WHERE EVIL GROWS The 24th Street Wailers (LMB) *** ½
This is The 24th Street Wailers’ 5th album in just 4 years. Led by drummer/ front woman Lindsay Beaver, Where Evil Grows is their 2nd album recorded in Austin with Jimmie Vaughan bassist Billy Horton on the other side of the glass. This new record screams of 50’s rock & roll and blues a la Little Richard, The Neville Brothers and Fats Domino. Evil or not, this disc was born to show you a good time!
Holger Petersen, host of CBC Radio’s Saturday Night Blues and owner of Stony Plain Records says that "No band mines the excitement of early rock & roll and vintage R&B with more energy, sincerity and fun. As they used to say in the 50’s, ‘all killer and no filler’!" As I listen to this album for the third time, scattershot images of American Graffiti play in my head, even though only 2 of these tracks are covers. It sounds like vintage equipment and production techniques were used by producer Horton- if someone had thrown this on without telling me who or what it was, I’d have no trouble believing this to be some long lost classic from the decade in which I was born.
There’s a minor key romantically sinister vibe to the title track that makes it feel like a song from a movie you might’ve seen at the drive-in decades ago, but overall this is one of the most upbeat and cheerful records I’ve heard in some time, even when the song might be about an emotional train wreck, sort of a "sure you’ve been boot-f**ked by love, but get up and dust yourself off" feeling as the protagonist realizes that the pain will go away, and there’ll be another chance coming along soon. Optimistic perhaps, but that’s how it feels.
Some albums I like for really cool production, great singing and playing, or jaw-dropping guitar solos. And while the musicianship on Where Evil Grows is excellent and the vintage-style production feels right, I like this record because it makes me feel good.
ESSENTIALS: Where Evil Grows, Don’t Cross Me, Cursed
CRASH ‘N’ BURN Racer (Independent) ***
Another album of self-made balls to the wall instrumental rock & roll from Virginia’s Craig Murto (a/k/a Racer) but of the 14 he’s released so far (at least that’s how many I own) it’s the first with full on professionally designed packaging. Perhaps he was waiting for an album that he felt worthy of the deluxe treatment, and I’d say he picked the right one.
All guitars, bass and keyboards here were played by Murto and, I believe, he programmed the drums. It’s just goes to show you how far recording technology has come in the last couple of decades- once upon a time you’d need a multi-million dollar studio to pull this off, now one guy, with the right equipment, can record albums in his basement. Racer’s stuff has been used on auto racing radio shows in the U.S. and it’s easy to see why- overall, the music has that kind of kinetic energy. Entire albums of instrumental music usually wear me down- it’s the same when I listen to Vai or Satriani- but Racer and I share similar musical sensibilities- I met him ‘virtually’, years ago on Tony Iommi’s website. The inscription on the inner sleeve is gospel for all that like metal music; "the riff is king", so it’s hardly an accident that this music and its inherent grooves speak to me too.
Lots of good sonic sludge on here, plodding tracks like Train To Sobibor that recall early Sabbath, but I prefer faster stuff like album opener Race Day. A couple of nice surprises in this latest batch of tunes in the acoustic intros for Almost Heaven and Matchbox, and the dramatic keyboard soundscape that heralds the beginning of St. Petersburg Sunrise. This time out Racer is more willing to mix and blend textures, and that can only be a good thing.
The dramatic photos of actual race crashes on the front and back covers as well as the inner sleeve were taken by the late, great motorsports photographer Bob Milner, setting up the clenched fist rock & roll you’ll discover inside. Lots of drama and tension in these 16 cuts, and I can’t wait to use some of them on my radio show. Though I’ve enjoyed many of Racer’s efforts previous to this, Crash `N` Burn is clearly on another level. I recommend searching him out at www.facebook.com/racertunes.
ESSENTIALS: Gutted, Race Day, Almost Heaven
IN THE MIX Bernard Allison Group (Jazzhaus) *** +
Considering his pedigree, I was expecting more 6-string fireworks. Still, Bernard's first new studio album in six years is not without its charms.
Although firmly rooted in the blues, In The Mix is a stylistically diverse affair that includes soul, rock and R&B. There are 5 originals and 5 covers; a couple of songs written by his legendary father Luther Allison along with cuts by Colin James, Tyrone Davis and Freddie King. "We went in with the mindset to not make a recording flooded with screaming guitars" Allison says. "I just wanted to share my songwriting skills as well as play some tracks I've been holding onto for years. I'm very proud of the outcome."
