Album Review by “The Meister

If you are lucky enough to be attending the music industry conference called NAMM, you will be among the first to see the return of Jake E. Lee. That’s right, folks, Jake E. Lee has emerged from his relative seclusion and departure from the forefront of the music business. His band will be playing January 24, the headliner at NAMM Jam in Anaheim. Jake E. Lee is back!

He became a household name when he was narrowly chosen over George Lynch to fill the void left by the death of Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Lee joined Osbourne for the 1982 tour supporting the Speak of the Devil (live) album and appeared on 1983’s Bark at the Moon. Lee proved a worthy successor and stayed with Ozzy for his next studio album, The Ultimate Sin, in 1986, before his surprise dismissal by Sharon Osbourne after five years of shredding service to The Ozzman.

Red Dragon Cartel

Lee then formed the more blues-influenced Badlands in 1988 featuring vocalist Ray Gillen (Black Sabbath), future KISS drummer Eric Singer (Black Sabbath) and Toronto-born bassist Greg Chaisson (Steeler, featuring Yngwie Malmsteen and Ron Keel). Badlands unleashed two albums, the self-titled Badlands in 1989 and Voodoo Highway in 1991. A third, Dusk, originally recorded in 1992-93 but never released, followed in 1998, five years after Ray Gillen’s death.

Lee released some solo material (A Fine Pink Mist in 1996, Retraced in 2005, Guitar Warrior in 2007 and Running with the Devil in 2008), appeared on Wicked Alliance’s 1994 demo recording, Enuff Z’Nuff’s 2009 Dissonance album, and in the 2011 video for the Beggars & Thieves song “We Come Undone,” alongside old friend Ronnie Mancuso.

Ronnie Mancuso, along with producer du jour Kevin Churko, are who the world has to thank for coercing Lee back into the limelight with this new project, Red Dragon Cartel. The Red Dragon Cartel album hits North American shelves January 28. Lee has enlisted the help of some industry notables such as Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, former Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno, Rex Brown of Pantera, Down and Kill’s Devil Hill, Slash’s conspirators Todd Kearns and Brent Fitz, Scott Reeder (Kyuss), In This Moment’s Maria Brink and Jeremy Spencer from Five Finger Death Punch. Lee’s permanent new band consists of old friend Ronnie Mancuso wielding the bass, Vancouver-based drummer/vocalist Jonas Fairley and vocalist/drummer Darren James Smith (drummer/vocalist for the Canadian band Harem Scarem, vocalist for the Canadian band Heaven’s Fire and drummer for the Canadian band Warmachine). Fairley and Smith were initially selected through submissions to a Facebook campaign seeking drummers and vocalists that thousands responded to. Red Dragon Cartel has issued an extensive tour schedule, including appearances aboard The Monsters of Rock Cruise and Swedish Rock Festival, among others.

The album itself begins strongly, leaving you shocked, amazed, shaking your head and replaying the first track more than once before moving on. Jake E. Lee is back with a vengeance that is easily seen and heard on the opening cut, “Deceived,” with its ferocious opening riff. “Shout It Out” follows, with a group vocal chorus. I can’t help but think how mindblowing it’ll be to hear this track live. I personally have not paid any attention to the awful reviews of the first live performances of Red Dragon Cartel, as I’ve seen firsthand the talents of frontman Darren James Smith with his various other projects up here in the Great White North, and know that he is an excellent choice for this new band. Up next is “Feeder,” complete with official video. If you haven’t heard this track, I highly suggest you do so immediately. Robin Zander guests on this cut and it’s a grinding slice of heaven. Things slow down a little now in “Fall from the Sky” before high gear kicks in again for “Wasted.”  If we’re in high gear now, “Slave” furiously slams it into overdrive. The brooding plod of “Big Mouth” is up next and is less than a favourite for me. I find the chorus vocals far too screamy/screechy for my personal taste. No offense to Maria Brink, but this track gets skipped on my many spins of the disc. The longest inclusion on the album comes with the awesome “War Machine” at over six minutes, it has a Black Sabbathesque feel to it. Canadian crooner Sass Jordan brings her soulful, bluesy, throaty growl to “Redeem Me,” one of the album’s standouts. Red Dragon Cartel closes out with the tender piano ballad sounds of the album’s shortest composition in “Exquisite Tenderness” (not a favourite of mine).

With nine of the 10 tracks clocking in at well over four minutes each, this album is no slouch, only containing two tracks that I don’t overly care for, the rest more than make up for them, and the album plays well start-to-finish otherwise.  You’ll hear some Ozzy-like riffs, Badlands-style blues-influenced guitar, and more with Jake E. Lee’s new project, Red Dragon Cartel. Welcome back Jake, thanks for the great album, and please, never leave us again!





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