Thursday, November 27, 2014

Christmas with The Connection!

Now it begins! Thanksgiving night is when I traditionally kick off my Christmas season. I pour myself a pint of Tröegs Mad Elf, break out The Dean Martin Christmas Album, and put up the tree. If I'm feeling my oats, I'll put on a Santa hat as well. Christmas music is a guilty pleasure of mine, although I generally avoid all of the Yuletide-themed recordings of contemporary artists. And by "contemporary", I mean anything after 1970. All jokes aside, The Connection have given us A Christmas Gift For - literally the best Christmas album in 40 years. Unlike the has-been yacht rockers and flavor of the month industry shills that turn out phoned-in holiday collections to the collective groan of the earth's populace, The Connection is a great rock n' roll band at the peak of its creative powers. A Christmas Gift For is crafted in the spirit of all the classic Christmas albums. But musically, it's completely true to what The Connection is all about - and thus an essential purchase for anyone whose favorite Christmas songs are by Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, and Ronettes.

Sticking to their infectious blend of the British Invasion, bubblegum, garage rock, and the Ramones, The Connection have made a Christmas album that's genuinely up to the standards of the rest of their recordings. One highlight has to be "I Feel Fine (It's Christmas Time)" - which the band co-wrote with the legendary Andy Shernoff. How often do you get the chance to collaborate with one of the greatest songwriters who's ever lived? And the result is no disappointment! There's one naughty little lyric in there that might prevent this song from being embraced by the more mainstream outlets. But otherwise, this sounds like an instant holiday classic - celebrating annual family traditions and the joy of being in love at Christmastime. I hope they save me a slice of that Christmas pie! The equally upbeat "The West Coast" offers a sunny beach pop counterpoint to all the usual odes to sleigh bells and snowfall. And "Rock N Roll Christmas" is a song that just about any reader of this blog will relate to. Why ask for toys when what you really want Santa to bring you are some rock n' roll records?!

What ultimately makes A Christmas Gift For a superior holiday album is that it's not all good cheer and happy times. What if you're alone and miserable at Christmastime? What if you have a lady friend who thinks the true meaning of Christmas is you spending lavishly on her? What if Santa drank a little too much and was a day or two late in his deliveries? "Christmas Bells Are Ringing", "Money, Honey, Baby", and "Better Late Than Never" address these questions and contribute to a well-rounded Christmas album experience. And "Poor Boy" sticks up for the kids who aren't fortunate enough to enjoy the material rewards of the holiday season. It's another standout of the album - sounding like what "Father Christmas" might have been if The Kinks had attempted it a decade sooner.

I think I prefer older Christmas music because it reminds me of a more innocent time in our world. For that very same reason, The Connection is one of my favorite bands. While holiday-themed collections are not for everyone, I would say that A Christmas Gift For will delight the majority of The Connection's followers. Just as importantly, I think this album will end up bringing the band a lot of new fans - many of whom will be pleasantly surprised to discover that The Connection have a substantial back catalog of amazing music. I don't envision pushing Dean Martin out of the picture. But I'm definitely going to make a place for The Connection in my annual holiday ritual.



-L.R.

http://the-connection.bandcamp.com/album/a-christmas-gift-for 
https://www.facebook.com/theconnectionRnR 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's up with Images?

It's been a couple years since I last posted on L.A. powerpop standouts Images. When he's not busy drumming for F & L favorites Maniac and L.A. Drugz, James Carman is a drummer/singer for Images - one of the best punk/powerpop bands going in my opinion. While Images haven't been particularly prolific, the music they have released has been all gold. Check out the very cool video for their new song "Space Invader" - directed by Sean Christopher Johnson. I think all fans of this blog will dig!



-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/imagesmusic
http://www.reverbnation.com/images

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rev. Norb & The Onions make an album!

Now we're talking! Following two killer EPS, Rev. Norb & The Onions have delivered a self-titled album that does NOT disappoint! The Onions - the pride of Manitowoc, Wisconsin - were already a terrific band before they took on the fabled front man Norb (Suburban Mutilation, Boris the Sprinkler). But in joining forces, these two entities have created a veritable dream team of garage/punk/rock n' roll goodness. Somehow this outfit combines everything I've ever loved about all of Brad X's prior bands with everything I loved about Boris the Sprinkler. Mix those elements together, and you'd expect some raw & ripping garage punk imbued with the oddball vocal stylings and lyrical high strangeness that could only originate from Norb's peculiar brain. Throw in a dash of kick-ass surf guitar, and that's pretty much it! If Boris the Sprinkler was too "pop-punk" for your tastes (to me, their sound was more classic '77 punk), you'll be happy to discover that Rev. Norb & The Onions are more of a sock-you-in-the-face kind of band. And who doesn't love a good face-socking? Forget what the hipster element is trying to sell you. This is the true spirit of garage punk: trashy, lo-fi rock n' roll recklessly unfurled by beer-guzzling Midwestern degenerates subsisting on a steady diet of The Stooges, Fun Things, and Killed By Death compilations. I have always associated the state of Wisconsin with bands like this - the travel brochures of my mind depicting joyous nights spent sampling fine beer & cheese whilst observing legions of garage punk greats bringing the noise in their natural habitat. Whether The Onions are reviving this tradition or merely sustaining it, I will continue to believe that there's something very special in that Lake Michigan water. 

