As much as I love intricate, sweeping and clever music, sometimes you can’t beat a low slung guitar, a basic proto-punk-blues beat and some stripped back lyrics. And it doesn’t get more stripped backed than Leathers. Four songs, two guys and pretty much one groove. All four songs found on this eponymous ep seem variations on the same wonderfully raw two chord rhythm and it’s brilliantly refreshing. There is more to it than that obviously but Joe Satriani this most definitely is not and for that I thank them.
Multi-Award-winning American Blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Samantha Fish returns for a nationwide UK tour in May 2019. Tickets will go on sale on Friday 2nd November via.
The tour coincides with Samantha’s new studio album to be released in early 2019 which is the follow-up to her critically acclaimed 2017 albums Belle of the West and Chills & Fever.
Blues has always been a good vehicle for delivering a message of pain and heartache. It’s also been a good vehicle for spawning new ways of doing things, it being the birth place of so many subsequent genres – rock ’n’ roll, rock, punk and everything that followed are all based on its methods. Armed with these two factors Anne Deming builds a warped blues song that stomps confidently and regretfully to its bitter conclusion like a woman scorned.
Is there such a thing as holistic music? Is all music holistic? Is it something that the creator decides or is it up to the listener to designate it as such? Is it just another meaningless journalistic handle used by broken down scribblers looking for a neat way to get into a review? Okay, I’m going to take a stand and say that Bob Gaulke makes holistic music and Transportation is the perfect calling card for this probably made up genre.
Musically it wanders from understated rock to jazz infusions, soulful grooves to slick R&B, it mixes heart with humour, the profound with the profane, the dark with the light and there is hardly a subject that it doesn’t explore from Turkmenistan porn to the finer points of grammar, from creative angst to marxist revenge scenarios. Holistic enough for you?
The ever changing nature of the record is pushed even further with a couple of female guest vocal turns from Peri Mason and Vivian Benford on Another Rat and Rich respectively which add a element of uptown jazz bar sophistication to the proceedings. Irony is bluesy and breezy, On Foot seems to echo the dark urban vibes of Lou Reed and album opener Bad Writer is a textured and layered personal take on the very art of creativity.
It’s a great album, one with the ability to switch and change, to be musically fluid but which never leaves the listener behind. Some artists like to show how clever they are by confusing the audience and demanding that they play catch up as the music subverts expectation and heads down unexpected pathways just for the hell of it. Some artists just write great songs and leave it at that. Bob Gaulke is definitely the latter.
Here’s a question for you. If a truck carrying a back catalogue of 50’s rock’n’roll and blues records heading west at 60 miles per hour collided with a truck carrying 60’s garage rock and later punk records heading east travelling at 45 miles per hour, what noise would be forthcoming at the point of impact? Okay, rhetorical question. Silly question. Here’s another one. How can a band repackaging the most familiar rock ’n’roll vibes sound like the freshest sonic dish of the day? Only the gods of music know, well, them and King Brothers.
Wasteland doesn’t pretend to offer any answers, it’s just music not philosophy, but it does make for something great to put on in the back ground whilst you think about it. Eleven tracks that wander the back streets of all of those aforementioned genres mixing and matching, plundering and polishing, reinventing and repackaging, its all familiar stuff but at the same time feels very much of the here and now rather than a mere nostalgic wander through past glories.
And proof of how great the music is comes from the fact that they sing in Japanese, and why not, but it is a language I’m not familiar with and I get about three songs in before I even realise that I’m not listening to the words. I’m listening to the sound of the words, the attitude, the way the delivery fits the music but like I say, this is rock’n’roll it just has to sound the part, it has to groove, rock out, swagger, sulk, threaten, look cool and get the job done. Wasteland does all this and more.
Well, you can’t say that this isn’t a funky piece of work. Bluesy rock and roll, bursting at the seams with infectious grooves, ear-worm riffs, classic rock and roll swagger and a simple message. The message is that the world is an adventure waiting for you to sign up and see where it takes you. And it is more than just a nice idea or an optimistic but empty thought designed to sell a record or two, this comes from personal experience. It’s easy to just brush off such songs as some sort of utopian dream that makes for a good tune but when the artist himself has actually quit his job, sold the house and chased his musical dreams down the road to Music City itself, you can’t question the integrity at its heart.
And if this song is an example of what he is creating in his new life as a Nashville resident then you have to say that it was a gamble worth taking. Pop accessibility, bluesy integrity, old school grit and just enough rock and roll muscle to keep things moving along and The Road is a song that sounds like it is already a classic. If someone told you that this came from an early Aerosmith record or was a staple of The Allman Brothers live shows, well, you wouldn’t question a word of it.
Driving music is no new concept, songs that act as the soundtrack to a road trip, music to seek adventure to, four wheeled party tunes, we are all familiar with how that works. And whilst this great little bluesy-country-rock piece from Terry Derosier falls into that category, its actually a bit more than that. Actually, its a lot more than that. If road songs often come from some questionable sources, normally being the fodder of bands such as Whitesnake or worse, Bon Jovi, Thunderin’ Down the Road is actually a Kerouac to their Stephenie Meyer. Okay, not a great analogy but you can see where I’m going with this.
