Tag Archives: Pop Culture Press

Under The Radar: The Shys

Most bands get all sorts of undeserved comparative hype. While I am usually guilty of “sounds like” relationships in my reviews, I feel that without them it would be more difficult to communicate the specific sound or direction of the band (if limited to more general terms). But I am flooded with press releases that make such outlandish comparisons that they are merely laughable. The new variation on that theme is to be so patently obscure in your references to appear hip. But the downside of that is communicating so little worthwhile information that the bio is of no use whatsoever.

But you have to admit that a band billed like this is worth a listen:

“California’s Shys are a blistering four-piece featuring Iggy style vox and hints of all the Stones: the Rolling Stones, Stone Roses, and Sly And The Family Stone.”

I really liked this album, as well as their follow-up You’ll Never Understand This Band The Way I Do. I’ll save the references for that one for another time, but here’s my review of Astoria from Pop Culture Press in 2007:

The opening track “Never Gonna Die” kicks off with a blast of ringing guitars and Keith Moon-like drums, transporting the listener to England circa 1977. But although a comparison to the melodic pub punk of bands like The Boys wouldn’t be out of line, these sounds are being made by a band in their early twenties…from California? Vocalist Kyle Krone wraps his throaty Iggy vocals around an album full of strong material, albeit heavily influenced by a myriad of other bands.

“Call in the Cavalry” brazenly swipes a riff and drumbeat from the White Stripes but grows it from there, ditto “Alive Transmission” (“Search and Destroy” meets “Undercover of the Night”) and the Ian Hunter drenched “Waiting on the Sun”. The title track is a Clash-like stomp that builds and recedes like a violent tide. And while they may cop some modern bands, the guitar work is steeped in seventies rock, which makes tracks like “The Resistance” much more than a nod to Oasis. A very, very strong debut.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

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Under The Radar: Bad Rackets

Another blind grab from the CD racks today (a little musical roulette game I play when I’m not sure what I’m in the mood to hear). Gotta love an album titled Full On Blown Apart, especially when that’s what you feel like doing to your head. The band describes their sound as cheap beer sizzling on vacuum tubes.

I never heard of The Bad Rackets before or since, so I’m figuring they’re a likely candidate to have sailed under your radar as well. Unfortunately it looks like they shuffled personnel in 2009 and then finally bit the dust. But they left us this testament to the effort, so we got that going for us…which is nice.

If nothing else, you have to see this hilarious video. (No, it’s never too late to take a shot at George W. Bush).

Video:  “Somebody Dropped The Baby

Here’s my review from a 2006 issue of Pop Culture Press:

Austin’s powerpop-punk quartet fills the void between early sloppy Replacements and…well, the early Replacements if they were just a little tighter. In other words, the alcoholic vocals and off key guitar solos are propped up by the brash power chords of the Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols mixed with the throbbing bass lines and snare-snapping drums of (your favorite Britpop band name here).

It’s young, it’s loud and it’s snotty, and if that phrase reminds you of a certain band, you’re on the right track. If not, how about song titles like “Porno Magazines”, “Everybody’s A Loser” and “Atom Smasher” (that’s parts one and two, mind you). Just like the early Mats, Kevin Owens’ vocals and the raw musicianship are enough of a rough edge to terrify program directors from coast to coast. But that’s why God gave you a pair of ears, Sparky.

The guys in Bad Rackets are all Texas bar rats and club band vets, though sight unseen you’d swear it was four eighteen year olds plagiarizing their older brother’s punk pop collection for the first time. Damned if there aren’t multiple hooks in every song, and if you aren’t bouncing off the wall or changing lanes like a madman while songs like “CandyDish” are melting your car speakers, something is seriously wrong with you. Get the chairs off the dance floor and start self medicating, because you’re gonna need it.

The Bad Rackets on MySpace

Listen to clips at Amazon

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Blast From The Past: Tonio K

It's great - no bull!

I will never understand how great records can go unheard… 

I guess when it comes to Tonio K., I can almost extend that to great catalogues of records. For despite initial kudos out of the box for Life In The Foodchain and pockets of critical acclaim bordering on cult worship, the man remains a virtual unknown and is seldom mentioned when people discuss great songwriters and favorite albums. To give you an idea of the breadth of his career, he was a member of The Crickets (as in Buddy Holly, although well post-Buddy) and collaborated with Burt Bacharach on his 2005 Grammy winning effort. He turns sixty this year, which is still young pup status for someone with his pedigree. 

