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 Amazon.com: 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 Amazon.com: 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 Amazon.com: 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 Amazon.com: 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 Amazon.com...it’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

APRIL 5
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

APRIL 12
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

APRIL 19
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

APRIL 26
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.