The Record Box for Sunday, June 28th

LAZER LLOYD Lazer Lloyd (Lots Of Love Records) *****Kind of a goofy sounding name, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  Known by many as The King Of Israel’s Blues Rock,, Lloyd is one helluva guitar player and songwriter, his fluid licks  and deep lyrics an almost mystical force- this is damn good stuff.‘Lazer’, rather than a lame attempt at being hip, is short for his Hebrew name which, in full, is Eliezer Pinchas Blumen. He actually grew up in Connecticut and, after college, an A&R exec from Atlantic records organized a showcase for him in Manhattan.   One night in New York he played a gig with the legendary singing rabbi , Shlomo Carlebach, who invited Lazer to go to Israel and make music there.  With few blues fans in his new home country he became a trail blazer and built an audience where few had tread before.Recorded in Tel Aviv and released by a Chicago based label (who else would know more about the blues?), don’t let the exotic back story distract you from the fact that this is a near perfect blues record.  Lazer lists his influences as BB King, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Buddy Guy, SRV and Albert King to name but a few, and it shows in his music. If any of these tracks is autobiographical, it has to be Rocking In The Holyland, of which he says “There were many places that I had a chance to break my career from and places that the record company thought I should break it from” he notes.  “But when man makes plans and God laughs- from a strange twist of meeting a homeless man in Central Park, I played a concert with a hippie rabbi. Who convinced me to play with him in Israel to check it out and I fell in love, so I’m there more than 20 years.”Check most any blues record and it doesn’t get much heavier or greasier than Blues In The Morning, and his re-make of the Otis Clay classic Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay is spot on.  Lazer is no technician on the guitar- he doesn’t dazzle with a flurry of notes, but you can feel him pouring his whole soul into every note- as a player he reminds me of Jimmie Vaughan with a touch of David Gilmore.  As a singer his voice has an earthy tone that you’ll really connect with.  On this self titled disc he isn’t just spinning tales, he’s talking about life.His previous albums have garnered rave reviews from the blues press and I expect that will continue with Lazer Lloyd.  This is one of my top 5 blues albums in what has already been a banner year for the genre.ESSENTIALS: Out Of Time, Broken Dreams, Love Yourself DOWN IN THE DIRT Amanda Fish (Vizztone) *** ½Amanda Fish is an indie blues artist from Kansas City who made her bones as a solo artist before teaming up with slide guitarist and Stone Cutters Union front man Sean McDonnell to form The Amanda Fish Band.  Billed as a concept album that splits off into different genres with feet firmly planted in the blues,  it’s a molten lava flow of emotions, thanks to the personal nature of the lyrics, and the performances of all involved.Of Fish’s talents as a singer, renowned blues guitarist Bob Margolin says “I’ve rarely heard a singer who can bring such a wide range of emotions from sweet, forlorn, strong desperate and shattered.  Her original songs are a showcase for Amanda’s soul and expression and range.  I am moved.”  She does seem to sink her entire being into each performance, whether it’s a duet with McDonnell on Guess I’ll Lay Down or the blistering opener I’mma Make You Love Me.  On their website they list Tom Waits, Ry Cooder, R.L. Burnside and Koko Taylor as influences- one spin through this one and you’ll have no trouble making that connection.  The Amanda Fish Band is a blues band with a whole lot of soul and groove, whether they’re rockin’ out or laying it down with the authority of someone who not only knows what they’re doing, but why.  Down In The Dirt is the kind of record you can enjoy on a purely visceral and musical level, but do yourself a favour- tune in to the lyrics and let them take you down to a whole new subterranean emotional level… when she sings “I don’t need that kind of bullshit in my life” on the sultry I Don’t Need It you’ll be glad you’re on the receiving end of that particular kiss-off.  Man, does she ever sound pissed off!Down In The Dirt is as nasty and gritty as you would expect from an album with that title, but almost too much so.  This is a an intense listen that could’ve benefitted from a little more variation in groove and sound but hey- when you’re pissed off, you’re pissed off- and they’re working it out.  I can imagine though, on one of my many trips to the dark side, this album and a nice tumbler of scotch will be just the right company/.ESSENTIAL:   Prisoner Of Your Touch, Lady Of The Nights, Guess I’ll Lay DownDRONES Muse (Warner)  *** ½ Here is one of those bands whose name I recognize, more because I’ve seen it in the press rather than having any real familiarity with their music- sorry, guys!  