CHEETAH CHROME: SOLO

(PLOWBOY RECORDS EP; 2013) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT

Cheetah Chrome cover

Cheetah Chrome has weathered the storm of the punk movement and forged his own (quite vocal and opinionated) path, emerging as a sort of “elder statesman” (he’s still only 59) of American rock and roll. As a member of Rocket From the Tombs, Chrome laid the groundwork for Cleveland’s punk scene; when that band split into two separate groups (Peter Laughner and David Thomas formed Pere Ubu; Chrome and Johnny Blitz joined up with Stiv Bator and became the Dead Boys), he gained near-legendary status, thanks to the Dead Boys live shows. Not too bad for a guitar player whose total recorded output upon the 1979 demise of the Boys was a pair of albums for Sire Records (including the seminal debut, YOUNG, LOUD AND SNOTTY, produced by Genya Ravan).Over the years, Cheetah has led or played in various bands (he appeared on Ronnie Spector’s debut solo album, SIREN, in 1980), played with reformed versions of both Rocket From the Tombs and, until the 1990 death of Bator, the Dead Boys; he has also formed a band – called the Batusis (after the dance from the BATMAN television series) – with former New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. The band has, variously, included the rhythm section from Joan Jett’s band, the Blackearts, Chuck Garric (Alice Cooper’s bass player for the past several years) and Lez Warner, who has kept time for the Cult in the past. More recently, the guitarist has headed up the A&R department at Plowboy Records. That’s where we pick up this story; Plowboy has released a seven-song EP of material culled from a 1996 recording session (produced by Ravan) and two 2010 sessions, one solo and one with the Batusis.

Cheetah Chrome (photo credit: ANNA O'CONNOR)

Cheetah Chrome (photo credit: ANNA O’CONNOR)

The instrumental “Sharky” kinda reminds me of Blondie’s “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear.” The drums (provided by producer Ken Coomer) are out front and Chrome adds a very nice guitar figure and standard-issue New Wave organ. That combination can only lead me to say, “I like it! I really, really like it!” The Batusis’ “East Side Story” is a great, punky type of country song, with Chrome’s vocals falling somewhere between Lou Reed and John Mellencamp. The rhythm section of Sean Koos and Lez Warner are tight; Koos adds piano. Sylvain’s acoustic rhythm guitar and just a touch of twang in the leads and solos give the tune a solid Americana flavor. “Rollin’ Voodoo” features a nasty Koos bass groove, some funky Warner drumming (augmented by African drums from Warner and Coomer) and some savory riffs, delivered in stinging fashion by Cheetah and Sylvain. The tune has a ZZ Top kind of processed vocal thing happening and the whole cut has that Texas blues feel.

Cheetah Chrome (photo credit: ANNA O'CONNOR)

Cheetah Chrome (photo credit: ANNA O’CONNOR)

The Genya Ravan-produced “Stare Into the Night” has a chugging rhythm and a punkish, Joe Strummer-like vocal rasp. The song is a definite nod to Stiv Bator and the Dead Boys, with the rhythm section of Greg Walker (bass), Johnny Albamont (drums) and Jimmy V (rhythm guitar) more than ably acquitting themsleves on this and the next two tracks. “No Credit” is another great cowpunk number, with the sort of politically-charged protest lyrics that drove the majority of those great ’70s punk bands. The final track from the aborted 1996 sessions, “Nuthin’,” displays an atmospheric guitar coda and snotty countryish vocals over brilliantly understated drums and nice backing vocals. The song is a solid rocker from first to last, although it seems to just run out of juice and ends rather abruptly. A Rank and File/Alejandro Escovedo slow groove dominates “Love Song To Death,” a return to the Batusis material. Chrome delivers the lyrics in kind of a sing-song spoken word way. The guitar work shines throughout, highlighted by the rather jangly lead and the well-phrased solo, both by Sylvain Sylvain. SOLO is a magnificently varied record but, it is not without its problems. Well, one problem really… it’s just too darn short! I sincerely hope that Chrome’s office job at Plowboy doesn’t keep him from recording a full-length – preferably with the Batusis – sometime soon.


