‘School Of Hard Knocks’ Is A Positive Presentation From Longtime Saxon Front Man Byford

Courtesy: Silver Linings Music

Biff Byford has, for more than 40 years, led the way for the famed hard rock band Saxon. Considering his expasive resume, one would have thought that Byford would have already released a handful of solo recordings by now.  Interestingly enough, he has not released any solo material.  That is until this year.  Byford released his solo debut album School of Hard Knocks Feb. 21 through Silver Linings Music.  The 11-song, 51-minute record is a work that longtime Saxon fans will appreciate just as much as fans of Saxon’s fellow British heavy metal counterpart, Judas Priest and even hair metal fans.  This element will be addressed shortly.  The lyrical content that accompanies the album’s musical material adds even more insurance of listeners’ engagement and enjoyment.  It will be addressed a little later.  The album’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements, and will also be addressed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own right to the whole of School of Hard Knocks.  All things considered, they make the album a presentation that rock and metal fans across the board will agree is a strong solo debut from one of rock’s most talented and respected vocalists and his fellow musicians — Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth) on guitars, Christian Lundqvist on drums and Gus Macricostas on bass.

Biff Byford’s solo debut album School of Hard Knocks is a presentation that is certain to appeal to a wide range of rock and metal fans.  That is due in part to the record’s musical arrangements.  The arrangements are varied throughout the course of the album.  The album’s opener ‘Welcome to the Show’ is an up-tempo work that lends itself to comparisons to works from the likes of KISS, Motley Crue and AC/DC.  The same applies to its follow-up, which is also the album’s title track.  One could even argue here that there are hints of Ted Nugent similarities in this case.  ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ changes the record’s pace, offering more of a power metal approach.  This song’s arrangement immediately lends itself to comparisons to works from Saxon’s fellow British metal counterparts Judas Priest, with its soaring vocals, driving guitars and solid time keeping.  ‘Worlds Collide,’ which immediately follows ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’ could easily match up against any of today’s metal compositions and hold its own with ease.  Byford and company’s take on Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair’ is intriguing in the best way possible.  With its minimalist approach, it is just as enjoyable as its source material.  ‘Pedal to the Metal’ changes things up once again, going back to the power metal for which Byford has come to be known for crafting with his Saxon brethren.  At the same time, it is just as comparable once more to works from Judas Priest.  Much the same can be said of ‘Hearts of Steel.’  ‘Throw Down The Sword’ is a direct cover of Wishbone Ash’s song by the same name, and it changes things up once more, stylistically speaking.  As the album comes to its close in ‘Me and You’ and ‘Black and White,’ the feeling turns toward a more distinct 80s hair metal approach, with the first of the pair easily likened to a certain ballad from Poison while the latter is more akin to the sound that bridged the late 80s and early 90s with its hard-edged guitar-driven sound.  By the time the record reaches its end, audiences will look back and realize they have experienced a work that at least musically has taken them on a positive rock and roll ride from start to end.  That mix of rock and metal sounds is just one part of what makes the album worth hearing.  The record’s lyrical themes are just as important to its presentation as its musical content.

The lyrical themes featured throughout the course of School of Hard Knocks are almost as varied as the musical arrangements that are presented.  ‘Hearts of Steel’ is an autobiographical piece about Byford’s life and career.  In turning his attention to ‘Scarborough Fair,’ Byford explained that song’s content in a recent interview.  “It’s a traditional medieval song, and the story goes that Paul Simon happened to hear somebody playing it in Whitby, which is just down the road from Scarborough,” he said. “But I wanted something which represented Yorkshire and it is a Yorkshire folk song, so we tried a new arrangement which made it a little heavier, and it works really well.” In other words, here in this song is a work whose roots go back ages and is distinctly different from the likes of ‘Wheels of Steel’ in its lyrical theme.  ‘Inquisitor,’ as short as it is – it clocks in at approximately one minute, 26 seconds – is a semi-spoken word piece that takes its inspiration from the Spanish Inquisition, yet another distinctly different topic from the lyrical content in the rest of the album.  ‘Me and You’ takes the more familiar route of a song centered on the topic of a relationship.  It’s just one more way in which the songs’ varied lyrical themes prove to be just as key to the album as the record’s equally varied musical styles.  That variance in content from one song to next continues to make the album appealing for audiences.  When it is considered with the variance in the album’s musical arrangements, that overall variance makes fully evident why the record’s content in general is so important to its presentation.  It is still not the last important element to examine.  The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements.

