The Record Box for Friday, June 5th

CAUTERIZE Tremonti (Fret 12 Records) ****Let’s get right to the point, shall we?  Cauterize, the new album from Tremonti due out June 9th, is a seriously kick-ass piece of rock & roll that hits deep and punches hard- very hard.I’m more familiar with singer/ guitarist Mark Tremonti’s other bands, Creed and Alter Bridge, and this is my first sit-down with Tremonti- truth be told, I like this WAY better. Cauterize is leagues harder than anything by his other bands with shifts in flow and groove of the songs that you just don’t feel in the other stuff, a one-two punch of modern thrash and melody, tweaked by polyrhythmic jackhammer percussion and guitar at just the right moments. “We were going after three elements” Mark says.  “To me, melody is the most important part of any song.  Combining that with speed metal is the most rewarding aspect of assembling the music. Then we color the songs with a modern twist of polyrhythms- it makes a statement.”Though this is Tremonti’s second solo album, Cauterize is bassist Wolfgang Van Halen’s studio debut with the band, and the sound they create together crushes.  The songs are sonically dense, literally heavy, and when Mark busts out a solo like he does on Dark Trip, it’s enough to make the hair on your arms stand up.  “I hope people can enjoy the music the way we do” Tremonti remarks. “As we were recording, there was this excitement amongst everyone.  We go into every record questioning if we’ll be able to outdo the previous album.  That’s my goal- to make a better record- if one fan thinks it’s better than All I Was, we’ve done our job.”The first question I ask when I start writing up any album is “Do I like it?” and in this case, the answer is an emphatic yes.  During the sessions for Cauterize they recorded enough material for a follow-up, so we can expect Dust to appear either late this year or early next, depending on how well this one does- and my ears are telling me it should do very, very well.ESSENTIALS:  Dark Trip, Radical Change, Flying Monkeys SILVER BALL Barenaked Ladies (Warner Music)  *** +A new album from Barenaked Ladies- yep, still together.  It’s also, I think, their second or third album of all new material since the departure of founding member Steven Page, compilations and live albums aside.  As much as I enjoyed the band with Page, Silver Ball (out June 2nd) shows that there is still plenty of life left in BNL.“We’re pushing in new directions- as always, I think” notes singer/ guitarist Ed Robertson, “but it’s still unmistakably these four guys, and that’s what I’m most proud of” he says.  “I put the record on and it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before, and yet it is unmistakably the new Barenaked Ladies record.”  Perhaps they’ve become more comfortable in their new skin as a quartet, offering up a set of relaxed and quietly confident performance that we haven’t heard from them in a while.It can be difficult to reassess a band that’s been around as long as BNL.  Forming in Scarborough in 1988, their first album (Gordon) came out in 1992 and was quite the sensation.  Since then they’ve struggled against the image of being a one trick pony or even a ‘joke’ band, despite having several hits in that decade.  Now 23 years after their debut, Barenaked Ladies are releasing a self-assured album that seems poised to win back some of those fans that have drifted away over the years- I know it’s having that effect on me.The band today is the same as its always been, minus Page of course; Ed Robertson (vocals, guitar), Jim Creeggan (bass, vocals),  Kevin Hearn (keyboards, guitar, vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums, vocals) are playing together better than ever, I daresay.  In the press release Robertson offers that he believes the band has their groove back, and it certainly sounds that way.  The acoustic guitar groove is real easy to settle into as you listen to some pretty personal lyrical observations like the lead-off track Get Back Up which has the potential to become an anthem, a hit, and a rallying cry that urges one to get back up, dust yourself off, and keep going.BNL may have been a jokey band previously but I suppose everybody has to grow up sometime.  They’ve done just that on the new album, yet you can sense the twinkle in their collective eye.  When their last couple of records came out I more or less ignored them, thinking the band was played out- but one listen to Silver Ball already has me thinking I should go back and pay closer attention.  