Friday, July 31, 2015

SweetKenny - "Fleabag Hotel" Review!!

At last, it's time for our 73rd monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're taking a look at Dafter, Michigan solo hard rock artist Kenneth "SweetKenny" Sutton's newest album "Fleabag Hotel"! Recorded in Dafter at Waterfall Records, and released digitally in May in advance of an "official" June 15th launch, this is the prolific regional hard rock veteran's 12th official solo CD, and second of three likely releases in 2015. Another self-described "heavy rock, vocal, instrumental, high energy, fun album" with Ken on all instruments, "Fleabag Hotel" again combines instrumentals and songs with vocals on this album, which you can buy for $10 and up on Bandcamp, CDBaby, iTunes, and other online sources, while Bandcamp and his website feature free streams of the album as well, but support Ken's work and consider buying this album! Featuring 11 songs clocking in at around 49 minutes in length, let's begin our 5th SweetKenny CD review!

"Fleabag Hotel" begins with "Call Out My Name", a bluesy yet dreamlike mid-tempo song that, despite the name, has no names (or any lyrics) to be called out. A good use of Ken's guitar experimentation, the song definitely has a psychedelic trance vibe that works to it's advantage, but the drum programming sounds artificial here, and at times, the instrumentation can meander a bit, despite it's relatively short length. Not the heaviest song, but it's a fun and well written start to the CD! Next is "A Rockstar's Life", which is about exactly what it says on the tin, and is the album's first song with vocals. More of a straightforward rocker, the song brings back more of Ken's Elvis Presley-inspired vocal tone, but at times, the song has an AC/DC-reminiscent sound that would be interesting to hear with a vocalist of that style! It's a solid song with amusing spoken word, but the choruses are anticlimactic and don't add anything to it's overall structure.

Third is "It's Time, I'm Out", an instrumental that has more of Ken's usual freewheeling hard rock sound than "Call Out My Name" had, but with more of a serious, determined impact at the same time. The song sounds like vocals should have been added, but weren't, especially in the pre-solo section where drums take the front seat, but it's well performed with Ken showing off his multi-instrumental talents to good effect! The next track is the amusingly titled "You Can Pet My Cat", which Ken says "is about a kinda freak girl", with singing to match the story. Sort of a sped-up blues rock number with lots of spoken word, it's admittedly hard to hear some parts of the story over the music, but it's a fun rocker that's right up the alley of past SweetKenny releases in tone and heaviness! The song is a little too long, especially given the dead air with no singing, but this is easily the best overall song on "Fleabag Hotel" so far!

Song #5 is "Cartoons In Life", which is the CD's longest track. Starting with sound effects of people screaming (perhaps did cartoons really come to life?), the song has the most fun and heavy sound yet of the included instrumentals, showcasing Ken's quality guitar work and songwriting talents in his usual hard-edged yet fun style! Like on a couple of earlier tracks, this one seemed to run a little long, and could have used an extra solo for variance, but it's a very good song that holds up well! (Also, jingle bells at the end?!) Next up is "Busted & Broke", which amps up the sped-up blues vibe from "You Can Pet My Cat", complete with a surprisingly upbeat tone given the subject matter of really being busted & broke. This song doesn't reinvent the wheel from what Ken does well already, and it'd be nice to see more melodic vocals here, but the consistency works well!

The seventh song is "Destruction of the Room", which maintains nice opening guitar squeal effects throughout the song, but admittedly doesn't have the vibe of any sort of destruction in it, more like constant tremors and gradual change. The consistent guitar melody and change of pace is welcomed, and it's unlike anything on "Fleabag Hotel" yet, but the title implies heavier and more aggressive than what we got from this instrumental. That's followed by "Sleep Is For Sissys", which Ken described as "a funky flowing guitar track", and breaks the alternating pattern as the album's second straight instrumental. Ken's own description fits this lively hard rocker that showcases his guitar solo and riffing to good effect, with the drum programming fitting the pace. The song sounds a little empty during tempo changes, but it's a more effective instrumental that plays to Ken's strengths!

Then we have "A New Dawn", which is the official theme song for WoodBangers Magazine, a music publication/online community that Ken is an active supporter and contributor with, and some readers may recognize this song from being released online on it's own for Woodbangers projects earlier this year. Easily the slowest and most dramatic song on "Fleabag Hotel", I still find that this instrumental doesn't sound like what a magazine named Woodbangers would use as their theme, but it's intricate, deliberate, and atmospheric qualities help deviate from the album's norm, and it does give the vibe that a new dawn of some kind is coming!

The penultimate song on "Fleabag Hotel" is "Check Out!", which Ken says is "about being dead", so there you go. Luckily, the song is much livelier than the title suggests, save for the return of vocals in a spoken word style during verses, with Ken apparently speaking (and shouting in choruses) from beyond the grave about what it's like being dead. Interesting contrast, especially given that his speaking lines are hard to hear, but it's a fun song that's arguably the heaviest on the album yet during instrumental sections, if you can get past the morbid themes! The CD closes with "Out Of The Mist, A New King Is Born", which would seemingly maintain his usual trend of having an religious song on his albums, but this is an instrumental. Contrasted with "A New Dawn", this has more of an optimistic beginning sound to it, complete with thunder effects, and it gives it's own dramatic end to Ken's newest album, almost as if it was a sequel to the prior instrumental!

So, what are my final thoughts on SweetKenny's newest album?  It's another positive release for fans of this prolific Eastern U.P. solo musician, continuing (largely) the consistent freewheeling hard rock sound that he's kept up since his solo project's debut! Much like our last reviewed album of his (last fall's "Amazonian"), this CD has a large focus on instrumental songs (one more than that one had), but is also shorter, and more varied in it's themes, with fun and amusing songs contrasting with more experimental material and some dark instrumentals. Of the four songs with vocals, "You Can Pet My Cat" was my favourite, and there's a lot of solid work in the instrumentals, but the dramatic and darker tone of the last songs was an adjustment, and fans of his Elvis-esque vocals might be left hanging. If nothing else, "Fleabag Hotel" maintains the positive path that SweetKenny is on, and hopefully things continue down that road as 2015 rolls on!

I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, and buy "Fleabag Hotel" at the above links! For next month's review, we have nothing firmly committed yet, but for reference, SweetKenny has revealed that his next solo CD will be called "Charlie Hidelburg: Ancient Hunter", with a fall 2015 release likely. In any event, our next review on the site will not be of a SweetKenny, Haggith, Mike Haggith, or Telephone & Address album, as all are within our 6 month buffer period still to avoid showing a bias, but if Telephone & Address' "Monster" comes out soon, a fall review is very likely! If we have nothing new to review in August, we'd of course dip into the archives for a review, likely of a band tied in with an artist performing locally next month, but we're not at the point to pick one yet. Stay tuned for next week's "Where Are The New Albums?" feature and other upcoming SMS posts to find out our next CD review identity, and stay tuned for more news soon! Thanks everyone!