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Music Reviews

Billy Sheehan

Billy Sheehan

Cosmic Troubadour

Favored Nations

Former Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan returns with his second solo album, but anyone expecting the polished melodic rock of his former band will be in for a shock. Instead, Sheehan demonstrates his all-round musical ability with an album of contrasting genres punctuated by thick grooves and chunky riffs. Six songs feature Sheehan on vocals, and while it’s fair to say that the veteran of the David Lee Roth Band is a master of almost any instrument, singing isn’t his forte. Instrumental albums are never the most exciting affairs, and Sheehan just about manages to avoid being entirely self-indulgent. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the progressive rock of Cosmic Troubadour is for the die-hards only.

Billy Sheehan: www.billysheehan.com

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Music Reviews

Vernon Reid & Masque

Vernon Reid & Masque

Known Unknown

Favored Nations

When Vernon Reid isn•t shredding the frets with Living Colour, or lending his chops to someone else•s album, he likes to experiment with his own band, Masque. With the all-instrumental Known Unknown, Masque travels the world of musical styles, from rock to jazz, blues to metal, peppering in Reid•s “psychedelic weirdness.” With Leon Gruenbaum (keyboards), Hank Schroy (bass) and Marlon Browden (drums) expertly backing Reid•s guitars, this is truly a fusion album, in all the good ways.

The trip starts out innocently enough, with Reid•s familiar growling guitar opening up the title track, but from there the groove starts and it never lets up until the end. We reach highs with the up-tempo surf guitar soaring of “The Outskirts” and lows with the moody “Time,” but we are never bored, nor do we feel out of the loop. Every transition, both between and within songs, feels organic and natural.

This is an album that works on two different levels, at least. I can put it on and let it flow around me while I work, oblivious to the details, not getting distracted, just enjoying the ambience. Or, I can sit back, crank it up, and savor each note, as Masque lets their music tell its own story. Masque is released on Steve Vai•s Favored Nations label, and after hearing it, I can see why Vai was so excited to have them signed. If you like varied music, and can handle experimentation, give Known Unknown a listen.

Favored Nations: www.favorednations.com/

Categories
Music Reviews

Vernon Reid & Masque

Vernon Reid & Masque

Known Unknown

Favored Nations

When Vernon Reid isn’t shredding the frets with Living Colour, or lending his chops to someone else’s album, he likes to experiment with his own band, Masque. With the all-instrumental Known Unknown, Masque travels the world of musical styles, from rock to jazz, blues to metal, peppering in Reid’s “psychedelic weirdness.” With Leon Gruenbaum (keyboards), Hank Schroy (bass) and Marlon Browden (drums) expertly backing Reid’s guitars, this is truly a fusion album, in all the good ways.

The trip starts out innocently enough, with Reid’s familiar growling guitar opening up the title track, but from there the groove starts and it never lets up until the end. We reach highs with the up-tempo surf guitar soaring of “The Outskirts” and lows with the moody “Time,” but we are never bored, nor do we feel out of the loop. Every transition, both between and within songs, feels organic and natural.

This is an album that works on two different levels, at least. I can put it on and let it flow around me while I work, oblivious to the details, not getting distracted, just enjoying the ambience. Or, I can sit back, crank it up, and savor each note, as Masque lets their music tell its own story. Masque is released on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label, and after hearing it, I can see why Vai was so excited to have them signed. If you like varied music, and can handle experimentation, give Known Unknown a listen.

Favored Nations: www.favorednations.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Yardbirds

The Yardbirds

Birdland

Favored Nations

It was of course inevitable that the reunion bus would at some point reach The Yardbirds. Never mind that singer Keith Relf has been dead since 1976. Or that the band’s trio of legendary guitarists — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page — have done pretty well for themselves since then, and don’t need to tread the has-been circuit. But, the name “The Yardbirds” has a definite dollar value attached to it, and original members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty have formed a “new” version of the band, and have recruited a host of musicians to release the first studio album bearing the Yardbirds moniker since 1968’s Little Games.

What is the result? On the remakes of Yardbirds hits, when assisted by the likes of Jeff Beck, Steve Vai or Slash, these guys sound like a rather good Yardbirds tribute band, which in some aspects they are. On the original tunes they are generally faceless, churning out generic pub rock that wouldn’t land them a record deal if they weren’t who they were. Before you think this record isn’t worth getting, there are some rather good moments. “My Blind Life” featuring Jeff Beck is stellar, but purely due to the greasy guitar of Beck. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s guitar on “The Nazz are Blue” rocks, so all is not lost. But calling Birdland a new release from The Yardbirds is a lie. A lie that can, by longtime fans of the band, be safely ignored.

Favored Nations Records: http://www.favorednations.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

Alien Love Child: Live & Beyond

Favored Nations

This is just one more of the millions of cases each year of a musician being extremely talented but suffering from a bad case of “The Normals.”