Bronson Arroyo – Covering The Bases

I’m gonna close out 2022 with a curveball from 2005. A few weeks back I was doing a write-up on a song when I discovered the existence of this curiosity. After looking into it a bit I decided to take the plunge and get a copy so I could see what’s up with it.

This album of cover tunes comes from Bronson Arroyo, a former Major League baseball pitcher who had a long career from 2000 through to 2017. He was a part of the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team, which rankles me because I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Arroyo was the guy trying to tag Alex Rodriguez in game 6 of the ALCS when A-Rod slapped the ball out of his hand, that was a pretty infamous baseball play.

Arroyo spent the bulk of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, which also rankles me because I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. At any rate, Arroyo had a pretty nice career – he lasted a long time as a pitcher and was durable for the bulk of his stay in Cincinnati, only having issues through the 2010’s when he hopped around on a few teams before his retirement in 2017.

What I wasn’t really aware of was that Arroyo was also a musician and had cut a covers album in 2005, when Arroyo was still a member of the Red Sox. This isn’t some rinky-dink project either – dude had to have spent some serious coin on this album. There was an entire production team and some world-class session musicians were brought in to play, including Michael Landau, Kenny Aronoff and Leland Sklar. Also appearing on a few tracks is Mike Inez, of Alice In Chains and Ozzy fame. Arroyo sticks to singing on this album but does play guitar.

Covering The Bases offers up 12 songs, all of which are pretty well known in some regard. Most all of them besides the final track are alt-rock standards of the 1990’s, letting us know where Arroyo’s tastes evolve from. I’ll go ahead and run through everything here to see what we’ve got, it’ll be a long post but whatever. I’m not familiar with a handful of the originals but others I know pretty well.

Slide

Originally a big hit for the Goo Goo Dolls in 1998, Arroyo’s album leads off with what sounds like a very faithful rendition of the OG tune. I’m not radically familiar with the original nor am I a fan of the band but I’d say Arroyo and company nailed this one.

Down In A Hole

The Alice In Chains classic is how I came across this album. I was gearing up my post about it when I noticed that Bronson Arroyo was listed as having done a cover version. This is pretty well done, the music hits the song and stays accurate to the original. Arroyo and his backing singers keep stuff at a lower register, which is understandable as few people are going to touch Layne Stayley and Jerry Cantrell’s voices. It is curious that Mike Inez played other songs on this record but not on the one from the band he is in, but there’s no real info to go on about that.

Also of note – the title is misprinted as “Down In The Hole” on the back cover and inner booklet.

The Freshmen

This was originally done by The Verve Pipe. I recall the song but I’ve never sat and listened to the band so I’m not overly familiar with it. It’s not something I really want to jam out to but I’ll say that it fits the album Arroyo has put together pretty well.

Everlong

No real introduction needed, this is the massive Foo Fighters hit. It’s an accurate version of the song, it’s all performed true to the original. There is a brief spoken word bit from Stephen King on here, which is odd but a nice touch.

Black

This is a Pearl Jam song, I’m sure I say to people who know that damn good and well. I’m not at all a fan of PJ so I’ll bow out of this one, other than to say this cover sounds like I guess it’s supposed to.

Pardon Me

One song from the year 2000 here, this was the big hit that launched Incubus into superstardom. It’s done well here but I was never a fan of Incubus and I actively dislike this song so I’m moving on.

Something’s Always Wrong

This tune comes from Toad The Wet Sprocket. This is a band I’m honestly not familiar with at all. This song was a hit in its day but I don’t remember it in the least. I do recognize their big hit All I Want but it took a minute and that’s the only one I recall. Anyway, this version Arroyo does is good and again sticks with the original in execution.

A bit of fun baseball trivia here – playing guitar is Theo Epstein, who was general manager of the Boston Red Sox when Arroyo was there. Not many albums can boast Theo as a cameo player.

Plush

The massive Stone Temple Pilots hit gets a rendition here. No more “I don’t know or like this” for me – this is an amazing song. Arroyo handles the vocals well here, not an easy feat considering the prowess of the late Scott Weiland.