Barenaked ladies will likely never see the level of success and devotion they enjoyed in the early 90’s, but this new disc is the sound of a group that has found that second wind they’ve been gasping for.  Well done, boys.ESSENTIAL:  Get Back Up, Hold My Hand, Tired of Fighting With You 1953 Cheryl Lescom & The Tucson Choir Boys (Busted Flat Records) ***This is the fifth album from powerhouse blues belter Cheryl Lescom, due out June 16th.  One of the late Long John Baldry’s favorite singers, she really tears it up on 1953.Though she’s into a 40 year career, I came across Lescom recently by accident, when April Wine’s Myles Goodwin shared a live video of her singing on Facebook.  I shared that with my wife and we were both mesmerized.   As a singer, she’s a cross between Melissa Etheridge and Janis Joplin if you can dig it- and I can. She is rightfully billed as one of the best and biggest voices in Canada… wait ‘til you hear her sing!Cheryl Lescom has sung backup for Ronnie Hawkins and Long John Baldry, and over the years she has shared stages with the likes of Jeff Healey, Del Shannon, David Wilcox, Matt Minglewood, Dutch Mason, Downchild and Jack DeKeyzer. Of her beginnings, Cheryl says “I met Anne Wilson when Heart played a bar in Kitchener and told Anne how much I wanted to front a band and sing.  She told me to stop smoking, stop slinging beer, start taking vocal lessons and ‘just do it’, so I did just that.”1953 is an album with one foot in the fifties and one foot in the Y2K’s, stylistically speaking.  Most of the tracks were co-written by Cheryl and band member Ray Walsh. “The songs were inspired by my 62 years on this planet- men, women and life” she notes. From the playful sleaze of the opening track Dime Store Lover to Twenty Foot Memory that closes out the record her band, The Tucson Choir Boys, lay it down with finesse and superb groove, giving Lescom’s voice the playground it needs.  I’m sure the album title is no accident as this record feels much like a fifties party album, a good time looking for a place to land.1953, at the end of the day, is a fun album to listen to, with a retro vibe that really speaks to my sense of nostalgia- but as I listen, I can’t help wonder what her amazing voice would sound like on some real tough rip-your-heart-out blues.  This disc makes me want to check out what else she’s done, and that’s a very good thing.ESSENTIALS:  Surrender, Twenty Foot Memory, Dime Store Lover THE TRAVELING KIND Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell (Nonesuch) ****Here is the follow-up to the longtime friends’ 2013 collaboration Old Yellow Moon, and more of the magic vocal blend that made that record such a treat.  This is one of the sweetest sounding albums you’re likely to hear this year.Country music isn’t my normally preferred form of expression but when it’s done well, or there’s something in the songs that reaches the emotions, I can’t help but respond as I do to this collection.  Comments from NPR included in the press notice with this album sum it up best; “They are such good solo singers it’s wonderful to hear them together dueting.  Here, they consciously embrace the full breadth of their expression- this is what it sounds like when true equals, both deep into their journeys, draw out the best in each other.”  More than merely trading verses, Emmylou and Rodney sing together on these songs, something you don’t often get to hear, making each track (like You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try ) refreshingly deep.At the core of what makes The Traveling Kind work so spectacularly well is the fine songwriting. It’s rare these days- or so it seems- to have real emotional depth in a lyric, but as you listen here it really feels like Harris & Crowell have lived through the stories they’re singing about.  They connect, both lyrically and musically, and the love, lust, longing and loss that fuel the emotion behind these songs is palpable.Though musically gentle for the most part (one could even say old-timey), The Traveling Kind is a very raw, emotional record.  This is old-fashioned country music with refreshing, straight ahead honesty that may make you squirm just a little bit.  If you cozy up to these 11 songs and really listen, I guarantee you will feel something- isn’t that what good music should do?ESSENTIALS: The Traveling Kind, Bring It On Home To Memphis, I Wanted To See You So Bad LESS IS MORE Gordie Tentrees  (Buckaroo) ***The follow-up to 2012’a North Country Heart”, this is Gordie’s sixth album.  