Tag Archives: Cosmik Debris

Under The Radar: Wes Hollywood

Cities like Athens, Austin and Seattle might have gotten all the notoriety as musical hotbeds but the Illinois/Indiana area was always a great source of powerpop bands. The Wes Hollywood Show was no exception, wrangling guitar oriented pop with a sense of humor and mining that infectious, kinetic beat like Elvis Costello, The Kinks, The Beat and their neighbors from Rockford, Cheap Trick. They wound up issuing four albums under that name; Girls was the one that first caught my attention.

These days if you want to track pop savant Wes, you can find him making great music with his current effort, The Tenniscourts. Of course, that band is a subject for another day.

Here’s a review I wrote about their album The Girls Are Never Ending for Cosmik Debris back in September 2001.

Set the wayback machine back to 1977, Sherman, for The Wes Hollywood Show is waiting there for you. Remember when rock and roll was fun? Before shogazing? Before angst? Skinny tie pop rules again with these guys on their second CD, The Girls Are Never Ending. It’s wall to wall bouncy, power pop harmony, jangly guitar glory.

The opening track, “She’s Gonna Let You Go,” calls to mind the Romantics and early Elvis Costello, while the following track sounds more like The Knack and…uh…early Elvis Costello. That’s no insult – Wes isn’t trying to ape the man, but he does sound a little like him, although crossed with a good dose of John Lennon. In other words, the boy can sing!

The rest of the band are no slouches either. Mark Talent (lead guitar), Patrick Thornbury (bass) and Jason Styx (drums…wait…a drummer named Styx?) are energetic, especially on killer tracks like the Ramones-ish (well, okay, and Costello-ish) “H Bomb.” No doubt you’ll be playing this record over and over again, dancing to “Goodtime Girl,” “Little Miracle” and “Weston-Super-Mare.” And even though you’ll go grab This Year’s Model afterwards, you’d be just as likely to pull “Turning Japanese” and “What I Like About You” out of the rack.

And there’s something wrong with that?

Give it a listen at Amazon right now.

That Year's Model

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Under The Radar: Cheap Wine

About ten years ago I came across an Italian band called Cheap Wine and wrote up their album A Better Place for Cosmik Debris. I still pull the damned thing out from time to time. The original MP3 site is long gone but the band is still out there kickin – they now have six albums out –  so I thought I’d tip my cap again a decade later…

I don’t speak Italian, and I can’t read Italian, so whatever was in the press kit that I received from Cheap Wine is a mystery to me. What’s crystal clear, however, is that rock and roll knows no geographic boundaries. How a band from Italy comes out sounding like The Sidewinders and Green On Red crossed with classic-era Stones isn’t important, the fact that they do is what matters.

The Green On Red references are everywhere – the band’s name comes from a Dan Stuart song (covered on their CD A Better Place) and both guitar players have obviously listened to a lot of lyrical players like Chuck Prophet. “Walkin Away”, available on MP3, finds the quartet sailing out of the gate with a drum-propelled rocker that features harmonic guitar lines from Marco and Michele Diamantini; Rich Hopkins fans will do double-takes. “A Better Place” and “Dark Angels” explore the acoustically darker, Cowboy Junkies play “Sweet Jane” area of the aural soundscape.

The vocals are sung in English, and Marco does not have a strong or classic voice, but he conveys emotion that matches well with the material. As a testament to good taste, they list their favorite bands on the “thank you” page of the CD booklet, and if your record collection were limited to those artists, you’d be in good hands. Repeated plays only endear me further.

Visit the Cheap Wine website.

***

And Happy Birthday to Stan Laurel. Laurel and Hardy were an amazing comedy team; Stan Laurel was a great gag writer and a brilliant physical comedian with impeccable timing, and Oliver Hardy was a vastly underrated comic and straight man. Together they were magic.  Pull out a film of theirs tonight, or if you don’t have time, read the eulogy that Dick Van Dyke gave at Stan’s funeral and smile at his memory.

