Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Radiohearts EP!

What's this? A new post?! I bet you thought I'd died! It has been 16 days since my last review, and since then I've been inundated with schoolwork, occupational duties, grueling workouts, etc. But I did want to sneak in a quick write-up on the awesome new Radiohearts EP - which you can order from No Front Teeth Records or download directly from the Long Beach foursome's Bandcamp page. I had many good things to say about Radiohearts' last EP in 2014. But Lot To Learn, their newest release, is even better! On these four tracks, the band could easily pass for some forgotten sensation of first wave U.K. punk. But while you the influence of certain bands (Clash, Buzzcocks, Generation X) is palpable, Radiohearts don't sound like they're trying too hard to be those bands. They have their own sound, and I love how their songwriting is clearly informed by power pop but still unmistakably in the corner of '77 punk. Lot To Learn comes on with buzzing guitars, meaty bass lines, and hooks that just can't be denied. These four songs will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet in no time, and the feel of the production/recording is spot-on for a punk rock record. This is pop-savvy punk music with some real bite to it, and you probably could convince your friends that this EP was originally released by Raw Records in 1977! If you, like me, believe in the eternal glory of the sound of '77, Lot To Learn is an essential purchase.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

To stream or not to stream... that is the question

Today I'm featuring a very cool video from one of my favorite musicians of all-time, Andy Shernoff. He has even provided his own write-up. Enjoy! 

I've been a professional musician and songwriter for over 40 years. I live and breathe music. I also own thousands of albums and CDs…but they sit in my closet because…
I prefer to STREAM MUSIC!!!!

I know that the drop in physical record sales has financially hurt many of my fellow musicians. I feel for them. But as the music business evolves, there will be winner and losers. I believe streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Red will eventually have a hundred million subscribers worldwide … then more money will flow.

I also understand that fidelity is an issue. Every musician I know works hard to make the best sounding music possible. But I also know that most people listen to mp3s on cheap ear buds, negating a good portion of their efforts.

The point is convenience trumps everything, and we are never going back to what once was…

I don't own a typewriter, I don't have a landline phone, I don't have cable TV, and I don't mail letters. I shop online, I pay my bills online, I read the newspaper online, I communicate with my friends and family online…and every song that I ever want to hear is available online...instantly.

I love my vinyl, but when I want to listen to music...I stream.

Andy Shernoff

...I want to thank Chris Stein (who doesn't share my feelings about streaming) for allowing me to have fun with his song, Tricia Scotti for the wonderful vocal, and Carl Rhodes for the concept.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Promises To Deliver

I can't tell you for sure why I didn't review Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band's Promises To Deliver when it first came out in 2013. To this day, that remains one of the great mysteries of my life. What I can tell you is that Promises To Deliver is one of my ten favorite albums of the current decade. And of course I was beyond thrilled to discover that my favorite record label was reissuing it on CD with a whole slew of bonus tracks! On that note, I proudly present my much-belated public take on a record I absolutely love.

This deluxe reissue of Promises To Deliver comes courtesy of the ever-dependable Rum Bar Records, and it's such a sweet deal. For a measly ten bucks, you get all nine songs from the original LP plus four 7" tracks, a previously unreleased outtake from the album sessions, and a demo version of the smash hit "Julie (Hang Out A Little Longer)". If I just wanted to make an abbreviated sales pitch, I'd say that Promises To Deliver is the album Bruce Springsteen would have made in his heyday if he'd been obsessed with The Replacements and Husker Du. But even that kind of praise sells the record short. And while I can't say that the "punk rock Springsteen" comparisons are completely inaccurate, it needs to be pointed out that Nato Coles is one of the most interesting and unique guys you'll ever meet in the world of music. He's got terrific stories to tell, and he's one of rock n' roll's most diehard true believers. 

A brief recap: Nato Coles was in Milwaukee-based Modern Machines - one of the best and most criminally underrated punk bands of the early-to-mid 2000s. More recently, he was in Radio Faces and Used Kids. Five years ago, he moved to Minneapolis with the intention of starting a new band - one that would play tons of shows and tour constantly. And so Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band were born. You might read the description and imagine some kind of roots/Americana dad rock type deal. But the difference is that Nato and the gang play real rock n' roll. They just love traveling the country and giving every single live audience an incredible show. That's the spirit of the band, and it really comes through in its music. Promises To Deliver is something we don't hear enough these days - a good, solid American rock n' roll record. Drawn from classic rock, Midwestern punk, power pop, and good old country & western influences, the nine tracks on this release marked a huge leap forward in Nato's progression as a songwriter. And two years on, I'm really struck by how well these tunes hold up. From the consummate blue collar rock of "See Some Lights" to the insuppressible energy of "You Can Count On Me Tonight" to the anthemic chorus of its title track, this is a record packed with memorable and simply awesome songs. And "Econoline" is Nato's own "Left Of The Dial" - a heartfelt celebration of the life he's chosen and the trusty motor vehicle that makes it all possible.

