Saturday, October 1, 2022

Short Rounds: Buzzcocks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Charlie Daniels & Friends, Will Hoge, The Pretty Things & Walter Trout (October 2022)

Buzzcocks' Sonics In the Soul
New album releases in 200 words or less…

BuzzcocksSonics In the Soul (Cherry Red Records U.K.)
British punk/new wave legends Buzzcocks built their reputation on Pete Shelley’s caustic, insightful lyrics; Steve Diggle’s livewire fretwork; and an overall melodic, high-octane pop-punk sound that became influential far beyond the band’s modest record sales. Since reuniting in 1989 after an eight-year hiatus, Buzzcocks has been firing on all cylinders, Shelley and Diggle ensuring that they remained a vital creative outfit and not a ‘nostalgia’ act. With Shelley’s death in 2018, the band’s first album without its charismatic frontman had to be a daunting challenge to record. Diggle proves with Sonics In the Soul that there’s still gas left in the Buzzcocks’ tank. Flanked by longtime bassist Chris Remington and drummer Danny Farrant, Sonics In the Soul is essentially a Diggle solo album, but one sporting the crucial ‘fast ‘n’ loud’ Buzzcocks sonic ethos. Diggle’s voice takes getting used to, and his attack-dog guitarplay pales somewhat by the loss of Shelley’s counterpoint. But songs like the locomotive “Manchester Rain” or the riff-littered “Bad Dreams” display a fierce creativity and musical deftness matching or surpassing the band’s previous post-millennial albums. Extra credit awarded for “Don’t Mess With My Brain”, a rifftastic stomped that blends typical Buzzcocks’ lyrical wit with stunning instrumentation. Grade: A-   BUY!

Creedence Clearwater Revival's At The Royal Albert Hall
Creedence Clearwater Revival – At The Royal Albert Hall (Craft Recordings)

Just as CCR’s enormous success as a “singles band” (nine Top 10 singles in four years) often overshadowed their album-making prowess, so too did it obscure their strength as a live outfit. As proven by 2019’s long-overdue release of Live At Woodstock, and this recent At The Royal Albert Hall, Creedence was a white-hot live band, each performance bristling with fire and brimstone. This is the first release of the April 1970 show*, which straddles Willie & the Poor Boys and the upcoming Cosmo’s Factory, but the setlist is well-balanced across albums and includes all the “classic rock” radio hits – “Fortunate Son”, “Born On the Bayou”, “Proud Mary”, and “Travelin’ Band” – as well as gems like “Midnight Special” and an extended “Keep On Chooglin’” jam among its dozen tiki-torches. A few deep cuts stand out, notably their bluesy cover of “The Night Time Is the Right Time”, which is closer in spirit to Ray Charles’ version than to Nappy Brown’s original; the riotous, punk-fierce B-side “Commotion”; and the swamp-blues fever of “Tombstone Shadow”.  It’s a shame that no CCR live LPs were released during their heyday (Live In Europe was a posthumous release) as Creedence was a helluva performing outfit. Grade: A+   BUY!  

* The Royal Albert Hall Concert album was released by Fantasy Records in 1980 to cash in on the band’s lingering reputation, but mistakes were made and the tapes used were actually from a January 1970 show at the Oakland Coliseum. Fantasy recalled the album and reissued it months later as The Concert – same cover, same concert, different title…  

Charlie Daniels & Friends' Volunteer Jam 1, 1974:
Charlie Daniels & FriendsVolunteer Jam 1, 1974: The Legend Begins (Blue Hat Records)

Southern Rock had been around for a half-decade by the time that Charlie Daniels held the first ‘Volunteer Jam’ at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville. It could be argued, however, that October 4th, 1974 was the day that Southern Rock burst into the mainstream, the first of 21 total Volunteer Jams held over the next 47 years, the event eventually outliving its creator. That entire 1974 show has never been released commercially (two live songs from the concert were included on the band’s 1974 Fire On the Mountain LP). Aside from Daniels’ crackerjack band, the performance includes “friends” like the Marshall Tucker Band’s Toy Caldwell and Paul Riddle and the Allman Brothers Band’s Dickey Betts and Jamie Nichol. The twelve-song tracklist skews heavily towards CDB’s upcoming Fire album, including the Top 30 hit “The South’s Gonna Do It”, and is fairly indicative of the talented band’s set at the time. Daniels was a skilled multi-instrumentalist, keyboardist/singer “Taz” DiGregorio could have fronted his own band, and guitarist Barry Barnes was the CDB’s secret weapon. Honestly, you either love Southern Rock and the 1970s-era CBD or you don’t; but for fans, this set is long-overdue document of a talented, hot-shit band. Grade: A   BUY!

Note: With this new CD, six of the first seven Volunteer Jams have been released on vinyl/CD, with 1976’s self-titled Volunteer Jam album comprised of a handful of performances from the 1975 Murfreesboro TN event. Jams III (1977) and IV (1978) were condensed onto a single double-LP set, while VI (1980) and VII (1981) received single-disc releases. The landmark 1979 (V) jam has never been released, although the show featured the reunion of Lynyrd Skynyrd for the first time since the 1977 plane crash that killed several band members; the event also included guests like Toy Caldwell and George McCorkle from the Marshall Tucker Band, John Prine, Link Wray, and the Winter Brothers Band, among many others. I was there and it was a pretty explosive moment when the surviving Skynyrd members hit the stage … so when will we see the show on CD?

Will Hoge's Wings On My Shoes
Will HogeWings On My Shoes (Edlo Records)

Nashville’s Will Hoge has long drawn inspiration as a lyricist from the late, great John Prine but, with the album-opening “John Prine’s Cadillac”, he picks up the songwriting legend’s mantle with an exquisitely-drawn story-song that offers up brilliant lyrical imagery while also serving as a reverent tribute to the fallen troubadour. It’s just the first of an album’s worth of fine material on Hoge’s Wings On My Shoes, and if the singer/songwriter has moved slightly away from his earlier power-pop, jangle-rock sound to a rootsier, Americana sound, it hasn’t lessened his poetic acumen or energetic delivery. Gorgeous love songs like “It’s Just You” and “The Last One To Go” are brimming over with romantic yearning while story-songs like “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Queenie” draw from the Prine/Guy Clark school of penmanship. The wonderful, nostalgic “Ain’t Like It Used To Be” is about my former hometown, contrasting the old, rural town with the new, upscale city while “Whose God It This?” is wickedly satirical, its humorous narrative hitting the MAGA bullseye. Each performance is infused with soulful vocals, ringing guitars, and a big drumbeat; if this is the sound of “new country,” then I’m all in… Grade: A   BUY!     

The Pretty Things' Live At the BBC
The Pretty Things – Live At the BBC (Repertoire Records U.K.)

Even if relatively obscure stateside, the Pretty Things were one of the better bands from the British Invasion and they enjoyed a lengthy career that spanned six decades and a couple dozen albums, right up to the tragic passing of longtime band frontman Phil May. The material included on this six-disc box set was originally broadcast by BBC radio and although a lot of it has been previously-released on a handful of collections, this compilation is the last word on the British rocker’s hometown performances. Live At the BBC packs a lot of energy and vitality into its six discs, which offer performances from as early as an October 1964 appearance on the ‘Saturday Club’ show through a July 1975 performance for legendary British DJ John Peel. There are a lot of stops in-between over the decade-plus documented here, capturing the band in its various guises, from R&B shouters to psychedelic pioneers to hard rockers. Sure, there’s a lot of duplication of songs from various shows, but where else are you going to hear turbo-charged live takes on great tunes like “SF Sorrow Is Born”, “Religion’s Dead”, “Belfast Cowboys”, “Defecting Grey”, “Rosalyn”, and “Singapore Silk Torpedo”, among many others? Grade: A+   BUY!

