Friday, April 29, 2011

The Gates of Slumber - The Wretch

The Gates of Slumber
The Wretch
Rise Above/Metal Blade

Like every other musical genre, heavy metal has been hybridized almost to death. Not that mixing styles isn’t a good thing – that’s where innovation comes from, after all. But sometimes you just wanna get heavy, play air guitar and feel your ribcage rattle. If you want a traditional doom-mongering, dinosaur-destroying, Sabbathian stomp, you won’t get much better than the Gates of Slumber. The Indianapolis trio hit a real peak with its last LP Hymns of Blood and Thunder, and if its new record The Wretch doesn’t quite scale the same heights, it’s still a strong showing. This band has always been about the riff – rumbling, crushing, heavy – but it never loses its deathgrip on melody, either. Few bands can be as unrelenting and still be as accessible as the G of S – spin Day of Farewell, Coven of Cain and To the Rack With Them for some seething singalong kicks. While the rhythm section keeps the lava flowing, it’s really singer/six-stringer Karl Simon’s show – his warm, amp-shaking licks and gruff but soulful vocals define each track like the devil’s dictionary. This is what you want when you want to headbang without guilt - plug The Wretch into your stereo, put on a black t-shirt and get those horns in the air.

- Michael Toland

Lo-Pan - Salvador

Small Stone

Imagine if the mighty progressive metal band Tool dropped some of its artier affectations and decided to just blast it out. The men of Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan dreamed the same dream, taking that band’s widescreen ambition and connecting it to unpretentious 70s hard rock and boogie on Salvador, the follow-up to its debut Sasquanaut. That doesn’t mean Lo-Pan is dumbing anything down, mind you – only that the quartet remembers what it’s like to just rock the fuck out. Equally as adept as knotty, head-spinning riffs like the ones that power El Dorado and Spartacus as with the straightforward crushers that heave Bird of Prey and Bleeding Out right in your face, the band keeps tight control over its tower of power, balancing might and melody as well as anyone in recent memory. It doesn’t hurt to have a singer as soaring and charismatic as Jeff Martin or a guitarist as expansive as Brian Fristoe, either. Power, intelligence, passion and finesse make Lo-Pan as far from a dull band as you can get.

- Michael Toland

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Various - Infamous Instro-Monsters Of Rock'n'Roll El Toro There's gas-guzzling guitars a go-go furnishing frenetic big-finned twang n' N'Awwlins sax hollerin' it's way to the Russki-scalping space-age gumbo all it's own amid piano stampedes on this round up of less obvious cuts & / or B-sides from classic choices (The Champs, The Ventures, Duane Eddy, Link Wray) to obscurities like the long lost & sole singles by both The Fugitives & The Eldrondos plus the first of only two by The Intruders. This Spanish label's releases are consistently high quality so the only drawback here is that having tapped into this pit of street-racing ramrodders, delinquent wildcat crawlers, western serenades & strollers full of both the unbridled rampaging joy & moonshine melancholy of the early R'n'R era to watch your shirts brighten, skirts tighten & your swing somewhat loosen by, it should well have been a set of Texas oil-spurt proportions perhaps a la the Bear Family label. Stu Gibson
Gary Setzer and Barry Ryan - Rockabilly Express Raucous As the title could suggest, this debut pairing corrals a range of styles roving through Rockabilly & Americana history as well as their own travels (notably Rockin' Rebels & The Rockats respectively). The meaty grind of 16-ton opener Hot Train To Hell through to Las Vegas Blues & Whiskey Boys may not be too many steps from Stray Cats moves (Setzer being the original drummer) but the real delights come in their referencing & renovating tradition along the way. The Hurtin' Kind escorts Ring Of Fire across the border into accordion-courting Cajun territory, You're Gone recalls Roy Orbison's lavish balladry & Barry's Breakdown is pretty exquisite bluegrass jazz. Though it doesn't shake seismic musical surprises from its shirt - or duck - tails it doesn't sit in brother Brian's shadows nor have to strive over earnestly to escape it. In fact, unless you're especially desperate for his brother's more Eddie Van Haley histrionics then this classy little nugget has a whole lot more to offer. Stu Gibson
Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs - No Help Coming Transdreamer Already on their fourth release (& getting to almost Fall-figures for the good lady herself) this love n' liquor-fuelled alliance (multi-instrumental maestro Lawyer Dave plays guitar & drums simultaneously) plough the ever fertile terrains of gritty Americana, rickety rockabilly & more, & still come up with something fresh as it is ancient, thanks largely to their idiosyncratic approach to traditional themes of lovelust, death, religion, liquor, guns & ammo. Plaintive cowtrail lamenting, junktown blues & hooch-strewn downhome hoedown boogie echoing along corridors like canyons heavily laden with the footsteps of their musical forbears only aided & abetted by Holly's disembodied though ever-affecting voices, none more than on the hauntingly embroiling River Of Tears. Coupled with there still being the essence of kooky, playful, kitsch-pop melodies as on the alphabetical countdown on Get Out My House or the nursery rhyme reminiscent slide-ladled sing-song country swing of Leave It Alone makes it a well-rounded, as well as oiled & rolling where necessary, affair, full of wit, woe & merriment, however mordant. Though what really makes these albums such enchanting successes is the unique, resonating presence & character they inject into music dug from such overcrowded graveyards. Stu Gibson

