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Robert Knowles "109Rob" (Cardiff, Wales, UK)

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Spirit On A Mission: Deluxe Edition (CD+DVD)
Spirit On A Mission: Deluxe Edition (CD+DVD)
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mission Accomplished!, 16 April 2015
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In my view, Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock has produced yet another corking album here. Definitely get the Western Deluxe edition that ends with the bonus track, "Searching for Freedom", for then you get an album with 13 tracks, 10 of which are corkers, which leaves 1 track of slightly lesser quality, and a couple of clunkers. Compared to most heavy rock albums, which have 5 good tracks if you're lucky, Spirit on a Mission, with its 85% hit rate, still easily gets a five-star rating.

The opener, Live and Let Live, is fast-paced and energetic, catchy and accessible, and can easily be sung along to. It is great to hear Schenker's trade-mark slide guitar, coupled with peddle-effects reminiscent of sounds from Lights Out and Obsession, but mixed in with his current experimentation with a "deep south" soloing style. The riffs are trade-mark engine-room Schenker. Great opener.

Track 2, Communion, is a slower, and yet bouncy and groovy, bluesy number, which in my view suits Doogie White's voice to a T. Again, the track is melodically strong. There are lovely stripped-back moments in the middle, followed by a superb melodic solo closest in style to material from Schenker's solo project, Adventures of the Imagination. Great track.

Track 3, Vigilante Man, is now well known from Schenker's live sets, and was the first track to be released from the current album. Absolutely superb driving riffage, strong melodies, great structure, magnificent solo - still in the "deep south" style - not just jamming around in a key, but part of the composed architecture of the track. Catchy, accessible, easy to sing-along to - deceptively simple to listen to, but much harder to execute in practice - like most of Schenker's material. Superb additional touches throughout.

Track 4, Rock City, ups the pace, again with deceptively simple-sounding riffs that, on reflection, must be very difficult to actually execute. Vocals and rhythm section very strong, with a great sense of the song building throughout. Strong melodies, continuing from the vocal and rhythm sections into the structure of the solo. I'm not surprised this was one reviewer's favourite track on the album. Magnificent, with more great touches throughout and also in the outro solo.

Track 5, Saviour Machine, is a good track but, in my view is of a slightly lower standard. The slowing of pace is perhaps not the issue, given the rapidity of Rock City, but to my mind the 7-string grungy sound, which is very popular in contemporary metal, but which is too low in pitch for Schenker's six-string sound in my view, and which can easily tend towards the compositionally lazy "ominous" cliche - at the expense of Schenker's wonderful joyful melodies and layered idea-rich architecture - means that I find that I am "waiting for the solo", a common problem in overly-formulaic "two-verse, solo, one verse" tracks. One friend thought that Doogie White's vocals needed to be upped in their pace to compensate for the plodding riffage, and this may have been effective. Having said this, there are great changes in the middle of the track - namely where Schenker's great tunefulness and composition re-appear, and where the 7-string fades out. By the time of the solo, it doesn't matter that the 7-string comes back in, since the solo and the refrain that follow it are sufficiently creative and have enough ideas to carry it. But then we are back into the plodding riff and slow vocal part again - which then have me waiting for the outro, which is admittedly great. None of this is to diss the manifold talents of Doogie White or Wayne Findlay - it is just that Schenker has no need to emulate current trends in metal that belong to a league of music that is so far beneath his own exalted abilities.

Track 6, though, is superb. Something of the Night ups the pace again, substitutes great "bumble-bee" sounding lead parts (highly original) for some of the riffs, and brings us safely back into the brightness of the six-string domain. The pace here really is driving and energizing. One reviewer attacked my use of adjectives in relation to Schenker, but his music usually really is adrenalising, vivifying, energising, electrifying, and so on - "Back to Attack" is Schenker's own term and is perhaps the best short summary of his music generally, and certainly applies to track 6.

Track 7, All Our Yesterdays, begins very strongly with two complex over-layered riffs, and builds with keyboards and vocal parts complementing each other very well. Then it strips back to a keyboard bridge - then into a an eastern-flavour solo containing massive intervals (the first feature to stand out for me when first listening to the album's solos), yet still southern-style in terms of picking, all overlaying the riffs. The drum and bass parts are original and innovative. Great track.

Track 8, Bulletproof, is a personal favourite of mine. It has a great drum intro into a killer riff, coupled with old-style Schenker melodic bridges on unusual pick-up settings, plus an acoustic break, followed by an electric lead break - then back into the strong chorus. Again, the pace is woderfully driving, attacking and resolute. Great picking in the background - wonderful lead outro, if a little short. Superb track.

Track 9, Let the Devil Scream, starts well with a key-board intro - but then lurches into more plodding generic 7-string riffage of the kind mentioned in relation to track 5 above. This is overlain with another slow vocal part. Overall the effect is sluggish, and I find I'm waiting for the solo. The solo, however, is effective - and then brilliant - but soon relapses into the plodding, sluggish riffage and vocals again. Despite some later melodic improvement in the vocals, plus continuing lead fills, the underlying sludge continues to the end. Perhaps I was harsh to say "clunker" above, but this track is not great in my view.

Track 10, Good Times, is back to the high-quality Schenker we are used to. The vocal parts are excellent and interplay very well with the rhythm guitar parts. The pace is not very high, but the track is still bouncy and upbeat. The song is good enough so that one is not waiting for the solo - but when this comes, it is tasteful and refreshing. There is something of Schenker's older styles going on here - perhaps from Written in the Sand or Unforgiven. Catchy and accessible, another great track.

Track 11, Restless Heart, is another fast number, and similar to Rock City in style. More of Schenker's classic metronomic "engine room" riffage, coupled with innovative soloing - not explosive, admittedly, but interesting and creative, and full of interesting touches on close listening. Great track.

Track 12, Wicked, starts off with some originality, both rhythmically and melodically, but is spoiled by the cheesy chorus. This track is my other candidate for "clunker" - except that, again, the soloing is of great quality, tone and timbre, so the term "clunker" is again a bit harsh. Nevertheless, the term "doleful" does come to mind when Schenker is not soloing. Not great.

