Sound — 7
So the idea of pushing a new covers album has been rather overdone at this point, with literally hundreds of different examples ranging from prominent musicians to underground bands offering their takes on the music of iconic performers and their influences. Yet somehow, when it's none other than famed original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley who's delivering a covers album we pay notice. Part of that reasoning is because activity from Frehley has been rather scarce over the past decade. It was just in 2009 that Frehley delivered "Anomaly," a rock solid studio record which was also the guitarist's first in twenty years. A brief tour in support of the album followed before Frehley ducked back into obscurity from the mainstream rock scene, which lasted up until KISS' long overdue induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Frehley found himself entertaining a return to the public eye with a new record deal to coincide with the induction, and his 2014 solo album "Space Invader" blended the modern heavy metal overtones of "Anomaly" with more of the straightforward rock approach that is just as synonymous with the Ace Frehley name as his iconic smoking Les Paul. "Origins Vol.1" follows the lead of the latter in regard to overall production and sound, while boasting a broad array of both familiar hard rock anthems, as well as unexpected selections featuring a cast of guest musicians. While Frehley hasn't shied away from the idea of recording a cover song or two in the past, both as a solo artist ("Into the Night," "Do Ya," "Hide Your Heart") and as a member of KISS ("New York Groove," "2000 Man"), this is the first complete covers album from the Spaceman and it proves to be a rewarding listen.
The opening rendition of Cream's "White Room" is a bold way to open out the album, with scorching duel leads and Frehley's instantly recognizable snarl kicking things off to an impressive start. The following take on The Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" doesn't pack quite the same punch but retains most of the identity of the original, yet a vicious version of Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" picks back up that momentum, right down to the winding solo courtesy of John 5. A clear album highlight and one that dedicated KISS fans have been waiting decades for, "Fire and Water" is a rewarding Free cover which shows Frehley once again alongside his former bandmate Paul Stanley. The Starchild maintains lead vocals for this track, with Frehley ripping out a massive solo that recalls the qualities of early KISS that rock advocates have praised for many years. It's a difficult song to top and might have been best suited as the closing track, however Frehley pushes out a vicious cover of Thin Lizzy's "Emerald" that once again shuts down the expectations. Frehley's protruding vocals are one of the key elements throughout the record and it's the same case here, not to mention the appearance of Slash's blues-based bends.
Another key pickup factor with "Origins Vol.1" is that we find Frehley again finally catering to KISS fans by recording "Parasite" and "Cold Gin," two songs he was responsible for writing with KISS and only in later years singing in the live setting. What can be best described as a drum machine on "Parasite" is the only downside to these two KISS renditions. There's plenty other memorable moments to be found throughout, such as an entertaining take on "Wild Thing" by The Troggs and a choice version of "Till the End of the Day" by The Kinks, however what might just take the prize is Frehley's decision to take on "Rock and Roll Hell" from the infamous "Creatures of the Night" fiasco - an album which bears Frehley's face on the album cover, even though he had little to no involvement with the album's writing and recording sessions. And it's a stellar rendition that stands toe to toe with the original, trading the original shredding solo of Robben Ford for a fresh take that rounds out the vintage feel of this release.
Lyrics — 8
Ace Frehley isn't a groundbreaking vocalist by any case, but his voice has a character all his own and it's instantly recognizable. It's largely the same reason why songs like "Shock Me" just don't have the same feel when performed by Tommy Thayer and the current KISS lineup (but let's try and avoid that debate...), just as his approach to the six strings can only be imitated. It's those original brooding overtones which decorate the covers on "Origins Vol.1" so vividly, allowing Frehley to handle songs originally handled by Phil Lynott, Mick Jagger, Ray Davies, Jack Bruce and even Gene Simmons. Pair that with the extensive guitar playing and cast of guest musicians, you're left with a rather standout studio performance.
Overall Impression — 8
You can point out the fact that there's a proud cast of guest musicians who had their part to play in Ace Frehley's first complete covers album, however the end result on "Origins Vol.1" still sounds and feels like a solo effort. There's a sense of authenticity in hearing Frehley perform songs like "Cold Gin" and "Parasite" the way he has live for some time now, alongside the solid assortment of classic anthems from Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Thin Lizzy, among others. Considering the "Vol.1" at the end of the album title, one is led to assume that this isn't the last covers album we'll see from Frehley hit the shelves. If it's anything like the first installment, then I'll be looking forward to its release.