Monday, August 14, 2006

Strummin’ With the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen

Van Halen: The Where Are They Now Extravaganza - Part I

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Strummin’ With The Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen Featuring David Lee Roth (2006)

Stummin’ With The Devil is the latest in a string of Bluegrass tribute albums that have been released in the last few years. AC/DC, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Dave Mathews, John Mayer and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are just some of the artists whose material has received the Bluegrass treatment and now Van Halen joins their ranks. What makes this time out different from the others is not the endorsement of, but the contribution to the album by original Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth.

Roth lends his trademark vocals to the first two tracks, Jump and Jamie’s Cryin’, on Strummin’ With The Devil which are preformed by the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band. Jump is also included a second time at the end of the disc as a “Radio Edit” version. David Lee Roth’s presence on the tracks is unmistakable and while he is more laid back here than in any other of his recorded performances, he is still, unmistakably, Diamond Dave.

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Several artists, some of which include the previously mentioned John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band on Jump and Jamie’s Cryin’, Cornbread Red playing Panama, The Nashville Bluegrass Band covering Could This Be Magic? and an outstanding rendition of I’ll Wait by Blue Highway help to round out the album’s fifteen tracks.

All the tracks on Strummin’ With The Devil are stripped down acoustic versions of their original classic Van Halen counterparts. While the presentation of such signature electric tracks such as Jump, Unchained and even Eruption may at first seem odd and out of place, with each subsequent listen that misconception fades away to reveal the intricate arrangements and extraordinary musicianship that makes up Strummin’ With The Devil.

The versions of the songs made famous by the Van Halen brothers, Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth that are included on Strummin’ With The Devil are elegant in their new skin while still holding onto the feel that made them classics in the first place. Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Bluegrass fans should love Strummin’ With The Devil equally for the reverent treatment of the material as well as for its genre bending renditions. Van Halen has always been fun, especially the Roth era Van Halen. As a tribute, Strummin’ With The Devil hits that nail right on the head and yet manages to do so respectfully.

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Sammy Hagar – Livin’ It Up

Van Halen: The Where Are They Now Extravaganza - Part II

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Sammy Hagar - Livin’ It Up (2006)

Sammy Hagar is slowly but surely encroaching on Jimmy Buffett’s territory. Both are kings of the beach party, both own restaurants or clubs and both hock tequila to the thirsty masses. Hagar even mentions Buffett by name on his new album Livin’ It Up near the end of his song Sailin’.

Come to think of it, have you ever actually seen Jimmy Buffett and Sammy Hagar in the same place at the same time? No? I didn’t think so…interesting. Who knows, they may actually be the same person…kind of like Michael and Latoya.

Anyway…Sammy Hagar is back with his latest album, Livin’ It Up and he finally got it right. There are a few issues, but on the whole Livin’ It Up is a party from start to finish. Since his original departure from Van Halen, his albums have been spotty at best, the only consistency being that they have all contained the good, the bad and the filler.

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This time out, Hagar has managed to put together a consistent album both in feel and theme. The songwriting is probably his best as a solo artist to date and definitely his least “cheesy” since his Van Halen days…Amsterdam not withstanding. The songs all fall into the atmosphere of the Mexican beach party that he has been trying to get across since Cabo Wabo was released on OU812.

Another interesting turn of events it that the former member of Montrose, HSAS and Van Halen openly embraces several aspects of the Country genre on Livin’ It Up including the trademark twang of Pedal Steel guitar on tracks like Halfway To Memphis.

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My biggest problem with Sammy Hagar’s new album is…product placement. Livin’ It Up, while being a really good album, seems at times to be nothing more than a sales pitch for Hagar's Cabo Wabo and Cabo Tahoe resort destinations and his Cabo Wabo brand tequila, as fine as it may, in fact, be. The song Just One Sip could, and most likely will, be the official Cabo Wabo Tequila jingle. Both the tequila and the clubs are mentioned by name more than once on Livin’ It Up which does make his former ode to salt-rimmed glasses, Mas Tequila, seem subtle by comparison.

We live in an advertising age and the boy does have something to sell...I guess his thought was why not sell to a captive audience.