Also on this day, the fifty-first anniversary of the still suspicious death of George Reeves, TV’s Superman. I grew up watching that series on television in New York City not realizing that the “Man of Steel” was already dead. I’ve heard every story –  from a depressed suicide to a stoned attempt to really fly out a window to a vengeful murder. Perhaps one day the truth will surface.

Today is also the fortieth anniversary of the death of football player Brian Piccolo, whose story and relationship with teammate Gale Sayers was immortalized in the movie Brian’s Song. Excellent performances from (the always reliable) James Caan and Billy Dee Williams.

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Under The Radar: Dion Watts

As always when circling back to some old and obscure favorites, I find that I’ve missed some subsequent projects. Absolute Fiction, Carnival of Souls, The Scam…how did I miss three bands?

In a way, that’s good news for me – more to enjoy! In a way, bad news for you – the title I referred to below doesn’t even exist anymore. But several of the songs are available for free download at his site. I think if you enjoy artists like Semisonic (and solo efforts from Dan Wilson), The Zombies, John Wesley Harding, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Keane, or any of the more melodic pop artists, you’ll find something to like here. Many songs are very light and airy; some of the band material is a bit more uptempo.

You can read more about Dion Watts here and listen at the links at bottom, but it sounds like the very things that I was attracted to about his music remain intact. Here’s what I wrote a decade ago as part of my MP3 Files column for Cosmik Debris

Dion’s record is the first one I received that is printed on the MP3.COM “label”, the concept itself gets mixed reviews from me. The Digital Automatic Music (DAM) CDs are predominantly low-priced and contain two sets of tracks – one for your CD player and a set of digital files for your computer – along with artwork, video, lyrics and other goodies (the contents differs from artist to artist; this CD seems to only have a song list and a photo).

So you’re in good shape if you’re at the computer (unless you don’t have Winamp or some other program set as your default CD player, in which case your computer wrestles with itself for a while). The actual CD booklet, however, has a cover shot and very plain track listing on the back plate; everything else is generic information about MP3.com or a blank page. Bummer for those non-computer listens.

But what counts is inside, and Something Always Happens is loaded with great pop tunes. I first heard “I Wanna Be With You”, which is an irresistible sing-along pop track with jangly guitars and a great chorus. Watts’ vocal style is old school AM radio stuff, sometimes light and airy (“The Bluest Eyes”, a prom song if there ever was one), sometimes more pronounced like a John Wesley Harding on tracks like “God’s Cruel Joke On Me” (which almost sounds like a JWH title, doesn’t it?). “She Used To Love Me” is another solid hook backed by a great vocal, while the layered vocals on “Ashlee” and Overnight” are a nice touch. Watts plays and sings just about everything here, and pop fans should have a field day.

Dion Watts on MySpace

Listen and download tracks here.

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Under The Radar: Welsh Rabbit

Welsh Rabbit was another band I stumbled across on those late-night “sounds like” tangents that I have been addicted to for most of my life. Back in 1991 all I was able to get my hands on was West 11th Love Letters. I wrote it up for Cosmik Debris but lost track of them soon afterwards and figured they might have been yet another band who high-fived the brass ring but didn’t grab hold.

As you can see from this CD Baby comment page, I wasn’t the only person being pleasantly surprised. It also appears like I have a fellow Tangent Monkey in the commenter who cites following a recommendation based upon his purchase of The Rosenbergs. You’ll note references to Weezer, Elvis Costello and The Beatles, although I think the Soft Boys and Big Star references more accurately pick up the dissonance they employ.

But we all agree that they’re a band worth checking out. Here are my original thoughts on that first EP…

I must admit when I heard the first few notes of “Where You Are,” I would have bet the farm that the singer would launch into “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” but it was merely a tip of the cap to the Fabs (as is the closing vocal harmony). West 11th Love Letter is a low-frills EP collection of some basic tracks laid down in vocalist/guitarist Nick Levine‘s basement. The sound is good, but more impressive is the charm of the songs; they’re amazingly strong for a first recorded document.

