Category Archives: New Releases

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS – Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt. 7

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, HERE for Pt. 2, HERE for Pt. 3,  HERE for Pt. 4, HERE for Pt.5, and HERE for Pt.6. FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text. Pictured above: the eternal Suzi “Can the Can” Quatro, aka Leather Tuscadero – accept no subsitute.

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

For some artists, a lack of evolution leads to a long, slow death (and not the cool Flamin’ Groovies kind). Others, however, find their groove and not only stick to it, but make it sound fresh, over and over again. Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders are one such – the former Lazy Cowgirls leader and his merry crew have stayed in a punk-informed roots rawk lane for over a decade now (longer if you count the last few LPs by the Cowgirls) and have yet to falter. The Past Came Callin’ (Hound Gawd/Rough Trade) maintains the high standard of quality of the quintet’s previous four records, even if its construction is slightly more motley than usual. Though chock full of bristlingly strong new tunes – check “Call You On Sunday Night,” “A New Pair of Eyes” and “The Ballad of Crystal Valladares” for cowpunk done right on – Todd turns his back pages to resurrect some older songs, some going back twenty years.

 

The blazing “Yeah, Ya Had a Bad Night” and “If I Could Only Fly Backwards in Time” and the Cowgirls’ “Somewhere Down the Line” shake off any accumulated rust with ease and sound fresh as daisies. Todd also pulls out some favorites from other folks’ catalogs, including a heartfelt rendition of Stax soul staple William Bell’s “Any Other Way,” an appropriately folky take on the old Texan ballad “Down in Old Boerne” and the acoustically rockin’ “Idle Time,” penned by Sons of Hercules’ Dale Hollon. This typically fine Rankoutsiders album wraps up with “Just Between You & Me” – just Todd, an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a human soul. 

As one of the few acts that understands how to take inspiration from the sixties without being overtly retro, The Connection has been one of the best power pop/garage rock bands to hit the stage in the last decade. After six albums in eight years, the time has apparently come for the inevitable solo albums. Lead singer Brad Marino weighs in with Extra Credit (Rum Bar), a collaboration with Rum Bar labelmate and Connection bandmate Kris Rodgers and songwriter Michael Chaney. Clearly Marino’s apples don’t fall far from the tree – though perhaps a hair poppier and less aggressive than the Connection’s work, “Don’t Do the Crime,” “What Comes Naturally” and “Fit To Be Tied” would fit right in on one of that band’s better records. (Note: the CD we received lists four bonus tracks on the cover, but they’re not on the actual disk.) Marino’s  songsmithing partner Geoff Palmer, however, adds an 80s punk/pop vibe to his solo debut Pulling Out All the Stops (Rum Bar). Aided by various former and current Connections (including Marino and Chaney), Palmer puts an overt 60s spin on the crunchy sweetness of bands like All and the Descendants with tongue-in-cheek sugarbombs like “Everything is Cool,” “All the Hits” and “I Like Murder Too.” 

Speaking of the sixties, the career of Richard X. Heyman goes back to that decades via still-going New Jersey rockers the Doughboys, so when he draws on that era for inspiration, it’s helpful to remember that he’s a first-gen practitioner. That said, that sound is only as good as its timelessness, and the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist hits that note squarely on his twelfth and latest album Pop Circles (Turn-Up). From the folk-rocking “Upside and Down” and the creamy “As Love Would Have It” to the crystalline jangle pop of “Guess You Had to Be There” and the melodic aggression of “Action Screams Louder Than Words,” Heyman makes the art of catchy power pop seems ridiculously easy. No innovation here, but pushing the envelope isn’t nearly as important on this record as heartfelt craft.

Austin’s intrepid Ugly Beats have similarly never let their sixties obsessions hold them back. On fifth album Stars Align (Get Hip), the quintet pens a typically winsome set of melodic pop rockers that are much Yellow Pills as #Nuggets#, highlighted by the jangling “All In,” chugging “Take Your Time” and hopping “Boy, You’re in Love.”

 

Milwaukee’s Indonesian Junk keeps one foot in street-smart, sleazy glam and the other in bar band power pop on its third LP Spiderbites (Rum Bar), just as it has on its prior albums. While its attitude remains consistent, head Junker Daniel James just keeps getting better as a songwriter, with stronger melodies, more mature construction and a general sense that the sky’s the limit on his talent. Thus the band easily shifts from the Chuck Berry muscle of “Headbanger” to the almost pretty pop rock of “City Lights,” from the desperate punk & roll of “Through the Night” to the moody quasi-ballad “I Could Die,” without sounding like it’s trying too hard. Further proof that IJ is one of the best-kept secrets in rock & roll.

Mining an extremely sweet spot between power pop, roots rock and garage rock, Thee Idylls reiterate the strengths of simplicity: strong songs played without frills and plenty of conviction on their second EP My Fist. My Voice. My Dress. My Letter. (Chicken Ranch). No surprise, really, given that the L.A. foursome is led by John Crooke of long-gone alt.country shouldabeenstars Jolene, but here the singer/songwriter sounds refreshed, if not galvanized, by his years out of the spotlight. “A Picture Made” would have ruled college radio three decades ago, “Of California” hard-drives itself into the set-closing slot of any well-heeled rock & roll band, and “My Camera” merely stands as excellent. When this band gets around to a full-length LP, it’ll no doubt be a stone killer. (Note: the EP will be available in January on digital formats and as an extremely limited 10-inch. Ed note: And a lathe-cut 10-inch as that. Better order fast, as I did.]

