BEDLAM: LIVE IN BINGHAMPTON 1974

(ANGEL AIR RECORDS; 2014)

bedlam74

Bedlam were a band more well known for the players involved than for the music they produced, though that music, in retrospect, was pretty darn good. The group was formed in 1972 when old friends Dave and Denny Ball and Cozy Powell reignited a musical spark that had begun in the ’60s with their band, the Sorcerers. Dave Ball had just left Procol Harum and had secured a spot with Long John Baldry, alongside his brother, Denny, when Cozy called, looking to “get the band back together” after the implosion of the Jeff Beck Group. Singer Frank Aiello was brought into the fold and the Beast was born. However, after being threatened with either a lawsuit or the prospect of giving a guy called the Beast a job playing keyboards in the band, they decided to change the name to Bedlam. With a Felix Pappalardi produced album behind them, they got down to the serious business of touring, first the UK, then Europe and, finally, an opening slot on Black Sabbath’s SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH tour of the States. Somewhere during that trek, the tour took them to Binghamton (misspelled on this release), New York, where Bedlam’s set was recorded for a radio broadcast. Which brings us to this release, compiled and restored by bassist Denny Ball from various bootlegs and homemade tapes made of that broadcast.

Bedlam (Frank Aiello, Dave Ball, Cozy Powell, Denny Ball) (publicity photo)

Bedlam (Frank Aiello, Dave Ball, Cozy Powell, Denny Ball) (publicity photo)

Considering that these recordings are forty years old (and of varying quality and acknowledgedly dubious sources), they sound pretty good. The guitar and bass on opening salvo “I Believe In You,” is a bit muddy; the vocals and drums are strong throughout, however. The sound on “The Beast” is brighter and clearer, with a deep, sonorous bass and some awesome, bluesy guitar solos. This time, the main problem is some issues with over-modulation on the vocals. “The Great Game” is announced as a new song, planned for the group’s second album (which never happened, as they broke up when Powell began having some solo success with the song “Dance With the Devil”). It’s a wicked ballad with some adventurous drum bashing and moody guitar work from Dave Ball, including a solid solo during the jazzy break. Denny’s bass is particularly effective here and, finally eschewing his operatic proclivities, Aiello’s vocals have a hint of danger and a bit of a growl to them. With “Set Me Free,” Dave offers up a funky little Ritchie Blackmore type riff that eventually explodes in a magnificent hard rock frenzy, complete with a manic guitar solo and an equally imaginative bass run bubbling underneath; Cozy, of course, goes about his own mad way, pummeling his kit with the reckless abandon that made him one of the (if not THE) most sought after drummers in the history of metal and hard rock.

Bedlam (Cozy Powell) (uncredited photo)

Bedlam (Cozy Powell) (uncredited photo)

The second half of the disc is rather a mixed bag, kicking off with one of those odd mid-show interviews that seemed to be de rigeuer at the time. The interviewer spends more than two minutes, allowing the band to indulge in their completely incomprehensible shenanigans, before asking a real question and another 45 seconds before the tomfoolery abates enough for a semi-intelligible answer. The only reason I can see to keep this totally useless piece of history is to maintain the integrity of the original broadcast, as the band spends the rest of the time goofing with the guy, each one saying that one of the others would be better equipped to answer the question and repeating the process before, eventually, begging off to return to their instruments for a mammoth take of Lee Hazelwood’s “The Fool,” clocking in at over 21 minutes. The slow groove intro leads into the first section of the tune, which is all about highlighting Aiello’s vocal gymnastics, before the guitar erupts into a fuzzed out cacophony backed by the chugging rhythm section. Dave and Cozy then slide into the familiar guitar versus drums duel. And, we’re not even five minutes into the thing yet! Denny comes in with a bass solo at about the six minute mark… well, actually, it’s kinda more of a duet with Powell; this muscular, inventive exchange lasts for nearly five minutes, which leads into a bluesy six minute solo from Dave that’s tasteful and rather mournful, with a good deal of sustain. The final five minutes returns to the original song before a short solo from Cozy to end the set. Things would have been so much more enjoyable had the interview section been placed at the end of the set (or, better still, completely removed).