School of Hard Knocks’ sequencing is crucial to its presentation because the energies in the content is just as important as the content itself.  As already noted, School of Hard Knocks opens in very up-tempo fashion in ‘Welcome to the Show’ following its slow build in the song’s early bars.  From there though, the energy stays solid throughout the remainder of the composition.  The album’s title track keeps that energy flowing, and even picks things up a little bit more with its blues-based approach.  ‘Inquisitor’ pulls the energy back, but only briefly before the record’s energy picks right back up in ‘The Pit and the Pendulum.’  That energy increases even more, again, in that already noted hard-driving metal opus that is ‘Worlds Collide.’  The energy pulls back again in the group’s cover of ‘Scarborough Fair.’  That moment of reserve only lasts a short time, though, as the album  progresses into the high-adrenaline ‘Pedal to the Metal’ and ‘Hearts of Steel.’  Once more, the album reaches one of its troughs as it progresses from ‘Hearts of Steel’ into the cover of Wishbone Ash’s ‘Throw Down The Sword.’  The relaxed feel and tone of ‘You and Me’ and the bluesy mid-tempo rocker that is ‘Black and White’ make for a fitting finale for the record.  The two songs never overdo the energy on the high or low end.  Looking back at all of this, it becomes evident that Byford, who produced the album, and everyone who worked with him made certain to put all the highs and lows at all of the right points.  The result is a solid balance of energies throughout the album from start to end.  That balance ensures even more, listeners will remain engaged and entertained throughout the course of the album’s almost hour-long run time.  Considering this element with the record’s overall content and the matters within the music and lyrics, the whole of it all leaves School of Hard Knocks a work that is a positive solo debut for Byford.

Biff Byford’s solo debut LP School of Hard Knocks is a surprisingly enjoyable offering from the longtime Saxon front man.  That is especially considering that he has spent more than 40 years at the band’s helm, the whole time without having released even one solo record until now.  The album’s musical content will appeal to a wide range of rock and metal fans while the lyrical content is just as certain to keep listeners engaged and entertained with its own variety.  The sequencing that is utilized throughout the album keeps the record’s energy balanced throughout its run.  Each item is important in its own way to the whole of School of Hard Knocks.  All things considered, they make the record a work that is deserving of at least one listen by rock and metal purists alike.  More information on the album is available now along with Byford’s latest news at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.saxon747.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/biffsaxon747

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SaxonOfficial

 

 

 

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Saxon Debuts New Single; Announces Details For New Album, Tour

Saxon Battering Ram Cover Art

Courtesy: UDR Music

This fall, legendary metal act Saxon returns with its twenty-first full-length studio album. Battering Ram will be released in stores and online on Friday, October 16th via UDR Music. In anticipation of the album’s release, the band has debuted the video for the album’s lead single and announced a handful of North American tour dates that kick off Wednesday, August 19th in Riverside, California. The band will join fellow veteran metal acts Motorhead and Armored Saint for the twenty-three-date tour. Audiences can check out the video for ‘Battering Ram’ online now via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oLC0nOfWGc&feature=youtu.be. The video splices together footage of the band recording the song at Backstage Studios in Derbyshire, UK and vintage footage of crash test dummies in action, a plane crashing, a boxing match, a football game and more.  The current schedule for the band’s upcoming tour is listed below.

SAXON US Tour Dates:

August 19 – Riverside, CA @ Riverside Municipal Auditorium w/ Motörhead

August 20 – San Diego, CA @ Brick By Brick w/ Armored Saint

August 21 – Las Vegas, NV @ House Of Blues w/ Motörhead

August 22 – Los Angeles, CA @ Shrine w/ Motörhead

August 23 – Sacramento, CA @ Ace Of Spades

August 24 – San Francisco, CA @ Warfield Theatre w/ Motörhead

August 27 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex w/ Motörhead

August 28 – Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory

September 1 – Austin, TX @ Cedar Park Center w/ Motörhead

September 2 – San Antonio, TX @ Aztec Theatre w/ Motörhead

September 3 – El Paso, TX @ Speaking Rock Entertainment Center

September 4 – Dallas, TX @ Bomb Factory w/ Motörhead

September 5 – Houston, TX @ House Of Blues w/ Motörhead

September 6 – St. Louis, MO @ Pageant Theater w/ Motörhead

September 9 – Indianapolis, IN @ Murat Theater w/ Motörhead

September 10 – Atlanta, GA @ Center Stage – Prog Power

September 12 – Stafford, CT @ Palace Theater w/ Armored Saint

September 13 – Portland, ME @ Asylum w/ Armored Saint

September 15 – Washington, DC @ Howard Theater w/ Armored Saint

September 16 – Westland, MI @ Token Lounge w/ Armored Saint

September 17 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Altar Bar w/ Armored Saint

