March 27, 2017

B.G. Knocc Out & Dresta - Real Brothas (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap, G-Funk
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© 1995 Def Jam Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
B.G. Knocc Out & Dresta's debut album Real Brothas offers a slice of lean, stripped-down gangsta rap, but the group doesn't offer enough variation from the genre to make it a consistently compelling listen.

tags: bg knocc out, dresta, bg knocc out & dresta, real brothas, 1995,

Led Zeppelin - Presence (1976)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1976-1989 Swan Song
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Created at a time of intense turmoil for Led Zeppelin -- they scrapped a planned international tour in the wake of Robert Plant's car accident in Greece in August 1975 -- Presence is a strange, misshapen beast of a record that pulls upon its own tension. With Plant somewhat on the sidelines -- he recorded many of the vocals while in a wheelchair -- Jimmy Page reasserted himself as the primary creative force in the band, helping steer Presence toward a guitar-heavy complexity, perched halfway between a return to roots and unfettered prog. This dichotomy means it feels like Presence sprawls as wildly as Physical Graffiti even though it's half its length: the four epics tend to overshadow the trio of lean rockers that really do hark back to the Chess boogie and rockabilly that informed Zeppelin's earliest work. Each of these three -- "Royal Orleans," "Candy Store Rock," "Hots on for Nowhere" -- plays as snappily as the throwaways on the second half of Physical Graffiti, containing a sexy insouciance; the band almost seems to shrug off how catchy Page's riffs and how thick the grooves of John Bonham and John Paul Jones actually are. No matter how much fun this triptych is, they're lost underneath the shadow of "Achilles Last Stand," a ten-minute exercise in self-styled moody majesty and the turgid blues crawl of closer "Tea for One." In between, there are two unalloyed masterpieces that channel all of the pain of the period into cinematic drama: a molten blues called "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and "For Your Life," as sharp, cinematic, and pained as Zeppelin ever were. Added together, Presence winds up as something less than the sum of its parts but its imbalance also means that it's a record worth revisiting; it seems different upon each revisit and is always compelling.

Led Zeppelin - Coda (1982)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1982-1987 Atlantic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Released two years after the 1980 death of John Bonham, Coda tied up most of the loose ends Led Zeppelin left hanging: it officially issued a bunch of tracks circulating on bootleg and it fulfilled their obligation to Atlantic Records. Coda doesn't contain every non-LP track Zeppelin released -- notably, the B-side "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and anything from the BBC sessions were left untouched (they'd be added to Coda on a 1993 CD revision of the compilation, and also appear on the major three-disc overhaul Jimmy Page masterminded in 2015) -- but it does gather much of what was floating around in the wake of their demise, including three blistering rockers that were rejected for In Through the Out Door. If "Ozone Baby," "Darlene," or "Wearing and Tearing" -- rockers that alternately cut loose, groove, and menace -- had made the cut for In Through the Out Door, that album wouldn't have had its vague progressive edge and when they're included alongside a revival of the band's early raver "We're Gonna Groove," the big-boned funk of the Houses of the Holy outtake "Walter's Walk," and the folk stomp "Poor Tom" (naturally taken from the sessions for Led Zeppelin III), they wind up underscoring the band's often underappreciated lighter side. For heaviness, there's a live version of "I Can't Quit You Baby" and "Bonzo's Montreux," a solo showcase for the departed drummer, and when this pair is added to the six doses of hard-charging rock & roll, it amounts to a good snapshot of much of what made Led Zeppelin a great band: when they were cooking, they really did groove.

Heart - Heart (1985) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock, Pop Rock
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© 1985 Capitol Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Heart was pretty much considered washed up when they released Heart in 1985. They learned a few important things while they had taken a short sabbatical -- they knew that hooks were important and they knew they could play up their looks for MTV. So, they delivered both with Heart, giving their audience anthemic hooks and tightly corseted bosoms, leading to the most popular album they ever had. This doesn't mean it's the best, since its calculated mainstream bent may disarm some long-term fans, but it is true that they do this better than many of their peers, not just because they have good polished material from professional songwriters but because they can deliver this material professionally themselves. Yes, "These Dreams," "Never," and "What About Love" don't quite fit into the classic Heart mode, but they are good mid-'80s mainstream material, delivered as flawlessly as possible. There's still a lot of filler on this record, but the best moments are among the best mainstream AOR of its era.

