Category Archives: New Releases

JOANNA CONNOR – Six String Stories

Album: Six String Stories

Artist: Joanna Connor

Label: M.C. Records

Release Date: August 26, 2016

http://mc-records.com

Connor

The Upshot: Few blues guitarists have distinguished their careers by sitting still, creatively. This restless spirit first launched her trajectory by breaking all the boundaries of sexism in what had been – traditionally – a man’s world. First mastering her instrument, she further developed her vocal powers to further go where the boys couldn’t go.

BY ERIC THOM

It depends where you hail from of course, but to fans of Chicago blues, Joanna Connor has long been a touchstone for searing, hard-edged electric blues. Granted, she’s been MIA for a few years but, through an odd quirk of fate (and the internet), she’s back to claim her rightful piece of the pie. When a fan’s live recording at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in 2014 went viral on YouTube, she was suddenly ‘discovered’ by the masses – yet Connor is perhaps the antithesis of being an Overnight Success. The ever-fiery, singer-songwriter/guitarist first made her mark with her debut release in ’89 – a true labour of love. Five years prior, the Brooklyn-born blues spark had made the pilgrimage from Worcester, Mass. to Chicago, determined to sit in with her heroes and cultivate her own distinctive definition of the blues. Regardless of how this Second Coming happened, her latest release will come as no surprise to existing fans of her other nine releases. Yet, Six String Stories has, by itself, all the feral power required to enlist and baptize fresh legions into the electric-blues fold. Launching with the molten ”It’s A Woman’s Way”, Connor and her band rip a page out of Helen Reddy’s feminist songbook with impassioned vocals and her ever-blazing Les Paul. Sounding slightly spontaneous as if recorded live, you’ll find a few off-key vocals, yet there’s no denying the fleet-fingered ferocity of her attack.

Tenacious slide work continues with “By Your Side” – a comparatively half-speed grind allowing her band – Marion Lance Lewis (drums, bass, synthesizer, vocals and romance), Jeff Lewis (keyboards), Omar Coleman (harp) and the horns of Charlie Kimble, Gary Solomon and Charles Pryor – to catch their wind as Connor explodes all over her fretboard. In an ode to old-school marriage, “We Stayed Together” is somewhat autobiographical and one of the disc’s best songs – a slowed-down ‘duet’ with partner Marion Lance Lewis, accompanied by minimal B3, bass and drums. A slight about-face with Jill Scott’s “Golden” demonstrates Connor’s creative range, transforming the handclapped silvery funk of the original into slick, uptempo jazz as she George Benson’s her way into a soulful place. Despite a minor rap outtake, it’s Jeff Lewis piano work and the soothing backup vocals of Steve & Hope Lewis that lend a little sunshine, offsetting the heavier side of Connor’s personality. Left turn again, with Coleman’s harp, Lewis’ tasteful percussion as Connor works her fretboard in a more adventurous direction to give the delightfully instrumental “Swamp Swim” its winding river feel. “Love Coming On Strong” is another powerful composition as all elements of the band come together to build another highlight track – acoustic guitar, Lewis’ plucky bass, background vocal and synth sting set the stage for Connor’s strongest vocal and the lethal tone she squeezes from her fingers. African percussion sets up the upbeat revival feel of “Heaven”, introducing the Lewis Family Singers and full horn section, as Connor dances through the piece, keeping her acoustic guitar largely at bay while featuring Charles Pryor’s trumpet as Marion Lewis plays it like a testifying preacher.

Of course, the much-ballyhooed subject of the link-gone-viral, “Halsted Street”, allows Connor the podium and the chance to refine it with a slightly Spanish edge. Of course, Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” is where Connor first cut her teeth, this live performance paying homage to the much-covered song – but slowed down to a crawl, delivering some of Connor’s best singing and – without the need for speed – most expressive guitar-playing. On the back of Marlin Lewis’ heavy bass-lines, Connor approaches ‘Young Woman’s Blues” with the bite of a jazz player, using a slightly more melodic, effects-laden approach and a slight bend to her vocals, accompanied by an unnamed rhythm guitarist. Not unlike something you’d expect from Larry Carlton or Lee Ritenour, Connor underlines her absolute versatility across much of Six String Stories reminding us, at the ripe age of 55, she’s got plenty of stories yet to come.

Check out Connor on the web as well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWter1w4vWE  (“going viral” 2014)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkHzX_Bl23A&list=PLihhLeRu4qBAipANnUmeruKvZFioXlq4l&index=1  (“By Your Side”, live)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_pHmxVuxxg&index=2&list=PLihhLeRu4qBAipANnUmeruKvZFioXlq4l  (“Love Coming On Strong”, live)

 

SCOTT H. BIRAM – The Bad Testament

Album: The Bad Testament

Artist: Scott H. Biram

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: February 24, 2017

www.bloodshotrecords.com

Biram

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

By now it ought to be apparent that Scott H. Biram is one irascible individual. Ornery and unruly to a fault, his albums betray the fact that he fancies himself the heir apparent to any number of edgy outlaws — Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, Bobby Bare and Merle Haggard included — even as he goes several steps beyond in affirming his tenacity. “I’m the mother fucking train wrecker,” he declares four songs in on the aptly titled The Bad Testament, and from first song to last — with various sound bites tossed in between — it’s obvious he’s all he claims to be. Even when he settles for an acoustic guitar on songs such as “Righteous Ways,” “Feel So Wrong” and “Swift Driftin” (“It takes a real piece of shit to be a real piece of shit”), his sass and spunk remain intact. There’s little room for compromise in Biram’s MO, but chalk that up to his crude charm, if that’s how one prefers to characterize it. The acapella gospel of “True Religion” aside, this is a gritty set of songs, performed by an obviously unhinged individual who takes pride in his warped weirdness. Indeed, when he offers a self-deprecating description of himself on the perfectly titled “Crippled and Crazy,” any further explanation hardly seems unnecessary.

