Monday, April 30, 2018

Film Review: Nothing Good Ever Happens

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
Nothing Good Ever Happens
Written and directed by Henrique Couto
New Dynamic
91 minutes, 2016

Normally, when a director switch-hits genres, it’s either sub-genres within the same genus (horror comedy, horror drama, horror Giallo, psychological horror, etc.), or it’s a one-off to push their own comfort level as an experiment, and then go back to the theme from whence they came. Hence the auteur label.

Henrique Couto, the director of this micro-budget film is a bit different in that way. Yes, there is a stylistic similarity which is pretty inevitable (as an example of that theory, does the name M. Night Shyamalan ring a bell?), but Couto does manage to genre-hop like few others do. Sure, he does horror (e.g., Devil’s Trail), but there is also the likes of Westerns (Calamity Jane’s Revenge), warm and romantic themes (Making Out) and family-oriented releases (A Bulldog for Christmas). He’s also done at least a couple of comedies about depression, such as this one.

Bradley Diehl and Josh Miller
A comedy about depression? What’s more, a decent comedy about depression?! In the words of that deep, spiritual philosopher, Keanu Reeves, “Woooooh.” For this story, Neil (Josh Miller), in a role similar to the Ben Affleck character in Chasing Amy (1997), is an artist who is suffering through some tough breaks. These include a go-nowhere career as a for-hire industrial artist, some friends that bully him, and most importantly, his live in girlfriend Amanda (the always wonderful Erin R. Ryan, who appears in many Couto films) leaves him with little warning, though the viewer gets see a few of the signs. To make matters worse, he accidentally drinks a glass of bleach while in a drunken stupor, and no one will believe him that he was not trying do away with himself over Amanda.

This is where we pretty much pick up the story, as it is told in a mixture of being in the moment and flashbacks. But the basic plot, which in itself is enjoyable, is not all of what makes this film stand out to me. Rather, it’s the way Couto plays with the convention of the story, switching thing up in ways one would not expect, especially in this type of story. His formula is to not be formulaic. Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but that’s what makes it work.

Erin R. Ryan
For one example, most of his friends, including his ex-, turn out to actually be quite toxic, but one of the truest friends who sticks by him, is the not-too-smart, occasionally racist and complete boneheaded Dave (joyfully played by Bradley Diehl). His idea to cheer up Neil is to make up a screechy song called “Neil is an Asshole.” We’ve all had good friends like this, that others would look at and think, what do they see in each other, but it works. Also, that Dave is a sympathetic character rather than being merely an annoyance, shows in both the writing and the portrayal. Another true friend turns up who starts as a rival, Mia (Marylee Osborne, in a really spot-on and impressive reading of her role). Both of these are probably just who you would not expect to be helpful, and in turn it’s the good friends that are toxic and the ones who usually end up in the buddy role in most films.

In a similar fashion, there is a nice little twist in the story about a possible love interest that I will not give away (hopefully) that just shows how smart the film actually is, as opposed to being merely a Lifetime Move-of-the-Week type.

One of my favorite characters in the film is the court-ordered psychologist (Chandra McCracken) who Neil is to obligated to see. She is a wound up looney (reminding me Dr. Cheryl Kinsey, a sex psychologist played by Andrea Martin on “SCTV”), and scarily similar to someone that I once saw as a teen in a similar capacity. She asks really personal questions in a negative-yet-monotone-yet-distant tone, and is hilarious.

Coquette du Jour
In other words, the film is definitely character-driven, and sometimes it’s the moments that impress, such as a disappearing parent, a rebound relationship that takes some surprising turns (with the lovely professional burlesque dancer Coquette du Jour), or a just-met family friend (a nice cameo by Al Snow, who keeps impressing me with his mostly short bits, that I’ve seen, in indie films of various genres).

As with many indie filmmakers who work on micro-budget productions like this one, they find their niche location, and with Couto, it’s the Dayton, OH, area. He has a community, and many of these actors have worked together enough to know each other’s rhythms, and have learned how to play off of each other in ways that give great chemistry, and help move the film along to make it both more believable and especially give a human touch that many large-moolah productions lack.

Again, while the dialog is humorous and the plot is filled with some unexpected twists and turns, it’s not only that and the characters that make this film successful, but also that these fictional beings are given some level of respect, even within the disrespect they sometimes give each other. It’s warm without being mushy, it’s romantic without being sloppy, and there’s some raunchy bits without it being embarrassing for couples to watch together.


Entire free film:

Bonus short 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Music Reviews: Catch-up for April 2018

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

There was a point where I just found myself starting a new job, and other responsibilities weighed in, so here I am catching up on some of the CDs I’ve received over the past few years that I haven’t gotten to as yet. Note that CDs will mostly have first shot over digital/streaming releases. If you are interested in me reviewing something, contact me at to find out where to send it. This is going to be a bit of a series, so patience…

Sands of Time
Carved in Stone
Boston is a center for metal, and this is a perfect example of a heavy sound. Most people think of Aerosmith for Bosstown rock, but they’re pure pop compared to this. The center is Jeffrey Baker on vocals (y’know, they type that warbles on the last syllable), Aart Knyff on lead guitar and Joe Black pluckin’ bass. These three would later record together under the moniker Joe Black’s Blackenstein. Here they are joined by Tom D’Amico on keys, leading to one solid metal song after another. If you like the classic heavy sounds, this will not disappoint, since whether it’s a ballad or a rave up, it’s a piledriver, with titles like “Let It All Hang Out” (with a strong musical catch that one can pump their fists to), “What Comes Around Goes Around,” “Real Woman” and “Don’t Play with Fire.” Lyrics are included.

Buzzy LInhart
Electric Lady Dream: The Eddie Kramer Sessions
Buzzart Enterprises
Buzzy Linhart has spent a large chunk of his career flirting with the big time. Yeah, he’s recorded with the likes of Hendrix, Carly Simon (his ex-girlfriend), CSNY and John Sebastian (his ex-roomie). These sessions that were recorded at the fabled studio in 1969 (this album was originally released in 1971 under the title MUSIC), starts in solid Hendrix-style rock that mixes with the breeze of the West Coast sound, but with a more bluesy edge. He continues on with various styles, but its rock in one variation or another. His claim to fame may be co-writing Bette Midler’s “(You Gotta Have) Friends” with Moogy Klingman, but his near psychedelia-fueled sounds are post-Sgt. Pepper’s/Pet Sounds’ heavy production values. This may have killed if he had found a proper outlet for it at the time, and fans of American rock from that time, you certainly won’t get disappointed. Most of the songs are originals, like the enjoyable opening “IF You Love Me,” but there are also a couple of covers, like Fred Neil’s (one of Buzzy’s early mentors) “The Bag I’m In,” Tim Hardin’s “Reputation,” and another collaboration with Klingman, “The Birds.” Long guitar and vibraphone solos punctuate the music, continuing to solidify his sound to those in the know. He may never be a household name, but he is a musician’s musician.

MVD Audio
Wow, talk about feeling like you’re being hit over the head! This Texas trio can generally be put into the Southern Rock category… or perhaps Southern Metal Rock? They are definitely closer to ZZ Top’s wicked guitars than, say, anything from sweet home Alabama or dark wood Arkansas. It’s no surprise when you consider that one member, bassist and vocalist JD Pinkus was a member of both the Butthole Surfers and the MELVINS. He’s joined by Bobby Ed Landgraf on vox and a thunka-thunka guitar; pounding the skins in wild zeal is Trinidad Leal. This power trio never lets up for a second. They manage to make lots of noise and yet keep a melody and rhythm going. The instrumental “4:21,” shows some Butthole Surfer kind of noise that’s impressive. By the half-way point, it’s a bit more accessible, albeit still heavy as hell. I do believe that both southern rockers and metalheads can find mutual ground here. It ends on the impressive “Black Joe’s Bitch.”

Jah Wobble & Keith Levene
Yin & Yang
Cherry Red Records
If you are anywhere familiar with Wobble and Levene, you know that (a) they were key components of PiL, and that (b) their direction is anything but conventional. They have updated their sound to include some rap (the “fuck” filled title cut) and what sounds like Harry Potter-ish incantations (“Jags & Staffs”), but lyrics don’t really seem to be a main focus of their intentions. There’s a lot of noise within the melodies (electronica, I’m assuming), that relies on rhythms and odd sounds, and the occasionally distorted singing (echoes, reverb, etc.). There is one weird cover of the originally weird George Harrison cut, “Within You Without You,” and lots to unpack of their own creations. I would argue that this is either updated No Wave or Fusion Jazz, but it would fit in well with the likes of Kraftwerk or DeadMou5, except it’s a bit more melodic and not quite as rhythmic (thank god). I don’t think there’s anything here that’s you’d necessarily sing along with, per se, but as an adventure in experimentation, it’s a valiant and I believe successful endeavor. Hey, anyone who can make The Hybrid Kids (1979) collection is okay with me!

Metal Pistol
Magnum Force
FNB Productions
Sometimes one can succeed without pushing the envelope, just sticking to the path. Metal Pistol is solid metal, with brilliantly flashing guitar work by Steve (Laz) Stanley. He’s bound to gain most of the attention, along with Benatar-ish vocals by Sunny Lee, and rightfully so. However, drummer Roy Adams’ and Brett Sinclair’s bass bottom definitely deserves equal notice as all are integral to this pounding sound and rhythm. This is a fun tat-a-tat-a-tat type of metal that feels like being hit with a sledgehammer, and yet it feels so good. I’m not sure how much of it is in the production, but screw that, just put this puppy on if you’re metal-bound, and I’m sure you might have a good time. In typical metal mania, the songs are typically in the 5 minute mark, but they fly away fast.

