Monday, May 25, 2020

Two Comedy Reviews: Paul Conyers and Tony B

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

What follows are two comedy digital releases. The opening bits of both comedians are linked below both reviews.

Tony B
Day Drinker
Uproar Entertainment

Tony B is a self-professed 38-year-old half-Italian, half-Persian. His specialty seems to be discussing bar culture and its denizens. It is not all that this release is about, but enough of it that it could have alternatively been titled just that.

Day drinking…I can’t relate. I have hung out at bars to hear live music, but even then, well, nah, which made it a bit difficult for me to identify and get those a-ha moments. As a comedian, of course, who would perform in comedy clubs across the US, Tony would be more familiar with the environs. And at least the first half of the album is about just that.

Even other topics are viewed through this lens, and some of it is actually quite accurate (from what I understand). While it doesn’t pander to that audience, it certainly acknowledges it. For example, when he talks about aging, he weighs in on choosing either food or women.

This leads to the most solid section of this half, where Tony posits the attitudes of women over 30 out with friends vs. their social media content, and wiped-out married men in the same situation. This was both funny and pithy at the same time, as he presents some personal examples that he has seen, including while telling these very jokes.

When he breaks out of the barroom for a few minutes, he talks about why he loves dogs over kids, which may make you smile. Though when he told a story that substituted the term “Mildred” over the f-word/gay slur, which he seemed to like even though it was directed at him, I understood what he meant, but wasn’t impressed.

Other topics did, however, touch the a-ha funny bone, such as discussing the infamously Trump-level University of Phoenix, and especially his piece about the attitudes of cabbies and Ubers (not that it matters, but I still use cabs; keep the money local, I say). Amusingly enough, this brings us back to the bar culture tale of Tony getting a DUI in college, a story reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” soliloquy.

Overall, the tone of the release is adult without being vulgar (I can’t recall a single cuss word). I did enjoy it. And appreciating the bar culture? Must be nice.

Paul Conyers
Above the Fray
Uproar Entertainment
Paul Conyers announces right off the bat that he’s 6’7” tall. Man, that’s a Joey Ramone-level of height. And this has nuthin’ ta do with nuthin’, but he was born in 1985, ten years after the first time I saw the Ramones play. A coincidence? Irrelevant, yes, I know.

Paul’s shtick (not the Biblical Paul) is to jump on PC terms and twist them around, playing with them like a cat with a toy. Be it short people (“anyone under 5’11’’, he jokes), Feminism and gender politics, woke culture, or veganism, these are just some of the topics just towards the beginning bits.

Whether you are offended by the poking or not, know that this is more jab in the ribs than lambasting, in most cases. He tends to touch on the topics rather than hounding them for any extended length of time. He doesn’t go too deep on any subject, but grazes over them like a surfer shooting the tube.

From the Bay area, Paul likes to tell a lot of stories about places, such as California and strip clubs (discussing “tits” – his word – that can-and-did break a man’s nose), but he also discusses  family, such as his sister and fiancé.

Paul relies a bit too much on non-PC language just for the shock value. He’s not like a shock-jock, but he does not hesitate to use words that have, over time, become dog whistles for the Right, and trigger words for the Left. Do I think he’s Right leaning? No, I genuinely believe he is just trying to get a laugh and a reaction. Despite that, he doesn’t rise (fall?) to the level of a Sam Kinison or Andrew Dice Clay, though there is that touch of using uncomfortable words and ideas that are meant to trigger.

What I like most about Paul is that he tells stories and describes events, and builds his jokes from those, rather than just relying on negative one-liners. I definitely got a few laughs out of this collection.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Tom Guerra: “Sudden Signs of Grace” Review, by Nancy Foster

Text (c) Nancy Foster / FFanzeen, 2020
Introduction (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen

The following is a guest review of the new album by New England-based musician Tom Guerra, written by Nancy Foster. – RBF, 2020.

Tom Guerra
Sudden Signs of Grace
Casa Del Soul Records

Sudden Signs of Grace is the fourth solo album by guitarist/songwriter Tom Guerra. It follows American Garden in 2018, Trampling out the Vintage in 2016, and All of the Above in 2014. Guerra is also known as a collaborator of the world’s greatest band, The Yardbirds and for his tastefully name rock‘n’roll band, The Mambo Sons.

