Tag Archives: Rockpile

New Album! The Refreshments

It’s gotta be both rock and roll…

The Refreshments have released another gem. Led by Joakim Arnell and piano master Johan Blohm, the Swedish rockers are in fine form – as usual – with another platter of boogie-woogie rock and roll destined for heavy airplay at my house. While American radio continues to shun the natural descendants of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, Sweden is among the many other lands who honor one our lands greatest exports – rock’n’roll. Sure, these unassuming middle-aged guys don’t look like rockers, but looks deceive. Check this out…

Video: A 40-minute set from Antone’s!

Of course, the band that will immediately spring to mind is Rockpile, and it was Billy Bremner who first sought out the band and even joined in for a couple of albums. Albert Lee also took a turn, and there was even a great tour with Bremner and Dave Edmunds (released as the latter’s A Pile Of Rock) immortalized on this DVD, which I just have to get my hands on. Like Rockpile, the music is infections and relentless, the sound of blues/pub/boogie performed with love…and incredible skill.

Video: JB Boogie

On this new one, the band delivers piano-pumping, horn-drenched rock in droves, but covers all the bases – rockabilly (“Go Baby Bird“), Everly Brothers pop (“By Your Side“), country roadhouse (“Old Hopes Brand New“) and Tex-Mex (“Negative Nancy“). It doesn’t matter what they tackle, they do it well, and it’s astounding that a melting pot of American roots music has been percolating for a quarter century halfway across the world without making a ripple in the States. Then again…why would that surprise me?

One could say that the band has never grown in their career; I say they’ve never regressed. Yes, you could probably buy the albums in any order and enjoy them just as much; they’re all fruit from the same tree. If you have the cash, you could catch up in one fell swoop with this 8-CD collection. I hope you have had the pleasure of enjoying this band, but when I can turn someone on to a great group like this, I must admit a selfish feeling of great satisfaction.

The Refreshments official website

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T.G.I.F. – Back To Schooldays

I don’t have to anymore, thankfully…

But September, and especially this weekend, brings the official end to summer and the start of the school year. (Feel free to substitute the word “football season” if you are a childless male past the age of eighteen.)

Music has always captured the essence of every emotion and occurence in our lives, and there certainly are many anthems that document the drudgery and celebrate the rebellion and pinpoint the pain. Many of these are obvious, although “School’s Out” will have to wait for June! And I didn’t want to go to hardcore teenage angst like Big Star‘s “Thirteen” and Ultimate Fakebook‘s “A Million Hearts” (an under-known classic!).

So as you hopefully are preparing for a safe and happy holiday, here are Ten Tunes to take you Back To Schooldays!

01 – “Schooldays” (The Kinks)

02 – “Be True To Your School” (The Beach Boys)

03 – “Back To Schooldays” (Graham Parker)

04 – “Hot For Teacher” (Van Halen)

05 – “My Old School” (Steely Dan)

06 – “School Days” (Chuck Berry)

07 – “School Days” (The Good Rats)

08 – “Teacher Teacher” (Rockpile)

09 – “High School Confidential” (Jerry Lee Lewis)

10 – “Rock and Roll High School” (The Ramones)

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Happy Birthday, Elvis Costello

Miracle Man.

Today we celebrate the birthday of one Declan MacManus, better known to the world as Elvis Costello, among other aliases over the years. Bursting onto the scene with what is arguably the best ever 1-2-3 punch of albums (My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model and Armed Forces), Elvis quickly grabbed your attention with short catchy songs, a rapier wit and his secret weapon, The Attractions.

For as good as this sneering, scrawny Buddy Holly caricature was – and he was great – Steve Nieve on keys, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas (no relation) on drums were as formidable a rock band as you could hope for. They weren’t as spacial as The Police would become, nor were they thunderous like the then-still powerful Who, but they were so tight you couldn’t slip an ant’s ass hair through them.

But before Elvis Costello and The Attractions became one, it all started with an iconic debut; tracks laid down with session musicians who weren’t initially credited, total recording time adding up to less than one day.

People listen to records differently these days, especially if they are digital downloads. No tactile sensation of an album cover, liner notes, lyric sheets. Earbuds instead of walls of speakers. Sigh.