Shimmer

Up next is the initial hit from alt-rockers Fuel. I did kind of listen to these guys a bit way back when though it’s been a very long time since I’ve heard their stuff. It’s a nice change of pace here to have something more uptempo and it’s again a well-done version of the song, pretty well in line with the original.

Hunger Strike

Now this Temple Of The Dog cover could have been scary, as while Bronson can sing pretty well, his range isn’t going to get into Chris Cornell territory or anywhere near it. But there is nothing to fear as the group surely knew their limitations and brought session musician Amy Keys in to handle the higher range parts. This one is a bit divergent from the original, as Bronson handles the bulk of vocals, as if Eddie Vedder had done the lion’s share of the original. Overall it works well for all involved.

Best I’ve Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)

This was a song from Vertical Horizon, who I’m not familiar with and I really want to be. Bronson gets up into a bit of a higher range here and the song fits the other selections to keep a pretty unified feel going, but I can do without the song itself.

Dirty Water

The album ends with a different tune – this goes back to 1965 and The Standells. The song is a Boston sports anthem which makes it a logical conclusion here. Bronson is not alone for this swansong – fellow Red Sox Johnny Damon and Kevin Youkilis are along to shoot the breeze about random stuff through the song. It’s a fun way to end the record and a nice tribute to Boston from Arroyo fresh off the World Series win.

While this is a bit of a curiosity project, I’d say overall it turned out pretty well for Arroyo. He got people who knew what they were doing to execute faithful versions of the songs, and it’s clear that Bronson has talent as a musician. While there were no real chances taken on the album and everything was played as it sounds, this isn’t at all a bad effort. I think Bronson and company did a good job of selecting songs that flow well together and give this the feel of an album, as opposed to just being a collection of cover songs as so many of those wind up being. There was clearly a high level of thought and care put into this.

It is a bit “ironic” perhaps that Arroyo shows Boston so much love on the final song and in the liner notes – in less than a year after releasing this album, the very guy who played guitar on Plush would trade Bronson to the Reds. I’m sure that’s not a big deal all things considered, as Arroyo got a ring in Boston and obviously enjoyed his time there, but it’s a bit of a funny thing to point out.

This is, to date, the only album Arroyo has released. He has played out live plenty of times, including hosting a concert of Pearl Jam covers after his final MLB game in 2017. But, after all this time, he hasn’t chosen to cut another album. Obviously that’s his business, but it does seem odd that he hasn’t done something else since he threw down on this one so early in his career.

As I close, here’s a note – this isn’t available on streaming that I know of and the YT videos I posted are bootleg links so they might go away. The only real way to have this is to get a physical copy, which set me back $4.25, and $4 of that was shipping. I will say I’ve spent far more on far worse, Bronson did a pretty good job on his album.

Why did Tower Records go out of business again?

Emma Ruth Rundle – Orpheus Looking Back

This will be a pretty quick and easy post. Last Friday, Emma Ruth Rundle released a three-song EP consisting of leftover tracks from her Engine Of Hell sessions. The collection is called Orpheus Looking Back and is available digitally, Emma has stated on social media that she does not know of any plans for a physical release.

It’s interesting to hear what got left off of the album. Engine Of Hell was my number two on my list of Albums of 2021. It was a minimal, stark effort that brought difficult themes to life instead of being sometimes hidden behind the music of past albums.

The three songs here are in keeping with the style of Engine Of Hell. It is Emma singing along to sparse instrumentation. Two feature a guitar and one has a pump organ. I will let you all guess which song has the pump organ.

Emma Ruth Rundle – Orpheus Looking Back

Released March 25, 2022 via Sargent House Records

The EP kicks off with Gilded Cage. The song has a kind of Celtic folk vibe or something, it’s a bit exotic. It seems to depict some struggle between being “like them” and feeling the rage to transcend. Emma’s singing on the track recalls Dolores O’Riordan, who I suspect is an influence on Emma’s work (sort of confirmed, I don’t know, she doesn’t tell me things). The song is very nicely done and is also over before you know it at a 2:36 runtime.

