Elton John & Bernie Taupin Tribute CDs “Revamp” & “Restoration” Evoke Different Responses

JohnAlbumCovers

Earlier this year, the legendary pianist, vocalist and performer Elton John announced that, after 50 years on the road as a musician, he would be retiring from the road. There’s plenty of reason to believe John when he says this – he’s never even mentioned the idea of quitting prior to 2018 and seems quite happy performing (his residency in Las Vegas was one of the hottest seats in town). The announcement of his retirement disappointed many of his longtime fans and made interest in his concert tour more special that simply being able to see the virtuoso.

Along with his farewell tour, John has also been feted with not one but two new CDs from artists paying tribute to the songwriting of John and his studio partner, Bernie Taupin. This isn’t the first time that the duo has gotten this treatment; back in 1991, they were the subject of a tribute album called Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin (the title of the CD reflected the fact that John and Taupin often worked separately on songs, with John coming up with the music and Taupin writing the lyrics in…two rooms). The record featured artists as diverse as The Who, Kate Bush, Oleta Adams, The Beach Boys, Wilson Phillips and Bruce Hornsby (his version of “Madman Across the Water” is nearly as good as the original) and their take on some of the classic music from John & Taupin.

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With John calling an end to his touring days, it seems natural for another trip down memory lane and instead of one CD, fans get two. There’s a reason for this:  one CD, called Revamp, is filled with the top artists from the pop world and their renditions of popular John/Taupin tunes, and the other CD, called Restoration, features the best in current country music taking their shots at saluting John/Taupin. Surprisingly, it is the country side that wins out the “reimaging” (why not just “tribute”) battle between the two CDs.

Revamp kicks off with a snippet of John performing “Bennie and the Jets” before segueing into rapper Logic and P!nk joining forces for a rap/pop version of the tune. The twosome takes the classic song and make it their own, entertaining the listener and offering hopes that the remainder of the CD will be as adventurous. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come to be as pretty much every other song on the disc holds close to the original renditions.

Coldplay’s “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” falls flat, never even coming close to inspiring the listener, but Alessia Cara attempts to redeem that performance with a well-done version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.” Ed Sheeran turns “Candle in the Wind (2018)” into a folksy tune and Florence + the Machine hold serve with “Tiny Dancer.” Mumford & Sons (“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”) shows up for a so-so rendition before the top two performances take the CD.

Mary J. Blige demonstrates some very powerful vocals in tearing into “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and really does make the song hers. By far the top song on the album is the collaboration between rapper Q-Tip and Demi Lovato, who take the classic tune John performed with Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and stand it on its head. Where the original tune was a piece of pop pablum, Q and Lovato turn it into a reggae/R&B mixed effort that comes off fabulously. Their approach wouldn’t have worked on any other song from the John/Taupin catalog, so it was outstanding that the right performers and song were matched up. Although Miley Cyrus (“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”) and Lady Gaga (“Your Song”) cover their respective tunes admirably, the Killers (“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”), Sam Smith (“Daniel”) and Queens of the Stone Age (“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” possibly the worst effort on the CD), come up short on their work.

Revamp is devoid of the artists taking their chances at recreating John/Taupin classics. For the most part, they stuck to the material and, while enjoyable, I’d rather see them stretch a bit and attempt something new. This doesn’t make Revamp bad, it’s just it pales in comparison to its companion disc.

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Surprisingly, it is the country artists that take part in the tribute on Restoration that take the most chances in their interpretations of John & Taupin’s songs. From the start of the CD, with Little Big Town delivering a daring rendition of “Rocket Man,” the country artists seem to be more comfortable with deviating from the originals. The country artists also delve deeper into the John/Taupin catalog than the pop artists did.

Although there is a repeated song – Maren Morris’ OK version of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” – and a repeated artist – Miley Cyrus shows up again to give a so-so performance of “The Bitch is Back” – the other artists take some chances with some deep cuts from the John/Taupin catalog. The Brothers Osborne deliver a stunning rocking version of “Take Me to the Pilot” and country legend Willie Nelson contributes a well-done version of “Border Song,” but other artists stretch their legs.

