Gather around, kiddies, and let ol’ Metal Mama, tell you a story. See, back when I was a teenager, we didn’t have cellphones or sophisticated video game systems or even the internet. So, when you grew up in a small, rural town in the Southern United States, you learned how to make your own fun on weekend nights with your friends. Many times, that meant gathering around a bonfire in a field somewhere. Inevitably, someone would turn on the radio in their car for all to enjoy.
The wonderful memories of all those evenings came back to me as I listened to Book of Shadows II, the most recent solo release from legendary shredder Zakk Wylde. In the twenty years since the original Book of Shadows, the guitarist has experienced many life-altering events that are evident in the new album. Although not often recognized for his prolific songwriting skills, Book of Shadows II showcases Zakk Wylde‘s mastery of the art. This solo effort embraces many genres including Southern Rock, blues, country and folk music. Unfortunately, because there are several common components among these genres, it is difficult to differentiate between the 14 songs.
To be honest, I seriously thought that the first song on the album, “Autumn Changes”, was a cover of an Allman Brothers tune. The guitar tone, organ, even the vocals are identical to that band. After discovering this was indeed an original from Zakk Wylde, I still think this is the best Allman Brothers song that they never did. This feeling continues through the next few songs – “Tears of December”, “Lay Me Down”, and “Lost Prayer”. The introspective “Darkest Hour” addresses the issue of who stays by your side when you go through the tough times in your life. The guitar solo for this one finally allows Zakk to show off his skills. “The Levee” has a bit of country mixed with a dash of blues in the Southern rock base. The more uptempo “Eyes of Burden” includes another stunning guitar solo. Wylde adds a bit of a Jimi Hendrix (one of his personal idols) to “Forgotten Memory”, not only through guitar but also by the songwriting style. “Yesterday’s Tears”, “Harbors of Pity”, “Sorrowed Regrets” and “Useless Apologies” will take you on an emotional journey with themes to which we can all relate. The catchy “Sleeping Dogs” leans more toward the country music side with enough heavy axe to keep you interested. The final song, “The King”, seems to be a love song to the wife who has stayed by his side throughout everything. The guitar solo alone makes this one worth a listen.
Yes, Zakk Wylde has been through much over the past twenty years and he uses this album to pause and reflect. The musicianship is excellent on Book of Shadows II, as you would expect from a star of Wylde‘s caliber. Although not something you would listen to on a daily basis, it would be perfect for those times when you feel introspective – or maybe even at the end of a summer night around a bonfire with the one you love.