Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chris Milam--- Kids These Days


Sometimes you just know.  It didn't take more than one listen to Kids These Days to convince me. Chris Milam's voice rides the edge of John Denver's, the very slight tremelo embellishing a song which could easily have been a hit in any of the decades since Denver dominated radio and TV in the seventies. And, sure, it is somewhat of an anomaly, but Milam is not one to cop another person's sound or aura. It just so happened that the voice (and song) has that sound, nothing more. I mean, others might be happy to sound like everyone else---God knows there are enough in the tribute and vocal competition game who are trying to do that--- but Milam has the music in him and he takes it wherever it happens to go.


He is more upbeat than Denver which turns out to be a good thing. After Kids he bounces from one to another of his originals, each written and performed to semi-perfection, or so I think. (Semi- only because perfection is unattainable) There is magic in the grooves here--- All Of Our Ghosts a mid-tempo ballad of sorts, helped along with what sounds like string ensemble; Autumn a slow-rocking tour de force of emotion and voice; Tell Me Something I Don't Know a march-tempo rocker; and an album-ender of which John Denver would have been proud--- At the End of the Day--- a soaring and all-too-short piece (1:23) which wraps up a very impressive collection of songs.

 
It is not just the voice, though Milam has one of the better voices I've heard in some time. It is the heart. You don't write music like this without one and judging from the quality of the songs his is a good one. Love, life, heartbreak, wonder are all topics he touches upon and very well indeed.

Look, I debated whether to even mention Denver. So many of us old fogies are so staid in our ways that we hardly even notice him these days except for the most hardcore fans. But Denver was a good guy and talented as hell, whether you like his music or not. Only time will tell whether Milam meets the requirement for sainthood, but he sure does when it comes to talent.

The album is titled Kids These Days, after the song. I recommend it wholeheartedly if you like mainstream pop/folk/songwriters. Hell, I even recommend it if you don't.

Added bonus--- this is one beautifully produced album. Worth it for that alone. Seriously.  

Quicksilver Daydream--- A Study in Psych

This would be easier to write if everyone had lived my life, for music was a large part of it. I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties and have since seen the ups and downs of musical trends most of you cannot imagine because while the oldest amongst us loved music, theirs was filtered through jukeboxes and radio stations and a few friends who had the desire to hear more and share. So while everyone shared the Beatles experience (we could not get away from it, in fact), the overall effect missed on a massive scale. We remember the hits but few remember the scene except as described above. Most never experienced the listening parties or the hanging out at record stores or the afternoons and nights of the lesser and unknowns played through headphones, the world inside all that mattered. That is what music was to the few and, like scientists immersed in science, we learned. We learned music and its many different paths but mostly we learned how to listen.

And I have been listening to Quicksilver Daydream's Echoing Halls for some time now. What started out as a simple folk/psych album has turned into a full blown experience. Each listen has peeled back a layer and the sounds, as many as there are, are beginning to make sense. Allow me to list what I have heard--- early Jefferson Airplane, The Soundcarriers, The Kingston Trio as heard through the experience of a monk's abbey, Anthony Newley, music fit for Broadway, a sixties junior high rock band, theme music for cinema, Sage Run, John Stewart, and Godley & Creme. And I'm not done yet.

Confusing? I should hope so. Those references came out of ten+ listens and in sometimes short bursts, the sound coming together sometimes for a measure, sometimes for a chorus, but there nonetheless. Don't confuse what I heard for influences. Chances are that The Daydream, who is actually none other than Adam Lytle, has heard only a few of the artists and did not set out to insert something akin to a theme for a hobbit-like or spaghetti western movie. These things just happen. Sometimes organically, and I am assuming that that is the case here, Lytle entering the studio with nothing more than an idea of the sound he wanted on some of the songs, the others solid in his head and creative heart.

In the end, what it all boils down to is psyche, the sound dense and lo-fi, thanks to extreme use of organ, mellotron, reverb and echo, and the sometimes monk-like choruses. Expect nothing flashy. The sound is the key and it is a good sound for those who dream in quicksilver, the mind loose and free.

