Music Reviews by The Rock Doctor – May 29, 2020

BRAVE Dani Wilde (single) (VizzTone) ****

A new digital single from this British blues Award winner, scarcely a month after her last one, Howling At The Moon.  Pop in form but blues in emotional content, Brave is the inspiring and driving kind of song we could all use right now.

Dedicating Brave to the doctors, nurses and frontline workers around the world risking so much for us during the pandemic, Dani says of her new song “I wanted to maintain the raw, organic emotion of the blues whilst also taking inspiration from traditional popular song arrangements. I love how artists like Patty Griffin, Paul Simon and John Mayer take the blues and fuse it with Americana and popular song to create something beautiful.”

Brave has the heart of a ballad playing out over a more upbeat backdrop, giving it a unique sort of power. “Until I had my daughter I didn’t know I could love so fiercely” Wilde notes. “She is my world and our little family unit is my sanctuary.  This song is my experience about having to be ‘brave like a warrior’ for her- but I hope lyrically it will resonate with anyone searching for their (own) inner strength.”   It’s a message that fits the times we live in, and it’s an excellent bit of music too.  It’s too much to ask a song to change the world, but Brave might help us to start thinking and feeling in new ways, so we don’t come out of this thing and slide back into the same world we left behind.

POPULAR MONSTER Falling In Reverse (single)  (Epitaph) ***

A new single here from these popular Vegas-based rap/ rockers.  Frontman Ronnie Radke is described as “the walking, talking, screaming, fighting, loving and vulnerable embodiment of a generation’s id.”  Unless you’re a robot, there’s a time in everyone’s life, in every generation, that life feels as hard and raw as Popular Monster.

Aesthetically appealing, Popular Monster combines hip-hop with modern hard rock to get the point across.  In a roundabout way it kind of feels like Evanesence’s Save Me, that contrast between rap and metal coming together to forge something more powerful and immediate than the individual genres.  The material I got with this single says that “with his music, art and life, (Radke) is the personification of broken homes, the frustrated contradiction of self-destruction and everyday single minded defiance against a world gone mad.”

At this stage of my own life, as close to the end of the road I may be, I try not to let a lot of things get in my hair- no time for that.  But if Popular Monster had come out when I was in my 20’s, its music and message would’ve put it at the top of my playlist. If I were to drive through town today with this blasting from my factory installed stereo, people would watch me drive by and think “look at that old man, trying to be hip with the kids- how sad.”  Give me an open highway and an empty passenger seat beside me though, and this bugger gets cranked up to 11.

QUARANTINE BLUES Mike Zito (Gulf Coast Records) ****+

Back in the old days albums were recorded quickly to catch lightning in a bottle.  Black Sabbath’s first album took two days and Led Zeppelin’s first was done in just 36 hours, Jimmy Page has the receipts to prove it.  Quarantine Blues is a free album (on Soundcloud) from Mike Zito and his band, a gift to their fans in these profoundly weird times.  Raw, muscular and close to the bone, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

“While flying home from Europe after all our tours being cancelled, I decided that the band and myself would record a free album for all our fans” Mike says. “Individually we have been quarantined for 14 days and this idea of writing, producing and releasing an album in the 14 day period seemed like quite an effort and a distraction for us.  In return fans from around the world contributed to our Gofundme and it has been an amazingly rewarding experience.” Zito adds “I hope our fans enjoy the album and the music we have written.”  Yeah, Mike… we sure do.

Written and recorded within such a tight time frame, Quarantine Blues is very much an album of a specific period.  The songs on it share many concerns with you and I- the effects of the pandemic and the social isolation that it spawned, and a track like After The Storm considers what life might be like when things get back to normal- whenever and whatever that might mean.  Unlike a record written and laid down over a period of months or a year or two, QB isn’t over-thought, it’s a gut instinct kind of thing.  The music is unpolished and insistent with a Crazy Horse kind of vibe, more feel than technique, and is better for it.

Thematically the songs were written to address concerns brought up by Covid-19 but a song like Don’t Touch Me is more universal; after all, isolation is not an uncommon theme in the blues.  Mike Zito is one of my favorite guitar players and Quarantine Blues, a visceral reaction to hard worldwide circumstances, is hot stuff.

KEY CUTS: After The Storm, Hurts My Heart, Call Of The Wild

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

Some laid back romance from The Bacon Brothers on their second single in as many months.  The Way We Love is proof positive that ‘mellow’ is not a dirty word.

