Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Music Reviews: January 2018

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking

Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘em Ups
We’re Still Dead
I have to say, their initial LP, Now We’re Gonna See What Disaster Really Means, was a killer punk record with a hard line towards horror and murder, much like the early Cramps (though replacing the voodoobilly with hardcore screaming). While I missed the sophomore release, Torture Rock (review coming soon), I’m so glad to have the opportunity to review this and, meanwhile, if you get a chance to see them live (usually locally in New York at Brooklyn’s Lucky 13 Saloon and around the Tri-State area), avail yourself. From the first cut, “Destroy All Humans,” with its cutting and jerky guitar riff, you know this is going to be in for a shit load of fun. Anthony Van Hoek’s guitar is electric in its tone and attack, well matched by lead vocalist Jaqueline Blownaparte, who wisely talks-screams-sings her material to get the most punch out of them. This song is followed by the even better “HSH” (“Hellfire Shitfire Hellfire”), which plays around with the tempo. It also shows that Ms. J can handle the speed, spitting out the voluminous lyrics, as much as Ant follows suit on his axe. Now I can go on and on repetitiously about how much fun this release is, so I’m going to let you mostly extrapolate. Just know there’s not a bad (or slow) cut here. Even with a couple of silly ones (not an insult; after all, the Cramps did “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”) like “Fun Things to Do During Robberies” and “Gorilla Girl from Outer Space,” the choruses are very chantable for the audience (the rest of the band fills in singing for us on this collection), as with most of these. Make sure you listen to it in stereo form, because they play with the balance quite nicely, bouncing from ear to ear (i.e., kudos on the engineering!). And for those acquaintances of mine who make horror films (e.g., James Balsamo, Bill Zebub), this would make some great soundtrack material, such as the excellent “Midnight Madhouse”!

Clockwork Revolution
Clockwork Revolution
One could almost consider this Ft. Lauderdale-based hard rockin’ band a supergroup considering the past members have been or are currently in bands like Yngwie Malmsteen, W.A.S.P., Leatherwolf, Crimson Glory, and Kamelot, among others. They’ve also be compared to the likes of Dio and Judas P. Of course, this debut is metal, but what kind of metal?, you may be asking. It’s the grinding, mid-speed kind that’s not trying to impress with many speedy guitar solos. They work tightly as a unit, which is impressive. I certainly appreciate the lack of the need for guitarist Dewayne Hart having the ego in check and to not need to play with his cock out (metaphysically speaking, of course). The bottom is quite solid with Dirk Van Tilborg on bass and drummer Patrick Johansson. For me, the first weak point is that there is little variation between songs in speed or tone. They’re good at what they do, don’t get me wrong, it’s just repetitious (and this coming from someone who adores the Ramones). The second is actually Wade Black’s vocals. Again, he’s a decent singer, there’s nothing wrong there, it’s just… he sounds stereotypically pretty much like every other metal singer with the warble at the end of the musical bar. He’s singing, “A violation, I’m feeling mean / Don’t tread on me, I’m venomous,” but it feels empty and same-old-same-old. And every song has the same vocal tone. Again, not bad, just… whatever. But what the hell do I know about this kind of metal. If the bands I mentioned before are your speed, there is a good chance you’ll like this. Sometimes serviceable is good enough. Lyrics included with the CD. /

Fred Gillen Jr.
What She Said
I’ve oft contended that punk is folk music, played acoustically. They’re both protest-focused, lo-fi and stripped down. Look how many punk musicians have released singer-songwriter collections as they aged. Gillen falls into this category, as well. Playing in the homeland of punk during the 1980s, at the likes of CBGB and Irving Plaza in bands like Rain Deputies, he too has come around to the acoustic, though he has lost none of his punch in this, his 10th album (though the first I’ve heard). This release is strongly pro-American, but it’s amazing how strongly opposite in attitude of, say, the hard rock-based group Kinlin. Rather than fight for your your America to keep it strong, it’s more thoughtful, opening with the powerful “Prayer for America” (“I may not believe in God / But I say a little prayer for America”). Gillen doesn’t look at refugees as a danger, rather he takes their side to show how important they are for the continuation of the country (“Future American”). He also looks at people who are persecuted with the likes of “Julia” and in “Baltimore Burns,” he presents a list of evils in modern culture, such as the death of Trevor Martin, yet points a finger at both sides of governmental Aisle. The latter is a powerful piece. There is a mix of positiveness and negativity throughout, but in both cases there is a measure of hope. Gillen’s voice is well-suited for this style, and it’s worth a listen if you want music with a conscious.
Dys Records /

