Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Blues Singer Michael Ledbetter, R.I.P.

Michael Ledbetter, R.I.P.
We're saddened to report on the death of blues singer Michael Ledbetter, an incredible talent who was only 33 years old at the time of his passing.

Ledbetter came to prominence singing with Chicago blues veteran Nick Moss's band, first appearing on record the Nick Moss Band's critically-acclaimed 2014 album Time Ain't Free. Ledbetter toured with the NMB through the band's 2016 album From the Root to the Fruit, spending seven years with Moss before striking out on his own. Ledbetter would leter form the Welch Ledbetter Connection with guitarist 'Monster' Mike Welch, releasing the Right Place, Right Time album in 2017.

On his Facebook page, Moss wrote "my little brother shone brighter than the flames he left behind when he walked off the stage." The best way to remember Ledbetter's enormous talent is hear him sing. These videos provide a taste of what the blues world has lost. R.I.P.

For more on Michael Ledbetter, check out Marty Gunther's interview with the artist from the October 2018 issue of Blues Blast magazine...

Archive Review: Nick Moss Band's Time Ain't Free (2014)

Nick Moss Band's Time Ain't Free
It’s been nearly 13 years now since guitarist Nick Moss released his debut album, 2001’s Got A New Plan, and better than two decades since he first broke onto the scene as the bass player for bluesmen Buddy Scott and, later, Jimmy Dawkins. After all this time, Nick’s fans have become somewhat complacent, expecting the same high-octane Chicago blues performances that Moss has become known for on every album release, maybe with a little blues-rock influences thrown in for good measure as they were on his recent Here I Am (2011) and Privileged (2010) albums. After all this time, too many expect too little from the ever-surprising Mr. Moss.

Credited to the Nick Moss Band, Time Ain’t Free was crowdfunded through the Indiegogo website. This was Nick’s first surprise – although the album is released under Moss’s independent Blue Bella Records label, a big chunk of the money to finish up the recording, packaging, and publicity was supplied by the guitarist’s hardcore fan base (yours truly included). It proves to be a good investment, Time Ain’t Free the hottest, most satisfying slab o’ blues and blues-rock that Moss has released to date. Crowdfunding is the future for indie artists, allowing them to connect with the fan directly and allowing them the freedom to make the music they want without interference from a label or, in Moss’s case, with the financial freedom to push yourself in the studio and make something truly special.

Nick Moss Band’s Time Ain’t Free

The other big surprise with Time Ain’t Free is the addition of singer and guitarist Michael Ledbetter, a descendent of folk-blues giant Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter. Moss has always had a keen eye for talent, whether in choosing the fine musicians he had as his former band the Flip Tops, or those talents he used on his two previous solo albums. With Ledbetter, though, he’s found a massive talent to not only handle nearly half the vocals (thus freeing Moss to concentrate on guitar), but also to share in the songwriting. The wisdom in this choice is glaringly apparent with Ledbetter’s first turn at the microphone, the shuffling, greasy blues tune “Light It Up.” An original, mid-tempo Chicago blues-styled romp, Ledbetter does an incredible job of dancing atop the song’s spry rhythms with his warm, lively vocals. Moss’s funky guitar strains play nicely off Bryan Rogers’ piano, creating an electric track that is going to translate well to a live setting.

But first Moss ignites Time Ain’t Free with a pair of solid performances in “She Wants It” and “Was I Ever Heard.” The former offers up a Southern rock ‘n’ soul styled groove with slippery fretwork, honky-tonk piano, and a slinky rhythm while the latter throws some greasy guitar into the bucket above a choogling, locomotive rhythm, Moss’s vocals underplayed in favor of the unrelenting, driving beat and subtle, circular guitarplay reminiscent of R.L. Burnside’s Mississippi Hill Country drone. Ledbetter jumps back into the fray with “Fare Thee Well,” a smooth-as-silk urban blues tune with smoldering vocals and frayed emotion pouring out of every one of Moss’s guitar licks. Ledbetter’s incredible vocal turn here reminds of Bobby “Blue” Bland, every inflection hitting a soulful high while Moss lays down a tearjerker solo.

