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Friday, June 21, 2013

The Poodles – ‘Tour De Force’ album review

The Poodles – ‘Tour De Force’ album review

Released through: Frontiers Records. Release date: Available now.
OK, let get this clear from the get go, The Poodles ARE a band to take seriously, even if that name may misguide you as it did me initially for a couple of years, that maybe you could not do so ... Take them seriously, but you really should!

I’d almost like to say to them, ‘Guys, please change the name,’ but …, they have their reasons.
I’d heard of them in 2009, but did not pick up on them until 2010’s live ‘No Quarter’ release – Review link here: - which I found great to listen to, even if it did sit with me for a little while as I found it difficult to think about a hard rock / heavy metal band called The Poodles.

I also got a copy of the related ‘In The Flesh’ DVD release at the time, which just convinced me completely that these guys were for real.
Track it down if you can, it shows the funny side to these guys as well as great performances!
In 2011, the album ‘Performocracy’ – Yes, strange title … - was released and I really enjoyed that one too - - and now here we are two years on and we have a new one from the ‘unruly dogs’ of Sweden, in ‘Tour De Force.’

Yes they are a Swedish band who generally really has their own sound, although at times, they do remind me of German rockers The Scorpions. Am I getting your interest yet folks?
The lineup of Jakob Samuel (Vocals), Pontus Egberg (Bass), Christian Lundqvist (Drums) and Henrik Bergqvist on guitars, really packs quite a punch I can tell you!

Hard to believe there are no keyboards – Ahem …, are all the backing effects all guitar, really? – as to me, elements throughout truly sound like keyboards or even orchestra, yet there’s no credit in the press release?
This is what I hate about digital copies of new albums, no info?!

There are clearly keyboards and strings present on ‘Leaving the Past to Pass.’
Well, there’s plenty of good stuff about this album, there really is and in my book, it’s another winner.
There is though, an incredibly gentle starting power ballad that many rockers may just go, ‘That intro is way too soft,’ likewise another track starts with a very poppy, well more catchy AOR like actually but then the rock kicks in, so really I say, get over it folks!
So, to the opener and ‘Misery Loves Company,’ is an in your face out and out rocker, with great hook lines and had me sold right away. It’s certainly a very hard hitting song to kick off the album to get a message across to the doubters out there and a massive pre-chorus and strong / catchy chorus.
‘Shut Up!’ certainly gives a little nod in it’s opening and verses to some of David Lee Roth’s solo material – Think Steve Vai era – or even Van Halen to me and yet then just kills with a very hard edged AOR like style chorus. With these two opening songs alone, it’s an impressive new release.
Next track ‘Happily Ever After’ is yet another winner, great twisting verses and nice big choruses, killer guitar work from Henrik Bergqvist here – As elsewhere of course! – and pummeling double bass drum in the choruses, wonderful bass lines too.
You just have to hear it to grasp where I’m coming from.
Really love ‘Viva Democracy’ too, a constant edgy groove throughout, yet the song as all Poodles songs, maintains its melody and the song’s light moment mid-way through. Another winner!
Heavy and hard rocking is the best description for the opening on ‘Going Down,’ then it eases back into a wonderfully melodic verse and then the pre-chorus gets a little meaner and then the chorus is a monster hook. The little melodic bridge, is great if too brief as well. Jakob Samuel’s vocals throughout are unique, they truly are and his style and phrasing so often just blows me away with his overall range.
So to the big old power ballad that is ‘Leaving the Past to Pass.’
It’s seriously as good as anything else you’ll ever hear and it really emphasises once again about how classy hard rock bands are about writing brilliant power ballads …

The balance is superb, it really is and if mainstream radio was like it used to be where big stations won’t play current melodic rock bands new rock released singles, but they will gravitate to the power ballads, this could be monster!

I say that, thinking back to the early 80’s days in the UK, where US AOR bands (Journey, Styx, Toto, etc) would only be made known to the British public through the bands ballads. Sad but true …

Radio One or any other local radio station would never have played ‘Blue Collar Man’ or ‘Renegade’ by Styx, but they’d play ‘Babe’ or ‘Boat on a River’ to death!

