Alive and Rocking: Part 2

This is the second part of this round-up review/label profile so let me repeat:

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 fanbases 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. This is, of course, the second part!

Black Diamond Heavies – A Touch of Someone Else’s Class

Whew! From the first song, a hellacious cover of the Ike and Tina Turner song Nutbush City Limits that Ike would no doubt approve as it has an extra large helping of STANK on it for sure, you are suddenly transported to a backroads juke joint in Mississippi circa 1968 where the shine flows and the smell of weed grows until you are engulfed to the point your sense of time and place has eroded and it is all about the NOW, baby. It is exactly at this place where the Black Diamond Heavies conduct their business, and business is indeed looking up, as they say! James Leg nee John Wesley Myers (vocals, all keyboards) and the rest of his band (Van Campbell – drums/percussion and U.S. Justin – background vox/maracas) plus some guests including the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach have mastered the art of voodoo R&B – you know, a little bit of garage rock, psyche, soul, church and blues all mixed until the genre lines are blurred – and are set to cast their spell on all music freaks (emphasis on freaks) who want to have their live changed, souls saved and brains fried up good and crisp like! Count me among the converted for sure as this record has as much soul-stirring power as anything I have ever heard in my life! The band has it’s origins in Nashville and started turning heads and frying minds since the band formed in 2004. While Nutbush does indeed start the album in a powerful way, to me the best song is Bidin’ My Time, which is a simple little soul song that could sound formulaic if done by someone with no soul. Thankfully, Leg does it up right and his interesting vocal style (a little Leon Russell here, a little Dr. John there with a little Tom Waits, Willy Deville and Screaming Jay Hawkins mixed in) and offbeat phrasing manages to turn this song into a latter day R&B standard that I could see Wilson Pickett or Ray Charles covering in their prime. The song’s blue notes hit your gut at all the right times and it is an emotional powerhouse that may live on past the band itself. The rest of the songs are great too, don’t get me wrong – most sounding like old rock and roll/R&B standards revved up by the Heavies but in fact are Heavies originals excepting one T-Model Ford and Nina Simone cover each, making the songs even more remarkable. Damn, these fuckers need to do a live album NOW!! I have rarely heard a band bring down some of the most fiery and hellacious gospel rock and roll psyche garage like I have here. Dare I say this album is incendiary? Shit, I’ve said it! Now, back to listening to it!

Radio Moscow – Brain Cycles

If Jimi Hendrix had been cryogenically frozen in ’68 with the rest of The Experience and then revived today this is exactly how the band would sound. I listen to a lot of psychedelic music, both from the rock sub-genre’s heyday back in the late ’60’s to a lot of the self-indulgent twaddle that passes for psyche today and let me tell you – this is the most brain-searing, mind-expanding shit I have listened to in a long while! It’s the kind of CD I wish I had listened to a lot sooner so I could have been the first to tell you about it. Then again, maybe I am. Blasting out of the Ames, Iowa area, Parker Griggs (singer, songwriter, guitarist and drummer – whew!) went to a Black Keys show and gave Black Keys mainman Dan Auerbach a demo tape of songs. Needless to say, Auerbach was immediately stoked by Griggs’ songs and signed them to Alive immediately and helmed their first album. On this, their second CD, Griggs and bassist Zach Anderson prove their sound is theirs alone as Auerbach is nowhere to be found yet this set rocks like few bands have ever rocked before. This CD also marks a record for people wandering around my CD player and telling me this band sounds like you should be dropping acid while you listen to their music. While I am not condoning such actions, I will remind that about ten people have heard me playing this CD and every one of them have mentioned the word “acid” while discussing the band. That alone is some kind of seal of approval. If you want to be ROCKED, this is the CD I recommend. They also have another coming soon so stay tuned because as soon bas the flashbacks and trails stop, I am gonna review that one as well!

Outrageous Cherry – Universal Malcontents

Matthew Smith and the rest of the OC have yet another new album coming out in a couple of months but I though I would remind you of this very overlooked psych gem that came out about a year ago. While a band such as Radio Moscow play more brain searing hard rock, Outrageous Cherry have more than a little Sgt. Pepper in them. They bring the rock, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of their tunes are on the more poppy side, which I really dig as the melodies are really infectious and the songs have a ton of intricate parts you have to really listen for, making them cool headphone records – which there aren’t too many of nowadays, you know? While Smith is the main man behind the OC sound, his bandmates Sean Ellwood (bass/vocals), Samantha Linn (drums/vocals) and Larry Ray (guitar/vocals) are sympatico with Smith’s vision, supplying the necessary backing to let Smith’s tendencies for vintage rock sounds achieve fruition. While this album tends a little more towards ’70’s rock than the band’s usual ’60’s psyche influenced pop-garage, there are definitely enough tinges of past Outrageous Cherry greatness to keep old fans happy and impress newbies interested in classic rock sounds done with a modern touch. Smith may just be rock and roll’s most impressive unsung hero, and where poseurs like Lenny Kravitz get the glory, Smith just keeps on creating great album after great album in the shadows. Still, greatness doesn’t stay hid forever. Check this out and spread the word!