This isn’t to say they all hit the mark. Don Henley and Vince Gill give up an uninspired version of “Sacrifice” and Lee Ann Womack’s start slow/finish strong version of “Honky Cat” are a bit of a disappointment, but they are more than made up in such choices as Miranda Lambert (“My Father’s Gun”), Chris Stapleton (“I Want Love”) and Kacey Musgraves (“Roy Rogers”). Two duets bear special mention because of their uniqueness, the Rhonda Vincent/Dolly Parton collaboration on “Please” and Roseanne Cash and Emmylou Harris’ stirring rendition of “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore.”

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For its sheer daring and stylistic changes, Restoration comes out as the better CD than Revamp. It could have been for the fact that the pop singers weren’t as well versed in Elton John’s music or that they didn’t feel comfortable taking such songs and making them their “style.” It really seemed that the country artists understood John and Taupin’s works much better, displayed in the chances they took in song choices and the way they were performed. While you can’t go wrong with either one (nor the original Two Rooms…in fact, ownership of all three is well worth having in the catalog), it is clear to see that one is better than the other.

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Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Sweet Sixteen Part 1

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone, such as his press secretary Sean “Spicy” Spicer trying to rewrite history that Hitler never used chemical weapons and that Jews went to “Holocaust centers”), I’ve decided to start something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball just recently completed the NCAA Basketball Championship, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

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We’ve gotten down to crunch time – the Sweet Sixteen. With these competitors, you could probably make a solid argument for any of them to be the eventual winner of the tournament. But the thing is, we’re not looking for sixteen winners…we’re trying to determine who is the best. As such, we’re forging onward by working one side of the bracket – the 1960s/70s and the 2000s/10s – down to the four competitors who will vie for two of the Final Four seats. Who do you think should be there?

Let’s start with the 1960s/70s bracket:

Led Zeppelin (1) vs. Judas Priest (4)

It’s almost as if these two were destined to meet at this point. In looking at the two competitors, both have left legacies that are unmatched. Both have iconic singers (Robert Plant for Zep, Rob Halford for Priest), both have iconic guitarists (Jimmy Page versus two for the Priest, K. K. Downing and Glenn Tipton). The backbeat is where there’s a notable difference as Zeppelin had John Paul Jones on the bass, a better player than Ian Hill. Drumming is also where the two bands separate as Led Zep had the powerful John Bonham on the skins while Judas Priest had a revolving door of drummers (they were the inspiration for the drummer du jour in This is Spinal Tap). But Priest has longevity on their side, still being a viable act on the road today. Zeppelin ended with the death of Bonham, although the other members went on to quite successful solo careers.

What might make the biggest difference is that Led Zeppelin are the better musicians overall than their counterparts in Judas Priest, but that is also highly debatable and there are legions of Priest fans who would love to debate it! It’s going to be a tough choice. Who do you see moving on?

ACDC

AC/DC (2) vs. The Who (6)

The Who has been surprising the opposition to this point (perhaps underseeded?). After going through Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple, they have the audacious task of taking on the behemoths from “Down Under” in AC/DC. Both have inspired their fair share of musicians and singers in their times, they’ve received accolades for their lengthy careers and both are recognized as Hall of Famers. You can bring up the musicianship here, but what is tougher…taking three chords and making a 40-plus year career out of it (AC/DC) or creating the “rock opera” (Who)? Â

Now let’s follow it up with the 2000s/10s:

Disturbed (1) vs. Godsmack (5)

As much as I love Halestorm, they are still on their way up to rock immortality. Godsmack has already been at the pinnacle of the game and serves to inspire today’s hard rock fans and musicians to perform. The problem is that one of those two bands had to run into Disturbed, who are at the peak of their powers now and arguably the most dominant force in hard rock/metal music today. Against anyone else, Godsmack might have been able to move on…I don’t see them pulling the upset over David Draiman and Co.

Disturbed

System of a Down (2) vs. Slipknot (6)

I’ve got to be honest here. Because of the paucity of their recording and touring output, System of a Down should lose this contest. Although I am not a huge fan of their work, Slipknot has been the most visible of the two groups, consistently churning out quality music and serving as the inspiration to teenagers who want to be rock gods in the next decade. If I had my druthers, I’d see System of a Down to the next round. But the real choice here should be Slipknot.

