Friday, January 26, 2024

Buzz Kuts: Blue Mountain, Crazy Town, Gomez, Peter Green Splinter Group (1999)

Blue Mountain's Tales of A Traveler
Reviews originally published as a “Buzz Kuts” column, Alt.Culture.Guide™, November 1999

Tales of A Traveler

One of Mississippi’s better-known secrets, Blue Mountain mine a musical vein that combines a lyric-driven folk tradition with a sound that’s part roots rock and part country. Too eclectic for the hardcore alt-country audience, Blue Mountain’s work is hidden away on died-in-the-wool metal label Roadrunner, where the gentle Southern quartet share a roster with bands like Coal Chamber and Soulfly. Sadly ignored by the mainstream music press and seemingly lacking in the “hipness” factor that would ensure them constant street-level zine exposure, Blue Mountain have built an audience entirely on word of mouth. Tales of A Traveler, the band’s third Roadrunner album and their most mature work to date, should go a long way towards stimulating such discussions.
    A refreshingly honest and entertaining work, the members of Blue Mountain seem to rejoice in the sheer act of making music, and it shows. Songs such as “Comic Book Kid,” a poignant, universal tale of childhood, or the hard rocking “Room 829” are rife with imagery, skillfully written by founders Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt. The pop-country track “I Don’t Wanna Say Goodnight” trumps anything produced by Nashville’s Music Row this year while the swamp-rock of “My Wicked Ways” features some deliciously wicked six-string work. Produced by the band with help from ex-Georgia Satellite Dan Baird, Tales of A Traveler is one of the year’s best releases, an album of incredible intelligence and depth which utilizes a diverse musical vocabulary to drive its songs home. Blue Mountain would certainly appeal to fans of bands like Wilco or Son Volt, so what are ya’ll waiting for? Pick up on Tales of A Traveler or forever suffer in musical ignorance. Just don’t say that I didn’t tell ya so… (Roadrunner Records)

Crazy Town's The Gift of Game
The Gift of Game

Unlike most rap/metal hybrids, Crazy Town features not one but two authentic rap “DJs” in Shifty Shellshock and Epic Mazur, two quite different rap stylists who nonetheless play off each other’s strengths with great effectiveness. In a genre in which everybody from Kid Rock to Limp Bizkit is trying to bring down the motherfuckin’ roof, Crazy Town actually accomplishes it with The Gift of Game. “Toxic,” the disc’s first single, is a crunchy little slice o’ white light/white heat with deceptively smooth vocals lulling the listener into a false calm before assaulting the ears with a megavolt assault of blasting guitars. Much of the rest of The Gift of Game follows the same blueprint, with impressive vocal gymnastics matched by sheer sonic overkill.
    “Darkside” offers a really wicked circular riff, electronically-altered vocals and a powerful beat to split your skull while “Hollywood Babylon,” with guest vocalist toastmaster Mad Lion, is the meanest vision of the concrete jungle since Guns ’N’ Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle.” The Crazy Town posse teams up with KRS-One for “B-Boy 2000,” a chaotic romp through a fantasy of futuristic hip-hop. The Gift Of Game is an altogether crazed collection of rapid-fire rhymes, molten riffs and muscular rhythms, the aural equivalent of slamming your car into a brick wall at 100 mph. Note: this review of The Gift Of Game was done with an advance copy of the CD. The regular edition includes a cut titled “” that was included after the band clashed with Sony over the ownership of the Crazy Town web address. Evidently Sony refused to print the address on the CD materials, so the band added a song with the web address as the title. We haven’t heard the song but we like the stand it takes. (Columbia Records)    

Gomez's Liquid Skin
Liquid Skin

Unlike a lot of the current crop of Britpop wonders, who tend to look towards the ancient mod vs. rocker cultural clash for their musical inspiration, Gomez draws upon myriad of influences, both British and American. If Gomez were from, say, Albuquerque NM, they’d be lumped in with jam bands like Phish or Blues Traveler. Since they hail from across the pond, however, critics have been falling all over themselves to say how “American” the songs on Liquid Skin sound. These ears don’t recognize this material as sounding American as much as not sounding British. For their second album, Gomez has continued to create, thread by thread, the enormous tapestry of sound that they began weaving with their debut. Liquid Skin is a very textured album, a multi-layered delight that’s hard to pin down to any one style or category.
    There are immense ambient passages of great delicacy, such as the instrumental break within “Revolutionary Kind,” as well as dreamy, mesmerizing tracks like “Blue Moon Rising” or “Rosalita,” with muted instrumentation and almost whispered vocals. “Rhythm & Blues Alibi” offers passionate vocals accompanied by tasteful acoustic guitar, sounding as close to Britpop as Gomez gets; “Devil Will Ride” mixes electronically-altered vocals with a folkish instrumentation to create, perhaps, a new genre: “folktronica”! Exceeding expectations and defying classifications, Gomez have delivered a timeless work in Liquid Skin, a cohesive collection that stitches the influences of musical history and style into a seamless garment that is as comfortable as it is familiar. (Virgin Records)
Peter Green & Splinter Group's Destiny Road
Destiny Road