Death Letter Blues

The album’s title track is a monster blues-rocker with muscular fretwork and a fluid groove, drummer Patrick Seals really shining with an explosive performance. Moss’s vocals are a bit slight here, but his guitar sings loud and clear with imaginative, fleet-fingered solos. “Been Gone So Long” is cut from a similar cloth, with a bit of Canned Heat-styled boogie-blues flavor rolling low and slow in the background as Moss roars out the lyrics above Rogers’ chiming keys, the guitarist slicing and dicing the arrangement with a switchblade solo as deadly as a knife’s edge which not-so-subtly punctuates the song’s heartbreak lyrics. The gospel-tinged “I Want The World To Know” offers a stark contrast, making the best use of Ledbetter’s soulful voice on a tradition-clad, old-school romantic blues ballad.

It’s a true measure of a band in how well they handle a cover of a blues standard like Moss and crew do here on Son House’s classic “Death Letter Blues.” The band amps up the Delta blues tune with soaring guitars and raucous, chaotic instrumentation that brings the 90-year-old song into the 21st century with a bang. Moss’s subtle but strong vocals might pay homage to the great Delta legend’s original, but his stinging six-string and Rogers’ furious keyboards are more reminiscent of late 1960s British blues-rock bands like Cream or Free. The mesmerizing throwback tune “Walkin’ On A Ledge” blends Isaac Hayes with Curtis Mayfield, Ledbetter’s excellent vocals supported by backing singers and an infectious groove that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the Stax Records studio circa 1971. Time Ain’t Free closes with “(Big Mike’s) Sweet Potato Pie,” a rowdy instrumental with a definite 1970s era vibe that features lightning-fast keyboard runs, a rock steady beat, and shards of slaphappy guitar and bass.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

With his tenth studio album, bluesman Nick Moss proves that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Time Ain’t Free is his bluesiest studio recording in years, and potentially his most acclaimed, the guitarist downplaying his classic rock tendencies in favor of a carefully-achieved balance of blues, rock, and soul music that flows out of your speakers like honey from the hive. The addition of Ledbetter on vocals provides a creative new facet to the band, while Moss continues to expand and experiment with his sonic palette, bringing a myriad of fresh flavors to his guitar playing and exploring new directions with his songwriting. Consider Time Ain’t Free as another winner from one of blues music’s most innovative talents and exciting live performers. (Blue Bella Records, released March 18, 2014)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Archive Review: Jello Biafra & the Melvins' Sieg Howdy! (2005)

Jello Biafra with the Melvins' Sieg Howdy!
America loves a sequel! How else could you explain the inexplicable success and dubious achievements of American Idol, the gasoline crisis, or George W. Bush (Reagan-lite)? America seems to love the comforts of familiarity…but familiarity inevitably breeds contempt, and where there’s contempt, you’ll find Jello Biafra. For better than a quarter-century now, Biafra has given voice to our contempt, first through his groundbreaking and influential hardcore punk band the Dead Kennedys and later through a series of spoken word albums and musical collaborations with fellow travelers like Mojo Nixon, DOA, and Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, among others. It’s safe to say, however, that Biafra has found his perfect musical foils in the Melvins.

Last year, Biafra the punk icon teamed up with grunge forefathers the Melvins to create a red-hot blast furnace of an album in Never Breathe What You Can’t See. The collaboration proved to be Jello’s most productive and critically-acclaimed since the heyday of the Dead Kennedys, and your humble scribe echoed the sentiments of many punk fans when, reviewing that album, I stated that “hopefully this will be but the first of several collaborations between Biafra and the Melvins.” Like a kid eagerly ripping away wrapping paper on Christmas morning, the Reverend was overjoyed to open a recent package from Alternative Tentacles to find a copy of Sieg Howdy!

Jello Biafra photo courtesy Alternative Tentacles Records
I’m here to tell you boys and girls, that not only does Sieg Howdy! meet the high expectations created by its predecessor, in many ways the new album passes Never Breathe What You Can’t See like a DeTomaso Pantera screaming past a Volkswagen on the autobahn. Biafra sounds more comfortable working with King Buzzo and the boys, easily delivering his most spirited vocal performance in a decade or more. On the flip side, the Melvins also sound more natural backing Biafra, the band mixing shades of DK-inspired hardcore thrash alongside their trademarked metallic sludge and riff-happy, feedback-ridden instrumentation. The resulting sound is simply invigorating, a heady musical elixir that kicks the stall like a horny, drunken mule.

