Mechanical Resonance by Tesla

Mechanical Resonance by Tesla

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Mechanical Resonance by TeslaMechanical Resonance is the 1986 debut album by hard rock quintet Tesla. The original album sides were distinctive in approach, with the first side containing garden-variety hair-metal anthems complete with easily chant-able hooks. The second side features more mature and original compositions which, ironically, found much greater popularity at the time and persist to the modern day.

Hailing from in Sacramento, California the group originated from an early eighties band called City Kidd, formed by guitarist Frank Hannon bassist Brian Wheat. Later vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta joined the group that gained popularity through the mid 1980s, leading to a record deal with the Geffen label.

During recording of this debut with producers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the band members decided to change their name in honor of inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla and the title Mechanical Resonance comes from one of the scientist’s experiments. During this time, the group also began to migrate their sound in a ‘rootsier’ direction.

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Mechanical Resonance by Tesla
Released: December 8, 1986 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson & Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York, 1986
Side One Side Two
EZ Come EZ Go
Cumin’ Atcha Live
Gettin’ Better
2 Late 4 Love
Rock Me to the Top
We’re No Good Together
Modern Day Cowboy
Changes
Little Suzi
Love Me
Cover Queen
Before My Eyes
Group Musicians
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Keyboards, Mandolin, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Wheat – Bass, Vocals
Troy Luccketta – Drums, Percussion

The opener “EZ Come EZ Go” features a staccato bass entry by Wheat accompanying a steady drum beat and a blistering guitar lead to open the album on a high musical note. It soon settles into a quasi-melodramatic setting with Keith’s voice and heart beat-like bass thumps before the song finally gets to the hook, which is almost an afterthought compared to the other sonic elements. “Cumin’ Atcha Live” starts with another dramatic guitar lead-in with the overall vibe being similar to classic Van Halen with an upbeat jam.

“Gettin’ Better” is the best song on the first side and it starts with nice finger-picked soft intro where Hannon’s delicate playing and Keith’s soulful vocals shine. It then breaks into a riff-driven rocker with a thematic chant for the rest of the song. “2 Late 4 Love” starts with a drum roll by Luccketta along with some guitar effects for another dramatic entry, but becomes rather ordinary beyond this.  “Rock Me to the Top” is co-written by Skeoch and the contrast in style is evident musically with its slightly darker textures. “We’re No Good Together” is the album’s first power ballad and is slow-dance ready with a slow beat and bluesy rock guitar licks. Midway through, the song takes a pleasantly surprising sonic turn and becomes an excitable, upbeat blues rock jam for the duration.

The heart of album is the first three songs on side two, starting with their popular anthem, “Modern Day Cowboy”. Composition wise, this is more thorough than anything else on the album with acoustic and electric textures throughout, dark imagery, and a great melody and hooks. “Changes” starts with a classical piano intro before a choppy guitar riff introduces the dramatic song proper. This emotionally charged song crafts a great sonic atmosphere and a line from this track was ultimately used for the group’s greatest hits collection a decade later. The album’s only cover is “Little Suzi”, an expert acoustic/electric adaptation of the early eighties synth song by Ph.D. It starts with a really cool acoustic folk intro, while later the song has a methodical but powerful drive of multiple textures all held together with Wheat’s bass

“Love Me” is a pure riff-driven rocker with Keth’s vocals soaring over the methodical music and beats, in a style which sounds like it could have been a really big hit a few years earlier. The bridge section adds a surprise with some talk box while the later lead has nice blend of harmonized guitars. Winding down the album, “Cover Queen” features a slightly interesting arrangement, while the closer “Before My Eyes” has a doomy and dramatic intro where the group’s talents are given space to shine a bit as the song unfolds slowly and leaves plenty of room for instrumental atmosphere.

Mechanical Resonance reached the Top 40 on the US album charts and was certified platinum by the end of the decade. Tesla would reach even greater success with their next album, Great Radio Controversy, but still hold this debut in such regard that they released Mechanical Resonance Live in August 2016.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

Rainbow Rising

Rainbow Rising

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Rainbow RisingRainbow returned with a revamped lineup and fresh approach for the group’s second studio album, Rising. The record is comprised of six solid compositions which are comparable to the material the band had done before with dynamic and tight performances. The quintet started as a project by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after he departed from that group because he was unhappy with the stylistic direction of the group on their 1974 albums, which drifted towards funk rock and away from the band’s signature hard rock.

Blackmore established Rainbow when he joined with the American rock band, Elf, in 1975. Blackmore wanted to record some material that was rejected by Deep Purple members and he enlisted Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio who in turn suggested his band mates to back up on the recordings. Soon, this project turned into the album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, with the album name (and ultimately the band name) inspired by the famous Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA. However, Blackmore was unhappy about the live performances of many in the Elf line-up and he fired everybody except Dio.

Keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Cozy Powell were recruited to complete this second incarnation of Rainbow. Further, Blackmore began constructing interesting chord progressions, inspired by his new found interest in playing cello and composing material with Dio supplying mythical lyrics. Rising was recorded in less than month in Munich, Germany with producer Martin Birch in early 1976.

