Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Criminal Kids - "Outcast"

Oh man, do I ever have a smasher for you today! Criminal Kids are a punk rock band out of the south side of Chicago, and they recently put up a free digital single on Bandcamp featuring songs from their upcoming self-titled release. "Outcast" is nothing short of a sonic kick in the teeth - blending tough & aggressive punk rock with a heavy injection of rock n' roll. Whatever volume you usually set for your digital music needs to be adjusted upward, because this track begs to be cranked loud! With its ripping leads, pummeling riffs, and ferocious vocals, "Outcast" is an absolute monster. And it contains really good lyrics about class differences that rear their head even within a scene of seemingly like-minded individuals. If you pass up a free download on this bad boy, you are nuts! "Night" is a cover of a song by The Exit - a great but largely unknown late '70s Chicago punk group. It's a true tip of the cap to one of the bands that paved the way for Chicago punk rock, and of course it's an absolutely blistering rendition!

If you could imagine what a punk band from Chicago's south side ought to sound like, Criminal Kids are it! If you're like me, this free single will have you excited to hear the entire self-titled release!



-L.R.

https://criminalkids.bandcamp.com/releases 
https://www.facebook.com/CriminalKids/ 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ray Davies - Americana

Review by Mike Kimmel

There's something I find terribly endearing about Ray Davies. I don’t know if it's something in his attitude that comes across, or something in his lyrics. Maybe it's just the turn of a phrase, the addition of an unexpected vocal presence. I really have no idea, but I do like him enough that I've written a song entitled "I Want to Be Like Ray Davies". It'll be on my first album (yeah, whenever that comes out)!

For instance, in the title track he's talking about "…my baby brother and me in the land of the free…" taking some road somewhere. They have no idea where it goes, but "…it's gonna take us somewhere". The title is "Americana", which he refers to at least once as "Amer-i-nirvana" because he wants to make his "…home where the buffalo roam in that great panorama."

He's got a home in New Orleans, and through Americana he mentions a couple of Americanisms such as "Big Sky" (Montana) and "Moon" (Kentucky) several times. I know. Pretty vague, but the context in which the words are used will help explain a bit more clearly.

I was fortunate enough to see the Kinks years ago with Ray and Dave Davies, Mick Avery with his candy cane striped drumsticks. It was a great show. John Mellencamp opened. Of course, that was years before his bass player wound up wanted on child pornography warrants out of Taiwan (that's not made up – how bad do you have to be if Taiwan issues child porn warrants against you?).

At one point, Ray Davies – obviously the focal point of the band – said that he'd been described recently as a homosexual alcoholic. "Well I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear right now. I haven't had a drink in weeks!", and then brother Dave launched into the title track from the Low Budget release.

Regarding the other point… The man was dating Chrissie Hynde, fercryinoutloud!

Another sidebar, which I'm sure someone may have noticed I'm pretty good at. Did you know that while visiting New Orleans, Louisiana in 2004, while Davies and a friend (Suzanne Despies) were walking down a street when a vehicle pulled up beside them, one occupant got out and demanded Despies's purse. She gave him the purse, and the schmuck ran. Davies chased him and got a bullet in the leg for his trouble.

In case you're wondering if justice is alive and well in The Big Easy, it looks a bit dim on that front. Not only was Davies criticized by local gendarmerie, but the aforementioned ‘schmuck’ has admitted his involvement in the crime and the prosecutor’s office has still twice dropped the case. WAY TO KEEP THE BAD GUYS OFF THE STREETS, GENTS! (To be fair, he probably shouldn't have chased the guy.)

OK, back to Americana. It's got an overall cowboy-referenced theme that occasionally pops up, and the songs are generally about what tends to happen as you age. There is inevitably some disillusionment.

That disillusionment can be with regard to personal relationships, your view of other relationships, and your initial beliefs about a person, place, or thing. In the case of Americana, I think Davies addresses all of these things. He begins by chasing The American Dream. And by the time the CD has finished, he realizes that someone somewhere had misunderstood or misrepresented something.

The objective behind the efforts of recording artists is often to "land a deal", and that's what track number two is about. Again, the lyrics show an astute understanding of the situation, which explains the disillusionment there as well.

"Isn't it marvelous, fraudulent, bogus and unreal? Today I'm a bullshit millionaire, feeling really fake. Pretending to be somebody while the credit's good. Go out to LA, strike myself a deal and be part of the American dream."

Vocal ranges approaching tenor have never been Davies's forte, but with his unique interpretations it never really mattered. Higher ranges still seem to be the only area he has any trouble with, and it doesn't seem to have gotten any less apparent with age. Again, it doesn't matter. Any faltering just seems to fit and make the lyrics seem even more like a storyteller as much as a singer. Davies is good at both.

