LOVE ME SOME Boogie Beasts (Naked) *** ½
Nasty. Fuzzy, dirty blues from Belgium’s Boogie Beasts. Love Me Some is their 3rd album since forming in 2011, and for me the overdriven and distorted sound takes some getting used to. The noise is pure filth, and yet charming and nigh on irresistible.
As the old man says in the movie Crossroads, “you got to take the music past where you found it, take it someplace else, ‘cause that’s what we did”, and that’s a mission this band takes seriously. The Boogie Beasts’ passion for hill country blues is described as having “a touch of The Black Keys jamming with John Lee Hooker at a rave” and “RL Burnside backed up by the young Rolling Stones at a juke joint gig”, and that’s fairly on point. Powered by screaming harmonica riffs, slithering slide guitar and an abundance of fuzz, this is an intense listen. I had to work my way in here, but it’s albums that require that kind of effort that end up being some of your most favorite… we’ll see about that!
Boogie Beasts are Jan Jaspers on guitar and vocals, Patrick Louis on guitar and vocals, Fabian Bennardo on harmonica, Gert Servaes on drums, and they play with a passion and drive that tells us they’re really into this and doing it for the right reasons. The band dropped 2 singles last year, mixed by Detroit garage rock godfather Jim Diamond, and I’m guessing he was involved here too. Through my sons I hear this kind of distortion and fuzz in the music they like but it’s tough for a geezer like me to get a handle the vibe. It took me 3 spins to get used to this and settle in with it; one to get used to the sonics, another to get inside the songs, and one more to put those first two together.
A lot of Love Me Some has the vibe of a back alley street fight with testosterone spilling everywhere like beer from a mug, but that’s a part of the disc’s ugly charm. When they gear down for a number like Howl is where it really starts working for me. If rough ‘n’ ready, blustery blues is your bag then by all means dig heartily on this bad boy.
BEST CUTS: A Girl Like You, I Don’t Care, Like A Snake
JAZZ HANDS II The Shawn Owens Project Trio (independent) ****+
Some easy going piano jazz for you here from this St. George, Utah based trio. A follow-up to 2020’s Jazz Hands, II is as friendly, breezy and chill as Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas or Rolf Kent’s score for the movie Sideways. Jazz is not usually my thing, but I warmed up to this effortlessly.
The trio is drummer Shawn Owens, pianist Christian Bohnenstengel and bassist Ryan Trilby. I suppose it was my encounter with Adam Wakeman’s imaginative Jazz Sabbath record, a reimagining of Sabbath classics as piano jazz that left me open to Jazz Hands II. The guys in the band bring a much wider musical understanding to these original compositions. Christian’s experience is mainly in the jazz field, though he was recently featured as soloist in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the orchestra of Southern Utah, and he’s a founding member of Southern Utah University’s faculty jazz combo. Shawn, originally from Cincinnati, fell in love with jazz at an early age and was influenced by guys like Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Dave Weckl. He’s on the first-call list for fill in live and studio work for classic rock, country, gospel and reggae bands.
No info available on bassist Ryan Trilby, so he remains a man of mystery for now.
To use one term to describe Jazz Hands II, “gentle swing” is as accurate as any. Unlike the real ‘out there’ stuff with wild solos and bizarre tempo changes, the songs here are more linear and so easier to absorb. And though this is an instrumental disc, there are stories behind each song. Owens Loop, according to Shawn, “is named after a local hiking trail that is a nice, easy full loop trail in St. George, The song being inspired by this trail has a nice easy bounce to it that reflects hiking the trail early morning to watch the sunrise.” Indigo, my favorite track, “is inspired by the night sky in Southern Utah” Shawn says. “(It) conveys the peace and tranquility (of) laying under the stars and letting yourself relax while staring at the heavens.” It’s one of my favorite things to do.
Jazzbo or not, give Jazz Hands II a spin; as they used to say in that old TV commercial “Try it, you’ll like it!”
