Friday, February 05, 2016

Music Review: Fuzzy Vox: No Landing Plan




No Landing Plan
Fuzzy Vox
Fuzzy Vox Facebook Page


The second album from French power pop trio, Fuzzy Vox, No Landing Plan, is an upbeat collection of songs combining the best attributes of melodic power pop and hard-edged garage rock. The band travels out of their comfort zone into social commentary and psych-pop on a few of the tracks, without sacrificing the infectious beat. 


Fuzzy Vox formed in 2011 in Joinville Le Pont, France, on the outskirts of Paris. The band released a few EPs before releasing 2014’s On Heat, their debut album.   

Singer Hugo Fabri has the vocal chops to veer from melodic powerpop to raunchy garage rock with no detectable accent. And he supplies the album’s brisk, no-frills guitar work and keyboards. Drummer Nico Maia and bassist Gregoire Dessons form a sturdy musical backbeat, keeping the album’s groove consistent.


For No Landing Plan, the band ventured to California to record, enlisting producers Ryan Castle, who’s worked with Snow Patrol, Black Sabbath, Billy Idol, ZZ Top, etc., and Andy Brohard (Wolfmother, Tegan and Sara, the Hives). The songs were mastered by Howie Weinberg, who has worked with Nirvana, the Ramones, Herbie Hancock, and other legendary artists. The ace recording team renders the band’s well-crafted songs into crisp, infectious tracks for maximum danceability.


“Explosion of Love” kicks off the album with an infectious beat designed to make you move. The frenetic rhythm of “Distracted” is great for pogoing or frugging, a ‘60s garage rock revival that channels the Sonics. “Told You Before” with its out-of-kilter energy and gritty vocals, has that unapologetic brashness of mid-60s Kinks’ and Who. “Raw Evil” starts out a bit like Elvis Costello, then segues into heavier garage rock. “Bo Diddley” pays tribute to one of the architects of rock ‘n’ roll with its frenetic beat. (The band’s featured a window-rattling version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” on their Technicolor EP.)

 “Don’t Leave Me Behind” is bouncy, skinny-tie power pop to the nth power, and “I Got a Girl” draws from Plimsouls influences with a wilder pace.

 The band proves they’re not afraid to tackle serious subjects in “They Shot Charlie”, about the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack. The tone picks up again with the bouncy “Easy Street”. The album’s last track "A Reason to Love" is lush, psych-pop with a guitar theme out of a TV western.  A spoken word interlude near the end fades out with some distorted guitar, making it the album's most ambitious track. 

Pure, high energy songs, tight playing and production, and a groovy ‘60s era comic book album cover make Fuzzy Vox’s No Landing Plan a  30 minute joyride for fans of fun, unpretentious rock ‘n’ roll.







Sunday, January 24, 2016

Music Review:Sci-Fi Romance: Dust Among the Stars



Dust Among the Stars
Sci-Fi Romance
Broken Image Entertainment



The new album by L.A. based alt-folk band Sci-fi Romance, Dust Among the Stars, creates a somber landscape that pulls you in without depressing you. The songs make you think more than brood, and ultimately, show a glimmer of hope. Another strong effort, it’s just as thought-provoking as Kotrla and company’s previous releases, including …and surrender my  body to the flame and The Ghost of John Henry.  

Singer-songwriter Vance Kotrla finds inspiration in found film, horror movies and quirky pop culture. There’s a sense of this, of the atmospheric and the unusual, on Dust Among the Stars, even when the songs themselves don’t deal with those subjects.

Most of the songs on Dust deal with love, the uncertainty of life – normal fodder for pop and rock songs, but the presentation gives it a depth not found in many rock releases.
   “If I Fell”, combines pop love song sentiment underscored with somber thumping rhythm. This gives it a haunting charm that’s neither mainstream nor pure Goth. “Everything Burns” reflects on the lost love and the passage of time, with Jody Stark’s plaintive cello emphasizing the message.

“Pale Blue Dot”, inspired by a photo of Earth taken by Voyager I, puts man’s place in the universe in perspective.(“All we are/ all we’ve ever been/ a pale blue dot on the head of a pin”) The track is dedicated to astronomer Carl Sagan.

“Shakespeare’s Lovers” features guest vocalist Kristen Vogel , an opera singer whose performed with St. Petersburg Opera and the Asheville Lyric Opera, among others. Her soulful but tender soprano brings this tale of star-cross lovers to life. She also adds vocals to the romantic “Let’s Run”, her warm, reassuring voice meshes with Kotrla’s baritone. The closing ballad “When You Wake”, consisting of only guitar and vocal, has the quiet comfort of a lullaby. 

Dust Among the Stars is the most accessible of the Sci-Fi Romance CDs, but that doesn’t mean Vance Kotrla has lost his edge. On the contrary, Sci-Fi Romance is just tapping the surface of their capabilities.


You can watch the video for “If I Fell” on YouTube




Friday, January 15, 2016

Music Reviews: Micky Dolenz:The MGM Singles Collection and The First Bobby Hart Solo Album



Micky Dolenz--The MGM Singles Collection
The First Bobby Hart Solo Album
7A Records





This September marks the 50th anniversary of the Monkees TV show, and the introduction of Davy, Micky, Mike and Peter into music and pop culture history. The TV show’s two year run is the most beloved creation featuring the guys, but the following 48 years the guys stayed active, recording and touring either solo or together in various formations. The causal fan on the street may only remember the various reunion tours, Mike’s solo career, and have a vague recollection of “Pool It” or  Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart  You’d really need to be a hardcore fan to remember the other projects Davy, Peter and Micky participated in between the end of the 60s’ Monkees and their reunion in the ‘80s.  



England’s 7A Records, the brainchild of broadcaster Iain Lee  and music executive Glenn Gretlund, both long-time Monkees fans. The label’s name comes from the spoken intro at the beginning of “Daydream Believer”, when Davy asks, “What number is this, Chip?”, and receives the curt response “7A!”The label is dedicated to releasing long-lost Monkees related gems, including music by affiliated artists. 7A recently released The First Bobby Hart Solo Album by songwriter Bobby Hart of Boyce and Hart fame.   



The label’s first release, Micky Dolenz--The MGM Singles Collection arrived on July 15th , 2015, and is available as a vinyl LP and digital download. Most songs on this collection have been floating around Youtube and been shared as MP3s on various message boards for years. Thanks to 7A, they’ve finally gotten a proper release.



After being on a highly rated TV show, with a whirlwind of  hit songs and tours, Dolenz had to start over from square one (as did Peter and Davy), given how ex-teenie bopper idols were typecast  in the 70s (or anytime, really.) Writing and recording at his home studio and at other locations throughout L.A., he began recasting his music career.  

Admittedly, the songs on the MGM Singles Collection aren’t the cream of the crop, but Micky still had the vocal chops of his Monkees days. Any extracurricular activities with the Hollywood Vampires didn’t diminish it. Speaking of the notorious party animals, Dolenz’s Hollywood Vampire partner-in-crime, Harry Nilsson, wrote “Daybreak” a vibrant calypso number, and the album has four different versions of the song. 

There's the traditional, bouncy pop of "Easy on You", and the plaintive commentary on human nature in "It's Amazing to Me", songs that are easy on the ears, but not particularly memorable. The quirky “Unattended in the Dungeon” has some dicey lyrics, but, after all, it was the ‘70s, the decade of “Angie, Baby” and “Run, Joey, Run”











Dolenz and producer Michael Lloyd formed a duo they dubbed Starship in 1972, and worked together on their version of “Johnny B. Goode”, (the song Dolenz performed during his audition with the Monkees) and several other tunes. 

In the audio interview included with the download, Dolenz tells Lee says he recorded the songs just for fun, without any expectations of having a hit single. Mike Curb and MGM promoted the songs just the same, but despite the PR efforts, the records sank without a trace.

The accompanying booklet reveals some interesting tidbits abut the sessions. Among, them - the late, great Cozy Powell played drums on some of the recordings (which ones aren’t indicated), and Dolenz recorded “Family of Man” (later a hit for Three Dog Night) and “Since I Fell for You” and other American standards.


7A Records promises more Monkees-oriented releases, including (fingers crossed) a DVD release of Keep Off My Grass, a marijuana themed comedy from 1975 starring Dolenz. You can find more info on their website. (See links at the end of the review.)
Micky Dolenz- The MGM Singles Collection is an interesting addendum to Monkees history, sure to be enjoyed loyal Monkees fans and collectors of lesser-known musical side trips.