When Foodchain was released in 1978, it exploded off the radio, standing out even though the post-disco mid-punk era was in full chaotic bloom. The music was great, the lyrics both hysterical and deep, and it remains one of the most auspicious debut albums of the rock era. I’ll save the dissertation of his career and its impact upon me for another day; there is not enough room to discuss it in one bite. Let’s just say that the public missed the boat on this one big time, and even my hopeful plea contained in my review over a decade ago (below) fell on deaf ears. 

Had Ole’ been released when it was supposed to have been, who knows what might have happened? Maybe he would have finally gotten that well-deserved acclaim. Maybe he would have disappeared again. I haven’t heard very much about or from Tonio K. recently (even his MySpace page hasn’t been updated in almost two years)  and reportedly he’s done with performing and trying to play the artist game. But I won’t count the man out, ever. And if he is done, well…he’s laid down a hell of a gauntlet. 

Check out his entire discography. If you don’t own everything he’s ever recorded, you now have a to-do list

Here’s my review of Ole’ from Pop Culture Press 

 

Thank God! One of the more critical “oh-that-won’t-sell-let’s-shelve-it” mistakes of 1990 finally has closure, and people can get a chance to hear what die-hards with secret taped copies have been crowing about for a decade. 

Tonio K (Steve Krikorian) first burst onto the rock scene in the late 1970s with the caustic and brilliant “Life in the Foodchain,” a concept record from Hell that mixed witty and insightful social commentary with blistering rock and roll. Although “Amerika,” the followup, contained more great music, Tonio K was no longer the flavor of the month and sales dipped. He released a great EP called “La Bomba” (not yet re-released) and then later a pair of majestic records for What/A&M in the mid-1980s that were chock full of great songs but could find no home on radio. Then it seemed that he disappeared, surfacing occasionally as a collaborator with friend Charlie Sexton or supplying songs for soundtracks. Gigs were either infrequent or low profile, or probably both. 

What actually happened was a third record for A&M produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring a hot band including organist Booker T. Jones (!!), ex-Attraction Bruce Thomas (bass) and T-Bone himself. Guests on the record included Peter Case, Warner Hodges (Jason & The Scorchers), Paul Westerberg and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. The music kicked ass, and as always, the lyrics were amazing. How could this record not get noticed? But some bean counter said “uhhno.”

But they wouldn’t release the tapes either, so this sat on a shelf and collected a mound of dust. Enter Mitch Cantor, fan and label owner, whose dogged persistence finally elicited some cooperation from saner heads, and eighteen months later you can finally hold this in your hands. 

So the big question is this÷does it hold up? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. Kicking off with the manic “Stop The Clock” (with a heart-attack guitar solo from Marc Ribot that has to be heard to be believed), the twelve cuts showcase both sides of Tonio K÷the intolerant cynic with the vocabulary to back it up, and the introspective social observer who is able to communicate about faith and hope in a valid and non-fanatical light. 

Rockers like “Time Steps Aside” and “Pardon Me For Living” are fresh and vital, and the acoustic numbers place even greater focus on his stellar lyrics. Topics of homelessness and child abuse in “Hey Lady” and “That Could Have Been Me” could have been rudimentary folk songs in the hands of a lesser artist, but here are first-rate work. And maybe it will take a lesser artist to have a hit record with “I’ll Remember You,” an absolute killer that, like most truly great songs, will never find its way onto the radio unless some hack like Celine Dion sings it. 

Video: We Walk On

Video: That Could Have Been Me

The liner notes by Tonio K are a great bonus, insightful and sometimes self-deprecating illuminations of the songs. Kudos to Gadfly Records for altruistically stepping up to the plate and re-releasing records by people like Andy Breckman and Tonio K simply because they deserve to be heard. No one thinks these are stadium-filling artists, but it’s obvious Tonio K has a lot more to say, and I don’t care whether it’s brand new or has eight years of dust on it. The man is a flat-out work of art, an essential artist, and deserving of a wider audience that he hopefully will now find. 

 Grab Ole’ from Gadfly Records or CD Baby 

Wiki up on Steve Krikorian, whydontcha? 

The unofficial homepage has tons of lyrics and information.

***

R.I.P. Allen Swift, a/k/a the voice of Simon Bar Sinister

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Under The Radar: The Donkeys

There are just too many records to sift through.

