Thursday, 10 February 2011

Some more first impressions...and another final farewell

It seems I’ve erred in allowing one (albeit completely horrid) radio song colour my attitude to a band, even when I suspected all along that they’d be right up my street. Comprised entirely of stellar musicians and fronted by a chap (Eric Martin) who once nearly became Toto’s third lead vocalist (or DID become Toto’s third lead vocalist for almost a week, as Martin tells it!), and with a focus on musicianship and songwriting, why wouldn’t I love them?

The band is Mr. Big, and while it’s possible I know several of their older songs it’s the cloying To  Be With You that I’ve had ringing in my ears and preventing me from buying any of their albums for all these years. With their reunion album What If… being generally very well received (including a rare 100% rating at I figured it was finally time to add them to the collection, and starting with the most recent album seemed a logical move – after all, if I like this, I should like their past efforts at least as much. 

The good news is, after just one listen I like it plenty, and while I’m wary of albums that sound good on a first listen – too many end up with nothing more to reveal on repeated plays – I’m confident that this will grow further. Only thing is I’ve a feeling I’m going to have to go back and get their earlier albums, including their biggest success, Lean Into It (1991) – yep, that’d be the one with To Be With You. Who knows, I may even find that song’s not too bad after all. Yeah, right, and if that happens I’ll stop confusing Billy Sheehan with Billy Sherwood…anyway, with this, the new Magnum and John Waite's Rough and Tumble, 2011 is off to a very good start for old-school melodic rock lovers everywhere...

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An album that’s been out for a while now, but I have only just got around to is The Doobie Brothers’ World Gone Crazy. Released last year, it marks the Doobies return to recording  with their first a) studio album in 10 years and b) their first with Ted Templeman producing since One Step Closer (1980) the last album the band put out prior to their early 80s break-up. The previous album, Sibling Rivalry, was a patchy affair, which itself had come nearly a full decade after its predecessor (1991’s Brotherhood). Still, there was a bit of a buzz around this release, not least because of the reunion with Templeman, who produced the band right throughout the 70s, and it’s received mostly positive reviews, so I figured it was worth investigation.

After a couple of listens though, it’s just not hitting the mark for me. As with Sibling Rivalry Patrick Simmons’ contributions are the more musically satisfying, and his voice has worn the years well. Tom Johnston’s efforts, on the other hand, seem repetitive and dull, albeit with some decent lyrics at times, but his songwriting never really developed and his best songs all date from 1971-1975. Actually the rot began to set in from Stampede (1975) with the likes of Rainy Day Crossroad Blues and I Been Workin’ On You weakening the tail-end of an otherwise excellent album. Indeed it’s telling that the standout cut (and first single) on World Gone Crazy is a remake of Nobody, from their completely ignored debut. Now, I’ve been a fan of the Doobies for decades, but unless this album turns out to be a serious grower (which, based on the previous album, won’t be the case) I’ll not be tempted to check out any future output. Although I would plump for a Patrick Simmons solo album…

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Finally, another great musician has passed away in recent days, legendary guitarist Gary Moore. If you’ve read an obituary you’ve probably seen him described as ‘former Thin Lizzy guitarist…’ which, while true, is hardly the way he deserves to be remembered. (I hope that when – in many years time! – John Wetton passes away, he isn’t described as ‘former Uriah Heep bassist….’!)

Sadly, other than a vague memory of his Still Got the Blues days (which passed me by at the time, although I’ll forgive myself the oversight given I was still pre-teens) I wasn’t familiar with his output at all, until last year, when I caught his set at the High Voltage festival, and he turned out to be one of my unexpected highlights of the weekend.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but by the second song (Thunder Rising) he’d won at least one new convert, and I found his set compelling form start to finish. Sadly his planned encore failed to come to pass, as organisers would not let him back on the stage due to timing pressures, and I guess that’s an apt metaphor for his sudden passing – he certainly had more to offer, but was prevented from being able to do so – RIP Gary.

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