THE LAST REAL ROCK & ROLL Rhino Bucket (I-Tunes purchase) ***+This is the 7th album for these California rockers and, near as I can tell, nothing has really changed since their 1990 self titled debut- but that’s not a bad thing… not at all.I remember when I heard their first album; the music director at the radio station I worked at in Kamloops threw it on and asked me to guess who it was. At the time, Rhino Bucket sounded like a long lost Bon Scott-era AC/DC record, and the song Beg for Your Love still makes it onto road compilations quite regularly.Flash forward to 2017, and much the same could be said of The Last Real Rock & Roll. I was intrigued by the title and so rolled the dice and spent $9.99 on I-Tunes. This is very much the Rhino Bucket I remember from 1990. The songs are short and catchy, usually starting with the riff before everybody piles on, with said riffs sounding like they could’ve come from Malcolm and Angus. The subject matter is quite similar too- sex, booze and rock & roll. The wheel has not been reinvented here, but like the slicks on the back of a dragster, these tunes have plenty of grip.The Last Real Rock & Roll has a tight, dry, lively sound, and it lives up to the attitude of its title. There is no overt spirituality or efforts to help you work through an existential crisis. The lyrics are mostly about the carnal pleasures of the rock & roll lifestyle and the songs are simply constructed, centering on the main riff as we go verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ guitar solo/ chorus repetition. This disc isn’t prime rib it’s a cheeseburger, and a mighty tasty one at that. The Last Real Rock & Roll will no doubt prove to be a road trip classic- turn it all the way up!
ESSENTIALS: Falling Down The Stairs, Hello Citizens, It’s A Sin
BE MYSELF Sheryl Crow (Warner Music) ****This is Sheryl’s 9th studio album, and it seems she is taking her own advice. Be Myself sounds like a return to form, to the Sheryl Crow we all fell in love with on those first couple of albums back in the 90’s, and it feels pretty good.For Be Myself, Crow says her main goal was to “investigate what made my early songs strike people as being authentic and original. So, for the first time in my life, I made it a point to really sit down and listen to my old records. I’d drive my kids to school and listen to the old stuff as I came back home. That helped me remember what it felt like when I was just beginning as an artist. It was about revisiting where I came from and seeing where that could take me now.”To help realize her vision, Sheryl turned to producer/ musician/ songwriter Jeff Trott, a longtime collaborator. They then enlisted their old friend Tchad Blake to engineer and mix the sessions, whom they hadn’t worked with in 18 years. This is quite a deliberate attempt to capture the ‘classic Sheryl Crow sound’, and it worked gangbusters. From the grooves to the actual timbre of the sound, this record will very much remind you of discs like Tuesday Night Music Club and Sheryl Crow.These songs feel good to the ears and the heart, but not too light. “The other thing that makes Be Myself special to me is that it’s really topical” Sheryl says. “This past summer, because of what’s going on in the world and particularly the United States, I began to feel a sense of urgency about writing.” Not to discount all the other albums she’s done but this is the best, truest-to-who-she-is record Sheryl has done since the 90’s. Good stuff!
ESSENTIALS: Alone In The Dark, Roller Skate, Rest Of Me
ROLL THE DICE Hector Anchondo Band ((independent) ****+Apparently, people from Nebraska get the blues too. That’s where Hector Anchondo is from and while he gets the blues as we all do, as a guitarist he really ‘gets’ the blues too, playing with passion and fire as he leads his band through 9 originals and one cover.Production-wise, Roll The Dice is one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard in a good long while… Hector’s guitar is, in turns, suave and biting while the drums (Khayman Winfield) are crisp and placed right across the stereo spectrum. The star here, though, is Josh Lund’s bass. Playing hummable bass lines and runs, his sound is fat and low, a formidable rumble even out of my Energy bookshelf speakers.From the driving opening cut Dig You Baby where Anchondo shares lead vocals with Amanda Fish to the slow blues Here’s To Me Giving Up that closes out the album, Roll The Dice is a lively, fun record powered by enthusiastic musicianship. It covers the wide range that is the blues with an uplifting attitude- just check out Face It Down. The lone cover tune here is a remake of Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman, perhaps more famously known by Santana. Here, Hector shifts the groove a little to the left, and the second half of the song uses a different sort of Latin feel from Santana to bring it home.The title is obviously a reference to the fact that life and romance are a gamble, but if you like your blues expressive and well played, Roll The Dice is a sure thing.