 

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Rising by Rainbow
Released: May 17, 1976 (Polydor)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February 1976
Side One Side Two
Tarot Woman
Run with the Wolf
Starstruck
Do You Close Your Eyes
Stargazer
Light In the Black
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Tony Carey – Keyboards
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Cozy Powell – Drums

 

From the jump, the sound of this album features sonic elements which are beyond its time. “Tarot Woman” starts with a long, wild synth intro by Carey, which sets a dramatic stage before Blackmore’s guitar riff gradually fades into the song proper. This opening track has a definitive Deep Purple quality especially during Blackmore’s soaring guitar lead. “Run with the Wolf” settles into a more conventional rock sound, still employing dramatic and satisfying overtones, but much more compact and succinct in its delivery.

“Starstruck” follows as the best overall rocker on the first side, based on classic heavy blues rock constructs and the rollicking rhythms by Bain and Powell and an excited melody by Dio, whose vocals soar and shout with great emotion. The most ordinary song on the album, “Do You Close Your Eyes” is a pretty standard hard rock song in the vein of mid seventies contemporaries like Kiss, and it does suffer slightly from compositional underdevelopment and sonic overproduction.

rainbow in 1976

The album’s second side features two extended tracks, each with a duration of over eight minutes. “Stargazer” is the epic track from Rising, starting with an interesting and inventive drum intro and working its way through several slow but powerful sections, with potent lead vocals by Dio and fantastic lead trade-offs by Blackmore and Carey. The song features mystical lyrics which tell the fable of a wizard who builds a tower from which to fly only for him to fall and die like any mortal man and includes a contribution by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The rudiment-filled hard rocker “A Light in the Black” completes the album and sets a template for the future sounds of groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. This closer is highlighted by an incredible instrumental section with multiple keyboard and guitar leads.

Rising did well on the UK charts but not quite as well in the US. However, the influence of this album would reverberate for decades and it is considered by many to be Rainbow’s best overall album. Rainbow continued with several more albums through various lineups in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The biggest change occurred when Dio left Rainbow in 1979, briefly replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath shortly afterwards. Ultimately, Blackmore would rejoin the classic Deep Purple lineup for the 1984 album Perfect Strangers and Rainbow disbanded in April of that year.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Someday Maybe by The Clarks

Someday Maybe by The Clarks

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Someday Maybe by The ClarksAlthough this group has had a long and fruitful career which continues to this day, The Clarks only had one major label release. The 1996 record Someday Maybe is a solid and steady effort full of steady rock/pop tracks crafted in multiple sub-genres. While neglected its due amount of promotion, this album is on par with some of the highly popular albums of the same era, making it a largely unknown or forgotten gem of the mid nineties.

Based in and around the Pittsburgh area, the group derived from a college band called The Administration, featuring vocalist/guitarist Scott Blasey, guitarist Robert James Hertweck and drummer David Minarik. After several lineup changes and the addition of bassist Greg Joseph in 1986, they changed the name to “The Clarks” as a generic nod to a common name in Western Pennsylvania. Next, the group began to focus more on original material and in 1988, the Clarks began independently recording their first album, I’ll Tell You What Man…, which sold modestly well in the Pittsburgh area. Two more independent albums followed, a self-titled release in 1991 and Love Gone Sour, Suspicion, and Bad Debt in 1994.

The steadily growing popularity of The Clarks finally scored them a major label deal for two albums with MCA Records in 1996. The group immediately began working with LA-based talent, producer Tim Bomba and engineer John Siket, to record Someday Maybe.

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Someday Maybe by The Clarks
Released: November 25, 1996 (MCA)
Produced by: Tim Bomba
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Stop!
Courtney
Mercury
Rain
Caroline
Never Let You Down
Fatal
The Box
One Day In My Life
No Place Called Home
Everything Has Changed
These Wishes
Last Call
Hollywood
Lost and Found
Scott Blasey – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rob James – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Joseph – Bass, Vocals
Dave Minarik – Drums, Vocals
 
Someday Maybe by The Clarks

In a bit of irony, the opening track “Stop!” starts abruptly as a solid rocker throughout. This strong opener features a choppy rhythm guitar riff and bluesy lead licks, while the chorus lyrics borrow from Buffalo Springfield’s hit “For What It’s Worth”. “Courtney” follows as a catchy, pure nineties pop/rock track with a bright acoustic and electric arrangement. “Mercury” leans towards folk/rock or almost alt country with plenty of fine riffs and hooks to accent the overall vibe, while “Rain” is a slow acoustic ballad which moves like a waltz and features slight desperation in Blasey’s lead vocals as well as a short but excellent ending guitar lead by James.

