John Allman

In 1975, my parents made a fateful decision, the first of many, that set me upon my chosen path. They took me with them to see "Jaws." In the bathroom, after the movie ended, my Dad said he heard a young voice saying over and over, "Smile you son of a bitch." He opened the stall door to find his 5-year-old son gleefully blasting the bowl with urine the way Roy Scheider blew up the air tank in the shark's mouth. Two years later, they took me with them to see the King, Elvis Presley, mere months before his unfortunate death. Elvis wasn't on his A game as he stumbled through a two-night, sold-out stand at the old Charlotte Colosseum. But we had floor seats, row 22, and my mother was shrieking like a schoolgirl. Women everywhere in the arena were freaking out. I just remember thinking, why is the big man in the jumpsuit cussing so much on stage? That's right - Jaws and Fat Elvis, my earliest memories of film and music, two defining moments in my young life. Today, thankfully, I have evolved from those humble beginnings to have an appreciation for most cinematic and musical genres. But my heart remains rooted in those formative years. I still love horror more than any other type of movie, and I choose to remember Elvis from his Sun Records days, long before the white jumpsuit, when he was full of swagger and fire, helping build a label defined by the all-time greats.

Feb 192014
 

GGG - Good Luck

It’s always tricky following up a career-defining album.

An artist or band has to stoke anticipation, temper expectations and,ultimately, release a new batch of songs out into the world without the ability to explain, defend and/or protect them any longer.

I can’t imagine the anxiety an artist feels not knowing how they will be received.

It’s no secret that I love Girls, Guns and Glory, the Boston-based band whose 2011 disc Sweet Nothings topped my Best Of list that year. Every track blended seamlessly to form a singular work that struck me and stuck with me in a way that few albums since have been able to do.

Well, Ward Hayden and the boys are back three years later with Good Luck, an album that is just as confident but completely different in all the best ways. Good Luck doesn’t reach into your chest immediately and grab your heart, not the way Sweet Nothings did, except on three of the new tracks – “UUU,” “C’Mon Honey” and  “Rockin’ Chair Money.”

The biggest difference between the two albums is the experimental air that permeates Good Luck. It doesn’t have that same instant connection, but the rewards are greater once you spend a little more time with some of the songs.  Two good examples, “Shake Like Jello,” a scorching rave-up that owes a debt to the great Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Built For Speed.” The former, I didn’t fully appreciate until the third or fourth listen. Now it’s on my list of must-hear songs if ever I see Girls, Guns and Glory in concert.

What is consistent, though, is Hayden’s signature, mournful emotion that rings true on the slower “It’s Your Choice” and “One of These Days.”  You feel the sincerity in his voice, and the rest of the band backs him up in perfect step. Nowhere is this more true than on the lead single, and album opener, “All the Way Up to Heaven.”

Girls, Guns and Glory is a true original. They don’t have to mimic any other artist. They have a sound that’s all their own. But there are similarities to other bands that genre fans will appreciate. The up-tempo “Be Your Man” sounds like the best track The V-Roys never recorded. And “UUU,” my favorite song on the disc, is vintage The Refreshments.

It’s still early in 2014, and I have no idea if the boys will once again top my Best Of list this year, but I’m pretty confident that if not, Good Luck will definitely be near the top of my favorite works released this year, and I’m certain this disc will remain in my most-played queue for months to come. That’s why, to me, this is definitely Essential Listening.

UUU
C’Mon Honey
Rockin Chair Money

Apr 032013
 

The Bloodhound Gang of country.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about Badasskatoon.

This Vancouver, British Columbia band’s first release, The Greatest Album Anywhere. Ever., is a joke that keeps on giving. It’s lewd, unbelievably inappropriate and just damn funny.

According to legend, aka the Internet, cousins Johnny and Gayelord LeDouche formed Badasskatoon to become Canada’s greatest band. Ever. Even their promotional materials are funny. I’m not sure which of the boys, either Johnny or Gayelord, typically appears in nothing but tighty-whitey undershorts with a raging hard-on. Yep. That’s right. I said raging hard-on.

The aesthetic wouldn’t be as funny – more just unnerving and creepy – if the songs weren’t actually, you know, good.

