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Pell, Axel Rudi: Diamonds Unlocked

There are different schools of thought amongst music fans when it comes to figuring out why their favorite musician or band would bother releasing their own album of cover versions of other people's songs. Song selection can be critical and depending on which songs the artist decides to cover, the argument could be made that they're treading on hallowed ground somewhat, not to mention who needs to hear a faceless pastiche when you can just go with the original in the first place? The idea of tossing the odd bonus cover song at the end of an album or a band issuing an EP of songs which influenced them is nothing new but the all cover album has surprisingly become almost commonplace within the industry. Has the well run dry for these bands that they have to practically revert back to the way they started out in the first place? Some do it as a tip of the hat to their influences and to have fun with it, which I think people often lose sight of. That being said you do have to put your own stamp on the songs, you can't just go through the motions with it. The covers that do work are the ones that can remain somewhat faithful to the original yet also reinvent through reinterpretation. I mean we're not talking about reinventing the wheel here, but if you don't put your own stamp on it then what the hell is the point! (See Def Leppard if you don't believe me).

Now that I've got that out of the way, there's the actual review of respected German guitar virtuoso Axel Rudi Pell's latest musical offering Diamonds Unlocked to get to. For well over 25 years Pell has earned the respect of both his fans and the music critics by staying true to his vision with regards to his own material. However he's also been known to throw a few musical curveballs with the choices of covers he's performed over the years. These choices on Diamonds Unlocked continue this tradition as he generally refuses to be pigeonholed into covering any one particular musical style and one quick glance reveals an ambitious set of 10 tracks. I mean how often are you likely to see songs from bands as diverse as Riot, Free, Phil Collins, U2 and (gasp) Michael Bolton coexisting on the same album? I think if the score of this review was based solely upon these selections then I'd easily slap this release with a 5 star grade hands down just based on the 'balls' factor. However there is the actual music to get to first.

The disc begins with a nicely layered, brief instrumental entitled "The Diamond Overture" before segueing into the first song proper, a rousing romp through Riot's "Warrior" originally done back in 1977 on their debut album Rock City. Longtime vocalist Johnny Gioeli does a great job paying tribute to the late Guy Speranza here and Pell displays plenty of his trademark, fiery, melodic solos. Next up is U2's "Beautiful Day", their meatier more metallic version doesn't just take the original up a few notches, it flat out totally smokes it. Gioeli alters the vocal phrasings ever so slightly and along with Pell's chunky power chords, this one makes you forget the original in a hurry. "Stone" is the first what I'll call the lesser known selections, originally done by The Law, a group formed by Free / Bad Company/ Firm vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Kenny Jones(The Faces/ The Who). This is the fist of two tracks where Gioeli tackles the British vocal legend and I think he actually fairs better on this one than on the Free's "Heartbreaker". His voice on "Stone" is so strong and forceful and clearly shows why he's got one of the best set of pipes in the game today. The first curveball iappears in the form of an acoustic, stripped down take on the Kiss classic "Love Gun". When a song can be stripped to just its bare essence as it is here and be delivered with such passion and emotion, it just raises the song to another level, which is the whole point really. Gioeli's heavier vocal style really works on this track and makes you wonder if Paul Stanley was even the right choice to sing the original in the first place. After a strictly commercial AOR, but still catchy run through of Bolton's "Fools Game" things start to sag a bit with the next two tracks, the aforementioned "Heartbreaker" and a rather unsuccessful stab at Montrose's "Rock The Nation". While Gioeli performances on these tracks still seem heartfelt, they don't really do much to spice up them up all that much either. However Pell's guitar work and solo sections on these two cuts are particularly inspiring. He serves up a serious heaping of bluesy licks on "Heartbreaker"which would make original guitarist Paul Kossoff weep with admiration, as well as absolutely stunning 90 second solo rip on "Rock The Nation" which demonstrates his adeptness at blending slow melodic leads with faster runs. Next up is an epic take on "In The Air Tonight" originally done by Genesis front man / drummer Phil Collins on his first solo record Face Value back in 1980. Pell's atmospheric lead work meshes flawlessly with Gioeli's gritty vocal performance not to mention drummer Mike Terrana comes up with some different and imaginative percussive sections before Pell's frenetic guitar work rises to the fore once again to close the track. Another surprise finds the band slowing things down again, this time on a gentle, piano laden version of The Mission's "Like A Child Again". Although both Gioeli's and Mission vocalist Wayne Hussey's voices don't really have a lot in common stylistically, this track ends up suiting Gioeli's voice perfectly. Part of the allure of this record at least from a vocal standpoint is Gioeli's canny ability to toughen up the originals, which really gives these songs a much needed kick in the ass. When you couple this with Pell's expertise and technical abilities, it's really hard to ignore this record. The disc closes on a bit of a low note, with a rather tepid rendition of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again". Their heart is definitely in the right place but their version ultimately doesn't deliver the goods, but this is a small bump in the road of what to me is a great rock 'n roll tribute record.

Song selection on these kinds of records can be the deciding factor between something a music fan might spin regularly on their CD players with a disc they may play once and throw into their pile of music never to be heard from again. Pell has chosen his selections wisely here and risen to the challenge of taking all these different musical styles and by combining it with his own distinctive musical voice he's managed to create new, honest and fresh sounding versions of these songs. Diamonds Unlocked stumbles in a few places but as far as albums of this nature go, this is about as good as one can expect it to get and that speaks volumes.

