Category Archives: Cassette Chronicles

The Cassette Chronicles – Ted Nugent’s ‘Penetrator’

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.

TED NUGENT – PENETRATOR (1984)

The recent passing of vocalist Brian Howe made me want to seek out the one bit of his discography that I had never heard before. This was an idea easier said than done however. The Ted Nugent album Penetrator was Howe’s first US gig and judging by what I’ve read online, this album is not looked upon all that fondly by the press or Ted Nugent’s fanbase. Making matters worse, when I tried to find a CD edition of the album online, it seemed I would have to give up an arm or a leg to afford the asking prices.

But the day was saved by my friend Roger. He arranged to drop off his cassette copy of the album in my mailbox (social distancing, don’t you know) so that I could listen to it.

I know you might wonder why I’ve never heard this album before now. Much like a lot of what I’m going to write about this release, I find myself going a bit against the grain when it comes to Ted Nugent. The truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t say that I’m all that much of a fan. Sure, I like the stuff you hear on the radio like “Stranglehold”, “Free For All”, “Wango Tango” and “Cat Scratch Fever”. I even liked the title track to the Little Miss Dangerous album. But I’ve never once felt the need to buy any of his solo music. In fact, the only material I own that features Ted Nugent are the two Damn Yankees albums.

The fact that I’m a huge fan of Brian Howe’s voice compelled me to finally listen to this album and while the research I did for this article suggests that it isn’t all that good and suffers from trying to sound like everything else coming out in the mid 1980’s and not quite getting there, I found that I kind of liked the Penetrator album. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by that feeling though. So often I hate stuff other people like and then when everyone is hating on something, it turns out that I like it. I guess that’s just a bit of my contrarian nature coming through.

I will admit that the album does sound a little dated. It is pretty easy to realize that it was released in the 1980’s. It has “that” sound which marks the era. But from the start, there’s a wildly reckless energy to a lot of the songs.

That sense of the energetic starts right at the top with “Tied Up In Love”. Given Nugent’s predilection for sex, it is no surprise that most of the material could be seen as having plenty of double entendres. But the smoking hot guitar and Howe’s vocals keep this song rocking from start to finish.

The first four songs on Side One of the album are all pretty fast-paced. I really liked the solo on “(Where Do You) Draw The Line” but I thought the keyboards through the song off a bit. That song was written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, which made me chuckle to think of the guy who sings balladry like “Heaven” having one of his compositions performed by the Motor City Madman. I also liked the solo in the expressively up-tempo “Don’t You Want My Love”. Say whatever you want about Ted Nugent, the man can shred his butt off on the guitar.

I think my favorite song on Side One might just be the rocker “Knockin’ At Your Door” which was written by Andy Fraser, the bassist for Free. I don’t know what it was but this was just a really cool track to me.

The closing song on the first side features a slightly slower pace as they seem to be going for a bigger sense of the dramatic. The keyboards (from Billy Squier’s Alan St. Jon) heavily influence the song here.

Brian Howe’s vocals graced the tracks on Side One, but when you flip the tape over you are immediately hit in the face as Ted himself once again steps up to the mike. You might tend to forget that you are listening to a Ted Nugent album when it is someone else singing the lyrics. But then Ted’s vocals kick in and you remember it’s “Uncle Ted’s” world and we’re all just witnesses to it.

While the Side Two opener “Thunder Thighs” pushes right against the line that marks when a song crosses over into a comedic self-parody, the maniacal guitar playing and ballsy vocal take elevate this song into a kind of interesting full-blown rocker. There is absolutely no sense of subtlety here but I have to admit that as the song played through, I didn’t care.

I did care more about the song “Blame It On The Night” though. Brian Howe was back on vocals for this song but it didn’t quite work for me because I thought the track could’ve done without the keyboards in the mix. That could just be me, but I thought it held the song back from reaching for what could’ve made it a potentially better song.

I loved the down and dirty grind of “No Man’s Land” and the self-congratulatory nature of the blazing “Lean Mean R&R Machine”. Both of the songs are flat out rockers and I thought they came out pretty damn fantastic.

And in a bit of a reversal, there was some restraint and subtlety on the album’s closing song “Take Me Home”. It is the only song that could legitimately be considered a ballad. While the tempo does increase a bit during the course of the song, it really does surprise that you. The funny thing is I went looking for the official lyrics only to find that none of the online lyric websites seems to have them. A few of them simply say “We’re sorry but the artist has decided not to disclose the lyrics for this song”. I don’t know if there’s some kind of story behind that decision or not but given the lyrics that are online for some of Nugent’s other songs, it was a bit amusing.

My entire reason for wanting to hear this album was because Brian Howe sang the majority of the songs on it. As I stated when I wrote about the Bad Company album Holy Water, I’m a huge fan of his voice. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect to find when I started listening to Penetrator given my less than full-throated support for Ted Nugent’s career. I know that the prevailing opinion about this album seems to veer towards being overwhelmingly negative, but Howe’s vocals and the fantastic music from Ted and company gave me a different opinion.

After listening to this album, even with it’s hiccups, I found the album to be surprisingly enjoyable. You could’ve probably knocked me over with a feather when I realized that fact. Now if I can just find myself a copy of my own that doesn’t require me to sell off a body part to afford it.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The album and the tour for it were the beginning and end of Brian Howe’s time with Ted Nugent. According to Howe’s Wikipedia page, a dispute over the lack of writing credits on the album (The song “Tied Up In Love” is specified) and financial matters led to his departure.

The drums on Penetrator were performed by Billy Squier drummer Bobby Chouinard who also played with Cher, Alice Cooper and Peter Wolf amongst his credits. Peter Wolf is credited on the Penetrator album as providing percussion and sequencing. The artwork was done by noted fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.

While I’ve never seen Ted Nugent in a solo concert, I did see him live as a part of Damn Yankees when they toured for their self-titled debut album. I remember being pretty impressed by his playing then. I wrote about that album for a previous article in The Cassette Chronicles series.

The Cassette Chronicles – Bad Company’s ‘Holy Water’

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.

WRITER’S NOTE: On May 6th, 2020, singer Brian Howe died as the result of a heart attack. I woke up that morning to discover the news and it hit me like a gut punch. I just loved his voice and the job he did fronting Bad Company between 1986 – 1994. While the band has virtually wiped out Howe’s time with them from their official history, the four studio albums he recorded with them are among the finest melodic rock albums one could hope to hear.

