By John Jeffrey
Hmmm. I’ve had this release in my Haulix (which is like Dropbox for journalists) for over a month, and truthfully only gave it a couple listens through. Once I saw the track listing revealed for the album, I really wasn’t overly enthused to want to hear this record. I guess my disconnect comes from the fact that I’m a child of the 70’s and mostly grew up on 70’s hard rock, and seeing that most of the content of “Origins Volume 2” is from the 60’s, it didn’t seem that attractive to me. Of course, I was familiar with the 60’s “hits” that appear on the record, but to me, they are also the most over played songs on the radio, and probably played by any and every cover band to emerge from the garage or the basement.
When “Origins Volume 1” came out, it was a little more interesting to me, as the idea of Ace recording studio versions of the KISS classics he performed live during his solo career (“Parasite” & “Cold Gin” – with Ace singing the lead vocals, whereas the original KISS versions were sung by Gene Simmons), and recording a KISS song (“Rock and Roll Hell”) – which was not from any era in which Frehley was a member of the band – this all seemed novel to me. Plus, throw in a collaboration with former KISS band mate, Paul Stanley (“Fire and Water”), all sounded like a win-win to me.
That being said, even though I’m not a huge fan of the era of music Ace chose for “Volume 2,” or some of the song selections, there’s something about “Volume 2” that makes me like it a little bit more than “Volume 1.” Being that I decided to hold off on writing this review, I was really interested in what other KISS/Ace Frehley fans thought of the record and if they shared any of the sentiments that I felt about “Origins Volume 2.”
After a few more listens, one thing I noticed is that there was a deliberate attempt with the production to make “Volume 2” sound like a complete album of work, and not a compilation record. I really appreciate this approach, as most compilations, compromised of different recordings – from different studios – are not sonically consistent and are fatiguing to the ear to listen to, due to change in sonics from track to track. This was achieved large in part by the mixing and mastering done by Anthony Focx and his applying similar effects to the drums on each track, making the drums the one constant, which tied each track to the next.
Starting the record with Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” seems to have received a mixed bag of opinions from fans. For me personally, I get it, as the original song is arguably the best of the original tunes covered on “Volume 2,” but some fans take exception to the fact that they feel that it doesn’t sound like Ace is playing rhythm guitar on the song (as he is simply credited on the track as “guitars/vocals”) and he is not playing the lead solo on the song (although it does sound like Ace playing a few notes during the fade). I appreciate the fact that he had his solo band guitar player, Jeremy Asbrock, play the leads on the song, and admire his “team player” approach with his, but I guess some fans feel if it says “ACE FREHLEY” on the marquee, Ace should be doing the solo, especially on the opening track.
The only other tracks that are questionable, as to if Ace is playing rhythm guitar on, is “Space Truckin'” and “She.” Everything else has that unmistakable, unique, right hand picking attack, along with the signature, left hand Frehley chording, which all of his fans who admire his guitar playing immediately recognize as the one and only Space Ace.
All of the lead guitar stuff on “Volume 2” is really fun. While I wouldn’t rate his tone or playing as “best ever” status, it does sound like an inspired Ace. And, in addition to Ace’s playing, John 5’s playing on “I’m Down” and “Politician,” and Bruce Kulick’s wowing ‘wah’ on “Manic Depression” really add a whole new dimension to the respective songs, and the album as a whole. Also, the authenticity that Phil Shouse and Jeremy Asbrock add to the main “She” solo really makes for a fun listen.
Overall, there’s definitely more pluses than minuses on “Origins Volume 2.” Listening to the album all the way through, I find myself to be skipping “Never In My Life” (can’t listen to it knowing he obviously ripped it off on “Anomaly” for “Space Bear”), “Politician” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” I surprisingly really love 2 of the songs I thought I’d hate, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (Lita Ford isn’t getting a lot of love from the Ace fans, partially due to the disdain of the cover of “Wild Thing” she sang on, for “Volume 1”) and “Lola.” I don’t think Ace took himself super seriously when he cut the vocals for that, as I laugh every time I listen to it and hear him singing “Coca-Cola.” His enunciation is just hilarious. Sorry Ace, if you didn’t intend it to be funny….
In this day and age, when live concerts are at a stand-still because of Covid-19 and a lot of rock musicians aren’t doing much as whole, in terms of releasing new music to listen to, it’s nice to know the ‘ol Ace is still putting out releases. For fans who don’t dig the cover records, one fan put a cool perspective on it by saying that by Ace doing “Origins Volume 2,” could be the antithesis to inspire Ace to keep playing and might even help him generate new material. Perhaps doing these covers of his favorite songs will put him into a ‘creative zone,’ where by playing these songs, it will send Ace off onto another tangent for creating something new. Only time will tell..
Check out (below) the recent music video by the author of this article, John Jeffrey. John plays Ace Frehley in the WNY award-winning KISS tribute band – KISS THIS! This cover of the KISS classic, “Hard Luck Woman” featuring Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, will appear on the ‘Buffalo Rock City’ KISS tribute album, which John Jeffrey has put together with some great national and local WNY musicians.