Remember the movie, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School? There’s a gag that runs through that cult classic. It seems the Ramones music is “lethal” to rodents. While the end results were on the more humorous/non fatal to rodents, side, a similar thing happened to rockers, Family Wagon. Their music once stopped lab rats from breeding. And Zebra fish too. It seems that while attending Point Loma Nazarene College, the band decided to rehearse in a school buildings basement, which happen to house a couple of classrooms and labs. Apparently when the band started rocking, the mice and the fish in a genetics project stopped…, well you know. Here bassist Gareth Moore tells the tale, with musical musings on albums that have recently crossed my desk right after:
Q: How many non reproducing rats are we talking about?
A: “We more or less disturbed the breeding cycles of 50 plus lab rats and Zebra fish. They had
both been breeding for generations, but the Zebra fish were a genetics project so they’re
disrupted breeding was a little more pertinent than the rats. I think the music was too
complex for them to grasp, for them and all our critics.”
Q: How often did you rehearse in the basement? Was it cramped? Why the basement?
A: “We played in the basement two to three times a week -we had a lot more time in those days.
The basement was actually just a few classrooms and labs that were under ground, so it
wasn’t too cramped. We used the basement because it was always available and we didn’t
think there was anything we could disturb. Go figure.”
Q: how long after the first warning were you given before finally being asked to leave?
A: “It was around two months after the first warning that our straw broke the camel’s back. We migrated to a common room on the campus, but after playing so loud that we knocked a light fixture off the ceiling, we moved to the music building that provided drums and a PA. Probably should have just gone there first.”
Action Andy and the Hi-Tones – High and Lonesome / The Fall and Rise of HILO (Relampago-go Records)
No doubt about it, this is a unique record by a unique musician, “Action” Andy Rassmussen. For starters, this is a concept album, the “fall and rise of HiLO,” referring to a man by that name and his story unveils by song. Perhaps this answers the unasked question, “What if Tommy had been written by Johnny Cash?” There are spoken interludes amongst the 19 tracks, including a welcome from Rassmussen to the listener to kick off side one and a blues track backing for the plot providing monologue, “A Turn For The Better” at the start of side two.
Not to discount the work it took to craft this collective piece, but even without the storyline, this is a an album well worth listening to. The songs are strong, with tracks like “Trouble In Me” and “If You Don’t Have Love,” sounding like they’d be right at home on some obscure Nuggets inspired compilation. Meanwhile songs like “Prodigal Son” and “X-Rated” seem custom made for a Bakersfield roadhouse jukebox. Even the spoken word tracks might be worth repeat listens as the backing soundtracks are pretty good.
Quirky and still melodic as heck, High and Lonesome, is an inspired piece of work, borderline genius indeed. As hard as it is to put together an album, this song cycle is a step ahead and raises the bar for future releases.
While the album is built around Rassmussen’s music, this is an all star production from start to finish. Rassmussen has previously performed with the likes of the Bomboras and The Loons, with the Hi-Tones on this record comprised of guitarist Xavier Anaya (The Phantoms, The Trebels), bassist Tom Ward (The Nashville Ramblers, The Gravedigger V) and legendary drummer/guitarist, Skid Roper. Auxiliary musicians include David Fleminger (Manual Scan) and Heather Vorwerck (The Comeuppance) with the covert art by Jay Wiseman (The Hoods, Evil Eyes) and acclaimed producer Mike Kamoo behind the board. Naturally, it sounds great, with Kamoo keeping the sounds authentic for the rock-a-billy and early to garage rock ‘n’ roll inspired sounds captured here.
Recorded Mixed and Mastered by Mike Kamoo at Earthling Studios, El Cajon, CA. http://actionandythehi-tones.bandcamp.com
Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams – Unnamed Lands
Whats an outdoor event in San Diego without Tom Griesgraber? A perennial street fair favorite, Griesgraber is a truly gifted performer. Famed for performing on a guitar like instrument called, appropriately enough, ‘the stick,’ for his latest album, Unnamed Lands, he teams up with guitarist Bert Lams for a wonderfully meditative 14 track album. True this is a duo, there are no drums or bass and no vocals. However Greisgraber does use a synth stick (same principle but keyboards) and loops. This isn’t for everybody, but if you like sterling fretwork, beautifully produced, than acquire this disc immediately. It’s a little hard to pinpoint all the influences but fans of Steve Howe, Acoustic Alchemy, Peter Gabriel, Windham Hill and such points of reference will find this an intriguing and involving listen. In a way, it’s modern classical. Complete with overtures and multiple sections within the song structure. Using rhythms and textures the pair create a beautiful noise, such as on “Prairie Suite” which includes a staccato bass note, over runs that Chris Squire would be happy to call his own – the section that starts at 3:49 is a brilliant mesh of chords and counterpoint repetitive riffing, reaching near Mike Oldfield levels by the end. It’s an epic piece of work and bears repeated listens to take it all in, well worth it. “Where The Trail Divides” is also solid, with a second half that wouldn’t be out of place on Talking Heads “Remain In Light.” Bottom line, this is a really, really good album that any adventurous listener will love.
