NO NEED SCHOOL The Scary Loud (independent) ***
This is an indie-power pop band from Toronto, brought to my attention by my buddy Eric Alper. Equal parts Green Day and Smash Mouth- well, probably more Green Day- No Need School is a crunchy, lean, kinetic anti-establishment screed you can dance to.
The Scary Loud was founded by Scott Komer and is comprised of various members of Canadian punk and hardcore bands like Boys Night Out, The Petit Project, Love You To Death and Twin Rivals- safe to say the whole comes to more than the sum of its parts. No Need School is an outright rejection of the established order of things, the title song in particular. “I wrote the song as a bit of a ‘follow your dreams’ and don’t listen to what you’re told is a proper path to the future” says singer/ guitarist Komer. It addresses the tedious reality of school systems and goes into how these institutions negatively affect students long after they leave.
Great production here from the vocals down to the propulsive and insistent rhythm section of drummer Sean Balestri and bassist Connor Loval-Fraser. While the pace isn’t always punk the attitude certainly is, from the intent of the lyrics to the use of what my grandkids would call ‘swears’. No Need School is as musically simple as it is energetic, with chugging riffs through vintage amps for what you could call a big, fuzzy guitar band.
All that having been said, if you’ve heard any Green Day’s records then this is going to sound familiar, albeit with more rock muscle. TSL attacks their subject matter from different angles as songs like Staring Down The Barrel Of A Loaded Knife come off almost more like classic rock/ metal. No Need School is impressively dense with an almost physical presence through the speakers and an energy that can be a real pick-me-up if you’re receptive.
The vulgar language in some of the songs will limit what can be played on the radio, but is that even relevant anymore? I like the power and density of No Need School but the fact that it reminds me so much of Green Day makes it feel derivative. Not great, but not bad either… I’ll be listening to this again, and using songs on my internet radio show.
HOT TRACKS: No Need School, Can’t Quit Drugs, Russian Big Muff
MORNINGSTAR Chris Antonik (Second Half Records) *****
Here is the 4th album from this Canadian blues rock guitarist, and it’s a beauty. With each record Antonik stretches and grows, and Morningstar is no different. Poignant songwriting with lush and widely varied soundscapes make this far more than just the blues, and a pleasure to listen to.
Morningstar is an album made by an artist entering mid-life, informed by the last few years of love, loss and growth. It’s a collection of songs about new beginnings, self-compassion, sobriety, and the power of home. “I wanted to do two things with this record” Chris says; “one- push the boundaries of modern blues and blues rock. And two, tell a sincere story about the human experience that others could relate to. While each song can be heard as a standalone piece, together the tracks comprise an even greater connected story.”
There are moments of real he-man blues rock guitar on Morningstar as one would rightly expect from Antonik- when he rocks, he rocks hard- but the variety of textures and moods he creates across these 14 tracks is exhilarating. You’ll also hear and feel elements of soul, funk and psychedelia with late 80’s Claptonisms alongside some very Robbie Robertson/ Daniel Lanois sounds, a fresh sense of experimental adventure. While I revel in the blues horsepower on display, I’m even more delighted by not being able to anticipate what’s around the next corner.
Morningstar was co-produced by Chris along with award winning producer Derek Downham, engineered by Grammy Award winner Jeremy Darby with Tim Foy and Lee Rogers, and mastered by 9 time Juno Award winner Andy Krehm. All in all, a great team to assure a great sounding album. Chris’s guitar playing when he cranks it up reminds me of an SRV quote I read recently; “I don’t play with a lot of finesse, I usually play like I’m breaking out of jail.” But on the flipside of that are songs like Grace and The Promise Of Airfields that have you almost wondering if it’s the same guy. When you think about the emotional lyrical breadth of the record, it’s only natural that the music itself would follow suit.
Antonik says he wanted to “tell a sincere story about the human experience that others could relate to” (see the 2nd paragraph) and I can say without reservation that he has succeeded admirably. Great songs, great musicianship and great production make Morningstar unforgettable.
