It’s clear from the outset that this album is going to be something special, the cover artwork alone tells you that there has been a lot of thought and work gone into the making of this album. It’s always a good idea to make your cover stand out because fans of this style of music will be dipping into this cd regularly and, lets face it, no one likes a boring album cover.
Man, that riff! You can’t beat a low-slung, scattergun blast of straight and honest garage rock of the sort that might have lured you into a club on the Lower East Side sometime around ’78. It growls, it grooves and it echos with the ghosts of the greats of blues, rock’n’roll and punk. The advantage that Last Chance Riders has is that they have the benefit of modern production allowing them to stand with one foot in both worlds, that of the “let’s just do” and the “let’s make this sound great” simultaneously.
And great it is, both polished and impactful but also honest and attitude driven. Throw in Jessie Albright’s vocals that run from world weary to anthemic as the song requires and a band who know that its all about getting the basics right rather than covering things in studio glitter and you have a song that both makes us shed a tear for the likes of Johnny Thunders and begs the question that perhaps the time is right play that scene all over again.
There is very little new under the sun, as they say, especially when it comes to guys singing about cars. But as is always the way it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Anyway, that’s enough cliche’s for the time being, you know what I am saying. And whilst Cool Ride is a guy singing about a car, it is the music that Peter Senior uses to deliver the message that justifies going over such well trodden territory again.
Blending a country rock ’n’ roll groove with more soulful textures, – plaintive piano notes and melancholic trumpets with a bluesy backbeat – the song might swerve away from the usual cliches, but the video certainly doesn’t. I like to think that the images use are knowingly obvious, that it is self-deprecating, delivered with a wink and it does indeed remind us that there is more to life than cars and girls (sorry another throw away reference). It is also about cars and boys!
The track is taken from On The Edge, an album which acts as a showcase for Senior’s myriad styles and musical interests skipping between country and rock, Motown and pop, an almost as live recording and his first solo album to date.
But despite, or perhaps because of, the playful innuendo found here you shouldn’t dismiss the song as a past pastiche or rose tinted glance back to past musical glories. Okay, that is part of what’s going on here but it is also a song for today, a modern update on simpler musical times and blending oil stained Americana with sassy late night jazz vibes. And the more you play it the more you find to like about it.
Between the more obvious beats and the straightforward intent, subtle and supple textures emerge, the odd percussive groove here, a Mariachi blast there, perfectly poised harmonies and some clever arrangements. It would be easy to take so many different sonic elements, throw them into the mix and end up with a cluttered sound, one where one instrument steps on the toes of another but the production here allows everything to breath, even to the point that you can hear some of the “live-ness” of the recording, something I thoroughly approve of.
So to conclude, it is a song that you need to get to know, one that you need to spend some time with, take for a spin a few times and understand how it handles. And like most great cars you will find that what you find when you lift the hood of this sonic beast may very well surprise you.
Remember when Jet rocked up (literally) in the early part of this century and sounded like the hottest 60’s garage rock band that no one had ever heard of. Well, Harmless Habit has those same qualities. They may take their fashion tips from 80’s glam-metal and 90’s emo but when they crank out the tunes they have something their rock and roll brethren don’t. Serious groove! Whilst their fellow alt-rockers are checking their hair in the mirror and the classic rock fraternity are recycling Iron Maiden riffs and hoping that no one notices, Harmless Habit are laying down some serious chops.
Funky bass lines, four-four beats with the right amount of swing, tight riffs and fist in the air vocals…it’s all there. It is odd that by looking back to straight forward, old-school rock and roll they may have found the life-line that allows the genre to get over itself and move forward, but hey, why not? If it aint broke….
Pitching the vocal perfection of The Civil Wars onto often hard rocking back beats, The Mutineers, capture the heart of what Americana music is, in that they sound like the sweet and sour pulse of that country’s musical heart. A bold statement? Perhaps but between Hard Sell’s low-slung dirty rock drives, Couldn’t Get Over You’s nod to 50’s rock and roll and After Thoughts gothic country vibes they seem to have it covered.
Add to this a touch of Cave-esque apocalyptic blues on I’ve Got The Bottle and the gentle folk ballad of Hourglass to wrap things up and you really have the perfect journey through the honest under belly of American music. And like the music, the narratives they weave and the stories they tell come right out of the Beat writers book of grim reality, epic poems about the losers, the lost and the lonely.
