Friday, April 30, 2010

John Paul Jones and his ties to MerleFest, as told by 'Dr. Banjo,' Pete Wernick

When musician Pete Wernick goes to MerleFest this time each year, it's not just his performances that festival goers look forward to. They also get the opportunity to learn tips from him in "bluegrass jam camps" he convenes. The man nicknamed "Dr. Banjo" holds these workshops focusing on improvisation several times a year, not just at the annual music festival taking place this weekend in North Carolina.

John Paul Jones has attended MerleFest in the past and jammed with Pete Wernick and many others onstage. In this installment of the Interview Series, "Dr. Banjo" discusses how his friendship with Jones came about. Also, he reveals why the Led Zeppelin/Them Crooked Vultures bassist seems to fit in so well with the acoustic music crowd.
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James Nash of the Waybacks, always changing it up at MerleFest

Here's another installment of the Interview Series, this time with James Nash, singer, guitarist and founding member of the Waybacks.

His group will be performing two sets this weekend as part of MerleFest, held annually in North Carolina. One of those sets, featuring some special onstage guests, will be the Waybacks' yearly Hillside Album Hour.

Continuing a tradition they started in 2008 when they performed Led Zeppelin II in its entirety as a surprise to those gathered, they will play another full-length album set tomorrow afternoon. Its identity is currently unknown but will be revealed in Part Two. So, if you won't be at MerleFest to witness it in person, visit again tomorrow at 4:45 p.m. Eastern time to find out what album the Waybacks will perform!

Here's Part One of my three-part conversation with James Nash of the Waybacks. In it, he discusses his musical influences, how the Hillside Album Hour came about, and why Led Zeppelin II was chosen to kick off the tradition. Also, he learns a Led Zeppelin history lesson regarding the famous blues musician performing onstage nearby.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jason Bonham to recreate Zep music, tell band history on tour; effect on Bonamassa-Hughes-Sherinian 'supergroup' unknown

Jason Bonham is set to announce very shortly his participation with a concert tour that will essentially tell the story of Led Zeppelin from start to finish from his perspective, has learned. The drummer is planning to tour the United States and Canada later this year with a multimedia event dubbed "Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience."

While specific concert dates and locations have yet to be announced, the tour is said to feature Bonham on drums alongside other professional musicians who will replicate the Led Zeppelin sound. As a backdrop to the music, each concert is to feature an elaborate video screen onstage to make the Led Zeppelin story come alive to make Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience come alive.

Update: Edits made above are in line with public comments Bonham made on his Facebook page at the end of the day in response to the numerous reports about the tour. Bonham writes:
"Well looks like the cat is out of the bag ! First off I would like to correct the news that broke today on the world wide web !I read today that I would be performing the Led Zep story ! Well , what I will be doing is 30 shows in memory of my father as its 30 years since he left this world this September 25th 2010 ...  I have always loved playing the music of Led Zeppelin and after such a great night back in 2007 at the 02 Arena I took an opportunity to do a very special show which would look at my life with the music of Led Zeppelin. Old photos,home movies, videos , would help take you on a journey into my life, from my earliest memories right up to the 02 show ."
For Led Zeppelin fans, Bonham's sudden announcement marks a sharp turnaround as the drummer's primary focus so far this year has been readying new music created with a supergroup that was to be called Black Country.

While that band did make one live appearance last month, playing a two-song set during the encores of a show by guitarist Joe Bonamassa, the status of this so-called "supergroup" came into question publicly only last week when the producer of their album wrote online that the band appeared ready to implode before even getting off the ground.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Las Vegas Weekly: 'Them Crooked rock stars'

Positive press continues on the short West Coast jaunt by Them Crooked Vultures, now with the Las Vegas Weekly featuring some overwhelmingly supportive commentary about John Paul Jones.
"... the Vultures' two-hour Joint performance likely could have been called The John Paul Jones Show and drawn the same crowd. If we'd had one of those hokey noise-o-meters the mere mention of John Paul Jones' name would have cracked the red zone, and not without reason. Jones easily was the star of the Joint's one-year anniversary show, taking turns on at least half a dozen instruments, including keyboard, keytar, something fiddle-ish and more varieties of bass than I previously knew existed. The man's got chops to spare and an instrument closet befitting his decades in the music business."

