Friday, July 21, 2017

Retro Reviews: Izzy Stradlin & the Ju Ju Hounds – self titled

Review by Rob Sheley

November 1991: it is announced that Izzy Stradlin has left Guns N Roses. No one could have predicted what would happen next. Izzy has been called the heart and soul of the band that he helped form. It is no doubt that he was the Stones, Hanoi, Faces element that blended with Slash's love of Aerosmith and Duff's Damned & Heartbreakers leanings to create that unique sound. Upon his departure, what would they sound like and more importantly what would HE sound like? He was 29, finally clean, and rich enough to either retire comfortably or do whatever he wanted. He chose the latter.

Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds stands up as one of the best debut records in rock history, but it is not the players' first rodeo. Izzy recruited a brilliant band with a murderers' row of side men to assist. He ran as far away from Guns' direction as he could. Izzy's longest musical sidekick is Georgia Satellites guitarist Rick Richards - he has played on every single solo recording that he has released. Along with drummer Charlie Quintana (Plugz, Cruzados, and later Social Distortion) and bassist Jimmy Ashhurst (Broken Homes), that became the lineup. Sonically Izzy was to draw primarily from his love for The Rolling Stones, Faces, and The Clash- much more of the roll than rock and far removed from anything he had done before. Izzy Stradlin & The Ju Ju Hounds was released in October 1992, less than one year after his leaving the Illusion tour. The record is a combination of originals and influences. From the opening swagger of "Somebody Knocking" to the Clash informed cover of "Pressure Drop", the record is bursting with energy and uniqueness for the time. Supporting the band on seven of the 12 songs was Faces organ player, the great Ian McLagan. His contributions really aligned him as the unsung fifth member of the band. Special guest number two is Ron Wood performing on their cover of his solo track "Take A look A The Guy". Rounding out this star-studded list is Nicky Hopkins's incredible piano work on "Come On Now Inside"- a track that could have easily been an outtake from side 4 of Exile On Main St. It is really that good.

One must remember that in 1992, the musical landscape, despite Izzy's cache, was not ready to support a rock & roll record influenced by songs and bands from 20 years prior to its release. Even though the Black Crowes were enjoying success with their second record, I believe the public and the label were expecting and hoping for something closer to Appetite than Exile. Lead single "Shuffle It All" did catch a slight bit of MTV airplay, but the blazing rocker "Train Tracks" much less so. Despite a lack of commercial success, the band did tour the world with wider success coming from Europe and Japan. America was not so supportive. And due to this disappointment, Izzy stopped touring altogether to focus solely on recording.

Because of drug issues with Jimmy Ashhurst, the band was dissolved - with Izzy only keeping Rick along for the future. The record (and subsequent singles and live EP) is an all too brief snapshot. Their recorded output as this unit is incredible, no bad songs at all. The live Japanese EP is a much more stripped-down, raw, powerful version of the band. It contains a great version of the Stones' B-side "Jivin' Sister Fanny". And with all of the B-Sides and live tracks, there are enough songs to make what would have been a second record. The original record was re-pressed in 2016 on vinyl by the label Music On Vinyl with remastered sound. It is fairly easy to find. CD versions can be tracked down on eBay or Discogs for cheap. Try and get the version with the extra EP for three more songs.

Izzy has continued to record ever since 1992. Most of his work has been released in Japan, and later records have gone straight to iTunes. He has recorded nine records on his own. All spring forth from the groundwork laid down with this original lineup. Every time I see a used copy of the self-titled album, I buy it and keep in in my car to pass on to a like-minded individual. I'm shocked that the record is off everyone's radar despite the name printed on the top. This is the best place to start. And the sooner you do, the longer you will have to enjoy this nearly lost album.


