SARA RENAR: JESEN (AUTUMN)

(AQUARIUS RECORDS EP; Croatian import; 2014)

Sara Renar cover

Reviewing a singer/songwriter from another country, singing tunes in their native language, pretty much forces you to concentrate on the pure sound of their offerings, since you can’t follow along with the lyrics. Although I have listened to a fair amount of unique stuff from Europe, Sara Renar is the first singer I’ve listened to from Croatia. So I don’t have many reference points for her 7-song EP titled AUTUMN, or JESEN in her native tongue. I certainly wasn’t expecting a somber 2-minute ambient instrumental to kick things off. The title track was a bit plodding and not very original, but “Trag” was a bit more interesting, repetitive in a good way and using its two-chord simplicity to good effect. Another mid tempo vocal track, then a rather delicate piano and guitar instrumental called “Post Sezona” pretty much lets you know you’re listening to something rather unusual, aesthetically speaking. “Razmak” offers another surprise by beginning with squiggly sounding synth and drum machine and actual lyrics in English. But lest you get too comfortable, Renar switches back to her native Croatian, although the arrangement and feel of this track are so lithe and appealing by this point, you don’t really care. It’s a strong, energetic track. Things close out with an a cappella version of the title track, with two different vocal lines competing for your attention. It’s striking, and a good reminder of how much power the simple human voice can have when singing with conviction and this kind of potent drama. Renar has emotions to spare, and it’s a real kick to hear her going full tilt like this. I didn’t really need to know WHAT she was singing, I could simply tell SHE was into it, and that was enough.

Sara Renar (photo credit: DOONJA DOPSAJ)

Sara Renar (photo credit: DOONJA DOPSAJ)

Hard to say if Renar is an important artist on the basis of this EP, but one thing’s for sure, it does NOT follow a predictable formula. It’s a burst of somewhat nervous energy, with an exploratory feel, and it is curiously asexual in nature. Mostly, I liked it. I hope her next full-length will answer some of the questions that, creatively, this disc leaves hanging.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (17)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(17) GARY NUMAN: LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80

(BEGGARS BANQUET RECORDS; English import box set, 1981)

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In the United States, Gary Numan (barring a miraculous surge in record sales) will always be known as the one-hit wonder guy, thanks to the number one 1979 psuedo-techno classic, “Cars.” Those of us with an adventurous disposition (at least where music is concerned) know that – as good as “Cars” was – it is nowhere near the best song Numan ever recorded; we also know (as do his legions of fans in Great Britain and Europe) that – even though he retired for a short period of time to race cars and fly planes – he has hardly been quiet since the song went viral (well… whatever the comparative term for viral was back then) upon its initial release. THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE, the album that featured “Cars,” was Numan’s third in two years (the first two marqueed by his then-current band, Tubeway Army) and the similarly dystopian TELEKON was just a few months away. In September 1979, Numan was moving away from the Tubeway Army sound and name; THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE was still two months from release. The live show still relied very heavily on the popularity of the group’s name and music, but this newer, tighter band was already exploring new territory and introducing Uk fans to the music from Gary’s first solo record; by September 1980, the band had a tougher, futuristic sound as it toured to support the just-released TELEKON.

In an unprecedented move, early 1981 saw the release of two live albums documenting both the 1979 and 1980 tours. This may have been intended as a stop-gap, offering Numan’s loyal fans something with which to remember the tours, before he released the jarringly different DANCE in September; maybe the releases were intended to appease those loyal fans because the next album would be a departure from the sound they’d come to expect from Numan and his well-oiled machine-like band. Whatever the reason, it was soon decided to offer the two records together, in a box set. That box set, not available except as an import in the US, lands the number 17 spot on my list of great live albums. Here’s why:

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

The 1979 album was recorded on the group’s second night at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, September 28. LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 has a very disjointed feel, as Numan rearranged the track order and cutting the show down from the 21 songs performed to nine on the released version; due to that editing and shifting, there are fade-outs (and -ins) on many of the tracks, which disrupts the live feel. The quality of the music and performances, however, were never in question. Side one opens with the instrumental “Airlane,” which served as album opener on THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE. The track features a cool synth groove and an awesome power-chording guitar from Rrussell Bell. The worldwide number one hit, “Cars,” is sped up in this live setting. Though Numan’s voice has a rather chilling, robotic feel on the studio version, his performance here may not exactly be dripping with emotion, but it does exhibit more emotion than most are expecting from this period in his career. The Tubeway Army B-side “We Are So Fragile” shows a punkier – dare I say, fiercer – Gary Numan on display. The bass by Paul Gardiner is a definite plus here (and throughout the record). The song, “Films,” features another accelerated tempo, as Gardiner and his partner in rhythm, drummer Cedric Sharpley, are locked into one of those pockets that only a bass/drum tandem can really fall into. Numan’s voice is the disinterested and robotic instrument that we know so well. “Something’s In the House” comes from Tubeway Army’s debut album and has Numan sounding snotty and punky again. There is some amazing interplay between Bell, Sharpley and Gardiner, proving that – regardless of detractors comments – this is a real band… a very solid performing unit. The only problem seems to be a completely out-of-place keyboard/synth solo. I can’t tell if it’s in the wrong key or the wrong tempo or exactly what the problem is; I just know that it doesn’t fit.

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

My Shadow In Vain,” more spooky punk from the TUBEWAY ARMY album, is the first track on side two. It features a deranged Numan searching for answers, for dead friends and for his shadow… all in vain. I was surprised by the similarity (particularly the bass, guitar and synthesizer melody lines) with the Knack’s “My Sharona,” which was recorded and released a full year after Tubeway Army’s debut. “Conversation” is another quirky tune from THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE (are there any other kind?). Sharpley and Gardiner are in another syncopated groove and Numan’s vocals are “best-of-show” on the track. Billy Currie’s violin coda at the end of the song, as well as the melody line would show up three years later in Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” The existential punk of the TUBEWAY ARMY cut “The Dream Police” is highlighted by screeching, scraping violin and viola (by Currie and Chris Payne, respectively) and a repetitive guitar riff from Rrussell Bell. “Metal” sounds very much like a leftover from REPLICAS, as it seems to share that album’s cyborg/human machine thematic concept. It does feature the droning synth and machine-like drumming adopted on the next record.

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

LIVING ORNAMENTS ’80, recorded on September 16 (the second date of a four day stand at the Hammersmith), has more of a live feel, with crowd noises connecting the cuts instead of the off-putting fades (even though the ten tracks were – like the ’79 edition – re-ordered and edited down from the 19 actually played that night). The band line-up has shifted slightly, with Numan now adding synthesizer and guitar duties to his singing and Roger Mason’s keyboards replacing Billy Currie’s keyboard and violin. Set opener “This Wreckage” also opens side one. The still-to-be-released single has the more industrial sound of TELEKON, the album this tour was in support of. A throbbing synth gives way to a pumping bass line and a swinging drum groove brings Numan to the stage, with his disconnected lyrics and disinterested vocal that somehow drips with more emotion than most balladeers can muster. The then-current single, “I Die: You Die,” follows. A sparkling keyboard, Gardiner’s fretless bass and electronic drums from Sharpley are deceptively inviting; a punky guitar slashes and snakes just under the surface as Numan delivers brutal, venomous lyrics about love, lust, lonliness and vengeance: “They crawl out of their holes for me/And I die; you die/Hear them laugh, watch them turn on me/And I die; you die/See my scars, they call me such things/Tear me, tear me, tear me.” An almost majestic sounding tune, “ME” features soaring keyboard and synthesizer. Again, the lyrics focus on death and isolation, a constant theme, especially in Numan’s solo work. The man’s vocal sounds frenzied and a little crazed… in a robotic kind of way. The song continually threatens to fly apart, but Ced Sharpley’s spectacular drumming holds it all together. “Everyday I Die” is one of the few holdovers from the debut Tubeway Army album on this tour. Numan’s vocals have a staccato quality, as he continues to express feelings of lonliness, this time, seemingly, the result of a love lost. The sparse instrumental accompaniment adds to the disturbing tone of the lyrics, making them somehow more frightening. “Down In the Park” is a part of REPLICAS, a grand punk opera about a growing sub-species, more machine than man. It’s a Tubeway Army song, but in name only; a beautiful piano intro gives way to stark, hollow instrumentation and wickedly unemotional vocals.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The final side of the box set, actually side two of the ’80 record starts with “Remind Me To Smile.” The TELEKON track is about the price of fame, way before the paparazzi were such a prevalent thing: “Get off the car/Get off the phone/Move from my window, leave me alone.” The band participates vocally, with a call and response chorus. “The Joy Circuit” is mostly instrumental… anthemic with hyperkinetic synth and bass. Even through the droning guitars and looped effects, the song somehow has a… happy feeling. “Tracks” starts with a solitary guitar, eventually moving into a synth-driven soundtrack kinda music. The tune could be about drugs or growing old or missing an older constant (parent?) that’s no longer in your life. Aside from “Cars,” “Are Friends Electric?” may be Numan’s best known song in the States. Numan’s spoken word vocals stab and the guitars slash at and through the sci-fi oriented keyboards and synthesizers, giving the tune a distinct Floydian sound. The final number, “We Are Glass,” is another TELEKON cut. It’s one of the more melodic songs from this early stage of Numan’s career, but the creepy REPLICAS cyborg thing is definitely in the lyrics, with such lines as, “We are cold/We’re not supposed to cry” and “You are replaced.” Over a three or four year period (say, 1979-1982), there were a lot of bands that excelled at the type of music pioneered by Gary Numan… at least in the studio; very few were competent enough to pull it off in a live setting. The band that toured with Numan during this time period proved themselves more than capable of bringing Numan’s dark visions to the stage and that’s why the special edition box set, LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80, is one of the greatest live albums ever.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The latest versions of the albums were released separately in 2005, but still no American editions. The ’79 album has reconstructed the entire show in the proper running order on two CDs; the two CD edition of the ’80 record features the original released version followed by the entire concert, again, in the proper running order. The full show is sourced from the stage monitor mix, which definitely gives you a different listening experience. Bass player Paul Gardiner died of a heroin overdose; drummer Ced Sharpley passed away in 2012 from cancer. During their time with Tubeway Army, Gary Numan’s solo bands and Dramatis (the samae band, minus Numan), they comprised one of the most potent rhythm sections in all of rock and roll. They are missed.