That being said Drones, produced by Mutt Lange, is a dark, moody, and quite likeable bit of rock & roll.Muse are Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme, and their previous 6 studio albums have sold about 17 million copies worldwide, with their last record (The 2nd Law) topping the charts in 21 countries- so somebody’s paying attention.  In explaining the title and the album’s intent, Bellamy says “To me, ‘Drones’ are metaphorical psychopaths which enable psychopathic behaviour with no recourse.  The world is run by drones utilizing drones to turn us all into drones.”  Of the album itself, he notes that Drones explores the journey of a human, from their abandonment and loss of hope, to their indoctrination by the system to be a human drone, to their eventual defection from their oppressors.”  So- a concept album, then, and definitely a story for our times.Now that we have the psychological context that links these songs together, how does it sound?  I feel a U2-ish conceit at work here, with the bombastic and occasionally flamboyant touches of Queen.  I’m listening on crappy little computer speakers at the moment, but have no trouble imagining Drones filling the room with thick musical violence, and welcome the surrender of Aftermath- in many ways a traditional ballad that ties the story related by the previous numbers together.While a hit single is certainly useful in helping an album get noticed and there are songs here that would fit nicely on radio, one of the things I like best about Drones is that I don’t feel them chasing one.  Each track is about serving the story, the album itself and the concept behind it, not “getting the kids to dance”.  Lyrically this album offers a lot to think about, and it’s as musically dramatic as they come.  Being in a dark place emotionally isn’t necessary to enjoy Drones, but it’s certainly useful.ESSENTIALS:  The Globalist, Dead Inside, ReapersNOW OR NEVER The V (Frontiers)  ***Benedictum singer Veronica “The V” Freeman steps out for her first solo album, with a little help from her friends.  This is straight up, 4-on-the-floor rock & roll.The V has a muscular rock & roll voice, not unlike Anne Wilson, and the list of guests on Now Or Never is really quite impressive- Michael Sweet from Stryper, Jiff Pilson of Dokken, Tony Martin from 90’s-era Black Sabbath, Jerry Dixon of Warrant- the list goes on.  As befits a roster like that these songs are melodic, riff-heavy and a solidly 80’s vibe.  I will confess to not being familiar with her day job (Benedictum), but the press release that accompanied this album refers to the band as “heavy metal heavyweights” and, I’m sure, they’re better known in Europe than on these shores- but enjoying this album as I am makes me curious about where she comes from, musically speaking- might have to check into that.“I had a lot of input and encouragement from Frontiers Records to try and stretch myself with different musical styles and approaches” Veronica says of her first solo album. “I am a bit nervous and beyond excited!”  The similarity that comes immediately to mind here is mid to late 80’s Lita Ford and maybe Ratt but, frankly, with better musicianship and vocals. The popularity of this particular branch of the rock & roll tree was unceremoniously kicked to the curb in the early 90’s by grunge but it’s still big in Europe, judging by the number of releases in this genre that cross my desk from month to month, only a fraction of which makes it to the pages of Gonzo.Solid, 80’s style riff rock with powerful, assured vocals is my final judgement of Now or Never.  It’s unlikely to set the world on fire, but should you find yourself blasting down the highway sometime this summer, with the top down and the sun shining, The V’s first solo album should see you through.  It’s due out in North America July 10th.ESSENTIALS:  King For A Day (with Tony Martin), Below Zero, Love Should Be To BlameA LIGHT IN THE BLACK: A TRIBUTE TO RONNIE JAMES DIO Various Artists (Massacre Records)  ****It’s hard to believe that Ronnie’s been gone for 5 years now.  Arguably one of the mightiest voices in metal, this isn’t the first album to pay tribute and it probably won’t be the last- but it’s one of the best.Twenty songs here in the 2 CD collection and I can’t say that I’m familiar with any of the bands involved (Massacre artists, to be sure)- but like the recent Tony Iommi tribute Great Lefty, that’s not stopping me from enjoying the music.  Songs from across RJD’s career are well represented here, with tracks pulled from his solo career as well as his time at the mic with Rainbow and Black Sabbath and, if you followed Ronnie over the years at all, you’ll find the song selection quite agreeable.  In the liner notes, each band contributes a paragraph about what they think of Ronnie, and why they chose the pair of songs they picked to cover- always an interesting and occasionally informative feature in a package such as this.Most of the arrangements here seem to stick close to the originals, and it’s only natural to pick your favourite Dio tunes and see how they stack up to the versions you’ve to know and love. Sabbath’s original take on Neon Knights is an all-time favourite for me, and while Burden Of Grief’s version sticks pretty close the ‘Cookie Monster’ vocal approach ruined it.  