The heart of the album begins with the radio single “Caroline”, which is presented as pure new wave pop with rapid lyric delivery and much energy throughout. “Never Let You Down” may be the hardest rocking song on the entire album, due to the rapid riffing and relentless rhythms by Joseph and Minarik. Next comes the most unique track on Someday Maybe, the excellent, soft jazz “Fatal”, with some very interesting changes and rewarding musical interludes and duet lead vocals by guest Kelsey Barber.

the clarks

Coming down the stretch, the album returns to simple and straight-forward form. “The Box” and “One Day In My Life” are strong and steady rockers, with the latter one highlighted by the rich backing harmonies in the choruses. “No Place Called Home” is a folk/Americana acoustic ballad with dramatic lyrics from the point of view of a reluctant outlaw, while “These Wishes” is built on Minarik’s interesting drum shuffle. The album concludes with “Last Call”, a late night barroom anthem with a catchy sing-along hook.

The Clarks’ big label reign was short-lived as MCA fell into financial disarray before Someday Maybe received any notable promotion and, ultimately, their contract was terminated. However, after a short break, the band continued to record independently and remained a strong regional draw for years to come.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

The Young Rascals

The Young Rascals

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The Young RascalsThe 1966 self-titled debut by The Young Rascals is made mostly of cover songs. However, this in no way implies that the album is unoriginal as the quartet’s original blend of rock and soul brands each song with a distinctive quality. In total, The Young Rascals expertly captures the sound of this fun and energetic new band with an advanced talent for escalating the emerging sound of mid sixties music.

The Young Rascals were formed in Garfield, New Jersey in early 1965. Keyboardist/vocalist Felix Cavaliere and vocalist Eddie Brigati, who were previously members of Joey Dee and the Starliters and, with the addition of guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli, the band originally chose the name “The Rascals” (a name they would eventually adopt in later years). However, upon signing with Atlantic Records, discovered that it clashed with another group called “Harmonica Rascals”.

Just months after their formation, the group recorded and released their first single “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”, co-written by lyricist Pam Sawyer and singer Laurie Burton. This fun and unique folk track with much range musically from the rich, Phil Spector-like vocal arrangements to the quasi-psychedelic guitar lead. The single and the group’s subsequent national television appearance set the stage for the recording of the group’s debut album.

 

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The Young Rascals by The Young Rascals
Released: March 28, 1966 (Atlantic)
Produced by: The Young Rascals
Recorded: September 1965 – March 1966
Side One Side Two
Slow Down
Baby Let’s Wait
Just a Little
I Believe
Do You Feel It
Good Lovin’
Like a Rolling Stone
Mustang Sally
I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
In the Midnight Hour
Group Musicians
Felix Cavaliere – Keyboards, Vocals
Eddie Brigati – Percussion, Vocals
Gene Cornish – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Dino Danelli – Drums

 

The B-side of The Young Rascal’s lead single, “Slow Down” starts the album as an upbeat and fun jam with plenty of choppy rock elements in this Larry Williams composition from the late 1950s. “Baby Let’s Wait” is another song by Sawyer and Burton written for the group as a long drum roll by Danelli introduces this emotional, R&B-inspired ballad. On the cover “Just a Little”, the bass and acoustic guitar takes the musical forefront on a track which has a Latin overall feel which meshes well with the smooth lead vocals and rich harmonies.

“I Believe” features the most soulful feel yet, highlighted by the very dramatic performance vocally by Brigati and the Hammond organ by Cavaliere. The first and only track written by members of the band, “Do You Feel It” is a dance-oriented, call and response sixties rocker which acts as a good warm up for the album’s climatic centerpiece, “Good Lovin'”. Written by Arthur Resnick and Rudy Clark, this crisp, short and direct rock jam with just enough input by all group members to balance it at just the right level sonically. Highlighting it all is Cavaliere’s distinct, melodic organ solo which soars to a rare level that establishes the song as an all time classic.

The Young Rascals

Much of the rest of side two is comprised of covers of well-known contemporary songs. There is an apt cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, which sticks pretty close to the original from Highway 61 Revisited and works fine save for the over-the-top harmonized chorus sections and other minor parts where the group tries to be fancy. Next, The Young Rascals play an almost ridiculously slow version of “Mustang Sally”, with a sloshy rock n’ soul groove and vocals which are legitimately soulful throughout. The closer “In the Midnight Hour” is an almost direct copy of Wilson Pickett’s original, which is a pretty impressive feat in itself.

The Young Rascals reached the Top 20 on the album charts and sold well in the U.S. The group had continued success in subsequent years as Brigati and Cavaliere began composing original songs which would establish them as one of the top acts of the late 1960s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson

Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson

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Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry NilssonThe seventh studio album by Harry Nilsson, the music on 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson unfolds almost like a television variety show with its incredible diversity in musical style. The most commercially successful work of Nilsson’s career, the album was his first to fully delve into the pop/rock realm as it features a vast array of mature pop ranging from tin pan alley to contemporary rock.

