Category Archives: Vinyl records

JACK WATERSON – Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson

Album: Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson

Label: Linear Labs

Release Date: April 12, 2019

 

https://linearlabsmusic.com/

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

The ubiquitously titled Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson could be considered payback of sorts. Twenty years ago, Waterson befriended and subsequently mentored Younge, an 18-year-old budding musician whose ambition and admiration eventually made him the perfect foil for the near legend that Waterson had become. Indeed, there was reason for Younge’s devotion; a critical member of L.A.’s hugely influential psychedelic revivalist ensemble Green on Red, Waterson was rarely heard from, though he remained a seminal figure regardless.

In the 25 plus years since Green On Red originally disbanded prior to briefly reforming in the new millennium – read about the group’s history and legacy here – the band’s pervasive appeal has only broadened, even though Waterson’s individual output was limited to only one earlier album, 1988’s well-regarded Whose Dog? With this current effort, Waterson seems intent on restating his claim to the band’s acid-drenched imprint, thanks to ten tracks that firmly instil that same hallucinatory impression. Songs such as “Smile,” “Religion of Death” and “The Legend of Shorty George” are flush with ominous uncertainty, a tangle of bleak and bizarre atmospherics that defy form and function. Even the titles are lysergic in tone — “Flashback,” “They Won’t Help You” and “Prepare for a Long Fall” are clearly a set-up for the dire circumstance they share. Waterson and his protege play all the instruments between them, but the darkness and density suggests some far deeper design.

 After all the harsh, harrowing circumstance, the final two tracks, “Larceny” and “All Hail the Emperor,” find the duo shifting somewhat into more subdued circumspect. But no matter. The imagery and intrigue of this effort overall ensures its lingering largesse.

DOWNLOAD: “Smile,” Stay,” Religion of Death”

GIANT SAND – Recounting the Ballads Of Thin Line Men

Album: Recounting the Ballads Of Thin Line Men

Artist: Giant Sand

Label: Fire

Release Date: September 20, 2019

https://www.firerecords.com/

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

A year after the re-release of their seminal album Glum and their first new album in three years, Returns to Valley of Pain, Giant Sand make a quick turnaround with Recounting the Ballads of Thin Line Men, an album that shows even after an earlier extended absence, the band is in fine form. Leader and guiding light Howe Gelb remains at the helm of this ever-shifting ensemble, as always responsible for a strange assortment of sounds that are often as inexplicable as the album title itself. Given the fact that the band is frequently on hiatus, it’s still cause for celebration, particularly for those fans who have come to appreciate the way they reflect their particular southwest desert noir. However, for those who have yet to catch up, or catch on, even after nearly 35 years, the music often comes across like a confounding contradiction.

As expected then, Recounting the Ballads of Thin Line Men offers a series of menacing melodies, one moment, loud and unruly, and then several that are, by equal measure, sombre and subdued. Howe himself possesses a vocal quality that conveys a decided sense of gravitas in his doom-laden delivery. “Get your acid at the door,” he suggests in the opening verse of “Tantamount,” and indeed a psychedelic mindset might well be the key to full appreciation. That said, Howe and company are at their best when the music is propulsive — the robust “Reptillian,” an upbeat “The Chill Outside” and the scorching rocker “Thin Line Man” being prime examples. All too often however Gelb resorts to his Lou Reed variety deadpan demeanor, an approach which comes across as ominous and overbearing. On the other hand, when he veers off with some variation on the aptly-dubbed “Who Am I,” he sounds like Jim Morrison stoking the flames of pure petulance, and appears far more veracious for it. Likewise, the Zeppelin-sounding riff underscoring “Hard Man To Get To Know” offers an all too rare familiarity factor that promises, albeit temporarily, a common connection.

Then again, Giant Sand would not be the eccentric outfit they are without a few twists and turns along the way. In Recounting the Ballads, they offer ample reasons why. (Editor’s note: The album is available on limited edition colored vinyl – with download card included – in addition to CD and standard black vinyl versions.)

DOWNLOAD: “Reptillian,” “The Chill Outside” “Thin Line Man”

45 Reviews: The Dickies / Jack Ellister / Hater

Album: “I Dig Go-Go Girls” / “When an Old Cricketer leaves the Crease” / "Four Tries Down"

Artist: The Dickies / Jack Ellister / Hater

Label: Slope / Fruits de Mer / Fire

Release Date: August 09, 2019

“I Dig Go-Go Girls” (Slope: www.sloperecords.com)  / “When an Old Cricketer leaves the Crease” (Fruits de mer: www.fruitsdemerrecords.com) / “Four Tries Down “(Fire: www.firerecords.com)

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

I rarely get a chance to review 7” records these days, so when these three recently showed up I was beyond excited.