“It’s All In The Skies” is a singer/songwriter plus alternative country amalgam like Tom Petty writing for Old 97s. There is something about the lovely, wistful vibe that brings the Hummingbird Syndicate to mind. In fact, when the quarantine lifts, Jon Macey and Tom Guerra should book a show or tour together.

“Lonely No More” is an uplifting ballad about “being back amongst the living.” Guerra says in the liner notes: “Everybody starts out lonely, and with luck and grace, we find ourselves, and then each other.” Matt Zeiner paints this number with warm washes of color, using piano and Hammond organ.

As far as “Lover’s Time,” Guerra and I aren’t on the same page – we are on the same word! I have always thought a guitar – especially a twelve-string guitar – and a male voice were beauty personified. Guerra says that he has “always enjoyed twelve-string, poppy tunes,” like similar tunes in his songbook, “Here’s Tomorrow” and “Tell The World.” For me, this is in a Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe mode: multi-layered harmonies and driving power chords on a pleasant wave of nostalgia, all delivered anthemically.

“Sudden Signs Of Grace,” the title track, features Kenny Aaronson on fretless bass. If Aaronson’s name sounds familiar, it may because of his association with Bob Dylan and George Harrison. Guerra wrote this after a walk in the woods on New Year’s Day. It is delivered in a world music mode.

When Guerra heard Eddie Money was ill, he recorded one of his favorites by Money and sent it to him. “Gimme Some Water” takes me back to high school days when the Southern Rhythm and Blues of the Allman Brother ruled the radio. I am hearing a pastiche that includes The Eagles, Jackson Brown, and Steve Miller.

“The Greatest Show On Earth” was inspired by a Syd Barrett quote: “I’ve got a very irregular head.” Something about the line, “Welcome to the greatest show on earth!,” is deflating. Guerra, here and throughout this recording, captures happy/sad ideas and emotions. That dichotomy sums up our conflicted times. Being on the edge of a cliff is exhilarating because the joy of life is the strongest at the moment when it is all at the most risk of being ripped away.

“Just Like The Sun” is a thirty-year-old lyric that Guerra discovered and resurrected to put to music. It features Matt Zeiner and Morgan Fisher of Mott The Hoople and Queen on keyboards, giving the song an exalted, hymn-like power. Aaronson crafted the strings and string arrangements on “Inspiration Memories,” which Guerra dedicates to his father. The sense of the weight of the passage of time is emphasized intermittently through percussive sounds that represent a ticking clock. (Or maybe a ticking bomb considering our current political landscape!)

“Down The Farm” sounds like an unholy union of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. A Rainbow Coalition collaboration on an alternative plane. It is transporting to hear “Streets Of Baltimore.” Whether you are Team Bare or Team Parsons, Guerra delivers the best musical theater since Scott Walker took Jacques Brel to a whole new level with “Amsterdam” and “My Death.” I can’t help but envision the angel wings of Chet Atkins embracing Guerra and the musical soulmates here. “The Sleep Song” closes this bittersweet, nuanced recording with a cool instrumental that is both mellow and majestic.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Review: The Incoherents

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet

The Incoherents
Directed by Jared Barel
Loaded Barrel Studios; Starna Productions; Gravitas Ventures
103 minutes, 2019

Every decade seems to have some nostalgia for twenty years or so earlier, especially when it comes to music. The ‘70s had American Graffiti (1973) and “Happy Days” with a resurgence of early rock and roll, for the ‘80s it was for the British Invasion and ‘60s garage sounds, the ‘90s was looking back at the First Wave punk, the early 21 Century saw a resurgence in hardcore and bands like the Sex Pistols reformed, and now we’re looking back at grunge and Indie rock, with bands like the Pixies, Soundgarden, and even the Dictators coming back for reunion tours. And that’s where this release starts to take off.

The imaginary band in question in this dramedy is the titular The Incoherents, an Indie band that had some friction back in the 1990s, released an album that had some cult-level fans, and then the reality of family and responsibility of employment started to kick in, with he band dissolving into some-normal lives filled with “coulda-been” dreams.

That’s when the nostalgia plays its hand. The ex-bandmates are all in their forties at this point; their rock stardom aspirations, like so many, have fallen to the wayside, such as vocalist and rhythm guitarist Bruce (lefty Jeff Auer, who also wrote the film and co-penned the songs), lead guitarist Jimmy (Alex Emanuel, who is the other half of the songwriting), bassist Keith (Walter Hoffman) and drummer Tyler (Casey Clark). And like the Blues Brothers, they decide to put the band back together again.