James Lee Stanley
Alive at Last – In Philadelphia
The last time I heard Stanley, he was teamed with John Batdorf, doing acoustic and folkish covers of the Rolling Stones. Here, we are presented with a full concert with a small group of what sounds like good personal friends. Yeah, this definitely has more of the feel of a house concert than being in a big hall (or even a club). This model fits Stanley well. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: there are a couple of covers, one of which is a very soulful version of the Stones’ “Miss You.” Not one of my fave Stones songs, being a disco-era production, but Stanley actually brings some emotion to it rather than the shell of machismo. There is also a version of the Beatles’ “Drive My Car” (can a Beatles cover album be far behind, I wonder?), that is without the annoying “Beep Beep yeah!” Backed by Cheryl Prashker on percussion and Chad Watson on electric bass, they take a back step to let Stanley and his guitar stand out front. In typical (happily) modern singer-songwriter fashion, his songs are filled with sentiment, and just a bit of exotic musical flairs and influences (e.g., “All I Ever Wanted”). It’s a long player, but his music is relaxed and enjoyable. Also included are the song introductions, which are mostly fun, though at least one is cringeworthy (i.e., for the lovely “Worry Bout You”). Politics does make a couple of appearances, such as “Do It in the Name,” and “The Street Where Mercy Died,” written after the Bush treatment of Katrina (though it could reflect in the Trump-era Puerto Rico fiasco). The finale, “The More I Drink” also has a touch of current affairs, as well as audience participation. This isn’t naval gazing as much as bringing the passion to the forefront as it’s not whiny, but it does touch on something deeper without being cryptic (as was REM’s “Losing My Religion”). It’s a fine release and it does show Stanley’s gifts, which is a positive.
Beachwood /

The Last Stand
Sharing two members of the band Clockwork Revolution, this SoFla is very different in tone and sound, and I’m happy about that. While keeping the heavy tones, drummer Patrick Johansson and guitarist Dewayne Hart are joined by Tom Lynch on guitar and bassist Chris Eversoul; Hart does double duty as vocalist. While his vox is often double-tracked, it actually works quite solidly. The songs are musically strong with some great crooning chops and are definitely quite chantable in parts; the pace often changes from ballad to rave-ups. The lyrics of the songs tend to be a bit on the Conservative side, with topics often veering towards insisting you’re part of an evil machine out of your control and there’s a war coming with “the radicals are at your door.” For example, in “Unthinkable,” they posit “The time has come for fighting wars / Even if it’s on our shores.” This is definitely jingoistic stuff wrapped up in some phenomenal music. If you’re into chanting “USA! USA! USA!” (not that this band does that), you might find yourself grooving to it. I picture pick-up trucks, gun-racks, Coors (the beer of gun lovers by gun lovers), and red MAGA hats. Politics aside, the music and vocals are really great. My liberal heart that loves America as much as you guys may have issue with nationalistic songs like “The Last Stand,” “Unthinkable,” “Stand or Fall,” and “Blood of Our Fathers,” but I am content with the zeitgeist beauty of “Monday Rain.” /

Oral Fuentes
Rise Up 
When I talked to Oral a few years ago, before listening to Oral Culture, his Oral Fuentes Reggae Band’s first album, he said, “We’re a bit faster in concert than the record.” He was right, but it was still a killer release. Now here’s the second self-released product, again recorded by Randy Woods in his studio. Well, his earlier comment becomes moot in the first song, with the extremely energetic “Creole Man,” and then rarely lets up. All but one song is an original, so you know the messages that the band brings is going to be positive, because that is Oral’s thing. It shows here. I’ve heard most of these songs live now, and some are just killer, like “Punta Rock,” “Feelin’ Dread,” the ‘60s-ish “I Saw You,” “Do Me Like That,” and the call-and-response “Dance,” for example. One thing about that last song is that it is an audience pleaser live, which is hard to translate to studio, but odds are you’ll find yourself chanting along, so you’ll get it. Being from Belize way back when, Oral’s style of reggae is not the same as the Marley slow grind, but more somewhere between that and ska, and I’m okay with that. The last two pieces, “Rise Up” and “Praising Jah” are closer to traditionally what you might imagine reggae to be, but with as powerful a band as this is, there is magic here.