September 18 – Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom w/ Armored Saint

September 20 – St. Charles, IL @ Arcada Theater w/ Armored Saint

Battering Ram will be available Friday, October 16th in stores and online. It is currently available for pre-orders online via iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/battering-ram-deluxe-edition/id1023693104?app=itunes. Those that pre-order Battering Ram now via iTunes will get the album’s title track as an Instant Grat track. Pre-orders via Amazon and other outlets will be available soon. They will include the CD in Ecolbook, 180 gram Vinyl, Limited Edition Boxset (containing CD, Vinyl and a Bonus CD with the band performance of their Denim & Leather Tour “Saxon Over Sweden 2011” – 18 tracks). More information on Battering Ram is available online now along with all of the latest news and updates from Saxon at:

Website: http://www.saxon747.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/saxon

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SaxonOfficial

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Saxon’s Latest Live LP Shows Why It’s Still One Of Heavy Metal’s Elite Acts

Courtesy:  UDR/Militia Guard Music

Courtesy: UDR/Militia Guard Music

British heavy metal band Saxon released its latest live recording St. George’s DaySacrifice Live in Manchester this past April. The band’s first live release since 2012’s Heavy Metal ThunderLive: Eagles Over Wacken and its ninth live recording overall, this live recording presents a band that is just as strong today as it was in its earliest days. There is plenty for Saxon’s fans to appreciate in this album beginning with the set list itself. While it obviously doesn’t cover every single one of the band’s now twenty (yes, twenty) albums, the concert presented here covers quite a wide swath of the band’s career. The band’s stage presence also plays a role in the overall enjoyment of the concert. Needless to say the band’s impresses in this arena, too. And last but not least is the concert’s audio mix. The audio mix starts out a little choppy. But it improves rather quickly, making the overall concert experience presented here enjoyable. All things considered the only downside to the whole presentation is that Saxon didn’t provide this concert in either a DVD or Blu-ray presentation. Perhaps the band and its label will take that into consideration and release the show’s video side for fans before 2014 winds down. Regardless, of whether or not that happens, it still remains that St. George’s DaySacrifice Live in Manchester is a must hear for any Saxon fan.

The central point of the success behind St. George’s DaySacrifice Live in Manchester is easily its expansive set list. It goes without saying that there’s no way the band could have possibly covered its entire catalogue of now twenty albums within the span of time allotted for this concert. However, the band does cover quite a bit of that catalogue. It goes so far as to go back thirty years to the band’s earliest days and as recently as the band’s latest full length studio album and all points in between throughout the course of the concert. The concert’s full run time barely tops the two hour mark. And every single second of that time is well spent by both the audience in attendance and the band. Much like film great Martin Scorsese can take a two-plus hour movie breeze by, so does Saxon make this concert full so much fuller without leaving audiences feel exhausted at the same time. It’s because of that factor and the show’s set list alongside that the band’s more seasoned fans will enjoy this record just as much as those being introduced to the veteran metal act for the first time.

The combined set list and run time of said concert in St. George’s DaySacrifice Live in Manchester together are collectively a solid foundation for this latest live recording from Saxon. Just as important to the enjoyment of any live performance by any musical act is the stage presence of the given act. In the case of Saxon, front man Biff Byford and company prove to be just as full of life and energy as when the band first performed live decades ago. The band shreds through numbers such as: ‘Rock N Roll Gypsies,’ ‘Crusader,’ and ‘Wheels of Steel’ just to name a few. And even in between songs, the energy is there as Byford interacts with the audience. He tells audiences brief histories of the songs, joking about some of those histories along the way. Audiences even get the chance to decide which songs they want to hear at least at one point in the show. Byford repay the audience’s enthusiasm with one of the best performances to date of ‘And The Bands Played On.’ These are only some examples of how the band’s stage performance in this concert makes the recording so enjoyable for audiences. There are far more examples than can be noted in one sitting. Audiences will get the full impact of that presence when they purchase this recording for themselves. It still isn’t all that makes this recording enjoyable for Saxon’s legions of fans, either. There is still one more factor to consider in the recording’s enjoyment. That factor is the show’s audio mix.