ESSENTIALS: Dig You Baby, Sometimes Being Alone Feels Right, Here’s To My Giving Up
SWAMP ROCK COUNTRY BLUES TG Swampbusters (Booze Records) *** ½ A pleasant surprise from Hamilton, Ontario. Tim Gibbons and his cohorts follow up 2015’s Swamp Tooth Comb with a charming party blues record that has a lot going for it- charm wit, and some tasty playing.In reviewing blues albums, I’ve often said that the lowdown, dirty, greasy stuff is my favorite and, to a large degree, Swamp Rock Country Blues really hits the spot. This is guitar-driven blues, delivered in the trio format with Tim on vocals, guitar and harp, Patch on drums and Swampy Jo Kilenfeltr on bass. The performances are loose and relaxed, with Gibbons’ guitar work clearly the star of the show.Some potential roadhouse classics in these grooves for sure- Honky Tonk Song, the slow blues that starts the record, celebrates life on the road, while Five Minutes Past Midnight is about blues on the radio airwaves and how everything feels fine when that happens, and One Hundred Proof Blues is a straight up boogie rocker. This wouldn’t be a blues album without songs about the complexities of relationships, and Gibbons covers that on She Always Ate Her Crackers In Bed, Pitching A Tent, Whiskey Woman and Twist My Rubber Arm.For the most part SRCB hits the right notes, but I do have a couple of problems with it. The drummer (Patch) seems to have trouble staying in the pocket and, often, seems a hair behind the backbeat, and the production/sound overall isn’t as lively and robust as it could be. It seems like producer Dan Z was after a spontaneous, loose sound, but I think blasting through the tunes a few more times before hitting ‘record’ might’ve helped. All things considered, though, Swamp Rock Country Blues is still an enjoyable album.
ESSENTIALS: Honky Tonk Song, Five Minutes Past Midnight, She Gave Me The Blues
LOUDER HARDER FASTER Warrant (Frontiers) ****These 80’s glam superstars are following up 2011’s comeback Rockaholic in fine style. With ex-Lynch Mob singer Robert Mason fronting the original lineup they’ve turned in a riff-heavy rock disc that deserves some attention.Like many serious rock fans I tend to write off 80’s hair bands as formulaic lightweights but really, Warrant were head and shoulders above the pack. Their first couple of records- Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich and Cherry Pie got and held my attention when everybody else kind of sounded the same. Then grunge came along and derailed pretty much everybody, and the world moved on.Flash forward to April 26th of this year, and a streaming link for their new album arrives in my in-box. It had been awhile, I was curious, so I dialed it in and liked what I heard. Melodic and muscular, LHF was produced by ex-Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and features original members Erik Turner, Jerry Dixon, Joey Allen and Steven Sweet, along with aforementioned vocalist Robert Mason. Staying true to what made Warrant popular in the first place, the new record is wall to wall rockers, with a couple of ballads thrown in for good measure.Warrant aren’t coasting on their rep here- Louder Hard Faster is an in your face rock record full of pounding-on-your-dashboard energy and solid playing. Pilson has definitely pulled something special out of the guys in terms of songwriting and performance. Back when the band first started it was all about nailin’ as many chicks as they could, but at this stage the music is the thing and the energy is undeniable. When I hit the road at the end of the month for a quick road trip, this is coming with me. Louder Harder Faster will be out May 12th.
ESSENTIALS: title track, New Rebellion, Big Sandy