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Music CD/DVD Reviews: Styx, Bonfire, Van Canto, Fastway, Procul Harum and Yes

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This week’s column features ,a good mix of CDs and DVDs, re-releases and new stuff which makes it all the more varied.

CD Reviews

Styx: Regeneration

Done by many a band with varied results, this is Styx’s luscious reworking of their classic material. Considering there are only three members of the original line-up left that recorded these tracks, it seems apt. And it’s interesting to hear Lawrence Gowan’s take on Dennis DeYoung’s parts. Gowan’s voice and DeYoung’s are quite different, and it is always interesting to see how it comes out. I saw this version of Styx live in London a few years back, and they delivered a stunning show (complete with twirling keyboard). For good measure this release includes a new song, the fairly mellow “Difference in the World.”

The real treat is left for last on the second CD. That treat would be Styx covering Damn Yankee’s big hits “Coming of Age” and “High Enough.”  Short of a Damn Yankees reunion, this is as close as you will get to something “new” from that band. If you don’t own any of Styx’s classic tracks on CD, then you could do far worse than pick this collection up. I enjoyed every minute of both CDs.  Styx is a great band that continues to produce quality whether live or on record.

Originally released individually and sold at Styx’s live gigs, it’s great to see this together as one release.

Van Canto: Break the Silence

I was quite impressed by their previous release. The acapella schtick was done well, and there was enough meat to have it come across as not too much of a gimmick. Alas, this time it is a bit too light on good tracks, and the covers are pretty lame. First, let’s take the cover of “Bed of Nails,” an Alice Cooper track that comes across as lame and about as menacing as a limp rag. Next, why did they chose to cover the already lame Manowar track “Master of the Wind”?  At least if you are going to cover that sort of stinker, make it better somehow. Sabaton’s “Primo Victoria” comes and goes while completely missing the mark, leaving no impression on the listener.

Then again when they get it right like on the original track “Never Wind,” it all comes together nicely. With its vocals trading between male and female, this is what we want to hear from this band. “The Higher Flight” is quite good and what you have come to expect from this bunch.  Trouble is they start off with an original stinker in the form of “If I Die in Battle,” which is as cliche-filled and “going through the motions” as you will hear on any a metal album. I am sure Van Canto have not run out of ideas, but they certainly need someone to help them sort the wheat from the chaff. To call this release a let down is a freaking understatement. There is nothing that is anywhere as near as catchy as the worst track on the last album. What a wasted opportunity.

Fastway: Eat Dog Eat

Fast Eddie Clark’s (of Motorhead) band is back with a new album–no sign of Pete Way, however.  Way is probably busy enough with the latest version of UFO. As with most of Fastway products, this is slick hard rock with catchy choruses and big hooks. It’s hard rock done right and proper. As you would expect, the tunes are about the normal things proper hard rock bands care about, like having fun. Tracks like “Sick as a Dog,” the de facto title track, remind me why I liked Fastway in the first place. They may not be the most prolific band in the world, but they do know how to deliver when they reemerge. Instead of Dave King on vocals, it’s Tobv Jepson, vocalist journeyman, who originally fronted the great ’90s British hard rock band Little Angels. Up until recently Jepson fronted Scottish rockers Gun during their partial reunion tour, subbing for their original frontman.

Clark and Jepson both know how to produce a damn good tune, and there are no exceptions here. It is a good hard rock record one that leaves you hoping that Fastway will tour behind the record. Fastway’s last few releases haven’t  done that well commercially, but this one might just get them back into contention. Of course a consistent line-up would help the band get traction as well as live dates.

Bonfire: Fireworks…still Alive

For unknown reasons, Bonfire have never really made it big in the US. Like Gotthard, they are huge in Europe, but haven’t managed to make the leap across the pond. This bunch comes from Germany and are well in the mold of the Scorpions.  They hope a new deal with Universal will build on their appearances at the hard rock fest that is Rocklahoma. Bonfire does wonderful Europe-esque hard rock with a pop feel. As you might imagine from the title, this is a live album which features their greatest hits and fan favorites over two CDs. It serves as a good intro for potential American fans to the band. Their talent and affection for their fans are obvious from this CD; the classy hard rock doesn’t hurt, either.

The band have had a plethora of band members, with older members returning after periods away, only to leave again. Then again, the band has been around for over 20 years, so lots of lineup changes are almost expected. Michael Bormann, another journeyman vocalist, has done time in this band at one point. If you like quality hard rock, check out this Bonfire release and see what all the fuss is about. And at 16 tracks, it’s damn good value for money as well.

