Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR – April 2, 2023

MOTEL MISSISSIPPI Tony Holiday (Forty Below Records) *** ¾ 

A tasty mix of blues styles here in Tony Holiday’s 2nd solo album.  Aided and abetted by a contingent of young, savvy, well-schooled Memphis musicians with a family-like attitude, Motel Mississippi finds Holiday combining Memphis soul, Delta blues and the sounds of the North Mississippi Hill Country for a sweet ride.

Relocating from Salt Lake City to Memphis in 2017, Tony Holiday has clearly immersed himself in the rich musical traditions of the south.  Mississippi Motel is 6 originals and two covers, a collaboration between Tony, guitarist/ songwriter A.J. Fullerton and guitarist/ producer Dave Gross, who shared production chores with Fullerton.  The album ignores the crystalline perfection of modern recordings in favor of a sound as thick as the rich Mississippi mud that inspired it, a feel that’s retro and modern at the same time.

Here you’ll find the drive of a song like Rob & Steal (one of the covers) next to timeless juke joint grooviosity, and the Cajun spirit of the instrumental Yazoo River driven by double harmonica work.  Then you have the joyous, loose-limbed locomotion of Just As Gone and Nobody But You (the other cover) that have a sort of vintage CCR ambience and energy.  All this is possible thanks to the musicians already mentioned plus Lee Williams Jr. (drums), Terrance Grayson (bass), Aubrey McCrady (guitar), Jake Friel (harmonica) and Mikey Junior (bg vocals), with engineer Kevin Houston bringing it all home.

When you mention ‘Memphis’ it conjures up a particular musical vibe, which Motel Mississippi Motel captures beautifully.  This collection of songs fills your mind with visions of roadhouses on a sweltering Saturday night, where people do the kinds of things they need forgiveness for in church the next day.   It’s laid back and energizing at the same time, if that makes sense. From the vocal harmonizer used on Rob & Steal to the relatively traditional instrumentation of the other tracks, Motel Mississippi touches all the bases. They call it “equal parts hypnotic blues, driving soul and juke joint stomper” and you’d better believe it.

HOT TRACKS:  Nobody But You, Yazoo River, Just As Gone

BLACK DIAMONDS L.A. Guns (Frontiers) ***

This is a brand new album from the version of the band featuring founder Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis.  Black Diamonds is the kind of hard rock we expect from these guys, metal with the punk attitude and AC/DC-like simplicity that has driven them since forming in 1983.

LA Guns have undergone something of a renaissance since reuniting in 2017 under the guidance of Guns and Lewis, putting out 4 fairly well received albums- Checkered Past, The Devil You Know, The Missing Peace and now Black Diamonds- in the meantime.  Though initially tagged as a ‘glam metal band’ there’s never been anything remotely pretty about these guys or the music they make.  If anything ‘biker rock’ might be appropriate for their greasy brand of knuckle-dragging rock & roll, which is a compliment by the way. Of course, like a band from their particular time, they throw the odd ballad our way too.

When you put Black Diamonds on you get the feeling these guys were inspired by Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.  The playing is macho and the songs are simple- no quirky time or key changes, that kind of stuff would just slow down their sonic assault.  LA Guns 2023 is Phil Lewis on vocals, Tracii Guns on guitars, Johnny Martin on bass and guitars, and Adam Hamilton on drums in the studio with Shawn Duncan getting behind the kit for live shows.  Some decent riffery throughout for sure, but I’m not hearing any gigantic hooks that could turn any of these 11 songs into a classic… that’s a tall order for this kind of rock & roll in this day and age.  This is LA Guns doing what they’ve always done but is that enough?  After all, it’s not 1983 anymore.

Maybe Black Diamonds isn’t one of those records out to make a big statement and I’m just trying to look deeper than is necessary. After a handful of spins it’s becoming clear that the way to approach this is to just throw it on, turn it up, and let the good times roll.

HOT TRACKS:  Crying, Gonna Lose, Diamonds

SONGS OF WHITE LION Mike Tramp (Frontiers) ****

Former White Lion singer Mike Tramp has finally done what I’m sure fans have been hoping he’d do for some time.  As the title suggests, he’s re-imagined songs from WL’s storied catalog.  Their time in the sun- 1983 to 1991- was relatively brief but, all these years later the songs hold up remarkably well.

During White Lion’s initial run I ignored them almost completely, other than playing the odd song on the radio as a deejay. I was a 70’s rock snob and felt the 80’s had little to offer other than formulaic hard rock so yeah, I was an idiot.  Tramp’s approach with Songs Of White Lion is to neither reinvent the wheel nor coast on past glories, but to remind us that the songs he wrote with guitarist Vito Bratta are pretty fuckin’ good.  “The year is 2023 and I’ve recorded an album of the ‘big’ White Lion songs as close to the originals as possible, but exploring small new parts that today I feel should be that way” Mike says. “I am not 26 anymore; I don’t sing like I’m 26 and I wouldn’t be doing justice to the songs or myself if I tried to sing like I’m 26. Today I sing the songs I wrote with Vito Bratta over 40 years ago exactly the way I am today.”