Walter Trout's Ride
Walter TroutRide (Provogue Records)

At 70 years old, Walter Trout still performs with the energy and creative vitality of an artist half his age. The life-scarred blues veteran has been treading the bricks for nearly 50 years at this point and with Ride, his 30th album, Trout proves that there’s a lot of life left in the old road dog. The guitarist is always looking for ways to challenge himself musically, so Ride showcases Trout’s songwriting and instrumental skills in a variety of blues-based styles. Album-opening “Ghosts” is a hauntingly-brilliant (pun intended) blues-rock flamethrower while the biographical title track echoes the jazz-flecked, guitar-happy Southern rock vibe of the Marshall Tucker Band. Trout’s underrated skill at balladry is on display with the lush “Follow You Back Home” and the emotional “Waiting For the Dawn”, which offers up some of Trout’s most evocative six-string solos. Blues-rock fare like “High Is Low” (featuring Trout’s overlooked harmonica skills) and “Better Days Ahead” feature the guitarist at his incendiary, guitar-slinging finest while “Leave It All Behind” is a classic rock-styled raver complete with raging hornplay and heavy guitar. Altogether, Walter Trout’s Ride continues a string of excellence that began with 2008’s The Outsider and continues unabated to this day. Grade: A   BUY!
    
Previously on That Devil Music.com:
Short Rounds, July 2022: Shemekia Copeland, Jade Warrior, Gwil Owen, Prince & the Revolution, Sour Ops, Supersonic Blues Machine & ‘Heroes and Villains

Short Rounds, December 2021: Calidoscopio, Deep Purple, Tom Guerra, The Specials, The Wildhearts, Sami Yaffa & ‘I'm A Freak Baby 3

Short Rounds, September 2021: Marshall Crenshaw, Crack The Sky, Donna Frost, Mark Harrison & the Happy Tramps, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram, the Rubinoos, and Jon Savage’s 1972-1976

Short Rounds, June 2021: The Black Keys, the Bummers, Michael Nesmith, Greg “Stackhouse” Prevost, Quinn Sullivan, and the Vejtables

Friday, September 30, 2022

Book Review: R. Crumb’s The Complete Record Cover Collection (2011)

R. Crumb’s The Complete Record Cover Collection
Cartoonist Robert Crumb came to prominence during the 1960s, contributing significantly to the birth and evolution of underground “comix” with his highly-stylized and uniquely-exaggerated artwork. One of the founders of Zap Comix, Crumb created the nearly-ubiquitous “Keep On Truckin’“ comic, which would become a 1970s pop culture icon, as well as such memorable counter-culture characters as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, and the Devil Girl.

Crumb is also among the most controversial illustrators of his era, often slammed by critics for the purported misogynist nature of many of his sexually-charged, fantasy-fueled strips. Charges of racism have also been leveled against Crumb, who is guilty at a minimum of racial insensitivity for his stereotyped portrayals of African-American men and women. None of these criticisms dilute a powerful and prolific body of work, however, Crumb’s mainstream comics such as American Splendor – in collaboration with writer Harvey Pekar – or The Book of Genesis, the artist’s interpretation of Bible stories, rising to the level of genius.    

R. Crumb’s The Complete Record Cover Collection


Seldom mentioned in any discussion of Crumb’s artistic milieu is his love of music and his work in preserving the history of the blues, jazz, and country music. An enthusiastic collector with an impressive library of 78rpm recordings in the aforementioned genres, Crumb is also a semi-professional musician. R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders – a revolving roster of like-minded amateur instrumentalists that has included fellow cartoonist Robert Armstrong and filmmaker Terry Zwigoff – have released three albums of old-timey blues, jazz, bluegrass, and swing music from the 1920s and ‘30s. Crumb played mandolin with the East River String Band on several recordings, and has also put together a number of compilation albums featuring songs culled from his personal collection of 78s.  

Crumb is also well-known, albeit underrated, as an illustrator of record album covers. Working in a medium where, perhaps, illustrator William Stout is his only rival, Crumb has brought a unique aesthetic to his album cover artwork that is both steeped in tradition and informed by the underground cartoon work he created in the 1960s. The best of Crumb’s album cover and other music-oriented artwork has been gathered in a collectors’ edition titled The Complete Album Cover Collection. A beautifully-illustrated, sparsely-annotated, roughly 10” square hardback (around the size of a 78rpm record), Crumb’s work is certainly to be of interest to any fan of old-school blues and jazz music.

Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills


Perhaps Crumb’s best-known album cover is Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, the 1968 album that introduced the world to singer Janis Joplin. Featuring a series of panels that depict the album’s song titles, the cover draws its inspiration from the psychedelic ‘60s San Francisco rock scene that the band came up in, and is actually one of Crumb’s least-entertaining covers. More inspired is the artist’s cover for the 1976 compilation Harmonica Blues, an album of blues, jazz, and country harmonica performances from the 1920s and ‘30s that, while sparse at first glance, perfectly frames a solitary figure walking down a long country road, presumably in the south, playing away on his harmonica, his back turned to the viewer. Created for Crumb’s friend Nick Perls, who owned Yazoo Records, it is a work of enduring elegance.

Through the years, Crumb would draw almost a dozen-and-a-half album covers for Yazoo releases, many of them included in The Complete Album Cover Collection and nearly all of them similarly inspired works. Among my personal favorites is the cover for the Blind Boy Fuller collection Truckin’ My Blues Away, the Casey Bill Weldon and Kokomo Arnold collection Bottleneck Guitar Trendsetters of the 1930s, and the label’s History of Jazz compilation. Crumb also did some brilliant work for other labels, including archival specialists Arhoolie Records and Barrelhouse Records, the latter label’s Maxwell Street Alley Blues a two-toned marvel.

Crumb’s immersion in music illustration doesn’t begin and end with the aforementioned album covers. The Complete Album Cover Collection also displays a wealth of Crumb artwork, including logos for labels like Ordinary Records, Blue Goose, and Oboy Records as well as the actual album labels themselves, advertisements, artist portraits, and more. His illustrations for Michael Bloomfield’s “Me And Big Joe” article, which originally appeared in High Times magazine, will have me scouring eBay for a copy of the 1980 issue. Not all of Crumb’s works are strictly illustrated, either, covers for the Cheap Suit Serenaders albums integrating antique-looking photos with colorful drawn artwork.       

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


The Complete Album Cover Collection won’t appeal to all blues fans, and some may be offended by Crumb’s bawdier, more suggestive artwork (mostly PG-13 by today’s standards, but also some R-rated material contained herein). There is surprisingly little art duplicated here from Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues trading cards (and accompanying jazz and country sets), or from the hardback cover collection of the cards. For those who appreciate Crumb’s musical obsessions, however, The Complete Album Cover Collection would make a welcome addition to any blues book collection. (W.W. Norton & Company, 96-page hardback, published November 7, 2011)

Also on That Devil Music: R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country book review

Buy the book from Amazon: R. Crumb’s The Complete Record Cover Collection  

Friday, September 23, 2022

Book Review: R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country (2006)

R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country
Cartoonist Robert Crumb is one of the most talented and controversial artists to rise out of the underground comix scene of the 1960s and ‘70s. One of the founding artists of Zap Comix and the creator of such counter-culture icons as Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, Crumb is also the writer and illustrator of The Book of Genesis, a best-selling collection of Bible stories. The subject of the award-winning 1995 documentary Crumb by filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, Crumb is one of America’s best-known and notorious artists.

Crumb is an obsessive record collector, his tastes running towards blues, jazz, and hillbilly music from the 1920s and ‘30s, as well as semi-professional musician with a handful of albums to his credit with his band R. Crumb and the Cheap Suit Serenaders. As shown by the 2011 hardback book, The Complete Album Cover Collection, Crumb is also a talented album cover illustrator and designer, bringing his unique, 1960s-forged aesthetic to bear on covers from the familiar Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album (featuring a young Janis Joplin) to better than a dozen vintage archival releases from Yazoo Records, his own Cheap Suit Serenaders records, and many others.    

R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country


Crumb’s fascination with old-timey music hit its peak in the creation of his musician trading card sets during the early 1980s. Originally drawn from rare studio and family photographs, the art was created with an eye towards reproduction as 1950s-and-60s-styled bubblegum trading cards to be included with Yazoo Records album releases. As Crumb’s friend and former Cheap Suit Serenader Zwigoff writes in his introduction to the R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country book, Yazoo owner (and fellow record collector) Nick Perls would instead package the cards in individual sets in order to give him something new to sell to supplement his meager income from LP sales.

“Heroes of the Blues,” a 36-card set, was the first to be completed by Crumb in 1980, followed by 1982’s “Early Jazz Greats,” another 36-card set, and 1985’s “Pioneers of Country Music,” a sumptuous 40-card set. The color artwork for all 112 trading cards has been collected in R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country, an entertaining 240-page hardback book that includes all of the text from the original cards, as well as a 21-track CD that offers seven songs from each of the featured musical genres, culled from Perls’ collection and originally released by Yazoo Records.

Heroes of the Blues


While both the country and jazz sets include some incredible Crumb artwork, it’s the “Heroes of the Blues” section of R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country that we’ll mostly concern ourselves with here. A total of 36 vintage bluesmen (and women) are portrayed by Crumb’s brush, some more intricate than others (depending on the original photographic source material, I guess), each accompanied by in-depth biographical information provided by blues historian Stephen Calt, author of the acclaimed Skip James biography, I’d Rather Be The Devil. The original 3”x4” trading card art is nudged up slightly to a size of roughly 5”x7” with no loss in brilliance or detail, and Crumb does an excellent job in capturing the spirit of the musicians portrayed.

“Heroes of the Blues” champions both well-known artists like Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, Mississippi John Hurt, and Skip James alongside the lesser-known bluesmen of the era like Furry Lewis, Peetie Wheatstraw, Tommy Johnson, and Rube Lacey. Crumb’s portraits of blues legends like Son House, Charley Patton, and Blind Willie Johnson are particularly striking, and would be welcome as fine art prints in the homes of many old-school blues fans.

The jazz and country sections of R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country are equally inspired and informative. Among the better-known early jazzmen portrayed are Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman, while less-familiar jazz artists such as guitarist Eddie Lang and trumpet player King Oliver – both major influences on blues music – are provided a similar level of respect by the artist. Among the important early country artists included in that section are the influential Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Uncle Dave Macon, and “Dock” Boggs, among others. Biographical text for these cards was provided by music historians David Jasen and Rich Nevins, respectively.   

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Robert Crumb’s painted artwork for the three card sets collected by R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country is nothing short of brilliant, and would appeal to any fan of early American roots music, as well as Crumb fanatics and comic art collectors. The historical and biographical text accompanying each card serves to whet the reader’s appetite for more information on the artists, as Crumb brings a true record collector’s enthusiasm and zeal to each portrait.
The 21-song CD accompanying the book is a bonus, the tracks chosen by Crumb himself and including rare 78rpm recordings from blues artists like Blind Willie McTell, Charley Patton, and Frank Strokes as well as country pioneers like “Dock” Boggs and jazz legends King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. Altogether, R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country is a treasure of American music, preserving the past for future generations. (Abrams Comicarts, 240-page hardback w/CD, published November 1, 2006)

Also on That Devil Music: R. Crumb’s The Complete Record Cover Collection book review

Buy the book from Amazon: R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country

Friday, September 16, 2022

Archive Reviews: Scrawl music zine #3 with the Dwarves, the Saints, U.S. Bombs, Zen Lunatic & more! (1997)

The Saints' (I'm) Stranded
Back in 1997, the Reverend contributed some album reviews to a scrappy lil' music zine by the name of Scrawl. I don't remember where it was published or by who, and I'm not sure that everything I submitted was eventually published but they're in my archives, so here we go! These reviews from Scrawl #3...

THE DWARVES
Are Young and Good Looking

(Greedy / Epitaph Records)
In an era that has seemingly seen every big punk band of the past few years showered with wealth, fame and adoration, it’s a welcome reminder that there are a few practitioners of the genre who haven’t signed with the majors or otherwise compromised their integrity...and it seems that they all end up at Epitaph. Case in point is THE DWARVES, one of the more legendary, or, at least, infamous punk outfits of the past decade. The band’s new effort, Are Young and Good Looking, is a non-stop roller-coaster ride of loose riffs, metallic clanging and relentless rhythms. As outrageous as they’ve ever been, and as nasty as they wanna be, THE DWARVES once again prove with Are Young and Good Looking that they’re the stone punk rock real thing.

JACK KILLED JILL...
In Stereo

(New Red Archives)
Ever since THE DEAD BOYS took it on as their own mantle, young, loud, and snotty has been a phrase that has served punk rock well. Sadly, although many of today’s so-called punksters may be young and mostly loud, they’re definitely not as snotty as they could be. Which is why I’m glad that JACK KILLED JILL... are around. The spirit of STIV BATORS lives on in the grooves of In Stereo, JACK KILLED JILL... singer Revik Delfin snarling, spitting and growling her vocals on these songs with a joyful snottiness that these ears haven’t enjoyed in years. A hard-driving collection of uncompromising energy and roots punk influence, In Stereo is a solid showcase for JACK KILLED JILL...  That the band can cover such a politically-charged song as NEW MODEL ARMY’s “51st State” and make it sound more threatening and less bombastic than the original says a lot, in my mind, of JACK KILLED JILL...’s talents. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

THE SAINTS
(I’m) Stranded

(Amsterdamned Records)
As one of the true godfathers of the late-seventies punk scene, Australia’s THE SAINTS have had twenty years to see their legend grow. Whereas familiarity has bred a certain amount of contempt towards a lot of American bands of that era, the geographic distance and relative obscurity of THE SAINTS has preserved both the band’s reputation and their integrity. With the first appearance on CD of the band’s near-mythical and long out-of-print (I’m) Stranded 1977 debut, many music lovers who have only heard the buzz can decide the band’s place in history for themselves. Although the title cut has been included on nearly every punk compilation of the past two decades, the remainder of the album holds up remarkably well after all of this time. Influenced by the STOOGES school of musical excess, THE SAINTS deliver sloppy, fast and furious rock & roll with plenty of echo, feedback and high-voltage energy, (I’m) Stranded easily standing as one of the best albums of the era. Extra credit for the inclusion of the band’s remarkably chaotic cover of “River Deep, Mountain High,” which simply must be heard to be believed.

The Saints' Eternally Yours
THE SAINTS
Eternally Yours

(Amsterdamned Records)
As their rapid follow-up to their incredible aforementioned debut, Eternally Yours is the more polished of the two albums, THE SAINTS sounding tighter, becoming well-practiced during the interval between releases. The raw punk energy is still there, easily identified in the piss-off attitude of “Know Your Product” or the This was a band on the move, however, and a few disparate influences have begun to creep in around the edges of Eternally Yours. Chris Bailey’s vocals are evolving from that of a primitive Iggyish shout towards a smoother, bluesy snarl while Ed Kuepper’s six-string work is fuller, more pronounced and less random. Eternally Yours was, perhaps, the last completely punk album that THE SAINTS would make as they subsequently began exploring various musical styles while maturing into a top-notch R & B oriented outfit, sort of like an Australian ROLLING STONES. Released for the first time on CD, the long out-of-print Eternally Yours is a classic slice of punk rock from down under.
    
U.S. Bombs' War Birth
U.S. BOMBS
War Birth

(Hellcat Records)
The fusion of Jamaican-styled ska – originally popularized by bands like THE SPECIALS and THE ENGLISH BEAT during the eighties – with hardcore punk is such a natural pairing that it surprises me that it’s taken this long for it to occur. Regardless, we’re in the midst of a full-fledged ska-punk revolution on the indie level, so it can’t be long until it’s co-opted by the majors and sold to unsuspecting suburbanites in the local Wal-Mart. Until that inevitable day, there’s a wonderful diversity of bands cranking this stuff out. As it goes, U.S. BOMBS are one of the better of these ska-punk revivalists. Adding more than a bit of British-born Oi! influence to their musical mix, U.S. BOMBS show with War Birth that they can kick ass with the best of them. From their standard-slaughtering cover of the Tin Pan Alley standard “That’s Life” and their skate-punk anthem “Jaks” through tunes like “Rocks In Memphis” or “U.S. of Hate,” U.S. BOMBS keep the energy level high, the decibels ringing and the songs roaring like a primal punk rock-fueled, industrial-strength musical machine.

