Friday, August 18, 2023

Buzz Kuts: Down By Law, Jethro Tull, The Neckbones, 22 Jacks, 'Morning Becomes Eclectic' (1999)

DOWN BY LAW's Fly The Flag
Reviews originally published as a “Buzz Kuts” column, Alt.Culture.Guide™, August 1999

Fly The Flag

Down By Law deserves a place in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll, if only for the pointed commentary of “Nothing Good On the Radio” from Fly the Flag. The most scathing slam at pop music and corporate broadcasting since Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio,” Down By Law hits the nail right on the head with a 50-lb. sledge. The fact that the remainder of Fly the Flag rocks harder than your granny on dexies and grape-ade helps bolster the band’s claim to infamy. Ostensibly a punk rock outfit, Down By Law, in reality, are a good old-fashioned rock band, cranking out high amperage rockola that draws as much from roots rock aesthetics and new wave melody as it does hardcore energy and punkish attitude.
    Fly the Flag is a hard rocking effort from start to finish, with barely a break to catch your breath. Lyrically, the album runs the gamut from the aforementioned “Nothing Good On the Radio,” which takes a well-aimed and well-deserved jab at the Backstreet Boys and their ilk, and the corporate media that creates them, to the Celt-flavored “Breakout!” which sounds like the Dropkick Murphys without the whiskey. “Automatic” is a great Gary Numanish look at technology and “Revolution Compromised” decries the lack of political leadership among the youth culture. A band with a conscience, Down By Law manages to deliver politically charged songs in an energetic punk rock framework without the empty rhetoric and polemics that plague many hardcore bands. Eschewing conformity in favor of originality, fighting ignorance with intelligence and compassion, Down By Law deserve their spot on the airwaves. (Go Kart Records)

J-Tull Dot Com

The individual members of Jethro Tull may age, but the band’s sound – thanks to frontman Ian Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre – never gets a minute older. Poised on the brink of the 21st century after three decades of plugging away at this rock ‘n’ roll game, Anderson and crew continue to crank out their own brand of unique, esoteric prog-rock that sounds as contemporary today as it did in 1970. Put aside for a moment the unfortunate fact that, in the face of electronica, hip-hop, various dance beats and bare-chested metallic funk, Tull is as unfashionable as cholera. A few spins of J-Tull Dot Com however, might convince you that there’s life in this old ghost yet.
    A solid collection of tunes that showcase Anderson’s ever-melodic flute riffs and oblique lyrics and the underrated Barre’s subtle, understated six string work, J-Tull Dot Com effortlessly blends together delicate pieces of progressive rock and Celt traditionalism with strains of classical, world music and British jazz. Jumping headfirst into the cyberage, Anderson delivers in the song “Dot Com” what may well be the first intelligent commentary on the effects of technology on romance. The glib “Black Mamba” spotlights the dangers and attractions of love while Barre’s whimsical “Hot Mango Flush” offers some clever wordplay, revealing an unknown side to this talented musician. Grand in scale and deceptively enchanting, J-Tull Dot Com may not win Jethro Tull many new fans, but it does a great job of luring back some old ones. (Fuel 2000 Records)

THE NECKBONES' The Lights Are Getting Dim
The Lights Are Getting Dim

It says right here on the cover of the Neckbones’ latest album, The Lights Are Getting Dim, that the boys are a “cross between the early Rolling Stones and the Dead Boys.” After giving The Lights Are Getting Dim a listen or six, however, they seem more like the mutant offspring of an unnatural mating between Bo Diddley and Johnny Thunders. A raucous, no frills collection of gonzo rock ‘n’ roll, The Lights Are Getting Dim showcase a band that cops from every classy source they can find, from Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry to the Stones and the New York Dolls and every damn thing in-between. They throw the riffs into a blender and hit the fastest speed that they can.
    The Neckbones are young, loud and snotty and, like the Dead Boys’ best moments, seem to teeter on the razor’s edge. The vocals often veer out of control and the guitars, especially on songs like “Cardiac Suture” or “Sick Twist,” fly in the wind like a dervish’s loincloth, threatening to explode into a white-hot nova of sheer religious rock ‘n’ roll frenzy. The Lights Are Getting Dim offers fourteen frantic songs in a mere 34 minutes, averaging out at a fast-paced 2.5 per – hell, these boys ain’t the Ramones, but they recognize that brevity is the soul of rock ‘n’ roll. They crank up the amps to eleven or so, shout and snarl into the mike and kick the shit out of any songs that get in their way. As such, the Reverend has to give The Lights Are Getting Dim his highest recommendation. If this disc doesn’t chase away your blues then it’s too damn late, bunkie – you’re already dead. (Fat Possum Records)

Going North

Take a guitarist from the Adolescents and a vocalist from Wax – one of the more criminally underrated bands of the 1990s – and you’ll have the core of 22 Jacks, as fine a pop/rock posse as you’re liable to find on the current musical landscape. 22 Jacks deliver the real deal with Going North. You’ll get clobbered with mondo cheap thrills from an album with so many infectious tunes that it’s the musical equivalent of Ebola. Drawing upon a host of friendly influences, from pop punk and new wave to sixties-styled garage rock, Going North offers excellent rave-ups like “Somewhere In Between,” “Without You” and “Slipping Down,” which sounds like one of those upbeat, poppy songs you’d hear in a sixties-vintage movie soundtrack. “Too Much Time” sounds like Graham Parker fronting the Jam, with great rhythm and Joe Sibs’ likeable vocals, tasteful horns lending a half-dozen Stax sides worth of soul to the song. Guitarist Steve Soto keeps things rocking with some impressive six-string work while luscious harmonies and musical hooks big enough to hang your coat and hat on are the norm with Going North. With this album, 22 Jacks achieve the sort of flawless pop/rock fusion that better known pretenders like the Goo Goo Dolls or the Gin Blossoms can only aspire to. A disc that will grow on you with every spin, Going North will have you scouring your local green grocer’s shelves for the band’s earlier work. I can think of no higher praise than that. (Side1 Dummy Records)

Morning Becomes Eclectic

The acclaimed Morning Becomes Eclectic program, which airs on public radio station KCRW-FM in Santa Monica, California has earned a deserved reputation for musical diversity. Showcasing lesser known, though by no means lesser talents in the areas of pop, rock, folk, jazz and world music, the program is an adventuresome kaleidoscope of musical flavors. Evidently the station has been compiling some of the best performances from these broadcasts onto CD for some time, but this is the first collection to be released on a widespread basis. Morning Becomes Eclectic, the album, lives up to its advance billing, offering the unsuspecting listener a wide variety of musical styles – something to suit every taste, I’d dare say.
    Featuring exclusive on-air performances taken from the KCRW archives, Morning Becomes Eclectic throws the spotlight on artists like progressive folk legend John Martyn, alterno-faves Cake and P.J. Harvey, ska stylists the Freestylers, and acclaimed singer/songwriter Beth Orton, among others. The album is rife with exquisite moments, from Air’s atmospheric melodies on “All I Need” and Mercury Rev’s hauntingly beautiful “Opus 40” to the wistfully romantic “Kiss Me” from Nashville’s own Sixpence None The Richer. The album-closing version of “Que Sera Sera” from Pink Martini is simply incredible, an accurately morose treatment of the song that sound like something straight out of a David Lynch movie. Altogether Morning Becomes Eclectic offers up 17 cuts from a like number of artists and none will disappoint the true music lover. Let’s hope that there’s more where this came from. (Mammoth Records)

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