Music might be great at offering distractions from the real world but it is also great at holding a mirror up to it, and this Threshold is a wonderfully cracked and dirt streaked mirror that reflects the realities of life in the dark and forgotten corners of the American dream. Honesty is the best policy, they say, and it is the grim truths and sad realities that thread their way through the songs that make this such a great record.
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 wonderfully named Gentlemen and Scholars sound like nothing less than the beating heart of the American Dream. It is the sound of truck stops blending into back street Chicago blues clubs, of late night diners and jukeboxes which in turn become the sound of a rocking chair creaking on a back porch as the screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways and there is a distinct possibility that Roy Orbison is playing on the radio. It is the sound of an alternative, underground path that music took when it should have become the mainstream.
It follows in the spirit of great rock and roll from The Allman Brothers to The Black Crowes and from Muddy Waters to The Black Keys. It struts, is sassy, musically underplayed, just laying down the required riffs and beats to get the job done but never over playing its hand and its slinky, staccato grooves rock like a beast.
It is the sound of a midnight ritual designed to re-animate the zombie corpse of the muse of music that mattered, still matters and will continue to matter, long after the current boy band fad has returned to a day job where the main concern is asking the customer if they want fries with that!
Then again with a string of albums behind them as proof that they have paid their dues, you always knew that you were in safe hands and as a calling card for the full length album Revelry, I’ll be surprised if your credit card is still in your wallet by the time the song ends. Buy it now!
Last Great Dreamers make a glorious racket and no mistake. Then again they always did. Back in the day, the day in this case being the early nineties, they were part of that glam-punk, sleazy-blues infused back to basic rock and roll wave which saw them surf the stages of the Soho scene alongside the likes of The Dogs and The Quireboys. The scene was vibrant, the music was great and life was good. But tastes change and as lad culture took a grip the band went on hiatus. Ironic really for a band whose heart beat with the same power-pop pulse, warmth and humour as The Faces, a band to which the incoming Brit-Pop owes no small debt of gratitude. Maybe it’s all about having the right hair cut!
Anyway, fast forward to 2014 and the band re-emerged, same musical chops, same glorious swagger….same haircuts… and proceeded to remind us via a new album, Transmissions From Oblivion, just what we had been missing all these years. Well, 13th Floor Renegades does nothing but underline just what musical joys Brit-Pop robbed us of throughout those intervening years. Tracks such as Primitive Man strut with a glam rock stomp and lead single No Sunshine is a fast and furious Stones-y slavo complete with shuffling interlude and fist in the air anthemics, but delivered at a speed that, even back in the their heyday, wouldn’t have attempted.
Whose Side Are You On? is what Hanoi Rocks would have sounded like if they had ditched the glam posturing and fully embraced a more pop sound, muscular yet melodic, incendiary but infectious and Miles Away sees them take a cosmic country-rock road trip.
Even within their power-pop-rock stamping ground they manage to explore a lot of territory from punked up, headlong rushes, to deft blues groovers, from folk-tinged passages to perfect, speed fuelled pop. But it all comes down to rock ’n’roll and whilst pursuing theses various sonic strands they do so with low-slung swagger and an attitude which is part rock icon, part party starting cheerleaders, part serious musical torchbearers, part fun loving blues bar jammers. And that’s one hell of a combination to get right but these boys play the part to perfection.
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?
Lauren Ruth Ward’s video for “Blue Collar Sex Kitten” premiered today. The video pulls viewers into a dreamlike sequence as Ward unleashed her mesmerizing rock n’ roll swagger on an eclectic cast of characters including local LA DJs, bandmates and friends.
Ward will be bringing her must-see show on the road, with several performances at SXSW in Austin – including an opening slot for Keith Urban at Stubbs – and a headline tour spanning New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
With the recent release of her highly anticipated psych-blues debut album, Well, Hell, Ward’s trajectory steadily ascends. A prolific artist in every medium she touches, Lauren has been a hairstylist for 9 years, while at the same time shifting her creative focus to her music in partnership with her co-writer and guitarist Eduardo Rivera. On Well, Hell, Lauren’s arresting vocals slice through classic rock instrumentation delivered through the perfect modern filter of her band. “Did I Offend You?” is one of the many standout tracks on the album, showcasing the duo’s intricate yet playful songwriting and lyrical wit. Stay tuned for more opportunities to experience the band’s effervescent brand of modern psych-pop in a city near you!
LAUREN RUTH WARD SPRING TOUR DATES:
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!