The songs on Sieg Howdy! also showcase some of Biafra’s most inspired lyrics since Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Tackling issues like the “War On Terrorism,” Christian extremism, the Middle East, and Republican politics with deadly accuracy and more than a little intelligent humor, Biafra again proves that the pen is mightier than the sword in spreading seditious ideas and satirizing your enemy. Jello updates one of his better earlier songs as “Kali-Fornia Uber Alles 21st Century” to include Governor Ah-nold’s political ambitions, while a spot-on cover of Alice Cooper’s “Halo of Flies” recreates the original song’s reckless menace. Biafra even takes aim at the complacency of young punk fans with “Those Dumb Punk Kids (Will Buy Anything)” and puts his relationship with his former band members in perspective with “Voted Off the Island.”

Whenever times have gotten dark, we have always been able to depend on Jello Biafra to shine a light on greed, injustice, and hypocrisy. With the Melvins at his side, Biafra has delivered his most incendiary collection yet in Sieg Howdy! Ignore this album at your own peril ‘cause it rocks like Friday night at a Delta juke joint and displays more intelligent thought than the entire Bush administration combined. (Alternative Tentacles Records, released September 27, 2005)

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

Alternative Tentacles is reissuing Sieg Howdy! on vinyl – get it now!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Book Review: Randy Fox's Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story (2018)

Randy Fox's Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story
One needn’t be a historian to recognize the widespread changes that the United States experienced in the wake of World War II. As the country’s industrial capacity turned from servicing the war machine to manufacturing washing machines, American society experienced an economic boom unparalleled in American history. With the growth of a relatively-wealthy consumerist society also came a post-war “baby boom” of children that largely came of age in the 1950s and ‘60s, further turbocharging the economy.

As the U.S. economy grew, so too did the country’s appetite for entertainment, which resulted in a rapid growth of the film and music industries as well as technological advances that resulted in an expanding number of radio stations across the country and prompted the evolution of television programming. Large numbers of teenagers and adults had disposable cash to spend in the 1950s, which directly fueled the sales of pop, country, and rhythm & blues records that both parents and their children would hear playing on their favorite radio stations.

Mr. Ernest Young would step into this growing market for music in the late 1940s. The Nashville businessman had made a respectable living from placing popular coin-operated ‘flipperless’ pinball machines in stores, restaurants, and bars in the Middle Tennessee area. Patrons would rack up “free games” on the machine that were paid off in cash, making it a form of gambling in the eyes of the strict Southern Baptist church. It was a dirty business, though, requiring regular pay-offs to the police in order to continue operations without being raided and your machines seized. By the end of the decade, Young had divested himself of the pinball business to focus on a new and profitable fad – jukeboxes, which played 7” vinyl records.

Jukeboxes took in nickels and, if placed in the right environment (like, say, the Elliston Place Soda Shop), would spit out tidy profits. But records had to be swapped out frequently, so that the jukebox had a good selection of current hits to ensure regular plays, leaving the operator with a surplus of 45rpm records. Young responded to the challenge by opening Ernie’s Record Mart in downtown Nashville, where he sold new and used 45s (from his jukebox stock). With regular advertising on local clear-channel AM radio station WLAC (a 50,000-watt behemoth that could be heard from Canada to the Caribbean and across most of the United States), Ernie’s Record Mart branched out beyond its retail storefront, launching a successful mail-order operation. The store would ship out records to eager buyers across the globe throughout the 1950s and well into the ‘70s.

Randy Fox’s Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story

Excello Records' Slim Harpo 45
Young realized that he could “double dip” and make more money if he produced records as well as selling them so, in 1951, he launched Nashboro Records as a label specializing in African-American gospel music. Nashboro would release records that would subsequently be promoted during WLAC’s Sunday night gospel program and sold via mail order by Ernie’s Record Mart. Author Randy Fox’s excellent book Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story tells the rest of the tale, how Young expanded his operation to include a song publishing company and, most importantly, forming the legendary Excello Records label in 1953 to take advantage of the growing popularity of R&B and blues music.

Excello Records is a name well-known to rock ‘n’ roll aficionados, record collectors, and music historians who obsess over such things. The Nashville-based label made a deal with a Louisiana-based producer (J.D. Miller) to provide master recordings which resulted in Excello releases by artists like Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, Tabby Thomas, and Lazy Lester, among others – classic sides that would spark the imagination of musicians and fans on both sides of the pond. Excello also released music by homegrown R&B singers like Marion James, Roscoe Shelton, and Arthur Gunter, whose song “Baby Let’s Play House” would be covered by Elvis Presley, resulting in a financial windfall for both the artist and Excello’s in-house publishing company.

