Sunday, February 1, 2015

Self-Indulgent Rock 'n' Roll Post

Yes, this is an education blog.  Yes, I am devoting one post to my own musical interest.  As my friend, the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year Allison Riddle and I would say, #EdZeppelin.

So what occasions this digression from all things pedagogical?  It is the debut release from Sweet & Lynch.  The story has been told countless times around the Internet, but here is the bottom line.  Michael Sweet (Stryper), George Lynch (Dokken and Lynch Mob), Greg Lomenzo (White Lion), and Brian Tichy (Whitesnake), joined forces on the premiere hard rock/metal label Frontiers Records to record an album.  If you know any of those bands, keep reading. If you don't, then I guess this actually is an educational post after all.  Take your seats, kids.  School is in session.

Only To Rise is the album, and it kicks off with "The Wish," a song that makes those of us who remember when fun, lyrical, hard rock & metal first hit the scene realize that we no longer need to wish for such days.  They are back.  This could easily have been on a Stryper album.  Sweet's powerful voice soars, and Lynch's riff-soaked guitar puts a hook in your head that leaves you reaching for your own air axe.

"Dying Rose" is up next, and it is perhaps my favorite track.  It has a mean & dirty blues-based riff that is backed up by a deep, in-your-face rhythm from Lomenzo and Tichy (whom, with Brian Devin as his bass partner in Whitesnake, David Coverdale used to call the Wrecking Crew).  Sweet's vocals have that full-throated swagger that make you just know he has his head and shoulders thrown back as he assaults the mic.

"Love Stays" has the slow groove of a classic power ballad, and the opening lyric is reminiscent of Sweet's "The Cause" from his 2014 solo release I'm Not Your Suicide.  Lynch's guitar and Sweet's vocals almost perform a call-and-response, and once again, there is a bigness to the song that makes you think of arenas and lighters.  While I am not the biggest fan of ballads, Lynch's guitar solo toward the end makes this worth the listen.

"Time Will Tell" brings us back to rock with a great little opening two-second bit from Lynch.  The song quickly turns spartan with the sound being largely carried by Sweet and Tichy and then opening up again to the full band sound.  The Lynch solo has me bending the strings of my air guitar.

"Rescue Me" follows with a big, bad drum opening from Tichy.  A deep, head-banging groove from Lomenzo joins, then come Lynch's string bending and Sweet's big vocals.  Are you noticing some themes here?  These are songs meant to be played live, in an arena, with great lights and a faithful choir singing along.  This could easily have been a Whitesnake song.  Lynch and Tichy battle it out toward the end, and the winner is the listener.

"Me Without You" opens with a haunting, Spanish-influenced guitar and a crystal vocal from Sweet.  While ballads are not my favorite, this one really gets it done.  The full band comes in at about 1:30, and by then you are hooked and want to hear this one through to the end.  This may well be the best interplay between Sweet and Lynch and ends with the same clean, haunting sound as the opening.

"Recover."  Ah, yes.  True rock opening that would have been at home on a Whitesnake album, and a vocal attitude hearkening back to Stryper's Against the Law days.  Sweet finds the top of his vocal range here, and if you are not familiar with it, just know that you could more easily climb K2.  Once more Lomenzo and Tichy provide a rock solid foundation for some of Lynch's most virtuoso playing on the album.

"Divine" starts off with sonic assault from Lynch's axe, and gritty rhythm section quickly backs it up.  There is something about this classic rocker that reminds me of Bon Jovi's "Lay Your Hands on Me," especially during the chorus.  If Sweet & Lynch tour (please say yes! please say yes!), I would expect pyrotechnics shooting off from the stage during Lynch's solo here.  The song ends with a guitar build up that is matched by a crescendo of drums.

"September" is the band's anthem in memory of 9/11.  I'm not sure we can ever have too many songs that recall that day, and to have one with the heavy-hitting sound and rhythm of this serves a real purpose.  It allows us to fight vicariously even as we remember those who have fought and died for real.

"Strength in Numbers" is the kind of song you just don't hear anymore.  It starts out with this big, orchestral sound reminiscent of Zeppelin's "Kashmir," then shifts into a lyric and vocal that calls to mind "Bleeding From Inside Out" on Stryper's Second Coming album.  To me, this is what rock is all about.  It is big (how many times can I use that word in one review?), rich, and full.

"Hero-Zero" opens with a twin guitar-drums attack, but it is the chorus line that really gets me.  "The hero is a zero.  He's just a highwayman.  He'll burn you worse than Nero.  I hope you understand."  I'm a Latin teacher, so when I hear a reference to a Roman emperor in music that I am trying to turn up to 11, well, let's just say I become one happy fan.  This is a solid, driving number that Lomenzo and Tichy really make happen.  With its expansive chorus, all I can say is...I love it!

"Only To Rise," the title track, brings the album to a close in killer fashion.  Once again, I hear an opening that Whitesnake would have loved.  It really comes out and just assaults the senses.  If the previous song drove hard, this one takes a shot of nitrous and simply leaves everything else at the starting line.  The guitar solo evokes Deep Purple's "Highway Star," so the car metaphor is not misplaced.  Listening to this track through headphones as I write, I want to yank them off, throw the disc in the player, and crank the home stereo so the neighbors can enjoy it.

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