Last time out, Dynamos proved themselves to be a fantastic fusion of old school, low-slung rock and roll groove and clean limbed, tight pop delivery, and latest single, Knowledge, does nothing but reinforces the fact. We live in a nostalgic age so this repackaging, rebranding, reinvention of classic R&B (as in blues driven rock and roll, not the pop diva nonsense which has since stolen the term) is perfect for the modern audience.
It plays as much to a retro, rootys, rock and roll past as it does to the modern post-genre world, a world where it is okay for kids to boogie away to such slinky pop-rock grooves, whilst wearing a Daft Punk T-shirt and clutching a Bob Dylan vinyl. Some might call that a lack of musical identity, I call it refreshing broad mindedness. And Dynamos fit right in to this non-tribal world, plying sleazy rock licks and soulful vibes, funky grooves and pop infectiousness but looking to the future whilst tipping their jaunty fedoras to the past. How could you not love them?
I sometimes wonder if the spirit of rock and roll hasn’t got a bit lost as modern bands try to out technical each other, out volume each other, to be tougher, harder, more dangerous than each other. It seems the more they try the further away from rock and roll they get. Chuck Berry isn’t an icon because he was loud or unnecessarily detailed in his approach, he is an icon because he was the coolest cat on the block. That says more about rock and roll than any wall of Marshall amps or 20 minute drum solo.
Electric Radio Kings understand this all too well. Picture the scene. The club is full, the band is in full flight and the night is young and full of potential. There’s a guy down the front making mental notes of the guitar chops and chord progressions, there’s always one but he’s okay, and whilst he is dreaming of getting up on that stage one day, all of the cool kids are concentrating on something else…the groove. They are boogieing the night away, getting lit, getting loaded, getting hot and sweaty, bumping hips and looking to get off with each other. That’s the spirit of rock and roll right there. Low slung guitars, re-appropriated blues licks, the poise and the pose in equal measure, the spirit of Chuck Berry and Jack Daniels working in unison.
The band on the stage in this scenario, well, that could easily be Electric Radio Kings. They groove and grind, they growl and prowl, they understand the balance of melody and infectiousness with musical muscle and a gritty edge, that rock can have pop sensibility, that no nonsense four to the floor rock and roll is still alive. It just needs a touch of sparkle and a quick polish now and again but essentially it is still more than fit for purpose.
You can say what you like about Mr King but you can’t deny that he has a pretty solid work rate. It seems that barely a season goes by without at least one album popping into the review pile. Whilst many of his albums have seen him head into that battered and brusied electric rock ’n’ roll territory that he seems to effortlessly ooze, this album returns him to the acoustic playground that he explored so wonderfully on The Collection. Acoustic does just what it says on the tin, for the most part, one voice, a couple of layered acoustic guitars, minimal beats and the odd foray into a slightly embellished sound.
But if that sounds a tad underwhelming or that you have heard enough of such deliveries to last a life time, you haven’t factored in the sheer ragged glory of Nelson King’s songs. This is no fey, gap-year, indie-folk singer in wide brimmed hat aiming for the artistry of Simon and Garfunkel and only reaching the gimmickry of Bon Ivor, this is a man who has paid his rock and roll dues so many times over, read, absorbed and even added a few footnotes to the rule book, that he doesn’t even have to plug in to make rootsy rock and roll statements, statements which feel like long lost classics from a golden age. This is rock and roll in the raw, stripped to its very soul, often vulnerable, always emotive.
If songs like You Blow Me Away and House on Fire are concessions to a fuller band sound, both of which could have easily graced a Stones set any time from the early seventies onwards, it is the lilting country-folk vibes of I’ll Fall For You and Face The Sun which are more representative of the overall feel of the album, the later in particular feeling like Keef and Ronnie jamming out in the dressing room in a cloud of nicotine and whiskey vapour.
It is always easy to see where Nelson King comes from, imagine a blusier Johnny Thunders growing up in England and learning to play by listening to Dylan and Neil Young, Creedence and The Band, but they are references worn openly and honestly and of course with music this fundamentally pure, unpretentious and invigorating what would be the point of trying to re-invent it. Better to just add more timeless gems to the canon and that is exactly what Nelson King has done here.
A preview from the next album Shine
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.