Same with Journey, all we’d hear is ‘Open Arms’ or ‘Who’s Crying Now,’ back then – Ironic they’ve played ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ to death now over there, but never would have done when it first came out. – you’d never have heard ‘Escape’ or ‘Separate Ways.’
No way and the exact same with Toto, we got ‘Africa,’ ‘I Won’t Hold You Back’ and ‘Roseanna’ nothing like ‘Only The Children.’
That said, they (Toto) did get lucky with ‘Hold The Line’ getting some play and breaking in the charts, but then that was ’78 …

Sorry, got of track with that rant there, so let’s get back to it!
Next song ’40 Days and 40 Nights’ was recently released as a single and rightly so, as it’s hugely commercial with plenty of hooks about it and right from the almost poppy like keyboard intro right through the massive chorus, it’s begging for radio play.
Very strong contender for a hit song …
In the right market / territory perhaps it will be big. Here’s hoping for these guys …
To the very Aerosmith like ‘Kings and Fools’ next and it just has a certain groove about it that actually has elements of possibly Beatles – Think ‘Revolution’ – and even a bit of Robert Plant like phrasing in the verses, so clearly these guys are very influenced by some classic players.
Cowbell anyone? It’s what we get as ‘Miracle’ kicks off and then gets into its steady, yet edgy verse groove that actually took me a while to get into this track. Perhaps a little less instant, yet then with the chorus it does grow on you and then the bridge takes the song down another path. It’s a song that has really grown on me a lot more with each subsequent play.
I’m still wondering who does the keyboards on here, as they are what provides the intro and background throughout ‘Godspeed’ next.
It’s a solid enough track but for me, perhaps the least outstanding track here in my opinion. 
‘Now is the Time’ is next and picks up the tempo quite a bit from ‘Godspeed’ and it’s pretty good at getting back on track here.
There’s a distinct metal edge to the riff throughout the verses in ‘Only Just Begun,’ certainly at the beginning and the way Jakob presents the song and then the chorus brings it back again. 
It’s feeling like to be honest that towards the end of the album, it lost a little of it’s infectious vibe.
With the final bonus track ‘En För Alla För En,’ sorry, but as it starts, I can’t help but think of the Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This),’ obviously with significantly more edginess to it, oh and it’s sung in Swedish!

It was jointly written by the band with Treat’s guitarist Anders Wikström and songwriter Fredrik Thomander, for the Swedish national Ice Hockey team.
It’s musically very catchy and if I only knew Swedish, I could probably sing along no problem, but right now it’s just an enjoyable listen to wrap the album up.

So a good album yet again from these guys, that I really recommend and I know I’m a little biased as I’ve really got to enjoy their music since discovering the band just a few years back, but this album for the most part is great!

Perhaps the tail end of the album has a couple of tracks that I’m still not 100% sold on, as the rest of the album, but they are still good tunes.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, June 17, 2013

Jeff Healey – ‘As The Years Go Passing By’ 3 CD set review

Jeff Healey – ‘As The Years Go Passing By’ 3 CD set review

Released on: Inakustik Release date: Available now
It was indeed a sad day in March of 2008 when the world mourned the loss of the Canadian blind and incredibly talented blues guitarist, Jeff Healey.

You know in complete honesty, I’m not 100% sure when it was that I first heard this legend play and yes, I do call him a legend and although perhaps he was never as well-known as he deserved, in blues, rock and even some jazz circles, the guy was greatly admired and by many. A lot of guitarists have also claimed to have taken inspiration from this talented individual.

I think it was quite possibly the 1989 movie ‘Road House’ that also starred the late actor, Patrick Swayze that was where I first saw and heard him.
Since then I couldn’t help myself, but to track down 1988’s ‘See The Light’ album from the Jeff Healey Band that featured some absolute gems in both original Healey compositions and covers from the likes of John Hiatt, Freddie King / Sonny Thompson and ZZ Top to name just three.

His band then managed to release a further four great releases in ‘Hell To Pay’ – Killer! – ‘Feel This,’ the covers release ‘Cover To Cover’ and his last from the band in 2000, the excellent ‘Get Me Some.’