BERNIE TORME: FLOWERS AND DIRT

(RETROWREK RECORDS; English import, 2014)

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To most here in the States, the name Bernie Torme probably means very little. First of all, he is not the son of “Velvet Fog,” Mel, but, if you are one of the legions of followers of one John “Ozzy” Osbourne’s particularly lucrative solo career, you will remember Bernie as the hot-shot gun-for-hire brought in to continue the DIARY OF A MADMAN tour after original (and much lauded) guitarist Randy Rhoads found himself on the receiving end of a gravedigger’s hole-filling shovel in early 1982. Before saving Osbourne’s bacon, Torme had made a name for himself with Gillan, the band led by former and future Deep Purple frontman, Ian, appearing on three albums between 1979 and 1981 (including the UK chart-topper FUTURE SHOCK) and subsequent tours for each.

Gillan, circa 1980 (Bernie Torme and Ian Gillan) (uncredited photo)

Gillan, circa 1980 (Bernie Torme and Ian Gillan) (uncredited photo)

After leaving the Ozzy Osbourne situation behind (it was never the guitarist’s intent to be a permanent replacement for Rhoads), Bernie formed Electric Gypsies, eventually renaming the group Torme (and bringing ex-Girl singer, Phil Lewis, along for the change). After a total of six albums (including an excellent solo record called TURN OUT THE LIGHTS, just re-released on Bernie’s own Retrowrek label and worth picking up), and experiencing minimal success, Torme hooked up with Dee Snider and Iron Maiden’s original drummer, Clive Burr, in the band Desperado. 1999 saw the release of WHITE TRASH GUITAR, credited to Bernie Torme’s Electric Gypsies, but for all intents and purposes, a solo record; in 2005, Bernie teamed with powerhouse drummer Robin Guy and his old Gillan bandmate, bassist John McCoy to form GMT (Guy, McCoy, Torme). The trio released two great studio albums and one live document in five years. Now, some fifteen years after his last studio album of new solo material, Bernie is back with FLOWERS AND DIRT, a two disc set with 20 totally unique Torme tracks.