Bottom line: I like this. I like this a lot. There are surprises throughout and I am enjoying every single one of them. There are caveats here though. Don't expect The Moody Blues or Pink Floyd. Expect the music to change on each track and even within certain tracks. Listen with an open mind, no expectations. Follow those guidelines and you might find Quicksilver Daydream much to your liking.

You can stream the album here. And don't be a needle-dropper (a person who listens to five seconds of a few songs before throwing an album on the trash heap). Give it a chance. Give yourself a chance. This could be one of those albums you might never have heard but for your adventurousness. One of those which shows you that music is only as dead as the person who listens.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bravo Max--- Milking the Seventies (and Beyond)

Satin Whale. It took me a while but that's what the opening track of Bullfighter Blues brought to mind the first time I heard it. Never heard of them? Think the jazzy side of Krautrock back the the early seventies. Satin Whale was one of the Brain Trust--- the many German bands which became import classics on the Brain label: Grobschnitt, Thirsty Moon, Neu!, Cluster, and Guru Guru. Some damn fine stuff came out of the Hamburg-based label and Bravo Max, had they stayed with the sound of “Prelude to Clean Slate” could have passed as Brainy, but they didn't. And couldn't. They have music to make.

The music they make, at least on this latest release, is hardly that narrow, the trio reaching out to a string of seventies bands, either knowingly or otherwise. I loved the late-sixties and early-seventies for the wide-open attitude toward music. And not just the hits. I loved the deep, deep tracks by the lesser- and unknowns, the bands few remember but about which there seems to be new interest. If there wasn't, there would not be a Brain box set on the horizon.

Bravo Max is not the only band out there playing loose with the sounds of the past. Hell, I'm pretty sure most don't even know the sounds are of the past, but I can point to Cinci's Mad Anthony as fellow envelope pushers. I'm sure there are others but just none which come to mind at the moment. I love what they're doing, though, and couldn't be more thrilled with Bullfighter Blues.



I hear bits and pieces of May Blitz, Sir Lord Baltimore, The Groundhogs, Jukin' Bone, Damnation, Dust, and others. The thing about these bands is that there was no perfection in their music. They played with abandon, either not having the deep pockets to perfect or preferring to not. Their vocals are hardly perfect but somehow perfectly fitting. Their bedrock grooves allow the guitar room to move, and move it does. They play everything from the jazzy (“Prelude to Clean Slate”) to the punchy (“MI-5's Alive”) to the semi-psychedelic (“Shake Loose Paranoia”) to latent R&B/Soul (“Clean Slate?) and do it with a flair you seldom hear anymore.

I guess you could also call the entire album prog, too, if you want to. They certainly do not live off of major chords most of the time and they change time signatures on certain songs like newborns change diapers. Neither quickly nor smoothly (what the biz sometimes calls “tight”) but openly and honestly. They give the music, warts and all.



Favorite tracks: “Prelude to Clean Slate,” though it certainly could be longer (it clocks in at a mere 1:32); “Clean Slate,” thanks to its R&B groove and horns; “Raise a Toast,” a cross between real seventies rock and what the major labels would have preferred; and “Black Sugar,” for the rhythm and chorus. Good, good stuff.

There is an awful lot of good music thus far this year but this one is special. I can see myself playing this as a palate cleanser, an album to clear the standard out of my ears, to clear the head. It might very well take one of the top spots the course of this year, it being just far enough outside the envelope to make a real dent.

And to think I almost passed this one by. Man, am I happy I didn't!  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Highlight Bomb--- Acing Their Finals!

(Originally written in 2012, the year the album Finals was released.  Which doesn't make it less viable.  The album, in fact, is one of those which stands the test of time very well.  This reprint courtesy of a brand new release by the band--- Slobberknockers, which I will review as soon as I take care of this...)

Ladies and Gentlemen, from Seattle--- Highlight Bomb!

I mean well. I started meaning well on the Net by bookmarking things. There was never enough time, I thought, so I would bookmark pages in the hopes of getting back to them later. Soon, I had hundreds of bookmarks (and still do). My sister, when checking her email on my computer one day, asked me why. At that time, I could not think of one good reason. In the back of my mind, I always hoped to get to some of them.

Last week, I clicked on a page for a band calling themselves Highlight Bomb. I have no idea where I found the link, whether it was passed along by a friend or just popped up one day on one of my many searches and I, always interested in things Seattle, saved it. After listening to a few of the songs, I regretted not getting to them right after bookmarking. These guys are not only good, but diversified, musically. They crank and boogie and metal out extremely well indeed, with the occasional pop tune thrown in for good measure. To make up for losing them in the mountainous pile of projects I wish I could get to but somehow seem to not, here are a couple of videos and thumbnail reviews of songs left behind but now getting ample listening time. I’m impressed.

Okay, they’re really from Tacoma, but seriously, would any of you looked had I said Tacoma? Fewer, I will bet. Maybe a lot fewer. Such is the power of a music scene. While Seattle and Tacoma have always shared a scene, mention Tacoma and you get a blank stare. Except from Sonics and Wailers fans. The thing is, these guys are good! And the sense of humor doesn’t hurt. Allow me to give you a blow-by-blow description in case you’re strapped for time (or are just an idiot who whines about music being a thing of the past but who won’t take a couple of minutes to click and listen to something new and good):

No Empire— Is this grunge? Truth be told, I stopped listening as soon as people started calling it grunge. All of those bands you loved to listen to like Mudhoney and Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam and Nirvana were just rockers to me. Maybe a little more angst-ridden, but just rock. This is a guitar-driven song reminding me a bit of a toned down Ticktockman or a King’s X. A little more basic with more standard hooks. I dig it.

Fall Classic— leans more toward the power pop side of the street. Fountains of Wayne with less production. Great track. Good hook.


I Don’t Mind— Wait! Acoustic? Yep. These guys do it all. Outstanding acoustic pop, in fact. Normally, I would complain because I am not a huge fan of acoustic— it has been overdone a bit—- but I dig all music when it is done well and these guys do it well. I like this a lot. Even with the strings (or is it only cello).

Devolver— Now we’re talking! A step into Freedom Hawk territory. Crankin’ hard rock. In fact, this song sounds a lot like the Hawk, a band I’ve been following for some time now. Crunching rhythm guitar, heavy beat. Just to compare:


Wow Culture Lovers— This starts off like a speed metal prelude, but settles down to a solid hard rocker. Whoever writes their lyrics has a nice touch. It comes through on all the songs, but I especially like the lyrics on this one.

Chalk It Up As a Good Memory— Chunky rhythm guitar and power pop. Great combination if you ask me. This one is upbeat and powerful. As with all of HB‘s songs, they are recorded loud to be played loud, as the old LP stickers used to say. And I love me a little guitar feedback now and then.

The Storm— These guys love their hard rock. This one, Toto, is right now my favorite. Heavy rhythm guitar with seventies hair band vocals and a slower beat. Had Cinderella played this at the one concert I saw them play, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye. But I like these guys more than I ever liked them.

Coal Rush— What the hell? Speed Americana? It’s like speed metal with a banjo or something. Dig the chorus, but think it will take a bit of time to adjust. Interesting, to say the least. And is that a female voice I hear? Damn! This is really good!

https://highlightbomb.bandcamp.com/track/coal-rush

Bury You— Of all the song titles on this page, I would have thought this the hardest of them all with the exception of The Storm. This is mainstream rock and nothing like the other tracks there. I’m impressed! I think I’m ready for that ode to pretentious bands of the late seventies now. Except this isn’t pretentious at all. I would take this over most of the inane bands I’ve heard over the years anytime. Good track, but a surprise!

1-800-FIGHTUS— I knew they would get there. Screaming punk. I can see the saliva dribbling down the singer’s chin now. Very cool.

