Dylan Walshe Take in a Stray … a review of Soul Hell Cafe

Dylan Walshe
Soul Hell Café

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Roughly two years ago, Dylan Walshe released “Blind is Blind” on Germany’s Squoodge records. It was a limited single that introduced 300 lucky listeners to the depth and craftsmanship of a musician who not only understood heart-aching song-writing, but had the skill to pull it off.

While the world moved on and people slept amongst feelings of emptiness and loss, Walshe toured, wrote, and sharpened his skill into a weapon suitable for slicing emotions and carving into the soul. Walshe cut his swathe on local gigs, ultimately earning a place on the Muddy Roots circuit, and, all the while, working under the world’s radar.

Walshe’s knowledge and voice are his keenest weapons. Scroll through his Facebook page and read his insights into Blues and Folk or just grab a copy of his recorded live performance in Bremen, Germany, at the Soul Hell Café, and his place long musical legacy rolls out like an invading army. Within the originals on Soul Hell Café, there are hints of  Billy Bragg’s vocals (“Luck is a Beggar, Luck is an Tinker”) scatterings of Springsteen harmonica slams (“Death Dance”), all centered around the controlled fury of Shane McGowan. The release a live recording over a studio effort was the only logical way to even begin to showcase the power and glory of Washe’s capabilities. Make no mistake, Walshe’s skills are razor sharp and he wields them with deadly accuracy.

It takes balls to release a live album as a freshman effort. And is if it wasn’t tough enough, it puts hair on those balls to cover one of the The Clash’s greatest songs and give it a voice of its own. There are a few Youtube clips of Walshe covering “Straight to Hell”, but they don’t come close to merging new life into Strummer’s universal concern for humanity contained in these five minutes. It’s a track of true beauty that shows, along with the acapella “Grinnin’ In Your Face”, Walshe’s comfort in the steps of those who came before him.

The Jackets Never Tire, Never Sleep

The Jackets
Shadows of Sound
Voodoo Rhythm Records

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The Jackets’ first two albums were pretty solid. I dug them. I spun them. I foisted them upon the skeptics who believe that good new music is deader than a single’s bar.

I will say that the first two platters had a great dirty grinding feel,but lacked a certain final thrust. They felt too clean. Too crisp. Too new. My friends who either hosted The Jackets live or found themselves shaking it on the dancefloor spoke of the band’s ability to own the stage, but the discs never quite captured that sense of urgency and decadence. Until now.

Shadows of Sound, on Bern’s Voodoo Rhythm Records, is not only their first for the label, but an all out analogue monster built on raw sounds straight from the garage. The Result? Jackie Brutsche’s vocals rip apart sonic barriers and range from low bass growlers (“Hands off Me”) to 60’s psychedelia Grace Slick trembles made current (“Sometimes Maybe”). Typically on garage albums, a vocalist’s drive and force is lost under wails of whining guitar and snare drums, but not here. Each perfect triad is given its due, be it the fuzz guitar, Chris Rosales’ infallible rhythmic control over the drums, or bass grooves (courtesy of Samuel Schmidiger) fat enough to suffocate a leviathan. This is a tight band that doesn’t mess around. These are bedroom grooves for high octane evenings. The only purity on this album is its honesty and commitment to setting the new standard of garage.

I’m not going to bother telling you which tracks stand-out as necessary spinners. Trust in me. Get this disc, put it on, and let it do the rest…You’ll not regret it one bit.

It’s time to dump that puritan view of what garage should sound like, Shadows of Sound is the new standard for rock’n’roll in the 21st century.

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Diggin’ up the Graveyard with Isaac Rother and the Phantoms

Isaac Rother and the Phantoms
“The Unspeakable Horror of …”

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Somewhere in an LA graveyard, the sounds of rock’n’roll are seeping from the slightly open doors of a mausoleum overrun by weeds and brambles. Despite LA’s almost burdensome sunshine, fog hovers around the columns and shrubs and voodoo hexes warn away square-heads. If you approach when the wolf moon is high and whisper “Lord Sutch”, “Screamin’ Jay” or “Rob Tyner”, the doors will open and you can bathe in the crisp immortal sounds of one of America’s greatest acts.

Or so I imagined.

Turns out, Isaac Rother originally began The Phantoms in Washington state about 4 years ago. After returning to LA, Rother restructured the  line-up and released the phenomenal “The Unspeakable Horror of…”; a soul stomping ghoul’s night out courtesy of Mr. Gasser and the Weirdos by way of Screaming Jay Hawkins. Isaac Rother and the Phantoms  blend surf, blues, 50’s crooners, and slow dance swooners with an ease  few other groups have been able to pull-off. It takes tremendous talent to deliver lines like “It was the night of the Phantom“ over cooing female harmonies and avoid appearing like Halloween kitsch. Not to mention these tracks all hold up to multiple and frequent listens. These are legitimate songs of love and loss coming through the Munster’s home radio.