Bernie Torme (uncredited photo)

Bernie Torme (uncredited photo)

The first track, “Crash and Burn,” is a chugging rocker, reminiscent of Bernie’s guitar hero, Rory Gallagher; the lead and solo work, however, are unmistakably Torme. Once a distraction on early releases, Torme offers a solid vocal performance, no doubt refined by his years leading GMT. A muddy sounding bass and a noisy, stick-in-your-skull riff fuels “Partytown,” allowing Bernie to run off some high-register solos. The lyrics, as the song’s title implies, are of the basic, throw-away variety. The vocals, again, are rock solid. “Blood Run Cold” blasts in with a hefty power chord that has you imagining a BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY type scenario where some unfortunate (oh… Death, let’s say) standing in front of a massive stack of Marshalls is blown completely off the stage (and, maybe, through the back wall). As usual, the guitars are top-notch, the rhythm section (bassist Chris Heilmann, drummer Simon Jeffrey) is rock hard, the lyrics are a vast improvement over “Partytown” and, somewhere, buried deep in the mix is a bluesy harmonica (could it be Bernie’s old boss, Ian Gillan, making an uncredited guest appearance?)… this song just sounds LOUD! Slamming into your earholes with a Zeppelin-like riff and a John Bonham bottom end, “Your Voodoo” features Torme as a veritable guitar army, with finest-kind slide work and swirling, buzz sawing, psychedelically influenced runs thorughout. “Mister Fixit” has a great, bluesy “Train Kept A-Rollin’” kinda feel, with Phil Spalding offering up a nice, strolling bass line and Bernie delivering some awesome hair band inspired solos. Overall, this is one fantastic song. With Jeffrey playing on the rims and Torme’s funky, grooving guitar, “No Lips (Tsunami Blues)” has a slow-burning ZZ Top thing happening. There’s great interplay between the rhythm guitar, bass and drums and another awesome, slashing solo from Bernie.

Devil and the Deep Blue” is flat-out Americana – bordering on new country. Even the shredding multi-layered guitars have that certain down-home vibe. The lyrics are a notch above and Torme’s vocals add a suitably menacing touch. Fellow Irishmen Bono and U2 have attempted songs like this, but they just manage to sound condescending (okay… to be fair, Bono ALWAYS sounds condescending); Bernie, Chris and Simon make it work and make it sound right. The guitar on “Lockjaw” has a kind of Chuck Berry-cum-John Sykes dichotomy thing going on. The tune itself is of the “storming-the-beaches,” chugging rocker variety. “Everybody Needs Love” has a distinct “Give Me Your Money Please” (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) vibe, with heavy drums (by Torme’s regular skin-pounder, Ian Harris) and another great guitar melody. The slow, near-balladic “Good Man Down,” while totally Torme, features an uncharacteristically understated guitar that still manages to bite, heartfelt lyrics and one of the most passionate vocals of Bernie’s career. The track leads into “Warpaint,” a swampy, foot-stomping blues number with Torme heating things up on the dobro. The major problem with the song is its length; it’s only two-minutes long and seems to just be hitting its stride before an all-too-soon end.

Bernie Torme (uncredited photo)

Bernie Torme (uncredited photo)

I think that “Bad Juju” is what they mean by “gut-bucket” rock and roll, with echoey bass and drums, a staccato descending riff from Bernie and a slide guitar lead part. “Mister Bad Luck” is a noirish strolling blues track. Torme’s guitar is about two parts CORRIDOR OF POWER era Gary Moore (another of Bernie’s early influences) and one part Ritchie Blackmore bombast… rather a nice combination. There’s more homage with “Highway Chains,” as Gallagher and Eric Bell (a solid blues player who formed Thin Lizzy and played on their first three albums) are referenced. The highlight of the tune is a fuzzy, over-modulated solo. Bernie’s vocal delivery on “Out in the Cold” has a distinct Bob Dylan feel, as do the symbolic, allusory lyrics: “Wanted you to believe/That you could always leave/Make your move and head on down the road.” Bernie unleashes a wicked, atmospheric minute-long solo over the slow but powerful groove, which reminds me of Epic-era Alice Cooper (maybe “Love’s a Loaded Gun” from HEY STOOPID). “Garden of Earth’s Delight” is a straight-out rocker with lewd, smarmy sounding vocals. Chris Heilmann offers up an intriguing bass sound and Torme does a cool “solo-as-rhythm” kinda thing that works really well within the context of the song.