Bruce is working as a paralegal drone in a law office (a job Auer actually once performed), Tyler in a wedding band, Keith as a city planner who is vegan (and everything that it stereotypically entails), and Jimmy runs the Lucky 13 bar in Brooklyn (as an FYI, Josephine Blownaparte, lead singer of punk band Chesty Malone and the Slice-‘Em-Ups, who I’ve seen a few times, was a bartender there at one point). Other venues shown include Boston’s The Middle East and the late, great Maxwell’s in Hoboken (during its later “Tavern” days).

I like that they don’t talk down the viewing audience. For example, when Keith reminisces, “Remember the first time we played CBGBs, and I realized I was standing in DeeDee’s spot…” They don’t feel a need to explain who or where, they just go with the flow and assume the audience is astute enough to know. I mean, if you’re into Billy Eilish, Toby Keith, or Drake, I’m going to guess that you’re not going to be watching this film anyway. There are so many name drops, both mainstream and obscure, that there are plenty of a-ha moments guaranteed to make you smile when you make the connection. Make sure you check out the tee-shirts that are worn by the cast throughout, which range from mainstream (like AC/DC) to the obscure. Of course, there are multiple CBGB shirts of various hues.

What is nice is that so many of the people involved in this film are also related to the music business in one form or another, including cameos by the two relatively big acting names: Annette O’Toole won an Oscar as songwriter (for A Mighty Wind), and Amy Carlson, who is recently known from Blue Bloods, has her own music label (Frenchkiss Records) and has been in a grunge band or two. Then there are the occasional musical cameos, like Chris Barron, the vocalist of the Spin Doctors, Richard Barone (The Bongos!), Fiona Silver, and Joe Hurley.

And how are they as a band? Well, it’s kind of grunge pop that was popular in the ‘90s without the hard edge of the Seattle sound, mixing in harmonies with crashing guitars, and no riff that will necessarily stick in your brain with an ear worm beyond the song (a general flaw of rock’n’roll in that time period, in my opinion), but they are okay. The musicianship is fine, as they play their own material, which I respect. The sound is palatable for any general audience that would be watching this (again, not necessarily fans of mainstream pop or some other genres).

A couple of musical aspects that impressed me is how the film also showcases some other bands as well as this one, and that the characters feel real, rather than like cartoons (e.g., Sid and Nancy, Bohemian Rhapsody, Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders, and especially The Dirt).

While the story follows a bit of a “history of a band” formula – the band (re)forms, woo-hoo exciting moments as things start to go well, and then (old) resentments (re-)arise within the band. But this also plays around with it, giving it more texture and history, with the addition of family and work responsibilities of 40-something-year-olds, and those lives clashing with the backstage antics of sex, drugs/alcohol and the temptation of groupies. Yes, even for those in their 40s. Rather than overwhelming the audience with excess like they did in the telenovela version of the aforementioned The Dirt, this is more realistic for bands at this level of (burgeoning?) fame.

Whether you like this genre of music or gave up on it by the time grunge came around in the early 1990s, the story is still compelling and the sound is not offensive (i.e., not Top 10 sonically flattened and auto-tuned). Even though it hammers home the truth about the mixture of music, business and the overabundance of social media in today’s scene, it is a good story, with pithy moments and above average acting.

Speaking of nostalgia, this review is dedicated to Little Richard, who passed away the day it was written.

Friday, May 8, 2020

A Royal Look at Boston R’n’R: Parts I and II [1977-1978]

Text by Count Joseph Allen Salvatore Viglione / FFanzeen 1977-1978
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

These articles were originally published in FFanzeen, issues 2 and 3, dated October 1977 and Winter-Spring 1977-1978, repectively. It was written by Joe Viglione, a Boston-based musician, band and record promoter, and scenester. His bands have included the Count, Auguste Phenomenon and Dimension 10. Currently, Joe still manages a bunch of bands/musicians, books clubs such as the Cantab, and has a podcast called “Visual Radio” where he interviews some pretty big named acts that is worth checking out.

For a few years, mainly in the early 1980s, I would go stay at Joe’s house on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, and tour around Boston, seeing multiple bands at the Ratskeller (aka, the Rat), the Paradise, Chet’s Last Call, etc. In this way, I got to meet so many great people, like Kenneth Highland, Donna Lethal, Rocco Cippilone, JoJo Laine, and one weekend even Stones’ producer and fellow Brooklynite, Jimmy Miller. However, I got to befriend Joe earlier thanks to my ‘zine and his, Varulven. We had a pen-pal correspondence going until I drove up there…I believe it was 1980.

A lot of the bands mentioned in this piece are still amazing when one looks back on their catalog. When these articles came out, I wasn’t familiar with many of them, but would do so, over time. – RBF, 2020
Photo by RBF

PART I: Issue 2 (October 1977)

Boston: 8-15-77

Contrary to popular belief, Boston is more than just an album and group on Epic Records. Boston is also a city. The capital of a state! Massachusetts, in fact. Boston also churns out a great deal of real good Rock & Roll. There’s lots of people here and these people like to rock out! This is a vampire’s eye view of the Rock and Roll Universe…

There are three good ways of hearing your favorite bands in this town, or finding out about new ones. One is “clubbing”: hitting the local nightspots which house rock music, or the parties where a band is at, or a boat cruise featuring a decent band. I put these under the heading of clubbing obviously erroneously ‘cause what I mean is live music, but who cares. I’m the Count and royalty can do whatever it wants.

Willie Loco Alexander at the Paradise
(photo by RBF)
We used to have only the Rat and the Club to frequent with occasional good bands at K-K-Katy’s (across the street from the Rat) ‘till it went disco; and dynamite bands (like Third Rail, Willie Loco, myself, the Bonjour Aviators, etc.) at a place called Dummy’s, which was an incredibly large club with wax museum figures for décor and plenty of breathing space, and a beautiful stage and a beautiful sound system, and it only lasted about 3 months. That’s life in the big city, so they say, but now a new club has opened its door to R&R, so things are looking up again. Cantones, in the Financial District, hosts the Real Kids, Willie Loco, La Peste, Baby’s Arm and many more really special people, and the Rock & Roll audience is responding very well to this new venue.

The Rat still reigns as the place to go even though no one really likes it all that much. It is a dive; one would think an excellent place for the Count to hang out, but I do consider myself a bit sophisticated and would really rather hear rock within the antiseptic confines of something like the Playboy Club. The Rat is a cellar: smoke and bad air is as plentiful down there as fish in the sea, so why does everyone go, you ask?? Despite the atmosphere, people still flock to this demonic camber so there is the friends aspect of it, and the music is good, for the most part.

This weekend we caught the Cars at Rat City. The Cars are one of the very best bands in Boston. They have taken the place which once belonged to Susan (since Susan split to New York) as the best band who plays in tune, sings on key, got a lot of great songs and excellent musicians, not to mention management which wants to get them to the top. The Cars feature Ric and Elliot on guitars, Ben on the bass, Dave on the drums, and Greg working on various assortments of instruments from synthesizer to saxophone and rhythm guitar. Songs like “Just What I Needed,” “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” “Come Back Down,” and so many more, are becoming big underground hits via live performances and the studio tapes floating around local radio stations.

Baby’s Arm is another new band which is causing some excitement. Frank Rowe writes the songs and plays a nice lead guitar with some very original work. Richee Johnson is the undisputed star of the band and slams away at the drums (he’s known as Sam Slam in certain circles of Boston rock); Billy Cole plays rhythm and sings the Lesley Gore tunes; and John Schriver rounds out the band on bass guitar. John is the third bass player to join this young band, replacing McGregor McGee (bassist on Peter Vallis’ single, “Marrying for Money”) who replaced Randall (ex-Auguste Phenomenon 4, which lasted all of 2 months). He also played bass on the record Randall sang on, “The Fury in Your Eyes” b/w “Boston City Limits” by the Bonjour Aviators, being a member of that band from its inception. Randall is now in a new band called Rawk.

John Felice of the Real Kids at the Rat
(photo by RBF)
Easy Action features KC Lindstrom on guitar, Mike Johnson on drums, Bob Papalado on bass, and Chas on lead vocals. They’re busy gigging around town, having just completed four songs in the studio, may do more studio work, and like Baby’s Arm, have a record in the offing.

Third Rail features the great Richard Nolan on vocals. Richard is one of the most original front men of all Rock. He can mesmerize by just standing and staring. His voice is soft, deep and distinct. Chilling may better describe it. It’s no coincidence that they played with the film Night of the Living Dead last Sunday (8-8-77) at the Rat. Fred Pineau (from the Count and Bonjour Aviators’ records) does the lead guitar along with Gary Soprano (now engineer on the Count’s upcoming LP). Rick rocks out on the drums, and TB Pleyer is the bass player.