DOWNLOAD: “Swift Driftin’, “Crippled and Crazy,” “Trainwrecker”

BANJOVI – Laredo

Album: Laredo

Artist: Banjovi

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 01, 2017

https://www.facebook.com/hadji.banjovi

Banjovi CD

The Upshot: Outlaw country with a desert twist, suitable for Sturgill Simpson fans and more.

BY FRED MILLS

From Oracle, Arizona (near Tucson), banjovi—lower case, please—is one Hadji Banjovi, who plays acoustic guitar and banjo, and sings, on this elegant, quintessentially Southwestern opus. Presumably, he also writes the dozen songs here, although the credits indicate the material was written by one Tom Hodgson, so it’s up to you, the listener, to discern the difference between the man and the nom du rawk—if there is any.

Me, I just know this sound when I hear it, having spent a decade in the Lower Sonoran Desert awhile back. I also recognize a slew of Tucson names among the credits, like studio rats Gabriel Sullivan and Jim Blackwood, and pedal steel maestro Neil Harry (all from the extended Giant Sand family). That’s a Tucson TMOQ for sure. And Laredo has a sun-baked immediacy impossible to ignore.

From the lonesome cowboy vibe and guitar-according interplay on the title track and the deep, dusty twang of “Disappearing Ink,” to the windswept, pedal steel-powered country of “Baggage Handler” and the shimmery mandolin lines arcing through “Paradise Just Lost a Fool,” it’s a gorgeous, evocative album. It’s worth additional note that Banjovi has at least one foot in Sturgill Simpson territory—indeed his vocal inflections are similar to Simpson and George Jones—and it’s not a stretch to imagine this record being embraced by the same audience. Check “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” about a troublesome gal who left and never came back, for a perfect example.

Ultimately, Laredo comes across as the real deal, outlaw country with a desert twist, and well-worth the effort in seeking it out. Look for the record at his Bandcamp page—it’s listed as officially released on April 1, but you can snag the digital version now. There’s also Hodgson’s other project, The Infinite Mercies, whose Texas State Bird was released a little less than a year ago and can also be found at Bandcamp. It’s very similar in tone and texture, if a bit more straight-up country, and features a number of the same musicians. Listened to back-to-back, the two records make a compelling case for yet another unique iteration of the “Tucson sound.”

Incidentally, if you try to search for “banjovi” you’ll come across a slew of bands that employ the monicker; rest assured that this banjovi is not likely to break into a chorus of “Living On a Prayer” anytime soon.

DOWNLOAD: “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” “Baggage Handler,” “Bluebird Eggs for Breakfast”

 

SAMANTHA FISH – Chills & Fever

Album: Chills & Fever

Artist: Samantha Fish

Label: Ruf

Release Date: March 17, 2017

www.rufrcords.de

Fish CD

The Upshot: Stunning set of early rock and soul covers that places blues guitar prodigy Fish in Daptone-goes-to-Detroit (and maybe New Orleans, too) territory.

BY FRED MILLS

When rock artists are looking to get their mojos workin’, they head to Memphis or Mississippi for a blues infusion. So what does a blues artist do when it’s time to rock ‘n’ roll? If you’re Samantha Fish, of Girls With Guitars (Fish, Cassie Taylor, Dani Wilde) fame and, increasingly, solo acclaim, you don’t even linger considering New York, L.A., or Seattle—it’s time to book a flight to the Motor City, baby. That’s where the young guitar wizardess hooked up with members of the Detroit Cobras and producer Bobby Harlow, who, prior to being a go-to studio guy for numerous garage outfits, fronted Detroit punk provocateurs The Go. Throw in a New Orleans-based horn section, and you’ve got Chills & Fever, a blisteringly fine set of rocking soul that both showcases Fish’s estimable fretboard skills and demonstrates her intuitive gifts in selecting classic, maximum-impact material to perform.

Indeed, it’s an intriguing setlist, kicking off with “He Did It,” which sharp-eyed readers with long memories will recall both the Ronettes’ original version and the Detroit Cobras’ 2001 remake—the latter looming large for Fish’s romping j’accuse here. Another iconic female’s song closes out the album, Lulu’s ’64 hit “I’ll Come Running Over,” in Fish’s able hands (and pipes) transformed into a pure garage-rock anthem. In between you get a spine-tingling take on Skip James (“Crow Jane,” featuring some seriously bad-ass cigar box guitar work from Fish), not to mention Nina Simone (“Either Way I Lose,” wherein Fish consciously adds some Simone-like vocal inflections to give an already moody, mournful tune a downright haunted, desolate vibe).

