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by Martin Popoff

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Billy Sheehan - Compression
(Favoured Nations)

Pleasantly surprised. More than pleasantly surprised. Look not to this disc for instrumentals, shreds, Billy's controversial dirtbike bass sound, the work of a journeyman and all the baggage that entails. Conversely, what you will find here is a soulful, more than competent vocalist with an interesting voice (yes, it's him!), Billy's most band-cooperative bass playing ever, and a batch of songs that are mature and effortlessly enjoyable, delivered with an energy that unifies the album as Vai or G3-like in fertility but built for the lover of rock anthems. Funky, chunky, and continually down-lo guitarish, Compression is a strange place to hear the man make a great mainstream rock album, but there you go. And one can understand Billy's ouster from Mr. Big, because Compression proves the man is a hard rocker at heart, even if the album belies an obvious academic intelligence by venturing from the core the way that perhaps modern King's X might. And stay with it: the best comes last, 'Feed Your Head' being an urgent, spiritual prog speedster with a replenishing chorus, underscoring the knowing melodies all over this rewarding collection.
Rating 8.5

Saxon - Killing Ground

The new, efficient, proficient, self-aware Saxon of the last three albums is very much in place, but there are new and old tricks. First off, there seem to be regular shooting smiles and knowing winks back to a nave, melodic old band of rogues called Saxon. These are clear, connecting, obtusely familiar moments that warm up a franchise that seems to work great on paper these days but hasn't really handed us anthems that we've kept and cherished. Too serious, too willing to ingratiate through brute force. With respect to the new, there's a crackling vibrancy to the mix here that is halfway to Demolition by way of Crusader, open, electric, alive in deference to the real rock 'n' rolling state of the band itself. So there's an emotional identification here, a sense of down-to-earth song skills sent forward to the future, or at least the early '90s, by this fuzzy, mid, activity-drenched mix. It works well, as does the gutsy inside-out cover of King Crimson's 'Court Of The Crimson King'. Fun for the jean-jacket family: spot the musical quote from 'The Eagle Has Landed' (here's a hint: 'Ru_ning F_r The Bord_r'). Bartender, Biff me another one.
Rating 8.5

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