WOODEN IGLOO
Scrap Pile

(Bushwick Productions)
New England is a hot-bed of rock & roll activity, although one might not know it from the music press these days. Eschewing power-punk flash or metallic excess for solid pop hooks and intelligent lyricism, rockers throughout the region are plying their trade in relative obscurity, concentrating more on making good music than in making a spectacle of themselves. New Hampshire’s WOODEN IGLOO is one such band. The brainchild of brothers Hank and Cal Powers, WOODEN IGLOO have been knocking around the northeast for almost a decade now, developing a style that, as evident on their Scrap Pile, their second album, is just plain hard as hell to pin down. There are elements of folk, urban country and seventies-styled rock, but there’s also a lot of unidentifiable influences here as well. Not all of it works – Scrap Pile drags at several points along the way – but when the brothers Powers hit their mark, as on cuts like “Save Me,” “Shilo” or the hilarious honky-tonk send-up “Jesus By the Neon Light,” they sparkle like a diamond in the rough. The right producer, with a gentle guiding hand – somebody like BILL LLOYD, perhaps, a chap not entirely unfamiliar with the songwriter’s burden – could take WOODEN IGLOO and make a hell of a record. There’s real talent here on Scrap Pile, just waiting to bust out and be noticed.

ZEN LUNATIC
¡Disco Insurance!

(Juggernaut Records)
If you’re not sold on ZEN LUNATIC by the end of the first verse of “I Am A Freak In A Deadhead’s Body,” the opening track of ¡Disco Insurance!, then you’re either clinically brain dead or you’ve assumed room temperature. This homegrown quartet packs more pop hooks into their well-written rock ditties than any half a dozen Britpop funboys, and they pull it off both without pretension or the needless addition of psychedelic flourishes and obtuse lyrics. What you’ll find on this six-song EP is refreshingly innocent guitar-driven rock & roll, the kind of stuff that might have been called “garage rock” in the sixties. Directly influenced by such masters of the craft like THE BYRDS or TOM PETTY as well as any number of valued “one shot wonders,” ¡Disco Insurance! is a welcome musical respite from bland alternative posturing and boring commercialism. It’s obvious from cuts like “Angel’s Got Wings” or “Feels Like September” that ZEN LUNATIC rock because they have to, not because they want to...and they’re glad that they do!

The Dwarves' Are Young and Good Looking

 

Archive Review: Flogging Molly’s Drunken Lullabies (2001)

Flogging Molly’s Drunken Lullabies
A few seconds into the boisterous title track of Flogging Molly’s sophomore album, Drunken Lullabies, the Celtic blood began burning in my veins, my Doc Martens began pounding the floorboards of our aging farmhouse and I had a powerful thirst for a cold, frothy ale. The latest in a line of fine Irish musical delinquents that began, perhaps, with the Pogues and runs through current punk-rock icons such as the Swingin’ Utters and the Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly deliver the goods with an energy and élan unmatched by its contemporaries. Bristling with attitude and flexing its musical muscle with raucous vocals and brawling instrumentation, Drunken Lullabies is a quick cure for the corporate rock blues.

Flogging Molly’s Drunken Lullabies


Molly vocalist/guitarist Dave King earned his bones with hard-rockers Fastway, tho’ the Dublin native seems more at home with his current crew of blustery, multi-instrumental bandmates. Diving headfirst into the same lyrical ground first broken by the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan, King explores themes of love and betrayal, sin and salvation, damning society while raising a mug o’ Guinness. The rest of Flogging Molly follows behind, blanketing King’s poetic tales of booze and brotherhood with a seamless wash of guitars, fiddles, mandolin and various pipes and whistles. The resulting chaos is exhilarating, energetic music that cranks up the amperage with the opening song and runs wild through tasty tracks like “Another Bag of Bricks,” “What’s Left of the Flag,” and the unrelenting “Rebels of the Sacred Heart.”
 

With their second album, Flogging Molly picks up the torch discarded by the Pogues better than half a decade ago, breathing new life into the Irish-punk genre and raising the bar for all the drunken Celtic rowdies that might follow their lead. If all the music you listen to is on commercial (i.e. corporate) radio, you might think that rock ‘n’ roll is in the doldrums. A single spin of Drunken Lullabies will convince you otherwise... (Side One Dummy Records, released 2001)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Flogging Molly’s Drunken Lullabies

Friday, September 9, 2022

Archive Reviews: Scrawl music zine #2 with Blanks 77, the Bottle Rockets, the Evinrudes, Wayne Hancock, Igmo, Scared of Chaka, Spiritualized & more! (1997)

Blanks 77's Tanked and Pogoed
Back in 1997, the Reverend contributed some album reviews to a scrappy lil' music zine by the name of Scrawl. I don't remember where it was published or by who, and I'm not sure that everything I submitted was eventually published but they're in my archives, so here we go! These reviews from Scrawl #2...

BLANKS 77
Tanked and Pogoed

(Radical Records)
With a fervor few have matched during the past twenty years, the appropriately-named BLANKS 77 kick out some serious jams with Tanked and Pogoed, the band’s latest disc. A potent collection of hardcore punk, these guys scream, spit and posture with the best of them, songs like “I Wanna Be A Punk,” “Losing My Brain” or “Crash & Burn” showing more attitude and angst, rock-hard rhythms and flailing guitars than any half-a-dozen flannel-clad Seattle types have managed to muster during the better part of this decade. If you prefer your punk rock to be fast and furious, relying on piss-and-vinegar and loudness rather than on radio-friendly sweetness and pop hooks, then BLANKS 77’s Tanked and Pogoed is just the musical tonic that you’ve been waiting for.

BOTTLE ROCKETS
24 Hours A Day

(Atlantic Records)
There are many among the rock punditocracy who consider BOTTLE ROCKETS frontman BRIAN HENNEMAN to be one of the genre’s strongest lyricists; “No Depression” critics bow to the band as one of the leading lights of the alternative country scene. After more than a few spins of 24 Hours A Day, the band’s third effort, I’d heartily agree with both positions. The ease at which HENNEMAN spins tales and taps into the listener’s consciousness and emotions is on par with other populist scribes like BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN or JOHN FOGERTY. Like those artists, HENNEMAN isn’t afraid to mix up roots rock with country and folk flavoring, 24 Hours A Day a powerful collection of songs that runs the gamut of popular style and substance. Unlike a lot of bands mining the so-called “alt-country” vein these days, however, the BOTTLE ROCKETS deliver honest heartland rock with a razor-sharp artistic edge

BOY SETS FIRE
The Day The Sun Went Out

(Initial Records)
A few seconds into the album opener “Pure,” a sonic soundwave smacks the side of your head and The Day The Sun Went Out grabs you by the ears and bangs your pointy little noggin against BOY SETS FIRE’s wall-of-sound until the closing roar of “Hometown Report Card.” With a hybrid of socially-conscious lyrics and hardcore-based metallic K.O., BOY SETS FIRE gets down to the serious business of feeding your head even while bludgeoning you senseless. If you’re man enough to hang on through the album’s eventual wind-down and conclusion (or you just can’t get up off the floor), you’ll be treated to a tasty hidden track, a power blues anthem that, while providing little respite from the musical beating you’ve just experienced, is a pleasant departure nonetheless. No flabby hard rock wannabes here, BOY SETS FIRE delivering grade A musical muscle that’s all balls and no filler.

The Evinrudes' The Evinrudes
THE EVINRUDES
The Evinrudes

(self-produced)
On the strength of a single radio-friendly rocker, “Drive Me Home,” the EVINRUDES have burned up the FM airwaves across the Southeast this summer. With the release of this self-titled indie EP, it’s just a matter of time until the band is grabbed up by a major label. What sets the EVINRUDES heads and shoulders above a thousand and one similar-sounding bands crisscrossing Dixieland, though, is the scorching vocals of singer Sherry Cothran and the unparalleled wit of lyricist Brian Reed. Cothran’s vocals will light a fire in the coldest of hearts, all hot breath and purring sensuality. Musically, Reed’s songs are tight, guitar-driven vehicles; his lyrics, however, are masterful pop art poetry, cheeky and intelligent. This duo – Cothran and Reed – are true rock & roll wunderkinds, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to their level of musical excellence.