During his stint as one of the founding fathers of British blues, guitarist Peter Green fronted a late ‘60s Fleetwood Mac line-up that was as powerful an electric blues band as any outfit you’d find stateside. A guitarist of some skill and accuracy, Green – “Greenie” to his friends – was still blazing new musical trails and setting audiences on their ears when Fleetwood Mac’s growing fame took its toll. Damaged by the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Green fled the band around 1970, trading in his six-string first for a religious cult and later for personal solitude. After too long a time out of the spotlight, Green has begun taking a few tentative steps back into music during the late ‘90s. Destiny Road, his recent work with the Splinter Group, is a fine indication that Green is getting his music back on solid ground.
    A wonderful collection of classic and original blues, Destiny Road showcases the talents of a more mature Peter Green. Along with fellow guitarist Nigel Watson, Green has put together in Splinter Group a dynamic blues band that performs with great subtlety and grace. Whether kicking out covers like Elmore James’ classic “Madison Blues” or new material like Green’s “Tribal Dance” (eerily reminiscent of Mac’s “Oh Well”) the band delivers the real goods. The difference between Splinter Group and early Fleetwood Mac is similar to that between a fine wine and a shot of whiskey – they’ll both knock you on your ass, the wine just takes longer. Whereas a younger Greenie would blow you away with speed and power, the older Green does so with style and assurance. It’s an impressive transformation that is illustrated by Destiny Road, the album a rock-solid indication that Peter Green has returned. (Snapper Music)

The View On Pop Culture: The Indie Revolution w/Superlush, Maggie's Choice, Jim Testa (2003)

Maggie's Choice


The major record labels would have you believe that any artist worth the price of a CD can only be found in their realm. (To be honest, a lot of so-called “independent” labels play the same game.) In my many years walking the pop culture beat, the Reverend has discovered that talent and passion and entertainment value come in many packages, not all of them with the designated imprint of corporate acceptance. As such, we’re going to use this column to pay our respects to some of the talented artists who, while tilting at windmills, nevertheless represent the true spirit of rock music…

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind receiving a beautiful woman’s phone number, but in this case, Liz Aday of Superlush wrote it across the gorgeous cover of the band’s self-produced debut, Under My Skin. This minor cavil aside, the music under the cover is a revelation. Aday’s vocals on Under My Skin are loud, lusty, provocative and powerful – in short, everything a female rocker would want to be. Backed by guitarist Chad Quist and a rhythm section that knows when to whisper and when to SHOUT, Superlush cranks out meat-and-potatoes rock ‘n’ roll. How Quist, who recently toured Europe with Big Brother & the Holding Company, has managed to fly underneath the radar for so long is a mystery, the Superlush axeman coaxing both jazzy flourishes and razor-sharp riffs from his instrument. Ditto for Liz Aday, who has both the songwriting and the performing skills to play in the big leagues.

“Sticks and Stones” could be a monster of a radio hit, the infectious chorus matched with a chaotic swirl of guitars and a big beat. The funky “I Am A Stone” hits a rocking groove behind Aday’s sultry vocals while the clever “Children In The 80’s” showcases the singer’s vocal gymnastics in an ultra-cool song that revisits the decade of MTV, disposable pop and funny haircuts. Word is that Seattle’s Superlush has gone on “hiatus” due to personal situations. Under My Skin is well worth the investment both for its entertainment value and as a collector’s item for that inevitable day when Aday and Quist have become major stars.

Portland, Oregon’s Maggie’s Choice has also released a strong debut, the band’s self-titled album showcasing an invigorating blend of roots rock, swamp rock, blues rock and country rock. Guitarists Abe Cohen and Mateo Bevington share vocals, songwriting and six-string duties to fine effect, their harmonies dominated by Cohen’s warm baritone and supported by the finely crafted instrumentation of each song. Bevington’s lead vocals are also distinctive, with a slight twang and a friendly cadence. Marian Hammond’s piano and keyboards add another dimension to the pair’s songwriting; her imaginative rhythms complimented by steady six-string work that sounds like Toy Caldwell reborn.

Maggie’s Choice, the album, offers a number of songs that would play well to the alt-country crowd, infused as they are with reckless country soul and down-to-earth honesty. Cohen and Bevington remind me a lot of Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, both solid songwriters with a lot of heart, a flair for imagery and the ability to translate complex emotions into a three-minute song. “Where We Were” offers fleeting glimpses of a relationship, described by Cohen with a jigsaw puzzle of imagery. The wonderful “Moving Towards The Center” shows Dylanesque brilliance, the song’s oblique lyrics matched by Bevington’s strong vocal delivery. A Byrdsian guitar riff opens “Saturday Morning,” the six-string sound swelling into a stream-of-consciousness romantic tale of an angel taking flight while “The Same Mistake” tries to grab the same angel, her gilded heartstrings considered with bittersweet vocals. Maggie’s Choice is a hell of a talented band, their debut album well worth your consideration. .

Journalistic integrity forces me to admit that singer/songwriter Jim Testa is an old acquaintance. As editor of the Northeast music zine Jersey Beat for the past twenty-plus years, Testa has published the Reverend’s CD reviews for better than a decade. Of course, Jim has read enough negative reviews to realize that if his own musical debut, Songs My Father Never Sang, wasn’t up to snuff that I’d hit him with both barrels faster than you could say “weapons of mass destruction.” He has nothing to fear from these quarters, however, Testa’s charming five-song EP filled with the kind of witty eccentricity and pop/rock intelligence that critics like yours truly live for.

