Music Reviews: August 2010

Snatch Magnet,"Screw, Nut & Bolt" (Self-released)
Snatch Magnet is the spackle that fills the hole between 80’s hard rock / metal bands like Judas Priest, Kiss, Journey, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Skid Row and latter day head bangers like Nickelback, Papa Roach, Godsmack and Evanescence. This is what you want to listen to when you need to put the everyday grind on hold and just rock out for a bit. I swear this cd could have been the soundtrack for my high school years. Of course it would have had to be on vinyl and would have had beer bottle rings on the cover and possibly a few traces of seeds and stems in the gatefold. And, there would have to be a poster inside.
www.facebook.com/snatchmagnet
Rating:

Review by J.R. Oliver


Jerry Jennings,"Shortcut To The Center" (Pet Baja)
“Shortcut To The Center” is as smooth as a blended whiskey and every bit as tasty and intoxicating. Jerry Jennings doesn’t try to dazzle you with flash. He’s all about the feel of the groove. And you can take my word for it; he’s got the feel of the groove down pat. The fact that the album was produced by Ronnie Montrose (yes, that Ronnie Montrose) should give you a clue as to what lies ahead. A cold drink and this album can completely wipe away the crappiest of days. If you enjoy albums by artists like Steely Dan, Zappa, Jeff Beck, Larry Carlton and King Crimson then you will enjoy this.
www.jerryjenningsmusic.com
Rating:
and 1/2
Review by J.R. Oliver


M-16,"La Raiz De Todo Poder" (Motherwest)
M-16 is a veteran NYC unit that fully incorporates their native Latin roots into a hardcore metal sound on their latest release, the 13-track LA RAIZ DE TODO PODER. Packing Sepultura-esque wallop with Santana-like soul and a pervasive progressive edge (“Puno Al Aire”), M-16 displays a penchant for laying down tight jams in between obliterating ear drums with an rich blend of death, thrash, and modern metal (“El Camino”). Singing mainly in Spanish and peppering their raucous thrash grooves with instrumentation from their homeland of the Dominican Republic (“El Ojo De La Agua”), M-16’s juxtaposed style makes belligerent music with bongos that sidesteps novelty and aims for the kill, mashing the wares of Soulfly, Downset, Puya, Immolation, and Nonpoint into a potent sonic brew with a universally translatable aggressiveness.
www.motherwest.com/m16
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


And Hell Followed With,"Proprioception" (Earache)
Detroit deathcore squad And Hell Followed With unleash an above-average amalgamation of the elements required to make moshpits explode on their latest endeavor PROPRIOCEPTION. This 12-track exercise in brutality dutifully executes relentless streams of bowel-irritating low end punishment (“One of the Swarm), percussive typewriter triggering aplenty and freefall guitars galore yet manages to leave room for the band to veer away from crushing long enough to throw left of center melodic flashes into the fray (“Perpetual Abyssma”). Demonstrating a fondness for hometown heroes The Black Dahlia Murder while delivering a clockwork-esque bounty of chug-a-lug breakdowns while a fitting lead vocal spearheads the affair, And Hell Followed With’s brand of deathcore follows the genre’s framework diligently without sounding derivative, embracing modern destructive tendencies with a few choice flourishes to set them in the thick of the mix.
www.earache.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


The Casting Out,"The Casting Out!!!" (Eyeball)
Featuring the vocals of ex-Boy Sets Fire frontman Nathan Gray, The Casting Out is a Delaware-based unit whose exclamation-accentuated eponymous 12-track debut reveals a lighthearted yet sturdy collection of punchy tunes derived directly from the ‘90s melodic punk vein (“Wait”). Boasting a heartfelt blend of snarling sing alongs that would remind you of a toned-down version of Gray’s former outfit (“…Say It”), this quintet also enjoy a laid back mindset via the inclusion of outtakes snippets from the session buffered between songs. Capturing a mix of the power of Samiam, the gruffness of Avail, and the tenderness of Far while radiating a casual and relaxed manner overall, The Casting Out’s latest release resonates with the passion from a band at peace playing the music that they love for all the right reasons.
www.eyeballrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


A Forest of Stars,"Opportunistic Thieves of Spring" (Transcendental Creations)
Black metal served with a hearty slice of experimentation best describes the musical output by UK outfit A Forest of Stars, whose over 70-minute six-track excursion OPPORTUNISTIC THIEVES OF SPRING melds the fury of those who wear spikes and corpsepaint with forward-thinking musical vision akin to post-rock propelling the affair. Draping waves of ambience featuring rich instrumentation from eerie woodwind and string interludes onto its darkened frame (“Raven’s Eye View”), this band maintains a rotten core with mid-paced blasts of mayhem while demonstrating the versatility to intertwine left of center influences and unorthodox styles dating back to the 1900’s cohesively. While purists may consider A Forest of Stars a novelty at best, those who enjoy dramatic and dynamic music with a blackened feel like Ackercocke and Opeth will have little problem diving into this brazen squad’s full-length debut headlong.
www.transcendentalcreations.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Brain Drill,"Quantum Catastrophe" (Metal Blade)
On the brink of folding for good after making significant waves in the underground, California tech metal crew Brain Drill got their act together and created another batch of mindbending metallic mayhem on their latest eight-track QUANTUM CATASTROPHE. This exercise in excess is not geared for the casual fan by any means, as this excruciatingly erratic endeavor blasts past normal thresholds of death metal with a thorny daredevil-like dizziness and a masterful blend of dexterity and brutality fueling the utter insanity this quartet’s complex compositions dole out. Fusing blistering speed, clubbing heaviness, and jawdropping musicianship is far from a new breakthrough, yet when Brain Drill’s incessant rounds of vicious velocity and devout focus to relentlessness are added into the equation, something wonderfully wicked is brought to the forefront. Barraging the cranium like its name suggests, Brian Drill’s savage virtuosity may be too much for some to take, but it undeniably puts a new spin on what the term extreme metal means for the year 2010 and beyond.
www.metalblade.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


1349,"Demonoir" (Prosthetic)
Perhaps the idea behind 1349’s universally panned previous effort REVELATION OF THE BLACK FLAME was in fact to prepare fans and foes alike for their newest 13-track evil endeavor DEMONOIR, as the sons of darkness’ newest excursion splits the trademark sinister speed and unbridled ferocity with the newly discovered ambient nuances virtually down the middle to form an effectively eerie presentation. Produced by Celtic Frost/ Triptykon mainman Tom Gabriel Fischer, this Norwegian squad defends the shrouded faith with an all guns blazing assault complete with a barrage of the rapid-fire rhythms and blinding guitar riffs that made this group the obvious successors to their homeland’s vitriolic lineage sandwiched between creepy interludes that detract from attack mode long enough to catch your breath before getting submerged into deviance again. Providing a supple amount of punishment with enough ethereal sound effects to burden your brain long after the disc stops, 1349 get back in Satan’s good graces here, armed with enough diabolic firepower to please those who worship below for many nights to come.
www.prostheticrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Grave,"Burial Ground" (Regain)
With over two decades of annihilation under their belts, Swedish death metal forefathers Grave are still destroying things the tried and true way as shown on the savage nine-track offering BURIAL GROUND. This veteran trio excavates the classic buzzsaw tones, caustic crawling pace and warmongering growls from their early years on their ninth studio record (“Bloodtrail”) with a hearty helping of old school pummeling rhythms and doom-laden atmosphere present (“Conqueror”), encompassing the early sound they helped spawn with little regard for injecting any new influence (“Dismembered Mind”). Doling out an organic evil that permeates through each thick riff and mid-tempo mauling melody, Grave sticks to what works by churning out a diabolical slab of groove-ridden and rough-riding death metal with a decisively traditional flavor.
www.regainrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Kissin' Dynamite,"Addicted To Metal" (AFM)
Kissin’ Dynamite is an upstart German quintet with a penchant for writing catchy and heavy tunes in the style of traditional metal a la Scorpions, Motley Crue, Accept, and Judas Priest. This young troupe’s latest 12-track release ADDICTED TO METAL offers nothing new yet develops a winning blend of grandiose metal with a prevalent strand of power metal histrionics in the mix (“All Against All”), making songs like “Love Me Hate Me” soar through the skies when need be. Endorsed by a guest vocal spot from fellow German Udo Dirkschnieder (“Addicted to Metal”) and stacked with a plethora of arena-rock choruses, powerful bass and drum rhythmic patterns, and hot guitar licks in their arsenal (“Metal Nation”), this unit showcases a broad metal taste that runs from glam to power with the balls and bite to stand alongside metal’s elite.
www.afmrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


As I Lay Dying,"The Powerless Rise" (Metal Blade)
San Diego metal quintet As I Lay Dying returns with their fifth endeavor, the 11-track affair THE POWERLESS RISE. The production done by Killswitch Engage’s very own Adam D captures the band’s most razor sharp and well-balanced performance to date, juxtaposing glossy melodic vocals and dollops of twin guitar sweetness with choice-placed brutal breakdowns and relentless percussion pounding galore (“The Plague”). Slamming guitar riffs are of no shortage here, as the six-string tandem of Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso seamlessly weave heavy and melody with chugging pit rippers (“Condemned”, “Without Conclusion”) and outstanding fills and solos (“Parallels”) while lead singer Tim Lambesis digs deep and dishes out a head splitting array of nasty growls (“The Blinding of False Light”) and crushing screams (“Vacancy”) while new bassist Josh Gilbert lays down some killer complimentary melodic vocals giving a well-rounded feel (“Anodyne Sea”). Bolstering both their extreme and melodic elements by implementing a few songwriting tweaks to allow maximum impact, As I Lay Dying has made a top shelf metalcore release chock full of the expected hardcore muscle with an beefed up sense of aggression that rabid fans will embrace wholeheartedly.
www.metalblade.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


