Monday, August 21, 2017

Narco States - Temples Into Tombs

If I close my eyes while listening to the new Narco States album, I can just about convince myself that the band is ripping it up on stage right in front of me. That level of energy and immediacy are somewhat the product of home-recorded fidelity but more likely a testament to a band with seriously hot chops. Out on Piñata Records, the Minneapolis outfit's excellent sophomore LP Temples Into Tombs forges a three-headed monster out of '60s garage, psychedelic rock, and proto-punk influences.

Temples Into Tombs comes out guns a blazing on its opening tracks - sounding like what I imagine would have happened if Iggy Pop had fronted an American garage/psych band circa 1966. Propelled by Aaron Robertson's standout electric organ and Robb Lauer's powerhouse drumming, "Met Tet", "Fascist Fashionistas", and "Generation F" will get your heart pounding and your booty shaking. Meanwhile Michael MacBlane-Meyer on vocals channels Iggy at his most wild and primal - adding an attitude and edge that are generally missing from standard garage rock revivalism. This band really smashes it up! But just when you think you've got Narco States figured out, things start to get very interesting. The title track takes a slower, more mysterious turn - as much Doors as it is Stooges. The nearly seven-minute long "Ahemait" delves into acid rock/heavy psychedelia a la Iron Butterfly or Blue Cheer - allowing for deep sonic explorations but never ceasing to rock. That leads seamlessly into "Jealousy"- by far the most "accessible" track on the album and a fine example of straight-up psychedelic rock. Album closer "Fang Decay" carries on in a similar manner for nearly two minutes before departing on a long strange trip of its own.

What I really appreciate about Temples Into Tombs is that it doesn't lose steam after those first three or four relentlessly rocking tracks. If that was all that Narco States had to offer, the album would be worth hearing but perhaps not nearly as memorable. I love that the band matches its pure energy with great creativity in songwriting and musicianship. "Ahemait" and "Fang Decay" are not just excuses for the band to jam out for five minutes plus. They're interesting, formidable songs that show a whole other side to Narco States. "Jealousy", buried all the way down at track 7, would have to be considered the "hit". If, in the digital age, you wonder why bands even bother making albums anymore, it's worth noting how well these nine tracks fit together. This is one you'll wanna have on vinyl!


Friday, August 18, 2017

Patsy's Rats - Roundin' Up

In the two years since I first raved Patsy's Rats, the Portland duo has released another EP and now three more singles. The band's newest single, "Roundin' Up", is the first 7" released by Dirtnap Records in three years. The title track, in my humble opinion, is the band's strongest since "Rock & Roll Friend" blew so many of our minds in 2015.

For this release, Patsy and Christian have enlisted Steve and Jon from Mope Grooves to play bass and drums. And the band sounds great! "Roundin' Up" is the perfect song for a 7" format. It's a total hit and definitely a track that will compel repeated spins. Style-wise, this one is right in Patsy's Rats' wheelhouse: punchy indie pop with Patsy's likeable vocals and some stellar lead guitar work really standing out. Be wary: this song is liable to get stuck in your head to the point where you may require medical attention. I can't stop playing it! If you can bring yourself to flip the record over, B-side "Little Rat Charm" is another ace tune. This song features Christian on lead vocals and starts out with a really mellow vibe to it. But stick with it, because that chorus is totally worth waiting for. What a hook! This is a little bit of a different sound for Patsy's Rats: like an updated version of '80s new wave pop. I had to double check to make sure it wasn't a cover of some obscure song from the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie!

Without a doubt, "Little Rat Charm" could have been an A-side in its own right. If Ken Dirtnap was going to get back into the 7" game, it seems appropriate that he waited for an opportunity to put out a single this good! No longer mere up-and-comers, Patsy's Rats are an absolute must-hear for anyone who's fond of well-crafted guitar pop. Bachelor Records will be releasing a singles collection later this year, and there's more new music on the horizon as well. For now, enjoy this terrific single - easily one of the year's best.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Retro Reviews: Los Primos/Andy G & The Roller Kings- recorded output

Review by Rob Sheley

I would like to do this as a 2-fer. It makes the most sense because it covers all of Andy G's post-Devil Dogs recorded output. Sadly there is a limited but very essential amount of material; it is also listened to with a hint of what might have been.

We will start with Los Primos - of which there only are five songs. Los Primos was basically the Devil Dogs without Steve Baise. Sonically they were a continuation of what the band was doing around the ...Stereodrive! record. The prominence of saxophone as the lead instrument is what differentiates the two bands. Andy was moving towards almost a Little Richard type sound (without piano) mixed with the run-off-the-rails fury of the Devil Dogs. Think the immediacy of Saturday Night Fever with a lead sax, and you have Los Primos. While Steve Baise was in Norway working on the Vikings record, Andy was creating this project with Mighty Joe Vincent on drums, Candy Del Mar (Cramps) on bass, and Pete Linzell (Raunch Hands) on sax .

Crypt & Sympathy For The Record Industry both stepped up to the plate when Andy came around with his new project. In 1995 Crypt released Los Primos' "On My Floor" 7", which was Andy's 1st post-Devil Dogs recordings. The A-side is "On My Floor", a trashy, two-minute, rollicking, scorching original. The B-side is a clean, jangly cover of Manfred Mann's "Pretty Flamingo". One year later in 1996, the band released its second and final single on Sympathy. It follows the same format as the first: original A-side, cover on the B-side. This one may up the ante because the B-side is even better than the first. "Summertime Girls" follows the same trashy, sax-filled, adrenalized sleaze that you would expect from Andy G. The B-side is the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night". As a music fan, garage fan, Beatles fan, or Devil Dogs fan, get the single just for that. Wailing sax and a wall of NY sound create one of the best Beatles covers ever recorded, completely essential. In late(r) 1996, a compilation CD was released celebrating the famous NYC rock club Brownies. The disc features The Waldos, Turbo A.C.s, and Pillbox. The lost Los Primos track "Here She Comes" is included on the comp. With that release, the band was finished. Joe Vincent left to form The Prissteens, and Andy reloaded for his next phase.

With the end or demise of Los Primos, Andy kept the core of Los Primos: himself on guitar & vox, Candy on bass, and Pete on tenor sax. He added a baritone sax player named Steve Greenfield who previously worked with The Fleshtones. The exit of Joe Vincent opened the door for drummer Ron Salvo, and Andy G & The Roller Kings are born. Debuting four years later on March 25th, 2000 at NYC's famous Continental Club, the band would once again tap Long Gone John from Sympathy to do its first release. That Kings County Sound was released as a CDEP & 10" in 2001. Five songs (three new originals, one re-record, one cover), and the Roller Kings hit the ground running. Expanding on the Los Primos sax driven garage trash, The Roller Kings sound is bigger and more refined (but only slightly). It is still trashy with a '60s New York Dolls flair, what you'd expect from Andy. The addition of the baritone sax adds some bottom end that helps the overall sound. "Dance Last Night", "Feelin' So Good", and "My GTO" are the three originals you'd hope for from the mind of Andy G. "Summertime Girls" from the second Los Primos 7" is the re-record. There was nothing wrong with the original version. I would rather have any other song, be it an original or cover. There was no need to re-cut this track. The EP closes with a cover of Dusty Springfield's "Stay Awhile". It is not the first time Andy dipped into the '60s girl group cannon. The Devil Dogs covered The Ronettes' "Best Part Of Breaking Up" on their first record to similar success.

