective, ‘Gabriel’ has a strong acoustic basis, but it’s not long before a ringing guitar boosts everything into bigger sounding melodic rock territory.  It’s all very much of a tried and tested musical formula, but that doesn’t weaken its overall impact.  In terms of writing unpretentious pop/rock fare, Mr. Springfield makes it sound so effortless…but then, at this point in his career, he’s had about four decades of practice.  The big power ballad ‘You & Me’ is loaded with rhythmic guitars and keyboards, shined up to the max without sounding unnatural.  While a slight filter has been applied, this tune boasts one of Springfield’s most distinctive vocals, instantly recognisable as the voice behind ‘Jessie’s Girl’, ‘Living In Oz’, ‘Alyson’ and many other eighties classics.  In terms of musical arrangement, there’s nothing new here, just old-school pop/rock with a strong AOR bent.  As with most of ‘Songs For The End of The World’, fans will not be disappointed.

With regard to the albums (slightly) rockier outings, ‘Wide Awake’ blends Springfield’s pop core with edgier elements perfectly, since the verses are incredibly angry by his usual standard, but the chorus ushers in studio-treated choirs of vocals which may as well be singing any number of his straight-up pop tunes from decades past.  My Last Heartbeat’ is a guitar-driven winner, featuring a chuggy riff which is balanced out by a techy multi-tracked vocal and a world of keyboard noises, while ‘Depravity’ is a fast paced offering where slightly muddy guitars power away, while cleaner leads provide a great compliment.  Of greatest interest on this number is the lead guitar break which, instead of taking the usual tuneful approach, fills a few bars with tortured squeals and a few technical effects.

This album has only one fault – and it has nothing to do with any of the material, but rather more to do with marketing and record company greed surrounding its release.  There has been four different versions of ‘Songs For The End of The World’ pressed, each with a different sleeve and content.  Three of the issues include bonus tracks: a UK/Euro CD (exclusive bonus track, ‘My DUI’), a CD available from Best Buy stores in the US (three exclusive bonus tracks, but ‘My DUI’ is absent) and a version sold via iTunes includes another bonus track that’s also exclusive.  For those keeping score, this means that in addition to the album’s twelve songs, there is another half a disc’s worth of songs floating around out there.  Adding further insult to injury, all versions come with downloadable content partly exclusive to each edition.  Whatever happened to music actually being a genuine art form as opposed to some kind of fan-fleecing business model? This kind of marketing rip-off must stop!  [See also the Daughtry debut: 9 bonus tracks spread across four editions…just ridiculous.]

Not wishing to let corporate greed sour what is a near faultless collection of tunes, ‘Songs For The End of The World’ is recommended listening to nearly everyone who enjoys chorus driven singalongs.  It absolutely stomps over any other similar(ish) radio-friendly pop/rock you care to name…and that’s no lie.  Releases this sharp and exciting from such “veteran” performers are rare and it deserves to put Springfield higher up the ladder in terms of public recognition. Since he was 63 at the time of making this recording, though, it might be a little late to make a pop idol “comeback”…

November 2012

ISSA – Can’t Stop

Instead of capitalising on her very enjoyable second album (2011’s ‘The Storm) with another set of specially written melodic rock tunes, on this third outing, Norwegian songstress Issa and her band venture into the wobbly world of the  covers album.  It would have been easy for Issa to wheel out a few of AOR’s best-loved tunes and consider that a job well done, but the results on ‘Can’t Stop’ are more interesting than that.  Instead of plumping for the genre’s hits, Issa puts her mark on the near misses, the should-have-been hits.  The choice of material is excellent – this dig through the archives of melodic rock offers tunes just obscure enough for some listeners to be hearing a few of these songs for the first time, while reminding the more seasoned melodic rock fan of a few overlooked gems in their treasured vinyl collections.

