Uli Jon Roth
5/1/2015 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
As a longtime fan of Germany's Scorpions- and specifically the band's pioneering 1970's output with Uli Roth on lead guitar- I have been pleased to see the guitarist finally getting some recognition in the press Stateside, and even more pleased that Roth himself increasingly seems to be embracing his legacy with that band. Roth's seemingly increased comfort with his Scorpions past- from which he seemed to have distanced himself for a time, as he moved further from the world of rock and the machinations of the mainstream music industry in general- has culminated in this two-CD studio album, consisting entirely of new interpretations of his classic Scorpions-era work (plus a lovely, previously unreleased instrumental called "Rainbow Dream Prelude," which prefaces the closing run-through of "Fly To The Rainbow").
For this set, Roth has assembled a group of mostly little-known but skilled and caring musicians to flesh out his new interpretations of the songs, the most familiar name probably being bassist Ule Ritgen, who played in Roth's first post-Scorpions band, Electric Sun. The most noticeable contributor (other than Roth himself), however, is vocalist Nathan James, who delivers a strong, reverent and versatile performance- mostly delivering the songs in a stylistically appropriate manner without aping the distinctive voice of Scorpions frontman Klaus Meine. His voice has a completely different tonality to it, with more midrange grit (Jeff Scott Soto immediately comes to mind). The only drawback to James' performance, in my opinion, is that he tends to overdo it a bit on the upper register wailing. (See his otherwise excellent performances on legendary Middle Eastern-flavored "The Sails of Charon" and at the end of "In Trance.") Otherwise, this is one solid set of performances from all involved, and Roth seizes the opportunity to unleash stirring flurries of notes that are often at least as stunning as on the original versions, with several of the songs extended to include more improvisation. "Dark Lady" and the aforementioned "...Sails..." in particular get some some interesting instrumental sections added on.
Of course, not all of the original elements of the songs' arrangements are replicated here, but what appears in their place is often an interesting variation on the original, if not necessarily an improvement. For the most part, things found on here that could be considered improvements come in the form of sonic clarity (marred only but somewhat overly hot mastering- those damn Loudness Wars again!) and Roth's lead work, which has evolved quite a bit since the '70's and makes use of his trademark Sky Guitar's extended pitch range. One really cool thing about this album is that, although it is a studio recording, Roth and his bandmates often seem to interact as if they are playing live in front of an audience- which means no fadeouts, and the use of two co-guitarists (Niklas Turmann and David Klosinski) to help replicate parts that originally relied on overdubbing (such as the stunning, fully harmonized "In Trance" solo).
For newcomers, this will make a decent introduction to both the songs of Roth's Scorpions tenure and his playing as it stands today. And of course, longtime fans will relish the fresh takes on many of the band's classic works, particularly for the new playing ideas that Roth brings to the table. Minor aforementioned shortcomings aside, it's a real treat for guitar lovers.
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