Track 13, Searching for Freedom (bonus track, deluxe version), is an absolutely superb instrumental track that returns us to Schenker's exalted, more reified, soloing style. Whilst initially reminiscent of a famous Pink Floyd track that won't be mentioned, Schenker soon stamps his individuality onto the music. This track is absolutely preferable to the Japanese release bonus track, Ying and Yang, which is pleasant enough, but has Michael singing on it: - let's just say he sounds similar to how one would imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger sounding if he tried singing whilst simultaneously "in character" as the Terminator.

Three other comments are worth making here.

First, there is something in the comments by some reviewers concerning production quality - it does get a bit muddy at times. Yet, this criticism is perhaps overstated, and is likely sufficiently mitigated if one's stereo is of a decent quality, and if one plays the disc, as opposed to playing the electronic music files through poorer quality lap-top speakers.

Second, Schenker still has a long way to go when it comes to lyrics - Rush or Fish this is not, lyric-wise. Having said this, though, we never went to Schenker to hear great philosophy (Ying and Yang being a case in point), just great guitar-work and great composition - which this album delivers.

Third, the album becomes far better in my view if you use a Spotify play-list to alter the track order to the following: (1) Bulletproof; (2) All Our Yesterdays; (3) Something of the Night; (4) Vigilante Man; (5) Rock City; (6) Good Times; (7) Live and Let Live; (8) Communion; (9) Restless Heart; (10) Saviour Machine (Searching for Freedom should come before Saviour Machine, but you can't get the former on Spotify); (11) Wicked; (12) Let the Devil Scream. That way, you get 9 or 10 truly great tracks in a row, and can leave the dodgy tracks to the end. I'm not a fan of the official track order, and so was unsure about the album at first. But re-arranging the tracks as above allowed me to see that the album was mostly of excellent quality, enabling me to write a much more positive review.

Bridge The Gap
Bridge The Gap
Price: £10.97

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This could Bridge the Gap between Everest and K2!, 5 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Bridge The Gap (Audio CD)
This is yet another magnificent, exhilarating, vivifying, adrenalizing, jubilant, and energizing offering from Michael Schenker. Bridge the Gap (BG) is an understatement - you could span continents and oceans with this album.

Over the years, in my opinion, Michael has proved himself to be rock's greatest ever guitarist, having: the best musical compositions; the greatest stylistic versatility; the largest and most consistently outstanding portfolio; the most originality; the most beautiful style; the most sophisticated melodic architecture; the best use of structural progressions; the most blistering solos; more riff ideas than anybody else - the list goes on. In my opinion, name any objective musical criterion (as opposed to subjective taste), and Michael Schenker towers over the competition (with the possible exception of Hendrix - though, in my view, Schenker ultimately surpasses even him).

That Schenker is not more popular than he is is surely a sad testament to the dark powers of market-engineered and socially constructed consumer-conditioning, to the pre-critical passive submission of media-targeted demographic groups to herd-mentality and to the unthinking "chav-culture" adoption of behaviourally-mimicked and non-interrogated received habits of speech about this or that artist's achievements or failings. Michael may have had the odd "dark year" in terms of live performances, but these pale into insignificance next to the thousands of great live gigs he has under his belt, and next to his amazing studio-output, which is about two or three times the size of that of the next most-consistent rock acts.

And the standards remain high in this album. I thought Temple of Rock (TR) was superb, but if anything I think BG is even more consistent. In my view, and speaking of TR, then tracks 2,3,4,5,9,10,13, and 14 were fabulous, with tracks 1,6,7,8,11,12,15, and 16 being still very good (Schenker doesn't do "bad"), but not quite as outstanding. This meant that TR had three "zones" of "greatest strength" that were interspersed with slight dips.

By contrast, in my view, BG is sheer greatness from track 1 all the way to track 8 inclusive, with a slight dip at 9, followed by more greatness in tracks 10 and 11, a slight dip again for 12 and 13, only to end with greatness again with track 14. So, again, we have three zones of "greatest strength", and a couple of dips, but in BG we have fully 10 tracks of greatness, whereas in TR there were 8 tracks of highest quality. In BG, moreover, since the first 8 tracks are all good, you get a more consistently great "album" experience. And 9 is still pretty good, so really you get almost unbroken top-notch classic rock for 11 tracks, which looks pretty consistent to me!

As to the tracks themselves, then we begin with Neptune Rising, which is really the start of Track 2, Where the Wild Winds Blow. Taken together, we end up with a great single composite track: explosive and haunting opening, melodically strong, excellent tone and mix, well-layered, catchy, with plenty of pace, an acoustic then electric solo, but still with sufficient restraint to create a building effect when we go to track 3, Horizons. Horizons is fast-paced, original, energizing, with a superb solo, and is well-known by those who've been to see Schenker live. Track 4, Lord of the Lost and Lonely, is a highlight for me - absolutely brilliant.

It is amazing how Schenker keeps coming up with classic after classic. You're left thinking, "I thought everything had been done already in rock, but I was wrong!" Generally, in rock these days, there is a numbing sameness and melodic paucity to the material of many bands. The reason for this is that very few people have more than a couple of great ideas. Schenker, though, is like a constant source of brilliant genre-defining ideas.

Track 5, Rock n Roll Symphony, is also an absolute corker in my view. You've got pace, energy, joy, melody, sing-along accessibility, trade-mark engine-room riffing you could recalibrate Greenwich atomic clock by, brilliant soloing interspersed with great keyboards. And by now, you've realized that Doogie White is one hell of a great singer.

One thing that singles Schenker out is the sheer joy and happiness in his music. There's none of the usual self-pitiousness or addiction to ominousness you find in most rock music these days. Schenker is never monotomous, never boring, but always packing in idea after idea, concept after concept, structure upon structure into his music. By comparison, other bands always seem depressing, dull, samey, cross-fertilized in their copying of one another in order to conform to market-driven fads and hit the money - traits that Schenker is famous for successfully, rightly, and uniquely avoiding like the plague.

Track 6, Live for the King, is another stunning offering. There is more of Schenker's "deep-south" style going on in the soloing, catchy and faultless structure and melody, and an opposite-to-early-Budgie progression of structures. The comparisons with Dio, Maiden and Rainbow have some truth to them, but the "Schenkerizing" filter is strong - as though Schenker were revising the earlier works to show how it should be done.

