Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Russ Still and the Moonshiners - Still Cookin' (2017)

Written by Ed Price, posted by blog admin

Led by singer/songwriter Russ Still, sole author of eight of the album’s nine tracks, Russ Still and the Moonshiners remember a time when the ol’ glory of southern rock flew high.  Back when bands were finding a new way to reinterpret the well-worn shoes of country music, there was a spark in innovation led by The Outlaws, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackfoot, Hydra and several other notable artists.  Less riff-y and bombastic, and more entrenched in tasty licks and easy breathing groove, Russ Still and his compatriots put on a good show here. 

“Promised Land” slams out riffs n’ home-cooked lead guitar with ample support from the vibrant bass grooves and steady handed drumming.  Tinkling ivories only further the highly melodic element, the nice separation between instruments providing Still plenty of room to exercise his blue-eyed soul rapture.  This is the good stuff from a bygone era brought back to life with imagination and passion to burn. Working up an acoustic trot, “Long Way from Home” simmers and works up a nice acoustic trot, but finishes at a hot electric boil.  The bass-centered “Glorine” is packed with verse/chorus hooks from start to finish and paints the tale of a hard-edged woman with a “cigar in her mouth,” with appropriately fiery wah-guitar bringing the character to vivid life.

Kicking off with a piano ditty before transitioning into an acoustic slow jam, “I Can’t” is the album’s epic ballad and capped off by a rising swell of volume until the electric guitars bring resolution and Russ’ voice finds the plateau. It’s a great all around track and one of the album’s best. The acoustic/electric guitar rocker “Goin’ Fishin’” makes for another high energy sing-a-along and pairs nicely with the Pure Prairie League inspired “Juanita,” a catchy country-rock burner where Still’s voice even manages to sound a lot like the legendary Craig Fuller.  “10,000 Ways” has Freebird-esque sprawl and may strike some as an ode to the powerful, lengthy album closers of the southern-rock heyday. The slovenly riffed lumber of “Workin’ Class Hunter” and the punchy “Run Away” finishes the album on a lively note.

Sophomore slump is nowhere to be found on the sizzling electric smoke of Still Cookin’.  These cats have command of their musicianship, teamwork and songwriting; you can tell the entire band knows one another’s strengths inside and out.  This is a great record that could have been released 30-40 years ago and would have ended up a huge seller. 

Quantum Split - America (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

The initial release from Qauntum Split, America, is a two song outing bearing the fruit of friendships first formed at the renowned Berklee College of Music. Vocalist/guitarist Soleil Laurent joined forces with fellow classmates Anthony Anderson, Adrian Reed, and Ivan Hardy to form a serious musical outfit that not only vented their considerable musical talents, but provided them an ideal platform for making personal statements important to them. Their debut release benefits immensely from a high quality production job highlighting the band’s multitude of strengths and giving them the sort of presentation first time acts normally only dream of. It is apparent, even after a single listen, this is a band united in their creative vision and possesses a rare sympathetic union of spirit reaching far beyond the benchmarks many new acts need to reach to make maximum possible impact.

The title track alternates between sly, slinky neo-funk moods, carried primarily by tasteful guitar and inventive drumming, and all out blasts of raucous electric guitar. Vocalist Laurent shows impressive versatility with her ability to freely move between these contrasting styles while ceding none of her power or credibility. Quantum Split is clearly a band who understands the value of dynamics. The movement between its more pensive and explosive sections is seamlessly carried off and makes for a dramatic arrangement. The lyrical content reaches a similarly high level without ever becoming too self-important. A song entitled “America” might seem like it promises either inarticulate punk rage or else some self-important musings on the state of the Republic, but “America” here doesn’t over-indulge in either characteristic and, instead, resounds with the sort of intelligence we expect based on the musical arrangement alone. This is a band clearly capable of surprise and the title track hits that mark quite solidly.

The second track “Runaway” continues in much of the same rock/soul vein as the title cut, but there’s a much greater emphasis here on the personal as opposed to larger ideas about country and our place in it. Quantum Split, obviously, varies their sound some, but they follow the same general template for this track that listeners hear on the title cut. It doesn’t end up sounding samey at all. It is, instead, quite clear that the band has a style they’ve already honed to a sharp edge and it cuts deep into listeners on a first pass. America is an impressive first effort for the band and a clear indication they are talents to watch. Rock may not enjoy the same widespread popularity it once did, but don’t tell Quantum Split that. They seize upon the form with a vengeance and deliver a two song set that will dismiss any ideas about a dead art form. This is modern rock music with a compelling presentation and an unbowed spirit.