MessengeR’s take on Kill The King is mostly successful, but the drumming lacks the swing and movement of Cozy Powell’s work on the original. The most successful translation is on Iron Fate’s version of A Light In The Black, a musical workout that not many bands would be up for.The best thing you can hope for from a collection such as A Light In The Black is that  one of the participating acts might open up a song and really take it somewhere else, but that’s easier said than done- especially when considering the music Ronnie James Dio was involved with over the years.  An intimidating task to be sure, and no doubt why most of these guys stuck fairly close to the originals.  What Massacre Records and some of their bands have done here is reminded us of the great body of work the tiny, leather-lunged singer left behind.  Of course I prefer the originals, but these are pretty danged good too.  A Light in The Black hits stores July 23rd .ESSENTIALS:  Light In The Black (Iron Fate), King Of Rock & Roll (Metal Inquisitor), Sign Of The Southern Cross (Crystal Ball)THE ORIGINAL HIGH Adam Lambert (Warner) ***This is the multi-platinum selling artist’s third album, and coming off of last year’s tour fronting Queen with Brian May and Roger Taylor, it’s bound to get serious attention.  Modern pop music is not my forte, but the kid has chops and this is hella-decent.Lambert is one of the few American idol contestants to come out of the experience with a career intact.  Right out of the box his first single garnered a Grammy nomination, the first album sold a couple million copies, and The Original High shows every indication that his success will continue.  Recorded in Stockholm and LA and predominantly programmed keyboards with vocals, there’s nothing natural about this album- but that’s the way it’s done nowadays.  Executive producers Max Martin and Shellback (Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Pink) ensure that this lands in the sweet spot and speaks the same language as chart toppers like those just mentioned.While I prefer the music I hear to be more natural and organic- people gathered around a microphone to sing and play their hearts out- there’s no denying that Lambert is a formidable vocalist.  I suppose you’d have to be to stand in for Freddie Mercury (I saw the concert last year in Edmonton and he was very good), but The Original High represents who he really is as a singer.  The songs here have more emotional depth than you might expect from pop songs and, unlike so many others, this one isn’t riddled with guest star turns.  In fact there are only 2 others noted on the track listing; vocals from Tove Lo on the ballad Rumours, and some guitar from his occasional band mate Brian May is on Lucy.Elements of soul and funk have found their way onto The Original High and that, along with some excellent lyrics, make this disc a solid outing- even to old “you kids get off my lawn” kind of guys like me.  It’s not the sort of thing I’ll throw on a lot as I can only stand so much shiny plastic, but still- job well done.ESSENTIALS:  Lucy (with Brian May), Another Lonely Night, Evil In The NightIS IT STILL GOOD TO YA? Gaye Adegbalola & The Wild Rutz (Hot Toddy/ Vizztone) *****A perfect mark for this because listening to it makes me feel good.  The Wild Rutz (pronounced ‘roots’) is an acapella blues quartet complimented by percussion and the occasional acoustic guitar.  The songs reflect Gaye’s left-of-center sense of humor, and deep commitment to social activism including feminism, gay rights, and personal liberation.  In other words, these songs reflect a life well lived.In a world of digital perfection, the power that these 4 voices generate together is undeniable and unforgettable.  Is It Still Good To Ya celebrates that most primary of instruments, the voice, and the essential beats that give the songs their locomotion. When you make music like this there are no studio tricks to hide behind; the songs are either there, or they’re not- and on this record, they are.  Gaye Adegbalola and her compatriots, Tanyah Cotton, Gloria Jackson and Marta Fuentes, know the blues and each have worked with other brilliant musicians in a multitude of genres. What they create together is a healing kind of magic.Lots of emotional territory covered in these 14 tracks, as you might expect from any blues record, some of it serious, and songs like The Dog Was Here First and Coffee Flavored Kisses that address the blues with a smile.  There’s a power in the simplicity of the production, allowing the songs to hit you more directly than if there were a swingin’ band behind them.  Despite this being a blues album, giving it a listen is an overwhelming, life-affirming experience. And while Gaye’s social activism is obvious in her lyrics, it doesn’t feel like you’re being preached at.  