Paul Carrack
Soul Shadows
Despite his history with the likes of Roxy Music, anti-Semite Roger Waters and Mike + the Mechanics, I became aware of Carrack during his collaboration with Nick Lowe. Left to his own devices, such as this collection, his output could – and probably should – be considered blue-eyed soul. I mean, he sounds like a white guy singing soul, in much the way the Police sounded like white guys singing reggae, but Carrack has a better voice than Sting. Backed with horns, and especially numerous strings, he plays most of the main instruments (guitar, bass, keyboards) and is usually backed by his co-producer Peter van Hooke and Jack Carrack (both on drums and percussion, with rare exception). While occasionally delving in the Lite-jazz equivalent of soul, Carrack’s passion comes through on all the tunes. This is good music to be driving with, especially since it’s an across-the-board sound that probably won’t be offensive to anyone. The reason I’m not picking out particular songs is because they are all consistently decent, including a dip into country with “Watching Over Me.” Good stuff. The CD has a nice booklet with lyrics included. /  

The Tracy G. Group
This is some serious and solid hard rockin’ metal, led by Tracy G (is it okay to say Grijalva?) and his wild guitar playing. Michael Beatty meets the metal with equally mad vocals, and they are backed solidly by Randy Oviedo’s bass and Patrick Johansson on drums (though Adrian Aguilar and Ray Luzier occasionally fill in on skins). The tone of the music is definitely harsh and angular, which is matched equally by the lyrics of songs like “The Leech” and “Arrogant Prick.” The latter fits well next to Stiff Little Fingers’ “I Don’t Like You,” The Dickies’ “Hideous,” or the more obscure “Dreaming of Saturday Again” by Boston-based Blackjacks. Dense and unyielding, the sound is a musical sledgehammer that follows its own rules. There is little here that is formulaic. One could almost see it as metal punk since its anger and unconventionality make it a strong standout. Whether the songs have lyrics or are instrumental, Tracy’s guitar attacks with a whiplash sound, and Beatty’s eccentric reading gives the listener something to chew on. Not quite “Other Music,” it’s still something that may make you sit up and go, “saywhatnow?” That’s a good thing. I’d love to see them live; it’s a bit off-beat for mosh pit skanking, but definitely can rave up a crowd. The CD booklet contains lyrics. /

The Demo That Got the Deal: Joe Vig’s Pop Explosion Vol. 4
Boston musician Joe Viglione has been releasing compilation albums for decades, and he has a pretty good ear. As has come to pass in this series incarnation, there is a music section and an interview one based on his Pop Explosion podcasts programs. Thankfully, he doesn’t mix them, but has the music first followed by the conversations, so you can listen to the tunes uninterrupted. As he once told me, he considers the talking parts as historical documents, and I agree, and it’s a wise choice to make it “side one” and “side two.” There are definitely some standout artists and songs. For me, they include Steve Gilligan’s (of Boston perennials Fox Pass) “Before the Fall,” Kitoto’s “Proud Soul Heritage,” the powerpop of Australian group Audioscam’s “Bridgetown Girls,” JASON’s quirky ‘80s pop “Hylas” (reminding me “Out of Touch” by Lizzie Borden and the Axes), two heavier tracks with Joe Black’s “Armageddon,” and Metal Pistol’s “D.O.A.,” and the soft rock of Kenny Selcer’s excellent “It’s All Around Me” and Joe’s own “Secret Things.”  The interview segments include Ian Anderson (lead singer of Jethro Tull), glam rocker Alan Merrill (who wrote Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll,” and is a huge pop star in Japan), top-line producer Rob Fraboni (such as Dylan, Clapton, the Stones, and the Beach Boys), and Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper and Lou Reed; d. 2014).

