Label: Grooveyard Records (http://www.grooveyardrecords.com/)
Holy crap!! I’ve been a fan of John Waite ever since I heard The Babys and “Looking For Love” on Swedish radio back in the seventies! I’ve enjoyed most of his solo stuff, too, especially the rockier stuff like “Ignition” and “Rovers Return”. I also had the great pleasure of seeing Mr Waite live in Augsburg, Germany not that long ago and man, he still rocked! Great backing band, too! So, how’s he doing on record? Well, his new album starts off with one nice firecracker of a song, the title track. My first impression is I love the naked, rough, rocking sound. A guitar, a bass, a set of drums, some occasional keyboards and the great voice of Mr W. No unnecessary overdubs, no annoying over-Americanized reverb. This sounds like a pure melodic rock album made with love and honesty. “Shadows Of Love” is another melodic rocker that takes us back to Waite in his best form.
Don’t be fooled by the title of the next track - “Evil”. It’s not the old seventies song and it’s no detuned heavy rocker. Here’s a cool melodic rocker, maybe not as hard hitting as the openers, but still very enjoyable indeed. What really makes it work is that John Waite still possesses THE voice! Next up is a classic Waite-sounding ballad, ornamented with some acoustic guitar and piano. It’s of course hard to exceed tracks like “Missing You” or “In Dreams”, but he does try and this one goes a long way. This time John is using the guitar talents of Luis Maldonado and Kyle Cook (Matchbox Twenty). The latter also co-wrote a bunch of the tracks. “Skyward” is another semi-ballad following in the same vein as the stuff Waite produced on albums like “Temple Bar”.
The cover of Tina Turner’s “Sweet Rhode Island Red” opens up sounding like mid 90s ZZ Top with dirty finger-picking phat guitars and some shuffle-style snare drumming making this an outstanding full throttle bluesy shuffle rocker. Waite sings his heart out, as usual, no holds barred! “Love’s Going Out Of Style” is a mid-pace semi-soft track with almost reggaeish guitars and a cool Nashville sounding chorus. Great bluesy solo from Kyle. There’s even some saxophones in the chorus, but very much in the background. I hate sax, but for some reason they do work well here. “Better Off Gone” kicks off with a nice guitar riff and continues in a melodic upper mid-tempo mode with the classic Waite tone all over it. It has a cool car driving mode to it, made for a top down ride, full on sunshine and sunglasses on! Next up is “Further The Sky” which is a really cool bluesy ballad with some great guitar playing from Shayne Fontayne. Again I have to praise the earthy, unpolished production giving you the feeling of the band being in the same room as yourself. I truly love that!
“Peace Of Mind “ is a track that sticks out a bit with its spoken verse. Not bad, but not really at par with the other tracks. On the other hand I truly LOVE John’s new version of one of my old favourites “Mr. Wonderful” from the “Ignition” album. Luis Maldonado does a great work on guitar giving it a dirty, bluesy live-feel. This version really rocks! Sometimes you shouldn’t mess with old classics, but this time I won’t complain, at all! Love this version! The second bonus track, “Hanging Tree”, is a previously unreleased track recorded for the sound track of the movie “Me And Will”. A great soft acoustic ballad with John singing as soulful as only he can do. There is no doubt, John Waite has again exceeded himself! I’m prepared to rate this album as one of his best releases ever, and for me “Ignition” is way up there!
Transubstans Records have a nice tendency of picking up all the great retro bands of our small but fruitful country. Mangrove made their debut in 2009 with “Endless Skies”, a great debut indeed. The follow-up does not disappoint, on the contrary. “A Distant Dream If Tomorrow” continues where the debut left off. Heavy riffs, great melodic vocals, great musicians and a more classic seventies hard rock sound than stoner. The dead heavy riff in “Never Again” reminds me a bit of bands like vintage Sabbath with a touch of Sir Lord Baltimore. They even have the Black Sabbathian simultaneous dual guitar solo, one in each channel. You don’t hear that too much these days. In the true Sabbath/Zeppelin manner they also mix it up with some nice mid tempo balladry in tracks like “I’ve Been Seen Upon The Sun”. I think I said this in my review of the debut, but I’ll say it again, singer Kataja reminds me quite a lot of Magnus Ekwall of The Quill, which is top notch in my book. They do turn a bit more stoner in some tracks, such as “Mean Woman Blues”, but they still keep their high standard. I also really like the earthy, analogue sounding mix of the album. It’s an album where it actually does happen something when you turn it up! It hasn’t been deviously destroyed in some malicious mastering process where compressors and limiters make everything sound louder than everything else. I hear dynamics, something that unfortunately a lot of albums of today lack. This is a great sounding power trio with all individuals making a serious musical imprint in each and every song. Great stuff indeed!
Talk about a CD with postponed release date, almost competing with Guns ’N Roses ”Chinese Democracy”! The big difference is however that this one was really worth waiting for! When I did a gear-interview with John, at the time the new Europe album was released, he revealed his new solo album would be of the ”bluesier kind”. His last solo album ”Optimus” was more in the same vein as Europe’s reunion-platter with detuned riffs and a more modern approach, an album that didn’t fully hit home with me.
Ok, John, all is now forgiven; ”Play Yard Blues” is the album we (at least I) have been longing for. Here he shows his love for the seventies, both in his own songs and in his interpretations of Frank Marino’s ”Ditch Queen”, Mountain’s ”Travellin’ In The Dark” and Thin Lizzy’s outstanding ”It’s Only Money”. If we start with the cover songs, he hasn’t strayed away too much from the original versions. For example in ”Ditch Queen” he sounds very much like Frank both in his vocals approach and in his lead guitar playing. The influences really shine through. The opening track of the album, “Let It Shine”, also could have been penned by said Marino with its heavy and slightly funky verse riff. If John had to hold back on his solos on the Europe album, he’s really compensated it here. I’m not saying he’s over-playing, but where there’s place for a nice lick, he sure doesn’t rob us of the moment. In “Red Light Green High” he also shows a slightly cooler side, which made me think of bassist Tomas Torberg’s ordinary band Plankton. Norum also sings really laid back and nice on this one, something he also does in “Over And Done”, which stylewise made me think of some of Glenn Hughe’s better solo albums.
A singer John has used on some of his earlier recordings is Leif Sundin, a sadly rarely heard killer vocalist these days. Here he puts his vocal flair on the classic hard rocker “Got My Eyes On You” and the CD’s heaviest and most modern sounding track “Born Again”, the only track with detuned guitars. It however doesn’t stick out in a negative way, but more completes a great collection of tracks. The album ends with the title track that, as the title may suggest, is a play yard for guitarist, an instrumental improvisation number in the sign of blues with Europe colleague Mic Michaeli adding some nice Hammond organ to the brew. I’d also like to give some praise to John’s tasty rhythm boys, the outstandingly groovy Tomas Broman on drums and the aforementioned Plankton bassist Torberg, not forgetting percussionist Peer Stappe. These guys really put the swagger in On-mode in this killer retro-journey. Hats off to a first-rate craft and an album that has found its way nicely into my car stereo and will surely stay there for a long time ahead.
Genre: Seventies hard rock
Label: Mascot Reacords