Play My Game by Tim “Ripper” Owens
Release date : May 2009
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
During mid February 2009, it was revealed that vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens (Yngwie Malmsteen / Beyond Fear / ex-Judas Priest / ex-Iced Earth) would issue inaugural solo album Play My Game in May through SPV / Steamhammer Records. Owens either solely composed tracks, or penned them with such musicians as Bob Kulick, Mike Callahan (ex-Earshot), Brett Chassen, John Comprix (Beyond Fear / Ringworm), and Chris Caffery (Savatage / Trans-Siberian Orchestra). Besides the aforementioned, the following guested upon Play My Game; Bruce Kulick (Grand Funk Railroad / ex-Kiss), Carlos Cavazo (Ratt / ex-Quiet Riot), Craig Goldy (Dio), Neil Zaza, Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), Michael Wilton (Queensr˙che), Jeff Loomis (Nevermore), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Marco Mendoza (ex-Whitesnake), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big / ex-David Lee Roth), David Ellefson (F5 / ex-Megadeth), Rudy Sarzo (Dio / Quiet Riot / ex-Ozzy Osbourne), James Lomenzo (Megadeth), Tony Franklin (ex-Blue Murder), Dennis Hayes (Beyond Fear / ex-Iced Earth), Simon Wright (Dio / ex-AC/DC), Ray Luzier (Korn / David Lee Roth), and Bobby Jarzombek (Sebastian Bach / Riot / Halford).
In mid March, Play My Game's artwork was unveiled. Late that month, it was disclosed that Owens' solo touring group would consist of himself, Chris Caffery, John Comprix, David Ellefson, and Simon Wright. By the time mid April arrived, a gydget in support of the album surfaced. Later that April, the song “Starting Over” was made available for streaming via Owens' official MySpace page. Beginning at roughly 21:15- 21:30 Eastern Daylight Time at Scorchers in Akron, Ohio on May 3rd, a listening party for Play My Game occurred. Earlier that evening from 18:00 until 21:00, a private party not open to the public took place. During mid May, “The Cover Up” could be streamed through Owens' MySpace page. Several days later, “Believe” was available for streaming.
Since his surprisingly unceremonious dismissal from Iced Earth, the “Ripper” has fronted guitar legend Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s group. Although Malmsteen certainly isn't this reviewer's cup of tea, Owens' work as part of both Iced Earth (his inclusion brought some much needed vocal dynamics to the group) and Judas Priest (especially upon 1997's Jugulator) proved enjoyable. His last “solo” album (2006), under the moniker Beyond Fear, was a hit and miss affair, so much the same was expected from Play My Game, the man's first official solo album. If you shared such expectations, then you'll be pleased (or not, dependant upon your feelings regarding Beyond Fear) to know that Owens meets those expectations upon Play My Game.
For Play My Game, Owens has aligned himself with longtime co-conspirator John Comprix, legendary Hard Rock producer Bob Kulick, and a host of traditional Metal names like Simon Wright, Craig Goldy, Rudy Sarzo, Doug Aldrich, Dave Ellefson, Chris Caffery, and more. Owens ventures as far as to include some surprises even, such as Queensr˙che guitarist Michael Wilton and Megadeth bassist James Lomenzo (ex-White Lion / ex-Black Label Society). For each song, Owens has basically assembled an all-star group, which, in turn, lends the album a very tribute record feel. Given the high number of tribute albums Bob Kulick has been behind during 1999-2009, this shouldn't be surprising, really. Many of these names appear on numerous tribute albums Kulick has produced.
In brief, Play My Game features no poor songs. With such stellar artists involved, how could there be? In fact, Play My Game's first half is extremely cohesive for a Dio album. Wait a minute: this is a Tim Owens album, right? Genuinely, this reviewer cannot tell what Owens wishes to achieve here, since he spends most of the album's time resembling a Dio tribute group vocalist. Literally, “The World Is Blind” (featuring Simon Wright and Doug Aldrich) and “Believe” (featuring Rudy Sarzo, Simon Wright, and Craig Goldy) could trick radio listeners into believing that a new Dio album was upon the verge of release. “Play My Game” (featuring Neil Zaza, Simon Wright, and Rudy Sarzo) and “No Good Goodbyes” (featuring Billy Sheehan and Bruce Kulick) don’t fare any better, really. Again, they're great songs, but if one wishes to listen to a Dio album, they would purchase a Dio album.
Upon a few occasions, Owens manages to rise above the tribute album type tendencies which dominate Play My Game. This is most apparent when the Chris Caffery enflamed “The Shadows Are Alive” materializes. Whilst the number surely possesses a slight Savatage feel, Caffery elevates Owens pretty well. This reviewer would love to hear Owens and Caffery unite, since this song is extremely great. The opening track, “Starting Over” (featuring Bob Kulick, Simon Wright, and Rudy Sarzo) has a slight Judas Priest feel, though is much more dynamic, and is likely Play My Game's most audibly original song.
Everything boils down to this: what do you wish to hear? Owens is excellent at resembling the voices of Rob Halford and Ronnie James Dio. If you wish to hear solid, classic oriented Heavy Metal, and aren't bothered whether that Metal is performed by the original groups, then you'll love this. If you wish to hear what Tim Owens can achieve by himself (as was showcased during the man's tenure with Iced Earth), then this will fail to satisfy your curiosity. Wishing to hear the “Ripper”, the hope was that this would surface upon Play My Game. Instead, what the listener is left with is a collection of solid tracks performed by various all-star groups.