Music Reviews by John The Rock Doctor – June 24th, 2020


THE REMEDY Too Slim & The Taildraggers (Vizztone/Underworld Records) *****

As much of a fan I am of their last album, 2018’s High Desert Heat (it made my ‘best of the year’ list), I like The Remedy even more.  If ZZ Top and The Rolling Stones went on a bender and one of them got pregnant, this is what would come out.

The Remedy is a rugged, bluesy rockin’ adventure, just as I hoped it would be.  Tim “Too Slim” Langford plays a greasy, unhurried guitar and that whiskey- soaked voice is just right for these tunes, just this side of Billy Gibbons.  The album was recorded in Nashville at bassist Zach Kasich’s Wild Feather Recording Studio.  Produced by the band, who obviously knew exactly what they wanted this album to be, the disc features 10 originals plus a great cover of Elmore James’s Sunnyland Train.  The guitars are large, there’s some well placed banjo for you to spot, plenty o slide, and the band has obviously been working on their harmony vocals. Some of the band’s favorite harmonica players were invited to come out and play too; Jason Ricci, Richard Rosenblatt and Sheldon Ziro.

With their last album (High Desert Heat, for those with a short memory) being nominated for a 2019 Blues Music Award in the “Blues Rock Album” category, I have no doubt The Remedy will do the same.  In fact, I’m going to step out on a limb and predict a win.  What the previous record abundantly hinted at, this one fully realizes.  Like I insinuated off the top, this feels like mid-70’s ZZ Top and Rolling Stones, when they still remembered that their initial goal was to just be a great blues band.

Too Slim & The Taildraggers have the blues, but they also rock like a fathermucker.  Everyone would agree that the last few months have been weird, and The Remedy is just what I needed to lift me out of a spiraling funk.  Listening to this is like having great sex on a Saturday night- it leaves you giddy, exhausted, and wanting more.  Street date is July 17th.

KEY CUTS:  Devil’s Hostage, Sure Shot, Last Last Chance

THE WAY WE LOVE The Bacon Brothers (independent) *****

This is the tenth album for these talented siblings.  I had heard of the band before this but always thought it some sort of actor boy vanity project and so ignored it.  When I heard the single She Zee-Zee (Easy On My Eyes) a couple of months ago, I fell in love with the song.  I was moved to write my first-ever single review in the 30 years I’ve done this.  Then came the gentle magic of the title track last month, and I was hooked.  When I think of classic pop music, its records like The Way We Love that speak to me.

The Way We Love is a series of songs that explore intimate, passionate relationships.  7 of these songs were produced by Kevin and Michael Bacon, so they have a good handle on how they want their music to sound.  2 were produced by Joe Nicolo and 1 by Saverio Principini, with a pair of tracks having been recorded live at Sony Hall in NYC.  The record has an acoustic breezy sort of feel, a magic, an uplifting quality that seems to be coming in really handy these days- the way pop music should.

“The songs are all about the things we love” Michael says. “The way we love music, the way we love family, the way we love our wives, the way we love the world and humanity.”  If that’s their emotional jumping off point for The Way We Love, then no wonder this is resonating with me so profoundly.  “We’re a songwriting band” Kevin adds, “it’s the be-all and end-all as far as what we do.” There’s no getting around the fact that this is an extremely sentimental collection of songs about life and love.  It’s a refreshing dip in the pool of life, all the good things it can and should mean… and after watching the news these last few months, aren’t we all about ready for that?

KEY CUTS:  She Zee-Zee (On My Eyes), The Way We Love, The Cooking Song

NEW WORLD, NEW EYES House Of Lords (Frontiers) ****

Back in the late 80’s I was interested in everything Gene Simmons, an affliction I’ve since beaten.  But in 1988 when House of Lords’ first album came out on Simmons Records, I snapped it up.  Flash forward to 2020, and here we are with the band’s 12th record, 8th for Frontiers.  It had been quite awhile since I checked up on them, so when the label recently sent me 3 singles from New World, New Eyes dammit, I was hooked all over again.  Though formulaic in many ways, this is really good melodic hard rock.