The First Bobby Hart Solo Album
7A Records 



You’ll do a double take when you hear “Funky Karma” the first song on the re-release of The First Bobby Hart Solo Album. When you think of Bobby Hart you think of “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” and other Boyce and Hart hits, or “Last Train to Clarksville” and other Monkees hits, so it’s a surprise to hear the R and B tinged songs on this album, originally released in 1980. Boyce and Hart wrote hundreds of pop songs, but left to his own devices, Hart’s material is urban R & B, with an equal mix of funky grooves and tender ballads. The album opener “Funky Karma” would be right at home on any R & B playlist. “I’m On Fire” is a sexy dance floor track, and “I Can’t Fight It” draws from the the soul hits of the Moments and Delfonics with disco on the side. “You’re Breaking My Heart/Street Angel”, about a carousing lover, is underscored with a slinky rhythm. “First Impressions” deals with the hopefulness of new love.



“Hurt So Bad,” penned by Hart, Randazzo and Weinstein, was a big hit for Little Anthony and the Imperials in 1965, and has been covered by Linda Ronstadt and many other artists. The composer’s take is pure slow jam as evidenced in this clip from a TV show in Hong Kong. 





The re-release has three previously unissued tracks –“Runnin”, “I’m Just Takin’ the Long Way Home”, and the upbeat disco of “You Can’t See Thunder”. All of the tracks were written or co-written by Hart, with collaborators Bobby Weinstein, Teddy Randazzo and Barry Richards. 
The 24 page booklet included with the CD contains many photos from Hart’s personal collection, lyrics, album credits, and an interview Iain Lee conducted with Hart.


Produced by Hart, with Richards as associate producer, the album was recorded in Hollywood in 1980. It initially received a limited release in a few countries, including Germany, Scandinavia and Italy. This 7A release marks the first time the album been officially available in the U.S. and UK.



Links:


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Retro Album Review: UFO: Walk On Water,1995





Walk On Water
UFO
Released 1995
Good luck finding it on Amazon Marketplace or eBay!

I discovered Walk On Water a few months ago after cruising Youtube for UFO videos. The first studio album with Michael Schenker on guitar since 1978 eluded me when it was first released. That’s probably because Nine Inch Nails and alt-rock were my chosen musical milieu at the time. Had someone told me UFO and Schenker were back together, I would have dismissed the information with “Are those guys still around?” Ahh, the follies of youth.   

Now wiser and more open minded, I decided to listen to the album. I wasn’t expecting much, because the facts didn’t sound promising. A 1970s hard rock band’s classic line-up reassembles 17 years later, reuniting guitarist and singer who hated each other; the musical climate has changed, leaving hard rock forgotten by the mainstream; you’re older, they’re older, and so on and so on. It seemed like a set up for disappointment.


Boy, was I wrong! You know what happens when you assume. Walk On Water is a fitting follow-up to Obsession, the last Schenker-era studio album. Produced by Ron Nevison, who helmed Lights Out, Strangers in the Night and Obsession, this album packs a wallop. The classic‘70s lineup is here -  Schenker, Mogg, Way, Raymond and Parker. They all hung around for a few years of touring except Parker, who was replaced by Simon Wright for live shows. 

Schenker’s guitar playing on Walk on Water is as mesmerizing as ever, reeling you in from the first crunchy riff on the album opener, “Self-Made Man”. It’s like time stood still. The song is an indictment of greedy businessmen, with fierce vocals to match on the verses, and a softer, meditative chorus. This song has some of Mogg’s best lyrics and it’s become one of my favorite UFO songs. “Venus” is an ode to the ups and downs of love, with a pristine, melodic solo from Schenker.



The songs deal with more grown-up concerns, as the band members were around mid-life crisis age in 1995. “Pushed to the Limit” rages against the sands of time going through the hourglass “My doctor says it ain't right/For a man my age to fight”, Mogg proclaims, not ready for the rocking chair by a long shot. Schenker’s razor-sharp riffs are a perfect complement to the lyrics. “Running on Empty” covers the same subject matter with a bit of romance and sexy, bluesy guitar. The evil ex wife in “Knock,Knock” gets the house and the car and is back for more.


 “Dreaming of Summer” is a haunting tale of an unemployed man watching his life slip away.  It’s a real-life scenario a lot of people can identify with, balanced by Schenker’s tasteful acoustic guitar. It’s WOW’s “Love to Love.” Spiritual and uplifting despite the title, “Darker Days” is melodic rock at its best – once you hear it, it’s hard to get it out of your head.  

