Rock and Roll is Alive! Part 1 – An Alive Records Natural Sound’s Round-Up

Let me tell you, I get a decent bit of music in the mail thanks to this gig right here and although every day brings a package with a little bit of melodic lovin’ inside, there are days where the bounty is just so fucking cool it makes me glad I decided to become a music writer. The day I received this fat package of music from the Alive label was one of those great days.

Alive is one of the few labels left which is dedicated to keeping rock and roll…ahem…alive in many ways, but most importantly in spirit. The label is a throwback to the days when substance meant more than anything else and sticking by your bands while they grew and matured was more important than milking them for one monster hit. I mean, while I am sure Alive would love to sell a ton of records and have a huge fat hit on their hands, they seem incredibly loyal to their bands and are nurturing their roster as each band builds their own reps and fan-bases which will eventually help the label as a whole. As it is, the label has one of the best young rosters out there and will soon be able to compete with any other label out there is the discs contained in this package is any clue. Since they sent me so many wonderful releases, I am splitting this article into two parts so I don’t hit you with too much good stuff at one time.

Nathaniel Mayer – Why Won’t You Let Me Be Black?
Alive

Though christened with what could be misconstrued as a controversial title, this CD is nothing more (and certainly nothing less) than one of the coolest R&B singers ever firing it up one last time for the enjoyment of his fans. Sadly, Mayer passed away in 2008 and this, the second posthumous release issued by Alive, should be the last “new” release Mayer will ever have aside from whatever live recordings can be unearthed from Mayer’s legendary club gigs in his hometown of Detroit and elsewhere. This CD’s title came from a remark Mayer made while being served some food in Europe during one of his tours there. Tiring of the never-ending platters of cheeses and French bread waiting for him backstage at every show, Mayer shouted the title line in exasperation due to his longing for some home-cooked American cuisine. On board this go-round are guitar players Matthew Smith of Outrageous Cherry and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys who also share in the production chores for this album, wrapping up their friend’s last known studio tracks in fine style. The centerpiece of this set is two live tracks Mayer and Smith recorded together while doing a radio interview/performance in 2007. They are Mayer’s only known acoustic performances and show Mayer could be funky under any circumstances. Though his voice was ravaged after years of “personal issues” (check out Mayer’s first hit Village of Love from 1962 to hear one of the sweetest R&B voices ever recorded that didn’t belong to Sam Cooke) there was nothing strong enough to hold back his immense soul and I find just as much to like about his latter-day vocal style than I do with his voice during his earlier years. If you have never heard him before, this CD will be a revelation. If you have, then you know you already need this CD.

Brimstone Howl – Big Deal, What’s He Done Lately
Alive.

Wow. Just…wow. You know, I’d like to be in the room when bands pick out their names. You know? Just be a fly on the wall because a lot of bands have the craziest names that don’t make any sense or are just simply unrelated to the music they make. And it’s not just recent bands. It’s been a funny thing throughout time to check out a band’s name, listen to their album, and discover that the music you thought the band was going to be about because of the name they chose is totally 100% wrong. Not this band. Not Nebraska’s Brimstone Howl. This band (Nick Waggoner – guitar and vocals, John Ziegler – guitar and vocals, Calvin Retvlaff – drums, and a guest bassist) lives up to it’s name by sounding pretty much like a garage band from hell. And that’s not just an expression. They sing and play as if they are actually living in hell and only playing guitars and drums as fast and loud as possible is the only thing to get them out. The term ‘gutbucket’ does not do it justice and “frenetic” doesn’t justify the pace of these songs. I mean, Jack White should just quit right now as Brimstone Howl has perfected what Jack and Meg have been only partially succeeeding at for the past ten years. In fact, the title itself could very well be referring to Jack White as far as I am concerned. Think the Ramones tearing apart the corpses of Jack and Meg and you’ll get the idea where this album is going. Some of the fiercest rock and roll I have ever heard in my life. If you buy this CD, tie yourself to your chair before you put it in the player or you’ll just get blown clear through the walls of your house. The MC5 sound weak compared to this band. Okay? I said it. You buy it!

Buffalo Killers – Let It Ride
Alive

Some heavy Hendrix/Clapton-circa-Cream-style guitar sounds here with a sort of country-rock edge to the band, at least on the first song Get Together Now Today. The Buffalo Killers consist of Zachary and Andrew Gabbard along with Joseph Sebaali and this rocking threesome manages to conjure up some great fucking blues riffs! This, their newest release, is produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys (damn, this guy gets around, doesn’t he?) who ingeniously tempers the band’s muscular rock with the Gabbards’ sibling harmonies, adding an extra dimension to their homespun psychedelic Southern blues rock! Whew, think I hit them all! Sounding incredibly like a Southern rock version of Cream, the band’s swirling drums, pulsating bass and brain slicing guitar have an enormous power and energy to them which makes you want to jump up and begin dancing in full-force Trustafarian boogie mode. Excellent stuff, and while not groundbreaking in the least, this is music best listened to outdoors as the band’s songs just have sort of a rustic, pastoral rock sound to them that suggets you almost have to have no walls around you to listen to them properly. I would compare them to My Morning Jacket with the reverb removed. Very cool stuff. This will be played a lot at my house this summer, especially when dusk hits and I am chilling outside. Perfect for parties too!