You can ponder these selections for a couple of days, but we’ll have to move on soon. The Sweet Sixteen matchups in the 1980s and 1990s are just around the corner and, after they have played out, we’ll bring it down to the Final Four, probably next week. By the end of the month, we’ll see who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all time.

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Second Round Part 1

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone, such as his slashing of the Department of Interior budget by $1.5 billion while donating his first quarter’s pay for sitting on his ass – roughly $70,000 – in the White House to the National Park Service), I’ve decided to start something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball just recently completed the NCAA Basketball Championship, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

The first round of the four “regions” – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s/2010s – is complete and there were some big surprises. It’s now time to move into the second round of two of the regions who will match up in the Final Four of Hard Rock/Metal – the 1960s/70s and the 2000s/2010s – and work them down to one half of the Sweet Sixteen. As always, cast your vote and/or opinion on who should win each battle by commenting here or on one of the many social media outlets where you might read this.

Without further ado, here’s the 1960s/70s second round:

Led Zeppelin (1) vs. Rush (8)

The Zep was not even challenged by their first-round matchup against Steppenwolf, but now they might have a fight on their hands. Surviving their first-round battle against Queen, Rush is primed to take down the legends from the U. K. One of the things that might sway some voters is simply the longevity issue; Rush is still around to this day, more than 40 years after their creation. Led Zeppelin, however, still has the panache as one of the most influential bands in music history (how many kids learned “Stairway to Heaven” as their first tune?). Plenty to think about when it comes to this matchup.

Motorhead

Judas Priest (4) vs. Motörhead (12)

Fresh off their upset of Black Sabbath in the first round, Motörhead is loaded for bear with another tough battle against another legend. This is going to be difficult because both bands have longevity, influence and popularity on their sides. It is arguable that the Priest have had more of an impact on the genre than Motörhead, but it is an argument that Lemmy lovers would love to fight over. Mark this one down as “too tough to call” and let’s see where the voters take it!

AC/DC (2) vs. Van Halen (7)

Another matchup that will raise the ire of fans of both bands. AC/DC has an iconic sound that, while simplistic in its three-chord approach, is still as good today as it was when they started back in the early 1970s. Not to be overlooked, Van Halen worked through the latter part of the 70s, made an adjustment to the MTV 80s, stayed popular into the grunge 90s and still is viable today (although some might say that Eddie Van Halen and Co. have fallen from their lofty perch of late). Perhaps the deciding factor? AC/DC’s three vocalists have been the late Bon Scott, Brian Johnson, and Guns ‘N Roses’ Axl Rose. Van Halen? David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, and Gary Cherone. Who wins that comparison?

TheWho

KISS (14) vs. The Who (6)

Three upsets in the first round for the 1960s/70s! KISS took down Deep Purple in the first round, but the second-round match against The Who is going to be a bit tougher. The two bands are quite similar, with duos at the lead (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons for KISS, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend for The Who) who basically became the faces of their groups. They had iconic members (Ace Frehley and John Entwistle) who were virtuosos on their respective instruments and members that had issues outside of the band with drugs and/or alcohol (Peter Criss and Keith Moon) that either killed them or nearly did while in their prime. Influence might be the key here – who had the greater influence on the history of hard rock/metal?

And now, here’s the second round for the 2000s/2010s

Disturbed (1) vs. Black Label Society (8)

Chalk for the top of the second round as Disturbed pushed aside the assault of Killswitch Engage to get to the second round and BLS got past Mudvayne in a contest decided by longevity. Black Label Society might not go any farther, however, because Disturbed is looking like it might be a juggernaut in this region. Nothing against Zakk Wylde and the members of Black Label Society, but Disturbed could very well be the band that is representative of the early part of the 21st century.

Halestorm

Halestorm (4) vs. Godsmack (5)

Emerging from the matchup of the female-led bands in defeating Evanescence, Halestorm now gets a shot at Godsmack – or is Godsmack getting their shot at Halestorm? The big point that may sway voters in this competition is that Halestorm is still getting their engines revved, with Lzzy Hale simply getting better with each new CD. Godsmack left their label in late 2016 and it doesn’t appear that any new music is coming out of the band in the immediate future. Things like this – how visible you are and how popular – sometimes will be the tipping point in these competitions.

