Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR September 1, 2021

ARISING Dirkschneider & The Old Gang (AFM) ****+

Well this is cool.  If you’ve been missing the sound of classic Accept, this is as close as we’ll get. Arising puts some old friends together along with some new ones and, as much as I’ve been digging Accept 2.0 in the last decade, this is the sound and feel I’ve been missing, classic German heavy metal.  Had this been a full album instead of 3 tracks I would have given it a 5-plus.

This band is former Accept/ current U.D.O. singer Udo Dirckschneider with former Accept bassist Peter Baltes and former Accept guitarist Stepfan Kauffman, along with current U.D.O. guitarist Mathias Dieth and Udo’s son (and U.D.O. drummer) Sven, plus singer Manuela Bibert.  The beginnings of this were neither deliberate nor accidental.  According to guitarist/ producer Kauffman, “In the run to the production of the album We Are One by U.D.O.  & Das Musikkorps der Bundeswehr, Peter Baltes & I worked together for the first time in many years, and contributed some tracks to said disc.  A meeting also came about between Udo and Peter, and a little later likewise with Mathias.”

Manuela sang on some of those tracks for We Are One at the request of the Musikkorps director, including a couple of duets with Udo. As Peter Baltes explains, “usually there are more songs for an album than are recorded and released” he says. “From such a pool came Where Angels Fly, which was no longer considered for We Are One due to time constraints.  Since all concerned considered the song too strong to gather dust” Peter says, “the idea was born to release it separately. Udo expressed the wish to sing a duet with me again after many years, and since Manuela had already sung the 3rd verse, the idea of what Stefan calls ‘diversified main vocals’ was born. And with this idea, Dirkschneider & The Old Gang was also born.”

Arising is like classic Accept with a few twists, completely enjoyable, and I hope further collaborations along these lines- like a full album- will be considered.  But why does it work so well? I’ll leave the final word to Udo himself; “This project was a stroke of luck for everyone involved.  We all make music for the sheer fun of it, everyone can inject their own part according to their own gusto; there are neither conventions nor guidelines or even the pressure to succeed.  What more could a musician ask for?”  Maybe that’s what I’m picking up on here; that sense of freedom.

KEY CUT:  Where The Angels Fly

THE MUSIC GETS US THRU Brad Vickers & His Vespapolitans (ManHatTone)  *** ½

Behold, the 7th album from Brad Vickers & His Vespapolitans.  Recorded before the lockdown, The Music Gets Us Thru is a rather prophetic title.  Good music has certainly made the last couple of years bearable for many of us, and Vickers’ brand of old school boogie-woogie is just what the doctor ordered if you’ll pardon the pun.  A mix of originals and covers of long time favorites, this disc is splendid company. As Melanie Young says in Living Blues, this album is “brimming with carefree cool.”

The Music Gets Us Thru, as with the other Brad Vickers albums I have reviewed, takes us back to a simpler, more elegant and joyful time.  In the late 50’s I was still being potty trained but thanks to records, movies and TV shows like Happy Days we have an idea at least of the spirit of those times.  Like Brad himself notes, “as always we celebrate the music that we love, and the styles that have influenced us; blues, folk, jump and great American roots ‘n’ roll”, and that’s the secret to the success they’ve enjoyed thus far… making the music that turns them on.  Anything else would be creative suicide.

The Music Gets Us Thru is a balance of covers by great artists like Tampa Red and JB Lenoir with originals penned by Brad Vickers and bassist/ singer Margay Peters.  “What would a Vespapolitans recording be without a Tampa Red song?” Brad asks, mentioning that they celebrate him with a sweet version of I’ll Never Let You Go.  Margay’s rockin’ tune that gave this album its title is about how music helps us to keep on pushing, her Grab My Car Keys is a simple blues about loss, and Brad’s own What In The World gives him a chance to “take out (his) slide and pay homage to the Sacred Steel Sound.”

The blues is, by and large, a simple, honest and straightforward art form and the humanity found in the songs on The Music Gets Us Thru is a treat. Let the joy and conviction that these tunes are played and sung with wander into other areas of your life, and I bet you’ll have more good days than bad.  “Brimming with carefree cool” indeed.