“The Unspeakable Horror of…” is an exercise in how much range The Phantoms can cover in eleven rippers ; There are songs about supernatural dance parties (Mima Mounds), invisible stalkers (The Phantom), Vegas-era Elvis style break-up jams (My Cryin’ Eyes), and blues grinders (Watch Yourself) in which Issac Rother delivers some John Lee Hooker growls and moans. While Rother digs around music’s graveyard for voices to channel, do not overlook the versatility and range of the Phantoms. This current incarnation of The Phantoms understand that, in order to make these songs interesting, the music has equal the personality of the lyrics and performers. With each listen I’m amazed at how easily The Phantoms walk over some pretty great guitar leads and provide a killer rhythm section.

Very few albums in the past few years are this perfect from beginning to end. Campy tunes  are wonderful and ironic, but when done with such sincerity and commitment they surpass schtick and becomes something entirely new. Isaac Rother and the Phantoms are a Frankenstein monster of cool. The pieces which are sewn together here function to make an unstoppable creature of sound and fun. And any villagers showing up with pitchforks and torches are only here to clear the dance floor and join the party.

Link to The Phantoms’ store    Facebook

Skeletons from the Garage – The Routes

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The Routes
Skeletons
Groovie Records

It’s rare that I hear a new album and immediately fall in love with the band. Typically, I dig on a sound or a few tracks, something of a taste, but rarely do I toss myself into an entire catalogue like with The Routes.

Birthed in Hita City, Oita, Japan, The Routes are self-described ‘No gimmick, no costume, no bullshit, Stomp’n’Grind Garage Rock Rhythm and Blues” and own every single word in that description.

Skeletons is The Routes fourth album and each track is a powerful enough to rip the juke joint from its hinges and shakes the filings out from fans across the globe. These tracks create garage culture icons. Vocalist Chris Jack sounds like a young Reverend Beat-Man and, with Yuichiro Tomishige smashing the drums and Kensaku Muronaka slamming the bass, move effortlessly through screaming surf instrumentals and  60’s distorted fuzz. Each track isn’t just 60’s revival sound, it’s the hungry corpse of a by gone era biting and infecting and increasing its numbers with each rabid metered assault.

So grab yourself a copy and dig on in. The Routes are the future of garage rock.

Blood and fire – A review of The Mountain Goats Beat the Champ

Beat the Champ
The Mountain Goats

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In 2009, The Mountain Goats released Life of the World to Come, a melancholy album which found its roots interpreting Bible verses. Fans trusted singer/songwriter John Darnielle to avoid Christian rhetoric and preachiness and were rewarded with a dozen tracks of surviving heartache, loneliness, and death. In Beat the Champ, Darnielle once again asks fans to trust him as he delivers thirteen tracks about wrestling.

Of course, in the past twenty some-odd years, the songs are never really what the songs are about. Darnielle is a poet invested in word play and the subtle malleable flow of language. Beat the Champ, on the surface, focuses on the early days of professional wrestling and its bloody and pre-Hulkamania rawness. It’s an album whose premise can be as alienating as religion. But, just as wrestling itself is a gimmick of violence and melodrama, there exists something under the mask of Darnielle’s lyrics.

In “Choked Out”, The Mountain Goats deliver one of the most rocking studio tracks in the post-Tallahassee years. It’s an adrenaline rush of of a number about surviving against the odds and pushing beyond one’s limits. “Heel Turn 2” and “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan” harken back to older songs in The Mountain Goats’ catalogue, with the latter sounding like something vocally culled from one of the early cassettes . Hell, even “Foreign Object” echoes an obvious refrain designed to be an encore sing-a-long; but, mark my words, the real crowd thumping will rise for the “ba ba da da” filler at the end. Beat the Champ exists as a culmination of sounds from decades worth of experience.

Overall, it’s a fantastic album. TMG seem to have found their groove with the full backing band sound of horns, slide guitars, and piano, but something itches at the back of my mind. After several albums with this advanced sound (advanced from brutalizing an acoustic guitar and singing about Anglo-Saxons), there is an ‘adult contemporary’ feel in this new direction. The lyrical complexity still makes Darnielle one of the greatest songwriters of the last fifty years, but the music itself is strange in that there is no real genre to it. Tracks jump from acoustic strummers, piano crooners, crowd-pleasing rockers, and Tin Pan Alley showtunes.