Heart - Little Queen (2004 Remastered Edition)

*Contains 2 bonus tracks.

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock, Folk Rock
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© 1977-2004 Epic, Legacy Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
After acquiring a substantial following with Dreamboat Annie, Heart solidified its niche in the hard rock and arena rock worlds with the equally impressive Little Queen. Once again, loud-and-proud, Led Zeppelin-influenced hard rock was the thing that brought Heart the most attention. But while "Barracuda" and "Kick It Out" are the type of sweaty rockers one thought of first when Heart's name was mentioned, hard rock by no means dominates this album. In fact, much of Little Queen consists of such folk-influenced, acoustic-oriented fare as "Treat Me Well" and "Cry to Me." Anyone doubting just how much Heart's ballads have changed over the years need only play "Dream of the Archer" next to a high-volume power ballad like "Wait for an Answer" from 1987's Bad Animals.

Survivor - Caught In The Game (1983)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1983-1987 Scotti Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Mike DeGagne
Caught in the Game had Survivor focusing on a harder rock & roll sound, with greater emphasis stemming from the guitar and percussion, but this new formula didn't fare well commercially and the band failed to put any of the album's songs onto the charts. With Frankie Sullivan finally expressing himself with his guitar playing, the album does manage to establish a vibrant and dominant punch through most of the cuts, but because of this, there's a shortage of musical flow and melodic consistency that becomes apparent after the first few tracks. Efforts such as "What Do You Really Think" and "I Never Stopped Loving You" are Survivor's best examples of their straight-ahead rock fair, but they're canceled out by non-abrasive fillers like "Slander" and "Santa Ana Winds," which have the band playing well below their capacity. After this album, Survivor replaced vocalist Dave Bickler with the more inspired-sounding Jimi Jamison. The album that followed, 1984's Vital Signs, had the band playing clean-cut radio-friendly rock, and two of the three singles released from the album made it into the Top Ten. Survivor encountered further success with their new vocalist and their future albums had more of a congenial pop/rock flair to them, which was apparent even on the releases that didn't net the band any charted singles. None of Caught in the Game's tracks appear on Survivor's most thorough hits package entitled Fire in Your Eyes: Greatest Hits, an essential 18-track compilation released in 2001.

March 26, 2017

Souls of Mischief - No Man's Land (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1995 Jive Records
AllMusic Review by Chris Witt
After the critical and underground success of the Souls of Mischief's debut, 93 'Til Infinity, expectations were high for the group's sophomore release. The release of No Man's Land in 1995 revealed a greatly changed Souls of Mischief, and fans and critics alike turned their backs on the group. Gone is the youthful giddiness of the debut; in its place is confrontation. Instead of detailing their youthful misadventures with drink and around the way girls, Souls of Mischief contemplate groupies, overzealous hip-hop heads, and success or the lack of it. No Man's Land is laced with touches of anger and bitterness. The change in production style is even more shocking than the change in attitude. The golden funk of 93 'Til Infinity has been replaced with muddier, harsher beats. While the complex layering of drum breaks and jazz samples is still there, the effect is one of paranoia rather than of wild extroversion. Once the surprise wears off, No Man's Land reveals itself to be a solid hip-hop album, despite the cool welcome it first received. While Souls of Mischief's second album is certainly a notch below 93 'Til Infinity, it deserves more attention and respect than it has been accorded.

Survivor - Premonition (1981)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1981-1987 Scotti Bros. Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

Various Artists - Dangerous Minds: Music From The Motion Picture (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B
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© 1995 MCA Soundtracks
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Thanks to Coolio's monolithic single "Gangsta's Paradise," the soundtrack to Michelle Pfeiffer's urban school drama tore up the charts. Even with a single as powerful as Coolio's masterpiece, the Dangerous Minds soundtrack wouldn't have stayed at the top of the charts, selling over three million copies, if there was only one good song on the album. Like many soundtracks of the mid-'90s, Dangerous Minds is an expertly-crafted urban R&B/hip-hop collection, featuring stellar production and songwriting from a number of the best and most popular artists of 1995. Admittedly, "Gangsta's Paradise" remains the standout, but there's not much disappointing material on the rest of the disc.

