Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR April 5, 2022

A SONG WAITING TO BE SUNG Brock Davis (Raintown Records) *****

Here’s the latest from Brock Davis. A Song Waiting To Be Sung is shocking for the emotional truth you’ll find in the tunes, a supple blend of folk and country sounds. He says that seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band on TV when he was 15 was his ‘Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment’- makes sense. This disc is haunting and gorgeous.

Davis does not wrap things up in a pretty bow neatly finished with happy endings; he confronts childhood trauma, the death of an unsustainable marriage, even the years he stepped away from his love (music) to run a Silicon Valley start-up. A Song Waiting To Be Sung takes us from the darkness into the light of second chances, love, and forgiveness. “Out of the ashes comes rebirth, and out of pain and loss- against all odds- comes love” Brock says. “I repressed so much, and I didn’t really start addressing any of it until I pretty much had a breakdown. The way out was to go back and connect the thing that had always given me the most joy- music. These songs were waiting inside me all this time.” Having had many dark nights of the soul myself, I can relate.

The 13 tracks on A Song Waiting To Be Sung address some serious emotional themes without clubbing you over the head. I Choose Love, the opening cut, is about detaching from divorce with kindness. All Free was written during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, and one line in the chorus goes, If we’re not all free/ we’re not free at all. Bullets and Blood is the true story of a 30 year love story between a gay male couple in the south and experiencing their kitchen door being shot up in an attempt to run them out of town. Even a dark story like that carries the promise of hope.

Song Waiting To Be Sung is also a great sounding record. It was recorded and mixed in Nashville by Grammy Award-winning engineer Zach Allen (Keb’ Mo, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram) and produced by Brock. The band is a who’s who of Nashville A-listers whose credits include working with Keb’ Mo, Taj Mahal, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Alan Jackson and Michael McDonald. “I can’t imagine working with a better band” Brock enthuses. “In one long, very creative day, we laid down all the tracks for the entire record.”

This disc often feels ‘country’, but there’s a lot more going here than whiskey, your mama and pick-up trucks. A combination of intelligent, deeply personal, emotionally honest songs and a warm, inviting voice along with frankly superior musicianship make A Song Waiting To Be Sung a must-have. This is quite excellent.

HOT TRACKS: All Free, I Choose Love, Bullets and Blood

PASTORAL Mick Pini (self released) ****

Here is a new EP , the first of 2 leading to a full album, from German-based blues guitarist Pini and UK producer Craig Marshall, a/k/a “Audio 54”. On Pastoral Mick is a good singer but it’s his delicate touch and beautiful guitar tone along with Marshall’s sparkling production that make this a real joy to listen to.

Pastoral is the first track here, a reflective instrumental that taps into Mick’s laid back groove and makes a connection between his music and art. Apparently Mick is a talented painter and photographer- the cover accompanying this review is his work. The tracks were recorded at Mick’s House Of Happiness Studios in Germany and Craig Marshall’s Audio 54 set-up in the UK. “Craig’s contemporary approach and innovative ideas have pushed the music into new and exciting directions” Mick says. “We also had to record remotely which was totally new for Mick” Marshall notes. “By the end of the project we had a real connection; you can hear it in his playing.”

Pastoral is only a 4 song EP, and it starts and ends with instrumentals. It might seem like there isn’t a lot to latch onto there, but if you just find the groove and take the ride you’ll enjoy yourself. Whereas the title song is quite laid back, Just Playin’ at the other end has a lively retro feel as Pini’s guitar weaves around an earthy sax; like Freddie King meets King Curtis, with Albert Collins pitching in too. If this is a taster of what’s to come, color me excited- but he really needs to update his website.

HOT TRACKS: Pastoral, Careless

HEART AND SOUL 8 Ball Aitken (independent) *****

With some artists you know exactly what you’re going to get before you even play the first track. Australia’s 8 Ball Aitken is not one of those guys. Known for playing

swampy blues rock, 8 Ball’s Heart And Soul is laid back soul, a languid journey through the heart that surprised me in the most delightful ways.

Heart And Soul, the follow up to 2021’s Ice Cream Man, was mostly completed before Aitken moved back to Australia from Nashville last year. Produced by 8 Ball, the musicians involved include Grammy winning drummer/ producer Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Foghat), sax legend Taya Chani, and 8 Ball’s younger brother Dillion James on Hammond and piano. Where his older stuff had a raw, ‘wrong side of the tracks’ roadhouse vibe this is a sophisticated downtown feel, thanks in large part to Chani’s sax work and the chick backup singers. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Hambridge on drums; dude can lay down a groove like nobody’s business.

8 Ball’s performance on Heart And Soul is equally remarkable. There’s a real ease to that smoky singing voice, which reminds me a lot of Harry Manx. His guitar playing, slide and otherwise, is mesmerizing. He doesn’t play a million notes a second, in fact the opposite is true… instead of saying “look what I can play” it’s more like he’s saying “look at how I can make you feel”, and I’ll take that any day of the week. It relaxes you, leaving you more open to what he’s talking about lyrically in these songs.

I have 8 Ball’s previous couple of albums, Ice Cream Man and Swamp Blues and enjoy them immensely. When reviewing one of ‘em I said “for a guy from Australia 8 Ball Aitken really has the Delta in his bones”, but H&S takes you someplace completely different. Its mellow, laid back (there’s that term again) contemplative presence is a different experience entirely, the sort of thing that’s nice to have on while you’re staring out the window on a rainy afternoon, enjoying a hot cup of tea while you let your thoughts wander- either with close company or all by your lonesome. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from the late JJ Cale, particularly for those comfy with solitude.

Heart And Soul isn’t the sort of barnstorming dancer floor filler that races up the charts and sells a zillion copies- or is that a zillion streams?- but those who can hear and feel its magic will embrace the album wholeheartedly as it fills their heads with dreams and helps them leave the cold, cruel world outside. What this disc offers is priceless.

HOT TRACKS: The One Who Loves You, Leave Too Soon, Singing On A Sunny Day

HAIL TO THE HEROES Girish & The Chronicles (Frontiers) *****

This is the 3rd album for these hard rockers from India. Equal parts classic and death metal, Hail To The Heroes will get your motor runnin’. The band says they like to make the kind of music they grew up listening to, which revolves around the 80’s. If that’s the case, it sounds like they grew up just down the street from you and me.

Of the new record they say “it (has) all the musical elements that we love to hear, in our day to day lives, which of course revolves around good ol’ rock & roll, from the Sunset Strip to NWOBHM and more” and that pretty well sums up what Hail To The Heroes has in store. Muscular riffs, hairy leads and aggressive vocals over driving drums and articulate bass work are the order of the day and it’s awesome. The title would seem to be a tip of the hat to the bands that inspired them to pick up their instruments and play. I’m definitely hearing the NWOBHM influence and, from time to time, they remind me of Scorpions too. The two words that best describe Hail are “driving” and “relentless”.

All the guys are remarkable on their instruments, but singer Girish Pradhan is something else altogether. His singing can mostly be described as a scorching wail, making the times he drops down for softer passages all the more stunning. Though they’re completely different vocalists, I’d put Girish on par with Rob Halford, he’s that good. Girish & The Chronicles make it quite clear that there’s more to Indian music than sitars and finger cymbals as they take maximum heaviosity to an entirely new level.

During their 11 year existence, Girish & The Chronicles are credited by their fans for bringing classic hard rock culture back to India, inspiring many new and upcoming bands on that particular scene. Hail To The Heroes is such an impressive, ball busting, head banging piece of magnificence that it has the power to break them worldwide. The group has gained a cult following with 80’s and 90’s hair metal and hard rock aficionados which is cool, but with an album as heart-stoppingly great as HTTH the time has come for them to take their brand of rock & roll out of India and into the world. I just checked I Tunes and all 3 of their albums are available there. As soon as I finish writing this review I’m going there to buy 2020’s Rock The Highway. Girish & the Chronicles are NOT to be missed by anyone that loves metal; this stuff is fuckin’ DEADLY.

HOT TRACKS: Primeval Desire, Hail To The Heroes, The Heaven’s Crying

WALL OF DREAMS EP Fred Hostetler (Mukthiland Records) ****

Last time I listened to Fred Hostetler was his Blue Chair Blues album a couple or so years ago, and I must say it didn’t prepare me for this. Wall Of Dreams is a cosmic trip on an epic scale, even at just 6 songs- a gauzy adventure of the mind with reggae underpinnings (amongst other things) that speak to you on an elemental level.

This is Fred’s 4th EP since coming back in 2018 from 17 years in India. He’s a blues singer/songwriter and rock &n roll survivor, co-founder of the LA-based Blue By Nature in the 90’s. He’s not some artistic dilettante who fancies making music, he’s worked alongside heavyweights like Johnny Winter, Graham Parker, The Knack, Billy Squire and Jeff Beck as well as Grammy winning producer Jack Douglas. These days Fred calls Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest, a bucolic place that no doubt feeds his muse.

From the primitive voice and guitar sound of Blue Chair Blues to here, it is readily apparent that Hostetler feels no particular constraints or boundaries when it comes to expressing himself through music, and I think that’s what attracts me to Wall Of Dreams the most- I couldn’t imagine a better title for this brace of songs. It’s been over 40 years since my last acid trip, and my frayed memory banks seem to vaguely recall feeling then how this disc is making me feel now.

The EP is short but there’s a lot to unpack here. Wall Of Dreams encourages you to let go and float away; maybe that’s something we need to try. There is, of course, intent behind these songs. The title track, featuring the voice of Eric Troyer, is Hostetler’s tribute to The Beatles. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know brings the funk as it serves up biting commentary on the ‘me first’ culture. Fred describes True, True Love as “infatuation, disappointment, retreat, awakening, return, opening, love, commitment. The journey that carries us back again, hearts rent open by a succession of grace filled moments.” Of Olof Daughters Finnish Knee High Leather Boots he observes that “Once I saw a girl on a street. 50 years later I wrote this song. I met her again and married her.” Dreamers Dream is about the mystery and power of dreams and the agony and ecstasy of those who dare to dream and River Of Hope, written by Robbie Cribbs, was inspired by what we were all feeling as the world was plunged into the pandemic in 2020.

Fred Hostetler is not the world’s greatest singer, but he doesn’t need to be to put these songs across. Wall Of Dreams is quite a journey and full enjoyment keys on listening to the lyrics as youallow the music itself to lead you wherever it wants you to go. Cosmic? Psychedelic? Maybe. Worth taking the plunge? Definitely.

HOT TRACKS: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, Dreamers Dream

I GOT LOVE Albert Castiglia (Gulf Coast Records) *****

There has to be something in that Florida drinking water. If you’ve got your ears peeled for maximum voltage blues/rock guitar a la Stevie Ray on steroids, you search is over. Albert Castiglia’s I Got Love is the type of muscle bound playing that offers genuine thrills. It’s one of the best records you’ll hear in any genre in 2022.

Albert says the 11 blistering tracks that make up I Got Love are as personal a statement as it is powerful. “(It’s) a musical essay documenting the last two years of my life; two

years of highs and lows” he explains. “It’s about falling, failing, adapting, reinventing, surviving and becoming triumphant. It contains musings of an unemployed man, a covid-stricken idiot and getting through it like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. Blues and blues-infused music is rooted in truth (and) this album is my truth.” What you’ll likely notice even before you get into the emotional content of the album- at least I did- is that, sound and playing-wise, I Got Love is a hotrod of a record.

I Got Love was produced by Mike Zito, a guy that knows how to bring this kind of music across. This disc has plenty of meat on its bones, sort of like a cross between SRV and George Thorogood. When Albert plays, and especially when he solos, he leans into it so hard you can almost smell the sweat dripping from his brow. His band is fantastic, giving Castiglia the sort of aural canvas that really allows him to take off and soar. When blues guitar is great it’s exciting and this beast is exciting with room to spare.

“This album is for everyone” Albert says. “It’s also a thank you to those who helped keep us alive, the folks that contributed to my virtual shows and took guitar lessons from me. This album’s also for Rick Lusher, who retired from the radio promotions business and handed the keys over to my wife at a time when we really needed it. It’s about love, gratitude, and becoming a better person from the shittiest of circumstances. It’s my blues in the truest form.” Messages from the heart and a blues/ rock sound that is the aural equivalent of blunt force trauma? Yeah- I’ll definitely have me some of that. I don’t like to throw the “M” word around frivolously, but it’s required here; I Got Love is a masterpiece.

HOT TRACKS: II Got Love, Burning Bridges, Double Down, Long Haul Daddy


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