Howe was a pretty darn good songwriter, managing to come up with any number of hard driving rock numbers, the heart-rending ballad and every song style in between. Hell, the guy even co-wrote the lyrics for the song “I’ll Get Even” on Megadeth’s Cryptic Writings album!

The 2010 solo album Circus Bar is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard and it was among my favorites of the year upon its release. You can check out what I wrote about that album HERE.

The death of Brian Howe is a huge loss to his family and friends. The loss to those of us who are fans of his music is markedly different of course, but no less a profound sadness. I can only hope that anyone who hasn’t heard his work before now will soon discover that Howe’s voice was one of the great highlights of rock and roll.

BAD COMPANY – HOLY WATER (1990)

Depending on who you ask, opinions vary about the best of the four studio albums that Bad Company recorded with Brian Howe as the group’s lead singer. A lot of people will say it is Dangerous Age and it would be hard to argue with that choice. It’s a great album and I love it a lot myself.

But if I’m the one making the call, I have to go with Holy Water. The album was the most successful release in terms of sales (it went platinum) during the Howe era and I pretty much consider it their masterwork for this part of their history.

There are thirteen songs on the album and there isn’t a bad one in the lot. As I was listening to the album ahead of writing this piece, I even got to get a new perspective on a trio of the “album track” songs. They didn’t get the airplay as a single release but I got to enjoy them anew as songs that give the album the depth of quality it has.

The first side of the album wastes no time in kicking off things in a rocking fashion with the title track. It bursts out of your speakers and really grabs your attention. It’s the kind of declarative statement that makes you sit up and take notice. As I was researching some information about the album online, I saw that when the “Holy Water” song was released as a single, it became the #1 rock track for a couple of weeks. I’ve listened to this album a lot since it was released but as I listened to the track again, I could definitely recall how I felt when I would hear it playing on the radio as I would listen to 94 HJY out of Providence, Rhode Island.

That song was followed up by “Walk Through Fire” which became a Top 40 single for the band. It’s another pure rocker that gets the blood flowing through your veins. The band had a huge hit with the power ballad “If You Needed Somebody”, which made it into the Top 20. While it does have what would be considered the standard requirements for a song of its nature, I can listen to that track over and over and not get bored with it.

While the remaining three songs on the first side of the album weren’t released as singles, they still give you plenty of bang for your buck. “Stranger Stranger” has an amazing riff that runs through the song. The song rocks but with a slyly seductive groove to it.

The Mick Ralphs-written song “Lay Your Love On Me” closes out the first side with a driving tempo. However, the most surprising discovery for me was actually rediscovering the song “Fearless”. It’s a blast of pure hard rock rhythm that is so surprisingly effective that I found myself singing along to the lyrics.

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about what led to the split and acrimony between Brian Howe and both Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs. A lot of that talk centers around the songwriting for the band. However, I don’t see how the credits for this album could be such a breaking point for the band. Brian Howe co-wrote seven of the Holy Water‘s thirteen songs. Meanwhile, Simon Kirke wrote one song on his own and co-wrote another. Mick Ralphs had “Lay Your Love On Me” on his own and co-wrote three other songs.

But regardless of who wrote what, I have never been able to understand why the band grew apart. I mean, the album is full of great material. Yes, it is a dramatically different sound than the classic rock origins of the band. But as a confirmed fan of the more melodic rock stylings, this album is one of the highlights of that genre.

If you can’t take my word for, then just flip the album over to side two and check out songs like “With You In A Heartbeat”, “I Don’t Care” and “Never Too Late”. While the album is chock full of great straight up rockers, it closes on a decidedly more mellow note. Simon Kirke sings lead and plays the acoustic guitar on “100 Miles”. It’s a decidedly upbeat song and it kind of gives you a preview of the direction of his songwriting would go on the solo albums he did in 2011 (Filling The Void) and 2017 (All Because of You).

Much like “Fearless”, the songs “Dead of the Night” and “I Can’t Live Without You” became moments of re-discovery for me as I listened to the album. They are both hard rocking numbers with explosively melodic choruses heightened by a big backing vocal sound. Once again, I found myself singing along to these tracks.

I’m a fan of storytelling, whether it be in a book or through song. And the opening song on side two feeds my love of story. “Boys Cry Tough” was a monstrously successful song on the rock charts (it went to #3) even without being released as an official single. The story of Bobby and Mary has a clearly defined narrative. As a listener, you become involved in the storyline. It’s a prime example of how to tell a story through song and when you add in the fantastic music that backs up Brian Howe’s superb vocal performance on the song, you have the showcase track of Holy Water.

While it may have taken the death of Brian Howe to get me to write about this album for The Cassette Chronicles, what matters most is that I get to share my love of the album with people. This year marks the 30th anniversary of it’s release and for my money the Holy Water album is one of the finest albums I have in my collection.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Terry Thomas produced Holy Water but he was deeply involved in all aspects of the recording as well. He co-wrote eleven of the songs and played guitar and keyboards (the cassette liner notes list it as Hammond organ) and added backing vocals as well. He and Brian Howe had worked together on Howe’s 1997 solo album Tangled In Blue and he was also the producer for the Bad Company albums Dangerous Age and Here Comes Trouble.

Brian Howe re-recorded the song “Holy Water” for his Circus Bar album but gave it a significant re-do for an entirely different spin on the track. I love the original song as I said, but if you hear the new version he did, you’ll be shocked to discover how powerful it is.

I have only seen Bad Company in concert once but it was with Brian Howe on vocals. It was during the tour for the Dangerous Age album. I can still remember the T-shirt I bought when I saw them play the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. They had Winger as their opening act.

 

The Cassette Chronicles – Accept’s ‘Restless and Wild’

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.

ACCEPT – RESTLESS AND WILD (1983)

When it comes to opinions about German metallers Accept and their music, it does seem to be that a lot of the time, people kind of just start with their best known song “Balls To The Wall” (from the album of the same name). The stuff that comes before tends to be at least a little bit forgotten for some reason.

It is a considerably strange notion considering how many songs the band came up with prior the “Balls To The Wall” track that are still thought of as classic tracks to this day. I’d written about the band’s self-titled debut album in a previous article in this series. However, I thought it might be time to get around to writing a little bit about one of the other Accept albums I have in the Big Box of Cassettes.

Released in the US in 1983, the Restless and Wild album is the immediate predecessor to the Balls To The Wall album. It wastes little time in blowing the doors off your expectations with the song “Fast As A Shark”. Considered one of the earliest and best examples of “speed metal”, this bull in a china shop kind of song continually throttles the listener with an intensely relentless pace.