I always maintain that one of the things that sets apart bands destined to remain a permanent fixture of their local gig circuit and those who get out there and get the breaks, ones that are easily marketed to an eager audience is often the look, the vibe, the credibility of the bands image. If you hit the stage looking like you have just come from your job at the local hardware store or have dressed comfortably for a summer barbecue, then who is going to take you seriously? Turn up looking like O.D.D and the battle is halfway won. These three rock stalwarts look like they did their bit in the rock and roll wars, were the first over the top of the trenches to repeal electronic dance music, made daring night time raids to thwart the plans of evil indie kids with their skinny jeans and their complicated hair and probably display the heads of boy band members proudly in their hallways.
For that, we salute you. And thankfully the music that they make lives up to just such an image. Rock’n’Roll in the true spirit of the name before the ridiculous onslaught of sub-divisions, generic preciousness and tribalism hit the genre. It is groovesome biker rock, blues turned loud and nasty, hard riffing to a muscular beat and a pounding bass line, rock music boiled down to its essence, gimmick free and with no added sugar. It is surly and antagonistic, sure of itself and in your face…isn’t that how rock music is meant to be? All four songs on this EP occupy similar sonic space – driven, angry, four to the floor head bangers – but that isn’t to say that they don’t all stand apart from each other, it is just that having found what it is they want to do, they have kept at it and been content with just doing it so much better than most of the other bands competing for the same audience.
Okay in the scheme of things it isn’t all that clever, I’m pretty sure that they never set out to split the musical atom or create the hard rock equivalent of a treatise from Descartes, but it is big, or as the aforementioned Frenchman might have put it “I rock therefore I am!” We might live in enlightened times but every now and again it is nice to be reminded that sometimes, sonically at least, size does matter.
Every band should get to have their AC/DC moment. The Cult did it better than most, certainly better than Accept did it, Rose Tattoo did it in it’s native accent and Humble Pie seemed to do it through the use of time travel. Gold Phoenix has always wandered pretty parallel sonic paths but here they strip it down to its bare essentials, lead with a gloriously dumb riff…and I mean that as a compliment, four-four beats with just the right amount of swing and a large dash of innuendo. Sometimes that is pretty much all rock and roll needs to be about.
And if the template is familiar and rock and roll this straight-forward can’t really be about bringing much new to the table, Surrey’s finest (that’s the Jam fans pissed off then) use their inherent swagger and attitude to make up for it and then some. It grooves and grates, blisters and boogies, it snaps, crackles and rocks and somewhere high above the ghost of Bon Scott is looking down and saying something profound like….strewth baby, that rocks like a beast!
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.
An album is more than just a collection of songs; it is a window into where an artist is, mentally, physically and often more telling, logistically, at the point of recording. 2014’s compact and bijou five track The Ghost of Corelli found our hero leading a three piece band and wielding a sound very much dominated by big guitars, dynamic and punchy bass lines and driving back beats. It was effective, dramatic and to the point. And whilst such a rock and roll pulse has always beaten at the heart of his music, as it beats at the heart of almost every classic record irrespective of genre, in some ways it felt like a departure from the sound I associate with David Marx.
But A Thousand Mandolins is all about texture rather than testosterone, subtlety and suppleness rather than shock and awe, layered hues coloured by more instruments doing less work rather than fewer vivid and vibrant musical colours being painted boldly and to more dramatic effect. Not that there isn’t drama to be found here, it is just of a richer, more effective and better conceived nature, a Robert Altman to the previous release’s Martin Scorsese perhaps.
And even before you delve into the music, the Marxian cultural reference machine is fine tuned and offering tantalising hints, dropping names such as Caravaggio, Candide and the Venus de Milo, balancing tears and murder, beckoning silence and disavowing miracles. Even the title of the album speaks of points of reference that go beyond most modern artists and invokes Leonard Cohen’s poeticism or a more global Tom Waits vision.
If two songs define the limits of the album it is the back-to-back tracks Merry-Go-Round and Halfway Between Tears and Murder. The former built of a jaunty swagger, buoyant banjos and a light groove, the latter a dark, slow-building brooding song forged more of atmosphere and anticipation than the music that defines its structure.
But obviously this isn’t just a collection of musical stops along an arbitrary line drawn between the light and shade of those two songs; it takes some interesting and intriguing detours as well. She’s Just Not That Kind of Girl is an alternative take on that musical period when The Beatles were still a straight (-ish) pop band but where wandering, drugs in hand, towards more psychedelic landscapes and Face Down Like The Huddled Suicides is Elvis Costello getting all philosophical. Short, snappy and…well, deep! Country vibes ooze from Let The Silence Prevail, drums shuffle, organs swell (steady!) and guitars groove, in an underground, East Nashville, outlaw bar band sort of way with not a rhinestone in sight, thankfully.
