T & N – Slave To The Empire – Review

George Lynch is one busy guitar player, no doubt about it, in fact so much so that I’m lagging quite a bit behind his release schedule. Today I am going to try to catch up and write a review that is something a little shorter than an episode from Lord Of The Rings in the hope that I can catch up some…

So, confession time. Rewinding the clock, George Lynch was without doubt the most influential guitar player on myself back in the days when I was playing guitar. I still have a George Lynch VHS guitar tuition video and booklet that was released in the early 90’s, and I remember vividly learning every song from “Tooth and Nail” and “Under Lock and Key” note-for-note. Well, almost note-for-note… Now is not the time or place for a full history lesson, since the George Lynch and Don Dokken story is pretty complex, however, it is impossible not to give it a passing mention since it is the catalyst for the band before us – T & N.

First off, what a crap name. Sorry but it is. However, to explain this some history is unavoidable. The ‘classic’ Dokken line-up is most often regarded as Don Dokken (vocals), George Lynch (guitar), Jeff Pilson (bass) and Mick Brown (drums), which came together in 1983. While the band achieved great commercial success, creative and personal differences led to the band splitting up in 1989, and while they did reform in 1993 and struggled on until 1997, they really only managed to put out one decent album in this time (Dysfunctional, 1995), until the final split, with Don continuing Dokken, while George went off to reform Lynch Mob (which had put out the exceptionally good “Wicked Sensation” release in 1990). If you’re confused by this, good, so am I, because it is confusing.

At various times a reunion has been touted as “just around the corner” but has never happened. Most recently this was heavily discussed back in 2010, with official announcements saying it was on, and then retracted. Oh, what a flippin’ saga! Finally though, something real did come from all this rumor, with Lynch, Pilson and Brown announcing the formation of “Tooth and Nail” which was 75% of the classic Dokken line-up, obviously minus Dokken himself, who did not want to derail his current plans with “Dokken”. Of course things could not just go smoothly and it turned out that another band had a prior trademark claim to the name “Tooth and Nail”, so they took the simple expediency of shortening the name to “T & N”.  I don’t like the name at all, but it is what it is. OK, I won’t mention that I don’t like the name again, OK?

Finally I can move on and talk about the music. So, with this album we get a split of five Dokken covers/re-dos, and seven new tracks. Despite the announced line-up, confusingly Mick Brown only plays drums on the Dokken covers, with Brian Tichy playing on all seven originals. At this point, and with no obvious or simple explanation in anything I have seen or read, I don’t know why. For the new material we get Jeff Pilson on lead vocals and I think he does a fine job. The title track has a catchy hook, that, after a few plays, becomes lodged in your head and, at least for me, seems to draw me to crank the volume.

On the re-do tracks of the five, we get four ‘guest’ vocalists which mixes things up nicely. The first track we meet is “Tooth and Nail” with Doug Pinnick from King’s X giving it a bit more edge than the original, and I must say the guitar solo George delivers is a monster. Next up is “It’s Not Love”, sung by current Warrant singer Robert Mason (also previously of Lynch Mob) and he gives it a new edge, though it’s pretty faithful to the original overall. Jeff Pilson handles the vocal on “Into the Fire” and I’d say this is pretty much a straight rendition, although they have added a new bridge section which pulls the energy down and adds a nice dynamic to the track. “Alone Again” is sung by Sebastian Back, who I must admit isn’t particularly one of my favorites (tending to come across as trying just too damn hard much of the time), but here he does a fine job. Given this is a pretty laid back track, it wasn’t obvious to me this would be the best fit, but Bach gives it a nice edge, while letting the melody do it’s work through the chorus. Well played sir! Finally, the last of the re-dos is “Kiss Of Death” with Tim “Ripper” Owens (formerly of Judas Priest and Iced Earth) and he tears into this with venom. To my ears he gives this track a Ronnie James Dio type feel and on hearing this it would have been a perfect track for Dio. Well that isn’t going to happen now is it… Owens here does a perfect job. This might be my favorite of the repeats.

George Lynch has matured a lot as a guitarist over the years and now uses a lot more texture in his guitar sounds compared to the super-overdrive of the classic Dokken days, and despite the old ESP guitars still making an appearance, you are just as likely to see George with a Telecaster in his hands these days. With T & N things are a little closer in sound and tone of the old Dokken days, at least to my ears, compared say to the recent Lynch Mob “Sound Mountain Sessions” which has less overdrive and more ‘blues’ in his playing. It is very revealing to play the original Dokken recordings of the five re-dos included here, and you realize very quickly how good those songs were, how good the playing was, but also how damn good George is playing these days. He’s able to add almost another layer to each song. Listen hard and you will catch a lot of subtle licks and kicks that sneak in. For me these songs and solos in particular are almost like gospel, and the idea of messing with them left me with some trepidation initially. Trust me, George hasn’t strayed far from the path, but has done just enough to keep everything fresh and interesting.

Of the new tracks on the record there isn’t really anything I don’t like, and I have already mentioned the title track, but a couple of stand-out tracks for me are “When Eagles Die” and “Mind Control”. Taking the former, “When Eagles Die” opens with an annoyingly catchy acoustic guitar riff, with an equally catchy vocal riff, which then progresses into showcase for the song writing excellence that is T & N. This is a great track to crank up on the car stereo. With “Mind Control” this is a more conventional barnstorming number that I like perhaps more than anything for the cranking bass line from Pilson that drives the whole thing alone.

To close, I will say that it took a few spins to get this record under my skin – initially the re-do tracks seemed to stand-out and poke me in the ears a bit simply because they weren’t the old favorites I was used to, but once I got over the idea change isn’t all bad (sheesh!), the simple enjoyment that is evident in playing these songs again and re-exploring the vocals with alternate singers drew me in and currently this is one of my favorite CDs to spin. Obviously for Dokken and/or George Lynch fans this is a must buy record, but if those are the only people that buy this it would be doing the band an injustice, since this is truly a very good chunk of heavy metal. My score 8.5/10.

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