Music Reviews by John the Rock Doctor – Sept 25th 2020

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FEATURE DEDICATION

The Matthew Good Band formed in Coquitlam in 1995.  Led, of course, by Matthew Good, original bassist Geoff Lloyd was replaced by Rich Priske (also known as Rich Rock) in 1998.  Rich played with the band until its dissolution on 2002, then continued with Matt until the end of the In A Coma tour 2005.  His contributions can be heard on Matthew Good records like Beautiful Midnight, Loser Anthems and In A Coma, plus he worked with other artists like DSK, Bif Naked and Real McKenzies.

Rich was an avid writer with his popular Notes From The Road blog for the now defunct Matthew Good Band website.  He also found himself involved in BC’s thriving film & theatre scene, having bit parts in movies like Red Scorpion 2 and Hard Core Logo.

On July 11th this year Rich Priske, a fixture on the Kelowna music scene, died of a heart attack at the age of 52.  We remember him for his many artistic endeavors and achievements, but perhaps none more than his work with The Matthew Good Band.  Their Beautiful Midnight record won “Best Rock Album” at the Y2K Junos, and it’s the group’s most popular release, thanks to songs like the lead single Hello Time Bomb”…


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EVEN THE DEVIL BELIEVES Stryper (Frontiers) ****

Christian faith and paint peeling metal music aren’t necessarily exclusive concepts- just ask Stryper.  Even The Devil Believes is their 13th studio record and they’re playing harder, better and with more passion than ever, 37 years on.

“This album was recorded during the pandemic, and I believe the message pertains to the times we are living in so perfectly” says singer/ guitarist/ main songwriter Michael Sweet.  “It’s a recording of hope and inspiration and a light in the darkest of times.”  Filled to the brim with killer riffs, harmony laden melodies and positive lyrical themes, it’s also the first recording to feature new bassist Perry Richardson (ex-Firehouse) in the studio.  “Perry helped take things to a new level for us” Sweet remarks, and it’s true.  It’s not unusual for a new injection of creative blood to kick a band’s game up a notch or three, and Stryper has responded very well to this new alchemy.

As with previous Stryper records, Even The Devil Believes was produced by Michael Sweet.  It’s a combination of great hair metal and British Steel-era Judas Priest; melodic, razor sharp and inspiring, a great album to drive fast to.  Whereas a group like Motley Crue might sing about strip bars and getting your knob polished, Stryper’s lyrics centre on their professed Christian faith.  When they do ‘double entendre’ stuff, the semi-hidden meaning isn’t sexual it’s spiritual.  Michael is singing even more forcefully on the new record, his brother Robert is pounding his drums with aggressive precision, and the lead guitar work of Oz Fox in particular is awe-inspiring.

I’m sure there are those that think “a metal band singing about Jesus is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of”- that’s how I felt for many years.  Then, in preparing to interview Michael Sweet in 2015, I checked out some of their back catalogue and discovered I had been really missing out.  I now consider myself a fan and, the career resurgence that started with 2013’s No More Hell To Pay shows no signs of slowing down.  Even The Devil Believes is one of the best metal records of the year.

www.frontiers.it/album/5616

www.stryper.com

KEY CUTS:  Let Him In, This I Pray, Middle Finger Messiah


THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE BETTE Bette Smith (Ruf) ***

Wild rock ‘n’ soul with gospel sauce is the recipe for Brooklynite Bette Smith’s new album.  The Good The Bad and The Bette is a throwback to 70’s soul and the songs are lyrically heavy, despite the ‘party’ vibe of many of the songs.  This is quite cool.

The Good… was produced by Drive By Truckers’ Matt Patton and engineer/ drummer Bronson Tew. “I told (them) that I wanted a southern rock soul/ Aretha Franklin/ ‘I once was lost but now I’m found’ theme” Bette says who, as a singer, is similar to Macy Gray.  Lyrically, the record addresses her childhood. “I told Matt a little about my childhood and my relationship with my mom” she notes. “We outlined that we’d make the record about relationships, to reflect that part of my personality.  The album message is a story seen through the lens of a child, and then an adult, who still wears her scars of childhood- but also of hope, strength and optimism going forward in life.”  Sort of a concept album.