A cross between a Greenwich Village folkie and a Hoboken rocker, Testa’s whipsmart lyrics are matched with a cool, complimenting retro sound. “Bad New York Band” is the funniest, darkest song here, Testa’s savage lyrics slamming the NYC rock scene with authority. Supported by an ‘80-styled synth beat and bluesy harp, Testa’s chorus of “you’re a bad New York band and nobody likes you” results in the proclamation “Joey Ramone died for your sins!” The nostalgic “I Was A Teenage Frankenstein” provides a high-school nerd with his long overdue revenge while “Jean Shepherd” revisits childhood memories while paying homage to the popular New York humorist.

With nifty sci-fi synthwork and a doo-wop heart, “Incredible Shrinking Man (I Love You)” reminds me of Zappa’s Ruben & the Jets, and that’s a good thing. Songs My Father Never Sang is Testa’s first, tentative step into the world of music that he has long documented with some intelligence, the EP a too-brief collection of tunes that is refreshingly honest, heartfelt and a hell of a lot of fun. (View From The Hill, 2003)

Friday, January 19, 2024

Archive Review: Anders Osborne’s Three Free Amigos (2013)

Anders Osborne’s Three Free Amigos
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Anders Osborne has experienced a sort of career renaissance since signing with Alligator Records for 2010’s American Patchwork. A stripped-down affair that highlighted Osborne’s unique blend of rock, blues, and soul the album revived the guitarist’s flagging commercial fortunes and marked him as a creative force to be reckoned with. If that album was an artistic whisper, 2012’s Black Eye Galaxy was a scream from the darkness, Osborne’s intelligent lyricism matched by a furious, guitar-driven blues-rock soundtrack.

Osborne toured non-stop in support of Black Eye Galaxy, bringing his talents to an entirely new audience, but he somehow found enough time to sit for a spell in his New Orleans studio to cut a few tracks. Three Free Amigos is a six-song, semi-acoustic EP featuring four brand new tunes, the previously unrecorded “It’s Gonna Be OK” (covered by singer Theresa Andersson on her 2004 album Shine), and a re-imagined take of Osborne’s “Never Is A Real Long Time,” originally recorded for his 1999 album Living Room. Osborne is backed on several songs by his road-tested band – bassist Carl Defrene and drummer Eric Bolivar – as well as guests like keyboardist Michael Burkhart, harp player Johnny Sansone, guitarist Billy Iuso, and singer Maggie Koerner.      

Anders Osborne’s Three Free Amigos

Three Free Amigos opens with the title track, a rootsy story-song that mixes country twang with a bluesy undercurrent, a tale of music and merry-making on the road with insightful lyrics and a fierce intelligence. Osborne sounds, at times, like Nashville alt-country singer/songwriter Todd Snider in both word and music, but the song stays grounded in the blues through Osborne’s livewire fretwork and earthy vocals. The lengthy guitar solo that rolls the song towards the credits is hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity and efficiency, Osborne masterfully playing off the countering acoustic strum and dark-hued rhythms, his instrument giving voice to the unstated emotions that lay beneath the song’s lyrics before fading into the horizon.

The reggae-styled “Marmalade” takes an entirely different tack, Osborne getting his “inner rasta” on with the best song Bob Marley never wrote. The lively rhythms are tailor-made for the joyous emotion of the lyrics, the song a welcome celebration of love and life with a beat guaranteed to get you on your feet. The gorgeous backing vocals just add to the authenticity of the performance, the song more a tribute to Marley’s immense legacy than an attempt at mimicry. Osborne’s mid-tempo “Jealous Love” veers off down another musical path entirely, sparse instrumentation and an undeniable Bo Diddley beat serving as a backbone for a sizzling duet between Osborne and singer Maggie Koerner.

Never Is A Real Long Time

The melancholy “It’s Gonna Be OK” is equally sparse in instrumentation, relying more on Osborne’s anguished vocals and the gorgeous tone of his subtle six-string undercurrent. The emotional, pleading, bittersweet lyrics are lent greater strength by the Sansone’s crying harpwork and Koerner’s wistful backing vocals. Although the song is ostensibly a life-affirming screed, Osborne’s wavering voice, Koerner’s wailing vocals, and the guitarist’s short, shocking, brilliant guitar lines leaves one in doubt.