FRANKENFINGER
Forty Hour Sea

(Cash Monkey Records)
FRANKENFINGER is the band that POLVO wishes they could be, this five-song EP creating more experimental excitement on tape with its seventeen or so minutes than the aforementioned indie rock stalwarts have done over the course of several albums. Drew Watson’s fuzzy, feedback-ridden guitars create a massive buzz and howl, bassist Kathy Denton contributes some finely warped rhythm and drummer Brent McNeal kicks out some rambunctiously syncopated percussion. All three of the FRANKENFINGERs add discordant harmonies and various vocals, bathing the listener in a high-wattage mix of hauntingly beautiful melody and bone-crunching noise. Forty Hour Sea is a solid musical calling card, FRANKENFINGER as original and enticing an indie band as you’re liable to come across this year.

FUTURE BIBLE HEROES
Memories of Love

(Slow River Records)
Dark-tinged atmospheric pop with the ambient feel of any one of many 4AD label bands is what you’ll find on FUTURE BIBLE HEROES’ Memories of Love.  Evoking memories of early-eighties synth bands, this collaboration between THE MAGNETIC FIELDS’ Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson and FIGURES ON A BEACH’s Chris Ewan recreates the sound of a kinder, gentler age. What sets Memories Of Love above other such retro-oriented bands, though, is the wonderful interplay between Gonson’s lofty, heavenly vocals and Merritt’s stark baritone. Swapping vocal chores from song to song while the highly textured tapestry of sound shimmers behind them, the resulting material is, at times, breath-taking. With Memories of Love art-rock returns with a vengeance, FUTURE BIBLE HEROES providing the genre a well-timed kick in the pants.

Wayne Hancock's That's What Daddy Wants
WAYNE HANCOCK
That’s What Daddy Wants

(Ark 21 Records)
You can hear it in the clubs down on Lower Broad, but you’d never know it by walking down Nashville’s famous “Music Row” – there’s a wind of change that’s beginning to blow in country music, and it’s bringing with it a new wave of talent. WAYNE “THE TRAIN” HANCOCK is symbolic of this change, a Texas-bred, stone cold country singer with one foot in the honky-tonk and a twang in his heart. That’s What Daddy Wants, the much-anticipated follow-up to HANCOCK’s critically-acclaimed indie debut is everything his fans have been waiting for and more. Recorded live and mixed down in just three days, the thirteen cuts on That’s What Daddy Wants bristle with electricity and reckless country soul, HANCOCK mixing equal parts traditional country and western swing with a dash of raucous rockabilly. Call up the ghosts of HANK WILLIAMS and ERNEST TUBB to watch over the entire affair and you have That’s What Daddy Wants, the best country album that won’t be made in Nashville this year.

IGMO
Ten Day Potato

(self-produced)
After a long dry spell during which just about any group that knew three chords and could put up an “alternative” image was awarded a major label deal we’ve finally spun things around where there are some bands out there who don’t sound like NIRVANA or SMASHING PUMPKINS. Nashville’s IGMO is one of these welcome departures from the mainstream fare, a talented conglomeration of some of the Southeast’s finest musicians brought together under one roof to make some honest rock & roll music. Vocalist Mark Pfaff, one of the legendary WILL & THE BUSHMEN, is the ringleader on Ten Day Potato, fronting a superb collection of pop, rock, country and psychedelia that borrows shamelessly from every decade from the dawn of time until today. IGMO present a new twist on the musical lessons they’ve learned so well, however, Ten Day Potato proving to be as refreshingly familiar as it is oddly original. In an era where many of today’s “superbands” have to be taught how to play their instruments, IGMO is creating music that is as intelligent as it is invigorating.

D.C. Moon's The Uncertainty Priciple
D.C. MOON
The Uncertainty Principle

(Boiled Hippo Records)
Over the course of two albums, D.C. MOON has done more to honor the legacy of the MISFITS than even that band, reformed, has done, cranking out three-chord, metal-tinged, ass-kickin’ punk rock like nobody’s business. With The Uncertainty Principle, MOON’s second indie release, he’s successfully beat the dreaded sophomore jinx, delivering a set that is tighter and more musically mature than The Meteor Titanic, his acclaimed debut. MOON shows a marked improvement in both his sharp-edged six string work and in his songwriting, creating material that is at once both more raucous and better thought out. The sky’s the limit for lyrical content on The Uncertainty Principle, MOON straying far and wide across his favorite territory, which includes such measured insanity as aliens and U.F.O.s, conspiracy theory, pop culture, technology, quantum physics and rock music. There’s a method to his madness, however, and the dedicated listener will discover, beneath the surface, a socially conscious songwriter tackling controversial issues while having a hell of a lot of fun. Additional kudos for two excellent songs co-written with novelist/rocker John Shirley, whose own band, THE PANTHER MODERNS, are no slouches, either. In an art form lacking visionaries, D.C. MOON sits tall in the saddle and shoots for the stars. The Reverend sez “check it out!”

SCARED OF CHAKA
Scared of Chaka

(702 Records)
Punk’s not dead, but I wish somebody would shoot it and put it out of our misery. Punk bands are a fuckin’ dime a dozen these days, and I’m looking for the twit supplying the dimes. All of the self-righteous, snot-nosed punkzines and fly-by-night indie labels won’t change the fact that 90% of everything is shit. An exception to this rule, however, are SCARED OF CHAKA, a punk trio who have been around long enough to have made their bones and earned a fair degree of respect from this humble scribe. Their new self-titled disc is a rollicking collection of toons that rock with the speed of a cheetah and hits the listener between the ears like a policeman’s billy. SCARED OF CHAKA deliver the real goods: old-fashioned, fast ‘n’ furious punk rock that’s about nothing and everything at once, leaving a pleasant ringing in your ears long after the disc is done playing.

Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
SPIRITUALIZED
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

(Arista Records)
The aural equivalent of an acid trip, SPIRITUALIZED’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is a mesmerizing 70 minutes of wildly manic guitars, musical cacophony, obscured lyrics and vocals and techno-inspired rhythms that, while drawing heavily from the spirit of rave and electronica styles, have as much to do with the wigged-out psychedelia of BEVIS FROND as it does with, say, THE ORB or MOBY. A couple of spins and you’re hooked, SPIRITUALIZED spinning a truly addictive sound and mind-altering ambiance with a healthy mix of instrumentation and lyricism. Layer by layer the songs unfold with each subsequent listen, and even if you still don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, the trip there is half the fun. For a musical sojourn to the heart of the psyche, this musical mental health practitioner suggests SPIRITUALIZED’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space...take one and call me in the morning.

SPLITSVILLE
Ultrasound

(Big Deal Records)
Call it “turbo-bubblegum,” if you will, the second album from SPLITSVILLE successfully combining punkish energy and enthusiasm with goofy seventies-styled lyricism and a garage-band sound. Originally begun as a side project for THE GREENBERRY WOODS’ Matt and Brandt Huseman, SPLITSVILLE took on a life of its own after the 1996 release of their erstwhile debut, Splitsville U.S.A. The band’s sophomore effort doesn’t stray far from the thematic and aesthetic playground of its predecessor, Ultrasound combining the best elements of three decades of low culture in creating a sound that is as satisfyingly fresh as it is ultimately familiar. Strains of every great pop/rock band from the early WHO to REDD KROSS infects SPLITSVILLE, who take their musical cues from the one-hit wonders, cult TV and B-movies that make American culture the envy of the entire globe.

STRONTIUM 90
Police Academy

(Pangea/Ark 21 Records)
What is surprising about this first tentative recorded grouping of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers isn’t that it’s a pretty decent collection of demos, but rather that these sides took so long to reach the light of day. Originally a project of former GONG member Mike Howlett, STRONTIUM 90 was truly primordial POLICE, with a lot of the musical ideas that would be fleshed out by that successful trio first shown on the studio tracks included here. Although the live songs offered by Police Academy have been previously bootlegged as the POLICE’s first show...and in a manner, it was....taken as a whole, STRONTIUM 90 was the antecedent on which the Police’s success was based, Police Academy a valuable look at the roots of one of the eighties greatest bands.

Max Vague's Timing
MAX VAGUE
Timing

(MetroLord Records)
With Timing, his fourth release, MAX VAGUE has pulled a few new musical twists out of the seemingly endless bag of tricks of his, mixing healthy portions of Britpop influence with his usual ethereal progressive fare. With more melodies and livelier song structure added to his trademark musical marksmanship, VAGUE has developed into a world class tunesmith. The title track, however, might well be his finest moment. With its sneering throwaway line “you’ve come this far, you might as well swallow,” the song is a near-perfect accounting of the struggle an artist faces in retaining their integrity as well as a wickedly satirical look at an industry that devours lives and creativity alike. Originally conceived as an eight song EP, VAGUE and bassist Ross Smith flew off the deep end into insanity, ending Timing with a twenty-eight minute instrumental opus. Dark, eerie, provocative and deceptively mesmerizing, “Crack In the Sky” serves as an excellent bookend to Timing, carrying the listener beyond the dreams spun with the preceding songs, sojourning into the dreamland from whence they came.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Reggatta Mondatta

(Ark 21 Records)
It probably sounded like a great idea at the time – take the songs of the POLICE, arguably the musical popularizers of “reggatta de blanc” or “white reggae,” and get a bunch of authentic Jamaican artists to record them as a tribute to the band. The result is Reggatta Mondatta, a hit-or-miss collection of, yes, classic Police cuts interpreted by the artists who originally influenced the band’s sound. When Reggatta Mondatta shoots straight, like with SHINEHEAD’s amazing reading of “Jamaican In New York” or ZIGGY MARLEY’s “One World (Not Three),” the disc hits a bull’s-eye every time. Other efforts, such as those from ASWAD or MAXI PRIEST, are lost on these ears. If you’re a fan of the POLICE, you’ll probably find Reggatta Mondatta a fitting nod to the band’s legacy; otherwise, proceed with caution.

Reggatta Mondatta

 

Archive Review: Rocket From the Tombs' Rocket Redux (2004)

The near-mythical art-punk forebears of both Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, Rocket From the Tombs is one of the great lost bands of rock ‘n’ roll. Fronted by pre-Pere David Thomas, a giant of a man with a fractured voice who went by the name of Crocus Behemoth, RFTT was a fixture on the mid-‘70s Cleveland rock scene. Influenced by bands like the Stooges, Velvet Underground and Kiss, RFTT experienced an ever-changing line-up of musicians with Thomas as the only constant. It wasn’t until Thomas hooked up with songwriter/guitarist Peter Laughner that the band settled down with a roster that included guitarist Gene O’Connor (a/k/a Cheetah Chrome), bassist Craig Bell, and drummer Johnny “Blitz” Madansky.

Rocket From the Tombs’ Rocket Redux


It is this RFTT line-up that is considered by Cle-punk aficionados as best representing the inspired mix of hard rock, heavy metal and art-rock that would become Rocket From the Tombs’ legacy. The band would release several singles during its brief lifespan, circa 1974-75, songs like “Sonic Reducer,” “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and “Final Solution” that would later be revisited in classic versions by Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. Creative tensions would eventually break the band into rival factions, with Thomas and Laughner forming Pere Ubu and O’Connor and Madansky forming the Dead Boys with Stiv Bators. RFTT never recorded a full-length album during it’s brightly-burning existence, the band’s disparate demo tapes and live recordings traded feverishly by hardcore fans for two and a half decades until they were collected on CD in 2002 with The Day the Earth Met Rocket From the Tombs.

Laughner would leave Pere Ubu shortly after its formation, starting and discarding a number of bands while he was writing about music for Creem magazine. The talented songwriter would die of liver failure in 1977 at the young age of 25, but his creative progeny would forge careers of various lengths. The Dead Boys lived fast and died young after a few years and a couple of albums while Thomas and Pere Ubu would soldier on into the new millennium. The RFTT myth kept growing through the years, however, and during the summer of 2003 surviving band members Thomas, O’Connor, and Bell got together for a brief tour under the Rocket From the Tombs name. Television’s Richard Lloyd filled the Laughner position and Pere Ubu’s Steve Mehlman sat in on the drums. The response was encouraging and performing the old songs was fun so much like the Rubber City Rebels recently did, the five RFTT members ventured into the studio.

Sonic Reducer RFTT


Rocket Redux is the result of the reformed band’s studio sojourn. Produced by Lloyd in his NYC studio, the album is the collection of songs that RFTT never got the chance to record in 1975. Not surprisingly, the tunes still sound great after almost 30 years. All the members of RFTT’s current line-up have worked as musicians since the ‘70s so there is a fair degree of professionalism in the performance of these familiar songs. These guys are also some of the most hallowed names of the punk and post-punk eras, so the songs show a fair degree of off-kilter enthusiasm and reckless energy as well. Lloyd’s production on Rocket Redux offers a nice balance of melodic grunge and outsider art, red-hot twin guitars leaving scorched earth beneath Thomas’ vocal caterwauling.

If the songs on Rocket Redux are familiar, the arrangements and performances are not…this is how these songs were meant to be heard, and the band takes them back from history by adding its own brand to the titles. “Sonic Reducer RFTT” strips this gem of Stiv’s Iggy mannerisms and brings the song back to its minimalist art-punk roots with flailing vox by Thomas and stunning six-string work by O’Connor/Chrome and Lloyd. Pere Ubu’s rendition of “Final Solution RFTT” was never as eerie as this, Bell’s throbbing bass and Mehlman’s tribal drumwork giving way to Gothic vocals and screaming guitar riffs. It is some of the lesser-known works of the RFTT canon that benefit most from this reclamation project, tho’, Laughner’s tragic “Amphetamine” for instance is provided a reverent reading with delicate chiming guitarwork and somber vocals by O’Connor (or is it Lloyd?). New life is breathed into Laughner’s “Ain’t It Fun,” this “screwed and chopped” version bolstered by intricate guitar interplay and the hauntingly prescient line “ain’t it fun when you know that you’re gonna die young?” Stellar performances of “Down In Flames,” “Frustration” and “Life Stinks” show that RFTT has transcended time in its pursuit of rock ‘n’ roll’s Holy Grail.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Five, or maybe ten years ahead of its time, Rocket From the Tombs was fated to become one of those dusty footnotes to rock ‘n’ roll history, the band’s importance appreciated by critics and a few fans. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, however, “the modern day punk refuses to die,” the reformed Rocket From the Tombs adding another chapter to the band’s growing legacy with Rocket Redux. Whether you’re an old school fan or a young punkster learning about the genre from reissue CD, you owe it to yourself to discover/rediscover the myth that is Rocket From the Tombs. (Smog Veil Records, released February 24th, 2004)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine

Also on That Devil Music: Rocket From the Tombs' The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs CD review

Friday, September 2, 2022

Archive Reviews: Scrawl music zine #1 with the Clarks, Dead Fucking Last, Gigolo Aunts, U.K. Subs & more! (1997)

The Clarks' Someday Maybe
Back in 1997, the Reverend contributed some album reviews to a scrappy lil' music zine by the name of Scrawl. I don't remember where it was published or by who, and I'm not sure that everything I submitted was eventually published but they're in my archives, so here we go! These reviews from Scrawl #1...

THE CLARKS
Someday Maybe

(Way Cool/MCA Records)
These ears haven’t heard such unbridled adoration of the pop genre since THE SMITHEREENS burst onto the scene a decade or so ago. THE CLARKS explore a similar sort of pop/rock vein, substituting Scott Blasey’s sweet vocals and the band’s hook-ridden song structure for the aforementioned Jersey crew’s trademark riffs and booming baritone. Someday Maybe is the Pittsburgh quartet’s fine major label bow, providing listeners with an earful of some of the most engaging pop-influenced rock that’s come down the pike in a while. With an easy half-dozen radio-ready hits just waiting to be heard, it’s just a matter of time before Someday Maybe propels THE CLARKS across the threshold of obscurity into possible contender status.

DEAD FUCKING LAST
grateful...

(Epitaph Records)
Revoke my punk credentials if you must, but DFL’s Proud To Be album, produced by BEASTIE BOY Ad Rock, left me colder than last week’s leftover pizza. Their latest effort, grateful... was recorded live, thus achieving a true HC feel. My admiration of grateful... goes no further than that, though, DFL’s rapid, raucous two-minute shots of shouted lyrics and unrelenting rhythms hitting the listener like a policeman’s billy club. I prefer the subtlety of Epitaph label mates PENNYWISE or NOFX, who respectively prove that you can have intelligence and humor in punk rock, instead of just flogging people over the head with it.