Recorded at ThosSounds by Tom Griesgraber. Additional engineering by Ben Moore. www.thossounds.com
Justin Grinnell Quartet – Without You (self released)
Like jazz? You’ll love this. Nine tracks of Blue Note styled instrumental tunes – you know, the good stuff. Grinnell and his band turn in a batch of beautifully played and recorded tracks with six solid originals and three inspired covers. A Duke Ellington (“African Flower”) number might be expected, but Grinnell’s inventive recasting of the Beatles “Being for The Benefit of Mr. Kite” and especially, Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” are impressive. The latter in particular inspires visions of a twist on Vince Guaraldi, with stellar piano from Josh Nelson. The songs don’t come across gimmicky in the translation, a good tune is a good tune. Grinnell’s own material is up to the challenge, with uptempo songs such as “Hit the Brakes,” highlighted by Nelson’s spectacular playing, a perfect soundtrack for a Saturday night of out on the town or Sunday morning pick me up.
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Paul Tavenner at Big City Recording, Granada Hills, CA. www.Justingrinnell.com
Jeremy and Progressor – Searching for the Son (Mals Records)
One of Jeremy Morris’s best, and considering his prolific nature and great tunes in general, that’s saying something. For this second album in collaboration with Uzbekistan musician Vitaly “Progressor” Menshikov they once again offer up a kaleidoscope of progressive rock, psychedelia, classical interludes, Beatlesque touches and electronica.
If you only know Morris’s well known powerpop tunes, be ready for a change. Gone are the brief pop gems – the 11 tracks here border on the lengthy, with the shortest at 4:06, the longest at 11:17.
Each tune is its own symphony, with multiple sections, tempos, instrumentations and influences. At its best, such as “The Cherub” with wonderful mellotron and backwards phased guitar freakout, the songs really do recall the better moments of late sixties psychedelia. The albums lyrics reflect Morris’s devout Christian beliefs, as evidenced in titles such as the opening “Searching for the Son” and “Messiah Will Come,” with musical touchstones including a mix of the Phantasm soundtrack, Moody Blues, White album Beatles, Piper at the Gates era Pink Floyd, Space Oddity era Bowie (check out the first part of “The Mirror”) or even Who’s Next keyboards. The latter perfectly natural considering none other than Who sideman John “Rabbit” Bundrick is contribute to three songs here.
I’m a sucker for good synth pop and electronica (think Moroder or Tangerine Dream) and “The Blind Man’s Dream,” mixes it all up with stellar guitar work. That said, every song offers up a lot of changes, a classic case being “Had Enough” which merges from a Beatles / Early Yes type song into what could double as a mid seventies Italian horror film soundtrack (at 2:47), before fading out into a bluesy guitar drone. This one s a keeper. If you’re a fan of the first sentence genres, you’ll find plenty to like on this album, but anyone who likes their music on the adventurous side of the pop spectrum will love this album. A brilliant listen and a definite headphones album, but be ready to spend some time with this release – you’re going to want to listen in depth.
Produced by Jeremy Morris and progressor. www.jamrecordings.com
Neighbors to the North – Starfisher (self released)
An excellent six track EP from this trio, indie rock with touches of blues, such as “Starfisher” and elements of seventies glam rock, “Never Leave Me Alone. ” The clear single here is “Give it To Me” a hard edged tune that fans of the Black Crowes in particular will enjoy, but it’s bluesy riffs will appeal to fans of most any rockers. One of the things I like about this disc is that, while it falls into the afore mentioned genre boundaries, with in those ample specs, they offer up quite a bit of variety. The aforementioned “Give it to me” gives way to a much more powerpop oriented (nice synth line and guitar harmonics) but still rock tune, “Stop Drop,” not unlike later era BOC, full of soaring vocals and an irresistible hook – this is a real grower of a song that builds to a vocal crescendo – really nice. The disc closes on an up note with “Metronome” an epic mid tempo rocker that’s topped by a fuzzed out repeating bass and a rising, circling, progression that’s instantly compelling. If you are a fan of modern hard rock, this fire on all cylinders.
