By John Jeffrey
Red Dragon Cartel is the long awaited release from former Badlands/Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee. Coaxed out of retirement by longtime friend Ronnie Mancuso, a noted session guitarist/bassist, composer and producer for Beggars & Thieves, Mancuso was sharing a studio space, “The Hideout,” (in Las Vegas) with super hot producer, engineer and mixer Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne, Five Finger Death Punch, Rob Zombie, Hinder, In This Moment). Ronnie and Kevin started talking with Jake, then slowly, Ronnie and Jake along with Kevin’s son Kane (co-writer of Five Finger Death Punch’s “Remember Everything”, In This Moments “Blood” and many others) started writing songs under Kevin’s supervision, based on literally hundreds of great licks Jake had stored up from his years in seclusion.
The end result is sort of a mishmash of classic Jake E. Lee style blues-y metal guitar riffing mixed with current metal sounds courtesy of the Churko father/son team. The "Red Dragon Cartel" CD suffers from the double edged sword of having too many guest musicians appearing on it. On one hand, it's cool to hear Jake collaborate with these different artists, with the end result being a diverse sounding record. But with there being so many different musicians on it (especially in the vocal and drum department), you really don't know what the core Red Dragon Cartel lineup truly sounds like. For example, although the press release states "the majority of tracks" were "recorded with the new permanent members (of) Red Dragon Cartel," RockMusicStar was informed by drummer Brent Fitz that he recorded the drum parts for "5 or 6" of the 9 songs which have percussion (track 10 is an all piano instrumental titled, "Exquisite Tenderness"), and 4 of the 9 songs (which feature vocals) have guest singers on them as well - which is almost half of the album.
Truthfully, it took me a few listens to determine if I actually liked the album or not, and after digesting the whole thing on the third or fourth listen, I actually started to 'get it.' While the opening track (and lead off single/video), "Deceived," gives you the best impression of what RDC is all about, I actually preferred the songs with the female guest vocalists ("Big Mouth" sung by In This Moment's Maria Brink and "Redeem Me" sung by Sass Jordan) and the song "Wasted" featuring former Iron Maiden front man, Paul Di'Anno, over the songs sung by RDC's lead singer D.J Smith, and consider those to be the best on the disc.
Unfortunately, Smith is not a strong enough singer to front the Lee's Cartel, and came as no surprise that he is actually a drummer by trade, not a lead singer. As great as Jake E. Lee's guitar lead guitar playing is, and with the songs themselves being solid, having the guest vocalists like Cheap Trick's Robin Zander (on the song "Feeder") really save the CD from being a big time "fail."
Although "Red Dragon Cartel" is being pushed as a 'band record,' I really feel like it's more of a 'solo album' from Jake E. Lee, as it really lacks the cohesive nature of what a 'band record' should be. I feel if the listener thinks of the record as an experimental musical solo journey be Lee, they will find it much more palatable if viewed and listened to in that regard.