The title track is another classic track for the band. In fact, the first four songs (including “Ahead of the Pack” and “Shake Your Heads”) are all some of the band’s finest early work. It is songs like these that make a deep dive into the band’s discography a great treasure hunt for any metal fan. As I was listening anew to “Shake Your Heads”, I was struck by the slight similarity in the lyrics to Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)”. Not the exact lyrics per se but the similarity in the celebration of fan reaction to metal music in general. Given that both songs were released in 1983, it just struck me as a great potentially unrealized coincidence.

But for me, the band kind of lost the plot a little bit after those first four songs. While there is a bit more artistic depth in the songwriting to “Neon Nights” (not a cover of the Black Sabbath song), it just was kind of mediocre to me. When you flip the cassette over to Side Two, that sense of the mediocre continues with “Get Ready”. “Demon’s Night” and “Don’t Go Stealing My Soul Away” are decent enough rockers but I don’t think they’d be spotlighted as amongst the best the band has to offer.

I had listened to the CD version of the album back in the middle of 2019 and thought “Flash Rockin’ Man” was a little bit of a mis-step too. But when I listened to the album for this article, I actually found myself enjoying it more than I did in the past. There’s a driving sense of urgency to the music that made the song a bit more catchy to my ears this time around.

The album closes with “Princess Of The Dawn”. The song has a kind of claustrophic feel to it. The song is one of the better known songs from the album. I like it, as it definitely highlights the band’s increased songwriting craft. But the thoroughly abrupt way the track ends will leave you wondering what the hell they were thinking. It doesn’t feel like the track had reached its natural endpoint but rather someone had shut off the recording machines at the most inopportune of times.

I’ve long considered myself an Accept fan. However, like a lot of people I first became aware of them because of the “Balls To The Wall” song. In my defense though, I didn’t just stop there. That song served as the catalyst for me as I’ve done many a deep dive into the band’s entire catalog. I own most of their albums and there are so many gems to check out. I was actually going through my music collection a few weeks back and I spent most of a day pulling out all the Accept material I own and found myself with a sense of renewal as I went through the albums in chronological order.

Accept has earned their place in metal history and while I found at least a couple of tracks on Restless and Wild to be decidedly problematic for my tastes, you can bet your ass that when you listen to this album, you will come to understand just how important the album is in the evolution of the band’s career.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The Restless and Wild album has two different covers. The version that was originally released in Europe in 1982 has a photo of two guitars on fire. When the album was released in the US and UK in 1983, that album art had been replaced by a live shot of the band. I own the band shot on cassette and I have a CD version of the album that features the guitars aflame.

The guitar work on the album has a bit of a story to it. Accept had hired guitarist Jan Koemmet before they recorded Restless and Wild. However, his tenure with the band was very short and he didn’t play a note on the album. The album’s liner notes list Herman Frank as part of the lineup, but while he was the replacement for Koemmet, he didn’t actually play on the album either. Instead, Wolf Hoffman was responsible for all the guitar tracks.

In 2018, I saw Udo Dirkscheider (under the band name ‘Dirkschneider’) performing a full set of Accept songs with his U.D.O. band. They played “Princess Of The Dawn” and “Fast As A Shark” from the Restless And Wild album during the set.

 

The Cassette Chronicles – Quiet Riot’s ‘Quiet Riot’ (1988)

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.

QUIET RIOT – QUIET RIOT (1988)

In 1983, Quiet Riot rose to the top of the metal world on the basis of their Metal Health album. They were, so to speak, the “kings of the world”. Great things seemed to lay ahead for them.

By 1988, the metal world had pretty much passed them by. The decade where metal ruled the world had pretty much left the band in the dust. This would be due in large part to the fans moving on from them and other bands sick and tired of listening to vocalist Kevin DuBrow badmouth them in the press.

But 1988 also saw the other members of Quiet Riot firing of Kevin DuBrow from his own band and the hiring of former Rough Cutt vocalist Paul Shortino. This lineup switch brought about a very different sound for the band on the Quiet Riot album. Gone was the bombastic metal explosiveness. Instead, when you listen to this album, you find that this is more of a bluesy hard rock sound for the band.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’d long moved on from Quiet Riot at this point. I vaguely recall seeing a video that I think came from this album and when I heard the music in 1988, I found myself thinking, “What the hell is this?” and never bothered to check out the album itself. It was deciding to write this article that brought about my first time listening to the release.

And I’ve got to say that I was pretty surprised to find myself really liking a lot of what they had to offer here. Yes, the sound is completely different and those who only want “Cum On Feel The Noize” are sure to never give this album its due.

The song “Stay With Me Tonight” was the single released and it leads off Side One. I can’t say that this was the song I saw the video for, but it does seem likely that it was. I may not have thought much of it three decades ago but as I listened to it now, it was a pretty effective song. Yes, time changes and so did my opinion.

I wasn’t crazy about how the production sound on Shortino’s vocals were done on “Callin’ The Shots”. They were overproduced and made it sound kind of fake and poorly edited together or something. The song “Run To You” really drives home that bluesy sound with it’s slow burn tempo. However, the addition of a big backing vocal part on the chorus threw the song’s balance off for me.

But then Side One closes out with a couple of really solid rockers. “I’m Fallin'” is a damn good song but the band really cuts loose on the song “King of the Hill” which has a pretty vibrant sound and vibe to it even now. By the way, the latter song was co-written by former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin.

With the addition of Shortino to the lineup, he was pretty involved with the songwriting along with drummer Frankie Banali, guitarist Carlos Cavazo and producer Spencer Proffer. While there were other contributors along the way, this was the main grouping of songwriters for the album. However, with change being the only sure thing when it comes to the Quiet Riot lineup, Shortino was not the only new addition to the group’s lineup. Chuck Wright had left the band and they replaced him with Sean McNabb.

The second side of the album features a brief instrumental called “Lunar Obsession”. It is less than two minutes long and sadly, it just felt out of place to me and it really didn’t seem to need to be included.

Other than that, Side 2 ROCKED! Songs like “The Joker” and “Empty Promises” were electrifying, just pure burn rockers. The band was on fire with “In A Rush”, a song that saw the pacing match the title but in a good way.

The power ballad influence was felt most strongly with the song “Don’t Wanna Be Your Fool”. It starts off as you might expect with a slow but steady tempo. But it gradually gets stronger and faster. By the end of the song it is more of a straight ahead rocker and you kind of forget the ballad like beginning.