I remember the day my friend Phil showed up at my house with My Aim Is True; import version, of course. My roommate Larry and another friend were already hanging in the living room, music on as always. We had heard about the album coming out that day and planned to go grab it in a couple of hours. Phil was no procrastinator; he snagged it and came over where he knew there would be other willing participants to share the magic with. (Yet another earbud problem – isolation instead of the communal experience).

It was astonishing.

Two of the songs didn’t even hit the two-minute mark. The opening rocker “Welcome To The Working Week” somehow jammed a boatload of hooks, wry lyrics and choruses into a minute in a half; “Mystery Dance” sputtered and tumbled much like the clumsy lover the narrative depicted. There was fury and sarcasm, and there was great wit and wordplay, and the band (preAttractions musicians from Clover and The Rumour, among others) snapped everything to attention.

And maybe it was because it stood out with its winsome melody and broken heart, but “Alison” was an instant classic. The chink in the armor was there for all to see; this snarling wise-ass had feelings after all. When not long after I heard him nail this live it sent chills up my spine.

We were gobsmacked; I can’t tell you how many times we played this album over and over and over that day. It was all we would talk about with friends for days after, and whenever someone came over that album would come out and they would get indoctrinated. Not long afterwards some friends in a band worked up three of his songs so that I could duck out from tending bar and play lead singer for ten minutes. (We were the first Syracuse band to play Elvis Costello songs, and yes, I’m proud of that!)

Of course, Costello continued to floor us with one great album after another, and thanks to him and Rockpile and Graham Parker and Joe Jackson there was a new, fresh volley of literate songwriters serving up an alchemic stew of influences and flushing the distaste of disco and flaccid pop out of our ears. 

The trend wouldn’t last of course – none do – but the music proved timeless. On Friday I’ll celebrate Costello’s career with an Elvis-themed TGIF.

And yes, I know that today is also the birthday of Gene Simmons, Ruby Keeler, Tim Burton, Rob Halford, Wayne Shorter, Walt Kelly (Pogo), Regis Philbin and several others…as well as the tenth anniversary of Jack Nitzsche‘s death and the first for Ted Kennedy. But today, I must honor the Elvis who has been a part of my musical life for over three decades.

No offense, Mr. Presley.

Elvis Costello  wiki page

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Today also marks the 35th anniversary of Born To Run, when a talented performer, a crack band, a savvy manager and an all-too-eager mainstream press joined hands to crown the new King of rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen has since earned every jewel in that crown and then some, but it’s yet another reminder of how fractured the entertainment industry has become. It’s no longer possible to make the stars align on that kind of scale, and with very few exceptions, those things never happened organically.

But that can’t and won’t tarnish the memory of a time when it seemed like a blue-collar bar room rocker grabbed the brass ring and pulled down the whole damned curtain with it. Rock concerts would never be the same.

Could that really have been thirty-five years ago?

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Blast From The Past: Walter Clevenger

Revered in powerpop and roots rock circles but unfortunately not a household name, Walter Clevenger and his band play an appealing blend of those musical styles and are as strong as a live act as they are tight on record. I had the pleasure of seeing them play a couple of times many years ago, and each time they grabbed the crowd from the opening song and never let go.

And much in the same way, Clevenger’s albuns have held up very well – I still play them loud and often. Frankly, in a world where Tom Petty has achieved rock royalty status, I’m stunned when artists who are as good as Clevenger don’t find mass appeal from the same audience. If you’re one of them, I implore you to click the links at the bottom of this essay and listen to some song clips.

Could that commercial apathy be part of the reason that it has been seven years since Walter Clevenger and The Dairy Kings last blessed us with an album? I do know that it’s been thirteen years since my review of The Man With The X-Ray Eyes ran in Consumable Online

“Love can make you happy/or it can spit right in your face…”

Therein lie the two moods of one Walter Clevenger, whose yang and yin theories of love and relationships pack an impressive debut record. And if the “yang” is the “my life is so blissful with you” half of that couplet, this album is chock full of yin. Thank God for that!

