Tag Archives: roots rock

Under The Radar: The Brandos

They weren’t under the radar in the 1980s…

But like many great bands, The Brandos are now and have been for some time. I can’t explain why so much quality music can’t grab the attention of large segments of the American public, but my suggestion would be that not getting airplay might have something to do with it. Sure, “Gettysburg” was an FM radio staple for a bit and even made some waves on eMpTV, but that was a quarter-century ago.

Video: “Gettysburg

Like other ex-pats, they realized that Europe could appreciate a great band, so rather than chase major labels like Columbia Records or Warner Brothers, these bands signed with Blue Rose and SPV and Line. Only fans would realize that they were still recording, touring, creating…others would figure them as one-hit wonders and close the books. Of course, that was before everyone had the technology to not only search them out, but to download and order music from halfway across the globe.

Video: “The Keeper” (unplugged)

Of course, I do have a disease. I’ve been scouting music since I was old enough to walk into a department store record department and flip through the singles and read any magazine I could get my hands on. Can’t tell you how many catalogues I set away for , nor how many checks I mailed to odd remote addresses. But today it’s as simple as bouncing an artist’s name off Google, MySpace and You Tube…but you have to make the effort to look for great music, it won’t be handed to you. Those who don’t miss out on bands like The Diamond Dogs and The Refreshments and the great Herman Brood.

And yes, they miss out on The Brandos.

On first listen I immediately loved singer David Kincaid’s slightly sandpapered vocals; they had the comfort and familiarity one would expect from hours of listening exposure. And when I finally heard The Brandos cover “Lodi” I realized why – there’s a lot of John Fogerty DNA in there. Like Fogerty, Kincaid sings with unbridled passion.

Video: “Walk On The Water

In 1994, Kincaid and longtime partner-in-crime Ernie Mendillo were on the road with two other New York legends, Scott Kempner and Frank Funaro, names any Dictators or Del Lords fans should know. Recording two shows in Amsterdam and Utrecht, the appropriately named In Exile Live was released. A brilliant cross-sampling of their recorded career, it featured rousing rock anthems, Irish folk tunes and a couple of pitch-perfect primal rock covers of The Sonics’ classics “Strychnine” and “Psycho” (a tip of the cap to Kincaid’s roots in the Seattle club scene).

Video: “Strychnine

I’ve been blasting this CD over the last couple of days and heartily recommend that anyone who hasn’t heard it drop what they’re doing and resolve this gap in their collection. If you’ve never heard The Brandos, you will be treated to one of the great unsung American bands. And if they did indeed drop under the radar for you after “Gettysburg“, well…you have a lot of catching up to do, most of it glorious. Excellent musicianship consistently goes hand in hand with premium songwriting.

Lots of MP3 samples at Haunted Field Music

Buy some Brandos albums on Amazon

The Brandos on MySpace

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Under The Radar: Venus Throw

As soon as I saw this cover I knew I had to buy the CD.

When I first heard the title track, I was wondering if Venus Throw was one of my favorite cowpunk bands performing under an alias. Damned if Bruce Smith’s voice didn’t call to mind E*I*E*I*O, Jason and the Scorchers and The Accelerators. All the songs were written by Smith, who also handled guitar and bass duties; Johanna Boulden played keyboards and Herbie Gimmel manned the drums.

The title track is a greasy, garagey tribute to its title, even bastardizing a bit of the “Peter Gunn” theme in the mix. That same pulsating downbeat is used to great effect in “Black Cherry Blues“, so guttural in tone that it sounds like the woofers in your cabinet are already blown out. (Attention kids – woofers are part of real speakers.) Love the humor in “Ten Horn Devil” as well; these guys have that roadhouse roots rock thing down. Swamp rock? Noirbilly?

Walk Dumaine” is a more kinetic paced rocker, but even that is ambling compared to the Webb Wilder meets Jerry Lee Lewis vibe of “Get Hot Or Get Gone“, a perfect closer that leaves you wanting more (and by “more” I mean “hit the repeat button while you Google for other albums”).

Film Noir is a tight and rocking appetizer, but now I have to get my hands on a copy of Raised Right, Gone Wrong, which came out last year after an apparent eight year hiatus.  The band is now completely different except for Smith; Dirk Laguna is now on bass, with Eddie Brown on drums and Bill Motley on keyboards.

If it’s as good as this one, it’s another reward for my incessant tangent tracking and blind faith purchasing. Once again, how could I not buy a CD with a cover like that? Both covers were illustrated by Robert Ullman and I hope he and the band signed on for life.

Drop a mere fin for this great EP on CD Baby or Amazon.

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Scott Kempner Rides Again

Scott Kempner is the genuine article.

I’ve already pimped how excited I am that The Del Lords have new music on the way, and I’ve reviewed Scott Kempner’s solo albums when they came out, doing what I could to pass the word. I know some of you got on board a bit too late for Tenement Angels. But now that’s rectified with a reissue, complete with bonus track, released this week.

Scott – or “Top Ten” as many Dictator fans know him – is a man who bleeds rock’n’roll. With influences from early doo-wop (Bronx Soul, he calls it) through the early rock masters, Kempner has been a prime force in Americana and roots rock for a long time. His songs are honest; they penetrate on first listen and then continue to resonate over time.

But rather than rant like a maniac (I’m looking at you, Kathie – you’re even a bigger Scott fan than me), why don’t I let Scott tell you in his own words what his mindset was at the time?

I’ve said this before: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to make music with friends. In the case of both the Dictators and the Del-Lords, there was a family feeling, a brotherhood, and it was a source of not just comfort and companionship, but inspiration, as well. It just makes me wanna do better than my best. The period in which this album was made was a scary time. After eight years together the Del-Lords had called it a day. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was gonna do except that I knew I would keep writing, playing and singing. But, I was still pretty lost.