And when she turns her attention to straight-up soul, she’s clearly in her element: Her shudder/shimmy/shake appropriation of R&B perennial “Chills & Fever”—which some may recall from Tom Jones’ over-the-top performance—is authentic enough to give Amy Winehouse nu-soul devotees pause; tackling Barbara Lewis’ eternal “Hello Stranger” puts her squarely in Daptone Records territory (additionally suggesting that Gabe Roth and his Dap-Kings have a potential protégé in Fish); and “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” originally a regional hit in the early ‘60s for Louisiana R&B singer Charles Sheffield, is simply jaw-dropping, as Fish, against a throbbing beat punctuated by jabbing horns, figuratively drops to her knees and howls in pain while unleashing primal peals of guitar.

I used the terms “nu-soul” and “appropriation” a few seconds ago, and that was intentional. White artists sometimes get accused of trespassing upon another race or ethnicity’s territory, but while a half-century ago this might’ve occurred tainted with patriarchal, even malicious, intent, in 2017, it’s time to get over it. There will always be opportunists who jump at the chance to hitch their boxcars to a profitable musical locomotive. But when someone like Fish comes along who so transparently exudes nothing but love, admiration, and respect for artists and songs that have had a profound impact on her, you need to take it at face value. Most of the people who originally wrote these 14 songs (12 if you get the vinyl) have passed on by now, but one can only hope that, at some point, Fish has the opportunity to bring those who are still with us onstage and show the world how it was done and how it’s gonna continue to be done.

DOWNLOAD: “Chills & Fever,” “Crow Jane,” “It’s Your Voodoo Working”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Son of Deseret: A Bob Moss Tribute

Album: Son of Deseret: A Bob Moss Tribute

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Regional Underground Elevators

Release Date: January 20, 2017

www.bobmosstribute.com

Bob-Moss-Son-of-Deseret

The Upshot: Two-disc tribute to late Salt Lake City musical and visual polyglot suggests he shoulda been a national contender.

BY FRED MILLS

On one level, there’s nothing particularly illuminating about a tribute album devoted to an artist who probably wasn’t known all that well beyond the local scene that spawned him. Musician comes to prominence, is respected throughout his community, dies far too young, and his friends and peers subsequently mount a memorial in order to give him a permanent salute; happens in towns with thriving music scenes all the time, right?

But—and this is major but—if you peer closely, you’ll discover that Utah’s Bob Moss was an unusual individual, one so immensely talented (in more than one artistic discipline, it turns out) that it’s literally a cultural crime he wasn’t known far and wide. The quality of songwriting displayed on Son of Deseret is, quite frankly, off the charts; that the 20+ musicians contributing tracks here evidence such a remarkable range of styles and textures on Moss material further suggests a songwriter of uncommon breadth. If this had been released in Moss’ lifetime, I have no doubt that national critics would have been falling all over themselves to find out more about this cult artist.

By way of capsule bio: Bob Moss was a fixture on both Salt Lake City’s music and visual art scenes, a long-haired, bespectacled rocker/folkie/roots musician with a tendency towards the eccentric who also created eye-popping folk art images along the lines of Rev. Howard Finster and Jon Langford. He passed away in his sleep in December 2011 (Below, see a photo of Moss holding one of his pieces; I have borrowed this from SLC’s City Weekly but could not determine a photo credit.) In fact, from Jan. 20 through Feb. 13 a gallery homage to Moss was mounted, Covering Moss: A Bob Moss Visual Art Tribute, so highly regarded was the man. Among his fans was legendary underground artist Daniel Clowes.

Moss

As far as the musical tribute is concerned, it grew out of a backyard jam held at Moss’ good friend Mike Kirkland (late of NYC band Prong) with a bunch of locals playing Moss’s songs. The emotions were so high that Kirkland decided it would be appropriate to get things down for posterity, and, along with fellow SLC musician and radio personality Bad Brad Wheeler, got the ball rolling. A list of all the performers appears on the poster at the bottom of this page, and yes, the demon feline image is one that Moss himself created. It’s a nicely-recorded, well-sequenced collection that literally has something for nearly every musical taste.

Highlights? Opening cut “True Love Is Hard To Find,” by Chubby Bunny, a self-described “chick band,” kicks things off in fine, distaff indie rock fashion, handclaps not optional. “The Ballad of John Baptiste” continues the indie rock thread, this time going for a rowdy Pixies vibe, right down to the quirky lyrics: “I’ll tell you about John Baptiste now/ He’s the kind of old-timer didn’t dig the vows/ So he got a shovel and he did run/ To the graveyard, baby, did he have some fun!/ Weird, weird fun…” The gorgeous “Croppingham Fair,” by Tracy Medley, shifts gears yet again, this time heading off in a folkrock direction a la Fairport Convention. “Killer’s Lament” suggests a cross between Johnny Cash and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and with a performer named Aldine Strychnine you know it’s gotta be great. “Paradigm Shift,” by Murder Mystery Party, is pure Ramones. The whimsical “Captain Nemo Sea Shanty,” by Dave Bowen, Patrick Kenny and Audrey Smith, is a strummy, sunny singalong guaranteed to get toes to tappin’ as the musicians swap verses then sonically embrace on the choruses. “I Believe In Ghosts” finds Lara & The Haole Boys is alt-country as sweet as it comes, with a pedal steel and mandolin arrangement and sweet, Neko Case-like vocals. “Pete the Pacer” takes a Chuck Berry (R.I.P.) progression and gives it a kind of Fred Schneider-fronts-the-Beach Boys twist; the trio of Staker, Randito & Royal is a kind of rock critics summit, so it makes sense they’d do this kind of mash-up. And “Big Top Blues,” by Schneider, Balsam & Atwell, is just plain gonzoid, almost like Tom Waits singing beat poetry over a collage of found sounds.

And that’s just a handful of the 24 tracks. Aside from the inherent “fun” factor derived from trying to figure out just what made Moss tick musically—good luck with that; he seemed boundaryless—the outpouring of Moss verbiage is guaranteed to keep you amusedly scratching your head for the duration. Some of them jump out from the stereo, like the line “Nyquil habit suddenly made a wreck out of me,” while others are merely inscrutable. But it’s clear Moss was both a poet and a storyteller, sometimes both at once, so there’s plenty of quality time that awaits you once you cue up the first disc.

“Deseret” is a word derived from The Book of Mormon, “deseret” meaning “honeybee”; Wikipedia informs us it’s part of “the language of the Jaredites, a group believed by the Mormons to have been led to the Americas during the time of the construction of the Tower of Babel.” Armed with that insider knowledge, it now makes perfect sense to label Utah’s Moss and his songs a “son of deseret.” I’m betting he wouldn’t have it any other way.

To learn more about Bob Moss read “Resurrecting Deseret’s Son” by Jeremy Cardenas, about the tribute project’s origins; “I Believe in Ghosts,” by Brian Staker, a remembrance five years after his untimely death; and “The Cult of Bob,” by Randy Harward, a 2007 profile.

DOWNLOAD: Just drop the digital needle anywhere, it’ll come up aces.

son_of_deseret_poster_0

 

WESLEY STACE – Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding

Album: Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding

Artist: Wesley Stace

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: February 24, 2017

www.yeproc.com

Stace

The Upshot: A natural heir to the Brit rock tradition, with a charm and exuberance that clearly complements that handsome heritage.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Having previously shed his John Wesley Harding persona the last time around and assumed his birth moniker seemingly for good, the ubiquitous Wesley Stace takes a half step back via Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding, presumably a transitory step towards combining the two identities for future referencing. Still, Stace by any other name is as potent as he’s ever been, a master of melody whose attitude and aptitude is fully engaged in the joys of simple, straight forward pop and roll.

There’s no denying the immediate, hook filled charms of “For Me and You,” “How to Fall,” “The Wilderness Years” and “I Don’t Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll,” songs that extol the singular joys of getting into a groove with the object of one’s affections. Melodic to a fault, this new offering continues a trajectory begun two decades back when as a folkie-turned-rocker he first plied his charms and initiated a brand that never ceases to satisfy. Even in its quietest moments — the autobiographical “Hastings Pier,” the lilting “Audience of One” and the sweetly sentimental “You’re a Song,” Stace/Harding maintains his momentum, alluring and enticing to a fault.

Like Nick Lowe, Squeeze and Robyn Hitchcock, he’s a natural heir to the Brit rock tradition, with a charm and exuberance that clearly complements that handsome heritage. Call him what you will, Stace is simply superb.

DOWNLOAD: “I Don’t Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Hastings Pier,” “The Wilderness Years,”

COLIN HAY – Fierce Mercy

Album: Fierce Mercy

Artist: Colin Hay

Label: Compass

Release Date: March 03, 2017

www.compassrecords.com

Hay

The Upshot: Erstwhile Men At Work frontman turns in his most consistently solid record in a decade.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Colin Hay has done a masterful pivot over the past couple of decades away from being known simply as the front man of the very ‘80s band Men At Work to having an impressive career as a solo performer. Neil Finn may be one of the few other Hay contemporaries that can make a similar boast.

On Fierce Mercy, Hay’s 13th album (10 more albums than he recorded with Men At Work, by the way), he turns in his most consistently solid record in a decade. Save for the song “I’m Walking Here,” with the dreadful rap/talk portion that completely brings this otherwise great album to a momentary standstill, there is hardly a weak moment on the record. In Hay’s defense, even Springsteen included that clunky rap portion on the song “Rocky Ground” off the Wrecking Ball album.

Lyrically insightful, Fierce Mercy is a mix between blissful contentment (“Come Tumblin’ Down,” “Secret Love”) and melancholy (“I’m Gonna Get You Stoned,” “Two Friends”). Coming in at a tight 10 tracks, the deluxe edition includes three additional songs, each of which clearly earns their spot on the album.

Hay is proof that there is still artistic life after being slapped with the One Hit Wonder label.

DOWNLOAD: “Come Tumblin’ Down,” “The Best in Me” and “I’m Inside Outside In”

 

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS: Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt.3

ht_edu

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, and HERE for Pt. 2.  Above: No, that’s not the Runaways ya dummy  – it’s Heavy Tiger, gettin’  ready for some heavy pettin’. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

Wyldlife-Digital-Cover

Wyldlife smartly has a boot in two camps. Based in NYC, the band has a firm grounding in the glammy proto punk and roughhewn power pop that emanated from its city back in the ‘70s. When it came time to record its second full-length, however, the group decamped to Atlanta, home of rising pop & roll saviors Biters and their brethren, and the joie de vivre of  recording in a sympathetic environment certainly makes its impression. Out On Your Block (Wicked Cool) doesn’t so much veer from one stylistic variation to another so much as cram them together, powering the singalong choruses of “Keepsake” and “Bandita” with the reckless energy of a Mercer Arts Center freakout. The band zooms through the tracks like its members mistook amphetamines for sugar pills in their morning coffee, but never sound out of control – tight but loose in the grand rock & roll tradition. Sounding for all the world like a mind meld of the New York Dolls and the Plimsouls, Out On Your Block reeks with the pure joy of taking smartly crafted tunes and making a big-ass racket.

CCcover

Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes apply similar makeup to their boyish faces on their debut LP All Anxious, All the Time (Rum Bar). As leader of the long-gone Dimestore Haloes, frontguy Charles Matthews has a long history of banging out tuneful constructions with bullshit-free flair, and he continues his good work on pleasure-button mashing popsters “Get Low,” “Big Dumb Town” and “My Little Twin.” Maine-to-Spain transplant Kurt Baker adds a bit of Detroit power and L.A. flash to a similar recipe on Shot Through the Heart(Rum Bar), the first full-length from Bullet Proof Lovers. That doesn’t mean power pop hero Baker (joined here by various Spanish r’n’r luminaries) has suddenly gone hard ‘n’ heavy, but it does give “On Overdrive” and “Heart of Stone” a fist-pumping, lighter-waving rush and “All I Want” and “Take It or Leave It” a punky, street rock attack. Unusually for bands like this, the second half of the record is actually stronger than the first.

Heavy Tiger - Glitter - Artwork

With a sly grin and blazing attack, power trio Heavy Tiger blasts out of Stockholm with Glitter (Wild Kingdom). The colorful hooks of ‘70s glam rock entwine with the no-nonsense charge of mid-’70s hard rock, before being violated by late ‘70s punk. Riding Maja Linn’s gritty vocals (not unlike Muffs’ leader Kim Shattuck’s) as much as the big-ass guitars, “I Go For the Cheap Ones” and “Feline Feeling” deliver an irresistible opening one-two punch. But the band keeps the hits a-comin’, whether it’s more burning rockers like “Keeper of the Flame,” rousing glam rock like “Devil May Care” (written for the band by the Ark’s Ola Soma) or loud power pop a la “Starshaped Badge and Gun Shy.” The glitter in the album’s title dusts denim vests and ripped jeans.

ENUFF ZNUFF cl COVER HI

Back in the bad old days of the late ‘80s, glammed-up quartet Enuff Z’nuff got shoved into the hair metal ghetto, which might’ve been fine had the band gotten the same hits and success as its West Coast peers. (Indeed, it’s an association the band has never shunned.) Unlike its mousse-abused pals, though, the Chicago band fell more heavily on the Cheap Trick and Sweet side of the pop metal street than on the Aerosmith/Starz side. Clowns Lounge (Frontiers) has a few squealing guitar solos, but otherwise leans on vocal harmonies, glittery melodies and big power pop hooks. “Rockabye Dreamland” resembles Jellyfish more than Def Leppard, while “Back in Time” and “Radio” sound more like homeboys Urge Overkill than Aerosmith. It hearkens back to the band’s first couple of albums, which is no surprise, given that it consists of songs reworked from the days before EZ’s 1989 debut LP. That means most of the songs feature original vocalist Donnie Vie, which will set OG fans’ rods a-twirl. Then there’s “The Devil of Shakespeare,” which features, as guests, late Warrant singer Jani Lane, Styx guitarist James Young and – as a ringer? – 20/20 co-leader Ron Flynt. Go figure.

Connectioncover

Covers collections usually denote a lack of new material on an artist’s part, regardless of the official line. That said, the Connection has been awfully prolific the past few years and can be forgiven if the urge to hit the studio overtook the effort to write new songs. On Just For Fun! (Rum Bar), the Boston boppers bash through a batch of obvious influences (the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls,” Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “I Can Read Between the Lines,” Dave Edmunds’ “Other Guys Girls”) and left-fielders (George Thorogood’s “Get a Haircut,” the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver,” “Streets of Baltimore,” the Harlan Howard song recorded by Bobby Bare and Gram Parsons). The band’s reverence for pre-21st century pop reaches its effervescent apex on a faithfully executed take on Syl Sylvain’s timeless “Teenage News,” its ‘billy and bubblegum delirium right in the Connection’s wheelhouse. A stone hoot, Just For Fun! lives up to its title.

JigsawSeenftDC_CD_COVER_3000

The Jigsaw Seen draw from many of the same ‘60s and ‘70s touchstones as the Connection, though they’re filtered through such a personal vision that the L.A. act has always sounded unmoored from time itself. That applies even to For the Discriminating Completist (Burger), a collection of singles, EP tracks and alternate mixes of tunes from across the band’s nearly 30-year career. Echoes of the Who, the Creation, the Kinks and the Move resound, but on “Jim is the Devil,” “My Name is Tom” and “Celebrity Interview,” the Seen always sounds most like itself. That applies even to covers of the Bee Gees, Love, Henry Mancini and the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett standard “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Stoneage Hearts

The Stoneage Hearts take many of those same influences and beat them with a Nuggets stick, as found on Turn On With (Off the Hip), a reissue of the band’s 2002 debut. The Australian trio’s sugar ‘n’ spice mix of grinning power pop and rough-hewn R&B-flavored garage rock cuts any hint of crap in order to get down to the business of hooks, harmonies and tunes as good as “So Glad (That You’re Gone)” and “Stranded On a Dateless Night.”

LittleMurderscover

Australia’s Little Murders have prowled the Melbourne underground for nearly 30 years in various incarnations. The product of the longest-lived version, Hi-Fab! (Off the Hip) distills the quintet’s virtues – simple melodies, ragged harmonies, a nice mix of jangle and crunch – in 33 minutes of power pop rush. Still led by plainspoken singer/songwriter Rob Griffiths, the Murders sound comfortable and confident on the sprightly “She’s the Real Thing,” sweet “Merry Go Round” and driving “Out of Time.”

Manikins_image_5dc8330c-df8c-4bdb-a28c-a8acad16785a_large

Perth’s Manikins predated Little Murders, evolving out of the Cheap Nasties, one of Australia’s first punk outfits. (The Nasties also gave us international treasure Kim Salmon of the Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon and Surrealists fame.) From Broadway to Blazes (Manufactured Recordings) collects the band’s entire oeuvre, from demos to singles to self-released cassettes, on two slabs of vinyl, and it’s ninety minutes of power pop perfection. The quartet deftly beats the hell out of melodic sweetness like Bruce Lee fighting a cheerleader, making the winsome “Love at Second Sight” (in two versions), the raw “Street Treat,” the brittle “Losing Touch” and the blazing “Girl Friday” sharp lessons in how to do it right. Melbourne’s Baudelaires keep the Australian garage rock wave flowing with Musk Hill (Off the Hip), a psychedelicized take on three chords and a bunch of youthful angst. Alternating thumping rockers like “Scrapbooker” and “Foxglove” with trippier concoctions like “Whet Denim” and “Snapper Steve” (not to mention a quick dip into the surf music pool with “Life’s Too Short For Longboards”), the young quartet puts the roll back in psych rock.

SmartRemarks_image_e5685209-456c-41b9-ae80-2c9b296b97d8_large

Manufactured has also taken it upon itself to rescue a couple more early power pop outfits from obscurity. Smart Remarks may have been the house band at the infamous City Gardens in the early ‘80s, but that was as far as the trio’s notoriety ever got. Too bad – the single and EP sides collected on Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 (Manufactured Recordings) are a delight for fans of the form. The band’s new wavey guitar pop reaches catchy potency on the sparkling “Falling Apart (As It Seems)” and “Mary’s Got Her Eye On Me.” New Jersey’s Modulators hail from the same time period, but let ‘60s/’70s roots like the Hollies and the Raspberries show through any new wave colorization on Tomorrow’s Coming (Manufactured Recordings). That 1984 platter was the trio’s sole LP, but here it’s augmented with a ton of demos, singles and unreleased tracks to grow into a 28-track monster of jangly pop glory.

Muffs HBtM

The Muffs’ first two albums are masterclasses on melodipunk, and, while not the runaway successes so many of their peers’ records were, still put the L.A. trio on the map. So what happened with Happy Birthday to Me (Omnivore), the band’s third album? Creatively, nothing – the record is, cut for cut, the Muffs’ strongest, a consistently catchy, beautifully recorded and enthusiastically performed set that should have been the apex of the band’s upward arc. Alas, its then-record company Reprise decided to put their resources elsewhere, and the Muffs were dropped right as the album came out. (Despite this, it has never fallen out of print.) Fortunately, it’s back, all the better to enjoy the spice cake rush of “That Awful Man,” “Outer Space” and “Honeymoon,” the winsome midtempo power pop of “The Best Time Around,” “Keep Holding Me” and “Upside Down,” the 6/8 mania of “All Blue Baby,” the raging snot rock of “Nothing” and the snide country rock (?!) of “Pennywhore.” Plus a rare cover of the Amps’ “Pacer,” a batch of demos and the bandmembers’ informative and entertaining liner notes, including leader Kim Shattuck’s song-by-song commentary.

JHoylesCRLP035_Cover_3000pix

British guitarist John Hoyles has, to generally excellent results, toiled in the fields of Swedish rock, slinging strings for prog/doom outfit Witchcraft, boogieing spinoff Troubled Horse and glam/power rockers Spiders. For his solo LP Night Flight (Crusher), however, takes more inspiration from punk and pub rock, with no-nonsense songs and maximum production clarity. Outside of the acid folk of “In the Garden” and overtly psychedelic title track, tunes like “Talking About You,” “Before I Leave” and “Minefield” rock righteously and unselfconsciously. Bonus: a cover of former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis’ “Police Car” that makes Hoyles’ self-professed love of Stiff Records pretty blatant.

ALIVE0188-300x300

Mark “Porkchop” Holder did time in both blues punk act Black Diamond Heavies (of which he was a founding member) and in the arms of addiction. Free of both, the singer/slide guitarist returns to his hometown of Chattanooga, TN, for Let It Slide (Alive Naturalsound), a set of rocking blues that could only come from someone who’s lived a life on the underside. As such Holder wastes no time with virtuosity or fancy production – he and his rhythm section just crank it up and get down to business with a clearly articulated focus a lot of cracker blues slingers could use. Holder’s lack of illusions about where he’s been and how he got there power the snarling choogle of “Disappearing” and menacing country rock of “Stranger” as much as his raw bottleneck work, and his plainspoken vocals sell every syllable. Rough-and-tumble rambles through “Stagger Lee” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” also prove Holder knows how irreverently to treat a couple of pieces of well-traveled (read: overused) classics without losing touch with their essential spirit. “I’ve got no one but myself to blame!” he shouts during the titanic “My Black Name,” the song most likely to be his “Jumping Jack Flash.” That lack of sentimentality gives Let It Slide the conviction to put it in a different category than the usual flash blues slop.

Evil Twin

Australia’s Evil Twin also uses the blues as a jumping off point on its debut Broken Blues (Off the Hip). No revivalists, this pair – nor do they pay homage, unintentional or not, to the White Stripes or the Black Keys. Instead guitarist Jared Mattern and drummer Chris Beechey blast off from the music’s 12-bar origins into loud, grungy rock that’s beholden more to bands Dan Auerbach and Jack White don’t listen to – nothing sounds like Zeppelin, in other words. Led more by Mattern’s measured singing than overwhelming instrumental bombast, dirty slide pound like “Look Into My Mind” and the title track, snarling boogie like “Motor City” and soulful power balladry (!) like “Slow Dance” sound fresh and exciting, the way new classic rock should.

POWER LP Jacket

Evil Twin’s country band Power might also argue that the blues is at the heart of its sound, but it’s difficult to tell under the punky crust and general mania on its debut Electric Glitter Boogie (In the Red, though originally released in Australia in 2015; the In The Red LP comes pressed on either red or black vinyl). A deliberate nod to Australia’s legendary hard rock acts Coloured Balls and the Aztecs (names not very familiar to Statesiders, though they might know Aztec leader Billy Thorpe’s later AOR hit “Children of the Sun”), the trio goes over the top with raging riffs, gonzo vocals and an air of barely-contained madness. These boys want to rawk, and when they fire up the wild-eyed boogiepunk of “Slimy’s Chains,” the title track or the band’s eponymous anthem, get with it or get the hell out of the way.

HeathGreencover

Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Heath Green and the Makeshifters holler back to an earlier era, one when British bands like Humble Pie took soul music into harder rock realms than it was logically prepared for. Luckily, the quartet proves itself far less leadfooted than its predecessors on its self-titled debut LP (Alive Naturalsound). Without throwing any accusations of “authenticity” around, it really seems like coming from the American South gives Green a more natural feel for R&B, gospel and the blues, allowing him to fold his pan-seared shout into the Makeshifters’ hard-rocking crash without having to scream to be heard. The fierce pound of “Living On the Good Side,” chunky shuffle of “Secret Sisters” and sanctified soul of “Ain’t Got God” get the balance between tank and testify just right.

TomBakercover

Tom Baker and the Snakes have been one of Boston’s best-kept secrets for a few years now, but with Lookout Tower (Rum Bar), the quintet makes a national splash. Marrying the plainspoken songcraft of heartland rock, the high voltage power of the Motor City and the ramshackle grace of a party-all-night bar band, the Snakes bash out catchy tunes like “High n’ Tight,” “Make It Hurt” and “Needle in the Red” like the Replacements if they’d listened to more classic rock than punk. Three guitars keep the riffs, hooks and jangles churning, and Baker’s ragged-but-oh-so-right voice delivers the exact dose of vulnerable swagger. If you like your rock & roll to worry less about subgenres and more about just getting to the good stuff, Tom Baker is yer man, man.

Tek-Williamsoncover

The combination of Detroit rock royalty Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman, the Visitors, his various solo bands) and James Williamson (the Stooges, of course) is so fraught with potential it would be almost impossible for it to live up to expectations. On its debut EP Acoustic K.O. (Leopard Lady), the pair neatly sidesteps the ambitions thrust upon them by delivering an acoustic EP of tunes associated with Williamson’s time with Iggy Pop. Tek’s gruff plainspokenness gives “I Need Somebody” and “Penetration” a note of gravitas, and the duo’s take on “No Sense of Crime” pulls out an obscurity that’s right in their wheelhouse. Oddly, though, the highlight is the Tek-less instrumental “Night Theme,” a mothballed tune that scans like the soundtrack to a crime-and-punishment TV show.

***

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

 

Tom Baker & the Snakes – Lookout Tower Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/lookout-tower

 

The Baudelaires – Musk Hill Bandcamp:

https://thebaudelaires.bandcamp.com/album/musk-hill

 

Bullet Proof Lovers – Shot Through the Heart Bandcamp:

https://bulletprooflovers.bandcamp.com/album/shot-through-the-heart

 

The Cheap Cassettes – All Anxious, All the Time Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/all-anxious-all-the-time

 

The Connection – Just For Fun:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/just-for-fun

 

Enuff Z’Nuff – “Dog On a Bone”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEQr0axc4lI

 

Evil Twin – Broken Blues Bandcamp:

https://eviltwinrock.bandcamp.com/album/broken-blues

 

Heath Green and the Makeshifters – “Ain’t It a Shame”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo2CELBHB4s

 

Mark Porkchop Holder – “My Black Name”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS6miti9XHA

 

John Hoyles – “Talking About You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_d6jcpFoRk

 

The Jigsaw Seen – “Jim is the Devil”:

https://soundcloud.com/burgerrecords/the-jigsaw-seen-jim-is-the-devil-single-version

 

Little Murders – Hi-Fab! Bandcamp:

https://littlemurders.bandcamp.com/album/hi-fab

 

The Manikins – From Broadway to Blazes Bandcamp:

https://manikinsaustralia.bandcamp.com/album/from-broadway-to-blazes

 

The Modulators – Tomorrow’s Coming Bandcamp:

https://themodulators.bandcamp.com/

 

The Muffs – “Outer Space” (live):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY1vwFdKq5I

 

Power – “Electric Glitter Boogie”:

https://soundcloud.com/powower/electric-glitter-boogie-1

 

Smart Remarks – Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 Bandcamp:

https://smartremarks.bandcamp.com/

 

Deniz Tek & James Williamson – “Penetration”:

https://soundcloud.com/pavement-pr/penetration

 

Wyldlife – “Contraband”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4T9BgwCdxU

 

 

THE GENTLE CYCLE – The Gentle Cycle LP

Album: The Gentle Cycle

Artist: Gentle Cycle

Label: Psychedelphonic

Release Date: January 24, 2017

thegentlecycle.bandcamp.com

Gentle Cycle LP

The Upshot:  Psychedelic gem wherein all the cranial pleasure boxes get checked here, with revved-up raveups galore and a general vibe of joyful abandon at play throughout. Below, listen to some of the music via the Bandcamp app.

BY FRED MILLS

Shazam. That “5” out of 5 potential stars isn’t something I award lightly, but this platter’s an obvious future classic. Now, let it be acknowledged that it’s also journalistically dubious to quote from a band’s self-description, not to mention risky; Yo La Tengo used to submerge misinformation in their bios precisely to see what would get recycled as fact by the press, and sure enough, a number of foreign journalists who perhaps didn’t know any better took the bait. Here, though, I so wholeheartedly agree with said self-description, in classic wish-I’d-said-that style, that I see no point in going to the trouble of what would ultimately be a paraphrase.

Uttereth this San Jose-based outfit:

“The Gentle Cycle is utilizing vintage gear and a bygone recording ethos to birth a swirling, grooving style of rock ‘n’ roll that’s both timeless and relevant. The band come from an abstract foundation that’s more modern & forward thinking than most musicians beholden to period-correct tones. The Gentle Cycle balances universal emotions with astral, atmospheric sonic architecture.”

Damn. Wish I’d said that… What I will say, then, is that guitarist Derek See, having woodshedded with the latterday reincarnation of fellow San Jose icons the Chocolate Watchband, the Bang Girl Group, Joel Gion (Brian Jonestown Massacre), and more, finally makes his official debut as bandleader on The Gentle Cycle’s eponymous debut. It’s a delightfully rocking, ramshackle exploration of time and space via the inner eye, loaded with echoey, reverbed, and flanged guitar riffs, rough ‘n’ tumble rhythms, and cosmic lyrical ruminations—at least one foot and one paw firmly clutching the late ‘60s, while staking out a claim with the other pair of appendages as a contemporary avatar of all that is wylde and psychedelic.

From the throbbing orgaz-mo-tronic opening track “Follow Light,” which is all tumbling drums and clanging, cavern-filling riffage, and the fuzzed-out, Spacemen 3-esque overdrive of “Memory Day”; to the rippling, acoustic-based modal twang ‘n’ jangle of “Way to Decay” and the lengthy, hypnotic “Far Beyond,” a classic slice of Feelies-do-Velvets drone-choogle (there’s some Television worship in the guitar leads as well); The Gentle Cycle is as impressive a debut album as I’ve heard in eons. All the cranial pleasure boxes get checked here, with revved-up raveups galore and a general vibe of joyful abandon at play throughout. Hands down, yours truly’s favorite new release for 2017 thus far.

gENTLE cYCLE COLORED VINY;

There doesn’t seem to ba a wealth of info out there on the band yet. Willfully obscure or mystique-fostering? Who know? Who cares! Head straight to the Bandcamp link listed above and grab this slab of wax pronto, before the secret gets out and all 309 copies are gone. The limited-to-200 green vinyl edition is apparently sold out, but there may still be a few of the 109 black vinyl left. Plus digital, of course. And take note: according to the Gentle Cycle Facebook page, if you donate to Planned Parenthood, Dakota Access Pipeline Fund, PBS, Oxfam or the ACLU, they’ll send you a copy of the LP ($18 or more donation), or a download ($5 donation). How cool is that?

DOWNLOAD: Not a weak track, but if backed against a wall: “Far Beyond,” “She Came This Way,” “Memory Day”

TIFT MERRITT – Stitch of the World

Album: Stitch of the World

Artist: Tift Merritt

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: January 27, 2017

www.yeproc.com

Tift 1-27

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It’s taken a relatively short time for Tift Merritt to work her way up the rankings of today’s more sensitive, soul-baring brigade, a distinction that’s put her name on the lips of all those prone to point out those deserving of being the ones to watch. That’s unlikely to cause any argument from her faithful followers, who have already anointed her as a balladeer worthy of all the ballyhoo she’s been accorded, with every new album meriting the increased anticipation that’s clearly her due.

Stitch of the World is no exception, and while the majority of the songs are of the exceedingly mellow variety, it offers further proof of the fact that Merritt has now emerged as one of Americana’s most distinctive songwriters. While opening track “Dusty Old Man” conveys more than a hint of driving defiance, and “Proclamation Bones” offers up some sizzling slide guitar, the remainder of the tracks find her in reflective mode, all cozy sentiments instilled with sublime reflection. In fact, the sweet sentiments contained in songs such as “Heartache Is An Uphill Climb,” the shimmering and subdued “Icarus” and the gentle and reflective “Something Came Over Me” find her gliding easily across this tranquil terrain, adding to the engaging and accessible lure of the album overall. While some might complain that the tone is a bit too uniform throughout, the overall impression is one of sweet serenity, adding up to an entirely engaging effort that makes this a supreme standout by any measure.

What a lovely World view indeed.

DOWNLOAD: “Heartache Is An Uphill Climb,”“Icarus,” “Something Came Over Me”