True classic rock fans can tell a fugazi from the genuine article. And in the case of NYC's Bad Wizard, for a while there they seem to have fallen somewhere between the Mooney Suzuki and Andrew W.K. o

True classic rock fans can tell a fugazi from the genuine article. And in the case of NYC's Bad Wizard, for a while there they seem to have fallen somewhere between the Mooney Suzuki and Andrew W.K. on the posuer meter with their corny "rawk" lyrics and extroverted bombast.

However, any doubt you may've had of the Wizard's sincerity will be quashed for good once you hear this group's outstanding second release for former Alice Donut charge Dave Giffen's Howler Records label. "Sky High" is a dynamic blast of DIY AOR that eschews the overt goofiness of 2002's "Sophisticated Mouth" and last year's "#1 Tonite" in favor of honest-to-God technical prowess and soulful dexterity.

In the past, it was almost as though Bad Wizard were making fun of the Camaro rock they seem to love so much. But on "Sky High," the Wizard appear to boast a renewed faith in their well-worn copies of "Bloodrock 2" and Thin Lizzy's "Johnny the Fox" while discovering the latent genius of Kiss' "Unmasked" in the meantime. And the lyrics, while not exactly Rory Gallagher, are a par deeper and darker than anything off their previous endeavors.

If Bad Wizard sound like their cage's been rattled on "Sky High", it probably has to do with the hot pokers producer and former Royal Trux principal Jennifer Herrema used to prod them into sincerity. She adds that all-too-crucial layer of the sonic scuzz she has turned into rock'n'roll gold, most noticeably on the bluesy, vaguely Ween-esque "Black Navigator" and the uncompromising "13x Around The World".

Sure, aping the Grand Funk era with a nod and a wink at this point is beyond unoriginal. But to do it through the filthy tubes of an abused Royal Trux amp is the stuff of giants. Bad Wizard, you're finally cool. -- Ron Hart