Lots of different vibes over these 10 songs, from rock to soul to heart wrenching balladry.  Songs like Whistle Stop and Don’t Skip Out On Me get heavy emotionally as they deal directly with her late mother, who would cut and run when things got tough.  Lest you think The Good… is all dark and bleak, there are also a fistful of songs about love and gratitude, including a track inspired by her dog- (I Wanna Be Your)Human.  Her mother showed her how to deal with stress by leaving, but Bette says her dog “in a long term relationship, taught me trust and vulnerability. ‘When your heart is in pain, I want to be your human’.” No surprise, then, that she is pictured with her dog on the cover.

The songs on this record connect with Smith on a deep level and, when she plays live, her fans connect on that level too. “When I sing these songs live” she says, “it’s a connection of inner children. I’m singing to their inner child.”  The Good… funks, rocks, and slow dances.  This is good for the soul.

www.bettesmith.com

KEY CUTS:  Whistle Stop, Song For A Friend, Don’t Skip Out On Me


BLUES ALLIANCE Head Honchos (Grooveyard Records) *****

Head Honchos’ sophomore album is a bucket of blistering blues/rock.  As much as I enjoyed last year’s Bring It On Home, I find Blues Alliance to be even more satisfying on a physical and emotional level… these guys are letting it all hang out.  I love the blues, especially when they rock, and Indiana’s Head Honchos deliver with room to spare.

‘Alliance’ is defined as “an association formed to advance a common cause”, and Head Honchos are breathing heaping amounts of rock & roll into their blues.  The band is Detroit’s own Rocco Calipari Sr. & Jr. on guitars, and this time out they add the nimble bass work of Mike Boyle and some serious drumming skill by way of Will Wyatt.  Listening to this album is like getting mugged by The Kentucky Headhunters’ Live At Ramblin’ Man Fair last year, like a blues street fight.  The muscular riffs are huge, the lead guitar (Rocco Sr. or Jr.?) dangerous, and the rhythm section is just steaming. The bass playing of Mike Boyle is particularly noteworthy, in a jaw-dropping John Paul Jones kind of way- articulate and expressive with some jazz articulation.

Even with a title like Blues Alliance it’s sure tempting to treat this disc like straight up rock & roll; after all it does have that kind of oomph, but there’s no mistaking the blues heart that beats within this beast.  No production notes with this one but whoever was calling the shots came up with a righteous mix; dense and chewy in an immensely satisfying way.  Somewhere, the ghost of Stevie Ray Vaughan has a huge grin on his face over this one.

With the brute force at play here, Blues Alliance is a wrecking ball of an album.  For the solos in a track like Evil,  you can practically see the Caliparis standing with feet wide apart and looking skyward as their eyeballs roll back in their heads when they let ‘er rip.  Hard guitar-based rock & roll is one of my very favorite things, and when you combine it with the blues as Head Honchos have done here, I’m hooked.  If you like your blues hard and fast, you won’t find a better album this year than Blues Alliance.

www.theheadhonchosband.com

KEY CUTS:  Evil, Stuck Between The Middle, She Got That Thang


SHINING BLACK Shining Black featuring Boals & Thorsen (Frontiers) ***

This is the debut release for a new band that includes singer Mark Boals (Yngwie Malmsteen, Ring Of Fire, Royal Hunt) and guitarist Olaf Thorsen (Labyrinth, Vision Divine).  It’s the kind of melodic metal this label specializes in; tuneful, epic and dense.

The roots for Shining Black actually go back to 2014.  When Labyrinth were forced to move forward without vocalist Roberto Tiranti, Mark Boals was brought in to work on new songs, but a busy schedule prevented him from recording with the band.  Despite not getting to do that album together Boals and Thorsen remained in touch.  Eventually an opportunity presented itself and, at the urging of Frontiers, Shining Black was born.

Shining Black is characterized by acrobatic guitar work from Olaf Thorsen and thick keyboard textures via Oleg Smirnoff.  The rhythm section of Nik Mazzucconi (bass) and Matt Peruzzi (drums) do their jobs well, playing for the song instead of showboating; it takes all kinds of restraint to be able to do that.  Singer Mark Boals reminds me a lot of Stryper’s Michael Sweet; similar tone and similar range with an ability to kick out the jams when he has to up the intensity on a cut like My Life.

