Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Steelhouse Lane, Slaves of the New World CD review

Here are just a few highlights from this stellar disc:

"Give It All Me"
A heavy blues-rock opener that's fairly predictable until the 2:30 minute mark. That's when you get a little taste of the band's unconventional flare for the dramatic with singer Keith Slack's wordless syllables echoing while guitarist Mike Slamer coaxes interesting tones out of his axe. It's just for a moment, but it's a preview of more of the band's experimental side to come later on this record.

"Find What We're Lookin' For"
Instantly the most catchy track on the entire album. The combo of Slack's voice and Slamer's fretwork call to mind Don Dokken and George Lynch, with the song sounding at moments like Dokken's "Burning Like a Flame."

A dramatic pre-chorus about a soul-searcher sung over piercing razor-sharp arpeggios and some cool keyboards resolves with a feel-good refrain with choir-like layered vocals.

When Slack pleads "We've come too far / We ride too long / One love, one heart / Deep inside / we'll find what we've been / looking for," well, Steelhouse Lane will make you a believer. This is music that will make you hopeful again.

Simply put, a masterpiece.

"Son of a Loaded Gun"
A bit too imitative of the "Wanted Dead or Alive"/Blaze of Glory vibe and about a decade too late at that. But this does help fulfill the minimum requirement that every good AOR album have at least one acoustic-based track.

"Turn Around"
Opens with unique echo-laden guitar work that has a mysterious air to it. Later, Slamer's singular fretwork has flashes of inspiration that meld the finger tapping and harmonics of Eddie Van Halen with the fusion sensibility of Allan Holdsworth. Best of all, it all gives way to a radio-friendly hook that perfectly showcases the band's knack for combining woodshed musicianship
with commercial instincts.

"Slaves of the New World"
Heavily percussive guitar percolations ushers in a wild romp à la the abandon of Van Halen's "Tora Tora." Definitely the most unique on the album and a cool focal point as the disc's title track. We also get a hint of social consciousness with lyrics that survey the last several hundred years of history. Slack begins by decrying the loss of the plight of native American Indians and then likens their enslavement to that of the modern person at the hands of technology...unless I'm reading too deeply into this song!

And who's that making a cameo at the 3:00 minute mark? Why, it's that familiar opening voice from the Scorpions' Humanity Hour 1!

"All I Believe In"
This is Slamer's moment to shine, with an extended solo intro against a lush backdrop of heaven-drenched keyboards that lasts for more than a minute. His playing his a beautiful yet mournful tone that I can only liken to "Rain" -- Jason Becker's amazing solo guitar piece.

What follows after the intro is a true ballad for the romantics among you with a strong sense of melody and an even stronger vocal presence.

"In Too Deep"
A fun rocker with a chunky mid-tempo riff that recalls Loudness' "Let It Go." A nice companion piece to the go-for-the-throat melodic energy of "Find What We're Lookin' For," albeit a little more sedate than that gem.

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