Friday, June 14, 2019

Archive Review: The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious (2001)

The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious
Among contemporary rock bands, you’d have to look far-and-wide to find one that is as gloriously unconcerned about “hipness” or “commercial potential” as the Yayhoos. A loose-knit collaboration between former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird, Eric Ambel of the Del Lords, drummer Terry Anderson, and bassist Keith Christopher, the Yayhoos are the ultimate pick-up band. A throwback to a simpler, more pleasing rock era, the foursome genuflect towards a musical altar that rejects modern rock style in favor of classic Chuck Berry riffs and Rolling Stone rhythms. The band features four distinctive vocalists, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists and the whole motley bunch look a little too scruffy to be accepted by the MTV crowd or snobbish big city elitists.

The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious

The Yayhoos’ brief mid-‘90s existence resulted in a handful of tracks placed on alt-country compilations and their full-length Fear Not the Obvious LP, shopped around to major label indifference before emerging on the Bloodshot Records label. On this fine collection of songs, the Yayhoos deliver shameless roots-rock and electric twang, served straight up with no chaser for the unabashed blue collar headbanger who wants his musical tonic loud and uncluttered by fleeting fashion. Call Fear Not the Obvious “town and country” music, the songs here mixing Ambel’s Del Lords-inspired NYC guitar riffs with Baird’s country-styled redneck rock.

The four Yayhoos divvy up the songwriting duties, creating tunes that range from the dark-hued swamp rock of Baird’s “Wicked World” or Anderson’s British Invasion influenced “Hunt You Down” to the ‘60s-styled pop of Ambel’s hilarious “Baby I Love You.” “Monkey With A Gun” is a big beat rock ‘n’ roll tale of madness on the road complete with twin guitars and Ambel’s understated vocals while “Oh! Chicago” is a rollicking 90mph romp through Little Feat territory. The band closes Fear Not the Obvious with an inspired cover of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” offering a different spin on the EuroPop origins of the classic radio hit.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If your idea of rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills includes the Faces, the Stones, CCR, the Georgia Satellites, and similar outfits, then the Yayhoos are right up your alley. Blazing guitars, foot-stomping rhythms and unpretentious songwriting make up Fear Not the Obvious in its entirety, the Yayhoos a welcome respite from manufactured pop and cookie-cutter modern rock. (Bloodshot Records, released August 7, 2001)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2001

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the '80s (2019)

Martin Popoff's Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the '80s
The preeminent authority on all things hard rock and heavy metal, writer and music historian Martin Popoff is the author of 85+ books (and counting); the former founding editor of Canada’s Brave Words, Bloody Knuckles music zine; and a regular freelance contributor to music-related publications like Goldmine, Revolver, and Record Collector (U.K.), among many others. Martin is also a friend and colleague – a fact, in spite of which, he might still think that the Rev is a little crazy (not so…my mother had me tested!).

Among the dozens of titles to his credit, Popoff has written just about every type of book conceivable covering the aforementioned music genres – concise artist bios (Mötörhead, Max Webster, Riot, Dio, et al); sprawling, comprehensive multi-volume band histories (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath); detailed historical timelines (Yes); record collectors’ guides (four large volumes, one each for the 1970s-2000s); genre histories (three books on the NWOBHM); album-by-album, song-by-song guides (Queen, Led Zeppelin, the Clash); and esoteric tomes covering the more abstract aspects of the art (Who Invented Heavy Metal?). Hell, it tires me out just listing Martin’s literary accomplishments.

Martin Popoff’s Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s

With Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s, Popoff asked his massive worldwide readership to help with some of the ‘heavy’ lifting (no pun intended). Returning to an idea that resulted in his 2018 book Riff Raff: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘70s; Popoff polled his thousands of followers, Facebook friends, and assorted ne’er-do-wells as to their fave tunes from the heavy metal decade of the ‘80s. He subsequently pared this list of hundreds of songs down to a more manageable 250 selections. Although there is endless conversation as to “who invented heavy metal?” (as I mentioned above, Martin even wrote a book about it…) and when the genre actually took off as a critical and commercial force, there’s no arguing that the ‘80s was rich with all things metal. Thrash, speed, death, hair, prog…no matter your taste in all things metallic, there’s something in these pages for you!