Feldberg's observations about frontman Joshua Homme's behavior and comments during the show are not entirely positive, but she describes the band's music as "a solid rock stew that ricocheted between blues, psychedelic and hard rock without ever sounding unnatural." She adds, "The Vultures don't genre hop so much as they slip into each style like they're putting on a well-made coat. Somehow, they all fit."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gospel flavor from Robert Plant's future touring bandmates at festival in Texas

Twice yesterday, I watched three-fifths of the lineup that will comprise Robert Plant's touring band this summer. Future Band of Joy members Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin played afternoon and evening sets together at the Old Settler's Music Festival in Driftwood, Texas. The presence of drummer Marco Giovino creates a quorum of the touring lineup backing Plant on a 12-city tour this July with additional dates said to follow.

Buddy Miller, as one of two guitarists on Plant's extensive "Raising Sand" tour in 2008, may have been just as responsible for the guitar sound night in and night out as was album producer T Bone Burnett. Much of the tremolo-preferring ambiance and chunky offbeat 9th-chords that marked Plant's latest outing is in evidence onstage for the current effort, a testament to the Nashville musician's influence on the sounds heard in 2008.

Miller is the one in producer mode now, being the focal point of Plant's forthcoming album, slated for release late this summer or in early fall on Rounder Records. Miller's also lent his talents to two other albums this year, including a disc showcasing himself and fellow guitarists Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell with multiple vocalists (no release date announced yet). Griffin's Miller-produced gospel effort Downtown Church, which was released in January on the Credential label, was a significant contributor to the festivities at the final night of the Old Settler's Music Festival; a good portion of the disc featured in Griffin's evening set on the Hill Country Stage.

Onstage, she credited Miller with teaching her "about all that gospel music." They're currently on tour supporting her disc, and this Austin-area festival date is their second stop in Griffin's home state. She said her producer is "a walking encyclopedia of all-American roots music [and has] 75,000 songs on his iTunes. He really does. He sent me about 500 songs just to get started, learning the gospel music." Hearing his gospel suggestions from the Bob Dylan songbook inspired her to write some original material modeled after it, specifically "Little Fire" on Downtown Church. (On the studio track, her voice is complemented by that of Emmylou Harris.)

Halfway through Miller's afternoon solo set on the Hill Country Stage, he welcomed his previously unannounced guest vocalist and brought her out to duet with him on some songs that were mostly featured on Written in Chalk, his 2009 album with wife and collaborator Julie Miller. The sharpest of these songs was "Gasoline and Matches," which might ordinarily be considered a little heavy for the Old Settler's Music Festival if it were not for Miller's onstage lead-in, the Lee Boys, a funky jam band centered around a master of the pedal steel guitar and some dance beats. This brought the swaying hippie sect in full force to the front of the stage under the sunshine.

Soon, that sunshine gave way to clouds, then drizzle, and all-out thunderstorms, before calming for the evening with an ongoing electrical light show on the horizon. The inevitable effects were mud everywhere and electrical hazards onstage crudely averted by the placement of sweatshirts on the electrical equipment mid-set. Griffin, in particular, said she was impressed with the dogged determination of the crowd to stick around with her for both sets. "You are some tough, tough Texans," she commented.

If either set contained any material destined for Plant's album, it wasn't announced to the audience. However, the onstage introduction of Buddy Miller in the afternoon included mention of the former Led Zeppelin frontman, courtesy of Roger Allen, who hosts "Lone Star State of Mind" Friday nights on KGSR 93.3 Radio Austin.

