Monthly Archives: September 2013

Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss, by Peter Criss with Larry “Ratso” Sloman

Title: Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss

Author: Peter Criss with Larry “Ratso” Sloman

Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: October 23, 2012

Peter Criss book


 Man, Peter Criss must have just been seething behind those drums for decades.

Sitting on his stool watching Gene $immons do that creepy tongue thing night after night between blood spits and fire breathing; checking out Paul Stanley stroke his guitar between his legs like it was a six-stringed cock; and Ace doing… well Ace doing whatever it is he does, but clearly drunk and stoned  while doing it. Judging from his new book Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss (co-authored with Larry “Ratso” Sloman), Criss was one pissed off kitty cat.

  Makeup to Breakup doesn’t really blow the doors of any preconceived notions we have of Kiss –those were all shattered years ago by various books by fellow band members include Ace Frehley’s contribution to the cannon earlier this year.  Criss rehashes many of the same observations we’ve heard before: Gene Simmons is an egotistical man whore who loves women as much as he hates showering; Paul Stanley can be just as bad as Gene, just busier with all of the visits to his shrink; and Frehley loved his booze and drugs. But Criss seems to spend a great deal of his book reveling in his distaste for his band mates (Frehley gets off a little easier, as Criss actually considered Ace a friend for a few years after they went AWOL from the Kiss Army). He tries hard to paint Stanley as gay, despite never seeing him with a man and even gleefully recounts Frehley making out with a male friend on tour during the late ‘70s. There is a funny, if petty, anecdote about Stanley stuffing his pants (a la Spinal Tap) on their endless reunion tour.

 It is also remarkable how oblivious Criss has become even when strolling down memory lane. The sappy ballad “Beth,” Criss’ best known contribution to the band and a punch line to many hard rock followers of the band, is a masterpiece in his world and a feat he has tried to top throughout the remainder of his career (dammit, it won a People’s Choice Award!). He also breathlessly recounts his time with groupies, telling with no hint of shame, about stripping one poor girl naked, covering her with ketchup, mustard and lunch meat before throwing her on the hotel elevator and hitting the button for the lobby. Just chapters later he goes on and on about how much he loves his daughter (clearly these groupies are all orphans).

 Much like Kiss’s music, Makeup to Breakup is a guilty pleasure. You know there are little redeeming qualities, but if “hard Luck Woman” or “Cold Gin” came on in your car, you would make sure the windows are rolled up tight and then sing right along. This book is a bit like that. You may roll your eyes and shout “come on!” out loud while reading it, but you can’t help but read every single page.  My advice: pick up the new Neil Young memoir and tuck this book inside that one when reading it out in public. 

 Like many of his former hard rock contemporaries that religious groups once pegged as devotees of Satan (Alice Cooper, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine), Criss himself closes the book relaying his recently-found tight relationship with God. If these bands really did sell their souls to the devil years ago, Satan has clearly dropped the ball as a band manager. 

The King of Good Intentions, by John Andrew Fredrick

Title: The King of Good Intentions

Author: John Andrew Fredrick

Publisher: Verse Chorus Press

Publication Date: May 07, 2013

John Fredrick


 Never mind that his name alone practically screams intellectual intent, John Andrew Fredrick has established himself as perhaps the most literate indie rocker plying his trade in the merciless maelstrom that is the music scene today. The sole constant in the California based band The Black Watch, Fredrick has managed to maintain creative credence in the face of near total indifference, while plying his literary endeavours as an English professor at Santa Monica College. Given his background, it would seem this first novel is long overdue, and given its survey of hapless musicians following their muse in hopes of garnering some measure of appreciation, its belated appearance becomes all the more confounding. The plot is set in the early ‘90s after all, some twenty years prior, which also gives Fredrick a good out when it comes to detailing the foibles of what is presumably his own uncertain youth.