The last but hardly least important factor to consider in the enjoyment of St. George’s DaySacrifice Live in Manchester is the show’s audio mix. One has to think that what must have been an outdoor arena was rather large. That is because of the slight trouble at first in the balance of the recording’s audio mix. Byford’s vocals are muddled early on and covered by his band mates. But luckily, that is rapidly handled with the levels being more equaled as the first half of the first disc progresses. Since it would appear that there is no DVD or Blu-ray presentation to accompany the audio only portion of the concert, it is difficult to figure the size of the venue. One can only assume that the venue’s size must have been relatively large. If that is indeed the case, then those charged with the recording’s final product are to be applauded for the work put in to balance everything and in turn make St. George’s DaySacrifice Live in Manchester one of the best of Saxon’s live recordings to date.

George’s DaySacrifice Live in Manchester is available now in stores and online. That means that fans worldwide can enjoy the band’s live show even if it has already come and gone. Saxon is currently on tour in Europe in support of both this release and Sacrifice, its most recent full length studio effort. The band’s current tour schedule is available online now via the band’s official website, http://www.saxon747.com. All of the latest news and more from Saxon is available online at the band’s official website and its official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/saxon. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

This Is Your Life Is Not Just Another Throw-Away Tribute Album

Courtesy:  Rhino Records

Courtesy: Rhino Records

Tribute albums are a dime a dozen. So many tribute albums are released each year that one can’t help but feel that the labels that release them care more about their bottom line than about actually celebrating said artists being given tribute. That being the case, one can’t help but wonder why This Is Your Life, the new tribute album to iconic rock front man Ronnie James Dio, would be any different from those records. The answer to that is not a simple one. One reason that this tribute album stands out is the list of performers and bands that recorded songs for the compilation. It’s a who’s who of hard rock from the past, present, and even future of the genre. Another reason that this compilation stands out is its track listing. This record boasts some of the most beloved songs of RJD’s career. And last but definitely not least important to consider in this record is the fact that it isn’t just a means for the label distributing it to make money. It actually doubles as a fundraiser for RJD’s Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. So it’s actually a record crafted to essentially help give back. How many bands, artists, groups, etc. can say that they have crafted an entire album simply to raise funds for charity? That–along with the list of songs and performers, bands, etc. on this album–makes This Is Your Life an album that stands well above the rest of the otherwise throw-away albums claiming to be tribute albums.

Courtesy:  Rhino Records

Courtesy: Rhino Records

The primary aspect of This Is Your Life that makes it stand out against all of the other tribute albums out there is the list of performers drafted to record songs for the record. The list of performers drafted for this record is a who’s who of hard rock’s past, present, and even future. It wasn’t just a mish-mash of bands, artists and groups tossed together. Everybody tapped to record for this tribute record is either a counterpart to RJD or someone that grew up idolizing him and his talents. Veterans such as Anthrax, Motorhead, Scorpions, Biff Byford, and Rob Halford perform alongside younger acts such as Adrenaline Mob, Killswitch Engage, and Halestorm over the course of the record’s fourteen total tracks. That collection of bands and artists singing Dio’s hits is in itself a musical history lesson. It introduces younger audiences that might be more familiar with the latter grouping of bands and artists to the veterans and to the music of Dio. To that extent, This Is Your Life quickly earns major points. Even more points come from the sampling of Dio’s music in question chosen for this compilation.

The list of bands, artists, and groups tapped to record RJD’s music for This Is Your Life is in itself a major boon for the record. As noted, it isn’t just a mish-mash of bands, artists, and groups. It is a collection of bands, group, and artists that played alongside Dio during his career, and those that have come since, growing up with the music of Ronnie James Dio. In short, it’s a collection of individuals that have the utmost respect for Dio and his music. Speaking of that music, the songs chosen to be included on this record are another part of the whole that makes it so enjoyable for listeners. Every song on this record is a classic in its own way. From the more well-known pieces such as ‘The Mob Rules’, ‘Neon Knights’ and ‘Holy Diver’ to slightly lesser known songs such as ‘Straight Through The Heart’, Egypt (The Chains Are On’, and ‘Temple of the King’ This Is Your Life does quite the job of chronicling the career of a man that was and is still even in death, one of the greatest vocalists and performers in the history of hard rock.