This is almost more of a soul album than anything, and its jazzy mellowness caught me off-guard. "Regardless of how far outside the blues I reach for tones, I can't ever leave the blues" Bernard notes. "Whenever I play, all those guitar parts are Luther Allison coming through me. My dad was the same way; he wasn't all blues. He loved Otis Redding and Chuck Berry- I'm just showing where my influences come from, and respecting the people who got me to this point."
Allison also takes the musical form and moves it forward on songs like Move From The Hood, proving that the music is more than just an historical art form- it’s a moving, living, breathing thing. Ultimately, In The Mix may not be the total blues freak-out some (like me) were hoping for, but spend some time with it and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.
ESSENTIALS: Move From The Hood., I’d Rather Be Blind, Moving On Up
COLORS Andy DeCampos (Songlighter) **** +
It’s interesting that, even in this day and age, new crooners keep coming along, with this Toronto-based singer being the latest. His new album, colors, is a delight.
I’m quite familiar with this jazzy and swingin’ style of music- I grew up with Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra records around the house thanks to my folks, and Siriusly Sinatra is my wife’s favorite satellite radio channel. It is in the company of artists like this that Campos belongs, at least as much as Michael Buble does. Throw in some Antonio Carlos Joabim, and Andy is your guy.
Campos began singing as a young man in England and Portugal in ’99, and spent a decade developing his warm vocal style into a full time occupation on this side of the pond. He often jumps out of his comfort zone to push the boundaries of modern jazz, to go beyond the Great American Songbook to sing in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and, more recently, Mandarin. He brings a fresh, contemporary take to the material by combining jazz with rock and Latin, and a touch of country. The sambas and bossa novas are particularly fetching and joyous.
This style of music has been around since before I was born, and it’s a safe bet that Campos is maybe half my age at best. There are songs from my childhood too, in particular Henry Mancini’s legendary Pink Panther, but with delightfully original lyrics. There’s also a terrific version of The Cincinnati Kid, and a swinging cha-cha arrangement of Irving Berlin’s I’ll See You In Cuba. And the list goes on.
The bottom line is if you enjoy a good crooner and this kind of swing is your bag, baby, then Colors absolutely belongs in your collection. The wife and I will be doing a quick return trip to Edmonton next weekend, and I can’t wait to throw this into the CD player.
ESSENTIALS: The Pink Panther, The Cincinnati Kid, Toronto!
THE BOSS IS A WOMAN Jacquie Drew & The Crew (Independent) ***
How refreshing and downright unusual to hear a country album that isn’t trying to be a rock record. The latest from this Calgary raised artist, her third El Pee, is also her first with a regular band (hence ‘and the crew’) as opposed to hired hands- a move that will only serve her well as her career continues to grow.
Boss feels and sounds like a country feminist statement which, in some ways it is. Drew conquers topics such as Being a woman boss, financial headaches and parental desperation, all set to a groovin’ alt country backdrop. I can hear and feel the growth since 2011’s Red Hot Candy Heart, which I also have in my collection. ‘Mature’ might not be quite the right word to describe Jacquie’s growth as a songwriter and performer, but this feels like a more serious effort lyrically, with songs that hit closer to home. A relationship song like Who Saved Who is a romantic mid-tempo ballad that would be comfortable on more than just country radio, and I hope she considers it as a possible single.
This record was co-produced by Ms. Drew and Juno Award winning sound engineer Danny Patton. They achieved a real down-home feel with this one- a very nicely done kind of home-spun energy to it, as opposed to throwing in all sorts of studio tricks that would make for a shiny too-perfect sound, which would’ve robbed the songs of their honesty and impact- though guest musician and Canadian Country Hall Of Famer Wendell Ferguson lends some pretty tasty lead work too. It doesn’t sound like Nashville is what I’ trying to say, And that’s good.
The Boss is A Woman is a long way from the classically trained pianist she would have become, had her musically inclined family had their way. She tried on a business career, starting a marketing company in her 20’s before ending up where she is today. Her songs are honest and deep, with the occasional dash of humor. This record shows definite growth since her last one in 2011, and I’m already intrigued to see where she’ll be taking us next.