“Stopped (By a Bullet of Love)” seems to be about picking up and falling in love with a girl at a bar. What inspired it?  Never ask about a song’s backstory, just enjoy it. You may discover things you’d be better off not knowing. And what’s that bit about Arizona? Didn’t Schenker live in Arizona for awhile?

There are new versions of “Doctor Doctor” and “Lights Out” to end the album, but why try to improve on perfection?

I find myself playing this as much as Obsession or Lights Out. Despite the album’s quality, I have no interest in listening to the two reunion albums that followed - the one side live/one side original album Covenant and the all-original Sharks. The latter sounds a little too Spinal Tap-ish for my comfort, so I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Twenty years have passed since Walk on Water. The reunion ended in the early ‘00s because, as the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

                                                                 Late 1970s UFO
                                                     
Everyone’s doing great staying far away from one another as they enter their (semi) retirement years. Pete Way beat cancer and he’s working on his solo album, and both Mikey and UFO are touring non-stop. We have more musical output and nobody is getting punched in the stomach or storming offstage.    

Present-day UFO fares well with Vinnie Moore on guitar, but that je ne sais quoi (we know who that is) is missing. The synergy between Mogg, Schenker, Way, Raymond and Parker was absolutely electric back in the day. Another reunion is unlikely, but we’ll always have our memories.













Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DVD Review : The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years

                                                               Faster Pussycat



After remaining in official release limbo for decades, The Decline of Western Civilization: Part II: The Metal Years is now available as part of a  4 DVD (or Blu Ray) set of all three Decline movies directed by Penelope Spheeris – the original documentary about L.A.’s late ‘70s punk scene, the third installment, released in 1998, about gutterpunks in Hollywood and Decline II, about 80s Sunset Strip metal (aka hair metal). The set has a fourth DVD featuring additional footage from the documentaries.

The first and third documentaries dealt with Hollywood punk rockers, homeless or otherwise, and Decline II, the trio’s red-headed stepchild, looks at the style over substance days of Sunset Strip hair metal. The documentary features stars and wanna-bes of the Sunset Strip scene, fans, DJs, club owners, and several hard rock stars from the 1970s/early 1980s.

Spheeris interviews hard rock/metal icons who influenced the younger musicians hope to emulate. A chatty, level-headed Ozzy fixes breakfast and warns fledgling bands “Be nice to everyone on the way up, cause you’ll see them on the way down.” The L.A. skyline gleams in the background as Lemmy talks about going for your dreams. Paul Stanley lies on a bed draped with groupies. Gene Simmons is surrounded by girls in lingerie buying lingerie. Alice Cooper notes "Punk (rock) was getting to be techno.. metal saved rock 'n' roll for the '80s." and Steve Tyler and Joe Perry talk about the millions they made and blew on cocaine.

                                                             Ozzy in the kitchen
 

In her June 17, 1988 review, the New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote, 

In Miss Spheeris's earlier hell-in-a-handbasket documentary, the original ''Decline of Western Civilization'' about punk rockers, the brainpower quotient was somewhat higher than it is among heavy-metal fans. That's one reason that the new film is both so funny and so sad. For all the amusingly fatuous remarks heard here -and Miss Spheeris has a great ear for these - the overriding dimness of most of the fans and musicians is frightening.”

Giving the metal kids the benefit of the doubt, a filmmaker can spin the subject anyway he or she wants with leading questions and selective editing. Maybe there were smart kids who didn’t make the final cut or weren’t interested in being interviewed. If there were any honor students prowling the Strip circa 1987, they kept their IQs well under wraps. One of the featured bands, Seduce, seemed pretty pragmatic about the whole scene, including groupies. This earthiness didn’t translate into success or infamy. They released two albums on small labels, and are now nowhere to be found. Spheeris saves the only thrash band (and the smartest of the film's new bands) -Megadeth - for the end of the film.  Dave Mustaine may be many things, but he's no dummy. (Check out the extended interview with him in the bonus DVD.)

The newer bands have the gift of gab, but their subject matter is somewhat limited. There’s Nadir D'Priest and the band London, “the training school for rock stars” (Izzy Stradlin and Nikki Sixx, among others, went on to fame after leaving the group). They’re party monsters, but they come with a warning, as one bandmember exclaims “We are not role models for your life.” Odin, whose singer is touted as the next David Lee Roth, cavort in a hot tub with groupies, contemplating what will become of them if they don’t hit it big. Poison, whose first album was a platinum success, seem likeable and well-grounded in this early stage of their career. (The years, as we know, have not been kind.)  

                                                                "Actressing"


As for Decline II’s girls of the Sunset Strip, the female musicians (Vixen, Jaded Lady) are just as ambitious but not quite as dim as some of their male counterparts. The female fans are another story. The girls participating in the Gazarri Dance Contest seem happy to strip, I mean, gyrate, for the ogling hair metal judges. The reigning “Miss Gazarri” says she hopes to continue with her modeling and “actressing” after  she passes on her crown. (Christina Applegate allegedly based her Married with Children character Kelly Bundy on this aspiring thespian.) 



The onstage segments with London, Lizzy Borden, Odin and Faster Pussycat make the viewer ponder “So is this is what an NC-17 Spinal Tap would look like.”  London’s singer finally lights a Soviet flag on fire after a few miscues, and the band’s political anthem, “Russian Winter” won’t put Bob Dylan or Neil Young out of business. The extra interview footage  has several X-rated revelations. (Now where was that chain hidden again?) 




Decline II’s most infamous interview, with W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes, shows the dark underbelly to all the leather and studs bravado. Soused to the gills, Holmes sits in a raft in his swimming pool chugging from a bottle of vodka while his Mom looks on pool side. He jokes about groupies, being an alcoholic, and proclaims, “I’m a piece of crap.” Spheeris asks, “Think you might drink because you’re covering up pain?” “Yeah,” Chris answers, then dunks under the water, evading any self-analysis. (Watch the unedited interview on the bonus disc til the bitter end to feel really uncomfortable.) Update: Chris relocated to France and is still touring, recording, and making music videos. His latest album has the delightful title Shittin' Bricks



It’s easy to dismiss metal bands of the ‘80s Sunset Strip based on their looks and image. Most of these bands had musical skills and could entertain an audience. Unfortunately, 90% of them didn’t do anything but blindly follow the Aqua-netted path Motley Crue had paved (and not as well). Money talks – that’s one of the differences between the metal rockers in “Decline II” and the punk rockers in “Decline I”. In the original Decline, the kids made music their way and embraced rebellion against the norm. In Decline II, it was all about fame and money.

The fans and groupies who lived the scene look back at the time fondly. To the causal observer, it was a gold mine for derision and acerbic, play by play music video commentary. After awhile, even disparaging the bands got monotonous. There wasn’t a lot of deviation from the fluffy-haired sex and partying formula, and hair metal succumbed to overexposure (and grunge) around 1991.


Highly recommended as a reminder of the “What were they thinking?” 1980s, Decline II is all sex and drugs, alcohol and ambition, with none of the cerebral or societal discourse of Decline I or III. But sometimes, as another ‘80s icon sang, girls (and boys) just wanna have fun .

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Runaways Bassist Jackie Fox: Kim Fowley Raped Me in 1975




Jackie Fox of the Runaways : Manager Kim Fowley Raped Me - The Huffington Post

Women, and especially teenage girls, had NO voice in the 1970s and for a good part of the 1980s regarding sexual assault. Even strong, ambitious women and girls could be at the mercy of a powerful (or conniving) man and wouldn’t be believed by anyone. Things started to change in the 1990s.

Kim Fowley, the Runaways manager, was given a pass for his behavior by many in the music scene because he was a colorful character and an all-around advocate for rock ‘n’ roll. While he seemed like a charismatic, but somewhat grating, huckster from afar, many people throughout the decades have related stories about being victimized/almost victimized or just plain creeped out by his behavior. (Read some of the comments underneath the article.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Single Review : Steve Hooker: Otis Lift Me/ Toots Shuffle









Otis Lift Me/Toots Shuffle
Pimphouse Records

This single from rockabilly guitarist Steve Hooker (formerly of The Heat and Boz and the Bozmen) has all the bluesy swagger we’ve come to expect from him. 

Both cuts are winners for fans of blues and rockabilly or anybody who likes to rock out.  Side A - Otis Lift Me is an infectious tune that will have you bopping around in no time.

Side B - Toots Shuffle is heavier, and boasts crunchy, commanding riffs. It’s an instrumental slow grind, with some down ‘n’ dirty harmonica spicing up the proceedings. 

Steve’s band tours extensively throughout the UK and Europe. Go to Stevehooker.co.uk to buy a copy of the single or check out tour dates.