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'Red Dragon Cartel'
(Frontiers Records)
Release Date: 24th January 2014

Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke

Rockulus Maximus

red dragon cartel

Jake E Lee, the guitarist supremo known for presenting to this humble globe music with the highly rated Badlands and more commonly referred to in relation to Ozzy Osbourne's solo output, is back in business it would seem.

This self-titled album is the debut by an outfit that give it their very best and have some help from well known guests along the way. On paper this should produce some of the most memorable Rock music that we'll bare witness to this year, but does it actually deliver?

When asked by a friend what I thought of this debut album, I had only given it a couple of spins and to be quite honest with you, I wasn't smitten with it. The flow of the ten tracks sounded messy to my ears and guest vocals coming in and out distracted from any continuity.

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My instincts suggested that Mr Lee was trying too hard and was perhaps lacking confidence and in doing so had over-compensated with guest vocalists and the arrangements of the songs. In between giving this album listening sessions, I was juggling festive duties and then a hospital visit and also a mass of other music.

After living with this album for several weeks now, I'm thankful I was given the luxury of time to settle with the entire elite of grooves and melody lines. 'Red Dragon Cartel' grows very nicely with more listens. Mind you, when you get a load of opening track 'Deceived' you're beaming with delight; it's accessible instantly. The second song 'Shout It Out' isn't anything resembling a KISS homage, but dances to its own groove and intent.

'Feeder' features some vocal contributions from the respected talents of Robin Zander who is associated with Legends Cheap Trick. The guitar stabs at the air, and all remains firmly in place. With the arrival of 'Fall From The Sky' things get a little more interesting. Like a Hollywood-interpreted trip on magic mushrooms, this glides on some natural highs baby without losing any potency.

We then get the notable inclusion of former Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di'Anno on 'Wasted' which showcases some fist-punching and straight ahead Hard Rock.

'Slave' has some tasty guitar combinations that allow the song to ride on the back of its razor sharp riffs which leads us to 'Big Mouth'. Maria Brink who slides her tongue over us whilst dominating the vocal performance with her usual aplomb, brings what could have been quite a dull song to life. This is a family show, so I'll refrain from sharing my mental images which this track stimulates with its performance!

'War Machine' is the longest song on this collection, and begins by offering up an almost Black Sabbath lumbering introduction. With a sudden twist of tact you then get a teasing riff which harks back to 'Paranoid' but finds itself as official lead vocalist D.J. Smith steps up to the microphone.

Talking of Mr Smith, after courting controversy and negative feedback for his first live appearance with the band, in the studio he does a competent job. Let's be honest though, this UK-born vocalist is most certainly not an Ozzy Osbourne and he is not the fantastic talent that was Ray Gillen.

'Redeem Me' lightens the vibes after the moody 'War Machine' as the soulful Sass Jordan exercises her lungs behind the mic'. I adore her vocal prowess, and that isn't a euphemism before you say anything. This moment carries our listening experience to the doorstep of the final composition called 'Exquisite Tenderness' which centres on a piano.

'Red Dragon Cartel' is both glorious and busy in equal measures but ultimately with repeated listens settles down and becomes a familiar friend. Don't go in to this album with the notion you're going to get either Badlands or Ozzy era style arrangements or sounds.

It is slightly darker in places and the emphasis is on excellent virtuosity as opposed to soul. For your money, 'Red Dragon Cartel' includes collaborations with Rex Brown who is known as the bass player with Pantera and Down. You also get Todd Kearns and Brent Fitz who were recently associated with their band Slash's Conspirators, plus the talented Scott Reeder who you'll recognise as a part of mighty Palm Desert Rockers Kyuss.

We have thanks to session bass player and guitarist Ronnie Mancuso and renowned Producer Kevin Churko for tempting Lee out of retirement and to grace our hearing with some new Rockin' grooves and guitar exhibitions. Crank it up and enjoy knowing that when you're playing your air guitar that I won't tell anyone. After all, I've been doing the same thing. Ssshhh...

Shout It Out
Fall From The Sky
Big Mouth
War Machine
Redeem Me
Exquisite Tenderness

Jake E. Lee – Guitars
Ronnie Mancuso – Bass
D.J Smith – Vocals
Jonas Fairley - Drums

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