System of a Down (2) vs. Avenged Sevenfold (7)

Avenged Sevenfold took down the old guard Deftones in round one and it faces another legend in round two. System of a Down has long been regarded as one of the preeminent bands of the past decade and a half, at the minimum, selling 40 million records. That type of popularity is tough to overlook in a match where the two competitors are so evenly matched up.

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Five Finger Death Punch (3) vs. Slipknot (6)

And chalk holds true for the entirety of the first round in the 2000s/2010s. This matchup, however, is different in that both bands are similar in their musical stylings and have equal impact and influence on up and coming bands. Slipknot has had some periods of inactivity that are tough to overlook, but their record at the Grammys – ten nominations and one victory – push them past FFDP. It is tough to overlook a band that is still performing strong, however, and FFDP is doing that.

That closes the second round for these two regions. Be sure to get your votes in on who deserves to move on to the Sweet Sixteen! And don’t forget that we’ve got the other side of the bracket – the 1980s and the 1990s – coming soon. We’ll determine the champion, hopefully next week, as to who is the greatest hard rock/metal band in history!

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Part 1- The 1960s/70s

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone), I’ve decided to start something that will definitely be much more fun. Since college basketball is deciding the 64 teams (OK, 68 teams because of those simply idiotic play in games the NCAA conducts) that will compete for their championship, thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

As it is one of my personal fortes, hard rock/metal music is essentially celebrating its 50th Anniversary since the release of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” which contained the lines “Get your motor running/heavy metal thunder.” With this in mind, I’ve put together a compilation of the top 64 hard rock/metal bands from four different eras – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s/10s – and split them up in accordance with those eras into “regions.” We’ll break down the matchups in each bracket and, with hope, readers will make their own comments and vote on the matchups and perhaps they’ll be some sort of prize at the end – the management here (re:  me) is still trying to come up with that prize.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

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Without further ado, here’s the breakdown of the 1960s/70s bracket, with the seeding by each band/artist name.

Led Zeppelin (1) vs. Steppenwolf (16)

Led Zeppelin as the #1 seed was about as much of a lock as you could expect. They never had a #1 song and they might lack the longevity of some of the other competitors (Zeppelin’s heyday was 1968-80, only a scant 12 years). But they make up for those deficiencies in every other area under consideration – their “tour behavior” became the stuff of legends and they had the musical chops to back it up (“Stairway to Heaven” is widely accepted as one of the greatest songs of all time), their popularity was outstanding and they were inducted into the R&R HOF on the first ballot in 1995 (minimum of 25 years after first album release). Although Steppenwolf coined the term “heavy metal,” Led Zeppelin lived it, thus they should move to the next round.

Rush (8) vs. Queen (9)

These are the fun matchups where the smallest thing can push one of the competitors past their opponent. Throwing these two against each other is roughly akin to picking a favorite child as both are outstanding and legendary groups that click all the boxes. Rush pulls ahead slightly on the longevity front – they’re still active today, while Queen disbanded after Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991 after a two-decade career, but Queen has the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” that is arguably better known than any Rush track. Queen is arguably more influential than Rush, especially given Mercury’s soaring vocals over Geddy Lee’s vocal individuality. Both have their accolades to lie back on, but Rush waited quite some time before being inducted into the R&R HOF. Deciding a winner here could come down to a few votes.

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Judas Priest (4) vs. Scorpions (13)

Some may debate ranking Scorpions that low in the region, but it goes to demonstrate how tough it is to even get on the rankings. The Priest has been a monolithic machine that has rumbled since the early 70s (and are still at it today, albeit with an adjusted roster), while Scorpions have been up-and-down since the latter part of that decade. As far as the definition of “heavy metal,” Judas Priest for many would be the template to go with – the “leather and chains” look was patented by Judas Priest front man Rob Halford. What may tip the scales is that Judas Priest is in the R&R HOF; at this moment, Scorpions have not even been considered. It’s unfortunate that one of these giants of the genre doesn’t get to move on in the competition, but which will it be?