While not exactly a concept album, Promises To Deliver offers numerous depictions of people seeking relief from shitty jobs and dreary existences - and finding it through good times and rock n' roll. Listening to these songs, you get a great idea of who Nato Coles is and why he does what he does. He lives to get out there and bring joy to people's lives through music. Having followed his career for a whole lot of years, I always knew he was a super talented guy. But backed by the best bar band this side of I-94, he fully achieved greatness on Promises To Deliver. This Rum Bar reissue is a must-own, and don't miss Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band the next time they roll through your town. Be sure to request your favorite Thin Lizzy song!


Thursday, November 5, 2015

New Jukebox Zeros album!

Philadelphia's finest are back! Jukebox Zeros have been favorites of mine for over a decade, and I'd absolutely put them up there with the very best punk rock n' roll bands on the planet. Count To Ten is the band's first new album in 10 years - and its first new music in five years! After all that time, you'd expect something pretty special. And that's exactly what Peter and the gang deliver on this ten-song smasher!

When so much time passes between releases, there's not much of a need for a band to try anything too different. You just want to hear the band do what it does best. And in the case of Jukebox Zeros, that means rocking l.a.m.f! Much to my delight, Count To Ten is nothing more and nothing less than classic Jukebox Zeros. Think boozy, street-tough rock n' roll inspired by the likes of Johnny Thunders, The Stooges, The Dictators, and early Replacements - topped off with a real deal "Don't fuck with me!" Philly attitude. Ya gotta love it! I've been waiting a while to hear a new record like this, and I must say that Count To Ten is exactly what I was craving! While I highly recommend everything that Jukebox Zeros have ever released, this particular collection of songs is by far their best. Every time you think you're hearing the "hit", the next track comes along and proceeds to blow your head off. You'll go hoarse from screaming along to all those choruses, and your neck might not be able to withstand all of that frantic head-bobbing! But who ever said that rock n' roll was supposed to be safe?! On this release, the band had the privilege to work with the great Dean Rispler - the absolute gold standard of producers for trashed-out rock n' roll. The result, predictably, is an absolute fireball of an album. Jukebox Zeros have never sounded hotter on record. It's like the band is right in front of you and poised to tear the roof off of some seedy dive!

If you love The Humpers, Dead Boys, Heartbreakers, etc. but are not yet familiar with Jukebox Zeros, you owe it to yourself to check out Count To Ten. Peter Santa Maria has the perfect voice (and attitude) to front this kind of band, while lead guitarist Brian Zee is like Johnny Thunders & Cheetah Chrome rolled into one. And in Justin Lee and Wayne Wright, Jukebox Zeros boast one of the strongest rhythm sections out there. Highlighted by the appropriately titled "Snot Rocket", the Stones/NY Dolls style sing-along "Drama Queen", the surf-inflected screamer "Green Wave", and the scorching "Hey Now! Oh My!", this album could pass for a long-lost classic of NYC/Cleveland/Detroit punk rock. It's out now on Rankoutsider Records. Head on over to Bandcamp to order the CD - which includes a secret tenth track you can't stream for free!


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Great new album from Party Lights!

Wowzers! A great year for music just got even better! New York City's Party Lights just released an album called I See The Lights, and it's a lock to make my year-end top ten list. You may know Anna Anabolic (guitar/vocals), Elliott Klein(guitar), and Dave Smilow (drums) from their other band, The Recordettes. They're joined in Party Lights by Joan Chew (bass/keyboards/backing vocals). And as awesome as The Recordettes are, Party Lights are even more up my alley. Their sound is basically a straight-up mix of '70s power pop, garage rock, and '60s girl groups. Of course that's my sort of thing, but there's something about the way that Party Lights integrate those influences that makes it even cooler. Over the course of a full album, Anna proves herself to be a dynamite songwriter and an instantly likable vocalist. And as the band name suggests, this is a record made to be thoroughly enjoyed. You're gonna wanna crank up the volume and dance around like crazy - pausing to shed a tear or two when the ballads come around. If you could somehow go back to 1979 and make one band out of Blondie, The Knack, and Cheap Trick, Party Lights would be it

At a time when so many bands under the banner of "garage power pop" seem to be missing something, Party Lights totally get it right. It comes down to well-crafted and genuinely memorable songs. "Breakup #4" is the kind of tune you wish they played on the radio. "A Boy Like You" reminds me of a lo-fi Muffs in a totally non rip-offish way. Even when the influences are obvious (behold the majestic Cheap Trick worship of "Don't Miss You"), the distinctive personality of the band fully shines through. What a fun and delightful record! To anyone who is a regular follower of this blog and "gets" my taste in music, I urge you to acquire I See The Lights. And at least for the time being, it's a name your price download! One of the best albums of the year for free? How can you beat that?! Yay, Party Lights!


