Category Archives: CD


Album: Take One

Artist: Black Coffee

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 20, 2018


Have you ever wondered what happened to rock’n’roll? Have you ever wondered how a band can be formed? Well, for Black Coffee it is all about meeting others that you just have good chemistry with. Let’s be real: Rock’n’roll is all about chemistry. These three guys met and formed and it is all a big bang theory from there. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Black Coffee is following in the great resurgence of rock that Blacktop Mojo and Joyous Wolf have brought back. Take One is the debut album from Black Coffee and it rocks!

“Creamer” sets the soul on fire with riveting vocals, a great song to start the multi-faceted music on this album. Pulling from blues and rock, this is what talented musicians sound like. The first single is the second song on the album, “I Barely Know Her,” a straightforward number that would make the Seventies proud, with a fantastically blazing guitar solo that will knock your socks off and the clothes off the ladies.

Another notable song here is titled “Monica,” one that will melt your soul, with a heart pounding sound only made better with strong vocals. Meanwhile, “Born to Lie” is wonderful in the composition of the music itself, also with nice vocals but the sounds are the true standout. And “The Traveler” has the best beginning of a song that this journalist has heard in a very long time. The vocals are sweet, and the sound is reminiscent of the Sixties/Seventies era—six minutes of heaven.

A song to rock out to, “Psychedelic Red” offers a drum beat that will hit you in the head like an episode of Dr. Who and, overall, it is a tune that would be first track on a time-traveler’s playlist. “Fade” (something this band will not do; they are here for the long term) has a hard hitting, catchy, and memorable sound. “Away” (this band will not be going “away” anytime soon, either) is the ninth track and it is all about the guitar, and what a lovely, pleasant guitar sound it is. A great track for a long road trip, this is added to my playlist now.

This trio is made of drummer Tommy McCullough, guitarist Justin Young, and vocalist/bassist Ehab Omran—Black Coffee. A good way to wake up is to put this album on and drink it up. Their debut shows what gifted artists these three are and I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to offer on future albums. I can’t wait to check their live show out as well. If you are looking for a new rock outfit that will blow your mind, then look no further: Black Coffee is what rock has been waiting for. Listen and enjoy.

DOWNLOAD: “Creamer,” “Psychedelic Red,” “I Barely Know Her”


THUMBSCREW – Ours / Theirs

Album: Ours / Theirs (2 releases)

Artist: Thumbscrew

Label: Cuneiform

Release Date: June 22, 2018

The Upshot: Developed simultaneously during a residency in Pittsburgh, these two records represent a creative explosion on the avant-jazz trio’s part.


Guitarist Mary Halvorson has already released one album so far this year, but that’s clearly not enough. Not when she can do two more, out the same day, with her band Thumbscrew. Comprised of Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, Thumbscrew has been putting its distinctive spin on the jazz trio concept for the past half a decade, to excellent effect on these third and fourth albums. As might be guessed from the titles, there are practical differences between the LPs – Ours features originals by each member, while Theirs presents the trio’s unique takes on various standards and obscurities.

Anyone who’s heard any of the principals’ work under their own names will know what to expect here – compositions and arrangements that push the envelope of acceptable jazz behavior without quite crossing over into free/avant garde territory. Fujiwara is a free roving percussionist, as apt to play around the beat as on it, encouraging everyone to explore the musical territory instead of going from point A to point B. Halvorson gives free reign to her unique style, sounding like she’s jamming along with a melody that only she can hear. She occasionally uses effects, especially a watery digital delay, but she mostly allows her thin, semi-acoustic tone to rule. A veteran bandleader and formidable composer in his own right, Formanek grounds the performances with his round tone and easy swing, but he colors outside the lines when appropriate.

It’s Formanek’s pieces that tend to stand out on Ours – the perfect balance of melody and experimentation on “Cruel Heartless Bastards” and “Words That Rhyme With Spangle (angle bangle dangle jangle mangel mangle strangle tangle wangle wrangle)” gives everyone room to rumble and the listener a tune to grasp, while “Unconditional” brings the record to a close with its most beautiful song. That’s not to say Fujiwara and Halvorson slack in the writing arena – the former’s “One Day” moves from ballad (of sorts) to blazer so subtly it’s sublime, while the latter’s “Snarling Joys” playfully kicks off the record with a near-perfect statement of the band’s intent. There’s a sense of whimsy behind the performances, especially Halvorson’s, a sense of serious chops being used for lighthearted effect. That doesn’t stop any of the musicians from getting down to business when it’s time to do so.

Theirs is, if anything, even more mischievous than Ours, as the trio clearly enjoys taking songs like Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous,” Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” and Jacob Do Bandolin’s “Benzinho” apart and putting them back together again. There’s no malice in these adventurous arrangements, however – these players treat each part of a tune with respect, if not exactly reverence. They’re simply trying to make each piece their own, while still retaining the spirit of the original, whether that’s the trio’s exploratory arrangement (of Johnny Smith’s arrangement) of Evelyn Danzig’s “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)” or a straightforward swinging take on Stanley Cowell’s “Effi.” An easier place to begin for Thumbscrew neophytes, Theirs is more accessible than its sister collection of original material, though perhaps not quite as daring.

Developed simultaneously during a residency in Pittsburgh, the two records represent a creative explosion on Thumbscrew’s part. Each record is a fine an example of the artistic combustion inherent in a gathering of especially creative people as you’re likely to find this year.

DOWNLOAD: Ours: “Words That Rhyme With Spangle,” “Cruel, Heartless Bastards,” “Snarling Joys” / Theirs: “Benzinho,” “The Peacocks,” “Scarlet Ribbons”


TRUCK STOP LOVE – Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994

Album: Can't Hear It: 1991-1994

Artist: Truck Stop Love

Label: Black Site Records

Release Date: November 17, 2017


Manhattan, Kansas is not the first place one would conjure when thinking of rock and roll. It may not be Memphis, Seattle, New York or Los Angeles but it did give us Truck Stop Love.

Blending the textures of Bob Mould’s post- Husker Du project Sugar, the country punk swagger of Uncle Tupelo, the aggressiveness of “Sorry, Ma” era Replacements, KISS, Big Star, the pop sensibilities of The Lemonheads and the jangly goodness of Matthew Sweet, Truck  Stop Love created a sound that was truly theirs, an amalgamation described as “pop thrash” on the band’s Facebook page, Truck Stop Love made a thunderous racket in the days when country music, coupled with a blistering wall of guitars and punk rock aggression , became a monster of a movement all its own: a giant named Alt-country.

Bands like Soul Asylum, the country fried fuzz rock of The Meat Puppets and the great Dinosaur Jr., the straight ahead rock n roll of fellow Midwesterners The Replacements or the booze soaked alternative country of Jason and the Scorchers, Truck Stop Love borrowed a little bit of these, a splash here, a dollop there, all coming together triumphantly with “Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994”, a collection of demos and unreleased tracks, recently released by Kansas City, Missouri based label Black Site Records.

Truck Stop Love (the band recently reformed to headline the yearly rock and roll weekend Lawrence Field Day Fest in Lawrence, Kansas), were a band that could hang with the big boys of the time, a foot stomping rock band from the middle of Kansas making music that, even today, twenty five years on, demands to be heard by those of us that miss the Holy Trinity: bass, Drums, guitar.

Re-mastered and produced by former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994 shows a band at the height of its musical powers, standing among some of the best of the time and writing songs that sound as fresh today as they did when they were first recorded, some over two decades ago; the multiple guitar attack of “Townie,” rings true, making the song a hybrid creature of Springsteen, Son Volt, The Bottlerockets and The Descendents; singing the lament of small-town life, the boredom, the loneliness, of Saturday nights spent drunk in the high school parking lot, avoiding the sheriff (I speak from personal experience here).  Truck Stop Love, to me were and are, accessible in a way that too many bands today sadly, will never be.  Truck Stop Love grasped onto their roots, the influence of both the times in which they lived and from those of their youth.  “Can’t Hear It’ is the sound of young guys, pissed at the world, making music, channeling what is around them into a thing to share with anyone who’ll take the time to listen, all while trying to clean out the bar.  If that’s not punk rock, I don’t know what is.

Can’t Hear It chronicles a great band that should’ve made it to the top but, for some reason, didn’t.  Do yourself a favor and re-discover Truck Stop Love with Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994, I’m glad I did.

DOWNLOAD: “Townie” “How I Spent my Summer Vacation” “River Mountain Love”

LAVENDER FLU—Mow the Glass

Album: Mow The Grass

Artist: Lavender Flu

Label: In The Red

Release Date: July 06, 2018

The Upshot: Nowhere near as rough and sweaty as frontman Chris Gunn’s Hunches were, or even as noisy as the first Lavender Flu album, but it’s got a dream-soaked inevitability to it that’s pretty damned beautiful.


This second full-length from Hunches front man Chris Gunn’s psychedelic garage project meanders beguilingly through hazy garden paths, a bit cleaner and more acoustic than the 30-track Heavy Air, but still engulfed in droning, indefinite hum. Like the earlier Lavender Flu album, Mow the Glass is a sharp departure from the Hunches’ rowdy to the point of unhinged-ness, Stooges-MC5 amped blues punk tradition. Here the NW foursome — Gunn, his brother Lucas, Hunches drummer Ben Spencer and Eat Skull’s Scott Simmons — cleaves closer to the fuzzed transcendentalism of Greg Ashley, Skygreen Leopards, even Beachwood Sparks.

Still even in the most lotus-petal-strewn, hippie gnostic tracks, stabs and shouts of rock protrude. “Follow the Flowers,” a flickery, tambourine-dragging pipe dream rouses itself for a burst of emphatic guitars, a shout of “You must return to me, return to me, return,” before nodding off again. “Dream Cleaner,” does the opposite trick, letting big thick bands of distorted guitar and raucous kit-battering drums dominate, but breaking for a day-dreamy interval.

“Like a Summer Thursday,” the Townes van Zandt cover, is one of two songs that also appeared on the first album. Here, cleaned up and clarified, embellished with liquid country guitar twang, the cut floats like a helium balloon, lingers like a psychedelic sunset. The other cover is folk eccentric Jackson C. Frank’s “Just Like Anything,” opened up from its folk-picked origins with double guitars and wailing “aah aahs” into something wiggy and wild and expansive.

Lavender Flu also returns to “Demons in the Dusk” this time, paring it down so that you can see the muscle in its surging guitars, its clattering, crescendoing rattles of drums. It’s nowhere near as rough and sweaty as the Hunches were, or even as noisy as the first Lavender Flu album, but it’s got a dream-soaked inevitability to it that’s pretty damned beautiful.

DOWNLOAD: “Like a Summer Thursday” “Demons in the Dusk”



Album: Hi Seas


Label: Invisible

Release Date: March 02, 2018

The Upshot: Veteran Aussie rocker’s surf/instro incarnation serves up an aquatic gem.


Few – indeed, very few – musicians boast a track record as consistent as Dom Mariani’s. The Australian singer/guitarist has never made a bad record, no matter what the project – the Stems, the DM3, Datura4, the Someloves, the Stoneage Hearts, the DomNicks. That includes the Majestic Kelp, Mariani’s instrumental combo. Though often touted as a surf outfit, the Kelp is far more than that, as fourth LP Hi Seas makes clear.

Fronting a combo consisting of veteran Kelps (bassist Stu Loasby, guitarist Steve Mancini) and newcomers (drummer Todd Pickett, steel guitarist Luke Dux), Mariani makes pit stops at several instrumental locations. There’s the Santo & Johnny-like twang of “Blue Olive,” the Ventures-like swing of “Francisco Street,” the acid folk balladry of “Silver of Gold,” the haunted folk rock of “Song For the Boatman,” the dusty choogle of “Freeway Ace,” the fifties-style doo-wop of “Angel Angeline” and the ocean-at-twilight balladry of the title track, which also boasts vocals. Surf rock isn’t forgotten, either – cf. “The Spider and the Sailor,” though even it doesn’t sound much like Dick Dale.

The Kelp proves itself not only versatile, but constant – no matter where the music wanders, the band’s personality remains. Hi Seas isn’t a survey of the kinds of wordless music Mariani likes – it’s a cohesive work with an artistic through line, and yet another gem in a catalog of never-misses.

DOWNLOAD: “Angel Angeline,” “Song For the Boatman,” “Freeway Ace”

Read our 2016 interview with Mariani HERE.

The Green Pajamas – Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3

Album: Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3

Artist: Green Pajamas

Label: Green Monkey

Release Date: March 16, 2018



Seattle’s Green Pajamas have long been one of the most consistently good acts in the psych rock underground, with three decades’ worth of albums, EPs, side projects and ephemera that’s always at least interesting, and often brilliant. But there’s a special place in the band’s catalog for the “Northern Gothic” series. Starting with 2002’s eponymous album and continuing through 2007’s Box of Secrets: Northern Gothic Season 2, the records put a (slightly) bigger emphasis on, yes, the gothic side of the group’s personality. Of course, for leader Jeff Kelly, “gothic” is not about black eyeliner, vampires and depression, but the more classical definition, as found in literature, architecture and art. In practical terms, that means the only thing his band’s version of gothic shares with the Cure and Bauhaus is a penchant for minor chords.

In that respect, Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3 is, in many ways, a prototypical Green Pajamas album – full of gently acidic melodies, soulfully plainspoken singing and lyrics haunted by ghosts real and imagined. But, as with all “Northern Gothic” branded releases, there’s something special at work here. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is – more lyrical focus? Stronger melodies? More precise instrumental work? Whatever the reason, the band is on fire here. “Lisa Lou” and “The Rosebergs” continue the PJs’ tradition of sharp pop songs, while “The Shepard Well” and “Red Bird” does the same for folk rock. “Ana (All the Way Down),” “Monica Talks to Angels” and “Amy’s Gonna Take You Down” feature some of the group’s toughest rock songs ever, with catchy tunes enhanced by steely guitar fills. The Green Pajamas rarely miss anyway, but Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3 is undeniably a new set of PJs classics.

DOWNLOAD: “Amy’s Gonna Take You Down,” “Monica Talks to Angels,” “Ana (All the Way Down)”

MAD CADDIES – Punk Rocksteady

Album: Punk Rocksteady

Artist: Mad Caddies

Label: Fat Wreck Chords

Release Date: June 15, 2018

The Upshot: Classic punk tunes get a reggae/dub/ska/dance hall treatment, and with surprisingly impressive results.


Cover albums are nothing new for punk rock and ska bands. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a ska album in the 1990s that didn’t have at least one token ironic cover (Reel Big Fish, in fact, owe a great deal of their career to songs by A-Ha and Tracy Chapman). But Mad Caddies take the usually phoned-in covers concept and hands in an impressive alternative to the normally stale offerings with Punk Rocksteady.

Across a dozen tracks, the California ska/punk long stays take a slew of punk rock classics and cram them through a horn heavy reggae/dub/ska/dance hall filter and the results are surprisingly impressive.

Though some of the songs they take liberties with come from longtime friends and label mates – lower stakes, coming from groups whose influence are pretty in line with their own – like NOFX’s “She’s Gone,” Lagwagon’s “Alien 8” and the late Tony Sly’s “AM.” Elsewhere though they take some bigger risks by tackling a nearly flawless punk nugget like Bad Religion’s “Sorrow” or the Misfit’s “Some Kind of Hate,” songs with history and real stakes and with each cover, Mad Caddies mange to make them entirely their own.

The world probably didn’t need another cover album, but thankfully the Mad Caddies didn’t heed that advice.

DOWNLOAD: “Sorrow,” “She” and “Alien 8”


SARAH MARY CHADWICK-Sugar Still Melts in the Rain

Album: Sugar Still Melts in the Rain

Artist: Sarah Mary Chadwick

Label: Sinderlyn

Release Date: May 18, 2018

The Upshot: New Zealander sings with a brutal honesty and rancor; think of an angrier, less word-playing Courtney Barnett or a cabaret-in-hell version of Sandra Bell.


Sarah Mary Chadwick’s voice is broken in the most beautiful way, the cracks and growls and wobbles like the spider lines in glass just before it shatters. She works these songs like a cat scratching up the glass towards freedom, not so much singing them as fervently trying to escape their bounds. The songs themselves are modestly couched in late night piano, heat-thundery bass and quietly emphatic drums, yet the flare of hurt and longing transcends their structures. There is almost too much poured into these musical vessels. They brim, they slop over, they run down in desolate eddies.

Chadwick, a native New Zealander currently operating out of Melbourne, started in strident punk-grungy Batrider. Now on her fourth solo full-length, she sings with a brutal honesty and rancor; think of an angrier, less word-playing Courtney Barnett or a cabaret-in-hell version of Sandra Bell. Her shadowy, crevice-y voice recalls Broken English-era Marianne Faithfull, while her emotional pyrotechnics evoke certain Jeff Buckley tunes. Yet there’s a survivor’s triumph in her compositions, a keening, syllable-stretching, show-stopping muscularity in the way she turns a chorus up to eleven, especially in the title track, which’ll give you the shivers. Or in heart-breaking “Bauble on a Chain,” when Chadwick observes wistfully, “I thought you were deeper than that/I thought your troubles had sharpened your compassion.”  Faithless lovers and casual music listeners may indeed prefer a bauble on a chain to songs this lacerating, but if you’re willing to go deep, Sugar Still Melts in the Rain is so real.

DOWNLOAD: “Sugar Still Melts in the Rain,” “Bauble on a Chain.”




Album: The Show Must Go On

Artist: Sean Alan and the True Love Band

Label: self-released

Release Date: June 22, 2018

The Upshot: With its a timeless quality stripped of any pretention or contrived gimmicks, you’ll have a record you’ll keep going back to again and again.         


I’d swear that LA-based musician Sean Alan was a modern-day oracle, if it weren’t obvious from the day that the dick currently in the White House was sworn in that he would continue with his xenophobic, anti-anyone not white tendencies until our country mirrored one of his beloved golf club membership lists.

On “Refugee Song,” the second track on Alan And The True Love Band’s wildly enjoyable new record, The Show Must Go On, he sings “Refugee ain’t got no home/Just like a seed in the wind, getting blown/Stuffing a suitcase, your fates unknown/Arrive in a new place, the gates are closed.” Along with being strongly prophetic given current events at our borders, the song highlights perfectly Alan’s strong sense of truth in storytelling with his songwriting. Wrapping powerful lyrics in sweet, often catchy music, the messages are easily received throughout the eight tracks housed here.

Although there are definite standouts on the record, like the title track and the fantastic “Rich Man’s World,” even some of the weaker spots here are still pretty solid songs. The Show Must Go On boasts a timeless quality stripped of any pretention or contrived gimmicks. The result is a record you’ll keep going back to again and again.

Download: “The Show Must Go On,” “The One I Love” and “Rich Man’s World”


Check out the track “My Love For You” which BLURT premiered here back in March.


TUCCI – Olivia

Album: Olivia

Artist: Tucci

Label: Hideaway Music

Release Date: July 14, 2017

The Upshot: Fans of southern rock take note. This Florida-based band rises from the ashes of the Toler-Tucci Band and, together with the addition of Arkansas’ Larry McCray, the south may well be rising again.


 Unless you’re a botanist or an art major, you’d likely not give this disc passing notice, visually – its moody, floral cover art revealing precious little about its inspiring content. Tucci is a band that hails from Sarasota, Florida, blossoming around guitarist/singer/composer Steve “Doc” Tucci, bassist Harry DeBusk, brother/drummer Mike Tucci and saxophonist/vocalist Shawn Murphy. You might recall the Toler-Tucci Band, an earlier offshoot that featured Great Southern/Allman Bros. guitarist “Dangerous Dan” Toler (who died in 2013 of ALS). This updated version of the band maintains the guitar as its key instrument across an amalgam of rock, blues and a hint of country. At the same time – and not to detract from the band – Doc has teamed up with the hard-driving blues genius of Larry McCray and the combination is thoroughly brain-shattering, making one wonder where Larry’s been these last few years. He’s all over this record and, never sounding better, adds real muscle and unbridled energy to Tucci’s blues and rock-based sound. The disc also features one of Toler’s final recordings, “Play by The Rules” – slow, Southern blues with a powerful vocal by Al Owen, the twin guitars of Toler and Tucci atop Donnie Richard’s rich bed of B3. This is a sweet present, immortalizing Toler’s gifts as it adds to the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the record – if only because a patchwork quilt of players and singers seem to come and go across the course of eleven original tunes. The best news of all is that, despite the passing of Greg Allman and what seems the end of an era of beloved Southern Rock, the spirit is alive and well in Sarasota.

Right out of the gate, “High Roller” is a robust, horn-tinged blues attack that can best be summed up in two words: Larry McCray. Coupled with Doc Tucci’s guitar and Donnie Richards’ B3, this track explodes with energy and sets the tone. McCray’s warm, beefy vocal suit his Freddy King-styled guitar edge. The title track suffers only because Shawn Murphy vocals follow McCray’s, although the addition of great slide guitar from Ira Stanley, Doc Tucci on guitar, Richards on B3 and a (sadly uncredited) major league horn section, “Olivia” manages to burn down the barn. “I Don’t Need It” sees the return of McCray’s guitar and rich vocal, slowing things down to drive the blues in even deeper as Michael Tucci’s crisp drum attack merges with Richards’ soulful B3.”Gimme Some Of Your Love” proffers tight horns, Tucci’s expansive guitar sound and the throaty growl of McCray’s vocals (the track recalling Steppenwolf’s “Straight Shootin’ Woman”). Steve “Doc” Tucci’s wafer-thin vocals hold back “Overtaxed Blues” which, otherwise, is the perfect vehicle for he and McCray to spar like superstars on guitar, nicely accented by Dan Ryan’s spritely piano contribution. The same lineup transforms “Hey, Florida” into a muscular, slide-friendly, twin guitar (Tucci/McCray) assault on the Sunshine State as added percussion (again, uncredited) and a revitalized vocal turn (and exceptional sax solo) by Shawn Murphy join Richards’ potent B3 work to elevate this love letter into a meaty, Southern rock jam reinvigorating the category.

This spirited lineup follows with the slightly slowed down “Big Train” as Murphy’s vocal again finds its proper home. Tucci and McCray draw deeply upon their blues core, both turning in exceptional solos while Tucci’s slick horn section (bolstered by another luscious sax solo from Murphy) proves they’re unable to quit. McCray owns “Without You” with his convincing vocal as he and Doc continue mining their slow blues vein while Dan Ryan blankets the track in impassioned B3 – the Unnamed Horns doing their damnedest to make a name for themselves. This is an exemplary example of Tucci’s full potential as a band. Enter Dan Toler with his last recorded workout from ’12 with “Play by The Rules”. Al Owen locks down a fitting lead vocal as Toler’s guitar sound volunteers a hard-edged country-blues feel, Doc’s guitar assuming more of a support role to set up Toler’s velvety lead. The caliber of Donnie Richards’ exceptional B3 skills cannot be understated as Michael Tucci and DeBusk are more than up to the challenge of holding the TUCCI bottom down. “You Hurt Me” returns McCray to the fold with his signature vocals as the Tucci/McCray guitar line, Dan Ryan’s applied piano and the Nameless Horns set the stage for even more searing guitar solos from both players.

The coup de grâce comes in the form of the closing track, “Third Eye”. Again, Shawn Murphy delivers a seamless vocal while guesting guitarist Bob Dielman and Doc toughen their guitar sound to achieve deep grace on this 12-minute opus. Reinforced by a hefty rhythm section and backup vocals, additional percussion helps to turn up the temperature while Richards outdoes himself on B3. All the while, Dielman and Doc take turns strafing the swirling mass like young starfighters on adrenaline highs. More Captain Beyond at times than ABB, “Third Eye” single-handedly exhumes the true benefits of the extended jam, right down to DeBusk’s too-brief bass solo, Richards’ scorching keyboards and the percussion-only break at the 7:30 mark. So, if you thought the death of Southern Rock was nigh upon us, Tucci (the band) will have you back waving your flag in no time flat.

DOWNLOAD: “Third Eye,” “High Roller,” “Hey Florida”