Tag Archives: Alive

Left Lane Cruiser: Dirty Spliff Blues

LeftLaneCruiser_DirtySpliffBluesHeavy electric boogie blues

This Indiana boogie blues duo is now a trio with the addition of bassist Joe Bent and the replacement of drummer Bren Beck by Pete Dio. Dio’s style is more contained than Beck’s, and paired with Bent, the entire bottom end is heavier than on the group’s earlier records. Guitarist/vocalist Freddy J IV still rages away out front of the boogie numbers, his slide offering some frenetic buzz and his leads some garage blues, but the grooves mostly stay true to the two and four. ZZ Top is an obvious touchstone, along with recent minimalists like Henry’s Funeral Shoe, the Black Keys and Radio Moscow, but now with the added muscle of a full-time bassist. The guitar playing is ferocious, and the vocals and rhythm section follow suit heavy and hard. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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Andy Gabbard: Fluff

AndyGabbard_FluffFuzzed-out solo power-pop from lone Buffalo Killer

Buffalo Killers guitarist Andy Gabbard is a one-man herd on this solo debut, writing, singing and playing the entire album in a single 12-hour recording session. The music has some hallmarks of grunge in the guitars, but even more so, the muscular psych-tinged ’90s power pop of Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and Velvet Crush, as well as 1960s-era Freakbeat. Gabbard mixes his vocals onto the same plane as the instruments, leaving his buzzing, overdubbed guitars to do a lot of the talking and his drums and cymbals to fill in the spaces. And it works: the rhythm guitars growl, the leads pierce the wall of fuzz, the drums add accents, and the vocals tie it all together with processed sounds and surreal lyrics. The acoustic intro to “Look Not Sound” suggests Big Star, and a duet with Summer Sherman on “More” echoes the boy-girl dynamic of the Pooh Sticks. It’s hard to imagine how someone can produced twelve original, creative and fully finished band tracks in twelve hours without a band to play them live, but here they are, and with four bonus live tracks on the CD edition. It’s both a feat and a treat. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Andy Gabbard’s Facebook Page

Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It

SwampDogg_TheWhiteManMadeMeDoItNew album from outspoken soul music legend

Though Alive has recently reissued several of Swamp Dogg’s classic albums (including Total Destruction to Your Mind, Rat On and Gag a Maggot), as well as his work with Irma Thomas and Sandra Phillips, this is their first opportunity to release new material. And forty years after the landmark Total Destruction, Swamp Dogg’s brand of humorous social commentary remains as potently entertaining and educational as ever. That’s because the social, racial and gender issues of the 1970s haven’t gone away, and Swamp Dogg’s eyes and tongue are still sharp.

The title track lays down James Brown styled funk, but Soul Brother No. 1 never laid down a philosophical position as direct, quirkily self-reflective and far-reaching as “The White Man Made Me Do It.” Swamp Dogg manages to simultaneously curse slavery and celebrate the heroes that emerged in its wake, all to a catchy chorus chant and deep dance groove. The groove turns to Family Stone-styled soul (complete with a brief “listen to the voices” breakdown) for “Where is Sly” and low-down for a strutting cover of Leiber and Stoller’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”

At 72, Swamp Dogg still has an ambivalent relationship with women, serenading on “Hey Renae” and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” castigating on “Lying, Lying, Lying Woman,” and humorously apologizing to his stepdaughters in the liner notes. But contradictions, or perhaps more accurately, colorful positions on complex subjects, have always been part of Swamp Dogg’s charm. Swamp Dogg sings side by side of a satisfied life (“I’m So Happy”) and ruminates on “What Lonesome Is,” showing that every coin in his pocket has at least two sides.

On balance, Swamp Dogg seems happy with the life he’s led. He may joke about his lack of popular acclaim, but where there might be bitterness you’ll find belief. Belief in his music, belief in his principles, and despite the social ills he’s cataloged over the years, belief that things have, can and will improve. “America’s sick, and it needs a doctor quick,” he sings in “Light a Candle… Ring a Bell,” but his roll call of the housing crisis’ bad actors is both an outpouring of frustration and a call to more responsible behavior. Swamp Dogg’s been calling it like he sees it since his 1970 debut, and in 2014 he still finds plenty to call.