No need to rehash The Dickies’ long and storied punk history, but on this slab they decided to cover Cheap Trick’s “I Dig Go-Go Girls” and the results are stunning. This song, in The Dickies’ hands, rips and snorts with an aggression that is about as perfect a slab of summer as you can get. The vocals are bitchin with an extra bite courtesy of Monkey from The Addicts.  The infectious nature of a Cheap trick tune is amplified to stratospheric heights and buffed to perfection with a punk sheen.

B-side “The Dreaded Pigasaurus”, a Dickies original, is no slouch to its A-side brother. It’s a storming anthem replete with saxophone and what sounds like Hammond B3, stretched over a menacing throbbing bass line. Leonard Phillips vocals provide just the right dose of pop-punk to the proceedings that transported me back to the 1980’s. Short, sharp shock, just what the doctor ordered!

***

On Jack Ellister’s latest 7” he tackles two rather disparate tunes. The A-side, “When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease,” by the late British icon Roy Harper, is a nostalgic number that Ellister tackles, strikingly capturing the original’s somber beauty. Ellister’s voice, along with his old Polish piano, are as much a perfect combination as were Harper and his guitar when he first recorded it. Stunning!

The B-side sees Ellister turn his sights to Black Sabbath. Here his take on the super heavy “Supernaut” is to give the track a decidedly narco-haze and sing in an almost Mark E. Smith acid snarl. Every thud of the drums, drone of the bass, and wailing of the synthesizer is simply spectacular. A killer cover that sees Ellister not only inhabit the track, but modernize and push its boundaries a tad further.

Fruits de Mer have done it once again. Get this 7” from your local shop on colored vinyl with a fold-out poster.

***

Meanwhile, Malmo, Sweden, outfit Hater will drop their new single next month (September 6, to be precise) and it’s a lovely slice of pop that, to this reviewers’ ears, recalls elements of ‘90s era Tanya Donnelly and Lush, with a smidgen of Broadcast thrown in for good measure. Those may be the touchstones to convey to people what they’re in store for, but that’s not meant to say the band lacks creativity; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Side A’s  “Four Tries Down” is a mighty seductive slab of pop that is clear, effective, and memorable; it combines so many elements hitting sweet spots in my brain—from the deep female vocals at the opening, to the beat and catchy melody—that I played it over and over and over… okay, you get the message. The flipside’s “It’s a Mess” is another addictive gem. The understated vocals that border on whispers are seductively dreamy and left me under the singer’s pied-piper like spell. Me wants more!

***

DOWNLOAD: We here at BLURT recommend physical therapy, but if you must go digital, download all 6tracks from these two singles direct from the labels or the artists’ websites so they are guaranteed to get your dough!

 

R.E.M. – In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 LP

Album: In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003

Artist: R.E.M.

Label: Craft Recordings

Release Date: June 07, 2019

https://craftrecordings.com/rem-intime-2lp-reissue/

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Despite breaking up nearly 10 years ago, there are still few bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s that can still command allegiance from the masses like R.E.M. Sure there are a slew of groups from that era that can brag about cult status, but R.E.M is among the few who have managed to hold on to their core early adopters from their I.R.S. years and bring along an entire generation of new fans when they moved onto the much larger Warner Bros label in 1988. Which brings us to this stellar vinyl reissue of In Time their best of 1988 – 2003 collections.

The set, released less than six months after the band’s Reveal album, covers their time on Warner from 1988’s Green up to this point. The label Craft Recordings, like they have with other R.E.M. vinyl reissues, have done a brilliant job. Released on 180-gram vinyl, they made a limited run on translucent blue – simply stunning. This marks the first time in 15 years this record has been out on vinyl.

The double LP set includes 18 songs, including two from soundtracks (the so-so “All The Right Friends” from Vanilla Sky and the stunning “The Great Beyond” from Man On The Moon) as well as two previously unreleased tracks, “Animal” and “Bad Day”. The records are housed in a deluxe gatefold jacket. Unlike many of the quickly thrown together vinyl re-releases that are almost routine nowadays, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003, along from being crammed with great songs, is gorgeously designed, befitting a band as important as R.E.M.

 

 

 

 

DATURA4 – Blessed is the Boogie

Album: Blessed is the Boogie

Artist: Datura4

Label: Alive Natural Sound

Release Date: April 05, 2019

www.alive-records.com

Available on digital, compact laser disc, and sweet colored vinyl (see below).

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Though best known as a power pop/garage rock god fronting the Stems and DM3, Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Dom Mariani got his initial inspiration from the original wave of his country’s bluesy hard rock bands: Coloured Balls, Buffalo, etc. Joined by ex-Drones drummer Warren Hall, Dave Hole keyboardist Bob Patient, and Jack and the Beanstalk/Majestic Kelp bassist Stu Loasby, Mariani turns Datura4 into a tribute to his youthful influences. Blessed is the Boogie, the quartet’s third LP, goes right for the jugular, putting Mariani’s formidable six-string chops up front of a set of songs that could have come from 1974.