The thing with Schenker is the way one just wants to listen to his music again and again because there is an energizing delight to what he does. With other rock bands, however, (great bands like Rush, Fish and a few others aside) there is much more limitation, predictability, and two-dimensionality. With Schenker, though, there are layers to be discovered - a definite "grows on you effect". In fact, it is even dangerous to review a Schenker album too early because often he sacrifices immediate "bubble-gum" impact in order to bring us something more substantial. As one friend pointed out, with Schenker what at first might seem simple turns out to be much more complex than you at first thought - so that new highlights and empathy-moments emerge after multiple listens. Schenker doesn't really fit into "sound-bite" culture; and yet, at the same time, his conciseness is almost unmatched. He's a bit like a great beer - you have to wait for the after-taste; everything does not happen the first moment it hits your tongue.

Track 7, the third fast-paced track, lives up to its title, Land of Thunder. Another thing you notice is what a great drum and bass combination we have with Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz. Don't be fooled by their clean-cut and friendly "family-man" demeanor - these guys are superb accompanying musicians and outstanding rockers who are used to playing together. They both really shine out in Track 8, Temple of the Holy. There are yet more strong accessible melodies and deep-south style soloing on this track. Billy Gibbons take note. In fact, Schenker is mixing styles again - the gravelly deep-south soloing is spliced with a more Euro style structurally.

Track 9, Shine On, which I indicated earlier was a slight dip - well, now I'm not sure. Again, it just may be one of those tracks that takes longer for one to appreciate properly. Certainly, the soloing in it is wonderful, and Wayne Findley's consistently strong backing guitars come into welcome prominence. Track 10, Bridges we have Burned, is a wonderful track. Totally original riff-structures, strong vocals, marvelous chorus.

The material is so strong, you're not at all desperate for the solo to start like you are with other bands. Rather, Schenker's soloing is more integral to the track as a whole, which demands more restraint perhaps, but which serves to create a unity that empathically resonates with the listener and helps them to build imaginary worlds. In other bands, by contrast, one's own journey is often interrupted by a vanity-display solo that - for that reason - soon seems dull.

Track 11, Because You Lied, is yet another surprise. Break-neck pace; three solos; structurally original and unusual; addictive. Track 12, which again brings Wayne Findlay's 7-string guitar and keyboards to prominence, is a welcome slowing of the pace after the mania of the previous track. Superb extended soloing, great singalong potential; great sense of building. With Track 13, the pace is upped slightly, though not quite enough in my view. Nevertheless, there is a great accessibility to this track, good beefy rhythm guitars, and a good melody and chorus. Overall, I think this track is the weakest on the album, though it has several redeeming features. I would have preferred a final track like How Long on Temple of Rock, which had a truly inspired outro solo. Instead we get a bit of an anticlimax after such a first-class run of tracks.

Which is why the album to get is the one with the bonus track 14, entitled Faith, which is really "Positive Forward" from Thank You, but with a welcome guest vocal appearance from Don Dokken. This last track is top-notch in my view, and serves to remind those who don't know about the great work that Michael did on the "Thank You" albums - all of which were something no other rock guitarist could have written, in my view, such was their quality, complexity, accessibility, and originality.

To cut a long story short, definitely get this latest offering from Michael Schenker. It Bridges the Gap, spans the oceans, and crosses the continents. I almost single-handedly conquered Sparta, chiseled out my very own Norwegian fjord, and hand-built a granite aqueduct across the Bearing Sea after listening to this. I felt so rock-vectored with resolve, that even Monday mornings seemed to offer no resistance!
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2014 8:40 PM GMT

Temple Of Rock - Live In Europe
Temple Of Rock - Live In Europe
Price: £12.91

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stampede of the Behemoth, 13 Dec. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am very pleased with this release. The set opens (after the William Shatner intro) with a whirlwind of four fast-paced tracks: Into the Arena, Armed and Ready, Lovedrive, and Another Piece of Meat. The listener is immediately catapulted into upliftingly joyful, tonally perfect, wonderfully melodic, explosively volcanic, and brilliantly executed rock of a quality so high that it - in my view - is unique to Michael Schenker. For me, Schenker is the incarnation of classic rock as it should be done. In my opinion, there are more great rock moments in a single Schenker track than in most rock-band's entire careers. Listening to these four openers is a bit like being suddenly lowered into the Charge of the Light Brigade. There is no self-indulgence here - it is the listener who gets served by Schenker's style of playing. Schenker is the exact opposite of shredders who exploit audiences just to show-case their own vanity. Schenker, by contrast, energises his listeners, picks them up from whatever mind-state they were in, and makes them want to attack the future with renewed vigour. After these four opening tracks, I felt personally enabled to wipe out the entire Spartan Army. Schenker's playing is like a river in spate bursting its banks, a pyroelectric force of nature releasing its charge, with notes tumbling over one-another like people joyfully fleeing for their lives in a Spanish bull run.

Next up it's Hanging On - one of my two favourite tracks from Temple of Rock, followed by the two fantastic show-casers, Cry for the Nations and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, and then by Coast to Coast. In my opinion, we are here taken into a slightly more reflective mood in these four tracks - though Cry for the Nations also has a "Back to Attack" feel about it. The dominant feeling in Michael's music is one of joy (very rare in rock these days), but he also does different feelings, such as "resolute overcoming against the odds", and other staple existential mind-states and attitudes. What we get in the second four tracks just noted is the sense that, "whatever difficulties you are experiencing at the moment, there is a need for grim determination and perseverence, for eventual victory lies ahead". Yet again, then, Schenker steers clear of the self-indulgent self-pity that plagues so much modern music, and guides us into stock healthy attitudes: hope is not all gone - with attrition, determination, resoluteness and by sticking at it, you will overcome adversities - particularly if you turn to God for help. Well - at least this is how these next four tracks make me feel personally.