The heart and soul of Three Free Amigos is the striking, heartbreaking “Never Is A Real Long Time,” the song’s stripped-down framework belying the incredible performance provided by Osborne and Koerner, the lyrics speaking of loneliness, emotional distance, and unrequited love. Relying again on Osborne’s strained, empathetic vocals which are, in turn, supported by Koerner’s soulful backing vox, the guitarist’s nuanced fretwork provides a thematic thread throughout, cutting off sharply at the end and leaving the listener hanging by a thin thread. The EP closes out with the more up-tempo “We Move On,” a lyrically upbeat and uplifting true affirmation of life with a jaunty rhythm, stinging guitarwork, a bit of friendly harp, and an infectious melody that creates an overall enchanting vibe.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Three Free Amigos is meant to be a stopgap between full-length albums, but there are few artists that could deliver six songs as rich, thoughtful, and stylistically different and yet pull it all together into a cohesive, entertaining artistic statement as Osborne has done here. Absent the scorching six-string blues-rock pyrotechnics displayed on Black Eye Galaxy, Osborne’s Three Free Amigos relies more on the subtlety and skill of his playing, the spotlight focused on his raw, often intense vocals and poetic songwriting. It’s a masterful work, playful and yet often somber, a solid collection of roots ‘n’ blues music that is bluesy mostly on the fringes but deeply soulful in the grooves where it counts. (Alligator Records, released February 12, 2013)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Anders Osborne’s Three Free Amigos

The View On Pop Culture: Delaney & Bonnie, Lucinda Williams (2003)

Delaney & Bonnie's D&B Together

They had lots of famous friends who would stop by and play sessions, folks like Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Duane Allman, Tina Turner, and many others. They scored a couple of early ‘70s radio hits with “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know and I Know,” yet many critics and rock historians treat Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett as meaningless footnotes, mere asterisks next to the names of their better-known friends.

Truth is, the short-lived entity known as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends was not only a major influence on Clapton’s work in the ‘70s, but also upon the music of Russell, Coolidge, Turner, and Joe Cocker through the decade. Bonnie Bramlett’s gritty, soulful vocals rival those of her contemporary Janis Joplin for power and emotion. Delaney’s skill as a bandleader and eye for talented musicians is vastly underrated, many of the duo’s “friends” later comprising bands for Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour as well as Clapton’s Derek & the Dominoes and George Harrison’s band. Delaney managed to slide egos to the side and coax excellent performances from his “friends” over the course of six influential albums.

The duo’s final album, D & B Together (Legacy Recordings), recently reissued with bonus cuts, is fairly representative of D & B’s creative milieu. A spirited blend of soul, gospel, blues, roots-rock, and Southern-fried grooves, D & B Together yielded a Top Twenty hit in Dave Mason’s infectious “Only You Know and I Know” and provided both Rita Coolidge and the Carpenters with respective hits in “Groupie (Superstar).” A collection of original material and songs contributed by friends like Mason, Clapton, Steve Cropper, and Bobby Whitlock, D & B Together is as fine an example of blue-eyed soul as the ‘70s would create, a time when genre-mixing and wearing your influences on your sleeve was not “verboten.”

As their marriage disintegrated, so too did Delaney & Bonnie’s musical collaboration, the pair splitting off into respective solo careers, a glimpse of which is provided at the end of D & B Together. Of the bonus tracks provided here, four are taken from a pair of Delaney solo projects from 1972 and ’73, showing the bandleader traveling much the same direction as did D&B and Friends, cranking out high-energy Southern funk and soulful ballads. The two tracks culled from Bonnie’s 1972 solo album Sweet Bonnie Bramlett only hint at the power of her voice, pairing Gospel-tinged arrangements with unfortunately muted vocals. Bonnie would go on to record several excellent albums for the Capricorn label, forging a career as a backing vocalist for a veritable “who’s who” of rock music. As shown by D & B Together, however, for a brief time Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett helped define popular music, setting the course for others to follow.

Lucinda Williams' World Without Tears
The full effect of Lucinda Williams’ music on the country and rock genres has yet to be fully charted, especially when the alt-country goddess continues to release albums as raw, revealing and powerful as World Without Tears (Lost Highway Records). While a lot of Williams’ past work has focused on love and lust, romance and relationships, never before has she delivered an album so seemingly obsessed with the sweet and bittersweet aspects of romance

World Without Tears is, on the surface, an elegant collection of folkish country songs with elements of rock and blues, guitarist Doug Pettibone adding an edge to the material with his excellent six-string work. Paired with a weeping country lilt, “Three Days” vividly retells the passion and abandonment of an intense love affair while “Ventura” accurately portrays the melancholy that follows a lost love, wonderfully supported by a mournful pedal steel guitar. With sparse instrumentation and a reliance on Williams’ provocative vocals, “Sweet Side” mimics the talking blues of early Bob Dylan, which were influenced, in turn, by the Delta folk bluesmen that Williams also listened to in her youth.            
There are moments on World Without Tears that rock pretty hard, too, such as the Stones-inspired country honk of “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings,” a story of romantic obsession from afar. “Atonement” rocks like Howlin’ Wolf moaning at the moonlight, Williams’ dirgelike vocals paired with a martial rhythm and brilliant apocalyptic imagery. Pettibone’s guitar licks are razor-sharp on “Atonement,” Williams sounding like Patti Smith at her most powerful. The hauntingly beautiful “Minneapolis” may be the saddest tune on the album, Williams’ eerie, trembling vocals supported by a chiming guitar in the distance.

