Beth Hart would be on the short list for quarantine perfomers of the year. This one is a song. This one is from last’s years record War In My Mind.
The Bye Bye Blackbirds – Boxer at Rest (five out of five)
The first thing that jumps out when you hit the play button or drop the needle down on Boxer at Rest, the supremely excellent new record by Oakland California’s Bye Bye Blackbirds, is the pristine knob-twirling production value courtesy of Doug Gillard, who has worked with Guided By Voices and Nada Surf as well as many other bands you like, that hits you between the ears on the first song “You Were All Light.”
At first-listen, the opening drum intro followed by the Big Star worthy guitar chords will float your mind-space back to happier and even hippier times. And, once the perfectly mixed vocals join the party courtesy of the George Harrison meets Tom Petty (Travelling Wilbury’s era) vibe of the main songwriter Bradley Skaught, suddenly, as the horns kick-in to take you home, all is right with the world. And it almost wasn’t.
As the album was written and the tracking well underway at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco, founding member Lenny Gill fell gravely ill with an illness requiring a heart transplant almost derailing the record before it really got started. Then, during a period of time when Lenny’s ability to ever play the guitar again was very much in doubt, the band recorded each of the individual tracks with the exception of the guitar parts and put them on a shelf for safekeeping. Replacing the irreplaceable and finding another player to fill in for Lenny was never an option. It was a time to be patient, a time to live, a time to heal. Until finally, after a hard-fought nine months of rehab, the boxer at rest was ready to get back into the ring recording all of the guitar parts in one day.
Having been largely written before Lenny’s illness, the songs on Boxer at Rest are mostly upbeat affairs with an undercurrent of social consciousness lying just below the surface of virtually every track. Two of the songs that demonstrate Bradley Skaught’s agile songwriting skills, “How Do We Stay?” and “All Our Friends” directly address the tragic 2016 fire that killed 36 people in a warehouse known as The Ghost Ship that had been converted into an artist collective in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland.
All we do is love you
and sing your names out
We pulled the anchor
And kissed you out to sea
And, on “So True” the gentrification of the neighborhoods in and around Oakland with hipster lofts and overpriced coffee shops taking over the landscape is lamented.
“In miles of old alleyways, all our secrets in piles, left outside where the dogs can find them. Gone like they’d never arrived.”
There is a poetic poignancy to virtually every song on this record that is enhanced even more so through a set of quality headphones and multiple listens. The liner notes clearly say play this one loud. Advice best heeded.
Trying to choose a favorite song or to cull band influences or genres from the choice morsels presented here would be somewhat of a fools’ errand. There is literally nothing not to like with this record. Sure, there are fairy dustings of Big Star, The Birds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Box Tops sprinkled everywhere, but make no mistake. Lenny, Bradley and the rest of the band aren’t simply riding the coattails of those that have gone before them, they are playing it forward with depth and deep reverence. Just listen to the guitar licks that would make Sun Records and Sam Phillips proud towards the end of “War Is Still Hell” and tell us we’re wrong. On “Watch Them Chime” you might catch the scent of R.E.M.’ or even a Tim era Replacements vibe. And, on “Baby It’s Still You” the horns are back in just the right spots and the band’s secret weapon, Kelly Atkins, announces herself in fine fashion even though she has been classing up the joint earlier with her elegant harmonies throughout many many of the tracks.
At a nice and tidy 33 minutes and 23 seconds, this one is best savored in one sitting with a nice cocktail in hand, surrounded by good friends, toasting those that are no longer able to join us.
We haven’t quite hit the summer stride as yet, but things are starting to heat up quite nicely. We are getting some sneak peeks to some cool ones that are just around the bend and there are some subtle beauties that are announcing themselves.
Robert plant, yes, that Robert Plant has released a teaser tune that has our ears a-buzz as he turns it up and takes a ride down Charlie Patton Highway as only he can.
The boys in Deep Purple, Mach 65, or whatever version of the band is in vogue these days are really bringing it in fine Hall of Famer fashion.
And, newcomer Jordan Lehning is out with one of the more beautiful ballads of the year with “Oolaloom.”
Here are five records we think are really cool this week.
Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Dirt and the Star
Mary Chapin is back with her the first new record of new stuff since 2016 with The Dirt and the Stars, and its almost as if she has not been gone and all. Written in her Vermont home before the pandemic hit, Carpenter waxes politically on old age, politics, life changes, and the importance of empathy along with with other home-spun subjects as only she can. When she tells us “It’s Ok to Be Sad” and shows us “Where The Beauty Is” It’s like sitting on your front porch with an old friend.