Derosier fills his song with all the classic hallmarks – brooding grooves, haunted Hammonds, wasted and wistful atmospheres, slow burning builds and subtle breakdowns before driving headlong into sonic storm and unleashing wailing guitars and organ washes, driving beats and the sound of the weather coming in hard. But it isn’t just the music but the lyrics which push this song into much more credible territory. It’s the poeticism and descriptions of the sights flitting past and the street philosophical and autobiographical stance it takes that puts this miles ahead of the usual, fist in the air, cliched heartland rock. It’s almost enough to make you want to pack a bag and head off into the sunset….or in this case the gathering rain clouds.
I’m going to break out one of my go-to and possibly made up words now. Ready? Groovesome! I’m not sure if you will find it in the dictionary but it is exactly the right word for Izzy The Cat’s blend of funky and infectious blues. Instrumentals they may be but his songs are proof positive that if you get the music right you can live without the lyrics. Hell, these tunes are more lyrical than half the bands you will hear ploughing a similar musical furrow…all put together.
I picked Big Tim as the title because it was the first one of the stack of four videos that landed with a righteous thud in my in box and its strutting and sultry ways are the perfect introduction to Catland. But to be honest any and all of them stand out, all could be lead tracks from an album or one off singles in their own right.
Mountaintops has that same blend of southern boogie and angelic guitar work that puts you immediately in mind of The Allman Brothers, Bumps is a brooding blues bruiser and Claire ramps up the intensity into wailing rock territory but not the skinny jeaned, complicated hair brigade of the current generation but the timeless bar room troubadours of yesteryear.
Izzy describes himself as a house cat…come on man, this music needs to be out there, even if I have to put the hat around myself and pay the travel expenses. (Don’t hold me to that, if I had any money I wouldn’t be sat home at night writing about music!)
Get involve HERE people
Books and covers…I never learn. Then again you have to hold the band responsible to some degree. If they offer up a cover of themselves dressed like a crazed Mariachi band from The Three Amigos, conclusions are going to be jumped to. Thankfully what lies within is miles away from the image conjured by the cover and Big Love is in fact a deft and sometimes delicate blues collection.
Kicking off with the title track itself, this opening salvo sets the scene perfectly, growling, grooving rhythm and blues, the perfect combination of the slick and the raw-edged, of modernity and tradition. From there they explore any number of blues byways and rocking side roads. Mr Jackson is a cool ballad, all spacious deliveries and emotive moodiness, Happy To Be struts and swaggers and Soul Sister is as dark and delicious as its name suggests.
There is a wonderful blend of accessibility and authentic rootsiness that puts me in mind of Fleetwood Mac. Not the early purist blues of the Peter Green era nor the slick Californian supergroup schtick of the Buckingham/Nicks successes but that often overlooked transitional period between the two when Christine Perfect was the star of the show. A much more interesting period and as a reference point it tells you all you need to know about The Sheyana Band‘s deft weaving of generic honesty and their ability to pen commercial hits.
That will teach me to jump to conclusions, to judge books by their covers…or at least songs by their titles. Anytime I see slang words such as “Da” in a title I immediately brace myself for impact by another modern rapper going through the testosterone fulled motions of self-aggrandisement and playing up to stereotypes. Boy was I wrong.
Born in Da LBC is actually a very slick, very original and very up to date blues number, one that takes in all the required elements to keep the purists happy but also has enough modernity and easy infectiousness that the means that the more mainstream markets are also a well within the songs sights. Perreira’s voice is also a big factor in the songs charm, not just the required honesty and directness of the blues singer but with the raw edge that is usually associated with rock. Add that to some intricate blends of picked and riffed guitars, subtle and spacious breaks, a stomping tribal beat and an easy swagger and you have the perfect blues/maintream cross-over.
The Judex is less a band, more a collection of contradictions, a whirling mass of opposites that somehow have managed to attract and believe me when I say that they are like few rock bands that have crossed your path, if they had, you would have remembered. The titles of the tracks alone tell you that this is a band which thinks outside the box, if they even recognise the existence of the box in the first place. Titles that indicate perfectly the blend of brains and brawn, wit and wisdom, the profound and the profane, of the bi-polar muse and the fallen angel who fight for control of their songs. Musically the same thing is going on, it is rock from the wrong part of town, succinct enough to appeal to the more discerning rock fraternity but also belligerent enough to want to punch their lights clean out. And apart from that, anything that sounds like Gun Club having a nervous breakdown has got to be worth checking out, right?
These four Philadelphia souls are not here to save rock music, they are here to destroy it, or at least to shake it out of its skinny-jeaned, complicated haired, complacency and to remind it that there was a time before it sold out to the music industry, when it was still dangerous, when it was the bad boy on the musical block, when it stood for defiance, outsiderness and edge. These days the modern rock mascot is a balding 40 year old guy in cargo shorts sporting a Wal-Mart bought Ramones T-shirt at a Foo Fighters concert! Where did it all go wrong?