Survivor - Eye of The Tiger (1982) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1982-1985 Scotti Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
1982 was an interesting year for mainstream rock. Listeners were still a few years away from the chart-topping pop-metal bands, and a few years removed from the oft-indulgent '70s rock era. As a result, people were left with an era that was mostly populated by bands that wore headbands and largely modeled their sound after Foreigner. In other words -- bands that attempted to appeal to both the pop and rock audiences, by combining arena-worthy choruses and tough guitar riffs, topped off with a healthy scoop of melody. A perfect example would be Survivor, and their third release overall, Eye of the Tiger. With the group's first two releases barely causing a ripple on the charts, it was Tiger that catapulted the band to the top, thanks to the chart-topping title track, which was used as the theme song to the hit movie Rocky III the same year. Despite this, the Eye of the Tiger album is often overlooked, even though it almost topped the charts as well (peaking at number two). The reason for this was that while the group managed to appeal to both aforementioned audiences -- as evidenced by the Zeppelin-esque "Hesitation Dance" and the power ballad "I'm Not That Man Anymore" -- nothing here really scales the same height as the title track. But as a memento of mainstream rock circa the early '80s, Eye of the Tiger is a faithful snapshot.

DIO - The Last In Line (1984) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 1984 Warner Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Following the extremely warm reception given his self-named band's well-deserving debut album, Holy Diver, Ronnie James Dio figured there was no point in messing with a winning formula, and decided to play it safe with 1984's sophomore effort, The Last in Line -- with distinctly mixed results. Although technically cut from the same cloth as those first album nuggets, fist-pumping new songs like "We Rock," and "I Speed at Night" curiously went from good to tiresome after just a few spins (a sign that the songwriting clichés were starting to pile up...read on); and the otherwise awesome, seven-minute epic, "Egypt (The Chains Are On)," inexplicably lost it's strikingly sinister main riff halfway through, in what sounds like a mastering snafu of some kind. On the upside, more dramatic, mid-paced numbers such as the title track, "One Night in the City," and "Eat Your Heart Out" -- as well as the driving "Evil Eyes" -- delivered enough compelling riffs and melodies to outweigh Ronnie's once endearing, but now increasingly troublesome repetition of words like "rainbow," "fire," and "stone" in seemingly every song. Finally, the distinctly more commercial pairing of heavy rocker "Breathless" and the power ballad/single "Mystery" gave undisguised notice (along with the slightly sleeker production throughout and more generous keyboards from new member Claude Schnell) of Dio's intention to broaden their audience by tapping into the rising tide of pop-metal. This would bring dire circumstances on their next album, Sacred Heart, but despite the telltale signs of decline cited above, anyone who loved Holy Diver will likely enjoy The Last in Line nearly as much.

tags: dio, DIO, the last in line, ronnie james,

March 25, 2017

DIO - Dream Evil (1987) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 1987 Warner Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Rob Theakston
Dream Evil is by no means a departure from the Dio formula that was so successful for his first three solo albums. All of the elements that made them so successful are yet again retained here. However, what makes things different this time around is that Dio has more of a melodious side to him, which he puts use here rather than relying on the riffs and delivery he learned at the school of Sabbath. He even touches on the power ballad (a sure sign that the style had fully infiltrated metal) with "All the Fool Sailed Away." The title track and "Sunset Superman" also proved to be two of Dio's most well-known, and most loved songs in his massive catalog. Not an essential release, but one that diehard fans will be sure to want in their collection.

tags: dio, DIO, ronnie james, dream evil, 1987,

DIO - Sacred Heart (1985)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 1985 Warner Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Although relatively strong sales at the time of its release would appear to refute this claim, Dio's third album in three years, 1985's Sacred Heart, was a terribly divisive affair, and is largely viewed as a disappointment in retrospect. This is because, although many brand-new yet fickle-minded fans were attracted by the album's noticeably more commercial hard rock songwriting, almost as many of Dio's most loyal, long-serving supporters were turned off by this new direction -- as well as the already stagnant clichés being recycled from prior triumphs. If only writer's block had been to blame, but the unnecessary live audience added to the album's obviously self-referencing opener, "King of Rock and Roll," seemed to point to a single-minded and egotistical leader instead. So when he wasn't putting his ever more despondent (and soon to be terminated) henchmen through the motions on rote metallic anthems like the title track, "Like the Beat of a Heart," and "Fallen Angels," singer Ronnie James Dio seemed intent on strangling every last creative spark out of them in a bid to score a pop-metal hit. Among the top candidates, the synth-drunk "Hungry for Heaven" and the deplorable "Shoot Shoot" proved especially forgettable and contrived, and even though "Rock 'n' Roll Children" succeeded in cropping up frequently on MTV at least, Ronnie's distinct lack of sex appeal (not to mention his 40-plus years of age!) killed any possibility of true crossover success in image-conscious America. In the end, selling out with Sacred Heart plunged Dio's career into a steep decline from which it would never entirely recover.