Shining Black is melodic metal, pure and simple- it’s probably not wrong (and maybe not all that accurate either) to think of this as Bon Jovi meets Judas Priest meets Scorpions.  Fans of dark or black metal probably won’t like this; if, say, Slayer is your favorite band, then I’d be surprised if Shining Black will speak to you.  But still, melody and metal are not mutually exclusive concepts.  Oh sure, there’s a certain 80’s feel to records like this, but is that really a bad thing?  The songs are catchy and the musicianship is impressive; for those two reasons alone, Shining Black is worth checking out.

www.frontiers.it/album/5607

KEY CUTS:  Where Are Your Gods, My Life, A Sad Song


LAST HAND Al Basile (Sweetspot Records) ****

The best word to describe Al Basile’s new album is “suave”.  With Al on vocals and cornet and the trio of Bruce Bears (keys), Brad Hallen (bass) and Mark Teixeira (drums) swinging nimbly behind him, Last Hand is a late night after hours jazz/ blues groove to melt your cares away.

Basile describes Last Hand as “a May/December romance- which ends too soon- from the man’s point of view.”  With all of Al’s previous records having been produced by fellow Roomful Of Blues alumnus and good friend Duke Robillard, this is Basile’s first attempt at self production… and a successful one, I might add.  He has created an atmosphere here with the songs that you can really feel, like an old Humphrey Bogart Sam Spade movie.  It’s inspired, in part by Flash Blind, something he wrote a few years ago as an audio play and recorded last fall with some actors.  He entered it in a national audio theatre competition and it was to be featured at the silver level of this year’s festival- then Covid happened.  “I started to think about something to submit for next year” Al says.  Since I already had the story in the songs on the CD, I decided to fill it out with dramatic scenes that set up the songs.  That would make the CD of Last Hand like an original cast album from a show, where you don’t get the scenes but you do get the songs.”   The album is also available with dramatic scenes in between songs on streaming platforms as Last Hand 2.0, and I highly recommend checking that out.

Basile’s previous albums have consistently placed in the top 25 on the Living Blues  charts, and no doubt Last Hand  will follow suit.  Bruce Bears’ piano in particular gives it a lonesome-street-corner-late-on-a-rainy-Friday-night feel, those times when all hope is lost yet we still yearn and search for some kind of redemption.  I enjoy hearing the songs as just the songs, but listening to the 2.0 version with the dramatic scenes to set them up gives the songs context.  With the CD I can close my eyes and listen- lights off, of course- and imagine my own dramatic scenes in between tracks, making up my own story as the album unfolds.  Either way, Last Hand is a delicious experience.

www.albasile.com

Here is a YouTube link to the 2.0 version, with the dramatic scenes inserted.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frEo3_k-Xuo&t=9s

KEY CUTS:  Don’t, Invisible Man, Time Heals Nothing


WHEN U NEED A FRIEND Sam Joyner (independent) *** ½

The blues, funk, gospel, soul- it’s all here on Sam Joyner’s new album.  Growing up as a preacher’s kid he was surrounded by music, and you can feel all of it in these songs. Rollicking, boisterous and uplifting, When U Need A Friend is a delightfully good time.

When Sam was young his dad, the reverend Joyner, made sure that his kids experienced the South.  Sam spent every summer with mules, roosters and family.  Not a dream vacation for a kid from Chicago, but those humble beginnings have fashioned a talented, successful beautiful man.  As a career musician he’s traveled the world but his most significant path has been between Chicago, Mississippi and New Orleans.  The blend of rich music from these areas is readily apparent in the 10 tracks on When U Need A Friend- even if I hadn’t just mentioned that, you’d still feel it.

The instrumentation and vibe here is mostly traditional blues and there is some excellent guitar playing, but the music of When U Need A Friend centers around Joyner’s piano.  He’s also a storyteller with an engaging sense of humor- listen to Breakin’ Up Our Happy Home to hear what I mean.  A potentially dark subject is effectively disarmed by Sam’s spoken word bit in the breakdown just before the end of the song.  His smoky vocals are straight up funk while the female backup vocals have a distinctive gospel flavor, and the combination works like gangbusters.

The songs on this disc have a southern feel generally speaking, with some of them reflecting certain regions specifically.  I defy you to spin Nothin U Can Do About Luv and NOT think about New Orleans.  And Natural Born Luvah, which follows immediately after, is Chicago blues with some St. Louis-style piano.  He really kicks out the jams on Sam Joyner In Tha Hause, 4:25 of straight up boogie-woogie fun.