Then it's "back to attack" with Assault Attack, Before the Devil Knows you're Dead, Lights Out, On and On, and Let It Roll. I think that one way in which Michael Schenker has grown the most recently is in his renewed ability to put a superb show together - to mix just the right tracks in just the right way. Whilst one reviewer makes the point that most of the tracks on the album are from Michael's early years, I think that this decision makes commercial sense in that most people into classic rock will be familiar with the tracks chosen, and so the album is likely to sell better that way. The reviewer quite rightly argues that Michael has a massive amount of material to draw from. Once I put a "best of Michael Schenker" compilation together, making some painful omissions, and the result was still over 24 hours in duration! Michael has done a colossal amount of first-rate material - more than any other artist I can think of. It would indeed be great to hear it all live - but I suppose we live in a world where things have to make commercial sense. Such observations mock the popular misbelief that Michael lacks consistency. Michael is probably the most consistent performer I can think of: consistent highest-quality material, consistent high-level output, over a 40-year time-span. The occasional hiatus due to personal issues pales into insignificance when compared with the fact that Michael has produced far more top-draw rock than any other single individual in the history of the genre. To my mind, Michael Schenker is the greatest rock guitarist of all time. I suspect that people who say otherwise normally haven't heard even a quarter of his material.

Anyway, back to the tracks, I should point out that I think that the musicianship of the whole band is magnificent. Michael himself is on absolutely fantastic form. In my view, this live album is Michael's best, and I've got all of them. I too appreciate SITN and ONAB (Strangers in the Night and One Night at Budokan), but TORL (Temple of Rock Live) is just so enjoyable, that I think I prefer to listen to it than to SITN and ONAB. SITN and ONAB both have moments of inhuman genius on them in terms of Schenker's playing, but I prefer the overall feel of TORL. It is just as good guitar-wise, but a more energising mix of tracks in my view. On the studio version of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, I was less convinced at first, but this track fits better into the track list on TORL, and I now realise that it's a great track. Assault Attack is one of Michael's live staples from sets during 2004 - 2006, so it's great to hear that track back in the set again after five or six years or so. I think that I mildly prefer the original version of Lights Out to the Walk On Water version (which is what Michael plays in live sets these days), but the newer version is still great and is amazingly executed on this album. I am a huge fan of Doogie White as well - his vocal range easily encompasses the material on TORL, whilst Michael Voss is also a good front man for Schenker.

On to disc two of TORL and straight away we're fire-bombed with the incendiary Shoot Shoot and Rock You Like a Hurricane. I think the latter song-title - whilst being a Scorpions number - aptly describes what Michael does. When I was trying to think of a title for this review, loads of slogans like "rock you like a hurricane" were coming to mind. "Stampede of the Behemoth", which combines the notion of frantic energy with that of a mythical beast, is what I eventually settled on - though "engine-room" and "German engineering" were concepts I would have liked to have included in my review title in order to communicate that, with Schenker, we don't just get energy, we get structured-energy, or layered musical architecture with an emphasis on great composition, exceptionally strong melody, uncannily accurate empathic feeling-states - and all with tremendous economy, with absolutely no "filler". In my view, other bands occasionally write tracks as good as Schenker's, but Schenker does about five classics per album, and has done about 40 or so albums (I count about 130 official releases, but this includes a lot of compilations by different record companies). Track three by the way is Rock Bottom - an absolutely incredible rendition of it as well. I prefer this rendition to the ones on SITN and Rockpalast. There is an incredible version of Rock Bottom on Schenker's guest appearance with UFO on Uli Jon Roth's "Legends of Rock" album (2001 I think), but I think I even prefer this version on TORL to that.

Next up it's Holiday, which I remember being a highlight from the live show I attended. I have seen the Scorpions do this track terribly, but Schenker more than rescues it here, adding in some wonderfully bluesy soloing. The slow down of pace is also welcome after Rock Bottom. Not for long, though, because we're then straight into Blackout - a superbly energetic Scorpions number. Great guitar-work on this - tonally and pace-wise a bit like being ambushed by a runaway sawmill. None of the simean noodling, strangled onanism, or spandexed mincing of weak-toned stylophonic shred here - more like a Panza Tank with a broken silencer. Just what a biker-gang would want their hogs to sound like. You could do a wrong-turn and play this in a red necks bar in Texas, no problem. Then, to end the set, it's Doctor Doctor, which everybody knows and loves.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, we then get five bonus tracks from a different concert. Immediately, we're immersed into some kind of Messerschmidt engine testing room - such is the greatness of Schenker's guitar tone on Armed and Ready. It's industrial, it's weapon's grade - actually it's downright agricultural. Schenker puts the geology back into rock. Another Piece of Meat continues in the same vein (no pun intended) and assaults the ears like some kind of Strombolian eruption about three feet distant. We're then treated to another performance of Rock You Like a Hurricane, with guitars cranking up like the Santa Pod Raceway just moved into your lounge. Probably because we've got both Schenker brothers on stage now - which is a line-up I'd like to see MUCH more often, Michael and Rudolf. Come on lads: do a whole album together - you'll be sorry if you get to the end of your lives and haven't teamed up together properly, at least on one album! Just imagine it - it would be like a tectonic collision between two mountain ranges! To round off we've got Hanging On and Doctor Doctor. Personally, I love Hanging On. Along with Fallen Angel, it's my favourite track on Temple of Rock. As for Doctor Doctor, this rendition is even better than the other on TORL, and Michael plays beautifully on it.

In short, this is an outstanding live rock album, and probably my favourite of all of Schenker's live material. Definitely five-star material; definitely worth the very reasonable price. Why don't you have it already? - that's I want to know!

Temple Of Rock
Temple Of Rock
Price: £12.99

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Michael Schenker Rocks My Temple, 30 Sept. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Temple Of Rock (Audio CD)
This album starts with an Intro featuring William Shatner. This fact by itself speaks volumes. Shatner, of course, exceeds even Gary Barden (whom we adore) for ham-levels. And yet, for that very reason, Shatner is loved world-wide. Nobody could parody Shatner, because he's already the perfect self-parody. It's a bit like Iron Maiden - so good at parodying heavy metal that they made Spinal Tap obsolete. To employ Shatner on a cheesy opener, then, is not bad taste, but supremely good taste. It's a way of proleptically predicting all possible criticism of what is about to follow - it's a way of saying: 'whatever criticisms you have concerning this genre - we've heard them all before. But we still love classic rock, so we're doing it anyway'.

