This month out we pose five questions to tongue-in-cheek rockers, the Spice Pistols, and review releases from Los Agentes Secretos, Adolph Chaney, the Dupont Circles, the Speedways, Elvis Presley, Jeremy Morris, and more.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE SPICE PISTOLS
With any luck, the Spice Pistols will be hitting the road late this summer for their first national tour. Hard at work on their second album, due this fall, the band plans to up the ante for their road show, with new songs, skits, and props.
How did you find the various band members?
Sppike Mike AKA Hairy Scary Spice: I had met John Risdon AKA Ginger Binger Spice, about three years prior to the formation of this project and we hit it off. So, when I knew I needed a somewhat imposing front person, John was my first choice. I knew he had what it took and was looking to get back into fronting a band after a long hiatus. Michael Fairchild AKA Maybe Baby Spice, and I had been bandmates in League of Liars for over 10 years at that point and our pre-existing chemistry between us, as well as his incredible talent, made his inclusion a shortcut to get this band moving quickly. Our first drummer, Mike Viejo AKA Shorty Sporty Spice, and I had played together before in a country project and we connected really well, so I invited him in. He was our drummer for the first couple years. There were a couple gigs Mikey couldn’t make, so Michael asked Jeremy Ries if he would be interested in substituting. Jeremy came in and was a great fit. When Mikey left the band Jeremy came in full time. James Hughes was a friend of Mikey’s and played the part of Slosh Posh Spice after we tried him out on lead guitar. And so on.
How big a part of the band is humor and spectacle?
Michael Fairchild AKA Maybe Baby Spice: Huge!! Rock ‘n’ roll should be a spectacle. It should be loud and in your face and brash and impossible to ignore. It should make you blush and unbrazenly brash. And if you can’t laugh at that, what can you laugh at?
What’s your favorite thing about being a Spice Pistol?
Sppike Mike: With this band we focus on entertaining the eyes as much as the ears. When we come out on stage in our getups and get to see and feel that the audience is right there with us in the moment not thinking about anything else, that’s when I know we’ve reached our goal of being performers. Helping others get a break from the difficulties they are going through provides us with satisfaction. One of my favorite things at shows is when a fellow musician comes up to me after the show and says, “Man, I came to see your shtick but you guys are really good musicians!”
What’s your favorite thing about being a Spice Pistol?
John Risdon AKA Ginger Binger Spice: My favorite thing about being a Spice Pistol is the ability to convey a message of positivity. I love the way the fans and the public react and get behind what we do. My favorite moment was rocking the House of Blues in Anaheim to a packed house and watching the crowd jump up and down singing along with the music. It was a total high.
What are you looking forward to the most about your upcoming tour with Agent Orange?
Sppike Mike: Exposing new fans to what we do. There’s nothing better than the joy we see when an audience experiences a Spice Pistols live performance. Everyone is right there with us and forgets about all the difficulties in their lives. And, of course, playing with Agent Orange who has been one of my favorites since my teens is crazy cool.
Agentes Secretos: Todo Para Ti / Edicion Especial 30 Anniversario (Cambaya / Hurrah / SNAP! Records)
A classic album from Spain’s mod/garage scene circa 1985, reissued in honor of its 30th Anniversary. The album’s original 14 songs are in Spanish and English, the latter including covers of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and legendary San Diego band, the Tell-Tale Hearts’ “Crawling Back to Me.” Extras include a memorabilia-packed booklet, three vintage demos, and an updated version of the album track, “Malaga Es Mi Cuidad.” Hammond fans are directed to track 14, an instrumental workout that reminds me a bit of (and predates) Oasis. It’s also an instrumental that’s my favorite track here, “R&B Del Malmut,” a great opening bass line, plenty of percussion, a driving beat and, frantic keyboard make this a winner. The Spanish-language tracks are a solid listen, songs such as “En La Prison,” inspired by Nuggets and filled with the same energy. If you’re a fan of ’80s era garage rock this is a must to add to you collection. Meanwhile the album is the perfect introduction to los Agentes Secretos for novices or fans of Rock en Espanol.
Dolph Chaney: This Is (Big Stir Records 0048)
Thirteen diverse-sounding power-pop edged tunes from Dolph Chaney. How diverse? This could be a compilation of different bands, the songs casting a pretty wide net stylistically. The unifying factor is a heartfelt delivery. Favorite song is the wonderfully named, upbeat acoustic shuffle “Pleasant Under Glass,” but a close second is a sonic polar opposite, “Cuddle Party,” which opens with a classic sounding ’80s synth riff. It reminds me a bit of the Monroes or the Kings in parts. Meanwhile, “I Wanted You” is a more traditional power-pop riff rocker, crashing power chords and all. Barring two guest backing vocal spots, the album is essentially a two man affair with Chaney (v,g,b) joined by Nick Bertling (d and everything else). Bottom line: it’s clear Chaney loves making music and it shows.