Having heard this song several times now it reminds me of I Go Crazy, a hit for Paul Davis in 1977, in that it has a similar easy charm and likeability- just the kind of song you can picture singing for your significant other.  In discussing the song Michael, the older of the 2 brothers, says “Larry Jon Wilson’s lyric I hope one day that I can write a song that everyone can like, but til I do, let me sing my song for you sums it up for me.  It came fast and I wasn’t ready when we sang it at The Opry.  We got through it though, and when I heard the playback on YouTube I knew we’d had that moment.  It’s the story of my marriage in our own terms, not somebody else’s idea.”

If you like James Taylor, The Way We Love is right up your street.  Michael has a similar easy timbre in his voice, and the delicate finger picking makes the guitar stand out in an unobtrusive way, if that makes sense.  Instrumentation is sparse but textures- harmonica and keys along with some light percussion- combine with a sincere, romantic lyric.  The next time I make a compilation for my wife, this song will be the first one I put on.

CRAWL L.A. Guns (single) (Golden Robot Records) ***

Set your clocks back to the mid 80’s for this swingin’ piece of sleaze rock.  Crawl is the first single from L.A. Guns’ forthcoming album Renegades. If you like your rock & roll to smell like a beer stained jean jacket, you’ll like this.

Guns came up during the explosive Sunset Strip scene that saw bands like Motley Crue, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Ratt, Poison and Quiet Riot carve out a decadent place in rock & roll history, and that’s the vibe that Crawl gives off.  Like many bands from this genre the times haven’t always been generous, but you gotta hand it to them for hanging in there for 30+ years, thru personnel changes, carrying the 80’s rock & roll banner into battle.

Crawl is likeable but unremarkable- that kind of song that, when it comes on you say ‘cool’ instead of ‘oh WOW!’  Definitely a kiss-off of a love song (hate song?) from the 80’s stylistically, about someone each of us can probably find in our pasts. I like the propulsive if repetitive riff and the mid-tempo 4-on-the-floor rock beat from the rhythm section, complete with a bit of a bass solo by Kelly Nickels in the middle of the tune. The stacked rhythm guitars give the song a dense, chewy texture and, as much as I resist it, the ‘na-na’na’ chorus sticks in your head whether you want it to or not.  Life-altering?  Nah.  Kinda cool?  You bet.

SPREZZATURA Aloud (Lemon Merchant Records) ****

A blast of fresh air out of El Lay by way of Muscle Shoals.  Aloud’s new album is soulful rock & roll, something out of the south wearing beat up leather.

Mainstays Henry Beguiristain and singer Jen de la Osa have been making music together since their teenage years in Miami’s Cuban community, and their shared passion in those days for bands like Oasis and The Who makes itself felt in the music they’re making now.  Recorded in Boston before the band moved to the west coast, Sprezzatura deals with a wide variety of emotional subjects; power, sex, desire, soul searching and a raw, full-throated need to tell the truth.

Sprezzatura (studied carelessness, especially as a characteristic quality or style of art or literature) over and above all that, is a joyful noise, the sound of a band evolving as they should.  Some of the horn charts lend it that ‘Muscle Shoals’ feel, and overall there’s a jangly, almost pop/punk Pretenders sensibility that that gives this records some steam, but that’s not all there is to this thing.  Been So Long Since We’ve Seen The Sun will surely lead to some late night contemplation, and the ballad Waiting really gets inside of you.

I was made somewhat ready for this album when Jen sent me a couple of singles they had, Live TV and Show Me What You Got (not included on this album) last fall, but I was still delighted by how big and wide Sprezzatura is.  Much of it is stripped down spirited rock & roll and yet there is so much more going on.  The press release I got with it has several quotes from writers much further up the food chain than I’ll ever be, but this one from American Songwriter gets right to it; “For all those whose spirits have been battered or broken during this lockdown time and have lost loved ones, listen to this and feel the joy.”  Covid connections aside, I agree… I love how these songs make me feel.

Sprezzatura is one of those rock records that makes you glad to be alive, and these songs are going to sound great on my UDJ radio show- can’t wait for you to hear ‘em.

KEY CUTS:  Loving U’s A Beautiful Thing, Been So Long Since We’ve Seen The Sun, Oh Danny

MAYDAY!!! FIESTA FEVER AWOL Nation (single) (Better Noise Music) ***

A single here from AWOL Nation’s Angel Miners & Lightning Riders album, released April 24th.  Lately I’ve taken to checking out music I’d normally bypass, but it was the combination of disco/ dance vibes with rock & roll attitude that got me interested here.  It’s obvious digital assembly is a turnoff, but there’s still something I like about Mayday!

