When I state that Jake E Lee disappeared after Badlands called it quits in the mid 90’s I usually stand corrected by some and rightfully so. Lee never disappeared as such because he released solo albums, started a new band with former WWIII singer Mandy Lion, called Wicked Alliance – a project that never went anywhere and he contributed to other artists albums such as Enuff Z’Nuff’s Dissonance (2009) and Beggars & Thieves We Are The Brokenhearted (2011), but the thing is, Lee held such a low profile it felt like he had disappeared. And I missed him. To me, Lee was always my favorite Ozzy guitar player and that remains to this day. I also love Badlands. So when I heard that he had formed a new band called the Red Dragon Cartel back in 2013, that was splendid news for me – and man, how I hoped that they would be as awesome as Badlands or the Ozzy records he helped writing, Bark At The Moon (1983) and The Ultimate Sin (1985).
Red Dragon Cartel’s self-titled debut album showed up in 2014 where singer (and drummer for Harem Scarem) Darren Smith, bass player Ronnie Mancuso (Beggars & Thieves) and drummer Jonas Fairley had joined Jake for the ride. But all wasn’t well in the RDC camp from go, singer Smith left the band and Jake had different singers when played live but he chose to return and some of the filmed live gigs showed a band that sounded both unrehearsed and confused. However, their gig at Sweden rock Festival at least showed us that RDC were a really good live act when they wanted to. The album was a really good release though it took some to time to grow on me, but I still got the feeling that it was a Jake E Lee solo album at times, especially as he used lead singers like Robin Zander (Cheap Trick), Paul DiAnno (ex- Iron Maiden), Sass Jordan and Maria Brink (In This Moment).
But the new album do not contain any guest-singers which brings on a bigger band-feel – and speaking of band, Mancuso and Fairley are no longer in RDC. They’re replaced by former Lynch Mob and Ace Frehley bassist Anthony Esposito and ex- Saigon Kick and Skid Row drummer Phil Varone. So with that said, it’s time to see if the new album is anything to write home about. Opener “Speedbag” is a crunchy rocker, quite boisterous and rigid which makes for a somewhat unstructured piece of music. The song goes more for attitude and guts than melodies which makes this a forgettable opener. Leading single “Havana” is up next, a song that brings in some 70’s Hard Rock. It holds a big groove, it’s riffy and punchy but also very melodic but not in a Pop kind of way. Good but not great at first but it’s a grower! “Crooked Man” is single # 2 – ballsy, raunchy with fat guitar riffs and a heavy rhythm. The verses brings on the heaviness while the chorus is more stripped and laid-back. It’s a pretty good tune but not really convincing.
The 70’s influenced and a bit trippy “The Luxury Of Breathing” is raunchy and heavy and darker in sound. It’s a slamming track that holds a harmonica and a slight blues vibe. The refrain is memorable and it is the best tune so far. Latest single “Bitter” kicks off with a slight funk-ish groove but also a Blues-rock twist, very rhythmic and 70’s retro sounding. It’s not a forgettable tune by any means and the tune is good enough but I wouldn’t call it single-material – the hit potential is zero. “Chasing Ghosts” is while a bit spacey in a late 60’s/early 70’s way also heavy and groove-laden. It’s slower in pace and holds a moody atmosphere. It’s an ok song but it doesn’t really hit home. Also slower in pace is “A Painted Heart”, a pretty-close-to-a-ballad number that’s both rhythmic and earthy with a rough and crunchy edge. It also sport a dream-like vibe all over. Not bad but it doesn’t quite stick with me.
“Punchclown” is more in-your-face and direct with a big groove, heavy guitars and a punch. It’s pretty much a Classic Rock tune with a somewhat jazzy twist and it also holds the most memorable main melody on the album and the chorus really sticks – best song so far. “My Beautiful Mess” comes with a bit of late 60’s Beatles touch mixed with a 70’s Hard Rock groove and a gutsy punch. However, the tune sounds unstructured and feels almost unfinished and for me, the tune really goes nowhere. The album closes with “Ink And Water”. the tune starts out with a fusion-like twist, almost cacophonic before it transfers into a Classic Rock belter. Jake brings on some heavy riffing but the tune also contains a memorable main melody and a really catchy refrain that sticks right off the bat. It’s quite different to the rest of the songs but it’s also the best song on the record. Awesome!
I’m disappointed. Very disappointed. This is an underwhelming album that lacks hooks and memorable songs where almost nothing really sticks. Jake and his cohorts are all great musicians but that helps little when the album sounds unstructured and at times unfinished and rushed, which is weird as it was four years since the debut showed up. The album was produced by Lee and Esposito and mixed by Max Norman. I’m thinking, Norman – who’s a well-respected and experienced producer with Ozzy, Y&T, Lynch Mob and a zillion others are on his list of costumers – maybe should have been hired as a producer as well. Maybe it’s just me who don’t get the album and its (lack of) direction but in my taste, the songs just aren’t good enough and at the end of the day, it’s all about the quality of the songs. It’s not a crap album but it sure leaves a whole lot to be desired.
More Red Dragon Cartel reviews:
3. Crooked Man
4. The Luxury Of Breathing
6. Chasing Ghosts
7. A Painted Heart
9. My Beautiful Mess
10. Ink & Water