So what has changed to make this album so different to the last? Well, The Ghost of Corelli was made against a backdrop of the logistical pitfalls of keeping a regular band on the road and possibly delivering sets that pandered, whether consciously or not, to the denizens of the gigging circuit. David’s recent live hiatus has relieved him of such considerations and he has returned to a state of freedom where instead of him making an album in search of an audience he has instead made the album that comes from a more natural place. Now the audience can come to him. Or not, but that isn’t the point. Not so much a creative rebirth, just an artist remembering that the ball was always in his court.
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.
I remember waiting for Souixsie and The Banshees to play at a festival and being subjected to northern chancers The Farm playing a set looking and sounding like a bunch of construction workers running through bad and uninspiring karaoke tunes after a hard day working with sheet-rock. I mention this to highlight the fact that bands need to come equipped with their own mythology, inhabit a world different from our own, one that is other and elsewhere. If we see them as being just like us then the magic is broken right from the start. I’m not really sure where The Judex are from but it sure ain’t from around here.
The Judex come at you cloaked in a strange blend of horror b-movie imagery and garage band swagger, punkish attitude and retro-rock resonance, mystique and muscle; in short rock and roll boiled down to its very essence. And like all good rock and roll it feels edgy, dangerous and subversive. And subversion isn’t always about ripping up the rulebook; sometimes it is tearing out the pages and fashioning them into interesting origami or deftly snipping them into puzzling paper chain designs.
Cult of Judex is dark, atmospheric and throws some brooding looks about the room but is also filled with an undercurrent of urgency and walls of sound, pulsing bass lines and killer gang choruses. Such is the bands ability to fashion shade and light, sweet and sour into stark and jarring musical statements. But big songs are not just about making a noise, anyone can do that, the selling point here is the layering of the instrumentation, for even when they are threading together myriad textures and byzantine complexity, there seems to be room for everything to have it’s own moment in the spotlight.
Witchface is a musical shot in the head, a short sharp Gun Club-esque ranting and unrelenting onslaught built of squalling guitars and four-string intricacies, tribal beats and dark thoughts. If occult boogie were indeed a genre Judex would be its leading lights…if it isn’t already a genre then we need to add it to the musical canon and recognise it as one.
It’s the sound of the Jon Spenser Blues Explosion actually imploding, the sound of punk being invented in a Chicago blues club in 1957, a gang fight set to 12 bar rhythms or rock and roll ceasing to evolve beyond Little Richard and instead just getting louder and faster and more intense until space and time are bent around it and the nothing can escape it’s influence.
What makes these two tracks work so well is that they package up a retro-familiarity, a classic sound that tugs at musical memories from a golden age of music and yet goes somewhere new with it, avoids cliché and pastiche but end up with a sound which is so ingrained in the musical psyche that it gives you the feeling that you have been listening to the band since before you can remember.
As debut singles go, it does a lot, not to mention sets a very high benchmark, in a very short space of time. In just over five minutes via this brace of tunes Judex establish themselves as masters of their art, their art being destructive and liberating music but also soulful and intricate, direct yet with depth and the fact that I have waxed lyrical for so long over such a short physical span speaks volumes. If I can write this much about how brutally engaging the band is, just imagine how well the music will serve you time and time again, each play revealing something new and offering up hidden depths that may at first have felt like the usual shallows which rock music tends to inhabit. Music that keeps on giving, now there’s a rare concept.
They are a band who have worked out that the wheel doesn’t need re-inventing, it just needs a clean up, re-treading and some fancy rims then taken out for a spin to leave some indelible and unsightly marks all over the road, possibly invoking an angry letter to the local newspaper from local residents. Buckle up; it is going to be one hell of a ride.
It may be a very simple idea, but as is often the case with simple ideas, it’s a good one, namely take the groove and grit of blues and give it the scuzzy garage rock treatment. It worked for their previous release, Give Us A Minute, and it works here too. And just as before, the saleability of such a simple and oft visited genre clash is the songs themselves, after all anyone can drive the blues-rock car off of the cliff of convention but the art is ending up with something which is more Thelma and Louise’s dramatic swansong and less a short traffic report on page 7 of the local newspaper.