Fox’s Shake Your Hips tells a story of, basically, three different companies, beginning with the original version of Excello as founded by Ernest Young, writing of its importance and influence on popular music. The second version of Excello/Nashboro was owned by the local Crescent Company, which bought the entire operation – the labels, the publishing, the record store, and the mail order business – from Young when he retired in 1966. Crescent wisely kept longtime employees Shannon Williams and Dorothy Keaton, and hired a sympathetic manager in Bud Howell to run the labels. This version of the company continued to thrive well into the 1970s, with Williams’ love of gospel music and production talents allowing Nashboro to expand its influence in the black gospel community while Excello would ride workhorse Slim Harpo while trying to capture a measure of the growing soul, funk, and rock ‘n’ roll markets.

The third company, however, was the broken-down version operated by Los Angeles-based music firm AVI, Inc. which bought the operation from Crescent in 1980. The company’s fortunes had been waning for several years, with neither Excello nor Nashboro able to grow their market share in the face of ever-changing trends in music. Both labels had essentially ceased to exist by 1977, releasing their final records mere months before founder Ernest Young’s death later that year. AVI’s interest in the labels’ properties was negligible save for a few licensing deals. AVI itself was purchased by an investment group led by a former Motown executive, which resulted in a slate of CD reissues of Excello label releases during the mid-to-late 1990s. They would, in turn, be subsequently gobbled up by the multi-national Universal Music conglomerate in 1997, with UMe barely scratching the surface of the deep Excello catalog since.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Excello's The Best of Slim Harpo
That, in a nutshell, is a capsule history of Nashville’s Excello Records label. Fox’s Shake Your Hips provides the full story of this historic independent record label with a narrative delivered at a breakneck pace. Fox’s well-researched tome is chockful of details on artists and record releases without ever getting bogged down in arcane minutiae. It’s a quick read, and a fascinating story for any true-blue R&B fan – I ran through the book in two (lengthy) sessions – Fox managing to capture the zeitgeist of the era within the pages of Shake Your Hips.

A casual acquaintance of mine from my Nashville days, I can avow that Randy Fox is particularly suited to documenting Excello’s storied history; he’s been walking this particular beat of obscure R&B history for a long time and is deeply knowledgeable of the music and its artists. It’s a tale of a different time, to be sure, but an important one nonetheless, Shake Your Hips an entertaining as well as educational history of a record label that made waves beyond its commercial fortunes. If you love the music of Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, et al or simply love old-school R&B music altogether, you owe it to yourself to check out Randy Fox’s Shake Your Hips. Grade: A (RPM Series/BMG Books, published November 20th, 2018)

Buy the book from Amazon.com: Randy Fox’s Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Spotlight on R.L. Burnside

R.L. Burnside photo by Bill Steber
R.L. Burnside photo by Bill Steber, courtesy Fat Possum Records

R.L. Burnside Select Discography:
Bad Luck City (Fat Possum Records, 1994)
Too Bad Jim (Fat Possum, 1994), produced by Robert Palmer
A Ass Pocket of Whiskey (Fat Possum, 1996) [with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion]
Mr. Wizard (Fat Possum, 1997) [two tracks with Jon Spencer]
Acoustic Stories (M.C. Records, 1997)
Come On In (Fat Possum, 1998)
My Black Name a-Ringin' (Genes, 1999) [vintage recordings from 1969]
Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (Fat Possum, 2000)
Burnside On Burnside (Fat Possum, 2001) [live LP]
First Recordings (Fat Possum, 2003) [George Mitchell sessions circa 1967]
A Bothered Mind (Fat Possum, 2004)

North Mississippi Hill Country blues legend R.L. Burnside had been performing and recording for decades before he struck paydirt in the 1990s as part of an overall rediscovery by indie rock fans of Mississippi blues music that was fueled by Fat Possum Records. Burnside found a new audience with his sincere, high-energy blues sound among young punk and garage-rock fans after recording with indie rocker Jon Spencer in the middle part of the decade, but it was his own recordings like Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down and the live Burnside On Burnside that cemented his legacy as one of the most innovative and influential artists in the history of Mississippi blues. Sadly, Burnside left us in 2005 at the age of 78 years, but he leaves behind an enormous musical legacy that is being carried on to this day by his grandson Cedric Burnside.