OV Hell,"The Underworld Regime" (Prosthetic)
Norwegian black metal supergroup Ov Hell features members of Dimmu Borgir, 1349, Enslaved, Satyricon, and Gogoroth in its ranks, so already a basic idea can be formulated as to what the output from this unit is going to sound like. Solid yet unspectacular black metal with a vintage edge best describes the overall output of THE UNDERWORLD REGIME, a release staunch in delivering fundamental methods to the point of pining to be declared Black Metal 101. Though most would expect a lot of flash and streams of innovation considering the players on this eight-track disc, this squad instead drops back and opts to stick to a blasphemously rigid formula that stays safe, pushes no boundaries and cruises at comfortably created levels of malevolence drawn heavily from black metal’s early years.
www.prostheticrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Dew Scented,"Invocation" (Prosthetic)
Germany’s Dew Scented tone the death metal elements in their hybrid thrash metal sound down considerably on their eighth studio offering INVOCATION, opting for a streamlined thrash attack with chunks of confrontational hardcore and touches of slam metal. This bruising 12-track affair boasts a vicious twin guitar assault laden in brutality that sounds like a cross between new school Exodus, As I Lay Dying, and The Haunted (“Condemnation”, Slaves of Content”) while solid slabs of bass and thunderous drums push the levels of intensity into the red (“A Critical Mass”). While the disc’s intentionally relentless nature is admirable, it tends to get tedious at times, but the unit’s bursts of explosive velocity break up the monotony nicely while keeping the moshpit active. As technical as a punch to the face with a bevy of sharp and tight fretwork and a steamroller-like disposition, Dew Scented present a durable album with the veteran’s by the book style and in your face attitude once again reigning supreme.
www.prostheticrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Barren Earth,"Curse of the Red River" (Peaceville)
Barren Earth is a Finnish metal outfit featuring members from such revered acts as Moonsorrow, Amorphis, Kreator, and Swallow the Sun. Easily qualifying as a supergroup, this crew’s nine-track affair CURSE OF THE RED RIVER demonstrates a cohesive amalgamation of progressive, Gothic, and death metal, earning the aforementioned description beyond a shadow of a doubt. While this act’s impressive pedigree alone should make upper crust metal fans salivate in anticipation, this unit’s output thankfully completely exceeds expectations, seamlessly blending vicious and aggressive vocal and guitar tendencies with lush atmospheric keyboard passages, bearing a resemblance to the works of Opeth and Paradise Lost yet exhibiting enough of a unique identity to stand on the merit of their grandiose presentation alone. Dynamically fusing seething hostility with mountains of melody and a dash of Jethro Tull-esque instrumentation with underpinnings of folk and psychedelic rock accompanying the melee, Barren Earth’s debut full length offering is a triumphant collection of top shelf metal bursting with both elegance and intensity.
www.peacevillerecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Setherial,"Ekpyrosis" (Regain)
Veteran Swedish unit Setherial returns with a new album that encompasses the true diabolical spirit of black metal on EKPYROSIS. Emblazoned with slicing riffs, ominous atmosphere, and a newfound sense of variation within the songwriting, this evil eight-track excursion sticks close to the familiar corpsepainted gameplan with flurries of durable tempo changes and a solid display of venomous vocal vitriol and malevolent rhythmic blasts leading the charge while a tastefully-strewn inclusion of keyboards adds some shading to the overall ferocious flavor. Providing the total black metal experience with the trademark imagery and music working together in symbiosis, Setherial unleash a powerfully driven meat and potatoes slab of hell laden in brutality.
www.regainrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Criminal Element,"Crime and Punishment" (Relapse)
Featuring members of Dying Fetus and Misery Index, the quintet Criminal Element play a heavy-handed hodgepodge of extreme metal on their five-track EP CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Smashing elements of old school hardcore, death metal, thrash metal and grindcore madness together, this disc lets everything hang out a la SOD or Municipal Waste while a clenched fist rhythm section reminiscent of the mid-90’s hardcore set holds down the savagery. Offering bouts of velocity-driven beatdowns with some choice death metal breakdown action (“Fading Survival”), this disc infiltrates the mainframe, destroys the immediate surroundings and exits the scene with an eviscerating sense of efficiency propelling its uber-aggressive attack.
www.relapse.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Unstoppagle Death Machines,"Four Song Sampler" (Self-released)
Defecting from Queens, the dynamic brother combo Unstoppable Death Machines have made the move over the Greenpoint Bridge official, becoming influential Brooklyn underground wheeler dealers in the process. This two-man tornado has released a spastic four-track EP that captures their raw intensity with a hearty slice of the untamed nature this tandem’s music delivers. Sculpting their noise rock meanderings from grunge skeletons with oodles of chances to groove out, this act specializes in servicing ears with dollops of heavily-effected guitars with off-kilter rhythms that sound like a cross between Jesus Lizard, Lightning Bolt, Hella, and Butthole Surfers, comfortably making uncomfortable and unconventional rock music.
www.myspace.com/theunstoppabledeathmachines
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Karma To Burn,"Appalachian Incantation" (Napalm)
West Virginia instrumental metal trio Karma to Burn arises from an eight-year hiatus with a new nine-track affair entitled APPALACHIAN INCANTATION. Produced by Scott Reeder (Kyuss), this resurrected unit doles out fully sharpened shards of gritty goodness, relentlessly piling riff after riff on top of a groove-laden boogie-filled shuffling rhythmic mountain to comprise rounds of dynamic and anthemic stoner rock jams crammed with a multitude of memorable moments and stellar musical interplay (“Forty-One”, “Forty-Five”). Virtually picking up where they left off nearly a decade ago, KTB retained many of the qualities that made them underground faves (including numerical song titles and opting to go sans vocals), yet there are two tracks here that feature vocals, “Waiting on The Western World” (featuring Daniel Davies) and “Two Times” (featuring John Garcia). But purists shouldn’t fret, as the performances from this pair of sterling vocalists enhances the album’s flow exponentially while strengthening the band’s already contagious refrains by trading Les Paul speak for raw human emotion. Karma to Burn’s new album celebrates triumph of the human spirit, as they’ve returned from their addiction-fueled lows and have found solace in cranking it up and letting loose with the power of rock firmly behind them.
www.napalmrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Blaze Bayley,"Promise and Terror" (Candlelight)
PROMISE AND TERROR is former Iron Maiden singer Blaze Bayley’s latest effort, an 11-track offering with discernibly traditional metal flair (“Faceless”). Bolstered by a set of rudimentary yet rousing arrangements where Bayley’s emotionally charged mid-range can shine (“Letting Go of the World”), this effort doles out a basic yet effective metal attack linking Sanctuary and Iced Earth (“God of Speed”) with a few expected variations such as the acoustic intro of “Surrounded by Sadness” strewn in for good measure. Cloaked with the darkness of Bayley’s recent personal tragedies and administering a by the book metal assault, this disc yields a solid listen for those with metal’s classic era in mind.
www.candlelightrecordsusa.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Decrepit Birth,"Polarity" (Nuclear Blast)
Technical death metal is what Decrepit Birth deliver in spades on the revered unit’s third album, the 12-track POLARITY. Stocked with an abundance of blistering lead guitars, brutal riffs, jawdropping time signature switches, and death metal evil, songs like “Solar Impulse” showcase these merchants of mayhem moving at its most forward-thinking while tracks like “The Resonance” display their vigilant sense of versatility to go from vicious to melodic without batting an eye. Progressive and vicious reaps a nasty mix of styles when done correctly, and Decrepit Birth’s amalgamation bridges the gap between Morbid Angel and Death (whose “See Through Dreams” is covered here) exceptionally well, throwing face-ripping strands of Immolation/Suffocation-esque ferocity (“The Quickening of Time”) and unabashed guitar shredding (“Sea of Memories”) into their complex creations for an added boost of sonic savagery.
www.nuclearblastusa.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Montana 1948,"Sampler" (Self-released)
Montana 1948 is a San Francisco based quartet whose modern alternative sound is bound to draw comparisons to 30 Seconds to Mars and Circa Survive based on the contents of their stopgap four-song EP. Teeming with sugary shimmering guitars and an earnest pop rock aura, songs like “January Jones” channels the suave swagger of Killers while “How to Swim” reaches for the brass ring with a shot of grandiose guitar and dollops of the syrupy power pop that makes teenage girls swoon. Tasty rhythmic work with an invigorating indie rock pretense, Montana 1948 fits snugly between Keane, Rooney, and Mae as purveyors of the eternal search.
www.montana1948.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Misery Index,"Heir To Thievery" (Relapse)
Maryland crossover extreme metal mavens Misery Index busts through the gates with their fourth lesson in brutality on the bruising 11-track endeavor HEIRS TO THIEVERY. Summoning power from a combination of the slamming death metal Suffocation, the vicious velocity of Napalm Death, and the American system’s social and political failures (“Sleeping Giants”), this well-versed unit is at the top of their game, unleashing an unrelenting and punishing metallic ambush that decries social injustice as well as it makes moshpits move with reckless abandon (“Fed to the Wolves”). Clocking in at a svelte 35 minutes, this excursion efficiently administers a neck-wrecking beatdown worthy of the attention of those that can handle a bastardized amalgamation of abrasive aggression, slamming grooves (“The Carrion Call”) and forthright lyrical content, complete with incessant double bass blasts and the belligerent vocal presence as only this crushing squad can deliver.
www.relapse.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Shadow Of Demise,"Premature Burial" (Self-released)
NYC death metal quintet Shadow of Demise keeps old school fires burning on their chunky eight-track affair PREMATURE BURIAL. Taking cues from the likes of Obituary, Six Feet Under, pre-SEASONS IN THE ABYSS Slayer and Morbid Angel, this group provides a well-tread yet punishing and provoking blend of vintage Florida-era mid-tempo rhythmic pummeling with a classically-designed death metal vocal adorned with a crisp and clear yet demonic delivery keeping the flow steady and the mood ominous (“Path of the Monolith”). While this band may not be particularly complex or original, their sharp twin guitar riffs, authentic death metal shredding (“Bottom of a Bottle”) and overall bludgeoning consistence bolsters their painstaking attack, allowing their sheer disdain of the world to show.
www.shadowofdemise.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Catanonic Disassembly,"Pastoral...In the Land of Disgust" (Self-released)
Thanks to the powers of technology, bands like Catatonic Disassembly, a one-man band that fuses an awkward array of rock genres together, can exist. Comprising a sound self-described as “death-grunge”. PASTORAL…IN THE LAND OF DISGUST takes influences from the likes of NIN, Type O Negative, Killing Joke, Sisters of Mercy, Nirvana, and cookie monster death metal vocals while displaying an affinity for film noire thanks to the album’s heavy usage of movie samples to create a disjointed assortment of guitar and keyboard driven songs chock full of clichéd metal rebellion with alarming redundancy. While this disc’s hybrid electronic rock style would have been considered groundbreaking 20 years ago, Catatonic Disassembly’s latest offering suffers from being a bit behind the times to be considered anything beyond mediocre.
www.catatonicdisassembly.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Keep of Kalessin,"Reptilian" (Nuclear Blast)
Norwegian black metal vets Keep of Kalessin dole out another dastardly black metal assault chock full of belligerent rhythms enhanced with cinematic overtones on their fifth offering, the eight-track REPTILIAN. Standing shoulder to shoulder with likeminded acts such as Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth, this squad injects grandiose musical elements into nefarious song structures with a hearty helping of guitar gymnastics (“Judgement”, “The Divine Land”) leading the charge. While longtime fans are sure to bemoan over new elements introduced here such as clean singing, traditional metal transitions, and a “softer” overall vibe (“The Dragontower”), Keep of Kalessin retains enough of the blistering blast beats and evil melodies (“Leaving the Mortal Flesh”) while demonstrating the tenacity to tamper with formulas and venture into other areas on the metal continuum, making songs such as the progressively epic closer “Reptilian Majesty” possible. Unfortunately, ardent followers of the movement aren’t quick to embrace the kind of stylistic shifts this outfit, yet forward thinking fans of bands like Enslaved should really consider giving REPTILIAN a go, as the disc truly melds the best of both worlds to make a solid black metal effort that goes beyond the realms of convention.
www.nuclearblastusa.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Ramesses,"Take The Curse" (Ritual Productions)
Supplying a seemingly endless stream of slow-crawling doom metal, the downtempo UK trio known as Ramesses unload a monstrously sludgy sophomore full-length sojourn entitled TAKE THE CURSE. This 10-track, 54-minute bruising effort captures the group embracing true evil with every cymbal crash and hypnotic riff delivered (“The Weakening”), while an overall caustic nature embodies what the soundtrack from Satan himself should sound like (“Iron Crow”). Adorned with a bevy of spooky horror movie samples intertwined between a maddening mixture of slow-churned insanity featuring the kind of eerie vocal rasps and bowel-shaking guttural growls, viscous guitars, brutal bottom-ended bass, and crushingly deliberate drum patterns that are both chilling and oppressive (“Baptism of the Walking Dead”), this squad’s penchant for combining death metal’s diabolical mindset with doom metal’s depressive maneuvers mesh the wares of Cathedral, Electric Wizard (a band where two of the three members of Ramesses used to reside), Crowbar, Celtic Frost and St Vitus together to form an impenetrable wall of sound that is both haunting and visceral.
www.myspace.com/ramesses666
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Bob Pressner,"Honor Among Theives" (Self-released)
Bob Pressner is a NYC-based singer-songwriter whose seven-track offering HONOR AMONG THIEVES showcases an introspective artist with a broad scope which takes as much influence from Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen as John Mayer and Dave Matthews. This one time commodity trader turned pop-rock connoisseur switched his path after the first bombing of the World Trade Center back in 1993 and has been a first-hand witness to a fair share of life-altering experiences along the way, reflected in his soulful performance and cathartic arrangements. Adorned with intermittent moments of lush orchestration (“Angels in the Wind”) while solidified with a simple and subtle vocal style that works both in a rock ‘n roll and pop-rock setting (“Honor Among Thieves”), Bob Pressner’s latest batch of forthright tunes exudes a heartfelt honesty the majority of today’s pop-rock sadly lacks.
www.bobpressner.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Black Tusk,"Taste The Sin" (Relapse)
Savannah, GA sludge metal trio Black Tusk rages with unabashed hardcore punk brevity on their 10-track release TASTE THE SIN. Abrasive vocals and razorwire riffage lead this swampy unit’s cathartic charge while a bare bones no frills rhythm section sidesteps flash for bombast, dropping delectable dollops of surprisingly snappy doom metal lava and stoner rock slush. As subtle as a brick to the head and twice as potent, Black Tusk’s lean and mean metallic approach shuns complexity to infiltrate craniums with a caustic and catchy blend of sinewy heaviness whose style complements and fits nicely in between fellow hometown heroes Baroness, Kylesa, and Zoroaster.
www.relapse.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Change Today,"The Survival EP" (Hotfoot)
Change Today play a modern form of hardcore with a firm set of old school principles intact on the six-track EP THE SURVIVAL. Hailing from Baton Rouge, LA, this quintet meshes pieces of Comeback Kid, Terror, Modern Life is War and Champion together with elements of Bane, Madball, and Youth of Today lurking in the background (“Farewell”) to form an empowering mix of brash vocals and confrontational posi-core arrangements geared to motivate and stimulate. Spirited and vivacious, Change Today’s gritty hardcore delivery provides a boisterous lift to your playlist.
www.hotfootrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Remaindermen,"Border States" (Nowhere)
The latest release by Chicago quintet Remaindermen reveals a seven-track indie-pop offering whose trippy overtones resonate with a jam-band meets psychedelic act mentality affixing itself to the band’s jangly cracks of disjointed melody, oddball structure and off-kilter instrumentation (“Little Gene”). While this band enjoys a good flight into outer space via their musical output, once launched, songs like “White Lodge” seems content on merely floating, uninterested in exploring past phase one. Nonetheless, BORDER STATES contains a smattering of sullen and quirky whispery shuffles vying for a cross between hipster chic and lounge-y background music.
www.nowhererecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Masakari,"The Profit Feeds" (Southern Lord)
Masakari is a crusty Cleveland crew that builds from the work of hometown heroes Ringworm and Integrty with a 10-track offering entitled THE PROFIT FEEDS. Draped in d-beat bliss and raucous hardcore punk rage with a unique sociopolitical slant, this ferocious excursion unloads rounds of volatile guitars with just a hint of melody while harsh vocals spew venomous viewpoints on everything from unrest in the Middle East to animal abuse with a vigilant velocity and unadulterated fury. Backing up the band’s inclinations with devastating degrees of tenacity fueling chugging guitars, explosive time signature changes, and relentlessly piledriving rhythms in songs like the dastardly 50-second thunderclap “Echoes”. Influenced by a healthy smorgasbord of scathing Japanese and American hardcore while possessing the fortitude to go against the grain as heard on the on the astonishing “Outro”, a chilling track where the band’s music is played under dialogue of a US soldier of Middle Eastern background on racism in the armed forces post-9/11. This disc unleashes an inescapably provocative and punishing assault.
www.southernlord.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Andy Gassaway,"Hellfire" (Indian Casino Records)
As long as there’s guys like Andy Gassaway there’ll always be a place in my heart for country music. He nails the twang and adds just enough snotty garage punk attitude to get your full attention. This album teeters somewhere in the middle of the Chocolate Watchband and Jason and the Nashville Scorchers. It had my jaw on the floor from the very start and then it continued to grow on me more and more with every listen. I really dig the looseness’ of the whole thing. The title track is reminiscent of the Kinman brothers cowpunk band Rank and File. It especially brings back memories of their “Sundown” album. Gassaway is one hell of a guitarist and tunesmith and I hope there’s a lot more of this coming down the pike.
www.andygassaway@myspace.com
Rating:
and 1/2
Review by J.R. Oliver


