Monday, December 31, 2007

Dan Reed Network - Slam

Today we harken back to the halcyon days of 1989 when, for a brief shining moment a number of bands made an earnest effort to live and preach multiculturalism - which of course made them, for all their ernestness, an easy target to look as dated as the naive hippies sounded in the summer of '66.

And, yet, if you bear with me, can we, just for a moment, say that there is nothing funny about peace, love and understanding?

Dan Reed understands, and as a follow up to their eponymously titled first album, this Northwest based band enlisted funk-meister Nile Rogers to help produce their second album, Slam. While the politics may appear dated, Slam thrives on slick grooves, some great hooks and all the energy devoted to songs about loving your brother, getting along and hot sex.

Now this is the world that I wouldn't mind living in.

Make It Easy is a standout opener, from the minute that the needle hits the vinyl. Vinyl baby. Its 1989. While the debut album opened with a rap about treating each other with respect, Make it Easy is ten kinds of sex, and the groove puts it right in your face. Lyrics? It is what is says it is... oh hell, just watch the video. You like it, then read the rest of the review.

You with me so far? I have little tolerance for those that would say, I only respect bands that don't write hooks, because Dan Reed had hooks in abundance. Make It Easy, Slam and Tiger in a Dress all rock, and they're never ponderous. The band can swing, Dan's lead vocals have a confident charm (I would imagine that he was a good front man live), and the guitar work is solid. If anything, it is the power ballads that have dated poorly nearly 20 years on. Rainbow Child is an ernest one, as is Stronger Than Steel. But move on to the next track, Doin' The Love Thing, and we've moved back into religious sex territory. And again, the band can swing and rock.

Did I mention that I wouldn't mind living in this world?

Cruise Together, the 7th track in, is a stand out, building from sound effects and drums into a controlled bass and guitar combo that rides the back beat, builds and releases tension in a great bit of songwriting and arranging. Lover is a standout among the ballads, beginning not with the standard keyboard intro, but a clever bit of acoustic Spanish guitar that sets a beautiful tone for the song. Dan's vocals are pitch perfect, a well balanced song. And rather than ending the record with the lighter-in-the-air All My Lovin', the band throws out the fancy production for a rocking closer, Seven Sisters Road.

This album is solid enough, that even the slightly perfunctory songs, Under My Skin and I'm Lonely Please Stay are solid, and well played. Its a shame that grunge would raise its loud, ugly head and, for a while, sweep everything else out of its way. Dan Reed's Slam was a great record that was lost in the shuffle over time and it deserved far better. And that, my friends, is what Ripple Effect is all about.

Buy here: Slam

-the fearless rock iguana

Friday, December 28, 2007

Brides of Destruction - Here Come the Brides

A few years back when I heard that Nikki Sixx and Tracii Guns were putting a new band together, I thought, ‘Uh oh . . . someone’s trying to relive some past glories.’ How often do we see members of popular bands go off in a different direction and wind up floundering? So, I let out a heavy sigh and listened to the first single. Folks, let me tell ya’, I’ll be the first to admit when I’m a jack ass and apologize for my transgressions. Nikki . . . Tracii . . . I am sorry for prejudging your work before I gave it a fair listen. Brides of Destruction have released an album so much more aggressive and in your face than the aforementioned musicians prior outfits. Here Come the Brides doesn’t so much leave the Hollywood glam scene as much as it injects it with a healthy dose of attitude and fuck all y’all-edness. This album is a middle finger vigorously waved in the air and a rollicking good time!

The disc opens with one of the most urgent songs that I had heard in quite some time in “Shut the Fuck Up!” It’s a high tempo number that borrows a bit from bands like The Exploited and Sex Pistols, but what better way to get the point across, huh? “I Don’t Care” follows the leader with another punked out offering that highlights Tracii’s guitar work, particularly the riff through the verses, and London Legrand’s manic vocal stylings. Up tempo and bouncy, the song is seeping with attitude and sleaze. The entire band shows it’s chops on this tune, staying tight in the breaks and never leaving the flow. “Two Times Dead” opens with a great harmonic filled riff and simply kicks ass. Tracii offers up another sterling solo as well. “Natural Born Killers” kind of takes the listener aback in that the song starts off very poppy, but the chorus changes everything and that snotty Brides attitude reappears. Watch for the line, “I’ve got strychnine on my tongue and I’m felling F-I-N-E, Fine.” Classic song and you’ll be singing along with the chorus before you know what you’re doing. “Life” is another poppy-punk tune that would fit right along with a band like Jimmy Eat World, and again, I dare you to not sing along. Can’t be done, friends. “Only Get So Far” closes Here Come the Brides and is the lone track that harkens back to the bygone era of ‘80’s hair metal. It’s the closest thing to a power ballad, though I wouldn’t even categorize it as that. Think of it more as a mellowed out punk tune. Sentimental, but not sappy.

All in all, Here Come the Brides is a great album and a good time. It captures the essence of the four musicians and the environment that they call home. It’s a tough guy album that takes no prisoners, and really never let’s up until the last track. But, that last track is there so that we can all kind of catch our breath and collect our wits just before we throw it on for another spin. The songs are catchy, but never come close to wussing out. They’ve got stones, but not in a meathead fashion. Beneath all of the punk vibes, there’s still a ton a musicality that can only be found from life long rockers and metalheads. Brides of Destruction come across more as a punk outfit than their Hollywood surroundings would traditionally have them seem. And to quote my good buddy, J.D., this is the sleaziest rock album since Appetite For Destruction. Is there really a better selling point than that? - Pope JTE

Buy here: Here Come the Brides

Monday, December 24, 2007

Midnight Oil - Red Sails in the Sunset

There comes a moment for every great band when it all comes together. A creative peak matched perfectly with a cultural zeitgeist. The resulting magic launches the band into a new stratosphere of performance and success. For U2, that moment was The Joshua Tree, an amalgam building on the dynamism of War and the atmospherics of The Unforgettable Fire.

For Midnight Oil, that moment was Red Sails in the Sunset.

While it was their next album Diesel and Dust that would rightfully be the one to break them in America, it was Red Sails that finally saw the band come together, shedding the pub/punk rock surf roots displayed on their first albums and adding the political urgency that blasted off of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Listening to this album, there is no way to describe it other than epic.

Uncompromising in its political intensity and defiant Australianism, Midnight Oil roared out of the gates, protests marches carefully wrapped and packaged as they launched into a nonstop rant against nuclear proliferation, the plight of the aborigines, consumer greed and the corporate ethical vacuum. “When the Generals Talk,” starts off as a slight musical misdirection as to what the rest of the album hid inside. Behind a near-funky break beat, punctuated with spasms of Moginie’s guitar, Peter Garrett warns that “When the Generals talk/you better listen to him,” which takes on new meaning when it becomes apparent that the Generals he’s most afraid of are more likely General Motors, General Electric, and General Insurance than a military force.

“Best of Both Worlds,” immediately follows, raging from the stereo before the first track can even finish. Driven by a pulsing bass and as crunching a riff as Midnight Oil would write, guitars screech behind Garrett’s pleading warning that, “The real world is not as calm as it appears to be from here/The small world is not as strong and the testing ground is near.” Fierce and unrelenting in its intensity, the guitar wails through its solo, while the backing riff bellows underneath.

