Friday, May 24, 2019

Archive Review: Iggy Pop's Instinct (1988)

Iggy Pop's Instinct
Jimmy Osterberg was one of our childhood idols, you know. The levels of gratuitous, hormone-induced violence performed by even the meekest of adolescent males suffering through puberty during 1969 and ’70 were reflected in and, in some instances, given form by Osterberg a/k/a Iggy Pop. Through his chosen medium, rock ‘n’ roll, and his awesome vehicle, the Stooges, Pop preached the gospel of angst and alienation, singing with a madman’s fervor that appealed to the budding anarchist in all of us.

Iggy lived and breathed the auto-erotic ether of self-inflicted nihilism, nightly plunging through that white light/white heat wall-of-sound to swan dive, headfirst, into the gaping, toothy maw of Death. Painfully flagellating himself with the mike stand in a rite of passionate (un)holy penance; unflinchingly rolling, nearly-naked, across an onstage blanket of blood, feces, and jagged shards of glass; always pulling back at that final moment, never quite breaking through, collapsing in a pulpy heap of battered flesh to be carried offstage for another night’s attempt at destiny.

Unlike Jim Morrison, or even Janis Joplin – both peers of Iggy’s – Pop survived his frequent sojourns into the abyss, fading into late ‘70s obscurity until resurrected by the Thin White Duke to act as an elderly icon for a generation of young, would-be punks hell-bent on self-destruction. Nearly 20 years after the Stooges’ influential vinyl triptych of sonic style and three-chord artistry; after almost a dozen solo elpees which run the gamut from brilliant to brain-dead, Iggy is back with a new label and a new album, Instinct. Working for the first time with producer Bill Laswell (Material, Mick Jagger, Afrika Bambaata)…an odd couple matching if ever there was one…Iggy has put together a tougher-than-steel band led by the blitzkrieg six-string mastery of ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones that comes mighty close to the aural purge-and-stomp abilities of the heyday Stooges.

Walking the thin line between punk power and metal overkill that he created, Iggy has returned with a saber-rattling fury, knocking down ten new numbers as only Pop could. Jones’ chainsaw guitar riffs compliment Iggy’s guttural vocals, which range from stark primal screams to smoky, lounge-lizard-styled dirges. The angst is still there, and the alienation is tempered by age and an often-cynical romanticism. Iggy may have grown older, but he’s gotten no softer…there’s life in the ol’ boy yet…and with albums like Instinct, Pop can and will influence an entirely new generation of youth looking for a little of that old search and destroy action while he still remains a rock ‘n’ roll idol for us jaded anachronisms. (A&M Records, released 1988)

Buy the CD from Iggy Pop’s Instinct

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988

Friday, May 17, 2019

Archive Review: NoFX & Rancid's BYO Split Series, Volume 3 (2002)

NoFX & Rancid's BYO Split Series, Volume 3
The idea of the “split” disc certainly isn’t a new one – I remember seeing “battle of the bands” styled albums that pitted the Beatles against some lightweight pretenders like the Four Seasons in the bins some thirty years ago. Punk has picked up the tradition with mixed results, tho’ I wouldn’t trade my Rudiments/Jack Kevorkian’s Suicide Machines split CD for anything less than a C-note. BYO Records has made an art form out of what is essentially a commercial marketing ploy, matching dissimilar bands together on a single disc to great effect. This NoFX/Rancid pairing is the third in the series, with each band delivering covers of five of the other band’s tunes, and let me say that it kicks ass in more ways than I can recount here…
Although both NoFX and Rancid are part of a California punk rock tradition, the resemblance ends with their geographic proximity. Influenced by bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, NoFX have always followed a sort of tongue-in-cheek, smutty juvenile hardcore aesthetic, which in turn has been watered down and exploited by such bubblegum punk poseurs as Blink-182. From their ska-punk roots in Operation Ivy to their current status as indie-rock royalty, Rancid has always been a group of died-in-the-wool Clash acolytes.

The dissimilarity in the styles of the two bands is what makes this split disc work, however. NoFX nail Rancid’s Clash fixation with manic readings of tunes like “Olympia WA” and “Tenderloin,” Fat Mike, El Jefe and the boys waxing Rasta with a reggae-tinged take on “Radio.” For their part, Rancid mix things up a bit and crank up the volume, sounding like nothing so much as a bunch of drunken frat boys. “Moron Brothers” is a frenetic musical leap-of-faith while covers of “Stickin’ In My Eye” and “Bob” roar from 0 to 100 mph with high-octane sound and seemingly endless energy. The disc closes with “Vanilla Sex,” a brilliant anti-censorship screed that Rancid infuses with new spirit and perspective. Altogether, the ten tracks offered here will have you bouncing off the walls like some sort of gleeful punk rock dervish. (BYO Records, released March 5, 2002)

Review originally published by Big O magazine (Singapore), 2003

Buy the CD from NoFX & Rancid’s BYO Split Series, Volume 3

Monday, May 13, 2019

Archive Review: Timothy Truman and the Dixie Pistols' Marauders (1988)

Timothy Truman and the Dixie Pistols' Marauders
If I’ve said it to you once, I’ve said it to you a million times – the best rock ‘n’ roll music isn’t necessarily found on the major labels. Case in point: Timothy Truman and his merry band of houserockin’ fools, the Dixie Pistols; Truman is best known as the writer, artist, and creator of the Eclipse Comics publication Scout, an intelligent and original graphic portrayal of the United States of the next century, a visionary work that is at once both terrifying and intriguing. A flexi-disc included as a bonus “soundtrack” is an issue of Scout illustrated Truman’s skills as a bona fide rocker and led to the release by Eclipse of Truman’s and their first vinyl project, Marauders.

Truman and the Dixie Pistols practice the working man’s blues, worshipping at the altar of Robert Johnson and kicking out a righteous blend of soul-tinged, blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll madness, creating a mutant hybrid that started 50 years ago in the Mississippi Delta and has roared as an angry golem aboard a hell-bound, lightning-powered locomotive in the soul and spirit of every sad-singing, passionate axeman and artist from Johnson through B.B. King, Albert King, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and legions of others attending the selfsame shrine.

Timothy Truman's Scout
Marauders holds within its grooves the aural essence of the smoke-filled bar, the straight bourbon shot with a beer chaser, and the alluring stare of that woman at the next table. Serving up a healthy dose of house-party, bring-down-the-roof madness, Truman and the Dixie Pistols romp and frolic through ten numbers that are hotter than the dog days of summer and more soulful than a roomful o’ blues!

Marauders is the real thing, folks – sincere, inspired, joyful music unencumbered by music industry expectations, commercial concessions, or corporate image-mongering. Musically, Truman and the Pistols are a skilled bunch of musicians with frequent flashes of brilliance. Although the tunes are derivative in the genre’s style, the material is original and respectful, showing a love for the tradition without being revivalist or patronizing. All in all, Timothy Truman and the Dixie Pistols’ Marauders is an entertaining, enjoyable album and a hell of a love of fun. The best music isn’t necessarily found on those big boy labels, a fact proven by this sleeper of a disc, a solid debut from a group that nobody’s heard of, released by a comic book company. (Eclipse Records, released 1988)

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988

Friday, May 10, 2019

Archive Review: The Mooney Suzuki's Electric Sweat (2003)

The Mooney Suzuki's Electric Sweat
There have been many artists and bands that have genuflected before the altar of Detroit rock ‘n’ roll, but among the many acolytes infected with the “Motor City Madness,” few have delivered the goods with the intensity and integrity of the Mooney Suzuki. While the critical establishment wets its collective short pants over the Strokes (this humble scribe included), across town the Mooney Suzuki is breathing fire and shooting thunderbolts from their instruments with the best impersonation of a sixties-era garage band that you’re likely to hear circa 2002.