The band toured a bit outside of NYC shortly after the release, so very few people saw this incredible band slay audiences in the same way the Devil Dogs did. The band was relatively silent as far as releases go. It reemerged in 2005 on a Gun Club compilation called Salvo Of 24 Gunshots. The track the band chose to cover was "Bad India". The rest of the comp includes Dirtbombs, Come Ons, Demolition Doll Rods, and plenty of other good stuff. Later in 2005, the band released its final track called "Party Shoes" on the Rapid Pulse Records compilation Let's Have Some God Damn Fun! Just like that, the band was done. Nothing has been re-released since, and nothing has surfaced. It is a total shame.

As an epilogue to this story, Andy G & The Roller Kings did do a live session for WFMU on June 7, 2001. It is archived on the WFMU site under the show Three Chord Monte. They did an interview and played live on the radio. The live performance does include two songs not available anywhere else: "No Good Annie" (1910 Fruit Gum Company) and "Dead End Street" (Lou Rawls). Both songs are perfect choices to cover: sax driven songs easily adapted to Andy G's unique interpretation.

Between both bands, it is only 14 songs counting the WFMU live stuff and 12 if you don't. It is the great mystery on what happened, especially since the band was together at least five years. I would have to think with that amount of time together, there is an album's worth of material or a few singles that got recorded but couldn't find a home due to the band breaking up, not wanting to tour to promote them, or the changing of the industry in the mid-2000s. If there is something that exists, I hope that it comes out sooner rather than later. Andy G is one of the few artists that there are no bad songs that have his imprint on them. He really is that good and that important to garage music and music in general. His style has spawned countless bands, some better than others but none better than the original. God Bless Andy G.

-Rob Sheley

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Putz - Clinically Inane

The Putz is a pop-punk band for people who love pop-punk. While that might sound like a statement of the obvious, you probably get what I'm driving it. The Putz isn't trying to re-invent a genre of music or mess with a successful formula. If you hate pop-punk, this is not a band that will turn you to the dark side. What the Indiana trio does do is carry the torch for the kind of pop-punk that I (and perhaps you) loved back in the '90s - when every new album from Screeching Weasel or The Queers was an event not to be missed. As far as I'm concerned, the best pop-punk never strays far from the Ramones' master blueprint. Of course that can be a double-edged sword. No one wants to listen to a straight-up copy of the Ramones. But if you can take that basic influence and put your own stamp on it, it's hard to go wrong. The Putz is one of those bands that totally gets what makes pop-punk great. Its new album Clinically Inane is out on Eccentric Pop Records - pretty much THE label for today's premiere pop-punk bands. And with Joe Queer producing the record, you know exactly what's coming!

Clinically Inane is The Putz's second LP and first since 2014. If you were expecting the band to sound older, wiser, and more musically evolved after all of this time, you don't know The Putz! The band is back with 14 more tracks of wonderfully stupid three-chord punk that you'll be itching to crank loud and sing along with. This record is just pure fun from start to finish. And with an average song length of less than 1 minute and 45 seconds, these guys sure aren't messing around! No, The Putz isn't offering you anything new here. But if you have a soft spot for textbook pop-punk executed to perfection, this is the record for you. Billy's vocals are the perfect mix of snotty and likable, while Dougie is one of those drummers who was seemingly born to play this kind of music. And with smooth vocal harmonies being such a crucial component of quality pop-punk, I appreciate that The Putz have those down pat. With material ranging from classic Ramonesy sing-alongs ("I Don't Wanna Go") to upbeat buzzsaw pop ("My Baby and Me") to blistering fuck-yous ("Blast Off!", "Glue Your Mouth Shut") to apocalyptic tales of love ("When The World Ends") to clever odes to dumbness ("My Missing Mind"), this album runs the gamut of the styles and themes that are essential to the pop-punk genre.

If I had heard Clinically Inane when I was 25, I would have run out into the street screaming for joy. The present-day version of myself is only slightly less stoked. This record stacks up quite well with the pop-punk albums I so dearly loved in my youth. While the quantity of bands playing old school pop-punk may have dwindled over the past couple of decades, the quality certainly has not. Good on Eccentric Pop for providing a home for the next generation of true believers!


Monday, August 14, 2017


Having played a considerable part in the rise of the English garage scene in recent years, London's THEE MVPs seem poised for a major breakout. The band's new 7" on Bachelor Records is a perfect transitional record - featuring two formidable shots of loud indie-ish pop along with two covers that tip the cap to the band's straight-up garage/punk roots. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of band THEE MVPs are at this point, and that's surely a good thing. Call "ELH" power pop, garage, alternative rock, Brit-pop, or just plain rock n' roll. Either way, it's an anthemic number with hooks for days and really heartfelt vocals/lyrics. It comes off like a modern update of '80s/'90s alt-rock, bringing to mind the heart-on-sleeve heroics of the Replacements, the crackling guitars of Dinosaur, Jr., and the timeless melodies of Guided By Voices. "Big Pussy (Snitches In Ditches)" shares similar pop sensibilities (I love that simple, sing-along chorus!) but with a decidedly post-punk/modern rock slant. I saw the title and hoped the song was about the Sopranos character. Of course it is! The two covers are The Damned's "Neat Neat Neat" and the Billy Childish banger "Lie Detector". The latter is 100% faithful to the original, while the former adds just enough of the band's own touch to be very worth your while. These two covers really tell you a lot about who THEE MVPS are. They may aspire to write great pop songs, but at heart they're still all about music that's direct, exciting, and a whole lot of fun to play. Fans of Royal Headache and Tenement take note. We just might be witnessing the ascension of our next great modern-day band!


Friday, August 11, 2017

Phone Jerks - ...Can't Stand The Maritimes/No Funswick

So Phone Jerks just might be my favorite new band of the year. Well, actually "new" band is not really an accurate term. This Moncton, New Brunswick foursome has been in existence since 2014 and did release an all-covers digital EP last year. But it wasn't until this year that Phone Jerks put out original material. And let me tell you: this shit is HOT! ...Can't Stand The Maritimes is the band's first vinyl record - a short and not-so-sweet one-sided 45 released by the always fantastic Goodbye Boozy Records. The group has also put out a limited (as in only 30 copies!) cassette called No Funswick. If you long for the glory days of garage punk/budget rock/lo-fi trash, you need to get over to Phone Jerks' Bandcamp and download everything the band has released so far! This is a band that totally hits the mark for garage punk - right down to the blown-out fidelity, primitive & furious musicianship, and take-no-shit attitude. You can hear the influence of classic bands like Teengenerate and Supercharger along with a mean streak rivaling newer acts such as Sick Thoughts and The Cavemen. It's really cool that all four band members take turns on lead vocals. You have a total group effort here, which shows in an abundance of killer tunes. The single is an absolute ripper, and I have to expect that there will be a few more of those coming our way in the very near future. In 2017, the term "garage" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me it means raw and trashy, and I've been eagerly awaiting more bands along those lines. Phone Jerks are exactly what I had in mind!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chuck Berry - CHUCK

Review by Mike Kimmel

Not only did Chuck Berry finally make another record (his first in 38 years are the logistics, I believe), but he also had his first "strictly music video" released. It was for the song "Big Boys" from his last album– CHUCK – released in early June, 2017. Mr. Berry didn't live to see the video actually air anywhere, but I've been led to understand that he HAD seen the final product and heartily endorsed it.

If you've been involved in music for any period of time over the past six decades, not only is it quite likely that you've heard of my most recent visitor, but also one of his songs is likely one of the first you ever attempted. I haven't done any research into the subject, but of the two most-often first-learned rock and roll tunes, "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry must be right up there with the narrow company of Deep Purple and "Smoke on the Water" as the first learned .

What's the difference? Well, one is rock and roll and the other is much heavier. It's still rock and roll, just heavy enough to polish itself if you will.

Number one starts out with some gorgeous harmonica in the tune "Wonderful Woman". It's really a cool idea for the opening track on his first release of original material in 38 years. Here he describes a second-row romance a-brewin', but he only describes it from his point of view (and, of course, that would be the point of view of the performer) and it ends when the show ends. She leaves, and he knows he'll never see her again. A different type of lyric set from Chuck Berry; but not only is it a really good tune, he sounds very much at home doing it!

"Big Boys" is track two and also the first (and, unfortunately, last) music video we'll ever see with Chuck Berry's participation. It starts off with the oh so familiar Chuck Berry riff that every guitar player and wannabe guitar player, bassist and wannabe bassist can walk through in his/her sleep. Interesting that the second track is a sort of a "coming-of-age" tune by a man who had been in the business for six decades!

"You Go to My Head" is one of the surprising tunes on the album in that it seems designed for a high class lounge singer. You know the type I'm talking about, I'm sure. A polished-up baby grand being played by a suit and tie clad sophisticated looking gentleman.

Seated (perhaps "lounging" would be a better word) is an attractive female with an evening gown of sorts. Lots of glitter is a prerequisite. She's smoking a cigarette using one of those eight-inch long cigarette holders. In my fantasy, er, I mean vision, the singer is Michele Pfeiffer, though it could be more than one host.

The drums would be a simple set. In fact, the drummer may have only three drums and perhaps one or two cymbals. The bass is upright, and the other guitars know their place (s) and occupy them without fail. That leaves our host (or hosts) for the next hours front and center.

Speaking of the drums…Well, speaking of the rhythm section in general, that is comprised by Jimmy Marsala (bass for Chuck Berry for the last 40 years) as well as Robert Lohr and Keith Robinson (piano and drums, respectively) who have been part of Mr. Berry's backing back for over two decades of shows at St. Louis's Blueberry Hill.

Son Charles Berry Jr. plays guitar in his father's band, and his daughter Ingrid on harmonica rounds out the six-piece.

"3-4 Time (Enchiladas)" is a good track with some of the humor Berry has been known for over the years. Songs like "My Ding-A-Ling" and others show he can hold his own with a guitar, a vocal, a lyric, or just a joke.

This one is a bit bittersweet, though. One of the lines – speaking of life – is "One thing's for certain; ain't none of us getting out of here alive". Then he mentions that sometimes he stays up all night writing songs. "I know it ain't good for me. I hope it don't end too soon".

"Darlin'" spends its time again singing of the fleeting nature of the good times, thinking of how quickly his daughter changed from sweet sixteen. I certainly don't want to seem as if I'm trying to paint your opinions of the songs from the album CHUCK with a sad, blue brush. I'm not, and I sincerely hope you see that.

What Chuck Berry did all of his life was to sing about what was happening to and around him at that time of his life. The man was 90 years old and had been a major part of the music industry for around 60 of those 90 years.

Number six is "Lady B. Goode".

"They want to do a movie 'bout my livelihood and I want you to play the part of Lady B. Goode".

Need I say more?

Following the Lady is track seven; "She Still Loves You". I'm going to have to listen a few more times to this one. No, not because I don't know if I like it or not. I REALLY like this one (as well as the vast majority of the rest of the album). I just can't tell if someone is telling someone that "…she still loves Chuck…" or if someone is telling Chuck that she still loves some other guy.

Listen to it as many times as it takes to figure it out. You won't get tired of it, I promise. I got the CD June 10th and have been listening to it as a major part of my regular playlist since then. I've had an interruption or two. Vertebral fusions will do that to you, but I still can't figure out which direction this one is flying.

Number eight rolls up on the Chuck playlist, and now I've got to deal with an enigma. The song title is "Jamaica Moon". The issue with which I'm dealing feels almost improper. I mean, normally I try to exercise a kinder, gentler pen while attempting to rate or to render an opinion of a piece of art that someone has created.

Years ago I read a book of poetry by Leonard Nimoy. I wish I could find that book again. Over all, it was very good. There was one piece in particular that has stuck with me over the years. To briefly paraphrase Nimoy's work, he says something to the effect of "…be gentle with him, people. He is an artist. He is showing you his heart."

Having said that and still giving much credit to Chuck Berry (and much credit is truly due the man), "Jamaica Moon" is the only song on the CD that I don't particularly care for. It's not that the tune isn't done well, because it is!

The man is waiting for his lady to arrive as regularly scheduled by ship, and the ship is late. While waiting for her, the time gets later and later and he starts drinking the rum he'd gotten to share with his date.

Ah, but as luck would have it, the rum was apparently very good and pretty effective, because the next thing the guy in the song hears is not the voice of his lovely date, but rather the sound of the ship's horn waking him up as the ship upon which she was traveling was leaving him alone and hung over at the port.

"Dutchman" is next to last on the track list. It's a story of one of those comfortable, casual bars everyone knows about because every town has one. All those bars are filled with regulars who never seem to run out of things to talk about, and it's a rare instance when someone none of the regulars know walks in.

That's how things start off here. Then a great tall man none recognized entered. The bartender offered him a drink, but there was apparently a red head regular who didn't think much of the new stranger.

"Sic him, Fido! Show him the street!"

The dog obediently jumped up and trotted toward the stranger, but when he reached the man, Fido just licked the man's hand and then lay down at the stranger's feet.

The stranger then regaled those in attendance with the story of a young man who learned to play guitar well enough that he could keep his family in "…shrimp and beans and rice…"

You may have guessed that the boy in the story was born in Louisiana, near New Orleans. In fact, it was back up in the hills north of New Orleans among the evergreens. The stranger finished his story and then told The Dutchman (the bartender) he was ready for that drink he'd been promised.

"The Dutchman" may be my favorite track from the CD. It's got tough competition from "Big Boys" and a couple of the other tracks that are awfully darned good tunes.

Mr. Berry had one more trick left in his magic bag, however, and when you listen to the final track of Chuck Berry's final album of original music, you realize that you had been entertained for thirty two minutes and twenty nine seconds.

In the last two minutes and twenty six seconds of the album – the duration of the song "Eyes of Man" – you will be given a lifetime of experience and education. You'll have to just listen to the tune; it's that good. I'm not going to assume I can do it justice with any description I might develop. I'll give you one line from the song – hopefully it'll pique your interest and you'll look for more on your own.

I'll end with that line, though. Chuck Berry's last release of original material is aptly entitled CHUCK. Seems it might have been an attempt at a musical autobiography in just a bit more than a half hour's time. The only way you could listen and NOT get the message, well, ya must be playin' with your own ding-a-ling! Here's the line I mentioned/promised earlier. The line that is a part of the gospel according to Chuck:

"Those who do not know and do not know that they do not know are foolish. Avoid them."

-Mike Kimmel

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Retro Reviews: The Vikings – Go Berserk

Review by Rob Sheley

For my opinion, there is a big five of '90s garage rock & roll. Everything these five bands did and what they morphed into is necessary in every collection. They are The Devil Dogs, New Bomb Turks, The Humpers, Lazy Cowgirls, and The Dirtbombs. No five more perfect bands from that era have existed in similar friendly competition, each release more essential than the last. I will eventually focus on them. But as you know, all good things must come to an end. So I'm interested in focusing on their next big things.

