DIFFERENT HAT Seth James (Tiny Ass Records) ****+
West Texas native, guitar slinger and soulful singer Seth James follows up 2019’s Good Life with another hot n juicy set of songs. Once again he delivers a heady blend of country, blues and rock with funk running gear. Different Hat is totally irresistible.
I enjoy being surprised, doesn’t happen much when you’re as old as I am or have been writing record reviews for over 3 decades. One look at the cover for A Different Hat will understandably have you expecting both kinds of music- country and western- but the songs within express a more complex reality. Seth’s eclectic music taste is one of his many strengths… despite being a lifelong working rancher, he sings and plays like a guy that grew up on Stax and Chess artists like Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins along with Booker T. & The MG’s plus Sly Stone. His foundation is in the blues, but then he’s taken it to some surprisingly delightful places here.
Seth James’ guitar playing is tasty, versatile and expressive and as a singer his vocals are equally so. He can go from a soft croon to a rafter shaking soul shout, reminding me of a mix between Dug Pinnick from King’s X and Delbert McClinton. His songwriting shows real heart and honesty and as a guitarist, you’ll have to remind yourself to pick your jaw up off the floor more than once. He’s still influenced by the music he grew up on; you can hear and feel it in the joy with which he delivers these tunes.
Seth has a large grassroots following hip to what he’s been laying down, and he’s shared stages with acts like Buddy Guy and ZZ Top. Different Hat is one of those records that will keep you groovin’ and entertained for hours on end with its musical gumbo of Texas blues, country soul, rootsy funk and you name it- trust me, I’ve had it for about a month now, but you can’t get your hands on it until August 27th. This is a smartly produced, extremely well played record, and after several listens every single track sounds like it could be a Texas-sized hit.
KEY CUTS: Burn It Down, World Full Of Strangers, Moonpies
ATBPO Night Ranger (Frontiers) ****
And here I didn’t think they’d last past ‘89, but Night Ranger is still throwin’ down and back with their 12th record. ATBPO (short for “And The Band Played On”) is full of the tight, melodic riff rockers that have made their career, proving that their Y2K-era resurgence with records like Somewhere In California, High Road and Don’t Let Up is no accident; they still deliver the goods with room to spare.
The band began writing in early 2020, before all h-e- double-hockey-sticks broke loose, and after narrowing down the song selection hit the studio separately due to… you know. What they came up with is a varied but cohesive record, full of rock solid playing and those signature Night Ranger vocal harmonies. Of course, they’re masters- hell, maybe even pioneers- of the power ballad, and if that’s what you dig from these guys its here too in songs like The Hardest Road. ATBPO is recognizable as the band you either love or hate… but at this point in their career they don’t need mass approval or hit singles, they only have to make the rock & roll they know how to do so very well.
I confess that I haven’t been tracking Night Ranger much since the late 80’s, and really only got into them because of guitarist Brad Gillis’s involvement with Ozzy Osbourne after Randy Rhoads’ plane crash. The band on ATBPO appears to be the classic lineup for the most part; Gillis on guitar, Jack Blades on bass & vocals, Kelly Keagy on drums & vocals, Eric Levy on keys and Keri Kelli on guitars. Blades’ and Keagy’s voices and Gillis guitar in particular ensure a consistency of sound that’s comforting. It’s a melodic hard rock vibe; nothing overtly dangerous, but the energy can still really pull you in.
ATBPO is the sound of an 80’s era hot summer afternoon, maybe a fast drive into town or an afternoon at the local beach with a cooler of beer. It’s not the sort of record that will change the world, it just wants to show you a good time- so, mission accomplished.
KEY CUTS: Coming For You, Breakout, Hard To Make It Easy
BLOOD CASH Lea McIntosh (Shark Park Records) *****
Lea McIntosh’s debut is a daring, distinctive funk-tastic good time. Blood Cash has a bluesy swagger and sway that you’ll lock into right away. With a voice born to sing the blues and a killer band, Lea knocks one over the centerfield fence with room to spare.
Blood Cash is a deep and dark emotional piece of work, and it’s no wonder. She grew up in a troubled household where she witnessed drugs, violence and criminal mayhem. Her mother was murdered when she was only 11, and her early years were filled with physical and emotional abuse. Whether she’s addressing any of these things at any given time or not, you can feel that weight and baggage in the songs. “I finally found the courage to face my real heart” McIntosh says. “I’m not scared anymore; things might still fall apart. Brick-by-brick, I’m going to fix this road and keep telling myself there’s no place like home.” She’s given voice to that troubled past and reasserted herself with a record that reflects her tenacity and enormous talent- she’s not afraid to lay it on the line.
Blood Cash is 7 original songs, co-written by Lea and guitarist Travis Cruse. Rounding out the band creating these flexible and irresistible grooves are Myron Dove on bass, Deszon Claiborne on drums, Eamonn Flynn on keys with Andy Just on harmonica. I don’t know how to put it any other way except when these musicians play together, it’s magic. I’d characterize this disc as funk but with a dark blue heart and jazzy, soulful chops. Great playing in any genre is always something to enjoy, and after my first trip through Blood Cash I was tickled pink.