At the end of the day When U Need A Friend is the blues, but with several other flavors mixed in to keep it interesting and make it spicy. Props to Sam’s band and the backup singers for their talent and for helping to raise this record up to the joyous celebration of life that it is.  This is really good company.

www.samjoyner.com

KEY CUTS:  Breakin’ Up Our Happy Home, When U Need A Friend, Sam Joyner In Tha Hause


DISCHARGE Electric Mob (Frontiers Music) ****

Confession time- I’ve had this album since early June but have ignored it until today because the band name gave me the impression this was some sort of soulless electronica dance crap.   WRONG.  When I finally rolled Discharge, my error was instantly apparent.  This combination of mean riffs, powerful vocals and heavy grooves from Brazil is, in fact, quite excellent hard rock in an Aerosmith/Guns/Motley kind of way.

Discharge has a 70’s/ 80’s hard rock vibe that punches you in the face, which is my favorite of all the vibes.  “Doing what you love is the greatest feeling in the world and when heavy, mean and dirty rock n roll is what you love… well, that’s the dream!” says the band.  There’s a sleaze factor at work here that seems to be missing in most modern times rock & roll, and you don’t realize how much you miss that until you hear it again.  Singer Renan Zonta has a gritty, expressive voice, somewhere between Axl Rose and vintage Robert Plant, not unlike Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords Of Black).  The rhythm section of Yuri Elero (bass) and Andre Leister (drums) understand groove and attitude very well, playing a cut above your standard 4-on-the-floor drums n bass.  Much of the magic on Discharge, though, is from guitarist Ben Hur Auwarter, who plays with a bluesy kind of Joe Perry meets Jimmy Page swagger.  Put all of these things together and it’s an instant music boner.

Zonta is a known quantity to rock fans in Brazil as one of the most acclaimed participants of all time on the TV show The Voice Of Brazil, his YouTube videos logging more than 3 million views.  I don’t known how well known the other guys in the band are, but when you put these 4 together what you have is a band of hard rock soldiers with the talent and balls to take on any and all comers.  Discharge is their debut, and it’s unfortunate that circumstances prevent them from taking this record to stages- festivals and otherwise-  all over the world but, as the press material that I got with the album claims, they are “one of rock’s most exciting and promising newcomers in years!”  For once it’s not label hype, they’re actually right.  This is great rock & roll.

www.electricmob.com.br

KEY CUTS:  Devil You Know, Burn, Higher Than Your Heels


MISSISSIPPI SUITCASE Peter Parcek (Lightnin’ Records) *****

A brilliant new album from a guitar player Buddy Guy calls “as bad as Eric Clapton”.  Mississippi Suitcase, Peter’s 4th album if you include his EP Pledging My Time, is a heady concoction, a tasteful and melodic exploration of the potent and timeless humanity of the blues.  The songs tell a story that stretches from swamps and flatlands the Delta of the 30’s to today’s streets, of the pain and joy of life.  Not bad for a guy from Boston.

“The genesis of this album is in profound personal and societal struggle” Peter says.  “In recent years I’ve suffered an injury to my wrist and faced never playing again, and other personal challenges that shook me to the core.  At the same time the world has been in turmoil.”  But what does all that have to do with Mississippi Suitcase?  Parcek notes that “all of that compelled me to reach as deeply as I could within myself to write about romance, sadness, struggle, and themes that are even, at times, apocalyptic.”  There are deep, emotional undercurrents running through each song to access if you choose to do so.  You can also choose to listen and say “wow, listen to this cat play!”  I choose both.

Guests on Mississippi Suitcase include North Mississippi All Stars’ Luther Dickinson, legendary Muscle Shoals organist Spooner Oldham and harmonica ace Mickey Raphael, and they fit in with Peter’s band as if they’d always been there.  These blues are deep, rich and wide, a veritable river of misery and redemption that promises to wash your sins clean… or at the very least give you something to think about.  The disc also includes a remake of Peter Green’s The Supernatural, a track Green cut in 1967 when Peter (Parcek, that is) was finding his legs on the London blues scene.  The instrumental version of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby included here is just as mesmerizing as the original.  The sans vocal version of She Likes To Boogie Real Low, a song that also appeared on Johnny Winter’s Hey, Where’s Your Brother? in 1992 is not to be missed either.

“With Mississippi Suitcase I’ve tried to create an album that’s timeless and yet entirely in the moment” Peter says, “an album that could get as deeply under the skin of the listener as it did mine,”  I think it’s fair to say he succeeded admirably.  Joyous, sad and thought provoking at the same time, this is great blues.

www.peterparcekband.com

KEY CUTS:  The World Is Upside Down, The Supernatural, Beyond here Lies Nothing, Waiting For The Man


NEW MOON JELLYROLL FREEDOM ROCKERS VOL. 1 (Linus/ Stony Plain) ****

This is the self titled debut from a roots super group involving Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, the late Jim Dickinson and North Mississippi All Stars members Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson.  New Moon Jellyroll Freedom Rockers will take you back home, way down south, and you’ll want to stay.