Gigolo Aunts' Learn To Play Guitar
GIGOLO AUNTS
Learn To Play Guitar

(Wicked Disc)
There’s still plenty of room left in rock & roll for tuneful melodies and tasteful harmonies, a pair of musical traits showcased at length by GIGOLO AUNTS on their six-song EP Learn To Play Guitar. These are the kind of songs that rock intelligentsia eat up, even if they seldom hit the charts. Full-bodied and ringing with six-string innocence and rhythmic magic, tunes like “The Sun Will Rise Again,” “Wishing You The Worst” or the band’s engaging cover of JULES SHEAR’s wonderful “Kinda Girl” combine youthful exuberance with punkish energy and no little amount of musical skill. Learn To Play Guitar is a great introduction to GIGOLO AUNTS, a band you may have heard before and most likely will hear from again.

GOODBYE HARRY
I Can Smoke

(Cruz Records)
Featuring former ALL lead vocalist Scott Reynolds, GOODBYE HARRY offers up a musical fare of power punk on I Can Smoke, their sophomore effort. Unlike similar bands, GOODBYE HARRY’s Reynolds can actually sing, possessing a vocal range above a flat monotone or a cacophonic wail. He writes pretty decent songs, also, full of life and energy and great throw-away lines, mixing in elements of grungey rock and pure pop for a really invigorating hybrid. Not the hottest collection that I’ve heard this year, but certainly better than average, I Can Smoke is the kind of disc that tends to grow on you with every listen.

JUNKSTER
Junkster

(RCA Records)
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Irish rock bands, particularly those with female vocalists. Unlike most bands from the Emerald Isle, which tend to have their feet firmly planted in Celtic traditionalism, JUNKSTER have their eyes turned to the stars. The band’s self-titled debut features the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Deirdre O’Neill and a wicked twin guitar assault by atmospheric experts Aidan Lane and Mick Creedon. Junkster eschews tradition-as-usual to mix earthy folk influences with ethereal pop and just enough electronic-inspired rhythms to keep things moving. The result is a mesmerizing eleven song sojourn into an otherworldly musical inner space that is guaranteed to feed your head even while prompting you to shuffle your feet.

Puzzle Gut's Puzzle Gut
PUZZLE GUT
Puzzle Gut

(Trauma Records)
The initial eight or nine songs of PUZZLE GUT’s self-titled debut rock at an extremely satisfying level, with cuts like “Metamorphosis” or “The Wrong Man” combining roaring guitars, sludge-like rhythms and feedback level intensity in creating an honestly powerful musical experience. Somewhere around the last third of Puzzle Gut, though, the band takes a drastic wrong turn, falling hopelessly into screaming pretension and getting mired in hard rock clichés. I’d personally be quick to point the finger at producer Thom Panunzio, who certainly knows better, although there’s plenty of blame to pass around to the band. What might have been an impressive debut effort for PUZZLE GUT instead gets knocked down a notch to the level of “mostly listenable.”

SLUSH
North Hollywood

(Discovery Records)
With a sound that is as familiar as it is original, SLUSH manage to make hard rock interesting again. Drawing on influences beyond the usual unholy metallic trinity of LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH and VAN HALEN, this talented foursome bring more finesse, skill and energy to a ballad like “So Volatile” than their musical peers can dredge up across an entire album. North Hollywood is full of great songs, unexpected musical twists and turns and is as entertaining as a rockin’ Saturday night. Johnne Peters’ amazing vocal range is complimented by Dean Zuckerman’s slashing guitar and a solid rhythm section in bassist Jamie Lau and drummer Kevin Costigan. North Hollywood kicks out some serious jams while managing to have a roaring good time.

U.K. Subs' Quintessentials
U.K. SUBS
Quintessentials

(New Red Archives)
One of the (very) few seventies-era grandfathers of punk who have remained relatively intact and musically vital, the U.K. SUBS have become an institution in their own right. Quintessentials, the first of two discs commemorating the band’s twentieth anniversary, covers the usual SUBS’ lyrical and musical territory, sixteen hard and fast cuts serving up verbal attacks at the police (“Killer Cops” “State of Alert”), the record biz (“Media Man”) or the military (“War On the Pentagon 1 & 2”), with more than a dash of old-fashioned anarchy (“AK47”) thrown in for good measure. Forget about the fat and forty Sex Pistols trying to reclaim their place in the sun. The U.K. SUBS never retired long enough to read their press clippings, instead delivering the stone cold punk rock goods for two decades now.

U.K. SUBS
Riot

(New Red Archives)
The second volume of the U.K. SUBS’ amazing twentieth anniversary celebration, both Riot and Quintessentials feature the original duo of vocalist Charlie Harper and guitarist Nicky Garratt with long-time bassist Alvin Gibbs and former Samhain drummer Dave Ayers. Both discs illustrate perfectly why the U.K. SUBS, overlooked by critics for two decades, have nonetheless been one of the major influences that hard-core punk has ever spawned. Time has done nothing to slow these guys down, Riot kicking ass through fifteen great songs, the band’s typical socio-political lyrical commentary backed by a muscular, no-quarter-asked musical onslaught. If you prefer your punk to be hard-edged rather than saccharine-sweet, then check out this pair of discs from the U.K. SUBS.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Generations I - A Punk Look At Human Rights

(Ark 21 Records)
Punk checks back in on the social consciousness circuit with the release of Generations I, the first of four planned CD releases benefiting the Human Rights Action Center. All of the bands involved donated their tunes for the project, which is focused on raising awareness of and working for implementation of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights. The VANDALS, DFL, PANSY DIVISION, PENNYWISE and BAD BRAINS all appear with new or previously unreleased tracks for Generations I, all contributing strong performances, but my favorites include Joe Strummer’s ELECTRIC DOG HOUSE and their album-opening “Generations,” MR. T EXPERIENCE’s “Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya” and THE JOHN DOE THING’s “Criminal.” Hell, there’s not a bad track on the disc, so buy it already and support this worthwhile cause.

The Verge's Phenomenon
THE VERGE
Phenomenon

(Big Deal Records)
It’s refreshing, every now and then, to discover something among the musical hordes that stands out as unique, original and uncategorizable. Australia’s THE VERGE fits this description to a ‘T’, their Big Deal release Phenomenon throwing songs all over the old diversity scoreboard. Just when you’ve gotten these guys pegged as folkie wordslingers they hit you with an intriguing slice of pop-flavored rock, or maybe a little minimalist talking blues. When you think you’ve heard everything they’ve got to offer, they’ll run headfirst into an extended psychedelic jam that sounds like the bastard offspring of SYD BARRET and THE BEVIS FROND. In other words, there’s never a dull moment on Phenomenon, an entertaining, ingratiating and entirely unexpected experience.

VOLEBEATS
Sky and the Ocean

(Safe House Records)
With the whole “No Depression” alternative country thing struggling to become the next big trend in pop music, you can expect a lot of folks to be trading in their flannel and goatees for blue jeans and cowboy boots. Unfortunately, a lot of bands may get lost in the hype. Case in point, Detroit’s VOLEBEATS who prove with Sky and the Ocean that you can make tasteful, roots-oriented music without wearing your pretensions on your sleeve. Sky and the Ocean is a classy, understated collection of rock tunes with enough country and blues flavoring to pigeonhole it as alt-country but enough integrity to rise above it all.

Volebeats' Sky and the Ocean

 

Archive Review: Descendents’ ‘Merican EP (2004)

The Descendents’ ‘Merican
It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the Descendents put SoCal punk rock on the musical map, the band defining the “pop-punk” sound as a mix of melodic pop/rock and three-chord hardcore punk with a jolt of humor thrown in to smooth out the sound. Although they never reach the pinnacle of popularity enjoyed by lesser carbon copy bands like Blink-182 or Good Charlotte, the Descendents have retained a fond spot in our hearts for the band’s uncompromising music, self-defacing humor and immense influence. I can’t imagine bands like the Offspring, Green Day or NoFX existing without first listening to the Descendents.