Al Jardine,"A Postcard From California" 4 track e.p (self-release)
Here’s a peak at the forthcoming album by Al Jordine. One of the co-founding members of the Beach Boy’s in 1961. With the Wilson brothers and their cousin Mike Love they created a whole genre all their own. I mean, here’s an original Beach Boy for Christ’s sake; of course this is going to sound good. Then you throw in guest appearances by Brian Wilson, Glen Campbell, John Stamos, Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Steve Miller, Flea and even Alec Baldwin and it just sweetens the pot even more. Alec Baldwin does a spoken word narrative on the second track, “Tidepool Interlude”, in case that one threw you for a bit of a loop. Jardine, like most of us, has a deep concern for the ecological health of the planet and these concerns are predominant themes on the e.p. All four tracks on the e.p. are from what Jardine calls “the green side” of the new album. So, if you love the sun, the surf and the sand or just love good old rock n’ roll then you’re bound to love “A Postcard From California”.
www.aljardine.com
Rating:

Review by J.R. Oliver


Seasons After,"Through Tomorrow" (Dirtbag)
Seasons After is a Kansas-based quintet who apes the nu-metal template ad nausea on their 12-track release THROUGH TOMORROW. With a mixture of equal parts Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, and Bullet for My Valentine, this group’s hard hitting but extremely predictable output comes with a flurry of twin guitar assaults and a pounding percussive performance while the vocals fluctuate between creamy choral parts and throat-ripping screams. Adding in a cover of “Cry Little Sister” from THE LOST BOYS for a touch of instant pop culture notoriety, the debut by Seasons After may seem edgy to those unfamiliar with the heavier edge of the spectrum, yet the entire affair culminates in a cookie cutter presentation whose calculated and formulaic sense of songwriting yields the kind of music perfect for mainstream radio to push to the stars.
www.dirtbagmusic.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Rosetta,"A Determinism of Morality" (Translation Loss)
Philadelphia, PA’s spacey hardcore troupe Rosetta returns with A DETERMINISM OF MORALITY, a sensational seven-track offering from this galactic-minded quartet. Opting for shorter song lengths this time around, Rosetta tightens up their distinct brand of shoegazing metallic goodness and add a few new tricks to their arsenal (“Revolve”) without sacrificing the remarkable buildups the band has utilized on previous offerings (“Blue Day for Croatoa”). Intertwining colossal rhythmic shifts, masterful manipulations of the drums, gutwrenching vocals, and shimmering and soaring guitars, Rosetta provide the perfect balance between calamity and calmness with a bounty of atmospheric waves and crushing ambience leading this unit’s dynamic surge.
www.translationlossrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Year of No Light,"Ausserwelt" (Conspiracy)
Ambient French metal troupe Year of No Light present a four-track, 48-minute multi-layered post metal attack with AUSSERWELT. Bolstered with a barrage of sonically supercharged orchestral metallic movements, this album’s most predominant features include shimmering guitar lines that walk the line drawn by Isis and retooled by Pelican, well-measured rhythmic thumps whose thunderous thumps thicken the listening experience, and a nasty disposition that yields bleak pools of sludge and shards of progressive black metal, all without the benefit of vocals to cloud the thorough comprehension of the doom-laden world Year of No Light concocts. Best served in one sitting (though multiple listens of singular track are surely bound to reveal all sorts of blissfully aggressive accentuations), this album does a suitable job of unleashing a powerful slab of heaviness with both cinematic overtones and a flair for drama.
www.conspiracyrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Schleusolz,"The Weinheim Experiment" (Schokokontrol)
The sophomore effort from space cadet German troupe Schleusolz is anything but predictable, as the 18-track THE WEINHEIM EXPERIMENT thrusts this duo’s versatile and uninhibited blend of sounds and beats chock full of frivolous synths and quirky melodies out past the outer limits. Imagine game show theme songs from the 1970’s colliding with any one of Mike Patton’s off the wall efforts jamming with the band from the Creature Cantina to get a start to where this band and their distinctly European mindset is headed, as this eclectic offering consistently flows a myriad of fresh music equally embracing the riches from early ’80s new wave, world, dance, electronica, and pop genres while throwing convention to the wind and turning everything they can sideways in the process. Composed with both modern sensibility and vintage know-how, Schleusolz’s latest release demonstrates a flagrantly flamboyant style with an unbridled irreverence unencumbered by time and space, allowing this act the freedom to boldly roam the cosmos for intergalactic inspiration or dip into the vaults of time to construct a musical entity throbbing with offbeat charm (“Polyphobia”).
www.myspace.com/schleusolz
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Anchored,"Listen To This" (Trynd)
Contrived and cliché, Anchored deliver an obligatory blend of Kid Rock, Nickelback, and Papa Roach with a decisively adult country twang perfect for frat boys to hook up, bro down and wild out to with this Texas quintet’s 11-track LISTEN TO THIS. Summoning down and dirty riffs, rhythmic power and lyrical inspiration from directly below their belts, this disc gets as insufferably derivative as you could imagine anything that sounds like edgy supermarket background music could, complete with a slew of half-rate hooks and the kind of adolescent simplicity and forced execution that elicits groans yet seemingly remains in the mainstream’s sightline despite the ultimately generic and soulless nature.
www.myspace.com/anchoredmusic
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Downshallow,"The New Fashion" (Self-Released)
Downshallow returns to a heavier mindset after dabbling in acoustic alchemy on their previous effort with their latest 12-track album entitled THE NEW FASHION. This New Jersey quartet projects an enormous sound that references everything from the left of center metallic vibes of Chevelle and Deftones to the soaring melodies of Our Lady Peace and Finger Eleven while maintaining a distinct identity whose sonic brew brims over with cascading hooks, unexpected rhythmic movements, and a massive vocal presence leading the alternative metal leanings on cuts like the sinewy “Crash”, the psychedelic blues shuffle of “Ashes” and the bass-driven groove of “All For Nothing”. Balancing modern rock nuances out with a clever array of teeth gnashing riffs (“Without a Reason”, “Subway Vampire”), Downshallow’s artsy brand of hard rock allows for both functionality and fashionability via a series of brooding emotions guiding the listener through this veteran act’s moody musings and angsty hybrid of hard rock, metal, and alternative.
www.downshallow.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Nonpoint,"Miracle" (954)
Admirably remaining intact despite enduring bouts with the music industry’s infamous waves of uncertainty, the latest release by veteran Florida act Nonpoint entitled MIRACLE showcases a reinvigorated unit determined to not just survive but thrive. Produced by Chad Gray and Greg Tribbett of Mudvayne and self-released on the band’s own label, this 12-track endeavor demonstrates a decisively beefier overall sound than previous efforts (“Dangerous Waters”), seemingly incorporating influence from the men behind the board into groovy yet gritty melodies such as “Looking Away” and “Throwing Stones” while continuing to roll out the notoriously infectious and hard hitting refrains that put them on the map back in the day (“Miracle”). Adroitly straddling the line between Incubus and Sevendust with their distinct Latin flavor kicking up on occasion (“What I’ve Become”), this album amplifies the band’s familiar dynamic nuances with all sharpened edges exposed, resulting in a powerful album full of expected stop-start jabs and a rejuvenated attitude fueling Nonpoint’s fierce fires.
www.nonpoint.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Early Graves,"Goner" (Ironclad)
Early Graves dole out a crusty and chaotic blend of hardcore, death metal, and grindcore on their sophomore effort GONER. This San Francisco based unit’s latest 10-track offering is resolutely leaner and meaner than their debut, melding the warmongering tones of Entombed with the vitriolic nature of bands like Trap Them and His Hero is Gone to form a viscous and vile collection of short and tight songs heavy on the seething anger (“May Day”). While there’s little diversity to be found here, this under 30-minute affair caustically cuts to the chase and aims straight for the jugular with a rusty razor in hand, guaranteeing to inflict all sorts of damage.
www.ironcladrecordings.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Diabulus In Musica,"Secrets" (Metal Blade)
The musical output from Spain’s Diabulus in Musica does not resemble the Slayer album of the same name in any way, shape or form, as this unit derives a balance of sound from both the Gothic and symphonic metal genres, complete with standout heavenly female vocalizations intertwined with the occasional beastly male growl, oodles of atmospheric keyboards and a slew of piano tinklings and string arrangements accentuating the standardized metallic overtones. Referencing the usual suspects to a fault (Nightwish, Epica, Theater of Tragedy), this 13-track release follows its influences extremely closely and displays a serious lack of originality, yet still manages to pull out a string of solid melodies powered by the rousing vocal performance (“Under a Shadow”, “Lonely Soul”) despite doing little else to differentiate themselves from the pack.
www.metalblade.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Mouth of the Architect,"The Violence Beneath" (Translation Loss)
Atmospheric sludge metal troupe Mouth of the Architect marks their return with a massive sounding four-track EP entitled THE VIOLENCE BENEATH. Sticking to their guns by continuing to incorporate a gazing metallic stance bursting with shimmering guitars, harsh vocals, and cavernous rhythms that readily land the band into the Isis/Pelican/ Neurosis bin, this Dayton, OH unit stacks the deck with bruising buildups and a colossal wall of sound that can be felt surging through your being as much as it is heard through your ears (“Buried Hopes”). Throw in a studio-quality live recording of a new track (“Restore”) and a captivatingly clever cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and this post metal act showcases a penchant for both thinking outside of the box and smashing the same box into tiny pieces on this stopgap offering.
www.translationloss.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Fatal Embrace,"The Empires of Inhumanity" (Metal Blade)
Despite curating their blend of old school since the mid-‘90s, German thrash metal group Fatal Embrace come off to be cut from the same cloth as bands currently riding the waves of the golden age of the Bay Area scene on their latest release THE EMPIRES OF INHUMANITY. With an obvious obsession with Slayer with touches of Destruction, Sodom, and Kreator very apparent throughout this 10-track excursion, this purebread headbanging crew dishes out a sinister cavalcade of galloping riffs (“Another Rotten Life”), throat-ripping screams, and frenetic drums with a powerful precision-driven performance that deters the glaring lack of originality long enough to warrant multiple listens for the most ardent of followers of the thrash metal movement.
www.metalblade.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Ingested,"Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering" (Candlelight)
UK metal mavens Ingested adopt the new philosophy of extreme heavy metal to an almost fault on their debut effort SURPASSING THE BOUNDARIES OF HUMAN SUFFERING. While broad strokes of deathcore and slam adorn much of this squad’s musical output, hints of bands such as Dying Fetus, Suffocation and Devourment slip in and out between the standard squealing guitar fills and guttural vocal rants to give this nine-track affair a bit of depth that goes beyond the breakdown and studio trickery. And while titles such as “Anal Evisceration” and “Intercranial Semen Injection” border on downright ridiculousness, it’s all part of Ingested’s relentless quest to brutalize at any and all costs, yielding redundant blasts of slamming grooves, an unsettlingly gore-obsessed lyrical vision, and the kind of mechanized mayhem with misogynistic overtones that gets old and stupid rather fast.
www.candlelightrecordsusa.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Triumfall,"Antithesis of All Flesh" (Regain)
Serbian black metal unit Triumfall start their debut eight-track album ANTITHESIS OF ALL FLESH off thunderously with a orchestral yet spooky feel, setting the tone for this unit’s Dimmu Borgir meets Emperor style of black metal malevolence. While some may argue that Triumfall brings nothing that hasn’t been heard if you’re a follower of the darker end of the metal spectrum, they do manage to present it with a raw quality and the glacial conviction that stirs emotions on cuts like the rousing “Omega Overeasts The Presence”. Carefully carves harsh vocals, tremolo-picked guitars, and bastardized blast beats from the playbooks of the top of the genre to comprise a devious yet often visited blend of symphonic black metal complete with all of the trimmings (“Within Their Midnight”), Triumfall concocts a straightforward slab of menacing metal that doesn’t stray too far away from the nefarious middle ground it was birthed from.
www.regainrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


