HYDROGRAD Stone Sour (Warner Music) ****
It’s the new (and 6th) album from Slipknot honcho Corey Taylor’s side group here, and it kicks loads of ass. How does it compare to Slipknot? I honestly have no idea as I’m not overly familiar with the band but it just might be the rock album this summer needs.
“Our only real idea was to make a kick-ass rock & roll album” says Taylor, and that they did. “Let’s lean back, let the songs do the talking, and make the best rock & roll play list, mix tape, that’s ever been made. That was the only thing we held to, and everything after that was so fucking easy.” Hydrograd is full of unbridled passion and muscle from front to back, the sort of record that makes you want to raise your beer and scream.
There are a lot of hard charging metal moments in these 15 tracks, but Hydrograd is much broader than that with songs like Mercy, Song #3 and Thank God It’s Over being more good ol’ rock & roll songs, built on a foundation of melodies and hooks- the kind of tunes that stay with you. “Those songs sound like Alice In Chains grew up on the Sunset Strip” Corey observes. “Everybody mistakes us for a metal band that plays rock & roll, when it’s really the other way around.” There’s even a powerful ballad on the disc called St. Marie, of which Taylor says “I write stuff like that all the time, but I get self-conscious about playing it for anybody- but I played it for the guys and they flipped out.”
I never got into Slipknot because I found their shtick ridiculous (says the old man that still loves Kiss), but Hydrograd will lead me not just into Stone Sour’s back catalogue, but into the ‘knot too- one of my son Richard’s favourite bands. Hydrograd is a record that will really stay with you.
ESSENTIALS: Taipei Person/ Allah Tea, Song #3, When The Fever Broke
NO BLACK NO WHITE JUST BLUES Lightnin’ Willie (Little Dog Records) *** ½
With a name like that, you gotta know “Lightnin’ Willie” is a bluesman. He trades in a hard swingin’ brand of blues, loaded with groove and meant to pack the dance floor. This disc ain’t pretty, nor was it meant to be- but it sure is entertaining.
Lightnin` Willie has gone from low down beer joints to festival stages all over the world. He’s also played London’s Royal Albert Hall Ignite Series and has taken in part in Willie Nelson’s infamous 4th Of July Picnic alongside the likes of Willie, Bob Dylan and Leon Russell. He has a reputation as a blues powerhouse- consistently genuine, never flashy and boundlessly entertaining. After a few spins through No Black, I can believe it.
This set was produced and arranged by Pete Anderson, who clearly has an ear for what works best for this particular Willie. I don’t know if ‘lo-fi’ is the right way to describe No Black’s sound, but there’s a kind of subtle trashy quality that fits the sort of music you might hear coming from the wrong side of the tracks, that part of town where you don’t want to get caught on the streets after the sun goes down. These feel like the kind of songs that have been the backdrop to a few fistfights, that’s for sure.
Willie’s tunes are earthy and intense, and you can feel the connection they have to Chicago and the Delta. His husky singing voice reminds me of Harry Manx, and his guitar playing feels not unlike Jimmie Vaughan with a touch of B.B. Should you find yourself at a party with a mind to turn the dump on its head, No Black No White Just Blues is the album that can get the job done. Nice work, boys.
ESSENTIAL: Locked In A Prison, Fuss And Fight, Thinking Of You
ROAD RAGE Quiet Riot (Frontiers) ***
I decided to give this a spin thanks to morbid curiosity more than anything else. Original (and problematic) singer Kevin DuBrow died of a cocaine overdose in ‘07, and drummer Frankie Banali is the sole original member. I was prepared to entertain myself by laying a steaming triple coiler on Road Rage, but be damned if I didn’t end up liking it.
Quiet Riot 2017 is Banali on drums, Alex Grossi on guitars, Chuck Wright on bass, and former American Idol contestant James Durban at the mic. This album was originally supposed to come out in the spring, but when Durban was brought into the band they were so impressed with how the new line-up sounded that the original sessions were scrapped and Road Rage was re-recorded.