In 1988, the lyrics for “Coppin’ A Feel” might’ve raised an eye or two but most likely would’ve been overlooked for the most part. These days, the lyrics are slightly more problematic. Still, as a whole the song is just a killer.

I was looking up the album online and while this one did seem to do slightly better than the QR III album, it was still seen as a big disappointment. I guess I can understand that if we were still in 1988. But in the here and now, I really have to say that despite a couple of speed bump tracks the Quiet Riot album is actually a damn fine piece of work. It may be unappreciated by the majority of metal fans, but you can count me in as one who will tout the positives from this album from this point forward.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Drummer Frankie Banali is the one mainstay of the group to this day. Currently, he’s battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and just recently a GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for his medical bills.

Quiet Riot split up after touring for this album. There was a live release coinciding with the tour for the album called ’89 Live In Japan. There’s been some confusion about the true name of this album as well. It is the second album from the band to be self-titled. It has apparently also been called QR IV. Meanwhile, Paul Shortino has said the title is just QR.

This was the only studio album that Paul Shortino recorded with the band. He’s gone on to play in variety of bands including King Kobra and Appice. He’s also got his own band, Shortino. If the global health crisis that is going on at the time of this article’s publication doesn’t cancel it, Shortino (the band) will be part of the first day lineup at the New England Rock Fest in Chicopee, MA on Friday August 14th , 2020 and feature ex-Dio guitarist Rowan Robertson in the lineup.

Sean McNabb has had a prolific music career following his time with Quiet Riot. He’s played with House of Lords, XYZ and Dokken. He was also with Great White for three separate stints including recording the Can’t Get There From Here album, my personal favorite Great White album. He’s also done acting work including appearing on the Sons of Anarchy and Mayans M.C. TV series.

The Cassette Chronicles – Y&T’s ‘Ten’

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.

Y&T – Ten (1990)

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the release of Y&T’s ninth album, the possibly somewhat confusingly titled Ten, I had to look back at my own scant personal history with the band. It was a weird little journey to be sure.

Like most people I’m very well-versed with the song “Summertime Girls”. It remains the best known song for people who might not necessarily know much else about the band. I’d also heard other songs hear and there I’m sure, though I couldn’t guess which ones they might’ve been with any degree of certainty. When I used to write for another site, I got the chance to review a reissue of the band’s 1982 album Black Tiger. Somewhat controversially for Y&T fans who read that review, I didn’t really care for the album. It just didn’t grab me despite the band being what I would’ve previously though had all the things I usually look for in a rock band. I’m going to have to revisit that album at a future time.

For a lot of years, that was pretty much it for me with the band. Then came 2019 and Y&T was playing a show (promoted by the people behind this very website) in New Bedford, MA. I wanted to get the full experience of their well-regarded live shows so I planned to attend. In advance, I bought a compilation of greatest hits and was kind of blown away by how many songs struck a chord with me. Now I was psyched up immensely to see the show. And then the show itself surpassed my expectations and suddenly, I found myself thinking about the band in such a way that could only be termed “as a fan”. I started slowly acquiring their albums which now brings me full circle to talking about the Ten album.

What can I say? I just really loved this album. Other than the song “Come In From The Rain” which I saw the band perform live, I don’t recall ever hearing any of the other songs on the release, so I got to approach the remaining eleven tracks as a completely brand new experience.

What I learned was that Dave Meniketti, Stef Burns, Phil Kennemore and Jimmy Degrasso crafted an exceptionally entertaining rock and roll album. For more behind Degrasso’s contributions to the album see the “Notes Of Interest” at the end of this article.

I was immediately taken by the opening number on the album. “Hard Times” had a solidly rocking pace to it and the overall sound grabs your ear from the get-go.

While the uptempo nature of “Lucy” was nice, I will say that I didn’t quite connect to the song like I did with the rest of the album.

The rest of Side One was pretty impressive. There are two songs that would probably be what you’d call power ballads. While the looking back nature of this series can sometimes mean I discover tracks like “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and the aforementioned “Come in from the Rain” and feel like I’m listening to fingernails on a chalkboard, I have to say I was pretty impressed by both songs. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” has all the traditional underpinnings of balladry but the chorus is decidely more rocking than one might expect. As for “Come in from the Rain”, the tempo changes and singularly effective performances really clue the listener in to why it is in the band’s setlist to this day.

“Girl Crazy” might seem like it is a relic of a bygone time with its unapologetic lustful enthusiam but the song kicked my ass and I don’t feel the least little bit sorry for enjoying this powerful rocker.

The most intriguing song on the first side of the album for me was “City”. It opens with a slyly affecting bluesy guitar and a slightly understated gravelly vocal take from Meniketti before the full band kicks into high gear. The far more in-your-face rocking sound takes over and the big backing vocals on the song’s chorus put the song into the stratosphere for me.

The album’s second side doesn’t feature much of a letdown for the listener either. It starts off with “Red Hot & Ready”, which is simply a kinetic burst of rock and roll energy. The blood races and you are whisked away on a fast paced romp. You can probably say the very same thing about “She’s Gone” as well.

The song “Let It Out” starts out in a fast and furious style but midway through the song, the band slows it down a little before unleashing a really tasty guitar solo and finishing up in a fiery blaze.

Any hopes of a low-key finish to the album is quickly dispelled by the last three tracks. “Ten Lovers” and “Surrender” are just killer songs. However, if you want to hear what the band really can do when they completely take the brakes off, the song “Goin’ Off The Deep End” is an especially electrifying experience. It’s an frenzied no-holes-barred collaboration of the band’s talents that is sure to leave you with a feeling of exhaustion with it’s relentlessly unforgiving pace and pure rock fury.

I’m not aware of how the Ten album is viewed by the band’s long established fans but what I know is that I not only just freaking love this album! It also serves as a catalyst for me in a way. I have three other Y&T albums that I can write about in this series and Ten kind of makes me want to just dive into those albums as soon as possible so I can become an even more enthusiastic supporter of Y&T’s music!

An ad for Y&T’s “Ten” that appeared in a music magazine in 1990.

NOTES OF INTEREST – Drummer Jimmy Degrasso had two stints with Y&T, recording a total of four studio albums and one live release. However, on Ten he’s only featured on three songs. The rest of the album’s drum tracks were performed by Journey’s Steve Smith. Degrasso has played with a host of other notable acts in his career including Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Black Star Riders and Ratt.

The song “City” was co-written by guitarist Al Pitrelli. He’s played with Megadeth, Alice Cooper and most importantly from my viewpoint, both Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

After the release of Ten and a live album called Yesterday & Today Live, Y&T split up for about four years before reuniting in 1995 with the same lineup that recorded Ten.