It’s fair to slap a “garage rock” label on Cromm Fallon. After all, his solo debut Electric Bloom (Rum Bar) is full of sixties-style bon-bons like the rocking “East Bay” and “Out of Control” and the jangly “Scars From You,” and sweet bites they are, too. But the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (who also works with the Van der Rohe and the Laissez Faires) has reaches beyond his Nuggets collection for rackety pop soul (“The Next One”), brooding acid balladry (“No Sleep”), introspective folk rock (“Death Room”), dreamy psych pop (“Electric Change”) and lumering proto-metal (“Hired Suicide”). Boasting a knack for strong melodies and a straightforward vocal style that works whatever direction he wanders, Fallon comes up with a strong debut with loads of promise of future glories. 

Sounding as if the Replacements hit Hootenanny and quit evolving, Boston’s legendary Dogmatics return from self-imposed limbo with She’s the One (Rum Bar) – their first new music in (wait for it) thirty years. Featuring timeless rock & roll nuggets like “I Love Rock and Roll” (not the Arrows tune Joan Jett made famous), “The Ballad of Wilbur Ross” and the title track, not to mention snappy takes on Richie Parsons’ “Summertime” and the Reducers’ “Black Plastic Shoes,” the EP showcases a band that’s none the worse for wear after so much time away. Labelmates The Gotham Rockets hail from a different scene entirely – led by singer/guitarist Matt Langone and drummer Mighty Joe Vincent, the quartet’s soaked in the NYC garage rock scene going back decades. But the four songs on Blast Off (Rum Bar) evince the same love of rock & roll of many eras, from the fifties (dig Steve Greenfield’s sizzlin’ sax) to the eighties (the cool power pop of “What’s Done is Done”). Besides, how could anyone resist a line like “My love is strong – it’s been known to change the weather?”

Denver’s Fast Eddy celebrate that point when power poppers jumped into the action rock pool, adopting turbocharged Big Rawk flash and sneering attitude while keeping the foundation of pop melody and creamy harmonies intact. (Cf. Biters, the Greatest Hits, Wyldlife, etc.) Produced by Biters’ Tuk Smith, Toofer One (Boulevard Trash/Spaghetty Town), the quartet’s latest 7-inch is rich with all the virtues listed above – “Hurricane Alley” and “Milwaukee” present high craft attacked with rock & roll abandon, while “Lost” updates Chuck Berry for a post-punk rock world. The U.K.’s Los Pepes count as fellow travelers on their latest album Positive Negative (Gods Candy/Spaghetty Town), pumping up tuneful confections like “Let Me Tell You Something,” “Think Back” and “Ain’t Life Easy” with enough energy to light up an underground cavern, and just enough attitude to be dangerous. Is it punk? Is it power pop? Is it action rock? All of the above, and all blitz.

Melbourne’s Baby 8 keep the same faith, with a sweet ‘n’ crunchy melange of punk, power pop, hard rock and psychedelia on its debut We Hate Each Other, But We Hate You More# (Kasumuen). That the band can move so easily between the candy-coated pop of “Hypodermic” to the sneering butt rock of “Night Wants to Kill” without whiplash shows off a subtly high caliber of songcraft and a personality that imprints no matter what the template.   

A longtime associate of “Medway sound” mavens Billy Childish and Holly Golightly, prolific rocker Dan Melchior inaugurates his Band with ’Outside In’ (Midnight Cruiser). Though still a good fit in whatever low-fi, garage rocking genre Childish developed way back when, Melchior incorporates such arty flavors as postpunk and #motorik# into his punkabilly racket, allowing him to stretch out on tunes like the mantra-minded “Brownsville,” “Chinese Wine” and the groovy title track without slipping into jam band territory. “Pheasant Plucker,” a catchy version of the standard “Rye Whiskey” and a delightful take on Mose Allison’s “Your Mind is On Vacation” fulfill the basic rock requirements as well. 

Blurt’s covered the ever-prolific Left Lane Cruiser a few times before, for good reason: the weed-obsessed Indiana outfit rarely falters. #Shake and Bake (Alive), the group’s tenth record, finds the (once again) trio in fine form. Led, as always, by Freddy J IV’s gritty voice and dirty slide guitar, the band puts the pedal to the boogie with a set of raw-boned rock & roll rattlers. Blues is the flour, punk is the butter and “Two Dollar Elvis,” “Breaking You Down” and “Sweat Love to Shine” are the tasty biscuits. 

Led by the Gotohells’ Edo McGrady,  Cheap Gunslingers crank up the punk & roll on their self-titled debut LP (Rum Bar). Though originally intended to feature vanished performance artist Melissa DuCasse as part of the lineup, the trio sounds enthusiastic and confident here, putting three or four chords to good use on sneering, catchy blasters like “Record Store” and the self-explanatory “Three Chords” – not to mention the outlaw country outlier “Water Table Line.” Cheap and easy pleasures, maybe, but oh-so-satisfying.

 

The unrepentant snotrockets in Nottingham’s Hip Priests keep the throttle stuck on “full” for their fourth LP Stand For Nothing (Gods Candy/Ghost Highway/Digital Warfare). Wielding a blunt instrument perfected from bits of punk and hard rock, the quintet eschews prisoners on slam rock anthems “Cheers to Me,” “Losers of the Faith” (heh) and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Leper” with so much fury you’d swear they were from Scandinavia.

 

Southern California’s legendary Dickies appear and disappear at will, but they’re never gone for good. Still led by singer Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee, the quintet rears its crazy-eyed head for a quick two-song single (Slope). Side A takes on “I Dig Go-Go Girls,” a Cheap Trick outtake circa that band’s first album. It’s presented fairly faithfully to the Trick’s patented hard pop style, complete with an attempt by guest vocalist Monkey (from the Adicts) at Robin Zander’s vocal acrobatics. The flip side fares better, as “The Dreaded Pigasaurus,” a new original, boasts such a catchy melody and dollop of sheer silliness, it’s worth the price of admission alone.  