My favorite track – at least for right now – is number three: "Poetry". A relationship just starting out is filled with mystery, excitement, and all kinds of intangibles. Those things are summed up IN "Poetry" AS poetry. He and his significant other spent time reading poetry out loud to each other. Then, she left for a wealthy guy better able to care for her material needs and "…she settled for someone who's not so hard to please; without all the fire and desire and the mystery. But I ask myself ‘Where is the poetry?'"

Keyboardist Karen Grotberg provides backing – and sometimes accompanying – vocals on a few songs. She's got a very good voice, either alone or when played against Davies's voice in their trade-off vocal tunes.

Other tracks and a very brief summary of each (brief, because I don't want to ruin the story, and every track on the CD is incorporated into the story) follows.

In "Message from the Road", the inevitabilities of extended, distant travel and life on the road are discussed, and the message carried in "A Place in Your Heart" is much the same.

"The Mystery Room" is just about life in general: start to (near?) finish. 'Yeah, my heart's still beating. Yeah, there’s no retreating."

A bit of a tip of the hat to an old friend follows in the track "Silent Movie", where the timelessness of music is briefly discussed.

Next up, "Rock 'n' Roll Cowboys on the ol' wagon train. You've had your time but it won't come again." "Your time's passed, now everyone asks for your version of history."

Personally, I think the next tune - "Change for Change" – outlines the progression of do-gooders from the initial phase of honestly wanting to help and trying to help to an eventual phase where they realize the effort is wasted, the point is moot, and now it's about them rather than everyone else.

"The Man Upstairs" is a person who accidentally helped Davies write the song that was rumbling around in his head at 3AM.

Discussed in "I've Heard That Beat Before" is a somewhat soured take on relationships coupled with the fact that no matter where we are or how different we are, we're also all a lot more alike than maybe we want to admit.

"A Long Drive Home to Tarzana" reflects on a drive or a walk or a something we've all participated in that winds up as an uncomfortable companionship – at least for the time being.

Do you have any mistaken ideas about anything? Any dreams you had – impressions of how a thing or a place would be? That's what Davies sorts through in "The Great Highway".

"The Invaders", on the other hand, takes the listener back to what may have been the first great disillusionment of the musician in love with and searching for the great American dream. Give it a listen. You'll see what I mean.

And finally, the 15th track finishes off the latest story in Ray Davies catalog. "Wings of Fantasy" also caps off the story that the whole CD has just told. It's where the end credits would probably run had this been a movie.

I always stick around till the end credits finish. It drives some people crazy, but I always want to see who did what, and I ALWAYS like to see who was involved in creating the soundtrack that set the tone for the movie I just watched.

Davies is able to tell a story and run the end credits without the listener ever having seen a thing. Some people can do that; tell a story with such imagination, feeling, and imagery that you feel like you've seen a movie.

You haven't. You've just been fortunate enough to have heard Ray Davies just doing his thing again.

-Mike Kimmel

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Crazy Squeeze - Savior of the Streets

Damn you, Crazy Squeeze, for making an album so utterly perfect that I lost sleep over the decision of which tracks I should embed in this review! Savior of the Streets, The Crazy Squeeze's long-awaited sophomore LP, is out now as a digital release with vinyl coming next month on Disconnected Records in the U.S.A. and Wanda Records in Europe. With most albums (even really good ones), I can come up with a pretty good idea of which songs are "the hits". But Savior of the Streets is basically nothing but hits. It's all-killer, no-filler from the opening note to the final strains. And while the "every song's a hit" cliche has been a mainstay of my reviews for years, I will gladly fight anyone who doubts its accuracy in the case of this album!

The Crazy Squeeze is that rare case of a supergroup that's been so good for so long that it no longer feels right to call it a supergroup. These days, we talk less about these guys' other bands and more about the amazing records they've been churning out as The Crazy Squeeze. Comparing Savior of the Streets to the group's self-titled debut from 2012, I hear a band that today has a much more fully developed idea of who it is and what kind of music it wants to make. While the term "pub rock" has definite associations with a specific place and time in music history, The Crazy Squeeze has reinvented the term in a broader sense. Its version of pub rock is the perfect mix of glam-influenced '77 punk and pure old style rock n' roll - with hooks that would be the envy of just about any pop band. Somehow the band sounds both tougher and catchier on this release - a bona fide leading contender for my 2017 album of the year.