With a musical career that dated back to the late fifties, Nilsson began to have some real success as a songwriter in 1963 when he wrote a songs for artists like Little Richard and producers like Phil Spector. His debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson was released in 1966 with album releases coming in rapid succession over the next several years but with very modest commercial success. However, Nilsson’s multi-octave vocals caught the ear of Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor who introduced his music to the band. By 1968, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were citing Nilsson as one of their favorite American artists. Nilsson’s first commercial breakthrough came when his rendition of Fred Neil’s song “Everybody’s Talkin'” was featured in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, becoming a Top 10 hit and leading to a subsequent Grammy Award.

Nilsson Schmilsson was produced by Richard Perry, who enlisted top-notch players to back Nilsson. This includes bassist Klaus Voormann, formally of Manfred Mann’s band, and drummer Jim Gordon who had recently been involved with Derek and the Dominos. The album was recorded at Trident Studios in London.

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Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson
Released: November 13, 1971 (RCA/Victor)
Produced by: Richard Perry
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June 1971
Side One Side Two
Gotta Get Up
Driving Along
Early in the Morning
The Moonbeam Song
Down
Without You
Coconut
Let the Good Times Roll
Jump Into the Fire
I’ll Never Leave You
Primary Musicians
Harry Nilsson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
John Uribe – Guitars
Klaus Voormann – Bass, Guitar
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion

The ten-song album features three covers and seven Nilsson originals including its first two tracks. “Gotta Get Up” is a theatrical pop/rocker driven by Nilsson’s bouncy piano, complete with a rich arrangement including slight horns and other elements packed into this song of less than two and a half minutes. The acoustic “Driving Along” follows and works well as an early seventies soft rocker with rich vocals, slight horns and a Mellotron by Perry. The album’s first cover is “Early in the Morning”, originally a late 1940s Cuban-influenced track by Louis Jordan. On this version, Nilsson nearly performs solo with a choppy reverb laden organ and extraordinarily soulful lead vocals.

“The Moonbeam Song” features slowly strummed acoustic topped by soft vocals soon accompanied by a rich backing chorus. The poetic verse structure of this song is atypical, with elongated lines at times to extenuate the overall feel. On the moderate piano rocker “Down”, Nilsson’s strained vocals and Jim Keltner‘s potent drum beats drive home the central theme strongly to finish the first side. The pop-oriented second side begins with the chart-topping cover of “Without You”, originally composed and released by Badfinger for their No Dice LP. Here, Nilsson took an incredibly dramatic ballad and made it even more emotional and melancholy as he uses his voice to max potential and performs both parts of the original duet by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Further, the orchestration of Paul Buckmaster made this an almost operatic piece.

Harry Nilsson

Following the emotional drama of “Without You”, comes the light and nearly frivolous “Coconut”. Here, a finger-picked acoustic riff starts the rotating and persistent percussion, which does not change through the entire duration of this quirky Caribbean hit. The cover of Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” has a genuine Southern feel throughout with bouncy piano, a fine harmonica lead and slight slide guitar by John Uribe interjected between vocal lines. In contrast, the rocker “Jump Into the Fire” is built on a de-tuned bass groove by Herbie Flowers and well-treated vocals which sound unlike anything else on the album. The slow and simple piano ballad, “I’ll Never Leave You”, wraps things up with many instances of pleasant sonic additives throughout.

Nilsson Schmilsson was nominated for several Grammy awards with the song “Without You” winning for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In an attempt to build on this success, Nilsson followed with a couple of spin-offs, Son of Schmilsson in 1972 and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night in 1973, but neither of these were received nearly as well critically or commercially.

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American II by Johnny Cash

American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash

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American II by Johnny CashBuilding on the momentum of his 1994 comeback album, American Recordings, country/rock legend Johnny Cash decided to do a sequel in what would become a very successful late career series. However, where the first album was sparse, dark folk with just Cash and his acoustic guitar, American II: Unchained features much richer and brighter arrangements due in large part to the musical help of Tom Petty and (three of) The Heartbreakers.

While not a huge commercial hit, American Recordings had much critical acclaim and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. A revitalized Cash said that the reception and response was one of the highlights of his career, which at that point dated back forty years. Later in 1994, Cash recorded a solo cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and joined up with Brooks & Dunn for his own “Folsom Prison Blues” to contribute to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country. Cash also revitatlized his acting career by appearing with his wife June Carter on a number of episodes of the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Along with producer and label owner Rick Rubin, Cash decided to enlist contemporary rock musicians for this follow-up album. Fresh off the success of his solo record Wildflowers, Petty was enlisted along with fellow Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein, to be the core of the backing band. Other cameos on this album included Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac and bassist Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. American II: Unchained is made mostly of cover songs with a few Cash originals sprinkled throughout the album.