Mud, Blood & Beer
Gone For Good
Mud, Blood & Beer Music
Technically, I assume that this could be considered country rock, but for me it has kind of a ‘60s garage sound, with an additional kind of Scottish pastiche, especially on the second of the 5 cuts here, “New Math.” “Mine the Light” is a bit more traditional, post-“9 to 5” commercial country, the only cut with a pedal guitar, but it still has a sharp edge to it that has it stand out. “Gramercy Park” has vocalist Jess Hoeffner puts on a bit of Townes van Zandt growl on the stanzas, and the choruses rock out a bit, with harmonies.  This is one of the few I sat through twice, so that tells ya something.

Ralph Carney’s Serious Jazz Project
Smog Veil Records
While I enjoy jazz, especially this kind, I have to admit it’s a bit out of my wheelhouse; I don’t know who these guys are, so I hope they don’t take that personally and I’ll give it my best shot. This is definitely not avant-garde (the punk equivalent would be No Wave), which means it’s a lot more accessible to a larger amount of people. With a bit a boogie thrown in here and there, this reminds me more of the early days of swing, like Cab Calloway, Count Basie or Benny Goodman (my parents’ favorite type of sound). This is heavy on the sax and clarinets, which Carney plays multiple types of both, for which he is joined by Randy Odell on drums, Ari Munkres on bass, and Michael Macintosh on keys. There are others who add their expertise here and there, such as the sultry sounding Karina Denike on vocals. If you liked listening to your parents’… well, now I guess grandparents’ old records, you might enjoy this. I certainly know I did. There’s an original or two, but mostly it’s covers by the likes of Ellington (“Carnival in Caroline,” “Gypsy Without a Song”) and Rodgers and Hart (“You Took Advantage of Me”), so if that sounds familiar to you, certainly you know the sound I mean. Definitely more upbeat than boring lite jazz, and not as atonal as Coltrane, so it’s a swing-fest of fun.

Sean Burns
Cold Beans & Broken Eggs
Folk singer-songwriters in a country vein is a category I don’t hear enough of, and Sean Burns is a really nice way to easy back into it. This CD is a bit of a travelogue, with each song about a different place, such as “A Postcard from Rochester, New York (Talkin’ ‘Bout Now),” “Texas,” “If You Need Me I’ll Be in Wisconsin,” “Mexico Town,” and I especially enjoyed “Tumbleweed,” which name-checks a bunch of locations in Saskatchewan (he’s from Manitoba). Considering how much he tours, it’s hardly surprising. I’m hoping he plays Saskatoon at some point. There’s some country that runs through most of the songs with a pedal guitar (that has a Mexican lilt). For those who don’t know, C&W is overall bigger in the Prairies than, say, the pop of Alanis Morissette or the rock of Rush. For this, Sean’s voice has just the right amount of warble (think less than Melanie Safka), and a pleasant tone that feels comfortable from the first note. His songs are basically about real life situations and daily emotions, rather than something grand and esoteric. The band backing him is well mixed on the CD, with Sean right in front rather than being buried. Each song is well done, which makes it hard to say one is a standout among the others, because they are all of high quality.

Steve Gilligan
Jacob’s Well
Actuality Records
From his work in the Stompers to pairing up with Jon Macey (Fox Trot), Steve Gilligan’s history in the Boston music scene is unquestionable. I had the opportunity to see Macey and Gilligan perform about a decade ago, and it was quite enjoyable. This marks Steve’s first solo effort. Despite the rock-pop background, this time the coast to coast sound is solid singer-songwriter balladry, and Steve’s alto voice is actually quite suited for it. His sound could fit into the “feel-good music” category, which the Lovin’ Spoonful and Turtles successfully embellished. The songs are quite poetic and melodic, and I am quite impressed by how good it all is. While Steve is the main focus and plays most of the instruments, he has quite a few locals filling in, including most members of the Stompers in one form or another, including its vocalist Sal Baglio who adds some electric guitar on one cut. A couple of songs, “Out of the Rain” and “Niki’s Blue Waltz,” are almost a Stompers reunion. The rare rave-up, such as “What’s a Little Rock’n’Roll Between Friends” (Dave Friedman’s keyboards are enjoyable) are also standouts.  Most of the songs are about love, so Steve’s harmonica is also a key instrument through most of the cuts, which gives you some idea of the sound. Steve should be recording more often, even knowing there’s another album out there titled Winter Rain. Lyrics are included in a booklet with very small print (my only complaint about this).

Vonda Shepard
Panshot Records
Along with Diana Krall, Shepard has pretty much cornered the market on the very blonde womyn jazzy piano and singing. There is a reason for that; okay a couple at least. First is that she had just the right vehicle at just the right time when she appeared (musically) on the television show “Ally McBeal,” back around the turn of the Millennium. The other and larger reason is that she is extremely talented. Most people know her for the songs she covers, but she has also been a songwriter for decades, so this is a good opportunity for her to shine as she plays live in the studio: just her and her piano. Her voice is sort of like water flowing over pebbles; I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the image it conjures. She has a cadence that is all her own, which is part of what made her popular in the first place. If there were two themes to pick out of these slow ballad-paced songs, it would be travel and heartbreak. Many songs deal with moving on in both the physical and emotional senses, with a piano tinkling behind it. For examples, the opening song is about traveling down to “Maryland,” or in “Soothe Me,” she starts with “Maybe I should wander down these streets a little longer.” Though mostly originals, even the covers she’s chosen talks about moving: “You Belong to Me” (“See the pyramids along the Nile…”) and the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” For break-ups, there are the likes of “Don’t Cry Ilene” (“It’s hard to say exactly why he left you”) and “Baby Don’t You Break My Heart Slow,” the two songs that close out this collection. There’s no doubt it’s a beautiful albeit sadness-focused set, but it may be just want is needed on a lonely rainy afternoon. Lyrics are included in a nice booklet.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: The Head Cat Rockin’ the Cat Club, Live From the Sunset Strip