Up next is the Pump Organ Song. It is Emma and a pump organ, exactly as advertised. The song is a bleak recount of some lost love or episode. It is a little hard to tell as the work feels unfinished, but what was established here is a nice piece. I’m hopeful that Emma will use the organ again in the future as there is plenty she could do with it.

The final track on this collection is St. Non. It’s one more light, minimal number that feature’s Emma and a guitar. Non is a real saint, I had to look it up as I’m way more up on band lineups or baseball rosters than I am my saints. The song is a very quiet and honestly sweet one that does feel a bit against the grain of the more harsh vibe of the Engine Of Hell album.

All three of the songs fit the vibe of the album they were part of the session of but also aren’t quite as fleshed-out as the works on the record. Orpheus Looking Back is a nice piece to have as a further window into the Engine Of Hell sessions. It’s also very nice to end a post before the first page is filled, I don’t often get a chance to do that.

Orpheus Looking Back is available on Bandcamp and other digital platforms.

The Scorpions – Rock Believer

Last Friday the Scorpions released Rock Believer, their 19th studio album in a storied career spanning over 50 years. It also marks their first studio effort in 7 years.

The Scorpions have been hit and miss a bit with their albums in the past long while. Some of their 2000’s output didn’t quite hit the spot, though with decided variances in quality. The early offerings from Rock Believer seemed to indicate a return to form for the legendary group.

I’m just going to go through this with some quick thoughts about each song and wrap it up at the end. This is one of the releases I’ve really been looking forward to this year so I wanted to give it a bit of extra attention. I will say that on my first few listens through I am really impressed with what I’m hearing. I’m only going to cover the proper album and omit the bonus disc on this sweep through the songs.

The Scorpions – Rock Believer

Released February 25, 2022 via Vertigo

Gas In The Tank

The opener hits with a nice rocker that seems to be a mission statement from the group. There still is gas in the tank and the Scorpions can still rock with the best. The lyrics are dripping with sly references to their own catchphrases and past songs as well as a small nod to Motorhead in the second verse. It’s a great opening track that sets the tone for more to come.

Roots In My Boots

Silly title aside, the songs keeps the pace going with a song that would have fit very well on their seminal 1990 outing Crazy World. It’s got melody for days and as a great solo section to put a stamp on everything.

Knock ‘Em Dead

Three tracks in and it’s looking like we have a winner of an album. It’s another signature Scorpions rocker that hits all the right notes. The party is going strong in 2022.

Rock Believer

This was the second single released ahead of the album and obviously also the title track. The song starts in ballad-like territory but then the song kicks it up a notch. This serves a reaction to the oft-cited “rock is dead” cliché. Sure, rock isn’t what it once was and isn’t likely to be again. But here are one of the pioneers of the format still at it many years after rock was declared dead.

Shining Of Your Soul

Here we see the band pick up a bit of a reggae beat. It mixes things up a bit but still keeps the hard rock alive and flowing. The band doesn’t tackle too many love songs on this record but this one keeps the band’s long-storied career of educating its fans on the nuances of love going.

Seventh Sun

This slow burner pounds its way through some heavy riffs and a marching-like pace from Klaus Meine, who is sounding especially vibrant on this track. The band have not let up at all through this record and are on pace for a classic. It recalls China White from Blackout, one of the band’s best.

Hot And Cold

The pace kicks back up for yet another hard rock gem. Lyrics and music are kept simple for this one as the band gets hot and sleazy, they aren’t breaking new ground here.

When I Lay My Bones To Rest

Klause Meine and the band go off the rails on this barn burner. I had thought by the title that this might be the signature Scorpions ballad but it’s the exact opposite. The song recalls drummer Mikkey Dee’s old band Motorhead, this song just drips with Lemmy’s influence.

Peacemaker

This was the first song we were given the chance to hear in advance of the album. It is a massively heavy track that laments the state of war, a topic the band have handled many times over the years. Sadly this album comes to us in a very troubling time on that front but the song itself is magnificent.