A mx of folk, blues and roots music, there are times when Less is More makes Tentrees sound and feel like an east coast Steve Earle.More than thirty songs were written for this new album. “I was selective” says Tentrees. “I wanted to make an album I knew I could make, if I invested all my time and energy.”  This is a lyrically rich set- I liken the experience of listening to this as sitting down with a great storyteller who happens to be doing some pickin’ as he spins his tales of redemption and woe.  The use of fiddles lends the songs a country flavor, but the folk/ blues/ roots description still holds.  Not much going on in the way of overt percussion, which makes Less Is More feel like an album that you need to sit down and listen to, as opposed to something you just toss on while you’re doing household chores.Most of Tentrees’ last three years were spent on the road, gigging everywhere from Texas to Spain.  The title track, for instance, was written in Holland after sleeping in the same bed as Townes Van Zandt had on his last European tour before he passed.  That might explain some of the ghosts I’m feeling on this album.  This is a deeply moving, personal experience that will have you smiling one minute and getting your heart ripped out the next, staying true to the deep traditions of country and folk music in passing along fascinating sketches and portraits in an ordinary yet occasionally thrilling way.Dancing outside the music industry box against all odds, Tentrees’ boasts multiple award nominations, hundreds of concerts and thousands of road miles, touring with the likes of Fred Eaglesmith and Kelly Joe Phelps- not bad for an ex-three time Golden Gloves champ!  Less Is More may not be a party album- too many of those these days, maybe- but its damn good company on those days when you to do nothing but absorb.ESSENTIALS:  Wheel Girl, Broken Hero, Less Is MoreTHIS TIME FOR REAL Billy Price & Otis Clay (Bonedog Records/Vizz Tone) ****This is a soulful adventure featuring two singers separated by a generation, moving the southern soul tradition a little further on up the road.  Produced by Duke Robillard and utilizing his band plus some of the horns from Roomful of Blues, This Time For Real is a heavenly slice of magic.Clay is one of the defining voices of Southern soul, coming up through the gospel ranks until making his name in the secular world with breakout soul hits like Trying To Live My Life Without You.  Billy Price started out with DC area guitarist Roy Buchanan in the late 70’s before striking out on his own.  The two first collaborated in ’82, and have been getting together on occasion over the years, but this is their first full length album together.  “People love to see us work together, so we decided to document it by doing an album together” says Clay.  “This new album is a coming together of folks who have known each other for a long time.  Full circle.”  Billy Price adds that “Otis Clay has been my mentor and biggest influence as a singer since the first time I had the privilege of singing with him.  To have the opportunity to collaborate with him on an entire album has been one of the biggest thrills of my career.”One of the things you’ll notice right away about This Time For Real is how natural everything sounds and feels- the way the Billy and Otis’s voices blend, the always solid but never “hey, watch this” musicality of Robillard’s band as they provide a swinging, soulful good time, and the joyful, enthusiastic horn stabs. This record is a throwback to the 70’s in the very best way, effortlessly displaying a depth of feeling and emotion that can be difficult to find here in the Y2K’s.  There really is something wonderful in the blend of Clay’s and Price’s voices, sounding like they’ve always been working together, almost as if they’re opposite sides of the same coin.Having Duke Robillard on guitar and producing is icing on the cake- he understands this kind of music so well it must flow through his veins.  Lots of great up-tempo numbers on this set that are fun to listen to, but when they get down on a heartbreaking ballad like Book Of Memories it sends a shiver through your soul.  Sharp performances by all involved and songwriting that really touches the heart make The Time For Real a must-have.ESSENTIALS:  Book Of Memories, Love Don’t Love Nobody, Tears of God MEET ME IN BLUESLAND The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson (Alligator) ***** +In 1993, The Kentucky Headhunters and Johnnie Johnson joined forces in the studio, recording That’ll Work.  