In short, as anybody who has seen "Michael Schenker in the Studio for the recording of Unforgiven" already knows, Schenker likes to have a laugh. Against popular opinion, he is actually quite a happy soul. Schenker emerging from a pyramid on the cover of the album is not an egotistic statement about some kind of Nephilimic rock-god materialising from a star-gate. It's intended to be funny - a parody. For sure, Shatner's anti-war message commercially taps into a popular sentiment in the US. We're not blind. And yet, a major theme here is "fun". Schenker never did succumb to the "ominousness" stereotype of most heavy rock. His music is best summed up by his own phrase, "Back to Attack". It is upbeat, joyful, energizing, and infectious - and this album is no exception to that rule.

Anyway - what about the music? Well, after the Intro, we have "How Long". Typical for Schenker albums, this track is very up-tempo. Engine-room riffing beneath a very radio-friendly verse and chorus formula. Solid, original guitar-work for the solo. Unusual twists and turns and tonal changes within the solo. Shorter initial solo followed by an excellent outro. Completely unlike shred.

Next is "Fallen Angel", which is already one of my favorite rock tracks. Superb chorus-refrain between verses - oscillation between the melodic and the rhythmic and soloing experiments. It is as though Schenker is always trying new guitar ideas. And yet, the "structured-flame" effect of Schenker's disciplined adherence to song-framework coupled with blistering outbursts continuously serves melody whilst at the same time ensuring unpredictability and excitement. This track, like the first, ends suddenly - no chance for boredom to set in.

Another lovely melodic start on the third track, "Hanging On". This good start then merges into a great driving chorus with continued good melody. Great percussion on this track. A great sing-along as Schenker gives the vocalist proper room. Very tasteful solo with an emphasis on melody. I wouldn't say that this material was "west-coast" though - quite different to the McAuley albums. Very accessible - again a sudden end.

"The End of an Era" is more thrashy - enter Schenker's trade-mark complex riffing. Less melodic, but still has a sing-along character. Great solo work - Schenker has taken to putting huge musical intervals into his soloing. Great trade-off licks between guitar and keyboards. Shred-velocities towards the end. Sudden termination - again, fast-moving with little chance to relax.

"Miss Claustrophobia" is next. Another radio-friendly anthemic number. Schenker tends to mix the formulaic with the unpredictable. So one ends up with solid structure, but also with some unexpected tangents. Thus, the solo is a complete tangent - quite shreddy and non-melodic. And yet, suddenly, a very melodic quiet moment comes in with some great tonal work in the background. Superb outro assertions on the lead guitar - yet another sudden ending.

On to the very unusual bluesy, ballady, smoochy number, "With You". Solidly melodic and a big improvement on the ballads on, say, Unforgiven. Lovely bluesy soloing. Schenker experiments with a staccato style - no filler. Every note is part of a composition. Trade-mark strong tune - great key-shift near to the end. Great mix, with the guitar well-forward. Really, this is soloing-vocals-soloing-vocals-soloing-vocals - with several soloing breaks (very beautifully phrased - Billy Gibbons after a few lessons) and several vocal interludes.

Back to the anthemic with "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead". Great mix and production again - well done to Michael Voss. Great vocal by Doogie White too! Reminiscent of rock classics from Rainbow, Sabbath, and Dio. In fact, Dio is the artist who comes to mind when listening to this track. Extremely cheesy lyrics - just the way we like it (but embarrassing if heard by non-rocker mates - may they be redeemed). If I were to describe Schenker's soloing on this track, I would say it was gutsy, industrial - more deep-south in picking style than West-Coast.

On to "Storming In" - which is a superb track that shows what Schenker can do composition-wise. Great mix between loud and quiet initially. Slow start - then suddenly, the pace and the power get turned on. Engine room on ramming-speed "into-the-fray" stuff this. Impossible not to rock out to this one. Absolutely superb soloing - full of unpredictable twists and turns, impossibly well-phrased. Usual angelic vibrato. Then, ends suddenly leaving you wanting more. I could have enjoyed another 10 minutes of this track. 10 out of 10.

"Scene of Crime" - another superbly creative mix of pace and loud and quiet. More ominous - but that's rare for Schenker. Almost reminds me of "Roll the Bones" by Rush during its stripped back moments. Great drumming on this album. Engine-room tendonitis-inducing riffage of metronomic evenness. Snatches of oblique eclectic soling. Amazing track this - absolutely 10 out of 10. Takes the best of post-structural unpredictability and mixes it with the best of rhythmic progression, melodic architecture, and coherence.

Next up, it's "Saturday Night". Very radio-friendly sing-along job. Schenker's lyricists are mostly clean-talking chaps, and this track is utterly without malice aforethought. Very happy, bouncy track with very rich tone on the guitar licks. Superb melodically. Again, all the music is written my Schenker - and it shows. Solid pop-rock.

Next up, it's Robin McAuley - making a guest-appearance on "Lover's Sinfony" (either badly-spelled or some kind of pun - it's not clear). The big difference between this track and the "McAuley Years" is the style of mix - this track is much more European, with none of the "fear of the guitar" which seemed to dog the mid-to-late 1980s period. Schenker is well-forward in the mix - although there are plenty of layers going on here. Solid, anthemic track. Sing-along - and for once does an outro-fade on very melodic soloing.

The pace goes up a notch in the bass-driven track "Speed". Superb front-mix beefy bass from Chris Glen. Good background colors added on the guitar - trademark Schenker sirenesque touches. Ironically, given the track-title, the pace is often not that fast on this track. Slower verses punctuate the more beefed-up driving parts of the track. Truly fantastic guitar-tonal variations. Wonderful soloing.

Then, it's back to the guitar-battle version of "How Long". There are lots of great touches here and there. During the guitar-battle, the guitar trade-offs are tasteful rather than shred-like. Superb outro solo from Schenker, though - punches through to a wonderful cathartic zenith-point before - suddenly - the track ends. An absolutely superb solo - my only complaint: it should have turned into a two-minute job!