"I want to talk to you [for] a second about what's about to happen," the DJ said onstage next to Miller, "because this guy has been traveling with Robert Plant." Cue the screams of appreciation from the diverse crowd. "He's winning all kinds of awards from all kind of people." Cue more screams. "He's actually been traveling with the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant show, and I think, this summer, you're gonna be back in Austin, Texas, playing with Robert Plant." Miller nodded. People screamed again. "Pretty good gig."

Publicity sweep as Coachella hosts Them Crooked Vultures

Friday night's showing by Them Crooked Vultures at the Coachella festival in Indio, Calif., has inspired some rave reviews.

Says the New York Times blog ArtsBeat, "They slammed, unrelentingly, through every one of their cheerfully self-conscious Big Rock songs -- and they share the skill set that made the music breathe and swing even if they never stopped walloping every riff."

The rhythm section of John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl was the subject of some of the focus. Todd Martens, writing for L.A. Times Music Blog Pop & Hiss, reports, "Grohl and Jones were caught in a rhythmic give-and-take, taunting and letting their instruments bite each other, with late-night-attic clanks and just hints of a beat emerging out of the murkiness." The Pop & Hiss article is accompanied by a single Times staff photo, and it's of Jones.

Writer Bruce Feiser leaves the hyperbole out of his Desert Sun coverage of the Vultures set at Coachella, only mentioning the band members by name and saying they "played a wide range of powerful, straightahead rock, including their first single, 'New Fang,' and the Cream-inspired 'Scumbag Blues.'" His focus was on the crowd's admiration for hometown kid Joshua Homme, but Feiser misnamed another Vultures song, referring to "Dead End Kids" instead of "Dead End Friends."

Pop music critic George Varga, writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune's Web site, didn't have much to say about the set from Them Crooked Vultures but made prominent mention of the band early in his recap of Coachella's first night. Varga did see fit to quote Homme as telling the crowd, "What a beautiful night it is. We're here to get the party started on Friday night."

At the same time these Coachella reports were appearing online, Antiquiet finally weighed in on this past Wednesday's Los Angeles show, detailing how that gig at the Nokia Theater differed from past gigs in the area. "Wednesday's show presented a more evolved Vultures; in full command of the material after having road tested it for half a year, the band displayed a confidence and affinity for razor-sharp off-the-cuff jamming that borders on telepathy," writes Johnny Firecloud. "They even debuted a new song ahead of their Coachella performance this weekend," he adds, referring of course to the non-album track "You Can't Possibly Begin to Imagine."

Firecloud concludes Antiquet's review with a great summary of a year's worth of activity by Them Crooked Vultures:
With both Grohl and Homme returning to their other bands with big plans to finish the year, Them Crooked Vultures are finishing this run with an open door, and it's clear they're out to leave a lasting impression with this final string of tour dates. It's been an incomparably awesome ride since news of the Vultures' existence first broke last year, and to witness the band push themselves to deeper, more dynamic heights, challenging each other to further evolve their already ironclad mastery of the craft as they did Wednesday night was nothing short of an honor.
The Denver Post's blog Reverb features an interview with Jones in advance of the group's performance this Monday night at the city's Fillmore Auditorium. In the interview, Jones discusses the roots of Them Crooked Vultures as "the blues from a different angle." He credits Homme for providing much of their approach, saying:
"Josh likes to call it 'perverted blues.' Obviously there are the psychedelic influences, which come around from the '60s and '70s, as well. It's a really nice mix of influences, but he's also influenced by a lot of other things. It's not like we all grew up listening to what was around us. There's lot of soul in what we do.
 Jones also speaks in the Reverb interview about the way the band improvises on stage, each member playing off the others:
"There's a lot of cross-talk in this band, which is nice and exciting, and it gives you a lot of ammunition to fire off in whatever direction you like."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Score! Them Crooked Vultures 10" picture disc

Thanks to BackSpin Records in Austin, Texas, for holding it for Steve "The Lemon" Sauer!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

John Paul Jones plays fiddle on new addition to Vultures live set

John Paul Jones played fiddle onstage last night, for quite possibly the first time in his career, while his band debuted a new song in concert at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

The song, titled "You Can't Possibly Begin to Imagine" (shortened to "Can't Possibly" on the printed set list), is one of a handful copyrighted by Them Crooked Vultures last year and not included on their debut album.