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American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash
Released: November 5, 1996 (American)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: Sound City & Ocean Way Studios, Los Angeles and The Cowboy Arms And Recording Spa, Nashville, TN, 1995-1996
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Rowboat
Sea of Heartbreak
Rusty Cage
The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)
Country Boy
Memories Are Made of This
Spiritual
The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea
Southern Accents
Mean Eyed Cat
Meet Me in Heaven
I Never Picked Cotton
Unchained
I’ve Been Everywhere
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Tom Petty – Guitars, bass, Vocals
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Mandolin, Dobro
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards
Marty Stuart – Guitars, Bass
Steve Ferroneh – Drums, PercussionAmerican II by Johnny Cash

With a fantastic array of acoustic and electric guitars above a moderate classic country beat, the album begins with a cover of Beck’s “Rowboat”. Here, the guitars are delivered in various country and rock styles with Cash’s simple and somber vocals making this an overall sonic treat. “Sea of Heartbreak” is a brighter and more upbeat cover with fine chorus harmonies by Petty. The song was originally a Country hit for Don Gibson and features acoustic guitar by Buckingham and percussion by Fleetwood. Cash’s cover of “Rusty Cage” is the most striking and unique song on American II: Unchained. Originally written and recorded on Soundgarden’s Badmotofinger, Cash’s vocals follow the droning acoustic riff through the first two verses before breaking into an unabashed rock arrangement for the latter half of the song. This hip and timely track ultimately won a Grammy Award for Best Country Album.

Cash returns to form on the pure, classic country of “The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)”, which features a fine slide guitar lead by Campbell throughout. “Country Boy” and “Mean Eyed Cat” are two remakes of Sun Studio recordings from the late 1950s and each provide a nice slice of sonic nostalgia to add to the album’s diversity. “Memories Are Made of This” is presented as a bright folk song with upbeat, brushed drums, later joined by fine piano and distant whistle organ by Tench in a very good recording. Next come a couple of spiritual songs, the first of which is simply called “Spiritual”, a somber track which is a little drawn out and melodramatic. Written by several in-laws, The Carters, “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” is a more upbeat cry for redemption as told by a third party observer.

Johnny Cash 1996

The later third of the album features more diverse songs. The inversion “Southern Accents” is presented as a soft acoustic ballad, where the Heartbreakers back Cash on their own song from their album of the same name a decade earlier. “Meet Me in Heaven” is a Cash original and presented brilliantly with a bright acoustic by Petty mixed along with Campbell’s softly picked electric and Tench’s piercing keys. Originally a hit by Roy Clark, “I Never Picked Cotton” is a fun Country classic which changes keys frequently during the two and a half minute duration and features some backing vocals by Petty. The title track “Unchained” is a soft acoustic ballad cover by Jude Johnstone and features some cool Chamberlin strings by Petty and Tench. Wrapping it all up is the fun jaunt “I’ve Been Everywhere”, which completes the album with upbeat rockabilly music and impressive, breathless rap by Cash as he lists the cascade of locations in each of the four main verses.

Although it had much crossover appeal, American II: Unchained was a much bigger commercial success on the Country charts than the Pop Charts. This recipe for success continued with more albums in the “American” series by Cash and Ruben, extending into the early part of the next century.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

Trial by Fire by Journey

Trial By Fire by Journey

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Trial by Fire by JourneyFor Journey‘s most avid fans, the 1996 album Trial By Fire may be best described as one last guilty dip into the group’s heyday of the previous decade. With that in mind, it’s really a shame that the music here nods back to the group’s post-fame eighties rather than the far superior pre-fame late seventies sound. In any case, this was the first time in a dozen years that the five-piece lineup which brought Journey its greatest success got together to make a record.

Following the phenomenal success of 1981’s Escape and Frontiers along with the subsequent major tours, Journey took some extended time off. Lead vocalist Steve Perry released his debut solo album while guitarist Neal Schon participated in the short-lived “super group” HSAS, fronted by Sammy Hagar. Turmoil ensued during the recording of their next album, Raised On Radio in 1986, as bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith were dismissed from the band due to “musical and professional differences”. Although that album was a commercial success, Perry went on an indefinite hiatus, leaving the group in limbo for several years.

In the early 1990s, keyboardist Jonathan Cain joined Schon, Valory and Smith for a series of tribute concerts. This indirectly led to the early 80s lineup of Perry, Schon, Cain, Valory and Smith reuniting in 1995 and recording this new album with producer Kevin Shirley in 1996, making it the first new Journey album in 10 years.

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Trial by Fire by Journey
Released: October 22, 1996 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Shirley
Recorded: Ocean Way Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA, The Site and Wildhorse Studios, Marin County, CA, Summer 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Message of Love
One More
When You Love a Woman
If He Should Break Your Heart
Forever In Blue
Castles Burning
Don’t Be Down on Me Baby
Still She Cries
Colors of the Spirit
When I Think of You
Easy to Fall
Can’t Tame the Lion
It’s Just the Rain
Trial by Fire
Baby I’m a Leavin’ You
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

Trial by Fire by Journey

The group’s core members of Perry, Schon and Cain wrote the bulk of the songs on Trial by Fire. One of the few exceptions is the opening “Message Of Love”, which was co-written by lyricist John Bettis. The song swells in with some backwards-masked voices before strong beat-driven, perfectly fine, albeit ultra-ordinary pop song. This is an interesting slight nod back to the 1983 hit “Separate Ways” just prior to Schon’s lead guitar. “One More” starts with a movie-like string arrangement by David Campbell before breaking into Valory’s bass-driven rhythm to accompany Perry’s interesting and slightly dark vocal melody. “When You Love A Woman” is a classic Journey ballad with rocking piano, strategic guitar overtones and soulful/romantic vocals. The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as becoming a Top 10 hit on the American pop charts, the group’s last such hit to date.