With seven of this album's 12 tracks clocking in at under two minutes, it's obvious that Rev. Norb & The Onions aren't screwing around. Norb will always be Norb - and the world is better for it. But with The Onions, he has reigned in the schtick and returned to the form that helped make him a legendary figure in American hardcore. Songs like "Teenage Tantrum", "Bore Me", and "I'm Shit" rip with speed and fury, while "Negative 13" brings to mind some of the "harder" Boris The Sprinkler songs. The band deviates from its primary course just enough to keep things interesting. Nods to '60s party garage ("Oddy Knocky") and pure '77 punk ("She's A Stain") are true standouts. And "Where Zombies Chill" sounds like the MC5 crashed a Misfits Halloween party and burned the place to the ground. If you've been following The Onions in recent years, this album is every bit the smasher you were expecting. And if you're a Norb fan, this is easily the best album he's been a part of since the late '90s. This is a surer thing than Aaron Rodgers against the Eagles' secondary. Buy immediately!  



-L.R.

http://theonionsmanitowoc.bandcamp.com/album/rev-norb-the-onions-s-t 
https://www.facebook.com/revnorbonions 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Meet Sheer Mag!

One of the biggest thrills for any music lover is coming across that one song that makes you go "Wow!". In my continuous quest to share music that excites me with the world at large, I come across a lot of really great stuff. But rarely do I hear a song that's so original and remarkable that it literally makes my jaw drop. Sheer Mag's "What You Want" is one such song - a scuzzy slice of power pop so utterly perfect that you'd expect to find it on one of the Teenline compilations. If you heard this song while you were out eating pizza or standing in line at the post office, you'd stop and say, "Whoa, who's this?!"

Fronted by Christina Halladay (of Philly rock n' soul standouts The Shakes), Sheer Mag just started playing shows this past February. The newness of this band proves to be an asset on its self-titled EP - which has a raw charm to it that a more polished outfit might not have been able to capture (I love that dirty guitar tone!). Halladay is a commanding and highly appealing presence on vocals - what they used to call a "star" back when they still played good music on the radio. And these hard rocking pop songs are perfectly suited to her assertive vocal style. Give "Sit And Cry" and "Hard Lovin" a couple spins, and their choruses will invade your brain without warning. And "What You Want" is instant pop bliss. It seems unimaginable and downright criminal that it's not a huge hit. If you like power pop that genuinely rocks, you need to be all over Sheer Mag immediately!



-L.R.

https://sheermag.bandcamp.com/ 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Retro Reviews: The Dictators- Manifest Destiny

How great were The Dictators? So great that even their "bad" album is darn near a classic. Conventional wisdom says that 1977's Manifest Destiny was at best a blatant sellout and at worst a weak entry in an otherwise unassailable catalog. In no way do I concur with this sentiment. Straight up, Manifest Destiny freakin' rocks! It may not be the first Dictators album you should buy. But like all the The 'Taters albums, it belongs in the collection of every human being who knows good music.

Discouraged by the poor sales of their brilliant debut album Go Girl Crazy, The Dictators found themselves wondering if the general public was capable of "getting" their ironic/satirical lyrics. Lead songwriter Andy Shernoff had actually quit the band for a brief time - replaced on bass by future Twisted Sister stalwart Mark "The Animal" Mendoza. Upon his return, Shernoff moved to keyboards. Determined to change their fortunes with the record-buying public, The Dictators set out to craft a more commercially viable sophomore LP. Shernoff's lyrics were intentionally dumbed down - and it was hard to deny that Manifest Destiny took aim at the lucrative arena rock market that KISS and Blue Oyster Cult were tapping at the time. The irony was that the album flopped every bit as badly as Go Girl Crazy. Let's face it - The Dictators were such an incredible band that they couldn't have "sold out" even if they'd tried. And while some would say they did try, Manifest Destiny has proven over time to be far more musically credible than most people think. With a couple of notable exceptions (The Dictators were never meant to do ballads), the material is quite good. Shernoff, one of the all-time great songwriters, just wasn't capable of penning a bad tune. And in his attempt at writing trite rock lyrics, there's an essence of parody in some songs ("Disease") and outright brilliance in others ("Science Gone Too Far").

Sequenced as it is, Manifest Destiny is like two albums in one. On the first two-thirds of the record, The Dictators make their play for mass appeal with a mix of radio-friendly pop songs, intended arena anthems, and corny ballads. The final third of the album, on the other hand, is like a blueprint for the band's future direction. Handsome Dick Manitoba was transitioning from "secret weapon" to full-time lead singer, and he leads the charge on the hard-driving originals "Science Gone Too Far" and "Young, Fast, Scientific" (two of the band's greatest songs) plus an inspired cover of The Stooges' "Search and Destroy". But while it's reasonable to wish that there were more songs on this album like its final three tracks, the "sellout" portion of the album is not without its gems. "Exposed" is one of my all-time favorite Dictators songs. Perhaps on the heels of Go Girl Crazy, this number was not particularly well-received by hardcore fans. But if it were to come out today, most people would describe it as really good power pop. "Disease" - rescued from its lyrical ridiculousness by Handsome Dick's genius spoken word intro and engaging vocal performance - is pure horror rock fun. And for all of the cheesiness it embraces, "Heartache" boasts a hook that should have made Shernoff millions.