New music from the gleefully-rocking Giuda is always a good thing, and new single “Overdrive” b/w “Lunar Eye” (Rise Above) is no different. The Italian combo’s giddy glam rock vision has expanded to include more straightforward hard rock of late, but that doesn’t mean they’ve forgone their singalong hooks, as both these songs prove. Very few modern acts capture the original seventies spirit of glam without carbon copying – that Giuda does it so effortlessly makes them ingenious as well as pure fun. Unlike Giuda, Suzi Quatro was doing the glam rock thing in the beginning. The Detroit-bred/German-dwelling singer/songwriter/bassist sounds no worse for nearly fifty years of wear, however, on No Control (Steamhammer/SPV). Some odd diversions (like the Latin pop of “Love Isn’t Fair”) aside, the songs rock like mothers – check out “Macho Man,” “Easy Pickin’s” and the magnificent pener “No Soul/No Control” to hear a pioneer casually show up her progeny. 

“Heartland punk” is not a thing some of us thought would ever happen, but there’s more attitudinal crossover between Bruce Springsteen and the Clash that one might think. Add some of that good old fashioned Midwestern melody and you’ve got a band like Mono in Stereo. Following its 2015 debut Long For Yesterday, the Rockford, IL quartet returns with Can’t Stop the Bleeding (Rum Bar), five slices of tuneful rock/punk with hearts on sleeves. “The Conversation,” “Different Kind of Man” and the title track will make fast friends with fans of acts like the Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, the Junk Monkeys and Rum Bar compadres Nato Coles and The Right Here. 

Nat Freedberg is hardly a household name, but surely he qualifies as some sort of underground rock legend by now, at least in the Northeast. Having led the Flies, the Titanics and the Upper Crust, Freedberg (who released the fine solo LP #Better Late Than Never# earlier this year) unveils his new combo Freeloader with The Path of Least Resistance  (Rum Bar). Leaving aside his punk and power pop leanings, the Boston rawk stalwart leans into no-bullshit hard rock, like the Crust without the theatrical trappings. (Well, except for the ridiculous “The Highland Fling.”) Though #Path# could use some of the Crust’s over-the-top energy, solid riffs abound (cf. “The Thing to Do” and “Back of the Line”), and Freedberg’s wry sense of humor shines on “Halfway Decent” and “Ten Songs Make An Album.” If you’ve ever wanted to know what Bon Scott would sound like covering the Four Seasons, check out Freeloader’s cover of “Rag Doll.” 

 

Butt rockin’ has long been the sole province of Canadian fistpumper Danko Jones, as evidenced on A Rock Supreme (M-Theory Audio). Jones and his rhythm section bring a certain sophistication to their ninth album, letting a little musical variety into the trio’s previously hermetically sealed world – cf. the smooth dynamic shifts of “Dance Dance Dance.” But musical development has never been the highest of priorities for Jones, and that’s just fine. Fancy intervals and jazz scales would only get in the way of the earthy riffery and singalong choruses of “Lipstick City” and “Fists Up High.” When you can sing “All I want to do is play my guitar and rock ‘n’ roll” with this much sincerity, you don’t need to “improve.” 

Back in its eighties L.A. heyday, Junkyard never quite fit into its Aquanet-misted surroundings. [I saw ’em twice back in the day and they kicked ass! – Ed.] Neither as glitter-sexed as Poison, nor as gutter-desperate as Guns ‘N Roses, the Texas/California hybrid (featuring former axeslingers from Minor Threat and the Big Boys) was too riddled with street punk and Southern rock to fit comfortably on the late 80s version of Headbanger’s Ball. Thus the quintet’s first two albums for Geffen never quite caught on, and the third was never released at all. Until now, that is. Only 27 years late, Old Habits Die Hard (Acetate) finally rears its denim-wrapped head. (Some of these songs appeared on the band’s self-released odds ‘n’ sods collections Joker and XXX.) Traces of both punk and the blues line the borders of hard rockers “I Come Crawling” and “Take Me Home,” while “Hangin’ Around” could slip into the setlist of your average alt.country bar band and no one would know the difference. The ballad “Tried & True” sounds genuinely heartbroken and soulful, unlike the efforts by most of their peers, and “Pushed You Too Far” is the kind of catchy, exciting anthem that should’ve put them over. Had Old Habits Die Hard come out when it was supposed to, it…probably would’ve been buried alive by the Alternative Nation. But who knows? Maybe it would’ve kept the band from being unfairly labeled a hair metal footnote.  

Speaking of folks mislabeled due to proximity (deliberate and otherwise) to headbangers with bigger video budgets than guitar amps, legendary rocker and Sunset Strip influencer Michael Monroe returns with One Man Gang (Silver Lining Music), his fifth solo record since the second dissolution of his seminal band Hanoi Rocks. With his international band (guitarists Steve Conte and Rich Jones, bassist Sami Yaffa, drummer Karl Rockfist) still in tow, Monroe maintains the quality of his previous records, almost effortlessly blasting out anthem after anthem, mining his past experience while still facing the future with youthful enthusiasm. “Black Ties and Red Tape” and the title track rip with punk rock fury, while “Wasted Years” and “Last Train to Tokyo” boast melodies that’ll stay with you long after the spinning (or streaming) ends. Monroe has been on a consistent roll in the last decade, and it’s nice to hear it continuing. 

Anyone who can simultaneously represent both the Australian and Detroit wings of Rock & Roll Headquarters is all right with us, and the ever-rocking Deniz Tek fits that bill. (At this point, his history is too long and complex to go into here. Google his website and read his journal entries if you want to know.) Joined once again by the Godoy boys – bassist Art and drummer Steve, his go-to rhythm section for a quarter century – on Fast Freight (Career) the erstwhile Radio Birdman leader stays true to the stripped-down, fuss-less aesthetic he’s favored since he started pumping out solo records: guitar, bass and drums, with no-nonsense vocals and basic riff-rock, all recorded live and direct. “Out of the Mood” and “When the Trouble Comes” don’t mess around, and if the sense of ambition that’s been evident on other recent releases is muted, it’s replaced by the confidence of a musician who knows how to maximize that at what he’s best.