Black Sabbath (5) vs. Motörhead (12)

The 5/12 matchup is always one ripe for an upset and this battle is no exception. Black Sabbath were extremely influential on burgeoning metal bands, but Motörhead has their own legion of followers. The front men for both bands are iconic, with Ozzy Osbourne as the first singer for Sabbath followed by the legendary Ronnie James Dio and Motörhead featuring the late, lamented Lemmy Kilmister. Sabbath never got the critical recognition that Motörhead did – yes, if you’re asking, hard, fast, and loud can be critically appraised! – but Sabbath has been recognized with more accolades than Lemmy and Co. Perhaps Sabbath might win for their “Stonehenge” moment, but it will be a tough fight between this twosome – and, once again, a travesty to see one out of the competition.

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AC/DC (2) vs. Thin Lizzy (15)

Critically acclaimed Thin Lizzy had a handful of hits (“Cowboy Song,” “Jailbreak,” “The Boys Are Back in Town”) before decadence and the untimely passing of leader Phil Lynott ended their run in 1983, but they are running into a buzz saw coming from “Down Under.” AC/DC is still going strong 45 years since their creation, although some might think the road has come to an end without Brian Johnson’s vocals (and, prior to him, Bon Scott) heading the riffs of lead guitarist Angus Young. Influences? Accolades? Longevity? All the clicks go in the corner of the Australians over the Irish in this one, but we’ll see if an upset is brewing.

Van Halen (7) vs. Aerosmith (10)

Another difficult matchup between two U. S. bands that have been part of the backbone of the genre. Both have influenced the “up and coming,” especially Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler’s sound (it is arguable he might have had an influence on a young David Lee Roth from Van Halen), while band namesake Eddie Van Halen is recognized as one of the great guitarists of all time (no shame to Joe Perry for coming up second-best in that comparison). Both bands have awards and accolades, critical respect, and longevity as seminal parts of their being – who can come out on top when the competitors are almost dead equal?

KISS

Deep Purple (3) vs. KISS (14)

For some reason, I smell an upset brewing here. KISS has been around it seems since the dawn of time, but Deep Purple was one of the formative bands of the hard rock genre in the late 60s and 70s (and even a bit into the 80s). Deep Purple’s constantly shifting lineup, however, might be a detriment to them…KISS has kept two of its four members, singer/guitarist Paul Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons, intact since its creation and, for the most part, has had all four original members (lead guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss) for a sizeable segment of the band’s history. KISS has had more of an influence on perhaps the stage performance side of the equation that Deep Purple didn’t have, but Deep Purple had the critical love. Which will be enough to provide the edge in this race?

The Who (6) vs. Jimi Hendrix (11)

There might be some chirping from the crowd on these two picks but, for their time, they were considered as “hard rock” as you can get. The tipping point in this battle may be the longevity question – The Who lasted well into the 1990s (for better or worse), while Hendrix’s stay was short-lived (he only released three albums while alive with the Jimi Hendrix Experience; his work with the Band of Gypsies was released posthumously), which should push them ahead (Hendrix arguably was Winehouse of the 1960s). But when you’re running up against the man the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music,” you’re going to be in for a fight.

That’s it for the first “region” of our tournament. Later this week, we’ll look at the 1980s and over the weekend perhaps we’ll delve into the 1990s and the 2000s/10s (and be thinking of who could be the #1 seeds for those “regions” – would love to hear those opinions). Don’t forget to vote by replying here and I will compile the responses – and maybe award a prize once a champion is crowned to a reader!

 

Halestorm’s “ReAniMate 3.0,” Letters from the Fire’s “Worth the Pain” Two Worthy Hard Rock Efforts

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I’ve long been a music aficionado, especially the hard rock/metal genre. Sure, I’ll enjoy a Billy Joel concert (as I did most recently in Orlando) or even the newer pop music out there (my lovely wife and I went to the 2016 Jingle Ball, featuring Pitbull, Fifth Harmony, Martin Garrix, Chainsmokers and many other artists residing in the Top 40 today), but I always come back to my home. Perhaps it is the power of the guitars or the political nature of many of the lyrics (yes, they are saying something with their words and commentary – take the time to read the liner notes if you miss them the first time around), but hard rock/metal speaks to me more than many other genres in the industry.