One thing that needs to be remembered is that The Dictators never claimed to be a "punk" band. Their existence predated punk music - and no doubt they influenced it with the attitude they presented and the Detroit rock/'60s garage inspired sounds of Go Girl Crazy. If Manifest Destiny sounds largely like the work of a completely different band, there's really no sin in that. Overly "commercial" or not, it's a very good album from one of the greatest rock n' roll bands of all-time. Four of its nine tracks, in fact, were deemed good enough to appear on the band's new Faster... Louder best-of collection. I would urge the uninitiated to swiftly get their mittens on 1978's Bloodbrothers and the extraordinary 2001 "comeback" effort D.F.F.D.(my personal favorite 'Taters album). But it would be a mistake, I assure you, to sleep on Manifest Destiny.



-L.R.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Barreracudas are back!

Hey! Remember Barreracudas?! Their debut LP, Nocturnal Missions, made my year-end top ten list back in 2011. Preceding great albums from the likes of The Cry!, Warm Soda, and Wyldlife, it ushered in a really fertile time for glam-inflected powerpop. It's been three years already since I first reviewed Barreracudas - and perhaps you were thinking, "Whatever happened to those guys? They were great!" Well, with band members now scattered all across the country, it's hard to get a lot done. But Barreracudas are still a band, and their long-awaited second album is nearing completion. To tide us over until then, they've given us a brand-new single. And oh my god, it's soooooooooooo good!

99.9 percent of all bands on earth will hear "Promises" and be super jealous that they didn't write this song. It's total bubblegum with a hint of new wave pop - think Ohio Express meets The Cars. And that hook is impossibly good! Seriously, you can just forget about getting this song out of your head! Don't even bother trying! One of these days, I'm going to call in sick so I can just dance around my basement like a maniac all day with this track on repeat. If there's any justice in this world, the line "I've got a pocket full of quarters now/And I'm your Donkey Kong" will become a cultural catchphrase on a mass level.

With "Promises" being so bubbly and infectious, you might not be super motivated to flip this record over. But you'll be rewarded if you do. "Young and Dumb" channels late '70s Ramones by way of '60s girl groups - and again we see that Barreracudas have incorporated a lot of new ideas into their playbook since we last heard from them. I'm figuring the new album will be a little different from the last one - but no doubt equally good. Pick up a copy of "Promises" from Oops Baby Records!



-L.R.

https://oopsbabyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/promises 
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Barreracudas/220096098409

Friday, November 14, 2014

Here are The Shangri Blahs!

In my 20-year music writing "career", I don't think I've ever reviewed a band that didn't sing in English. That changes today! Helsinki's Shangri Blahs (great band name, by the way!) actually have performed in the English language before. But on their new EP, Rankka Päivä, they sing in their native Finnish. Given the band's '77 punk/power pop/rock n' roll style, I'm quite surprised that I had not heard of The Shangri Blahs prior to discovering them on the Stream Or Die blog this month. They released a really good debut EP last year - which I managed to miss. But now they've given us Rankka Päivä, and I think this is by far the best music they've delivered to date.

I've always been a sucker for catchy three-chord rock n' roll, and The Shangri Blahs pull off the style with urgency and conviction. Opening track "Sä et Markku tiedä kaikkee" has that anthemic quality that I just love in punk music, and it had me pumping my fist before I even knew what that chorus was saying. I liked it even more when the band explained the concept of the record to me. The title of the EP is the Finnish title of the great Michael Douglas movie Falling Down - and the record is inspired by the themes of that film.Via three-chord rock n' roll songs, The Shangri Blahs address questions about what lengths a man might go to to reverse his private misfortunes - and what responsibilities a larger public might have to a person in need. These are very provocative questions - and the band isn't necessarily claiming to have all the answers. What they do have is a lot of heart, and these are songs that truly have something to say. And I like that I can hear the passion in the vocals even if I don't fully understand the words. This is a band that definitely knows how to pack a lot of power into a chorus. And stylistically, these guys are "old school" in the best sense of the term. "Tää on psykoosi" reminds me a little of "Groovy Times" era Clash, while "Laastariratkaisu" could have been slotted on one of my 1995 mixed tapes directly between The Beltones and Rancid. Perhaps it might help if you're fluent in Finnish. But even if you're not, you'll be hard-pressed not to sing along when that chorus to "Sä et Markku tiedä kaikkee" kicks in. When it comes to great rock n' roll, there's really no such thing as a language barrier.



-L.R.

http://theshangri-blahs.bandcamp.com/album/rankka-p-iv-ep
https://www.facebook.com/theshangriblahs