Enter The Vikings, originally conceived as a two single side project that morphed into a more complete (albeit short) project with some of Norway's finest. When the Devil Dogs toured Norway in 1991, bass player Steve Baise met Morten Henriksen of the Yum Yums. Morten convinced Steve to come over and do some shows as a pickup band called the Devil Frogs. The band would do Devil Dogs songs and some choice covers. By 1993 Steve made a return trip, and Morten recruited two new members to the band to do five shows and record four songs. Those members were Happy Tom (Thomas Seltzer) on drums and an 18-year-old second guitar player named Euroboy (Knute Schreiner) - who of course went on to join Turbonegro a few years later. They cut the singles (one original & three covers) for two separate releases on Sympathy and Screaming Apple and changed their name to The Vikings. Released in 1994 to great reviews, the Vikings' "Rock All" & "Savage" singles were perhaps the warning signs that may have ended the Devil Dogs. By early 1995, the Devil Dogs had called it a day. Steve had eight songs (that would have been the next Devil Dogs record) and a budding relationship with a girl and new band in Norway. He took his songs and a bag full of covers to record what would become The Vikings' lone album Go Berserk.

Go Berserk is a flawless album. It is everything that is great about garage rock in general. A great formula to make a killer record is a balance of strong originals and a few covers (famous or obscure) peppered in. The trick is to interpret the covers in your style so that no matter how iconic the song, it becomes yours. Look at the early Stones, Beatles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Elvis (both of them), The Sonics, and Otis Redding. All were great writers and great interpreters. The Vikings followed that similar path of blending influences with originals; it gives you as a listener a spyglass look into the band's record collection and how they craft their songs and their sound. I'm a big fan of covers and how bands choose those covers, how they change or play them straight and how well they fit. As a side note, The Dirtbombs' Ultraglide In Black exemplifies this point. But that is another entry altogether.

Released in 1995, Go Berserk was a monster of record. The power of the band jumps off the record with the first track, "My Friend’s Little Sister". Clocking in at two minutes, it is the best song that the Devil Dogs never recorded. Big drums, crisp cutting distortion, and immediate vocals propel the record forward at a very live aggressive pace. Similar to the way the Devil Dogs made records, but this is different and not a copy of what they did. In hindsight, you can hear the power pop leanings of the Yum Yums and the best parts of what made Turbonegro great coming through in the performances - making this a unique entity unto itself. "Bad To Be Good", "Hard Knox High", "Strikeout King", "Summer of Hate", "Stop It", "(5-4-3-2) Baby You're The 1", and the debut single "Rock All" are everything that one would expect from Steve Baise as a songwriter. Catchy, fast, and big hooks that get stuck in your head. It takes great skill to write songs this good and this consistent.

The other story on this record is what is brought to the table by way of covers. None of the covers are big hits (with the exception of "Surrender" by Cheap Trick). I would say that they are more unique rather than completely obscure. An astute collector would know most if not all of the bands but not necessarily the song choices by those bands. "It's Cool To Rock" by the Accelerators is the one cover that could be mistaken for an original because they stay rather faithful to the original. There was no need to improve upon the original; it is just that good. "Let's Go" by Bay City Rollers is a WTF moment, but it works perfectly, played at triple speed of the original. It takes on a very Slade-like feel and removes all of the schmaltz you may be thinking it would contain. The back to back of "The Fly" by Chubby Checker and "Push & Stomp" by Joan Jett are rollicking versions of the originals, a double paring of songs about dancing that is a very nice touch. The record closes with a triple threat of goodness: "Surrender" followed by the Nervous Eaters' "Just Head" and closing with "Savage", one of the four lone songs by Australia's Fun Things. The opening verse says everything you need to know. "I am the rock & roll kamikaze, and you know that I'd die for you. When you're paying your bills to see me, I gotta do what you want me to." Pure rock & roll poetry and a perfect ending!

Go Berserk was released in 1995 on Sympathy on CD. The CD includes both the "Rock All" (also on Sympathy) and "Savage" (originally on Screaming Apple) singles. The record was released a year later on vinyl by Roto records out of Spain. In 2005, Just Add Water Records re-released Go Berserk as a double CD called Best Head Ever. It includes everything from the Sympathy release and four more songs from a 7" called High Time on Hit Me! out of Norway. It includes a very early version of "Good Head" - later made famous by Turbonegro. The two-CD set also includes a 12-song live record from Oslo. To the best of my knowledge, that is everything they recorded.

Though short lived, The Vikings are a crucial sign post of '90s garage rock. Even if the members never recorded another note, this still would rank as a masterpiece. It is surprising that more bands from both the states and Scandinavia didn't pick this up as a copycat project and do something similar in terms of sound and the blend of covers and originals. I implore you to track this down and make it one of your favorites; I assure you that you will not be disappointed in the least. You will only wish you could have discovered it to sooner to have the pleasure of enjoying it longer.

-Rob Sheley

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Cult of Percolation- Elegant Interactions Laboratory

"When you listen to this, I love you. All these songs are about surviving. Maybe that's what makes them feminist; they're about being told you aren't worth anything, and then surviving. Or flourishing even. Or just killing everything that's ever hurt you. And rising from the blood-soaked earth. You're listening to an epic battle between me and all my demons, in whatever intergalactic forms they come in."
-Mary Allen 

Sometimes artists can articulate the meaning of their craft so beautifully that I prefer to let them speak for themselves. The above quote from Mary Allen is all you really need to know about her band The Cult of Percolation. How can you read those words and not want to hear the music? I can tell you that I've never heard a band in my life that sounds quite like The Cult of Percolation - a Minneapolis outfit so "out there" that you just might believe this really is a soul band from another galaxy. Out on Piñata Records, TCOP's new album Elegant Interactions Laboratory finds Allen exorcising her demons in lockstep with a band that's dialed in to groove. Somehow this is an album that feels timeless and wildly experimental all at once. Allen is of course at the center of the action, but each player in the band proves to be essential. That rhythm section (comprised of Ian Stemper and Ike Hartis) is absolutely on-point, and there are a number of moments where organist Tanja Anđić or guitarist Eliot Gordon puts a crucial touch on a song. There's such a sense of adventure to this album that it's a little surprising to discover that most of the songs clock in right around the three minute mark. That groove has plenty of room to breathe, yet no song wears out its welcome. All of this works perfectly in support of Allen, who genuinely sounds like she has summoned her vocals from a place so deep down that it could very well be outside of this earth. At a purely visceral level, you could cue up any of these songs and just enjoy dancing to the music. At a deeper level, these are songs you can really immerse yourself in and fully experience. The intergalactic R & B of "Heavy" and stellar garage/soul of "A New Way" make a fine 1-2 punch off the bat, but this is an album that really hits its peak on the back stretch. "Lovin a Van" is the closest this record gets to "conventional" soul music, and it's positively electrifying. "Moon Girls" and "Love Drug" feature extraordinary vocal performances from Allen. Closing track "Indigo Children" incorporates influences that could be considered either psychedelic or interplanetary depending on your viewpoint. It puts a powerful exclamation on a powerful album.