The album was produced by Mike Stone. Before his death in 2002, his career as a producer, engineer and mixer included six albums working with Queen, my favorite Journey album Frontiers, and Whitesnake’s smash 1987 self-titled album. He also worked with April Wine, Asia, Ratt and the band Ten among others. Interestingly enough, he was the co-producer of the Helix album Wild in the Streets, which was the first article in The Cassette Chronicles series.

 

 

The Cassette Chronicles – Metal Church’s ‘Hanging in the Balance’

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.

METAL CHURCH – HANGING IN THE BALANCE (1993)

While I don’t mean any actual disrespect to fans of other bands, let me just say that you can have your Megadeth and you can have your Slayer. But for me, I will always say give me my Metal Church, for the band out of Washington State are one of the most criminally underrated bands in the history of metal. Since their self-titled debut release in the mid-1980s, their music has been one of the most consistently great album catalogs the metal world has ever seen. Through numerous lineup changes and three eras of the band defined by who was singing for them at the time, Metal Church has been worthy of being worshipped as one of the best for over 30 years now.

Let me get one thing out of the way because whenever I talk about the Hanging In The Balance album, it needs to be said that the cover art is just awful. I mean BAD. As in, what the hell were people thinking?

Okay, with that out of the way let’s move on to what I like. In a word, EVERYTHING! Look, after the departure of singer David Wayne, you wouldn’t be alone in wondering if the band would be able to find someone to take over singing and be just as good. Well, the truth is Mike Howe was better. I’ve been a fan of his since the first time I saw the video for the song “Badlands” off of the Blessing In Disguise album. He had it all, the look, the gravitas and most importantly, the incredible vocal dexterity to actually raise Metal Church’s game to a new level.

I saw the band as an opening act for W.A.S.P. and Accept back in 1989 at the Citi Club in Boston and got to meet four-fifths of the lineup including Howe. And he was fantastic on that night so it wasn’t just a studio thing. He had the pipes to go over well live as well.

So when Hanging In The Balance was released in 1993, it’s not like it was a surprise to me that I’d like the album. But what I wasn’t prepared for is just how potent this album would be.

The first side of the album features six songs and they run the full emotional gamut. The opener “Gods of Second Chance” is a pretty effective opening statement for the album with Howe’s vocal growl informing the music (seriously, John Marshall and Craig Wells were really on their game throughout the album) and when the chorus explodes in your ears, you know you are in for a great ride.

“Losers In The Game” has a faster tempo that keeps your head banging along and it was here that I realized that for the first two songs, I’d actually been singing along. Okay, really I was just mouthing the lyrics but still. I’ve listened to this album a lot over the 27 years since it was released but the lyrics still make me eager to “sing along”.

I will say that when I was first becoming familiar with the album when it was released, there was something that bothered me about the song “Hypnotized”. If I’d written a review of the album back then, it would’ve been the one song I said I didn’t like. I have never been quite able to figure out what it was that I just didn’t like about the song but over the ensuing passage of time, the song has definitely grown on me.

While it may be a bit more subtle at times, I also enjoy when Metal Church uses their songs to address something that is important to them (and generally important to the world at large if you think about it). On Hanging In The Balance, this part of their songwriting capabilities is demonstrated with the song “No Friend Of Mine”. It is a song that confronts racism and the band nailed it! The message doesn’t overwhelm the song, which is always the best way to do things. The music is intense and Mike Howe’s furious vocal performance leaves its mark. When I saw the band in 2019 (at a show that was simply magnificent), the band performed the song and it still retains the power it had when you first hear the song.

Everyone knows that the band that best captures the ability to make a song epic, whether in the depth of the songwriting or simply the length of a song is Iron Maiden. They manage to combine both songwriting and length in a way that keeps each one of their epic tracks interesting. These songs always seem to be mini-stories that have a beginning, middle and end.

To that end, I’d wager that Metal Church has this kind of thing going for them as well. On “Waiting For A Savior”, the band starts out slow. The music is sparse, just the right touch of subtlety to fuel Mike Howe’s softer vocal presentation. They build the song’s thematic sensibilities and then all of a sudden Metal Church hits you with a sonic explosion of sound and thunder to take the song to another level. It’s like you are sitting there calmly and all of a sudden getting hit in the head with a bat.

The album side closes out with one of my favorite Metal Church songs of all-time, “Conductor”. It is a non-stop engine of metallic wonder. The musical soundtrack is outstanding but it is the rapid fire machine gun style in which the vocals are delivered that just kill me. More importantly, they kill my jaw. I’m not kidding, if you’ve heard the song and try to sing along by the time the second verse finishes, my jaw is aching. One of the many reasons I’m sure why I was never going to be a singer. I honestly don’t know how Mike Howe does this song. It is easier in the studio because you can edit the stuff together. But I’m sure but the guy’s jaw must be like a Looney Tunes cartoon character to pull it off live. Or he’s just a consummate professional vocalist, which is the more likely true explanation.

As for the second side of the album, the song “Little Boy” struck me as being structured like an old TV miniseries. The opening act, the rising tension, the crescendo and the finale. The eight-minute song has all of that in a musical maelstrom of time and tempo.

The song “Down To The River” is a faster and more direct straight ahead rocking song and the instrumental “Lovers and Madmen” is low-key but still a very cool way to lead into the album closing “A Subtle War”. This song finds Metal Church bringing the hammer to the nail as it seems to address life living in the midst of gangs or gang warfare. Again, the message doesn’t overwhelm the medium so the two halves work to make a great or greater whole.

For me, the centerpiece of the album’s second side is the song “End of the Age”. The song is at times rather hypnotic. There are definitive allusions to religion in the lyrics. This is not my general area of interest in the least, but the band makes it work. It bears repeating that they really do seem to have a masters-level appreciation for crafting a song that has all the earmarks of being an epic story. And just when you think you know where the song is taking you, there comes a killer speed driven mid-section fueled by screaming guitar work, dynamic rhythms from bassist Duke Erickson and drummer Kirk Arrington and a ripping vocal take from Mike Howe.

I’m shamelessly open about my admiration for Metal Church. I’ve given fantastic reviews to their two most recent studio albums on another site that I write for and I have always pre-ordered any new release over the last decade or so. They are simply one of my favorite bands and it is a joy to say so to anyone who will listen. So raise the altar, pour yourself a cup of sacramental wine and check out Hanging In The Balance. It is an album that will leave you, much like Wayne and Garth, proclaiming that you simply are just not worthy. In other words, you will discover that Metal Church is one of the best metal bands in history…PERIOD.

