Sound — 7
Once upon a time, there was a band called Mother Superior, but despite their classic blues rock style and aesthetic, their existence wasn't that long ago. Having formed in 1993, they boast a hefty catalog of eight studio albums, but they never truly broke out into the music scene beyond their hometown of Los Angeles - perhaps because the American public was more interested in the post-modern spawns of rock that came about through those couple of decades rather than a flashback to the vintage rock era. Mother Superior would eventually split up for good in 2011, but their fans still live on.
Anthrax founder Scott Ian and his wife Pearl Aday were particularly enthusiastic fans of the band, loving them for keeping the retro rock flavor alive. Aday happened to have worked with Mother Superior's frontman, Jim Wilson, on her solo material, so she pitched Wilson the idea of revamping Mother Superior with Ian and a couple other of his musician friends for a special performance to celebrate Ian's upcoming fiftieth birthday. Wilson loved the idea, so they all got together to rehearse the set list (hand-picked by the birthday boy, of course), and while the rehearsal went well, the actual performance on Ian's birthday - to an intimate crowd of friends who also loved Mother Superior - went even better. With this new lineup experiencing phenomenal chemistry, they figured it ought to live beyond just one performance - and then that's when Motor Sister, this new iteration of Mother Superior, came to be.
With the supergroup's debut album, "Ride," being a studio version of the Mother Superior set list played on Ian's birthday, it's, in the briefest of descriptions, a Mother Superior greatest hits record (which, though mostly consisting of tracks from their 2005 self-titled album, is a pretty good compilation of Mother Superior's variance - traveling from thrashier cuts like "A Hole" and "Fork in the Road," and hair-metaly tracks "Get That Girl" and "Whore," to bluesier grooves like "Pretty in the Morning" and "Doghouse," and power-ballads like "Fool Around"). But instead of just shamelessly re-mastering those old tunes via brick-walling, Motor Sister outright re-record these tunes.
Though many of these re-recordings are pretty straightforward and don't tinker much with the original recipes, the songs that originally had more production frills on them are taken off; like the opening string section in "This Song Reminds Me of You," the organ backing in "Fool Around," or the acoustic guitar and odd pads in "Head Hanging Low." And though these "non-essentials" have been shaved from the new versions, the addition of elaborate vocal elements passively bolster the potency of numerous tracks - whether it's the backup vocal response in "Get That Girl" that make the chorus catchier, the group harmonies in "That Song Reminds Me of You" that strengthen the chorus' soulfulness, or Aday's backing vocals in "Pretty in the Morning," "Doghouse," "Whore" and "Devil Wind" generally expanding the dimensions of those melodies.
But by and large, the biggest element Motor Sister add to these songs that Mother Superior never had is an amplification of guitar energy. With Ian wielding rhythm guitar duties at his innate Anthrax levels, many songs now border on metal while still keeping the vintage rock flavor intact - high-gear tracks like "A Hole," "Get That Girl," "Fork in the Road" benefit the most from this, as well as the lower-tempo'd swaggering riffs in "Little Motor Sister" and "Pretty in the Morning." And because of Ian's presence, Wilson also gets to pay more attention to his lead guitar efforts now, and boasts some improved guitar soloing in "This Song Reminds me of You" and "Fool Around."
However, these new levels of guitar power end up taking away from an integral element of Mother Superior's original compositions: the bass. The basslines, performed this time around by Joey Vera of Fates Warning and Armored Saint, still contain that blues rock sentience as interdependent melodies - which can be heard best in "Devil Wind" - but in most cases, they lie at the bottom of the mix, and it takes extra flexing of the eardrums to hear the great bass activity in songs like "This Song Reminds Me of You," "Beg Borrow Steal," "Fork in the Road" and "Doghouse." Motor Sister may be the metaly relative of Mother Superior, but had more care been given to the bass, they could've had their cake and ate it too.
Lyrics — 6
Wilson's lyrics stay untouched in the Motor Sister remakes of his songs, continuing to show his penchant for writing lyrics with a classic rock aesthetic. Much of this takes form in the simplicity of raw sexual machismo, like in "Beg Borrow Steal" ("Wanna kiss/ Both your lips/ On your face/ Between your hips"), "Get That Girl" ("Everyone whispers/ Nobody's kissed her/ I'm gonna get that girl"), and "Doghouse" ("Let me let you down/ We can mess around/ Touch and let me show you how you make it hard") - at least the morning sex of "Pretty in the Morning" attempts to put a more romantic spin on it ("You're so pretty in the morning/ Lying naked with me knotted up in the sheets").
Thankfully, there are some tracks with more substantial lyrics to counterweight, like the mutual mess of "Fool Around," and the reminiscing of old love in "This Song Reminds Me of You," which wields one of Wilson's best poetic licks, "I hear a melody/ And automatically/ She creeps into my memory/ Never fails to remind me". But at large, "Devil Wind" succeeds in being Wilson's most captivating set of lyrics, articulating the struggle of self into a highly evocative supernatural parable ("My balance was thrown/ Confidence stripped/ The devil tightened his deadly grip around my faith").
Overall Impression — 7
It's easy to tell that Ian's goal in all of this is to bring more attention to a band he loves and feels is criminally underrated. With Motor Sister being a half-revamp-half-tribute to Mother Superior, "Ride" does these songs by the old band justice, but also unwittingly outshines them. As much as the "harder, better, louder, stronger" mentality of re-recording did pretty well for these prime cuts (save the undermined bass), the added quality and intensity here may make the originals feel lackluster by comparison. Sure, Motor Sister could decide to re-record more Mother Superior tracks, but at risk of jumping the shark. This personal dream turned impulse project certainly must have Ian on cloud nine, but now that Motor Sister's goal has been completed, it's hard to imagine anything beyond "Ride."