Subsequent releases followed under his name only, as a solo artist until his passing in 2008 captured four albums, a fifth ‘Mess of Blues’ was being worked on for a while before Jeff’s passing and released shortly after his death.
So there’s quite a bit of history behind the guy’s twenty year recording history.
This release 'As The Years Go Passing By,' comes from ‘The Estate of Jeff Healey,’ so it has his family’s blessing.

It’s a nice kind of collection too, as it features three concerts recorded in Germany, where he was always welcomed, with the first dating back to 1989, at the Ohne Filter Extra event, when Healey was just twenty three with his trio comprising of Joe Rockman (Bass/Vocals) and Tom Stephen (Drums) alongside himself.

The second from 1995, was the ‘Extraspät in Concert’ with the same guys and the addition of second guitarist Pat Rush.

The third and final concert disc is again from the Ohne Filter Extra event in 2000, still with Rockman and Stephen on Bass and Drums respectively.
So, the first disc starts with the Sonny Thompson gem, ‘I’m Torn Down,’ and this is a prime example of why I like Jeff Healey’s material, as for me his style is often similar to what grabbed me from Pat Travers back in the late 70’s.
Wonderful jamming, rockin’ blues!
Then it’s a Healey original in ‘My Little Girl’ next which is an edgy grooving jam. Love it!

With a great interpretation of John Hiatt’s ‘Confidence Man’ next, which became a staple in Healey’s set over the years that followed and the man and his band play like seasoned players and it’s such a pleasure to listen to.
Another original next follows appreciative applause, in the shape of the almost (Eric) Clapton like ‘I Need To Be Loved’ and really, if you’re reading this and have never heard Healey’s playing before, I think this three disc live set is a great introduction for anyone!
Healey picks the Bob Dylan tune ‘When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky’ next and I’m sorry if there are any Dylan fans reading this, but in my mind, anyone that has covered one of his songs has made it better and this version is certainly nice and lively!
I’m pretty certain I hear keys here for sure from time to time, but there’s no one credited with playing keys, so who knows who joins them?
‘River of No Return’ next is very catchy and again I swear there’s keys here ... Nonetheless, it’s another great song, performed solidly here.

Another Hiatt song in ‘Angel Eyes’ is next and another regular track in the Healey set list it seems and it’s a more laid back tune, still good stuff!
The two songs that wrap up this first disc is first off Jeff’s cover of The Doors classic ‘Roadhouse Blues,’ which has always come across kind of strange to me without keys, which was of course paramount to The Doors but Healey makes this his own and then his own song in ‘See The Light.’

The title track of the man’s first album is a great set closer here, after some messing around before it starts proper it gets into its groove and some serious riffing from Jeff.
The track clocks in at just over nine minutes and in the mid-section solo, Jeff’s is playing his heart out with the band and then just jams by himself, wildly and I mean that as very well indeed and more so than anywhere else on this first disc. Brilliant!

Disc two opens with one of my favourite Jeff Healey covers in his interpretation of Spirit’s ‘Got A Line On You.’ This totally rocks!
Its classic blues with the Robert Johnson classic ‘Stop Breaking Down’ next and they don’t come much more trad than this one!

A tune made popular by Albert King next and the title of this complete package in ‘As The Years Go Passing By,’ is more classic blues for you folks!
Then it’s over to the second appearance of ‘Confidence Man’ which Jeff and band have really made this their own tune.

It was pleasing to see the Steeler’s Wheel cover, ‘Stuck In The Middle’ written by the late Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan.
I think as with Healey, that Gerry Rafferty was hugely overlooked / underrated.
Jeff, I wish I could say this to you today, but if Gerry was here and you, I believe he’d tell you, ‘Thanks Jeff, that’s sounds great!’ RIP guys! :(

This whole disc was of course recorded during the ‘Cover to Cover’ tour by Jeff and his band, so there really is more emphasis on cover tunes here.

