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Monday, June 08, 2009

CD Review: Tim "Ripper" Owens - Play My Game

Tim "Ripper" Owens - Play My Game
2009 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Ripper, Ripper, wherefore about thou, Ripper?

One thing you have to say, whether you appreciate what Tim "Ripper" Owens brings to the scene or you don't, the cat has been popping up all over the place. After parting ways with Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth, Ripper had already started his own band Beyond Fear. Somewhere after running a quiet little tour in support of his quite-solid offshoot entity, questions as to whether or not that band was on the ropes whispered about as Owens manifested like a mole popping its head up in a distant garden no one saw coming as he was spotted in league with Yngwie Malmsteen on the latter's Perpetual Flame album from last year.

As we're left to wonder if the Malmsteen gig is a one-off with Yngwie releasing a compendium album this year Angels of Love, that leaves the former Judas Priest and Iced Earth henchman hypothetically on his own duckets, Beyond Fear notwithstanding.

Almost as quietly as the Ripper gave Yngwie Malmsteen a hearty vocal injection, Tim Owens sneaks out his debut solo album Play My Game, an album that might not've gained the beacon light without the following two things: one, a legendary back story serving inspiration for Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star, and two, the fact Ripper corrals a nice bundle of guest stars to his cause such as Bruce and Bob Kulick, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Caffery, Simon Wright, Jeff Loomis, David Ellefson, Doug Aldrich, Craig Goldy, Carlos Cavazo, Steve Stevens, Billy Sheehan and Michael Wilton. Ripper also totes along his Beyond Fear axe slinger John Comprix on this album.

This being said, Play My Game would've been the metal event of the year circa 1986, considering Ripper plies his trade with an outstretched palm bearing alms to past metal gods. When you consider Ripper's repertoire is hedged primarily from Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio and Glenn Hughes, it should come as no surprise that Play My Game bears all of these with glowing apparency.

With one meaty cut after another, Tim Owens has a field day showing off his chops, even going so far as to mesh in some Axl Rose and Layne Staley for good measure, using "No Good Goodbyes" for example.

If Play My Game isn't Owens' metal confessional, it sure as heck feels like one as he opens his lyrical veins on tracks such as "Starting Over," "Believe," "Pick Yourself Up," "To Live Again" and "No Good Goodbyes." You can't help but assume "Is It Me" is Ripper's bleeding query to his past associates.

While Glenn Tipton told this writer in an interview for AMP magazine Ripper bowed out honorably when asked to step down for the returning Rob Halford, the flipside of the coin came from a Jon Schaffer who relayed in my interview for Unrestrained magazine he wasn't feeling the enthusiasm of his former crooner as of the tour in support of Iced Earth's Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1, prompting Schaffer to re-recruit his brother-in-law Matt Barlow.

I've had the chance to interview Ripper three separate times, twice while still in Iced Earth and a third time as the Beyond Fear debut album was about to launch. I detected a noticeable maturity in the third interview while Ripper was slightly shy and perhaps aloof in the second chat, conducted upon Iced Earth's tour bus. Then again, yours truly lost his interview questions on the first go-round and Ripper was gentlemanly and patient as I tried to queue up what I could. That second interview was a reschedule as we filled in missing parts and talked more at length about Rock Star and his feelings making the transition from Priest to Iced Earth. You could tell the poor guy was still stinging from losing his dream gig yet handling it with as much grace as one could muster under such duress.

That, I believe, is the prompting factor to Play My Game, that fragile moment in time where Ripper had to accept the fact that yes, he enjoyed the opportunity to front one of heavy metal's all-time greats yet the sad fact remained it took Rob Halford's reclamation of his mantle before the world accepted Judas Priest again.

Play My Game, while not containing the most memorable or original set of songs ("The Light" and the title cut being out-of-the-box grunge-oriented exceptions, with some Sabbath peppered in the latter) is at least a very honest album, one which allows Ripper to express his grievances vocally and unabashedly in the styles of his idols. The fact so many established artists came to his rescue in support of this emotional bloodletting shows Ripper is at least appreciated by the old dogs for helping keep tried and true power metal alive in a modern era largely interested in figuring out how many breakdown schisms and bpm blasts will help them rise to the attention of today's youth.

Play My Game is old school all the way, and there's certainly an audience amongst today's generation who appreciate Ripper and what he's been trying to do all these years. I can testify a small posse of kids lingered outside of Iced Earth's tour bus chanting his name, which he responded to with a slightly embarassed grin and then a quick bounce out of the bus to greet his fans with horns pushed over his head.

Say what you will, you can't say Tim "Ripper" Owens isn't at least a boy rocker at heart.

Rating: ***1/2

4 comments:

JP said...

I totally sympathise with what Owen is trying to do here, but the more old school he plays it, the clearer it becomes that the man is a great note-producer but not a memorable singer. He has a LOT of vocal sweet spots he can hit, but he spends more time flexing his range within simplistic rise-and-fall patterns, playing call and response with himself, than on crafting interesting vocal patterns. More energy and goodwill than melody and hooks.

In a way I liked Beyond Fear better because he was trying to do something other than pay homage to his influences - a redundant move in any case since much of his career until has now involved just that sort of material.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

yeah, I agree with you to certain latitudes and I'm afraid he is going to have his small legacy relegated that of old school impersonator...I think he's a nice guy, rather fun, VERY dedicated to his daughter, and definitely a talent, but if he doesn't evolve, he won't have much longer to hang around

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Leegxos said...

I totally sympathise with what Owen is trying to do here, but the more old school he plays it, the clearer it becomes that the man is a great note-producer but not a memorable singer. He has a LOT of vocal sweet spots he can hit, but he spends more time flexing his range within simplistic rise-and-fall patterns, playing call and response with himself, than on crafting interesting vocal patterns. More energy and goodwill than melody and hooks. In a way I liked Beyond Fear better because he was trying to do something other than pay homage to his influences - a redundant move in any case since much of his career until has now involved just that sort of material.