Kill White Lights is the perfect calling card for the album, a strange blend of The Cramps mutant rockabilly jive and the short-lived HeadGirl’s cover of Please Don’t Touch and addressing some fundamental truths and failings in modern society. It’s a rabble rousing anthem to what we now have to call “being woke” which is the current fashionista slang for reading a newspaper, watching a decent current affairs program and waking up to what is really going on outside your door. A call to arms to a groovy tribal swamp-blues beat. Nice.
Even when they are mellowing things out, such as on Jaguar Baby, which, compared to the rest of the album is almost a ballad, they still manage to construct it from angular rock riffs, jagged edges and howling vocals. Everything is relative I guess. It may seem almost like their most conventional song, building from fairly expected edgy blues-rock into squalling musical crescendos, but it is still a song most of the competition would kill to have as their lead track on their own album.
Between these extremes they run from the sublime to the ridiculously good and back again. Wicked Pony Stomp returns us to their trade-mark psyched-out heavy blues, matching musical mayhem with vocal mania, relentless beats with an impending sense of doom, opening salvo War on Fake Psychics sounds like someone re-inventing rockabilly at CBGB’s in the spring of ’76 and Thermostat Queen is a claustrophobic and intense collection of apocalyptic grooves and riffs.
The Judex are essentially a band out of time and genre, a blend of dark country rock and roll and disfigured heavy blues, a post-punk ethos and a post-genre attitude all of which met each other in the desert, fought and bloodied each other, and decided to stay together. This is hardcore snake-charming music, evil, smoky, brash, and libidinally uttered. The future may be looking bright but that may just be the initial flash of the bombs hitting the ground.
Country music has a habit of taking itself a bit seriously, all those over-earnest, brooding acoustic guitar slingers singing of unrequited love, darker times and driving off into the sunset. And that’s fine, there is obviously a market for such a style. Rock music is often troubled with testosterone fuelled cliche, though which is less easy to defend. Blues often gets a bad name from stadium level guys in suits and shades removing every ounce of passion and pain from the genre in the name of money and fame…ironically the total opposite of the place from which blues speaks.
So if you cut all of those rotten cores out of the aforementioned generic apples and gather all the good bits that remain, you pretty much have the basic ingredients that Neil Gregory Johnson fashions his music from and Extended Play Catalogue Vol 1 is a lesson to anyone working in roots music today in vibrant and honest songwriting.
Kicking off with the joyous Three Days on The Wagon, the perfect blend of exactly the genre splicing I have just described, the song proves to be a great calling card for what is to follow. This opening salvo blends country swagger, blues sass and rock muscle, it grooves and grinds, bounces and boogies and the wailing train whistle harmonica is the perfect icing on the cake. From there we move through the move countrified, line-dancable beats of I Want To Drink a Beer With You, a celebration to wasting time in good company. Pure blues is served up with Loving and Leaving, a timeless piece that could fit into a set list any time from the late sixties onwards and Well Kept is slow country blues that fits effortlessly into both camps.
This is an album that could only have been made by someone who isn’t that beholdened to one genre or another, someone broad minded enough to realise that its all just music. It draws lines between the Austin blues bars of today and the cosmic cowboy scene of the early 70’s, between the Southern Rock of yesteryear and the modern alt-country of today, between Chicago blues bars and the freewheelin’ scene of his North Western home. It is rootless and out of time, it references rather than rehashes, tips its hat rather than plagiarises and although much is surely familiar, it is better described as truly original music forged from classic sounds.
More than anything else Extended Play Catalogue Vol 1 is a collection of songs for the everyday and the working man, the realities of life and its loves, loss and longing but also its beauty and celebration. It may come from a personal place but every word and sentiment found here is totally relatable to the listening public at large. This maybe the sound track to Johnson’s life, but in many ways it is the sound track to all our lives. Never has an ordinary life had a score so glorious.
Listen to and buy the album HERE
Even if I didn’t rate the music you have to love a band with a name like The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer, doubly so once you find out that their current album is called Apocalipstick! Thankfully I do rate their music. A lot. They make exactly the sort of vintage music for the modern age which is really ticking a lot of boxes for me at the moment.
Whilst there is something in its eclectic flights of fancy and sonic choices that suggests it is the product of the modern world, it beats with a more experienced mind, a more lived in heart and a much older soul. Raw blues, early rock and roll, gospel grooves and soul moves all come together to build music which revels in its own ragged glory, its own substance over style heart, its own celebration of the way music used to be made.
Hard on Things and the wonderfully named duo responsible for it remind me of the ethic of artists like The Band, ones who in the face of the current zeitgeist deliberately subverted expectation and delivered something far older and less fashionable, wonderfully out of step with the current trend and just waited for others to catch up. The Band did it in the face of encroaching hippiedom and hard rock, The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer do it against a backdrop of landfill Indie, disposable pop and bedroom rappers. Why follow fashion when you can start your own, wholly new, roots movement?