NOTES OF INTEREST – Mike Howe left the band, and the music business, for over 20 years after this album. He returned to fronting Metal Church in 2015 and they have released two brilliant studio albums as well as a live disc in that time frame. The band’s fourth release since Howe’s return is called From The Vault which was released on April 10th, 2020. That album is a 14 track (there are four bonus tracks available through purchasing various versions of the release) compilation of new recordings (including a 2020 re-recording of this album’s “Conductor”, five B-sides from the Damned If You Do sessions, cover songs and live tracks.

Hanging In The Balance was released through Blackheart Records, the label founded by Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna. Jett is credited with background vocals on the song “Little Boy” and Laguna is listed as one of the album’s three producers.

Paul O’Neill, best known for his work with Savatage and being the driving force behind Trans-Siberian Orchestra, is listed as “Musical Coordinator” for the album. He co-wrote and produced the song “Gods of Second Chance” and produced three other songs as well.

Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell plays the lead on “Gods of Second Chance”. Metal Church leader Kurdt Vanderhoof wasn’t part of the band’s official lineup for Hanging In The Balance but he is credited with providing “additional guitars” and co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on the album. There’s a 12th track on the European version of the album called “Low to Overdrive” which he wrote as well.

 

The Cassette Chronicles – Giuffria’s ‘Giuffria”

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.

GIUFFRIA – GIUFFRIA (1984)

In discussions amongst rock fans of a certain age (or shall we say vintage so we don’t feel quite so old), one band that seems to inevitably pop up when the talk turns to bands that had everything going for it and yet just seemed to fail for reasons passing understanding is Giuffria.

The band was founded by keyboardist Greg Giuffria after he left the band Angel. The lineup also featured David Glen Eisley on vocals, Craig Goldy on guitar, bassist Chuck Wright and drummer Alan Krigger. And they really did seem to have it all together. Eisley was a powerhouse vocalist and Craig Goldy could really shred. Wright had appeared on the Quiet Riot album Metal Health (even if he wasn’t an official member of the band). They had a great pedigree.

When you listen to Giuffria, you can see that they also had the songwriting chops. Now anyone who followed Greg Giuffria when he started up House of Lords after the end of Giuffria is well aware of his penchant for over the top and somewhat pompous keyboard flourishes. So it won’t be too much of a surprise that there is plenty of that here. Sometimes it really enhances the song, like on the album opening “Do Me Right”. That song is very heavily influenced by Greg Giuffria’s keyboards but at the same time it has a pretty healthy rocking sound to it as well.

Other times, the keyboards get a bit too hoity-toity sounding like on “Trouble Again”, the song that opens up the album’s second side.

The combination of the band’s two musical styles comes together most prominently on the song “Call To The Heart”. This is the song that likely every rock fan will know as it was Giuffria’s one big hit (it went to #15 on the singles chart) in their short run. I remember hearing the song on the radio when I was a kid and I really liked it back then. As I was listening to the album for this article, I found that while I still liked the song, it didn’t quite have the same draw it once did though.

I actually found myself more keen on the harder edge rocking tracks like “Don’t Tear Me Down” and “Dance” to be honest. Those two songs are on the first side of the album and they really got my heartbeat racing as I listened along.

I wasn’t crazy about the midtempo power ballad that closes out the first side of the album. “Lonely In Love” was just a run of the mill attempt at the big successful lighters in the air at a concert kind of song for me.

Giuffria really rocked out hard on “Turn Me On”, one of my favorite tracks on the album. “Line of Fire” was pretty entertaining as well. There is a slow intro and build up to the song before it picks up the pace. And I really liked Goldy’s guitar solo in the song as well.

But the album did close out on a sour note for me I must say. The last two songs seem to be a thematic double shot. You have “The Awakening” which was a random bunch of weirdness that never gelled as a properly done song in my book. And then “Out of the Blue (Too Far Gone)” made you feel like the band was attempting to craft a tune for some kind of gothic horror film or something. It really doesn’t fit with the rest of the material on the album and I’m likely to skip these songs on any future plays of the cassette.

Even with that downer of a finish, the Giuffria album does a solid job of entertaining the rock masses. They obviously had the ability to craft some quality rock songs. And the individual players were top-notch at their respective positions.

So why didn’t the album take off? Well, I can’t really give a good answer to that. However, I was also wondering why the band is more of an afterthought currently and I think I have at least an inkling of an idea. I’m probably wrong but in listening to the Giuffria album, the material is pretty evidently from the 1980’s. I mean if you’ve spent any time listening to the 80’s rock genre, you know how a band is likely to sound in terms of production. Now, it wasn’t such a bad thing when the bands were releasing the albums in the 80’s. It was what sold and what people wanted to hear. But not every band with that sound transcends that time period to have what would be considered a true classic representation of the genre. And sadly, I think that’s why Giuffria is generally more of a “Whatever Happened To…” remembrance than a band that people are still clamoring for more music from.

It’s kind of sad because I really enjoyed most of the songs on the album and I bet if more people had not failed to see what they had back then, the band might’ve had a longer run and been more successful.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The band released a second studio album in 1986 called Silk & Steel with a drastically reconstituted lineup. That album will be featured in a future Cassette Chronicles article.

The band split in 1987 after recording demos for an unreleased third album. Those unreleased tracks ended up seeing the light of day as songs for the House of Lords debut album and on singer David Glen Eisley’s Lost Tapes album which came out in 2003. He and guitarist Craig Goldy teamed up in 2017 for an album under the Eisley/Goldy banner called Blood, Guts and Games.

Craig Goldy (who I was lucky enough to meet) is best known these days for his time playing in Dio.

Giuffria had two songs (“Never Too Late” and “Say It Ain’t True”) on the soundtrack for the 1985 movie Gotcha!, while a third song called “What’s Your Name?” featured Greg Giuffria and David Glen Eisley.

The Cassette Chronicles – Maria McKee’s self-titled debut

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.

MARIA MCKEE – MARIA MCKEE (1989)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the cover art to Maria McKee’s self-titled debut album is being undervalued.

The art is a simple portrait photo of the singer but the composition kind of makes it seem like it is a bit of an old-time photo. It’s visually striking and I know that when I first saw it, I was captivated by the picture alone. I actually had no earthly idea who Maria McKee was when I came across the cassette in the racks of the record shop I found myself perusing for some new music.

