Ace Frehley – Origins: Volume 2 (2020)

When I agreed to take on this review, I did it with trepidation. I have a deal of respect for Ace Frehley, given his musical history. I have even more respect for him, given the love given to him by John 5, another musician who I admire. We

But, Ace Frehley… Sheesh! All rampant guitars and questionable vocals.

An album of covers… Sheesh! A parade of crap no-one wanted to hear the FIRST time, or well known tracks butchered in the name of ‘artistic interpretation’.

Let’s get these 12 tracks and 46 odd minutes of pretentiousness over with…

“Good Times Bad Times (Led Zeppelin)” was… a good time! It had an old school feel, with a modern twist. Right from the outset, the sound quality and musicianship was artful – perfect and precise. Not surprisingly, the guitar work was crisp and cogent and the interplay of guitars was amazing. This fast and powerful track also included a groovy bass swagger later on.

At the risk of repeating myself 11 more times, please take as read that each track had exceptional engineering that brought out the brilliant guitar work, whether there was one included or many. The solos were technically perfect and served to enhance the track, rather than the track being a good excuse for a solo. If I make mention of the aforementioned specifically in what follows, it is because on that track it was particularly exceptional.

Never In My Life (Mountain)” was chock full of swagger and emotion. It included references to whiskey and sex – and I would expect nothing less. There were guitars. All. The. Time. But it worked, leaving me marvelling at the skill involved.

“Space Truckin’ (Deep Purple)” travelled forth with a synth opening that was unexpected and terrific. This track was fun! It’s space-themed, driving sound had me hanging on the lyrics as the tale unfolded. The guitars drove in and out of view and the guitar solo was a technical masterclass.

“I’m Down (The Beatles)” John 5 added spice to this track, which was immediately Beatles flavoured. It’s like The Beatles were exposed to nuclear radiation on a Pacific atoll after a nuclear weapon test and they became larger and more ferocious. The guitar work was constant and seamless.

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash (The Rolling Stones)” Lita Ford added her vocals to this track and this was an excellent choice, as her vocals partnered Ace’s well. My foot was tapping to this one. Those iconic riffs got a sympathetic update. Not like an iPhone update though – this one actually WORKS.

“Politician (Cream)” John 5 is again added to the ballot and I appreciated the track’s change in sound. It had the right amount of attitude and an appropriate level of arrogance. Ace’s voice was well suited to this mood. With the initial stripped back sound, the guitars waded in more strongly later, as expected. There was some REALLY clever engineering going on, as the guitar parts were subtly different, played simultaneously in the different channels.

“Lola (The Kinks)” had me wondering how this could be done without being butchered. But, woven in with the electric guitars was an acoustic guitar and this helped to reference the original song immensely. This track exceeded my expectations, with Ace presenting a familiar sound, but giving it more. It was impressive.

30 Days In The Hole (Humble Pie)” Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander added his touch here. Ace’s vocals went up the scale a little and he pulled this off. The tempo slowed a little, helping the pacing of the album. This track had a sublime ‘70s sound.

“Manic Depression (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)” ex-KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick joined this madness. The vocals were almost conversational and I enjoyed the lyrics, including “my mind’s a frustrating mess”. It sounded like the ‘60s on LSD, as I imagine those, lacking experience in anything like the latter and not quite old enough to remember much of the former.

“Kicks (Paul Revere & the Raiders)” kicked off with an old school sound and it included an epic key change. It was a little bit simpler in feeling.

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (The Animals)” as an aside, this track was originally penned for the Righteous Brothers. Anyway, I hoped that Ace wouldn’t butcher it, but he’d done well so far… It was more restrained than I was expecting and he honoured the original, retaining its authentic feeling. I was happy to sing along to it.

“She (KISS) [Bonus Track]” Ace gave this track a grease and oil change, having it purr along nicely. A killer percussion interlude was used later, which was then partnered brilliantly with guitars, before being augmented further with a superb solo. Things got a little raucous towards the end, which was an appropriate way to finish this album.

Once I was into the album, I had to confront my preconceptions:

I went into the album expecting to hear some REALLY clever guitar work. Check!

I expected Ace’s voice to be ok, but to be slightly questionable. Not true – he stayed within his abilities and occasionally surpassed my expectations.

I worried that this would be all screaming guitars and self-indulgent nonsense. Not true. What was served up was a tasty meal of balanced elements, with the guitars dominating, but not overpowering the sound.

I had this album playing in the car and a good mate was lost in the sound. When he asked who it was and I shared Ace’s name, he thought I was having a go at him. It seems that I was not the only one with preconceptions about Ace.

As an album it was nostalgic and it was great to hear these tracks through the filter of an experienced and highly accomplished musician. It was a repackaging of iconic tracks from the ‘60s and ‘70s and some of them were new to me. I was fascinated by the tracks that Ace selected and played a game of “why did he pick this one?” with each one. Each track was done with respect, despite the reimagining of it.

Each track was extremely well crafted and the instrumentation was flawless. The order of the tracks was also very clever, with the album meshing well as a whole. There were variations in tempo and intent, avoiding a merciless onslaught of guitar barrages.

Kudos to Ace Frehley for continuing to produce music, when others of a similar ilk are not. This album affirmed my respect for him as a musician and changed my mind about his voice. He is the real deal.

Much respect.

8/10

Greg Noble.

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