KEY CUTS:  Dumb Like A Fox, Now’s The Time For Me To Sing The Blues, What In The World

A PRAYER FOR A FIELD MOUSE Sam Barron (Mother West) ******

As much as I enjoy driving fast and pounding the steering wheel in time to loud and obnoxious rock & roll, the introvert in me relishes really good singer/ songwriter stuff.  I like the intimate sound of the acoustic guitar, and if the lyrics can light up the imagination, even better.  Sam Barron’s new album A Prayer For A Field Mouse is just such a disc.  These songs all tell stories of characters with unlikely odds of success, some of which I can relate to while others sound like people I know.

“We are just lost souls on the network now” Barron says. “Who knows where we are going to end up as individuals or a culture? A Prayer For A Field Mouse for me is about getting out of society’s dread suck, and into the joys of simply surviving.”  That sounds like something we can all relate to, and the lyrics on these wonderful songs pull you right in to the protagonists’ worlds, be it on a jaunty tune like Interstate or the album opener Tallahassee, which lets you know right away what kind of journey you’re about to take with lines like I flew south to see my family/ now I’m smoking crack in Tallahassee. In other words, be ready for anything.

I love the quiet, introspective feel and sound of Prayer and even the occasional pedal steel, not an instrument I usually enjoy much, adds some unexpected soul to the songs. “When we started recording the album, I had fallen back in love with the sound of my nylon string guitar” Sam notes. “I wanted to make an album that featured this sound prominently, so I got intimate with it; recording all my parts in the boiler room of my apartment building during the early days of the pandemic.”  San Pedro is about a guy who has a bike with no brakes so he rides it real slow, follows the moon and sticks to the side of the road.  And Tallahassee, mentioned above, is a real heartbreaker.  I’ve never smoked crack but I’ve considered taking some dark turns in my own life to atone for past mistakes, so in a way I can relate.

A Prayer For A Field Mouse is a gentle, quiet album of uncommon depth- and I can’t imagine loving it more than I do already.

KEY CUTS: Tallahassee, Taconic, San Pedro

LINDSAY BEAVER & BRAD STIVERS Lindsay Beaver & Brad Stivers (VizzTone) ****

Where would a drummer/ singer from Halifax and a singer/ guitar player from Colorado hook up to make hillbilly-style rockin’ blues?  Austin, Texas as it turns out.  The chemistry between Beaver and Stivers is unmistakable on their self-titled duo debut.  LB & BS is rough in all the right places, loaded with attitude and a lo-fi gem.

Brad Stivers released his VizzTone debut in 2017, and Lindsay Beaver’s Tough As Love (on Alligator) was one of my favorite discs of 2018.  Despite being from Colorado and Halifax Nova Scotia there’s a real Texas R&B feel to what they’re up to here, no doubt due in part to them both calling Austin home these days.  When you play the blues or Americana or whatever you want to call this, you have to really mean it and do it with a whole lot of soul, and there’s no shortage of intent in these grooves.

I’m not 100% convinced that calling Lindsay Beaver & Brad Stivers a lo-fi production is right on the money, but this disc doesn’t sound like a million dollar shiny studio project either and I’m severely digging that ‘unpolished’ vibe.  12 tracks in all here and 11 of ‘em are originals, so if you’re curious to know who Lindsay and Brad are, then just shut up and listen and they will tell you.  Despite calling Austin, Texas home now Beaver & Stivers ended up at Garrett Mason’s studio in Halifax for this disc and invited Joe Murphy, Barry Cooke, Kirk Fletcher and Zach Zunis to take part.  When you hear them cut loose on an instrumental like Slim Pickin’ then you know it was one hell of a party.

Lindsay Beaver & Brad Stivers was produced by the artists themselves so that raw thing we hear is exactly how they want the album to sound.  On one hand a tight n meaty mix might’ve been the way to go, but these songs just weren’t built to come out that way, and would’ve suffered if treated too preciously.  I mentioned a ‘Texas R&B’ feel above, but as I’ve been listening to the album it seems a more appropo label might be ‘wrong side of the tracks rock & roll’, especially a cut like Know What To Do featuring Joe Murphy on harmonica and a quick nod to Howlin’ Wolf from Lindsay near the end of the song.