The blues is at the heart of “Run With Lucy” and “Black Dog Keep Running,” but to equate these songs with John Lee Hooker—or even Led Zeppelin—is to do them a disservice. When it comes to writing memorable tunes, Mariani can’t help himself, and while this isn’t the Badfinger-meets-Foghat mashup of which some wags have likely dreamed, it’s not far off.

Plus, Mariani is no macho cock rock shouter – no matter what backdrop he stands in front of, he’ll always have that slightful soulful, melodic power pop voice, backed here, as everywhere, with creamy vocal harmonies. Check the folk rocking “Not For Me” and “The City of Lights” and the overtly psychedelic “Cat On a Roof,” breaths of fresh air that meld Mariani’s pop sensibilities with the period sounds he evokes elsewhere. Ultimately, though, the record is all about riffing, strumming and soloing guitars—that Mariani drafts his exceptional axepersonship to such indelible tunes makes Blessed is the Boogie all the more satisfying.

DOWNLOAD: “City of Lights,” “Run With Lucy,” “Not For Me”

Datura4 previously reviewed:

Hairy Mountain

            “Demon Blues

 

MOON GOOSE – Source Code

Album: Source Code

Artist: Moon Goose

Label: Fruits de Mer

Release Date: April 29, 2019

http://www.fruitsdemerrecords.com/moon.html

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

It’s rare these days for a record to stun me upon first listen, but that’s exactly what happened with Moon Goose’s debut album.

Opening cut “Second Life” is a gloriously tight psychedelic instrumental that reminded me of the band White Manna with its widescreen spirit leading us somewhere uncharted. “Knifeless Skinning” is a fascinating descent into an unsettling scene, where exploration and an incantations are all rolled into one.

And it just gets better from here.

“Le Conte” amps up the uniqueness to 10. Funky, diverse, and deep, the song is magical as it unfolds for the listener. Here the band reminds me of Malesch-era Agitation Free with their organic transitory sound. “Trains” is a slow burner that eventually reaches max elevation, with guitar playing that’s as magical as it can get. Then there’s “Carnage,” which is an amazing amalgam of the band’s best elements and musical leanings. Succinct, melodic, and tighter than a nun’s ass, the band really lets it fly on this brilliant track.

This record glides from one glorious moment to the next. There’s even a double colored vinyl pressing in the offing (it includes a CD of the whole album as well) so our vinyl-porn-fixated Chief Editor Fred Blurt can get his fix. (Gimme. You had me at “Agitation Free” who, incidentally, have just seen Malesch reissued on colored wax.— Krautrock Ed.)

DOWNLOAD: “Second Life” “Knifeless Skinning” “Carnage” “Le Conte”

OST – Velvet Goldmine (Music From the Original Motion Picture)

Album: Velvet Goldmine (Music From the Original Motion Picture)

Artist: OST

Label: Universal Music Special Markets/Island/MVDaudio

Release Date: April 05, 2019

www.MVDaudio.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Though poorly received when it came out in 1998, director Todd Haynes’ glam rock fantasy Velvet Goldmine has, over time, become a beloved cult classic. Whatever one thinks of the film’s reimagining of the relationship between David Bowie and Iggy Pop, though, the soundtrack is where it’s at. A mix of period cuts and glam rock covers performed by a pair of all-star bands made up of nineties alt.rock luminaries, the songlist is damn near impeccable, even with the absence of any Bowie cuts.

While the original compact disc version has been the perfect companion on many a road trip, MVD’s first-time vinyl reissue couldn’t be any more appropriate. Given the film’s time period and its musical metiere, letting the songs spin on wax (especially when as garishly colored as this half-blue/half-orange version) just fits. Needle in groove lets Teenage Fanclub & Elastica’s Donna Mathews’ version of the New York Dolls’ “Personality Crisis,” the Stooges’ “T.V. Eye” by the Wylde Rattz (AKA co-star Ewan McGregor fronting Ron Asheton, Thurston Moore, Don Fleming and others), and Placebo’s take on T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” leap out of the speakers, teeth bared and power chords aflame. The less raging tracks fare just as well, especially the majestic interpretation of Steve Harley’s “Tumbling Down” from star Jonathan Rhys Meyers and the plethora of Roxy Music tunes (“2HB,” “Ladytron,” “Bitter’s End,” “Bitter-Sweet”) performed by the Venus in Furs, AKA Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Bernard Butler, Andy MacKay, and producer Paul Kimble. (For some reason Meyers’ take on Harley’s bizarre but affecting “Sebastian” didn’t make the cut on album.)