Led by singer James Christian’s smooth yet powerful voice and some great riffing from guitarist Jimi Bell, New World New Eyes is a mix of upbeat rockers, mid-tempo numbers and the requisite power ballads that defined the ‘hair band’ genre.  Such bands aren’t nearly as common today as they used to be  in the 80’s, which makes HoL’s sound and obvious gifts stand out that much more. The band also brought in some outside help for the songwriting process; Mark Spiro (Giant, Bad English, Cheap Trick) pitched in on most of the songs, with more collaborations from Tommy Denander, Chris Pelcer and Richard Hymas.  Band and label pushed to make this the strongest material it could be.

Recorded and produced by the band’s singer James Christian, NW/NE is smooth, powerful and deliberate. Bassist Tristram and drummer BJ Zampa understand their roles extremely well, giving Bell and Christian a solid foundation to work from.  If there’s a weakness here it’s that there’s a similar structure to many of the songs, ‘hair metal conventions’ one might say… verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ guitar solo/ repeat chorus.  A handful of the tracks are roughly 4:30 long, with the guitar solo occurring at the 3:00 mark in each.  But the songs are still quite strong, or I wouldn’t have given this 4 stars.

New World New Eyes has a beefy, articulate sound that feels awesome, and this kind of rock & roll recalls a period when times were better, simpler- for those of us old enough to remember that far back. Open the window, crank the volume and let the good times roll!

KEY CUTS:  New World New Eyes, Chemical Rush, Better Off Broken

CAME THROUGH PULLIN’ Sean Ardoin (Zydekool Records) ****+

I’ve never heard anything quite like this before. Also, the accordion can be a formidable instrument in the right hands.  For his Came Through Pullin’ Ardoin has re-imagined 10 songs from his last couple of decades as a solo artist, adding modern sounds to Zydeco classics from his extensive songbook.  The result is a soulful, rockin’ good time.

Sean comes by his musical talent naturally, following in the family footsteps of Amede and Bois Sec Ardoin and his father, Lawrence.  After helping him co-lead the critically acclaimed “Double Clutchin’”, he stepped out on his own in 1999 and hasn’t looked back.  Since then Sean Ardoin has been blazing a trail for the future of Louisiana’s Creole-Zydeco sound by combining musical traditions with his talent and creativity.  Kreole Rock N Soul is the result, taking his beloved Zyedco outside of its usual boundaries, for refreshing and uplifting results.

His last album, Kreole Rock And Soul was nominated for a Grammy, so people are listening and responding to what he is creating.  Sean says he likes “telling stories with (my) songs and that music should take you places and give you the opportunity to choose to be happy.”  What caught the ears here is the collision of traditional zydeco sounds with modern elements, creating something familiar and new at the same time.  Hip-hop elements such as percussion and the occasional rap shouldn’t fit in with something as historical and traditional as Creole music, but Sean Arodin felt that they do- and he’s right, big-time.

According to the display on my player, KRS-One is involved in some of these tunes, it’s two very different branches of the same tree coming together.  Came Through Pullin’ is rockin’, soulful, upbeat, good time music, genre identification be damned.  I was having one of those “what does it all mean and is the effort worth it” kind of days, until I put this album on.  Know what?  I really do feel much better.  Thanks, Sean!

KEY CUTS:  Came Through Pullin’, Gumbo Time, No That Ain’t Right

I DON’T BUT I WILL Oliver James Brooks (independent) ***

7 songs, live off the floor… two mics, a guitar, a harmonica and a voice- that’s it.  It doesn’t any more intimate or personal than this.

“It’s an intimate, acoustic album that was born out of necessity” says Brooks.  “There’s something very personal and powerful- and a little scary- when you go into the studio, let everything out from inside, and leave with something that ultimately timestamps your feelings at that exact moment.”  No overdubs, no post-production tricks, just the songs as they unfolded on the day.  I Don’t But I Will was recorded February 2nd of this year at Toronto’s Berkley Sound with just Jack Emblem (engineering and mixing), Joao Carvahlo (mastering) present… and, of course, Oliver James Brooks. “A song or album can easily lose its meaning if the sound becomes too clinical or robotic” Oliver says, “so everything is recorded with great care in order to maintain its originality and realness.”

Brooks sings the songs on I Don’t But I Will in a fragile whisper, almost as if he’s afraid of speaking up and being a disturbance.  That brings you in closer to listen, to understand what’s going on, which I’m sure is just what he had in mind.  The stage was set for this album earlier this year by the release of the single Set Free (not included here) which includes a message for the masses. “That song was written in response to the current state of our planet” Oliver notes. “The turmoil in which we live has reached an unfathomable level.  Some days it becomes unbearable to even exist.”  That song is the wellspring from which the new album has come.

