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.

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