I had gone out to dinner with my family at one of the Ponderosa steakhouses. Right next door was a record shop so after dinner I went over and did some looking around. I ended up picking up two albums that night. The first was an album by the metal band Hallows Eve called Monument. Let’s just say there wasn’t anything all that memorable about that album other than the fact I bought it the same day as the Maria McKee album.

I was working my way through the racks of cassettes and I came across this album. I pulled it out because I didn’t recognize the name. And like a bolt of lightning, I saw the cover art. Again, I was totally captivated. I put it back on the rack as I continued shopping but I kept coming back to it because of the hauntingly beautiful nature of the cover art.

Despite not knowing what kind of music she played, I had to make the purchase. And then I got to hear her sing…

McKee’s solo debut came after the end of her band Lone Justice. They were what has been described at various junctures as cowpunk, Americana, country-rock and even alt-country if I’m not mistaken. The band released two albums but despite a stellar live reputation, the sales didn’t follow for whatever reason. I went back and got those albums and personally think they are spectacular but that’s just me being years too late once more.

As captivating as the cover art is, it didn’t prepare me in the least for what I was in for as I discovered McKee’s voice. She can sing like very few people I’ve ever heard in my life. She can rip out your throat with a ballsy rock style, soar to the angels with a powerful ethereal style for a ballad and pretty much anything in between those two points. Add in the fact that she’s an amazing lyricist and you have the initial idea of just how amazing I think she is.

The first side of the album opens with the jaunty uptempo number “I’ve Forgotten What It Was In You (That Put The Need In Me)”. Okay, brevity in choice of song titles is probably not one of her strong points but the song is fantastic.

Honestly, let’s just skip to the point. Each of the ten songs on the cassette is amazing. It is a rare thing for me to become so besotted with a performer from the very first time I hear them. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other performer who did that for me and that was Beth Hart. And anyone who knows me knows how much I adore her. You can definitely include Maria McKee in that group too.

“To Miss Someone” is a cracker of tune where McKee’s ability to break your heart first comes into play. The material on the album ranges from that rocking upbeat sound to the balladry which stands out without being cloying. And then there are the pieces that seem like something out a stage musical or at least just a set piece that evokes a kind of place and time for the listener.

“Nobody’s Child” feels like that to me. It grabs you and transports you to some other place where it is just you and the song. I’m not sure if I can quite come up with a better description than that. If you listen, I think you’ll understand.

The last song on the first side of the album is called “Panic Beach” and no matter how many times I hear it, it feels like the first time. It is by far my favorite song from McKee’s solo career and it just strikes me as a kind of nostalgic look back to the days when you went off on a summer trip that marks a turning point in your life. The lyrics to this song are strangely poetic to me and tell a story that makes me wish it was the baseline for a movie. I’d love to see the characters come alive in person that inhabit the song.

Side two kicks off with “Can’t Pull The Wool Down (Over The Little Lamb’s Eyes)”, a song that finds McKee cutting loose vocally to a more rocking soundtrack. “More Than A Heart Can Hold” and “This Property Is Condemned” strike a chord with the vocals seeming both calm and strainingly intense at the same time.

Remember how I said McKee’s vocals feel like she is soaring to the angels? The song “Breathe” is probably the best example of that statement. On this song, McKee is ethereal beauty given form and voice. If I was to tie the cover art to one song on the album, this would be the one. It is just perfect.

The album closes with a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Has He Got A Friend For Me?” On the song, McKee is enthrallingly dynamic as she plays piano and captures a longing sense of desire or maybe desperation throughout the song.

I know that the majority of the albums that I write about in this series fall on the rock or metal side of the ledger. I will always consider myself a rock and metal fan first and foremost. But I like being able to showcase, on occasion, the other aspects of my musical fandom. And for me, there’s no better way to do so than to talk/write about the greatness of Maria McKee. She is without a doubt one of my favorite musical artists and if you check out this debut album from her, I think you will agree with that testimonial.

All that…from just a photo. Yes, a thousand words is definitely not enough.

NOTES OF INTEREST: I own this album not only on cassettte, but on vinyl and CD as well. The CD edition comes with a bonus track called “Drinkin’ In My Sunday Dress”. It’s an uptempo track that finds McKee inhabiting kind of a dissolute character as the song’s narrator. It’s a killer track that I always thought was slyly comedic as well.

Among the guests on the Maria McKee album are Robbie Robertson (he co-wrote the lyrics for “Nobody’s Child”), Richard Thompson who played guitar and mandolin and bassist Tony Levin from King Crimson and Peter Gabriel.

I have never seen McKee in live performance, the one time I had the chance the show was cancelled. McKee has acted in movies, composed soundtracks for those movies and done work as a writer. She’s worked with or had her songs covered by acts like U2, Robbie Robertson, The Dixie Chicks, Bette Midler and many more.

Maria McKee’s latest album came out on March 13th, 2020, and is called La Vita Nuova.

The Cassette Chronicles – Styx’s “Kilroy Was Here’

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.

STYX – KILROY WAS HERE (1983)

The 11th album to be released by Styx made a really big impression on me back in 1983. More accurately, it was the lead single from the album that left its mark on me.

If you were a music fan at that time, you’ll probably remember just how ingrained the song “Mr. Roboto” was on the radio. Given that it made it all the way to #3 on the singles chart, you probably couldn’t get away from the song.

But that was okay with me. I was 12, and in the relative infancy of my music appreciation. I didn’t own a lot of music of my own yet so I was always listening to the radio, including American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, to hear songs…and hoping to hear the ones I really liked again and again. This would included “Mr. Roboto”. I really loved everything about the song.

But I never owned the actual album. Heck, it wasn’t until many years later that I even knew that the album was a concept album. The notion of an album telling a single story across each song wasn’t something I was aware of at that particular age and level of musical experience.

So despite this album being a big seller, it wasn’t until I bought the cassettes that make up “The Big Box of Cassettes” from which I pull the material for this series that I had the chance to listen to Kilroy Was Here in full.

Now that I have, I’m left feeling kind of underwhelmed by the experience. The storyline revolves around a future time where rock music is outlawed. Okay, it might not be the most original story but when the album was created, music was under it’s latest siege by those who hated rock music. So it was at least a timely response upon the album’s original release.

But the nine tracks varied wildly in quality for me. I still love “Mr. Roboto”, but as I listened to the song before writing this piece, I think a little of the shine has come off the track for me. It conjured up more of a warm feeling of nostalgia for when I first heard the song, rather than making me think more along the lines of “Oh wow! This is still such a great song!” I’m not hating on the song but I don’t think I feel the same kind of love for it as I did when I heard it on 92 Pro-FM out of Providence, R.I., back in the day.