BEST CUTS: Indigo, Owens Loop, Taking Diagonal
QUANTUM LEAP Gus G. (AFM) ****
If you’re like me, you recognize Gus G. mainly as Zakk Wylde’s replacement in Ozzy’s band, but there’s a lot more to him than that. As the guitarist for Firewind, Quantum
Leap is his 3rd solo record. As this instrumental record displays the playing style Gus is known for, it takes us into some new territory too- it’s a barnstormer.
As with so many albums I’ve reviewed this year, Quantum Leap came together over the course of the pandemic. Although Firewind released a self titled disc in 2020, circumstances prevented it from getting any real momentum. “I didn’t make Quantum Leap with the intention of it being the next one in the cycle of solo albums” Gus says, “but it was a case of ‘what else is there?’ I needed a creative outlet.”
Instrumental rock records can be a tough sell, it’s not a huge market, but guys like Joe Satriani have turned it into a decent living. “As an artist nowadays you can do whatever you like and there’s an audience out there for it” Gus reasons. “Instrumental music might not be a big seller, but everybody can listen to anything, and there’s no limit to what you can do.”
Quantum Leap was assembled in pieces, stitching new compositions together with material from his ‘riff vault’. It started as a full on solo outing with Gus programming drums and playing guitar, bass and keyboards, but a chance meeting with drummer Vincent Velasco opened up the production. Producer/ engineer Dennis Ward ended up laying down the bass for 8 of the 10 tracks on the record too.
Much like Satriani’s best work, Quantum Leap shows a startling range for an instrumental outing by a metal guitarist. One track features a synth-y vibe, you’ll find a bluesy ballad, some proggy stuff, then there’s the power metal of Demon Stomp and Judgment Day. It’s this breadth of style under the metal name that ultimately makes this disc an eminently likeable exercise in six string sorcery.
Quantum Leap is a rock solid experience, and I’ll leave the final word to Gus G.; “I’m a guitar player and I cannot stand most instrumental guitar albums” he says. “The classics are the classics but rarely do I get into them because after the 3rd track it just seems like an endless guitar solo where everything sounds the same. I wanted to avoid that on Quantum Leap and I think I succeeded in doing that.” You did, Gus, you did.
BEST CUTS: Chronesthesia, Demon Stomp, Night Driver
LUCKY BREAK Side Pony (Mule Kick Records) *****
Lucky Break is shit-kickin’ music loaded with attitude and fun. These two ladies share a love for heartbreaking hooks and a punchy turn of phrase that lands somewhere between class and crass. Astounding harmonies and lively songs will make Side Pony a big deal.
Side Pony is Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon, and Lucky Break is named after their first single, released in April. The press info says they’re artists with vastly different styles and personalities, but those differences co-mingling make their work together that much more interesting. You could call this a country record and you wouldn’t be wrong, this certainly has enough in common with the genre in terms of instrumentation… but it’s the sass and the attitude that lifts Side Pony above the fray.
It was no surprise to open the CD cover and find that Lucky Break was recorded in Nashville. Produced, engineered and mixed by Doug Lando, this is more freewheeling than your average country record, yet it doesn’t discard musical traditions to try and be ‘hip with the kids’. Alice and Caitlin sing all lead and background vocals, plus they play acoustic guitars too. If you’d like the full rundown on who exactly does what, plus lyrics and more credits, you’ll find that on their website.
You’d be forgiven if, when listening to Lucky Break for the first time, you think “oh it’s just another country album”. Get past the subtle use of pedal steel and those gorgeous vocal harmonies and really dive into the lyrics… while I love the sounds, the words are where this thing really gets deep, dark and, frankly, magical. Side Pony manage to sound traditional and be inventive at the same time. Vocally the girls remind me of Farmer’s Daughter or Dixie Chicks, and maybe attitude-wise too… and anybody who thinks like they do has GOT to be interesting to hang around with.
