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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Frank Marino

and Mahogany Rush - Real LIVE!

Review by Bruce Stringer

Almost 2 years ago MSJ published an exclusive interview with Canadian rock legend Frank Marino concerning his upcoming live album, which at that very time - literally - Frank was editing. Well, many moons had passed and it seemed that the live set would never see a release, however Canadian record label subsidiary, Just A Minute Records, has had the foresight and finally released this immense double CD. Edited down from a proposed 3-CD project, this is simply one of the best live albums I have ever heard. The quality of the recording is crystal clear, performance tight and the guitar sound is pure Marino: biting, fat and totally in control. This album is, in a word, PERFECT.

In closing, "Real LIVE" is an outstanding live release and has got to be one of the most important recordings of its type to be released in the last decade. Frank brings guitar playing back into the foreground and isn't frightened to play as long as the feeling's there. It is thanks to guys like Marino and Mahogany Rush for bringing 'the music' back to the people that matter - the fans. Large record companies may like to take note: no formula works forever and it is musicians that make the music industry. After getting the proverbial raw deal in the 1970's and record label indifference in the 80's, Frank Marino is back to show the world how to do it!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Voodoo Chile / Something's Coming Our Way (Excerpt)
The Hendrix comparisons are inevitable, yet Frank's treatment of the classic number is 100% his own. Maybe it's the Gibson SG (as opposed to a Fender Strat) that allows Marino to retain control of his playing while appearing to be on the verge of catastrophy but one thing is for certain: Hendrix could never play like this. Mr. Marino is quite literally one of the greatest unsung heroes of modern guitar and it is a pity, indeed, that Frank will probably always be overshadowed by the Jimi enigma. Marino's vocals are smouldering and really hit the spot. The ten-minute "Voodoo Chile" (or "Long one", as Frank calls it) segues into "Something's Coming…" for a couple of minutes and the initial blast of intense Canadian blues-rock is over to what I would expect to be a mesmerized audience. 
He's Calling
Presenting a track from Marino's recent "Eye Of The Storm" CD, "He's Calling" loses none of the edge from the studio version and is one great rocking number. Frank's vocals are in fine form and the song pumps along for a massive 14:39 allowing him to push the sonic boundaries of tube-amp guitar improvisation. Run after run, he manages to sustain interest and the repetition of the composition is at times hypnotic. Frank's ability to play out and then select spacial subtlety is quite mesmerising. Also of note are Aaron Scoones' back-up vocals that are quite haunting next to Frank's. Overall an impressive rendition of a great studio song, this is one of my personal favourites on this live collection.
Red House
Although this is the Jimi Hendrix number it is substantially different in many aspects, working on the premise of expounding on a great idea rather than rehashing a note-for-note, mimiced version. Sitting in at just over 12:00, Frank belts this beast out unleashing his axe onto the 'board and climactically turning the guitar into a neurosurgeon's tool. It's the intricate jazz nuances in Frank's playing that are clear and conversational, despite the madness of the surrounding energy, that make him such an incredible musician. It's a real pity that Marino hasn't been awarded the status of the likes of Beck, Clapton, Page, Hendrix, et al considering his abilities far surpass the aforementioned in many ways and he has done so much for the Canadian and US rock music of his day. Consistently superb, it is easy to get lost in the playing. "Red House" kind of melts you away.
Guitar Prelude To A Hero/ ...Stories of a Hero
The prelude wouldn't sound out of place in the European Renaissance of centuries past. Marino and rhythm guitarist, Mick Layne create a worldly atmosphere similar to the eerie mandolin work from early Heart. After 2:22 the guys break into the "Stories Of A Hero", a tale of a soldier off to war. How relevant in this day! The song itself is reminiscent of a certain classic Blind Faith song. The extended playing really works well within the band's dynamic structure.
Poppy / ...She's Not There / ...Crossroads / ...She's Not There (Return) / ...Poppy (Return)
Strength in the Mahogany Rush live sets is the choice of medley or segued material, making for a spontaneous and more real experience. For the first time recorded, "Crossroads" makes an appearance sandwiched in-between an instrumental version of the great little 60's number "She's Not There", which in turn is bookended with "Poppy". The band is tight in the exchanges and turn arounds, much more improvisational in their actions yet with the chemistry of a great working lineup. "Poppy" is light and aptly jazzy in a straight 4/4 way, like something out of the late 60's. Frank works those octaves and builds on some incredible little lines sounding a little Zappa-ish in his note selection -cool stuff!