October File,"Our Souls To You" (Candlelight)
The rebellious streak of British metal act October File is alive and well in their music as shown on latest disc OUR SOULS TO YOU. Furiously pounding out with a punishing array of clanging Ministry-esque rhythms while supporting a string of conspiracy theory inspired political rants and social diatribes akin to arguably the band’s biggest influence Killing Joke, this quartet’s angst-ridden hardcore punk contains an anarchistic aura that you can’t buy at the mall (“Isolation”) propelling their harsh hybrid of metal, punk, and industrial past the point of angry into a whole new level of contempt. Juxtaposing metallic brute force with a mechanized heartbeat fueled by repetitive mantras revealing excessive fits of displaced rage towards the powers that be (“Dredge”), this 10-track release comes with a bonus four tracks remixed by industrial metal pioneer Justin Broadrick, who tacks on more throbbing beats than a discotheque on a Saturday night while subtly accentuating the band’s condemnation for those in control via samples and atmospheric reinterpretations of October File’s intended themes and viewpoints.
www.candlelightrecordsusa.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Big Ball,"Hotter Than Hell" (AFM)
Deriving their familiar sound from a strict diet of Brian Johnson-era AC/DC with a hint of Accept while taking their album title from KISS (surprised Gene Simmons hasn’t reached out to them yet), there’s very little in the way of creativity coming through on the 13-track disc HOTTER THAN HELL by German hard rockers Big Ball. There’s a lot of good time big beat down and dirty rock and roll to be had here, but if you own any of AC/DC’s later material, you know what to expect and can definitely do without this clone. The crude nature by which they ape the formula of the aforementioned and incorporate it into their sleazed-up version only manages to add their name to the long list of bands that do their best to emulate Angus and company and fail miserably.
www.afm-records.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


The Daisy Anthesis,"Surface and the Sky" (Diminished Fifth)
Making a startling transformation from acoustic act to progressive deathcore squad sounds like an impossible mission, yet the Canadian trio The Daisy Anthesis have defied the odds and done just that. Proving that they are an eclectic unit, their debut endeavor SURFACE AND THE SKY documents this group’s amazing stylistic jump with every odd time signature movement and chaotic rhythmic switch (“Transparent (Part 3)”). This 11-track affair is definitely not your run of the mill heavy album, as this troupe does a fine job of keeping things lively with a bevy of sweeping dynamic shifts, spurts of technical musicianship, jarring dissonant bass and guitar runs, and an overall herky-jerky offbeat quality woven into the framework of each song (“In the Eyes of the Prosecutor”), channeling bands such as Candiria, The Red Chord, and Psyopus with touches of Strapping Young Lad and grindcore strewn in the process while a manic vocalist screams his lungs out the entire duration of the album. Perfect for heavy music fans that prefer a challenge, SURFACE AND THE SKY is a release chock full of intriguing twists and turns with the musical chops and song structures to support The Daisy Anthesis’ left of center tendencies.
www.diminishedfifthrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Portal,"Lurker at the Threshold" (Crome Leaf)
Avant-garde Australian death metal squad Portal are all about turning convention sideways, and their latest re-released offering taken from this whacked out outfit’s demo tape entitled LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD is now available via a picture disc thanks to the folks at Chrome Leaf. Truly showcasing why this band is so revered on the underground circuit, this act doles out an array of warped metallic nuances spun with a woozy aura that induces panic from the onset. Despite only featuring two tracks that run under 10 minutes in length, this affair’s unbridled barrages of weird noise permeate a long-lasting unsettling vibe bound to stick in your craw and give nightmares long after the last cacophonous guttural blasted strand is played.
www.chromeleaf.org
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Jackyl,"When Moonshine and Dynamite Collide" (Mighty Loud)
Jesse James Dupree and company returns after a lengthy hiatus with WHEN MOONSHINE AND DYNAMITE COLLIDE, a high-octane lowbrow hard rock hootenanny chock full of down and dirty double entendres from this Atlanta based quartet. Maintaining an unadulterated love for AC/DC with barn burning riffs galore (“I Can’t Stop”, “Get Mad At It”) and James’ whiskey-soak wail manning the helm (“She’s Not a Drug”), this 12-track excursion allows the listener a firsthand account of what it’s like to ride shotgun with the band with a Mason jar of homemade brew in your lap and a team of strippers shaking their assets on the back of the flatbed. Turn off your brain and turn up Jackyl’s tried and tested yet contrived blend of no frills southern fried hard rock anthems perfect for both the stripper pole or the parking lot all-nighter and leave your responsibilities and inhibitions at the door.
www.facebook.com/officialjackyl
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


The Breathing Process,"Odyssey (Un) Dead" (Candlelight)
The Breathing Process is a New England metal troupe that incorporates a hodgepodge of modern metal nuances into their latest 13-track presentation ODYSSEY (UN) DEAD that don’t always gel well together. Armed with a overbearing Goth-esque barrage of keyboards and pianos infiltrating through new school Euro metal structures laden with gloppy stabs at atmospheric grandiosity and taciturn triggered to death percussion (“The Living Forest”), The Breathing Process provides flashes of an imaginative edge but remains too bogged down with second-rate metalcore tendencies (“The Opaque Forest”) to fully realize the fruits of their labor, almost as if the band tries too hard to force elements and implement mindsets into their music that don’t really belong just to fit in with the Hot Topic crowd or into a particular tour package. Instead of servicing songs properly, The Breathing Process utilize a type of cut and paste maneuvers that come off as an insincere and half-baked metallic exercise drill whose promising parts are outweighed by the band’s overwrought issues with identity.
www.candlelightrecordsusa.com
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Locusta,"Locusta" (Pragmatic)
Ohio-based extreme metal quintet Locusta unleashes a hellacious flurry of blackened death metal on their 10-track eponymous debut. Implementing a dastardly blend of dark and furious riffs that wield both progressive death and Swedish melodic metal tendencies (“Mutiny”) with an ample throat supplying the belligerent growls necessary to invoke curses and frighten the masses (“Dusk at the Mausoleum”), Locusta showcases the bloodthirsty aptitude to rip you to shreds (“War of Knaves”) as well as the ability to take a more stylized approach without losing any thunder (“2012”). Drawing its sinister sound from the likes of Immolation, Skeletonwitch, and Suffocation with a level of musicianship that is a cut above the norm, Locusta boast the chops and the songwriting acumen to make waves in the extreme metal genre on musical merit alone.
www.myspace.com/locusta614
Rating:

Review by Mike SOS


Jeff Beck,"Emotion and Commotion" (Atco)
Legendary British guitarist Jeff Beck returns with his latest album! Full of the same rock and roll bombast of his past solo albums but with added participation from several up and coming vocalists to balance out the shredding, it is nonetheless Beck's album. With his mastery of the guitar, how could it not be? While Beck is respected and well-known among musos for his guitar work, his relatively low public profile has long puzzled many fans, who recognize Beck's vast accomplishments and innovative techniques but puzzle over his career choices. Where contemporaries such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page are much more famous, yet arguably no more talented or creative, Beck seemingly toils in the background, emerging every few years with an album that blows everyone's mind, then retreating back into the ether content to fix his roadsters while the spotlight shines on other, mostly lesser talents rendering his reutation as that of an also-ran, while he should have been a leader, a star. While his regular hiatuses are a big culprit in that regard, possibly the most glaring reason was and is the lack of a strong vocalist throughout his career to augment his music. Where Jimmy Page had Robert Plant and Eddie Van Halen had David Lee Roth, Beck had Rod Stewart but only for two years. After Stewart split to join the Faces, Beck either used lesser talents or no one at all. For those who say a lot of jazz guitarists and newer phenoms like Eric Johnson have succeeded without vocalists, I would posit that while semi-famous, none are held in as high regard in the rock pantheon as Clapton, Page or Van Halen. And before anyone says it, Hendrix was his own vocalist (as is Clapton), so he's in a different strata. Truly, while Beck has certainly not squandered his career, it is safe to say most would agree he has not had the career fitting an artist of his talent and inventiveness.