Veteran British rocker Dave Kusworth keeps on keepin’ on, surviving the loss of his brother-in-arms Nikki Sudden and his own bad habits. This is in part due to the support of Spanish rock & roll true believers Los Tupper, who back the Birmingham-ite on Cinderella’s Shoes (Sunthunder), the pairing’s second full-length collaboration. Tupper’s love of the Faces and the Stones matches Kusworth’s own, so they’re perfect for lending the perfect amount of grease to rockers “Black Lace & Silver” and “Nothing (Lil’ Miss Conscience)” and delicate soul to ballads “Maide Vale Girl” and “Broken Dishes.” Feeling himself on solid ground, the man himself turns a set of tunes that won’t rewrite the R&R rulebook, but keep the faith as well anyone working this groove, including the Glimmer Twins themselves. Kusworth almost feels like a man out of time here, but anyone craving that certain mix of grit ‘n’ sentiment that used to animate rock & roll will be happy to step into the wayback machine. 

Rock isn’t (only) about mining past glories, of course – fans’ fixation on the music of their youth is what’s contributed to its fall from popular grace in the first place. So it’s imperative to hail bands like The Black Tones, who pull from the past while making music of the now. The Seattle duo’s debut LP Cobain and Cornbread (self-released) works basic blues rock, not unlike the early years of the Black Keys. But instead of sounding like they discovered some blues records and borrowed the vibe, guitarist/harmonica player/singer Eva Walker and drummer Cedric David come on like the blues have been in their blood since birth, allowing them to write songs that carry familiar riffology, but without directly ripping off the past masters. Thus “Plaid Pants,” “Ghetto Spaceship” and the mighty “The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)” stand as modern, not retro, rock & roll, made by young musicians using the tools they have to make a noise that lives in the present. The band nods more directly to tradition with the harp ‘n’ voice take on the gospel tune “Rivers of Jordan,” but go farther afield on the banjo-driven “Striped Walls” and the all-out goofy “Mama, There’s a Spider in My Room.” Old school rock fans will glom onto the pair’s easy familiarity with the classic rock format, but the Tones aren’t interested in reviving anything – they’re ready to move on from tradition, even as they strategically utilize its contrivances.

.  Check out some choice audio and video from the folks featured in this report!

 

Baby 8 – We Hate Each Other But We Hate You More Bandcamp:

https://kasumuen.bandcamp.com/album/we-hate-each-other-but-we-hate-you-more

 

The Black Tones – Cobain and Cornbread Bandcamp:

https://theblacktones.bandcamp.com/album/cobain-cornbread

 

Cheap Gunslingers – s/t Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cheap-gunslingers

 

Cromm Fallon – Electric Bloom:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/electric-bloom

 

The Dickies – “I Dig Go-Go Girls” teaser:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfA8xE9uDtQ

 

The Dogmatics – She’s the One Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/shes-the-one

 

Fast Eddy – Toofer One Bandcamp:

https://fasteddy.bandcamp.com/album/toofer-one

 

Freeloader – Path of Least Resistance Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-path-of-least-resistance

 

Giuda – “Overdrive” Soundcloud:

https://soundcloud.com/burgerrecords/giuda-overdrive

 

The Gotham Rockets – Blast Off Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/blast-off

 

Richard X. Heyman – “Guess You Had to Be There”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh1bxBD4YFg

 

The Hip Priests – Stand For Nothing Bandcamp:

https://thehippriests1.bandcamp.com/album/stand-for-nothing-album

 

Thee Idylls – “A Picture Made”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzRZ_nuEcFU&feature=emb_logo

 

Indonesian Junk – Spiderbites Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/spiderbites

 

Danko Jones – “Fists Up High”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Csj3FpCc_jk

 

Dave Kusworth & Los Tupper – Cinderella’s Shoes Bandcamp:

https://lostupper.bandcamp.com/album/cinderella-s-shoes

 

Left Lane Cruiser – “Shake and Bake”:

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

 

Brad Marino – Extra Credit Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/extra-credit

 

Dan Melchior Band – Outside In Bandcamp:

https://midnightcruiserrecords.bandcamp.com/album/outside-in

 

Mono in Stereo – Can’t Stop the Bleeding Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cant-stop-the-bleeding

 

Michael Monroe – “Last Train to Tokyo”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZegMf2p1J4

 

Geoff Palmer – Pulling Out All the Stops Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pulling-out-all-the-stops

 

Los Pepes – Positive Negative Bandcamp:

https://lospepes.bandcamp.com/album/positive-negative

 

Suzi Quatro – “No Soul/No Control”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjySKeelK3s

 

The Ugly Beats – Stars Align Bandcamp:

https://gethiprecordings.bandcamp.com/album/stars-align

 

The Safes – Winning Combination

Album: Winning Combination

Artist: The Safes

Label: Bickerton Records / Action Weekend Records

Release Date: September 06, 2019

 

www.thesafes.bandcamp.com

BY TIM HINELY

Chicago sibling band The Safes have been at it for nearly two decades now (my introduction to them was the Boogie Woogie Rumble EP from 2004) . They started out more roughed up garage rockers but their sound has changed over the years. Yes. the O’Malley brothers, Frank on vocals/guitar/lots more same with Patrick while the rhythm section is held down by Mike (bass) and Sean (drums) have matured over the years, as well all do (well, most of us). The sound created on Winning Combination is more like a chamber pop record, which I happen to love. In addition to the four core O’Malleys they brought in 15 other family members, mostly nieces and nephews, who don’t have the O’Malley last name but adding in violin, cello and much more and the resulting record is a lovely, melodic low-key affair with truly terrific songwriting and a real sense of purpose.

