Alcatrazz: The Very Best Of Alcatrazz
Not many singers have the pleasure, or luck, to perform in bands with two of the most legendary guitarists that hard rock has ever seen. However not only did Graham Bonnet front Rainbow alongside Ritchie Blackmore and then MSG with Michael Schenker, but once he was shoved in the ever revolving exit door by Schenker, Bonnet formed a band that would help launch the careers of not just one, but two of the flashiest and most talented six string shredders we have ever seen. The band was Alcatrazz and the guitarists were firstly Yngwie J. Malmsteen and then Steve Vai and this reissued collection draws together songs from the three studio albums they released, as well as a couple of Rainbow songs that Alcatrazz played live. The rest of the band were no slouches either with one time New England bassist Gary Shea and keyboard player Jimmy Waldo being joined by drummer Jan Uvena, who beat off competition from Clive Burr (Iron Maiden) and Aynsley Dunbar (Journey and many others) to occupy the drum stool.
Having released an album with the band Steeler, Malmsteen wasn't a complete unknown at this stage, but his fret skills still opened eyes and ears to his talent and flair. The three opening songs here come from his one and only studio effort with Bonnet, 1983's "No Parole From Rock 'n' Roll" and both "Islands In The Sun" and "General Hospital" kick things off in great style, as they did the album they originally come from. Very much taking their cue from Bonnet era Rainbow, both are guitar led, but keyboard infused hard rock and with his full blown roar it is easy to see why Bonnet had already held such high profile positions. The slower, staccato riffed "Hiroshima Mon Amour" has a bluesy air that reminds of early Whitesnake and a spiralling solo that would indicate where Yngwie would head after this, although he shows up on the three live tracks included which were originally from 1984's "Live Sentence" album. None of the three are actually Alcatrazz songs, with fired up covers of Bonnet's Rainbow hits "All Night Long" and "Since You've Been Gone", as well as an earlier Bonnet solo hit "Night Games", really showing that Mamlsteen, Waldo, Shea and Uvena made for an almighty live force.
So with Yngwie heading for an increasingly self indulgent solo career, a replacement of similar capabilities was required and who can doubt that the mighty Steve Vai fit the bill? Well initially Bonnet did, as he tried to resist Waldo's attempts to bring the one time Frank Zappa sideman aboard, although with a short tour of Japan under their belt those reservations soon disappeared, with Bonnet and Vai working together on all bar one of the songs (a guitar instrumental track written solely by Vai) on the second Alcatrazz studio album "Disturbing The Peace", which saw the light of day in 1985. Five tracks are included from that album here, with "Stripper", "Painted Lover" and the fantastic "God Blessed Video", where Vai hints at the sounds he would favour in years to come, being prime time commercial radio friendly hard rock that really should have been enough to break the band huge in America. Unfortunately that didn't happen and when Vai was offered the guitar spot next to David Lee Roth who had recently departed Van Halen, there really was no decision to make. Alcatrazz realised that as well, wishing Vai well, before beginning the hunt for guitarist number three.
So with one time Axis, Rod Stewart and Rick Derringer guitarist Danny Johnson now in tow, Alcatrazz released what was to prove to be their final studio album "Dangerous Games" in 1986. With hindsight losing two phenomenally talented fret maestros and for that matter songwriters in the space of two years, just proved to be too much for the band and while Johnson is no slouch, Bonnet is still in fine voice and the trio of Waldo, Uvena and Shea are as tight as ever, "Dangerous Games" is so far removed from its predecessors that it sounds like a different band. It would be unfair to suggest that it was bad album, but from the hard hitting heavy rock of Malmsteen and the whoops, cries, whooshes and incredibly tight riffs of Vai, Danny Johnson was given a slightly insipid set of keyboard heavy AOR to try and beef up the best he could. The best three songs from the album are collected here, with "Dangerous Games" (the only song completely written by Johnson on the album) being by far the standout, while "Undercover" and "No Imagination" pale into obscurity considering what has come before on this collection. Possibly Alcatrazz agreed with this as well, as they soon split after the album's release, although Bonnet does on occasion still front a touring band with a completely different line up that goes by the name Alcatrazz.
No more than a footnote in the history of the career of Bonnet, Malmsteen and Vai, Alcatrazz actually were a real class act and had either of their first two guitarists stuck around for a second album, they may well have made the impact their music deserved. "The Very Best Of Alcatrazz" is an excellent snapshot of the band's amazingly productive four years together and while I would personally have preferred more songs from "No Parole From Rock 'n' Roll" in place of the live cuts, this still comes strongly recommended.
01. Island In The Sun
02. General Hospital
03. Hiroshima Mon Amour
04. All Night Long (Live)
05. Since You've Been Gone (Live)
06. Night Games (Live)
08. Painted Lover
09. Sons And Lovers
10. God Blessed Video
12. It's My Life
13. Dangerous Games
15. No Imagination
Added: October 17th 2010
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Graham Bonnet on Facebook
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