The Descendents’ ‘Merican


In anticipation of the first honest-to-god Descendents’ album in almost eight years, the band has released a four-song EP to provide long-time fans with the sound of the band circa 2004. With two songs previewing the upcoming Cool To Be You, and a couple of non-LP tracks, the ‘Merican EP stands well on its own. “Nothing With You,” from the new album, is a nifty slice of guitar-driven power-punk that explores the familiar comfort of sitting around and doing nothing with the one you love. Watching TV and joyfully proclaiming “I’m not lazy, I’m in love,” the tune name checks pop culture touchstones like The Simpsons and Seinfeld while delivering domestic bliss with a riff-happy soundtrack. The bittersweet “Here With Me,” exclusive to the EP, shows the other side of the coin, the forlorn vocals evincing melancholy for a love lost while strong, deliberate fretwork is embroidered on top of a steady beat.

Another non-LP cut, “I Quit,” is a scorched-earth dismissal of those who would criticize the band as “sell outs” or, worse yet, “not punk enough,” the venomous lyrics empowering the musicians to make their own choice of the music they play and the lives they lead. Stephen Egerton’s six-string work is stunning, roaring over the edge into metallic overdrive as Bill Stevenson’s explosive drumbeats and Karl Alvarez’s massive bass line support Milo’s clever lyrics: “What'd ya think, I wanted to be Mick Jagger or something/Playing the pixie at 50 or 60?/Gimme a break!/I mean, I don't wanna grow up and all that, but/The time has come for me to say – I quit!” An untitled “hidden” song, drifting in after the end of “I Quit,” seems like nothing more than the fab four having a bit of fun after the previous song’s statement, sounding all the world like Metallica or some other metal-edged arena rockers. Showcasing the band’s collective talents and extending its sound beyond the confines of the punk genre, the tune is a real eye-opener to this outfit’s chemistry and musical potential.

It’s with the title cut of this long-overdue EP that the Descendents, much like labelmates NoFX recently did, take a 180-degree turn. Sure, Milo and his mates have always been cynical, angry young punks, but I don’t remember the band ever making as powerful a political statement as it does with “’Merican.” A jaded observation of American history delivered with machine-gun vocals and staggering three-chord prowess, the song begins with “We flipped our finger to the king of England/Then stole our country from the Indians/With god on our side and guns in our hand/We took it for our own.” Milo continues to spit out rapid-fire lyrics with an equal measure of pride and horror as he outlines the good, the bad and the ugly of America. Every verse is punctuated with the chorus “Listen up man, I’ll tell you who I am/I’m just another stupid American/But you don’t want to listen, you don’t want to understand/Just finish up your drink and go home.”

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Much like NoFX’s wonderfully wry “Franco American,” the Descendents deliver a potent commentary on society without the cliched rhetoric that plagues many political-punks, the band punching its thoughts home with maximum amplification in a mere minute and fifty-one seconds. Another preview from Cool To Be You, the Descendents leave the listener eagerly awaiting the band’s first album in almost eight years. Something tells me that it will have been worth the wait… (Fat Wreck Chords, released 2004)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine

Friday, August 26, 2022

Archive Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind (2013)

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind
The Tedeschi Trucks Band grew out of the 2010 summer tour dubbed “Soul Stew Revival,” which itself was planned as a way for the real life married duo of singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and guitarist Derek Truck to spend some time together on the road with their family as opposed to launching solo tours. The Soul Stew Revival included members of each artist’s band as well as talented friends and, as time passed, it grew into the eleven-piece ensemble that makes up the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Revelator, the band’s 2011 debut album, dominated the blues chart for a couple of years with its inspired mix of blues, soul, gospel, and rock ‘n’ roll while Everybody’s Talkin’, a two-disc 2012 live set, picked up the slack on the charts when Revelator’s sales began to flag.

Now it’s 2013 and the Tedeschi Trucks Band returns after two years on the road with its second studio effort, Made Up Mind. While a lot has been made of the similarity of Tedeschi’s vocals to those of the great Bonnie Raitt, Made Up Mind brings another comparison to my mind, to the underrated Bonnie Bramlett and her late 1960s/early 1970s collaborations with her late husband Delaney. Much like Bramlett, Tedeschi wrings every bit of juice out of a lyric, and what is the Tedeschi Trucks Band but a modern-day conglomeration of talent like Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, with Trucks playing the role of both Delaney Bramlett and Eric Clapton?    

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind


Made Up Mind opens with the title track, Trucks’ chunky guitar scrape accompanied by a funky, choogling groove and full, rich backing instrumentation. Tedeschi’s lovely voice kicks in, displaying her Etta James influences, the singer rolling with the groove and soaring above the fray when necessary only to trail off in favor of Trucks’ fluid, sizzling guitar solo. This is the kind of ready-made, radio-friendly jam that would have dominated the AOR airwaves in the early-to-mid-1990s but today it plays to a mainstream blues audience ill served by corporate radio.

“Do I Look Worried” takes the band back to an even earlier era, Tedeschi’s stunning torch-song styled performance creating a 1950s R&B vibe, as seen through a 1970s blues-rock lens, the sound reinforced by the band’s subtle, elegant use of horns in the background. The song’s lush instrumentation threatens to overwhelm the singer, Tedeschi nevertheless rising to the occasion, assisted by Trucks’ gorgeous guitar lines and stinging solos. “Idle Wind” is a pure 1970s construct, the sort of bluesy, folkie, acoustic rock hymn that many of us cut our eye teeth on back in the day, the song darkly imaginative, with a lovely use of Kofi Burbridge’s feathery flute runs and a soft layer of horns.

Calling Out To You

 

Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi
The throwback soul of “Part of Me” is delivered pitch perfect by the fine vocal interplay between Tedeschi and trombonist Saunders Sermons, who sounds like a young Curtis Mayfield. The 1960s soul ambiance is undeniable and, just in case you may not have caught the song’s reference point, Trucks kicks out his best Steve Cropper/James Burton guitar licks, spicing up an already enchanting performance. Tedeschi’s vocals on “It’s So Heavy” further underline the Bonnie Bramlett connection, the singer evoking no little emotion in an otherwise deceptively understated performance; Trucks’ accompanying solos are also appropriately muted, albeit with the strength of a rushing river.

Hands down, the most raucous tune on Made Up Mind, “The Storm” amps up Trucks’ rattletrap guitar riffs while the rhythm section cranks out a ramshackle juke-joint groove straight out of the Junior Kimbrough/R.L. Burnside playbook. There’s more at play here than a Mississippi Hill Country influence, however, Tedeschi throwing a little Memphis soul into her vocals while Trucks tosses off a golden jazz-flecked solo that invokes Luther Johnson as much as Luther Dickinson while Burbridge’s gospel-tinged keyboards ride shotgun before chaos descends at around the five-minute mark as Derek clearly loses his mind (speaking instrumentally, of course) and tears off a deadly swamp-blues solo mixing Duane Allman’s greasy tones with John Campbell’s Delta dirt. Providing a stark contrast, the album closes with the acoustic “Calling Out To You,” a fine showcase not only for Tedeschi’s vocal skills but also for Trucks’ six-string dexterity as the two record sans band for a charming and entirely intimate performance.   

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


The album’s songwriting is, admittedly, the weakest part of Made Up Mind, too many of the album’s tunes composed by committee and lacking a lyrical cohesion (several songs co-written by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris). The best material seems to be that which echoes a singular voice, the title track, “Do I Look Worried,” and “Misunderstood” particularly standing out from the crowd. Whereas the size of the band may have created an obstacle in the instrumental composition of the material, the talents involved and the chemistry created by a couple years on the road has created an entertaining and musically exciting blend of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band has been accused of recording an album that is more “pop” than blues with Made Up Mind, and there’s no denying the mainstream appeal of these bright, shiny performances. It’s the band’s love of the music, however, that makes Made Up Mind a winner. This may not be your daddy’s blues, but this is a big tent that we’re all under, with plenty of room for newcomers, and Tedeschi Trucks Band is redefining rhythm and blues with a sound entirely its own... (Sony Masterworks, released August 20, 2013)

Buy the CD at Amazon: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind