Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR Aug. 30, 2022

STILL THAT WAY TODAY South Island Rhythm Kings (Blue Glue Records) ****

If you’re up for a traditional early blues adventure, I’ve got just the thing; the South Island Rhythm Kings.  Dealing in early electric blues, Still That Way Today is one of those discs that takes you all the way back home.  Driven by the agreeably gruff vocals and spirited harp playing of “Lazy” Mike Mallon and produced by Jack Lavin, this is delightful.

The band formed on Vancouver Island, driven by their mutual love of “no school like old school” blues.  The band includes Mike on vocals and harp, his son Carson on vocals and guitar, Dan Dube on keys and Nick Dokter on bass, with specials guests Jack Lavin on bass and Sean Kilback contributing a guitar solo on Don’t Go Away Mad. In their 4 short years together SIRK have opened for acts like Harpdog Brown, Mark Hummel, The Lone Star Golden State Review, David Gogo, Big Dave McLean, Jim Byrnes and many more… these cats get around!

South Island Rhythm Kings have taken the blues from places like Chicago, Texas, the West Coast and The Mississippi Delta and fashioned them into what they call “the blues of Vancouver Island”.  Still That Way Today, a mix of 6 covers and 7 Mike Mallon originals, draws on blues forms that have influenced the world of music for decades now.  Like the inner sleeve says, “the blues is a language we all speak. From an empty wallet to a cold side of the bed, we all experience the blues in some way”- that’s something we can agree on.  All 13 tracks were arranged by the band and, according to the cd cover this was recorded ‘live off the floor at Lo-Speed Studio in Duncan BC.”  That gives the songs an organic flow that really can’t be achieved any other way.  No studio trickery employed here; that same cover even refers to this as a ‘monophonic recording’, adding to its old school charm.

One of the things I love about Still That Way Today is its laid back-ness, the comfort and familiarity the band obviously feels with this type of music and these songs in particular.  For example I’m more used to ZZ Top’s aggressive live version of Thunderbird off of Fandango but the mid-tempo groove The Kings set up on it here is way too cool.  Their playing is intuitive, not overly complicated, groove-centric and spot on.  Pretty sweet stuff.

HOT TRACKS:  Still That Way Today, Thunderbird, You Drink Too Much Booze

THE LOST SOUVENIR COLLECTION Hank Snow (Country Rewind Records) *****

When it comes to country music, nothing can touch the old school classic stuff.  If you feel the same then you know about Hank Snow.  You’ll recognize many of these songs, but I can guarantee you’ve never heard them quite like this.  The Lost Souvenir Collection is a set of tunes recorded specifically for radio airplay and never made commercially available… until now.  For Hank Snow fans and classic country lovers, this is a real find.

I’ve always been aware of Hank Snow and, thanks to the recent Elvis movie, found out that he  took Elvis on tour in the early days.  After airing these songs, most stations simply discarded them after they aired. They remained largely forgotten until Thomas Gramuglia rescued them and placed them in the hands of engineer Aaron Dethrage, who then brought the recordings up to 21st century audio quality standards and the results are stunning.

Rex Allen Jr. coordinated the production of The Lost Souvenir Collection, who contacted Jimmie Snow about participating too.  “I was so thrilled when I got the call from Rex to sing on the album with my father” says Jimmie. “He would’ve been over a hundred years old.  It was quite a feeling to hear these songs 45 years later and be in the room while the additions and updates were being done in the studio.”  Hank Snow, from Nova Scotia, was a huge country star from 1950 onwards, after getting his big break on The Grand Ole Opry.  He was also a prolific and successful songwriter, writing many of the tunes (including his share of top ten hits) on the millions of albums he sold over his long career.  Hank was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1978 and The Country Music Hall of Fame in 1979.

Born in 1914 he passed away in 1999, but Hank Snow’s influence on country music is incalculable.  The Lost Souvenir Collection, thanks to the efforts of engineer Aaron Dethrage, sounds wonderful.  Yes there are modern embellishments and updates; purists might have preferred the original recordings ‘as is’, but once you give this set a spin there’s no going back. For Hank Snow fans in particular and classic country fans in general, it can’t get any better than this.  Kudos to all involved for a job spectacularly well done.

HOT TRACKS:  Rhumba Boogie, The Wreck Of The Old ’97, Down The Trail Of Achin’ Hearts

BLACK AND BLUE Frankie Laine (Hindsight Records) *****

Much like the Hank Snow collection just reviewed, this is a journey of purest discovery.  I had been aware of Frankie Laine through his well-known Western themes such as Mule Train, High Noon and even the theme for Blazing Saddles.  It turns out he had an impressive career as a big band crooner too, and Black & Blue is a fantastic opportunity for music fans to become familiar with that portion of his career.  I’m 64 now and this is the music of my parents’ generation… though they’re both gone, this helps me feel closer to them.

The press info says these songs have been “tastefully enhanced for today’s listeners”, meaning the music has been re-recorded to go with Laine’s vocals, similar to the Hank Snow set.  Hats off to executive producer Thomas Gramuglia once again, and producer John F. Forbes for doing a fabulous job.  The result is an historical visit to a long ago chapter in musical history without the scratches, pops and hisses typical of older recordings.  Black & Blue is lush and swingin’.

“Frankie Laine had a remarkable career” Scott Yanow says in the album liner notes. “His deep voice, infectious enthusiasm and versatility put him in his own musical category. Black and Blue was recorded during his most jazz-oriented period; it is a perfect introduction to his music and an opportunity for long-term fans to hear his voice through John Forbes’ creative and tasteful orchestrations.” “These new recordings encapsulate the magic of the original performances as well as elevating these moments with energy and luster that these artists truly deserve” states executive producer Gramuglia. “The final results of these efforts make this great music available to audiences for generations to come.”

The landscape of big bands and big band singers is well before my time, but as a lifelong music fan and musician, I am curious about the era and welcome this chance to learn and enjoy. Black And Blue lets us partake of Frankie Laine’s laid back magic in a modern setting and get carried away. Not everybody is into Big Band and that’s okay, but if you have an affinity for it this new set is an exciting invitation to go past stars like Crosby, Sinatra and Nat King Cole, to dig deeper and re-discover another rich vein of musical history.  I’m loving this, and am genuinely excited to see what Hindsight Records comes up with next.  Beautiful stuff.

HOT TRACKS:  West End Blues, All Of Me, That Ain’t Right

SYMBOL OF ETERNITY Grave Digger (Rock Of Angels Records) ****

Talk about switching gears; going from Hank Snow and Frankie Laine to German heavy metal.  A vital part of that scene for over 4 decades now, Grave Digger have combined elements of prog and speed metal for their most potent effort yet.  Symbol Of Eternity combines pomposity of with razor sharp riffs in a mesmerizing blend.

As with 1998’s Knights Of The Cross Grave Digger devote themselves once again to the fabled history of the Templars to feed an over the top dramatic story arch.  Driven by punishing double kick drumming, Symbol Of Eternity is an intriguing mix of brutally aggressive musicianship and surprisingly melodicism.  Opening this up is not unlike the first time hearing the lost Judas Priest classic disc Jugulator, that band’s first album with Ripper Owens at the mic; once you get around the sheer force of the thing, there is some great heavy metal happening here.

Grave Digger is one of those names I’ve come across over the years in metal mags but never took the time to check out.  As I’ve said before, there’s so much music out there you can’t listen to all of it.  Symbol Of Eternity is their 21st studio album since their 1984 debut and it’s impressive that they have a record this heavy, dramatic and urgent in them this deep into their career.  It’s quite a variety of material too, from speed metal to mid-tempo numbers and even the almost doom-like title track.  Not a ton of finesse in Chris Boltendhal’s vocals, but none is called for as his voice keeps pace with the inventive guitar work of Axel Ritt and the nuclear power plant rhythm section of Jens Becker on bass and Marcus Kniep on drums.

The historical lyrical conceits of Symbol Of Eternity should appeal to fans of Game of Thrones, and I’d wager this album is what Judas Priest’s Nostradamus wishes it were.  It’s the mix of extreme heaviosity and attention to melody that really makes this disc work.  Too many albums in their back catalog for me to catch up with but they have some older compilations I’ll need to get into.  I might look like a tool blasting down the highway in my Ford Focus with Symbol Of Eternity blasting at top volume, but fuck it… it’s time to ride.

HOT TRACKS:  Symbol Of Eternity, Battle Cry, The Last Crusade


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