Trust in The Mountain Goats.

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The Man that Challenged the World: A review of the new King Automatic album

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The most difficult part of listening to King Automatic’s new album Lorraine Exotica (Voodoo Rhythm), is getting past the first track.

“King Outomatic from Auto Space”** is a full-on floor-stomper which sounds as though it’s been beamed from an ancient alien relay station and rebounded through a set of bakelight speakers. It’s an invasion of sound with no way to stop it. It commands you to hit repeat. After the third or fourth go-round, its nothing but explosive engines of sound waiting like reinforcements among the vinyl grooves.

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King Automatic has built a reputation on being the one-man band with a full sonic sound. Not only does he back himself up on organ, banjo, harmonica, etc, but he slides across genres with flawless ease creating danceable garage, fuzz-stained exotica, and Latin beats that sizzle with alien electricity. If it wasn’t for a live show surrounded by loop machines and live samples, you’d swear he had rows of arms like something from a dingy back-galaxy cantina.

Lorraine Exotica peels back like an alien egg sack revealing “La Vampira del Raval” and “Lorraine Exotica”, songs layered in Latin roots and bringing a range of sounds not often connected to garage punk and even more rarely to one man bands. “Plan B (Adopt a Lapdancer)” (one the best song titles of 2015) slams down some Chicago style blues with an unmatched ferocity. “Lee Marvin” pays tribute to the actor in a song as bad-ass as he was and “All Crossed Out In Red”, an ode to King Automatic’s Ukrainian roots, is just as hypnotic and mesmerizing as anything label-mates The Dead Brothers have released.*  This album makes no effort to play it cool for anyone. It expertly collects sounds from across the globe and brings it all together in a display of sheer talent and diversity.King Automatic knows how to rock in any language.

This album isn’t a test for your speakers – It’s the fucking exam.

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** Spelled correctly

*I even had to double check to make sure it wasn’t a cover song.

The Hippies Were Right! Review of The Juke Joint Pimps New Joint

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In 2011’s Boogie the Church Down, The Juke Joint Pimps split the line between Heaven and Hell belting out hymns for saint and sinner alike. It was a soundtrack for the wayward soul, the gambler, and proved blues legend Big Bill Broonzy right when he said the only real difference between gospel and blues is where it was sung. Both forms seek to salve the soul and express the inexpressible. And it has to rock the body as well.

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This time around, German duo T-Man and Mighty Mike worry less about the immortal soul and seek salvation of the flesh with through deeper blues punk grooves, reefer laden lyrics, and the confident swagger of a band that knows how to preach the Blues. Recorded in just two days at Italy’s Famous Outside Inside Studio these recordings continue to espouse the Broonzy ideal of Blues; “You just play the blues. Now a real blues, a Mississippi blues, you just change [chords] when you feel like it and you play what you feel”. These tracks have an energy and urgency that would have been destroyed by multiple takes and contemporary music mixing. And The Pimps don’t simply play the Blues, they bring it to its knees.

In “Let’s Do the Hippie Shake”, Boogie Pimp’s premier ripper, the boys suggest that the unwashed peacemaking longhairs may have been on to something with their Tune-in/Drop-out sentimentality. From there, The Pimps keep pace in a manner which suggests that chilling out is easier sung about than practiced. “High This Morning” and “Blues & Reefer”, with their shredding harmonica and distortion fueled rhythms, are solid hip shakers and fit for hot summer nights. Similar to Boogie the Church Down, the Pimps offer a flip side to their rawkus preachin’ as “Don’t Push that Button” nails the album’s anxiety a world willing to annihilate itself because the powers that be ain’t got no soul. Boogie Pimps is, simply put, a ‘60’s Blues revival album which took 50 years to come out. Hell, you should hear them rip through Polka Dot Slim’s classic “A Thing You Gotta Face”. Under the layers of bawdy drug references is a message of peace, love, and understanding. If Blues is meant to connect us all in a common woe or celebration, than, yeah, I guess we all better tune in and realize the hippies might have been on to something.

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Andy Dale Petty – Frick’s Lament

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Andy Dale Petty is a fucking genius.

Here’s how I know? Frick’s Lament (Voodoo Rhythm VR1284) opens with a self-titled track that perfectly uses that half-barbaric twang of the banjo, the kick of a bass drum, and wafting vocals to perfectly capture a fever dream melody of travel and freedom. In short, it’s the ideal track because everything that follows is the sound of freedom.