Electric Sweat, the New York City foursome’s dynamic sophomore effort, continues the high-voltage overkill established by their year 2000 debut People Get Ready. With axes set on stun, Sammy James Jr., John Paul Ribas, Graham Tyler and Will Rockwell channel the ghosts of the MC5, the Yardbirds, Iggy, and countless other grunge masters in songs like the anthemic “In A Young Man’s Mind” or the Farfisa-drenched R&B rave-up “It’s Showtime, Pt II.” James’ vocals evoke memories of Rob Tyner while Tyler’s careless dedication to craft makes his six-string weapon of destruction roar and wail like metal clashing against metal. Feedback seeps into every corner of these songs, rock ‘n’ roll lightning dancing across every track on Electric Sweat.

Even the CD booklet brings back memories of smoke-filled nights in Ann Arbor, the photo of the four mopes in the Mooney Suzuki resembling a younger, contemporary Sonic Rendezvous Band. Forget about the Strokes, the White Stripes, the Hives and any other pretender to the throne – the Mooney Suzuki are the real thing, as true to the promise of rock ‘n’ roll  as a stack o’ tattered old copies of Creem magazine. Roll over Beethoven; tell Lester Bangs the news – the Mooney Suzuki are here to rock your world! (Gammon Records, released April 9, 2002)

Review originally published by Big O Magazine (Singapore), 2003

Buy the CD from The Mooney Suzuki’s Electric Sweat

Friday, May 3, 2019

Archive Review: Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare (1975/2002)

Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare
When Alice Cooper, the band, broke up in the mid-‘70s due to the rigors of stardom (insert imagination here), many thought that Alice Cooper, the man, was history. Alice was, after all, an honest-to-god freakshow, the controversial artist behind such future classics as “School’s Out,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” and “I’m Eighteen.” Without the backing of strong musicians such as Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, cried the critics and other observers, Cooper was on his way to becoming nothing more than an interesting footnote in the checkered history of rock ‘n’ roll.

The 1975 release of Alice’s solo debut, Welcome To My Nightmare, proved the critics wrong and provided Cooper with some degree of vindication. With the benefit of hindsight, we critical types now consider Cooper to be one of the legends of rock ‘n’ roll, a heavy metal godfather who has influenced artists such as Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, among many others. Back in ’75, though, teenage whiz kids such as myself couldn’t have cared less about the ruminations of a bunch of erudite college grads slumming in the ghetto of rock criticism. Alice Freakin’ Cooper had a new album out and for hundreds of thousands of high school stoners, rockers, and underachievers, that was good enough for us!

Conceived by Cooper as a concept album (which tied in with the effects-laden stage show and wildly successful tour that accompanied Welcome To My Nightmare), the album both blazed new trails and also revisited classic Cooper-styled songs. It introduced Cooper the ‘crooner’, yielding a monster hit in the ballad “Only Woman Bleed” that won the artist a new distaff audience and opened the door for power ballads by contemporaries like Ozzie and a slew of ‘80s hair bands. Welcome To My Nightmare also further defined horror rock with monster cuts like the title track, “The Black Widow” (complete with children’s choir) and “Cold Ethyl,” with narration provided by the crown price of terror, Vincent Price. “Department of Youth” was a stylistic throwback to Cooper’s previous band sound, with Detroit rocker Johnny “Bee” Badanjek delivering a solid drumbeat behind Cooper’s vocals. To replace the muscular sound of his long-standing band, Cooper recruited Lou Reed’s rock ‘n’ roll animals, guitarists Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, who stacked up fiery riffs like so much sawmill fodder throughout the songs on Welcome To My Nightmare

The remastered Rhino reissue of Welcome To My Nightmare brings new brilliance to the sound of this classic album and adds previously unreleased live versions of “Devil’s Food,” “Cold Ethyl,” and “The Awakening” culled from an ABC television special. Manic liner notes from Cooper biographer Jeffrey Morgan and a handful of rare photos round out an exceptional package. Although I personally would like to have seen Rhino begin their restoration of the Alice Cooper catalog with early albums like Love It To Death or Killer, the work that they’ve done with Welcome To My Nightmare and, previously, Billion Dollar Babies, is nevertheless impressive. If your knowledge of Alice Cooper is limited to his early band work or more recent metal horror albums, you owe it to yourself to check out Welcome To My Nightmare. (Rhino Records)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Buy the CD from Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: May 2019 Releases

April showers are history, and May is gonna break the bank with more hot new music than you can shake your debit card at! Rockers can rejoice with albums by Bad Religion, Dream Syndicate, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Sammy Hagar, Sebadoh, and a whole lot more. Fans of blues, soul, and R&B music will find a lot to like with new music by talents like Mavis Staples, Southern Avenue, the Cash Box Kings, Jimmie Vaughan, Duke Robillard, and Albert Castiglia as well as a red-hot live set by Joe Louis Walker and an archive release by Johnny Shines...and don't forget to check out the debut album from blues newcomer Christone "Kingfish" Ingram!

Like reggae/dub? Then check out the Adrian Sherwood-produced LP by the legendary Lee "Scratch" Perry and a new set from Steel Pulse. Throw in archival releases like a deluxe multi-disc version of British rock legends Be-Bop Deluxe's Futurama album, a multi-platter Traffic vinyl box set, and more affordable releases by Lee Moses and D.O.A. and May is going to be a great month for music lovers! 

If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ in the Reverend’s pocket that he’ll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy!

Be-Bop Deluxe's Futurama

Bad Religion - Age of Unreason   BUY!
Be-Bop Deluxe - Futurama [deluxe box set]   BUY!
Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes - End of Suffering   BUY!
D.O.A. - 1978 [singles & unreleased tracks]   BUY!
Dream Syndicate - These Times   BUY!
Editors - The Blanck Mass Sessions   BUY!
L7 - Scatter the Rats   BUY!
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul - Summer of Sorcery   BUY!
Carla Olson & Todd Wolfe - The Hidden Hills Sessions   BUY!
Johnny Shines - The Blues Came Falling Down, Live 1973   BUY!
Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride   BUY!

Joe Louis Walker's Viva Las Vegas Live

MAY 10
A.A. Bondy - Enderness   BUY!
Clinic - Wheeltappers and Shunters   BUY!
Daddy Long Legs - Lowdown Ways   BUY!
Sammy Hagar & the Circle - Space Between   BUY!
Meat Beat Manifesto - Opaque Couché    BUY!
Southern Avenue - Keep On   BUY!
Mavis Staples - We Get By   BUY!
Joe Louis Walker - Viva Las Vegas Live [CD & DVD]   BUY!

Christone Kingfish Ingram's Kingfish

MAY 17
Cash Box Kings - Hail To the Kings!   BUY!
Paul Gilbert - Behold Electric Guitar   BUY!
Imperial Wax - Gatswerk Saboteurs   BUY!
Interpol - A Fine Mess EP   BUY!
Christone "Kingfish" Ingram - Kingfish   BUY!
The National - I Am Easy To Find   BUY!
Duke Robillard - Ear Worms   BUY!
Steel Pulse - Mass Manipulation   BUY!
Traffic - The Studio Albums 1967-1974 [vinyl box set]   BUY!
Jimmie Vaughan - Baby, Please Come Home    BUY!

Black Mountain's Destroyer

MAY 24
Black Mountain - Destroyer   BUY!
Albert Castiglia - Masterpiece
Adam Holt - Kind of Blues
Morrissey - California Son   BUY!
Lee Moses - How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965-1972   BUY!
Sebadoh - Act Surprised   BUY!

Lee Scratch Perry's Rainford

MAY 31
Duff McKagan - Tenderness [w/Shooter Jennings]   BUY!
Lee "Scratch" Perry - Rainford [produced by Adrian Sherwood]   BUY!
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - And Now For the Whatchamacalit   BUY!
Soundwalk Collective & Patti Smith - The Peyote Dance   BUY!

Little Steven's Summer of Sorcery

Album of the Month: There can only be one "album of the month," and while May offers up lots of choices for this honor, the Rev has to go with Little Steven's Summer of Sorcery. It's the E Street legend's first collection of new music in two decades. Summer of Sorcery features a dozen Van Zandt originals, including one song revisited from his Revolution album, an outtake from the Lilyhammer score, and ten new songs written during Little Steven's Soulfire tour. Van Zandt was joined in the studio by his road-tested touring band and you can get a taste of Summer of Sorcery via the videos below...

Friday, April 26, 2019

Archive Review: The Reivers' Saturday (1987)

The Reivers' Saturday
As Zeitgeist, they delivered one of 1985’s best albums, the indie label triumph Translate Slowly, an engaging collection of tough, acoustic-based traditionalist numbers that included inspired original material alongside excellent covers (such as Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain”). In their present incarnation as the Reivers (glomming their moniker, appropriately enough, from William Faulkner’s final novel), this Austin, Texas-based quartet offer up Saturday, a great batch of tunes that make the wait of over two years well worth it.

The Reivers practice a sort of new wave of roots awareness, performing material that is a pleasant mixture of dreamy melodies, hook-ridden rhythmic pop, and guitar-based folk-rock harmony. Kim Longacre’s soaring, haunting vocals share the songs, lyrically, with John Croslin’s monotone, talking-blues styled delivery to create an effect that is at once both hypnotic and enchantingly ethereal. The instrumentation is tight, at times minimalistic, and serves as a counterpoint to the harmony and fluidity of the vocals.

Zeitgeist's Translate Slowly
To call the Reivers neo-traditionalists is, perhaps, a misnomer and a disservice; although they do, indeed, draw both musically and lyrically from the well of traditional music, they do so only with proper respect, incorporating such influences into their creations instead of merely mimicking those artists who passed before. The result is an entirely engaging work, artistic in scope though entertaining in execution. Saturday is a welcome return to the old friend with a new name…I just hope that the Reivers don’t wait so long before they grace our lives again with their song. (Capitol Records, released 1987)

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1987

Monday, April 22, 2019

Short Rounds: Steve Earle, Nils Lofgren, Lone Justice, Adam Sandler, Sour Ops, Robin Trower & Jimmie Vaughan (2019)

Steve Earle's Guy
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Steve EarleGuy (Yep Roc Records)
Much as he did for his mentor, Townes Van Zandt, Americana legend Steve Earle pays tribute to his friend (and musical influence) Guy Clark by tackling some of the scribe’s best songs on Guy. As great a songwriter as Van Zandt may have been, much of his material depended on his own laconic delivery style; Clark, on the other hand, was a traditional country/folk songwriter which, IMHO, makes his material better for interpretation. Earle does his old friend right, with stellar performances of well-worn Clark tunes like “Dublin Blues,” “Rita Ballou,” “L.A. Freeway,” and the classic “Desperados Waiting For A Train” as well as lesser-known songs like the lovely “Old Friends” or the rollicking “Texas 1947.” The performances, by Earle’s talented touring band the Dukes, are filled with grit, emotion, and spirit but it’s Earle’s heartfelt vocals and Clark’s transcendent lyricism that make Guy a true joy to hear. Grade: A   BUY!

Nils Lofgren's Blue with Lou
Nils LofgrenBlue with Lou (Cattle Track Road Records)
Springsteen’s E Street Band cohort Nils Lofgren is an acclaimed solo artist in his own right, with a couple dozen acclaimed albums to his name. Blue with Lou is Lofgren’s first studio LP since 2011’s Old School, and it’s a real banger, one of the best in Lofgren’s extensive catalog. Half the twelve tracks here were co-written with the late Lou Reed and their electrifying performances provide a fitting tribute to the rock ‘n’ roll legend. Nils’ original songs like “Rock or Not” and “Dear Heartbreaker,” his tribute to Tom Petty, prove that Lofgren is no slouch in the songwriting department himself and if “Remember You” – an ode to his late dog Groucho – doesn’t leave you in tears, you’re not human. Blue with Lou offers a dozen guitar-driven songs featuring Lofgren’s warm, distinctive vocals and vivid, colorful fretwork, the result an entertaining old-school rock album that revels in its innocence. Grade: A   BUY!

Lone Justice's Live At the Palomino 1983
Lone Justice – Live At the Palomino 1983 (Omnivore Recordings)
Years before signing with Geffen Records, Lone Justice was just another L.A. band trying to make a name on a competitive, creative local scene that ran the gamut from Los Lobos and the Blasters to X and Black Flag. Featuring Maria McKee’s soaring vocals and guitarist Ryan Hedgecock’s inspired, underrated guitar playing, Lone Justice combined rock and country music, delivered with punkish intensity unlike anyone else at the time. Live At the Palomino 1983 captures the band at its most feverish, this captivating live show offering glimpses of their debut album in original songs like “Working Late” and “You Are the Light” as well as red-hot covers like Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues.” Celebrity fans like Tom Petty, Little Steven, and Linda Ronstadt got the band a major label deal, and even if they didn’t last very long, Live At the Palomino 1983 is proof that Lone Justice burned brightly. Grade: A   BUY!

Adam Sandler's 100% Fresh
Adam Sandler – 100% Fresh (Warner Bros.)
Former SNL cast member Adam Sandler’s humor has always been an acquired taste, his stand-up chops questionable at best. Still, I’ve always cut him some slack; if he’s not as funny as his buddy Chris Rock, Sandler was still good for a couple of memorable bits per album. With 100% Fresh, the soundtrack to his new Netflix special, Sandler’s stand-up sinks as low as his recent made-for-streaming movies. A scattershot collection of half-baked sketches, unfinished songs, and plainly unfunny bits that take on the modern culture of ride-sharing, electric cars, cell phones and, yes, Amazon, there’s barely a single laugh to be had among the album’s 55 ‘tracks’. The production quality is shit, the club audiences obviously drunk, and Sadler’s smug, self-satisfying delivery tiring. Save your money and leave this turd on the shelf; buy something by comedic talents like Lewis Black, Kathleen Madigan, Mike Birbiglia, or Patton Oswalt instead. Grade: F   BUY?

Sour Ops' Tinder Flame EP
Sour OpsTinder Flame EP (Feralette Records)
Nashville’s cyclone-strength rockers quickly follow-up on their critically-acclaimed 2018 LP Family Circuit with a similarly-tailored five-song EP that’s guaran-damn-teed to blow the roof off your mobile home. Tinder Flame offers more of the same, but different, from the title track’s new wavish guitarfest and intriguing lyrics to the popish “Hung In the Trees,” which is Big Star by way of the Replacements. “Animal Magnetism” is simply magnificent, from its shimmering guitars (courtesy of brothers Price and Mark Harrison) to its heavy, uranium-weight rhythms (via bassist Tony Frost and drummer George Lilly) while “Again” is a relentless, psych-drenched leviathan demanding your allegiance. Sour Ops incorporates four decades of rock history into a sound entirely its own. If you’ve been looking for guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll played the way the music’s forefathers (Chuck, Elvis, Mick & Keef) intended, check out Tinder Flame. Seldom have sixteen minutes of music been so damn satisfying! Grade: A   BUY!

Robin Trower's Coming Closer To the Day
Robin TrowerComing Closer To the Day (Provogue Records)
At an age when most artists would be content to rest on their laurels, 1970s-era guitar hero Robin Trower continues to regularly crank out albums. Coming Closer To the Day – the follow-up to the guitarist’s 2017 album Time and Emotion – manages to mix the bluesy undercurrent of Trower’s previous few releases with the psych-drench six-string pyrotechnics of his classic early LPs like Bridge of Sighs. While it’s always been good, Trower’s guitar playing hasn’t sounded this provocative in years, songs like the soulful “Truth or Lies,” the boogie-blues tune “Tide of Confusion,” and the exotic title track displaying a fire and purpose that you didn’t know was missing from his recent work. Yes, Trower’s flawed vocals pale in comparison to former frontmen like James Dewar or Davey Pattison, but who listens to a Robin Trower LP to hear him sing? His transcendent fretwork says all that needs to be said. Grade: A   BUY!

