Much like the Close But No Cigar list contains my quick takes on albums that didn’t make it to my “best of” list this year (that will probably slot somewhere south of #40 on the list when all is said and done), the Bridesmaids didn’t make it either. But they were a lot closer, and most probably were on the Top 25 in pencil at one point. Music is subjective, and my lists morph over time as some albums grow and some fade, so this is really a snapshot.
Yesterday I listed five worthy near-misses; here are five more.
The Shame Idols: The Light Is Always On
Warning: you will burn through two subwoofers listening to this album, and rightfully so. Tim Boykin, who also masterminds the power pop band The Lolas, first came to my attention over a decade ago with what was then a melodic hard rocking trio. Thankfully unearthed after a decade, the best way to describe this (now quartet) is taking the pile-driving rhythm of The Ramones, adding Cheap Trick’s commercial superior songwriting chops…and then enlisting Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi to play lead guitar over Johnny Ramone’s rhythm. Completely infectious, relentless and (with songs like “Hey Daddyo” and “Cinderblock Head”) just plain fun. Welcome back, Timmeh!
The BellRays: Hard, Sweet And Sticky
Let’s get one thing on the table up front – Lisa Kekaula might be the closest thing we have to Tina Turner today. And I’m talking “Proud Mary” Tina, not that “Private Dancer” crap. The BellRays have a small catalogue of smoking punk soul albums in their wake, and while not widely known, their growing audience is loyal and hardcore. It’s for that very reason that this latest effort is causing some camp division; a more polished commercial sound that some see as sanitized or (God forbid) an attempt to reach a bigger audience that prior classics like Let It Blast couldn’t rope in.
While “Blue Against The Sky” and “Footprints On Water” could fall into that Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight territory, there’s plenty of fire here as well. You don’t title a song “Psychotic Hate Man” and then not back it up with a pile driving punk beat, right? “That’s The Way It Should Be” and the aptly titled “Pinball City” will also push your foot to the floor, while the seductive “Wedding Bells” is a bluesy torch showcase. If you don’t know this band, start anywhere, but plan to get their entire catalogue soon.
The Boss Martians: Pressure In The SODO
The transformation between the early surf-rock instrumental leanings of this band and the majestic powerpop of The Set Up was mind-numbing; the constant being the manic energy and guitar wizardry of head Martian Evan Foster. Now with Pressure In The SODO (as in “south of downtown”, the Seattle area where these Martians have landed), their sound has crystallized into melodic but hard rock; fierce enough to withstand a guest vocal by Iggy Pop and survive. “Mars Is For Martians” might be a lame title, but the co-write and co-vocal between Foster and Pop is among the best songs Iggy has recorded in a decade. Most of the album rollicks along with guitar and keyboards wisely mixed up front over a throbbing rock bottom rhythm section.
But Foster has serious pop chops – “If You Only Knew” sounds like The Zombies teleported into 2008 to record a hit single. “And She’s Gone” and “Elsie” should be staples of FM rock radio – both are immediate ear candy thanks to soaring guitar and Foster’s emotive vocals. But if you really want to enjoy The Boss Martians go see them in their natural habitat, on the road – they are one of the best live acts you’ll ever see.
The Mother Truckers: Let’s Go To Bed
It took me a while to hear the second song on this album because the opening track “Dynamite” knocked me on my ass so hard I had to play it a dozen times before proceeding – and months later it still sits atop my list as the best song of 2008. Teal Collins has a throat like a canyon, and she absolutely sings the shit out of this rockabilly anthem, and somehow Josh Zee’s squeezes and bleeds every note out of his guitar to match her. Four minutes later I felt like I had been pinned to a wall by a cannon blast. I still haven’t peeled myself off that wall, and I’m sure my goofy grin is still in place.
Call it an amped up version of George Jones and Tammy Wynette or Gram and Emmylou backed up by The Beat Farmers, but this is some serious hardcore twang blasted out like national anthems. And just when you think it’s all about the decibels, Collins tears into Billy Joe Shaver’s “When I Get My Wings” with a passionate fervor that would make Linda Ronstadt back down. If her last syllable in that song doesn’t raise goose bumps all over your body, go back and watch the yodeling queens on American Idol and pretend you know your ass from your elbow. Three words: Hole. Lee. Shit.
The Romeo Flynns: Pictures Of You
If the second half of this album held the pace of the first half, this one probably would have made the cut; on their strong songs the Romeo Flynns are majestic. But whoever sequenced Pictures Of You slotted too many of the power ballads at the back end, so the effect is like listening to two different (but very good) bands. I guess if you are the type of person who only cherry-picks songs or enjoys “shuffle mode”, that won’t matter; for old-school people like me it does…but that’s a small knock, isn’t it?
The title track is a bombastic Dolls/Mott hook-fest framed by fat powerpop chords that wouldn’t be out of place on a Badfinger album. “Gonna Feel Alright” somehow merges Bobby Fuller and Joan Jett into a melting pot and kicks it into high gear with barrelhouse piano, horns and Beatle-ish harmony vocals. “A Better Man Than Me” sounds like collaboration between Tom Petty, Eric Carmen and John Mellencamp (and yes, it turns out good!). But after that 1-2-3 punch, the tempo drops a notch for the rest of the record, and although the songs are mostly very good, the pacing doesn’t showcase them as well as it could. And ending the record with a great cover of The Kinks’ “Better Things” and using a very clever Who coda as a segue into the reprise of the title track was genius. This is a tremendous debut from an exciting new band.
(More almost-made-it albums coming this week, along with the Best Of 2008 Countdown! Stop back daily!)