Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking
Against the Grain
First of all, I am assuming they’re named after the Bad Religion album. That being said, AtG are an interesting mix between punk and metal, and on their fourth full play release, they keep flipping between the two from song to song. For example, “Til We Die” and “Afraid of Nothing” are nearly hardcore speed with guitar solos, yet “What Happened?” and “Sirens” is total headbanging metal crash of guitars. It’s all very mid-‘80s SoCal, even though they’re actually from Detroit. The band is pretty damn tight; from what I understand, this was recorded after a tour, the best time to hit the recording studio when you’ve got the songs right where you want them (though many bands do it the other way around, to promote the record rather than to practice them). Nice growl, two buzzsaw guitars, and down and dirty licks.
Two Bad Dudes
Self-Destructo Records / Pyramid
The group sounds like so much more than having only two members: Christopher Rutledge on vox and guitar, and William Fees on drums. Their sound is definitely metal. For example, the opening cuts, “Golden Goddess I” and “Golden Goddess II” have a riff that is reminiscent of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Come to think of it, “Black Magic I” and “Black Magic II” are reminisce of the bridge to “White Room” (other than a really long drum solo in the first, and a weird effects-laden guitar in the second). In fact, Cream is a really good reference point for much of what they do, if J Mascis replaced Clapton. Basically, it’s two bad dudes bashing out some tunes in a studio instead of on a corner with a hat, except with some decent songs like “Thee Intimidator,” though I wish they had turned the vocal reverb down; then again it does help give it that full-volume 1960s psychedelic blues rock sound. By the end it was feeling a bit tedious, but I’m not sure if that’s because guitar solos tend to wear on me, if the echo was overwhelming when trying to make out the lyrics, that the songs tend to be 4 or 5 minutes long, or that most of the songs are repeated in different versions. It’s not bad, but definitely needs something more. Bet they’re fun live, though.
This 4-song EP is by is a fun Aussie band that has a strong early ‘70s pop sound. Picture a cross between the Beach Boys and the Raspberries. The songs are upbeat and what Howard Kaylan once called “Good Time Music.” Songs about attraction, smiles and other upbeat notions wrapped along some catchy riffs makes this a breezy and fun listen.
Dave Nelson & the 32nd Street Quintet
Self-released / facebook.com/dave.nelson.52090
I met Dave through his work with the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band. He stands out as the older white guy on trumpet, but fits in so well. But it did not surprise me when I found out he fronts his own jazz combo. Recently I reviewed his latest release, but this one which is a bit older still deserves some attention and love. Also recorded in my home ‘hood of Brooklyn, this is a mixture of originals and covers, focusing on Nelson’s horn, which especially shines on the title track. It’s easy to tell that John Coltrane is an inspiration, and not just because this group covers his version of “My Favorite Things” here, but the level of experimentation and taking chances carries it beyond the “Easy Listening Jazz” descriptor on the cover. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of “Lite” or “Easy Listening,” but this is much better than that describes, and certainly goes beyond that. Sure, a couple of numbers come close to that (especially the two with vocals), and there are some nice rhythmic riffs in pieces like “20th Century Blues,” but, there is so much interesting stuff going on throughout that you really get a feel for the Quintet (who all get their individual share of the spotlight), especially the pushing of Nelson’s horn envelope. He plays well against Joel Frahm tenor sax, much as Satchmo did with Higginbotham on my favorite Armstrong version of “St. Louis Blues.”
Feed the Kitty
Westbound & Down
I had a brief moment of country music love in the late 1970s, possibly a reaction to the Nashville soundtrack, but though it was a passing phase that ended with the “pop” influence on the style, I learned to appreciate it as a form. Most of modern country is, well, bland, but every once in a while a musician (such as Angela Easterling or Laura Cantrell) or band catches my attention. This is true of Feed the Kitty. While it’s not all pure country, it mixes a lot of other elements from rock to funky wah-wah guitars to give their songs some power. But it’s the harmonies that I think stand out the most. It’s hardly surprising it’s so tight, considering they play 300 shows a year. Though situated in SoCal, their Tucson background shows in such numbers as “Road Less Traveled,” “California Country Girl,” “Westbound,” “Human Race,” the ballad “I’m to Blame,” and the humorous “Sorry.” Lots more of the cuts are worth listening, with little filler. If you like country or a variation thereof, it’s a smooth listen, like a Jack and cigar.