 Likewise, the fact that the tellingly titled The King of Good Intentions also tends to ramble and frequently digress gives credence to its characters’ slacker mentality. It’s a credit to Fredrick’s ability to straddle two worlds, that of a knowing narrator as well one inhabited by a street savvy participant. The world he describes — a habitat for wannabes, weirdos, manic musicians, psycho neighbors, unrepentant  bitches and people both pompous and pretentious, is inbred in L.A., but probably familiar to most, especially those whose dreams of glory are barely beyond the initial nightmare stages.

John Fredrick book

 Indeed, Fredrick’s prose suits those circumstances well. His frequent vents often drift off course, but at the same time, strike a relatable tone, giving the impression he’s abandoning the plot to speak directly to the reader instead. It’s a form of subliminal eye contact, one that makes the reader feel a part of the discourse, and like a confidant, as if tagging along with the adventure in very real time. Even so, Fredrick’s non sequiturs tend to be off-kilter and distracting. Take for example his merciless description of a band mate’s girlfriend:

“What she went by most oft, as far as I could tell, was Natasha: short for nauseous, basically. Which is what she made anyone with any taste, I thought. I mean, not being able to specify what you’re supposed to be called or anything? What’s up with that? To be less than terrifically particular about what your particular nomenclature or even cognomen fucking is, as long as it starts with an “N” sounds and ends in something mushy and faintly-fairly Russianish? I mean, come on.”

 Yes, Fredrick can be harsh and unsparing… indirectly — or directly — on those attempting to follow a meandering plot while wading through a frequently self-indulgent text. Yet the fact that these tales are obviously drawn from firsthand experience makes them wholly relatable, giving Fredrick license to bare his embarrassments and vent well beyond reason.

 Ah, but there’s a limit. When he insists the Smithereens suck, well, it’s hard to avoid the impression that maybe he’s simply jealous.

 As for the rest of this diatribe, it’s simply a hoot. A hoot that’s well worth any indulgence.

Savages + Duke Garwood 9/19/13, Denver

Dates: September 19, 2013

Location: The Bluebird, Denver CO



This was a heavily anticipated gig and judging by the packed house it looks like it was for several other folks as well.  I had heard very little music by Duke Garwood, but judging by his name alone—and his look—you’d think he might be herding cattle in Wyoming. But no, he was standing on the Bluebird stage with a guitar in hand and he had a pal next to him, also with guitar; they additionally had backing tapes with drums. The music? Not the straight country I was expecting, but something much darker, more sinister, like he’s the bastard child of Nick Cave and PJ Harvey (only he’s probably older than both of them … figure that one out!). Not something I’d drop and play at any given moment, but it does have it time and place.


The witching hour came at 10:15 PM and out came the four ladies of Savages. Their debut record, Silence Yourself, was released on Matador a few months back along with a fair amount of well-deserved hype. Dressed entirely in black, they opened up with “I Am Here” then led into the crowd-favorite “Shut Up.” Vocalist Jehnny Beth offered some choice words to the crowd in her thick German accent (“I am a dirty dog…”) while the rest of the band, guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Faye Milton, were entranced in their own worlds. The band continued to hammer their point home for a good hour and fifteen minutes leading up to a set-ending version of “Fuckers” which was amazing. That locked groove lasted for a solid 10 minutes until they had no more to give, and they left the nearly sold-out crowd beaten yet content.

They came out for a few encores (the first one being a Suicide cover and the 2nd one with vocalist on an electric piano and a guesting Garwood on his dented, beaten sax). Encores weren’t bad, but after the devastating regular set, a bit anti-climactic. A small quibble as this bunch more than earned their keep tonight.

Califone + Richard Buckner 9/19/13, Northampton MA

Dates: September 19, 2013

Location: Iron Horse, Northampton MA

Tim Richard


 The last time I saw Richard Buckner play was in 1999 at Maxwell’s on a bill with Alejandro Escovedo, a show which seemed just as stripped down but more raucous than the current one, and at which a lot of alcohol was consumed, both on and off the stage. Tonight Buckner is all unadorned intensity, one guy with an old stool, a battered guitar bristling with strings and a clutch of free verse poetry set to that flutters from burnt out desolation to tentative, fluttering hope. It’s a remarkable, mesmerizing set, one where people are making so little noise that I worry about the sound of my camera, where the connection between performer and audience is so tight that it seems rude to be taking notes.

 Buckner starts with “Surrounded,” the title track from his latest album. It’s a rustic jangle of picked notes rising up like bramble vines around his weathered, murmur of a voice. It’s the flat-edge of heart-ache, this plainspoken voice, until it twists suddenly, sideways in sliding flourishes, upwards in near falsetto runs, and becomes almost flowery.

 Buckner gets a lot of variety out of his acoustic guitar, putting a hard rock-into-blues spine under “Born Into Giving It Up,” coaxing gentle country-folk picking from it for “Collusion,” finding the slow, Takoma-style silences between the notes in gorgeous “Ariel Ramirez.” You don’t ever forget that there’s no band, but you don’t exactly miss it either.

 Not much of a banterer, Buckner does confide, while tuning, that the engine light in his truck had gone off that morning, and far from taking this as a good since, he assumed that it was because his catalytic converter had finally disintegrated and could no longer send a signal that it was ailing. He told the story in the same tossed-off, self-deprecating manner that he sang his very sad songs, as if what could you expect?  Things break. People disappear.

 The songs aren’t structured in any easy verse chorus way, but seem to run on, free-form, without repeating themselves until they end, and I notice right away, that the last line is the devastating one, the bit of blunt, scalding revelation that the song has been heading towards all along. I find myself writing down these final observations as he goes along. “What will you miss when things are fine?” from “Town.” “It was fine just to lose,” from “Loaded at the Wrong Door.” They’re the kind of lyrics – like the songs themselves – that persist in a quiet way, in your head and in the air around you, for a long time after the tune has faded.

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Califone – recently profiled at BLURT – has done a good bit of setting up before the show, but there’s still plenty to do with two drum sets – one for Megafaun’s Joe Westerlund, the other for sometime Decemberist Rachel Blumberg – as well as a mess of guitars, keyboards and one bass. There are fewer non-traditional percussion instruments – no seashells or bottlecaps or children’s toys this time – but that’s because this new configuration of Tim Rutilli’s band is more driving then delicate in its approach to rhythm. Will Hendricks, who has been involved with Califone at least since Heron King Blues sits at a keyboard on the right side of the stage. Rutili takes the middle.

 I’m not even sure when they start, because they begin in a miasma of feedback, buzz, drone, beeps and subliminal sounds that sounds, at first, like they’re still tuning. The sound builds gradually, a slow massive crescendo, and then resolves, quite suddenly into the lilt of “Orchids,” the Psychic TV song that Califone first covered on Roots & Crowns.

 Califone’s newest album, Stitches, is somewhat lighter on the sound experiments than previous records, but they make up for it live, with most of the big rock-like highlights of that album emerging from a fecund stew of tonal experiment. The dual percussion set up mostly adds power and propulsion, but it also allows for a certain amount of weirdness, as when Joe Westerlund switches to Theremin during Quicksand/Cradlesnakes’s “Michigan Girls.”

 The band opens with older material, but spends most of its time on Stitches,  beginning an oceanic hum and stick cadences of “A Thin Skin of a Bullfighter,” hitting an early high point with the hard-drummed, rock-pounding “Frosted Tips,” and quieting, a little, for the splayed slides and hoarse ruminations of “Movie Music Kills a Kiss.”

 Rutili has a goofy side, which comes out while tuning for “Moses.” He ventures first that Moses liked to party, and then goes onto an extended appreciation of Linda Ronstadt (Moses was a fan, too, apparently), especially she of the roller-skating Living in the USA cover. Later, also during tuning, we hear about Rutilli’s fetish for Amish women. (“Cleanliness and purity,” Hendricks agrees, nodding.) 

 There is a song I don’t recognize – I think now “Electric Fence” from Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People — and then the long hazy intro to “Bells Break Arms” and “Stitches.” Towards the end, it’s maybe 11:15, people are sneaking out and Rutili calls them on it. “You’re leaving?” he says in disbelief. “Fuck. You, too?” And someone who is not leaving, not really, says, “Can you play ‘Magdalene’ next?  I’ve got to go.” Rutili plays with it, his outrage at least partly theatrical (but also, where do these people have to go that they can’t stay for the last three songs?), and everyone’s laughing (nervously) as he vents at a guy who is not really leaving, just playing along. (He stays.) 

 And then Califone plays “Magdalene,” with its epic, sweeping blues-y-ness, its canted convention, its whispery mysticism, and it thrusts all the silliness aside. What a band. How could you go before this happened?   

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Album: Essential Tremors


Label: ATO

Release Date: September 03, 2013

J Roddy 9-17


 Baltimore, by way of Tennessee, rockers J. Roddy Walston & The Business stretch beyond their comfortable Southern rock take on Led Zeppelin – a sound that was lathered all over their last couple of releases – for more creative and honestly refreshing slower tempo rockers on Essential Tremors. The only problem is you have to wade through the first half of the album to get to the good stuff.

 This four-piece has been at it for about a decade now and while 2010’s self-titled effort (their fifth record at the time) was a fun, grimy Southern update on The Stones, the first five songs off of Essential Tremors gives the impression that the band is simply just going to switch up the lyrics, tweak a tuning or two and rewrite the same record. But six songs in, with the soft piano intro of “Nobody Knows” followed by the optimistic “Hard Times” it’s obvious the band was just sitting on better songs.

 Essential Tremors hides some of the bands’ strongest songs in years. You just have to dig for them.     

  DOWNLOAD: “Nobody Knows,” “Hard Times” and “Boys Can Never Tell”


MAZZY STAR — Seasons Of Your Day

Album: Seasons of Your Day

Artist: Mazzy Star

Label: Rhymes of an Hour Records

Release Date: September 24, 2013

Mazzy Star 9-24


 You can take 17 years off between albums if you happen to Mazzy Star and your return is the even hazier, dreamier, more sun-bleached and twilit Seasons Of Your Day. “In the Kingdom” opens the 10-song collection with a languid beat belying the urgency of its melody. Hope Sandoval’s vocal is frozen in time, still as dusky as her “Fade Into You” days. On the gorgeously eerie single “California” (guitarist David Roback’s minor chords and finger styling nod to Zeppelin’s “Going to California”) she sings, “I think I hear the whisper of an old best friend / I think I hear the bells ringing in the square.”

 Seasons is the return of an old best friend; a return to shoegaze Americana, from the contained wilderness of “Flying Low” with its menacing harmonica and atmospheric guitars to the spare and delicate title track. On that song, between emotive sweeps of strings, Sandoval sings, “I know you’ve been missing me.” Those words are haunting. And true.

 DOWNLOAD: “In the Kingdom,” “Flying Low”

THE NOMADS – Solna (Loaded Deluxe Edition)

Album: Solna (Loaded Deluxe Edition)

Artist: Nomads

Label: Career Records

Release Date: September 24, 2013





Before the Hellacopters and Scandinavia relaunched rock & roll, there was the Nomads. The long-running Swedish quartet justifies its longevity on its eighth LP Solna. With one foot in Nuggets and the other in Detroit, the Nomads blast the cap with “Miles Away,” knocking one guitar-rocking ball after another out of the park. “20,000 Miles,” “Get Out of My Mind” and “Hangman’s Walk” get fists pumping and air guitars waving with practiced ease.


The band indulges its Between the Buttons jones with the dark folk rock of “The Bad Times Will Do Me Good” and adds healthy splashes of power pop to “Make Up My Mind,” “The Way You Let Me Down” and “You Won’t Break My Heart.” Bassist Bjorn Fröberg and producer Chips Kiesbye co-penned a batch of winners here, which lead guitarist Hans Östlund and singer Niklas Vahlberg bring to glorious, blazing life. The Nomads set the standard for Nordic rawk, and while any sense of innovation has long faded, Solna proves that the band still kicks ass in all the right ways.


DOWNLOAD: “Hangman’s Walk,” “The Bad Times Will Do Me Good”


Album: IV

Artist: Sasquatch

Label: Small Stone

Release Date: September 24, 2013



 Sasquatch has always distinguished itself from the hard rock pack by virtue of its songwriting. Rather than come up with one killer riff to beat into the ground for five minutes, leader Keith Gibbs pens actual melodies, with vocal lines that counterpoint the guitar work and flexible rhythms that lend some swing to the pound.

 IV (the L.A. trio’s fourth LP, natch) is no exception to the fine work on previous platters. Check out “Smoke Signals,” a roaring, angry, yet still accessible cut for a savory slice of heavy rock & roll pie – it’s a prime example of what the band does best. From the singalong tuneship powering rockers “The Message” and “Wolves At My Door” to the underlying melody giving a lift to grinders like “Eye of the Storm” and “Me and You,” Sasquatch does more than just bash it out amid variations on “Weren’t the 70s great?” Forget the Me Decade – Sasquatch rawks in the here and now.

 DOWNLOAD: “Smoke Signals,” “The Message,” “Wolves At My Door”

MOTHER HIPS – Behind Beyond

Album: Behind Beyond

Artist: Mother Hips

Label: self-released

Release Date: June 11, 2013

Mother Hips


 When guitarists Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono formed The Mother Hips from their dorm room at Cal State-Chico nearly 25 years ago, they probably didn’t envision putting out their 8th studio album in the year 2013, much less the fact that it would be delivered via vinyl record and something called a digital download. After all, 1990 was the dawn of the CD age and vinyl was becoming a relic and the Internet was still under the purview of uber-geeks and Al Gore.

 Looking back, it might seem equally as unlikely that they would’ve made it this far. Theirs is a classic tale of a supremely talented band flying criminally under the radar of mainstream acclaim. There have been the brushes with the big time, like when they were signed to Rick Rubin’s American Records alongside The Black Crowes and others before the label lost interest and dropped them in the mid-‘90s. Then there were the requisite dust-ups, break-ups and inevitable lineup changes. They had farewell concerts, reunion concerts, released albums on labels, released albums independently, put out a retrospective box set, pursued other projects and generally ebbed and flowed in and out of each other’s orbit. As for right now, they’re back in that orbit and humming along at a comfortable and rhythmic whirr.

One of the unseen forces that seems to draw them back under the gravitational pull of The Mother Hips is a deeply devoted fanbase in their native California. While their touring radius never extended much beyond the Western US over the decades, in many ways it didn’t need to. The fans kept bringing them back together and loyally supporting them, even pushing them. Two different documentary films have been produced about the band and their tribulations and triumphs.  Those fans will not be disappointed with Behind Beyond.

The band’s oeuvre has shifted over the years, from hook-heavy pop to crunchier, prog-influenced rock epics and country-tinged, pastoral outings. Since their inception, there have been other bands come along to cultivate similarly adept brands of Americana music. Fans of folks like Wilco and Dr. Dog might be surprised to learn that the Mother Hips were first to the party years ago, forging country-tinged, soulful sounding Americana before it was a thing. Lately, the band has adopted it’s own moniker for the particular genre-mash they’ve concocted: California Soul.

 It’s a mostly apt descriptor on Behind Beyond, certainly in the “California” part of the equation.  So much of Behind Beyond forms an unmistakable tendril connecting them to their California forebearers.  The most obvious and undeniable is to the easy going mid-‘70s Grateful Dead—the version of the iconic group that had moved beyond feedback drenched acid test space jams and the strictly acoustic renderings of American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead to produce their own brand of mythical Americana songs like “Ramble on Rose,” “Jack Straw” and “Tennessee Jed.” Here, the Hips’ “Toughy” recalls those days with a light touch that provides a hint of homage without approaching aping.

They delve into other sunny day penchants, too.  On Loiacono’sBest Friend In Town,” the lush harmonies, languorous guitar solos and sweetly sentimental lyrics recall the heyday of Laurel Canyon grooviness. Similarly with rollicking “Rose of Rainbows” as its jubilant refrain about rainbows, “gentle creatures” and “joyful teardrops” comes across as a paean to the nature-loving hippiedom of the titular character, replete with delicately intricate and melodically pleasing guitar lines that interweave in bucolic wonder.  The pedal steel swath of the title track recalls Burrito Brothers and New Riders, and so on.

But it’s not all sun-dappled, hippy-dippy good vibes. In the otherwise brooding “Jefferson Army,” the Hips insert a twin-guitar assault that reeks of crushed metal and militaristic march that conjures the mayhem and heat of a battle. It’s one of the album’s lyrical triumphs too, an evocative narrative tale of revolutionary fighters in a fact-based but mythologized secessionist movement. The movement for the establishment of the state of Jefferson—an area of northern coastal California and southern Oregon—was a real movement in the 1940s and in Bluhm’s version is ongoing, as generations train their families to revolt. It’s a nice piece of craftsmanship that veils a take on modern state of political affairs.

Elsewhere, they grapple with heavy issues too, the California soul being a complex mechanism not easily characterized by sunny days and fast cars. The existential pondering of “Man of Not Man” speaks of drinking the blood of “ancient ones” in a dream-induced fever, before building into a cathartic burst.   The dark, foreboding “Shape The Bell” morphs into a sing-songy bounce, obscuring the “twisted corpse of dawn” in a psychedelic dilemma. The Beach Boys, it ain’t.

 Throughout the eleven tracks of Behind Beyond the Hips manage to sing sweetly and rock hardy, weaving roaring guitars with easy breezy pedal steel and make it all rock.  That is to say The Mother Hips are a fully formed and complexly designed rock band, a long way from that dorm room, and living vibrantly with all the intricacies of their history bearing fruit in mature, multifaceted songwriting and inventive and accomplished structures. The title song touches on years past, regret, and the importance of inward harmony to soldier on. Bluhm sings, “My how the years roll by and they pick up speed/Like mountain roads and many months away from home” and the dream-like refrain of “I’m alive!” repeats until it the guitars drift away, until next time.

  DOWNLOAD: “Toughy,” “Jefferson Army,” “Isle Not Of Man,” “Rose of Rainbows”

WILLIE SUGARCAPPS – Willie Sugarcapps

Album: Willie Sugarcapps

Artist: Willie Sugacaps

Label: Royal Potato Family

Release Date: August 20, 2013

Willie Sugarcapps


 Critics may tout Willie Sugarcapps as a supergroup of sorts, but hype and resumes aside, they’ll likely also get singled out as one of this year’s most promising ensembles. An amalgamation that draws on the talents of various accomplished individuals (Will Kimbrough, Bryson Capps and Corky Hughes) – and at least one veteran duo (Sugarcane Jane) – the band melds its respective resources effortlessly, their results manifest in a series of homespun tunes that cast a wide gaze over the heartland. The entreating title track, a bluegrass ballad, sets the tone for all that follows, while the weathered tale of one “Mr. Lee,” the down home designs of the gritty “Mud Bottom” and the zydeco flavor of an upbeat “Poison” stir up the sentiment and ensure the interest.

 As a result, Willie Sugarcapps’ unpretentious airs affirm a feeling of back porch familiarity that all but guarantees instant appeal. While the individual members will likely continue a pursuit of their individual trajectories, Willie Sugarcapps shows enough promise to make a return appearance seem like a certainty.

 DOWNLOAD: “Mr. Lee,” “Mud Bottom,” “Poison”