Opening cut “It’s True” makes the initial statement but other cuts like the piano pop of “Dreams That Ignite” and the swirling, swaying beauty of “The Rest of My Life” and the darker “Open Your Eyes” further punctuate it with a sense of beauty not heard on other Safes records. I’m hearing echoes of brilliant pilgrims like  the Left Banke or The Zombies (with occasional nods to heavies like The Kinks) so these gents really did their homework. While you’re listening don’t miss the dreamy “The Shell Spell” or the epic “Ship Sinking Grin.” The Safes made the record they truly wanted to and in doing so they knocked it so much further with less tone and bluster. I guess, on the end, what I’m trying to say is do not miss Winning Combination.

DOWNLOAD:  “It’s True,” “Dreams That Ignite,” “Ship Sinking Grin”

EDDIE HEINZELMAN – Wherever You Go

Album: Wherever You Go

Artist: EDDIE HEINZELMAN

Label: One Louder Records

Release Date: November 08, 2019

www.eddieheinzelman.com

The Upshot: Crack Nashville session guitarist reveals multiple talents, moving far closer than 20 Feet From Stardom.

 BY ERIC THOM

 “Close, but no cigar”, is the sad takeaway for anyone who absorbed the endearing, Academy Award-winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. However, Radney Foster’s backing guitarist revels in stepping well out from the shadows, revealing much more than his ability to play scorching guitar. His pedigree is pure. He’s not only met, if not exceeded, Foster’s legendary standards, but has also played alongside such country royalty as Lee Roy Parnell, Ricky Skaggs, Darden Smith, Vince Gill and Bill Lloyd (not to mention stretching into jazz, pop and opera territories as gun-for-hire). This display of depth may serve to explain the Indiana native’s inventive range but it’s interesting to note that the proverbial kick-to-the-head – the one that makes you decide on a career in music (at age 12) – came in the form of a revelation upon hearing Led Zeppelin IV for the first time. It explains a lot.

The overriding feel from these 10 self-penned originals (one, a co-write with Foster) opens a door to a genre that’s been left wanting since the untimely demise of the many of its progenitors: southern rock. And, as many a fan already knows, the blend of country, blues and rock are the key ingredients to this sacred genre. Heinzelman proves a shoe-in, despite hailing from north of the Macon-Dixon line. On Wherever You Go, his sophomore release, he launches with both barrels blazing on “Medicine”, combining the low grind of tough-edged guitar, his surprisingly solid vocals – tempered by Kendra Chantelle’s sweet, soulful backup – and the aggressive keyboards of John Henry Trinko. His slowed-down, honky-tonkin’ tribute to the great Mary Gauthier (“Dammit, Mary”) – one of Heinzelman’s songwriting idols – adds additional proof as to the strength, lustre and slight edge to his voice, as Trinko’s distinctive 88’s pound things home. The first sweet taste of the south comes in the form of “The Road” and Trinko’s (John Lancaster’s?) delicate piano accompaniment to Heinzelman’s surprisingly Allman-esque vocal, as B3 and weeping slide up the ante while adding rich colour to a song about the loneliness of the road. “Steal Away” is a palate cleanser and a gentle, too-short instrumental that leans heavily on acoustic guitar that alternates with two speeds as Heinzelman offsets his peaceful, easy feeling with lightning-fast, Al Di Meola runs that cascade in and around the main melody. It’s a lovely set-up to the disc’s key salvo, the 6 ½ minute “Dandelion” – a laidback yet riveting country blues composition that is all about scintillating B3 and sensual swathes of slide. As an added treat, “Dandelion” adds extra guitar muscle in the form of the Kentucky Headhunter’s Greg Martin as both artists pivot off each other like a pair of barn swallows on a day off. Vocally, Heinzelman could be a dead ringer for Glenn Frey (too soon?) and the wisdom of supporting the composition with the Bougainvillea-sweet ’n’ sultry backup vocals of Kendra Chantelle and (unidentified) lifts this piece skyward. If this song went on for another 10 minutes, it would still be way too short. Cue “The Heart Knows What It Needs“ – a more traditional country track that champions piano, country guitar and speaking one’s mind as it slags the state of current-day Nashville. The heartbreaking “Lonely Outweighs Regret” chronicles another twist of life on the road, as soul-stirring B3 (Trinko?) and stand-out piano (Lancaster?) join Heinzelman’s searing, snarling slide guitar, substantial enough to almost cut through the guilt of the next morning. “Shufflin’” is the second instrumental and one that again reveals a more jazzlike approach to Heinzelman’s guitar technique, relying on the equally gifted skills of piano/B3 players John Henry Trinko and John Lancaster. Bassist Tommy MacDonald goes to town with a funky touch while Casey Wood’s drums resound with a fatness that he carries throughout the album.

Following this, “Miss TLC” proves a surprise as the band exorcises a few demons with a down ’n’ dirty rock approach featuring a pounding beat as Heinzelman and (Trinko/Lancaster) spar over a straightforward vocal about a local tease, tossing in thick slabs of B3 and enough sensuous guitar solos to require a shower afterwards. Even “Miss TLC” gets in on this lowdown bump’n’grinder. Heinzelman’s duo with Foster on “Wherever You Go” is pure pop bliss – a sizzling single if there still was such a thing. Two sensational singing voices meld on an upbeat pop song, replete with bubbly chorus as Chantelle adds some melted butter into the background. Plenty of guitar bookends the piece, somewhat muted so as to not compete with the voices. This track sets its hook deeply and, before long, you’re singing it to yourself every time you hear it.

This album remains a pleasant surprise. Heinzelman is a phenomenal songwriter, a superb, range-friendly vocalist and searing-yet-sensitive guitarist, deserving serious praise for his ability to paint a complete picture. He may be a respected guitar-slinger-for-hire but he’s clearly got the talent to take this anywhere he’d like to go.

DAN ISRAEL – Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Album: Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Artist: Dan Israel

Label: One Louder Records

Release Date: October 11, 2019

 

www.DanIsraelMusic.com

The Upshot: Long-running singer-songwriter has released fifteen albums exploring his various musical passions but has finally found his comfort zone.