Now “good” is completely subjective. I find puerile humor funny. I laugh at dick and fart jokes. This might not be everyone’s new favorite bright and shiny toy. But here’s a sample, from the eloquent and tender ballad, “Something Has Grown Between Us”:

The first time that I laid eyes on you/there was something different about ya, I just knew/With those big expensive boobs, well, you had all the moves/to make me want to cheat on my wife

I met you in the men’s room that same night/and in the handicapped stall, you blew more than my mind/But ever since that day, things have been getting strange/and I just figured out exactly why

Baby, I must confide/every time I hold you, it just don’t feel right/Because lately something’s grown between us/And I know you feel it too/Cuz it’s your penis

Badasskatoon is a comedy duo with a definite niche. Just the song titles alone – “The Gayest Love Song That We Could Write,” “Beauty Is Only A Light Switch Away” and “The Clap Song” – give you an indication of the silliness in store.

If you’ve been jonesing for a some anatomically-unpleasant hillbilly hoedown hijinks, look no further. Johnny and Gayelord have arrived.

Badasskatoon – The Gayest Love Song That We Could Write
Badasskatoon – Bad Bad Man From Saskatoon
Badasskatoon – The Clap Song

To see these guys in action, check out their YouTube page here, To download a free copy of The Greatest Album Anywhere. Ever., visit the band’s website here

Mar 262013
 

Wild Ways, the new album from Uncle Leon and the Alibis, kicks off with the rousing “Hold On,” a jangly road trip song if ever there was.

The band doesn’t slow down from there, veering wildly from honky tonk rockers (“Don’t Blame This Guitar”) to classic county laments (“Cold Dark Night,” “Loving A Cowboy”) to subversive odes for malcontents and misanthropes (“All My Crazy Friends Got Old and Lame,” “Fuck The World”).

This isn’t so much an album as a dog-eared, dusty map spanning the entire soundscape that defines Americana music and distinguishes it (thankfully) from pop-oriented new country.

It’s also an album I might totally have overlooked if not for the playful song titles that piqued my curiosity.

The first song I actually listened to isn’t necessarily the best of the bunch (that honor likely falls to “Cold Dark Night”), but it’s an instant anthem that I foresee being played for years to sweaty drunk fans happily singing along.

The song is “Whiskey and Weed and Big-Titted Women,” which begins with the following, amazing verse:

Hookers and blow may be fun for awhile/but they’ll both cost you dearly, my friend/The smack and the speed may seem just what you need/but they’ll both let you down in the end/And the hospital pills may kill all your will/but they don’t do a thing for the pain/Whiskey and weed and big-titted women/made me the man I am today

For many artists, “Whiskey…” might have been a joke, a one-off, a B-side that garnered little to no attention but Uncle Leon and the Alibis pour themselves into the song. Delivering it with just the right somber smirk, slowly building to a bellowing chorus that would shake the rafters in the church of the sodden and maligned and call even the most depraved soul into the light.

It’s their “Elvis is Everywhere” moment, their “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” that iconic song that few artists are lucky to write that becomes a signature favorite.

That’s not meant to denigrate.

Uncle Leon and the Alibis aren’t a novelty band. I don’t see them going the route of Jimmy Buffett, who basically stopped making meaningful music with 1981′s Coconut Telegraph and became content to travel every year just playing his greatest hits from the 1970s.

“Whiskey and Weed and Big-Titted Women” is just fun. It sticks in your brain immediately and you’re singing along before your first listen is done.

But there’s so much good music to discover on Wild Ways.

The cowboy laments are authentic and piercing, and the shout-along songs, particularly “All My Crazy Friends Got Old and Lame,” provide the perfect soundtrack for that backyard barbecue that slowly devolves into a drunken, naked mess.

I definitely consider this Essential Listening.

Uncle Leon and the Alibis – Cold Dark Night
Uncle Leon and the Alibis – Don’t Blame This Guitar
Uncle Leon and the Alibis – Whiskey and Weed and Big-Titted Women

To find out more about Uncle Leon and the Alibis, check out their website. To purchase and download Wild Ways, follow this link right here.

Feb 132013
 

What’s “too long” in rock and roll?

I suspect 16 years would likely qualify, but Soundgarden doesn’t sound like they missed a beat in the past decade and a half without releasing any new material.

King Animal, the band’s first album since 1996’s Down on the Upside, kicks off appropriately with the raging rocker, “Been Away Too Long.”

And, truth be told, as soon as the first words spew from Chris Cornell’s mouth – ‘you can’t go home, no/I swear you never can’ – you realize that it has truly been too long since these guys got together and jammed.

Soundgarden was always the black sheep kid brother of grunge purveyors Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They were noisy, unkempt (remember Cornell’s mane of black hair) and angrier than the more radio-friendly Seattle-area bands that broke big. I can only imagine being at one of the band’s early shows when they ripped through “Big Dumb Sex,” a visceral, almost violent anti-love song if ever there was one.