THEY: Pay Tribute (A fan collaboration and tribute to TMBG)
If you are not sure, TMBG is the eccentric Brooklyn-centric They Might Be Giants. I assume that most people know them from the “Malcolm in the Middle” theme “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” While I never did get the chance to see them live (even though I’ve spent most of my life in Kings County), I’ve been aware of them since the 1980s starting with “Don’t Let’s Start.” Now, if I may digress a bit, themes of a tribute albums are a tricky thing because there are two thoughts about it, namely whether to do a “sounds like” or to take the material in a totally different direction and make it one’s own. Well, that choice is a bit easier with TMBG’s music, since they are so quirky to begin with; I would think it would be more acceptable to take the latter road. This is pretty obvious from the outset with Corn Mo’s bizarre talk/scream version of “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair.” Much of the material here is respectful it its own way, albeit in a very electronic (rather than electric) way. Lots of synthesizers abound. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s a contemporary selection for certain. My issue is more that with TMBG, their off-beat lyrics are out front, where here it often gets a bit second shrift to the synths, such as Nuclear Bubble Wrap’s “Trouble Awful Devil Evil” and Holy Bongwater’s “Marty Beller Mask.” There are some more traditional cover methods, such as James K. Folk’s singer-songwriter-style “Meet the Elements,” Pearl and the Beard’s “Destination Moon,” and Insane Jan’s “Doctor Worm.” Also some are more loyal to the original, like Smashy Claw’s “Don’t Let’s Start,” and Bonecage’s “Particle Man.” A couple of other stand-outs are Rachel Hayward’s nice instrumental electro-version of “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love” and Tom Brislin’s minimalist “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” The end cut, I believe actually are TMBG (sounds like them, though there’s a typo in the name), is the very strange “Fingertips,” proving no matter how you approach their music, there is no wrong way. There are 27 cuts on this collection, so there’s lots of music and styles from which to choose. 

Walter Lure and the Waldos
Live in Brooklyn
If I was going to pick a musician that I have seen live more than any other, it would probably be Walter Lure. Through the 1970s, ‘80s, and ’90s, there were numerous times I watched the Heartbreakers (dating back to the Richard Hell years), the Heroes (Walter’s band with his late brother Richie Lurie), and then the Waldos. The latter’s 1994 album, Rent Party, was as much a staple on my turntable as was the Heartbreakers’ L.A.M.F. (or Live at Max’s Kansas City); hell, I even got into an argument with Tom Petty over his use of the name Heartbreakers just before his first LP came out, but I digress…). When I saw this new live record, to say I was excited would be an understatement. Truth be told, I’m not sure if musician and retired stockbroker  Lure has even written a new song since the first LP, but y’know what, I don’t care; hearing him cover his 3-decade career is enough, to paraphrase what they say during Passover. There are the “standards,” if you will, such as “Get Off the Phone,” “Too Much Junkie Business,” and “Chinese Rocks,” but he also does some of the songs more associated with ex-teammate Johnny Thunders, including “Born to Lose” and “London Boys.” It’s also great to hear some of the underrated songs, such has “Golden Days” (taking new meaning these days), “Countdown Love” and the great “Never Get Away” (sorry not to see my two fave Waldos’ songs, “Crazy Little Baby” and “Sorry,” but my excitement is not diminished). My sister-from-another-mother, Nancy Neon once described “Uncle Walter” (her name for him) as “My favorite stand-up comic.” He was always amazingly self-depreciatingly wry between songs, but here it’s more focused on how great he is during the musical treats. Backing him up are a whole different tribe (EZ on bass, Joe Rizzo on drums, and Takto on guitar). The sound is clear for a live recording, and the energy level is still super high (no pun intended). Walter’s voice is a bit shakier than it was back when, but his guitar isn’t, and still more fun than most. You want to know one of the major reasons why New York was so important to what would be known as punk? Well, here ya go. And while I’m at it, Nancy’s two-part interview with Walter from 1981 is HERE  and HERE
O-Rama /

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