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.
LEATHER – SHOCK WAVES (1989)
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. In 1989, I considered myself a fan of the band Chastain. But while I liked the band’s best known songs, I had a little trouble getting into the full albums as a whole. I loved the playing and of course I’d love the vocals from Leather Leone.
But there was somewhat of a disconnect that held me back from fully enjoying the albums start to finish. It wasn’t until years later when the albums got reissued (and remastered) that I FINALLY came to fully love the Chastain albums of the 80’s.
But in 1989, when Leather Leone’s first solo album Shock Waves came out, I was hooked from the start. This might be a little surprising because while it was called a solo album, it featured a lot of the people involved with making the Chastain albums. Guitarist David T. Chastain wrote or co-wrote a bunch of the songs (as well as produced the album) and at least a couple of guys from Chastain played on the album. But for whatever reason, Shock Waves really struck a chord with me.
When the explosive notes from the album opening All Your Neon came out of the speakers, I was hooked and went on one heck of a wild ride. The music for the song is outstanding, both heavy and with a subtle hook that grabs you. And the balls out vocal from Leather is incredible.
On Side One of the album it was one blow the doors off track after another. The album’s title track is just relentless. Not just musically which saw bassist David Harbour and drummer John Luke Hebert shine quite nicely but the vocal track was immensely satisfying as well.
My favorite song on the Shock Waves without a doubt is “The Battlefield Of Life”. It starts off slow, setting itself up with a well produced intro. Leather’s vocal delivery of the first couple of lyrical lines are in line with that intro. But then it is like a bomb is set off and the music ramps up with a massive burst of energy. And once again, Leather’s vocals set the song apart somehow. When the song comes in for a landing, the pace slows back down and the vocal falls back into a more restrained dramatic presentation as the song comes to a close. I should point out that guitarist Michael Harris had some great playing on this song. Even as my ears keyed to Leather’s vocals, I kept finding myself drawn to each fast moving note of his playing too.
Like “The Battlefield Of Life”, the song “In A Dream” starts off with a bit more of a dramatic presentation before a more uptempo pace takes over. But I liked the way the song switched its pace to meet the demands of the song at any given point. And Leather lets loose a fantastic scream in this song that is a pointed observation of real world issues.
When I flipped the cassette over to Side Two, the album starts up with the song “Something In This Life” flipped the script a bit. Most of the song had a heavier and slower feel to it, but then punctuated that with faster moving bits that kept you on your toes.
I can’t quite put my finger on the why but I will say that for whatever reason, I love the “Diamonds Are For Real” track a lot too. Fast paced and gripping, it’s just a song that makes you stand up and take notice.
The album’s final three tracks are all mostly slower in tempo but none of them suffers any kind of letdown in intensity for it.
The sense of drama is first and foremost for the “It’s Still In Your Eyes”…”On and on the world goes…but I remember yesterday…” I LOVE that particular lyrical passage in the song. Leather’s vocals on this song are so particularly on point that even though the track is almost exclusively slower paced, I couldn’t get enough of this one.
“Catastrophic Heaven” has a pretty expressive guitar solo and I love the way the song turns itself up to 11 when Leather’s vocal heads into the song’s brief chorus. There’s a spoken word part to the song that was pretty intriguing as well. The album closes out with “No Place Like Home”, a track that has an epic stomp feel to it.
For the longest time, I only owned this album on cassette. And yet even as the years passed, I would play it all the time and it remains a treasured favorite album of mine. I know it might be seen as something less than a full and true solo album for Leather Leone because of the heavy involvement of David T. Chastain, but for me Shock Waves was the album that set me up for a lifetime musical fandom for Leather (aside from those Chastain songs I liked of course). I love the way she sings and with Shock Waves listeners will get to hear her in full bloom!
NOTES OF INTEREST – The Shock Waves album has been reissued at least twice that I remember including a special edition marking its 30th anniversary.
Former Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O’Brien co-wrote “All Your Neon” and “Something In This Life” with Leather Leone. Manilla Road’s Mark Shelton wrote the album’s title track.
In 2018, Leather released her 2nd solo album II and I not only got to review that album for another site, I did an interview with her as well. She is working on a new solo album at this time with the album’s title at least tentatively set as We Are The Chosen.