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Head Cat Rockin’ the Cat Club: Live from the Sunset Strip
Directed by Mikki and Malory
Cleopatra Records / Ultra Films / MVD Visual
34 minutes, 2004 / 2006 / 2018

Back in the 1980s, there was a huge ‘50s revival. It was spearheaded, like it or not, by the Stray Cats. The reason I phrase it like that is because while the two guys backing up Brian Setzer, who seems to have garnered the lion’s share of the attention in his cutsie looks, were so much better than he was; musically, Setzer was by far the weakest link. It would be as if Billy Idol’s and Generation X was the face of British punk. Like Setzer, Idol’s okay, but he’s not really a good example of the actual sound, more a pretty face that’s built on ego. For more authentic rockabilly, we in the know relied on bands like the Rockats.

The reason I bring this up is because a member of both those post-rockabilly groups are at the core of the supergroup cover band called the Head Cat. Recorded in 2004 and originally released in 2006, this musical collective is made up of Lemmy (of Motörhead) on vocals and acoustic guitar, Danny B. Harvey (the Rockats) on electric guitar, Slim Jim Phantom (the Stray Cats) on drums, and Jonny Bowler (the psychobilly Guana Batz) on stand-up bass. One look at the set list below will give you some idea of the direction of the music.

If you are familiar with Lemmy’s sound, you may think, hmm, how authentic a rockabilly sound is that going to be? He’s more known for the growling, metal-punk cross-over of “Ace of Spades,” which feels like a vocal oil spill sludging across the speakers. You know, a great sound… but rockabilly?

From the first notes of “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” one of the earliest rock’n’roll songs from 1947 by Roy Brown – which, if I may digress, proves that rock’n’roll did not start with (a) “Rock Around the Clock” in ’55, nor (b) with Elvis – you know you are in for an interesting show.  The trio comes out swinging and out to take no prisoners (yeah, I’m full of cliché’s tonight). Lemmy’s growl is perfect for the effect, Slim Jim simply pounds the skins at full tilt, and Danny dances around the melody to a tight-yet-loose sound like a piledriver. This is rock and roll mixed with just the right touch of rock’n’roll.

The visuals are crisp and digital, but definitely pre-HD, and the sound is totally clean and loud. The lighting is cast in mostly hues of greens and reds, as they should be. Also, the stage is small, which is actually appropriate for the sound, rather than having musicians running around the stage.

Next up is Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” more commonly known by Richard Penniman, aka the Little Richard. This medium-speed grinder is a great selection, even though tethered by the sheer weight of the rhythm section. Not a complaint, by the way. Sometimes I can be a purist, but hey, it’s Lemmy. This is followed by the similarly paced “Talkin’ ‘Bout You” by Ray Charles from 1958, though more know the Animals’ cover in ’64.

One of my major complaint about this DVD is the editing by Kari Pearson and King Romero. This isn’t ‘80s rock and it’s not M-TV; there is enough energy onstage that the editing doesn’t need to denote tension or excitement, as Sergi Eisenstein famously posited. The cameras move around way too much, swinging and swaying, and edited together so quickly that by the time you get your bearing on what you’re watching, it’s gone to the next shot. It seems like they average about every two-to-three seconds, which is not only annoying (and bad direction), but literally nauseating via motion sickness. I felt like turning off the screen and reviewing it like a CD rather than DVD. You can see a sample below.

Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” has been interpreted by many, including an enjoyable one by Sid Vicious in ‘79, but the Head Cat are a bit more loyal to the ’59 version. The pace, however, picks up when they next cover Chuck Berry – in my opinion the true King of Rock and Roll – with 1957’s “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” a rave up all the way. I remember the Rockats did an outstanding version of it as their encore the night they recorded their Live at the Ritz album; though the song never made it to the vinyl, sadly. But I digress…

The camera hovers around the three big-name members, including Phantom’s minimal yet-highly effective drum set, but you almost never see Jonny or the stand-up bass except in the background. The best I can tell there are three cameras, one for Slim Jim who is off to the far left rather than behind, one for Lemmy and Danny (though it’s usually up Lemmy’s nose), and one for a longshot from the back of the room. The bassist gets squeezed out. As a fan of bass players, this was disappointing, as well.