“If He Should Break Your Heart” continues the parade of slick, love-oriented songs and, while the theme is unoriginal, this one takes on a pleasant mellow rock vibe musically. On “Forever In Blue”, the verse music is driven by a spunkier, choppy guitar riff with some fine snare clicks by Smith, For his part, Perry does get a bit soulfully strained as the song goes on, which works to add a bit of authenticity to the sound. Schon provides a wah-wah fused blues guitar between each verse line of “Castles Burning”, along with a later simple but exciting, squeaky rotating riff over the bridge to bring the song to a higher sonic level. This sparks the best sequence on the album with “Don’t Be Down On Me Baby” laid out like a classic Soul ballad with a simple, rotating piano phrase accompanied by Perry’s soaring lead vocals and “Still She Cries” featuring nicely picked guitar motifs in intro sets before the mood settles with steady rhythms throughout this ballad.

Journey in 1996

Unfortunately, there are many superfluous songs beyond this point. “Colors of the Spirit” does employ world-music inspired sounds through its long, jungle-like intro before unfortunately reverting back to standard fonts for the song proper. “When I Think of You” is, perhaps, the nadir of album as an uninspired ballad, while “Easy to Fall” only works later on with some fine, bluesy/jazz guitar work by Schon. “Can’t Tame the Lion” is a pure rock song that remain upbeat and rocking throughout before the mood is once again brought down with the ballad “It’s Just the Rain”. The title track, “Trial By Fire”, provides welcome relieve by this point of the Goliath-length album as Smith provides some odd beats accompanying Valory’s cool bass and Schon’s jazzy guitar for an overall fine vibe, while the “hidden” “Baby I’m a Leavin’ You” features a heavy Caribbean-influence with musical flourishes and a nice, light way to complete the album.

Trial By Fire reached #3 on the album charts and Journey appeared to be back in top commercial form as they prepared for a subsequent tour> However, Perry injured himself during a hiking, rendering him unable to perform for over a year. By 1998, both Perry and Smith were out of the group and Journey continued as a patchwork band into the new century.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

Billy Breathes by Phish

Billy Breathes by Phish

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Billy Breathes by PhishAs their sixth official studio album, Billy Breathes is an early indication of Phish moving towards more mainstream rock music. Here, the four-piece group combined folk, rock and psychedelic into standard-length, accessible numbers with a good sense of melody and song craft. As a result, this 1996 release remains one of the most popular albums by a band better known for its jam-band fused live performances and moderately sized by avidly dedicated fan base.

After the release of their first two official studio album, Junta in 1989 and Lawn Boy in 1990, Phish began to design intricate and highly interactive concerts. Guitarist and front man Trey Anastasio led the band in giving musical cues for the audience to react in certain ways and band members would often switch instruments to make their live shows truly original. As a result of the band’s growing popularity,they were signed to Elektra Records with 1992’s A Picture of Nectar being Phish’s first release on that label. This was followed by the studio albums Rift and Hoist in 1993 and 1994 respectively and the live album, A Live One, which became the group’s first gold-selling album in 1995.

After rehearsing at their independent recording studio in Vermont, the group migrated to Bearsville Studios in the Catskill mountains of nearby New York state to record in early 1996. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the album features an almost equal split of compositions co-written by Anastasio and lyricist Tom Marshall and songs credited to all members of the band.

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Billy Breathes by Phish
Released: October 15, 1996 (Elektra)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, NY, February–June 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Free
Character Zero
Waste
Taste
Cars Trucks Buses
Talk
Theme from the Bottom
Train Song
Bliss
Billy Breathes
Swept Away
Steep
Prince Caspian
Trey Anastasio – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Page McConnell – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Jon Fishman – Drums, Vocals
Billy Breathes by Phish

The only song that can be considered a “hit’ from Billy Breathes is the opening track “Free”, which reached #11 on the Mainstream Rock charts. Starting with a straight and direct droning rock background, this inventive song crams a lot of differing musical phrases into its less-than-four-minute duration. The start of “Character Zero” is a sparse blues arrangement before breaking in with heavy rock elements, including a driving drum beat by Jon Fishman and a bouncy bass by Mike Gordan. “Waste” is mainly quiet acoustic ballad, with a kind of “slacker love story” theme. As the song progresses, there is a subtle building in arrangement and a good sense of melody by Anastasio. The bridge is the first real place where the song fully realizes its dynamics and is followed by an exquisite piano lead by Page McConnell.