I Don’t But I Will is a small, personal album- an EP I guess we should say- and the songs are more like one side of a low key but urgent conversation.  Not everyone’s thing for sure, but the stark naked intimacy is refreshing.

KEY CUTS:  Whatever This Is, And Around, Underneath It All

SYNCHRONIZED FM (Frontiers) ****

If these guys sound like an 80’s band, it’s because they are.  If you think I’m enjoying this disc, it’s because I am.  Synchronized is their 12th album and after a grueling day in the salt mines (my first day back after a Covid layoff), it’s just what this doctor needs.

The band was founded in ’84 by singer Steve Overland and his guitar slingin’ brother Chris.  With runs through Europe with other acts like Meat Loaf, Tina Turner, Foreigner, Gary Moore, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and Status Quo, FM proved they could hang with the big dogs.  Like many bands, they splintered when grunge came along and slit hair metal’s collective throat, then were persuaded to regroup in 2007 (after a 12 year layoff) for a one-off headline performance at Firefest IV.  Their rapturous reception convinced the band that, with their mojo obviously still intact, the thing to do was pick up where they left off.  The band lineup as it sits today includes Steve Overland on vocals, Jim Kirkpatrick on guitars, Jem Davis on keys, plus the original rhythm section of bassist Merv Goldworthy and drummer Peter Jupp.

Synchronized is big, melodic rock songs.  As a singer Overland reminds me somewhat of Stryper’s Michael Sweet, and the layered guitars with keyboard textures and 4 on the floor propulsion make these Bon Jovi-esque songs a real joy to get into.  I’m not sure who the producer is here, possibly Overland, but whomever it might be I would like to buy them a beer and say “thanks” for a great sounding record.  In the rock & roll universe it might be easy to glibly dismiss Synchronized as lightweight and dated, and I get why some might feel that way… but if blasting tight, well constructed rock & roll loud enough for the guy across the street mowing his lawn to hear is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

File the new FM album under guilty pleasures if snobbery dictates that you must, but not me.  Synchronized is one record that is showing me a VERY good time.

KEY CUTS:  Pray, Superstar, Ghost Of You & I, End Of Days

CAN’T TURN ME AROUND Dedicated Men of Zion (Bible Tire & Recording Co.) *****

One of the problems I had with going to church as a child was the music, having to dress up on Sundays just to go and sing those Christian dirges.  Had it been anything like Dedicated Men Of Zion’s Can’t Turn Me Around, maybe I would’ve stuck with it.  No matter what you believe, these songs will lift you up and have you feeling oh so good.

The label was created by Bruce Watson of Fat Possum to release music like this; deep, sacred soul music out of North Carolina.  The band’s eldest member, Anthony “Amp” Daniels, remembers harmony being taken very seriously as he was growing up.  Every day his mother would call the children in, turn off the TV and make them sing in harmony, talk in harmony, do everything in harmony.  It’s this background that led to this gifted band of velvet-voiced singers and the album we are considering today.

Can’t Turn Me Around was recorded at Watson’s Delta-Sonic Studios in Memphis, capturing that eastern NC magic that has been so influential in music in general and soul in particular.  Most of James Brown’s original band hails from Kinston, in the county just south of Pitt County that Dedicated Men Of Zion call home.  Giving this group much of its musical form and swing are guitarist Will Sexton (Amy LaVere, Charlie Sexton),bassist Edgar Stuart (Alvin Youngblood Heart) and drummer George Sluppick (Chris Robinson, JJ Grey & Mofro).  Nothing complicated in what they’re doing, no fleet fingered solos or odd time changes; they’re playing as straight ahead as these tunes demand, pulling in the same direction as the gifted singers they’re supporting.

Taj Mahal says “these folks got the right idea and I’m lovin’ it big-time- the Holy Ghost spirit gettin’ in touch with one’s Ancient Rhythmic African Inner Soul!”  The fact that I don’t consider myself a Christian believer yet think Can’t Turn Me Around is worth a perfect score ought to tell how good this record is, how deep it reaches in to touch the soul.  Even if I don’t share their beliefs, I can still admire the strength of their conviction.