BY ERIC THOM

Dan Israel has had a long, impressive career – chipping away at everything from introspective singer-songwriter fare to alt-country before there was such a thing. He’s relentlessly sought respect for his craft and has smashed his head against the wall more times than he’s ever deserved to. A crack songwriter, Dan has had his Dylan phase but, without maybe knowing it, always wanted to be a Beatle. Along the way, he’s honed his wordsmithing skills and, despite his patented, world-weary sound, he knows his way around solid pop fare. On this – his fifteenth album – it all comes together. Surrounded with skilled, simpatico players who have built him the ultimate sound bed to feel comfortable in, this oddly K-Tel–looking package contains a dozen legitimate jewels. And while we’ll never have the Beatles back, Social Media Anxiety Disorder goes a long way towards rekindling that sparkle of smart pop recalling Lennon-McCartney, Nick Lowe – even Beck (Bek), at times. Through all of it, Dan is still Dan….strumming his acoustic guitar and singing his slightly nasal-toned, Dylan-hued,  “shout and fall” vocals. However, with ‘Anxiety’, he is entirely reborn, if not completely rejuvenated. Credit the quality of the songs and the caliber of the accompaniment, but this has the energy and innocence of a debut, give or take 22 years.

With one of the brightest intro tracks ever, “Be My Girl” is the epitome of bright, sunny pop songs built on a beaming bed of exuberant horns (Paul Odegaard, overdubbed) as Dan is hustled along, hurtling headlong to keep pace with this energetic barn-burner. Clearly the front man, Israel’s having the time of his life. Cue the Beatle-esque “125” – the album’s best track, from the choice of many – driven along by Steve Price’s serpentine bass plus scorching lead guitar and effects from Steve Brantseg, his Harrison-imbued, psychedelic overtone lending a mystical feel. Blend in Janey Winterbauer’s ethereal backup vocal and Israel’s own processed vox and one wonders – has Israel finally exposed his inner Bangle? Despite the child-like intro of “Just Can’t Take It”, this is great Nick Lowe-grade pop – all acoustic guitar and David Russ’ fat drum sound. The song gets a bit busy with itself and momentarily loses its way, yet the band displays an experimental edge that has nothing to do with taking it the easy way. The lush contrast supplied by the comparably intimate “Still I’m Lost”, featuring more acoustic guitar, B3 and electric keyboards, serves up multiple hooks and, again, assumes a slightly cosmic trajectory as Jeremy Yivisaker’s lead guitar and Steve Price’s keyboards mimic Israel’s vocal with an elaborate, somewhat mournful – if not entirely hypnotic – call and answer. Another standout track. “Might as Well be Me” lightens up to reveal a face-forward Israel vocal, perked up by David Russ’ bouncy drumbeat, as Jon Herchert’s sinewy slide eventually drives the tune into a pleasing overdrive. “Another Day” provides another exceptional pop song – Israel’s voice is in top form as chiming guitars meet Jeremy Yivisaker’s slide guitar which, itself, lends even more of a definitive Harrison flavor. Israel’s lyrics, too, ignite a strong rhythm of their own, underlining the song’s strong pop edge. “Just Can’t Take It Revisited” has a somewhat sleepy start with its dreamy vocals and what sounds like a child’s xylophone, as mix of spoken word and something bordering on rant-meets-rap erupts as the band falls into place. If this was simply a case of a late night in the studio for Israel, his bandmates fly in with inventive, toe-to-toe experimentation as lively bass and piano, distortion effects and searing guitar turn what might have started as a joke into an infectious surprise of a track. Another highlight, “Tired”, returns Dan to where he started, emulating Dylan but leaning heavily on the majesty of Peter Anderson’s drums, Jon Duncan’s meaty B3, Steve Price’s bass and banjo to transform this potentially sad, introspective study into a bona fide toe-tapper. Cue “Alright” for some lighter pop fare with its military drum intro, cheerful electric keyboards and simple chording, yet its amped up, rigorous chorus treatment heavies things up as Herchert’s bass and harder-edged guitar moves this ditty into hearty XTC territory at times. Mark “Here for Today” down as their reliable rocker and veritable palate-cleansing sorbet as dynamic, ringing guitars and distinctive slide land a bulletproof hook as Dan reverts to rock singer with a purpose. The band is in full acceleration, the production complex and stirring in its dynamic energy. “Out of my Hands”/”Out of my Hands” (Reprise) is a two-part exploration. The first rendition of “Out of my Hands” is a slower, Traveling Wilbury-inspired creeper that features more Harrison-styled guitar from Herchert, dovetailed together with acoustic guitars, slightly heavy-handed percussion and church bells until it Magical Mystery Tours itself into fresh turf at the halfway point, featuring baritone guitars, mechanical-sounding backup vocals, a strings effect and some delicious Harrison slide against acoustic guitar and telltale bells. Part Two replays elements of the first version but introduces the full lung power of guest vocalist Tonia Hughes Kendrick, who lifts the familiar theme into full testifying territory. The song plays itself out with a church-like choir of angels as Kendrick turns on her more sultry side. Together, this is one hell of an epic composition that threatens to fall off the edge of the earth, yet scores big points for simply being something incredibly unexpected.

Influences aside, this is Dan Israel’s strongest effort to date – a rich and varied playbook of the music he loves most, driven home by an eclectic and imaginative host of cohorts dedicated to seeing through his vision. It works really well and will revitalize any playlist instantly. No wonder Dan’s laughing so heartily on “Just Can’t Take It, Revisited”. He deserves to.