Although the highlights on this disc are many, ‘Can’t Stop’ is a release that preaches to the converted, but with that in mind, many long-term AOR fans will enjoy hearing these tunes covered almost verbatim.  Although a near faultless selection, it’s possibly ‘If You Ever Fall’ which stands up the strongest. Originally recorded by Mystic Healer – a project helmed by AOR legend Mark Mangold (released via the now defunct MTM label in 1998) – it already had a decent pedigree.  In the hands of Issa, an already superb number is given a great rendition.  Harnessing the song’s power and delivering it at a slightly different pitch, Issa’s vocal gives the track a very Robin Beck slant.  Almost as good – and one of the records most obscure picks – ‘Heat of The Night’ (a tune released by Worrall in 1991) is a vast improvement here.  The Worrall recording showed promise but was low-budget and very trebly sounding.  Issa’s 2012 recording has a wonderfully full sound with plenty of bass, a truckload of classic sounding keyboards tinkling away in the AOR tradition and, perhaps most importantly, a powerful vocal.  Making the best of a memorable hook, Issa takes a once okay tune and pushes it up to a level worthy of her female melodic rock predecessors.  …And, of course, if you’re interested in this project, that’s exactly what you’d want from it.

The title cut originally appeared on the Aviator album back in 1986, and since that album is somewhat of a cult classic, it’s great that the team behind this release have chosen to resurrect it.   The eighties production has been downgraded to the slightly woolly sound present on a lot of Frontiers releases, meaning the drum sound isn’t so crisp and there’s little to no separation between the rhythm guitars and bass, but the lead vocal is strong and the unashamedly 80s keyboards are present and correct. Production quibbles aside, each of the band members does their utmost to try and make this as memorable as the Aviator recording, particularly keyboard player Allesandro del Vecchio and guitarist Mario Percudani who launch into a musical duel for the instrumental break.

Sadly, Issa’s recording of Tower City’s ‘I Won’t Surrender’ doesn’t fare quite as well as most of the tunes here.  It’s nothing to do with the performance, since the brilliance of the song still shines through; the big issue here concerns the production values.  The crisp brilliance of Akron, Ohio’s finest Def Leppard impersonators has been compressed somewhat, almost reduced to a second division mushy sounding recording in comparison.  Thankfully, much like the Worrall and Regatta tunes, ‘State of Love’ (originally recorded in the mid 90s by Mark Free for Now & Then Records) stands up well to both a female vocal and the slightly compressed production.  One of the tougher songs from Free’s slightly drippy solo album, it sounds just lovely here – the combination of stabbing keys, noodling bass and occasional twin lead guitars embodying something close to genre perfection.

A hugely underrated band (especially considering they had Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham at the helm), 21 Guns are represented by two numbers ‘Just a Wish’ and ‘These Eyes’.  Regardless of the outcome, anybody wishing to applaud the genius of Scott Gorham should be applauded in return, but thankfully, both tunes fare extremely well.  On ‘Just a Wish’, Issa’s style really suits the power ballad format, but it’s not her fist-clenched emotion that’s this track’s strongest feature: although brief, Percudani’s guitar solo has plenty of presence.  …And as he launches into a string of long and emotive notes during the song’s fade, you may find yourself wishing they’d let him play just a little longer. ‘These Eyes’, in contrast, was a great emotionally charged rocker in the hands of 21 Guns and very little has changed here.  This cover version includes a fatter bassline than the original recording could muster, while the main keyboard riff – played in a slightly lower register – sounds more like a sampled xylophone!   Despite best efforts, Percudani’s guitar solo isn’t quite up to Gorham’s original take, but that doesn’t detract from both 21 Guns covers being among ‘Can’t Stop’s highlights.

Elsewhere, Issa pays tribute to other works wholly unknown outside the AOR community with covers of songs originally by Unruly Child, Atlantic, Tangier and Boulevard, each with a deserving reverence, adding a few extra reasons for most melodic rock fans to give ‘Can’t Stop’ a listen.

Given the improvement between Issa’s first album (2010’s by-numbers ‘Signs of Angels’) and her second release (2011’s ‘The Storm’), the odds were quite high on Issa’s third album being a winner.  It’s not quite up there with the genre’s very best, but some carefully picked songs and solid band performances makes it one of 2012’s melodic rock highlights.  If nothing else, ‘Can’t Stop’ should be enough for genre buffs to dig out those Aviator, Mystic Healer and Regatta albums they have pugged away…

October 2012

NEAL SCHON – The Calling

Although familiar to almost all as the ex-Santana guitarist and driving force behind melodic rock giants Journey, Neal Schon’s instrumental solo records are hugely overlooked in comparison.  Working within complex rock and jazz styles (often leaning farther towards jazz and jazz-fusion than rock), the instrumental approach on those releases has always allowed him to stretch his talents farther than on any recordings made with his regular band post-1978.