Bedlam (Dave Ball) (uncredited photo)

Bedlam (Dave Ball) (uncredited photo)

A bonus studio track of “The Beast” closes the proceedings. It is part of a remix project of the entire first album by Denny Ball which, hopefully, we’ll be seeing soon. The main part of the album is hindered only slightly by the quality of the original recordings (and that interview!) but, nonetheless, really highlights the talents of a band firing on all cylinders and has me missing the firepower that these guys – especially the sorely missed Cozy Powell – could produce, whether together or separately, within the confines of another group.


JAMES WILLIAMSON: RE-LICKED

(LEOPARD LADY RECORDS; 2014)

Re-Licked_Cover

By 1972, the Stooges were collapsing in upon themselves; the band were two years removed from their second album, FUNHOUSE; they were dropped by their record label, Elektra, and bassist Dave Alexander and guitarist Ron Asheton were gone. James Williamson was the new hot-shot guitar-slinger but, without a record company to back them, Iggy Stooge (now Iggy Pop), drummer Scott Asheton and Williamson were on the verge of packing it in. Then, David Bowie stepped in, convincing his management team, MainMan, to take a flyer on the down-and-nearly-out Detroit bad boys and securing a record deal with Columbia; with Bowie taking a hand in the studio and Ron back in the fold (as a rather disgruntled bass player), the group gave us the seminal 1973 album, RAW POWER. Iggy and Williamson had been writing and demoing material for their next record but, not seeing the kind of return they were expecting, Columbia dropped the band. Williamson and Pop released the KILL CITY album, a live record (METALLIC KO), as well as a couple of EPs of demos before Iggy, with Bowie’s help, went on to a long and erratic solo career. Over the years, other demos have cropped up on various bootlegs. Williamson was said to have been in retirement when the Stooges came calling again, in 2009, after the death of Ron Asheton; in 2014, with the band on hiatus following Scott Asheton’s death, Williamson decided it was time to give those now-ancient songs a proper unveiling. Though Iggy declined to participate on the project, he did give James his approval to re-record the tunes, utilizing a core group of Cat Power’s Gregg Foreman on keyboards, Primal Scream’s Simone Marie Butler on bass and uber-drummer Michael Urbano, as well as the Stooges’ touring band and a string of punk and alt-rock heavy-hitters to bring Iggy’s lyrics to life. Forty years in the making, RE-LICKED is the result.

James Williamson; Alison Mosshart; James Williamson (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

James Williamson; Alison Mosshart; James Williamson (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

If I were going to fire an opening salvo across the bow of the enemy, I think that shot would probably be loaded with the demented warble of activist and former Dead Kennedys vocalist, Jello Biafra; apparently Williamson thought the same thing with Biafra’s frantic howl leading the charge on “Head On the Curve.” The tune kinda has a “Stooges meets the MC5 at a mixer hosted by the New York Dolls” vibe, with Foreman’s barely-controlled tack piano coda, massive fuzzed-out bass from Simone (with additional low-end from Mark Culbertson’s contra bass) and – of course – Williamson’s typical slash-and-burn guitar. “Open Up and Bleed” is a sweltering, stormy Blues track. It features an inventive lead from Williamson, alongside another nice solo, as well as some minor key piano from Stooges drummer Toby Dammit; the real highlight comes from the throat of under-rated Blues wailer, Carolyn Wonderland, who also adds a dose of her unique guitar sound. Primal Scream vocalist (and former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer) Bobby Gillespie offers his usual ragged, snotty voice to “Scene of the Crime,” a loud, sloppy piece of raunch with the tack piano (provided by Butler) and lo-fi rhythm section (Butler again, with Urbano banging away on the drums) that was the hallmark of RAW POWER. Steve Mackay offers some sludgy sax work, while James adds a stinging solo. While the majority of the songs here are Pop/Williamson compositions, “She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” was co-written by Iggy and original Stooges guitarist, Ron Asheton. The tune is a jazzy blast of swampy Doors Style rock and roll, with Manzarek-like keyboards from Foreman and Ariel Pink, ably abetted by Petra Haden, offers up a weird James Brown meets Jim Morrison vocal scat, as Dammit and bassist Mike Watt add a perverse rhythmic swing to the proceedings. There’s also a skronking kind of sax solo from Mackay that is of a variety that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Mothers album. On what is probably the best track on the album, “’Til the End of the Night,” Alison Mosshart’s (of the Kills and the Dead Weather) atmospheric moaning is delivered over Williamson’s sparse acoustic and Urbano’s heavy, orchestral percussion. The tension builds to about the 3:15 mark when everything explodes, collapsing into a jagged electric solo before reverting back to form for the final minute or so.