If the fashion of the moment seems to be pop and indie bands appropriating retro and roots goodness to add cool and credibility to their sound, True Strays have always made music for more honest reasons. Yes, there are a host of indie bands folking up and rock bands bluesing out at the moment in an effort to find a more discerning audience but Where The Wild Things Hide and Hunt just reminds us that this trio has always been the real deal. This isn’t the sound of a modern band cynically toying with the sounds of the past for commercial gain, this is a band born out of time. One who would be just as happy if they woke up to find that they were a bunch of jobbing raggle-taggle folk-blues wranglers playing for the dime and delight of juke joints and cowboy bars in the dustbowl days of 1930’s America. (I should imagine, but I don’t have definitive proof of that.) They then proceed to use roots sounds and a garage rock attitude to join the dots between between that era and Memphis in 1956, Detroit in 1969 and London and New York in 1977…and I guess the here and now.
Heal The Haunted pretty much sums up the authenticity of their voodoo blues – heavy of groove, instantly singable yet flecked with deft and clever sonic choices and Roll On takes those same resonant sounds and uses them to build a widescreen, big sky, cinematic feel, all sumptuous harmonies and deftly picked guitar details. Oh My Love is the perfect blend of pulsing, pacy melody and utter infectiousness and Since I Was a Boy sees them bow out with a trashy and wonderfully clattering jam style workout.
It is this last song that best sums up their real attraction. In a world of finely produced pop and cliched rock, slick and sanitised commerciality and style over substance, True Strays remind us of what is really important. Shuffling grooves and driving back beats, bass lines which demand that you dance along, wonderful slidework and singalong vocals. Everything else you can take or leave. Are True Strays a playful detour through rock history? Or maybe a bourbon-soaked bar band from hell? The evidence would suggest both, thanks to a band with the smarts, chops, and passion to make something fresh out of the expansive musical fodder that helped lay its rowdy foundation.
As soon as Old Man’s Shoes emanates from the speakers you quickly realise that you are in a very different musical world from the vast majority of music made these days. I guess it is an age thing, once you have put behind you the vacuous trappings of cool and fashion that younger musicians seem to value so highly, you are free to actually make the music you want to, rather than the music which fits zeitgeist and demographic. Yes, this is music made by chaps who have been around the musical block a few times, are clearly more interested in enjoying what they do ahead of all other considerations and are happy to flick hearty V-signs to expectation, trend and the usual music industry concerns.
So with that all out of the way The Missing Persians revel purely in making the music that they want. It is highly literate, observational and amusing, deftly wrought, cuts a cautious musical cloth – less is indeed more – and wanders some rootsy but quintessentially British sonic pathways. Difference growls with a blues rock and roll vibe but one as heard through the lens of the pre-punk, pub rock scene As I mentioned when reviewing Hot Cats, there is a lot of the Nick Lowe vibe that comes through in their music, but I’m not going to bang on about that again. Every Now and Then has a touch of The Oyster Band’s folkiness woven on to a reggae groove and Think is a bar-room jam par excellence. But being a fan of language and lyric, it is the gloriously named China is the Workshop for the Widgets of the World which holds the essence of the band for me. A humorous observation on the capitalist systems love of the lowest common denominator delivered with awesome alliteration and wondrous word play.
It doesn’t take long either to appreciate the versatility of the band, they make brave and understated musical choices, only put in what is necessary for the song rather than the ego of the performers but even with such a stripped back approach manage to take in old school rock and roll, folk intricacies, a uniquely British take on Americana (Anglicana…is that a thing?) bluesy swagger, pop balladry and rootsy vibes of their own design. It also becomes clear that their editing process is tightly controlled. But there are few songs here that you could see as a commercial success in today’s climate, that is because the songs are actually too clever, that they would too easily confound and confuse this year’s pop picker and that is modernity’s loss. That said each song here seems to be very much stand on its own two feet, there may be no hits in the commercial sense but there is no filler either, no more of the same, no also rans.
What you have is a collection of songs full of wit and wisdom, silliness and style, deft playing and well trimmed, clean limbed deliveries. In an age of excess and showboating, where substance is secondary to appearance, here is a band to remind us of what is important…or at least what should be important anyway. They say that a prophet isn’t appreciated in his own land, but The Missing Persians know that some things are more important than profit!
Pop music with a rock and roll spine? Rock music with plenty of funky grooves? Sassy contemporary soul with a bluesy bite? Well, how about we accept that Tears is all of that and more and we just call it music. And that is the art really, to not worry about where the generic boundaries are and just get on with the job of writing great songs and this is indeed a great song. Mixing immediate and accessible guitar hooks with deft picking, simple but never simplistic beats and a wonderfully slick vocal delivery, it then throws in a bit of a latin swing, something which should be naturally occurring in the DNA of any band from their part of the world.
In a world of pre-packaged, written to order, chart to bargain bin dross, it reminds us that there are other options available, that pop music can be built around integrity and clever construction. It also reminds us that not all rock music has to be centred on adolescent and “how tough do I look” poses…because, of course, the answer is “not very!” Tears rocks with the best of them and pops to perfection because it has soul and groove to spare, it also has wide appeal, discerning music fans will admire the way it is put together and mainstream pop fans will just want to dance the night away to its slinky rhythms.
There isn’t much new under the musical sun, and what is going on here is hardly new either, but it shows that even along the familiar and well-trodden musical pathways there is still more than enough room to be original as well as highly accessible. It isn’t always about breaking new ground, sometimes it is good enough to revisit old musical comfort zones, give them a new lick of paint, polish things up a bit and come out with a song that works just because it is a great tune. No gimmicks, no fashion statements, just great music for the sake of great music. Isn’t that how it should be anyway?
