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Sixx:A.M. - Vol. 1 Prayers For The Damned

By John Jeffrey

Just when people started to count them out, SIXX:A.M. returns with possibly their best album yet, with 'Vol. 1 Prayers For The Damned.'  Being skeptical myself of what their latest offering would bring, after their 2014 disc, 'Modern Vintage,' while being a solid release, showed the band dabbling with more pop orientated song arrangements and even incorporating disco/R&B flavorings (ala Michael Jackson) into their sound, there was definitely a sense that the band was "losing the plot."
Ye believers of little faith need not worry, as the first installment of "Prayers For The Damned" hits all the pleasure points that fans were missing on 'Modern Vintage' and to some extent on 'This Is Gonna Hurt.' Being the fourth studio album from the trio, this CD represents the band’s most ambitious, complete and adrenaline-soaked effort to date.  The album also boasts first-class production and mixing by vocalist James Michael and original artwork from guitarist Dj Ashba, proving that this collection of music is a true labor of passion.  One cannot deny how focused and cohesive this album of music is, and this is perhaps due to Dj taking the decision to leave Guns ’N’ Roses and Nikki Sixx wrapping up his touring career with Mötley Crüe. There are no distractions any more and the band definitely appears to be 100% dedicated to SIXX:A.M. now.
Lyrically, 'Prayers For The Damned' sees the trio casting their glance out onto the world we live in more than ever before, as there is still a great deal of the personal introspection the band have come to be renowned for represented here.  Musically, 'Prayers For The Damned' includes some of the heaviest songs that band has ever written.  As Nikki Sixx puts it, “These are the songs that are designed to get a reaction from a live crowd as much as they are going to sound brilliant over your stereo.”  The eerie overtones that have been missing on the past couple of releases are back as well, as songs like "Better Man" and "When We Were Gods" sound like songs that could have easily been written and recorded for 'The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack.'
The bottom line is that SIXX:A.M. are back, swinging with a collection of songs that will fire up both the head and heart in equal measure.  SIXX:AM have found their way back to their true sound and are producing art that refuses to be led by anything but their own desires.  As Nikki puts it, “This time around we have really found what the voice of SIXX:A.M. is and I hope that when people listen to them they will hear their voice too.”  If Vol.1 is any indication of how great Vol.2 is going to be, the future will be incredibly bright for SIXX:AM.


Ace Frehley - 'Origins Vol.1'