Jimmie Vaughan's Baby, Please Come Home
Jimmie VaughanBaby, Please Come Home (The Last Music Co)
Aside from being an incredibly-talented guitarist, Texas blues legend Jimmie Vaughan is also a remarkable song stylist. Albums like 2011’s Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites are loaded with covers but, unlike his friend and contemporary Duke Robillard, who perfectly captures the original vibe of an old standard, Vaughan also puts his own stank on each performance. Baby, Please Come Home is a true musical celebration, the guitarist revisiting influential blues and R&B tracks by legends like Lloyd Price, T-Bone Walker, Fats Domino, Jimmy Reed, and others. Price’s title track is infused with vintage ‘50s horn blasts, Walker’s “I’m Still In Love With You” is a sizzling shuffle with tinkling piano, Fats’ “So Glad” is a swaggering Orleans-flavored strut, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Midnight Hour” is simply drenched in soul. Vaughan’s fretwork is astounding throughout, so if old-school rhythm and blues is your game, then Jimmie Vaughan is your man! Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, March 2019: Tommy Castro, Gary Clark Jr, R. Stevie Moore, Jason Ringenberg, 3x4

Short Rounds, February 2019: Pete Berwick, Big Star, Ted Drozdowski, Walter Trout & Watermelon Slim
Short Rounds, January 2019: Badfinger, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Billy Bremner, Dave Davies & Midnight Oil

Friday, April 19, 2019

Archive Review: Los Lobos' By the Light of the Moon (1987)

Los Lobos' By the Light of the Moon
It’s an unfortunate reality that rock ‘n’ roll, the corporate entity, is by its very exclusive nature, inherent racism, and bureaucratic unintelligence, pretty much a white man’s game. Oft times, all the hype, hoopla, and promotion is spent on the wrong artists or product, and musicians who fail, by reason of birth, to make the cut, are doomed to obscurity or, worse yet, an audience limited by racial demographics. It’s a damn shame, too, for sheer, potent rock ‘n’ roll is not an exclusively lily-white art form. Case in point – Rick James can, and regularly does, out-rock any one of a number of lesser-talented AOR staples, doing it with energy, intelligence, and a measure of ballsy braggadocio.

Still, when was the last time you heard a Rick James song on your local “rock radio”? For every Prince or Michael Jackson who achieve multi-Platinum™ success in spite of the limitations of programing and promotion, there are dozens of talented artists and bands who suffer the commercial degradation of racial inequality. This editorializing is an attempt, however successful, to let you know what you may have been missing. There’s a whole world of talented musicians out there who aren’t represented on the charts, programed on the radio, or viewed on MTV. Los Lobos is one such band.

Roaring out of the Spanish-speaking slums of East Los Angeles, Los Lobos are a damn fine rock ‘n’ roll outfit of Mexican-American origin, carrying on a tradition that began some two decades ago with the crooning of Ritchie Valens and the garage-rock of Thee Midniters and continuing in an almost unbroken line through such contemporaries as Ruben & the Jets, Con Safos, and the Plugz (who would become the Cruzados). Unlike many artists of non-Anglo heritage who attempt to hide or downplay their ethnic origins, Los Lobos are proud of who they are and where they come from.

By the Light of the Moon is Los Lobos’ second major label album and follows much the same footsteps as 1985’s critically-acclaimed How Will the Wolf Survive? A blend of soulful, R&B, American-styled guitar-rock, and melodic, haunting traditional Mexican folk music, Los Lobos and By the Light of the Moon present a stylistic offering that is fresh, original, and at once both like and unlike much of what you may have heard before (strains of Doug Sahmn’s Tex-Mex musings reach my ears, as does brooding blues music not unlike Stevie Ray Vaughan). Lyrically, Los Lobos tend to sing of romance, pride, and wisdom.

The result is an all-too-brief glimpse into a culture that parallels that of the predominantly-white Anglo record-buying public. It would be a shame to allow such intelligent and thoughtful art drop into obscurity needlessly. Artists such as Los Lobos have too much to offer to be ignored for reasons of race, demographics, or ethnic prejudice…and if this does occur, we are all the much poorer for it. (Slash Records/Warner Bros, 1987)

Buy the album from Los Lobos’ By the Light of the Moon

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1987

Friday, April 12, 2019

Archive Review: The New York Dolls’ Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004 (2004)

The New York Dolls’ Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004
When I was a kid, say fourteen or fifteen, I read Creem magazine religiously. It was my cultural bible, the one single lifeline I had from the rural suburbs of Nashville to the entire world of music. Seldom did Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs, and friends steer me wrong, and thanks to these pioneers of rock criticism, I discovered bands like the Stooges, the Dictators, the MC5, the Flamin’ Groovies, and the New York Dolls.

The New York Dolls always had a special place in my heart, the band’s outrageous first album a constant companion after its release. In high school, friends would invite me to parties at Wendy J’s, knowing that if they left me with a six-pack and the stereo, that I would be the deejay. I’d keep the music playing while couples paired off and wandered up the hill behind Wendy’s house to make out, lulling them into complacency with a little Billy Joel or Aerosmith. Once I knew that they were, ahem...“busy”...I’d hit ‘em with the New York Dolls. One time I made it through the entirety of side one before somebody came down the hill to request a less boisterous choice in music.

The New York Dolls’ Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004

Unfortunately, two albums into their brief career, the Dolls started to fall apart. First guitarist Johnny Thunders left the fold, followed soon thereafter by drummer Jerry Nolan, the two forming the Heartbreakers. Dolls’ vocalist David Johansen soldiered on with guitarist Sylvain Sylvain in various incarnations of the band. There was the disastrous Malcom McLaren era, which we can blame for the creation of the Sex Pistols (i.e. Dolls lite), but by 1977 – a mere four years after their groundbreaking first album – the band was kaput. Notorious junkie Thunders would overdose in 1991 and Nolan would die a few months later of a stroke. The spirit of the New York Dolls would live on however, influencing hundreds of young bands fueled by the Dolls’ two timeless studio albums, and countless live bootlegs and outtakes/rarities collections.

One of the young artists infatuated with the New York Dolls was a chap by the name of Morrissey, who would make a splash of his own during the ‘80s as frontman for the Smiths. The former President of the Dolls’ British fan club, Morrissey invited the surviving members of the band to perform at the 2004 Meltdown Festival that he was involved in promoting. Johansen, Sylvain and bassist Arthur Kane agreed, enlisting guitarist Steve Conte from Johansen’s band and drummer Gary Powell from the Libertines for the performance. The evening was subsequently captured on both CD and DVD as Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004, released on Morrissey’s Attack Records label and distributed stateside by Sanctuary.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory

Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004 offers up a predictable selection of the Dolls’ “greatest hits,” drawing heavily from the band’s classic debut album. Tunes like “Looking For A Kiss,” “Jet Boy,” “Trash,” “Frankenstein,” and “Personality Crisis” still rock the house like a wrecking ball, Johansen’s hoarse, soulful vocals none the worse for the wear some thirty years after the fact. Sylvain still has awesome chops, and although Conte is a solid technical guitarist, he doesn’t possess the reckless spontaneity that Thunders brought to the band back in the day.