Donoma - Falling Forward (2017)

Written by Bradley Johnson, posted by blog admin

Kenosha, Wisconsin’s Donoma are one of the most unusual bands I’ve encountered in quite a long time.  It is impossible to predict what type of ear damage they will employ on any individual track across their sophomore album, Falling Forward’s 12 unnerving tracks.  They’ve got the hearty guitar riffs and beefed up bass/drum interplay of a good rock/blues combo, the twitchiness of NYC noise-rock, a strange penchant for weird lab creations involving several genres and some country soul.  I’ve heard other bands trying to cook up a similar dish of vittles but they usually ruin the entire meal.  Donoma, somehow, makes it work.

If you’re only judging how the album begins and how it ends, you’ve still got two entirely different bands.  “Sick” is a rampart-storming, rock n’ roll affair with powder keg bass grooves blowing apart rollicking tom beats as the guitars whip through a hard rock/country/blues strut on high octane.  Singer Stephanie Vogt holds nothing back in the vocal department in terms of the lyrics or her ballsy presentation of the material.  Closer “Come with Me” is a minimal folk dirge that’s beautifully off-putting (calling to mind a more tuneful Earth).  These descriptions only cover the bookends of this record and what’s sandwiched in between is even more exciting.  The scream along Armageddon of white-washed math rockers “Jack in the Box,” “Splinter” and even “Deep Beneath the Woods’” noisy, digitally manipulated pulsations are the kind of work that would have put this band on a bill with the Cherubs, Boredoms or Painteens.  While “Memory,” “A Change is Gonna Come originally recorded by Sam Cooke,” “Another Light,” “Unfortunate One” and “Otherside” could have set these cats to warm up for Dax Riggs and Sturgill Simpson.  Hell, they’d scare the pants off of Lana del Rey courtesy of the evil jazz/singer-songwriter fluxing of “He Loves Me Not.”  This is truly no-holds barred music that gets up in your face and throws you against the wall; harassing you to beg for release from their musical chokehold. 

Donoma won’t be for everyone but Falling Forward is worth more than a passing glance in the crowded music world today.  The album doesn’t always fit each unique piece of the puzzle together but as a collection of songs it really gets under the skin.  Despite all of the mayhem, several of the songs are catchy enough to even find their way into some sort of Internet radio airplay, thanks to adventurous minded DJs who let their podcasts run wild.      

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heavy America - ...Now (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Massachusetts has been a rich breeding ground for powerful rock music since the Eighties.  From the classic rock leaned metal of Only Living Witness to Sam Black Church’s snarling metallic hardcore or even Waltham’s soaring alternative anthems; good music in the area has been in no short supply. The latest in this grand lineage is power trio Heavy America’s blues-tinged mixture of hard rock groove, dirty Seattle vibes and folky rustic Americana.  After a series of singles and an EP, Heavy America presents …Now, a searing full-length brimming with atmospheric, earthy jams benefitting from a weighty guitar presence, gritty melodic vocals and a rustbelt rhythm section full of push/pull dynamics.

Opener “Proud Shame” kicks off with Mike Seguin’s hazy fuzz guitars and rough-hewn melodic vocals ebbing atop of Dan Fried’s pounding backbeats and Budd Lapham’s walking bass lines.  Elements of Son Volt and Woven Hand float to the surface, but knife-edged 70s rock riffs present a grandslam of heft that puts the band in line with some of the more offbeat luminaries from flagship stoner rock record label Small Stone.  It’s a good place to be with results that are retro and refreshing yet original.  “Bleed Mary” toys with softer electric guitar textures colliding into subtle pocket rhythms.  The entire band blends in with back-up vocals to fill in Mike’s lead while musical bombast always lurks on the horizon.  It appears in the form of a barbwire power chord mash-up during the infectious chorus hook.  At 3:45, Lapham presents a mesmerizing little bass lick with the rest of the band dropping out, before hammering their way back in with a crunching rock n’ roll attack and a jangling, exotic guitar solo.

First single “Pray for Me” goes right into the riff meat right from the get go with staccato, sludgy grooves and noisy minor key clatter cutting through the density.  Fried’s drumming is given a real chance to standout here with taut, neck-snapping work on the snare.  The immediacy makes this an obvious choice for single, especially with its punk rock brevity.  Heavy America’s bluesy influence is at the forefront of “Sweet Kisses’” vintage wah pedal squeals and slinky old school boogie, allowing “Casting Stones” to split the different between balladry and bullrush for a unique dichotomy of stylistic sand shifting from Neil Young to Sabbath to Blackfoot.  “Goliath’s” crunchy, chunky stomp keeps the energy high until courses are recalculated into the cosmic, ethereal psychedelic rock of “I Can Take It,” a tune that showcases the band’s affinity for tricked out pedal boards.  Returning to rural Neil Youngisms, “Heavy Eyes” is a laidback jam with country twang, clearing the way for “Achilles Fail” to smash the riff-y guitar rock one more time. 

NOW is a killer piece of work from a band who removes the static silliness of trendy retro rock for a real deal feel that separates the men from the boys.  A few more hooks will push them into the stratosphere but Heavy America is already in the pantheon of greatness.

Grade: A-