By John Jeffrey

Ace Frehley has a unique relationship with cover songs.  Throughout his solo career, and starting with his 1978 KISS solo album, Ace has had the uncanny ability to cover a song and completely immerse himself into the track he was recording at the time.  Most times, once the "Ace-ification" was complete, the finished composition wound up sounding more like a Frehley 'original' than a 'cover,' with some people indentifying the song(s) more so with Ace Frehley then the original artist(s).  Although, the two best examples are the Russ Ballard compositions "New York Groove" (from his 78 KISS solo record, which at times, Ace, himself, has inadvertently taken credit as being "his" song) and "Into The Night" (from the 1987 'Frehley's Comet' album), Ace has literally included a cover song on every solo album he has released in his musical career.
While there were divided opinions on Ace's most recent cover of Steve Miller's, "The Joker" (released on 2014's 'Space Invader' CD), the sessions in which several cover songs were recorded for consideration as "the cover song" on 'Space Invader' were the foundation for Ace's upcoming CD - a 12 track disc comprised solely of cover songs - entitled, 'Origins Vol.1.' To be released next month from eOne Music, the CD pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix, and the other legendary artists who inspired him to begin his own musical journey, as Ace chose some great songs to cover like Jimi's “Spanish Castle Magic” and Led Zeppelin’s “Bring it on Home.”
When Ace originally announced the impending release of 'Origins Vol.1,' KISS fans rejoiced in the news that Ace would attempt to reclaim “Cold Gin” and “Parasite” from the KISS catalog by singing the lead vocals on both for the first time ever.  He also teamed up with Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), and Rob Zombie guitarist John 5 (for the 2 aforementioned KISS covers), along with Slash and Lita Ford on supercharged covers of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” and the Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”
Upon the first few listens of 'Origins Vol.1,' one thing was clear, Ace hit upon a great cross-section of well known material and b-sides to record for the disc.  While I enjoyed some tracks more than others (not feeling the Thin Lizzy and Kinks covers all that much), every one of them is worthy of a few spins.
Vocally, Ace comes across very confident, but still retains that quirky appeal that Ace's fans love.  While some of his phrasing may leave something to be desired, his vocal tone is still classic "Ace."  Another vocalist who turns in a "classic" performance is Ace's former KISS band mate, Paul Stanley, who contributed vocals on the Free cover, "Fire and Water."  Paul delivers a clean performance, showcasing his lower vocal register abilities and proves he still has one of the greatest vocal tones in all of rock and roll.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention the stellar vocal performance drummer Scot Coogan gives on "Bring it on Home."  Scot channels Robert Plant so well that it came as no surprise to find out that Scot moonlights - drumming and singing - in the Led Zeppelin tribute band, 6 Foot Nurse.
Out of the 3 KISS covers, the thing that was most interesting was Ace's decision to cover the song, "Rock N Roll Hell" from 'Creatures of the Night.'  While that album was the last one to feature Ace's face on the cover (before he "officially" left the band the first time around), Ace didn't play a note on the record. So it was very cool to see Ace thinking outside the box on this one.  Played with a somewhat faster tempo then the KISS version, the song loses some of it's groove, which is a shame, due to the fact that Eric Carr's drumming is a major appeal on many of the songs off of 'Creatures.'  But for what the song lacks in groove, Ace makes up for it with a 'go for the throat' guitar attack throughout the song, unleashing just about every lick in his arsenal.  Unfortunately, Ace's new version of "Parasite" misses the mark for me, as all of the 'hot-rodding'  done during the solo section ruins the simplistic magic and appeal of the original.  I feel KISS fans would have appreciated a more traditional approach, like Ace delivered with "Cold Gin," as perhaps the 'Origins Vol.1' version of "Cold Gin" may be the new, definitive, studio version of the song.
Overall, Ace Frehley saved 'Origins Vol.1' from being a predictable, boring 'covers' record, like most 'covers' records tend to be.  With a good song selection, plus great 'special guest' performances, Ace will certainly retain the respect of his loyal "Rock Soldiers."  Looking forward to hopefully more volumes in the future from the Space Ace!! 



