Tag Archives: Under The Radar

Under The Radar: The Decadent Royals

There’s a reason that cover looks familiar.

The Decadent Royals sound like a mash-up of  The Rolling Stones (cusp of the 70s) and The Black Crowes, two bands who knew how to weave country blues into rock to create an infectious blend. Add in dashes of The Jayhawks, Bob Dylan, and any number of southern rock bands from The Allman Brothers on down, and you have an intriguing album that is well worth checking out. (Icing on the cake for the skeptical…the label is Maggie Mae.)

I love the Crowes and Stones because they are unafraid to slather their songs with gospel vocals, slide guitars, pedal steel, horns and wah-wah solos as needed. So are these guys. Swing On, Sinners rocks hard throughout, but the closing track “Wave Goodbye” proves they can be equally impressive turning it down.

How under the radar were these guys in my world? They’re from Albany, a three-hour car ride away, but I only came across them three months ago for the first time. The frightening part is this album is six years old; the predecessor is almost fifteen. It appears the band is likely finished; singer and songwriter OP Callaghan has another project called My Angel Crush (who sound like a logical extension of these guys).

I don’t pretend that this album is as good as Beggars Banquet or even Amorica. But damned if this isn’t a band that’s turning its back on the easy paycheck in favor of creating some dynamic sounds. Lord knows the Stones haven’t done that in years, and the Crowes need as much help as they can get from bands who know how to put the rock back into rock’n’roll.

Hope I can find more music from them, but at least I have this. Now so can you.

The Decadent Royals on MySpace

Buy Swing On, Sinners at Amazon or CD Baby

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Under The Radar: Clashing Plaid

Let me give you my two cents about Penny Collection

Philadelphia based Clashing Plaid is – as their own description aptly reads – three chords and a cloud of dust. Bass, drums, rhythm and lead forging a Stonesy sound that’s not quite punk rock but certainly has more attitude than most radio groups passing for rock’n’roll these days. Sure, the lyrics aren’t poetry away from the tunes, but try a dramatic reading of “Hang On Sloopy” sometime.

Guitarists Andy Watts and Anthony Porter must be huge fans of Social Distortion and The Georgia Sattelites, because their interplay is straight out of their playbook. Watts can shred, and bassist Kenny Seso and drummer Steve Ackerman are rock solid. This is the band’s fifth album, featuring nine new songs and five bonus tracks.

Video: “Remote Control Betty”

I love finding bands like this. Totally unassuming, no frills rock’n’roll – play it loud and make the car windows rattle. Or in weather like this, wake the damned neighbors. It’s a plaid plaid plaid plaid world.

Listen to clips and buy at CD Baby

Indeed!

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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: Morgan Taylor Rock Group

I used to get down to Manhattan far more often than I do now, and those missions invariably included trips to the Village to Arlene’s Grocery and The Living Room among  other stops. Invariably there would be a few bands cycling through sets at each, some of whom I’d target, others would catch me completely off-guard. Morgan Taylor definitely fell into the latter group.

It’s not unusual for a newspaper in a small or medium size city to rave about a local artist; quite often the writer is someone from the music scene who knows everyone personally, and let’s face it – while every town has its local heroes, most don’t graduate much further than their zip code. I’m sure I have had my share of “gonna be huge” reviews over the years and if I ever finish straightening out the basement, I can probably prove that. But Manhattan is a jaded bitch who has her pick of the world’s entertainers; she need not crow about one of her own. But yet there was Morgan Taylor’s name next to a review so enticing I had to see for myself.

When grabbing the CD cover for this post I came across this 2008 interview about his new animated creation that was merging musical theatre and children’s entertainment. Whimsical stories? Check. Infectious pop tunes? Check. Moms and Dads who have been taking their kids to see this show might want to grab his older album for themselves.

You and I know people who have a quirky, inventive sense of humor, but most don’t do anything tangible with it. Guys like Morgan Taylor do. Gustafer Yellowgold? Yeah, I’d say any guy who can release a 70 song CD collection called Box Of Monster could do that. Kudos to you, sir.

Here is my brief but enthusiastic 1998 review from…


Despite the moniker, the quartet is anything but generic, looking like they had been beamed in from 1970, or perhaps freeze-dried (with headphones blasting great tunes 24/7 during the thirty year repose, though). Sonically adventurous, yet always swooping in for a melodic chorus, the quartet’s pulse frames Taylor’s deliberate, almost breathy vocals.

