Album Review: Jake E. Lee delivers with his band, Red Dragon Cartel

Red Dragon Cartel
Red Dragon Cartel

Band plays Janesville’s The Back Bar Friday, March 21, with local favorites Hessler

By John Parks

Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne/Badlands guitarist) and his band Red Dragon Cartel have released their debut album and will be playing this weekend, March 21, at The Back Bar, 1901 Beloit Ave., in Janesville, Wis. Area favorites Hessler will be opening the show, and more info is available at Following is a review of Red Dragon Cartel’s debut album, Red Dragon Cartel, from Frontier Records.

This spring marked the release of the long-awaited new album from Jake E. Lee’s band, Red Dragon Cartel, an album brimming with lots of guest spots (including Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander), but also featuring Jake’s new band, rounded out by bassist Ronnie Mancuso, drummer Jonas Fairley and vocalist Darren James Smith.

Jake E. Lee, both with Badlands, and, of course Ozzy, became one of those guitar heroes from the MTV era who left a blazing trail during the channel’s heyday before keeping an extremely low profile in more recent years.  

Long story short: it’s been a long time since Badlands and a long time waiting to push play on a new record from Jake E. Lee, so is it worth the wait?

I liked it on first listen, and I like it more with each subsequent listen. I love the guest musician spots and tracks like the ’90s-ish  “Feeder,” featuring Robin Zander on lead vocals. But I really like the vocals Smith lays down on this record, just as much as the “special guest” spots.

Also, while songs like “Feeder” or “Big Mouth” (featuring In This Moment’s Maria Brink) feature some industrial or “modern alternative” moments, it’s also noteworthy that tracks like “Wasted” (featuring Iron Maiden’s Paul Di’anno) and “Redeem Me” (featuring Sass Jordan) feel rooted in a much earlier era.

There’s a lot of diversity and not one particular style being hammered home here, which makes for an interesting listen (for example, the album closes with a piano piece, which is one of Jake’s earliest compositions).

I think most fans of Jake’s playing career will love this album, but, that said, the only track here that really has a “Badlands” feel to it is “Redeem Me.” Most of the other tracks on Red Dragon Cartel either find Jake and company either playing modern music or revisiting his famous heavy metal past, or in some of the best instances, carving out ground somewhere in between, such as in “Deceived” and “Slave.” Those two tracks — and the Maria Brink track, “Big Mouth” — seem like the most logical “focus tracks” for radio, but honestly, there are probably a couple other standouts as well.

There are a couple moments on the album that tip the hat to either Black Sabbath or Ozzy, based on a few sly riffs from Jake, but it’s clear upon repeated listens that he hasn’t run out of ideas.  It’s also obvious Jake took his time with this record, as it doesn’t feel rushed or thrown together — although it’s safe to say that with touring and time, this band could be even better. Still, this is a pretty solid step forward for both Jake and Frontiers Records, so it is hoped 2015 will bring another new platter from Red Dragon Cartel.

Jake E. Lee and guitar fans in general need to know that Red Dragon Cartel is worth the wait. The playing and soloing Jake displays here is, of course, top notch, but thankfully, so are the songs.

From the March 19-25, 2014, issue

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