His seventh release ‘The Calling’ isn’t without its fusion inspired jams, but it comes with a stronger rock bias than some of his previous works.  One of the album’s rockiest tunes, ‘Back Smash’, finds Schon attacking with an incredibly hard riff, with suitably aggressive drum compliment from sometime Journey colleague Steve Smith.  The riff dominates almost throughout, but just at the point Schon feels it could start to sag, he changes tack and plays an acoustic solo with almost a gypsy guitar influence, just before his pal Jan Hammer wades in with a huge noodly keyboard solo.  Rock fans need not worry; despite a little bit of indulgence, it’s not long before the riff and melodic rock tendencies reassert themselves – the end result isn’t too far removed from something you may find lurking on a Derek Sherinian solo album. Slightly more accessible, the title track comes loaded with a groove-laden rhythm, while the lead work moves between long, soulful notes and quasi-aggressive soloing, both made more interesting by various multi-tracking techniques.  There’s a fine balance here between metallic riffs and almost bluesy leads, but whichever Schon chooses to play, the results are always wholly melodic.

Another of the album’s most jazz oriented pieces ‘Fifty Six (56)’ fools the listener into thinking it’s going to be very rock rooted via a slightly chuggy guitar riff and busy (almost circular) drum groove, but it’s not long before everything kicks off.  Schon throws in guitars with and Eastern flair while the keys sound like sitars; the drive behind the tune gathers pace quickly, and soon, everyone’s playing like they are trying to blow each other out of the studio.  It would be intense enough with its strong leaning towards jazz fusion as it is, but keyboard player Igor Len bashes out a piano solo that’s firmly in the improvised jazz category.  It kind of fits with the carefree abandon of parts of this tune, but it certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes – especially not those approaching this album with the ears of a rock music fan.  In terms of fusion, though, bits of it sound fantastic.

‘The Calling’s two absolutely unmissable tunes are also two of its quietest.  The slow ‘Blue Rainbow Sky’ is simply lovely.  With a mid-pace, Smith’s drums joined by a blanket of organ, meaning Schon is given ample room to fill the space however he chooses, and wisely, after a slightly Hendrixy intro, he chooses to fill most of the three and a half minutes with long, soaring notes, its cinematic style leaning towards the epic.  In terms of brilliance, it’s up there with the intro to Gary Moore’s ‘Parisienne Walkways’, or any number of tunes of a similar elegance.  Soft and bluesy, with fantastic clean toned guitar work throughout, ‘Song of the Wind II’ has a very laid back and rather simple tune; this allows Schon scope to lay down a selection of atmospheric notes, while calming keys (leaning slightly towards the lounge) provide excellent accompaniment.  Schon’s playing is a world away from his Journey “day job” here, much closer in spirit to the more ambient side of Santana’s 70s jams (of which, this song’s title is partly in tribute).  Thankfully, on this gentle nod to his former employer, Neal chooses not to shift things into “samba mode” for a big finish…

A huge chunk of the album falls between these two extremes, with the guitarist sounding in fine form throughout, whichever mood or tempo takes his fancy. ‘Irish Field’ is a short piece, where in solo mode, Neal lays down a wistful, yet slightly clangy melody that’s evocative of solitude and expansive, rolling hills without ever being tempted to wander into any Celtic clichés, while ‘True Emotion’ captures a soft rock guitar performance set firmly in ballad mode…at least to begin with.  The overall tone of the latter brings to mind the best feelings of Gary Moore in slow blues mode (once again), with perhaps a touch of Jeff Beck creeping in, while it’s louder moments are unmistakeably the work of the Journey six-stringer.

The lengthy ‘Tumbleweeds’ is a heady mix of jazz-rock and funk, dished up with a slightly distorted guitar line. Reminiscent of some of Michael Landau’s recordings, the multi-tracking of clean-ish guitar rhythms, dirtier leads and occasional aggressive tendencies results in a busy arrangement that is perhaps this release’s most indulgent.  The eventual split between edgy guitar and another Hammer keyboard solo is very effective here and, surprisingly, the seven minutes seem to fly by – the tune busy enough to thrill the more muso-oriented, while staying (just about) accessible enough to entertain the more casual listener.  Schon’s guitar playing on this track is so full sounding and well arranged, it becomes easy to forget that ‘The Calling’ is an album recorded without the involvement of a bassist.

