Michael Schenker Group - Heavy Hitters

The Store For Music
Produced by Bob Kulick & Brett Chassen

Billing this as a Michael Schenker Group album isn't really the whole truth. Essentially it's like one of those all-star covers albums but with Michael Schenker on lead guitars on every track. So, without the restrictive pressure of having to come up with his own material (not Schenker's strongest suit at the best of times) the guitar hero is afforded the freedom to essentially let rip over ten bona fide classic rock numbers. The results, as you can no doubt already imagine, are not too bad at all.

I mentioned the phrase "all-star". Here's why. You've got vocalists including Joe Lynn Turner, Tim "Ripper" Owens (Iced Earth), Tommy Shaw (Styx), Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman), Leslie West (Mountain), Paul Di'Anno and Sebastian Bach. Backed by Schenker and an assortment of bass and drum veterans including Jeff Pilson (Dokken), Mike Inez (Alice In Chains), Vinnie Appice (ex-Black Sabbath/Dio), Simon Wright (Dio), Phil Soussan (ex-Ozzy Osbourne), Eric Singer (KISS/Alice Cooper), Tony Franklin (Planet X) and Tony Levin (Ex-King Crimson). Enough names for you? How about the most important one: Bob Kulick (ex-KISS/Ex-W.A.S.P.). I'll come back to why that is later.

All of the performances on the disc are excellent. Most of the songs are excellent. But not all. Tommy Shaw does a brilliant job of imitating David Gilmour on Pink Floyd's Money. The problem is, it's a terrible song. It's always been a terrible song. And every time someone covers it (this includes you, Velvet Revolver) I want to injure somebody. Thankfully here it's a very short rendition, and Schenker's soloing is exquisite. But please, and this goes out to the entire music World, leave the bloody thing alone.

Elsewhere Tim "Ripper" Owens rescues an otherwise lacklustre War Pigs, Leslie West helps to duplicate the original version of Blood of The Sun (it's a Mountain song and West is the singer/guitarist in Mountain, for those that don't know) perfectly allowing Schenker to work his own wonders on lead guitar, Sebastian Bach is totally underused on the rather mediocre I Don't Live Today and Paul Di'Anno delivers a typically raucous Hair of The Dog. Between them Schenker and Joe Lynn Turner make Elvis Presley's All Shook Up largely unrecognisable (thankfully) and bassist Jeff Pilson's stint on lead vocals for Cream's Politician is surprisingly good. One wonders why Schenker bothered covering one of his own songs (UFO's Doctor Doctor), but with Jeff Scott Soto on vocals it's different enough from the original to be enjoyable in its own right.

So, why's Bob Kulick so important? Well, not only did Bob co-produce this album (as he does most all-star tribute albums; in fact, he's credited with practically inventing the concept) with Brett Chassen (Bret Michaels Ban), but he played the rhythm guitar on all songs except Politician and Money. This is doubly important because while Schenker is widdling and ripping away all over the songs, it's Kulick that holds the songs together and provides a modicum of uniformity to proceedings. People talk about Malcolm Young and James Hetfield being the masters of rhythm guitar. But they do it with a bassist and drummer they've worked with for countless years. Bob is doing the same job here (yes, he's that good) with completely different musicians on every song. He only plays with the same bass player twice (Pilson) and the same drummer three times (Aynsley Dunbar, Thin Lizzy) across eight tracks.

Obviously Schenker's lead playing is the focal point of the record. And it's masterful in the extreme. But without Kulick this album, and War Pigs in particular, would completely fall apart.

Overall then, this is a must for Schenker fans - his playing is awesome for the most part. If you're partial to the odd quality cover version (as I am) then you'll also love this CD. If you dislike tribute albums, you won't like this one either, but that's really the only reason not to buy it. It's a good solid rock album with awesome guitar playing and singing. Can't go wrong.

“ all-star ”

Tracklist: All Shook Up / Blood of The Sun / Doctor, Doctor / War Pigs / I'm Not Talking / Money / Out In The Fields / Hair of The Dog / I Don't Live Today / Politician

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2006, Albums, Hard/Heavy Rock,

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