In fact, when his career was just starting, Beck was poised to become one of the biggest stars in all of England.

Beck first became known when he replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, at that time one of Britain's most populaqr rock bands. After years of playing the club scene but scoring no hits, the Yardbirds and their manager Mickie Most had decided to deviate from the band's hardcore blues beginnings to become more of a commercial rock band. When blues-purist Clapton ran screaming, Beck joined and was more than up to the musical challenge and decided to use the situation to make a name for himself. He stayed with the band for the next two years, far and away their most succesful period as they scored several hits during this time and would have none post-Beck. Beck's personal management eventually convinced the guitarist to go off and start a solo career, which took off in England thanks to a hokey hit Beck himself disavows today, "Hi Ho Silver Lining". Realizing he did not like to sing despite having a hit on his hands, Beck next formed the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, an almost too-young Ronnie Wood on bass and a succession of drummers. Unbeknownst to Beck at the time, the band would not only be an inspiration to Led Zeppelin (the Zep were half-Yardbirds inspired and half Beck Group - fitting since Jimmy Page played along with and later replaced Beck in the Yardbirds) but also to a legion of heavy metal bands, who copped the Beck Group's approach to creating loud rock songs with pounding riffs and prominent vocals. Despite two albums which sold respectfully and plenty of touring, in-fighting led to the break-up of the band. Stewart and Wood left to form the Faces while Beck formed a new band and released two lackluster albums which weeren't successful critically or commercially. When the band Cactus disbanded, Beck grabbed Carmine Appice (drums) and Tim Bogert (bass) from the band's rhythm section and released a trio album which was universally panned as being plodding and uninspired. Beck vanished from the scene for close to two years, re-emerging with Blow-By-Blow, an album featuring a new sound owing more to jazz fusion than the straight ahead rock sounds of his earlier efforts. Produced by Beatles producer George Martin, the album was almost unanimously praised and Beck's comeback had begun. Beck followed it up almost immediately with a similar sounding album named Wired and a live album with keyboardist Jan Hammer. Following this spate of activity, Beck took three years off only to re-emerge with There and Back in 1980 and Flash in 1985, continuing Beck's preference with taking a few years off between projects to re-energize himself, occasionally emerging to do session work or make a cameo during a band's live show. A return to form after the lackluster Flash, Beck's Guitar Shop was issued in 1989, followed by Crazy Legs in 1993, a tribute to the rockabilly stylings of Gene Vincent, one of Beck's heroes. Since then, there have been another handful of albums, all with spacings of three to five years between each, allowing Beck to retrench and re-emerge with a new conmcept, if not always a new sound.

Suffice to say, this album proves Beck is still at the top of his game. With more vocalists present on this new disc than on most of his outings, Beck finds the perfect balance between playing his usual balls-to-the-wall style and framing his guitar work tastefully around his chosen singer. Joss Stone, Imelda May, and opera diva Olivia Safe serve as Beck vocal foils on this disc and each one adds her own special way with a song to the proceedings, while Beck is content to work his magic around them on their songs and go for the throat on the instrumentals. Using the vocalists is but one of the ways Beck shows his versatility. He also shows his varied palette of tones and textures by employing a 64-piece orchestra on a cut or two and exhibiting a great taste in covers, from Screamin' Jay Hawkins I Put A Spell On You to two songs from cult songwriter Jeff Buckley. Those who expect a wall-to-wall shred party may be taken aback by the lyrical mood of Beck's playing on this one. Beck has always been a tasteful player, even when he was shooting for the sonic stratosphere, but he takes it to a new level here and the production by Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson frames his elegant and graceful playing perfectly. Those who expected the futuristic electronica-influenced textures of his last album will no doubt be pleasantly shocked by his return to the full-bodied, tasteful progressive rock of his earlier solo years.

While never much for guitar wank-fests, I like this disc. Not only does Beck play his ass off (did you see his performance on this year's Grammy Awards telecast where he did How High The Moon with a girl singer (Imelda May) in tribute to Les Paul? Whew, Beck can still burn with the best of them, no studio tricks needed.) but he balances the album with the perfect ratio of instrumentals to songs with vocalists. While, to my ears, his choice of vocalists could be more inspired, the vocals are fine and serve their purpose - to frame and augment Beck's guitar work and providing a brief break from the next instrumental. That Beck has decided to stay away from trends and stick to the kind of playing that brought him to the dance back in the '70's is refreshing as well. This new Beck (same as the old Beck) is a great listen I will be enjoying for a long time - probably at least as long as it takes Beck to reappear with his NEXT CD.
www.jeffbeck.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere,"Midnight Flyer" (Stax)
This new album Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere answers the musical question of what happens when one of the most original, soulful and popular guitarists of the '60's and '70's teams up with an equally original, soulful and popular keyboardist of the same era with one of the most recognizable singing voices in the history of rock and roll for an duo album. Cropper is best known for being one of the main lynchpins of Stax Records, handling guitar duties for Booker T and the MG's, writing a ton of soul hits and playing guitar on more of them than just about any guitarist in the history of music. Cavaliere is best known as the keyboard player for The (Young) Rascals who had a plethora of hits in the middle and end of the '60's and who ultimately became a pioneering cosmic soul band with several great concept albums at the end of their hitmaking run. This, their second album together (the first, Nudge It Up A Notch, was one of the best albums released in 2008 according to many critics, including your's truly) shows the aging duo still mining the same soul grooves in which they've toiled their entire careers. Though their hit-making days were essentially over by the early '70's as The Rascals disintegrated and Stax went belly-up, both remained relatively active in the music world, especially Cropper.

In fact, the solo careers of Cavaliere and Cropper are almost mirror images of each other. While Cavaliere sought to claim solo success and released several fine, if unappreciated, albums including the gorgeous Castles in The Air from 1979, Cropper sought to stay behind the scenes, producing many artists and only begrudgingly releasing one solo album in the early '80's. Though Cropper produced plenty of albums and did a lot of session work, had his songs recorded by other artists etc., the soul scene never quite regained its' footing and Cropper was either unable or unwilling to go after the disco or modern R&B markets to transition his career. Cavaliere probably had it rougher. Though his work with The Rascals is beloved by many, aside from people covering his old songs (most notably Pat Benatar with You Better Run) Cavaliere was mostly forgotten, his new releases ignored and that glorious voice off the radio more due to the passing of time than any decline in musical prowess.

For this new record, the second of their collaborations, Cropper and Cavaliere find themselves just as much in a rut as in a groove. While hearing Cropper's slicing, jagged guitar work and Cavaliere's vocal and organ stylings in a new framework are incredibly cool, the songs are only half of what they should be and seem like Memphis soul pastiches than actual soul songs. While not terrible, it teeters on being lifeless and the pair may want to think about taking more time to work on their own songs before their next release or grab a more talented songwriter with a fresher approach and collaborate. Other than that, the album is what it is, though it could obviously have been so much more.

Since I have always loved '60's-style soul music and Cavaliere's work with The Rascals in particular, I have to say I wish I adored this record. While his voice has obviously altered a little with age, Cavaliere is thankfully still Cavaliere while Cropper still burns up the fretboard as he always did, burning at just the right time and making his point with an economy of notes and a plethora of soul. In Hollywood, they would no doubt call the teaming of these two musical titans "inspired casting". I just wish they would have been inspired to either wrfite or record a better batch of songs. While whoever or whatever made these two soul titans decide to work together deserves much, much credit if they want to make this partnership work they're going to have to come up with a better batch of songs. Their last album worked because of the novelty of hearing these two tear it up in a big way after so many years. Now, without that excitement, the execution is all that's left and it is lacking. I would get their first pairing, Nudge It Up A Notch, and forget this one.
www.concordmusicgroup.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Bobby Charles,"Timeless" (Rice and Gravy Records)
One of the true enigmas of rock and roll music has his posthumous album released on his own label, a label with an uncertain future I am guessing, so you may have to spend a little time hunting this release down. Please do, though (and quickly as I am not sure how long it will be in print) as it is one of the mostg poignant musical statements I have heard in quite a while. There no secret Charles was hurting while making this final disc, and perhaps he knew it would be his last musical statement, one can never tell. What one can tell, however, is that no matter how much he was hurting, how much the pretty much constant health problems over the past decade or so were wearing him down, Charles kept his humor and his sense of humanty intact. It's in his songs, the little homespun homilies and the musical parables he recorded pretty much through his career and scattered on his much-too-infrequent albums. And what a career!

Charles has one of the most intertesting backgrounds in rock music. Born in 1938 in a small town in Lousiana, Charles' exposure to music for the first ten or so years of his life was traditional cajun music. It wasn't until he became a teenager that Charles first started listening to rock and roll music and soon rock and roll had an unbreakable hold on Charles to the point where he started singing with a local combo who played dances around his area. Figuring he should write material for the band instead of just doing covers like other combos in the area, Charles penned a song entitled See You Later, Alligator. The song was heard by a record storew owner who happened to know Leonard Chess, owner of the fabled Chess Records, and soon Chess invested in a arecording of the song and decided to sign Charles to a contract.There has been some conjecture that Chess did not even know Charles was a white Cajun when he signed Charles. Chess released a single of Charles doing the song but the song didn't become a huge hit until covered by Bill Haley and the Comets a year later in 1956. Though not a hitmaker, Chess thought Charles would be great as a writer for other artists, and he kept Charles on s6taff for another year before Charles moved to Imperial until 1959. Though he wpould record sporadically for some small New Orleans-based labels,.for the most part Charles put his career on hold for close to fifteen years. Oddly, during this hiatus, he became recognized as a great songwriter due to artists such as Fats Domino and Clarence "Frogman" Henry (among others) recording many of his compositions. At the dawn of the '70's, Charles decided to get back into music but had a hard time working in New Orleans due to some personal problems. Moving to the upstate New York area to allow the heat to die down and to think about his next move, Charles ran into some members of The Band, who were living in the area at the time (at Big Pink, their communal home, to be exact). The members encouraged their manager and Bearsville label owner Albert Grossman to help extricate Charles from his legal troubles, in exchange for which Charles agreed to record an album for Bearsville. With The Band's backing, Charles recorded a classic album produced by Rick Danko (keyboardist for The Band) which was actually Charles' album debut, only about 16 years aftre Charles recorded his first single. Due to a later falling-out with Grossman, the follow-up he recorded was never released and aside from an appearance in The Band's The Last Waltz, he went back into semi-retirement and didn't make another album until the latter part of the '80's. After 1987's Clean Water, Charles would only release an album sporadically, with the late '90's seeing the release of two albums in quick succession with those albums released so quickly due to being mostly collections of tracks recorded over a span of twenty years previous to their release.

hankfully,.Charles never really left his music career behind, as this new album attests.