tags: dio, sacred heart, 1985, DIO, ronnie james,

Grav - Down To Earth (1996)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1996 Correct Records
*No professional reviews for this release.

tags: grav, down to earth, 1996. 

March 21, 2017

Aerosmith - Nine Lives (1997)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1997 Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Aerosmith signed a multi-million-dollar contract with Columbia Records before they had completed their deal with Geffen, which meant that a lot was riding on their Columbia debut, Nine Lives, when it was finally delivered in 1997. During recording, the band nearly broke up, and they worked with a number of producers -- including Glen Ballard, the man behind Alanis Morissette -- before settling on Kevin Shirley, an in-house producer responsible for Silverchair and Journey. Perhaps that's the reason why Nine Lives sounds so calculated, as if it was assembled by a band trying to sound like Aerosmith. In a sense, it is -- not one of the 13 songs were written without the assistance of professional songwriters. Of course, some of the best moments of Pump and Permanent Vacation were also written with professionals, but they had an appealing, slick surface that made them infectious. Nine Lives, in contrast, is overlabored, with Aerosmith making a conscious effort to sound hip and vibrant, which ironically simply makes them sound tired. Not only are the performances perfunctory, but the songs aren't catchy -- no matter how hard it tries, "Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)" never develops a hook, and it is not an exception. A handful of cuts approximate the raunchy appeal of prime Aerosmith, but Nine Lives is hardly the triumphant comeback it should have been.

Aerosmith - Draw The Line (1977)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock, Classic Rock
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© 1977-1991 Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
Renting out an abandoned convent on the outskirts of New York City to record the follow-up to the hellacious Rocks may not have been the best idea, but 1977's Draw the Line still managed to be another down-and-dirty Aerosmith release. While it wasn't as awe-inspiring as their last two albums -- the members have said that the music suddenly got "cloudy" around this time (due to in-band fighting/ego clashes, excessive living, etc.), Draw the Line catches fire more times than not. Unlike their most recent album successes, the band shies away from studio experimenting and dabbling in different styles; instead they return to simple, straight-ahead hard rock. The album-opening title track features a gloriously abrasive Joe Perry slide guitar riff and has been featured in concert ever since, while the punk-esque "Bright Light Fright" featured Perry's first ever lead vocal spot on an Aerosmith record. Other highlights include a reworking of the blues obscurity "Milk Cow Blues," which Perry's pre-Aerosmith group, the Jam Band, played live, as well as "I Wanna Know Why," "Critical Mass," "Get It Up," "Kings and Queens," and "Sight for Sore Eyes." Draw the Line would turn out to be the last true studio album from Aerosmith's original lineup for nearly a decade.

March 20, 2017

Aerosmith - Rocks (1976) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock, Blues Rock
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© 1976-1988 Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
Few albums have been so appropriately named as Aerosmith's 1976 classic Rocks. Despite hard drug use escalating among bandmembers, Aerosmith produced a superb follow-up to their masterwork Toys in the Attic, nearly topping it in the process. Many Aero fans will point to Toys as the band's quintessential album (it contained two radio/concert standards after all, "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion"), but out of all their albums, Rocks did the best job of capturing Aerosmith at their most raw and rocking. Like its predecessor, a pair of songs have become their most renowned -- the menacing, hard rock, cowboy-stomper "Back in the Saddle," as well as the downright viscous funk groove of "Last Child." Again, even the lesser-known tracks prove essential to the makeup of the album, such as the stimulated "Rats in the Cellar" (a response of sorts to "Toys in the Attic"), the Stonesy "Combination," and the forgotten riff-rocker "Get the Lead Out." Also included is the apocalyptic "Nobody's Fault," the up-and-coming rock star tale of "Lick and a Promise," and the album-closing ballad "Home Tonight." With Rocks, Aerosmith appeared to be indestructible.