ESSENTIALS: Who Saved Who, Money, Galaxy Girl
CAROUSEL ONE Ron Sexsmith (Warner) *** ½
When you ask big-time singer/songwriters who they look up to and enjoy, a lot of them point to Ron Sexsmith. Carousel One, so named after the carousel at LAX where luggage from Toronto flights arrives at the airport, is surprisingly lighthearted- for a Ron Sexsmith record.
"I didn’t realize until we were putting together the songs for Carousel One that this would be more outgoing, there’s a lot more humour" says Ron. Of the album art, he notes that "There’s even a smiling picture on the cover, which I’ve never had before. I hope it doesn’t frighten the children."
Another element that helps elevate these songs perhaps above what he’s done before is the band he took into the studio, including bassist Bob Glaub, guitarist Jon Graboff and keyboardist John Ginty. Glaub, in particular, has worked with artists like Warren Zevon, John Lennon, Jackson Browne, and literally hundreds of others- you’ve heard his supple grooves before, even if you think you haven’t. Producer Jim Scott deserves credit, too, for knowing what to do with this cast of characters, and for having just the right touch to display Sexsmith’s songwriting gift in such an immediate and likeable way.
For a guy like Ron Sexmith, inspiration can come from literally anywhere- take the song St. Bernard, for instance. "They’ve always been my favorite type of dog" Ron says, recalling the genesis of the song. "I was sitting in the kitchen one day playing guitar, I had this melody but no lyrics, so I looked up at this picture and just started singing the opening lines." The picture was an anonymous family dog from a photograph picked up at a second hand shop by his wife Colleen. Then of course, there are songs that feel much deeper and more personal which, I’m guessing, is what fans like Elton John really gravitate towards.
Carousel One has a lot of different sounds, from the country lament All Our Tomorrows, to the album opener Sure As The Sky to the jaunty No One (which is actually kinda depressing) and the Springsteen-esque Can’t Get My Act Together that immediately follows. It isn’t exactly a record to blast down the highway with, but if you’re in the mood to think about stuff, it’s a good friend to have along for the ride.
ESSENTIALS: St. Bernard, No One, Before The Night Is Gone
YOUR GHOST Secret of Boris (Cabo) ****
Here is the debut album from this Dallas, Texas hard rock act, and there is magic in these grooves- an infectious blend of catchy hooks and aggressive riffs that’s like being turned on to something new that has the comfortable familiarity of stuff you’ve heard a million times.
The press release I received with this album sums it up perfectly; "dark yet hopeful, intense yet peaceful, ugly yet sexy, painful yet comforting, but above all else… real." Sonically, Your Ghost is an intriguing and sometimes volatile mix of textures and sounds, where keyboard snazz and jangly atmospheric guitar parts suddenly give way to dense, crushing walls of riffery. It seems there are no boundaries for this band, and at a time of rigid formats, labels and pigeon-holing (not an archaic sexual act, by the way), listening to Secret Of Boris ply their trade is genuinely thrilling.
I know this is a cranky old fart thing to say but when I first fired up this puppy and was hit by that wall of sound I actually thought "at the first sign of Cookie Monster metal vocals, I’m outta here" but thankfully that didn’t happen. Think of this as a classic hotrod with updated running gear, a record that guitar freaks are going to love. You know, if Nickeback could pull it off like this then people would probably stop laughing at them. In a recent interview, singer Cameron Taylor said "We wanted the album to have peaks and valleys, and take the listener on a bit of an adventure, so we chose the songs based on that concept."
After listening to the record, Taylor’s influences make total sense. In that same interview he notes that "The first rock band that I ever got into was King’s X. I loved the chord progressions, and the layers, and harmonies, even though I didn’t know what those were at the time. From there I really got into Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, and then what really started to influence my writing were Nine Inch Nails, Type O Negative and Rammstein. I love the integrity and unique quality that all of those bands have. With how dark they are, it amazes me how beautiful some moments can be (and) I think we’ve achieved a similar balance."
It’s been awhile since I’ve been this turned on by a new hard rock act- maybe all the way back to 06 or 07 when I first heard Slave To The System. Secret of Boris’ Your Ghost is genuine hard rock with enough twists and turns to get you involved and keep you engaged. Its nice to know that there are still new bands like this out there cranking out the good stuff- it gives me hope.
