(Heaven and Hell 2018)
It’s a challenge for those hardworking record labels scouring the heavy metal universe for forgotten gems from the 1980s and early 1990s. To be sure, there was plenty of amazing talent buried in the underground during those magical times. But meticulous industry scouts have been actively seeking out and reissuing those albums for decades. The field has been picked over. As a result, it’s becoming harder and harder for a label to unearth a truly special band that deserves the reissue treatment in 2018. That said, I am pleased to report that Heaven & Hell Records has struck gold here. Redd Barron from Romeoville, Illinois (a small suburb of Chicago) recorded a four-song self-titled demo in 1987 and a six-song cassette entitled The Barron’s Here to Rock in 1990, then vanished like a phantom a couple of years later. A few grizzled old-timers in the Midwest may fondly recall those recordings, but they never attained a wide commercial release until now. Heaven & Hell has collected the 1987 demo and 1990 cassette on a single disc, with typically superb remastering by Jamie King, detailed and informative liner notes, and an eye-catching cover painting. It’s the complete package done right.
Redd Barron played a melodic brand of U.S. heavy metal with a slightly commercial edge, especially on the later tracks, without ever descending into glam or hair metal territory. The label’s comparison to Leatherwolf is not far off the mark, and you can also hear bits and pieces of everything from Dio and Queensryche to Shok Paris and Lizzy Borden. I’ve also seen a Dokken reference or two regarding Redd Barron, which makes some sense given that vocalist Brian Lee can be likened to a slightly hoarse Don Dokken; however, Redd Barron was a generally grittier, less flashy outfit than the dream warriors. Not surprisingly, the 1987 tracks are significantly heavier, faster and more “true metal” than their 1990 counterparts, even touching on the U.S. power metal style a la Jag Panzer, albeit perhaps also more naïve and derivative than the “mature” effort that followed. It’s actually fascinating to hear the evolution of the band between the two recordings, both of which have merit. More importantly, Redd Barron were a kick-ass band, from both a writing and a performance standpoint. Guitarist Pete Alvarez (joined on the 1990 cassette by second guitar player, Greg Eichelberger) had a fiery yet tasteful style. Lee’s voice had real character and power, especially on the 1987 cuts where he even unleashed superb screams from time to time, although the liner notes explain his less satisfying performance on the 1990 songs as the product of rushing into the studio too quickly after severely damaging his voice. Many of the songs hold up well today, particularly the likes of my favorite “Kill or Be Killed” and the galloping “Search for Love” off the 1987 demo, as well as the band’s anthem “The Barron’s Here to Rock” (complete with awesome “this is your brain – this is your brain on Redd Barron” spoken-word intro) and the two-part ode to the criminal (in)justice system (“Truth vs. Justice” and “Blind Date”) off the 1990 cassette. To top it all off, the recordings sound remarkably clear and vibrant, particularly taking into account the low-budget recording conditions and the intervening passage of decades.
In sum, Barron’s Here … to Rock! is an excellent anthology that can be enthusiastically recommended to all U.S. metal maniacs and historians. Heaven & Hell Records has done us all a solid by excavating these terrific recordings and affording them a proper release. But wait: It gets better. Redd Barron are reuniting to perform at the Legions of Metal Festival in Chicago later this month. When I say “reuniting,” I mean really reuniting, with all five members of the classic lineup slated to participate. It promises to be a special moment. I’ve grown really fond of these songs, and can’t wait to hear them played live before a packed house at Reggie’s Rock Club next week. See you there?
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~