James Williamson (photo credit: HEATHER HARRIS)

James Williamson (photo credit: HEATHER HARRIS)

Iggy’s “I Got a Right” crashes Stooges punk into Mother’s Finest rockin’ soul with vocals from the wildly talented Lisa Kekaula (of the Bellrays) wailing away over the Dammit/Watt rhythm section, Petra Haden’s oddly non-verbal backing vocals and a full horn section that includes Allison Gomer, Steffan Kuehn and Aaron Lington. Of course, the master of ceremony holds court with another dose of raunchy rock guitar on a song that woulda made Wendy O and the Plasmatics smile. “Pin Point Eyes” has a dirty, 1920s bawdy house feel, with Foreman’s ragtimey piano and the same horn section as “I Got a Right” dominating the rhythm. The Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone’s vocals fall somewhere between Berlin-era Iggy and Johnny Thunders’ drugged-addled slurs. All of this, along with a rather restrained solo from James makes the track one of my favorites… this is the type of thing that I think Stiv Bator would be doing if he’d stuck around. The magnificent Alison Mosshart returns for “Wild Love” and she brings Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Queens of the Stone Age… you get the idea… the guy’s got quite a pedigree!) along for the ride. With a butt-load of snarling guitars and the retro sound of Urbano’s drums and Butler’s bass, it’s a love song, Stooges style, and may just be the closest approximation to the band’s first Williamson era. There’s kind of an abstract Bowie-ness to “Rubber Leg.” The stomping rocker features a nifty, gravelly vocal from Little Caesar’s Ron Young amid a miasma of sound with Rolling Stones-like backing vocals and a weird, distorted sax from Steve Mackay that’s buried deep in the mix, coming up for air on an odd Farfisa run from Foreman; the whole thing is very noisy and quite disjointed and… I like it! “I’m Sick of You” is an archaic, American Gothic tune for the first half, with moody guitars and keyboards oozing underneath atmospheric vocals from the Orwells’ Mario Cuomo. It turns into a classic Stooges blast of intensity, with Williamson’s massive power-riffing tolling the death-knell of a broken relationship.

Lisa Kekaula; James Williamson; Mark Lanegan (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

Lisa Kekaula; James Williamson; Mark Lanegan (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

Now… with apologies to the Chairman of the Board (c’mon… you all know who Im talking about) and lyricist Paul Anka, there’s this: “And now, the end is near. Bonus tracks? We’ve got a few, but then again too few not to mention.” Carolyn Wonderland returns on vocals and guitar a funky blast of punk (or, is that a punky blast of funk?) called “Gimme Some Skin,” the first of six CD bonus cuts. Buoying Carolyn’s soulful voice are ragged, frenzied guitar blasts from both she and Williamson, as well as a wicked harmonica run from Walter Daniels and some James Chance post-punk sax bleats from Mackay. The first of two takes of “Cock In My Pocket” features typically raunchy Iggy lyrics, delivered with throat-throttling fervor by former Hellacoptors and current Imperial State Electric singer Nicke Andersson. The track also highlights some brilliant baritone sax from Aaron Lington. Another welcome return is featured on “Heavy Liquid.” Lisa Kekaula’s Paul Stanley-like howls carry the wicked Detroit-centric melding of the Stooges with the MC5, Death, Alice Cooper and Mitch Ryder over a muddy RAW POWER sound, with trashy horns from Kuehn, Lington and Gomer. Expanding the rock and roll pool to more of a world stage, the underlying riff is quite reminiscent of Budgie’s “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” and about half-a-dozen other hard rock classics, not to mention a bit of Devo and a sniff of Talking Heads. Other than lead singer Shea Roberts and guitarist Jesse Nichols, the Richmond Sluts (Chris B, Justin Lynn, John Tyree) seem to be relegated to the role of vocal support on “Wet My Bed,” with James, Simone, Gregg and Michael doing all of the heavy lifting, instrumentally. The arrangement works really well, with a shambolic free-for-all that sounds like the Dolls channeling Chuck Berry at a ROCKY HORROR SHOW revival; Williamson does his best Johnny Thunders doing his best Chuck and Foreman offers up a great tribute to the late, great Johnnie Johnson (the TRUE King of Rock and Roll)… this one’s a lot of fun. There’s not a lot difference between the first and second versions of “Cock In My Pocket,” other than the punkier voice of Gary Floyd, giving this version a Handsome Dick Manitoba/Dictators vibe. An alternate version of “Rubber Leg” sounds closer to RAW POWER than the regular album version, especially with the Iggy-cum-Joey Ramone yelps of JG Thirlwell, the alter-ego of the extreme artist known as Foetus. RE-LICKED is essential listening for rockers the world over, reminding us all why we started listening to rock and roll in the first place. The album is available in two physical formats: The first is a vinyl version with the first ten cuts… no bonus tracks, but it does come with a CD version that does feature all sixteen tunes; the second version is a standard release of the sixteen track CD. Both versions feature a cool “Making of… ” feature on a bonus DVD, a very nice addition to the entire experience.