The title of Charles new album is more than fitting as his music, and especially his songs, are polished little musical jewels which will no doubt stand the test of time like the rest of Charles' songs. By not succumbing to any fads, and sticking to the overflowing grist that is the human condition, Charles always managed to capture what was special around him and do it such a sly, sharp way as to make the listener feel as if he was talking about their lives, about their experiences. Thus, his songs have always been universal and can be appreciated, listened to, and sung by anyone and still convey their power due to Charles' simple but direct way with words which still manage to cut right to the heart of the situation. His sharp notice of detail and his tendency to keep his phrases short and simple, to cut to the bone of what his point was and just nail it, is what sets him apart from most songwriters who tend to overwrite, writing circles around themselves until their basic premise is lost. Being a simple man from Lousiana, Charles always knew the best tack was to say it understandably as possible and get out of the way - make your point and move on. That he had a sly wit and could do so with grace and aplomb makes his songs special, and on this CD there isn;t a dud in the best, nor did I expect there to be. What I didn;t expect is the group of all-stars Charles gathered together to help him with his work. When you see Charles can get a band together that features Dr. John, Jon Cleary, and Fats Domino himself (the first song is dedicated to Fats Domino, in part due to uplift Domino's spirits after Domino's house was lost due to Hurricane Katrina) on keyboards, Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks on guitars, and a host of other ringers, you realize how beloved Charles and his songs were to his peers. In fact, good as this album is (and it is) I am hoping there are more tracks floating around out there yet to be released. Charles music is a treasure, and even though he is gone, there are hopefully some great songs in the can that have not been heard yet. I can hope, can't I?

Ever since I got my hands on a CD of Charles' Bearsville album with the song "Small Town Talk" on it, I have been hooked on Charles' work and have tried to obtain everything he has released. Though never a showy vocalist, Charles has a pleasant, expressive voice with a lot of warmth and has always specialized in creating a mood similar to country singer Charlie Rich, in that every word that comes out of his mouth is sung so low-key it is almost spoken and the vocals are recorded in a way that makes you think Charles is speaking directly to you, as if he was sitting across from you and there was a conversation going on. In other words, this is not a CD to put on while you're getting ready to go to the club, nor is it a CD that will sound great while driving. This CD is for those reflective moments, to listen to when the pressures of the day have taken their toll and you need to relax and regroup. This CD is for when you are needing some joy. Charles never seemed to have a problem conveying it. I just wish he were more prolific. Thank God I have his CDs and I am only to glad to add this great one to my collection. I hope you decide to buy it also.
bobbycharles.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


T-Model Ford,"The Ladies Man" (Alive Records)
While the blues revival of the '80's and '90's has waned considerably thanks to touring costs, the age of the artists and a handful of other factors, there is a plethora of blues releases coming out on a regular basis. Whether it's because the blues speaks to all facets of life like a universal language or if the form is easily understood is unknown. Hell, it could be because three chords are easier to play than five so let's get a band together and bash out some jams etc. etc. No one will ever know for sure. What I do know is few blues releases stand out like the albums by T-Model Ford. Though the blues is a "truth-telling" sort of music if you get my meaning, Ford tells the truth like no other and when one listens to Ford's music, one gets the sense Ford has some sort of life lesson to hand down and you better pay attention because if you miss it, you'll be sorry. At least, that's the impression I get when listening to his albums.

Though his age is somewhere around the age of 90 (sources differ on exactly how old he is and trying to get Ford to tell you a straight story is about as hard as making a politician tell the truth) Ford has only relatively recently become a big name in the blues world. Part of the reason is he took up the guitar and, subsequently, started his musical career very late in life. Discovered and recorded during the '90's by onetime Mississippi label Fat Possum (since relocated to the big time music city of LA), Ford is musical kin to the other Mississippi hills bluesmen who also were recorded by the label, such as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Now signed to the wonderful Alive label, who specialize in garage rock, psychedic freakout and other visceral musical forms, Ford has found a label who is willing to pick up where Fat Possum left off and give his powerful blues statements the attention they deserve. No offense to Fat Possum who releases a lot of great music, but when they decided to concentrate more on fad-of-the-day rock and roll and get away from what brought them to the dance, they made a grave mistake. Especially in letting Ford go. While not an artist who is going to make a huge sales impact or get tons of radio play, Ford is a heritage artist who commands respect and will sell for perpetuity and not be tied down to a specific fad. Ford's music is universal and accessible to anyone, no matter the race or age. If you breathe, if you hurt, if you love - you will be affected by Ford's music as it speaks to the human condition and does so in a way that will cut deep into your soul if you let it.

And speaking of the human condition, if this album has a sense or urgency to it (and it does) it may be because Ford had been having heart problems which necessitated a pacemaker being installed during the recording of this album. Not that you could tell from listening to Ford, who lays down his vocals with all the power and expressiveness one can expect from a man with a lifteime full of stories and the desire to get them all out. Accompanied by his backup band GravelRoad, Ford cut his vocals in one marathon session, live to tape with no overdubs or any Pro-tools or any other kind of studio tricks the young'uns rely upon but any true musician should never need, and one can even hear the occasional wisecrack or comment from Ford in between songs, giving the album a real loose feel, as if we were invited into the session. Any album by Ford is loaded with his own special brand of charisma, but this album stands tall as one of his best as despite any health problem he had, the man is ON. And even more interesting, he KNOWS it and uses this knowledge to push himself to an even greater performance than usual.

This may come as no surprise, but I think this CD is pretty damn cool. I have listened to the blues pretty extensively over the years and though I do not listen to blues at this time as much as I have in the past, the artists I tend to run across currently are very derivative and often are coasting on the structure of the blues, in that they are very respectful of the form and do very little to "upset the apple cart" as it were. Not Ford. While some will listen and no doubt hear Ford's music and think he is just another country bluesman, if one were to take more than a cursory listen to his music, one would notice Ford playing with the form quite a bit and though steeped in tradition, has an attitude about his music and the way it is presented which says modern in the same way Johnny Cash made his last few albums before his passing. Ford is able to use his age to add nuances and hues to the blues most artists can't grasp. Give Ford's deep,.deep blues a deep, deep listen and I think you will find yourself as enamored with his music as I am.
www.alive-totalenergy.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Scott Morgan,"Self Titled" (Alive Records)
You can't help but love this! Michigan garage rock legend Scott Morgan emerges with a new album nearly fifty years after forming his first band! Not only that, but aside from appearances on other bands' records, the occasional single and scattered band projects, this marks Morgan's first album under his own name! While not a happening on par with a new XTC album, let's say, Morgan has always been a card-carrying flag-waver for all that is special and right about primal rock and roll and for him to produce a full album on a label with such a great rep as Alive at this point in his career is astounding. I mean, at the age when most rockers either decide to hang it up or just coast by doing "stunt" albums with others songs and high-priced guest stars and "high concepts" Morgan has put out an album doing what he has always done best - high octane garage rock with a little psyche, a little pop and a whole lotta R&B and soul. This could be the beginning of a new stage in his career, and what a career it has already been!

Morgan began his music career in 1962, forming his first band in his hometown of Ann Arbor, MI, shortly after being given his first guitar by his parents. Named the Rationals, Morgan formed the band with schoolmate Steve Correll who also had a passion for music and played guitar. It took two years for the band to solidify its' lineup, just in time for the British Invasion to take hold and Morgan was like every other aspiring rocker during this time period, adoring the British rockers and studying their every rock and roll move. Of course, added to the mix was a dollop of R&B gleaned from Motown and many Michigan soul acts. The act began to make waves after hooking up with a manager and working on their act until they became one of the biggest acts in the state, releasing several regional hits and also having brief dalliances with major labels such as Cameo-Parway and Capitol records. By the end of the decade, the band's music began taking on a harder, more psychedelic edge and their first album was recorded. Sadly, as soon as the album was completed, the bandmembers began experiencing personal friction between them and the band was soon kaput. Morgan didn't wait long to find his next project, as a mere few months later Morgan joined a band named Guardian Angel. That project evolved into another, this time named Lightning but that band, alsom wound up as more of a short term project. Morgan's next long term musical project would be formed in 1975 and feature guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, onetime member of the MC5. The project, named Sonic Rendezvous Band, would become legendary amongst fans of high energy rock yet never cut an album, due to lack of interest from record labels. Since then, many discs of studio tapes, live cuts and rarities have been assembled and released of the band, which also featured Scott Asheton of The Stooges on drums. The band broke up in 1980 and since then, Morgan has had a series of bands, the most notable of which have been the Scott Morgan Band, Scots Pirates, Dodge Main and the Hydromatics.

Besides being Morgan's first recording project under his own name, this new CD may also be the finest work he's done. Not only is his voice as powerful and supple as ever, but his songwriting chops are first-rate and his choice of supporting musicians inspired. On board for this album are Matthew Smith (guitarist for Outrageous Cherry and The Volebeats), Jim Diamond (bass and production), Chris Taylor (guitarist for Mazinga and Powertrane) and Dave Shettler (drummer for the Sights) all doing their respective thing and doing it ferociously. Morgan manages to take the best hard R&B/soul of The Rationals and combine it with the hard rock of the Sonic Rendezvous Band to create an album encapsulating everything he does best, from blues to soul to rock.

I love the primal force of great garage rock so I gotta say I am digging this record. While I definitely enjoy an excellently arranged and skillfully played song with all the filigrees and gee-gaws one might expect from an ornately constructed composition with premium production, for my money, the pure essence of rock and roll's passion and heart is captured under minimal conditions. I can listen to two-man groups doing the guitar and drums thing all day and though this is more fleshed out than those types of acts, Morgan and crew are on the same page. A lot of the best rock is music kept simple, with pounding drum beats, blazing guitars and liver quivering bass lines carrying the day. Anything else is pure icing on the cake, and, while musically delicious, is not necessarily required or needed and sometimes, not even wanted. On this album, Morgan has found the exact recipe to bring his version of rock and roll to life and he succeeds greatly on this disc. Lovers of pure rock and roll should get this ASAP.
www.alive-totalenergy.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Blue Rodeo,"The Things We Left Behind" (Warner Bros)
I would be remiss if I didn't offer an apology to Blue Rodeo and to their label for not getting to this review of the new two-CD set by Canada's greatest band (next to Sloan, anyways) a lot sooner. Truth is, I took it out to my car a few months ago as I wanted listening material for an upcoming road trip and just got so used to having it close at hand during long drives (and short ones too) I totally forgot I needed to review it and let you, faithful readers, know about the album I have been listening to almost non-stop since I received it. I guess I also owe you an apology as well because if you didn't know about this album, you've been missing out on one of the most impressive albums this year and one that (at this point anyway) is definitely going to be on my top ten for the year.