In 2003 they hooked up again to record, just jamming for fun without thinking of releasing it.  This set has remained unreleased since Johnnie’s death in 2005- but its time has come.Meet Me In Bluesland is a hip-shaking dose of blues, roadhouse R&B and old school rock & roll, a combination of grease and groove not unlike vintage Rolling Stones or Faces, or even Georgia Satellites, a jubilant set of glorious good-time music.  The Headhunters roar through the tunes like they were born to play them, and Johnson’s unmistakable boogie-woogie ‘n’ blues piano fits in like they’d been doing it together forever. Putting a rebel country act like Kentucky Headhunters together with the greatest rock & roll and blues piano player of all time- the dude worked with Chuck Berry for YEARS- was a stroke of genius.It can be argued that Bluesland is a straight up blues record- hell, it’s even in the title- but it’s so much more than that, it feels so much bigger.  I was surprised to learn that it was recorded in just 3 days.  “The minute Johnnie sat down with us, the music was a kind of ecstasy” says Headhunter singer/ guitarist Richard Young.  “Johnnie made us play like real men” adds singer/ guitarist Greg Martin. “Playing with him, the groove got bigger and much more grown up.”  An interesting observation from drummer Fred Young, and right on the money too, when he says “The first time we played with him was the first time I felt like we were doing it right.  The music we made in Meet Me In Bluesland is as good as it gets.” He’s absolutely right.Not much I can add to that, really.  From the spirited re-make of the Chuck Berry classic Little Queenie to the slide fueled Superman Blues, this buried treasure of an album is one of the finest musical adventures I’ve had in many years.  The sound of these intuitive musicians having the time of their lives is priceless.  If I were to make the call today, Meet Me In Bluesland would be my number one album of the year by a country mile.  Watch out, though- it will leave you breathless.ESSENTIALS:  Little Queenie, title track, Fast Train, Superman Blues THE VALIANT FIRE Damnation Angels (Massacre)  ***Symphonic metal- who knew this was actually a thing?  But if you go back and listen to the music of Beethoven and Wagner, it makes complete sense.  The trick is to find the right balance between guitar riffing and huge orchestration without either element suffering, and that balance has been struck on The Valiant Fire, due out June 23rd in North America.This British band goes back to 2006, with the idea to create the benchmark sound for symphonic metal.  ’09 saw the release of their debut, the e.p. Shadow Symphony.  It sold well and their first full length album Bringer Of Light (2013) inevitable.  Behind the glass for The Valiant Fire, as with the discs that came before, is Scott Atkins, who so obviously understands who these guys are and what they’re trying to achieve- a mix of musicality and high drama that walks the tightrope between brilliance and lunacy.The powerful, chugging, repetitive riffs on a song like The Passing really get the blood racing, and the orchestral intro of The Fire Inside lets you know you’re in for an epic musical smack-down.  Some might think such overt emotional displays as conveyed here are cheesy, but I find them inspiring and uplifting.  I suppose part of the intent here might be to lift heavy metal to a higher plane, and for the most part they succeed admirably well.The group is made up of William Graney (guitars, orchestrations, back vocals), Per Fredrik & Pelly K* Astley (vocals) and John Graney (drums).  Not household names to be sure, at least not yet, but their musical ambitions are mighty and they have the muscle and skill to deliver.  It almost feels like the soundtrack to some futuristic action/ sci-fi epic, such is the imagery and shadows that these songs cast.Of course it would be a European band that would dare explore this volatile mix of classical and metal music and make it work so well, that kind of vision doesn’t seem readily apparent on this side of the pond.  The Valiant Fire feels like the kind of record Judas Priest were trying for with Nostradamus, and thank God there are bands like this still willing to push the boundaries of what is acceptable inside a normally narrow genre.  Wagner and Beethoven are not spinning in their graves- if anything, they’re smiling.ESSENTIALS:  Icarus Syndrome, The Passing, The Fire Inside


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