If you were into metal and hard rock in the early 80’s, there’s a big chance that you were also a big Ozzy Osbourne fan. And if you were a Ozzy fan, there’s also a big chance that you were a big Jake E Lee fan as well. Back in 1983 / 1984, Jake E Lee was, together with John Sykes, who had just joined Whitesnake after his former band Thin Lizzy had split up, the two hottest new guitar players around!
Jake E Lee was born Jake Williams and his career started down on Sunset Strip as the guitar player for Ratt (then Mickey Ratt), but he left them to join Rough Cutt, that also contained future Dio keyboard player Claude Schnell at the time. Ratt replaced him with Warren De Martini. Rough Cutt were at the time an exciting band, but when nothing happened with them they decided to go on a more commercial trip, so when Ronnie James Dio (whose wife Wendy managed Rough Cutt) took Jake with him to form Dio, he left Rough Cutt. Now, we all know that Jake and Dio never happened, Ronnie went with Vivian Campbell (later Whitesnake, now Def Leppard) instead, but when Ozzy needed a new guitarist, the choice fell on Jake. Jake’s first mission with Ozzy was a tour (it reached Stockholm in 1983 as a support act to Whitesnake). Ozzy had used both Bernie Tormé (Gillan) and Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) as stand ins for the deceased Randy Rhoads, but neither worked out. Jake, however, fitted like a glove. His trial by fire tour worked and next stop was to write and record an album. The fact that the song writing on Bark At The Moon (1983) is credited to Ozzy alone is just laughable. As if Ozzy could write a whole album all by himself. The album was, of course, co-written with Jake and bass player Bob Daisley. The album is today seen as a classic. Jake did get writing credits for the next album, The Ultimate Sin (1985), a brilliant album song wise, but unfortunately producer Ron Nevison destroyed the whole thing with his plastic, sterile and thin production. Something that he always does with all the bands he produces. After the long tour that followed, Jake was then let go without any explanation. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Jake was too popular and we (Sharon) can’t have, can we? Jake then put together his own supergroup Badlands that featured singer Ray Gillen (ex-Black Sabbath), drummer Eric Singer (ex- Lita Ford, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore and later Alice Cooper and now Kiss) and bass player Greg Chaisson and recorded their self titled debut (1989), an album full of Led Zeppelin influenced hard rock. Badlands should have been huge, because the album is fantastic, but after two more albums, Voodoo Highway (1991) and Dusk (recorded in 1992, but got shelved and didn’t see the light of day until 1998), that were failures sales wise, the band split up and after Jake’s solo album A Fine Pink Mist (1996), things have been awfully quiet about the man.
Things changed in 2009 when Lee showed up at Enuff Z’Nuff’s album Dissonance and in 2011 he appeared in the Beggars & Thieves video “We Come Undone” and some of us began to wonder if ole Jakey was about to make his comeback. And so it was. In 2013 Jake announced that he had formed a new band, Red Dragon Cartel and that an album would be released in early 2014. The members in RDC are Beggars & Thieves bass player Ronnie Mancuso, former Harem Scarem drummer Darren Smith on lead vocals and Jonas Fairley on drums. In the middle of the sheer happiness of having Jake back in action, live clips started to appear on YouTube, showing off a band that sounded unrehearsed and to be frank, some members both looked and sounded drunk and the former guitar player being both off-key and sloppy. Not the best way to promote your new band and the album that was about to follow. So it was with a big curiosity and a twist of fear, to be honest, that I have listened to the album. fortunately, the album kicks ass right away. Opening song “Deceiver” really shows where Jake is coming from. It has such a big “Bark At The Moon” – like riff that it almost sounds like a re-write of the song. But a great song and a great way to open this album. “Shout It Out” may have a cliché name, but the song is awesome – groovy, catchy and raw – I’d go with this as a single if I were them. On “Feeder”, they brought in Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander to handle the lead vocals, one of many guest vocalists here. The song is great and you just gotta love Zander’s voice. “Fall From The Sky (Seagull)” is one of my favourites on the album. It’s slow and pretty heavy, but with psychedelic Enuff Z’Nuff / Beatles kinda vibe. The next guest spot goes to Paul Di’Anno, the ex – Iron Maiden singer. The song is called “Wasted” and Paul might be the appropriate singer for that title, but unfortunately, the song goes nowhere. Sure, it’s hard and heavy, but forgettable – and I have never been a big fan of Di’Anno’s voice. But things are brought back into action again with another guest vocalist, Maria Brink, a name unknown to me. Apparently her band is called In This Moment – a new name to me. She is, however, an amazing singer that does justice to this groovy piece. “War Machine” has more or less ripped of the riff to Black Sabbath old gem “N.I.B.” (didn’t think anyone would notice??), but the song is a killer – real hard rock with one foot in the 70’s. One of my favourite female singers, Canadian Sass Jordan (S.U.N.) guests on “Redeem Me” and if you’re into Jordan’s voice, you’ll love this track.
The album finishes with “Exquisite Tenderness”, an instrumental piano piece. Really cool! The predictable thing for a guitar player would be to end things with an instrumental guitar piece, but instead he chooses piano instead – the instrument that Jake started out with as a kid. After all the horrible YouTube clips I have seen lately, I though that I’d be forced to bring out the chainsaw and totally slay this album, but it feels really good to say that I won’t and that Jake and his new band has released a very good album. There are of course things to remark on. Jake’s playing, for one. It’s not always spot on like it used to be and he sometimes loses touch. But for the most he sounds just as good as I remember him. Things are far worse with drummer Fairley. Not bad per se, but the guy is way too stiff and should let things swing and groove lots more – loosen up! Also, I’m not really sure if Smith is the right singer for the band. I mean, the guy is a drummer so why not let him drum. He doesn’t sing off-key (well, sometimes on the live clips he does…), but his voice is too narrow and even though I really like the raspiness of it, it just doesn’t have the range necessary. The production by Lee and R. Bernard Mann (a.k.a Ronnie Mancuso) is really good, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the engineering and mixing of one Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne, Hinder). Also, it needs to be pointed out that with all the vocal guests, this album sends out solo album signals. Sure, this is presented as a band, but Lee is the only one here that plays on all tracks. Besides the vocalists, other guess like bassists Rex Brown (Kill Devil Hill, Pantera) and Todd Kerns (Slash) and drummer Brent Fitz (Union, Vince Neil, Slash) are featured. Also, different voices – in this case five, makes for different identities. But for some reason, they have managed to avoid the schizophrenic sounds of a compilation album that could occur when too many voices are involved (think Slash and Probot, two albums that aren’t exactly united sounding), but it does sound like band. I have given this album both roses and some whipping, but I need to stress that this really is a very good debut album. I’m looking forward to watch them live at Sweden Rock this summer.
Jon Wilmenius (8/10)
02. Shout It Out
03. Feeder (featuring Robin Zander)
04. Fall From The Sky (Seagull)
05. Wasted (featuring Paul Di’Anno)
07. Big Mouth (featuring Maria Brink)
08. War Machine
09. Redeem Me (featuring Sass Jordan)
10. Exquisite Tenderness