 

AVETT BROTHERS – Closer Than Together

Album: Closer Than Together

Artist: Avett Brothers

Label: Republic

Release Date: October 04, 2019

Republic Records

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It’s apparent that the Avett Brothers’ musical momentum remains undiminished. That’s obviously affirmed by the big label mechanism gifted them by their record company, American Records, and the recruitment of mercurial maestro Rick Rubin to sit behind the boards. With Closer Than Ever, the shift in their MO at first seems to be indicated courtesy of the heightened production values that define opening track “Bleeding White” in particular.

Fortunately though, the Avetts haven’t forsaken the fragile charm and tenuous underpinnings that  made their homegrown sound such an indelible part of their seminal sounds. On “We Americans” for example, they revert to the softer, more subdued delivery once so essential to their modest intents. The song is a sly deflation of the American mantra, but the unassuming approach belies any bitterness or recrimination.

While the band may seem more aware of emphatic expression overall, many of the melodies maintain the anthemic perspective that ‘s always been so inherent and inspired. “Long Story Short” offers the album’s best example; with little more than acoustic guitar, cello and high, harmony, they share the story of everyday individuals bound by dysfunction and desire. Like the best of the Avetts’ material, it’s touching and poignant all by the same measure. The same could be said of the simple sing-alongs that follow, the light and lilting “C Sections and Railway Trestles” and the decidedly delicate “Bang Bang with its strings and sweetening,” as well as the tender and touching “Who Will I Hold.”

Aside from the obvious flourishes, the brothers’ facility for supple storytelling in pointed, poignant fashion remains the surest sign of the band’s continuing maturity. As a result, Closer Than Ever finds the Avett Brothers not only close, but fully arrived.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “We Americans,” “C Sections and Railway Trestles,” “Who Will I Hold”

BEN LEE – Quarter Century Classix

Album: Quarter Century Classix

Artist: Ben Lee

Label: New West

Release Date: November 22, 2019

www.newwestrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Given his unruly beginnings in an early ‘90s Aussie outfit that called itself Noise Addict, Ben Lee’s decision to retrace some seminal favorites from those  early ‘90s ought to come as little surprise.  So while Quarter Century Classix may be first and foremost a covers record, Lee’s inherent flair for sharing memorable melodies with an infectious energy serves him well here. The choice of material may not seem pop friendly initially, but even so, Lee demonstrates an ability to turn the work of some post punk provocateurs into something that’s not only intriguing, but surprisingly inventive as well.

Indeed, in many of the cases here, Lee takes an offhanded approach to the music that belies the darker designs of the originals. Archer of Loaf’s “Web in Front,” Fugazi’s “Blue Print” and Guided By Voice’s “Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory” all  take on an amiable, ambling presence that’s not only outwardly engaging, but practically transformative as well. Still, that’s nothing compared to the sweet pastiche he gives Built To Spill’s “Car” and the effusive energy endowed in Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle,” the latter now sounding like a classic incarnate. The psychedelic sheen of “Get Me” (Dinosaur) and “In the Mouth of a Desert” (Pavement) add further illumination to the overall effort, while further confirming Lee’s  own inventive instincts.

Though it started out as an inconsequential attempt to revisit Lee’s early influences through  some impromptu hotel room recordings, Quarter Century Classix was later spurred on by the assistance of various artists who can also claim credence as far as that essential era — among them, Mike Watt, William Tyler, Petra Haden, Maria Taylor of Azure Ray, harpist Mary Lattimore, drummer Joey Waronker, and electronic artist Julianna Barwick. It’s a formidable crew, but Lee’s obvious infatuation with the material is the thing that gives the album its unmistakable allure. Even a quarter century on, Lee instills these so-called classix with a renewed credence and conviction of his own.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Speeding Motorcycle,” “Get Me,” “Web in Front”

To read a brief – and fun – essay that Lee himself penned about this delightful album’s originals, go here.

 

THE INTELLIGENCE SERVICE – Beatrice’s Guitar

Album: Beatrice’s Guitar

Artist: Intelligence Service

Label: self-released

Release Date: November 21, 2019

https://theintelligenceservice.bandcamp.com/album/beatrices-guitar

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

The Intelligence Service fascinate on this record as they take us on a journey to the center of the angst filled soul. The album opens with the appropriately titled track “In a Hole” which is an epic 18-minute, rather unsettling composition that explores the trauma of existence. It’s a journey to hell and back again, presenting catharsis in its purest form.  With dense squally psychedelic stretches punctuated by some amazing organ playing, the band have upped the level of their songwriting in a very serious way. The track is fucking dripping with greatness. I can only imagine that live, this would detonate hard in a a subterranean hall, rife with the smell of sweat and craft beer.

“People are Sleeping” is a toe tapping guttural hymn soaked in a goth punk lacquer. Alex Pen’s vocals are a constant mule kick to the dome that pulverizes everything in sight.  “Hunt You Down” sounds as if Tad Doyle is fronting The Normal. It’s vicious and bathes everything in an acidic vitriol. ”Beatrice’s Daughter” is an off kilter pop song that summons the ghosts of the Velvet Underground, only to eventually to morph into a hornet’s nest buzz upon fade out. “Sicj” sincerely scared me, with its “gotta burn it down burn it to the ground” evil as fuck lyric repeating the whole length of the song. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin the band lure the listener into an infernal pit of hell with no means of return. Bloodcurdling yet brilliant, I’m not sure how I’ll sleep tonight.

A digital-only title at the moment, this needs a vinyl release. (Read a review of the band’s 2017 album, Transgressors.)

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “In a Hole” “People are Sleeping” “Hunt You Down” “Beatrice’s Daughter” “Sicj”

 

HEADLIGHT RIVALS – “Mattson”

Album: Mattson

Artist: Headlights

Label: Black Site

Release Date: November 01, 2019

www.blacksite.org

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

Driving down the road on a cool Midwestern day, I flip through the stations on my car’s radio. I scan the dial, hoping with each growing failure to find something concrete, something to move me past boredom, it dawns on me that, rock and roll as an art-form, is a wounded animal alone in the forest looking for a quiet, beautiful place to die.  In its place is the rise of easy to digest, autotuned, sanitized and ultimately, boring music, a white-washed version of what use to be considered cool and ultimately, worthwhile.