BIRTH OF JOY: PRISONER

(LONG BRANCH RECORDS/SPV MUSIC GROUP;2014)

Birth of Joy cover

Birth of Joy is a Dutch trio that takes all of the best parts of ’60s garage and psychedlic, ’70s metal and progessive, all slathered with liberal doses of funk and the blues. The new record, PRISONER, introduces touches of punk, experimental percussion and Ska. So, how does such a melting pot of musical styles sound? Uh… AWESOME! Here’s the breakdown…

Birth of Joy (Bob Hogenelst, Gertjan Gutman, Kevin Stunnenberg) (uncredited photo)

Birth of Joy (Bob Hogenelst, Gertjan Gutman, Kevin Stunnenberg) (uncredited photo)

The Sound,” on first listen, is a heavy, organ-driven blast of Purplish rockin’ blues; give another listen and Gertjan Gutman’s organ parts may be a bit closer to Larry Tamblyn and the Standells than to Jon Lord and Deep Purple. With one of those riffs that gets stuck to the roof of your mouth, “How It Goes” features punky drums, more garagey Farfisa and Ska-tinged guitar work from Kevin Stunnenberg, kinda like a mash-up of Madness and the Ramones on something from an early Iron Butterfly record. “Keep Your Eyes Shut” is a funky, fun groove with a percolating bass (played, like Ray Manzarek of the Doors, by Gutman) and an organ part to match. Stunnenberg’s world-weary and ominous vocals really stand out on the track, almost as a counter-balance to the music. A slight stylistic shift defines “Three Day Road.” It’s kind of a slow burn blues thing with some cool slide work. The eerie psych feel comes from the echo and the reverb on both guitar and organ. The final two-and-a-half minutes features quite a lot of Floydian tomfoolery that really shouldn’t work, but does. I can very easily imagine this tune being a highlight in a live context.

Birth of Joy (Kevin Stunnenberg, Gertjan Gutman, Bob Hogenelst) (publicity photo)

Birth of Joy (Kevin Stunnenberg, Gertjan Gutman, Bob Hogenelst) (publicity photo)

The group is starting to get more adventurous on “Grow.” There’s a definite prog rock lean in the sound with an inexplicably memorable descending groove, seemingly a direct dichotomy to the song’s title. There’s more trashy garage punk on “Rock and Roll Show,” with some amazing guitar work throughout. The number has some serious 1960s swing over a nasty sorta Stranglers rhythm bubbling underneath. “Longtime Boogie” kicks off with some acid-tinged Hendrix-like guitar. The track is highlighted by a distinct Deep Purple rhythmic vibe (mostly due to the playing of drummer Bob Hogenelst), a funky organ solo (think of a heavier Booker T Jones) and a stinging guitar, especially on the solos. Even though the vocals are quite strong on the album, lyrics are not the band’s strong suit, as evinced here: “Can ya handle my love tonight,” in reference to the title, leaves very little to the imagination. “Mad Men” has a great Southern soul vibe, with a majestic, churchy organ from Gutman and psychedelic guitar from Stunnenberg. It’s the Standells meets Stax Records meets Uriah Heep meets Iron Butterfly, all in one killer three minute blast.