On to the bonus track, "Remember" - a short punchy number. Upbeat and party-like, with great front-mix soloing. Trademark Schenker riffing in the background. Pleasant stripped-back moments in the middle of the track. Short and Sweet.

Finally, it's the radio-edit of "Miss Claustrophobia" - on which see above. All in all, this is another solid effort from Michael. As with most of Michael's albums, there'll turn out to be four or five true classics mixed in with solid material that's almost as good. So much better than other contemporary rock-music in my view.

A week or so later: Still don't want to put anything else in the CD player. Magnificent stuff! Many rock bands today are very short on melody or on melodic architecture. Many seem to offer tuneless rhythms with plenty of guitar-trick ornamentation, but with none of the melodic developments, structural layers, or tuneful ebb and flows that Schenker achieves. Many rock bands today are an in-your-face wall of noise that leaves no spaces for imaginative listener-involvement (unless you're imagining mindless violence or something demonic). Schenker, though, offers not so much a "temple" of rock as a "Cathedral of Rock" - the listener is invited into an expanding space of celebration and jubilant infectious imaginative variety, not shoved into a corner by an angry mob of red-necks will bull-mastifs. Many rock bands today play just a few notes within a reduced-scope minor scale of just a few chromatic intervals - with barely any composition. Schenker, though, gives you huge musical intervals mid-solo. You get the pillars, the alter, the bells, the tapestries, the flying buttresses, the towers, the nave, the chapter house, the crypt, the gargoyles. With Schenker, you get the whole Temple. Maybe this sounds well over the top for a pop-rock album that has some quite simple stuff on it as well. But put the whole thing together into one session, and you do indeed get the whole temple. A joy to listen to.

Several weeks later: what a corking album!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 10, 2011 11:48 PM GMT

Live In Tokyo: The 30th Anniversary Concert
Live In Tokyo: The 30th Anniversary Concert
Price: £14.07

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey to the Schenker of the Earth, 23 Jan. 2011
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Probably the best quality DVD release from those DVD's that are available of Michael Schenker. I should know - I handed a list of over 300 recordings of Schenker to his official website at their request. It is great to see Michael so ably climb out of his rough patch in 2007. One in the eye to those false prophets who keep saying "he's lost it". These false prophets come and go, but Schenker continues to overcome his demons again and again. Nobody is denying that he's had his demons. But, come on - people have been saying "he's lost it" from the beginning, when nothing could be further from the truth. Again and again and again, he rises from the ashes. He's made dozons of albums, all different to each other, and all brilliant. He rarely fails to turn out less than 4-5 classics per album. His "best of" collection is more than 24 hours in duration. The man is a musical genius. He wrote almost all the hits that made UFO famous, and invented most of the guitar-styles that make classic rock what it is today. Schenker IS classic rock - possibly the only man ever to really understand the genre, with very few exceptions. Whilst many UFO fans are also Schenker fans, a certain breed of UFO fan behave like fans of Stockport County FC who, briefly, had Maradona on their team. When he turned up, they loved him. When he left, they hated him. When he re-joined, they loved him again. When he left again, they hated him again. All this is pure cobblers. It has everything to do with tribalism, and nothing to do with musical assessment.

Anyway, to the DVD. The DVD contains a typical MSG set: mainly classics from the first four albums, but also three of his latest tracks (I Want You, A Night to Remember, and Dance Lady Gipsy). Whilst I can understand those who would want Schenker to play other more recent material, it is time to get into the real world, where releases have to be commercially viable. Classic Rock lamentably went out of fashion in the 1990s. Tragic, I know, but true nonetheless. This meant that anybody like Michael who showed integrity by sticking to the classic rock style was commercially forced to market themselves on the basis of their "greatest hits". Obviously, this means hits from the mid-late 1970s and early 1980s, when classic rock was at its zenith. But, hey, what's the alternative? So few people have been introduced to the brilliance of, for example, the trio of MSG albums, Written in the Sand, Unforgiven, and Be Aware of Scorpions, that it would be suicide to release tracks from these albums commercially on DVD. The same applies to Schenker's brilliant trio of solo electric projects - Dreams and Expressions, The Odd trio, and Adventures of the Imagination - or to Schenker's unbelievable "covers" trio of albums - Endless Jam, Endless Jam continues (the best lead guitar I have ever heard), and Heavy Hitters. I could go on. The fact is, once simian partisanism has been set aside, Schenker has to be acknowledged as one of the greatest musical talents of our time.

Anyway, back to the DVD. I would be the first to admit that Schenker has had greater live "highs" than this. And yet, it would be dishonest to rate the material as less than "5-star". The tone is there; the material is there; the dexterity is there; the camera work is, for once, not bad actually; and, personally, I love Gary Barden and Chris Glen. Furthermore, I love Wayene Findlay. For anybody who is new to Michael Schenker, get this DVD. It will be a great introduction to this hero of rock. For existing Schenkerheads - well, you know he's brilliant, so get it ordered. To die-hard UFO fans who have matured beyond football-terrace tribalism, get the DVD - it's well good.

OK - I admit it. The soloing on Lost Horizons is not the best. 99 times out of 100, Schenker corrects my musical opinions. Maybe 1 time out of 100, I can suggest something to him (his official website asked me to do his musical bibliography, so I suppose I know a little bit about this - admittedly Michael corrected me personally on a couple of points). I have five musical qualifications, but Michael knows so much more than me about music. And yet, I would perhaps dare to make just one suggestion to Michael: Learn the best versions of the solos from the classic tracks. These tracks no longer just belong to just you anymore, Michael. They are part of our history. They were gifts from you to the fans. You gave them to us - and we loved them. So, please re-learn the solos from the classics - the original Lights Out, Rock Bottom, Lost Horizons, Armed and Ready (you've never played the original solo from this live so far as I can see), and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. Dear Michael - we love you. You're the best. But even us lowly fans can see things occasionally!

Nevertheless, such criticisms are trifles compared to the wonder that is Michael Schenker. In the words of that great Vulcan - live long and prosper, Michael - we're with you all the way. We love you. In other words, buy the DVD.