Recorded and mixed by Brad Lee at SDRI + Trackstar Studios. www.nttn.com
The Nox Boys – self titled (Get Hip Recordings)
Eleven cuts of no frills garage punk, with a guest appearance by Cynics guitarist Gregg Kostelich on the song, “Military School.” This is a grower, but a couple of listens have revealed a solid disc that reminds me at times of the Fleshtones, but with less finesse. A favorite, probably the albums single, is the song “Novelty” with a quirky pop edge, angular chords and terrific slide guitar work from Bob Powers. At its best the album has a nice teenage snarl to it, particularly on the closing track “Save Me,” which is all tension and so good it’s easy to forget that the whole tune is basically five descending notes set to tribal thumping with the words “Save Me” sprinkled in liberally, repeated for 3:22. The genius of simplicity.
Produced by Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders / Detroit, MI www.gethip.com
The Peripherals – Declarations (Aural Gravy)
This trio (guitar, bass, drums) is good live, but this album brings things up a few notches. If you’re a fan of the singer-songwriter genre, you’ll want to hear this. The production and arrangements on Declarations are really good. Indeed, this is no mere recreation of their live set, but a carefully crafted work and it shows. It’s technically Americana, there are even folk and light country touches, such as mandolin, so fans of artists such as The Proclaimers, Crowded House, Billy Bragg and other acoustic story tellers will find the album to be an enjoyable listen. Highlighted by excellent harmony vocals and a stellar stand up bass, songs like “If So” are uplifting and catchy as heck. The probable single here is “Should I Ever” a near powerpop semi jangly tune that kicks up its heels pretty good.
Recorded by Mike Kamoo at Earthling Studios, San Diego www.theperipherals.com
The Phantoms – s/t (Crown Electric Records)
Just what the doctor ordered! 11 tracks of greatness, somewhere between adrenaline drenched powerpop and good old explosive rock and roll. Seriously look at the line up: Victor Penalosa (vocals, guitar /Flamin’ Groovies and a zillion other cool bands), Chris Iandolo (bass / Dizzy), Xavier Anaya (lead guitar / The Hoods, The Trebels) and Jarrod Lucas (drums / The Dragons). With that roster of musicians, you’d be right to expect something special – and the Phantoms deliver. Those 11 tracks contain nine band penned originals and two brilliant covers, Larry Williams immortal “Slow Down” and Dr. Feelgood’s “She Does It Right” – before hearing a note you know this bands heart is in the right place – and they even manage to rev up the Feelgood’s classic. The titles here cry youthful enthusiasm, killer kuts such as “Baby Loves Her Rock and Roll” and “Stab My Broken Heart.” Also, it’s notable that while some bands wear their influences on their sleeves – The Phantoms salute them right in their song titles, such as “The Ballad of Overend Watts.” Top marks as well for “Ditch Digger,” not a RFTC cover but instead a pounding rocker with an autobiographical lyric that will both make you smile (particularly the second verse) and marks Penalosa as one of the coolest musicians going today, from “Barcelona to the streets of Mexico.”
Produced by The Phantoms. Engineered by Jeff Forrest at Doubletime Studios. www.reverbnation.com/phantomsinfo
Podunk Nowhere – Crackle and Shake
Country tinged, Americana based, pop edged rock at its best, complete with soulful vocals from Johnny and Heather Janiga. The supporting cast includes lead guitar work from Jeff Berkley and Brian Cantrell on drums, so it sounds great, atmospheric almost dreamy at times, but without any loss of twang.
“Heartland” reminds me of peak period Motels and it’s the albums obvious single.
