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 Vo.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!!