-Rob Sheley

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trampoline Team - "Drug Culture"


After all of these years of listening to and writing about punk rock, it's still a real kick for me to hear a new record that absolutely knocks my head off. There's just nothing better. Less than 20 seconds into Trampoline Team's new single "Drug Culture", I found myself exclaiming "YES!" at a volume completely inappropriate for indoor conversation. I am not one to argue about what is or is not punk rock. All I can tell you is that if someone came to me and asked, "What's punk rock?", I could very well just play them this single and be done with it. This is how you do it, man: pummeling buzz-saw guitars, a full-on fuck-you attitude, and a beat that compels furious head-bobbing. After getting totally floored by the A-side, I figured there had to be a slight drop-off with the B-side. Turns out the only thing dropping was my jaw. "I Don't Play Games" is every bit as good and could easily be mistaken for the "hit" if you didn't know any better. This single is a smasher! It sounds like it could have come out in the heyday of Rip Off Records or even the late '70s/early '80s. Buying it (or anything else) from Trampoline Team's Bandcamp will help fund the band's upcoming tour of Europe. For information on how to procure a physical copy, hit up the band on Facebook!



-L.R.

https://trampolineteam.bandcamp.com/album/drug-culture-b-w-i-dont-play-games 
https://www.facebook.com/trampolineteamm/ 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Basketball Shorts - "This Summer"

Earlier this year, I promised that "many" reviews of Jarama 45RPM Recs releases were forthcoming. It seems we are well on our way! The Madrid label's third release also marks its third appearance on this blog. Again Jarama 45RPM stays true to its mission to release strictly hit singles on 7" vinyl. Basketball Shorts' "This Summer" absolutely fits the bill - a true punk rock smash in my book. You may already know Basketball Shorts as Austin, Texas's finest "party punk" band. Call it party punk, pop-punk, pizza punk, slacker rock, or whatever else you desire. The point is that "This Summer" is just a wonderful song. It's probably not what you're expecting from this band. It's less of a party song and more of a "morning after the party" song - what you might be listening to in calm solitude as you nurse your hangover and reflect on how fleeting good times can be. This wistful number tugs at the heartstrings so effectively that it ought to be playing over the closing credits of a bittersweet cinematic love story. The inclusion of "Hot and Ready" (easily one of the greatest pop-punk songs of the present decade) on this EP is a master stroke of track selection given how nicely it complements "This Summer". There are times to be reflective, and then there are times to just crank it to 11 and have some fun! "Home", a perfect middle ground between the two aforementioned tracks, is a song that's exclusive to this release. Being a huge pop-punk fan going all the way back to the early '90s, I'm stoked to still hear bands like Basketball Shorts that remind me why I fell in love with this type of music in the first place. One thing you've gotta say about Bernando from Jarama 45RPM: he sure knows how to spot the hits!



-L.R.

https://basketballshortsatx.bandcamp.com/album/this-summer-ep 
https://www.facebook.com/jarama45rpmrecs/ 
https://www.facebook.com/basketballshortsatx/ 
 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Michael Monroe - The Best

Review by Rob Sheley

Think of the great frontmen. You don't have to like their music or the band (it helps), but they are undeniably captivating as they command a stage. Armed with great songs and a powerful band behind them, things can transcend. Names that come to mind: Iggy, Lux, HR, Keith Morris, Nick Cave, Freddie Mercury, Paul Stanley, Bowie, Jagger, (insert your favorite here), and Michael Monroe. Michael has been consistent if not anything else throughout his career. Rock & roll flows through him, and a sonic shockwave comes crashing out. My friend has said many times, "How can you not like a guy onstage singing rock & roll with a pink saxophone?" I completely agree. It has been stated many times by the band themselves that Guns & Roses exists because of Hanoi Rocks. If Hanoi was all Michael did, he would still be a legend. But fortunately he has been banging it out for 30 years past Hanoi, and this is a small slice of the fruits of those labors.

The Best is 29 songs total, including four previously unreleased tracks in addition to a new song called "One Foot Outta The Grave" with his current band lineup. The collection is very focused on Michael, so it is missing a few things. But those holes can be filled easily. What it doesn't have are any Hanoi Rocks songs from either period of the band. Sadly there are no songs from the one-off Jerusalem Slim project with Billy Idol foil Steve Stevens. It includes only two covers. Many of Michael's solo works include incredible covers from the Damned, Eddie & The Hot Rods, MC5, Leonard Cohen, Stooges, and many more. His interpretations are what you want - sometimes more faithful than others, but they are someone taking over the song and making it their own. Check out the Another Night In The Sun – Live In Helsinki release. That is a mix of covers and Hanoi songs, a great collection in its own right.