This band originated in November of 2007 when they got together for a jam at the Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi, and luckily the tape was rolling.  For more than 12 years this mythic recording was mentioned only obscurely in interviews and referenced as a great old school recording by a handful of witnesses.  New Moon is truly old school, where the musicians all sat in one big circle in the studio and played quietly amongst the microphones, taking turns singing and improvising on the spot.  Since that time the tapes have sat on the shelves, but when Stony Plain Records founder Holger Petersen heard about the sessions this year and expressed enthusiasm for releasing them, the ball really started rolling.  Luther Dickinson and his partner/ engineer finished production, casually conjuring a fine quality album from the informal sessions.

Recorded live off the floor over several days, New Moon has a casual immediacy you won’t find in most modern recordings.  Each of the performers listed in the first paragraph of this review is a legend in the roots and blues genres on their own, but to have them all together on these electrifying tracks is truly a gift.  “The New Moon Jellyroll Freedom Rockers album was conceived in the back of a tour bus” Luther Dickinson recalls. “Mavis Staples and Charlie Musselwhite had hit the road together, with The North Mississippi All Stars as the house band.  Charlie made a list of great recordings I should check out, , which became a catalyst for our recording session.” “The name of our recording project was born in the back of that bus” continues Luther.  “(It) was one of our potluck recording sessions. For potlucks, we invite a cast of characters to the session/ party, and ask each player to bring a couple of songs.  Musicians take turns leading and accompanying, and before you know it a record materializes.  The session was a love-fest.”

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers is an example of the whole adding up to something greater than the sum of its parts, a jam session that feels like the best party ever- and that’s exactly what it is; master musicians unwinding and playing their asses off in the spirit of fellowship.  You’ll want to listen to and feel this over and over, and I’m happy to report there’ll be a Vol.2 in the Spring of 2021.

KEY CUTS:   Pony Blues (Alvin Youngblood Hart), Come On Down To My House (Jim Dickinson), K.C. Moan (Charlie Musselwhite)


SPIRITS IN THE WATER Dione Taylor (Matay Records)  ****+

More ‘prairie blues’ by Regina’s Dione Taylor.  Spirits In The Water was inspired by a trip to Nashville.  According to the Yuchi Indian tribe there is a powerful legend of Tanasi River, or “Singing River” in Tennessee.  Inside the river, legend says there lives a woman who sings songs to protect those who hear her.  It is in this spirit that these powerful songs were created.  Spirits is good medicine.

“Legendary stories and family history travel through us, flow into the waters and down the bloodline” Dione says.  “If the water speaks, and we are still and listen then what fascinating stories do we hear?  Perhaps tales of eternal happiness, brutal hardship, necessary murder, unspeakable love and beautiful pain are buried in the muddy waters.”  In other words, a musical odyssey that explores the deep, sacred healing journey back to the self.  It’s an eye-opening trip, if you’re willing to wade in and get wet.

The promo material describes Spirits In The Water as “a mixture of roots, blues and Americana” which I suppose is fair enough for this intriguing and magical thematic journey, but there are also nods to other musical forms.  One of Dione’s key collaborators here is Joel Schwartz, who co-wrote and produced much of the album with her.  He’s been playing guitar and banjo in her band for about 5 years now.  Other noted contributors include long-time creative collaborator Sandy Mamane (for 2 songs) plus songwriters James Bryan (Philosopher Kings, Prozzak) and Sean Pinchin.

Spirits In The Water has pools of darkness throughout, but songs like Workin’ have a joyous, uplifting vibe that is impossible not to get caught up in.  There’s a diversity of tones and tempos at play that keep you engaged throughout… when the last song ended on the first time through I thought “damn… it’s over already?” as I reached for the repeat button to run through the album again.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Spirits In The Water strictly a blues album, but the color of its soul is definitely blue.  This is a collection of songs about life itself, and there isn’t a single track here where you don’t find yourself reflected back in some way.  It’s a great sounding and, perhaps more importantly, great feeling album;   it just might set you free.

www.dionetaylor.com

KEY CUTS:  Workin’, Down The Bloodline, Darkness

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