If there ever was an ode to meeting in the middle, this is it.
If you are scoring at home our top three ‘rock is not dead’ Rock and Roll bands of the day are Massive Wagons, Starbenders, Wyldlife, and Starbender, not necessarily in that order. Here, Starbenders professes their band-love for each other from their record released earlier in the year, Love Potions.
Echobats is a brand new Quarantine created an all-star band featuring Tony Harnell (TNT), Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), Eric Levy (Night Ranger), Matt Starr (Mr. Big), and Lames Lomenzo (White Lion.) With soaring vocals and hooks to die for this band won’t be around in a while so let’s enjoy them while we can.
Going back to one of our favorite bands, The Fratellis, with their hit song from the 2007 record, Costello Music.
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.
One of the best Power Pop bands currently applying their trade, Here, the Fruitbats do an excellent job on the Smashing Pumpkins cover.
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.
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.
Beth Hart continues to impress with her intimate quarantine sessions. Here’s hoping these intimate performances by artists continue well after the pandemic is over.