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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Reviews: Tesla, Steven Wilson, Falconer

Tesla: Simplicity (Frontiers)

California band Tesla are now in their 32nd year of playing blues influenced, hard rock music but weirdly Simplicity is only their seventh studio album. As the title suggests this is a return to their roots forgoing the modern techniques they had on previous release Forevermore and going back to their roots bringing in analogue recording methods and keeping everything nice and simple. However that doesn't mean this album is stupid no as is the norm with Tesla they have some clever lyrical content and mature blue-collar hard rock that has always set them apart form their contemporaries. The from the first LP crackle of the album the guitars of founder member Frank Hannon and relative new boy Dave Rude (he replaced original guitarist Tommy Skeooch) immediately kick in with some melodic guitar runs before the big riff of MP3 which bemoans modern technology in general and has a talkbox guitar solo in the middle something I thought only Black Stone Cherry did now! Yes this certainly is the sound of Tesla returning to their roots with funky, hip shaking rock and roll throughout, Ricochet is the embodiment of this a hard rock song about being in a hard rock band that has a big fat riff and references Uncle Ted himself what's not to like? It also continues Tesla's tradition of having a great track as the second on the album. Hannon and Rude drive this album with their excellent guitars but on Rise And Fall you can hear founder members' Brian Wheat and Troy Luccketta's, bass and drums providing the main thrust of this slow burning track that brings the blues back to the album with its funky bass driven rhythm that leads into the acoustically boosted So Divine...which harks back to Tesla's seminal Five Man Acoustical Jam but it is crossed with a bit of Buckcherry in the chorus. Much of this is due to Jeff Keith's scratched vocals which have always been one of the drawing points of Tesla for me, he has one of the most authentic and recognisable voices in rock much like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith a similarity that becomes clear on the countrified Cross My Heart and Honestly both of which wouldn't be out of place on Toys In The Attic. Other great tracks are the rapid fire Time Bomb and Flip Side! as all the songs are very different but all have that quality stamp. In fact this idea of not conforming pretty sums up Tesla in general they are a band that do exactly as they want to whether it is popular or not. Some may think that their time is long gone but with Simplicity these 1980's survivors have produced a high quality hard rock record. 8/10   

Steven Wilson: Cover Version (Kscope)

Porcupine Tree main man and all round prog rock revivalist Steven Wilson has compiled his 2 track singles together for this release they were originally released on various formats between 2003 and 2010 through Wilson's own Headphone Dust label. The singles were made up of one cover and one original song (with The Uniquiet Grave being the only exception as it is a traditional arrangement) and were done on the spur of the moment while he was travelling etc meaning they haven't really got the production values and huge multi faceted sound of either Porcupine Tree or Wilson's solo stuff especially. So you have to ask yourself as you put the CD in the player how are these songs? For the most part they are good, with the cover versions being a particular highlight, the opening salvo of Alanis Morissette's Thank U he manges to make one of Morrisette's signature songs more melancholic than the original with his sparse use of piano and acoustic guitar and haunting vocals that bring the spiritual message of the song home without the rockier distractions of the original. The almost Pink Floyd sounding Moment I Lost You is a short song that wouldn't sound out of place on Wish You Were Here. Next is The Day Before You Came which is an ABBA cover that gets a dark reworking, does away with the synths of the original and shows that ABBA were so much more than a pop band. Like I said the covers actually stand out more than the originals but you can here a few hints to both the latter PT albums and his solo records in the original tracks but they are your usual Wilson stuff full of sadness, lament but performed in an uplifting way. A Forest originally by The Cure is made much harsher and slowed down to a crawl with the synths making it sound no to dissimilar to Wilson's No Man project. Four Trees Down is slightly folky and has a nice clean guitar solo from Wilson who obviously plays every instrument and leads into the The Guitar Lesson which was by Momus a band that seem to have a lot of similarities to Wilson's brand of morose music in a song with some serious relationship issues. Anyway things don't pick up in terms of mood on the The Uniquiet Grave which is a song about mourning a true love. As is normal it is up to his Purpleness to pick things up as Wilson throws in a cover of Sign O The Times which is still as bass and synth heavy as the original but does have a bit of a guitar freak out at the end which all comes together to be one of the best covers on the record and it is followed by one of the best originals in Well Your Wrong which sounds like latter period Beatles. This is a bit of mixed bag but some of these covers are inspired more so than the original tracks. A nice little filler album from the master of modern prog. 7/10  

Falconer: Black Moon Rising (Metal Blade Records)

I've heard of Falconer but I've never really heard anything by them, I thought Black Moon Rising is as good a chance as any as it has been touted by many the Power Metal album of the year. Well from as the heavy speed metal riffage of Locust Swarm kicks in you would be inclined to agree, these Swedes have all the hallmarks of pure Power Metal the double kick drums the galloping bass the dual guitars and lots of keys too. The band are linked to the more folk side of Power Metal and you can hear that influence in Scoundrel And The Squire, At The Jester's Ball and There's A Crow On The Barrow, all of which have lots of folk instrumentation as does Halls And Chambers which is possibly the best song on the album. So the guitars of Stefan Weinerhall and Jimmy Hedlund are great full of razor sharp metal licks and fret melting solos, the bass of Magnus Linhardt rampages and the drums of Karsten Larsson are strong and powerful. The downfall of the band is vocalist/keyboardist Mathias Blad who despite having a strong theatrical voice he doesn't really do it for me, a lot of his vocals sound laboured and jar slightly with the muscular metal behind it. This could be because I associate this kind of metal with Blind Guardian and he just doesn't have the range of Hansi Kursch, like I said his vocals are good if he stays in his mid range but they seem a bit strained in the higher notes. Still this is a strong album and after repeated listens Blad's voice does grow on you but it is likely to alienate a few Power Metal aficionados. Try it and make your own conclusions, you are guaranteed to find something you like. As for me Falconer will remain on my periphery in future. 7/10  

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