Somehow “Do You Want To Dance” juggles the indie cred of early REM with the hypnotic guitar work of The Edge in his prime. “My Summer Girl” and “Tonight” both have great hooks and show that the band can handle midtempo as well as power pop. Bassist Kyle Chilla, drummer Ian Campbell and keyboard player Rolf Nordhausen form a tight quarter with Levine. Overall the lead vocals are pretty good, although the harmonies are stronger; the guitars go for the jangle over the flash. For the first five tracks, anyway.

Nothing prepared me for the closing song, though. “Rollin'” is a ten-minute track that doesn’t waste a second. Somehow the pop path veers off into Neil Young meets Radiohead territory, and it works. Haunting, pulsating guitar work drives the song as the melody gains steam and the vocals build into a crescendo, tagging a minor chord to reset the mood. I know that most of their songs are now a little shorter and sharper, but this is one that I hope they keep playing at full length – it’s a stirringly emotional piece of music that few bands outside of Built To Spill can pull off well.

Looks like they are now a trio (Nick, Kyle and drummer Jordan Selman) and finally have a full-length album out called Don Quixote vs. Sancho Panza. I’ll have to grab that along with the other EP I missed, Forward Motion.

Welsh Rabbit on MySpace

Welsh Rabbit website

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Remembering Link Wray

It was almost five years ago to the day that I finally got a chance to see the late, great Link Wray perform. He blistered a small club in town despite being seventy-six years old, and just six months later he would be gone forever.

Last Sunday would have been his eighty-first birthday, and if you heard thunder from above it was probably Link showing God how to play that barre chord properly. Rumble, baby! I’ll spare  you my summation of the opening act that night, but below are my thoughts on seeing the master five years ago that were etched into the ether that was Cosmik Debris

Link Wray’s “Rumble” ripped through the air in 1958, so my first inclination was to think how fifty years could not have passed by so quickly. One sight of the frail Wray being helped up onto a two-foot stage not only reversed that thought but also made me appreciate the fact that the two of us were there at all. Him to rock me…and me to be rocked.

Once the guitar was draped over his shoulders and that immortal “D” chord was struck, it was a totally different story. Backed by an almost three-piece band (energetic jungle drummer, bass player who needed a much smaller cabinet and a woman – Link’s wife? – playing tambourine), Wray planted himself front and center and let his fingers do the talking. With his leather jacket, wrap around shades and fiery rhythms, he looked like the world’s oldest Ramone.

Nimbly bashing out every surf/punk/rock riff in the book with his textbook swagger and grin, with the occasional shimmy of the hips and/or guitar, it was a textbook lesson in the simple power of rock and roll that is still well-taught by the seventy-six year old legend. Sometimes it was hard to tell where one song ended and another began (my friend Bill quipped that the set list was comprised of two songs; “Rumble” and “not Rumble”) but it was one hell of a ride.

After almost an hour of non-stop tornado activity (the exception being an Elvis cover that featured his surprisingly sweet singing voice), he was helped back off the stage and into the dressing room where I imagine a stiff drink and a towel soaked in Ben Gay was waiting. I was torn between the desire to see more and the realization that I just witnessed a man older than my father kick my musical ass and I should be grateful for what I got. I settled on the latter, an emotion that a lethargic music industry should also sign on to. Here, indeed, is a living legend. Appreciate him before it’s too late.

Of course, it’s too late now…

But apply that same lesson to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King or whatever trailblazing genuine icon crosses your path. Get your ass out to a show. Hell, go see the Stones and Macca and Springsteen. Don’t expect they’ll always be there for you, and be thankful you were fortunate to have shared time with them on this mortal coil.

Link Wray wiki

His bio and discography at AllMusic

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So You Think You Know ABBA?

I came across this last night; truthfully I forgot that I had written it. Never having been a major ABBA fan, I guess I scraped that corner of my brain clean so I could reuse it for something else. Not even the recent film Mamma Mia rekindled the memory from eight years ago. I guess Bowie was right.

My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there

But I do like documentaries, and when they’re well done it doesn’t have to be about aliens or 9/11 conspiracies or even how Enron screwed the country in broad daylight. I found that although I still am not an ABBA fanatic, I do have a new respect for the band.