World Without Tears is a masterpiece of songwriting and musical composition, Williams’ poetic songs perfectly paired with appropriate supporting music. Long-time fans may be shocked at the intensity of Williams’ lyrics, stark portraits of love and betrayal that rise above the mundane level of contemporary pop songwriting. It is the goal of the artist, however, to follow their muse and to forever strive to grow and mature in their work. With World Without Tears, Lucinda Williams has not only surpassed her previous (excellent) work but she has also delivered an album that will continue to influence romantic songwriters for a generation to follow. (View From The Hill, 2003)

Friday, January 12, 2024

Buzz Kuts: The Bottle Rockets, Drop Zone, Filibuster, Gov't Mule, Jughead's Revenge (1999)

The Bottle Rockets' Brand New Year
Reviews originally published as a “Buzz Kuts” column, Alt.Culture.Guide™, October 1999

Brand New Year

Forever doomed, it seems, to working the cult-following fringes of the alt-country music scene, the Bottle Rockets return to the indie ranks with Brand New Year, a solid, if not spectacular set of songs. The band’s overwhelming appeal has always been in the songwriting skills of Brian Henneman and the shit-kicking country/rock hybrid that underlined the lyrics. With Brand New Year, though, Henneman hides behind a co-writer on seven cuts out of the fourteen, kicking in only three solo songs. Contrast that with the eight solo cuts he wrote for 24 Hours A Day, arguably the Bottle Rockets’ best effort, and you’ll see where Brand New Year falls off. When Henneman is collaborating with folks like ex-Georgia Satellite Dan Baird or producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, the results are lively, with the writers working well off each other. Other collaborative efforts sound more strained and lifeless.
    That’s not to say that there isn’t some good music to be found on Brand New Year – several cuts here will produce smoke and flames from that 5-CD changer of yours. The Baird collaboration, “Nancy Sinatra,” is as funny as it is naughty, “I’ve Been Dying” shows more attitude than any dozen punk songs you’d care to name while the anti-technology cut “Helpless” paints Henneman as a joyful luddite. The powerful “Gotta Get Up” is a minimalist anthem for every blue-collar joe whose life revolves around the forty-hour week. With cranked up amps, tortured guitars and brilliantly simple lyrics, “Gotta Get Up” effectively portrays the working-class grind. However, the flat spots on Brand New Year, especially the inane “The Bar’s On Fire,” detract from the album’s musical high points. The result is something I never thought I’d hear from the Bottle Rockets – an uneven album. Even a mediocre Bottle Rockets’ album is better than almost any other band you’ll hear, though, and Brand New Year’s best cuts still stand head-and-shoulders above 90% of the dreck you’ll find out there. (Doolittle Records)

Pint Size Punks

The idea of taking a bunch of pre-pubescent punks into the studio and cutting them loose with some noisemakers is not a new or novel concept. Hell, Old School were a third of the age of the guys in Drop Zone when they cut their pint-sized tunes a decade and a half or so ago. Unlike their artistic forbears in Old School, tho’, Drop Zone kick out their own jams, and don’t sound too bad doing so. With a refreshing lack of cynicism and the “hipper-than-thou” attitude that infects many older punk posses, Drop Zone have put together an energetic, entertaining collection of songs in Pint Size Punks.
    Whether he’s crooning about a “Punk Rock Girl,” slamming the pop charts with “The Music On the Radio Today,” or reflecting fast-food culture with “The B.K. Song,” vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Chris Murphy sounds like the prototypical punk. The band bangs and crashes their way through the fourteen fast and furious songs on Pint Size Punks, playing preciously sloppy, although no more so than a lot of more seasoned outfits. Drop Zone’s mix of hardcore punk, ska and pop roots is deceptively catchy, the songs sticking in your mind. Call it “primal punk” if you will, but Pint Size Punks an engaging album by a band old enough to rock the house but not yet jaded enough to merely mimic the bands they aspire to be. Drop Zone is an unexpected, though not entirely guilty pleasure. The Rev sez “check ‘em out!” (Skate-Key Records)

Filibuster's Deadly Hi-Fi
Deadly Hi-Fi

Long Beach’s Skunk Records, aside from being the folks who first brought us the genius of Bradley Newell and Sublime, have developed a reputation as being the home of SoCal ska-punk. The release of Filibuster’s tuff Deadly Hi-Fi will only serve to reinforce Skunk’s image. A baker’s dozen of high-energy ska and reggae-tinged songs with plenty of lengthy instrumental passages, Deadly Hi-Fi only asks that you move your feet and rock to the beat. With a funky horn section that props up tunes like “Batty Rider” or “Whorse” with wailing riffs, Filibuster is ranking full-stop here with crazy cacophony and reckless rhythms. “Backstreets” is an infectious instrumental that would sound great cruising along the beach with the top down while “Rat Pack” showcases some nifty vocal gymnastics that border, at times, on the style of Jamaican rap called “toasting.” Produced with an unusually deft hand by the legendary Steve Albini, Filibuster’s Deadly Hi-Fi has soul, it has heart, and it has the chops to make you forget about the crappy nine-to-five and shake your groove thing to the island rhythms. Who could ask for anything more? (Skunk Records)
Gov't Mule's LIVE...With A Little Help From Our Friends
LIVE...With A Little Help From Our Friends