What The Best does have is a solid and perfect representation of Michael's solo work broken up over two discs. Disc 1 covers his first solo album from 1987's Nights Are So Long to 2003's Whatcha Want. It opens with one of the best statement songs money can buy, "Dead Jail Or Rock and Roll". It's as great as anything else that existed before or since. From '87-'03, Monroe released six albums and an EP. Every record is represented with the cream of the crop tracks from those releases. I'm sure the running time made some of the cuts difficult. But by and large, there is very little to complain about. His first period can be spotty because of the inconsistency of the players on the records. Michael can play everything, and I mean everything from guitar, vocals, and bass to his trademark harmonica and saxophone. It is at times stronger when he doesn't have to carry the entire weight of the album. Disc 1 also includes a tender duet with Stiv Bators, "It's A Lie". The song is a great tribute to his friend and great inspiration. The true meat are the four songs from 1994's Demolition 23, the only "band" type release included and the most songs from any one album of this time period. It's also the only record represented here that has been out of print since 1995. The band featured Sammy Yaffa and was produced by Little Steven. It is about as perfect of a project as Michael was ever able to put together post Hanoi. They had the sound, the songs, and a producer who was able to get the very best out of Michael and the band. "Nothin's Alright" & "Hammersmith Palais" are completely bulletproof, and it is sad that they have been buried this long and have not been covered by several bands since.

Disc 2 covers Michael's much more consistent current band. The unifying sound and very cohesive quality of this material covers only a six year period. There is nothing from 2002-2009 because that covers the Hanoi reboot that yielded three records with Andy McCoy. The band responsible for the tracks on disc 2 has been the main band Michael has been and is currently working with. From the beginning, Sammy Yaffa on bass, Karl Rockfist on drums, Steve Conte on guitar, and a revolving lead guitar spot that has been occupied by Ginger Wildheart, Dregen (Backyard Babies/Hellacopters), and currently Rich Jones (Black Halos). The pick of the Ginger tracks are represented here in the shape of "Trick Of The Wrist" & "'78". From the Dregen era, you get "Ballad Of The Lower East Side" & "Stained Glass Heart". 2015 happens: exit Dregen, enter Rich Jones, and you get a new injection of fresh blood and songs (very similar to the Demolition 23 stuff) like "Old Kings Road" & "Fist Fulla Dynamite". Included are four unreleased songs with Rich Jones and two closing covers. The first cover is an obscure song called "Get On" from the Finnish band Hurriganes (yes, that is spelled correctly). The original band is very Flamin' Groovies, and Michael's version just revs it up to Little Richard style madness. The closing track is his cover of "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf,  featuring Slash. Originally released on the Coneheads soundtrack, this version is stronger and a bit rawer than what was released prior. Missing in action are guest vocal spots with Backyard Babies' "Rocker", his duet with Axl Rose on the Dead Boys' "Ain't It Fun", the benefit single "Pirates of the Baltic Sea", and bonus songs that were included on Japanese releases.

The Best is quite a slice to bite off and doesn't include any Hanoi Rocks material. Cleopatra has taken great care in properly re-releasing the early Hanoi catalogue in the box set Hanoi Rocks ‎– Strange Boys. It includes four studio albums and the incredible live from the Marquee club All Those Wasted Years. The final studio album Two Steps From The Move was re-released in 2015 by Rock Candy as a two-CD set.

Michael Monroe is a treasure to behold and a must explore for everyone. It is so very short-sighted to pin him as just a glam artist and say that what Hanoi Rocks were doing was the same as anyone else on the Sunset Strip. It was so much more rooted in rock & roll, punk, and early Alice Cooper. They were the perfect band that was tragically cut short when they were not yet 24 years old. Once all of the legal saber-rattling was done, Hanoi was asked if they would like to sue Vince Neil for the compensation of killing their bandmate. Unanimously the band said no. They felt that there was no price that they could accept that would be anything worth their friend's life. Because the band would not accept payment, Vince could not close the book on what he did and would have to live with the fact that he could not buy off the integrity of the band, therefore always knowing that they valued Razzle's life above money and the continuation of their band. That is why Michael Monroe has been great for over 30 years.


