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Well, 2011 can officially be branded Year of the Mediocre. Taka Minamino's followup to 2009's Angelwing is one to miss.
Taka has the chops, there's no doubt about it, so I don't get it. There is not a hint of the accomplished songwriting heard on Angelwing. Not even a little bit. This new album just sounds lazy. Scales and arpeggios, up and down and up and down the fretboard. It's everything people who hate shredders hate about shredders. From beginning to end, this album is flat and uninteresting. It's like Taka took lessons from Tony MacAlpine on how to make neoclassical guitar boring.
And oh, let's not leave out Kevin Jones on vocals. Just... wow. Did Taka owe this guy a favor? Did he lose a bet? Right from the opening track Woke Up Dead, Jones is flat, dull, and off tempo. I'm not kidding. Go grab it off iTunes for 99 cents. You won't believe it.
On Angelwing, the vocals were thankfully absent most of the time, since most of the tracks were instrumentals. Even so the vocals weren't half bad, which I suppose is what you would expect from an experienced vocalist like Jeff Scott Soto, who after all backed up Yngwie Malmsteen for awhile there. On Blood Rain though, Kevin Jones is featured on about half the tracks, and bad on all of them. Right after Woke Up Dead there's Lost Forever as another example, which is easily the low point of the album.
Even potentially good instrumental tracks like All My Days Alive and Thy Postremus Velum are rendered average at best by the inexplicable decision to not make them instrumentals. And speaking of instruments, what happened to the bass? On the first album, Taka had Kelly Simonz, a decent shredder is his own right, and also Tony Franklin, who has played with the likes of Jimmy Page and The Firm, David Coverdale, Warren DeMartini, and Marty Friedman. Taka takes on bass duties himself on Blood Rain though, to the album's detriment.
Maybe it just comes down to experience. Angelwing had Soto, Simonz, Franklin, and Derek Sherinian on keyboards, and those guys have all been in this game since Taka was a toddler. You would tend not to think that it's all the session guys that really make the album, but really that's the principle difference between Angelwing and Blood Rain. Too bad.