If you are a fan, you should get this. If you’re ambivalent about the band, perhaps a rental or a trip to the library might give you the same reward that I had…

This ninety-one minute documentary provides an excellent overview of ABBA’s career and boasts a wealth of performance clips and interviews. Bookended with early history and recent postscript, the bulk of the program focuses on their recording years, from their beginnings (winning the Eurovision song contest with “Waterloo” in 1974) through their final ironic songs of failed relationships. Although many thought their gaudy stage show and chipper pop catalogue were tackier than bubblegum cartoon bands, in retrospect it’s hard to argue with their amazing string of chart-busting singles.

The recent interview clips with Bjorn and Benny prove them to be a focused and determined songwriting team who slaved over the melodies until they exhausted the possibilities. I never knew they did this during mammoth sessions in an island cabin, but then I learned a lot about the band from this DVD. I didn’t know that they targeted using the English language for American success because radio refused to play their songs in their own country.

Sure, I could have imagined Anni-Frid having a successful solo career or Agnetha performing the role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. But Bjorn in a Kingston Trio-like skiffle band? Benny manning a Vox Continental in the garage band The Hepstars? Clips of Bjorn and Benny’s sixties bands looked like the phony “early years” videos from This Is Spinal Tap, but they’re authentic…

Read the rest of my review at Cosmik Debris.

ABBA Wiki

***

R.I.P. (Will) Owlsley – whether you knew him as a sideman for your favorite musician, or savored his incredible solo work, his death at such a young age is a tragedy.

R.I.P. Danny Aiello III – you’ve seen him in a million movies but probably didn’t realize it. One of the best stuntmen and stunt coordinators in the business, and yes, son of that Danny Aiello.

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Under The Radar: Cartoon Factory

So many pop bands, so little time…

Ten years ago I came across a Greenville, South Carolina band called The Cartoon Factory on a late night surfing expedition; I was attracted to their energy and knack for a good powerpop hook. I thought their debut album was pretty good, and although it doesn’t appear they they ever issued a follow-up album (a 2002 release featured songs from an earlier configuration of the band under a different name), they’re still around and playing gigs, although Chuck Chapman seems to be the only original member still standing.

Powerpop is a broad term, so what do they sound like? Their website has some free downloads of pop covers like “Ah Leah”, “I’m a Believer” and “(I Want To) Rock and Roll All Night” as well as handful of great originals written in that same vein. Good harmonies, pop crunch; I’d say their self-appended comparison to Fountains of Wayne and Weezer is a decent starting point, as are the references I make below. If those names put a smile on your face, give these guys a listen.

My original review ran in Cosmik Debris in 2000…

Although the name might connote animated characters (or Jim Carrey’s short-lived sitcom debut), this quartet is a high-energy power-pop band that sets its sights on harmony and melody. You can’t be taking things too seriously when you have a track called “Monkey Girl” lead off your record. Factor in a band that has two Bay City Rollers fans paired up with two guys leaning more towards classic rock, and the combinations can get pretty interesting. For example, the melody of “Tongue Tied” sounds like The Cars taking a stab at Joe Jackson‘s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?.”

“Deaf Dumb And Blind” starts out like Eric Carmen‘s “Hey Deanie” before sliding into the infectious chorus. Only the closer “I Live For You” falls flat here, a disappointing arena thud-rock entry. The band is tight – David Swift‘s guitar and Louis Sijon‘s power drumming are solid, and the harmonies are spot on. Bassist Chip Anderson and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Chapman (the aforementioned Rollers fans) are also fans of the arena-sized power pop of Cheap Trick and KISS.

However, the production of the self-titled disc muzzles the bombast and goes for a crisp and clear sound; power chords are there, but glass isn’t shattering. “Hopeless” is a very catchy song that opens with a classic guitar riff that deserves to shake the house. But I’d rather have catchy songs than catchy production any day – I’ll bet that “Without You” and “Whirlwind” rock the house live. Keep an eye on these guys.

The Cartoon Factory website.

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