CATALOG CRAWL: STARZ, Part 3 (1992-2007)

As of this writing, 1978’s Coliseum Rock remains the final album of original material from Starz. However, founding member Richie Ranno has kept the band’s name alive at a grassroots level over the years, running his own website and selling the band’s catalog as well as a variety of made-on-demand concert and outtake releases. Over the years, there have also been a handful of official releases that cater to the needs of the band’s small but devoted cult following.

Three such releases form the backbone of this final installment of Catalog Crawl for Starz. There are two concert releases here, one archival and the other a reunion show, plus a strong ‘studio plus live’ set that contains a now-rare set of original Starz tunes recorded at the dawn of the ’90s. If you’re already familiar with the band’s studio catalog, the material explored here makes a worthwhile addendum to the group’s classic canon.

REQUIEM (1992): The “odds and sods” album of the Starz catalog delivers a lot of likeable material. Its backbone is a 1990 recording session that reunited original members Smith, Ranno and Harkin plus Hellcats-era drummer Madick with original Starz producer Jack Douglas. These five tracks are excellent, favoring a more modern hard rock sound but preserving the Starz trademarks (hook-conscious songs, clever lyrics, guitarwork with a deeply-felt “classic rock” bent). Highlights from this session include t.v. addiction satire “Vidi O.D.,” power ballad with a country rock bent “You Called His Name” and the gritty yet romantic midtempo rocker “Backstreet Survivor.”  There are also three cuts from a 1978 concert and “Texas,” a non-album b-side that offers an effective style homage to Z.Z. Top. Ranno fleshes out the package with a metallic post-Smith Hellcats tune and a few solo songs, including a surprise venture into new wave (“Waitress”) and a cranky but amusing hip-hop pisstake (“He Ain’t No Einstein”). The resulting compilation is entertaining throughout and the reunion tracks make it a must for Starz fanatics.

Members: Michael Lee Smith (lead vocals), Richie Ranno (lead guitar), Brendan Harkin (bass, guitar), Peter Sweval (bass), Doug Madick (drums), Joe X. Dube (drums)

GREATEST HITS LIVE (1999): consider this a sampler disc that gives you a taste of Starz’s live prowess. At the time it was released, it filled a gap to keep some Starz material in print.  It collects material from a trio of famous concerts that had all been utilized in the past for radio broadcasts: a 1976 concert from Cleveland and a 1978 concert from Louisville, both previously drawn from for Live In Action, and a 1978 show from the El Mocambo that was utilized for Live In Canada.  The sound from the Cleveland and Louisville shows isn’t as skillfully mixed as Live In Action but you do get some unique songs that didn’t appear on that album, like a tough rendition of “Nightcrawler” and the melodic charmer “Any Way That You Want It.”  The best stuff here comes from the El Mocambo show: it benefits from a punchy recording, a nice club atmosphere and ferocious renditions of warhorses like “Subway Terror” and “Take Me” (the guitar interplay between Ranno and Messano shines here).

Members: Michael Lee Smith (lead vocals), Richie Ranno (lead guitar), Brendan Harkin (guitar), Peter Sweval (bass), Joe X. Dube (drums), Bobby Messano (guitar), Orville Davis (bass)

COME OUT AT NIGHT (2007): This is the live double that Starz always deserved. Sadly, the date recorded did not feature Harkin as he missed his plane(!) but the result remains impressive nonetheless.  All of the live favorites are touched on: “Detroit Girls,” “Cherry Baby,” a nearly 10 minute version of “Pull The Plug,” etc.  They’re all performed with impressive energy and chops for a ‘three decades after the fact’ concert and you also get a few choice rarities: “Third Time’s The Charm,” an underrated nugget from Attention Shoppers, is performed with the soulfulness that can only come from middle age and “Outfit” restores an amusingly dirty lyric left off the studio version. Smith’s in fine voice throughout the 90-plus minute show and Ranno plays two guitars’ worth of parts on his own sound and makes it sound effortless (you get a new appreciation for his chops here). Icing on the cake: it’s beautifully recorded and mixed by Starz superfan/Danger Danger alumnus Bruno Ravel. Listen for the audience singing lyrics by heart during a few audience participation bits.

Members: Michael Lee Smith (lead vocals), Richie Ranno (lead guitar), George DiAna (bass), Joe X. Dube (drums)

 



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