I still remember my first Soundgarden CD – a live EP of tracks off 1989’s Louder Than Love. And I bought the follow-up, 1991’s Badmotorfinger, on the day it was released. Those were the days when you would hole up in your room, headphones on, reading the liner lyrics to songs like “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose.”

I didn’t begrudge Cornell & Co. when they finally broke in 1994 with Superunknown, their most accessible and commercial record, but I did get sick of “Black Hole Sun” after the 5,000th radio play and “Spoonman” just didn’t have the same staying power as past cuts.

Last summer, I totally geeked out when I realized that Soundgarden’s first new song since I was in my mid-20s (!) was attached to Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” and the track, “Live To Rise,” was a perfect anthem for the superhero epic. Cornell admitted in interviews that the decision was strategic – how many older bands release new material these days that fails to get the attention it deserves because mainstream radio sucks and MTV isn’t interested in promoting any band that was formed more than 6 months ago. This was an immediate opportunity to rejoin the collective music consciousness after nearly two decades away.

“Live to Rise” isn’t on King Animal, and that makes sense.

King Animal is less about a standout track and more about a pervasive feeling that permeates from its collective force. It’s almost, dare I say, a concept album. Even the strongest tracks– Been Away Too Long, Blood on the Valley Floor, A Thousand Days Before, Black Saturday – fold nicely into the larger canvas. You know how some albums, that one good song immediately stands out? This is not that album. It’s dense and rugged, like a detailed novel that doesn’t scrimp on long passages just to progress the plot.

The band’s signature sound hasn’t lost a step. If you close your eyes while listening, you’ll swear it’s 1991 all over again. Cornell’s voice is still as much a blunt instrument as Kim Thayil’s guitar or Matt Cameron’s drums. They may be older, but they haven’t lost that edge.

Even fans who liked Soundgarden’s more accessible hits like “Black Hole Sun” and “Fell on Black Days” will find something to enjoy here, particularly on tracks “Halfway There” and “Rowing”

King Animal  isn’t a cash-in. It’s not a reunion for these guys to feel relevant. Soundgarden remains a vital group with something to say.

Soundgarden – Been Away Too Long
Soundgarden – Blood on the Valley Floor
Soundgarden – Black Saturday

Soundgarden’s Official Site, Soundgarden on Facebook, Soundgarden on Spotify, Buy King Animal

Dec 192012
 

The latest album by The Gaslight Anthem is a return to the glory of Sink or Swim and The ’59 Sound, which is a relief.

American Slang, the band’s 2010 release, was a good album, but it just didn’t capture the energy and passion that Brian Fallon & Co. exude so well on their most memorable tracks. There was no “We Came to Dance” or “Great Expectations.”

American Slang felt like a stab at mainstream acceptance. Handwritten feels like a defiant middle finger to the establishment and an acknowledgement to longtime fans that the boys won’t be compromising from here on out.

Handwritten kicks off fast with the stunning “45,” a quintessential Gaslight anthem, ahem, about conflicted angst and the eternal struggle to grow.

And much like Sink or Swim, the disc just keeps chugging, each track launching forth from the last, fueled by an urgent drumbeat and staccato blasts of guitar. The title track, “Handwritten,” is a definite keeper. “Here Comes My Man” and “Mulholland Drive” are slower-paced story songs that would fit perfectly with the best of The Horrible Crowes, Fallon’s side project.

The standout tracks, for me, are “Too Much Blood,” a deeply confessional take on artistic aspiration, and “Desire,” a worthy companion to the aforementioned “Great Expectations” on any best-of playlist.

Here’s the deal – The Gaslight Anthem has its detractors, sure, and the comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are as inevitable as the band’s fixation on girls, cars and a blue-collar aesthetic.

But I will take Gaslight all day, every day, over lukewarm wannabes like The Killers who simply ape the storytelling technique of a Springsteen or a Bob Dylan but never once sound like they’ve lived, much less believe, the words that are raging from their mouths.

There’s something about this band that just grabs me. It’s like the first time I heard The Old 97s. Some bands you just love from the first song on. Needless to say, for me this is Essential Listening.

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
The Gaslight Anthem – Mulholland Drive
The Gaslight Anthem – Desire

The Gaslight Anthem’s Official Site, The Gaslight Anthem on Facebook, The Gaslight Anthem on Spotify, Buy Handwritten