Yeah, I said it. It's that good. But it's no surprise really, as this band's been putting out great albums for about thirty years now.

For those who are hearing about Blue Rodeo for the first time, it is definitely going to be my pleasure to introduce you to their music. I've been a fan for so long It seems almost as if in a previous life that I first heard them. I first encountered the music of Blue Rodeo when I was much, much younger and tearing up the Western New York countryside with my high school and college pals. Living in a town near the Canadian border allowed for much more interesting radio options, as we got a huge helping of Canadian radio on the dial. Canada has a rule which forces broadcasters (radio and television) to program a certain amount of Canadian content every hour. The Canadian content criteria is as follows: the artist has to reside in Canada, the album has to have been produced in Canada, the album has to be produced by a Canadian, and the songs have to be written by Canadian and all songs played for Canadian content had to meet at least three of these four criteria. So, almost needless to say, I remember those stations playing a lot of Rush, Bryan Adams, Guess Who and whichever idiot it was who sang "Go for Soda". Every once in a while, some more adventurous DJ would stick in some David Wilcox, a new-wave type band called The Jitters, or a little roots rock band called Blue Rodeo. I first became aware of them when their second album Diamond Mine was released and man, was I impressed. The closest I can come to describing how muuch the band hit me was when I first heard Wilco circa Box of Letters and I thought someone had finally listened to what Blue Rodeo was doing and had adapted it a little bit. That's how much I think of Blue Rodeo, that Wilco copied them,l you know? I mean, Diamond Mine was like "whoosh" to my brain. Country radio had just started playing Rodney Crowell and Dwight Yoakam and I thought that this country rock stuff was going to get huge as it blended the best of rock but still had a rootsy sensibility and a gritty honesty most bands weren't offering at the time. Remember, in '87 when the band released it's debut hair metal and synth-propelled dance music.were pretty much the only things on pop radio. To hear a band on the radio at that time, sounding like Blue Rodeo did, was a revelation. As the '90's came and went, Blue Rodeo continued releasing great albums, many of which went multi-platinum in their native country and garnered great reviews in the lower 48. Expectations were that Blue Rodeo would join the alt.country revolution happening in the States with bands like Whiskeytown, Jayhawks, Wilco et al. and these bands would become huge. Alas, it was not to be but where these other bands fell by the wayside or changed their sound in the late '90's/'00's, Blue Rodeo has kept on, exploring other sub-genres to a point but always centering their sound around their roots rock origin, to their fans delight.

This album is no different. While little tweaks are noticeable in the band's sound, the album still rests solely at the feet of songwriters/co-leaders Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor. Little did I know while I was listening to the band on the radio in 1987, the Cuddy and Keelor had first met and started playing music together a full ten years earlier. Looking back, whenever I heard their music I always marveled at their songwriting ability and how their music seemed to have a maturity to it, so it makes sense considering how long they have been a team, even back then. There's no doubt as they moved through band after band together, both their songwriting styles and symbiotic and sympathetic musical relationship became stronger and more well defined, while simultaneously (and paradoxically) become so in tune with each other their songwriting styles mesh perfectly, though it seems from the last few albums most songs are written by one or the other separately, though both have their names on the song ala Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards. Regardless who actually writes them, these songs resonate with the same values the band's material has always embodied. One new wrinkle on this album is the absence of a regular keyboardist, as the band has guests fill in. Keyboards have always been a big part of the band's sound so it's an interesting development for the band. Still, the band's songs are the key and, on this set, they are top-notch. There's not a throwaway in the bunch and though few bands can pull off a ten minute song and hold my interest, this set has two and each one, though sometimes meandering, has a flow which kept me mesmerized throughout.

I love this album. I always look forward to new Blue Rodeo releases because I always know what I am going to get, which is, the best roots-centered rock and roll any band can create. And that's not to say they rehash the same things over and over or that they've run out of ideas. That's not the case at all and the band has mixed it up over the years with their explorations into psyche rock and their adding a little pop to their sound here and there. What it means is that at the core of every Blue Rodeo release are solid songs with a viewpoint to which anyone can relate. The band refuses to chase after stardom, preferring their listeners find and, ultimately, stick with them on their musical journey. I know I have and will continue to do so. If you give this set a chance, I have no doubt you will feel the same way.
www.bluerodeo.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Waylon Jennings,"Waylon/Singer of Sad Songs" (Collector's Choice)
Waylon Jennings,"Love of The Common People/Hangin' On" (Collector's Choice)
Waylon Jennings,"Folk Country/Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan" (Collector's Choice)
In their infinite wisdom (and seeking to right horrible music business injustices) the fine folks at reissue label Collector's Choice has elected to combine six of country outlaw legend Waylon Jennings most interesting and negelected albums onto three CDs. As anyone who has bought titles from the label knows, when Collector's Choice decides to release something from the vaults, you can be assured that not only will the music will be top notch and sound pristine but the packaging will be lovingly assembled with informative and intelligently written liner notes. Let me assure you these three CDs fall in line with what you would expect from Collector's Choice. In fact, as much as I love the music (whatever it happens to be, but believe me, I am excited about these Jennings reissues in particular very much. I am and have been for awhile, a huge fan.) Collector's Choice decides to reissue, the first thing I do when I get one is open it up in a rush so that I can read the liners. For these hot little releases, I was actually camped out at my mailbox for a few weeks as I waited, waited, waited for them to show up. Jennings is a personal hero of mine, not just for his music, which is sublime but also for his general stance against any powers that be that wanted to fuck with him or his music. He pretty much led one of the most interesting lives in the music business and created some of the most enduring music (of any genre) you will ever hear.

Born in Littlefield TX, music became Jennings' life at an early age. By the age of twelve he was already a professional DJ with his own radio show and had mastered the guitar a full four years before that! After quiitting school at the age of fourteen, Jennings worked his way to Lubbock TX and became a DJ at one of the stations there, befriending Buddy Holly (who was there to play live on the radio), who became his mentor. With Holly's production help, Jennings recorded his first single, a version of the New Orleans standard Jolie Blon and also filled in as a bass player in Holly's band The Crickets for their final tour. Just to give you an idea how much the world was destined to hear Jennings music, Jennings was scheduled to be on the fatal flight that killed Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens. The Big Bopper was nursing a cold so Jennings gave The Big Bopper his seat so he could reach the next tour stop earlier in order have maximum time to rest.

Needless to say, losing his friend and being involved in such an odd circumstance affected Jennings greatly and for two years, he stopped performing music. Eventually, he moved to Phoenix, AZ, and re-started his career as a rockabilly artist. Dissatisfied with how his career was going, he moved to L.A. and began getting noticed by larger labels. A&M was first, but dropped him quick when he wouldn't bow to their demands. Next was RCA and stardom soon followed. Though he ended up becoming a legend after leaving RCA and turning away from the Nashville machine to craft his own brand of hard country, these two-fers chronicle some of the best releases of the RCA years.

The first two-fer contains a couple of albums very integral to Jennings' later career when he was regarded as an outlaw in the music business. When "Waylon" was being recorded in the late '60's, he was already chomping at the bit to gain control of his music as he was very dissatisfied with how Nashville was handling him. Though still working with his longtime producer Danny Davis, you can detect Jennings' dissatisfaction with his sound and the choice of rock and roll cover of Brown Eyed Handsome Man by Chuck Berry is one of the ways Jennings would strike back, using the song to create tension not just with his performance but with the subject matter. Jennings gives each oif the other songs a unique spin and the album is quite an overlooked gem. By the time Singer of Sad Songs was recorded, Davis had been jettisoned in favor of Lee Hazlewood who took Jennings' interest in rock and roll (as well as his own bnatural rebellious streak) and ran with it, producing one of the most dynamic albums of Jennings' career. Nearly every song is a tour de force, with Jennings pouring every ounce of himself into every one of them, giving rollicking performances at every turn. At one time this was one of Jennings' most hard-to-find albums. Thanks to Collector's Choice it can now be enjopyed to the fullest once more.

The second two-fer combines two earlier albums by Jennings, when he was still trying to find his way and put his own stamp on his music which was pushed to country music audiences even when Jennings wanted to rock out. The tentative Love of The Common People is a mixed bag but is worth listening to just to hear Jennings' struggle to shine through the confines of Nashville. That he manages to succeed more often than not is a testimony to his talent. The following year's Hangin' On is another toss-up of tracks, but even the bad ones are very interesting and show Jennings' reaching to create something new, to encompass his vision for his music out of Nashville's strict parameters. The use of brass, unique arrangements, tempos and even the use of Jennings' touring band make this an engaging listen from start to finish and one which I heartily recommend.

The final two-fer begins with his second album, his debut for RCA. Produced by Chet Atkins, it shows Jennings making very safe song choices but nothing that would detract from Jennings' fine performances of the material, of which a great deal comes from songwriter Harlan Howard. While it is tough to find bits of what Jennings would later become, they are there, if in minute doses. His affinity for the songs of Howard would lead to the other album of the two-fer, Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan. Not only does Jennings choose well-known songs originally recorded and turned into hits by other artists like Buck Owens but Jennings also chooses to record a clutch of Howard's lesser known songs, thereby making them his own. A very fine album and what you would expect when you pair one of country music's most original talents with one of music's finest songwriters.

Needless to say I am recommending you rush out and buy all three of these reissues. Not only do you get six total hard-to-find Jennings' albums, but you get some of the most interesting albums ever released by a country artist. Jennings' growth from Nashville newbie to disgruntled veteran determined to call all the shots in his musical career is both fascinating and exciting ti experience, and it's all here in the grooves (so to speak) so0 if you get all three reissues, you'll hear Jennings' growth from album to album as he chafes at the control the label had on him. You'll have to get Jennings' later albums to hear the result of his transformation into ther outlaw country star most know him as today, but these are the first embryonic steps he made towards that result and thanks to Collector's Choice, you'll get to hear these great albums once again.
www.ccmusic.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Justin Currie,"The Great War" (Rykodisc)
With this new release from Justin Currie, we see the former leader of '90's pop sensation Del Amitri returning with the followup to his excellent 2007 debut solo release What is Love For. While Currie's first solo album was a darker turn from the bouncy mid-tempo pop of his former band, this album finds Currie re-visiting the sound of Del Amitri jangle and all! No doubt part of the reason is the presence of Del Amitri guitarist Mick Slaven who brings his very recognizable style of playing along with him. This solo disc is not just a return to Currie's so-called "glory days" however, partly because I feel this album shows his glory days are still ahead of him and moreso because anyone who hears this album will hear a new maturity in Currie. And by maturity, I don;t just mean his voice, which has deepened and darkened just a tad from his mid '90's hit-making days but also the his songs, which show a depth and the evidence of a life having been lived that his earlier material just didn't have. My pick for a hit is the infectious opening cut "A Man With Nothing To Do" which is Currie's post-band take of his former band's sound - ringing guitars, hummable chorus, and effervescent melody - and is what Currie's fans want to hear from him. No here's hoping radio has enough sense to push this track to the moon as it certainly deserves to be heard, as does the rest of the fine record. Pick it up!!
www.rykodisc.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Merle Haggard,"I Am What I Am" (Vanguard)
Weekend television fare around the homestead when I was young was musically very interesting, to say the least. We used to watch Hee-Haw every Saturday night at 7:00 pm per my father, who absolutely loved the show and its' corny country-style humor. Though I didn't realize it then, my dad had very cool tastes in music. It took me years to put it together, but it finally dawned on me after watching years of Hee Haw and B.B. King guest appearances on Johnny Carson (He'd stay up extra late for a King appearance and would often allow me to stay up with him when a musical act he really liked was on the show.) that my dad was a real music fan and, better yet, knew the difference between crap and someone who really had something important to say and/or play. Haggard was one of the artists who, when he would show up on HeeHaw, my dad would get excited about. Of course, Buck Owens was another true legend, but he was a host so was on the show every week. Hag, though, was a different story. He was maybe once every year, maybe every two and it was special whenever he was on. For those shows, dad would put down his crossword puzzles and become transfixed to the TV. As a kid, I had no idea what Haggard meant to my dad or to the music business as a whole, but I knew he had to be important. T^he fact he was singing and playing on such a show after the life he lived was a miracle of it's own, and no doubt became a wealth of fodder for his songs.