As for the rest of the music, I know that I’ve heard “Don’t Let It End”, one of the band’s more signature power ballad type tracks, over the years. But I didn’t realize that it was on Kilroy Was Here. And while I’m normally loathe to appreciate this type of song these days, I have to say that it seems to have stood the test of time (for me, at least). I really enjoyed the song and thought of just how finely crafted it seemed.

I wish I could say the same for the other two tracks on the first side of the album. I listened to “Cold War” and “High Times” and just had no emotional attachment to either song at all. The former was pretty uptempo in its pacing but it didn’t get my blood pumping in the least. And for whatever reason, the latter song damn near caused me to fall back to sleep.

Side Two opened up with the strongly rocking “Heavy Metal Poisoning”. I liked the song as a whole, but I really liked the guitar solo on the track in particular. The song “Double Life” was pretty interesting as well.

However, once again I was left cold and unimpressed by songs like “Haven’t We Been Here Before” and “Just Get Through This Night”, a track that made me think about how I just wanted to get through the album.

While there are some individually great songs on the album, I can’t hide the fact that as an overall experience, I found Kilroy Was Here a bit of a disappointment. I don’t see me rushing to throw the album back in the tape deck any time soon. I kind of wonder if I’d have had a different opinion had I actually heard the album when it was originally released.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Back in August of 2019, I wrote about the band’s 1990 album Edge of the Century for this series. I’d probably listen to that one (particularly the album’s fantastic second side) more often than Kilroy Was Here.

This was the last album that was recorded by the classic Styx lineup of Dennis DeYoung, James “J.Y.” Young, Tommy Shaw and John and Chuck Panozzo.

Much like “Mr. Roboto”, the song “Don’t Let It End” enjoyed chart success as a single. It went to #6, giving the band two Top-10 hits from the album. The album itself went platinum, the last of the band’s releases to mark that achievement.

The Cassette Chronicles – TNT’s ‘Tell No Tales’

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.

(Writer’s Note: Singer Tony Harnell will be teaming up with Stryper’s Michael Sweet for “Tour 1987” a run of dates in Fall 2020 that is the first time they’ve teamed since the Stryper/TNT tour of 1987. The tour will hit The Vault Music Hall & Pub in New Bedford, MA, on October 3, 2020. Purchase tickets HERE).

 TNT – TELL NO TALES (1987)

My initial introduction to TNT came through the eye-catching artwork for the band’s album Intuition in a magazine ad that I saw. I like that kind of artwork that makes you stop on a dime to drink it all in. This was back in 1989 when I still had little in the way of regular bills to pay and could just run out and grab whatever music struck my fancy.

And that’s what I did. I bought Intuition, but I also grabbed up TNT’s two previous albums which is the one I’m going to be writing about in this article plus Knights of the New Thunder. But whatever I thought going into the albums, I found myself sorely disappointed upon those initial listens. I really never connected with the band’s music for some reason. And so, the band kind of faded from my radar only popping up whenever they made news for splitting with singer Tony Harnell or the ensuing welcoming him back to the fold over the years.

The albums exited my collection and I didn’t think much about them until it turned out I bought a couple of them as part of “The Big Box of Cassettes”. This is how it came to be that I pulled Tell No Tales out of the box this week and decided to give it a listen. (A side note here: The cassette was still in its original wrapping.) Could my reservations about the release have evolved over the ensuing three decades plus? Well, surprisingly enough they did.

Say what you want, but TNT certainly wastes no time noodling around to add length to the songs. The album is just a little over 30 minutes long including three admittedly unnecessary instrumentals amongst the eleven tracks. (There’s a 12th song listed on the album’s Wikipedia page, but “Destiny” is listed as a bonus track and I’m guessing that’s only on the CD version.)

The thing I found the most interesting upon my re-evaluation of the album is hearing just how much fiery rock and roll the band laid out. It is on the more uptempo tracks where they shine the most. For all the seemingly mercurial nature of guitars Ronni Le Tekro, the man can blaze on a guitar. Morty Black and Diesel Dahl made for a killer rhythm section as well.

I think part of the reason that I didn’t get into TNT as much as I might’ve wished for back in the day is that I wasn’t crazy about Harnell’s high pitched vocals at the time. Suffice to say, I’ve evolved on that as well. I’ve heard a bit of his work in other projects and enjoyed his performances.

That enjoyment has worked its way backwards through his catalog because I found myself rocking out as he sang the songs “Everyone’s A Star” and what is arguably the band’s best known song, “10,000 Lovers (In One)”. When you add in “As Far As The Eye Can See”, it turns out that Tell No Tales actually had a killer three track opening to the album.

I mentioned the album includes three instrumentals. Thankfully they are mercifully brief because they don’t really add a thing to the release. Two of them are on Side One and when you add in the annoyingly distracting balladry of “Child’s Play”, the last half of the first side of the album goes out like a lamb.

But things immediately take a turn for the more rocking side of the ledger on Side Two with the tracks “Listen To Your Heart” and “Desperate Night”. Both songs are fast paced in nature and really spotlight my newly formed belief that they are at their best when they put the pedal to the mettle.

“Northern Lights” started off a bit slow for me, but when the pacing picked up, I enjoyed the song a lot more. The title track closes out the album and it just blazes a fiery path. While there is a ton of melody to it, the song is so fast that you’d think they were going head to head with a thrash band to see who could play faster. Still, the song is pretty invigorating and it actually left me wanting more.

It is always strange when my notions about an album or band undergo this kind of evolution of opinion. It leaves me wondering just why I didn’t connect with an album the first time around. I don’t have an answer to that question but I do know that the story of Tell No Tales now has a different kind of ending for this music lover and I’m almost certainly going to have to go back and check out the other albums I had to see if they leave me with a changed opinion as well.

NOTES OF INTEREST: I write CD reviews for another website and in 2018, I got to review the TNT release XIII. It was the first album to feature new singer Baol Bardot Bulsara. The album was a bit strange because Tony Harnell had once again departed the band but was credited with co-writing six of the songs on the disc and sang backing vocals on one song.

Among the solo projects and band projects that Tony Harnell has done over the years are bands like Westworld, Starbreaker, Morning Wood and a brief stint in Skid Row, he’s also done a number of tracks for the Sonic The Hedgehog video game series. Two of the recordings were done with Danger Danger singer Ted Poley.