Willie Loco is, along with the Cars, the best band in Boston at the moment. Willie is a true Rock & Roll genius. Period. His performances are striking, always entertaining, and abundant in Rock & Roll revelations. His records are treasures, and the tapes of studio work current circulating prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this man encompasses everything that is Rock & Roll. There is a bootleg album of a performance recorded in December of 1976 about to be released on Varulven Records. This is the ultimate Rock & Roll concert. Willie & the Boom Boom Band (Billy, Dave and Sev) go through nine of their big numbers, including a super triple medley of “Hit Her Wid de Axe,” “You Looks So Pretty When,” and “Hair.” It’s called The Sperm Bank Babies, featuring Al Lorenzo Drake, and will be available as soon as the money is got together... All proceeds go to Willie and the band after pressing and mailing costs. There will only be 300 of the first pressing released [yes, I still have mine – RBF, 2020] so act now!!!

A guest appearance on this LP is made by Thundertrain. They do an old Chuck Berry number called “Around and Around,” and you can hear Mach Bell, infuriated by the injustices of the industry in Boston overheating to the maximum. Mach Bell is one of the best front men in all of Rock and Roll. Really. Thundertrain is a superb live band; one of the few bands around that can crank up and get everyone excited. Their performances are events with Steven Silva blasting the walls apart with frantic leads, and Mach swinging from the ceiling like a Rock & Roll Tarzan.

PART II: Issue 3 (Winter/Spring 1977-1978)

Reddy Teddy, along with Thundertrain, is my fave live band. They create an excitement few other bands can ever hope to achieve. Their performances are superior excursions into Rock & Roll, which don’t quite carry over onto their records (like Thundertrain). We need these guys on a 3-D film. Till then, make it a point to catch them in concert!!! When Matt & John Rose start doing their simultaneous leaps, watch out!

Fox Pass has just re-emerged and is also up there with the elite “best” bands. Jon Macey, Mike Roy and John Jules, along with new members Steve Couch and Max Camfield create some of the best Pop Rock songs this side of the Hollies if they were infected by a severe case of Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground. Their record is a classic.

The Count, at the Rat
(photo by RBF)
There are many more bands, also superb, some not as suburb, some actually awful, but you find that everywhere. If I missed a good band, sorry ‘bout that. It’s about 3:30 AM, so you can see why it’s getting hard to think.

I was talking about ways of hearing your fave bands. The second method employed by Rock and Rollers in the ‘70s is the homemade record. After slamming my music against empty walls for too many years I got the inspiration to put out an EP and viola, instant infamy. My fave local records are Pastiche’s “Flash of the Moment,” Fox Pass, Willie Loco, Thundertrain, Marc Thor, Reddy Teddy, some stuff on the  Live at the Rat EP (Susan, Willie, Marc Thor and Thundertrain, to be specific), the Avatars, and you can be sure there will be many more soon. Inside info tells me Lord Manuel got a great EP due very shortly, and comedian Paul Lovell got Blowfish in the New Wave (EP) due shortly on Varulven Records.

The third formula for getting underground music into your head is via the Rock & Roll radio show. The best underground station in the Boston Rock Nation now is WCUW-FM in Worchester. These guys play underground stuff like it’s the only music in the word (well, it is, isn’t it??). Main New Wave DJ Brian Goslow is the guy to send your records and tapes to. The Count does a half hour radio show called “Auguste Hour of Destruction” for WCUW each week, as does Paul Lovell with his “Boston Groupie News Report.” Brian’s show is called “My Generation PSV (Patti Smith Version)” and is incredible.

[This paragraph redacted]

Leslie got the Boston Beat on WCOZ, Boston’s best rocker. Her show leans more towards the folk side of things, but on good nights you’ll hear the Atlantics, Fox Pass, the Cars, the Count, Piper and what more could now ask for? Debbie Frost has a great show on WHRB during the school year, and Peter’s got a very fine program on WBRS. WERS (not to be confused with WBRS) has recently begun playing New Wave and are publishing their Top 10 New Waves on a chart.

A good way for out-of-towners to keep up on the Rockin’ side of Boston is via the publications produced by many devoted people [aka fanzines – RBF, 1977].

Got to run. Rock on. Love yas…