All in all, I’d say the savage charms of Lindsay Beaver & Brad Stivers’ self-titled debut as a duo is worth your attention- most definitely.

KET CUTS:  I Know What To Do, Slim Pickin’, Getting Gone, Somebody Else Will

LOST IN TOKYO Rebel Priest (Bat Cave Records) ****+

This sounds like Sunset Strip rock & roll in all its beer-soaked glory, but Vancouver’s Rebel Priest seem to have bigger things in mind.  Lost In Tokyo is their debut EP, 4 songs and a running time of just over 15 minutes, but it has the power to move mountains.

The press kit I got with this says Rebel Priest is “for fans of Motorhead, ZZ Top, Rose Tattoo, Deep Purple (and) LA Guns” to which I’d be tempted to add “and early Crue”.  Bravewords says “this record is full of gritty, down n dirty fun with a spiked metal grip”, and who doesn’t want to hear more of that?  Too bad Lost In Tokyo is only an EP, I hope there’s more where this came from.  This kind of riffing- simple, yet powerful and propulsive like classic AC/DC- really hits the sweet spot, the kind of stuff that makes you want to drive like a mad bastard with your ass on fire.  As the list of bands at the top of this paragraphs indicates, there’s a heavy blues element to what Rebel Priest get up to in these 15 minutes and change.

One of the things you need to make great rock & roll is plenty of attitude and this is one group that has no shortage of that.  Sometimes a band will put their best foot forward and have nothing left to offer afterwards because they’re spent.   Lost In Tokyo is a promising start, and I hope they can follow it up something a exciting if not moreso.  After spending 8 hours a day at a soul-crushing job every week, I look for stuff like Lost In Tokyo to lift me up and get me thru.  Thanks to Rebel Priest, I will live to fight another day.

KEY CUTS:  Lost In Tokyo, Vulgar Romance

LET LOOSE THOSE CHAINS Hector Anchondo (VizzTone) *****

Some sweet acoustic blues from Anchondo on this, his latest album, due out Sept.17thLet Loose Those Chains delivers insights into emotions across the spectrum of love and heartache, the ups and downs of life.  This is easy company on a chilly night.

Hector won first prize in the solo/ duo category at the 2020 International Blues Challenge, which prompted him to get this disc together.  So, he gathered up two of his favorite acoustic guitars along with some favorite personal songs from his last 20 years of songwriting and got to work.  The sessions took place in Bradenton, Florida and Crystal Lakes, Illinois with drummer Khayman Winfield and bassist Joe Corley, achieving a sparse intimacy that I can’t get enough of.  Anchondo mentions John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, Keb’ Mo’ and The Allman Brothers as influences, and you can also feel undercurrents of Folk, Americana and Gypsy Jazz at work in these 12 original tunes.

As you listen to Let Loose These Chains you get the feeling that you’re getting to know the real Hector Anchondo.  Acoustic folk/ blues has the unique ability to deliver high emotion and insight without the bombast other forms of music use… maybe it’s the having to listen closer that really pulls us into this music.  Part Harry Manx part Matt Andersen, Hector just has a sort of magic way of weaving a world of emotion, from heartbreak to joy, and showing you your place in it at the same time.

Hector has a warm and welcoming singing voice that embraces you, and he’s an excellent guitar player who wears his heart on his sleeve while he effortlessly coaxes the notes out of his beloved acoustic.  Let Loose Those Chains is an anomaly in Hector’s catalog as far as I can tell… I enjoyed his electric playing on 2017’s Roll The Dice, and if you visit his website you’ll notice all the photos are of him playing a well worn Stratocaster. I get the switch, though; there’s a level of intimacy you can achieve on acoustic that is difficult (but not impossible) to get to if you’re plugged in.

Blues, folk, American, Swing Jazz and a bit of cowboy soul.  Let Loose Those Chains has it all, and I hope Anchondo takes this detour again before too long.

KEY CUTS: Let Loose Those Chains, I’m Going To Missouri, Strike It Down, momma’s A Hard Man


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