As a result, I sometimes miss a follow-up to an album that I really liked, even though I spend a while keeping my eyes peeled for their next one. But many times there is no next one, or the stars don’t align and I miss out on it when it drops. In a perfect world I will run across it again eventually thanks to my habitual late-night web browsing, but those gaps are getting longer and longer as time goes on.

So that’s my long-winded way of telling you that The Donkeys released Living On The Other Side in 2008, and I only realized that today. So while I’m off to get that one, let me pimp you on their self-titled effort from 2006, because there’s a chance that you might not have heard either one. And I can vouch that at least one of them is a real gem.

Here’s my 2006 review from Pop Culture Press…

I almost don’t know where to start in describing the collective sound. A pinch of Wilco, a dash of Beachwood Sparks, a whisper of the first Rod Stewart album but only if played in Gram Parsons’ living room on a Sunday morning. The Donkeys, as unassuming as their moniker, quietly serve up a gumbo of bottleneck country blues, sun-drenched folk and pensive basement soul that is solidly entertaining and occasionally mesmerizing.

Four musicians from San Diego who blend perfectly; percussion that never overplays, solid bass that yangs the drummer’s yin, guitar lines that fuzz, shine and shimmer, and what can only be described as impeccable choices from the keyboard player. Beyond the sounds, unusual, challenging and dark lyrics hover, adding an ever deeper dimension.

The oddball waltz of “Paisley Patterns” might be too off-putting for some (especially with the droning lyric of “All my friends are dead” haunting the melody) but just about everything else here is pure ear-worm material. “Try To Get By” is a two-minute arm-wresting match between Bob Dylan and Neil Young. “Black Cat” is The Band reincarnated as Built To Spill. “No Need For Oxygen” is six minutes of aural beauty juxtaposed with somber lyrics, but it could have gone on six more without a complaint.

This album could be the soundtrack of your Saturday night depression, your Sunday morning sunrise coffee, or your silent road trip home after “that” weekend…your dwindling cigarette pack on the passenger seat and your life in the balance. It sounds like a cop-out when you describe a record as sounding “organic”, but when ninety percent of what comes out of your speakers is too easily categorized, records that percolate their own energy deserve a bright floodlight. Go find this wonderful record and immerse yourself. 

The Donkeys on MySpace

Donkey Buzz

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Under The Radar: The Forty-Fives

Hate, hate, hate it when a great band starts to make their mark and then just fades away because of money issues, lack of recognition or some other game-changer. After getting progressively better from Get It Together to Fight Dirty, The Forty Fives looked like they hit paydirt with High Life High Volume. The Atlanta band went to Detroit to soak up the vibe and lay down tracks at Ghetto Recorders with producer Jim Diamond; the results were great! But somehow, not long after that, my expectations – and theirs, apparently – were dashed.

Looking back and giving this one another spin, I remembered why I get so excited when a band like this comes down the pike. At least they did get to tour the world, play gigs with their heroes and even showcase at Little Steven’s Underground Garage Festival at Randall’s Island. Maybe they’ll do me a favor and make another record?

Diamond continues to find and work with great acts (The Charms and The Love Me Nots among the more recent stunners) as does the label Yep Roc, and bands like this do continue to pop up and take their shot. I just have to keep looking since with few exceptions, the radio and the press isn’t much help. And when you find one…ahhhh, bliss.

Here are my words from 2004 as they originally ran in Pop Culture Press

Hip-shakin’, roof-raisin’, ass-kickin’ rock and roll as Atlanta’s finest quartet hooks up with a producer who “gets it” (Jim Diamond behind the knobs) for a jukebox full of dynamite. Echoing every great British Invasion band (with a special nod to the Small Faces), Bryan Malone’s stirring vocals and electrifying guitar chops lead the way, but this is a rock solid band effort.

They’re too cool for school, rocking with abandon, dipping their toe in a cow pie (the countrified “Bicycle Thief”) and even daring an instrumental (“Backstage At Juanita’s” soulful Hammond – kudos Trey Tidwell – is worth the price of the record by itself). Killer cover (“Daddy Rolling Stone”) segues into a Dolls-like glam rocker (“Junkfood Heaven”), before the horns and blues of “Too Many Miles”. And if you’re still wavering, the blazing “Superpill” features the best handclaps since The Romantics ruled the earth.

Did some jackass say rock and roll is dead? No way – it’s right here, baby, on one of 2004’s best records.

Give them a listen on MySpace or at their website.

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