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Check out Bryan Howell and The Standalones!

Out of the great state of New York, Bryan Howell and The Standalones ride the boundary between power pop and good old rock n' roll. That combination, when it's done well, is something I find hard to resist. Welcome To The World, Howell's second EP, first appeared last year and recently became available on Bandcamp. Whether you're a power pop fanatic or more of a classic rock/oldies person, these four tracks offer plenty to like. With songs running in the neighborhood of 4-5 minutes each, you might assume that these tunes are full of pompous guitar wanking and other unnecessary indulgences. But truthfully, that's not the case at all. It takes a really good songwriter to keep a song enjoyable past 4 minutes, and Howell is clearly up to the task. "Blindside" and "Oh Please, Valerie" boast choruses so catchy that you'll be singing them to yourself all day. "Nothing To Give You (But Everything)" is that rare power ballad that's genuinely good. And "Baby, Don't Look Back" is a quality rocker that brings to mind Bruce Springsteen's early days.

In a scene full of sound-alike singers, Howell is a refreshingly unique artist. He reminds me a little of a young Van Morrison, and I also hear hints of guys like Mick Jagger and Peter Wolf. But he's not trying to be anyone but himself, and there's something very cool about how quickly his voice grew on me. If you like everyman rock n' roll with gritty vocals, red-hot guitar, and a bedrock foundation of hooks & melody, Welcome To The World is well worth checking out. And with a live single just out and a proper studio LP in the works, I should have plenty more to say about Bryan Howell and The Standalones in the near future!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Unlovables & Dirt Bike Annie Reunion Show!

Wow! Am I just dreaming this, or did two of the greatest pop-punk bands of all-time come out of a combined 17 years of inactivity to make a split album for the venerable Whoa Oh Records? The Unlovables are officially one of my 25 favorite bands ever, and Dirt Bike Annie is still the best live band I've seen in my entire life. So, yeah, you could say I'm a little excited about this release! Excuse me while I go jump up and down for an hour or six.

Let me be honest. These two bands probably could have recorded anything, and I would have been perfectly happy. Hallie could have sung Lucas Duda's advanced stat line over dueling kazoos, and I would have been lauding The Unlovables' triumphant comeback. Dirt Bike Annie could have covered '70s cop show theme songs in the style of Milli Vanilli, and I would have been on my feet applauding. These two bands have brought me so much happiness with their music, and it's just awesome to have new recordings from both. But what I really appreciate about this project is that both bands went all-out and created something truly special. I don't have to wax nostalgic about how great these bands used to be. Even if you've never heard The Unlovables or DBA before, these 11 songs will make you an instant fan.

Jumping off with the fantastic "Miracle Braves", the Unlovables side of Reunion Show picks right up where the band left off. Hallie is still in top form - creating upbeat and super catchy tunes even when she's writing about really serious stuff. Her lyrics, as always, are clever and relatable and all-around awesome. And she remains one of the most likable lead singers you'll ever hear. Whether you're a longtime pop-punk fanatic or just someone who appreciates great music in general, songs like "1996" and "2nd Date" will have you smiling and dancing around in no time flat. I think it's incredibly cool that when Hallie came up with these tunes, she knew they had to be Unlovables songs. There was just no doubting that she had to share them with the world. So here we are, eight years after Heartsickle came out, enjoying as good of a collection of songs as The Unlovables have ever turned out. Yay!

To the best of my recollection, the Dirt Bike Annie side of Reunion Show is the band's first new music in at least ten years. And what a way to come back! After a decade-long breakup, Adam, Jeanie, Dan, and Mike (the "classic" lineup!) have re-grouped and quickly found that old magic. Seriously, this is the best stuff I've ever heard from DBA! And the production is out of this world! This is definitely a case of a band benefiting from so much time passing between recordings. You're talking about a bunch of immensely talented people who have grown personally and musically over the past decade - and that really shows in these songs. While still a pop-punk band at heart, DBA mixes in elements of power pop, indie/alternative, and straight-up rock n' roll to create a sound that is evolved yet distinctly its own. You can still tell it's DBA, but it's like DBA on steroids! Listening to "Ambitious Heart", I can't help picturing an ultra-enthused live crowd singing along to every word. And if "Chik A Walk" doesn't fill you with a complete and utter joy over being alive, you may have serious problems.

If you wondered whether or not new music from The Unlovables and Dirt Bike Annie could possibly be as good as the old stuff, the answer is a resounding YES! Reunion Show is a sure-fire top ten album for 2015. It's now out as a digital release - available from iTunes and Bandcamp. Vinyl coming soon!