As a sort of “reunion” show, Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004 passes muster, Johansen’s energetic performance breathing new life into the old songs. The band’s tribute to Johnny Thunders – a heartfelt reading of his “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” – appropriately revisits one of Thunders’ best songs. The entire reunion performance was considered a success and there was talk of future shows. Sadly, tragedy struck the Dolls again shortly after the Meltdown performance when founding member Arthur “Killer” Kane died of previously undiagnosed leukemia.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004 won’t replace the two original Dolls studio albums, but it is a fine tribute to the band’s legacy, offering a glimpse of the energy and intensity of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s finest cult bands. Just as the New York Dolls inspired a generation of punks like the Ramones, the Damned, and the Smiths, so too can their influence be found in the sound of bands like the Libertines, the Strokes, the Hives, and others who genuflect at the garage rock altar. This is music straight from the wellspring of rock ‘n’ roll, timeless in nature and a hell of a lot of fun... (Sanctuary Records, released October 5, 2004)

Buy the CD from The New York DollsLive From Royal Festival Hall, 2004

Friday, April 5, 2019

Archive Review: Saint Vitus's V (1989/2004)

Saint Vitus's V
Every rock band of any importance over the past forty years has influenced those who have followed. Just as the ‘British Invasion’ era of the Beatles, the Stones, and the Who encouraged hundreds...if not thousands...of American teens to pick up guitars and form garage rock bands, so too does heavy metal have its touchstone artists. None, it would seem, have enjoyed the longevity or cast as long a shadow as Black Sabbath. Sure, Led Zeppelin has its legion of followers and Metallica fans swap live recordings with the fervor of the most diehard Deadhead. Ozzy-era Sabbath, however, seemingly wrote the playbook from which damn near every heavy metal band since has nicked a page or two.

No metal sub-genre has absorbed more Sabbath influence than has “doom metal.” Ostensibly evolving out of the marshes of Mordor sometime in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, “doom metal” and its kissing cousins – “stoner metal” and “death metal” – represent both the most creative and the most dark-natured extremes of the metal genre. Doom metal is comprised of slow, plodding power chords sharply punctuated by razor-sharp riffs, supported by explosive drumbeats, and smothering rhythms. It is brutish, blistering, lead-pipe-to-the-skull music with an unrelenting sense of purpose and those who listen to it (this scribe included) have no time for the gossip-column antics and on-stage mincing of many of today’s radio-friendly hard rock bands.

Saint Vitus’s V

Of the many doom metal outfits born in the aftermath of Black Sabbath’s heavy metal thunder, none were as misunderstood as Saint Vitus. The Los Angeles band was formed in 1979, a longhaired, heavy metal anachronism among the city’s hardcore punk scene. It didn’t help the band’s marketing efforts any that they were signed to a punk label – SST Records, home of Black Flag – even if label head Greg Ginn did recognize the band’s talents. Early albums failed to earn the band much more than a cult following. With the addition of former Obsessed frontman Scott “Wino” Weinrich in 1986 it looked, for a moment, as if Saint Vitus might break out of the underground and achieve a modicum of mainstream success.

Unfortunately, the release of 1989’s excellent V proved to be both the band’s high mark and its swansong. Disillusioned, Weinrich left the band shortly after the album’s release to reform the Obsessed, a band that would subsequently forge its own obscure legacy and cult status. Saint Vitus carried on for another few years and a couple of albums, but never equaled the achievement of V or expanded its audience beyond a loyal following and a few celebrity fans like Dave Grohl.

Southern Lord – a label seemingly dedicated to resurrecting doom metal – has reissued V complete with bonus video you can watch on your computer. A classic of doom metal, brought back, as it were, from the grave, V belongs on the stereo of every man, woman, and child that yearns for a truly HEAVY rock ‘n’ roll experience. Think Vanilla Fudge on ‘ludes and you’ll approximate the sound of Saint Vitus.

I Bleed Black

Saint Vitus's V
While many bands these days seem to think that they have to fill up all 80 minutes available on a CD, Saint Vitus got the job done with a mere eight songs and 35 minutes of tape. The songs are so powerful, so omnipotent that only the heartiest of listeners can withstand the full-force musical hurricane that is V. The album opens with “Living Backwards,” a charming ode to alienation that rolls out with a Sabbath-styled monster riff, Wino’s piercing vocals strangling the lyrics while guitarist Dave Chandler hits bone with his chainsaw lead.

After a mere two-and-a-half minutes of bludgeoning the listener with its warm-up song, Saint Vitus kicks in with the real shit. “I Bleed Black” sounds much like, I’d wager, the aural equivalent of a heart attack. Mark Adam’s bass throbs erratically like adrenaline ripping through your veins while Chandler’s supersonic riffs sound like some sort of interstellar voyage. The band changes pace with “When Emotion Dies,” which means that they slow down things even more with an atmosphere-heavy funeral dirge for the loss of humanity or the birth of a nation of zombies or some other such disturbing lyrical fare.

At 7 minutes plus, “Patra (Petra)” is a monster unleashed, deliberate vocals paired with painful subsonic rhythms and shot through with white hot guitar shrapnel. “Ice Monkey” lightens things up a bit, a relatively faster-paced rocker with superb guitarwork while “Jack Frost” is a loving, bass-heavy ode to the annual death of nature. V closes with “Angry Man” and “Mind-Food.’ The former is a musical cross between Dio-era Sabbath and Dio-era Rainbow with pissed-off, punk rock lyrics and scattershot six-string madness while the latter pairs psychedelic-era poetry with Ozzy-styled vocals and riff-heavy sludge-rock.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

As I mentioned before, the Southern Lord reissue of V includes a nifty little perk, a 28-minute video of Wino’s first show with Saint Vitus. Shot on amateur video with all the jerky transitions and obligatory zoom shots that the medium implies, the performance – in some crappy Palm Springs community center – is nevertheless electrifying. The video does a fine job of capturing the band’s energy and power, the lens closing in on every guitar and bass solo and framing Wino’s every move with loving caresses.

There can’t have been that many people at this May 1986 show, there is no stage to speak of, no drum riser, no clean sound or light rig and yet Saint Vitus play with all the sweat and ferocity of a band headlining a stadium gig. It’s this dedication and energy that Weinrich, Chandler, Adams, and drummer Armando Acosta brought to their music that earned Saint Vitus a rabid if small fan following. V is a good example of what Saint Vitus was all about and one of the few true enduring classics of doom metal, a genre that refuses to die and continues to win over new fans each year... (Southern Lord Records, released July 27, 2004)

Buy the CD from Saint Vitus’s V

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2004

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Archive Review: The Fleshtones’ Beachhead (2005)

The Fleshtones' Beachhead
It’s hard to believe that the Fleshtones have been banging away at it for damn near thirty years. With more than a dozen albums and several thousand raucous live performances under their collective belts, one would think that these garage-rock greybeards would be running out of steam by now...and you’d be dead wrong, chuckles! While the band’s 2003 album Can You Swing? effectively resurrected the Fleshtones and placed them back at the forefront of the rock ‘n’ roll pecking order where they belong, Beachhead stands as the band’s magnum opus. A culmination of three decades of blood, sweat and beers, this is the one Fleshtones disc where it all comes together.

Working with two quite different producers in two distinctly varied environments, the band has managed to perfectly capture its eclectic musical mix of Sky Saxon, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, and Stax soul. While Jim Diamond brings a certain contemporary street cred to the Fleshtones sound – the in-demand producer working with the band in his Ghetto Recorders studio in Detroit – Rick Miller of Southern Culture On The Skids adds a classic rock vibe to the tracks recorded at his Kudzu Ranch. Mix the results up in the final track listing and these two sides of the same coin meld together to present the indomitable rock ‘n’ roll spirit of the Fleshtones in the best light possible.

The Fleshtones’ Beachhead
The larger-than-life “Pretty Pretty Pretty,” driven by Keith Streng’s guitar and Pete Zaremba’s keyboard riffing, has received weekly airplay on Little Steven’s Underground Garage syndicated radio program, and for good reasons. The sound is all deliciously greasy meat and fried potatoes. Zaremba’s yelping vocals provide a sucker punch to your eardrums while the band rifles through your belongings for loose change. “You Never Know” nicks the guitar intro from “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” fattening it up with flange and reverb and reclaiming it for the ages, Zaremba’s snottier-than-thou vox channeled directly from the ghost of some long-dead teen vocalist from 1965. “I Want The Answers” is a case study in rock ‘n’ roll primitivism, the song’s swelling six-string crescendos and nonsensical lyrics adding to, rather than subtracting from the tune's party-time vibe.