Chris Church: Game Dirt (Big Stir 0049)
Thirteen tracks from North Carolina-based Chris Church, rock with acoustic touches and expansive lyrics. In the best possible way, at times this reminds me of something that would have been a 1980s Warner Brothers college radio release. While not everything hits the heights, there are some really strong songs here, ranging from the mandolin intro’d riff rocker earworm/tune “Know” to the uplifting jangle fest that is the closing, “Sunrise.” The obvious single here is “Fall,” a standout piano-tinged melancholy rocker that’s as radio friendly as it gets. Nice bridge, too. If Church doesn’t score with it, someone eventually will, its groove and hook make it a natural for covers. A solid album that reveals more with repeated listens and contains at least one “should be a hit” single.
Dupont Circles: In Search of the Family Gredunza (The Beautiful Music 039)
The basics: 15 tracks recorded between 1990 and 2018 by three distinct line ups of the Dupont Circles. As might be expected with a nearly two-decade span of recordings, the sound varies between tracks, with several covers amongst the originals, including the Times’ “Joke’s on Zandra” and the Television Personalities’ “How I Learned to Love the Bomb.” Plenty of inspired, 1960s-influenced rock is to be found here, with a potential single in the Small Face’s-styled garage punk rocker “Get Down Off My Back.” Also good is the slightly lo-fi psychedelic, practically spoken-word tune, “Tick Tock.”
Exploding Flowers: Stumbling Blocks (The Beautiful Music 051)
A dozen dreamy pop confections, reverb-laden melodic gems perfect for fans of labels like Postcard or the softer side of a band like the High Llamas or the Lolas. My favorite here is the quirky, loping, rock tune “Until You Fall Apart.” The first half comes across like a pre-1962 rockinspired tune, shifting into Beach Boy harmonies at 2:35. Also really good is the farfisa-tinged opener, “A Daunting Thought,” but there is plenty here to interest indie pop rock listeners. A strong selection of songs that bear repeated listens
Jeremy: Living the Dream (JAM 9320)
25 tracks from Michigan-based rocker Jeremy Morris, mixing originals with an inspired mix of covers. While Morris plays the bulk of the instrumentation, musicians include Todd Borsch of the Ringles and Jamie Hoover (the Spongetones). The first thing you’ll notice is the wonderful artwork created for the packaging by artist Gretchen Ellen Powers. Her whimsical drawings of a cat guitarist and his friends are classic children’s book worthy and will certainly bring a smile to your face. As for the music, longtime fans will find all of the prolific Morris’ pop sensibilities firmly in place. Of the originals, the single here is “Devil Next Door,” a storming 1966-styled garage rocker, but there are a lot of fun melodic pop rock songs here, such as jangly, jaunty “Can’t Buy a Thrill.” There are 11 covers here, some collected from previously released tribute albums. Favorites include a spot-on version of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” a Who-inspired take on Rick Springfield’s “Speak to the Sky,” and a rendition of the Beatles “Dear Prudence,” which reminds me of an Esher demo. Giving an insight into Morris’ record collection, other artists covered include Television Personalities, the Flamin’ Groovies, Shoes, and Rick Nelson. If you’re one of the longtime fans Morris has picked up along the way over the past four decades plus, you need this. Meanwhile, pop rock fans in general will find this an enjoyable listen.
Joe Normal & the Anytown’rs: Stuck in a Job (Big Stir Records)
A two-song CD single, the A side, “Stuck in a Job,” is a classic rock party anthem in the making, a full-band stadium rocker a la Mellencamp. A fun tune, the sentiment and energy should make this a morning drive radio favorite. Meanwhile the B side, “Living in The Borough,” has a completely different sound, a solo multi track recording whose wistful acoustic backing (with drums) is belied by increasingly dark lyrics. It’s a story song, a slice of life that reminds us that few go through their years unscathed, in this case told with a strong melodic backing and a good lyrical hook line. The A side is the hit, but the B side is also striking listen. Recommended.
Elvis Presley: The Complete Million Dollar Quartet (RCA/Sony)
We’ve all seen the picture: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash gathered around a piano at Memphis’ legendary Sun Studios on December 4, 1956. An impromptu meeting that was never meant to be released, these are fly-on-the-wall recordings of off-the-cuff songs, old favorites and the like, just a bunch of musical acquaintances jamming in the studio. Some tracks are as brief as five seconds. As such, this is of more historical value than musical, casual fans won’t appreciate all the bits and pieces. But for die-hard fans? This is heaven. Hearing multiple “takes” of “Don’t Be Cruel” or “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” is a real treat. All the laughter, the chatter from friends in the studio, the jokes and banter give you the feeling of being there with everyone. It’s fascinating to hear the musicians talking about others of the era, including the likes of Chuck Berry and Hank Snow. While certainly not an essential album, for fans of Elvis or the roots of today’s sound, it’s wonderful way to eavesdrop on a legendary moment in music history.