Thankfully drama is never in short supply here. Roll With Me is apocalyptic burlesque blues, the soundtrack to that final party as you watch the mushroom clouds blow away all evidence that we were even here and 1959 is the mutant offspring of John Lee Hooker and The Birthday Party…raw, visceral, scary and addictive. All I Need is a strange hybrid of The Coral’s mercurial old time sing along style and a strange pop edge buried in their usual guitar onslaught but it is the opening brace of songs Change and Get Mine that represent their signature sound, the bruising tumble of jagged guitars, howling harmonica’s and a vocal which, try as I might, I can’t help but picturing Nick Helm on the other end of. Weird?
Yes, they may be exploring the same musical territory they did first time out, but why not? As the record proves there is still a lot of great work to be done here and these are the chaps to do it. They join dots between Memphis in 1956, Detroit in 1969 and New York in 1977 and at a time when “rock” has become polished, defined, packaged and refined to within an inch of its skinny-jeaned and complicated hair-styled life, maybe it is time to turn back to “rock and roll” for our kicks. There is no denying that underneath all the jagged edges and punk rock sonic poses, that is essentially what this is.
It’s elemental; it’s out of control but just enough in check, it’s savage, stroppy, sweet and sour, and slightly silly…but never a joke. Rock and roll is serious business and it looks like it is back on the menu. Who’s for Seconds?
I remember watching The Godfathers at the infamous Marquee Club way back in the formative years of the band’s career (just don’t tell them that I had only gone along for the support act) and thinking at the time…blimey, they sound like the sound track to a riot, or possibly even the catalyst for one. And that, in a nutshell, is everything you need to know. But it is a record that deserves a closer look than that, so hold my coat I’m going in.
When The Godfathers first crawled out of the smoking wreckage of The Sid Presley Experience in the mid eighties, they formed part of a rock and roll resistance, a movement of underground rabble-rousers who offered a wonderfully honest, threadbare and raw alternative to the chart glitz and manufactured pop that was prevalent. A timely reminder of that comes with the quasi-rockabilly groove and tribal beats of Poor Boy’s Son which automatically evokes the likes of The Gun Club and The Cramps, fellow travellers through the dank, back rooms and alternative club scene, plying a similar trade that swerved the theatrics of goth and the cartoon nature of rock as it tugged at more primal rock and roll threads.
Even when they deliver a straighter song it still sounds subversive, splendidly haughty and dangerous, but isn’t that what you are looking for in a rock band? Miss America is the perfect blend of sleazy garage raucousness and perfectly timed social commentary and even when they strip things right back on She’s Mine, they channel the same sort of dark, edgy majesty that Lou Reed occasional touched on. Hey, I’m sure they are lovely guys when you meet them at the bar, but when they are in work mode they have lost none of the sneering swagger that made them so appealing in the first place.
Is it really nine years since the sure-footed tones of Stolen Conversations… first washed into my ears? Tempus does indeed fugit but what has changed? Well, in many ways not much. The same alt-country, punk, pop, soul and rock’n’roll influences swirl around this new musical melting pot, a lot of the same team are back on board and the honest reflections and personal narratives that mark Tommy’s work are still to the fore. If that is what you do so well, why change, right? Why not do what you do only …well, more so? Why am I asking you all these questions?
Anyway, if the last album was a confident and evolved step on from Far From Grace, that trajectory has taken an even sharper upward curve this time out. So, the musical landscape may look familiar but there seems to be something more open, personal, heartfelt and extremely honest going on here. That has never been that far from the surface on previous albums but songs like Save Me, Homecoming Mum, Simple Song and Can I Lay Down Next to You seem almost confessional, the author allowing us into to his private thoughts and emotional personal space, an experience that almost feels intrusive and intellectually voyeuristic. Shared secrets rather than public proclamations.
Honesty like this is rare in rock and roll, and this is most definitely a rock and roll record. Forget all the clever relabeling and the on-trend terms such as “roots” and “Americana,” after all no two people ever agree on what either of those mean. This is a guy with solid R’n’R credentials hooking up with others who have taken similar musical journeys but it is age, experience, and those years treading the boards and wrestling with the craft at hand which shapes the music most. Maturity has its benefits.When it wants to rock out, like the titular opening track or the Stones-esque Backburner, it makes no apologies but for me it is the more insular and intense songs that sit between by which we should judge just how far Tommy’s song writing has come.
Capturing the sound of your songs is hard enough, capturing the sound of your very soul takes a lot more skill.
With the sad news of the passing of Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister, it seems only appropriate that we look at his wonderful back catalogue of the music he made with Motorhead, the band that he will forever be best remembered for. The bands key elements were consistency and simplicity. Rock and metal are notorious for its factions and sub genres but Motorhead managed to cut through that and right from the off you were guaranteed their trademark whiskey-soaked growl over thunderous back beats, trash-rock riffing and everything turned up to maximum.