I don’t have any White Lion albums to compare these to the originals but Songs has a rich, expansive sound and the musicianship of the players involved honors the catalog of a significant band from the 80’s rock scene.  Mike Tramp’s approach of singing as the vocalist he is today instead of trying to recreate the past works very well here, but guitarist Marcus Nand must be singled out for a job spectacularly well done.

Not sure how Tramp’s old band mates feel about Songs Of White Lion without their participation, all I have to judge is the album in front of me- and it’s really stinkin’ good.

HOT TRACKS:  Lady Of The Valley, Love Don’t Come Easy, Cry For Freedom

CAN’T WRITE A POP SONG WHEN YOU’VE GOT THE BLUES Voodoo Ramble (Thoroughbred Music) *****

This is the latest album from leading Croatian rock/ blues band Voodoo Ramble. Can’t Write A Pop Song bristles with authentic energy, 12 songs in all including two radio edits that run the gamut from love gone good (or bad) to the trucker anthem that kicks off the record.  This is a band worth your attention.

Voodoo Ramble is led by singer/ guitarist Boris Zamba, and Can’t Write A Pop Song includes lyrics by award-winning blues promoter, broadcaster and songwriter Pete Feenstra. “This is the first time I’ve shared the songwriting process and it’s given me real focus in delivering what we both had in mind” Boris says of working with Feenstra. “The album was originally going to be called “Collaboration Blues”, but the 7 co-written tracks were much more diverse spanning rock, blues, gospel, prog rock and Americana.” That is one of the albums many strengths; it doesn’t overstay its welcome in any one particular groove.

While the songs came quickly, things ground to a halt when Boris had a life-saving battle to overcome Covid.  If there is an upside to that Zamba found a new gear as he brought refreshed energy, enthusiasm and focus to the album. Once he came out the other side, things moved along quickly.  “Once Boris’s music flowed and his producer The Fig (Drago Smokrovic Smokva) added his magic, the words just tumbled out” Pete Feenstra says of his contributions. The other musicians involved give much to the process too, but not being Croatian I find their names difficult to pronounce. Having said that, singer Ivana Galic’s vocals on Out Of This World lift an already excellent song to a special place.

If the tag ‘Croatian rock/ blues band’ has you expecting something strange and exotic, put that notion to rest.  Can’t Write A Pop Song is jammed to the nuts with great songs that go from blue collar blues to prog rock to pop and everything in between, from BB King to Pink Floyd… and I can’t wait to share some tracks on my radio shows.

HOT TRACKS:  Born on The Road, London Town, I Know It’s You


RED TAPE Atlanta Rhythm Section (Polydor) RELEASED: April 1976

Red Tape is the 5th album for this southern rock band.  Formed in 1970, ARS started as the session band for the then newly opened Studio One in Doraville, near Atlanta Georgia.  That this is not one of their more popular records is an understatement, reaching only #146 on the charts.  It is also true that this is my favorite disc in their catalog.  It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve listened to Red Tape hundreds of times over the years.

I discovered Red Tape by accident; the LP was in the record library at CKQR in Castlegar, BC, my first radio job at 18 while still in high school.  The album grabbed me right away, a combination of the interplay between guitarists J.R. Cobb and Barry Bailey, the sweet vocals of Ronnie Hammond and the rumbling, nimble bass work of Paul Goddard.  No wonder these guys were a session band… their playing was smooth, powerful, steaming and exciting.

Red Tape has a distinct ‘southern-ness’ to it, a musically adventurous combination of country soul and blues vibes that meld together for something else altogether.  That is best expressed in Jukin’, the opening cut that also quotes Bob Wills’ San Antonio Rose.  Some great rockers on this album with a southern twist like Police! Police! and the mid-tempo blues shuffle Mixed Emotions with a lowdown, irresistible bass groove from Goddard that every bass player I know loves to bits.  When you hear it, you think “that’s how bass is supposed to be played.”

At just 8 songs and a running time of 31:55 Red Tape seems cruelly short, but this was the heyday of vinyl records and besides… if you really listen to the album it leaves you emotionally wrung out.  That’s what it does to me still, and I’ve been listening to it for 47 years now.  Even with such a short run time the album includes a closing epic that is worth the price of admission all by itself; Another Man’s Woman. The song starts out slow as Ronnie complains about having to meet his woman “at the dark end of the street”.  It gathers momentum as it hits the galloping midsection, then the guitars stop at the 6:10 mark and the drums keep time while Paul Goddard reels out a jaw-dropping bass solo.  Then the guitars creep back in, there’s a slide guitar solo, and they drop down to relaxed groove to bring it home.  It’s an astonishing song that should be as renowned as Stairway to Heaven.

Atlanta Rhythm Section would move on to more commercially successful records, such as A Rock & Roll Alternative later that same year and Champagne Jam in 1978 that gave us Imaginary Lovers, but Red Tape is where they REALLY nailed it.  To hear what I’m on about you can get it on I Tunes for only $6.99.

HOT TRACKS:  Mixed Emotions, Another Man’s Woman, Oh What A Feeling


Previous articleDecisive climate action will bring a healthier, more prosperous future
Next articleJUST ANNOUNCED: Tears For Fears at Rogers Arena
The Rock Doctor is in the Cyber House to tell you how it is! (or at least my own opinion). Want a music review? email: \m/


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.