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tommy Gun - Always True Wolverine
Street punk straiht out Austria's anthemic avenues, this debut doesn't deviate too dramatically from the hand on heart woah-woah-woahing casually strewn around the genre's tuneful boulevards but lyrically & in its full-bore fervour it largely avoids those gaping pitfalls of empty posturing. It's hard to knock the rallying positivity (or the juggernaut rhythms, put to best use on the serrated riff-rattle of Life Long Hated) such tales of struggling against the knock-backs, kicking back & staring detractors down, conjuring defiance in defining yourself & making sense of those little scars life secretes in your psyche with psychotic aplomb - & anybody who's ever carried a song or album round like a best mate or lover can't argue with the line 'This is more than just a song, this is my home where I belong' on Purpose & Decay.

Stu Gibson
Red Red Red - New Action Big Neck
Further lashings of furiously off-kilter Rock'n'Roll frolics from the almost too trustworthy to be true BN label. Make no mistake, these Michigan miscreants got the Damned, Dead Boys, Heartbreakers sleaze-addled discordance in its ascendancy but intrinsically it's the electrifying tension they've got in which they catch all manner of idiosyncratic rhythms & structures on their tenterhooks. Anything else they may have should be got with gluttonous regularity, like their habit of frequently flaunting a dazzlingly dissolute line in gonzoid guitar scuzz so squalid, insensitive &, well, stupid, as to be sublime enough to induce superstition. That they most often churn out cement mixer boogie & psych-ward skronk that'd make Zeke come over all quivery means that this is yours ever Stuly's favourite mess of dishevelled blues & fuckscuppered news since, well, Tractor Sex Fatality. Same label, go figure.

Stu Gibson

Thursday, April 14, 2011

El Toro - El Toro! Good Guy If you ever find yourself sitting around there wondering one summers day how anyone in these times can can sweep out the well-shaken shacks of 60's beat then encounter, rather closely indeed, these liveried lords, layabouts &...lizards? of Liverpool's weird scene addicts. Members of splatterpunks Zombina and the Skeletones, psycho Cash-a-lites The Straitjackets plus mysterious American guitarist Chris Luna dispense a monstrously unhinged mash-up of spaghetti western surfaliciousness from the mariachi garages with a psych-pop ward next door. Luna swamps the destitute but never downtrodden tales of rancorous romance, odes from the darklands & rites of revenge in suitably esoterically cavernous reverb. That the whole thing thusly sounds for at least seven worlds like it's summoned from the far rings of Saturn only ultra-accentuates the frantic delivery, adding further eerie edges to lyrics such as 'People say you're wrong in the head / But now the Devil himself is lying in your bed' on Anyone But Him.
Voodoo Rhythm Records - Records To Ruin Any Party Volume 3 Voodoo Rhythm It's hello again from without doubt the most vibrantly, vivaciously brash & bibulous label in the world, unleashing only the most virulent stains of bestial blues, gut-gouging garage boogie, crapulous country & cantankerous cajun, sinister gypsy jazz & gravestone-toppling gospel & just, y'know, general stir crazy heavy trash onto a world still largely too unaware. But that makes the catch all the tastier, whether gruesome one man blues bands Bob Log III, Urban Junior & John Schooley; eerie backwoods hollers from Dead Brothers, Delaney Davidson or the about unsurpassable Possessed By Paul James, rockabilly villainly of Hipbone Slim and the Knee Tremblers (featuring Billy Childish cohort Sir Bald Diddley); rabidly ribald country & cajun from Zeno Tornado And The Boney Google Brothers & Mama Rosin respectively, or the distorto-deluxe punk boogaloo of Pussywarmers, The Come N' Go & The Guilty Hearts (headed by L.A. cowpunketeers Blood On The Saddle co-founder Hermann Senac), epic psychedelic sea shanties & mantras from Movie Star Junkies & Roy And The Devil's Motorcycle onto the ringmaster - Rvnd Beat-Man solo & the bonkers howl of The Monsters - defies comprehension & convention but defines what should be a roll call of bedraggled genius of the most addled minds of their generation. Stu Gibson