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Tribe of Judah – Exit Elvis

Van Halen: The Where Are They Now Extravaganza - Part III

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Tribe of Judah – Exit Elvis (2002)

Tribe of Judah’s Exit Elvis is an excellent example of a great debut album by a band not many people ever heard of. Why didn’t anybody ever hear of them? Any number of reasons really…timing, marketing, climate, band members. Band members you ask? Band members, I say. Tribe of Judah came into existence with an EP release in 2001 by members Steve Ferlazzo, Leo Mellace, Mike Mangini and Pat Badger. Any of those names starting to look familiar? How about this one, Tribe of Judah was/is fronted by none other than Van Halen’s last, and seemingly most loathed (by everyone except me), frontman Gary Cherone.

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The reason I asked about the names starting to look familiar is that when added to Cherone, Mike Mangini and Pat Badger make up three quarters of the seemingly recently reformed Boston based band Extreme. In many ways, Tribe of Judah is a rebirth of Extreme, sans Nuno Bettencourt of course. You can hear aspects of the old band, but placed in a new and more modern context. Aside from their first album, Extreme always seemed to be much more progressive than their contemporaries and not just in terms of their musical technicality but also socially and politically.

Take that existence, add in the more sonically experimental aspects of Van Halen III and incorporate all of the technical advances in music and the bands that came after who helped redefine the sound of music into the new century and you begin to have an idea about the sound of Tribe of Judah. There are layers of industrial and electronic music mixed in to the heavy guitars and theatrical vocals that are Cherone and were Extreme…and Van Halen for that matter.

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The album, taken as a whole, is tight and an altogether different experience than one might expect. There are, as with most things, parts that don’t work so well, but as an album it creates something interesting and unique. Exit Elvis is an experience as much as it is an album. There is a certain theatricality running through it, which concludes with the album’s title track, that seems to make it a little heartier than your average disc.

It’s hard not to wonder if Tribe of Judah would have been better known and Exit Elvis would have done better had Cherone’s tenure in Van Halen gone over better with the public in general. In my opinion, Van Halen fans weren’t ready to hear a new band, which was just what they got when Gary joined. It wasn’t Roth and it wasn’t Hagar and it never was going to be…and, people just weren’t ready for that. It’s unfortunate, because I think a second Cherone era Van Halen album would have been something that had the potential to be very special as the band would have had the time to gel and explore each other musically. I guess that’s something we’ll never know. On thing is certain though, if Van Halen III did better…Tribe of Judah never would have existed, and that would have been unfortunate too.

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Eddie Van Halen – Music from Sacred Sin

Van Halen: The Where Are They Now Extravaganza - Part IV

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Eddie Van Halen – Music from Sacred Sin (2006)

If the fact that Jenna Jameson is a household name isn’t proof enough that the adult industry is part of the mainstream these days, nothing is going to change your mind, but…this could help. Eddie Van Halen, the renowned virtuosic guitarist, has decided to lend his talents to his friend, Michael Ninn and his latest project, an adult film called Sacred Sin.

Eddie is quoted as saying,

"I'm working with a friend…very simple,” and "I like his work. Michael Ninn is like a Spielberg to me…the imagery, the way he makes things look, just...sensual."

Well, Ok then. There’s not really a lot you can say to a comment like that, so we’ll just let it sit out there for a while as we soak up the implications. Jaws, ET, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan…all right, Hook maybe, but come on...Spielberg?!?!?

This whole thing is kind of baffling to me in that I always expected Britney Spears to turn to a career in porn before Eddie Van Halen, but as they say…life is stranger than fiction. Being an adult, and realizing that Van Halen’s core audience is now mostly made of up the “consenting adult” age group, I guess it’s ok as long as he’s not going to be in the porn flick himself, because frankly I’ve seen the pictures from the Oscar party and it wasn’t pretty.

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Apparently the flick will be out on September 13th and available in full-on robot chubby and “Disney” family versions for the discriminating coinsure and even better, the two disc set will include videos for EVH’s two songs.

If you just can’t wait (I couldn’t), the tracks are currently available for download from Ninn’s website or you can just use the links if you want to check them out.