ESSENTIAL: Desert Blood, What Have You Done, Lost In A Daze
VENOM Impellitteri (Frontiers) *** ½
Every once in a while, it feels good to have an album come along, grab you by the throat, slam you into the wall, look you right in the eye and say "Any questions?" The latest from Impellitteri is just such a record. Loaded with melodic metal and blinding, shredding solos, Venom (to be released April 21st) is their 10th full length record but be warned- it will scorch your ear drums.
The band’s goal with the new record was to create an album that would satisfy metal and rock fans of every stripe, something the average fan would dig, and discriminating musicians alike. Guitarist Chris Impellitteri is a phenomenal player, I’m not convinced that ‘shredder’ covers what this guy can pull off. Like Motorhead’s Mikki Dee on the kit, drummer Jon Dette is brutal in his attack but also very precise. Rob Rock is a solid vocalist, his phrasing reminds me a lot of Geoff Tate and Bruce Dickinson, and bassist James Pulli is… well he’s a bass player, and if we noticed his work too much that would mean he’s not doing his job. Dette’s drumming is the platform on which everything else is built and, for the most part Pulli mirrors Impellitteri’s guitar parts to thicken them up, and put some more ‘oomph’ behind his punches.
To put this album in a recognizable context it feels like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with a touch of classic Queensryche. Chris’s riffs are big and meaty, his soloing borders on the edge of insanity, this kind of playing is almost exhausting to listen to. Or, as they might say on Wayne’s World, "He can really wail!"
Venom is, I think, the kind of metal that will appeal mainly to musicians, such is its stunning execution. The playing is break-neck and first rate, and I have trouble getting through it in one go- it’s dense, intense and, safe to say, not for the faint hearted. I could do without the harmonic squeals as they remind me too much of Zakk Wylde, but if that’s the price to pay to get to the rest of it, fine. It’ll be quite some time before you hear anything this brutally intense.
ESSENTIALS: Empire Of Lies, Time Machine, Empire of Lies
SKRILLEX & DIPLO PRESENT JACK U Skrillex and Diplo (Owlsa/ Mad Decent/ Warner) ** 1/2
This album represents everything old guys like me hate about modern music- the whole thing is an artificial construction, samples and beats thrown together on a computer to come up with whatever you call this stuff- but the weird thing is, it’s kinda fun.
This album sat in my inbox for about a month while I debated whether or not to even give it a listen. There’s something skeevy about a guy in his mid-50’s listening to something like this but I have enjoyed the occasional Skrillex album previously and figured "Why not?" The New York Times review made this sound irresistible too; "Skrillex and Diplo trade in constant pleasure and adrenaline, forgoing any down moments in favor of a relentless build and piling sounds like a Jenga tower until the whole thing wobbles." How can you say no to that?
Jack U features a huge guest roster; Justin Bieber, 2 Chainz, AlunaGeorge, Bunji Carlin, Snails, Tarantula, Kai and Fly Boy Keno. When you get 2 of the hottest producers in the world together, that kind of action is bound to happen. Diplo’s resume includes producing the likes of Madonna, Beyonce, Chris Brown and Justin Bieber while Skrillex has worked on major Hollywood movies like Wreck-It Ralph, Spring Breakers and Transformers; Age of Extinction. In other words, these two guys are everywhere.
My drug days were over before the mid 80’s began so there’s no way I can relate to this album like someone in their teens or twenties would, but I can still understand and even appreciate the frenetic, hypnotic appeal. With Jack U, instead of throwing it under the microscope and trying dissect and appreciate every move Skrillex and Diplo make production-wise, it’s better to just let go and enjoy the ride. I'll never put deejays and producers in the same league as actual musicians, but who says you can’t enjoy something like this too?
ESSENTIALS: Jungle Bae (featuring Bunji Carlin) Febreze (featuring 2 Chainz), Don’t Do Drugs Just Take Some
HEROES AND VILLAINS FM (Frontiers) ****
This disc marks the UK riff rock heroes’ 9th studio album more and 30 years after their debut. I will confess to knowing little about this band before now- there’s so much music out and no way one person can hear it all- but there’s a blue collar rock feeling to these songs that just hit me where I live.
Off the cuff this feels very much like Loverboy meets Bon Jovi- hooky melodies, soaring choruses and the big, sustained riffing that makes driving too fast way too much fun. Heroes & Villains feels like the 80’s in a big way, the soundtrack of good times.
