By John Jeffrey
Coming out this week (March 17th) is Producer/Singer-Songwriter/Guitarist Tommy Henriksen's 5th solo CD, entitled, 'Starstruck.' Henriksen's latest solo venture is the follow up to his 2014, 'Tommy, Tommy, Tommy' CD. While 'Starstruck' is yet another display of Henriksen's uncanny knack of wearing his musical influences on his sleeve, this time around, Tommy delivered a more guitar-oriented, straight ahead rock record, as opposed to the more eclectic pop-punk offerings found on 'Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.' As far influences go, this new record somewhat moves away from the Iggy Pop/Lou Reed type stuff he's done before and focuses more on other aspects of his musical makeup, as 'Starstruck' shows Henriksen really channeling his other music heroes, like Alice Cooper and Bruce Springsteen.
On the recording of 'Starstruck,' Tommy played everything and sang all of the vocals, in addition to engineering, mixing, and producing all of it. Written and recorded on the road in various hotel rooms throughout 2016, the antithesis for 'Starstruck' was actually the opening instrumental, "A Cold Open," an Ace Frehley inspired mini-opus, complete with trademark 'Space Ace' vibrato bends and toggle switch mayhem. As Henriksen recalled, "'Starstruck' started out with this guitar solo/Ace thing that was fun for me…so people know I can solo! That my musical capacity is not just limited playing rhythm guitar behind Nita Strauss and Ryan Roxie (in Alice Cooper's band)."
Once people hear 'Starstruck,' there will be no question whether or not Tommy Henriksen can 'rip it out' on lead guitar, as he dazzles the 10 song disc with his six-string dexterity throughout. Aside from the opening track, there are several other great moments on the record where Henriksen is clearly paying homage to Frehley. Songs like "Goldmine" and "New York Baby" sound like Ace in his prime, and even the bridge in the title track sounds just like the lead build up from "Rocket Ride."
As far as the song writing itself goes, it's clear from listening to 'Starstruck' just how involved Tommy Henriksen is in the modern Alice Cooper sound. Songs like "Starstruck," "Goldmine" and "Jerks and Dopes" - musically, lyrically and vocally sound like they could easily fit on the next Cooper disc. But let me be clear, Tommy is a musician who stands on his own merit, and once you become familiar with his style, you can hear 'Starstruck' is unmistakably "Tommy Henriksen," and that's a damn good thing!!
For more on Tommy Henriksen, Click here.
By John Jeffrey
Unfortunately, 2016 has demonstrated what seems to be the ongoing decline in interest for new music (at least, anything carrying a "rock and roll" tag attached to it). In the past year, there were a slew of great releases, which, for the most part, seemed to fly under the radar, not getting the recognition they deserve. Even long-standing "rock" stalwarts like the Rolling Stones and the Heavy Metal juggernauts, Metallica - while both having great initial release week sales - in the end, appear to have only received lukewarm responses from their fan bases, and the music community in general.
Nevertheless, we, here at Rock Music Star, love and appreciate new music, and like every year, we've compiled our Top 10 releases of the year. Take a minute, to look back with us, at our favorite releases of 2016:
1. Metallica - 'Hardwired...To Self-Destruct' - The pioneers of Thrash-metal released a back-to-vintage-form double record that sent their fans back to records stores in droves. This release was one of a handful this year, that sold over one million. Band leader, vocalist, rhythm guitarist, James Hetfield, is as zoned-in as ever, and delivers an epic metal masterpiece.
2. Anthrax - 'For All Kings' - It's hard to believe that the 'underdogs' of Thrash-metal's "Big 4" can deliver such an amazing opus of new music, like they did in 2016. As good as their last CD (2011's 'Worship Music') was, having the songs written with classic era singer Joey Belladonna's involvement made all the difference, as 'For All Kings' is a home run, without a doubt. The stand out track, "Breathing Lightning," simply leaves the hair standing up on the back of your neck.
3. Goo Goo Dolls - 'Boxes' - The pride and joy of Buffalo, NY, The Goo Goo Dolls, released their 11th studio album. Band members John Rzeznik (vocals, guitar) and Robby Takac (bass, vocals on two tracks) really raised the bar - musically - with this release. That, coupled with Rzeznik's catchy, clever and introspective lyrics, makes this one of the band's best of their career. In addition to the monster hit, "So Alive," there are many other incredible tracks, including: "Over and Over," "The Pin," and, "Souls in the Machine." You can check out the Goo Goo Dolls live this summer, when they play amphitheaters all across North America.
4. Sixx Am - 'Prayers for the Damned' - The first of two volumes of music released by Nikki Sixx's 'side project turned main project,' kicks all kinds of ass, as Sixx and co. went back to the formula that made them the deformed tarantula of a band they were in the first place. This time around, you won't find any Michael Jackson influenced tunes or disco numbers, just straight ahead, balls out: guitars, drums, vocals, with just enough eeriness and sleaze to keep it interesting.
5. Cheap Trick - 'Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello' - Classic rock icons, Cheap Trick, released their 17th studio album, and show that they are still a band with something to prove. Unfortunately, this release was criminally ignored, with the exception of Little Steven, who gave it the praise it desevered on his Underground Garage radio show. Check out the David Bowie influenced single, "When I Wake Up Tomorrow," and the toe-tapping rocker, "No Direction Home."
6. Megadeth - 'Dystopia' - Megadeth megalomaniac Dave Mustaine can continually smash his band into a million pieces and put it back together, somehow creating something better with each recreation. 'Dystopia' features the talents of guitarist Kiko Loureiro and drummer Chris Adler and does nothing short of assaulting your senses for three quarters of an hour, as Dave and 'deth take you through their 11 song journey.
7. The Dead Daisies - 'Make Some Noise' - While current Dead Daisie's vocalist John Corabi made his debut with the band on 2015's 'Revolucion,' it wasn't until their 2016 release, where Corabi really made his mark with the group. Between the great songwriting by the band and the amazing production by Marti Frederiksen, the end result will have you smiling from beginning to end.
8. Michael Sweet - 'One Sided War' - Stryper's leader, vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter releases what could possibly be the best release of his career. This hard-hitting recording is jam packed with intense, over-the-top guitar riffs and leads, with heartfelt and profound lyrics. Michael Sweet is on top of his game, and one of the very best at his craft.
9. Last In Line - 'Heavy Crown' - Def Leppard's guitarist, Vivian Campbell, reunites for the first time in decades with his DIO band mates, Vinny Appice (drums) and Jimmy Bain (bass). What results, is an impressive, guitar-driven, DIO-sounding release that proves that Campbell still has game in the riff and shred department. Vocalist, Andrew Freeman, has a noteworthy performance on this release, and proves that he is more than capable of playing tribute to the legacy of the great Ronnie James Dio.
10. The Rolling Stones - 'Blue & Lonesome' - Although this release is a cover record of old blues standards that were highly influential to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards during their formative years -honing their musical skills, it still ranks as one of this year's best. After all, it is the Rolling Stones, and even after 50 plus years, noboby does it better.
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.
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!!