On one hand I wish Blood Cash was a longer record, but on the other the songs are so emotionally heavy and well played that when the last track ends, I feel satisfied and a little wrung out. Produced by guitarist Travis Cruse and mixed by John Porter, it’s sonically excellent. There isn’t a thing I would change here; Blood Cash is perfect.
https://www.leamcintosh.com/KEY CUTS: Blood Cash, Tennessee Hurricane, Soul Stripper
HOOKERS & BLOW Hookers & Blow (Golden Robot Records) *** ¾
It’s the debut album for this ‘super group’ of sorts. Put together in ’03 by Guns N Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed and Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Rossi as an excuse to drink for free in Hollywood and preceded by a number of singles, their self-titled debut is a collection of muscular, well played and enjoyable covers. You’ll recognize most of the songs and I think you’ll enjoy how they’re played here too. If you walked into some dive bar and there was a cover band rockin’ the stage, you’d want them to sound this good.
H&B s like the soundtrack to the greatest Friday night ever. Just to give you an idea of what to expect, just SOME of these dozen songs include great versions of Zeppelin’s Trampled Underfoot (with the late Frankie Banali on drums), Tom Petty’s American Girl and The Rolling Stones’ Rocks Off. “If you had told me almost two decades ago when Dizzy and I first formed Hookers & Blow that we would have evolved into what we are, I would’ve said you were higher than we were” says Alex Rossi, “but here we are. This isn’t just a collection of recorded covers, it’s a labor of love that we are truly proud of.”
Dizzy Reed’s view is more pragmatic. “There it is. Take it” he says. “We made the rock & roll and you all brought the drinks to a thirsty band. This record is for the joy of rock n roll music we all share and for the hope of more rock to come. And more drinks- I’m parched!”
Hookers & Blow isn’t the kind of record that invites or requires dissecting or analysis to uncover any hidden messages. As Dizzy just said it’s “for the joy of rock & roll music we all share”, and for me that’s plenty. Produced by Alistair James (he worked on the last Hollywood Vampires record) this is meaty rock n roll- so turn it up to 11.
KEY CUTS: Trampled Underfoot, Time Of The Season, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
LOVE ON THE ROCKS Lauren Anderson (independent) ****
This is a slice of rock & roll with a whole lotta soul. Comparisons to Janis Joplin and Joss Stone aside, Love On The Rocks is Lauren’s most fully realized effort to date, a set of songs guaranteed to scorch your heart.
Anderson is a powerful singer that writes heart-wrenching lyrics. She has opened for the likes of Beth Hart, Samantha Fish, Mike Zito and Walter Trout, and was named female vocalist of the year by the Midwest Music Awards in 2015. There is something attractive, alluring, about someone that delivers as forcefully as Lauren does here and I’m not talking about sexuality, though there is that aspect to her music too. Love On The Rocks is music from someone powerful and self assured with the kind of soul and energy you just want to be around because it lifts you up too.
Originally from Chicago, Lauren is now based in Nashville and she produced the new album herself. I like what Glide has to say about her as it sums up how I feel about Rocks too; “With one foot planted in the territory of her influences and the other pointed in an unexplored direction, she straddles the border between blues, soul, and guitar driven rock & roll, finding her own sound somewhere in the middle.” When I spin Love On The Rocks I hear someone who will one day be the equal of Beth Hart, she’s THAT good.
I’ve heard more accomplished sounding records production-wise, but there’s a certain swagger and rawness to what Lauren and her band are throwing down here that I’m really getting into. Fine players all, and Mike Zito sits in on guitar for Back To Chicago- I’m sure Lauren won’t mind me saying that her new record has balls. I’ve got this one filed under “blues” In my music room but could’ve just as easily put it in the rock & roll section. Love On The Rocks is ready to slap you around and show you a good time.
KEY CUTS: Back To Chicago, Keep One, Holdin’ Me Down
TEXTOS RAROS VOL.1: 2001-2011 White Cowbell Oklahoma (Slick Monkey) ****
Never heard of these guys before, but I knew before the first spin was done that I would never forget them. Textos Raros is 11 rare and previously unreleased tracks, all written by the band except a pretty righteous cover of Deep Purple’s Black Night. As the press release says “from its first decadent decade of operation, no particular order, no particular regrets.” Rock muscle with punk attitude, it’s pretty fuckin’ cool.
Established in Toronto in ’99, White Cowbell Oklahoma features a nebulous syndicate of low-life participants that completely disregards musical trends, political correctness and common decency. Underneath all that, though, is some excellent playing. This may not be a Bob Rock production extravaganza, but that wouldn’t be appropriate for songs like Shot A Gamblin’ Man or Rebel Woman. Overall I’d call Textos wild and hairy knuckle-dragging rock & roll, and I mean that as a total compliment.
Having never heard of the band I’ve never seen them before either, but the description of having “a show often compared to Kiss meets The Allman Brothers meets Frank Zappa meets The Tubes”, I wish I had. Apparently they’ve toured Europe and North America countless times over the last couple of decades, so now I know to keep my eyes peeled (ouch) incase they pop up anywhere near where I happen to be. At the time punk was making itself heard, I wasn’t paying attention because I was into the big institutional rock bands of the day like Zeppelin and Sabbath. White Cowbell Oklahoma has grabbed that snotty attitude and kinetic energy and carried into the new millennium as they beat the crap out of their guitars with delirious abandon.
Though I’m not familiar with White Cowbell’s catalog I gotta think Textos is a pretty good introduction because I want to hear more; love the attitude and diggin’ the music. As the press info I got with the album advises, “look for subsequent Textos Raros volumes, along with a spellbinding album of brand new WCO tracks in early 2022!” bring it on- I’m ready.
KEY CUTS: Take Me Down To Mexico, Shot A Gamblin’ Man, (Just) Some Things A Man Can’t Keep Inside