Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with Big Neck Records

Continuing on with our journey into the darkened places that are the minds of independent record label chiefs.  Today we voyage into the punk and rocking world of one of our favorite underground labels, Big Neck Records.

How did you get started running an independent record label ?

I used to own a couple nightclubs in Buffalo, NY. Both of my bars had live music, from rock n roll to punk rock to heavy metal and even to hardcore, My club Sanctuary was completely a punk rock, heavy metal bar where a bunch of band members (friends of mine) actually worked for me. I’m a little fuzzy on the details due to the inebriated state I was in, but Aaron Aducci from the Blowtops, Jimmy Hollywood from the Baseball Furies, and Sean Garreau from the Jack Jimmy Hoodlums and I were out hitting bars around Buffalo and they kept starting this conversation that I should help them out by putting out their first records. Aaron kept screaming, “I’ve got the perfect name for the label, Big Neck Records, because of your big freaking neck!”

Next I knew I was out hundreds of dollars but held The Blowtops first single in my hands.

What motivated you? Did you tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?

It started out as a way to bring recognition to the local music scene and of course to help the bands get to that next level. Punk rock was pretty unheard of in Buffalo at that time. When I was in college it was the Goo Goo Dolls and The Wrench playing everywhere, but the Wrench broke up and the Goo Goo Dolls went to make millions on sweet love songs. Thus, at the time the punk rock scene had taken a nose dive. I was hoping my bars would create a crowd and a scene to go with the bands, but it was a struggle. We got there, but a little national recognition wouldn’t hurt thus, Big Neck was born. The first few records and first couple of years I went with a sound, but then as time went on it just came down to what I wanted to release and what I wanted to listen to.

Which was your first release?

Blowtops – Voodoo Alley 7”

Who's been your biggest selling artist to date?

The Lost Sounds, Jay Reatard is going gangbusters over there at Matador.

There's so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you've learned along the way.

Keep it on the cheap, do your taxes, and don’t ever go in debt for the label.

What's been your label's high point? Low point?

The highpoint was probably this Big Neck festival in Buffalo, the Baseball Furies new record, a great lineup, and the Furies came in and did the most amazing punk rock show I have ever seen. I mean at that point I was like, “thank God I know these guys.” Label recognition high point was probably a couple years ago, I had a job that allowed me to put a lot of time into the label, but lately with my new job, not much time for Big Neck. But, I am trying.

The low point was a bit ago, when I decided to try and release records that I knew would sell. It worked, but I didn't enjoy the bands or the label too much at that time. So, I decided to return to my old credo of releasing bands that I liked and to heck with everyone else.

Who would you like to work with, but haven't yet?

I think I have worked with everyone I have ever wanted. Of course there are bands out there that you are like, “damn if they were on my label, I could afford to quit my job”, but then it wouldn’t be the same label with its current integrity. Did I just say that? Integrity?

What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?

As we move to the future more and more music is going to be self published online. There is really going to be very little use for a record label except for marketing. Currently it’s so easy to press your own records and distribute them online no need for a label. I think we will see the major labels taking a bigger and bigger chunk of merchandising and capital from tours. I think it's funny when label owners get mad at free download sites like Soulseek. I think they are great. I tell everyone to download Big Neck's songs online. Most people who love music will buy the record anyway. If nothing else at least the band's will have people at their shows. Truthfully, that is why I am in this anyway. Help the bands out.

What are you doing to stay on top of new and emerging technology?

Currently, I am including download cards in with my vinyl. So, easy and so cheap. I actually get annoyed when I buy a record and there isn’t a download card. Boot up soulseek. When I have more time you will see digital versions of everything online everywhere. When I have more time.

What's the biggest challenge facing you today as an independent label?

Getting the distributors to pay you, most of them are very good, but some just take forever or never pay you. Other than that the U.S. Postal service is killing us with their rate hikes, especially overseas.

How is most of your product sold? Mail order? Web-based? At shows ? Is this changing?

Most of my product is sold via mail order. I have an eBay store and a store on Big Neck’s website. The distributors make up a rather large chunk, but my label wouldn’t survive without my online sales. When I was younger I would go to shows and sell records, but now I don’t get to hit as many shows, thus I just push the records on the bands to sell when they are touring.

Seems that the sound of the bands you sign keeps evolving. What do you look for in your bands?

What do I look for in bands? I look for music that I enjoy. Mostly anything with some great hooks. Look at HOLLYWOOD their demo stuck in my head for 2 weeks. I couldn’t stop singing “Girl”. Otherwise, I do have to say I am lucky as hell that everyone in every band on my label consists of great people. I mean, seriously I have met some real jerks in other bands, but everyone on my label is cool.

How do you find your artists?

When I lived in Buffalo, it was mainly Buffalo bands. Now a days, I find most of my artists by word of mouth from other bands on my label, but a good percentage from demo’s mailed to me. I love finding that unheard of band that has just a great sound. Great referrals were, The Mistreaters. The Blowtops just got back from a small tour when Aaron Aducci threw a tape at me and said, “we played we these guys in Wisconsin and we were really surprised that they didn’t suck.” Jimmy Hollywood was talking to Jay Reatard one day when Jay was telling him about this new band, The Lost Sounds, on the spot Jimmy said, “we (Big Neck) will press the whole thing.” Great examples of demos being sent in, Sweet J.A.P. Heard it once, sent a copy to Jimmy Hollywood and we both agreed, so I called up Hideo and said, “we will do whatever you want, it’s amazing!” HOLLYWOOD sent me a demo that I just couldn’t get any of the songs out of my head for weeks, so I finally had to release it. Tractor Sex Fatality’s demo was ridiculous, I think I listened to it for a month straight and then I remembered that I forgot to call the band and get them to do a record with Big Neck, luckily I think they scared everyone else away.

Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?

No, in fact I never used this approach. My judgment is usually skewed by beer. I do try and see most of my bands live before I press their record to make sure they are as great as I hope they would be.

Are you involved in all the creative decisions?

80% I would say. I leave most of the artwork up to the bands and I rely on a system of people who aid in my decision making, Aaron Aducci from Fatal Figures (ex-Blowtops, Suck, Backstabbers), Jimmy Hollywood (AV Murder, ex-Baseball Furies, Tyrades, White Savage), and a few other friends local to where I live.

What would you like to see happen for the future of the music industry and your label in particular?

Future of the music industry? No idea, but I would love to make enough money off my label to live on. In that manner I could do what I like for a living.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ripple News - Kiss Guitarist Bruce Kulick Releases New Album with Nick Simmons

Earlier this month, Legendary Kiss axeman Bruce Kulick released "Hand of the King," the first single from his 3rd solo LP, BK3, due on February 2nd.

The album features appearances by some of Bruce’s closest friends, including: KISS icon Gene Simmons and up-and-coming son Nick, longtime friend John Corabi (Mötley Crüe, Kulick’s own Union), Knack frontman Doug Fieger, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Edguy power metal stalwart Tobias Sammet and even current KISS drummer Eric Singer.

Hand of the King [streaming link]:


Friday, January 29, 2010

Them Crooked Vultures - S/T

Them Crooked VulturesBlood red and black the front cover on the CD would make an even better album cover: one to stare at over and over as you flip the vinyl getting stoned after school and engraving the head of the vulture into your Pee Chee notebook.  Put on the headphones and step into their world. Its Homme, Grohl and, yes, John Paul Jones deciding to kick out some jams for you to listen to.

It doesn’t try to blow you out of the water from the first track, which is what you might think of from a power trio comprised of those three, but this is a trio that doesn’t need to smash you upside the head from the word go. "Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I" opens with Grohl’s powerful backbeat and the underproduced sound of the band in the room. Drums front and center, JPJ on the left, and Homme on the right, the band sounds like they’ve just walked into the practice studio to knock a few out. Odd metered riff and Homme singing about a some hot sex. We’re all good until 2:44 in and they take the fucking gloves off. Grohl starts to hit them like he’s finally in John Bonham’s seat and JPJ brings the bottom end of the Hammer of the Gods.

i know how to burn with passion
hold nothing back for future ration
give all you are, do not make haste
savor every single taste
you get...cut

i know how beat control
do opposites of what you're told
quick to react, to break the box
turn on queue, as your cell door locks
behind you

Without the virtuoso guitar hero, Homme plays the rhythm and the textures and riffs, but doesn’t fill the space the way that Jimmy Page did , although his sloppy fills to start "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" bring to mind Pagey’s playing with Zeppelin live.  Gifted with one of the best choruses on the record is the classic line: Gimme a reason why a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Mindful of the history of power trio supergroups? Usually they tend to devoid of irony or any sense of history, but the Vultures are a little better than that. Here is one where you think that you died and wandered into classic rock heaven or a classic rock car crash. Homme nails the Cream falsetto and Clapton chord changes, Grohl absolutely kills with his Ginger Baker drumming, and JPJ tramples it all underfoot with the funkiest white boy keyboard playing since getting physical with his graffiti. Four minutes and 27 seconds that you won’t be able to turn off.

There are echoes of Cream and the Zeppelin as well on "Reptiles," the coked up tempo and quick sonic changes to the guitars and vocals duplicating the urgency of needing a quick fix. Is that a little Ziggy Stardust mixed it? Grohl’s powerhouse drumming allows JPJ to lock in with him the same way that he did with Bonham: both can keep the train a rollin’ while adding textures and fills that elevate the rhythm way above ordinary. It couldn’t tell you a damn bit of what "Reptiles" is about  and I could care less. Just that at high volume the song leaves you exhausted. "Elephant" offers some of the same sensibility, and bashing riff fest that pounds you a mere two minutes into the song. You weren’t coming here for power ballads were you? You knew that, right? (The break in "Elephants" sounds like Homme has been at the Alice in Chains collection by the way)

There is almost no concession to pop sensibility here. The band is ready to rock and rock their way, fuck the rest of you. Homme, the least decorated of the three is also in the drivers seat as the voice and guitar of the group, but its clear in the song structures and playing that Grohl and JPJ have their say. The powerhouse drumming/ bass guitar lock in on Reptiles and the breakdown/bridge section of "New Fang" both have elements of classic Nirvana and Zeppelin that its obvious to hear.

One thing that these musicians know is tension, and "Dead End Friends" carries a foreboding and menace that is missing from so many songs. Homme’s delivery is perfect, his guitar panned both far right and far left and for the first time there are both elements of the Seattle minor chord structure mixing with the 70’s classic rock. Grohl is playing all over his kit by the end and it sounds like old skool Nirvana without Kurt losing it up front.

Gunman funks up their guitar line, but to what effect? You have the loudest and one of the heaviest rhythm sections playing behind you and its like standing in front of a sonic locomotive. The guitar plays a distant second here, while its spacey vocals carry the melody line and a fuzzy narrative. The chorus is practically a moment with a stoned Keith Relf from the late period Yardbirds. Do I see lava lamps on stage? Oh yes I do.

There are at least two tracks, "Warsaw" and "Interlude with Ludes" that could and would have been left out had this been committed to vinyl, and neither add anything new. The closing track, "Spinning In Daffodils," topping 7 minutes lays bare their past and their present: from the gentle guitar to open the song, to a powerful driving middle that takes less prisoners that early Iron Maiden to a breakdown at then end that turns the band into minstrels passing through the studio, it is a study in exhausting every ounce of energy out of both the listener and the musician alike. Even as the guitar fades out towards the end, JPJ gets of two quick bass fills that would be beyond most ordinary mortals, much less 6:45 into the song.

These Vultures mean business, and whether it’s a one off or there will be other Vultures albums, makes no difference here. They rock hard, do it on their own terms and leave few entrails in their wake. Pick it up, spin it, see them live if you can. Its quite a merging of past, present and future.

- the stunned rock iguana

Buy here: Them Crooked Vultures


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ripple Theater - Featuring Thin Lizzy and ZZ Top

Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready?: Live At RockpalastClassic rock fans everywhere are rejoicing over the release of these 2 DVD’s. Who doesn’t want to see more Thin Lizzy and ZZ Top concerts? Especially when they’re from eras of the band that haven’t been documented to death already.

Thin Lizzy’s Are You Ready?: Live At Rockpalast DVD captures a concert filmed for the German music program on the 1981 tour. This is an interesting period of the band because it features Snowy White on guitar alongside Scott Gorham. Snowy was an unusual choice, his previous gig had been on Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour. His style is much less fiery than Gary Moore or Brian Robertson but his playing is very bluesy and fits in well with Scott. Darren Wharton on keyboards had also joined the band full time to help recreate some of the parts on the Chinatown album. Brian Downey is the drummer and, of course, Phil Lynott is front and center as bassist and vocalist.

The first thing everyone wants to know is how this compares with the Live & Dangerous DVD that catches the classic line up on the 1977 tour. Are You Ready is nowhere near as good as that performance but is still worth picking up. For one thing, the 1981 set list is very different. They play great versions of all the old classics like “Suicide,” “Emerald,” “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back In Town” but it’s great to be able to watch them crank out “Chinatown,” “Black Rose” and "Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)" when they were still relatively new songs. The version of “Got To Give It Up” is very emotional since Phil and Scott were pretty bad junkies at this point. The first encore is a song called “Disaster” that was later retitled “Angel Of Death” with different lyrics for the Renegade album. Another interesting aspect of this show is the way they look. The satin pants and frilly shirts of the 1970’s have been replaced with leather, spikes and spandex. Phil, especially, looks like he borrowed his wardrobe from Judas Priest after the British Steel tour. Snowy White, as usual, dresses like a poor man’s Eric Clapton in sensible attire.

The sound quality of the DVD is a bit muffled at times and occasionally the video gets a bit wavy, but it looks better than the crappy bootleg VHS tapes that have been floating around for years. And at a list price of $11.98 you have no excuse not to pick it up.

Double Down LiveZZ Top also filmed a concert for Rockpalast in 1980 at a festival where they went on at 4 in the morning. You certainly can’t tell from the band’s kick ass performance and the crowd’s rowdy response. This show is the big selling point for the 2DVD set Double Down Live. ZZ Top was on tour supporting their 1979 album Degüello after taking a few years off from the road and the studio. This is the beginning of the giant beard era that has continued to this day.

Disc 1 is titled “Definitely Then” and the band blasts through 22 songs in about 95 minutes and the energy level never drops. ZZ Top’s pre-Eliminator albums are revered by musicians, producers and engineers for their incredible sound but live the band sounds even better. These guys like to play loud, but the sound is clear and they blast one song after another barely pausing for breath. They play most of the Degüello album including “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” “Cheap Sunglasses” and the Frank Zappa influenced “Manic Mechanic.” The rest of the set contains all the usual barn stormers – “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers,” “Heard It On The X,” “Tush,” “Just Got Paid,” “La Grange,” etc. Killer show from start to finish with great sound and visuals.

Disc 2 is called “Almost Now” and catches the band 28 years later and still sounding good. The show is a little shorter, there’s less jumping around, the voices are a little deeper but the boogie remains strong. Last year the band released the Live in Texas DVD documenting the 2007 tour and there’s very little duplication between that show and this one. The only problem with the “Almost Now” disc is that it was filmed with only 1 camera and there’s a lot of herky jerky editing between different performances. Maybe the director wanted it to look like a youtube bootleg or something. The quality is good but all the jump cuts wear thin after a few songs. There are also some interviews and backstage footage in between ever song. Personally I’d rather watch the entire show uninterrupted.  Still, it’s hard to argue with great performances like “Blue Jean Blues” and a great cover of “Hey Joe.”

If you have any interest in either of these bands do yourself a favor and get these. Invite your buddies over, get sloppy drunk and rock out!


Buy here: Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready?: Live At Rockpalast
Buy here: Double Down Live

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Field Report: Metal As Art Tour

This tour started a few weeks back on the East Coast of these great United States, January 6th at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, New York to be exact. And after weaving and winding across damn near every state between here and there, facing the typical road woes like inclement weather and broken down vehicles, the Metal As Art Tour, made up of Hypno5e, Revocation, and The Binary Code, made its way across the state line of California, where these road warriors were hoping to see some of the typical weather that makes California the envy of the rest of the country. Alas, our heroes weathered out a blizzard in New Mexico to wind up in the worst rain storm that California had seen in easily a century. Flooding, mud slides, freeway closures, hail storms . . . yeah; none of this was what these minstrels of destruction had in mind when they set out from the underground clubs of the East Coast. But to ask these guys, they don’t really care either. It’s all about setting foot on the stage and regaling the masses with their musical prowess. These musicians get up every morning; shake out the cobwebs from the previous night’s throw down, and move on to the next town just to do it all over again. It’s a lifestyle folks, a lifestyle not one for the weak and far from the glamorous one that so many people think that traveling musicians have. The road can suck, but these guys wouldn’t have it any other way because they realize that the magic is purely in the music . . . in the composition of the music, in the recording of the music, and in the performance of the music. The bands that make up the Metal As Art Tour encompass this ideal like none other and their camaraderie and support for one another stirs some nostalgic emotion.

As I watched the rain pour down for the fifth straight day, truthfully, I was hesitant on removing myself from the comfy confines of my warm house and ever so soft couch (I swear, this couch will suck every ounce of motivation from the body). But I also recognized that it’s this same mental attitude and laziness that has proven to be such a detriment to the hardworking musicians. These guys needed my support, so by gum, I donned my warmest sweatshirt, my most weather retardant boots, and some headgear to keep the locks from frizzing out of control, and made my way up and down the dark and winding mountain trail to the Ramona Mainstage. Let me start out by saying that this club, which was completely new to me, stood out in contrast to the sleepy one horse town of Ramona. The neon façade of the old town theater was lit up like a Christmas tree and a small group of kids clad in their best black duds were milling about the front of the place. The interior of the theater was surprisingly clean and has a modern air to it. The sound was great, it has a pretty good sized stage, nice lighting, and booths on either wall to maximize the comfort (or recovery) of the clubs patrons. But, maybe most importantly, the staff was accommodating, courteous, and polite (beer prices weren’t outrageous like some of the bigger clubs), so I’m definitely more rearin’ to head out to this place when bands like Sprung Monkey (Feb. 5th) and DRI (sometime in fall) drop in on this place.

I was excited about seeing The Binary Code ever since I saw video clips of them on the Metal Sucks web site, and let me tell you, seeing video footage does the band no justice. The live performance from the New Jersey progressive post-something or other metallic outfit was like watching an aerial trapeze without a net. I held my breath as the band powered through a good five or six tunes of frenzied music that made me think, these guys have more in common with free form jazz musicians than your typical metal musicians. As I sat back, doing my best to bob in time with the off time rhythms and disjointed breaks, I found myself mesmerized by the fret fingers dancing all over the necks of the guitars, in particular, those of bassist Brett Bamberger. I first fell in love with this guys talents when I stumbled on East of the Wall and to watch this guy hammer away on the instrument was the musical equivalent of watching the Grand Canyon being formed (ever see that thing? So much more than just a colorful hole in the ground!) That’s not to take anything away from the rest of the band. To combine the blistering fast beats with the odd time riffs, and then the exceptional stage presence was something to witness. Hell, I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time and here these guys are running all over the damn place playing some of the most technically intense music in the world. The Binary Code, as a unit, is one of the most musically precise, yet sonically brutal bands that I’ve had the pleasure in watching.

After a short break down of gear, the Relapse Records artist Revocation hopped up on stage and sheered my face off. Up to this point, I had only heard short snippets from the band and gotta’ say, I was overwhelmed with joy. Upon hearing their opening song, I was converted to all that is Revocation. This band was an absolute thrill ride. Much like The Binary Code executed riffs with equal parts precision and brutality, Revocation did the same thing but with a little more groove and melody. This was definitely the most surprising element of the show, and in a lot of ways, the most pleasing. The two guitarists and bassist all shared in some of the vocal duties, which were very guttural. I honestly had no idea what any of the names of the songs were, I have no ideas what the subject matter of the songs is about, and I couldn’t have cared less. The music was filled with so much damn energy! I suddenly felt like I was fifteen years younger. By the time their set was complete, my cheeks were sore from the frozen smile on my face, and I knew that my next music purchase was going to be their album, Existence is Futile.

To wrap up the night, the band that I had been waiting almost a year to see, Hypno5e made their mysterious way onto the stage. Enshrouded in a constant cloud of smoke, the four members of this French outfit performed a metallic epic of a show. I was instantly captivated by the imagery of the silhouettes, like haunting specters, weaving in and out of the hazy arena, and how absolute their execution was of the songs from their last album, Des Deux L’une Est L’autre. The band, didn’t bother interacting with the crowd, there was no in between song banter, there were no song introductions. Hypno5e didn’t so much put on a rock show as they did a visual performance set to some of the most intricate and precise extreme music on the planet. And, though I’ve listened to their album about a million times, I had forgotten how heavy they really are. This performance seemed to highlight just how heavy the band can be despite the softer and more delicate musical interludes. I’m not certain on the total amount of songs that they played, possibly only four, but when one takes into consideration that each song is around eight or nine minutes in length, it’s instantly apparent that time constraints can become an issue. The performance of “Daybreak at Slaughter-House” was enough to make me shake my head and think, that’s all I needed. Such an amazing song in composition, to actually watch the band play it . . . shit, I was in heaven.

Metal fans, music fans . . . get out there and see all three of these bands do their thing. You won’t be sorry. You’ll probably pick up a few ideas as you watch a group of the genres best musicians re-invent metal. Hell, I watched a few kids this night standing on the fringes with their mouths wide open in awe, then exchange looks with their friends and mouth that they needed to play music like that. Warming moment? Yes, because you could see the effect of these musicians efforts being taken to heart by fellow musicians, and hopefully further running with these musical ideas and creating a whole new music. Art is meant to express the artist’s emotions and, in doing so, it inspires others to create in their own way, in their own medium, and with their own voice. Music has done that for The Ripple Effect over the years, and watching these three bands throw their emotions all over the inside of the Ramona Mainstage on this cold and dreary night, I would have to think that they’ve inspired others to express themselves as well. What these musicians are doing is a beautiful thing. Do yourself a favor and check them out. - Pope JTE

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ripple News - Hope For Haiti Now an Unabashed Success - Download now on iTunes and Amazon

Don't know how many of you waveriders saw it live, but Hope for Haiti Now was a moving, respectfully done benefit show, that for the most part (more on that later) beautifully put the cause before the music, while still delivering some stunning musical performances.

Not being big fans of these sorts of shows, where artists get all "touchy and concerned" while in reality looking to do little more than boost their own careers, Hope For Haiti Now was a pleasant surprise.  From the somber, reverential format of the performances, devoid of any applause or showboating, to the seamless production of orchestrating multiple performances from many different cities, interlaced with truly moving actor monologues on the suffering and devastation in the country, Hope For Haiti Now was a clear step above the normal Hollywood benefit drivel.  By all measures it was a beautiful, heart-felt, somber success.

As a music site, we're more concerned with the actual musical performances than the names of the stars performing, but almost to a "T" the stars didn't let us down.  Justin Timberlake and Charlie Sexton's breathless performance of "Hallelujah" was without a doubt one of the show's most heartwrenching, stellar moments, as were Coldplay's "Message 2010," and the very ragged Bruce Springsteen "We Shall Overcome."  Mary J. Blige gave an inspired performance of  "Hard Times Come Again No More," and Stevie Wonder's version of  "Bridge Over Troubled Water," was immaculate, as was Beyonce's stripped down "Halo."   Sheryl Crow with Kid Rock and Keith Urban doing "Lean On Me," was near perfect, and Taylor Swift demonstrated why she's a rising star with "Breathless," showing class and maturity way beyond her years.

In fact, the entire show was one of amazing, dignified class, with only one glaring exception.  Rihanna clearly never got the memo that the show was about shinning a light on a suffering nation, as she proceeded to do everything she could to draw the world's attention to herself; from her glaring, way-too-short-and-totally-inappropriate dress to her massive gold hoop earings and horrible stage posturing.  Even Bono clearly felt uncomfortable with her next to him, often trying desperately to reach out and find a moment's humanity inside her, to no success.  Fortunately, this embarrassment will be lost with the download of the song, as there will be no video.

It is a sign of what the new form of music distribution can do that the performances from Friday night's Hope For Haiti Now concert could be purchased on line the next day.  The digital-only album has all 19 performances from the benefit along with a studio version of  "Stranded."   The entire show can be purchased on iTunes or Amazon for the amazingly low price of $7.99, with proceeds going to the Haiti relief charities.  As a charitable act, it's almost impossible to justify not buying this album, but as a music lover, you'll find much here to love and treasure, reflect upon and cherish.

Track List:

    * Send Me An Angel - Alicia Keys
    * A Message 2010 - Coldplay
    * We Shall Overcome - Bruce Springsteen
    * Time to Love/Bridge Over Troubled Water - Stevie Wonder
    * I'll Stand By You - Shakira with the Roots
    * Motherless Child - John Legend
    * Hard Times Come Again No More - Mary J. Blige with the Roots
    * Breathless - Taylor Swift
    * Lift Me Up - Christina Aguilera
    * Driven to Tears - Sting
    * Halo - Beyonce with Chris Martin on piano
    * Lean on Me - Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow & Kid Rock
    * Like a Prayer - Madonna
    * Hallelujah - Justin Timberlake with Charlie Sexton
    * Let it Be - Jennifer Hudson with the Roots
    * Many Rivers to Cross - Emeline Michael
    * Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour) - Jay-Z, Rihanna, Bono, the Edge
    * Alone and Forsaken - Neil Young and Dave Mathews
    * Rivers of Babylon/Yele - Wyclef Jean
    * Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour) - Jay-Z, Rihanna, Bono, the Edge (Studio Version)

Buy Here: Hope For Haiti Now

Monday, January 25, 2010

Melodic Rock Update - Featuring Bridge of Sighs, Believe, and Ivory Tower Project

Writing about one of my favorite bands of the late -70's, Axe, whet my appetite to see what was happening today in the world of melodic rock.  Now, like some waveriders, that whole concept of "melodic rock," makes my skin crawl, conjuring up ear-wincing images of Europe or Bad English.  But that's just one end of the spectrum.  Melodic Rock, when done well, can be powerful and dynamic, emotive and moving, while at the same time, pop smart and smooth.

As with any genre, there are tons of talented musicians, creating and performing music that's passionate and intense, full of their life's energy and passion.  So today, we're gonna turn the spotlight on three of these like-minded bands.

Angry CloudsBridge of Sighs - Angry Clouds

What began as a Robin Trower revival band, took on a life of its own when the power trio of bassist/vocalist Trent Stroh, drummer Mike Taylor, and electric-fingered guitarist Tom Neely left the Trower fold to create their own music.  And man, I for one am glad they did!  Bridge of Sighs is that rarest of bands, one that sets itself so firmly in its own day and space that it turns a completely blind eye to the musical world around it, allowing this dynamite power-trio to explore their heavy rocking muse in total freedom.

Now to say they turned a blind eye to the world of Trower is a massive misstatement.  Trower still lives and breathes in this album, in every searing, intensely sustained guitar note.  I hear tons of Bridge of Sighs to In City Dreams-era Trower, with open, expansive compositions, all given plenty of room to breathe and to rock.  And believe me, that comment isn't a criticism.  It's a handy compliment.  Very few bands are making music like this any more, breathy and airy, yet completely sizzling hard rock.  Trent Stroh is a damn fine vocalist, his tenor stunningly expressive, weighted with enough passion to carry the weight of the album while Neely simply looses his mind on guitar.  Notes bend and soar, snake and slither, fire and flare across the album, all with perfect intent.  There's no mindless noodling here, no proggy-guitarabation, just purely focused, soulful, definitely Trower-esque guitar, and it's a thing of beauty.

"Sweet Thing," encapsulates everything that awaits you with this disc in just the first few moments.  The opening guitar is so sultry it positively sweats.  From that moment, the beat breaks down leading us into Stroh's perfect voice while the guitar twists and wails subtlety in and out of the melody.   Taylor doesn't overplay the drums, adding enough touch and finesse to move the song along, power when it needs it, and restraint when it serves the song best.  There's also a serious melody here, a big seventies rock melody that should've been belted out of every coliseum rock festival to a happily stoned crowd.

And in no way is "Sweet Thing," the only strong cut on the album.  In fact, I can't find a weak one.  "Crucified," ups the metallic intensity with it's piledriving bass and riff madness.  "Freedom's Stain," brings some gentle acoustics into the mix, without ever losing its power or drive or metallic menace all the way to its big, lighter-waving, crowd-pleaser of a chorus.   "Angry Clouds," jaunts along with a vague "western from hell" vibe, riding over a twisted Outlaws-minded riff through its freaking infectious melody.  "Mojito" tosses some impeccable Spanish flair into the mix, rocking out like an outtake from a Jeff Beck gets lost in Mexico recoding session, and the big kahuna himself, Trower, makes his presence felt in the excellent cover of the simply rocking "Day of the Eagle."

In truth, this disc took me by surprise, becoming more addicting with each listen.  Fans of Trower don't want to miss this. Or fans of fine 70's-inspired rock, for that matter.  Or simply fans of good music.

 buy here: Angry Clouds

This Bread Is Mine (Ltd. Digipak)Believe - This Bread is Mine

A bitterly cold wind whips down a darkened and desolate street, shimmering reflections in the near-frozen puddles in the concrete.  Chilled to the bone, a lone man flips the collar of his raincoat up against his neck, trying to block out the wind.  His breath escapes in frosty plumes as he digs his hands deeper into his pockets, shrugs his shoulders against the cold and walks on.

Not being familiar with Believe's prior two albums, I carry none of the resistance that some reviewers seem to feel over the arrival of new vocalist Karol Wroblewski, nor do I have any comparisons to make to the harder edge of Believe's earlier work.  Instead, what I'm left with is a profoundly evocative, deeply melancholic, densely atmospheric unfolding of songs of loss and emptiness.  Rich in melody, and deep in texture and tone, This Bread is Mine finds a comfortable place in the developing world of neo-prog, falling into place alongside the work of their Polish countrymen, Riverside or the mellower moments of Porcupine Tree.  Karol's voice is understated, cooly impassioned, nearly whispered even as it breaks into an emotive register.  Adding to the overall density of the album, the guitars are muted, seemingly hushed, as if playing them too loud would disrupt the solitude of that wind-blown street.

The opening track, "The Years," sets the tone with its flickering acoustic guitars, atmospheric keys, and Karol's whispered lyrics.  Contrary to what many might think, you don't have to yell or scream to convey emotion, and the emptiness and isolation in Karol's delivery make this abundantly clear.  Despondency reigns in the depth of his baritone.  Pain resides in the space of his whisper.  "Tales from Under the Tree," takes that pain and ramps it up another degree, adding in an intro of distant echoing guitar before the rock rains down.  "Mirek Gil brings on some of his more fierce guitar work, driving the song forward on an initial frenzy while Karol wails in the background, providing his most impassioned singing on the album.    This song also marks the first true appearance of Satomi's violin, used to profound effect in creating mood and texture.  "Mother" is simply a song of intense melodic beauty, while "And All the Roads," manages to be breathy and dense at the same moment.  Dynamics reign through these songs, through the time changes, the impeccable playing and the gorgeously dark melody.

This Bread is Mine, is an album of understated beauty and ambiance.  A weighty album of soaring guitars and melodies, yet burdened with the pain of a devastated heart and a life devoid of hope.  An album that manages to find the beauty in the darkest of times, the lightness in the heaviest of hearts.   An intensely evocative album, deep in atmosphere.  An album that completely brings to mind a certain place, and time.

And still, that cold wind blows . . . 

Buy here: This Bread Is Mine (Ltd. Digipak)

Ivory Tower Project - Red Hot

Like stepping back in the professor's Way Back Machine, the Ivory Tower Project bring a love for all that was big and poppy from the eighties rock world to their debut disc, Red Hot.  Listening to this album immediately brings to mind such classic melodic rock bands as Journey, gobs of Survivor, and yes, even a little bit of Axe.  If the mention of those bands gets your salivary glands to start working then read on, because what Ivory Tower Project does with their influences places this disc handsomely right next door.  Clearly infused with a love of classic, immaculately produced and performed rock, Ivory Tower Project bring a passion to their craft of big, glossy hooks, soaring vocals, and massive, massive melodies.

The name Ivory Tower Projects refers to a safe place where one is mentally withdrawn from reality, and that seems to capture these guys mindset perfectly.  Forget the tsunami ravaging the music industry, rock is a place where these cats go to escape from the doldrums of their everyday world.  And in the Ivory Tower universe, that escape means jumping on the mothership Jefferson Starship to the planet Toto and rocking out to their fullest intent.  While this disc may not appeal to all hard rockers out there, the boys sell it rather effortlessly with stellar performances of oceans of synths, pulsating bass lines, and Mark Regula's effortless vocals.  "My Name," is the number one standout track here and encapsulates everything the cats represent.  Churning keys bring us in gently in a Supertramp-like surrey.  Percolating bass punctuates the action while Regula takes over with his soaring, Marty Balin-esqe tenor.  Cool melodies and a driving beat make this one a winner.

"Burning" brings on the Survivor in every sense of the word, rocking out as if the nineties had never happened with it's layered guitars, shimmery bright production and huge, soaring chorus.   Actually, I never cared for Survivor much, but find this song to be a melodic rock gem.  "Gotcha," loses itself in an ever-expanding universe of synths, reminding me of such '80's bands as Real Life, before "Way To Late," stampedes out next, sounding like the designated theme song to some Rocky movie not yet made.  Again, a passionate vocal and crisp production make this song vibrate with energy.

The second half of the album slows down a bit in my view, dropping in a few too many ballads to keep the energy free flowing, and mixing up styles more than the boys should, but nevertheless, Ivory Tower Project have created a nice debut that any fans of Frontier Records or addicts of classic, melodic rock should suck down like water after a trip through the desert.

Buy here: Red Hot

Believe - This Bread is Mine

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with The Atlas Moth

Catapulting itself into the number 2 spot on Pope’s year end best of list, the Candlelight Records debut from The Atlas Moth, A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, became so revered that two copies of the blue vinyl disc have made their way into the Ripple collection. But the real question becomes, why is it so revered? Is it really that good? The short answer is yes. For more details, we lured Stavros (guitarist/vocalist) to spend a few minutes on the red leather interview couch. Sit back and find out what The Atlas Moth tick.

The music on A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky is equally brutal as it is beautiful, as song writers, how did you know where to incorporate more brutality or to add a line of melody to create such elegant texture? Is it just a feeling, or is there a loose formulaic structure that you use?

Our writing process is very organic. Usually one of us has a riff and brings it into rehearsal and we just jam from there. Very little is predetermined, and we all pretty much write all our own parts, that is just what happens when all of us get into a room and play.

When you write a piece of music, do you consciously write from the mind set of being different than what's out there now?

We don't ever set out to sound like anything. Like I said, everything is very organic and felt out through repetition during rehearsals. There is not much thought put into what we are going to sound like although, there is a lot of scrutiny over an end product. We tear apart songs and start over and rewrite sometimes until we are happy with them but there isn't a constant thought of trying to be different, this is just what we sound like.

When I reviewed A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, I described your music as the best horror movie that I’ve ever listened to. Was I supposed to be scared or was simply jumping at shadows? What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

We want the listener to feel something. We would rather have someone absolutely hate us than not feel anything when listening to us. Andrew was the guy who did all the interludes and locked himself in the studio during mixing and brought all of that to life for us. This record encapsulates a period of time for each of us personally and as well as a band and I think that comes across and what you're feeling is just what we were going through making that record. How each of us was feeling throughout.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

At the risk of sounding cheesy, life in general. I get inspired but reading a book, watching a movie, hearing something doesn't matter.

What piece of your music are you particularly proud of?

"...Leads To A Lifetime on Mercury." That was the last song written and is by far my favorite. I feel that song currently sums up what The Atlas Moth is.

The business of music can be brutal. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Well we are still sorta in a transition stage as a band. I have been touring for so long, even before this band, that being broke and on the road isn't really anything new. We are just gonna keep doing what we have always done. We have a pretty busy 2010 touring schedule planned and we're gonna keep busy writing a new record. We love playing in this band and we are all such close friends. As long as this is fun, it’s really easy to remain motivated regardless of people downloading your music. I download music but I also buy stuff that strikes a particular chord and that's what I hope we do for people.

Who are some of the more obscure artists that may have influenced your sound?

I don't really know how to judge obscure as there are a lot of bands I think everyone knows about but I then find out it's not the case. I will say Envy and The Angelic Process.

Anyone who has spent more than a couple of minutes in the music business has had a Spinal Tap moment or two. What’s one of your great Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

We were given an address of a punk house on tour that we could crash at. These, although appreciated and awfully convenient, are usually some of the nastiest places on earth to crash but it’s always welcomed. We pull up to the address, see a dude that was at the show outside and decide to park. Andrew, Tony, our tour manager Joe, and myself walk into this house and it’s not gross at all. Totally shocked, we all started getting comfortable, people are using washrooms and looking through fridges. I go as far as to get ready to pass out on the couch. At this point, Andrew felt as though he should go out to the bonfire in the back and let the people who supposedly live there know we are crashing in the living room. Next thing I know, Andrew is busting through the front door yelling "WRONG HOUSE! LET'S GO!" Apparently the address we had was a number off and we were supposed to be staying in the rat infested shit hole next door. Duh.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

Vinyl hands down. I dig actively listening to music.

We, at The Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to visit?

Well as far as metal goes, Metal Haven is the way to go. Vinyl, CDs, Shirts...they have every obscure metal band you have never heard of. As far as everything else goes, Reckless Records has a few different locations that are all excellent.

Any words of wisdom for the Waveriders (our readers?)

"If your bitch is in my shit, then its your bitch you check" - Dr. Dre....Words to live by, friends.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ripple News - Static Summer - "She's Not a Lover" free download

If there's one thing we love to do here at Ripple Central, is to giveaway free music, all with the intent of helping the bands out, spreading the word.

With that in mind, we were damn excited when we were contacted by the people handling Static Summer, asking us to host a free stream of the band's new single.  All gussied up and ready for your consumption.

For those of you who don't know the band, Static Summer is an alternative rock act from the New York City area who write timeless hard driving songs with huge hooks to go along with there edgy guitar lines & dynamic rhythm section. Their influences include everything from The Cure and Helmet to Duran Duran  and The Foo Fighters.

Check em out: 


Friday, January 22, 2010

Slayer - Diabolus In Musica

Woody inspired me with his review of the new Slayer album, and though it didn’t excite me the same way it did Woody, it still made me think that I, well . . . all of us at Ripple, owe Slayer a debt of gratitude. It was the music of Slayer, after all, that reaffirmed my love for all things metal and compelled me to approach Racer, way back in the day, and propose doing a music review fan zine. Much like our brother, Woody, I’ve been listening to Slayer since I was a wee lad . . . Haunting the Chapel was the first bit I heard from these guys. I remember sitting in a recliner as the neighborhood toughie that all us kids really wanted to be like dropped the needle on the record and I heard Tom Araya screaming out lyrics about the holy cross being the symbol of lies and crucifying the lives of Christian born. On one side, I completely freaked. Never had I heard such blasphemous words spoken. Then the other half reared its ugly head and I ran home, tore all of my Motley Crue pictures from my bedroom wall, and discovered the world of extreme metal.

Now, extreme metal is my sound of choice. It’s not an uncommon site to find me brandishing my battle axe to the subtle sounds of Bolt Thrower, or scrapping the barnacles from the hull of my Viking ship to the warring chants of Amon Amarth, or trekking through the barren deserts of Egypt to the haunting throes of Nile. But none of these scenarios would be possible without the diabolical devastation brought forth by Slayer. The band has become an institution. Hell Awaits opened the gates. Reign in Blood instantly became a classic. Seasons in the Abyss made them legends. Diabolus in Musica . . . did I just hear a needle go tragically scratching across the face of some vinyl? Yes, Diabolus in Musica is the Slayer album that reaffirmed to me that the band was still vital to heavy metal. I’m sure the die-hard Slayer fans never felt that they lost a step, but y’see, I did. I began to lose interest in the band around the time of Seasons because I started to feel that they’d been there and done that. Diabolus changed that for me.

I remember that I was immediately sold on this one when the band breaks into the opening track, “Bitter Peace.” The tune kicks off with a huge intro, very reminiscent of the Slayer I grew up with . . . heavy, intricate, ominous . . . all wrapped up into one bubbling and bristling ball of energy. Once that intro rolls away at the wrists of Paul Bostaph, the riff that blasts through the speakers takes me back, way back, to the time I first heard “Angel of Death.” It was as if I was hearing Slayer for the first time. It sounded fresh, while retaining that element of familiarity. Then, the absolute high speed chaos assails the senses. Notes played at the speed of light, bass and snare drums popping and snapping, Tom Araya’s sinister vocals penetrating through the musical din, all conveying a crystal clear message that war is more than the television programs most Americans are used to watching. What I found most compelling about this track was how the band used dynamic shifts in tempo to drive this nitroglycerin truck through a block wall. They slow down the tempo at just the right time for maximum effect, and if that groove doesn’t get the body swaying in time, then there’s just no hope for the masses.

“Love to Hate” gave me new found respect for Slayer. Jeff Hanneman penned a dandy with this one as he incorporates some great elements that takes the traditional Slayer sound and adds some new wrinkles. Yeah, it’s still heavier than all get out, but what makes this track stand out is the up strokes on the guitar strings, creating an eerie, higher pitched shimmer that contrasts with the imposing low end groove. This little effect gives the song so much more character than if they had just plowed through the tune in their standard get-the-fuck-out-of-the-way approach. Also, check out the little break they throw in during the second verse. It kind of comes out of nowhere and harkens back to the classic creepy Slayer sound, but again, a nice dynamic shift that keeps the song from being pedantic. The groove to “Love to Hate” is powerful, just showing that this band doesn’t need to kick down 280bpm to deliver a hearty ass kicking.

Every song gets me moving on this album . . . “Stain of Mind,” “Perversions of Pain,” “In the Name of God,” all solid songs that encompass the Slayer attitude and sound. But it’s the album closer, “Point,” that acts as the cherry on top of this sundae, bloody sundae. Musically, much like the rest of the album, the band throw in some fresh ideas that help make the Slayer sound less one dimensional. Some Slayer fans don’t want that . . . I get it. But it’s my band, too, and I want to hear a little more diversity. Check out the killer riff at the thirty second mark . . . brutally heavy! Then, it’s all about the chaos of double bass drums and uber-fast drums beats, guitar riffs, and lyrics that depict more horrifying images of war. It’s actually the lyrics that captured my attention the most with this one as they vibrantly describe the fear of war, not just that there’s bloodshed and body counts, but the actual psychological trauma of coming under fire and having to face one’s own mortality. At one point, I can see with my mind’s eye, dew drops forming on the leaves of trees in a rain forest somewhere in Southeast Asia . . . movement in the foliage and feeling the eyes of the enemy on me . . . the soft squishing of my boots in the mud and the persistent buzz of mosquitoes in my ear . . . oh, that was a bullet whizzing by my head? Shit. I’m dead.

No doubt about it. Slayer is one of the finest metal bands of all time because they capture so many different elements in their music. There’s the speed, there’s the heaviness, there’s the creativity and vision, there’s the imagery and intelligence of the lyrical conveyance, and there’s the attitude. I read recently that Kerry King wasn’t a fan of this album because they were doing weird things in the music, but those are the exact reasons that this album is so important to me. Innovative ideas and approaches to playing made Slayer relevant again. My imagination and emotions were lit on fire for a second time in my life. I’ve heard some Slayer fans vilify this album, but they never explained why. I don’t hear it. I hear a band that has that same punk rock attitude and brutal metallic energy that they always had . . . they just created interesting nuances that will forever make Diabolus in Musica my favorite Slayer album . . . next to Reign in Blood, of course. - Pope JTE

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children Of The Knight - Movin On

Movin OnIf Dusted Angel is the best band name I’ve heard in awhile, then Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children Of The Knight is probably the worst. It sounds like the type of band made up of 50 year old dudes that play Donovan covers at the local sports bar. Luckily, TW&TCCOTK don’t sound anything like that. They categorize their music as “rock, stoner, doom, sludge, blues” and that’s a fairly accurate description. The negative doom metal of Electric Wizard is an obvious influence as well as stoner power boogie of Clutch.

Movin On is the debut full length from this British power trio following up on their Lowering The Tone EP from last year. The album was recorded at Chuckalumba Studios in Dorset, the home town of Electric Wizard and Robert Fripp. For a self produced and released album, the final product is impressive. The guitars are heavy and doomy, the bass is nice and upfront and the drums thud just the right way. The vocals are clearly Ozzy inspired and are reminiscent of Sheavy at times.

Of the ten songs blasted out in 52 minutes, the title track is a real stand out. It’s got a nice heavy blues riff and a big double time jam at the end that sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Sea Shanty” is a speedy Clutch influenced swinger. “Not What You Know” is another fast one with a Black Sabbath Volume 4 groove. Slower songs like “Southern” and “Echoes” (not the Pink Floyd song) have an overt classic rock feel. Overall this record has a nice variety of material and doesn’t get stuck in a rut. Just when your ears are getting tired from over the top pummeling, they’ll offer something like “The Water” that moves at a slower pace and includes some nice whistling.

Movin On will appeal to just about anyone who likes the heavier side of rock. And since they went through all the time and expense to put this out themselves, don’t you think you owe it to them to give it a chance? Just because the band name is fairly ridiculous don’t hold it against The Wicked.


Buy here: 

Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children Of The Knight - Movin On

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Axe – S/T

It seems I’ve been a rippler all my life.  From the first moment I took my third-grade paper route money, walked into downtown Danville with a beeline towards the town’s only record store, then plopped my hard-earned change onto the counter, walking away with a brand new Jim Croce single, “Time in a Bottle,” it seems like my main passion has always been to find more music, new music, music I’d never heard before but couldn’t get enough of.  Soon, my passion led me to commit weekly pilgrimages to Berkeley where I’d spend my day digging through the dollar vinyl bins at Rasputin’s and devouring Blondies pizza; a ritual Pope and I keep alive to this day.  And it was on one of those long ago digging trips that I first stumbled upon this gem of an album, tucked deeply inside the dollar bin behind a copy of Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits and a 10 CC album.  While most of my friends were digging on REO Speedwagon or Journey, Axe quickly became my private treasure, my secret stash, one of my favorite bands.

Axe’s career never quite reached the epic proportions of those other bands, probably because their macho name and album art conjured up images of massive walls of heavy metal, when in reality their sound was much more melodic and MOR.  While they did eventually toughen up and put out a more metal sounding album (their biggest hit Offering) it’s in this debut, in all it’s melodic MOR glory that Axe first shone bright. 

Admittedly, the album starts off kinda dicey.  “Life’s Just an Illusion,” is as strong an opener as you could hope for, but still only hints at the true treasures that lay inside.  That’s not to say “Life’s” a bad song, it’s not.  In fact, “Life” may be better than the entire output of most of the other melodic rockers of the time, and it displays some of what prove to be the best of Axe’s traits.  Stuttering guitar work leads us into the main, truly bass heavy riff.  Bobby Barth was a tremendously under-rated singer; his voice thick and gravelly enough to be interesting, but still intensely melodic in tone and capable of filling out enough range to match the emotional content of the songs.  Of Axe’s three songwriters, Barth was also the most likely to search for meaning in his lyrics, digging for a deeper truth.  While we’re not talking anything too heavy or mind-blowing here, there is a simple beauty to Barth’s gentle advice and spiritual truth, “Life’s just an illusion/don’t fill yours with pain.”   The only real drawback here is the prominence of the keyboards which veer the song off into the pomp territory of a band like Zon, when in reality Axe was so much more.

If “Life,” hinted at a pomp underbelly, “Hang On,” exposes it naked and bare and ugly for all the world to see.  About as dated as any song on this album, with its huge attack of keyboards, even back in it’s day it was out of place, hinting more towards a Styx fixation than the real heart of Axe.  But don’t worry, that heart beats strong and intense and reveals itself in full body on the next tract, “Sympathize.”   From the first second I heard this song, I was in love.  There’s something infinitely menacing and ominous in the opening riff, something mean and nasty.  Dirty and angry.  By the time the opening guitar solo kicked in, I was hooked.  At their best, the twin guitar masters of Axe, Barth and Mike Osbourne, managed to capture a totally unique guitar tone and attack that I’ve never heard either before or since.  Their notes were thick and meaty, with long sustain.  A totally unique tone that was really an Axe trademark.  Here, Barth exploded through the microphone, his voice as gravelly and roughened as you’d expect from a man totally at his wits ends with a woman who’s abusing their love.   The main riff is massively chunky, leading to a slowed down chorus, before erupting again into a twin guitar attack of monstrous proportions.   Forget the boppy pomp of “Hold On,” this song is about as “don’t-fuck-with-me” as they come.

Osbourne takes over songwriting and lead vocals for “How Come I Love You,” without the band missing a step.  Every thing that they’ve revealed so far in “Life,” and “Sympathize,” is still there.  Huge, bass-massive, staggering riffs and thrilling twin guitar lead breaks, all wrapped up in a melody so strong it stays in your mind as if it’d been carved their in stone.  As opposed to Barth’s searching lyrics, Osbourne’s tended towards the more straight ahead “man love woman, woman leaves man,” variety, but he sings them with enough conviction and rasp in his voice that they don’t go down as saccharine.  Barth finishes off the first side of the lp with “Forever,” as beautifully melodic a love song as their was never-heard in the ‘70’s.  Forget Styx and “Lady,” this is the song that should’ve made the girls swoon at high school dances.  From Edgar Riley Jr’s gorgeous piano work, all the way to the big guitar solo outro, this song was placed firmly in the power-ballad territory years before Poison was ever “credited” with creating the format. 

What side one hinted at, side two delivers in spades.  “Back on the Streets,” is a pure adrenaline-soaked scorcher, a rocker of fiery intensity with its terrorizing guitar leads and big thumping bass.  Barth, as always, gives a masterful vocal as he plows a theme he’d later re-explore to staggering success with his biggest hit “Rock and Roll Party In the Streets,” off the Offering album.  Here the song builds and builds.  Check out that lead break midway through!  Man, this song was the subject of hours upon hours of air guitar concerts in my bedroom through high school.   “Doin’ the Best I Can,” follows next without missing a beat.  If Loverboy or Survivor had produced this melodic rocking gem it would have topped the charts, but that wasn’t to be the case.  Instead, Osbourne gives an honest, impassioned performance that still boasts enough meat to give it some headbanging moments.  And again, no one ever matched that Axe guitar tone.  Just listen for it on the lead breaks at the end of the choral verse.


“You’re Out of Line,” recaptures, in all its spitting glory, the nastiness of “Sympathize.”  Essentially a love song, the tone is anything but.  Big beefy guitars, swirling keyboard fills, chugging, stuttering riffs, and Osbourne’s most emotive singing.  I can’t think of another melodic rock band that could bring such intensity and roughness to their songwriting, and maintain such remarkable melodies.  Certainly many tried, few succeeded.  “Battles” ends the album with one of Barth’s most remarkable songs.  Epic in every sense of the word, I remember hearing this as a kid and marveling at the layers and layers as the song unfolds.  A weary soldier longs for home, beaten and broken, but not without hope as he heads back out onto the road.  It’s all metaphor, but it works. Imagine a Lord of the Rings epic flavor without the sword and sorcery nonsense. Just honest, plaintive longing for home and peace.  Brought in gently with a simple yet effective medieval-hinted keyboard, sounding like a lone flutist on a hill, acoustic guitars come in next, softly, plaintively.  Barth’s voice is as weary as you could ask for as he sings “A warm wind blowing memories makes me long for home/but a cold wind blows much harder and makes me want to roam.”  Slowly, the song builds in intensity, the drums picking up, the bass leading us on.  Harmony vocals add to the sense of isolation, as Barth sings on, his voice cracking and leathered like a blistering desert floor.  Finally, the guitar we’ve all been waiting for comes in, at first restrained, almost jazz-like in quality.  It still carries that tone, that singular Axe tone, as it builds, like a David Gilmour solo, gaining in intensity.   Finally, big chords crash through the mix, as we head towards the big finish. 

Axe would go on to record one half of a great album- side one of On the Edge (side two is throwaway including a horribly ill-advised cover of “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch”) - before toughening up their sound and finally breaking through to the national stage with Offering.  And while that album clearly rocks, in the end, it lost some of the charm that made the debut so endearing to me.  Like most of my favorite bands, Axe defied categorization. Too melodic to be hard rock, it was too hard rocking to be pop.  But in the end, that’s what it was, a glorious starburst of hard rocking, heavy handed MOR pop, with melodies and savagery too spare.

For fans of big melodic rock, this one is well worth tracking down.


Buy here: Axe



You're Out of Line

Life's Just an Illusion

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quick Bites – Random Notes From The Iguanas’ Cage - Halfdown Thomas and the Insomniacs

Halfdown Thomas - Beautifully Strange

Here I am, minding my own business, going through another stack of CDs from the hands of Racer X, when I find myself listening to two albums that both have their feet in the big sounds of the ‘80’s rock and the alternative guts of the mighty Stone Temple Pilots sound from the ‘90’s. Get out yer lighters and lets listen to these together:

Halfdown Thomas’ newest album Beautifully Strange has a huge meld of sounds, giant waves of clipped guitars with endlessly soloing guitars layered underneath, the powerfully sung vocals of Randy Ayers reminding you of a number of great rock singers. He echoes STP front man Weiland on Self Centered by bringing himself down into the mix and adding a level of menace to the proceedings, while the lead guitar of Wesley Smith hits a terse and edgy solo. "Come Inside," the opening track echoes the STP production, sending the instruments of the band up to 11 and hitting you with a wall of sound, before the Ayers growls out the chorus.

With their roots in the ‘80’s its no wonder that they do the power ballad well, and the echo laden guitar intro of the 4th track, "Way Down," takes us to familiar territory. But just because its familiar, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have beautiful scenery. These boys from Alabama love to rock too much to not add some power chords to the proceedings, lending this quiet song with a lot more bite that you’d expect. Overreaction reverses this, with it menace and bit in the lyrics before hitting those major chords on the oh-so-singable chorus. It also has a interesting solo by Smith that doesn’t ride on top of the band so much a crouch in the back and work its way out.

"Trigger Finger" does a great job of harnessing the band’s energy and letting it out it controlled bursts, drummer Mark Underwood shines on the complicated tempo changes here, because the band is also channeling the minor key sounds of the Seattle crowd on the song. It’s a complicated and challenging song with more smarts than your average rock song will ever have. "Beautifully Strange," the title track, mines the hook laden work of Collective Soul for its chorus with a lyrical hook all its own.
Beautifully Strange knows that we bought the record to get the rock, not to chill out, and it doesn’t disappoint. No doubt opening and sharing the stage with Black Stone Cherry and Fuel has helped them hone their music. Get the disc.

Buy here: Beautifully Strange

The Insomniacs – At Least I’m Not With You

The Insomniacs take the best of the blues bar band and embue their songs with some craft and technique and polish without ever losing the beauty of what makes this music so immediate. Pacific Northerwesterners from Portland, the clean up the sound and kick out a great mix of slow blues, jump and swing.

Uptempo jump blues open the album with "Lonesome," and band fills up the bar. Well produced, we can hear the band clearly, and as the great blues solo by Vyasa Dodson bleeds into the harmonica, you know that you’re in for a good listen. Crack open a cold one, or better yet, get the pretty bar maid (without the pick up lines thanks, she’s heard them all) to get you one, tip her well, and lets listen. If "Lonesome" makes for good listening with its guitar/harmonica center, "Broke and Lonely" chugs along with a great barrelhouse piano solo in the middle that holds its own against the understated drumming of Dave Melyan. "She Can Talk" is a great little jump number about THAT girl, while Angry Surfer mixes in more than a little Dick Dale guitar along the way.

"Directly From My Heart To You" is pure catch and release blues, the back beat rising and swelling as singer Vyasa Dodson sings of yet another love that is all too far away. Familiar territory, yet guitarist Dodson imbues the solo with some wicked vibrato and double stops and takes it beyond the average bar band 12 bar solo. Technique counts for something here. They slow things down even more on "Hoodoo Man Blues" and "Description Blues": slow blues with the crying notes from a telecaster, a harmonica that just lost both its parents AND its dog. The band never overplays, keeping a perfect touch to the song, even as it builds to the sweet crescendos of a harmonica weeping (ably played by Mitch Kashmar on "Hoodoo Man Blues").

"Maybe Sometime Later" opens up with its staccato guitar, farfisa organ swells and snappy backbeat, and shows off their songwriting and arranging smarts. The arpeggio and blues fills on guitar compliment the sharp rhythm section. The guitar is brought down in the mix allowing the rest of the band to carry the weight of the song until Dodson burns into an Iceman Albert Collins influenced solo.
The Insomniacs have a rave up on the "Root Beer Float," double time drumming, the guitar chugging along with a fun little riff, when the keys pick up the baton for a melodic solo (and lets not forget Dean Mueller on bass walking up and down the neck making everyone else look good). Good clean fun while the singer gets a drink. Don’t they put these things in the set list just for that reason?

It would be tough to go wrong with a fun little album that takes its blues seriously and its fun even more seriously. My next road trip to Portland? I’m scheduling a night out… Insomniac-style.

--The sleep deprived Fearless Rock Iguana

Buy here: At Least I'm Not With You

Halfdown Thomas

The Insomniacs

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