There is some music which, going on titles alone, begs more questions than answers. A band called, for example, Splat! could turn out to be almost anything musically. Similarly Doctor Bongo’s Electric Herring leaves you similarly bemused at what might lie within, though you can be fairly sure that drugs were involved in its construction. The only really certainty when it comes to names is that anything with an umlaut over a vowel is an old school metal band trying to look tough or worldly…or both. Lo-Hi Rebels presents no such problem, something of the sound and the attitude are captured in the band name and something of their worldly point of view in the album title.
If the opening salvo fires off in fairly expected style, underneath their scuzzy garage rock sound there are some less than expected reference points. Whilst many of the tracks seem to pay homage to the early days of Brit punk, somewhere between the brash melodics of the first wave and the more intense and destructive second, tracks like Last Chance Saloon are built on the echoes of the pre-punk, London R&B pub-rock era that when speed up and stripped down became the musical template for British punk. Got Soul also hints and a more interesting record collection, 60’s psych rock meets twisted beat music and Carol even shows that the band are not adversed to pop balladry, though obviously they drench it in visceral and raw guitars plus the odd jaunty retro riff and a lunatic crescendo.
Whilst so many bands are looking to create their own sound through convoluted vocal styles and cross genre fusions with an eye on the fickle fashion of the youth market, Lo-Fi Rebels wear their “art on their sleeve”. It may be cooler to reference happening indie bands or iconic American punk but the band are effectively channelling, reviving and updating a sound that has been wielded many times before from the likes of BB King to The Seeds to Dr Feelgood to Burning Tree, proving that great music does stand the test of time. If these are intentional references then good on them, it shows that they not only have great taste but are aware of their place in musical history, something that all bands should have a grasp on. If unintentional it probably says something about musical osmosis or that maybe humans have something in their DNA that makes them predisposed to such raw and primal sounds. I don’t know, I’m not actually a real scientist.
At a time when music is recorded as disconnected musical fragments which are then meticuluously put together to a perfect set of rules, it is great to come across musicians who are brave enough to return to basics, stick a microphone in a room and capture things just as they happen, the players and tube amps, drum machines and creaking chairs, shuffling feet, feedback, fuzz and everything in between. Recording as god intended! What was originally going to be a free give away to underground press and like minded musical souls, fans and friends excited those awfully nice chaps at Annibale Records so much that the end result actually became a fully paid up CD release.
This self titled e.p. delivers 6 songs which ricochette between cavernous blues and the dissonance, noise and atonality of the New York no-wave scene, it is primal, visceral and dangerous, it snarls and seethes, bullys and bruises….this is not music that you would want to find yourself stuck in a dark alley with.
It resonats with echoes of The Gun Club minus their rockabilly back beat but shares the same ritualistic voodoo vibes of their deranged world, the rythmns are relentless, the riffs open wounds and the words threatening and the whole thing feels like a dark and groovy punch in the face. Sometimes you just want to be used, knocked down and threatened just to feel the adreneline rush take over, J.D. Hangover are the musical equivelant of that illicit thrill.
Aren’t you meant to mellow with age? Aren’t you meant to hand the musical baton on to the next generation, calm down and grow old gracefully? Well, when the younger generation seem largely content to write songs devoid of bite or opinion and the world seems to grow even more chaotic, ill-balanced and self-serving day by day, what is an old punk to do? They do what they have always done, write fired up music about the state of the world around them, remind people that once music had something to say, thats what Derailer do anyway and boy do they sound pissed off.
Derailer are a motley bunch of musicians whose collective family tree runs through a whole raft of local agitator rock and viseral punk bands, including The Chaos Brothers, The Boys From County Hell and and Nobody’s Heroes but Delete The Elite pushes beyond merely punk roots and splices garage rock, swamp blues, scuzzy alt-rock and a snarling commentary which seems equally content to put things right or pull things down.
And if songs like Prohibition are happy to play the high octane, punk groove card, the gothic-country wasteland shiver of Creepin’ Jesus and the raucous roots salvos of Hands of The Healer position them closer to the tribal psychobilly blues of The Gun Club, never a bad band to find yourself sharing a vibe with.
Somehow, Derailer have mastered the art of writing songs that represent every disenfranchised musical subset in history…well, a fair slice of them anyway. In 12 surly and uncompromising musical slices Delete The Elite manages to embrace the sneering punk, the slick haired rock and roller and any number of beligerants wandering the musical fringes. The jagged riffs will speak to blues heads and hard rockers alike and the brooding undertones are a place even the estranged goth can find solace. Call it what you will but for my money this is garage rock at its finest.
Following on from writing about their recent release Kill White Lights we sat down for a bit of a chat to find out more about our favourite Philly garage rockers The Judex to find out more about where it all started, what’s it all about and more excitingly, where is it all heading.
So let’s start with a bit of background, you are a relatively new band, what’s the musical family tree and back story that gets us to the birth of The Judex?