Recently, I tried to think if there were any objective criteria by which I could identify Schenker as the world's greatest rock guitarist. This is what I came up with:

More original studio output than any other rock guitarist
More stylistic variation from album to album than any other rock guitarist
Greatest composer of rock music in history - wrote virtually all the UFO hits
Greatest rock solist in history: the top ten rock guitar solos are undoubtedly Schenker's
Greatest riff writer in history: has ten times more riff ideas than any other rock guitarist
Perfect musical phrasing - only Hendrix has ever achieved the same standard in blues phrasing
Complete originality - it is almost impossible to say Schenker adopted others styles. He didn't!
One of the only rock guitarists to understand "tone" - even greats like Steve Lukather sound "over-processed", but he doesn't!
The only rock guitarist to truly understand why "shred" is sub-musical - he rightly repudiated it
The most exciting rock guitarist - expressing the whole range of emotions, not just "ominousness"
The only rock guitarist to repudiate the four burdonsome cliches of rock:
-Speed, Ominousness, "Growling" vocals, and formulaic structures
The only rock guitarist to combine feeling, architecture and structure, with originality.

Let It Roll
Let It Roll
Offered by Stewybus
Price: £26.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Live UFO - Discs 1,2 and 4: Schenker; Disc 3: Chapman?, 31 July 2010
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This review is from: Let It Roll (Audio CD)
This is a great release from UFO, Discs 1,2, and 4 being similar to Live on Earth, Werewolves from London, and Disc 2 of Covenant in capturing Michael Schenker at his rawest. Schenker's soloing on Disc 1 has at times to be heard to be believed - though the rest of the band lack a bit of pace on this recording and it is as if Michael is trying to make up for this by injecting energy. Disc 3 is almost certainly not Michael Schenker, but a '79 performance by Paul Chapman (please comment if I'm wrong about this). Chapman is on form, reproducing live the kind of blistering incendiary detonations we find in studio form on No Place to Run. At first I thought it was Schenker on this disc, but Schenker's trademarks were all missing, and whilst Schenker religiously sticks to melodic structures whilst reserving improvisation for solos only, Chapman sometimes replaces song-structure with improvisation.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 23, 2012 6:24 PM GMT

Gipsy Lady
Gipsy Lady
Offered by Books-and-Sounds
Price: £5.85

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So? Lenny Henry Played Othello Didn't He?, 3 Sept. 2009
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This review is from: Gipsy Lady (Audio CD)
Gary Barden and Michael Voss reworking Michael Schenker's "Thank You 4" is, admittedly, a little like the idea of Lenny Henry playing Othello, or William Shatner playing Henry V (both of which actually happened). But so what? Both Henry and Shatner remain indispensable. In an analogous way, Barden and Voss completely transform Thank You 4 into something else - but the result is just as enjoyable, even if it is 'pop' rather than 'classic rock'.

The relationship between Gipsy Lady tracks and Thank You 4 tracks is as follows: Lost (TY4-1), Dance Lady Gipsy (TY4-8), All of My Life (TY4-11), Fight for Freedom (TY4-10), El Grande (TY4-5), Starting Over (TY4-4), Can't Live On Love Alone (TY4-13), Another Melody (TY4-7), Travelled So Far (TY4-3), Hungry (TY4-6), Night of the Stare (TY4-14), The Journey (TY4-12). Only TY4-2 and TY4-9 are omitted.

It would be misleading to think that vocals and other parts have simply been 'added' to TY4 tracks however. In some cases, the original TY4 tracks are actually hard to identify, such is the level of reworking. What Gipsy Lady achieves over and above TY4 is an injection of more obvious variety. It is not that the TY4 material is lacking in quality. Indeed, when making compilations of Schenker's music, slotting in his acoustic numbers here and there between electric tracks both isolates and highlights the greatness of virtually all of Schenker's acoustic compositions in their own right. This very point, though, means that when too many of Michael's straight acoustic tracks are placed in succession, one is left wanting injections of his electric material for the sake of diversity. What Gipsy Lady achieves is a similar kind of needed diversity - not by injecting electric material between acoustic tracks, but by creating a succession of very catchy pop-songs. Admittedly, Barden is not above lyrical "ham" at times - but it is the essential kind of ham we're talking about - the William Shatner kind without which the world - even the Shakespearean world - would be lacking something!

What a woman shouldn't do
What a woman shouldn't do
Price: £11.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Debut from Julie McKee, 7 July 2008
London-based singer/song-writer Julie McKee has really come up trumps with this new release from the aptly-named, Shrewd Records, label. Julie combines an experienced performing background with jazz and classical training - and adds to these a shedload of raw talent and originality - to produce a delightful, catchy, and professionally produced album, a genre-crossover between pop, blues, and jazz. Critically hailed with five-stars as 'one of the finest collections of jazz imbued pop you'll hear' (Wildy's World), What a Woman Shouldn't Do, is likely to remain in your CD player for some time.

The band line-up says a lot - including Julie McKee (vocals, Wurlitzer, piano, Fender Rhodes), Nigel Price of the James Taylor Quartet (guitar), Simon Little of Divine Comedy (bass, double bass), Rob Gentry (Hammond Organ), Mark Fletcher (drums, percussion), Sam Chaplin (trumpet, flugel horn), Joe Leach (Fender Rhodes, synthesisers), Kat Arney (harp), and Nicki Hutchins (clarinet, bass clarinet). Just assume in what follows that the musicianship is superb throughout!