Left Lane Cruiser – All You Can Eat
Alive

If you like your blistering mind-searing rock with a little bit of Southern gospel fervor and righteous country flavor, this is a band you’re going to want to check out. To be sure, it ain’t your parents’ country rock. Nothing as stodgy and boring as The Allman-Skynyrd Band here and the Cruiser has obviously beaten the moisture out of poor Wet Willie who was then dried up and rolled into a big fat doobie smoked greedily by some hasbeen Outlaws while the emasculated Sea Level slides slowly back to the oblivion that band deserves, ok? This shit is Black Oak Arkansas on speed combined with Albert Lee on acid and R.L. Burnside with an ass pocket of rocket fuel! More staggering is the knowledge this “band” is only a two-man assault team comprised of Freddy J IV on guitar and vox and Brenn “Sausage Paw” Beck on drums and background vox. That this much ruckus could be caused by just two musicians puts most other bands to shame. Jack White himself should probably hang his head (and guitar) in shame and Meg White, well, she was never much of anything, anyway, was she? Not compared to Beck, who can actually drum in a John Bonham-in-a-haystack kind of way while Freddy J. need take a backseat to no one on guitar, having the chops to chicken-pick like the best of them only to then turn around and hit some vicious runs which would make Page, Van Halen, Satriani, Vai and any other guitar god you know take notice. Anyone who thinks the nasty has been taken out of rock and roll need to hear the tones Freddy pulls out of his guitar. Between him and Beck, Left Lane Cruiser is a careening, runaway rock and roll ride straight into the bowels of hell. And I love it!

Hacienda – Loud Is The Night
Alive

When checking out the picture of the band on the back of their CD, I thought this CD was going to be one of those modern bluegrass-themed things as the picture shows the members of the band standing together in a backyard of sorts holding stringed instruments such as violins and acoustic guitars. Well, imagine my surprise when I pop this sucker into the player and hear some of the most gloriously rocking, 60’s influenced pop this side of the Zombies? In fact, make that Zombies crossed with The Who as the first cut, She’s Got A Hold On Me is quite guitartastic and bassbombasteriffic, if I may coin some new terms. Socking punk bass on a swinging pop tune? Say what? This band’s delightful mix of chamber pop and guitar blast make for some quite delicious songs, all produced and engineered by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Not quite pop delicate, not quite punk overpowering, Auerbach and the band have found a great, if wonderfully skewed, mix of musical elements to draw from for these songs. Every song seems like a new genesis, and two new disparate influences are shoved into the music blender and out comes something gloriously melodic and beautifully twisted. No two of these songs sound alike yet they are all obviously anchored in ’60’s pop then seemingly “scuffed-up” by Hacienda and made into something new yet old, but catchy as hell. Vocal harmonies by the band are also gorgeous, probably because the four-piece band includes three brothers and nothing beats a great set of sibling harmonies, just ask The Everlys. Take for example the song “Hear Me Crying” – Flawlessly sung doo-wop mixed with The Sir Douglas Quintet then made modern. The band also does an admirably straight take of Sonny Bono’s classic ’60’s chestnut Baby Don’t Go and makes the oldie relevant once more. Damn! I am thinking only Sloan could match what this band is doing. Take that for what it’s worth. Each of these songs will stick in your brain as much for the intrinsic construction of the tunes as for their melodic grip on your earhole and brain. A wondrous album. I hope you already own it, but if you don’t, you just gotta pick it up!

The Telescopes – Untitled Second
Alive/Bomp

I’ve never been a huge, huge fan of dream-pop but I always liked the way The Jesus and Mary Chain conducted their melodic business and I’ve hearted My Bloody Valentine for a long, long while. Consequently, I feel I am able to give The Telescopes their just due as it’s obvious from their albums they’ve been enthralled by those same bands. Untitled Second sees the band starting this set of songs in a kind of dream-pop-derivative shoe-gazing way but one thing I’ve noticed about The Telescopes is their songs are a cut above the normal cookie-cutter shoegaze band. In fact, the songs sound as if they’ve seemingly gone back in time past their regular influences and embraced a more psychedelic kind of vibe, anchored in the ’60’s but given a post-modern twist both unique yet comfortably familiar. Maybe it’s a subtlety present in their songcraft which most bands never learn (and can’t really be taught), maybe it’s the wildly eclectic combination of influences giving their songs a special quality rarely heard. I’m not sure, but I know that I am digging it immensely. Sadly, the secret I’ve withheld about this record is that it was recorded way back in 1991 and has just been re-issued by the Bomp label in the US. So, the Telescopes, like most great bands, are defunct (take that, U2) yet this classic will (and should) live forever thanks to knowledgable music hounds like those at Alive and Bomp who know timeless music when they hear it. If you are a fan of this type of music you owe it to yourselves to check this album out, as it’s definitely one of the best I have heard in this subgenre and stands up to anything the Verve or Mojave 3 ever released.

Part 2 coming soon!!

Alive Records Natural Sound

2 Comments

  1. Alive should put out Whispering Pines album “Family Tree”. Badass back porch soul roots rock and roll! Best self released album I ever bought at Amoeba…Need it on vinyl!! Alive…help me out here!!!

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