The result is a focus upon Taylor’s imaginative lyrics, where broken hearts metaphorically tango with voyeuristic partners. Imagine Marc Bolan fronting Radiohead; whimsical stories capturing your attention as the band locks into a groove or slowly grinds a chorus to a halt as if someone is placing their finger on a turntable in your head. Apparently there’s quite a buzz about this band in Manhattan, and rightfully so; I was floored.

Check out sound clips at Amazon

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Under The Radar: Crumb

CRUMB: Seconds, Minutes, Hours…

This one dates back about thirteen years, back when TransAction Magazine was landing my brain nuggets in all sorts of cool clubs in London, Paris and Tokyo as well as Manhattan. It gave me a nice forum to write a gattling-gun column of odds and ends, things that wouldn’t fit into the tight print requirements of the glossy magazines that were so prevalent then.

So all the CDs that were too commercial, too obscure or assigned to others were directed there. The Editor was happy to get the volume, the bands and labels were happy for the coverage, and I was happy to have my byline in the Eastern hemisphere. Ah, simpler times

Crumb’s album came out on Red Ant Records, the label that I thought would re-launch Cheap Trick’s career until they imploded and killed whatever momentum either band had. Here’s my 1998 review from TransAction

TransAction Magazine

About half a great record – the first three tracks sound like someone found The Vapors in a time capsule and defrosted them, and they landed mid-riff! Wow! “Tonight“, Overboard” and “Exhibit A” all have great vocals, power-buzz guitars and that Big Drum Sound I love so much.

Then there’s “Do You Remember?”, the acoustic ballad with strings, proving that the Goo Goo Dolls didn’t patent the genre. (Matter of fact, if this was on the radio, it would sell a million just like the Goos do.)

But after literally launching me into orbit, the second half leaves me lost in space, free-floating away from my capsule, air sucked out of my lungs.

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little overboard, but energy aside it all starts to sound the same (with the exception of “Cressida“, which smokes!). Lets just say that lovers of muscle pop should gobble this up regardless, while others will see Crumb as a band with EP ideas and a CD budget. So if you can accept skipping over the mundane to savor the charms, go for it.

Listen at Amazon (and get it for a penny).

Hey! My label's dead!

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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: Sugarbuzz

Most band names don’t communicate the sound of the band. Sugarbuzz does.

Sugarbuzz was a late 90s collaboration between Brian Leach and Brian Reed (they even had a third Brian – Brian Krumm – add some lead guitar parts). Leach has a solo album called The Sunrise Nearly Killed Me, which is among many powerpop fans’ favorites, but frankly after fifteen plus years I’m getting the Leach/Sugarbuzz timeline confused. But I like all his stuff – in his normal vocal range he has a sweet pop voice but slides into a sandy rasp in the upper register. Still don’t know much about Reed.

Submerged is a really solid effort that is heavy on the powerpop but winds in other elements for a nice mix. Occasionally they will recall other bands but Leach’s vocal adds a quality to the mix that gives them a unique sound. Not a lot of power in the powerpop…more of a perfect album for a Sunday morning drive.

“Overthrown” is one of my favorites, strongly recalling T.Rex, while the guitar and chord structure of “Lost Sensation” and “A World Away” recalls Jellyfish (especially the staccato strings and guitar solo). and I hate to use the word “beats” when talking about music, but “Born Again” sounds like the percussion was played by a guy on a street corner with an inverted plastic paint bucket. “The House That Never Sleeps” uses some subtle wah-wah and background string-bending to produce an infectious spacy sound; “Long Hot Summer” takes that ambling psychedelic approach to a point where you almost feel the exhaustion he’s singing about. I really like “On Some Other Day” where Leach (or Krumm?) goes all Joe Walsh for a couple of minutes.

I always lump Leach in with Matthew Sweet and artists from Champaign, Illinois (Velvet Crush, Adam Schmitt) probably because all this came out in the late 90s, although he and Reed really don’t sound that much like them. But if you are a fan of the aforementioned bands, I think you’ll like Sugarbuzz a lot. And like many pop albums that never made a big splash, an enterprising fan could get this for a song.

A few clips on MySpace

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