The Fleshtones have long eschewed the “garage rock” label, preferring their own term “super rock.” It’s an apt description, given the Fleshtones’ sound and unflagging dedication to the truth and beauty of rock ‘n’ roll. Regardless of what you want to call it, the Fleshtones have consistently cranked out entertaining music for the better part of thirty years, and Beachhead is no exception. (Yep Roc Records, released August 9th, 2005)

Buy the CD from The Fleshtones’ Beachhead

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005

Monday, April 1, 2019

Book Review: Gillian G. Gaar's World Domination - The Sub Pop Records Story (2018)

The longevity of Seattle-based independent label Sub Pop Records is a tribute to the indomitable human spirit; a triumph of rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics over commercial considerations. Formed in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt, the label was an offshoot of his Subterranean Pop music zine (Sub Pop – geddit?) and a labor of love that seems to have gotten out of control. After releasing a series of acclaimed, moderately-selling cassettes, Pavitt scraped up enough money to release the label’s first vinyl LP, the Sub Pop 100 compilation. Featuring performances from indie stalwarts like Sonic Youth, the Wipers, and Naked Raygun, the album provided the fledgling label with instant street cred.

When local rockers Green River – which included future members of Pearl Jam and Mudhoney – chose to record their Dry As A Bone EP for Sub Pop, Pavitt struggled to underwrite its release. With the EP’s subsequent appearance almost a year later, in the summer of 1987, the band and Sub Pop had planted the flag for ‘grunge’ as a hard rock genre that would be identified around the globe with Seattle and Sub Pop. Pavitt took on a partner in Jonathan Poneman, who provided funding for the debut single by future world-beaters Soundgarden, who followed it up with their groundbreaking Screaming Life EP later that year. Sub Pop was off and running, if not without a few struggles and obstacles along the way, with Pavitt handling the label’s A&R efforts and Poneman handling Sub Pop’s business dealings.

Gillian G. Gaar’s World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story

Soundgarden's Screaming Life
In the 33 years since its founding, Sub Pop Records carved a niche for itself, first as a pioneering indie imprint releasing influential and often-times blockbuster records by local bands like the aforementioned Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Nirvana. Studying earlier indie labels like Motown and SST Records, the partner worked to make the label reflect the regional scene before branching out and, from their logo and merchandising to imaginative efforts like their singles club, Sub Pop created a strong and easily-identifiable brand identity for itself. It helped that they had enlisted producer Jack Endino early in the process, the studio master recording fast and cheap, his unique recording technique creating a signature sound for Sub Pop artists across the 75 45s, EPs, and albums that he produced during the label’s early days.

As time passed, changes in the industry pretty much forced the label to partner with major label Warner Bros, which bought a 49% ownership of the company in 1995. Pavitt retired to spend time with his family after an acrimonious split with Poneman, who continues to head a dedicated staff of music-lovers at Sub Pop to this day. Along the way, when ‘grunge’ as a commercial force fizzled out, the label expanded its focus and, whether by accident or on purpose, would release important and influential albums by a diverse roster of innovative and exciting artists, including Sleater-Kinney, Sebadoh, the Afghan Whigs, King Tuff, Father John Misty, and even comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt. The label has enjoyed its share of commercial success – Nirvana’s Bleach LP and the Postal Service’s Give Up both achieved Platinum™ Record status for over one million in sales, while releases by the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Band of Horses have all sold better than half-million copies – overall the label occupies a modestly-successful alt-rock niche.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Sub Pop Records logo
With World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story, music journalist Gillian G. Gaar explores better than three decades of the label’s history, from Bruce Pavitt’s early musical interests and publishing efforts to Sub Pop’s current state in the new millennium, and the entire roller-coaster ride between these two points. Gaar is uniquely qualified to tell the Sub Pop story – she’s been covering the Seattle music scene since before the beginning, knows all the important people, and has written about it in the city’s excellent music publication The Rocket. Gaar is a veteran writer whose work has appeared in venues like Goldmine, Rolling Stone, and British music magazine Mojo, among others. She’s also an avid music lover who published a Kate Bush fanzine back in the early ‘80s that I swapped issues of my own zines with.

Gaar does a wonderful job with World Domination in condensing the label’s lengthy history into an easily-digestible and quick read without omitting any important or crucial facets of the story. Her writing is colorful, yet succinct, and you get a feel for the people and personalities that made the label special and innovative. Although Gaar is obviously a cheerleader for her local scene, she pulls no punches in the pages, outlining Sub Pop’s stumbles and mistakes as well as the label’s triumphs. As such, World Domination is much more than the story of a single scrappy indie label but also a primer for like-minded music lovers who may dream of one day launching their own record label. As, arguably, the most successful rock ‘n’ roll indie of the last quarter-century, the Sub Pop story is an important one, and Gaar nails it perfectly with this informative and entertaining tome. Grade: A (RPM Series/BMG Books, published November 20, 2018)

New Music Monthly: April 2019 Releases

Welcome to Spring 2019! The flowers are blooming, the weather is getting warmer, and maybe it's raining wherever you are. But there's plenty of great music being released this month to keep you company, including new tunes from folks like Jimbo Mathus, Melissa Etheridge, Will Kimbrough, Nils Lofgren, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and bluesman Harpdog Brown. Throw in live discs from Todd Rundgren's Utopia and Lone Justice, and archive releases from Professor Longhair, reggae legends Culture, and Pearl Harbour & the Explosions and April shapes up to be a helluva month for music!

If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ in the Reverend’s pocket that he’ll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy! 

Todd Rundgren's Utopia's Live at the Chicago Theatre

The Drums - Brutalism   BUY!
Lee Fields & the Expressions - It Rains Love   BUY!
Dana Gillespie - What Memories We Make: Complete Mainman Recordings 1971-1974   BUY!
Idlewild - Interview Music   BUY!
Jimbo Mathus - Incinerator   BUY!
Priests - The Seduction of Kansas   BUY!
Professor Longhair - Live On the Queen Mary   BUY!
Professor Louie & The Crowmatix - Songs Of Inspiration   BUY!
Todd Rundgren's Utopia - Live at the Chicago Theatre [CD/DVD]   BUY!

Pearl Harbor & the Explosions

The Budos Band - V   BUY!
Culture - The Nighthawk Recordings   BUY!
Melissa Etheridge - The Medicine Show   BUY!
Lone Justice - Live at the Palomino, 1983   BUY!
Pearl Harbor & the Explosions - Pearl Harbour & the Explosions [reissue]   BUY!
Shovels & Rope - By Blood   BUY!

Will Kimbrough's I Like It Down Here

Cage the Elephant - Social Cues   BUY!
Will Kimbrough - I Like It Down Here   BUY!
Mitch Woods - A Tip of the Hat To Fats   BUY!

Nils Lofgren's Blue With Lou

Harpdog Brown - For Love & Money   BUY!
J.J. Cale - Stay Around [posthumous release]   BUY!
The Cranberries - In the End   BUY!
The Damned Things - High Crimes   BUY!
Craig Finn - I Need A New War   BUY!
Foxygen - Seeing Other People   BUY!
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Fishing For Fishies   BUY!
Nils Lofgren - Blue With Lou   BUY!
The Mountain Goats - In League With Dragons   BUY!
Nine Shrines - Retribution Therapy   BUY!

Dana Gillespie's What Memories We Make: Complete Mainman Recordings 1971-1974

Album of the Month: Dana Gillespie's What Memories We Make: Complete Mainman Recordings 1971-1974 is a two-disc set that collects the powerhouse vocalist's two RCA Records albums she made while hanging around David Bowie and was managed by MainMain. This includes her bluesy, critically-acclaimed 1973 RCA debut Weren't Born A Man and the rapid follow-up, 1974's Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle. Throw in some alternative versions and demo recordings from the rare 1971 BOWPROMO promotional-only album and you have a complete document of an important era in the artist's career. Gillespie is undergoing a bit of a rediscover these days – aside from What Memories We Make, the newly-revived Rev-Ola Records label also recently reissued the singer's first two albums for Decca Records on CD as London Social Scene.  