Speaking of Kimble, Grant Lee Buffalo, the band for whom Kimble played bass at the time, appears with an original: the pitch-perfect “The Whole Shebang,” which manages to sound period and just like its parent’s work at the same time. Ditto the two originals contributed by Shudder to Think, who ease back on their usual avant-garde weirdness to explore the diva-esque glam rock heart of their music with “Hot One” and “Ballad of Maxwell Demon.” Some actual vintage tunes appear as well: the real Roxy Music’s classic “Virginia Plain,” Lou Reed’s gorgeous “Satellite of Love,” T. Rex’s quirky “Diamond Meadows,” Brian Eno’s romping “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” (which runs over the opening credits in the movie) and, closing the LP, Harley’s breezy “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” – quite possibly a lot of American glam fans’ introduction to this quirky British artist.

As both a sampler and a celebration of the seventies glam rock era, the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack is a gem. That it’s now out in the format that seems most natural to its era makes it gleam all the brighter.

DOWNLOAD: “Hot One,” “The Whole Shebang,” “Tumbling Down”

 

MY FAVORITE YEAR: Coltrane ’58: The Prestige Recordings

John Coltrane March 23, 1959 Rudy van Gelder Studio Hackensack NJ

Craft Recordings compiles a comprehensive set, Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings, of all John Coltrane recordings from a pivotal year. The 5CD box drops March 29, along with digital, while the 8LP version will be April 26. (Above photo: Esmond Edwards)

BY BILL KOPP

1958 was a landmark year for saxophonist John Coltrane, and by extension, for jazz as a whole as well. Coltrane had made his first recordings (in Hawaii with fellow Navy servicemen) some 12 years earlier and played as a sideman with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in the middle 1950s, not recording under his own name until his 1957 debut, Coltrane, recorded for Bob Weinstock’s independent label, Prestige. While Coltrane is a superb album, it only hints at what was in store for the groundbreaking musician.

In 1958, Coltrane traveled seven times to Van Gelder Studios, working with engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Showing up at the Hackensack, New Jersey studio on average of once a month between January and May, and once more in both July and December (the latter on the day after Christmas), Coltrane recorded 37 songs. Remarkably by today’s standards, each session took place in a single day, and no songs were played on more than one session.

Newly clean after a serious bout with heroin addiction, John Coltrane was man on fire throughout ‘58. And at the risk of gross oversimplification, the experience of listening to those sessions in chronological order reveals the almost real-time flowering of the saxophonist from merely a very good musician to a visionary one.

The 1958 sessions yielded material that would see release on various albums, but only a handful were released during the period in which Coltrane was signed to Prestige. The five tracks recorded on February 7 yielded Soultrane, originally released the year of its recording. The box set’s remaining 32 sides would be scattered across other albums: The March 7 sessions yielded Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane (released 1963). Other tracks appeared on Lush Life and Settin’ the Pace (both 1961), 1962’s Standard Coltrane (1962), Stardust (1963) The Believer and Black Pearls (1964), Bahia from 1965 and The Last Trane (1966).

The tracks cut in gloriously pristine high fidelity by Van Gelder variously featured some of the era’s best sidemen, many of whom went on to greater fame themselves: Kenny Burrell on guitar, trumpeters Donald Byrd and Freddie Hubbard, Paul Chambers on upright bass, drummers Jimmy Cobb, Louis Hayes and Art Taylor, Tommy Flanagan and Red Garland on piano and trumpeter/flugelhorn player Wilbur Harden.

Coltrane’s earliest session from this banner year began with the saxophonist playing in a relatively conventional (yet transcendent) style; as the year progressed, Coltrane seemed to grow more ambitious. His famous “sheets of sound” (characterized as such by critic Ira Gitler) showed up early but became a central part of his approach as the year wore on.

The 8LP set opens with “Lush Life,” a cut that would be released as the a-side of a 1960 single. Six other tracks appeared as a- or B-sides on other Prestige singles (“I Want to Talk About You” and “By the Numbers” with Red Garland each saw release on 45s’ split across both sides). By the time of cutting the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne chestnut “Time After Time” in December 1958, Coltrane had assimilated his adventurousness into a wholly accessible style. His approach seems almost effortless, true to the original melody yet unencumbered, unrestrained by it.

Hardcore Coltrane enthusiasts – and no doubt many others – will already own all of these tracks via their appearance on the aforementioned LPs and/or CD reissues. But that fact in no way lessens the impact or essential nature of the new Coltrane ‘58. Housed in a heavy cloth-bound binder, the set is spread across eight 180-gram vinyl LPs, each placed inside a black paper sleeve that fits into a heavier brown paper page of the 1 1/2” thick binder. The package also features a bound-in 40-page booklet that includes Grammy-winning music journalist/author Ashley Kahn’s superb essay, copious black-and-white and color photographs and reproductions of relevant memorabilia (Van Gelder’s handwritten notes, tape boxes and so forth).