No Condiments, PLEASE
Jeffland is essentially poet Jeff Mastroberti. Much as Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye did in the early ‘70s, Jeff does some newer readings of a dozen of his poems from his book by the same name, which came out in 2012 (the text has about 40 pieces), set to music. Jeff’s a great guy, and I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with him a couple of times, including once when I was kicked out of a Starbucks (but that’s another story). I’ve read the book of poetry, and it’s definitely a mixed bag. Some of it is quite meaningful and touching, and some is, well, okay. Now, I fully admit that I am not a poet nor an English major, so I’m looking at this more as how it affects me, since poetry tends to be more abstract than most writing (especially more than my own). With this CD (or whatever medium you play your music), the poems take on a fuller shade than just on the page. Having the artist read his own material definitely helps. There’s quite a bit of angst in here (e.g., “I will be a clown when my death comes,” or “My brain is cotton candy sitting by the drain”). A couple of songs in a row are lists based on the questions “Why” and “What is Reality?” “Kimberly” is one of the stronger cuts, and even the written version is nicely done with a secondary message. “Post 9/11” is another strong cut and poem. Come to think of it, the whole second half is pretty damn good. Jeff has a good voice for this kind of speak/singing reading, with a voice that’s musical without being too lulling.
Johnny Winter with Dr. John
Live in Sweden 1987
Gazell / www.mvdvisual.com
Everything is stripped down on this show, with Winter’s band made up as just a trio, featuring Jon Paris (bass and harmonica) and Tom Compton (drums), with Dr. John jumping in for a few songs. It starts off strong, with them belting out a bluesy version of the zydeco classic “Sound the Bell.” The band has obviously been playing this number a while because they seem quite at ease with it, yet never letting its proverbial throat go throughout. This is also true with Lee Baker Jr.’s “Don’t Take Advantage of Me” where, they add some solid rock into the mix towards the end. They swing into a slide version of J.B. Lenoir’s Son House-meets-Nawleans-style acoustic-gone-electric slow burn boogie Blues of “Mojo Boogie,” which is a perfect way to set up the introduction of Dr. John’s version of the boogie that made him so popular among the Creole set. A few rattling tinkles on the keys, they break into a Dr. John original, “You Lie Too Much.” Even with the mixing of some of styles, Winter and John fit like two gloves with fingers intertwined. John does take the lead on the vocals for these numbers, with Winter and Paris doing back-up. Together yet, they break into the slow burner “Love, Life and Money” (originally recorded by Little Willie John), again sharing duties by alternating the song, split down the middle, growl for growl. There needs to be some kind of rave up after a soul pulling number like that, so to rev it up for the finale they cover “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I’ve always wondered if Keef was a bit jealous of Winter’s agility on the fretboard. John and Johnny both sing on the chorus and it’s a not always a pretty blending, but they play it so well, it’s easily forgivable. There is also an extended DVD of this show available.
Jonny Manak & the Depressives
Cold Pizza & Warm Beer
Self-Destructo Records / Reach Around Records
Wow, nice throwback to the ‘70s New York Scene. Imagine a possible cross between, say, the Dead Boys, the Ramones, and the Mumps. Yeah, it’s that weird a combination, and then add in a measure of adolescent mentality with songs like “Vegass,” “You Give Me Goosebumps,” “Powder to Blow,” “Monsters” (which has a Ramones’ “Chainsaw” chorus of “Oh no / Oh yeah”), and “Motorpsycho.” Then there’s covers of the likes of GG and the Jabbers’ “Don’t Talk To Me” (done like Manak, not Allin) and the Saints’ “New Race.” Like an LP, this is broken up into two sections (rather than sides). The first, Cold Pizza, are more throwbacks, but it’s the second section, “Warm Beer,” that stands out as more energetic, again more Ramones-like, and more enjoyable (that’s more, not instead of, as both are fun). “Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a good example of how entertaining they can be.