TRIGGER HIPPY: TRIGGER HIPPY

(ROUNDER RECORDS/CONCORD RECORDS; 2014)

Trigger Hippy cover

So, what’s a fella to do when his band is prone to rather lengthy bouts of inactivity based on the whims and hubris of the brothers that front the band? Well, if you’re the Black Crowe’s drummer, Steve Gorman, you form a band of your own, enlisting the group of musicians with which you would most want to collaborate. That’s exactly what Steve did in 2009, when he founded Trigger Hippy with fellow Crowe member, guitarist Audley Freed, Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring and Nashville session bassist Nick Govrik. Herring and Freed eventually departed (as did Freed’s replacement, Will Kimbrough), due to outside commitments, and the group solidified around Gorman, Grovnik, ace session guitarist Tom Bukovac and the duel lead vocal powers of Jackie Greene (who also provides guitar and keyboards) and Joan Osborne… a veritable super group of seasoned, in-demand players. The sound on their debut record is solid Southern Rock ‘n’ Soul (think Lynyrd Skynyrd – or the post-crash offshoot, Rossington Collins Band – spiced with a touch of Wet Willie and Little Feat and a whole lot of Stax Records funky rhythm and blues), a true band effort, as Gorman relates: “Sure, you can see this as a ‘player’s band,’ but it really is a BAND, in the true sense of that word.”

Trigger Hippy (Tom Bukovac, Steve Gorman, Nicj Govrik, Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene) (photo credit: JACOB BLICKENSTAFF

Trigger Hippy (Tom Bukovac, Steve Gorman, Nicj Govrik, Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene) (photo credit: JACOB BLICKENSTAFF

The album kicks off with the celebratory, anthemic “Rise Up Singing,” a gospel-tinged song driven by a vibrant organ and hand claps. Aside from the previously mentioned influences, you can also hear touches of Delaney and Bonnie and even – believe it or not – a little Three Dog Night and latter day Fleetwood Mac. “Turpentine” is a Black Crowes type rocker with a deep, pumping bass, powerful drumming, smooth harmony vocals and Skynyrd-esque double lead guitars, with an unforgettably cool harmonic riff. The slow, plaintive “Heartache On the Line” marks the end of a deep love and a long relationship, with Jackie’s organ infusing just the right touch of melancholy to the song. That melancholy is matched by the vocal performances by Greene and Joan Osborne; especially effective are the lyrics in the chorus: “You and me, babe/We got history/It ain’t everything we asked for/But it’s everything we need/You and me, babe/We got nothin’ but time/Well, the kids are grown/And the money’s all gone/It’s heartache on the line.” Steve’s drumming, as usual, is spot on and Bukovac’s solo perfectly relates the feeling of dissolution. “Cave Hill Cemetary” features a solo Joan’s rather ragged sounding vocal over a funky guitar/organ groove. The pumping rhythm, supplied by Gorman, Nick Govric and Greene, and the blistering leads and solo from Tom catapults this one into the rarified air occupied by Al Jackson Junior, Lewie Steinberg (and, later, Donald Dunn), Booker T Jones and Steve Cropper (uh… Booker T and the MGs, if you didn’t know). “Tennessee Mud” is a swampy, muscular number that sonically evokes such acts as Mountain, Mother’s Finest and a bit of Ram Jam’s version of Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter’s Blues stomp, “Black Betty.” The second, primarily instrumental, half of the track absolutely screams “jam band” but, in a totally cool, acceptable way. There’s a great give-and-take from Joan and Jackie on the ballad “Pretty Mess,” that pays off beautifully with the harmony vocals on the chorus. Bukovac’s semi-acoustic guitar adds to the depth of the number with its ringing tone.

