I honestly don’t remember how I met Richie Scarlet, but I do remember the opening notes of “Race With The Devil” off of his 2006 release, Revelation Supreme. Standing there, I was blown away as he crunched into his early ‘70s Les Paul black beauty, eliciting a wall of Marshall-driven feedback that immediately brought me back to the days of Badfinger, KISS and Black Oak Arkansas. By the end of our exact first meeting, I knew Scarlet was the real rock and roll deal.
Not that you’d ever have to take my word on that though. His background is one that would make any seasoned rocker turn deep green with envy. He has toured and appeared on Ace Frehley and Peter Criss’ solo albums and has been employed as a six-string gunslinger for Alice Cooper and Sebastian Bach. And if that’s not enough, Scarlet has also released seven solid CDs and DVDs, hosted his latest festive “Live In Japan” concert at the ESP Center in Tokyo, and produced bands including the Chesterfield Kings and Dez Cadena of the Misfits.
Many of you will probably say, “Oh, this guy is just another hard rock jockey from the days of the dinosaurs.” But I would immediately disagree. If this guy was following trends or living in the past, he wouldn’t be anywhere near as vital as he currently is. This “Emperor Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” is popping all over the world because of his continued commitment for making extraordinary music and sending chills up the spines of millions of guitarists across the planet. His music is never predictive, and he strives to for longevity through the never-ending evolutionary process.
His latest CD, I Plead The Fifth, is a conversation in guest musicians alone. Produced by Tarik Solangi (The Benjamins, Crashbox), I Plead The Fifth features notable guest bassist John Regan (Peter Frampton, John Waite), guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N’ Roses), Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper), Dez Cadena (Misfits), and the famed Joey Molland of Badfinger on backing vocals.
The disc launches to a mixture of Apocalypse Now meets Invasion Of the Body Snatchers as choppers and otherworldly effects herald opening power chords of the Matthew Devine song, “Lips Like Morphine.” Scarlet’s vocals are mid-ranged grit and growl as the 4/4 beat blasts from Russage Wilson lead this track into the inner circle of the “Scarletization” nation. Memorable, well-placed choruses intertwine with complex harmonic odysseys and machine gun hot lead runs. The middle section tumbles into minor Pink Floyd territory as Scarlet does his best Tom Waits meets the devil when he rasps, “I want a girl with lips like Morphine… Knock me out every time they kiss me.” Great production and tone sets the theme for the record right off the bat.
Dennis Dunaway joins Scarlet for some face melting fretboard frenetics in the demented vein of The Byrds meets The Amboy Dukes. This is a nonstop barrage of old school rock and roll and it takes no prisoners. Harmony vocals stack up behind Scarlet well. The proverbial “Wall Of Sound” rules here as Scarlet shows a rough and tumbled chimey side, picking intricate, clean patterns and alternating with salvos of blistering, Marshall powered bends.
Track three, “Love Will Find A Way,” is where Scarlet makes a right turn of surprising compositional direction. Recollections of Mott The Hoople and David Bowie power up as Scarlet and crew tastefully blend pianos, clean guitar work and smart rhythms into a commercially viable piece. Once again, the choruses are immense and the backing vocals—courtesy of Joe Boland, Sal Socca, Broadway Joe Cos, Peter Gallinari, Tarik Solangi, Charlie Sabian and Joann Scarlet—make sure this song is bigger than the Beatles and Jesus. As they come out of the back middle eight with their multi-tier layers of harmonic brilliance, Scarlet winds up and tears into textured guitar work with the intelligent attack of a Velociraptor.
“Lost In My World” showcases the piano talents of the Emperor as he segues into his ballad kingdom. Traditional inflections of Styx and Grand Funk Railroad float in between original and well thought out ingredients that make the piece. These compositional passages, lyrical ideas and melodically epic themes keep this song from plodding into the bone yard. Solangi has done his homework well, and keeps the dynamic element strong here. This is a ballad that didn’t leave me fast forwarding to the next song, which is rare.
“Without Your Love” slashes and flexes dirty guitar muscle as Scarlet chugs his way into the blue-collar rock arena. Think about the best of bands such as Bryan Adams and Cinderella and you’d be in the right ballpark. Scarlet is one of those guitarists that never goes for everything at once, showcasing a multitude of player styles and blending them to make the most sense. If there was one thing that he gets a bum rap for, it is that people think this guy is a just a 1980s headbanger, which he is most certainly not. The lead break blends country blues triads with single-note screams, and gets out to make way for the sing-along chorus. The tremolo guitar chords are a subtle touch in the ending.
“Indian Souls (1876)” is a somber look at the decimation of Native Americans and a tip of the hat to the famous Indian names that fought for their right to exist. A topic not tackled by many, Scarlet tells the gruesome story of land grabbing white foreigners on a self-centered rampage to ravage fields of buffalo, streams of gold and miles of turquoise. Scarlet laments with, “We stole their land, with liquor in our hands, destroyed their way of life too. Their destination was the lowly reservation, what else can the white man do?” Scarlet’s middle eight lead on classical guitar is decidedly much in tune with anything A Fistful Of Dollars guitarist Alessandro Alessandroni did back on those historic, spaghetti western soundtracks.
“King Heroin” is a message to the planet on the woes of playing with the big H. Done with a slick, laid back R&B feel, Scarlet’s gruff, cigarette-fueled spoken word reminds me of the 1980s movie, Repo Man, and the song “I’m A Bad Man” done by the Juicy Bananas. Horn work by Arno Hecht (saxophone) and Jonathan Walsh (trumpet) certainly tie this song together and make it yet another captivating direction that Scarlet heads off into.
“Carousel” wraps up this nine-song platter and this is where they release the hounds. A veritable free-for-all, Scarlet calls for the aid of Ron Thal and Lou Spagnola as they launch a three point assault of isotonic-fueled mayhem. The trio breaks out of the doghouse to unleash their individual signature blitzkrieg of guitar cacophony.
Peter Gallinari’s B3 work is massive as he keeps right up with anything these guys toss out at him. While some might feel that this song is a bit self-indulgent, I think it’s a showcase for a gathering of massive talent—sort of like taking your prize racehorses down to the track on a day off and just turning them loose on the mud track. The combination of speed, tone, and compositional dexterity is pretty damn formidable.
Richie Scarlet demonstrates that his willingness to keep exploring is the reason he is still around. Emotionally powerful and intelligently presented, I Plead The Fifth is a diverse rock winner that will guarantee increased allegiance to the Emperor’s kingdom.
Richie Scarlet and band will be performing at The Cutting Room, on East 32nd Street, on Feb. 22 at 8:30 p.m. For more on the “Emperor Of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” head over to richiescarletmusic.com and, of course, look him up on our lord and savior, Facebook.