Rose Tattoo - Assault & Battery (1981) ☠

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1981 Albert Productions
Review by Jimmy (Captain Oi) for RazorCake.org
It's funny how even some of the greatest stuff can fall through the cracks, you know? I remember seeing Rock'n'Roll Outlaws, what I now know is their debut album, in a long-gone record store back in '82 or so, being intrigued by their bald singer, and then putting it back on the shelves 'cause the band name was too wimpy. Now that I finally get to hear what was on that album, not to mention the four that followed it, I realize I should've taken that puppy home with me. Rose Tattoo's debut is surely the missing link between punk and bar rock—part Ramones, part AC/DC and maybe a dash of a pissed-off Faces-era Rod Stewart in the vocals—and one of the finest albums to come out of the late ‘70s. This was one of those rare bands that managed to wrestle rock back from the overpaid pretty boys and give it back to the streets, a band that you'd best believe meant it when they sang "Nice boys don't play rock 'n' roll" and drove the point home by adding "I'm not a nice boy." This is the soundtrack for an ass-kicking both metaphorical and literal. This is what rock'n'roll was born to do, namely scare the shit outta you while getting you to move a little. The band followed up their stunner of a debut with Assault & Battery, which, while not as intense as its predecessor, packs a mean wallop behind another strong set of songs. From there on in, as with so many other bands, it's downhill, with each of the last two albums losing even more of that crucial raw edge and sliding ever closer into bad ‘80s rock land, although, to their credit, they're even good at that. Captain Oi has seen fit to reissue all four of the band's albums with extensive liner notes and the requisite bonus tracks. Much thanks is due to the Captain for giving me a new favorite band of the week, even if it took me twenty-two years to pay attention.

Jex Thoth - Jex Thoth (2008)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom, Psychedelic Rock
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© 2007 I Hate Records
Review By "Psythe" for MetalUnderground.com
This review has been months (more?) in the making. I still don’t know quite what to say about this album. I am fairly new to the doom metal genre (oh, to have more time for lifes’ pleasures), and Jex Thoth – previously known as Totem, now named for the band’s vocalist - has been exceedingly difficult for me to get my head around. At times folky, sometimes progressive, oft-times downbeat, Jex Thoth is a band that at all times maintains an atmosphere of haunting melancholy. The guitar production is both crunchy and muddy, layering an eclectic lead over a miserable yet driven bass rhythm. I am a huge fan of albums that carry a theme from song to song, not just lyrically, but in the musicianship also. Some might call such cases concept albums, and in some cases they would be right. "Jex Thoth" is not a concept album, however it does have a strong sense of carry-on from song to song. That is not to say that each song sounds exactly the same; the rhythms and so on definitely change and each song is a song unto itself. But each song also flows flawlessly into the next, creating a listening experience that stretches far further than the stand-out-tracks style of typical, radio-friendly music. Once the album starts, and you are drawn into it, you will not feel the need to skip songs. The downside of this, of course, is that unless you really love this album a lot, it also doesn’t have any particularly catchy stand-out tracks that will make you play it over some other disc in your library. It’s a toss of the coin; on one side, you have a few great tracks that will get played to death while on the other side, is a great album that will probably get played rarely. Personally, I prefer the latter for my serious taste music, and the former for my fun, piss-up-with-the-mates music. Read the full review at MetalUnderground.com

Bon Jovi - These Days (Limited Edition) (1995)

*European limited edition. Contains the track "Bitter Wine" and 13 tracks total.

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1995 Mercury Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With These Days, Bon Jovi firmly established themselves as an adult contemporary act. They still have their fair share of rockers, but they seem half-hearted and incomplete. Instead, the band sounds the most comfortable with love ballads and working class anthems, from hits "This Ain't a Love Song" and "Lie to Me," to the acoustic "Diamond Ring." In fact, as the years go by, Bon Jovi gets musically stronger. Not only are their best songs stronger now, their playing is more accomplished. Keeping these improvements in mind, it's no surprise that the group was one of the few pop-metal bands to sustain a career in the mid-'90s.