The song has a percussive attack that manages to intertwine dance rhythms with rock & roll guitars and swagger.  Plus, you gotta love the first line; All I wanna do is rock & roll/ rock & roll at a disco party.  Basically, it’s a fun song about having fun designed, no doubt, for club play.  The song features a guest appearance from Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, so if you’re familiar with those guys (I’m not- after all I’m over 60) then that’s one more reason to check out this propulsive track.

Mariachi horns open the tune before the quarter note drums beat comes hammering in under some disco-style guitar as the song reveals its duality rather quickly.  The pop vocals are pretty standard, and when you get steamrolled by a heavy riff alongside rock shouting, it’s kind of a relief.  Mayday’s intro will have you dancing in no time, and it pummels you pretty good in under 4 minutes.  Not exactly the kind of record to dissect and examine, but it was never intended to be.  Get hammered, crank it up and enjoy.

KIDDIOS CAVE In Between Movies (single) (Promo Jukebox) ** ½ 

Electronic, modern and playful- that’s Kiddios Cave, the single from In Between Movies. Kiddios Cave sports a pulsating beat and spherical hook lines, making it a light as air pop confection that’s hard not to like.  First few times I played it, when the song ended I was surprised; this would make a terrific, lengthy trance number.

In between Movies is a Zurich-based  dreampop/ shoegaze quartet that might’ve slipped under my radar had it not been for this stupid pandemic and dearth of new music to spin and review.  Kiddios Cave is not a number to operate heavy machinery by, that’s for sure.  As an old rock guy I find the drum programming vaguely offensive but it somehow fits with the gauzy vibe of the song, so I’ll let it pass.

The tragedy of any tune would be for it not to affect you in any way, shape or form; if it doesn’t elicit some sort of feeling or reaction, then listening is pointless- unless music is little more than wallpaper to you.  For me, Kiddios Cave is dreamy, hypnotic and relaxing, perhaps not unlike listening to Cowboy Junkies while drifting on ‘shrooms.  It’s a trance that lasts 3:23, definitely a contender for your “shut the world out and make everything go away so I can chill” playlist.  Don’t have one?  In Between Movies’ Kiddios Cave might be the place to start.

Couldn’t find a website, so look for this band on Apple or Google Play.

BLVDS OF SPLENDOR Cherie Currie (Blackheart Records) ****+

It’s been a long, strange trip, but Currie’s latest solo album is finally out.  Released on vinyl last year for Record Store Day, Blvds Of Splendor was released digitally on April 28th with 3 bonus tracks.  It’s a diverse, muscular rock & roll album, something of a vindication for the original voice of The Runaways.  To be clear, Blvds kicks ass.

Produced by ex- Guns N Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Blvds Of Splendor was started in 2010, around the time The Runaways movie came out, according to an article in Rolling Stone.  They worked on it in fits and starts over the years, but Cherie was sidelined in 2016 after falling more than 12 feet while chainsaw carving.  It took some time to recover from the head injuries and partial facial paralysis that followed.

Aside from having Sorum behind the desk (and the kit, one would assume), BLVDs Of Splendor also includes contributions from  Slash, Duff McKagan, Juliet Lewis, Billy Corgan and Brody Dale, to drop a few names.  This is a solid rock album with cojones, a kind of punk energy that connects it more or less directly with those first few Runaways albums that Currie was a part of.  Back in ’76 when their first album was released, an all-girl rock band was something of a novelty but I liked what they were doing and have remained a fan.  The list of prominent names taking part here says I’m not alone. “I’ve never had so much fun making a record before” Cherie says. “We all looked at each other and went Oh my God, there’s magic happening here!”  She’s absolutely right.

Blvds Of Splendor contains some remakes that will no doubt gain the record some extra attention, like Roxy Roller (Sweeney Todd), The Air That I Breathe (The Hollies) and Draggin’ The Line (Tommy James).  It also includes a new version of the Runaways classic Queens Of Noise which also features Brody Dale, Juliet Lewis and The Veronicas.

In that Rolling Stone article, producer Sorum states “Cherie’s voice tells it all, she is the real deal.  And now more than ever that voice tells the story of where she’s been in her life. This record is about who Cherie is now.”  It’s also the best she’s ever sounded, and Blvds Of Splendor will likely be one of my favorite rock albums of the year.

KEY CUTS:  Mr. X, Rock & Roll Oblivion, Draggin’ the Line, Queens Of Noise

DOUBLE DEADBOLT LOGIC Jefferson Berry & The Urban Acoustic Coalition (Urban Acoustic Music) *****

Gentle and inspiring yet upbeat, DDL is the 3rd time out for this Philadelphia collective.  I suppose ‘folk/rock’ is as good a tag as any for this set o tunes, but the first adjective that comes to mind for me is “refreshing”.

