"Lords of Karma: A Tribute to Vai/Satriani" (Versailles; 2002)
Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter
I've always approached tribute CDs with a grain of salt. Although I've never had problems with a band playing a cover song in concert or even adding a cover song as a little treat on a CD, I've always been skeptical of an entire CD of cover songs. Quite frankly, I've got better things to do with my time.
With the arrival of "Lords Of Karma: A Tribute To Vai/Satriani" it doesn't take much to imagine my dismay at having to listen to other people play the songs of one of my favorite musicians of all time - Joe Satriani - and one of the musicians that I highly respect (although he might not be one of my absolute favorites - Steve Vai. I thought to myself that the wonderful story of Satriani the teacher and Vai the student doesn’t make this task any easier.
As always my two rules regarding cover songs would be in effect. The first rule is that the song would have to be a reasonable facsimile of the original and the second rule is that the songs had to at least add a new twist to the original without altering the spirit of the artist's intent.
Well, for once I was caught off guard and more than just a little bit surprised. As such, this review of "Lords Of Karma" is going to be long because I feel that every track deserves its own little paragraph.
Joe Satriani's five songs were up first. The classic ballad "Always With Me, Always With You" performed by Bruce Kulick was up first. I cringed at the thought of someone busting up this wonderful song. Well, Bruce Kulick now has my eternal gratitude. I was never a big fan of any era of Kiss so I didn’t know really what to expect from Kulick's playing. Bruce Kulick's rendition of "Always With Me, Always With You" is by far the most pleasant surprise on "Lords Of Karma." Kulick shows a deft touch as he uses an acoustic guitar to play out the song's brilliant melody and completely avoid the famous (and what I consider to be untouchable) tapping outro solo.
Jake E. Lee (where have YOU been?) tackled the surf-classic "Surfing With The Alien." Here’s one track that I thought wouldn’t be so bad. It only takes one listen to realize that Mr. Lee's seemingly unintended banishment to the metal underground hasn't diminished his skills one bit. Jake E. Lee shreds his way through this classic tune by adding his signature vibrato all along the way. Even when Lee comes close to doing a straight mimic of Satriani's slippery vibrato, Lee manages to make it sound fresh.
Jimmy Crespo (WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN????!!!! I haven’t heard you since the early ‘80s with Aerosmith!) takes on the unenviable task of playing "Echo." Joining Crespo on the violin is Dave Ragsdale, formerly of Kansas. "This should be interesting," I thought to myself - and it is. While this song probably fails "the test" for following the original too closely, the use of violin does exactly what Satriani achieves on every song. Each lick has a unique sonic color in the mix and can stand alone in comparison with other licks on the album.
Brad Gillis, who had made a name for himself in the '80s in Night Ranger and Ozzy’s touring band, does a phenomenal job with another ubiquitous Satriani classic "Summer Song." While Gillis' rendition of "Summer Song" comes in a close second to "Echo" as sounding too much like the original, Gillis lets it all hang out when he leaps off the song's verses into the song’s various lead guitar sections.
Neil Zaza, one guitarist I've heard a lot of but not really heard, stuck to a fairly note-for-note beginning to "Friends" (which had me disappointed at first) and then warms up to the song's potential by conveying the song's warm feelings with a remarkable interpretation of the song's crescendo and re-interpretation of the song's mellow break.
Next came Steve Vai's five songs; admittedly, I am less familiar with Vai's tunes than I am of Satriani's, but not to the point that I couldn't do justice in the review process. Underrated rockers Enuff Znuff kick it off strong with "Yankee Rose." Of course, my familiarity with "Yankee Rose" has everything to do with MTV and nothing to do with me owning any records by David Lee Roth. Donnie Vie’s rough vocal style makes an instant and distinct difference compared to the original.
Shred-master George Lynch is joined by TNT's Tony Harnell and Dangerous Toys' Jason McMaster. The last time I heard Mr. Scary, Lynch was laying down syncopated grooves for the rap/nu-metal influenced "Smoke This" so it was nice to see Lynch simply rock out on "Shy Boy." Having two different vocalists like Harnell and McMaster was a nice twist.
Richard Kendrick serves up a truckload of, um, attitude in "The Attitude Song" giving this up-tempo track all it can handle. Kendrick sure has Vai's tone down pat – whether that's a good thing is up to you. Richard Kendrick is the unsung hero on this tribute disc as he appears on half of the songs contained herein in one role or another. Kendrick's multi-instrumental skills are put to good use on "The Attitude Song" as he plays everything except the bass guitar.
A jazzy "Tender Surrender" is offered by Tony Janflone, Jr. who is relatively unknown in metal circles and will probably remain that way given his particular non-metallic style. However, you can't deny the talent and skill that Janflone, Jr. brings to this track – and he is perfect for it. "Tender Surrender" recalls the subtle bluesy moments of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Rounding out the disc is Corey Craven's rendition of "Tobacco Road." Craven is a relative unknown, but takes this bluesy number quite seriously again evoking the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughn by ripping through pentatonic minor scales with technique and flash.
For more information visit http://www.versaillesrecords.com.
A classic. This record will kick your ass.
Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.
So-so. You've heard better.
Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.
Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.
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Copyright © 2002 by R. Scott Bolton. All
Revised: 08 Jan 2016 11:33:10 -0500 .