By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
HOUSE OF LORDS – SAHARA (1990)
The second album from House of Lords might’ve been slightly less successful than their first album when you look solely at sales and chart records. But after listening to this album for the first time in more than two decades, I was a bit stunned to hear how well Sahara holds up. The album is a sleek, fast and at times highly aggressive guitar oriented album. While keyboardist Greg Giuffria started the band, the pomp and grandeur associated with the band’s sound gives way to the more guitar heavy sound and it comes off better for doing so.
I saw the band on the tour for this album. It was March 15th, 1991, when I saw them at the Citi Club in Boston (for those that don’t remember the place, it was on Lansdowne Street behind Fenway Park). They were opening for Nelson if you can believe it! While I am now what you might call an obsessive set list keeper, I didn’t keep track of the songs they played on this night. Oddly, I do have the Nelson set list. I was there to see House of Lords, but I brought my sister with me that night because she was a huge fan of Nelson (as well as loving their dad Ricky Nelson). So we both got to see bands we were interested in. Even more fun was the fact that we got driven to the show by my brother’s godfather in his limo.
Anyway, the album came out via Gene Simmons own label, Simmons Records, with the accompanying distribution of RCA and BMG. The band had lost original guitarist Lanny Cordola (even though he does get co-writing credits on two songs on Sahara) and replaced him with Michael Guy. However, I’m not quite sure how involved Guy actually was with the band. While he’s listed as a band member in the liner notes, the Wikipedia entry for the album says that Doug Aldrich was the band’s guitarist. Aldrich is credited in the album notes as providing “additional guitars”. So there’s a mystery for you.
Like I said, I haven’t really listened to this album since 1991. The band’s cover of the Blind Faith song “Can’t Find My Way Home” still gets airplay on classic rock stations, so I’ve heard that song many times, but none of the other nine songs really stuck in my memory. After listening to Sahara for this article, I’m kind of saddened that they didn’t.
The album opens with the song “Shoot” and though the term “crushing” isn’t one you might expect to read in association with House of Lords, that is exactly what this fast paced track made me think. There’s a nice gritty vibe to the song as well. I think part of that is because of the way singer James Christian’s vocals manage to get both down and dirty and soar high at the same time.
With “Can’t Find My Home” and the song “Remember My Name”, you get the required for the times power ballad tracks. Otherwise, rocking out madly is the name of the game here. There is really no track here I didn’t like hearing for the first time all over again.
The song “Heart On The Line” was written by Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilsen. He played the lead on the song as well. Probably unsurprisingly, this really did sound like a Cheap Trick with both Neilsen and singer Robin Zander performing backing vocals on the song as well.
The album’s title track might be the best example of the band’s ability to go for the more grandiose thematic openings to some of their songs. The extended opening here is still pretty rocking though. You might think that with a title like “It Ain’t Love” that you are in for another ballad, but despite opening up that way, the song soon vaults past that particular designation and becomes this big huge rocker.
The album’s closing track “Kiss Of Fire” is just a pure ballsy rocker that really lets drummer Ken Mary shine in the intro as he slams away on the kit to fuel the adrenaline charged song.
Given that a lot of the albums I listen to for this series are ones that I’ve either overlooked or skipped entirely when they were first released, I do enjoy finding what to me is an undiscovered gem. And with all ten songs on the album really appealing to me, I have to say that Sahara is one of my favorite albums to have written about for The Cassette Chronicles. It’s got a heavy power chord driven guitar sound, James Christian’s super vocals and it just rocks your socks off!
NOTES OF INTEREST – Despite numerous lineup changes over the years, House of Lords is still active today. The band will be playing in The Vault at the Greasy Luck in New Bedford, MA, on Sunday October 14th, 2018. And I was lucky enough to have already met current drummer BJ Zampa at that very venue when he played there on August 31st, 2018, in a couple of tribute bands (Black Knight’s Castle and Without Warning).
The Rick Nielsen written song “Heart On The Line” did end up being recorded by Cheap Trick themselves for their 2016 album Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello!
There’s a who’s who list of guests on this album. Others credited for playing guitar on the album included House of Lords singer James Christian, Krokus guitarist Mandy Meyer (mis-spelled Myer in the liner notes) and Chris Impellitteri. The backing vocals list included 20 people including White Lion’s Mike Tramp, Giuffria’s David Glen Eisley, Ron Keel and Autograph’s Steve Plunkett.