Seriously, if you have an adventurous bone in your body and like power pop/metal, these guys could be the sleeper of your collection. The more I hear them, the more I’m liking them. Bombs, and whoever sent me the link to this page, my apologies for not paying attention. You have earned your slot in my rockin’ hall of fame (small letters intentional— can’t be getting sued by those wankers in Cleveland now, can I? Now with my bank account).


These songs are not on the Finals album but they will give you a good idea of who Highlight Bomb are:



Frank O. Gutch Jr.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sam Wilson--- Green Gates

For an album made mainly because Sam Wilson did not want to leave the handful of songs he had ready in the dust, Green Gates is an astonishing accomplishment. Normally plucking guitar for Charlottesville's up and coming Sons of Bill, Peyton Tochterman's High Society and the back-in-the-game (and about time) Shannon Worrell, he sidesteps into a world inhabited by bandmates Brian Chenault, Wells Hanley, Brian Caputo and Darrell Muller to unload eleven outstanding originals worthy of two of the best of the 'lost' late sixties and early seventies bands, unusual in their composition and produced to perfection. The bands of which I speak are Byzantium, a UK group who produced a stunning album picked up by Warner Brothers Records in the States and quickly buried by the apathy of radio (The second LP was released on A&M in the UK and was not picked up in the States, possibly due to the round of silence surrounding the WB album), and Chicago's much respected Illinois Speed Press. Despite the lack of success of both bands (Illinois Speed Press did sell, but not in the numbers Columbia Records had hoped), they were on the whole critically well received and worthy of a much better fate, but such is the music biz, and today the LPs command a hefty price at auction. Those bands also produced musicians of note, by the way, Byzantium's Chaz Jankel releasing a fairly successful album for A&M a few years later, and ISP's Kal David and Paul Cotton having extended careers, David with The Fabulous Rhinestones and others, Cotton with Poco and then solo.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the ghost of Illinois Speed Press appears only on the title track, “Green Gates,” but what a ghost it is, and totally unintentional, according to Wilson. He swears he has never heard ISP, but you cannot mistake the dueling lead guitars of Wilson and Brian Chenault a la David and Cotton on ISP's “P.N.S. (When You Come Around)” off of ISP's first album. The light and floating riffs of one are superb contrast to the brassy and more forceful riffs of the other--- pure guitar magic. Make no mistake, though. “Green Gates” stands on its own and the guitars just make it that much better.



The other ten tracks live in that netherworld which makes Wilson's musical vision so fascinating, the voices instruments in an ensemble of keyboards and guitars bowing to production. Wilson could have easily forced the issue, layering tracks into oblivion, but he somehow found a true balance between tape loops, synthesizers, reverb and tremolo and came out of the tunnel with dreamlike scenarios which effortlessly carry you away. In the seventies, we usually waited until late evening or very early morning to put Byzantium on the turntable, when we were more receptive to the whole other side of the music--- the subconscious, if you will. Wilson and crew have musically recreated the era without even realizing it, I am sure, even the rockers having that smooth progressive psych edge to them, almost Moody Blues-like, but better.

No doubt, a major label or two will perk their ears up at this. I fervently hope that Sam Wilson turns a deaf ear for awhile, at least, because throwing money at music many times destroys it and Green Gates is the start of what could easily be an outstanding beginning to a major, major musical career.

Albums like this are the real treasures in today's world of music. Each hearing produces not only highs but surprises, for there are gems hidden beneath the glimmering surface which take effort to uncover. It is adventure and any time you put music and adventure together, you have a winner. Miss this at your peril.