No doubt Elegant Interactions Laboratory is a little different from the music I typically write about. And I must admit that I didn't quite know what to make of it the first time I heard it. Yet I'd be hard-pressed to think of another group that's more representative of the true essence of rock n' roll. And there's just no denying that Allen is a rare and formidable talent. The Cult of Percolation has traveled from light years away to deliver a message of love and hope to our planet. I'd say they've arrived just in time.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Thee Evil Twin - self titled 7"

How about some real deal punk rock n' roll?! Thee Evil Twin is the latest band from Adam Caine of Radio Reelers fame. Now wreaking havoc in Sydney, Australia, Adam is back in the saddle and heading up this red-hot trio. The band's second 7" is out on No Front Teeth Records and fully reignites the rip-roaring garage/punk/rock n' roll action of the Radio Reelers, Trust Fund Babies, The Shrinks, etc. "MFers All" is every bit the sing-along anthem you'd expect based on the title, and "Howlin'" is a jolt of energy strong enough to keep you wired for hours. To bring it all home, "Don't Wanna See Your Band" is the snotty garage punk smash you've been craving. Without spoiling it for you, I'll just say that most of you will really relate to this one!

With this new EP from Thee Evil Twin, you get exactly what you'd expect from an Adam Caine fronted band: three rockin' tunes that hit you quick and leave you wanting more. This is right up there with the best releases from any of Caine's previous bands. It really takes me back to the late '90s/early 2000s glory days of Bay Area garage punk. Digital tracks are available from the band directly, and No Front Teeth has two versions of the vinyl for sale. Grab a copy while you still can!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Hellacopters – Payin' The Dues (20th Anniversary reissue)

Review by Rob Sheley

It was (almost) 20 years ago today; October 1 actually, that Sweden re-entered the mainstream as a musical force. It was around this same time that Sal from Electric Frankenstein coined the term "punk rock & roll" for a band that loved and was influenced by punk but also heavily influenced by early KISS, MC5, The Stooges, Radio Birdman, and Motörhead. No other band exemplifies this label more than The Hellacopters.

The seven-second opening sample to the first song on their first LP Suppershitty To the Max! sums it up best: "These are other kids, this is just an accident, just a couple of wild punks out rasin' hell". You are then hit with a sledgehammer of Humpers influenced onslaught on "(Gotta Get Some Action), Now!", and you realize these guys are no joke. Payin’ The Dues was released a year and four months after that (Swedish) Grammy winning debut. It has a much sharper focus, better production, better recording, and just more muscle than the wild recklessness of the debut. It also stretches out the Hellacopters' influences and shows more of what the band brings to the table. Their debut was recorded in 26 hours and is more of the Damned, Motörhead, punk influence. A year later, they were able to blend the punk and rock influences to create a perfect mix of what Sal describes as "punk rock & roll".

Opening with the tidal wave force of "You Are Nothin'", the album kicks off in the same way the debut did: loud, direct, and in your face. It is a similar experience to the first time you heard "Search & Destroy", "Kick Out The Jams", or "Overkill". It is a relentless two minute blast that chugs like a train. The twin guitar attack from Nicke Andersson (Entombed, Imperial State Electric) and Dregen (Backyard Babies, Michael Monroe Band) is a modern version of the bob and weave that was last and really only found with Wayne Kramer & Fred "Sonic" Smith. If the opening track was not enough to raise your blood pressure, then the brooding opening bass riff and wall of feedback of "Like No Other Man" are bound to do it. It carries the same thrust as Motörhead's "Bomber", but it is more in the red and more in your face and helps set the tone for most of the record in terms of how aggressive the performances are recorded. Track three is the best track that was never on a KISS record. "Looking at Me" has the riff, it has the groove, the solo, and all that it is missing is the make-up. It really is almost The Hellacopters taking the best parts of KISS's "All American Man" and making it their own. "Riot On The Rocks", "Hey", "Soulseller", "Where The Action Is", and "Twist Action" blaze through the next 13 minutes with Damned-like reckless abandon: nothing mid-tempo, all full speed ahead. These are the songs that make up not only the guts of the record, but these are the songs from the record that are perennial live staples and have been played at almost very concert since they were written. The album closes with "Colapso Nervioso" & "Psyched Out and Furious", two songs that are longer than anything else on the record and are more Sabbath meet MC5 than Damned meets Motörhead. It does provide the breather to give the rest of the record space to exist after being pounded relentlessly for 6-7 tracks prior. It is a similar palate cleanser that allows Payin' The Dues to breathe as the mid-tempo songs on Raw Power enhance the furious energy contained in the rest of the record. Going full bore on every song tires you out as a listener; you need something to let you get your bearings before diving back in.

Payin' The Dues was originally released on White Jazz in several pressings of both LP & CD. The label is still mysterious; I think it is the band's label with some friends, but they have put out several releases that are non-Hellacopters. All of their releases are great; take some time and explore White Jazz. In October 1999, Sub Pop released the US version with an extra disc/LP that was a live show from May of 1999 from Canada. The record was re-released this year for Record Store Day in Sweden and is very much in print on both vinyl and CD. The vinyl version of any pressing includes their cover of "City Slang" by Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Check out for anything coming from Scandinavia. They are easy to deal with and very fair. Their website can be converted to English and US dollars.

One must remember, and it is a point that is hard to grasp, that in 1997 the internet was still in its very infancy. Amazon existed in concept, eBay was just getting started, they had no international presence, email with friends was just barely a thought, Google wouldn't even form for another year as a company, and Napster was still two years away from moving music you only heard about to it becoming something that was virtually tangible. Any band that was on a small label from another country may as well have been making music on the moon. It was years before the world shrunk and you could search and find what your collection has now become. Finding something like the Hellacopters was work and a labor of passion more than love. I found my copy in 1997 by a tip from a friend in Pennsylvania to call a store in L.A., talk to a French guy who owns the place, he was doing imports at the time, and he might have it. I called the number, and this very kind Parisian took my credit card info and said he'd ship it out. Six days later, a new music door swung open and it was not Sub Pop Rock City, it was Stockholm Rock City. And like the Gold Rush of 1849, I was out to use all my abilities and contacts to discover everything that Scandinavia was churning out. It is a journey I continue today.

-Rob Sheley 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cheap Whine - self titled

So when a Canadian powerpop/punk/garage supergroup makes a full-length debut on one of the best labels going, you can be sure I'm going to take notice! Cheap Whine features that veritable force of nature Steve Adamyk along with Eric French from Feral Trash and Jordy Bell from Crusades. The band's self-titled album, out on the U.K.'s Drunken Sailor Records, is a must-hear for all of you who dig garage punk by way of '70s punk and power pop. Of course this is totally my cup of tea. But what I appreciate about Cheap Whine is that it's not just the Steve Adamyk Band with a different name. Yeah, you're still getting fast & furious tempos, punchy guitars, and a truckload of catchy melodies. But overall, there's a much darker feel seeping into these songs. And there are some different things going on, like the cathartic raging vocals on "Unnoticed", the psychedelic thrashing of "Cut It Out", and the almost Weezer-ish appeal of "Withdrawl". This is really one of those albums that has something for everyone. The terrific "Kasumi" is powerpop/punk by the book, which is something that Adamyk does better than just about anyone. "Where Are You Now" and "All The While" might very well set your hair on fire, while the band's pure pop side comes out on the anthemic "Best Times" and the rousing closer "Letter To J".

I don't think Cheap Whine's debut album could be any more satisfying. It has the energy and the hooks that you would demand from any decent power pop/garage-punk hybrid, but the creative input from all three band members turns this into something a little different from all of these guys' other groups. When I first got the email from Drunken Sailor alerting me to this album's existence, I had a really good feeling off the bat. And I must say that Cheap Whine did not let me down. This album is an inspired effort and a splendid example of why I so thoroughly enjoy modern-day powerpop/punk. Canada does it again!