With the track selection alternating between Johnny's songs and Frankie's songs, Savior of the Streets is an album that really highlights how well their contrasting styles complement each other. They each bring something a little different to the table, but it all ends up sounding like The Crazy Squeeze. And while this is generally a more cohesive album than the last one, that doesn't mean that every song sounds the same. These 12 tracks cover everything from down and dirty glam rock ("Be Your Dryer") to first rate punky power pop ("Let's Go Down") to raucous barroom rock n' roll ("Blind Truth") to '70s-style arena pop ("Ooh Baby I Love You") to Stonesy street rock ("She's A Runner") to some good, old honky tonk stomp (a robust cover of J Gale Kilgore's cult classic, "Suds"). There's never a dull moment. This, to me, is the kind of rock n' roll your parents always warned you about: oozing with swagger and liable to lead a person towards a life of rule-breaking and unrepentant sinning. Doesn't that sound like tremendous fun?!

I would definitely consider The Crazy Squeeze one of my favorite bands, so I was really looking forward to Savior of the Streets. But even with my high hopes, I must say that I was totally blown away. I wondered if this album would yield any more songs on the level of a "Sexual Activity Girls" or a "To the Lonely Ones". What I got was a whole album on that level! Fellas, you crushed it! This is an instantly classic rock n' roll record! So how did I decide which tracks to embed? Well, you know, I can flip a mean coin.



-L.R.

https://thecrazysqueeze.bandcamp.com/album/savior-of-the-streets 
https://disconnected-records.com/collections/frontpage/products/crazy-squeeze-the-savior-of-the-streets-lp 
https://www.facebook.com/thecrazysqueeze/ 
https://www.facebook.com/DisconnectedRecordsUSA/ 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Sweet Things - "Slather"

It was well over two years ago that I publicly raved about The Sweet Things for the first time. A proper debut vinyl single finally arrived this year, and now we get single #2 from this next great thing in New York City rock n' roll. I'm especially happy about this release because it's the first time I've heard new songs from The Sweet Things in a few years. "Slather" is out on Spaghetty Town Records - an Atlanta label specializing in sleazy rock n' roll. I could not think of a band and a label that are more perfect for each other! The title track is very much in keeping with The Sweet Things' signature sound: dirty, boozy rock n' roll in the vein of '70s Stones, Izzy Stradlin, and early Black Crowes. This is a damn fine song! You get another strong vocal performance from Dave, guitars firing on all cylinders, and terrific work on piano from the great Rob Clores. This track is a fine example of The Sweet Things' ability to draw out a song past four minutes without letting things get dull or indulgent. On the B-side "Dustianne", Dave sings a duet with the outstanding New York soul singer Liza Colby. It's a wonderful pairing, and all in all this is a rocker that you can really feel deep down. You could easily have flipped the order of these tracks, and "Dustianne" would have been a fully worthy A-side. Listen to Lorne wail away on guitar!

Boy, did The Sweet Things ever knock it out of the park with "Slather"! The songs are fantastic, and they sound amazing as well. This is one of the great present-day rock n' roll bands not just in New York, but in the entire world. If you don't already have the "Love To Leave" single on Spaghetty Town, be sure to pick that up as well. Expect to read more about Spaghetty Town Records on this blog in the near future - perhaps as soon as next week!



-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/thesweetthingsnyc/ 
http://spaghettytownrecords.bigcartel.com/product/the-sweet-things-slather-red-vinyl-bundle 
https://www.facebook.com/SpaghettyTown/ 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Stanleys - self titled

If you're into power pop, you need to own the debut album from The Stanleys. Seriously: quit reading this right now and go buy it! After hearing the Aussie band's track "Amy" on a recent split with The Dahlmanns, I was immediately blown away and delighted to discover that there was a whole album available as well. It didn't take me long to deduce that "Amy" was no fluke. Hands down, this is one of the three or four best power pop albums I've heard since I've been doing this blog.

What I love about The Stanleys is that they are true power pop classicists. They aren't trying to reinvent a genre of music, but they sure can execute it to near perfection. I have not heard many bands more skilled at crafting exquisite pop hooks and harmonies to die for. Influences run the gamut from founding fathers like Cheap Trick and the Raspberries to numerous new wave era greats to modern masters such as Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet. With its sublime marriage of massive guitars and sweet melodies, this is truly an album that represents what all power pop should aspire to be. "Amy" could very well be a #1 single in some alternate universe where they still play great pop songs on the radio. "Kid's Gonna Rock" might be even better - a rare case in this genre where the power and the pop are in perfect balance. Tracks like "Always" and "Hefner" show off the band's knack for big knockout choruses, while "Cigarette Glow" is that type of song that lodges itself into your brain and refuses to leave. "Say You Will" sounds so much like a lost A-side from the heyday of skinny tie power pop that I half expected to hear the crackling of the vinyl! And while this is generally an upbeat, crank-it-up-and-sing-along kind of album, there are a couple of slower, mellower tracks that really hit the spot. The gorgeous "My World" is a stunning example of mature guitar pop, and the ballad "This Time Goodbye" is total AM gold (think less Raspberries, more solo Eric Carmen!).