Born shortly in California after the Great Depression in 1937, Haggard became restless and rebellious after the death of his father when Haggard was nine and was in and out of detention centers during his early teenage years. His only steady interest besides petty crimes was his interest in country music. Haggard's father was a fiddle player who played in the local bars and hearing his father play honky tonk music no doubt influenced Haggard to pick up the guitar at the age of twelve years old, a gift from his brother who had hoped it would keep Haggard grounded and out of trouble. Depsite Haggard's quick mastery of the instrument, Haggard was still prone to troulbe making and left for Texas with a buddy when he was 14 years old. After returning home and another spell or two in the juvenile detention center, Haggard moved to Modesto and began singing in bars though his music career never really got off the ground due to Haggard's penchant for trouble making and the resultant arrests. Haggard received his big break when attending a Lefty Frizzell performance in Bakersfield. Haggard was able to get backstage and ended up singing a few songs for Frizzell who liked his singing so much Frizzell refused to go on stage until the promoter allowed Haggard to sing a song for the audience. This development gave Haggard confidence in his music career, but not enough to keep him out of trouble. Within a year or so, Haggard was back in jail serving time for robbery. Luckily,.he decided to turn his life around and became a model prisoner. Upon his release, Haggard found a job and resumed his career of singing in bars at night. After winning a few talent shows and becoming a local favorite, Haggard was able to quit his job and survive off of the money he was making singing at clubs. He began to record at local labels in the Bakersfield area, which was starting to take off in the world of country music due to Buck Owens having a ton of hits around this time (the early '60's). Owens was a proponent of the Bakersfield sound and the town's favorite son. The serendipity of Haggard being around Bakersfield just when thye music world was descending upon it looking for the next Owens was very fortuitous because by 1966, Haggard was a country star in his own right. Needless to say, Haggard had hit after hit right up until the early '80's and has recorded sporadically since then, his legend undimished though his sales definitely not what they once were.

This new album from Haggard (hell, any album from Haggard) is a treat as not only did I think he was pretty much retired but he sounds amazingly fresh and rejuvenated on this disc, as rejuvenated as an elder statesman can be, anyway. You have to give it to him to release something this strong at this stage of the game, to be sure, as it can go one of two ways ion cases when elder statesmen try to release new works. Either the album is completely ignored and considered a sub-par last gasp from an artist way past his prime and totally out of touch or the audience realises how special the artist was and accepts the release as a sort of Sermon on The Mount as it were, a legend giving his followers some much needed advice. I am sure Haggard would say this album is just a bunch of songs, but we know better than that, don't we? A sly turn of phrase, vocals done just so, a line sung and written so perfect it seems almost tossed off because we know Haggard can make country music perfection anytime he wants - this is what a legend brings to the table. That he makes it look so easy when anyone who's ever tried to write a good song knows it's harder than hell, is just a testament to the man's talent, still, after all these years.

Rarely does a legend return with a record this vital. As anyone who listens to music knows, when a legendary artist returns with a new album usually we are treated to some tepid release by someone who has not only lost most of their creative juice but also most of their interest in performing and is only coasting on past triumphs, just trying to collect some extra coin by putting out something decidely subpar. Not in this case. Not at all. While Haggard is defintely older, with someone of his caliber and the style of music for which he is known, older is almost better. The songs have an immediacy and a nuance that only someone who has been everywhere and done everything and has those experiences to relate can bring to them. The old tradition of sitting down and listening to your elder's stroies and advice comes into play here. Not only can listeners still hear great music from Haggard, but, on another level, he also brings the knowledge and a certain gravitas to his performances and songs most artists never acquire. Think Johnny Cash on his last four albums or the recent Solomon Burke comeback to get an idea of the quality of music Haggard is still capable of making. To me, this is a no-brainer: all music fans have to own this. It's that simple.
vanguardrecords.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Jakob Dylan,"Women and Country" (Columbia Records)
Every time I hear Jakob Dylan's music I flash back to high school. I couldn't begin to tell you how many of my friends were worried about what their parents thought about them - their reputation, their grades, their choice of girlfriend, their choice of college, their choice of career and on and on. One friend I knew was so worried about doing the right thing by his parents and making sure he was accepted into his father's college so he could follow in his old man's footsteps that he was continually stressed out to the point of popping pills to calm himself down. Now consider how Jakob Dylan must have felt before persuing his career in music growing up as the son of quite possibly the greatest lyricist and songwriter (not to mention musical icon) of all time, Bob Dylan. Talk about your high expectations. And not just from his dad, who was most likely just happy his son was doing what he loves to do, but from the rest of the world who has and will judge anything Jakob does by his father's work. Most likely the junior Dylan just said 'fuck it' and started writing songs and joining bands like most aspiring musicians, but I wonder how I would've taken it and how my poor friend in high school would have reacted to having to match up to that kind of talent and reknown.

Of course, Jakob Dylan has had his own measure of success. With a handful of albums released (no small feat on its' own) and none universally panned (most have been unanimously praised, in fact), Jakob Dylan and his band The Wallflowers scored a few hits in the mid-90's before settling down into a more low-key yet consistent level of fame which does not usually engender monster sales numbers but elicits a steady amount of sales and much press notice. He is in an enviable position as an artist - able to sell just enough to get mainstream attention yet isn't saddled with the burden of being a "pop star" and having to compete with his father in that arena.

On his newest release, Jakob Dylan returns to his solo career without his band The Wallflowers and to the sound he established on his first solo album, the mostly acoustic Seeing Things. Unlike his band's breathrough release of 1996, Bringing Down The Horse, this album (as well as his first solo disc) trade the well-polished rock and roll for a grittier, rootsier, and simpler sound with Jakob Dylan's songwriting suitably stripped to the bones though the arrangements are very inspired. Dylan succeeds handily at juxtaposing his songs' simplicity with the nuanced and varied arrangements he uses, creating music that demands to be listened to over and over so that everything can be caught. While it must be daunting to have a father who's considered one of the greatest songwriters ever, when listening to this record it is easy to hear Jakob is his father's child. The talent is there, in spades.

While this album probably won't have any hits, this is moreso due to the current state of radio and the music business than the quality of Dylan's songs. Musically much more rootsy and heartfelt than the tepid dance drivel usually clogging up the airwaves, Dylan is one of the few artists (his dad would be one of the others) able to take the point of view and experiences of the common man and then distill them into a lyric both powerful and emotionally accessible and then marry the lyric to compelling music which shakes you with its' spirit. While Jakob Dylan's career will no doubt always be weighed against his fathers', anyone with any true musical discernment will be able to hear the greatness Jakob regularly reaches. For sure, this album counts as Jakob Dylan's best yet.
www.jakobdylan.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


Drive-By Truckers,"The Big To-Do" (ATO Records)
Beginning with 1998's Gangstabilly, Patterson Hood and the rest of Drive-By Truckers has shown themselves to be country rock's pre-eminent force, running with the roots rock gauntlet long after bands like Wilco, Son Volt, and Old '97's have made concessions in their sounds for mass acceptance. From their genesis onward, Hood and and his gang have combined their love of all things Southern, warts and all, with an irrepressible rock and roll spirit anchored by the band's vaunted three guitar onslaught. Though the band's first three albums made waves due to the band's emergence as the , it was the band's two CD opus A Southern Rock Opera that put the band on the map. Not that the album sold well, thanks to the band's decision to release it themselves before being signed by roots label Lost Highway, which reissued the album a few years later to a big fanfare but very modest sales. Weak sales could not curb the impact of this release, however. Not a rock opera like those who have heard The Who's Tommy or Jesus Christ Superstar might expect, the album is more of an extended song cycle about a Southern Rock band who eventually works itself up to the big-time. Seem familiar? Since it was a topic Hood and his fellow bandmates knew a lot about (since they we're living it), the band was able to give the intelligently written and creatively executed songs added depth and resonance. With the album came a cache of respect which put the band on the map. Sure, they had excellent work before, but no one can listen to that record and not realize the band took it to another level. It was this cache that allowed the band to recover fast from their eventual release from Lost Highway and snag a deal at New West that saw the band release a handful of discs solidifying their reputation as one of the best bands to emerge from the South in thirty years. The band has now switched to ATO in hopes of broadening their audience. God knows they deserve it though it remains to be seen if the band can adapt their Southern Rock tendencies to something the rest of the masses can grasp.

For this new album on ATO, Hood and his cronies use the old-fashioned boyhood dream of running away to join the circus as fodder for the album's songs. As premises go, it's not bad at all and the possibilities are many. As usual, Hood and his compatriots deliver the goods. With song contributions from bandmembers Shonna Tucker and co-founder Mike Cooley, Hood manages to deliver the band's best album since Southern Rock Opera and, hell, I am wondering if this is just the band's best record, period. While some will no doubt bemoan the departure of Jason Isbell, his presence is not missed on this album and that's not to dismiss the impact he had on the band, just to state that Hood and company have more than made up for his departure and any weak links have been plugged and then some as Hood has turned in some of the best songs of his career while Tucker and Cooley contribute nicely to the song cycle. Cooley, especially, impresses here with his songs "Birthday Boy", "Get Downtown" and the album closer "Eyes Like Glue". While Hood is definitely the driving force of this band, he undoubtedly has the best musical seconds of any band in recfent memory. My question is how does Hood and the band continue to do it? I once heard something about contracts with the Devil, but Hood's still got his soul and plenty of it, since its' drenched all over this record so it can't be that. Either way, it's the best record they've made since Southern Rock Opera so there you go.

When all is said and sang, the Drive-By Truckers may end up as the best Southern Rock bands of all time, displacing Lynyrd Skynyrd and even one of my own persoanl faves, The Allman Brothers. While Skynyrd and the Allmans captured the spirit of the time and had many memorable songs (and even a few hits) the Drive-By Truckers have better songwriters and a more fully-formed sense of what the band is about and what can be accomplished. Granted, some of this self-awareness comes from the impact and music of the Allmans and the other pioneering Southern Rock acts, who were there first and did one hell of a job when firing on all cylinders but I feel the Drive-By Truckers speak for today's South as much as the Allmans and their peers spoke for their South, only the Drive-By Truckers do it a little more impactfully and intelligently while rocking just as hard, if not even harder than the legendary Allmans et al. Let's put it this way: as great as "Jessica", "Whipping Post", and "Gimme Three Steps" are, on any given day Hood and his group can write something more insightful and powerful than any of those classics. The only thing holding their songs back from being classics is not enough people are hearing them. Which is a shame. Don't miss out - pick up this album and play it as loud as you can!!
www.drivebytruckers.com
Rating:

Review by Scott Homewood


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