Rock Music Star - Top 10 of 2015

As the time came upon us, once again - here at Rock Music Star - to compile our Top 10 (rock) music releases of the year, we noticed one startling fact about our own website.  We noticed that we did not have ONE CD review posted on our site in 2015.  While the omission of CD reviews was certainly not completely intentional, it did make us ponder on how this actually came to be. 
Looking back, one of the reasons why we decided on not posting reviews on some of the releases we really enjoyed in 2015 was simply due to the fact that many of the interviews we conducted with the artists coincided with their release of their albums.  Considering we thoroughly discussed the albums during the conversation, it seemed kind of redundant and overkill, to post a separate CD review.
Aside from that, 2015 was a pretty lackluster year for Hard rock music.  It seems as though the amount of rock releases has really dwindled and some of the more solid stuff, really flew under the radar.  So we really had to go back and check, and double check the list of what came out in 2015, and revisit some of these CDs, in order to come up with this year's, "Rock Music Star Top 10 Rock Releases."
1. Def Leppard - 'Def Leppard' - At the top of the heap is the only band from the 1980's that started out as part of the NWOBHM and transformed into one of the biggest 'hair metal' bands of the same decade, without ever really getting lumped in with the rest of the genre.  Perhaps the band's ability to transcend genres and successfully fight the tag of being a 'hair band,' is what has helped give them the longevity they have achieved and has allowed them continued success throughout the 90's and even 'til this day.
Their self-titled 2015 release is an extremely solid, 14 track album of songs.  With great production by Ronan McHugh, one would have to agree with the band's assessment of the album, as they refer to it as their "everything" record.  As vocalist Joe Elliot put it, 'Def Leppard' features "every single aspect of anything we've ever wanted to put out - acoustic, heavy, soft, slow, fast - it's there."  In addition, Elliot stated, they were successful in being "capable of coming up with vastly different kinds of songs."  While it would have been easy for the band to release a paint by numbers 'Hysteria' sounding record, while all the signature Def Leppard sounds are present, they really pushed the envelope in going in various musical directions, with terrific songs like, "Man Enough," "Invincible," "Wings Of An Angel" and "Sea Of Love."
2. Marilyn Manson – ‘Pale Emperor’ – This certainly could be the comeback release of the year.  The aging shock rocker joined forces with Grammy award music composer, Tyler Bates, for a mature, raw, and unique 13 track southern-goth flavored masterpiece. Tracks such as “Deep Six,” “The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles,” “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge,” certainly made Marilyn Manson a relevant artist again in 2015.
3.  Ugly Kid Joe - 'Uglier Than They Used ta Be' - One of the last true 'rock bands' to come out in the 90's, playing heavy music when it wasn't cool to be heavy and playing grunge rock before "grunge" existed.  It's ironic that some people say the opening track of 'Uglier Than They Used ta Be,' "Hell Ain't Hard To Find," sounds like a lift from Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters' song, "Learning To Fly," as Ugly Kid Joe sounded like the Foo Fighters before there was a Foo Fighters.
The album is just full of great new songs by UKJ, like "Let the Record Play" & "Bad Seed," and the 2 covers, "Ace Of Spades" (Motorhead) and the Rare Earth song, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" (featuring the Australian sensation Dallas Frasca) are simply brilliant.
4. Devil City Angels - 'Devil City Angels' - In 2015, an unlikely "supergroup" of sorts was formed, comprised of hard rock's 'unwanted' side-men.  Put together by the sidelined Poison drummer Rikki Rocket and one of the best 80's guitarists - who can never seem to hold down a gig - Tracii Guns, along with bassist Eric Brittingham - of Cinderella fame (who's main band is also in limbo due to their lead singer pursuing a solo career) and rising upstart, vocalist Brandon Gibbs, the Devil City Angels put together one of the most solid albums to come from the hard rock genre this year.
While the members of DCA refer to their sound as "modern vintage," you can definitely hear the culmination of their influences throughout their 10 song debut.  From the classic rock stylings of Aerosmith and Billy Squier, to more recent sounding blues-rock like the Black Crowes, the band hits all the marks on almost every song, with the only dud being the song, "All I Need," which for some reason, wound up being the 2nd single from the CD being pushed by the label.