Unless you dig deep past metal and the abomination that is buttrock and the Five Finger Death Punches of an exceedingly awful rock horizon, good bar rock can be hard to find. Where are the bands that embody what it means to embrace what came before, forging ahead toward a new day rising? Something to foster, love and support when you find it, one that celebrates the idea that making good, thought provoking music, partying hard while pulling rock from it drudgery.

I found just such a band in “The Little Apple” Manhattan, Kansas.  They are Headlight Rivals.

The band’s debut full-length “Mattson” for Kansas City, Missouri based Blacksite Records is a tour de force; blending influences such as The Replacements, The Who, Son Volt, Sugar, the drunken brilliance of Guided by Voices, a fair helping of early days Soul Asylum mixed with a hefty dose of Memphis, Tennessee forgotten giants Big Star.

Headlight Rivals have put all their cards on the table here, releasing an album that is truly a work of passion, persistence and straight ahead rock n roll.  “Mattson” (named for Rich Mattson,the owner of Sparta Sound in Evelth, Minnesota where it was recorded) mixes melody with aggression, sound and fury;  killer guitars from Eric Kleiner, a fat low end courtesy of Seven Black and phenomenal drumming brought by Eric’s cousin Kris Kleiner, the trio’s killer playing is augmented here by masterful mixing and engineering from Rich Mattson, all pieces coming together to create an album that will not be soon forgotten, a great first shot in a catalog that will certainly be stacked to the rafters by the time they lay down their instruments and charge towards the horizon, leaving their mark on Midwest music history and bars everywhere.

Opening with “All The Same to Me,” a rocker that elicits memories in me of listening to The ‘Mats and later period Husker Du while smoking a joint and hating my life in a rundown apartment in the middle of nowhere Missouri, the tones full, the playing unrivaled here in the heart of America..  “Some Ghosts” is a song about past loves and the pain that comes along with the exit, how the memories come flooding back to haunt you in the quiet times of the day, jamming like a track from “Still Gone” era Uncle Tupelo.  “So Well” blasts  from the speakers like a lost Matthew Sweet track, aching to the bone with pain and lose, exploding with guitars and lyrics drenched in melancholy.

While the ruckus that Headlight Rivals create may at times seem familiar, “Mattson” is by no means a re-hash of what came before; Seven, Eric and Kris clearly love rock and all that comes with it, molding something raw, wild and moving with “Mattson.” This is an album full of triumph and loss, blistering venom and soft melody.  What they have created is something that should be heard, absorbed and reflected on.  What the three piece from Kansas have given us isn’t just any album, “Mattson” is one of the best to see the light of day in 2019.

 

 

 

 

THE MUFFS – No Holiday

Album: No Holiday

Artist: Muffs

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: October 18, 2019

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www.omnivorerecordings.com

By John B. Moore

Kim Shattuck, singer/guitarist for the shockingly underrated band The Muffs, died unexpectedly just a couple of months ago, after a two-year battle with ALS that many outside of her close circle were unaware of. She left a brilliant legacy, with half a dozen near-perfect pop punk records to her name, a dedicated fanbase and a slew of heartbroken, normally jaded music journalists who were charmed by their interactions with her over the years (myself included).

It hardly surprising then that No Holiday, a record that she and the band were in the process of promoting when she unexpectedly passed away, lives up to their already impressive output. At 18 songs (18!), their first LP in five years comes out on Omnivore Recordings, fittingly the same label that recently reissued the group’s first three records and helped remind the world just how brilliant The Muffs were. No Holiday manages to be both remarkably nostalgic, capturing the vibe of those earlier efforts, while also building on their trademark sound, adding in several new musical directions. The taut pop punk rhythms are still there as are Shattuck’s glorious fuzzy power chords and her tough as a slap to the face vocals (probably one of the most undervalued in the punk rock world), but the trio manages to expand on that sound, with some of their slower tempo jams, like “Earth Below Me” with it’s plunked out clean guitar lines and “Lovely Day Boo Hoo,” with its melancholy vibe and acoustic guitars. This diverse collection actually manages to bolster the band’s reputation. They’re a little less sloppy than that solid 1993 debut, but Shattuck’s exasperated scream in the middle of “Late And Sorry” shows they are still very much that band many fell in love with so many decades ago.

Eighteen tracks, usually a sign of a group that could use a little outside help cutting some of the fat, proves that the band was just hitting it’s stride. Eighteen songs and No Holiday still leaves you craving more. Long live Kim Shattuck.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “No Holiday,” “Late And Sorry,” and “Pollyanna”

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits

Album: Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Dualtone

Release Date: November 22, 2019

www.dualtone.com

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s sometimes taken for granted just how brilliant a songwriter Tom Waits is. The sky is blue, water is wet, and Waits can write a truly heartbreaking song. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s been making music for more than four decades; Maybe it’s that some just can’t get past his graveled vocals, but sometime all it takes is listening to a fresh take on his songs to realize just how exceptional Waits is as a songwriter.

 Come On Up To The House is hardly the first Waits tribute record, but it is easily one of the best. Boasting an all-female cast that includes Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin, sisters Shelby Lynn and Allison Moorer and Rosanne Cash, among others, the lyrics are given a fresh perspective in this mostly stripped-down affair. More often than not, the result is stunning. The opening track, Mann’s take on “Hold On,” and  the stark “Come On Up To The House,” flawlessly covered by Josephine are simply sublime. While not ever song hits its mark, (Iris Dement’s “House Where Nobody Lives” is a pretty uninspired effort), there are more than enough brilliant covers here to keep you coming back to this record for years to come.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Aimee Mann “Hold On,” Josephine “Come On Up To The House,” Rosanne Cash “Time”