Warren Haynes is a powerful guitarist, a strong stylist with an impressive musical vocabulary and a deep-seated love of the music he’s playing. He’s also criminally underrated, his work with both the Allman Brothers and Govt. Mule often overlooked by the mainstream music press save for a handful of guitar zines. I submit that in Haynes we’ve found a guitar hero for the new millennium, and one has no further to look than the 2-CD set LIVE…With A Little Help From Our Friends for proof. Nearly two and a half hours of music that encompasses everything from power blues to heavy metal to jazzy improvisation, this New Year’s Eve concert from last year is as good a showcase for Haynes’ talents as these ears have heard. The band’s originals, songs like “Thorazine Shuffle,” “Soulshine” or their theme song, “Mule” tend to be bluesy hard rock numbers with plenty of room for Haynes to stretch out and play.
    The bulk of this live set is made up of inspired covers, however, from the monstrous “War Pigs” to a great extended rendition of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer” as well as songs from Free, Dave Mason and Humble Pie. A number of talented guests showed up for the party, such as Chuck Leavell, Bernie Worrell, Derek Trucks and Randall Bramblett, whose own solo album went overlooked last year. The first disc of LIVE…With A Little Help From Our Friends presents a tight, hard-rocking band running through eight songs in a little more than an hour. The second disc hits only four tunes in its hour or so, the tunes brimming with extended jams and improvised licks. So, whether you want to rock the house or mellow out, LIVE…With A Little Help From Our Friends has something for you…and if you’re unfamiliar with the six-string skills of Warren Haynes, it will do a fine job of curing you of that ignorance as well. (Capricorn Records)

Jughead's Revenge's Pearly Gates
Pearly Gates

Give them credit for persistence, Jughead’s Revenge having already ridden out a couple of tsunami-force waves of punk popularity with their chops intact. While dozens of bands are fleeing the punk scene, reinventing themselves as rap/metal hybrids, Jughead’s Revenge continues to crank out high-voltage, three-chord riffage. Pearly Gates, their latest, is a reasonably predictable affair, a handful of real barn-burners surrounded by some cool tho’ ultimately forgettable hardcore punk tunes. When Jughead’s Revenge hits the bull’s-eye, however, there’s no posse that can touch them. “Lolita” is a wicked look at an ex-girlfriend, “Kill Security” is a powerful populist anthem and “Rent A Cop Blues” is an insightful look at the skateboarder’s plight. Pearly Gates closes with a respectful cover of the Cars’ hit “Just What I Needed.” The guitars here are scalpel-sharp and the rhythm section plows through the material with all the subtlety of a cruise missile – in short, Pearly Gates is a pure punk album, the kind that parents hate and the moshpit kids love. Crank it up! (Nitro Records)

The View On Pop Culture: Tommy Womack, Todd Snider, Will Hoge (2003)

Todd Snider's Live


Tommy Womack could easily be the poster child for Nashville’s non-country music scene. There’s enough Rolling Stones vibe coursing through his veins to make him persona non gratis among Music Row’s country label elite, and just enough twang in his voice to scare off all but the gutsiest rock radio programmers and label A&R people. As a result, this talented cult artist is slipping through the cracks and is in danger of becoming a footnote in the city’s musical history.

‘Tis a shame, too, ‘cause Womack is one of the brightest talents that the “Third Coast” has to offer. His self-released Washington D.C. was recorded last year in the nation’s capital, a live XM satellite radio broadcast beamed out into the universe with no second takes and no overdubs, just 54 minutes or straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll. A collection of songs culled from Womack’s three studio albums, along with the odd tune from previous bands (the bis-quits, Government Cheese); Washington D.C. is a perfect showcase for Womack’s songwriting skills and performance acumen.

The band that Womack assembled for the gig is a tight as a drum, with old friend Kenny McMahan providing a six-string counterpart to Womack’s imaginative fretwork. Womack’s music mixes roots rock and punkish intensity with Southern flavor, distilling it all into his unique trademark sound. It’s the lyrics that stand out, tho’, Womack’s world filled with saints and sinners, whores and virgins, his words drenched with passion, rage, insight, and humor. Tunes like “Betty Was Black (& Willie Was White)” and “I Don’t Have A Gun” tackle racism and hypocrisy while “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” offers a helpful philosophy for life and “Up Memphis Blues” pays homage to the King. If you prefer your music to have an edgy intelligence and wit instead of mindless trendiness, you should grab a copy of Womack’s Washington D.C.

Tunesmith Todd Snider’s career resembles Womack’s in more ways than one. Snider is also an enormously gifted songwriter, adding brains and laughter to his material, and the two have shared the stage together, written songs together and both have struggled against a star-making machinery that has found them too honest, too unpredictable, and too unmarketable for prime time. Thankfully, John Prine’s Oh Boy Records continues to support Snider’s work, his latest – Near Truths and Hotel Rooms – a collection of live performances from the last year.

Much like Washington D.C. showcases Womack’s underrated abilities, so too does Near Truths and Hotel Rooms serve as a wonderful introduction to Snider’s folkish material. Whereas lighthearted, comedic tunes like the raucous “Beer Run” or the satirical “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues” have earned Snider a reputation as alternative music’s court jester; his heavier fare reveals a darker, more serious side. Bittersweet tales like “Lonely Girl” or “I Spoke As A Child” illustrate a poet’s grasp of human complexity while story-songs like “Easy Money” or “D.B. Cooper” are realistic and insightful portrayals of the absurdity of life. Snider’s between-song stories and comments define his personality and are almost as interesting as his songs. With an acoustic guitar and a song, Snider has traveled the highways and back roads of America for over a decade. He has a lot of tales to tell, and Near Truths and Hotel Rooms will whet the appetite of any interested listener.

