ERATO The Bacon Brothers (independent) ****+
I ignored The Bacon Brothers for years thinking they were just another Hollywood vanity project, but 2020’s The Way We Love changed my mind; these guys are the real deal. Erato is the follow-up to that, a 5 song EP of Americana roots styles and pop-friendly modern rock that Kevin & Michael blend together so well. Erato just plain feels good.
Michael and Kevin (yes, the actor) have spent the last 25 years collaborating musically. They call their sound “forosoco”; a blend of folk, rock, soul and country, and the songwriting talents of each brother are obvious. Kevin wrote three of the five songs featured here, Michael (an Emmy winning composer) wrote one, and they collaborated with Desmond Child and Void Stryker on the opening track In Memory (Of When I Cared). Erato is their 11th release, and even at just 5 songs it really shows off their musical diversity and range. From the stripped back soul of Dark Chocolate Eyes (one of Kevin’s songs) to the pop friendly rock of the aforementioned In Memory to the quiet, plaintive Karaoke Town (another one of Kevin’s) that brings the EP to a close, it feels like they’re covering as much territory as you’d expect from a full length album.
“We’re still exploring the sound we began making 25 years ago; we’ve just gotten a lot better at it” Michael says on their website. “Music is a life’s work. It’s a universe of things yet to know. It’s exciting to be doing stuff we couldn’t have done 20 years ago- to know that we’ve come so far, yet still have so much left in the tank.” Perhaps Kevin puts it best when he says “we’re a songwriting band, and the songs lead the way. We’re not beholden to a specific sound, we just write the songs and let them point us in the right direction. That’s how we’ve done it since the very beginning.”
If you’re not familiar with The Bacon Brothers’ music Erato is a most excellent place to start, then you can work your way back.
HOT TRACKS: Dark Chocolate Eyes, In Memory (Of When I Cared), Let Me Happen To You Girl
REVELATION Dennis Johnson (independent) *****
Johnny Winter and Dave Hole… those are two names that strolled across the back of my wind the first time I heard Revelation, Bay area slide guitarist Dennis Johnson’s 4th album. This disc is a master class in what a slide is capable of in the hands of someone that knows how to use it. It’s no exaggeration to call the results magnificent.
“It’s always about getting the groove first” Dennis says. “Then, if you can find it, the rest flows naturally”, and it does just that all over this record. Finding a good slide player is like finding a favorite blues singer, and Johnson has definitely put in the work to make a disc as excellent as Revelation possible. “In the past few years, I have focused on articulations with a slide” he says, “types of vibrato, sliding up or down to a note, and moving the slide at various angles like a lap steel player to connect notes- which made my playing way more expressive.” Give this a spin to hear what he’s talking about.
Revelation includes Anton Fig (The Letterman Band, Joe Bonamassa, Ace Frehley) on drums, Jonathan Stoyanoff on bass, plus piano and B3 from Fridzema. Engineer Chris Bell (Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Samantha Fish, The Eagles) mixed 9 of the songs, and Kevin Shirley Joe Bonamassa, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Rush) mixed a track as well. All of this just goes to say that this is a terrific sounding album from every angle.
When you hear most artists play a song like Baby Please Don’t Go they usually do it pretty straight, but in Dennis Johnson’s hands it’s more of a New Orleans funk excursion; it’s also my new favorite version of this hoary old classic. “To evolve as an artist, you take chances and learn new things” Dennis says, “so I went (in) exciting new directions with this record. I’m thrilled with the results.” So am I Dennis, so am I.
HOT TRACKS: Please Don’t Go, Revelation, Two Lights
TRASH TALKING GUITARS Merle Jagger (JTM Music) ****
Even before hearing a single note, I had a feeling I’d dig this album. With an artist called ‘Merle Jagger’ and a record called Trash Talking Guitars, how could you not? This disc is everything you love about Alt Country, Rockabilly, Western Swing and retro guitar-based bands. This hellacious adventure shows you a good time with a wink & a smile.
Merle Jagger isn’t a guy, it’s the name of a trio helmed by guitarist Mark Christian and including drummer Johnny Ray with bassist Gabe Davis. Christian is a guitar player for hire of considerable skill, and the ‘Merle’ in the band names comes from one of their influences, Merle Travis; a list that also includes Joe Maphis, Jimmy Bryant, Roy Buchannan and Danny Gatton. TTG is old fashioned guitar driven country music with attitude and a sense of humor- maybe the kind of stuff your folks grew up on.
Trash Talking Guitars is built on solid riffs, classic melodies and guitar solos, with vocal harmonies that give it a real vintage presence throughout shit-kickin’ rave ups and real crying-in-your-beer stuff. Although I keep saying I’m not a ‘country guy’, there’s something about the cheeky attitude and tight as hell musicianship going on here that really appeals to my inner music nerd. Michael Dumas, noted for his work on early Dwight Yoakam albums was around, but the disc was produced by Christian. Mark and Michael’s relationship stretches back to around Y2K when they worked together overseeing a number of bands recording at Mad Dog Studios in Burbank before it closed. Suffice to say they understand each other, musically speaking, very well. Listening to a song like Pour Me A Drink, that Yoakam connection makes complete sense.
“My vision for Trash Talking Guitars was drawn from my love for the country, rock, and country/ rock sounds of the 70’s” Christian says. “It was a time when recording technology and artistic freedom of expression reached an all time high.” It’s the sonic honesty and purity that you’ll tap into here. As an affectionate nod to the music of that era, this hillbilly voodoo is welcome in my CD player anytime.
HOT TRACKS: Broken Home Yard Sale, Pour Me A Drink, Ranch rock Revival (inst.)
WHERE MADNESS DWELLS Ironflame (High Roller Records) ****
This is like one of those great time travel episodes of the old Star Trek series. Not knowing what to expect when I put this album on other than some spanky metal, Ironflame’s Where Madness Dwells is like the original Iron Maiden from 1980 meeting up with the Iron Maiden of today, with maybe a side of mid-period Judas Priest. If that notion intrigues you, you’re really going to enjoy this.
Ironflame is the brainchild of Ohio based multi-instrumentalist and singer Andrew D’Cagna, and though a band is listed in the press info I got with this release, it also says that D’Cagna played all this instruments himself, except for the guitar solos. Where Madness Dwells is Ironflame’s 4th album, and its resemblance to Iron Maiden is more than just a coincidence. “Iron Maiden is the first heavy metal band I was introduced to in my youth, so it would only make sense that they have been a big influence on me as a songwriter. It’s also fair to say that my singing voice bears a lot of similarities to Bruce Dickinson” Andrew says. “I definitely take such comparisons as a compliment.”
Where Madness Dwells has all the grinding heaviosity and high drama that you would expect from a record with such an evocative title. D’Cagna’s fondness for 90’s-era Swedish death metal definitely shows here, and the guitar solos from Quinn Lukas and Jesse Scott are exciting exclamation points. Of those listed in the band, particularly Lukas and Scott, Andrew readily acknowledges that “they are all fantastic musicians, much better than I could ever be. They are responsible for making Ironflame an active live band… I couldn’t do this without them.”
Where Madness Dwells is a record made to satisfy its creator instead of chasing or aping any trends, and isn’t that how the best stuff comes about? “The principle goal of Ironflame has always been to write the music I want to hear as a heavy metal fan” D’Cagna states. “I think the key to it’s growth is to always keep things fun and try my best to give fans music that grows continually while still retaining the original identity of the band.” Damn… now I have to go check out the other 3 records too.
HOT TRACKS: Ready To Strike, Kingdom Of Lies, A Curse Upon Mankind