Putting aside some of the growl, they do the almost ballad-like “Fool’s Paradise.” Lemmy explains this is off the first album he ever bought, by Buddy Holly and the Crickets in ‘58, which explains why he singing it more straightforward. It’s a more obscure track of Holly’s, as is their next choice, Chuck Berry’s medium rocker “Bye Bye Johnny” (which was also covered by the Stones). Keeping the pace, they play Fats Domino’s 1958 “Sick and Tired,” which actually as a very similar feel to the previous song.

It’s important that they did not just pick the “top 10” kind of songs that you hear at most revivals, but rather chose some that you don’t hear very often, such as Larry Williams’ 1958 “Bad Boy.” While I’m familiar with it, it’s not one that shows up on oldies radio shows often. More people know the Beatles’ cover from their Help! album. However, the next song gets covered a lot, Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” which is solid I-IV-V progression. Danny’s guitar really flashes on this one.

For the final number in the main set, it’s the third Berry number with the raver “Back in the USA.” Lemmy is in full growl mode for this one. It’s a fine number to end the set proper, just as Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do” is perfect to start the two-song encore. Danny B. again gets to show off his guitar skill in a more modern vein that still stays loyal to the heritage.

The last on the DVD is “Blue Suede Shoes.” Knowing this band’s fondness for Elvis, I am assuming that’s the version they are covering, but for me, it’s solid Carl Perkins, who got jyped out of his career potential by an accident. But I will say this: no matter who’s they are doing, it’s a kick-ass song and a solid way to end the show.

The last thing Lemmy says as he ends the gig is “Thank you very much; live forever.” After Lemmy’s passing in 2015, he was replaced by death metal bassist David Vincent (aka Evil D, of Morbid Angel and Genitorture); I’m guessing Bowler is no longer with the band?

The extras are nice. The obvious ones are the set list (i.e., chapters) and a 2:40 slide show over a song not included in the DVD’s show, which is a killer cover of Buddy Holly’s great “Not Fade Away.”

The other more significant extras are two sets of interviews. The first is 20:33 of Lemmy and Slim Jim. They discuss a wide range of subjects including how they met and became friends, bonding over rockabilly, music from that period’s effect on the youth then and “still going on all the time” (Slim Jim), and the mythology of Elvis of course. For the 19:18 second interview segment the focus is Johnny D., on his history in music, his bands, and his musical philosophy.

Despite the terrible direction/editing and shaky camerawork in the feature, the important thing is the music, which is fantastic. I will gladly play this DVD more, but I will have it go through my speakers, and turn the visuals off. It’s still a great record.

Set List:
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Talkin’ ’Bout You
Something Else
Reelin’ and Rockin’
Fool’s Paradise
Bye, Bye Johnny
Sick and Tired
Bad Boy
Back in the USA
Baby What You Want Me to Do
Blue Suede Shoes

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Music Reviews: April 2018

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

Empty County
Die Alone
There are only two songs here, but they spit guitar fire. Falling comfortably somewhere between rock and metal, they have a sound that could have mass appeal. I don’t know much about them, but with the right tweaking, I can see them going somewhere. The vocals by Steven Kuchinsky are solid New England, reminding me of so many rocker bands from the Rat period (like Stomper and Pastiche). It’s short and sweet, but this definitely gives the listener a nice taste of the band’s style. I’m looking forward to a full release.

Fire in the Field
War Bonnet
There are a lot of rockers of various shades in this column, but Fire in the Field are a bit different in that while it’s, well, user-friendly, there is enough of a pop level that is appealing so that it stands out. High production values without overwhelming it, with some catchy melodies, you get the impression that they’re fun to see live. Sort of like if the Romantics were heavier, it’s a band you can headbang to, or just dance. That’s saying a lot. The songs are good, if a bit long, but more importantly they’re fun with just the right amount of noise thrown in. My drawback comment? The lyrics are included, but they’re small and white print on red background, so that it’s hard enough to read that even my $2 drug store classes aren’t helping.

Joe Black’s Blackenstein
Joe Black’s Blackenstein
Carved in Stone Media /
At first I didn’t understand the name of the band; I mean, I got the “Black” part, but “Blackenstein” felt a bit like an appropriation. But now I get it. This is both a band and it’s also a collection of parts to make a whole. There is a sharing of musical sections and vocals (though Black wrote most of the tunes), including a number of additional players from various bands like the Joe Perry Project (Charlie Farren, who sings lead on a cover of “Care About You”). There is some consistency such as Black playing bass, Aart Knyff and Johnny Press sharing both lead and rhythm guitar. Some of the hard rock-style warbling vocals are handled by Jeffrey Baker. One of the enjoyable quirks on the collection is a cover of Black Oak Arkansas’ “Uncle Elijah” with Black on decent vocals. Knyff handles the vox on his own heavy rocker, “Over You.” All the songs are classic style rock with some strong metal edges, especially the last cut, “Blackenstein,” where drummer Simon Adamsson really gets to shine on a solo. While I prefer my rock style stripped down, this works well with more a more mainstream method that is full of musical gimmicks and production values that ae radio-friendly.

Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers
L.A.M.F.: The Lost ‘77 mixes
Jungle Records / Track Records
There are a lot of influential albums floating around that formed punk, such as the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. But there were three biggies (in my opinion) as far in influence that came out of the New York Scene that fostered punk around the world: the New York Dolls first album, the Ramones first LP, and arguably L.A.M.F. had the most lasting impression of even those other two. And, that release originally had a terrible mix thanks to the good intentions of drummer Jerry Nolan. There have been a number of different versions of the album since then, and this one is from 2017. From the first distorted note of the opening cut, “Born to Lose” (also known by its fans as “Born Too Loose”), you know you’re hearing something different just by the line “Living in a jungle / it ain’t so hard / Living in a city / It’ll tear, tear out your heart.” There’s not a bad song here, each being powerful fuelled by Thunders and co-singer/guitarist Walter Lure. I don’t think I’ve ever seen bassist Billy Rath speak on stage (his cigarette would have fallen out of his mouth…). Nolan is generally recognized as one of the great drummer of the scene. There are some that remain favorites of mine, such as “All By Myself,” “I Wanna Be Loved,” “Chinese Rocks” (written by Dee Dee Ramone, but released by the Heartbreakers first; Nolan’s drummer here is amazing), “Get Off the Phone,” “One Track Mind” (adapted from Richard Hell’s “Love Comes in Spurts,” co-written with Lure), “I Love You,” “Let Go,” “Can’t Keep My Eyes on You,” and a cover of “Do You Love Me.” To me, what made the Heartbreakers (and hence this album) so special is what also made the Who so exceptional is that all the band members were pretty much playing lead concurrently. Even after not listening to the original for quite a while, I was singing along, and missing Max’s Kansas City. I Love this collection, and could wax on about it quite extensively. Oh, before I forget, it comes with a really nice booklet with an article by Nina Antonia (who wrote the Thunders bio) and an explanation about each song along with the lyrics.

John Lee Hooker
The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62
If you’re really into modern music history, you have to admit that when it comes to genres, whether you like a musician or not, it’s nearly impossible to realistically say that someone is “the best.” There is, however, a pantheon of musician in most fields, and it would be hard to argue that when it comes to the recordings of guitar-based blues, John Lee Hooker is near the top. This 101-song, 4-disc collection that lasts 214 minutes, is a good example of just why Hooker is so important to the field. Hooker is a master of the blues (acoustic) guitar, whatever the style, from the slow “my girl done me wrong” style to solid boogie, and into early rock’n’roll. It’s not fer nuthin’ that blues rock guitarists cite him, such as Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Hooker is the real deal. I don’t think I have the space to scratch the surface in averring just how amazing this collection is in that pantheon. Hooker was a game changer, and these discs are the proof of how he helped change the face of music. While Hooker never lost his blues touch, over time you can hear the rock’n’roll rhythms emanating out of his six-string and vocals, though usually more in the boogie mode. These are classic documents looking backward into rock history. It also comes with a comprehensive 24-page booklet that explains each song, what was recorded at which session, and so forth. Quite a stunning and wonderful – albeit a happily time-consuming – assemblage that is guaranteed to thrill those who are blues fans.

Perfect Defect
Perfect Defect
Built on a solid and heavy bottom sound with Dirk Van Tilborg’s bass and Patrick Johansson’s drums recorded together live in studio – and then overlayered with some flashy guitar (both lead and rhythm) by Mitch Bernstein and lower-register vox by Gary Brown. It’s effective and different than most high-pitched airy metal as it’s more sludgey; I like a sound you can wade through more than one that sounds like it’s coming from on-high, or as I like to put it in Marshall McLuhan terms, more cool than hot. The songs, however, sound decent, but I cringed a bit at the retro lyrics, such as “Bros before Hoes / Hoes droppin’ low … / I’m the one you need / Make that booty bounce for me” (from “Rollin’ With G”) and “Too drunk to take your clothes off… / That ain’t no way to treat your man” (from “Treat Your Man”), and this is the two opening cuts. Uff-da. “Love Song,” which is solid Southern Rock (they are from that region) a la Black Oak Arkansas-style nasality, has a similar dick-rock theme. Now, I’m not dissin’ the band, there’s some really good stuff here, like the ballad rocker “Used to Believe,” but so much of it is more “I can’t get no sleep / Even masturbation doesn’t help me,” from “I Got Needs.” Unfortunately, as much as I like the general sound, the lyrics don’t work for me as so much of them are unimaginative and repetitious in over-sexualized masculinist mode. Lyrics included.

Positive Negative Man
CPR Records (
With a name that sounds like the title of a They Might Be Giants song, it’s hardly surprising that Positive Negative Man presents a kind of chaotic and dissonant front. Oh, that’s not an insult, hell no. The songs are borderline No Wave (closer to Mars than Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), but one of the aspects I find interesting is that with all the noise, it’s all done with standard rock’n’roll equipment (guitar, bass, drum, voice), yet there are enough squelches to keep any electro fan happy. Most of the vocals are pretty straightforward as are the core of the songs; they’re just played over the racket. They refer to themselves as a “post-punk pop experiment,” and I would not argue with that at all. Sometimes it’s the guitar as lead destructor, other times it’s the bass, such as with “The Ice Queen of Space.” Though no two songs are alike, their approach seems to be, though. While this may not exactly be my playlist style, and I did have trouble making out most of the lyrics, the last song, “Just Don’t Think” is extremely catchy and has lasted with me well beyond the initial playing.