Jefferson Berry & The Urban Acoustic Coalition consists of anywhere from 3 to 7 members depending on the song and the situation, and their specialty is dynamic, danceable tunes about the city, all kinds of love, and these oddly strange times.  Their sound is appealing mainly to folkies, but the way they can stretch out will appeal to jam band fans too.  Anchoring the group, the 3 guys always present are Bud Burroughs, Dave Brown and Marky B. Berkowitz.  Add to this the rhythm section of Uncle Mike (bass) and David Rapoport (drums) and you’ve got a driving, down-home sound that doesn’t exactly sound like Philly- at least not to me.

The songs on DDL will speak to you on a musical level, even moreso if you burrow into the lyrics themselves.  Ghosts of California is about running away from home and the inevitable guilty return, and Get to The Shore is a summer love song that really resonates.  “The challenge songwriters have in these strange times is to come up with songs that are relevant yet entertaining” notes Berry.  “Whether it’s the self-validation of social media or our society’s obsession with guns, I think (this record) moves you to the groove.”  It’s flexible and elastic, with an interesting taste of mid-60’s adult pop music… maybe an acquired taste for some, but this plays right into my wheelhouse.  Songs like Not Enough Time would fit on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.

Double Deadbolt Logic is an evocative, spiritually suggestive album.  I was helplessly hooked before the first song was even half done, and I suspect you might be too.  It’s a terrific record from front to back.

KEY CUTS:  Not Enough Time, She Was Baking Bread, Get To The Shore, I Know What I Know

DON’T DIE Nobro (single) (Dine Alone Records) ****

An energetic blast of melodic punk from Montreal.  Britain’s Kerrang calls Don’t Die “Big like 70’s radio hits, dirty like garage rock and driven like 90’s punk.”  I’m not a fan of overdriven sound- it can be obnoxious- but this song is so cool I don’t care.

Nobro has already shared the stage with bands like Alexisonfire, The Distillers and Fidlar and the new e.p. that spawned this single (Sick Hustle) should have no problem taking them to the next level.  “I wanted to be in the most kick-ass all female band ever” says singer/ bassist Kathryn McCaughey, and I think she’s done it.  You’d have to go all the way back to The Runaways to find an all girl rock band with this kind of spirit, this kind of three chord joie de vivre.  They sound like a bunch of drunk cheerleaders at a bush party, and I mean that in the best possible way.  With rowdy gang vocals and a simple but infectious melody, this could be one of those songs that rules the summer airwaves.

Falling in line behind Kathryn’s blistering vocals and solid bass lines to create this obnoxiously thrilling pop/ rock song are drummer Sarah Dion and guitarist Karolane Carbonneau, with percussion and keyboards from Lisandre Bourdages.  Make no mistake; once you hear Don’t Die you will never, ever be able to get it out of your head.

SUPERNATURAL Ruby Waters (Ruby Waters Music) ** ½

A modern pop single here from the Shelburne, Ontario native’s debut e.p. Almost Naked.  As a song, Supernatural hits all the modern pop touchstones production-wise, and probably has the juice to be popular- with those much younger than I.

Ruby was born to artistic parents, immersed in a musician’s world at a young age.  Last year, she toured throughout major markets with City and Color and had a 20 date North American tour with Ocean Alley… but are people listening?  Yes- the aforementioned e.p. has already garnered 1.6 million streams, and Billboard Magazine praises her “effortlessly raw and raspy vocals.”

Ruby can indeed sing, I hear the possibilities in Supernatural, but I find the vocal melody in the verses curiously monotone and uncreative; mirroring hip-hop, I suppose.  The tune itself is okay, more or less, but the over-processed sound that so many others enjoy in a modern pop song like this leaves me cold.

If I actually hated Supernatural you wouldn’t be reading about it right now, but with Waters’ obvious talent I just think it could’ve been better, more daring.  I like the song just fine, but I don’t love it.

GREEN Kylie Fox (independent) *****

Kylie is an indie folk artist from St. John, New Brunswick and like most east coast people I have encountered, she’s quite a storyteller.  Green, her new album, is quiet and gentle music for the soul that weaves sparse music around captivating tales.

What Fox says about Cool Feet, the first single, is emblematic of the album itself.  Of that song she says “I wanted to write a song for my friend’s wedding.  I didn’t want to write ‘just another love song’, I wanted to write their love song” Kylie explains.  “I called the groom and gave him an interview, seeking some strange, obscure sentimentality in his answers, and I got it.  He’s a fisherman, so I asked ‘when you are tired and uncomfortable at work, what do you miss most about my friend?  He said ‘her cold feet’.  So, I set out to write a song about my friend’s feet but changed his answer to ‘cool’ because you shouldn’t sing about ‘cold feet’ at a wedding” she laughs.

