Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains, Seattle’s grunge metal darlings!

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I have the hardest time classifying these guys. Are they metal, grunge, rock, or what? They’re from Seattle, so you can definitely hear that influence, but they tend to use heavily distorted chord progressions that are more on the darker side. Their vocals are extremely melodic, with excellent harmonies between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell.

I read their band history on Wikipedia, it’s pretty crazy. Definitely worth a read if you have the time. They seem to follow the whole Kurt Cobain theory of quiet > loud > quiet, except they do it by the album instead of inside a song. One thing is for sure, this band always keeps you on your toes.

I had a big block of time when I was just cranking the tunes Friday afternoon, so I made it through all their albums (that I own) in one sitting.

Facelift

aic - facelift

An incredible first album, they hit it hard, right from the start. Man in a Box was the song that put them on the map, with its great melody and signature AIC harmonies. While I still think that is by far the best song on this album, there are many other good ones, with many other styles as well. Lots of variety, ranging from metal to rock, grunge, and funk.

Sap

Alice_in_Chains_Sap

This is my favorite album by these guys. I wish this were more than just an EP, as these songs are great. It’s a perfect sing along album and I especially enjoy singing the harmonies. Anyone surprised by their success later with MTV Unplugged needs to give this a listen, it should have been obvious. The vocals melt together perfectly and the guitars sound rich and bright. Great recording.

The songs on here have some brooding sections, but it’s done in a very musical and beautiful way. Here’s my favorite track, Brother.

Dirt

Alice_In_Chains-Dirt-Frontal

If you ever need a great album to lift weights to, this is it. The guitars on this album are heavy and in your face. I think Jerry Cantrell takes things to a whole new level on this one. The album is produced with mastery, with everything sounding wonderful. There are a few songs where Layne Staley’s voice starts to sound whiney and annoying, but it’s mostly kept in check. In my opinion this gets worse the further on you go with their discography.

I got to see these guys at Lollapalooza in Milan, MI the summer this album came out. They were every bit as good live as they were in the studio. Expert musicians and performers. Even though they got a bit more popular with their next album, I feel that this was the zenith of their musical career.

Rooster is my favorite track off this album. The way the song builds to the chorus is expert level songwriting.

 

Jar of Flies

aliceinchains_jarofflies_sap

Another “quiet” album to follow the “loud” of Dirt. This one added more expanded sounds than just the acoustic guitars of Sap. This is a very good album and it’s interesting how most of their songs don’t follow the usual radio “formula” for song writing. They are a very original and creative band. You can hear more of the dissonance creeping in with this album, but since it’s not heavily distorted it doesn’t stand out quite as much. A nice listen.

Grind

aic grind

This is where I get off the Alice in Chains bus. There are some good songs on here and others that are just brutal. The dissonance of the melodies and the whiney vocals of Layne Staley are almost too much for me on this one. Instead of varying the harmonies like they did in the earlier albums they just keep the same interval for all the backing vocals. It gets old fast.

Here’s a quote from Layne Staley about his drug use and how it was progressing at this point: “Drugs used to work for me, now I’m in Hell.” Really? Like it was a big surprise how this turned out? It’s a story that’s been played over time and time again. Talented, creative people experiment with drugs. They put out some great music and then everything goes to shit, usually with them dead. Well, the expected outcome happened here. He was found dead in his apartment after an over dose. Just need to shake my head and add this to the mile high stack of cautionary tales about using drugs and what it does to you.

Great band, loads of talent and amazing song writing. Too bad it couldn’t have lasted a bit longer.

 

 

 

Aerosmith – Part 2

After making us think they were the best band on Earth, Aerosmith drops a huge stinking turd on our ears, and then redeems themselves in true rock hero fashion on the very next album.

After making us think they were the greatest band on Earth, Aerosmith drops a huge stinking turd on our ears, then redeems themselves in true rock hero fashion on the very next album.

Get a Grip

get a grip

I have tried SO HARD to like this album, forcing myself to listen to it at least a dozen times and “appreciating it”. But it just comes off flat to me every time. What made Permanent Vacation and Pump so appealing to me, is completely missing from this album. What is that, you say? Feeling, raw emotion, and desperation even.

In my opinion, Aerosmith became a parody of themselves for this recording. The mega rock star, commercial vibe is all over this baby. Steven Tyler especially is flaunting his sassy, rock star ego on top of the tracks and killing what was an otherwise excellent performance by Joe Perry. Joey Kramer, who was so great on the last two records was neutered by the producer and recording engineer. His drumming was missing that punch from previous albums.

There are a couple good songs, like Eat the Rich and Amazin, but overall this album just sounds like a record company’s best attempt at making popular radio singles. They did it, but sold their souls in the process.

I have one funny story about this album though. If you’re really into music you gravitate towards friends with that same passion. Abe Savas, who is now owner of the best record store in Kalamazoo, MI: Green Light Music, was one of my “music buddies” in college.

