Ace Frehley – Origins, Vol. 1
Label: eOne Music
Release Date: April 15, 2016
No one is ever going to confuse Ace Frehley as master class vocalist, but unlike so many new singers of this generation, his voice has a unique character that sets him apart. Being distinctive is something that seems lost these days and it makes too much of the music being made seem a little hollow. With Origins, Vol. 1, Frehley takes listeners back to hear his own take on other unique and distinctive artists who inspired him along his journey. The set features an eclectic mix of covers as well as a re-visiting of three Kiss songs. Ace has come a long way since the days of lying on the studio floor to sing “Shock Me”, but he clearly remembers his roots.
Covers are not new to Ace who had his first solo hit with Russ Ballard’s “New York Groove” in 1978, and later delivered great turns on ELO’s “Do Ya” (Trouble Walkin’, 1989), The Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” (Anomaly, 2009), and Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (Space Invader, 2014).
The album opens with The Cream classic, “White Room”, and despite the song’s rich melody, Ace makes the heart of the song about Clapton’s fretwork. Drummer Scot Coogan does excellent work here as well and even lends his vocals to great effect on the bridge. Despite modern production Frehley managed to capture the raw essence of the original.
Ace shakes it up next with The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” which he plays with a bit more crunch and edge than the original, but less acoustic nuance. Let’s face it, for all Keith Richards and Brian Jones talent, they never had the six-string gift that Frehley possesses.
Frehley invited several friends to join him for Origins, Vol. 1, the first of which is fellow guitar icon, John 5, who shares the guitar spotlight on a spin up of Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic”. Former Frehley sticksman, Matt Starr, returns to handle the drum work on this one, and he does excellent work.
Kiss fans should be quite happy to see Ace pair with his old band mate Paul Stanley, for their cover of Free’s “Fire and Water”. The duo give the track plenty of swing and groove. Stanley taps into the more soulful side of his voice. It is a great to hear the guys teamed up again for one of the album’s highlight tracks.
It is somewhat surprising how well Frehley’s voice lends itself to Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald”. Another of his special guests, Slash joins in on this one, and the two of them deliver a hefty knock out punch.
A Frehley covers album would seem a bit disingenuous if he did not tackle something by Led Zeppelin, it was after all his freewheeling and loose Jimmy Page swagger that made him the right fit for Kiss back in the day. Perhaps the only surprise here is that he chose a more obscure track like Zep’s own take on Willie Dixon’s “Bring it on Home” which once again finds drummer Coogan sharing lead vocal duties with Ace.
Lita Ford joins Ace for a wind up of The Troggs’ classic, “Wild Thing”, which is one of the weaker tracks on the record, primarily due to Ford’s lackluster lead vocals. The guitars and harmonies are fantastic, but Ford has no bite when she sings solo. Conversely Lita’s back-up vocals add a nice rave up quality to the song.
One might wonder why Ace needs to cover his own Kiss song’s, “Parasite” and “Cold Gin”, but longtime fans will remember that due to Frehley’s fear of the microphone (back in the day), Gene Simmons sang lead on the original Kiss recordings back in 1974. After 40 years Ace finally gets to sing them the way he wrote them, and now has four decades of playing the tracks live to bring them to life in true Space Ace fashion. “Parasite” is a monster here with John 5 joining in, and “Cold Gin” is more powerful than ever as Ace invites Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready to play along.
Frehley gets a chance to indulge his psychedelic and spacey nature on Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” and he gets his frets blazing on this one. He also shakes loose his rendition of The Kinks’ “Till the End of the Day”, which is easily the weakest point on the record. It is a fine enough cover, but it doesn’t add much punch to the record. Fortuitously it is the briefest track on the album.
The album’s most intriguing song choice is Ace’s cover of “Rock and Roll Hell” from Kiss’ 1982 Creatures of the Night album. Ace never played on the record and did not write this song which makes this an interesting pick. It makes one wonder what that entire record might have sounded like if Ace had actually stayed with the band.
The great thing about cover albums, especially when you have credentials like Ace Frehley, is one can simply let go and have fun, which Ace does here. He has nothing to prove and in that freedom he can relax and let it rip. Origins, Vol. 1 is not going to set the world on fire, but that is not the goal. What Ace has done here is gift fans with a glimpse into his influences and tide them over until his next studio record. In that regard, he has done an amazing job here. Origin’s, Vol. 1 is a fantastic listen and great fun. And of course, most of us are already itching for what might appear on Volume 2.