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Ace Frehley, ‘Origins Vol. 1′: Album Review

eOne Music
eOne Music

Less than two years after the release of his last album, Ace Frehley is back with Origins Vol. 1, a collection of cover songs that influenced the former Kiss guitarist.

During a recent interview with Eddie Trunk, Frehley admitted that Origins was his new record label’s idea – originally a backup plan in case Frehley was unable to finish 2014’s Space Invader in time to capitalize on Kiss’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that year. But he did complete that (largely excellent) record on schedule, so now we get an unexpectedly fast return to the record shelves for the normally non-prolific Spaceman.

The album’s concept dates back to the surprise success of Frehley’s 1978 cover of Hello’s “New York Groove.” Since then, a cover song has appeared on each and every one of Frehley’s records, and a full-on project like this was inevitable.

Luckily, the performances and parade of guest stars make it all go down pretty easily. Origins probably shouldn’t be anybody’s introduction to Frehley, and the somewhat predictable song selection doesn’t offer a whole lot in terms of insight into his own music. But hearing the recently re-energized guitarist trade solos and vocals with Slash, John 5 and former Kiss bandmate Paul Stanley on classic songs by Thin Lizzy, Jimi Hendrix and Free is certainly enjoyable.

For the most part, Frehley’s choice in covers match up well with his playing style. He knocks Willie Dixon (by way of Led Zeppelin)’s “Bring It on Home” out of the park, and the borderline metallic take on Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” is almost as good, partially thanks to that extended duel with Slash.

But he sounds a bit out of his depth vocally a few times, particularly on the Rolling Stones‘ “Street Fighting Man,” which would have benefited greatly from more of the textures and acoustic accents Frehley displayed on the best parts of Space Invader. You also wish he would have dug a bit deeper into his record collection occasionally. Do we really need another version of “Wild Thing?” But then again, two songs later, another well-worn chestnut, Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” proves to be the perfect vehicle for his spacey delivery.

Origins also provides Frehley the chance to reclaim songs that he wrote for Kiss but wasn’t confident enough to sing back in the day. As anybody who’s seen him perform live in recent years can attest, the versions of “Cold Gin” and “Parasite” here are highlights. (Presumably, his current live band’s great take on “Strange Ways” will have to wait for Origins Vol. 2.) The surprise inclusion of “Rock and Roll Hell,” a Kiss song from 1982’s Creatures of the Night –  a record Frehley did not perform on or help write – makes you wonder if that already beloved album could have somehow been even better if he was involved.

But the main thing we learn from the inclusion of the two Frehley-penned Kiss tracks is how much better Frehley’s unconventional singing and playing style works when paired with his own equally idiosyncratic songwriting. Which is why, as fun as much of Origins Vol. 1 is in the moment, it’s much more exciting to hear he’s already at work on the true studio follow-up to Space Invader than to ponder what might appear on Vol. 2.

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