Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Friday, November 23, 2018

Dio - Dream Evil (1987)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Ronnie James Dio’s 1987 album Dream Evil stands as a demarcation point of sorts for anyone interested in the legendary singer/songwriter’s career. His first solo release without guitarist Vivian Campbell features Craig Goldy’s first stint as Dio’s guitar player surrounded by the remnants of Dio Mark I – drummer Vinny Appice, keyboardist Claude Schnell, and bassist Jimmy Bain. Dio’s waning commercial peak took a hit with this relatively middle of the road album – he needed a firm hit to reconsolidate his appeal in the late 80’s and with Campbell’s departure, but Dream Evil ultimately produced middling returns and led Dio to configure his lineup yet again before 1990’s Lock Up the Wolves.

“Night People” teeters between predictability and something truly distinctive thanks to Dio’s contributions or would otherwise sound solidly pedestrian. It’s competent enough; no one can ever claim there’s a lack of polish in this performance, but genuine inspiration is scarce. The title song is a conscious attempt at another “Holy Diver” like moment. It fails, however, because there’s no real spark – instead of having a melody listeners can sink their teeth into, everything is built around the chorus payoff which is really nothing else but synthesizer flourishes amplifying the moment. “Sunset Superman” is one of the album’s more effective songs because it foregoes any sort of frills in favor of marching straight ahead and as an unambiguous hard rock track. Goldy excels here playing the song’s compact, tightly wound riff with crisp aggression.

Songs like “All the Fools Sailed Away” became mainstays on Dio’s solo releases for some time – pseudo poetic missives anchored by broad stroked depictions of unity and a faux profound chorus. This is one of the more hamfisted examples but achieves, to its credit, an impressive theatrical effect despite itself and the obviously tacked on instrumental breaks are, nonetheless, memorable. “Overlove” is a stripped back bruiser, much like the earlier “Sunset Superman”, and another underrated gem from Dream Evil. Goldy really works best on these straight forward rockers. The single “I Could Have Been a Dreamer” generated next to no attention for the album on release and it’s easy to hear why; much like the earlier title track, there is no real melody to speak of, only a keyboard laden chorus.

“Faces in the Window” has some unexpected vocal elements, but the arrangement has a largely rote feel oddly distinguished, however, by one of Goldy’s finest solos on the album. The release closes with the swinging drums behind “When a Woman Cries”. Keyboards exert a much stronger presence in this song than earlier tracks and we’re snapped out of the moment by the awkward presentation of the chorus on a couple occasions/ It’s a fine track, one of the album’s more interesting moments, but not entirely successful. Dream Evil definitely has historical significance over Dio’s solo career, in hindsight, it is a solid though unremarkable transitional release.

Prince - HITnRUN Phase One (2015)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

The first of two albums preceding his 2016 death, Prince’s two volume HITnRUN Phase One release more than qualifies as a major final statement from, inarguably, one of the most important recording artists and songwriters active during the second half of the 20th century. The two albums are brimming with wild and free-ranging musical events; if Prince felt constraints of any sort in his everyday life, his music remained as iconoclastic as ever while still mining and refurbishing long standing traditions.

“Million $ Show” features the guest vocals of Judith Hill and reflects increasing self-referential inclinations in Prince’s songwriting. Sampling “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry”, however, isn’t enough to redeem a track essentially intended as a showcase for vocal pyrotechnics and a little too frantic to capitalize on its clear promise. The second track “Shut This Down” is akin to a clinched fist and the hard electro-funk highlights impressive bass playing, an overall keystone for both albums. Prince unleashes his best hard rock voice here, a visceral yowl quite appropriate for the song. “Ain’t About 2 Stop” has a dense musical attack in keeping with other efforts on Hit ‘n’ Run Phase One, but there’s an undeniably dark undercurrent fueling both the song and performance – the song’s confident surface ultimately sounds desperate instead of boisterous.

Prince’s guitar playing provides an incandescent glow for “This Could B Us”. The track mixes a traditional soul template with Prince’s restless creativity and the blend produces a signature variation on those respective formulas. It’s odd, but gloriously so. We’ve heard this sort of re-invention from Prince before, but he makes it sound fresh each time. “Fallinlove2nite” is a hit that never was, a sure smash if released during Prince’s late eighties/early nineties commercial peak, and reaffirms traditional and abiding strengths. “It’s Face” has an autobiographical suggestiveness that may prove interesting to some, but the immediacy of his vocal coupled with its range, the hard electronic funk driving it forward, and visceral lyrical content make this one of the more gripping moments on either release.

The song’s penultimate track, “1000 X’s and O’s”, is another example of Prince’s lifetime reverence for classic R&B/soul. The minimalist arrangement focuses much more on texture and mood above virtuosity and the production stresses a warm, fat bass sound anchoring the groove. The finale “June” has a strong synth presence throughout, but it is droning rather than melodic. There are positives to this “experiment” of sorts – juxtaposed against the aforementioned setting, Prince’s singing has a ghostly quality, but the song is an inconclusive, diffuse close to an album audaciously creative for an established legend. The man’s muse never rested and he, until the end, continued to take chances and attack music from every possible angle.