This debut album by The Stanleys definitely falls into the category of a treat for power pop fans. If you're not wild about power pop, this release won't turn you to the dark side. But if power pop is your thing, you'll be in heaven listening to The Stanleys. I'm not one to give albums "grades". But if I were, this one would be an A+ all the way!



-L.R.

https://thestanleysau.bandcamp.com/album/the-stanleys-debut-album 
https://www.facebook.com/thestanleysau/ 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Black Mambas - Moderation

Oh boy! A terrific year for punk albums just got even better with the arrival of Black Mambas' second LP. The L.A. foursome has again worked with producer Johnny Witmer - a man who knows a thing or two about high quality pub punk rock n' roll. At just eight tracks, Moderation is an all-thriller, no-filler affair that marries a classic '77 punk sound to high-energy, Chuck Berry inspired rock n' roll. You might see the "punk rock n' roll" description and expect something straight out of the '90s. So it's a really cool twist that Black Mambas are so indebted to first wave punk. My first impression of this band was that they sounded like a cross between Teenage Head and the Buzzcocks circa Spiral Scratch. Does that sound like something I'd be into? You're goddamn right! The lead guitar work is as ripping and rocking as you would expect it to be, and the energy level comes out at a 10 and never lets up. You can really tell that the band made every effort here to duplicate the feel of their notoriously wild live shows. But the songs themselves stand up too - with quality hooks and sing-along choruses that continually make me wanna get off my ass and thrust my fist in the air. What an incredibly fun record! I always love a band that understands that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. With any pretense of originality thrown out the window, Black Mambas are free to focus on just playing exciting rock n' roll. If you love the first Boys album, pub greats like Eddie and the Hot Rods, and Witmer's mighty Crazy Squeeze, Moderation is well worth picking up from Disconnected Records. It leaves me wanting more, which is exactly the way I like it!



-L.R.

https://blackmambas.bandcamp.com/album/moderation-2 
https://www.facebook.com/blckmambas 
https://disconnected-records.bandcamp.com/ 
https://disconnected-records.com/ 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sonic Screemers - self titled

It has been well over two years since I went nuts for Sonic Screemers' live demo. I couldn't help envisioning future greatness from this fearsome foursome out of Philly. Yet in the back of my mind, there was always the possibility that a "properly" recorded debut would be disappointing in comparison to the demo. Just shy of three years from the recording of that demo, Sonic Screemers finally released a debut album. Yet even with the move from live two-track demos to a professional studio recording co-produced by Pete Rydberg, none of the energy or power has been lost from the band's music. Far from a disappointment, this is every bit the crackling debut I was hoping for!

Sonic Screemers feature Peter from Jukebox Zeros and Bryan from The Flyswatters on guitar and vocals. As expected, Sonic Screemers combine the best elements of both of the aforementioned bands. You get the blistering punk rock n' roll of Jukebox Zeros and the California influenced punk/surf of The Flyswatters, all smashed together with an East Coast attitude. Five tracks from the original demo have been re-recorded for this release, and they hit just as hard this time through. Sounding like '70s punk played at hardcore speed, opening track "(Don't Wanna Hear) Your Noise" brings to mind the Zero Boys. That's the way to come out swinging! And there's no letup from there. "Jack Lord Almighty" is surf punk with a real bite - probably more akin to Radio Birdman than Agent Orange. Demo favorite "More Money, More Beer" is sing-along old school punk done to minimalist perfection. "Bad Connection" totally hits that classic SoCal punk sweet spot, while "Fishtown Shakedown" takes me back to the '90s heyday of fast and furious punk rock n' roll. And when it comes to pure, in-your-face punk rock, it just doesn't get any better than "No Shit!".

Pure and simple, Sonic Screemers play kick-ass punk rock. On their debut album, they power through nine tracks in less than 19 minutes with absolutely no screwing around. Peter is absolutely one of my favorite vocalists for this style of music - his take-no-shit style perfectly suited to the city he inhabits. And he absolutely kills it on lead guitar! I dig how he and Bryan complement each other in this band. Regardless of who wrote/sang each song, you can expect the same level of quality all the way through. I'd been looking forward to this album for a long time, and I doubt I could be any more pleased with it. The songs, the performances, and the production are all totally on-point. Given the name of this blog, I sometimes worry that I let it lean just a little too much in the pop direction at times. So for those who would (probably rightfully!) accuse me of false advertising, I offer you the mighty Sonic Screemers. Push play and crank it loud!



-L.R.

https://sonicscreemers.bandcamp.com/album/s-t 
https://www.facebook.com/SonicScreemers