Also on That Devil Music: R.L. Burnside - Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down CD review

Archive Review: R.L. Burnside's Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (2001)

R.L. Burnside's Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down
That R.L. Burnside would only begin experiencing some degree of artistic and commercial recognition so late in his career is the story of the blues, kids. Many of the blues greats – Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell, Skip James and Son House, to name a few – were old and gray before being “rediscovered” during the 1960s. In his 73 years, Burnside has certainly seen his share of ups and downs. Since his own revival a few years back - fueled by an appearance in Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues documentary film – he’s been burning the candle at both ends. Burnside’s 1998 release Come On In, with Tom Rothrock’s contemporary electronica production laid upon the bluesman’s organic guitar and vocals, was a breakthrough of sorts, reaching an audience who knew little of the blues, much less anything of Burnside.

Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down is Burnside’s follow-up to Come On In and a return to a more roots-based sound. Lyrically, this is possibly Burnside’s bleakest album, with many songs haunted by death and betrayal, carrying with them an ambience as dark as the Delta soil. The album is also an artistic triumph – Burnside’s vocals are rich, soulful and expressive, his lyrics direct and carefully crafted. Even when covering somebody else’s material – such as his haunting rendering of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor” or an electric version of Don Covay’s R & B classic “Chain Of Fools” – Burnside’s talent and consistency make the songs his own. The title track is a traditional gospel tune that Burnside invokes with a great deal of fire and passion. Original songs such as the “Bad Luck City,” with its advice on romance, or “R.L.’s Story,” a spoken tract with minimal instrumental backing are as cutting edge as the blues will ever get.

For fans who only discovered Burnside through Come On In, there’s enough tape loops, turntable scratching and electronic tricks on Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down to satisfy your warped little tastes. A handful of producers, led by Andy Kaulkin, as well as contributions by guitarist Smokey Hormel and scratchers DJ Swamp, Iki Levy and DJ Pete B bring a modern feel to an art form that’s close to 100 years old. Burnside shines through all of the high-tech gimcrackery, though, with an originality and talent that places him alongside the greatest names in Mississippi blues.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: R.L. Burnside’s Wish I was In Heaven Sitting Down

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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: January 2019 Releases

Meager pickings await the music lover with the passing of a new year, but January often means quality over quantity, and while there’s not an abundance of fresh tunes coming your way this month, who can complain about new albums from Walter Trout, the Flesh Eaters, and Watermelon Slim as well as archive releases by Soul Asylum and Big Star? January will be easier on your bank account, but will tickle your ears nonetheless!

If we wrote about it here on the site, there will be a link to it in the album title; if you want an album, hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from Amazon.com...it’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts money in the Reverend’s pocket that he'll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy!

Gaye Adegbalola's The Griot

Gaye Adegbalola - The Griot   BUY!

Soilwork's Verkligheten

The Delines - The Imperial   BUY!
Eric Schenkman - Who Shot John?   BUY!
Soilwork - Verkligheten   BUY!

The Flesh Eaters' I Used To Be Pretty

Deerhunter - Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?   BUY!
The Flesh Eaters - I Used To Be Pretty   BUY!
Guster - Look Alive   BUY!
Juliana Hatfield - Weird   BUY!
Joe Jackson - Fool   BUY!
Pedro the Lion - Phoenix   BUY!
Soul Asylum - While You Were Out/Clam Dip & Other Delights   BUY!

Big Star's Live On WLIR

Big Star - Live On WLIR   BUY!
Michael Franti & Spearhead - Stay Human, Vol. II   BUY!
Steve Hackett - At the Edge of Light   BUY!
Rival Sons - Feral Roots   BUY!
Walter Trout - Survivor Blues   BUY!
Watermelon Slim - Church of the Blues   BUY!

Album of the Month: Walter Trout’s Survivor Blues. The talented fretburner follows up on 2017’s critically-acclaimed album We're All In This Together with an inspired collection of vintage blues tunes. Trout doesn’t settle for the low-hanging fruit, however, eschewing the usual blues standards in favor of more obscure tracks by legends like Jimmy Dawkins, Sunnyland Slim, J.B. Lenoir, and Otis Rush, among others. Silk-toned soul-blues vocalist Sugaray Rayford guest stars on Luther Johnson’s “Woman Don’t Lie” while Robbie Krieger of the Doors appears on Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Goin’ Down To the River.” I’ve heard Survivor Blues and suffice it to say, Walter has another hit on his hands!

Archive Review: Live at Continental, Best of NYC (2005)

Live at Continental, Best of NYC Vol. I
In honor of the closing of the infamous East Village music venue Continental, we’re republishing this vintage album review from the Revs archives. For more info on the legendary NYC club, check out Eric Davidson’s article at the Rock and Roll Globe.