Bernie Torme (photo credit: TRUDI KNIGHT)

Bernie Torme (photo credit: TRUDI KNIGHT)

Though Bernie has skirted around the issue a bit throughout the entirety of FLOWERS AND DIRT, it isn’t until “Spirit Road” that he lets his more adventurous side appear. The number has a distinctive mix of African and Asian influences, with Harris introducing djembe and Torme approximating the sound of a sitar on his guitar; a very psychedelic offering. At first blush, I was thinking of English highwaymen but, once all of the instruments were introduced, they became Moroccan robbers. The track is topped off with a beautiful acoustic solo from Bernie. “Turn of the Tide” starts off as a gently swaying folk tune and the vocals keep that folky feel throughout as brutally heavy drums and bass – not to mention some blistering guitar runs – drive the song home. The epic “Stoneship” has a big, heavy Black Sabbath feel with lyrics that are vaguely reminiscent of Sabbath’s SEVENTH STAR record. There’s a weird kind of swing in the doomy, dirge-like tempo that gives a feeling of dread. That feeling is only heightened by a monolithic guitar break. The final track, “Outlaw Blues,” is an honest-to-goodness cowboy song, featuring campfire harmonica, a semi-acoustic guitar and a twangy vocal turn from Bernie. It would seem as though Mister Torme waited for the last fourth of the album to veer away from the bluesy hard rock that he does so well, proving that he is most capable of just about any style. A couple of the more “standard” heavy rockers bog down a bit, but the rest of the record more than makes up for any shortcomings. The twenty tracks here-in have reminded me why I always loved Bernie Torme; it’s music that should be in everybody’s home.


HARVEST BELL: WHEEL OF FORETASTE

(BLOOD ROCK RECORDS/BLACK WIDOW RECORDS EP; Finnish/Italian import, 2013)

Harvest Bell cover

Harvest Bell is a Finnish metal and hard rock band who deserve to be huge! With moody vocals, atmospheric guitars and keyboard flourishes, a heavy rhythm section and… oh, yeah… great songs! Unfortunately, they only seem interested in releasing those great songs in bite size increments. The group’s latest, WHEEL OF FORETASTE, is a short 16:30 encompassing three tracks.

The opening strains of “Salutation” lets you know that you’re in for a doomy, gloomy hard rockin’ good time. The tune features some Maiden-esque harmony guitar parts (supplied by Petri Hama and Tuomas Heinonen), suitably subdued vocals from Jussi Helle and a cool swirling, psychedelic vibe. The sound puts one in mind of the very first Black Sabbath album (but with a far better singer), with more than a touch of SAD WINGS OF DESTINY era Priest and a dollop of the Smithereens dropped into the batter for a little alternative sweetening. “Afterglow” is all about the heavy atmosphere and even heavier riffs. The track starts of with some hauntingly simple guitar picking accompanied by a spooky organ (by guest artist, Aki Laaksonen) and a deep-in-the-pocket drum groove (the latter thanks to Juho Alhola). Things grow heavier and a little spookier as the song progresses, particularly Helle’s Dave Vanian-like disaffected vocals and the creepy backing vocals; in fact, the whole song has kind of a Damned feel to it… just one more thing to like about Harvest Bell. The final number, “Too Hard a Habit,” is a solid, heavy blues rocker. It’s highlighted by that Sabbathy crunch, some stun guitar, powerhouse drumming and a nice bass groove from Jarno Makinen.

Harvest Bell (publicity photo)

Harvest Bell (publicity photo)

There isn’t a lot of information about this band anywhere on the internet, but I did read in a review or some such that they have over twenty additional songs in the can. If that’s the case, all I gotta say is: “Please… for the love all that’s holy… release a full-length album soon!” WHEEL OF FORETASTE is available as a three-song CD or a two-track seven inch vinyl single (with “Salutation” and “Afterglow”) from bloodrockrecords.bigcartel.com.


DESERT WIZARDS: RAVENS

(BLACK WIDOW RECORDS; Italian import; 2013)

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I am not enamored with this band’s name. I find it rather odd, kinda like Justin Bieber. Fortunately, unlike the Bieb, the music of Desert Wizards is highly listenable and, ultimately, RAVENS is one of the more enjoyable genre records of the recent past. The Italian quartet (Marco Mambelli, Anna Fabbri, Marco Goti and Silvio Dalla Valle) excel at a style of early 1970s hard rock that is best exemplified by Alice Cooper (when they were a band). Primary singer Mambelli’s vocals are heavily accented, something that may put some off but, may I remind you of a guy named Klaus Meine? For a short period of time in the early ’90s, his band, Scorpions, was one of – if not THE – biggest hard rock bands on the planet. Don’t miss out on some really good music for something that is a minor barrier to overcome.