The music and performers chosen for This Is Your Life are both key components of the success of the album. As important as they are to the success of the record, there is still one central aspect of the recording that makes it so worth picking up. That aspect is the fact that a certain portion of the sales of the album will go to benefit Dio’s Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund, which was established by Dio’s wife Wendy Dio. Bands, groups and artists go out on tour every year or they take part in fundraising concerts. How many artists can say they were part of a recording project that was also meant as a way to pay tribute to one of their own, too? It’s just like bringing home a hard rock festival without having to pay the exorbitant prices for tickets, souvenirs, sodas and more. And at the same time, audiences that purchase the album will actually be helping to fund an organization that works to research and promote awareness of cancer, as well as educate people about early detection in hopes of one day stopping it.

This Is Your Life is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered online via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Ronnie-James-Dio-This-Your/dp/B00IACUO8S/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1396440364&sr=1-1&keywords=dio+this+is+your+life and can be downloaded via iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/ronnie-james-dio-this-is-your/id829325064.

More information on Ronnie James Dio, This Is Your Life and other RJD releases is available online at http://www.facebook.com/OfficialRonnieJamesDio and http://www.ronniejamesdio.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Saxon’s Semi-New Set A Solid Follow-Up To Sacrifice

Courtesy:  UDR

Courtesy: UDR

The members of veteran British hard rock band Saxon have been making real hard rock for over three decades.  The band released its twentieth new full length studio release in that span last year in the form of Sacrifice.  It was the second album from the band in as many years.  Sacrifice was received to much praise from fans and critics alike upon its release last year. Now, Saxon’s members have followed up the success of Sacrifice with an album that while not entirely new per se is still another solid release from the band in Unplugged & Strung Up.  Fans will appreciate in this pseudo hits compilation first and foremost the fact that it has been released both in standard edition and a special expanded edition.  Secondly, the band’s older fans will appreciate it in part because it will take them on that proverbial trip down memory lane thanks to the reworking of some of its more well-known classic songs.  Staying in that same vein, these reworked songs are just as enjoyable an introduction to those that might be new to the band’s music.  Fans that take all of this into consideration will agree after hearing this record that while it might not necessarily be a new album in its purest definition, it is still a great hard rock ride for any rock and roll purist.

Unplugged and Strung Up is another success from Saxon right off the top because of its dual format release.  It was released both as a standard single-disc compilation of re-worked songs and as a special expanded double-disc set.  The expanded double-disc set includes another collection of re-worked hits from the band.  That collection is the band’s 2002 compilation, Heavy Metal Thunder.  Regardless of which edition of this new compilation audiences order or buy, they can be guaranteed plenty of reason to put their horns in the air.  The LP’s expanded edition includes something of a bonus in that only ‘Crusader’ is repeated between the two discs.  Other than that, the re-worked songs that fill both discs in the expanded edition are completely different from one another.  This plays into the album’s final factor of the album’s success and will be discussed at such time.

The songs chosen for Unplugged & Strung Up are the very foundation of this compilation.  They will take more seasoned fans down memory lane again whether in the standard single-disc edition or the expanded double-disc edition.  The single-disc compilation offers audiences a solid set of amped up and reworked songs as well as some more stripped down pieces such as the emotionally stirring ‘Requiem’ and the compilation’s bluesy acoustic closer, ‘Coming Home.’  After the journey down memory lane on which Saxon’s members take fans on this compilation, ‘Coming Home’ is a fitting closer for this record.  Singer Biff Byford’s vocals are just as powerful here as at any other point.  And the”gritty-ness” of his vocals make his singing style a perfect fit for this take on the song, too. If that isn’t enough for audiences, then perhaps the power rock styling of ‘’Red Star Falling’, and ‘Crusader’, and the orchestral composition included in ‘Call To Arms’ will win over audiences.  Whatever song or songs audiences choose as their favorite from Unplugged & Strung Up (or UASU as it will henceforth be known) audiences are given plenty from which to choose on this record.

Staying in the vein of the solid song choices and sequencing of UASU that same choice of songs and sequencing that will impress more seasoned fans will also pull in listeners that are perhaps not as familiar with the veteran rock band’s rich musical history.  The band proves both with its standard edition and its expanded double-disc edition that there is still very much a place and a need for pure guitar driven rock and roll complete with actual singing.  At a time when it seems that so much of the rock world continues to be dominated by bands whose singers sound like cookie monster and guitar players make their guitars as “crunching” as possible, the songs included in this new compilation are a welcome breath of fresh air even being a group of re-worked “hits.”  The album is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from Saxon’s official website, http://www.saxon747.com.  Fans can also check out the band’s official website and its official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com.saxon for all of the latest news on the band’s current tour schedule.  The band is set to kick off its European tour beginning next month in Northampton, UK.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.