As the song kicks off, frontman Josh Homme at center stage plays some blues guitar licks, and he is soon joined by Alain Johannes on slide guitar. Eventually, Jones joins out front on fiddle and Homme's lyrics kick in. Soon, Dave Grohl enters on drums, although at a very laid back pace for him. For the middle and second half of the song, Jones switches instruments and plays some rollicking piano.

This new entry into the live set comes as the band last night kicked off a final set of tour dates in the United States before going on hiatus this summer. Both Grohl and Homme have other bands to return to, while Jones hasn't announced exactly what his plans would be during his time off from Them Crooked Vultures.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New album from Jeff Beck ought to inspire Jimmy Page

Much has been made of the extent to which Jimmy Page did or did not craft the earliest of his tremendously successful musical ventures in the image of Jeff Beck. Not only were they bandmates in the Yardbirds for a brief time in 1966, but they'd been buddies since their teens or even pre-teens. Lately, Beck's been out touring a lot, raising his profile among crossover audiences. No longer is he exclusively the subject of idol worship by just guitar aficionados. Beck's name recognition is at an all-time high, on the eve of the release of something like his 15th album (depending on which ones you count). With all its diversity and unpredictability, Emotion and Commotion is a truly worthy addition to his life's work.

Jimmy Page hasn't released a new studio album in 12 years, and he is also coming up on a decade since his last concert tour. Now would be a fine time for him to end his drought -- and why not siphon Beck's aqueducts? I suggest this because Beck's new album has it all. But mostly what it has is what its title implies: Nearly every one of the 10 tracks on the disc could be pigeonholed into either the "Emotion" or the "Commotion" category. Those I consider leaning toward "Emotion" exemplify the "light and shade" Page always attempted to incorporate in his music, while the tracks I label "Commotion" are strictly the loud and frantic rock numbers. On both kinds, Beck relies somewhat on the backing of a 64-piece orchestra.

The high point of the orchestra's use, as far as the "Emotion" tracks, occurs on his take of "Nessun Dorma." Yes, seriously! Jeff Beck covers an aria from a Puccini opera! Now, before you go knocking it because you despise the genre, consider that Hollywood has contributed to sustaining this music's hold on popular culture ever since its public debut in 1926. It's timeless music; Beck won't steer you wrong. Plus, this turns out to be the most emotive track on the CD, and that's all I'm going to say to silence the opposition.

Also on the "Emotion" half is another musical work that has survived more than 70 years, "Over the Rainbow," from "The Wizard of Oz." I can hear the collective yawn from people reading this: The song's a cliche, everybody and their sister has played it to death, and no one in 2010 can possibly add anything new to it. Just listen. Absorb yourself in this key-shifting arrangement, and you'll likely forget you're listening to an electric guitar as the melody swirls around and soothes you.

A review of the album by Stephen Thomas Erlewine says this is the first time Beck has "sustained this level of grace for a full record." I don't know if the wordsmith's use of the word "grace" was intended to be a pun or not, but Beck twice echoes Jeff Buckley's song choice on his landmark 1994 disc, Grace. Neither "Corpus Christi Carol" nor "Lilac Wine" was written by Buckley, but the late singer commanded them to be his own with his powerful, soulful and often delicate voice. Here, Beck's guitar recreates that style very effectively. Parts of "Lilac Wine" are sung by relief pitcher Imelda May, a jazz singer born in Ireland.

Hers isn't the only voice heard on the disc. There's an uncredited female adding background texture on "Serene." Beck seems to prefer surrounding himself with women's vocals, as Olivia Safe lends her operatic stylings on the album-closing "Elegy for Dunkirk" while the immensely hip Joss Stone freaks us out with the Screamin' Jay Hawkins cover "I Put a Spell On You" and stuns us with an original she co-wrote with jazz fusion keyboardist Jason Rebello, called "There's No Other Me."

