|Musical Style: Rock||Produced By: Don Cromwell|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 70%|
|Running Time: 45:48|
If you want something a bit different - or at the very least on the laid back and reserved side of things - consider the spring of 2015 debut full length of Carlsen Cromwell, The Lucky Side. Carlsen in terms of Les Carlsen, the iconic front man of veteran Christian metal band Bloodgood and the six studio albums and three live albums it has released since forming in the mid-eighties. Attributed to Carlsen are songwriting credits on classic Bloodgood tracks “Crucify” and “The Messiah” (off Detonation from 1987) that combine for a ‘theatrical rock opera’ detailing the crucifixion, death on the cross and ultimate resurrection of Christ. Cromwell from the standpoint of Don Cromwell, who acted as the touring bassist with renowned pop group Air Supply between 1983 and 1987 in addition to touring and recording with rock legend Eddie Money over a six year period. To his credit, Cromwell co-wrote three tracks off the hit self-titled Air Supply album from 1985.
Please note that The Lucky Side was released with very little fan fair and virtually no promotion. Carlsen Cromwell failed to produce any press material in support of the album while the group does not have a Facebook page or website (the www.carlsencromwell.com web address included with the packaging ‘liner notes’ does not work). Neither artist mentions The Lucky Side at their respective Facebook pages; a Google search reveals next to no information about Carlsen Cromwell either. Hence, I consider myself somewhat lucky (no pun intended) to have discovered the group in the first place (from a thread at the Christian Metal Realm). Nevertheless, if you are like me then The Lucky Side comes as a surprise, albeit a very welcome one.
Those previously referenced laid back and reserved qualities reveal themselves in the seventies based rock to straight on classic rock laced with AOR touches inherit to The Lucky Side. Such earthy musical territory, as one might imagine, proves the perfect fit for the trademark gravelly and raspy vocal qualities of Les Carlsen. He joins a long line of eighties metal vocalists - namely Mike Lee (Barren Cross), Rey Parra (Sacred Warrior) and Michael Sweet (Stryper) - that sound remarkably fresh following the passing of so many years. That said it must be reinforced The Lucky Side is by no means a metal or hard rock album along the lines of Bloodgood, noting how I can see fans of the group (not to mention Carlsen’s vocal abilities) appreciating what Carlsen Cromwell brings to the table.
The Lucky Side starts strongly to four equally good tracks. Opener “Livin’ High” begins to light electric guitars and airy keyboards to create an inviting if not warmly tinctured atmosphere. The soulful female backing vocals help to lend to the AOR flavorings at hand. “Fired Up Tonight” takes the more upbeat heading, with a strong sense of groove and mirthful guitars aligning with the affluent melody upholding the song. Nice emotional range bestowed by Carlsen on this one.
“Can’t Find Love” gives rise to an acoustic based direction in tempering the pace (even if somewhat) as hints of organ decorate the backdrop. The blithely done refrain ranks with the albums best. Likewise, “Lucky Side” maintains the acoustic heading but in the more groove driven package, as added soulful female backing vocals and bluesy lead guitar (of which I wish there were more throughout the album) play defining roles. The albums clean and crisply textured production cannot help but stand out on this one.
Two re-imagined versions of classic Bloodgood tracks follow. “The Only One”, originally “The World (Keeps Movin’ Around)” from Rock In A Hard Place (1988), maneuvers its distance to delicate guitar tinges (that almost reflect a U2 feel) as the songs unmistakable melody remains in your head. Lone difference is how lyrics change for the refrain:
Struggles for power and position
From life and death through transition
You’re the only one, my morning sun
The only one who matters to me
“Bad Credit”, “It’s Alright” off Out Of The Darkness (1989), also stands out for its recognizable melody but with acoustic guitars and groove overtones in place of the driving guitars from the original. A stylish acoustic guitar and keyboard tradeoff carries the instrumental moments. Once more, the refrain presents with altered lyrics:
When you lease a life worth living
You can buy it on time
Your credit is bad
I call that dying
Death’s a bitter wine
I find the album hit and miss as it moves over its final half. My favorite of the remaining tracks is “Color Me Blue” from its airy and ethereal - almost melancholic - nuances of a moody and acoustic laced nature. Also notable is “Being Young”, as a mirthfully flowing melody aligns with hints of organ and poignantly done guitars aspects to establish an uplifting setting. Beef up both of these with some rhythm guitar and put them on All Stand Together (Bloodgood’s most commercial release) and they would not sound out of place.