Honestly, today’s hard rock/metal scene isn’t your granddaddy’s brand. The blues rock that such groups as Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Who and the Rolling Stones (yes, I am going to toss them in the hard rock genre – for their time, they were the “punks” of their era) bear little resemblance to the power drivers such as Metallica, Disturbed or even more pop-driven hard rock/metal bands like Breaking Benjamin or Shinedown. But they’re still hard rock/metal and still damned entertaining in their own right.

There’s a great deal of hard rock/metal out there right now, but these are two efforts that have caught my ear of late. If you’re looking for some great music, you might want to look these up.

Halestorm, ReAniMate 3.0

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Halestorm is one of the preeminent bands in the hard rock/metal genre today. Powered by the blistering vocals of Lzzy Hale (who happens to throw in badass guitar work also), the nimble and crushing lead guitars of Joe Hottinger and the guttural tempo setters in bassist Josh Smith and drummer AreJay Hale (Lzzy’s brother), Halestorm is one of the most popular acts in the business. That perch has allowed them to take on some pet projects, including the continuation of this series of cover EPs.

ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP is the third in a series of “cover Eps” that Halestorm has issued over their career. The first, naturally called ReAniMate: The CoVeRs eP and released in 2011, brought a diverse selection of songs such as Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (one of the best covers of all-time in this writer’s opinion), the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Skid Row’s “Slave to the Grind” under one artist. In each case, Halestorm took the songs and added their own touches to them, basically creating their own versions of songs people thought they knew (the exact challenge facing anyone who takes on a previously released tune).

That highly successful EP (how successful? A recent eBay auction for a signed copy of the CD went for $175) begged for a follow up and, after releasing a CD of their own material, Halestorm obliged their fans. ReAniMate 2.0: The CoVeRs eP was released in 2103 and followed in the same format as the first. This time around, Hale & Company took on Judas Priest (“Dissident Aggressor”), Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”), Pat Benatar (a natural in “Hell is for Children”) and Fleetwood Mac (“Gold Dust Woman”). It also seemed to leave the audience wanting more and, earlier this month, Halestorm would deliver again.

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ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP rockets out of the gate with arguably the best song on the disc. The remake of Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” gets the unmistakable treatment from Hale and her mates, hedging close enough to the original that it is familiar but applying their own touch. Hale’s voice gives Whitesnake lead man David Coverdale a run for his money and the rest of the band is more than able to power out the song.

The second-best song on 3.0 is Halestorm’s take on the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts classic “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” On the first two discs, Hale and her group did not touch any Jett tunes, either solo or from her days in the Runaways. It seems as if it would be a perfect match and, in this case, it was, as Halestorm takes the Jett standard to new heights.

There was one clunker on the disc, however. I never was a fan of Sophie B. Hawkins and perhaps that is why I didn’t really care for the Halestorm remake of “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” While Hale can pull off the poppy tunes like this (and she’s already put some country artists to shame who dared try to match her on stage), it didn’t work for the remainder of the band, in my thought. This is the only down point of the record, however, as the rest of ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs more than makes up for it. These cover Eps are nice, but it really whets the appetite for original Halestorm material that is supposed to come later this year.

Letters from the Fire, Worth the Pain

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Trying to reach the rarefied air that Halestorm exists in, the band Letters from the Fire have had a jaded history. Originally formed in 2007 as Park Lane, guitarist Mike Keller and high school friend Grayson Hurd found bassist Clayton Wages and singer Eliot Weber and mucked around the San Francisco area, eventually changing their name to Letters from the Fire in 2012. Following their debut release Rebirth, there was apparently another overhaul of the band, with Cameron Stuckey coming on as rhythm guitarist and, perhaps most importantly, shifting from Weber’s male voice to the female voice of Alexa Kabazie (with Hurd and Weber departing).

The changes have made a great deal of difference for Letters from the Fire. Their latest full-length album, Worth the Pain, is a magnum opus of their career. From start to finish, Keller, Kabazie and Company have put their entire heart and soul into the record. For that effort, they have created a 13-track crusher of an album.

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Where to start with the best songs of Worth the Pain? It comes out of the gate with “Perfect Life,” featuring Keller’s excellent lead guitar efforts and Kabazie’s emotional and powerful vocals. “Mother Misery” continues the high level of excellence out of the band and “Give in to Me” is simply outstanding. The title track is a powerful tune…it is angry, aggressive, and appropriate. “My Angel” has excellent tempo and mood changes throughout the song and “Holy Ghost” starts quietly but turns into a raging storm by the end.

If there were one qualm to have with this record from Letters from the Fire, it would be that the lyrical content could reach out a bit more. Most of the songs are of the “fuck you, you broke my heart” sentiment; there are indicators, though, that the band could stretch beyond this with some deeper lyrics. As this is the first effort from this lineup, it really raises some expectations for the follow up.

Letters from the Fire’s Worth the Pain is reminiscent of Amy Lee and Evanescence, but to lop them in with that band would be doing them a disservice. They’ve got the chops to stand on their own and they’ve got the experience. Now it is just a matter of driving to the end and the success that they seem destined for…and Letters from the Fire seem to have the spirit to do just that.

So Who SHOULD Be In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Last week, the nominations came out for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, at the very end of my thoughts, I posited the question, “Who should have been nominated?” Mind you, the list of nominees was outstanding overall: longtime overlooked acts such as Chicago, Deep Purple and Yes getting nominated again (and three bands that I believe are long overdue the honor), newcomers like Janet Jackson, The Cars and Cheap Trick (all no votes) and outside shots such as The J.B.’s (another vote in from me), Chic (no) and N.W.A. (yes). However, there were several other artists that should have been on this year’s ballot if not already inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is personal to me because of my long love affair with music. Despite the factor that I could never play an instrument with any high level of competence, I admire those that can create art out of music, words, melodies and thoughts. While it could be said that writing is something like that, the songwriter and/or musician is an artist that encompasses different aspects, pulling them into one cohesive idea. Thus, I’ve always been a huge fan of music overall and rock music in particular.

My first introduction to rock music dates back to someone who, unfortunately, I don’t know if they’re still alive. The year was 1971 and, riding around in a car with my half-brother Monty (his real name could have been Montague, don’t really remember) on a hot summer day, saw him pop a cassette into the tape deck. Suddenly the mystifying tones of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” came pounding out of the speakers and, as I listened to the words and music, I was transported (you have to remember, these were the heady days of NASA’s Apollo space program) to being “Major Tom” and traveling through space myself.

From there, it was a quick indoctrination into the world of music. My mother had the classics – Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon and Willie and others – from the country music side, but she also had such gems as The Temptations, The Supremes and other R&B acts from the 60s in the record cabinet. My investigations in the rock music genre touched on Santana, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and James Taylor, then began to branch out into the harder edged rock of ZZ Top, KISS and Led Zeppelin, among others (on a personal note, was always more of a Rolling Stones guy than the Beatles).

As the mid-70s passed, punk rock became the next touchstone. The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, The Ramones – these were the gates to pass through on the way to adulthood. As I reached high school, not only was it the disco era but it was almost time for the double shotgun-blast of the New Wave from England and MTV, opening the world even further (and we cannot go on without also recognizing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal). As I had to be a part of the music scene, I did the only logical thing a person with little to no musical talent could do – I became a DJ.

Through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, I plugged along as a DJ at pretty much every radio format that you could think of doing. Album-Oriented Rock (AOR), Top 40, easy listening, R&B, adult contemporary, news/talk – about the only thing I didn’t do was country (much like “country” music today, there’s a thin line between what was country music then and pop music). Along the way, there were some great times had in the conduct of my job and…well, let’s just save those stories for another time.

Hopefully you see that who gets in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is important, at least to me. It isn’t “live or die” important, mind you, but it is something that I want to show my son one day and say, “Yeah, I saw them, they were great.” Maybe we will sit down and listen to a CD or, pray tell, if we still have vinyl by then, an album, and talk about music and its history. He’s got a great musical ear, however, so he may be entertaining me with his music rather than our just listening to it.

OK, getting sappy here…

My criteria for putting someone in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be somewhat along the lines of what poker uses for its Hall of Fame. These are the criteria that I would use in putting someone in the Rock Hall:

1. Length of career with sustained critical or commercial excellence
2. Influence on a genre of music or on several artists
3. Respect from fellow musicians

Pretty simple, wouldn’t you say? Alas, there are some glaring errors in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. How about some of these artists, bands and contributors?