Will Hoge's Blackbird On A Lonely Wire
Will Hoge
doesn’t bring the same pedigree or experience to his music as Womack or Snider, but he’s a young talent on the rise. Hoge’s major label affiliation hasn’t seemed to have watered down his music to any degree, Blackbird On A Lonely Wire (Atlantic Records) an exciting work by a rapidly maturing songwriter and performer. Hoge’s obvious musical heroes are giants like Springsteen, Dylan, John Fogerty, and John Lennon. Rather than wearing his influences on his sleeve, Hoge brings a fresh perspective to the table, combining super-charged rock with pop melodies and some of the finest romantic songwriting you’ve heard since the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine over the Jersey state line.

Romance is Hoge’s muse, whether it’s the flame of the moment that burns a little too hot, the bittersweet love that got away or the unrequited dream that never was. With the backing of a damn fine band that snaps and pops like a string of firecrackers, Hoge’s lovelorn lyrics and mournful vocals betray a weary heart. “Hey Tonight” will reduce all but the most jaded listener to tears while you can literally feel the heartache in “Secondhand Heart.” The thinly veiled jealousy and self-loathing that fills “Someone Else’s Baby” is painted with the skill of a Picasso. The album closes with the beautiful “Baby Girl,” a ballad with weeping pedal-steel guitar that has more in common with Roger McGuinn than Garth Brooks. There are half a dozen songs on Blackbird On A Lonely Wire that would sound great on the radio, preferably sandwiched between songs by Tommy Womack and Todd Snider.    

Chances are that you won’t hear Nashville’s best music on the radio, though. While the city’s “Music Row” continues to crank out country-fried pop divas and Stetson-topped, bluejean-clad male pseudo-traditionalists, the real talents are making records for obscure little indie labels and playing night after night to audiences that you can count on the fingers of your two hands. While artists like Womack, Snider, and Hoge follow their rock ‘n’ roll dreams, they toil alongside kindred spirits like Jason Ringenberg, Bill Lloyd, Threk Michaels, Donna Frost, Mark Aaron James and many more who have never found the acceptance and success that they so richly deserve. (View From The Hill, 2003)

Friday, January 5, 2024

Archive Review: Anders Osborne's Black Eye Galaxy (2012)

Anders Osborne's Black Eye Galaxy
Swedish-born guitarist Anders Osborne landed in New Orleans in 1990, and in the 20+ years since, he’s become such an integral part of the city that it’s hard to believe that he isn’t a native-born Louisianan. Osborne’s musical style – a mix of rock, blues, soul, and funk – fits New Orleans’ musical landscape like a glove, and over the course of several albums for various independent labels, culminating in his acclaimed 2010 Alligator Records debut American Patchwork, Osborne’s skills as a songwriter have matured to match his six-string talents.

With the life-affirming, cathartic screed that is Black Eye Galaxy, however, Osborne has delivered a genre-crossing masterwork that is both as subtle as a feather dancing on the wind and as devastating as a bulldozer in a china shop. At its core, Black Eye Galaxy is a deeply spiritual collection, and while it’s unlikely that you’ve ever heard gospel music with instrumentation that cuts this deep, or vocals as tortured, the Holy Spirit nevertheless runs throughout the album like a coil of barbed wire.

Black Eye Galaxy opens with the dirge-like “Send Me A Friend,” a lamentation on the bleakness of addiction, Osborne’s howling vocals underlined by screaming guitars and plodding rhythms joined by bursts of percussion. In a similar vein, the introspective “Mind of A Junkie” offers up jazzy fretwork alongside Osborne’s heartbreaking, pleading vocals in what is essentially a musical prayer. The powerful “Black Tar” is a dark performance with a hard-rock heart and a blues music soul, Osborne’s slightly-echoed vocals a cry for salvation from the depths of a deep, seemingly bottomless hole.

The title track provides the creative heartbeat of the album; ostensibly a 1990s-styled ballad, it unfolds into an eleven-minute instrumental showcase blending blues, rock, and jazz into a riveting ‘70s-era psychedelic sojourn. The final track, “Higher Ground,” brings peace to the album’s protagonist, the song a joyful hymn to the redemptive power of love. With Black Eye Galaxy, Osborne shares his own personal journey out of the heart of darkness, masterfully jumping from blues to rock to jazz and back again in creating a work of art that redefines the meaning of the blues. (Alligator Records, released 2012)

Review originally published by Blues Revue magazine

Buy the CD from Amazon: Anders Osborne’s Black Eye Galaxy

The View On Pop Culture: Evanescence, Bombshell Rocks, David Banner, The Jayhawks, Gongzilla (2003)

Evanescence's Fallen

Summer’s here and there’s no escaping the heat. It’s the time of year when rock ‘n’ roll heats up as well, and on the street there’s no band hotter than Evanescence. The young Arkansas rockers hit the ground running, placing a hit song on the soundtrack to the movie Daredevil. The band’s eclectic debut Fallen (Wind-Up Records) has held onto the ears they grabbed with the soundtrack single, delivering the goods with a hearty blend of snarling guitarwork courtesy of the too-young-to-be-so-talented Ben Moody and the operatic vocals of Amy Lee.

