Label: Rat Pak
Release date: October 31, 2012
What do you call 80s Sunset Strip rockers, Dokken without vocalist Don Dokken? T&N, which is an abbreviated version of Tooth and Nail. Damn legal technicalities. T&N is comprised of the Dokken’s remaining three non-namesake members; guitar legend, George Lynch, drum destroyer, “Wild” Mick Brown, and bassist Jeff Pilson who has been busy of late producing the debut Adler album.
If all of this talent were not enough, drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Ozzy, Ace Frehley, Foreigner, Billy Idol) also gets into the mix, performing stick work on the band’s original material.
Pilson, oddly enough, takes over vocal duties on the band’s debut album, “Slave to the Empire”. Odd perhaps, but he does quite an amazing job. In fact, one doesn’t really miss Don at all. Pilson brings his own edgy vibe to the project, and it works exceedingly well.
Players in place, we move on to the music. T&N has put together 12 tracks for “Slave to the Empire”: seven new tunes and fresh recordings of five Dokken classics. Four of the classic tunes feature guest vocalists. More on that later.
The album unleashes a fury of Lynch fueled riffs, marrow triturating skin work from Brown, and some serious groove and gut instinct from Pilson. The title track opens the record up with all the elements we have come to expect from these guys with a song that could have come from any of their classic albums, but performed with a mature delivery. Our first taste of Pilson’s vocals fit right into that Dokken mold, but Pilson adds something Don never really offered, and that’s a ballsy edge. In fact, “Smoke and Swagger” might have been a better name for the album as that’s the sense one gets on this song and the slow rolling second track, “Sweet Unknown”.
Tracks three and four offer up two classic Dokken songs, “Tooth and Nail” and “It’s Not Love”. King’s X frontman Doug Pinnick puts his spin on the former, while Warrant vocalist Robert Mason lends his bluesy touch to the latter. I have never been a huge fan of Pinnick to begin with, and while he does a serviceable job here, I would much rather have heard Pilson give us his spin on this new namesake classic. I don’t know that the guys could have tapped a better guest vocalist than Mason for “It’s Not Love”. His voice just fits it like the proverbial glove. Mason’s execution is arguably the best of the guest performances if only because he so readily meshes with the feel of this song.
The album then dives back into new T&N material with the shuffling atmosphere of “Rhythm of the Soul” and the lofty and moody, “When Eagles Die”. Both excellent tunes.
For the T&N version of “Into The Fire”, Pilson stays behind the microphone, which adds to the bafflement of why they tapped guest vocalists for the other tracks, as he does a phenomenal rendition. As blasphemous as it may sound, this is every bit as good as the original, and perhaps even a kick of testosterone better. Sure, Pilson doesn’t have Don’s range (neither does Don these days), but he doesn’t need it to make this or any of the other songs breathe fire. They even take this version deeper than the original.
Next up, Sebastian “Skid Row” Bach throws down his take on the ballad, “Alone Again”. Love Baz, but this is was just not a necessary. Okay, dead horse beaten.
“Mind Control” is the one track that seems a touch out-of-place, but it’s still a very solid track. This shows a modern side of the band, and after you adjust, you find yourself bopping your head and tapping a foot.
Tim “Ripper” Owens lends his incredible vocal prowess to “Kiss of Death”. The riff is still as sick as ever, but Ripper’s voice makes it sound like Priest joined the guys on stage. It’s certainly an enjoyable spin on the song, but it pulls the listener a bit from the flow of the album. It sounds like a cover, rather than a re-recording.
Lynch gets his bluesy gallop on and Pilson gets some grit into his voice for “Jesus Train”. Feel the rapture.
The album comes to a close on “Access Denied” with marks a modernized return to that trademark Dokken signature we recall from our youth. A nice way to tie it all together. I’m still not sure if the “Get back in line” vocal is a nod to Lemmy and Motorhead or not, but I love it.
There is simply no way T&N is going to get away from comparisons to either historical Dokken or new Dokken. The fact that they have tapped into that history on their debut album precludes that possibility by itself. Their new material is impressive enough to have left those classics on the bus for tour performances. That said, I think it was a wise move to give fans a bridge from past to present. It works quite well.
“Slave to the Empire” proves what most of us have known for years—Dokken was far more than its namesake voice and Lynch’s unique guitar signature. The album is packed with performances born of camaraderie and chemistry, and songs that pack punch, and songs fermented in a bluesy and organic vat of melody. It’s a gift to have these guys back for the attack, adding more sonic weapons to an already impressive arsenal.
Oh, and the best part–this is only part one, the guys tell us part two is already in the mix. Stay tuned for a forthcoming interview with Jeff Pilson.