Every city in America with any music scene at all has a rock ‘n’ roll club of some notoriety. In Nashville, it was Cantrell’s, the legendary late ‘80s dive that hosted bands like Black Flag, the Replacements, and the Gun Club as well as serving as home base for the Music City’s growing rock music scene. In Detroit circa 1980, the club du jour was the New Miami over in the Cass Corridor, where rich kids from Grosse Point would go slumming alongside rockers, fighting rats for their beer while watching Motor City bands like Flirt, Destroy All Monsters, and the Mutants. As for New York City, well, there are too damn many clubs to consider, from the infamous CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City of the ‘70s to the late ‘90s hub of New York/New Jersey culture, the East Village’s Continental.

Continental opened in 1991 on Third Avenue in the East Village, a rather smallish club holding around 300 people. Club owner Trigger opened Continental with the idea of having a venue for local talent to get off the ground, a place for NYC bands to gather, swap ideas and create great music. Continental soon attracted some of the scene’s heavy hitters, with folks like Joey Ramone, “Handsome” Dick Manitoba and Adny Shernoff of the Dictators, and Blondie’s Debbie Harry hanging out at the club, hosting shows and generally supporting the scene. During the almost decade and a half of the club’s existence, local talents have graced the Continental stage alongside national artists like Green Day, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and Guns ‘N’ Roses.

A few years back, Trigger decided to document the music scene that had grown up around Continental and brought in the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit to capture a week’s worth of performances in the club with the idea of releasing the recordings as a live CD. Those performances, along with various live recordings from the club through the years, make up Live at Continental, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. If you’ve ever had a fondness for NYC rock, and this scribe does, you absolutely, positively need these two records. Joey Ramone, Cheetah Chrome, Lenny Kaye, the Ramainz (Dee Dee and Marky Ramone), Murphy’s Law, and the Bouncing Souls are among the many artists gracing these two discs, delivering live performances you won’t find anywhere else.

Live at Continental, Vol. I kicks off with a slice of NYHC courtesy of Agnostic Front, followed quickly by Jesse Malin’s Bellvue, whose “Faded Flowers” sounds like an inspired cross between Jim Carroll and the Jayhawks. The Bouncing Souls deliver their “Quick Check Girl” with the usual reckless abandon and solid punk rock fervor. Other highlights of the first disc include Cheetah Chrome kicking out the jams on the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” with “Handsome” Dick on vocals; the Cro-Mags’ blistering hardcore rant “Street Justice” and Joey Ramone’s reading of “I Wanna Be Sedated,” which lights up the record with its spirit and energy.

Lenny Kaye, best known as Patti Smith’s guitarist, is an artist of considerable talent in his own right, delivering the dark, somber “Going Local.” Among the few bands here that I was unfamiliar with, Heap’s “Puerto Rican Girl” is a red-hot rocker and Furious George’s “I Am the King” is a punky rave-up. The vastly underrated H2O smacks down the crowd with its “Liberate” while LE.S. Stitches, Lunachicks, and Murphy’s Law crank out fine variations on a punk rock theme. Dee Dee Ramone and Marky Ramone are joined by Barbara Zampini in possibly the coolest cover band ever, the Ramainz running through a faithful reading of “Cretin Hop.”

Live at Continental, Vol. II
Live at Continental, Vol. II features many of the same artists found on the first disc, with Bellvue, the Bouncing Souls, Cheetah Chrome, Joey Ramone, H2O, the Ramainz, Lunachicks, and Murphy’s Law cranking out dynamic live performances for the Continental crowd. Bellvue’s “Money Runner” drones like the Pixies and hits with the power of a hundred ‘80s college rock bands while Cheetah Chrome’s “Love Song” leaves scorched earth in its wake behind Chrome’s incendiary guitarwork. Joey Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” and the Ramainz “Commando” illustrate the longevity and power of the Ramones’ legacy. H2O kicks serious ass with “Empty Pockets,” an anti-poverty screed that will make your ears bleed while the raucous Murphy’s Law classic “Somebody’s Gonna Get (Their Head Kicked In Tonight)” will certainly satisfy your hardcore Jones.