The loving care that has gone into every part of this package more than justifies its cost. In fact, the music itself does that; as top-notch as it is, everything else included in Coltrane ‘58 should be regarded as bonus material.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS – The Best of Everything

Album: The Best of Everything

Artist: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Label: Universal/Geffen

Release Date: March 01, 2019

www.tompetty.com

BY DAVE STEINFELD

At first glance, you might ask yourself if The Best of Everything — which is subtitled “The Definitive Career Spanning Hits Collection” — was necessary. After all, there are already several other Petty anthologies including An American Treasure, which just arrived last fall and includes four discs. But An American Treasure — while comprehensive in scope — focuses mainly on deep cuts, live renditions and previously unreleased material. So being that there is little if any overlap between these two collections, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The Best of Everything serves a purpose and does it well.

Tom Petty’s death — on October 2nd, 2017 — left a gaping hole in the world of rock and roll. True, we’ve lost other plenty of other rockers, some quite recently. But there was something special about Petty. Back in the late ‘70s, when many music fans embraced either the corporate rock status quo or the more groundbreaking sounds of punk and New Wave, Petty was one of the few artists who could claim fans from both camps. And the ability to appeal to people of disparate interests and backgrounds never really left him. Petty and his Heartbreaker cohorts were unabashedly influenced by the artists who came before them (The Byrds, The Rolling Stones etc.) but they synthesized those influences into something that was fresh and perfectly in step with the times. And there was always something appealingly “normal” about Petty. He knew he was good but he lacked the arrogance of someone like Mick Jagger. He was Rock Star as Everyman and could be as critical of himself as he often was about the music business.

Likewise, The Heartbreakers were a tight and talented group of “regular guys” from Gainesville, FLA who happened to hit the big time. Mike Campbell was the perfect right hand man for Petty, an underrated lead guitarist capable of casually unleashing great solos and an adept co-writer as well. Keyboardist Benmont Tench was the son of a judge and probably the most intellectual Heartbreaker. Musically, he provided an essential component — which is no mean feat in a guitar-based band. Ron Blair’s rock star looks belied his penchant for stage fright and general shyness but he was a solid musician (check out the bass line in “American Girl”) and has the distinction of being both the first and third bassist in the band, following the sadly departed Howie Epstein. And while Stan Lynch fell out with Petty in the ’90s, there’s no question that he was an integral part of the band early on with his larger-than-life personality and drumming. In this writer’s opinion, The Heartbreakers were probably the greatest American band of the past 50 years.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their self-titled debut at the end of 1976. Over the next 40 years or so, they would provide the soundtrack to millions of American lives. Some albums may have sold better than others, some may have even been better than others, but Petty never made a bad record — which is more than most artists who have been around for four decades can say. Even the albums that were spotty had their moments.

Which is where The Best of Everything comes in. It offers 38 tracks spread across two CDs (or four sides of vinyl). There are also some great photos, plus liner notes from Cameron Crowe. Admittedly, you don’t get many previously unreleased songs here — just two, in fact. But the quality of the music that you do get is so consistently top-notch that this hardly matters. The Best of Everything collects material from Petty’s solo career, his later efforts with Mudcrutch (TP, Campbell, Tench, Tom Leadon, and Randall Marsh) and, of course, plenty of stuff with The Heartbreakers. The songs aren’t arranged chronologically but this is an advantage in a way because it makes the listener realize that Petty was writing great songs throughout his career, even after he stopped being a regular presence on the charts. Most of the big hits (“Free Fallin’, ”Refugee,” “American Girl,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” etc.) appear on Disc 1. But there are some on Disc 2 as well, along with some excellent lesser known songs.

Even at 38 tracks, not all of Petty’s best work is represented and naturally fans will argue about what should or shouldn’t have made the cut (I, for one, wouldn’t have minded a couple more songs from Echo or Long After Dark). But again, this is a minor complaint. The number of great songs here is truly striking — as is the variety of those songs. Witness the title track from 1985’s Southern Accents, a breakthrough ballad that even this Connecticut Yankee can appreciate… The biting commentary of “The Last DJ,” which was banned by Clear Channel for telling some inconvenient truths about the music business… The Zeppelin-esque blues-rock of “I Should Have Known It” from 2010’s Mojo… Sad, beautiful ballads like “Room at the Top” and “Dreamville”…. And the back to basics rock and roll of “You Wreck Me” from Petty’s massively popular solo disc, Wildflowers.

Taken as a whole, The Best of Everything offers ample proof that Tom Petty was one of the most important and consistent figures in American rock and roll. These lines from “Walls,” a deceptively simple single from the overlooked She’s the One soundtrack, provides a fitting epitaph:

“Some things are over
Some things go on
Part of me you carry
Part of me is gone.”