Warren Zevon – The singer-songwriter born in Chicago has been overlooked for far too long when it comes to the Rock Hall. Responsible for writing such songs as “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” (covered by far too many artists to list but most notably by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Linda Ronstadt), Zevon was a part of the California scene in the mid-70s, working with such people as Jackson Browne, Neil Young, members of the Eagles and counting Bruce Springsteen amongst his admirers.

When it came to his own efforts, Zevon was beyond compare. Along with his iconic “Werewolves of London,” Zevon penned and performed such classics as “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Accidently Like a Martyr,” and “Keep Me in Your Heart,” which was nominated for a Grammy after Zevon’s death in 2003. With a career that spanned more than 30 years, commercial and critical success and the respect of your fellow musicians, there’s no one more deserving than Zevon for induction into the Hall.

Jimmy Buffett – Another product of the singer-songwriter era of the early 70s, Buffett is notable for forging his own path in the music industry. When I say his own path, I mean he created a whole GENRE of music that didn’t exist before – let’s call it “tropical rock,” music with a Caribbean/calypso/reggae/country feel that didn’t fit neatly into any of the “categories” of music in the 1970s (and still doesn’t today, to be honest). Buffett himself has said about that period, “I wasn’t country enough to be played on those stations and I wasn’t rock enough to be played on AOR.”

The way to beat that? Write a song like “Margaritaville” that transcended any charts, genres or radio stations. Today that song has led Buffett into the world of literature, casino and hotel ownership and a “40-year summer job” that the man still enjoys to this day as he approaches 70. He’s influenced a host of country musicians (the Zac Brown Band is a prime example) and, as owner of a recording studio and a record company (Mailboat Records) is ensuring that the “tropical rock” he created will have outlets for the future.

The Runaways – While Joan Jett went in with The Blackhearts last year, she really should have gone in with The Runaways because, without them, there is no Joan Jett.

The Runaways were “created” by producer Kim Fowley who, having drummer Sandy West and guitarist Jett in the fold, was looking to create a “jailbait” band of teenaged girls who could rock out just as well as any group of guys. First found by the group was Micki Steele, who didn’t last long but went on to join The Bangles, before gold was struck with guitar virtuoso Lita Ford, vocalist Cherie Currie and bassist Jackie Fox to fill out the roster. With the group lineup set, The Runaways broke ground as one of the first female hard rock/metal acts to ever have any success in the recording industry.

From the seminal track “Cherry Bomb” to other tunes such as “Queens of Noise” and “I Love Playin’ with Fire” (covered by Jett during her Blackheart days), the band earned a great deal of attention and respect in the industry. The members of the group went on to arguably better success as solo artists or in other creative endeavors, but they were the ones who helped to get such groups as The Bangles, The Go-Gos, Vixen and rock “chicks” like Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and Deborah Harry (among many others) in the door. It is arguable that, without The Runaways, some if not all of these women wouldn’t have gotten into the industry.

Judas Priest – This is one of those omissions by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that is inexcusable. A band that has sold 45 million albums, generated rock anthems such as “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Heading Out To The Highway,” “Living After Midnight”…I could go on, but you get the point. So what has kept them out?

Over the years, the band has been targeted in various arenas outside of music. They were accused of using subliminal messages in their album British Steel that allegedly caused two men to try to kill themselves. They’ve been targeted by conservative Christian groups for their musical content and singer Rob Halford has taken some sabbaticals from the band over the decades. But when you have a list of bands that were influenced by you such as Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera (among others), you’ve done your job well.

There are a slew of other artists that could be held up for consideration – The Carpenters, Kate Bush, Slayer, Bon Jovi, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead – and maybe they are just waiting for their time. There are also those “pop” artists that I am overlooking, but this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after all. If you’re waiting for a time that “works,” however, take it from someone who watches how these Halls of Fame work – if you don’t get in within your first couple of years of eligibility, your chances of getting in get worse as time goes by. All the artists listed here deserve to have their place in the pantheon of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…now will anyone listen and induct them?