The second volume also offers a number of performances by lesser known (to audiences outside of NYC) artists such as Battershell, Independents, Stab City, Blisster, Gutter Girl, and Harley’s War. Battershell vocalist/guitarist Tammy Lynn sounds like a cross between Karen O and Wendy O Williams on “Shower Song,” the hard-edged pop song spiraling out of control into a cacophonous clash of instrumentation and attitude. Gutter Girl’s “Crazy Chicken” hits your ears with all the subtlety of a jackhammer while Harley’s War, fronted by the Cro-Mags’ Haley Flanagan, serves up the powerful “Steal My Crown,” a minimalist dirge punctuated by hard riffs and explosive rhythms. Blisster offers up guitar-driven pop/rock with a razor-sharp, punkish edge and Independents’ “Vampires From Outer Space” evokes memories of the Misfits with three-chord recklessness and B-movie soundtrack lyrics.

Other Big Apple bands featured on Live at Continental, Vol. I and Vol. II include Honky Toast, the Waldos, Toilet Boys, the Voluptous Horror Of Karen Black, Vasquez, Superthrive, Simi, Helldorado, Frankenorange, Bottom, the Bullys, Sea Monster, Suicide King, Candy Ass, and the David Ellis Group. There are 46 tracks here altogether, stretched across two excellent CDs. Produced by club owner Trigger and Continental soundman Noel Ford, the sound is uniformly good – not as slick and processed as your typically lifeless major label recording but head and shoulders above the usual live club bootleg. There is a bit of echo and a slight hollow feel to the tracks, but overall the performances are dynamic with crisp guitars crisp and sharp vocals. Turn up the volume a notch and it sounds like you’re standing right in front of the stage.

If you’re looking for the Strokes, the Mooney Suzuki, or the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, you’ll have to look elsewhere, bunkie! The bands on Live at Continental, Vol. I and Vol. II tend to lean towards the punk and hardcore side of the musical equation, but there’s enough pure, unvarnished indie rock in these grooves to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. Kudos to Trigger and Ford for creating the essential audio documentary of the Continental club scene in these two volumes – this shit rocks! The Rev says “check it out!” (Continental NYC, 2005)

Buy the CDs from Amazon.com:
Live at Continental: Best of NYC, Vol.I
Live at Continental: Best of NYC, Vol. II

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Rev's Favorite Rock 'n' Roll Albums of 2018

Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead, people, it’s just thriving on the fringes of pop culture while a mess of young and old artists alike are banging the gong and getting it on. The following ten albums listed below aren’t necessarily the “best” of 2018 but rather those that were my favorite releases for the year and spent the most time on my stereo. I’ve also listed another ten albums that almost, but not quite made the cut but, truth is, any of these albums would make a great addition to your music library. Check out the Rev’s lists of favorite archive/reissue and blues music albums from 2018 while you’re here!

Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers – More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows (Schoolkids Records)
Joe Grushecky’s More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows is an entertaining, exciting work that takes full advantage of the Houserockers’ immense musical chemistry – forged by decades of hard knocks and a shared faith in the religion of rock ‘n’ roll – to create a wonderful collection of songs that rock recklessly but pump the brakes when needed. Reunited with his longtime band after a handful of solo albums, Grushecky displays a renewed fervor and commitment to rock music as both soapbox and as a catalyst for social change. With More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows, Grushecky delivers a career milestone, outdoing himself once again.   BUY!

Tom Guerra's American Garden

Tom Guerra – American Garden (Casa del Soul Records)
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tom Guerra is a veteran musician that’s been toiling in the shadows far too long while lesser talents grab the spotlight. American Garden features a high-octane blend of guitar-driven classic rock and blues music with Guerra’s smart (and often timely) lyrics paired with a clamorous soundtrack that reminds of similar rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Joe Grushecky. Tom Guerra’s American Garden is a solid collection of muscular, no-frills, old-school rock ‘n’ roll.   BUY!

Handsome Jack's Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

Handsome Jack – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Alive Natural Sound Records)
Buffalo NY area “boogie soul” power trio Handsome Jack have one foot in the blustery hard rock sound of the ‘70s and the other in the guitar-driven British blues explosion of the ‘60s; the band’s raw, immediate garage-rock worldview builds on the past while looking defiantly towards the future. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright is the band’s sophomore effort and it’s a real fine barn-burner, Handsome Jack the real thing, a switchblade-toting gang of ‘Rust Belt’ blues-rock thugs demanding your time, money, and attention.   BUY!

Peter Holsapple's Game Day

Peter Holsapple – Game Day (Omnivore Recordings)
The voice of the revered power-pop outfit the dB’s, Peter Holsapple hasn’t released a solo album in 21 years (since 1997’s Out of My Way), but he climbs back in the saddle effortlessly with the gorgeous, shimmering Game Day. Holsapple’s deft songwriting chops and emotive vocals have always fueled his band’s best material, and with his second solo effort, he dials up the intensity to eleven. Holsapple plays nearly every note on the excellent Game Day, making it a true “solo album.”   BUY!

Howlin Rain's The Alligator Bride

Howlin Rain – The Alligator Bride (Silver Current Records)
A damn fine rock band, Howlin Rain nevertheless brings a soup├žon of its previous Americana-styled twang to the songs on The Alligator Bride, their fifth album. Infusing deceptively complex tunes with elements of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and even Joe Walsh, The Alligator Bride provides a shining display of frontman Ethan Miller’s songwriting chops and the band’s immense instrumental skills. There are a lot of echoes of the past in these grooves and the album’s wonderfully-balanced musical dynamics make it sound like it’s 1975 all over again.   BUY!

Willie Nile's Children of Paradise

Willie Nile – Children of Paradise (River House Records)
Longtime Willie Nile fans won’t be disappointed by the more topical material on Children of Paradise, most of which is delivered with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit. In spite of the album’s frequent lyrical vision of a world in flames, Nile closes out the song cycle with the hopeful, pastoral “All God’s Children.” The song offers salvation through faith in our fellow humans and (unspoken) the power of rock ‘n’ roll to transcend life’s indignities. Nile’s simple plea of “sing for the angels, sing for the sinners, all of the losers one day will be winners…” provides a ray of light piercing the darkness that has enveloped our society. You can ask of nothing more from the true artist.   BUY!

David Olney's This Side or the Other

David Olney – This Side or the Other (Black Hen Music)
Singer/songwriter David Olney has been making music in Nashville for over 40 years, and the humble, talented scribe has been exploring the depths of folk, rock, and country music just as long, breaking through genre barriers years before anybody coined the “Americana” term. This Side or the Other, Olney’s debut for Steve Dawson’s Black Hen label, proves to be a snug artistic fit, the like-minded Dawson producing and adding his considerable six-string skills to the songs. Olney’s poetic wordplay, intriguing story-songs, and world-weary vocals put him in a class by himself, the man’s talents transcending mediocrity to deliver the truly magnificent with This Side or the Other.   BUY!

Shuggie Otis – Inter-Fusion (Cleopatra Records)
When everybody else in popular music is running, lemming-like, in a single direction, Shuggie Otis is veering off towards left field. For his first studio album in better than forty years, the songwriter responsible for soulful gems like “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Inspiration Information” delivers a mostly-instrumental set guaranteed to blow your  mind. A buffet of rock, soul, funk, and jazz, Inter-Fusion is a breathtaking collection of virtuosity, proof that Otis has lost none of the chops, imagination, or innovation that made him a legend in the first place.   BUY!

Sour Ops' Family Circuit

Sour Ops – Family Circuit (Feralette Records)
Contrary to conventional industry wisdom, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead – and Sour Ops proves my point with the delightfully raucous Family Circuit. Price Harrison and his musical gang take their obvious cues from the legends of classic ‘70s and ‘80s rock but manage to provide this original material with a contemporary spin via their imaginative songwriting and skilled instrumentation. In addition to Family Circuit, Sour Ops also released a fab 12” single this year comprised of “Photograph” and “Mind Like Glue,” two of the album’s best tunes and a safe bet for vinyl collectors looking for cheap thrills.   BUY!

The Textones' Old Stone Gang

The Textones – Old Stone Gang (Blue Elan Records)
The Textones’ Carla Olson put the original band back together for another shot at the brass ring, and their first new album in 30+ years sounds like they never really left the game. The band’s pioneering hybrid of rock, country, and a touch of soul (i.e. ‘Americana’) is much in evidence here and the Textones’ Old Stone Gang offers a lot of twang and bang for your buck. If you didn’t know them back in the ‘80s, you owe it to yourself to discover the band today.   BUY!

Wilko Johnson's Blow Your Mind

Honorable Mention: Arthur Buck’s Arthur Buck; Crack the Sky’s Living In Reverse; The Damned’s Evil Spirits, Alejandro Escovedo’s The Crossing; Graveyard’s Peace; Wilko Johnson’s Blow Your Mind; King Crimson’s Live In Vienna; King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Gumboot Soup; Uriah Heep’s Living the Dream; Barrence Whitfield’s Soul Flowers of Titan.