10. Motorhead (from Motorhead 1977)
This song acts as the bands birth certificate, mission statement and raison d’être all wrapped up in three chord aggression and razor wire vocals. As a proclamation it declares who the band are and what they are all about and even though like all bands they experimented with style and content along the way, this eponymous outing pretty much set up the template for what was to follow.
9. Hellraiser ( from March or Die 1992)
Written with Ozzy Osborne and Zakk Wilde for Ozzy’s No More Tears album, Motorhead re-recorded this for the film Hellraiser III and then featured it on the album March or Die. Possibly the band at their more commercial end of operations but somehow they still manage to wander into these more mainstream areas without compromising their core sound. There is a slight whiff of 80’s glam metal about it but only if that band had been locked in a basement for three months to exist only on brimstone and raiser blades. Even when treading more obvious territory they were still the baddest kids on the block.
8. (We Are) The Road Crew (from Ace of Spades 1980)
The perfect tribute to the hedonism of life on the road in a rock and roll band (Lemmy always said that Motorhead were just a rock and roll band, forget labels and genres.) Bluesy riffs pushed to their illogical conclusions, a righteous clatter of biblical proportions and something that should be in the user manual for anyone who has desires to be in a touring band.
7. Iron Fist ( from Iron Fist 1982)
The perfect example of the simple genius of Motorhead, out punching punk, out rocking rock, heavier than metal, faster than the speed of dark, it is the perfect hybrid of everything that rock and roll is about in the modern era and now one managed to capture it quite like Motorhead. Not only is it big but it is a lot cleverer than you think.
6. Built For Speed (from Orgasmatron 1986)
Hard, heavy and uncompromising, that is the Motorhead way and Built For Speed has all of those in Spades..geddit? It’s a tough, streetwise homage to speed both literal and chemical something alluded to in the bands name.
5. Born To Raise Hell (from Airheads: Soundtrack 1994)
Included here as much for the sentiment and lyrical content as much for the song itself. This was written for the Airheads soundtrack which Lemmy had a cameo role in and features rapper Ice – T and Ugly Kid Joe’s Whitfield Crane. It takes the band down a more AC/DC vibe, nothing wrong with that and as a statement of intent I’m sure it was the song that the angels were playing on the day that Lemmy came into the world.
4. Orgasmatron ( from Orgasmatron 1986)
Proving that it isn’t always all about speed, Orgasmatron is the roomiest, sludgiest of Motorhead songs and contains a surprising political message rather than the sexual one suggested by the title. Again it shows the band as innovators of new musical ideas and a wave of doom, metal bands were spawned in the wake of this claustrophobic masterpiece.
3. Overkill (from Overkill 1979)
Quintessential Motorhead from start to finish, fast, driven, grungey , dirty, dangerous and constructed out of riffs built from rusting metal and acid baths, oil spills and land mines. It is everything you want from the band and even though lesser bands such as Metallic have sort to increase their own stock by covering it, no-one can come close to this amazing sound.
2. Killed By Death (from No Remorse 1984)
This is about as dark and twisted, gnarly and vicious as it gets, it’s also a furious onslaught of primal rock and roll, but that sort of goes without saying if you have read this far. Killer riffs both from guitars and the bass-rhythm guitar style that Lemmy adopted (playing chords on a bass? whatever next?)
- Ace of Spades (from Ace of Spades 1980)
There can only be one song at the top spot, the one that became their anthem, their most popular song with the masses and an instantly recognisable musical calling card, a classic by any definition. Again it is a punk-metal hybrid, fast licks and dirty production, it is built on punch and power, shock and awe and the perfect way to round off this run dow,
If Pope’s pre-Nighthawks efforts garnered comparisons to the likes of Maroon 5 and other more indie pop directions, this album certainly sees him heading in a whole new direction. Here there is a more retro vibe, a blend of country, southern rock and a shedload of big and sassy blues-soul vibes. There are a few tender moments such as the reflective Leave You Behind and Lies and Cigarettes but what this new Nighthawk driven effort does so well is the full-blown, stadium sized rock and roll. There are moments of Skynard-esque slide and soloing, brilliant song crafting that Tom Petty would be happy to put his name to and even white boy soul meets east coast rhythm and blues of E Street Shuffle era Springsteen.