Trigger Hippy (Jackie Greene, Joan Osborne, Steve Gorman, Nick Govrick, Tom Bukovac) (photo credit: JACOB BLICKENSTAFF)

Trigger Hippy (Jackie Greene, Joan Osborne, Steve Gorman, Nick Govrick, Tom Bukovac) (photo credit: JACOB BLICKENSTAFF)

“Pocahontas” is one of the funkier tunes here, with a slithering, snaky guitar coda, kinda like Gary Rossington and Stevie Ray Vaughan fronting Sly’s Family Stone. Greene’s clavinet brings a Stevie Wonder-esque funk to the proceedings, while another solo vocal performance from Osborne proves why she is one of the preeminent ladies of this type of soulful rock ‘n’ roll. While I was rather expecting a cover of the Blackfoot tune, “Dry County” has the quintet firing on all cylinders as they build off of the David Bowie/John Lennon groove of “Fame.” As the song progresses, the guitars toughen up as the deep bottom end from Steve and Nick seems to gain new momentum into the instrumental section; with guest Ian Fitchuk providing keyboard support, we are treated to a harmonica solo from Jackie Greene, while his and Joan’s singing are lifted to new heights, teasing each other with lines like: “I know you got it/But you can’t spare it/What I gotta do to get you to share it/It’s like living in a dry county/Trying to get a little bit of your love.” The spry playing and almost joyful singing on “Nothing New” belies the hurt in the lyrics. There’s a lot happening here that could easily go unnoticed if left in the hands of another producer (Bukovac co-produced with input from the rest of Trigger Hippy): The track starts with a guitar signature that’s right out of the Derek Saint Holmes playbook as a prudent use of the cowbell marks time before the vocals come in; a great boogie woogie piano cuts through at times, augmenting the continually stellar guitar work. Another slinky groove propels “Ain’t Persuaded Yet,” as Osborne’s character pleads her case to a jealous lover: “’Oh, I never would step out on you/Now what you heard, it just ain’t true/Baby, don’t something you’ll regret.’/He said, ‘Your words are sweet/But I ain’t persuaded yet.’” As wicked sounding guitars and organ weave in and out of the mix, a buoyant, rock steady bass holds the groove, allowing Gorman to get a little adventurous with the percussion. Sounding like the flip side to the last cut, “Adelaide” is a sad, rootsy lament, with Greene’s high lonesome voice; the emotions seem genuine and are definitely effective. The almost dirge-like music comes together with a rolling drum beat, steady, solid bass, and grief-stricken harmonica, organ and banjo (though not credited, I would imagine that the banjo is courtesy of Tom Bukovac).

Trigger Hippy (Tom Bukovac, Steve Gorman, Nick Govrik, Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene) (photo credit: JACOB BLICKENSTAFF)

Trigger Hippy (Tom Bukovac, Steve Gorman, Nick Govrik, Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene) (photo credit: JACOB BLICKENSTAFF)

I’ve always been a fan of the Black Crowes but, honestly, if Trigger Hippy can continue producing the type of music presented on their debut, I won’t be too sad if the Robinson brothers permanently retire the group. The vocal interplay between Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene is exceptional, the rhythm section is tight and I can certainly see why Bukovac won the MUSIC ROW Session Guitarist of the Year award for five consecutive years; the man is absolutely brilliant… a true player’s player. The songwriting by the band, collectively and singularly (and, occasionally augmented by former guitarist Audley Freed), is superb. If I were to do a Top 10 of 2014, TRIGGER HIPPY would undoubtedly be near the top of the list.


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.