Sidney Green Street Band
Half Live
The meaning of the title is that half the songs on the CD are recorded in a studio in Brooklyn, and half are recorded live at the Great Notch Inn, in Little Falls, NJ, at 12 in total. These guys do a bit of country rock but more on the AOR spectrum. That being said, the first song on the studio side is a bit different than the rest, focused on “Muscle Shoals” studio releases. Then the country kicks in with the cleverly named “Last Beer and Testament” and the heartbreak-focused “One Alone.” After a lusty “Next Time,” they turn a bit towards the bluesy “Don’t Make That Girl Cry.” The last cut on this “side” is the overlong but decent Southern Rocker “Stayin’ All Night.” Most of the live cuts are enjoyable country rock. There is a strong emphasis on all the songs of electric guitar. If you’re into this kind of sound, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: D.O.A.: A Right of Passage

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

D.O.A.: A Right of Passage
Written and directed by Lech Kowalski
High Times Films / MVD Rewind Collection
90 minutes, 1980
Blu-ray and DVD

This documentary of the later part of the early days of punk rock, namely the late-1970s, is now considered the granddaddy of non-fiction films about the genre, much as Please Kill Me is viewed, though in book form. While I’m not trying to imply that this or Kill Me was the first, I do posit that they are both game changers and have since become iconic.

There are generally two schools of thought: one that punk started in New York in 1974, and others that believe it began with the Sex Pistols in England, in late1975. They can be both right, as they were different in both politics and sound, with the occasional overlap. Rather than thinking of them as one or the other, I like to believe they are both concurrent and inter-serving. Yeah, I am in the New York school, and believe it started there, but am also comfortable knowing that they are both different and alike at the same time, as long as both acknowledge each other.

The film is essentially three acts that are intertwined, and yet remain unique: one is the Sex Pistol’s tour of the Southern United States (including post-tour), the governmental and record company reaction to the Pistols directly and therefore British punk as a whole, and live performances of various bands.

The film starts with the Pistols playing in Atlanta, including a clip of them performing “Anarchy in the [U.S.A.].” Of course, it’s the audience interviews that are equally as interesting as the music. The haters are a drawling hoot, but even the fans present a level of pretention that’s hard to explain. In New York, I remember seeing Eddie and the Hot Rods play Max’s Kansas City, and they were disgusted with the lack of audience frenzy, despite the applause after the songs. The First Wavers (aka the Blank Generation), including me, were too cool, after years of the Heartbreakers, Ramones, Dead Boys, By the way, the Damned were a more interesting live band than the Hot Rods, but I digress.

The point is that the audience in Georgia that were pro­-Pistol appeared just a bit off and pretentious to me in their going out of their way to be “different,” such as one who said, “They made me want to vomit, they were so beautiful.” It’s like the two girls fake fighting in the ticket-buying line to see the Ramones in the film Rock and Roll High School. I just said, “Hunh?” to the person I was with at the RaRHS New York premiere on Bleecker St. For me, the whole idea of punk was the lack of pretention and social norms, not necessarily creating a new one for this scene (which became especially codified by the time hardcore – aka, the Third Wave – came about).

I’m not sure if the interviews with the British politicians and such were specifically for this film, or taken from newscasts (or both), but it’s an interesting corollary between them and the hyper-sensitive Evangelical Republicans on the Hill today as I write this, seeing anything different as evil (e.g., “Make America Great Again” is much more regressive than, say, “Make America Greater”). To be fair, ironically (and hypocritically), much of what these people say about punk is how I feel about most of the modern Top 10. Yeah, I’m old.

The live music is part of what makes this film great, such as the underappreciated X-Ray Spex doing “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”, the post-Pistols’ Glen Matlock band the Rich Kids (I saw them play Harrah’s in New York opening for Sylvian Sylvian’s 14 Street Band, and was not impressed; Matlock was a great songwriter, but not as much as a front man), Generation X playing “Kiss Me Deadly,” and Sham 69, who were underrated in the States, doing a couple of numbers, including “Borstal Breakout.”

While a bit confusing on the why part, I am certainly not complaining that two thirds into the film, it shifts to the “U.S.A.” (as the John Holmstrom drawn title card states) and the Dead Boys – a band I saw many times – are playing “All This and More.” I really miss those shows, so it put a smile on my face to see them again in their glory; to me, they were the one of the rare bands that had an affinity to the British punk style (which would explain why they shared a bill with the Damned so often), and can arguably be seen as the first genuine hardcore band, fitting into all three Waves in function.