By the way, that's one track that definitely falls straight into the "Commotion" category; the loud rock piece is the only thing on the album heavy enough to follow "Nessun Dorma." Frustratingly, "There's No Other Me" fades out just as Beck seems ready to lay down an amazing guitar solo. Another of the few originals on this disc is the elegantly titled "Hammerhead," where the orchestra supports Beck's fast and heavy riff that's a decided throwback to classic Beck of the 1970s.

Minutes after Jimmy Page inducted Jeff Beck into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one year ago, they stood together and took questions from a pool of reporters gathered there in Cleveland. When Beck was asked about the prospect of releasing a new album, he explained why it had already been six years since his last. "I got this release phobia," he said. "I get halfway through a project, and I just go, 'Oh, that's no good. I don't think that's gonna work.' And then, I listen to it again about a year later and I think, 'Ehh, it would have worked. It's just too late now 'cause it's old-fashioned.' So it never gets done."

However, Beck immediately credited his backing band -- Jason Rebello on keyboards, Tal Wilkenfeld on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums -- with being enough reason to get a new studio disc out. Emotion and Commotion was recorded by the end of the year, with the 64-piece orchestra and all.

Well, Jimmy Page says he has new music in the works to debut this year. Who wants to bet he has a 64-piece -- no, wait, make that a 65-piece orchestra lined up to back him on new renditions of Bizet's "Carmen," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and the overture from "Gone with the Wind"? Bonus points if Pagey has Adele sing "I'm Your Witchdoctor"!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jimmy Page autobiography available for purchase with June distribution

Two limited editions of a pictorial autobiography from Jimmy Page were announced today and made available for pre-order in advance of a shipping date set for June.

The leather-bound books, which contain 650 photographs as chosen by the Led Zeppelin guitarist and narrated with his first-ever written self-reflection, are now available for purchase from Genesis Publications of Surrey, England.

At more than 500 pages in length, this book is "Genesis Publications' biggest ever limited edition," the company said in a mailing to customers. The deluxe edition, whose books are numbered 1 through 350, sells for £695 (approximately $1,060), while the collector's edition, whose books are numbered 351 through 2,500, sells for £395 (approximately $602). Both editions are autographed by Page.

In an interview published in the February issue of Mojo magazine, Page commented on why he chose to make his autobiographical debut with the Genesis Publications name. "I've seen Genesis books before and I've really got a lot of time for the way they produce their books, they're really quality items," he said. "As someone who's always been interested in having a library themselves, I appreciate fine bookbinding and their whole ethic of what they do and what they're trying to do with a whole catalogue of books."

For more information on this unique publication, visit the book's microsite at

Monday, April 5, 2010

On Slash's solo debut, highlights come from Myles Kennedy, other guests

Slash is probably the most celebrated rock guitar hero to have hit it big just before the grunge scene of the early '90s eclipsed the hard rock of the late '80s as the music of choice for long-haired teen-age boys. In retrospect, it's funny that Nirvana had both Kurt Cobain, a tormented guitarist and singer/screamer who grew up cutting his teeth on "Immigrant Song," and drummer Dave Grohl, a John Bonham aficionado who was destined to be a future bandmate of John Paul Jones's; at the same time, in Guns n' Roses, the ability to replicate any guitar lick from "Whole Lotta Love" came as second nature to Slash, but it was a feat reserved for much more recent work -- especially whenever in the company of drummer Jason Bonham.

Events of the last few years have painted Slash as the victim of not one but two unreliable singers. First, with Guns n' Roses, it was the on-again-off-again Axl Rose, while more currently his band Velvet Revolver is on hold looking to replace the shaky Scott Weiland, himself another Led Zeppelin devotee. So in the meantime, Slash releases what is considered his first solo album. Self-titled but with the self-explanatory "R&FN'R" appearing on the album cover beneath a top-hatted skull and crossbones, this bad-ass disc has double the memorable riffs and songs of Jimmy Page's own singular venture into the full-length solo album format, 1988's Outrider, and about four times the help Page had in writing it all.