Birth of Joy (Bob Hogenelst, Gertjan Gutman, Kevin Stunnenberg) (uncredited photo)

Birth of Joy (Bob Hogenelst, Gertjan Gutman, Kevin Stunnenberg) (uncredited photo)

Holding On” is the dreamy, trippy, trance-inducing piece. It’s a nice change of pace, with soothing, repetitive vocals and rolling drums from Hogenelst. The title cut, “Prisoner,” is a clangorous, metal-as-percussion chain gang kinda thing. There are sporadic, brutal blasts of organ and guitar in the 2:30 that the tune lasts, alongside some slightly haunting vocals. I like it… it reminds me of two of my favorite bands, Wisdom Tooth and Skeleton Key. “Clean Cut” features a swirling, Rick Wright organ sound, powerhouse drumming and an odd Spaghetti Western feel from the guitar. There’s also a pretty neat vocal melody line… the words don’t matter, the melody is top notch. The song is the heaviest of the heavy and a fantastic capper to a blistering rock and roll record.


PHILM: FIRE FROM THE EVENING SUN

(UDR MUSIC; 2014)

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Slayer fans, rejoice. The band’s former master of all things percussive, Dave Lomabardo, is back with his trio, Philm, and their second full-length, FIRE FROM THE EVENING SUN. The album features touches of that old Slayer venom and the speed of their early thrashing metal and, of course, the thunderous sound of Dave’s muscular, yet tasty drumming. The album is, while not a complete departure, certainly diverse enough to satisfy both Slayer and non-Slayer fans alike.

Philm (Dave Lombardo, Gerry Nestlet, Poncho Tomaselli) (uncredited photo)

Philm (Dave Lombardo, Gerry Nestlet, Poncho Tomaselli) (uncredited photo)

The album starts with “Train,” a chugging, pounding blues number with a memorable riff and suitably dark, menacing vocals. The song has a classic, threatening rock groove and, what else would you expect from Dave Lombardo? The thunderous “Fire From the Evening Sun” is next, with a swinging, near nursery rhyme sing-song vocal from guitarist Gerry Nestler, who also offers a super-fast solo, augmented by Poncho Tomaselli’s swooping bass line and a near-martial drum beat. There’s also a great hardcore breakdown toward the end of the tune. “Lady of the Lake” is an ARABIAN NIGHTS horror dream with awesome descending bass and guitar parts. Nestler offers another exemplary, stinging solo; Lomabardo’s drumming is a bit more subdued than his usual stormtrooper attack. A doom-laden “Lion’s Pit” is a Sabbathy bone crusher with vocals that somehow reminds me of “This Jesus Must Die” from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. It’s creepy and heavy and altogether cool.

Silver Queen” is a heavy blues, evoking Leslie West’s Mountain. It features an unforgettable, thudding riff and a cool, sloppy Nestler solo. The next track, “We Sail At Dawn,” has a kinda restrained groove with a creepy, snaky guitar riff and an equally creepy vocal. “Omnisience” is sort of a heavier version of very early Killing Joke… at least until the fleet-fingered fretting that comes in at the end of the song. At less then two minutes, “Fanboy” is over almost before it gets started. The track is a twangy surf kinda thing that turns into a lightning fast thrash kinda thing. Woulda been cool if it lasted a bit longer and came back around to the beginning.

Philm's Dave Lombardo at work (uncredited photo)

Philm’s Dave Lombardo at work (uncredited photo)

Luxhaven” has an odd Devo meets Dead Kennedys syncopation going on. With a spongy bass sound from Tomaselli and Nestler’s sore throat inducing vocals, the tune is very weird and very listenable. Up next, “Blue Dragon” is another – by now, patented – quirky stab at heavy. Again, the vocals are just a bit unsettling. I like that! “Turn In the Sky” sounds almost orchestral, with minimalist guitar washes and dexterous bass playing. The track features some of the album’s most powerful drumming from Lombardo. The final cut, “Corner Girl,” is a strange Hawaiian-cum-Vaudvillian thing featuring a slightly out-of-tune piano part and a nice nylon string acoustic bass figure. The song eventually turns into an even stranger calypso number, complete with a trumpet solo (by guest Sal Cracchiolo) before returning to its original languid feel. As mentioned above, FIRE FROM THE EVENING STAR has enough of the heavy, thrash stuff to keep the Slayer fans happy and enough quirkiness to intrigue everybody else.