DVD reviews

Procol Harum: Live at the Union Chapel

Recorded in December 2003 at the famous Union Chapel in Islington, London, this was originally released in 2004. Not surprisingly such a lush musical release was ripe for Blu-Ray updating. The gig looks fabulous in the full glory of Blu-Ray. Even on the normal DVD this was not a one-camera affair, but an impressive concert video of a much-beloved 60s band. The fact that Gary Brooker hails from the nearby Hackney makes the gig an almost “home-town” event. What most excited the men interviewed as part of the bonus bits (yes only men, no women, spoke) was the addition of Geoff Whitehorn to line-up. At the time, the audience knew him for his work with Paul Rodgers. He emits rocker cred in his black t-shirt, in contrast to the band who are clad more appropriately, considering the venue is a religious location and has been for centuries. What is most impressive is the fact that Brooker is in such fine voice for this gig for the most part. Considering he has been around since the early 60s as musician, he is in quite good nick.

Of course they reserve their biggest hit for the end with a cracking version of “Whiter Shade of Pale,” complete with the “missing” verse. Everything you would expect to be here is included. Extras include an interview with the main man himself. Alternate angle views and a montage of the day are other bonus bits. And there is, of course, views from the bar that I mentioned above. This is a decent length DVD of a classic rock band performing in all their glory. The venue makes the entire thing especially impressive to watch. I am sure Procol Harum fans bought this when it first came out, and those who didn’t would be advised to pick up this DVD. Passive fans of the band could do far worse than this release. Pleasant music, a great performance and a wonderful venue–you could do far worse for an evening’s entertainment.

Yes: Symphonic Live

This is another never before release on Blu-Ray coming out just in time for Christmas. Originally released in the early 2000s and recorded in 2001 in Amsterdam, this is Yes in their full symphonic glory. It’s an impressive gig, and the fact that includes music from all eras of the band helps. “Owner of Lonely Heart” was quite a pleasant surprise. I am one of those who enjoys the Trevor Rabin-influenced Yes of the ’80s. The irony, of course, is that he is currently involved in the band while Jon Anderson, their long-time lead singer who appears on this DVD, is not anymore. Like Journey, they have replaced him with a cover-band frontman. Rest assured, however, that on this disc at least Anderson’s voice is in fine form though he does come across as a bit nuts in what he says. Oddly enough, the version of the band that played this gig did not include any Wakeman(s) on keys, opting for Tom Brislin instead as a touring keyboardist. The album Magnification, which this tour was supporting, was recorded by Yes as a four piece with no full time keyboard player.

The extra goodies include a short documentary on the planning and accomplishment of the symphonic tour. There is also a video for the song “Don’t Go” included for good measure. This is a great gig from the band, and I am sure it will be enjoyed by Yes fans who own a Blu-Ray.  It’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours on a rainy autumn evening. It might be ten years old, but it’s still resonates for fans of Yes and prog in general.

Well that is your mixed lot for this week. Stay safe and rocking as you go.

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About Marty Dodge

  • http://www.dennisdeyoung.com realstyxfan

    This doesn’t sound like a multiplatnium band neither does the albums. Jy’s vocals are over the place. Lawrence Gowan is NOT no Dennis Deyoung.

    This review comes from Classic Rock Magazine

    Styx – Regeneration: Volumes I & II
    Eagle Records
    http://www.eaglerockent.com
    http://www.styxworld.com

    Rating: D

    Many rock fans do not realize that many of their favorite bands do not own the rights to their own material. With classic rock tunes being favorites of advertisers, and advertisers willingness to pay big bucks to use these tunes in commercials, many bands redo their own songs in order to have something that they own to sell for these commercials. They also are handy to force the hardcore fan base completists to shell out a few more bucks for new product – err, sorta new product – to add to their collection.

    Whether this was the reason Styx released a two-disc set of their own tunes or not, only the band and their management knows.

    It’s a shame this type of thing has to go on, as it really makes bands like Styx look as if they are out of original ideas. The fact that this ‘Styx’ album also contains two Damn Yankees songs on it only adds to the confusion.

    The only interesting things about this album are the songs that Lawrence Gowan sings. Gowan replaced Dennis DeYoung and hearing his take on classics Styx tunes, including “The Grand Illusion” and “Come Sail Away,” is something different. However, he can be heard singing these songs on any of the live CDs or DVDs that have been released since he has been in the band.

    This is a throwaway album that really is not that impressive. There is a new song titled “Difference in the World” but, at the end of the day, it does more to make one wonder if the band really is out of good ideas, as it is a forgettable song.

    Perhaps the time has come for Styx to take a few years off the road and recharge their batteries. Can anyone say, “Damn Yankees reunion?”

    By Jeb Wright