(Universal / Chronicles)

Just in time for the Winter season, late 2003 sees the release of December from The Moody Blues. On the follow up to their 1999 album, Strange Times, just three original Moodies remain but on December, Justin Hayward, John Lodge and founding Moodies drummer Graeham Edge put it all together with a richly hued seasonal celebration of easy on the ears prog-pop that taps into the spirit of Christmas time, winter snowscapes and even reindeer. Hayward has always been the band’s lynch pin songwriter and with the lead off track, “I Don’t Need A Reindeer” he’s written one of his catchiest tracks ever. Reflecting on the seasonal vibe, bass great John Lodge graces the CD with several majestic orchestral rock tracks including “The Spirit Of Christmas” . The entire album is tastefully layered with Hayward’s spine-tingling electric guitar playing, while Lodge and Hayward also share the vocal limelight on a regal cover of the John & Yoko classic “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. www.universalchronicles.com


Zig Zag

Not named for the George Harrison song or the rolling papers, Zig Zag is actually named after a small town in rural Oregon where guitar great Earl Slick lived for several years. Backed up by an ultra tight band, Earl’s first album of all new material in 12 years, Zig Zag, released at the end of November 2003, features an array of searing instrumental rockers along with an equal number of vocal songs featuring some of the greatest voices in rock. Earl is currently ‘axing it up’ on tour with David Bowie on the 2003 “A Reality Tour”, and the master repays his guitar ace in kind by turning in a superb vocal on the Zig Zag highlight “Isn’t It Evening”. Slick adds, “For once, I’m on the other side of the glass and he’s playing on a track for me. He nailed his vocals in one or two takes and it came out great—that’s the beauty of working with David.” Introduced to Bowie by Michael Kamen, Slick joined Bowie on guitar at age 22 when he blew minds on the 1974 David Live double Lp and tour. During that real post-Ziggy era, Slick chalked up some great live and studio work with Bowie. His performance on title track of Station To Station nearly stole the show. Getting back with Bowie in 2003, his stellar guitar work on Bowie’s excellent 2003 Reality CD almost rivals his playing with John Lennon’s crack crew back from that long lost summer of 1980. Produced by long time Bowie producer Mark Plati, Zig Zag also is highlighted by more enchanting vocal slots from Cure front man Robert Smith, Royston Lang (Spacehog), Def Leopard’s Joe Elliott and Motel’s Martha Davis. Clearly Slick’s finest solo set containing his most sweeping rock instrumental guitar-based tracks yet, Zig Zag is a fine reintroduction to a certified guitar great. www.earlslick.com


Before Rick Wakeman rejoined Yes, keyboardist Tom Brislin did a fine job on the keys for the fabled supergroup, going on to play the 2002 Yes Symphonic Live DVD on Eagle. The founder of the N.J.-based Spiraling, Brislin also toured on keyboards with Meatloaf, yet it’s clear that after hearing his band’s debut CD Transmitter, Brislin’s is also a fine composer and vocalist of Beatles-inspired pop that draws inspiration from 10cc, Cheap Trick, XTC and even the more precision pop leanings of Yes. Superbly backed up by band mates Paul Wells (drums), Bob Hart (bass) and guitarist Marty O’Kane, Brislin has composed some truly memorable numbers. One of the CDs’ best songs “Lightning Twice” has a fine, hooky, late ‘70s Paul McCartney touch to it. Impressive, top notch, pop with searing hooks backed up by expert musicianship, Spiraling keeps you coming back for more. www.spiraling.net

12 Memories

Kicking things off with a highly original, cascading minor chord sequence no doubt inspired by the George Harrison songbook, the U.K. pop quartet Travis come further into their own with their sensational 2003 Epic CD, 12 Memories. Partly inspired by the earth-shaping events of 9/11, the CD maintains a cutting edge pop-rock vibe partly inspired by the irrepressible ‘60s sound of The Kinks and the torch song drama of U2. Featuring the music of guitarist Fran Healy, 12 Memories combines crafty lyrics, top musicianship and superb pop productions. Certified classics such as the brilliant lead off cut “Quicksand”, “Peace The F*** Out” and the album’s single “Re-Offender” push it to the top shelf of the 2003 pop shop. www.travisonline.com



Ms. April March is without a doubt one of the most enchanting American singers to emerge in the past decade. Her breathy mix of breezy West Coast pop, sprinkled in with a few continental French lyrics, is infectious to say the least. A few other things about her include the facts that she’s also Mrs. Warren Zanes, she's recorded several demos in the presence of pop innovator Brian Wilson and, to top everything, she was a principal animator and writer of the great Ren & Stimpy cartoon series. Triggers captures a wealth of catchy pop moments and, accompanied by a full rock band, Ms. March comes alive with a sound that’s as cool as Bridget Bardot singing with the Art Of Noise. One of the CD highlights, “Coral Bracelet” has enough enchanting melodic twists and turns to make Brian Wilson smile. www.piasamerica.com


In 2002 Chicago-based guitarists Jimmy Ryan and his brother Johnny Ryan released the critically acclaimed Flyin’ Ryan Brothers CD Legacy. Late in 2003 Jimmy follows up that album heading up the debut CD with his latest offshoot project called Truth Squad. Featuring the power trio lineup of Jimmy Ryan (guitar/vocals), Billy Kopecky (bass, ebow, synths) and Johnny Mrozek (drums), the Superkiller sound of mixing punchy rock vocals and instrumental rock presents a powerful contrast to the majestic style that made the Legacy CD such a masterpiece. Kicking off with the startling lyrics of the lead off track “More” Superkiller deftly balances the vocal tracks with driving rock instrumental grooves like the Zeppelin-inspired “Road Raga Part 1 & 2” and the lush musical tapestries on the set closing “Cranberry Golden Green”. Valid comparisons of Ryan’s style to heavyweights like Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy are still relevant here and with Superkiller Truth Squad carves out a noteworthy dig all their own. Liner notes by Jimmy Ryan, Rev. Ivan Stang and Leon Tsilis sum up the high energy rock vibes in full flight here. www.ryanetics.com

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