-Rob Sheley

https://www.facebook.com/michaelmonroeofficial/
https://www.backstagerockshop.com/products/michael-monroe-the-best-2cd?ls=en

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kris Rodgers - Losing The Frequency

It has already been 15 months since I first teased the arrival of Losing The Frequency - the new album from Kris "Fingers" Rodgers. Its release is finally upon us and has proven to be well worth the wait! Given that I make no apologies for my love of classic rock, it's hardly a shock that I'm so stoked on this album. Out on Rum Bar Records, Losing The Frequency is ten tracks of radio-worthy pop/rock/R & B that take me back to the glorious AOR of my youth.

The first thing that came to my mind with Losing The Frequency was how great it sounds. I immediately had to check who produced it. It turns out it was Rodgers himself in the producer's chair! So I have to correct what I've said about our man Fingers being a triple threat. He's actually a quadruple threat (at least!). Is there anything this guy can't do?! It's likely he will continue to get compared to Elton John for years to come, and not without good reason. But he's probably a little more like the new Leon Russell - a brilliant keyboard sideman who doubles as a formidable singer/songwriter in his own right. He has managed to carve out this very unique space for himself within our underground rock n' roll universe. It's very gratifying to see esteemed publications like Veglam and Uber Rock already offering accolades for his latest effort.

Several of Rodgers's collaborators on Losing The Frequency are themselves well acquainted with the fine art of pop/rock songwriting. Kurt Baker plays bass, Wyatt Funderburk mixed the album, and the amazing Zach Jones makes a guest appearance on guitar. Now that's a star-studded cast! What you have to admire is how Rodgers incorporates his friends' immense talents in support of a musical vision that's uniquely his. If 2014's Headlines established Rodgers as a promising new voice in piano-driven rock, Losing The Frequency is where he fully comes into his own as an artist. Ably backed by The Dirty Gems (on this release Baker, Craig Sala, and Tom Hall), Rodgers has made a record that can stand toe-to-toe with those of his musical heroes.

With just a few notable exceptions, all of the songs here hover right around the four-minute mark. That's right on par for the '70s/'80s era of radio rock from which Rodgers draws so heavily. Yet nothing about what he does sounds stale or bloated. With his booming, soulful voice and hook-laden songwriting style, Rodgers makes classic rock sound timeless instead of dated. Even the grandiose Queen-style epic "Who's Gonna Save You Now" leaves me wanting more - quite a feat for an eight-minute track! I like how there are small touches (the gospel backups on "I Know", the smooth saxophone on "Black Widow") that bring to mind certain excesses of the '80s, yet Rodgers never strays far from a foundation of memorable choruses and strong melodies. "Rock N' Roll Radio" fittingly sounds like a radio hit from an era when the radio still played hits. "Black Widow", the elegant piano ballad from 2014's Whiskey & Soda, gets the full rock treatment here and was a fine choice for the album's lead single. The snappy "Overrated" puts a fresh spin on the '70s heyday of singing piano men. And even when Rodgers gets to show off his tremendous keyboard skills on a number like "No Place To Go", it's completely in service of the song.

Losing The Frequency is an album that breathes new life into the classic rock form. Simply put, Kris Rodgers has a great voice and writes fantastic songs. Regardless of whatever else changes in the musical landscape, talent never goes out of style. Like label mates Watts, Rodgers creates music that will appeal not only to those of us who were weaned on the classics, but also to a whole new generation of fans. Losing The Frequency is available now as a digital release - with CDs coming very soon! 



-L.R.