'Devil City Angels' features, perhaps, Rikki Rocket's most inspired sounding drumming since Poison's 'Crack A Smile' CD, definitely bringing that funky side of Poison to the table, as Tracii Guns shows what a diversified guitar player he can really be, when put in the right situation.  While Gibbs vocal delivery can sometimes be on the vanilla side of the musical palate, the guy's got great tone and his youthful energy is exactly what this band needs in order to have any hope at longevity.
5. W.A.S.P. - 'Golgotha' - Founder, and the only remaining original member, Blackie Lawless has pretty much, turned his group, W.A.S.P., into the theatrical rock version of AC/DC, as with every release Lawless has put out in the past 20 years essentially sounds like he's been re-writing the same song(s) over and over.  However, for the 2015 rendition of Blackie's "ghoulash," it seems as though he got all of the ingredients in the right order this time, as 'Golgotha' may be the best album he's released since 1992's, 'The Crimson Idol.'
6. Motorhead - 'Bad Magic' - With the death of Motorhead leader, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister,  'Bad Magic' serves as a fitting swan song of an intense and groundbreaking 40 year career.  All 13 tracks on this release are noteworthy, with "Til The End," "Victory or Die" and the closer, a cover of the Rolling Stones' classic, "Sympathy for the Devil," as the highlights.  Every fan of metal and hard rock needs this album in their collection.
7. Scorpions – ‘Return to Forever’ – German hard rockers celebrate their 50th anniversary with their 19th studio release.  ‘Return to Forever’ consists of vintage Scorpion rockers and power ballads.  Interestingly, 12 of these tracks were unfinished demos from the 80's, and early 90's, which the band members finished for this release.  Time will only tell if this is the band’s final release.  If so, it is a fitting end to an illustrious career.
8. Tommy Henriksen - 'Tommy, Tommy, Tommy' - One could easily describe Tommy Henriksen's style as: the Cars meets Kraftwerk, Bruce Springsteen with a backbeat, an acoustic Iggy Pop or even Lou Reed on a loop, once you get past the culture shock of all of his combined musical influences and really delve into the music, you realize Tommy Henriksen has successfully created his own unqiue sound and flavor, providing the listener a great musical journey throughout, 'Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.'
More 'Nu Yawk' than the Jets and Giants combined, while you could imagine the songs were written somewhere in the East Village, the majority of the tracks are surprisingly upbeat, in a pseudo-sarcastic, punk rock-ish type way.  Whether it's Henriksen channeling his inner Alice Cooper/Iggy Pop on "Teenage Kicks Part 2" or paying homage to all of his musical influences (by mentioning them by name) in "All My Heroes," it's just fun, uplifting music, with choruses that will stick inside your head, having you singing them for days.
9.  Beauvoir-Free - 'American Trash' - It's rare when you find artists who aren't phased by musical trends or fads and no matter what the consequence, continue to write the style of music they truly love.  A perfect example is Jean Beavoir.  The former Plasmatic, aka 'the black guy with the blonde mohawk,' is not defined by the color of his skin, the style of his hair or whatever genre you wish to categorize his music as.
In 2015, Beauvoir reunited with long-time musical partner, guitarist, Micki Free, as Free was once a member of Beauvoir's continuing Crown of Thorns band, and considering the group still exists today, albeit with a different lineup, the duo went with the Beauvoir-Free moniker, as not to confuse any fans into thinking Free rejoined the Crown of Thorns lineup.
'American Trash' is a very enjoyable 11 song album, mostly killer, with very little filler.  Songs like "Angels Cry," "Shotgun To the Heart" and the Journey-esque, "She's A KO" are great melodic rock songs that deserve to be heard, no matter what decade they were released in.
10.  Bumblefoot - 'Little Brother Is Watching' - From Guns N Roses, to David Bowie, to Queen, to the Sex Pistols - and that's only the first song, "Clots," from Ron Thal's aka Bumblefoot's 'Little Brother Is Watching' CD.  Rounding out our "Rock Music Star Top 10 Rock Releases" of 2015, this album from Bumblefoot is by far, the most eclectic release on the list.  And that's a very good thing!
Not only is Thal a very underrated guitar player (best described by Guitar Network Magazine as Ridiculous... in a good way"), but he's a very solid lead singer and his vocal abilities shine throughout 'Little Brother Is Watching.'  Whether he's channeling David Bowie on songs like "Argentina," Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) on "Don't Know Who To Pray To Anymore" or replicating harmonies which would make the Beatles envious throughout the disc, Bumblefoot treats his voice just like the six string instrument he has mastered for so many years.  Looking forward to many more great releases from Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal in the future... 