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sheer Mag - Need To Feel Your Love

It has been nearly three years since I last reviewed Sheer Mag. It wasn't that I didn't like the band's last two EPs. It was just that I witnessed a number of massive publications (Rolling Stone, Spin, The Guardian, NPR) expounding on the merits of those releases and didn't think myself worthy of adding anything of value to the conversation. But with the arrival of Sheer Mag's debut album Need To Feel Your Love, I concluded that I couldn't possibly not write about it. It's absolutely one of the best records of the year so far. And it solidifies Sheer Mag's position as one of my favorite bands. If I'm not going to write about my favorite bands, then what in the hell is this blog for?!

With Sheer Mag compiling all three of its brilliant EPs onto one collection earlier this year, the stage was set for the Philly outfit to turn a page on its proper debut LP. Sure enough, the band resisted any temptation to pad the new record with re-recordings of old songs. The previous output had established a clear musical identity: DIY punks with a fondness for '70s rock riffs, scuzzy production, and traditional pop song structures, fronted by a fierce powerhouse of a singer. That was merely a jumping-off point for Need To Feel Your Love - a debut album that finds Sheer Mag taking plenty of chances and delivering what just might be the next great rock record. Rock n' roll and punk remain major parts of the equation, but soul and pop loom just as large on these 12 tracks. "Meet Me In The Street" takes the band's love for arena rock way over the top and straight into '80s metal territory. But if you dismiss this opener as big dumb rock, you're missing out on an urgent rallying cry for resistance to oppression and fascism. Hearing "Expect The Bayonet" infuse a soulful pop song with a similar sentiment, I can't help but be reminded of my favorite band of all-time, The Clash. While any musical similarities are slight at best, Sheer Mag is definitely a band that has taken up the fight against injustice all over the world. And just as it was with The Clash, Sheer Mag offers up music that is every bit as compelling as its message. "Meet Me In The Street" is the perfect anthem for our times precisely because it's transcendent rock n' roll above all else (Imagine The Alarm's "68 Guns" if it rocked like an AC/DC song!). And while tracks like "Suffer Me" and "(Say Goodbye To) Sophie Scholl" have very profound things to say about the importance of standing up for what's right, they would not resonate nearly as strongly if they weren't such fantastic songs. "(Say Goodbye To) Sophie Scholl" might be a new high water mark for Sheer Mag - an album closer that leaves a lasting impression and will surely compel a great number of people to research the life story of its subject.

Of course there's also that other side to Sheer Mag. There just aren't many bands better at turning out the kinds of love songs that truly hit you. If you've ever longed for someone who's far away or far gone, if you've ever lost all hope that that certain special person would stop stringing you along, if you've ever found yourself dizzied and intoxicated in the throes of new love, this is a band that ought to speak to you. It's not just the lyrics (which are great) but also the way Tina brings them to life - her voice so full of fire yet still capable of incredible tenderness. And while by no means do I think the band is courting a mass audience, I wouldn't put a whole lot of limits on who might enjoy this album. "Just Can't Get Enough" recalls some of the power pop moments of the band's past, only cleaner and more accessible. "Need To Feel Your Love" and "Pure Desire" are surprisingly successful steps into funk/soul/disco territory. "Milk and Honey" is pure pop without apology. "Until You Find The One" is stripped down to almost nothing but pure despair - like many of the best Replacements ballads.

I would urge all of you who are Sheer Mag newbies to check out the compilation album first. If you dig it, then don't hesitate to dive into Need To Feel Your Love. Sheer Mag is certainly the "biggest" band I've touted in a very long time. But I will never hold critical acclaim against any band - especially one that never asked for it in the first place. I'll never understand people who complain about say, Rolling Stone only writing about crap bands and then still complain when they do feature good bands. Shouldn't we wish our favorite bands all of the success in the world? Sheer Mag is so unconcerned with self-promotion that it isn't even on social media. These five individuals have a built a following the old-fashioned way: by going out night after night and performing their hearts out for the people. They offer hope for all of us who believe that rock n' roll still has the power to change lives and perhaps even the world as well. To dismiss them because they've played Coachella and performed on national television would be the worst kind of cynicism. Yes, great bands still exist. And sometimes a lot of people like them. That sure sounds like something worth celebrating.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Retro Reviews: The Lillingtons - Death By Television

Review By Mick Fletcher

I was born in '64 in a northern English city and grew up listening to whatever chart fodder the radio deemed fit to play. This was back in the days before the internet provided easy access to music - even the UK music papers like Sounds, Melody Maker, and The New Musical Express still used quills on parchment. Then at age 13, I was introduced to a new type of music by one of the real cool kids in my class at school and my tastes changed overnight. For many years after that, if anyone was to ask me what my favourite album was, I'd either say The Clash's debut (or London Calling) or Stiff Little Fingers' Inflammable Material. Those seminal LPs are still pretty much perfect. But nowadays when I get asked that question, the answer is gonna be the album I'm reviewing today.

The Lillingtons are a pop punk band (as in proper old school pop punk, not the anodyne type that's so popular at the moment) from Newcastle, Wyoming who formed in 1995 and who despite long periods of inactivity are still around today (watch out for a new album later this year!!!). They released a debut album on Clearview Records in 1996 called Shit Out Of Luck. But it wasn't until three years later that they unleashed their piece de resistance, Death By Television. Produced by Mass Giorgini, it was released on March 30th, 1999 on the Ben Weasel/John Jughead owned Panic Button Records (Fat Wreck Chords wanted to release it but have had to wait almost 20 years to add The Lillingtons to their roster of acts. Fat Mike has said Death By Television is the best pop punk record of all time, and I ain't gonna argue with him). The lineup of the band has undergone several changes down the years, but on this album it featured ever present vocalist/guitarist Kody Templeman as well as bassist Cory Laurence and drummer Timmy V (Tim O'Hara).

The Lillingtons are often compared to the likes of The Ramones, Queers, and Screeching Weasel. But on Death By Television, they blow all their peers out of the water. The album is comprised of 14 (mostly) sci-fi themed classics. Cast your mind back to outlandish Saturday morning kids' TV shows, EC comics, '50s B movies...Think back to when you were a kid growing up desperately wanting the x ray spex that you saw advertised in your favourite comics ("lots of laughs and fun at parties"). Run and hide as the saucermen attack at lightning pace. Look up at the moon- there's an apeman up there having a bad day. There are so many fun things on there: aliens in flying silver discs that want to see us die, a crimefighting maggot that aspires to be a fly, plus songs about wanting to bang your head against the wall and the everyday horrors of a dead end job. It's not just the lyrical content that makes Death By Television so great. Lyrics would be nothing without a great backbeat, and the music on the album is pretty much perfect. Granted it doesn't deviate much from your typical Ramones-core low slung bass/guitar/drum template, but that's the beauty of it. It's simple, basic, and oh so effective. So many bands play this kind of music, but none do it as well as The Lillingtons.

Death By Television is just FUN FUN FUN. To paraphrase one of the songs, when I get up, you know I'm going to spend another 30 minutes with you. It never gets old; it never fails to thrill. The new album will be great. Whether it will come close to their masterpiece...that's virtually an impossible task, but fingers crossed!

-Mick Fletcher

Friday, July 21, 2017

Retro Reviews: Izzy Stradlin & the Ju Ju Hounds – self titled

Review by Rob Sheley

November 1991: it is announced that Izzy Stradlin has left Guns N Roses. No one could have predicted what would happen next. Izzy has been called the heart and soul of the band that he helped form. It is no doubt that he was the Stones, Hanoi, Faces element that blended with Slash's love of Aerosmith and Duff's Damned & Heartbreakers leanings to create that unique sound. Upon his departure, what would they sound like and more importantly what would HE sound like? He was 29, finally clean, and rich enough to either retire comfortably or do whatever he wanted. He chose the latter.

Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds stands up as one of the best debut records in rock history, but it is not the players' first rodeo. Izzy recruited a brilliant band with a murderers' row of side men to assist. He ran as far away from Guns' direction as he could. Izzy's longest musical sidekick is Georgia Satellites guitarist Rick Richards - he has played on every single solo recording that he has released. Along with drummer Charlie Quintana (Plugz, Cruzados, and later Social Distortion) and bassist Jimmy Ashhurst (Broken Homes), that became the lineup. Sonically Izzy was to draw primarily from his love for The Rolling Stones, Faces, and The Clash- much more of the roll than rock and far removed from anything he had done before. Izzy Stradlin & The Ju Ju Hounds was released in October 1992, less than one year after his leaving the Illusion tour. The record is a combination of originals and influences. From the opening swagger of "Somebody Knocking" to the Clash informed cover of "Pressure Drop", the record is bursting with energy and uniqueness for the time. Supporting the band on seven of the 12 songs was Faces organ player, the great Ian McLagan. His contributions really aligned him as the unsung fifth member of the band. Special guest number two is Ron Wood performing on their cover of his solo track "Take A look A The Guy". Rounding out this star-studded list is Nicky Hopkins's incredible piano work on "Come On Now Inside"- a track that could have easily been an outtake from side 4 of Exile On Main St. It is really that good.

One must remember that in 1992, the musical landscape, despite Izzy's cache, was not ready to support a rock & roll record influenced by songs and bands from 20 years prior to its release. Even though the Black Crowes were enjoying success with their second record, I believe the public and the label were expecting and hoping for something closer to Appetite than Exile. Lead single "Shuffle It All" did catch a slight bit of MTV airplay, but the blazing rocker "Train Tracks" much less so. Despite a lack of commercial success, the band did tour the world with wider success coming from Europe and Japan. America was not so supportive. And due to this disappointment, Izzy stopped touring altogether to focus solely on recording.

Because of drug issues with Jimmy Ashhurst, the band was dissolved - with Izzy only keeping Rick along for the future. The record (and subsequent singles and live EP) is an all too brief snapshot. Their recorded output as this unit is incredible, no bad songs at all. The live Japanese EP is a much more stripped-down, raw, powerful version of the band. It contains a great version of the Stones' B-side "Jivin' Sister Fanny". And with all of the B-Sides and live tracks, there are enough songs to make what would have been a second record. The original record was re-pressed in 2016 on vinyl by the label Music On Vinyl with remastered sound. It is fairly easy to find. CD versions can be tracked down on eBay or Discogs for cheap. Try and get the version with the extra EP for three more songs.

Izzy has continued to record ever since 1992. Most of his work has been released in Japan, and later records have gone straight to iTunes. He has recorded nine records on his own. All spring forth from the groundwork laid down with this original lineup. Every time I see a used copy of the self-titled album, I buy it and keep in in my car to pass on to a like-minded individual. I'm shocked that the record is off everyone's radar despite the name printed on the top. This is the best place to start. And the sooner you do, the longer you will have to enjoy this nearly lost album.

-Rob Sheley

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trampoline Team - "Drug Culture"

After all of these years of listening to and writing about punk rock, it's still a real kick for me to hear a new record that absolutely knocks my head off. There's just nothing better. Less than 20 seconds into Trampoline Team's new single "Drug Culture", I found myself exclaiming "YES!" at a volume completely inappropriate for indoor conversation. I am not one to argue about what is or is not punk rock. All I can tell you is that if someone came to me and asked, "What's punk rock?", I could very well just play them this single and be done with it. This is how you do it, man: pummeling buzz-saw guitars, a full-on fuck-you attitude, and a beat that compels furious head-bobbing. After getting totally floored by the A-side, I figured there had to be a slight drop-off with the B-side. Turns out the only thing dropping was my jaw. "I Don't Play Games" is every bit as good and could easily be mistaken for the "hit" if you didn't know any better. This single is a smasher! It sounds like it could have come out in the heyday of Rip Off Records or even the late '70s/early '80s. Buying it (or anything else) from Trampoline Team's Bandcamp will help fund the band's upcoming tour of Europe. For information on how to procure a physical copy, hit up the band on Facebook!


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Basketball Shorts - "This Summer"

Earlier this year, I promised that "many" reviews of Jarama 45RPM Recs releases were forthcoming. It seems we are well on our way! The Madrid label's third release also marks its third appearance on this blog. Again Jarama 45RPM stays true to its mission to release strictly hit singles on 7" vinyl. Basketball Shorts' "This Summer" absolutely fits the bill - a true punk rock smash in my book. You may already know Basketball Shorts as Austin, Texas's finest "party punk" band. Call it party punk, pop-punk, pizza punk, slacker rock, or whatever else you desire. The point is that "This Summer" is just a wonderful song. It's probably not what you're expecting from this band. It's less of a party song and more of a "morning after the party" song - what you might be listening to in calm solitude as you nurse your hangover and reflect on how fleeting good times can be. This wistful number tugs at the heartstrings so effectively that it ought to be playing over the closing credits of a bittersweet cinematic love story. The inclusion of "Hot and Ready" (easily one of the greatest pop-punk songs of the present decade) on this EP is a master stroke of track selection given how nicely it complements "This Summer". There are times to be reflective, and then there are times to just crank it to 11 and have some fun! "Home", a perfect middle ground between the two aforementioned tracks, is a song that's exclusive to this release. Being a huge pop-punk fan going all the way back to the early '90s, I'm stoked to still hear bands like Basketball Shorts that remind me why I fell in love with this type of music in the first place. One thing you've gotta say about Bernando from Jarama 45RPM: he sure knows how to spot the hits!


Monday, July 17, 2017

Michael Monroe - The Best

Review by Rob Sheley

Think of the great frontmen. You don't have to like their music or the band (it helps), but they are undeniably captivating as they command a stage. Armed with great songs and a powerful band behind them, things can transcend. Names that come to mind: Iggy, Lux, HR, Keith Morris, Nick Cave, Freddie Mercury, Paul Stanley, Bowie, Jagger, (insert your favorite here), and Michael Monroe. Michael has been consistent if not anything else throughout his career. Rock & roll flows through him, and a sonic shockwave comes crashing out. My friend has said many times, "How can you not like a guy onstage singing rock & roll with a pink saxophone?" I completely agree. It has been stated many times by the band themselves that Guns & Roses exists because of Hanoi Rocks. If Hanoi was all Michael did, he would still be a legend. But fortunately he has been banging it out for 30 years past Hanoi, and this is a small slice of the fruits of those labors.

The Best is 29 songs total, including four previously unreleased tracks in addition to a new song called "One Foot Outta The Grave" with his current band lineup. The collection is very focused on Michael, so it is missing a few things. But those holes can be filled easily. What it doesn't have are any Hanoi Rocks songs from either period of the band. Sadly there are no songs from the one-off Jerusalem Slim project with Billy Idol foil Steve Stevens. It includes only two covers. Many of Michael's solo works include incredible covers from the Damned, Eddie & The Hot Rods, MC5, Leonard Cohen, Stooges, and many more. His interpretations are what you want - sometimes more faithful than others, but they are someone taking over the song and making it their own. Check out the Another Night In The Sun – Live In Helsinki release. That is a mix of covers and Hanoi songs, a great collection in its own right.