Nobody's Farm provides an initially low-key start to the album, combining strong melody, a catchy feel, great lyrics, and Julie's amazing vocal range and stylistic techniques. All About You retains the groove and, along with the first track, provides us with great verse and chorus melodies. Track 3, Eric Marlow, remainds me of The Beetles - and such comparisons are really not out of place here - so special is the quality of Julie's song-writing. Not to mention great guitar-work from Nigel Price (James Taylor Quartet). Carousel begins with lovely bluesy vocals. There are so many musical dynamics present in this album that are simply absent from the average pop or rock record - it's a delight to see so much above-the-stave action and feeling. It Just So Happens is a soulful number in which Julie's vocal parts are foregrounded against Nigel Price's fret-work. All five tracks so far could be 'greatest hits' material. The Experts could easily be a song from a musical - a great combination of piano and Zorro-esque trumpet towards the end, with hints of Kate Bush's livelier tracks in the song-writing perhaps. Summer Weather In My Heart, with its lovely several-octave intervals on the piano and soulful bluesy lyrics has more of a nostalgic feel. By now, the listener is well into their own imaginative journey through memories of Summer excursions. Nine Years Old continues the magic - again I'm slightly reminded of Kate Bush, but this time of Aerial. This is a wonderfully sending track, with beautiful melodies - my favorite so far. Excellent trumpet work - backgrounded as though Finding Forrester were happening somewhere in the distance. Mount Vesuvius rocks things up again (which is what Aerial could have done with more of!) - great to hear Nigel Price's wonderfully restrained bluesy deep-south guitar-touches. Angel Song is very original conceptually - speculating on the heightened way one would notice the world if one knew it was the eve of one's passing. To give you an idea of the stylistic diversity going on here, I am reminded of Sufjan Stevens on this track. The title-track concludes the album - not unlike the James Taylor Quartet's Don't Mess With Mr. T - except that something very different to JTQ is hapenning here, something decidedly Eastern in flavour, as though to imply that chauvenist attitudes smack of mediaeval religions - which shall remain nameless!

Past And Present
Past And Present
Offered by groove_temple
Price: £15.61

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is Truly Excellent - Essential for Schenker/Barden Fans!!, 5 Jun. 2008
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This review is from: Past And Present (Audio CD)
I was very pleasently surprised when I first heard this. At first I thought it was just a compilation of past releases. However, when I heard it was a complete re-writing and re-arrangement of Gary and Michael's earlier work, I was intrigued. Then, when I played it, I was extremely impressed. Gary, of course, has got one of the greatest set of pipes in rock vocals, and if anything has improved over the years. Michael Voss on guitar is superb! He doesn't simply 'shred' his way through the tracks (which would ruin them). Rather, he plays with very Schenker-like restraint and feel, and with plenty of allusion to the actual guitar-parts Michael Schenker originally played - and yet without simple imitation. The result is spectacular - as close to the early Michael Schenker as I suspect any mere mortal could get. I'm now a Michael Voss fan! A word must also be said about the arrangements themselves. Dare I say it - they are in the same league as the originals - just as good, and yet completely different. The use of acoustic work in the arrangements is very impressive - a very refreshing change. This too is reminiscent of Schenker in more recent works such as Be Aware of Scorpions and Adventures of the Imagination. Other musicians include Marco Minnemann (drums, percussion), Christoph Wegmann (lead guitar fills on Red Sky, outro solo on Ready to Rock), Jochen Mayer (backing vocals), Angel Schleifer (slide guitar and lead guitar on Ready to Rock - breaks one and two (very tasty!)), and Dirk Hoewische (Hammond B3). In short: get this brilliant album - without it your MSG collection is simply not complete!!

Victory for the Comic Muse
Victory for the Comic Muse
Price: £7.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victory for The Divine Comedy... and for Julie McKee?!, 4 Jun. 2008
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This is a great album. We start of with To Die a Virgin, which is humorously described as the worst possible fate. A comical mixture of happy-musical vehicle and morbid theme. Next it's the more accessible, Mother Dear, about first realising that one's mother 'is a person in her own right'. The song moves on to the 'being adopted' theme - deconstructing heavy issues by presenting them with mock seriousness and hill-billy banjo's in the background! Diva Lady opens with a superb rhythm/bass/piano groove - and you just know what the subject matter is going to be like: yes, it's a kind of David Bowie style commentary on a Diva's 'special needs'. Excellent chorus - 'she's got 30 people in her entourage just in case her ego needs a massage'. Superb track! Makes you wonder what we're going to get with A Lady of a Certain Age. This track is about the rich-trappings and imprisonments - and hence melancholy and nostalgias - of being a higher-class lady - 'to keep your sanity a nanny was employed'. 'That's what they they did in those days' suggests some kind of period-piece like Suzan Howatch's Penmaric. The Light of Day is about melancholic reflection upon a past relationship through finding an old photo. This is vaguely reminiscent of The Smiths - except with better musicianship. Threesome is a very short track - the instrumental nature of which both leaves the listener to their imagination and sounds like the music to a silent Charlie Chaplin film. Party Fears Two has an odd military-drum and brass um-pah sound - which forms the backing to what seems to be an absurd description of pre-party fears based on how the booze might trash one's manners and etiquette. Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World draws parallels between the said BBC programme and the narrator's woman friend. Other parallels include the woman in the 80s who was allergic to everything, the Baltic Sea, the expanding universe, uncharted territory, and so on - the point being to liken his woman to all that is completely baffling. Yet, at least she is 'lovely as could be'. Next up it's a Russian-sounding track called The Plough - about a farmer's boy going to the city. He starts as an office-boy, but rises through the firm - only to discover company corruption, which he rejects to 'plough his own furrow'. This includes listening to the local preacher's message of hell-fire, which he finds morally unacceptable as well. Guess he'll have to plough his own furrow! Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont is like a drug-induced account of an ethereal trip through a European Summertime by balloon - possibly the most intellectual track yet and a favorite of mine. Snowball in Negative concludes the album with a truly melancholic comparison between life slowly ebbing away, a snowball in negative (i.e. rolling on but getting smaller instead of bigger (if only!)), and failing to give up smoking, where the way the cigarette burns down also forms a parallel.

I suppose there's something of Monty-Python in The Divine Comedy. At one level it's excellent, correctly identifying the absurdities of life with a certain intellectual rigour. However, one wonders whether the attempt to find meaning in life is prematurely shelved in the Morrisey-like indulgence of self-pitiousness - which of course is also mocked and so can't be that bad can it? It's so true of the British that when it comes to the truly 'deep' thought that one needs to dig oneself out of nihilism - whether melancholic, humorous, or both - we just leave it to the Europeans and have another Pims. Afterall - to sacrifice one's world-weariness - well, it just isn't done my dear boy.

On a musical note, electric and double-bass player Simon Little has recently appeared on an altogether more hopeful and just as musically brilliant project with new senstation, Julie McKee - alongside Nigel Price from the James Taylor Quartet. The album in question is called, 'What a Woman Shouldn't Do' - which I prefer even to 'Victory for the Comic Muse'!

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