RIP, Tom. We’ll never forget you.

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS – Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt. 6

 

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, and HERE for Pt.5.  FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text. Pictured above: Deniz Tek; photo by Anne Tek. (We meant to get this column out before the end of 2018, but life happens. So consider this a round-up of the best rock & roll from the last half of the previous year.)

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Austin’s reactivated Crack Pipes often get tossed in the “garage rock” bin, and while that’s not inaccurate, the quintet has never been a sixties revival act, not even in its earliest days. That’s especially true on Fake Eyelashes (Super Secret), the Pipes’ fifth album and first in a baker’s dozen years. The Pipes distill the raw end of their record collections down to tracks both sweet (“Fake Eyelashes,” “Medusa, Do You Mind?”) and savage (“Lil Cheetah,” “(I’m a) Moon Man, Baby”). Adding bits of soul (“Sha-Zam”), country (the title cut), psychedelia (“Giraffe”) and the blues that shaped the band’s core back in the day (“Sweet & Low”), the Pipes rip on all cylinders, letting strong songwriting power the performances, instead of the other way ‘round. Just to reiterate that this is no retro garage rawk project, the record’s sole cover comes from the catalog of alternative rock icon Grant Hart – and it’s the rocking “You’re a Reflection of the Moon On the Water,” from 2009’s Hot Wax, too.

The Morlocks (American division) hail from the original 80s garage rock revival; amazingly, nearly 35 years after their inception, they’re still standing (even if singer Leighton Koizumi is the only original member left). Bring On the Mesmeric Condition (Hound Gawd!/Rough Trade) – only the San Diego quintet’s fourth studio album in its career – doesn’t alter the original formula an iota. The Morlocks still write tunes that sound like long-lost Nuggets gems and perform with the kind of energy that could only have generated following the late 70s punk rock wave. Which is to say that “Down Underground,” “Easy Action” and “Bothering Me” explode out of the speakers with killer riffs and snarling ‘tude, with Koizumi’s pop-eyed growl as the eye of the hurricane. Not too many of these bands are left, and even fewer can do this bop with any real verve or authenticity. Four decades into their career, the Morlocks still have the goods in spades.

The Ar-Kaics also party like it’s 1965, though not nearly as raucously as their elders. That has less to do with energy than style on In This Time (Wick/Daptone), the Richmond act’s second LP. The quartet comes off less as sneering punks than brooding nerds, with a midtempo rhythm drive that calls to mind folk rock more than garage punk. That doesn’t mean the band can’t rock out when required – cf. “No Vacancy” or “She’s Obsessed With Herself.” But moodier protopsych fare like the seething “Distemper” and poppy “Some People” are far more common. Similarly, Boston’s indefatigable Muck and the Mires share a devotion to sixties pro-am rock, particularly the party variety, but the quartet’s songs simply transcend such easy classification. Muckus Maximus (Rum Bar), the group’s latest EP, spills over with catchy tuneage, “Break It All” and “Loneliness” sure to bring smiles to faces.

Nearing their (gulp) thirtieth anniversary, the Bottle Rockets lean into their Americana side on their thirteenth album Bit Logic (Bloodshot). That doesn’t mean the veteran Missourians have discovered their inner Chris Stapleton – just that Brian Henneman dials up his Willie ‘n’ Waylon influences so they’re a bit more obvious, as on “Way Down South,” “Knotty Pine” and the title track. The band also gets poppy on “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Saxophone” without losing the rootsy influence. Henneman’s trademark wit is in fine form, poking wry fun at humanity in “Doomsday Letter” and “Human Perfection,” and at the music industry itself in “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw.” The Rockets keep their Southern rock edge low-key and avoid their Crazy Horse side, but that doesn’t make Bit Logic anything less than (yet) another solid Bottle Rockets LP. For a taste of the louder version of alt.country, turn to Austin’s Western Youth, whose self-titled, full-length debut (self-released) cranks up the amps even as it keeps to the virtues of songcraft. Frontdudes Taylor Williams and Graham Weber write tunes with melody, heart and just the right touch of soul, and their dedication to the electric guitar as the guiding force of the band keeps soft rock Americana clichés at arms’ length. Check out “Hangin’ On” and “Dying On the Vine” for the Youth at their best.