So, I took an offer from a label to make a record and called Lou Whitney, which set the ball rolling, and within a few months I was down in Springfield, MO with Manny Caiati, and we were making this here record. Not a lot of pre-conception, other than that getting-Donnie-to-play-through-a-Marshall thing, picked a couple of covers, dove into my notebook, and well, here it is. Check it out, as it is a quite rockin’ little affair, and the chances of you diggin’ it, I think, are pretty damn good…

Read the rest of the essay at Scott’s website and check out his other blog posts.

Tenement Angels is available at CD Baby and Amazon and scores of other fine places. And pick up a copy of Saving Grace while you’re at it.

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New Album! Tom Jones

No blame, just praise.

When Johnny Cash hooked up with Rick Rubin to make the inspired series of albums known as the American Recordings, he proved that a talented artist could reinvent himself beyond a lifelong public perception. But where Cash had a long legacy of artistic credibility to go along with his popular success, Tom Jones was known for his booming voice and the collection of underwear tossed at his feet.

No one expected that he’d issue a stark blues and gospel album, and I’m certain that nobody predicted he’d release an album that is a serious contender for the best record of the year.

Surprise.

Fronting a stripped down sound often comparable to the chunk and thwack of The White Stripes, Jones has created a spiritual journey that begins soft and subtle, surfs the River Styx and ascends towards the heavens before leaving the listener by the doorstep with a personal challenge. In other words, Jones not only got around on that fastball, he crushed it.

Jones, at seventy, still possesses those powerful pipes and sounds absolutely rejuvenated on these selections. The myriad of well chosen songs taps the songbooks of Bob Dylan, Pops Staples,  Billy Joe Shaver and John Lee Hooker, whose “Burning Hell” is punctuated by greasy slide guitar and the guttural bark and howl of the singer. I saw him do this live with just a drummer and guitar player as accompaniment and it was riveting.

Sometimes people release an album outside their wheelhouse to be trendy and widen their audience. I don’t know Jones personally nor can I speak for his religious beliefs (or lack thereof). But I can tell you that after listening to this forty minute sermon, I’m converted.

Go listen to clips and judge for yourself.

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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 Roots Rockers

Last night I saw two great sets from the pride of Festus, Missouri – The Bottle Rockets. Great albums and an even better band live, and it’s nights like that which make me thankful that there are still some great bands making the rounds these days playing Great American Music.

Of course, radio isn’t exactly following suit…roots rock, Americana and good old country soul rock’n’roll doesn’t market to the tweens. That’s the target audience with the most disposable income, the highest sheep mentality and the most easily swayed loyalty. And since no one is trying to cultivate careers anymore, it’s all about the quick hit and the cash grab, because tomorrow is someone else’s marketing bonanza.

Well, there are great bands out there plugging in and rocking out, and despite the ambivalence of the media, they’ve managed to carve out a career and a loyal audience. It’s not likely that they’ll play the Enormodome anytime soon, but who wants to watch a band through binoculars, anyway? Give me the honest sweat and pulse of a great club show any day.

The Bottle Rockets are such a band – they play with passion and heart and write songs about real people and real lives. They’ll plug in and blast off just as hard for fifty people as they will for fifteen hundred or fifteen thousand. So in their honor, here are ten artists that your neighbor might not know the name of, but their mission was to carry the torch for Great American Rock’n’Roll.

All deserve to be household names, and in my world, they are.

01) The Bottle Rockets: “I’ll Be Comin’ Around

02) Jason and the Scorchers: “White Lies

03) Webb Wilder: “Tough It Out

04) The Del Lords: “Burning In The Flame Of Love

05) Terry Anderson: “You Know Me

06) Dan Baird: “I Love You Period

07) The Jayhawks: “Save It For a Rainy Day

08) Lucero: “She’s Just That Kinda Girl

09) Drive-By Truckers: “This Fucking Job

10) The Beat Farmers: “Hollywood Hills

Of course, it’s just ten songs, not the canon. From Credence to The Replacements, from Walk The West to The Bo Deans, from The Blasters to The Gaslight Anthem, there’s a wealth of timeless music beyond that radio dial. Enjoy these ten, and go find yourself some more.

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New Album! Darrin James Band

It’s tough to keep up with everything that comes down the pike, and I completely missed out on Thrones of Gold, the 2006 debut album from Darrin James. Had I read a quote like “As a songwriter, I have wanted to combine honest, dark lyrics with old school blues and a fusion of styles, to express the emotions and stories of tragic or flawed characters” I would have been all over that album in a heartbeat.

Fortunately this second effort did cross my desk. Having no expectations whatsoever, I let it unfold organically and found myself pleasantly surprised by the results. James spent a few years traveling the world playing and writing music, and this album is all over the map as well – but in a good way (kudos Matt Gill for solid recording in multiple studios). Blues, folk, rock, country; a nice blend of atmosphere for his characters and stories to take root in.

Critics have been pretty effusive, dropping comparisons to Robbie Robertson, Joe Henry, Lyle Lovett, Paul Westerberg, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, among others. I drop a couple more names below.

Live Video: “Baby Don’t Bitch

James has a raw and expressive voice that can at first be jarring, but it does suit his material. His cadence in “I Was Wrong” makes him sound like Neil Diamond on a bender, while the voodoo blues of “Baby Don’t Bitch” might bring Captain Beefheart to mind. But when he settles in on something more pensive (“Shallow Grave”), he can float the timbre and wisdom of John Prine. It’s a nice chameleon act, so when he rolls into Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, it fits hand in glove…

Read the full review at PopMatters.

Visit the Darrin James Band website.

Listen to clips at CD Baby

***

R.I.P. Lynn Redgrave. Goodbye, Georgy Girl.

True Royalty

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