Almost like a musical exercise in maintaining odd timing and rudiments, “Taste” gives the impression that all band members seem to be playing contrasting parts but somehow this all works at a certain tension-filled level. In contrast, McConnell’s short instrumental, “Cars Trucks Buses”, falls into a nice groove throughout and gives much space for his organ and piano leads. The same dreaming, descending acoustic riff is repeated through the entirety of “Talk”, with differing musical accompaniment along with a sing-songy vocal melody. At just under six and a half minutes, “Theme from the Bottom” is the longest track on the album. It starts with a simple, dark and dissonant piano which is soon joined by upbeat rhythmic groove for a nice counter-effect. The second half of the song comes a mainly instrumental blistering rock section. The urban-folk sounding “Train Song” was co-written by guest Joe Linitz and Gordon, who provides whimsical lead vocals for the track.

Phish

The latter part of the album features the products of many improvisations during the album’s pre-production. “Bliss” features slow acoustic textures which gradually fade into an atmospheric instrumental. The title track, “Billy Breathes” hearkens back to seventies soft folk with modest, understated vocals along with rich harmonies in the chorus. Then comes the excellent and unique bridge section with banjo joined by slight and sharp brass songs before Anatasio’s top level guitar lead ushers the song with interesting chord pattern behind to make it a high point on the album. The final three tsongs complement each other and sound like they could’ve been a single, cohesive suite. “Swept Away” is quiet and reserved acoustic folk in a very short moment of mood, like it could have been an intro to some television or theatrical performance. “Steep” is pure psychedelic driven by keyboard and pedal effects before a rich vocal section dominates the second half of short track. “Prince Caspian” meanders in before an electric riff acts as bedding for the song’s main hook. The song proper of this closer is quite repetitive to get its lyrical point across before it again slowly dissolves into a fade with one final “shock” rock riff reprise to end the song and album.

When recording was wrapping for Billy Breathes, the band made a snap decision to use a a closeup shot of Mike Gordon’s face as the album’s cover, something Anastasio later said he regretted. Nonetheless, the album sold very well and remains, along with 2000’s Farmhouse, as one of the commercial peaks of Phish’s long career.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

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Badmotofinger by SoundgardenLaying the sonic foundation for their most successful run as a band, Soundgarden delivered their first of a trio of critically acclaimed albums with 1991’s Badmotofinger. The third studio release by this Seattle-based hard rock band, the album features a variety of guitar textures, rhythms with unique time signature combinations and soaring vocal patterns above droning tonalities, making it an art rock centerpiece and a mainstream metal work.

Deriving from a band called The Shemps in Seattle in the early 1980s, the group’s original member was vocalist and (former) drummer Chris Cornell. Guitarist Kim Thayil was originally enlisted as a bassist but moved to guitar when the original Soundgarden took form as a trio in 1984. The band released a pair of EPs in 1987, followed by their independent debut album, Ultramega OK, the following year. After a successful tour supporting that album, Soundgarden signed with A&M Records and released the 1989 mainstream metal album, Louder Than Love.

After working with several bassists, the group hired Ben Shepherd in 1990, just prior to the Badmotorfinger recording sessions. The album was recorded at several west coast studios in the spring of 1991 with producer Terry Date, with who they had previously works. In between the album’s recording and October 1991 release, Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron recorded the album Temple of the Dog by the supergroup of the same name.

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Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden
Released: October 8, 1991 (A&M)
Produced by: Terry Date & Soundgarden
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles; Studio D, Sausalito, CA; Bear Creek Studios, Woodinville, WA; March-April 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Rusty Cage
Outshined
Slaves & Bulldozers
Jesus Christ Pose
Face Pollution
Somewhere
Searching with My Good Eye Closed
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Mind Riot
Drawing Flies
Holy Water
New Damage
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Kim Thayil – Guitars
Ben Shepherd – Bass
Matt Cameron – Drums

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

The album commences with “Rusty Cage” and the intro call and response guitar licks which precede the thumping drive of the song proper. The core of this tune features a mesmerizing, de-tuned guitar riff by Thayil which used a wah wah in the low position used as a filter for added effect. This song was later recorded by Johnny Cash for his 1996 album Unchained. “Outshined” features Cornell’s animated vocals over a quasi-doomy riff and rhythms through the verses. In an interesting juxtaposition, the song’s choruses are more melodic and accessible with some fine harmonies. Co-written by Shepherd, “Slaves and Bulldozers” is built on a strong bass riff through the nearly seven-minute drill-em-to-death approach, which is fine for a certain kind of listener mood.

The most controversial song on Badmotofinger was the lead single “Jesus Christ Pose”, a group composition with wild rhythms and screeching guitar chords which seem to be ready-made for an action sequence in a movie. Cornell’s vocals are at the top of his register, adding to the overall feeling of nervousness with the oft-misunderstood lyrics speaking of the exploitation of religion for personal benefit. “Face Pollution” is the first of two solo compositions by Shepherd, with this one being a heavily punk influenced track with a punk-like length of just over two minutes. “Somewhere” follows as a more of a standard rock song with heavy use of rhyming and emphasis on melody. “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” features Cameron playing interesting beats and just enough fills during the droning song proper, with Thayil playing well-effected long-noted guitar patterns to give it all a late sixties psychedelic effect.