W: I wish I had something more engaging and exotic to start out on, but the birth of The Judex is relatively mundane although it does involve a musical family tree, as you put it. Basically, the four of us all played together in various forms as teenagers with various degrees of regional success… we lost touch and went our separate ways. Fast forward to last Winter. I had been singing in a rockabilly band in New York and, while it was a quality project with great people, it wasn’t the same as a ‘real’ band, the sense of priorities are different, and so forth. Not wrong, just different.
I had started to get back in touch with Sean and we had a lot of the same ideas about how self-indulgent and interchangeable bands had become and acted- and both Sean and J were really blue collar in a sense, not jaded and cynical like a lot of musicians I’d been interacting with in the city. It was kind of refreshing to be around that kind of attitude again, where people just wanted to throw themselves into it and who shared the mindset of, let’s talk less about ourselves, and just get shit done.
Genres are tricky things, full of implication and assumption. Pop music isn’t always popular, soul bands don’t always connect deep down and not all blues is melancholic. Similarly the term Americana might imply that it is a sound taken from the American music psyche or that references past glories from that country. But maybe some music is less about geography and more about the similarities between the people making it. If the modern urban sprawl has given us intense, minimal rapped deliveries put to a empty industrial-tribal beat and conversely slow-paced agrarian comments produce gentler, lilting folk, maybe all Billy Roberts is doing is channelling the natural pace and pulse of hard-working, regular communities, wherever they may be found.
And maybe the term Americana is a bit misleading, some of the hall marks are there for sure but Greenbah also wanders many other roads, it is rough around the edges rock, outlaw country, rhythm and booze; it grooves, it boogies, it motors. It is the sound of the perfect bar band, one that you could have stumbled across anywhere from 60’s San Francisco, 70’s New York, 80’s London and a hundred other scenes and cities across the decades. I guess it carries a torch that stems back to the early blues players and then has evolved, grown, got sonically tooled up but always been around in some form or another.
If album opener, Old Friend, ticks off more than a few of those American country references and has a certain Springsteen vibe about it, Greenbah also has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Blood and Bones is a raw, blues rock workout, Only One is a pacy ballad as blistering as it is beautiful and No One Knows Me is a west coast country punk anthem. There is even room for a moment of Cohen-esque bar-room introspection with Don’t Tell Mamma and Little Johnny is a song that Tom Waits would kill for, bent to his will and then probably re-written with a tuba in mind.
To say that it is a solid album is an understatement, The Rough Riders as a pack are a force to be reckoned with, they get the job done with the minimum of fuss, with an attitude of “I’ve had my union card a long time, I know what the job is, don’t mess with me when I’m working.” The charm comes from the fact that although it is the sound of a group of musicians playing at the top of the gruff, country-rock game, they rarely give away all the goods at once, preferring instead to serve the song and wait for their rare, individual moment in the spotlight, teasing and taunting the listener. Any showboating is reduced to intricate motifs and clever sonic designs which spice the music rather than lime-lit ego massaging that modern music is infamous for.
People are people, music is where you find it and the world is a small place. All cliches I’ll grant you but it does explain why Billy Roberts and The Rough Riders are difficult to place in every sense of the phrase. So why not raise a glass to the post-genre, post scene, post-everything world…then finish the bottle whilst listening to this intriguing Antipodean band.
It says something about the world around us when there are people who can name all of The Kardashians but who can’t name 5 congressional leaders, or know just how long it would take to ride from King’s Landing to…some other place in a made up world but can’t point to North Korea on the map. Such is the world we find ourselves in today, the world where throw away culture and shallow consumerism is more important than political issues, social values and even knowledge and facts. If, like me, you are one of those people who worries about what sort of world we are leaving behind for the next generation and indeed Keith Richards, then maybe we should form a movement, fight back, revolt. And if we are going to revolt, then we need a revolting soundtrack…if you know what I mean…and I know just the guys for the job.
Philly garage-rock guitar slingers The Judex are back, and as always they have a problem with the world around them, the one I have just described. Why are people more interested in whether their favourite character will make it to the next season of a fantasy TV show than if it is even safe to walk their own streets, more interested in the clash of clans that is taking place on their TV than the race, class, political divisions breaking their own society apart? And of course they tackle it in their own inimitable way.
Banshee blues howls and satanic Elvis vocals, chugging guitars, primordial back beats and granite bass lines are all fashioned and bullied into a brilliant onslaught of menacing grooves and maligned melody. It is the sound of the American dream slipping into dystopian decay, the sound of the world shifting into something unspeakable, the sound of the rot setting in. But more than that it is a wake up call, a rallying cry to take notice and to stop papering over the cracks in society, to build bridges not walls.
Recorded with legendary producer Mark Plati who has worked with such game changing artists as David Bowie and The Cure, this track also welcomes new drummer Dalton from anarchist punk legends The Founders and he sounds right at home holding down the tsunami back beats which are the bands anchor.
Music is a great way of getting a point across, of delivering social commentary and political points of view. And this is political, with a small “p,” not party political but more the politics of the man in the street, the man worried about his family’s safety, the man calling for fundamental changes to the way we view the world and people around us. And if you want to make public your concerns about the society you find yourself trapped in why not wrap them up in the grooviest, most urgent and brutal punk-blues punch possible. That’s what The Judex do and do so brilliantly.