In 1996, with grunge dominating the music scene, FM decided that was a good time to throw in the towel. In 2007 they got together again to headline the sold out Firefest IV at Nottingham Rocky City, at which time they introduced new guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick. The next few years saw the band sharing stages with Thin Lizzy, Foreigner, Europe, Toto and Survivor. You know that old saying about judging people by the company they keep? That applies in a big way to FM- if you’re into any of the bands just mentioned but aren’t familiar with these guys, it’s a safe bet you’ll dig the new album.
Heroes And Villains sees FM staying true to their classic sound, updated for 2015 with great playing, and Steve Overland’s voice still being the main attraction- I’d put him up there with Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, he’s that good. It’s a safe bet that some will hear this disc as a blast from the past, perhaps dated or even quaint, but this is fantastic meat & taters rock & roll. Heroes And Villains is due out in North America April 21st- better write that down.
ESSENTIALS: Digging Up Dirt, Life Is A Highway (not the Tom Cochrane song), Cold Hearted
FROOT Marina & The Diamonds (Atlantic) **** ½
The people that utter Katy Perry’s name at the drop of a hat or applaud Madonna’s latest necrophilic attempt to ‘fill the dance floor’ better sit up and take notice; Marina Diamandis is back in action with a brave new album with a depth and soul that they can only marvel at.
This is Marina’s 3rd album, following previous efforts The Family Jewels and Electra Heart, which enjoyed chart success worldwide- no mean feat for emotionally complex records. She had a phalanx of producers and writers helping on Electra Heart- a complex, knotted record that dealt with female identity, love, youth and society. With Froot, she had something else in mind.
"In the past, because I was new and I was someone who really needed praise, I very much listened to other people, perhaps when I shouldn’t have" she says. "So because of that, on Froot, I wanted to write the entire record alone. I think one of the biggest challenges was saying what I wanted to do for once- you have to know who you are as an artist so you can do what you want to do" she concludes. Froot is intimate and retrospective as Diamandis dissects her own foibles and pitfalls in the name of her art, yet it’s also optimistic. It reminds me of several female artists I enjoy and admire all at once, such as Annie Lennox, Sinead O’Connor and Tori Amos. Dreamy textures mix with dance beats and rock elements to create music that can be difficult to pin down, stylistically. "It’s not about being pop or not pop, or electronic or not electronic" she says. "It’s more about feeling the groove in the music and knowing there are real musicians playing it… I think it’s something I’ve been trying to translate for a long time."
There are some albums that draw you in just a little bit deeper with every spin, and Froot is certainly one of those. Once you get past the gauzy production textures, absorb the beats and start listening to her lyrics, you’re in for a world of passion and honesty that’s rare in pop music. This style usually isn’t my thing but so help me God I’m enjoying this.
ESSENTIALS: Weeds, Happy, I’m A Ruin
RISE OF THE ANIMAL Wolfpakk (AFM) *** ½
Why have I never heard about this band before? Probably not paying attention. Rise is the 3rd album for this all-star metal outfit, led by Mark Sweeney (ex- Crystal Ball) and Michael Voss (Michael Schenker, Casanova, Mad Max), and they make the kind of music that 80’s and classic rock fans (like me) can never, ever get enough of.
Lots of palm-muted chugging riffs on this bad boy, the kind of stuff that makes you say "Screw the cops, I need to see how fast this thing can go!" Other than the 2 gents mentioned up top, there are literally TONS of metal notables involved in Rise Of The Animal, and I’ll give you a few examples for each position;
VOCALS: Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow), Don Dokken, Marc Storace (Krokus)
BASS: Bob Daisley (Sabbath, Ozzy, Rainbow), Al Barlow (Magnum)
GUITAR: Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), Ryan Roxie (Alice Cooper), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio)
DRUMS: Simon Phillips (Judas Priest, The Who), Chris Slade (AC/DC)
So- what’s the album really like? Your basic top down/ pedal to the metal rock & roll with a sort of blue collar simplicity, a record of sheer physical pleasure that requires no deep thought or intellectual effort- and those are compliments by the way. The production, even on the small computer speakers I’m listening to this on right now, comes across as big, meaty and powerful. The vocal sound a little buried, but that's probably my computer.
At the end of the day Wolfpakk’s Rise Of The Animal is straight up rock & roll with loads of adrenaline- if not for that issue with the vocals, I might have given this a perfect score. Street date in North America is April 14th.
ESSENTIALS: Highlands, High Roller, Black Wolf