Soundgarden in1991

While having some sonic highlights, the latter half of the album loses a bit of steam. Besides having a really cool name, there is really nothing special about “Room a Thousand Years Wide” as an audio song. “Drawing Flies” is another fast, drilling song by Cameron but fades out too fast making it sound like filler, while “Holy Water” is a sloshy, grunge rocker and the closer “New Damage” is one final, dramatic guitar and vocal-centered screed which leaves the album with an ominous message for the listener. The best of this set of songs is “Mind Riot”, which combines a good bass riff intro with guitars entering in turn with a fine effect, and when drums finally enter with an odd tempo, it all resolves with a really cool vibe going that is kind of bluesy and somewhat Eastern influenced.

Badmotorfinger was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992 and the album has been certified two times platinum, selling over a million and a half copies in the United States. The album’s success led to an extended North American tour and built the foundation for much greater success later in the decade.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox Twenty

Yourself or Someone Like You
by Matchbox 20

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Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox TwentyA blockbuster debut for Florida-based rock band Matchbox 20, the 1996 album Yourself or Someone Like You hit the post-grunge sweet spot with popular music fans as it became a big hit worldwide. This success was especially true in the group’s native United States, where the album reached Diamond status by selling in excess of 12 million copies. Further, the formula employed on this record was strongly influential in the wake of its release.

Originally called “Tabitha’s Secret”, the band was formed in Orlando, Florida by composer and vocalist Rob Thomas, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette. Eventually, session man Adam Gaynor and classically trained Kyle Cook were recruited as the band’s guitarists to complete the quintet as Matchbox 20 earned a recording contract with Atlantic Records.

Yourself or Someone Like You was recorded in Atlanta in Spring 1996 with producer Matt Serletic, a former member of Collective Soul. Nearly a decade after its release, the subject on the front cover sued the band, claiming the photo was taken as he was walking down the street after being asked to pose.

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Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox 20
Released: October 1, 1996 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Matt Serletic
Recorded: Atlanta, GA, June 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Real World
Long Day
3 A.M.
Push
Girl Like That
Back 2 Good
Damn
Argue
Kody
Busted
Shame
Hang
Rob Thomas – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Kyle Cook – Guitars, Vocals
Adam Gaynor – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Yale – Bass
Paul Doucette – Drums

 
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All the songs on Yourself or Someone Like You were written by or co-written by Thomas and the album is quite top-heavy in the sense that the first six tracks were all released as singles. The opener “Real World” starts with strong, twangy guitars in the intro, setting an upbeat pace for the album with choppy, vocal-driven, theatrical verses and a chiming guitar lead before third verse. “Long Day” makes a sudden, acoustic entry before suddenly smashing into a strong electric rock arrangement after two lines. This song builds much tension until it is dispelled by a twangy guitar lead before the acoustic bridge, which in turn leads to a strong song outro. “Long Day” was the first single from the album, released in late 1996, but was not as successful as future singles through 1997 and 1998. One of those successful songs, “3 A.M.”, was composed by several group members along with John Joseph Stanley back in the days of Tabitha’s Secret. This features a patient, in turn acoustic and electric intro, with a catchy leading riff preceding each line of the verses. Bittersweet to the core, the true genius of this song is that it can be interpreted in many different ways, making it the best overall song on the album.

“Push” is another one of of the band’s successful singles as a melodic ballad with enjoyably strummed electric guitar and ironic lyrics which are delivered through the ever-intensifying chorus sections. “Girl Like That” seems to hearken back to the pop music of the early eighties, with a new-wave fused pop/rock and plenty of accessible décor, including sharply stopped riffs and a slight backing vocal chorus. The longest track on this album full of succinct songs, “Back 2 Good” includes a rich arrangement of orchestral instruments to add to the overall melancholy mood. Technically, this 1998 single release would prove to be the biggest hit song from Yourself or Someone Like You, due to discrepancies in charts.

Matchbox 20

The album’s second half is much less effective as several tracks seem to cover well-tredded ground. “Damn” is a methodical rocker with a steady rock drum beat which persists throughout and “Argue” is another pleasant rocker musically. “Kody” is a moderate acoustic track with twangy electric overtones and somber lead vocals, while “Busted” and “Shame” feature differing levels of pop accessibility. The closing, somber acoustic ballad, “Hang”, features inverted roles as Thomas plays some acoustic guitar and Cook shares lead vocal duties.

Yourself or Someone Like You charted in countries around the world, reaching the top in Australia. It would be nearly a half decade before Matchbox 20 would release their second album, Mad Season, in 2000. Through the decade of the 2000s, the group would have steady but declining success, solidifying this debut album the commercial peak of their career.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.