With most of its tunes impeccably crafted, if you are looking for a decent guitar instrumental record, then ‘The Calling’ should hit the spot. Its busy nature can mean it is possible to enjoy different aspects of the performances with each play, but that is potentially a good thing).  If you are happy enough to step a bit farther into the world of jazz fusion and are keen to find out more about his extra-curricular recordings, dig deeper and you’ll quickly find Schon has recorded material that’s potentially just as interesting than this.  If you’ve never heard it, seek out his 1997 double set ‘Electric World’; therein lies a whole world of great jazz based music often quite far removed from the Neal Schon most people know…

October 2012


‘The Ignited’ is Joshua Ketchmark’s third release of 2012, concluding a trilogy of EPs showcasing the Tennessee-based singer-songwriter’s many facets. Following the power pop-ish ‘The Bittersweet’ and the wonderful, alt-country infused ‘The Dreamers Disease’, ‘The Ignited’ offers four energetic alt-rock tunes and presents the louder elements of his sound.

The opening track ‘About To Break’ is also the edgiest, as it powers ahead with some serious staccato riffing.  The most alt-rock tune in Ketchmark’s EP trilogy, it firmly sets out his intentions, while his technical team of Davey Julson Riley and Jeremy Hatcher (best known for their work with Elvis Costello and Black Veil Brides, respectively) bring the song to life with a very crisp studio sound.  Ketchmark attacks his lyric with a suitably sneering (slightly drawled) performance, while the rest of his band goes all out.  There’s a rumbling bass which isn’t too high in the end mix (it really should have been pushed upfront); to make up for this, the drums attack in a fashion rarely heard on Ketchmark’s previous outings.  In all, it’s a bit trashy, but a fine way to kick things off.

A fine balance between rock edge and pop sensibilities makes ‘Fallen’ shine.  Ketchmark is in strong voice throughout, but it is only really with the chorus this one really grabs.  A simple hook line and some soft backing harmonies are on hand for a full radio-friendly sound.  Treading on Butch Walker’s coat-tails with its blend of pop/rock and alternative edge, you should be able to have a guess at how this sounds.  While you’ve heard it all before – and many times, no doubt – if tuneful, slightly alternative rock is your bag, this should greet your ears somewhat favourably.  Despite its predictable nature, ‘Fallen’ is ‘The Ignited’s recommended listen.

‘Hurt’ works on a little too much of a tried and tested formula, but if you can accept that there’s nothing new here, like ‘Fallen’, it’s got a pretty decent heart, even if it doesn’t always quite reach the stratospheres it’s aiming for.  Hook-wise its strong, but musically it is a mixed bag: the pounding drums and rhythm guitars are enjoyable enough, but the guitar solo isn’t much more than a rudimentary offering.  If Ketchmark had pulled out the stops on the lead guitar front, it could have, perhaps, been a match for ‘Fallen’, but as it is, it’s okay.

Finishing with a big emo-ish power ballad, ‘Without You’ is a mid-paced affair, where Ketchmark’s slightly filtered, slightly overwrought vocals lead the way.  Musically, a few chiming guitars are its high point, but those – combined with reasonable song writing – just aren’t enough to make this any feel any more than bog standard.  If Ketchmark were aiming for that alt-rock hit, there’s something missing here; maybe it’s a more instant chorus, maybe it’s a slightly bigger punch that’s needed…but it’s a case of “is that all?”

While it is obvious to see why Ketchmark has chosen to end his trilogy here – very much on a rock-fuelled, mostly upbeat note – it’s not necessary the sound of a musician going out with all guns blazing, especially in comparison to his previous EPs.  There are some very enjoyable moments throughout, but these four numbers are not always loaded with of the kind of fireworks they could have been.  These songs would’ve, perhaps, had a much greater appeal if he had chosen them to open the trilogy instead…but after ‘The Dreamers Disease’, ‘The Ignited’ sounds like a musician playing for safety.  That’s fine of course, but as a parting statement from a body of work slowly unfolding over the course of a year, this EP should have been more than that.

September 2012