Cary Morin – Dockside Saints
Exploring the musical landscape on the dirty side of roots-based Americana this eclectic guitar-slinger will have you riveted from the opening bell with “Nobody Gotta Know” a voodoo blend of Cajun, Swamp Rock, with hints of Bluegrass that seemingly shares some DNA with Dr. John. With Exception to the Rule” Cory’s sensitive side comes out along with his ear-friendly voice, and on “Prisoner” and on “Tonight” we find out just how the guitar Gods have blessed this exciting new talent.
Jenny O. – New Truth
There is definitely a whole lot of the Best Coast vibes swirling all around this eclectically new record from Jenny O. Vintage Pop meld in perfect harmony with the So. Cal. Laurel Canyon vibe most particularly on “Color Love” and “What About the Day.” This is a sit in the garden and watch the butterfly’s sort of listen.
Tough Age – Which Way Am I
A new wave masterpiece for the new millennium, Tough Age, the latest record from Tough Age, harkens back to the Post Punk glory days of the late ’70’s early ’80s. Heavily influenced by The Feelies and Television, their music is taught and full of simmering just under the surface energy. Whether it’s the anthemic “Penny Current Suppression Ring” or the power riffing bass-forward “Anti-Anxiety Exercises, this band would have had a permanent residence at CBGB’s back in the day.
Blue Oyster Cult – Live in London (45th Anniversary Edition)
Released for the first time on CD celebrating the 45th anniversary of their Live in London concert, this set is a must-have not only for BOC completists but for any fan of good old fashioned Rock and Roll. Memorable for being the first, and to date only, time the band has played their debut self-titled record start to finish in a live setting. This also stands this live performance apart and ahead of the somewhat tired “Some Enchanted Evening.” And, its terrific hearing this iconic band at the peak of their powers. The highlight from this part of the set, “The Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll” is delivered with the passion we had come to expect from one of the more underrated Rock and Roll bands in the game.
Once the record is finished and after the brief interlude in the form of the instrumental “Buck’s Boogie” the monster hits kick in with “Godzilla” and “Don’t Fear The Reaper” back to back. Song placement is key here as it is always better when the band doesn’t wait for the encore to dial-up their mega-hits. Editors note: Don’t expect to hear “Burning For You” on this set. The song had not been written yet.
Here are five really cool records that perked our ears up in the month of July:
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Co-Starring
Much like the Dion record from last month Ray Wylie Hubbard’s latest, and arguably his best record, Co-Starring features many of his famous friends on an album that features no-holds-barred storytelling and signature rhymes that can be found nowhere else. Where else are you going to find out that a 392 scat backed Dodge Charger rhymes with a tattoo that says ‘free Sonny Barger’.
The album features Ringo Starr, Don Was, Joe Walsh, Chris Robinson, Aaron Lee Tasjan, The Cadillac Three, Pam Tillis, Paula Nelson, Elizabeth Cook, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, Ashley McBryde, Larkin Poe, Peter Rowan, and Ronnie Dunn.
Stand-Out Song: R.O.C.K (feat. Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown
Massive Wagons: House of Noise
It should come as no surprise that some of the best good old fashioned retro Rock and Roll is coming from England, and in this Lancaster, England in the form of Massive Wagons. Not new on the scene by any means, they have been doing what they do for ten years now, and they have finally hit their stride with the immensely enjoyable House of Noise. With no rocket scientry going on here, heck, these guys aren’t even splitting the atom, the sound is pure good-time ’70s Rock and Roll. If you love Foghat and Grand Funk you will love Massive Wagons.
Stand-Out Song: Bangin’ In Your Stereo
Kai Danzberg: Rockshow
If you have ever pondered what sort of record Freddy Mercury might be putting out if he were alive today, the questioned may have been asked and answered with Kai Danberg’s Pop-fastic new album Rockshow. Sort of a magical sandbox of E.L.O, Queen, and Jellyfish with virtually every song on this record standing out as a Power Pop masterclass.
Stand-Out Song: Rockshow
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard – The Non-Stop
Cut from Brit-Pop cloth, this Cardiff based band delivers on a more than solid 8 song set of T-Rex Glam mastery. Catching the whimsical essence of Glam Master Marc Bolan without stealing his shtick all together copying his act, Tom Rees might just be our new favorite front-man.
Stand-Out Song: Double Denim Hop
The Bobby Lees – Skin Suit
Commercial, they are not, and this is precisely why The Bobby Lees is set to take over the Garage-Rock hip band of the moment mantle. Taylor made for CBGB’s these guys virtually command you to notice them. Part Iggy Pop and a whole lot of Siouxie Sioux front-woman Sam Quartin commands the stage with a presence we have not seen or heard in quite some time. There is not much flower and a whole lot of power emanating from this band of twenty-somethings from Woodstock, N.Y.