KEY CUTS:  It’s A Shame, A Leak In This Old Building, You Don’t Know

POSTCARD FROM BEALE STREET Eric Hughes Band (Endless Blues Records) *****

When talking about the blues, the word ‘fun’ doesn’t come up an awful lot- but with Postcard From Beale Street, the latest from The Eric Hughes Band, these four guys are having all kinds of it as they jump, swing and get down.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the infectious vibe.  This is ear candy from some very fine musicians.

Eric Hughes, one of the mainstays on that famous street, is a musician, storyteller, historian, tour guide and hellaciously talented songwriter.  Although I mentioned the blues off the top, Postcard From Beale Street is much broader than just that- the band’s style ranges from soul, indie and jug-band to ballad and rock too.  Good luck trying to pigeonhole this guy, I don’t think it can be done.  His band, skilled musicians all, have toured and recorded with legends like BB and Albert King, Little Milton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jeff Beck and Buddy Miles to name a few, including my man Mick Kolassa on “Tussolin, spoons, backing exclamations.”  I really think you’ll enjoy the talent, skill and experience they bring to these songs.

Postcards From Beale Street s a home-grown production in the truest sense of the term.  Each song was written, played and recorded in Memphis by Memphis musicians as well as produced, mixed and mastered there too.  They charge out of the gate with Ain’t Whipped Yet, a statement of purpose if there ever was one.  Follow your Stupid Little Dreams urges people- especially musicians- to do exactly that, in a musical style harking back to the Beale Street of the early 20th century.  The joy with which these guys play makes me think that this is just the sort of thing that Dr. John would’ve dug, and maybe David Lee Roth should try.

At the end of the day, this latest record from The Eric Hughes Band is a spirited, soulful excursion into the heart of the south.  Some blues yes, but that’s really just the start of a thrilling musical ride.  I love the way this feels, and the way it sounds… YOWZA!

KEY CUTS:  Ain’t Whipped Yet, Follow Your Stupid Little Dreams, It’s 4:20 Somewhere

THE GOSPEL TRUTH Gilby Clarke (Golden Robot Records) *****

The 2nd single from Gilby Clarke’s forthcoming record is the title track, and it’s a beauty.  As I listen to this simple but riveting riff rocker, it’s clear he injected a lot of horsepower into G ‘n’ R’s sound when he joined in ‘91; after all, he used to be in the MC-5.

This follows the first single, Rock & Roll Is Getting Louder, released in February, which is also really heckin’ cool guitar driven rock & roll. These days the truth is whatever someone says out loud, no one is accountable and it’s puzzling.  Reflecting on an upbringing within the Catholic church, in The Gospel Truth Gilby reflects on the idea that honesty shouldn’t come from fear.  Here, he encourages us to be brave, say what we mean and mean what we say.  Don’t see a lot of that happening these days, do we?

The Gospel Truth is old-school guitar-driven rock & roll with plenty of oomph that sticks in your head.  As much as I liked his previous single, I’m digging this even more and am going nuts with anticipation of the new album. It’s a good time to be alive!

UNCIVIL WAR Shemekia Copeland (Alligator Records) ****

The racial tensions that have boiled over in America and spread throughout the rest of the world as the “Black Lives Matter” gathers steam has provoked an artistic response from one of the blues’ mightiest voices.  Gathering a stellar band in the studio for this gospel-powered blues anthem for our times, Shemekia lays it all out and pulls no punches.

The chorus says it best; ”Uncivil war… uncivil war/ how long must we fight this uncivil war/ The same old wounds we opened before/ nobody wins an uncivil war”  Bringing this touching and affecting ballad to life with her is an all-star band featuring Will Kimbrough on guitar, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Sam Bush on mandolin, Steve Conn on Hammond B-3, Lex Price on bass and Pete Abbott on drums, with The Orphan Brigade providing background vocals.  The loping, gospel swing is hypnotic which leaves you even more open to the song’s message.  I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could argue with this message.

The lines are drawn, the gloves are off/ smiles are gone, we’re all talkin’ tough/ you’re talking tough and I cuss you back/ everything we love is under attack.  Yeah, that’s about the truth of it- and if all of us are smart, we’ll take this chance and make the changes that have been long overdue for our black brothers and sisters- hell, people of all colors.  Instead of dividing humanity by race, how about we all just be people?  If you don’t pick up this single, it will be on Ms. Copeland’s forthcoming album.


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