This is the band’s first release in over a quarter of a century, after being dropped by a major label in the early 1990s. I can understand why they get associated with the band Rhino Bucket (see review below): they follow a similar timeline including their hiatus period, reforming in the new millennium in a revised personnel format, and now they’re both on Acetate. Junkyard tends to be also associated with the sound of Southern Rock. While I can see that to some extent, I think that is exaggerated, since they come across as more metal with just a smidge of punk thrown in. The songs are catchy (and mostly about drinkin’, not surprising considering the CD art), with repeatable choruses, such as “Cut From the Same Cloth,” “Hellbound,” “Hell or High Water,” and “’Til the Wheels Fall Off.” There’s just the right amount of harmonies to fill out David Roach’s razor tenor vocals (which occasionally sounds weirdly like he’s from the Psycotic Pineapple). There is a bit of a dichotomy when it comes to styles. For example, “Styrofoam Cup” and “Don’t’ Give a Damn” can be seen as new Country rock, but then there’s “We Fuck Like we Fight (WFLWF).” I was taken by surprise how much I enjoyed this, especially the hyper “Wallet.” Man, my tastes are adapting, and I’m glad.
Peter Pan Speedrock
Buckle Up and Shove It!
Self-Destructo Records / Steamhammer
A really nice punk metal release from this Dutch band that had been around for two decades. The sound is a bit like a steamroller with a chainsaw on front. Sadly, this was their last album before parting ways last year. It’s no nonsense, though tongue is kept in cheek as far as lyrics go, but they are a powerhouse in sound. Wow. Great stuff that is more than just a reliance on Motörhead, especially with Lemmy-ish vocals. After a meh opening cut, “Get You High,” the bar gets raised and stays there in full thrash mode. Okay, well, I may have to explain that a bit. First, there is a couple of great covers here, including the Damned’s early “New Rose” and a strange version of the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul.” The other point I should note is the title cut is an astoundingly great pop punk piece that puts bands like Blink 182 and Green Day to shame. Even with a couple of silly drinkin’ songs, his is a fun collection and is highly recommended.
Randy Woods Band
Randy Woods Band
Randy used to front a Saskatoon-based band called Absofunkenlutely who were fun, even though they tended to dip a bit into disco territory. His new material is better. In fact I have just come from seeing the band perform less than an hour ago. The RWB is excellent and tight, and this collection is a good representation. The production levels are pretty high, but that’s what Randy does, produces and engineers music (such as the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band). For his new collective, well, it seemed appropriate for him to open with “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard,” because that “chica-chica” and horn sound can give you some idea of what’s on the album (though that song isn’t). In fact, “Charisma Free” feels very similar to “Julio.” But the funk/reggae beat is still there in a few numbers, such as the closer, “Faded American.” There isn’t a bad or filler cut on here. Randy experiments a bit with the sound and effects in the studio, but rather than overdoing it, he keeps just the right amount to enhance the sound rather than override it. This is definitely one I’m likely to listen to again.
The Last Real Rock N’ Roll
The SoCal band has been around in some form since the late 1980s, except for a nearly decade long “hiatus” in the ‘90s that led to some personnel changes. They are described as “hard rock” and yeah, that’s pretty accurate. But they also have a very dated feel, like they’re still on the Wayne’s World soundtrack. That’s not meant as an insult, just an observation for those who are sentimental for that sound. The songs are catch-riddled, with foot-pounding, fist-pumping rock riffs that are perfect for air guitar, such as with “Last Call” and “It’s a Sin” (as well as many others). Despite the changes, vocalist Georg Dolivo remains constant, so there is a consistency through the decades. The heaviest song, “The Devil You Know,” is held for last. The subtle level of pop that runs through most of the riffs between the guitar solos makes this radio-friendly, and really should be there, as they have a very marketable sound, even if they’re getting’ up there in years.
Back with a Gang Bang!
Do you ever think back and miss those days of punk bands that purposefully tried to offend in as many ways as possible? Some did it in ways that felt like it was a show, but bands like this one seem to come by it naturally, which gives some credence (or at least tolerance) to songs like “Girls Like Sperm,” “White Women in Distress” and “Fitness Model Mother Fucker (FMMF)” Musically, the band plays pretty straight forward punk songs with chantable choruses, especially “Blood, Honor & Pussy,” and “Devious One.” If you’re tolerant, this is actually a pretty decent piece, in some ways reminding me of Motörhead for style – though without Lemmy’s vocals; that being said, Mike Tyson’s vox do just fine for this. It’s kick ass, even though, as someone else once said, he gives the same tone and energy in every song which have very similar feels to them (people have also said that about the Ramones, remember?). That is to say, enjoy it or get the fuck out of the way!