Track Listing
1) The Diamond Overture
2) Warrior
3) Beautiful Day
4) Stone
5) Love Gun
6) Fools Game
7) Heartbreaker
8) Rock The Nation
9) In The Air Tonight
10) Like A Child Again
11) Won't Get Fooled Again

Added: November 3rd 2007
Reviewer: Ryan Sparks
Related Link: Axel Rudi Pell Website
Hits: 3028
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Pell, Axel Rudi: Diamonds Unlocked
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-11-03 17:28:37
My Score:

Just when you thought you had heard your last "Metal Band Does Covers of Another Bands Tunes" album, along comes German guitar wizard Axel Rudi Pell with his own offering on "Diamonds Unlocked". When I first realized that the virtuoso player had done this I admit that I shuddered a little bit and said "here we go again", but after a quick couple of listens I felt that he brought some good tunes to the table and offered an interesting takes on them as well. The album begins with a brief overture which serves as the only original piece on the record in the true sense of the word and then our journey begins into how ARP would deliver some of these songs if they were his own. Thankfully he opts to remain largely to the original style and sound as opposed to mixing it up too much. First up is "Warrior" by Riot and this is a stellar rendition of an already powerful number by an as powerful band. Pell's guitar work is right on target here and the drums from Mike Terrana are --- drums from Mike Terrana, and don't need to be further explained because of his own talents. "Beautiful Day" comes up next and while I love U2 songs I am still a little mixed about their being covered by a band such as this. In the end this song is nice but almost sounds like you were watching some eighties rock cover band deliver it in a small bar. I surely don't mean this as insult but it really has an older feel to it than I ever expected with Pell's axe work and Gidelli's vocals. We can skip around and find one of the missing tracks from KISS' "Unplugged" as Pell and Company brings us an acoustic version of "Love Gun" that I feel would have made Gene and Paul smile a little and perhaps even scratch their chins as to why they left this off their own offering. It's really interesting to hear the tune without the signature "ratta tat tat, ratta tat tat" guitar intro. One of the cooler surprises for me to find was the inclusion of Michael Bolton's "Fools Game" because that tune always rocked in my opinion. Yes, I did say the word "rock" and "Michael Bolton" in the same sentence because many might not recall that the singer once fronted a Melodic Hard Rock outfit of his own before he went the way of contemporary Pop AOR stuff. Thanks for reminding me of this one Mr. Pell, it's nice to see we own a couple of the same records. On the selection of these tunes Pell was quoted as saying "every song on this album made me want to cover it at some stage when I heard the original" so it's logical that he bring forth a little music from Free and Montrose.

I keep a personal list of tracks I don't like to see covered at all and sorry Axel but "In The Air Tonight" is one of those for while you do it really well, it just didn't win me over. There is something about the somber nature of the tune and the overall sadness that it imbues is something that I think is not easily replicated by anyone other than Phil Collins. I also admired your take on The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" but its one of those songs that I am so tired of seeing anyone other than the legendary Brits do. My deductions on these are more personal than professional but you can swap them easily for the winning version of The Missions "Like A Child Again" and Chris Rea's "Stone", two numbers that I think your regular listener base would not have the chance to be exposed to if you had not decided to include them on this release. I had to send a lot of kudos to singer Johnny Gidelli because he was really doing a great job of handling all of the different vocalists that originally did these and through it all he managed to keep it fresh and exciting from beginning to end. All in all the song selection is well thought out and makes this album not just "another" covers album. There is a lot of heart presented here and shows that you cannot edge the talents of ARP and his band into any one genre classification or style no matter how hard you might try. Keep an open mind and enjoy these songs as much as the guitar player himself enjoyed them. It's the reason he chose to interpret them for you.

Pell, Axel Rudi: Diamonds Unlocked
Posted by Butch Jones, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-10-30 13:16:42
My Score:

German guitar hero Axel Rudi Pell, is the latest to throw his hat into the cover record pool. Diamonds Unlocked is a very eclectic mixture of songs from some of Axel Rudi Pell's favorite artists, including Kiss, Montrose, U2, Free and more. This 11 track CD is a bit more of a miss than a hit and some of ARP's fans may be disappointed of the lack of guitar fueled tunes.

Diamonds Unlocked is an 11 song CD (really 10, with the 1st track being a slight musical prelude) that offers some really strange cover songs from bands that you really wouldn't expect from the likes of a guitar hero such as Axel Rudi Pell. Covers songs like U2's "Beautiful Day", Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" (check out Nonpoint's cool cover of this), Michael Bolton's "Fools Game" (Yes, THAT Michael Bolton!!) and Chris Rea/The Law's "Stone" all seem to be odd choices for a guitar god to do.

ARP enlisted former Hardline (Neal Schon) singer, Johnny Gioeli to do the vocals on this record, which are professionally done, but do lack a bit of soul or convection and on the Hard Rock tracks, he just doesn't really cut it. But this CD is about Axel Rudi Pell and he does plays very well on all of the tracks, but as a guitar hero, the songs do not lend themselves to very much firepower. Most songs that were covered are done like the originals, so these radio friendly songs never had much guitar work in them to start with. The oddest cover is Kiss's "Love Gun", done completely acoustic and sounds further from the original than any other track on the CD. But the standout track is their version of Free's "Heartbreaker". A great tribute to the late Paul Kossoff and a great show of some nice blues chops.

Diamonds Unlocked is for the die hard Axel Rudi Pell fan or for fans of the latest wave of cover records. It is a bit disappointing when a guitar guy releases a record that doesn't have much guitar playing on it, but it is what it is.

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