When Slash started recording his album last year, he had just come off of a summer filled with touring Europe with Jason Bonham in tow, playing almost strictly cover songs -- described once as whatever they wanted to play at the time. In a way, this studio set comes from the same school of thought, only substituted for an open book of pre-written favorites is the window of opportunity for Slash to collaborate with his in-studio guests. No cover material appears on the disc, and there's nothing that wasn't written either by Slash alone or with Slash and his Supernatural-like array of singers. In other words, there is no songwriting contribution from non-performing pop hitmakers. This is all the brainchild of Slash and his fellow musicians.

This fact makes it all the more earth-shattering when the opening tracks roll off with some made-for-radio hit potential. "Ghost," with Ian Astbury of The Cult, and "Crucify the Dead," with Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath. The first two songs speak of killing ghosts and crucifying the dead, setting an ominous tone for the album. If there's any complaint about either of these tunes, it's that Ozzy sounds like he's been autotuned to make up for some vocal shortcomings. (Also listen carefully for Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters on backing vocals, along with the track's producer and co-songwriter, Kevin Churko. Since Churko sings on the track, he gets a pass under the "non-performing hitmaker" clause; this is the sole instance a non-lead singer is co-credited on the album with songwriting.) The third track features a contribution from Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, and the only female artist on this disc puts on her best Alanis Morrisette imitation to deliver a part-sultry, part-screaming but constantly rockin' performance on the track "Beautiful Dangerous."

On track four comes Myles Kennedy, the voice of Alter Bridge, the voice of Slash's upcoming concert tour, and the voice that rocked out with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham in a rehearsal studio less than two years ago. Kennedy gets to do two tracks with Slash on this album, and he outdoes himself on both. Both "Back from Cali" and "Starlight," track 12, are prime examples of the kind of song you can't help but like before the guitar introduction is even over (think "Stairway to Heaven," "Ten Years Gone" or Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge"). The track after Kennedy's first contribution is sung by Chris Cornell, the voice of both Soundgarden and Audioslave, and another one of the guys on that short list of speculated singers tapped to replace Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin a couple of years ago. There was no fuel to that fire, but the lyrics of "Promise" deal with putting out a fire.

The sixth track, "By the Sword," opens with acoustic guitar, for a change of pace, and quickly follows with a voice echoing the same riff played. The track soon evolves into one I feel certain could possibly enter the realm of classic one day. When Slash switches to electric guitar and the bass and drums enter, you get the steady John Bonham feel of "Black Dog" or "Kashmir" backing the same riff, which now appears so much more Zeppelin-like when played loud. The voice on this track comes from Andrew Stockdale, of a band called Wolfmother that endured its fair share of comparisons to Led Zeppelin, especially since his Australian band's debut song "Woman" sounded like a new take on Led Zeppelin's first two albums squeezed into a curt single of under three minutes (but with Jack White influencing the vocals and Keith Emerson influencing the organ by way of Jon Lord). Here, Stockdale's refined voice soars over Slash's heavy arrangement. If your budget allows for only one 99-cent download from this album, this is probably the one to get.

Allow me to interject here that by this point in the album, it's been mostly loud throughout. I interject that here because that's exactly what I was thinking during my first run-through of the album, and this is exactly when the desire to hear something a little more quiet is satiated. From the heavy rock of "By the Sword," the CD transitions into the sweet and soft tones of Maroon 5's Adam Levine on a sweet tune called "Gotten." Just to demonstrate Slash's ability to discern light and shade, the string-backed guitar solo represents a huge crescendo in the song, but it's only temporary as it is bookended by another quiet vocal part. The track's a sleeper. In the next song, "Doctor Alibi," Lemmy Kilmeister of Motörhead strains his way through a full-on rocker, which is also a great way to describe the ninth track, "Watch This Dave."