For Oldest Friend (Off the Hip), its first LP in seven years, Perth, Australia’s Painkillers expand to a four-piece, as singer/guitarist Joe Bludge and drummer James Baker (Hoodoo Gurus, the Scientists, Dubrovniks, etc.) joined by bassist Martyn P. Casey of the Triffids and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds and guitarist Richard Lane of the Stems and the Chevelles. The addition of two such notables really doesn’t change anything – Bludge still writes country-flavored guitar rockers that teeter between cynicism and sentimentality and sings them in a raw voice devoid, for good or ill, of polish – everybody just stays out of his way to let him express himself. Redolent of everyone from Johnny Dowd and Townes Van Zandt to the Jacobites and the Velvet Underground, Bludge’s vision doesn’t any room for bullshit – “$6 Chicken,” “Honey Bees” and the title track drop pretenses and shoot straight to the heart of barroom prophets everywhere. “I’m doin’ it all over in a rock & roll band,” he declares in “Drunk on a Train,” and that about sums it up.

In case you’ve ever wondered what barbers do in their spare time, the Cutthroat Brothers have the answer. Real life haircutters (though the album cover is a bit too reminiscent of a classic Monty Python sketch to make anyone comfortable sitting in their chairs) Jason Cutthroat and Donny Paycheck (who originally beat the skins for Camarosmith and the mighty Zeke) work out the demons on their self-titled debut (Digital Warfare). Paycheck keeps the rhythmic heart throbbing for Cutthroat, whose grunged-out slide guitar and sedate vocals give basic riff-rockers “Oceans of Blood” and “Kill 4 U” a current of menace and a bucket o’ guts. The pseudo-sibs also bring surprising soul to “Violent Crime,” a ballad (!) that has more in common with Nick Cave than Roy Orbison. Perfectly produced by Jack Endino, whose relationship with Paycheck extends through Zeke to the bands the drummer signed to his sadly defunct Dead Teenager label.

Those missing the wild ‘n’ crazy guys in Guitar Wolf will likely warm to the bluesy garage rock sounds emanating from fellow Japanese combo King Brothers. This trio aren’t the maniacs that Wolf are – let’s face it, no one is – but Wasteland (Hound Gawd!/Rough Trade), its debut album, has plenty of wild-eyed thrills. “Bang! Blues” and “No! No! No!” don’t mess around in the group’s mission to make “Kick Ass Rock.” Melbourne’s Beat Taboo similarly channel the unhinged spirit of the early garagabillies on its debut album Dirty Stash (Off the Hip). Over trashy twin guitars and a rhythm section (including OtH majordomo Mick Baty) as comfortable with rockabilly grunge as swamp rawk, Pange De Bauche growls, howls, rants and croons his way through “Lick My Wail,” “Cat Lady Man” and “Voodoo Beat” like the successor to Nick Cave and Tex Perkins.

Considering how tense modern times are, it takes some balls to sing “I’m a gun and I’m gonna kill you.” But that’s the Blankz for ya, apparently, at least on its third single “I’m a Gun” b/w “Bad Boy” (Slope). With analog synth sharing space with crunchy guitar, the Arizona quintet’s new wavey punk pop is big on old-fashioned pop hooks and sneering attitude. Better is the band’s fourth single “(It’s a) Breakdown” b/w “You’re Not My Friend Anymore” (Slope) – both tunes let the keyboard take the lead and feature stronger vocal performances.

Protopunk legend Deniz Tek has had a productive decade – between Radio Birdman reunions and side projects, he’s released three solo albums in the past five years. That includes the brand new Lost For Words (Career), which, as might be gathered from the title, dismisses lyrics and vocals in favor of an all-instrumental program. Unsurprisingly for the guy that wrote “Aloha Steve and Danno,” surf rock is the biggest building block – cf. “Eddie Would Go” and “Hondo’s Dog.” But there’s more to Lost For Words than refried Dick Dale, with the influence of spy movie soundtracks (“Lies and Bullets”), spaghetti western cinematic twang (“The Barrens”),  Southwestern folk rock (“It Shall Be Life”) and groovy soul (“Boneyard”). The record also includes a pair of Birdman tracks: an instrumental reworking of the title track to 2006’s Zeno Beach and the otherwise unreleased “Vanished.” Another highlight of an always interesting and frequently brilliant career.

Speaking of legends, Paul Collins still walks the earth, dropping power pop nuggets as he goes. The erstwhile leader of the Beat resurfaces after a few years off with Out of My Head (Alive Naturalsound), the follow-up to 2014’s Feel the Noise. Though he’s in his sixties, Collins has managed to hold on to the boyish quality of his voice, which gives simple, lovelorn ditties like “Kind of Girl,” “Beautiful Eyes” and “Emily” a certain poignancy. And while rockers like “Midnight Special” and “Go” don’t exactly set amps on fire, they’ve got enough verve to at least rearrange the furniture. “Killer Inside,” meanwhile, explores an area of rock noir that’s not usually on Collins’ itinerary, and does it quite well, too. Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes work similar terrain on the Kiss the Ass of My Heart EP (Rum Bar), the follow-up to its excellent debut All Anxious, All the Time. Leader and former Dimestore Halo Chaz Matthews likes simple, traditional pop melodies roughed up with rock & roll guitar and vocal grit, making “Black Leather Angel” and the title track balms for pop fans in studded belts.