These are songs about life- sometimes direct, sometimes coming out of left field, but not matter what the particular topic, you’ll always see at least a sliver of your life in each tune.Is It Still Good To Ya? has been gathering dust in my desk drawer for a few weeks, and now that I’m listening I’m sorry that I didn’t take it out sooner.  I’m a firm believer in the healing power of music, and this very weekend I’m putting together a compilation for my mother-in-law as she faces a serious cancer operation next week- and you can bet the rent that at least a couple of songs from this record will be on there, to help give her the spiritual energy she’ll need for the fight, a taste of the healing magic I mentioned earlier.  This disc is a beautiful and deep experience.ESSENTIALS:  Let Go Let God, The Skittles Blues, These Blues Are MinePULLING YOUR SWORD OUT OF THE DEVIL’S BACK Brock Zeman (Busted Flat Records) ***** +Though this is Zeman’s 11th album it’s my first encounter with the Ottawa-based singer, and I have only two words to say- oh wow.The cheap description of Devil’s Back is acoustic storytellin’ music, but not necessarily of the blues or folk variety.  He’s been described as coming across like the bastard son of Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, with a gravelly Tom Waits voice, and there’s a lot of validity in that- but when I first put it on I was hearing a combination of John Prine and Mark Knopfler.  Brock’s voice isn’t nearly as ragged as Waits’, but it ain’t pretty either.  I tend to listen deeper to a voice like that, it pulls you in to the lyrical world that is being created.  As Penguin Egg (a roots music magazine) notes, “His songs have more depth than can be realized first time through, which only enhances with each listen- a keeper!”As a writer (or somebody that tries to be one) I’m always attracted by deep intricate lyrics that don’t always hit you the same every time yet still paint a vivid picture.  Been having lots of those moments in the last 45 minutes as Pulling Your Sword has been playing.  One of my favourite lines so far is from Drop Your Bucket;  “Well everybody’s looking for a rainbow, everybody wants to get a little bit of gold/ Everybody wants to get to paradise/ but nobody wants to build the road”, but that will likely change as I go deeper and discover more of the secrets that these songs hold.Aside from the lyrical depth of Pulling our Sword Out Of The Devil’s Back, it’s just an extremely well put together record that’s a pleasure to listen to.  Dead Man’s Shoes could easily be a country hit, while tracks like Little Details or Some Things Always Stay would sound great on any rock radio station- makes me miss the earlier days of my broadcasting career when a deejay could play a song because it sounded great, not because the research says it’s okay to do so.This is one of the truly great albums of 2015, one that everybody needs to own.  Amazing.ESSENTIALS:  Drop In Your Bucket, title track, Little Details THE MONSANTO YEARS Neil Young & Promise of The Real (Reprise) ****After having met and played together at one of Neil’s charity events, Young and Promise Of The Real (a band that includes two of Willie Nelson’s sons, Lucah and Micah) decided it would be a fine idea to do a record together- and indeed it was.  I’d put The Monsanto Years right up there with Crazy Horse’s best stuff.As with any Neil Young album, I greeted news of The Monsanto Years with anticipation and trepidation.  As I’ve likely mentioned before Young puts out records at roughly the same pace some people take a dump, and they’re not always great- or even listenable for that matter.  Still, that unpredictability is one of the things with love about him.  This one took me right back to Crazy Horse’s Ragged Glory… it has the same vibe sonically, but a bit cleaner and more muscular.  In other words, Monsanto rocks, and it rolls too.There are few things more riveting than Neil Young with a chip on his shoulder, and there’s certainly shortage here of vitriol as he rails against GMO’s, takes a run at Starbucks and, of course, Monsanto.  With some of the things he hints at and comes right out and says, it’ll be interesting to see the company will take him to court.  I can just picture Neil Young saying “C’mon… I dare you.”There’s a lot of bluster in these grooves, musically and lyrically.  And while Young may never win a Grammy for best male vocal he gets his point across without sugar coating it.  I understand his anger, applaud his willingness to put his money where his mouth is, I even agree with much of what he says- but every time the name “Monsanto” comes up in a song I cringe just a little bit.  Of course we as a species have developed the unique ability to turn a blind eye to rich companies doing shitty things to make more money, and that’s to our detriment if not our very existence.  