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/losing-the-frequency 
http://www.krisrodgersmusic.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/krisrodgersmusic/ 
https://www.facebook.com/RumBarRecords 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Hipshakes - "Listening"

Fresh off of touting Andrew Anderson's new band Freak Genes the other day, I am quite pleased to report that there's also a brilliant new Hipshakes 45 just out on the Manchester label Crocodile Records. After 16 years, 4 LPs, and a whole slew of tremendous singles, The Hipshakes require no introduction to any longtime fan of garage punk. "Listening"/"Outside Lines" is the band's second single on Crocodile - one that the label is pitching as a double A-side affair. I suppose the fact that I've chosen to embed the B-side indicates that I'm not about to argue with the label's assertion. You get two legit hits from The Hipshakes here - and I'm indeed torn as to which one I prefer. "Listening" barrels along at a crackling pace and makes me wanna run dance around the room like a maniac. "Outside Lines" comes on with an extended sludgy intro then really takes off just like you'd expect it would. This track is vintage Hipshakes - flirting with full-fledged pop sensibilities but ultimately sounding like the work of a band that above all else just loves to bash it out. Both songs have insightful things to say lyrically, and all in all this single finds one of our finest garage-punk bands at the very top of its game. With only 300 total copies pressed, you better move fast on this one!



-L.R.

https://www.discogs.com/sell/item/492238144
https://www.facebook.com/thehipshakes/
https://www.facebook.com/CrocodileRecs/

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Retro Reviews: The Waldos - Rent Party

Review by Rob Sheley

It could easily be argued that The Waldos' Rent Party is the best record that Johnny Thunders didn't appear on. Originally released in 1994, three years after Johnny's death, his foil Walter Lure created one of the most perfect rock & roll records released at that time. Originally comprised of 12 songs (three covers & one from the Heartbreakers days), this album saw Walter picking up the torch and running with it. The record stands up as a tripod with L.A.M.F. and So Alone.

Produced by Andy Shernoff of the Dictators and featuring special guests Michael Monroe, Jesse Malin, Danny Ray, and Daniel Rey, Rent Party showcases the heavy girl group influence that is evident in both the Dolls & Heartbreakers records - making this a welcomed addition to the catalogue. Unfortunately this is the only one. Within one year of its initial release, original drummer Charlie Sox & bassist Tony Coiro had passed away, leaving Rent Party as the only snapshot of a band that had been playing since the mid '80s. The best rock & roll records emphasize the roll, which is always far harder to do than the rock. Everyone can rock. But if you can showcase the roll, then you've got something. Rent Party toggles that line perfectly with the style and swagger that is missing from making a good record great and a great record classic. The record was re-released and remastered in 2013 by Jungle Records (as well as getting a proper vinyl issue as well) - raising the overall sound to proper levels, showcasing the sax & harmonica parts, and adding some bite to the guitars and moving them more to the front. Any one of these songs could have made the cut for L.A.M.F. You could easily put them right next to "Pirate Love" or "Get Off The Phone". "Flight", from the What Goes Around or Down to Kill compilations, gets a proper release. "Never Get Away", "Count Down Love" (penned by Jerry Nolan), and "Love That Kills" exemplify the simple direct nature of rock & roll at its very best. The covers featured here show that the band could take anything and make it its own. "Busted", the Harlan Howard song made famous by Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, the wild party of the Doc Pomus song "Seven Day Weekend" (originally recorded in 1983 by Walter as The Heroes [also find the Dolls version, it is killer as well]), and the closing raucous of "Party Lights" (nearly unrecognizable to the original in its power) show that Walter and the band were well-schooled in their influences and how to incorporate them into their rock & roll soup. The 2013 reissue on Jungle adds the original 1991 7" tracks (recordings prior to and different from the LP versions) of "Crazy Little Baby" and what would become the LP's opener "Cry Baby". In addition, the reissue includes the 7" from the Blessed (featuring D Generation bassist Howie Pyro). The two tracks from 1979 are very similar to the work of the Zeros - nothing bad, just a comparison point.  

Rent Party is a lost gem originally released on Sympathy For The Record Industry with little fanfare. It got a bit lost in the shuffle of Long Gone John's insane release schedule at that time. I cannot urge you enough to make the record part of your collection. You will be thrilled to have it and only disappointed that you haven't had it since its original release 'cause you could have enjoyed it that much longer!



-Rob Sheley

https://www.facebook.com/theWALDOS/