So, Popoff counts down this particular Top 250 from the last entry (Dio’s “Sacred Heart”) to the first (you’ll have to buy the book to find out, bunkie!), each selection accompanied by Martin’s pithy commentary, which often adds a bit of history to the song, as well as quotes from those that made the music, artists and band members that Popoff has interviewed throughout his three decades in the trenches. This format is light and breezy, making for an entertaining read, and the text is supported by hundreds of unique band photos and picture sleeve graphics from those rare 7” slabs o’ wax on which the songs were originally released. The 1980s were a heady period and not without a few challenges, and Popoff touches on “satanic panic,” the PMRC and record censorship, and other cultural flotsam and jetsam of the decade.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s is a helluva lot of fun, and for any music fan, it’ll dredge up memories of half-forgotten tunes and send the reader scurrying to their record collection to pull out dusty vinyl and revisit these songs. I was really surprised at the diversity of the artists represented in the book; sure, the expected heavyweights of the ’80s are here, with songs by Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Metallica, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Iron Maiden and a handful of others all deservedly highly-rated. But Martin’s readers are a discerning bunch, and there are more than a few molten metal obscurities among the Top 250, bands like Savatage, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Armored Saint, and King’s X the province of the dedicated, hardcore fan. Popoff has done an admirable job in stripping down the music to its creative core – the individual song – reminding the reader of why they love this stuff in the first place. Grade: A (Power Chord Press, published April 2019)

Buy the book directly from the author (tell him the Rev sent ya!)

Also on That Devil Music:
Martin Popoff - The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs book review
Martin Popoff - Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs book review
Martin Popoff - Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead book review

Archive Review: Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman (2001)

Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman
The Saints may be Australia’s best-known punk export, but for this scribe’s hard-earned cashola, I’d choose Radio Birdman as the more raucous of the two. Formed by American expatriate Deniz Tek – born in Michigan and weaned on the Stooges and the MC5 – Radio Birdman lasted for just four years and a handful of albums. They were skewered by the notoriously effete British music press and their single U.S. album release was widely ignored. Throughout it all, the band has lived on through rare recordings and bootlegs, building a devoted cult during the past two decades that rivals that of similar high-energy outfits like the Dictators or New York Dolls.

Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978)

The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) should appeal to even the most dedicated of collectors. The compilation offers all the songs from both the Australian and U.S. versions of the band’s excellent 1978 debut album Radios Appear as well as their 1981 follow-up, Living Eyes (recorded in 1978). Two songs are provided from the original self-produced 1977 EP Burn My Eye, the album closing with three live tracks from a 1977 performance. Fully 12 of the 22 tracks collected on The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) have never been released officially in the United States.

So what is it about Radio Birdman that attracts such fanatical acolytes? It’s a curious mix of American roots-rock, the madness of late 1960s Detroit bands like the Stooges, Up, SRC, and the MC5 and the peculiar Australian perspective created by residing at the end of the earth. When Deniz Tek moved to Australia in 1972 to study medicine, he brought with him the spirit of the slash-and-burn six-string style of Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith. Matched with fellow guitarist Chris Masuak’s metalstorm fretboard technique and surfer Rob Younger’s tortured howl, Radio Birdman cranked up the volume and kicked out electric jams that energized a generation of Aussie musicians behind them.

Tek’s lyrics were street-smart and darkly poetic, seeped in Velvet Underground imagery and Motor City sensibility; tuneage like the desolate “Murder City Nights” or the nostalgic “I-94” rock with a primal passion and fury that was shared by just a handful of mid-‘70s bands. “Aloha Steve & Danno” makes good use of the Hawaii Five-O TV show theme, pairing it with the band’s destructive twin guitars and pop-influenced rhythms while “Alone In the Endzone” echoes the Doors, featuring razor sharp riffs and Younger’s Morrison-like vox. Radio Birdman threw elements of three-chord rock, electric blues, and metallic drone into the creative blender and came up with a powerful, no-frills sound that resonates as loudly in 2001 and it did in 1977.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If you listen to the Dictators, the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, the Flamin’ Groovies, Sonic Rendezvous Band, the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, or any other devotees of the Detroit rock sound, then you owe it to yourself to discover Radio Birdman. The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) is a hard-rocking introduction to this sadly overlooked band, a great collection of classic punk rock tuneage from “Down Under” that should appeal to new and old Radio Birdman fans alike. (Sub Pop Records, released July 17, 2001)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2001

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Saturday, June 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: June 2019 Releases

We're standing on the brink of summer and the outlook is groovy! There are only four weeks in June's release schedule, but there's a lot of rock 'n' roll goodness here to kick off the season. You'll find new albums by folks like the Black Keys, Chris Stamey, Bruce Springsteen, the Raconteurs (with Jack White), the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Santana, Peter Frampton, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, among many others. There are a few choice archival releases this month as well, including a long-lost live Neil Young album, a vinyl reissues of James Taylor's One Man Band and a 25th anniversary vinyl reissue of Americana legend Dave Alvin's classic King of California album (with bonus tracks).