Produced, Recorded and Mixed by Jeff Berkley at Berkley Sound www.podunknowhere.com
Shake Before Us (self released)
One of my favorite albums in a while, Shake Before Us self titled debut should please anyone who owns a copy of Pebbles. The songs are great! My favorite is “No Judge No Jury” complete with theramin solo (a band signature), but there are no weak spots on the disc; this is rock ‘n’ roll and the band is relentless. Of the ten songs, The Sonics “Going Home” is the lone cover, sounding like an inverted version of the Kinks “I Gotta Move,” with added farfisa and theramin (of course). “Twenty One” adds a soulful edge to the bands sound, while “Do It Again” sounds pretty close to ‘79 revival stuff. As solid a debut as you’re going to hear, full of instantly memorable songs.
Produced by John Reis at Singing Serpent. www.shakebeforeus.com
The Unconditionals – Magic Pill (self released)
Pop fans will love this, but the twelve song album also has rock ‘n’ roll swagger, not to mention NSFW lyrics, in the Stones/Joan Jett inspired “You’re A Dick.” Kind of a cross between the Bangles and a nineties alt rock group of quality, the songs here come complete with orchestral backing, close harmonies and above average lyrics. There’s a well produced mix of styles here but for me the obvious single is “Birthday Buzz” a cool sixties inspired, loping bass led garage rocker featuring girl group overtones and a chorus line of “Hey! Hey! C’mon, C’mon” = Pop perfection.
Comprised of keyboardist Liz Miller and singer Margaret McClure, the Unconditionals avoid lyrical cliché, while using the flow of words as part of the rhythm, particularly on songs such as “Mr. Important.”
At its best, it doesn’t come more radio friendly than the material on Magic Pill, with at least three potential hit singles. Besides the aforementioned rocker, it’s easy enough to see anybody from Taylor Swift on down scoring a hit with a song like “Plastic Princess Thing.” It’s a tune that’s pure hooks, soaring chorus, ringing guitar lines and wonderfully arranged. Nice build up in tension between the first two verses keeps the adrenaline going before a typically superb counter melody in the bridge. Given a shot, this tune could be huge and highlights their strengths. At the top of the list of which is their songwriting, full of twists and turns, all increasing the melody, especially the bridges. I’m not usually big on message songs, but another highlight is “Shut Up,” which touches on religion, compassion and hypocrisy, all in a concise 3:44, a rare tune these days, where the words make you think.
“I’ll bet she says ‘those people’
When she talks about you”
The only down note in the whole project is probably, “Cockroach,” which despite a decent metaphorical use in the title, still doesn’t really work. That said, this is an excellent debut album and an essential listen for fans of modern pop.
Produced by Andy Machin at Big Rock Studios, Escondidio, CA www.facebook.com/theunconditionals
Various Artists – A Beautiful Escape (The Beautiful Music)
A fantastic introduction into this wonderful Canadian label. Highlights are everywhere, mixing up unreleased tracks with cool cuts from the catalog. I love Dot Dash so their “Writing on the Wall” is pretty much what I expected – terrific post punk, close to power pop, but much more dense. Spain’s Yellow Melodies is also great fun, kicking off with a tightly wound, nicked Byrds/Searchers riff on their cover of the BMX Bandits “Your Class” the perfect counterpoint to the decidedly more whimsical “The Summer That Never Ends” by Skytone, sounding like the drummerless soundtrack to a silent movie crossed with a Brian Wilson soundtrack circa 1967. Boss! Great harmonies too I’m also really digging the Social Icons “Stay” which reminds me of an early, storming, World Party track, meanwhile, Self Love’s instrumental “Blue Fire” will please any fans of 80’s electronica, with a signature plucked bass style as heard on so many tracks of the era. The 18 tracks here cover a lot of ground and as a whole are a great listen with enough variety to keep things interesting and some real gems. A great release from one of the best indies going at the moment.
Produced by Wally Salem. Mastered by Phillip Shaw Bova www.thebeautifulmusic.com
Various Artists – Christmas Without Cancer (Vandalay Records)
I’m a little late on this one, or perhaps early for next year. The description says: “A joyous collection of holiday tunes benefitting The American Cancer Society,” and that’s right on target. 15 artists contribute new holiday themed originals with funds raised going to help those in need – how could you lose? The album includes a slew of well known artists including Michael Carpenter, Lisa Mychols, The Grip Weeds, Jeremy and Bill Lloyd and lots of new (at least to me) performers like Frank Royster whose “Christmas is Fun,” is a Beatle-esque joy. Other highlights include the Grip Weeds “Christmas Dream,” sounding like a lost paisley underground gem and Lisa Mychols strummed and power popped “In Love With Love,” but there are lots of great moments to be heard here.