Then, just as the intensity reaches the breaking point, it all comes crashing back down. Following a fiercely strummed acoustic guitar, a foreshadowing of their excellent use of acoustics on Diesel and Dust, “Sleep,” portrays vividly the human rights abuses of the aborigines that truly are universal. “In the back of the cell/the plug and the cord/shoulder dislocation/bruised in isolation.” Garrett’s vocals never before achieved such a perfect blend of passion, melody and urgency. “Minutes to Midnight,” which follows reigns as perhaps the best anti-nuclear song written, “I.C.B.M.’s, S.S. 20’s, they lie so dormant, they got so many,” sung over a single acoustic guitar and protest drum beat.

As perfectly crafted as the prior songs have been, with a stunningly flawless melding of acoustic and electric instruments, never losing their punch and urgency even on the slower passages, it is “Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers,” that is the emotional core of the album. Telling the true tale of aboriginal men who were unceremoniously paraded across the country where white settlers would bet on them as they battled against fighting kangaroos. The song starts as a slow funeral dirge and with each stanza a new instrument, acoustic or electric guitar is added, until Hirst’s drumming rages like a war drum, the guitars screaming underneath Garrett’s wailing vocal, “Why are we fighting for this? Why are you paying for this? You pay to see me fall like shrapnel to the floor/ What is the reason for this? There is a reason for this? What is the reason they keep coming back for more?”

It is this unflinching honesty and unrelenting brutality of lyric combined with the beautiful playing and melodies of the right band at the exact right moment in time that propels Red Sails to levels never heard by them before. Other tracks like the Oil’s classic “Kosciusko,” and “Helps Me Helps You,” continue this amazingly high standard of craft. Acoustic guitars, strummed with passion, create more dynamic tension than most metal bands could create with a roomful of electric strats and an arsenal of effect pedals. When Garrett sings about the plight of the aboriginals on “Kosciusko,” “No stranger to hostility/Now they want to be somewhere else/No stranger to brutality/Now they want to be someone else,” you can’t help but feel the pain of the people who he’s lent his voice to and the passion with which the band brings that message forth.

Diesel and Dust may have been the moment that broke the band, but it was Red Sails in the Sunset that made the band.

—Racer X

Buy here: Red Sails in the Sunset

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Thieves - Where the Bright Lights Bloom

If there were true justice in this crazy, mixed-up, muddled-up world we live in, The Thieves would be huge. I mean gargantuan. Bands like The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs would be scrambling over themselves just to be their opening act. Jet and the Datsuns would be lowering their guitars in respect, bowing down at the Thieves altar, offering gifts and sacrifices for the opportunity to riff along with the masters.

How do you like your rock n roll? Fast and furious but with a melodic edge? Rough and raw, but filled with clear vocals and soaring, catchy choruses? So full of driving emotion and energy that it gets pumped into your veins like an I.V. infusion, making you just damn glad happy to be alive?

On this six song EP, the Thieves dispatched with the gloss that shimmered over the production on their terrific full-length debut, Tales from the White Line, opting for a more garage-based sound. And I mean that literally. Where the Bright Lights Bloom was recorded in the band's LA garage on breaks from touring with the aim of trying to capture the band's dynamic live energy. And they succeeded. With this release, The Thieves have officially left the relatively sedate environs of their past lives in Oxford behind and become honorary crazy citizens of jet-fueled California. Gone are the layered textures of their brit-rock past, replaced by the fierce edge of the Sunset Strip and manic energy of Venice Beach.

"Tell Me Something," rages out of the stereo, adrenaline-hyped and revving at 100 mph. Even the vocals match the ferocious pace of the driving riff, coming at you half sung, half spoken, faster than any human being should be able to speak. The chorus is vintage Thieves, melodic and memorable, with the added extra of some fine female backing vocals, reminding me of, dare I say it, Lynyard Skynyrd. Not that the band sound the least bit country, mind you, but the female singers harmonizing behind Hal's vocals just adds that kick-ass southern touch.

Without even pausing to let the sweat dry on your blistering skin, the disc spins right into "Oxford Town," the Thieves official goodbye to their old hometown. Sam Stokes and Jamie Dawson keep the song propelled with a tight rhythm section. The highlight of the disc though is the out and out, one-two punch of "Oh Lord," and "Velcro Colors." The riff from "Oh Lord," rages at you supercharged, speeding like a bullet train into your brain. Again, in my perfect world, this track would be the soundtrack to any number of sports greatest hits films, guys pummeling themselves senseless on the football field, hockey ice or (with deference to my Oxford buds) the rugby pitch. This song should blare from every stadium's loud speakers, welcoming the home team to the gladiatorial arena before the bloodletting begins. It would pump the crowd into a frenzy better than a thousand "Welcome to the Jungle's."

"Velcro Colors," may be the best song the Thieves have done so far. Starting with a stuttering guitar riff over Sam's bass, Hal's vocals carry the perfect hint of road-weariness as he sings, "Blind illusion keeps you far from home/What am I to do?" Slightly more complex in structure than the previous arrangements, "Velcro," is the closest hint to the Thieves sound on White Line, but still amped up as if they'd spent all night raiding the Red Bull display at the local liquor store.

Sadly, Where the Bright Lights Bloom, was billed as the Thieves last official release, but all may not be lost, Sam has recently hinted that he and his brother are playing together again and may get Jamie back into the fold. While we can hope that the world will not be long deprived of these guys' particular brand of melody-tinged garage rock, what we can do in the meantime is soak up their adrenaline charged output so far. Cruise on over to the good folks at, peruse through the Thieves listing and check out Where the Bright Lights Bloom. You wont' be disappointed. As the boys say, "This is the closest sounding record to our live sound that we ever got. Turn it up loud!" Amen to that, my brothers, amen. --Racer X

Buy the CD

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

John Wesley - Shiver

Listening to this album reminds me of everything that irks me about the music industry and American radio. Good, verging on great, music that’s constantly overlooked and never given the attention that it rightly deserves. And all because some dude in a posh office is making the calls on what he feels we, the American people, should be spending our hard earned money on. Oh ho . . . but not here, friends! Here at The Ripple Effect, we will do battle against impossible odds and champion the artists who are so casually tossed aside by “big business”. We will take artists such as John Wesley, hoist them on our shoulders, and parade them through the streets as if they had just won the Stanley Cup!

Shiver is a rock album laden with lyrical paintings and great stories, acoustic guitars mixed in with the electric variety, musical virtuosity, and passionate vocals. You know, all the things that make music so cool in the first place. John Wesley is all about the music. No frills. Nothing flashy. A hint of a southern swag with an Americana flair, folksy without that twang. Just a good songwriter expressing every emotion with every note he plays.

The album opens with a great riff and some nifty bass work before Wes introduces us to his wonderful mastery of the English language. Gotta’ love the line about “challenging the very gods in the sky.” By the end of “Pretty Lies”, John’s vocals scream with the passion of his message. The musical break at the 2:41 point of “Used Up” reminds us why we love music . . . so much passion, man! “Always Be” treats us to some beautiful interplay of acoustic and electric guitars, bass rumbling neatly in the back of the mix. Then, we’re served some clever phrasing in a tale of childhood ideals with “The King of 17”. The lyrics, “I got twenty dollars/ it’ll get some gas/ we won’t get to far/ and we won’t get there fast/ but, it’s twenty dollars farther from here” paint a great picture of two kids just trying to get away. Every time that part of the song pops up, I have to smile and think, ‘If only it were that easy.’ The centerpiece of the disc is “Swing” and opens with a beautiful finger picking melody on Wes’ acoustic, but then takes a dark twist and shows us that John can pack some punch with the six string. “Your Round” is a strong tune that takes some shots at the senselessness of violence and is driven by a heavy and quite bad ass acoustic riff. Shiver is wrapped up by the beautiful and pleading “Please Come Back” . . . John’s voice works exceptionally well as it breaks and cracks over the chorus. Damn it, son . . . it brings a tear to my eye!

When I first heard of John Wesley, it was through his work as the touring guitarist for Porcupine Tree, so naturally, I thought that his music would sound similar. Far from it. Other than Shiver being mixed by the great Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, No-Man), there’s no outstanding PT sounds. In fact, I’ve tried to find another band or artist to compare John Wesley to, but nothing comes to mind. John simply has a unique voice, and thank God for that! It’s refreshing to hear music that doesn’t immediately make one think, ‘Oh, that sounds like so-and-so.’ As mentioned before, this is no frills, no fluff rock music. It’s that rare type of music that can pick you up and get the blood flowing, as well as mellow one out after a rough commute down the bumper to bumper speedway. You should enjoy it.

I’m gonna’ go ahead and set John down now. That parade was murder on my shoulders. - Pope JTE

Monday, December 17, 2007

54-40 - Sweeter Things- A Compilation (Fiftyfour forty)

It’s raining this morning, the droplets pouring down from a thick shroud of grey layering over the hills. I’ve already brewed a fresh pot of coffee, got a muffin and have no desire to go outside. It’s a good day to just plop down on the couch with my steaming mug and let the day pass me by. But what to listen to? It’s not a downbeat, chill frame of mind. I still want to rock, but nothing that will make my ears bleed or break my mood. Jazz is too, well, jazzy. I want something not downcast, not melancholy, just . . . somber.

I want 54-40.

It’s not normal that I’d throw a Greatest Hits CD at you for review, but with a band like 54-40, when you’re trying to catch up on a career that spans 25 years, this is a great place to start. Nearly legendary in Canada, 54-40 burst onto the scene with a rootsy, earnest sound that immediately labeled them the Canadian R.E.M. While there is some similarity in their sound, especially in their early albums, one listen to this compilation culled from their first five releases immediately lets you know how much of a disservice that label is.

Considering that they come from Vancouver, with it’s grey chill and wet winters, it should be no surprise that 54-40 bring a touch of the overcast northwest to their music. “I Go Blind,” is probably 54-40’s best known song south of the Canadian border, and that’s mainly on the back of the Hootie and the Blowfish cover. But whereas when Hootie sings, “In the morning/I get up/and I try to feel alive/but I can’t,” it seems more like he’s complaining about a post-frat party hangover, than the existential angst expressed in Neil Osbourne’s slightly nasal baritone. That’s not to say that 54-40 is a downer. They’re definitely more uplifting than say, the American Music Club. They’re just. . . somber.

“Baby Ran,” is a jaunty breakup tune with an infectious chorus. Watch the video at the bottom of this review and see for yourself if you’re not singing “Baby ran/she ran away/why she ran?/I’ve got to say/I’m lonesome/all the time,” for the rest of the day. The chorus works it's way into your consciousness. And the rest of the album follows suit. Whether the percussive riff of, “One Day in Your Life,” or the anti-apathy chant of “One Gun,” 54-40 know how to create a mood, textured with the rare mournful trumpet bellowing behind the jangling guitars.

54-40 long dispatched with the R.E.M comparisons, but unfortunately, never found a home here in the U.S. And it’s too bad. “Alcohol Heart,” “Miss You,” and “Me Island,” are as rewarding as any of the best Athens output, or early Matchbox 20. So, the next time you're hanging on a rainy day, break out Sweeter Things, and revel in the misty somberness of north of the border rock.

Now please pass my latte. –Racer X

Buy here: Sweeter Things: A Compilation

Friday, December 14, 2007

Prong - Power of the Damager

There was a time when I felt that Prong was the most important metal band devastating my ear drums. This was around ’90 – ’91 and Prove Your Wrong had taken up permanent residence in my CD player, and in comparison to most of the music being released at that time, the competition could only hope to bag Prong’s groceries. Fast forward to 2007, look at the gray creeping into my facial hair, and take a listen to what band founder, Tommy Victor, has delivered us! I was ready to claim this album as the best album that Prong has done almost immediately, but I wanted to take a bit more time to spin the hell out of it and make the most informed decision that I could. Hey . . . I’m just trying to be responsible!

And here it is . . . Power of the Damager is the best Prong album to date. Arguments can always be made about Beg to Differ and Cleansing, but the fact is, Damager is the most complete of them all. It hits all the high points just right, and the low points . . . well, there's nothing worth mentioning. It borrows so heavily from the earlier era of the band, yet shows Tommy and company are so comfortable with the music’s direction that the whole thing just sounds fresh. The riffs are as head bobbin’ awesome as ever and the guitar tones are the heaviest since Cleansing. This should keep the hardcore Prong fans happy and should bring past fans of the band back into the fold. On top of all that, Power of the Damager is vital enough to introduce the band to a new group of fans who swore that nu-metal was true metal.
Hell, for those latter folk . . . the entire Prong catalog should be studied and revered.

The album starts of with an in-your-face beating of “Looking For Them”, and continues the pummeling through “3rd Option.” Hard driving songs that will have your neck aching the next morning and much of the day. “Pure Ether,” shows a bit of a twist with Tommy singing in his more melodic voice . . . just enough to catch your attention, then the band busts into another hard groovin’ set of riffs. The title track kicks in as a very typical Prong tune, packed with pent up aggression and killer riffs. The chorus sums up what we’ve all come to know and love about these guys. And then, we’re reminded why Prong are one of the best metal bands around. “The Banishment,” is classic industrial metal served up Prong-style. A heavy groove riff in the vein of “Beg to Differ,” or “Broken Peace,” is the strength of the tune, which acts as the centerpiece of Power of the Damager. The overall musicianship of the band on this track deserves much more praise than I could ever give. Tommy gets a bit introspective with “Spirit Guide” and “Messages Inside of Me,” but don’t think for a minute that he’s going soft on us. Far from it.

This is an album that will make people who think Disturbed or Slipknot are heavy grab themselves and soil their shorts. “Changing Ending Troubling Times,” seals the story of Damager with an intense, multi note intro, to a multi dimensional beat down. More praise for a band so absolutely drenched in what they do that it all feels so natural.

Prong have been a much overlooked band by an industry that’s in serious need of an enema. They never wavered from what their vision of metal should be. They experimented with their sound and dabbled with a more industrial feel for awhile, but bands that want to mean a damn in the future need to tweak their sound once in awhile. As long as they don’t stray so far from their original sound, they should stay vital. Tommy Victor has managed to drag Prong out of the miasma of indecision and redirected the band in the ways that made them metal legends. I chip my teeth in the mosh pit in honor of your efforts! - Pope JTE

Buy here: Power of the Damager

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Answer - Rise

Every generation needs a new group of teenagers who find their ideal voice during their years of struggle in the wailing feedback of a guitar chord torn out of a Fender Twin. The only problem is that rock, essentially, is a rather limited pentatonic language, and finding something new to say can be difficult in the extreme. Someone once asked a guitarist in the ‘80’s why we didn’t have a lot of riff driven songs and he famously replied, “well, there are only 12 notes, and, you know, there are only so many combinations, and Jimmy Page used a lot of them.” And, no, it wasn't Nigel Tufnel.

The Answer, straight outta Northern Ireland, should be commended for not spending a great deal of time trying to over analyze how to sound “fresh” or “current” or anything that requires an annoying amount of deconstruction. In fact, the first track hits you like a bus when you've just stepped off the curb. Under the Sky is a stunning little bit of rock ‘n’ roll straight from 1975, and its riff already sounds classic. Thats a Black Beauty Les Paul ripping it up, and Cormac Neeson stole his wardrobe straight from Plant's closet circa 1970. The third track, Come follow Me, is Thin Lizzy on speed, and I mean that in the best possible way, with a Nuno Bettencourt solo hiding in the middle just to let you know just how good their chops are. Memphis Water, the 5th track, shows that their blues are as close to Memphis as Rod Stewart was when he sang You Shook Me in the Jeff Beck Group. They are simply so outrageous that you just want to let them go. Preachin’ asks the same indulgence from us: the closest these boys have come to pickin’ cotton is at the local Marks and Spencer. Its goofy and fun and they clearly love what they’re doing. Let ‘em go. As much as the hyped up Whitesnake with David Coverversion and Kingdom Clone were pretenders to the Zeppelin throne, it has been bands like the Answer and Earl Greyhound that really come close to hitting the mark.

No Questions Asked is simply a showstopper. Played at reckless Communication Breakdown pace, Ask no questions (my baby don’t care)/tell no lies (she don’t care) and you’re hearing the best wail since Robert Plant told us that a lover breakdown will drive you insane. OK, maybe the best since Chris Cornell. But damn its good. The interplay with the guitar, vocals and bass in the break builds it back up to a killer finale. I’d pay to see this one song alone live. Into the Gutter channels Sabbath in the intro, and Sometimes Your Love has a Kiss chorus so solid that you could shelve hardbacks on it in your living room.

If there is a failing, its that these Irish boys know how to rock, but they fall into the trap of believing that they need to slow down and chill out and let you go the back of the club and get a beer. Be What You Want, the 4th track, falls into Black Crowes circa Three Snakes and a Charm. The band sounds like they were told that then desperately need a lighter lifiting show closing power ballad for the single. And it shows. Always does indeed close the album, and I’m sure a lot of bars. Its not bad, but it never transcends the formula, succumbing to a keyboard build-up at the chorus that screams Winger, and so many of the other songs do that I’m just going to continue to annoy the neighbors with the other 9 tracks.

All said, Rise is simply Audacious in execution. There are moments of rock ‘n’ roll as pure here as anything from 30 years ago. Go download a few of their MP3s, go buy the album. Lets support getting these guys over to the USA from the UK!

the fearless rock iguana

Buy here: Rise

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Angels (Angel City): Face to Face

Nobody will deny that AC/DC's riffs can shatter concrete and that their boogie rocking blues makes for some good times, but if you're searching for something with lyrical content beyond songs about women's butts and groupies with the clap, Angel City is the band for you. Amazingly huge and known as the Angels in Australia, they had to adopt the moniker Angel City in America due to the dying glam band, Angel fronted by Greg Guiffria. This nomenclature schizophrenia would torment the band throughout it's existence, once forcing them to take up the unruly moniker of The Angels from Angel City. But don't let the name confusion steer you away from what they have to offer. No matter what they called themselves The Angles knew how to rock and Face to Face, a compilation of the best songs from their two prior mega-platinum Australian releases, is a great place to lose yourself in their particular brand of madness.

The key to Angel City (the Angels) were the bone crunching riffs of the Brewster brothers on guitar and the enigmatic, raving personality of the lead singer, Doc Neeson, who's vocals had more in common with Johnny Rotten than Bon Scott. In fact, Angel City comes across as the perfect combination of AC/DC get-down-boogie with the Sex Pistols edge and urgency. More often than not, it seems like Neeson is about to explode off the CD, his vocals barely contained within the framework of the song. And it's that energy and excitement that makes this Angel City album so damn much fun to listen to.

As a whole, the compositions are strong, with heart bursting riffs, thudding drums, and lyrics concentrating on Neeson's glaring paranoia and Orwellian view of the present. Couplets such as "Hold tight! Big brother/callin' in the name of liberty/Lot's stone take your place/Looks like it's comin' down on me" give you a peak through the keyhole into the scary place that is Neeson's mind.

"No Exit" reigns as the stellar track, with a stunning, hauntingly brutal riff, but every song has its merits including "Can't Shake it," later copied and bastardized by Great White. I have to give Great White credit though, in taking "Can't Shake it", and "Face the Day" from Angel City's second album, they showed that they had the where-with-all to steal some great rock and roll that was going largely unheard in America.

Face to Face
contains some of the Angels best known songs, including their own twisted version of a love song, "Am I Ever to See Your Face Again." Riffs such as those on "Take a Long Line" and "Marseilles," could rest comfortably on any AC/DC album, but what really made Angel City stand out was the range of material they created, from the Velvet Undergroundesque "Out of the Blue" to the raging punk of "Coming Down on Me". Think of them as AC/DC for those with a measurable IQ. -- Racer X

Buy here: Face to Face

Friday, December 7, 2007

PopeAlopes - Slowest Eye

A number of years ago, Racer X and I were perusing the bargain bins of a certain Bay Area record store in search of . . . well, something. At the time, it didn’t really matter what that something was, as long as it was cool and a bit different. I remember that I was openly mocked for one of my countless selections on that day, but here I stand some ten years later, head held high, and feeling somewhat vindicated. That selection just so happened to be Slowest Eye, the fourth release from PopeAlopes.

In the comfort of Senor X’s leather clad sports car, we sat back and listened to the opening strains of the title track with raised eye brows, and then . . . it was unceremoniously mixed into the pile of other discs from that particular trip. Somewhere along the course of my most uninteresting life, Slowest Eye found permanent residence in my music collection. And why not? Contrary to the initial (lack of) respect that we gave the album, it’s damn good! It’s uplifting in its originality. It’s moving in its somberness. Mesmerizing passages awash in feedback let the mind wander, releasing the weight of the everyday pressures of life. Great dynamics that can only be accomplished by great musicians.

PopeAlopes have a sound completely unto themselves. In fact, I’ve never had so much difficulty describing a band before. At one point, they come across as any typical college radio band, but then they’ll change it up and open the volume knobs to pummel the listener with waves of feedback. Every song has something new to offer. The aforementioned title track and it’s clean toned string bending madness. “War Dream” with it’s chanting over the distorted vocals and guitars. “Grand Anvil Chorus” has that driving-in-a-convertible-with-it’s-top-down feel, crooning vocals reminiscent of Michael Stipe, with a hint of Neil Young. “Noontide” has a beautiful acoustic guitar strumming in the background while the rest of the band rock out around it. “Yellow Paw” with it’s haunting undertones and grooving bass lines happens to be my favorite on the disc. And it goes on from there . . . shifting and changing like an electrically charged amoeba.

Categorize the band anyway you like, but you’ll ultimately come back and say, “PopeAlopes”. That’s the best description for these guys. The sad thing is, Slowest Eye was their last proper release and apparently only released in Italy (yes . . . I’m the envy of all those at The PopeAlope Fan Convention held in my mind every October 4th). However, the internet is a fabulous and ever-so powerful tool to track things down. Also, there are still three albums out there prior to this one! So, get out there . . . click on the link below and get in touch with the band. As always, you can thank me later. - Pope JTE
And for more behind the scenes info on the making of Slowest Eye check out

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mr. Plow - Cock Fights and Pony Racin'

I don’t really ask for much.

When it comes to stoner metal, all I ask is that you pummel me senseless, hit me with a detuned chord so damn bottom heavy that it makes my lower intestine spasm, bring on the bass in massive rolling waves of cortex melting riffs, wash the bastard in a thick miasma of feedback fuzz and sing over the whole mess with a voice, rich and textured, deep and raw. Oh yeah, and make the whole thing groove. It’s got to groove, baby.

Mr. Plow is a metal collective from Houston leaving their mark on the stoner world with a handful of CD’s that wear their influences proudly on their sleeves. Tones of stoner-rock God’s Kyuss, meld with Fu Manchu, Nebula, Monster Magnet, and of course the whole disc is painted in the great thick colors of Black Sabbath. That’s not to say that Mr. Plow is derivative. Rather, the guys dig deep into their roots, suck down their bongwater and belch out a fantastic, spaced-out, sci-fi ode to the Stoner genre.

“Festivus,” sets off Cock Fights and Pony Racin' with all horses blazing, hammering the riff right out of the speakers. Bottom heavy and thick, the fuzzed out tones should’ve been the mandatory anthem at every abandoned-barn beer party I attended during high school, blaring out of the Jensen tri-axle speakers mounted in the back of a sea of’67 Cameros. It really is that good.

“Electric Sheep,” pays the most homage to Sabbath, the opening riff sounding as if it would have been comfortable on any one of the classic Ozzy albums. “Autozone,” brings out the more Fu Manchu-esque tones in its head-bobbing riff and car-obsessed lyrics. Soloing is sparse but tasteful, feedback drenched and pointed, not flashy.

Truthfully, I hear more Fu Manchu than Kyuss in Mr. Plow’s blend of stoner bliss, but whereas Fu mines a familiar mid-tempo seventies vein, Mr. Plow have a clear progressive artery running through their pounding heart. “The Only Reason You Got in Front of Me was Because I Let You,” intones a slight sci-fi-ish guitar tone to its tale of an urban drag race, bringing to mind a touch of Monster Magnet. Mr. Plow’s prog tendencies, however, are on best display during the twelve minute instrumental, “Ode to Gandolf,” a festering stew of fuzz guitar, drum solos and jazz breaks that somehow manages to hang together for the duration without ever coming across as filler or self-indulgent. Other songs like, “Louder than Larry,” and “The Dude,” just simply rock.

The low-fi production works well for the overall fuzzed texture of the work, but one can’t help but wonder what these guys would sound like with a budget and a big name producer that “gets” them. I’d love to hear the bass brought out more into the light and the vocals more prominent in the mix. But these are minor suggestions, really. In the end, Mr. Plow does everything I ask of a good stoner band, hitting it hard and heavy, but never losing sight of that all important groove.

These guys deserve to be heard. Now will some one please refill the bong. That last riff made me spill the damn water all over my rug. –Racer X

Monday, December 3, 2007

Imogene – Imogene

I love it when a band comes along and adapts the pre-set rules to their advantage and sets their own standards. Imogene have done something pretty damn remarkable by creating their own sound from a rich palette of primary influences. Imagine, if you can, The Moody Blues mashed up all gnarly-like with Black Sabbath. Heavy, yet with this melodic, psychedelic vibe. Not metal by any stretch of the imagination, but neither are they a radio-friendly bunch annoying us to random acts of violence. I hate using the term “indie-rock”, but for lack of a better one at this time, it will do.

Imogene are one of the most unique bands that I’ve heard in quite some. On their debut self titled album, they mix ‘60’s melodic sensibilities with the raw sound of retro garage rock. And most incredibly, without the use of a traditional guitarist! They utilize two bassists (one on the traditional 4-string, the other on an 8-string), keyboardist, and drummer to create a veritable mélange of sound. Rich and vibrant colors ooze from the speakers . . . bubbling from the sound system like liquid from your lava lamp.

“Imogene” opens with Happy Communing and immediately hits the listener with a sound oddly familiar, but considerably different. Almost like seeing a person for the first time in thirty years. You recognize that person, but they’ve grown older and perhaps wiser. Imogene have taken a sound from a bygone era and made it valid for a whole new generation of music fans. Paper Dolls and Sunny Day Child carry on with the same tones as the opener . . . dreamy keyboards, reminiscent of The Doors, add colorful texture to the brooding drone of the dual bassists. And then, the listener is taken on a serious psychedelic trip with Wormwood Raindrops. Mind bending sounds permeate from the speakers and mesmerize the listener to question reality. By the time we get to the end of the album, we’re pretty spent. Daath spooked us into a glass eyed state. Seraphim has come and haunted us to soberness. Tongue and Groove spoke to our primal urges and got us rocking out a bit. In all, we’ve experienced a life time of emotions.

I’ve heard talk that it would be a shame for these guys to “make it big” because it would essentially ruin the “indie vibe” of the band, but I disagree. I firmly believe that the members of Imogene are so comfortable with the sound that they’ve created that the future will bring us some very interesting music (samplings from their upcoming album affirm this belief). Recommended listening conditions include a little herb, a nice comfy dark room, burning incense, and a lava lamp aglow in the corner. Enjoy and new trip down an old road and pick up “Imogene." --Pope JTE

Buy the CD

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Bongos - Drums Along the Hudson

What is the perfect pop song?

In the aftermath of the punk implosion, when it was cool to actually know how to play your instrument again, The Bongos burst forth from the mean streets of Hoboken, New Jersey, asking that very question. What is the perfect pop song? Combining driving acoustic guitars and throbbing bass with edgy, often quirky song structures, nearly impenetrable lyrics and the perfect-pitch, quavering tenor of Richard Barone, Drums Along the Hudson emerged as their answer.

Hanging onto the D.I.Y. ethic of punk, but abandoning its posturing for craft, The Bongos created beautiful post-punk melodies, dripped in honey and wrapped up in the guise of pop songs. Drums Along the Hudson, collects their initial singles and serves as their first full-length L.P. Recently reissued by Cooking Vinyl, and blessed with the inclusion of a literal ton of unreleased live tracks and a new mix of “the Bulrushes” by Bongos fan Moby, Drums Along the Hudson is a must buy for any fan of power pop.

Whereas other bands of the time, like The Beat, or the Plimsouls infused basic sixties song structures with a new found energy, The Bongos favored offbeat song signatures, unexpected tribal drum breaks, punchy guitars and avant-garde sax riffs. “In The Congo,” starts off with a stuttering electric riff, before the acoustic guitar bursts forth, strumming the song to a frenzy. “The Bulrushes,” perhaps the Bongos most beautiful melody (apart from “Sweet Blue Cage” from the Numbers with Wings EP) thrives off the acoustic guitar, the strumming keeping time for Barone’s lyrics of vague religious epiphany. At all times, the excellent rhythm section of Norris and Giannini never falters, propelling the song forward.

Now, don’t let all this talk of acoustic guitars lull you into thinking that this is folk music. The Bongos rock with the passion of the Minutemen, the acoustics offering a unique aural texture to their punchy songs. Lyrically, the Bongos can express great sentiment or sinister mystery, often within the same song. On "Telephoto Lens," hiding behind a war drum intro and a staccato guitar burst, Barone’s sweet, innocent tenor sings, “Telephoto lens/Alone in the City/I’m making some friends/tonight,” adding a new twist to urban voyeurism. The meanings of other songs like “Clay Midgets,”” Video Eyes, “and “Certain Harbours,” are anybody’s guess.

But again, don’t let the slanted lyrics lead you to believe that the Bongos are obtuse or inaccessible. The exact opposite is true. The absolute simplistic pop beauty of “Hunting,” and “Zebra Club,” are as readily accessible as anything by Squeeze or Talking Heads. This is quite simply beautiful music, catchy, punchy and fun.

The strength of the original release of Drums Along the Hudson propelled the Bongos to go on and sign with a Major label, where they released the tantalizing Numbers EP and their only true full-length LP, Beat Hotel before they were lost to time. Richard Barone went on to craft an adventurous solo career, while the other members broke off to other projects, yet still, the Bongos music lived on. Now thanks to Cooking Vinyl, we can all relish once again in the sumptuous melodies of some of the early eighties most perfect pop songs.

–Racer X

Buy here: Drums Along the Hudson

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

BrainToy - Tremors

Braintoy is one of a number of gems that I’ve mined from the music mountain known as Myspace. I stumbled on these cats about a year ago and was impressed enough by their samplings to shell out my hard earned cash for their E.P. “Tremors”. I think it’s money well spent because even after a year, this disc has held up well.

When the disc kicks off, we’re asked “Is this what you’ve been waiting for?”, and for me, the answer is, “Well . . . yeah. I guess it is.” You see, I was at a point where pretty much everything that I was hearing made me want to tear my eyes out and shove them in my ears to block the noise. I needed something new. Something fresh. Something that would keep my eyes in my skull, perk up my ears, and get my toes tapping.

“Tremors” is a five song disc that borrows from “Opiate” era Tool. The rest of the sounds are all Braintoy. Christian Anderson (guitarist) uses an arsenal of effects and tones to carry the mood of the band. Let’s not forget his ability to simply bring the riffs that rock, and his brilliant moments of virtuosity. Devin Gasteiger (bass/keyboard) thunders along in the background, adding flourishes of texture, delivering punchy bass lines and staying in tight communication with Riley O'Connor (drummer). Riley’s performance is purely awe inspiring in that he holds this crew together through the complex time changes and dynamic shifts. Brett Fitzgerald (vocals) perfectly conveys the emotions of the songs, at times channeling his inner Maynard Keenan, at times creating his own unique voice.

Songs that you’ll want to pay close attention to are As I Am, Cul-De-Sac, and Humour Me. These particular songs highlight Braintoy at their best. A heavy dose of cerebral metal with a leaning towards prog-rock. Highly complex arrangements made accessible by uncanny melody. Smart music, but not pretentious. Brainy tunes with an underlying primal groove. “Tremors” gives us a glimpse of a band on the brink of doing something spectacular. Is it the greatest disc in the world? No. Is it something to pay close attention to? Most certainly.With a new singer in their camp who’s range and ability simply enhance the Braintoy sound, the future is bright for the band (as well as for my eyes!) If you can find the disc, it’s well worth the price. Be a part of the Braintoy movement before it passes you by.

--Pope JTE

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bad Brains - Quickness

Yo, crib can be crabit/hot hot standings with the quickness/well dem callit hip hop while others cuckin’ be bop/they rushin’ go go/ I check for One drop/ma jam the disco through acid rock/mash it up with hardcore/dem rockers broke the scene.

Someone needs to check, because I’m not sure if the Bad Brains aren’t still banned in DC, but 25 years ago the Rastafarian rockers were purveyors of some of the loudest noises to be placed on record, the Rior sessions. To this day, Rior is still, literally, one of the most ferocious performances ever recorded, making the Stooges look like a lounge act, and Never Mind the Bullocks sound like Foreigner.

Energy such as that is hard to focus, and succeeding Bad Brains albums were a continued dilution of their power, their energy, their songwriting, their sheer uniqueness through various producers. The less said about those albums, with the exception of part of I Against I, the better.

Then Quickness came along to knock the knick knacks off the bookshelves again. A full 7 years after the Rior session, and long after the DC hardcore scene had either grown up, flunked out, O.D'd or moved on and gotten real jobs, Bad Brains was focused with an album full of solid songs and Rastafarian fury.

Produced by Ron St. Germain, who has the talent for being able to make records loud but crisp, not muddied or distorted (a talent that he would take the third Living Colour record), allows us to get a faceful of Dr Know's guitar, and HR's vocals in a way that prior releases only hinted at. If you’d been this close at a club show, you’d be bruised and bloodied by the second number. Quickness opens with Soul Craft, as molten guitars collude with HR's scat singing: Peaceful direction in this unity/strap on survival kit/no drugs inside of you/fly the sour craft on your own. That taste in your mouth is copper, someone’s broken your nose and you're crammed up by the mosh pit right against the PA and you're not moving anytime soon. Quickness lays down their intentions to retake the musical territory that they themselves helped bulldoze.

Describing music can be like smelling colors; you’re not quite sure if you can ever convey the flow of sound as it washes over you, much less convey accurately the punch in the gut that the best rhythm sections convey. Even a deaf man could keep time with the assault of bass and drums and guitar the rocks With The Quickness, You’ Juice and No Conditions. And when you’re convinced that the band can’t pull it back to save their, or your, lives, the settle into the experienced reggae groove on The Prophets Eye.

Time has dulled the legacy of Bad Brains, as well as diluted line ups that have toured under the name as original members have gone and come. But while the rest of the world watches The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years on IFC and, rightly so, laughs their ass off, some one needs to chronicle the time in the ‘80’s when bands changed the music landscape as much as any time since the ‘60’s. Pick up Quickness and the Rior Sessions. Bulldozed indeed.

--Fearless Rock Iguana

Buy here: Quickness

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Down - III – Over the Under

Oooph! That’s either the sound of some unsuspecting swab getting sucker punched while he’s sleeping, or it’s the sound you’ll make when you put on Down’s latest release, “Over the Under”. This album is stunning in it’s pure and unadulterated heaviness. It’s punishing in it’s passion, and it’s unapologetic. It’s frighteningly familiar, and all too real. A perfect reflection of the frustrations of not just five like minded musicians, but of an entire region of this country. It will hit you on a primal level, but it will also affect the psyche on a cerebral level. It’s as honest of an album as you’ll get.

We all should know that we’re going to get an uncompromising piece of music when Down comes to party. They’re one of those bands that plays what they want regardless of the current market trends. They’re not too concerned about offending you. They’re true to themselves so that they can be true to their fans. And, up until this point, I was never completely sold on the band. Yeah . . . the previous releases rock, and they rock well. But, there was something missing, and I’m still unsure what that “something” is.

Three Suns and One Star opens the album with the typical intensity one would expect from Down, and kind of reacquaints you with the power of the band for the next few songs. You know that sound . . . guitars tuned down to the ridiculous. Bass rumbling steadily in the background. Drums that feel like your mom’s pelting you with pots and pans. And all of that kept in neat formation by vocals that range from that of a crooning blues man, to the screams of a haunted soul. Once we get through the first four tunes the real fun begins with On March the Saints, Never Try, and Mourn. The latter has got to have the sludgiest riff ever put to disc! It’s almost as if the beginning of the album is a massive build up for the middle and end parts. The disc mellows just a hair with the Kashmir-esque Beneath the Tides and the mesmerizing His Majesty the Desert, and finally picks up the tempo one last time with Pillamyd and In the Thrall of It All. All of it is then neatly wrapped up with Nothing in Return (Walk Away), which is a grinding blues based beast of a tune.

Through the ass kicking that you’ll inevitably receive from this album, there is melody. We’re not just dealing with a metal band yelling incomprehensible lyrics for an hour. It’s the catchiest disc that Down have released and it’s also the most concise. Maybe that’s the “something” that was missing before? The band doesn’t stray far from the course by putting on throw away tracks or interludes. They start this thing heavy, and they end it heavy, showing just enough heavy metal virtuosity to keep the attention from wandering too far. All of this leads me to the boldest statement I’ll be making for the rest of this year. Okay . . . here it goes . . . deep breath . . . look the reader square in the eye . . .

This may very well be the best metal album of 2007, and I’m watching it climb the Everest that is my top albums of all time. There, I’ve put it in print even . . . “Over the Under” is one of the best metal albums of all time! It has everything you need to rock out. Good riffs? Uh huh. Singability? Yup. Dynamics? Yes sir. Attitude? Without question. Give yourself the gift that truly keeps on giving (all year long, Clark), and buy this album. Don’t let it pass you by and wonder ten years from now why you were never part of the movement. It’s just that good!

--Pope JTE

Buy here: Down - Over The Under

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Wild Magnolias - They Call Us Wild

The Wild Magnolias are the penultimate New Orleans Mardi Gras funk band, and I mean that literarly, as in Mardi Gras is their entire reason for being. Emerging from an African-American gang-land tradition that goes back decades, the Magnolias are one of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes, gangs of men that traded street brawling and crime for massive funk song contests and flamboyant Mardi Gras costumes. This black Indian culture, rooted in caribbean influence, was so pervasive through the wards of New Orleans in the seventies, even the City's first family of funk, the Neville Brothers had their own Tribe, the Wild Tchoupitoulas led by their uncle "Big Chief Jolly" Landry. Wearing their sequined coats and headdresses, these tribes would parade through the neighborhoods and wards, searching for other Mardi Gras Indian tribes to engage in an all out funk and roll battle.. The result is some of the most smoldering music to emerge from the Big Easy.

Recorded in1975, this reissue of They Call Us Wild is matched as a two-CD set with The Wild Magnolias, the debut album from 1973, and both discs are a rollicking good time of down home funk. A simmering stew of call and response chanting, gruff boasting vocals, deep rolling baselines, scat guitar and tons of caribo-african polyrhythms. The Magnolias lock onto a grove and don't let go. Imagine Parliament/Funkadelic dispatched from the outer reaches of space and plopped down face-first in the bayou, with as much zany flamboyance as George Clinton can muster, a hint of the barrio groove of War, and a smattering of early Meters bass thumping, and you'll begin to get a feeling for the way Big Chief Bo Dollis leads his Indians through their funk/caribbean pastiches.

Originals like "Handa Wanda," and "Two Way Pak E Way," set the pace with thundering funk bass hooks leading into an African-style call and response that is so mesmerizing it becomes hypontic. Calypso touches flitter across "Meet the Boys (on the Battlefield)," while the rolling funk version of the N.O. classic "When the Saints (come marching home) needs to be heard to be believed. Ol' Louis Armstrong never heard the song played like this before.

Admittedly, The Wild Magnolias would be best seen to be appreciated. With their tribal outfits and the outrageous flamboyance of Big Chief Bo leading a full band of percussionists, one can only imagine what they must be like, parading through the streets of New Orleans, pounding out the funk to the thousands of drunk and gyrating revelers. Still, this CD collection adequately brings their stomping good time back to the suburbs. Plug it in, turn it on, mix up a hurricane, grab your beads, let loose your ass and bring Fat Tuesday home. Amen. -- Racer X

Buy here: They Call Us Wild

Monday, November 19, 2007

Curve - Cuckoo

We travel back to the dark days of 1993 to look at Curve’s second full length release, Cuckoo, a dark, noisy, brilliant album.

Back when the electronic mash up of samples, noises and distortions were being assembled with something like the rock and metal vibe, something that Trent Reznor would pioneer, and Filter would take to extreme with Hey Man Nice Shot, Curve was releasing a series of small singles with some of the same intensity, but a cooler, more detached demeanor. Taking the training wheels off, they would release Doppleganger in 1990, with a stunning track in Fait Accompli to cap off a great first effort.

Cuckoo would follow up two years later. Toni Halliday, who suffered the handicap of being hot in a decidedly goth way, opens up the album with the lines “I had a heart but I buried it someplace/I had a brain but my body won the race”, perhaps in reaction to the someone in the brit music press memorably calling her a “nosferatu love kitten”, surely one of the great nicknames of all time. What Toni, I’m sure, thought was lost was that she was a confident vocalist with a strong presence who was more than just a pretty face.

Working with Alan Moulder, Garcia and Halliday would craft an album that is filled with deep throbbing bass lines, powerful guitars and interesting percussion, over which all of Toni applied her icy vocals. Curve understood the delicate balance of light and heavy that Nine Inch Nails did so well on their first album and then lost.

Was it Toni or Dean that wrote “There she is in the doghouse/she sure doesn’t’ know what she’s done wrong/still she lies in the doghouse/don’t think that she can carry on” on Crystal? Or the group chorus that sings for all angry abused lovers on All Of One “You told me I knew nothing at all/and I believed you”. Or the memorable couplets of Turkey Crossing “All my traits are charming/they live beyond their means/ you might consider that a failure/I’ve had it with you/you’ve had it with me.”