Quiet Riot’s first grasp at the brass ring was Metal Health in 1983 which had 2 or 3 hits, but what really drew attention to them was having been guitarist Randy Rhoads’ pre-Ozzy band. Quiet Riot today is different. With Alex Grossi on guitar the riffs and the playing are bluesy, more muscular and much less wanky. Drummer Frankie Banali really impresses here too. His playing isn’t fancy or frilly, but he seems to know what kind of heartbeat these songs need, and his 4-on-the-floor delivery is the solid backbone around which everything else revolves. Frankly I find this batch of songs more infectious and catchy than stuff from their glory days.
If you go for this record, don’t expect it to sound like Metal Health because it doesn’t. Road Rage is a slice of brute force rock & roll that feels really, really good. Street date is August 4th.
ESSENTIAL: Still Wild, Getaway (not the Kiss song), Renegades
(Mudslide Records) ***
It’s the 7th time out for these Bay area bluesologists, showcasing 10 originals in a variety of blues styles. They’re a 7 piece harmonica-driven band with a sassy brass section that tips their collective hats to everything from the Mississippi Delta to the south side of Chicago, and I think you’re gonna dig this.
Delta Wires started 30 years ago as band leader Ernie Pinata’s college project demonstrating the evolution of the blues, from the cotton fields, to Chicago, and ultimately to the West Coast. They started out playing Oakland clubs- legendary bluesman Lowell Fulson sat in with them back in the day, Ernie once sat in with the Freddie King Band, and The Delta Wires even opened for Buddy Guy & Junior Wells- not a bad way to get started.
Produced by the band themselves, Born In Oakland feels about as close to a live gig as you’re likely to get in the studio. Richard Healy’s guitar is supple and expressive as Pinata’s vocals and harp work lead the way. Delta Wire have a great sense of swing and swagger that gives songs like Devil’s In My Headset an instantly likeable groove while others have a really cool ‘jump’ vibe. That’s one of the keys to the likeability of this record- they keep moving around, never staying in a particular pair of shoes for too long.
Born In Oakland is a good example of the west coast blues style- lively and ebullient, the sort of stuff to dance and party to as opposed to sitting in a corner and quietly picking at your emotional scars as it were. The musicianship is excellent, and these blues are ready and willing to show you a good time- let’s party!
ESSENTIALS: I Don’t Care, Devil’s In My Headset, Vacation
FEET BACK IN THE DOOR Johnny Ray Jones (Moondogg Records) ***½
Johnny Ray’s debut solo album has been a long time coming. A cool mixture of California blues and southern soul, this journey started back in 1995. As Johnny himself says, this is “a smorgasbord of Americana and blues.”
Johnny Ray Jones has performed over the years with a who’s who of blues royalty. Sam Taylor was his voice coach; Percy Mayfield’s wife Tina was his godmother, and he has performed with the likes of Big Joe Turner and LA’s beloved Red Devils, in addition to opening for Leon Russell, John Mayall and Steppenwolf. Now here he is in the spotlight, and deservedly so.
Feet Back In The Door started with 4 songs back in ’95 but really most of the recording took place over the last couple of years. The disc was produced by Tony Braunagel (drums), Johnny Le Schell (Johnny Ray’s guitarist) and Johnny Ray himself with a precise yet agreeably dishevelled sound, as opposed to being obsessively tight and squeaky clean. As a singer Jones sounds like a combination of Waylon Jennings and Ray Wylie Hubbard with maybe a little Otis thrown in, and his band is a group of laid back cats that know how to deliver killer grooviness.
From smooth soul and R&B vibes to up tempo Stones-y stuff and a sort of New Orleans joie de vivre, Feet In The Back Door has it going on. Covering songs by Allen Touissant, Leon Russell Sam Taylor and Barry Levinson doesn’t hurt the cause either, and neither does guest spots by percussionist Lenny Castro and blues guitar legend Coco Montoya. The more I listen to this, the more I like it- and that’s a VERY good sign.
ESSENTIALS: A Certain Girl, High Cost Of Loving You, Feet Back In The Door