I’ve always loved the (Jimi) Hendrix tune ‘Angel,’ which I first heard in the 70’s by Rod Stewart, then I heard the Hendrix version and enjoyed that one as well, so it‘s great to hear Jeff’s live version here. Wonderful tune with Jeff’s twist on it too!

Next here we get Jeff’s take on Lennon / McCartney blues jam, ‘Yer Blues’ which gets a real down and dirty groove and he also rips out a killer solo!

A tune made popular by Lonnie Johnson, ‘Me and My Crazy Self,’ gets the Healey solo acoustic treatment next, including some serious acoustic riffing in the second half of the tune, which just goes to show that the man had no inhibitions on how he jammed either just him and an acoustic or fully electric with his always class backing band. Good stuff indeed!

To another staple in his live set, the John Hiatt tune and always beautifully presented ballad ‘Angel Eyes’ next and it’s a nice little diversion from the blues set to show the lighter side to Healey’s playing and then it’s back to the rockin’ with a nine plus minute version of The Doors ‘Roadhouse Blues.’

A bit of laid back acoustic intro with some fooling about brings on his own song ‘See The Light’ which becomes an almost fifteen minute monster!

Can’t say enough about how much Jeff and the band put into the song and then to close this disc, a truly wonderful version of George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’
Some serious guitar work from Jeff here that almost feels in moments like the soloing on  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s live version of say ‘Freebird,’ although clearly not as lengthy!


The last disc here is from Jeff's last tour with the Jeff Healey Band, in support of the band’s last album, ‘Get Me Some’ released in 2000 and reissued again in 2011, through Eagle Rock.
It was and still is in my books a great album that featured songs co-written by some real greats from the AOR world, like Dianne Warren, Arnold Lanni, Marti Frederiksen, Stevie Salas amongst others, but that said, this recording only features three songs from that release as well as seven other classic gems.
Opening with his own composition ‘My Little Girl’ from first album ‘See The Light’ you’d think Jeff had been doing this for not twenty but more like thirty years!
It’s got a great groove not unlike Santana at times.
Next it’s ‘Which One’ from the ‘Get Me Some’ album and the chorus will really grab you, as it did me, great jam!
Another from that album next is ‘Love Is The Answer’ which is a little more laid back and as close perhaps as his blues rock got to a kind of power ballad. Really nice song …
Then it’s back to the real blues of ‘How Blue Can You Get,’ made famous by B.B. King, which Jeff really makes the most of in this eight plus minute jam!
You really could play Jeff, you are missed …
Possibly Jeff’s favourite in his live set, ‘Confidence Man’ is next, which I’ve quite possibly said enough about already, as it also featured on the first two CD’s here too!
I really do love what Jeff does with ‘Put The Shoe On The Other Foot’ next, with some gentle picking and playing at the start and some truly soulful singing and even a scream before the song really gets into its groove and then when Jeff gets soloing, boy does he rock out!
This is another monster jam, that rocks some but then takes things down real low a little after the midway point and then comes back with venom with some absolutely kick ass rockin’, jamming!
‘Feel Better’ again from ‘Get Me Some’ up next has it’s up and downs in soulfulness and then dark yet rocking edginess, almost Hendrix like to a point and I begin to wonder if Jeff Healey influenced Joe Bonamassa any, as this isn’t far away from something you’d hear from Joe.
So to another favourite in a Jeff Healey set with John Hiatt’s ‘Angel Eyes’ next which is as I’ve said before, a truly beautiful song, which is followed by another of his live favourites in another cover, ‘Roadhouse Blues.’ ‘Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel …’
Indeed Jeff, you rock it here!
Then to close the collection ‘See The Light’ does the trick nicely!
This is a great live collection to have, a really great memoir of another truly great talent that the world and of course Jeff’s family lost way too soon.
If you’ve never heard Jeff Healey, then do yourself a favour and go get yourself some,' to take a line from the man!
This is the three CD set, but there's also a deluxe set of two DVD's and these three discs too.

It’s a real pleasure to get to listen to this and better still, to have the honour of reviewing the man’s great work.

Thank you Jeff Healey and band, for some great music you left us to remember you by, RIP Jeff.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Official website – With links to purchase the album too!