Album of the Day: The Bye Bye Blackbirds – Boxer at Rest

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.

 

 

 

 

Album of the Day: Petter Himmelman – Press On

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.

Album of the Day: Kai Danzberg and Honeywagon – Rockshow

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.

 

Album of the Day: The Total Rejection – The Time Traveller’s 3rd Will and Testament

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?

Album of the Day: The Successful Failures – Pack Up Your Shadows

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.

 

Album of the Day: Wendy James – Queen High Straight

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.

 

 

Album of the Day: Tremendous – Relentless

Tremendous – Relentless (4 out of 5)

One of the best Glam Rock debut records to come out in quite some time, at least since the Struts’ Everybody Wants when Luke Spiller first hit our ear-waves, and this one is destined to be a keeper. The album pulls no punches in introducing you to the band opening-up with a three-song salvo of their previously released singles, Wondermints all of them with “Don’t Leave Our “Love (Open For Closing),” “Like Dreamers Do,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Satellite” all having you at hello.

Sort of combining the more bombastic sound of The Strokes with the coolest elements of ’70s Suzi Quattro Glam, every song is well crafted, hooks-aplenty, and with a surprise around every turn song after song. The real beauty of this Glamtastic record is that it combines the gritty Pop-Glam sounds of contemporary bands in the mode of The Killers while all the while keeping their cosmic boots firmly entrenched on the Mott the Hoople, T Rex, and David Bowie Party train.

This is not your grandfather’s Bay City Rollers Glam. We have already got this one on our the shortlist for Rock and Roll album of the year.

 

 

 

Album of the Day: Ocean Alley – Lonely Diamond

Ocean Alley – Lonely Diamond (5 out of 5)

If ever there was a band that literally sounds like the geography of where they are from Australian band Ocean Alley would fit that bill perfectly. Combining psychedelic overtones, surf guitar, and ’70s Pop you can almost feel the wind and sense the surf crashing on the beach as each song swells and drifts into the next.

The touchpoints here may be obvious with the bending notes of David Gilmour and the languid riffs of Pink Floyd front and center, but this one goes deeper than that. The swirling “Tombstone” has a bit of Supertramp in its DNA, “Up In There” soars and meanders with a more contemporary feel, and “Stained Glass” is a blissful epic that would have fit quite nicely on the Breakfast In America Album.  There is even a touch of Little River Band in “All Worn Out,” a ballad that is to our ears the best of the lot.

For extra credit go back and spend some time with their 2018 album, Chiaroscuro, a record that had four singles make it onto the triple j Hot 100, the Aussie equivalent of Billboard.

Album of the Day: Jet Jaguar – Endless Nights

Who knew that one of the newest and most exciting New Metal bands to come around in a heck of a long time would be from Cancun, Mexico. On this, the band’s much-anticipated debut album, the band is more than meeting the lofty expectations set for them after becoming the first-ever Hispanic-American group to win the Wacken Open Air Metal Battle in Germany.

Drawing influences from the ’80s themed Metal bands with a pinch of Glam and Melodic Rock threw in to satisfy the faint of heart, the DNA of MTV bands the likes of Dokken, Kiss, Winger, Motley Crue, early Skid Row along with Judas Priest in their heavier moments, is the order of the day. The singer Max Mendoza with the looks of a Hispanic Michael Hutchence throws his voice out there in the Axl or Myles Kennedy range and takes total command of the stage in their live performances. “Blinding Lights,” the first single out of the gate is a scorcher, and even the two songs on the record sung in Spanish are ear-catching and cool with “Tormenta” as one of the highlights of the record that will be a clear favorite when the band hits the road for their South American tour in 2021.

 

Album of the Day: Stephen Dale Petit – 2020 Visions

Stephen Dale Petit (4.5 out of 5)

It seems that California based guitar player Stephen Dale Petit has waited for his entire career to produce this record that is a mini-masterpiece and a master class in what modern Blues Rock should be, and where it is headed. And this, complete with album artwork from Klaus Voorman, the artist who created The Beatles’ Revolver coveris, by all accounts, his own personal best and has the potential for Grammy consideration in the Blues category. Joe Bonamassa may get all the press these days, But this guitar slinger that has already made a name for himself on the other side of the pond can easily stand fret for fret with his idol.

With about as diverse a palet of songs as you will find, every Blues nugget presented here stands alone. One second the sonic wonder of Stevie Ray hits you between the ears on “Tinderbox,” and in the next breath all hell breaks loose with the snarling Clash influenced title track on “2020 Visions.” The nuanced slow burn of “The Ending of the End” brings to mind both Kings, Freddie and B.B., and “Steppin’ Out” would hold up quite spectacularly at the crossroads battling it out with the devil for the soul of the song.

Anthems are not left out of the mix, and “Soul of a Man,” a song that features Shemekia Copeland, shares a lot of DNA with “Beds are Burning” and will be a call and response staple on the festival circuit this year. If there is a festival circuit this year, that is. There are no throwaway tunes on this one. “Zombie Train” may be the weakest of the lot, not surprising given the song title, but beyond that, this album is a real page-turner. Stay with all nine minutes of “The Fall of America” churning, burning apocalypse-blues plays as legit at it can get.