Release note: The U.S. edition of this title is a 14-track single disc on Swamp Dogg’s S.D.E.G. label. Outside the U.S. this title includes a bonus disc of Swamp Dogg performances (including the landmark “Synthetic World”) and productions, featuring cuts by Sandra Phillips (“Rescue Me”), Lightning Slim (“Good Morning Heartaches”), Irma Thomas (“In Between Tears”), Charlie “Raw Spitt” Whitehead (“Read Between the Lines”), Z.Z. Hill (“It Ain’t No Use”), Doris Duke (“To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman)”) and Wolfmoon (“What is Heaven For”). The two CD edition (in a tri-fold digipack) can be found domestically on the Bomp website. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Swamp Dogg’s Home Page

Handsome Jack: Do What Comes Naturally

HandsomeJack_DoWhatComesNaturallyBlues-soaked rock and soul, heavy on the grooves

Alive Records has long-since reached a critical mass that just seems to attract heavy, blues-soaked guitar rock bands. The label’s gravity has pulled this Buffalo quartet into orbit for a follow-up to their independently released Super Moon. Their new album is heavier on the grooves, with guitar strings thick with twang, deep bass lines, resonant snare drumming and just enough organ (both keyboard and mouth) to step this up from power trio form. The songs burn slowly, with tempos that emphasize power over speed. There are a few guitar solos, but they’re rangy rather than flashy, and what really draws you is the unwavering authority of the rhythms. The album hits a soul stride with “Leave it All Behind” and “Right On, the former sounding as if Arthur Alexander stepped out of the studio just long enough for the band to work up an original, the latter could be Little Feat’s heavier alter ego. Handsome Jack’s music resonates with the atmospheres of rock’s great ballrooms – the Avalon, Fillmore, Winterland, Agora, Grande – and the bands who rocked them. They call their music “boogie soul,” but the boogie gave birth to rock and their souls are plugged into an extension cord that stretches from Buffalo to the Delta. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Handsome Jack’s Home Page

Paul Collins: Feel the Noise

PaulCollins_FeelTheNoiseThe Dorian Gray of power pop

From the vintage front cover photo to the electric guitars, winsome melodies and lyrical longing, neither Paul Collins nor his music seems to be aging. Having broken in with the Nerves in the mid-70s, and more prominently with the Beat by decade’s end, Collins moved on to explore country rock on a pair of solo albums in the ’90s. His pop-rock roots reemerged on 2004’s Flying High and 2008’s Ribbon of Gold, and he explicitly reclaimed his crown with 2010’s Jim Diamond-produced King of Power Pop. This second collaboration with Diamond expands on the sonics of the first – vocals ragged with rock ‘n’ roll passion, guitars that slam and chime, and a rhythm section that makes sure you feel the backbeat.

Collins’ writes of rock ‘n’ roll itself on “Feel the Noise” and euphemistically with “I Need My Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but his primary muse remains, as it started out nearly 40 years ago, women. The eighth-note pop of “Only Girl” and “Little Suzy” bring to mind the irrepressible desire of the Beat’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl,” and Collins turns positively carnal on “Baby I Want You.” The great mid-tempo numbers of Bobby Fuller, Gary Lewis and the Beatles are echoed in “With a Girl Like You,” and “Don’t Know How to Treat a Lady” riffs on the Beatles’ “You’re Going to Lose That Girl.”

The set’s lone cover is a Clash-inspired take on the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There” that fits with the originals, and the disc closes with the ’50s-inspired “Walk Away.” Throughout the album, Collins captures everything from the chiming craft of Buddy Holly to the raw energy of the Ramones, and both at once with “Baby I’m in Love With You.” Those who’ve been soaking in music delivered by advertising, television and film, may be surprised at the total lack of apology with which Collins and his producer deliver the guitar, bass and drums. Red-blooded rock ‘n’ roll may have mostly lost its place in the mainstream, but it still resounds with youthful energy no matter your age. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Paul Collins’ Home Page

Mount Carmel: Get Pure

MountCarmel_GetPureOhio power-trio riffs on heavy ’60s and ’70s blues-rock

This Ohio power-trio’s got the riffs, chops and swagger to make you wish for a triple bill at the Agora. Rock may no longer be popular music’s prevailing tide, but Mount Carmel’s heavy bottom end, powerful drums and scorching lead guitar sound like a day hasn’t passed since Cream, Grand Funk, Rory Gallagher, Blue Cheer, Ten Years After, Mountain and others ruled the hard rock roost. Even with tasty guitar solos, the songs are concise (only two weigh in at over four minutes) and the playing is tight. Matthew Reed fronts the band without overdoing the machismo, and his guitar playing is supported by a solid rhythm section that features his brother Patrick on bass and James McCain on drums. There’s a hint of hippie-jam in their instrumental passages, but no twenty-minute Fillmore excess – at least not in the studio. If today’s popular music doesn’t have the muscle and grit to get you moving, this is one to check out. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Mount Carmel’s Facebook Page

Raw Spitt: Raw Spitt

RawSpitt_RawSpittSocially-charged soul from the Swamp Dogg stable

“Raw Spitt” was the alter ego laid on Charlie Whitehead by his friend and mentor Jerry Williams, Jr. The latter had recently renamed himself “Swamp Dogg,” and was beginning to build a stable of artists. Williams and Whitehead had met in New York, and they developed a rich musical relationship that included both songwriting and original performances, with Williams producing Whitehead for this 1970 release on the Canyon label. Whitehead would release later material under his own name, but it’s the socially-charged songs of this rare full-length debut that minted the singer’s reputation with soul fans.

