Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Badlands - Voodoo Highway (Atlantic, 1991)

May 17, 2005: A Southern gentleman named Bo Bice delivers what many consider to be the finest moment in the history of "American Idol." Backed only by stunned silence from the audience and judges, the confident contestant induces goose bumps with an a cappella version of Badlands' "In A Dream." After a hearty round of applause mixed with some tears, the judges' comments continue the bravos. Veteran record producer Clive Davis expresses great interest in working with Bice on future projects. Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul admire his bold move of choosing to sing without a backing band. Even resident curmudgeon Simon Cowell admits, "You may have just put 34 musicians out of work." Though Carrie Underwood ultimately takes home the '05 "AI" crown, Bice is to be commended for giving belated exposure to a great band who would've scoffed at such a pop-tart competition.

It's been said that Ozzy Osbourne has an ear for gifted guitarists. Count Jake E. Lee among the Prince Of Darkness' collection of axe-shredders. His best moments with the Devourer Of Doves can be heard on the Bark At The Moon album. Via telegram from Osbourne's wife/muscle/interpreter Sharon, Lee was given the pink slip while polishing one of his prized muscle cars. Tony Iommi's taste in vocalists is equally exemplary. Presented with a once-in-a-
lifetime opportunity to perform alongside Black Sabbath's legendary fret-burner, New Jersey-based Ray Gillen replaced Glenn Hughes on the tour for the band's 1986 Seventh Star full-length. He worked with Sabbath the following year on their next album, The Eternal Idol, but dissolution in the camp forced Gillen to jump ship for an early lineup of Blue Murder. Joined by drummer Eric Singer (another Sabbath alumnus) and bassist Greg Chaisson, Lee and Gillen formed Badlands and released their self-titled debut in 1989. Powered by the strength of videos for "Dreams In The Dark" and "Winter's Call," the album reached a peak position of #57 on the U.S. Billboard chart. Constant touring and rave reviews helped push the disc to over 400,000 in total sales. For all of the Sab/Oz connections, Badlands didn't pull too many rabbits from those hats. Rather, they poured their bowls of Trix cereal from the magic boxes of vintage Led Zep and Deep Purple. Gillen/Lee were as fine of a next-gen model of Plant/Page and Gillan/Blackmore as one could cite. Had Whitesnake spent more time on their recordings instead of dollars on skanks, perhaps I would've reviewed Slip Of The Tongue instead of Voodoo Highway. Shortly after the death of KISS drummer Eric Carr, Singer left the band to fill that void. Former Racer X vocalist Jeff Martin took over Badlands' abandoned stool and began working with the three charter members on their follow-up platter.

As much as I dig the first Badlands album, the Robert Christgau in me could accuse it of being too much of a one-dimensional effort. Those phony reservations can't be made for the meandering trip down Voodoo Highway, however, as the interstate signs are painted in various hues of the rock 'n' roll spectrum. The cut I'm groovin' on right now, "3 Day Funk," thumps like the 'eaviest Edgar Winter/Jimmy Page juke 'n' jive imaginable. Jeff Martin's the busiest cat here, as he contributes congas, timbales, maracas, blow drum and blues harp with his usual stick-smashing. "Headbangers Ball"-cum-"Soul Train"? Word! "Shine On" points its flashlight in the faces of contempos like Alice In Chains and The Black Crowes. Would the suggested collaboration between Jerry Cantrell and Chris Robinson work with the involvement of the actual principals? Nah, the stage'd collapse from twenty tons of ego. "Show Me The Way" shares a title with Peter "Fucking" Frampton's slice of classic crock, but it's NOT a cover of the poodle-coifed talk box's claptrap. If Paul Rodgers and JP were to reconstruct and recontextualize The Firm with the hiring of credible backup players, perhaps the radioactive emissions would slay the Peter Monster once and for all. "Fire And Rain" IS a take on James Taylor's elements of singer/songwriting. Let's suppose your Scully's-lovin' grit band circa 1993 were to feature this in a way that displays yer chops while retaining the spirit of the original. For the effort, I'd clap at a noise level exceeding that of an LPGA gallery. Then I would swear like Eldrick "Fucking" Woods on the 18th for your Faster Pussycat-like treatment of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." C'mon, fellas! Y'all don't wanna be among the 34 musicians put outta business, right? Lee's swampier-than-the-Dismal geetar on "Whiskey Dust" strings like CCR's "Green River" taking a riverboat to meet the sick-as-a-dawg slide from a Uriah Heep tune I can't seem to recall. As for "In A Dream"? Save for sparse accompaniments of dobro guitar and acoustic bass, Gillen croons the number in a similarly naked way as the aforementioned "AI" participant would 14 years later.

Bo Bice: If your nickname were "Jangles," I'd buy every damn one of your records.

-Gunther 8544


Shawn Abnoxious said...

Maybe we need loosen up such terms as 'musicians' because one time (I think) I was called a 'musician' and I heard the creaking and tearing and breaking and at first, I thought I just shit my pants via a very loud fart... But alas, it [ with 'it' being the establishment] had broken in half.

It was all my fault and I apologized to Randy Jackson by sending him an edible bouquet.

Rutledge said...

And the award for greatest blog comment ever goes to...Shawn Abnoxious!

gunther said...

Nice work, Shawn!