What The Best does have is a solid and perfect representation of Michael's solo work broken up over two discs. Disc 1 covers his first solo album from 1987's Nights Are So Long to 2003's Whatcha Want. It opens with one of the best statement songs money can buy, "Dead Jail Or Rock and Roll". It's as great as anything else that existed before or since. From '87-'03, Monroe released six albums and an EP. Every record is represented with the cream of the crop tracks from those releases. I'm sure the running time made some of the cuts difficult. But by and large, there is very little to complain about. His first period can be spotty because of the inconsistency of the players on the records. Michael can play everything, and I mean everything from guitar, vocals, and bass to his trademark harmonica and saxophone. It is at times stronger when he doesn't have to carry the entire weight of the album. Disc 1 also includes a tender duet with Stiv Bators, "It's A Lie". The song is a great tribute to his friend and great inspiration. The true meat are the four songs from 1994's Demolition 23, the only "band" type release included and the most songs from any one album of this time period. It's also the only record represented here that has been out of print since 1995. The band featured Sammy Yaffa and was produced by Little Steven. It is about as perfect of a project as Michael was ever able to put together post Hanoi. They had the sound, the songs, and a producer who was able to get the very best out of Michael and the band. "Nothin's Alright" & "Hammersmith Palais" are completely bulletproof, and it is sad that they have been buried this long and have not been covered by several bands since.

Disc 2 covers Michael's much more consistent current band. The unifying sound and very cohesive quality of this material covers only a six year period. There is nothing from 2002-2009 because that covers the Hanoi reboot that yielded three records with Andy McCoy. The band responsible for the tracks on disc 2 has been the main band Michael has been and is currently working with. From the beginning, Sammy Yaffa on bass, Karl Rockfist on drums, Steve Conte on guitar, and a revolving lead guitar spot that has been occupied by Ginger Wildheart, Dregen (Backyard Babies/Hellacopters), and currently Rich Jones (Black Halos). The pick of the Ginger tracks are represented here in the shape of "Trick Of The Wrist" & "'78". From the Dregen era, you get "Ballad Of The Lower East Side" & "Stained Glass Heart". 2015 happens: exit Dregen, enter Rich Jones, and you get a new injection of fresh blood and songs (very similar to the Demolition 23 stuff) like "Old Kings Road" & "Fist Fulla Dynamite". Included are four unreleased songs with Rich Jones and two closing covers. The first cover is an obscure song called "Get On" from the Finnish band Hurriganes (yes, that is spelled correctly). The original band is very Flamin' Groovies, and Michael's version just revs it up to Little Richard style madness. The closing track is his cover of "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf,  featuring Slash. Originally released on the Coneheads soundtrack, this version is stronger and a bit rawer than what was released prior. Missing in action are guest vocal spots with Backyard Babies' "Rocker", his duet with Axl Rose on the Dead Boys' "Ain't It Fun", the benefit single "Pirates of the Baltic Sea", and bonus songs that were included on Japanese releases.

The Best is quite a slice to bite off and doesn't include any Hanoi Rocks material. Cleopatra has taken great care in properly re-releasing the early Hanoi catalogue in the box set Hanoi Rocks ‎– Strange Boys. It includes four studio albums and the incredible live from the Marquee club All Those Wasted Years. The final studio album Two Steps From The Move was re-released in 2015 by Rock Candy as a two-CD set.

Michael Monroe is a treasure to behold and a must explore for everyone. It is so very short-sighted to pin him as just a glam artist and say that what Hanoi Rocks were doing was the same as anyone else on the Sunset Strip. It was so much more rooted in rock & roll, punk, and early Alice Cooper. They were the perfect band that was tragically cut short when they were not yet 24 years old. Once all of the legal saber-rattling was done, Hanoi was asked if they would like to sue Vince Neil for the compensation of killing their bandmate. Unanimously the band said no. They felt that there was no price that they could accept that would be anything worth their friend's life. Because the band would not accept payment, Vince could not close the book on what he did and would have to live with the fact that he could not buy off the integrity of the band, therefore always knowing that they valued Razzle's life above money and the continuation of their band. That is why Michael Monroe has been great for over 30 years.

-Rob Sheley

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kris Rodgers - Losing The Frequency

It has already been 15 months since I first teased the arrival of Losing The Frequency - the new album from Kris "Fingers" Rodgers. Its release is finally upon us and has proven to be well worth the wait! Given that I make no apologies for my love of classic rock, it's hardly a shock that I'm so stoked on this album. Out on Rum Bar Records, Losing The Frequency is ten tracks of radio-worthy pop/rock/R & B that take me back to the glorious AOR of my youth.

The first thing that came to my mind with Losing The Frequency was how great it sounds. I immediately had to check who produced it. It turns out it was Rodgers himself in the producer's chair! So I have to correct what I've said about our man Fingers being a triple threat. He's actually a quadruple threat (at least!). Is there anything this guy can't do?! It's likely he will continue to get compared to Elton John for years to come, and not without good reason. But he's probably a little more like the new Leon Russell - a brilliant keyboard sideman who doubles as a formidable singer/songwriter in his own right. He has managed to carve out this very unique space for himself within our underground rock n' roll universe. It's very gratifying to see esteemed publications like Veglam and Uber Rock already offering accolades for his latest effort.

Several of Rodgers's collaborators on Losing The Frequency are themselves well acquainted with the fine art of pop/rock songwriting. Kurt Baker plays bass, Wyatt Funderburk mixed the album, and the amazing Zach Jones makes a guest appearance on guitar. Now that's a star-studded cast! What you have to admire is how Rodgers incorporates his friends' immense talents in support of a musical vision that's uniquely his. If 2014's Headlines established Rodgers as a promising new voice in piano-driven rock, Losing The Frequency is where he fully comes into his own as an artist. Ably backed by The Dirty Gems (on this release Baker, Craig Sala, and Tom Hall), Rodgers has made a record that can stand toe-to-toe with those of his musical heroes.

With just a few notable exceptions, all of the songs here hover right around the four-minute mark. That's right on par for the '70s/'80s era of radio rock from which Rodgers draws so heavily. Yet nothing about what he does sounds stale or bloated. With his booming, soulful voice and hook-laden songwriting style, Rodgers makes classic rock sound timeless instead of dated. Even the grandiose Queen-style epic "Who's Gonna Save You Now" leaves me wanting more - quite a feat for an eight-minute track! I like how there are small touches (the gospel backups on "I Know", the smooth saxophone on "Black Widow") that bring to mind certain excesses of the '80s, yet Rodgers never strays far from a foundation of memorable choruses and strong melodies. "Rock N' Roll Radio" fittingly sounds like a radio hit from an era when the radio still played hits. "Black Widow", the elegant piano ballad from 2014's Whiskey & Soda, gets the full rock treatment here and was a fine choice for the album's lead single. The snappy "Overrated" puts a fresh spin on the '70s heyday of singing piano men. And even when Rodgers gets to show off his tremendous keyboard skills on a number like "No Place To Go", it's completely in service of the song.

Losing The Frequency is an album that breathes new life into the classic rock form. Simply put, Kris Rodgers has a great voice and writes fantastic songs. Regardless of whatever else changes in the musical landscape, talent never goes out of style. Like label mates Watts, Rodgers creates music that will appeal not only to those of us who were weaned on the classics, but also to a whole new generation of fans. Losing The Frequency is available now as a digital release - with CDs coming very soon!