If you think that rock and roll is strictly a young man’s game, artists such as Phillip Foxley quickly remind us that this is certainly not the case. The genre may try to sell an image of young firebrands wielding guitars like weapons and kicking at the conventions of society, but the reality is that youthful exuberance is quite quickly replaced with a whole different and more useful set of skills and it is these that allow you to actually stay in the game and have a career in music. Skills such as concise song writing, the ability to craft infectious melody and actually having something to say in your song. All things that Phillip Foxley brings to the fore in It’s Up To Us!
That it is political with a very small p, socially conscious and acutely resonant in these disunited times shows the level of maturity you would expect from a man who has put the hours in at the sharp end of the gig circuit. That it is hook-filled, has addictive and memorable choruses and a deft and hypnotic guitar line also shows you just how good he is at his craft. Some rock music is all about rhetoric and bluster, is about style over substance, but this isn’t. Instead it makes you think, makes you relate, makes you want to discuss implications. The fact that it does all of that to a musical bassline which will make you want to dance your arse off is a real bonus.
There is one thing you can say about Nelson King, he’s no slouch when it comes to musical output. It seems that no sooner have the last notes of his trademark scuzzed-up and sleazy garage blues faded on the wind than a new collection arrives demanding attention. And just when I think that I have got the man’s style pinned down, a sort of white-boy R&B reminiscent of the late sixties Stones, he throws us a curve ball. Well, a few really.
But I shouldn’t be surprised because where there is blues, soul isn’t far behind and Fly (With Me) is our hero doing to that genre what he has already done to blues and rock ‘n’ roll, kicking it around the yard, then beating the dents out and wiping it over with an oily rag. And Fly (With Me) is brilliant because of such treatment and comes at you like the sound of Detroit Soul meeting the West London blues explosion for some naughtiness in a back alley.
See, a curve ball. And then he just keeps lobbing them. Hey Babe is a skittering slice of wasted psychedelia, Word To The Wise is a sumptuous and textured ballad in the style of our lord Nikki Sudden and We Will Overcome is as louche and purposefully lazy as it gets.
Ironically it is the album’s lead single, Last Man Standing, which takes the easiest route. Captivating dynamics are built from the simple yet effective jump from gentle guitar picking to hitting the big chorus chords. Not only the sort of song he does so well, he does it much better than most.
The charm of Larger Than Life and indeed Nelson King’s music in general is that whilst his songs are based around a fairly straightforward if slightly battered bluesy rock sound, the sort of sonic vehicle that people have been driving around the downtown streets since the 60’s it is what he bolts on to it that counts. Emotive soul, singer-songwriter balladry, pop infectiousness, rock edge, wasted elegance, raw emotion and more beside. It is that combination of familiarity and exploration that keeps him one step ahead of the pack.
Borders are always interesting places for fusion and creativity. Cultures clash; community’s blend and wonderful new hybrids arise from the melting pot to take on a life of their own. South Texas is just such a place and if that is reflected in its music, there is no better mirror than Emilio Crixell and his musical gang.
The music does take a bit of unravelling, if you are the sort of person who likes to do such a thing, and I like nothing better than unpicking musical threads. It isn’t so much complex, more textured, with all the sounds that have found their way to this culturally diverse region finding a place to co-exist in the music. Mediterranean grooves carried through the Latin sounds of South America, African rhythms that evolved into soul and gospel; Mariachi spice, southern blues-rock and everything in between rub shoulders in one big musical celebration.
If you took the showboating and psychedelia out of Carlos Santana’s early albums, this would sit right in there along side them, in the same way linking the sultry and the sassy, the emotive and the energetic, the familiar and the forward thinking. And also like him this is music that represents the creative gene spicing which takes place in the ever shrinking, ever shifting modern world. Revolutions are fun for a while, but evolution is the way forward.
There was a point a few songs in to The Collection, possibly somewhere around Always You that I recognised the same battered style and ragged glory of one of my favourite musical cult heroes, Nikki Sudden. In my book, it doesn’t get better than that. The same loose and slightly louche approach, the same street gutter observations, the backstreet mythologies being woven, the broken guitar-slinging poet. And that is the thing I am finding that I love about Nelson King’s music, each song reminds me of fallen musical heroes or underrated and under the radar torch bearers. The key word here is remind, not replicate.
Yes, there is a lot in his sound which you can trace back to classic sounds of previous eras but those sounds are called classic for a reason and after all they do say that familiarity breeds content…or at least they should. But as I have pointed out before, it isn’t enough to unpick your favourite threads from the existing weave of musical history, it is all about the design you fashion them into next. The Collection seems to lean more into an acoustic driven place, electric guitars do little more than embellish the existing motifs or add interesting detail and the bass is happy to wander a root note route through the background. But as always the combination of old blues emotions, dark sleazy grooves, understated rock dynamics and country rock licks works to perfection but the new trick being pulled out of the bag here is space. Space that allows atmosphere to linger between the notes, anticipation to hang between the words.