Now, I’m not talking about freedom as prescribed by the false promises of a government or even as an ideal. Petty composes for the freedom of road trips, train-hopping, and late nights sleeping under the stars. The sorta freedom Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck ascribed to.

Born in Northern Georgia (USA) in the mid-80’s, Petty is timeless without pretension. Frick’s Lament doesn’t try to sound old or country, in fact, it’s pretty obvious Petty isn’t really trying to impress anyone. He is a craftsman of incredible ability and any hard work is made to look seamless and simple.

I usually have no trouble going on about albums and various tracks, but Frick’s Lament doesn’t need my words – It needs your attention. Seriously, I could bore you with more adjectives for ‘excellent’, but you’d only be wasting your time. Go buy this now.

10 Best Albums of 2014

It was a rough year for music. Even with two distinct Record Store Days and some great contenders, ultimately it was a year of weak attempts and sub-par reissues.

That said, the releases that rocked my world shook it right to its volcanic heart. I tried listing these albums in order of bombastic magnitude, but, at the end of the day, selected the order based on the number of times I played them.

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10. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
Sonically explosive and as chaotic as their name, F.O.G.F.W.P.L.O is one massive track of layered guitar screams and harmonic voices. Sure, the length of the songs rival various Grateful Dead tracks, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra are discordant evangelists of the true musical stream of conscious. (Constellation Records)

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9. Ex Hex – Rips
Mary Timony, Betsy Wright, and Laura Harris, produced a punk-fueled super-album of killer tracks destined to become the go-to for any jukebox worth its salt. This is a true ripper for those who grew up loving the 90’s punk scene. (Merge Records)

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8. Hail Mary Mallon – Bestiary
Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and DJ Big Wiz, infect your speakers and eardrums with hook laden hip-hop; creative, dynamic, and more potent than the typhoid fever the group takes its name from. (Rhymesayers Entertainment)

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7. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want
This is soul music. Jones and the Dap-Kings not only nail the 60’s sound of Detriot, but manage to write full-framed songs that go miles without tiring or running out of fuel. Consider this the time machine you always hoped for.  This isn’t revivalist, this is necromancy.

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6. Movie Star Junkies – Evil Moods
I didn’t pick up MSJ’s until much later in the year, but, once again, the Italian garagepunk-vaudevillian-bluestrash chaos is both melodic and blistering. The best way to describe MSJ is like this – It is the sonic equivalent to shooting a go-pro video of yourself stumbling around a strange European city black-out drunk  and, then, the next day, watching the footage to see where you left your pants.  (Voodoo Rhythm Records)

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5. The Rhythm Shakers – VooDoo
This perfect blend of 1950’s rockabilly and blues is as pure as black coffee, fast cars, and switchblade knives. (Wild Records)

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4. Speedball Jr. – Tiki P.I.
Speedball Jr. and Steve Mackay (The Stooges) team up for this instrumental scorcher. Sure, in all transparency I should say it’s the theme song for the comic I write, but, oh man, is it solid gold. (Green Cookie Records / Dawn Patrol Records)

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3. The Shivas – You Know What to Do
The Shivas are the reigning rulers of reverb rock. Surf beats, shrill screams, and driving chords wail, shimmy, and moan, throughout this album in the same way the Pixies tore up the 80’s. This platter spins ferociously around on the waves of  jangled notes and floating harmonies proving again Portland Oregon’s prowess as a music city. (K Records)

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2. Benjamin Booker – s/t
Influenced by The Gun Club, T Rex, and Blind Willie Johnson, there isn’t much more to say other than this album lived up to the hype. (ATO Records)

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1. The Oh-Sees – Drop
There is no filler in this fuzzfest which borrows heavily from Sgt. Pepper-style Beatles chords and takes the next logical step of being both earnest and serious. Thee Oh-Sees are bigger than Ringo. (Castle Face Records)

Painted Air “Come on 69”

Painted Air
Come on 69
Green Cookie Records (2010)

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I know nothing about this band except the singer has a Bowie-esq croon and the band is so hot they are responsible for dozens of forest fires. Painted Air’s Come on 69 rips up your speakers with the type of psych-fuzz energy that causes spontaneous riots of hedonistic dancing. Listening to this album on anything but 10 is simply a crime.

In it’s 30-odd minutes of musical revelry, Painted Air know when to pull back with slower melodic numbers like “Night Lies” and “Goodbye” but they never let up on the solid grooves. Hell, every part of this band lines up in perfect audible synecdoche.

Not many bands live up to their own hype but this is pure pleasure from start to finish and back again.