Nearly every song on the album features the drums of Josh Freese, but "Watch This" (or "Watch This Dave") is one of the few exceptions. Taking the kit here is the aforementioned Dave Grohl, who was already in his Them Crooked Vultures phase when approached by Slash to sing on a track. (Grohl has said he told Slash he wouldn't sing but would play drums, so that's how that came about.) This is also the only instrumental on the album. Jimmy Page's Outrider had three instrumentals on it, two of which meander into several different themes that in no way approach the dynamics John Paul Jones would achieve on the multifaceted instrumentals of his two solo albums, Zooma and The Thunderthief. It's almost as if, on Slash's only instrumental offering on this disc, he's learned how to write the ultimate instrumental in under four minutes. If your budget allows for only two 99-cent downloads from this album, make sure this is one.

It was just before this instrumental that, on my first time through the disc, I started to think back on how the presence of each individual singer somehow diverted my attention from the guitarist heard throughout, the guitarist whose solo album this is, the guitarist whose work ought to be carefully measured in any review. He's also the guitarist responsible for some amazing and unstoppable solos in "November Rain" and "Sweet Child o' Mine." Aside from the visual sway of Axl Rose in those videos, Slash's guitar sound was often the signature of any Guns n' Roses tune. Was I finding that to be the case on this album? Not so much, save for "By the Sword" and "Watch This." On those tracks, Slash's guitar work definitely shines through. (Ironically, Grohl's drumming on the instrumental track also stands out, making it sound like a full-band composition when in fact "Watch This" is the only track where the songwriting is credited entirely to Slash.)

Track 10, "I Hold On," with guest singer (and co-producer) Kid Rock gives another opportunity for an extended guitar solo from Slash, saving the song from being a veritable throwaway. Yet track 11, "Nothing to Say," is anything but a throwaway. When Guns n' Roses was at the top of their game, the only band that was comparable in attitude was Metallica. On this track, Slash channels his inner Kirk Hammet while M Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold wails away about voices with nothing to say. The guitar work in here recalls the hits Metallica recently had with "Cyanide" and "The Day that Never Comes," which itself recalled Master of Puppets-era Metallica as well as Ritchie Blackmore. So here's Slash making a proper throwback to speed metal and guitar histrionics, and it comes off as genuine.

The track that follows the second contribution from Myles Kennedy is "Saint is a Sinner Too," a number with acoustic guitar throughout and a percussive/orchestral buildup the likes of which are unheard elsewhere on the album. Handling the vocals on this one is Rocco DeLuca, one of the singers who joined Slash & Friends onstage last year. In the setting of this song, DeLuca is obviously restrained somewhat. Iggy Pop, however, is the opposite of restrained on the final track, a song called "We're All Gonna Die" with some base lyrics that make public urination and misogyny expressions of careless abandon. Sure, it's a wholesome song for the kids to enjoy and a curious choice thematically to close the album.

All in all, Slash's solo debut offers a lot to enjoy, including some great guitar parts that do some justice to bolstering his reputation of old. Yet it is from the guest vocalists that much of the CD truly gains its identity. Myles Kennedy, the only singer who appears twice, is not the least of those. Because I'm a Led Zeppelin fan first and foremost, I can't help but be reminded of the way he could have paired up with Jimmy Page on some similar songs and fit right in. If all I ever get to hear of Kennedy's extracurricular activities from the era of Alter Bridge's time off are his two contributions to Slash's album, I'm very satisfied.

Their "Back from Cali" is one of those songs you'll be singing along with after a couple of listens. On it, Kennedy also coughs up one of the best lyrical hooks of the disc: "You'll have to carry me back from Cali, the angel city where the devils play." Meanwhile, the instantly catchy "Starlight" is another one with a memorable melody, but its huge melodic leaps on the chorus might preclude the tune from ever being performed on amateur karaoke night by us mere mortals. Save this track for the twice-proven songwriting team of Kennedy and Slash, which we should thankfully expect to see in concert soon as they perform songs from Slash's past and this legitimately pleasing solo debut.