Rock Music Star - "Top 10 Rock releases of 2014"  

1. Sister Sin - "Black Lotus" - Taking the number one slot of 2014 is Sister Sin with "Black Lotus."  The fact that a band so early in their career can deliver earth shattering metal of this magnitude is simply astounding.  Even within their Euro-metal style, they show the ability to be diverse on "Black Lotus" with killer tracks like the acoustic driven, "The Jinx."  While each of our "Top 10" have great songs and other musical merits, this 'rookie' band amongst it's group of 'veterans' are taking the torch of metal by demand, proving that they are the front runners of the future of this genre.

2. Body Count -"Manslaughter"-  Ice T shocked the metal community in 2014 with the return of Body Count by releasing the best album of their career with "Manslaughter."  Whether it's their remake of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized" or the advance single, "Talk Shit, Get Shot" this album is real deal metal and Ice-T's vocal delivery is beyond words.  A beginning to end master piece that came completely from left field in 2014.

3. Sebastian Bach - "Give Em Hell"- One of the biggest singers from the 80's that seems to have a love/hate relationship with the metal community, and at times, his own fan base, continues to prove to his critics that he can still deliver the goods.  "Give 'Em Hell" is the perfect example of taking a classic hard rock approach and adding nu-school metal production values, giving the listener a solid body of work and something really enjoyable and 'new' to listen to.  While there are a few clunkers on "Give 'Em Hell," the ones that rock, REALLY kick ass.  Steve Stevens guitar playing on "Gun To a Knife Fight" is the worthy of the number 3 spot alone.

4. Slash - "World On Fire"-  Finding a comfort zone between a current hard rock sound and the Guns N Roses type riffage, which attained the guitar icon the legendary status which he possesses, Slash and his Conspirators have truly set the "World on Fire" with it's 2014 release.  Again, demonstrating a real 'band feel' on this album, "Word on Fire" is not a record the average listener can digest in a single listening, as this 17 song opus clocks in at just over 77 minutes of music.  The amount of classic sounding GNR type licks are unreal and his soloing is as about as perfect as you can get from Slash.

5. Sixx:A.M. - "Modern Vintage"-  Motley Crue mastermind Nikki Sixx's side-project, Sixx:A.M., which oddly enough was never intended to be a 'band,' shows growth once again, as this rising phoenix continues to spread it's wings and shows it's musical expansion on their 3rd full length release, "Modern Vintage."  Although, the band has moved away from some of their signature musical stylings, the core has been left intact, which is great song writing by Sixx, vocalist James Michael and guitarist DJ Ashba, which there is plenty of on "Modern Vintage."

6. Overkill - "White Devil Armory"- Another band that refuses to sell out or alter it's sound, are the New Jersey kings of Thrash Metal, Overkill.  Releasing perhaps the best and most consistent album since 1996's "Killing Kind" CD, "White Devil Armory" is the most convincing, old school sounding metal album I've heard in years.  Songs like "Bitter Pill" are pure riffing genius and the Metallica influenced "Where's there's Smoke" sounds like it could have come right off of "Master of Puppets."

7. Accept - "Blind Rage" - Since the reformation of Accept in 2009 by original members, Wolf Hoffmann and Peter Baltes, this band can do no wrong. This is Accept's third release with vocalist, Mark Tornillo, and they just keep getting better and better with each record. Brutally intense riffs with screaming banshee vocals are mixed together, resulting in an anthematic metal masterpiece.

8. Dave Constantino Band - "Touch"- Buffalo, NY music legend, Dave Constantino, triumphantly returns with his second solo release. 'Touch' is a ten-song, blues-rock masterpiece, with incredible musicianship that features well-crafted, late-night bar room rockers, fueled by a unique and uncompromising nasty guitar tone that would warrant the attention and admiration of any guitar-loving fan. This is a release that deserves to be heard over and over again.

9. Red Dragon Cartel - "Red Dragon Cartel"- After decades in obscurity, ex Ozzy/Badlands guitarist, Jake E. Lee, returns with an ambitious new band. But, its Lee's amazing guitar that is still the focal point on this diverse and impressive release. Interestingly, Lee utilizes five guest vocalists, which include Robin Zander, Maria Brinks, Paul Di'Anno, in addition to full time singer-Darren Smith. The first single, "Feeder," which features Robin Zander (Cheap Trick), has a bit of a modern edge, and was well received. However, songs like the riff-heavy, Black Sabbath-influenced, "War Machine," are the style of songs that fans of Jake E. Lee desire the most.

10.Tesla - "Simplicity"- Jeff Keith and the boys are like a late 80's version of AC/DC.  Never straying from their signature sound, and in 2014, they released another album of the signature Tesla brand of 'straight ahead rock and roll.'  While some of their recent releases have been better than others, "Simplicity" definitely falls into the "better" category.  While "Simplicity" didn't deliver another "Modern Day Cowboy" or a "Little Suzi," this release is solid from beginning to end and rightly deserves to be part of our "Top 10" for 2014.