HOT TRACKS: Waves Of Stone (with Jarekus Singleton), In Our Home (with Alison Young), Grace
I’M JUST GETTING STARTED Mick Kolassa (Endless Blues Records) *****
More ‘free range blues’ from Mick Kolassa on this, his 11th album. I’m Just Getting Started is more of the down home blues Mick is noted for as he slips into more soulful stuff and a certain jazz feel at times that reminds me of Gaye Delorme. Cool stuff, this.
As with previous records, I’m Just Getting Started is a mix of lively originals and spirited covers. The sweet spot for me is their noir jazz take on Alibies & Lies, originally done by Chainsaw Dupont. Mick is joined on the Taj Mahal classic Leaving Truck by Brandon Santini, and they get together again on John Hiatt’s Real Man. Songs like these sit quite comfortably with tracks like Trying Not To Let the Darkness In, a minor key slow blues that Kolassa’s fans will appreciate; I have 8 of his albums so yeah, I’m definitely one of those fans.
I’m Just Getting Started was produced once again by Jeff Jensen, who helped Mick gather together a number of seasoned musicians to help bring these dozen songs to life. Too many involved to mention here, but I was well pleased to note that bassist Dexter Allen, a groove master par excellence, plays on all but 2 of the numbers. You can hear and feel the miles Kolassa has traveled through this life, which gives his blues the right weight… he’s not singing these songs for any commercial consideration beyond making a living. No, I really believe Mick sings stuff like Are You Ready and Trying Not To Let the Darkness In because he feels it deeply, which makes this album a very soulful experience.
As I’ve noted with previous Kolassa albums I’ve reviewed, 100% of the net proceeds from I’m Just Getting Started will go to The Blues Foundation. There, it will be split between The Hart Fund and Generation Blues. If you’re a blues believer, I suggest visiting www.blues.org to find out what you can do to help support this music. In the meantime, put Mick Kolassa’s new disc on and let the mighty Mississippi carry you away… you’ll want to dance, think, and maybe even have a good cry or two. That, fellow babies, is the magic of the blues.
HOT TRACKS: Are You Ready, Take Me Away, How Much Can I Pay You
THE HANG Taylor Scott Band (independent) ****
Here is the latest album for this talented Denver-based guitarist and songwriter. The Hang has some bluesiness but the path it carves out is much wider. Scott was the guitar player in Otis Taylor’s band for a few years, and as a songwriter he follows in the footsteps of Townes Van Zant, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. When he’s singing you a song and telling you a tale, it’s a good idea to listen closely.
The Hang is Scott’s second collaboration with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, following 2019’s All We Have, which expanded his audience past the borders of Denver. He’s gotten up on stage and jammed with them on occasion, and it’s certainly rubbed off on him. “Their music is so deep, so wide and so impossible to put in a box” Taylor says of Los Lobos. “It’s like you’re watching a movie, where each song is a new scene and each album is a whole new world. The grooves, the Latin influence, the way the bandmates play whatever inspires them- it all rubbed off on me.”
When the group’s touring schedule (like every other band’s) came to a screeching halt, Scott went back to the drawing board and came up with songs that examine the contradictions and dualities of the world we find ourselves in. It peeks into dark corners without losing sight of the light. It’s an album about finding happiness- with oneself, with others, and with a challenging and chaotic world. Going from jangly guitar rock to blues and soul, The Hang drives all over the road in the best and coolest possible way. A song like Dance All Night has a deeper meaning than you might expect. “It’s about the battle between me and the outside world, or maybe just between me and myself” Scott observes. “It’s about finding the light through the dark. That’s how we live- me and my wider community- and it’s fun to reflect that perspective in the music.”
No wonder he called this record The Hang; this sounds like the kind of people I’d like to hang with too. The songs are spirited, lyrically deep, musically inventive and well played, making for the kind of album worth spending quality time with.
HOT TRACKS: Throwback Grooves, The Leaning Tree, Never Aim To Please