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Short Rounds: Tommy Castro, Gary Clark Jr, R. Stevie Moore, Jason Ringenberg, 3x4 (2019)

Tommy Castro & the Pain Killers' Killin’ It Live
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Tommy Castro & the Pain Killers – Killin’ It Live (Alligator Records)

Twice-named “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” by The Blues Foundation, Tommy Castro is one of the most popular artists on the blues scene today. The man’s immense talents as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist are the primary reason for his success, but every aspect of Castro’s music comes alive onstage with each electrifying, crowd-pleasing performance. Castro and his band the Pain Killers kick out the jams with Killin’ It Live, their first live disc, a ten-track barn-burner with a setlist spanning Castro’s lengthy career that delivers a red-hot selection of blues, rock, soul, and R&B. Castro commands the spotlight, but individual band members also get a chance to shine on songs like “Make It Back To Memphis,” “Calling San Francisco,” and a deft cover of Buddy Miles’ classic “Them Changes.” Nothing’s as good as witnessing Tommy Castro perform in person, but Killin’ It Live is the next best thing. Grade: A   BUY!

Gary Clark Jr.'s This Land
Gary Clark Jr.This Land (Warner Bros. Records)
I’ve long been a fan and critical supporter, but I find Gary Clark Jr.’s This Land somewhat of a disappointment. Clark has rightfully been considered a musical visionary, pushing beyond hidebound blues traditions to incorporate elements of soul and hip-hop into his genre-busting sound, Clark’s masterful performances boosted by his incendiary guitar playing and evocative vocals. When it works – as with the title track’s powerful anti-racism screed, the throwback soul of “I Got My Eyes On You,” or the rollicking, rocking “Gotta Get Into Something” – Clark’s muse serves him well. But far too often here, Clark’s blustery, inventive fretwork just isn’t enough to balance out the stretched-too-thin experimental songwriting and awkward artistic flirtations with jazz, funk, and cod-reggae mixed among his modern blues and old-school soul jams. For the first time in his stellar career, the misses far outweigh the hits on Clark’s This Land. Grade: C+   BUY!

R. Stevie Moore's Afterlife
R. Stevie MooreAfterlife (Bar None Records)
Lo-fi pioneer and rock ‘n’ roll lifer R. Stevie Moore has been as prolific as one person could possibly be, releasing literally hundreds of albums over the last 50+ years, both D.I.Y. efforts and through independent labels worldwide. Moore ventured into a professional studio to record Afterlife, an inspired collection of new treasures and well-worn gems all delivered in his indomitable and unique pop-rock style. Moore is joined by fellow travelers like Ariel Pink, Jason Falkner, and Lane Steinberg and long-time friend Irwin Chusid co-produced Afterlife, but it’s entirely Moore’s show. Songs like the breathless “Irony,” the Beach Boys-styled pop-psych of “Here Comes Summer Again,” or the skewed-melodicism of “Too Old (To Fall In Love)” showcase Moore’s lofty vocals, underrated guitar playing, and sly songcraft. Too eccentric for the big leagues, Moore’s poetic lyricism and visionary musicianship has created a legacy that will nevertheless influence artists for years to come. Grade: A   BUY!

Jason Ringenberg's Stand Tall
Jason RingenbergStand Tall (Courageous Chicken Records)
After a productive songwriting residency at Sequoia National Park in 2018, Jason & the Scorchers’ frontman Jason Ringenberg recorded Stand Tall, the singer’s first solo album since 2004’s critically-acclaimed Empire Builders. Wandering around the Sierra Nevada Mountains may have sparked Ringenberg’s restless creative muse, but the raucous instrumentation provided breakneck rockers like “God Bless the Ramones” and “John the Baptist Was A Real Humdinger” are pure vintage Jason. Longtime fans will love songs like the Civil War tale “I’m Walking Home” or “John Muir Stood Here,” a tribute to the naturalist’s contributions to the American landscape, and the singer’s cover of Dylan’s “Farewell Angelina” is spot-on with its wistful delivery. The raucous, Celtic-tinged instrumental title track may set the stage for Stand Tall, but it’s Jason’s whip-smart, erudite storytelling and rowdy country-rock soundtrack that drives the sound of the album. Grade: A   BUY!

3x4 The Bangles, Rain Parade, The Three O' Clock, Dream Syndicate
Various Artists – 3x4 (Yep Roc Records)
The concept is simple but brilliant – the cream of the 1980s-era L.A. “Paisley Underground” bands (The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade) – each record 3 songs by their counterparts (3x4, geddit?). The results are every bit as good as you might have hoped…the Bangles bring fierce gravitas to Steve Wynn’s moody “That’s What You Always Say” and Dream Syndicate return the favor with an otherworldly take of the Bangles’ “Hero Takes A Fall.” Rain Parade shines with their shimmering, psych-drenched reading of Michael Quercio’s “As Real As Real” and the Three O’Clock knocks it out of the park with their harmonic caress of Rain Parade’s “What She’s Done To Your Mind.” There’s really not a fumble in the bunch, proving just how talented and creative these bands were in the first place (and remain). Some 30+ years down the road, these bands are still making heavenly music. Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, February 2019: Pete Berwick, Big Star, Ted Drozdowski, Walter Trout & Watermelon Slim

Short Rounds, January 2019: Badfinger, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Billy Bremner, Dave Davies & Midnight Oil
Short Rounds, December 2018: Doug Deming, Tom Guerra, Handsome Jack, Tom Morello, NRBQ & Unicorn

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Archive Review: The Bangles' Everything (1988)

The Bangles' Everything
Dear Susanna, Debbi, Vicki, and especially Michael:

I’ve been reading a lot of words ‘bout how y’all decided to write or co-write all of the songs on your new album, Everything, and how a lot of know-nothing, haven’t-listened-to-a-record-all-the-way-through-in-years critics have been insulting your considerable talents by dismissing the new disc as “too saccharine,” as “too much sweetness and light.” One friend of mine even waggishly suggested that each copy of the album come with a free lollipop (this was before I forcibly changed his mind…in a purely intellectual manner, of course).

Pay no attention to all that vitriolic critical crapola those clown-boys are spreading around like so much manure. I know that Everything is an entertaining and intelligent collection of tunes done up in the finest pop-rock tradition, replete with delicious melodies, hypnotizing harmony, trademark tight instrumentation, and songwriting that, while perhaps not the equal of former Bangles contributors Prince and Kimberly Rew, is mighty darn close (besides, does nobody else remember your 1984 breakthrough LP All Over the Place, of which nine of the album’s eleven songs were Bangles-written jewels?).

Maybe all of those self-righteous prigs are so damn busy listening to their gloomy Joy Division and Bauhaus records that they’ve forgotten that, first and foremost, rock ‘n’ roll was meant to be fun, Fun, FUN! Personally, I spell F-U-N with Susanna’s delicate, haunting vocals; Vicki’s jangling, Byrds-like guitar lines and tough vocals; Debbi’s tasteful, rhythmic drumbeats; and (especially) Michael’s throbbing, powerful bass lines. One spin of Everything proves that y’all deliver the unabashed rock ‘n’ roll goods…not just another bunch of pretty faces printed in 12x12 to try and sell records.

Love to all (especially Michael)...

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988

Monday, March 11, 2019

Carbon Records 25th Anniversary Celebration

Carbon Records logo
In April 2019, the Rochester NY based independent record label Carbon Records will celebrate its 25th anniversary. That’s no mean feat considering the alarming pace that indie imprints have popped up and disappeared over the past quarter-century. Yet Carbon Records founder Joe Tunis has thus far dodged the industry obstacles of shrinking music sales, digital streaming, and the uncertain finances of the indie label world. Carbon has consistently released interesting, intriguing, and often-times challenging music.