(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

TICKTOCKMAN--- tick...tock...tick...tock

Goddamn, but I love some energetic and powerful music sometimes if only to offset this acoustic rut the world seems to have fallen into. I remember when the “unplugged” craze hit and I remember cursing the musical gods with epithets which mostly contained the phrase, “If God had wanted us to listen to acoustic music all the time, he would not have invented electric guitar and amplifiers!” And I meant it. I mean, a lot of the bands which gave up stacks of Marshalls to sit on stools or folding chairs barely made it behind the wall of sound the amps created. Acoustically, their warts grew to sci-fi proportions, the music barely passable if that. Nope, give me electric most of the time and give it to me in mountainous proportions. I want time changes and power and a voice to string it together. I want rhythms which force you to listen or leave--- that's right, I don't want the unadventurous invading my space. Wait! That's it! Headslap! I want adventure!

And there are few bands out there as adventurous as Ticktockman. These guys are like anemones. Ideas fall onto them and they digest them and somehow come up with culinary delights for the ears way beyond most of the tripe passing for music these days. Dare I call them progressive? What does that mean anymore? Hard rock? They definitely have a hard edge but they don't play hard rock, at least not the three chord blast-em-out version many of us accept as such. Grunge? I still haven't quite figured out what that is, perhaps because I had lived through a couple of decades of rock metamorphoses before it came along.

I can tell you this. They are powerful. They are tight--- asshole-tight, as my old drill sergeant used to say. They are adventurous, grabbing influences wherever and whenever it strikes their fancy. You don't hear jazzy guitar solos in the midst of tracks like “Scavenger! Move Along!” without a sense of adventure.



I can point out bands which also have that sense of adventure: Captain Beyond, King's X, Living Colour, and that's only three, although three of my all-time favorites. I'm sure there are others, though at the present I am amped up on caffeine and don't really care. What I care about is getting the word out about Ticktockman. You should hear these guys, if only to give you fodder for your next “Trash the Gutchman” rant. If only to prove me right or wrong. If only to, in the best case scenario, find a band to set you back on your heels.

Musicians! There are a handful of bands out there you should be hearing! Bands which are a step above, both musically and rhythmically. These guys are one. Pick your instrument (and I don't mean the fleugelhorn) and get set to be schooled. These guys are that good!

Words aren't enough? Good news! You can stream them here!

(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Iron Bridge Band--- Against the Grain

Holy crap! Mainstream rock is not dead! Not even close. I know this because I stumbled upon The Iron Bridge Band--- actually, it was foisted upon me but I really don't care. I won't write about music I don't like but here I am writing about these guys so it should tell you something--- either I am a shill for a mega-corporation or I've heard something worth hearing. One look at my bank account should tell you it is not the former.

So where the hell has the IBB been? New Jersey. I would say strangely or oddly but New Jersey has been cranking out rockers for decades. Okay, I can't name anyone besides Springsteen and The Grip Weeds, but they are two of the big success stories right there--- one financially and the other artistically (and they probably are able to pay their bills as well). I would certainly not be surprised that half of the bands claimed by New York were originally from New Jersey too. New York is like a sponge or the 1950s Soviet Union, who was always claiming that they created God and everything else from that point on.

Well, IBB claims NJ home and I'm not disputing it. No, sirree. I'm not disputing anything these guys are dipping their wicks into. No reason to. Not only are they mainstream they are big sound mainstream, what many would claim as Big Hair mainstream. I have no idea, having never seen a picture of the band, but the big sound is impressive.



There is a bit of the loud bands of the late-seventies and early-eighties in them, guitars upfront and personal and the vocals right in front of them. Lead vocal chores are courtesy of one Chandler Mogel and he could easily sing back-to-back with vocalists from the likes of Winger or Zebra or even Cinderella or Van Halen. He is pushed hard by the guitars of Stephen Jude Walsh and bass and drums of Lanie Suky and Scott Suky, respectively. Add percussion and voice of Amy Anderson and we have a winner.

One thing that can be said about really good mainstream rock is that it can be anthemic, the kind of music which will have the dinosaurs reaching for their Bic lighters. When they rock, they rock, but when they want to make a point.....



What can I say? All the words in the world will not tell you accurately what they sound like. Check out their YouTube channel for more.

Hey, the seventies were a good time if you discount disco. Take a chance.

(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)