Call Of The Wild

The Scorpions kick down the tempo a notch but keep the heaviness going for this new entry into their extensive catalog of songs about getting with it. The man may get older but the thoughts and desires don’t change.

When You Know (Where You Come From)

The album concludes with a ballad, a song type the Scorpions have excelled at over the decades. This tune is an uplifting song about keeping your head up and believing in yourself. It’s a nice message for these pretty dark times and another winner in the band’s long history of knocking it out of the park with ballads.

Rock Believer is a massive statement from the Scorpions. It stands out head and shoulders above their past several albums, I have to go back to 2010’s Sting In The Tail to recall the last one I’d begin real comparisons with. I’m not ready to say what I could say, which is that this is their best since Crazy World, but it’s a thought going through my head right now. I’ll give this album more time to settle before going out on those kinds of limbs.

No matter – Rock Believer is rock done right. The Scorpions sound great on this record and this album is a triumphant statement from a band many thought were well past their prime. The album is unreservedly great and is a fine addition to their catalog. Everyone into old rock stars knows that age is a debilitating factor in performance, but that is absolutely not the case here. The Scorpions came out swinging on this effort and there’s really no excuse for anyone else who can’t execute at a passable level. Rock isn’t dead, it’s right here.

Smith/Kotzen – Better Days EP

Rather than cheap out and make another EP the Album of the Week, I decided to go ahead and give this one its own space. This new record comes to us from Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen, a perhaps unlikely pairing who offered up a fantastic full-length album earlier in 2021.

Richie Kotzen has been around the block in rock music – over 20 solo albums, many more as a band member, and a slew of guest shots and projects. And Adrian Smith has a handful of various projects over the years, interspersed with his time as a part of Iron Maiden’s celebrated guitar duo/trio. As luck would have it, Kotzen and Smith are neighbors and the pandemic finally gave them a chance to hang out and record some music.

The self-titled debut of Smith/Kotzen was an excellent affair that stood out from the typical “side project” crowd. We’re now offered this 4-song EP as a Black Friday treat. Thankfully this release did not suffer from the secondary market RSD premium and is readily available on wax for normal retail prices. I just couldn’t bear the thought of not having an Iron Maiden-adjacent record in my collection, even if it means financial well-being will elude me.

As there are only 4 songs on this disc, it should be pretty easy to get through a track-by-track look at it.

Smith/Kotzen – Better Days EP

Released November 26, 2021 via BMG

My Favorite Track – Better Days

Better Days

The EP’s title track leads the proceeding. This is a nice rocker that picks up right where the debut album left off. The song brings the well-worn theme of looking at the past with rose-colored lenses while hoping for better days to come, something certainly relevant after the past few years. On highlight is the guitar work, well done but also very fitting for the song and not just a wank fest showcase. Of course both Smith and Kotzen have long plied their trades in that fashion so it’s no surprise.

Got A Hold On Me

This track kicks up the power a notch. It is another example of rock music done in 2021 outside the influence of alternative rock, something that usually takes a bit of digging to find these days. It’s a song that also would have been at home on the full album, driving home the point that this EP is not an exercise in getting rid of leftovers.

Hate And Love

A more mid-tempo affair that sounds like something that could have been a solid hard rock hit from the later 80’s. It does benefit though from the seasoned experience of the players, both in vocal delivery and in the to-the-point groove of the song. The song is fine to listen to for its own merits, and a person almost needs to keep an ear out for the quick guitar flourishes that remind everyone who exactly they’re listening to.

Rise Again

This song brings a different vibe that reminds me at points of Van Halen’s song Judgment Day from the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge record. It’s a very quick rocker that feels like it’s over almost as soon as it began, but with plenty going on for its duration. This closer keeps things fresh with its variety but also maintains the rocking mood of the EP.

The Better Days EP is another excellent offering from the duo of Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen. It’s great to have both a full album and this bonus recording from the group. Hopefully they will find time to do more in the future and perhaps have a gig or two. Time will tell, especially as Adrian’s day job is calling again. Whatever the future may hold, it’s nice to have some good rock music in 2021.