Stand-Out Song: I’m a Man
We get an extra week this month to check out our favorite records. That’s the good news. The bad news is that is is a pretty tepid week on the new release front. Undaunted, however, we will carry on my wayward sons.
There is a new Stryper song to sink your ears into in advance of a new record to be released later in the year.
Retro Country stars Midland gave us a live video this week from their live at The Palomoino recent release,
and, Rock is the new Roll mega-favorite Lissie is back after an extended absence with the highly excellent track “Just Because I can.
Here are five new records that have earned our attention this week.
Charlie Crockett – Welcome To Hard Times
With this, his 8th album since his 2015 debut, and his second already this year, to say that Charlie Crockett is on a bit of a roll would be like saying Eric Clapton is good at that guitar thing. Of course, captain obvious. And what a stellar album it is. Expertly walking the tightrope between Classic Country and Americana-Roots music, there is nothing about this old soul crooner that seems past its born-on date. Sure there is a bit of good old countrypolitan in many of the tunes presented here, most notably with the aptly named “The Man That Time Forgot,” but it is on the take me to the honky numbers “Run Horse Run” and “Paint it Blue” where this record really earns it spurs.
Mike Polizze – Long Lost Solace Find
Somewhat of a departure here for Mike Polizze as he strays from the recent Grunge-Garage sound of his band Purling Hiss for a more gently acoustic sound on this, his debut solo record. Played and sung entirely by Polizze with production help from Kurt Vile the record meanders from shoe-gaze to Beck inspired Bedroom Rock at the blink of an ear. There is a bit of grandeur around the subtle instrumentation that deftly floats around the lyrics that might bring to mind Nick Drake or Karen Dalton at their most thoughtful.
Psychedelic Furs – Made of Rain
As the torchbearers for much of the Psychedelic Rock sound that is prevalent in today’s Indie Rock sound, The Psychedelic Furs have released their first record in over twenty years. Dispanding their snarly Punk sound and sometimes foray into Synth-Pop, this one has a more expansive arena-friendly sound. There are a couple of real highlights here that will genuinely excite the long time fans of the band including “Wrong Train,” a song clearly demonstrating that Richard Butler has lost nothing on his vocal fastball and “Don’t Believe.” Once concerts return to full gear, expect an epic return to glory for this band that practically invented Indie Rock and college radio.
Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
A Heros Death, the sophomore album from Fontaines D.C. may not be as spot-on dangerous as Dogrel, it is still, none the less, an inspiring record that deserves to be in your record collection. Starting from the opener “I Don’t Belong,” a mid-tempo anthem that highlights the gritty vocal of Grian Chatten, the stage is set for this Dublin Band, sort of a Post-Punk U2, to opine on their world view over 11 tracks of intermittent rage and corresponding thoughtfulness.
“You Said” has a bit of a Velvet Underground feel to it, while the title track certainly shares some DNA with Iggy Pop and the Stooges and might just be the most important song to be released this year
Say your favorite things at mass
Tell your mother that you love her
And go out of your way for others
Sit beneath a light that suits ya
And look forward to a brighter future
Happiness really ain’t all about luck
Let your demeanor be your deep down self
And don’t sacrifice your life for your health
When you speak, speak sincere
And believe me friend, everyone will hear
If only people would listen.
Mojo Buford – Mojo Workin’
The classic Chicago blues is bleeding from every ounce of Mojo Buford’s fine new record, Mojo Workin’. Having the distinction of being the only harmonica player to have played with Muddy Waters in the 1950s, ’60s,’70s, and ’80s Mojo Buford was a Blues staple from Memphis to Chicago before his death in 2011. Originally recorded in 1969 this reissue courtesy of Sundazed records features many of his songs included in his live repertoire including “Got My Mojo Working,” the song that delivered his nickname when every night he would get requests to play the famous Muddy Waters tune.
The sound quality on this release is excellent and Mojo’s self-penned songs stand equally as tall beside Otis Spann’s “Blues Is Botheration” and Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Help Me.
If harmonica-blues is your jam, you can’t get much better than this one.
Peter Himmelman – Press On (4 out of 5)
It is pretty hard to believe that Peter Himmelman is 15 albums in and has been applying his trade since 1986 with on solid effort after another, and his latest, Press On, is certainly no exception. Recorded live in-studio this one runs the cool-genre spectrum from Roots Rock to Gospel, To Country with a little bit of Rock & Roll and beyond.
“Press On,” the title track is a Gospel tinged narrative beauty and rides the same bus as Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, while the rest of the record carries that same working man’s hardscrabble songwriting flair. Even though the record was recorded in just under four days nothing about his feels rushed, just another troubadour doing what he was born to do.