Chicago musicmaesters Rick Mosher and Kenn Goodman have an estimable career going back to the eighties with the Service, the New Duncan Imperials and their industrious indie label Pravda. The Imperial Sound, the duo’s latest music project, blends airy power pop with horn-driven soul on its debut The New AM. If anything defines this record, it’s taste. Guitarist Mosher and keyboardist Goodmann keep their licks straight and to the point, and the horns augment the tunes perfectly. Given the LP’s title, it’s unsurprising that Mosher’s melodies betray a love of the smarter side of 70s pop and soul, and his arrangements keep ‘em clean and sweet. While Mosher’s plainspoken voice suits “Daylight,” “The Sun Goes Out” and “Back On Your Table” just fine, he also brings in friends for other tracks, highlighting singer/songwriter Nora O’Connor on the straight soul of “Yesterday,” R&B belter Robert Cornelius on the funky “A Man Like You” and the duo of Kelly Hogan and Peter Himmelman on the snappy “Ain’t Crawling Back.” Every track is catchy and to the point. Folks who wondered what happened to these folks after the New Duncs petered out will be happy to tune up The New AM.

We loved the first album from Justine and the Unclean as a wonderfully tight collision of glam, power pop, punk and hard rock. Unsurprisingly, Heartaches and Hot Problems (Rum Bar), the Boston quartet’s follow-up EP, is just as good. From the turbocharged pop of “Be Your Own Reason” and the bare-knuckled punk ‘n’ roll of “The System is Set to Self Destruct” to the deadpan boogie of “Margaritas and Secondhand Smoke” and genre-agnostic rawk of “Monosyllabic Man,” the Unclean waste no time on anything other than good tunes and hot rockin’. Frontperson Justine Covault seems to have picked up the long-abandoned baton of Nikki & the Corvettes, a most welcome infusion of new energy into the artery-hardened revenant of rock & roll. Though pulling from the same elements, Giuda ups the glam quotient considerably on its latest seven-inch “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” b/w “Born Under a Bad Sign” (Rise Above). All power chord riffs and choral chants, the Roman quintet has never been about anything other than a good time, and with drums that seem to beam straight from the British charts circa 1972, it can’t do anything else.

At its best, rock & roll should have an edge of danger and insanity, as if things might threaten to fall apart any minute. There aren’t many contemporary artists who embody that edge more than Obnox, AKA Lamont “Bim” Thomas (pictured below). The Clevelander’s latest album Bang Messiah (Smog Veil) – his tenth in less than a decade – is a half-hour of his stripped-down blend of punk, hip-hop and electro rock, starting with an obscenity-filled rant called “Steve Albini Thinks We Suck” and ending with the simmering electro-thwomp “Fluss.” In between you get straight rap cuts like “Rally On the Block,” mutant R&B like “Peek-a-Boo” and punk rock tantrums like “I Hate Everything.” Thomas is definitely not everyone’s flagon of cyanide, but there’s no denying the guy oozes rock & roll attitude in a way far too many rockers of his generation eschew.

 

AUDIO/VIDEO

The Ar-Kaics – “No Vacancy”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxQ4bCN2y08

 

The Blankz – “I’m a Gun”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5OarOqldgg

 

The Bottle Rockets – Bit Logic Bandcamp:

https://thebottlerockets.bandcamp.com/album/bit-logic

 

The Cheap Cassettes – Kiss the Ass of My Heart Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/kiss-the-ass-of-my-heart

 

Paul Collins – “Go”:

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

 

The Crack Pipes – Fake Eyelashes:

https://soundcloud.com/supersecretrecords/sets/the-crack-pipes-fake-eyelashes

 

The Cutthroat Brothers – “Kill 4 U”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xu1McejK5RE

 

Giuda – “Rock N Roll Music” 7-inch Bandcamp:

https://giuda.bandcamp.com/album/rock-n-roll-music

 

The Imperial Sound – “A Man Like You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv32UI7aBiA

 

Justine and the Unclean – Heartaches and Hot Problems Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/heartaches-and-hot-problems

 

The King Brothers – “No Want”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcvvysF0RLA

 

The Morlocks – “Bothering Me”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5QJauQBEuw

 

Muck and the Mires – Muckus Maximus Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/muckus-maximus

 

Obnox – “Cream”:

https://soundcloud.com/franklisa/cream

 

The Painkillers – “Oldest Friend” Bandcamp:

https://the-painkillers.bandcamp.com/track/oldest-friend

 

Deniz Tek – “Burn the Breeze”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1bJ_u8pKGU

 

Western Youth – s-t Bandcamp:

https://western-youth.bandcamp.com/