It is a cracking album, it’s big, it’s ballsy, it rocks like a bad boy when it wants to but there is still enough room for a little heartstring tugging and softer sentiment. But this is the modern, digital age and music alone isn’t enough any more. With this in mind Pope has created a feature length documentary following the recording and touring of the album and explores the need for the contemporary artist to make the most of digital outlets and opportunities to stay in the game.
So not only someone who musically knows how to keep moving forward , keep it all fresh and interesting but to embrace the potential of the digital age at the same time.
The Dynamite Pussy Club veer between some fairly obvious influences, retro-centric rock and roll, industrial strength blues, ranting Elvis tirades and Detroit garage rock. Power is the summation of all of those elements with a slice of 60’s raving counter culture (or possibly under the counter culture) thrown in for good measure. It’s Jim Jones having a nervous breakdown, if anyone could actually tell, it’s Iggy with a BS postcode, it’s what might have happened if Max’s Kansas City had been in Stokes Croft rather than The Lower East Side.
It drips with swagger, attitude and most of all a sense of humour, it shows rock music how to be infectious, pop music how to have teeth, it mixes past influences into a future sound, it plunders openly but manages to build something unique. It’s an odd one I’ll give you that but did you expect anything else from these guys?
As well as having one of the coolest band names on the block, The Dynamite Pussy Club has been ploughing a wonderful sonic furrow across the West Country and beyond in recent years. They operate at a point where art-punk, garage rock and incendiary blues collide, where New York no-wave meets retro-rock and roll, where caricature meets possible future musical fashion.
In the same way that Jim Jones reinvented himself as an apocalyptic blues preacher, Messrs’ Mambo, Suave and Boogie apply the same makeover to the early days of rock and roll, turning Elvis into Max Headroom and Gene Vincent into Iggy Pop along the way. Add a touch of psychedelic vibes courtesy of a Theremin, tribal beats and primal howls and you have the route rock and roll could have taken if the right drugs had been available back then, if everything had been heightened, taken to extremes, not taken too seriously and if the newly identifier teenager could have handled it.
It’s the sound of the Jon Spenser Blues Explosion actually imploding, the sound of punk being invented in a Chicago blues club in 1957, a gang fight set to 12 bar rhythms or rock and roll ceasing to evolve beyond Little Richard and instead just getting louder and louder until space and time are bent around it and the nothing can escape it’s influence. It’s not clever but it’s fucking big!
Some music is difficult to write about, with everyone jumping on the same bandwagons or trying to re-invent genres that should best remain forgotten, I often find myself presented with the same wall to wall beige, style over substance conformity from bands who have spent more time getting the right tattoos and choreographing stage moves than they have exploring the possibilities that music has to offer. Los Plantronics however buck this trend, providing so many ways into their music that it is difficult to know where to start. A surf related concept album? Vikings invade Mexico? A Norwegian wilderness studio revelling in a Mariachi groove and wild 50’s rock ‘n’roll? A band who wrote an album based on the artwork? Where to begin?
Back-stories aside, this is an album summed up best by one quote as the soundtrack to a “psychedelic exploitation surf movie set in Mexico” where the history of Tex-Mex border rock ‘n’ roll is reimagined and warped through an acid haze and delivered with a raw edged punk sneer. On paper it seems the most unlikely result given the above factors, but despite, or possibly because of those hurdles, Los Plantronics have come up with a fantastic retrospective re-working and one of the most unique album you will have heard in years.
Just when you thought that we, as a culture, had totally embraced a new, post-political musical age, along come a bunch of lefties from the South-East (as they often seem to be, Wat Tyler, Jack Cade, Billy Bragg, The Levellers…err, Russell Brand?) to over-turn the tables and prove you wrong. Just in the nick of time, if you ask me. And if you are one of Generation X-Box who gets turned off by the thought of politics, Thee Faction provides an enjoyable way in. By leading with a joyous R’n’B, pre-punk, pub-rock vibe, all brazen brass and rabble rousing anthems, they lull you into a false sense of security and whilst you are joining in the gang vocal sing-alongs and grooving to the feel good, Feelgoods vibes, you will hardly notice the political education that is being subtly slipped into your ear.
This is music with the power to inform and educate and if you are expecting a bunch of deluded punks who are still trying to smash a system they have little understanding of via slogans written for them by Bernie Rhodes type powers behind the throne, then think again. This is News Night: The Musical, reasoned rhetoric and concise arguments set to back street rock and roll. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer but at least the grooves are getting groovier.
Watch Choose Your Enemy – HERE