I’ve said many times before that I consider myself a rock guy- how many men in their 60’s do you know who still wear Kiss t-shirts- but Lucky Break is just one of those records that doesn’t care what your preference might be, it just wants to party and I am up for that. This is very enjoyable… hell, it’s perfect.
BEST CUTS: All The Time In The World, Bad Ideas, Heels
NEW STAR SHINING Orleans (Sunset Blvd. Records) *****
This band originally hails from Woodstock, New York and is set to mark their 50th anniversary in 2022. New Star Shining is their first and only Christmas album, a collection of gentle, acoustic tunes that will give you a nice, warm feeling.
Orleans, if you’re not familiar with them, are responsible for enormous hits like Dance With Me and Still The One. Thankfully, they chose not to cover the same old hoary
holiday chestnuts that umpteen singers have trotted out around this time over the years. Of New Star Shining, group co-founder Lance Hoppen says “The material comes from various sources, most written internally and some by friends from other bands. Some had previously recorded lives elsewhere and were re-mastered, others had previous starts but underwent major revisions and upgrades. Some are purely secular, while others center around the Christmas story.”
This is the first time I’ve sat down with a full Orleans record maybe ever, being familiar with them thanks mostly to the hits mentioned above being a constant presence on radio over the decades. I’m not religious and, thanks to spending 20+ years writing radio commercials, have a problem with the Christmas season, which is to say I’m judging New Star Shining on a strictly musical level. If they were going after that warm, fuzzy feeling we all seem to get in December as we get together with family and friends, they’ve succeeded masterfully. Some are full band tracks while others concentrate on acoustic elements and vocal harmonies; all in all a very satisfying blend.
Subconsciously, the group has surely been working on New Star Shining for decades, until they could come up with something that doesn’t sound like every other holiday album out there and so tarnish their legacy. The discs meshes Orleans’ trademark vocals and 70’s AM radio sound with Christmas-centric tunes, both Christian and non-Christian in message that make you feel like you’re sitting by a warm fireplace in the living room while snow is falling in giant dinner plate-size flakes outside. Next to Nat King Cole and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, this is my new favorite holiday record.
BEST CUTS: I Wish I Could Fly, Mary’s Christmas, Snowed In With You
THE TRAINING King Of Sweden (Crusader/ Golden Robot Records) * ½
King Of Sweden are a Finnish progressive rock trio formed in 2019 and The Training, a digital release, is their debut. Holy 70’s acid flashback Batman, this is a hard listen.
Progressive rock is like avant guard jazz; either you get it and it speaks to you, or you don’t. Bands like Dream Theatre and Rush I get but this, not so much. There are 6 ‘songs’ on the album- and I use that term loosely- but it all feels like the same groove, perhaps, 6 different movements from the same piece. What The Training has going for it
is a distinctly vintage sound, as if it came out of Haight Asbury in the late 60’s. Close your eyes and you can almost picture a tsunami of hippies grooving along with you.
The press release raves about this being “an irresistible journey through dreamy visions and magical atmospheres”, but I think the appeal of The Training is more elemental than that. The repetitive melodies and heavily reverbed guitar noodling and meandering throughout depend on repetition to weave whatever mojo is at work here. Being a veteran of many acid flashbacks myself- over 20, with the last one being shortly before Christmas of 1981- I’m still having a hard time relating to this album. Perhaps some brightly colored velvet posters and a couple of black lights would help.
I hate to crap on anyone’s artistic endeavors, but The Training is endlessly repetitive and does little more than try your patience and wear you out. The first couple of numbers (Dreaming About The Emerald and the 13:25 Two Thieves) show promise, but then the album just fizzles out. OH- on the rare occasions when there are vocals, the singing is horrific. It’s kind of like Neil Young meets Yes, but with less structure. I listened to this twice to write this review, and that’ll do. It’s a hard pass for me.
BEST CUTS: Dreaming About The Emerald, Two Thieves