Freedom Ride” kicks things off in fine style, with riff-heavy psychedelic guitars and a beefy organ sound. The bridge builds from Mambelli’s bass before Fabbri’s churchy organ and Valle’s charging drums lead into the two wildly careening guitarists (Goti and Mambelli) who are seemingly soloing against each other. As the drums slow to a martial beat, the organ and guitars seem to swirl as Mambelli’s spoken word, Jim Morrison trance-like vocal trails to the end of the nearly eight minute track. The next tune, “Babylonia,” starts with a nice guitar part, with single notes. The pace picks up at about the 2:10 mark before exploding into a great solo a half minute later. The male/female vocals seem to break into dark angel/Holy angel parts. It’s kinda hard to tell for sure, though, as some of the lyrics don’t really translate well to English: “Between rivers, there’s a Holy river/Beyond grey and purple sky/Babylonia is so much dizzy/For your heart and for your mind.” Thankfully, the lyrical oddities don’t really detract from the song. There is what sounds like humming voices throughout “Back To Blue,” which seem to be very much at odds with the music. This creates a jarringly discordant dichotomy that is, no doubt, purposeful, as it is not entirely displeasing. The track is a slow burn until almost three minutes in, when everything comes into synch with a muscular guitar solo. A little over two minutes later, the whole thing tries to fall in upon itself. As for the vocals, they a quite dreamy and buried deep in the mix; in this instance, the tune probably would have worked better as an instrumental. “Blackbird” sounds like a continuation of the previous number, though maybe more fully realized. The piano at the beginning reminds me of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry” and this is certainly a better attempt at a ballad than “Back To Blue,” though the lyrics are very dark. In fact, the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” comparison continues in the lyrics: “I hear someone screaming/Confusion in my mind.” Fabbri takes the lead on organ during the instrumental before another cool guitar solo. This is probably the most progressive sounding tune on the album.

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Dick Allen Blues” is the track where everything gels into a perfect miasma of rock ‘n’ roll bliss. The psychedelia-laced hard rock’s heavy organ is very much in the vein of early (Mach I, in fact) Deep Purple. There’s a strong Native American vibe on “Electric Sunshine,” both melodically and lyrically (minimal though they are): “Feed your head/Look at the sunrise/Feed your eyes.” The song also has a hint of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley with the slightly hypnotic organ, chord progressions and vocals. “Burn Into the Sky” features more forceful vocals, though they’re still muddied in the mix, which has me wondering if this is a compensation for the accent. The chunky riffing turns into a Sabbath-like bass heavy dirge somewhere around 2:50 – a very cool, atmospheric sound. There are also some very impressive wah-wah drenched solos before the song kicks back in at about 5:10. With a Gothic/Damned feel, “Vampire’s Queen” displays what may be the best lyrics on the record during the chorus: “Oh wake up, Lady Vampira/I need your poison as you need my blood/Take me down to the river of madness/Drag me to Hell, give me your bite.” The break comes along at about the three-and-a-half minute mark and, with a grand touch of menace, is head and shoulders above anything else on the album. Quite possibly the most fully realized song here. The Gothic theme continues with “Bad Dreams.” The piece starts with a fever-dream guitar signature, a lot like Alice’s “Halo of Flies.” A buzzing guitar, soloing throughout, adds to the swirling dementia. A cacophony of noise houses Vincent Price’s recitation of Poe’s “The Raven” before a more pastoral bridge that breaks down into a driving, frenzied terminus.

The CD version of the album features a bonus track, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Childhood’s End” from the ONE OF MY TURNS tribute record. It’s a fairly faithful version that, while enjoyable, seems rather out of place here. Desert Wizards is a good band that could elevate their game – as Scorpions did – by hiring someone to help with English lyrics. You can pick up the CD version of RAVENS (as well as the band’s self-titled debut) from Amazon or from the Italian record company at www.blackwidow.it, but.. it ain’t gonna be cheap!