Written primarily by Williams and Troy Davis, the album is apiece with Swamp Dogg’s own debut, Total Destruction to Your Mind, and this reissue includes a version of Total Destruction‘s “Synthetic World” among the five bonus tracks. Aside from a few pop and soul covers (“Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” “This Old Town” and “Hey Jude”), the album is populated with outspoken songs of social malfunction – rough childhoods and racially proscribed adulthoods – and anthems of unyielding will and self-empowerment. As on Total Destruction, the surface-level absurdity found in some of the song titles and lyric hooks quickly gives way to deeper messages; Williams was a man with much to say, and having found a forum, he was going to say it with little indirection.

Whitehead proved a superb front man for these songs, with a voice that was deeper than Williams’ own, with a ragged, soulful edge that suggested Otis Redding. Williams’ funky, soulful productions were well-served by Capricorn’s studio in Macon and a backing band that included James Carr, Johnny Sandlin, Robert “Pop” Popwell and Paul Hornsby. Long out of print, the album’s ten tracks previously appeared on the import Charlie Whitehead Anthology. Alive’s reissue restores the original album artwork, and includes two bonus tracks (“Synthetic World” and “Hey Jude”) that didn’t appear on the earlier compilation. This is a great find for those few who knew of Raw Spitt, those tracking down Williams’ work as a producer, and anyone seeking new veins of fine ’70s soul. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Swamp Dogg’s Home Page

Swamp Dogg: Gag a Maggott

SwampDogg_GagAMaggottFunky soul from 1973, with two bonus tracks

After his innovative 1970 debut, Total Destruction to Your Mind, Swamp Dogg (born Jerry Williams, Jr.) continued to cut fine soul albums, despite a lack of big label distribution, chart action or major sales. His deep industry experience provided the background to create commercial hits, but Williams chose a more purely artistic route, chasing a muse that was equal parts southern soul and idiosyncratic outspokenness. Using funky bass lines, sharp horn charts and a voice that suggested the keening sound of General Norman Johnson, Williams’ records offer a surface of commercial soul, but topped with lyrics of social observation and absurdist humor. His fourth album isn’t as radical as his debut, but the grooves are deep and more uniformly funky, and while there’s nothing as politically provocative as 1971’s “God Bless America for What?,” Williams’ wit remains sharp on “Mighty Mighty Dollar Bill” and “I Couldn’t Pay for What I Got Last Night.” There’s New Orleans flavors heard in a few tracks and the original album’s cover of Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour” is joined on this reissue by a funky bonus track of “Honky Tonk Woman.” Also added as a bonus is a seven-minute live take of “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe” recorded in the studio of San Francisco’s legendary KSAN-FM. Alive’s digipack reissue includes Williams’ irreverent original liner notes and a six-page insert that includes Williams’ equally irreverent new liner notes. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Swamp Dogg’s Home Page

Irma Thomas: In Between Tears

IrmaThomas_InBetweenTearsIrma Thomas’ lost early-70s soul sides

After relocating from New Orleans to Los Angeles, soul queen Irma Thomas largely disappeared from public view for a few years. But a series of singles produced by Jerry Williams (a.k.a. Swamp Dogg) on the indieCanyon, Roker and Fungus labels led to this eight-track release in 1973. Williams had proven himself a talented musician and producer, and in the latter capacity he leaves behind the absurdist humor of his own records to bring Thomas a helping of Southern soul and West Coast funk. Thomas’ new material, much of it written by Williams, has plenty of bite, but it’s more personal than broad. The wistful drama of her early Minit and Imperial sides had given way to something heavier, more worldly-wise, weary and womanly. When she sings of broken relationships, it’s from the experience of being spurned rather than the hope of being accepted, and when she takes stock of her life, she’s not afraid to highlight problems with the balance sheet. The transition from her earlier work is particularly apparent in a remake of “Wish Someone Would Care” which evolved from heartbroken yearning to mortally wounded. Alive’s 2013 reissue adds two bonus tracks, including the pre-album B-side “I’ll Do it All Over You.” This little-known album caught Thomas in a fiery and outspoken mood, and its return to print makes a welcome addition to her better-known releases. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Irma Thomas’ Home Page