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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Evolution of Chickenfoot

Chickenfoot is about to release their second album, titled "Chickenfoot III", due in stores on Tuesday, September 27th.  The album was named in reference to the huge musical leap forward from their debut.  “I am very proud of the new album,” says lead singer Sammy Hagar.  “We're calling the album Chickenfoot III because it's so good, the songs are so tight, it's like we jumped right past having to make a second record.”  He's also called it the best album he's ever made, a bold statement considering his catalog as as both a solo artist and frontman includes 24 albums and spans nearly 4 decades.

The band, dubbed a "supergroup", was formed when Sammy was jamming with his buddy and former Van Halen bandmate Michael Anthony on bass and drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, at his Cabo Wabo Cantina.  They felt the music was worth putting on record so Sammy invited guitarist Joe Satriani, who had been involved with Sammy in another supergroup known as Planet Us, with Journey guitarist Neal Schon.  Chickenfoot released their self-titled debut in 2009, which was certified Gold, and released a live DVD titled "Get Your Buzz On", basically a live representation of their debut album in its entirety, along with 2 cover songs and a track from the Deluxe Edition of their album.

In January 2011, the band entered the studio to start work on their second album, and in May drummer Chad Smith tweeted that he had finished the last two tracks on the album.  Sammy announced the working album title as "IV", which was later changed to "Chickenfoot III". 
The first single "Big Foot" was released on iTunes and Amazon in August, followed by a series of podcasts, one for each track on the album.  The podcasts feature behind the scenes footage of the band discussing the songwriting process, and provides audio samples for the track being discussed.

After listening to "Chickenfoot III" from start to finish, I completely understand the huge hype that Sammy has built around it.  Furthermore, I think this album is better than any of the 4 albums that Sammy recorded during his time in Van Halen.  The evolution of the band between their debut and this album is so profound, you'll instantly recognize how much tighter these guys are after touring together.  The variety on this album is huge and the songs have much more depth and a more layered sound than on their debut.

Here is my track-by-track review (including comments and personal rating on a 0-10 scale):

1. Last Temptation - 9/10 Among the best rockers on the album
Solid opening rocker featuring Satriani's signature guitar sound soaring over the intro, leading to a heavy rolling anthem-style build before bursting into the chorus, heavily layered with Michael Anthony's backing vocals.

2. Alright Alright - 7/10 Fun, upbeat party-style jam
Jam-style intro with verses focused on Sammy's vocals and Chad's steady pounding of the snare, with Satriani and Anthony in sync.  Song has a bit of a party vibe, sounds like something you may expect from Huey Lewis.

3. Different Devil - 10/10 Best backing vocals, one of Sammy's best ballads ever
Uptempo ballad with more of a pop sound, opening with acoustic strumming beneath Michael Anthony's sweeping vocals and Sammy at his melodic best as the song builds to a huge chorus and an excellent guitar solo.

4. Up Next - 10/10 Fast, loud, big rocker
Excellent rocking intro with huge bass and drums and sharp guitars and big backing vocals, amazing solo, signature Satriani.

5. Lighten Up - 9/10 Meaty rocker
Slightly frantic intro builds and builds until it breaks into huge guitar/bass groove with heavy cymbal action and a lot of playful guitar activity from Satriani.

6. Come Closer - 9/10 R&B-laced rock ballad
Michael Anthony's bass and Chad's drums kick this song off with a very bluesy foundation, and Satriani's guitar glides right along with the chorus, very nice effect.

7. Three And A Half Letters - 7/10 Spoken-word style rocker with rowdy chorus
Sammy reads letters sent by fans over huge bass groove and drums, each verse separated by raucous chorus including some of Chad's biggest drums.

8. Big Foot - 10/10 Huge rocker, solid steady intro, big backing vocals
Amazing intro, all players locked in, Sammy's signature wail with Michael Anthony's backing vocals on full display.  Awesome breakdown with guitar and drum leading to Satriani's solo.

9. Dubai Blues - 8/10 Best drum/bass on album
Chad and Mike are fully in sync on this track, great backing vocals and Sammy's highs are as high as ever.

10. Something Gone Wrong - 10/10 Excellent acoustic blues track
Very bluesy, almost like a Memphis blues or Louisiana Bayou kind of sound, some banjo, acoustic and Joe's electric all blended seamlessly as Sammy sings in sync.

While most bands have a hard time following a successful debut album, this will be the one to beat for Chickenfoot, and sets the bar pretty high for rock albums in general.  This album is a perfect example of what happens when you put together a group of musicians who are all playing at the top of their game, and do it for the love of playing music.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget (10 Years Later)

What started out as any other day ended notoriously as one of the darkest days in United States history.
The World Trade Center reduced to a cloud of smoke and ash as the people of New York, and all over
the world, watched in horror; the result of coordinated terrorist suicide attacks which took the lives of
nearly 3,000 Americans.  The images of that day live in our memory forever; the haunting footage of
planes slicing through the towers, people covered in dust running from the wreckage, firemen
scrambling to find survivors.

September 11, 2001 is not only remembered for the attacks, but for the sense of unity that made being
an American mean more on that day, and the days following.  On that day, regardless of nationality,
sexuality, political or religious views, we were all Americans and we showed the rest of the world just
how important it was to all of us.  It could be described as a humanity makeover, but the most simple
and honest observation of the aftermath is people acting with the kind of compassion we're all born
with before ignorance and intolerance separate us.

I remember the day well, but I choose to remember how proud I was, and still am to this day, to be an
American.  I choose to remember the kind of humanity and union that was displayed as the passengers of
Flight 93 came together to fight back, to prevent more tragedy.  That is the real story of 9/11, the
united voice of Americans that told our enemies with pride that they did not break us, they did not
weaken us, they only made us stronger as a nation.  "Never Forget", the words used to represent that
day, are meant to remind us all to remember.  Not just to remember those lost but to remember the
America we can be and what we're capable of when tragedy strikes, how we were able to pull together
and ignore the differences that keep us divided when we're not vulnerable.

The man who ordered the attacks, Osama Bin Laden, is dead.  Does it mean anything?  Probably not to
most, but for some it may provide a sense of closure, of justice, of vengeance.  For the men and women
of our military, it probably means victory, and it means that the sacrifice of nearly 5,000 U.S. troops
was not in vain.  Our military continues to fight, because more than anyone else they are proud of our
country and feel that it's worth fighting for and they give the ultimate sacrifice for us.  Every day as
they fight for our freedom, the people of our armed forces represent the very best of what this country
stands for.  On 9/11, our actions showed the world what this country is all about.  Never forget.