My Favorite Albums of 2016 (so far)

To be fair, I have not purchased a lot of music that was released in 2016.  More often than not, I tend to buy a lot of used CDs or download older stuff that I missed. I’m admittedly NOT on the cutting edge of music and that’s fine with me.

So, with that in mind, here’s my list of those 2016 releases that not only made me part with my cash but found themselves on heavy rotation on my iPod.

anthraxforallkings5.  Anthrax – For All Kings

I am probably in the minority when I say that Anthrax’s last album, Worship Music, was among the best they’d ever done. I realize it was originally written for Dan Nelson, a singer that ended up leaving the band, and that Joey Belladonna was brought back into the fold and some of the songs were re-worked for him or by him. Either way, it gave the album a fresh sound that I really enjoyed. For All Kings, however, is a return to classic, thrashy Anthrax.  The band now sounds like they did before Belladonna left the band in the early 90s…and that’s a great thing.  Best tracks: “Monster at the End” and “Zero Tolerance.”

 

4. Cheap Trick – Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello

cheap_trick_bang_zoom_crazy____helloI’ve been a casual Cheap Trick fan since the late 70s. However, I hadn’t purchased a Cheap Trick album since Lap of Luxury in 1988. I bought Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello on a whim.  I’m glad I did, though, as it’s one of the most refreshing blasts of power pop to come out of my speakers in a long time.  This is the first album without founding drummer, Bun E. Carlos, and, honestly, Daxx Nielsen fills in quite well. Robin Zander’s vocals sound just as good as ever and Rick Nielsen’s guitar is as efficiently featured as always. I got to see the band perform several of the songs live and they translated quite well to the stage.  (It was also the first time I’d seen the band headline a show after seeing them as openers for Aerosmith in 2012 and Def Leppard in 2009.) Best tracks: “No Direction Home” and “When I Wake Up Tomorrow”

 

acefrehleyorigins1cd3. Ace Frehley – Origins Vol. 1

Covers collections usually don’t merit much more than a glance but when Ace Frehley releases one it’s a little different. Frehley, who has been relatively prolific lately with 3 albums in the last seven years, covers some of his influences (Cream, The Kinks, and Led Zeppelin to name a few) and some KISS songs (including “Rock and Roll Hell” which is from an era of the band in which he didn’t really participate.) The highlight of the album is “Fire and Water,” a Bad Company cover that reunites him with longtime KISS mate Paul Stanley on vocals.  It also features quite a few guest stars, including Slash, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, Lita Ford and John 5. Ace sounds particularly energized and it’s great to hear him let loose on these classic tracks. Best Tracks: “Parasite” and “Fire and Water”

 

popestar_cover2. Ghost – Popestar

The enigmatic Ghost, whose members hide their identities behind masks and Satanic imagery, have also proven that they have an eclectic taste in covering songs. In the past, they’ve covered such diverse artists as The Beatles, ABBA, and Roky Erickson. Although Popestar is also a covers collection, the EP vaults to number two on my Best of 2016 list mainly on the strength of its sole original song,”Square Hammer”, which I deem the catchiest song of the year by far.  That’s not to say that the remaining songs are chopped liver.  “Bible,” originally done by Sweden’s Imperiet, is a rousing damnation of  humanity and the damage we’ve done to the planet.  On most of the songs, lead vocalist Papa Emeritus III adopts a slightly different vocal style than he displayed on Ghost’s previous outing, Meliora. This is highlighted on Ghost’s take on Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man,” which is much heavier than the original version. Ghost continue to impress with each album and I’m looking forward to their fourth full-length release which is due in 2017. Best tracks: “Square Hammer” and “Bible”

 

blackstar_front_coverBest Album of the Year: David Bowie – Blackstar

Released on his 69th birthday – and a mere two days before his death –  in January, David Bowie’s Blackstar is my pick for album of the year. What makes it my favorite album of the year is the extreme beauty of the songs. Bowie’s soulful, heartfelt lyrics and jazzy arrangements make for incredibly gratifying listening. It’s obvious that Bowie makes several references to his impending death but these nods to mortality aren’t depressing.  They’re simply acknowledging the inevitable. Each of Blackstar‘s seven songs are essentially perfect. Best tracks: “Blackstar” and “Lazarus.”

 

Pentagram – Curious Volume Review

Curious Volume CoverartAs someone who would call himself a dedicated metal fan, it was with some surprise that I had never heard of Pentagram until I saw the 2011 documentary, Last Days Here. The film told the tragic tale of Bobby Liebling, the front man of the Virginia-based doom metal band. Judging from the initial part of movie, I’d have been surprised that any new music from Pentagram would ever see the light of day. However, the conclusion of the film charts Liebling’s course to recovery from drug addiction and depression.

Pentagram, as a band, began in the early 1970s but their debut album, Pentagram (aka Relentless, as it became known when it was re-released in 1993), wasn’t released until 1985. It became something of an underground classic. The band sort of stalled and churned its way through numerous line-ups and releases of older material up until the release of the documentary. Energized by the reception of the film and the exposure it brought to Liebling’s twisted talent, Pentagram experienced a rebirth of sorts. Curious Volume is the band’s second album since the documentary was made.

Read the rest of the review here…

Ace Frehley – “Space Invader” – Review

ace-frehley-space-invader-coverWhen Ace Frehley exclaims, “I feel good!” at the beginning of “What Every Girl Wants”, the eighth cut on his new album, Space Invader, it’s not hard to believe him. As he launches into what can only be described as a classic Ace guitar solo on the same track, it’s quite obvious that he’s happy, healthy, and comfortable doing what he was born to do: play guitar.

Space Invader is Ace’s follow-up to 2009’s Anomaly, an album that found him trying out different styles on almost every cut.  Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t.  Here, Ace sticks to the straight ahead rockers similar to the type he’d brought to KISS albums in the 1970s.

The title cut kicks off the album and does so with an admirable confidence.  Proclaiming that that he’s here to “save us from light years away”, the track is immediately recognizable as a Frehley track.  All the trademarks are there:  the melodic solo, the “can’t sing but I’m going to try really hard” vocals, and the in-your-face sound.  However, the song has a contemporary feel to it and it wouldn’t sound out of place on current rock radio.

Read the rest of the review here…