The first thing the listener will zero in on is that Clevenger sounds uncannily like Nick Lowe. In fact, I’ll wager that I could play “Love You Like A King” , “Love (A Misunderstood Thing)” and “Angels” to friends who are fans of Nick Lowe and they’d swear it was their boy. Although Nick is one of Walter’s heroes, I don’t consider this record a rip-off or even a homage to Jesus Of Cool; rather it’s a case of someone who grew up loving a certain type of music naturally emanating it in his own. That said, however, the converse is certainly true – if you do like Nick Lowe, you’ll love Walter Clevenger.

His lyrics are witty and biting, as anyone who has been on the wrong end of a romantic crash can attest. Sometimes it’s utter dejection (“I used to make the hit parade/Now I only line the cage“) and sometimes bitterness (“You say you’re sorry/I don’t believe you/’Cause sorry couldn’t cover/half of what you’re doing“). Even when he is singing about a happy relationship, it turns out that it’s one that slipped through his fingers. If you’re despondent about love, this is the soundtrack for your life, and it will either pick up your spirits or hit you deep. Either way, it leaves a mark.

Musically, Clevenger nails the pop bulls eye by wrapping up pathos in three-minute nuggets. There are a few different sounds to the record, which may be a result of it having been recorded over a longer period of time. Most are 70s/90s classic pop (“Yesterday’s News Now” could be a Rockpile outtake) and some, like “Cries Of Desperation”, suggest folk and country-pop influences like the Everly Brothers. Only the closer, “I Don’t Like Your Face (Just Git)”, sounds out-of-place. But hey, rednecks gotta cry at the jukebox too, so why not to this one?

Clevenger recorded most of the record at his home and issued it under the title PoPgOeStHeMuSiC in 1995. (The cassette-only release quickly sold out through word of mouth and is now a collector’s item.) I was delighted to see that Walter’s recording was picked up by a label for distribution, and not just any label, either. Permanent Press Recordings is headed by Ray Paul (Klimek), a popster himself, who has also released records by deserving artists like Bob Segarini and Klaatu.

The Man With The X-Ray Eyes is proof positive that sometimes the best music around is being made in someone’s bedroom or garage.

After The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, he went on to record more albums that were as good or better (Love Songs To Myself in 1999 and Full Tilt And Swing in 2003) as well as contributing tracks to tribute albums like the Bobby Fuller song (below) and his own homage project, Lowe Profile.

Video: “Only When I Dream

And while he has been preoccupied with production and his own label (Brewery Records), the band does still perform. I noticed a couple of slots at the upcoming IPO Festival in Los Angeles next month. But I sure could use a new Walter Clevenger album, and I know I’m not alone in that thought.

How about it, Walter?

Walter Clevenger website and MySpace site.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Powerful Pub Rockers

Seems like everybody was sick of the radio as the mid-70s approached. Some went underground. Others got back to their roots, whether it was nihilistic and chaotic (punk) or traditional (roots rock). Some literally hit the UK corner bars for an evening of well-played r&b/country blues and rock’n’roll; hence pub rock.

Strip away the nomenclature and you’re back to upbeat, rhythmic, toe-tapping, air-guitar slinging music that will put a smile on your face whenever you slap it on. If there is such a thing as Friday music, this is it.

Perhaps a slight bit of liberty on my part if a few of these tracks are from outside the immortal era; if so, at least the musicians performing the material have validated roots.

So here are ten powerful pub rockers to start your weekend off!

01. Graham Parker and the Rumor:   “Empty Lives

02. Dr. Feelgood:   “Roxette

03. Mickey Jupp:   “Georgia George

04. Eddie and the Hot Rods:   “Quit This Town

05. The Inmates:   “I Thought  I Heard a Heartbeat

06. Ducks Deluxe:   “Coast To Coast

07. The Motors:   “Dancing The Night Away

08. Brinsley Schwarz:   “Surrender to the Rhythm

09. Bram Tchaikovsky:   “Girl of My Dreams

10. Rockpile:   “If Sugar Was as Sweet

Yeah, I know that last band is only one-quarter Brit (two Welsh and a Scot), and for all their related efforts only have one proper album. But pub rock is about the music, not birthplace, and Rockpile was a pub rock supergroup.

Besides, if it was about being in pubs, these would all be Faces tunes, yes?

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