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stone Axe - s/t

Stone Axe
s/t (2-Disc Expanded Edition)

A mere two years have passed since Pacific Northwest duo Stone Axe first released this record, but moving from self-releases to a rising underground rock label apparently requires an upgrade to an edition with live bonus cuts and a DVD. For those not familiar, Stone Axe consists of multi-instrumentalist/songwriter T. Dallas Reed, late of Mos Generator, and singer Dru Brinkerhoff, formerly of the Swinos. (Bassist Mike Dupont and drummer Mikey Haslip join them for gigs.) Bonded over a mutual love of 70s classic rock, the pair doesn’t even try to sound contemporary, instead laying out its fetish for the Jeff Beck Group, Humble Pie and Thin Lizzy for all to see. It’s an approach that’s been done, of course – some might even say to death. But Reed and Brinkerhoff play this riff-happy hard rock as if it was new, emitting a fresh scent most bands of Stone Axe’s ilk can’t deliver. It doesn’t hurt that the band actually cooks – Reed is a solid songwriter and a deft guitarist, and Brinkerhoff is a flamboyant cracker soul belter without being over the top. (Plus he can deliver a line like Let your soul rekindle your mind with absolute conviction.) There’d Be Days, Black Widow and King of Everything would a welcome change to Led Zeppelin and Bad Company on the airwaves, and if Taking Me Home is a bit too much of an homage (Phil Lynott’s ghost is looking for his royalty check right now), at least it rips off one of the most underrated bands in the Klassic Rock Kingdom. If you like tuning into classic rock radio, but are sick of every song on it, Stone Axe is the LP for you.