Every time we would hear Living on the Edge on the radio we would laugh at the break near the end, when the drums would come in with this ridiculous amount of echo. BOOM BOOM BOOM. Well, we heard someone down the hall playing this song and when it hit that part we both jumped up and down along with the beat, stomping as hard on the floor as we could. We ended up skipping the guy’s CD player and getting in trouble a bit, but we’ll always have that memory of rebelling against this ridiculous album.

Nine Lives

Aerosmith's Nine Lives

So, what do you do when you go 7 x Platinum, but had to compromise your integrity to do it? Well, if you’re Aerosmith, you break everything down, go to a new record company, and rediscover what made you great in the first place.

When my good friend Joe Bogan told me about Aerosmith’s new album and how good it was, I was skeptical to say the least. I had pretty much written them off as a band. Joe and I hosted a radio show Saturday nights on WQAC, Alma College’s radio station. At first, I didn’t want to listen to it, but he basically forced me to listen to it one night after our show over a couple beers.

Wow is all I can say.  The passion and raw emotion are back, the songs are more complete, and they totally rock. As you can see reflected in the album artwork, they experimented with some sounds from India with great success IMO.

I had a really rough time in 1996/1997. My grandfather passed away, I got rejected from all the grad schools I applied to, and went through two gut wrenching break ups back to back. You know the kind, where you totally lose all self respect and become the most pathetic human being on Earth? Well, I had a core group of friends that I leaned heavily on during this time, people who had my back no matter what. I owe it all to them for picking me up and pulling my sorry ass through it.

When I hear the song “Hole in My Soul” it always reminds me of those great friends. Joe had dedicated this song to me one night when we were on the air. Despite the tough times back then there were so many great times too and I wouldn’t have missed them for anything.

Speaking of great times, this song is quite possibly the best non-Irish drinking song of all time. Get together with old friends and just put this on repeat.

Thanks everyone for going on this trip down memory lane with me. If I’ve learned anything it’s that life has its ups and downs. Music and great friends/family are there with you through all of it. Make sure to appreciate those that are close to you.

D

Bonus Song! This is a GREAT song, but one of the most fk’ed up videos I’ve ever seen in my life.

Aerosmith – Part 1

I heard someone say once that your favorite James Bond movie is always the one that came out when you were a pubescent teenager. I’m pretty sure the same applies to music and these next two albums are it for me

I heard someone say once that your favorite James Bond movie is always the one that came out when you were a pubescent teenager. I’m pretty sure the same applies to music and these next two albums are it for me: Aerosmith Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989). Filled with songs of love gained (and lost), desire, and just rocking good party times, these never get old for me. In my mind, I always view these albums as a continuum of one great project, but for the sake of the playlist I’ll try to break them into two parts.

Permanent Vacation

Quite possibly the most complete album in my collection, this one is great start to finish. So much, that the one real single off this album, Dude Looks Like a Lady, just kind of blends into the listening experience as it rolls past. As with Pump, it’s an extremely rich production experience. It has a bunch of auxiliary instruments and sounds added in to give more depth to the music and it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t distract from the main elements.

Steven Tyler (vocals and harmonica) and Joe Perry (guitar) get most of the glory in this band, but I feel like the main driving force to this album and Pump is the drummer, Joey Kramer. He kicks off the album forcefully and doesn’t stop until it’s over. His drums are mixed perfectly with plenty of punch and just kick ass the whole way. I’m a guitarist, so it really is saying something for me to notice him over the other stars of the band.

I recommend listening to the entire album, but at very least listen to the first couple minutes and you’ll hear what I’m talking about. Joey Kramer, Aerosmith’s unsung hero.

NOTE: If you have high quality headphones or speakers, please listen on those. The crappy little laptop speakers most have will not do this justice.

Pump

What can I say about this album that I haven’t already said about Permanent Vacation? These two are extremely complex and rich. There’s a sprinkling of Native American sounds on this album, which is think is really cool and done well. I think I even heard pipes or some kind of synth among other things on Janie’s Got a Gun.

For as over produced as these albums are, they’re still raw and full of emotion, which is why I think they resonate so much with me. At their heart, they’re still solid blues rock albums that kick out the jams. You can feel the hurt in Tell Me What It Takes and longing in Angel. Even though these guys are mega rock stars, these two come from a place that’s underneath all that exterior.

Well, that’s it until next time,when I continue with more Aerosmith and a review that’s not so nice.

D

 

Road Trip: Part 2 – AC/DC

With 13 hours left to drive, it was time to kick things up a notch.

With 13 hours left to drive, it was time to kick things up a notch. This is what the A to Z playlist is supposed to be, rocking through multiple albums by a single artist. AC/DC took me all the way home. Here’s how they did it:

Back in Black

I never used to question this album, just listened to it for what it was. Listening more closely though, for being such an iconic album, it’s kind of weird how they set it up. Thinking about vinyl (and cassettes), albums used to have two spots where you’d have to kick off the music. Side A and B. This album is almost reversed, with the title track kicking off side B and the best songs following it. Usually a CD runs out of gas at the end, but this one has its worst tracks at the end of Side A. Here’s the track list:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. Hells Bells 5:10
2. Shoot to Thrill 5:17
3. “What Do You Do for Money Honey” 3:33
4. “Given the Dog a Bone” 3:30
5. “Let Me Put My Love into You” 4:16
Side two
No. Title Length
1. Back in Black 4:14
2. You Shook Me All Night Long 3:30
3. “Have a Drink on Me” 3:57
4. “Shake a Leg” 4:06
5. Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution 4:15

Trust me, tracks 3-5 are nowhere near as good as you think they are. Give them a good listen again with fresh ears. If nothing else, the god awful lyrics for these songs should have been enough to kick them off the album.