Musically, both Rise and Catherine bear more of a resemblance to Balance’s Baluchitherium or the Twister Soundtrack’s Respect the Wind than to the sheer jaw-dropping brilliance of Van Halen’s Eruption. That is not to say, however, that the tracks are not signature EVH. Every riff, hammer-on and pick slide screams Eddie, just like his fans do during solos at live shows.

The two tracks are entertaining to listen to, all the more so because of the recent drought of new music from the VH camp. Catherine, while not staggeringly brilliant, manages to convey a dark epic feeling that many of Eddie Van Halen’s compositions have not really hit upon before. Rise treads more familiar sonic territory for Ed…and knowing where these songs were destine to appear, Rise begins with a certain feel that seems like a good fit for its intended home. However, once you get into the heart of the piece, you can hear echoes of the Hagar era Van Halen that brought EVH and company to the heights of their popularity.

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Eddie Van Halen once said that he had no desire to do a solo album because Van Halen albums were his solo albums. He also said that in Van Halen, he had everything he needed. Van Halen I was released in 1978. Three lead singers and nearly thirty years later, the future of Van Halen seems to be in perpetual limbo. Without a singer in Van Halen, hopefully Eddie will have a change of heart with regard to the possibility of a solo album, but if not…two tracks from an adult film will have to do.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

New: On the pod

New: On the pod

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys – Sounds Of Summer (The Very Best Of)
Black Sabbath – Eternal Idol: Original Demos
Brian Adams – Rockpalast-Essen, Germany: October 15, 1983
Cheap Trick – Rare Tracks
Cinderella – Little Rock, Arkansas: October 18, 1991
Hall & Oats – Inglewood Forum: December 18, 1984
Journey – Chastain Park Amphitheater-Atlanta, GA: July 13, 2006
O.S.I. – Free
Pat Benatar – Portland USA 1986 FM Broadcast
Sammy Hagar – Livin’ It Up
Skid Row – Slave To The Grind: Original Demos
Skid Row – Subhuman Beings On Tour!
Soul Asylum – The Silver Lining
Tom Petty – Highway Companion
Tribe of Judah – Exit Elvis


The Prometheus Deception by Robert Ludlum

Prometheus Deception
The Prometheus Deception

How We Lost the Moon by Paul J. McAuley
(available through
How We Lost The Moon

Quick Audiobook Review:

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

The Stolen Child
The Stolen Child

It’s an interesting book showing two sides of the same story. You get to follow the actual and stolen life of Henry Day through the eyes of the changeling that becomes Henry Day and the changeling that the real Henry Day becomes. The main focus of the book becomes the search for finding out who we really are.

News: On the pod:

So, here we are again with another New: On the pod. We keep getting hits from all over the world, not a ton…but a few, which is very cool, so I’d like to say hello to anyone new hitting On the pod for the first time and welcome.

It seems like the preview of John Mayer’s Continuum has been drawing a lot of people in from search engines. I guess that worked out well! If you missed the write up, you can check it out in the archives.

I received a note from Mieka Pauley letting me know that she added the On the pod write up of her show at The Space to her press page. If you want to check it out, you can go to I couldn’t have been more pleased. You can check out the rest of her site at

As you can see, there’s lots of new stuff On the pod this week. I found a bunch of cool live stuff over at MR-X @ They’re a great site for news and MR-X is a great place to find older, out of print and hard to find 80’s stuff…and it’s very, very reasonable. If I’m not mistaken, there was a $35 fee for a year of membership with weekly updates.

So far I’ve listened to Tribe of Judah, Hagar, Soul Asylum and part of the new Petty disc so I have a few things for new pieces that I’m going to start on today I think.

I was listening to The Bob Edwards Show on XM this past week and heard an interview he did with Peter Ames Carlin who wrote Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson…hence the two Beach Boys albums. Everyone calls Pet Sounds one of the greatest albums ever, so I figured that I should have it.

Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson
Catch a Wave:
The Rise, Fall and Redemption
of the Beach Boys'
Brian Wilson

One last note, On the pod is hitting the road and heading South to North Carolina at the end of August. If you catch me, I’ll sign any body part of your choosing…for a small fee, of course. We’re anticipating a little down time around that time so there may or may not be any updates...I just don’t know yet. I’m going to be bringing the laptop, but I don’t know about internet access, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

That’s all for now, keep listening…