Friday, January 5, 2024

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)

No comments: