Category Archives: Artist

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL PHOTON TORPEDO: Art DiFuria

The Philly wunderkind behind the beloved Photon Band talks songwriting, pop and punk, the Lilys and other fellow City of Brotherly Love bands, and upcoming plans.

BY TIM HINELY

Art DiFuria first came on my radar in the mid-‘80s when I saw him in a band called Tons of Nuns on stage at the Kennel Club in Philly. He seemed kinda like me, a “normal” punk (no mohawk, leather jacket, etc.) but I noticed his choice of footwear was cool. He had slippers on which I thought was about the most punk rock thing you could do (I wore mine in public a few times after that and got some odd looks/comments). A few years later I saw him in Uptown Bones and remember him being the same guy in Tons of Nuns and made a mental note. Fast forward a few years (early/mid-‘90s by now) and I had left the east coast for the west coast and began hearing rumblings of a band called Photon Band who began releasing singles in 1995-ish (yes, the Lilys, who Art played with for a time, have a record called Eccsame the Photon Band and as far as who inspired who well……read below).

The stuff I’d heard by Photon Band seemed to be a real inspired stew of whatever was/is in Art’s head at the time. A wiggy blend of psychedelic rawk with illegal u-turns all over the place. The stuff is good. On paper it could seem like the workings of a shot-out guy whose brain was addled by Clorox and Pop Rocks who lives in his mother’s basement and jams for jams sake, but no. These are honest to goodness songs by a truly talented songwriter and regarding Photon Band there’s more to come (again see below).

I shot Art some questions and he was more than happy to spill the beans on his childhood as well as what Philly band should’ve made it  (also what was was more hardcore, the Ardmore, PA or Exton, PA scene). Thanks so much to Art for really making this interview come to life (or “Pop!” as the kids say). Take it away….

Where did you grow up? Was it in the city of Philly or a suburb?

 I grew up in a place that was basically “nowhere,” culturally speaking: Exton PA. Its redeeming quality was that there were endless woods and creeks out there. It wasn’t as developed as it is now and so you could get on your bike and just ride or walk forever, and just think and dream.

Did your parents or any siblings influence musically?

 There was always all kinds of music playing in our house. We had this gigantic TV / Stereo system with this posh turntable and huge speakers. On Sundays, after church and before the Eagles games, my dad played a lot of Perry Como, Al Martino, and of course Sinatra. Hearing those big, fluffy recordings on a deluxe stereo was mesmerizing, even though the music wasn’t really my thing. My mom could play the piano, too. We had one in our house (which is now in my huse!). But my sisters were the biggest influence. They would eventually take over the stereo from my dad by whining about the old goombah music and they’d put some Beatles on. Of course, in my little kid mind I was like “holy SHIT, what is THIS?” That was all a huge influence. My sisters are older than me by 7 and 10 years and they could both play guitar. The one closer to me in age majored in music in college, so she was always talking about music all through junior high and high school. It was the early 70s, so it was a very folky thing that she and my oldest sister were into, that whole heaviness-with-an-acoustic-guitar scene was very big then. And our local Catholic church, trying to be hip, dispensed with the organ and had a “guitar group” play the hymns. 10 or so teenagers looking wholesome on the outside but seeming a bit fiendish below the surface, as all teenagers do, was really cool to me. I was really little and hated going to church already, but I did like the sound of the guitars being tuned as we walked into the church. In my little kid mind I associated the big crucifix over the altar with the sound of guitars being tuned. It seemed ominous, like there was something profound about to happen. My sisters also had the first three Monkees albums, which made an indelible impression on me.

Do you remember the first record you ever bought with your own money?

Well, my folks were giving me records from an early age. They gave me “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” in 1973 and I had my own little turntable to play it on. I wore the grooves out on “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce and also the Raspberry’s “Go All the Way.” My first purchase, I remember very well because it pissed off my dad. I bought “The Who Sing My Generation.” I had become obsessed with them because I had seen footage of Townshend smashing his guitar and Keith Moon going nuts on drums. I had just seen the commercial for The Kids are Alright on TV on a Friday night and was supposed to do some yard work for my dad on that Saturday. He gave me the money in advance of the work because he had some errands to run. Then my sister invited me to go to the mall with her. Of course, I ditched the yard work and went to the mall and spent the money without having done any of the work. When I came back with the album my dad was waiting for me. Man, the tongue lashing that followed was intense.

Where was your first punk show? Love Hall? Somewhere else? Who played and what year was it?

We could get to Philly pretty easily on the R5 and by the early 80s, we were taking it upon ourselves to do so. The “other” record store at the mall, called Grand Records, was way better than the establishment one, Sam Goody’s. Grand Records actually carried the SST catalog, which was my entre into punk. I had Land Speed Record and The Punch Line because of that store. You could buy buttons and patches there that said “The Jam!” and “Fuck Art, Let’s Dance!” on them. They also had a little bulletin board with show posters and flyers. It was mostly new wave stuff, all pink and day-glo, about shows at the old Latin Casino, which had been renamed Emerald City. But one day, there was this black and white “xerox” flyer for a show at Love Hall with Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen. I had to go! It said that Love Hall was on Broad and South so I knew I could find it easily. I went by myself. I was scared shitless, this 16 year old kid with a new buzz cut so as to not look lame, wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and combat boots just purchased from I.Goldberg’s. I scuffed them up on purpose right after I got them so they didn’t look too shiny and new. I was a LONG way from home. Once I got there, I didn’t talk to anyone. I just made myself invisible and watched the whole thing happen. Those bands were way better than I could have ever imagined. I left that show with a whole new concept of music. I think I went to see the Born Again era Black Sabbath that same fall and there was no contest in my mind as to which show was the real thing. But there was nobody at my high school that could relate to my Love Hall experience. They were all either wishing John Bonham hadn’t died, or to decide whether or not Rush’s Signals was a betrayal or a master stroke. Those are valid pursuits, too, and I didn’t become a punk overnight, or ever, really; becoming one narrow thing seemed dumb to me. But I did become a huge fan of it because of those bands.

I first saw you in Tons of Nuns in 1985 or maybe ’86. Was that your first band?

 I had played in cover bands in Exton, which is how I learned to play “live” instead of just playing along with records at home. But yep, the Nuns was my first real band. It started as Bernadette Rappold on guitar, Brian Sussman on drums, and Mike Logan (aka Spayce Mann, who currently plays with Brother JT) on bass. Then Mike decided to bail and Bern switched to bass. That sort of became our identity, that trio. And that was how I learned to play guitar in a trio: trust the other two.

What was next, Uptown Bones? How long did that last?

Between Tons of Nuns and Uptown Bones, there was Holy Smoke. Tons of Nuns started to feel too kooky, too gimmicky. I could’ve stayed in it and slowly changed that, but I had my head up my ass. It started to feel like it wasn’t growing, but that’s probably because I wasn’t willing to give it a chance. So I told those guys I wanted out. They stayed together and got Bill Rudolph to play guitar. He later founded Rotgut and then Rear Admiral. They also got a really great guitarist named Dan who could play circles around me. Brian and Bern turned the Nuns into a much better band after I left. I think my leaving gave them a burst of energy, like “we’ll show him!!” And it was probably a lot more fun for them without this pain-in-the-ass brooding perfectionist around who wanted things to be more serious. When Mike Logan heard I left the Nuns, he wanted to jam again. We were very tight buds and quickly got songs together with a drummer named Jay Jurina who was also in Sky Grits. We felt like Holy Smoke had no limits; we used to do long instrumentals, ballads, really fast stuff, heavy Sabbath sounding tunes, you name it. And we had a lot of gigs in a really short time during the spring and summer of 87. But then Mike left Philly without really explaining why. Jay and I tried to keep the band going, but I was really thrown for a loop. I had lost my best friend and didn’t know why. I sort of blamed myself and thought, “well, all I’ve really done is start this kooky band that got better after I left, and then started this other one that wasn’t good enough for its co-founder. I must suck at this.” So I decided to lay low and not be a front man. I went to see the Uptown Bones whenever they played. They were guys who came to Temple a year after I did. They were a spunky little band with super spazzy energy. Plus, they were tight with Eric DeJesus (the Raw Pogo on the Scaffold / Easy Pop Art guy, and eventual best man at my wedding) who had been showing me his poems and stories which were so fucking excellent I couldn’t believe it. They were, in my mind, a “real rock band.” And I could see right away that Rich Fravel, the singer, was probably the best front man I’d ever get to play with. We all sort of spoke a language that nobody else understood. We were like a little scene of our own, wherever we went. When their original bassist Scooter drifted away from them, I stepped in. We started to click right away. That momentum lasted from the spring of ’88 through to our last tour in France in the summer of 93; two full length albums, three tours, and a bunch of singles. But then, we grew tired of each other and could see that it wasn’t going anywhere. We opted out.

Tell me about your involvement in the Lilys? Had you known Kurt previously? How long was your tenure in the band?

I had been messing around with this totally spontaneous band called the Psychic Enemies. It was me, Wayne Hamilton from Suffacox, and Simon Nagle, future Photon Band drummer. We purposefully avoided writing songs. We would jam for hours and never repeat a riff. We’d show up at gigs and do the same. But after awhile, we just couldn’t sustain it. Somehow, all that freedom felt like a dead end. So I was sort of putting word out there that I was looking for a gig. I had my hand inside a turkey on Thanksgiving eve 1993 and Bryan Dilworth and Mike Lenert came up the stairs of my warehouse and said “you’re playing in the Lilys.” I had heard In the Presence of Nothing and Amazing Letdowns and was pretty impressed. And I loved Bryan and Mike. So I said “yes.” We had a gig in DC like a week later. I didn’t know Kurt when I joined, but we instantly got along and had all sorts of things to talk about. I thought the Lilys were set up to do a lot more than we did. We had three songwriters and access to two cool recording studios in Philadelphia because I had my own 16-track and the drummer, Dave Frank (who had been in the Wishniaks) was co-owner of Studio Red with Adam Lasus. I figured we would just be recording our White Album for the next 15 years or so, you know? At least, that’s how I wanted it to work. But it wasn’t my band, and so I respected Kurt’s way of doing it which was to stay true to whatever his inner ear told him to do with his songs. That usually didn’t involve us.

Am I missing any bands in between? Did you do a stint in Robert Hazard & the Heroes that we don’t know about?

Ha…never hung with Hazard or the A’s or the Hooters, heaven help us. But I did play with a lot of other bands. I can’t remember them all, but here are the main things: I played with Baby Flamehead, which was such a breath of fresh air for me, such a pleasure. From about 94 to 2010 when I moved to Savannah, I also played either guitar, bass, or drums in a bunch of John Terlesky’s projects: Suffacox, Vibrolux, Brother JT, and even late period Original Sins. In the mid-2000s, I also played drums for We Have Heaven (Eric DeJesus’s band) and Ex Reverie. The latter is Gillian Chadwick’s prog vehicle. I loved those drumming gigs so much. I was sad to have to bow out of Ex Rev especially, because I had too many other commitments.

How/when did the Photon Band come about? Did you have a vision for it?

 Even though I pulled back from being “the guy” after Tons of Nuns, I couldn’t stop the flow of ideas for songs. It seemed to be on the increase. Sometimes, they were so complete when I’d hear them in my head or dream them that I thought it was a cosmic phenomenon of some sort, like there are songs flying around out there in the ether and they choose people. And for some reason I was receiving more and more songs. I had been amassing cassette tapes of song ideas. At the same time, I’m really into astrology because my mother had been into that when I was a kid and it fascinated me. So I picked up this astrology magazine and there was an article in it by a woman named Barbara Hand Clow stating that since around 1962, the earth had gradually been entering into this band of photonic matter that would ultimately encompass our world and blow consciousness wide open. It made sense to me because I felt like that was happening to me. “Photon Band!” I thought. “If I ever start a band, that’s what I’ll call it and anything I write or record will go under that name. Its identity will be that it encompasses all the variety that comes out of me.” At the time, I was in the Lilys and my hopes for that band to become a vehicle for me and Mike Lenert as well as Kurt was dissipating. I left in late ’94 and told Kurt I wanted to start my own band under the name Photon Band. It was an amicable parting. He named the next Lilys album to honor that idea. That Lilys album, Eccsame the Photon Band and the first Photon Band single, “Sitting on the Sunn” came out at around the same time.

I know in the Photon Band you play all or most of the instruments. Did you learn all of those as a kid or pick them up along the way?

I taught myself guitar. Bass wasn’t hard to do after that. And drums came together just by sneaking behind the kit before practice, during break, and after practice and getting a few minutes in here and there. I love playing drums but man, if I don’t keep practicing, the next time I sit down, the drop off is more severe than it is with either bass or guitar. And whether it’s live or in the studio, I really need Jeff Tanner there. His ear understands where I’m trying to go better than anyone I know. His approach to playing bass is really important. And when we were a four piece, what he was doing on guitar was starting to take on its own identity that was re-shaping the songs. As far as drumming goes, Simon, Brendan, and Patrick have done all the best drum parts on our records. It’s only very occasionally that whatever I’m able to do on drums has worked better than them. I’m lucky to have had those guys as willing foils.

Is Photon Band still going? If so what’s next?

 Yes. Since I moved to Savannah, I still record, and we still gig, though much less frequently. Pure Photonic Matter Volume 1 came out in 2013 and Songs of Rapture and Hatred came out in 2015, thanks to Nod and Smile Records. We did release shows for both and a few gigs before and after. In fact, from the fall of 15 through the fall of 16, we played three gigs. I think those three gigs were the most we played over a single year’s span since I left for Savannah. But then I had to finish this book I’ve been working on for quite some time. The publisher was getting antsy, so I had to put the music aside. The next thing will be two albums; one will be the next installment in the Pure Photonic Matter series. Another, probably done around the same time, will be an album of very long songs, sloppy, poppy, noisy, and primitive, with lots of jamming (think White Light White Heat). I’m also putting together a live album from all of the recordings I’ve got from over the years. And I’m going through all of the old DATS and cassettes. There are a number of songs that I’ve earmarked for another album of singles, comp tracks, and outtakes album: Our Own ESP Driven Scene: part II, I suppose. But I’ve also discovered a huge number of tunes that are either finished or nearly finished that I never released, plus also totally different versions of some of the songs that have come out. So over the next few years, I’m going to release an archive of sorts, probably on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

How did you land in Savannah, GA? Are you involved in any kind of music/art scene down there?

I’m an art historian. I was teaching at Moore College of Art and Design in Philly but started looking around for a better gig. The money there wasn’t great and there was quite a bit of dysfunction and acrimony between faculty and administration. I got a very good offer from Savannah College of Art and Design and off we went. The job, raising two kids, and going forward with my plan to publish the work I had been doing on a sixteenth-century Netherlandish artist named Maarten van Heemskerck have effectively kept me from getting out and involving myself in the scene down here. But now, I have basically taken care of Maarten (that’s the book I mentioned above). I feel like there will come a time soon when I can start saying “ya know any good drummers?” or “ya need a guitar player?” I’d like to get something together down here, another three-piece, sort of a Photon Band South. But what I’d also really like to do even more is just become the guitarist for a really good, no nonsense rock and roll band where I don’t write the songs.

Who are some of your favorite current bands?

Weeding through the shit to get to the good stuff requires time, doesn’t it? It’s good that there are some nice places to hang out here in Savannah that let their younger staff choose the music, otherwise I might have no idea. Some of the Ariel Pink I’ve heard, I really like. The Dear Hunter has made some albums I like and so has Ty Segall. But those are by now, pretty old, right? I like bands that do interesting things with guitars, so I really loved the first Garden State album, also pretty old by now. I haven’t heard anything by them since then that suggests that they’re still committed to weaving together guitar lines the way they did on that first album. Sheer Mag’s guitarists do that really well! On Dead Waves have some good songs, and I like everything I’ve heard by Bass Drum of Death. I really like that song called La La La by Hoops, too. It’s a never-ending quest, isn’t it?  There are plenty more bands who have a song or two that blow my mind: the Wavves, the Panic Buttons, Suzi Chunk, Eagulls, to name a few.

What are your top 10 desert island discs?

Oh shit! Okay…

Neil Young: Time Fades Away

John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band

Stones: Beggars Banquet

Stooges: Fun House

The ho: Live at Leeds (the expanded version, because it has more tunes on it)

Stereolab: ABC Music

Flying Burrito Brothers: Gilded Palace of Sin

MC5: High Time

Rites of Spring

That’s nine. Then I’d lay the following four albums on the floor, have someone mix them up, and pick one blindfolded:

Sun Ra: We Travel the Spaceways from Planet to Planet

Mr. Airplane Man: Come on DJ

The new Ty Segall album

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Pig Lib.

Any final thoughts?  Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?

 Hmmmm…well, to close the loop on the Mike Logan / Spayce Mann story, all these years later, he came into JT’s orbit and now he has the role that I once had in JT’s band. We’ve reconnected and it feels so good to have that whole thing come full circle in such a cosmic way. It’s not just that we understand each other. We reconnected because he’s playing music with someone whose music is dear to us both. That’s our shared musical DNA, the stuff that resonates with our souls, determining our paths and bringing us in contact with the right people. That’s cosmic.

BONUS QUESTION; What is one Philly band that really shoud’ve made it?

I know the popular answers are Ruin and the Electric Love Muffin, and that’s definitely true, especially the latter. The Muffin were so important for a lot of people, especially me, and they were as good as, or better than, any of their contemporaries. But in a better world, the real answer is either the early period of the Original Sins, or F.O.D. There’s no question that of all the bands of my lifetime that the industry missed, they sure did blow it with the Sins. JT should have a huge audience. If the industry was less shallow, either the Sins or JT would’ve “made it.” And to me, F.O.D. are the Experience, the Who, the Minutemen, the Sex Pistols, and Sun Ra’s Arkestra all in one brilliant three piece. I don’t think there’s a live band that can touch them.

 

 

 

 

LOOSE, RAW, REAL… CRAFTY, FRUGAL, PATIENT: Jonny Polonsky

The original indie pop prodigy holds forth on everything from the current state of the music industry to Mark Lanegan filling in for Siouxsie Sioux and Johnette Napolitano to, naturally, his addictive new album, Fresh Flesh.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s been more than two decades since Jonny Polonsky put out his stellar indie pop debut, Hi My Name is Jonny. Since then, he’s added one interesting chapter after another to his life’s work. He’s toured and recorded with a slew of diverse musicians over the years that seemingly have no obvious imilarities, everyone from Neil Diamond and Pusifer to Audioslave and Johnny Cash.

All the while, he’s continued to put out his own records, including his latest, Fresh Flesh, a smart, fun rush of British Post Punk and Polonsky’s fantastically addictive wry wordsmithing. A spur of the moment recording, Polonsky and crew spent all of two days in the studio recording Fresh Flesh, but the result is anything but slapdash.

Polonsky was kind enough to trade some questions back and forth over e-mail recently.

;

BLURT: This album sounds a bit different than some of your other records. Was that a conscious decision?

POLONSKY: This album really just fell together almost by accident and had no premeditation at all. I had put a band together, we worked up a bunch of new songs and were playing lots of shows in Los Angeles. We were offered free studio time, and we took it.

You have to work with what you’ve got in any situation, no matter the limitations of time, money or materials. That’s something I learned from David Lynch. We had two days to make the record. I knew we could just go in and play our live set and it would sound good. Because we had such little time, I knew it wasn’t gonna sound like The Joshua Tree, so I went into it knowing it would be kind of loose and raw. No click tracks, no auto tune, no drum edits. Just lay it down and smack ‘em yack ‘em.

We recorded all the songs, most of them first takes; I did a few overdubs, most of the vocals were one or two takes, and bada bing – a bouncing baby record! At the time I was really into a lot of English punk and post punk bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, X-Ray Spex… and also really liked how smooth and dreamy some of the Horrors’ records sounded, particularly Skying. That was the general aesthetic – hopefully not the general anesthetic, for those of you still with me… But it wasn’t really planned. It’s more like looking in your fridge to see what you can cobble together for a meal.

I like making records where you really labor over everything too, but this way is a lot of fun because you don’t overthink anything.

 

I’ve been a fan since the first album and, while I love that you aren’t constantly writing the same album over and over, I still listen to Hi My Name Is Jonny all the time. It’s been decades since you first worked on that one. Do you still identify with that record or is it just too different from where you are now?   

It’s a corny analogy, but true, that it’s like looking at old photos of yourself. You know it’s you, you remember how you felt back then about certain things, little details about your life and personality… it’s you, but it’s not you anymore. I still have tons of great memories and a lot of fondness for those songs and that record, but it feels kind of faraway now. Every once in a while, I’ll do one of those songs if I’m doing a solo show and someone wants to hear it, but it feels like I’m covering someone else’s song.

***

Kevin Haskins plays on this new record.  You had mentioning getting into a lot of post-punk; was/is Bauhaus a big influence on your music?

I love Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and Tones on Tail. They’re all really imaginative bands that know how to create a mood, and not paint themselves into any corners. They get labeled as goth for obvious reasons, but the music is really diverse, dynamic and multi-dimensional.

Kevin and I first met a few years back through Zander Schloss. Zander was the guitar player in Joe Strummer’s first solo band, post-Clash. [Also a member of the Circle Jerks and Weirdos, along with a respected indie film actor. —Strummer Ed.] When I was a teenager, I bugged Zander on the phone and would send him tapes of my stuff because I loved his guitar playing. Still do. Anyway, Zander had set up a tribute show to Joe Strummer. Kevin and I were part of the house band. We did one or two more Strummer tributes over the years, and I also played on a horror film soundtrack that Kevin scored.  He and I became buddies over the years, and I was real excited to have him play on that song—he gave it the perfect extra lift.

Lovely guy and great drummer. Poptone [Haskins’ band with Bauhaus’ Daniel Ash]  is awesome too. I saw them last year and they were great.

Did you always envision Mark Lanegan for the voice over the intros “Solar Child”?

Actually, I initially wanted a woman to do the intro. I put out feelers for Siouxsie, Diamanda Galas, and Johnette Napolitano, but didn’t get anywhere. I love Mark Lanegan, he’s a huge hero to me. Incredible singer, great writer. A mutual friend connected us, and he agreed immediately. Wouldn’t let me pay him, either. Pure class. Gargoyle was one of my favorite records from last year. [Lanegan songs] “Goodbye to Beauty”… “Old Swan”… forget it.

You started out in the music business in the mid’-‘90s—obviously a very different time than now for the industry. What are some of the pros and cons of where record labels are now?

Honestly, I really haven’t had anything to do with a record label in years. But the benefit of being on a label is money, if they have it (duh). Making records can be expensive, touring is very expensive, publicity is very expensive.  The downside is if they don’t want to spend that money, then what’s the point of being involved with them?  Unless you are fortunate enough to be hooked up with some really smart, visionary people who can offer more than cash—like good ideas, clout, new adventures, red wine, dark chocolate, hiking, no hookups… I’m so sorry! My Bumble app just went off.

Anyway, the benefit of doing everything yourself is total freedom of expression. The downside is you have to find a way to pay for everything, and you have to find a way to reach your listeners. You just have to be crafty, frugal, patient, and have realistic expectations.

Any plans to tour when the record comes out?

There are a couple shows planned for Los Angeles. [Polonsky performed Jan. 29 at Love Song Bar and Feb. 9 at Hotel Café; the video above and the photo below is from the latter gig, courtesy of Polonsky’s Facebook page.] But nothing on the books after that. I’m working on some ideas to get us on the road.

What’s next for you? Are you working on or with anyone else?

I’m not working with anyone right now. I haven’t done any work as a side musician in several years. I love playing with other people, but I really want to concentrate on my thing. I’ve got lots of new songs. I’ve been doing some recording with a drummer friend, but I don’t know what will happen with those tracks, we’ll see.

I’m also doing a bunch of recording at home. I’ve got a couple albums’ worth of good songs, we’ll just see where it all lands.

ASK ‘EM NO QUESTIONS, THEY’LL TELL YOU NO… Mudhoney’s “L.i.E”

Mudhoney by Vincent Vannes

As a new live album recorded on tour in 2016 demonstrates, the Seattle band is always morphing, and always, always, always is a monster live band.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.

Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), a/k/a Live in Europe, collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.

The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”

You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.

Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.

Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.

MORE UNDERGROUND NOTES: Nick Adams

Mini-tour, 1983, San Francisco. photo by Jon Shines

With two of hardcore outfit MIA’s seminal albums newly reissued, the band’s guitarist looks back on his his—and the hardcore scene’s—early years.

BY TIM HINELY

I think it must have been the Summer of 1985 when my pal Bill, who had been turning me on to a lot of music at the time, handed me a cassette with the new MIA record on it, Notes From the Underground.  I loved it immediately. It was similar to a lot of the hardcore I had been listening to, but ….different. Darker, moodier but still just as melodic and hard hitting. I ended up finding their previous record, Murder in a Foreign Place (from 1984) and loved that one as well. I then was really blown away by what would be the band’s last record, 1987’s After the Fact, a gorgeous melodic masterpiece (Flipside Records).  I ended up seeing the band once in the ‘80s at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ where they put on a terrific set and then….that was it. I never heard about the band again and had heard they’d broken up. In 2001 the Alternative Tentacles label released Lost Boys, a compilation of the band’s early material and then I’d heard the sad news that vocalist/guitarist Mike Conley had died in early 2008.

Fast forward to earlier this year when I’d gotten an email from James Agren at Darla Records stating that he was going to be reissuing two of the band’s records, Notes From…. And After the Fact (he’d said he got interested in the band again after I’d posted a song on Facebook earlier in the year). One of us, (probably James) suggested that I interview guitarist Nick Adams who is a working musicians/photographer now living in Utah. I jumped at the chance and Nick was more than happy to answer any questions I threw his way. Gracious all the way through. Thanks so much to James for helping set up the interview (and for the reissues) and especially to Nick. Read on and find out about the early days of Las Vegas and SoCal hardcore….

Where were you and raised in Las Vegas? If so were your parents in the casino business?

I was raised by a single mother (kind of a punk thing to do in the 60s!), and she was a high school teacher. Growing up in Vegas the casinos, even the slot machines in grocery stores, were no big deal to me, just a part of life that was around me but not interesting. On my street I think most of the parents were not involved in the gaming industry, they were Nevada Test Site workers, accountants, car dealers, etc. When I left Vegas in 1980 it had maybe 200,000 residents, now it is ten times that, and the gaming industry is bigger than ever, so a lot of the people I know, people I went to school with, are involved in it. But it’s also like any other city, there are teachers, doctors, lawyers, beggars, thieves, everything.

Do you remember the first record you ever bought?

Meet the Beatles in early 1967. I was five.

When did you first pick up an instrument? Was it a guitar?

I first got a toy drum kit, but that was not popular around the house. Soon after I got a guitar, a small Decca classical acoustic, I think I was 7 or 8. But I didn’t really get serious until I got into high school.

 

How did the punk rock bug bite you? Was it early on? Was there much of a scene in Vegas?

We were a bit culturally isolated in Vegas, and it was before the internet so ideas and movements traveled much more slowly. I was always into rock music – Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Zeppelin, Elton John (my first concert in ‘75), stuff that got played on the radio, and I would stretch a little with what I saw in Circus Magazine or Creem. They had photos and stories about Bowie and Iggy Pop, along with the stuff I was more familiar with. I remember seeing a photo of Iggy probably right after Raw Power came out, that freaky one where he has long straight white hair, white pants and no shirt, screaming at the camera. Later I bought it, took me a while to wrap my head around it. I remember when the Sex Pistols were touring the U.S. in ‘78, I was barely 16, and it was on the TV national news, my mom said, “I don’t care WHAT you do, just don’t get mixed up in that punk rock.” Heh, heh. I heard that album and was blown away, instant fan.

How/when did you meet Mike Conley?

Mike was an instigator. He was a few years older than me, really scrappy with a lot of street smarts (which I never had). He was the guy you wanted by your side in a fight. He was always scheming, thinking, and bringing people together. He was industrious. He became a great songwriter and musician through sheer force of will. I was 18, out of high school and in the process of dropping out of my first semester of college. Paul (M.I.A. bassist) and I were in a band together that was loud and loose, somewhere in between rock and punk, and we rented a room over an office building in a real seedy part of town. Other bands rented rooms there too. One evening we were practicing and heard a knock, it was Mike, he wanted to find out who it was that had the coolest sounding amp in town (it was my 77 Marshall JMP 100w half stack, crunchy and louder than shit). He invited me over to hear his band, The Swell. They had gone all out decorating their rehearsal space, painting a floor-to-ceiling Union Jack on one wall, and hanging cool fliers and posters everywhere. That alone made a big first impression. Mike played bass, Chris Moon (who was in the very first Vegas punk band, Bad Habits, with Vegas legend Eric Hill) was on drums, Todd Sampson was on vocals (Todd looked just like Johnny Rotten, and was pretty menacing for a 16-year-old kid), and a guy named Jim on guitar. They were looking to replace him, or at least his amp. So Mike asked if I would sit in one night. It was really fun, I was hooked. I joined when they asked. (Below: Nick in Guerneville, CA / photo by Rhoda Rohnstock)

Tell us about the beginnings of M.I.A. At what point did you leave Vegas for Southern California?

Shortly after I started playing with The Swell, we decided to change our name to M.I.A. We rehearsed a lot and played a party or two, not really much. But being in a punk band and dropping out college made things difficult for me at home. When a musician friend invited me to room with him in San Diego, I took the opportunity and moved there and M.I.A. broke up. I had only been there about two weeks when my friend got an offer to play in a band somewhere up in LA, so I ended up being poor and alone in San Diego. A few miserable months later I got a call from Mike – he and Chris had moved to Newport Beach, and he said, “Hey, why don’t you come live with us.” So I did. We started going to the Cuckoo’s Nest whenever we could and up to LA for some big shows, and we started playing again, only Todd was still 16 and couldn’t move out from Vegas. We tried out some singers (Mike was still on bass) when finally Mike said he would sing and we’d look for a bass player. I called Paul, I knew he was a great bass player and musician, and convinced him to move to OC with us, and that was the band that recorded Last Rites. This all happened within about 6 months of my moving from Vegas, and really it turned out great because I don’t think as a band we would’ve ever moved to California together, we had never talked about it, though Chris says he and Mike did. The OC and LA scenes down there were so influential and I feel lucky to have been a part of them, as well as part of the nascent Las Vegas scene.

Anything notable happen during the recording of any of your records? Do you still listen to them these days?

Our first demo was made in 1981 with a $300 donation from friends. We wanted to record something that maybe Rodney Bingenheimer might play on his Rodney on the ROQ show, you know, decent sound quality. We walked into a local studio at the beach, JEL, and said we wanted to record 9 songs and walk out with a finished tape. Bill Trousdale was the engineer, he said, “no way, you might get two.” So using eight tracks we blasted through nine songs, and mixed seven before we ran out of money (if you listen too carefully you can tell that the last two songs on Last Rites were mixed by someone else). We played it for a friend, Bad Otis Link, and he said he could get us a show in Reno. So we got a show in Reno with 7 Seconds and The Wrecks! How lucky is that? From that show our demo tape wound up in the hands of folks at Maximum Rock n Roll, Bomp and Smoke 7, and suddenly we were on records.

Murder In A Foreign Place was made in the same studio with a larger budget (plus a new drummer, Larry Pearson, that Mike recruited), and a solid record deal from Alternative Tentacles, which was cool. It was a distribution deal, which meant that we handled all of the recording, artwork, album cover jacket printing, mastering and album pressing ourselves, and the finished product got drop-shipped to AT for distribution. I did a lot of the footwork myself with our financier, Jon Shines. It was a great learning experience and very true to the DIY ethic of the time. Biafra and AT have always been great to us.

Notes From the Underground took us in a moody direction, I think reflecting some conflict in the band, helped along by the darker post-punk tones of 1985. It has some great songs on it, though, and has us exploring some different sounds with Thom Wilson producing. One of his favorite songs from the session was Write Myself A Letter and he put a little extra time into it, and it turned into a slightly psychedelic jangle. My favorite song from that album is Shadows, one that Mike and I wrote from an idea he had. It was a great live song back in the day and I still love to play it. I’ve been listening to Notes a lot lately because we are working on the reissue, and there is a lot of really great stuff going on there.

Did you do much touring back then? Overseas? I’m guessing you played with every notable So. Cal punk band?

Never made it overseas. We did a lot of small regional tours – you could hit a few cities over a few days, so we’d do Vegas-Phoenix-Tucson-San Diego, or Reno-Sacramento-San Francisco-Santa Cruz-Santa Barbara. That helped us get a decent regional following. Sometimes we would do these regional tours with other bands, like TSOL, Circle Jerks, Angry Samoans or Dead Kennedys. Sometimes we would take our Vegas pals, Subterfuge, or double bill with other great bands like Decry or Mad Parade. I remember watching Ron Emory (TSOL) at soundchecks, I would always try to be there because he would pull out some great Hendrix riffs or blues stuff. His technique was inspiring. Ron has so much depth as a player, he’s one of my heroes. We did another one of these regional tours in Northern California with Dead Kennedys and Butthole Surfers, that was amazing. I was glad we didn’t have to go on after the Butthole Surfers, their show was insane at that time. There were so many great bands back then, and we got to play with many of them. We played a bunch of the big Goldenvoice shows in and around L.A. too.

When Murder in A Foreign Place came out in the spring of 1984 we had friends at Goldenvoice and they were starting to book national tours, so we did a three month summer tour of the US and Canada, booked by Jim Guerinot and Mike Vraney, both legendary guys. Only trouble was, the punk scene was still very young in many areas of the country – sometimes we would pull up to the venue and find it boarded up, or sometimes a whole string of shows would be canceled. We’d have to buy paper city maps and look for phone booths to make calls and hope to catch someone, there was no voicemail. It was a very rough tour, but we had loads of fun and when we came home we were battle-hardened and road tight, we were a kick-ass live band by the end of that tour.

We did another US tour just before recording Notes From the Underground. A tour had been booked for Social Distortion and they had to back out, so it was given to us. It was a winter tour, so it had different challenges, but we hit a lot of cities we hadn’t been to on our first tour. I loved being on tour. M.I.A. did one last national tour supporting After the Fact in 1987. (below photo by Rhoda Rohnstock) 

How did M.I.A. end?

It ended with infighting and disagreement, like bands usually end. Shortly after recording Notes From the Underground things came to a head and I walked away. Mike was angry at me, I was angry at him. But one thing about Mike, any kind of adversity like that just made him try harder. He brought M.I.A. back with a vengeance and made M.I.A.’s 4th album, After the Fact with Chris Moon (the drummer on Last Rites), Mark Arnold and Frank Daly (both would later form the great OC band Big Drill Car). He came to me and asked me to record a guitar part, he said he wanted something noisy and atonal with whammy bar dives like I did in Used to Know Me from the Murder album. I was actually a little annoyed but he insisted. I’m so glad he did – that is what opens the album, and it serves as a kind of meaningful transition from the old band to the new, and to what Mike would go on to do later. A lot of the lyrics on that album are very personal to me because I feel like Mike is singing about us, our conflict, the bitterness, the feelings of betrayal. There is a lot of me on that album even though I didn’t participate in making it, save for that intro. It took me a while to come to terms with it, and now I love it – it is a great album, and Frank and Mark were really good on it, as was Chris. Mike really grew as a songwriter, but he also held a lot of control in the band. After this version of M.I.A. toured, Frank and Mark wanted to be more involved in songwriting, so they left to form Big Drill Car. After M.I.A. Mike made a couple of great bands, Naked Soul and Jigsaw, there are videos online if you search for them.

Tell us about a few of the bands you were in post-M.I.A.  (Arab and the Suburban Turbans?)

Arab and the Suburban Turbans was kind of a way for some of us to explore different musical influences. It had varying membership over the years, but the core was Arab (Love Canal), Jeff Newlin, Bob Gnarly (Plain Wrap), Dallas Don Burnet (Plain Wrap, later Lutefisk), Raggs Adams and me. We played some traditional blues and soul covers, plus we turned some punk into blues and we also had a few stellar originals. We recorded Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown, which was selected for a Flipside Vinyl Fanzine compilation, but the person who owned the publishing had a beef with the record label (not Flipside) and would not allow it. But we played some great shows with the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Thelonius Monster, and we actually got accepted into the Long Beach Blues Festival, quite a mean feat. They were bummed because we ended up being more punk than they imagined and kind of crashed the mellow vibe. We had a great crowd response though!

I was in another band in 1989-90 called Flatbed with Bob Thomson (Big Drill Car) on bass and Miles Gillette (El Groupo Sexo, Fluf) on drums. Kinda grungy, I guess. Those two were the best musicians I have ever played with. I played in several other projects with notable players (Don Burnet, Sean Greaves, Mark Stern, Bad Otis, Chuck Biscuits) but nothing that stuck.

Tell us about the M.I.A. reunion? I’m guessing Mike’s death is still a shock to you all.

Mike’s death was so unexpected, it was a huge shock. He had worked so hard to build a really cool bar in Costa Mesa, the Avalon. He had so many friends, so many people that loved him. He just had that great kind of personality — gregarious, friendly, thoughtful. He helped people, and they were and still are, after nearly ten years, very loyal to him. So his death was a huge loss for many people. I was astonished at the number of people who came to his memorial on the beach, it was amazing. I was standing there dumbfounded when this guy walked up in a suit wearing reflective aviators walked up and said, “Are you Nick Adams?” It was Jello Biafra. Hadn’t seen him in over 20 years, I couldn’t believe he made the effort to be there.

As it turned out, Mike’s girlfriend and kids were left in a bad way financially from his death, so we were approached to do a fundraising reunion. Joe Sib (SideOneDummy Records) helped set it up, and worked with Jim Guerinot (Time Bomb Records) to get Social Distortion on the bill. They played an amazing acoustic set. Also on the bill were Cadillac Tramps, and tributes to two of Mike’s later bands, Jigsaw and Naked Soul. It was a stellar night for sure. As for M.I.A., we had our original Vegas singer Todd Sampson do vocals, supplemented with Kevin Seconds on a few songs and Jello Biafra on a few more. We also got to play a few Dead Kennedys songs, which was unreal! Biafra was so cool, he let us pick the Dead Kennedys songs we wanted to do.

We continued to play a few shows with Todd on vocals, but then he died of heat stroke after a show in Vegas in 2011. That sucked. Now we play as a three piece with me handling most of the vocals, Paul doing a few. It’s actually a good band, and though we can never replace Mike’s energy, voice and creativity, I think that it is the best compromise that stays true to the band. In other words, we’re not trying to replace Mike, we are just trying to stay true to the music and let people hear it. We got a great reception at Punk Rock Bowling in 2016.

..and tying in to the above question, how about the upcoming reissues on Darla? How did that come about? Did you know James?

I’m very excited to get the last two M.I.A. records re-released. They need to be heard! I met James Agren (Darla Records) in the summer of ‘83 or ‘84 I think. We were roommates for a bit at the beach with a mutual friend. A while back he contacted me on social media about the possibility of re-releasing Notes From the Underground and After the Fact. Since I knew him from way back and I could tell he was really professional (plus he was persistent!), I agreed. I’m so glad to have the opportunity to work with James, he has great attention to detail and is treating these two albums with the utmost respect. It’s a very personal relationship, even though we are hundreds of miles away. I can’t say enough good things about James. The remastered tracks (by Mark Alan Miller at Sonelab) sound amazing, exceeding the original releases in my opinion – a lot more depth and nuance, you can hear each instrument with more clarity. And there are some bonus tracks too.

Who are some of your favorite current bands or musicians?

I’m all over the map, and not super current. Back in ‘82 I fell in love with the Birthday Party and Tom Waits (Waits inspired the song Murder In A Foreign Place) and have been a fan ever since. Saw Nick Cave perform last month, it was great. I saw the Damned on their most recent tour – twice! – and that was amazing. Iron and Wine, Black Keys, Jack White, Off!, Paul Westerberg. Things have changed so much in terms of how we get exposed to new music and how it is delivered that it is pretty overwhelming sometimes. Add to that the sheer volume of music that has been long out of print coming back. It’s a great time to be a music listener! But also, with the ubiquity of technology and how quickly information spreads, I wonder if anything like the punk scene we experienced could ever emerge again.

Please tell us about your career as a photographer.

After M.I.A. I went back to school and earned a degree in Anthropology from U.C. Berkeley, graduated in ‘93. I was planning to go to grad school when I got into photography by accident. I had a job at a cabinet shop that I was not cut out for, so I applied at the local newspaper for a menial desk job in the photo department. I was in the right place, right time; within a year I was a full time staff photographer. It was great, I got to shoot every day, learning photography while getting paid for it! Being a photojournalist was interesting and fun, but also very hard and sometimes difficult work. I photographed presidents and senators, but also tragedies, homeless people, city council meetings and kids at the fair. Around 2004 I started my own business, and I’m still doing it – mostly portraits and magazine work nowadays.

Care to tell us your top 10 desert island discs?

In no particular order (and if you asked me next week it would likely be different):

The Damned – Strawberries

Bowie – Hunky Dory

The Germs – (GI)

Stooges – Funhouse

Rolling Stones – Beggar’s Banquet

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

The Birthday Party – Prayers On Fire

Gun Club – Fire of Love

Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground

Roy Orbison – Greatest Hits

Radiohead – Amnesiac

BONUS QUESTION- Do you have a favorite of the M.I.A. records?

Though I love the raw, stripped down sound of Last Rites, and the fan favorite seems to be Murder In A Foreign Place (which I love), right now I would have to go with Notes From the Underground. It’s not as even as Murder, but it has some stellar moments and it moves me.

BONUS QUESTION TWO- Did you ever meet Genocide’s Bobby Ebz? He’s sort of a NJ legend (I’m originally from NJ).

No, we never met any of the Genocide guys. I’d like to!

 

 

 

A DETERMINED RETURN: 6 String Drag

“All you can do is bust your ass to make good music”: With new album Top of the World and a re-release of their Steve Earle-produced masterpiece, High Hat, this seminal Americana band from North Carolina marks another new beginning.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

There’s a certain truth to the saying “timing is everything.” And there’s no more pertinent application to that adage than in the music biz. Being on top of trends, recognizing relevant topics, and tuning in to an audience’s interests and expectations are absolutely essential when it comes to maintaining a viable and prolific career.

Consequently, when North Carolina’s 6 String Drag made their bow and formed in 1993, it seemed an ideal time in terms of fertile possibilities. The boundaries between rock, pop, punk and country were breaking down, and bands like Uncle Tupelo in particular were opening the door in hopes of encouraging that slow but steady transition. 6 String Drag’s archival influences were obvious — Van Morrison, the Replacements, the Stones, the Kinks and George Jones all made the cut — but the rough-hewn sound they crafted was all inclusive, one that could appeal to anyone with a devil- may-care attitude as well as a taste for homegrown sensibilities.

All was well and good, but despite a razor-sharp sound, a contract with Steve Earle’s E-Squared Records, two strong seminal albums (their self-titled 1995 debut and its excellent successor, High Hat, which followed in ’97 and was co-produced by Earle), the band never got the traction they deserved. In late 1998 founders Kenny Roby and Rob Keller went their separate ways in pursuit of their individual careers and the other band members dispersed as well. Roby in particular went on to a prolific solo career, releasing five solo albums — Mercury Blues (1999), Black River Sides (1999), Rather Not Know (2002), The Mercy Filter (2006) and Memories & Birds (2013; reviewed HERE) — but though he garnered his fair share of critical kudos, the absence between albums served to stifle his momentum.

Indeed, timing is the one thing that 6 String Drag always seemed to lack. Although the elements seemed stacked in their favor, their early masterpiece High Hat failed to win them the attention that outside observers reckoned that they had coming.

“I felt like we were changing the world…making Sgt. Pepper,” Keller’s been quoted as saying. “High Hat was not received like Sgt. Pepper. It was critically acclaimed, yet it did not sell as well as was expected.”

Roby has his own reasons for the failure of the band to maintain its forward progress. “I can’t go out and scream ‘give me some love,’” he insists. “There’s no telling what people listen to or why they listen to something, or why things catch hold or don’t catch hold. Or for that matter, what things come together to sell a band. We kind of broke up as we were on the upward mobility slant or whatever you want to call it. By the time 6 String Drag had a gotten a little bit of press recognition and some radio, and the record had come out, we were opening for Son Volt. We were post- the Uncle Tupelo world, but pre- the 2000 Americana explosion, the Avett Brothers and all that. So we were kind of in a bit of a lull.

“Do I wish I could make a little more money doing music? Yeah, probably. And have a quote-unquote career? Yeah, I guess. But you can’t change just one part of your life, ya know.”

Could the fact that the band only put out a pair of albums before breaking up and reforming some 17 years later have had anything to do with it? Maybe, Roby says. “But 6 String Drag at the time wasn’t much of a ‘pop’ band. If you listen to High Hat, it doesn’t sound like total pop music. We could have gotten into a little niche probably. It wasn’t quite as poppy as a Whiskeytown kind of thing, and it wasn’t as super country twangy as a lot of the country bands were at that time. I guess if I had to come up with an answer, I’d have to say that it wasn’t country enough for country and it wasn’t twangy enough for Americana.”

He pauses to reflect on that.

“I thought we were like a Doug Sahm kind of band, although we didn’t sound like Doug Sahm or the Sir Douglas Quintet,” he continues. “We were like a bar band that liked to embrace all kinds of music and the contemporary music of the ‘80s and ‘90s as well. Like a NRBQ or the Band. We have just as much fun playing to an intimate crowd at a corner bar dive with a bunch of people who like our music and sing along as we do on a theater stage. We’d love $30 a head and 2,000 people, but we’re totally comfortable being a bar band, a pub band. That’s when we’re at our best, just being loose and having fun.”

Likewise, he has a hard time coming up with a precise definition of exactly where the band fit in musically at the time. The explanation eludes him even today.

“We were like a lot of bands around that time, bands that took their cues from the Replacements and the Stones and Neil Young and Crazy Horse, kind of on the rootsier side of rock,” he suggests. “A lot of us grew up listening to punk rock and then getting into country rock. It was very similar to bands like Uncle Tupelo. That’s the kind of thing that appealed to us. I go back and listen to it now and of course I still like it. It’s like that slogan ‘three chords and the truth,’ which helped define punk rock. It’s like three chords and the truth for country, or three chords and the truth for blues…although sometimes there’s four. Maybe that was it. It was all the same to us. I never got into the super sophistication of bluegrass. I was never into progressive rock. I was into the Clash and Black Flag and the Bad Brains and Buck Owens and George Jones. It was always pretty simple, but it was also easy enough for me to do. I didn’t know enough about guitars or songwriting to play more complicated music than that. We didn’t think we were doing anything groundbreaking. It’s just these different waves of whatever’s popular. In the 2000s, they came up with this Americana thing. I thought Americana was a description for furniture.”

“We listen to a lot of different kinds of music and of course that rubs off on us,” Keller notes. “We get on this wavelength where we will get into things all at the same time. Recently, it’s been on the pop rockier side, from ‘60s Kinks to ‘70s glam rock, to ‘80s punk, and power pop. We probably would’ve made more records had we stuck together all these years because we’ve always been into this type of music.”

The sound he’s describing comes full circle on the band’s new album, Top of the World, due for release this March on Schoolkids Records. (Full disclosure: Schoolkids is BLURT’s sister business.) It’s their first undertaking since their initial post-breakup reunion, releasing the Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll album in 2015 (reviewed HERE). It also finds Roby and Heller still at the helm, with recent recruits — guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Luis Rodriguez, drummer Dan Davis, and producer Jason Merritt — offering able assistance. The album, clearly the band’s most effusive and assertive offering in terms of a genuinely accessible sound, follows the label’s vinyl (limited edition white vinyl at that) recent re-release of High Hat.

Roby, for one, is clearly excited about the new record’s direction.

“We recorded a lot of it at the same studio where we recorded the last one,” he explains. “But it’s more of a rock and pop record than the last one was. Real quick, real simple, ‘50s and ‘60s style songs. We tracked the record in four days. There were very few overdubs. For the most part the record was done by the time we walked out of the studio, except for the horns and the live vocals. Oddly enough, that’s the way we recorded High Hat, but High Hat was more of a rock record. We did basic tracks just like a basic rock band in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but we spread out the recording a little longer back then to give us time to absorb the songs. Some of it is done the same way, but some things were done differently. It’s got elements of all of our records, but also the contributions that the new guys bring. I can’t always put my finger on what that is, as far as stylistically, but it does sound a little more layered. It’s a little more mature, although I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing for rock ‘n’ roll or Americana.”

As far as the re-release of High Hat is concerned, Keller sees that as a valuable additive that helps underscore the band’s re-emergence. “High Hat has been out of print, so we really needed it in our present catalog,” he says. “Also, it being 20 years makes it a good time to celebrate it. We always want to look forward in creating, so we just coincidentally have this new record at the same time.”

As Keller tells it, he and Roby have always kept in touch over the years, and have even occasionally played some shows together. Still, Roby suggests that the extent of the band’s ongoing efforts has a lot to do with practicality, saying, “We’ll play weekends. We’ve been playing on weekends for the last two years since the last record came out… actually, before the last record came out. We’ve even been doing some weeklong stints. Luis has been with us since we laid down the last album and Danny has been with us for the last year. So we’ve played a good amount of shows. We’ll start playing here and there and get out of the immediate area. But I don’t know how we could go out on the road all the time. With guys in their 40s… I don’t know.

Likewise, Roby is realistic when it comes to measuring the band’s prospects for success this time around. “We still have a lot of fun doing it and the carrot is just to get better at it,” he maintains. “As far as recognition is concerned, you just have to do the best you can as far as making records. You can only do so much. You can work your ass off and nothing will happen. Or you can do nothing, and something will happen. I don’t know what that ‘something’ is.” (Below, “something” happening for the band a couple of months ago.)

Ultimately, Roby remains pragmatic. “Hopefully you have good records,” he muses. “When someone turns around to look at you, hopefully you did your best and you have some good work for them to notice. With us, we haven’t sold a ton of records, so a lot of this resurgence is about looking back and maybe checking out one of the earlier albums or a record from my solo career or whatever. You always want to have good work, because you don’t want people to say, ‘What’s all that bullshit hype about?’

“All you can do is bust your ass to make good music. I’d rather make good music than have more fans. It would be nice to have more fans, but the carrot is still to make the next record the best you can make.”

Read our 2013 interview with Kenny Roby: “Rock, Roll & the Art of Discipline”

BUILD YOUR RECORD COLLECTION: Pt. 1 – The Blues

Time to go fishin’ for the Blues with BLURT, along with our sister retail business, Schoolkids Records of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. Herewith, find some shopping and collecting tips for aficionados and newbies alike—many of the titles mentioned below (and others as well) are available at the Schoolkids site. And tune in next month for our next installment of our new series, “Build Your Record Collection.”

BY FRED MILLS

True story: One afternoon, not all that long ago, I was behind the counter of my job at the time, Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, North Carolina, when a father and son strode purposefully into the store. The father was probably in his late forties or early fifties, the son in his mid-teens. They asked me where our Blues section was, and I duly steered them over to the new vinyl, additionally telling the kid that we also had a lot of new indie rock on the front rack. Because, you know, teenagers.

“I’m just looking for some Blues,” he replied, adding, “I’ve been listening to a lot of my dad’s old vinyl and really getting into the Blues.”

I had the strangest feeling that, right before my eyes, I was witnessing a torch being passed from one generation to the next. I sneaked a glance over at the father, and he had a knowing, proud smile on his face.

A little later, when they brought their purchases up to the counter, he and I easily slipped into an earnest conversation about mutual favorite Blues albums—classic titles like Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud, Taj Mahal’s The Natch’l Blues, Albert King’s Live Wire/Blues Power, Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ In the Moonlight (he was pretty impressed that I had met Wolf’s guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, one time and shared a flask of whiskey with him), pretty much everything by John Mayall, along with a very special personal hero of mine, Rory Gallagher. The kid soaked it all in, tentatively throwing out a few titles of his own. When I told the father that his son had good taste, he just grinned, then explained that, thanks to the younger man pulling his battered turntable out from the basement along with several boxes of his old record collection, his own passion for vinyl had been rekindled.

Who’s passing who the torch here, I thought to myself, grinning back at him.

The Blues is like that—it brings people together, bridges economic, social, and generational gaps, and in general just makes you feel good because what’s being expressed in the sounds and the words are universal emotions. When someone is singing about having lost their one true love, you can feel it in their voice—hell, you can feel it in the weeping guitar lines as well. It’s like having a friend there in front of you, opening up, feeling vulnerable, and just needing to have someone listen to them and understand them.

Patti Smith once told me that a key role artists play is that they offer us a shoulder to lean on when we need the support, and while she wasn’t specifically referring to the Blues, I can’t think of a better description of what the Blues brings to the table.

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As I mentioned, that was a couple of years ago when I was working at Schoolkids, which now has stores in Durham and Chapel Hill in addition to Raleigh. There’s a 40+ years Schoolkids legacy that I’m proud to be a part of—BLURT is also the indie retail chain’s sister business, as we are owned by the same guy, so even though I no longer live in Raleigh I’m in touch with the crew there on a weekly basis—and I have no doubt that a lot of torches similar to the scenario I just outlined have been passed along in the Schoolkids aisles. This month they’re emphasizing the stores’ selections of classic Blues titles, both on LP and CD, so it should prove an excellent opportunity to either discover some of those classics, if you are a relative newbie, or rediscover them, particularly if you’re someone like the father above.

And since I’ve frequently gone on the record as being increasingly militant about people supporting brick-and-mortar stores and not the impersonal likes of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Target, I’m not reluctant here to suggest you pop into a Schoolkids or your own local indie store, and if poor proximity makes that not an option, you can search for the titles on Schoolkidsrecords.com and then link to purchase. My old employer also has a web sales fulfillment deal arranged with national indie distributor AEC, so even if a title you’re looking for isn’t in stock at one of the stores, AEC will ship it to you if they have it—digital downloads as well.

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In 2018, building a Blues collection is not a difficult task because there are enough universally acknowledged classics to give you a solid foundation, even if you’re on a limited budget. In addition, the Blues is remarkably stable and consistent; unlike some genres, EDM for example, you’re not going to have someone reinventing how it’s constructed and/or performed every other week. There will always be intriguing new wrinkles from time to time in the Blues, but even younger artists looking to make a name for themselves tend to approach the genre with respect and reverence while still trying to keep their music fresh-sounding. (Think, for example, of a jam band, which one moment is flying off on a Phish-inspired cosmic tangent, and the next plowing into a down ‘n’ dirty Blues groove as taught to them by the Allman Brothers.)

I could go on for hours about my favorite Blues records, but for the sake of sanity, here’s just a select few. Don’t think I’m offering my version of Blues For Dummies, however—there are plenty of well-documented reasons for why all of these are considered timeless classics.

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Howlin’ Wolf is probably my favorite old-school Blues artist, having been a constant presence on the scene starting in the late ‘50s until his death in 1976, and his impact upon the artform continues to be felt to the present day. His 1966 album The Real Folk Blues was originally issued by legendary Chicago label Chess Records as part of their album series of the same name, which also featured Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Everything in the series is essential, with Wolf’s contributions (including More Real Folk Blues) musical templates for Chicago-style Blues at its most primal—it’s downright hypnotic when Wolf and his band, which included the brilliant guitarist Hubert Sumlin mentioned above, slip into one of their signature low-slung grooves.

Wolf’s vocals should be singled out as well, a raspy-yet-tuneful growl/moan that is impossible to mistake; put into a larger cultural context, there would be no Captain Beefheart and no Tom Waits had Wolf not come before them.

Hold that thought: Without Robert Johnson, the most important bluesman ever, the Blues would not have unfolded and evolved the way it did. All paths lead back to Johnson. Born in 1911, he’s the guy from whom all those stories about bluesmen going down to the crossroads in Mississippi (to sell their soul to the devil in exchange for success, natch) are derived. Relatively speaking, he only recorded a handful of sides, but those sides, the core songs originally collected in 1961 long after his death as King of the Delta Blues Singers, exerted an outsized influence on pretty much every serious Blues artist who came after him. You can still hear echoes of “Cross Road Blues,” “32-20 Blues,” “Walkin’ Blues,” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” in contemporary Blues songs, both acoustic (which was how Johnson performed) and electric.

God help the archivist who attempts to list every cover version of a Johnson song. And in the feral, keening howl that is Johnson’s vocal style, one hears the existential agony consistently coursing through all classic Blues music. King… has been reissued countless times over the years, both on vinyl and on CD, including in the mid/late ‘80s as an expanded CD box set that not only introduced Johnson to a broader (and younger) audience, it also played a key role in making box sets commercially viable for the record industry.

Everybody has heard of Muddy Waters, arguably the second most important bluesman ever. There’s not a Blues band on the planet that doesn’t have at least one or two of McKinley Morganfield’s—Muddy’s—songs in their repertoire. My first direct exposure to him came with 1968’s Electric Mud, most likely because it was billed as his “psychedelic album” and at that point a teenage me was soaking in a near-100% diet of psychedelia. It was kind of an experiment on the part of Chess Records to try to get Muddy’s music into the hands of kids like me, with his regular backing band temporarily replaced by the younger musicians of Rotary Connection, and for good measure they even did a kind of electric gospel/soul/psych cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”

And with more traditional Muddy fare like “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and “Mannish Boy” semi-reworked for then-contemporary times, the album is wildly accessible without compromising Muddy’s core vision. While the artist himself was reportedly not enamored of the record, and purist American music critics didn’t take much of a shine to it either, it became the first Muddy album to land on both the Billboard and Cashbox album charts. Further proof of Electric Mud’s staying power? It has been sampled by Cypress Hill, Natas, and Gorillaz, and as Wikipedia informs us, Martin Scorcese’s documentary series The Blues contains scenes of the recording band for Electric Mud performing with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and members of The Roots.

Meanwhile, since we’ve been talking about torches being passed, consider John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, white men from England whose deep appreciation of black American legends led them to bring the Blues to the British marketplace. That singer/harp player Mayall recruited high-profile sidemen like John McVie and Peter Green (who would go on to Fleetwood Mac after their Mayall tenure) and Some Guy Named Eric Clapton, fresh from the Yardbirds, was testimony to his artistic prescience. The 1966 album Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton, which not so coincidentally gave that same Some Guy near-co-billing with Mayall on the cover, has seven of its 12 tracks written by earlier Blues artists—among them, Robert Johnson, Mose Allison, Otis Rush, and Freddie King.

The latter’s “Hideaway” is a textbook example of a Texas-Chicago Blues hybrid, and Clapton’s signature riffing is instantly identifiable to anyone even remotely familiar with his work in Cream and as a solo artist. The album as a whole is a perfect example of how British musicians were able to adapt the Americans’ music and carve out a unique piece of turf in the Blues for themselves.

Which brings us to Rory Gallagher. The fiery Irish guitarist, who passed away, sadly, in 1995, at the age of 47, earned an early rep fronting power trio Taste, which put its own unique spin on electric blues much as Clapton and Cream were doing at the same time in England. Following the group’s breakup in 1970, Gallagher embarked upon a prolific solo career, soon adding a keyboard player to round out the guitar-bass-drums ensemble. Yours truly was fortunate enough to see him several times during his heyday, most notably as an unannounced early-a.m. act at the Peachtree Celebration festival in tiny Rockingham, NC, in 1972. Coming on after headliner Alice Cooper had finished, the flannel-shirted guitarist seemed oblivious to the fact that much of the audience had already begun streaming out, and put forth a hi-nrg set that left those of us who stuck around scraping our jaws from the festival grounds.

Check out 1974’s Irish Tour ’74, whose setlist draws extensively from his superb Blueprint and Tattoo studio albums, additionally serving up classic Blues standards from Muddy Waters (“I Wonder Who”), J.B. Hutto (“Too Much Alcohol”), and, on the 40th anniversary box set, Junior Wells (“Messin’ With the Kid”) and Big Bill Broonzy (“Banker’s Blues”). Part of Gallagher’s genius was the way his original material was clearly derived from the Blues but also injected with strong doses of irresistible pop melodies and outright anthemism. Plus, he could play slide guitar like nobody’s business. At least two of the album’s tracks should be on any self-respecting rock ‘n’ roll playlist, “Tattoo’d Lady” and “A Million Miles Away” —the latter a 10-minute tour de force in concert, rife with dynamic shifts and myriad tonal textures all jostling amid a fairly straightforward 12-bar blues chord progression. Irish Tour ’74 makes for a stellar introduction to Gallagher’s oeuvre while also serving as a tutorial on how a lot of white electric bluesmen in the late ‘60s and ‘70s were able to adapt the Blues and make them commercially viable. (Below: Check out a choice live version of “Million Miles Away” from the Rockpalast German TV show in 1979.)

As I already indicated, I could keep going, but maybe I’ll save that for another column. I will, however, leave you with a list of artists well-worth checking out, whether you’re in student mode or simply revisiting old favorites—names like Albert King, BB King, Freddie King (what, no Queens? no Aces?), Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, Leadbelly, Lightning Hopkins, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, KoKo Taylor, Willie Dixon, Albert Collins…

True Story: Albert King passed away in 1992, but I was fortunate enough to interview him in the early ’90s when I was the music editor of an alternative weekly paper. He was scheduled to be headlining a local all-day Blues festival, and for some reason we were able to pull enough strings to land a quickie (like, 12 minutes) phone interview with him for a preview piece in the paper. After some perfunctory comments about The Blues And Its Significance, King and I somehow shifted/devolved into a conversation about, of all things, fishing. I’d heard he was an avid fisher and figured that was a fair topic to broach, so I mentioned to him that I knew a couple of choice spots in the area where one could drop a line, including a pond owned by my family. I harbor no illusions that King eagerly scribbled down my suggestions, but he was gracious enough to take the ball and run with it, talking briefly about why he loved fishing so much. We subsequently turned back to the upcoming event, and soon, sensing my time was about up, I decided to close out with the stock “So, what’s next for you after this?” question.

King paused, gave a little snort, and gave the perfect answer.

“Man, I am tired. I just wanna go fishin’…”

Visit the Schoolkids Records online retail portal to shop for these and many more Blues records, on vinyl, compact disc, and digital. (Format depends on what’s currently in print.)

 

STILL LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER: The Heartbreakers’ Classic LP, Revived

As released on DVD and LP to chronicle a series of 2016 concerts, and more recently celebrated on a 2017 mini-tour, the iconic punk album proves its staying power.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

L.A.M.F., the only studio album by Johnny Thunders’ infamous New Yawk punk ‘n’ roll band the Heartbreakers, turned 40 in 2017, outlasting its driving force by a good quarter of a century, Thunders, a notorious junkie, having passed away in ’91 in New Orleans. In anticipatory celebration, Heartbreakers co-guitarist and torchbearer Walter Lure assembled a dream team of Thunders cohorts and acolytes to perform the album front-to-back in its original Track Records 1977 order for a short residency in mid-November 2016 at the Bowery Electric venue, recording the shows for a proposed album and video. (For a detailed review of the event, along with the Heartbreakers’ backstory, check out journalist/photographer Caryn Rose’s account at Noisey.) The video rendering recently arrived on DVD courtesy Jungle/MVD.

 

Joined by MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer (who played with Thunders in the short-lived Gang War), Blondie/Plimsouls drummer Clem Burke (who came up on the same downtown NYC scene as Thunders) and erstwhile Replacements/Guns ‘N Roses bassist Tommy Stinson (the ‘Mats being one of the few American bands to keep Thunders’ reckless rock ‘n’ roll spirit burning), plus guests, Lure delivers exactly the kind of rock show you’d expect from someone who came up that close to the flame.

The quartet plays like they rehearsed just enough to be on the same page with the songs, but not enough to be anything close to slick. Lure and Stinson share the vocals, with the former keeping to NYC cool and the latter bawling like an out-of-breath animal, while Lure and Kramer faithfully reproduce the original LP’s clashing six-string chaos and Burke calmly makes the case for being the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer alive. The ad hoc band acquits itself nicely on the usual classics like “Chinese Rocks” and “Born to Lose,” with Kramer singing “Let Go” and Burke doing Jerry Nolan’s “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You.” D Generation’s Jesse Malin guests on a feral “I Wanna Be Loved” and a poignant “It’s Not Enough”; Cheetah Chrome romps through “Goin’ Steady”; up-and-coming New York rocker Liza Colby brings soul to “I Love You”; and Chrome and Malin team up on a blazing “Pirate Love.” The whole thing comes clanging to a close with a Kramer-sung “Do You Love Me,” the Heartbreakers’ roaring bash through a Motown classic.

Production values are catch as catch can, with frequent out-of-focus video, a squirrelly mix that favors volume over nuance, a director clearly flying by the seat of his pants, especially in the editing room, and no effort put into maintaining continuity between the three different performances captured in order to compile the film. It makes one wonder if the decision to shoot it was last minute. But you know what? That’s all fine, even appropriate. Johnny Thunders never chased perfection when he could nail the moment, and Lure and company blast through his legacy with a ramshackle joie de vivre that’s more about feel and soul than precision — just like the work of the man to whom it pays tribute.

EDITOR’S NOTE: L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric has also been released as a limited edition (950 copies pressed), colored vinyl collectible, arriving in independent record stores for the annual Record Store Day “Black Friday” event. (The LP appears to not be listed on the Record Store Day website for that Black Friday sale, originally billed as a “RSD Limited Run/Regional Focus Release; but the BLURT braintrust eagerly snapped up copies on Black Friday, and as of this writing it appears to be available online but with only 950 copies in circulation, it probably won’t remain that way for long.)

And bringing things up to the present, the real 40th anniversary-of-L.A.M.F. was celebrated this past November 29 and 30, also at the Bowery Electric, followed by shows in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Solana Beach, and San Francisco, where they wrapped on Dec. 4. The mini-tour featured a slightly different roster of players. Lure, obviously, headed things up, and fellow ground-zero punk Burke was also on hand; they were joined by Mike Ness of Social Distortion on guitar, and Sex Pistols/Rich Kids bassist Glen Matlock. Malin again was a special guest, having helped organize both the 2016 and 2017 shows, turning in spirited vocals on “Pirate Love,” “It’s Not Enough,” and — in the Thunders-centric four-song encore — the iconic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”

Memories, indeed.

 

REVENGE OF THE WRITERS: Blurt’s Best and Worst of 2017

 “Music is peace, love, and faith”: What stood out in the music world for 2017? The folks who work in the trenches here are gonna tell ya. Guarantee: all dialogue reported verbatim. Pictured above: some of our favorites from the year that just ended.

BY THE BLURT CRÜE

It’s like déjà vu all over again once again: For our 2017 year-end wrap-up we summarily yield the podium to the staffers and contributors who detail their personal picks for the year that just ended. Considering what a ghastly experience the year was, with the #metoo movement perhaps the only good thing to come out of it, for many of us, music was our only reliable respite. With more of same highly likely for 2018, here’s hoping the musicians’ community  — clearly in a state of shock for the bulk of the past 12 months — will finally step up and make itself heard. If it happened during the Reagan era, it can certainly happen again.  Note: If you want to contact any member of our staff, their contact emails can be found at our “Contact” page, and if you wish to reach out to any of the other contributors, send us an email and we will be happy to forward it along. —Fred Mills, Blurt Editor

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Also check out our 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 coverage:

Revenge of the Writers: Best and Worst of 2016

Farewell: Music World Passings 2016

Revenge of the Writers: Best and Worst of 2015

Farewell: Music World Passings 2015

2014 In Review: Blurt’s Top 100 Albums

Revenge of the Writers: Best and Worst of 2014

Farewell: Music World Passings 2014

2013 In Review: Blurt’s Top 75 Albums

Revenge of the Writers: Best and Worst of 2013

Farewell: Music World Passings 2013

 2012 In Review: Blurt’s Top 75 Albums

Revenge of the Writers: Best and Worst of 2012

Farewell: Music World Passings of 2012

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JENNIFER KELLY
Senior Editor / World Music Ed. / Northeast Bureau

Top 10 of 2017:

1)      Michael Chapman — 50 (Paradise of Bachelors)
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2)      Group Doueh & Cheveu — Dakhla Sahara Session (Born Bad)

3)      Mark Lanegan Band — Gargoyle (Heavenly)

4)      Xetas — The Tower (12XU)

5)      Jack Cooper — Sandgrown (Trouble in Mind)

6)      Sleaford Mods — English Tapas (Rough Trade)

7)      James Elkington—Wintres Woma (Paradise of Bachelors)

8)      Seamus Fogarty—The Curious Hand (Domino)

9)      Protomartyr—Relatives in Descent (Domino)

10)   Feedtime—Gas (In the Red)

Love These Too:

Julie Byrne—Not Even Happiness (BaDaBing)

Joseph Childress—Rebirths (Empty Cellar)

Heron Oblivion—The Chapel (self-release)

Tinariwen—Elwan (Anti-)

Stef Chura — Messes (Urinal Cake)

Feral Ohms—S-T (Silver Current)

Pere Ubu—20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (Cherry Red)

Upper Wilds—Upper Wilds (Thrill Jockey)

Kelley Stoltz — Que Aura (Castle Face)

The Clientele—The Age of Miracles (Merge)

Algiers — The Underside of Power (Matador)

Avey Tare — Eucalyptus (Domino)

Golden Boys—Better than Good Times (12XU)

Gunn-Truscinski Duo—Bay Head (Three-Lobed)

Contributors—ST (Monofonus Press)

Mark Eitzel—Hey Mr. Ferryman (Merge)

Reissues/Comps/Archival:

The Fall—A Sides and B Sides (Cherry Red)

Jackie Shane—Any Other Way (Numero Group)

V/A—Ote Maloya (Strut)

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MICHAEL TOLAND

Senior Editor / Metal/Rock ‘n’ Roll Ed. / Southwest Bureau

 

Top 30 of 2017

  1. Matthew Edwards & the Unfortunates – Folklore (Gare du Nord)
  1. Steven Wilson – To the Bone (Caroline)
  2. Craig Taborn – Daylight Ghosts (ECM)
  3. Sweet Pea Atkinson – Get What You Deserve (Blue Note)
  4. Tommy Howard – Storybook (Destiny)
  5. The Blue Note All-Stars – Our Point of View (Blue Note)
  6. Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Here (ECM)
  7. Charles Lloyd New Quartet – Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
  8. Various Artists – Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal (Rune Grammafon)
  9. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti-)
  10. The Church – Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Unorthodox)
  11. Jim Jones & the Righteous Mind – Super Natural (Masonic/Hound Gawd!)
  12. Chris Potter – The Dreamer is the Dream (ECM)
  13. Ambrose Akinmusire – A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)
  14. John Abercrombie Quartet – Up and Coming (ECM)
  15. Ralph Towner – My Foolish Heart (ECM)
  16. The Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti-)
  17. Ex Eye – s/t (Relapse)
  18. Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim (Mute)
  19. Randy Reynolds – Positiveness (Rock Tumbler)
  20. Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness (Caroline/Fiction)
  21. James McCann and the New Vindictives – Gotta Lotta Move – Boom! (Off the Hip)
  22. Raoul Björkenheim/eCsTaSy – Doors of Perception (Cuneiform)
  23. Ingebrigt Häker Flaten’s Time Machine – Hong Kong Cab (Self Sabotage)
  24. Sweet Apple – Sing the Night in Sorrow (Tee Pee)
  25. Myrkur – Mareridt (Relapse)
  26. Michael Chapman – 50 (Paradise of Bachelors)
  27. Jaco Pastorius – Truth, Liberty & Soul (Resonance)
  28. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord)
  29. King Crimson – Live in Chicago (Panegyric/Inner Knot)

Concerts:

  1. Herbie Hancock, Austin City Limits taping, ACL Live at the Moody Theater, Austin, TX
  2. King Crimson, Bass Concert Hall, Austin, TX
  3. Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison, McCullough Theater, Austin, TX
  4. Liberty Ellman, Carousel Lounge, Austin, TX
  5. Carmelo Torres and Los Toscos, Sonic Transmissions Festival, Kick Butt Coffee, Austin, TX
  6. The Young Mothers, Hotel Vegas, Austin, TX
  7. Japandroids, Emo’s, Austin, TX
  8. Songhoy Blues, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX
  9. Pere Ubu, Austin Jukebox, Beerland, Austin, TX
  10. Shabaka Hutchings, SXSW, The Main II, Austin, TX
  11. The Church, 3Ten, Austin, TX
  12. Tom Carter, No Idea Festival, Museum of Human Achievement, Austin, TX
  13. Megafauna, Cheer Up Charlie’s, Austin, TX
  14. Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, Scottish Rite Theater, Austin, TX
  15. Lemon Twigs, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX

 

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LEE ZIMMERMAN

Senior Editor / Twang Ed. / Cruise Director

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
Ha Ha Tonka — Heart Shaped Mountain
Robert Plant – Carry Fire
Kasey Chambers – Dragonfly
Ronnie Faust – Last of the True
Successful Failures – Ichor of Nettle
Deep Dark Woods – Yarrow
Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer – Not Dark Yet
Chris Hillman – Bidin’ My Time
Jesse Terry – Stargazers
Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild
Paul Kelly – Life if Fine
Parson Redheads – Blurred Harmony
Hiss Golden Messenger – Hallelujah
Josh Ritter – Gathering
Scott Miller – Ladies Auxiliary
Fallon Cush – Morning
Langhorne Slim – Long at Last
Slaid Cleaves – Ghost on the Car Radio
A.J. Croce – Just Like Medicine
Strawbs – The Ferryman’s Curse

 

Live Concerts:

Dawes

Sam Bush

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt

Old Crow Medicine SHow

Fairport Convention

 

Biggest Gripe:

The same as in years past — the continuing elimination of physical product  — and the exploitation of vinyl lovers via unreasonably high prices!

 

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JOHN B. MOORE

Senior Editor / Punk Ed. / Brotherly Love Bureau

 

Top 10 Albums

 

  • Cock Sparrer– Forever (Pirate Press Records)
  • Dave Hause – Bury Me in Philly (Rise Records)
  • Curse Of Lono – Severed (Submarine Cast Records)
  • The Mavericks – Brand New Day (Mono Mundo Recordings/Thirty Tigers)
  • Nikki Lane – Highway Queen (New West Records)
  • Cory Branan – Adios (Bloodshot Records)
  • Cait Brennan – Third (Omnivore Recordings)
  • The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly (New West Records)
  • Travis Linville -Up Ahead (CEN)
  • Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti- Records)

Reissues/Archival:

  • Stiff Little Fingers – No Going Back (earMusic)
  • The Replacements – For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 (Rhino)
  • Raspberries – Pop Art Live (Omnivore Recordings)
  • The Muffs – Happy Birthday To Me (Omnivore Recordings)
  • Various Artists – Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live (Concord)

Music Books:

  • Lonely Boys: Tales From a Sex Pistol By Steve Jones (Da Capo Press)
  • Hellraisers: A Complete Visual History of Heavy Metal Mayhem by Axl Rosenberg and Chris Krovatin (Race Point Publishing)
  • Henry & Glenn Forever + Ever by Tom Neely & Friends (Microcosm Publishing)
  • Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years By Clinton Heylin (Lesser Gods)
  • Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir By Eddie Wilson (TSSI Publishing)

 

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TIM HINELY
Senior Editor / Zines & 45s Ed. / Mile High Club

My Favorite Records of 2017:

Alvvays- Antiosocialites (Polyvinyl)

The Dream Syndicate- How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti)

The Golden Boys- Better Than Good Times (12XU)

GospelbeacH- Another Summer of Love (Alive)

Rays- S/T (Trouble in Mind)

The Legendary House Cats- Greatest Blips Vol 1 (Used Bin Pop)

Alex Lahey- I Love You Like a Brother (Dead Oceans)

Jillette Johnson- All I Ever See in You is Me (Rounder)

Arts & Leisure- Found Objects (Mystery Lawn0

Pale Lights- The Stars Seemed Brighter (Calico Cat/Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten)

The Courtneys- II (Flying Nun)

Scupper- Some Gauls (Blue Cheese Toothpaste)

The Luxembourg Signal – Blue Field (Shelflife)

Speaking Suns- Range (Anyway)

Rat Columns- Candle Power (Upset the Rhythm)

15 More….

Antietam- Intimations of Immortality (Motorific Sounds)

Fred Thomas- Changer (Polyvinyl)

USA/Mexico- Laredo (12XU)

Last Leaves- Other Towns Than Ours (Matinee)

The Improbables- Object to be Destroyed (Hidden Volume)

Sacred Paws- Strike a Match (Rock Action)

A Certain Smile- Fits & Starts (self released)

Kosmonaut- Misfits on the Horizon (Porterfield Recording Company)

The Granite Shore- Suspended Second (Occultation)

Land of Talk- Life After Youth (Saddle Creek)

Beach Fossils- Somersault (Bayonet)

Star Tropics- Lost World (Shelflife)

Whitney Rose- Rule 62 (Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers )

Bye Bye Blackbirds—Take Out the Poison (Bye Bye Blackbirds Recordings)

The Clientele- Music for the Age of Miracles (Merge)

Wait….15 more:

Eyelids- Or (Jealous Butcher)

The Feelies- In Between (Bar None)

Slowdive- S/T (Dead Oceans)

The Side Eyes- So Sick (In the Red)

Magnetic Fields- 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch)

Rose Elinor Dougall- Stellular (Vermillion)

The Yellow Melodies- Life (The Beautiful Music)

The Jet Age- At the End of the World (Sonic Boomerang)

Tripwire- Cold Gas Giants (self released)

The Proper Ornaments- Foxhole (Slumberland)

The Stevens- Good (Chapter Music)

David West with Teardrops- Cherry on Willow (Tough love)

Rose Elinor Dougall- Stellular (Vermillion

Girl Ray- Earl Grey (Moshi Moshi)

Metz- Strange Peace (Sub Pop)

Other very good ones….

Fake Laugh- S/T  (Headcount)

New Pornographers- Whiteout Conditions (Concord)

Mark Eitzel- Hey, Mr. Ferryman (Merge)

The Hellenes- I Love You All the Animals (Self Released)

Plax – Clean Feeling (Super Secret Records)

TSOL- The Trigger Complex (Rise Records)

Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band- Adios Senor Pussycat (Violette records)

Priests- Nothing Feels Natural  (Sister Polygon)

Rich McCulley- Out Along the Edges (self released)

Guided by Voices- How Do You Spell Heaven (GBV Inc)

These folks also released records I enjoyed in 2017 as well:  Bash & Pop, Richard X. Heyman, Ephrata, Church Girls, Flamin Groovies, Jon Langford, , Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Passengers, Quin Galavais, Lisa Said, The Telescopes, The Legends, Lost Balloons, Chastity Belt, School Damage, WV White, Fazerdaze, Fire in the Radio, The Bingers, Heather Trost, Xetas, The Rallies, Brent Cash , Lucy Dacus, etc .etc.

Archival:

U- Men- S/T (Sub Pop)

The Wild Poppies- Heroine- Complete Collection 1986-1989 (Omnian Music Group)

The Creation- Action Painting (The Numero Group)

V/A- C88 (Cherry red)

Look Blue Go Purple- Bewitched (Flying Nun)

The Orchids- 30 Year Retrospective (Cherry Red)

Three Wishes- Aberdeen, The June Brides, 14 Iced bears- The Part Time Punks Sessions (Used Bin Pop)

Aberdeen- What Do I Wish for Now: Singles Collection 1994-2004 (Used Bin Pop)

Duane Eddy- Guitar Star (Real Gone Music)

V/A- The Complete Loma Singles Collection (Real Gone Music)

Cheap Trick- The Epic Archive- Vol 1 (1975-1979 (Real Gone Music)

V/A- Honeybeat: Groovy 60’s Girl Pop  (Real Gone Music)

The Sneetches- Form of Play: A Retrospective (Real Gone Music)

Aberdeen- Grey Skies Don’t Last Extras 1992-2012  (Used Bin Pop)

Armstrong- Fragments and Curiosities- the 4-track Sessions (The Beautiful Music)

Reissues:

M.I.A.- After the Fact (Darla)

M.I.A.- Notes From  the Underground (Darla)

The Terminals- Uncoffined (Hozac)

Buffalo Tom- Let Me Come Over (Beggars Banquet)

Helium- Ends With And (Matador)

Afghan Whigs- Congregation (Sub Pop)

Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer- Two of a Kind (Omnivore)

Afghan Whigs- Up In It (Sub Pop)

Mortimer- One Our Way Home (Cherry Red)

Superchunk- S/T (Merge)

The Spinto Band- Nice and Nicely Done (Bar None)

Arthur Alexander- S/T (Omnivore)

Top 10 Eps:

The Paranoid Style- Underworld USA (Bar None)

Stutter Steps- Floored (Blue Arrow Records)

The Luxembourg Signal- Laura Palmer (Shelflife)

Last Leaves- The Hinterland (Matinee)

Rat Fancy- Suck a Lemon (HHBTM)

Even as We Speak- The Black Forest (Emotional Response)

The Persian Leaps- Bicycle Face (Land Ski Records)

Secret Meadow- Same Old Fear (Jigsaw)

The Fireworks-  Dream About You (Shelflife)

Whitney Rose- South Texas Suite (Six Shooter Records)

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FRED MILLS
Blurt Editor / Creative Director / Vinyl Curator

Top 35 Vinyl New Releases of 2017:

Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here (Anti-)
Antibalas – Where the Gods Are in Peace (Daptone; clear vinyl)
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)
Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear (Anti-; clear vinyl)
Tamikrest – Kidal (Glitterbeat)
Goat – Fuzzed In Europe (Rocket; splatter green vinyl)
Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage (Fantasy; red vinyl)
Jon Langford – Four Lost Souls (Bloodshot; clear vinyl)
Coco Hames – Coco Hames (Merge; green vinyl)
The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic; colored vinyl box set limited edition)
Temperance League – Space Aquarium (Like, Wow!; purple vinyl)
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman (Daptone; red vinyl)
Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind – Super Natural (Hound Gawd!)
Jean Caffeine – Sadie Saturday Night (self-released)
Run The Jewels – 3 (Run The Jewels, Inc.)
feedtime – Gas (In The Red; splatter green vinyl)
Game Theory – Supercalifragile (KCM)
Happy Abandon – Facepaint (Schoolkids; splatter multicolor vinyl)
OBNOX –  Niggative Approach (12XU)
Akatombo – Short Fuse (Hand-Held Recordings; grey vinyl w/inserts)
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland (Crumbling Castle; clear vinyl – among many variations)
! ! ! – Shake The Shudder (Warp; clear vinyl)
Trad Gras & Stenar – Tach For Kaffet (Subliminal Sounds)
Ikebe Shakedown – The Way Home (Colemine; clear vinyl)
King Khan – King Khan’s Murder Burgers (Ernest Jenning, blood/white splatter vinyl)
Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun Box (Temporary Residence; 2LP colored vinyl + 12”)
GospelbeacH – Another Summer of Love (Alive Natural Sound; starburst vinyl + 7”)
Curse of Lono – Severed (Submarine Cat)
Pocket Fishrmen – The Greatest Story Ever Told (Saustex; red vinyl)
DJ Krush – Kiseki (Gamma Proforma)
Floating Action – Is it Exquisite? (Baby Gas Mask; random colors + 7”)
JD McPherson – Undivided Heart & Soul (New West; pink vinyl/autographed)
The Yes Masters – The Number 6 is In Red (No Threes; clear vinyl)
Tunbunny – PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr. (Happy Happy Birthday To Me)
The Ape – Give In (Bang!)

Other Awesome Titles of 2017:

Wire – Silver/Lead (Pink Flag)
Travis Meadows – First Cigarette (Blaster)
Windbreakers – Terminal expanded reissue (Mark)
Flamin’ Groovies – Plastic Fantastic (Sonic Kick)
Margo Price – All American Made (Third Man)
Michael Rank – Another Love 3CD (Louds Hymn)
Paint Fumes – If It Ain’t Paint Fumes it Ain’t Worth a Huff (Get Hip)
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN (Aftermath)
The Jet Age – At the End of the World (Sonic Boomerang)
Raspberries – Pop Art Live (Omnivore)
Feelies – In Between (Bar/None)
U2 – Songs of Experience Deluxe Edition (Island)
Otis Taylor – Fantasizing About Being Black (Trance Blues Festival)
Samantha Fish – Chills & Fever (Ruf)
J Hacha De Zola – Antipatico (self-released)
Bert Wray Blues – Gut Bucket Radio (Third Lock)
Sonia Tetlow – Now (Tetlow Music)
Neil Young & Promise of the Real – The Visitor (Reprise)
Big Boi – Boomiverse (Epic)
Russ Tolman – Compass & Map (Lost)
Soul Scratch – Pushing Fire (Colemine)
Jonathan Mudd – Evidence (Major Label Interest

Essential Archival/Reissue Vinyl:

Tim Buckley – Greetings From West Hollywood 2LP (Manifesto_
Fela Kuti – Fela Box 4 Compiled by Erykah Badu 7LP (Knitting Factory)
Dead Moon – What A Way to See the Old Girl Go: Live at the X-Ray Café 1994 (Voodoo Doughnut)
Dream Syndicate – Complete Live at Raji’s 2LP (Run Out Groove; numbered/grey marbled vinyl)
Gary Wrong Group – Gary Wrong Group 2LP (12XU)
Replacements – For Sale: Live at Maxwells 1986 (Rhino)
Mike Watt – “Ring Spiel” Tour ’95 2LP (Columbia/Legacy)
John Trudell – Aka Grafitti Man (Inside)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Lovely Creatures 3LP (Mute)
Hy Maya –The Mysticism of Sounds & Cosmic Language (Smog Veil; blue vinyl)
Husker Du – Savage Young Du 4LP Box (Numero Group + 7”)
Scientists – A Place Called Bad 4LP Box (Numero Group + 7”)
Ramones – Rocket to Russia (Sire/Rhino; 3CD + 40th anniversary LP)
Tim Buckley – Greetings From West Hollywood (Manifesto)
Angel Olsen – Phases (Jagjaguwar; green vinyl)
Echo & the Bunnymen – It’s All Live Now (Run Out Groove; colored vinyl)
Schwartz-Fox Blues Crusade – Sunday Morning Revival (Smog Veil; yellow colored vinyl)
Eric Ambel – Live @ Livestock 2016 (Roscoe Live: Vol. 1) (Lakeside Lounge)
Little Wings – Light Green Leaves (Gnome Live; numbered/green vinyl)
The Stooges – Highlights From the Fun House Sessions (Run Out Groove; colored vinyl)
Judee Sill – Heart Food (Intervention; 2LP/45rpm audiophile)
Lyman Woodard Organization – Saturday Night Special 2LP (Bbe)
The Diodes – The Diodes Box: The Diodes/Released/Action Reaction/Rarities (colored vinyl)
Various Artists –
Oister (Dwight Twilley/Phil Seymour) – 1973-1974 TEAC Tapes (HoZac Arhival)
Latyrx – The Album (Quannum Projects; colored vinyl + 7”)
Keith Secola – Circle (Don Giovanni)
U-Men – U-Men 3LP Box (Sub Pop)
The Wedding Present – George Best (Happy Happy Birthday to Me; red vinyl w/silk-screened sleeve)
Flat Duo Jets – Wild Wild Love 2LP/10” Box (Daniel 13)
Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Blank Generation 40th Anniversary Edition 2CD (Sire)

EPs/Singles/Tracks:

Pylon – Part Time Punks Session 12” (Chunklet; clear vinyl)
Peter Holsapple – “Don’t Mention The War” 7” (Hawthorne Curve)
Schizophonics – Ooga Booga 10” EP (Pig Baby)
Black Helicopter – Everything Is Forever 12” EP (Limited Appeal; red vinyl + wood insert)
Coathangers – Parasite 12” EP (Suicide Squeeze; marble green vinyl)
Jamie and Steve – Sub Textural CD EP (Loaded Goat)
Henry Owings – Micro-Impressions Volume One 7” (Chunklet)

 

Most Anticipated Album of 2018:

Calexico (January; Anti-)
(Hon. Mention: Since I did the band’s bio, I may have a conflict of interest in listing this, but fuck, it’s a killer album: 6 String Drag – Top Of the World (March;  on our sister business Schoolkids Records)

Top 10 Music Books of 2017:

1967: A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love, by Harvey Kubernik (Sterling Publishing)
Everything is Combustible, by Richard Lloyd (Beech Hill Publishing)
Dead Boys 1977: The Lost Photographs of Dave Treat, by Dave Treat (Signature Books)
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives Volume Two: Punk Rockers, by Rev. Keith A Gordon (Excitable Press)
Spent Saints & Other Stories, by Brian Jabas Smith (The Ridgeway Press)
Visual Abuse: Jim Blanchard’s Graphic Art 1982-2002, by Jim Blanchard (Fantagraphics)
Jimi Hendrix: The Illustrated Story, by Gillian G. Gaar (Voyageur Press)
Untitled (The Freak Scene Dream Trilogy Vol. 3), by Michael Goldberg (Neumu Press)
Lonely Boy: Tales From a Sex Pistol, by Steve Jones (Da Capo)
All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music, by Michael Corcoran (University of North Texas Press)

 Biggest Losses:

Tom Petty, Oct. 2
Tommy Keene, Nov. 22
Holger Czukay (Can), Sept. 5
Jaki Liebezeit (Can), Jan. 22
Fred Cole (Dead Moon), Nov. 9
Col. Bruce Hampton, May 1
Jessi Zazu (Those Darlins), Sept. 12
Pat DiNizio (Smithereens), Dec. 12
Charles Bradley, Sept. 23
Grant Hart, Sept. 13
Larry Ray (Outrageous Cherry), Oct. 24
Gord Downie (Tragically Hip). Oct. 17
Glen Campbell, Aug. 8
Gregg Allman, May 27
John Abercrombie, Aug. 22
Chuck Berry, March 18

Complete This Sentence: 2017 was a ghastly year that I would just like to forget because____________________________.  Oh, be serious, there is only one answer to that. It starts with the letter “T”.

Complete This Sentence: The one saving grace of 2017 was _________________. #metoo

 

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STEVEN ROSEN
Contributing Editor / Big Ears Ed.

Top 10 Albums (alphabetical order):

Bedouine, (no album title), (Spacebomb)

Foxygen, Hang, (Jagjaguwar)

Diamanda Galas, All the Way, (Intravenal Sound Operations)

Curtis Harding, Face Your Fear, (Anti-)

Roscoe Mitchell, Bells for the South Side (ECM)

The National, Sleep Well Beast (4AD)

Open Mike Eagle, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, (Mello Music Group)

Peter Perrett, How the West Was Won (Domino_

Shilpa Ray, Door Girl (Northern Spy)

Leif Vollebekk, Twin Solitude, (Secret City)

Best Classical:

Gregory Spears, Fellow Travelers (Fanfare Cincinnati) note: a new opera

Five More Favorites:

Don Bryant, Don’t Give Up on Love (Fat Possum)

Dream Syndicate, How Did I Find Myself Here?, Anti-

The Feelies, In Between (Bar/None)

Little Steven, Soulfire (UMe)

Pere Ubu, 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (Cherry Red)

Best Cover Version:

Puddles Pity Party, Nick Cave’s Ship Song

Best Live Show:

Pere Ubu/Johnny Dowd, Woodward Theater, Cincinnati, Nov. 21.

 

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John Schacht
Contributing Editor / Prof. of Numerology

Top 15 of 2017:

  1. Do Make Say Think/Stubborn Persistent Illusions
  2. Mo Troper/Exposure & Response
  3. The War On Drugs/A Deeper Understanding
  4. Floating Action/Is it Exquisite?
  5. Marisa Anderson/Traditional and Public Domain Songs
  6. The New Year/Snow
  7. Waxahatchee/Out In the Storm
  8. Mount Kimbie/Love What Survives
  9. Moses Somney/Aromanticism
  10. Bash & Pop/Anything Could Happen
  11. Jaimie Branch/Fly Or Die
  12. The Clientele/Music for the Age of Miracles
  13. Watter/History of the Future
  14. Slowdive/Slowdive
  15. Saltland/A Common Truth

Reissues & “Other”:

  1. Acetone/1992-2001
  2. Dion/ Kickin’ Child: The Lost Album 1965
  3. The Replacements For Sale/ Live @ Maxwell’s 1986
  4. Thelonious Monk/Les Liasons Dangereuses 1960
  5. The Creation/Action Painting
  6. Various Artists/Midcentury Sounds: Deep Cuts from the Desert
  7. Jackie Shane/Any Other Way
  8. Alice Coltrane/World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  9. Wilco/A.M.
  10. Helium/Ends With And

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JONATHAN LEVITT

Contributing Editor / Culture Ed.

Top 10 of 2017:

  1. White Manna- Bleeding Eyes (Cardinal Fuzz)
  2. Alice Coltrane- World Spirituality Classics(Luaka Bop)
  3. Lingua Ignota- All Bitches Die (self released)
  4. Japandroids- Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti)
  5. Slowdive –Slowdive (Dead Oceans)
  6. Les Amazones d’Afrique- Republique Amazone (Real World)
  7. Rationale- Rationale (Warner)
  8. Stefan Schyga (Stefan)- End of the Drought (Innovative Strings)
  9. Number Three Combo- Resurfacing (Slowburn)
  10. Fever Ray-Plunge (Rabid Records)

 

Worst album of the year:
The Darkness- Pinewood Smile (Cooking Vinyl)

Villain of the year:
Donald John Trump

Worst thing about American TV:
Pharma ads

Hardest star deaths to stomach:
Tom Petty

Event or person that overstayed its welcome:
Donald John Trump

Most overrated movie of the year:
Wonder Woman

 

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JASON GROSS

Staff Writer / Perfect Sound Engineer

 

Top 10 of 2017:

– Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 3

– Sleater-Kinney Live in Paris

– Miguel War & Leisure

– Migos Culture

– Cleric Resurrection

– The Courtneys II

– Timid Boy This is Hardgroove

– The Regrettes Feel Your Feelings Fool!

– Patrick Gallois Cimarosa: Overtures, Vol. 5

– Rhomb Global Patterns Part Two

 

Top 10 Reissues/Archival:

– Chuck Berry The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs 1955-61

– Thelonious Monk Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

– Delaney and Bonnie Motel Shot

– Grateful Dead Cornell 5/8/77

– Camera Obscura Teenager

– Dion Kickin’ Child- The Lost Album 1965

– Various Artists The Stars of Modern- California Soul Classics

– Mississippi John Hurt Live At Oberlin College

– Can The Singles

– Young Fathers Tape One/Tape Two

 

Top 10 Singles/Tracks:

– Ace Tee “Bist du down?”

– Bell Biv DeVoe “Find A Way”

– Chance the Rapper “First World Problems”

– Slowdive “Star Roving”

– Denzel Curry “Knotty Head [feat. Rick Ross]”

– Nnamdi Ogbonnaya “let gO Of my egO”

– Zuzu “What You Want”

– Cende “What I Want”

– Eminem “The Storm”

– TEN FÉ “Twist Your Arm (Lindstrøm And Prins Thomas Remix)”

 

Top 10 Concerts:

– Cindy Wilson/Kaki King/Amy Rigby- Bell House, Brooklyn, December 2017

– Heaven 17- Highline Ballroom, NYC, September 2017

– Dave Chappelle/Chance the Rapper/Mo Amer/Hannibal Buress/Jon Stewart/John Mayer – Radio City Music Hall, NYC, August 2017

– Eric B. & Rakim- Apollo, NYC, July 2017

– DVK, Icepick- Burdock, Toronto, June 2017

– Meat Puppets, Mike Watt, Grant Hart- Brooklyn Bowl, NYC, May 2017

– Beyond the Clouds: Ambient Excursions – RBMA NYC, Bogart House, Brooklyn, April 2017

– Rumjacks- Rockwood Music Hall, NYC, April 2017

– Pussy Riot- Speakeasy, Austin, March 2017

– Globalfest- Webster Hall, NYC, January 2017

 

Videos:

M.I.A. “P.O.W.A.”

Jauna Molina “Lentísimo halo”

Oddisee  “You Grew Up”

Wadada Leo Smith “Awakening Emmitt Till”

Kamasi Washington “Truth”

 

Music DVDs/Films:

Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

Long Strange Trip (Grateful Dead)

Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows

L7: Pretend We’re Dead

 

Music Books:

Elaine M. Hayes Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan

Jimmy McDonough Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green

Rob Sheffield Dreaming the Beatles

Richie Unterberger Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Ultimate Illustrated History

Loudon Wainwright III Liner Notes

 

Best label:

Bandcamp

 

Most anticipated album of 2018:

Wei Zhongle The Operators

 

Notable deaths:

Chuck & Fats, American democracy

 

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ERIC THOM

Staff Writer / Northern Mounties Bureau

Top 10 of 2017:
1. Steel Woods – Straw in the Wind (Thirty Tigers)

  1. Bill Scorzari – Through These Waves (Independent)
  2. Jesse Terry – Stargazer (Jackson Beach Records)
  3. Tucci – Olivia (Hideaway Music)
  4. Peter Parcek – Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (Lightnin’ Records)
  5. Kat Goldman – Workingman’s Blues (Independent)
  6. Johnny Rawls – Waiting for the Train (Catfood Records)
  7. Danny Barnes – Stove Up (Wendell Records)
  8. Charlie Parr – Dog
  9. Ben Hunter/Phil Wiggins/Joe Seamons – A Black & Tan Ball (Independent)

Best Concert of 2017:
• Garland Jeffreys – Hugh’s Room Live, May 4th, 2017

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HAL BIENSTOCK
Staff Writer / Office Security

Top 10 of 2017:
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION (Loma Vista)

Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights (Matador)

The National – Sleep Well Beast (4AD)

Big Thief – Capacity (Saddle Creek)

Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti-)

Sampha – Process (Young Turks)

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)

Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Honorable mention:
Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher (Marathon Artists), Girlpool – Powerplant (Anti-), SZA – CTRL (Top Dawg/RCA), Robert Plant – Carry Fire (Nonesuch), Angel Olsen – Phases (Jagjaguwar), Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator (ATO), Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder (Arts & Crafts), Jay Som – Everybody Works (Polyvinyl), Chris Stapleton – From a Room Vol. 1 (Mercury), Laura Marling – Semper Femina (More Alarming)

Reissues:
Replacements – For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 (Rhino)

Jackie Shane – Any Other Way (Numero Group)

Wilco – A.M./Being There Special Edition (Rhino)

John Prine – September ’78 (Oh Boy)

Grateful Dead – RFK Stadium 1989 (Rhino)

Buffalo Tom – Let Me Come Over 25th Anniversary Edition (Beggars Banquet)

 

Best Concerts:
Gary Clark Jr., – 3/17, Austin, TX

Spoon –  3/16, Austin, TX

Afghan Whigs – 9/15, New York, NY

St. Vincent – 12/2, Brooklyn, NY

Japandroids/Cloud Nothings – 10/26, Brooklyn, NY

Angel Olsen – 11/30, New York, NY

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TIFFINI TAYLOR
Staff Writer / Shutterbug Wrangler

Let’s Rock Out a List!
I’m the kind of person that likes lists; I make lists to get things accomplished. Now, with that being said, the end of year list is something I have always had a strange problem with for some reason. I don’t know why. I find them almost not needed — I know there are always quite a few, but still, what is the point? Reflection, that is the reason.

I love rock ‘n’ roll: not only as a great song, but also true of me. I like rock and metal music quite a bit. This is a list that I compiled that spans each month of the year. Every month albums are released, and there are twelve months in a year, so why not use that as a basis for a metal list.

Here it is…

  1. John5 – Season of the Witch (March)
  2. Epica- The Solace System (September)
  3. Mark Slaughter- Half Way There ; Linkin Park- One More Light (both released in May)
  4. Theory of a Deadman- Wake Up Call (October)
  5. Alice Cooper- Paranormal; Prong- Zero Days (both released in July)
  6. Lorna Shore- Fresh Coffin (February)
  7. Asking Alexandria- Asking Alexandria (December)
  8. Jack Russell’s Great White- He Saw it Coming (January)
  9. KMFDM- Hell Yeah (August)
  10. Like Moths to Flames- Dark Divine (November)
  11. He is Legend- Few (April)
  12. Wednesday 13- Condolences (June)

That is the list! There is heavy and not so heavy on the list. No matter what your tastes, these are good albums all released in 2017. A couple of months were hard for me to decide between; for example, the month of July. Alice Cooper released a fantastic album, but so did Prong, therefore both are on my list. May is always an interesting month for metal music; it is considered the loudest month in rock/metal music. The new Linkin Park was released and some people liked it while others didn’t. Personally, I very much like this album; they always come up with the most interesting music to me. Unfortunately, it will never be the same again with Chester Bennington being gone — may he rest in peace. Mark Slaughter released an album in May as well. A quite good album. It may be telling of my age for me to add him to the list, but I don’t care it is a great album.

Music is meant to be enjoyed, and it doesn’t matter the genre. Music is part of good and bad memories for people. It is the sound of happiness, it is the sound of sadness. It has helped me through heartbreak. It has helped me through the best time of my life. Music brings people together in so many ways — too many to count, really. It is that idea that sparks a revolution, it has been the sound of revolution. Music is peace, love, and faith. Music is what makes you move and groove. It is the most wonderful time of the year to celebrate, so why not do it with music?

 

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STEVE WILSON
Staff Writer / Midwest Farm Bureau

Best of 2017:

  1. Algiers – The Underside of Power (Matador)
  2. Peter Perrett – How the West Was Won (Domino)
  3. Migos – Culture (Quality Control Music/Atlantic)
  4. Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti)
  5. Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator (ATO)
  6. Robert Finley – Goin’ Platinum (Easy Eye Sounds/Nonesuch)
  7. Guided by Voices – August by Cake (Guided by Voices)
  8. Jessica Mayfield – Sorry is Gone (ATO)
  9. Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan – Small Town (ECM/DG)
  10. Inheaven – s/t (Pias/U.K.)
  11. Alan Vega – It (Fader)

… Mine goes to eleven. Several of these are reviewed at the SPEW blog. The rest of my Top 50 for 2017 will be listed there also.

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MARK JENKINS
Staff Writer / Pentagon Bureau

(alphabetical by performer)
Top 10 of 2017 (alphabetical order):
Los Campesinos – Sick Scenes (Wichita)
Martin Carr – New Shapes of Life (Tapete)
Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway (Nonesuch)
Girlpool – Powerplant (Anti)
New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions (Collected Works)
Peter Perrett – How the West Was Won (Domino)
Saicobab – Sab Se Purani Bab (Thrill Jockey)
Swimy – Zetsu Zetsu EP (Ariola Japan)
Tinariwen – Elwan (Epitaph)
Shugo Tokumaru – Toss (Polyvinyl)

…and 13 songs…
Amadou & Mariam – “Bofou Safou”
Chain and the Gang – “Experimental Music”
Cornelius – “Sometime/Someplace”
Feelies – “Stay the Course”
Ha Ha Tonka – “Race to the Bottom”
Juliana Hatfield – “When You’re a Star”
Japandroids – “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
Morrissey – “Spent the Day in Bed”
Peter Bjorn & John – “Dominos”
Sneaks – “Hair Slick Back”
Songhoy Blues – “Bamako”
Spoon – “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”
Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa – “Yaikela Ya Ma”

 

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DAVE STEINFELD
Staff Writer / Archive Curator

Top 10 Albums of 2017

  1. Garland Jeffreys — 14 Steps to Harlem  (Luna Park Records)

Veteran singer-songwriter… Proud New Yorker… Uncategorizable artist… Garland Jeffreys is now in Act Three (at least) of a career that has spanned nearly 50 years. And he’s still got the goods, as he proves on 14 Steps. There are a dozen songs on this disc and while they don’t cover a lot of new ground thematically, the album sounds fresh from start (the rocking “When You Call My Name”) to finish (the lovely “Luna Park Love Theme”). In between, Jeffreys waxes nostalgic on the title track and pays homage to his late friend Lou Reed on a cover of “Waiting for the Man.” If you’ve never heard his work, what are you waiting for?

  1. Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked at Me  (P.W. Elverum & Sun)

I have to thank my friend Ryan for turning me on to this album, as I’d been unfamiliar with Phil Elverum AKA Mount Eerie until now. This album was inspired by the death of Elverum’s wife Genevieve last year at the age of just 35. It’s less a song cycle than a series of thoughts, recorded not long after her passing, with minimal accompaniment. On the opening track, “Real Death,” he says, “Death is real. Someone’s there and then they’re not. And it’s not for singing about. It’s not for making into art… I don’t want to learn anything from this. I love you.” Elverum doesn’t look for meaning here as much as he pours out his sadness. If John Lennon had recorded Plastic Ono Band by himself in the Pacific Northwest, A Crow Looked at Me might have been the result.

  1. Cheap Trick — We’re All Alright!  (Big Machine)

Cheap Trick is on a roll these days, releasing three albums in two years! On We’re All Alright, the pride of Rockford, Illinois proves they’re still a force to be reckoned with after 40 years in the game. This album is one of their harder-rocking efforts, with highlights like “She’s Alright” and “Brand New Name on an Old Tattoo.” And Robin Zander reasserts his place as “the man of a thousand voices,” one of rock and roll’s best singers ever.

  1. Harry Styles —  (Sony)

I can’t really tell you anything about One Direction, but this self-titled debut from Harry Styles is a quality piece of mainstream pop. Styles strikes me as the anti-Bieber. For one thing, he can actually sing, as he proves on both rockers (“Kiwi”) and ballads (the smash “Sign of the Times”). For another, he’s not a jerk. If you can get beyond his boy-band past, you may be pleasantly surprised.

  1. The Distractions — Kindly Leave the Stage  (Occultation Recordings)

The Distractions are the stuff of post-punk legend: an obscure band from Manchester, England who made one critically acclaimed album in the early 80s and promptly vanished. The title of their third long-player says it all. Kindly Leave the Stage is their swan song from singer Mike Finney, guitarist/songwriter Steve Perrin and their mates. While the opening track, “A Few Miles More,” is catchy, it isn’t happy. And after that, the album is basically one long farewell. But few bands do sadness as well as The Distractions.

  1. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas — The World of Captain Beefheart (Knitting Factory)

Two NYC legends — singer Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas — pay tribute to another legend, the late abstract blues-rocker Don Van Vliet (better known as Captain Beefheart). On this album of covers, they tackle a dozen Beefheart compositions, from the reflective “My Head is My Only House Unless it Rains” to the jubilant closer, “Tropical Hot Dog Night.” Side note: if there was any justice in the world, Hendryx would be on the cover of Essence and in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…

  1. The Relationship — Clara Obscura  (Rebel Union Recordings)

The Relationship is the side project of Weezer guitarist Brian Bell. Their long-awaited sophomore set, Clara Obscura, may not reinvent the wheel but it’s a solid collection of power pop: 10 well played tunes that offer proof positive than Rivers Cuomo isn’t the only talented songwriter in Weezer.

  1. Casey James — Strip It Down  (self-released)

Not to be confused with the guy who was one half of the ’70s R&B duo Bell & James. This Casey James got his big break on American Idol, where apparently he was marketed as sort of an alt-country heartthrob. On Strip It Down, however, he turns his attention to the blues with excellent results. Highlights range from the rocking title track and “Bulletproof” (where he’s joined by Delbert McClinton) to the more downbeat but equally effective “Different Kind of Love.”

  1. Loch & Key — Slow Fade  (self-released)

Loch & Key are actually Sean Hoffman and Layla Akdogan Hoffman, a husband and wife duo based in southern California. Their sophomore album Slow Fade is a collection of ethereal, enigmatic songs highlighted by Layla’s wispy vocals.

  1. Nick Heyward — Woodland Echoes  (Gladsome Hawk)

Nick Heyward is best known as the frontman of Haircut 100, the English band who hit big in the early ’80s with the great pop song “Love Plus One.” Woodland Echoes, his first solo offering in eons, finds him in a lusher, more rustic context. But he’s still able to craft ace songs, as evidenced by “A Beautiful Morning.”

 

Honorable Mention

  1. The War on Drugs — A Deeper Understanding  (Atlantic)
  2. Paula Cole — Ballads (675 Records)
  3. Gregg Allman — Southern Blood (Rounder Records)
  4. Harts — Smoke Fire Hope Desire (Razor & Tie)
  5. Edward Rogers — TV Generation  (Zip Records)

 

Archival/Reissues 

  1. Gary Crowley’s Punk and New Wave   (Edsel)

A three-CD, 77-song treasure trove compiled by veteran English radio personality Crowley. If you’re enamored of the New Wave era, as I am, you’ll love revisiting some of these tracks and discovering others for the first time. You won’t find the usual first wave UK punks like The Sex Pistols and The Clash here; but you will find important secondary punks (The Vibrators, The Saints, Eater, 999); power pop (Advertising, The Donkees, Tonight); great female-led groups (Altered Images, The Modettes, The Expressos); mod revivalists (The New Hearts, The Really 3rds); and endless other delights.

  1. Artful Dodger — The Complete Columbia Recordings  (Real Gone/Columbia)

Artful Dodger was the great lost American band of the late ’70s. Based in Virginia, they recorded four albums that split the difference between classic rock and power pop. Their best known song, “Wayside,” is still only a cult classic. Dodger had the looks, the hooks and the backing of a major label but somehow failed to make it big. Listen and weep.

  1. The Stax Vinyl 7s box (Stax/Concord)

A handsomely packaged box set of rare vinyl singles that originally came out in the 1970s on the legendary soul label Stax.  Richard Searling, another English DJ, complied this set which includes informative liner notes about artists that range from somewhat well known to hopelessly obscure.

  1. Gerry  Rafferty — United Artistry: The Best of Gerry Rafferty (Varese)

If you think the late Gerry Rafferty was a one-hit wonder, check out this well chosen, one-disc collection. That one big hit, the classic “Baker Street,”is here. But you’ll also find secondary hits (“Get It Right Next Time,” “Home and Dry”), rarities (“Big Change in the Weather”) and the Stealers Wheel standard “Stuck in the Middle with You.”

  1. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — Anthology (Capitol Nashville)

A double-disc set that pulls highlights from the Dirt Band’s 50-year career. Hits, album tracks, rarities, collaborations… They all add up to the definitive anthology from an Americana institution.

 

In Memoriam

Tom Petty

I wouldn’t have thought it possible but we lost even more great musicians in 2017 than we did in 2016. The one that hit me the hardest was Tom Petty. For one thing, it was unexpected. For a second, like so many Americans of a certain age, he and The Heartbreakers’ music really did comprise a big part of the soundtrack of my life. But for a third, there was something special about Petty that went beyond the music. There was a reason he was loved by both the mainstream and the hipsters, by people of all ages, ethnicities and musical stripes. Petty was sort of the conscience of the music business in my eyes: a nice guy who was loved by many but who was also very human and not afraid to call the industry on its bullshit when he had to. His loss is huge.

That said, we lost a lot of other important musicians this year. Some that come to mind are Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman, Pat DiNizio, Maggie Roche, John Wetton, Al Jarreau, Chris Cornell, Malcolm Young and Saxa of The English Beat.

Biggest Disappointment 

Bon Jovi will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next year while The Zombies (among other more deserving acts) were passed over once again. Criminal.

Best New Artist

Celisse Henderson

Prepare to be blown away by this NYC-based artist. She can sing, write and play guitar with a vengeance!

Best Holiday Album

Loose Cattle — Seasonal Affective Disorder  (Low Heat Records)

Best EP

Mary Lambert — Bold  (self-released)

Best Concert

The Pretenders at Terminal 5 in NYC.

Worst Trend

For the second year in a row, too many musicians dying before their time.

Asshole of the Year

14-year-old rapper Bhad Bhabie (nee Danielle Bregoli), a problem child with no talent who nonetheless got signed by Atlantic Records after “Them Heaux” and some of her other “songs” became YouTube hits. Ahmet Ertegun is turning over in his grave right about now.

2017 Release I’m Most Anticipating

Mary Gauthier — Rifles and Rosary Beads

Favorite Piece I Wrote for Blurt

“Whatever Happened to the Next Big Thing?”

 

 

 

 

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS: Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt.4

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, HERE for Pt. 2, and HERE for Pt. 3. Pictured above: Sweet Apple. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

Everything singer/guitarist John Petkovic touches seems to turn to rock, from Death of Samantha to Cobra Verde to his current project Sweet Apple. The latter quartet seems like the culmination of his vision to date, putting postpunk, glitter rock, power pop and old-fashioned hard rock through Petkovic’s own special filter and coming out gold. Sing the Night in Sorrow (Tee Pee), the third LP from Sweet Apple, practically shivers with barely-repressed energy, focusing all of Petkovic’s loves into a potent rush to the rock & roll finish line. The tough “World I’m Gonna Leave You,” epic “Candles in the Sun” and sky-kissing “She Wants to Run” enliven the rock radio of our dreams, while “A Girl and a Gun” – a duet with Rachel Haden – and the album closing “Everybody’s Leaving” reclaim the slow song from power ballad territory beautifully.  If Sweet Apple sounds a little more like Cobra Verde than on previous platters, that’s no surprise, given that CV co-axeman Tim Parnin and former DoS/CV slinger Doug Gillard share six-string duties. Not that it matters, as Sing the Night in Sorrow keeps the rock & roll faith as well as any other record Pektovic’s captained – which is to say as well as any contemporary rock record extant.

Boston seems like it should be a town too intellectual and gentile to kick out any jams, but plenty of balls-out rawk has come from that town. The latest addition to the ranks is Justine & the Unclean, a rip-snorting quartet of glam/punk/power pop/garage rockers that never met a six-string hook they didn’t like. Get Unclean (Rum Bar), the band’s debut, keeps the melodies strong and the attitude sneering on cracking tunes like “Love Got Me Into This Mess,” “Worry Stone” and the self-explanatory “I’m in Love With You, Jackass.” Fans of Nikki & the Corvettes and the NY Loose should just line right up.

Further to the west, Stars in the Night (Rum Bar), the second LP from Milwaukee trio Indonesian Junk, plays up the streetwise side of its protopunk/power pop cocktail. “Turn to Stone,” “Nosferatu” and “I Would Never Treat You Like That” streamline the band’s sound down to its essence, with bash-it-out rhythms pushing unvarnished rock licks and Daniel James’ inelegantly wasted sneer. Meanwhile, L.A. gutter rockers Dr. Boogie drop a deuce with new single “She’s So Tuff”/”Peanut Butter Blues” (Spaghttey Town). The A-side’s streetwise glitter rock contrasts nicely with the B’s Stonesy roar, the connecting thread being Chris P.’s angry rasp and the band’s dedication to riff and groove. The East Coast re-represents with New Yorkers Dirty Fences’ third slab Goodbye Love (Greenway), a dizzily catchy collection of rockers, rollers and rompers that crossbreed Midwestern power pop with Lower East Side street rock. If the feverish opener  “All You Need is a Number” doesn’t do it for ya, the Christine Halladay duet “One More Step” or the delirious pop tune “Blue Screen” just might.


The legendary status of the Raspberries in the power pop community obscures the fact that the Cleveland band was quite popular during their early 70s heyday, regularly lobbing hit singles into the charts. Regardless of standing in the nebulous cloud of the music industry, the original quartet reunited in the first decade of the new millennium to show the young whippersnappers how it was done during the years when the Beatles, the Kinks and the Who were their only role models. Pop Art Live (Omnivore) captures a fiery gig from 2004 in front of a hometown crowd, all four original members included. Eric Carmen’s voice no longer hits the gloriously throat-shredding heights of the band’s glory days, but that’s no crime – age comes to us all, after all – and it otherwise retains its melodic power. The band backs him as if they couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle, making it clear that this reunion was done as much out of love as any financial incentive. Running enthusiastically through the catalog, the ‘berries reminds us just how many gems they’ve polished – not just the hits (“I Wanna Be With You,” “Overnight Sensation,” “Tonight,” a titanic, show-closing “Go All the Way”), but lesser-known, equally fine cuts like “Makin’ It Easy,” “I Can Remember” and “Nobody Knows.” Add in a couple of songs by Raspberries precursors the Choir and some filler from the Beatles catalog and it’s a power pop party. Plus it’s a double live album like the days of old.

Seattle’s Knast falls on the more psychedelic end of power pop on its debut Reckless Soul (Casual Audio Group Ltd). That mainly means some extra echo and tremolo here and there and some obvious affection for the 80s British psych pop scene, but the focus remains squarely on the songs and hooks. Which works out well for the Knast – whether the band is kicking up dust with “Side Effects” and “Sold Out,” getting sardonic with “Fight or Flight” and “Situation Vacant,” or just being a sparkling pop band on “Here and There” and “Time Out of Mind,” it knows just how to handle a catchy melody with taste and verve. The fellow Pacific Northwesterners of Date Night With Brian add a 90s alt.rock flare to the efficiently composed and performed tunes on its self-titled EP (Top Drawer). Five songs in eleven minutes, not a one less than immediately catchy and appealing.

The garage rocking Juliette Seizure and the Tremor Dolls (who win this month’s “Best Band Name” contest) find that revered sweet spot between Nuggets-powered punk and girl gang pop on Seizure Salad (Off the Hip), the Australian sextet’s second record. The blurry production doesn’t suit the band’s harmonies, but these songs are powered by attitude more than expertise, making the grungy “Stink,” the hooky “Imagination” and the rocking “Take What You Want” more representative than attempts to be like an edgier Shangri-La’s. Nice tip of the hat to Dead Moon with “Be My Fred Cole,” by the way. Detroit-to-L.A.’s intrepid Singles have kept on keepin’ on since the early ‘aughts, refusing to die no matter how many years go between albums. Sweet Tooth (Grimy Goods), the trio’s fourth LP, keeps the faith of prior platters, with stripped down power pop hearkening back to the late 70s glory years of the Plimsouls and their brethren/sistren. Stuffed with hooks and youthful verve, “Voodoo,” “If You Want Me, You Can Have Me” and “Masterpiece” effortlessly bring smiles with every turn of the melodies.

Chattanooga’s Mark “Porkchop” Holder clearly has no time to waste, as he’s already followed up his debut album from earlier in 2017 with Death and the Blues (Alive), picking up right where he left off. Though the former member of Black Diamond Heavies is no amateur, Holder is sort of the anti-cracker blues cracker bluesman – he skips displays of six-string virtuosity typical of Clapton/Vaughan acolytes and just goes for the gut. Whether he’s admonishing haters with the heavy “What’s Wrong With Your Mind,” gets a little frightening with the anthemic “Be Righteous” or just rocks like a motherfucker on “Coffin Lid,” Holder and his backup duo burrow right down to the bone. Speaking of blues grunge, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser hit a new high (yes, we see what we did there) with 2015’s Dirty Spliff Blues, and while latest album Claw Machine Wizard (Alive) takes a bit of a step back as the band goes back to being a duo, its raunchy punked-up blues roils unabated. “Lately” boogies, “Burn Em Brew” boils and the title track bashes, powered, as always by guitarist/vocalist Freddy J IV’s filthy slide and backwoods bark.

 

Five Horse Johnson plows much the same furrow as Cruiser, but if the latter uses a rake and a hoe, the musclebound Toledo quintet prefers a backhoe and occasional dynamite to make the earth move. Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone), the band’s eighth album, pulls from the heavy rawness of the early years while keeping the songwriting progression of recent albums, making “Ropes and Chains,” “Cryin’ Shame” and “Daddy Was a Gun” masterclasses in powerhouse blues rock. Best of all, “Hard Times” gets political without being preachy – it’s too busy rocking your soul for that. Berlin’s Travelin Jack (pictured above) weave a carpet out of threads sewn from bluesy grit, hard rock stomp and glam, then dirties that rug up with platform boots on its second album Commencing Countdown (Steamhammer/SPV). Guitarist Floy the Fly drives the tracks with riffs that mix in-your-face theaterics and a soulful feel, but it’s vocalist Alia Spaceface who takes center stage with her leathery howl. Hit up the menacing “Fire,” the anthemic “Time” and the blazing “Keep On Running” and get your 70s rockstar air guitarspew on.

Australian James McCann did time in the original lineup of the Drones and its predecessor Gutterville Splendor Six, so you know the dude’s got chops, attitude and credibility to spare. But even if he didn’t, Gotta Lotta Move – Boom! (Off the Hip), his sixth album and second with his backing combo The New Vindictives, would rule. Like his former bands, McCann has a grounding in the blues, but no reverence for its traditions – he’s more interested in feel than form. For the latter the singer/guitarist goes back to his punk rock youth, bashing out blazing bruisers like  “Lies Start Here,” “Tar On the Lip” and the blast-tastic title track like a man with nothing to lose and a lot to prove. “Sheena Says” boasts the kind of pop hook you’d expect from a song with a girl’s name followed by “Says,” while “Nick’s Song” drags countrified balladry through the bloodsoaked dust of the scene of a shootout. McCann pays tribute to a couple of vets along the way, co-penning, singing and guitaring “I Can Control Your Mind” with Wet Taxis/Sacred Cowboys/solo slinger Penny Ikinger and covering erstwhile Beasts of Bourbon/Johnnys guitarist/songwriter Spencer P. Jones’ “What is Life in Jail.” The real punk blues indeed. (Toland, you had me at “Australian.” I’m in love, L-U.V. — Oz Ed.)

The roots rocking Flat Duo Jets have often been cited as a big influence on Jack White and his perception of what a rock & roll duo could be. People forget, however, that the North Carolina combo was a trio when it made its full-length vinyl debut. The band’s self-titled first album came out in 1990 on former R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt’s short-lived label Dog Gone, and was M.I.A. for years. The double disk Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13) rescues that LP from oblivion, adding the Jets’ 1985 cassette-only EP In Stereo and a plethora of outtakes from the original Flat Duo Jets sessions. The addition of bass grounds singer/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow a bit, reigning in their wild-eyed Reagan-era rockabilly just enough to make it surge with power, like a tightly-coiled spring. Covers of the usual early rock suspects (Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson) sidle up to a handful of originals, but the real surprises come in the outtakes. Besides the rockabilly and R&B, Romweber knocks out the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne,” the ridiculous but challenging “Bumble Bee Boogie” and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s gypsy jazz classic “Minor Swing.” It’s a reminder that Romweber is not, and has never been, a primitive, but a musician of unheralded skill.

 

Tom Heyman’s rock & roll creds are impeccable due to his membership in the long-gone, much-missed Go To Blazes. He’s kept more to a rootsy singer/songwriter vibe since then, but Show Business, Baby (Bohemian Neglect), his fourth album, pulls some of his mojo back in. Like a stripped-down Tom Petty, Heyman lets “Show Business,” “All Ears” and “Baby Let Me In” get loose ‘n’ lively like John Fogerty jamming with the 70s Stones. Boston’s Dirty Truckers get more medieval on roots rock’s ass with latest EP Tiger Stripes (Rum Bar). “Human Contact” and “Feedback” sound like they come from a lost mid-period Replacements album. Leader Tom Baker proved his rock & roll bonafides with this year’s Lookout Tower via his other band the Snakes, and Tiger Stripes upholds the same virtues: melody + energy = coooool.

Any punk knows the SoCal milieu in the early 80s was a thriving thrash & roll metropolis equal to the 70s scenes in New York, Detroit and the U.K. Symbol Six didn’t attain the same repute as peers like the Adolescents, Agent Orange and Black Flag, but when the band resurrected itself a few years ago, it was with the same brute strength and righteous rage as it had thirty years prior. Side Four (Jailhouse), the third album by the group since its revival, is simply a powerhouse, from Phil George’s battering drums to Tony Fate’s wall of guitar crunge to Eric Leach’s Alice Cooperesque howl. It helps that the band has a strong batch of songs to which to apply its mojo – “Cold Blood,” “Really Doesn’t Matter” and the cheeky “Megalomaniac” scan as catchy as crunching. Fate’s acoustic instrumental title tune and tape collage “Mellotron” allow quick chances to breath, but otherwise Side Four breathes fire from beginning to end. Eric Leach (pictured above) also has a solo album out; surprisingly, Mercy Me (self-released) eschews blazing punk & roll for tasteful roots rock. Comparable to the 80s roots rock scare, the songs on Mercy Me benefit from Leach’s evident sincerity, no-bullshit attitude and his remarkable voice, which adapts to this music better than you might think.

If Tales From the Megaplex (Saustex) is any indication, Count Vaseline (Stefan Murphy to his mom) sees no difference between 60s garage rock, 70s New Yawk proto punk and rockabilly. The former Dubliner/current Atlantean simply bangs out his rock ditties, most of less than two minutes long, without a jot of regard for genre, sensibility or public opinion. Plenty of wit and personality, though, from the dry shade of “Hail Hail John Cale” (“Lou Reed died wishing he could be John Cale”), the wishful thinking of “Texas Band” and the cheeky mystery of “What’s Your Name, Where Are You From, What Are You On?” (“I’m on ecstasy and I really want to tell you some jokes”). At eight songs in less than fifteen minutes, it’s a very efficient use of one’s rock & roll time. Pittsburgh’s Carsickness took the eclectic, late 70s punk model of the Clash and pushed into artier directions. 1979-1982 (Get Hip) shows off the quintet’s singleminded focus, mixing fractured rhythms, free jazz histrionics and pure punk power together for a knee-twisting blast of spasmodic fury. The raging “Plastic Beauty” and the seething “Bleeding” demonstrate that “rock” need not compromise for “art.”

Joey Skidmore is one of those rock & roll true believers who’s been knockin’ around the leather jackets/blue jeans underground for years. So many, in fact, that the Missouri rocker compiled a two-disk anthology covering his 37 (!) years of service. Mostly produced by the venerable Lou Whitney, may he rest in peace, Rollin’ With the Punches: The Best of Joey Skidmore (self-released) ranges from exuberant roots rock to raging power rock, all of it united by Skidmore’s rich baritone, love of guitars and enthusiastic songwriting. Divided into a “best of” disk and a “worst of” (i.e. rarities, EP tracks and unreleased stuff from the vaults), Rollin’ With the Punches never flags in its pursuit of a rockin’ good time. Skidmore may be an unknown quantity to many people, but with Nikki Sudden, Eric Ambel and members of Jason & the Scorchers, the Skeletons, the Morells and even Black Oak Arkansas making appearances and a covers pallet that runs the gamut from Chuck Berry to Blue Oyster Cult, you know he’s got the goods.

And speaking of faith-keepers, one of Finland’s greatest musical exports has also decided the time is right for a career-wide retrospective, as Michael Monroe, ex-Hanoi Rocks, rounds up nearly thirty tracks from his life outside of Hanoi for the simply titled The Best (Spinefarm). He divides the disks into the times between stints with Hanoi, with the first disk covering the mid-80s to the early ‘aughts, and the second disk hitting his recent years since Hanoi’s second shutdown in 2009. Though the first disk shows the influence of the time period in which a lot of it was recorded, Monroe’s rock & roll vision – a wickedly hooky blend of glam rock, punk and heartland rock refined in New York, L.A. and London, as well as his home country – stays consistent throughout. Disk two cuts like “Goin’ Down With the Ship,” “The Ballad of the Lower East Side” and “Trick of the Wrist” sound superior to these ears – there’s nothing like the buzz of a late career renaissance, when an artist has both reignited enthusiasm and savvy experience on his side. But that’s not to deny the powerhouses on disk one, including “Where’s the Fire John,” “Life Gets You Dirty” and the immortal classic “Dead, Jail or Rock N Roll.” Hell, the inclusion of four songs from Monroe’s sadly short-lived early 90s act Demolition 23, whose lone album is a bear to find, nearly make this a must-have on their own. Essential.

***

Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:

Carsickness – Bandcamp:

https://gethiprecordings.bandcamp.com/album/1979-1982

Th Dirty Fences – “One More Step”:

https://soundcloud.com/greenwayrecords/one-more-step-ft-christina

The Dirty Truckers – Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tiger-stripes

Five Horse Johnson – Bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/jake-leg-boogie

Tom Heyman – Bandcamp:

htts://tomheyman.bandcamp.com/album/show-business-baby

Mark “Porkchop” Holder – “Captain Captain”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_In-g8HejE

Indonesian Junk – Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/stars-in-the-night

The Knast – “Situation Vacant”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiFNifMynMs

Eric Leach – “Zoom”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPrBErt7xTk

Left Lane Cruiser – “Claw Machine Wizard”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NZzn1nxVIE

James McCann & the New Vindictives – Bandcamp:

https://jamesmccann.bandcamp.com/

Michael Monroe – “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xdt3vqHyT0

Raspberries trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNiEDetN9ik

Joey Skidmore – “Carnival Kids”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D6ae3VV8V0

Sweet Apple – “World I’m Gonna Leave You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCUMnJuVnqo

Symbol Six – “Pay Up Sucka”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdd2SLNFT6o

Travelin Jack – “Keep On Running”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h4xrD0zbdQ

 

 

 

SEE YOU IN HELL: Electric Wizard

Still heavier than Heaven, the British metal icons talk about their ambitious new album, how they keep their songwriting fresh, classic horror films and the contemporary era’s take on horror, and more.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When metal fans want to bang their heads slowly, there’s no shortage of bands practicing brutally heavy riffs, crawling rhythms and darkened atmosphere – the art of doom. Few, however, have honed their craft to as fine a point as Electric Wizard. The Southern England quartet has bludgeoned its amps and eardrums for a quarter of a century, longer than many of their pers, and its distinctive blend of riffs – both musically, in the Black Sabbath/Blue Cheer tradition, and lyrically, in borrowing imagery from horror films and trash cinema of all kinds – has been as much of an influence on subsequent generations of doom metalheads as their forebears.

Recorded in guitarists Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham’s home studio, the band’s ninth LP Wizard Bloody Wizard represents a step forward in its evolution, evoking a homegrown vibe and a more melodic, sensual take, without stinting on the group’s signature heavy. We spoke to Buckingham and band founder Oborn via e-mail about the new album, its seeds, and the way the band uses its signature B-film fetish in its songwriting. (Below: the band’s single “See You in Hell”)

BLURT: The new LP has a clarity to the production and is more direct in general, with a bluesier tone to some of the songs. Was that a deliberate contrast to the lengthier Time to Die?

JUS OBORN: Yeah obviously. It’s a new line-up and that always affects the sound of the band. You always try to play to the strengths of everyone involved. Time To Die has a very muddy production and we weren’t that happy with the sound of it, which is one of the reasons we decided we had to do it ourselves this time. The directness is probably down to our decision to make it fit onto a single piece of vinyl – y’know, 20-22 mins per side. We just felt it would be a challenge to try and tighten up our sound a bit.

EW records always have a very sensual sound to them – even as dark, heavy and aggressive as you can be, it’s not abrasive. It makes the records contrast with other “metal” records.

JO: Haha! Yeah, I guess a lot of metal these days has lost its “sexiness.” I think we have always had this more visceral sound. I always considered us a really, really heavy rock band, and rock was always meant to be more sensual. I mean, in the ’50s, “rock & roll” was  basically a euphemism for fucking.

Was it more fun recording in your own studio at your own pace? Not that you’ve ever seemed to feel any pressure before.

LIZ BUCKINGHAM: Not necessarily more fun, but definitely better. Previously we had to travel quite far to the other studios, and time would be limited. Doing it at our own house has obvious benefits. We had more time to experiment, the atmosphere was more conducive to creating, and it generally just felt right recording in the West Country.

JO: Fun isn’t a word I would associate with Electric Wizard, but it is definitely more satisfying.

Jus, you’re usually seen as the leader and visionary, but you, Liz, have been in the band for longer than anyone except him. What is the songwriting and creative process like for the two of you?

LB: Jus and I create everything together. We’ve got a rather classic songwriting duo relationship. When I joined, I wanted to add to his vision, not change it, so we work well together in that we both generally desire the same end result. All sorts of things inspire me and I will either write it down or record it, then discuss/share it with Justin, then proceed in the creation together. A lot of stuff we create, we do jointly. Even artwork – a lot is half done by me, half by Justin. It’s just how we work. I’m not egotistically driven – I place more importance on the end result as a whole of Electric Wizard.

EW music often dwells in the darkness, but it never seems to be for the sake of depression or pessimism. It’s cathartic, artistic, even defiant. How do dark subjects help with your artistic self-expression?

LB: We create things we love. Our motives are for pleasure. We like dark things, they give us pleasure, so it’s always a celebration of these things. We hate maudlin “poor me” music. When we’re angry it’s aimed at creating music that makes you want to rise out of it and be like “fuck you,” not wallowing in self-pity.

JO: Yeah definitely. I never saw this type of music as depressing. We try to play dark and heavy music that touches on taboo subjects, and it’s a challenge to write music which is “evil,” but not slip into any minor key clichés. I think wringing those kind of emotions is a bit of a cop-out, it’s like Hollywood. Honestly, the music I find most depressing is country and indie type stuff.

The record begins and ends with “See you in hell” – a closing of the circle. Was that planned in advance, or was it a coincidence?

JO: It kinda happened as we went along. We thought it made sense to make the theme cyclical. I hope it pulls together the whole concept of the LP. I like the idea that it hints that maybe this is it – the end. Or are we doomed to just repeat our mistakes forever? The lyrics are definitely more existential on this LP – autobiographical even.

Which songs on the record are the ones you’re most proud of?

JO: Well, it’s a new LP, so right now we are proud of them all. I guess I’m pretty proud we got a solid Detroit groove on “Necromania.”

You’ve made records for over 20 years now. Did you think EW would last this long?

JO: No.

Do you feel any kinship to the rest of the heavy rock scene? Even when EW was lumped in with the so-called “stoner rock” bands, y’all stood out on your own.

JO: We play with a lot of cool bands that we dig a lot, and like I said, we consider ourselves just a really dark and heavy rock band. I guess I feel a lot more of a kinship with older bands, though: Stooges, Venom, Cooper, Sabbath, Hellhammer, etc. But yeah, I guess we have always tried to do our own thing. I never liked the idea that we should be attached to a scene or genre – maybe it’s a geographical thing? The music I like is usually unique and reflects the band and their environment.

The band is well-known for its love of vintage horror movies. What are some favorites?

JO: Well, we love mainly exploitation and sleazy movies, not just horror – I guess what would be called “drive-in” movies. It covers a lot of subjects, y’know – biker movies, women in prison, drugs, kung fu, porno etc. Favorites would be a list of at least a couple hundred movies. All-time greats would include: Psychomania, The Dunwich Horror, The Sinful Dwarf, All The Colors Of The Dark, Vampyros Lesbos, The Devil Rides Out, The Last House On The Left, The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue [AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don’t Open the Window], Devil’s Angels, Witchfinder General, The Touchables, Vampyres, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, Defiance of Good, Simon, King Of The Witches, The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism [AKA The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum and Castle of the Walking Dead], etc., etc…Honestly, it’s impossible.

LB: …Scream…And Die! [AKA The House That Vanished], Deviation, Alice Or The Last Escapade, Shiver Of The Vampire, Ich, Ein Groupie [AKA Higher and Higher], Mephisto Waltz, Switchblade Sisters, Bury Me An Angel, The Witches Mountain (El monte de las brujas), Le Diable Probablement, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, Invocation Of My Demon Brother

Do you pick out certain movies and decide to write a song based on them, or is your horror movie knowledge more of a general background that always informs the writing?

JO: I don’t think we ever try to write a song based on a movie. It’s more metaphorical – the lyrics are more about us, really. For instance “Dunwich” [from 2007’s Witchcult Today] was meant to use the theme from Lovecraft’s book as a metaphor for isolationism and teenage rebellion in a small rural town, which is where I was raised. I hope our lyrics have a deeper and darker meaning – we are probably more influenced by horror comics and occultists like Aleister Crowley, etc. I think we dig the aesthetic of old horror movies, especially the more psychedelic and tripped out ones, and I really dig the poster art and advertising blurbs: “Cool as the grave from which they rise” – “fighting for survival in the decayed remains of diseased universe” – that kinda stuff.

Horror seems to be having a resurgence in the public consciousness, though it’s a different style than the old-school 60s and 70s horror flicks. What do you think of today’s horror movies, like It Follows, The Babadook, It Comes At Night, The Witch, etc.

JO: No, sorry, I don’t really care for those movies. Some were ok, but I guess it’s not what I like in horror films. I wanna see dungeons, laboratories, hunchbacks, werewolves, screaming virgins – -that kinda stuff. I also prefer a more unhealthy combination of sex and violence – haha!

LB: I saw The Witch, which was alright. I liked the end scene the best. A lot of those movies don’t really have the things that appeal to me. I prefer a more subtle creepy, spookiness and mystery. I don’t like the modern shock tactics or the subject matter a lot of the time.

Liz, you had your own musical history prior to joining EW, including Sourvein. How was joining EW different than your past experience?

LB: Well, my previous bands were bands that either I started myself and/or was the only guitar player and primary songwriter. Even with Sourvein, that had existed in another form before me, I had to start from scratch writing songs, etc. Electric Wizard was already a well-established band, so I came in having to learn someone else’s songs, and there was baggage from the past – two things I wasn’t used to. But other than that, it wasn’t that different. Once I started to contribute creatively, it wasn’t all that different to past experiences.