Henry’s Funeral Shoe – Everything’s For Sale

This band proves quite adept at the two-man blues rock blueprint thought by some dullards to have been begat in the modern era by The White Stripes but which actually originated back in the beginning of the 1900’s. Also, in my opinion, the
Flat Duo Jets (look them up, newbies) did it better than Jack and Meg but the hipster kids have spoken I guess. Though everything on Henry’s Funeral Shoe has been done both before and to death, the band’s two members Aled Clifford (guitar/vocals) and Brennig Clifford (drums/vocals) do a decent job here and come up with some great riffs and elastic beats. It amazes me with this band as well as other bands like this that the bass is not missed at all. If you’re a fan of this style of rock you may as well pick this up. The bloom is off the rose as far as the coolness of it, which peaked in about 2003 I guess, but this shit rocks like hell so there’s at least that going for it. I amso have to give some props for the band name, which is intriguing to say the least. While this didn’t quite buzz me like Brimstone Howl, this band is still certainly worth your time and if you like bands like Brimstone Howl and most of the other bands omn the Alive roster, this band is certainly up your alley.

Brian Olive – self titled

Vocally, Olive sounds like a young Tom Petty and, at least on the first cut, the band does a good job of ape-ing The Heartbreakers as well, circa Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough but with a bit more punk edge. As the album goes on, more comparisons with Petty are apparent, obviously because of the vocal similarities but also because of Olive’s sound. It’s easy to close one’s eyes and imagine Petty singing some of these songs. Keeping the Let Me Up era alive on the next song are some slide guitar and horns, which when considered separately mean nothing, but when put with Olive’s Petty-ism’s sound just like mid-period Petty right down to Olive’s Mike Campbell-style guitar solo. One cool thing is Olive’s about as talented as all the Heartbreakers put together, handling a lot of guitar and all of the piano, organ and saxophones himself. Olive enters more original territory beginning on the third song Echoing Light, which is a dreamy number similar melodically to something recorded in the 40’s with some rock touches added to make it sound a little more hip. The song Stealin’ ventures even further away from the Petty-isms as the song has a great New Orleans second-line drum beat and seems tailor-made for a Mardi Gras march. A glance at the liners shows he song has been around for awhile but Olive has added new lyrics and updated the arrangement a little. This is ending up as way more than a Petty-fest thanks to each song revealing more of Olive’s own personality and talent. Possibly what I would have done is split up the first two songs, as the one-two Petty punch kind of hits you hard and a person listening casually may paint this with an unfavorable brush. As it is, I am liking this album more and more as it goes on as the songs are very strong lyrically and melodically and the performances by Olive and his guests are dead on. Very impressive CD from a great new artist. I hope you check this out as Olive has turned me into a fan and will probably convert you as well, if you give his CD a chance.

Plimsouls – Live: Beg, Borrow and Steal

Legendary proto power-pop combo The Plimsouls get some much-deserved props with this new disc featuring vintage live tracks recorded nearly thirty years ago. Those who are fans of power pop no doubt are well aware of The Plimsouls through the many bands they influenced during their brief existence, but for those new to the name the band featured a young Peter Case in a leadership role for the first time. The band’s effervescent mix of roots rock, punk and (believe it or not) ’60’s soul styles proved an interesting mix which coalesced into a bright, shining pop-rock spotlight which almost instantly wowed the jaded audiences in L.A. The band was formed from the ashes of the equally excellent Nerves after a quick stopover for Case in the band The Breakaways, where Case first tested the waters as a songwriter. Things really moved quickly in those days and the band formed in ’79, recorded an EP in ’80 and a self-titled album in ’81. Taking matters into their own hands, the band pooled their own money and released a single entitled A Million Miles Away which eventually became a power pop classic after being included on the soundtrack to the cult flick Valley Girl. The band recorded one last album in 1983 before disbanding. Over time, the band has reunited and released one final album (so far) in 1998 entitled Kool Trash which saw none of their chops or energy to have deteriorated over the years. In fact, it sounded as if they had never stopped playing together. These live cuts, though, are from a show recorded during the band’s heyday – a gig at the famed Whiskey A Go Go on Halloween Night in 1981 and the show smokes. With an eclectic mix of covers and their own sparkling originals, The Plimsouls have come up with an album that not only bolsters the legend, but also expands it. All fans of energetic pop roick should own this disc!

The Breakaways – Walking Out On Love: The Lost Sessions

While The Breakaways only really served as a stop-gap band between Peter Case and Paul Collins’ tenures in The Nerves and The Plimsouls (and, in Collins’ case, The Beat) if the band had survived a bit longer there is no doubt they would be spoken of in the same hushed tones reserved for Case and Collins’ other projects. Certainly, the songs were there, which no doubt probably surprised Case and Collins more than anyone else. When Jack Lee decided to leave the Nerves, Collins and Case felt a huge rush of energy and freedom as they would finally get the chance to showcase more of their own songwriting abilities as Lee had written the bulk of The Nerves material. After several false starts with guitarists who came and went faster than it takes to break a high E string, Case and Collins decided to handle the guitar chores and finally got together with bassist Steve Huff and drummer Mike Ruiz. This edition of the band was the most prolific, playing the most live shows and recorded the most demos though all of the incarnations had done at least some gigging and a demo or two. Soon, however, Case and Collins visions started to differ and Case would found the Plimsouls while Collins would take the rest of the band and form the first edition of The Beat. Despite the band’s short lifespan, this disc shows the almost limitless potential of the band, if only the participants had stuck together a little longer. While not an essential release, I would recommend this CD to any fans of power pop.