Hello once again, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time for another installment of Better B Brief! This is where I briefly point out some albums that I adore. All of these deserve to have a full, thorough write-up, but I have so many to tell you about that I just don’t have enough day to do it in. So, without further ado, here are our three worthy artists!
Toto – XIV (20 March 2015)
“Orphan” Music Video
It’s been a long time coming for this album review. I was never really a huge Toto fan. I knew the hits, but I had never owned a full-length album of theirs prior to this. But sometime in the middle of 2015, I came upon this record and was completely blown away. Toto’s XIV is a “don’t hit skip” LP. Each song is unique and beautifully crafted. It’s not just about big choruses and wild guitar solos, though they’re here, but rather about the details tucked away in each nook and cranny. Each time I listen, I find myself hanging on each sung note; I’m captivated. This becomes all the more amazing when you consider that each member of the group (sans drummer Keith Carlock) carries lead vocalist duties on at least one song. And unlike some albums, the tracks here are so distinguished in sound and design that they are immediately recognizable. Yet, despite the diversity, somehow the whole thing comes together magnificently. From the avarice-tinged “Running Out Of Time” to the hopeful “Great Expectations,” there are no losers here. Toto’s XIV was my vote for Best Album of 2015. I suggest you revisit it.
Standout Tracks: “Running Out Of Time” – “Orphan” – “Great Expectations”
My relationship with Zakk Wylde and his music has been an on-again, off-again affair. I loved his band Pride & Glory, but only occasionally dabbled with Black Label Society (though Order Of The Black was a phenomenal release). However, his 1996 solo album entitled Book Of Shadows was an instant hit to my ears. Its mostly acoustic, intimate nature, fueled by gut-wrenched emotions laid bare, struck a chord in this poor soul. Twenty years later, Wylde decided to open that book once more, writing another series of chapters that speak to the struggles of his life. And once more his words and music have resonated within me. I was surprised to hear from some people that the new songs were lacking, or ripped off other classic rock songs. While I certainly hear the melodic similarity between the opener “Autumn Changes” and Pearl Jam’s “Black,” I don’t believe that Wylde took it intentionally, and the similarities disappear in other aspects of the song. Book Of Shadows II is more than just a collection of ideas and licks plucked into a recorder, or some lines scribbled on road-side diner napkins; it is a journey towards absolution. Others may do as they like, dismissing this release, but I will gladly take it in and find comfort in its company.
Standout Tracks: “Autumn Changes” – “Sorrowed Regrets” – “Sleeping Dogs”
My eyes and ears have been eagerly awaiting the release of Apollo Under Fire’s self-titled, debut album ever since vocalist Donald Carpenter (Eye Empire, Submersed) announced the band’s inception in 2014. Despite feeling frustrated at the sudden split of Carpenter from Eye Empire (now seemingly only a hiatus), I knew that his involvement with guitarist Peter Klett (Candlebox) could only lead to good things. When my autographed, pre-order copy arrived, I was not disappointed. Each of these songs, co-written by Carpenter and Klett, is bursting from the seams with an unending well of positivity and hope, stitched together by warm guitar chords and an emotional vocal performance. For those looking to find a heavy-handed replacement for Eye Empire, you won’t find it here. What you will find is an amazingly solid release from start to finish; a friendly word that will pick you up when you’re feeling down and out. This hard rock record is as fine a beginning as any group could wish. If you don’t have it, you’re missing out.
Standout Tracks: “Gotta Believe” – “When It Rains” – “Weightless”