 

Disc 2
Let There Be... / ...Strange Universe/ ...Ode To Creation / ...Strange Universe
Another classic, "Strange Universe", is included in this medley that expands on certain themes and brings us in and out of familiar territory to 19:48 of great anthemic rock. Almost Celtic at times, Frank plays an almost Jimmy Page-style role with some cataclysmically clean accelerated octave runs and triplet timed passes. The spoken vocal passages work well in the "…Universe" section before double-timing into an "Ode To Creation", featuring some great repetitive bass playing thanks to Peter Dowse. Fast forward - after 10:00 of massive improvisation - and the band finally return to "Strange Universe".
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame / ...Ain't Dead Yet (Excerpt) / ...Slippin' and Slidin' / ...Back To The Hall / ...Two 'N' Four (Just Joshin')
More great blues rock appears with "Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame" before some double-kick pedal work by Josh Trager in "Ain't Dead Yet". These guys jam out and Frank comes up with some finger tapping and then Mahogany Rush starts "Slippin' And Slidin'" with Marino on some killer slide guitar work. Although part of a medley, the slide playing is sharp and so together it defies belief and really stands out. "Back To The Hall" features some wah or envelope filtered guitar work, hard picked. "Two 'N' Four" is a chance for drummer Josh Trager to pound the skins for a 6:35 solo. Pretty hot playing and noteworthy for the double-bass pedal work and Bozzio-esque poly-rhythmic syncopated parts - this is one for the little would-be drummer in all of us.
Avalon / ...Rumble 'N' Roll (For Pete's Sake) / ...Jazzed A Moment/ ...Tales of the Unexpected / ...Return to Avalon
"Avalon" from "Eye Of The Storm" was somewhat akin to a modern day "Tales Of The Unexpected" therefore, given their similarities, Frank has worked the 2 pieces together with some other fascinating jazz tinged pieces. It is impressive enough that Marino can play Hendrix but the intricacies of his jazz tunes are quite astounding. Whether it's that incredible guitar tone or the improvised arrangements of his medleys, Marino sure knows a thing or two about blowing peoples' minds. "Rumble 'N' Roll" takes us out of "Avalon" as a bass solo (with some more cool drumming) before entering into "Jazzed A Moment", which includes some interesting, beautiful chord work. Then into the classic "Tales…", which has got to be one of the best Mahogany Rush tunes ever, returning to "…Avalon" takes this grouping over a whopping 17 and a half minutes of incandescent playing. 
Rattle of Sabres / ...Electric Reflections of War / ...Aftermath / ...The World Anthem / ...A Prayer For Peace
A re-arrangement of "World Anthem" - featuring no synthesizers, just guitars - features in this collection of pieces concerning the struggle between peace and war. As a one-time peace activist, Mr Marino expresses his dissatisfaction with the powers that be through music, assuming a peaceful outcome. "Rattle Of Sabres" is the aptly titled cacophonic foundation which draws us in to the dissonant "Electric Reflections Of War" (including a disturbed Hendrix "Star Spangled Banner"), the eerie, fadings of "Aftermath", "The World Anthem" and resolving soundly on "A Prayer For Peace". With war being a highly relevant topic in today's uncertain times Frank, once again, makes well-observed musical statements from his improvisational journeys.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
This little gem (once made famous by Judy Garland in "The Wizard Of Oz") is re-worked and includes some of Frank's most subtle and inspiring playing. Continuing to focus on his cleaner, more jazz oriented sounds, the song is beautifully played with its use of space and texture. Thematic and grand, it's a nice little piece thrown in before the massive closure to disc 2 of the live album.
Try For Freedom
I believe this is the gigantic editing piece that Frank explained during our last interview. Over 40,000 edits on a multi-track layout after most of this song was lost due to "running out of space" on the hard drive. A bootleg of the Montreal concert was sent to Mr. Marino and he began to use that as a canvas, or blueprint, to construct this song again piece by piece - many pieces of which were less than 1 second long each. This alone took him almost one whole year to do and upon listening to the finished item it is very difficult to ascertain any difference between this and any of the other tracks on the CDs. His editing work is simply second to none and, I dare say, would defy anyone without the knowledge to assume that it was anything other than a great live recording (audio forensics excluded!). The song itself is an interesting closing track.
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