Speaking of the archives, Krautrock and prog fans will like Universal's reissues of seven classic mid-to-late '70s albums by the legendary Tangerine Dream on CD with bonus tracks. Isaac Hayes' classic soundtrack to the movie Shaft gets a deluxe reissue, Prince is represented by a collection from his vaults, and Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule return with a red-hot live set. It's safe to say, no matter your taste in music, there's something in June to tickle your fancy!

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!

Neil Young & Stray Gators' Tuscaloosa

Perry Farrell - Kind Heaven   BUY!
Peter Frampton Band - All Blues [w/Sonny Landreth]   BUY!
Dylan LeBlanc - Renegade   BUY!
Gary Nicholson - The Great Divide   BUY!
Gary Nicholson (as 'Whitey Johnson') - More Days Like This   BUY!
Pelican - Nighttime Stories   BUY!
Santana - Africa Speak   BUY!
Silversun Pickups - Widow's Weeds   BUY!
Slowness - Berths   BUY!
James Taylor - One Man Band [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Neil Young & Stray Gators - Tuscaloosa [1973 concert]   BUY!

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real's Turn Off the News, Build A Garden

Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Servants of the Sun   BUY!
Roger Daltrey - The Who's Tommy Orchestral   BUY!
Isaac Hayes - Shaft (Music From the Soundtrack)   BUY!
Iron & Wine/Calexico - Years To Burn   BUY!
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real - Turn Off the News, Build A Garden   BUY!
Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Cyclone [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Encore [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Force Majure [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Phaedra [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Richochet [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Rubycon [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Stratosfear [CD reissue]   BUY!

Tangerine Dream's Stratosfear

Collective Soul - Blood   BUY!
Def Leppard - Def Leppard - Volume Two [box set]   BUY!
Hollywood Vampires - Rise   BUY!
Hot Chip - A Bath Full of Ectasty   BUY!
Chuck Mead - Close To Home   BUY!
Prince - Originals   BUY!
The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger   BUY!

Dave Alvin's King of California

The Allman Betts Band - Down To the River   BUY!
Dave Alvin - King of California [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Black Keys - Let's Rock   BUY!
Generation Axe - The Guitars That Destroyed The World [Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde]   BUY!
Gov't Mule - Bring On the Music  [live]   BUY!
Magma - Zëss
Chris Stamey - New Songs For the 20th Century   BUY!

Album of the Month: The Black Keys' Let's Rock. It was another tough decision this month, with cool new music coming from talents like Chris Stamey, the Raconteurs, Bruce Springsteen, and Lukas Nelson, among many others. I'm going with the Black Keys this month, tho' as Let's Rock is the blues-rockin' duo's first new LP of studio material in five years and is said to be a return to the guitar-heavy sound of their early material. Recorded in the frontman Dan Auerbach's Nashville studio, it will be good to hear singer/guitarist Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney back in the groove again!

Archive Review: Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky (2006)

Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky
From Devendra Banhart to Sufjan Stevens, lots of folkies are gettin’ their freak on these days, and none of these humble troubadours is freakier than Mr. David Tibet. The stunning genius behind the ever-evolving collective that is Current 93, Tibet made his bones during the heady industrial-music daze of the mid ‘80s. Slicing and dicing and experimenting in sound effects with Burroughsian zeal, Tibet’s collaborative efforts with fellow travelers like John Balance (Psychic TV/Coil) and Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) throughout the decade were complex, dark-hued and hauntingly beautiful tone poems that often verged on madness.

Somewhere along the way, Tibet got in touch with his inner-folkie and throughout the ‘90s he pursued his unique vision of “apocalyptic folk,” combining the adventurous musical experimentation of his early work with traditional and often exotic acoustic instrumentation. The resulting recordings were brilliant and challenging, the meager instrumentation pushing Tibet’s quivering vocals to the forefront, his voice wrapped around mystical tales and somber dirges. It is unlikely that Tibet ever thought that his work would impact an entire genre of music, albeit one as marginal as the current “avant folk” movement, but two-dozen years after his initial recording, Tibet’s importance and influence continue to grow.

