What can we make of a character like Jake E. Lee? The guitarist, who made a splash in the rather unenviable task as successor to Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, then went on to grind out a little blues/rock nirvana in his early ‘90s outfit, Badlands, has been flying under the radar for a good 20 years. Lee’s self-imposed reclusion was to the extent that it sparked rumors of drug abuse and erratic behavior, belying the guitarist’s incredible talent and notoriously underscored writing (Lee’s been famously omitted from song credits during his years with Ozzy).
Lee’s new Red Dragon Cartel, while not the return to blazing shred glory fans might have hoped for, it still a worthy rock statement – even better, it marks a legitimate comeback to full-time music mode for one of the six-string’s more undervalued icons.
Truth be told, Lee would have done better to release this album with an honest-to-goodness band. Instead, he relies on a few guest vocalists and musician friends’ cameos to fill out the sound, like he does on perhaps the album’s catchiest track, “Feeder,” with lead vocals by Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander. The song, a meaty riff-rocker with a tinge of faux industrial overtones, is typical of the music on the album – it’s not the traditional metal he mined with Ozzy, nor the ‘70s-leaning outlaw blues of Badlands; it’s more of a modern rock mashup that’s melodic, slathered with enhanced electronic grooves, and at times granular in taste. Repeat listens may be necessary for longtime Lee disciples.
This shouldn’t be misconstrued as a “bad” album; it’s just a different kind of pill to swallow. Lee’s main vocalist, D.J. Smith, sleazes his way through the hard-knock rumble of “Shout It Out;” a hybrid of Scott Weiland, Ugly Kid Joe’s Whitfield Crane, and Marq Torien of BulletBoys comes to mind when listening to Smith. In This Moment’s Maria Brink lends her voice to the decidedly trippy mindwarp of the psychedelic metal slab “Big Mouth,” while the very Journey-esque “Redeem Me” is writhing with soul from vocalist Sass Jordan. Jake fans will rejoice upon hearing cuts like “Wasted,” which is perhaps the heaviest track, with vocal assistance from ex-Iron Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno. Lee’s trademark flash-freeze licks are in check, which is the most comforting aspect of the album.
What Red Dragon Cartel does best is showcase a different emotional level of Jake E. Lee’s musical palette. It stretches his boundaries to the outer fringes of hard rock security, which, in turn, stimulates his creative muscle – Lee’s classic chops are mechanized unto a new breed.
Red Dragon Cartel ‘Red Dragon Cartel’ Rating: W W W V