There was that moment in time in 92 or 93 when if you weren’t Nirvana (or a Blink 182 follow-up) then you were crushed under the weight of the single wave of grunge. Curve was too controlled, too icy, and too English at times to have ever reached the critical mass, despite the craft that they displayed. Now, almost 15 years on, we can listen Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, the 3rd track in, without completely cringing that they decided to lift that particular bit of pop culture for a title. Listen to Toni’s breathy deliver on the first part of the chorus, and you’ll find yourself hearing that in your head the next time you see the book in the remainder bin at Barnes and Noble.

Even the production works at high volume; indeed, the album makes use of the broader palette on CD to produce work that needs to be played in a large space with a good sound system. Cuckoo was on the jukebox at the Sophies, one of my favorite pool playing joints on 5th St. in New York, and I would program a couple of the tracks so that I could shoot combos to the rich drums of Superblaster, Missing Link or Left of Mother.

Curve would record other albums long after this one, but to me, this is the one that stands up as Toni and Dean are at the height of their creative powers. The balance is just right. Turn out the lights and turn up the music.

Below, a video from Missing Link from Cuckoo.

- The Fearless Rock Iguana

Buy here: Cuckoo

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Eric Hamilton – Dear Pia

So, a couple weeks ago, I’m sitting in traffic on my way to my 9 to 5 gig, when a random song pops up on my trusty iPod and the lyrics catch my attention, “ . . . instead of being stuck here with the cattle on the interstate”. After a quick glance at the screen, I notice that it’s Eric Hamilton’s If I Were a Cowboy, and I realize that I need to listen to this disc a little bit more. I remember buying the album, “Dear Pia” and I remember playing it a few times. But outside of the opening track, I didn’t remember much else about the disc. If someone had walked up to me and asked me if this album was good, I would have probably just nodded yes on Hamilton’s reputation alone, not on the actual contents of said disc. Kind of sounds like a bad sign, doesn’t it? Fear not, Loyal Ones, for I have spent many a day revisiting “Dear Pia” and embracing the musicianship of Eric Hamilton.

“Dear Pia” is an acoustically driven album that highlights Eric’s various styles. He can rock as hard as the next guy, but he brings a whole new sultry swagger to his blues-roots groove by way of his vocals. Honest vocals hit the nerves to the point that you too can feel his pain. Country-fried rock with little jazz flourishes here and there, perfectly timed bits of bluegrass, a pinch of Latin flair, some funk. He pulls it all off flawlessly.

The disc opens with a great jazzy-blues bit entitled, Nightlife of the Living Dead, which highlights his ability to create characters with lyric. He then lays down a groovin’ acoustic riff on I Don’t Mind that will inevitably have your feet moving. And, it goes on from there. Ebbing and flowing from mid-tempo, head bobbing tunes, to slow paced tearjerkers, ultimately wrapping up with an all out ho-down inspired ditty. By the time “Dear Pia” comes to an end, I find myself wondering, ‘Why the hell don’t I listen to this more?’

Though Eric Hamilton seems to adapt well to various musical styles, his strongest suit is the more mid tempo straight forward tunes. And, if he’s got the acoustic guitar going, boy . . . sit down! It doesn’t get much more emotional than that. Take a listen to So Tore Up With You and Another Shade of Blue and get back with me. It’ll bring back images of all those singer / songwriters from the ‘70’s that you love so much, just more edgy. It’s probably this aspect of his style that keeps me coming back for more. Honesty. He’s a musician who’s lived what he writes. He’s struggled with the typical industry issues . . . poor management, poor promotions, lack of support, etc. Yet, he’s still out there writing and recording, and it looks like he’s getting the necessary support from his label, Rawhide Records.

And, while Eric is out there living the musician’s life, I’ll continue sitting in traffic wishing I were him, and eventually writing reviews on the rest of his catalogue.--Pope JTE

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jen Trynin - Gun Shy Trigger Happy

The aura of the lost classic pop masterpiece is a hard one to describe. It gleams out at you from behind the counter of the CD store, jumps out at you from the stack on the floor of an ex-girlfriend’s bedroom, calls to you from a late night video binge of forgotten 120 Minutes recordings. Somewhere out there, is a lone voice calling from the past, and it informs your present in an eerily preciecent way.

Jen Trynin was signed to Warner Bros in the fall of 94, in the wave of rock’s “Girls with Balls” off the strength of her self distributed debut Cockamamie. When Cockamamie failed to hit, and Jen was out on the road having an ill-advised affair with her bassist, Alanis did hit, and Jen and Cockamamie were thrown under a bus.

With a little more experience, a ton of anger, and the ability to be scathingly honest in her couplets, Jen went into the studio and recorded Gun Shy Trigger Happy. With this, she staked her claim to great lost pop rock masterpiece.

Jen doesn’t mess with all the little fidgety guitar parts, playing her power chords with authority while singing soaring harmonies on top of a wall of sound. The opening cut, Go Ahead, explodes out of the speakers, the band at full volume with a chorus of Jens singing. “Go Ahead/I won’t be too far behind/kill the lights and I’ll try and keep my mind on you and my body in this bed”. The band doesn’t let her down, delivering with a ferocity that leaves you totally unprepared for the pop smarts and delicious harmonies of Februrary, which would hardly have sounded out of place coming from a small transistor radio on the beach back in 1969.

Writing Notes, is sparse and quiet, and we sink into the melancholy of the lyrics, “writing notes about being sorry driving out of town too drunk to see I miss who I used to be” over a sparse backbeat. There is Motown in the background vocals and a plaintive yearning in the lines “do you have anything to hide/don’t you have anything to hide?”

Working outside of the power trio format that she confined herself to on her first record, Jen expanded her sound, and she and Deneen worked to let each song find its own voice. Bore Me, leans on a heavy backbeat, with squirmy guitar flitting in and out of the production. Washington Hotel, lyrically plants her wants and needs front and center “I don’t know why I think that you could do anything for me/but I’d rather die thinking you can’t live without me/you can’t live without me” while sonically she’s channeling Led Zeppelin (Carouselambra-style Led Zeppelin). “I’d like to say it was great while it lasted/but I won’t lie/I’d like to think that it was you I was after/and not ask why” she opines on I Resign. The music swirls around the lyrics and creates a trance of sadness and regret.

Small wonder that she finally pens one in the third person on Around It. As Jen has written extensively about this time period, and the affair that prompted much of the lyrics on this record, it is clear that this is a brutal period of self assessment and critique. Putting a song finally on someone else must have been a relief.

Not surprisingly, Jen closes the 13 song cycle with a small quiet song, Rang You and Ran, that is simply a small, quiet story of one woman’s relationship admission: I’m not good at this and I don’t know why.

Jen Trynin’s story is that she is the least equipped person on the planet to deal with pop stardom. Her one other bit of sonic legacy is playing a mean, kick ass guitar on the one and only Loveless album, available on Q Division records from 2005. Gun Shy Trigger Happy is her one, shining bit of pop rock Valhalla. Rock on Jen.

--the fearless rock iguana

Buy here: Gun Shy Trigger Happy

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