Categorized as just another “nu-metal” band by many critics, there’s a lot more going on in the grooves of Fallen than just another batch of angry white boy anthems. Lee's incredible range is matched by an equal amount of control, her soaring vocals capable of provoking great emotion, caressing imaginative lyrics with some consideration. Moody’s chainsaw guitar tears through riffs like AC/DC in overdrive, but softens to a whisper depending on the demands of the song. A mix of grand balladry and unrelenting hard rock, Fallen is a multi-faceted and finely textured work by a young band worth keeping an eye on.

Sweden’s Bombshell Rocks is usually overlooked by pundits proclaiming fellow Swedes the Hives or Division of Laura Lee as the next big thing in rock music. Unabashedly punk and proud of it, the band’s From Here and On (Burning Heart/Epitaph) is a hardcore hybrid of garage-rock and street-smart punk in the vein of Rancid or the Clash. Although Bombshell Rocks hasn’t yet developed the songwriting chops of Joe Strummer or Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, the band’s heart is in the right place, kicking out the jams with high-voltage energy and enthusiasm. Vocalist Marten Cedergran is developing into a damn fine punk rock shouter while guitarists Crippe Maata and Richard Andersson propel songs like “My Own War” or the anthemic “On My Way” with clashing riffs and ringing chords. Given another album or two and a lengthy van tour across America, Bombshell Rocks could be major players on the punk rock scene.

David Banner's Mississippi The Album
Southern hip-hop artists like Outkast and Nappy Roots proved that rap music wasn’t just an east coast/west coast, g city phenomenon, that the “Dirty South” had a voice of its own. Rapper David Banner hails from Mississippi, where economic conditions for African-American residents haven’t improved much since the Delta bluesmen first began singing 80 years ago. Banner’s excellent debut, Mississippi: The Album (SRC/Universal) is a brutal reminder that poverty, violence and alienation isn’t just a big city problem either. Banner’s rough-hewn vocals spit out angry rhymes in a gangsta vein, painting a stark landscape of hustlers and small-time criminals trying to make a dollar in a state dominated by big money casino gambling and “King Cotton.” Banner’s violent and profane lyrics aren’t for everybody, but if you’re a fan of rappers like 50 Cent, you owe it to yourself to check out the talented but lesser-known David Banner.

The Jayhawks have been around for so long (since 1985) that it’s easy to take them for granted. An unheralded influence on the entire alt-country movement, the band’s early recordings mixed country and rock music with folksy lyricism and gentle harmonies at a time when everybody was moving towards grunge guitar and coarse vocals. Pop culture has changed in the ten years since the band’s breakthrough album, Hollywood Town Hall, but founding members Gary Louris and Marc Perlman have regrouped and delivered an album that just might be the best of the Jayhawks’ storied career.

Rainy Day Music (American/Lost Highway) swerves away from the poppy sheen of the band’s late ‘90s albums, returning to a rootsier sound that plays as more natural and sincere. Louris is an empathetic songwriter with an eye for emotion, and a wonderfully low-key singer. The addition of steel guitarist Stephen McCarthy fills out the band’s sound, which runs in a stylistic line from the Byrds and the Band to Crosby, Stills and Nash and Tom Petty. Songs like “Tailspin” or “Eyes of Sarahjane” are marvelous examples of musical craftsmanship with focused performances, masterful blends of country and roots rock. If rock radio weren’t overrun with angry white boys and pop-punk clones, the Jayhawks would rule the airwaves.       

Gongzilla's East Village Sessions
Once upon a time, way back in the ‘60s, there was an English band called Gong, a musical collaboration between like-minded musicians. One of the most influential of the era’s progressive rock outfits, Gong blended psychedelic rock and electronic experimentation to create an entire new and unique (at the time) sound. Gong is still around in one form or another, but various members have ventured into side projects like Planet Gong and Mothergong, among others. One of the most interesting of these offshoot bands is Gongzilla, led by the nimble fretwork of guitarist Bon Lozaga.

The Gongzilla guys have gotten together and recorded the loose-knit band’s first foray into the studio in over six years. East Village Sessions (Lolo Records) is an interesting diversion, a musical tour de force that is the inevitable result of prog-rock and jazz-rock fusion colliding headfirst. Lozaga has rounded up his adventuresome mates for East Village Sessions, including percussionist Benoit Moerlen and bassist Hansford Rowe from Gong. It’s the presence of guitarist David Fiuczynski of the Screaming Headless Torsos that provides the album its edge, however, the two talented axemen offering counterpoint to the other above a miasma of avant-garde jazz and wide-ranging instrumental virtuosity. King Crimson takes a similar musical tact on its latest effort, but Gongzilla take off into stylistic directions where only angels fear to tread. If you’d like to add a little spice to your summer listening, check out East Village Sessions. (View From The Hill, 2003)