Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

The Black Crowes - By Your Side

Well, can't say I haven't asked for it before, a knock-it-about rock record from these boys that would catch us croakin' and crowin' stadium anthems like skinny days of yore. But durn it if I wasn't getting comfortable with a new type of godlike sweet justice the boys were exuding as of late, this heavenly drip into the soup of the new Dead (no one band could possibly attain, so we have Phish, Blues Traveller, Dave Matthews and the Allmans). But that's now gone, and what we have is a true back to the roots record that dare I say marks a dumbing down, the Crowes (switched bassist, and only one guitarist: Chris) regressing into the space between Shake Your Money Maker and The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. So it's a complete sell-out-back, still a very good collection of songs by a unique l'il chemistry set, but I feel can't help feeling the fix is on. Faves are now the tracks that wig out a bit, Welcome To The Goodtimes, Diamond Ring and Virtue And Vice, all replete with eccentric Acid Test layers missing from Stoned Kiss songs like Go Faster and Kicking My Heart Around. And those r+b choruses in Go Tell The Congregation and Only A Fool, that just goes way too far into mainstream Grammy madness. I can see Oprah having the boys on and doing that loitered nerd-like dance singalong thing she does with Aretha and Patti Labelle. But y'know, this is still the Crowes, and like Aerosmith (connection: Nine Lives twiddler Kevin Shirley produces, safe as milk I might add), these guys care too much to really turn in an objective, unarguable pooch. This was more about direction than loss of muse.
Rating 7.5

Sheavy - The Electric Sleep

Our fave Newfoundland stoner rockers have stepped up from pure indie to Rise Above and now The Music Cartel (this record's been out in Canada and Europe for a year), becoming a minor European sensation in the process, Sheavy's psychedelic brew becoming less stifled, more relaxed and not all about heavy metal. It's like the songwriters have stepped up and out, Sheavy entering a cosmic Monster Magnet zone, loping into slow blues, acoustic flights o' fancy and of course tons of Sabbath-steeped power chords. Ultimately, there's nothing overdone or cliched, like the band has flipped a switch from followers into leaders, defiant of becoming a Cathedral or Kyuss clone, looking more to the bud for a total record trip, ebbs and flows, surrender to the '70s, all the while vocalist Steve Hennessey doing that really trippy 1971 Ozzy/Witchfinder General thing until you can just see the cobwebs, mold, dust and forbidden texts.
Rating 8

Iron Maiden - The Remasters

Hot off the experience of seeing the supply of the first set of Maiden catalogue reissues dry up, EMI have reconfigured and replied, zigging where the Castle sets zagged. Personally speaking, I thought the Castle reissues accomplished the most important task: getting out the myriad of top-notch b-sides for which this band was rightfully lauded. Although quite pertinently, the EMI sets are remasters, the main victories are of a graphical nature. These things are beautiful, each booklet stuffed with extra photos, Eddie shots, all the lyrics, a great improvement over an already solid treatment in the Castle sets. Plus there are tiny surprises, like alternate back covers and slightly altered fronts, different tintings, different graphics on the discs themselves, the compiling of A Real Live Dead one, and the new inclusion of Live At Donnington plus a well-appointed interview disc called In Profile. The big addition however is the vast library of CDROM material on each disc, comprising lyrics, Eddie and live shots once again, plus sound and full motion videos from each era. Capping it off, for those who choose the path of the superfan, there's a numbered, limited edition plastic-molded Eddie head, complete with battery-driven red flashing eyes to house your Bruce-belted treasures. It really is the ultimate receptacle for this essential chunk of metal history, and quite the greeting for those who might invade your castle and wish to whisk away your collection uninvited!
Rating 8

The Freddy Mitchell Euphoria - Fallen Moons
(Celestial Blues)
Zakas - Shunk Daddy Grind
Swirl - Out Of Nowhere

Here's a looksee at a few lesser giants that have crossed my cluttered desk of late. First up is The Freddy Mitchell Euphoria, who are a wonderfully dated pastiche of Hendrix-psych blues, Rush prog and crystal-hippie new age sentiments over a solid bed of classic hard rock. Two guys, two gals (but male vocals from Freddy), lots of hair, and a refreshingly odd weave of the metaphysical and the metallic. Production is a bit weak, arrangements a bit scattered, but what would the world be like without dreamers like this? Contact FMEuphoria@aol.com. Next up is (Steve) Zakas, who turns in a fantastical freakshow of underground avant metal which reminds me of a cross between Devin Townshend, Mind Over Four, Gang Of Four, Plant Page, Queen and Hawkwind. Zakas is a veteran death metal drummer who for whatever twisted logic has transformed himself primarily into hand percussionist and drum programmer. What he has whipped forth, along with a cast of dozen like-minded explorers, is an amazing amalgam of exotic tones, emotions and sky-straddled weirdness, usually riddled with quite dirty guitars. Contact zakashunk@aol.com, NOW! Finally, we have something more meat and potatoes, Swirl growing out of the West Coast scene with a sound somewhere between party metal, alternative and roots rock. The title track rules and should be a huge hit, bolstered by strong vocals, tasty southern-inflecting axework, and solid production by Quiet Riot's Carlos Cavazo. Elsewhere, much acoustic campfire music, more southernisms and more stadium rawk, making this perhaps too many things at once. Still, a solid record built for those bent on a hard rock revival. Check out www.swirlatice.com.
Rating 7,8.5,7.5