What I enjoy most about Green is Fox’s effortless emotional intimacy.  Her empathetic lyrics are a mix of quick wit, sarcasm and observation with a ring of truth that makes her songs charming and easy to like.  As a writer myself that’s a combination I keep an eye out for but rarely encounter, making this album all the more special for me.

Of recording the album, Kylie recalls “I recorded with Dale Murray in his Nova Scotian farm house.  I would drive over from St. John and stay for a night or two at a time throughout the summer to work on it” she says, adding that “Dale’s wife Christina Martin (she and Dale are both ECMA winning artists) is an insane cook. I would relish in the opportunity to ask them about bizarre touring stories and professional advice while we shared meals and a bottle of wine at the end of a work day. Christina even bought fireworks for the session drummer’s birthday.”

Listening to Green is an intimate, funny, truthful experience that I recommend highly.

KEY CUTS:  Cool Feet, Manitoba, Avocado

MAKE IT RIGHT!  Shawn Pittman (Continental Blue Heaven) ****+

A riveting, blues drenched, inspired return to the studio for this Texas guitar slinger that now calls Tulsa home. Make It Right is the result of an unplanned stop at an analog studio outside of Copenhagen while on a European tour last fall.  Make It Right has a live and spontaneous feel that we’ve expect from great blues records.

The band here is a trio that includes Erkan Ozdemir on bass and Erkan’s son Levent on drums. “We had a couple of festival gigs in Madrid and Denmark with a few days off in the middle” Shawn says.  “Erkan mentioned to me about a cool studio near Copenhagen where we might be able to do some recording. I was surprised to meet a young man of 21 years of age, the owner and engineer of Heyman Studios.  I was struck in amazement at his studio setup- tape machines of all kinds and analog radios which shed light on his passion for the kind of warm sound that I also really dig.”

Make It Right as a blues album is scruffy in just the right way.  It has that analog warmth that Pittman loves, feeling something like a Jimmie Vaughan record.  It has a dirty vocal sound and Shawn’s guitar has a sleazy, greasy appeal.  “What I like about this record is its honesty; genuine three piece live performances.  I can count on one hand the overdubs” Pittman notes.  “What you see is what you get; fat tones, live vocals, a stellar rhythm section and a nice variety of covers and originals.  I’m proud of this record and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it.”

Make It Right is a modern blues record made the old fashioned way, resulting in a timeless experience as much about the feeling as the music itself.  Exquisitely cool.

KEY CUTS:  How Long, Let It Go, Make It Right

ONE MORE/ NEW WORLD, NEW EYES/ CHEMICAL RUSH House Of Lords (Frontiers) ****

3 singles here from the House Of Lords’ forthcoming New World New Eyes album, due June 12th.  The promo guy sent them for consideration for my UDJ radio show, but I’m enjoying them so much I had to tell you about them too.

New World New Eyes is the band’s 10th album, recorded and produced by band leader James Christian (an excellent rock vocalist), reminding us of what was enjoyable about the 80’s; well crafted, melodic hard rock with great musicianship.  All 3 songs here sound pleasantly punchy on my cheap-ish stereo, thanks to bass and drums from Chris Tristam and BJ Zampa respectively.  They are the locomotive heartbeat of the band, skilled players wise enough not to overplay and bury the primal appeal of the music.

ONE MORE This starts out with a feel good riff from guitarist Jimi Bell, and when the rhythm section kicks in it has the effervescence of a summertime feel-good radio hit.  You live in your world, it’s none of my business/ I know she’s your girl, it’s none of my business.  It’s a song about a guy who keeps putting down his girl with the protagonist saying “one more mistake and she’s gone”.  It should be all over the airwaves.

NEW WORLD NEW EYES Lest you think this kind of rock & roll is all tits and ass (not that there’s anything wrong with that), this is a mid-tempo rocker that takes on the effects of the pandemic.  Melodically it’s reminiscent of Zeppelin’s Kashmir and lyrically it’s a song of hope. The line out of the ashes a new sun will rise sums up the emotional content of the song.  I can really feel this being a good ‘stomp-along’ number in concert.

CHEMICAL RUSH Another mid-tempo number and by far the lustiest of the bunch with a real ‘Whitesnake’ feel.  It’s a sleazy, bluesy track about attraction, that ‘chemical rush’ we get when we meet someone we’re instantly attracted to. Ooo, in the chemical rush, I get tunnel vision/ never get enough, you know I need it.  It’s something most of us have experienced at one time or another, and it’s fun to be reminded of that physical and emotional Molotov cocktail.

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