Of course, the most infamous scene occurs about an hour in: sort of the absolute antithesis of the John and Yoko Toronto bed-in interview is the Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious conversation (such as it is) where Sid is totally nodding off while wearing a Swastika tee. Nancy’s odd accent that’s a cross between Philly high-line, New York Lower East Side and London-esque is as disarming and alarming as Sid’s drug-induced mumbling.

For the film’s final act, it’s a mix of the Pistols’ last show of the tour and what came to be their final performance before reforming decades later with Matlock replacing Sid, the police presence and fans outside the club, and more wacked out Sid and Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel. This includes the infamous Rotten onstage comment about “being cheated,” playing over some woman spontaneously pretending to masturbate for the camera in a totally unsexy, fakey way.

Terry Sylvester
The ending is a nice mash-up of the band playing “Bodies” with clips from all their American shows melded together. And yet, even though they are the centerpiece, the Pistols turn out to really not the entire theme of the film, but rather a creamy layer of the whole cake. One of the points of focus is Terry Sylvester (not to be confused with the singer from the Swinging Blue Jeans), who was the lead singer of Terry and the Idiots. Not lasting long, they were pretty terrible-but-enjoyable; they remind me of New York’s Student Teachers, who were a better act, and arguably modeled themselves on the Mumps. We follow Terry around and listen to him philosophize about punk, and tell a very bad joke based on innuendo that really had nothing to do with the point of the film, but whatever. There’s also an amusing interview with New York stalwart Bleecker Bob in his infamous shop (Lenny Kaye worked there at the time, but you don’t see him). He talks about some bands, and they pan a bunch of singles on the wall, most of which I own (bought at Disc-O-Rama, though, not from him).

Worth it merely for the live band footage alone, but that is only a small helping of what is good here. Yeah, when it was reviewed by the late-great Lisa Baumgardner in the pages of FFanzeen back in the day, it was slagged (HERE). I remember it being really grainy and rambling, but I’ve always been kinda fond of the film, being somewhat neutral on the which is better front (though not on where it all started). The current release, however, while still obviously taken from the print by the wear and tear, it’s much clearer than I remember.

Lech Kowalski
The basic extras are an Image Gallery, the original film trailer, and a trailer for (I kid you not) the classic Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, which was put out by the same distribution company as this one. There is also a nice and thick booklet with photos, and some text by Holmstrom, and a folded film poster.

The most notable extra is a complete and full-length documentary about the making of D.O.A. titled Dead on Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was. Put together by Richard Schenkman especially for this Blu-ray and DVD 2-disc set, at 115 minutes, it actually lasts longer than the feature it is about.

The two main talking heads are Punk magazine co-founder and the key New York Scene illustrator John Holmstrom and Scene photographer Robert Bailey, both of whom became part of the D.O.A. caravan through the American Sex Pistols’ tour, and Holmstrom then also continued on with the British phase after the American leg ended. Others who appear extensively in new material include (but not only) New Musical Express writer Chris Salewicz, musician Midge Ure (who was in the Rich Kids at the time of filming, and would go on to his own cult fame leading Ultravox), cinematographer Rufus Standefer, and crew members David King (U.S.) and Mary Killen (U.K.).

Along with some historical interviews with Malcolm McLaren and Billy Idol that are included from television shows, one of those in the new segments is Lamar St. John, the woman who is laying on the ground in the film as part of a group of teenypunkers from Los Angeles who drove to see the Pistols in Dallas. She’s also the one who bloodied Sid’s nose.

While the Pistols’ tour was infamously and covered from the inside with tons of snark by roadie Noel E. Monk and writer Jimmy Gutterman in the book 12 Days on the Road: The Sex Pistols and America (1990, Quill/William Morrow & Co.), which is name checked in this follow-up documentary, the view presented here was more from the outside looking in, which actually makes it extremely interesting in a whole different light. They lived in a circumstance of being within the crowd, with near constant threats of violence from the audience, from the clubs’ personnel, and even the Pistols’ Warner Bros. team. It’s definitely an interesting bookend to the Monk self-serving version.

Part of what kept me riveted is that everyone who discusses the events was at the filming, giving first-hand accounts of the events, rather than from other journalists who were told what happened. John and Roberta are experienced at telling of events of the 1970s, so this practiced hand keeps off the stumbling around for words or remembrances, keeping the pace up.

I especially liked when Holmstrom comments that punk was the last musical form created totally in an analog world, before digital music and CDs temporarily replaced vinyl. As a student of media and technology, this spoke to me.

What makes the film D.O.A.: A Right of Passage so palpable is that it is not news footage, but rather a group of fans who put together a film trying to express a positive point. Back then, and I remember this strongly, most of the media attention was on the negatives, about how punk would degrade culture rather than put a mirror up to it, as is expressed by the officials in the U.K. within the documentary. This (and I do believe the follow-up, modern Dead on Arrival) is a better indication of what was actually going on in a three-dimensional way, from multiple directions rather than just pro- or anti-.

Oh, and Lech? You still owe me the $100 for the full page ad you took out in FFanzeen when this film came out. Just sayin’…