Kai Danzberg and Honeywagon – Rockshow (five out of five)
There really is not too much not to like on this one, the latest from Germany’s wunderkind Kai Danzberg. While he may have a baby face that shows all of his tender 24 years, this Pop-Savante definitely has a ’70s soul. Every track on this pop-fastic record is as hooky as you will find this side of an episode of dangerous catch, there is not a tune presented here that would not be worthy of being released as a stand-alone single.
“Rockshow” is an epic soundscape that sounds like something Freddie Mercury would have produced if he were still with us, “Love You & Me” is an uptempo and bouncy love song, and “Oh Girl” is made even more spectacular with a helping hand from singer Drake Bell. The tones and textures all across this record vary with each turn of a groove making this one heck of a diverse listen that will grab your attention and not let go until the needle stops.
The Total Rejection- The Time Traveller’s 3rd Will and Testament (4.5 out of 5)
Full disclosure, here at Rock is the New Roll we are huge fans of Austin Powers era Mojo-Garage Rock in the Little Steven Underground Garage mold. And, the latest record from The Total Rejection checks off all of the paisley boxes in fine fashion. From the 13th Floor Elevators inspired romp “Fly (Lost in Time/Party Nine)”, a song that Syd Barrett himself might dismiss as too drug-addled, to the Small Faces hipster glory of “Next Time I See You Around” there is a passion of purpose on display with every turn of a tune.
As the song cycle continues, you seem to be going down a worm-hole of back to the future grooviness spanning somewhere from the mid-sixties all the way to around 1973 before you spin around and go back down the rabbit hole of wonderment to discover the mojo dance party of “Tracy Said” along with the organ-drenched Paul Revere and the Raiders vibing “Next Time I See You Around.”
And then, 15 songs in, just like that, the closer, “Distress Signals From A Planet On The Edge of Despair” takes you to Red Sector A with a wild Space-Mojo jam that wraps it all up with a cosmic bow and sends you back to a reality that will leave you thinking, what has just happened?
The Successful Failures – Pack Up Your Shadows
The first thing you should know about The Successful Failures is that any attempt to plug them into one genre or another is very much a fool’s errand. Hailing from Trenton, N.J., the band deftly combines Americana, Pop, Rock, and enough of a dusting of Bluegrass that serves as an appetizer to the main course without overwhelming the entire meal.
Originally intended to be an E.P., once the pandemic hit the band used the extra time available to expand the project into a proper full-length record, and what a record it is. Once you get past the mandolin introduction on the opening track “Honeycomb” for fear that a Flatt and Scruggs Hee Haw hoedown is awaiting, all seems to be well when Mick Choba’s vocals kick with his whiskey-soaked voice sounding like a less ramshackle Rhett Miller in full Old ’97s mold. “On Down The Line” is a perfect Honky Tonk sing-along, and “Whiskey Song” toes the Americana with a touch of Country line to perfection.
With the song “This Girl,” the first single from the record, there is more than a passing acquaintance with Power Pop by way of The Bodeans while the song structure puts on full display the master-class level songwriting inherent with the band.
“She used to, she used to be naked, now she’s always undressed she used to be lonely now she’s only making the best of this world she’s making the best of it.”
“Murder ‘neath the Silver Moon” is a murder ballad and a marvel of a song that doesn’t end well for our hero. Spoiler alert, he shouldn’t have cheated on her. These guys even morph the somewhat hokey “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” into a musical dual guitar, call and response feast for the ears.
This is a great band and should be on your list of best albums of 2020, no question.
Wendy James – Queen High Straight (4 out of 5)
As frontwoman for Transvision Vamp, Wendy James was fearless leading the band to top ten hits with “I Want Your Love” and “Baby I Don’t Care” before the band disbanded. Now, after collaborating with the likes of Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and Nick Cave she is alone and out on her own with a new record that combines Soul, Vintage Pop, Funk, and pretty much every other cool genre you can come up with.
The opening title track sounds like it could have been peeled right off the Dusty in Memphis record, “Perilous Beauty” and could have been on a Pixes’ record, and “Marlene Et Fleur” would have been perfect on any of the early-era Bangles records. One of the more intriguing aspects of this album is the ability to travel from one musical era to another at the blink of an ear, case in point the ’60s Phil Spector girl-group vibe of “Free Man Walk” followed immediately by “Stomp Down, Snuck Up” that could have been on any mid-career Madonna release, and “Little Melvin” that has a bit of a Sharon Jones and the Dap Kinks funky soul in it.
Pleasurable sound nuggets are everywhere with quite possibly the best of the lot “Bar Room Brawl & Benzedrine” showing off the backing bands’ musical prowess. This is a shape-shifting tour de force that is best savored loud and in large doses.