Thankfully, Side Two redeems this album with some of their best songs and makes you forget Side One ever happened. Back in Black, Shook Me All Night Long, and RnR Ain’t Noise Pollution are some of my favorites.

Who Made Who

What is this album exactly? A greatest hits with a few new songs? A rerecording of previous material? A remix/remaster? Thank God for Wikipedia – Who Made Who, which explains this mess.  Apparently, this album was thrown together by taking tracks from the Maximum Overdrive movie soundtrack and mixing them with previous hits that were remixed and remastered. What a strange way to put together an album. Despite this, it’s actually quite good. Who Made Who is a great song and the ones they chose to go with it are classic hits.  To quote Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic, this album is “a ripping AC/DC retrospective” and he applauds the band for “rescuing songs like Sink the Pink from otherwise mediocre albums.”

One funny thing to mention, when I put this CD in my player, I thought it was broken the bass and low end was so loud. After my initial shock, I realized that I had just listened to all of Back in Black and barely noticed the bass at all. The mixing of these two albums is so different, but I must say Who Made Who sounds so much richer and is a more full sounding experience.

AC/DC Live

What stood out to me on this one was how much Angus Young’s guitar sound has evolved after listening to these three in a row. It’s a much more modern, rectified sound with lots of crunch. In the 70’s, he just played like everyone else, through a bunch of Marshall stacks. His lead sound has always been unique, but the rhythm parts were not. Now on this one he’s fully on board with the heavy metal style distortion, but using it to play their old classics. Some of the songs sound much better this way, like Shook Me All Night Long, and others just sound muddy and hard to listen to like Hells Bells. Be careful what you wish for when cranking up the distortion on these new amps.

In all, it’s a great album. You can’t find a better collection of their hits than this and it was a great listen. Despite a few tracks that were too muddy from the new guitar rig, you won’t find a better live album.

Here’s something to leave you with, my favorite song from this trip: Who Made Who. This video is so cheesy 80’s, it’s ridiculous. Sometimes bad is good, like those silver headed aliens or whatever they are.

Thanks for reading! The next post will be about Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and the boys from Aerosmith. See you then!

 

Road Trip: Part 1

I looked back to my son and asked him “Are you ready to rock?”  Yes, Daddy!!  And so it begins. Rolling down I-40, heading toward Michigan, my original home, I push in the first CD and hit play….

70’s Classic Rock – Original Masters

OK, so I cheated. The first album does not actually start with an A, it starts with the character “7”, which technically is before A. It was one of those albums you get for $4.99 from a bin at the grocery store, I bought it about 10 years ago. Here’s a picture of the cover:

70s rock

Despite being in the bargain bin, it’s actually a great album. Here are the highlights:

Boston – More Than a Feeling

What an awesome way to start off an album. I took a Pro Tools music recording class several years ago and we got the original tracks from the studio recording and our class project was to re-EQ this song using today’s production tools. Despite our best efforts, all we could think to do was add a little more low end to the bass drum and extend a few of the vocal sections, adding some reverb on the tails. That’s it, everything else was perfect. What a great recording.

Free – Alright Now

The opening chords to this song are excellent. Just so confident and in your face. And the groove is so good. Love the bass line in this song. My music production ear just LOVES the way they mix in what I think is a wood block along with the percussion sounds. It was mixed in there so tastefully. Usually cowbell/wood block just bleeds all over the mix, but this one is placed in the song perfectly. Listen for it, you won’t be able to un-hear it:

Doobie Brothers – China Grove

A sleepy little town, just outside San Antone. I lived in Austin, TX for 12 years and saw the sign for China Grove every time I drove down to San Antonio for something. Yes, it’s a real place. One of my only regrets about living down there was that I never took the 15 minutes to pull off the road and get a picture of myself by the sign. Probably wouldn’t have been as cool as I imagine, but I love little bits of rock history like that.

Thanks for listening. AC/DC was next on our road trip and I will cover that in my next post, Road Trip: Part 2.

 

 

 

The Inauspicious Beginning

Kicking off the A to Z Playlist!

Hello everyone, thank you for checking out my page.

This blog is intended to take you along with me on a journey through my enormous CD collection. I will be listening straight through: A to Z. Expect huge doses of rock and blues, but know that there will always be a surprise lurking around the corner. I will play them all, guilty pleasures included.

Along this journey, I will be sharing stories about the music in my own life, people from the bands I met, and my observations about the albums themselves. I have some experience in music production and recording, so I hope to give you more than just “this guitar solo on track 3 is awesome!” Although, as a fan there will probably be some of that as well.

I’m excited to get started, hope you enjoy the journey with me.

Best regards,

D

WQAC