He’s clubbing us like baby seals, lyrically speaking, but you gotta admire the man for speaking his mind and his heart.Neil Young’s fans will eagerly accept this album, as well they should.  For people that don’t like his music, it’s not likely a game changer.  While I enjoy Young’s folky material, I like it more when he rocks out- there’s a ragged disregard for getting the perfect take as he and his cohorts go more for the spirit of the performance. A bum note here or there or a fumbled lyric doesn’t trouble him if the performance is honest and real. The Monsanto Years is a gathering of 9 great although not perfect performances, and that’s fine.  I’ve listened to this album 4 times today and now, as the bluesy Dear Prudence-esque If I Don’t Know closes out the 4th spin, I know this is one Neil Young album I will return to again, and often.  Greatness does not require perfection, and The Monsanto Years is your proof.ESSENTIALS:  If I Don’t Know, Wolf Moon, A New Day For Love SPIRIT OF THE BLUES Christian Collin (C-Train Records) ****+His is the Detroit born guitarist’s second solo outing, after having fronted a band Molasses that performed in the mid-western US and released a couple of albums.  Another good title for this record would have been ‘tight’, because that’s how it sounds.This disc has the passion of SRV with the drive of an old Powder Blues album, maybe even Downchild, with a sprinkling of Texas-style bravado.  It’s rockin’ blues, it’s party blues and Collin pays homage to his blues heroes by bringing his own thing to the table.  Lots of great harp on this record to from Billy Branch and Matthew Scoller, a driving beat from Chris Morrow on the kit and the fluid, groove- conscious bass lines of Alex Evans, who knows when to get up and walk and when to sit back and just lay it down.  Throw on keyboards from Johnny Iguana, and you have a good time looking for a place to land- with a loud THUMP.Christian Collin grew up in a musical home, and it shows in the music he plays today.  His father sang and played guitar, and was an A&R man for Capitol Records, plus road manager for Bob Seger.  His folks took him to see Little Feat in 1979, an event that profoundly affected him and led to him picking up the guitar at the age of 13.  He’s honed his musical skills playing bars and roadhouses over the last 15 years- he’s done the road work, and has well earned the place he finds himself in now.  Produced by Collin along with engineer Brian Leach, Spirit Of The Blues is certainly not a passive listening experience.  The sound of dense and powerful, the kind of music you put on when you have things to do, and you need a little help in the motivation department.Lots of great stuff on here, from the bluesy dirge Dead Man Walking, to the upbeat shuffle Highway Song and the slow burning title track, said to be a personal tune about the blues has inspired Christian Collin as he encourages others to do the same in part by name checking some of his influences.  His solo on the track is pure Saturday night roadhouse nastiness that almost makes you feel drunk.I’m really diggin’ on Spirit Of The Blues, from the tight performances of all involved to the spirit of the songs themselves.  This, gang, is the really good stuff.ESSENTIALS:  title track, A Woman Like You, Dance The Blues Away BLUES GOTTA HOLDA ME The Texas Horns (Vizztone)  *** ½ When you think about it, you don’t really hear a lot of horn-powered blues bands nowadays.  The Texas Horns have been blowing people away of stage and on record since 1999 and now, with a little help from some friends, they seem set to do just that to the world at large.Mark Kazanoff, John Mills and Adalberto Gomez- The Texas Horns, have worked with  a veritable who’s who of the blues world including Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, The Allman Brothers Band and more- which tells you something of the respect they enjoy from their peers.  The right tag for this would likely be Jump Blues and Kazanoff hands a good share of the vocals, but get a load of the list of people that dropped in to lend their voices on non-instrumental tracks too; Marcia Ball. W.C. Clark, Nick Conolly, Anson Funderberg, Roscoe Beck and Johnny Nicholas.As much as I like and respect the musicianship on this record, and the fact that I played trombone for 3 years in high school aside,  I prefer guitar-driven blues.  The two worlds collide to solid effect on Kick Me Again, but I like someone ripping into their guitar and tearing out the notes kicking and screaming.  Blues Gotta Holda Me has lots of bop and oomph, and the performances are rockalicious, but the blues I like the most is the mean, depressing stuff- hey, I know it’s a character flaw- so I’m not quite connecting with this as much as  would like to.Ultimately Blues Gotta Holda Me is a good album, and if you’re into horn driven blues, this is definitely your ticket. No offence Texas Horns, I just like this album as a friend.ESSENTIALS: Lost Mind, Kick Me Again, Rippin’ And Trippin’


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