The Reflectors: First Impression (SNAP! Records 062)
Eleven straight-ahead melody-drenched pop rockers from this quartet. Titles such as “Teenage Hearts,” “Baby It’s You,” and “You Should Be My Girl” are clear indicators of what’s included here: brash attitude, slashing guitars, pounding beats, and song hooks in equal parts. First Impression starts off strong with “Act a Fool,” which reminds me of bands such as the Posies, with nice harmony vocals. That said, the single here is “Storm and Thunder,” a stop-start rocker with a sweet vocal line, but the closing “Caught Off Guard” is also an adrenaline-charged contender. This is a strong debut, if you like your power pop with a pop punk edge, well worth a listen—play it loud!
The Speedways: Radio Sounds (Hurrah 004/Snap! FUN CD 061)
A dozen power-pop gems, plus two demos of said tunes, from this British band. Cut to the chase—if you are a fan of “My Aim Is True”-era Elvis Costello, ’79-era power-pop, Teenage Fanclub, the Beatles, and bands cut from a similar cloth, you’re going to find this an essential listen. Songs from 1:48–3:52, proper! The band themselves cite the Knack, Tom Petty, the Ronettes, and T-Rex as “faves” on the album, so that gives a good indication of what they’re going for here. Mission accomplished. “Number 7” is a bouncy rocker that the little girls would surely understand, meanwhile another rocker, “The Day I Call You Mine,” is so hook laden, the band actually adds a little twist in the last line and then closes the whole thing with a Beatle-esque flourish. On an album full of singles, it’s hard to pick a favorite tune, but “Daydreaming” is a sing-along gem, with plenty of melody to go with the thrashing chords. I imagine that live it would be pretty hard to stand still with this playing. Also superb is “The Girl Who Loves the Sun,” which includes a wonderful ringing guitar riff that elevates the songs dreamy quality. Count “Empty Pages” as my favorite song at the moment. Wonderfully crafted, the song rocks in a way that gets every bit of melody out of the tune, with excellent backing vocals, and the bridge at 2:17 is as good as it gets. And do I detect a glockenspiel? The album closes with two demos of songs on the album, “Daydreaming” and the aforementioned “Empty Pages,” nice to have, but it’s the studio versions you’ll return to. Except two co-writes with bandmate, guitarist Mauro Venegas, all tunes are by singer/guitarist Matt Julian, definitely a name to keep an eye on. Radio Sounds is just that—a collection of tunes that would sound great blasting out of a radio, transistor, or otherwise.
The Stan Laurels: There Is No Light Without the Dark (Big Stir Records 0047)
Twelve tracks of atmospheric jangly post punk/power pop, though two tracks are mellotron passages. The Stan Laurels is a band name, but this is a solo project of one John Lathrop, with a smidge of help from Michael Day. Fans of bands such as the Ocean Blue will find much to admire in songs like “Of Love Wine and Song,” while Beach Boys aficionados will hear echoes in the lead vocal of “Red-Handed Puppet.” The single here is likely “On Paper,” a lush, moody reverb-laden lament, but also good is the more straight forward rocker “Mo Collins.” Of particular note are the lyrics, with not a moon/June coupling in sight and Lathrop adept at arranging the sound of his words as well as their meaning.
Ringo Starr: Zoom In (UMe)
The first of two EPs in 2021 from drummer Ringo Starr, five songs of unity, peace, and love. The album opens strong with “Here’s to the Nights,” a sentimental ballad penned by Dianne Warren. A song of reflection, it’s a moving performance, helped by a choir that includes Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Yola, Dave Grohl, Corrine Bailey, and Lenny Kravitz, the latter a standout among the all-stars. It’s one of two songs here that features bassist Nathan East.
Meanwhile the title track is a bluesy rocker, while “Teach Me to Tango” has Starr teaming with hit songwriters Sam Hollander/Grant Michaels for a farfisa-tinged pop rock tune, and “Waiting for the Tide to Turn” finds Starr in reggae mode.
My favorite song here is the closer, “Not Enough Love in the World,” penned by All-Starr Band guitarist Steve Lukather (Toto)/Joseph Williams. To my ears it sounds the most like Starr’s classic seventies hits, with opening glam stomp, a sing-along verse, a really nice bridge, and an earworm hook in the title. This one gets my vote for inclusion in the next live tour.
For long time Ringo fans, there’s no question that Zoom In is a welcome addition to the canon. More casual listeners will find much to enjoy, with “Here’s to the Nights,” poignant enough to become a standard.
Normandie Wilson: Paradise
Normandie Wilson returns with a new single, “Paradise,” and a shift in musical sensibilities. As opposed to the quirky Bacharach-inspired chanteuse we’ve come to know and love, the new track finds Wilson in mid-tempo electro-pop territory, complete with synths, electronic drums, and handclaps. It works. The key is that while the packaging has changed a little, the content is still solid. Wilson’s songcraft is as strong as ever, so “Paradise” would work in pretty much any format she cared to play it in. If you’re already a fan of her musical charms, you’ll enjoy this tune, meanwhile novices to her sound will find it as good a place as any to delve into the world of Normandie Wilson.