Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR April 26, 2022

THE MISSING FOURTH GUEST Lia Hide (Conch Town Records) ****

In the 32+ years I’ve written album reviews, I’ve never heard anything quite like this.  Lia is a prolific artist of Greece’s dark, progressive alt-pop scene, this is her 4th album, and it’s a mysterious and beguiling gem.

The Missing Fourth Guest gets its title from Plato’s “Timeaus” dialogue opening line and deals with the emotional struggles of the pandemic and the attendant lockdowns, mortality, and modern man’s place in the universe… so much for ‘pop fluff’.  I like that this disc challenges me in more ways than I’m used to from pop music, a combination of deep thought plus sub-sonics- not exactly familiar territory. Hide is classically trained, and her writing style is simple pop in structure and lyrics, yet progressive elements and jazz fragments combine with orchestral layers, electronic drones and industrial noises.

Sitting down and really listening to The Missing Fourth Guest is a trip, to put it mildly. It is an ethereal and enveloping experience that requests and requires total submersion.  TMFG is beautiful yet haunting, the combination of Lia’s lyrics and the decidedly untraditional musical arrangements created her and band-mates Aki Base (bass) and George Rados (drums), plus the additional musicians involved.  It was produced by Hide in Athens and mixed by Ian Shaw of Warmfuzz Productions in Key West, and mastered by Denis Blackham in the UK. So… an international effort, you might say.

Often in reviews I say a disc sounds like this artist or a combination of this and that, but I can’t think of anything to compare Lia Hide’s 4th record to. Pop with jazz thinking? That doesn’t even scratch the surface.  The Missing Fourth Guest takes some effort to get inside of but it’s worth it.  On the first pass I was able to appreciate the jazz-leaning music and combination of somewhat unusual sounds that are ‘outside my wheelhouse’ as the kids say but honestly, the effect was quite pleasing. Subsequent spins involve getting into the lyrical content a little more each time- an ongoing process.

It’s nice to know that, after all these years, there is still music that can surprise and delight me.  The Missing Fourth Guest is just the sort of adventure I’ve been missing without realizing it.

HOT TRACKS:  Dinner, Row Row Row, Uterus Will

MY WAY Udo Dirkschnieder (Atomic Fire) *** ½

A disc of cover songs here by the former voice of German metal heroes Accept.  The thought of listening to him warble his way through a bunch of tunes I’m familiar with did not fill me with anticipation.  In fact I was prepared to give it a hard pass until I saw the video for his version of Queen’s We Will Rock You then thought “wait a minute, maybe this IS worth checking out.”   My Way is actually pretty good.

There are singers you can identify from the first note, and Udo is one of those guys.  His leather lunged approach fuelled Accept’s early success of course, and he’s led U.D.O. since 1987 and released 18 studio albums including this one.  My Way is Udo’s way of celebrating his recent 70th birthday, and if you’re familiar with his stuff at all then you know he’s not about to screw around heavily with the arrangements of these classic tunes, though the aforementioned We Will Rock You could be considered an exception.

My Way is 16 tracks in all, and there’s a pretty good chance you’re familiar with most of the original versions.  As the review on states “the whole thing is so entertaining and endearingly straightforward that resistance seems both useless and a bit mean-spirited.”  Dirkschneider has a great band behind him and they play exceedingly well as he takes on songs by Rainbow, Motorhead, The Stones, Billy Squier, Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest.  Udo doesn’t to try to assume the vocal characteristics of any of these singers, though you could argue he’s not that far off from Lemmy on the Motorhead track.  Udo just opens his mouth and lets ‘er rip while his band kicks ass.

Udo Dirkschneider is a rock ‘n’ roll animal, a beast that takes no prisoners and makes no apologies.  If you’re not a fan of his it’s unlikely that My Way will change your mind; but if you dig what he’s done in the past and like the songs he takes on here you’re going to have yourself a whole pile of fun.  In the past he’s sung some of heavy metal’s arguably best songs (Balls To The Wall, anyone?), so what better way to mark his 70th year than doing an album of songs he loves?  After 4+ decades on the frontlines of heavy metal he’s earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants, including a pretty decent version of a Frank Sinatra standard for the title cut.  Bravo Udo, well

HOT TRACKS:  We Will Rock You (Queen), Paint It Black (The Rolling Stones), They Call It Nutbush (Tina Turner)

1977 Michelle Malone (SBS Records) **** ½

A nostalgic record for today’s world- that neatly sums up Michelle Malone’s new album 1977.  A mainstay of American roots music for more than 30 years, Michelle is taking everything back to the year she first picked up a guitar.  This is a stripped down organic record that finds her looking to the past to help make sense of the present.

“I’m a big fan of 1970’s music, especially singer/ songwriters from the Laurel Canyon scene” Michelle says.  “1977 is the year I started playing guitar- the year I started becoming ME- so music from that era has always felt special.  It takes me back to a place that was safe, sound, and comforting” and with that, she has succinctly summed up her own album.  As you listen it’s like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne are hanging out in the background, maybe at a table in the corner enjoying a coffee or a beer.  Unlike some of her stuff, described as “mixing the rebellious stomp of roadhouse rock & roll with the raw grit of blues, the holy-rolling rasp of gospel, the slow motion swagger of country-soul and the organic warmth of folk music”, this is quiet, deliberate and reflective with a whiff of country.  In an increasingly noisy world, it’s bliss.

1977 feels like Sheryl Crow meets Edie Brickell, with a touch of Joni Mitchell and Lucinda Williams lyrically speaking.  Its laid back storytelling along cool grooves is relaxing and mentally invigorating at the same time.  “It’s raw and honest” Malone says of the disc.  “The stories are peppered with joy and positive twists, as well as reminders that no matter how hard things get, we survive and we reflect and we move forward.”  Her first record came out in 1988 and her second, 1990’s Relentless as Michelle Malone & Drag The River is one of the first albums I ever reviewed, and I still have the cassette the record company sent me- I just checked.

1977 was produced by Michelle, engineered by Jeff Bakos, and includes a long list of talented Atlanta-based artists too long to mention here, though you might like to know Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray does some beautiful harmonies on The River Song.   If you’re expecting the sort of rock stuff she’s rightly known for, this is different.  It’s like the quiet conversation in the kitchen at a house party while everyone is getting hammered in the livingroom.  Ultimately, the best way to describe 1977 is ‘soulful’.

HOT TRACKS:  Even The Queen, Know My Name, The River Song

BORROWED TIME Dana Fuchs (Ruf) *****

Another raw, goose bump-raising display here from one of the hottest blues-rock singers around.  Borrowed Time sees Fuchs passionate, raspy voice reaching new emotional heights as she combines soul and blues while revisiting her southern rock roots.  Critics have compared her to Janis Joplin and Otis Redding; she’s the real deal.

Dana was born in New Jersey and raised in Wildwood, Florida.  As a singer/ songwriter she found much inspiration in her parents’ Ray Charles and Hank Williams records, which you can still hear in her music if you’re paying attention.  Even if you think you’re running into her for the first time, think again; she found herself the toast of Broadway when starring in the Janis Joplin musical Love, Janis, and she had a starring role in Across The Universe in 2007. As a singer she has a voice that makes you feel like she’s been down to the places she’s singing about, carried those burdens and cried those tears. Listening to Borrowed Time reminds me feel-wise of Joe Cocker’s best stuff.

Borrowed Time is a pastiche of blues, gospel and southern rock both lyrically and sonically.  Producer Bobby Harlow (Detroit Cobras, Samantha Fish) captured the intensity, urgency, power, restraint and passion of Fuchs’ live performances on a studio album, which rocks mightily. Foghat called on Dana to help out on their last album Under The Influence and I can completely hear why.  She brings grit and raw power to whatever she does, and when left to her own devices she can bring the roof down.

I love it when Dana goes flat out and howls at the moon, but she’s equally spellbinding when she channels her inner Hank Williams on a track like Lonely Lie- just voice, guitar and harmonica, but perhaps one of the most emotionally powerful songs on the album. Whether she’s tearing it up or tearing out a big piece of your heart, Dana Fuchs is a force to be reckoned with as a singer and songwriter. The press info says Dana is “revisiting her Southern Rock Roots with a deliciously dangerous selection of incredible songs”, and while that is certainly true it only hints at the power Borrowed Time unleashes.   She has an outstanding band that matches what she puts up vocally, and the end result is an immensely satisfying listen. Gotta sneak in another spin tonight before I go to bed.

HOT TRACKS:  Star, Lonely Lie, Double Down On Wrong

YARD SALE J-Rad Cooley (VizzTone) *** ½

This is the debut for a young Salt Lake City based musician.  J-Rad Cooley is a singer/ songwriter, piano player and harmonica player, and Yard Sale is a likeable collection of unique storytellin’ songs with a distinct sense of blues groove; I quite like this.

Stylistically, Yard Sale feels like a cross between Dr. John and Webb Wilder by way of The Band. Cooley’s songs display his diverse influences, from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Ray Charles to The Band, stirred with a shot of New Orleans and a distinct ragtime flavour.  A lot of good music seems to get committed to tape in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and that’s where this disc came to life.  The producer is Memphis-based Tony Holiday and they used the studio of Zach Kasik, bassist for Too Slim & The Taildraggers, a band I dearly love.  In fact the leader of that band, Tim “Too Slim” Langford guests here on guitar, as does piano player Victor Wainwright, another artist I have much affection for.  Backing Cooley for the most part are bassists Kasik and Josh Karrick, guitarist Aubrey McCrady and drummer Shake E. Fowlkes, playing together with a cool sense of swing.

J-Rad is a good singer, and the band grooves with soul around the relaxed pace set by drummer Fowlkes.  Part blues and part honky-tonk, Yard Sale is one of those albums that will delight and entertain you while laying down some righteous musicianship.  There are 9 tracks in all, 8 originals plus one classic cover; the right way to go about it, particularly for a first record.  It’s the blues but with a smile and a sense of vaudeville, quite different from a lot of what calls itself blues these days, which helps it stand out some from the crowd.

Melodically most of the tunes center around the piano as the lead instrument, and J-Rad’s harp is quite the tasty, bluesy spice to lend some depth to the proceedings.  You won’t find thrilling, acrobatic soloing on Yard Sale but what you will come across is some sweet ensemble playing.  I may prefer my blues dirtier and more dramatic, but this disc has considerable charm too and a light soul… good company on a sunny day.

HOT TRACKS:  Til’ Hate Is Gone, Now She’s A Drifter, All Night Mama

TRYING TO KEEP MY HEAD ABOVE WATER Levee Town (self released) **** ½

Levee Town is a trio from Kansas City, Missouri and Trying To Keep My Head Above Water is their 9th record in 20 years.  It’s tasty, high octane blues led by singer Brandon Hudspeth’s earthy, BB King-like guitar leads and underscored by the pulse of bassist Jacque Garoutte and drummer Adam Hagerman- an excellent Friday night noise.

Trying To Keep My Head Above Water isn’t a concept album in the traditional sense, but you’ll find some common threads and a deliberate sense of direction. “The record takes you through moods, that was the idea” says Hudspeth. “I wrote all the songs during lockdown, you’ve gotta write what you’re going through.  They’re all in some way indirectly about the pandemic, but they’re also about different people I know, telling the stories through their eyes.  The way the sequence of the songs goes, it starts out sort of light hearted and happy, but the way of the world, the way things have gone, you’ve gotta put some realism in there and the weight of that is pretty somber.”

Despite all of that Levee Town likes to have a good time, as they do on the instrumental Tarantino- as soon as you hear it, you totally understand the title.  I’m not sure who said it, could’ve been Mark Farner in Grand Funk’s heyday, but I’ve heard it put that when you play in a trio there’s nowhere to hide and you have to be on your game at all times.  Hudspeth’s guitar constantly entertains while the rhythm section of Garoutte and Hagerman lay down some tight but greasy, fat grooves that serve as spirited locomotion.  Blues aficionados will feel the influence of T-Bone Walker, Freddie King and even Bob Wills, plus the immortal Ennio Morricone on the aforementioned Tarantino, all in all a lively and entertaining blend in what has been noted as “new blues with roots that run wide and deep.”  Perhaps like ZZ Top, country Jesus and hillbilly blues is where they learned their licks too.

Driving blues with a touch of twang and a playful sense of what’s possible within that framework ain’t a bad way to go but dammit, after enjoying Trying To Keep My Head Above Water as much as I have means there are 7 other albums (Takin’ & Givin’ is already in my collection) I need to get my hands on.  Pretty heckin’ cool, this.

HOT TRACKS:  Locked Up For Days, Tarantino, She Might Kill You


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