Current 93’s Black Ships Ate the Sky

Black Ships Ate the Sky is Current 93’s first album in five years, a stunning collection that is both eerily alluring and magnificent in the breadth of its emotion and instrumentation. Working with his old friend and frequent collaborator Stapleton, guitarists Michael Cashmore and Ben Chasny, and cellist John Contreras, as well as guests like Marc Almond, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the legendary British folklorist Shirley Collins, Tibet has created a work for the ages. Black Ships Ate the Sky is, says Tibet, “the closest I have come to picturing what I hope, and feel, and love, and fear.”

“Yeah,” you say, “all this hyperbole is well and good. But what does the damn album sound like?” Well, gentle reader, Current 93 defies categorization or comparison, refuses to be pigeonholed, and laughs in the face of mundane, focus group-driven trends. Current 93 simply is. As for Black Ships Ate the Sky, imagine the sweatiest, most flesh-tingling wet dream that you’ve ever enjoyed, and combine it with the most frightening, horrible, spine-tingling nightmare that you’ve ever suffered through. That’s the sound of Current 93. Black Ships Ate the Sky is bracketed by eight varying versions of the ancient hymn “Idumea,” each sung by a different vocalist, providing thematic continuity through the album and a foundation for Tibet’s ruminations on our final judgement, which take on a Biblical intensity.

David Tibet’s voice cuts through the mix like the Reaper’s scythe, a siren’s call to salvation or damnation – depending on your perspective – and the choice is entirely up to you. The instrumentation is at once both perverse and gossamer, a soundtrack to purgatory; Norwegian death metal bands dream of writing music this extreme. The guitars rumble, at times, like the four horsemen on a three-day drunk while delicate notes dance across the lyrics like fireflies in a mating frenzy. Punctuated by found voices grabbed from the ether, Tibet’s lyrics are obsessed with intangibles such as love and fear, and by the cold realities of death and loss. This is “folk” music only by the furthest stretch of the imagination, Tibet and crew bending and stretching the form for their own use, musicologists collecting random sounds and influences from across the globe in a quest to create a new folk idiom for the post-industrial age.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Confused? Now you know how I always feel after listening to a Current 93 album. The experience is exhilarating and infuriating, the music, vocals and lyrics working on both a conscious and subliminal level. This is the musical nirvana that fringe-folkies from Mike Heron and Vashti Bunyan to the current crop of talents have attempted to achieve for nearly half a century now. Current 93 combines the best of industrial music’s myriad of influences with classic British folk, a mystical tradition and a global vision to create both the most challenging and the most seductive music that you’ll ever hear...and you’ll never hear anything else like it in this world. (Durtro Jnana Records, released May 23rd, 2006)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2006

Friday, May 31, 2019

Archive Review: Pere Ubu's The Tenement Year (1988)

Pere Ubu's The Tenement Year
Once upon a time, oh, say a decade ago, in the land of the expanded consciousness, there roamed a merry band of surrealistic music-makers led by a strange, tormented soul known as David. These troubadours, dubbed Pere Ubu by their followers, created a unique hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, classical, and avant-garde electronic experimentation which enthralled any listener and served to fire off more than a few lazy nerve synapses. Before they disappeared into total obscurity, they left behind a handful of recordings, modern musical masterworks which illustrated their combined talents and created an artistic legacy of near-mythical proportion.

After several years of meditation, inner reflection, and personal projects Pere Ubu has re-formed to record and release The Tenement Year, an artistic tour de force of major proportions. The band, led by vocalist, songwriter, and poet David Thomas and included the multi-talented Chris Cutler (ex-Art Bears), soars and glides through eleven new, original songs like Icarus triumphant. Aiming for the sun and hotter than a solar flare, Ubu takes conventional musical tradition and turns it on its pointy lil’ head, moshing up a cacophonic blend of strange instrumentation, white noise, and industrial rhythms fronted by the tortured, howling vocals of the frantic Mr. Thomas.

The end result is aural excitement, an album unlike anything you’ve ever heard, sheer mind-expanding vinyl poetry that takes rock ‘n’ roll to a netherland that it’s never before witnessed. Find out for yourself why Pere Ubu’s early works influenced the creations of Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Devo, among others. The Tenement Year is certain to be every bit as influential. (Enigma Records, 1988)

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988

Buy the CD from Pere Ubu’s The Tenement Year

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)

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