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Music Reviews: Doobie Brothers, Sister Hazel, Apocalyptica, Empty Tremor, Kamelot, Spiritual Beggars

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A wonderful collection of music to travel by this week. There ain’t a stinker in the bunch, varied though they are.

CD reviews

Doobie Brothers: World Gone Crazy

No doubt this lot are at the more mellow end of “hard” rock but they still are a major band in the genre. Their west coast brand of southern rock influenced many a band, both hard and mellow. While this isn’t the driving southern rock of say Lynyrd Skynrd or Molly Hatchet, it has a certain gravitas. The Doobies have obviously influenced “new” country music, as any sustained listen of a modern country station would make clear.

Just to make this more interesting, their old mate and king of middle-of-the-road 80s rock, Michael McDonald, shows up for another twirl on “Don’t Say Goodbye”. Say what you want about some of the pap the guy peddles in his solo career, he has one hell of a soul-filled voice.

Willie Nelson pops in for “I know We Won” as well. Of course my favorite, not surprisingly, is the tongue-in-cheek ode to being an older rocker in the form of “Young Man’s Game”. Just for fun the band have recorded and re-released as the first single, their first ever release “Nobody” and it’s doing rather better than the first time around. It debuted on the top 30 and is one of the week’s biggest adds. They are on tour as I write this to promote the release.

There are a couple of bonus tracks including “Little Prayer” and “New York Dream” to round out this great collection of tracks. The band are in fine form and perfectly capable of exploring all their music avenues. The CD just exudes that west-coast cool that just begs to be played in your car with the windows down and the sunroof open. These guys may not be the heaviest thing on the block, nor the sleaziest or edgiest, but man can they produce a good tune.

Sister Hazel: Heartland Highway

I know two mellow releases in a row in this column, must be losing my edge? Not a chance, I get oodles of mellowness to review for this column and most of them fall by the wayside for not having enough attitude. While the Doobies pull it off by being aging rockers who don’t give a toss, these guys just ooze mellow coolness. Its country rock at its most country and least rock. Its very much driving music, hence the name. The band rehearsed in Gainesville and moved to Nashville to record it.

This is what many people call Americana with its myriad of influences from down-home Delta blues, to country, through Bluegrass and American rock. There are touches of everything from the Black Crowes to Merle Haggard to Muddy Waters. It’s the kind of release where you are not sure what is coming down the pike next but you are pretty sure that you are gonna like it whatever.

There is much to recommend on here and its probably one of the better country rock albums you will hear this year. A touch of everything that is good about the genre and nothing that is bad about it.

Apocalyptica: 7th Symphony

I have read quite a bit of fairly harsh criticism of this release from the cello toting metal-heads. As you might imagine from the name it’s their seventh release and it’s quite a good one. Though I have to say that some of the sung tracks work better in the live bonus tracks included in the special edition, than they do in the form they appear on the actual release.

Tipe Johnson of the Leningrad Cowboys do a far better job with the songs than Gavin Rossendale of Bush fame or Brent Smith of Shinedown on the actual album. The best singer on here, who works best with the track is Lacey of Flyleaf, making “Broken Pieces” the female goth metal track it should be.

As always this is a mixture of classical in the form of the appropriately title “Beautiful”, to full-bore heavy metal on “Bring Them To Light”. It’s a diverse collection that works ultimately if you are a fan of the band. It’s varied enough to keep you coming back for more and never gets boring.

I must like it quite a lot,  as I have delayed reviewing it several weeks in a row. I find myself listening to the video tracks in addition to the proper tracks on the album. These guys are a great bunch of musicians who can produce a cracking tune when they want to. We love some variety in our metal and this band is very much a part of that.

Empty Tremor: Iridium

I confess to never having heard of this bunch of Italians, and more fool me. This is a solid collection of progressive metal that encompasses all that is good about the genre with none of the tedium. There are touches of everything from Pink Floyd to the ubiquitous Dream Theater. There is never too much of anything, which is quite often a problem in this genre. The gloriously named Giovani de Luigi has enough range to evoke whatever is necessary for the song. This is not one of those bands that has a bog standard singer trying to keep with uber-clever musos.

The band have opened for Dream Theater and worked with Oliver Hartmann of At Vance, Avantasia and Rhapsody fame. While clearly influence by all that has come before them, there is none of the cover band taste that quite often happens in this genre. Maybe it’s the Italian influence swirling around this band but there is a certain flair that is so often missing from many such releases.

If you like come clever progressive with a metal edge then you would be foolish to miss out on this CD. As with most of the releases this week I was loath to review it as that would mean I would have to stop listening to it. Surely a recommendation.

Kamelot: Poetry for the Poisoned

This lot produce the progressive-tinged goth metal type that is very much American. It shares a lot in common with their European, especially Scandinavian, counterparts but there is an element that is truly American. The tinge is a mixture of Vegas, Meatloaf and Broadway topped by a healthy dosage of campness. It’s almost an Americanized version of Queen at its most progressive and heavy.

Let’s get the silliness out of the way with the rather daft track “The Zodiac”. About how a killer might envisage a movie might be about it. Daft masked voices just add to the oddity of the track. Owing to the progressive nature of the band the title track is in four parts that range all over the place for music inspiration. The band is at its best in its operatic duets and they replicate this trick with “House on the Hill.” While maybe not as gorgeous as their spine-tinglingly glorious track “The Haunting” there is enough to this track to put a smile on your face.

There are not as many tracks that leap out at you and truly grab you in their grandiosity as one might expect. Some have suggested lead singer Khan does not explore his impressive range as he has on past releases.  There might be an explanation. Their North American tour has been cancelled due to an illness affecting him. Lets hope this is not something that might affect the career of this great American band.

While maybe not their best release to date, this is certainly a decent album. Any album with a track like “Seal of Woven Years” on it can not be faulted in its entirety. I shall return this in a few months and have another listen. Who knows how I will feel then?

Spiritual Beggars: Return to Zero

This release is sublime in its quality. There is a certain class that oozes from your speakers that is hard to quantify. It’s everything you want from a hard rock album. There is just nothing on here that is filler or chaff, its 100% pure class heavy rock. The fact they finish the job with great Coverdale at his most bluesy “The Road Less Travelled” just really makes it the whole package.

“Spirit of the Wild” is a glowing ode to the majesty that is Asia at their creative best. “Concrete Horizon” is another one which Deep Purple wish they hard written for their last album. This band have a great trick of sounding like their heroes but never sounding like a cover band. They take their influence and fully make it their own. Not that its shocking this bunch produce such uber-clever music since there are members of Opeth, Arch Enemy and Candlemass amongst their number. This is what happens when heavy metal guys want to slum it and get in touch with their inner heavy rock musician.

Its not exactly rocket science why their releases tend to getting high scores. You would have to be a complete cold hearted bastard not to enjoy this release. This is the type of release that completes with Those Crooked Vultures and all the other much hailed stuff from this year in music. To put it bluntly you would be a bloody fool if you consider yourself a heavy rock fan not to get this.

On that retro note we come to an end of this week’s column. There is some great stuff out there, so no complaining that there is nothing good to buy ok? Stay safe and stay rocking… oh yeah and Eric best wishes on your next exciting endeavour.

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