I got hipped to the label through a great article in Rochester’s City Newspaper alternative newsweekly that was written by Daniel J. Kushner. If you’ve gotten this far, you may want to read the full story on their site; I’m just going to paint a broad picture of the label with info glommed from Kushner’s article. An alumnus of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Tunis is a software developer by trade that has smartly kept his day gig while running the label and playing with his band Pengo. The only guiding principle behind the label, Tunis told the City Newspaper, was that “I didn't want to put out something that I didn't like but I knew would make money, so I've never done that.”

The result is a label that has concentrated on what Kushner calls “left-of-center unpredictability.” Tunis’s musical tastes run towards noise-rock and the avant-garde, artist like New Zealand’s The Dead C and American underground icons like the Swans and Sonic Youth. Through the years, however, Carbon Records has offered more than experimental music, releasing albums by local garage-rock bands like Hinkley or the dark-hued, mesmerizing drone of Ian Downey Is Famous. For a quarter-century, Carbon Records has provided a home to musicians who otherwise may never have been heard. “The noise scene, including Carbon Records, is a place where people can come if they feel like they're not cool enough for the punk and other scenes,” Downey told the City Newspaper.

Crush the Junta’s Hermanos de la Muerte
Whereas in the early 2000s, Carbon released music on homebrew CD-Rs, often with imaginative packaging, over the last few years the label has been releasing much of its new music on vinyl albums and 7” singles (tho’ I see they also offer a few titles on cassette tape). After reading the City Newspaper profile, I decided to surf over to the Carbon Records’ website and pick up a couple of albums to get a taste of what Tunis is doing with the label. I bought a couple of late 2018 releases by the bands Crush the Junta, of which Tunis is a member, and Nod; Tunis was kind enough to also send me a recent album by local rockers Hinkley. 

Crush the Junta’s Hermanos de la Muerte offers up five tracks of noisy, droning, mostly-instrumental music, but there’s not an overwhelming “wall of sound” dominating your senses. “Walk In Time (14 Minute),” for instance, embroiders swirling guitars and subdued vocals atop a driving rhythm while “The Ascent” is a breathless instrumental with relentless syncopated percussion and chaotic guitars that buzz and spark like an electrical fire. The songs here are finely-crafted compositions, often featuring muted instrumentation, with plenty of texture provided by the guitars and percussion; brilliant light and dark musical passages; and the spare use of buried vocals (devastatingly effective on the album-opening “The Hamlet”), all of which provides an interesting and exciting listening experience. Hermanos de la Muerte is highly recommended for anybody looking for a sound that’s delightfully different.

By contrast, Rochester’s Nod’s sound, as offered on their Carbon Records release So Much Tonight, is more melodic, with just a bit of rattle and hum in the grooves. With off-kilter vocals and fractured guitar riffs, Nod’s “X-Mas Song” reminds a lot of Brian Eno’s early, rock-oriented solo albums like Here Come the Warm Jets. The album’s next two songs, “Go For A Ride” and “Time For Tea,” were seemingly inspired by David Byrne and the Talking Heads, but with some important added creative flourishes. The vibrato-laden guitar licks of the former simply jump out of your speakers and hit your ears like a cross between 1960s-era surf music and early swamp-blues while the latter song features a similar Byrnesian vocal style but fretwork straight out of the Robert Fripp songbook.

Nod's So Much Tonight
Nod’s “Rollin Around” is probably the most conventionally rocking number on the biscuit, with a heady underlying rhythm and jade-like shards of electric guitar but the title track paints a discordant, dystopian sonic landscape with cacophonic rhythms, crashing percussion, and jagged, nightmarish fretwork. Even if it evinces a begrudging recognition to the classic rock form, Nod’s So Much Tonight is still noisy and full of unexpected thrills, firmly fitting within the Carbon Records footprint and is another great choice for the adventuresome listener. The third LP on my Carbon playlist is from another Rochester band, Hinkley, who is probably the anomaly on the label’s roster.

Hinkley’s Peak of Light is an excellent album with material that, while sitting outside of the contemporary pop zeitgeist, remains firmly-footed in the realm of experimental rock ‘n’ roll. The album-opening “Above Us” opens with a folkish intro before wandering off the path and over a gorgeous musical horizon of tortured guitar, electronic noise, rhythmic crescendos, and oddball sounds. “Bible Has No Soul” opens gently with pastoral keyboard work before launching into a sort of shoegazing sonic squall that belies the song’s soft-peddled vocals, but “Living In the Shadow of the Universe” displays the full range of the band’s talents. Opening with a subdued vocal passage accompanied by chiming guitar, the song gradually builds into a full-blown assault of bludgeoning instrumentation and hints of feedback.  
Hinkley’s “Untitled” is a masterful (if somewhat disturbing) story-song that places the emphasis on lyrical delivery, its brilliant wordplay accompanied by a minor-key tsunami of instrumentation which, in turn, creates an ethereal, otherworldly vibe that is positively enchanting. The instrumental “Porn’s Revenge” is similarly structured, the song’s deceptively elegant fretwork concealing a malevolent underbelly. If Hinkley had been releasing albums on Sub Pop or Matador Records back in the 1990s, they could have been world-beaters. Instead, they have to settle for entertaining an aging rock critic with music as creative and challenging as that found on Peak of Light. All three of these bands are inventive and not afraid to take musical risks, and I look forward to hearing what they all do in the future.

Hinkley’s Peak of Light
By email, I asked Tunis a few questions about Carbon Records and the label’s 25th anniversary. Did he have anything special planned for 2019 for Carbon? He tells me “Carbon25YR releases basically started back in the fall of 2018 with the release of the Crush the Junta and Nod LPs. At the end of 2018 and very beginning of 2019, I also released the Pengo and Ian Downey Is Famous LPs, as well as one of the larger projects I've worked on, the WOUND 2-LP guitar-centric compilation. For the remainder of 2019, I have at least 3 cassette releases planned, as well as another LP or two in the works.”

It’s no secret that the music business is a difficult industry to find success in. With 25 years under his belt running the label, what has been the biggest obstacle to keeping Carbon Records alive and thriving? “The label has never been a source of income for me,” says Tunis, “more like a drain. It’s definitely a passion project, so when it comes to ‘thriving’ I look at that more from a sense of activity and exposure rather than sales. So time and money are usually the obstacles for me. Having transitioned in my day-job from a full-time corporate job to a full-time freelancer, I found label-time taking the biggest hit, having to concentrate on billable hours, etc. Distribution has also been a life-long obstacle with the label.”

With its eclectic line-up of artists, how does Tunis pick the bands whose records Carbon releases? “I get some solicitations from bands I’m not familiar with,” he says, “but those are nearly always way off mark with regards to musical styles (not fitting with the label’s aesthetics). So it’s usually a matter of me reaching out to artists I really dig and seeing if they’re interested in releasing something on the label. Those are sometimes local artists I know, or come to know, or touring groups I see in-person, or people I just contact online and form a relationship.” 

Ian Downey Is Famous' Destroy Language
Is there any artist whose work he’d like to release on Carbon that he hasn’t been able to get? “When I was brainstorming the list of artists I wanted on the WOUND guitar-centric compilation, there were a few people I reached out to whom I didn’t hear back from, or not in time, or they couldn’t do it for one reason for another. There were also some folks I totally forgot about when coming up with the list, and I felt like an idiot for doing so. Some of these folks include Ben Chasney (Six Organs of Admittance), Richard Bishop, Bill Orcutt, Jim O’Rourke, Oren Ambarchi, etc. The list goes on...”

In his role as musician (Tunis plays in several bands), what keeps him interested in making music? “I love creating new things. Most of the groups I play in are improvisational, or allow for a lot of flexibility, and I love the challenge of coming up with something that fits with the other players, and adds to what they're doing. I really enjoy taking situations, or mistakes, and adapting to get something that ‘works’.”

Check out the label’s releases on the Carbon Records website

Check out the City Paper’s article on Carbon Records