Tommy Shaw
7 Deadly Sins

Shaw is best known as one of the two main vocalists of both Styx and Damn Yankees, but he released three solo albums in the ‘80s and a semi-solo album a couple years ago under the moniker Shaw/Blades with his Damn Yankees partner Jack Blades. (Blades, by the way has rejoined his own hard-rockin’ bandmates in Night Ranger, and they also have a disc out now on CMC titled Seven.)

Shaw’s latest solo effort comes in the calm before CMC releases a reunited Styx’s first studio album including Shaw in 15 years. If this album is any indication of that upcoming release, the next Styx disc should be exciting; Shaw is enjoying a songwriting renaissance. 7 Deadly Zens is his most consistent solo release, featuring 12 mid-tempo rock guitar songs and a couple of guitar and vocal sample experiments that, if not keepers, are at least interesting sideroads.

Obviously the powerhouse attack of Ted Nugent and Blades in the Yankees have influenced Shaw’s writing style — 7 Deadly Zens is easily his most guitar-heavy solo effort, and even his “look” is now that of a Tom Petty weathered rocker than of a “pretty boy” popster, as he’s been styled in the past. But on to the music...

7 Deadly Zens opens with “Ocean” the hardest rocker on the disc (thanks to a full complement of Damn Yankees), but especially due to the six-string contributions of Nugent and Ed Roland of Collective Soul. A bluesy riff kicks it off before a powerchord and Damn Yankees multi-vocal chorus proclaims “take me down/to your ocean/let the waves of mercy/wash right over me/all my love and devotion/go roaring like a river to your sea.” It’s anthem love rock, and it soars. Powerhouse drums, monster guitars and some of Shaw’s best vocal work in years make this clock in near the top of Shaw’s 20+ year song catalogue. He follows ”Ocean” up with “Stop Knockin’,” a more melodic “you done me wrong song” that spotlights his smoother lower vocal register and ends in an instrumental psychedelic guitar romp that features some of Shaw’s most inventive guitar work ever.

But the hits don’t stop there. “All in How You Say It” finds a contemplative Shaw letting keyboards and a burbling background guitar ease him along a memorably gentle ballad. And then “What Do You Want From Life” kicks off with a Steve Miller-esque bass guitar riff before moving into a big chorus asking the questions everyone asks at some point of their significant others: “hey now/what do you want from life/what do you want from love/what do you want from me?”

Shaw offers his first male-female duet on “Half a Mind” an easy going strummer with bluegrass legend Alison Krauss. There are other celebrity pals who turn up on 7 Deadly Zens as well: Blades contributes some bass guitar work, longtime Shaw/ Damn Yankees drummer Micheal Cartellone turns up, as does current Styx drummer Todd Sucherman. Violinist Jerry Goodman appears on several tracks and REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin duets on the straight-up chiming guitar lead rocker “Straight Down The Line.” And “Star Trek” fans will need to own this album for the unlisted closing track which features Marina Sirtis (“Star Trek: New Generation”’s Troy) on a spoken word with background sound effects piece.

The disc includes some CD-ROM videos and a written message from Shaw about the development of the album, which initially started out as a greatest hits set with a couple new songs but evolved into an all-original CD. Also included are the song lyrics (which don’t appear on the CD cover). This is a great summer rock album that fans of Styx, Shaw and Damn Yankees should definitely not pass up. 


Greatest Hits

Heart’s latest Greatest Hits set documents the band’s early hit-laden career in the mid- to late-’70s. The 17-song set includes songs from 1975-1983, as well as one newly recorded Diane Warren-penned track, “Strong, Strong Wind.” The big ballad chorus and fullstring backing of the new song is easy pop hit material, but stands out in sharp contrast here to the bar band rock that makes up the bulk of Heart’s early catalogue. “Magic Man,” “Crazy For You,” and “Heartless” show a band of honesty and youth that wanted to rock out; “Strong, Strong Wind” is the product of studio musicians — this is armchair music, not rock ‘n’ roll. But it's a comfortable and easy showcase for what remains one of rock’s great voices, Ann Wilson.

Also included on the disc are FM rock radio favorites like “Kick It Out,” “Even It Up,” “Bebe Le Strange,” “Tell It Like It Is,” “Dreamboat Annie” and “Barracuda.”


The Knack

Remember “My Sharona”? “How ‘bout “Good Girls Don’t”?

The Knack has tried to recapture the energy of those defining 1979 hits (not to mention a place on the Top 40 charts) on a couple of comeback albums in the ‘90s, but to no avail. It’s now almost 20 years since their impresive debut now, and Rhino, the label best known for reissuing oldies hits collections, has given the band another crack. The Knack’s latest disc sounds like an oldies hits collection, but not one collecting their own material. This is an album of jangly pop with a decided mid-’60s feel — AM radio guitar pop. The songs are loaded with “oooh-la-las” and Dave Edmunds-style retro guitar work.

“Can I Borrow A Kiss” falls somewhere between classic Roy Orbison and The Monkees. And “Pop Is Dead” is filled with the sort of stop start breaks that early ‘70s power pop bands used to love. Think Raspberries, Beatles, Plimsouls, 20/20, and even Kyle Vincent who mined that vein very successfully on his hit last year with “Wake Me Up (When the World’s Worth Waking Up For).” It’s surprising that this album didn’t end up being released on the Big Deal label, which has featured most of the above-mentioned artists on its collections of retro-looking power pop over the last couple years.

In any case, the verdict here is that The Knack 1998 doesn’t really sound much like the 1979 band that did “My Sharona.” The writing style of these songs is dated and the production lacks that “huge room” sound that made their early hits so undeniably catchy. The drums clank rather than boom and the guitars and vocals sound like someone dropped a couple mics into a broom closet as the band raved through a bunch of catchy little ditties. This is the sound I would expect from a Beatles or Monkees cover band that decided to go all-original. Power pop fans should pay attention as this is hooky backward-looking stuff, Knack fans looking for a new hit streak of “Good Girls Don’t “ material should look elsewhere.