It is this sort of rock music which is timeless, fashions come and go but this flavour of British heartland, small venue, underground, in the know rock seems ever present. It links the old folk heroes to the stolen blues scene of the 60’s to the sleazy and emotive outpourings of the likes of Messrs. Sudden and Kusworth. All of those have known that it isn’t about what you steal; it is what you then do with those references. Some miss the point, some wish to merely emulate, Nelson King uses it to write his own footnote in the underground musical history books.
Some music seems to be a melting pot of sounds and ideas that takes some unravelling, if you’re that sort of person, one who feels the need to explore what’s under the musical hood of the car. I’m a reviewer so I am that sort of person. Other music paints instant pictures and conjures immediate imagery, so much so that you can instantly see what you are dealing with. Kalo are the latter type of band.
Right from the first bar you can picture them in some Southern roadhouse or dive bar firing off salvos of raw, bluesy, roots rock…groovesome r’n’b meets old-school rock and roll. A timeless rock sound that never goes out of fashion because it was never in fashion, just constant, ever present and undiminished. It is sassy, sexy and soulful and like all great trio’s gets its power from three musicians all contributing equally, nothing is wasted, nothing over played and everyone gets to play a role.
It is a sound that we are familiar with for sure, but it is a sound which is normally described in reviews containing words such as classic, iconic and seminal; swaggering rock and roll, bar-band attitude and raw grooves, and wholly unapologetic about it. And why would you need to apologise about something this great? Not every song has to break down barriers, not every band needs to explore pastures new, sometimes it is good enough to take a great sound and make it your own. This is one of those times.
There is a famous quote that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But I would add that those who do remember the past are free to take its finest moments, hone and refine them and use them to build bridges into the future. Kalo do just that.
It is possible that Nelson King subscribes less to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy and more to a “if it ain’t broke it’s still okay to beat the crap out of it and sculpt battered and interesting new shapes.” Maybe. What I’m trying to say in my unnecessarily verbose sort of way is that Is There Something is actually the best of both worlds, familiar enough to be immediately engaging yet original enough to bring something new to the table.
At the albums core is a bluesy, boogie, rhythm and booze sort of vibe, good time drinking den music, a rootsy, rock ‘n’ roll bar band sound and whilst it is easy to see where the man is coming from, make some educated guesses about his record collection and swap anecdotes about meeting Ten Years After, its where he takes things from there that makes things interesting.
Let me draw a line connecting the points on that journey, a line connecting West London underground r’n’b venues of the 60’s with smoky, back street Chicago blues clubs of an earlier era, another from New York’s proto-punk scene of the 70’s to the open highways of the west, the soundtrack to a road trip travelling foot on the floor, top down, beer in hand. Another joining rock with roots, the profound with the profane, the familiar with the exploratory. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music of this outstanding musician.
The great advantage of knowing your musical history, of course, is that you have plenty of material to reference, be inspired by, to fill in the gaps between, cross pollinate and generally explore. In the same way that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it, there is a reason why some sounds and styles continue to exist, evolve and advance and others become musical cul-du-sacs. Nelson King clearly knows his musical history. And because of this he is able to take familiar threads and weave whole new designs with them, ones that are both fresh yet familiar.
Throughout its 9 tracks Lo-Fi meanders through the underbelly of rock and roll, borrowing a Stones lick here, referencing the Thunders swagger there and often revelling in a sneering punk (Lower East Side division) approach that seemingly reveres the genre and tries to obliterate it at the same time. Its garage rock feel reminds us of what’s really important – attitude rather than intricacies, groove rather than grandiose statements. And if in the wrong hands such a blending of blues, r&b and rock might result in a pastiche of what has gone before, Nelson King knows just which dark and sleazy elements to use to create his wrong side of the tracks music, how to infuse it with an illicit danger and the feeling that you could do with a shower after listening to the album.
The songs groove and grind, run around four to the floor rock outs yet are also capable of tender tunefulness and reflective moments. Straight down the line rock and roll has survived this long because it delivers the goods in an accessible and unfussy fashion, has edge and paints wonderful pictures for the listener. Nelson King is very aware of this and because of it Lo-Fi ticks all the required boxes….and a few more I hadn’t even thought of.
I’m always a bit apprehensive when I see Ed Sheeran cited as an influence on a young artist. Don’t get me wrong, there’s worse people to look up to, it’s just that I remember him as a young musical scruff, sofa surfing his way around the circuit, hungry to find a way into the industry rather than the go to indie-pop weirdo, friend of the stars that he has become.
Thankfully, Shane Guerrette has much more in common with that younger Ed, the one who I remember chatting to over a beer in a club dressing room all those years ago before it all went horribly right. And just as Ed used the folk and acoustica of his homeland’s traditions to create the basis for his commercially accessible sound, Shane does the same with his. Yes, it falls easy on the ear but it is built from more complex stuff than your average guy with a guitar. Hendrix-esque guitar noodles tumble alongside raw bluesy bluster, country grooves and solid rock drives. A mere pop sound this is not!
And that is what will work for Shane in the long run. Rather than dumb down the music, he just blends the various threads well so that no rough edges or difficult curves trip up the pop fans who will undoubtedly latch on to his songs. But well concealed as they are, those who desire a more integral and textured sound will also find that there is a lot to satisfy their requirements. A young singer-songwriter with mainstream appeal AND depth? What is the world coming to?