“I Believe” does not do it for me, and mostly due to its Country Western flair in which acoustic guitar interweaves with slide guitar. Obviously, this one is not my cup up tea, although I can see others embracing it. I also tend to pass on ‘We’re Not Wasted” (another light and ethereal piece) and “Crazy Kind Of Love” (up-tempo and vibrant). While technically sound and well constructed, the two come across somewhat trite (in my opinion) from reflecting too much of a sameness quality when placed alongside other The Lucky Side tracks.
Which leads to the main complaint I have about the album: The Les Carlsen and Don Cromwell partnership could have done that much more with the material here; in other words, they did not explore all the potential musical options that would allow for the more diverse release. Consider how they could have taken a song in a traditional blues based direction, spiced up another with a jazzy horn section or compose a piece giving rise to a heavier rocking (though not necessarily metal or hard rock) edge. Correspondingly, the suggestion I made earlier how there needs to be more lead guitar here still stands.
Any project that Les Carlsen participates is going to reflect his faith (Carlsen receives songwriting credits on 10 of the albums 11 tracks). “I Believe” proves aptly entitled in this capacity:
There is no reincarnation
But there’s still life in many forms
When we return to pay it forward
There’s a King with a crown of thorns
There’s just one Way
There’s just one Way I believe
As does “We’re Not Wasted”:
As we sit by the fire and the wind blows the coals
There is cold hard desire
That will most certainly unfold
To let us know
To let us know
We’re not wasted
We ought to know
We’re not wasted
Topics otherwise focus on life and love from a positive standpoint. On “Fired Up Tonight” Carlsen pay tribute to his hometown of Seattle:
High rise to the left, the Sound to my right
Another misty day another stormy night
The Emerald is a stone
And the Queen still reigns
Coffee shots everywhere but where’s Kurt Cobain?
The Needle in the sky
Is still standing by the rockers
“Can’t Find Love” talks about loneliness –
While I’m floating out in cyber space talking to people without a face
I can buy anything, I can Google earth anywhere from above
But I can’t find love
If I only had somebody, if I only had someone
We’d be walking here together, we’d be having the ultimate fun
But I can’t find love
- and “Being Young” the fragmentation of family values:
Daddy’s gone to work again
I hope he’ll be home soon
He’s a hard working man, he’ ain’t no big tycoon
And my momma’s been dropping speed
And letting daddy down
My big sister’s been smoking weed and doing it,
Being young is no fun
You can’t do what you wanna do
Those interested in a laid back 70’s rock meets classic rock sound (or are otherwise Les Carlsen fans) are strongly encouraged to check out the Carlsen Cromwell debut The Lucky Side. While the album does not present with Bloodgood level heaviness, it is good to hear Carlsen’s signature gravely vocal qualities- again, it cannot be understated how well his voice has held up over the years. Yes, I might find the album somewhat inconsistent in light of how the group could have potentially explored other musical territory, but do not be dissuaded either in that one cannot deny the professionalism the Carlsen Cromwell partnership brings to the table.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Livin’ High” (3:56), “Fired Up Tonight” (3:32), “Can’t Find Love” (4:12), “Lucky Side” (4:41), “The Only One” (3:28), “Bad Credit” (3:42), “Color Me Blue” (3:50), “Being Young” (4:29), “We’re Not Wasted” (4:32), “I Believe” (4:33), “Crazy Kind Of Love” (4:52)
Les Carlsen - Lead Vocals
Don Cromwell - All Instruments & Background Vocals