- Michael Toland

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Gary Bennett - My Ol' Guitar Raucous BR-549 co-founder here delivers a discreetly classic collection of new tunes escorted by some choices from his back catalogue on this second solo release. For the uninitiated the blueprint is Bakersfield country, Nashville balladry & vintae honky-tonkin' two-steps, working man done-wrong & being unduly wronged blues & pretty exquisite laments. A case - & one to keep out of the cabinet - of a troubadour accompanied by assorted compadres providin effective flourishes of fiddle, steel guitar & accordion all furnished by Bennett's keenin twang, reminiscent of Guy Clark. As with his former outfit the clear production may be too antiseptic for those hankering for a more lo-fi rider but even if it doesn't enulf the whole damned forest should you set the woods on fire it sure burns a mightily bright blaze as craftmanship comes to the fore. Stu Gibson
Shaun Horton's Del Rio Ramblers - Go Away Hound Dog Raucous This is a rare old treat indeed. An ensemble of some of the finest players of their ilk never mind country, who've backed legends like Billy Lee Riley & Hardrock unter as well as performin in bands such as The Rhythmaires, The Tennessee Trio & The Riverside Trio. The Ramblers exquisitely recreate pure authentic late 40's / early 50's country honky-tonkers, ballad-tokers, cowboy melodramas & hillbilly swing offering their own compositions alongside covers fresh from the range, all recorded with accurate cabin fever detail (incidentally courtesy of Raucous' in-house engineer extraordinaire & Ramblers' steel player Chris Cummings). So, sure, you can expect fiddle, double-bassin', pedal steel (& hats) & songs from the Hank Williams & Ray Price era & style but also be prepared for an emphatic out-of-boots-&-afloat-in-your-hat experience as this truly does belon up there with their hallowed influences. And should be lavished indulently in your record collection. Stu Gibson
The Mahones - The Black Irish Whiskey Devil / True North Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year as well as having a song (Paint The Town Red - updated & included here) on The Fighter movie soundtrack, this Montreal-based rogues allery return with a blast of pub-ready, bleary-eyed but chest-pumping punked-up Celtic folk fusion & fury that nevertheless keeps it's finger near the finer point of a narrative, without being locked-in to some vaue pastiche of The Pogues. There's hoarse reminisces, coarse drinking blitzes, rousing anti-war sentiments, a welcome interpretation of The Replacements always beguiling Here Comes A Regular (yet another stomp through The Wild Rover may not be the most necessary inclusion but hell, I aren't arguing with 'em) but also some tender-eyed balladry (Girl With Galway Eyes, Whiskey Under The Bridge) to temper the after-effects of accordion & tin-whistle rampages of A Great Night On The Lash, Lord Of The Dirty Hordes or A Pain From Yesterday. Stu Gibson
Scott Morgan - Scott Morgan Alive NaturalSound Longtime compadre and collaborator with Detroit punk rock collision courses like Stooge Scott Asheton & MC5's Fred Smith's Sonic's Rendezvous Band (it's quite a shiftless list so just type another line into the wideworld Wurlitzer baby), Morgan has been amon the uniquely unsung since barely out of high school hustling his white boy soul 'n' blues band The Rationals. Here he muscles in with a rock-a-soul-a rumpus like some sort of exile on Motown's side streets, mixing covers of The Four Tops, Nina Simone & Bobby Gentry with originals of well-staxed, heavy lidded, early mornin blue-eyed soul into slipstreams full of the grit scraping the back of your knee of his hometown associates. Louche, certainly, but surely no slouch in the celebratory musical stakes while his soulful vocals are slung out with a grace & stylish fervour recalling Steve Marriott & Dion's 70's descent into returning to slender sales with the monumental Born To Be With You album. A colossally unassuming treasure. Stu Gibson

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Hickoids - Kicking It With the Twits

The Hickoids
Kicking It With the Twits

It’s a time-honored tradition in the course of one’s rock star life to release the inevitable covers record, usually as a stop-gap whilst furiously writing songs. Usually it’s a LP of an artist’s influences, giving some insight in the headliner’s creative genesis and process. Of course, Austin’s cowpunk comedians the Hickoids are too damn ornery to do things the same way everybody else does it. Instead of being a nod to the originators of the band’s sneering roots rock sound, Kicking It With the Twits crosses the pond to rope in some British classics, mostly from the 70s, with a special emphasis on the glam rock that never quite translated in the colonies. Some of the tunes comes from fairly obvious sources – rough ‘n’ ready versions of Slade’s Gudbuy T’ Jane, the Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and the Rolling StonesHave You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows? won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s ever spun a Hickoids LP before. (Indeed, the gleefully obnoxious Slade are as much the band’s spiritual ancestors as any drunk hillbilly.) But the band also steals a few cars, joyriding through a great countrified take on Elton John’s massive hit mediocrity Bennie & the Jets (with Scott Lutz’s pedal steel taking the piano part), a sleazy, slow snarl through the Move’s Brontosaurus and a crazed but oddly faithful rip through Brian Eno’s Needles in the Camel’s Eye. Kudos also to the band’s choice of Whizz Kidd, an excellent but obcure cut from the catalog of the great but doomed Mott the Hoople. Add a gritty Pictures of Lily (from the catalog of the Who) and you’ve got a well-rounded portrait of U.K. rock & roll obsession, filtered through the lens of a leering Central Texas cowpunk mob. Doesn’t the sound of a pint and a tallboy clinking together just take you away?

- Michael Toland
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